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Google may offer free international roaming

technologyEdward KiledjianComment
Image by  Moyan Brenn  used under Creative Commons License

Image by Moyan Brenn used under Creative Commons License

We have been hearing rumors that Google will be launching its own MVNO ( mobile virtual network operator) in the US. Now The Telegraph (link) is reporting that one of the goal's of this new (unannounced) MVNO will be free international roaming. 

The report claims that Google is talking to Hong Kong based Hutchison Whampoa (a diversified holding company). Hutchison Telecom Hong Kong Holdings'  customers already roam in many countries roaming-charge free (with the appropriate data plan).

Wherever you travel, stay connected by 3 roaming service. Make and receive voice call, SMS, video call and data roaming in one of our roaming countries/regions. Our 4G LTE / 3G and GSM roaming services are available in over 300 countries and regions globally.
— Three.com.hk

During a Bloomberg interview at Mobile World Congress, Sundar Pichai, Google's Grand Poobah of mobile confirmed that it has ambitions of improving connectivity via an MVNO. All the rumors point to a Nexus 6 exclusive service at launch because they will likely do some kind of WIFI prefered service (where available) to save on data charges and therefore will need to develop very good handoff technology between WIFI and global cell phone networks.

If this is something that actually becomes available to a worldwide audience then this is the kind of tech that would make me leave the iPhone for Android.

Technology Zen with the Google ChromeOS Chromebook

technologyEdward KiledjianComment

When I write a blog article or am working on a long form document, I try to enter a writing zone where I remove all distractions and concentrate on my work. We have seen many writer apps that create these minimalist writer interfaces.

MINDFULNESS: a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.
— Google

Mindfulness is the state writers are looking for with these tools and minimalist interfaces. It means concentrating on one thing and being fully aware of that thing (think of it as the anti-multitasking movement).

Screenshot of Typed by RealMac Software

Screenshot of Typed by RealMac Software

When Evernote launched its latest web interface update, they described it as 

When you work, the interface fades away to showcase your thoughts.
— Evernote

But what does any of this have to do with the Chromebook? It has everything to do with it.

When the Chromebook first launched, many tech analysts laughed at it. Why would anyone want a computer that "just runs a web browser"? Many complained that even tablets did more than Chromebooks and most foresaw its quick and painful death. Years later, the Chromebook is thriving. Why?

Just as writers look for clean non cluttered interfaces that just fades away as they work, most users are looking for a device that just fades away as they use it. Most modern Chromebooks are SSD based and super fast. A $350 Acer C720P boots in just 7 seconds and doesn't slow down with use. It is not susceptible to malware infection and is always kept automatically up to date. There is nothing for you to think about. There is nothing special for you to do.

When using a Chromebook, you spend all your mental energy thinking about the task at hand and not how to optimize your device or install an update or scan it for malware. Like Apple's old street slogan "It just works" and it keeps working without slowing down.

The fact that it just works is the result of a lot of careful design by Google, but for users it provides mental relief. It means you can conduct online banking without worrying that malware will steal your credentials. It means all your data is stored in the Google cloud and there is nothing to backup on the local device. The Chromebook just is. It is my idea of mindful computing. It allows me to write without worrying that I may lose my work. It allows me to browse the web without worrying about a drive by infection and it means I can travel without worrying that a border inspection by an unscrupulous agent may expose my personal information.

All of the above translates to a simple understanding that the Chromebook isn't just a device but a computing paradigm. 

The Chromebook isn't my primary device yet and won't be the only device for power users but it could be for average Joe. 

Infinite USB cables promise to add USB connectivity to your devices

technologyEdward KiledjianComment

Regardless of how many USB ports your devices seem to have, you are always short a couple of ports. Now the creators of the Infinite USB cable believe they have solved the problem once and for all. 

The promise is that you can keep connecting their nesting USB cables (plugging one cable into another cable over and over). The idea sounds incredible at first but... Remember that most USB ports have limited power which means you will quickly make become unable to power the USB devices you are plugging into them. This means that you wouldn't be able to keep chaining cables to your hearts content. At most you would be able to plug 2 maybe 3 of them (if you are lucky).

$12 get's you a MicroUSB while $14 get's you an Apple Lightning cable. There is a USB Type C cable in the works which may be the best option.

See it on Kickstarter (link)

Is Google's Chromebook the ultimate in secure travel computing?

technologyEdward KiledjianComment

When I first heard about the Google Chromebook, I couldn't understand why anybody would buy a computer that only "ran a browser". Sure you could buy one for $300-500 but then again, you can pickup a "cheap" windows based laptop for about the same price. 

Notes from my day job

My day job is being the Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) of a large multinational manufacturer. When our employees travel to high risk locations, they are equipped with a special laptop with a hardened image and they are instructed to only load the bare minimum amount of information needed during this trip. We ask that everything else be kept on our company servers.

Why do we do this? Because the risk of having your equipment hacked is higher in some countries. Add to that the fact that most countries and ask you to log into your computer so that it can be "inspected" at the border. 

Chromebook is the safest travel computer

So the Google Chromebook is designed to run a special operating system called the ChromeOS. It is basically a thin Linux operating system on which Google runs a customized version of their famous Chrome browser.

Because the entire system is the Chrome browser, you can't "install" typical applications. Sure this can be a pain but it is also one of the features that makes the Chromebook so secure. Even clicking on a malicious email or browsing a malicious website can't stealthily install malware. ChromeOS supports Flash but a malicious Flash attack using advertising networks can't infect your Chromebook. ChromeOS also doesn't run Java so you're safe from all of those attacks.

You can install a malicious Chrome extension or one that is made malicious later through an update but you should only be installing extensions from trusted brand name developers. 

So obviously Chrome is extremely difficult to hack which makes it a better option for high risk travel. Most Chromebooks come with a small token amount of storage because the entire premise of the Chromebook is that you should store your files in the cloud. 

Easy & automatic encryption

Upon initial setup of your Chromebook, Google creates a private encryption key for you using the eCryptfs encrypting file system. This means an unauthorized person cannot see your data even if they rip our the drive. 

Boot up secure check

Every time you boot a Chromebook, it runs a Verified boot process to ensure the software hasn't been tampered with. It checks every loaded component as it loads from Kernel to drivers (making sure they are the genuine unmodified Google provided versions).

This means that every time you log into a Chromebook, you can be assured you are logging into a secure login environment. This is much better than any Windows or Mac computer. 

Update your system to stay secure

Anytime a vulnerability is discovered, software manufacturers rush to push out updates to their products. Microsoft has automated the process as much as possible but Google's Chromebook once again wins this round. 

Google releases updates on an as needed basis or at least once every 6 weeks. Like the Chrome browser, the Chromebook automatically downloads and install the update with no user intervention. In the case of the Chromebook though, this process can update everything from the lowest level operating system function to how extensions are handled. 

Just to be safe, Chromebook keeps a copy of the last known good version onboard and can quickly boot to it if the unthinkable happens during an update.

Ultimate privacy 

We all know you can enable Incognito mode to browse privately and not leave too many trails. Google's Chromebook has a mode called Guest Mode which is Incognito on steroids. You can log into a Chromebook as a guest (without credentials) and everything you do during the session is ephemeral and wiped at the end of your session. 

Reinstallation takes minutes

If things aren't working just right or you want to ensure you are working with a fresh clean version of the operating system then you can enable a feature called PowerWash. PowerWash basically performs a complete factory reset of the device bringing it back to an original out of the box state (within minutes). My Acer C720P can perform a PowerWash and show me a login prompt within 5 minutes. 

Why would you want to perform a PowerWash? Because something isn't working  and you can't figure out what. Or you just visited a high risk country and even though a Chromebook is fairly secure, you want the additional piece of mind that comes from a fresh cleanly reinstalled operating environment. 

The Google security goodness

In addition to everything I wrote above, you get the extra security features Google has built into Chrome which means all transactions with Google are performed over a secure TLS connection. 

If anyone tries to spoof a google certificate to steal your credentials (man in the middle style attack), the browser will notify you and prevent the attack. 

You get GMAIL's perfect forward secrecy.

VPN your way to a more secure connection

The best security comes from multiple layers of protection. In addition to everything I mentioned above, you can use a VPN service to tunnel your way out of the badlands into a safer internet. 

Google's Chromebook supports 3 types of VPN connections:

  1. L2TP over IPsec with PSK
  2. L2TP over IPsec with certificate-based authentication
  3. OpenVPN

The last one is the safest and should be your preferred option. Not only does establishing a VPN prevent someone from eavesdropping on your "internet discussion", it also means you can access sites that may be forbidden in your destination country (think Facebook from China or HULU from Canada). 

Conclusion

Yes the Chromebook is much more limiting than a traditional computer but the truth is many users have migrated from laptops or desktops to tablets. If you can live with a tablet then the Chromebook is a no brainer. 

Not only is it more secure but the fact that you have no maintenance to perform is a wonderful feeling. We use a Chromebook as a 3rd or 4th computing device in the house and my wife uses it to show websites to potential clients. It boots in 7 seconds and doesn't slow down with continued use (I'm looking at you Windows). 

Over the last 24 months I went from a Chromebook hater to a Chromebook lover. You can even splurge on Google's new and update Chromebook Pixel. It is a reference design by Google that costs $999 but offers everything you could ever want in a Chromebook. Incredibly responsive keyboard and trackpad. Super high resolution touch screen. 9-12 hours of battery life. Solid metal construction. 

How to find how many Twitter fake followers you have

technologyEdward KiledjianComment
Image by  Patrik Nygren  used under Creative Commons License

Image by Patrik Nygren used under Creative Commons License

When web placement was paid per click or per view, Twitter importance was measured by the number of followers you had. Those days are long gone because modern tech savvy social media users understand that engagement is the ultimate measure.

In some cases, people bought Twitter followers to make themselves look  better but there are times when those fake followers are added by bots. Why? Because many people automatically follow back all of their followers and these SPAM accounts get a decent following quickly.

Fakers App

The first tool is an online service called the Fakers App.  This app allows you to identify how many fake or empty accounts follow you. Better yet, they can perform this same magic on competitors or service providers trying to sell you on their HUGE social media following.

Head over to the webpage (link)

Click on the Connect to Twitter button

Authorize the app to connect to your twitter account. Then let it do its magic

In my case only 3% of my followers are fake. 46% are inactive which isn't surprising knowing how most registered Twitter users rarely tweet. You can use the search box to check this info for someone else

TwitterAudit

TwitterAudit (link)  is another interesting tool that takes a 5,000 follower sample from your account and then creates a follower value score by looking at the ratio of followers to following, number of tweets, date of last tweet, etc.

It creates some interesting graphs:

Conclusion

You'll notice that the stats provided by each site aren't perfectly aligned but they are close. The Inactive status of the Fakers App isn't too valuable for me considering most people sign up and spend most of their time on twitter lurking. 

Ultimately less than 3% (in both cases) of my followers are fake. What about you?