Thursday, October 30, 2014

Pop Goes the Malware

It's happened to almost everyone, regardless of what type of computer you have or how old it is. You are innocently surfing along and, POW! You are besieged with weird pop up windows. In some cases, you've won the lottery (congrats), in others it seems your computer has been infected with a terrible virus that only the "experts" at "Microsoft" can fix if you call their 800 number. 

Seems legit...

 The problem is that these pop ups are simply a symptom of a deeper issue - Malware. Malware is software that you never wanted or intentionally invited onto your computer. 

What does it do?
At times, malware can serve no other purpose than to drive you to certain websites. Clicks = cash for the site owners and sending you to their sites against your will is easy money. In other cases, malware can be used to try and trick you into allowing someone to take over your computer and then holding it hostage until you pay up. Finally there are some types of malware that can be used to access your personal files or attack other's computers. Overall, this is bad stuff. 

How do I get malware?
Sometimes it hitches a ride with free software (cursors, backgrounds, toolbars, etc) other times it arrives via websites that offer "free" streaming of the latest movies or downloads of "free" music. In these cases, you have to actively download or install something to end up with malware. There are occasions where you can pick up these uninvited guests simply by visiting a website. 

I just got it set up the way I like it...

How can I prevent it?
Don't be lured by promises of freebies on the internet. If something sounds too good to be true - it is. Stay away from free downloads unless they are from very reputable organizations or unless they have many positive reviews on sites like 

What do I do if I get malware?
Don't panic! It's not the end of the world and all is not lost. You'll want to quickly find a malware removal tool like Malwarebytes or Microsoft's Malicious Software Removal Tool. After you download the tool, let it scan your computer and clean it up. If the malware persists, you may need to restore your system to an earlier point in time using System Restore or a Time Machine backup

Note - these thoughts are primarily geared to users working on the Windows platform as there aren't as many issues with malware on Macs. However, Mac users do run into these problems from time to time. Follow this link for good information on dealing with Macs and malware.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Block Party

If you've heard me speak, odds are good that you've heard me harp on the importance of using a content filter at home. If not, then you should know that a content filter is simply a way to filter out certain types of content from your home internet (hence the name). Sometimes this happens via software installed on the computer, sometimes it’s simply a setting on the router, but in all cases the process happens in a way similar to the diagram below. 

Your content is simply filtered through a database managed by a third party, then provided to you. This all happens in a flash, so speed is rarely an issue.

The two barriers that seems to keep parents from installing a content filter are wondering which filter to use and complexity.

First, I will tell you that I have personally had success with OpenDNS – You may find that you like it, you may not, but because it is a tool that covers every device on my network, I have always liked it.

In regards to the complexity… Well, often these seem intimidating and the filtering rules can feel overly complex. Sometimes they are. Many people start off with the best of intentions, get about halfway in and then give up.

Here’s the thing to remember, you don’t have to be the expert. All of these services have support numbers – make use of them. Don’t knock yourself out trying to sort out issues, if you’re stuck. Grab the phone and make the customer support folks sort it out for you. Honestly, a 10 minute phone call usually will sort out the problem and provide training that you’d otherwise miss trying to go it alone.
Listen, you can do it and filtering is important. Think of content filtering as a sort of seat belt. You insist on your children wearing seat belts in case of an accident, not because you plan on driving headlong into a tree. We filter, not because we don’t trust our kids, but rather to keep them safe in the case of an accident.

Ain't no party like an internet content filtering party!

If you haven’t already, why not start filtering tonight and have a little block party at your house?

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Who Needs Good C&I? I've got Apps!

This Thanksgiving, I'm blessed to be spending time with my family, including my 4 year old nephew, Miles. While it's always a joy to hang out with my little pal, I'll admit that this time I have ulterior motives in our time together. I brought along one of the fifteen iPad minis that I bought for our Lower School students and I needed a guinea pig. I've spent the better part of the morning having Miles test the apps that I've loaded up on my test machine. Some of the apps are a hit, some are a miss - this is not news to you. Overall, I am amazed at what apps can do. Let's face it, before the iPad we didn't have a technology that we could drop into the hands of a four year old and have them start learning effectively and independently.

Man, those birds sure are angry...

The problem is that Miles is happy to play with apps whether they are academically effective or not. I feel like we are at a place in education where it is becoming very easy to look like we are being academically effective, even if we aren't.  A class of students who are on task, quietly working on "educational" apps can be very compelling. Unless we have strict academic oversight of these devices, I worry that iPad enabled classes can devolve to nothing more than high-tech busy work.  To prevent this, I think the following components are necessary:
  1. Vision - Without a global vision for integrating apps in curriculum and instruction, their effectiveness will be hit or miss.
  2. Belief - Buy in from both faculty and administration on the vision for apps in the classroom.
  3. Standards - Create a set of academic and technical standards that apps must meet for approval. 
  4. Implementation - An articulated plan of implementation promotes realistic expectations in all parties.
I understand that no one in education needs more added to their plate, but the only way to effectively move these components into place is by committee. Administrators can't push it alone, the IT department can't drive the train and it can't be left to the individual teachers. However, if all of these folks come together and we leverage their expertise to vet high quality apps and integrate them into the existing curriculum, I believe that we might just change the face of education. 

photo credit: aperturismo via photopin cc

Monday, October 22, 2012

That's What Friends are For?

Don't let the title of this post fool you. I won't be tossing out nuggets of relational wisdom or penning a scathing commentary of one of my friends. See, this year has been an eye-opener for me. I learned that corporations are actually "people" and today, on my way to work, I learned that TV shows can be your friends. Ok, so the actual quote from Danielle Mullin, a marketing executive for ABC Family, is:

"We act like a friend to our fans," she says. "And friends don't only talk to you between nine and five. And friends don't use a corporate tone of voice when they talk to you. So they actually do think they're speaking to their friend. And that's really an incredible opportunity for marketers."

Part of the ABC Family story on NPR centered around the show Pretty Little Liars which is aimed at females aged 12-34. Many of them in our classes. That really struck me. The idea that teams of people devoted to marketing a TV show are out there "acting" like friends to our students is disturbing. There is an enormous marketing machine operating 24/7 on information about our kids. I believe its goal is not only to change their purchasing habits, but also to change who our kids are fundamentally. The marketing machine wants to create good consumers, not necessarily good citizens. 

I am a child of the 70's and spent A LOT of time parked in front of the TV (I know, shocking - a tech guy who didn't get out much as a child) and ingested a massive amount of kid-centric marketing. However, I was never under the impression that I could build a relationship with characters on a TV show. 

Well, there was that one time I thought I would marry Josie, 
from TV's Josie and the Pussycats, but I was like, five. 

The point is that kids today are at an unfair advantage. Media marketers are using our kids' desire for relationship to manipulate them, but who is explaining this to the kids? We focus so much on internet safety, but with the sheer volume and complexity of media messages kids are dealing with these days, I really believe we have to beyond safety and teach them how to manage media. How does your school or district handle this? Is there a media literacy program in place?