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How Strong is Your Password?

Columnist: Mike E. Duffy
Dec, 2019 Issue

I don’t think anyone really likes passwords, at least not with as many as we each have to carry around these days. A password is just a fairly unsophisticated way of telling a computer that you are who you say you are, a process known as “authentication.”


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An Untethered Life

Columnist: Mike E. Duffy
Nov, 2019 Issue

I’ve known Julia Brigden since our kids were elementary school classmates more than a decade ago. But until recently, I never knew she was also “Girl Freiberg,” a child of the ’60s who’s had four songs written about her. (“The Girl With No Name” by Chris Hillman of The Byrds is one.) And now she’s written a memoir, Girl: An Untethered Life. Her story is pretty amazing. In an article for sfgate.com, she once wrote: “I grew up in Sausalito. I ran away to Mexico when I was 16. When I got back they were going to put me in juvenile hall until I was 21. In lieu of that, I got married.” But what interested me was how she managed to self-publish a book, and the technology involved.


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Remote Control

Columnist: Mike E. Duffy
Oct, 2019 Issue

I’ve recently joined the roughly 3 percent of the American workforce who work remotely more than half the week. In my case, I’ve traded my daily bus commute to San Francisco’s Financial District for a walk down the hall to the converted bedroom that my wife and I share as a home office. But, why are there so few remote workers?


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A Trip to the Hardware Store

Columnist: Mike E. Duffy
Sep, 2019 Issue

I went to visit my sister in Southern California, and she asked me to get a spare house key made so I’d have one to use during my visit. I took her key and drove to the nearest hardware store, which happened to be Home Depot. If I had done it here in Sebastopol, I would have gone to Sebastopol Ace Hardware, and one of the nice people who patrol the aisles would take me over to the key center, pick out an appropriate blank based on the existing key (in this case, a Kwikset lock), clamp the original and the blank into a glorified grinder, and grind the blank into a copy by following the pattern of the existing key.


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Targeted Advertisements on the Internet

Author: Michael E. Duffy
Aug, 2019 Issue

We’ve all had the experience of visiting a website about, say, the best patio furniture to buy, and then seeing advertisements for patio furniture as we visit other websites. I recently visited the Wealthfront website (www.wealthfront.com) to learn more about their cash account, which currently pays 2.51 percent. Now I see ads for Wealthfront when I’m on Facebook and other sites that display ads. Most people find ads that follow them around the Internet either magical or creepy.


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Virtual Private Networks

Columnist: Mike E. Duffy
Sep, 2018 Issue

Everyone is concerned, to various degrees, with online privacy and security. You’d like to be sure that personal information—like your home address or what you buy from Amazon—is kept private, and that your online banking information is secure from thieves.

Making purchases and handling electronic accounts over a public network (the Internet), which we access through our Internet Service Provider (ISP) means you don’t control who touches the data on its way from your computer to Amazon or Wells Fargo.


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Living in the JS World

Columnist: Mike E. Duffy
Aug, 2018 Issue

It’s August, and there’s nothing new in tech. Lots of concern over privacy and security: not new. Facebook and Google know too much about us: not new. Smartphones are the dominant lifeform in the universe: not new. Small businesses (for good reasons) are reluctant to embrace new technology: not new. Life may seem boring for a tech columnist.


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Protecting Your Personal Information

Jul, 2018 Issue

Over the past few weeks, you may have noticed a dramatic increase in privacy-related emails from the companies you deal with online. The reason? The General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR, a European Union (EU) regulation with which any company doing business with an EU citizen must comply. As a result, most global companies are changing their policies for all users to be compliant with the GDPR, and hence the avalanche of emails you’re receiving.


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A World without Facebook

Columnist: Mike E. Duffy
Jun, 2018 Issue

Since my last column, Facebook has admitted that the data of its 2 billion users has probably been taken by unscrupulous applications, for whatever reason. There’s been a lot of lamenting about how a service, which so many people use, took such poor care of their privacy. But the truth remains, most people willingly give Facebook access to information about them in return for a free service, which lets them post words and pictures, and stay in touch with people and organizations doing the same.


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The Facebook Scandal & Your Business Presence

Columnist: Mike E. Duffy
May, 2018 Issue

The news has been buzzing about Facebook and the ways in which it accumulates and reveals information about its users. There have been calls for people to #DeleteFacebook, and chances are that by the time you read this, Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive officer, will have testified before Congress. The proverbial feces hit the fan this month when it was revealed that Cambridge Analytica, a British political consulting firm mined data on about 50 million Facebook users and provided that to the Trump campaign during the 2016 U.S. election. It’s also important to note that this was not a “hack” of Facebook’s computers. The data—at the time the exploit occurred—was accessible to anyone writing a Facebook App.


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Advice and Consent

Columnist: Mike E. Duffy
Apr, 2018 Issue

When you stop to look closely, there are lots of technologies in use at your business. There’s a computer, your Internet connection, maybe a computer network and various types of servers. There are also printers and copiers as well as your phone system. For retail operations, there are point-of-sales systems. There’s credit card processing, word processing and spreadsheets. There’s accounting software, scanners, document storage and retrieval, computer security. The list goes on and on. (In all the excitement, I forgot to mention email, text messaging and social media.) Frankly, it’s overwhelming.


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Driving Your Business with Technology

Columnist: Mike E. Duffy
Mar, 2018 Issue

I just looked at the “10 Strategic Technology Trends for 2018” from Gartner (formerly the less-impressive-sounding Gartner Group), who makes their money by being smart about technology for big companies who can afford their subscriptions and consulting services.


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The Blockchain Gang, Part 3

Columnist: Michael E. Duffy
Feb, 2018 Issue

For the past two months, I’ve been writing about cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, so-named because the blockchain technology that underlies them is based on cryptography (encoding data so that only people with the proper keys can read it). Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies like Ether and LiteCoin work like cash, in that they are anonymous.


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The Blockchain Gang Part 2

Columnist: Michael E. Duffy
Jan, 2018 Issue

Last month, I introduced the idea of “distributed ledger technology,” which is another name for the blockchain, a way of accounting for transactions without a central trusted authority. The most well-known public blockchain is associated with the Bitcoin digital currency, and is used to keep track of transactions of that asset without a central bank.


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The Blockchain Gang

Columnist: Michael E. Duffy
Dec, 2017 Issue

There’s a lot of hype around blockchains these days. It all started with Bitcoin—a form of digital currency, which doesn’t require a central bank to operate. Bitcoin is like cash: it’s anonymous, and using it carries no transaction fees (unlike credit cards). Bitcoin (and to a lesser extent other digital currencies) has grown in popularity since that time, and increased in value. If you had bought a single Bitcoin in June of 2013, you would’ve paid $128.10. On October 1 of this year, that same, single bitcoin was worth $4,280.11, a 3,300 percent increase. (Bitcoin has been around since early 2009. In late 2009, the first exchange of real dollars for Bitcoins valued a Bitcoin at about 10 cents.) 


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Security Breach!

Columnist: Michael E. Duffy
Nov, 2017 Issue

Last month, the names, addresses, birthdates, and Social Security numbers (SSNs) of 143 million Americans were revealed in a security breach at Equifax, one of the “big three’” credit bureaus (along with Experian and TransUnion). Since this personal information is essentially your identity in the modern world, the breach is a Very Big Deal, and opens those affected to identity theft, especially as it relates to applying for credit.


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Celestial Mechanics

Columnist: Michael E. Duffy
Oct, 2017 Issue

The Great American Eclipse of 2017 has come and gone, and I was fortunate enough to see it. Although total eclipses are fairly common (one takes place somewhere here on earth every 18 months or so), they’re the result of an amazing cosmic coincidence: viewed from earth’s surface, the discs of the sun and the moon are almost exactly the same size. This is due to the fact that the moon—while 400 times smaller than the sun—is also 400 times closer to earth, allowing the moon’s disc to completely obscure the blindingly-bright disc of the sun without hiding the sun’s outermost atmosphere, the corona. It’s the corona that gives a total eclipse its otherworldly quality and scientific value.


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Trump and Tech

Columnist: Michael E. Duffy
Jan, 2017 Issue

In his 1997 book The Art of the Deal he [Trump] wrote "I don\'t even know how to turn on a computer."

I’m writing this in early December, but barring some unexpected event, Donald Trump will become the POTUS on January 20, 2017. It seems appropriate to consider what this means for technology, if anything. To quote Scientific American, “President-elect Donald Trump’s views on technology and tech policy were not prominent campaign features on his contentious path to the White House.”


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The Quick and the Dead

Columnist: Michael E. Duffy
Dec, 2016 Issue

While we may be deeply complex individuals, our expression of that complexity is sometimes markedly less apparent.


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A World Without Work

Columnist: Michael E. Duffy
Nov, 2016 Issue

When the cost of a robot is less than the cost of an employee (considering benefits and turnover), companies will increasingly turn to an automaton.


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Eye in the Sky

Columnist: Michael E. Duffy
Oct, 2016 Issue

PSS has made it possible to follow someone who commits a crime forward and backward(!) in time to see where they came from and where they go.


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Summer Doldrums

Author: Michael E. Duffy
Columnist: Michael E. Duffy
Sep, 2016 Issue

It's nice to see an application that takes people outdoors and gets them walking.


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Debugging

Author: Micael E. Duffy
Columnist: Micael E. Duffy
Jul, 2016 Issue

It is nearly impossible to write bug-free software of any significance.


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Neural Networks

Author: Michael E. Duffy
Columnist: Michael E. Duffy
Jun, 2016 Issue

Whether it’s a real brain or an artificial one, the trick is to train the damn thing.


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What's Next?

Author: Michael E. Duffy
Columnist: Michael E. Duffy
May, 2016 Issue

Google has talked about 2020 as a target for fully functioning self-driving cars, and that’s probably a realistic expectation.


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