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May 17 13

An Introduction to Geekdom: Geek is the Word

by seanw

 

The 'Glasses Apostle' in the altarpiece of the church of Bad Wildungen (Germany). Painted by Conrad von Soest in 1403, the 'Glasses Apostle' is considered the oldest depiction of eyeglasses north of the Alpes.

We hear the word ‘Geek’ tossed around casually and pejoratively, but Geeks consider themselves as part of a grand tradition dating back to those Ur Geeks who thought of melting rocks to form metal tools, dreamed of sewer systems to make cities livable, and devoted their energies to figuring out how exactly man could fly. Da Vinci was a Geek, The Wright Brothers, yup Geeks, Mendel with his pea plants–the list goes on. Each had the ultimate Geek qualities—absolute devotion to matters deemed too arcane for the more popular heroes, perseverance, and the ability to look beyond the obvious into the strange to find the next big thing. Geeks do this knowing the social cost of being an outsider by choice but they persevere for that tingling of excitement when something really ‘cool’ happens. read more…

Dec 19 13

Target and the credit and debit card catastrophe

by seanw

800px-Credit-cards

**Update as of 1.10.2014–The news gets worse. Target admits that as many as 110 million customer’s data may have been accessed according to an article in The New York Times.

**Update as of 12.20.2013–According to reporting on KrebsonSecuritycom caches of card information has been found on carding forums but the data doesn’t include the 3 digit security code printed on a credit or debit card. This means that duplicate cards could be made but that online purchases would be harder to make without that 3 digit code.**

News broke on December 18th that the Point-of-Sales POS terminals at Target stores in the US were compromised from just before Thanksgiving 2013 until December 15th. According to many media sources but first disclosed by security firm Krebs, the software that communicates customer input and card swipes at the stores was accessible to thieves. They had access to card numbers, expiration dates, security codes and PIN numbers.

According to a blog post at krebsonsecurity.com “There are no indications at this time that the breach affected customers who shopped at Target’s online stores. The type of data stolen — also known as “track data” — allows crooks to create counterfeit cards by encoding the information onto any card with a magnetic stripe. If the thieves also were able to intercept PIN data for debit transactions, they would theoretically be able to reproduce stolen debit cards and use them to withdraw cash from ATMs.”

Target is investigating, along with an outside firm and the US Secret Service. They released a statement advising consumers noticing any suspicious activity on their Target REDcard accounts to contact them directly and all other card holders to contact their issuing bank. The statement also includes information on federal and state regulators who have advice on dealing with fraud or identity thefts.

What should you do?

  • It is always a good idea to check your bank accounts daily, but if you shopped in a Target store, this is now an important practice to get into.
  • If you used a debit card at a Target store during this time period, I’d advise contacting your bank and requesting a new card. The potential to lose access to your bank accounts, even if your bank reimburses you for fraudulent transactions, is too great of a risk. The banks have been notified of this breach so you are unlikely to be the first to make this request. You might have to visit a branch to ensure that you have cash on hand in the period that you will wait for a new card.
  • Be on the lookout for even small charges that you do not recognize as many thieves will do ‘test’ transactions to see if the account is valid and if they can charge without notice.
  • There may be a bit of hassle, or sometimes quite a bit, as you will also have to change the credit card number stored in any accounts once you receive a new card. This is an opportunity to re-evaluate any auto-renewing accounts you may have enrolled in. Often we forget to turn off services that we don’t use and if they don’t have a valid CC number on file you will be notified and given a chance to discontinue.
  • Familiarize yourself with the tips on identity theft and recourses for fraud at the Federal Trade Commission’s Identity Theft resource page.
  • Talk to your friends and family to ensure they are aware of this news and help them protect their own accounts.
  • Remember that this information is often traded on carding forums used by thieves to buy and sell stolen credit card and identity info. Don’t let down your guard as the thieves or their future customers might lie low in the short-term to avoid detection while this story is in the news and act later when you are not paying attention.

Don’t stress! This isn’t something you had control over to prevent. The world we live in has risks and a certain discomfort level when these things happen helps us to make sure our financial practices get a fresh look.

Dec 15 13

Consumerism and calmness, a Geek’s guide to the holidays

by seanw

Being a Geek means being obsessed, and obsession often leads to collecting. Collecting can be costly and so being a Geek means coming up with ways to keep our obsessions in line with the budgets that allow us to live without stress in our lives or in the lives of our families.

Most of us have stories of when our purchases got out of hand and put a kink in our finances. Our family, like many others, wants to have the latest hardware so that we can keep up with the advances in gaming, photography, mobile computing and coding. We don’t have the best, the biggest, the most insane-level devices–but current standards. Our electronics wouldn’t impress those order their devices as soon as the press conference starts, or impress those who consider themselves experts in the relevant field. My husband does some coding for work and for his own side-projects, my son is a hard-core gamer, daughter is a digital artist and photographer and I try to stay up-to-date on devices that allow me to do my work on the road, at home or while waiting in line running errands. There is constant pressure to upgrade and constant financial pressure to push back and get more value out of what we already own. We have to admit it though, technology is expensive and we have to be realistic in our spending.

Here are a couple realizations that we’ve come to on being a Geek family on a budget:

  • We live in an age of wonders–embrace older and cheaper tech. The next generation in gaming consoles came out this holiday season and on the top of most Geek’s wish list, but the generation of consoles (XBox360, PS3) they replace are still impressive. The Wii console first came out in 2006 but it remains a popular gaming platform with new games still being published. Used consoles and games are widely available and very affordable. The iPhone 5s might be the newest Apple model, but the iPhone 4s isn’t that far behind on specs or functionality. At some point, it does make sense to upgrade but just because you don’t have the most current model doesn’t mean you are falling behind.
  • ‘Tis better to give than receive–use your skills to give a gift of great value. If you are the family go-to tech gal, your expertise can be a gift that is greatly valued by those who have come to value your advice and help. A gift of a hour of training or to give their computers a check up and update with the promise of patience and non-judgment can improve their daily experience of technology throughout the year.
  • Take inventory. You might be surprised by all of the tech that is gathering dust in your home. Decide what might be appropriate to refurbish and sell, gift or donate. That 6 year old laptop might not be appropriate for the uses you subject your computer to, but would be a step up for someone on an even tighter budget or who doesn’t need to be any where near the bleeding edge of innovation. Before you recycle something that isn’t saleable, consider whether or not it can be repurposed for a DIY project.
  • Clear the clutter. A lot of times when we are under stress we add to it but not dealing with the clutter of cords, hard-drives, monitors and the like. Clearing the clutter can yield items that can be sold, recover items that we thought were lost and room to organize what we have left.
  • Don’t live in a state of wanting things. Letting go of the endless quest for more stuff frees your mind to enjoy what you have and can relieve the financial damage that yielding to the constant temptation can bring. You can find ways to satisfy the very natural desire for novelty by finding new activities to share passions with others in your Geek community. The library is always a great place to start or online communities devoted to your interests. Go outside, build something from what you have lying around, volunteer with community groups, read the books lying in unread piles around your home and maybe give that great fantasy novel you have been wanting to write the chance to live on the page instead of just in your dreams.

 

Oct 12 13

Wikipedia – Geek web hangouts

by seanw

Wikipedia

1. Wikipedia—Dear en.wikipedia.org, what would we do without you? Wondering what a narwhal is? When did the Dodgers move to Los Angeles? How many versions of Castlevania have been released in English? Questions you didn’t even know you wanted answers to are available in this grand experiment of knowledge curation. Non-profit and without editorial staff, this assembled information is given to the Internet by the Internet. Of course, hijinks and hacking have occurred, especially at the urging of TV host Stephen Colbert or in the case of a particularly mean-spirited political campaign. The power of the horde of Wikipedia helps to keep order, with a bureaucracy and review system available to sort out conflicts when they arise.

Wikipedia can even serve as a news service when fast-changing events are occurring. From the Japanese earthquake and tsunami in 2011 to the Iraq war, from pop culture to cutting edge scientific discovery, Wikipedia often is first in presenting the newest facts in an ordered fashion. One danger of visiting the online encyclopedia is the ability to fall down an Internet rabbit hole, clicking from one related article to another.

Oct 12 13

Etsy – Geek web hangouts

by seanw

Etsy2. Etsy—For the crafty Geek or the Geeky crafter, Etsy.com is an online fair to showcase a full range of handmade gifts. Where else are you going to find Tardis cufflinks and cupcake magnets made with love? No longer do you have to make your own hand-painted pillowcases with the images of sea mammals and have them languish unnoticed at the annual church bazaar. A decidedly low-tech corner of the Internet.

 

Oct 12 13

i09 Geek Web Hangouts

by seanw

i093. io9.com is the relatively new kid on the block, but its coverage of science fiction, science and other things Geeky treats its topics seriously, adding intelligent commentary and a fresh perspective on comic books, TV, movies, fiction and casts a big “What if?” approach to scientific discovery. Part of the Gawker media group, it is a site known to host intelligent and witty discussions in the comments that the community can recommend to others of leave languishing in the ‘grays’.

Sep 19 13

ThinkGeek – Geek web hangouts

by seanw

ThinkGeek logo

4. Thinkgeek—Thinkgeek.com is a store not a Geek community, but it is a store for everything Geeky. It is equal opportunity Geek covering both Star Trek and Star Wars items, stuff for chemists and mathematicians and not afraid to be silly. Its April Fool’s Day newsletter is renowned for its over-the-top products that you actually may find yourself wanting.  In fact, some of these parody products have gone on to be available including the Tauntaun carcass sleeping bag due to popular demand.

Sep 7 13

Instructables – Geek web hangouts

by seanw

Instructables

5. InstructablesInstructables.com is a project sharing site where users can describe in text, photos and videos their latest masterpieces. From useful things, to the purely enjoyable, Instructables also provides editorial content from professional staff. There are contests and comment interaction with the creators of each project.

Originally it focused on mechanical and electronic creations, but now it covers food, fashion and home topics serving as “(t)he world’s biggest show and tell”.

Sep 1 13

Lifehacker – Geek web hangouts

by seanw

lifehacker

 

6. Lifehacker—Lifehacker.com provides “(t)ips, tricks, and downloads for getting things done.” Whether making your computer run faster, keeping your desk organized or making a better sandwich, this site and the commenting community is focused on the type of tips that would have previously been found in the “Hints from Heloise” column years ago, if Heloise had been enamored with Apple products and electronic organization.

The role of the commenters here is to keep the editors honest, and adding their own suggestions both in the comments on an article and in the “Help Yourself” series where people can ask and answer each others questions.

Aug 29 13

4chan – Geek web hangouts

by seanw

4chan

7. 4chan—Speaking of distasteful, this image board site that started as a manga and anime sharing site (/a/) grew more popular and notorious under its (/b/ or “random”) section which covers everything else of interest to its young punk comunity. As all posters are assigned an “Anonymous” name unless they choose to post with a screenname, this is the springboard for the Anonymous movement which has brought cooperative anarchy into the mainstream.  Whether battling the Church of Scientology or the big banks, legions of so-called script kiddies or /b/-tards have launched DOS (denial-of-service) attacks against those who come into their bad graces.

Founded by moot (aka Christopher Poole, 4chan has been the breeding ground of many Internet memes including “Rickrolls” and way too many images of various LOLCats.

Aug 23 13

Boing Boing – Geek web hangouts

by seanw

Boing Boing's logo8. Boing BoingBoingBoing.net started its life offline as a ‘zine created by Mark Fraudenfelder and his wife Carla Sinclair, and joined by Cory Doctorow, David Pescowitz and Xeni Jardin after it came online. Describing itself as a “directory of wonderful things”, it covers things from a slightly more activist and artistic viewpoint than the typical Geek blog. Each of the main editors have used this forum to highlight electronic freedom, steampunk style, futurism and retro-futurism, science fiction, human rights campaigns and the type of topics that necessitate a “unicorn chaser” to cleanse the brain from seeing something particularly distasteful.