Welcome to the Jan 24, 2015 issue of
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Play nice togetherThe other day I read an article on LinkedIn entitled Apple & Google: This Is Not Middle School. Play Nice. The author related how his middle-school daughter and her friends could be really mean to each other, mocking, shunning and ridiculing each other. If you're a parent or if you ever had parents (that includes just about all of us), you can relate to this type of immature teenage behavior. The author went on to compare this behavior with the way Apple's and Google's software just don't play nice together. He blames this on an immature attitude on the part of these tech giants, as if they were angry Olympic gods throwing thunderbolts at each other.

This isn't quite accurate. The fact is, most tech companies try really, really hard to make their apps and devices work together over other companies' systems. Yes, it's true that Apple, Google, Microsoft, IBM and most other tech firms like to keep their customers in their own "walled garden" (especially Apple). But one very effective way to entice new customers from the outside is to make your systems as compatible as possible with the outside world. This is what standards are for. The problem is firstly, software and techie devices are constantly changing - and hopefully improving.

Getting information off the Internet is like taking a drink from a fire hydrant. - Mitchell Kapor

Secondly, about writing good software: "It ain't easy, folks!" Many people, apparently including the above author, seem to think that computers, smartphones and tablets are magic, you should be able to just stroke these devices and a genie will appear, saying - "Your wish is my command, master!" But this simply isn't true. It has taken decades and decades of hard work by millions of software engineers to get to the point where we're at now, with voice-activated touch-screen devices and software that can predict where you want to go for lunch. Even simpler apps such as text messaging have trouble jumping the "garden wall" from one vendor's line of products to another vendor's. And then (back to "firstly"), after it seems to be working, the second vendor improves their software and the bridge between the two vendors collapses.

And last but not least, programmers aren't perfect. (Now, I know many of you think we programmers are, but that's digressing a bit....) We try to make our software behave the way we want - or the way we think YOU want - but in the rush to meet deadlines we sometimes move a project from "test" or "beta" mode into full production. We thought we had tested every conceivable logic path, every possible way a customer might use it, but no software is idiot-proof - some smarter idiots than us will come along and find ways to make it not work right, or demand that it should do something that it was never intended to do, or something that is just plain illogical and impossible.

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For the past several weeks I've been converting more and more parts of my websites to HTML5 so that my 15,000+ web pages will appear nicely on smartphones and tablets as well as on computers, in portrait as well as landscape orientation. "It ain't easy, folks!" When I show the results so far to my wife or others, they just shrug their shoulders and say, "It looks OK." After all those days and days of work, just "OK" is what we programmers hear... unless something doesn't work right. Then we may get an earful; or worse, the user might leave our website and never come back.

My wife and I volunteer part-time at an inner-city ministry, helping people write resumes and cover letters, then apply online for jobs. Sometimes the websites of even major U.S. corporations don't work correctly: for example, you enter a wrong date of employment and can't re-enter the info to correct it. Does that applicant start all over again, painstakingly entering all the data one more time, or does the applicant just give up and leave? Many people are impatient, expecting websites and other software to "just work" like they think it should. If it doesn't, most people just leave without a word to the company. But they might bad-mouth the company to others.

So let's all try to "Play Nice Together, Kids!" First, if you think something doesn't work right, tell the company nicely. Second, remember that we're all imperfect people, we try to do a good job but sometimes mistakes creep in. Let's give each other a break, and once in a while even give a compliment, OK?

The Security Blurb:
In recent issues of CompuNerds.Net-News I've mentioned that encrypting your email messages is an important way to secure any private information you're sending to others. It just got easier: there's Secure Mail for Gmail, a Chrome extension that puts a padlock image next to the "Compose" button in your Gmail page in the Chrome browser. Just click the padlock and start writing your message. When you're done, click the "Send Encrypted" button at the bottom of the message form, and it will ask for an encryption password and a hint. If the recipient isn't already using this extension in Chrome, he will see:

This message is encrypted from the sender, get the Secure Streak Gmail extension to decrypt it.


Hint: it's "banana".

Otherwise, Gmail will just show the hint and prompt him for the password. If he enters the right password, the message appears in plain text. Of course, you shouldn't give away the password in the "Hint" space (like I did above), only give the recipient a hint. There are also email encryption add-ons for email client programs such as Outlook and Thunderbird, as well as for webmail in Firefox and other browsers: simply search online, for example, for "thunderbird email encryption" or whatever email method you use.

The goal of our CN.Net-News is to share information that we think you'll find helpful as you wrestle with that little monster on your desk or at your side, your computer, tablet or phone. And we aim to present this information from a Christian worldview. Thanks for your time!

Best regards,

"Dr. Bob the CompuNerd"

Robert D hoskEN
See the "nerd" in my name? (It helps if you're a little dyslexic!)
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