Don’t Be a Victim of Phishing Scams

Phishing is the attempt to acquire sensitive information by pretending to be a familiar or trustworthy source in an email. Fraudulent emails from popular sites like banks, online payment processors, and IT administrators are commonly used to lure unsuspecting victims.

Essentially, phishing is an information-gathering technique that isn’t necessarily damaging in and of itself. However, when unsuspecting victims provide bits of information, a savvy criminal can piece them together to gain access to areas and information that are private.

Phishing techniques

Spear phishing – Attempts directed at specific individuals or companies have been termed spear phishing. Attackers may gather personal information about their target to increase their probability of success.

Clone phishing – An attack whereby a legitimate and previously delivered email containing an attachment or link has had its content and recipient address(es) taken and used to create an almost identical or cloned email. The attachment or link within the email is replaced with a malicious version and then sent from an email address spoofed to appear to come from the original sender. It may claim to be a resend of the original or an updated version to the original. This technique could be used to pivot (indirectly) from a previously infected machine and gain a foothold on another machine, by exploiting the social trust associated with the inferred connection due to both parties receiving the original email.

Whaling – Several recent phishing attacks have been directed specifically at senior executives and other high profile targets within businesses, and the term whaling has been coined for these kinds of attacks.

What should you look for?

  • Be wary of emails from unknown sources. If you can’t recall having given your email to the company claiming to need more information, there is a good chance it is a phishing scam.

  • If the list of recipients (To: line) is very large or undisclosed, the email is likely a scam.

  • If the email is coming from your own email address (From: line), it’s time to change your password because someone is using your name and email to lure others into providing more information.

  • Links that are misspelled or not quite right are a telltale sign

  • If an email contains an attachment that you weren’t expecting, do not open it. It may contain a virus.

A Smart Consumer of Digital Information does the following:

  • Deletes suspicious emails

  • Does not open unexpected email attachments

  • Does not click on links in suspicious emails. Links can be doctored or spoofed to look legitimate. If you must go to the website, open a new window and type in the URL then navigate to the page with the information you are looking for.

Is it worth it to be so cautious?

Absolutely. What’s at stake is the integrity of your data and your identity. When it comes to keeping your digital data safe, you can never be too cautious.

All About Roundabouts

Mankato, MN is currently adding 2 roundabouts about a half mile from my house. They are on the same road, consecutive blocks (so, boom-boom).

Find out more here….

I’ve been slightly obsessed with roundabouts lately. Not sure why. They seem like such an elegant solution to an often troublesome problem. However, they are not elegant at all if users do not know how to use them properly. I was once a passenger in a car that was being driven by a person who didn’t know how to drive through one. I was scared for my life when she came to a complete stop inside the circle. I guess I’d like for that to never happen again….

Here are some rules of thumb about driving through a roundabout:

  • Slow down before you enter.
  • Pick your lane. Generally speaking, if you want to leave the circle to the right, chose the right lane. If you want to leave the circle to the left, chose the left lane.
  • You may have to stop before you enter the traffic circle.
  • Find a gap in the traffic to enter the circle. The traffic in the circle has the right-of-way, yield to it.
  • Never switch lanes inside the circle and never overcome another vehicle.
  • If you chose your lane properly, you should be able to exit the circle heading in the right direction without having to cross over a lane or another vehicle.
  • Use your signal to exit the circle.

roundabout04

The US Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration has published an entire technical summary of roundabouts that I thought was very interesting and fun to read.

Here are some good tidbits about roundabouts that you may not have considered:

  • The geometry of the circle and the roads leading to into it are designed to be taken at slow speeds. It’s difficult to speed through without taking it on 2 wheels….
  • Roundabouts are safer than traditional lighted and signed intersections. In fact, roundabouts have been shown to reduce total crashes by 35% and injury crashes by 76%. And think about this: since there are no T-bone crashes, “severe, incapacitating injuries and fatalities are rare, with one study reporting 89-percent reduction in these types of crashes and another reporting 100-percent reduction in fatalities.”
  • Roundabouts are cheap! Since there is no hardware or electricity, the only costs are for landscaping maintenance.
  • And the best thing is, most of the time you don’t have to stop! No idling makes it better for the environment.

And finally, for your viewing pleasure:

360

My company (Socket Mobile) wanted to do a 360° feature of some of its products but we were going to have to purchase some sort of software to be able to do it. We decided to do the project in-house.

The project involved three parts: 1) We needed to take professional grade product photographs, then 2) do post production work in Photoshop. And finally, 3) use Adobe Flash to animate the scanner and create a playback control (a slider bar).

Taking Pictures

My partner, Mike Gifford, and I had basic tools:

• A digital SLR camera
• A decent lens
• 3 external lights
• A tripod

In addition, we had:

• One of those white tent-like things you use to take commercial pictures of products
• A turntable with markings every 10 degrees
• A vise that would be used to hold the product precisely in the middle, precisely upright

The “studio” was set up like this, with a camera and a tripod, focused on the scanner.

Inside the tent, the vise gripped a small bit that stuck straight up. The scanner has a small screw hole in the very bottom that accommodates a screw-in stylus tip. Here we used it to “accommodate” the bit.

I stood just outside the tent, just past the flash unit, so that I could reach in and turn the turntable. We had a mark on the surface underneath the turntable to use as the reference point. Starting at 0 degrees, we took a picture every 15 degrees. (Inevitably, as we began to turn the turntable, the scanner didn’t seem to be straight up and down at certain points. We fixed it later in Photoshop.) We took 24 pictures in all.

Post Production

In Photoshop, using Bridge, I did a few easy batch jobs. I cropped first because there were a few pictures with my hand still in them on the edge. Then I color balanced, then resized and optimized for the web.

Once all the pics were cropped and color balanced, one-by-one I removed the background.

The last post production step was to remove the bit from the images and align them all as precisely as possible.

The result was very clean professional images of our scanner:

Simple Interactive Animation

I used Flash to create a simple interactive animation. Just like a flip book, the images, when stacked and flipped through, give the impression that the object is spinning.

In Flash, I put each image in its own key frame, making sure they were all aligned in the same spot on each frame. I used the first one at the beginning and the end, to make one full revolution, 25 frames in all.

Next, I made two rollover buttons, a square and a circle, with only two states, Up and Over. In the Up state it is gray. In the Over state it is Socket orange.

I made 25 unique instances of the buttons, one for each frame.

To create the slider bar, I used a circle at each end, and squares in-between. When they are side by each, they look like a slider bar with rounded ends.

Each button is linked to a frame (in the Actionscript). When the cursor hovers over a button, it turns Socket orange and displays the corresponding frame. The result is when you slide your cursor over the bar, the scanner spins.

Click here if you’d like to see the SWF

Get Adobe Flash player

Leave a comment if you’d like the Actionscript 3.0.

Skype your dog

A few months ago I moved away from my loved ones so that I could start my new career in the Bay area. The only loved one I took with me was my awesome dog, Colter. It has turned out to be a nice situation, but while I’m at work, the hound has to stay at home by himself. He’s a good ol’ boy and seems to do fine most days. But still, I worry about him and like to keep an eye on him.

To solve this problem, my husband and I came up with a workable solution that involves Skype. This has been such a great solution for me, I thought I’d make an infographic and share! So, if you’d like to keep an eye on your dog while you’re at work, check this out!

(Props to my friend Angella Watterson. She did the infographic and I LOVE IT.)

Tables and Data

Okay, so here is a problem I encountered at my work recently:

On a datasheet for a group of products, there was a table on the front and another table on the back. The front table was glossary information about each product, and the back table was detailed data, lots of data. The sort criterion on both tables was the product model number and they were organized alphabetically. So we had products 7C, 7D, 7M, 7P, and 7X.

The problem came when the sales team tried to use the table on the front to tell the customer about the products. While the products were arranged alphabetically by model number, the characteristics of the products seemed to be all over the map, making the information hard to sort out. I would guess a potential customer would have a hard time using this table to make a good decision.

According to my subject matter expert (a sales person), there are usually only three points of information the customer wants to talk about. They are enclosure durability (the case), the engine, and the firmware. Instead of organizing the information based on the name of the product, I organized the information based on the enclosure durability.

I chose this criterion using this logic:

  1. More people want to know about the engine or the enclosure durability. Only a few people want to know about the firmware.
  2. The enclosure durability was something that could be made visible with an image to accompany the data.
  3. The glossary table on the front can help the customer make a decision about which model would best suit their needs.
  4. The detailed table on the back, organized alphabetically, can be used as a reference tool.

This is a better organization of the information altogether. Now the sales person can present the products in terms of the durability of the case, and then move on to talking about what the customer needs in an engine or firmware. When they are ready to find out more about the product, they can turn the sheet over and find the model number in the table on the back.

Playing Ketchup

Since having finished my Technical Writing program at Utah State University in December, I got my first job in my new career! Beginning March 1, 2012, I am the Technical and Marketing Writer at Socket Mobile, Inc. in Newark, CA.

The process of getting a job was rigorous, I will admit. I submitted probably 50 applications to various places. (Who knows how many, actually. It was a lot.)

I was in Michigan attending a meaningful and sad funeral when I got the initial call from Socket. (The perky voice on the other end of the line was to be my boss!) After a more extensive phone interview a couple of weeks later, they invited me to interview face-to-face.

The interview took place here in Newark, which is about 3 hours away from where I was living with my husband. I am not adventurous by nature and so heading out to do an interview was nerve wracking.

In any case, they offered me the job. Shortly thereafter I left my beloved husband and got my own apartment about three miles from Socket.

My new email signature:

The initial learning curve was tough, as you would expect. But, I have some really great new coworkers, and a pretty cool boss. I’m pretty thrilled to be working here.

For my first big project, I was tasked with developing a Quick Start Guide for a new product, the SoMo 655. It is the second product in a line so I had material that had been previously developed to work with.

Find my QS here: http://www.socketmobile.com/pdf/handheld-computer/somo-655_qs.pdf

One great perk of my new job is that I have learned how to use Adobe Illustrator. The pen tool was pretty interesting to learn and now I use it all the time. I love it.

Since the SoMo 655 Quick Start, I’ve worked on lots of other types of documents. I’m working on datasheets, user guides, white papers, and various other documents. I’ve even been asked to clean up forms and documents that are used internally at Socket.

At this point in time, I’ve been a technical writer (legit!) for five months and I am really loving it. This has been a dream come true.

Master’s Degree in Technical Writing: Check

Just a couple of weeks before Christmas, I submitted my final, final assignment for my Master’s Degree in Technical Writing from Utah State University. Upon receipt of my submission, my professor emailed me back and let me know that I had passed the course. Wow. What a cool feeling. Of relief. And accomplishment. And PRIDE!

I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say that this program (at Utah State University) has changed my life. I am a different person now. I am different at my core. I see the world in a different way now.

I don’t know if you are this way too but whenever I feel like I’ve accomplished something important, I tend to like to recognize major contributors. I mean, sure, I’ve achieved something here, but seriously, I didn’t do this alone. In fact, this achievement was born out of a complicated web of people, places and… other things.

Kent Clark: My Encourager. You had the vision, confidence, and expectation that I could achieve something, even before I did. (You know what I’m talking about and you know it’s true.) I learn from you and I love that about you.

Rob and Max: My boys. I don’t know if you’ve ever thought about what your mom can do, but I’ve always felt like you thought I could do anything. You guys have been good sports. I’ve been scatterbrained, forgetful, full of sh*t, and altogether flaky. Thank you for your graciousness.

(This has been the backdrop of my life for the last couple of years. Who deserves this? Not me. I’m not that good.)

Steph Wilson: The right person, the right words, at just the right time. Steph, I don’t know if you perceived this at the time, but your bright idea to study for the GRE and apply to the Tech Writing program came at just the right time. It was like I was looking at your face and hearing your words, but really, I was talking to an angel who let me know it was time to fulfill my destiny.

Flora Shrode: My Recommender. Flora, I’ve long believed that the librarians are the smartest people on campus. And it seemed like a long-shot that you would write for me a letter-of-recommendation, but you did and I will be forever grateful. I don’t know what you said, but it had to have been brilliant because, you are a librarian…. (I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that I love your personality, your humor and the fact that you ride your bike for long distances. Frankly, I miss you.)

John Jeon and Joel Gardner: My Brothers in FACT. John and Joel, you roped me in. You involved me in your projects, asked for help, my opinions, and involvement. You sort of duped me into thinking I had something to offer. I’ll never forgive you. (haha jk :)) I’ll never be able to thank you enough. You are good guys and everyday I miss working with you.

The Online Master’s Degree in Technical Writing from Utah State University: Dr. Keith Grant-Davie, Dr. David Hailey, Dr. Ron Shook, Dr. John McLaughlin, the Moyle Q. Rice Scholarship, and the English Department at USU. I can’t imagine that it has never occurred to you, but you do realize that this program is amazing, right? Do you realize that it helps people in ways that other programs and schools cannot, and that the outreach aspect of this program is invaluable? Surely you know that the asynchronous and remote nature of the program make it possible for people to accomplish things that would otherwise be out-of-reach. You know that, right? Thank you for existing. I am a big fan.

The Merrill-Cazier Library at USU: The intellectual center of campus and my workplace for six years. I started with the library in the old, original Merrill library. It was so old and cold, like a cave. But soon thereafter, the new Merrill-Cazier Library was built and it became one of my favorite places on earth. I loved the clean, aqua cast of the tempered glass, the rainbow cast of the microprocessors hanging in the former entryway, the warm cherry wood panel weave in the atrium, and the bridges suspended in air. Most of all though, I loved the atmosphere. This library is the intellectual center of campus. If you don’t get caught up in it, you’re not human.

Thanks everyone and everything. Your contributions have helped me and I am grateful.

Window Cleaner Guys

Just wanted to give a shout out to my brother who drew my window cleaner guy sketches. Paul Pate is my bro and he’s swell for hooking me up :)

Check out his site Paul Pate Design.

I LOVE my little guys. Thanks Paul!

5 Signs of a Sloppy Writer

5 Signs of a Sloppy Writer

Isn’t it bad form to begin a sentence/paragraph with a number?

Isn’t it bad form to begin the title of a blog post with a number??

In any case, this is actually a really nice, short article. The author happens to bring up a pet peeve of mine which is ‘writing like you talk.’ Look people, make no mistake. Writing and talking are different; they are not the same. A simple way to start improving your writing is to recognize this fact.

Thank you, author Rob, for this great article.