PRISM This! Simple Things to Think about in the post Edward Snowden Era

Lately there hasn’t been a news cycle that hasn’t focused on the NSA and Prism. Debating whether Edward Snowden is a hero or someone who has done the United States wrong is  something the media will do for a long time to come. I believe that’s all just a distraction.

This episode should jolt us all to the stark realization that be it PRISM, the NSA, or private enterprise, the cost to track individuals is lowering, while the incentives for corporations and governments to correlate,use,store and sell your ‘meta’ data (information about your information) are rising. With the advent of Big Data as well as exponentially decaying broadband, processing and storage costs, this kind of tracking we are just starting to see now is really just a “no brainer” evolution in the world of advanced analytics.

Beyond the obvious idea of not posting huge amounts of personal information about your movements, and private life to social media sites, what SIMPLE actions could an individual take to try to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to on-line privacy? Here’s some of my thoughts on this subject.

1) Educate yourself – This one seems frivolous, but it’s probably the most important. Stay ahead of the curve. Understand what it means when you accept the fact that your mobile applications can send or store your location information. At the very least, understand the implications of new technologies – i.e. what it means when your online banking app on your mobile phone requests that you allow it to access your GPS, email, and call history when you install it.

Try to understand that although some technologies seem like they were spawned by tinfoil hat wearing nuts, but also understand that perhaps there are aspects to those technologies which highlight deficiencies in the status quo/incumbent system.

Bitcoin is a great example of such a technology. If you don’t know what I mean? Then you need to take point #1 to heart and start reading. When you do start your own research, you might ask, ‘what does a fully distributed, Peer 2 Peer, cryptographic currency have to do with personal privacy?’. The answer is, the incentives of corporations to pool and analyse your transaction information (credit card, debit, other). and to use big data technologies to link and analyse that information is very large. Believe me when I say that is happening today, and so, to be ahead of the curve you should learn about alternative payment systems that aren’t track-able, aren’t centrally controlled and allow you to spend your money anonymously but also securely. Capiche?

Never heard of the TOR network, don’t know what VPN stands for? How about PGP? What about a PROXY?

These aren’t just a bunch of acronyms for nerds, but if you either don’t know about these technologies or can’t follow them, find a friend who can explain them to you in simple terms. For example TOR is a network that acts to protect your privacy by redirecting your internet traffic in a way that is much harder to trace or analyse using the big data techniques we are starting to hear about in the media today.

2) Set up TOR on your mobile device – I just downloaded the TOR client on my android device. Because my android device is ‘rooted’, it is able to take all of my internet traffic and direct it through the TOR network transparently (without me having to do any complicated settings on my phone or apps). This effectively means that my “meta data” regarding my internet activities cannot be stored or analysed. Better yet, if I turn on the tethering on my mobile and convert it to a WiFi hotspot, anything that connects to my hotspot will be on TOR also. I specifically called out TOR for mobile (search on Google Play) because it literally takes 5 minutes to install and enable, however you should consider either TOR enabling your home machines or at least using a VPN service also. The other aspect for mobile is, that the device is always with you, can track your movements, and via mobile applications and meta data tracking, there just seems to be a much higher incentive to abuse this information.

The best part about TOR is that it’s free.

Read more about TOR here []

3) Use a VPN on your regular PC/home network - I regularly use a service called strong vpn []. For a few dollars a month, I can have all of my home PCs or network traffic securely encrypted and tunnelled through a trusted third party service provider. This has the unintended side effect of making my computers and network appear that it is in the U.S. even though I am actually living in Canada. (This has unintended benefits for services like Netflix and other on-line content restrictions)

A VPN (virtual private network) works by basically being a butler between your traffic and the internet. By acting as a buffer it encrypts your traffic but also in a rudimentary way prevents the outside network from actually seeing where your traffic is coming from.

Unfortunately this service does come at a nominal monthly cost. You may want to do your own research and find your own provider.

4) Encrypt your email – This one is for people who really are paranoid that your emails are being scanned and analyzed. Wait a minute, gmail does that! So maybe you aren’t that paranoid after all. As I said earlier, the cost is dropping, and the incentive is rising. I personally do not encrypt my email, however if you really wanted to start encrypting your email, then start reading up on a technology called PGP. It’s been around for a long time, it’s reliable, and although I find it clumsy, it’s probably your best bet for keeping your email secure. []

That’s a bunch of my quick notes on the subject for now, if there’s enough demand I may do individual in depth how-to posts for some of these technologies.

So have you followed my advice from point #1? If so you’ll know what the following two addresses are, if not…. time to go do some reading!


Digital Breakfast 2012 – Happy New Year From ‘Just Another Geek’

Digital breakfast for 2012 – I normally don’t post pictures of my food, but this is my “Happy New Year” post. Just a reminder that “the more things change” the more they stay the same. Sure I’m reading my New York Times on my digital tablet, but I’m still just another guy reading the news while eating his bacon and eggs. Keep this in mind this year as technology overwhelms our lives. Put your cellphone down a little extra this year, and enjoy your friends, family and success!! -Ken

My “Favorite” Apps for Android

I recently wrote a piece “5 Essential Apps for Newbies”. It actually got a bit of criticism for highlighting “boring” apps. This wasn’t the main problem though, because my friend @jmdc88 bought a shiny new Samsung GSII and asked me why she wasn’t liking Swype, and that made me realize that I might have missed a few things that newbies and just people in general who want to get more mileage out of their Android device might like. Remember these are “MY” favorite apps, so your mileage my vary.

1 ) Input Method: Swiftkey X – by far the best predictive input method for Android. Reads your Facebook, Twitter, and other text to find out your style, and makes the predictions super accurate. The keyboard layout is also amazing for both phones and tablets. My girlfriend has a blackberry and loves a physical keyboard but the more she uses Swiftkey the more she wants the nice white Samsung Galaxy SII.

2 ) Launcher: Go Launcer EX – This was in my other post, but the key that people need to understand is that the “launcher” is the window manager for Android. Changing this part of your system is essential to getting the “look and feel” you want from Android. Others to consider are “ADW Launcher” and “Launcher Pro”. Some niche ones are “Helix Launcher”, and there are some really funky alternative ones as well that convert your phone to the look of “windows phone”…. but why would you want to do that?

3 ) Personal Finance: – No need to talk about this. If you don’t know about it. Get with the program. :)

4 ) Backups: Titanium Backup – Requires Root

5 ) Web Browser: Dolphin Browser HD – A great replacement for the stock browser, generally faster, a much better experience.

6 ) Multi-Network Real Time Chat: Whatsapp – keep in touch with your old bbm pals, or iPhone users.

7 ) Text Messaging: Handcent SMS (already described in old post)

8 ) Mail Client – K9 Mail – more efficient works with all mail providers

9 ) Work Mail/Calendaring (Exchange) – Moxier Mail

10 ) Automation – Locale – Let’s you set your phone up to do funky stuff depending on where it is and how it’s oriented. For instance I set my phone off to be totally silent with no vibration and to turn the screen off if I put it “face down” during a meeting.

11 ) Lockscreen Customization – Magic Locker – Just really sexy lockscreens, bu also adds things like the number of missed calls, the ability to jump from lockscreen directly to camera etc. Others to try: Widget Locker, GoLocker

12 ) Notes and Files - Evernote – if you ever dreamt of being able to have anything you recorded on your phone, or any document or password available anywhere. Get this. I don’t know how many times I was doing something with my lawyers related to my Condo, being able to instantly pull up different versions of the agreements on my phone. Gold.

13 ) QR Codes/Barcodes – Barcode Scanner – enjoy being a monkey for marketing people, but also be able to lookup information on products based on bar code

14 ) Translation – Google Translate – Want to hit on a girl in a different language in near real time? (I’m not a bachelor anymore what am I writing here?). You get the point.

15 ) Stuff – Google Sky MapGreat to show off your non-existent knowledge of the stars when trying to impress a girl. Hold the phone to the sky and pretend that it’s not goofy what you are doing.

16 ) Music – Spotify – Synching all my music for access any time, any place all done in real time. All for one all you can eat price. I use this to rock music in my car, go to the gym, and just generally have access to any music – anywhere.

17 ) Tracking Flights – FlightTrack - If you are a frequent flyer and hate frequent gate changes, or want to know about delays in real time-  use this. Seriously, just use it, it could change your life. Having information while your plane is overheating, knowing you’ll miss your connection and being able to pro-actively re-route your flight at the desk before the masses also figure it out? That could be valuable. It happened to me, it’s real, “just do it”.

This is a good start, I’ll update this post and add more soon. Happy tinkering for now!

5 Essential Android Apps for Newbs

Here are the 5 apps that I install on Android as soon as I get a new handset or install a new ROM (OS). They are essential from the perspective of making my phone more functional, and more importantly ‘extra’ sexy. Click on any of the images to enjoy high res versions of the visuals.

1 Go Launcher/Contacts - replaces your stock launcher, makes the interface cleaner, adds amazing desktop transition animations, fully themeable. Dock icons are fully customizeable, follow the theme and can be swiped left and right. Managing widgets on multiple desktops and adding desktops is a breeze. Highlights new apps when they are installed. Go Contacts is a dialer replacement, that is more functional, cleaner, and has some amazing side swipe animations. [Market Link 1] [Market Link 2] [Free]

App Drawer

Locked Homescreen


Downloadable Launcher Themes


Dialer Replacement with Incremental Search

















2 Go Weather - adds a wide variety of amazing looking fully themeable widgets for weather junkies. Once you load the application, you get detailed views, including hourly forecast and a temperature trend. [Market Link] [Free]

Main Screen

hourly forecast


Temperature Trends








Downloadable Themes










3 Handcent SMS - replaces the stock Android or vendor modified SMS (text messaging) application. Makes it look sexy, work better, and will keep retrying your message sends when it can’t send a text (either due to airplane mode or lack of radio). [Market Link] [Free]

Hancent Contact Screen

Handcent Chat Window










4 Onavo - tracks your wireless data useage, shows you your profile, alerts you when an application is hogging data. Also allows you to restrict apps to wifi, or totally stop them from using data. It also scans your apps when they are installed to make sure they are bandwidth friendly. [Market Link] [Free]


Onavo Home Screen

Data Usage Graphs

Restrict to wifi or no data use



















5 Plume – made by the makers of beautiful widgets, this application makes twitter sexy on Android phones. By far the slickest and easiest to use Twitter client. Also has amazing widgets. Screenshots speak for themselves. [Market Link] [Fremium]


Plume Main Window

Plume Create Tweet









Other Twitter Functions










These 5 apps should make a huge difference in how you feel about your user interface experience in Android. Let me know what your experience is, or if you have apps you think should be added to the list!

4 Implications for Tech Products in a Hyper Social World

What does it take to execute and thrive as a tech business in a hyper connected and noisy social web?

New market participants face audiences that have “Attention Deficit Disorder” and also seem to have no real long term brand loyalty. If your product “does it 90% as well as the competitor at 1% of the competitor cost”, or does what the competitors do twice as well, you will rapidly co-opt the existing client base. This is especially true if “word of mouth” about your product, or some element of your marketing campaign goes viral on the social web. It also means that people will drop you like a rock if you anger them on the social web (think RIM, think Netflix).

The barriers of entry to the marketplace have also rapidly fallen in terms of the cost of the technology, the availability of connectivity, and the ubiquity of storage.  What we increasingly see are products being launched that are “just good enough” to take advantage of ever shorter product development cycles and  even shorter consumer/end user adoption cycles.

The combination of the above brings me to some observations on what might be the essential “ingredients” successful tech execution today.

1. Speed To Market – With social media, and a very reactive blog sphere, if your product is good, and it’s first to market, people are eager to spread the word for you to prove that they are knowledgeable early adopters. Get your product to market fast, OR ELSE. Dilly dallying, presenting your “concept” to analysts or other forums before anything is baked or launched means that more people are going to discuss your product with other people who just might execute your idea. This is also valuable time that the market is changing underneath your feet.

2. Resources - From a resources dedicated to the project perspective, you need to come out “swinging for the fences”. This seems a little counter intuitive doesn’t it? Come to market quickly, but also swing for the fences? Put your top people on the project and pump out the most complete 1.0 product you can in the shortest timeframe possible. Don’t use 0.5 developers to bootstrap the project, use the number of developers you need to get the project out the door in 6 months or less. Watching someone else eat your lunch because they hired a few more developers sucks, and really undermines all the hard work you put into the concept. The idea is valuable, but only if executed correctly, because your miss-step is somebody else’s shiny new opportunity.

3. Clean Messaging - It’s a Twitterized world, people want to know something in 140 characters or less. Marketing needs to be cognizant of the simple fact that people don’t want to read a web page that is a wall of text with grainy screen shots.  Within 15 seconds of scanning your website the reader needs to know exactly what they will get from your service. Having a free version of your service doesn’t hurt either. (Check out or for some great examples).

A company called Cloudability takes this “clean messaging” paradigm a bit further by tying their tag line to a service most people already know to be easy to use, and extremely powerful dubbing themselves “the of cloud computing”.  This clearly defines Cloudability’s value via a well known and trusted reference service in “5 words”, well played sirs, well played.

4. Listen to the Market - That’s right, if you execute quickly, get your products in the field, and make it easy for people to understand your product – YOU WILL GET GOBS OF FEEDBACK. Some good, some bad, some ugly, but all of it useful. This will ensure that you will be in a unique position to lead the field and bring innovative features to market. Arguably field feedback is 100x more valuable than anything some analyst in the ivory tower has to say.

So what does this mean?

I enjoy watching the Tech Battles videos from Tech Crunch Disrupt, because it is 100% clear that the next generation of entrepreneurs really “Get It”. They realize that they need to bring something innovative to the table now, they need people to understand and use their service quickly, and they also know that they need to secure the required level of funding to “go big or go home”.

So what’s the future for businesses that can’t bring new 1.0 products to this new environment? Don’t be the next RIM. Cluttered messaging, slow time to market, and a blind eye to what the social web effects would have on their subscriber numbers and brand perception can bring even the biggest giants to their knees.