Skip to content
(one woman to another, on board a giant yacht) And to think, none of this would be possible if you hadn’t tried using the Konami Code on your banking app.

The Good Ship UpUpDownDownLeftRightLeftRightBA

The Good Ship UpUpDownDownLeftRightLeftRightBA published on 1 Comment on The Good Ship UpUpDownDownLeftRightLeftRightBA

Gather round, kids, and I’ll tell you a tale of a time when you had to haul your ass to the bank before they closed if you wanted to make a deposit or get some cash for the weekend, a time without a single debit card, ATM or banking app. (I think I may base a young-adult dystopian science fiction novel in that universe.)

But why would you bank at a bank if you could bank at a credit union instead? And why would you bank at just any credit union if you could bank at Vancity, home of William Azaroff, their VP of Community Investment?

William was one of our first clients during my Social Signal days. He’s a friend and a true visionary, and today’s cartoon goes out to him.

(Never heard of the Konami Code? Here y’go.)

(A barefoot woman and man, both without noses. The woman is speaking.) Apparently there's been another huge data breach. They got users' names, passwords, noses and shoes.

Once more unto the breach

Once more unto the breach published on No Comments on Once more unto the breach

Another day, another data breach —this time with a British teleco called TalkTalk. Unlike the Ashley Madison breach, the very fact that someone’s profile is in their database isn’t damaging, but the personal information attached to that profile could be.

There’s a ton of good common-sense security advice out there for users (the folks we used to call “consumers”). Use a different password on every site. Use hard-to-guess passwords. Be careful of public Wi-Fi. Don’t have children.

That’s fine for locking up our own front doors. But how to protect ourselves when someone breaks into the bank vault and raids our safe deposit boxes? In terms of defending ourselves from third-party security breaches, there isn’t a lot of advice out there — other than “don’t share any more information than you have to.”

Unfortunately, many of the companies we deal with make sharing more data than necessary part of the price of doing business with them. And that’s not just the data they gather in a registration form; they track how we use their services relentlessly, and cross-reference that data with information from other services.

Everything they have on us is there on their servers, ready for an enterprising hacker to swoop in and harvest if the company fails to mount an adequate defence. There isn’t a lot you can do about that; we don’t even have a good sense of how well the companies we deal with are protecting our data, because they’re notoriously tight-lipped about their security practices, citing security concerns.

The key message is just “Trust us,” which doesn’t inspire confidence with the mounting pile of headlines suggesting many data warehouses aren’t impregnable fortresses so much as all-you-can-download buffets. That’s especially frustrating if you’re otherwise careful about protecting your privacy. It doesn’t do you a lot of good to cover your tracks if your partner in crime (or data) sings like a canary.

Worse yet, you don’t have to be a customer to run afoul of a company’s disregard for your privacy and security. In their quest for ever-harder-to-ignore ads, companies have embraced Flash-based tools that expose browsers to gaping security holes.

Which is why the breaches we’ve seen so far are probably just prologue. As Cory Doctorow put it, “Ashley Madison and the Office of Personnel Management weren’t the big leak-quake: they were the tremors that warned of the coming tsunami. Every day, every week, every month, there will be a mounting drumbeat of privacy disasters. By this time next year, it’s very likely that someone you know will have suffered real, catastrophic harm due to privacy breaches. Maybe it’ll be you.”


Real commitment

Real commitment published on No Comments on Real commitment

(Originally posted at ReadWriteWeb)

It feels like this week’s cartoon should commemorate Steve Jobs.

But in truth, I drew my tribute to him just after he retired from his job as CEO. I shared my thoughts about his legacy a few days ago on my own blog. And by now, there’s very little to say about Jobs that hasn’t been said many times over, here and on other sites.

So rather than restating all of that, I’ll pay a tribute today that actually feels more meaningful than any other.

This cartoon stands on its own; it doesn’t have anything to do with Steve Jobs or Apple. But I drew it on my iPad, and i’m writing this there, too. In a few minutes, I’ll lay the cartoon out and create a thumbnail version on my MacBook Pro, where I’ll also add hyperlinks and send the whole lot off to Curtis at ReadWriteWeb.

Creating and sharing something using the products Steve Jobs introduced to the world: yeah, that feels about right.

Did I just say that out loud?

Did I just say that out loud? published on 1 Comment on Did I just say that out loud?

Originally posted on ReadWriteWeb.

In a week where U.S. news coverage was dominated by an inappropriate tweet from a congressperson’s Twitter account, maybe it’s worth taking a moment or two to think about your own personal social media policy. (Alex has a great post about family social media policies, by the way.) What are you doing to avoid landing in the same soup that Rep. Anthony Weiner has been sloshing around in for the past several days?

For instance, do you consciously avoid tweeting or blogging after you’ve had a few drinks? (I’ve had an idea for a smartphone breathalyzer. Blow anything over 0.08%, and it wouldn’t let you tweet. Or, optionally, it switches you over to a special Twitter account you’ve created that consists only of drunk tweets.) Do you have a policy of running anything that seems iffy past a trusted colleague or a loved one?

Do you ensure all of your social media profiles are protected by secure, complex passwords? Disable all post-by-email functionality? Require background checks and kill-chip implants for anyone who ever touches your logged-in devices?

Or is the occasional I-can’t-believe-my-elected-representative-just-tweeted-that (or I-can’t-believe-my-favorite-clothing-designer-just-tweeted-that) the price we pay for a free-wheeling, spontaneous Web?

Backup a moment…

Backup a moment… published on 2 Comments on Backup a moment…

Originally posted to ReadWriteWeb

Apparently March 31 was World Backup Day—a term I initially misunderstood, and took to be impressively but impossibly ambitious. Their message is well worth repeating: your hard drive will fail, and when it does, you’ll be a lot happier if you’ve backed it up.

Everyone I’ve asked has a data-loss story to share. Here are two of mine, tales of wrenching heartbreak worthy of the full IMAX treatment:


The bus is filled with reporters and political staff, chatting, checking messages on absurdly large cell phones, perusing newspapers, and opening large, bulky laptop computers.

TITLE: “Canadian federal election campaign, 1997”

We pick out ROB, a staffer in his mid-30s, sporting a goofy ponytail and drumming his fingers nervously on the surface of his computer as it boots.


Come on, come on…

Tight on the computer screen as it runs through the usual diagnostic messages… and then displays the fateful words “FATAL HARD DRIVE ERROR”.



(he looks up, swallows hard, and yells toward the front of the bus)

The, uh, speech may be a little late.



A busy city street in the full flush of a morning commute. A compact grey Honda pulls into a parking spot, and out comes ROB, his hair now greyer and close-cropped. He walks around the car and lets his DAUGHTER out of a rear passenger door, then locks the car. They walk away chattering to each other.

Through the front passenger window, we can see a COMPUTER BRIEFCASE on the floor as their voices die out in the distance.

A rock smashes the window. An arm reaches through, grabs the briefcase and quickly hauls it out. We hear the sound of running feet as we…


Okay, so it’s more meditation-on-loss-and-longing than Michael-Bay-spectacle. All I know is I’ve played those two scenes over and over on the ol’ cranial QuickTime.

That first time out, I was relying on someone else to be storing the speeches I’d written throughout the campaign; that turned out to be a false hope, and I lost everything I’d worked on for a month and a half. The second time, I’d only owned the computer for half a year, and was able to recover a lot of my older work from its predecessor; I resurrected a chunk of more recent stuff as attachments in sent email messages—thank you, IMAP! But I still lost a lot. (Crazy thing is, I’m still angrier about losing the bag than the computer. It was a damn fine bag.)

Granted, I was being stupid about it that second time, 10 years later (“I’ll only be a minute, and it’s a busy street—I’m sure my laptop’s safe”). But sooner or later, nearly everyone seems to be dumb about data… and when it comes to data, fate loves yielding to temptation.

Ever since then, I’ve become religious about backing up. My daily devotion is practiced via Apple’sTime Machine. It may not be the most efficient or full-featured piece of software, but it’s the best backup solution for me for one really simple reason: I actually use it. And although my company started using Dropbox as a collaboration tool, it also happens to serve as a perfectly good offsite backup for key business files.

How about you – got a backup horror story to share?

Fly the friend-me skies

Fly the friend-me skies published on 1 Comment on Fly the friend-me skies

Originally published on ReadWriteWeb

Okay, maybe this isn’t such a hot idea from a security standpoint. But don’t you think a little social profile vetting is in order before they seat people on an aircraft?

Show me a passenger whose Twitter profile is larded up with multi-level marketing come-ons, and I’ll show you someone who’s going to pester their seat mate about exciting affiliate opportunities in the exotic berry juice industry. Check someone’s Facebook profile for a deluge of Farmville notifications and invitations, and you’ll have a pretty good idea if they’re likely to natter non-stop from LAX to LGA.

And I challenge you to find a better technique than looking through someone’s commenting record on Disqus or IntenseDebate for telling whether they’re likely to hog both armrests and kick the seat of the person in front of them.

At the very least, let’s get a few smart people together to develop an algorithm that can quickly sift through the information in your profile and match you with seatmates you’re going to find – if not riveting – then at least tolerable company. (Unless the airlines are already doing that, only to match you with people you’ll find so annoying that you’ll order more drinks. It would explain a lot.)

By the way, I’ll be in the air next week heading to BlogWorld in Las Vegas, sketchpad in hand. See you there?

P.S. – Here’s a version just for you OAuth fans.

(gate agent to passenger) I'll need to see your passport. Unless you'd like to authenticate using OAuth.

Your friend just sniffed you! Sniff back? (y/n)

Your friend just sniffed you! Sniff back? (y/n) published on 7 Comments on Your friend just sniffed you! Sniff back? (y/n)

This cartoon is an updated look at my original Facebook dogs, who kicked off Noise to Signal as the first cartoon under that name. And they are, of course, a reference/homage to Peter Steiner‘s iconic New Yorker cartoon.

This hasn’t been a good past few weeks for Facebook. Growing concerns over what Facebook’s deliberately doing to your privacy collided with news about what Facebook’s doing accidentally with your data.

There are two upcoming ways you can protest: by not logging in on June 6, or – if you’re ready to finally cut the umbilical cord – quitting altogether on May 31. So far, while they’re getting press attention, neither initiative is showing signs of snowballing yet, with registered followers numbering only in the hundreds.

That’s not to say the discontent is limited to net activists and privacy advocates. “How do I delete my Facebook account” is suddenly a very popular search on Google.

Which I actually find encouraging, and not because of hostility toward Facebook. (Not that I’m happy with its privacy practices, or its approach to the open Web, by which it seems to mainly mean a Web that’s open to driving data into Facebook. And not that I side with the “your-privacy’s-dead-anyway-so-shut-up” crowd, either.) If so many people are at least thinking of voting with their feet, then maybe there’s at least some awareness among regular users that our privacy, attention and data are all worth something. And maybe, just maybe, that awareness could coalesce into a market force that rewards openness and accountability, and punishes arbitrary, high-handed behaviour.

Otherwise, well, I likely won’t quit this year. But there’s always May 31, 2011.

Geeks bearing gifts

Geeks bearing gifts published on No Comments on Geeks bearing gifts


2009-02-28-worm published on No Comments on 2009-02-28-worm


2009-01-22-breakup published on No Comments on 2009-01-22-breakup