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How to Make a Blog, Part 1

How to Make a Blog, Part 1

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If you've ever thought "I'd like to make a blog but I don't know where to start" you are in the right place. THIS is where to start.

Tools I Use on my Blog

Here are tools that I use to create and publish my blog, which is now at 400 articles and growing:

This article is about Blogger.

Let's look at what happens in the life of a blog post. First, it's written. Then, it's published. Third, it's read (we hope). It might seem that I'm taking things out of order but I'm going to cover publishing first.

Publishing can be as simple as pushing a button, but you have to have a place to publish to. You also have to have some sort of a template that makes your blog post look nice on the web, and some sort of system behind the scenes that keeps track of all of your articles-- when you wrote them, what they are called, etc. Blogger handles all of that, and it does it all for free. If you're looking to start your own blog (Tom-- ahem) you can do a lot worse than Blogger. I use Blogger and I recommend it highly.

The first step in using Blogger used to be "create a Blogger account." Then Google bought Blogger, so now the first step has changed to "create a Google account." If you already have a Gmail address you already have a Google account, so no need to make another one. (A Gmail account is not the same as a Google account-- rather, it's part of it. A Blogger account is another part.)

Go to blogger.google.com and if you're asked to sign in, use your Google credentials. Click the "New Blog" button to create a new blog. Then title it, choose an address, pick a template, and you're ready to go. Note that all Blogger blogs have addresses like "something.blogspot.com" where you get to pick the "something" part, and yes, "something.blogger.com" would make more sense but that's not up to us.

Don't worry about choosing the right template-- you can change your mind later, even after you've written a lot of posts. Anyhow, give your blog a title, give it an address, and choose a template. Then click the "Create blog!" button at bottom right.

Blogger Create a New Blog

(You can have several blogs connected to the same Google account and their names don't have to have anything to do with your Gmail address. If you're not sure what to call your blog you can register multiple names and decide later.)

Congratulations-- you now have a blog! There's nothing in your blog, but you have one. Now you can change your blog's look by trying out various templates. You'll find customization options within each template, so if you find a template this is close to what you want, but not perfect, you may be able to customize it to be just the way you want it.

Here are some templates applied to the same blog. Completely different looks, at the click of a mouse. The screenshots show you that Blogger gives you customization options.

blogvariation1

blogvariation2

blogvariation3

As you can see, Blogger takes care of making your blog look nice on mobile devices like iPhones as well as on larger screens such as on laptops and desktops. That's a major plus because a lot of people are going to read your blog on their phones. It's just the way it is these days and it's not practical to simply squish your full-size blog onto an iPhone's screen. You need a layout created especially for the smaller screen size. Blogger, by some miracle, can tell how your blog is being read-- that is, on an iPhone or on something larger-- and will deliver the proper version automatically.

You can write your blog posts (articles) right there in Blogger (look for buttons to create a new post, to save, and most importantly to publish), so technically you're ready to blog. (I'm going to tell you about a better way to do it in Part 2 of this series.) Write, format, and publish-- and then send me an email telling me about it. I'll check it out, I promise.

Note: Blogger isn't the only way to publish a blog. Turns out there are many other options. Blogger, however, has three advantages:
  1. It's simple
  2. It's free
  3. It's a Google property

Let's have a look at these.

It's simple

Remember, a blog needs software (something to write posts with, something to format the layout with, and something to keep it organized behind the scenes) and a web host (to store the posts and make them available to the world). Blogger handles both parts, so you only have to deal with one outfit-- Google-- (and you probably already have the account). That makes it simple.

Lots of people use software called WordPress, and there's nothing wrong with that other than it doesn't come with a web host. With WordPress, you have to arrange web hosting with a hosting company. For the price it is hard to beat FatCow's hosting plans. You can get started for just a few dollars, and they have a 30-day money back guarantee so if you change your mind, you're out no money at all.
WordPress is more flexible than Blogger, has more templates, and has more plug-ins. It's also wildly popular so if you choose WordPress you'll have no shortage of places to turn for help. For me, though, a system that let me jump right in and start writing and publishing-- a simple system-- was better than a fancy one that might take some time to learn.

It's free

Web hosting isn't expensive but free is even better.

It's a Google property

I can't prove this but I do believe that Google does an extra-good job of indexing the things I publish to Blogger. Roughly 80% of all visits to my blog come from a Google search, and even though it's a big world out there with lots and lots of articles, somehow mine keep showing up high in the rankings.

For example:

I like to think that some of this has to do with my posts being high-quality and interesting and somehow noteworthy. Maybe they are; I try hard. But I think that Google is paying a little extra attention to the blogs that are published on the platform Google itself owns. It just makes sense that they would. I assure you that I use no search engine optimization tricks and I don't advertise at all.

For the reasons above-- simple, free and Google-- I chose Blogger for my blog, and I recommend you use it too.

The Stirring Conclusion

You-- yes, YOU-- can make a blog. Why not do it right now-- I've given you all you need to know, and if you go with Blogger it won't cost you a dime. Like so many things, the hardest part about making a blog is taking the first step. After reading this article you should be ready to take it. Next installment: recommended tools for making your blogging easier and more convenient.

Still have questions? Email me.

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Christian Boyce on the Digital Village radio show

Christian Boyce on the Digital Village radio show

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Kpfk logo1I will be on the Digital Village radio show tomorrow, September 13th, 2014, talking about Apple's announcements from this Tuesday. The program starts at 10 AM Pacific time and my part will begin around 10:15. Should be about a fifteen minute interview. I'd tune in right at 10 AM as it is always interesting to hear hosts Doran Barons and Ric Allan read the news.

Here's how to listen.

In Los Angeles, tune your radio to KPFK 90.7 FM.

On a Mac, click this link. (If you use the ClickToFlash Safari extension you will have to turn it off to use KPFK's player.)

On an iPhone or an iPad, click this link.

Digital Village does a great job of putting up recordings of past shows (here is one of me talking about Macworld/iWorld 2013) so if you can't hear the show live you can come back here afterwards and I'll have a link to the recording for you.

UPDATE: September 14th, 2014. Here's the link to the audio recording from yesterday.

Still have questions? Email me.

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Thoughts on Apple's iPhone 6, 6 Plus, and the Apple Watch

Thoughts on Apple's iPhone 6, 6 Plus, and the Apple Watch

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The big day has come and gone, and the new iPhones and the Apple Watch are all anyone wants to talk about. I can't count how many people have written to ask me "So which one do I get?" and "What do you think about the watch?" so I am going to answer the questions here on the blog.

The iPhone 6 and the iPhone 6 Plus

IPhone6 34R SpGry iPhone6Plus 34L SpGry flwrIt's hard to form an opinion about these phones in advance of holding them in my hands. They're both bigger than an iPhone 5, we know that-- and the iPhone 5 is already a little too big for one-handed use. At least for my hand. Apple has addressed this problem in the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus with a feature called "Reachability" that brings controls closer to the bottom of the screen, easily requested via double-tapping the Touch ID sensor.

"Reachability" will not be able to help me fit the phone into my pants pocket unless I lose more weight (that's what I did for the 5s) or buy bigger pants (no way). Also, whether it's useable one-handed or not, if the larger size makes it uncomfortable to use that will be a major drag. The iPhone is in my hand many times a day and if I'm going to get a new one it had better be comfy to hold. I will simply have to see these new iPhones in person to see how they fit. That would be my advice to you as well.

Specifications-wise these are awesome phones. A faster chip. More storage. Higher contrast on the screens. Near-Field Communication (NFC) for use with Apple's new "Apple Pay" system. Better cameras. Thinner front to back. Better battery life. Faster wireless performance. All good. Watch the movie and be moved to buy several of each.

Here's a chart comparing the specifications of the new iPhone 6 and 6 Plus with those of the 5s and 5c.

UPDATE SEPTEMBER 17th, 2014: Here's a great web page by Apple showing how the displays compare, and also demonstrating a great feature called Display Zoom which makes everything on the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus a little larger. I'll be using that.

Even if I had an iPhone 6 and a 6 Plus right here at Boyce Labs I would not be able to tell you which one is right for you. I can tell you, though, whichever you get, spend an extra $100 and get the 64 GB model. Used to be, you got 16 GB in the base model, 32 GB for another $100, and 64 GB for another $100. Now you spend that first extra $100 and you get all the way to 64 GB. (Another $100 and you're at 128 GB-- also a good deal compared to what we used to get. I guess what it boils down to is "try to get past the base model. There's better value up the line.")

iPhone design has two goals that are completely at odds with each other: on the one hand, we want things to be small, for carrying and storage, and on the other hand we want things to be big, for ease of use. You can't have it both ways (though the flip-phone came close). It's interesting (to me) that Apple decided to go big. Now I wonder what will happen to the iPad mini as the iPhone 6 (and especially the 6 Plus) could be seen as a smaller iPad, with phone service.

The Apple Watch

AplWatch42 34R HomeScreen PRINTI notice that Apple's website calls it simply "Apple Watch" or "the Watch" (without the Apple logo)-- that is good, because I am not so sure that an Apple logo will show up properly on web browsers around the world. Here's one (Option-Shift-k, in case you're typing along at home, on a Mac).

So let's talk about the watch.

I usually don't generalize but there are two kinds of people: those who wear watches, and those who don't. This is going to be interesting to watch (pun) because anyone who wants to wear a watch, and has the money to buy a $349 Apple Watch, probably already has a fancy watch on his wrist, and if there's one thing I know about "Fancy Watch Guy" it's that he likes the watch he has now. I suppose we may see people wearing two watches at once. Otherwise there are going to be a lot of Rolexes gathering dust on the dresser.

The people who don't wear watches have their reasons, and those reasons will still be there, Apple Watch or no. For example: I keep banging it on things, it catches on stuff, it's too bulky, I'm afraid of losing it, if I want to know what time it is or to send a text message I just pull out my iPhone.

In short, this is really different than the environment the iPhone was born into, where everyone had a phone but everyone hated it. Here, at least some of those who have a watch like their watch, and those who don't have a watch have reasons for not having one and the Apple Watch doesn't address those reasons. The iPhone solved a problem everyone had ("I hate this phone!)", but the Apple Watch isn't solving anyone's problem. In a way, it's a solution without a problem. It certainly looks beautiful and it's an impressive achievement. But I wonder whether Apple's asking us to drink a little too much Kool-Aid here.

AplWatch42 Sstl RbrWht PF iPhone6 Svr PF PRINTKeep in mind that the watch is not really a standalone device. Yes, it can tell time by itself. But it gets a lot of information from the iPhone, so you'd better carry your iPhone with you if you want the watch to be fully functional. For example, if you'd like the watch to give you directions from here to the nearest barbeque joint, the watch will not be able to help you unless it can connect to your iPhone to figure out where you are. If you'd like your watch to have the right time, and to know what time zone you're in, you'll have to have your iPhone nearby so the watch can get the information from it. You can use the watch to take a picture, but only if you're using it to control the shutter on the iPhone's camera. You can play a song, but only if what you're really doing is telling your iPhone to play the song. Etc.

The list of things that the watch can't do without an iPhone is long enough that for practical purposes, you'd better have an iPhone and you'd better have it with you all the time if you're going to get an Apple Watch. This is slightly disappointing as I was hoping to be able to wear the watch instead of carrying my iPhone for those times when the iPhone is too big, too bulky, or to difficult to carry (on a run, or on a bike ride). Even so, it feels wrong to complain about what the watch can't do, when the list of what it can do is so lengthy.

Conclusions

Assuming the iPhone 6 fits nicely in my hand I will probably get one as soon as my AT&T contract allows. I can't imagine the 6 Plus fitting nicely in my hand but I'm keeping an open mind and if it fits, I'll get that one instead. 64 GB, like we talked about.

On the other hand (actually, on the other wrist), I do not expect to be buying an Apple Watch as soon as I can. Beautiful, yes. Handy, probably. Fabulous enough to change me from "I don't like wearing watches" to "Check out my new Apple Watch!"-- probably not. As with the iPhone 6 Plus, I will not rule it out a priori. I would be thrilled, though, to find myself changing my mind.

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Apple's Special Event

Apple's Special Event

Apple will stream live video of its special event TODAY via this link. The show starts at 10 AM Pacific time.

If you have an Apple TV look for a new "Special Event" icon on the main screen and watch the show from there.

Here's the fine print (from Apple):
Live streaming video requires Safari 5.1.10 or later on OS X v10.6.8 or later; Safari on iOS 6.0 or later. Streaming via Apple TV requires second- or third-generation Apple TV with software 6.2 or later.

Mom, you can watch it on your iPad.

I will update this post to include a link to the recording of the event as soon as Apple makes it available.

In case you wondered: no, I don't know what they're going to show us. But whatever it is, I want two of them.

UPDATE: Here's the link to today's keynote. Here also is a nice write-up of today's events by the people over at The Verge.

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Internet Security, Passwords, and You

Internet Security, Passwords, and You

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You've no doubt been hearing a lot about the recent "hacking" exploits, the ones that obtained pictures of various female celebrities in compromising positions. At first glance this looks like a new level of hacking, a major break-in and invasion of privacy, but it turns out it's really not so new. We're just hearing more about this one than usual, and let's face it, it's nearly a perfect storm:

  1. It involves celebrities
  2. It involves FEMALE celebrities
  3. It involves NAKED female celebrities
  4. It involves PICTURES of naked female celebrities
  5. It involves Apple.

Would the media be as interested if the bad guys got a hold of your Aunt Margaret's travel reservations? Would we be hearing as much if the pictures were of naked MEN? Would there be as much interest if the stolen stuff was 40 million credit card numbers from Target's servers? No, no, and no (even though the credit card stuff really happened, and no disrespect to Aunt Margaret). It's the Harmonic Convergence all over again.

I thought I'd take the occasion to write a few things about Internet security, passwords, and you.

Is anything on the Internet secure?

If you mean 100% secure, with no chance that information could be taken by unauthorized persons, the answer is "no." But what in this world is 100% secure? Banks have vaults and safes and alarms and bad guys rob banks all the time. That doesn't mean you shouldn't put your money in a bank. Cars have locks and alarms and kill switches (Jeff) and bad guys steal cars all the time. That doesn't mean you shouldn't have a car. Homes have fortified front doors and deadbolts and security cameras and bad guys break into homes all the time. That doesn't mean you should quit living in a home.

Internet security is like physical security (with locks and alarms etc.). You should do what you can to make it difficult for the bad guys. You shouldn't say "Well it's not 100% secure so I'm not going to use it." That's the wrong move.

Keep in mind that there are a LOT of ways to break into an online account. One way is to "go in through the front" by (somehow) obtaining a person's username and password, and getting that information is easier than you might think. A username is often an email address, and those are hard to keep private. They are especially hard to keep private if your email address is in the address book of someone else, which of course it is. Eventually someone's account is compromised, and besides looking for naked pictures the bad guys are also looking for address books, because those give them a whole bunch of new targets. As for the password, sometimes a bad guy can guess it (see this list of common passwords), sometimes he can brute-force it (especially if it's short), sometimes he can just ask you for it (phishing).

Even if you have a great password and you don't tell it to anyone there is another way for the bad guys to get it, and that is to get to it by going in "through the back." That is, they target the institution that you access when you use the name and password. That's what happened at Target (70 million email addresses and password stolen all at once). You can't do anything about that. But you can do something about your end of things. At the least you can use difficult-to-guess passwords. Here's how you do that.

How to make a good password

The first thing you do is actually the first thing you don't do. What you don't do is use a password that you use somewhere else. Look at it this way: suppose you had an account with Target, and your username was joe@smith.com and your password was fluffywuffy1. Then the bad guys break into Target and get your email address and password. So you close your Target account, maybe even close your credit card account, and you think you're all set.

But you're not. Think about how many online log-ins you have that all use the same username (that is, your email address). Now think about a bad guy, armed with your email address, and a password that you used at Target.com, trying to use that same combination at citibank.com. Or iCloud.com. Or Amazon.com. Or gmail.com. The bad guys will try "joe@smith.com" and "fluffywuffy1" all over the place. If you've used your Target.com password at any other site(s) it's just a matter of time before the guy with your Target.com info gets into one of them.

You might wonder why someone would want to get into your email account. I am asked that all the time so I figured you might ber wondering too. The reason is that by reading your email a person can get to know a lot about you. He'll know where you shop online, and what you bought. He'll be able to see who you correspond with. He might see Facebook notifications from friends of yours. He might even be able to figure out whether you have kids or or a dog or a cat, what their names are, and when they were born-- all things that might help him figure out what some of your other passwords might be. These people aren't stupid so don't let them get a foot in the door.

OK. So now we know: don't use a password for more than one thing. That probably means going into some of your accounts and changing their passwords. But what should you change them to? Not to something easy to guess-- not your dog's name with a "1" at the end. But not something impossible to remember either. What you do is come up with a phrase-- something easy for YOU to remember-- and then take the first letter of each word. That's your starting point.

For example, suppose your phrase is "I would like the brisket and sausage plate." (That would be easy for ME to remember.) That gives me a starting point for a password that will be difficult to hack into: "Iwltbasp." Good luck guessing that one, bad guys!

Southside BrisketSausagePlate

Nowadays many sites will require you to include at least one capital letter, and at least one number, and maybe punctuation. That is easy for me-- I'll capitalize the nouns, change my phrase to include a number, and add some punctuation. Like this:

"I would like 1 Brisket and Sausage Plate!"

I can remember that. Taking the first letter of each word, the password becomes "Iwl1BaSP!"

Not very guessable, and if you run that password through the "How Secure is my Password" site, you will see that it would take 275 days for a machine to brute-force figure out that password. Of course if they get it right on the first try it would not take as long (which might mean that starting a password with "z" would make it even harder, assuming they go alphabetically).

Note: change the pass phrase to "I would like 10 Brisket and Sausage Plates!" and the password would take 58 years to brute-force hack. Turns out a little extra length can make a lot of difference.

Now we have a terrific password. It's easy for me to remember, and hard for someone to guess. If I had only one online account I would be all set. But of course I have a lot more than one online account, and I might forget which phrase goes with which account. That would be hard to keep track of.

What I need is a password manager (please, go back and click that link). The one I use is "1Password." (You can buy it for iPhone, iPad, or Mac from the App Store and Mac App Store with these links.) Basically, it's a "safe" which stores all of my passwords and remembers what they're used for-- all behind one master password, the one that opens the safe. I remember the master password and 1Password remembers everything else. You should definitely check it out. Watch this video and see what it can do.

UPDATE September 16th, 2014: You can get 1Password for the iPhone and iPad for free. Normally $9.99. Go get it!

Now let's talk about YOU

A lot of "hacking" isn't hacking at all. It's bad guys tricking people into giving up their passwords. It happens all the time but with education it isn't going to happen to you. Let's get educated.

You could start by reading (or re-reading) what I've written about "phishing" in a separate blog post. Or I could just tell you that "phishing" means someone sends you an email with a link to click, landing you on a web page that says something like "Please sign in with your email and password to continue!" Or "Please log in to verify your account!" You sign into web sites all the time, so you might just do it when asked.. except with phishing, you're not on the site that you think you're on. Instead you're on a copy, controlled by the bad guys, so when you "sign in" you're really just saying "Here, Mr. Bad Guy. Here's my email address and here's my password."

Think you'd never fall for it? You might. The invitations can be very targeted. If someone had gotten into your email account he would know a lot about you, so he would know whether you banked with Wells Fargo or US Bank etc. He could then send you what looked like an email from the right bank-- your bank-- with personal information in it to make it look legit. This technique of crafting personalized, targeted emails is known as "spear phishing." Say that a few times around the water cooler and you will sound like a security expert.

One more thing about YOU. If you use a laptop on public networks-- at the airport, the library, on a train, at Starbucks-- avoid doing any actual "signing in" on any website. Read your mail, look at web pages, but don't get complacent, because it's not too hard for a hacker to monitor the traffic on an unsecured network, which means he could, theoretically, be "sniffing" for passwords as they're typed in by others. Here's a link to a story about how three guys wrote a program to capture every picture downloaded over a public network-- at MacHack 2000! As you can see this sort of thing has been around for a long time.

Which brings us to this: there's a lot more bad stuff going on than most of us know about. A lot more. It's going on under our noses, and even when we think we're secure, sometimes we're not. Remember how the basis for Secure Sockets Layer (the software that hundreds of thousands of websites built their security around) turned out, itself, to be insecure? Software's written by people, and people make mistakes. Keep that in mind.

Also keep in mind that as long as there is valuable stuff on the internet, whether it's money, information, or pictures of naked female celebrities, someone is going to want to steal it. You should do what you can to not make it easy. The people who had their naked pictures stolen made it easy: they used weak passwords, and the bad guys guessed them. Don't let it happen to you.

Summing it Up

  • Use good passwords
  • Use a password manager
  • Avoid public networks
  • Assume nothing's really secure

And one more thing: if it's important, don't do it by email.

Still have questions? Email me.

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