Computer Blog


Welcome to the intelligent intranet: Key announcements from SharePoint Conference 2019


Over the past two years, Microsoft has continued to make Office 365 and SharePoint the premier platform for intranet and collaboration solutions. This week, at the SharePoint Conference in Las Vegas, the SharePoint team brought the intelligent intranet to life with significant enhancements to an already awesome platform.

SharePoint Home Sites

Shortly after Ignite in 2018, Microsoft created an online “look book” showing off the new and upcoming capabilities for SharePoint Online. The look book is a beautifully designed collection of examples that showcase the “art of the possible.” You can now effectively provision the look book examples in your own tenant using the SharePoint Online Provisioning Service. But imagine if your new SharePoint deployment started with a pre-built, beautiful intranet portal that you could adapt as you need to align with your organization’s intranet outcome goals? Imagine no more: introducing SharePoint Home Sites!

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Soon every credit card will be like Apple Card


Apple’s plan to transform the world of credit cards in the image of Apple Card seems to have progressed further than anyone might have thought, thanks to a top-secret project with Mastercard...

Innovate everything

The news is that Apple, Goldman Sachs and Mastercard have been quietly working together to make similar technologies available for use by other card issuers.

Payments Source claims the project has been ongoing for 18-months and means banks will be able to use Mastercard's system to offer digital-only cards.

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IDG Contributor Network: UCSF and NVIDIA may have just saved us from our noisy future


[Disclosure: NVIDIA is a client of the author.]

There is a growing consensus in the analyst community that we will be moving from PC-based keyboard input to smartphone/digital assistant voice interfaces in 3-5 years. But if you’ve ever been in an office where people are always on the phone, you know the nightmare of sound that can result in common cubical or even open-plan offices.

If you add to this existing level of ambient noise folks talking rather than typing, suddenly it looks like we’ll either be more aggressively trying to escape and work from home or living with ever better active sound cancelling headphones permanently attached to our heads.

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It’s 1968 and this high school pilot fish is learning Fortran IId programming on Saturdays at the local junior college. For class projects, programs are punched onto cards with an IBM 026 or 029 card punch and run on the computer department’s IBM 1620 “small scientific computer.”

The only direct print output is a painfully slow, 10-character-per-second IBM Model B1 electric typewriter. But the 1620 is equipped with a much faster card punch, so everyone directs program output to cards and then prints them out on a reader/printer supplied by the computer lab. Of course, because everyone does this, the lines to use the reader/printer are excruciatingly long.

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BrandPost: Will Paper Records Lead to a Security Breach at your Company?


In the digital age, it seems that everyone can know almost anything about anyone. Social media usage has made it effortless to stay on top of every thought and every move of the people we connect with.

Tell us you didn’t share pictures of the chocolate lava cake from last night’s dinner.

Mountains of data also open countless possibilities for businesses, but every coin has two sides, and all this information also carries serious responsibilities and monumental risks.

Data breaches have become a new watchword for business in the modern era. The magnitude of breaches continues to grow and the consequences for business are major.

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Throwback Thursday: Lost in translation


Multi-store retailer is having a big sale, the kind of big event that can make or break the chain’s profitability — and a store manager’s career. So one of those store managers is pretty upset when his store’s phone system goes down. He uses his cellphone to call the help desk, then hands it off to an employee with more technical ability than most. That employee is told by the help desk tech, “Restart the IP phone system.”

But what he thinks he hears is “reset,” so he finds the recessed reset button on the rack-mounted IP phone system and pushes it with a ballpoint pen tip.

The phone system dutifully performs the reset — which scrubs all the phone system’s configuration data and sets everything back to factory defaults. As in the defaults set in the factory. The factory that’s in Germany. Where they speak German.

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Forrester: Bank mobile apps frustrating, confusing


Mobile banking should be effortless, with financial institutions sharing data, offering helpful suggestions and automating frequent tasks. But according to a new report from Forrester Research on mobile banking apps, far too many banks offer frustrating apps that show little thought given to how consumers interact with their financial institutions — or at least how they should.

"Banks too often send customers to separate apps or web pages to view content. These experiences, which are often inconsistent with the main app, can feel disjointed and confusing for the customer," said the report. "Menus disappear or compete with each other, names and icons have multiple meanings, or links take the customer out of the app without warning."

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Apple tries again with MacBook Pro keyboard design


Dolly Parton described love as “like a butterfly,” but that isn’t precisely the emotion Mac users have reported on use of the butterfly keyboard design Apple puts inside its notebooks.

When keys take wing

These keyboards have attracted much criticism since they were introduced, so much so that Apple has attempted to redesign them twice and is back with a third redesign (and fourth design) in the newly announced MacBook Pros.

In this latest edition, the company says it has “changed the material” used in the butterfly mechanism. This should “substantially” reduce the issues that some users have experienced, Apple said.

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Given enough time and resources, it could be done


Consultant pilot fish is called to a community college to develop an online system for registering students in continuing ed classes. At the meeting to develop specifications for the project are fish, the IT director and the continuing ed director, who says that it’s essential that people can’t input invalid Social Security numbers. Fish and the IT director can’t make any headway when they try to explain that there is no way to prevent that.

All right, then, says the continuing ed director, “If we cannot prevent that, I don’t want the project.”

End of meeting. And for fish, no regrets about that particular lost job.

Sharky doesn’t need your PII, made up or otherwise. Just send me your true tales of IT life at You can also subscribe to the Daily Shark Newsletter and read some great old tales in the Sharkives.

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Apple has a chance to build a social network we can trust


Apple has never quite managed to create a social network that works, but it seems to have a better chance than ever right now.

All the ingredients are there

The company has all the ingredients: A platform, loyal customers, and a growing range of media services that would benefit from the kind of pester power social media provides.

Apple News+, Apple TV+, Apple Music (will Apple Music+ turn out to be the long-fabled high definition music service?) and even Apple Arcade.

Apple’s servers also hoard vast treasure troves of images and videos captured by iPhone users across the planet.

This is all shareable content that’s kept tightly secured inside the company’s walled garden, within which everything you do is kept as private as possible. (Subject to the privacy practices of your networks, governments, and app developers.)

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What’s the emergency?


Pilot fish works in a large control center, which has several emergency shutdown buttons, not just around the room but in the halls outside as well — just in case it ever becomes essential to turn off all the emergency power quickly. A moving crew comes along one day with some bulky equipment, and one fellow trying to walk down the hallway has to press against the wall so they can pass. And of course backs into one of the big red shutdown buttons. You can picture what happens: Everything goes down. It’s not pretty.

It’s things like this that explain why such buttons usually have plastic shields that have to be lifted up before you can push the button. That’s certainly what they have now in that control center.

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Interest in older iPhones declines


Recent speculation claims Apple may terminate support for some older iPhone models— including the popular iPhone SE — when it introduces iOS 13.

We won’t know if this is true until WWDC, but it simply reflects consumer sentiment.

People are moving on

The smartphone industry is declining as consumers try to get more use out of their mobile devices.

Manufacturers (including Apple) have responded by focusing on developing cutting-edge high-end devices that consumers are willing to purchase at higher cost.

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IDG Contributor Network: Lenovo Accelerate: The coming disruptive evolution/evolution of the laptop


 [Disclosure: Lenovo is a client of the author.]

I just came back from Lenovo Accelerate and I was reminded (again) that it’s kind of amazing how long we’ve stuck with the clamshell-designed laptop. IBM introduced the concept back in the early 1990s and we’re approaching 30 years where it’s remained the dominant/default laptop design, overcoming challenges by smartphones and, most recently, tablets.

I think that’s about to change…and no place was that more evident than at Lenovo Accelerate this year.

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Over the weekend Microsoft unleashed a flurry of Windows updates to fix the '' bug


Last Tuesday Microsoft released patches — Monthly Rollups, Security-only, or Cumulative Updates — for every version of Windows. Every single one of those patches included a bug that changed the way Internet Explorer and Edge handle secure connections for the top-level domain

Here’s how Microsoft describes it:

After installing the May 14, 2019 update, some websites that don’t support HTTP Strict Transport Security (HSTS) may not be accessible through Internet Explorer 11 or Microsoft Edge.

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Memory-Lane Monday: We’re monitoring that


Flashback to the 1990s, when this pilot fish is the lone network admin for his division of a big office support company.

“Since our division had its own building and was somewhat remote, we had a lot of autonomy,” says fish. “I was able to pretty much have my data center and work spaces designed the way I wanted them — within budgetary guidelines, of course.”

Then comes an office-space reshuffle, and fish’s desk, workbench and lab are moved into a much smaller space.

But to make up for the newly cramped quarters, fish’s boss gives him permission to design exactly how the new space will work.

Fish lays it out to put power and data connections in all the places he needs them, with a specially built workbench and even a large, extra-heavy-duty shelf designed to hold several huge monitors with pull-down keyboard trays.

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Bury it with the mouse


Pilot fish doing desktop support at a hospital gets a call from the medical office building on campus asking that he come inspect a printer. At first he thinks they’re telling him the printer has died, but then it becomes clear that something inside of it has died — and is filling the office with a truly foul smell.

“Not my job,” or unprintable words to that effect, grumbles fish to himself as he walks across the street to the medical office building. His destination is easy to spot: All of the windows are open, and several box fans are drawing air out of the building.

At the door to this office (also open), fish encounters the hospital’s HVAC manager, who was also called in and has already taken apart a window-mounted air conditioning unit in an effort to track down the source of the smell. When nothing turned up there, he went ahead and disassembled the laser printer, where he found a small mouse that had hidden inside the printer’s cozy power supply — cozy, that is, until the mouse was electrocuted and basically exploded from both ends.

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The Pixel 3a could be Google's 'Moto G' moment


In the grand scheme of things, for an Android enthusiast, Google's Pixel 3a phone really doesn't seem all that electrifying.

And it's no wonder: The Pixel 3a, on its surface, is a lower-end remake of the premium Pixel 3 model that came out last fall. When we have devices showing up that are foldable, poppable, and packing more screens than a TV station's control room (for better or maybe for worse), a decidedly muted midrange model of a phone we already know seems downright mundane.

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Do Apple devices need anti-virus software?


Apple’s devices are far better defended against malware and viruses than other platforms, but does that mean they don’t need anti-virus software?

No, yes, and maybe

I’ve lost track of the number of times Mac users have told me Macs don’t need virus protection because the machines are inherently more robust against such attacks.

I’ve also lost count of how many security researchers have said that Apple devices are becoming more liable to being attacked as their market share grows.

Both are right. Both are wrong.

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IDG Contributor Network: Critical updates to IE and Windows, make for an urgent May Patch Tuesday


I don’t understand the reasoning behind Microsoft's rating of important for the RDS vulnerability. This vulnerability (CVE-2019-0863) should be a considered a zero-day security issue as it has been publicly disclosed and reported as exploited in the wild.

Even worse, the RDS security issue is a pre-authentication vulnerability, meaning as user does not have to be logged in to be vulnerable. Although creating a “wormable” attack is complex and requires significant skills, there are millions of RDP end-points published on the internet - expect a serious attack in the next few days.

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Throwback Thursday: Testing, testing, testing


Pilot fish and his team are called upon to investigate a large computer that’s running slowly. The problem: users who are just abandoning their sessions on the big machine instead of quitting properly.

“We wrote a script that would detect the rogue sessions and kill them off,” fish says. “Then we would report to the manager the names of the users who did not exit cleanly from the session, and the manager would have words with them.”

That’s the plan, anyway. Fish warns users that the script has been written and what it’s for.

And it works. On the first day the script goes live, it catches a rogue session — which was left hanging by the manager.

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Apple invests in tomorrow’s coding talent


While Apple CEO Tim Cook doesn’t think a four-year degree is necessary to be a proficient coder, he’s still prepared to invest in the nurturing next-generation engineering talent. And today Apple opened up the application process for new students to join its Developer Academy in Naples, Italy.

The Naples connection

The Apple Developer Academy at the University of Federico II in Naples has opened up the application process for up to 400 new coding students.

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If you’re running Windows XP, 7 or associated Servers, patch them


As of very early Wednesday morning, I don’t hear any loud screams of pain from the May Patch Tuesday bumper crop of patches. There’s still much we don’t know about the “WannaCry-like” security hole in pre-Win8 versions of Windows — more about that in a moment — but all indications at this point lead me to believe that it’s smarter to patch now and figure out how to fix any damage later.

The cause is a bug in Microsoft’s Remote Desktop Services that can allow an attacker to take over your earlier-generation Windows PC if it’s connected to the internet. Not all machines are vulnerable. But the number of exposed machines — the size of the honey jar — makes it likely that somebody will come up with a worm shortly.

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Wayback Wednesday: Only good for PLANNED emergencies


This pilot fish works at a software company that has just added a group of student testers to the development team.

“One of the students lived near me and he didn’t drive, so I started giving him a lift to work,” fish says.

But one morning not long after the student starts work, fish has an emergency and can’t go into the office. Fortunately, the student was able to get a ride from his parents that day. But to avoid future problems, fish asks a co-worker who lives nearby if he could serve as the student’s emergency backup ride.

Fish: If I’m unable to make it one day, at short notice, would you be able to give the student a lift?

Co-worker: Yes, no problem.

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The real story with Android's new security update setup


It's easy to get lost in a sea of Google I/O information. After all, Google gave us tons of tasty nuggets to digest at its developers' conference last week — everything from a new midrange Pixel phone to a totally revamped (again) Android gesture interface — so when it comes to the more technical announcements, perhaps it's no surprise to see some of the finer points get a bit muddled.

I'm talking specifically about something called Project Mainline — a huge effort Google revealed that rethinks the very way security updates are handled across Android. It's without a doubt one of the biggest and most potentially impactful announcements to come out of I/O this year, but much of the coverage surrounding it has been incomplete or flat-out misleading.

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The iPhone user's guide to the WhatsApp hack attack


Hackers have used a security bug inside WhatsApp to install spyware through an infected WhatsApp voice call, and Apple users are affected.

What WhatsApp users need to do

If you are one of the 1.5 billion people who use WhatsApp, you should immediately update both your app and your iOS software to the latest version.

The app update includes fixes that should prevent hackers from taking over your iPhone, while future Apple updates will also likely address these flaws.

What is the threat?

Israeli hackers from a company called the NSO Group developed the spyware specifically so they could get into people’s devices.

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Business laptop? $1,000. Sending away the thief? Priceless.


The time is 2001, not long after 9/11, and the place is New York City. Heightened security awareness is the order of the day, and everyone in pilot fish’s office is required to carry an access card that activates the office doors. Look out for tailgaters, they’re all told. Those are people dressed like professionals who slide in behind someone with an access card and then steal wallets, coats and more.

One morning, fish arrives at the office and passes a man in business-casual attire carrying a laptop tucked under his arm and headed for the elevators. Fish doesn’t recognize the fellow, but he does know the co-worker who is running behind him, calling for someone to call building security and the police. The co-worker had returned to an empty desk just seconds after this tailgater had snatched his laptop, well before the tailgater could make a clean getaway.

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Digital transformation: Why every enterprise needs to think about UI


You can throw all the money and technology you want at digital transformation, but if your end users are uncomfortable with your brand-new solutions, they will simply stop using them.

Put the customer first

Those are just some of the thoughts shared with me by Sam Johnson, chief customer officer at Jamf, following that company’s move to introduce its Jamf School MDM solution for educators.

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Patches are coming Tuesday. Make sure Windows Update gets locked down.


This month should bring some interesting new developments on the Windows Update front. Microsoft is committed to shipping the new version of Win10, officially called the Windows 10 March Delayed to May 2019 Update, but better known to its friends as version 1903, later this month. It’s still in beta testing at this point.

As prelude to that momentous occasion, we’ve been promised a simple mechanism to block the rollout, known as “Download and install.” We’ve only seen “Download and install” once, and in a confusing way. Microsoft has to push the means to block 1903 at some point, if it hasn’t already. I expect that we’ll learn more tomorrow for Patch Tuesday.

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If that’s true, I should investigate some more


It’s back in the day and pilot fish is working tech support when he gets a call that a dumb terminal used for data entry is acting up. After taking a look, fish decides it needs replacing, so he unplugs it and puts it on a nearby desk so he can set up a new one.

When he leaves, he forgets all about the dead terminal. A couple of weeks later, he gets a call that another terminal in the same area isn’t working. And sure enough, it’s that dead terminal, sitting on a desk, not plugged in to either power or network, that the user is complaining about.

Somehow fish manages not to do an eye roll when the user tells him, “I don’t know what happened. It was working fine yesterday.”

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Great R packages for data import, wrangling and visualization


One of the great things about R is the thousands of packages users have written to solve specific problems in various disciplines -- analyzing everything from weather or financial data to the human genome -- not to mention analyzing computer security-breach data.

Some tasks are common to almost all users, though, regardless of subject area: data import, data wrangling and data visualization. The table below show my favorite go-to packages for one of these three tasks (plus a few miscellaneous ones tossed in). The package names in the table are clickable if you want more information. To find out more about a package once you've installed it, type help(package = "packagename") in your R console (of course substituting the actual package name ).

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