New phone: Lumia 830

On this weekend of rampant consumerism, I thought I’d share a recent purchase of my own: a Nokia Lumia 830, which is a great Windows Phone available from AT&T.  I had my old phone, a blue Lumia 900, since it first came out in spring 2012, so it was time for an upgrade.

A few things I love about this phone:

  • The look

This phone is just beautiful in my opinion.  Slightly bigger than my 900, it shares the same aesthetics, but with a removable back plate which comes in both black and bright green (Europe gets orange, too–not fair!)  It has a nice weight to it, and the camera lens doesn’t stick out of the back like on the 1020.

Unfortunately, because Windows phones aren’t as popular, it’s hard to find pretty cases for them.  I found one that shows off the green back really nicely and has a cool design, too.

  • The specs

Of course any phone would be an upgrade from my 2.5-yr-old phone, but the 830 has some decent specs for its class/price.  I’ve had great battery life so far, and wireless charging is possible.  The rear camera is 10 megapixels (front-facing is 0.9 MP), so this will be the best camera I’ve ever owned, period.  It also has a slot for a microSD card, so you can expand the memory from 16GB up to 128GB.  And the screen is Gorilla Glass with 1280×720 HD resolution.  Does all this beat the iPhone 6? No, but it almost matches it, and for about $200 less.

  • The features

I wasn’t sold on this phone until I played with it in the store, and then I kinda got a little giddy. Some great stuff carried over from the 900.  The home screen has live tiles, which can show live info such as the weather, and you can make the tiles smaller or larger and move them around.  The phone has a dedicated camera button on the side, so no need to start an app or even wake the phone first to use the camera.

But the new stuff is fantastic.  The Word Flow function on the keyboard (like Swype) makes texting much faster, and I’ve found it very accurate for regular everyday words (obviously not technical jargon or abbreviations).  I haven’t used Cortana much, but she seems really useful (and just now was able to ID the K-pop song I was listening to).   The Lumia 830 also has something extra special that other phones like the Icon (930) don’t have: Glance.  This feature shows a tiny bit of info (like time and date, or weather) on your lock screen when you make a motion like taking the phone out of your pocket, or putting your hand over it.

  • Bonus

Right now at AT&T the Lumia 830 comes with a free FitBit!

 

And now for the downside.  The Window Phone has one major Achilles heel: lack of apps available.  Right now I cannot get official apps for: WordPress, Panera, Candy Crush, Google Drive, etc.  (However, there are plenty of “unofficial” apps that do the same thing).  Honestly, I hardly notice this “app gap;” my phone is great at what I use it for.  As for games, WP has some great ones: Wordament and SnapAttack are addictive.  Also, Angry Birds is free now, as well as Tiny Death Star (which you can no longer get on other platforms).  But if you are the kind of person that HAS to play the latest game with all your friends, Windows Phone may not be for you.

Happy shopping!

 

Surface Pro 3 Says 내가 제일 잘 나가 (I am the Best)

I love it when songs I like pop up in commercials; it happens most often in tech commercials, where there’s no dialogue, just pictures of pretty tech over a pumping beat or acoustic melodies.  Microsoft in particular has used Alex Clare’s “Too Close” in an IE9 commercial and Fall Out Boy’s “Young Volcanoes” in one for cross-platform Windows OS.

I heard this commercial on TV the other night, and, no surprise, started singing along.

 

Then I realized…those lyrics aren’t English.  It’s one of my favorite K-pop songs, “I Am The Best” by 2NE1.

 

 

I love that K-pop has gotten so popular here in the US.  I am actually more of a J-pop fan, so I often listen to the Japanese versions of K-pop songs; that way I can at least pronounce the words to sing along, and I can pick out some words I understand.  The Japanese version of “I Am The Best actually has a lot of the rap parts in English.  It’s worth listening to just to hear cute Korean girls say “ERRRBODY.”

 

 

I totally played this video about 15 times while writing this post.  So damn catchy.

Also, the Surface Pro 3 looks pretty cool, right?

Projects for summer weekends

I’ve been spending a lot of time outside these past few weekends–the weather was better than predicted!  I weeded my garden beds and planted a bunch of annuals and pepper plants.

I finished up a cross-stitch piece that I’ve been working on for my niece since she was born…over a year ago.  Next time, I’ll choose a simpler one.  But it came out really nicely and I’ll be getting it framed soon to hang in her nursery, which has an elephant theme.

Elephant Cross-stitchAlso, my coworker discovered a wonderful iPhone app that adds a CLAMP filter to photos.  CLAMP is the team behind Cardcaptor Sakura, Chobits, XXXholic, and others.  They have lovely artwork, and their backgrounds consist of various flowers, pattern, and cute animals–which you can now add to your photos.  Here’s an example that adds cute Mokonas:

CLAMP filter

Fun things to do with that tablet you got for Christmas

If you are a board gamer, there are plenty of options for apps of familiar games on your iPad/Surface/etc.  Here are a couple in particular that I know of:

  • Ticket to Ride: available on iPad ($6.99)  This is a great version of one of my favorite board games ever.  You can play with other people in real time online, or even by passing around the iPad, or against bots (they’re not even that annoying).  You can also get the Europe and other versions for a couple bucks more.

     

  • Carcassonne: available on Windows phone (free trial, $2.99 full), Android ($4.99), and iPad ($9.99)  A fun classic.  These versions play moderately well and have a decent design (I have the Windows phone trial).  All versions also have some expansions.  The iPad version is undoubtedly the best, with several expansions available, prettier graphics, and online multiplayer.
  • Catan: available on Android ($3.99) and iPad ($4.99) Arguably the most widely known Euro-style game.  There are several expansions available also.  I haven’t played either version, but reviews are pretty decent, although the Android tablet version is apparently a little buggy atm.
  • Wordament:  available on all Windows8 devices and iPad (free). A live version of Boggle, competing in real time against everyone else playing then (usually 1000-2000 people).  This game is my favorite game to play on my phone, hands down.  Rounds last only about 2 minutes, so it’s a quick game to play if you are killing time.  Many of the puzzle rounds also have themes, or letter pairs that award bonuses when used to make words.  And you can get Xbox Live achievements for various things as well.
  • Puerto Rico: available on iPad ($7.99)  San Juan, the card game, is also available ($7.99) I haven’t played this version, but it’s one of the most popular board games and the app’s ratings are good.

Social Engineering

My husband is always saying that the weakest link in digital security is not bad code but people.  People, who can forget passwords (or make horrible ones to begin with), click on spam links, or be conned into divulging too much information.  This concept where the human element is used to “hack” and steal personal info is called social engineering, and it was making headlines today as tech writer Mat Honan has divulged how two (or possibly more) people were able to get access to his Twitter feed, delete his Gmail account, and erase literally everything from his iPhone, MacBook, and iPad.  All in less than an hour.  Here is his story in full; it is a little long, but well worth a read.

http://www.wired.com/gadgetlab/2012/08/apple-amazon-mat-honan-hacking/

Basically, the hackers used two calls to Amazon to get access to Honan’s Amazon account, from which they gleaned the last 4 digits of his credit card.  They also knew that he had an AppleID account (with a .me email address), so they called AppleCare and got a temporary password for his .me email, using the last four digits of his credit card (as well as his address) as authentication (even though they couldn’t answer the security questions set up for the account).

The hackers then had a password reset for his Gmail sent to the alternate email on file, which was the .me account they controlled.  They used that Gmail account to similarly access his Twitter account and send out spam tweets (which was apparently their ultimate goal).  And to prevent his regaining access, they also deleted his Gmail account and wiped his 3 Mac devices remotely, using the “Find My” feature in his AppleID account.  The greatest casualty?  The pictures of his kid stored on his laptop, which are probably gone forever.

To me, the biggest security flaw here is Apple’s authentication process.  That they would give out passwords for nothing more than what you can google (address) and find on any credit card receipt (last 4 digits of card no.) is ridiculous.  Luckily, I don’t use any Apple products, but I’m sure they are not the only ones guilty of this kind of thing.  Amazon was pretty easy for the hackers to manipulate, too, with just a name, email address, and billing address required to add a credit card to the account.  Here’s another article where social engineers targeted company data instead of personal, also with impressive results:
http://money.cnn.com/2012/08/07/technology/walmart-hack-defcon/?npt=NP1

What can you do to protect yourself from social engineering?  I am not a tech geek by any means, but here are some basic points to consider:

In addition to a good password, you can also use the two-step authentication provided by some sites like Gmail.  Every time you log in, you will be texted, or a code generator will give you, a code to input with your password, so someone would pretty much have to also physically control your phone to get access to the account.

Also, don’t daisy-chain your accounts.  You may think your online banking is secure, but it is only as secure as the email account you use to log in to it, and that email account is only as secure as the email account you have set as the alternate for password resets.  One idea is that for an alternate contact for password resets, you could use one account whose handle is not known to anyone else (i.e. not the same as your other email prefixes).

Lastly, back up your s*%t.  If you really want to be safe, have two backups: one in the cloud and one on an external hard drive.

It would be really easy to say, “Don’t store your credit cards on commercial sites,” or “Don’t use Find My Mac” but modern day life is making these kinds of ideas really unrealistic.  The cloud is here to stay, and companies need to continue to improve their security methods.  Alphanumeric passwords just don’t cut it anymore.  We will be seeing more two-step authentication, more biometrics like fingerprints and retinal scans.

And Apple users will be happy to know that Apple has suspended over-the-phone password resets temporarily, and will use stronger authentication when they resume.  Amazon has also changed its policy to disallow changing account info over the phone.