A Picture is Worth A 1000 Words

This is the start of a series on how to get the most out of your digital photographs.

Who looks at a photo album anymore?  I’m guessing there are some out there asking what a photo album is.  For the younger generation let me explain, back in the day you purchased film for a camera, took your pictures, sent the film in to be processed, then went back and picked up your printed pictured and put them in a photo album to save the memories.

You wouldn’t know if you had a good photo or a bad photo until you got your pictures back, which by then it was too late to retake it if it was bad.  We would flip through the photo album laughing at all the pictures of the photographer’s thumb covering half the shot, someone’s head being cut off in a group shot, or the one person whose eyes are always closed in the shot.  We accepted this because the film and the processing were expense so you didn’t want to waste shots taking the same photo multiple times.  The photo album worked for storing our photos because we didn’t have that many.

Digital photography changed all that.

Photos have essentially become free.  This has led us to take more photos.  We take photos all the time now; birthdays, holidays, vacations, school events, back yard fun, everything is photographed now.  We don’t just take a few photos of each event we take dozens or hundreds.  Why not?  They are free.  No need to worry about getting “the shot”; take ten shots and one is likely to be “the shot” you hoped for.

So where do we keep all these photos?  Many people keep them on the memory card not knowing what else to do with them.  We know the traditional photo album doesn’t work anymore:

  • While taking the photo is free printing it is not.
  • Most do not have the space needed to store hundreds or thousands of photos.
  • Organization is a nightmare; do you really want to flip through that many photos to find the one you are looking for?

Something else is needed.  Enter digital photo albums.  Digital photo albums are software packages that allow you to organize your photos on the computer to make it easier to view them.  Most of the camera manufacturers have digital photo album software that ships with the camera (or can be downloaded from their website).  Many of the printer companies have photo management software that has a digital photo album capability.  There are free solutions (FastStone) and paid for solutions (Adobe Photoshop) from third parties as well.  Lastly, there are cloud based solutions (Shutterfly) to help you well.

Asking which one is best is like asking what car is best.  It depends on your needs.  Questions to ask when looking at photo management software:

  • How many photos do I expect to have?
  • Do I need to edit photos or just display them?
  • Do I want others to be able to see my photos?
  • Where do I want to be able to see my photos – digital frame, phone, computer?
  • How much time do I want to put into using the software?

I’m starting a mini-series on digital photography.  I’ll try to stay vendor neutral as much as possible.  This will be written for the average home user – not professionals or enthusiasts.  One thing to keep in focus (see what I did there) is this series will be on photo management after you have taken your photograph; not how to take better photographs.  I hope after reading this series you are able to get more enjoyment out of your photographs.

If you are interested you can see a collections of my photographs at my photo site; let me know what you think.

Friday Humor

Apparently not all circles are created equal…

Sometime the best humor isn’t a joke as in this case.

The primary purpose of the DATA statement is to give names to constants; instead of referring to pi as 3.141592653589793 at every appearance, the variable PI can be given that value with a DATA statement and used instead of the longer form of the constant. This also simplifies modifying the program, should the value of pi change.

— FORTRAN manual for Xerox Computers

If U WaNT 2 SEe yOUr DaTA aGaIN…

The aptly named WannaCry malware caused havoc around the world; here are tips to protect yourself from being the next victim.

Ransonware has been in the news recently with the global attack of the WannaCry malware program that started on Friday May 12th.

You might be asking what is ransomware?

Ransomware is a specific type of malicious software (malware) that prevents you from using your computer or accessing your files until you may a fee to the person or group that released the malware.  Most often this is accomplished by encrypting your files with strong encryption (in other words, not something you can break).  You are typically given a limited amount of time to make the payment or the decryption keys will be deleted and lost forever.  Most often the payment must be in Bitcoins – a digital currency that is easy to exchange but difficult or impossible to track.

WannaCry was not the first example of ransonware but it has been one of the largest.  Estimates are over 230,000 computers in 150 countries were infected.

I’ll talk about how to protect yourself from ransomware but first I want to comment on what you should do if you find your system has been infected and someone is demanding payment from you to get your data back.

  1. The first step is to realize you are dealing with criminals; just like in typical ransom cases these are people who are not bothered by breaking the law, will not be swayed by emotional pleas, and in general don’t know or care about you – they just want money.
  2. Don’t pay the ransom, you have no way of knowing if the CRIMINAL on the other end will make good on their promise to give you back your data. They may raise the price or they may simply take your money and leave you with nothing.  Remember, if you pay them you are trusting in the code of ethics of a CRIMINAL.
  3. Prevent the spread of the malware to other systems – by removing it from the network. If it is using a wired connect simply remove the wire, if it is wireless you will need to change your wireless router configuration to block it.  If you are not sure how to do this call a friend.  As a last resort you can turn the system off but that may cause other problems
  4. Go to another, uninfected computer and start looking for solutions. Sometimes computer security experts find flaws in the malware that allows you to recover some or all your data.
  5. The last step is the hardest, accept the fact that you may lose your data – permanently.

OK, so that last one doesn’t sound like fun so what can you do to protect yourself?  Here is my list of recommendations – in order of importance.

  1. Only run legitimate copies of the software you use. Pirated copied of software – aside from being illegal – often can’t be patched, may contain viruses, or may contain flaws that allow other malware into your system.  This is not limited to just the Windows operating system but all the other software you run – games, financial software, photo software, etc.
  2. Keep your software up to date with patches. At least monthly you should check for patches (or updates) that the software vendor has released to correct flaws.  Again, this is not just for your operating system but all software.  Most software will do this automatically now.
  3. Run only current, supported operating systems, browsers, and other software. If you just can’t your Windows XP system go, at least take it off the network.
  4. Run a supported version of Anti-Virus software. There are many different A/V products available.  I’m not going to recommend one over another; the important thing is that you run one and you keep it up to date.
  5. Be aware of phishing attempts. Often the malware gets into your system when you click on a link in an email message that takes you to the malware site.  NEVER click a link without verifying where the link actually takes you.
  6. Configure your browser to prevent scripts from running automatically. This will protect you if you fall for a phishing attempt (it happens; don’t feel bad – see my post on phishing for tips to avoid it in the future).
  7. Stay away from questionable web sites. There are plenty of dangerous sites out there.  If you are visiting a computer hacking website it is likely your system will be attacked.  If you visit pirated software sites it is likely your system will be attacked.  Some adult sites also contain malware.  It is best to just avoid all these.
  8. Run frequent OFFLINE backups. What do I mean by offline?  If you are syncing all your files to a cloud provider (Dropbox, OneDrive, etc.) and your files are infected or encrypted that infection or encryption will replicate to your cloud provider.  That is not offline and will not help in this case.  You need a backup that will not be impacted by changes on your system – for example an external drive that you remove after the backup or a cloud backup that allows you to recover your files as of a given date (also known as versioning or version control).
  9. Lastly, if your computer suddenly starts acting strangely (windows opening or closing, very slow, error messages) turn it off.  This may be the first sign of malware.  Only you can determine is not normal for your system so you will need to use your own judgement with this one.  Depending on how strange it is acting you may want to pull the plug rather than do a proper shutdown.  Doing this can limit the damage the virus can do.  If you do this contact an IT friend and explain what happened.  They can remove the hard drive, connect it to another system and recover any files not already encrypted or otherwise damaged.