Tag Archives: Dongle

How to Not Sweat the Mobile Office

(This is a copy of my Loose Wire Sevice column, produced for newspapers and other print publications. Hence the lack of links.)

By Jeremy Wagstaff

I do a lot of work on the road, including setting up offices from scratch. What I’ve learnt—and the mistakes I’ve made—could fill a book, so maybe I’ll write one.

But here, for now, are some tips I’ve found useful about working on the road—especially if you’re on the road for any length of time, or setting up your stall in a new place, temporarily or permanently.

The first thing to do is to get a local SIM card asap. Roaming fees remain ruinous. More of that in a later column.

The other is to get a dongle. Nowadays, it’s really easy to get your laptop connected to something approaching a broadband Internet connection.

HSDPA is the prevailing technology for this—you don’t need to know what it stands for, because it’s already on the way out—via a SIM card inserted in a little thumb drive that slots into your USB port. More commonly known as a dongle.

Nowadays you can get these for very little, along with a prepaid account. You often have to buy the dongle, which might or might not be usable in a new country.

Either way, you’ve got connected.

If you’re setting up a whole new office then get your staff onto Google Apps.

This is a suit of online programs that is basically Microsoft Office–for free, and open to real time collaboration. (Recently Google souped it up a bit and added a tool for drawing.)

All you need is an Internet connection. (Google Apps can be used offline, but this is in the process of being changed, so it might not be working for a while.)

If you want to do it with a bit of style, install Google Apps on your own domain (cooldudes.com) so all your new staff have email addresses that end in that domain; they can also then share all their contacts etc.

The non-domain version is called Google Docs and works fine. If you’ve all got Gmail accounts then it makes sense to stick with that.

Google have done a good job with this suite, but it’s not perfect. Don’t expect all the bells and whistles you’d usually get for spreadsheets and documents. But it’s fine for most needs.

Make sure staff get into the habit of saving documents with useful, consistent names and putting them in shared folders that others can find. Maintain a policy of limited documents and constant weeding so things don’t get lost or forgotten.

Hardware-wise, get people netbooks. They should be more than enough and this allows them to take them home to work/play on there. (Ensure they’ve all got antivirus on them, and tell them you’ll punish them severely if they install rubbish on them.)

And then wow them by buying an external monitor—Samsung, Philips and others do relatively small screens for about $100.

That doubles the amount of screen they’ve got to play with and wins you grateful looks from staff who’ve either never had two screens before or have them but never expected such an enlightened boss.

A tip: check the weight of the screen, as they vary widely. Some are light enough to carry with you between assignments. If not, you can always get a small 7” Mimo Monitor which gives you that extra bit of desktop. Mimo tell me they’re coming out with a larger one this month or next.

Printers are not an easy problem to resolve, but you should be able to get a scanner, printer, fax and copy machine, all in one, for about $120. You can either thread USB cables around your office or splash out on a wireless router that has a USB slot in the back.

(Wireless routers let you connect all your computers together via WiFi.)

This should, in theory, allow you to connect said scanner/printer/fax/copier into your network meaning anyone can use it. Expect a bit of pain here.

Other things I would buy to make your new mini-office more productive: decent mouse pads—nothing worse, or less productive, than staff sliding their mice across overly reflective desktops or books.

If they’re taking their netbooks home, then buy them the mains cable that sits between the netbook’s power adapter and the wall. This means they don’t have to dive under the desk to remove the power cable, and instead can just unplug the adapter as it sits behind their netbook.

Cost of cable: about $1.

I also buy headsets for landlines. These are cheap and save your staff’s necks.

And a non-stapler clipper, which uses reusable clips, saves you pulling staples out of paper and makes every document look snazzy. Cost: $1.50.

Lastly, buy a label printer. They may be a bit pricey—well, the labels are—but they make everything look so much better, and give your office a professional shine that will make your staff work harder and not want to go home in the evening.

Good for them. Now I’m off to the hotel pool.

The Future: Software on a Stick

Why isn’t more software sold on sticks these days?

F-Secure sent me their latest offeing, F-Secure Internet Security 2006, on a USB dongle. I don’t know if this how you buy it in stores but it makes a lot of sense. Why isn’t all software delivered like this, instead of on CD-Roms? Or is it and I’ve just missed it?

Advantages:

  • Coolness: It would be much more fun to have a drawer full of colorful dongles than a boring sleeve-book of CDs. Handing freebies out at expos would be easier too.
  • Piracy. I’m sure it would be crackable, but how about if the key were stored on the USB drive? You wouldn’t want to get into having to have the USB drive inserted in the computer for the program to run every time, but if it was possible for the key drive to leave its fingerprint on the computer this could perhaps be used as a way of making software harder to crack. I have no idea how this might be done.
  • Portability. With the rise of USB drive-based applications via the likes of U3, wouldn’t it be great if you could take your Adobe Photoshop or whatever with you? Say you have to work on another computer, you just insert your USB drive and run all your favourites from there. No installation, no more serial numbers, no infraction of EULAs. This is the U3 idea, but so far that idea doesn’t seem to encompass bigger programs, nor does it embrace the idea of using both USB drive and computer in tandem. Say I’m using Photoshop on my desktop, with all my settings and plugins there, why couldn’t I tell the software ‘OK, now I’m hitting the road with my USB drive. Load all my recent stuff onto the drive along with any relevant serial numbers until I tell you otherwise.’
  • Flexibility: You could run the software from the USB drive if you preferred, before actually installing it.

And just in case you haven’t seen it, check out this list of software that can be run off a stick.

More Things To Stuff In Your USB Port

Another visit to the  Hong Kong electronics expo thing. It really is big. I don’t think I’ve covered a third of it and I’m exhausted. Anyway, clearly I had no idea what I was talking about when I listed some gadgets you can plug into your USB port. There’s more.

The thing this year seems to be to mix n match a USB dongle. One USB drive, for example, also sports Wi-Fi. Another is also a Bluetooth dongle. Then there are the whacky things that just make the most of being a) powered by the computer and/or b) connected to the computer.

Shenzhen-based 6dragon Technology Co. Ltd (“Quality, Value and Service are not the only words we use, but these are also what we stand for”*), for example offers the following:

Massage

  • A USB vacuum (which, as the blurb puts it, ‘Can the dust of the valid clearance calculator keyboard’);
  • Several different USB-powered oxygen bars (‘Delicate style to be integrated with autos: Moreover, it is suitable to the office as well as home environment. And your taste lies here.’ Indeed);
  • The folk at 6Dragon (“If you are looking for someone to stand behind you for the long term, you will not go wrong with 6dragon!”*) also showed me a USB-radio, that looks like a dongle, but I can’t find it on their website. I see engadget were there some time ago but it was new to me.

Anyway, now you’re beginning to get an idea of what you could use your USB drive for. Go for it. Be the envy of your office-mates.

* Authentic quotes from website.

The world’s biggest phishing attack?

This London bank raid seems impressive:

The investigation was started last October after it was discovered that computer hackers had gained access to Sumitomo Mitsui bank’s computer system in London.

They managed to infiltrate the system with keylogging software that would have enabled them to track every button pressed on computer keyboards.

Of course, it’s likely that there are lots more cases like this we don’t hear about. As Computerworld reports:

[Security experts] Cluley and Barnes said keylogging hacks are more common than thought, and they said the $423 million plot was probably the largest corporate case that had been made public. Both experts said it’s unclear what kind of keylogging was used.

The two speculate it could have been a physical keylogger dongle, installed by a cleaner (although that would mean the dongle would probably have to be retrieved somehow since any traffic through the company’s servers would be noticed. At least, one would hope so.)

Poor Man’s WiFi

Further to my piece on WiFi for the masses, here’s another way to cut costs: Make your own WiFi dish out of a Chinese cooking vat scoop, poke a USB WiFi dongle through the mesh, and you can pick up signals more than 10 kilometres away. Total cost: about $40 for the USB dongle, NZ$8 for the dish.

The guy behind this, Kiwi Stan Swan, has previously developed the Sardine Can Antenna. I love the ideas and think he should be marketing them to those parts of the world where WiFi is turning into a bridge from having no communications at all to having Internet and VoIP.

Column: USB and the CIA

Loose Wire — How to Steal CIA Secrets: It’s as easy as USB; Universal Serial Bus drives are getting small enough to hide in coffee mugs, and you can attach them to most computers and all sorts of other gadgets

 
By Jeremy Wagstaff
from the 5 June 2003 of edition of the Far Eastern Economic Review , (c) 2003, Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
I got some flak last time I was rude about how implausible technology is in Hollywood movies, even supposedly authentic fare such as Minority Report, The Bourne Identity and Mary Poppins. One comment was “grab a beer and chill out, dude, it’s only a movie,” though that doesn’t count because it was from my mother.

But I can’t help venting my spleen, if that’s what you do with spleen, after watching The Recruit with Al Pacino and Colin Farrell. It’s a thriller revolving around a recruit (no, really) to the Central Intelligence Agency trying to smuggle a top secret program out of CIA headquarters at Langley. There are some neat gadgets in there, such as biodegradable bugs and a program that hijacks nearby television screens. But the premise is that it’s well nigh impossible to steal data from the CIA since none of its computers have floppy drives, printers or (presumably, if we’re going to get finicky) infrared ports or Bluetooth dongles. In short, how do you transfer data if you can’t download it? I wanted to shout out suggestions but my friends, alerted by previous visits to the cinema, had gagged me beforehand.

Anyway, not a bad idea and not a bad movie. Except (skip the rest of this paragraph if you intend to watch the movie) someone succeeds in downloading the top secret program by plugging a USB drive into a USB socket on a CIA computer (USB is a commonly used port that allows users to connect gadgets to their computer). She then hides the said drive — about the size of a lighter — in her aluminium coffee mug. I mean, duh! I can’t believe they have USB sockets in Langley and that the X-ray machine confuses a gadget for coffee dregs. Tsk.

Anyway, it made me realize that Hollywood really, really needs my help in making their scripts believable. So here are some ideas for future movies, all involving existing USB gadgets:

— Our hero penetrates high-security installation, wanders nonchalantly up to floppy-less computer, and accesses USB port (inexplicably left on computer despite it being responsible for massive security breach as revealed in The Recruit). Uncoils USB cable from watch strap, plugs into USB port, downloads data into USB watch from German company LAKS (between $40 and $95 from www.laks.com).

— Our hero wanders nonchalantly up to floppy-less computer, plugs USB drive into USB port (amazingly still there despite aforementioned movie and pioneering column from tech writer), and accesses own e-mail via newly released PocoMail PE ($40 from www.pocomailpe.com). Okay, this doesn’t sound that wild, but it’s a great plot twist if you’re using someone else’s computer and they don’t have an e-mail program you need, or, in the case of our hero, you don’t want to leave any trace of yourself (say at an Internet cafe or a public library).

— Our hero has made off with the data on a USB drive. But he’s caught by the bad guys. Being avid readers of this column, they know what to look for and quickly locate the USB drive. But our hero’s drive is a bit different: Made by Singapore’s Trek 2000 International (www.thumbdrive.com), his ThumbDrive Touch has a silver pad that requires the user’s thumbprint before data can be accessed. Unfortunately for our hero, but great for a plot twist, the baddies simply cut off his thumb and plonk it on the biometric pad.

— Armed with a $100 MP306 USB drive from Azio Technologies (www. azio-tech.com/azi0-root/products/MP 306.asp), our hero fails to access the CIA computer because his nemesis has installed a SecuriKey Computer Protection System, Personal Edition ($130 from Griffin Technologies at http://securikey.com/personal/). This looks just like a USB drive but in fact works like a key: If it’s not plugged into the computer, then the computer locks up. Confounded, our hero sucks his remaining thumb and admires the silver metal mini-briefcase that the SecuriKey dongle comes in. Resigned, our hero reaches for his Azio USB drive, dons earphones, kicks back and listens to MP3 music files stored on the drive. Fiddling with the built-in equalizer for improved playback quality, he hears footsteps and quickly switches the USB drive to recorder mode to eavesdrop on two CIA officers passing by, griping about their canteen lunch.

Okay, so not all these plots will win prizes. But one thing I’m willing to bet my DVD collection on: USB drives will replace floppy drives, those flat disks of old, as PC manufacturers add USB ports to new models and remove external disk drives. Prices will drop further, meaning gadgets smaller than lighters will carry gigabytes of data for peanuts. Already you can buy a 1 gigabyte model for $300: Expect to pay half that in a year or less. They will be so cheap people will give them away: Visitors to a recent launch in Britain of Microsoft’s Windows Server 2003 were given freebie press bags with 32-megabyte USB drives inside.

In future, folk will carry around all their programs and data aboard one dongle and run it from any computer they come across, effectively personalizing the computer for however long they’re sitting at it, but without leaving any trace. Wait for the futuristic movie where everyone’s life is stored on a USB drive and every computer in the world is for public consumption. Interested? Call my agent.