Friday, February 22, 2008

Wi-Fi: A word to the wise

I saw something at the airport the other day very telling about progress. While waiting to board a flight, I noticed what used to be a kiosk for the long-gone pay phone has been replaced by power outlets for laptops. There was a power cord connected to a laptop in every one of them; one has to be careful walking around departure lounges these days for fear of tripping over them.

Laptops are a pretty common sight from airports to coffee shops. I’ll be the first to admit I’m on my laptop a lot when I travel. Most of the time there is more work than hours available and I can’t afford to simply sit and relax. Besides, taking care of e-mails while I’m away avoids having a big pile of them in my inbox when I return to the office.

Plus, it looks good to be working on a computer when you’re the Video Professor!

Fellow road warriors use wireless cards from providers like Verizon Wireless and many other companies. It’s a good way to go; however, many of you take advantage of the free Wi-Fi available at various locations. Many businesses, like coffee shops advertise free Wi-Fi to attract customers who like to sip and surf at the same time.

I just read a very interesting story called “Hidden dangers of free public WiFi” by Corey O’Donnell in ZDNet News. He writes, “Research shows that free wireless public networks located in airports and other public places are ripe for exploitation by hackers.”

Many folks naturally choose a free service simply because it’s free. When you log on in public places like airports or coffee shops you assume that everything is safe. However, by doing so, you may unwittingly end up sending everything from your computer to a hacker’s computer. It’s quite amazing how easily they can steal your identity.

O’Donnell says it’s all very simple. “Users who connect to these ‘free’ networks are at great risk of experiencing a ‘channeling’ attack. ‘Channeling’ is a common practice used by hackers and identity thieves to conduct man-in-the-middle attacks, with the objective of stealing user names, passwords and other sensitive data transmitted by the user. The practice is disturbingly simple to carry out: by setting up an unauthorized access point in an airport lounge, hackers can easily trap passwords and other information without the user's knowledge.”

So if you’re using free Wi-Fi in public locations, know that what you communicate, from passwords, to credit card data and other personal information can be hijacked. While, the person sitting nearby looks like they are simply enjoying their cup of coffee they may indeed be trying to pick the electronic equivalent of your wallet!

One final thought about protecting yourself online. The Video Professor team got to work closely with author and cyber-crime expert Jayne Hitchcock on our new Protect Yourself Online tutorial. Much of the material is based on her book, “Net Crimes and Misdemeanors.” One point we make is you’re far more at risk for identity theft offline, usually from someone you know or work with. Online activity is actually safer. That said; always double check and protect your safety online and offline. In this very modern world of instant communication it’s best to remember the old saying, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

By the way, I wonder what they did with all those pay phones? I’ll bet a few ended up at the Smithsonian. Just like the Apple® iPhone will be someday. In the meantime check out our Digital Devices Made Easy or Protect Yourself Online tutorials to help you out with it all, and rest assured when the next generation of modern gadgets comes along, the Video Professor team will have a tutorial for that too!

Until then, I’m going find an outlet where that pay phone used to be. I’ve got work to do.


John W. Scherer

(CEO and Founder of Video Professor, Inc.)

You can read more about him at

Read Corey O’Donnell’s article at


Friday, February 15, 2008

Space tourism. Finally, it’s our turn.

I’m a proud member of the generation that got to watch the first manned space missions in the 1960s. That was the time of the space race. What used to be called the Soviet Union beat us in putting both a satellite and a man in orbit. It all happened smack dab in the middle of the Cold War. Both America and the Soviet Union were vying for the chance to be the first to put a man on the moon. A Texas Senator named Lyndon B. Johnson said he didn’t want to sleep by the light of a Communist moon. Today, we watch television broadcasts and get directions on our GPS devices from dozens of satellites orbiting the earth.

For a few years American played catch up, I clearly remember watching and waiting as American Astronaut Al Shepherd sat on top of the rocket, while Walter Cronkite kept us posted through each agonizing minute before the rocket finally launched, May 5, 1961, sending the first American into outer space. Our successes and failures were well documented; while the Soviets were far more secretive.

The big goal was still the moon, and America was the first, and still is the only, nation to land men there and return them safely back home.

We haven’t been back in a generation, just low-earth orbits aboard the International Space Station. Routine stuff, if anything about space travel can ever be considered routine.

In those days, who among us didn’t dream of becoming an astronaut? Nowadays, if you have a spare $200,000 lying around Richard Branson can make that dream a reality. Branson is an English entrepreneur, best known for his Virgin brand, which includes over 360 companies.

He and designer Burt Ruttan just unveiled Spaceship Two, a very cool looking Virgin Galactic spaceship that will carry up to six passengers for a quick trip to the edge of the Earth’s atmosphere. Passengers will actually experience several minutes of weightlessness and one heck of a view with full orbital flights coming soon.

Risky? You bet. However, there is already a long waiting list of people who want to fly to space and back.

Richard Branson is the classic entrepreneur. He believes that space shouldn’t be an exclusive domain of the government. It’s no different when other entrepreneurs made it possible and affordable for computers to move outside the once-exclusive domains of government and academia. I’m proud to have played a small part in all of that. Someone had to teach you how to use the darn things. We’ve taught over eight million people.

Flight tests will begin soon for Spaceship Two. Branson’s spaceship is to outer space what the Commodore 64 was for home computing. Look for the first-paying passengers to start their space adventures by 2010. For innovators like Branson, space won’t be the final frontier; it will be just another opportunity.

You, too, will be able to experience the right stuff if you have the right amount of cash and a true sense of adventure. Just think of all those frequent flier miles!

Would you fly into space if you could afford to? Let me know


John W. Scherer

(John W. Scherer is CEO and founder of Video Professor, Inc.)

Friday, February 08, 2008

A newspaper’s “cautionary tale for the Web era.”

Like you, I spend a lot of time on the Internet. Many times during the day I surf the Net to look for information on business, hobbies and interests or to find out what’s going on in the world I live in.

I remember reading an article on the Net where the author said something along the lines of, “It’s on the Internet; it must be true, right?”

Not necessarily. In fact, not even close.

Rocky Mountain News Editor John Temple’s column on Saturday, February 2 brought focus to the whole issue of anonymous posting, or unsubstantiated reporting via the Web. The story centered on a Colorado state legislator caught in a compromising situation with a lobbyist. That legislator has since resigned.

But Mr. Temple took us through his own organization’s process of getting it right, both in the print and online editions of the Rocky.

He’s as competitive as any legitimate journalist in wanting to get the story first.  He also holds the highest journalistic standards for himself and his organization. Other outlets may have already printed or posted a story. He decided to wait, to gather more corroborated information. Not to be first, but to be right.

John Temple’s issue was simple. The source was anonymous and the lobbyist in question wanted to remain anonymous as well.

Here’s the official policy of the Rocky Mountain News. “The Rocky Mountain News discourages the use of anonymous sources. Their use threatens the credibility of the newspaper because the reader has no way to judge whether the source is reliable and/or whether the source is using the newspaper for his or her own end.”

He stuck to his guns when the Denver Post ran the story, but remained suspicious when that story also appeared on political websites.

Ultimately the story was indeed true, the legislator admitted to what happened and his resignation was part of the official record. That’s when the Rocky ran the story. They waited and got it right. To do otherwise wasn’t worth the risk to the paper’s credibility.

John Temple calls it all a “cautionary tale about the Internet.” He says that many stories posted on the Web are indeed true. But he adds that many others aren’t.

And his ultimate point is, readers don’t know the difference.

Finally Mr. Temple says that his paper did the right thing in staying clear of the story until facts were authenticated. Otherwise he says, “Anonymous people with axes to grind will exploit the media for their own agendas-destroying reputations along the way.”

John Temple and the staff of the Rocky Mountain News are among the very best at what they do. For just the reasons I outlined above.

I congratulate them.

Do you believe everything you read on the Internet? Let me know by contacting me at


John W. Scherer

(John W. Scherer is CEO and Founder of Video Professor, Inc)

Friday, February 01, 2008

Campaign ‘08 via Web 2.0

Before you read any further, I’m not endorsing any candidate. I’ll leave it up to your good judgment as to who you want to be our next president.

We’ll be bombarded again with television and radio ads this year. Although, I think the 2008 Presidential Campaign marks the true arrival of the Web as a campaign tool, to connect, to raise money and as a source of information and misinformation.

Politics and the Web are not a new mix. John McCain made effective use of it in 2000. Howard Dean successfully harnessed the Web to raise funds in 2004. His famous scream after the Iowa Caucus was both heard and seen around the world by that same Web. Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee shot a spot on the cheap with actor Chuck Norris (who endorses his run), posted it on YouTube™ and got a million hits.

Succeed by technology or fail by technology. It still comes down to content, message and voter perception; their perception is their reality.

A new survey released by the Pew Internet and Review Project shows 48 percent of Web users have been to video file share sites like YouTube. The daily traffic to these sites has doubled since last year. Predictably, it’s younger users who visit the most. They’re a key demographic in this election.

A recent article from Publications called “Politicos Spend Big On Traditional Media; Crumbs For Web” said that of the $5 billion spent on campaign advertising this campaign, less than one percent will be spent on the Internet. Broadcast television will still get the largest portion of money, at least 60 percent. The story from MediaPost also said that “the Web’s importance for candidates goes well beyond what they’re paying for online media.” It cites Barack Obama’s 2007 second quarter fund raising of $17 million, $10 million of which was raised through his campaign on the Internet. It’s hard to argue with that kind of return on an investment.

What candidates have also discovered is the Internet removes the filter of network reporters, pundits and analysts. Why risk “Meet the Press” when you can meet the people via the Web? If you watch network coverage, you’re merely seeing reports on what the bloggers have already reported. Today’s political campaign stops include YouTube, Flikr™, Facebook® and MySpace®.

Your blog can link to your candidate and if you have any influence on Web 2.0 during Campaign 08, they’ll link to you. Link is replacing ink for coverage.

At least two debates this campaign season featured questions from folks living along Main Street, U.S.A. via YouTube. But, say something stupid during a stump speech and you can count on that blunder showing up on YouTube instantly. The Web makes everyone a reporter and everyone fair game even when it’s unfair. The rule still applies; if you don’t want to be quoted, don’t say it. Just ask George Allen.

The Web is the information source of choice for the younger generation of voters. They could care less about the opinions of those who report on America from inside the beltway. TV and print are out as far as they’re concerned. Their parents, who use the Internet in growing numbers, still read the paper and get their news from TV. So the question is, who will be more informed and more importantly who will actually vote?

As races get tighter and sadly, nastier, be prepared to see a flood of various e-mails and postings designed to mislead and misinform. It’s often hard to track the source, so pay attention to everything you read. Just because it’s on the Web does not make it true. Dirty campaign tricks are nothing new, the Web simply provides a high-tech way to create political mischief. It also allows nimble and Web-savvy campaigns to react quickly to such attacks.

Ultimately, I don’t think it will be the best political machine that wins, but the campaign team that best knows how to use the machine on their laps.

Regardless of your party affiliation, let’s take a moment to salute those who have the courage to stand up and put their name on the ballot. It’s a deeply personal commitment to do so and a high form of personal patriotism. You can’t run for office anonymously.

Respect the process by casting your vote for your candidate of choice in this year’s election.

Where are you getting your campaign information this year? Let me know at


John W. Scherer