Category Archives: Tech Talk

Carl is the technology columnist for the News in Port Colborne and Wainfleet, an on-line newspaper and accredited member of the Ontario Press Council.

Carl writes on technology issues in his column, Carl Talks Tech.

Ransomware Recovery: Know Your Options

Ransomware is a growth industry

A governmental fact sheet from the HHS reports a dramatic 300% increase in ransomware attacks on U.S. governmental systems from 2015 to 2016. There are now an average of 4,000 attacks per day on those government computers alone. This alarming trend extends to attacks (some successful) on mission critical healthcare facility systems, whose requirement for uninterrupted service can quite literally be a matter of life or death. Ransomware, it is clear, is a highly profitable business. Tips for avoiding infection are everywhere.

But what do you do if the worst happens? What do you do if you ARE infected? Continue reading Ransomware Recovery: Know Your Options

Fun With WordPress Templates

Today, I changed the layout of this site. I was frustrated by the template I was using, so I just threw it out and started again.

Changing WordPress templates is actually easier than it looks. Select from your choice of installed template and hit Activate. It’s that easy. And once you wrap your head around Child themes, it gets even easier. Why? Because, you can customize everything about a template, without changing anything at all. Huh?

A Child theme is basically a copy of your chosen template. You only ever make changes to the copy, leaving the original untouched. The child references the original, but overrides it wherever you tell it to. That’s where the parent-child thing comes in. Parents always think they know best, and kids always ignore them and do their own thing.

With this method, any updates to the original template code which may be released by the authors do not affect your modified child template. You get all the benefits of upgrading (new features, code improvements) without overwriting your favourite background image or chosen color scheme. So you no longer have to avoid updates (potentially dangerous from a security standpoint), or redo them all from scratch every few weeks, which is a pain in the proverbial for many web developers. Very cool.

It can be as simple as creating a new folder in your Themes directory and creating a single file called ‘style.css’ inside it. That stylesheet file must reference the original stylesheet, and it will pull the majority of layout info from there. But whatever you place inside the new custom stylesheet takes precedence and will override the original. Sweet. Here’s how it works.

The child style theme requires certain parameters. Create your blank ‘style.css’ file in the relevant folder, and paste in the following section:

/*
Theme Name:     OriginalTemplate – Child Theme

Theme URI:      http://www.whatever.com/
Description:    Child Theme based on the Default template, which is OriginalTemplate for this example
Author:         Carl Green
Author URI:     http://www.gystservices.com/linktoyoursiteifyouwantit
Template:       OriginalTemplate
Version:        1.0.0
*/
@import url(“../responsive/style.css”);
/* =Theme customization starts here
——————————————————- */
.site-description {color:#ffffff; font-size: 1.2em;}

Modify the above to suit your own situation and need. The last line is optional and can be removed. It is there for demonstration purposes only.

The most important items above are ‘Template’ and ‘@import url’. Both are case sensitive. Get it right or your site will break. The first is the reference to the Parent template. The second is a reference to the style.css file within the folder structure of that template. The other items are mainly informational, except the part below the ‘theme customization starts here’ line. That’s where it gets interesting.

The original template had the attribute site-description set in CSS as a mid-gray. This did not fit my needs, so I changed the color and size to make the text stand out more for this child theme. See? Easy.

Once you have set up the folder structure and file on your site, go to Themes. You should see a new entry there, which uses the name you set in your style sheet as ‘Theme Name’. From there, you should be able to figure it out as you would any other theme, and you can always fall back to the original in case of emergency. Preview, configure and Activate. Again, it’s as easy as that.

You can go down a rabbit hole with this and change everything about your original template. Depending on how complex the original is, that will be more or less difficult, of course. The pattern to follow always remains the same. Any file that needs to be changed in the original template should instead be copied into the child folder, using the same file and folder names and directory paths. You customize the copy in the Child folder and leave the original untouched. As long as they match (and remember they are case sensitive), the child theme will use your customizations instead of the originals.

One caveat, if you modify some of the deeper functionality within your chosen template, for example the underlying coding or PHP, then you will not benefit from any security patches to the original template, as your customizations will override the update. This is unlikely to affect anyone, but I would be remiss if I did not address the possibility.

For our purposes, we just found an easy way to make sweeping changes to a web site without having them overridden every time the site automatically updates itself. Isn’t that grand?

iPhone 6 Owners, Beware!

An interesting piece about the iPhone 6 crossed my desk today. It was about a new phone feature which allows owners to charge their devices wirelessly by ‘Wave-Charging’ it. The idea is that the sensors in this phone can detect microwave emissions. The oscillations they induce in the sensors will charge the phone. All you do, is place your iPhone into the microwave and turn it on for a couple of minutes. There was a video and everything. Cool, eh?

No. This is not a good idea. There is no such feature. The story revolves around a fake Apple ad which went viral. That means that people shared this story without knowing whether it was true or not, or even thinking about it sensibly. But don’t get me started on that subject just yet. Moving on…

Please do not under any circumstances place your iPhone into a microwave and turn it on. Not only will your phone melt, the metal innards may even cause your microwave to explode. Literally, and potentially fatally.

Even if it doesn’t, do you really want to see the smirks on the faces of those assistants when you try to return your now melted and fused table art for a refund? I’m pretty sure the warranty doesn’t cover putting metal into microwaves.

Which brings me to the other side of the coin. Apple are famous for bringing out new technology and amazing devices, which can each do more than the one that came before it. I can see why people are unsurprised when the next fantastic feature is announced. In some ways it is a testament to Apple’s innovation and design skills that nobody questions this anymore. It is Apple. That is all we need to know.

But a microwave is a microwave. Really. You don’t put metal in a microwave. Who doesn’t get that? Well apparently quite a few new iPhone owners got their fingers burned on this tall story. Some, again, literally.

iphonemicrowaveWith great computing power comes a small requirement for some personal responsibility. Also, there is an expectation that owners will have a certain amount of basic technical knowledge. After all, you can’t realistically just walk in to a store and walk out with a hideously complex and expensive piece of modern technology and start waving it around in the parking lot. Oh. Wait. You can.

OK, let’s look at that again. Even if you didn’t read the iPhone manual (which explicitly warns about microwaves), I must believe that the majority of people out there know not to put forks and spoons into a microwave. They were taught that in grade school, along with not sticking a fork into a toaster. And no, you also categorically cannot charge your iPhone by putting it in a toaster. Let’s just squash that idea right now, before it goes viral.

What makes people think they can charge an iPhone in a microwave? The Internet.

Back to my previous point, don’t believe everything you read. Just because it is viral does not make the story true. Use a modicum of common sense. Don’t retell a story you have doubts about. And keep your iPhone in your pocket. It will last a lot longer.

Heartbleed

Those that know me, know of my involvement with the media. Proud owner of a largely unused Press Pass, I am also semi-responsible for the on-line newspaper, the News In Port Colborne.

I make sure the wheels don’t fall off, take care of the backups, handle the adverts, and also write a technology column whenever the mood takes me.

Or, when something important comes along, as it did recently in the form of the Heartbleed bug in the Open Source SSL library behind two thirds of the secure servers on the Internet. Out there for two years before being noticed, this issue carried potential for great harm.

I won’t rewrite it here, it’s far too long. But I will post here a link to the article I wrote for the aforementioned newspaper, for those interested in reading it. Enjoy!

http://newsinportcolborne.com/2014/04/heartbleeds-bug-the-facts/