open padlock

If you’re not concerned about your privacy, you’re not paying attention

Cross-posted from

I don’t know about you, but the past year has been a real wake up call for me about the importance of digital security. I used to think of hackers as bored teenagers showing off for their friends, or scammers sending viruses and spam to people by the millions. But today’s online outlaws are much more sophisticated.

Not content to just blast misleading links at us, elite hackers have started spear phishing. This is a tactic that sends an e-mail to an individual with unique, personalized information making it look very real, and convincing the user to click through to a website where they will enter their login credentials. Some hackers also use social engineering (not technology) to trick people into giving away critical information that can then be leveraged to compromise accounts.

Unfortunately, we need to worry not only about obviously sensitive information like bank accounts and e-mails, even seemingly inconsequential accounts can be exploited to provide an opening. Once a hacker gets into any of your accounts, be it iTunes, Etsy, or Pinterest, they can use that information to access other services.

The threat to our privacy is real, and we have seen that there are people who may target us and access our data not just for commercial purposes but for political use. People and organizations that are working for social change have every reason to be concerned about how our personal information, organizational data, and private communications might be used.

Good security is a pain to implement, but every inconvenience for us is an even bigger hassle for a would-be hacker. Start now from wherever you are, and make incremental changes to improve your personal and organizational security.


OK, Ruby, we’re terrified! What do we do?

There is always room for improvement of our security practices, especially as we learn more about the threats that are out there. Here are my recommendations for where to start.


More resources


Here’s your reward for making it to the end of this challenging post! Freak out and laugh and get down all at the same time with Ashley Black learning about digital security with the help of Talib Kweli and others, on Full Frontal with Samantha Bee (NSFW).

My 2012 primary endorsements for Orange County, NC

Local politics can be difficult to follow, given the minimal media coverage and (fortunate) lack of political party involvement. Friends often ask me for my advice about how to vote in sleepy local elections such as this year’s Orange County Commissioners race. I can’t in good conscience endorse any of the incumbents. The current board seems to have invented a new form of government in which the staff sets policies, and then elected officials occasionally have misinformed or irrelevant discussions about them after the manager has already implemented his decision.

I strongly endorse Mark Dorosin and Penny Rich in District 1. Both will bring good ideas and real leadership to the Board of Orange County Commissioners. In District 2, I support Renee Price who will be
a better advocate for progressive policies than the incumbent. If you live in Hillsborough or rural Orange County, you will also be selecting 3 school board members. I recommend giving a vote to Lawrence Sanders who will bring thoughtful enthusiasm to the job. And there can be no doubt that Valerie Foushee is the best choice for NC House in every way. I’m happy to say that The Independent Weekly agrees, and endorsed all of these candidates as well.

If you enjoy living in one of the most open-minded and forward-thinking counties in North Carolina, as I do, I hope you will join me in voting for these hard-working progressive leaders. And if you have your own ideas about who people should vote for, I hope you will join the conversation at

Ruby Sinreich
Chapel Hill

Help a busy, geeky mom choose a tablet

As you probably know, dear reader, I was an enthusiastic Mac user for about 20 years. Recently, open source software such as Ubuntu Linux and Mozilla Firefox have reached a much more accessible level and I have been happily only buying hardware that runs open source operating systems ever since. This includes my mobile phone (sort of) which runs the somewhat-open WebOS platform. (I bought it as a Palm loyalist, but then it was sold to Hewlett-Packard, who don’t seem to know what to do with it.)

Anyway, I’m telling you that to tell you this: For years when my friends drooled over iPads and and Android tablets, I was not moved. I bought a netbook that runs Ubuntu instead. But suddenly I find myself desperate for a tablet! What changed? A few things, including being a parent and seeing the many applications from ebooks for kids, to games and videos that can help entertain and maybe even teach my son. I’m also going on a long trip for work soon and want to do  a lot of reading. I do a lot of live-tweeting during meetings that I think I could do from a tablet if I had an external (probably bluetooth) keyboard. And a colleague recently mentioned that a lot of folks watch videos on their tablets while working out at the gym, which I could see me doing if I ever go ahead and get that membership.

So I have a lot of geeky friends, and I thought you might be able to help me decide on the best tablet for my needs. Some of the criteria I’m looking at:

  • Not made by Apple, and an open of an OS as possible. I like WebOS and so I’m open to the Touchpad as well as the many Android choices.
  • Preferably smaller than 10″ for ease of holding up for long periods, but this is not a deal-breaker.
  • SD or mini-SD slot so I can easily add music files.
  • Sturdy enough for a preschooler to play with it, or a large supply of compatible cases.
  • Bluetooth or some other method of connecting with an external keyboard.
  • Excellent full-featured web browser as almost everything I do is online.
  • Decent battery life.
  • Bonus: able to act as a remote control to my media center, which is a computer running Windows and Ubuntu.

Here are some of the leading contenders I’ve looked at recently.


Or Galaxy Tab 8.9

collective wisdom

As you may know, one of my favorite things to do is give advice. Fortunately for me the Internets were made for this kind of thing. 😉 The latest in such Q&A websites is (“consensus life coaching”) which was co-created by the son of the brilliant, genius, amazing author Neil Gaiman.

So far I like this new site better than, which aims to do pretty much the same thing. Interestingly (or maybe not), the son of my friend and favorite humorist-marketer-geek-protoblogger (and good wedding photographer) Doc Searls was involved with starting Wondir. Do we detect a theme? Sons of smart men looking to strangers for advice? Nah. is way more lightweight than, but as a result is easier and fun to use. Witness: the answer-o-matic.

So you wanna start a local politics blog

In my continuing series of turning advice e-mails into blog posts. I recently received this request:

I’m working on setting up a local-politics site for my area of the world. I was wondering if you had any words of wisdom on launching a local-politics site. What challenges have you encountered? What good/bad decisions have you made along the way? What kind of time/money is involved in running the site? Is this at least a break-even venture for you, money-wise? Any other suggestions or insights you may be able to offer would be great. Thanks in advance.

My reply:
Continue reading “So you wanna start a local politics blog”