Maintain Your Sanity with SaneBox

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If you’re like me, you get a LOT of email every day.  For most people, this also means a lot of email to multiple email addresses.  The volume can be overwhelming.

In my work, I see clients all the time, who have massive email boxes.  While it was never intended to be a digital filing cabinet, email has evolved to be a primary storage mechanism for many people.

SanBoxAdd to this the myriad of email subscriptions most people have and it’s not uncommon to see mailboxes with thousands of unread messages.  In the productivity world, Inbox Zero is a hot buzz word.  I only know one person who actually achieves this on a regular basis.  For me, less that 300 email messages in my Inbox is a near miracle.

The concept of Inbox Zero is that you touch each new email only once, reading, responding, scheduling or deleting the message so it’s not sitting in your Inbox reminding you that you need to take action on it.  Those who follow the Getting Things Done, or GTD, philosophy of time management and personal productivity are quite familiar with this concept.

SaneBox is a great email utility that helps you achieve Inbox Zero and more efficient management of your email.  It works with all major email services like Gmail, Office 365, Yahoo Mail and corporate email systems.

When you subscribe to SaneBox, you assign training rules to your mail flow.  Most of this is automatic, what SaneBox does well.  Along with the automated training, you have the ability to create custom training rules and override trainings that may not work for you.  Instead of using lots of rules to move incoming email to other folders, SaneBox does this for you.

In my own mailbox, I have come to relay on folders such as SaneBulk, SaneLater, SaneNews and SaneNoReplies.  SaneNoReplies is my favorite.  When I send an email to someone that needs a reply, SaneBox automagically places that message into my SaneNoReplies folder.  I scan that folder each day and delete the messages that I have received a response to or no longer need to.  The rest remind me to reach out to the person I am waiting for and ask them to reply.  A simple and highly effective little trick.  The other “Sane” folders are fairly self explanatory.  Those messages that can wait to be reviewed are moved to the Later folder, subscriptions and news broadcasts flow to the News folder and bulk email finds it way to the Bulk folder.

I subscribe to the Lunch plan for $99 per year.  This covers my work and personal email addresses and I’ve found the increased focus of my Inbox well worth the cost.  For $99 a year, I have an automagic assistant that reviews every email message I receive, which number close to 500 some days, and organizes the messages so that I only see those messages that are important and/or actionable in my Inbox.  The rest filter out to the various folders that I review either daily or every few days.  It’s an excellent tool that I highly recommend.

If you’re interested, you can get a 14 day free trial by clicking here.

Disclaimer: If you sign up after clicking this link, I will get credit.  If enough people I know subscribe, the cost of my annual subscription will be reduced.  You may then share your experience and if people you know subscribe, you will enjoy a similar discount.  Smart marketing from a smart company that is making email a lot more sane for me.

 

CompTIA AMM is a Wrap

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I’ve spent the past three days in Chicago, attending CompTIA’s Annual Member Meeting.  The gathering of the IT industry is highly unique among all the events that take place throughout the year.

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CompTIA, the Computing Technology Association, is the global non-profit IT trade association.  Association members range from certified IT professionals to household name technology companies like Apple, Cisco, Microsoft and Hewlett Packard to name just a few.  The Annual Member Meeting is not your typical conference or trade show.  The focus for this event is to bring Association members together to talk about the state of the industry and review staff and volunteer initiatives for the coming year.

CompTIA is the vendor neutral certifying body for IT.  It’s most well known certifications are A+, Network+ and Security+.  The newest certification, CSA+, Cybersecurity Analyst, was a hot topic throughout the last three days.

CompTIA is also organized around member Communities and Councils, of which there are presently ten Communities, five Councils and three Public Sector Councils.  Following is the list of Communities and Councils that met this week:

Communities
Advancing Women in Technology
ANZ Channel (Australia/New Zealand)
Canadian IT Business
Cloud
Future Leaders
IT Security
IT Services & Support
Managed Services
UK Channel
Diversity in Technology (Announced this Week)

Councils
Vendor Advisory
Partner Advisory
Distributor Advisory
End User Commission
Business Applications Advisory

Public Sector Councils
The Human Services IT Advisory Group
The Space Enterprise Council
The State & Local Government and Education Council

Personally, I participated in meetings of the Cloud, IT Security and Managed Services Communities.  As a current member of the Board of Directors, I also attended our Governance, Executive Committee and Board meeting.  I also heard a keynote session presented by Tom Wujec, Fellow at Autodesk.  He gave a very engaging talk on using drawing to solve complex problems and make significant decisions.

As always, the quality of the material presented and the discussions throughout the week, were insightful, thought provoking and forward looking.  The future is bright, for CompTIA as an Association and for the IT industry as a whole.  Keep an eye on CompTIA and if you are part of the IT industry, including a certified professional, get engaged.  You won’t be disappointed.

Cyberspace is the New Battlefield

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The following was published in todays editions of Seacoast Sunday and Foster’s Daily Democrat.

Back in the spring of 2014, the U.S. Department of Justice filed indictments against five officers of the Chinese military, in connection to the illegal hacking of multiple U.S.-based companies along with the International Steelworkers Union.

This week, the Justice Department filed indictments against three Russian and oneCyberGrenade Kazakh national, in connection with the massive hacking of Yahoo, which also took place in 2014. In this case, two of the Russian nationals are members of Russia’s Federal Security Service, more commonly known as the FSB. The FSB is the modern-day successor of the Soviet KGB. The other Russian and the Kazakh appear to be known cybercriminals, working in concert with these FSB operatives. The Kazakh was arrested in Canada, where he was residing.

Like the Chinese case, the remaining Russians are in Russia and therefore have not been arrested and are unlikely to be. It is a near impossibility that Russia would extradite two intelligence officers and another of its citizens to the United States, just as the Chinese did not hand over the military officers charged in that case.

What this all signals is what many already know: Cyberspace has become the new battlefield. Electronic warfare is certainly nothing new. I’m sure you remember in the first Gulf War in 1991 the first attacks were not by traditional means. The electric grid and communication systems were disrupted using new technologies, to render the target dark and unable to communicate while the more traditional military assault began.

Today, we are seeing a definite rise in cyber crimes designed to test nations, economies and even societal norms. There is a school of thought that says the next major conflict between world powers will be fought online and not on the streets of the actual countries. We know, for example, that terrorists have been highly successful recruiting and radicalizing individuals using online means. We now know the 2016 presidential election fell victim to hacking. What we don’t know for certain is whether these hacks actually influenced the outcome of the election in terms of actual results. It certainly influenced events, but also points to the fact the actual impact of hacking may be difficult, if not impossible, to properly qualify.

In the Chinese case from 2014, this was the first time actors of a foreign nation were implicated in a cyber attack that had tangible results. The case revolved around negotiations between U.S. corporations and the Chinese government. The hacking was done by a known unit of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, specifically Unit 61398 based in Shanghai. The hackers were able to obtain commercial secrets that gave the Chinese government an unfair and until now, unknown, advantage in the negotiation of business transactions. This harmed U.S. economic interests in a tangible way.

Similarly, the new indictment stemming from the Yahoo hack, is likely to reveal significant impact to the economy as the result of the hack. The Yahoo breach is the largest cyber crime in history, exposing information on more than a half billion user accounts. That information was used to gain access to email not just on Yahoo’s systems, but Google and others are well. That information was then scanned for confidential information that allowed the hackers to access to credit card accounts, in some cases open new accounts as well as facilitating spamming and other nefarious activities.

If it were not clear already, cyber crime is a threat not just to us personally, but to our economic and national security. It remains far too easy for hackers to access confidential information and then use the new information gathered to enact more and more dangerous attacks.

While these two instances involve countries the United States is often at odds with, let’s keep in mind that our country is active in this area as well. It would be naive to think U.S. Cyber Command does not possess the same capabilities and hopefully more. I say hopefully, not because I want us engaging in hacking for nefarious purposes, but so that we, as a nation, maintain an appropriate offensive and defensive cyber capability to give our adversaries pause before they look to do us harm. In the realm of international relations, I’m sure other nations have the exact same intent. In cases where the capabilities are used for criminal activity, I’m glad to see our Justice Department making these indictments. While they will likely not result in any prosecutions, it does put hackers on notice that our country has the capability to identify their activity and make it known. It’s a new form of deterrence on the new battlefield.

The New Battlefield

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Russian HackYesterday, the United States Justice Department announced charges against three Russian nationals and one national of Kazakhstan residing in Canada.  Two of the Russian’s are also members of Russia’s Federal Security Service or FSB.  The FSB is Russia’s equivalent of the CIA.

These four individuals have been charged in the Yahoo hack that compromised 500 million Yahoo accounts.  The four are indicted on counts of computer hacking, economic espionage and other criminal charges.  You may read the DOJ press release here.

The DOJ complaint alleges that the hackers used the stolen Yahoo account information to access other email providers and accounts belonging to Russian journalists, U.S. and Russian government officials as well as private-sector employees of financial, transportation and other industries.

This new information confirms that the Yahoo hack is perhaps, the worst cybersecurity breach in history.  Worse, it was accomplished in rather simple fashion, taking advantage of system and user vulnerabilities that still exist across many organizations.

Similar to the infamous Chinese hacking case, where members of China’s military were charged with hacking, it is unlikely that the Russian nationals will face justice in the United States.  Extraditing these hackers from Russia is all but impossible.  The Kazakh person was arrested in Canada and extradition may be likely for that individual.

Regardless of the outcome, this case clearly confirms that cyberspace is the new battlefield.

 

Is Snowpocolypse or Snowmaggedon Coming?

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No, it’s just winter in New England.  A powerful Nor’easter is bearing down on us and if the forecasts are correct, we’re looking at a foot or more in metro Boston to upwards of 20″ plus for New Hampshire into the mountains.  A good old fashioned blizzard is forecast.

Seems like a good time to remind you of a post I wrote a short month ago titled How do You Handle Inclement Weather?

Our company has already planned for the storm.  Out of our 50+ person team, we are onlySnowman Boston expecting roughly half or more to work from home as the snow is supposed to be heavy from 5 AM on.  Only those who live a safe distance from the office will be coming in.  Our entire company is able to work from home just as if we are sitting at our desks at the office.  Our secure instant messaging and VoIP phone system will keep us all in constant communication.  Our data centers will keep our infrastructure available and our customers will be able to get support just like any other day.

I suspect our team will spend most of their time tracking outages related to connectivity and power issues throughout the storm, but if you have any issue with your computer or mobile device, we’ll ne here to help.

Hope everyone comes through the storm safe and warm.  Enjoy the snow, summer will be here before you know it.

Ski Technology at its Finest

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While I would love to be talking about the technology in my 2017 K2 Pinnacles, that’s not what this post is about.  However, it you are looking for an incredible all-mountain ski that performs above expectations on both east coast mountains and the Rockies, this is the ski for you…but I digress.

I spent a week skiing in Colorado with a good friend and my son.  The skiing was fantastic, as expected.  What I was pleasantly surprised with was the use of technology on the mountain to make the experience even more pleasant.

We mostly skied at Vail Resort mountains.  Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge and Keystone.  We also skied a day at one of my all-time favorites, Steamboat.  The ticketing systems at both mountains leverage RFID technology to make the experience simple and efficient.

Here is a picture of the RFID card issued at each mountain.

EpicDayCard_LIThe EpicDay card is Vail Resorts card.  You can go online and purchase single or multiple day lift tickets and just pick up this card on your first visit to any of the mountains.  Once you have the card, it just needs to be on your person, somewhere on its own, so the mountain RFID readers can scan and validate your card as you ski.

When at the base lifts on the mountain, lift staff carries a Symbol/Zebra RFID reader and will wave the device in front of you to pick up and validate your ticket.  Once you are up the mountain, there is no longer a need to read the ticket, as you wouldn’t be able to get there without riding a base lift first.  However, every lift still has RFID readers and they are used for a couple of purposes.  Namely, they keep track of the lifts you ride and they are used to calculate the wait time in the lift line.  Vail Resorts has a mobile app called EpicMix which will track all of this for you.  There are even photographers on the mountain and they too will use RFID to track your photo opps.  If you hold a season ticket, these photos will automatically post to your Facebook account if you allow that.

At Steamboat, their technology is called QuickTrax and SteamboatCard.jpgworks similarly.  You register the card and it’s good for 3 years.  You don’t have to visit a ticket window again during this time.  You may simply go online, purchase your ticket or tickets and load them to your card so you can walk right to the lift and get to the slopes.

One thing to keep in mind with RFID technology is that you don’t want to have interference issues.  If you have both of these two cards in the same pocket, only one will read and you might have issues getting on the lift if the card that reads is not the mountain you are at.  Credit cards and cell phones may also interfere, so just be sure to have the card in an outside pocket on its own and you should be fine.

 

Amazon Web Services Outage Highlights Cloud Risks

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The following article was published in yesterday’s Seacoast Sunday and Foster’s Daily Democrat.

This week, Amazon Web Services (AWS) Simple Storage System (S3) awssuffered a major outage. The outage lasted throughout most of Tuesday, Feb. 28. While the S3 system is a back-end system, the system is used by literally hundreds of thousands of websites and Internet of Things (IoT) services.

The AWS S3 system is a public Cloud hosting platform. It hosts websites, Internet accessible applications and sharing sites for data and images. Because of the outage, you may not have been able to reach a website, or the site may not have been displaying images. Nest, the popular smart thermostat, smoke/carbon monoxide detector and webcam was impacted. If you have one or more of these devices, you would have been unable to manage them, get alerts, etc.

What’s worse is that Amazon’s status page, where they report on the real-time health of the AWS services was also broken. This meant that companies that have systems hosted on S3 with AWS were unable to see the status of the system and more importantly, updates on Amazon’s progress resolving the issue. That last point being the most important. Once you know you have a problem, the most important thing you can do is keep your customers updated on the status and estimated time of restoration of services.

What this clearly points out is the weakness of the public Cloud. If you put all of your eggs in one basket and only run your systems in one public Cloud, an outage like this will cripple your business, at least for the time of the outage. The impact to your brand and success of your product and/or service could be immeasurable.

The only way to safeguard against this risk is with multi-provider redundancy. AWS and Microsoft’s Azure have established themselves as the market leaders. What if you could replicate your systems between both platforms, so that one could be your active, or primary, service and the other could be your passive, or secondary, service? If you build out network redundancy within just one provider, if that provider has an outage, both your primary and secondary systems could end up offline. If you ran each on a different service platform, you should be able to stay up and running through an outage at just a single provider.

With Internet enabled apps and services becoming more the norm than the exception, building out this type of redundancy becomes critical, quickly. The industry recognizes this and has coined the phrase Multi-Cloud Management. Basically, this means being able to configure, control and maintain mirrored infrastructures between two Cloud providers.

This concept is not dissimilar from redundancy within traditional on-premise infrastructures. In this example, companies would establish a primary server closet or data center and a redundant one elsewhere in the building or nearby. The point here is simply that the company controls the infrastructure and therefore the redundancy.

Multi-Cloud Management extends this to the public Cloud. As outlined above, this concept allows companies to establish their Cloud based infrastructures with market leaders like AWS or Azure and then properly maintain it. For those that find on-premise redundancy too expensive, this may provide a highly attractive alternative.

Of course, this all depends on having the right applications and/or services that are able to be moved to the public Cloud. If they are, how will you manage them in an efficient manner? All considerations for which you must develop a strategy.

The Cloud holds tremendous opportunity and if you were impacted by this week’s AWS outage, you understand how important redundancy is, both on-premise and in the Cloud.

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