It’s Small Business Saturday

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Hopefully you survived Black Friday.  Now here we are, Small Business Saturday.  I hope you’ll be heading out to support your local small businesses today and throughout the holiday season, along with all year long.

As someone who has spent their career primarily around small businesses, I’m proud to support Small Business Saturday.  Our family is heading out to do our part.  Enjoy the day!

Happy Thanksgiving! Shop Safely This Season

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It’s here.  The Black Friday deals have already kicked off and the Turkey coma is still in full swing.  Most retailers opened their doors at 6 PM Thanksgiving Day to kick off their Black Friday deal.  Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday are right around the corner.  The next four days are the most active shopping days of the year.  Unfortunately, they are also prime targets for cyber criminals, so be sure you stay safe this holiday shopping season.

I’m sure you have been inundated with Black Friday and Cyber Monday emails offering all sorts of deals.  While most will be legitimate, you have the stay on the lookout for those that are not.  My recommendation is not to click through on any links in these emails.  Instead, open your web browser and type in the address yourself and go directly to the web site and search for the deal.  You don’t want to fall prey to a hacker who impersonates a known seller and tricks you into visiting a fake site that looks like the real thing.

safely_onlineOne Small Business Saturday, take note if the retailer you visit makes you use your chip, instead of swiping your credit card.  The chip system has been in place long enough now, that there is no excuse for anyone to not require you use the chip.  The chip is more secure as your credit card information and every transaction are encrypted and significantly harder to hack than when you swipe.  If you see a retailer who still makes you swipe, you should not think twice about telling them you are not comfortable with their security and may have to shop elsewhere if they don’t implement chip technology.  There are several warning circulating from consumer advocacy groups to law enforcement, warning about vulnerabilities to point of sale terminals that are not using chip technology.  Don’t let a lazy retailer put your safety at risk.

Also don’t forget about Apple Pay, Samsung Pay and similar payment methods that you can securely use with your smartphone.  Using these payment methods will always be more secure than using your card, so when available, use them.

On Cyber Monday, just like Black Friday, go right to the site and don’t click through on ads you see on other web sites or links in email offers that you receive.  While it may be a bit less convenient to type in the site URL and then navigate the site to find the deal you are looking for, it’s a simple and effective step to help protect your online shopping activity.

Once you’ve made your purchase, be mindful of the many shipping confirmation messages you may receive and be mindful of what you have experienced in the past compared to what you may receive in your email inbox now.  Fake shipping confirmation messages are a favorite of hackers to trick you in to entering some personal information in to a fake online form or tricking you to open an attachment which may then infect your computer without you knowing it.  Once infected, a hacker could capture everything from access to your bank to passwords to all of your online accounts.  Again my recommendation is to go directly to the web site where you made your purchase and look up your order and check the shipping information from there.

Another good practice for online shopping is to use a service like PayPal, Visa Checkout or other secure online payment service.  This adds a layer of protection to your shopping to protect your payment information, which is the crown jewel of what most hackers want to steal.  As always, keep a close watch on your credit card and bank statements.  Picking up an unauthorized charge is always a sure way to know a hacker has stolen your identity or payment information.  If your bank or credit card company offers it, setup alerts for any charge or withdrawal, so you get real-time awareness to what may be happening with your accounts.

Enjoy the holiday shopping season and Happy Thanksgiving!  I’m thankful for you subscribing to my blog for updates.

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Please Watch This Video

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As the title of this blog says, “along with a few personal posts from time to time.”

I was so moved by this speech, I feel compelled to share it on this blog, even though it has absolutely nothing to do with IT.  It’s message is far more important.

This is Superintendent Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria, United States Air Force Academy. This man is a Leader! This man is a Hero! This man gives me hope for our nation.

Please watch this video.

Never Forget

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I will never forget that day.  Just two days prior, on Sunday, September 9th, we celebrated my Dad’s, my Aunt’s and my Son’s birthdays.  It was a special one for my Dad, his 80th, and we had a family gathering at Saunders on Rye Harbor, which is no longer there.  It was a beautiful day, as was that Tuesday morning, September 11th, 16 years ago today.

I was driving to work when I got a call from my wife saying that one of the World Trade Center towers was on fire.  She said the news was saying a plane hit it, that it may be terrorism.  I thought it was retaliation for the conviction of the blind Sheik behind the first bombing of the World Trade Center.  The fear in her voice was palpable and I turned around and headed for home.  After listening to a bit of the news, I called the office and suggested everyone go home to be with their families.  Something wasn’t right about this, but I had no idea what was already in motion.

I walked through the garage door and that sweet little two year old boy who had sat in his grandfather’s lap and stuck his hand right into the frosting on their cake just two days before, reached for me.  As I took him from my wife, the second plane struck.  He pointed at the TV and said “plane” and then buried his head in my shoulder crying as the flames burst from tower two.  We were in shock, like so many others that beautiful morning that was ripped away from us all in a senseless act of brutal hatred and mass murder.

Later that day, I would see a caravan of Crown Victoria’s speed past our home.  I hoped they were heading to the neighborhood elementary school where our two daughters were.  The school was on lockdown and parents were asked to stay away.  It was felt it would be best to let the kids proceed with a seemingly normal day to also allow parents time to grasp what was happening and figure out a way to talk with their children about it.  I feared those cars driving by for a worse reason.  Sadly, I was right.  The phone rang not a few minutes later, confirming that a neighbor around the corner was the co-pilot of American 11 that morning.  The shock and horror deepened.

That next morning was another beautiful clear day.  I was taking out the trash and realized the silence was surreal.  We live near an airport and under a major trans Atlantic flight path.  The sky was eerily quiet that morning until a dull rumble became the distinct growl of an F-15 as it came into view, heading north, making a large arc as it turned for the return south toward Boston.

This year, I had the opportunity to visit the National 9/11 Memorial, a small part of which is depicted in the image above.  I was there with my oldest daughter who was 10 in 2001 and is now a beautiful 26 year old woman and that sweet little two year old boy, who has blossomed into a handsome, strong and tall 18 year old man.  It was a moving, emotional, sad yet necessary visit.  We found the name of our former neighbor and a former professor from my alma mater.

Sixteen years feels like yesterday.  I know people who lost people and some who are still grappling with the post traumatic stress of being in Manhattan that day.  My children have grown into adulthood during a terrible time in human history.  Our middle daughter, now 21, is a rookie police officer, trying to help make the world a better place.  The divisiveness of intolerance and religious hatred have spread around the world and across the United States of America.  It makes me sad, but I refuse to lose hope.  Humanity has to be better than this and not just on days like today, when everyone talks about national unity and coming together for one another, whether in the wake of a horrible terrorist attack or in the calm after a pair of terrible storms.

Over seventy year ago, the world said we must Never Forget.  For the last 16 years, we have been saying Never Forget on this hallowed day.  Never Forget and take action to make the world a better place for all people, everywhere, period.

Be Prepared for Hurricane Season

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bridge-hurricane-121029On the heels of Hurricane Harvey and the impending landfall of the powerful Category 5 Hurricane Irma, it appears we are in for a very active hurricane season.  Is your business prepared should a hurricane strike your location?  What about your family?  It’s important to plan now, before a hurricane is imminent.  As Irma is showing us, the path may be unpredictable and the warning time may not be as long we would like, to properly prepare.

I heard Harvey referred to as a once in a thousand year storm.  Some reports are saying Irma could be even more devastating, making that once in thousand look more like twice in three weeks.  Our weather patterns continue to change and unfortunately, are seeming to become more dangerous.

I have gathered several resources for your reference, to help you be as prepared as possible, should you find yourself in the path of hurricane this season.  While these resources are all focused on hurricane’s, they also lay out prudent steps to take, regardless the threat.  Hurricane’s, windstorms, blizzards, tornado’s…potential damaging weather events goes one.  Take time now to make your plan and be prepared.

  • The first resource comes from my friend and colleague Chuck Poole of PalmTech Computer Solutions in West Palm Beach, FL.  Chuck and his team are potentially right in Irma’s path.  Chuck has published a very informative checklist for his clients, which you may review here.
  • The Ready.gov website of the Department of Homeland Security has a great hurricane resource page at this link.  On the right hand side, you will also find links to all manner of additional threat resources you may need to consider being prepared for.
  • The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) together with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) maintains a hurricane preparedness site here.  This site has several links that will take you to valuable information and resources.
  • The American Red Cross publishes an excellent Hurricane Safety Checklist that is primarily geared to families, but is useful for organizations as well.  You may download the checklist from the linked title.
  • Finally, FEMA also runs a program called America’s PrepareAthon! which is a community based campaign to raise awareness and help individuals and organizations be prepared.  This program has published a playbook titled Prepare Your Organization for a Hurricane, which you may download from the linked title.

It’s still too early to know for certain if Irma will hit the United States, though all indications are that it will.  The resources above are all excellent and I recommend you review them all and develop your plan, regardless of Irma’s final path.

As I’m sure you suspect, I have a personal plan in place that absolutely includes safeguarding my digital assets and critical equipment, as well as my family and home, to the extent it is possible to safeguard a home.  Onepath, the company I work for, also maintains robust plans for all manner of situations and assists our clients doing the same.  If your business needs help developing a robust plan, don’t hesitate to reach out to learn more about how Onepath can help you prepare, maintain and recover, should you be impacted.

As my mother always said, “Better to have a plan and not need it than need a plan and not have it.”

 

Beware of Hurricane Harvey Online Scams!

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imagesMVIDJ004It’s disgusting, to put it mildly, but inevitable.  Cyber-scum are using the historic devastation of Hurricane Harvey to solicit false charitable giving to help the victims.  Don’t become a victim yourself!  It’s a very sad reality that we can’t even trust those seeming to be trying to do good for others.

There are fake groups popping up on Facebook pages and tweets being sent with links to fake charity websites.  Email phishing campaigns are ramping up.  In a truly sick twist of irony, as Texas grapples with the prospect of increasing rainfall over the coming days, we can expect to see increasing attempts to scam us in the name of Hurricane Harvey.

Some email phishing campaigns are reported to be using the hashtag #HurricaneHarveyReliefFunds that the hackers are actually pocketing themselves.

Bottom line, don’t click on any links in email or social media purporting to support charitable giving for those impacted by this terrible storm.  Instead, go to your favorite charities web site, something like the American Red Cross, which has setup a page to accept donation to help those impacted.

You didn’t just click that link did you?  I hope not, as that means you didn’t heed my warning, which is what this post is all about.  Please don’t panic if you did.  If you did click the link you know you went to a special page I setup on my blog, right here within this site, that tells you how you should actually go about contacting the Red Cross, if that is your preferred charity.

Remember, it’s always best to NOT CLICK!  Type in the address instead.  You’ll be safer for it.

My thoughts go out to all those impacted by Hurricane Harvey.  I have many friends and family in harm’s way.  So far, all are safe and hopefully everyone will stay safe until this storm fully passes.

Irish Environmental Technology

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They say everything is bigger in the United States. Cars, food portions, the list goes on. In many ways, these are true statements.

One thing that has really stood out to me over the last week here in Ireland, is how much bigger and better environmental technology seems to be.  Especially compared to the US. As good as we are, at so many things, we also seem to lag behind many other countries in areas I would expect us to be better.

Here are some examples of prevalent environmental tech across the Emerald Isle.

Automobiles – By and large, they are smaller than in the US. Given how narrow some of the roads are, this is not a bad thing at all. However, more so than their size, it’s their environmental features that stand out. Most vehicles are diesel and diesel is generally less expensive. You find it at every petrol station. What I find most impressive is that the Diesel engine shuts down whenever you stop, saving fuel and emissions. As soon as you take your foot off the brake, the engine starts. It makes a ton of sense.

Hot Water – Hot water systems in many houses and apartments are optimized for utilization. For example, at the apartment we are presently staying in, the hot water system heats overnight so it’s ready for hot showers in the morning. It’s calibrated to deliver two hot showers a day. If there are more than two showers needed, you simply press a “boost” button to deliver enough hot water for one or more additional showers. It’s far more efficient than keeping a water tank continually heated 24×7.

Wind Farms – Many of the power plants I have seen also have wind farms on their grounds. Makes it hard to make the argument that the wind turbines are unsightly when they are standing alongside the large buildings and stacks of a traditional power station. I have also seen a number of free standing wind farms and they don’t look at all out of place or imposing.

Switchable Outlets – Every wall outlet I have seen has a switch adjacent to it.  When you plug something in to an outlet, you have to also switch the outlet on for it to deliver power to what’s plugged in. This helps conserve power by stopping the trickle effect where most devices draw even a small amount of power when plugged in, even if the device itself is off.

Solar – Many buildings have small solar panels on them to help reduce their reliance on the traditional electric grid. This is an area we are doing considerably better with in the US as well.

Food and Agriculture – Ireland has a rich farming history and that history has laid a strong foundation for continued local sourcing for the food supply. What I noticed, almost immediately, is that chicken is quite different from at home. My son loves wings and orders them whenever he can. The wings in Ireland are like they were when I was young, not the enlarged ones we see in the US now. That’s because these are truly free range chickens and there is considerably less fat and less waste because the portions make sense.

Air Quality – Other countries are generally considered to be far more accepting of smoking than the US, but I would contend that is not the case in Ireland. Smoking is clearly prohibited in nearly every building, private and public. Coupled with other initiatives around emissions and other air quality concerns, Ireland is a leader, not a follower.

Water Conservation – Most of the toilets in Ireland have two flush settings.  One that uses less water, for when there is only liquid waste to flush and second setting to use more water, when flushing solid waste.  I have seen this in the US, but very sparingly.  It’s fairly widespread in Ireland and keeps water conservation front and center and for everyone.

Advancing environmental technology is a national priority in Ireland. All aspects of technology seem to be front and center in terms of educational opportunity as well. I have seen numerous advertisements that encourage students to pursue technology education.  Ireland seems to be doing a much better job training their workforce in technologies for today and the future. As an example, I came across this government statement that seems to capture he national call to action: “The Government’s Strategy for Science, Technology and Innovation (SSTI) has set out a vision to make Ireland internationally renowned for the excellence of its research and to be a leader in using new knowledge for economic and social progress.”

I’d say that’s not just an impressive vision, it’s a reality taking shape in a small country on an Emerald Isle that has called upon the entire world to embrace green technologies for a better future. Well done Éire!