, ,

The ongoing challenge for women in high-tech companies

In the United States, Sunday, May 14, is Mother’s Day. (Mothering Sunday was March 27 this year in the United Kingdom.) This is a good time to reflect on the status of women of all marital status and family situations in information technology. The results continue to disappoint.

According to the Unites States Department of Labor, 57.2% of all women participate in the labor force in the United States. 46.9% of the people employed in all occupations are women. So far, so good. Yet when it comes to information technology, women lag far, far behind. Based on 2014 stats:

  • Web developers – 35.2% women
  • Computer systems analysts – 34.2% women
  • Database administrators – 28.0%
  • Computer and information systems managers – 26.7%
  • Computer support specialists – 26.6%
  • Computer programmers – 21.4%
  • Software developers, applications and systems software – 19.8%
  • Network and computer systems administrators – 19.1%
  • Information security analysts – 18.1%
  • Computer network architects – 12.4%

The job area with the highest projected growth rate over the next few years will be information security analysts, says Labor. A question is, will women continue to be underrepresented in this high-paying, fast-growing field? Or will the demand for analysts provide new opportunities for women to enter into the security profession? Impossible to say, really.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission shows that the biggest high tech companies lag behind in diversity. That’s something that anyone working in Silicon Valley can sense intuitively, in large part due to the bro culture (and brogrammer culture) there.

Read more about this in my essay for Zonic News, “Women in Tech – An Ongoing Diversity Challenge.”

, , ,

Your board members are a cybersecurity liability — here’s what to do

To those who run or serve on corporate, local government or non-profit boards:

Your board members are at risk, and this places your organizations at risk. Your board members could be targeted by spearphishing (that is, directed personalized attacks) or other hacking because

  • They are often not technologically sophisticated
  • They have access to valuable information
  • If they are breached, you may not know
  • Their email accounts and devices are not locked down using the enterprise-grade cybersecurity technology used to protect employees

In other words, they have a lot of the same information and access as executive employees, but don’t share in their protections. Even if you give them a corporate email address, their laptops, desktops, phone, and tablets are not covered by your IT cybersecurity systems.

Here’s an overview article I read today. It’s a bit vague but it does raise the alarm (and prompted this post). For the sake of the organization, it might be worth spending some small time at a board meeting on this topic, to raise the issue. But that’s not enough.

What can you do, beyond raising the issue?

  • Provide offline resources and training to board members about how to protect themselves from spearphishing
  • Teach them to use unique strong passwords on all their devices
  • Encourage them to use anti-malware solutions on their devices
  • Provide resources for them to call if they suspect they’ve been hacked

Perhaps your IT provider can prepare a presentation, and make themselves available to assist. Consider this issue in the same light as board liability insurance: Protecting your board members is the good for the organization.

,

H-1B visa abuse: Blame it on the lottery

In 2016, Carnival Cruises was alleged to have laid off its entire 200-person IT department – and forced its workers to train foreign replacements. The same year, about 80 IT workers at the University of California San Francisco were laid off, and forced to trained replacements, lower-paid tech workers from an Indian outsourcing firm. And according to the Daily Mail:

Walt Disney Parks and Resorts is being sued by 30 former IT staff from its Florida offices who claim they were unfairly replaced by foreign workers— but only after being forced to train them up.

The suit, filed Monday in an Orlando court, alleges that Disney laid off 250 of its US IT staff because it wanted to replace them with staff from India, who were hired in on H-1B foreign employee visas.

On one hand, these organizations were presumably quite successful with hiring American tech workers… but such workers are expensive. Thanks to a type of U.S. visa, called the H-1B, outsource contractors can bring in foreign workers, place them with those same corporations, and pay them a lot less than American workers. The U.S. organization, like Carnival Cruises, saves money. The outsource contractor, which might be a high-profile organization like the Indian firm Infosys, makes money. The low-cost offshore talent gets decent jobs and a chance to live in the U.S. Everyone wins, right? Except the laid-off American tech workers.

This is not what the H-1B was designed for. It was intended to help companies bring in overseas experts when they can’t fill the job with local applicants. Clearly that’s not what’s happening here. And the U.S. government is trying to fight back by cracking down on fraud and abuse.

One of the problem is the way that H-1B visas are allocation, which is in a big lottery system. The more visas your company asks for, the more visas you receive. Read about the problems that causes, and what’s being done to try to address it, in my latest for Zonic News, “Retaining Local Tech Workers Vs Outsourcing to Foreign Replacements Using H-1B Visas.”

,

Flame decals add 20-25 whp to your car’s performance

It has been proven, beyond any doubt whatsoever, that flame decals add 20-25 whp (wheel horsepower) to your vehicle, and of course even more bhp (brake horsepower). I know it’s proven because I read it on the Internet, and everything we read on the Internet is true, not #fakenews. Where did I read it? This incredibly informative blog entry here.

Not sure about the acronyms?

  • whp is wheel horsepower, measured at (duh!) the wheels. It takes into account power lost in the drive train, including the transmission and differential, as well as the alternator, air conditioning compressor, wheel mass, etc. It is measured by spinning the wheels on a dynamometer (dyno). In other words, whp is what matters.
  • bhp is brake horsepower, measured at the engine crankshaft (not at the brakes). The “brake” part of the term refers to the Prony brake, an early device used to measure power output. The bhp value is always higher than the whp value, because it is only measures gross engine output. These days, the bhp value is usually quoted as SAE net horsepower. Knowing bhp allows you to evaluate engines and engine modifications — not whole-vehicle upgrades like performance clutches, underdrive pulleys, light-weight wheels, huge spoilers, and of course, flame decals.

Get yourself some flame decals and feel the burn!

,

Why am I being spammed by the American Bar Association?

IANAL — I am not an attorney. I’ve never studied law, or even been inside a law school. I have a cousin who is an attorney, and quite a few close friends. But IANAL.

So why am I on the American Bar Association’s email list? I am not a member of the ABA. Why are they sending me a credit-card offer? It boggles the mind. One would assume that the ABA is not so desperate for funds that it would have to rent mailing lists to spam with credit-card offers.

And it’s not like I could sue them, right? Sigh.

, ,

No security plan? It’s like riding a bicycle in traffic in the rain without a helmet

Every company should have formal processes for implementing cybersecurity. That includes evaluating systems, describing activities, testing those policies, and authorizing action. After all, in this area, businesses can’t afford to wing it, thinking, “if something happens, we’ll figure out what to do.” In many cases, without the proper technology, a breach may not be discovered for months or years – or ever. At least not until the lawsuits begin.

Indeed, running without cybersecurity accreditations is like riding a bicycle in a rainstorm. Without a helmet. In heavy traffic. At night. A disaster is bound to happen sooner or later: That’s especially true when businesses are facing off against professional hackers. And when they are stumbled across as juicy victims by script-kiddies who can launch a thousand variations of Ransomware-as-a-Service with a single keystroke.

Yet, according to the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), small and very small businesses are extremely deficient in terms of having cybersecurity plans. According to the BCC, in the U.K. only 10% of one-person businesses and 15% of those with 1-4 employees have any formal cybersecurity accreditations. Contrast that with businesses with more than 100 employees: 47% with more than 100 employees) have formal plans.

While a CEO may want to focus on his/her primary business, in reality, it’s irresponsible to neglect cybersecurity planning. Indeed, it’s also not good for long-term business success. According to the BCC study, 21% of businesses believe the threat of cyber-crime is preventing their company from growing. And of the businesses that do have cybersecurity accreditations, half (49%) believe it gives their business a competitive advantage over rival companies, and a third (33%) consider it important in creating a more secure environment when trading with other businesses.

Read more about this in my latest for Zonic News, “One In Five Businesses Were Successfully Cyber-Attacked Last Year — Here’s Why.

,

Beautiful little flowers on our Red Yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora)

We have two Red Yucca plants in our garden. Both are magnificent: The leaves, with curlicue strings, are about two feet high. The flower stalks are about five feet high. Currently, each plant has only a single flower stalk; we expect them to have more shortly. We’ve seen these plants with dozens of stalks. The flowers are about 3/4 inch long.

The Red Yucca, or Hesperaloe parviflora, is not a yucca, though it looks like one. As the Texas Native Plants Database says,

Red yucca (which is not a yucca) is a stalwart in the landscapes of Texas and the southwest. Its dark green rosette of long, thin leaves rising fountain-like from the base provides an unusual sculptural accent, its long spikes of pink to red to coral bell-shaped flowers last from May through October, and it is exceedingly tough, tolerating extreme heat and cold and needing no attention or supplemental irrigation once established, although many people remove the dried flower stalks in the fall. Unlike yucca, the leaves are not spine-tipped, and have fibrous threads along the edges. Red yucca is native to Central and Western Texas. A yellow-flowered form has recently become available in nurseries, and a larger, white-flowered species native to Mexico, giant hesperaloe (H. funifera), which has only been found in one location in the Trans-Pecos, is also available. Hummingbirds are attracted to the flowers.

Our Red Yucca trumpet flowers definitely attract hummingbirds, as well as a wealth of insects. The plants are excellent for desert landscaping, since they don’t need to be watered. In fact, we planted the first one three years ago in an area of our garden that was completely barren, and now it fills that space perfectly.

, ,

Listen to Sir Tim Berners-Lee: Don’t weaken encryption!

It’s always a bad idea to intentionally weaken the security that protects hardware, software, and data. Why? Many reasons, including the basic right (in many societies) of individuals to engage in legal activities anonymously. An additional reason: Because knowledge about weakened encryption, back doors and secret keys could be leaked or stolen, leading to unintended consequences and breaches by bad actors.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, is worried. Some officials in the United States and the United Kingdom want to force technology companies to weaken encryption and/or provide back doors to government investigators.

In comments to the BBC, Sir Tim said that there could be serious consequences to giving keys to unlock coded messages and forcing carriers to help with espionage. The BBC story said:

“Now I know that if you’re trying to catch terrorists it’s really tempting to demand to be able to break all that encryption but if you break that encryption then guess what – so could other people and guess what – they may end up getting better at it than you are,” he said.

Sir Tim also criticized moves by legislators on both sides of the Atlantic, which he sees as an assault on the privacy of web users. He attacked the UK’s recent Investigatory Powers Act, which he had criticised when it went through Parliament: “The idea that all ISPs should be required to spy on citizens and hold the data for six months is appalling.”

The Investigatory Powers Act 2016, which became U.K. law last November, gives broad powers to the government to intercept communications. It requires telecommunications providers to cooperate with government requests for assistance with such interception.

Read more about this topic — including real-world examples of stolen encryption keys, and why the government wants those back doors. It’s all in my piece for Zonic News, “Don’t Weaken Encryption with Back Doors and Intentional Flaws.

,

The peach-faced lovebirds are back in our Phoenix garden

When we moved to Arizona, we were surprised and delighted to see funny little parrots flying around our garden. Turns out that the rosy-faced lovebirds (which used to be called peach-faced lovebirds, but we can’t get used to the new name) are now resident in greater Phoenix.

These delightful birds are natives of Africa but were released into the Arizona desert either intentionally or accidentally. In any case, they are thriving. Says the Wikipedia,

It inhabits dry, open country in southwest Africa. Its range extends from southwest Angola across most of Namibia to the lower Orange River valley in northwest South Africa. It lives up to 1,600 metres above sea-level in broad-leaved woodland, semi-desert, and mountainous areas. It is dependent on the presence of water sources and gathers around pools to drink.

Escapes from captivity are frequent in many parts of the world and feral birds dwell in metropolitan PhoenixArizona, where they live in a variety of habitats, both urban and rural. Some dwell in cacti and others have been known to frequent feeders in decent sized flocks.

A 2013 story in the Arizona Republic goes farther about the Agapornis roseicollis:

Troy Corman of the Arizona Field Ornithologists, an organization of birders and professionals dedicated to public knowledge of the state’s avian inhabitants, was unsurprised by my fascination.

“These spunky and noisy, bright-green birds seem to attract a lot of attention,” he said.

Their unpredictable visits to city parks and backyard bird baths are said to be huge hits with residents, but the birds are not common sights. Most people I’ve spoken to immediately knew the birds I was talking about but had seen them just once or twice.

Corman co-wrote his organization’s status report on the lovebirds of Phoenix, explaining that they’ve been on the loose as feral flocks since at least the mid-1980s. Their breeding success here — and only here, among places the birds may have escaped within the United States — apparently owes to the comfortably dry and warm climate, ready availability of water and good supply of foods from native and exotic plants, including palm fruit, cactus fruit, apples and various seed pods, including the paloverde’s.

We had lovebirds in our garden in 2014 and 2015, but didn’t see any last year. However, now we are hosting them again on our feeders. This morning, we had six of those beautiful birds. Yay!

,

Bring a friend to worship services with you

Judaism is a communal religion. We celebrate together, we mourn together, we worship together, we learn together, and we play together. The sages taught, for example, that you can’t study Torah on your own. We need 10 Jewish adults, a minyan, in order to have a full prayer service. Likewise, while we may observe Shabbat, Hanukkah, and Passover at home, it’s a lot more fulfilling to come together on Friday nights at the sanctuary, at the annual latke fry, or at the community seder.

When we love something, we want to share it. So why not be inspired to bring our Jewish friends into the kehilla kedosha (holy community), embracing them within a wonderful, sacred congregation? You’re not pushing membership on them, but rather inviting them into a loving community where they will be welcomed. Likewise, if they already are affiliated with a synagogue, that’s fine, too. This isn’t a zero-sum game; it’s an opportunity to build connections between and among communities. Our doors are wide enough for everyone who wishes to enter.

In my latest post on the Reform Judaism blog, I suggest five specific ways you can include your friends – from work, your yoga class, the dog park, or wherever you meet them – in synagogue activities.

, , ,

Congress votes against Internet customer privacy; nothing changes

It’s official: Internet service providers in the United States can continue to sell information about their customers’ Internet usage to marketers — and to anyone else who wants to use it. In 2016, during the Obama administration, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) tried to require ISPs to get customer permission before using or sharing information about their web browsing. According to the FCC, the rule change, entitled, “Protecting the Privacy of Customers of Broadband and Other Telecommunications Services,” meant:

The rules implement the privacy requirements of Section 222 of the Communications Act for broadband ISPs, giving broadband customers the tools they need to make informed decisions about how their information is used and shared by their ISPs. To provide consumers more control over the use of their personal information, the rules establish a framework of customer consent required for ISPs to use and share their customers’ personal information that is calibrated to the sensitivity of the information. This approach is consistent with other privacy frameworks, including the Federal Trade Commission’s and the Administration’s Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights.

More specifically, the rules required that customers had to positively agree to have their information used in that fashion. Previously, customers had to opt-out. Again, according to the FCC,

Opt-in: ISPs are required to obtain affirmative “opt-in” consent from consumers to use and share sensitive information. The rules specify categories of information that are considered sensitive, which include precise geo-location, financial information, health information, children’s information, social security numbers, web browsing history, app usage history and the content of communications.

Opt-out: ISPs would be allowed to use and share non-sensitive information unless a customer “opts-out.” All other individually identifiable customer information – for example, email address or service tier information – would be considered non-sensitive and the use and sharing of that information would be subject to opt-out consent, consistent with consumer expectations.

Sounds good, but Congress voted in March 2017 to overture that rule. Read about what happened — and what consumers can do — in my story for Zonic News, “U.S. Internet Service Providers Don’t Need To Protect Customer Privacy.”

,

Blue passion vines are ready for butterflies and caterpillars

To our delight this morning, our new Blue Passion vines had their first flowers. Passiflora caerulea is an amazing plant. It grows these colorful and complex flowers, which only last about one day, but there’s a long array of buds in various stages of development, so we’ll have blooms nearly every day for months.

The Gulf Fritillary butterfly common here in Phoenix (Agraulis vanillae) lays its egg on the passion vine. The colorful caterpillars munch on the leaves, and build their chrysalis there, becoming a new butterfly. The lifecycle continues.

We purchased two Blue Passion vines a few years ago. We totally enjoyed their gorgeous flowers, and hundreds of caterpillars and butterflies that created a beautiful ecosystem — every morning we’d go outside and check for new flowers and new caterpillars. Unfortunately both vines died last winter. In early March we purchased three replacements, and the first flowers opened today. The Gulf Fritillary caterpillars (which we nicknamed Fruities) are flitting around it, so I expect we’ll have eggs, and caterpillars, very soon.

Isn’t nature grand?

, ,

Top Do’s and Don’ts for creating friendly calendar invites

“Call with Alan.” That’s what the calendar event says, with a bridge line as the meeting location. That’s it. For the individual who sent me that invitation, that’s a meaningful description, I guess. For me… worthless! This meeting was apparently sent out (and I agreed to attend) at least three weeks ago. I have no recollection about what this meeting is about. Well, it’ll be an adventure! (Also: If I had to cancel or reschedule, I wouldn’t even know who to contact.)

When I send out calendar invites, I try hard to make the event name descriptive to everyone, not just me. Like “ClientCorp and Camden call re keynote topics” or “Suzie Q and Alan Z — XYZ donations.” Something! Give a hint, at least! After all, people who receive invitations can’t edit the names to make them more meaningful.

And then there’s time-zone ambiguity. Some calendar programs (like Google Calendar) do a good job of tracking the event’s time zone, and mapping it to mine. Others, and I’m thinking of Outlook 365, do a terrible job there, and make it difficult to specify the event in a different time zone.

For example, I’m in Phoenix, and often set up calls with clients on the East Coast or in the U.K. As a courtesy, I like to set up meetings using the client’s time zone. Easy when I use Google Calendar to set up the event. Not easy in Outlook 365, which I must use for some projects.

Similarly, some calendar programs do a good job mapping the event to each recipient’s time zone. Others don’t. The standards are crappy, and the implementations of the standards are worse.)

There’s more than the bad time-zone mappings. Each Web-based, mobile, and desktop calendar app, even those that claim to conform to standards, has its own quirks, proprietary features, and incompatibilities. For example, repeating events aren’t handled consistently from calendar program to calendar program. It’s a real mess.

Here are a few simple do’s and don’ts for event creators. Or rather, don’ts and do’s.

  • DON’T just put the name of the person you are meeting with in the event name.
  • DO put your name and organization too, and include your contact information (phone, email, whatever) in the calendar invite itself. Having just a conference bridge or location of the coffee shop won’t do someone any good if they need to reach you before the meeting.
  • DON’T assume that everyone will remember what the meeting is about.
  • DO put the purpose of the meeting into the event title.
  • DON’T think that everyone’s calendar software works like yours or has the same features, vis-à-vis time zones, attachments, comments, and so-on.
  • DO consider putting the meeting time and time zone into the event name. It’s something I don’t do, but I have friends who do, like “ClientCorp and Camden call re keynote topics — 3pm Pacific.” Hmm, maybe I should do that?
  • DON’T expect that if you change the event time on your end, that change will percolate to all recipients. Again, this can be software-specific.
  • DO cancel the event if it’s necessary to reschedule, and set up a new one. Also send an email to all participants explaining what happened. I dislike getting calendar emails saying the meeting date/time has been changed — with no explanation.
  • DON’T assume that people will be able to process your software’s calendar invitations. Different calendar program don’t play well with each other.
  • DO send a separate email with all the details, including the event name, start time, time zone, and list of participants, in addition to the calendar invite. Include the meeting location, or conference-call dial-in codes, in that email.
  • DON’T trust that everyone will use the “accept” button to indicate that they are attending. Most will not.
  • DO follow up with people who don’t “accept” to ask if they are coming.
  • DON’T assume that just because it’s on their calendar, people will remember to show up. I had one guy miss an early-morning call he “accepted” because it was early and he hadn’t checked his calendar yet. D’oh!
  • DO send a meeting confirmation email, one day before, if the event was scheduled more than a week in advance.

Have more do’s and don’ts? Please add them using the comments.

, ,

New phishing scam referencing a company called FrontStream

We received this realistic-looking email today claiming to be from a payment company called FrontStream. If you click the links, it tries to get you to active an account and provide bank details. However… We never requested an account from this company. Therefore, we label it phishing — and an attempt to defraud.

If you receive a message like this, delete it. Don’t click any of the links, and don’t reply to it either. You’ve been warned.

From: billing [email address at frontstream.com]
Sent: Wed, Mar 22, 2017 10:34 am
Subject: New Account Ready for Activation

Dear [redacted],

Your account is now available at our FrontStream Invoicing Website for you to view your existing outstanding invoices and make payment. You can directly activate your account here:

[link redacted]

Or you can go to the FrontStream Invoicing website [link redacted], select ‘REGISTER’ option and go through the activation process. Below is your detailed account information from our record. They’re required in order to complete your account activation.

Customer Number: [redacted]

Phone Number: [redacted]

Activation Code: [redacted]

Sincerely,

Accounts Receivable

UPDATE MARCH 22

I tweeted about this blog post, and @FrontStream replied:

@zeichick Sorry for the confusion! The email was sent in error from our customer invoicing system. We’ll be following up with more details.

Given that we aren’t a FrontStream customer, this is peculiar. Will update again if there are more details.

UPDATE MARCH 27

Nothing more from FrontStream.

, ,

New ban on flying with a laptop or tablet means the terrorists win

The U.S. and U.K. are banning larger electronic items, like tablets, notebooks and DLSRs, from being carried onboard flights from a small number of countries. If that ban spreads to include more international or even domestic flights, this will result in several nasty consequences:

1. Business travelers may be unable to bring computers on trips at all. Some airlines ban checking luggage with lithium ion batteries into the cargo hold. Nearly all of these devices use LIB. If you can’t carry them onboard, and you can’t check them, they must stay home, or be overnighted to the destination. Shipping those devices may work for some people, but it’s a sucky solution.

2. Even if you can check them, there may be a surge of thefts of these costly electronic goodies from checked baggage. I always carry my expensive pro-grade DSLR and lenses onboard, and never check them. Why? I’m worried about theft and about breakage — that stuff is fragile. If I had to check my camera gear, they’d stay home. Same with my notebook and tablets. There is too much opportunity for stuff to disappear, especially when anyone can easily obtain a universal key for those silly TSA locks. Yes, a family member lost a DSLR from checked luggage.

3. This messes up the plans of airlines who are moving to a BYOD-centric entertainment model. Forget the drop-down TV screens playing one movie. Forget the individual seat-back TV screens offering a choice of movies, TV shows and video games. Airlines are saving money, saving weight, and making customers happy by ditching the electronics and using onboard WiFi to stream entertainment to the passengers’ phone, tablet or laptop. (And they get to charge for air-to-ground WiFi.) According to the Economist, 90% of passengers bring a suitable device. Everyone wins, unless devices are banned. No tablets? No laptops? No onboard entertainment.

The answer to terrorist threats isn’t security theater. Address the risks in an intelligent way, yes. Institute stupid rules that affect all travelers, no. One guy tries to light his shoe on fire, and now you have to take off your shoes to go through airport screening. And now there’s a “threat” and so here’s a new limitation on people making international flights.

That’s how the terrorists win and win and win.

,

Having fun with a vintage HP-28S calculator

Today’s calculation device is this lovely vintage HP-28S “advanced scientific” calculator from the late 1980s.

As a working calculator, it’s not my favorite. HP gets points for creativity, but the clamshell design makes for an awkward user experience. I’m finding it frustrating to use because each line on the display is hard to read, there are too many keys, and the visual cues are subtle. It is also hard to pry the clamshell open.

The keys do have a nice clickiness to them. If you are doing basic math, you can fold the alphanumeric left part of the clamshell behind the right part.

Functionally, the HP-28 series is also innovative, as it’s where HP first exposed RPL to the user. RPL is Reverse Polish Lisp, a next-generation RPN, or Reverse Polish Notation, designed to handle complex algebraic expressions.

Were I doing that sort of equation-solving or scientific work this afternoon, the HP-28S would be ideal. Today’s project, though, is simple arithmetic related to tracking video editing timings. (Last time I did this, I used an HP-32S II, which has a simpler interface and much larger numbers on the one-line display.)

While I don’t use it often, the HP-28S is a prized member of my extensive collection of vintage calculators. My goal is to keep using all the devices (well, at least, the ones that still function) because it’s more fun than simply looking at them.

, ,

The Russians are hacking! One if by phishing, two if by Twitter

Was the Russian government behind the 2004 theft of data on about 500 million Yahoo subscribers? The U.S. Justice Department thinks so: It accused two Russian intelligence officers of directing the hacking efforts, and also named two hackers as being part of the conspiracy to steal the data.

According to Mary B. McCord, Acting Assistant Attorney General,

The defendants include two officers of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), an intelligence and law enforcement agency of the Russian Federation and two criminal hackers with whom they conspired to accomplish these intrusions. Dmitry Dokuchaev and Igor Sushchin, both FSB officers, protected, directed, facilitated and paid criminal hackers to collect information through computer intrusions in the United States and elsewhere.

Ms. McCord added that scheme targeted Yahoo accounts of Russian and U.S. government officials, including security staff, diplomats and military personnel. “They also targeted Russian journalists; numerous employees of other providers whose networks the conspirators sought to exploit; and employees of financial services and other commercial entities,” she said.

From a technological perspective, the hackers first broke into computers of American companies providing email and internet-related services. From there, they harvested information, including information about individual users and the private contents of their accounts.

The harm? The hackers, explained Ms. McCord, were hired to gather information for the FSB officers — classic espionage. However, they quietly went farther to steal financial information, such as gift card and credit card numbers, from users’ email accounts — and also use millions of stolen Yahoo accounts to set up an email spam scheme.

You can read more about this — and also about Twitter hacking in the escalating war-of-words between Turkey and the Netherlands. See my post for Zonic News, “State-Sponsored Hacking? Activists Who Support A Cause? Both? Neither?

, , ,

Exciting News: BZ Media sells InterDrone to Emerald Expositions

As many of you know, I am co-founder and part owner of BZ Media LLC. Yes, I’m the “Z” of BZ Media. Here is exciting news released today about one of our flagship events, InterDrone.

MELVILLE, N.Y., March 13, 2017 BZ Media LLC announced today that InterDrone™ The International Drone Conference & Exposition has been acquired by Emerald Expositions LLC, the largest producer of trade shows in North America. InterDrone 2016 drew 3,518 attendees from 54 different countries on 6 continents and the event featured 155 exhibitors and sponsors. The 2017 event will be managed and produced by BZ Media on behalf of Emerald.

Emerald Expositions is the largest operator of business-to-business trade shows in the United States, with their oldest trade shows dating back over 110 years. They currently operate more than 50 trade shows, including 31 of the top 250 trade shows in the country as ranked by TSNN, as well as numerous other events. Emerald events connect over 500,000 global attendees and exhibitors and occupy over 6.7 million NSF of exhibition space.

“We are very proud of InterDrone and how it has emerged so quickly to be the industry leading event for commercial UAV applications in North America,” said Ted Bahr, President of BZ Media. “We decided that to take the event to the next level required a company of scale and expertise like Emerald Expositions. We look forward to supporting Emerald through the 2017 and 2018 shows and working together to accelerate the show’s growth under their ownership over the coming years.”

InterDrone was just named to the Trade Show Executive magazine list of fastest growing shows in 2016 and was one of only 14 shows in the country that was named in each of the three categories; fastest growth in exhibit space, growth in number of exhibitors and in attendance. InterDrone was the only drone show named to the list.

InterDrone 2017 will take place September 6–8, 2017, at the Rio Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, NV, and, in addition to a large exhibition floor, features three subconferences for attendees, making InterDrone the go-to destination for UAV educational content in North America. More than 120 classes, panels and keynotes are presented under Drone TechCon (for drone builders, engineers, OEMs and developers), Drone Enterprise (for enterprise UAV pilots, operators and drone service businesses) and Drone Cinema (for pilots engaged in aerial photography and videography).

“Congratulations to Ted Bahr and his team at BZ Media for successfully identifying this market opportunity and building a strong event that provides a platform for commercial interaction and education to this burgeoning industry”, said David Loechner, President and CEO of Emerald Expositions. “We have seen first-hand the emerging interest in drones in our two professional photography shows, and we are excited at the prospect of leveraging our scale, experience and expertise in trade shows and conferences to deliver even greater benefits to attendees, sponsors, exhibitors at InterDrone and to the entire UAV industry.”

, , ,

Happy encouragement from my smartwatch

“You walked 713 steps today. Good news is the sky’s the limit!”

Thank you, Pebble, for that encouragement yesterday.

The problem with fitness apps in smartwatches is that you have to wear the watch for them to work. When I am at home, I never wear a watch. Since I work from home, that means that I usually don’t have a watch on my wrist. And when I go out, sometimes I wear the Pebble, sometimes something else. For a recent three-day weekend trip away with my wife, for example, I carried the pocket watch she bought me for our 15th anniversary. So, it’s hard for the Pebble app to get an accurate read on my activity.

Yesterday, I only wore this watch for a brief period of time. The day before, not at all. That’s why Pebble thought that 713 steps was a great accomplishment.

(Too bad Pebble is out of business. I like this watch.)

, ,

Chicken sandwich at 12 o’clock high!

If Amazon can deliver packages by drone, then fast-food restaurants like Chick-Fil-A can air-lift chicken sandwiches via hot-air balloon. Right? At least, that’s the best explanation for this sighting in my Phoenix neighborhood.

Of course, what I really want is a Dunkin’ Donuts food truck going up my street. Like the old-fashioned ice cream vans. Though drones would be okay too. I’m not picky.

, ,

Don’t trust Facebook to keep your secrets

Nothing you share on the Internet is guaranteed to be private to you and your intended recipient(s). Not on Twitter, not on Facebook, not on Google+, not using Slack or HipChat or WhatsApp, not in closed social-media groups, not via password-protected blogs, not via text message, not via email.

Yes, there are “privacy settings” on FB and other social media tools, but those are imperfect at best. You should not trust Facebook to keep your secrets.

If you put posts or photos onto the Internet, they are not yours to control any more. Accept they can appropriated and redistributed by others. How? Many ways, including:

  • Your emails and texts can be forwarded
  • Your Facebook and Twitter posts and direct-messages can be screen-captured
  • Your photos can be downloaded and then uploaded by someone else

Once the genie is out of the bottle, it’s gone forever. Poof! So if there’s something you definitely don’t want to become public, don’t put it on the Internet.

(I wrote this after seeing a dear friend angered that photos of her little children, which she shared with her friends on Facebook, had been re-posted by a troll.)

,

A hit-and-run accident — literally

It was our first-ever perp walk! My wife and I were on the way home from a quick grocery errand, and we were witnesses to and first responders to a nasty car crash. A car ran a red light and hit a turning vehicle head-on.

As we pulled over to see if there were injuries, the young driver and passenger in the red-light runner got out of their vehicle… grabbed their backpacks… and ran. I got out our car and shouted at the kids to come back, and also managed to snap some quick cell-phone pictures.

We stayed behind at the accident scene to check out the victim (a nice but shaken woman). We also waited with her until the fire and then police arrived.

Other witnesses followed the perps, who ran into a supermarket and hid in the bathroom, and they called 9-1-1 about it. A few minutes later we learned “They got them!” — and the police officer at the accident scene asked us to drive to the supermarket parking lot and see if we could identify the runners.

So: I sat in the back of a car, and my wife hid behind a tree. The perps were taken one-at-a-time out of a patrol car to see if we could recognize them. The police were very careful to make sure the kids didn’t see us. They were indeed the runners — we could easily confirm that, and they clearly matched the photos on my phone.

After the ID, the police sent us home, with thanks. We’d like to commend Phoenix police and fire for their professionalism.

What a day, and what an adventure. While we hope that the kids had insurance (the woman’s car was totaled), we are especially grateful that nobody was injured, and that justice will be done.

And, I guess, once a first responder, always a first responder.

, ,

Hello, Hibiscus! One of our favorite flowers

This plant in our garden keeps blooming and blooming. What’s funny is that sometimes the flowers are yellow, and sometimes they are orange, like this one.

, , ,

Goodbye, Pebble – It’s a real loss to smart watches

5d3_1277I was dismayed this morning to find an email from Pebble — the smart watch folks — essentially announcing their demise. The company is no longer a viable concern, says the message, and the assets of the company are being sold to Fitbit. Some of Pebble’s staff will go to Fitbit as well.

This is a real loss. The Pebble is an excellent watch. I purchased the original monochrome-screen model by signing onto their Kickstarter campaign, back in April 2012, for an investment of $125.

The Kickstarter watch’s screen became a little flakey after a few years. I purchased the Pebble Time – a much-improved color version – in May 2016, for the odd price of $121.94 through Amazon. You can see the original Pebble, with a dead battery, on the left, and the Pebble Time on the right. The watchface I’ve chosen isn’t colorful, so you can’t see that attribute.

I truly adore the Pebble Time. Why?

  • The battery life is a full week; I don’t travel with a charging cable unless it’s a long trip.
  • The watch does everything I want: The watch face I’ve chosen can be read quickly, and is always on.
  • The watch lets me know about incoming text messages. I can answer phone call in the car (using speakerphone) by pressing a button on the watch.
  • Also in the car I can control my phone’s music playback from the watch.
  • It was inexpensive enough that if it gets lost, damaged or stolen, no big deal.

While I love the concept of the Apple Watch, it’s too complicated. The battery life is far too short. And I don’t need the extra functions. The Pebble Time is (or rather was) far less expensive.

Fortunately, my Pebble Time should keep running for a long, long time. Don’t know what will replace it, when the time comes. Hopefully something with at least a week of battery life.

Here’s the statement from Pebble:

Pebble is joining Fitbit

Fitbit has agreed to acquire key Pebble assets. Due to various factors, Pebble can no longer operate as an independent entity, and we have made the tough decision to shut down the company. The deal finalized today preserves as much of Pebble as possible.

Pebble is ceasing all hardware operations. We are no longer manufacturing, promoting, or selling any new products. Active Pebble models in the wild will continue to work.

Making Awesome Happen will live on at Fitbit. Much of our team and resources will join Fitbit to deliver new “moments of awesome” in future Fitbit products, developer tools, and experiences. As our transition progresses, we’ll have exciting new stories to tell and milestones to celebrate.

It’s no doubt a bittersweet time. We’ll miss what we’re leaving behind, but are excited for what the future holds. It will be important for Pebblers to extend a warm welcome to Fitbit—as fans and customers—sharing what they love about Pebble and what they’d like to see next.

,

Bald eagle at Canyon Lake, Arizona

What an amazing sight! We visited Canyon Lake, Arizona — a short drive from our home in Phoenix — and were rewarded with a close-up of this bald eagle. The bird seems to have caught prey; we believe it was a smaller bird, since we could see feathers flying.

These were shot using a Canon EOS 5D Mark III, with a Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 IS lens. This made me wish I’d brought the big Sigma 150-600mm to get more pixels on the bird. Next time!!


 

 

 

,

May you be blessed

1d4_7849Today’s beautiful cactus flowers will be gone tomorrow.

So much of our world’s wonders are ephemeral. Blink and you’ll miss the rainbow. A hug lasts mere seconds. A smile is fleeting. Shapes in the clouds constantly change.

Take a moment to enjoy life. Stop and smell the roses, watch the butterflies dance, take delight in the people around you, the shadows on the wall, the waves in the ocean. These precious moments, these everyday miracles, shall never come again.

G’mar chatima tova. May you be blessed with health, peace, joy, love, and delight.

, ,

Spammers really want to give me a BMW, but aren’t sure of the year or model

bmw-530iMrs. Rachael Adams is back, and still wants to give me a fine Bavarian automobile. But is it a 7-series or a 5-series? Is it a 2015 or 2016 model? Doesn’t matter – it’s a scam. Just like the one a few weeks ago, also from Mrs. Adams, but at least that one was clearer about the vehicle. Hey, it’s the same reg code pin as last time, too. See “A free BMW 7-Series car – and a check for $1.5 million!

All these “you are a winner” lottery emails are scams. Don’t reply to them, simply delete them.

From: Mrs. Rachael Adams

Subject: BMW LOTTERY PROMOTIONS.

BMW LOTTERY DEPARTMENT
5070 WILSHIRE BLVD
LOS ANGELES. CA 90036
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.

NOTE: If you received this message in your SPAM/BULK folder, that is because of the restrictions implemented by your Internet Service Provider, we (BMW) urge you to treat it genuinely.

Dear Winner,

This is to inform you that you have been selected for a prize of a brand new 2015/2016 Model BMW 7 Series Car and a Check of $1,500,000.00 USD from the international balloting programs held on the 2nd section in the UNITED STATE OF AMERICA.

Description of prize vehicle;

Model: 530iA Color (exterior): Metallic Silver Mileage: 5 Transmission: Automatic 6 Speed

Options: Cold weather package, premium package, fold down rear seats w/ski bag, am fm stereo with single in dash compact disc player.

The selection process was carried out through random selection in our computerized email selection system (ESS) from a database of over 250,000 email addresses drawn from all the continents of the world which you were selected.

The BMW Lottery is approved by the British Gaming Board and also Licensed by the International Association of Gaming Regulators (IAGR). To begin the processing of your prize you are to contact our fiduciary claims department for more information as regards procedures to the claim of your prize.

Name: Mr. David Mark
Email: [redacted]
Direct 24hours Security Line: [redacted] (Text Message Only)

Contact him by providing him with your Reg. pin code Number

255125HGDY03/23.

You are also advised to provide him with the under listed information as soon as possible:

  1. Name In Full :
  2. Residential Address :
  3. Nationality :
  4. Age :
  5. Sex
  6. Occupation :
  7. Direct Phone :
  8. Present Country :
  9. Email address :
  10. Reg pin code Number: 255125HGDY03/23

Please you are to provide him with the above listed details as soon as possible so he can begin with the processing of your prize winnings.

Congratulations from all our staffs and thank you for being part of our promotional program.

Mrs. Rachael Adams.

FROM THE DESK OF RACHAEL ADAMS,
THE DIRECTOR PROMOTIONS
BMW LOTTERY DEPARTMENT
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA