When your power fails…

Over the last two weeks, we have had two significant (more than 2 hours) power outages. One of the issues that many companies, including the power company, face in the summer is overload. In the summer, the drain on the power grid is huge. Add to that, the risk in the summer as lightning strikes and transformers don’t well do. The disruption for above ground cabling systems is huge. The cost of pushing those cables under the ground is huge. The single near miss by a lightning strike can take one, two or more transformers. Then you have a power outage. Now in the spring or fall, that isn’t bad, you can open the windows, and the house won’t be uncomfortable.

In the summer and the dead of winter, it doesn’t take long for a house to become uncomfortable. Stuffy is the phrase you often hear. You can’t let the outside air in, and you don’t have power for fans. Solar power offsets some of that risk. But during a bad thunderstorm (when lightning strikes occur) Solar’s systems are not operating at their peak efficiency. That is when a backup system is useful. There are a number, some of the battery systems for Solar and Wind turbines. That allows you to store two days or so of power. The other option is a natural gas operated Home Generator. Each of the two power backup systems allows you to create a Micro-Grid.

A Micro-Grid is a system, just like the power company has, but you are only supplying power to your house. It isolates you from the grid outage caused by the lightning strike. It takes between 4-8 hours to cool a 2000 square foot house. That means if the power is out for more than 2 hours. Your house will have a temperature increase that will take your air conditioning system or heating system 2-4 hours of running to return to your comfort level temperature. The reality of power today is we forget, it has to be generated, transmitted and consumed. All three of those require different systems. Each of the systems can fail. Being without power isn’t a lot of fun.


Raspberry Shake–rocks!

One of the things I’ve talked about many times is the Opensource GeoMicrophone Raspberry Shake. First of all, a Geophone is a form of what used to be called a Seismograph and is the current “best” model for detecting seismic anomalies. People ask me all the time why I have a seismograph at home. As you can see from this mornings chart, the blip that was a little of the earth shaking is why. Yes, having a father that was a scientist did color my persuasion towards scientific instruments. But I also know that getting and learning new things is important to me. My father used always to say “be a life long learner” I am trying to make sure I do my best

Another thing that I consider important for me is weather gear. Since our daily dog walks are outside, and we walk year round, I like to know what the weather is where we are. The National Weather Service (in the US) and the European Weather Service (in Europe) do a great job. As to many weather agencies of South East Asian countries. All do a great job. But as my grandfather used to say “if you are painting a wall that is ten by 10, a 3-foot wide brush is great. If you are painting time that is 3 inches, that 3-foot brush is useless.” The right tool for the job was the variation my dad always used. If you look at the weather where your house is, versus the NSW or weather service information, it can be different.

All of these is coming back to learning! There are a learning curve and a usage curve with any devices you add to your life.

One of the things I do love about the Raspberry PI system is the ability of innovators to create things like the Raspberry Shake, and their newly integrated Raspberry Boom, which integrates a microphone with a Geophone to allow you to hear loud noises and seismic activity. All of this based on the small IoT process (Internet of things) called the Raspberry Pi. The Raspberry PI is an opensource system that is impressive and low cost!


Online security is up to you 3

One of the things I used to do more often, and I should get back to doing is listing the scam phone calls and emails that I have encountered or that friends have shared with me!

1. There is not central windows helpdesk! (1 billion computers, generating between 10-15 errors per day, 10 billion errors, sort that, find YOUR specific computer and call no that isn’t possible)

2. IRS leaving you a threatening voice mail – doesn’t happen.  If the government revenue service in your country wants something from you, they will either appear at your door, or they will deliver a registered letter.

3. PS, any call left in a threatening manner to you personally in a robotic voice is fake.

4. No Nigerian prince has left you millions of Euros, Pesos, dollars or for that matter anything.

5. There is no missing gold in Africa, found and now shared with you!

6. Apple doesn’t send you invoices as PDF attachments. EVER! Just delete that spam!

7. You won the Google email lottery (there isn’t one)

8. You won the Microsoft email lottery (yeah, no)

There are so many more it is sad to me. Please add additional ones in the comments (that is how I collect my lists)! These are my all-time favorite iterations of the many scams floating around. I have personally experienced many of them. My favorite activity for the first call when they used to happen was to see how long I could keep them on the line. (did you say right click or left click? I don’t have a mouse, but I also didn’t hear you). The more of their time I wasted, the less likely they would have time to hurt someone else well.

Here are the simple rules that my grandfather taught me years ago!

• If it sounds too good to be true, it is.

• Ask yourself, why I did I apply or enter this? If the answer is no, then by all means just hit delete!

• Look, before you leap. He said that to me about mud puddles and the resulting splash, but it applies to be online!

Personal and online security starts with remembering that first rule! At the darkest hour, desperation makes us do things we shouldn’t do.


A day of troubleshooting…

Three technology lessons learned this weekend. First, the Apple Watch is more fragile than I thought it was. I dropped it onto the tile in our bathroom, and the face shattered. AppleCare was something I had gotten for the watch, (but not the iPhone) so I got everything fixed for a much lower price than I would have had I not been prepared. I don’t do AppleCare for my phone, because the phone insurance is a much lower cost and a better deal. The lesson was in modifying where I took my watch off going forward so that it wouldn’t end up being dropped.  Funny how sometimes the only way you realize a problem is when something gets damaged or unusable!

My second lesson learned was that no matter how much or how little you think people here, they always hear more or less than you think. In the case of my situation, it heard less. It can be jarring to realize what you are saying isn’t heard. I am focusing on improving communication now. But I hadn’t worried about it until I realized it this weekend. Sometimes we want to believe that we are heard. It is important to verify that you were heard.

The last technology situation that came up this weekend was the update to the Trident OpenROV ROV. An ROV is a remotely operated vehicle; In the case of drones, you can use your phone or tablets, to pilot the drone. You can also use a controller if one is paired with your drone. With an ROV you have to use the ether. Wireless or WIFI signals do not travel far underwater. Less than a foot in some cases (metallic content of the water) but not more than 5 feet the rest of the time. To explore deeper water than the swimming pool, you have to have a tether. Normally your tether is attached to a spool so you can allow it to play out slowly as the device goes underwater. We have a 150-foot tether. So far we haven’t gone lower than 4 feet, but once we wander out further towards the bay, we may end up deeper. My lesson learned was the time to download and install the update for the Trident device. It was a critical update, as it allows the Trident to take 1080p (near HD) quality video. I thought it would be a five-minute update. It was not when we took off for the boat; it was still updating. We used always to say when you estimate time, double it. I should have followed that rule!

Well, next time!!!


Security is your responsibility II

Security is something I spend a lot of time worrying about.

1. Avoidance is a form of security. As long as you completely avoid having anything on the internet, it works.

2. Security software – there are several packages out there. That is the focus of today’s technology post!

So security software is somewhat interesting. There are several big players in the security space, and you have considered which one works for you. There are free virus scanners. There are free Malware scanners. Then there are ones you pay for. Some are bundled with other things. I suspect most Internet Service Providers (ISP’s) should give you free security software. They are the ones that are at risk for compromised systems overall.  Many, ISP’s doe give away free security software.

There are two different things you have to worry about, although now, in the modern world, a third problem is growing.

1. Virus

2. Malware

3. Scam

Virus scanning and Malware scanning are similar but should be handled as separate scans. You scan for malicious signatures. Does the code being scanned do something that isn’t appropriate? One of the reasons why US companies have banned the use of Chinese Hardware company Huawei’s products because of that very issue. When some of the Huawei networking hardware was delivered, it was found to be hosting code that should not have been on the routers. For that reason, you need to scan the inbound and outbound traffic on your computer. You need to keep the signatures up to date so that you don’t get caught sharing a virus!

The last piece is a SCAM; this comes as either an email or as a phone call. Let’s separate the two into distinct operating areas.

To reduce scams via email, make sure your virus scanner is aware of your email. Also, if you get an email with links right click on the link and see where it goes before clicking.

I will put a couple of examples in the poll questions!

The second part is the scam phone calls. Most of the major US and global phone carriers now give you scam protection software for calls for free. If you report a number, the carrier can block that number at the network level. That means in many cases; you will never see that number again!

The most important thing to remind you is to be careful!


Security starts with you

One of the things that I know, as a technologist, I often forget is an impact. So, today, let’s start with the impact statement. I know, and I understand that many technology devices do not apply to many people. You get and use what you need. That is not some kind of cosmic learning or revelation that came to me after I was in a thunderstorm hiding under the bed. It is the simple reality of the world. People get and use what they need. I wanted to post this today to let people know that truly understand that sometimes the tech posts I make, are so far beyond anything anyone is interested in today, that it can be confusing! If you are confused, let me know! I will try and explain the problem differently.

You cannot hurt my feelings by asking that question.  My very first blog post, now 14 years ago on the old Windows Live blogs was about Customer service. In particular the horrible customer service of a company I had the misfortune of dealing with. They, the company in question, was selling a VOIP or what is called Voice over IP. More simply, it means that you send and receive voice information via your computer. This can be done by a stand-alone application (Skype, Jabber, WhatsApp, Facebook, and so on). Or this can be an application such as the company I had tried out. Vonage, I will never do business with Vonage again. Their service, their product, and finally, customer service were so awful; I wrote my first blog.

From there, I have evolved my blog considerably. The first thing is I don’t mention names unless the customer services are so bad, then I mention the company name. I also realized that if you are not careful, you can accidentally give away PII. PII, is the security moniker for the concept of Personally identifiable information, in other words, enough PII and someone can steal your identity. So I stopped using names of the people in my life to avoid a data spill (data spill is a security term for when information that should include et out gets out). That got me thinking about the impact of information on people so, I am thinking about publishing rules of the road post to help folks consider avoiding issues.

Here are a couple of examples:

1, NEVER post when you are on vacation. Or, post vacation pictures after you get back!

2. Don’t share information that can be used to identify you easily. (mothers maiden name, the day you were born etc.)More to come!


My review of the Facebook portal device…

My Christmas present this year from my wife was the new Facebook Portal. I’ve used it several times to connect to friends and have video conversations. We do the same thing with the Alexa Vision product, but the Facebook product uses Facebook, where the vast majority of the folks I connect with all the time, are anyway. I have to say the convenience of literally clicking on a picture to connect with a person is nice. But let’s start this review with setup first. The box as is often the case was larger than the device. When the box arrived, I wasn’t sure where the device would fit.  I finally (with permission) devised to put the new Portal in the living room.

Now, one of the things you have to consider when placing video devices that are connected outside the house is placed. In the case of Alexa Vision, we keep it in the kitchen. In the case of the Portal, we are keeping that in the Living Room. The portal has a “flip-able screen. You see in the cover photo that the screen is in the up position. You can also, for a wide view, flip the screen tot eh side. You can watch several Facebook video offerings via the Portal. You can, as said above make video calls to people as well.  Setup is very straight forward. First, you plug the unit into the wall outlet. We plugged it into a power strip, but that is more because I get nervous about power surges and electronics.

The next thing is walking through the on-screen setup. You cannot go to your home Wifi network. You then log into your Facebook account. The system will download the update (they always ship devices one revision below). Once it is updated, it will restart and load the screen you see in the cover picture. The device is fully operational at that point. Although, you do have to connect the video accounts to use it as a presentation device. Overall setup took me about 20 minutes. The quality of the video and audio is first, dependent on the quality of your home network. The more devices you have on your network, the less likely your video calls will be pristine.

Overall my rating of this product is a 7 out of 10.