MOST HATED COMPANIES

February 3, 2018


The list of the “most hated American companies” was provided by KATE GIBSON in the MONEYWATCH web site, February 1, 2018, 2:20 PM.  The text and narrative is this author’s.

Corporate America is sometimes, but not always, blamed for a number of misdeeds, swindles, “let’s bash the little guy”, etc. behavior.  Many times, those charges are warranted.   You get the picture.   Given below, is a very quick list of the twenty (20) most hated U.S. companies.  This list is according to 24/7 Wall St., which took customer surveys, employee reviews and news events into account in devising its list: ( I might mention the list is in descending order so the most-egregious offender is at the bottom.

  • The Weinstein Company. I think we can all understand this one but I strongly believe most of the employees of The Weinstein Company are honest hard-working individuals who do their job on a daily basis.  One big problem—you CANNOT tell me the word did not get around relative to Weinstein’s activities.  Those who knew are definitely complicit and should be ashamed of themselves.  This includes those holier-than-thou- actresses and actors pretending not-to-know.
  • United Airlines. The Chicago-based carrier is still in the dog housewith customers after a video of a passenger being forcibly removed from his seat on an overbooked flight went viral last year. You simply do NOT treat individuals, much less customers, in the manner in which this guy was treated.  I wonder how much money United has lost due to the video?
  • Fake news, deceptive ads, invasion of privacy.  You get the picture and YET millions subscribe.  This post will be hyperlinked to Facebook to improve readership.  That’s about the only reason I use the website.
  • I don’t really know these birds but apparently the telecom, one of the nation’s biggest internet and telephone service providers, reportedly gets poor reviews from customers and employees alike. I think that just might be said for many of the telecoms.
  • This one baffles me to a great extent but the chemical company has drawn public ire at a lengthy list of harmful products, including DDT, PCBs and Agent Orange. Most recently, it’s accused of causing cancer in hundreds exposed to its weed killer, Roundup.
  • I’m a Comcast subscriber and let me tell you their customer service is the WORST. They are terrible.  Enough said.
  • I have taken Uber multiple times with great success but there are individuals who have been harassed.  Hit by complaints of sexual harassment at the company and a video of its then-CEO Travis Kalanick arguing with an Uber driver, the company last year faced a slew of lawsuit and saw 13 executives resign, including Kalanick.
  • Sears Holdings. Sears plans to close more than one hundred (100) additional stores through the spring of 2018, with the count of Sears and Kmart stores already down to under 1,300 from 3,467 in 2007. Apparently, customer satisfaction is a huge problem also.  The retail giant needs a facelift and considerable management help to stay viable in this digital on-line-ordering world.
  • Trump Organization.  At this point in time, Donald Trumpis the least popular president in U.S. history, with a thirty-five (35) percent approval rating at the end of December. That disapproval extends to the Trump brand, which includes golf courses, a hotel chain and real estate holdings around the globe. One again, I suspect that most of the employees working for “the Donald” are honest hard-working individuals.
  • Wells Fargo. At one time, I had a Wells Fargo business account. NEVER AGAIN. I won’t go into detail.
  • The insurance industry is not exactly beloved, and allegations of fraud have not helped Cigna’s case. Multiple lawsuits allege the company inflated medical costs and overcharged customers.
  • Spirit Airlines. I’ve flown Spirit Airlines and you get what you pay for. I do not know why customers do not know that but it is always the case.  You want to be treated fairly, fly with other carriers.
  • Vice Media The media organization has lately been roiled by allegations of systemic sexual harassment, dating back to 2003. One of these day some bright individual in the corporate offices will understand you must value your employees.
  • The telecom gets knocked for poor customer experiences that could in part be due to service, with Sprint getting low grades for speed and data, as well as calling, texting and overall reliability.
  • Foxconn Technology Group. Once again, I’m not that familiar with Foxconn Technology Group. The company makes and assembles consumer electronics for entities including Apple and Nintendo. It’s also caught attention for poor working and living conditions after a series of employee suicides at a compound in China. It recently drew negative press for a planned complex in Wisconsin.
  • Electronic Arts. The video-game maker known for its successful franchises is also viewed poorly by gamers for buying smaller studios or operations for a specific game and then taking away its originality.
  • University of Phoenix. I would expect every potential student wishing to go on-line for training courses do their homework relative to the most-desirable provider. The University of Phoenix does a commendable job in advertising but apparently there are multiple complaints concerning the quality of services.
  • I’m a little burned out with the NFL right now. My Falcons and Titans have had a rough year and I’m ready to move on to baseball. Each club sets their own spring training reporting dates each year, though all camps open the same week. Pitchers and catchers always arrive first. The position players don’t have to show up until a few days later. Here are this year’s reporting dates for the 15 Cactus League teams, the teams that hold spring training in Arizona.
  • Fox Entertainment Group. If you do not like the channel—do something else.  I bounce back and forth across the various schedules to find something I really obtain value-added from.  The Food Network, the History Channel, SEC Network.  You choose.  There are hundreds of channels to take a look at.
  • The consumer credit reporting was hit by a massive hack last year, exposing the personal data of more than 145 million Americans and putting them at risk of identity theft. Arguably worse, the company sat on the information for a month before letting the public know.

CONCLUSIONS:  In looking at this survey, there are companies that deserve their most-hated-status and, in my opinion, some that do not.  Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  As always, I welcome your comments.

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THE NEXT FIVE (5) YEARS

February 15, 2017


As you well know, there are many projections relative to economies, stock market, sports teams, entertainment, politics, technology, etc.   People the world over have given their projections for what might happen in 2017.  The world of computing technology is absolutely no different.  Certain information for this post is taken from the publication “COMPUTER.org/computer” web site.  These guys are pretty good at projections and have been correct multiple times over the past two decades.  They take their information from the IEEE.

The IEEE Computer Society is the world’s leading membership organization dedicated to computer science and technology. Serving more than 60,000 members, the IEEE Computer Society is the trusted information, networking, and career-development source for a global community of technology leaders that includes researchers, educators, software engineers, IT professionals, employers, and students.  In addition to conferences and publishing, the IEEE Computer Society is a leader in professional education and training, and has forged development and provider partnerships with major institutions and corporations internationally. These rich, self-selected, and self-paced programs help companies improve the quality of their technical staff and attract top talent while reducing costs.

With these credentials, you might expect them to be on the cutting edge of computer technology and development and be ahead of the curve as far as computer technology projections.  Let’s take a look.  Some of this absolutely blows me away.

human-brain-interface

This effort first started within the medical profession and is continuing as research progresses.  It’s taken time but after more than a decade of engineering work, researchers at Brown University and a Utah company, Blackrock Microsystems, have commercialized a wireless device that can be attached to a person’s skull and transmit via radio thought commands collected from a brain implant. Blackrock says it will seek clearance for the system from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, so that the mental remote control can be tested in volunteers, possibly as soon as this year.

The device was developed by a consortium, called BrainGate, which is based at Brown and was among the first to place implants in the brains of paralyzed people and show that electrical signals emitted by neurons inside the cortex could be recorded, then used to steer a wheelchair or direct a robotic arm (see “Implanting Hope”).

A major limit to these provocative experiments has been that patients can only use the prosthetic with the help of a crew of laboratory assistants. The brain signals are collected through a cable screwed into a port on their skull, then fed along wires to a bulky rack of signal processors. “Using this in the home setting is inconceivable or impractical when you are tethered to a bunch of electronics,” says Arto Nurmikko, the Brown professor of engineering who led the design and fabrication of the wireless system.

capabilities-hardware-projection

Unless you have been living in a tree house for the last twenty years you know digital security is a huge problem.  IT professionals and companies writing code will definitely continue working on how to make our digital world more secure.  That is a given.

exascale

We can forget Moor’s Law which refers to an observation made by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore in 1965. He noticed that the number of transistors per square inch on integrated circuits had doubled every year since their invention.  Moore’s law predicts that this trend will continue into the foreseeable future. Although the pace has slowed, the number of transistors per square inch has since doubled approximately every 18 months. This is used as the current definition of Moore’s law.  We are well beyond that with processing speed literally progressing at “warp six”.

non-volitile-memory

If you are an old guy like me, you can remember when computer memory costs an arm and a leg.  Take a look at the JPEG below and you get an idea as to how memory costs has decreased over the years.

hard-drive-cost-per-gbyte

As you can see, costs have dropped remarkably over the years.

photonics

texts-for-photonoics

power-conservative-multicores

text-for-power-conservative-multicores

CONCLUSION:

If you combine the above predictions with 1.) Big Data, 2.) Internet of Things (IoT), 3.) Wearable Technology, 4.) Manufacturing 4.0, 5.) Biometrics, and other fast-moving technologies you have a world in which “only the adventurous thrive”.  If you do not like change, I recommend you enroll in a monastery.  You will not survive gracefully without technology on the rampage. Just a thought.

QUADCOPTERS

June 5, 2016


Several days ago I was walking my oldest grandson’s dog Atka. (I have no idea as to where the name came from.)  As we rounded the corner at the end of our street, I heard a buzzing sound; a very loud buzzing sound.   The sound was elevated and after looking upward I saw a quadcopter about one hundred feet in the air going through a series of maneuvers in a “Z” fashion.  It was being operated by a young man in our “hood”, a young man of nine years.  His name is Dillon; very inquisitive and always with the newest toys.  The control he was using was a joy-stick apparatus with two thumb wheels on either side.  Simple but effective for the flight paths he put the copter through.  The JPEG below will give you some idea as to the design.(NOTE:Dillon’s copter did not have a camera in the body.  He was not recording the subject matter the device flew over.)


QUAD COPTER(2)

A quadcopter, also called a quadrotor helicopter or quadrotor, is a multi-rotor helicopter, as you can see from above, lifted and propelled by four rotors. Rotor-craft  lift is generated by a set of rotors  or vertically oriented propellers.

Quadcopters generally use two pairs of identical fixed pitched propellers; two clockwise (CW) and two counter-clockwise (CCW). These use independent variation of the speed allowing each rotor to achieve the necessary control. By changing the speed of each rotor it is possible to specifically generate a desired total thrust and create a desired total torque, or turning force.

Quadcopters differ from conventional helicopters which use rotors capable of verifying their blades dynamically as they move around the rotor hub. In the early days of flight, quadcopters (then referred to as ‘quadrotors’) were seen as possible solutions to some of the persistent problems in vertical flight such as torque-induced control as well as efficiency issues originating from the tail rotor.  The tail rotor generates no useful lift and can possibly be eliminated by counter-rotation of other blades.  Also quadcopters are designed with relatively short blades  which are much easier to construct. A number of manned designs appeared in the 1920s and 1930s. These vehicles were among the first successful heavier-than-air vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL)vehicles.  Early prototypes suffered from poor performance  and later prototypes required too much pilot work load, due to poor stability and limited control.

In the late 2000s, advances in electronics allowed the production of cheap lightweight flight controllers, accelerometers (IMU), global positioning system and cameras. This resulted in a rapid proliferation of small, cheap consumer quadcopters along with other multi rotor designs. Quadcopter designs also became popular in unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV or drone) research. With their small size and maneuverability, these quadcopters can be flown indoors as well as outdoors. Low-cost motors and mass-produced propellers provide the power to keep them in the air while light weight and structural integrity from engineered plastics provides durability. Chip-based controllers, gyros, navigation, and cameras give them high-end capabilities and features at a low cost.  These aircraft are extremely useful for aerial photography.   Professional photographers, videographers and journalist are using them for  difficult, if not impossible, shots relative to standard means.  A complete set of hardware may be seen below.

QUADCOPTER & CONTROLS

One of the most pleasing versions of a camera-equipped quadcopter is given as follows:

QUAD COPTER

SAFETY:

As with any new technology, there can be issues of safety.  Here are just a few of the incidents causing a great deal of heartburn for the FAA.

  • At 8:51 a.m., a white drone startled the pilot of a JetBlue flight, appearing off the aircraft’s left wing moments before the jet landed at Los Angeles International Airport. Five hours later, a quadcopter drone whizzed beneath an Allegiant Air flight as it approached the same runway. Elsewhere in California, pilots of light aircraft reported narrowly dodging drones in San Jose and La Verne.
  • In Washington, a Cessna pilot reported a drone cruising at 1,500 feet in highly restricted airspace over the nation’s capital, forcing the U.S. military to scramble fighter jets as a precaution.
  • In Louisville, a silver and white drone almost collided with a training aircraft.
  • In Chicago, United Airlines Flight 970 reported seeing a drone pass by at an altitude of 3,500 feet.
  • All told, 12 episodes — including other incidents in New Mexico, Texas, Illinois, Florida and North Carolina — were recorded  one Sunday of small drones interfering with airplanes or coming too close to airports, according to previously undisclosed reports filed with the Federal Aviation Administration.
  • Pilots have reported a surge in close calls with drones: nearly 700 incidents so far this year, according to FAA statistics, about triple the number recorded for all of 2014. The agency has acknowledged growing concern about the problem and its inability to do much to tame it.
  • So far, the FAA has kept basic details of most of this year’s incidents under wraps, declining to release reports that are ordinarily public records and that would spotlight where and when the close calls occurred.
  • On March 29, the Secret Service reported that a rogue drone was hovering near a West Palm Beach, Fla., golf course where President Obama was hitting the links. Secret Service spokesman Brian Leary confirmed the incident. He declined to provide further details but said the Secret Service “has procedures and protocols in place to address these situations when they occur.”
  • Two weeks later, just after noon on April 13, authorities received a report of a white drone flying in the vicinity of the White House. Military aircraft scrambled to intercept the drone, which was last seen soaring over the Tidal Basin and heading toward Arlington, Va., according to the FAA reports.
  • On July 10, the pilot of an Air Force F-15 Strike Eagle said a small drone came within 50 feet of the fighter jet. Two weeks later, the pilot of a Navy T-45 Goshawk flying near Yuma, Ariz., reported that a drone buzzed 100 feet underneath.

REGULATIONS:

For public safety, the FAA has promulgated regulations that MUST be adhered to by those owning drones such as quadcopters.   Anyone owning a quadcopter or drone weighing more than 0.55 pounds must register it with the Federal Aviation Administration if they intend to fly outdoors.   It will cost those owners $5.00.  If the copter tips the scales at over fifty-five (55) pounds, including any extra equipment or cameras attached, the FAA no longer considers it a model aircraft or a recreational Unmanned Aircraft System and a very long list of additional regulations apply.  Model aircraft also cannot be used for commercial purposes or for payment.    They can only be used for hobby and recreational uses.   A few FAA guidelines are given as follows:

  • Quadcopters or any unmanned recreational aircraft cannot be flown above four hundred (400 ) feet.
  • They must remain in site of the operator.
  • Quadcopters cannot fly within five (5) miles of any airport without written approval of the FAA.
  • Quadcopters cannot fly over military bases, national parks, or the Washington D.C. area and other sensitive government buildings; i.e. CIA, NSA, Pentagon, etc.
  • The FAA has extended the ban on planes flying over open-air stadiums with 30,000 or more people in attendance.

PRIVACY:

Privacy concerns can lead to hot tempers. Last year, a Kentucky man used a shotgun to blast a drone out of the air above his home. A New Jersey man did the same thing in 2014, and a woman in Seattle called the police when she feared a drone was peeping into her apartment. (The drone belonged to a company conducting an architectural survey.) And in November, repeated night-time over-flights by a drone prompted calls to Albuquerque police complaining of trespassing—the police concluded that the flyer wasn’t breaking any laws.

State laws already on the books offer some privacy protections, especially if a drone is shooting photos or video. Erin E. Rhinehart, an attorney in Dayton, Ohio, who studies the issue, says that existing nuisance and invasion-of-privacy statutes would apply to drone owners. If you could prove you were being harassed by a drone flying over your house, or even that one was spying on you from afar, you might have a case against the drone operator. But proof is difficult to obtain, she says, and not everyone agrees on how to define harassment.

Some states are trying to strengthen their protections. In California, nervous celebrities may benefit from a law signed by Governor Jerry Brown this past fall. The meat of the legislation reads, “A person is liable for physical invasion of privacy when the person knowingly enters onto the land or into the airspace above the land of another person without permission…in order to capture any type of visual image, sound recording, or other physical impression of the plaintiff.” And a similar privacy law in Wisconsin makes it illegal to photograph a “nude or partially nude person” using a drone. (Dozens of states have passed or are considering drone-related laws.) The point being, people do NOT like being the subject of peeping-toms.  We can’t, for the most part, stand it and that includes nosey neighbors.  The laws, both local, state and Federal are coming and drone users just as well need to get over it.

UBER

June 7, 2015


If you read my posts you know I definitely enjoy keeping up with technology:  advances in existing technology and certainly new entries into the exciting world of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).  I know I’m saying the obvious, but the digital age has made possible a remarkable variety of useful and labor-saving apps (application software).  These digital packages of code produce web sites that seemingly provide information instantly.

Some months ago, my wife and I visited our youngest son in Dallas.  He furnished transportation from the airport but for the remainder of the visit we used the services of UBER.  This was our very first experience with the UBER service.  We found it to be remarkably convenient and considerably less expensive than a traditional cab ride.  Very fortunate our son “turned us on” to this company. Let’s take a look.

HISTORY:

A very brief summary of UBER may be seen as follows:

BRIEF SUMMARY

The idea for UBER was developed by Travis Kalanick.  Mr. Kalanick was trying to find a cab from his hotel to the 2008 LeWeb conference in Paris, France.  He had significant difficulties in doing so.   Kalanick cites “Paris as the inspiration for UBER “.   The original company was named “UberCab” by Travis Kalanick and Garrett Camp in 2009. The service was launched in San Francisco in June 2010, with Ryan Graves appointed as CEO.  Graves later stepped down from that role to become VP of Operations and was replaced by Kalanick.   UBER’S mobile app for iPhones and Android phones was launched in San Francisco in 2010.

The company markets and operates the UBER mobile app, and allows consumers to submit a trip request.   This request is then routed to sharing economy drivers.   As of May 28, 2015, the service was available in fifty-eight (58) countries and three hundred (300) cities worldwide.   Since UBER’S launch, several other companies have emulated its business model, a trend that has come to be referred to as “Uberification”.

The company initially raised $49 million in venture funds by 2011 and beginning in 2012, expanded internationally.  In 2014, UBER experimented with carpooling features and made additional updates. UBER continuously raised supplemental funding, reaching $2.8 billion total funding by 2015. Many governments and taxi companies have protested UBER, alleging that its use of unlicensed, crowd-sourced drivers was unsafe and illegal.  Even with this being the case, it is estimated that UBER will generate 10 billion dollars in revenue by the end of 2015.

THE FOUNDERS:

Travis Kalanick (pictured below) is the CEO of UBER Technologies.  UBER competes with taxi services across the U.S. in fifty-three (53) many countries around the world. The often-controversial company is banned in several countries including Spain and was temporarily banned in India due to issues with regulators and safety concerns.  In early 2015 the company said it would step up its cooperation with city governments in Europe, where it plans to grow. FORBES estimates that Kalanick, a UCLA dropout, owns at least thirteen percent (13%) of UBER, his third startup. His first venture, an online file-exchange service, was sued by the Motion Picture Association of America and the Recording Industry Association of America before filing for bankruptcy in 2000. His second company, a file-sharing company called RedSwoosh, was sold in 2007 to cloud computing company Akamai Technologies for $18.7 million in stock.

Travis K

Garrett Camp is the cofounder and chairman of UBER.  As mentioned earlier, UBER has seen its valuation grow ten (10) fold in the past eighteen (18) months to a whopping $41.2 billion.   UBER pledged in early 2015 to cooperate more with European cities, which represent key centers of growth. As with Kalanick, UBER wasn’t Camp’s first time behind the wheel: He also founded StumbleUpon–a Web discovery tool part Reddit, part Tumblr–that sold to eBay in 2007 for $75 million.

Garrett Camp

HOW UBER WORKS:

I’m going to indicate how UBER works from the experience we have had on several occasions.  We are sitting in our son’s living room; bags packed and ready to go.  I indicated we might need to call a cab to get to the airport in time for check in.  Don’t worry; UBER will be here in five or ten minutes after I give them a call.  A cab will take thirty to forty minutes at best.  Our son called UBER, indicated the location for pickup, and received a picture of the person picking us up as well as the type and model of the vehicle.  We then had the option of saying yes or no to the driver and his personal car.  He arrived in eleven minutes in a Cadillac Escalade.    The car was clean as a pin and the driver very congenial.  Now for the good part, the cost for transport: $36.81.  This is compared to $60.00 for the ride to the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport.

To download the app, simply go online from your phone or PC, type in the information requested, including a credit or debit card.  The download takes about a minute.  UBER does all charges online.  No money is exchanged including tip.  The tip is factored in with the cost of the ride and is added to the charge.

BARRIERS TO SUCCESS AND OPERATION:

UBER has experienced numerous regulatory and legal challenges to its operations.  Regulators in California; VancouverBritish Columbia; SeattleWashington; and GenevaSwitzerland issued cease and desist orders. The launch of UberPop, known as uberX in the United States, generated opposition internationally. Taxi organizations such as the Madrid Taxi Association in Spain, ANTRAL in Portugal and Taxi Deutschland in Germany obtained injunctions from local courts based on unfair competition claims.  Other injunction requests by taxi companies, taxi drivers, and regulators were denied in the United States, Brazil and France. Officials in DelhiIndia banned all app-based ride services to protect cab driver unions.  In Belgium, the Netherlands, the Philippines, and South Korea, police forces conducted sting operations against UBER drivers who operated vehicles that were not licensed for commercial use.

Several locales, including Portland, Oregon and the state of Virginia that initially banned UBER from operating, later negotiated changes in local regulations that would permit UBER to continue.  In 2015, the company’s efforts to work with local municipalities allowed for an increased rate of expansion. As of January 2015, uberX operated legally in 22 cities and states within the U.S. By then, 17 cities outside of the U.S. had passed specific pro-UBER municipal ordinances.

PRIVACY:

Kalanick received a letter, dated November 19, 2014, from Senator Al Franken, Chairman of the United States Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law, over user privacy. In addition to a list of ten (10) questions, Franken stated that the company had a “troubling disregard for customer privacy” and that he was “especially troubled because there appears to be evidence of practices inconsistent with the policy [UBER spokesperson] Ms. Hourajian articulated” and that “it appears that on prior occasions your company [UBER] has condoned use of customers’ data for questionable purposes”. Franken concluded his letter by asking for a response by December 15, 2014.

Concerns have been raised about internal misuse of the company’s data, in particular the ability of UBER staff to track the movements of its customers, known as “God Mode”. In addition to the aforementioned use of the service to track journalists and politicians, a venture capitalist disclosed in 2011 that UBER staff were using the function recreationally and viewed being tracked by UBER as a positive reflection on the subject’s character. An individual who had interviewed for a job at UBER said that he was given unrestricted access to UBER’S customer tracking function as part of the interview process, and that he retained that access for several hours after the interview ended.

On February 27, 2015, UBER admitted that it had suffered a data breach more than nine months before. Driver names and license plate information on approximately 50,000 drivers were inadvertently disclosed.   UBER discovered this leak in September, 2014 but waited more than five months to notify the people affected. (I might mention here that we never considered our privacy to be compromised.)

SAFETY:

On August 4, 2014, the company announced the scheduled removal of a driver from the service pending a medical review, after the driver suffered an epileptic seizure while driving that resulted in an accident with a pedestrian in San Francisco. The fifty-six (56) year-old driver was hospitalized after hitting three parked cars and then a man on the sidewalk; an UBER spokesperson said in the announcement that the driver “has an outstanding record of service and safety with no prior incidents.”

In December 2014, the New York Times reported on concerns regarding the manner in which the UBER’s app notifies drivers about new requests for pick-up from customers.  When a customer makes a request, drivers are notified on an official UBER mobile app and provided information about where the customer is; in order to accept the request, the driver has approximately fifteen (15) seconds to tap their phone to accept the request. An UBER driver reported that drivers can be temporarily suspended for ignoring these requests.  Deborah Hersman of the National Transportation Safety Board criticized the fifteen (15)-second system, saying that it presents a significant distraction to drivers, as drivers are financially motivated to respond to fares while driving.   In response, UBER has stated that the app “was designed with safety in mind,” and that drivers are not required to physically look at the device to accept a fare.

CONCLUSIONS:

Our experiences with UBER have been very positive and with no issues. I feel it’s a marvelous new technology and one that can benefit the end user.  As with any new service, time will tell as to how viable it will be and if it can survive.  I will say, I hope political pressures and lobbying will not kill the service.  Lining the pockets of our politicians could provide huge barriers to success.  Each individual has one of two options: use the service or use traditional services.  It’s your choice.

REPORTERS WITHOUT BORDERS

February 19, 2014


The following information was taken from an on-line publication called Reporters Without Borders and Industry Week.

Our founding fathers exhibited remarkable vision when structuring the Government of the United States.  Three branches; Executive, Legislative and Judicial—separate but equal.  Separate is easy because each branch has its own duties and responsibilities as spelled out by the Constitution.  The equal is more difficult.  Equal depends upon a free-flow of information between each branch, something in fairly short supply these days.  For this reason, we depend upon the press.  A free press, unobstructed relative to telling the entire story—supposedly the real truth.   Admittedly our “free” press is definitely biased.   You have media outlets leaning left; i.e. MSNBC, NBC, CNN, NPR. etc., and those leaning right; Fox News, Wall Street Journal, etc.   We get to pick and choose and in the end, believe whomever we will.   The issue is access to a story.  The access provided by the “Fed” is absolutely critical to ensure basic freedoms we now enjoy.   This access, by the way, includes stories and notifications involving STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) subjects.  Can you imagine our Federal government withholding a truly groundbreaking announcement on a drug proven to be life-saving?  That would be a definite travesty of justice.

The 2014 World Press Freedom Index that Reporters Without Borders publishes every year measures the level of freedom of information within 180 countries.  It reflects the degree of freedom journalists, news organizations and news agencies enjoy in each country of those countries, and the efforts made by authorities to respect and ensure freedom of the press.   It is based partly on a questionnaire sent to cooperating partner organizations (18 freedom of expression non-government organizations (NGOs) located on all five continents), to a network of 150 correspondents, and to journalists, researchers, jurists and human rights activists. The 180 countries ranked in this year’s index are those for which Reporters Without Borders received completed questionnaires from various sources. Some countries were not included because of a lack of reliable, confirmed data.   The rankings are determined as follows:

The questions consider six general criteria. Using a system of weighting for each possible response, countries are given a score of between 0 and 100 for each of the six overall criteria. These scores are then used as indicators in calculating each country’s final score.

o   Pluralism–measures the degree of representation of opinions

o   Media independence—Measures the degree to which the media are able to function independently of the authorities.

o   Environment and self-censorship— Analyses the environment in which journalists work

o   Legislative framework–Analyses the quality of the legislative framework and measures its effectiveness

o   Transparency–Measures the transparency of the institutions and procedures that affect the production of news and information.

o   Infrastructure–Measures the quality of the infrastructure that supports the production of news and information.

Given below is a map showing the various rankings.  Please note the color codes in the center.

OVERALL MAP

 

If you study this map, you will find several very fascinating situations, one being the United States has “a satisfactory situation” relative to freedom of the press but not an outstanding ranking.  Several countries in the Middle East and certainly China have very serious problems.  The top twenty-five (25) rankings are as follows:

  • Finland
  • Netherlands
  • Norway
  • Luxembourg
  • Andorra
  • Liechtenstein
  • Denmark
  • Iceland
  • New Zealand
  • Sweden
  • Estonia
  • Austria
  • Czech Republic
  • Germany
  • Switzerland
  • Ireland
  • Jamaica
  • Canada
  • Poland
  • Slovakia
  • Costa Rica
  • Namibia
  • Belgium
  • Cape Verde
  • Cyprus

The “bottom feeders” are as follows:

  • Turkmenistan
  • North Korea
  • Eritrea

The United States is forth-sixth (46th) on the list.   There are definite reasons for our ranking and the fall in that ranking relative to 2009.

In the United States, 9/11 spawned a major conflict between the imperatives of national security and the principles of the constitution’s First Amendment. This amendment enshrines every person’s right to inform and be informed. But the heritage of the 1776 constitution was shaken to its foundations during George W. Bush’s two terms as president by the way journalists were harassed and even imprisoned for refusing to reveal their sources or surrender their files to federal judicial officials.

There has been little improvement in practice under Barack Obama. Rather than pursuing journalists, the emphasis has been on going after their sources, but often using the journalist to identify them. No fewer than eight individuals have been charged under the Espionage Act since Obama became president, compared with three during Bush’s two terms.   While 2012 was in part the year of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange received his fifteen minutes of fame, 2013 will be remembered for the National Security Agency (NSA) computer specialist Edward Snowden, who exposed the mass surveillance methods developed by the US intelligence agencies.

The whistleblower is the enemy. Hence the 35-year jail term imposed on Private Chelsea Bradley Manning for being the WikiLeaks source.  This is an extremely long sentence but small in comparison with the 105-year sentence requested for freelance journalist Barrett Brown in a hacking case. Amid an all-out hunt for leaks and sources, 2013 will also be the year of the Associated Press scandal, which came to light when the Department of Justice acknowledged that it had seized the news agency’s phone records.

To calibrate our position, let’s take a look at other countries to see where they stand relative to freedom of the press.

  • United Kingdom   33rd
  • Japan                        59th
  • Turkey                      154th
  • Morocco                  136th
  • Israel                           96th
  • Guatemala              125th
  • Georgia                       84th
  • Brazil                         111th
  • Russia                        148th
  • China                          175th
  • India                           140th

Please keep in mind that only 180 countries participated in the survey.  There is no doubt that governments control their people by controlling the press and yet, it is absolutely mandatory that we have unfettered freedom of the press if we are to continue as a viable republic.

I definitely await your comments on this one.

THE POWER OF HABIT

June 15, 2013


I just completed reading a great book entitled “THE POWER OF HABIT”, written by Charles Duhigg ; published by Random House; copyright  2012.  The book is a fascinating look into how habits are formed and what activities can and must occur to eliminate a habit considered bad, worrisome or even terrible.   I’m sure we all wonder why we do certain things.  Jesters, activities, mannerisms, “ticks” etc, that for some reason, become habits.  We all would agree that certain habits such as smoking, drug use, over use of alcohol, etc can be extremely destructive but there are “little” habits that drive other people crazy in which we don’t even know we have.  It is said that Tesla, the engineering genius, had several really interesting habits, as follows:

1.       Things Come in 3s:

Tesla had his obsession with the number 3.   It is said that he often walked around a block 3 times before entering a building and that he required 18 (a number divisible by 3) napkins to polish his silverware and drinking glass each night.   When he died, he did so 3 days before his 87th birthday and alone in Room 3327 (a number divisible by 3) of the 33rd floor of the New Yorker Hotel, in which he lived out his last years.

2.       No Sleep for the Brilliant

As did Da Vinci, Tesla claimed to sleep in short bursts, but never over a period of more than two hours at a time.   He did so on a work schedule that often kept him at his desk until after 3 am, then he started again just hours later. It is said that he once worked 84 hours straight.
While he never got what could be considered a good night’s rest, he did admit to “dozing” from time to time.

3.  Fondness for pigeons

Tesla may have chosen to stay away from women and marriage but, according to some reports, he grew overly fond of a pigeon.   Near the end of his life, Tesla walked to the park every day to feed the pigeons. He began to bring injured ones into his hotel room to nurse back to health.  He claimed that he had been visited by a specific injured white pigeon each day at the park. Tesla spent more than $2,000 to fix the bird’s broken wing and leg, including building a device that comfortably supported the bird so her bones could heal.   Tesla is reported as saying, “I have been feeding pigeons, thousands of them, for years. But there was one, a beautiful bird, pure white with light grey tips on its wings that was different. It was a female. I had only to wish and call her, and she would come flying to me. I loved that pigeon as a man loves a woman, and she loved me. As long as I had her, there was a purpose to my life.”

4.  Oddity odds and ends

Tesla reportedly always despised jewelry and did not own a single piece, seeing it as wasteful and cumbersome. In his very last years, however, he seemed to focus in on pearls specifically, as, in addition to hating jewelry; he began to hate round objects.   In his later years, Tesla also could not bear to touch hair and did not like to shake hands.

Now, the habits are not really that cumbersome and certainly hurt no one, including Tesla.  (I will admit this penchant for taking things in 3’s is a bit odd but only interesting.  )

In Mr. Duhigg’s book, he highlights the following areas:

  • The Habit Loop—How Habits Work
  • The Craving Brain—How to Create  New Habits
  • The Golden Rule of Habit Change—Why Transformation Occurs
  • Keystone Habits, Or the Ballad of Paul O’Neill—Which Habits Matter Most
  •  Starbucks and the Habit of Success—When Willpower Become Automatic
  •  The Power of Crisis—How Leaders Create Habits Through  Accident and Design
  •  How Target Knows What You Want Before You Do—When Companies Predict (and manipulate) Habits.
  •  Saddleback Church and the Montgomery Bus Boycott—How Movements Happen
  •  The Neurology of Free Will—Are We Responsible for Our Habits?

The chapter on how Target knows what you want is truly fascinating and really points out how a company, with minimal buying information, can connect the dots to profile a buyer.  Really fascinating in light of NSA “snooping” in the news at this time.  For anyone who has a habit—or anyone who is living with someone who has a habit—this is a “must read”.  Excellent book and one I can definitely recommend to you.   Hope you enjoy it.

 

PRPIVACY PROTECTION

December 3, 2012


Portions of this posting are taken from the following source:  “INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY ADVISER” ; Information Technology Adviser – Progressive Business Publications 370 Technology Drive – P.O. Box 3019 – Malvern, PA 19355

My grandkids, especially my granddaughters, think I’m paranoid, really paranoid.  I come by this condition in a legitimate  manner.   Over the past six (6) months, my business account has been hacked into twice.  Over the past three (3) months, my personal bank account has been hacked into once.  My bank has fraud protection so I was reimbursed for the losses but it is a real pain;  close the account, reassign card numbers, etc etc.   You get the picture.   I have been very lucky with my e-mail account although I’m just waiting on the “other shoe to drop”.   In the past few weeks we  have read and heard about General  David Petraeus and the difficulties he has had with e-mail, and other issues.   The Internet is replete with horror stories about invasion of privacy truly harmful to unsuspecting individuals going about their daily lives and thinking all is well.  I think company e-mail accounts should and must be sacrosanct, in other words untouchable and not for public consumption.   Your eyes only.  OK, that seems to be a pipe-dream.    While your users may not be interested in hiding an illicit romance (or maybe they are), it’s not unheard of for IT managers to be asked for help keeping information private.

Users at all levels often want to be able to segregate their professional and personal communications.

The e-mail drop-box trick is an old one.   This is what General Petraeus and his “girlfriend” tried, which was a resounding failure.   A January 2005 PBS special on al-Qaeda identified the tactic as one of several “terrorist tricks,” alongside logging in from public Internet cafés.  The same trick is also used in a 2008 spy film “Traitor.”

Of course IT managers have to worry about compliance and the demands of e-discovery, but as the workforce becomes increasingly mobile and dispersed, the demands for security and confidentiality are likely to increase for everyone in IT.

5 TOP TIPS FOR SECURITY:

Here’s how you can help educate your users on how to keep private communications private:

1. Don’t write it down. The first rule of communication is to do it in person if possible and in written form only when necessary. If you don’t create a “paper” or electronic trail, there’s nothing to follow.

2. Keep personal and professional communications separate.  Emails, instant messages, texts and photos that are personal need to be exchanged only using personal accounts on personal hardware.  Don’t access your personal Facebook or other social media accounts from your office.  Keep those private.

3. Don’t trust even prominent Cloud providers to protect messages.  vE-mail services like Google’s are susceptible to hacking, and there are well-documented cases of users having accounts broken into, emails deleted and bizarre unauthorized emails sent.

4. For uber-secure email, try using an encrypted service.   Hushmail and Tigertext are some examples. Hushmail, uses encryption keys to ensure that only the sender and receiver can read a message.

Then there’s “10 minute mail,” which provides disposable email addresses that expire.

Tigertext messages have a limited lifespan. Vaultletmail encrypts emails in transmission. But be warned: All emails, even encrypted ones, leave a metadata trail minimally skilled techs can trace.

5. The basic rule of privacy. Your information is only as safe as the recipients’ email or texting services.  Make sure the individual or company receiving your e-mail is as well protected as you.

I’m sure there are others such as:

  • Change passwords frequently
  • Use passwords that exhibit a significant degree of difficulty.
  • Have separate user names and passwords for differing accounts.  ( Granted, I have to make a written list of my user names and passwords but at least that keeps me somewhat safe.)
  • Be very careful about giving your user name and password to anyone and I MEAN ANYONE.

I would recommend you go online to the Information Technology Adviser and search for other  tips and tricks that will keep you and your e-mail safe and functioning.  Being “hacked” is not fun.

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