Blue Ribbons for Police

So this is one of my rare off topic blog posts that could borderline political for some people, but it is a cause that I want to make as many people as possible aware of.  About a year ago I started a facebook campaign called Blue Ribbons for Police, this campaign is encouraging people to tie a blue ribbon around a tree (or if you lack trees somewhere that can be seen) to indicate your well wishes toward police officers and your hope that they return home safely after their shift.  The group is here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/BlueRibbonforPolice/ and while it is a closed group I only do that to prevent the many spam bots and such on Facebook from attacking the page, so if you are interested just request membership and you will be approved.

So the group quickly grew to over 1000 members from all over the country, others have even begun copying what I have done, which creates some mixed feeling for me, on one hand I am glad to see the idea propagate and it is, for me at least, about the police officers and not about getting the credit, but also it does irritate me a little bit to see others willing taking credit for my idea.  I am very proud of what I have done, I would like to see it become even bigger.

Ransomware

I would like to discuss a little bit about ransomware.  For those who don’t already know ransomware is a type of malware that when it infects a system it will encrypt all the data on the system, in some cases even reaching out to network drives that are shared from a server.  Once the data is encrypted the only way to decrypt it is with the decryption key, which the attacker will gladly supply to you for a fee, normally paid for with BitCoin.  Anti-Malware software has struggled with preventing these types of attacks because by the time they are leaving a trace that they exist files have already been impacted, so with prevention being very difficult what do you do to combat this threat?

In this case the best defense is a strong offense, first and foremost safe computer use is a must.  Most ransomware is spread through people opening infected email attachments, if you don’t know the sender you shouldn’t open the attachment.  The next line of offense towards these attacks is to make sure the data is safely backed up and the easier it is to recover from that backup the better position you will be in.  At my work we use as well as sell a product called Datto to backup all of our critical machines, this product has proven to be worth it’s weight in gold when we were struck with a ransomware attack.  We have also experienced similar issues at some of our customers sites and the the Datto easily recovered the impacted files.  These backups allowed us to take the infected machine, clean it, and then simply delete the encrypted files and replace them with the backup copies.  An inconvenience, but hardly the devastation of paying thousands of dollars in ransom or permanently losing the files.

For the home user a solution like Datto would be pricey and overkill, but there are are solutions out there that are priced right and aimed at the home user.  While I have no personal experience with it I have heard good things about companies like Mozy Pro or Carbonite for the home user, while these solutions are no where near as robust as the Datto, and absolutely not the right fit for a business, they come in at a price point and simplicity that the home user can benefit from.

When it comes to defending from ransomware you need to keep one thing in mind, you need a backup that will allow you to go and recover what the files looked like a day or two ago so you can recover them from before the infection occurred (this is called versioning).  Many people will use services like Google Drive, Drop Box, or Microsoft One Drive, and assume they are protected.  The fact is that those programs are designed to make it simple to share files, but not protect files.  Yes if you had a hard drive failure you can recover the data you saved in the cloud, but if that data is changed, such as being encrypted, that change is replicated out to the cloud as well.  So if you are hit with ransomware those thousands of pictures you have on your Google Drive account of your kid will be encrypted and useless unless you have a versioned backup of those files that you can go back to from before the infection happened.

If you don’t have your files backed up and they are important to you you can always pay the ransom, but remember there is no honor among thieves, you are dealing with criminals, and while statistics have shown most of the time if the ransom is paid they make good on providing the decryption key, there is no assurance they won’t just take the money and run.

Customer Service

This isn’t exactly a technology related topic, but it was due to technology that got me thinking about this.

My cell phone (LG G4) died yesterday, it is less than a year old, so it is still under warranty so I called AT&T expecting to have to jump through all sort of hoops to prove to them that my phone was dead and then have to argue with them about replacing it.  I was very surprised and happy to say that my experience was quite the opposite.  The lady who answered my call was very nice and friendly, after explaining my issue and the steps I took to troubleshoot, instead of asking me to go back through the steps or try additional troubleshooting steps she took my word for what was going on, had me verify the moisture sensors were not triggered than ordered the replacement phone.  After she finished with that she asked me how the battery was on the phone, I told her it is acceptable but has lost some life from when it was new, she responded by saying “you only have 45 days left on the warranty so I am going to mark your battery as bad too so they will replace that free of charge,” an extra step that she did not need to take but was more than happy to, and this small gesture really resonated with me.

This is an example of good customer service, a representative going out of their way to not only resolve an issue for a customer, but to show the customer value in doing business with their company.  This is also something that is lacking from many companies.  I work as a department manager for an IT service provider, and as such I need to provide customers with valuable service, as well as deal with vendors who have to provide both the end user and myself with service so I have a lot of experience in this matter.  I can tell you from personal experience typically the bigger the company the worse the service is, but with good leadership and a customer first attitude even the largest of companies can prevent poor customer service.

Employee’s attitudes truly come from the top down (sure there are some people that no matter how miserable they are they have an incredibly happy outward appearance and vice versa, but those are the exceptions) and if the work environment is enjoyable for the employee then that will typically show in their attitude to the customer.  If management is constantly bean counting and interrogating an employee when a call goes longer than their matrix says it should than you are creating an environment where employees are less likely to feel capable or willing to go the extra mile for a customer.  This approach may look good on your metrics, but if you aren’t giving the customer the level of service they expect they will go elsewhere, and it is far cheaper to keep an existing customer than to find a new customer.  That extra 5 minutes of time that the AT&T rep took to ask about and order a replacement battery is 5 minutes she could have spent with another customer or waiting for her phone to ring, but it has guaranteed AT&T a customer for a longer period of time.  It is also positive experiences like this that can help overcome a negative experience that may happen in the future, after all there are times when you just simply cannot make a customer happy. However, if they have 1 negative experience for every 10 or 20 positive experiences that goes a long way toward not having the negative experience drive them off.

As a manager I have a delicate balancing act that I need perform, I need to monitor my employees to ensure they are not unnecessarily taking up time that could be spent helping other customers, but I also cannot be so over bearing that they start to lose their desire to help resolve an issue, or feel that any deviation from the norm is unacceptable.  I want my employees to feel free to speak to a customer, get to know the customer and make the customer feel valued, because my customers are what makes the company money, and without that none of us would have jobs.  If that means answering an occasional question about a customers home computer, or their iPhone then so be it.There is, however, a thin line between friendly answering an occasional question and provide free support (after all businesses exist to make money) and that is where the balancing act comes into play.  Telling a customer you can’t help them with what they think is a small problem on a computer that isn’t covered by their support is not fun, and needs to be done with a great deal of tact to prevent them from being upset and learning how to have that level of tact is another key skill to providing good customer service.  All too often managers get lost in the numbers and the metrics about an employee and forgot to actually look at how that employee is servicing customers and if the customers are satisfied with that employees service.

Good customer service is something that seemed to be heading toward extinction for a while, but as competition is becoming tighter in most industries, companies are starting to realize that customer service is the single biggest key toward winning and more importantly keeping customers.  With that realization more and more companies are starting to work on revamping their customer service strategies with a customer first concept.  They are also starting to realize that while price is a huge factor in a consumers purchase, good customer service is something many people are willing to pay a little extra for.  I hope this trend continues and customer service continues to improve across all industries.  A happy customer is a loyal customer, and a loyal customer is a profitable customer.

LG Urbane

I few days ago I broke down and decided to join the smart watch crowd and bough an LG Urbane.  Now I am not the biggest fan of wearable tech, but I do feel there are certain use cases where a smart watch is useful, particularly someone like myself who finds them selves in and out of several meetings during the day, but still needs to keep an eye on incoming emails and text messages.  I hate taking my phone out in a meeting to see if a notification was something that needs my attention, but as a manager of a small growing department with few employees I need to make sure one of my engineers doesn’t need me for an emergency,  This is what drove my to research smartwatches, and as a happy owner of an LG G4, the LG Urbane made the most sense.

First lets talk about the watches style, it is a true round screen, unlike that of the Moto 360, I opted for the silver bezel, but they also produce one with a gold bezel if that is your style.  The watch looks more like a traditional wrist watch than most other smart watches on the market, but it is a very large watch.  For a big guy like me this isn’t an issue and the watch looks at home on my wrist, but if you have smaller wrists the watch may look awkwardly large on you.  The band is made from leather, and even though I have a difficult time finding watches that fit my wrists the band fits me well, although at the last hole, it is a nice looking band and fits well with the overall style of the watch.  Overall I would give LG an A on the style, the only thing I would like to see them do is make the watch a bit thinner.

The screen is quite clear and has a surprising good depth to it when looking at the watch face, it adds to the illusion that you are wearing a mechanical watch and not a smart watch.  Android Wear is responsive and works well, I get all my notifications to the watch, and the vibration that accompanies those notifications gets your attention, but does not make the loud buzzing sound we are used to with a lot of cell phones today.  You can even choose to not have certain applications send notifications to the watch.  I also love how a quick push of the button on the watch when silence the ringer on the phone when it is ringing.  The music player control is a dream to have when listening to music with your phone in your pocket.  Battery life has also proven to be much better than I expected, from a full charge in the morning I am down to 40 – 50% when I go to bed.

Now for some of the disappointing parts, if you are looking for a fitness watch this is not a good choice.  It does have a heart rate monitor, that I have yet to get to give me a heart rate and can’t seem to figure out why it won’t work.  The pedometer seems to me to be inaccurate, either that or I take more steps during the day than I thought I did, the numbers the pedometer comes up with aren’t insane, but more than I thought I did.  Clearly the fitness aspects of this watch need some work.  Also the ability to voice dial from the watch seems flawed, and maybe there is a setting I need to tweak for this, but earlier today I used OK Google on the watch to attempt to call a friend of mine, and instead of finding him in my contacts it found on google the phone number of a cpa with the same name in Florida and began dialing that phone number, I label that an epic fail.

Overall I am very happy with my purchase, the watch performs well, and despite the few issues I have located, it fills all the needs that I had for a smart watch, and looks good while doing it.  I would highly recommend it.  I plan on doing another review of this watch in a few months to see if after using for an extended period of time I feel the same way.

Smart Devices

Industry wide we have seen a huge increase in malicious activity, a large part of this is how prevalent and easy it is to get information from internet connected devices.   There was a term coined a few years back (I think by Cisco) called the “internet of things” and while it can be convient to have a light switch connected to your wifi so you can turn on or off a light from anywhere in the world there is little thought being given by the consumer as to the potential threats that could arise.

 

A smart device that is connected to the internet is essential a tiny computer, and like all computers it has an operating system and the capablitiy of being hacked, now it may not sound importiant to worry about the security of a light switch, but if that switch is connected to your Wi-Fi any vulnerability in it could potentially be used to gain access to other systems on the same network.  Systems such as your celluar phone or you PC, where much more personal and importiant information is kept.  Or just think, there are internet connected refrigerators now with webcam’s that let you see what is inside that fridge, but if the door is opened at the right moment then in a blink of an eye an unflattering picture of yourself could have been captured and sent around the world.

 

There are ways to allow for the use of these devices and limit the exposure to hacking, most wireless routers on the market today allow you to setup a guest network.  The advantage to using something like that for devices that don’t need to interact directly with your PC or other network attached devices is that on a guest network the device maintains access to the internet but is unable to access other parts of your network.  Keeping your lightswitch away from your online banking passwords.