Category Archives: technology

Plugged In: Connectivity can be fast way to boost economy

By Joe Kashi, for the Redoubt Reporter

I’m reminded of the old bumper sticker, “Please let there be just one more pipeline boom, I promise not to p*** it away this time.” As any Alaska commercial fisherman or oil patch worker knows from experience, regional economies dependent solely on resource-extraction industries inevitably tend toward roller-coaster boom and bust economics.

At the moment, Alaska’s roller-coaster economy seems to be gathering downward speed as both oilfield and salmon-based primary industries slump. While oilfield and fishing industries will always be a critical and welcome part of our economic base, they respond to global market forces largely beyond our local stimulus and influence.

Modern information technology, if leveraged properly, can provide a third leg to our economic stool and gives a measure of control over our own local economic destiny. The Internet can help level the rural economic playing field.

Starting in about 1860, as the Industrial Revolution in America gathered steam (literally steam, back then), a fundamental shift occurred. The U.S. economy moved away from subsistence farming and an economy powered by limited animal and human muscle. Mechanical energy greatly multiplied the amount of useful work that a single person could do. Well-trained individuals became far more economically valuable, efficient, well-paid and productive.

The U.S. and some Western European economies entered a takeoff phase that bolstered both national strength and the overall living standards of most citizens. Economies now advanced by transitioning from low-income, muscle-based activities toward economies based on “information,” that promoted scientific and technical breakthroughs, efficiently directed mechanics and better coordination of effort through improved communications. Continue reading

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Plugged In: Take precautions to protect important data

By Joe Kashi, for the Redoubt Reporter

Protecting your data involves more than just preventing inadvertent disclosure or hacking. You also need to ensure that your financial, photo and family data is protected from loss.

Loss may occur in many ways. Data may be lost due to hacking, hardware failure, operator error or casualty. Smartphones, notebook computers and other mobile devices are commonly misplaced, forgotten, dropped and broken, or stolen.

Protecting your electronic data is as basic as locking your house or car and buying insurance to protect you in case of loss. Extending this analogy, computer security has two components. An electronic “lock” protects you against those who might invade your privacy and misappropriate or vandalize your data. That’s where network security and, as appropriate, data encryption, come into play.

Physical security, on the other hand, including data backup, protects you against physical loss such as electrical surges, fire or theft. I’ll address physical loss first because, in some ways, it is more straightforward.

Casualty losses such as fire or flood damage and thefts of smartphones, computers and related equipment are fairly common. Your best bet under these circumstances is to ensure you have adequate physical security for your premises and that highly sensitive data is encrypted.

It’s no different than protecting any other valuables, but with one exception — you could also lose a great deal of crucial information unless you back up your data every day. I have had clients who went out of business after their premises and business equipment were destroyed by fire. Losing the bulk of your business data is one of the surest paths to business problems.

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Plugged In: Be smart when it comes to smartphone security

By Joe Kashi, for the Redoubt Reporter

Security risks increase sharply when people use personal devices for business purposes or when they mix personal and business applications and data such as credit cards, payments and private email. As a result, smartphone malware attacks more than double each year.

Although Google and Apple make reasonable efforts to enhance the security of their smartphone operating systems, those operating systems are vulnerable to viruses and other malware, usually spread by a poorly written or malicious app or by an infected message attachment. Android is also used as an operating system for a number of tablet-based mobile computers, which are likewise vulnerable to Android exploits.

In addition to mobile-specific protections, tablet systems also require normal computing security approaches, many of which are incorporated directly into Windows 10 and the latest Apple operating systems. Windows 10 is a free upgrade for the next several months and upgrading tablet computers to Windows 10 from Windows 8.x should be on your to-do list after the operating system has been in general use for several more months and the first Service Pack has been tested and made freely available. In the meantime, regularly update your system to patch potential security holes and wayward apps.

Although Apple and Google argue that their operating systems are sufficiently secure and third-party security applications are not needed, Apple’s App Store was recently breached by at least 39 known malware apps. Android apps show at least as much vulnerability.

Android-specific security solutions abound, including Android-specific antivirus programs. The most highly rated for protection and usability are, as of July 2015: Continue reading

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Delayed delivery speeds irritation — ACS customers experiencing email difficulty

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

As some ACS email customers are experiencing lately, there’s a 21st-century update of the old saw, “The check is in the mail,” and that is, “The email is in the spam filter.”

The situation has some email users about ready to consider carrier pigeons, or at least another service carrier — anything to get their messages delivered.

“I’m incredibly frustrated. I can’t wait it out much longer, it’s affecting my business,” said Kelly Johnson, owner of Floral Design Studio, who uses an ACS account for her business email. “I strive to provide the highest customer service I can, and not being able to communicate with them through email — which is very convenient for most people in this day and age. You know, you don’t really pick up phones a whole lot anymore, it’s all done through email — they expect prompt communication and I’m not able to give that to them.”

Johnson said that about three weeks ago she started getting error messages to emails she’d sent, saying delivery of the email was delayed.

“I had never seen this type of message before. It says, ‘Unfortunately, some messages aren’t sent, please try again.’ And then it says, ‘We have limits for how many messages can be sent per hour, per day.’ I’m like, ‘I don’t even know what that means,’” Johnson said.

Right around that time her husband had downloaded an app on her Android smartphone, on which she checks her email, which coordinates with her email account. She figured the app was causing the problem so she had him take it off her phone, but the problem persisted.

There seemed no consistency to it. She’d click send and all seemed well, and sometimes it was. Other times she’d hear from intended recipients that they were not receiving her emails. Maddening in any circumstance, having a breakdown in communication in April is particularly challenging for Johnson’s business.

“I’m smack dab in the very heat of the moment for wedding season. It’s horrible,” she said. “I strive to provide very high customer service and quality and I — unfortunately, for the last several weeks — have really fallen short. No fault of my own, but still have fallen short. It’s become very, very frustrating,” she said.

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Tech tanks in solar outages — Alaska seeing satellite-related communications interruptions

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

Radio on the fritz? Internet failing to connect? TV picture looking distorted? Phone calls being dropped?

You’re not imagining things, nor are you alone, as Alaska is currently experiencing the effects of solar flare activity.

The twice-yearly phenomenon interrupts the reception of satellite signals, causing all manner of technological hiccups, though no lasting damage.

It’s not an issue of solar flares or anything special happening on the sun. It’s simply a matter of orbital placement having to do with geostationary satellites, those that hover about 22,000 miles in a fixed location exactly above the equator.

For a couple-week stretch around the spring and fall equinoxes — specifically, late February to early March and late September to early October — Earth’s orbit is such that the band of geostationary satellites passes right in front of the sun, fuzzing out the stations trying to tune in those satellite signals on the ground.

“It occurs because you have a satellite that is somewhere in your communication link and the sun gets directly behind that satellite and competes with the antenna that’s on the ground for RF — or radio frequency. So what that means is that the sun’s energy just overpowers the signal that’s going between the Earth station and the satellite, and so it affects all types of communication. If it goes over satellite it will affect it, it doesn’t matter whether that’s cable TV or long-distance phone calls or whatever, it will affect it,” said David Morris, GCI spokesman.

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Wild rides no more — Information age helps tame road trips in Alaska

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt reporter

Apologies to Steppenwolf, but rarely do prudent Alaskans get their motors runnin’ and head out on the highway in search of adventure to the point of not caring whatever comes their way.

They might be born and live in wild country, but that does not mean they’re wild about racing off into that country unaware and unprepared. Most would rather know what might be coming their way before they even pull out of their driveway.

These days that information is easier than ever to come by. Through advances in technology and participation in social media, those heading out on the state’s highways have a wealth of information available to them. Drivers in state need only dial 511 or visit the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities’ traveler information site, http://511.alaska.gov, to check driving conditions and weather watches, be forewarned of road closures, see areas of current and planned maintenance work, and other pertinent information.

And if navigating a browser to the 511 site is too cumbersome, ADOT uses social media to connect with subscribers even more directly, posting road condition, closure and maintenance information to its followers on Facebook and Twitter. It’s about at the point where it’s harder to not be informed before hitting the road than to have an idea of what’s in store for the drive.
And while that kind of access to information might seem second nature to travelers today, it’s still a relatively recent development, about 10 years for the website and since August 2011 for the social media presence. But it’s exploded since inception. The 511 page is the most-visited site of all of ADOT’s web presence, its Alaska 511 Traveler Information Facebook page has more than 1,870 followers, the general ADOT Facebook page has 3,115, and @Alaska511 has 862 followers on Twitter. It’s a bit of a shift in the way ADOT operates, to incorporate a habit of providing information through social media, but a trend set to continue.

“It’s a little bit of an extra workload. The department’s trying to embrace it as another tool in the toolbox. It’s not the only thing we’re doing to try to reach the public, but we know that there are a lot of people who prefer to get their news or engage with different government agencies through social media, so we understand that’s an important forum and we’ve embraced it,” said Jeremy Woodrow, ADOT spokesperson.

It’s not that an interest in informing travelers is new, he said, but as technology advances, so do the ways of communicating.

Today’s drivers might take it for granted that they can find out if there will be flaggers between points A and B, if there’s ice on the road in the mountain pass ahead or if high winds are expected to develop by the afternoon portion of their drive. But for those who traversed the state before these communications advances took hold, this standard continues to feel like a luxury.

“I still appreciate the fact that we can do these things. In fact, I’m almost in awe every day the things we can find on the Internet, the information available and the way we can get information. I don’t take it for granted because of having known the conditions in previous times, and knowing what things were like and what we had to go through to get information. The information that is so readily available now, I greatly appreciate it,” said Al Hershberger, of Soldotna.

With his Kenai Peninsula experience dating back to the late 1940s, Hershberger remembers when just having a road connection to Anchorage was the big new thing, long before people were excited about having new ways to find out driving conditions along that road.

“Originally, I’m not aware of any way to find that out, way back when the highway to Anchorage first opened in ’51. You would know who the last person was who went up the road and you’d go ask him,” said Hershberger, who in those days worked for the Alaska Road Commission, which built the peninsula’s highways.

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Don’t get hung up on phone scams — Avoid falling victims to cyber crime

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

Answering her phone Friday afternoon, Mary Toutonghi, of Soldotna, was understandably surprised to be informed she had won $5 million. She wasn’t, however, nearly as thrilled as the caller hoped she would be. Instead of following his instructions and calling the number she was given — likely in an effort to mine all manner of personal information — she was motivated to make a different phone call, to report what immediately struck her as a scam.

Problem was, not only did she not know who was calling and trying to scam her, she didn’t know how to go about reporting it.

“I was trying to figure out, who should I call? This should be reported to somebody, I just don’t know who,” she said.

The call was to her home phone, from a man who identified himself as Mike. He said he was calling from within the U.S., but his accent, to Toutonghi’s ear, placed him elsewhere. Toutonghi is a speech therapist, a career that has put her in contact with people of all manner of nationalities.

“I’d worked with quite a few kids from the East Indies in Seattle, so I recognized his accent as Jamaican, but he said, ‘Oh, well, we’re here in Las Vegas,’” Toutonghi said.

He told her she’d won $5 million. To receive it, she should call this phone number, give them this confirmation number and pin number, “And give them your information and they’ll take care of you,” she said.

He didn’t offer much explanation of how her good luck had come about. Only a vague statement to the effect of, “Have you heard of Publisher’s Clearinghouse Sweepstakes?” He did not say, Toutonghi noticed, anything as definitive as he was with Publisher’s Clearinghouse Sweepstakes, or the contest was part of Publisher’s Clearinghouse Sweepstakes.

“I think you’re supposed to be so excited you miss that part,” she said.

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