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California’s Drought and How Computers and the Internet are Helping Us Find Solutions

~~We here at TRA Consulting, Inc. in Long Beach have been hearing, reading, and seeing quite a number of news stories about California’s latest water crisis. Experts say this has been the worst drought in more than 100 years and that it looks like it will be continuing for the foreseeable future. But there are a number of resources available these days that we did not have the last time drought reared its ugly head. Chief among them is our ability to use new technologies to help us solve the problems associated with this drought. The last time there was a major drought in the late 1980s and early 1990s, we did not have the some of the tools that we can use now.
There are a number of agencies and businesses working on this problem. One company called Leak Defense is developing a device for detecting water leaks in the home that will be similar to a smoke detector. The device can be installed by home owners and will use the home’s Wi-Fi system to alert home owners to potential water leak issues such as a running toilet. The device will be easy to install and require no special knowledge of plumbing. It will attach to the outside of an intake pipe and detect the flow of water. It is sensitive enough to pick up a dripping kitchen faucet, yet calibrated to ignore legitimate water usage like someone taking a shower. Every little bit of water saved from leaky faucets and toilets from homes and businesses across the state really adds up.
Another new development is the increasing use of smart water meters in homes, apartment buildings and businesses. These smart water meters can collect quite a lot about specific water usages and times and that information can more easily be reported to researchers who can develop more new technologies to help us conserve water in more effectively. Moreover, that information can be brought to the market where start-up companies can develop new products, like the water leak detector mentioned above, and bring those products to market.
Some public utility agencies are using text messaging to spread the word about water conservation to its customers. One Oakland-based agency tried out a pilot program that issued water usage report cards to some of its customers. Through the use of the information they were able to gather using smart water meters and a program developed by the company WaterSmart Software, they were able to show users how and where in their homes water could be conserved and urged them to take action. Reports show that many did take action to conserve more water after being encouraged to do so. The pilot program reported a five percent reduction in water consumption with promising results that it might grow if the program were expanded to more utility users for a longer period of time.
The new technologies of software as a service (SaaS), behavioral economics, and big data that have been developed since the last time we had a drought could help us to go a long way towards solving our water shortage issues.

Cloud computing: What is it and how can it help you and your business?

~~Something we hear a lot about lately is “the cloud.” But what is it exactly and why has it become important in both the business and private sectors?  The term is so popular these days that it has become somewhat a cliché. And within that cliché, it has become harder and harder to define this nebulous term that everyone seems to keep flinging around. Some even go as far as defining the cloud as anything outside your firewall. But cloud computing is really more a great way for your business to add computing capacity and capabilities without investing in costly infrastructure and the time it takes to get these physical, site-based systems up and running including training personnel in its use, software licensing. Cloud computing involves subscription or pay-per-use services that can increase your company’s computing capabilities by using the internet. These services usually involve renting out space on a server or remote computer and retrieving the information stored in that space or using that remote system’s computing powers for your business needs. These services include, but are not limited to, applications like word processing and accounting, secure data storage, and spam filtering to name a few. These services are offered through a wide variety of companies, large and small. It can be difficult to know which service, subscription or application is right for you.
TRA Consulting, a computer solutions firm based in Long Beach, can help you decide which cloud computing options might work best for your small or medium-sized business and then help you implement those services. But first, let’s discuss the kinds of subscriptions and services that are available to you through cloud computing. Desktop management services are one of the aspects of cloud computing that has been around the longest. This allows updates, software downloads and computer maintenance on your business’ computers to be done from a remote location. Another aspect of cloud computing is software as a service or SaaS. This allows users to access a program or application through the internet which sometimes makes it cheaper than hosting the application on your own local servers and avoiding costly software licensing. SaaS is commonly used for Human Resources apps and ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning, a popular business management software). Online data storage is another aspect of cloud computing, these services are helping to augment datacenters through the use of virtual commodity servers. There are some web services that are also important parts of cloud computing. These web services offer APIs (application programming interface) that allow you to do payroll processing, postal services, credit card processing and mapping all through cloud computing.
While the term cloud computing is still a mystery to most and can mean a number of different things to different people, there are many great ways that cloud computing can help you and your business thrive. Contact TRA Consulting, Inc. today to find out how we can help you expand your businesses computing power without much extra cost.

The Hacking Epidemic at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics

~~The Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia are in the final stretch. In just a few days, athletes from around the world will be completing their competitions, attending the closing ceremonies, and heading home. But in the meantime, smart phones, computers and tablets in Sochi have been under near constant attack from hackers since before the games began. As NBC Nightly News reported on February 4th, when athletes, support teams, volunteers, reporters, and spectators began arriving in Sochi, Russia in preparation for the games, they found their electronic devices were quickly threatened.
 Most people turn on their cell phones when they get off the airplane upon arriving in a new place. When they get to their hotel, they usually fire-up their laptops or tablets. It seems like a very natural thing to do these days, especially when you want to let loved ones and colleagues know you have arrived safely and catch up on any correspondence you might have missed. But as several news stories have warned, hackers are taking advantage of the huge influx of unwitting Olympic visitors to Sochi to gain as much personal information or other sensitive data from the devices that came into the country with their owners. Phones may be tapped wirelessly and hackers can listen into your conversations, and in many cases smart phones automatically downloaded malware that left it open to other types of cyber attacks. The information gleaned by hackers about visitors then might be used by that hacker for theft, or sold to other criminal enterprises for the purposes of identity theft, or even completely hijack a visitors’ computer, tablet or phone to carry out criminal activities.
News sources reporting on the wide-spread hacking in Sochi are reporting that travelers are advised to have no expectation of privacy when they arrive in Sochi. These sources also recommended that travelers remove all sensitive data from smart phones, tablets and computers before leaving home, avoid the public wifi, not use their devices at all, or just leave them at home. Another option might be to buy a new disposable phone once you arrive at your destination for use only in that location.
Whether you traveled to Sochi to enjoy the Winter Olympics, or you are an armchair warrior watching from home, it’s smart to think ahead about computer security here at home and for when you travel. As the example from the Sochi Winter Olympics illustrates, traveling has taken on a new dimension in terms of computer safety and security. At TRA Consulting, let us handle the headache for you. We can advise you on the best way to keep your devices safe for your next business trip or vacation. If you have recently returned from travels, we can help with virus removal and protect your computer, tablet, or phone from future threats. We are serving the Long Beach and Greater Los Angeles areas with computer solutions, training, consulting, and virus removal for individuals, small, and medium-sized businesses

Cyber Attacks on Businesses During the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics

~~The 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi Russia are winding down and in a few days, athletes and spectators will be attending the closing ceremonies and hoping flights headed home. Many news outlets have warned since before the games started that individuals traveling to Sochi were at great risk for hacking to their computers, tablets, and mobile devices and that information privacy in Russia would be difficult to come by. But other news sources are also warning that businesses are also vulnerable to cyber criminals during the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. And the bad news is that you don’t even have to travel outside of your country of origin to be targeted by hackers that are taking advantage of the excitement around the Winter Olympics. Many computer experts are warning businesses to be vigilant against attacks from the start of the Winter Olympics opening ceremony at the Fisht Olympic Stadium, to the closing ceremonies that will take place on Sunday February 23, 2014.
There will be a lot of interest in the games throughout the two and a half weeks they are held and that offers cyber criminals a perfect window of opportunity to target users with phishing attacks by masking emails designed to steal information. These emails are often disguised as updates on the games, sports commentary or other insights about the Winter Games. Hackers will then capitalize on this interest in the Winter Games by using those emails to inject malware, viruses and tracking software, sometimes right onto company servers. Other attacks on computer systems may not have criminal intent, but may be just as difficult to deal with. These would come in the form of cyber attacks from what’s now known as hacktivists. These are activists for social justice issues that use the internet, computers, and hacking to send a message about the social cause they are promoting, but hacktivists can also carry out acts of terrorism in their attempts to express their dissent. And just like the cyber criminals mentioned above, these hacker/activists are attracted to events that garner a lot of public attention because they believe they can get their message out to a wider audience.
At TRA Consulting, a busy IT solutions firm serving the Long Beach, Orange County and the Greater Los Angeles area, we can help you protect your business from phishing scams and other hacking activities by making sure your system is secure from top-to-bottom. We offer computing solutions for server and network security, set-up of email filters and firewalls that will help you and your employees save valuable time by ensuring that your important transactions and communications remain secure and private. One of the newer ways of securing email is to use Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting & Conformance or DMARC which uses the Domain Name System or DNS to check the authenticity of your emails every step of the way. Contact TRA Consulting today and we can discuss security solutions and logistics for you and your business.

Sochi Olympics IT

The Sochi Olympics Winter Games are an outstanding opportunity to showcase the convergence of IT and sports medicine.  I would like to see more IT in the coverage of the games.


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