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Monday, April 16, 2018

Return phone calls

We recently needed some electrical work done. A friend made a recommendation. The electrician was called and several voice mails were left. Messages were also left with an assistant. Never received a return call. It baffles me how small businesses can ignore requests of their services. Apologies for singling out specific professions, but from my experience it seems to happen most often with tradesmen who own their own business, e.g.-electricians, plumbers, masons, etc. More than once, I’ve been referred to a person in the trades for residential work. The call is made but what you don’t get is a return call. You keep trying because of the reference regarding the quality of their skills, to no avail. Eventually you move on. Job lost. How can small businesses afford to ignore potential jobs? It makes you wonder how well their businesses are doing. To ignore potential customers/jobs is tantamount to turning business away. If they can afford that then they must have trucks unloading cash to the bank. Sometimes I think I chose the wrong career path.

My uncle was an electrician and ran a successful business for decades. He was able to sell the business and retire comfortably. When I was young I would spend summers helping with “apprentice” type duties. When I wasn’t at the job site I would help my aunt who ran the administrative side of the business as well as the supply chain. During those summers, I learned a lot about electrical work and running a business. Part of what I learned is how to speak to customers and potential clients. Seek out contracts and jobs. You never know from where your next paycheck is going to come.

Even if the job is outside your purview, call the customer back and offer an explanation-that the job is too small or not the type of work your business does. Give referrals. You may have turned down a job but you established some good will that may come back to benefit you later.

I know successful small business owners who are always hustling for more business. Their calendars are full of work and employees are busy. In busy times they know that they can never sit back, put their feet up, and figure they’re on top. They know that there are trends, up and downs, in any business. You have to keep looking ahead at what is coming. Always improving. Always analyzing what is working and what is not.

I had my own business. Some months it was very busy. During those times consideration was given to either doing the all the work myself or contracting out work. Other months you’re checking the phone lines because you can’t remember the last time there was a call. The point being - feast or famine. You never know when the phone is going to stop ringing.

Owning your own business is a great feeling. You should do what you love and if you can make money at it all the better. But it still takes effort. Just because you have a commodity that is in demand, doesn’t mean that it will stay in demand. Every business has competition, some more than others. If you don’t stay one step ahead your business will start to decline.

As far as my electrical issue. I did find an electrician that answered the phone personally and was eager to help. He passed on some troubleshooting tips that actually solved the problem without a service call. I didn’t formally hire the person but there was good will built for his honestly and eagerness. Definitely saved the contact information and will gladly give him referrals.  

Please feel free to share. See the blog archive for other posts about customer service.

All systems down October 2017
Lasting Impression September 2016

Monday, April 2, 2018

How secure are apps?

Every business is pushing their mobile apps. Some are highly interactive, giving access to secure accounts. Others are merely informational almost static platforms. Everyday we become more and more dependent on our phones. The Pew Research Center estimates that 77% of Americans have a Smartphone. A conglomerate of different studies from 2017 reported that Americans average five (5) hours a day using mobile devices and of that time 90% is spent using apps. Now when you allow that everything on your phone is an app of some sort it kind of diminishes the 90%, but the point being is that we are on are phones a lot.

Why have an app?

Phones are now like appendages. We are rarely without them. This is a big reason why companies push apps. That and because the phones create a focal point for data collection. Most apps require some sort of registration. That provides a modicum of security but it is mostly for data collection. Location services on smart phones allow app users to be tracked and pinpointed where they are using the app. This let’s the business collect, not only, your personal information but how, why and where you’re using the app, and what you are buying. All of this data is used to target advertising and reshape sales.

Since 2014 mobile Internet use has been more common on mobile devices than desktops. You can accomplish so much on your phone now you probably could go days without turning on a laptop or desktop. Apple has a cute commercial where the camera follows a girl throughout her day using her iPad.

A neighbor asks her what she is doing on her computer. She answers, “What’s a computer?”
The procession to apps began with the advent of online access to accounts and shopping. To encourage electronic account access, some companies even threatened higher fees for receiving paper documents through the mail. Then everything moved to our phones. Businesses lure customers into their apps with rewards or deals for using them. Some put more effort into their apps than their websites.


How secure are all these apps we’re either using voluntarily or “forced” to use by companies? The transmission of data between the users phone and the app servers usually has end-to-end encryption. Meaning the data being sent and received is encrypted. The problems arise from the users lack of security awareness and hacks into the apps servers.

A high percentage of our phone use is in public. If you’re concerned about data usage you’re always looking for a WiFi signal. Logging into public WiFi is one of the most unsecure actions a Smartphone user can do. If you don’t inadvertently log into a hackers signal then you’re sending a signal that your phone is publically available. Once a hacker zeros in on your phone they can intercept your transmissions to and from the apps you are using. Intercepting the phone’s connection to the router is commonly known as “man in the middle”. While that is still a popular hack it is time consuming and much more work than going after the bigger treasure. Company servers.

Why is it important to frequently change passwords? And not use the same passwords or login/password pair for more than one account? More sophisticated cyber criminals know where the money is. It’s in the servers of big companies. If not the financial records then the personal data. Recently, Under Armour announced that their app had been breached. They assured users that no financial data had been accessed only user names and emails. While that may give some a sigh of relief there’s still a problem. Hackers will sell those users names, emails, and passwords on the dark web. They’re valuable because many users will use the same login information across many accounts. Hackers can use the data gleaned from one breach to access your other accounts.

Using apps are as safe as the host makes their server data and how you use the app. Most of the security issues are out of your hands. If you are not compromised in public more than likely the company’s servers or app itself will be hacked, exposing your data. All you can do is be as safe and aware as possible on your end. Monitor accounts and change passwords frequently.

Please feel free to share. Check the archives for other posts about privacy and online security.
Are you being watched? February 2018
Keys to the vault August 2015

Monday, March 19, 2018

History of leave

With the passing of mandatory paid sick leave by the Maryland legislature in January 2018 the idea for this post began as a look at the history of sick leave in the American workplace. Research revealed the reason why there are paid leave advocates. Leave from work, whether for sick or personal, is a relatively new concept as it applies to the American workplace. Still, this is probably a good topic for a little background.

During the agriculture phase of the America people worked as the farm dictated. Once the Industrial Revolution arrived factories sprung up with no shortage of workers. People lined up waiting for jobs. Employers could set wages and hours are they saw fit. There was little to no regulation. People worked six days a week for pennies an hour in deplorable conditions. If you missed work you weren’t paid or lost your job. These conditions continued well into the 20th century until a president floated a new concept.

Starting a conversation

The idea of employee paid leave in the United States started with President William Taft in 1910 who thought that workers should have three months of vacation per year. Congress never bought into it but the conversation was started. Sixteen years later the work schedule began to change. The Ford Motor Company was one of the first, if not the biggest, company to offer employees a five day, 40 hour workweek. The policy went into effect in may 1926 at the urging of Henry Ford’s son, Edsel, who thought every man needed more than one a day a week for rest.

By the 1930’s, countries around the world had begun adopting paid time off for employees. The U.S. Department of Labor took up the fight again creating the Committee of Vacations with Pay to study why the U.S was so far behind the rest of the industrialized world. Nothing came from this committee.

It would be sixty some years later before the U.S government made significant changes. In 1993 the passage of the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) mandated twelve weeks of unpaid time off for workers to attend to their own or a family members medical issues. Leave from work agreements were, and still are, between employer and employee with no mandate for payment. While FMLA provided for leave without retribution from employers, the leave was still unpaid.  

There is not a statutory requirement for paid vacation in the U.S. Individual employers decide on what leave and type of leave to offer employees. Employer’s decisions on leave run the spectrum. A few companies are experimenting with unlimited leave while the majority offer some sort of paid time off. There are still small percentages that offer no leave.

Regarding statutory paid sick leave, currently nine U.S. states mandate it (Arizona, California, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington). Expect that number to grow in the coming years.

Please share this and any post. See the blog archive for other posts about employee benefits.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Can you buy an AR15 in Maryland?

After a mass shooting, attention is focused on the availability of the weapon used. Most times that weapon is a semi-automatic, assault style, rifle. How did the person obtain the weapon and why is it available to public, are the questions usually asked. As you probably have figured out gun laws in the U.S. are convoluted. Laws on gun possession and sale differ from state to state. Too many to try to and explain in a single post. For this blog the question raised is-Can you buy an AR15 in Maryland? The short answer is no.

Assault style weapons

The federal government and some states have strict laws regarding the regulation and availability of fully automatic weapons or machine guns. What is more readily available are assault style weapons that are similar to what the military uses but in a semi-automatic capacity (firing one bullet and automatically reloading with each depression of the trigger). “AR15” is a type of civilian rifle modeled after what the U.S. military issues. Although it is a specific product the name is also used incorrectly to identify a wider variety of assault style weapons. When, in fact, there are many different manufacturers and models.

The Federal government banned semi-automatic assault style weapons in 1994. However, the ban expired in 2004 and those guns became legal for sale once again. Maryland banned the sale of what is defined as an “assault rifle” or ”assault long gun” in the Firearm Safety Act of 2013. The types of weapons included are what are commonly known as “AR15”s and all variants or copies. However, persons that legally possessed these types of weapons prior to October 1, 2013 could continue to possess them. They just couldn’t be sold within the state.

The Maryland State Police is tasked with regulating firearm sales in Maryland. This link, Maryland State Police Firearm Search, explains what can and cannot be possessed and sold. Other states with bans on the sale of assault style rifles are: California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and the District of Columbia.

Guns approved for sale in Maryland

In addition to regulating the sale of firearms, Maryland law also determines what guns can and cannot be sold in the State. Handguns manufactured after 1985 can only be sold in Maryland if the Handgun Roster Board has specifically approved it for sale and placed it on the Official Handgun Roster. The Handgun Roster Board is part of the Maryland State Police and consists of eleven members-The Secretary of the State police and ten people appointed by the Governor for terms of four years.

You may search manufacturers to determine if a handgun is on the handgun roster and legal for sale in Maryland thru this link.  Handgun Roster search

Waiting periods

Waiting periods and firearm sale laws are also being discussed in the news. Maryland has some of the strictest firearm laws in the country. 1995, 2000, and 2013 saw major legislation packages passed that restricted the sale and types of firearms that could be sold in Maryland. Even before that, in 1966, Maryland was one of the first states to pass legislation regarding waiting periods for purchasing handguns. Since 1966, a firearm dealer must wait seven days before the gun may be transferred to the purchaser. During this time, the Maryland State Police conducts it’s background check of the prospective purchaser. The Responsible Gun Safety Act of 2000 expanded the waiting period and background checks to include the private sale of handguns between individuals.

Only nine states and the District of Columbia currently have waiting periods-California, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Rhode Island. Waiting periods for gun sales received a boost on February 20, 2018 when the Supreme Court dismissed a 2nd Amendment challenge to California’s 10-day waiting period as a “reasonable safety” precaution.

Please feel free to share this post. See the blog archive for more information on buying guns in Maryland.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

One born every minute

You are security conscious and know all the Internet do and don’ts, but sometime it is going to happen. You’re going to fall for click bait, open an infected email attachment, or fall for a social media hoax. You’re not dumb. You’re not gullible. You’re not alone. People of all ages, backgrounds, and intelligence will fall for social media hoaxes. Including this writer.

As with any scam, whether it is a criminal affair or a joke, the perpetrators play on our human nature and how we react to stimuli. Must notably anything that threatens our family or personally well being. Fear. As with any con, the perpetrator uses broad, widely known information, with some truth sprinkled in for good measure. Sometimes, as the case with privacy issues, will use functions of the app to make it believable. Instructing the victim to perform a function within the app that produces a result. When the result happens, it further validates the hoax.

The ones that get you are intelligently written in a generic style or tone that could be from any close friend or relative that you would normally trust. They either forward the item to you, or worse, endorse it with a message that reads something like, “Tried it. It works!” or “This is true”. Most people don’t do research. If so and so posted it must be true, and we quickly click ‘share’. After fourteen years, Facebook is still having trust issues with its users. Anything that hints at a privacy scandal runs wild and users react.

Hoaxes, just like malware, circulate, mutate, and resurface, sometimes years after being launched. The one that got me was the ‘Following me’ security check on Facebook. [Spoiler alert-It’s a hoax] You receive a message from someone you trust that reads like the photo heading of this blog post. And trust me, it will read like the above photo because the original language just keeps getting forwarded. Following the steps outlined in the post you’ll find these unknown people “following” you on Facebook. You quickly go to the next step and start deleting all of these unwanted followers. How dare they intrude onto my highly secure and private Facebook page! The nerve.

After testing the theory and seeing that it does indeed reveal hidden followers, you forward the message on with your own endorsement. Because it does work, it must be true. You have to alert all of your friends. I didn’t go that far. But it did give me an idea for a blog post. A couple minutes of research had me SMH. Got me! addressed this very hoax in a January 2017 article that was updated in September 2017.(Are Facebook users secretlyfollowing you?) Snopes traced the origin to a rumor post being circulated that Facebook security teams were paid to follow individual accounts. The post read similar to the one pictured except the user was instructed to enter ‘Facebook security’ in the block users search box. While this did return a list of people, it was determined to be people who had used ‘Facebook security’ in their profiles. In September 2017, the hoax took on the form we have pictured. However, now following the instructions returns a list of people that have “me” in their profiles.

In fact, the search box reads

So the hoaxers set you up with instructions that return what they want, a list of people you’ve never heard of, which gives validity to the hoax. Which gets it forwarded. And on and on and on it goes.

Please feel free to share. See the blog archive for more posts about privacy.
Are you being watched? February 2018

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Are you being watched?

Do you feel safe in your home? Your exterior is probably pretty well defended against intruders with metal doors and deadbolts, locking windows, and maybe an alarm system. How about intruders from within?  “…The call is coming from inside the house”, an oft repeated quote from the 1979 movie, When a Stranger Calls, can still make your skin crawl when you’re all alone, think you heard a noise, and then the phone rings. Just the thought of an intruder with you in your home can be terrifying. There may not be physical intruders inside your home at this moment, but someone may be listening or quite possibly watching.

Internet of things

Kevin Ashton of Procter & Gamble first coined “Internet of things” in 1999. It is defined as network of devices, appliances, vehicles, etc. that connect and exchange data through the Internet. It is estimated the Internet of things will be populated with 30 billion devices by 2020.

Technology has always invaded our homes as we excitedly open the boxes to the latest modern conveniences. In the early days of the 1900’s telephones began appearing in homes. The 1950’s saw televisions showing up in living rooms. People started bringing home desktop computers in the 1980’s. Those computers were connected to the Internet in the 1990’s.  Phones went on our belts and into our pockets in the 2000’s and then became handheld computers. The first Internet connected appliance was a LG refrigerator released in 2000. According to, there were nearly 36 million smart home devices sold in the U.S. in 2017. Over 40 million smart TV’s were sold in the U.S. in 2016 and 244 million worldwide.


The remote accessibility of household devices creates new security issues everyday. As appliances get “smarter” their vulnerability also increases. Smart devices only work to their full capability if they are connected to the Internet. Once that occurs they are searchable and hackable. When the device reaches out to the web it declares itself open for business. Hackers are always looking for unsecure networks and devices to exploit. If not for gain then just because then can.

We first heard about these types of intrusions in 2015 two years after consumers starting bringing home smart TV’s.  Samsung released TV’s in 2013 that could listen to voice commands from their owners. The problem? The TV has to be listening all the time to pick up the commands. What was “heard” was being transmitted via the Internet. Samsung warned consumers, through privacy policies, that spoken words are being captured and transmitted through the voice recognition system. Consumers were further warned not to hold personal conversations in front of the television. But who read or reads the privacy policies, right?

Another popular device entering our homes are web accessible cameras. We set these up to watch the nanny, housekeeper, or house in general. There are even petcams available that not only allow owners to watch their pets but speak to them and deliver treats remotely. The first cameras imbedded in teddy bears, sold as a “nanny cams”, began appearing on the market in 1992. The first cameras to transmit remotely via IP were sold by Axis Communications in 1996. Today, the market is flooded with cameras and phone apps that allow web transmission of live video. It’s fun to watch Mr. Snugglekins romp around the house. But if you can access your webcam remotely, so can someone else.


The device most people have heard stories about and are aware is the camera on your computer. Yes, they can be used against you. Unlike the movies, your home computer usually has to be “infected” with malware that you allowed in my clicking on a link or visiting a sketchy website. As with all of your devices, locally, you have to let someone in for them to be monitored. Not to say that you and your devices could not be specifically targeted and intruded. With the effort it could be done. Hackers and, yes, governments have the capability to access the television microphones, computer and remote cameras, turning them on and off and recording at will. However, most likely you’ve been the victim of malware.

The privacy and security issue with smart appliances is the collection and transmission of data. First, your viewing habits, conversations, actions are being collected. Second, the data is being transmitted to the Internet and held on third party servers. All of which can be hacked. So no matter the security measures you take at home, your personal data is vulnerable once it hits the WWW.

The thing is, you allow them into your home with the purchase, unpacking, and setup to connect to your network. Data transmissions you are unaware of because you have most likely allowed the device to set itself up per the manufacturer’s settings. Any warning or setup recommendations were clicked through and unread. Admit it. You’ve done it. Who reads the privacy settings on a new device? Or whenever you allow an update? That’s what the manufacturers are counting on. The key word in the previous paragraph is “allow”. You’re inviting the snooping by purchasing the device, bringing it into your home, and allowing self setup.

Your appliances aren’t the only ones listening. There’s been conspiracies floated the last couple of years that Facebook is listening to your conversations to better target ads. While feasible it is unlikely and has been debunked by several sources. Facebook may not be overhearing conversations but they, as is Google, “listening” by recording your search habits and even communications in messaging and emails apps to better address advertising. Netflix was recently caught by tweeting about the number of times a few viewers had watched one of its programs, trying to be funny. Netflix admitted that it did track viewing habits of subscribers.


When you invite smart appliances into your home you give up your privacy. You have to consider these devices as other persons and guard your privacy accordingly. Take the time to read the manufacturer privacy policies. Read the manual setup instructions and adjust the device settings accordingly. Block cameras in sensitive areas or turn them towards the wall when you’re home.

This reads like an Orwellian or tinfoil hat conspiracy. It wasn’t meant to be or to keep you from enjoying the conveniences of technology. Just be aware of the surroundings you’ve created. Any smart device has to be considered to be listening or watching. Alexa, Siri, Google, they all have to be listening all the time to be able to pick up your commands.

Please feel free to share. Read other posts about security in the blog archive.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Ban the box update

NOTE: This post was originally published in August 2016 and has been updated with more recent data.

The Ban the Box movement was initially reviewed in this blog in the 2013 post, Should the box be banned? As the movement has continued to grow this blog has updated the progress. The attention drawn to employment applications has now carried over to college admission applications as well.

What is “Ban the Box”?

For the last several years there has been a movement to remove from employment applications the “box” that asks the question, “Have you ever been convicted of a crime” or any inquiry about criminal history. What has become known as  “ban the box”, the campaign feels that one’s criminal history should not be a consideration of employment at the time an application is submitted, rather, at a later time during the interview process. It is felt that asking this question on the application reduces the chances of those with criminal records to be employed. Employers should meet applicants first, get to know them, give a chance to explain themselves and then get to the criminal history. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has updated its policies, issuing guidelines in 2012 suggesting that employers wait until after a personal interview before making inquiries about criminal history.

In January 2014, there were fifty-six cities that had “banned the box”. As of January 2018, that list included over 150 cities and counties, and 30 States (Ten of which have laws that include private employers)

Arizona             Louisiana               Ohio
California*       Maryland                Oklahoma
Colorado          Massachusetts*    Oregon*
Connecticut*   Minnesota*           Pennsylvania
Delaware          Missouri                 Rhode Island*
Georgia             Nebraska              Tennessee
Hawaii*             Nevada                  Utah
Illinois*             New Jersey*         Vermont*
Indiana              New Mexico          Virginia
Kentucky           New York               Wisconsin
*States with laws that also cover private employers

Maryland Ban the Box

Maryland’s law took effect October 1, 2013, and applies only to State of Maryland employment applications. State government cannot ask about criminal record or criminal history of an applicant until the applicant has been provided an opportunity for an interview. Exempt from the law are positions in the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services. Baltimore passed a similar law in 2014, restricting employers with 10 or more workers from asking a candidate about criminal records until after a conditional employment offer is made.

Colleges Ban the Box

In 2016, the U.S. Department of Education requested that colleges and universities voluntarily remove criminal history questions from applications. Throughout the U.S. some colleges and universities have taken the request into consideration and removed the questions. States have been slow to act.

In 2017, Louisiana became the first state to enact a ban the box law for state institutions. Maryland passed a law in 2017, but the Governor vetoed it. In January 2018, the Maryland legislature overrode the Governor’s veto, reinstating the law. 

Please share.
See the blog archive for other posts relating to Ban the Box:
Should the box be banned? February 2013