Chances are, if you were sitting at your computer yesterday, you were searching for Cyber Monday deals. Survey results indicated that 86% of working Americans planned to spend at least some time shopping or browsing for gifts during work hours on Cyber Monday.
Cyber Monday is the single biggest online shopping day of the year and this year retail experts say sales will be 15 percent more than they were in 2012. Online ads are expected to help drive the $2 billion in sales that was expected to take place on Cyber Monday.
Cyber Monday, so-called because of the rush of internet sales following a traditional Black Friday, is the busiest online shopping day of the year. Cyber Monday is similar to Black Friday, only without the long lines and pushy fellow shoppers. Online stores roll out deals at specific times on a first-come-first-served basis, and the best items generally sell out in seconds.
It’s also a less stressful environment in which to shop, because if one site runs out of an item you want, you don’t have to hop into your car and drive to another location hoping to find that same item elsewhere. Simply navigate to another online store and try your luck there.
Many Cyber Monday e-Tailers have committed to keep the shopping spree up for the entire week (can you say Cyber Week?) right through December 8th in an effort to make up for the slower than expected Black Friday sales. I suspect that shoppers will continue find better deals online for the entire month and perhaps even after the Christmas holiday.
The term “Cyber Monday” was coined by Shop.org, a division of the National Retail Federation, in a press release that reported the results of a 2004 research study
In 2012, online shopping traffic peaked just before lunchtime on the east coast – at 11:25 a.m. EST. Right around that time, web traffic soared for department stores, health and beauty retailers, home goods sellers and apparel stores.
Cyber Monday predictions for 2013:
Lastly – have you heard that Amazon.com is planning to deliver your online purchases using unmanned drones? Amazon Prime Air will provide some consumers with 30 minutes or less – to your door – deliveries for products weighing 5 pounds or less. Although the actually technology implementation is still 3 – 4 years away, you can be sure that Amazon.com CEO, Jeff Bezos will make it happen.
Here’s some info and a short video and picture of a drone:
Amazon Prime Air “Octocopter” introduction on You Tube
Chromecast is a $35 streaming dongle that plugs into your TV’s HDMI port and plays audio/video content on a high-definition TV using your Wi-Fi connection.
The basics: what it is and what it does:
You can use it to stream online videos from YouTube, Netflix and elsewhere, and use your computer, mobile phone or tablet as a remote control. It doesn’t have any kind of separate app store or user interface on your TV – everything gets controlled from your PC or mobile device.
The key word here is control: Your phone doesn’t stream videos directly to your Chromecast dongle. Instead, it just tells the device which video it should stream from the cloud. That means that you can use your phone for something else, or even turn it off, once the stream begins. This also helps preserve your smartphone battery
This kind of remote control capability only works with apps and sites that directly support Chromecast. In addition to that, users can also stream any web content directly from their computer’s Chrome browser, as long as they have a special Chrome extension installed.
The setup is remarkably easy if you follow Google’s directions and download the setup app on your computer or mobile device. Just get those apps, and the setup is literally done in two minutes. Plug the dongle into your TV, connect it to a power source and fire up the app on your computer or mobile device. Enter the password of your local Wi-Fi network, and you’re good to go.
Chromecast is a great device for Netflix viewing: Streams look as good as on any other device and navigating the Netflix catalog on a computer or mobile device works much better than on a connected device like the older WII we have for streaming Netflix.
The other use for Chromecast right now is streaming videos from YouTube. One limitation though is that streaming videos to Chromecast from your PC is only supported if you are on YouTube.com, and not if the video is embedded in a third-party website. That means that you’ll need to click through to YouTube.com before you can start watching on the big screen.
When Chromecast was introduced it was thought that the HDMI-CEC standard would be its secret killer feature and it is. Chromecast can automatically turn on TVs that support HDMI-CEC and even change the HDMI input, switching from live TV to whichever video you selected on your mobile device. One complaint is that turning on the TV doesn’t work if you plug your Chromecast unit into the TV’s USB port, which is why it makes sense to use the extra power adapter that Google ships with the device instead of USB.
Netflix and YouTube are clearly just the beginning for Chromecast. Hulu, Vimeo, HBO Go and others have already pledged their support, and many developers have begun creating apps and games for the device. All of this means that Chromecast will get substantially better over the months to come.
No additional monthly fees and only $35 to bring Netflix to a TV in your bedroom or den is really a no brainer even if you already have a smart TV, or watch Netflix with the game console that’s otherwise collecting dust in your living room. The device makes it easy to bring online video to the living room or kid’s room and in turn makes TV watching a lot more enjoyable. I’ve just ordered 3 more dongles for 2 TV’s at home and one here at the office.
More information is available here:
The title may seem like we’re taking agiant step backwards… but read on….
Coin is a new app and gadget that combines all of your credit and debit accounts into a single card.
If your wallet’s starting to get a little too thick to fit in your pocket, Coin might be able to lighten your load. That’s Coin, not coins.
It looks no different than a standard credit card, but it’s actually a small device that can act as a credit card, debit card or gift card. The device is available for pre-order and expected to start shipping next summer.
Coin CEO Kanishk Parashar said that the company was born from the ashes of the failed company Smart Market. That app, another mobile payment system, failed to notify customers when they were near a store that accepted the app. “There was no need for a card or wallet, but we didn’t see payments going through the system,” he told reporters.
Coin isn’t another system of payment, but a way of uniting several different methods of payment into a single device. Coin users plug a magnetic strip reader into a smartphone, swipe their cards, and sync their information through the company’s app.
In order to make a payment, users tap a button on the Coin card and pick which account they want to pay with, whether it’s a business credit card or a personal debit card. After picking an account, the Coin card is swiped just like using any other card.
It may seem a little risky to keep all your financial accounts bound to a single card. However, Parashar and his colleagues have engineered security measures into Coin. All communication between the Coin card, app and servers are heavily encrypted. All your financial information would be secured.
In addition, Coin cards themselves broadcast a low-power Bluetooth signal that detects where your smartphone is. It works on the concept of being on a leash. If you’re walking away from your card and go out of range of the Bluetooth, Coin locks itself from use and your iPhone will then signal you with an alert.
But even if you miss that alert, you don’t have to worry about other people using your card. After a certain period of time (determined by the user), Coin will automatically
deactivate and stop other people from using it.
Coin is currently available for pre-order for $50. It may seem like a hefty price to pay for a lighter wallet, but Coin executives are optimistic.
I see this as a big step forward in mobile payment processing and simplification but believe that the ultimate solution would be for your smart phone to manage and make all your mobile payments as well as manage all the different courtesy and awards cards stores hand out today.
For additional info:
Watch the video on YouTube here:
Even though the 2013 Atlantic hurricane season, which forecasters had predicted would be more active than normal, has turned out to be something of a dud so far…. that’s no reason to consider it over! Today marks the statistical “peak day” for the season which runs from June 1st to November 30th. We’re saying, ACTSmart – Be Prepared! All month long we’ll be posting preparedness tips and information on Facebook as well as on our GoAmerican.com web site.
We’re including business, family and even pet tips, many that we found when we signed up at Ready.gov. which FEMA has created to help citizens “Plan, Prepare and Stay Informed.” We’ve joined the National Preparedness Community whose mission is to “harness the power of every individual through education, training, and volunteer service to make communities safer, stronger, and better prepared to respond to the threats of terrorism, crime, public health issues, and disasters of all kinds.”
Anyone can join and it’s FREE – simply go to Ready.gov and click on the “Pledge To Prepare” button where you’ll fill out a simple form with your email address and geographic location. Signing up will get you access to exclusive resources, regional groups, national forms, and updates from FEMA and emergency management personnel. If you sign up for their monthly news email, they keep you informed about all types of Ready.gov-related issues and send them directly to you via email.
It’s not just for hurricane season either – the information is timely and relevant for:
- Basic Disaster Supplies Kit recommended items
- FAMILY EMERGENCY PLAN
- CARING FOR ANIMALS DURING AN EMERGENCY
- Business Continuity Planning
- KIDS Activities including “Call a Family Meeting and Make a Plan!”
One “disaster” tip that we’re formulating into a company policy is “Communications during and after a disaster.” A common problem during and after a disaster is lack of power, phone and internet communication lines. Our new policy is that we will also communicate via Facebook and Twitter with our clients. All clients will be receiving our emergency communications procedure so they’ll know how to reach us and how we’ll communicate with them in the event of a “communications out” situation. It’s a great policy for every business and every family to consider putting in place.
On July 31st 2013, Massachusetts law makers quietly enacted a new sales tax regulation hidden within the much reported on Gasoline and Tobacco tax increases.
Many IT service providers are still not even aware of this new regulation or how it will affect both their business and that of their clients.
Basically, effective July 31st, Computer Service providers and consultants are now required to charge 6.25% sales tax on all professional services relating to the services defined in the NEW definition of “services”.
The “Legal Speak”
According to The Mass Department of Revenue (DOR) “The term “Services” shall be limited to the following items, telecommunications services, computer system design services and the modification, integration, enhancement, installation, or configuration of standardized or prewritten software.
The application of the sales and use tax to Computer/Software Services will not apply to personal or professional services that do not themselves constitute computer system design. Or software modification services and that are not directly related to a particular system integration project involving the sale of computer hardware or software. Two examples of such non-taxable and professional services may include (1) consulting and evaluation services with respect to existing computer systems to identify deficiencies and needs and (2) services to prepare a business to use modified software, such as training.”
The DOR intends to provide “additional guidance” in the future regarding application of this services tax. The initial guidance provided by the state, as stated in TIR 13-10, is currently very limited and the law, in its current iteration, is very open ended and as should expected, favors the State and not the consumer of these types of services.
So, in a real life example, this means that when a consumer purchases a piece of software (say an antivirus program)and then hires a third party (computer guy) to install and configure that software, the third party (computer guy) is required to charge the consumer 6.25% sales tax on the hourly rate charged to perform the installation.
Another example – when a consumer buys a new computer system and then engages a computer service company to install and configure it for them – the computer guy must charge sales tax on the service rate he charges to perform this work. Business network service and installations will incur the same 6.25% sales tax as well.
One more example – If you or your company hires a web designer/consultant to build, update and/or modify your website, this type of service is now taxable as well.
My interpretation – As we see it, this impacts almost all of our clients and the services that we provide and every home or business computer user that hires a third party to perform pretty much any service on their computers and networks! We have reached out to our tax accountant as well as the Mass DOR to get a more exact definition and will report any new information we receive.
I’ve personally called around to dozens of computer service providers both large and small throughout the South Shore and in every single instance, the Service providers are still operating under the “old” tax regulations and have not yet adopted these new requirements. It’s only a matter of time – when these companies start seeing the new online ST-9 sales tax reporting forms requiring that they separately report and pay their service tax liabilities – they will be playing and paying catch up with the Mass DOR.
I’ll be talking about this with Kevin Tocci, Monday night between 6:30 and 7:00 on Monday Night Talk on 95.9 WATD. I’ll also be discussing it with Rob Hakala and Lisa Azizian on my regular Tuesday morning spot on the South Shore’s Morning News Show at 8:11am, also on WATD. Tune in or you can listen LIVE on the website at 959watd.com.
Link to the new law as posted on MASS DOR website:
Article/post in The Boston Business Journal:
If you want to be even more confused about this law, have a look at this site:
It’s not enough that we need to worry about the security cameras installed on every other telephone pole, street sign and office building – NOW we need to check the TV sets in our living rooms.
Today’s high-end televisions are almost all equipped with “smart” PC-like features, including Internet connectivity, apps, microphones and cameras. But a recently discovered security hole in some Samsung Smart TVs shows that many of those bells and whistles aren’t ready for prime time.
The research was conducted on different models of 2012 Samsung Smart TVs and was presented this week at the Black Hat cyber security conference in Las Vegas.
In a formal statement, Samsung said it takes user safety very seriously. Addressing the camera flaw, a company spokesperson said, “The camera can be turned into a bezel of the TV so that the lens is covered, or disabled by pushing the camera inside the bezel. The TV owner can also unplug the TV from the home network when the Smart TV features are not in use.” Samsung also recommends that customers use encrypted wireless access points.
The flaws in Samsung Smart TVs, which have now been patched, enabled hackers to remotely turn on the TVs’ built-in cameras without leaving any trace of it on the screen. While you’re watching TV, a hacker anywhere around the world could have been watching you. Hackers also could have easily rerouted an unsuspecting user to a malicious website to steal bank account information. Samsung quickly fixed the problem after security researchers at iSEC Partners informed the company about the bugs. Samsung sent a software update to all affected TVs.
Bottom Line: When all else fails or you’re just not sure…. you can always put tape over the cameras. A low tech solution for a high tech problem.
These types of glitches speak to the larger problem of gadgets that connect to the Internet but have virtually no security to speak of.
If something can connect to the internet, it can be hacked. Security cameras, lights, heating control systems, smart implanted medical devices and even door locks and windows are now increasingly coming with features that allow users to control them remotely. Without proper security controls, there’s little to stop hackers from invading users’ privacy, stealing personal information or spying on people.
Smartphones have pretty much taken over as the default navigation tool for many drivers. However, some states like California have outright banned smartphone use in the car: no windshield mounts or dashboard cradles allowed. So, how are you going to get your turn-by-turn directions when looking at your phone is illegal? Garmin has announced a new way to interact with its StreetPilot and Navigon smartphone navigation apps: a device called the HUD.
HUD — short for head-up display — sits on the dashboard at the base of the windshield, where it projects navigation data upward into the driver’s line of sight, either onto a transparent film affixed to the windshield glass or a reflector lens that attaches to the HUD device. Both the film and reflector lens are included with the device.
Garmin states that HUD will automatically adjust the brightness of its projections, so that the display remains visible in direct sunlight or at night. The device will be powered by a 12V charging cable with an integrated USB port for keeping your smartphone charged as well.
What’s your phone got to do with this? HUD’s data is provided by one of Garmin’s navigation apps — either Navigon or StreetPilot — on an Android, iPhone, or Windows Phone 8 smartphone. The head-up display pairs with your handset via Bluetooth to communicate with the navigation app. (Many phones can also simultaneously pair with your car’s Bluetooth system to broadcast the spoken portion of the turn-by-turn directions and to take incoming calls.)
In addition to turn arrows, distance to the next turn, current speed and speed limit, HUD can also display the estimated time of arrival, graphic lane guidance, traffic delays, upcoming safety camera locations, excessive speed warnings, and more.
By projecting this limited, yet relevant data up in the driver’s line of sight, Garmin claims that “HUD can help increase safety and reduce driver distraction. HUDs windshield display looks pretty cool too.
The Garmin HUD has an MSRP of $149.99 when it becomes readily available later this summer. Add in an additional $29.99 for Garmin’s StreetPilot or Navigon app for your particular smartphone to power it and off you go.
Here’s a YouTube Video showing the device in action:
Garmin’s Head-up Display (HUD)
Pam got a call just a few weeks ago from someone stating they were from Microsoft and they had noticed that her computer was infected and would like to help her get it cleaned up. These scam calls started several years ago and they will continue because too many folks are still falling for it. The sophistication level of this scam continues to fool people, but the bottom line is that Microsoft (or any other legitimate company) will never call you out of the blue to help you with a problem you didn’t know you had.
The closest exception is that your ISP (Internet Service Provider) could send you a warning e-mail if an infected computer is identified as causing problems from your home or business via your Internet connection, but even they wouldn’t call you on the phone.
Microsoft is well aware of these scams, but there really isn’t much that they can do to stop it since these scammers pop-up out of thin air on a regular basis and have clever ways to mask who they really are.
In most cases, this is a ‘cold-calling’ technique used by unscrupulous computer service organizations, generally from foreign countries, that are simply trying to con folks out of their money. They randomly call phone numbers in the US, because they know that virtually everyone they call will have a computer and the odds are pretty good that they have a Windows-based computer.
We’re starting to see more variations of this scam that don’t always use Microsoft’s name but the intentions are the same: trying to scare you into letting them access your computer to fix it for a fee. They use clever tricks for convincing you that you do have a problem, if they can keep you on the phone long enough (so hang up as quickly as you can!)
Pam, being in the business and wise to these types of scams, took a slightly different view of this scammer and rebuked the person on the phone telling them they should be ashamed of themselves for trying to steal from innocent people, why don’t you get a real job and so on… They hung up on her!
They’ll try to convince you by having you run some ‘diagnostics’ yourself as proof.
One tactic they use is to get the victim to open the Windows Event Viewer, which has a log of any errors that Windows has detected. Unless you just recently installed Windows, your Event Log is bound to show some errors (very normal), which can be made to seem scary to non-technical users. Another trick is to get you to drop to a command prompt (black background with white text) to check your system ID and run a verify command, which will return the message that ‘verify is off’. They will then tell you that your computer ID can’t be verified which means your computer hasn’t been able to get Windows updates (which is completely false; the verify command is to verify that data has been written to a hard drive correctly).
The caller may even guide you to pull up something that they claim is a system certificate that has a 2011 date, which they will try to convince you means your computer hasn’t been updated since then As you can see, if you follow their instructions, they can easily trick a non-technical victim into believing that their computer really is infected and allow ‘Microsoft’ into their computer remotely to fix it.
Remote service is perfectly fine and safe, but only when you instigate the call for help and it is provided by a trusted source.
Read More about these scams as well as how to report them to Microsoft:
What is ransomware?
Ransomware is a type of malware that prevents you from using your computer or accessing your data until you pay a certain amount (the “ransom”) to a remote entity. There are currently two types of ransomware we are seeing:
- Lock screen ransomware, which displays a full-screen image or webpage that prevents you from accessing anything in your computer, and
- Encryption ransomware, which encrypts your files with a password, preventing you from opening them
Ransomware typically propagates like a conventional computer worm, entering a system through, for example, a downloaded file, infected website or an exposed vulnerability in a local network service. The program will then run a payload: such as one that will begin to encrypt personal files on the hard drive. More sophisticated ransomware may hybrid-encrypt the victim’s plaintext with a random symmetric key and a fixed public key to further confuse the user. The malware author is the only person that knows the decryption key needed to release control of your PC and files.
Some ransomware payloads do not use encryption. In these cases, the payload is simply an application designed to effectively restrict interaction with the system, typically by overriding explorer.exe in the Windows registry as the default shell, or even modify the master boot record and/or partition table, not allowing the operating system to start at all until it is repaired/removed.
Ransomware payloads, especially ones which do not encrypt files, utilize elements of scareware to coax the user into paying for its removal. The malware may, for example, display notices purportedly issued by companies or law enforcement agencies which falsely claim that the user’s system had been used for illegal activities, or contains illegal content such as pornography and unlawfully obtained software. Some ransomware payloads imitate Windows XP’s product activation notices, falsely claiming that their computer’s Windows installation is counterfeit or requires re-activation.
In any case, the ransomware will attempt to extort money from the user by forcing them to purchase either a program to decrypt the files it had encrypted, or an unlock code which will remove the locks it had applied.
Paying the “fine” does not necessarily return your computer to a usable state. We DO NOT advise that you pay as you are giving the criminals what they want. With ransomware, the threat of prosecution does not come from the legitimate authorities – it’s simply internet criminals trying to extort money from end users.
So what can you do?
Here are some walkthroughs to help rid yourself of this very annoying problem – one from Microsoft and one from Norton
Microsoft: This tutorial is very complete and easy to use.
Norton: This is a YouTube Video tutorial.
Norton’s Power Eraser: Used in the video tutorial above.
How to avoid ransomware in the first place?
There are several free ways to help protect your computer against ransomware and other malware:
- Keep all of the software on your computer up to date. Make sure automatic updating is turned on to get all the latest Microsoft security updates.
- Keep your firewall turned on.
- Never open spam email messages or click links on suspicious websites.
App Store Celebrates its 5th Birthday this week and YOU get the presents. If you’ve been holding off on buying that pricey app for your iPhone or iPad, today could be your lucky day.
As noted on The Verge website, many of the App Store’s most popular apps are free or highly discounted in what may be a gesture by Apple to celebrate the marketplace’s fifth birthday this week. There is no banner or other indication in the store (at least not yet) to celebrate the milestone.
In some cases, the discounts are steep. Games such as the popular “Infinity Blade II” ($6.99), “Tiny Wings HD” ($2.99) and “Badland” ($3.99) are among the apps currently available for free. The most notable price cut comes for “Traktor DJ,” a popular app for aspiring and professional DJs that is normally $19.99.
You can see a list of all of the apps that are currently marked down to free over at Among Tech. It’s unclear if these apps will be the first of more to temporarily be available for free in the App Store. Apple has not promoted anything in the marketplace to call attention to the anniversary and the app makers currently offering a free download have also been mum on the move.
Since its introduction back on July 10, 2008, one year after the debut of the first iPhone, the App Store has serviced 50 billion downloads, 900,000 apps and hosts 575 million store accounts. The marketplace’s much-lauded “ecosystem” of smartphone programs has spawned more than its fair share of multimillion-dollar companies that got their start exclusively on iOS, such as instagram and Snapchat. Apple has paid developers over 15 Billion on App purchases.
On a side note, Apple is still trying to stop Amazon from using the “App Store” name in its own competing software.