Get Emergency Information On Your Smartphone

ACTSmart – Be Prepared!  Get Emergency Information on Your Cellphone from Mass.gov!  There are now two primary methods that Massachusetts citizens can get emergency information on their cellphones, Ping4alerts! and Wireless Emergency Alerts.

Both of these methods will provide timely and important information about emergencies and hazards in your area and how you should respond to ensure your safety. Important messages may be delivered using both methods.


Q: What type of alerts will I receive?

A: The app receives a data feed from the National Weather Service for certain severe weather events. Messages are sent for watches and warnings for tornados, thunderstorms, flash floods, blizzards, hurricanes, and others. In addition, MEMA also uses Ping4alerts to send important information about potential or actual emergencies.

Q: How will Ping4alerts! notify me if an alert has been sent about severe weather or other emergencies?

A: When a new alert is sent, Ping4alerts! Will cause your phone to sound an audible alert and it will push a notification to your phone’s screen. In addition, certain severe messages about life threatening conditions may override the phone’s silent or vibrate settings to ensure that the user gets the message.

Wireless Emergency Alert system: Have you received an emergency alert on your cell phone about severe weather, an AMBER Alert or another emergency and were unsure of what it was or where it came from? Beginning in June 2012, the Wireless Association and the wireless industry joined the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to offer a robust and reliable Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) system.

There are three different kinds of WEA alerts:

1. Imminent Threat Alerts – Alerts that include severe man-made or natural disasters where an imminent threat to life or property exists:-Most WEAs will be issued by NOAA’s National Weather Service (NWS). WEAs will be used by the NWS only for the most imminent and severe weather conditions. This includes automatic alerts when Warnings are issued for: Tornados, Flash Floods, Blizzards, Ice Storms, Hurricanes, and Tsunamis.

-Imminent Threat alerts may be issued by authorized state officials, such as the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA). Alerts must meet certain criteria that are established in the FCC rules to ensure that only the most urgent messages are sent as a WEA.

2. AMBER Alerts – Alerts that meet the U.S. Department of Justice’s criteria to help law enforcement search for and locate an abducted child. These alerts are sent by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.

3. Presidential Alerts – Alerts issued by the President or a designee. While these alerts will appear on a person’s mobile device similar to a text message, they are differentiated from a regular text message because they include a special tone and vibration, both repeated twice. WEAs are not text messages but instead use a different kind of technology to ensure they are delivered immediately and are not subjected to potential congestion (or delays) on wireless networks. There are no fees/charges for this service (does not count as a text message). The device’s location information is used only for the delivery of the Wireless Emergency Alert and is not tracked by the provider or the government.

WEAs will be sent to those within a targeted area, unlike text messages, which are not location based. While WEAs will be targeted, an alert usually is sent to an entire county. As some counties are quite large, you may need to investigate further after you receive a WEA to learn whether you may be in harm’s way. Your best use of WEA is to immediately seek additional information about the imminent threat impacting your area.

If you have a WEA-enabled phone, you are automatically enrolled. The number of WEA-capable devices continues to grow, and many of the new phones (both smartphones and non-smartphones) that are sold from participating carriers will be able to receive these alerts. If your device has the Wireless Emergency Alerts logo (see logo to right), then it is WEA-capable. If you have an older phone, you might need to only upgrade your device’s software, rather than purchase a new one. To confirm Wireless Emergency Alerts are available in your area and your device is capable of receiving the alerts, please check with your carrier.

Wireless Emergency Alerts are just one notification tool available to the public. If you do not have a WEA-enabled phone, then you can still rely on other means of receiving emergency information. This includes NOAA Weather Radios, news media coverage, ping4alerts!, the Emergency Alert System (EAS) on radio and TV broadcasts, social media, and other alerting methods. Many communities in Massachusetts operate some type of local emergency notification (“reverse 911” type) system that may require registration in order to get local alerts and messages from the community. WEAs are designed to supplement, not replace these other notification methods (which can be done by contacting local public safety agencies).

More information about WEA (including links to cell phone carrier information) is available on the CTIA website. For FAQs, see FEMA’s WEA/CMAS website or the National Weather Service website. WEA is also known as the Commercial Mobile Alert System (CMAS) and the Personal Localized Alerting Network (PLAN). WEA/CMAS/PLAN are part of FEMA’s Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS).


Protecting Your Pets During A Natural Disaster

ACTSmart – Be Prepared!  If a natural disaster strikes, what will happen to your pet? Be prepared: make a plan and prepare a disaster kit for your pet. 

Last week we talked about Ready.gov and what they are suggesting for natural and man-made disasters.  This week we’ve recommending the CDC (Center for Disease Control) and what they recommend in case of a disaster.  We especially liked their recommendations for your pets!  There were LOTS of great suggestions that we hadn’t thought about!  And, you can sign up for email updates and RSS feeds about any topic that interests you!

Prepare a Pet Disaster Kit

Prepare a disaster kit for your pet(s), so evacuation will go smoothly for your entire family. Ask your veterinarian for help putting it together. Here is a checklist to get you started. Some examples of what to include are:

Disaster Supplies for Pets

  • Food (in airtight waterproof containers or cans) and water for at least 2 weeks for each pet
  • Food and water bowls and a manual can opener
  • For cats: litter box and litter
  • For dogs: plastic bags for poop
  • Clean-up items for bathroom accidents (paper towels, plastic trash bags, bleach-containing cleaning agent)
  • Medications for at least 2 weeks, along with any treats used to give the medications and pharmacy contact for refills
  • Medical records
    • Rabies vaccination certificate
    • Current vaccination record
    • If your pet has a microchip, a record of the microchip number
    • Prescription for medication(s)
    • For cats, most recent FeLV/FIV test result or vaccination date
    • Summary of pertinent medical history; ask your veterinarian for a copy
  • Sturdy leashes or harnesses
  • Carrier or cage that is large enough for your pet to stand comfortably and turn around; towels or blankets
  • Pet toys and bed (familiar items to help the pet[s] feel more comfortable).
  • A handout containing identification information (in the event you get separated from your pet)
    • Current photo of pet
    • Pet’s descriptive features (age, sex, neutered/non-neutered status, color(s), and approximate weight)
    • Microchip number
    • Owner contact information (cell phone, work phone, home phone)
    • Contact information of a close relative or friend,
  • A handout with boarding instructions, such as feeding schedule, medications, and any known allergies and behavior problems
  • Documents, medications, and food should be stored in waterproof containers


New COPPA rules take effect July 1st

Today, after four-years of discussion, the new stronger FTC rules protecting children online, goes into effect.

Much has changed about the Internet and the way we use it since In 1998 – the year Congress passed the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, or COPPA. Behavioral advertising, online tracking, social networks and the advent of the mobile Internet have made the Internet more accessible to children, and children’s personal information more accessible to companies as well as potential bad guys.

One thing that had not changed, however, was the federal regulations implementing COPPA – until today. Following a more than two year rule-making process and six month phase-in, the amended COPPA rule is now in effect.

COPPA is complex, but it contains three fundamental concepts.

  1. First, before an operator of a website may collect personal information from a child under the age of 13, it must obtain the verified consent of the child’s parent.
  2. Second, site operators must describe the information they collect and how they use it and share it in a privacy policy.
  3. And finally, the sites must store the children’s’ personal information securely.

These requirements apply to all child-directed sites – sites that have children as their primary target audience – and general audience sites that know they are collecting personal information from children under the age of 13.

The new rule adapts these core concepts to the current realities of Internet usage and data collection. In doing so, it substantially expands what is considered “personal information.” Reflecting the growth of social networks, user generated content and child-oriented mobile apps, operators of child directed sites now must obtain verifiable parental consent before they can collect users’ screen names, photo, video and audio files that contain a child’s image or voice, geo location data precise enough to identify a street and city; and persistent identifiers, such as cookies, an IP address, or unique mobile device identifier.

The new rule also makes clear that third parties, such as advertising networks, who receive personal information from sites they know are child directed must comply with COPPA, even if they have no direct user relationship with the child. Although these third parties will not have to investigate their partners’ sites, the Federal Trade Commission has suggested that they will be deemed to have knowledge if one of their employees recognizes that they are receiving personal information from a child-directed site.

The FTC has ramped up its enforcement of COPPA in recent years, and civil penalties are often substantial – up to $16,000 per violation. Companies, especially startups, will need to understand how their data collection practices fit within the complex new COPPA Rule.

Although the FTC has indicated that it will exercise moderation in the initial months of the new rule where companies are acting in good faith to comply, that leniency will not last forever. For additional information visit the websites listed below.



Outsmart Traffic With WAZE

This smart phone GPS application proves that crowd sourced navigation is working and it’s getting better.

At its core, Waze gives you voice-enabled GPS directions on your iOS or Android device. Best of all, it’s FREE. It’s still not perfect, but if you’re willing to trade a little routing efficiency for features you can’t find on other navigation apps, like real world travel times and up-to-the-minute, user-reported traffic jams, Waze is definitely worth checking out.

Here’s how it works:
Waze connects you to other drivers automatically (and anonymously) in the background. The app then pools data from everyone and channels it into more efficient, time-saving routing algorithms based on real-world trip data from other users, not just what the map data infers. This is essentially what TomTom does with its long-standing IQ Routes feature, but until Waze came along, we hadn’t seen it on a free phone app. On the display, cute little icons show you where other Waze users are as you drive.

Waze also knows that even if a route is technically shorter, you could still end up taking just as long as you would via the longer way on the highway, because of all the traffic lights. I had several instances where Waze nailed the ETA in actuality; whereas my Garmin’s GPS guessed I’d arriv earlier, only to adjust itself as the trip went on to eventually match what Waze had said all along.

Performance, Incident Reporting, and Conclusions
While en route, Waze doesn’t display the current road speed limit, and there’s no 2D or 3D lane assistance like on newer Garmin and factory supplied navigation systems. On the plus side, the colorful, animated traffic icons showing the current status and delay times looked very sharp on the map. Real-time traffic alerts worked well, and provided plenty of options throughout my trip.

Tap the exclamation point on the bottom right, and it will pop up nine icons to report an accident, police activity, heavy traffic, and other road hazards. In landscape mode, it will only show six icons, though; you need to scroll to the right to see the other three. Still, this is where Waze really shines; the app popped up plenty of real-time traffic alerts during a recent trip to northern Vermont and back. And on one leg of our trip, Waze popped up an alert that there was police activity coming up 400 feet ahead. And there was! There was a state police car at the side of the road with its lights on. Waze prompted me to either give it a thumbs up (meaning the report was correct), tell it that it was close but not exact, or tell it that there was in fact no police vehicle present.

The voice prompts were understandable, and the fact that it works via blue tooth helped greatly with low volume concerns. I also didn’t hear any pronunciation gaffes with Waze like I experience with my Garmin Nuvi.

Bottom Line:
If you want turn by turn, voice prompted navigation with real time traffic alerts, gas prices and hazard reporting – all for FREE – WAZE is the answer. Remember – this is a crowd sourced application so the more you put into it, the better it will become. Download it from the App Store or Google Play.


3 Simple Tricks To Get More Done Every Day

In today’s crazy-busy world, who doesn’t want to cram more “done” into your day? We’ve got 3 really simple things you can do to get more work done for the hours you’re putting in.

Use dual monitors.

According to a University of Utah study, you can increase your efficiency by 25% just by adding a second monitor. Performance measures included task time, editing time, number of edits completed, number of errors made, as well as usability measures evaluating effectiveness, comfort, learning ease, time to productivity, quickness of recovery from mistakes, ease of task tracking, ability to maintain task focus, and ease of movement among sources. All of these factors combined show truly increased productivity.

Block social media sites and/or other non-work related content online.

THIS one won’t be popular for a lot of people, but if you want to get more done, then take the distractions out of your day. Of course if your job is “social media director” for your company, this doesn’t apply; for all the other workers in your office who don’t NEED to go on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to do their job, this will remove the temptation to “snack” on social media sites throughout the day, which add up to hours wasted on entertainment surfing. Content filtering software can easily manage which sites you can and cannot go online to view, also keeping employees from gambling, searching for jobs, reading the news or visiting sex sites.

Set up remote access.

It’s incredibly easy to access files, e-mail and programs from home (or while on the road) these days using cloud technologies or other remote access applications. Not only does this allow people to keep working when forced to stay home with sick kids or to wait for the plumber to show up, but employees would also put in several more hours of work on their own initiative if they could easily jump on their home PC and put in a few hours.

Project Glass Unveiled


Google unveils Google Glass – augmented reality glasses.




 What is Google Glass?

Google’s Project Glass is Google’s attempt to make wearable computing mainstream, and it’s effectively a smart pair of glasses with an integrated heads-up display and a battery hidden inside the frame. Wearable computing is not a new idea, but Google’s enormous bank account and can-do attitude means that Project Glass could well be the first product to do significant numbers.


 How does Google Glass work?

First of all – let’s not confuse Google Glass and Google Goggles. Google Goggles is software, an app that can search the web based on photos and scans. Google Glass is hardware and according to well-informed Google blogger Seth Weintraub, Google’s Project Glass glasses will probably use a transparent LCD or AMOLED display to put information in front of your eyeballs. It’s location-aware thanks to a camera and GPS, and you can scroll and click on information by tilting your head, something that is apparently quite easy to master. Google Glasses will also use voice input and output.


 What are the Google Glass specifications?

The New York Times says that the glasses will run Android, will include a small screen in front of your eye and will have motion sensors, GPS and either 3G or 4G data connections. Weintraub says that the device is designed to be a stand-alone device rather than an Android phone peripheral: while Project Glass can connect to a smartphone via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth 4.0, “it communicates directly with the cloud”. There is also a front-facing camera and a flash, although it’s not a multi-megapixel monster, and the most recent prototype’s screen isn’t transparent.


What will we be able to do with Google Glass?

According to Google’s own video, you’ll be a super-being with the ability to have tiny people talking to you in the corner of your eye, to find your way around using satellite navigation (sat-nav), to know when the subway’s closed, to take and share photographs and to learn how to play the ukelele in a day.


 Watch the Google Glass – One Day video



Will Cell Phones Be Able To See Through Walls?


It looks like Superman’s X-Ray vision might not just be for Superman anymore.


Thanks to new research coming out of the University of Texas at Dallas, we may be able to channel one of Clark Kent’s famed superpowers by using our cellphones to see through walls.


A team at the University of Texas at Dallas, led by Professor of Electrical Engineering Dr. Kenneth O, has tapped into two significant scientific advances that could open up this new technology. The first is an unused range in the electromagnetic spectrum, and the second is a new kind of consumer-grade microchip.


The electromagnetic spectrum characterizes wavelengths of energy and measures all ranges of light. Dr. O’s research is using the terahertz band, which has previously been inaccessible for most consumer devices. The band lies between microwave and infrared rays and can allow devices to “penetrate” through objects in a way similar to X-rays.


When signals on the terahertz band travel from your phone, they’ll bounce back — and that’s when the microchip comes in. The chips are manufactured using CMOS (Complementary Metal-Oxide Semiconductor) technology, which is the basis of most of the electronic devices around you. A censor in the chip will pick up terahertz signals and then images can be created.


If terahertz-band signals can create images with fewer lenses — which would be the case with this technology — that means less money for lenses and a smaller camera. By using a CMOS sensor, the cost becomes even cheaper.


“CMOS is affordable and can be used to make lots of chips,” said Dr. O. “The combination of CMOS and terahertz means you could put this chip and receiver on the back of a cellphone, turning it into a device carried in your pocket that can see through objects.”


The technology goes beyond seeing through walls or other kinds of objects. In medicine, for example, there’s potential for it to be used in place of X-Rays. Businesses could also use it to detect counterfeit money.


And just in case you’re worried about spies using their phones to see what you’re up to far away, don’t fret — the researchers are fully aware of privacy concerns. That’s why Dr. O and his team are only focused on using their technology within a distance range of four inches.


What do you think of this new technology? Would you want to use your cellphone to see through walls? Let me know.



FBI Warning About Operation Ghost Click


The FBI is warning that hundreds of thousands of people could lose their Internet connections come July, unless they take steps to diagnose and disinfect their computers.


The problem is related to malware called DNSChanger that was first discovered way back in 2007 and that has infected millions of computers worldwide.


In simple terms, when you type a Web address into your browser, your computer contacts DNS (or Domain Name System) servers to find out the numerical Internet Protocol (IP) address of the site you’re trying to reach, and then it takes you there. DNSChanger fiddled with an infected machine’s settings and directed it to rogue servers set up by a crime ring — servers that handed out addresses to whatever sites the ring chose.


The DNSChanger Working Group said early this year that about 450,000 systems were still infected by the DNSChanger virus.


As noted in the FBI press release, the crooks “were international cyberbandits who hijacked millions of computers at will and rerouted them to Internet Web sites and advertisements of their own choosing — collecting millions in undeserved commissions for all the hijacked computer clicks and Internet ads they fraudulently engineered.”


Late last year, however, the FBI disrupted the ring and seized the rogue servers. And since so many infected computers relied on the servers to reach the Internet, the agency opted not to shut them down and instead converted them to legitimate DNS machines.


Running the machines costs the government money, though,so they’re being switched off in July. If your computer is infected with DNSChanger then, the Web — for you — will no longer exist after July 8th.


The DNSChanger Working Group (DCWG), the body set up to oversee the servers, has created a Web site to help you diagnose your machine and, if necessary, remove DNSChanger. You can check it out at www.dcwg.org using the link below. And it’s probably not a bad idea to do so sometime before, say, July 8th. This site is receiving massive hits from folks wanting to secure and disinfect their PC’s so if you can’t connect to their servers, you might want to follow the directions on the FBI site links at the end of this article.



Here’s how you can check and see if your system is affected/infected by this malware


For additional information visit the FBI’s webpage focused on “Operation Ghost Click”



Bitcasa opens private beta to all


We talked about this company last year and with all the new entries into cloud storage of late, I thought we should revisit this entity. Cloud storage is nothing new in this age of high-speed internet connections. Services like Dropbox, Microsoft Skydrive, Apple’s iCloud and Amazon S3 give users a set amount of online storage, and as users, we’ve become comfortable with the notion of hard drives in the cloud. Bitcasa has taken a step forward providing a cloud storage solution that offers unlimited space for a measly $10 per month.


Bitcasa is aiming to provide more than just a synced folder on a computer. The idea is that Bitcasa will become completely integrated with the device, negating the idea of placing certain files in the cloud. Instead, the cloud is the computer’s hard drive, and the physical local disk is used like cache. With all those files automatically written to the cloud, it also becomes extremely easy to share them.


The service won’t be dealing with the actual files from the computer. On the server-side, all Bitcasa is concerned with is the 1′s and 0′s that make up the file data. Before uploading anything to the cloud, content is encrypted on the local machine, meaning that Bitcasa is not in a position to know what files it is storing. All Bitcasa (or perhaps some angry copyright holders) can see are encrypted bits and bytes.


When a user needs to access a file, it is pulled down seamlessly from the Bitcasa cloud. Larger files, like video can just be streamed without downloading. According to Bitcasa CEO Tony Gauda, intelligent caching will make the most frequently used content available as local cache. This has the added benefit of making important files available offline for quicker access.


So how can BitCasa afford to offer unlimited cloud storage out of the gate for just $10 per month? Dropbox charges that same rate for just 50GB, and they’ve been building out their cloud storage for a few years now. The key is that a user’s data is never completely unique, or even mostly unique. BitCasa explains (and expects) that roughly 60% of an individual users data is duplicated elsewhere.


Those MP3s purchased from iTunes, photos, and even all those pirated movies are duplicated on many other users’ computers. Bitcasa uses a de-duplication algorithm along with compression technology to reduce the amount of storage space needed for each user. Basically, if two users have an identical file in Bitcasa, the service only keeps one copy and makes it available to both users.


On the surface, Bitcasa sounds remarkable, but there are still some important questions to be answered. The constant encryption and syncing of files to the cloud could be costly in terms of system performance, for instance. This isn’t just another synced folder on a device, users will essentially be doing all their file management in the cloud. Can Bitcasa scale to meet the file management needs of all users as it gains popularity?


Bitcasa has apparently demonstrated enough potential to attract $1.3 million in venture funding. A limited beta is about to start, and users are free to register for an account. During this beta period, the service will be free to use. There will also be a freemium version of Bitcasa down the road with limited storage space. This is definitely a service to keep an eye on; it could change the way we store files.

Sign up now for the limited Beta to get a feel for how this service will operate on your unique hardware and internet connection – after all – it’s Free!


Register for the private beta here: http://www.bitcasa.com/beta-signup

Google Enters The Cloud Storage Arena

Google is lacing up its gloves and stepping into the cloud storage ring with its own cloud storage service called Google Drive to rival the widely popular Dropbox and Apple iCloud.


Google Drive is expected to launch within the next few months, according to The Wall Street Journal, which quoted unnamed sources close to the product. The Google Drive cloud storage service will let users store content in Google’s cloud and access it from different devices. Google Drive will also let users upload and share photos, documents, videos and other content in the cloud.


The WSJ report indicates that Google Drive also will be tightly integrated with Gmail, allowing users to share content via links embedded into e-mails, similar to Microsoft’s SkyDrive services. Integration with Google Apps, Google’s cloud collaboration and communication suite, could be included as well.
According to the report, Google Drive will be free for most business users and consumers. Users requiring a larger amount of cloud storage will be offered a pay for premium service.


Cloud storage has become a major battleground in recent months, with companies looking to one-up each other with the amount of free storage they offer. Dropbox is seen as the market leader with more than 45 million users that save 1 billion files every three days. Last October, Dropbox brought in $250 million in Series B funding to continue its cloud storage strategy.


Along with Dropbox, Google Drive will join other cloud storage services such as Apple iCloud, which Apple launched to enable users to store and share content between devices, including the iPhone and iPad.


This new service would join Google Music, which takes advantage of Google search technology as well as its ability to tap into the tastes of a user’s friends to recommend songs. Launched last November, the service allows users to upload their entire music library collection to Google’s servers, but uploads are limited to music files.


With all the internet titans jumping into the ring, it looks like the “Cloud” really is coming into its own. It will be interesting to watch this battle and see where everyone stands once the dust settles. We, the consumer and end user, can only benefit from this battle – hopefully with lower prices and larger amounts of cloud storage space.

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