My personal voyage of discovery

 

I happen to live in the general vicinity of where Lewis and Clark set forth on their “corps of discovery” up to the Missouri headwaters back in the early 1800s. Today I want to tell you about my own discovery voyage that I begin today, to visit my mother’s ancestral grounds in northeast Poland with my sister.

I first thought about this trip several years ago when I came across a distant cousin living in Tel Aviv. Cousin Ori had mapped out my entire maternal family tree on Geni.com, spending countless hours tracking down relatives going back into the 1800s. At the time that we were first introduced, I had no idea that he even existed. But I am grateful for his efforts, especially in re-kindling this quest that I am on this week.

My grandfather came to the States about 100 years ago, and lucky for him he did. Almost all of his contemporaries perished in the Holocaust, including his father. They came from a small Polish town called Zambrow (also spelled Zembrov and other combinations as well) of a few thousand people. That is where my sister and I are headed, along with seeing the larger cities of Poland too. So consider this my first report of my travels.

I am lucky that I am going now when it is relatively easy to do online research and find out things such as tourist sites, maps, train schedules, reservations for AirBnBs, and the like. The more I did the research, the more excited I have gotten about our trip. Right now I am just trying to manage my expectations.

But there was plenty to find online to whet my discovery appetite. For example, here is a brochure for Jewish sites in and around Bialystok, one of the places we are visiting.

For those who are interested, many of the smaller European towns which had significant losses during WWII produced these hard-copy memory books that documented all of those who once lived there. Here is the history of these books, and the community associations that created them called landsmanshafts.

The book for Zambrow can be found here, and right on p. 167 is my relative, Shabtai  or Shepsl Kramarsky, who was a rabbinic judge 100 years ago.  When my grandfather came to the States, he shortened his last name to Kramer, which was very common as the Ellis Island authorities had long lines of people and not much patience with all those syllables.

One of the things I love about Jewish geography is how small a world it really is. In addition to finding cousin Ori, one of my most faithful readers is Hank Mishkoff, who visited Zambrow almost 20 years ago and posted his travels here. He is putting me in touch with some folks that he knows in Poland, and we’ll see what happens!

FIR B2B Podcast #71: Repairing Trust in News, Celebrating High School Journos, That United Mess and YouTube Woes

In this week’s FIR B2B podcast, Paul Gillin and I cover four different stories that show the evolution of online news and PR, with some lessons for B2B marketers. We first examine the announcement about a new $14 million initiative to combat declining trust in the news media and advance news literacy. It will be called the News Integrity Initiative and be administered by the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism in NYC. It will comprise a global coalition of tech leaders, academic institutions, nonprofits and funders, including Facebook, Mozilla, Edelman and Weber Shanwick PR firms, Wikipedia’s Jimmy Wales and Craigslist Founder Craig Newmark. Certainly, something on this level is needed desperately.

A promising story comes from the Washington Post, that covered the situation with a high school student newspaper that brought about the firing of their principal last month. The students, from a small town in Kansas, investigated the principal and found she faked her credentials. Good for them!

Everyone is taking about the United video of a passenger being dragged off a flight. While we can’t be entirely sure of the timeline, what we do note is how long it took United’s CEO Oscar Munoz to finally apologize and offer the passengers on that flight a refund for their trouble. Too bad PRWeek had already named him its “Communicator of the year.”  Timing is everything. Still, we point to this piece for corporate PR pros:  Why “Sorry” Is Still the Hardest Word with some solid lessons on how to gracefully apologize during a crisis.

Finally, there is the mess that YouTube is in with showing ads on racist and other objectionable videos. Advertisers such as Coca-Cola, PepsiCo Inc., Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Dish Network are pulling their ads rather than take a chance that their brands would be tarnished.  The WSJ and The Verge have covered this story recently and Google is trying to develop new automated methods to at least distinguish objectionable content and give advertisers more control over where their ads appear. Given that 400 hours of video is uploaded to YouTube every minute, an automated method is absolutely essential. 

Listen to our 16 minute podcast here.

The new hi-tech newsroom

If you haven’t been paying attention, today’s typical home-town newspaper has gone high tech. A few recent articles in the NY Times and elsewhere should make that clear.

For example, how about the tech that Michael Shear uses. He is one of the Times’ White House correspondents. He uses Sling TV so he can watch cable TV news no matter where he is in the world. He uses 2FA for all his accounts and tries mightily to detect phishing campaigns, as much as we all can. His sources “now routinely ask to discuss issues with secure texting apps such as Signal or Confide.” He watches various Twitter feeds, too. “I had to adjust my Do Not Disturb settings on my iPhone so that notifications resume earlier — at 5:30 a.m. now.” He also has his Apple Watch set to alert him every time the President tweets, but thankfully set to silent mode.

But that is just one reporter. How about if you had to support the entire Times newsroom? That is the job for Runa Sandvik, who has the unique title of Director of Information Security for the Newsroom. Her job is a combination of IT support and researcher. She has already created a number of secure tip lines for sources to leak info to the paper. This includes a public-facing Signal and WhatsApp number, as well as a SecureDrop instance. She has set up 2FA on all the paper’s Twitter accounts and routinely gives security lectures to help reporters improve their security hygiene.

These tips are a big deal: the Times gets hundreds of them a day, and in the past they weren’t very secure. A hackathon in Australia last month developed another secure messaging app that could be simply deployed even by smaller papers that don’t have their own Sandvik-in-residence, and posted the code on Github. The effort was part what is being called “Editor’s Lab” sponsored by Walkleys, a journalist/tech collaboration.

Alecia Swasy did her doctoral research by studying the habits of 50 top reporters at four metro papers for the past couple of years. With all of them, reluctance to use Twitter gave way to acceptance and now expertise. One early advantage was that Twitter can monitor a reporter’s beat 24×7. “Twitter gives print journalists a chance to beat TV news cameras to breaking news,” she posted. It is also the new phone directory for a reporter to track down a source or confirm an identity. “You still need to wear out your shoes and knock on doors,” she posted. Twitter can also expand your readership to a global reach, far beyond your metro circulation boundaries. As an example, an environmental reporter in Tampa had a commanding Twitter presence which landed him a gig on Slate and eventually a book deal. The new rule for reporters is: If you don’t have it on Twitter first, it’s not a scoop

Finally, there is this news nugget. When someone working at the NY Times (or at least having an IP address in the Times’ network address range) shows up in your web server logs, it could tip off someone that they might be a target of an investigation. This is what happened in a 2015 federal corruption case. Sandvik uses this as an example of why more reporters should be using VPNs and Tor and similar services. The same thing routinely happens at non-governmental organizations that may be targeted by groups that don’t agree with their mission. Some groups are at the receiving end of malware that targets their IP addresses too.

No doubt about, tech is here to stay. Who knows – it might help the newsrooms become more productive as staff sizes shrink?

 

White paper: Invisible mobile banking security

As more banking customers make use of mobile devices and apps, the opportunities for fraud increases. Mobile apps are also harder to secure than desktop apps because they are often written without any built-in security measures. Plus, most users are used to just downloading an app from the major app stores without checking to see if they are downloading legitimate versions.

Besides security, mobile apps have a second challenge: to be as usable as possible. Part of the issue is that the usability bar is continuously being raised, as consumers expect more from their banking apps.

In this white paper for VASCO, I show a different path. Mobile banking apps can be successful at satisfying the twin goals of usability and security. Usability doesn’t have to come at the expense of a more secure app, and security doesn’t have to come at making an app more complex to use. Criminals and other attackers can be neutralized with the right choices that are both usable and secure.

StateTech magazine: 4 Steps to Prepare for an IoT Deployment

As the Internet of Things (IoT) becomes more popular, state and local government IT agencies need to play more of a leadership role in understanding the transformation of their departments and their networks. Embarking on any IoT-based journey requires governments and agencies to go through four key phases, which should be developed in the context of creating strategic partnerships between business lines and IT organizations. Here is more detail on these steps, published in StateTech Magazine this month.

FIR B2B#70 podcast: The peculiar PR paradox of the resurrection of A.I. with Jason Bloomberg

“On the one hand, AI is perhaps the most revolutionary set of innovations since the transistor. But on the other, the bad press surrounding it continues to mount, perhaps even faster than the innovations themselves. And AI promises to change the role technology plays for every industry on this planet.” So writes Jason Bloomberg in a post on LinkedIn Pulse earlier this month. Paul Gillin and I sat down with him in our latest podcast to discuss some of the issues surrounding how to best publicize AI and some lessons that overall PR and marketing folks can learn from the rise and fall and current rise of AI. Bloomberg has been a tech reporter for decades, writing for Forbes and various other B2B tech pubs over the course of his career.

Jason’s post makes four important points about PR and AI:

  • AI vendors jump in with more hype than reality, what he calls AI-washing (after white-washing).
  • AI has been on the verge of being the next big thing for decades now.
  • AI will cost jobs. As if we didn’t have enough threats these days.
  • Skynet. Need we say more?

Listen to our 20 min. podcast here:

Network World review: securing the smart home

Today I begin a series of reviews in Network World around smarter home products. Last year we saw the weaponized smart device as the Mirai botnet compromised webcams and other Internet-connected things. Then earlier this year we had Vizio admit to monitoring its connected TVs and more recently there was this remote TV exploit and even dishwashers aren’t safe from hackers.

Suddenly, the smart home isn’t smart enough, or maybe it is too smart for its own good. We need to take better care of securing our homes from digital intruders. The folks at Network World asked me to spend some time trying out various products and using a typical IT manager’s eye towards making sure they are setup securely.

Those of you that have read my work know that I am very interested in home networking: I wrote a book on the topic back in 2001 called The Home Networking Survival Guide and have tried out numerous home networking products over the years. My brief for the publication is broadly defined and I will look at all sorts of technologies that the modern home would benefit from, including security cameras, remote-controlled sensors, lighting and thermostats, and more.

Smart home technology has certainly evolved since I wrote my book. Back then, wireless was just getting started and most homeowners ran Ethernet through their walls. We didn’t have Arduino and Pi computers, and many whole house audio systems cost tens of thousands of dollars. TVs weren’t smart, and many people were still using dial-up and AOL to access the Internet.

Back in the early 2000’s, I visited John Patrick’s home in Connecticut. As a former IBMer, he designed his house like an IBM mainframe, with centralized control and distributed systems for water, entertainment, propane gas, Internet and other service delivery. He was definitely ahead of the time in many areas.

When I wrote about the Patrick house, I said that for many people, defining the requirements for a smart home isn’t always easy, because people don’t really know what they want. “You get better at defining your needs when you see what the high-tech toys really do. But some of it is because the high-tech doesn’t really work out of the box.” That is still true today.

My goal with writing these reviews is to make sure that your TV or thermostat doesn’t end up being compromised and being part of some Russian botnet down the road. Each article will examine one aspect of the secure connected home so you can build out your network with some confidence, or at least know what the issues are and what choices you will need to make in supporting your family’s IT portfolio of smart Things.

Since I live in a small apartment, I asked some friends who live in the suburbs if they would be interested in being the site of my test house. They have an 1800 sq. ft. three bedroom house on one level with a finished basement, and are already on their second smart TV purchase. One of them is an avid gamer and has numerous gaming consoles. Over the past several months (and continuing throughout the remainder of this year), we have tried out several products. In my first article posted today, we cover some of the basic issues involved and set the scene.

FIR Podcast: New life for fake news and how the “like” button is ruining the Internet

Shel Holtz is globe-trotting this week, so Paul Gillin and I take the reins of his FIR podcast. Our guests are Todd Van Hoosear, a well-known social media figure in Boston and elsewhere, and Barbara Selvin, associate professor at the Stony Brook University School of Journalism, where she created and teaches a course on the changing busness models of the news industry. We cover a wide range of topics in the more than an hour discussion, including:

You can listen to our podcast here.

Lessons learned from building software at scale

So you have read The Lean Startup. Suffered through following several agile blogs (such as this one). You think you are ready to join the cool kids and have product scrums and stand-up meetings and all that other stuff. Now you need an implementation plan.

Maybe it is time to read this post by Paul Adams on the Intercon blog. He describes some of the lessons he and his development team have learned from building software and scaling it up as the company grows. I asked a few of my contacts at startup software firms what they thought of the post and there was mostly general agreement with his methodology.

Here are some of Adams’ main points to ponder.

Everyone has a different process, and the process itself changes as the company matures and grows. But his description is for their current team size of four product managers, four software designers, and 25 engineers. Like he says: “it’s not how we worked when we had a much smaller team, and it may not work when we have doubled our team.”

Create a culture where you can make small and incremental steps with lots of checkpoints, goals, and evaluations. “We always optimize for shipping the fastest, smallest, simplest thing that will get us closer to our objective and help us learn what works.” They have a weekly Friday afternoon beer-fueled demo to show how far they have gotten in their development for the week. Anyone can attend and provide comments.

Facetime is important. While a lot of folks can work remotely, they find productivity and collaboration increases when everyone is in the same room in a “pod.” Having run many remote teams, certainly local pods can be better but if you have the right managers, you can pull off remote teams too. It appears IBM is moving in this “local is better” mode lately.

Have small teams and make them strictly accountable. Adams has a series of accountability rules for when something goes wrong. Create these rules and teams and stick by them. “We never take a step without knowing the success measurement,” said one friend of mine, who agrees with much of what Adams says in his post. My friend also mentions when using small teams, “not all resources have a one-to-one relationship in terms of productivity; we find that we that the resources we use for prototyping new features can generally float between teams.”

Have a roadmap but keep things flexible and keep it transparent. “Everything in our roadmap is broken down by team objective, which is broken down into multiple projects, which in turn are broken down into individual releases,” said Adams. They use the Trello collaboration tool for this purpose, something that can either be a terrific asset or a major liability, depending on the buy-in from the rest of the team and how faithful they are to keeping it updated.

However, caution is advised: “The comprehensive approach that Adams describes would be entirely too much overhead for most startups,” says my friend. This might mean that you evaluate what it will take to produce the kind of detail that you really need. And this brings up one final point:

Don’t have too many tools, though. “Using software to build software is often slower than using whiteboards and Post-it notes. We use the minimum number of software tools to get the job done. When managing a product includes all of Google Docs, Trello, Github, Basecamp, Asana, Slack, Dropbox, and Confluence, then something is very wrong.”