Lily hammer Shows Us the Future of TV

It’s the middle of the Thanksgiving weekend and so the tech news is light. However catching up on the Netflix exclusive series, Lilyhammer I was thinking about the future of TV and how The E Street Band’s Steven Van Zandt is leading the way.

Although the Netflix series House of Cards is the series that generates most of the future-of-TV talk it is actually Lilyhammer that started it all. It preceded House of Cards as the first original series from Netflix to offer a full season all at once and be accessible 24/7 for streaming.

Lilyhammer premiered in January of 2012 while House of Cards first aired 13 months later in February 2013.

If you are unfamiliar with the series, the viewer goes on a journey with Tagliano, a New York mob boss, which begins when his beloved dog, Lily, is killed during an attempt on his life by a rival mobster.

In vengeance, Tagliano tells the FBI everything he knows about his rival in the hope of putting him in prison for life.

When asked by the feds where he would like to live in the witness protection program, he shocks them by choosing Lillehammer, Norway. He pronounces it Lilyhammer, which explains the title —which is also a nod to his deceased pet.


Sound heavy? Don’t worry. Lilyhammer doesn’t play that way. In fact, the series sometimes goes too light and broad in its mix of comedy and drama. But that’s OK because it works as this really plays like The Sopranos on another strange parallel world.

As you would probably expect Van Zandt also supervises all of the music on Lilyhammer, which is why you see fabulous guest appearances and performances by the likes of rock legend Gary “U.S.” Bonds, whose 1961 version of “Quarter to Three” was an E Street Band staple on tours in the 1970s. I haven’t seen it yet by the Boss himself, Bruce Springsteen apparently makes an appearance in Season 3.

Part of the TV future is the synchronicity presented here between ideology and the technology and it’s marketing that drives Netflix. Netflix is thinking globally with a series Lilyhammer which is seen in 50 countries.

Lilyhammer is set in Norway and is produced by a Norwegian cast and crew. But it stars an American actor playing an American-born and bred character whose values often clash with those of Norway.

No matter what country you are in, there are so many different languages spoken among the characters that you can’t view the series without subtitles and you must pay attention. Multitasking while watching this series simply won’t work.

Dropbox Integration Complete

As promised earlier this month Dropbox has been integrated in Office 365. The means that you know can access your Dropbox account directly through Office 365 and edit Word, Excel and PowerPoint files.

When a compatible Office file is opened in Dropbox, such as a Word document or Excel spreadsheet, a new “Edit” icon appears. Tapping the button will open the corresponding Microsoft Office app, where Office 365 subscribers can edit or review a file. Exiting the Office app automatically saves the revised version to Dropbox.

Alternatively, files can be accessed from Dropbox in an Office app, with support for the same automated save and sync features.

If users do not already have Word, Excel, or PowerPoint installed on their device, tapping the Edit icon will first redirect to the iOS App Store for download. Following a registration process that involves authorizing Dropbox to edit Office documents, the set up procedure is complete.

Dropbox for iOS is a free download from the iOS App Store, though Dropbox Business users will need an Office 365 subscription to edit documents on mobile.

Cyber Monday Arrives

We live in the technical age and that means with the holidays of course arrives “Black Friday” which is the day after Thanksgiving. But the shopping adventure no longer ends there. Now we have “Cyber Monday”.

“Cyber Monday” is a marketing term for the Monday after Thanksgiving and was created to help users embrace shopping online. “Cyber Monday” debuted back in 2005 when many shoppers were still a little unsure about the safety of online shopping. This concern for the most part has changed in a very big way since 2005 and online shopping is actually now the preferred way to shop for many.

Unlike “Black Friday” it can be a little challenging to prepare for Cyber Monday. This is because many stores do not mark their items down until after Black Friday wraps up. For example this year, as a write this Amazon and  Best Buy have yet to announce their Cyber Monday deals. Amazon has promised to post it’s “Cyber Monday” deals by December 1.

Amazon has a special “Cyber Monday” page which you can check out here.

Wallmart has posted there “Cyber Monday” deals and you can check them out here.

Best Buy just like Amazon is waiting until December 1 to post their “Cyber Monday” deals and you can find them here.

Happy shopping this holiday season and if you are looking for good deals online be sure to stay safe and I recommend browsing well established retailers online for the most part and remember, just like in life, “if it sounds to good to be true… it probably is”.

Sony Pictures Hacked

OK I thought I was going to get through a short holiday week without any security hacks but that simply was not to be. What looks almost like a “computer hack” you would see in a Hollywood movie Sony Pictures has been hacked and in a very real and big way. Sony Pictures internal network was hacked on November 24 ad it went something like this.

Employees at Sony Pictures who tried to log on to their work computers Monday were greeted with an ominous warning. An image of a sneering red skeleton appeared on the screen under “Hacked By #GOP,” reportedly short for “Guardians of Peace,” and a list of threats. Then the system went dark.

Staff from coast to coast were then unable to log on to their computers bringing the workday to a crawl. They were reduced to using old-fashioned pen and paper to complete assignments and taking calls on landline telephones.

The hacker group’s warning that popped up on computers had overtones of blackmail to Sony.

With no specific demands, the group warned Sony that it had obtained “secrets” and threatened to leak them to the Web. The hackers said they would release internal information late Monday, but nothing has been released as of this article.

“We’ve already warned you, and this is just a beginning,” the message read. “We continue till our request be met…. If you don’t obey us, we’ll release data shown below to the world.” I told you this sounds like a movie.

Cybersecurity experts have stated that little was known about the hackers, and it was not known whether the FBI or other government agencies were involved.

As of this morning the Sony Pictures computer network, organization wide was still reportedly down. In addition of course to the internal security concern at Sony is that of the security of their customer’s information.

Sony has not suggested how they will respond to the Hackers which is especially difficult because no specific demands have been made yet, however with their network down for such an extended time there must be some serious scrambling by their IT and legal departments as they try to respond.

Staying Safe Shopping Online

Traditional Santa Claus with a modern laptop

As we prepare for the holiday season and with online shopping becoming more popular then ever before this is a good time to think a little bit about online security and protecting yourself while shopping online.

Here are some good tips to help you stay safe online this season.

  • Keep a Clean Machine: All the devices you use for shopping – including smartphones and tablets should have up-to-date software including security software, operating systems, programs and apps.
  • When in Doubt, Throw it Out: Links in email, tweets, posts, and online advertising are often the way cyber criminals try compromise your computer. If it looks suspicious, even if you know who it came from, it is in your best interest to delete the email.
  • Think Before you Act: Be wary of communications that offer amazing deals that sound too good to be true and implore that you to act immediately. this includes that email messages that report a “problem” with an order or payment or that ask you to view the website via a provided link.
  • Beware Wi-Fi Hotspots:  Don’t share personal or financial information over an unsecured network (a connection that does not require a password). Using the cellular connection is safer than an unsecured wireless network when on your mobile device.
  • Make Sure the Site is Legitimate: This includes a closed padlock on your web browser’s address bar or a URL address that begins with shttp or https. This indicates that the purchase is encrypted or secured.
  • Protect your Personal Information: Be alert to the kinds of information being collected to complete the transaction. Make sure the information requested is only what is needed to complete the transaction. Only fill out required fields on checkout forms. Check the website’s privacy policy. Make sure you understand how your information will be stored and used.
  • Use Safe Payment Options: Credit cards are generally the safest option. Avoid using your debit cards.
  • Keep a Paper Trail: Save records of your online transactions, including the product description, price, online receipt, terms of the sale, and copies of email exchanges with the seller. Read your credit card statements as soon as you get them to make sure there aren’t any unauthorized charges. If there is a discrepancy, call your bank and report it immediately.

Black Friday Tech Tips

This week the holiday season officially gets underway with Thanksgiving followed by “Black Friday”. During the past decade tech stuff has taken up a greater role in the offerings provided by retailers and this year is no different. Here are some things to look for this year.

Buyer Beware

Be warned that what you are purchasing is not discontinued because it has suffered from bad reviews in 2014 or that it has been discontinued.

Early Bird Shoppers

When you see big discounts make sure you get to the store, or the Web site early. This is because retailers are often so eager to lure shoppers, Black Friday many times starts at midnight or even on Thanksgiving Day. Be aware of this because if the retailer actually begins their sale on Thanksgiving and you show up on Friday you may be out of luck.

Very Inexpensive Laptops

Perhaps this holiday season you are in the market for another laptop for yourself or a family member but you don’t want to break the bank. There are several good options here from the high to low end. There are many choices but here are two of my recommendations.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3– If you are looking for an high end laptop/tablet hybrid this is a great deal at $799.

For about half the price of the Surface Pro you can grab the HP Pavilion 15.6″ Touch Screen at $399.

Use Your Smartphones, Tablets and Social Media

Stores are now offering dedicated shopping apps, in some cases offering discounts and coupon codes. Sometimes this adds will direct you to “like” their add on Twitter or Facebook which often provides you with another discounted “code”.

iPhone Accessories Fire Sale

With the iPhone 6 out iPhone 5 accessories like cases, battery chargers and more can be found many times discounted, especially during the holidays.

Tablets for Every Budget

iPads are not discounted, but I have seen the Surface Pro 3 on sale for $799 at the Microsoft Store which is about a $100 price drop. There are also now a number of smaller, less expensive tablets available in the $200-$300 range which is amazing. These will usually be Android and Windows tablets. Of the two available today I prefer the low end Windows tablets as compared to the Android tablets.

Dell Venue 8 – A great Windows tablet for $199.

For a little more cash you can check out the Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 which runs Android at $249.

Be Aware of “Leaked” Ads

Retailers often alter their sales as they learn what competitors plan on doing or as their inventory changes. So understanding this check the retailer’s ads you are most-interested in periodically.

Happy shopping and don’t forget to pick up a gift for your favorite tech guy!

Microsoft Azure’s Outage & the Future of the Cloud

Among the challenges to cloud service providers is “up time”. Cloud services must compete with traditional on-premises services if they want to be seriously considered for enterprise and business customers. This in addition to “security” are the two primary challenges faced by cloud service providers today. Although everyone has experienced their own organization’s network, or elements of their network being down from time to time, the outrage is confined to their individual organization and it’s employees. However when “cloud providers” like Microosft, Google, Amazon or IBM have outages or service degradation the impact is far wider and therefore much more critical.

These concerns are the primary reasons many information technology professionals will give you today for avoiding cloud services on the enterprise level. However I suggest that these occurrences, although they do occur from time to time are less frequent when compared to many on-premise services. The difference here is these large outages are of course publicized on a much larger scale due to the larger customer impact. Do not misunderstand me, “down time” should not be easily accepted and when they occur the customers should hold their cloud providers accountable. In many instances the cloud providers offer refunds or credit for any downtime experienced. Just as important as this cloud provides need to continue improving their outreach with meaningful information to their customers during service issues.

My local organization has been in Microsoft’s “cloud” for email services since 2011 and total down time in 3 years since then has been less then a dozen hours. The majority of the hours “down” impacted one element of the email service. For example email would not flow to the Outlook client however it continued working normally through OWA (outlook web access) and mobile devices. Or email would not flow to mobile devices but arrived normally elsewhere. These types of “outages” are really “service depredations” therefore their limit is minimized. Also during these service issues the organization’s information technology staff is not impacted as the staff tries to determine “what the heck is wrong with the service”.


All of this leads me to this week’s Microsoft Azure outage.

Earlier this week there reports of partial performance degradation incidents with traffic manager and multiple region service interruptions for Azure services. Microsoft Azure acknowledged quickly having problems on its Twitter account at 6:30 pm on Tuesday. The Twitter account reported the outage was resolved by 10:56 pm, yet its status page continued to report problems hours after.

Thousands of sites using Azure as a web host were down for hours including Microsoft’s own and Windows Store. There was also a storage outage in Western Europe.

Azure had other outages as well earlier this year including several in August which coincided with the release of new Office 365 features. Azure was also experiencing an outage when promoting the online gaming features of Xbox One launched in November of last year.

It’s important for cloud providers hoping to survive in the increasingly competitive cloud space to compete on service. Outages may be inevitable but certainly don’t help the case for customers looking for the most reliable service provider.

As I look towards moving more of our organization’s services into the cloud I will certainly be asked “is this safe or wise”. I would suggest that outages like the one Azure experienced this week certainly does not help. I would also suggest that these are very complex systems and Azure itself has only been in the public domain for 4 years now. Therefore it can be anticipated that the Microsoft’s service level in respect to performance will only continue to improve and even this most recent outage, although it impacted many customers was identified and resolved within several hours, although the investigation into it’s root cause continues. (It is believed that a Azure update was culprit.)

Considering the complexity of networking services and all that we have come to expect from technology in general, service related issues will continue to occur from time to time. To think otherwise if foolish. Understanding this organizations should work to find the right balance of “cloud” and on “on-premises” services.

Password Managers Targeted by Citadel Malware

It has been recently discovered that cyber criminals have started using the Citadel Trojan program to steal master passwords for password management applications and other authentication programs

The Citadel malware in the past has typically been used to steal online banking credentials and other financial information by modifying banking sites on the fly when opened by users in their local browsers. This technique is known as a man-in-the-browser attack.

Earlier this year security researchers from Trusteer, a subsidiary of IBM reported that Citadel was know also being used is targets attacks against petrochemical companies.

The larger, more broader concern is that Trusteer recently found a Citadel configuration on a customer’s computer that targeted password management programs. In particular, the malware was configured to initiate a key-logging operation if any of the following files were running: Personal.exe, PWsafe.exe and KeePass.exe.

Password Manager programs are the best manner in which to manage and protect your passwords and their growing popularity was sure to attract cyber criminals. By compromising the master password for these programs, the attackers behind the Citadel malware can get access to all of this sensitive information as well.

Because the configuration file instructs the malware to capture keystrokes related to widely used password management and authentication solutions, we can’t know who, exactly, is the target of the attack,” the IBM researchers wrote in a blog post. “It might be an opportunistic attack, where the attackers are trying to see which type of information they can expose through this configuration, or a more targeted attack in which the attackers know that the target is using these specific solutions.”

Two-Factor Authentication

2FAThe use of password managers like LastPass are a good idea because they make it easy to use strong, individual passwords for every online account, which is a highly recommended security practice. However this latest threat is the latest example of the need to use two-factor authentication whenever possible. Fortunately most password managers offer this and I recommend that this latest threat inspire you to learn more about two factor authentication and use it whenever possible.

Facebook Wants to Clock In at the Office

It looks like Facebook is going to try and edge it’s way past LinkedIn and into the workplace with a new product called, “Facebook at Work”.

According to Facebook the new offering will be similar to the consumer version of Facebook, but it will allow workers to chat with each other, connect with their professional contacts, and collaborate on projects. Sounds a lot like LinkedIn.

Importantly Facebook At Work users would reportedly be able to segregate their work account from their personal Facebook account.

Apparently Facebook employees have already been using “Facebook At Work” for sometime now and the company has been working quietly to get this model public.

Personally I believe that Facebook could be up to the challenge. Facebook has such an integrated name in business for employee’s “not getting work done” and with services like LinkedIn already firmly in place I can see this going the way of Amazon’s recent attempt at a smartphone. I also suggest this because social integration inside the workplace has been a struggle at best. Even very successful collaborative tools like Microsoft’s SharePoint and Yammer often struggle to find a place in businesses.

I do not believe that there is any evidence to support that business and enterprise decision makers will eagerly and enthusiastically move forward with voluntarily embedding Facebook At Work in their environment.

With all of my opinions aside it will be interesting to see where this new venture my Facebook goes. Stay tuned.

Confessions of A Windows Phone User

First and before I start you must understand I really truly love Windows Phone*. For about half of the time during the past 4 years I have been an enthusiastic Windows Phone user. However recently I switched back, holding my nose all the way to an iPhone. Why would I do this you ask? My short answer is that I am making this change to hopefully send Microsoft a message about what they must do if they ever want to reach double digit smartphone market share in the United States.

I am taking a deep breath as I write this. I am so upset by this because I truly believe that Microsoft sports by far a superior UI (user interface) and offers a first rate experience when it comes to user customization and Microsoft Office integration. Unfortunately there are two converging events occurring today that have forced me to make this sad change and I bet many others will follow. If this continues to occur, there will be a slow march to mediocrity in the smartphone world in store for Microsoft.

What are these two events which have converged to cause this change of heart for me? Well here is how I see it.

Converging Events Conspire Against Windows Phone

Event #1

The first event is the continued lack of app development in Microsoft’s smartphone realm. The continued lack of apps truly astonishes me. I have waited and hoped for the past 4 years that this situation would improve and although there has been some improvement it has been ridiculously slow and not remotely enough development in the app field for the majority of smartphone users. Why Microsoft does not get the importance of this situation I simply have no idea. People generally use their smartphones as quasi tablets today and as these smartphones grow in size this situation surrounding how people use their smartphones, and what they expect from them is only going to increase.  The lack of apps is like an anchor dragging the amazing Windows Phone down to the bottom of the smartphone seabed.

Event #2

The second event that is occurring surrounds Microsoft as well. During the past year Microsoft has been successfully pursuing their new business model of being a “Software and Services” company first. As a result their software prized possession of Microsoft Office has been developed and released to positive reviews across the board of smartphones including Android, iOS and of course Windows Phone. Microsoft’s other products, Office 365 and OneDrive have also been made available across platform. As a result, even for Microsoft dwellers the need to stay with Windows Phone is minimized.

More Troubles

These two situations (or events) are really causing Microsoft some issues with further developing and expanding their smartphone line. Although not as important as the two situations I have talked about here Microsoft after purchasing Nokia really only has one other smartphone provider which is HTC and even there other than the amazing HTC One M8 the choices for high end smartphone users is minimal here as well.

What Can Microsoft Do to Save Their Amazing Smartphones?

It really comes down to this. Apps. Microsoft must do whatever is necessary to get a handle on this problem and quickly. For each month that rolls by Microsoft is falling further behind in the smartphone dominated world.

Goodbye Windows Phone. May we meet again in a better place where Apps dance freely in the Microsoft Store.

Goodbye Windows Phone. May we meet again in a better place where Apps dance freely in the Microsoft Store.

What would I do? Well I have suggested this many times but it seems I just do not have Microsoft’s ear these days. The first thing I would do is identify the most popular 50 apps worldwide and then either pay the companies to develop apps for Windows Phone or develop the apps, in partnership for those companies. Now I fully understand that for the most part this is now how apps are developed, Android and Apple do not need to do this, however Microsoft was so late to the game this may be their only hope for smartphone survival. There is an old but true saying that goes like this. “Desperate times call for desperate measures”.

Although it is true that many of the functions of apps can be completed with the internet browser on Windows Phone the task can be both clunky and slow. These two results are a smartphone killer.

Even for me a Windows Phone junkie there are simply many apps that could help me professionally that are simply not available to me, unless I switch to Andoid or iOS, which quite frankly I recently did.

Offer Incentives to Small App Developers

There must also be incentives for small app developers to invest the time and resources in Windows Phone. I have seen this a couple of times in the past few years. As a CIO for a local government I have been involved in a couple of projects that involved app development for smartphones and only once in three occurrences was a Windows Phone App even a possibility. And in the case where a Windows App was offered it was inferior to the Android and iOS offerings.

I am stunned by Microsoft’s continued problem and lack of movement with Windows Phone and its poor relationship with app developers. Microsoft recently has gotten many things right. Office 365 for Business and Home Users, One Drive’s unlimited storage and the Surface Pro 3 are all signs of a company heading in the right direction, however I am left scratching my head wondering what’s in store for what could be the best smartphone on the market.