The Six Million Dollar Man

No, I’m not at all ashamed to admit that one of my favourite TV series as a boy was the Six Million Dollar Man. For those of you have no idea what I’m talking about, the series followed the exploits of an astronaut who lost an eye, arm and both legs in an accident. All were replaced by “bionic” implants and limbs, making him “better than he was before”. Total rubbish right?

Well recently I met someone in one of my most uplifting encounters of 2014. His name was “Biscuit” and he was a part of the “Help for Heroes” team that recently visited the BVI from the UK. Biscuit lost one of his lower legs as a soldier in the Middle East conflict, and now has a steel prosthetic. We were having a beer together and we got chatting about it, something he was very happy to do.

He tells numerous funny stories about people’s reactions to his leg, typically adults are embarrassed, children less so. Recently a little boy ran up to him in a park yelling “What happened to your leg?”! The boy’s mother was mortified, but Biscuit, quick as a flash answered “it fell off because I didn’t eat my greens”! Exit one suitably chastened child and a big thumbs up from Mum!

I don’t know very much about the subject, but since the Six Million Dollar Man I have kept up a passing interest in the technology of prosthetics, not least because of its growing necessity following the horrors of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. Necessity is the mother of invention, and the field of prosthetics has once again proved that tenet.

I mentioned to Biscuit my understanding that one of the biggest problems is the human – prosthetic interface, which can cause severe discomfort and blistering on the human part of the limb. He confirmed this, but advised his leg has a carbon fibre lining to counter the problem, which needs to be replaced every couple of months. Carbon fibre! This used to be something from the Space Age, now it’s common place and improving the well-being of people like Biscuit. I mentioned that I had seen a recent TED documentary on this subject, but which also went a lot further.

The TED documentary (you can watch it here) was presented by Hugh Herr, who lost his own legs in a mountain climbing accident. He is now a world-leader in the field of bionics, and some of his insights were fascinating, including:

  • Addressing the interface blistering issue. He has developed a material which, coupled with electronic actuators with purpose-built software, varies its softness or hardness depending on the specific area of the limb it is touching, and also depending on the instantaneous demand being placed on the area at any given time. This has eliminated blisters.
  • Recognising that we don’t need to “replace” the lost limb. As a mountain climber (yes he has continued to do it) he now has several different legs, which he can interchange depending on the conditions – rock, shale, ice, snow etc. They can also be different lengths!
  • Addressing the flexibility requirements of limbs. Human arm and leg sockets are incredibly complex, yet he is developing artificial sockets to address this. He brought on stage a ballroom dancer who lost her leg in the Boston marathon bombing. She demonstrated an ability to dance once again, thanks to his bionic leg development for her.

In many respects these bionics have actually improved the individual’s abilities in certain endeavours – e.g. Hugh Herr’s mountain climbing.

I never dreamed as a boy that the Six Million Dollar Man would become reality, certainly not in my lifetime. Yet here we are – “Better than he was before”. Boy have we travelled a long way from Long John Silver in Treasure Island.

Thanks Biscuit.

PS If you liked the Six Million Dollar Man, follow this link for some childhood nostalgia!

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Cloud Computing – what now and what next?

The explosion in cloud-based computing and apps has revolutionised the software industry as we new it. No longer is it necessary to pay several thousands of dollars for software, install it on every computer in your business, and then pay an annual licence fee to boot.

Today you can obtain free or inexpensive software suitable for small, medium and large enterprises alike, to cover any aspect of a company’s operations.

The fact that the software is cloud-based also lends itself to today’s geographically-diversified business environment. Only 20 years ago one of the biggest challenges facing business with the onset of globalisation was the corporate-culture dilemma. In other words, how to maintain a distinctive corporate culture within teams and divisions based all over the world? And how to ensure standardisation of business process and practices across those businesses? Well this challenge that stumped MBA students and CEOs alike has been overcome with the advent of the internet and subsequent development of cloud computing.

How it was

Let me give you an example. A decade ago I worked for a French multi-national organisation with manufacturing, service and sales outlets based on every continent with the exception of Antarctica. This company was (still is) huge. The internet was still relatively new, e-mail was bedding in. Their chosen solution to the problem of generic corporate processes was one that many organisations chose at that time – an Enterprise Resource Planning system (ERP for short).  From a corporate perspective ERP’s were a software panacea. Overnight the company had standardised business practices, imposed by the rigour of the software, ensuring uniformity worldwide. You could hear the executives cries of “Eureka”! every time another site was “ERP’d” (Expressions like that were just one of many reasons I left corporate life, but I digress).

So what was the problem. Well, there were several really, and this is not a criticism of ERP systems per se. They were the best solutions available at that time. Nonetheless the problems included:

  • Cost – this software was eye wateringly expensive. Only billion-dollar plus companies could sensibly afford them. This left the 80-85% of smaller businesses worldwide without a solution
  • Flexibility – or rather the lack of it. Business processes had to be made to fit SAP, not vice-versa. The software often caused more problems than it solved for this reason
  • Adaptability – the software could not be adapted 100% to diverse requirements. For example, the process requirements for a capital-equipment manufacturing plant are very different to those for a high-volume spare parts warehouse.

In short, one-size fits all software was less a solution, more a strait-jacket.

How it is

So fast forward ten years and we have cloud computing, with Apps for anything. For example:

  • CRM software – there are some superb customer relationship management systems available, at a fraction of the cost of just ten years ago. They are also flexible – they can be adapted to the specific requirements of a business, no matter what the size. This solves the problems of flexibility and adaptability that ERPs could not. You can see some examples of CRM software here.
  • ERP Apps – following the lead of ERP systems, yet taking advantage of the Cloud. Google are perhaps the leaders in this, with their Google Apps platform. Sure there have been some failures, but that’s new market trailblazing for you. New markets sort themselves out messily and often with contradiction. The sheer size of Google is allowing them to ride-out failures and learn from them. Moreover, their open-access approach for developers rather neatly helps to dilute the risk of app development, whilst allowing third-party developers to share in the rewards of success.
  • Accounting – once the preserve of specialists, apps now exist online that almost do it all for you. As a small business owner myself, I can’t say enough about how helpful this is. Management accounting reports used to be at least two months out of date when finally put to directors. Today they are available at the touch of a button. In other words you can see how your business is performing right now, allowing you to react to any trends immediately. I’m pleased to see that Quickbooks reacted to the threat that online accounting apps posed to their business model and created Quickbooks online. Other apps are available – take a look at Wave.

I could go on, and on, and on, and on. You’ll be relieved to hear that I won’t!

How it will be

Ten years ago we had companies like SAP and Oracle dominating this market. They’re still around of course, but take a look at Google, Facebook and Apple to see how rapidly markets are changing. Who could have predicted their rise ten years ago? Maybe Apple, but no the others, and certainly not me, so I’d be crazy to try and predict the landscape ten years hence.

One thing is certain though, Cloud-based software and apps will undoubtedly form a huge part of that landscape, in ways we can only imagine today.

Power Protection is Essential

Fresh Mango Technologies is the British Virgin Islands’ premier IT support and network services provider. Fresh Mango’s customers include small businesses and personal users, as well as branch offices of larger multinational organizations where the company acts as a local IT service provider or IT department. Maintaining the view that every solution it provides is an opportunity to improve a customer environment, Fresh Mango faces an ongoing challenge when it comes to safeguarding clients’ critical equipment: poor power quality in the region.

“Power supply in the BVI is amongst the most challenging you’ll find in a developed country. Factors such as a stretched electrical grid covering extreme terrain and the country’s location in the hurricane belt all contribute to power conditions detrimental to IT equipment” reveals Dominic Bufton, Fresh Mango’s IT operations and support manager. “We experience frequent drops, surges, over and under voltages, and older buildings with poor wiring and rough generator switching. There are also outages from damage by torrential rains and storm winds during hurricane season. Many remote locations are self-powered, off the grid, and the quality of these installations can vary considerably”

To ensure that customers are furnished with the best possible solutions, the Fresh Mango team continuously updates its knowledge base to remain appraised of the latest technologies and service offerings. That’s why, for the past year and a half, the company has been supplying Eaton® uninterruptible power systems (UPSs).

“For desktops, we have sold the Eaton 3S and 5S,” Bufton reports, “while the 5SC and 9130 are very popular for small business racks where pure sine wave needed.  We have also supplied rackmount 5PX and 9PX units.”

Eaton’s unmatched reliability

Despite previously selling UPSs from other manufacturers, Fresh Mango has discovered the cream of the crop in the Eaton product line.

I’ve dealt with nearly all manufacturers, and Eaton UPSs are hands down the most reliable by far,” Bufton enthuses.

That unparalleled level of reliability can be attributed, in part, to Active Battery Management (ABM) technology, a feature included in the majority of Eaton UPSs. The unique three-stage battery charging technique not only increases battery service life by 50 percent, but also optimizes battery recharge time and provides up to a 60-day advanced notification when batteries are approaching the end of their useful life.

“The batteries take a beating here, and ABM is great,” Bufton reports.

The lead-acid batteries typically used in a UPS are considered viable as long as they can maintain backup times of at least half that of new batteries. Virtually all UPSs on the market today ― except for Eaton’s ― feature batteries that are constantly trickle charged, which continuously forces energy into a battery that is effectively already full. As a result, these batteries reach the end of their useful life in less than half the time of batteries that are charged using ABM.

“I have sold other UPSs, and dealt with many more in existing installations,” Bufton says. “Eaton’s are simply more reliable.”

It’s a claim that Bufton has witnessed firsthand with his own eyes. The IT manager recalls standing in front of a shared rack that housed a non-Eaton UPS and an Eaton 9130 — with each UPS supporting a different client’s equipment — when a large surge and brownout struck the building.

“The Eaton unit didn’t blink” Bufton reports, “while the non-Eaton UPS let it through, and I watched all the non-Eaton-connected equipment go offline.”

Bufton is quick to share this experience with his customers who are considering other power protection options.

“I frequently quote the above incident as the reason we now offer Eaton, and tie it to my experience of seeing multiple failures with enterprise-class non-Eaton UPS units over the last few years,” he says, “including our own in-house rackmount UPS, which we had to replace on warranty.”

The IT manager is also quick to praise Eaton’s three-year warranty, which covers both the UPS and its batteries. “No other manufacturer supports a three-year, on-island warranty,” he reveals.

First-class support

 In addition to superior products, Eaton also delivers valuable benefits to its resellers. Rather than limiting resources to only the top partner tier like many other programs do, the company offers a wealth of key tools to all partners. In this way, even smaller companies like Fresh Mango have the opportunity to easily grow a prosperous UPS business through activities including product training, Market Development Funds (MDF) and proven sales tools.

For Fresh Mango, learning about the Eaton UPS product line was simple, thanks to training provided by the local Eaton distributor, Parts & Power. “They have been great,” Bufton says.

In addition, the company has taken advantage of literature and other marketing tools that have made the sales process as easy as an island breeze. “Eaton has been proactive in supplying great marketing materials,” Bufton confirms.

Reseller results

Thanks to the products, support and resources available through Eaton’s PowerAdvantage program, Fresh Mango is now able to:

  • Ensure its customers are safeguarded against the island’s dirty power with the full line of Eaton UPSs
  • Gain peace of mind selling Eaton features like ABM and a three-year warranty
  • Enhance the sales process with benefits such as product training and sales tools

For more information on Fresh Mango Technologies and their Eaton activities, visit their website www.Freshmango.com or contact them by email at office@freshmango.com.

About Fresh Mango

Established in 2008, Fresh Mango Technologies has grown to become the British Virgin Islands’ premier IT support and network services provider. Boasting an established infrastructure and a large, talented team with a wide range of specialist skills, the company maintains an unwavering commitment to customer satisfaction and project success. Backed by decades of collective experience in enterprise systems, Fresh Mango offers a broad range of IT services and solutions, including secure offshore hosting, backup solutions, network deployment and management, web development, and desktop and user support.

We’re under ever-increasing attack

Regular readers will recognise Cyber Security as a common theme of my blogs. Without wishing to sound shrill it is getting worse – attacks are becoming more frequent, more sophisticated and more successful. Worse, this is no longer limited to major retailers and banks (eg Target), but small businesses and individuals are falling victim to cyber attack. On this blog I can provide three examples that have occurred in the BVI in the past week. Read on….

1) Our client called us in because they were having non-specific IT and email problems. On investigation we found their email had been hacked, giving access to all their past and current emails to the hacker. However, what had happened next was scary.

The hacker, with access to their previous emails, posed as a regular supplier based in the US. They sent utterly convincing emails to our client, culminating in a “change of bank account” email. All of this was highly authentic, with the only clue to the scam being the server account the emails were sent from. Our client understandably trusted the emails and duly changed the bank account. Only after several thousand dollars were transferred to it did they discover the scam, by which time of course it was too late.

One way to have averted this was to spot that the emails were from a different server – not easy in these days of “name only” emails. The other was to change their own email address entirely after the initial hack, and inform known suppliers and customers of the new email address. Of course they would have needed to realise the hack had taken place to do this….

2) A client received a “Phishing” email purportedly from Amazon.com. Again, very convincing, it looked exactly like an email you would receive from Amazon. This one was an order acknowledgment which included a “click this link” if you had’t placed the order. The client had not placed the order, clicked the link and BAM! – malicious software was uploaded to their computer and all their online accounts were immediately compromised. Fortunately we spotted it before the attackers were able to make any monetary gain.

3) I personally received a “change of password” notification to one of my email accounts. This included a link to click in the event that I had not actually changed my password, so my email provider could investigate. Not having changed my password, my finger was poised on the mouse about to press the link when alarm bells went off in my head. Rather than click, I hovered over the link so the address would pop-up. Sure enough it was an address unrelated to my email provider – it was a phishing email. I was millimeters from clicking a link which would have downloaded malicious software to my computer, with all the misery that would then follow.

Was I pleased with myself for not clicking the link? Not really. I was relieved at such a close call. But then I thought about it – I write about cyber security almost every day on social media and blogs. Yet I had almost fallen foul. People with less awareness, or more likely busy people simply trying to get through their emails, could easily fall victim.

What to do? Well, remain vigilant.  If you do click a link and have even the slightest concern, call in your IT manager to review your computer. More proactively, you can take the following steps:

  1. Cyber training – user awareness training for you and your staff on what to do (and what not to do) in your daily computer usage
  2. Cyber review – have a cyber security expert review your IT systems for weaknesses, malicious software and hacks
  3. Penetration test – have a cyber security expert attempt to hack into your system remotely so as to expose any weaknesses and plug the gaps. Don’t kid yourself – a good expert will gain access. The question is how easily can they do so?
  4. Repeat regularly!

Sorry folks, there is no good news on this one. Today’s thief is unlikely to break into your home and steal the DVD player. They’re more likely to be thousands of miles away, want to steal your identity and then empty the contents of your bank account.

Incorporating mobile technology at the home of “The King”

Last week I ticked off a “bucket-list” item when I visited Graceland, the home of Elvis Presley. Since I had always wanted to go it was obviously a fantastic experience; it was though greatly enhanced by the incorporation of mobile technology in the self-guided tour.

After booking your tickets for Graceland at the visitors centre, you arrive for your shuttle bus at the allotted time. It’s only a couple of minutes in the bus (the visitor centre is opposite Graceland on the other side of Elvis Presley Boulevard). Before boarding the bus you are provided with your own tablet and headphones, with the Graceland walking tour pre-loaded as an interactive app.

The app guides you through the steps and is incredibly easy to use. You start it as soon as you get off the bus outside the front doors of Graceland, and from that point it guides you through every room. You can start and pause it to allow yourself more time at a particular room or to speed though certain exhibits.

In each room you have a picture on the App of the room you are in, with various “zoom-in” elements, other pop-up pictures, and short videos relating to things that happened in that room. I particularly liked the “jam session” video of Elvis in his world-famous Jungle Room! At all times there is audio commentary to guide you, tell you all about it, and occasional voice/video from Elvis’s daughter Lisa-Marie Presley.

When you board the bus to go back to the visitor’s centre, one of the guides takes the tablet and headphones back off you. However, before you return it there is the option to e-mail yourself some free images of Elvis. I entered my email address and the images (see below) were in my inbox by the time I got back to my hotel.

Suffice to say I was hugely impressed by this use of modern mobile technology. It greatly enriched the experience, bringing it to life in a way a simple audio tour never could. I’m sure we will start to see this kind of “3D” tour adopted at attractions across the world.

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Search Engine Optimization demystified

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) De-mystified

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) ensures that your website will appear high in the search rankings on the most commonly used search engines – Google, Yahoo and Bing.

Why do you need SEO?

If you type your company name into Google, it will more than likely appear at the top of the rankings, and certainly on page one. However, that isn’t particularly helpful, since someone entering your company name as a search term already knows about you. What you need is for people who are seeking your product or service to find you when they enter the relevant search terms.

For example, let’s say you need a plumber in Barbados. You will probably enter “plumber in Barbados” into Google. If you are a Bajan plumbing company, you need to optimize page(s) on your website for that search term.

Of course, most businesses offer more than a single product or service, and each one may have several permutations of search term that you want Google to find you with. That’s where SEO services come in.

What we do

To optimise your website for Google, Yahoo and Bing, we undertake the following process:

1. Determine search terms and descriptions for each page you wish to optimise on your website. We agree these with you before proceeding to the next step. Note that it is often worth optimising some of the lower hierarchy pages on a website since the relevant SEO terms will be less competitive than the phrase for the home page. For example, if you have a real estate business on one of the Caribbean islands, one of the SEO terms for your home page may well be “Caribbean Real Estate”. That’s an incredibly competitive term – meaning that there are thousands of sites trying to use it. Obviously they can’t all get on page one of Google (10 entries max). So you may well optimize some of the more detailed pages of your site with more specific SEO terms. which are less competitive and therefore increase your chances of getting onto Google page one.

2. Analyse the content of each page. We use a combination of experience and software tools to anaylse the content of each page on your website, and how well it is optimised in relation to the search terms and descriptions agreed in step 1. This gives us two scores (out of 100): one for the content and one for the relevance of that page to the rest of the website. The content score we will always ensure that we achieve 100%, thanks to our expertise in optimisation. The site score is a lot trickier. This is a measure of how relevant the page content is to the remainder of your website. If the page relevance scores highly (say over 80%) that is excellent. If it scores less than 50%, then you need to amend content on some of your other pages to make the page more relevant to the site as a whole.

3. Tag Photos. This is often overlooked when a website is set up; we tag photos with the relevant SEO terms and descriptions to assist in SEO rankings. if the photos are high-resolution (which is unnecessary for a website) we often reduce this to improve page loading speed. As well as making for a better user experience, fast page loading contributes to higher SEO rankings.

4. Agree the revised content. We agree the new optimized page content for each page with the client.

5. Upload the content and wait. It can take several weeks for the newly optimised content to filter through. Typically results can be expected in 4-8 weeks.

The next steps – continuous improvement

SEO is only the first step….! Google in particular rewards “active” websites in its rankings. This means actively amending content and keeping it fresh. It also means driving users to your website through the use of e-newsletters and social media on an ongoing basis.

Find out more about Phoenix Caribbean’s comprehensive online marketing services by visiting our website.

“Bash” / “Shellshock” bug – keep calm and take the usual security precautions

A security flaw that affects Apple Mac computers, web servers and internet connected devices has emerged. The US government have rated the security flaw 10/10 for severity, and ‘low’ for complexity – meaning it’s very easy to exploit.

The bug affects “Bash”, a program that runs on Apple Mac and Linux computers. Bash is a key component of web servers that operate most of the websites on the internet. It also runs on numerous internet connected home appliances like smart lightbulbs, internet routers and even door locks.

About the Shellshock bug

Shellshock is a critical security flaw which could allow web servers, Mac computers and other web-connected devices to be hijacked by hackers or malicious software.

The flaw is in a program called Bash – which lets users issue commands to a computer using text input, rather than a graphic interface. It’s believed the vulnerability has existed since 1989 but was only discovered on 24th Sept 2014. Most users never use Bash directly, but it can be used in the background by web browsers, email apps, FTP (website upload) apps and hundreds more.

Is it like HeartBleed?

The Heartbleed bug allowed hackers to spy on millions of computers across the internet. Shellshock is worse – it allows hackers to read information, write, copy and delete files. It can also run programs, without the user knowing it’s happened.

What kind of computers are affected?

Bash is most commonly found on computers running some Linux based operating systems. While most desktop or laptop computers don’t run Linux – many website servers on the Internet run software called Apache, which uses Bash heavily.

All Apple Mac computers use Bash, too, so if you’ve got a MacBook or iMac, it’s affected.

How could the bug be used by hackers?

The bug could be used to read or send emails, copy personal data, turn on the computer’s microphone or webcam, or install a keylogger to monitor what the user is typing.

Windows PCs not at risk

Bash doesn’t run natively on Windows, so your Windows-based PC is unlikely to be at risk.

How do I fix it?

Apple haven’t released a fix for this yet – Mac users should look out for a system update shortly, and update as soon as it’s available. Please note that last week’s Mac operating system update did NOT address this issue.

The same applies to your other devices. If it’s a home appliance or router connected to the internet over wi-fi or cable, contact the manufacturer and ask about a software update.

Remember hackers will always use a security crisis like this to try and trick people with phishing emails. So standard IT security warnings apply. Be wary of any emails you receive asking for personal data, or recommending you run software to fix the Shellshock bug. Don’t click on links from suspicious sources. If in doubt, contact the manufacturer directly.