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Michael E. Duffy
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Columnist: Michael E. Duffy
March, 2012 Issue


First of all, I want to call your attention to two simple things you can do to make the world a better place. They’re not particularly hard, and they will each make you feel great about yourself. Best of all, they’re free.

Donate blood. A healthy adult can give a unit of blood every eight weeks, which means you can donate six times per year. That’s the only goal I’ve set for myself this year. I gave at the Sebastopol Fire Department early in January, and I can donate again on March 3.You may have heard that Santa Rosa’s Blood Bank of the Redwoods had merged with Blood Centers of the Pacific, and it’s true. While I miss the somewhat more folksy quality of the old operation, Blood Centers of the Pacific is a professional organization. Every blood donation comes with a free cholesterol score, and you can review your complete donation history online. It also has a very nice loyalty program, which will get you t-shirts, movie tickets or ice cream after only a couple of donations. Be sure to check out the website, where you can schedule an appointment in advance (recommended if you’re planning to give at the Bethards Drive location and don’t want to wait). Santa Rosa’s BloodSource (recently opened on Industrial Avenue) is another alternative. Please join me in this quick (less than an hour), important (it really does save lives) and generally painless way to help others.

Join the national marrow donor program. I joined late last year when a member of the technology community needed a bone marrow transplant and the program received a lot of attention. It’s pretty unlikely I’ll ever be asked to donate bone marrow, but the registry now has the information necessary to match me with someone in need. If you meet the basic donor health and age requirements (between 18 and 60—sadly, I’ll age out in a few years), you just donate some cheek cells. It’s actually kind of fun: They send you a kit with some swabs that you run around the inside of your mouth and send back. It takes all of 10 minutes. If you have a diverse racial or ethnic background, it’s especially important that you donate, since a close genetic match is required for a successful marrow transplant. You don’t even have to leave your house to do this one, so again, please join me.

I’ve been an organ and tissue donor for such a long time that I don’t even think about it anymore, but if you want to win the donor trifecta, you can join the California organ registry at www.donatelifecalifornia.org. If you have a little pink “donor” dot on your California driver’s license, you’re already a member. If not, it’s easy to join and when the time comes to donate, you won’t feel a thing!

Everybody wants to have an app. These days, having a smartphone application (“app”) for your business is the height of cool. In some cases, it makes a lot of sense. For example, some banks now let you deposit checks using the camera in your phone. Thing is, probably only a fraction of customers use the dedicated app. Recent studies show that most consumers suffer from “app fatigue”—they only use about five apps with any regularity, and 17 percent of smartphone users have never used an app at all. I think you’re much better off having a really terrific mobile website. It’ll probably cost much less, see wider use and be easier to change. I know I really appreciate businesses that have taken the time to provide a mobile-aware website when I type their URL into my iPhone browser—just something to consider if you’ve been suffering from app envy.

12345678. Recently, Zappos, the online shoe retailer, discovered its website was hacked and the name, email address, billing/shipping address, phone number, encrypted password and last four digits of the credit cards of 24 million customers was “breached” (potentially stolen). No information about how the breach occurred has been provided as of press time, other than it was via a server located in a Kentucky datacenter.

Affected Zappos customers have been asked to change their passwords and, if they use that password on other services (a common bad habit), to change it there as well. The one bit of good news is that no actual credit card information (aside from the last four digits) was accessed. But it’s a major hit to Zappos’ reputation.

Earlier in the week, the City College of San Francisco reported it had found a widespread computer infection in the campus network, which has been capturing user data and sending it to overseas computers, possibly for as long as a decade. As I write this, CCSF is still working on eliminating the virus from its systems. It’s unclear what the effect this breach will have on affected users.

We now manage many aspects of our daily lives—shopping, banking, bill paying, health care—online. The main reason for this is that, over the past 15 years or so, our trust in the ability of online businesses to safeguard our data has grown. The fact that nothing bad has happened to us increases our feelings of security.

The main line of defense remains your choice of password. Most of us are familiar with sites that require eight or more characters, sometimes adding the requirement for a mix of upper and lowercase letters, numbers and special characters. But a recent survey shows that most people still pick pretty easy passwords, like “12345678” and, worse, use the same one everywhere. Why? Because the darn things are hard to remember. Here’s a great infographic to help you avoid a weak password: http://tinyurl.com/techtalk0312.

A final bit of advice: Unless you’re a computer security maven, never, ever enter a password when connected to the Wi-Fi at Starbucks (or any other public wireless network). There are programs, like FireSheep, which let other users snag your login information if it’s unencrypted. Be careful out there!


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