What is a Smart City and How Do I Live There?

Although you might assume the growth and development of a Smart City would be precise and exact, Smart City growth is inherently organic. Because living in a Smart City is ultimately the result of human choices to build and utilize technology, there is no perfect path forward into the city of the future.

Smart Cities utilize information and communication technology (ICT) and Internet of Things (IoT) solutions to make services more efficient and resident more secure. Electricity use is a great, basic example. In a Smart City, streetlights are triggered by motion detectors. When someone is in the neighborhood, the street lights are on. Otherwise, they are off, saving the city’s limited power and financial resources.

But if you think in broader terms, imagine a garbage collection app that allows city workers and citizens to request special services such as large item removal. And that system then integrates well with an automated routing system that continuously reroutes garbage trucks ensuring the most efficient path based on current traffic conditions. Now the Smart City is saving money with lower fuel costs, reduced man hours, and fewer miles on garbage trucks.

Ultimately, a Smart City connects citizens with city services to provide better use of tax dollars for a safer, more interconnect existence. But the road towards a Smart City isn’t an easy one.

To start, the more portals of connectivity, the more opportunity hackers have to access city functions and citizen information. If a Smart City’s stop light system is sensitive to time of day, traffic patterns, and special events, then a black hat hacker could dive in and muck up the lights for the sake of chaos – or for the sake of a larger, more sinister plan. (It’s the stuff of movie and TV show plots.)

And the possibilities of ways to connect are endless – almost every aspect of city living can be measured and communicated. But what are the best ways to improve a city through Smart Technology? And what are the ramifications? For example, a pothole app could detect how frequently passengers pass over potholes, and then pass that information along to city officials. But adding a pothole app requires buy-in from citizens with sufficient money to buy and use the technology. So while the pothole app helps everyone uptown, the less fortunate residents downtown get ignored. And so a Smart City initiative suddenly becomes a social issue benefitting the most privileged.

So will creating an safe and equitable Smart City be a bumpy road (pun intended)? Yes. But progress is rarely smooth and generally moves forward. So if you are lucky enough to be in a city with such an initiative (San Diego, San Francisco, Houston… among others) jump into the fray and find out what apps are available. Download and help push our cities towards a safer, smarter place to call home.

A New Administrations and Cyber Security

The recent presidential election has brought the issue of cyber security to the front page of most new sites and newspapers. It appears that Russia hacked into the Democratic National Committee headquarters and that China hacked into federal employee records at the Office of Personnel Management. Foreign governments are looking at our nation’s private information. So what action should the US take? And what happens if we don’t do anything?

Cyber security is unlike most other forms of science. For example, medical research is very expensive and requires tremendous technology for progress. There aren’t too many teens in their parent’s basements pushing the boundaries of medical research. That’s untrue for cyber security. A sole individual with a good computer and a keen mind can make tremendous headway in the creating or destroying security systems. 
 
In short, cyber security in the US will progress – with or without assistance from the White House. 
 
There are some benefits of staying out of the way. Big institutions tend to add bureaucracy, slowing progress to a crawl. Left alone to evolve, programmers might generate insightful and innovative solutions that would have been crushed under the weight of over-management. Sadly, capturing those wild-west developments becomes incredibly difficult if not under the watchful eye of a federal program.
 
Generally, privately funded research will keep pace with the worldwide race of building and breaking security. But private companies might simply sell their secrets to the highest bidder.
 
The solution is difficult to define: allow progress in an organic, creative way while trapping the results and keeping solutions inside our borders. The players are even more difficult to wrangle: renegade programmers, educational institutions, private firms, and federal offices. They aren’t going to play well with others.
 
The good news is that cyber security may not necessarily need federal funds to progress. The bad news is that without those funds, progress might simply land in the hands of the foreign players who already have their hands in our private affairs. 

A New Generation Makes its Demands

In 2012, The Journal of Leadership, Accountability and Ethics (vol. 9(6) 2012) published an article about the working habits of Millennials. Three points stand out:

  1. “Many of this generation’s parents are affluent middle-agers who are now confronted with progenies who are drawn to the “softer” side of life: art, poetry, music, and the surreal world of games.”
  2. “While many of them excelled in high school and college, they don’t seem attracted to the current structured world of work out there.”
  3. “Many of them seem to explore their options, waiting for the right moment or opportunity to come along, and not in a hurry to proactively chase it.”

So, if you are building a company and hiring the younger generation of workers, how do you appeal to their sensibilities?

First, don’t focus on the traditional benefits that come with employment. Health insurance, stable income, and a promise of advancement mean very little to these 20-somethings. They’ve grown up in a world where Fortune 500 companies lay off thousands of people and Federal employees are sent home during systematic shut-downs. To them, no job is secure. Health insurance is available outside of the workplace. And there are endless freelance jobs to earn money from a living room couch or local coffee shop.

Second, don’t mention the 9-5 hours. In fact, you might completely rethink those hours anyway. Why? These Millennials, heavy with tech skills, will happily walk away from your company if you press them to work a traditional workday. They will work hard; but on their time. And if you don’t like it, find someone else. (And good luck with that.)

Finally, don’t expect them to work forever. You might spend endless hours seeking the right candidate, vetting all applicants, and providing company training only to find your Millennial opts to spend winter in Switzerland skiing. You spent three months hiring and only got two months of work out of your new tech employee.

It’s time to rethink some of the traditional constraints of employment. In fact, something as inconvenient as a long commute could dissuade your Millennial from staying at the job. Remote working (from home or an approved coworking space) could go a long way in keeping a good employee from disappearing at the first hint of snow. Or sun.

Millennials have been raised well, by overly protective parents. They don’t approach the world of work with much apprehension or fear. They are a confident bunch without much to lose. And the companies that learn how to adapt to their standards might find a competitive edge for future growth in all markets.

Locally Owned Coworking Spaces

In every business, from tax preparation to coffee, you have to make a choice between a national brand and a locally owned business. With the dramatically increasing demand for coworking spaces, remote workers and entrepreneurs have to make the same choice – nationally branded coworking or a locally grown company. (Obviously, we at CyberTECH are biased.)

But let’s talk about the benefits of a national brand. In many ways, nationally branded coworking spaces come with a few benefits over what you can get with a local space. The primary benefit of a national coworking company is the access to office space in all major metropolitan areas. So if you are constantly on the go – from Seattle to Orlando – then a large, corporate coworking company might be a better choice. But for anyone who plans on heading into a local office, a locally owned coworking space is always a better choice. Here’s why:

Locally owned and managed coworking spaces have a flexibility in contracting you won’t find in with larger companies. Temporary holds, upgrades, downgrades, and additional desks are easy changes to your current lease. In other words, you won’t be nickel-and-dimed by a local coworking company. You will also find that the smaller, local company will provide more freebies like conference room use, beverage services, and printing.

Local coworking spaces also tend to have a broader range of working spaces. The big coworking companies are going to be focused on squeezing every dime out of every square inch of space. And that means lots of closed doors and tiny cubicles. Local coworking spaces will have plenty of open areas furnished with couches and café tables. The smaller, local companies will offer more outdoor spaces for events and social gatherings.

Finally, you won’t find the kind of symbiotic environment in a large, corporate coworking space. The local coworking space is likely to have a tenant niche (like tech-oriented CyberTECH) and will attract collaborative people. Casual conversations and official networking comes easier in a locally owned coworking space.

In short, a locally owned coworking space is more likely to meet your needs as a new and growing company. At a space like CyberTECH, you will find the right kind of driven and collaborative folks that make coworking a great place to be.

Downtown SD Emerging as New Tech Hub

Everyone knows your basic US tech cities – Seattle and San Francisco. And thanks to the major tech players like Microsoft, Amazon, Google, those cities will likely remain at the top of the tech heap for years to come. But San Diego is attracting significant attention as an emerging tech hub. And here’s why:

Lifestyle

If you want rain, go to Seattle. Busy streets? Try New York. But if you want great weather year-round without the bother of LA posers, you come to San Diego. And for the moment, San Diego is considered “affordable” when you compare housing prices to places like San Francisco. Keep in mind, the emerging workforce is one that empathizes quality over quantity. Twentysomethings are happy to give up big houses and hefty salaries for a freelancing flip-flop life.

Location

Not only does San Diego county offer broad expanses of land (think: North County’s Geico call center); but downtown San Diego has its underdeveloped East Village. From 2005 to 2008, the East Village was flush with developments. Now, eight years later, the empty lots and unused buildings are coming into focus as developers eye those blocks for expansion. The I.D.E.A. district and Makers Quarter are going to bring tech workers into an arts, commercial, and residential project that will rival swanky SF living.

Industry

So, when you think San Diego, you don’t automatically think tech software. But the city has a long history of developing everything from bio technology to microchips to missile launchers. We have our fair share of major players like Qualcomm and General Atomics. Plus don’t forget about our reputation as a research hub thanks to the huge universities.

San Diego has everything to become America’s next tech supercity. With the universities pumping out thousands of eager workers looking for ways to stay in Sun City, tech giants are seeking ways to capture the enthusiasm. Plus, with every student comes a new idea for an app, game, or device. So the city’s grassroots tech efforts are fed by the venture capitalists excited to hear something new from Sunny SD.

Tech growth is inevitable. And welcome.

 

What Cyber Security Will Mean in 2017

First, let’s dispel the myth of hackers sitting on a couch or slamming espresso shots in a 24-hour café. At some point in the past, there may have been enough one-off hackers to comprise some measurable percentage of cyber threats. But those days are over. Hacking is big business. And these businesses are operating inside and outside of the US. They are looking at standard big-business issues like supply and demand, market competition, and industry trends. And yes, there will always be independent hackers. But the real threat now comes in the form of highly organized teams with strategic initiatives.

Ransoms are an increasingly popular tool for the black hat players. In some ways, the transactions are quick and easy. The ransom amounts are fairly easy to calculate: the cost of data recovery (hiring a tech specialist) plus the cost of recovering brand image. In short, your standard ransom demand isn’t going be less than $25,000 (or so) going forward. And that’s just the floor. Plus a good black hat hacker will make sure he gets paid on both sides of the equation – wear the mask during the ransom and the white hat during the repair.

While breaching big companies is always a splashy way to make headlines (think: Yahoo, Target, and Yahoo again), the big companies have vast financial resources to stay ahead of the hacking curve. Thus the future of hacking is in the mid-level company. The perfect target: on-line grocery retail and delivery. They have enough money to pay big ransoms, but they aren’t invested enough in the tech industry to keep on top of client login and payment data.

The truly sophisticated hackers can’t be bothered with PII anymore. They want to play the markets. And by sneaking in the back door of major corporations, they can gain access to the kinds of corporate intelligence that an inside trader can only dream about. And not only can they play the market, they can manipulate the markets by releasing information to the media strategically.

The face of cyber security changes daily. The players are in every corner of the world, rolling the dice in a game against each other, major corporations, and every government on the planet.

The Human Factor

Cyber security isn’t all zeros and ones. In fact, the greatest threat to cyber security may be sitting under the mousepad at the reception desk. Or in an unlocked office. Or in your company’s training manuals.

The human factor is the generally the weak link in any cyber security system. Humans simply don’t have the kind of built-in encryption system necessary to keep out intruders. Humans can be trusting and lazy. And those are the exact behaviors a good hacker will leverage to gain access to your systems.

Keep in mind, it only takes a tiny crack in the security system for a hacker to get into your system. And with all the focus on overseas hackers, your data is still unsecure from physical intrusion. Passwords taped to the computer screen are the easiest way for someone to gain access to your internal software. No one will notice a “maintenance man” checking the lights in an office. Once hackers are working from the inside, it’s easier to maneuver around the limited, internal security measures.

Email remains one of the easiest ways to gain remote access to a system. And because we access email through multiple platforms, hackers can easily dupe unsuspecting users. If you only use one device to review your email (for example, through Google on your desktop), then you are very familiar with the way your email messages look. But email messages look slightly different depending on the device (phone, tablet, laptop, tv, etc), so you have less of a filter. Strange-looking emails don’t stand out. So when a hacker creates an email to appear as if it’s coming from a friend, you’re more likely to open, read, and download.

Finally, if you are a manager or executive, you are sensitive to data security. Your front desk receptionist is not. The receptionist is worried about opening paper mail, answering phone, and keeping guests comfortable. A sly email from a hacker could easily be opened in the haze of busy day.

If you house sensitive data of any kind, you are going to be the target of a hack. The best cyber security expert can’t account for all human activity. Consider a company-wide training on a quarterly basis to ensure everyone in your company is aware of new and emerging issues.

Coworking Communication Avenues

Although the peak hours of operations for a coworking space might be Monday through Friday from nine to five, coworkers operate 24 hours per day. And while there are always an energetic few who want to actively network face-to-face, others would prefer an online setting. In fact, coordinating coworking members is like herding cats. Keep in mind, if they were obedient dogs, they’d be operating out of a corporate office up the street.

So how do you wrangle coworking member together?

In short, food is the best way to bring people together. Just like a gaggle of cats that keep to separate corners during the day, cats pull together when you feed them at 5pm. If you want your coworkers to come together, buy some subs from the local sub shop or order enough pizza to feed everyone. Add a little background music and it’s a party. And yes, the chatty few will keep the conversations going, but the quiet ones in the background appreciate the opportunity to socialize – even if it just means offering a few smiles to other members.

Remain active online. You need to offer regular updates about activities at the coworking space. In the 1980s, that meant printing a monthly newsletter with cheesy photos and coupon for free chips at the sub shop. Today, it’s as simple as a Facebook group. Update it once or twice a week with membership news. Post lots of great, candid photos. And occasionally encourage members to join together for an official event like a member appreciation party.

Talk to your members. People are shy. They don’t know how to break the ice. Knock on doors and ask how business is going. Encourage them to respond to the Facebook updates. Pull another member into the conversations. Conversations inside the coworking space need an organic element in order to feel genuine.

So, communication at the coworking space is all about options. Coworking members aren’t the kind of corporate employees who will conform to strict standards. So coworking managers and community coordinators have to offer a range of options. With very few exceptions will you have 90-100% participation on any one activity. But with several avenues of communication, you will reach the vast majority of members who want to engage.

The Perils of Working from Home

Recently, NPR was interviewing an expert (something about politics, finance, etc…) and the expert’s dog decided to join the conversation. In the background, on live radio, listeners around the world heard Fido bark. Several times. The expert must have scrambled to shoo the dog out of the room and close the door. And I can image a tense conversation after the interview, “I was live on NPR and you couldn’t keep the dog quiet?”

Admittedly, working in an office doesn’t always mean you have a perfectly professional setting at all times. We’ve all heard raucous laughter in the background of a call center. But if you are trying to portray yourself as an expert professional, you need a controlled environment.

Working at home also comes with distractions. Of course, we can all get caught up watching too much cable news during the day. But in our world of constant connections, small distractions are simply a way of life. Even in an office, you have the distractions that come with Facebook, text messages, and cable news on your phone. The real distractions are the big ones – waiting for the cable repair man, stopping by the bank, dropping off the dry cleaning, etc. If you have an office (either corporate or coworking) you are much more likely to put off errands until the weekend. And you are far more likely to share the household chores with a spouse or housemate.

Potentially worse than the distractions that come with working at home, you will also face the isolation. Walking around a creaky house at 11am on a weekday can make you feel like you’re the last survivor of humanity. Even if you walk outside, the houses are dark and quiet. Very few drivers are on the road. It’s just you and birds. And the birds are busy with their workday of building nests and laying eggs. At a coworking space, you feel connected. Even if the guy next to you is programming an app to rate snack bars in Japan, you and your coworking coworkers are working towards the common goal of productivity.

Don’t sit at home and work. It’s depressing. Get out and find some other brave soul focused on forging their own path at a coworking space near you.