It is bad enough that the inhabitants of the greater Houston metropolitan area, as well as huge swath of Texas, have experienced one of the worst natural disasters to ever befall the United States. But now, just as the sun is beginning to shine on the Lone Star State, the lowest of the low have begun to crawl out on the internet to take advantage of their suffering.

Yep, that’s right. There are already dozens of sleazebag web sites and email campaigns out there attempting to cash in on unsuspecting Americans who want to donate to relief efforts after the devastating hurricane. It never ceases to confound me that there are such technologically gifted individuals who feel it necessary to enrich their thieving lives by creating bogus web sites.

According to leading security investigator Brian Krebs (, “The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued an alert on Monday urging consumers to be on the lookout for a potential surge in charity scams. The FTC advises those who wish to donate to stick to charities they know, and to be on the lookout for charities or relief web sites that seem to have sprung up overnight in response to current events.”

The advice that Krebs offers includes this helpful note. “The FTC also warns consumers not to assume that a charity message posted on social media is legitimate, and urges folks to research the organization before donating by visiting charity evaluation sites, such as Charity Navigator (”

I have taken a look, and the Charity Navigator web site has links to a handful of local Texas-based organizations that can directly use the funds if anyone wishes to donate. While I was there, I reviewed their rating of the Red Cross. I had to stop for a moment and say, “Wait, what?” Sure enough, they are not ranked high because their overall administrative costs are out of line with most other organizations. And, as I discovered with some additional research, the funds you donate on their site for this event may not necessarily be used for hurricane relief. Suffice it to say: You’ve been warned.

It appears likely that Hurricane Irene may make a direct hit on the New York metropolitan area over the upcoming weekend.  The latest reports suggest that it will arrive very late on Saturday and continue all day Sunday.  I want you to know that Heliotropic Systems is actively monitoring the forecasts and taking several steps to assist our clients in the event of any impact.

Please review the following list of 8 recommendations and share it with the appropriate members of your company.  Obviously, I hope that no one will suffer any impact, personally or professionally, from this storm.  One of my favorite sayings is “Better to have a plan and not need it, than need a plan and not have it.”  I hope that the simple step of reading this blog posting and taking these recommendations seriously, will help you weather the storm (yes, the pun is intended) without issue.
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In the November 2010 issue of “Redmond Channel Partner” magazine, Paul DeGroot, a senior analyst at an independent research firm commented on an aspect of Microsoft’s product development trajectory and how it relates to the partner community that supports Redmond.  He states:

Assume that before the end of this decade, a new computing device will either include or will automatically connect to a full set of hosted applications and maintenance services that regularly update its capabilities and fend off malware and configuration errors.  The device may even be “free,” when you subscribe to all the applications and services

Of course, he is talking about a computer and all of the requisite add-ons that make up our daily existence.  In the present case, that would include the operating system, the desktop office suite, the e-mail client, the web browser, a security product, and any other software we install to perform one function or another on our PCs.

I have always stressed that it is important to be mindful of what is installed on your computer.  I also insist that you make sure that all of your software is kept current to ensure you reduce the possibility of being adversely affected by malware.  These are key reasons that Heliotropic Systems offers SPF plans for home users and SHADE plans for small businesses.  This software takes care of several often mundane tasks that most people tend to ignore, or do not realize they need to perform.

Yet, after I read DeGroot’s article a second time, I believe his example of a future device doesn’t resemble a computer at all, but something else that everyone uses on a daily basis – a cell phone!

Over time, technology that was affordable only by large corporations has become more prevalent in the small business and even consumer space.  Two of the more popular offerings are online back-up and online e-mail.  These are exemplified by companies such as Carbonite and Mozy, and Google with its Gmail offering.  These companies tend to talk about their products use of “the cloud,” which is nothing more than another way of saying “on the Internet.”

Today the trend is for software vendors is to create their product so that it runs on the Internet instead of directly on your desktop.  This means that you no longer have to install software, you simply point your favorite web browser to a URL and sign on to your account.  While you do not need to install these products, they all require some kind of constant Internet connection.

And, to carry the analogy just a little bit further, when you buy a cell phone, you automatically get a variety of applications and can purchase more through your phone vendor’s online store.  Most of these apps are updated automatically when your cell phone is on.  You don’t have to worry about making sure the updates take place – Verizon, or AT&T or Sprint take care of that for you.

As DeGroot concludes:

I can’t predict what the partner role will be, except that there will be one.  Someone needs to make devices, applications that run on them, systems that connect them to applications.  Someone needs to guide businesses through a myriad of choices and rescue those businesses from bad decisions.

Perhaps most important, someone needs to map hardware and software against human needs and wants, and help people and businesses integrate the digital landscape with people, process, and products.  Those skills will be as rare and valuable a decade from now, just as they are today.

I thought it was very fitting to reflect on these words just before we celebrate Thanksgiving.  Because it is my sincere belief that Heliotropic Systems is in business to help people – both home users and small businesses – use the technology they have so that they can do what they want in the best and safest manner.  No matter what device they are using.