Insights For Success

Strategy, Innovation, Leadership and Security

Holidays

TSA agents may steal your belongings

Airlines, Airport, Holidays, Money, One Bag, Security, Travelling, iPadEdward KiledjianComment

Would you be surprised if I told you that some TSA agents have been caught stealing from passengers?  The TSA is reporting that  an agent at JFK may have stolen up to $5,000 in cash from passengers as their personal affects rolled down the screening conveyor belt.

Another TSA employee, this time in Dallas, has been put on administrative leave because he may have stolen up to 8 iPads from passengers. MSNBC interviewed (Nico Melendez ) a TSA spokesperson who made some interesting recommendations for travellers:

  • He recommends putting all your valuable items (cash, watch, wallet, phone, etc.) in a zippered pocket in a briefcase. I couldn’t agree more. Never drop valuables in a plastic bin where a good thief can steal it in the blink of an eye. Make is as difficult for them to steal as possible. Personally I put my valuables inside one of the many inside pockets of my Scottevest jacket, then zip the pocket and zip the jacket.
  • He recommended never checking in valuables. He says that in addition to TSA screening, a checked luggage may be handled four or five times by airlines (by up to 10 different people). I read this and wonder why people still check in luggage.
  • He says that sometimes passengers pick up the wrong luggage (from the carousel) and therefore lost luggage may not have actually been stolen but rather taken by mistake. 
  • He also highlights the fact that items often get forgotten in “resolution rooms” after a more detailed inspection. So double check to ensure you packed up all your belongings if you get sent to secondary screening.
  • He recommends adding clear identification to all your belongings to ensure your items can find their way back to you if misplaced. I agree with this recommendation but with one caveat, never list your address.  If a thief knows you are heaving to Cancun on vacation and picks up your address from your luggage tag then he can more comfortably rob your house while you are away. I recommend listing your name and a cell phone number.

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Canada's WestJet to charge more service fees

Air Canada, Airlines, Airport, Holidays, Money, One Bag, Travelling, WestjetEdward KiledjianComment

Westjet is Canada’s second largest airline and it recently announced that it has found opportunities to double “ancillary revenue”. Ancillary revenue is income derived from non-ticket sources. One of the possible sources of new income “could be” checked baggage.

The Westjet CEO said more specifically (according to Reuters) that they are carefully watching airline industry practice of charging passengers a fee as of the first checked bag (Air Canada charges $25 as of the first checked bag).

This provides more motivation to be a onebag traveller. I will be travelling to Asia next month using only a carry on and some Scottevest clothes with lots of pockets. Stay tuned as I will be blogging product reviews, tips and tricks.

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Veho 360 Bluetooth speaker review

Apple, Blackberry, Bluetooth, Google, Holidays, Hotel, Playbook, Smartphone, Speaker, Tablet, Travelling, Veho, WP7, iPad, iPhone, technologyEdward Kiledjian1 Comment

 

Although this is primarily a European product, it is often easily available on ebay and I wanted to conduct a quick review for my readers. I received this as a christmas gift and have been using it daily for about 3 weeks now.

Quick look

The Veho 360 is a small cylindrical battery powered speaker. It stands 5 cm tall and 4cm in diameter.  The device has a  2.2 watt speaker that shoots sound out from the top. On the side, it has 2 ports: a charging port and a 3.5mm audio port. You can use the 3.5mm port to connect the speaker to a non-Bluetooth device.

Herein lies one of my pet peeves with electronic devices… why do I need a special proprietary tip USB cable to charge it?

On the bottom of the device is a little switch with 3 modes: Bluetooth, off and 3.5mm audio in. As you can imagine, the first mode turns on the speakers Bluetooth radio, the second mode turns off the speaker and the last mode allows you to use it with the 3.5mm audio in (thus saving battery by turning the Bluetooth radio off). The switch itself is easy to use and mode selection is clear with a solid click feeling when you change modes.

Cost

You can find this speaker online for about $50US.

Battery

The company recommends charging the unit for 4 hours for a full charge. I conducted a couple of charge discharge cycles then timed the duration of the battery and was able to get between 3.5-4 hours of constant playback. The battery is not replaceable and I was not able to identify the quality of the battery so I expect it to support 300-500 charge cycles.

Pairing

Pairing the device was simple. I simply moves the switch to Bluetooth mode and my iPhone asked if I wanted to pair with the Veho. It was that simple. If you want to pair it with another device, you have to force the original device to forget the Veho, switch Bluetooth off on the original device,  switch the toggle to off and back to bluetooth and the new device should see the pairing option.

Sound Quality

You control the volume of the device using the volume rocker of your source device (iphone, ipod, etc). Now let’s make it clear that this is not a high fidelity speaker system.  Sound quality seems to be a little better with the 3.5mm audio in (compared to Bluetooth mode).  Bluetooth has limited tranmital capacity and should not be used if you are an audiophile. 

For a small pocketable speaker, I was expecting lots of distortion at the higher volume levels but to my surprise, it handles higher volume levels well. As expected, you can start hearing sound artifacts and degradation as your Bluetooth source moves farther and farther away from the speaker. For normal use (5-10 feet from the speaker with open access) you won’t notice this. I pushed the Bluetooth connection to its technical limits and although the audio does degrade, I didn’t lose my connection once (staying within the allowable maximum Bluetooth distance standards of course).

Recommendation

Overall I think this is a nice little speaker especially if you want something small that travels well. I do with I could charge it with a regular USB connection.  How does this compare to the Jawbone Jambox or the Logitech Mini Boombox?

I have tried the Jambox and can say it is far superior to the Veho. The Jambox offers cleaner, louder and richer sound but costs 3 times more.  If you need something with longer battery life, louder volumes and the ability to add feature via loadable speaker apps then go for the Jambox.

I have not tested the Logitech mini Boombox yet so if Logitech wants to send a sample, email me ;-)

 

 

Be safe when staying in a hotel (part 4) - Hotels are for spying

Holidays, Hotel, Safety, Security, TravellingEdward Kiledjian2 Comments

In most countries, a hotel is simply a convenient place for you to stay and recharge. Without naming any specific countries, local intelligence agencies in some of them are known to use hotels as an information collection tool on guests.

In these countries, you should assume that everything you do is monitored including

  • telephone conversations via the telephone
  • assume the hotel's internet service is monitored
  • assume the room is bugged for audio monitoring and sometimes even video

This being said, it is important to never leave your laptop, PDA or confidential/important documents in the room. Understand that intelligence agencies are not thieves and will not steal your items but are more likely to copy or clone them so as not to arouse suspicion.

Some tips and tricks related to laptop safety

  • Travel with the minimum. When travelling overseas where there is the potential of device confiscation or espionage, ensure that you travel with the minimum information you need. Some people mistakenly assume that strong encryption (like Truecrypt is enough). Understand that any customs agent can ask you to unlock your encrypted drive or partition. If you want to go this route, use hidden volume within an encrypted drive to ensure you have plausible deniability. Move everything you don’t need onto an external drive (kept at home) and then use a tool to wipe the empty space on your disk with at least 7 over-writes.
  • Update your PC. Before travelling, ensure your software and operating system are updated. Keeping them updated minimizes the risk of having gaping exploitable vulnerabilities. For software checks, I recommend you install and use the Secunia Personal Sofware Inspector (http://secunia.com/vulnerability_scanning/personal/)
  • Secure your PC with software. Ensure you are running a good PC firewall (not the one built into Windows) and a good Antivirus. And of course… keep them updated.
  • When possible, use https to secure your internet communications. If you are using Firefox then I strongly recommend you install a free plugin called HTTPS Everywhere produced by the Electronic Frontier Foundation - https://www.eff.org/https-everywhere The EFF describes it as “It encrypts your communications with a number of major websites. Many sites on the web offer some limited support for encryption over HTTPS, but make it difficult to use. For instance, they may default to unencrypted HTTP, or fill encrypted pages with links that go back to the unencrypted site. The HTTPS Everywhere extension fixes these problems by rewriting all requests to these sites to HTTPS.”
  • VPN it. When travelling, nothing beats a reliable VPN connection  back to your home country.  There are lots of services and you should choose one you feel comfortable with. With a VPN connection, all traffic from your PC to the internet is encrypted and routed through your VPN service provider. Which means a man-in-the-middle wouldn’t be able to intercept your traffic. Make sure you choose a reliable company since the VPN provider sees the tail end of your traffic in unencrypted format (unless you use https over the VPN).

 

… to be continued

 

Be safe when staying in a hotel (part 3) - What to do when checking in

Holidays, Hotel, Safety, Security, TravellingEdward Kiledjian1 Comment

When travelling, it is best to assume that anyone can be a hostile. When you pull up to the hotel, ensure all of your luggage is removed from the taxi or bus. Stay with your luggage until it is brought into the hotel lobby. Even in the lobby, always keep an eye out for your luggage. Remember that thieves are always looking for distractions and a busy lobby may be the perfect opportunity to snatch your items (or stuff something) in your bag.

If the hotel is still using the old style metal keys (not electronic cards), pay particular attention about how they treat departing customers. Are they immediately recovering the keys and storing them behind the counter or leaving them on the counter for later processing?  Unattended keys can easily be copied and the thief can easily overhear the room number during checkout. This is not really an issue in most North American of major European cities but is a problem in certain Asian, Middle East and African hotels.

Understand that the key to safety is minimizing the information a thief can get about you. When checking in, ask the agent not to openly announce your room number but rather to just write it on the checking card.

Reiterate to the front desk that they should never give out your name or room number. If anyone asks for you, they should call you before giving any of your info out.

The minute you check in, take 2 business cards. Keep one by the phone and the other in your wallet. The one next to the phone may be handy during an emergency if you call emergency services (for the address). The one in your wallet may be used when attempting to come back to your hotel via taxi (if the driver doesn’t know your hotel by name, if there are multiple hotels with the same name or if they don’t speak English). In some countries, I have called the hotel and asked the front desk agent to explain to the cab driver I want to be taken to the hotel.

If you are a single woman travelling, you may want to check using Mr and Mrs as a safety measure.

Remember never to register your title (MBA, CFA, etc) or your company name. The name of the game is anonymity. You don’t want to be kidnapped because you work for a foreign company that may pay ransom.

 

 

… to be continued