Monthly Archives: January 2017

Odd Trend: Men Get Stuck in Ductwork All Across the Country

Dust out from Air Duct, Danger and the cause of pneumonia in office man.Over the past couple of months, a number of adventurous souls across the country have learned the hard way that the stunts you see in spy movies don’t always work out in real life. More specifically: very few fully grown men can squeeze through a building’s ductwork and make it out unassisted — let alone undetected.

Earlier this month, firefighters in Tulsa, Oklahoma had to rescue a man who was stuck in the duct of a Golden Corral. The man was a member of the restaurant’s cleaning crew, and when the cleaners accidentally locked themselves out of the building, he took it upon himself to sneak back in through the air ducts.

Naturally, he was too big and got himself stuck for about 20 minutes before rescuers arrived to free him.

Meanwhile, 1,300 miles away in Manhattan, a resident of an apartment building decided to take an usual route back to his home and wound up lodged inside a neighbor’s wall.

Gjyste (Julie) Margilaj reported hearing a crash and went into her kitchen to investigate.

“I freaked…out for a couple of minutes, and then I went over to the kitchen and I heard someone panting and breathing like they were in obvious pain. They were freaking out,” she said. “I opened the kitchen vent so he could breathe.”

Rescue crews found the man trapped inside the wall of Margilaj’s first-floor apartment and had to tear open the wall to get him out.

According to the unidentified man, he had been hanging out on the roof with some friends and instead of heading down the stairs to return to his apartment on the fourth-floor, he chose to travel through the ductwork. He was stuck for 45 minutes.

And back in December, in Penfield, New York, Monroe County Sheriff’s deputies discovered a man stuck in the ductwork of a pizzeria.

“He was as far down as he could go without coming out on top of an oven,” said Penfield assistant fire chief, Earl Lubanski. “The ductwork got narrower as you get down closer to the kitchen.”

After being released from the hospital, Mission Impossible-wannabe Richard Graham was charged with third-degree burglary, second-degree criminal mischief, and possession of burglary tools. He also ended up causing over $2,000 in damages to the pizzeria.

Studies show that having a surveillance camera system with remote access can eliminate theft and losses up to 80%. In fact, it is estimated that as many as 67% of burglaries can be prevented simply by installing video surveillance. However, it is likely that even a video camera would not have stopped Graham from climbing into those vents.

It should go without saying that crawling through a building’s ductwork is never a good idea. After all, they are designed for air flow, not human travel. While rectangular duct may be a bit wider than spiral duct (experts say that up to three additional inches must be factored in for the connections and reinforcements needed at each joint), no duct is wide enough or safe enough for a person to maneuver through.

Inauguration Weekend is Affecting Construction Timelines for Multiple DC Projects

030926-F-2828D-307Close to one million people will be flooding the streets of Washington, DC for the multiple women’s marches and Donald Trump’s inauguration this weekend. All of the traffic will certainly put the city’s streets to the tests, but the activities are also having an effect on multiple construction projects currently underway in the area.

in order to relieve some of the congestion that’s bound to be present in the city streets, the city has suspended work on all major construction projects in the area from Thursday through Sunday. Contractors who need to meet deadlines and workers who need their paychecks are struggling with the city’s decision.

The scheduling changes were known well in advance of the events, but contractors are still concerned about meeting their deadlines. In the past, Martin Luther King Jr. Day has fallen on the same weekend as the inauguration, which resulted in fewer missed days of work for construction crews. This year, however, the holiday resulted in two days of missed work, and the inauguration in another four.

The DDOT dictated that construction be suspended from January 15 through January 16 in observance of MLK Day, and from January 19 through January 23 for the inauguration and marches occurring this weekend. That’s nearly a week of delays for construction projects around the city.

DDOT originally planned on stopping construction for the entire week, which would have created a 12-day delay in construction across the city from January 13 to January 24. DC Building Industry Association CEO Lisa Maria Mallory said that kind of suspension would have had a significant impact on the city. She added that only having a few weeks’ notice was a big challenge for the industry.

In seven out of nine surveyed regions, poured concrete is the most commonly used outdoor surface material, but concrete workers might not be able to meet their required 40 hours this week. Josh Foreso, vice president of HITT Contracting, explained that if these trade workers can’t work for a full week, they may be lacking a paycheck.

Sen. Hassan Grills Betsy DeVos Over IDEA During Her Confirmation Hearing

Courtesy of Carolyn Kaster / AP

Courtesy of Carolyn Kaster / AP

Betsy DeVos inarguably challenges the status quo when it comes to education reform. While many politicians and American citizens alike were enraged when President-Elect Donald Trump announced the multi-billionaire as his pick for Secretary of Education, it was her confirmation hearing that set so many over the edge.

DeVos, a Republican, and an advocate of school choice, voucher programs, and Reformed Christianity, has been overwhelmingly criticized due to her lack of qualifications in the educational department. She has never been a teacher, nor does she have any experience in college financial aid or management of higher education.

During her confirmation hearing, members of the senate were unapologetic in the ferocity of their questions, openly suggesting that she was not qualified to lead the Department of Education, which would leave her responsible for roughly 4,400 employees and a $68 billion budget.

U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat and Hillary Clinton’s former running mate, asked DeVos if she believed that all schools that received taxpayer dollars should be required to adhere to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), a federally mandated piece of legislation that requires that all students with disabilities receive a high-quality, free public education just as every other American child is entitled to.

IDEA covers all children with physical or developmental disabilities, including learning disabilities. While students with learning disabilities were often left in the dark prior to the implementation of IDEA, now, 96% of parents believe that their children can learn just as well as other students if given access to the proper teaching tools.

In her response, DeVos said that she believes that the handling of students with disabilities is a matter that is better left up to individual states.

“So some states might be good to kids with disabilities and other states might not be so good and then what, people can just move around the country if they don’t like how their kids are being treated?” Kaine responded.

Again, DeVos said that the matter should be left up to the states.

Sen. Maggie Hassan, a Democrat from New Hampshire and mother of a son with cerebral palsy, followed up on Sen. Kaine’s questioning.

“That’s a federal civil rights law,” Hassan said, referring to IDEA. “So do you stand by your statement a few minutes ago that it should be up to the states whether to follow it?”

DeVos acknowledged that she may have confused the structure of IDEA, namely as federal law.

Hassan told DeVos that if confirmed as the Secretary of Education, she suggests becoming familiar with the law. She also criticized DeVos’s support of education vouchers, which counters the idea that public education is a community effort.

“And with all due respect, it’s not about sensitivity, although that helps,” Hassan said. “It’s about being willing to enforce the law to make sure that my child and every child has the same access to public education, high quality of public education.”

Thousands of Veterans Looking For Help Are Becoming Addicted to Opioids, and The VA is to Blame

More than a decade of war in Afghanistan and Iraq has caused thousands of veterans nationwide to come home only to become addicted to opioids. What’s worse is that this addiction has been fueled in part by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs.medicine

Recently, the VA has publicly acknowledged its role in creating this phenomena of opioid-addicted veterans, and has pledged to do whatever they can to help the situation. But as some veterans argue, the VA’s good intentions are coming too late.

Back in the 1990s, the medical world decided that a person’s sense of pain was to be viewed as a fifth vital sign, and doctors were to do whatever they could to keep a patient’s pain under control. The VA quickly followed suit, especially since they were dealing with hundreds of veterans coming back with PTSD from the Gulf War. And once 9/11 happened and America entered into two foreign wars, pain management of any way, shape, or form became a priority for doctors.

Except their pain management came in the form of highly addictive prescription painkillers. This heavy handed prescription writing created a perfect storm of addicted veterans and doctors who were just trying to help.

For perspective, take Fayetteville, N.C. the home to Fort Bragg, the largest military base in the nation. As of April 2016, 47% of all opioid prescriptions were abused in some way, which isn’t at all surprising because they are simply too easy to come by. For many, opioid addiction starts simply with prescribed medications, and considering that 48.5% of all Americans have used at least one prescription drug in the past 30 days, there is no lack of supply.

The problem is not just on military bases, however. Veterans all over the country are explaining to the Wall Street Journal that the VA made it too easy to get prescriptions. Many say they walked in to some doctor’s offices without an appointment and then left a few minutes later with drugs in their hands.

va-ptsd

Reports from the VA show an incessant increase in opioid prescriptions between 2000 and 2016. While the results tapered off in 2013 when the VA decided to limit their use, they’re still quite high. The all time high was back in 2013, which just over six million prescriptions; last year, a reported 4.6 million prescriptions were written.

These medications all differ, and while they include the FDA’s approved three main types of medication for opioid dependency of methadone, bupreophine, and naltrexone, some veterans walked away with morphine, hydrocodone, and oxycodone.

To make matters worse, once they are addicted, there is almost no place for a veteran to go who needs help. The VA has 43 impatient rehab centers across the country with a combined total of 906 beds; however, the wait for admittance are usually longer than 30 days. Plus, lack of staffing has kept many doors shut.

So what is the VA planning on doing for veterans coming from home with PTSD and any other physical injuries? The organization has pledged to use addiction specialists nationwide and utilize more holistic forms of treatment such as acupuncture and yoga. They are also working with the federal court system to prevent veteran first time drug offenders to avoid a jail sentence in lieu of drug rehab programs that work on healing their underlying dependency issues.

Not only that, but they have support from Congress as well. Back in July, President Obama signed a bill into law that requires strict training on opioid prescribing among VA doctors, boosts research on alternative pain-management activities, and requires the VA to focus on their diagnosing and prescription strategies of patients who come in with a substance abuse problem.

Additionally, President-elect Trump has vowed to hold the VA accountable for their over prescription practices. Throughout his campaign, he outlined a four-step nationwide plan that would expand access to treatment facilities and give states an incentive to set up drug courts for offenders.

But one thing is for sure, the VA commits themselves to fix the problems they have caused and will do whatever it takes to heal veterans.

“We owe it to the nation’s veterans to help them end their dependence on opioids,” Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald said earlier in September, “and break the downward spiral that all too often ends in homelessness, prison or suicide.”

Messages Promoting Love (and Denouncing Hate) Are Flying Across the Sky

Airplanes began training banner advertisements in the early 1920s. Typically, these ads would promote a company’s grand opening, advertise a new product or service, or simply just spread brand awareness. Now, nearly one hundred years later, aerial messages are capturing the nation’s attention once again.

AMERICA IS GREAT! TRUMP IS DISGUSTING,” read one of six messages flying the California skies on Friday, December 30.

According to CNN, the sky banners were flown over the 127th Rose Parade, which was being attended by nearly one million people. Each of the messages expressed anti-Trump, views including: “ANYBODY BUT TRUMP,” “IOWANS DUMP TRUMP,” and “TRUMP LOVES TO HATE.”

Stan Pate, a 57-year-old man from Tuscaloosa, AL, took credit for the airplane banners that were flown over the Rose Parade’s 5.5-mile route.

“The idea that you can hate your way to the presidency is disgusting to me,” said Pate. “I’m tired of hearing it, he’s in the way of us selecting the right person for the job. It’s time somebody stood toe to toe with him. I’m encouraging people across all of America to get involved and tell Donald Trump exactly who he is and what he is.”

Pate even carried around a contract proving that he was the one funding the anti-Trump campaign.

“Skywriting is a huge billboard and it grabs people’s attention,” Pate added, confident that his messages were a success. “There were probably a million people in the street. You can see this thing for 15 miles.”

Despite the fact that today’s digital world is inundated with flashy digital marketing, some advertisers might want to consider taking a page out of Pate’s book and going back to the basics. Perhaps because they are as different as could be from the advertisements that pop up on our mobile phones and laptops, skywriting and sky banners can be remarkably effective.

And in contrast to the anti-Trump slogans flown over the Rose Parade, the skywriting industry is partnering with the USPS to promote a positive message.

The U.S. Postal Service unveiled its new Love Skywriting Forever stamp, which will be replicated by a skilled skywriting pilot in early January.

The Love stamp has been around for 44 years, and haven’t decreased in popularity, thanks to their timeless appeal. Although some folks — those same ones who are busy poking at their smartphones, in all likelihood — have been predicting the death of the post office for years, the good old USPS isn’t going anywhere. In fact, in 2014, approximately 141 billion letters were mailed.

“These stamps have dressed up billions of birthday greetings, wedding invitations, birth announcements, and, of course, Valentine’s Day cards and letters,” said David Williams, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer at the U.S. Postal Service. “From the moment they’re spotted on an envelope, these miniature works of art foretell good news. And with this particular stamp, we can really say, once and for all, that ‘love is in the air’ — and in the mail.”

Pig the Dog Dances as Sugar Plum Fairy with Birmingham Ballet

The Birmingham Ballet’s annual holiday production of “The Nutcracker” is really going to the dogs. This year, their “Mutt-cracker” performance, featuring 29 canine dancers, included a standout performance from a dog named Pig, a three-year-old border collie mix who suffers from short-spine syndrome.

Although some 46.3 million American households own dogs, few are quite like Pig. She was born with her shoulder bones fused to her head, making it appear as though she doesn’t have a neck. She is one of only seven dogs in the world known to have short-spine syndrome.

Despite her handicap, Pig danced the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy in full tutu dress, alongside her human ballerina aide Katherine Free. In fact, it’s Pig’s second year with the company.

“She has been working on her pirouettes since last year, and she’s gotten them pretty well,” Free said, “especially if you offer her bacon-chicken strips.”

Over two dozen other dogs, many of them rescues, were cast for the one-night-only show that played to a nearly sold-out crowd last Friday. Among them, a black Great Dane filled the role of the mysterious magician Uncle Drosselmeyer, and a team of pugs looked reliably adorable, if not especially acrobatic. A portion of proceeds from the ticket sales went to benefit the Greater Birmingham Humane Society.

Although Pig is something of an Internet celebrity — her Facebook page has more than 100,000 likes — she still had to overcome a fair amount of stage fright to prepare for the role.

“She is so easily startled because she can’t move her head at all; her head is fused at her shoulders,” said Pig’s owner, Kim Dillenbeck. “So for her to come to a place that has lots of noise and stuff is very difficult.”

Nevertheless, her performance was a smash success, as were all of the dogs.

“They give so much to the stage and project to the audience more than you might think,” Free said of her canine co-stars. “It’s amazing to see them grow from even their rehearsals to being on the stage.”

Data Breach Exposes Sensitive U.S. Army Doctor Information

cyber-crimeSensitive information from the U.S. military’s Special Operations Command (SOCOM) medical employees was exposed in a recent data breach. Over 11 GB of data was released and included information such as Social Security numbers and addresses from SOCOM staff members.

Potomac Healthcare is the company responsible for employing the medical workers whose information was stolen. Between 75% and 80% of data breaches originate inside of an organization, which appears to be what happened in this instance.

Sources report that the data was released when a Potomac IT employee misconfigured a data backup.

Researcher Chris Vickery from security company MacKeeper found the unprotected information on the Internet. The data he found included sensitive details about doctors, nurses, and mental health support staff. Some of the leaked data went back as far as 1998.

Vickery reported that after finding the data, he attempted to contact Potomac’s executives. At first, they were skeptical of Vickery’s information, but after notifying several other government agencies, the data was taken down within 30 minutes.

Vickery said that he believes he was the only one who found the information and that it didn’t contain any patient details, only details regarding the medical professionals employed.

Potomac said that although Vickery found the information, there have been no reports that indicate other parties had any access to it. Their investigation is ongoing.

In addition, the information included all of Potomac’s on-site locations in the U.S. and in other countries such as Japan and Ireland. Vickery explained that a good number of the employees whose information was leaked are at the highest level of federal security clearance.

“The privacy and security of information remains a top priority, and we will continue to work diligently to address any issues or concerns,” Potomac explained in a statement.

Both Vickery and Potomac have expressed much concern over any other parties getting access to such sensitive federal information. Vickery said that the nature of the information would make it enticing for any “hostile entities.”

Malicious Software, Hackers Present New Threats For Google Account Holders and Cell Phone Users

People across the world rely on email accounts to keep in constant contact with others. And while we’d like to think that access to these accounts is secure due to the safeguards we’ve put in place, nothing could be further from the truth. A study conducted in 2013 found that an average of 82,000 new malware threats occurred each day — and since that number only continues to rise, we all need to be prepared for an impending digital onslaught.

Yahoo! has received backlash for its recent hacks, but the truth is that an email address ending in “@gmail.com” won’t save you from malware attacks or hacking attempts. In fact, a recent Trojan horse campaign in November of 2016 resulted in more than a million Google-based accounts being hit by malware. Security firm Check Point has stated that this number keeps increasing; the attack campaign known as Gooligan is striking an additional 13,000 accounts and devices every day following the initial infection.

While one out of every 10 companies has malware in their cloud storage, this particular attack is geared towards individual users. In fact, the Gooligan malware attack has been said to be the largest-scale theft of Google accounts ever to be recorded. The software infects devices and steals authentication tokens in order to infiltrate data from Gmail, Google Photos, Google Docs, Google Play, G Suite, Google Drive, and more. Since Gmail alone currently has one billion users, the infiltration is concerning, at the very least.

But the intentions behind the malware may surprise you.

Instead of gaining personal information from these accounts, the malware forces users to download apps that are a pivotal part of an advertising fraud scheme. Similar to a Trojan horse attack, Gooligan makes malicious software look like legitimate apps with names like StopWatch, Perfect Cleaner, and WiFi Enhancer. Once these apps are installed, they in turn install other apps. Some of those apps can also steal usernames and passwords in order to post fake reviews to convince users of their legitimacy.

The app downloads and reviews feed directly into the scheme. Hackers run ads in these forcibly downloaded apps. When the ads are clicked or the apps are downloaded, the hackers make money. Head of mobile and cloud security at Check Point, Michael Shauloy, says that the scheme makes up to $320,000 a month.

Fortunately, the hack has not been shown to be linked to user identity or monetary theft. To that end, Google released a statement via blog post that they have found no evidence that Gooligan accessed user data or targeted specific groups of people. “The motivation… is to promote apps, not steal information,” said Google.

However, the same cannot be said for other recent hacks. One recent hacking trend involves just a little bit of creative “social engineering” and one piece of information: your phone number.

With this method, a hacker doesn’t even need much technological knowledge. They simply need to be convincing enough to make a customer service representative think that they are you.

If you use Gmail, Yahoo! Mail, Dropbox, iCloud, or social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, you’re at risk of having your personal information stolen and exposed. Hackers have used cell phone numbers to steal money, take over accounts, and blackmail users.

A hacker will find information about you somewhere on the internet — it’s more readily available than you might think — like your address, your birthday, or the last four digits of your Social Security Number. Then, they’ll come up with a story to convince a representative of your identity. If the hacker has your phone number, they can then get have your phone number forwarded to their own device. After that, they can go to your email account or online bank account, click the “forgot password” option, and reset the password through a code that’s texted to your phone. The problem is that any messages that go to your number are now being forwarded to the hacker’s device. They get the code, and you’re locked out of your accounts forever.

Customer service representatives are often behind on developments in hacking, so it’s up to you to keep your device and accounts safe. The first line of defense is to put a passcode on your phone. However, customer service reps may forget to ask for the code or may think that knowing the last four digits of your SSN will suffice. You should also create and use an email address that is specific to just your mobile device, rather than using your primary email address across all your devices. Experts recommend that you disable online access to your wireless account; while this may be a hassle if you want to make account changes, it eliminates one way for hackers to get into your account. You should also inform your mobile carrier that any changes to your account can be made only in person with a valid photo ID. Although it would still be possible for a hacker to take on your identity and steal your information, that’s a hurdle that many hackers won’t attempt to jump.

While your accounts may never be 100% safe, especially as reliance on technology continues to increase, you should avoid connecting your phone number to your main accounts, use different passwords on different sites, and answer security questions in different ways for various accounts. Above all, keep in mind that no account or domain is impenetrable from an attack. Although these methods can be time-consuming, they are the best way to protect yourself and your valuable accounts against hijacking and theft.