CTO represents Seattle at Consumer Electronics Show

mattAs part of Mayor Murray’s commitment to data-driven transparent government, Chief Technology Officer Michael Mattmiller presented at the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show in January.

Michael detailed Seattle’s role as a Smart City as part of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy’s SuperSession on partnerships in government technology innovation.

The session was hosted by US CTO Megan Smith. In his talk, Michael focused on the Seattle 2030 District, Seattle Public Utilities Rainwatch program, MetroLab Network, Open Data, and Hack the Commute.

Watch the video. (Seattle starts at minute 45.)

Read the White House blog post.

SCSS upgrades lab with Tech Matching Fund

Kudos to 23 community organizations who successfully completed Technology Matching Fund projects in 2015.  These projects achieved greater digital inclusion for over 4,100 residents in Seattle left behind by the digital divide.

One grantee, Somali Community Services of Seattle (SCSS), received a $9,000 award to upgrade their aging computer lab.   Computers almost a decade old made way for eleven new desktop computers.  The lab has since been used weekly to teach more than 215 youth, adults and seniors a variety of technology skills.  Classes are typically held twice a week for one hour by instructors versed in office computer skills.

Senior immigrants have especially benefited from these classes, because many had not been exposed to computers prior to arriving in the United States. The skills they learned in computer classes helped them write emails and letters to families and friends abroad. Some seniors even expressed a desire to teach these skills to youth as they learn and grow.   Somali businessmen and businesswomen also used the lab for crucial business tasks like creating budgets and flyers.

Executive Director Sahra Farah emphasized the value of City support for community-based organizations like hers.  “These funds help us fulfill our mission of assisting Somali refugee families and community members to achieve self-sustainable status in the communities they live in.  Because computer skills are such vital skills to have in the 21st century, these resources are irreplaceable in helping Somali community members stay relevant, and productive.”

Mobile Citizen update

On January 29, Sprint and Mobile Citizen joined together to ask the court to extend a preliminary injunction that temporarily saved internet access for people on the WiMax network. The court approved it with a revised shutdown schedule for Seattle on February 29, 2016, as opposed to the original shutdown date of February 2.  This will allow them time to refine a plan with Sprint to offer Mobile Citizen’s users with a 30 GB+ 4G LTE data-only plan (with no throttling, suspension or overage charges after 30 GB). The plan does not include off-network roaming and it is subject to any standard network management that Sprint may apply to commercial broadband data-only account users.

What is happening?
EveryoneOn plans to disconnect its customers who get Internet access through Mobile Citizen on February 29, 2016.

How are you affected?
Mobile Citizen is working to find you alternative internet access. Their top priority has always been keeping you connected and will keep you updated as they review any options. Please check their blog (http://mobilecitizen.org/blog/) regularly.

Why can’t Mobile Citizen provide me with internet directly?
Mobile Citizen is not permitted to service individuals directly. They work with hundreds of nonprofits to ensure people in need around the nation have access to what has become an essential resource in the 21st Century.

Hamilton Carson RIP

hamcarsonSeattle lost a beloved clarinetist and computer lab teacher on January 14. Many knew him from his Dixieland and swing gigs at the New Orleans Restaurant in Pioneer Square where he played songs from the Great American Songbook.

A computer programmer, his music was a side passion. His was an active participant in local Democratic politics, was a gardener and spent time teaching seniors how to use computers at senior centers around Seattle.

Born January 10, 1930, Ham was a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and had worked variously at Unisys, The LA Times, and US West. He is survived by his wife,  Margaret; sister, Joan Handy;  sons Timothy (Monika) and Tyler Carson, and daughters Vickie and Nell (Ben DeWitt) Carson, and adored grandchildren Ava Carson and Cole DeWitt.

He will be missed by all who knew him.

Public access sites get upgraded service

Through the City of Seattle’s agreements with the cable providers in our area, we are able to offer free Broadband Internet service to non-profits that provide technology classes or public computer usage to the City’s under-served residents.

Under the new agreement with Comcast, recipients in their service area will be providing second tier service, which means you should be receiving speeds up to 50 Mbps and be eligible for basic TV service.  If you are already a Comcast free internet recipient through our program, your speed and TV service will be coming soon.

For more information go to: http://www.seattle.gov/tech/cable

Comcast has recently upgraded or installed these sites:

  • Children’s Home Society of Washington (CHS):  CHS provides access to residents and provides internet capability to help residents with online applications, employment searches, social media connecting individuals with families back home, and basic computer literacy skills in their computer lab.
  • Frederic Ozanam House:  Uses this free service to their residents to increase the availability of internet access, allowing for easier access to online resources residents use to secure housing, benefits, and other services without having to wait for assistance by one of the staff members.
  • Southeast Effective Development (SEED):  SEED is able to present residents with opportunities for career advancement and radio involvement, engage Seattle’s at-risk communities, empower individuals and families with practical technical and radio broadcast skills that they may use in differing professional, personal and civic contexts for many years to come. This project is also building the number of internet savvy volunteers who can segue into key roles at RVR.

Internet filters

When choosing an internet filter, think about:

  • Who your users are: Are they doing research or just browsing the net?
  • Are you managing 10 or fewer computers or a large lab?
  • Hardware you are using: Older machines may run slower.
  • Hardware or software filtering: Software can slow your computer down.
  • Do you plan to expand your lab in the future?

Internet filters are great to keep users from accessing sites you don’t want them to access from your computers.  There are many filtering methods out there. I would recommend starting with Microsoft Family Safety. This software is free with Windows 7 thru 10,  but you have to download it.

If,  however,  you’re looking to manage more than 10 computers or you’re trying to save time when it comes to updates, you may want to look at  hardware options.  One hardware option would be a proxy solution, which would require a server or an appliance.  Going with this solution,  you need to remember that software you install on the computer will not automatically see through the proxy.

Identity theft tax refund fraud: Everybody is at risk

Criminals who use stolen personally identifiable information can launch a wide variety of fraudulent financial schemes, such as hacking online accounts, submitting phony insurance claims, and applying for loans and credit cards to pad their bank accounts. Increasingly, though, identity theft through tax refund fraud is becoming a favorite money-making scheme for criminals.

There have been a number of stories in recent months of identity theft and how the information can be used against individuals. Because identity theft through tax refund fraud has become the most popular tax scam around, you might even know someone who has been a victim of it. All that is needed is a computer (or even a cell phone with the necessary app) and someone’s Social Security number (SSN) and date of birth.

This fraud is so rampant that the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) estimates that it mistakenly paid $5.2 billion to identity thieves in 2013, according to a report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO). The fraudsters filed fraudulent tax returns on behalf of millions of unsuspecting taxpayers, and the IRS did not catch the scheme until well after the refund checks had been processed. However, the financial damage could have been far worse: The IRS also estimates that it was able to identify and stop $24.2 billion in attempted identity theft tax refund fraud last year.
Ways to Protect Your Identity

Although identity theft is difficult to completely guard against, there are steps you can take to make it challenging for criminals to steal personally identifiable information, including:

  • Regularly check your credit report.
  • Do not carry a Social Security card or any documentation containing your SSN.
  • Properly dispose of documentation containing sensitive information; shred it instead of leaving it in the trash.
  • Only give personal information when absolutely necessary — especially on websites and via social media — and keep track of those who have access to it (this might be helpful in determining the breach source if victimized).
  • Never use public Wi-Fi or a non-password-protected network to file electronically.
  • Protect personal laptops and devices by installing firewalls and the most recent anti-virus software.
  • File taxes as early as possible during tax season because criminals try to file fraudulent returns before the actual filer (once the IRS receives a return with an SSN, the agency will reject any duplicate filings and immediately notify you).
  • If filing taxes is not required, consider doing so anyway to prevent a criminal from submitting a false return in your name, and to be alerted if someone has already filed in your name.
  • Be leery of phone calls from people who already know your SSN and claim to be IRS agents. Some even manipulate caller ID. (The IRS warned of this sophistication last October.)

For more information, please go to IRS.gov; Tax Refund Fraud; Examples of Identity Theft; and Don’t Be a Victim.