House Calls

What are you thankful for today?

Today is Thanksgiving, and a lot of people have a lot of things to be thankful about. We aren’t being trite, sarcastic or self-promoting in any way when we say thank you to all of our customers. We may be a small company, but we work our backsides off to make you happy. And for you, we most assuredly ARE thankful!

But as I was typing up this blog post, I was thinking. A lot of people are frustrated and angry these days. And I get that: there’s a lot of bad stuff going on. But as a former media guy who still dabbles in the media from time to time, I can tell you that there’s no doubt about it: if all you did was watch the news on TV or in newspapers, or on the Internet…you’d get very depressed in a hurry. So, let’s do this: push yourself away from the computer (desktop, laptop, tablet, smartphone), and think about…what you can be thankful for. If you’re living in a basement, be thankful: you have a real roof over your head, and most people in the world don’t. And even if you are working 2 or 3 jobs to make ends meet, you can be thankful, even though it is hard work…it ,means there is food on the table 2 or 3 times per day. And to those who are working today…thank you. Police, fire, ambulance teams, our military, train crews and dispatchers, broadcasters, toll booth operators, utility companies manning the nuclear power plants, or natural gas generation plants, airline pilots and airports…those in retail (sorry…I hope someday you get Friday off too)…again, a heartfelt thank you.

So, AH customers, let’s hear it…what are YOU thankful for today?

How to keep YOUR uptime (close to) 100% like AllisonHouse: surge suppressors

Here at AllisonHouse, we provide you are services as-is. We don’t, as I have explained in earlier blogs, claim 100% uptime. Maintenance, NWS outages, and maybe one of hard hard drives going kerblooey means 100% uptime is not achievable. Nevertheless, we have gotten 99.9% uptime, and we do everything we can to keep it that way!

But one thing we also want to do is keep you as close to 100% uptime as much as possible. Since many of you use desktops, tablets and laptops, I want to point to something which can deceptively make you think you are protected from a hidden enemy, but are not. And it can cause the loss of your device before it would have normally given up the ghost. Yes, I’m talking about surge suppressors…the thing that can save your bacon, or turn your computer into burnt bacon.

Let’s make the distinction here, before we move on, to what the difference is between a power strip and a surge suppressor. A power strip enables you to plug in multiple devices into the strip, instead of just two. These offer NO surge suppression capability whatsoever.

A surge suppressor, however, does the same thing as a power strip, but it also clamps down on high voltage, which will damage or destroy your electronics. They can be shaped just like any other power strip, but its special design lets it take the “hit” whenever a surge of high voltage is present. This ruins the surge suppression part of the device. But it can save your electronic devices from damage or destruction.

These suppressors’ useful lives are measured in joules. The higher the number, the higher the amount of surge(s) the suppressor can take. One with at least several thousand joules is recommended.

Many people have one these days. But, how do you know when one has gone bad? Unfortunately, most of the cheap ones won’t tell you, and even some of the more expensive ones may have an indicator light that doesn’t really work, if it is more than a few years old. Most of the brand new ones these days that are brand names have corrected that issue.

So, do you need a new one? Unfortunately, even if the suppressor part of the power strip is fried, it will still give you power, in nearly all cases, to the device. There is no “magic time” to replace them if you haven’t taken a direct hit by lightning. I have read from experts that you should replace all of your surge suppressors every 2 years. That seems a little high if you are not in Florida, or other locations where power surges occur on a regular basis. A better yardstick would be replace it once every 4 to 5 years, even in areas that get hardly any lightning, when you get a new computer/tablet, desktop, TV.

One thing I need to mention. Under most circumstances, most suppressors, even the expensive ones, are overwhelmed by lightning strikes if they are, say, on the pole right behind your house. You still may get your electronics destroyed, even with a suppressor, Google is not immune to it:

They have massive surge suppressors, but 4 lightning strikes to the same data center did them in. Fortunately, they had replicated almost all of the data on other data centers around the world. And, thankfully, almost all surges are not as bad as what Google’s datacenter took, and the suppressors can handle most of them well. Common surges are caused by people veering off the road and hitting utility poles; critters meeting a sad fate while chewing on wires; old wires breaking and coming down, causing a power imbalance and surge throughout the area, and very high utility load, for example, on a hot day.
For the ultimate in protection, if you are using a desktop, get an Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS). They not only clamp down on surges even better than most ones that are designed with power strips, but they will also protect you from an unintended power loss, as they have batteries that will keep the computer on for around 10 minutes. An unintended loss of power can damage your computer as much as a surge can. Although these devices are anywhere from a few hundred dollars for a small desktop computer, to millions of dollars powering a datacenter, they are the ultimate in protection, and they can even shut down your computer when the batteries get low. If you have a laptop, a UPS is redundant, because the laptop has a battery to keep it on in the event of a power loss. At AllisonHouse, massive UPS’s and generators keep our servers happy and on the air flawlessly when the data center loses commercial power.

So, do you want to keep AllisonHouse up and running on your computer? Don’t be cheap: make sure that surge suppressor hasn’t fried itself. We can’t replace your fried computer or components/accessories, nor the agony that occurs when you’ve got a moderate risk of severe and your monitor is permanently black. Get a surge suppressor, or, for must-save electronics, a UPS, to keep you—and your products from AllisonHouse—happily working to keep you informed as severe weather strikes.

Now Offering SSL / HTTPS

We are proud to announce the availability of SSL/HTTPS for all AllisonHouse web properties beginning today, October 6th, 2015. This includes Level 2 and Level 3 Radar, Data Overlays (Feeds & Placefiles), GRearth and even Warnings. While nearly all of the data supplied by these addresses is in binary format and of no value to hackers because it doesn’t contain any personal information, we believe this is a necessary step to keep customer information safe for many years to come.

Customers may begin using this feature immediately. Simply change “http://” to “https://” in any of your links before integrating them into your software. This will ensure that all of the information exchanged between your software and our servers is encrypted and kept away from prying eyes. We will reach out to our development partners regarding the availability of this new security feature so that it may be built into future versions of their applications. Apple’s newer versions of iOS may even begin to prevent applications from reaching insecure (HTTP) web addresses due to the risks it poses.

Security has always been a top priority at AllisonHouse. After all, our Founder and President has worked in Information Security for over 20 years. So it’s no surprise that has always had the strictest encryption policy, forcing all customers to use SSL/HTTPS, even when just visiting our homepage. This ensures that absolutely none of your personal information is ever exchanged over the unencrypted (insecure) HTTP used by most websites. We have always sacrificed faster website loads for improved security because we value your privacy.

As the web has evolved, so have hackers’ methods of attack. There will always be malicious parties who wish to obtain your personal information for their own personal gains. This is evidenced through the numerous security breaches over recent years, including Home Depot, Target, and even more recently, Experian, Scottrade and even Trump Hotels. The sophistication of these attacks varies greatly and no two are exactly alike. All companies which conduct business on the internet should take the necessary steps to protect their customers’ information, regardless of the difficulty or associated costs.

We will continue to monitor industry trends and adapt in order to protect the personal information of the people we value most, our customers. As always, please feel free to email us at support[AT]allisonhouse[.]com with any questions you might have regarding these changes. You’re also free to email me, Ryan Hickman (CTO), directly at ryan[AT]allisonhouse[.]com.