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Tuesday, January 20, 2015


Original Story: latimes.com

Spanish-language test takers fared worse than English-language applicants on the first day a law took effect allowing people who are in the country illegally to obtain California driver’s licenses, according to the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Only 36% of people who took the Spanish-language written test for a driver's license received a passing score on Friday, the first day AB60 was in effect, compared with 54% of those who took the test in English, the DMV said.

Although advocates and DMV officials said more needs to be done to improve pass rates, they said they weren’t too worried, pointing out that the pass rate among Spanish-language test takers was actually higher on Friday than it had been before the new law. The average pass rate for Spanish speakers in the last six months of 2013 was 28%, according to DMV data.

Also, the pass rate for the 17,200 applicants who took the written test in any language on Friday seems to be slightly lower — at about 45% -- than the average 50% general pass rate, said Jessica Gonzalez, a DMV spokeswoman.

The DMV hosted about 200 outreach meetings with immigrant advocacy groups throughout the state to help get the word out about prerequisites and how to best study for the written test.

“We’ve never launched anything like that, where we pushed people to study,” Gonzalez said. “It was the first time we’ve done that.”

Applicants must answer 30 out of 36 questions correctly in order to pass the written test.

Daisy Vieyra, a spokeswoman for a statewide coalition of immigrants’ rights advocates called Drive California, said there is room for improvement but also pointed out that California did much better than Nevada, which implemented a similar driver’s license program. There, an estimated 70% of applicants failed the written test in the first few days.

Vieyra said translated handbooks weren’t widely available and were viewed as confusing and flawed in Nevada. California did a better job at improving its handbooks translations, hiring new staff and opening new offices before the law took effect, she said.

 “But I think what’s most important is that immigrants, who fought for this for over 20 years, are also heavily invested in making sure they pass this test, even if it means taking the test more than once,” Vieyra said.

The rollout of the program came after a long political battle, with some critics saying the law rewards people who broke immigration laws. Supporters said it will improve traffic safety by requiring people who are already driving to study the rules of the road.

Since Friday, more than 46,000 people who are in the country illegally have flooded Department of Motor Vehicle offices throughout California. Some even began to line up the night before.

The DMV estimates that more than 1.5-million people will apply for licenses in the next few years under the new law, which Gov. Jerry Brown signed in 2013.

Thursday, January 8, 2015


Original Story: nytimes.com

LAS VEGAS — THE Internet of Things arrived in force at this year’s International CES, the huge trade show here. But while manufacturers at the event painted a rosy picture of connected grills, coffee makers, refrigerators and door locks, security experts and regulators warned that the Internet of Things could be a threat to both security and privacy.

Hackers have already breached Internet-connected camera systems, smart TVs and even baby monitors. In one case, someone hacked a networked camera setup and used it to scream obscenities into a baby nursery.

Connected-home security threats, at least so far, have not usually been about a hacker trying to break into your home or using your data. Criminals aim mostly at giant databases of personal information or credit cards that they can sell on the black market. Home automation allows you to control many features inside and outside your home.

Even so, the more connected our technology becomes, the more data our devices and appliances can gather about us. That data can be shared in ways we don’t anticipate or can be revealed as part of larger breaches.

In a speech at International CES, Edith Ramirez, chairwoman of the Federal Trade Commission, said the trend toward having so many things constantly connected to the Internet presented serious risks that start-ups and big companies needed to take seriously.

“Any device that is connected to the Internet is at risk of being hijacked,” she said in her prepared remarks. “Moreover, the risks that unauthorized access create intensify as we adopt more and more devices linked to our physical safety, such as our cars, medical care and homes.”

The concerns, Ms. Ramirez and security experts say, include widespread collection of personal information with or without consumers’ knowledge, misuse of that information and actual stealing of the data. Aside from automated home security, a home theater is a great way to improve your home entertainment system.

And perhaps because connected devices are relatively new, there are few security features built into many of them or the apps and services that power them. Even fewer products exist to lock down your smart home.

One noteworthy product, though — perhaps the sort of device we will see more of soon — was introduced at International CES. It comes from Bitdefender, which makes antivirus and anti-malware software for computers, and is called the Bitdefender Box. The box is a physical device that plugs into your Internet router and constantly scans your network and the websites you visit for potentially harmful software or viruses.

“The whole idea is not to let it inside your network,” said Bogdan Dumitru, the company’s senior threat analyst.

“When you’re opening a malicious page, before the page is downloaded, it is intercepted in the box, flags are sensed in the cloud and it doesn’t show up in the first place,” he said.

One common security problem, for example, is that a person visits a website that has malicious code embedded in it. You don’t have to click anything for the code to run, and after it does it can deliver a virus that can co-opt your computer and put it to work as part of a botnet. A botnet is a giant network of computers linked together to break codes or passwords or initiate distributed denial-of-service attacks that can take down entire sites.

When less traditional devices like smart TVs or refrigerators are connected, they can become part of botnets as well, Mr. Dumitru said.

“It doesn’t quite matter to the hacker how much processing power or what task those smart devices can accomplish,” he said. If they can reach a website — and most can, because they connect to their own websites — they can be used.

“Getting something knocked off the Internet is still worth a lot of money, and the Internet of Things is a powerful tool for doing that,” he said.

The Bitdefender Box is expected to be released this month for $199 and will include a year of service. After the first year, the service is $99 a year. The box includes other features that can help its users control devices on their home networks. It can give extra Internet bandwidth to certain computers for Skype calls, for example. And if you have one installed, you can connect to it when you’re not at home over a secure, private network.

But as with most antivirus and anti-malware products, the box can scan for and detect only code that has already been identified as a threat. Something new could still sneak through.

And the box can’t do anything about the personal data harvested by all the various apps that control smart devices in the home or outside of it.

For example, at International CES this week, Ford announced plans to collect information about driving habits of company volunteers in Dearborn, Mich., and of volunteer drivers in London. The London project aims to create personalized driving information that can be used to calculate personalized insurance rates.

As usual with data collection, there may be benefits in the long run, but we will have to trust a new set of companies with our information.

Ford’s new chief executive, Mark Fields, said at International CES that Ford understood the responsibility.

“We believe customers own their data and we are simply stewards of that data,” he said. “And we commit to being trusted stewards of that data.”

But many companies have failed to safeguard customer data over the last year, so companies like Ford may have to do a lot more than commit. They will have to be transparent about how they protect our information, and make sure customers know what they are opting into when it comes to sharing information.

Customers seem wary. Accenture, the research firm, released a study this week that said consumers around the world doubted whether their personal data was secure online. With companies of all stripes suddenly interested in collecting reams of information about their customers, both on the Internet and elsewhere, those concerns are likely to continue.

And as Chris Babel, chief executive of the data privacy management company TrustE, noted, we are still in the very early stages of the Internet of Things.

“Everything is still very siloed and it’s not very connected,” he said. “But there’s massive amounts of value when it gets connected — both from the users’ perspective and from the hackers’ perspective.”

Mr. Babel echoed the advice of the Ms. Ramirez of the F.T.C., who said companies needed to “prioritize security and build security into their devices from the outset.”

She recommended privacy and risk assessments in the design phase of new products, forcing users to set new passwords instead of using default passwords on sensitive devices like Internet routers and using encryption wherever possible.

So if you are creating a smart home for yourself, keep security in mind. Think twice about what you connect to your network. And hopefully security will evolve in lock step with the connected world we are entering. Home automation allows remote access to security systems and surveillance cameras while away from home.

Monday, January 5, 2015


Original Story: realtor.com

Most renters know that paying the rent on time and following the lease will keep them out of hot water, but what does it really take to have a great relationship with your landlord?

The answer may surprise you. (Hint: It isn’t all about the rent.)

The Ideal Tenant

When landlords interview prospective tenants, they’re looking for job stability and steady income first and foremost, but their wish list goes beyond that.

“The quality landlords value most is stability,” said Mia Melle, president and broker of Renttoday.us. “An ideal renter is one who will stay in the home for years to come, raise a family, create memories and treat the home like their own.” A Rochester Landlord Tenant Lawyer represents both landlords and tenants in rental disputes.

Landlords also like to see that you are good at managing your finances.

“Having a few months’ worth of rental payments in the bank” is very helpful, Melle said.

Do the Upkeep

Once you have moved in, try to treat the space like you own it. Keep everything clean, well-maintained and in good, working order.

“Many times renters aren’t familiar with the cost of home improvements, so something as simple as not watering the lawn and causing the grass to die can result in thousands of dollars to the homeowner to replace the sod once the renter moves out,” Melle said. A Birmingham Landlord Tenant Lawyer assists clients in recovering damages to rental properties.

Take care of landscaping, clean up spills as soon as they happen and keep children and pets from causing any damage to the walls or flooring, and your landlord will thank you for it.

Always Ask First

After you have lived in a rental for a while, your tastes—or your life—may change. You may decide to adopt a new puppy, or you may want to repaint the kitchen to match your curtains. Before you make any of those changes, ask your landlord if they are allowed. Not only do bigger changes such as adding a pet often require an addendum to your lease, but your landlord will appreciate being considered. A Troy Landlord Tenant Lawyer has experience representing clients in eviction matters.

Call for Backup the Right Way

When it comes to making maintenance requests, be careful when and how you contact your landlord.

“A renter should know how to do simple repairs around the property and understand the landlord cannot always be at their beck and call or send a $200 repair guy to change a light bulb,” Melle said.

If you have to call to request a repair, make sure you explain the problem thoroughly and be willing to let your landlord troubleshoot issues with you over the phone. If you can save your landlord a bit of time (or money) you will build a great relationship.

See Things From Your Landlord’s Point of View

“Ultimately, landlords want renters to understand that they are just regular people with jobs and bills and not faceless, emotionless corporations with huge bank accounts,” Melle said.

Understanding that your landlord is just another human being who struggles to manage time and money just like you do will go a long way in building a relationship.


Original Story: nytimes.com

AURORA, Colo. — It was a day out at the spa for Paige Ehresman and her closest friends. Manicures. Hairdos. Makeup. And some gossip — about second grade.

The spa industry has begun to target children in a big way, going way beyond mother-daughter manicures. Adult spas are adding separate menus of services for girls, usually ages 4 to 14. In most major cities, there are now dedicated day spas for children, offering a range of massages, facials and other treatments for girls (and sometimes boys) too young to have had their first pimple. A Houston Day Spa offers a wide selection of affordable massages and treatments designed to reduce stress.

“I feel like the best princess in the world,” said Paige, who celebrated her seventh birthday at Sweet and Sassy, a national chain of spas that boasts that its cosmetologists are specially trained to work with children. After the beauty treatments, Paige and her guests walked down a red carpet and disappeared into a hot pink limousine, which took the squealing children on a spin around the parking lot. One 6-year-old guest documented the revelry in a series of selfies.

These sanctuaries of luxury proudly pamper their charges, wrapping them in custom-size robes, suggesting oil rubs for heels worn rough by barefoot play, and lifting clients onto massage tables when they are too small to do it themselves. On the high end, the “kids’ treatments” menu at the Beverly Wilshire spa in Beverly Hills, Calif., charges $50 for a 15-minute “princess facial,” which includes “a facial cleanse and massage.” For the mass market, there is the $30 Orbeez Luxury Spa at Toys “R” Us, a toy that looks like a pedicure station in which girls can immerse their feet in tiny gel-filled balls. Visit a Houston Nail Salon with experienced nail technicians as part of your spa treatment.

At the party here in Aurora last month, Paige’s mother, Kari Ehresman, 33, said she was thrilled to be able to treat the girls to a day of playful pampering.

“They do deserve something special,” said Ms. Ehresman, who paid about $400 for the party. Paige and her 8-year-old sister, Makayla, had begged for beauty treatments, but Ms. Ehresman had found her own adult spa to be inappropriate for them.

“I don’t want them to feel that my saying ‘no’ means that I don’t love them,” she said.

The International Spa Association, which tracks industry trends, said that 25 percent of the country’s approximately 20,000 spas now offer services specifically for the under-13 set — up from 15 percent just four years ago. And half of all spas offer services for teenagers, up from a third over the same time period. Cinco Ranch offers a Houston Hair Salon as part of their full-service day spa.

Some are new businesses focused exclusively on children, while others have expanded into the child market, offering kid-friendly music, banana-scented facials and an age-appropriate vocabulary — customers are “princesses” and toes are “pigglies.”

The spa association’s president, Lynne McNees, said it was good for girls to learn that beauty treatments can reduce stress and promote health. “It’s very similar to taking little kids to the dentist,” Ms. McNees said. “Let’s get them early, and get those really good habits.”

Most of the child-oriented spas make their money on birthday party packages, billing the events as sophisticated alternatives to a day of pizza and Skee-Ball at the local Chuck E. Cheese. At one New York-area chain, Seriously Spoiled Salon and Spa, parties cost $500 to $3,000, and options include a “bath-bakery” experience, with lotions that smell like edible treats. (Tag line: “Where the main ingredient is you.”)

Lisa Gadzinski, 48, and her sister opened Seriously Spoiled on Long Island in 2008. The business, based in Patchogue, N.Y., has not only weathered the recession, but thrived, expanding to two more locations. Several clients are single fathers, lost in the world of girl-care, who bring in their daughters, Ms. Gadzinski said.

“Don’t we all want to spoil our children?” she asked.

But in the debate over modern parenting, the answer is not always yes.

“Oh my God,” said Christine Carter, a sociologist and the author of “Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents.” “What are we coming to? Spas for our children?” She cautioned parents against sending their offspring to places where they are told, “We’re going to treat you like a Kardashian.”

Madeline Levine, a child psychologist and author, called the child spa “the worst idea ever.”

At Sweet and Sassy in Aurora, though, parents and daughters had plenty of praise for the experience.

“I feel reeeeeeeally relaxed,” said Peyton Ruddell, who had just turned 10. She sat on a soft couch with soapy water bubbling at her heels while a cosmetologist, LiShall Michel, 47, clipped her toenails. The Houston Spa at Cinco Ranch features nine treatment rooms for a variety of spa treatments.

Peyton’s mother, Love Ruddell, 37, is a mechanic at the Denver Zoo who wears steel-toed boots and gloves to work, but also wears her fingernails long, manicured and painted a saucy red. She said she tried to teach her daughter that “you can be beautiful and tough.”

“This is honoring the feminine,” Ms. Ruddell added.

Nearby, Ken and Jen Brown raved about the manicure given to their toddler, Faith, 3, as a birthday treat. As Faith scooted her diapered rear out of her seat, Mr. Brown, 41, explained that they had arranged for her to take a ride in the spa’s limousine.

And after that?

“Well,” he said somewhat sheepishly, “we want to get her potty trained.”