Engineers: Here’s how to Securing your Mobile Device from Cyber-Attacks (guest post)

smartphone iconToday, a very important post from guest blogger Silvia Brook.  Silvias writes about home and cyber security for When she’s not writing, Silvia enjoys biking with her friends or cooking a new recipe from her compendium of cookbooks.


Believe it or not, cyber security is still a big issue in the tech industry. It seems as though every year a new electronic device is released by one of the major hardware developers, and yet every year consumers who buy those same devices fall prey to a host of viruses, glitches, and malware. A tablet released this year may get hit with just as many (if not more) viruses as they model that preceded it the year before.

Part of why that’s the case is because malicious applications are changing and evolving at the same rate as the new devices that they target. Developers on both sides of the equation are fighting to make the better application—those who design security apps and protection software will try to keep your information, while hackers will try just as hard to take it away.

A recent assessment of the Android OS’s newest virus protection software might explain this problem. The new smartphone OS—Android 4.2—has a built-in malware scanner for apps. A computer scientist at North Carolina State University decided to see how this new scanning software stacked up third-party virus protection apps in a test that pits them all against the latest malware targeting smartphones. The study found that the Android OS app scanner caught malware content only about 20% of the time. The third-party security apps fared much better, some of which caught malware nearly every time.

What are we supposed to do with this information? Google seems to have trouble designing a competent virus scanning application for its own line of smartphones, all of which seem at least vulnerable to potential viruses according to the above report. If that’s the case, then how can people expect to put sensitive information (emails, finances, photos, etc.) on their smartphones?

I think the most important takeaway is that cyber security should be taken seriously by people who use mobile devices on a regular basis. There really are malicious apps out there that could do some serious damage to smartphones and tablets.  Design professionals such as engineers and architects who rely on their electronics for mobile work  are best off defending themselves from such annoyances with third-party apps designed by professionals with a proven track record.

Below are two apps by such developers which have received nothing but glowing reviews from critics.


Avast! is a comprehensive software that addresses many key cyber security concerns. For one thing, the software will help users track their smartphones or tablets should they ever get lost or stolen. Avast! will let users locate their misplaces phones via GPS and send SMS messages to it should they want to address whoever has it. Of course the software also protects mobile devices from malware apps and websites that could be packing a nasty virus by scanning every app before it’s loaded. Avast! also allows users to build a firewall for their mobile devices should they suspect that hackers want to tamper with their data. In other words, Avast! is the whole security package for the Android, and it’s free!

F-Secure Mobile Security

F-Secure is an acclaimed security software company, protecting both home computers and mobile devices all sorts of cyber security threats. F-Secure will ensure that mobile users can browse the web safely without fear of encountering malware; the service will also scan incoming apps and data for any potential viruses that could compromise the safety of the device. Like Avast!, F-Secure also has a feature that will help users track down their mobile device should it be misplaced or stolen (and users can erase their data remotely it they suspect that someone has access to their information). F-Secure has a subscription fee, and it’s only available for Android users.

Melissa here again.  What about you?  Do you have a favorite cyber security app?  Depending on how much you work in the Cloud, you should!  

Share your recommendations in the comment section, below.  Just remember, I’m a luddite, so talk in plain and simple terms!

Photo (c) Lora Williams


Here’s to Your Family’s Nuts!

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all of my blog readers!  Rather than yet-another-boring-tree photo, I thought I’d share this photo of a squirrel and his nuts, because *every* family has at least a few nuts, right?  Here’s hoping  you get to spend some down time this season with your family, nuts & all!

~ Melissa


Photo (c) Johnny Berg 


Engineering for the Earthquake- Dumbarton Bridge (News Note)

Engineers who design in earthquake-prone areas know that they need to design the seismic loads of their bridges to account for potential massive shifts during a quake.  (This is what is legally known as the professional standard of care, which takes into account what similar engineers, in the same conditions and community, would consider acceptable design)**.  The Dumbarton Bridge, the farthest south bridge across the San Francisco Bay, is no exception to this rule.

Currently, the Dumbarton Bridge is being renovated as part of the San Francisco Bay Area Toll Bridge Seismic Retrofit Program.  When the bridge is finished (expected in early 2013), the bridge will increase its ability to move from 20 inches of lateral movement to as much as 42 inches of lateral movement.

Dumbarton BridgeThe retrofit includes friction pendulum bearings designed by Earthquake Protection  Systems, Inc., which will isolate the superstructure from two pier structures where the main span of the bridge meets the approach structures.  A concrete taper will be used from the joints to the main span to ease the transition, as the approach span is 5 inches lower than the main span.

According to Earthquake Protection Systems president Victor Zayas, in a statement to Roads & Bridges magazine, the most critical part of the bearing is the bottom lining, which is a self-sacrificing, solid-lubricant polymer composite that was developed based on earlier research done by NASA in the 1960s.

Click here to read more on the Dumbarton Bridge retrofit.

**  If you missed my post on the jury instruction on standard of care, be sure to check it out here.


Photo (c) Jill Clardy via CC.


How Green Building is Evolving Into Something Bigger (guest post)

Texlon green buildingToday, a guest post by the folks at Vector Foiltec.  Vector Foiltec  invented the use of Texlon (ETFE), and have developed the use of this innovative technology worldwide in the design and constructive industry. Some of the world’s most impressive offices, stadiums, and transport buildings have been developed by Vector-Foiltec.


Recent years have seen a surge in the number of designs and commissions of green buildings by designers and architects. All around the world, green, eco-buildings are becoming the benchmark of expectation. Not so long ago, a green building would standout because of how different it was. It would be something new, even quirky, and something unfamiliar that not everyone was comfortable with.

Those days have long gone, however, with a realisation that green building is the way forward, with environmental benefits as well as those attached to finances and quality of life improvements.

Eco-friendly buildings aren’t yet at the stage where we can celebrate them as the final frontier of construction, however. Yes, the new designs of buildings and the materials used certainly mean that an office block can be carbon neutral, but are they sustainable in other ways? The evolution of green building, now and in the future, will center firmly around the ability of designers and construction professionals to create buildings that are not only eco-friendly, but sustainable for use in terms of how they deal with extreme weather or other natural events, such as hurricanes and earthquakes, for example.

Always Working

Meeting the challenge of ensuring that a building can ‘always work’ has been an obstacle for designers. Placement of windows, for example, and the materials used within construction means that issues such as insufficient daylight are no longer an issue.

But what about when there is a power cut, or problems with the water supply?

To reach that searched for ‘final frontier’ that we mentioned earlier, designers need to make a building that can stand independently of central supplies such as electricity and water. This creates new challenges around energy recovery and storage as well as on-site water recycling, but it is possible to achieve results.

When a building is at the level where ‘always working’ has been achieved, a hurricane or other severe weather will then be minimally disruptive to it.

‘Always working’ represents a model for a truly sustainable building.

How It’s Made

The materials used are often the central focus of eco-building and have been responsible for many of the positive results seen in recent years. However, there is still a focus on developing eco-friendly construction materials further, and using them to best effect within a building.

So strong is this focus that there are now homes being constructed from ‘cob,’ and other similar compounds around the world. The great thing about these? They are lightweight, resistant to fire and earthquakes, and also stand up to events such as flooding and powerful winds.

The very meaning and identity of ‘green building’ is changing fast. Architects and designers that combine environmental benefits with true sustainability over the coming years are sure to find themselves in high demand.

Thoughts, comments?  Know of a ‘cob’ home that we should get pictures of?  Post in the comments section below.

Photo (c) Vector Foiltec

Being deposed—not just for dictators! Depositions in the construction lawsuit (Law & Order: Hard Hat files Part 5)

My husband always finds it amusing when I talk about going “to depose” somebody.  He wants to know just exactly what sort of coup d’etat I am planning.  Despite the awkward language, the deposition process is not supposed to feel like water boarding, although if you don’t know what to expect it can be more miserable than truly necessary.

Simply put, a deposition is a chance for the other side’s lawyer to make you answer a whole bunch of questions (some relevant, some seemingly irrelevant) under oath.  That is, first you put your hand on the Bible and swear (or affirm) to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.   In reality, depositions serve a variety of purposes– they educate the lawyers about the facts of the case, they give a preview of how you would “present” to a jury (i.e., would a jury like and believe you?), and they can be used to position a case for certain later dispositive motions (that is, summary judgment– stay tuned for Part 8 of the series on that issue).

Depos are no picnics!

While no deposition is ever a picnic, knowledge is power! Remember these simple rules to make it through the day relatively unscathed:

  • Ask for enough information & time with your lawyer to be prepared.  You may think you know all the facts of your construction project, since you’ve lived it, but it is always recommended to take some time both to review key project documents and to discuss expectations (and possibly role-play) with your lawyer.  Find out if your deposition will be video taped or not.  Find out if you are supposed to bring (or not bring) any documents with you.  Discuss how long the deposition will likely last, and then double or triple that time.  (Lawyers are notoriously optimistic when it comes to time estimates!).   Ask your lawyer how you should dress.  Remember that part of the deposition is the other side “sizing you up,” so please, don’t show up dressed for a day at the beach or the club!


  • Remember the cardinal rule of depositions: always tell the truth.  Now, while you do not have to go out of your way to volunteer where you may be at fault, you do have an obligation to answer the questions posed.  There are various ways to handle incomplete or unclear questions.  Sometimes, while not required, it can help position a case for settlement if you go in depth to explain your reasoning, rationales, and the like.  Other times, that may not be wise.  Find out your lawyer’s preference and strategy ahead of time.  Remember, though, an ideal deposition is boring, more boring, and then over.  Never try to “win” your case in deposition– it can’t be done.


  • Remember that the opposing lawyer is not your enemy, and not your friend.  Do not let them get you angry or excited.  Remember that even things discussed “off the record” can later be used to find out information “on the record”.  From the moment you enter the building, remember that off-hand comments can sometimes sink your case.  Don’t discuss your testimony in an elevator, a bathroom, or hallway, unless you are *sure* that no one from the other side is present.


  • Don’t treat the deposition as a marathon.   You will get tired.  You will get frustrated.  You will lose your patience and think that Shakespeare’s Dick the Butcher was right when he said the first thing they should do is to “kill all the lawyers.” **  Regardless, remember that you do get certain rights as a deponent.  For one thing, if you need a break, you can take one (so long as there is no pending question that has been asked).  If you need to take a stretch, you can.  If you need some water, you can get it.  Remember this power, and (responsibly) use it as necessary.  Don’t let fatigue cause you to make important errors– take the breaks you need to give fresh, clear, and correct testimony.

A day in the park it is not; however, with these tips your experience “being deposed” may go just a tad bit smoother.


**  Ironically, this often mis-understood quote, from Shakespeare’s King Henry VI, is actually a tribute to the importance of lawyers.   Shakespeare’s quote was acknowledging that the first thing any potential tyrant must do to eliminate freedom is to “kill all the lawyers.” [Sorry– did I mention I was an English major in undergrad?]


Have  you experienced a deposition?  What do you know now, that you wish you knew then?  Share in the comments below, or drop me a line.  Think of the good karma you will get for helping your fellow architects and engineers!

 Photo modified from image (c) by Johnny Berg

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