The Versatile Raspberry Pi

This week’s guest post is republished with permission from our friends in Information Services at the National Association of REALTORS®. The librarians are some of our closest collaborators here at NAR, and recently Abby Creitz came to us with a series of projects that would help them rethink how members interact with our Library and Archives at NAR HQ. One of these projects, described here, includes a Raspberry Pi as a dedicated media/slideshow device. CRT Labs has featured the Raspberry Pi before, using them for projects like running servers and small computer projects, as well as as the base for an indoor air quality sensor. Other projects in the Library’s future include a customized iPad kiosk, a rethinking of the library’s lobby space, and more, which we will update you on as they happen! 

Ever heard of Raspberry Pi? No, I’m not referring to a baked good or an obscure geometric theorem; I’m talking about a small, inexpensive computer perfect for learning to code, and for DIY experimentation. I first heard of Raspberry Pi when I came across a Tooth Fairy Transport system created by one of the greatest dads in the world. What peaked my interest in the video was the use of a pneumatic tube system (#HomeAmenityGoals), but the real takeaway was how a Raspberry Pi made the project possible. Raspberry Pi has been used in many other innovative ways, some of which are great ways to implement smart home and home improvement projects for those unafraid of learning a new skill! At NAR Library & Archives, we decided to use it to improve how we interact with visitors.

NAR Library & Archives decided to partner with NAR’s CRT Labs to create and run a looping slideshow full of information about how REALTORS® and NAR staff use the library and its services (inspired by the Chicago Association of REALTORS®’ new office space in the REALTOR® Building). We decided that a Raspberry Pi would be the best way to run the slideshow continuously, dedicating the unit to the sole purpose of running the slideshow.

Raspberry Pi 2

Raspberry Pi

Out of the box, the Raspberry Pi was fairly simple to set up. It is a single board computer, containing all the components of a regular computer, just on a smaller surface. There are a few different Raspberry Pi kits available for purchase, but the kit we chose comes with an SD card, power cord, and an HDMI cable. You have to provide your own input devices (mouse, keyboard, microphones, etc.) and output devices (screen, speakers, etc.). We connected a Raspberry Pi to a large wall-mounted TV using an HDMI cable, plugged in a keyboard and mouse to the Raspberry Pi unit, connected the Raspberry Pi to WiFi, opened up a browser, and lastly, ran the slideshow using Google Slides.

Why do this instead of using a desktop computer? There were a number of reasons, but just to name a few: a Raspberry Pi cost $35, whereas a desktop computer costs hundreds; a Raspberry Pi has a footprint the size of a deck of cards, while the desktop takes up much more space; and using a Raspberry Pi leaves the desktop computer free for other demonstrations, or for use by our visitors while still exposing them to the information about our department that we wish to convey.

This sort of informational slideshow set-up could be used at open houses using the owner’s TV, or in reception areas of real estate offices. What other kind of projects could you see yourself undertaking with this technology?

Abby Creitz is the Web Content & Information Specialist for NAR Library & Archives. This post was originally published by Information Services Blog on June 21, 2017.

On Not Fearing A Full Basket of Eggs, or Why You Should Use a Password Manager

If you’ve heard any of the members of CRT Labs talk about online security, you’re likely to have heard us urge you to use a password manager. And if you spend a normal amount of time online, you’ve also read about password manager breaches. The most recent high-profile attack hit LastPass earlier this year, and the attack helped spawn a lot of “are password managers really a good idea?” think pieces.

Let me be direct: yes, it’s a good idea to use a password manager. It’s a really, really, good idea, and using them is something I will continue to recommend to the REALTORS® with whom I speak.

The reason we recommend using them so strongly is because password managers solve the two most common reasons why accounts get compromised: weak and reused passwords.

WHAT’S A PASSWORD MANAGER?

A password manager is a piece of software that helps a user create, store, and use complex passwords. (There are hardware-based password managers, as well as some browser based ones, but we’ll just be talking about dedicated software managers in this post.) By “complex passwords” I mean a combination of letters, numbers, and special characters; length and unpredictability can also increase the complexity of a password.

Password managers help you create these complex passwords; the software I use allows me to create passwords up to 64 characters in length, with up to 10 numbers and 10 special characters. For example:

4+vMapXZoiD9kU2^kB[,yiuWv66dTDuPhNq#F7TFgh22d$vhWQ6^?h$waPMDY3?G

Do I use complex passwords like this for online banking and shopping? I do. Not all are this crazy, but there’s actually no reason why they shouldn’t be. They can be as complex as the above, because password managers don’t require you to remember the passwords of individual sites and services you access online; they only ask you to remember one master password that gives you access to the rest.

HERE’S WHERE FOLKS GET NERVOUS:

It’s at this point that most people start to get nervous, and they usually have both of the following concerns:

  • Are you crazy? You’re putting all of your password eggs into one basket!
  • I can’t remember a password that’s complicated enough to be my master password.

Let’s start with the all-your-eggs issue. I currently have one master password that protects 55 very complex passwords that are stored in my password manager. My master password is complex but memorable. Am I worried about someone cracking my master password and getting to my banking, investment, and shopping passwords? Not really, and here’s why:

  • My master password and password vault are shared with no one. Not even the company that provides my password management software has access to it. When you combine the strong encryption on your vault, a strong master password, as well as controlling where your information is stored – provides you multiple layers of security against any threats.
  • The encryption used by most password managers exists not only during transmission of data but also at rest.
  • My password manager encourages me to create very complex passwords because it can be done for me automatically when signing up for accounts at new websites.
  • I don’t even have to use the Internet to use my password manager. I can run it on a local network, storing all my information on my computer and other devices. None of my password information need ever go near the cloud.

This last issue — cloud vs. local storage — could be the key for you to start using a password manager if you’re afraid of hackers but see the benefit of randomly generated strong passwords. Make sure any password manager you think of using has the ability to store information away from the cloud and away from the provider’s servers.

CREATING A MASTER PASSWORD

It may seem a little daunting to come up with a complex but memorable password, but I’d like to suggest it’s not as difficult as it seems. Let’s take a look at a made-up complex password: !M2j3B*s*T*. How did I come up with this, and how would I remember it?

Let’s assume you think Michael Jordan is the best basketball player ever. You’re sure to know he wore the number 23. Introduce some special characters, start to think about the words as single letters or abbreviations, and you’ve got a memorable and very strong password.

STILL DON’T WANT TO USE A PASSWORD MANAGER? AT THE VERY LEAST, DO THIS:

Whether or not you wind up using a password manager, at the very least remember that variation (not using the same password on more than one site) and complexity (passwords with letters, numbers, and characters) are essential to protecting yourself online. It’s easier for me to use a password manager to handle that variation and complexity. If it’s not for you, devise your own system, but stick to those two password virtues. Somewhere down the line you’ll be happy you did.

LEARN MORE FROM THESE GREAT RESOURCES FROM NAR:

Check out Cybersecurity Checklist: Best Practices for Real Estate Professionals, part of nar.realtors’s coverage of data privacy and security.

These Three Commercial Real Estate Tech Companies Are All About Connections

This week on the CRT Labs blog, Jacob Knabb from NAR’s Commercial division writes about some much-needed advancements in commercial real estate technology.

For years the commercial real estate sector has been allergic to technological advances. Data-sharing and easy access to listing information made no sense in a business where proprietary information, in-house data, and brokers who are hush-hush about who might be in their rolodex were the norm. This reputation for lagging behind the field is fast becoming obsolete, however, as commercial real estate has proven ripe for disruption. Over the past few years tech startups have been breaking into this market, changing the status quo and capitalizing on weaknesses in protocol and needlessly opaque communications between investors, brokers, and client reps. It’s suddenly fun to follow the commercial real estate tech market.

Floating Through Space by Ryan Tang

Today I want to look at three of the more exciting, noteworthy commercial real estate tech companies that have come onto my radar recently: VTS, WeWork, and CommissionTrac. The common theme for each of these products is a dynamic ability to leverage technology to speed up traditionally time-consuming, costly processes and to facilitate connections.

Let’s start with VTS, a platform Forbes touted for its ability to enable “real estate professionals [to] track deals and manage space in real-time, and collaboratively.” VTS is made for property managers, brokers, and tenant reps. This is what makes it revolutionary: VTS centralizes property portfolios, making them accessible to all of the key players in real time. “High quality, visual, actionable data gold,” as Duke Long called it in NAR’s magazine Commercial Connections earlier this year. Leasing data is delivered in an intuitive, visually pleasing display. Even for massive portfolios or team members spread around the globe.

WeWork excels because it can “[b]uild, acquire, and manage assets with technology” by streamlining construction, acquisition, and asset management. I attended a panel discussion on technologies serving the built environment at DisruptCRE in Chicago this May that featured Megan Dodds, WeWork’s Midwest director of community. Dodds was able to convey WeWork’s focus on maximizing square footage by creating shared office scenarios that are proving to be quite appealing to millennials eager for community and companies hungry for space to house their untethered workforce. In other words: they create killer office environments that hum along at maximum occupancy, generating strong ROI for investors. WeWork will be exhibiting in the Commercial Marketplace at NAR’s REALTORS® Conference & Expo in Chicago and I can’t wait to learn more about them in November.

I’m going to end this with a bang by taking a quick jaunt into bookkeeping technology. Almost lost you there, didn’t I? Most commercial practitioners detest this part of the job for a reason. It’s complicated to do and expansive to pay to have done. Atlanta-based ComissionTrac is disrupting accounting by providing a platform able to handle invoicing, deposits, commission distributions, and general ledger reports. You send them copies of all the paperwork, or your Quickbooks files, and they do all the heavy-lifting. You can run reports on any device from any location with a signal. CommissionTrac is customizable for agents, ‘back office,’ and principals and the full-service package is $9.99 a head (aka: affordable).

Commercial real estate pros love monitoring trends and here the lines are fairly straightforward: technology will only continue to blossom and grow. Baby Boomers are aging out of the workforce and notions of proprietary data and technology are becoming increasingly obsolete. With IoT establishing a firm foothold in commercial real estate, the next round of breakthroughs are likely to address security solutions. But for the time being connectivity is the word of the hour, and just like with other industries, the commercial real estate industry will thrive as it keeps that connectivity at the forefront of its technological advances.

Jacob S. Knabb is Commercial Communications & Member Services Associate for the National Association of REALTORS®. He works frequently with CRT Labs, keeping us informed of the latest and greatest in commercial real estate technology trends.