Category Archives: Technology

A Bittersweet End

Originally published in The Clarion | December 26, 2012

Today is somewhat bittersweet for me. After almost three years of writing articles on technology for The Clarion, this will be my last. I hope that you, the reader, were able to learn some new things or at least found some sense of enjoyment from my babbling. It has been a pleasure to put my thoughts into print and I am very thankful that the staff of The Clarion has allowed me to share things with you. In reflecting on the articles I have written, a few things jump out to me. One is that there is so much more to technology than just the computers, gadgets and devices that many of us rely on. There are rules and laws, common courtesies and other factors that make the Web and everything that goes with it useful in modern society.

At a minimum, my goal in writing weekly articles has been to convey a very basic principle when it comes to learning and using technology. This simple principle is that one should never be shy or afraid to try something new. When it comes to using technological gadgets, ignorance is not bliss. Today’s software and operating systems are essentially foolproof when it comes to everyday use. If you find a software application on your device that you are unfamiliar with, rest assured that you are not going to break your device by giving it a spin. For me, the best way to learn something new is to simply dive in. Fear of messing something up should never hinder someone from learning. I cannot think of one scenario where exploring a software application will cause permanent damage to a device.

As technologies continue to evolve and newer, better gadgets and software are being introduced all the time, we has human beings must be both open and willing to go with the flow. Failing to do so will leave us behind, something that those of us who depend on technology simply cannot afford. The younger generations have such an advantage over us older folk, simply because they were born into technology. All the many things they know they usually take for granted – things that many of us struggle with. My only advice is to keep at it, be open and willing to learn so that we can all be productive in having successful careers – no matter what it is that we do. Escaping technology in both personal and work environments is virtually impossible today. As we move into 2013, may technology be an asset, not a hindrance, to each and every one of us.

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Long Live Free Software!

Originally published in The Clarion | December 19, 2012

The technology landscape is an ever-changing one, and it can be interesting to observe which new devices or technologies eventually become nothing more than fads and which ones survive the long-haul. I have written several articles over the years related to major changes or shifts in the realm of technology, some that were quite surprising and others that were simply inevitable. In recent months, I touched on two items that have once again come to my attention. The first was the decline of Internet Explorer as the most-used web browser, the second was all of the racket in the industry centered around the death of the personal computer. You may recall that the former was absolutely no surprise to me while the latter had me questioning its validity.

Some recent news stories and surveys have shed additional light on these two items. For starters, Internet Explorer is still struggling in popularity and I honestly expect this to be the case forevermore. What has really caught my attention recently is that the Windows operating system is no longer the leader of the pack – in fact, Microsoft Windows now ranks third in operating system utilization, actually a distant third behind Google’s Android and iOS from Apple, Inc. This fact may come as a surprise to many of you, but understanding a drastic shift in the computing marketplace helps in revealing the truths of the market. For starters, the personal computer is not dead, nor do I see it dying anytime soon. With that, the simple fact that more and more people are purchasing mobile computing devices – primarily smartphones and tablets – and the secondary fact that Microsoft has all but failed in capturing a consumer base in the mobile market have resulted in the demise of Windows. To say this brings me great joy is quite the understatement.

Being a free software advocate, it brings me great joy to see Windows alternatives – especially the Android operating system – at the top. While iOS is closed-source and strictly tied to products only manufactured by Apple, Inc., Android along with the plethora of free open source software are hardware independent. Office productivity software – primary Libre and Open Office – are suitable replacements for the Microsoft Office suite of applications. These software packages are not only free to both download and use, but are supported on all hardware platforms regardless of your operating system. Web browsers (except Internet Explorer and Safari of course) are in this same boat – Chrome and Firefox, just to name a couple, can be used at absolutely no cost to the consumer. Add to this the fact that these products are seemingly better than those from the closed-source providers and you get a nice warm fuzzy feeling about the future of Web technology. I absolutely love free software, if for no other reason it’s easy on the checkbook. Long live free software!

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2012 Technology in Perspective

Originally published in The Clarion | December 12, 2012

As another year begins to wind down, human nature causes many of us to reflect on the previous twelve months of our lives. For those of you who are at least somewhat like me, many of our recollections include technology highlights, or maybe lowlights, that we have experienced in 2012. Being tied to the world of technology by necessity, not necessarily choice, it is sometimes discouraging to me just how much of my life is consumed with various technologies. Sure it’s what pays the bills and yes I am very thankful for my job; but considering all the various pieces of my life and realizing just how many of those pieces are technology-oriented, I often wonder what life would be like in a far-away land, a place where the services and gadgets that most of us simply take for granted on a day-to-day basis don’t even exist.

To be honest, nothing really extraordinary jumps out at me looking back at technology in 2012. Sure there were a lot of things that happened – companies that failed, new companies that were born, gadgets that were introduced for the first time – but not one of these really were what I would consider to be earth-shattering. Three items come to mind, all quite different from the others, that top my list. The first would be the introduction of Windows 8. By now I am sure some of you have a gadget, phone or computing device with Windows 8. From my perspective, I hope you don’t feel like you wasted your money. I have only had the privilege (tongue in cheek) of experiencing Windows 8 a couple of times. Instead of bashing it once again please see my previous articles on the subject. Simply put, I think the new interface was a poor choice for a company that is, quite frankly, struggling to hold its ground in the marketplace.

The second event of 2012 that comes to mind is Facebook’s venture as a publicly-traded company. In case you missed all the drama, the short version of this story is a pretty simple one. All of the hype leading up to its IPO caused quite an artificial market value, lots of people jumped on-board (including Facebook employees) only to see their investments take a nose dive. I continue to question the validity of such a company being a concrete money-maker when they essentially have nothing to sell.

Finally, my most favorite item of 2012 would be the introduction of sleek, inexpensive tablet devices using Google’s Android operating system. I actually came off the checkbook and purchased a Nexus 7 for myself – a purchase I have not once regretted. Since the release of the Nexus 7, a larger Nexus 10 has been released along with a new laptop computer – the Chromebook. Simply put, a laptop for $250 or less is hard to beat, especially considering the functionality that comes with Android. 2012 has been a decent year in technology, let’s hope 2013 is even better.

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A New Age of Information

Originally published in The Clarion | December 05, 2012

Raw data, in its purest form, is typically not very useful for most of us. Simple numbers – for example, hour-by-hour rainfall totals over a month’s time – are not easy for most of us to comprehend. This same data though, when manipulated into graphs for instance, suddenly becomes information – information that our minds are more receptive to. There are several emerging trends and technologies in the world of data, information and technology that quite possibly could bring about a new Information Age. What most of us think of as an information search very likely will be quite different not too long from now, and the potentials for this new era of information are interesting to say the least.

I would guess that most online information searches are for what I like to call static information. No different from information contained in countless volumes of encyclopedias that many of us used to keep at home or use at a library, if we want to know something, that something is more times than not a piece of solid information recorded as a fact. Sure there are exceptions – stock market values, scores of current (ongoing) sporting events etc. Companies like Google have seemingly perfected the art of finding static information. The current trend now is to find real-time information, and I’m not talking sports scores here.

Companies are beginning to perfect ways of capturing real-time scenarios and making this information available upon request. Let’s consider an example. How convenient would it be to know how many parking places are open at the courthouse square minutes before arriving to renew your vehicle tags? For some, knowing that there is ample parking available would be more than enough to encourage them to head that way. On the flip-side, knowing that all spots are full might save us some time by waiting a while. Being able to request such information, and plan our time accordingly, will have a substantial impact on efficiency in our day-to-day lives in the not so far future.

Let’s take our example one step further. We need to purchase our vehicle tags, which requires us to go to the courthouse. As we all know, there are many functions outside of renewing vehicle tags that take place within that same building. Parking may be slim at any given time, but it could be that most vehicles are parked because it is a big court date, with the tag office relatively empty. Wouldn’t it be nice to know how long the line is for vehicle tags, regardless of the parking situation outside? Sure it might take a little longer to find somewhere to park nearby, but knowing that you would be able to walk right in and take care of business might be enough information to convince you to head that way. Being able to search for such information, as real-time as possible, will be a reality before we know it.

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The Lack of IT Security – We’re Just Asking For It!!

Originally published in The Clarion | November 28, 2012

I often wonder what it is going to take for individuals, companies and even governments to get more serious about IT security. In my daily habit of reading articles on various IT-related websites, not a day goes by without seeing at least a few articles related to some sort of security breach. Whether is yet another Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack on a large corporation or government, or something as silly as an image posted online showing someone’s login credentials hanging on the wall behind them, each and every instance somehow shows how lax the worldwide IT world continues to be. I am fully aware that I have written several articles over the years on this subject, but it seems they must continue until things shift in the right direction.

Just this morning I read an article (with pictures included) that really surprised me, although it probably shouldn’t have. It turns out that having secure passwords isn’t near as much of a high priority as I would have at least hoped. Someone did a story on Prince William of Wales, to be published on his “official website” that included images of him sitting in an office of the Royal Air Force. Behind him, taped to the wall, was a sheet of paper with the heading “MilFlip Logon Details” (underlined and in bold font for importance), followed by a username and password. The images I saw had the details blurred out, unfortunately they were released in all their glory before someone noticed the mistake. One can only guess that those images are spreading like wildfire across the Web. Sure the password was changed once the “leak” became known, but that doesn’t necessarily remedy the issue. So many other factors come in to play once credentials like this are published for the world to see.

Depending on an organizations’ protocols for credentials, exposing an example of a username/password combination could have detrimental consequences. According to the article I read about this specific situation, the password was a very weak one. For all I know it was something like “princewill”. Regardless of the specifics, a working username/password combination, when put into the right persons’ hands, could easily lead to an immediate breach of security even if the “leaked” credentials were swiftly changed. What simply amazes me is not that individuals, companies and governments use extremely weak passwords (this to be the norm all too often), but that folks don’t make the simple effort of memorizing their credentials, choosing to display them for seemingly whomever to see. Just for the record, writing a password down and taping it to the underside of your keyboard isn’t any better either. I’m sure some of you may have just blushed at me saying that. The principle of the situation is a very simple one. Whether you’re a basic home user, an employee of the federal government or anything in between, IT security can not and must not be taken for granted.

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