Originally published in The Clarion | April 28, 2010
The ways we receive and consume information are not only numerous but ever-changing in the 21st Century. Gone are the days of our reliance on scheduled deliveries for our information. Today we live in a “right now” world – a world where if we want or need to know something, that something is only a few mouse clicks away. As a matter of fact, it is fair to say that we can even take the mouse of the equation. Wireless technologies have made devices like laptop computers, netbooks, smartphones and now tablet devices not only a convenience but in many cases the norm. The latest gadget in this realm of technology is the iPad from Apple – if you have a pulse and have absorbed any sort of information over the last couple of months, I’m sure you are familiar.

Tablet devices are not necessarily a new concept. I recall devices almost a decade ago that attempted to achieve what Apple’s iPad has seemingly done. Maybe you had a Personal Data Assistant at some point in time. If so, I would say you were the owner of a tablet device. There were even larger tablets available at select restaurants that patrons were able to use as a menu, allowing them to make their dinner decisions without the assistance of a waitress. Needless to say, these devices didn’t make the cut and seemingly disappeared as quickly as they arrived.

Now back to 2010 and the iPad. Rumors of a tablet device from Apple circulated for quite some time, and sure enough it has come to be. Sales of the iPad in America have been so good Apple has had to postpone overseas sales for the immediate future. So what’s the fuss all about you may be asking. Let’s consider what exactly the iPad is (and is not).

When I first heard of the iPad my first thought was that it was going to be a big iPhone – without the cellphone capabilities (the iPhone is Apple’s highly successful smartphone). In many ways, my speculations were right. The iPad, in the most simple of explanations, is an attractive tablet device that allows a user to surf the Web, send and receive email, play games, read ePublications and enjoy streaming audio and video. Its display is quite elegant which has become the norm when it comes to products from Apple. On the other hand, the iPad is not a replacement for a productive personal computer. Because everything is integrated into the tablet itself, there is no keyboard (a must for someone like me) – all typing is done on the screen itself.

If you fit the criteria of someone who must stay “connected” and have $500 (entry-level price) burning a hole in your pocket, odds are good the iPad is for you. For me, I’ll stick to my trusty desktop computer and keyboard . .. more on why in coming articles.



Originally published in The Clarion | April 21, 2010
Never before has communication been as prevalent and important than today. Smart phones allow us to talk, text, email, update our social networking profiles and send pictures or videos with absolute ease. Technology has changed so quickly in the last couple of decades it is almost impossible to understand how we lived our lives in the 1990’s, nevermind decades before then.

Electronic Mail – email – has become not only a convenient means of communication but a detrimental one for most everyone in the business world. Gone are the days (and I remember them vividly) when receiving an email message from a friend or relative was the highlight of one’s day. Today, without a viable email filter, odds are good that you delete more email without even reading it than you receive legitimately. Welcome to the world of SPAM – unsolicited email.

Why the word SPAM for unsolicited email? I had no idea so I looked it up. Turns out it’s an acronym (although I have my doubts it began life as an acronym) – “Stupid, Pointless Annoying Message” – I could not have said it better myself. Reports vary saying that anywhere between 90% and 95% of all email sent today is SPAM. Unbelievable – or is it?

I have a deep and intimate dislike for unsolicited email. I also have a remedy, although I am confident it will not be a popular one. If I am ever asked by the powers-that-be how I recommend we put an end to unsolicited email messages, my answer will be a simple one. Charge individuals a nominal fee for each and every email message they send. I hear the boo’s across the horizon already. Either way, I feel this method would work.

Americans have paid a fee (we won’t discuss the nominal aspect) to send messages for over two centuries. In many ways, snail mail and email are very similar. The composer uses a transport medium that delivers his message to the recipient. It all comes down to how important it is that your recipient gets your message. In other words, how valuable is the message you are wanting to send? I have an idea that most of our sent email messages wouldn’t be near as important or funny or clever if we had to pay for each one we sent. Will my idea ever come to fruition? I doubt it, but a life with zero unsolicited email messages sure would be a pleasant one….


Time to Ditch Windows XP?

Originally published in The Clarion | April 14, 2010
I recently read an online article that officially claimed now is the time to ditch Windows XP as your PC’s operating system for the latest-and-greatest Windows 7. While this may be true for some people, I must disagree when it comes to the masses. Let’s first look at what exactly an operating system is and then we’ll consider a few reasons why you may be better off keeping what you already have.

Think of a PC’s operating system as a ‘Master Control’ for all of the things you use your PC for. Without the operating system, you would not be able to use your PC to check email, browse the web or keep up with your personal or business finances. These functions and many others are applications – software that requires a compatible operating system to function properly. Contrary to popular belief, the Windows line of operating systems are not all you as a consumer have to choose from. There are many others depending on your hardware architecture – and budget – but we won’t get into that right now.

So when might be a good time to take the plunge and upgrade to the latest and greatest operating system from Microsoft? The most logical time in my opinion is if you’re in the market for a new PC, laptop or netbook. New devices are almost certainly going to be most compatible with Windows 7. That said, you may have recently bought a new PC that came with Windows XP or Vista – if this is the case, you might benefit from an upgrade to Windows 7 if its features and functionality are attractive to you (assuming you don’t mind spending the cash for the upgrade of course).

There are some questions you may ask yourself when considering an operating system upgrade. Does the operating system and software you currently have do what you need them to do for you? If you’re a casual web and email user and nothing else, there may be little to no benefit in upgrading. On the other hand, you may be a gamer, bookkeeper or any number of other power users or multitaskers who require more horsepower under the hood. If this is the case, odds are good that you understand the hardware, operating system and software requirements that you need to get the job done each and every day. In this scenario, odds are good that you would be best served with new hardware that supports Windows 7 and the newer software packages that you may want or need to upgrade to.

In a nutshell, there is no definitive answer for the masses whether upgrading your operating system is a good idea. There are alternatives to the Microsoft line of operating systems and software that can extend the usable life of your aging hardware – many of which are free – we’ll take a look at some of them in later articles.


10-Digit Dialing Comes to North Alabama

Originally published in The Clarion | April 07, 2010
Technology continues to change our ways of life in the 21st century. Most everyone I know has a cell phone, some even more than one, for their personal and work communications, email, web browsing, text messaging, digital photography, videography, social networking, entertainment and any number of other reasons. According to CTIA, the International Association for the Wireless Telecommunications Industry, 91% of Americans now use cell phones. It’s difficult for me to imagine life today without the conveniences cell phones offer. Unfortunately, innovation in technology is not always a good thing. Sometimes the side-effects of technologies like the World Wide Web, cell phones, Personal Data Assistants, pagers etc. result in habit-altering inconveniences. Those of us who live in North Alabama are about to be faced with such an inconvenience, one that will be here to stay.

If you are a resident of North Alabama, you live in the geographic region covered by the 256 area code. Beginning June 5th of this year, every local telephone call you make – to your next door neighbor, to order a pizza for delivery, to your child’s friend’s or spouse’s cell phone – must be dialed using the area code plus the seven-digit phone number. Ten-digit dialing is here to stay. I hope you have been practicing.

The ways our dialing habits are about to change are numerous and I am confident I have not considered even half of them. For example, take a look at all of those phone numbers you have stored in your cell phone. Are they all ten-digit numbers or did you simply put in seven digits since, after all, they’re local numbers right? What about the speed dials you have programmed on your home phones? I’m willing to bet there are seven-digit numbers there too.

Beginning in July of this year, area code 256 will be joined by 938 for our service area. Although the 938 implementation will not happen overnight, odds are good that within the next 12 months someone you know will have a local 938 telephone number. It may be your neighbor, a co-worker or even a new cellular device you add to your existing plan. Someone moving to North Alabama from outside our area will most likely get a 938 home phone number. Yes it will be a local number – you will be able to call it from your home phone without incurring long distance toll charges – but it will be something else to have to remember.

Gone are the days of seven-digit dialing as North Alabama joins our neighbors in Georgia and millions of Americans who have had ten-digit dialing for many years now. If they can do it, I’m sure we can too. My only words of advice are to begin practicing now – ten-digit dialing for local calls is fully functional today. Now if I can only make myself listen to these words of advice….