2010 – A Quick Review

Originally published in The Clarion | December 29, 2010

It’s the time of the year that many of us like to reflect and reminisce on the previous twelve months in anticipation of the upcoming new year. As I look back at technology in 2010, a few moments and milestones come to mind – those sorts of things that we’ll most likely never soon forget – or will we? The pace of technological advancement and change is so quick these days, odds are good that what might have been impossible to forget a decade ago may have already slipped our minds before we replace our calendars with new ones. Along with a quick look back, it will only be appropriate that we take a quick look forward to what is coming in 2011.

Running the previous twelve months in technology through my mind (and Web search engine), two key moments stand out. The first isn’t necessarily a new gadget or even technology, but something that almost definitely affected each and every one of us in North Alabama. In April, actually my first-ever article for The Clarion, I wrote about the upcoming switch to 10-digit telephone dialing for everyone in the 256 area code. On June 5th of this year, the switch was flipped and 10-digit dialing was here to stay. Over seven months later, I wonder how many of us still try making a local telephone call using only seven digits. I must admit I am guilty of this one, although it doesn’t happen as frequently as I imagined it would. Fortunately, all of my cell phone contacts were entered as ten digits over the years so I didn’t have to go through the hassle of changing them – did you?

2010 also brought about a new hardware technology that seems to have revolutionized how many of us communicate and access the Web. In actuality, the tablet computing concept wasn’t a new one in 2010 but, for the first time, a device came to market that was attractive, somewhat reasonably-priced and from most accounts quite functional. Introduced in April of this year, Apple Corporation introduced its iPad tablet to North America and, according to reports, America bought in. With several million units sold this year and rumors of a second-generation device just around the corner in 2011, tablet computing – from Apple and other manufacturers – is apparently here to stay.

Finally, a quick look ahead. Sometime in our near future – quite likely in early 2011 – the pool of available public IP addresses as we know it will be emptied. With the introduction and popularity of more and more Internet Protocol-based devices, addresses essential for allowing communications to and from these devices have simply run out. The solution – an updated version of the Internet Protocol – is available but its adoption has been slow to say the least. Let’s hope Internet and Web connectivity isn’t crippled during this inevitable process. My best wishes to you and yours for a safe, happy and prosperous 2011.

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Merry Unplugged Christmas!

Originally published in The Clarion | December 22, 2010

The holiday season is upon us once again. I wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas and happy holiday season. As 2010 comes to an end, I would like to take a moment to reflect on the technological world we live in and offer a suggestion for this year’s holiday season. As we near the end of the first decade of the 21st Century, comparing our ways of life to what they were just ten or twenty years ago is quite mind boggling. Several months ago I asked you to examine your daily routines of today and compare them to what they were several years ago. For most of us, I am confident our modern technologies have had a drastic impact on our day-to-day lives. Odds are good that twenty years ago most of us did not have a device in our pocket that allowed us to make and receive phone calls. It is also likely that most of us had never heard of electronic mail and if we had, I am confident we didn’t depend on it for work and personal communications. My how times have changed – and I’m not so sure they have necessarily changed for the better.

As Americans, we are truly blessed. Even in a time of economic downturn in our nation, most of us do not have to do without most luxuries of life. For those of us who are less fortunate than most, there are very few people in our area who do not have a roof over our heads, electricity to keep us comfortable and substantial food to keep us nourished. Those who are less fortunate are still fortunate in that there are organizations, friends, family and neighbors who make sure the basic needs are taken care of. During this holiday season, I think it would be good for all of us to share our blessings of life with those who sometimes have to do without.

From a technology standpoint, I have a plan for the season that maybe some of you could enjoy in as well. While gift-giving is a tradition of the season and electronic gadgets are now all the rage, my plan for the holiday season is to take a break from technology and to at least try to go back to more simpler times, even if for only a couple of days. I look forward to the Christmas holiday this year – not in anticipation of what gifts I might receive, or to see the joy of those who I might give a gift to – but to simply spend time with family and friends. Ten years from now, odds are good I might not remember what gift I may have given or received. My wish for you and yours is to take some time and unplug this Christmas. Enjoy a visit with family and friends and create true memories. Let’s all slow down, even if for a little while, and enjoy the peace of simplicity in life.

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Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation

Originally published in The Clarion | December 15, 2010

Having worked in the realm of communications in various capacities over the last 17+ years, I have always been intrigued with all of the rules and regulations that media and broadcast outlets must adhere to. Many of the rules are sensible in the eyes of most people but some are rather controversial. Over the last several years, it has been quite interesting (and sometimes disgusting) to realize just how far the FCC is willing to go in mandating all sorts of minuscule details in the world of communications.

A new Federal Act has just successfully passed in the US House and Senate and is (as I type) awaiting the President’s signature. For the sake of being politically unbiased, we will examine the situation without (much) opinion and leave it to the reader to determine if the FCC is overstepping its bounds. The CALM (Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation) Act has been talked about for quite some time. It was first introduced in 2009 and was passed by the US Senate earlier this year. The act is surprisingly a relatively simple one. Once signed by the President, it will give the FCC the power to enforce television broadcasters (and more specifically advertisers) to ensure that the volume level of television commercials is in-line with the audio level of the program being viewed.

From a television viewer’s standpoint, odds are good that you’re thinking something like “Well, it’s about time!”. If so, you are not alone. According to the FCC, they have received complaints about loud television commercials since the 1960’s and this has been the number-one complaint in 21 of the last 25 quarterly reports. Several years ago, some television manufacturers introduced models that would adjust the volume level for you – when a loud commercial came on, the television would magically decrease the volume. Apparently this wasn’t good enough for some people though. According to the legislators and the FCC, you should start noticing a difference in television commercial volumes within the next year.

A concern with this legislation is what might be next. Over the last several years, with the introduction of products like Tivo and other Digital Video Recorders, television advertisers have been up in arms about consumers having the ability to record a program and simply fast-forward through the advertising. Is it possible the FCC might pass legislation where a consumer could no longer skip through the commercials in a recorded program? What if they pass legislation that technologies must be implemented that won’t allow the viewer to change the channel when a commercial comes on? I realize this sounds quite silly – but the principle itself is very real. With all of the non-traditional viewing platforms available today (DVR’s, mobile devices, Web streams), it is going to be interesting to see what new legislation may come about from the Federal Communications Commission regarding how we view television programs.

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Social Networking Privacy Part 3

Originally published in The Clarion | December 08, 2010

This week we will take a final look at some simple security measures that can be implemented in Social Networking sites like MySpace and Facebook. Again, I am more familiar with Facebook so this information applies specifically to it, although these guidelines can be applied to most any Web-based site or application that could divulge your personal information to a plethora of strangers.

If you missed my previous couple of articles about Web security, I encourage you to go back for a quick overview of the basics. In Facebook, all of your privacy controls are contained under the Account menu and Privacy Settings sub-menu. Beginning at the top, there is a section titled ‘Connecting on Facebook’. Upon entering this section, you will be presented with seven different items which you can configure privacy settings for. These items include things like who can see your hometown, education and interests, send you a message, see who your friends are etc. While these options are all left up to personal preference, it might be good common sense to only allow your Facebook friends to see your current hometown and friends list. This is only an example, but one that might better ensure your online privacy.

The second section is a bit more specific – ‘Sharing on Facebook’. Here you can control who is able to see more detailed information about you including your marital status, photos, posts, family members, birthday and contact information. This section also allows you to restrict who can post messages onto your site. There are three pre-configured templates you can choose from – Everyone, Friends of Friends and Friends only – or, you can choose Facebook’s ‘Recommended’ settings. You may also choose to customize these settings specifically to your liking. For privacy’s sake, I highly recommend using the Customized settings.

When configuring the Customized settings, you are presented with even more configurable options than previously. Take some time to go through these items individually and consider just what personal information you would like the world to know about you. As an example, you may not want the world to know your street address, phone number and eMail address – all information that, if left open, could be found by a complete stranger with a few simple mouse clicks. A relatively new feature of Facebook allows others to see where you are at any given time. I don’t know about you, but if I go to dinner with my wife and friends I don’t want Mr. Cyber-Criminal knowing where I live and that I just arrived for a couple-hour dinner across town. Again, most of this is common sense but most definitely deserves our attention.

In summary, Social Networking sites have revolutionized the World Wide Web. With a few simple security measures and a whole lot of common sense, our online privacy can be exponentially heightened by taking a few moments to restrict access to our personal information on such sites.

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Social Networking Privacy Part 2

Originally published in The Clarion | December 01, 2010

Building off of last week’s introduction to social networking privacy, today we will look at more detailed information regarding privacy in the social networking realm. In today’s Web environment, privacy has become a top concern for businesses and individuals alike. The adage “you can never be too safe” has never been more true. My goal is not to discourage you from using social networking sites on the Web, but simply to point out some of the basic security issues with sharing your personal information with your friends and family (and potentially the Web criminal just around the corner).

While social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook have privacy controls built in, it is common for the typical user to ignore their settings, whether out of ignorance or simple lack of interest. Since I am more familiar with Facebook, I will give some examples from there. Depending on what information I provided about myself when creating my account, without enabling some or all of the available privacy controls, it could be possible for a complete stranger on the other side of the planet to learn not only my name and eMail address, but also my street address, telephone number and wife’s name. With these pieces of information in-hand, our buddy on the other side of the planet is many strides towards owning me.

A few simple measures can be taken to help prevent such a scenario from happening. First, and probably most importantly, never – and I’ll repeat – never use your eMail account password as your social networking password. Just think about it – the social networking site requires you to use your eMail address as the username. How silly is it then to use your eMail password along with your eMail address for your social networking credentials? Yes this is simple common sense. Sometimes we all could use a bit more of it.

Secondly, the “Remember me” or “Keep me logged in” option on social networking sites is quite a dangerous feature. I really wish they would get rid of this option on their sites. I have found, and too often, that this option somehow tends to get checked seemingly on its own. I know I don’t choose it, but several times a week I will go to Facebook and there it is – a big check mark telling my browser to remember me. The reasons for not using this option should be clear, especially if you use a computer that is also used by other people. Again, you can never be too safe.

Finally, change your social networking password often. This advice applies to any other Web credentials you have. By changing your passwords regularly, the odds of someone compromising your accounts are exponentially decreased. Next week we will look at more specific privacy controls within Facebook and measures to help ensure your Web identity remains yours.

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