Death to Currency

Originally published in The Clarion | January 26, 2011

News has recently surfaced that the Obama administration is considering the implementation (through private enterprise) of an Internet ID program available to all Americans. The basic idea is a simple one – each citizen would have one identity with a participating entity (Google, Verizon, PayPal, Symantec, and AT&T are already on-board) that would enable him or her to authenticate only once and then purchase items from most every vendor on the Web. This plan would supposedly eliminate the need for remembering credentials for individual Web retailers and would be more secure by utilizing encrypted keys or tokens instead of the common username and password combinations that have been the norm for many years. While more detailed information has yet to surface, the idea is that each participating individual would have some sort of smart card that would be scanned by their Web-enabled device prior to shopping online.

While I am not crazy about an idea such as this, there are some obvious advantages to such a system. A theory such as this is somewhat in-line with an idea I (and many others) have had for many years. For quite some time I have considered how sensible it may be one day to eliminate paper and coin currency in America. The early details of the Obama plan don’t go that far – it is only intended for online retail transactions, but I have to ask – why not take it one step further? The reasons are many and most, at least in my opinion, are justifiable.

In my day-to-day life, paper and coin currency is virtually unnecessary. I do almost all of my shopping either online or at retailers that accept credit and debit cards. I pay for meals at restaurants with plastic, my monthly bills are all taken care of electronically and rarely do I ever need to go in to a gas station as I choose to conveniently pay at the pump. I don’t even receive a paycheck as my wages are deposited directly into my bank account each payday. Sure there are risks in using credit and debit cards for purchases, especially online. In fact, I have had my account compromised thanks to an irresponsible online merchant. Even with that, electronic purchases are by-far my preference.

By doing away with currency as we know it, odds are good that illegal transactions including the buying and selling of illegal drugs, illegal firearms trading and even prostitution would take a severe hit. Our nation would save untold amounts of money by no longer needing to print paper money and currency. Financial institutions would be able to run a much more efficient operation with the elimination of currency. In a nation without currency, technology would be King – but come to think of it, aren’t we slaves to technology in most aspects of our lives already? It’s definitely something to think about.

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Google’s Chrome Browser

Originally published in The Clarion | January 19, 2011

A friend of mine recently made a very profound statement in a conversation: “People need to realize that Internet Explorer is not the Internet”. I don’t think I could have said it better myself. Over the years, Microsoft’s domination of the Operating System market has not only shaped how a majority of Web users experience online content, but arguably has also limited consumers’ web experiences. Several months ago I wrote an article about Web Browsers but this simple yet profound statement has caused me to elaborate even more.

Unless you purchased your PC from a company that doesn’t play the ever-so-prevalent Microsoft game, odds are good the included software was limited to one Web browser, one eMail client and one Instant Messaging application. These applications were most likely Internet Explorer, Microsoft Mail (Outlook Express) and Windows Messenger. Since most PC consumers are not technical professionals, it is likely these applications are the only ones ever used to access online content. For me, this is quite unfortunate. Simply put, the Web is not Microsoft and Microsoft is not the Web. Yes, these applications are capable of bringing the Web into your home or business, and for some they are sufficient. With that said, I am confident that a little time spent taking other vendors’ applications for a test drive might heighten the Web experience for consumers more than ever before.

As I have mentioned previously, I personally have not used Internet Explorer for web browsing on a regular basis in several years. My switch from Windows Operating Systems to Linux dictated this, although even before the switch I rarely used Internet Explorer. For several years, the Firefox Web Browser from Mozilla was my preferred browser. Its performance seemed exponentially greater than Internet Explorer, something that simply enabled me to be more productive.

While using Firefox, I would occasionally give Google’s Chrome browser a try. In its infancy, Chrome was functional and quite speedy but (like most new software) quite buggy. For day-to-day use, I could not depend on Chrome to get work done. All of this has now changed. Just a few days ago, I made the switch to Chrome as my browser of choice – a decision I have no regrets about. The number-one reason for the switch to Chrome is its speed. Where Firefox was a step above Internet Explorer in speed and usability, Chrome has raised the bar even higher. I have yet to find any Web content that isn’t fully-functional in Chrome, and odds are good that I won’t. My only hope is that Google will keep Chrome as lightweight as it is now, instead of following the path of Internet Explorer and Firefox – both became quite weighted and sluggish over the years. Finally, don’t forget that Chrome is absolutely free to download and use, leaving no excuses for anyone not to give it a try.

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Broadband Throughput

Originally published in The Clarion | January 12, 2011

Internet bandwidth is a concept that most online users are aware of but most likely don’t fully understand. Thinking back to the days when dial-up Internet connections were the norm, Internet Service Providers (ISP’s) typically had only one service offering. A customer would pay a monthly fee for their connection to the ISP, and was responsible for having a functional dial-up modem and telephone line in order to connect. Depending on the capability of the dial-up modem, the quality of the telephone line from the modem to the telephone company’s central office and the capacity of the ISP’s equipment, transfer speeds over a dial-up connection were typically at-best trivial. With the introduction of broadband Internet services, many changes came about.

Broadband Internet services – typically delivered over Cable TV systems, telephone networks via DSL modems, fiber-optic connections and wireless – enable ISP’s to offer their customers tiered Internet services at speeds exponentially greater than traditional dial-up services. The term “speed” when used in this context is somewhat misleading. The word “speed” can be defined as a rate at which something happens. In the realm of Internet bandwidth, services are typically sold at certain speeds which is technically inaccurate. A closer examination of this might help make things a bit more clear.

Instead of relating one’s broadband Internet connection to a specific speed, a more accurate descriptor would be its capacity. If I were to ask you what speed your 3Mbps Internet connection is, most likely your answer would be 3Mbps. What exactly does 3Mbps in this context mean? How fast is 3Mbps? Well, simply put, 3Mbps isn’t a speed at all. Instead, it’s the capacity of your broadband Internet connection – how much data can be pushed (or pulled) through your connection to and from a remote point at a given time. The best analogy I know of for describing broadband connection “speeds” is a water pipe. Imagine a one-inch water pipe running into your home. At any given time, assuming the source of the water is sufficient, your entire home will receive one inch’s worth of water. Turning on the faucet in the kitchen will provide all available water to the sink, but once someone flushes the toilet or turns on another faucet, the amount of water available to the kitchen sink decreases even though the home itself is still receiving one inch of water.

Simply put, the broadband connection you purchase from your ISP has a capacity of X-Mbps. At any given time, depending on many factors, your connection has the capacity of receiving or sending a maximum amount of data per second. Typical Web browsing uses very little throughput, therefore a 10Mbps connection most likely will be overkill if your ‘net usage involves nothing more than eMail and browsing. On the other hand, if you are a gamer, stream online movies or download large files on a regular basis, a larger pipe to the Internet is quite beneficial.

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My New Year’s Resolutions

Originally published in The Clarion | January 05, 2011

I recently came to the realization that there is one simple reason most people struggle sticking with their New Year’s resolutions – they are simply too ambitious. With that thought in mind, I would like to share my three resolutions for 2011 with you, with the anticipation someone might find some good ideas in them. My three resolutions for 2011 are all technology-oriented: first, I plan to use more free software this year than in any years past, secondly I plan to read more than I ever have and finally I plan to continue my quest for the hottest chicken wings imaginable. I think these sound reasonable enough and shouldn’t be too hard to stick with for an entire year.

You may be asking yourself what these three resolutions have to do with technology, at least some more than others. We’ll start at the top. If you have read any of my previous articles, it should be obvious that I am a fan of free open-source software. Some may even say I am a free software advocate. I will not deny that I am either of these. In our world of ever-changing technological gadgetry, it simply amazes me how many free software alternatives are available for a plethora of platforms. From operating systems to digital music players, smartphones to automobiles, free software truly is beginning to gain a large chunk of the technological marketplace. Unlike its pay-for cousins, newly-updated versions come out very frequently, allowing the user to stay atop the leading edges of technology. One cannot forget the free aspect of the software as well.

As for reading more in 2011, I often laugh at myself when I consider how much I love reading when I’m not forced to. Many years removed from my college days, I have found a welcomed escape in reading. From novels to online publications, reading is by-far the best way I have found to keep my mind as alert as possible. I once told a high school class I was teaching that if they thought the learning was over after college they were sadly mistaken. Reading keeps a person on that edge I mentioned moments ago. Without the ability and desire to read on a daily basis, survival in the realm of technology would simply be impossible.

Finally, you may be wondering what a love for chicken wings has to do with technology. For me, it is fuel for the fire. Depending on the company I share a good basket of wings with, productive conversations about technology and gadgetry are often as good as they come. There must be something in the hot sauce that stimulates technological thinking. Either that, or it’s a simple case of me trying to fit my third resolution of 2011 in to an article about technology. I’ll leave that determination up to you. May you have a safe and prosperous 2011.

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