The IT Guy – It’s a Profession Too!

Originally published in The Clarion | June 29, 2011

Thinking back over the years, it’s interesting to reflect on how information technology and consumer-based personal computing has evolved. It seems like only yesterday that I got my first real personal computer, even though it was some eighteen years ago. It was expensive, rather clunky and to be honest about it, didn’t do much. The term ‘web’ only meant something that was produced by spiders, to me at least, at that time. I’m pretty sure the hard drive was no more than a couple hundred megabytes and it came with only four megabytes of memory. I don’t recall any computer shops in town and one certainly couldn’t go to a big-box store and purchase one off the shelf.

Some recent conversations have had me reflecting on the professions that center around computing technologies – from shops that build, customize and repair personal computers to businesses that offer nothing but web design and online presence and marketing services. Twenty years ago, with the exception of computer engineers and data entry personnel, computing professions for the most part were unheard of. Today, the slang term ‘IT Guy’ is commonplace. Most of us know that those in the IT field work either with computers or some sort of technology that encompasses information systems and the mechanisms required to make them function.

With all of this considered, I have struggled recently with trying to figure out why non-IT folks aren’t hesitant in asking for assistance when something goes wrong with their computing devices. A typical scenario usually involves calling a friend or a friend who has a friend who can assist with whatever issue is causing them trouble. I’ve seen and experienced it a thousand times it seems. So-and-so’s sister can’t get her web browser to work properly, or the neighbor’s PC tower is making a funny sound or simply won’t turn on. The issues are countless and can either be rather simple or extremely complex. Either way, there rarely seems to be a hesitancy to jump leaps and bounds to get in touch with ‘that guy’ who knows about computers.

Now for the struggle (for those of us ‘guys’). How is the IT specialist any different, or exempt for that matter, from say your neighbor who is a plumber or electrician? Those who work in these professions are experienced, knowledgeable and good at what they do. They work honest forty-hour weeks like the rest of us, and I’m sure make a decent wage at it as well. Yet for whatever reason, it doesn’t seem that favors are asked of non-IT professionals like they are of ‘us guys’. Maybe there’s a perception that IT folks are hobbyists and simply enjoy the challenge. Maybe it’s something entirely different. Whatever the case, speaking for the IT group as a whole, consider our profession as just that – a profession. Sure we’re glad to help, but just like Joe the Plumber, it’s a job and isn’t necessarily what we would consider a fun time during our off-hours.

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Lessons Learned

Originally published in The Clarion | June 22, 2011

The recent loss and devastation from tornadoes and floods, not only in our area but across the country, brought to light several aspects of technology that maybe just weren’t very apparent, at least in scope, to many of us beforehand. From learning how to get by with no electricity for at least two generations of us to realizing the impact on life from lack of telephony, web and other communications services, a lot of lessons were learned during these events. It should go without saying that most of us, in one way or another, should be better prepared for when or if such an event takes place again. Along with being better prepared, there is also a good chance most of us will be more mentally strong and capable during such an event next time.

One of the biggest technological aspects of the recent storms I noticed was just how many people were able to get first-hand images and video of the storms as they moved in to and through their area. With our current technologies, Americans are documenting history via pictures and video whether they realize it at the time or not. Only a few decades ago, the scope and mass of such situations would easily have been forgotten simply because those who experienced such events only had the pen and paper for archiving their experience. The adage ‘A picture is worth a thousand words’ undoubtedly holds true in 21st Century America. I can imagine folks decades from now scrolling through archives of amateur video, most of which was taken using smartphones and the like, reliving the events that affected all of our lives just a few weeks ago. From a technological viewpoint, to me this is simply amazing.

As a child, I recall stories from my grandparents of how things were when they were my age. To them, not having an electric home was simply the way it was – a far cry from how most of us feel when our lights go out today. As bad as the April storms were in our area, I almost feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to experience life, even if for only several hours at a time, without our modern comforts and conveniences. While the first 24 hours or so were a mental struggle for me, adapting to a completely dark house at night, no coffee in the morning and many other luxuries that I simply take for granted, proved to be a lesson in life. Simply put, we made it. We adapted to our new unknown environment and did whatever was necessary to see another day. Sure I would have preferred to sit in front of my television and watch the NFL Draft, but the lessons learned and knowledge gained from having to do without has made me, and I’m sure many of you, better and stronger people looking ahead.

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The Decline of Internet Explorer

Originally published in The Clarion | June 15, 2011

In keeping up with current Internet-related technologies, one of the more interesting subjects to me is Web browser usage statistics. I have written previously about alternatives to Microsoft’s Internet Explorer at which time I mentioned that I have not personally used IE on a daily basis in several years. This, of course, is driven by the fact that I do not use a Windows operating system in my daily computing – but the point was also made that even for those of you who do, there are most definitely alternatives that should be considered when choosing a Web browser.

Several online articles have just surfaced that show the continuing decline in the use of Internet Explorer from Microsoft. There are several reasons for this decline, some of which we will consider today. One of the more prevalent reasons for IE’s decline is one that may not initially come to mind. Over the last few years, devices that I like to refer to as gadgets have swamped the technology marketplace. From tablet devices like Apple’s iPad to smartphones including the Android platform from Google, more and more people are allowing their home PC’s to sit in the corner collecting dust. While such devices are most definitely not for everyone in every environment, from an entertainment perspective I can easily see where gadgets like these and many more would be the go-to device for information on the Web.

Another more obvious reason for IE’s decline in the marketplace are the other browsers available for download and use. Both Mozilla’s Firefox and Chrome from Google are fully-functional, speedy and best of all, free Web browsers that are supported on most all operating systems. Over the last several months, it has been interesting to see not only IE’s market share decline, but Firefox as well. Google Chrome has really made an impact in the browser arena and for good reason. It runs exceptionally well, browsing seems speedier than the alternatives and from my perspective graphics are much cleaner as well.

With all of this considered, the question must be asked – what impact will Internet Explorer’s decline have on the world of technology? Currently holding at just over 55% market share, it will not be long before Microsoft’s Internet Explorer dips below the 50% mark for the first time essentially since its introduction. With market share comes leverage – and Microsoft is likely to lose some of the leverage it has had over so many years in influencing stateside and global IT regulations and specifications. How do I feel about this? If you have read my articles or know me, you’ll know my reply is “It’s about time!”. Monopolies are not always bad – but sometimes the are horrific. It has been and will continue to be interesting to see how Microsoft both reacts to and prevails in the 21st Century, considering it is finally having to compete in arenas where it was essentially the only player for so many years.

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Keeping Kids Safe Online

Originally published in The Clarion | June 08, 2011

Our world is constantly changing at a never-before experienced pace. Looking back only ten or twenty years ago, things just seemed slower and more calm. The introduction of the Internet and Web into seemingly all aspects of our lives has greatly contributed to our faster lifestyles, and I’m not so sure it is for the better. With all of the good that comes with having the world at our fingertips, so comes an equal if not more dose of the bad. With Internet technologies, criminals no longer have to walk outside their houses to prey on the innocent. Friendships are created online that never would have been possible without this new means of connectivity. Take a moment and consider the people you have connections with online. I don’t mean your neighbors, co-workers and family – the other folks. Sure you have lots in common with them, but do you honestly think you know them as a person?

The Web is becoming a major threat to children worldwide at such a rapid pace. When I was a kid, I’m sure my parents’ biggest fear was that the neighborhood bully might beat me up. My how times have changed. With only a few keystrokes and clicks of the mouse, kids today can get themselves in very bad places almost instantly. There are many groups and organizations whose goals are to protect children online, and I would like to think that their work is doing some good. Unfortunately, there is no technology, no software, no virtual wall that is going to keep kids out of bad places on the Web or criminals from finding the kids.

A recent Consumer Reports survey found that 7.5 million kids are using Facebook. This is 7.5 million breaches of Facebook’s 13-and-older registration policy. Is Facebook at fault? Not entirely. Another survey by the Liberty Mutual Responsibility Project found that parents are assisting their under-13 children in registering for and using Facebook. You may be asking yourself, is Facebook all that bad? Well, again, not necessarily. Any Web technology that could put a child in a virtual face-to-face situation with a stranger has a high potential for danger. As innocent as sitting behind a computer monitor may seem, bad ‘connections’ can turn into very bad situations very quickly.

Many stories have made the national news over the last few years about teenagers who were harassed, attacked, kidnapped, or even committed suicide as a result of their online activities. The technology cannot parent the child. It’s really that simple. Adult supervision should always accompany the online activities of children. Parents shouldn’t assume or expect the owner of a website to keep their kids safe. It simply doesn’t work that way. Please take the time to talk with your kids about the dangers of online criminals. A little dose of reality can go a long way in the realm of unreality.

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Cloud Storage

Originally published in The Clarion | June 01, 2011

Our last of four simple and relatively inexpensive backup solutions for the home and small office is a newer technology when compared to the others. If you read any technology articles, odds are good the term “the cloud” will ring a bell. While the cloud can be used for a variety of Web-accessible services, one of its top purposes is in providing online storage solutions. The generic term ‘cloud’ simply refers to Web-attached servers that are accessible from virtually anywhere you have an Internet connection. One attractive feature of the cloud is that as a user, it really does not matter where in the broad space of the Web the servers are located, we only really care that they are reliable, accessible and most importantly secure.

Depending on what sort of data you wish to retain in a backup, cloud services may be your best bet for a backup solution. Files including pictures and home videos are typically not considered sensitive data, therefore having such data stolen would not normally result in a major threat to one’s security. Of course we all would prefer that our files be only available to ourselves and those we choose to share them with, but sites like facebook.com youtube.com and flikr.com easily prove that many of us don’t mind the world peering into our personal lives.

Many of the more prominent websites provide some sort of cloud storage services. In addition, some operating systems are now including cloud services in their offerings and Internet Service Providers are beginning to enter the market as well. Most cloud storage providers charge a fee for their services, although there are some providers who provide a small amount of storage space at no charge and allow additional space to be purchased as needed. Uploading, managing and accessing your data from a cloud storage provider is typically as easy as navigating a website. Most providers use a web browser interface which makes your data accessible from most any Web-enabled device.

Determining which cloud storage provider is best for you will take some thought and consideration. For some of us, free is the only option while for others security and accessibility are top priorities. When compared to the other three backup storage solutions that we have discussed previously, one major advantage of cloud storage is that your backups are always stored off-site. Any property damage to your home or small office will not affect your backups in any way. Thanks to this, recovering from a failed hard drive or worse catastrophe is a relatively easy and quick process when using cloud storage services.

 

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