You Gotta Pay to Play…

Originally published in The Clarion | July 27, 2011

Each day it seems I am reminded more and more just how dependent our society has become on various Internet-related technologies. Whether it’s using social media sites to keep in touch with our friends and loved ones on a daily basis, online banking, stock trading or just for entertainment, the Internet and Web seem to be ruling our world. As technological breakthroughs come about, new content is both created and consumed. It wasn’t that long ago that I recall using text messaging for the first time. Now, for some at least, streaming audio and video on our smartphones has become the norm.

With ever-evolving technologies, it can be interesting to observe ironies in the realms of technology. Over the last several months, there has been a lot of talk about new 4G services from wireless phone providers. We have all seen the commercials about just how great and wonderful the new technology is going to be, insinuating that our lives are about to change forever once the new service is launched. I will be the first to admit that ten-times faster downloads on smartphones and other similar devices does sound nice. Unfortunately though, this is where the irony comes in to play.

Almost without exception, each and every new technology comes with a price. In the case of wireless 4G services, there are a couple prices that consumers are going to have to pay in order to utilize the features that 4G boasts. For starters, unless you recently purchased one of the top-tier smartphones or other wireless devices, you’re going to have to upgrade in order to use the 4G network. For some, this is not a big deal. For those of us who do not have a 4G-capable device, especially those of us who do not have any wireless data service, prepare to pay up.

Irony number two is one that keeps me shaking my head. If you are a Verizon Wireless customer and currently do not have a data plan, the bells and whistles of 4G just may not be as attractive as they may seem on the surface. Here is how it is going to work. When you get your new 4G-capable device and service with Verizon, you are also going to receive a two gigabyte per month data cap. In the simplest of terms, all this means is that you can download and stream and whatever else you choose to do on the 4G network, but once you have downloaded two gigabytes worth of data, you will be charged additional fees. Think of it as a ‘use it as you please but don’t abuse it’ policy. Verizon Wireless claims that 95% of their customers do not download over two gigabytes of data per month. That’s all great and wonderful, but just how are their customers’ downloading habits going to change once they’re introduced to a ten-times faster connection? I think you and I both know the answer to that, as I’m sure Verizon Wireless does as well.

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The Death of the PC? Not So Fast!!

Originally published in The Clarion | July 20, 2011

With the continued surge of smartphones and other Web-enabled gadgets into the technology marketplace, there has been a flurry of speculation that the death of the personal computer is imminent. There is no disputing that our fast-paced 21st Century society has either required or created the need for on-the-go ‘connected’ devices. Having access to voice, video, eMail, social networking and other communications platforms while on-the-go is undoubtedly a convenience for those of us who need to stay connected. All things considered though, I am of the opinion that not only is the personal computer not in the final moments of its glorious life, but that there are indications that the PC has many years and decades of functions to contribute to those of us who use them.

Several factors contribute to my thought process on this subject, some more apparent than others. For starters, there are simply some actions and tasks that are burdensome on gadget-type devices. While having the ‘net in my pocket may be convenient when I am out of the office or away from home, I can assure you I would never attempt to compose an article such as this except for when I’m at my PC. Soft keyboards are handy and serve their purpose but, for me at least, delicately composing a several hundred word document on a smartphone, tablet or similar device is simply not an option. I want to feel the keyboard. I often need something to bang on to relieve frustrations when the right word or phrase doesn’t immediately come to mind. Gadgets do not provide me this luxury, odds are good the gadget itself would be permanently damaged before I reached the end of my composition.

Another factor in the continued life of personal computers is their robustness and reliability. Operating System and software aside, personal computers are quite rugged. Both cases and internal components can withstand an occasional kick, fluctuating temperatures and the infamous dust bunnies they seem to attract. When treated properly, most personal computer hardware will outlive the software requirements imposed on them. Modern PC hardware, when treated with even a little respect, can feasibly have a lifespan of a decade or more. Gadgets and smartphones have become virtually disposable, I know countless people that have to have the latest and greatest gadget. It would be interesting to know what happens to those two-year-old devices that are shunned for the new gadget on the block.

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Log on?? But how??

Originally published in The Clarion | July 13, 2011

Continuing from last week where we examined how the term ‘google’, a word that only came into existence in 1997, is widely used in all sorts of day-to-day conversations, this week we will consider a phrase that is so widely misused one wonders if its misuse is even ever noticed. As technology has evolved, so has its presence in our daily lives. Not so long ago, it was quite uncommon for a typical household to have a personal computer with Internet access, nevermind multiple Web-enabled devices under one roof. News stories, advertising and countless other forms of media began filling up with all sorts of dot-com-this and website-that. As technology progressed though, proper technical speech unfortunately lagged behind.

If you were one of the earlier adopters of technology, odds are pretty good that your first work and home Internet access involved a dial-up modem for connectivity. The account with your Internet Service Provider included a username and password which was required each time you connected to the ‘net. Without these credentials, the connection simply did not exist. Thankfully for many of us, broadband Internet access became available in our area over a decade ago, enabling an always-on connection – no username and password to have to remember, just click and go. As more of us have moved to some flavor of broadband connection, we (along with many others including those in the media and advertising realms) have somehow retained a phrase from the golden days of dial-up connections. This phrase, ‘log in’ or ‘log on’ appears to be here to stay, yet technically speaking its common use today is fallacious.

Long before the Internet invaded our homes, terminals required a user ‘log in/on’ in order to perform a task, typically on a large mainframe computer in a dark closet. With the introduction of consumer dial-up Internet accounts, the same username / password ‘log in/on’ process invaded our homes. Even today, eMail accounts require a user ‘log in/on’ to a server in order to retrieve and send messages. That aside, with the exception of subscription websites, social media portals and financial institutions, rarely ever must one ‘log in/on’ to view Web content. Think for a moment of the websites you typically enjoy visiting on a regular basis. Are you required to enter a username and password before you can browse the latest information on the site? Odds are very good that you do not. Therefore, even though the news anchor encourages you to ‘log in/on’ to their website for up-to-date information, such would be impossible without them providing you credentials to do so first.

Very soon we will be doing a Q&A series of articles. Please send any technology-related questions to techtalk@theclarion.org and over the next several weeks I will filter through them, combine some as necessary and see where things go. I am looking forward to this, it should be a lot of fun but without your questions there simply won’t be anything to answer.

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Words and Phrases

Originally published in The Clarion | July 06, 2011

The words we use, our vocabulary and vernacular in America is ever-changing. Discoveries and events in various fields of science and technology seem to bring about new words and phrases seemingly daily. I recall as a child a teacher asking my class one day for us to think of a word that we use that holds a different meaning than it did originally. Being the computer geek I am (and apparently was even in the mid-1980’s), the first word that came to my mind was Commodore. Frankly, I’m not too sure I even knew at the time what the original meaning of the word was, but I was pretty confident it was a word before the introduction of the Commodore 64 computer. Today, things are no different. In fact, I would wager that we use more words today in ways outside of their original meaning than ever before. On top of that, there are many words and phrases that we seem to hold on to even when they are not applicable.

One term that I seem to hear on a daily basis is one that has a slightly different spelling from the original, and has somehow been transformed from a noun into a verb. How often to you hear someone say ‘Just Google it’? Apparently it is easier for us to use the term Google in place of the word Search. Maybe we just like how the word sounds, I’m honestly not sure. Of course we all know that this use of the word Google is actually a noun-to-verb transformation of the name of one of the most popular Web search engines. I often wonder why some of Google’s predecessors didn’t get such an honor, possibly Yahoo or Altavista or Dogpile. I guess they just don’t have the ring to them that Google does. Thankfully though, Google took the honor before Bing came about. I shiver thinking of using that word in daily conversation.

Depending on whose story you believe, the name Google derived from the word Googol, a cardinal number represented as one followed by one hundred zeros or ten raised to the power of one hundred. I’m not sure the original meaning of Googol had anything to do with the company choosing a slightly modified spelling for its name, but it is nonetheless interesting. Next week we will consider another phrase that is used so often it makes one think it is used accurately (but unfortunately nothing could be further from the truth).

I had a friend recommend to me the other day that I take questions from my readers, and do a series of Q&A articles. Honestly, the idea scared me at first but the more I have considered it, I like the idea. So, now it is your turn. Please send any technology-related questions to techtalk@theclarion.org and over the next several weeks I will filter through them, combine some as necessary and see where things go. I am looking forward to this, it should be a lot of fun.

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