2011 in Review (or in the Rear-view)

Originally published in The Clarion | December 28, 2011

For a change of pace, let’s haphazardly recap 2011 by including snippets from each of this year’s Tech Talk articles beginning with last week. There is an ongoing software patent war raging in the United States. Celebrating Thanksgiving removed from technology can be a good thing. Internet Security should be considered more often than it probably is. Keep your passwords close to home and your wireless networks secured. The federal government is hiring criminals to help secure its network. I’m willing to bet this venture proves quite successful.

eMail should be replaced with a more elaborate and robust communications system. The world of IT lost two individuals who separately reshaped the world in which we live. Rest in peace Steve Jobs and Dennis Ritchie. There are more wireless data plans in the United States than there are people. This still confuses me. IBM surpassing Microsoft in IT marketplace value isn’t as surprising as it may seem at first. The future of our children is highly dependent on each of us helping them spark an interest at an early age that might lead them to a successful career when they grow older.

One of my most admired people in IT, Clifford Stoll, really missed the boat in his predictions of what the Internet and Web would become. It’s ok Cliff, I don’t hold it against you. The world of IT is an unstable one. The infamous Microsoft Blue Screen of Death is one that frightens many but can be remedied by those who are in-the-know. Wasted time in IT results in wasted dollars. I still don’t understand the need for a mosquito prediction center. Women are becoming more and more prevalent in IT, which is a very good thing. Newer technologies are going to have to come about in order for wireless data services to look much different ten years from now. Expecting exponentially better wireless services for the same or lesser price is simply not economically feasible.

While many are predicting the imminent death of the personal computer, I say not so fast. Terms and phrases that we use in our daily conversations have become quite skewed with the invasion of technology into our lives. We IT folk are professionals too, even if we don’t always act like it. The tornadoes of April proved to each and every one of us that we can in-fact live without the Web, even if only for a few days. The monopoly of Internet Explorer is over. Keep your kids safe when they’re online. There are many methods of keeping our data safe by backing it up on a regular basis. Ergonomics is important. Even with several categories of Web content, it doesn’t take much to feel like we’ve reached a dead end while surfing. The Internet is already mature. We would be much better off if currency were no more. I really like the Google Chrome web browser. Broadband throughput is much akin to water flowing through a pipe. Happy New Year!

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Merry Christmas!

Originally published in The Clarion | December 21, 2011

With Christmas upon us, I have gotten the urge to consider how various technologies have both influenced and altered this holiday season that is cherished by so many. As a member of Generation X, my earliest memories of Christmas gift-giving (or more accurately gift-receiving) include various forms of electronic technologies. While the Internet and World Wide Web weren’t introduced into my life until I was almost twenty years old, I have fond memories of receiving all sorts of electronic gadgetry as Christmas gifts as a child. Some devices that come to mind include the Atari 2600 gaming console in the early 1980’s, the Pocket Simon game that I’m sure drove my parents crazy with its flashing lights and never-ending beeping sounds, and of course the Commodore 64 computer that quite likely was the inception of my eventual career in Information Technology.

More modern technologies have brought about so many different products, events and luxuries that we enjoy during the holiday season. Whether it is the conveniences of online holiday shopping or massive music and light shows controlled by a plethora of computing devices, technology has seemingly reinvented the Christmas holiday. High Definition television – even 3D TV – has brought events like parades, sporting events and holiday movies into our homes like never before. Web-based technologies allow us to send seasons greetings and well wishes to family and friends in unprecedented ways. Many of us even spruce up our personal vehicles with various lighting gadgetry in the spirit of the holiday season.

The selection of electronic devices that we both give and receive has never been greater. From devices that allow us to read our favorite books while on-the-go to gaming consoles that provide hours upon hours of entertainment and even fitness, modern technology has most certainly reshaped the holiday season. I wish I could say that technology has brought us closer together but I’m afraid it continues to separate us. Web-based audio and video technologies allow us to visit with family and friends without ever leaving our homes. Messaging services allow us to communicate from wherever, whenever we like. Sure these technologies are great, often allowing us to visit with family and friends that we otherwise wouldn’t be able to during the holiday season; but such conveniences are also replacing traditional gatherings that many of us once enjoyed. As I have mentioned before, technology and how we use it are both great and at the same time unfortunate. However you choose to include technology in your holiday season, I sincerely wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas.

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Is Privacy Evil?

Originally published in The Clarion | December 14, 2011

As Americans, we are blessed to possess and be protected by local, state and federal laws plus additional fundamental philosophies that most of mankind outside of the United States simply are not subject to. One of these intangible assets is privacy, something I’m sure most of us cherish yet often take for granted. The connected world of the World Wide Web and other Internet technologies has eroded the walls of privacy since its inception. A result of this erosion has been millions of Americans forfeiting a substantial amount of their personal privacy, whether they are aware of it or not.

A recent story out of London, England really sparked my interest and caused me to consider my own situation as a citizen of the United States. Paul McMullen, a former reporter and editor at the News of the World, made the statement “Privacy is evil; it brings out the worst qualities in people”. After pondering this comment over and over in my mind, I am able to understand his viewpoint on privacy as a journalist in Great Britain. During his seven years as an employee of the News of the World, his livelihood depended on him penetrating the walls of privacy of celebrities, dignitaries and even the royal family in England. In his mind, privacy prevented him from getting the stories, and ultimately earning his wage.

As Americans, I feel it is fair to say that privacy is a right that is instilled within us from birth. Unfortunately though, and whether we are consciously aware of it or not, our usage of the worldwide network known as the Internet increasingly and dangerously erodes our walls of privacy. Voluntary and even involuntary usage of social media sites like Facebook.com publicizes our lives to the world. Whether we choose to share stories, images and videos of our recent vacation with our friends or use GPS features of our smartphones and other devices to update our current location twenty-four hours a day, social media sites are opening up our lives to the world and in-turn eroding our privacy.

Even those of us who do not use social sites like Facebook.com are giving up certain aspects of personal privacy by simply using smartphone devices and other ‘net-based technologies including eMail. News stories came out just before and during the recent Black Friday holiday shopping weekend explaining how several shopping malls around the country were tracking cellular phones of their patrons as they made their way throughout the establishment. Exactly what their intentions were for this information is unknown, but I personally don’t like the Big Brother aspect of it. Even sending a simple eMail to your friend across town can jeopardize your personal privacy if it is intercepted by someone along the way. I’m not promoting a state of paranoia, my simple hope is that we all consider our intangible right to privacy as we tromp along in the connected world of the 21st Century.

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The Software Patent War Part 2

Originally published in The Clarion | December 07, 2011

Have you ever stopped to wonder how much of your hard-earned dollars spent on your Android smartphone or tablet device go to Microsoft? Common sense would say zero, as those familiar with Android know it is an open source operating system developed by Google, Inc. The truth though is that in this scenario common sense must be thrown out the window. Thanks to patent law in the United States and Microsoft’s multi-decade long practice of purchasing the competition rather than competing, agreements have been made between Microsoft and mobile device manufacturers that stipulate Microsoft receive payment for every Android-powered device that is sold. Most estimates are in the five dollar per device ballpark. While this may not seem like a lot of money in relation to what consumers pay for smartphones and tablet devices, some basic math after considering the high percentage of market share held by Android is quite overwhelming.

Let’s stop and think about this for a moment. How nice would it be to own a business, any type of business, where as the business owner you could leisurely sit back each and every day knowing that while your product continues to fail miserably in the marketplace you are guaranteed significant revenue thanks to the successes of your competition? It doesn’t take a genius to realize that this would be some kind of fantastic deal as a business owner. The worst-case scenario would be that the competition caves in and starts using your product instead of the one they currently pay you for – it’s nothing more than a win-win. Sure business is tough, and I’m the first person to appreciate businesses who succeed in whatever legal manner possible. This is where the business itself isn’t to blame, but the system – software patents.

As I mentioned last week, I feel each and every person or corporation who develops software should be protected from another person or corporation taking their work and benefiting from it monetarily. From what little I understand about it, the copyright system does just that. Unfortunately, some three decades ago the federal government began allowing patents on computer software. This is when, as they say, things started going south. It turns out that some if not most of the patents owned by Microsoft in the realm of mobile operating systems are so trivial they create barriers to competition in the marketplace. Barnes & Noble Inc. has specifically made this claim as I am sure other manufacturers have as well. Competition in most any marketplace is good. On the other hand, strong-arming potential competitors by utilizing questionable patents is not only bad, it is most likely illegal. Until the patent system is overhauled, it is what it is. Maybe something good will come about before consumers suffer too much pain monetarily.

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