Hands Off My Internet Mr. Congressman!

Originally published in The Clarion | January 25, 2012

Just what exactly is this thing we call the Internet? It isn’t a place that we can visit, it isn’t a sound or smell that we can enjoy or despise. It isn’t an item we can stick in our back pocket or up on a shelf to be grabbed when we wish to use it. Very similar to air, the Internet is in many ways an intangible object. Sure it is composed of many devices and cabling, but no one item does the Internet make. At any moment of any given day, a link between two points on the network can fail and more times than not, the user will never notice. Think of the Internet as a spider web – there are countless intersections of links, intersections that often are reachable even when one path leading to that point is broken.

As Americans, many of us probably have an idea that the Internet is an American thing. This, of course, is entirely false as the Internet spans the globe. If my friend moves from the U.S. to Argentina, assuming the laws there allow it, we can freely communicate using eMail, Social Networking, Videoconferencing or any number of other methods just like he were still living down the street from me. Even the International Space Station has Internet connectivity as it orbits earth. With few exceptions, the Internet both lives and thrives worldwide and beyond.

One thing that really troubles me is our Federal Government’s mentality that the Internet and its components are in-fact an American possession. I begin to grow quite uneasy when I hear news stories about how Congress is pursuing Internet legislation, some of which would absolutely wreak havoc on the network many of us have grown to love. To-date, our representatives have yet to succeed in passing laws that in my mind could instantly cripple not only the Internet itself but also commerce, free trade and many of our Constitutional rights.

Some of the proposed legislation is so drastic I foresee implications nothing short of large corporations packing their bags and setting up shop outside our borders. Even if some of these companies didn’t leave America, odds are pretty good they would relocate their web servers somewhere offshore, even to another continent, in order to continue their traditional business practices. Aside from lost jobs, one of the more bothersome results of a large company moving its servers elsewhere would be performance and reliability to you and me. While the inter-tangled web of links that make up the Internet in America is vast, there are exponentially fewer links leaving our shores that connect us to the rest of the world. Considering this, the odds of accessibility being even fair compared to what they are today are quite slim. The data we transfer to and from these servers would take longer to make the trip there and back and odds are much higher that we would be forced to accommodate outages unlike we have never experienced before.

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Social Media and Commercial Advertising

Originally published in The Clarion | January 18, 2012

One fact about the college football bowl season and NFL playoffs is that those of us who enjoy watching the games sure do get our fill of advertising commercials. Even with features like picture-in-picture, digital video recording and quick flipping between channels, I have found it virtually impossible to view my favorite television programming without catching at least some of the advertising. Having watched some if not all of every bowl and playoff game this year, a trend in advertising has become very apparent to me – the power of social media. Even the largest and most prominent of all corporations are on the social media bandwagon. While I am no marketing genius, several aspects of modern television advertising have come to light.

It must go without saying that social media holds an enormous grip on today’s society. While I don’t have any statistics to go on, I’m willing to wager that easily more than half of all national television advertising includes some icon or web address to the corporation’s social media portal. The most prominent seem to be Facebook and Twitter, no surprises there. YouTube also seems to play a large role in corporations connecting with their potential customers. Something I noticed just recently though really piqued my curiosity.

A large (think ginormous) U.S. corporation was a major sponsor of a recent NFL playoff game. At the end of their television commercial, they had a web address. This in itself is nothing notable as most every television advertiser does this. The oddity in this particular address, and what got my curiosity up, was that the address was www.companyname.com/facebook. Why would such a large, successful and prominent corporation list its web address with /facebook? Well, a little investigating turned up something that I never would have expected. This corporation – and to be fair, it is actually a subsidiary of a much larger company – has at least temporarily put its Facebook page up as its primary website. By typing in the web address without the /facebook at the end, I was still directed to its social media portal.

I am still unsure what to think about this angle of advertising. There are obvious signs of its success as they have over eight hundred thousand ‘likes’ on Facebook (their parent company has almost seven million). What I am unable to comprehend though is why such a large corporation would essentially sell out its web presence to Facebook. The power of Facebook and other social media outlets is obvious to many of us, but why go this far? I simply do not have an answer. History has shown that portals like Facebook come and go (remember MySpace?). It is only a matter of time before the next big site captures all of the attention. All I can guess is that more than ever today’s marketing gurus choose to ride the wave for all it’s worth until it settles out and the next one sweeps in.

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Using Technology to Make Life Easier

Originally published in The Clarion | January 11, 2012

As I have mentioned numerous times in the past, modern technologies can be considered both a blessing and a curse. The gadgets, software and Web-based applications we use can easily and often get in our way. At the same time though, simple tools and software applications can make our lives easier and more efficient if used properly. While I don’t plan to have any official New Years resolutions this year, one of my goals from now forward is to use various technologies to my advantage with the hope of making my life easier. One way of pursuing this goal is to use software applications to become more organized. Using free software applications to their highest potential will help me accomplish these goals and I may even learn a few things along the way.

Many of us are collectors – some of nothing more than junk, others of us enjoy collecting things like coins, sports cards and memorabilia, stamps or any number of other items. Using technology to inventory and continuously value our collections can not only be efficient but also fun. Spreadsheet applications are fantastic tools for organizing and maintaining such collections. If your personal computing device does not have a spreadsheet application, there are two excellent free products available for download and use – Open Office and Libre Office. I have mentioned these productivity suites in the past, if you currently do not have an office application suite, I highly encourage you to download and install one of these.

Many of the items we like to collect tend to fluctuate in value over time. If you are a coin collector, the value of your collection most likely fluctuates on a daily basis with the current value of precious metals. By efficiently structuring a spreadsheet listing the type of coin, quantity and current value, the total value of the collection can be easily updated as the value of each piece fluctuates. Simple arithmetic formulas can be configured within the spreadsheet, only requiring you to update the current market value of the piece. Once the current value is plugged in, the formula will instantly recalculate the total value of the collection for you – it doesn’t get much easier than that!

Another smart use of spreadsheet applications is for those of us who have jumped in to the couponing craze. By listing coupons in a spreadsheet with the item, value of the coupon and expiration date, shopping trips can be simplified before leaving for the store and money and time will be saved. Spreadsheet applications have countless numbers of uses, these are only a few examples of how simple (and free) technologies can not only make our lives easier but more thrifty. In a time of economic turmoil, every penny counts. What better way to make the most of those pennies than by using free software to make our pennies go as far as they possibly can.

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