Chrome – No Longer Just a Browser

Originally published in The Clarion | February 29, 2012

In the world of IT, fewer things intrigue me more than observing how companies get their start, evolve into mega-billion dollar corporations, and sometimes seemingly rule the realms in which they participate. As anti-Microsoft that I am, I must admit it is pretty impressive to go back and see where they started, how they diversified their product offerings over time, and where they are today. Companies like Apple, Inc., Sony and Dell are no different. For at least a couple years now, I have been telling myself and others that Google is quite likely going to be the next Microsoft, both in good ways and bad.

The web browser marketplace is an interesting one. Since the inception of the Web, there has existed a browser. The Web in its truest form is inaccessible without some mechanism, some piece of software to bridge the link between the user and its content. Some companies have specialized in web browsers and nothing more, others have jumped in to the web browser arena simply by necessity. Google is no exception. With their simple beginnings as a search engine (one that was and is so highly successful that its name is now a common verb in our everyday vernacular), Google has grown, morphed and revolutionized the IT landscape.

A new adventure from Google could quite simply add another chapter to the digital revolution. A project is in the works that could rewrite how each and every one of us uses our computing devices, both at home, at work and on-the-go. While software and application developers still cannot seem to come to terms on cross-platform and cross-browser functionality, Google is working on a new project where the browser – Chrome – is not only the web browser but the actual platform that runs on your connected device. In simple terms, imagine turning on your personal computer and being presented, not with your desktop and its buttons, desktop links etc., but with a web browser. That’s right – the system will be nothing but a web browser interface. You won’t be able to close or minimize it as this will be the system. From the interface, you will be able to perform all of your daily computing work – from composing text documents and spreadsheets to editing image and video files and keeping up with social media and eMail. Such an interface is seemingly hard to grasp – or is it?

To say the least, I am more than interested in seeing where this next step for Chrome ends up. In a day – decades after the inception of the Web – where I am forced to use Microsoft Internet Explorer to gain full functionality of certain websites, something tells me this new project from Google just might work. Sure it will take a lot of work, both on the part of Google and the plethora of content and application developers to make things function properly, but the project has my full attention.

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IP Automation

Originally published in The Clarion | February 22, 2012

Technologies bring us convenience and productivity. It is virtually impossible for me to imagine life in America one hundred years ago, a time when the telephone was quite a luxury and television was only beginning to be developed. There was no Internet, no pizza delivery and certainly no social media. Technological advances of the mid-to-late 20th Century without a doubt revolutionized our society. Most every modern technological convenience we have today (and typically take for granted) came about in the post-World War II era. Computing devices were developed that laid the groundwork for software applications. The rest, as they say, is history.

A new television commercial caught my attention last week that really got me thinking about how technology is being used to make our lives easier. The commercial was for a device that many of us have in our homes but probably only think about when it isn’t working – an automatic garage door opener. This new device is different though – not only does it automatically open your garage door for you, but it can be controlled remotely by a smartphone application. Honestly, I don’t ever recall needing to open my garage door when I was away from home but apparently there is a need for such a convenience. That aside, the idea caused me to consider automation systems in general – what all is available today and what all could be in development at this very moment.

Automation systems have been around for years. All sorts of industrial applications are used daily to remotely control devices via telephone and wireless communications. Control boxes that receive DTMF tones are used to turn devices on and off from remote locations, enabling increased productivity and reduced costs to those who use them. With the invasion of the Internet Protocol, an entirely new means of controlling devices remotely has come about. Inexpensive video surveillance systems can be purchased by home and business owners that include remote control applications that work over the Internet and via smartphone applications. Programmable thermostats can be linked to home and business networks for from-anywhere access. Some refrigerators even come with built-in smart applications that can notify you when your milk is running low. My how times have changed.

The question now is just how far will these remotely controlled systems go. Personally, I don’t have a need to open my garage door when I am away from home. I could though imagine being able to turn a lamp on in my house or even my oven to have it ready to use when I get in from work being a convenience. The possibilities are essentially endless, our imaginations are the only real limitations to what we can use technologies for. Only time will tell where technology leads us.

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Passwords – There Must Be a Better Way

Originally published in The Clarion | February 15, 2012

Just how annoying are computer passwords to you? For some, they are trivial as their importance overshadows their hassle. For others, they are nothing more than a pain – and every attempt is made to keep them as simple (and in many cases similar) as possible. I realize that I have spent plenty of time writing about computer passwords over time, but they simply do not go way. I often wonder if we may all get lucky some day by having traditional passwords replaced with some new authentication mechanism. There are already some authentication methods available for different technologies that don’t require the person to remember even a simple text password. Unfortunately though, they haven’t been widely implemented across the plethora of soft technologies that many of us depend on each and every day.

A couple of the more prevalent hard means of authentication available today are things like fingerprint readers and retinal scanners. Odds are pretty good that some of you have had to use fingerprint authentication mechanisms in order to gain entry to a secured office building, a dormitory or maybe even the gate of a plush neighborhood. Having worked with these devices over the last few years, there is no doubting their value. I am no statistician, but I would be willing to guess that the odds of hijacking someone else’s fingerprint in order to gain entry to a facility are fairly slim to none. From a technology standpoint though, fingerprint authentication has at least two critical downfalls. First, most fingerprinting systems either use the device itself to authenticate and grant or deny entry or a centralized computer which holds a database of users, their fingerprint images and miscellaneous information including days and times of day each person is allowed entry. It goes without saying that both means of data storage leave a lot to be desired, especially when security is of utmost importance.

A second severe downfall for physical authentication mechanisms is that they simply haven’t been widely implemented to work with the things we use passwords for the most – accessing our personal computers, eMail, online banking, social media sites etc. Sure there are fingerprint readers built in to some laptop computers but I haven’t noticed this trend taking off and becoming highly successful. What is needed is some similar mechanism that any user would be comfortable with to grant us access to the software applications and websites that require such authentication. If I knew the answer, I assure you I would not be sitting here typing this article as such an invention or discovery would absolutely revolutionize the electronic world in which we live. Is something along these lines feasible? Yes, I think so – for all I know some guy in his garage is just waiting on the right day and time to show his invention to the world. Until then though, keep your passwords fresh, safe and cryptic.

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Breaking The Law Online

Originally published in The Clarion | February 08, 2012

It doesn’t take much to baffle me these days, yet it seems the things that do baffle me would have caused me to go into convulsions ten years ago. This wired (and now wireless) world in which we live has reshaped many of our lives so drastically, I often wonder if some of us would even know ourselves had we seen ourselves today even ten years ago. Sure that is a confusing comment, but think about it. How much have you and those you surround yourself with changed over the last ten years? Odds are good that many of us didn’t have a personal computer at home ten years ago, a connected device on our hip, or a vehicle that not only tells us where to turn but gives recommendations on restaurants. Times have changed, and the older I get and the more technology continues to progress I find myself wondering just when this will ever end.

With all of the good that has come about in our connected world, there is plenty of bad alongside it. One popular practice that at one time seemed to be near death apparently is as alive and kicking as ever. Personal file sharing – some of you may remember the good ‘ole days of Napster – is just one of the bad aspects of our connected world that I alluded to. Whether ignorant to the facts or simply holding a don’t care attitude, countless people are breaking the law each and every day around the world. As nice and convenient as it may be to get your favorite artist’s new album or the yet-to-be-released smash movie for free, I don’t know how else to say it but you’re breaking the law if you download such files without paying for them.

The music, movie and television industries have been fighting a multi-year battle, trying everything possible to put such file sharing to bed. Even with successfully shutting sites like Napster down, the criminals who develop such file sharing software have simply modified their ways over the years. Today’s hit application or website for such illegal activity may be gone tomorrow, but never fear – a new means of breaking the law is just around the corner. I know this may sound harsh, but my goal is to maybe get a point across to those of you who fall into the category of either not knowing or not caring. Just because something is available on the Web to download for free with a single mouse click does not mean it is o.k. to do so. If I were a recording artist or author or actor, I am pretty confident I would take all measures necessary to put such thievery to an end. I doubt you would want someone walking in your yard and uprooting a rose bush to take home, just because they want it. Downloading copyrighted materials without paying for them is simply no different. Take a moment and think before you click.

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Vacation Time – To Take or Not To Take?

Originally published in The Clarion | February 01, 2012

An interesting set of articles was recently published that, while not directly tied to technology, are quite interesting nonetheless in today’s American economy. According to several surveys and studies, a large majority of workers in the United States are not taking all of the earned vacation time provided to them by their employers. Many reasons for this exist, but one of the more prominent ones is quite bothersome. According to at least one survey, many workers feel that by taking vacation, they are viewed by their employers and co-workers as being less than dedicated to their jobs.

After some consideration, I am beginning to wonder if this situation could be contributing to the lackluster economy in our country. As many of you know, a person’s job – no matter what the field or position – can become both physically and mentally demanding over time. The whole idea of employers offering their employees vacation time is one of reward for many things including productivity, hard work and dedication to the job. From the numbers, it is disturbing and unfortunate that we have come to a point where as employees many of us fear that by taking our vacation time we might be viewed in lesser light than those who forfeit their hard-earned time off and choose to work more.

Many jobs in America are labor intensive, physically demanding and straight up hard work. Physical injury to personnel in these positions is always a possibility, a full career without experiencing some sort of physical complication or injury is typically unheard of. On the other hand, there are countless desk jobs which, to be frank, rarely ever impose any sort of physical threat to the worker. Those who have this sort of position in a company typically experience more mental strain than physical and quite likely take work home with them more often. No matter what the case, most every worker (at least I would like to think so) takes pride in his or her position and is cautious of the various situations that could terminate their employment. Unless one owns the business, there is typically always at least a small amount of fear of losing one’s job by employees. Again, it is quite unfortunate that many of us fear losing our job enough that we don’t take an occasional break from it every now and then.

Additional data from surveys shows that those of us who do take our vacation time end up working while we’re away from work. For me, this comes as no surprise. Whether it’s keeping track of work eMails while away or even connecting in for conferences, so many us simply cannot totally get away. A common phrase for this sort of work situation is ‘job security’. Unfortunately, it is probably pretty accurate especially in difficult economic times as now. All considered though, we may all be doing more harm than good by trying to do good.

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