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Lou Jesse HallBy Lou Washington

We took in the movie “Jobs” this afternoon, the bio of Apple founder and industry visionary Steve Jobs. Despite the crummy reviews and relatively low-level of hype surrounding the movie, Barb and I decided that it beat the uninspired collection of cinematic dross playing on the other 15 screens.

Before I get into a review of the movie, let me just say I never knew Steve Jobs personally nor have I read any of the biographies about him. I will say that Barb and I lived for a couple of years in Cupertino and we both worked in Palo Alto so I had some early experience with Apple as a company.

We lived and worked in the Valley during the mid to late ’80s. I had occasion to know some folks who worked for Apple during those years and I was indeed struck by the passion they felt for the company and its products. They were almost religious in their devotion.

During those years it was not uncommon the have people working beside you that were just putting some bread in the fridge while they looked for a real job. The company I worked for had numerous refugees from Atari who had recently laid off a huge number of folks. It wasn’t unusual to have several HP folks show up, maybe some IBMers or Sun employees hitting your HR office as a group following a round of downsizing or reorganization or de-funding of some project or another.

I don’t ever remember working with someone who used to work for Apple. I don’t know if they didn’t have lay offs or if people just stop working after leaving Apple.

The movie does not paint Steve Jobs as a very likable fellow. I can’t really venture an opinion about Jobs in terms of his personal warmth or fuzziness rating. It does give him passion, creativity, vision and drive. I have to assume he possessed these traits because they would be necessary to accomplish what he did.

For me, the best aspect of this movie was the realistic portrayal of the ongoing tension that exists between Finance, Marketing and Engineering. In that regard, I think this movie did a superb job of showing just exactly how difficult it is to convert a dream into a product concept and then turn that concept into a market changing (I will not use the word disruptive) product and then selling that product as a profitable business.

During my career, I have had the privilege of working in marketing with some very smart folks, I’ve also worked with some superb financial guys and I would have to say the engineers I’ve been around were some of the best in the business. Getting these three elements in sync and making a buck at the same time is supremely difficult.

So, in that regard, if Steve Jobs lost his temper, lashed out at someone or fired people, I’d have to say so what? Those things happen all the time. Business requires us to occasionally be overt, curt and a bit dispassionate.

During the movie, Jobs mentions the concept of making the PC work like an appliance. He talks about removing it from the box, plugging it in and then, “it just works” was how he put it. That kind of simplicity is almost always impossible to attain.  Almost anything you buy requires tweaking, set up or at least a protracted amount of time reading a manual.

About three years ago, I decided to do something radical. My home PC died. We took it down into the basement where we have a family crypt for our deceased PCs. After placing my PC in its niche of eternal rest, I headed out to Best Buy to replace it.

For some reason or another, I decided that this time I was going to go with a Mac. I picked out the model I wanted and waited for the stock person to bring all the boxes and stuff up to the cash register for me.

They rang up my purchase and then handed me a single brief case sized box with a suitcase type handle. I laughed and told them that I had purchased a desk top machine, not a laptop. They assured me that my entire Mac was indeed in the box.

Once I was home, I opened the box and found the monitor and integrated CPU, the keyboard, a mouse, the stand and a power cord. There was also one very slender, very small booklet.

I put the monitor on the stand and plugged the thing in. A message popped up telling me that a wi-fi signal was detected and it asked if I wanted to connect. I tried the mouse and clicked on the “yes” icon. That was it. My Mac was up and running.

No cables, no manuals, no software loads, no CD-ROM, no download this or that, no learning curve. Nothing. It just worked.

So, thank you Mr. Jobs for understanding the beauty of simplicity but also understanding that the best simplicity allows us to exploit astounding complexity.

Go see the movie.

Lou Jesse HallBy Lou Washington

Growing up in a small city which sat astride two US Highways and a transcontinental Interstate you can imagine that automobiles were a big part of daily life. We had no need to pile buildings on top of one another because land was cheap. That meant everything was going to be on the first floor including the acres of asphalt required for parking.

Because of our horizontal approach to city planning, things were spread out. If you needed to go next door for a cup of sugar, you hopped in your car and went. We drove everywhere. School, grocery store, barber, movies, you name it, we took the car. I knew folks that drove to the mailbox in their front yard to pick up their mail.

Parking lots were ubiquitous. We had vast open plains of asphalt and concrete. There was always a place to leave your car while you did whatever it was that you were doing.

The car was as embedded in our culture as was the horse in the culture of the Old West.

The first true rite of passage for kids of my era was the driving test. This was what we waited for year after year, long after we had outgrown the pedal cars we used as four-year olds. Until we reached that magic birthday we contented ourselves with bicycles. Of course, we pretended our bicycles were cars.

In Missouri, the driving age was 16. That meant your first beer, your first real kiss and your first encounter with law enforcement was also at age 16. It was thrilling to be 16. Going out was an adventure!

My dad taught me drive on lazy Sunday afternoons in the parking lot of the Shelter Insurance Company headquarters building in my home town. It is one of the most precious memories I have of my father. His quiet, patient manner made him the ideal teacher for this type lesson.

Naturally, most of my friends were all roughly the same age as I, so driving and cars was the primary conversational topic in those days. We dreamed about hot rods, read books and magazines about cars and street racing and in general lived in a culture with the automobile positioned precisely at center stage.

For us, New Years Day has nothing to do with January first. For us, New years was sometime in early fall when the new models were introduced. During the lead up, we would argue about whether Ford would finally abandon dinner plate tail lights, if Chevy would stack headlights or stick with a side by side configuration. Styles changed radically over a very few model years. Fins went away, fastback designs leant cars with a sleek aerodynamic look which likely had little to do with physics.

Marketing folks understood how important cars were. I believe it was no accident that new television shows debuted in the Fall simultaneously with the annual introduction of the new car models. The linkage between visual media and automotive design became firmly entrenched in this era.

I remember the season premier of Bonanza running without commercial interruption so America could spend twenty uninterrupted minutes at the end of the show to see the new Chevys introduced in their TV debut for the coming year. The next day at school, no one talked about Ben, Hoss or Little Joe, the conversation was all about the new Malibu or ‘Vette.

The End of the Era

As with many cultural shifts multiple factors contribute to changing styles, interests and norms. During the late ’60s and early ’70s there was a definite move away from the material orientation that drove our obsession with fins, chrome and high output V8 engines. The ’74 oil shortages did not help matters any.

We still worship cars, but our tastes and approaches to automobiles has greatly changed. We are more utilitarian, more focused on efficiency and mission in our selection processes.

Today, it seems like kids don’t really care much about driving. I’m not saying they are misguided, I just find it amazing that some kids don’t feel any urgency with regard to getting a driver’s license. The prospect of driving a car does not equate to freedom and adventure in the same way it did for my contemporaries.

In fact, the position of the automobile and the importance of driving seem to be diminishing rapidly in this post millennial age. Most recently, the notion of self-driving or autonomous vehicles are becoming real possibilities in the not too distant future.

Horrifying!

I can’t imagine a more depressing development than a car that drives itself. Before you start yelling “Luddite Philistine” at me, consider a few things about autonomous vehicles. These are just a few of the problems I see with this technology.

Designated Driver – Who needs them? No one is going to drive because the car knows the way home. Does this mean we all get to drink all night kong? Someone has to remain sober or no one will remember all the embarrassing stuff that happened.

Parking – I don’t mean parking at the mall, I mean parking after the movie on Saturday night. This is a very subtle art that young guys learn and pass along to other young guys. There are techniques and skills that require practice and honing. There is much more to it than “ . . . . Oh look, we’re out of gas on this deserted country road . . . . What will we do now?” I can’t imagine trusting some software developer at Subaru to get this right.

Drag Racing – Mano-a-Mano, A veritable ocean of testosterone powers the need to dominate the car next to you at a stop light. The revving engines, screeching tires and fishtailing acceleration at the green light. Every high school in America has one kid who has the baddest, meanest drag machine on the street. The cops know him and everybody wants to be him. Unless he’s a complete pizza face, he has pretty good luck in the romance department as well.

Jonesing your Neighbors – Part of the fun of buying a new car is sticking it to your neighbor. They are stuck driving a four-year old Junker while you a cruising around in luxury. How will you brag about a car you don’t even drive? Why would you envy your neighbor when the egg parked in his driveway is suddenly blue instead of green.

The Culture of Yawn

Then there is the other issue. The problem for which there is no solution. An American institution that has its beginnings in that most noble of enterprises, Moonshine distribution. This AV technology threatens a tradition that has grown over the years to become one the greatest spectacles in sport. Of course, I’m talking NASCAR!

Can you imagine the shame we will all feel watching a track with thirty or so driverless cars endlessly circulating around, never bumping, never squeezing or cutting off other cars. They will of course be unable to achieve speeds in excess of fifty-five miles per hour. Their sophisticated anti-collision and safety systems will over ride any attempt to break away from the pack.

What about the drivers? There won’t be any!

No angry young ego maniacs running around in ridiculous jumpsuits. No more rivals to bad mouth each other between races. No more post race fist fights. No poofy haired retired driver TV announcers explaining the action to us in their phony, exaggerated southern drawl voices.

All of this will be replaced by thirty jelly bean shaped vehicles putting around a vast race track forever locked into the formation and order in which they started.

I know autonomous vehicles are likely inevitable. I know they will save lives and probably save us countless hours of commuting time. I know they will save dollars in terms of gasoline or energy costs.

It’s just that they are so damn boring.

Lou Jesse HallBy Lou Washington

When I was about six years old my dad bought a power lawn mower. I thought it was the coolest thing in the world. My dad explained to me that one day, I would be able to use the lawn mower and that mowing the lawn would become my responsibility. I was so excited!

Until then, I had to wait. I was given the not so glamorous job of “picking up sticks” as a sort of apprentice level job. Picking up sticks pretty much sucks compared to walking around behind the bright red Toro as it growled and spit out grass clippings on the circuits around the grounds of our palatial estate.

Finally, at some point, I would guess maybe I was ten or eleven, dad told me I was at last big enough to handle the big, now not so shiny, Toro.

I think the feeling of excitement about actually handling the big red machine by myself lasted about twenty minutes. By the second or third time I mowed the lawn, I realized that the thing was a big con job. Mowing the lawn wasn’t fun or cool, it was work. I had been lured into taking a job by promises of glory and wealth and found only boredom and frustration.

The reality of lawn mowing was hard to start machinery, cleaning air filters, adding oil, adding gasoline and pushing the contraption around the yard as the hot sun beat down on my poor little spoiled self. I remember one time attempting to start the machine 104 times before my dad relented and took it in for service.

But, being good son, I did my chores like countless other kids. I grumbled, but mowed.

The worst time in my lawn mowing experience came one summer when I took a job mowing lawns for the Columbia Public School System. Most of my crew was made up of kids I went to high school with or my then current classmates at Mizzou. By the end of the summer, our lawn crew had accomplished the following:

  • wrecked two ½ ton pick trucks
  • destroyed one riding lawn mower (somehow it ran through the front doors of Frederick Douglas School)
  • decapitated one push mower with an out of control riding lawnmower
  • Destroyed too many flower beds and other ornamental plants to recall

For the of rest my life, I have hated the notion of “mowing the lawn” and all its associated activities. I have nightmares and flashbacks from that summer. I’m sure I could benefit from counseling.

Now, decades later, I find I might, at last be able to enjoy mowing the lawn again.

Last weekend, during a brief hiatus from the two month-long drizzle season we call Spring here in Northern Kentucky, my fifteen year old rusted out, broken down, piece of junk lawn mower finally died. The pull-cord snapped one final time; there was simply not enough cord left for yet another square knot to reconnect the cord to the lawn mower.

Reluctantly, I began looking online at lawnmowers at Lowe’s and Home Depot. It was all very depressing. I hate spending money on things that aren’t fun. Then, I saw something intriguing; electric lawnmowers.

All the electric lawn mowers I’d seen in the past were useless. Their fifty foot cords and underpowered motors were a certain recipe for frustration and aggravation. Plus, they just weren’t manly! People would make fun of me I was sure. The only people who used these things were nerds with yards smaller than the average welcome mat.

But, looking online I found something new and different. Electric lawn mowers that were cordless. Lawn mowers that used batteries.

Wow! That’s what I call liberating! No trips to the gas station, so filing the spark plug, no squirting starter fluid into the cylinder, no more cleaning air filters and no more guessing if the damn thing needed oil or not.

But, I was skeptical. How long would the thing run between charges? How much power did it have? Could it handle the jungle of broadleaf weeds that passes for a lawn at my home?

I decided I had nothing to lose, pick one, read the reviews and if no one is hating on that model, buy it.

I selected a model from Greenworks. This mower has a 19” cutting swath and it is powered by a 40 volt Lithium-Ion battery. (Just like the 787!) This particular model comes with two separate battery packs and a charging station. This is important because you can store the lawn mower any where you want and keep the batteries and charging station inside your home.

Greenworks Electric Lawn Mower

Greenworks Cordless Electric Lawn Mower

My lawn mower was delivered on Sunday by Lowe’s and unfortunately the drizzle had started again, so mowing was not going to happen that weekend. I opened up the box and assembled the mower per the instructions included in the box. This took no more than twenty minutes tops.

Next, I set up the charger and placed one of the two included battery packs in the charging cradle. Within one hour, the battery pack was ready to go.

Monday was a total wash out, so I came home from work and watched the grass grow even higher.

Tuesday brought a partly cloudy afternoon, so by the time I got home, the grass was still pretty damp, but I figured if I didn’t mow now, I would need a tractor and Bush-hog.

I rolled the mower out the front door, inserted the battery pack, inserted the safety key and turned the big bright green machine on. What a wonderful surprise, the mower powered right up and I started mowing. After about thirty minutes, I was done.

Greenworks 40V 19" Mower

Greenworks 40V 19″ Mower

The lawnmower was fantastic! It effortlessly handled the 10” tall grass and clover. It was every bit as good as any gasoline powered mower. The first battery pack was still going strong when I finished. So my fear of not being able to complete the job without a re-charge was totally unjustified.

As a push around mower the Greenworks has the added advantage of being on the light weight side compared to gasoline powered machines. But, I would add that the mower is heavy enough to not bounce over rough ground. It keeps the mower at the proper mowing height. But, it is also light weight enough to push and pull with one hand.

The height adjustment is very easy to use. A single lever adjusts the height of the whole mower. You do not have to mess with raising a lowering each wheel be itself.

Electrics are not for everyone. If you have a huge yard, the technology may not be ready for you. But, I did actually see a cordless, battery powered riding mower, so you may want to give the technology a look anyhow.

Greenworks 40V Lithium-Ion Battery Pak

Greenworks 40V Lithium-Ion Battery Pak

Count me as one satisfied customer. I would recommend this product to anyone looking for an alternative to smelly, expensive, time consumptive gasoline powered mowers.

Lawn mowing may be fun again after all! Without a doubt it is less of a hassle.

Lou Jesse HallBy Lou Washington

Class reunions are events unlike any other in our life experience. What I mean by that is they offer us a chance to measure or at least notice specific net changes in our cultural milieu. Since they occur at regular ten-year intervals and because you typically only see the folks in your class during the once per decade event, they make it easy to see how much life has changed since the last get together.

For instance, if you attended your reunion in 1980, you probably didn’t see a single cell phone or video cam. That’s because 1980 was still the era of land-lines and Kodak Instamatics.

By 1990, there were likely a number of cell phones and a few video cameras. We would laugh at these people today because the cell phones would look like World War Two era Army field phones and the Video cameras would make you look like the crew backing up Mike Wallace on 60 Minutes. How could we think THAT was cool?

I went to a reunion in 1999 and I was amazed at the number of video recorders. They were starting to get pretty small by then. I remember looking across the banquet room and seeing about fifty of these things just rolling, taking in the ambiance of the Great American High School Reunion. Our reunion featured plentiful amounts of free booze so I’m sure the antics of my classmates, and me for that matter, were recorded for future use as blackmail fodder.

Now, we are about to enter another one of those technologically significant, yet potentially embarrassing eras.  Google Glass will soon become as ubiquitous as the video cam and the smart phone. Will it be the tech equivalent of the duck-tail or mullet? Or, will it be world changing?

Personally, I’m skeptical. Imagine walking into the ball room to register. The person behind the table is smiling sweetly and looks vaguely familiar. Before she can say, “Hi, I’m  ….” you are mumbling to your eyepiece to activate your facial recognition software. Glass quickly whispers her name into your ear “Betty Jo Belitnikoff”.

Why Betty Jo! You haven’t changed a bit. I love the blue rinse and those sensible shoes . . . very cool!”

That happens to be the last thing you say directly to any of your classmates that night. The rest of the evening, you are conversing with the Glass friend dangling in front of your eyeball. Everyone else is doing the same thing.

All you hear is low murmuring of Glass commands – Identify Face, . . .record, . . . retrieve email,  . . .open Facebook, . . . open LinkedIn. . . . message to Frank.

And so it goes all night long. Everyone is prowling around identifying faces and pulling up cyber versions of each other. No direct conversation is required.  Everyone who wants to interact can simply message via Glass.  An eerie silence hovers over the entire room. It’s like a zombie convention.

There are undeniably definite advantages. You get to avoid answering the unpleasant questions and you don’t have to listen to boring stories about kids and pets. You are in control; you can ignore or dig as deeply into the life of each classmate as you might care too. If it gets too bad, you’ll likely have the option to pull up something to stream from Netflix.

This is when you realize that the real world and the cyber or virtual worlds have partially merged. It is so disorienting, you are suddenly not sure what has happened or where you are.

Are you a warm blooded human visiting a virtual class reunion? Have you somehow been sucked into the virtual world where you can only interact via the technology you bring with you.

Or, has the virtual world expanded into the three dimensional universe, blurring the once distinct boundaries into a sort of cyber no man’s land? Has your Second Life merged with your real life?

You will ponder this as you move about the ball room, but you will come up with more questions than answers. A whiff of familiar perfume will pull you in one direction while a Facebook posting will jerk you back into reality, or was reality found only in a perfume scented distant memory?

Which is real; the warm and funny close friend of forty years ago or the bitter, angry guy spewing venomous political pabulum on Facebook?

The great television writer, Rod Serling would have recognized this dilemma right away. He would tell you without hesitation, you have indeed entered, The Twilight Zone.

By Lou Washington

Most of my contemporary friends don’t know it, but I spent one fall of my young life coaching American football at the collegiate level. I make that statement both honestly and in a spirit of complete sincerity. I was, indeed an assistant college football coach.

You may recall that I grew up in a college town. There are three college level educational institutions located in my home, Columbia Missouri. First we had the University of Missouri, also known as Mizzou. Also, we had Columbia College which offers educational opportunities on campus as well as all over the planet through a highly evolved extended campus program. Finally, we had Stephens College.

Stephens was a unique institution. It was a four year, predominately female college.  In those days, Stephens offered excellent programs in music, acting or dramatics, design, art and literature.  Stephens gave Columbia a touch of class. It was small, exclusive and polished. Stephens students came from all over the US and even overseas, but mainly from urban areas in the eastern United States.

So, let me get back to my football coaching career. As you may have already guessed, I did not coach the Mighty Tigers of Ol’ Mizzou. My coaching career began and ended as an intramural coach for the touch football team of Lela Raney Woods Hall at Stephens College.

As a barely post-adolescent male, Stephens College was my idea of Disneyland. So, when my buddy Charlie Utz showed up one day, with a big smile on his face, and asked me if I wanted to be his assistant football coach at Stephens, you know how I answered. I just jumped on that like a big wet dog!

So that’s how Charlie and I befriended about twenty or so co-eds at Stephens College that fall back in 1974.

The ladies making up our football team were smart, dedicated and fearless. I’m proud to say our team was undefeated over their season. We trounced the teams from Wales, Pillsbury, Hillcrest, Tower halls and the rest. It was only natural that Charlie and I would reward the team with a party after each game.

Our games were played on Saturday mornings, so the entire weekend was typically required to get through all the eating and drinking following each victory. We would provide a venue and lots of beer and the rest we just made up as we went. That was pretty much how we coached the team as well.

In fact, now that I think about it, the training and practice sessions were just like the post game parties.

As football season wound down, the holiday season approached. As is customary in college towns, many students forego a trip home for Thanksgiving since Christmas break will begin just a few weeks later.

That fall, my parents were traveling over the Thanksgiving holiday and I was left to watch over the house. This happened occasionally. We would always have a solemn discussion about how the house needed to be carefully watched, how I shouldn’t have large groups over and how I should be mindful to keep things clean, locked up and safe while they were gone. Above all, NO PARTIES!

I always cheerfully agreed to these terms when they left me in charge.

I was also an accomplished liar in those days. As soon as their car was out of driveway, I would be on the phone getting the party machine in motion.

So, for that particular Thanksgiving, Charlie Utz and I decided to host a team thanksgiving dinner at my parent’s house.  This event became known as the Lela Raney Woods Thanksgiving Orphans Holiday Dinner. This was also the dinner which first featured Lou’s Famous Pregnant Turkey.

Most of the ladies on our football team were aces. Great competitors smart and fun to be with. We did have one person who was, frankly, kind of a pain. This lady was a bit self absorbed. She also was a bit picky about things. Above all, she was very open in her distain for Columbia, the Midwest and anything else west of the Hudson River.

Agriculture was not her strong suit.

Charlie and I decided to have a bit fun at her expense.

So, during the morning of Thanksgiving while everyone else was busy watching the Macy’s parade on TV, Utz and I were cooking and getting the beer on ice. We probably were sampling some of the beer as well.

As we got the big bird ready for cooking, I also pulled a Rock Cornish Game Hen out of the fridge. Charlie looked at me quizzically and asked me what in the heck I was planning on doing with the game hen.

I said, “Charlie, when we serve this turkey, it’s going to be preggers.”

So, with that understanding, we cleared big bird’s cavity of giblets and neck. Then, covering the game hen with butter slipped her into the turkey.

Later that evening, the team was assembled around our table, the beer was flowing and the side dishes were in place. The big bird made his entrance to a chorus of oohs, and ahhs. It was a splendid looking bird if there ever was one.

As the host, it was my responsibility to carve the turkey and distribute the first round. The table became quiet as I stood and started to do my job.

Suddenly, I dropped the knife, feigning great surprise. Looking at my guests, I made the announcement, “My friends, I think this turkey is pregnant!”

My guest looked at me with great incredulity. Actually most folks at the table were in on the joke. The object of the prank stared at the bird with her mouth hanging open.

I proceeded to “deliver” the youngster and, with a great flourish, place it on her plate. I explained that this was a rare event indeed and custom dictated that the most honored quest should have the privilege of eating the new born “turkey” pup!

She was, of course flattered. But also you could see she felt she was deserving of this great honor. And a fitting honor indeed it was!

So that is how Lou’s pregnant turkey came to pass. I highly recommend this recipe that combines a truly tasty meal with an exciting lesson in biology!

Happy Thanksgiving to All!

By Lou Washington

Recently I received a message from LinkedIn about the image I use for my profile picture within the LinkedIn application. They told me they had removed the image because it violated their standards for personal images.

Ouch! No one has ever accused me of being a shimmering paragon of human beauty, but I never dreamt I was actually violating standards. I’m glad I didn’t know this in high school, I would have never developed any self-confidence. I would have dutifully worn my paper bag to assure people didn’t have to experience the pain of looking at me.

Actually until then, I had used a cartoon drawn by my friend Tom Hortel. Tom is a super creative fellow who runs an innovation company, called Zenovate, They serve business people looking for someone with a real imagination. I was very fond of my avatar image and it was with great regret that I submitted to the demands of Linked In and replaced it with a regular photograph.

This was just a few days before Linked In announced their new iPad app. If you have an iPad, you know there are two kinds of apps available. First are those written to exploit the iPad and take advantage of the many wonderful features that make it such a useful tool. The second type is apps written for the iPhone or iPod Touch then ported to conform to the minimal compatibility requirements of the Pad.

Apps written for iPhone that also run on iPad are typically not as striking visually. Blowing up the standard size iPhone image with the “x2” button usually results in a fuzzy, grainy image. Forget about rotating the image to landscape orientation, the screen will stubbornly remain in portrait mode.

You can understand why I was a bit skeptical when I read that they were finally going to finally have an iPad only version of their app. Since these guys don’t like cartoons, I figured they probably were not going to please me with their revamped interface.

Before I go further with this, let me say, I’m a huge Linked In fan. It was really my first use of social media. I could see the utility of Linked In almost immediately. I’m not talking about the self promotion aspect of the product in a job seeking context, although I understand why that is important.

I like the idea of being able to talk to people knowledgeable in almost any given area or discipline by simply running a search or looking for a group. For someone involved in market analysis or industry trends, (like me) this is an invaluable tool.

Of all the social tools available, Linked In is the one I would be least likely to give up if I had to make a choice.

I’m happy to find that Linked In got it right. The new iPad app is a vast improvement. I might even say that I like it better than the desk top version.

The Updates page is fantastic. It is served up in a beautiful framed eMagazine type format with sections listing real-time updated data such as markets and weather. Personal events are maintained and displayed in a “day at a time”calendar like format that allows the user to scroll forward and back to see past and future events.

News of interest is also displayed via attractive graphics and headlines.  The other stuff, whose viewed your profile, co-worker activities and connection updates are all listed with those now required photos. So maybe a cartoon wasn’t such a great idea after all?

Navigation is now horizontal, using swiping page turns instead of scrolling up and down.

Moving over to the profile page, your profile is presented initially in a clean resume type format. Swiping to the next page reveals your connections, recent viewers, people you may know and your own update activity.This is navigated via up and down scrolling.

The inbox section is set up very much like an Outlook mailbox.. The highlighted piece is displayed on the right side of the screen, the assorted messages are listed in date order on the left. Again, picture images are included with each message.

Throughout the app, the ribbon like tool bar extends across the top of the screen. You can easily jump back and forth between the primary functions by simply touching the IN logo on upper left side of the screen.

If you are an iPad user and you haven’t made the jump to the new version I think you will be pleasantly surprised. If you have an iPad and haven’t added the Linked In app, you are missing out. Take the plunge, I think you will be pleased.

Good job Linked In!!

By Lou Washington

About 15 years ago I was listening to a fellow on the radio spouting off about the end of knowledge; more accurately, the end of new knowledge. He was predicting a new “Dark Age” and he was placing the blame for this pending catastrophe squarely on the internet.

His prediction was that the volume of information made readily available to the masses worldwide would somehow extinguish the level of original research conducted. The suggestion was that the internet would provide enough answers to enough questions that ongoing research would no longer be necessary. He suggested that the line between real research and search engine based internet queries was becoming blurred and people were often confusing one for the other.

This opinion was offered in the wake of journalist Pierre Salinger’s assertion that he had obtained “hard evidence” related to the downing of TWA Flight 800 off Long Island. Salinger had conducted some research on the issue and had come upon an internet based document that seemingly fixed blame for the crash on a friendly fire shoot down accident on the part of the U.S. Navy.

The document was soon determined to be bogus. Salinger, a veteran journalist and Washington DC insider had been taken in. It is interesting to note, that searching on this subject will still yield an incredible amount of grist for the conspiracy crowd.

I can remember using our family copy of the World Book Encyclopedia when I was growing up. I was struck by the fact that the book listed Dwight Eisenhower as the current president of the United States. I knew that was not correct and it made me wonder, what else in the encyclopedia was no longer valid.

The internet is in many ways like an aging encyclopedia. Documents, once published are difficult or impossible to entirely suppress. So, even truthful documents that have aged themselves into obsolescence are still there right alongside the current documents containing the current data. The researcher has to figure this out and learn to find what is new versus old, what is genuine versus counterfeit and what is truthful.

More recently, I was listening to a radio interview with a fellow who was writing about the Watergate investigation. This guy made the assertion that today this investigation would have never gotten off the ground. His suggestion was that the techniques used by Woodward and Bernstein to gather the incriminating evidence are no longer used by reporters.

Today, reporters rely on internet based information sources. The shoe leather journalism of reporters from the seventies and earlier is truly a thing of the past. I’m not making this assertion; this is what the interviewee was saying.

The Watergate fellow seemed to almost fulfill the prediction made by my radio friend of fifteen years past. Could it be? Are we really entering in the age of information stasis?

In short, the answer is, no! Maybe even, Hell No!

Consider the following quote taken from the IBM web site on Big Data:

“Every day, we create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data — so much that 90% of the data in the world today has been created in the last two years alone. This data comes from everywhere: sensors used to gather climate information, posts to social media sites, digital pictures and videos, purchase transaction records, and cell phone GPS signals to name a few. This data is big data.”

That is an amazing statistic. 90% of the world’s data has been created in the past 24 months.

If anything, it would seem that our ability to massage, extract, organize, store and use data is woefully inadequate. One would think that Moore’s law would prevent us from ever catching up.  Instead of looking at price performance ratios in data storage and maintenance as being exemplary, we should be wringing our hands and pleading for more capacity, more speed, more access, more organization, more security, more everything.

What this means is there will be a need for radically new thinking in terms of how we store, index and retrieve data. How we synthesize information from the data we maintain. Additionally, we need something to measure the validity of the data we query.

I find myself going to the snopes.com site on a regular basis. Snopes is fine for the occasional rumor or wild stories that pop up now and then. But what about the rest of the stuff we wade through online?

For many people, a search engine and an internet connection are simply not enough. Businesses certainly need to be sure they are informed with accurate data from reliable sources.

We talk about business intelligence as a strategic necessity in the world of corporate data. The volume of data created today, drives that same level of urgency in other disciplines as well, even in journalism.

But still, I think Woodward and Bernstein would do just fine today. Rather than knocking on the doors of DC town houses, they would be browsing around in Face book. Rather than running down to Miami to speak with a witness, they would locate the guy in LinkedIn.  Perhaps they would have simply checked out the presidents Google+ circles, “. . . look Bob, Gordon Liddy and Howard Hunt are both in Bob Haldeman’s Plumber’s Circle!”

Almost certainly, the manual search through the thousands of circulation records would not have happened.  Today, they could easily see anyone’s favorite books by reviewing their Amazon Reading List. Certainly, the LOC could have simply supplied them with access to online circulation records.

It really is still a matter of not believing everything you read. It doesn’t matter if it came from a newspaper, an encyclopedia or a Google search. The reader must beware; they must be skeptical and seek confirmation of validity.

“. . . and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free”

By Lou Washington

Last week, on April 8, 2012 Jack Tramiel died. His passing generated only modest notice on the part of the industry media. His death wasn’t ignored, but it just didn’t create the kind of buzz one associates with the death of a luminary in the IT industry.

Jack was the founder of Commodore International, the folks that brought the Commodore 64 to the world. He was also the top man at Atari when it was spun off from Warner International in 1984. He took on Atari after leaving Commodore.

The world of IT was a much different place in those days. The idea of personal computers was very new and in many quarters thought to be a waste of time. There were just a few fledgling companies trying to make money selling computers to everyday people. PCs were largely seen as toys for the hobbyist.

In the early 1980s, everyone knew the field of the future, the field to get into was information technology. But, the avenues of entry were limited. If you were interested in getting into the business of computing, you had several choices.

First, you could sell business or scientific computers for one of the companies actively addressing those markets. Second, you could major in computer science and learn the business from the more technical programming and systems architecture end. You could also go to a trade school and learn the mind numbing skill of keypunch. Finally, you could get into the business from a ground up type job such as a Tape Librarian, Computer Operator or similar titles used for entry-level hires in IT shops.

None of these options offered anything related to personal computers. They really didn’t exist, certainly not in the world of business. I saw the advent of the personal computer as way for me to expand my information system knowledge from a Records Management focus to include something with a bit of a technical edge. It would be a way for me to “get into computers” without having to back track in life and go back to school or take an entry-level job.

At that point, there were very few options. Tandy had their TRS systems, Osbourne and Sinclair had offerings. Apple was just rolling out their Apple 2 and IBM laughed at all of them by entering their “toy” computer into the mix. They called it The Peanut.

IBM just wasn’t seeing the vision. The vision they did see was the end of centralized, corporate computing being fostered by the PC on every desktop.

But, for me, all of those options were way beyond my price range. There really were no serious choices in the sub one thousand dollar range.

For the Masses not for the Classes

That’s where Jack Tramiel came into the market. Commodore offered up the Vic–20 for about fifty bucks and later the Commodore 64 for well under a couple of hundred. Jack was quoted making the statement that Commodore will be making computers for the masses not for the classes. He meant this as a double entendre, Apple was well on their way establishing their presence in academia with special programs for schools and colleges.

Jack wanted to sell to everyone. He almost did sell to everyone. The Commodore 64 set records for the largest number of installed systems. The record may still stand.

commodore sx-64

My SX-64

I owe Jack Tramiel a huge thank you for bringing the PC into my price range. I bought the VIC and almost immediately after, the Commodore 64. It did not take long for me to see the potential for these devices as personal tools. I was building spreadsheets and doing job estimates, tracking job expenses and all sorts of things that were manual process in my working environment.

Then Commodore did a most remarkable thing, they entered the world of Mobile technology. They introduced and I immediately bought the Commodore SX-64. An integrated 64 system with built-in color monitor and a 5.25 inch disk drive.

I used this system until the late 1980s when I succumbed and finally bought a real PC with a MS-DOS operating system.

I’m sure my story is not at all unique. This whole industry is populated with people who went through similar development in terms of acquiring their skills by investing in the technology that interested them.

This has become something of a tradition in our space. The whole notion of BYOD is based on the fact that people want to make their lives better by learning to use new tools. We can’t wait until someone hands us an iPad, we go out and buy one. No one thinks twice about acquiring their own smart phone, they just do it.

Jack Tramiel saw this vision and turned it into a reality. If the desk top revolution needed heroes, Jack Tramiel would surely be one of the greats.

By Lou Washington

We were discussing this concept today in a marketing context, a colleague of mine put it this way; it’s like the man behind the curtain, Oz is not real, the action and reality are behind the curtain.

We like to talk about simplifying the complex, but is that really what we mean?

Many years ago when I was seriously studying piano I attended a recital featuring pieces from the romantic era including some of the works of Franz Liszt. If you are not familiar with Liszt, he was a performing pianist of astounding technical ability.

In the late 1800s, the piano and the artists who played the piano were roughly the equivalent of today’s preeminent rock stars. From the standpoint of dazzling ability, Liszt stood head and shoulders above most of the artists active in that time. He was good looking and he knew what his audience wanted. He was essentially a phenom, a rock star.

Franz Liszt also composed for piano and he left us with a substantial body of work. Many of these pieces were specifically designed to be “show off” pieces for pianists. One of his more challenging works was a transcription of a series of violin pieces composed by the equally dazzling Italian violinist, Paganini.

It was one of these pieces that grabbed my attention that evening during the recital. The piece is nicknamed La Campanella. The piece opens with a straight forward recitation of a simple melody line. Then, over the course of the next four minutes or so, this theme is repeated again and again with increasing complexity. For the pianist, each repetition brings increasing technical demands that are displayed for the listener in the most astounding ways.

During my next session with my piano teacher I related how this piece had blown me away and how incredible it was that the artist could accomplish all these amazing physical feats. She, of course, was familiar with the piece but she was not as caught up by my excitement as I had expected. She was almost dismissive of it.

I finally had to ask why she was not as taken with it as I was. Her response was one of those lessons you remember because it really transcended music and reached into the whole of life.

She ask me to recall many years prior when I first began studying with her. She had introduced me to the works of J.S. Bach, in particular the series of 48 Preludes and Fugues known as the Well Tempered Clavier. She asked me to recall her introducing me to the very first piece in this series, the Prelude in C Major.

When you listen to this Bach Prelude the effect is altogether different from the other piece. Is is almost entirely devoid of the pianistic gymnastics evidenced in the Liszt piece. But, it is certainly every bit as captivating. The Bach pulls at your emotions, your senses and your spirit. The Liszt doesn’t really pull at anything other than perhaps your sense of amazement.

How is it that the simple, single melodic line of J.S. Bach moves your heart and senses so dramatically while the complex, intricate and rambunctious “La Campanella” leaves you feeling just a bit winded?

How does simplicity essentially blow complexity out of the water? The answer is; it doesn’t.

The Bach piece is far from simple. The Liszt piece is undoubtably complex sounding, but does that complexity result in great music or just a great demonstration of skill? What’s beneath the surface?

The Bach prelude is a long, slow development of a musical idea into a final shining resolution of musical tension that only flirts with flourish and ornamentation in the final couple of measures.

The simplicity sucks you in and then Bach gets your heart.

The life lesson in this is that simplicity is not simple at all. It matters not if you’re talking music or manufacturing. Simplicity is the effect, beneath it, hidden away from view, you will frequently find enormous complexity.

Systems that strive to simplify cannot be confused with simple systems. It you are talking software, it means an easy to use, uncluttered user experience. It means the ability to handle a complicated processes is delivered to the user in a way that saves them time and effort and increases the accuracy of their work.

Simplicity is an effect, an image or a veneer. It covers incredible complexity.

By Lou Washington

I’m devoting a few lines here to the 100th anniversary of the sinking of Titanic. Titanic is a technology story and it also is a story that I’ve been fascinated by for many years.

Sometime during the day of April 14, 2012 a cruise liner full of passengers will arrive on station in the North Atlantic at the last position reported by RMS Titanic prior to her sinking one hundred years ago. That ship will remain on site throughout the night.

The passengers will engage in a number of activities supposedly timed to coincide with actions recorded in the historical records that document this most famous of all ship wrecks.

Food served on the cruise will match the menus used during Titanic’s only voyage. Music will be played by musicians covering the same numbers offered by Wallace Hartley and his small but very brave band of musicians as the liner foundered and sank. Signal rockets will be fired at intervals during the final two hours mimicking the real distress rockets fired at the command of Captain E. J. Smith in an attempt to call attention to his stricken vessel and request the assistance of anyone in visual range.

Hopefully, sometime during that evening someone will utter a prayer on behalf of the souls that perished in that horrible disaster.

I’m a Titanic junkie. My love affair with this ship started many years ago. I can’t even begin to tell you how many books I’ve read on the subject. I was thrilled when the James Cameron movie was released in the mid 1990s. And I enjoyed every minute of it.

For me there is a great unanswered question that looms above this event. The frustrating thing is the question itself is not discernible. Every book I read, every opinion I hear and every theory that is explained seeks to provide “the answer” to the question. But it is all for nought because the question itself is not known.

There are also numerous questions about the specific events of that evening which provide fuel for much speculation and in some cases passionate arguments. Books have been written about many of these “what if” scenarios and for many aficionados, this is what drives their own interest in the subject as a whole. If you want to get a flavor for this diversity of opinion, just google the name Stanley Lord.

There are those that see Titanic as a sort of microcosm or analogue of the post-Victorian world. They see it as an emblem of a class based society with privilege and comfort for a few supported and delivered by the discomfort, brutality and death of many.

Others will explain that Titanic and the fate of the ship and passengers was the result of arrogance. They see it as technology lifted on high like some sort of golden calf for man to worship. They believe that the sinking was the inevitable response of a Mosaic God striking down another false idol.

I think the question is much more basic. I think we look at our technological creations with some pride, and when they fail, I think our first reaction is always why. Why, with all of quality processes, all of the engineering and design specifications, all of the testing and research and careful production techniques do we still turn out products that fail. How can a company like Apple introduce a phone that has antennae issues. How can Toyota build a car that despite test after test has documented cases of a sticking accelerator. The list is endless and the results are anything from mild disappointment to death.

Perhaps the more appropriate reaction should be; Why Not?

We place a huge amount of trust in technology every single day. I wake up in the morning and jump in the shower; I’m not scalded. I take my assorted meds; I’m not poisoned. I trust green lights on my way to work, I drive my car at high speeds depending on brakes to slow me down when needed. I jump on an elevator and it safely takes me to the third floor of the office building where I work.

All sorts of technological creations work properly all day long and we are sustained by that functionality throughout our lives. Each time we place our trust in technology, we are betting it will do what we ask it to do.

But on the evening of April 14, 1912, 1,500+ souls lost the bet.

The ship was moving at flank speed in an area known to have icebergs. The ship was constructed of a type of iron that was susceptible to becoming brittle when exposed to cold temperatures and the rivets that held the ship together where similarly compromised. The life boats on Titanic were insufficient in number to accommodate the passengers and crew. The passengers themselves failed to react with sufficient urgency to the crews request to board those lifeboats and they indeed left the ship only partially full.

Titanic is indeed emblematic of a society that depends on technology. We risk disaster every day and there is no reason to believe we will stop or that we should stop. Progress is expensive.

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