28 May 2014

A foggy Surface over the lost boys of Redmond.

The new Surface 3 Tabtop (tablet + laptop) is being heralded as the best vision yet of the “post-post-PC world”. Whatever that means. No question, Microsoft makes hardware that, from a construction perspective, is at least on par with anything that Google or Apple has created recently. The problem for the lost boys in Redmond is that they still do not comprehend the cloud universe that so many of us are living in now.

The argument for the Surface is that it is two devices in one - your tablet and computer in a pretty package. And, hey, they are absolutely correct that the new generation of tech owners carry two devices today. A smartphone and a tablet. Yes, corporations and geeks like you and me probably roll with a personal computer because we are messing with Creative and Visual Studio in our free time. (We will ignore the fact that the original Windows 8 release gave our group a middle finger salute.) However, the new generation of silicon users have no need for an old fogey laptop.

Do not be fooled by new terminology. Two "post"’s cancel each other out leaving only the "PC world" behind. Your typical consumer reads email, shops on Amazon, hangs out on Facebook, creates the occasional word processing document and posts photos to Instagram. There are countless web tools for document creation and photo editing that allow anyone to bypass the graduate degree needed for Photoshop. People live happily on nothing but an iPhone and iPad, yet Microsoft is attempting to get them to come back to Windows when they do not need it.

I admit that I question the usefulness of a Surface 3 in a corporate environment, too. Most businesses have either arrived or are setting sail for a land where all of their information is available securely through a web browser. Whether it is Citrix or adopting Google Drive, the days of storing your work locally on a computer that requires heavy-handed software running locally are as modern as a Friends episode. Even if there is a special need for a “grab and go” tablet/laptop for your Visual Studio coders, they are still going to need an internet connection. Did Microsoft mention that their $900 to $2000 Surface 3 is wifi only? Microsoft has built the perfect replacement for a MacBook Air while ignoring that the core demographic does the bulk of their work in iOS, Android or Chrome device, often with a built-in cellular data plan to back up their home wifi.

Home PC’s are on the road to dinosaur status and even the tablet market is being replaced by large smart phones. The “future” of mobile technology can be found in devices like the Chromebook. For one third of the lowest price Surface 3 you can carry an HP Chromebook that is solidly constructed, runs lickety split, has access to just about any cloud application you need and includes a cellular connection with free data for the life of the device. It truly is a “grab and go” product that meets the needs of 90% of the market for a dirt cheap price.

Microsoft can continue to provide the Surface devices for niche markets, much like Apple happily builds OS X systems for graphic designers. If they want to compete for what people are buying "next" then Microsoft needs to toss out the Windows and build a true cloud device. How about an "Internet Explorer Book"? Build something that only runs IE, is designed as beautifully as a Surface, includes a cellular modem and sells for under $300. They will sell more of these cloud-only devices than all the Surface sales combined in less than a few months.

Most of the consumer world left Windows for cloud options two cellphone contracts ago. There is still plenty of room for Microsoft up here, though. I would hate for these beautiful cumulus formations to pass by before Microsoft even realizes what they were missing.

24 May 2014

Will modern society be smart enough to reduce the impact of climate change?

Sorry to be so serious, but I encourage everyone to READ THIS ARTICLE, please. This isn't a political game anymore. This has become a certain reality. Yes, there will be idiots out there that would rather hide their eyes than own up to what we have done, but doing so will bring the end of not only the United States of America but potentially everything we love about society today.

Humanity is now staring at the largest global catastrophe in the recorded history of mankind. Not an "if" - it is a scientific certainty. We all had fun laughing at Al Gore's numerical errors but ignoring his words has doomed society as we know it today, potentially within the lifetime of our children. There is still time to minimize the impact, but everyone needs to be aware that the time to act was yesterday. The question now is how big a price our grand-kids will pay for our short-term gain. Do not be fooled. There is a wide range on how big the damage will be, so there is a much larger price for continuing to do nothing.

We must stop thinking in terms of the next few years. Tomorrow's corporate gain often causes long term destruction. The price of energy made from dinosaur juice does not begin to address the untold damage from the emissions. Capitalism currently has no serious way of addressing this distressing reality. The global damage from this ice sheet is coming, but if we do not stop pumping CO2 into the air then we will also have Greenland and many other ice sheets to contend with causing non-stop catastrophes. "Reduce" is no longer good enough. We must make the choices to eliminate use of all fossil fuels. Period.

We only have one world to live on and we are supposedly the most brilliant creatures to ever walk on it.. Let's prove that by making certain it is a live-able environment for our species for centuries to come.

R.I.P. corporate I.T. department.

If you are working for a mid-size company and have the title of I.S. Director or CIO, it may be time to start brushing up your resume. It may not happen tomorrow or next year, but the days of those titles may be numbered. The fact is that there is a much smarter way to have geeky needs taken care of in an office today and it is only a matter of time before everyone realizes it.

As someone who used to be a CIO at a mid-size company, it was interesting to wake up one morning and realize that the value of having internal information systems employees was fading away. The most technically minded and efficient companies used to be the ones that had the smartest technology staff in-house to match software and hardware with corporate workflows. In fact, that strategy of making technology match the way a company does business is still my recommendation for every one of my clients. The problem is that the ideal path to get there today is to use true experts, which often means outsourcing the propeller heads.

Thanks to smart phones and internet use, everyone in the world has become a computer nerd. We all know about Instagram and Skype and that gives each individual direct control of their personal tech universe. However, the stuff happening behind the scenes to make corporate applications run smoothly and the business network secure is far more complicated and changes on a weekly basis. Try as they might, a company geek will not have the time to be an expert on Cisco, VMware, Exchange Server, Citrix, SharePoint and being available 24/7 for help desk. That takes a team of individuals that are each focused on the specific category of technology, where it is going and the best way to configure that for a company. It also requires a group of support staff being available around the clock for employees of your firm, no matter where they are and what time they are doing it.

The individuals working at a company need to be expert in the core business of the organization. If your company mission is to sell Wack-a-Doodles and you are spending the majority of your time reading about the latest VDI techniques then you are working for the wrong company. Wack-a-Doodles R Us needs employees to manufacture and sell their products - everyone else is expendable. If you cannot directly demonstrate how your work has generated profits for the firm then you are not a core part of the organization.

Given the cost of outsourcing staffing, an argument could be made at the wacky manager meeting that they can save money by hiring a tech employee or two. Doodle manufacturers may not want to be on the silicon bleeding edge so there is financial incentive to stay internal. Except .. How will a business of Wack-a-Doodle experts judge technology staff? How can they tell whether their geeks are the best choice and being as productive as possible? Even if your technology is recognized as the best in the Doodle industry, it only takes someone suggesting a new Wack-a-Poodle direction and all will be questioned.

There are employees on the periphery that are relatively safe. Your account staff that keep customers coming back for oodles more are fairly safe from the ax. Corporate training employees that are deeply involved in developing workflows can prove themselves to be mission critical to the future of the company. But the people installing Windows updates? It is too easy to argue that an outside company filled with dozens of tech geniuses would be a much better choice.

This does not necessarily mean you need to leave your favorite firm. Business analysts who can design, create and use data warehouses to drive decisions for the company are becoming a critical force in corporations everywhere. If you can find a niche where you are using technology to move the core function of the business forward then you may have found a perfect spot for the future. Just stay away from hiding in a server room.

Tech mangers that want to remain at their current organization need to clearly define their strategic value to the future of the company. Do not wait for management to suggest it - you need to be the visionary to put forward a strategic plan for moving the tech department to an outside firm while outlining where your new home will be within this framework. Or perhaps you are ready for a new line of work anyway and you can lead the new direction while asking for time to find a new environment for yourself elsewhere. Regardless, do not wait for the Wack-a-Poodle to be invented before tackling this. No one wants to be the poodle.

18 May 2014

The Amish are not afraid of the cloud.

Did you know that the United States government knows exactly where you go each and every day? Yes, even if you are a Limey on holiday in Costa del Sol. They know your corner store, cinema, pot shop (if you are so lucky) and the route you take to go to the Thursday night poker game. They know what you spend money on and where, not to mention any bank information that they have an interest in digging up. Frankly, if they cared, they could know more about you than you do.

How is this possible? All thanks to "the cloud" and all of the drops of data it is evaporating from you. That smart phone you carry around everywhere is tracking your every move. The press may talk about the NSA compiling phone records but what they really watch is where everyone is going and who they are seeing. They also track every other electronic transaction happening in the world, and since bank accounts are kept less secure than medical records, you can bet they know every financial nugget there is. How do you think the United States is so good about freezing the finances of their favorite bad guy of the week?

It is not just the feds that play Messiah on the information superhighway, of course. Every corporation out there is keeping every drop of zeros and ones they ever come in contact with. The NSA certainly has built the Himalayan bit bin but Google, Microsoft, Apple and Amazon are creating their own Rocky Mountain range of your personal goodies.

I am not telling you this to pull your fear chain. Quite the opposite. Once we all move past this "oh no, they know everything about me" then we can finally start our pleasure hike on this new electronic frontier.

It is absolutely critical to be concerned about security, but only the security that you have control over. For example, you should not use the same password on every login page and, unlike in bed, length is the most important thing - at least 14 characters to protect anything of importance. Use a password tracker like LastPass or RoboForm so you never have to write a password on a sticky note. If you are particularly concerned then sign up for dual layer authentication with Google or any other major vendor that supports it. (And if they don't then take your business elsewhere.)

Once you have taken these basic steps then you can skip the Xanax pills. Yes, occasionally a hacker will break into a site and cause trouble or a vendor (I'm looking at you, Target) will just drop 100 million of our credit cards in their car park. But why worry? If you are so sensitive about your private information then toss your smart phone in the toilet, bury your money in your mattress, use your computer for target (or Target) shooting and move to Lincoln, Montana. The rest of us need to move on.

Modern life is a trade-off. Unless you are Amish, you need to embrace how wonderful this technology can make our lives. Our entire digital universe can live in the cloud and we can carry around nothing more than a web browser and use free software to be more connected and productive than most everyone. Let the pundits, Microsoft and Edward Snowden shout about how terrifying this technology is while the rest of us enjoy the pleasures of our new cloud universe.

03 May 2014

Global warming and George Will's war on progressives.

Dear Mr. George Will,

You are a brilliant person. Certainly more intellectually gifted than my marshmallow brain. There is no person alive that has a more historically accurate understanding of baseball, which shows you have the capability to bring this yesteryear acumen to so many subjects. Unfortunately, you regularly waste your genius creating fictional straw man that serve no purpose but to falsely prove your pet notion of the day. Your latest scarecrow yanked out of Oz is "global warming" which you have dressed as nothing but an excuse for radical agendas by the crazy "socialists". Normally I would ignore your misguided nonsense to defer to the brilliant excerpts from Wrigley Field. Pretending you do not participate in political posturing is often the best way to keep your curve-ball thinking from overshadowing your finer points, but it is time to address your falsehoods.

First, George, no matter how brilliant you may be, you should avoid inventing new definitions. The Democrats are not a socialist party any more than Republicans are a group of fascists. Both notions are ludicrous radical associations to demean the opposition. China, Vietnam and Cuba are socialist countries, though even China is adopting capitalism where it suits them. There is not a single Democrat in Washington (even our POTUS) that is proposing that all construction and major industry in this country should be wholly owned by the feds.

Most of us in "the middle" will happily admit that there is barely any difference between our political parties. If you want truly diverse parties then look at so-called "third world" countries that are in radical turmoil. Or perhaps point to Great Britain with their entertaining governmental goulash. Historically, both parties have added significant spending. In fact, depending on how you cut the numbers, you might see that Republicans have added more to the national debt than their socialist nemesis. Even the evil Barack Obama has kept nearly every program his Republican predecessor started - in some cases, drastically enhancing them. Yes, you hate "Obama Care", the act invented by the blessed conservatives during the Clinton years and later put in action by Mitt Romney.

Your feigned concern that Democrats are the only ones who want major government programs also strikes out in the face of history and common sense. Do you advocate ending all police and fire departments? Eliminating the national defense? Eliminating our prisons and stop funding our farms? Close all public schools and stop paying social security and Medicare benefits? Heck, let's start by firing everyone in Washington and see where that gets us. (Actually, that idea sounds pretty good.) Yes, I am walking your reductio ad absurdum yellow brick road to burn your straw people without brains, but my point is that you cannot with one hand call the bad people socialists while you secretly covet your own favorite governmental meddling.

If we look back at history you can easily see that Republicans are as adept at adding new limbs to our bubbling budgetary booyah as anyone else. Whether it is Nixon's Environmental Protection Agency or George W. Bush's Homeland Security, they love to shop for your most hated portions of our country. Yes, Democrats might want more of some, less of others and are absolutely equally to "blame", but both sides have been greasing the ball.

You have been making these nonsensical accusations for as long as I can remember and I could have happily moved on without saying a word until this interview. When you start putting your mystical shenanigans as a defense for those unwilling to conserve energy and reduce carbon dioxide emissions, you are giving them yet more inaccurate fuel to their polluting fires.

Let us start with terminology. A better term would be "climate change". Much of the world will get much warmer but other parts will get cooler - at least for a while. Some will get more rainfall and others may get a nice Sahara. As we all know, predicting the weather for the next day is difficult for climatologists and it is especially problematic to determine exactly what will happen in each spot on our blue rock, but we do know what the planet was like the last time we enjoyed a super-sized carbon atmosphere and need look no further than Venus to see how trapping heat can make for a toasty terrain.

Just because we commercially exhale more than the trees can consume does not mean the planet will die. Far from it. Mother Earth will be here until our sun becomes a red giant and, frankly, might benefit from the upheaval in homosapien societies. What we have created is the next major species extinction, currently named "the Holocene extinction". While there will surely be many extinction events to come in the next four billion star rotations, this one is at least 95% owned by the human population and has the potential to make as big of an impact on our lives as a new Chicxulub crater.

You dismiss this as political posturing since "we've been through this before" when Newsweek published a story about global cooling. Those reports were pure media hullabaloo, though on a much smaller scale than WMD's in Iraq. The scientific community in the 70's had no consensus for what was happening to our climate. That is not the case today.

Saying that we might "waste several billion dollars of global growth on new models that might be wrong" is the same as saying "there is no need to plant crops because summer might never come". Technically both statements are absolutely true. We cannot predict our climate with 100% certainty. However, scientists can reach a consensus that something will occur and what is causing it.

There is not a single national or international scientific body that does not support these conclusions:
  • Our planet is warming.
  • Humans are the primary cause of this change in our climate.
  • Certain ecosystems will be dramatically impacted by this over the next hundred years.
Not a single one, Mr. Will. These changes are already in progress and we can either sit idly by and let them drown Miami and New York, or we could start to mitigate the damage and prepare.

I honor dissenting opinions and, thanks to the political architecture around this issue, there has been no shortage of them over the past 20 years. We were told this is all Al Gore fiction. That the climate is not changing. That humans are not the cause. That this is a natural change. That this will really not have a big impact. That there is nothing we can do about it anyway. It is great to be skeptical, but the science is in.

If a planet destroying asteroid were headed our direction and astronomers predicted an impact with 95% certainty, would you want to do anything about it? What if stopping the asteroid would cost billions of dollars? I mean - they could be wrong, right? It is just those silly scientists. What do they know?

Our honey-badger of a world does not give a shit whether you are on the left or right side of the Washington rainbow since the damage will touch all of us. If we do not become more efficient energy consumers and find ways to create flowing electrons without putting exhaust in the air, we will see significant change to this planet that will disrupt the world economy in ways we simply cannot predict.

Over the next century the human civilization will witness one of the most rapid changes to our environment in the history of this planet. We can embrace efficiency and move toward energy systems that do not cause global warming (nuclear, wind, solar, hydro) to avoid the worst case scenarios, or we can ignore it. We are making this choice for our children and grandchildren - not us. They are the ones that will enjoy the fruits of our conclusions. Choose wisely.

If you determine that you have no interest in spending a few bucks more on energy to help future generations, so be it. You're old - I get it. You have a fixed income and cannot afford to give more to the power company. I honor your decision. But, please. Stop saying stupid shit, George. You are too smart for that.