My wife and I were fortunate enough to spend time in Paris last October. A friend of mine, who has traveled extensively in Europe, gave me some terrific advice: regardless of where you’re traveling, learn how to say hello, goodbye, please, thank you, and excuse me in the local language. It will get you much more polite treatment, even if you have to lapse back into English, because you’re making an effort to speak their language.
What’s my number one recommendation for the New Year? Don’t do it yourself anymore.
There was a time when you had to run software yourself. There was no secure, public internet, no way to provide remote access to software. Now, almost every application you need to run your business is available in the cloud. Office suites such as word processing, spreadsheets, email and calendaring are available from both Google (G Suite) and Microsoft (Office 365). Quickbooks Online does small business accounting, and NetSuite does the same for larger businesses. Everyone offers some form of file sharing, so no need to run an in-house file server. Slack has become the established way of communicating within teams and companies. And these companies take care of the details such as backing up your data, and ensuring those backups actually work.
I was at TEDxSonomaCounty a few weeks ago, and one of the afternoon’s presentations was a short play built on the notion that we are merely part of a computer simulation, much like Neo in The Matrix film series. The play posed the question, “What parameters might be changed to make our (simulated) world a better place to live?”
Everyone is concerned, to various degrees, with online privacy and security. You’d like to be sure that personal information—like your home address or what you buy from Amazon—is kept private, and that your online banking information is secure from thieves.
Making purchases and handling electronic accounts over a public network (the Internet), which we access through our Internet Service Provider (ISP) means you don’t control who touches the data on its way from your computer to Amazon or Wells Fargo.
It’s August, and there’s nothing new in tech. Lots of concern over privacy and security: not new. Facebook and Google know too much about us: not new. Smartphones are the dominant lifeform in the universe: not new. Small businesses (for good reasons) are reluctant to embrace new technology: not new. Life may seem boring for a tech columnist.
Over the past few weeks, you may have noticed a dramatic increase in privacy-related emails from the companies you deal with online. The reason? The General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR, a European Union (EU) regulation with which any company doing business with an EU citizen must comply. As a result, most global companies are changing their policies for all users to be compliant with the GDPR, and hence the avalanche of emails you’re receiving.
Since my last column, Facebook has admitted that the data of its 2 billion users has probably been taken by unscrupulous applications, for whatever reason. There’s been a lot of lamenting about how a service, which so many people use, took such poor care of their privacy. But the truth remains, most people willingly give Facebook access to information about them in return for a free service, which lets them post words and pictures, and stay in touch with people and organizations doing the same.
The news has been buzzing about Facebook and the ways in which it accumulates and reveals information about its users. There have been calls for people to #DeleteFacebook, and chances are that by the time you read this, Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive officer, will have testified before Congress. The proverbial feces hit the fan this month when it was revealed that Cambridge Analytica, a British political consulting firm mined data on about 50 million Facebook users and provided that to the Trump campaign during the 2016 U.S. election. It’s also important to note that this was not a “hack” of Facebook’s computers. The data—at the time the exploit occurred—was accessible to anyone writing a Facebook App.
When you stop to look closely, there are lots of technologies in use at your business. There’s a computer, your Internet connection, maybe a computer network and various types of servers. There are also printers and copiers as well as your phone system. For retail operations, there are point-of-sales systems. There’s credit card processing, word processing and spreadsheets. There’s accounting software, scanners, document storage and retrieval, computer security. The list goes on and on. (In all the excitement, I forgot to mention email, text messaging and social media.) Frankly, it’s overwhelming.
I just looked at the “10 Strategic Technology Trends for 2018” from Gartner (formerly the less-impressive-sounding Gartner Group), who makes their money by being smart about technology for big companies who can afford their subscriptions and consulting services.
For the past two months, I’ve been writing about cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, so-named because the blockchain technology that underlies them is based on cryptography (encoding data so that only people with the proper keys can read it). Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies like Ether and LiteCoin work like cash, in that they are anonymous.
Last month, I introduced the idea of “distributed ledger technology,” which is another name for the blockchain, a way of accounting for transactions without a central trusted authority. The most well-known public blockchain is associated with the Bitcoin digital currency, and is used to keep track of transactions of that asset without a central bank.
There’s a lot of hype around blockchains these days. It all started with Bitcoin—a form of digital currency, which doesn’t require a central bank to operate. Bitcoin is like cash: it’s anonymous, and using it carries no transaction fees (unlike credit cards). Bitcoin (and to a lesser extent other digital currencies) has grown in popularity since that time, and increased in value. If you had bought a single Bitcoin in June of 2013, you would’ve paid $128.10. On October 1 of this year, that same, single bitcoin was worth $4,280.11, a 3,300 percent increase. (Bitcoin has been around since early 2009. In late 2009, the first exchange of real dollars for Bitcoins valued a Bitcoin at about 10 cents.)
Last month, the names, addresses, birthdates, and Social Security numbers (SSNs) of 143 million Americans were revealed in a security breach at Equifax, one of the “big three’” credit bureaus (along with Experian and TransUnion). Since this personal information is essentially your identity in the modern world, the breach is a Very Big Deal, and opens those affected to identity theft, especially as it relates to applying for credit.
The Great American Eclipse of 2017 has come and gone, and I was fortunate enough to see it. Although total eclipses are fairly common (one takes place somewhere here on earth every 18 months or so), they’re the result of an amazing cosmic coincidence: viewed from earth’s surface, the discs of the sun and the moon are almost exactly the same size. This is due to the fact that the moon—while 400 times smaller than the sun—is also 400 times closer to earth, allowing the moon’s disc to completely obscure the blindingly-bright disc of the sun without hiding the sun’s outermost atmosphere, the corona. It’s the corona that gives a total eclipse its otherworldly quality and scientific value.
In his 1997 book The Art of the Deal he [Trump] wrote "I don\'t even know how to turn on a computer."
I’m writing this in early December, but barring some unexpected event, Donald Trump will become the POTUS on January 20, 2017. It seems appropriate to consider what this means for technology, if anything. To quote Scientific American, “President-elect Donald Trump’s views on technology and tech policy were not prominent campaign features on his contentious path to the White House.”
While we may be deeply complex individuals, our expression of that complexity is sometimes markedly less apparent.
When the cost of a robot is less than the cost of an employee (considering benefits and turnover), companies will increasingly turn to an automaton.
PSS has made it possible to follow someone who commits a crime forward and backward(!) in time to see where they came from and where they go.
It's nice to see an application that takes people outdoors and gets them walking.
It is nearly impossible to write bug-free software of any significance.
Whether it’s a real brain or an artificial one, the trick is to train the damn thing.
My number-one complaint with the online job process is that rarely do you hear much from the companies you apply to.
I'm fortune I have a skill set that (I think) remains in demand.
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