Tech Savy

(Reprinted from the Metro Spirit, May 25, 2011)

Tech Savy

On the surface, I’m not sure if anyone outside the CSRA is going to rank Augusta terribly high on the quick adoption of technology trends.  Not much is going on with GroupOn.  Twitter is kind of slow.  The more established sites like Facebook and LinkedIn seem to be working well here.  Craig’s List is absolutely hot for the used furniture market (so I’m told).  But, honestly, my best success in hiring engineers is to put an ad in the paper.  For some reason, we seem to be a bit fickle about high tech.

I find that interesting since the major components of Augusta’s economic engine depend on technology to accomplish their missions.   Granted, no computer system in the CSRA appears on the list of Top 500 Supercomputers.  And I have not heard of any Augusta companies making a fortune through developing iPhone apps.  However, if anyone were to say Augusta is not tech savvy, they would be greatly mistaken.

Let’s start at Fort Gordon…Fort Gordon supports numerous missions in the defense of our nation, most of which are technology related.  Just a couple of highlights…All Army information technology and communications training is conducted at Fort Gordon.  A large portion of the IT management for the U.S. based infrastructure is performed at Fort Gordon.  And don’t forget the NSA.  Whatever they are doing, their reputation for using the latest tech is pretty secure.  (No pun intended)

Now let’s jump back downtown and look at medical technology.  On the clinical side, a quick review of our local hospital websites shows that robotic surgery is ubiquitous.  MRI’s are standard equipment in major medical practices.  On the administrative side, all medical administrators are aware of the $26B put in the stimulus package for Healthcare Information Technology.  Seems like there should be an impact in Augusta, yes?  And indeed, many healthcare organizations are addressing implementation and upgrade of Electronic Health Records systems.  Augusta start-ups such as the one founded by former MCG Health CIO Hal Scott have been established to help healthcare organizations qualify for incentive payments.

And of course, we can’t leave out the nuclear folks that form the third leg of Augusta’s economic engine.  Now, nuclear engineering isn’t rocket science, but I’m guessing it probably takes a little more than a mouse and a big screen LED to run a nuclear plant.

So with all this technology driving our local industries, why do we seem to be fickle?  Maybe it’s because of our old school view on customer service and relationships.  Unfocused technology creates information overload and causes businesses to lose focus on providing service.  Somehow we Augustans inherently get that.  As a result, technology that works is adopted.  Gadgets that waste time, no matter how cool the functionality, never leave Atlanta.

So while we might continue to hear folks criticize Augusta for being slow with technology, my guess is that they will never be able to slow down enough to understand why.

Until next time, see you on Twitter!  @gregory_a_baker


Online Privacy

(Reprinted from the Metro Spirit, May 18, 2011)

Online Privacy

We are entering a new world of working the internet.  The tech experts call it the era of the Modern Web.  It’s mobile, it’s social.  You use apps like Zillow to get the prices of homes on the Hill as you drive down Walton Way.  Applications like FourSquare allow you to discover nearby restaurants or  shopping deals…or even identify yourself to all the singles at Somewhere In Augusta before you even walk in the door.

However, over the past couple of weeks, some of the ugly in the technology world underscore how our new found productivity can create significant vulnerabilities to our online security.  Several big system hacks have been in the news lately, but the big one of course is Sony’s Playstation Network and Online Entertainment servers.  See the Sony Playstation blog for complete details, but in summary, the personal information of over 77 million users were accessed in one form or another.  In another news story, we were informed that the iPhone maintains a record of everywhere we’ve been for the last month.  Not to be left out, Android phones also periodically contact Google with technical information on usage.

So what does this mean?  Is our identity in danger?  Does this mean an end of privacy?

I don’t think so.  First of all, I believe that it’s an unrealistic expectation that you can operate on the internet in complete anonymity any more than you can expect to drive down Washington Road without anyone seeing you.  The best value of social networking is using technology to augment and be more productive in the relationships we currently have.  Building relationships is a personal activity.  How can you possibly build a relationship with an anonymous individual?  You can’t…and internet predators consistently exploit this fact.   I believe that it is important to keep the link between our online presence and the real world.

That said, privacy must continue to exist when you go online just like it does when you go into your house and shut the door.  Private networks must continue to remain private, and if you share your identity with someone, you have the right to demand to understand how that data will be used.  Do the necessary controls exist for online privacy?  We’re probably not there yet, but I think it has more to do with the maturation of new technology than an overt conspiracy to destroy our privacy.

So how should one guard their online identity?  In short, the same you guard your individuality.  Be aware of what you are doing online.  A good rule of thumb is to assume everything is public unless you can verify otherwise.  Engaging in ecommerce from a reputable site is secure.  Connecting to an unmanaged, public WIFI without the appropriate protection exposes all your data.  Don’t think that there aren’t predators out there sipping on their coffee waiting for the next score.  And of course, advertising yourself on a singles app connected to a Facebook account friended to your spouse…very bad.  For specific things you can do to protect yourself, Google “online privacy” to get started.

As for me, until next time, I’m off the grid.  -Greg