There Is No Magic Stick

(Reprinted from the Metro Spirit, 3/29/2012)

Springtime in Augusta is upon us, and every longtime Augusta resident is well into their annual routine.  Many work on beautifying their yards – power wash the house, weed and feed the lawn, clean out the beds, plant annuals, put down pine straw, etc.  Others focus on the pollen – get allergy medicine, hose off the deck, wash the car, etc.  There are those that prepare for the visitors – some in hospitality, some renting their house, and some to entertain old friends.  And of course, we have a few that can’t wait to pack the car and get out of town.

And then we have those that those that look forward to the golf.  I’m not talking about those that are constantly angling for badges to buy and sell, or the casual fan that follows the Pro Tour for one week a year.  (Isn’t it true that even the most sports-indifferent Augustan always seems to know who’s at the top of the leaderboard on Sunday afternoon?)  No, I’m talking about the die-hard duffers that play two or three times a week.  Their minds are an encyclopedia of every carry at the River Club, every fairway at Jones Creek, every green at Bartram Trail.  For them, walking is the preferred way to tour the loop at Forest Hills.  Every spring these golf patriots spend hours walking the aisles of Bonaventure, silently inventorying the equipment, searching for that magical stick that will make right everything that is wrong.

Technology is on the side of the golfer.  Over the past 20 years or so, we’ve been introduced to an innumerable metals (stainless steel, carbon steel, zinc, aluminum, maraging metal, titanium), multiple shaft types with varying degrees of flex and torque, groove shapes, cavity inserts, blade size, and the list goes on.  The golf balls have been dramatically improved as well, perfectly dimpled and balanced to fly far and straight.  We have better grass, dryer sand and softer greens.  Video is available to provide insight and feedback, and machines are used to shape our muscle memory.  No matter the weakness, a piece of golf technology exists to fix your game.

Here’s the thing, though…with all the advances in technology, why has the average score for men and women remained largely unchanged over the last 100 years?

According to the National Golf Foundation, the score for the average golfer has remained around 100 for decades.  In reality, while even the most novice golfer can tell the difference between a 30-year old cavity back and one of the modern variants, technology does not impart the skills necessary to shoot low scores.  Our culture increasingly promotes the entitlement of instant gratification, and advertisers play to that perception, promising longer distance and greater accuracy.  And on every second or third shot, we might see some improvement – a ball that went a little longer or perhaps a little straighter.  Ultimately, however, our handicaps stay the same because we want to buy a better game, and the game of golf is a mistress that can’t be bought.

So the next time you are in Dick’s holding the new Callaway RAZR X, pause for a moment and consider that maybe technology isn’t the answer.  Think about the benefit to your game if you spent that money on range balls, and let’s face it, a few lessons wouldn’t hurt.  Acknowledge the fact that it’s chipping and putting that is going to take your game to the next level.  Resolve yourself to the fact that you know what’s necessary to improve your game and that you are going to do it.

That is, right after you finish paying for the Callaway, hitting the range and knocking the crap out of a bucket of balls.

Until next time, I’ll see you on the internet.  @gregory_a_baker


Geek Dads Are Cool

(Reprinted from the Metro Spirit, March 22, 2012)

Three Million and Counting – Apple announced that they sold 3 Million iPads over the weekend.  That amounts to one iPad for each person that saw Dr. Suess’ The Lorax last week.  Initial feedback from the buyers?  Just what was expected – Totally Awesome!

Pack ‘em in – Seagate announced this week that it has become the first company to achieve a storage density of 1 terabit, or 1 trillion bits, per square inch.  For comparison, the total number of stars in the Milky Way galaxy is estimated at 200 billion to 400 billion.  This milestone was achieved using a new recording technology call heat-assisted magnetic recording (HAMR).  The first generation HAMR drives will double the storage capacity of existing drives.  The theoretic peak density is estimated at 5 to 10 terabits per square inch.  Impact to the consumer?  Look for hard drives to reach 60TB within the next decade.  For those of us with HD video collections, they can’t come soon enough!

Big Easy Goes Big Tech – Did anyone read the opinion piece in the WSJ last week about New Orleans transforming itself into a tech town?  About 10 years ago, a group of visionaries created an abstract organization called the Idea Village.  This Idea Village would be an innovative center for start-ups by sponsoring events and providing capital to bolster local entrepreneurship.  Last week, it held its fourth annual Entrepreneur Week, featuring 525 start-ups competing for $1 million in capital and consulting services.  The silver lining of Katrina is that it provided the opportunity to remake its failed institutions, and New Orleans got serious about changing its culture.   Last year the city was citied by Forbes as the #1 brain magnet for college graduates, and Inc. magazine called it the coolest start-up city in America.

Remember a couple of weeks ago, when the mayor announced the Augusta Regional Collaboration project?  I can’t think of a better place than the Garden City to grow seed capital.

Hip to be Square – According to a recent survey sponsored by Cisco Home Networking, the Geek Dad is quickly establishing himself as the coolest member of the family.  The Geek Dad loves tech gadgets – 80% say they are one of the first of their friends to buy new tech products – and he is eager to share this passion with his kids.  Interestingly enough, the kids are into it as well, with 71% of respondents saying they are spending more time engaged in activities with their kids than their fathers did with them.  The Geek Dad isn’t completely Nerd City – 77% are into sports, 65% are into the outdoors, and 82% are into music. But while kids say that their Geek Dad is cooler than other dads, there is a downside.  Twenty percent admit to using technology in secret to avoid being discovered by their wives.

History Without Proof – This past week, I read an article discussing the demise of print media.  The article pointed out that we are at a point in history where human-readable content may soon cease to exist.  Think about it…most “print” content is no longer visible to the naked eye without some sort of machine intervention.  So what happens to our history when nothing is “written” down?  How would a future archeologist study our era if none of our intellectual creations could be examined?

Unfortunately, rather than continuing with the thought experiment, the article tried to connect the end of print media with the Mayan calendar and the end of the “recorded” time.  In another weird twist, it further degenerated into a discussion of whether the tablets used in Star Trek were of iPad or Android linage.  I guess some print may not be worth keeping.

Star Trek Tablets – Actually, not a bad question… Apple or Android?  Thoughts???

Until next time, I’ll see you on the internet.  @gregory_a_baker

New Gadgets for Nerds

(Reprinted from the Metro Spirit, March 15, 2012)

Two updated products were released for public view over the past couple of weeks:  Windows 8 and the new iPad.  Each of these products continues the transition away from traditional desktop computing and toward a touch environment.

The new iPad (a.k.a. iPad 3 or iPad HD) debuted last week.  The most notable upgrade is the new retina display.  The 9.7-inch display achieves a 2048-by-1536-pixel resolution, surpassing 1080p HD and rendering your eye incapable of distinguishing individual pixels.  The new iPad possesses four times the number of pixels of the iPad 2 and better than 35% more pixels than a comparable 1920×1200 resolution tablet.  Expect to see crisper images, cleaner fonts, and a superior image quality.  A quad-core GPU is included in the package to drive all those pixels.  You have to think that battery life is going to take a hit due to additional processing, right?  Apparently, only a marginal hit.  The new iPad specs show a battery life of 10 hours.  Once again, Apple has set a standard that all the wanna-be’s can only dream about.

The new iPad also included a number of incremental upgrades.  The rear-facing camera was upgraded to 5 megapixel and can shoot video at 1080P resolution, matching the resolution of the iPhone 4.  (BTW – Not sure how you feel about it, but silly as it looks, I’ve already started seeing folks taking video with their iPad.  The conventional wisdom is that folks won’t use their iPad as a primary video capture device, but mark my words, it’s going to happen!)  Wireless connectivity will be primarily through WiFi and Bluetooth with a 4G LTE option through AT&T and Verizon.  Apple also updated some of its iLife applications to run on the iPad, most notably iPhoto, allowing users to edit pictures directly on the iPad.

On the downside, Siri doesn’t live in the new iPad.  I had expected her to come along, but I guess she can be a fickle kind of gal.

Should you get the new iPad?  If you don’t have a tablet, or if you have an iPad 1, what are you waiting for?  Online pre-ordering began last week.  If you want to receive it in the next month, you better order now.  If you have an iPad 2, the choice is not as clear.  If your primary iPad use is to keep the kids quiet while eating out (after all, some kid hater may be sitting behind you), you will probably be alright where you are.  If you keep your life on your iPad, even without Siri, you’ll want to upgrade.

The Microsoft Windows 8 Consumer Preview was released during the last week of February.  Windows 8 promises to be the operating system that unifies the desktop and tablet environments.  The Consumer Preview includes all the updates made since the Developers Preview was released last fall.  Microsoft claims that over 100,000 code changes were made since the Developers Preview, and the result is a cleaner, more unified and more mature operating system.

The primary features of Windows 8 begin with the Start screen.  The Start screen replaces the iconic Windows Start button we all know and love.  The Start screen is a combination program launcher, dashboard and app switcher.  Initially, the screen is pretty blah…but after some customization, the true functionality becomes apparent.  Each Start Screen block serves as a link to an application or file capable of providing real-time feedback such as weather information, messaging, or the current audio track.  The icons can be organized into groups.  The Start Screen enables search simply by typing.  This is a key feature as Windows 8 productivity depends on an efficient search implementation.

Other features utilize Microsoft’s cloud infrastructure.  For example, users settings can be sync’d between desktops through Live ID.  This feature allows users to move between devices without having to reconfigure their accounts on the new device.  Other features such as Sky Drive are also available through the preview apps provided with the release.

Another nice feature is the ability to create a refresh point so that the operating system can be reloaded without the loss of user data or configurations.  Anyone that has lived through a “wipe and reload” will appreciate the benefit.

The changes in the Windows 8 user interface create some concerns regarding user productivity, especially in the business environment.  The Metro style interface is primarily a touch interface.  Certain accommodations allow for the use of a mouse and keyboard.  Users will have to learn new ways to accomplish some tasks.  Also, additional training may be required to help users learn about the hidden UI elements and the numerous keyboard shortcuts.  Bottom line, it’s too early to know if point-and-click users will suffer a loss of productivity versus touch users.

Ultimately, Microsoft is banking on consumer adoption to drive the utilization rate within the enterprise environment.  “Bring Your Own Device” is the direction enterprises are taking, driven by the widespread use of smartphones and, yes, iPads (see above).  While Apple has largely abandoned enterprise management, Microsoft exposes a policy structure to help administrators manage user devices.  In Windows 8, Microsoft seems to include the hooks to allow management of side loaded, line-of-business applications; however, most of the details regarding the management of corporate apps on user devices are still to be determined.

Bottom line…Windows 8 appears to be a very solid, well thought-out and much needed advancement for the Windows operating system.  Given another 6 months of maturity before General Availability, a good probability exists for Windows 8 to compete with Android and the iPad in the tablet/touch market and still maintain dominance in the desktop market.  While several factors will influence the adoption rate within the enterprise, the real question is whether the consumer market will judge Windows 8 as a suitable alternative for the iPad.  Only time will tell.

Until next time, I’ll see you on the internet.  @gregory_a_baker

The Hype Cycle of Life

(Reprinted from the Metro Spirit, March 8, 2012)

By now I’m sure that everyone has heard of the Gartner Technology “hype cycle” in one form or another.  The hype cycle is a construct that helps illustrate the lifecycle phases of a new technology or product.  In short, it goes something like this:

  • Trigger & Rise – A new creation or innovation shows a great deal of promise.  The pundits and visionaries all claim that this will change life as we know it, and every start-up company includes this technology in their venture capital pitch.
  • Peak of Inflated Expectations – The hopes of this new creation continues to grow to a point where the promise exceeds reality.  A first generation product is released.  It’s expensive and requires a large amount of customization.  The products lose favor as the gap between expectations and performance is impossibly large.
  • Trough of Disillusionment – The technology continues to mature through the efforts of true believers.  Expectations are brought back in line with reality.  Second generation products are released.
  • Slope of Enlightenment – Early adopters start meaningful implementations that improve productivity or lower costs.  Real-life experience spurs the next round of development.
  • Plateau of Productivity – Third generations products are released, and widespread adoption begins.  The original promise of the technology is realized.

While the hype cycle was created to illustrate technology development, its application extends well beyond technology.  For example, high school graduation could be seen as a trigger event in your life.  The first few years after graduation show incredible promise as you experience your new freedoms.  Of course, after time, the party scene gets old, the bills start coming due, and thoughts of, “OK…what’s next?” begin to surface.  The upward slope begins when you begin to re-discover your core talents and how to apply them in a manner that provides service.  Hopefully, we all make it to a plateau of productivity where we understand our strengths and know how to add value to our relationships.

I suspect that the ups-and-downs of the hype cycle will be experienced many times over the course of a lifetime.  I know that I’ve been through it more times than I want to count.  My favorite part is the beginning where imagination is the only limit to potential.  I really don’t have a least favorite.  The Disillusionment phase is humbling, but I’ve come to understand myself better during those times.  The Productivity Platueau is, quite frankly, a bit boring; however, I’ve found it’s during this phase I make the best long term decisions and do better financially.

So where are you in your personal hype cycle?  Great innovations don’t occur on their own, and a great idea is nothing but a thought until someone takes action.  The hype begins when you make something happen.  Go make something happen!

If you need more inspiration, go see Space Shuttle astronaut Kathyrn Thornton speak on Thursday, March 8, at 7 p.m. in the Maxwell Theatre at Augusta State University.  She flew on four shuttle missions during the early 1990’s, spending nearly 1000 hours in space.  I hope to see you there!

Next week, we will hit on some of the tech news with a recap of the March 7th iPad event and a review of the Windows 8 consumer pre-release.  Until next time, I’ll see you on the internet!  @gregory_a_baker  L8R.

A Good Week for Augusta Technology

(Reprinted from the Metro Spirit, March 1, 2012)

Before I get started here, I want to make one thing perfectly clear – I am a big fan of the technology resources that Augusta region has to offer.  I have written numerous times about the technology school at Fort Gordon, the world-leading nuclear system development at Plant Vogtle, and the medical information technology leadership shown by GHSU and University Hospital.  In addition to these, we have numerous technology peaches that reside quietly in our community.  From time to time, I’ve had the good fortune to collaborate with several of these organizations.  By and large, they are committed to Augusta, and while unheralded, their contribution is very positive.  They make you proud to be part of this community.

That said, as it stands right now, no independent observer will ever confuse Augusta with San Jose, Austin, Raleigh or any of the other technological forward-leaning regions.  The tech communities in these locations still radiate the energy released during last decade’s tech boom.  The innovation leaders in these communities work at the very beginning of the adoption cycle, moving from one disruptive technology to another.  The critical mass of visionaries and entrepreneurial leadership present in these regions bestow (dare I say it) a certain level of coolness that hasn’t been cultivated in the Garden City.

So last week I was encouraged to hear Mayor Copenhaver discuss his Augusta Regional Collaboration (ARC) Project.  The ARC project seeks to establish a regional collaboration center to incubate and accelerate new partnerships, new business models and new enterprises.  The collaboration center would leverage existing expertise in the region to mentor new entrepreneurs and create an environment that fosters technology start-ups.  The Mayor’s initiative is motivated by desire to establish a knowledge-based economy in Augusta where the technical expertise and capabilities of the community provide the region a competitive advantage in attracting capital.  So many times I’ve participated in discussions regarding how Augusta possesses all the right components to re-establish itself as the great city it once was.  The ARC Project could be the beginning of something really good.

Also last week, the Technology Association of Georgia (TAG) held the inaugural meeting for its Augusta chapter.  TAG is the leading technology industry association in the state, serving more than 15,000 members.  TAG’s mission is to educate, promote, influence and unite Georgia’s technology community.  Augusta is one of six markets that TAG will be expanding into during 2012.  I believe this organization will provide an opportunity for our community to establish a statewide recognition of our capabilities.  My company has already signed on as a corporate member, and I would encourage readers to attend the next TAG Augusta event.

In consumer news, it looks like the iPad 3 will be here in mid-to-late March.  The latest rumor involves a shipping document posted on Chinese website WeiPhone.  According to this document, initial deliveries to the U.S. will begin on March 9th.  Another posting on the Chinese site presents a leaked price list with the iPad 3 about $70-$80 more than the iPad 2 (iPad 3 16GB WiFi @ $579).  Best Buy recently reduced the price of all iPad 2 models by $50, a further indication that the new iPad will be here soon.

A company in the UK is marketing an intelligent, cattle collar capable of detecting subtle changes in the animal’s behavior through an integrated 3D motion sensor similar to the Wii.  Their status is communicated to the farmer via text over a wireless 3G network.  Now when you go out to take care of the herd, you’ll already know which ones are in a bad mooo-ed.  How awesome is that?

Until next time, I’ll see you on the internet!  @gregory_a_baker  L8R.