Building on Shoulders of Giants

Building on the Shoulders of Giants (reprinted from the Metro Spirit, 1-30-14)

For some reason, conventional wisdom states that the young should dominate the field of information technology.  No doubt that it’s due to the fast changing nature of the field.  More often than not, new technology arrives faster than most people can keep up.  Typical career paths move folks away from technology into management or leadership positions, and once invaluable skills become obsolete after a few short years.  However, some individuals persist, reinventing themselves every few years to stay abreast with current technology and channeling their knowledge into a resource for their community.  My father, Allen Baker, Jr., is one of those individuals.

Al Baker traveled the path of one of the few technology pioneers.  Graduating from Georgia Tech in the mid-1960′s, before the concept of information technology even existed, he began his career as a system administrator for a Fortune 500 company.  In those days, computers were held in rooms, algorithms were written using stencils, and applications were run on punch cards.  My dad was among the first generation of professionals helping organizations learn how to utilize this new and exciting resource.

Eventually, my dad’s career brought him back to Augusta.  In 1978, Al Baker became Professor Baker as he took a faculty position within the Math and Computer Science Department at the old Augusta College, now Georgia Regents University.  Over the next decade or so, he helped train the generation of IT professionals who would take Augusta through Y2K and the Internet technology boom.  Many of his former students currently hold technology leadership positions within Augusta businesses, government and non-profit organizations.

Always on the lookout for new opportunities, my dad worked with some former students to start a local computer support business.  Computer Masters of Augusta was born.  During the 35 years of his leadership, Computer Masters evolved with the industry to consistently deliver responsive, high-quality support to hundreds of Augusta businesses.  In addition, Allen received patents for the software he created to build a medical claims clearing business, Viatrack Systems.  This business is focused on improving the productivity, as well as the revenue collection, of hundreds of medical practices across the nation.

After 50 years in the technology business, Allen Baker decided it is time to join the ranks of the newly retired.  This Friday, January 31, 2014, CMA Technology will be holding a dinner to celebrate the achievements of our founder and technology pioneer.  I hope that you would join us in recognizing Allen’s dedication to service.  If his companies have helped you, please post your story on Facebook/ComputerMasters or Twitter @CMANet.

@gregory_a_baker

 

A Scientific Rush

A Scientific Rush (reprinted from the Metro Spirit, 1-23-14)

I see this week’s column shaping up in one of two ways:

 1.     Last week, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a critically important decision on Net Neutrality that will most likely transform the relationship between Internet user and Internet provider.  I can walk through this horribly complex and tedious topic, perhaps boring you to tears and possibly losing readers.  In the end, I can offer nothing much of substance since the Government statists and their private sector cronies are going to do whatever anyway.

Or…

 2.     I can talk about a shiny, new gadget that does cool stuff.

Yeah, I vote for cool stuff too.

But first of all, many parents are nearing a mild stage of panic as they realize elementary and middle school science fair projects are right around the corner.  The science fair project is the annual rite of passage where students demonstrate how well they understand and implement the scientific method.  The science fair also serves as a parenting exam to evaluate if parents can build a contraption consistent with the complexity of their child’s vision.  The fortunate among us have a friend down at TheClubhou.se or will meet someone at next week’s TEDx to help out.  The rest of us are on our own.

For those unfortunate folks (like me – remember I have twins!) ScienceDemo.org provides numerous ideas and directions for primary school level demonstrations.  In addition to the experiments found on the site, links to other science teaching and demonstration web sites are provided.  For example, one of the linked sites, SciCast.org.uk, showed a 12-ish year old student utilizing the scientific method to illustrate why “wee” is darker when you don’t drink enough water.  Don’t worry – there are plenty of other ideas that investigate air pressure, the melting point of water, traveling sound waves and the like.  And yes, the site is mostly focused on the United Kingdom.  That’s not a problem.  We all know that students with British accents sound smarter than our hick, redneck kids anyway.

Internet security also continues to be a hot topic, especially given the news of security breaches like the one that happened at Target.  While it might not of helped in the Target case, the use of strong passwords is one of the best defenses against hackers.  As a reminder, a strong password consists of at least 12 characters and contains a lowercase and capital letters, a number and a symbol.  Random characters are preferred, but if you can build a password from 2 or 3 words with characters swapped out for numbers or symbols, you’ll be doing much better than most.

Password management software vendor, SplashData, released its annual list of most common passwords.  For the last two years, the phrase “password” was the most common password on the Internet.  This year, the phrase “123456” edges out “password” for the top spot.  Other members of the top 10 include other easily guessed phrases:  “abc123”, “111111” and “adobe123”.

If you are guilty of using one of the really bad passwords, don’t feel bad.  During the Cold War, all of the Minuteman nuclear missiles in the U.S. used the same launch code: “00000000.”

I never did get around to talking about that shiny, new gadget…oh, well.  Maybe next time…

@gregory_a_baker

 

How Google Will Rule the World (Part 1)

How Google Will Rule the World (Part 1) (Reprinted from the Metro Spirit 1-16-14)

Every once in a while a random blogger will pose a question that seems dumb at first, but after some thought and further reading, turns out to hold a greater meaning.  Here’s the proposition: You are an alien species seeking to invade the Earth.  In order to collect information prior to the invasion, you have the opportunity for covert surveillance by taking the form of an animal.  Which animal do you select? 

The most popular answer is the one that I selected as well – a dog.  As “man’s best friend,” no doubt a dog could get “inside” for deep intelligence.  Other popular choices included various insects and, for whatever reason, rabbits.  Apparently, rabbits make ideal spies because they can hide “underground,” but they are cuddly enough to “get close” when necessary.  Maybe so, but I’m not sure if this guy is going to do any spying on anybody.

BTW – Cats were universally pooh-pooh’d as they were much too self-centered and unmotivated to perform even basic information gathering.

After a couple of weeks, a variant of this question came to mine as I read the technology headlines this morning.  If you could change into the form of any common household electronic device in order to perform surveillance on every household in the U.S., what device would that be?  The household thermostat would undoubtedly be a great choice.

Think about what your thermostat knows about you and your daily activities.

  • ·      It knows when you get up.
  • ·      It knows when you go to bed.
  • ·      It knows when you leave the house.
  • ·      It knows when you return.
  • ·      It knows when you are on vacation.
  • ·      It (potentially) knows where you are in the house and at what time.
  • ·      It can infer your level of activity. 

The only other device that could collect this level of information would be your TV remote control!

Segue to the Nest intelligent thermostat…  The Nest thermostat is the most widely popularized intelligent thermostat.  Out of the box, the Nest functions like a regular thermostat – turn to the right for higher temperature, turn to the left for lower temperature.  After about a week or so, this thermostat learns your preferences and begins to automatically set the temperature in the house.  The Nest also detects your presence when you come within proximity of the device.  If it doesn’t detect you for a while, it will automatically set itself to away mode to save energy.  The Nest also comes with WiFI and can be managed via website or smartphone app.  The Nest will also compare power usage with local weather conditions and report on energy consumption as impacted by the weather.

Pretty cool, eh?  I think so, too.  Here’s the catch…Google just paid $3.2B to acquire Nest.  The future according to Google seems to be coming into view.  I think it goes something like this:  you eat and sleep in a smart household managed by Google appliances and you drive Andriod-enabled smart cars.  All these devices are connected to the Internet using Google fiber services, and all your information is recorded in Google data centers.  Your information is then sold to advertisers in order to help them sell you more Google-connected stuff. 

Going back to the original proposition, have you decided what type of animal alien invaders would use to spy on the world?  In retrospect, it’s a question that only serves to distract us.  After all, if you focus all your energy worrying about someone coming from outside to take your privacy and freedom, you’ll probably not notice those coming from within.

 @gregory_a_baker

New Gadgets for a New Year

New Gadgets for a New Year (reprinted from the Metro Spirit 1-9-14)

Have you noticed that it’s been cold outside?  I’m not sure where these polar vortex things originate, but when they hit, the only thing we can do is stay inside.  Fortunately, the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show kicked off this week.  I guess since we’re stuck inside, we might as well jump over to CNET and take a look at all the new gadgets!

My first impression of CES 2014 is the amount of wearable and bendable technology hitting the street.  Samsung and LG all released curved, smart TV sets, and everyone seemed to have some version of smartwatch/fitness band.  A company called 3L Labs even introduced a Bluetooth-enabled product to be worn in a shoe.  The wearable technology is such a new market – who knows what killer products will emerge, although health monitoring is a good bet.  As for the curved TVs, they are supposed to provide an IMAX-like quality.  Personally, I have the perfect spot for one of the new 80-inch, 4K bendables.

Of course, you can’t have CES without smartphones.  However, as far as smartphones go, the CES vendors seem to be giving us more of the same – just with a faster CPU and more pixels.  The one phone that jumped out is something that is completely different.  Looking for a phone that will hold up on the job site?  Then this ruggedized phone from Caterpillar is made for you.  The Cat B100 has a 6-foot drop rating and will survive 30 minutes while completely submerged.  The phone has a rubberized casing and large, rubberized buttons designed to operate while wearing gloves.  The phone is available in Europe starting this month for 150 Euros.  U. S. pricing and availability dates will be provided later this quarter.

Fuel-cells are an emerging technology that have been floating under the radar for a while, but it appears to finally hit the mainstream at CES 2014.  (FYI – Fuel-cells utilize a chemical reaction to combine hydrogen and oxygen and produce electricity.  Fuel-cells produce no pollution as water is the only by-product of the reaction.) 

On the small scale, Brookstone introduced the Upp fuel-cell phone charger.  The Upp device, developed by Intelligent Energy, allows consumers to recharge mobile devices when away from infrastructure power.  Similar to solar powered recharging devices, the Upp uses hydrogen-powered fuel-cells to provide a recharge source.  The Upp stores it’s energy in a detachable cartridge that contains enough power for 5 full charges.

On a large scale, Toyota will introduce in 2015 an electric car utilizing fuel-cells to generate its power.  In contrast to the Tesla and other electric cars that use battery-power, the refueling time is much quicker.  A battery-powered electric car takes hours to recharge, while the hydrogen tank can be refilled in just a few minutes.  Also, the fuel-cell vehicle is more suited for long-distance travel.  The car will carry enough fuel to travel over 300 miles.  The new Toyota will initially launch in California.  The biggest obstacle is the construction of refueling stations, and the state has approved funding to build 40 stations between San Deigo and San Francisco through 2014 and 2016.

Of course, this is just a sample of what’s going on at CES.  While you sit inside enjoying your hot chocolate this week, Google up CES 2014 and enjoy!

@gregory_a_baker

 

 

 

 

 

Whizzing Through Atlanta

Whizzing Through Atlanta (reprinted from the Metro Spirit, 1-2-14)

Whizzing Through Atlanta – I’m proud to be from Augusta, Georgia.  As one of the oldest southern cities, Augusta holds a special place in the development of Southern hospitality and charm.  Manners are important, and we all teach our children to follow the golden rule.  Similarly, for the sake of Southern decency, some topics just don’t need to be discussed in public, much less in the media.  You’re probably thinking this is going to be another Phil Robertson reference, but no.  It’s the following Wired.com headline that caused me to cringe just a little.

Atlanta Battles Public Urination With Pee Detectors in Subways

How wonderful.  Now the whole world knows two new facts about Georgia:

1.     Our engineering prowess includes automated urine technology.

2.     Don’t ride MARTA. 

(I would tell you more about the article, but honestly, it just kind of flows downstream from there.)

Adventures in Xbox – I’m pleased to announce that Santa Claus brought me an Xbox One for Christmas!  As discussed here before, it’s been over 10 years since our family has purchased a gaming console, and I was completely excited to experience a decade of technology improvements.  So after the kid’s Santa, followed by Christmas brunch, then the family’s present opening and finally a trip to Grandmama and Granddaddy’s for a late lunch, by early evening I was able to sit down and play with Daddy’s new toy!

Well, not so fast.  The unboxing process is not that difficult, but it takes a few minutes to clear space for the new console and get everything connected.  I decided to connect the cable box through the Xbox, so that required a little bit of extra re-wiring.  After 15 minutes or so, I was ready to start playing.

Hold your horses.  Being a Microsoft device, updates must be downloaded and installed prior to doing anything else.  (And me being an IT professional…how could I forget that!)  Another 15 minutes, and we’re good to go!

But wait, there’s more.  Unbeknownst to me, all new gaming systems REQUIRE registration into their community to operate.  I enter the junk email address that I use for this kind of stuff and click enter.  The Xbox displays a message stating a verification email has been sent to that account.  After a “quick” password reset, I’m able to log in to verify the address.  Did I mention that it has to be a Microsoft Live ID email?  Well, bummer.  I create a Microsoft Live ID, and re-do the registration process.  Thirty more minutes.  Let the games begin!

No, not yet.  The Xbox needs to run through some configuration wizards to setup and calibrate the cable box, the TV and the Kinect.  While it’s pretty neat to see how the Xbox sends signals to the cable box and TV, all I really want to do is shoot something.  Another 10 minutes is gone.  Are we ready to play yet?

Possibly.  However at this point, my wife asked me to help her put the kids to bed and start cleaning up the house.  That took the better part of the rest of the evening. By the time we got everything done, she was ready to watch some TV – that’s right – on the same TV I installed the Xbox.  :-)

Happy New Year!