Friday, December 20, 2013

What Are Your Tech Habits and Grades?

We're in the deep freeze of winter here in Chicago, and spring is far cry away.  But no matter, `spring in this case is mostly a frame of reference.  Besides, I wrote this article a year and a half ago, when we were about to hit an unusual March heatwave.  

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March 9th 2012

Spring cleaning is an annual ritual in the US. Practically, it means staking stock of junk in your house and tossing it out, and altogether cleaning and organizing the rest of your stuff. Until the following year, that is, when this, too, becomes junk. Psychologically or spiritually, it means looking over your relationships, career or business, and other commitments, values and endeavors, and letting go of whatever you ought to let go and otherwise keeping what you want or need.

In essence, then, spring cleaning is an opportunity for a holistic, interlinked tune-up and not just a segmented, particular effort. You clean up your house, you feel more apt to deal with a sticky friendship. You clarify and resolve a career problem, you are ready to get rid of longstanding clutter on your desk.

So with that preamble aside, let’s jump into useful spring-cleaning advice - 10 Bad Tech Habits and How to Break Them. As an example, I grade myself on how well I maintain good habits:
  1. Keeping proper condition and posture (B). My chair at home is comfortable and supports my back well, and my desk is positioned so the monitor is angled properly and the keyboard keeps my forearms relaxed and parallel to the floor. With my mobile devices, not so good, as I’m often hunched over.
  2. Cleaning up my devices (B). iPhone, good. Tab, fine. But laptop, oh, man, it could use a good water-blasting. One key has totally fallen off, and the stenciling on many of the keys have been rubbed off from excessive use.
  3. Keeping off the smart phone (B). I’ve had a few friends who were blatantly and repetitively rude about answering calls and sending text messages, while in a meeting with me and-or others. Needless to say, they are no longer friends. Me, I get absorbed in it once in a while, but I’m good about putting it aside for meetings and meals.
  4. Backing up data (A). I’ve lost data before, but thankfully nothing bad or extensive. Still, in my business endeavors, content is my competitive advantage, so every few days I back up my precious files onto a 500-GB external drive.
  5. Taking regular breaks (B). I don’t do online or video games, but I do get absorbed with my work for hours at a time. There are a few times when I skip past lunch or dismiss the need to use the washroom.
  6. Maintaining proper shutdown (A). All good here. I shutdown my laptop and Tab, when I’ll be away for a couple of hours or going to sleep for the night. I have recently begun to put my laptop to sleep and turned off the (external) monitor, if I expect to be back in few minutes. I am also good at unplugging my devices from their power or charger.
  7. Keeping my devices off the bed (A). In Dubai, I periodically slept with my BlackBerry, that is, within easy reach on the bed, usually just to check my US sports scores in the morning when I wake up. Mostly, though, it was on the nightstand. Regardless, it rarely disturbed my sleep, and on the whole the bed is rarely a place where I work my devices.
  8. Updating systems regularly (A). No problem here. I have a small backup laptop, which I don’t really use. But periodically I switch it on, so that Windows and programs can update themselves.
  9. Having strong passwords (A). No problem here, either. They’re alphanumeric, and I change them periodically.
  10. Optimizing my device batteries (C). I know I need to do this, but I have rarely done so.
One more thing, not having to do with devices per se:

Keeping social sites free of clutter (A). I delete favorites, groups and pages, contact details, trash and spam on a regular basis. Whether it’s on YouTube, Gmail, Skype or iPhone, the content on my sites and devices is clean and orderly. 

Spring cleaning, in this vein, is pretty much a regular habit.

Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!

Ron Villejo, PhD

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Keep Your Pants On, Google Street Views Comes

Google Street Views
We know that Google has been in serious hot water over its privacy shenanigans, but the stories in PC Mag are just silly - Frenchman Sues Google Over Public Urination Street View Pics

First story

It so happens that a certain Frenchman urinated in his garden, and Google Street Views nabbed him. He’s engaged an attorney to sue for damages, to a tune of €10,000 euros, as he’s become the laughingstock of his village.

I’m thinking, Dude, are you kidding me? What, your toilet wasn’t working? Or were you just too lazy to walk a few meters inside to relieve yourself privately? Isn’t there a French law that prohibits such public activity anyway?

Second story

An American couple was none too happy that Street Views took photos of their home. Now, apologies, if their family name (Boring) wasn’t silly enough, then their $1 winning award was definitely a rolling-on-the-floor-laughing (ROFL).

The judge initially threw out their case, but they appealed and won. Google had to dip into their super tight budget, but did manage to pay this (ahem) hefty settlement. I guess American law is entitled to have its fun now and then.

Anyway, Street Views reminds of the film War Games: The Dead Code.  The uber-smart military computer, named Ripley, is programmed to stamp out terrorism anywhere in the world. But two innocent high school boys stumble unwittingly into a war game, and become the target of her defense system. There is virtually no place they and their accomplices can go, where Ripley cannot track them.

Kind of like Google and Street Views.

Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!

Ron Villejo, PhD

Monday, December 16, 2013

Discretion is the Better Part of Social Media

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Social media has clearly emboldened many to speak out, when perhaps they wouldn’t otherwise or elsewhere. It has become the lightning rod for that reverential Freedom of Speech. As far as the workplace in particular is concerned, there is a veritable battle around the choices and consequences of speaking out. But you see in Social media sites becoming NSFW [not safe for work] that the matter can literally spin your head in circles. Who or what is protected, where and when something is said, etc. in New York alone, can make you falling-over dizzy.

So what to do? For me, it’s about discretion. 

For employers, treat your employees fairly and customers respectfully, or else face the wrath that only social media can deliver.

For employees, what you say on your personal Facebook or Twitter profiles is always a matter of choice. But I do not recommend airing dirty laundry on your company in such a public forum. Never mind privacy controls or legal protections, speaking out on these sites is like two announcers talking candidly and negatively with each other during a commercial break, without realizing that they’ve got a hot mike (i.e., their talk is being broadcasted).

It was Falstaff, the stoutly, pub-frequenting friend of Prince Hal, the future Henry V, who said the better part of valor is discretion. So it is for these emboldened employees, too.

Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!

Ron Villejo, PhD

Friday, December 13, 2013

Human Bent of Amazon's Octocopter Delivery

Bloomberg's Tom Keene, Sara Eisen and Scarlet Fu seem to scoff at Jeff Bezo's octocopter delivery concept (hmm).  You'd think by now, people, especially business reporters, wouldn't be so dismissive of futuristic, innovative ideas.

eBay leveled off in 2013, after a steady upward rise in its stock performance over five years. This rise coincides with John Donahoe's appointment as President and CEO in 2008.  There is certainly no dismissing such performance, especially during a devastating downturn.  But I wonder how innovative eBay really is.  Donahoe's reference to bold innovations in commerce, delivery and PayPal does not seem bold.  They're not among The 10 Most Innovative Companies of 2013, based on a Booz & Co. study.  

Be that as it may, eBay is proof positive that you don't have to be an innovation leader, in the least, to do really well as a company.  Yet, I'd still caution CEOs like Donahoe from characterizing what Amazon and Google are doing as "long-term fantasies," lest their companies go the way of BlackBerry.

Amazon hopes to get its delivery-by-drones plan "off the ground" by 2015. Is this possible? Kramer Levin Special Council Brendan Schulman visits the News Hub to talk about laws and FAA regulations related to this endeavor.
There was a bit of a discussion, after I posted this video no Google+:
There was a tongue in cheek response I saw yesterday on the Amazon drone topic. It basically said, if Amazon drones start up, the next big thing will be how many are shot down by people looking for free stuff. Although the comment was a little funny at the time, it actually could become a big concern.
Definitely, Joy. It's an awesome retail idea, but Jeff Bezos said we were about five years away from seeing these drone deliveries from Amazon. So much that has to be worked out are the human factors. The technology is already here.
The technology is here for a 15 minute flight time and if your lucky a 1km return trip no waiting around. In 5 years they will be more valuable than what is in the box and they will be unguarded? They would have to add prop cages but this is a crass play on peoples wishes of a high tech Amazon and future. Like the old Pop Science cover stories. At best for them these will replace the workers in the warehouses which is what I suspect this is all about.
Safeguarding both octocopter and order must be on Bezo's To-Resolve list, as the economic and political fallout of lost jobs must be as well.

(image credit)
I guess that, in the future, babies can be ordered on Amazon, and have them delivered to eager, waiting parents in a matter of minutes.  

Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!

Ron Villejo, PhD

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Talking Gloves, Fun Vehicles and Gulfstream Jets

This latest Bluetooth offering lends new meaning to the phrase Talk to the hand!  At one point, I had the habit of gesturing to my colleagues: call me (thumb and little finger spread, as with the talking glove) and e-mail me (finger tapping an `air keyboard).  They teased me for my gestures.  Wait until I buy each of them one of these babies!  

I want that Toyota FV2 for Christmas!  I can be the geeky (but cool) sidekick to Batman in the next film.  I can act good, too.  I've already performed Macbeth on stage.  

High tech + high luxury = Gulfstream G-650. OK, I want to buy it!  Now, to come up with $65 million...  Can I crowd-fund this top wish list item on Kickstarter?

Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!

Ron Villejo, PhD

Monday, December 9, 2013

From Science Fiction to Technology Reality

In AI (Artificial Intelligence), an advanced humanoid replaces a son for a despondent couple.  Their son is in a coma, and there is no telling when, or if, he'll wake up.  As deft drama would have it, however, that son does reawaken and soon pits himself against his robotic playmate.  

Atti is more of a cute playmate, then a parent replacement.  Busy parents will sometimes plant their young children in front of the TV, while they do things around the house.  So Atti can preoccupy the little ones better than TV, because it can interact intelligently.   

In the classic Terminator, the cyborg is sent back from the future to the present to kill the lady, who bore a son, who was to become a revolutionary leader.  The cyborg, superbly cast as Arnold Schwarzenegger, that is, before a huge road fire stripped him of his flesh, is all metal, mechanics, and intelligence in the final scene.  

Walking like a cyborg is no small feat, and no fiction, for Michael Gore.  This is not new technology, or at least the concept isn't new.  But perhaps we're closer, yet, to using robotics to help us walk or otherwise navigate our lives, post-injury.  

A Virtual Retina Display, eh.  Our retina becomes a screen in how I imagine the old projection TV functioned.  It's super-intriguing.

Denzel Washington, in the film Déjà Vu
In one of the most awesome, mind-bending scenes in Déjà Vu, Washington is chasing after a terrorism suspect, who is in the past and in the midst of activities leading up to his bombing of a passenger-full ferryboat.  The high tech glasses permit Washington, who is in the present, to go mobile time-travel, that is, outside the control room, and thus pursue the suspect to cut short his activities. 

So can the Virtual Retina Display peer into the past or into the future?  

Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!

Ron Villejo, PhD

Friday, December 6, 2013

Can We Resolve the NSA Fiasco Cooperatively?

Data centers are under high lock-and-key, and the locations of these centers are classified information (rf. Google).  But the cables that transmit data are, by contrast, apparently not.  So the snafu arising from secret surveillance by the National Security Administration is reverberating globally.

I imagine the NSA is caught between the proverbial rock-and-a-hard-place: They must protect Americans, but they need information to do so.  The highly combustible balance between security and liberty is at issue.  Yet, the handling of this issue by President Barack Obama and his administration has at best not inspired a whole lot of confidence among Americans and has at worst only reinforced their amateurish, inept efforts.

Bloomberg Contributing Editor Richard Falkenrath discusses the popularity of apps that delete all data after use as a tool against NSA spying. He speaks on Bloomberg Television's "Bloomberg Surveillance."
Because technology is ever evolving, such an app is welcome.  Yet, it must be an ongoing development.

Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer
“As you know, there have been a number of reports over the last six months about the U.S. government secretly accessing user data without the knowledge of tech companies, including Yahoo,” says Mayer. “I want to reiterate what we have said in the past: Yahoo has never given access to our data centers to the NSA or to any other government agency. Ever.”
Reference:  Yahoo Will Follow Google In Encrypting Data Center Traffic, Customer Data Flow By Q1 ’14.

Reports of NSA spying on our data are very disturbing. Google began protecting our data last year, and Yahoo! is scrambling to do the same by January 2014. Microsoft is late to the party. What about the hordes of other companies that collect our data?

Yet, the fundamental issue I raised at the outset remains a quandary indeed.  Are we to play a high-tech cat-and-mouse game with the NSA, or more importantly are we all to band together, address the heart of the matter, and come to a working solution and resolution?  We can compete, and we can battle.  But at the end of the day, the question is why?  

Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!

Ron Villejo, PhD

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Wild, Wide-Eyed Future of 3D Printing

London is hosting an international 3D print show - attracting the latest technology and innovation for the industry. Bloomberg's Ryan Chilcote headed down to investigate how 3D printers intend to revolutionize your life.
This past month there were 3D Printshows in London and Paris, and up next is New York City in February 2014.  We are still a ways away from mass 3D manufacturing, but the applications are already astounding: from car bodies and anatomical models, to fashion design and film costumes.  But development and evolution tend to make technology smaller, faster and cheaper, so we have reason to expect a future when things we own are things we printed.

A small manufacturing company in the north of England is hoping to revolutionize the world of prosthetics. Bloomberg's Ryan Chilcote reports on how 3D printers are being used to - literally - print eyes.
At the present: Prosthetic eyeballs take 6 weeks to make by hand, and cost $10,000.  In the future: 12 hours, and $160 (after economies of scale).  Such phenomenal lifts in the numbers alone.  I imagine healthcare systems are keeping a close eye, literally, on such technology, because it can be a game changer in the increasingly competitive landscape they're in.

Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!

Ron Villejo, PhD

Monday, December 2, 2013

Robots Can Disrupt Markets and Save Lives

Two hundred years ago, 90 percent of America's workforce was in farming. Today that number has dropped to 2 percent. Silicon Valley startup Blue River Technology is hoping to close the gap on the labor market with their LettuceBot. Cesar makes real time farming decisions on one California's biggest crops. This robot is attempting to disrupt a $1.4 billion dollar lettuce market.
 Lettuce is apparently no small market, and farming is clearly a labor-intensive effort.  But sophisticated algorithms in the LettuceBot can ensure the right spacing for optimal growth among lettuce plants.  It is costly technology, but Blue River carves its business model around service.  So here we have another example of why STEM education - science, technology, engineering and mathematics - are is critical for future (and current) jobs.  The LettuceBot may disrupt the market by supplanting low-skilled labor on the farm, and may - just may - improve the bottomline for farm owners.

Bloomberg looks at HyQ, a robot from Italy that may soon be saving lives after an earthquake strikes.
Humankind has evolved from a bent-over, hunched on all-fours ambulation, to an upright, two-legged one.  Moreover, with our seemingly boundless creativity and discipline, we have created sophisticated vehicles with wheels for speed and wings for flight.  But HyQ makes it clear that we have not surpassed the usefulness, and underrated sophistication, of an animal like sheep, or goat, or dog, especially in navigating rough, sloping terrain.  By all means, deploy such robots in a post-earthquake site.  It's quite costly technology, but with recent weather devastation in the northern Philippines and central Illinois, what country or state can afford to lose lives, instead?

WildCat is a four-legged robot being developed to run fast on all types of terrain. So far WildCat has run at about 16 mph on flat terrain using bounding and galloping gaits. The video shows WildCat's best performance so far. WildCat is being developed by Boston Dynamics with funding from DARPA's M3 program.
Similar to HyQ, Wildcat leverages the sophisticated anatomy and movement of four-legged animals, but this robot is built for speed.  I imagine that it already has military uses, as is, but with improved speed, agility and quiet, its applications can multiply easily.

Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!

Ron Villejo, PhD