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TED Talk – Robots good or bad? October 11, 2012

Posted by shwaldman in Society, Technology.
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I saw this talk on my ipod this week and had a strong reaction. I am curious to hear how others feel about this talk.

I was in agreement with this talk right up until the very end. Technological improvements are coming and they are intended to improve our lives. What I disagree with is the notion that we will be able to utilize these improvements for everyone to free us up to enjoy our lives more and spend less time working. The world is not equal and because the people that have power can continue to grow their power and wealth, there will be no way to create fair balance. I wish it was different, but I am not sure how we can change human NATURE.


Goals, motivation and priorities June 12, 2012

Posted by shwaldman in Family, Fitness, Technology.
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Hard work, dedication!

Is reaching you goals that simple? Of course not, for anyone with a real life. I have really enjoyed watching the NBC hit show Biggest Loser in which contestants are sent off to a secluded ranch to working with world class trainers to reach their fitness goals. One of these trainers liked to use the mantra “Hard Work! Dedication!” I like that, too, but if we all had that opportunity to focus on one goal at a time, we would be able to accomplish that one goal. But variety is the spice of life and we all have battling priorities.

I am very curious about many things and so my list of what I count as priorities is pretty high. One thing I am curious about is how to better organize my do list and have it do the mental work of prioritizing for me. I have tried many apps and different techniques but I think the ability to prioritize on the fly is nearly impossible to turn over to a computer (yet).

The problem is this: we all have a list of to dos and we all have calendars, the power of the human brain is that it can take those data elements and ranking in terms of importance. And it does this so quickly we often don’t even “think” about it. Picture this, you are at a sporting event with a drink in one hand and a snack in the other. Suddenly, a ball comes sailing in your direction. What happens next is a matter of how quickly your brain process all the important data points. Should you save your drink or project your body? You have an important meeting at work, but your child’s school calls and you have to go pick them up. We make these instantaneous choices throughout the day. Of course, these are the “emergency” examples.

This image comes from the web site of Myrko Thum who discusses Time Management and the Seven Habit of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey.

What about the priority choices we have to make? Watch an interesting show or exciting sporting event on TV or get to bed on time? Watch TV or read that book you have been wanting to finish? Work on a home improvement project or get some exercise? It seems simple, but these are the priorities we have to rank careful to make ourselves happy. Some have only short term consequences and others affect us over the longer term. The matrix above sums it all up, but how do you choose between similar and competing interests?

I would like to hear how others use technology to help them make the right choices, satisfying their needs and making themselves happy. Please comment below.

Why Technology Does Not Work – Take 2 August 26, 2011

Posted by shwaldman in Society, Technology.
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A couple of week ago, I wrote a post “Why Technology Does Not Work” did not turn out at all as I had expected. I had planned to go into why the advanced in software development and complexities of our gadgets offer an overwhelming number of options. I did not plan to go down the path of technology not serving the greater good – although I feel this is still a valid point. I think the news of Somalia has just been too heartbreaking to ignore.

The question I should have asked is: If you had a VCR, when VCRs were the thing to have, did you set the time or did it always blink? If I had to fathom a guess, I would estimate 50% of VCR owners never set the clock because it was either perceived as being too complex or it seemed like a waste of time since it had to be done every time the machine lost power. But the value of the VCR was in it knowing the time and being able to set a schedule to record a show when you were not at home (as well as play videos otherwise recorded). They were the original time-shifters. Yes, it existed before the DVR/Tivo.

Now if you have a DVR or a Tivo, answer the following question: Do you use it to schedule shows for recording when you are not there to control the machine? Without any in depth research I suspect a higher percentage of people are able to use DVRs for their intended purpose than used the VCR in the same way. While this is a very simple example, it actually runs counter to my hypothesis because of its simplicity. Tivo is a great example of how technology works, but the company is struggling and I think it should be doing so much better because its simple interface is so much better what most people get with their cable subscriptions.

I try to pride myself on reading manuals and learning about the features of new equipment and software that I use. But the reason I have come to the conclusion of this post is that I am finding that more and more of our technological advances in software applications is not productive. I feel like we are getting more and more features and options for options sake.

Take the recent release of OS Lion as an example. As a recent convert to the Apple empire, I am still very green in this environment, so I am hesitant to move to a new release. In an effort to understand it more, I have read stories, watched podcasts and done my best to learn what the improvements are. But one feature enhancement I keep hearing about is how Apple chose to reverse the way scrolling works on the touchpad. To me, you intuitively drag your fingers down to move down in a page. But Apple made a change that makes a downward motion cause upward scrolling. There is a checkbox to reverse this reversal, but why?

I look at the Microsoft Office applications and I wonder how many different ways can you do somethings… usually three, if you are counting. It is something they strive for in their applications to give users different options. And back to all those applications in the app store… over half a million. I would like to put it out there for all software developers that we need to stop making new functions and features and start making the technology work better FOR the users. There are lots of defects in code and complexities that we continually add only adds to the defects. When are we going to see the minimalist green movement come to software code to make end users jobs easily and we take advantage of the power of the computer, not the programmer?

In this age of no manuals (or at least no one reading them), we need to make the interfaces more simple and intuitive. We need to stop trying to give users so many options that it complicates the experience. Users are looking for productivity tools that make it easier to do more in less time. We need to see applications adhere to the less is more adage for options and more is more for features and functionality.

Why Technology Does Not Work August 10, 2011

Posted by shwaldman in Society, Technology, Work.
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When I grew up, there were no (or very few) cell/mobile phones. The phones we used had a rotary dial that required you to work to make your call. When you wanted to do a load of wash, the machine probably only had 5 modes for small, medium and large loads. A car radio had AM and FM and maybe a cassette player (or 8-track). According to the Nielson Company, 50% of cell phones will be smartphones (versus feature phones) by the end of 2011. (I might actually switch early next year if I think I can finally justify the data plan.) So, today, these smartphone cell phones are computers that can do just about anything (take pictures, send emails, play games) and even the basic feature phones can do these things. My washing machine has 12 preset cycles, plus additional options for fluffing the wash, timed cycles, and using less water while it auto adjusts/recognizes the size of the load. My car radio has AM, FM, 6 CD slots, Sirius XM, as well inputs for Bluetooth, Auxiliary cable and even USB. (yes, I have tried all of them.)

In the US, we pride ourselves on having options. Those are a lot of options. At what point is there too many? There are over 300,000 apps in Apple’s app store. Many of those are different photography apps that can give you any number of filters, editing features and sharing tools. Think about all the ways you could share a picture with others.
1) Print it and send it via “real” mail.
2) Email it.
3) Post it to Flickr, Picasa, Snapfish, Kodak, and many many others.
4) Tweet it to TwitPic, Instagram, yFrog, and many many others.
5) Facebook, Google+, others….

I think I could go on and on. How do you decide? Which is the “best”? Is one more effective or efficient? In today’s world, we are all looking for ways to be more productive, but I have ask, how can we be more productive with all these options and new ones that come out every day?

The next part of the problem our society has with all these technology advances is that each one has more options than people can comprehend. While all these improvements are supposed improve our productivity, only a small percentage of people even 1) know about new application 2) take the time to learn about new options and 3) make it a habit enough to make them more productive. While a larger percentage of people are using these complex tools for games like Angry Birds, Cut the Rope and others that don’t do much for productivity or real mental stimulation and enhancement.

I am very concerned about this cycle. There is a whole industry built around this process and the amount of real productivity gains we get is so small. One of the current financial debate topics in the US revoles around the urgency for more jobs. More than two years ago, after the financial crisis started, I wrote about a need for a new outlook on the “new economy”. But two year later, the debate still hasn’t resulted in any clarity. Do we want to create more jobs that are just creating more brain drains? Are we creating jobs solely to support our need to have more time wasters? I don’t get it.

And as I write this, I think about the reporting that is coming out of Somalia and the massive famine and drought that is destroying that area. We have a massive disconnect between what we want and what we need. Despite all the technological improvements we have made in the last 30 years, the problems the world is experiencing are no different or are growing. The only producitivity improvements we are getting are in those things where people can make lots and lots of money. If there is no money in saving lives,… our priorities are screwed up.

Yes, there a niche markets for people to “donate” there time and some money on hobbies that look into goodwill activities. But what we need is a way to funnel more of the world’s free time and talents into solving the world’s issues. Every time I run on a treadmill or workout on a stationary bike, I think about how inefficient that is. Yes, I am doing something good for my health, but I am also using electricity, when in fact there are ways that my activity could be generating electricity. And why doesn’t this change? My hypothesis is that the answer is that while the initial price of adding the generator technology is there, it isn’t as much as the money the electricity company is losing month after month.

Privacy is so 20th Century January 13, 2011

Posted by shwaldman in Society, Technology.
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I was reading this article on the MIPro Consulting web site. It raises some good questions about privacy and current examples in the news. There is a lot of concern that our Constitutional rights are being violated when government or corporations use our information for any reason. As a global society now, we need to break down that sentence for it to really apply.

Although these examples are not exactly the same, I cite the following headlines to draw the connections…. The Italian courts recently ruled that web sites are responsible for the content they host. The Amazon, the largest book seller in the world, was recently forced to stop selling books because they contained offensive content, despite free speech laws. We have Global Positioning Satellites (GPS) that can provide clear images of any location in the world, regardless of fences or “Private Property” signs. And of course, every time Facebook, the digital social network of 500+ million people, changes their security scheme, a new uproar starts. Each of these headline stories have ties to privacy rules and raises the question: Where do we draw the line?

I think it is time for a real world discourse to begin on how our privacy works in a global world. We live in a world very different from the one in which our Founding Fathers wrote our founding laws. I am pretty sure the only things they thought would float in the sky above were stars or planets. Now we have planes, satellites, unmanned drones… and we keep talking about flying cars.

Changes in Technology have forced changes in laws. Before the 1900s, there were no laws about cars, prior the 2000s there were no laws about texting. Each iteration of the improvements in our world warrant changes in how we have to enforce individual safety. And unfortunately for us, the faster technology seems to bring life at us, the slower our law makers seem to adapt and accept these changes.

Now is the time to accept that Privacy is over. We need to stop thinking that the information on digital devices can be kept inside the walls of the “owner” or even that there was an owner. I can not say I am happy about this either, but I have come to accept it. And here is the (most recent) reason… this past week our country watched as a gunman opened fired on a public crowd in an open parking lot for a political event. How do I draw this link, you ask?

In the days following the attack, people have asked how could this have happened? Each day more and more details come out about how this individual had mental challenges. People knew he was unstable. The government had denied his applications for service. His father even had a conflict with him that very morning. And yet this individual was able to buy a gun and ammunition. He was able to freely walk up to a dedicated public servant in a crowded open area and shoot her in the back of the head before turning on other innocent individuals.

If you think nothing could have been done to prevent this incident, you need cross-reference this with the futuristic movie, “The Minority Report.” The information is the available. The computer horsepower is there. What we need are laws that actually protect people and property, not rights. The right to free speech is limited to protecting people. The right to everything else should be the same way. If what you are doing, or could do, is a danger to other people you should be held responsible. And we need to build our social system around that concept. That means, yes, public health needs to come back as a priority. It was eliminated in during the Reagan Presidency and there certainly still individuals preventing it still. But without a public oversight, the private sector will never be safe.

Forget Tablet Computers – this is the future November 17, 2009

Posted by shwaldman in Uncategorized.
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This video demonstrates some amazing technology that is literally at our fingertips. It will turn the world upside. Forget all the new laws for texting while driving – this goes far beyond what people do with phones. And yet, that is all the technology is… amazing!