Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Best Way To Keep A Secret

Facebook has been taken to task for playing fast and loose with our privacy. Big brother (the Federal Trade Commission) is looking out for us and has now forced the Z-Team to play by new rules. If they want to make changes to our accounts the FTC ruled they have to first tell us and then ask us to say it's okay before making the proposed change. In other words, they are being compelled to ask subscribers to opt-in to any new features, settings or new plans the boys on the Z-Team might have for using our information.

Now I am all for better protection, full disclosure and audits to ensure no one is pulling a fast one. But at the end of the day, if there is something you don't want anyone to know about you consider not posting it in the first place. No doubt Facebook will ask for permission as required, but they hold all the cards. If you want to use some new feature or application and the "price" of doing so is the right for them to collect your data then most people will still click okay, agree, include me, allow it or whatever button presented says.

This reminded me of another recent discussion chastising personal computer software purveyors for their lengthy and unintelligible end user license agreements (EULA.). No one takes the time to read them (except perhaps lawyers.). People just click accept, approve or agree and complete the install or begin using the service. We're all guilty of this. Some government officials are now trying to address this issue as well.

This is not really a technology issue. It has more to do with the people behind the products and services we use on-line. I have always maintained you cannot legislate ethics. People will exploit data for profit or justify breaking trust for truth, justice and the benefit of mankind.

Facebook can be made to ask politely and clearly for permission to peek at your data, and EULAs may be rewritten in clear and concise language and people will continue to go along with whatever the provisions may be. We are dealing with the "me generation" who expect easy and fast applications that behave the way they want them to and, by the way, they ought to be free. To expect to get this and give nothing in return is ludicrous.

I use Google Voice. I know Google "listens" and mines this data to learn about me and other people like me. Yahoo tracks your searches, Amazon tracks purchases and Expedia your travels all in an effort to gain a better understanding of you and consumer behavior. It has been said that we are not the subscriber but rather the product. We deliver value to these services in return for functionality they provide us. I'm okay with that and so are the vast majority of people. If you don't like this bargain you can always opt out. Don't use the service.

So change the rules and simplify the language. Make sure people understand who has the right to access their data. Make them click two or three times and my guess is the outcome will be the same. People will continue to use these services, the provider will continue to gain value in some way and life will go on.

In my view the better answer is education. People must be smart about what they post. Assume what you post will have a much broader audience than just your intended audience. Assume it will be out there for a long time and that it may still be found by search engines five or ten years from now. If pictures or comments may some day cause embarrassment or worse, why post it in the first place?

As my friend Barbara always says, the best way to keep something secret remains not to tell anyone.

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Rolling The Dice At The CTC IT Summit 2011

Today I am attending the Connecticut Technology Council **  IT Summit 2011 at the fabulous Mohegan Sun Convention Center. This is an annual  networking event conducted for the purpose of getting senior IT executives in mid to large size companies located in the state of Connecticut to meet. It is an opportunity to get to know one another, hear presentations and exchange knowledge and experience. It is designed to help make these professionals more successful.

I was invited to attend and moderate a panel on one of the hottest topics today. Senior IT management everywhere are grappling with the trend of employees wanting to bring their own devices to work. Once upon a time, you had the latest and best technology at the office. But today, with the consumerization of technology, the average man on the street has more fire power in his pocket than many office workers have on their desk.  Homes are equipped with faster and completely unfettered access to the internet, while in the office you have to run an electronic gauntlet to eventually squeeze out the relatively narrow, shared door to the web. New information arrives, is viewed and circulated across the plethora of social networks hundreds of times faster than the policy governing use can be distributed by the office email system.

All this has presented new and difficult challenges for the people responsible for technology in the workplace. My panelist are going to discuss what they see as the key issues, and their approaches to dealing with this phenomenon starting with the policies of each of their companies. I have prepared a number of questions about governance and regulatory compliance. We'll look at who now pays for the devices and associated services. What do they see as the greatest risks and how are they dealing with rogue users. I'll try to summarize their answers and any key takeaways I can from this session and report them back here.

I'm looking forward to the opening keynote speaker, Gene Alvarez, Vice President Gartner Research. His topic is CRM systems and his perspective on the need for a partnership between IT and the Business for success. I am anxious to hear how this differs from my view that IT and the Business are one and the same and how everyone across the organization must work in unison on all business systems and processes.

This is followed by three morning sessions that include presentations on Big Data, Social Media and Cloud computing, all major trends. After lunch and a networking break, the afternoon includes a session on leadership specifically for the CIO, a focus on the private variety of cloud and my panel discussion.

As always, I will try to Tweet (follow @JPuglisiLLC) snippets of wisdom I catch that can be conveyed in 140 characters or less, and I may reflect on one or more of these sessions in future columns. For now, I have to hit the blogger  Publish button, straighten my tie and get down to the ballroom so I can get a good seat down in front.

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC

** The Connecticut Technology Council is a statewide association of technology oriented companies and institutions, providing leadership in areas of policy advocacy, community building and assistance for growing companies.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Black Friday VS Cyber Monday

I'm not sure what all the fuss is about. Black Friday is a day when shoppers camp out overnight to be first in line, to be awarded a special bracelet, ticket or coupon, and prepare to make a mad dash through the doors at midnight or whatever ridiculous hour of the morning the store may open for business. People push and shove each other, elbows fly and words are often exchanged over who saw something first. This year pepper spray was involved in a few of the more raucous incidents and there was a shooting. In past years, people have been trampled, seriously injured and even killed.

Now, I have no hard numbers to back this up, but my strong suspicion is relatively few people actually get the super fantastic bargain which drove them to plot, scheme and endure all this insanity in the first place. The stores know full well the limited number of items they can afford to sell at or below cost. They bank on these super  deals drawing people in and then up-selling, pushing more costly substitutes and encouraging additional purchases to drive revenues and increase profitability.

And we, the public, dutifully line up for the kill. The handful of successful bargain hunters are paraded in the media, while the vast majority mutter to themselves and drown their sorrows with a series of purchases of perfectly acceptable substitutes.

The technorati, on the other hand, will wait for Cyber-Monday. From the safety and comfort of their own living room, kitchen or bedroom (wherever they use their computers) they will relentlessly pound the keys until they have located and ordered exactly what they wanted. Oh, that particular item may be out of stock or the wrong color, but no matter. Bring on the search engines and they will find it somewhere else in a flash. Not sure if the alleged sale price is really a bargain? Let's do a quick look around at other sellers and compare, without ever leaving our chair

Maybe you needed those lace up boots with the fur lining but couldn't get to the department store that carried them. No worries. We'll order them on-line and, look, they are the same price and UPS will bring them right to your door at not extra cost.

There are entire web sites devoted to bargains the year round. Sites that help you find the best price or locate obscure or unusual items.

With the abundance of social networking sites, we can even stay in close touch with our shopping buddies, taking tips and comparing notes with one another. City, state and even country boundaries don't exist. Often we can cut out the middleman and buy direct from the source.

Now, wasn't that easier than participating in the madness of occupy mall street?

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC

Friday, November 25, 2011

A CIO By Any Other Name

Caught another article on my Twitter stream today about an Aussie company eliminating their CIO as a member of the  senior management team. It seems they believe and the author agrees this position suffers from over-inflated importance and has consistently failed to deliver on the promise of better IT. So it has been renamed group services, relegated to the level of property, legal and HR services, and now reports to the COO.

Perhaps the recent financial crisis indicates a need to demote the CFO to the Head of Accounting and make him report to the COO, too. Far too many CFOs have failed in their fiduciary responsibilities and allowed investments in risky and even failed ventures.

I'm sure this will solve the problem. (sarcasm)

As I indicated in another column I wrote on the role of the CIO, the title is not the issue. It is how the person perceives their role and the relationship that the CIO has to other members of the C-suite that matters.  If the CEO expects the CIO to manage the computing systems and deliver system implementations on time, indeed, the role is Vice President or Director of Technology. Call it like it is.

The role of CIO should be much more broadly defined and empowered to change business process not just computer systems. Today's CIO is an enterprise architect and not just a systems architect. The CIO should be every bit a part of the senior management team, evaluating investments in all kinds of projects, leveraging technology where appropriate to achieve the goals of the company. Lower cost, higher value, better customer care, new products or services and the preservation of shareholder value should be among the top priorities and not the delivery of a new CRM or ERP system. The resources of the IT department should be brought to bear on these objectives by way of projects that involve hardware, software and business process.

I would love to have more insight into the operations and politics at this particular company to help me understand how eliminating an individual with the title CIO actually came about. It could truly be a failing on the part of the individual, focusing too much on technology trends and the latest "toys" or it may have been the result of an unhealthy environment where the CIO was expected to know how to fix a problem with Windows 7 or recommend the best cell phone for the CFO's daughter.

If you treat one of your race car drivers like a member of the pit crew and never allow him on the track, don't blame him for never winning a race.

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A Matter Of Life And Death

A former coworker and good friend of mine and I were having a debate just the other day about Google and it's practice of simply discontinuing products. The question is whether this practice makes Google less appealing to the corporate world which values maturity and reliability in its suppliers.

Anyone who has led the evaluation of a solution will tell you the list of criteria usually includes a number of measures of the potential longevity of the vendor and products. How long have they been in business and how long has the product been around? What is the number of current installations? How large is the support organization? How large and stable is the company? No one wants to choose a product or service that may disappear before the implementation is complete.

So what happens when the product or service around which you have constructed some critical production system goes belly up? What if your approach to CRM was to leverage Buzz? What if you adopted Knol as your internal platform for a knowledge base? These tools are being removed from the marketplace leaving you holding the bag.

First, it is important to keep it all in perspective. Almost any product can suddenly become obsolete or be withdrawn from the market. We live in interesting times, as the old Chinese proverb suggests, when even the greatest of companies can suddenly crumble and disappear. There are no guarantees in life.

That said, one would nor should ever choose a foundation that cannot bear the weight of the structure it must support. By this I mean, if the system you are about to embrace will be the life blood of your company, you may want to stick to the more tried and true, proven solutions and not take that novel, innovative approach, no matter how appealing. Any solution that is free, by definition, will not have a guaranteed future.

There is a reason the Oracle and SAPs of the world can command the obscene amount of money they charge for their products and services. I'm reminded of the old axiom no one ever got fired for buying IBM. It may not have been the lowest cost or most flexible solution but you knew it would be there and fully supported for a very long time.

We're seeing this extra level of concern in the area of cloud computing as well. A key provision in any contract must be a sound exit strategy. What do I do when I can no longer trust, access or afford the cloud based service? How do I get my data out and adjust my business process so I can support it with alternative technologies?

None of this, however, diminishes the value of Google or other leading, innovative solutions. Some of them have stood the test of time and will be more than acceptable to corporations large and small. Witness the recent decision by giant General Motors to transition to GMail and the Google Apps suite.

Embryonic services like Google Plus are new social outlets for connecting with customers and supporting brands. Whether they mushroom like Facebook and Twitter, or wither and fade like Ping and Friendster, it is still appropriate and important to explore and experiment. There is no way of knowing what new vehicle might just be that breakaway technology that sets you apart from the competition and puts you on top of the world.

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Squirrels In The Attic

Wandering around the backyard the other day, I happen to notice this rather large hole in the soffit of the upper roof of my house. It appeared as if the wood, perhaps rain soaked, had sagged creating a triangular opening. There is no telling how long it had been like that.

Even after hearing some scratching sounds outside the window of my home office, I didn't really give it much thought. The home office is at the opposite end of the house from the hole. But when my wife remarked one morning that there was some noise coming from the ceiling above our bedroom I figured out we must have squirrels in the attic. Sure enough, now that I am aware, I caught sight of a squirrel runnig up the side of the house, across the lower roof and presumably into the hole.

These furry rats may have been using that hole and living in the attic for some time. We might never have noticed but for the fact that I now work mostly out of my home office. Being in the house on the second floor allowed me to observe their coming and going.

So it is with computer security issues. We have "holes" in our systems that we may never notice. Systems are left running all the time and when we are not around a gray, fuzzy-tailed malware will take advantage of the opening and make itself at home. Left unattended, our home computers, office computers and servers can house these critters for months, providing them a safe base of operation from which they can go out and harvest information. We might notice the occasional scratching sound such as sluggish performance, unusual levels of network traffic or spurious error messages, but unless we are vigilant, fuzzy may get on with its work undetected.

In the business environment, there are plenty of professional tools and techniques which can be very effective in defending against and detecting unwanted system squatters. But at home, there are a hand full of things one should do to avoid this problem.

First, make sure you regularly apply the operating system (Windows, IOS, Linux) updates, particularly those which relate to plugging known security holes. The same is true of applications software such as Micorsoft Office, Adobe and the various internet browsers you may use. These updates or patches are like little boards nailed over the holes, preventing anything from squeezing through.

Next pay close attention to any messages that pop up asking for permissions or rights to access or control over your computer, suggesting you download or execute some program. Read the messages carefully, and if you are not sure what it means, copy it down, click no or exit out somehow and ask someone who will know.

Make sure you have anti virus software running all the time with automatic updates enabled. There are certainly a few good ones that are free, but you may want to spend a little for a commercial grade product. If it avoids even one disaster it will have paid for itself several times over.

Never leave your computer unattended in a public place and be sure to use a complex password, one that is easy for you to remember but hard for anyone else to discover. Best practice would suggest you have a separate administrator account to maintenance of your computer. In this way, you restrict privileged operations from your normal, daily use account.

Finally, if you are not using your computer, turn it off. It's not only green (saving energy) but also safe. No one can crack into a computer when it is powered off. Malware, no matter how clever, can't do anything either.

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Past Is Prologue

Heard from some old friends over the weekend and it got me reminiscing about the early part of my career as a technology professional. I have always considered networking (with people not wires) to be an important part of life in general. If you hang around with a bunch of smart people, you get smarter. Networks also provides an outlet for you to share your knowledge and experience with others.

Back in the days of the mini-computer, I played a role in the growth and maturity of the National Prime Users Group (NPUG) an organization devoted to education and fostering a healthy dialog between customers and the vendor, Prime Computer, Inc. The organization was independently funded and operated, and managed by a small group of individuals. We maintained a close working relationship with Prime though a special department with two people assigned to be our liaisons.

There were thousands of members and a couple of hundred of us would spend a few days together each year at the NPUG annual conference. Over the course of many years, this conference grew from a day and one-half with causal discussions around a table to a three day, multi-track conference with papers submitted, reviewed and distributed in bound proceedings.

While the conference was beneficial to all who attended, it was great fun and an educational experience for me personally to help organize and run it. I worked with a great bunch of people who not only looked good on paper but really knew their stuff.

Looking at some of the photos they sent me made me realize again just how far we have come in terms of the technology we have today. For example, you can see the keyboard and monitor at the registration desk. It is only a keyboard and monitor (CRT) with an RS-232 cable connecting it to the mini-computer (about the size of a small refrigerator) with all the computer power and storage to run the applications. There were separate cabinets for disk storage units and a large line printer. The system was run with commands and the interface was all text. There were no windows and no mouse.

In another photo you can see the container for a 300mb disk drive. It could easily be mistaken for a large cake platter with cover. Today we have memory sticks with more than triple the capacity. Processor speeds, memory sizes and the sophistication of the software have advanced light years beyond what we had then.

The value of conferences and the (people) networks that emanate from them has persisted through the years. In fact, I would argue it has perhaps even increased in importance. With all of the telecommuting, video conferencing, on-line communities, social networks, email, blogs and other forms of interaction, there is still a huge need for people to occasionally hang out in the same physical space at the same time. The formal presentations and, importantly, the informal chats in the hallways are where concepts are shared, new ideas are spawned, and people can grow both personally and professionally.

Prime Computer and NPUG are long gone from the technology scene. But there are plenty of professional organizations with emphasis on specific brands or types of hardware, software systems or applications, disciplines such as development, project management or security, and management who regularly publish materials and organize meetings.

I encourage people to attend a few conferences or seminars throughout the year and for a truly rewarding experience, try getting involved with the organization as a chair, speaker, panelist or organizer. You will have many opportunities to exercise or acquire a new and different set of skills which will build your self-confidence and ultimately help you do your day job even better.

By the way,  it doesn't hurt to continually grow and expand your personal network.

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC

Friday, November 18, 2011

Is the CIO Becoming Vice President of Power?

Last night the Fairfield Westchester Chapter of SIM (Society for Infomation Manager) held its monthly meeting and dinner program. We were fortunate to have a well known Forrester analyst, Stephanie Moore, present some research and views on the changing role of the CIO. With the advent of powerful, yet simple mobile devises like Android and Apple phones, tablets and now cloud computing, ordinary people have more computing capability faster and cheaper that the massive computing infrastructures you typically found at the office. Once upon a time you would do email or download large files at the office because that is where you had the powerful systems and internet bandwidth. Now you do it on your mobile device.

For years prognosticators have predicted the ultimate demise of the position of CIO. With the consumerization of technology and the technical savvy of the younger generation,  it will ultimately become unnecessary to have someone in charge of computers. A comment from my good friend Greg Fell, CIO of  Terex Corporation, fueled the debate. He cited a little know fact (at least to me) that once there was a Vice President of Power. It was an important role in large companies back in the early days of electricity. Someone had to be the expert and manage the introduction of this marvelous new resource.

Today we would view this as somewhat ridiculous. All of the characteristics of power have been standardized. Anyone can "plug in" an electric device to an outlet and expect it to work. The utilities provide an affordable, reliable and elastic source of power. Whatever the appliance you need may be you simply go to the store (physically or virtually,) review your choices and purchase the one that suits you best. There is no concern around whether it will interact properly with your other appliances or work in your house. Electricity has been totally consumerized.

But you can take this analogy further and show how, as the power industry evolved, the management of it evolved too. We still have people who are trained and expert in managing the production of power. We still have researchers and engineers trying to enhance electricity through new forms of generation, cleaner and more efficient delivery. We have electricians and electrical contractors needed to install the infrastructure, and new electrical appliances are introduced all the time.

Let's not forget that some electrical systems are very complex and beyond the scope of the average person. You don't simply purchase of 10 ton air conditioner and plug it in the wall. You will engage an electrician to add a new circuit to your panel and terminate with the proper outlet type.

My point is this. While some aspects of computer technology have become standard, affordable and generally accessible to anyone, we still need good governance, procurement, integration and custom design for technology to optimally drive any business. Like the marketing department who carefully orchestrate the corporate facade, image, brand and message, the CIO will continue in the role of conductor ensuring all the musicians, while perhaps using their own instruments, are playing the same tune and know the score.

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Google Music Is Singing A New Song

Sounds like the "beta" label came off Google Music yesterday. It is now a full fledged service offering a new way to maintain your music collection in the cloud, permitting you to load all the albums you currently own and providing a convenient way to find and acquire more. The Android market still has Apps but now includes a Book, Movie and Music section.

When the beta service was first announced, I uploaded all of my tracks which were "ripped" from all my CDs and had been comfortably housed on my local PC hard drive. Fetching the client software from the Android market enabled my HTC EVO to find and play any of my individual tracks, entire albums and my play lists. I no longer had to synchronize the two devices, or consume the limited storage space on the EVO.

The new music section of the Android market offers about 8 million titles from Sony, Universal and EMI. Conspicuously missing is Warner Music but they are rumored to be coming soon. The new Android market includes one more tab, My Library. This is the neat web interface for organizing or scanning through your personal collection.

You can shop the market on the web or your Android phone. Once acquired and added to your library, any music will instantly  be available for play on all devices. Needless to say, the search engine (Google) enables you to find whatever you are looking for. The market also offers a lot of free tracks including entire albums from new and old groups alike, trends, reviews, recommendations and other related content.

With Apple pushing the envelope on advanced search technology with the introduction of Siri, it makes sense that Google would fight back by attacking in the music arena. Ironically, I now find myself caught in the middle of this battle, having succumbed to the allure of the latest iPhone, my tracks have all been imported to iTunes. I no longer use any Android device making it difficult to continue experimenting with Google Music features.

I don't know when Google will get around to linking voice recognition and their search engine to some back end intelligence, creating their own Siri-like facility. This would not only counter Apple's attempt to steal search market share but might force me to again "face the music" on my choice of device.

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Faster WiFi Coming To A House Near You

Just as 3G cellular service evolved to become 4G and will, no doubt, one day become 5G or greater, WiFi speeds are also about to undergo a dramatic change. Quantenna, a start up company, designed and built a new chip that will soon push gigabits of data through the air.

While cellular has increased, WiFi is still an order of magnitude greater with up to 54mb of speed or faster if you are willing to use non-standard equipment. In home use, this is already much greater than the bandwidth available from carriers, leading one to question the value of even higher speeds. If I am only getting 20mb of internet service from Verizon FIOS, for example, why do I need more than the current 54mb speed of my 802.11wireless access point?

The answer is in the increased number of IP enabled devices and the information exchange and control going on inside the modern home.

There are currently a myriad of wired and wireless means of communication among various environmental, comminication and entertainment systems. Your satellite or cable television box is connected to the home entertainment main unit by fiber optic cable for sound, by HDMI cable to a projector or large screen unit for video, and by coaxial cable to a data interface for your home computers. Speakers my be physically connected to the base unit or use wireless technology. Remote controls use infrared or radio. There are some phone wires mixed in there somewhere, too.

Motorola and others sell home control systems that interface to heating, cooling and lighting systems as well as security systems and monitors. Many home builders offer the option to pre-wire homes with all of the cabling and connectors needed by these systems.

The components of all these major systems are increasingly IP enabled. This means they will be capable of communicating over any internet channel and this is where the extremely high bandwidth devices will come into play. With gigabit rates, household devices will be able to share one big data network and exchange all types of data quickly and efficiently over the air.

With limitations of speed lifted, there are hundreds of applications that could be developed to simplify the daily operation of our homes, enhance efficiency and entertainment, and increase our enjoyment. Imagine never having to find the right type, style or length of cable to install something new.

You may even be able to "dock" your car when it pulls into the garage to synchronize your music collection or update the latest maintenance records with your home computer. Your cell phone, house phone and wireless earpiece would all seamlessly connect. Everything would have unfettered access to the internet for updates, maintenance and the ability to communicate when necessary.

Now, when we can eliminate the need for all the power cables, we will be done.

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC

Introducing TrapIt, Your Other New Assistant

My friend John Blossom recently turned me on to a new internet facility making its debut today. It seems Siri, the iPhone assistant, has a relative called TrapIt. Underneath this web site is the same intelligence originating from the DARPA funded project called CALO which gave rise to Siri and other AI tools.

Having played a bit with Siri, I wanted to discover more about TrapIt, so as soon as it was available this morning I went to the site. Registering for the service was really easy. It was facilitated by the acceptance of Facebook or Twitter credentials. More and more sites are doing this bringing the nirvana of a near-single sing-on environment to the web.

After a few introductory screens, the service begins to display topics. Initially, it looks around and reports on what is "trending" and top stories by the usual set of categories. However, you can "tune" searches with key words and phrases and TrapIt will continue to find more.

Asked to find information about itself, TrapIt cooperated by displaying a dozen recent postings. They are organized into a neat, grid configuration, with three boxes across all the way down the page. You can sort results by most recent or most relevant. Floating over any of the results will display an excerpt of the text, while clicking on the box will bring up the whole  article.There are convenient next and last buttons on the right and left of the screen making it easy to move through all the results.

It is no longer humanly possible to monitor and consume all of the information generated each day. The fire hose of content is directed at you through so many passive channels you clearly need someone or something to filter and curate, delivering only the most relevant information. TrapIt promises to learn over time what items of news it should bring to me. It will be interesting to see if my TrapIt feed could become a replacement for my Twitter and Google Plus feeds which take literally hours of time to scan.

It is supposed to be like RSS but with a rating system that drives more of what you like into your view. You define the topics with keywords and TrapIt constantly trolls the internet looking for new content to add to the results called traps. Moving through the results, a simple thumbs up or down indicates your degree of satisfaction and this is how TrapIt is going to learn about you.

No doubt it will take weeks of experimenting to determine how well TrapIt works and if indeed it can figure out what I am truly interested in reading about. Given that I am not always sure what to read about , this could be a real challenge for both of us. But, if it delivers on the promise, it could be a real time saver.

I'll lay a few traps and see what we catch in the coming weeks. If you try it, let me know how you make out with the service.

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC

Monday, November 14, 2011

How Much Is That Siri In The Window

Ah, the simple joys of a puppy.

My daughter stopped by yesterday with her new dog. Sasha is a cross between a Pitt Bull and a Labrador, and she exhibits the finest features of both. I watched her run around the back yard for a while, showing energy and inquisitiveness, and getting her light brown short hair a little muddy. I threw sticks and she happily chased them, though she never brought them back. She knows all the basics like come, sit and give me your paw, but still has a few more tricks to learn. It took me back to my youth and reminded me of the excitement every time we got a new dog in the house.

My new pet arrived late on Friday. I'm referring, of course, to my new iPhone 4s. Despite all the grousing in my column last week about the ridiculous acquisition process, the doorbell rang late in the afternoon to alert me to a box the UPS delivery man had just deposited on my front porch. Although no one knew it, the new phone had apparently been shipped immediately on placing the order.

This does not excuse the inefficient process of the service provider, but rather demonstrates the value of an outstanding relationship with a business partner, the third party mobile device manager my former company uses to facilitate cradle to grave management of mobile devices. I opted not to install over the weekend but instead scheduled time later this morning to light it up, activate service and transfer my phone number.

So I too am now at the beginning of what promises to be a long and interesting relationship with Siri. Like a new puppy, Siri and I will have to get comfortable with one another and explore our relationship. After loading the phone with all my apps and utilities, I'll try to get her to use them and do things for me. Sometimes she will understand and other times may require some patience.

Thanks to a special software interface, Siri will be there to accompany me on long car rides, helping me continue to work or providing entertainment while I drive. I'm sure we'll have some fun and occasionally impress my friends.  I'll compare notes with other Siri owners and we'll trade stories, tips and tricks.

One day, Siri will be mature and able to perform a lot of useful functions quickly and reliably for me. As long as I take good care of her and avoid scary places (with no cell coverage) she will be my faithful companion.

Siri will bring me the newspaper but she will never fetch my slippers. But then, I'm not so sure Sasha will either.

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC

Friday, November 11, 2011

If Your Phone Ain't Ringing, That's Me Not Calling

Regular readers of my column will know by now I am something of a Google fan. I've been an early adopter of most of the services from GMail to Android and now, of course, Google Plus. Not one person believed I would ever give up my Blackberry but in 2009 I became enamored with Android and made the leap. Later, I jumped on the HTC EVO, when it came out, to experience 4G speeds, even though it was only available in a limited number of markets at that time. In my view, Android was and still is the mobile platform for business.

My mobile device contract is at term and so I am eligible for an upgrade. It will come as a real surprise then when I confess I have ordered an iPhone.

When the iPhone 4s was announced, I asked my provider to send me an evaluation unit. Being into gadgets, I wanted to try the iPhone for a few days and see if all the fuss about SIRI was justified. Coincidentally, I had an iPhone add-on product called SURC that I was anxious to test as well.

With the iPhone in hand I set about testing various functions. How well did it support my Microsoft mail, GMail, Twitter, LinkedIn, Foursquare and Google Plus. With these all working well I proceeded to play with SIRI and a variety of other features. This is the thing with Apple products. Everything just works.

The new iPhone hooks into my car with special software called BMW Connect. Many of the functions including internet radio and some social networks can be managed through the vehicle controls.

By the way, I found SURC worked really well, too.

Now sold on the device and prepared to make a change, I requested the upgrade. Much to my surprise, the provider required the trial device be returned and an upgrade order processed from scratch. So I had to wipe the iPhone, losing all the software installation and configuration performed. Box it up in the return packaging shipped to me. Take the package to a UPS depot where it will begin its journey back to stock, and wait for the provider to ship me a new iPhone 4s.

Sounds a bit loony, if you ask me. To add insult to injury, the provider is currently out of stock and cannot provide a new unit, nor tell me when they will be able to ship one.

My Android phone still works quite well. But the provider has inconvenienced me and, by the way, will charge me a restocking fee for the trouble. They have incurred the additional cost and risk associated with shipping equipment, not once but twice more than necessary. Once it arrives, I will have to go through the whole process, installing and configuring the iPhone again..

As a business and technology professional I have to ask the question why has no one realized this process is broken. How much better would it have been for the customer and the provider to simply enter a few transactions indicating the trial was successful, reversing the charges associated with a purchase and effecting the transfer of number to the new device? Fast, simple, convenient, no cost and risk free.

I bet if I asked why I would get the answer you and I have heard a million times. "That is the way we have always done it." Well, wake up and hear the phone ringing. It may be time for a change.

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Google Drops Native Support on Blackberry

Honestly, I was not a bit surprised when Google announced they were going to discontinue support for the native GMail application on the Blackberry. Clearly RIM now represents a much smaller and less important market so it makes sense for them to avoid spending the limited resources to support the use and maintain the code for the Blackberry platform. Google says you can keep using the native client but after November 22 you will no longer be able to download it nor will you be able to get support.

They are going to continue to support the connector for the Blackberry Enterprise Server (BES) which is used by the business community.

Google claims the reason is the mobile web client. They say it can be used very effectively with any browser and this is where they plan to concentrate their development efforts. Having just used the browser and mobile interface on my iPhone I would agree, although most Blackberry models have fairly small screens which could make it a bit more cumbersome.

But what did surprise me was how Google recently rushed to release the native client for the iPhone. We know they got ahead of themselves because it was a mess and had to be retracted. If you are going to concentrate on improving the mobile interface so native clients are not needed, why push out an IOS version?

In my view, Google timed this to take a little bit of the limelight from the 4s release. They know native clients are popular for performance and other reasons and will maintain them on both Android and IOS which are the two platforms that matter.Apple was making a big splash with the introduction of the new IOS 5, iPhone 4s and, of course, SIRI. Google attempted to steal a little attention by releasing the long awaited native client to preserve and delight its i-based customers. Sadly, this effort backfired and caused more embarrassment for Google than anything else. I am sure before long Google will make it right and release a fully tested and certified native client.

We all know the real reason RIM Blackberry is being ignored. The bloom is off this rose.

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Google Now Offers Brand Pages

Perhaps I am a little light on imagination or just have not had enough time to figure it out but what will be different about the newly announced brand pages in Google Plus?  What new capability will this offer to companies or people that the verified individual pages did not have? How will they be used and what will be the unique measure of success associated with these pages? How will this differ from other channels such as Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare or the more conventional television, radio and print media.

Okay, I guess we don't have to dwell on how these real time, interactive, social networks differ from conventional media sources. Instead let's concentrate on the differences between Google and the most likely direct competitor Facebook.

The comparisons of Google Brand pages versus Facebook Fan pages are already flying. The usual suspects are endorsing one over the other and pointing out all the reasons each will be more successful than the other. Again, I am not sure that there is much difference and it remains to be seen how Google Brand pages will be used and, importantly, received by the public.Perhaps Google will favor B2B while Facebook will remain on top when targeting consumers.

Google Brand pages may have an edge with such a vast and well integrated set of tools for content creation and extended functionality. The whole Google family of products can be leveraged to include forms collecting data, presentations or videos, links to mail and calendar, photos and so on. As I have said in the past, Google Plus is the business social network and with its more commercial or professional aura, brand pages may be more powerful.

On the other hand Facebook has familiarity and sheer numbers on its side. Barely a single commercial, radio or print ad goes by without the nearly ubiquitous tag line; like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.  It will take some time before +1 us will find its way into the vernacular.

Any company, brand or individual business owner investing time, energy and limited resources to reach the most people possible is more likely to choose the 800 million person audience of Facebook over the comparatively smaller network Google Plus, even if Google has a cooler tool set.

Professionals, particularly in technology, entertainment and the arts, have gravitated to Google Plus and these may be the segments that initially embrace and popularize Brand pages. Auto manufacturers, sports teams and news shows have already jumped on the "brand" wagon.

Perhaps I should create a page for View from the Bridge. What do you think?

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

C3 Conference Attendees On Cloud 9

If you follow me on Twitter you know I was at the inaugural Cloud Computing Consortium Conference at the Howe Center at Stevens Institute in Hoboken yesterday. By all measures this event was a terrific success. It drew well over 100 attendees and featured interesting and informative speakers and panels throughout the day.

From the opening comments by Ken Saloway and Dr. Jerry Luftman, through Aristide Toundzi's closing presentation on service management integration, the audience was delighted and clearly engaged, judging by the amount of questions and discussion. Most of the attendees stayed around to enjoy the food and beverages at the closing reception and to continue discussing the topics of the day.

Since being formed last October, the consortium or C3 organized several  working committees to examine in detail various aspects of this new phenomenon called cloud computing. Yesterday, their findings were presented in summary form by the leaders of each committee and discussed by panels comprised of some of the members.

In his opening keynote presentation Frank Kovacs from E&Y alluded to NIST and a recently released definition of cloud computing. It had several key elements including pay as you go, on-demand, fast provisioning, elasticity and location independence.

Matthew Karlyn, a partner at Foley & Lardner, gave a rapid fire presentation on many of the contractual issues associated with cloud computing. He started with the simple observation this is not a license where the grant is most important and can be found in the first part of the agreement. Don't model your cloud contracts after the key provisions of your more common license agreements. Most important here is availability and that is often buried in an attachment or missing completely.

In the panel on value proposition we discussed a perfect example of where cloud computing delivered significant value and competitive advantage to an insurance company. As part of their growth strategy, a property and casualty insurer decided to begin to write personal lines in a new market. While this market had great potential it introduced new requirements to their systems. Faced with the choice to modify existing systems, implement new systems or pursue a software as a service solution, they opted to transition to the SaaS approach.

This dramatically shortened their time to market, allowed them to leverage a system which met all the regulatory requirements and made the investment affordable. The cost was keyed to the volume and would only increase in proportion to their volume. There was no large initial capital investment, no equipment to install or configure nor any on-going systems maintenance added to the schedule. In fact, it reduced the burden on the systems group and allowed the company to focus its limited resources on better customer support.

Just as promised, the cloud solution delivered agility, allowing the company to quickly expand into other business lines and the flexibility to handle spikes in claims volume. Company agents and customers were able reach the system from any location with internet access.

Throughout the day, panels covering the strategy of the cloud and critical issues such as governance sparked lively interactions with the audience and delivered practical advice on how to leverage the cloud.

All of the papers and presentations are available on the new C3 web site and can be downloaded by members. There is no cost to join but significant benefit in participation.

New working groups are being formed. Perhaps it is time to stick your head into the clouds?

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC

Monday, November 7, 2011

SURC Seems Remotely Familiar

Like most, I have an extensive collection of remote controls scattered about the house associated with various electronic devices, some of which are no longer in service. My wife often complains that you need three remotes just to watch television in the family room. We have an EPSON 6100 home theater projector, Denon media center and FIOS cable box, each with its own special remote. Of course, there is also a remote for the DVD unit and another for the CD player.

The large remote that came with our cable box is capable of being programmed to control some of these other devices. I have, more than once, attempted to look up the right range of codes in the manual which are based on manufacturer and device type. Once you have your candidates, you punch up the necessary sequence of buttons so the remote will "learn" and begin to control that device. The problem is the remote has a limited number of physical buttons and these do not always correspond directly to the original remote controls. Moreover, the programming is complicated and does not always work. The booklet with codes is static and will go out of date as you acquire newer devices, each with their own remote.

Wouldn't it be nice if there was a smart device that already knew how to control all these various  electronic appliances? What if your iPhone could magically morph into a universal remote that configured virtually instantly and could display all the controls from the different remotes on one screen.

Well, much to my surprise, there is an app for that. I discovered SURC from Mashed Pixel Inc. SURC is a special case for an iPhone. When coupled with their app, it enables the iPhone to control all the components of your home entertainment system.

As soon as it arrived I slipped my iPhone 4s into the SURC case and downloaded the app from the Apple App Store. I probably should have read the instructions or watched the demonstration video but part of my personal evaluation of any product is always how easy it is to get going.

In this case, it turned out to be very simple to get started. You build the remote control screen by first defining the room or location in the house. In my case, it was the Family Room. Then, you add devices, one by one, using a drop down menu. The library is extensive and complete. All of my devices were easily located and added as separate tabs at the top. All of the approporate buttons for each device appear and work!

But it gets better. You can now construct a super remote by selecting buttons from each of the individual remotes and arranging them on the Room Remote tab. You can choose the most frequently used functions and place them together at the top while other buttons can be positioned lower down on the page.

Now we can turn on the cable box, power up and raise the volume on the media center and fire up the projector all from one simple screen on the iPhone. Other controls, should we need them, are also available.

SURC fits any iPhone including my brand new iPhone 4s. As an extra added bonus, when in the SURC case, your iPhone can be charged using any micro usb cable.

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC

Friday, November 4, 2011

Armageddon A Little Concerned

As if we aren't under enough stress with the global economic crisis, cyber-security issues, war, famine and disease, scientists are keeping a close eye on an aircraft carrier size rocks that will pass the earth in the near future. One of them is dropping in this coming week.

YU55, as it is affectionately known, will pass earth on Wednesday November 8 about 325,000KM or just over 200,000 miles away. That sounds pretty far but in the vastness of space it's a pretty close shave. Interesting to note the moon is almost 40,000 miles further away. This rock is going to pass inside the moon's orbit. Of course it is way smaller than the moon and so it cannot be seen with the naked eye.

It has been around here before and will happen by again. It passed us back in 1976 when apparently no one noticed and will be swinging by again in 2028. Those of us still alive and able to afford a telescope can watch it fly by again.

But the really bad news comes from some Russian scientists who have moved the date for Armageddon from 2012 to 2036. Nothing to do with the Mayans this time. Its a rather large rock called Apophis which they predict may hit the earth on April 13 of that year.

It is certain Apophis will swing by on Friday April 13, 2029 and if it gets hooked by the earth's gravity its path will be altered and it will then be on a collision course with earth. Other experts put the chances of this happening at only 2% to 3% while others have run simulations to quantify the magnitude of the impact and its effect on the planet.

If you are tired of watching your fortunes diminish as the Dow sinks or your favorite city park destroyed as the Occupy Wall Street movement turns violent, perhaps you can be distracted by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory site where you can watch videos and subscribe to news feeds about more heavenly objects hurling themselves at our little planet. By the way, if you think the IT profession is acronym laden just listen to the first 30 seconds of the video.

In 2013 the wizards at JPL will be able to determines if Apophis will pass through the so-called keyhole, altering its path and putting us in real jeopardy of a collision in April of 2036. In yet another example of science fiction becoming science fact, they are prepared to mount an effort to somehow deflect it. Just like in the movie, we will have a limited window of opportunity to intercept it and change the outcome.

If this effort fails, like in the movie, I predict a lot of people will file their tax returns late that year.

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC

Thursday, November 3, 2011

I Wrote The News Today, Oh Boy

Early this week, I started to prepare a story for my weekly news show appearance. Using my smart phone I was able to capture video the freak snow storm as it happened. Later, as I drove around my neighborhood, I was able to take a number of photographs of the damage that resulted from the storm.

This started me thinking about citizen journalism and how technology has enabled the average person to report the news. With the ubiquitous nature of the smart phone it is a safe bet that no matter when or where a news story breaks there are going to be people there who can capture sounds and images. In many cases these will be broadcast to a limited audience via social networks. But the more interesting ones may go viral and be viewed by millions before any traditional news organization is aware, let alone prepared to report.

Dating back to the Zapruder file the man on the street has captured unique moments in history. Whether it was the wall coming down in Berlin or a plane landing in the Hudson River, someone was there and captured it on video as it happened. In the past, traditional news channels were the only means of then distributing this content. But today you upload it to YouTube or perhaps even broadcast live over Bambuser and millions of people may view it well before the 6 o'clock news.

It raised the question of whether there is any value left in the news agencies or if citizen journalism is likely to replace them. In my view, we still need the professionals.

While an event may be captured in real time, the full story is rarely known and certainly not by the person who just happened to be there. We may marvel at the real time image of the plane as it hits the water but we also want to know the hero who flew the plane, how many people were on board, how many were saved and why it happened. This kind of information takes time and resources to collect. Based on recent experiences, we also want to know what we are seeing is real and not some fabrication or video magic.

I may have some great video of the snow falling and a handful of pictures of fractured trees, but I still relied on the newspapers to know the size and scope of the storm, the number of people without power and other relevant facts and figures about the storm and its impact in my area.

Maybe the broadcasters should just change the old tag line from film at 11 to facts at 11 ...

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

To Siri With Love

My new iPhone 4s arrived earlier this week and it was great to finally be able to experience it first hand. After all, I had read so much about the device and its special features including the voice activated assistant Siri, I couldn't wait to see if it was all as good as everyone said.

I wanted to be disappointed and find reasons to dislike the iPhone, but I have to be honest; it's pretty damn cool. You take it out of the box, peel the protective plastic off the screen and back and turn it on. No need to read instructions. The device will take you through a start up tutorial and collect everything it needs to know in a just a few simple screens. Then, you are ready to go.

As soon as you plug the iPhone in to a USB port of your desktop iTunes will launch and make a connection. First it verifies that the software in the iPhone is up to date and then it takes care of synchronizing the audio collection and other things. My entire audio collection now resides on the iPhone.

After adding the phone number to my Google Voice settings I began to receive calls. Coverage in my immediate area has been very good and, as a result, the call quality has been too. Although limited to 3G, data rates feel just as smooth and fast as my android device. No issues surfing the web.

Entering my Microsoft mail credentials allowed the iPhone to deliver and synchronize flawlessly. The interface is simple and highly functional. All my appointments and contacts are there.

Adding the Google Plus application, Foursquare and Shazam was quick and easy, and they too performed extremely well. Using the Safai browser I am able to use the mobile GMail site and access all of my Google applications. This too works extremely well and a native GMail application is rumored to be coming soon, too.

Of course the real fun began when I started to talk to Siri. A little mechanical in her tone, Siri is pretty helpful and can actually answer simple questions and perform useful tasks. She does not do well in noisy environments where most voice activated systems have trouble. But I was impressed with how Siri learned and built up knowledge about me. The first time I said call my wife Siri responded, "I don't know who that is." Giving Siri the name allowed her to find it in my contact list, verify it with me and ask if she should remember this. The next time I said call my wife Siri asked which phone number, office or mobile. If I was more specific, call my wife on her cell, Siri confirmed and dialed.

There were other reasons I wanted to have an iPhone. I'm reviewing some add on components which I will write about in another column, and my new BMW came with "APPS" which is a comprehensive interface to an iPhone that integrates the iPhone and a number of applications into the operations of the car.

More testing remains, yet it is abundantly clear this is a very impressive device. I thought it would be easy at the end of the week to put it back in the box and carry on with my android device. Now I am not so sure.

Siri, please play "Breaking Up Is Hard To Do."  Ironically, she plays, "I Don't Know How To Let You Go."  You can't make this stuff up.

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

There's A New Kid In Town

A few weeks back a tweet pointed me at a Mashable article about new episodes of a popular TV show called Arrested Development. It is often big news when a show is cancelled or begins shooting a new season, but what made this announcement so different is where the new episodes are expected to air. Fox, the network which originally carried the show, cancelled it back in 2006. New episodes are being filmed as part of the production of a feature length film and these may be shown on the internet site HULU.

This made me wonder if the both the traditional and newer cable networks are now entering a new phase of competition in the world of entertainment. Sites like HULU have offered vintage television shows for years. There are a number of services delivering content in digital form including Boxee, Roku and Netflix. HBO introduced HBO Go to allow you to watch their content on demand and on any digital device.

On HULU you can watch television shows like the Honeymooners or I Love Lucy, or you can catch last week's episode of House. The other services deliver shows and movies made for television as well as feature length films. However, these sites have not carried this kind of original content, until now.

In 2012 Netflix plans to produce at least 26 episodes of a political thriller called  "House of Cards."Google also announced it is planning to produce original content on its YouTube site. Like Apple, Google makes a television viewing appliance to deliver entertainment content. It makes sense they would branch out and begin to deliver original shows in addition to syndicated, licensed or contributed content.

We were once limited to a few major networks and the specific time slots in which they chose to air their shows. The video recording device liberated us from time constraints and the cable channels expanded our choices a hundred fold. The internet made it possible to watch shows from the past and first run movies in our living room or on our desktops.

We may be on the cusp of a new revolution in entertainment where our next new favorite series may  be served up via an internet channel and viewed on any digital driven display when and where we choose to watch.

Here is yet another industry like retail and telecommunications about to undergo a fundamental shift as the internet becomes both the source and delivery of its products.

 Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC