Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Hung Up On Hang Outs

I spent the entire day at the CIO Summit of America at the Harvard Club in Manhattan yesterday. Throughout this most interesting and informative day, I ran into a lot of old friends and even made a couple of new ones. A lot could be learned a lot from the presentations and panel discussions and the handful of sponsors who had booths set up on site. I enjoyed three square meals for a change, winding up at dinner with a good friend and business colleague.

Today I participated in a webinar. These are web-based meetings that combine a set of prepared slides shared through a web service like GoToMeeting with a teleconference call.. For one hour I sat at my computer staring at the screen displaying one of the slides and listening to the presenter share his research findings while interacting via phone with some of the participants. I even chimed in at one point with some comments about how I had addressed this particular function.

Tomorrow I will head into Connecticut to spend some quality time at Starbucks, no doubt, and to attend another regular bi-weekly meeting of the Westport Group, a networking organization with a decidedly different cross-section of business community.

While I always enjoy these physical and virtual meetings, I came to a painful realization. I have become addicted to Google Plus Hangouts. I am a hangout junkie.

As I sat in the audience yesterday during panel discussions I was imagining little boxes around the head and shoulders of the panelists. When the people two rows back were being distracting I wanted to "mute" them. Wanting to share some advice with just one of the panelists I was craving the chat window. When the sessions were over  I wanted to press exit and instantly be in my home office so I could check email and then find another hangout to join.

Throughout the day I kept thinking about all the hangouts I was missing. What were the big stories on U_News today and who would be the surprise guests at Fox LA? What was happening in the BBC, KRNV or KOMO studios? Which new TV news anchor would start hanging out today.

Even today, as I battle to stay ahead of the work piling up on my desk and knowing how much time I will be on the road for the balance of the week, I am tempted to put aside all else and jump into a hangout. So many interesting and timely topics being discussed. Obama's staged hangout, the future of Google TV and countless other topics are being bantered about right now.

Perhaps in a few weeks or months the novelty will wear off or circumstances (like a full time job) will prevent me from participating during the day. Until then I guess I will have to fight this addiction with reason and logic. I am an intelligent, rational being. I can handle this.

Does anyone have any advice for how I could get over my addiction? Let's set up a hangout and discuss it.

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC

Monday, January 30, 2012

CIO Summit of America (NYC)

Today I will be attending the 2012 CIO Summit of America produced by HMG Strategy, Inc. in association with the New York Chapter of SIM.  The conference co-chairs include Hunter Muller, President & CEO of HMG along with the CIO from Avon, Time Warner, McKesson and Hilton. This will be an all day meeting with a program designed for senor IT managers to share their knowledge and experience.

These conferences are absolutely key to staying in tune with the current trends in the industry and learning from others who have faced many of the same problems and issues you have or perhaps will face as the senior IT manager in your organization. In my view, when you hang around with a bunch of smart people you get smarter. The lineup of speakers and panelists here will make it compelling for me to attend and worthwhile to spend the entire day.  If you are a senior IT leader in the New York metro area, you should be here too!

Of course, during the breaks and over lunch there will be ample time to network and have those equally invaluable conversations in the hall. Forming and maintaining good relationships with your peers makes good business sense for you and your company.

The breaks also allow some time in a more relaxed atmosphere to engage in conversations with the vendors who sponsor these events. I like to choose one or two vendors and really get an in depth perspective of their product or service and what makes it unique in the marketplace. Back in September, for example, at Yankee Stadium, you may recall how impressed I was with BlackRidge Technology and their security offering, or more recently Code42 and their CrashPlan backup utility.  No telling what gem I will discover among the vendor tables at this event.

Fortunately, I was invited to attend the VIP dinner for co-chairs, speakers, panelists and sponsors last night. It gave me an opportunity to listen to Hunter describe the quality of content assembled for this program and to see first hand the enthusiasm and excitement among the presenters. I knew immediately this was going to be another excellent event in a long chain of events produced by HMG.

Throughout the day I will "tweet" points of interest made by speakers as I have done at conferences in the past. Future columns may include stories from this event or focus on one or more of the sponsors and their offerings..

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC

Friday, January 27, 2012

Google's Not Really New Privacy Policy

Several of my readers have been asking for clarification on the new Google unified Privacy Policy and Terms of Service. A few articles have been published and today I received formal notification in my GMail account with links to a few pages containing an overview, current and new policies.

Google have more than 60 different services and each have their own policy on privacy and use. What Google have done is reduce these to one policy which will be used to govern all current and future service offerings. This is merely an attempt to make it easier for the subscriber to know the rules regardless of the particular service. But it does mean Google will now be assembling a more comprehensive and integrated picture of subscribers by commingling the data from all of the services used.

First, let's look at what has changed in the policy. In a word, nothing. All the rights and privileges, protections, promises and procedures under the old terms are still in force in the new version. There are no substantial additions or deletions and the level of protection over your personal data remains the same.

The change in practice does, however, mean that information gleaned from your use of any service will be combined with similar information from the use of other services to create a more comprehensive profile about you. Videos you select on YouTube (while signed in) will add to the equation when you conduct a Google search to better focus the results to your preferences. I love the example of an individual who views automobiles on YouTube and frequently writes email or Google Plus postings about cars. A Google search for jaguars is then going to produce content about the automobile and not the animal for this person.

Next, let's be clear about just how private your information is kept. Don't take my word for it. Read the policy yourself. It clearly states that Google will not sell or release your personal information to anyone without your permission. It may be handled by third parties for processing but will remain subject to the same privacy restrictions.

Google publish a very easy to read guide about how to stay safe on-line and keep your data secure. Google only aggregates data and sells the results without links to individuals. Google observe and document trends and human behavior which is information of significant value to companies. But the actions or behavior are never identified to the individual unless the individual has specifically opted in.

If you still have concerns of would like to understand the services Google offer and how they could advance your business efficiently and securely, feel free to contact me. All you have to do is click on the call me tool below the author bio on the right.

I promise I'll keep the conversation just between us.

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Hanging Out With Teachers Might Be Cool

In the past few weeks I have been in Google Plus Hangouts with a few more TV news anchors, social media experts, researchers from a variety of networks, and a whole bunch of entertainment personalities.

I will appear as a guest in the video of Frank Girard's round-table discussion on the monetization of this new technology. Rama Sharma included me in the video she produced for the BBC discussing its potential impact on broadcast journalism. I will be working with another  colleague to explore using GPHO as a vehicle for conducting market research panels. I've been interviewed by others and have obviously written a number of columns about it.

But no session has been more rewarding than a brief conversation with the students and officials from a small but prestigious high school in New Jersey.  My good friend Frank Garufi Jr. invited me to join a hangout he started from a conference room at  St. Augustine's Prep High School. Here we were able to very quickly pique the imagination of a handful of students scheduled to participate in a hangout with another school. According to Kevin Motylinski, one of the students:  

January 27, 2012 St. Augustine Prep, New Jersey, will have a video chat with the sister school Villanova College, Ontario Canada, to gain new ideas to bring to the schools. The students representing Villanova College are Nadia See, Melissa Martino, Sandra Bianco, Breanna Bitondo, Dana Umbrio, Dave Monaco, Owen Wright, and Morgan Sutherland. Representing St. Augustine Prep is BoDean Messier, Kyle Brandt, Kevin Motylinski, Sam Swisher, Michael Grandrimo, and Austin Campbell. The group has already been acquainted through the Student Augustine Values Institute, held in Tulsa, OK, and have developed great ideas from each other. The original idea of video chats born there and we hope that one day we could have all 8 Augustinian High School in North America to participate with these chats, and possible go global with all the Augustine schools around the world. The reason for this video chat is to explore the use of google+ as a learning tool in the future for schools, as well as to see what ideas have worked and develop new ideas.

Likely  to be the first of many hangouts, these students got a few pointers from us veterans. They are now better prepared and will be able to gain the most from the experience, focusing on the content and information exchange, and not just the technology. As we took them through the basic features, it was a delight to watch as their minds began to expand before our very eyes. They will use this technology in ways we can't even imagine.

Even more personally exciting was the opportunity to speak with  Mr. George Smith, Director of Communications for the school.  Beyond the use for intramural communications, we discussed several other very innovative uses. 

For example, my colleague Robert Redl from Vienna Austria also participated in this hangout. Tomorrow, he is going to "visit" with a German language class offering everyone in the classroom the opportunity to interact directly with him.

Some of my hangout buddies and I had just been treated to an impromptu tour of Rome Italy through a hangout and we could imagine orchestrating a hangout like this for world studies or political science. Reading about Marcus Aurelius? Let's have someone show us the obelisk dedicated in his honor. Perhaps journalism students would like to hangout on the set of a live news broadcast to observe first hand what happens in the studio off camera.

This is a whole new dimension to the concept of an organized field trip. But it won't always be someone out there in the world coming into the school via a hangout. It could just as easily go the other way.

Imaging a single tutor from the school or home being able to "visit" with five or six other students each in their homes, whether due to illness or inclement weather. The students could have a rich interaction with each other and the tutor staying current or getting some extra help in certain subjects. It would be like a true virtual classroom and maximize the use of the tutor's time.

We all agreed the possibilities are limitless. I applaud Frank, George and Fr. Donald Reilly, President of the school, for being so progressive and forward thinking. It started me thinking perhaps I should set aside this broadcast news journey I've undertaken, step out from under the TV studio lights and get back into the classroom. 

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Google Hangouts 101

Much has been written about Google Plus Hangouts and if you have not jumped into one yet you may be missing out on one the best social networking tools of all time. These multi-way video chats are the next best thing to being there. But to maximize the experience you need to know a few things.

It all starts with bandwidth. If you do not have a strong and steady connection to the Internet your experience will be diminished. The picture will freeze, the audio will warble or drop out and you may even lose connection altogether. Dropping in and out of the same hangout is not cool. Be considerate of the others by stopping after one or two failed attempts if the problems are on your end.

Next you have to be prepared with the right sound equipment. A headset is preferred to avoid the sound feeding back into the microphone. A lower cost alternative is the use of ear buds like the ones that came with your iPod or smart phone. Ideal is a sound system with noise cancellation but this is a bit more sophisticated and unnecessary unless you plan to appear in live shows where headsets can detract from your otherwise cool appearance.

Last is the camera. Most people recommend the Logitech C910 for its superior value. A high definition camera with the proper lighting can make you a star. Keep as much white out of your background as possible and watch for bright spots or shadows on your face. Don't sit too close to the camera. Take advantage of the preview screen and position yourself so the picture contains the top of your head to the middle of you chest.

Obviously your hardware must also be up to the challenge. The bandwidth will be wasted if your computer does not have adequate processor speed or memory. A large monitor or dual monitor setup is preferred. The thumbnails in a hangout (the smaller windows showing all the participants) are high resolution so they truly benefit from more screen real estate.

Basic hangout etiquette has also been covered by many. Most suggestions are common courtesy such as no shouting, talking over others or generally being rude. Less obvious are tips like muting when you are not actively speaking, if you are typing or take a phone call. Remember a hangout is self directed so any noise you make is going to put you on the big screen. No one wants to watch you while you are on the phone or relaying a message to your colleagues at work.

There are many more tips and tricks on Google Plus but it might be more effective (and a lot more fun) for me to show you than continue writing. Drop me a line and if you have all of the prerequisites included above then let's go ahead and schedule a hangout together.

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Can You Bet Your Business On A Cloud

Being active in the "cloud" community, the story about MegaUpload being shut down naturally caught my interest this morning. MegaUpload is one of these new breed of services which allow customers to store files for other customers to retrieve. You can think of it like a giant hard drive in the sky with specific areas or directories for your use. Many people had stored untold numbers of files there and those files are now inaccessible. This article poses the question are we prepared should the cloud services we use suddenly disappear one day. The defense "it won't happen to me" won't stand up in light of the events that have now taken place. This happened with no warning and there is no process for getting at your files.

Even more frightening, what if the cloud service is more than just storage. What if the NY Times headline tomorrow is Marc Benioff indicted - Federal investigators seize all assets. Does this mean your entire sales process will grind to a complete halt? How long could you function without this application and the information contained within?

Of course there are no easy answers to this question. The point of storing files in the cloud is to avoid the cost and complexity of managing the equipment and software necessary to store the files yourself in the first place. So making local copies as a backup seems contradictory. Engaging a second cloud service as alternate storage is likely to change the economics and erase the savings of going to the cloud in the first place. In the case of a SalesForce.com, replicating the application in house or having an alternate supplier of the service is equally difficult to imagine.

My advice is to discuss the risk mitigation in the same terms as any other critical element of your business. The solutions have to be viewed in terms of the true risk and value of the service. For example, you may be in manufacturing and have one key production facility. What is the plan should the building be rendered useless by natural disaster? Property insurance will help with the replacement while business interruption insurance will help you muddle through the down time. Do we have the proper financial risk mitigation strategy in place for our key outside service providers?

File storage is like a warehouse. If we lose physical inventory it can eventually be replaced through purchasing or manufacturing. But intellectual property is not the same. We may be forced to keep copies in alternative locations and view the cost as insurance. Rewriting all the code or reconstructing all the customer records may not be possible in real time.

What would you do if there was a fire at HQ and all of your accounting records were destroyed? Typically we use some off site backup strategy to mitigate this. In the same way, special agreements could be included with your cloud service provider. For example, each month a complete dump in a mutually acceptable format could be provided or deposited with an independent third party. Should the cloud vaporize, you could retrieve your files from the alternate.

Proper use of cloud services can save money, improve service, enable growth and provide many benefits if managed properly. There is no silver bullet. Each investment in a cloud strategy must be fully evaluated and adequate contingency plans devised before you make the switch.

IT people love to "blue sky" but it's not a good thing when your clouds disappear.

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC

Monday, January 23, 2012

Project A Better Image

We've already discussed the plethora of new television monitors at CES this year. They were bigger, brighter, multipurpose, internet ready, high (or ultra-high) definition and even 3D. But I gave up on the conventional television approach almost ten years ago. I got the idea at the office where we used LCD projectors to display PowerPoint presentations and videos.

The old rear projection unit in our family room with its 40 inch screen consumed a huge amount of floor space and power. It was pretty much state of the art when we bought it, but it was getting a bit long in the tooth. It had been repaired, brought back to life really, twice so far and we were not sure it would survive a third major surgery.  Quite frankly, we could never remove that smear on the screen so the picture was always a bit blurry.

Before we went shopping for a new set I borrowed the projector from the office for a weekend. It was quite simple to run a few video cables from the set top box to the projector and to prop it up on a makeshift stand in the middle of the room. It wasn't pretty or even particularly safe but it threw a magnificent picture on the white sheet we had attached to the wall.

The experiment was a clear success and resulted in a shift from "regular" televisions to projectors. We are on our second unit which unlike the experimental model is a true home theater projector. We have since migrated from cable to Verizon FIOS which delivers HD video in 1080 resolution. The signal is carried over HDMI cables to the EPSON Home Theater unit mounted near the ceiling in the rear of the room. It will  project on a section of the wall which has been treated with a light gray color, textured surface. The image measures 102 inches diagonally and maintains high image quality even if you move up close.

Some people made the trip to San Francisco and sat in the rain yesterday to watch the Giants play beat the 49ers. Others crammed into sports bars or watched on their flat panel units at home. With my home theater setup we felt like we were standing right there with Tom Coughlin and the boys when Tynes kicked the winning field goal.

As you might imagine movies too are an experience. Combined with surround sound you have true immersion into the story. With the appropriate base unit and cabling you can feed the projector from a DVD unit, game console or a computer.

Maybe its a male thing but for me the screen can never be big enough. We were limited by the furniture in the room but when we move things around later this year a simple flick of the wrist will expand the size of the screen even further.

To paraphrase from the movie Jaws, looks like we might need a bigger room.

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC

Friday, January 20, 2012

Tablets Are Not Always The Right Medicine

Scanning the articles and reports on CES this year, one could tell it was a success. I'm told by insiders they set new attendance records and the non-profit organization that runs the show is apparently doing very well.

In the press the large screen televisions and monitors seem to be all the rage. With features like AMOLED screens, 3D and internet ready, these devices are going to start appearing in living rooms everywhere.

There are also tablets galore in demonstrations with many already deliverable. It seems everyone and their brother is touting an iPad killer. What did not come across to me in the media was the plethora of PC vendors displaying their new products. According to sources present there were quite a lot of new computers with a notebook form factor on display.

With the ability to pack enormous amounts of processor, memory and disk storage in extremely light and thin enclosure, notebooks are becoming attractive again. High resolution screen and built in cameras, microphones and pointing devices make them ideal for today's smaller, often shared office desk space, tiny plane seats and trays or your half of the table at Starbucks.

It made me wonder if tablet fever is another example of a device riding the hype curve. Are tablets really better in all circumstances? In my view, the answer is no.

Portable computers like tablets and notebooks are currently 55% of the market. Some project this to grow to 70% over the next couple of years. The desktop is clearly in decline but its not at all obvious which type of portable will dominate.

Tablets, particularly the iPad, are wonderful devices because they are small, light, fast and very portable. Construction companies are using them on job sites to deliver drawings and enable annotation. They are great to take to meetings where you can call up documents, do searches or even take notes. We're already touted them as satellite trucks in a box for on the street news reporting.

You can purchase all kinds of add-ons such as covers, stands and keyboards which work with the iPad. Like many tablets it has long battery life and is pretty durable.

However, the traditional clam shell style offers a full size keyboard and, often, a larger screen. While it may take up a bit more room on the desk, the utility of a full size keyboard without having to add a second device or surrender screen real estate is worth it.

Anyone who does a serious amount of writing or editing will conceded it is much easier when you have a full keyboard and large screen. As new, powerful and portable notebooks begin to appear at attractive price points I predict we will see a shift back toward this type of device over tables.

What do you think? Are you using a desktop, notebook or tablet today?

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Zappos Managed To Zap Us

The recent security breach at Zappos was yet another fairly loud wake up call. Personal information from millions of customers snatched from their electronic files. A lot of articles are being published with the steps a company should take to prevent this type of incident, the state of readiness they must be in to react if the unthinkable does occur, and advice on how it should be handled when the inevitable brown stuff hits the cooling device.

Articles, blogs and comments are being posted everywhere, taking Zappos to task, resurrecting the old debate on the relative strengths of Linux and Windows servers and reminding people how dangerous it is to trust the internet with your personal information. Called in to question is the level of compliance with standards like PCI DSS and the effectiveness of encrypting data such as passwords. No doubt the legislators will be burning the midnight oil dreaming up additional regulations to propose subjecting businesses to even more audits and reports.

And the customers? They have been advised per the law that their information may have been compromised so they should take extra care, change their passwords and keep an eye out for phishing schemes in the coming months.Standard response 101.

None of us want to stop shopping on-line, nor do we want our personal data compromised. So what are we to do? Well, I have a couple off suggestions you might follow.

One approach is have a credit card which is dedicated for use in on-line purchases. Mine sits on a shelf near the computer and is probably stored in countless data bases maintained by all the many and varied on-line merchants we use.  The credit cards in my wallet including the ones associated to my savings and investment account are never used anywhere but in person. The most important ones never leave my sight.

Having a few different credit cards for different situations is a strategy I call "compartmentalizing exposure," and it allows me to better manage my finances and to mitigate risk. Plenty of credit cards are available with rewards programs and no annual fees. Carry a few to keep your business expenses separate from personal spending. Use a separate one for shops and restaurants, places where the staff take your card and disappear with it to process your payment. Keep credit limits low on all except on you might have for major purchases.

If I am ever advised by Zappos or any other on-line service that my personal  information has been compromised I can kill the appropriate credit card and quickly replace it with another. All of my other cards would continue to be safe.

As for the likelihood of a phishing attempt, my view is we run that risk every day of the week. Whether anyone has alerted me or not, I am always very skeptical of responding to people by phone and never include sensitive information in an email or other electronic form of inquiry.

Never click the links in the email but rather go to the site of the organization allegedly making the request. Write to them or phone them. Fake phone inquiries are usually stymied by my practice of never answering the home phone when the caller id shows blocked or unlisted. When it comes through, I prefer to call back to a publicly listed number for the organization so I am sure I know who is at the other end of the line.

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Good Supplier Relationships Are Key

Back in November, you may recall, I wrote "If Your Phone Ain't Ringing, That's Me Not Calling." It was the long, sad tale of woe about the painful process by which I came to have a new iPhone 4s. This is another part of that story, previously unwritten. It highlights the importance of good supplier relations.

The decision to try the newly announced iPhone 4S was not very difficult. Although an avid Google fan and lover of all things Android, experiencing other technologies is important for me stay current and to maintain an objective view. I prefer to base my opinions and evaluations on real world experience when possible. I hesitate to recommend anything I haven't personally used.

All the reasons I wanted to try the new iPhone are in the story so I won't repeat them here. It also covers the details about the ridiculous process which forced me to return the trial unit to the carrier in order to receive my upgrade to an identical new unit. What was not discussed is some of the activities that took place behind the scenes for weeks to follow.

Several years back the company outsourced the management of cell phones. It is a total "cradle to grave" process for all company employees. If you need a new phone, want to add a service, change plans, cancel or replace the phone you call one number. Aggregating our accounts and putting the optimization of our plans under one roof saved millions of dollars while improving the company's ability to manage its inventory of equipment and the associated rate plans.

This third party administrator (TPA) was responsible for enabling me to upgrade to the iPhone. They informed me of my eligibility and facilitated the trial unit when I requested it. When the logistics nightmare occurred they did everything in their power to smooth it over and, in fact, I got the new phone just a day or so after returning the old one despite being told by the carrier they were out of stock and back ordered for weeks.

The mistakes didn't end there. They were sorting out billing errors with the carrier for two months following the change over. The TPA was my advocate and got every last incorrect charge removed from the bills. I never called or had to speak with the carrier.

In my view it is imperative that you develop a deep, trusted relationship with your major suppliers. If you treat them fairly they will do the same for you. On many occasions I found it necessary to ask for special consideration and never once was I refused. The flip side is when employees were being unreasonable or flat out wrong I would side with the vendor and make sure they were whole -- even if it it came out of my budget.

Like many things in life, balance is important. You can negotiate and bargain your suppliers down. But if they cannot make a decent profit they are going to either find ways to make it up, cutting corners or adding extra charges,  or they may be forced to go out of business. Better to strike a fair deal and build a solid working relationship with a vendor. It should work out that you both make money in the end or why else would you be working together the first place?

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC

Monday, January 16, 2012

Confessions Of A Hangout Junkie

I'm not a psychologist so can someone more qualified in human behavior please explain to me the hypnotic nature of Google Plus Hangouts. They are truly addictive.

Yesterday morning I had a few minutes before I was supposed to leave the house for breakfast and church.  I decided to clean up a couple of emails that had come in overnight and to quickly scan all my the social network feeds. On Google Plus I noticed my friend Bruce was in a hangout and I thought I would just pop in for a moment to say hello.

Hangouts, for those of you who have not experienced them, are self-directed video chat sessions. You can have up to ten people in the session at any one time. Everyone is lined up in a row of thumbnail size videos across your computer screen. The person speaking is automatically displayed to everyone in a large window so you always feel like you are speaking directly with that person.

I found it easy and natural to sit and chat with Bruce for quite a while. Nothing heavy, just the usual breakfast counter type of conversation. After a short while, another good friend Robert popped in. The topic shifted to a more serious one around some business concepts we have discussed several times before. It's hard to put into words the comfortable feeling I had sitting and chatting with a couple of guys. It was almost as if we were at the same table in a coffee house. Only Bruce is in Boston and Robert somewhere outside of Providence.

As the conversation continued, Laurie who lives outside of Houston, popped in. Despite being in a bathrobe, with pillow hair and no makeup, she was warmly greeted by us, her friends, and she took the conversation in a whole other direction. She shared her issue with us and we quickly threw several ideas and suggestions at her, alternately bouncing other problems and possible solutions off one another.

A couple of other people wandered in and out of the session and in the last few moments it was just Laurie and me. We each discovered so many new things about each other. For instance, she didn't know I was a former CIO and I had no idea she was in the recruiting game. We already respected and admired one another, having crossed paths on Google Plus before. But our conversation this Sunday morning pushed our relationship to a higher level. Several of us have since connected on LinkedIn.

Signing off some two and one-half hours after the start of this hangout it struck me. Of course I posted to Google Plus to share my observation with the handful of people who had been in this hangout. But I wanted to describe the interaction to all of you, my readers, to see if you can help me determine exactly what it is about this technology that draws you in, keep you coming back and makes it so easy to interact with other people?

Part of me wants to believe there is some magic in the technology which makes it so natural to meet and discuss with other people. Being able to look into someone's eyes while listening to them has been possible with videoconferencing for some time. It is the novelty of being able to do it on any desktop, tablet or even smart phones? Is it perhaps the people and not the platform that makes it work?

Whatever the answer, I know I am not alone in this addiction. I can find people in hangouts virtually any time of the day or night. I sense there are many more hours of hangout in my future.

So I don't know what the answer is. Maybe we could hangout together and discuss it sometime?

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC

Friday, January 13, 2012

Will Email Ever Die (Part 2)

Last week in Part 1 of this column we began to discuss whether the use of social networks for collaboration, cooperation and communication would reduce or eliminate the use of email. Using email can be inefficient and waste limited human and computer resources. The younger members of the work force, sometimes called digital natives, have more experience with social networks like Facebook and Google Plus and prefer this style of interaction. We imagine as they begin to dominate the work place, email might slowly disappear.

In Part 1 we took a look at the example of a small team collaborating first by sending email to each other, and compared it to an approach where they post into shared space. We could easily see how the second approach was so much better. All of the content was stored in one place, accessible by everyone on the team. This eliminated the problem of multiple versions and the need for reconciliation.

We didn't even explore more advanced forms of sharing actual documents using cloud based services like Google Docs. In that case, multiple parties granted view or edit rights, can all be working on the very same, single instance of a spreadsheet, diagram, presentation or memo. A complete audit trail is maintained showing every change and who made it.

But I also stated at the outset that I did not think email was going away any time soon. So why do I think this is so? Let me give you four reasons.

First, there are times when the message is a one to one, direct message and it may demand immediate response. For example, how would you accomplish a meeting invitation or conduct a poll? How would you deliver an invoice? How would you send an alert to the system administrator for excessive failed login attempts. Posting these and waiting for the recipient to visit would not be optimal.

Next, email often serves as a "back channel," an alternate means of sidebar discussions held privately and quickly among the participants outside of the shared space. Although you could use a phone call or text, email is convenient when you want to copy/paste from the shared space or create some new content and get feedback before proposing it to the whole group.

Third, there is an interoperability issue. Email has evolved into a standard that allows cross platform (and therefore intercompany) communication. Assuming one company is using a system like Lotus Notes, the only practical way to engage people in another company is to send them an email.  Even if the outsiders were convinced to learn and participate using this system, they would still have to be 'tickled' when new content has been added or their input is needed.

Which brings us to the fourth and final point. Every social network includes a mechanism to alert participants when they should visit. These networks are passive, meaning you have to decide to go an look at them. Those messages arriving in our inbox usually contain links that tell us exactly where to go. Otherwise we would spend a lot of time trying to figure out if anyone has added, changed or removed some content. Run down the list of all the major systems and you will see they each allow you to select the level of notification you want often dependent on the activity or trigger. Especially in our fast paced and highly mobile computing environment, you need a mechanism to point you to content that demands your attention.

By the way content management systems and other shared systems employ exactly the same logic. Whether its generated from a person or an application an email to you is still the most effective means of getting your immediate attention and engagement when needed.

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Laws Were Made To Be Broken

Most of my life I have spent time around computers. From my high school years using a teletype terminal, acoustic coupler to access a remote, time-sharing system to now using an iPad2, I have seen it all. Computers have evolved from monolithic cabinets filling entire rooms to the size of your smart phone. Yet, in terms of power, speed and capacity they have increased beyond our imagination. My iPhone would easily outperform the supercomputers of yesteryear.

Well, fire up your imagination and put it in overdrive because new developments are going to make computers even smaller and faster than ever before.

The increase in power and decrease in size are both related to the miniaturization of the logic circuits that make up the computer. Transistors replaced vacuum tubes which were themselves reduced to etchings in silicon chips. Logic circuits are made up of wires that define paths for the electricity to follow. There are gates, like railroad switch tracks and toggles to turn power on and off. You probably know computers fundamentally store and handle everything as a collection of ones and zeros.

Exactly how this all works is not as important as just the basic concept that electricity, the life blood of  electronics, moves at the speed of light. If it has a shorter distance to travel, it gets there sooner. Simple, right? So making the paths on a circuit card shorter makes the computer faster. If I can make the "wire" smaller and can pack more into the same space. Make the etchings in the silicon narrower makes the "wire" smaller and the chip faster.

Researchers have developed a technique for constructing wire at the atomic level. Up to this point, circuits have been measured in terms of nano-meters (one billionth of a meter) with the smallest being about 32nm. According to the team at the University of New South Wales, wire only four atoms wide and a single atom high are now possible. That will make the circuits roughly 20 times smaller than the smallest in use today. The implications are mind boggling. and they are not done yet.

Way back in 1965 Gordon Moore  predicted the density of circuits would double every two years. Moore's Law, as it is called, has proven to be accurate far beyond the ten year horizon Gordon envisioned. It continues to hold true even today and is expected to hold until 2015.

With the advent of a new level of miniaturization, this atomic chip, we might soon be breaking the law.

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Of Mice And Men

We covered a number of best practices for computer users in both their personal and professional lives. Using strong yet easy to remember passwords, turning on the PIN for mobile devices and having constant and current malware detection installed. Last week we talked about the need for regular and reliable means of backing up your critical data.

Once in a while, even the best, most careful and experienced individuals like, say, me, for instance, encounters some difficulty. This week I had a hard drive begin to go south on me. It cost me several hours of grief and lost productivity. It served, however, as a wake up call and inspired me to repeat the warning that you never know when your data will suddenly and inexplicably disappear or why your machine will feel like its not running on all cylinders.

For a couple of days, the machine had been a little more sluggish than usual. Video in Google Plus hangouts would have missing thumbnail video and "Max Headroom" syndrome on the main screen. Then, Windows began telling me is was sensing a problem with a drive (didn't say which one) and that I better contact my system administrator for help. I discovered its possible to chuckle and shudder at the same moment.

Being a long time geek at my core I dove in with both feet and began to troubleshoot using every diagnostic tool at my disposal. Windows has utilities built in that will scan and attempt to repair a faulty drive. These allowed me to determine it was my "D" drive that was exhibiting the problem. This is not the main "C" drive with the operating system but my secondary drive with all of my data. I made the usual progress. At one point in my recovery efforts I couldn't even get the machine to run.

Once past that minor roadblock I gave the hard drive a good scrubbing with MalwareBytes, another utility often used to augment your usual malware detection system. No one antivirus product is going to be 100% effective. Whenever I have errant behavior I use this program to ensure nothing nefarious has managed to slip past my first line of defense.

The Boy Scout motto comes to mind. Perhaps one computer is simply not enough. One might need, as I have, a notebook or tablet computer as a spare. With multiple machines cloud based storage becomes a really good strategy for housing all of your work in process.

Yes, you better be prepared. Want some advice, call or write. Happy to help you now that my computer is working again.

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

I'm So Excited I Just Might HIRL !

Before you have visions of me leaning over the rail losing my lunch, let me explain that HIRL is an acronym. It simply means Hangout In Real Life. You know geeks and their three letter abbreviations.

Over the last several months I have spend an enormous amount of time in Google Plus hangouts. In hangouts you have a self directed video chat where up to ten people at a time literally see and hear each other. Much of my time in hangouts was connected with the television news shows employing them as a new back channel for two-way audience engagement. Here I frequently interacted with people from all over the world.

But I have also spent time watching live music performances, game shows, round table discussions, cooking and a variety of other activities including purely socializing. One recent hangout, a deep business discussion, set my personal record of seven hours. This is a record I do not wish to break any time soon.

I have made many new friends through hangouts, and I am by no means unique. Lots of people have met for the first time in hangouts.  So it was only a matter of time before the suggestion of a meeting in person would naturally come about.

As a matter of fact, I stumbled upon Patti Simone of WomenCentric, in a hangout only to discover she practically lived in my neighborhood. We planned to meet at the local coffee shop one morning and HIRL together. As an aside, this has culminated in a business relationship. But we will deal with that topic another time.

In a hangout just last week the participants were shocked to see Pio dal cin, a friend from Italy, walk on camera in Robert Redl's home in Vienna Austria. While they had spent countless hours together on-line, this was their first HIRL.

There have been a few major HIRLs including a recent one in LA where many hangout buddies assembled, most meeting in person for the very first time.

The reason I am so excited is because a major HIRL has been scheduled for my home town of New York and I plan to be there. The final details and list of attendees has not been published yet.  But I already know I will have the chance to meet (and probably hug) some of my favorite hangout buddies.

It has been demonstrated that you can form and sustain relationships on-line. Using e-mail, chat, discussion space, Skype, Facebook and now Google Plus, people have met and come to know each other well enough to be considered good friends. Sometimes people wind up dating or even getting married.

But as I have written before (here), there is something special; something so real and genuine about looking a person straight in the eye and giving them a firm handshake or a warm hug that no electronic medium is ever going to replace.

I hope people will be as excited to meet me as I am about meeting them.

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC

Monday, January 9, 2012

The Real Eyewitness News

The television news industry has been changed forever. It began back in the 70's with Roger Grimsby, co-anchor on the ABC network news show Eyewitness News. The show aired nightly on channel 7 in New York and broke away from the longstanding talking head format of television news delivery.

Overnight it seemed we transitioned from the serious, somber and deliberate style of an Edward Murrow or a Walter Cronkite to the casual fun-loving demeanor of Grimsby. It was the beginning of a long slide down a slippery slope where the entertainment value of the newscast began to carry more importance than traditional values such as accuracy, integrity and objectivity.

Other networks and "news" shows were quick to adopt the more casual look and feel, where gaffs and technical errors were no longer embarrassing but fodder for jovial banter among the on air personalities. The truth is content on television is driven by viewer ratings which in turn drive the advertising costs that ultimately determine revenue. News shows were no longer exempt from the need to attract the most viewers. Sadly, it seemed most viewers were more interested in being entertained than informed. At least the networks cannot be blamed for that.

With the advent of social networks, people are increasingly getting more timely and accurate news from the web. There are numerous sources where one can simply track events all day long and not have to wait for the six o'clock broadcast with its catchy sound bites and glib commentary. I've recently met a young man who at the delicate age of 14 started to monitor various social networks and news feeds, and who today curates a web site called UpfrontNewsWire.com. In thirty minutes each morning he puts out news from around the world and then heads off to high school.

The long term effect has been a loss of viewers creating a need to reduce costs.  We wind up with a smaller newsroom staff, fewer deep thinkers and instead rely on pretty faces that are adept at reading their lines from a teleprompter.

This is not to suggest they are all bad. Many television news programs still have serious journalists at the helm but they often wind up on public channels or pay networks. 

The internet and social networks have nearly destroyed the newspaper industry. The question is how will the major networks armed with their revenue pressures, rigid schedule, skeleton crews and pretty faces compete? We live in a a world where technology allows virtually anyone to have the resources to replace the television station.

The answer lies in embracing the enemy. When stations become enlightened like KOMU in Missouri, KOMO in Seattle and Fox in LA, welcoming the new "back" channels and incorporating them into the news gathering process, the audience will respond in kind. News delivery will be a two way street, a lively dialogue among all the participants inside and outside the studio, including the real eyewitnesses.

A new breed of journalists will emerge. Those who can multitask and engage intelligently with the citizens delivering the raw news. The ones who can separate the wheat from the chaff, put the pieces together and deliver a cohesive report from it all. The ones who are nimble and adept at using the new technologies will be the winners.

They are not going to need the tall antenna, powerful transmitters or cable delivery services. They are simply going to want a microphone, a quiet keyboard, an HD web cam, a big monitor and loads of bandwidth.

And they will have more fun with the audience than Grimsby would ever have imagined.

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC

Friday, January 6, 2012

Will Email Ever Die (Part 1)

Got into an interesting debate the other day over the question of whether social networks like Facebook or Google Plus would eventually replace email. We've all read or heard about one company that turns off email at the end of the business day and another banning the use of internal email altogether. Companies are encouraging the use of other forms of electronic exchange, phone or face to face meetings. Outside of work, more and more people are texting and posting instead of using email to communicate with family and friends.

In my view, email still servers a useful purpose and will be with us for a long, long time. However, this is a complicated topic and so I have broken the discussion into two parts. Today in Part 1 we will look at more efficient ways of using technology to collaborate. Next week in Part 2 we will come back to why email will stay around.

I have long been an advocate of moving the one to many communication model into another format, more suited to the process of asynchronous discussion and collaboration. Several times throughout my career I evangelized the concept of discussion space also known as forums, chat space, bulletin boards and a variety of other labels. All of the popular social networks and many commercial software systems offer this capability.

Imagine you want to solicit some ideas from five people in your company. The standard approach is to send an email containing your request to all five. Ideally, each of them will reply to you and you assimilate those responses into one final answer. But  what often happens is one of the five invariably responds only to you perhaps with a comment asking for clarification or adding a new dimension to the question. You are now forced to send a follow-up note to the others to bring them up to date.

In the meanwhile, they have sent some notes around to each other and people outside this circle to engage more people in the discussion. They too are collecting and assimilating multiple responses into the one they plan to send back to you.

Look at the myriad of problems with this approach. From a resource perspective we are generating an awful lot of extra emails increasing network traffic, using  limited bandwidth and consuming storage. Emails are flying everywhere delivering the same content over and over again. This is particularly acute when the messages contain attachments such as spreadsheets, pictures or diagrams.

Multiple instances of these messages are stored on each person's computer and on the mail system server, and ultimately in back up copies and archives.

In addition to wasting all these computing resources, we have people constantly comparing the last message received to all previous messages, trying to identify the new information and reconcile it with prior versions of the content.

Now, compare this with a model in which you post your initial message to one place much like an electronic bulletin board where the others can see it and post their response. The request for clarification is immediately visible to the other participants. They, in turn, can respond to it with additional comments which will also be visible to all. As each person responds, the thread grows and all the information is in one place at one time. Grant access to others and more people can read through the discussion and add their comments at the end.

This is the model most familiar to social network butterflies. Post a photo or status to Facebook and all your friends respond in the thread below. Post a link or a blog entry to Google Plus and the comments flow in orderly fashion below.

Since this approach is clearly more efficient and familiar to the younger generation entering the work force, should we assume that email will disappear from the office? Will email go the way of the acoustic coupler? Do you even know what an acoustic coupler is?

More on this next week in part 2.

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Saving Private Files

Let's start off the new year right with some sage advice for anyone who regularly uses a computer at home or in the office. We have discussed the need for good passwords and protection against malware. An often overlooked but equally important practice is to make regular backups of all your important stuff.

Perhaps you have an army of technicians devoted to ensuring you never lose one bit of your information on the computer in your office. But have you checked to see what rules or conventions you must follow for them to be able to restore lost files? Have you asked them to bring a document back just to confirm they can do it, and to determine how long it takes? By the way, often their protection only extends to files stored on the network server and not those on your local hard drive.

Of course, at home you will have no such team of experts looking after you. If you don't protect yourself you could lose everything. Whether a natural or unnatural act, if your computer is damaged or destroyed, how will you recover all of your documents, pictures, programs or other information?

The answer is a simple one, and something all of us should regularly do; make copies of the important files on your computer! I know about now many of you are tuning this out thinking nothing like that will never happen to me. Perhaps  you don't have time for this today or you think all your important stuff is "in the cloud" and can't be lost.

All I can say is like the lyric from that Joni Mitchell song Big Yellow Taxi, you don't know what you got till its gone.  So, if you don't want to be singing the blues, invest in a highly reliable, automatic utility to quietly and continuously make sure your important stuff is copied and stored somewhere other than on your main computer.

Most computers come with a free backup program and there are certainly dozens of  products and services you can buy. But you have to configure them properly and occasionally check to see that they are doing the job.

I found one in particular to be outstanding. CrashPlan, from Code42, has been on my desktop machine for well over a year. It was truly simple to set it and forget it. It has been diligently moving copies of all the files in the directories specified to other locations every day without fail.

It was originally installed on a notebook computer, long since wiped out. However, I successfully recovered a file when I needed it from the archive months later. It was every bit as simple as would have been to find the file on the actual notebook. Moving through the windows folder structure, the file was located and simply copied to my current machine.

CrashPlan allows files to be stored in the cloud (where my old notebook files now live), an external drive or other computers on your network. You can even allow your computer to used by others to store their files, fully encrypted and inaccessible to anyone but the owner, of course.

At this point, I have CrashPlan on all my computers which frees me from any concerns about ever losing anything. Using my account, I can recover any file from any computer to any other machine I control. Knowing this has allowed me to sleep very well at night.

Don't wait until your first meltdown to begin using a backup utility. Contact me and I'll arrange a trial of CrashPlan for you.

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC

[Editor's note: Full disclosure; CrashPlan was provided free of charge for evaluation and use.]

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Google Morning America

For the last several months a small group of people at just a handful of local TV stations throughout the United States have been experimenting with Google Plus Hangouts, providing anyone with a camera and voice direct access to the live studio. Hangouts, you recall, are two-way video chats with up to 10 participants at a time. People in these hangouts were treated to an insider view of what goes on behind the scenes before and during the broadcasts.

Sarah Hill from KOMU in Missouri was the first to recognize the potential and take it beyond the backstage role by putting ordinary citizens on air to contribute to stories and even do their own reporting. I was fortunate enough to among the relatively small group of co-hosts as this show pioneered a new level of citizen journalist involvement.

A few other stations continue to stick their electronic toes in the water conducting regular hangout sessions with ordinary people while off camera. With the introduction of the On-Air feature Google allows an unlimited number of viewers of a hangout. Forward thinkers like Matt Markovich from KOMO in Seattle, are looking at ways to exploit this technology as a means of creating  a variety of new two-way channels.

Surprisingly, the major news networks both here in the US and abroad have not fully embraced this technology, that is, until now. I was delighted to see signs that both ABC, CBS and the BBC are beginning to experiment a little more.

Yesterday I stumbled across an impromptu hangout with a few people from the popular ABC network show Good Morning America. Andrew Springer Associate Producer, Social Media in New York opened a hangout and included Segment Producer Katie Bosland participating remotely from the Iowa Caucuses.

This is part of their plans for comprehensive election coverage. The hangout was opened public meaning anyone on Google Plus could join in and ask questions about the process, the candidates or anything else. GMA announced another Iowa Caucus hangout scheduled for later that evening.

At the same time, my good friend and colleague Mike Downes managed to catch CBS News Radio employing a hangout as a new means of channeling questions from the public to people on air. His inquiry about the role of social media in the election process was relayed from the hangout to the radio show guests who reacted in real time during the broadcast.

In 2008 the outcome of the US Presidential election was significantly influenced by social media. Add to Facebook and Twitter the powerful new tools and services Google are bringing to the table. YouTube, Google Plus (Hangouts) and Google's own Politics and Election pages are opening new chapters in the journalism rule book.

We know NBC are studying this and various Fox station affiliates are toying with it as well. The evolution of broadcast journalism, indeed the whole of the news business continues at an alarming pace. Well beyond how politics and elections will be covered, these developments are fast changing the entire news business. It is exciting to have been involved at the outset and anybody's guess how it will all turn out.

Stay tuned. Most of this story is yet to be written.

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Back To The Future

Welcome to the new year. It is January 2012 and you have, no doubt, been reading the many technology predictions published over the last few weeks. Big name magazines like Fortune and Forbes, trade journals like Computerworld and Information Week, leading columnists, bloggers and pretty much everyone chimes in with their forecast for what's hot and what's not in the coming year.

As in the past, the demise of particular companies, if not entire product categories are predicted. Many are ordering funeral arrangements for RIM. One prediction has the on-line retailers stealing share from the big box stores by offering price and convenience at the point of sale, while another has the big box stores crushing on-line retailers with, well, price and convenience at the point of sale. Legislation could have a big impact if internet sales are finally subject to tax.

Social networks, increasingly a source of information and advice, continue to have significant influence on opinions and specifically on purchase decisions. True not only of hard goods but services and media consumption as well. How we find news and entertainment is undergoing a major shift and will continue towards total digitization.

You see a pretty consistent theme with continued growth in the use of mobile devices including tablets, cloud services and social networks. Not much risk in touting these observations.

You can find any number of views on the long standing wars; Apple (IOS) vs Windows, Apple (IOS) vs Android, and plenty of views on which browser, social network or e-commerce site will dominate. Perennial predictions of broad sweeping changes in government and industries like manufacturing, healthcare and energy appear.

Finally, we have the ultimate prediction that the world will end in 2012. A silly conclusion allegedly based on studies of the Mayan civilization.

My level of faith in the accuracy of any of these prediction is about equal (except for the last one.) Some will be right on and others way off the mark. But history has proven we can rarely predict the truly disruptive development before it actually happens.

Does Siri or big brother Watson foretell a new era of audible, contextual computing? Is the Nao Robot the first in a long line of humanoid shaped, electronic companions? Will all of our information and entertainment sources converge into one omnipresent digital delivery platform? Will science ever give us acceptable battery life for our phones? It's anybody's guess and I think we will have to wait and see how it all turns out..

The only prediction I will make is that the role of senior management must evolve quickly to keep pace with the rapid changes in business and technology. You cannot stick your head in the sand and ignore any of the changes mentioned above. Even if only half of them are half right we will be entering a period when we will face a completely new business landscape and you must be equipped to deal with it.

Please note I did not say "IT" management. This is not an error. The role of the CIO has forever changed and we will talk more about that in later columns. But the entire senior management team must become tech aware and tech literate. It is essential they realize the business environment has and continues to undergo a major evolution. While I recognize the world does not revolve around technology, it has become central and critical to operations and, therefore, integral to the success of virtually every company in almost every industry.

If you don't keep pace, I predict you will eventually fail.

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC