Tag Archives: technology

From Hot Air to Second Wind (Part 2)

We begin Part 2 of ‘From Hot Air to Second Wind’ with the final paragraph of Part 1, but we encourage you to read the introduction in full before starting the conclusion, mainly because it is not the conclusion, and doesn’t come after it, either. That is one reason that it is called something with a “1” in the name. Go ahead, read it, we’ll wait for you… Okay, then, here we go:

I was becoming one guy on the job, another guy everywhere else. After about a month of looking at meeting rooms full of unhappy harried faces, I stumbled upon a realization that would make me a congruent person for the home stretch of the contest: I recognized that I had better relationships off the job, when I was uniquely, solely “me,” than on the job, when I was a group member, one of “us.” I seized on this revelation like a stick shift and slammed it into overdrive.

To this point, I had been holding meetings and occasionally passing out some memos with sales figures, contest updates, bumpersticker boosterisms. The standard corporate fare. Armed with my new, enlightened outlook, I decided to make the sales-contest memos more entertaining, more “me.”

In the final five weeks of the contest, I cranked out about 150 “entertaining” memos; that’s right, four or five a day. Now, calling these productions “memos” is both too little and too much definition; some were undisguised, unadorned comic strips or short stories. What made them memos in any Websterian sense was that they had the words “Date,” “To,” and “From” on them, and “Subject” somewhere close by, usually near the top of the first page. 

And so I distributed my parodies, plays, and perorations; fraudulent celebrity interviews and fake book reviews; drawings, clippings, and doodles; jokes, insults, rumors, and limericks. Within days I had the happiest team in the contest. They contributed ideas, took copies home for friends, showered me with compliments; I was getting to know them, and they were getting to know me.

But by the end of the sales contest, I had learned another important lesson: Stay balanced. You see, I was too busy making people laugh to concentrate on sales goals and contest rules. I forgot that the idea was for me to motivate the team to better results. The pendulum had swung too far in the other direction, and got stuck.

We lost the contest.

The Big Lesson for me was that balance is essential to a successful life. I knew enough to try to spice up the dreary, empty-hype grind of a branch sales contest; but I didn’t know when to stop with the seasoning, already. I couldn’t seem to find a balance between steady sweaty effort and stress-relieving humor. 

The Big Lesson sank in. I left the computer supply biz; within a year I was writing and publishing an agonizingly precious humor mag called “Pedantic Monthly”; a couple of years after that, having joined the new Macintosh “desktop publishing revolution,” I was flying back to Boston to help some folks bring their national political bi-weekly to that new platform; and then, for another decade after that, I had my hands full running production for a magazine publisher, consulting, composing and performing original music, and writing essays, rants, and raves just for people like you.

There is a direct line from those silly sales-contest memos to the recollection of them that you are reading now. They changed my life. Writing was too serious an undertaking for me to squander my talent on corporate memoranda.

Still, being a philologic pack-rat does have its advantages, especially when it’s close to deadline and I need even more verbiage than I’ve already crammed into whatever weighty piece I’m producing. Having produced about a pound of quixotic and querulous memos way back when, writer’s block is a non-issue. I can reach into that bulging (and forever non-digitized) Pendaflex folder of fustian and flippancy, and transform yesterday’s hot air into today’s second wind.

Ah, the benefits of recycling.

From Hot Air to Second Wind (Part 1)

I hear it all the time: “How did you get into writing these crazy columns, anyway?”

Truth be told, I used to hear it only once in a great while when I started my own weekly commentaries in 1998, emailed essays that through creative accretion morphed into my webzine, What Next?, cyberheir to my 1987-1990 print magazine, Pedantic Monthly: The Journal of Contentious Persiflage. Let’s just leave that all aside for a moment, shall we?

writers write

Writers write, right?

Okay, then, so I started hearing it a bit more when a few of the larger, louder web journals began carrying some of my flammable and inflammatory musings to a larger, louder audience; and then, having reached a crescendo with a regular “Culture Shock” feature at a big-time slam-bang web event known as The American Partisan, I heard it all the time. “Where do you get this stuff? How did your brain come to work like this?” And they still weren’t called blogs.

Like most writers, I’ve been writing since, well, since I could write. And I was raised in let’s-call-it a patriotic household, where Flag Day meant something (or other) and July 4th really meant something or other. So, from an early age, I was both writing and thinking right in lockstep. Something turned me from that conformist path, back to my (everyone’s) exclusive and eclectic one, took me out of the Silicon Valley biz world right when everything was turning to gold, and set me back on my proper journey—artist, not merchant. And I’m good with that.

Okay, then. Take a deep breath. (Not you. The guy in Schenectady.)

By the early 1980s, after thrashing about in a few different careers—insurance agent, financial planner, struggling musician, permanent student, part-time deadbeat—I found myself working for a Silicon Valley computer supplies distributor while recording original jazz in my basement on the “latest” four-track cassette multitrack recorders. On the Day Job, the company branch I worked at was supposedly the flagship of a $100 million fleet, which led me to conclude that the other tubs were probably not even seaworthy.

The general manager was a balding yuppie adulterer with the absolute worst taste in co-defendants, who never convinced anyone to respect him, though he tried long and hard. He was a shallow snot-nose punk kid pushing 40 begging for a fat lip. I figured he’d read a Tom Peters book or some other in-search-of-superlatives management manifesto that succeeded only in making him even more insufferable than he was born.

Bill was my first management role model.

During one holiday stretch, I became a “team captain” charged with exhorting my cross-departmental squad to more phone orders, cash collections, same-day shipping, etc. I tried to get into the spirit of the event. I followed my starchy boss’s directives, and played it fairly straight the first few weeks, until I realized that the contest itself was insignificant compared to what I was discovering about myself and my relations with others.

What I was learning about human beings I had either missed or ignored before. I discovered that exhortation was not motivation; that pride and enthusiasm are instilled, not inserted, into people; that all the one-minute maxims in the world don’t make a manager, mentor, or leader; and that the stress of competition must be relieved by a little fun.

People are bundles of balancing acts, emotional and rational, ephemeral and material. I learned this, as I learned all my lessons about how to lead and motivate, the way any effective learning is done: by making mistakes. My initial mistake was following someone who didn’t know where he was going; in doing so, I committed a second grievous error, which was taking on someone else’s demeanor. I had removed from my team captain persona the gregariousness and joy that make me who I am, as if those traits were inappropriate in leadership.

I was becoming one guy on the job, another guy everywhere else. After about a month of looking at meeting rooms full of unhappy harried faces, I stumbled upon a realization that would make me a congruent person for the home stretch of the contest: I recognized that I had better relationships off the job, when I was uniquely, solely “me,” than on the job, when I was a group member, one of “us.” I seized on this revelation like a stick shift and slammed it into overdrive.

Come back soon for Part 2 of ‘From Hot Air to Second Wind.’

Porn Drove Tech Boom, Part 2 of 3

If you missed Part 1, read it first, because that’s why I made it the first part.

The first haptics-based sex simulator with a 21st-century pedigree, Real Touch, was a product of Internet video technology leader AEBN, one of the pioneers of Video on Demand (VoD). The device itself is a cross between a football and a rocket model, somehow appropriate as it was developed and tested by a former NASA scientist. Its array of heating elements, moving parts, belts, and assorted gadgets work together to mimic authentic sexual acts—fellatio, vaginal and anal intercourse, manual stimulation, and more.

Realtouch#2

The device can be used as a standalone sex toy, albeit a costly one at $199 retail. Its signature purpose, however, is to synchronize over a USB cable with online, streaming media that is available exclusively at a Real Touch web page. As users watch the screen, signals are sent from the site to the Real Touch unit, putting the viewer literally in the middle (or top or bottom) of the action.

Just in time for “twerking”

At 2008’s 30th Exotic Erotic Ball in San Francisco, ScottCoffman, CEO of AEBN, was already lamenting that “people could only experience movies through two senses, sight and sound.”Coffman’s answer was to have his firm “bring the sense of touch, arguably the most important element to human intimacy, into the equation.” Within two years it was on the market.

Studios and independent content producers continue to work with Real Touch to expand the list of available titles, both “retrofitting” existing titles and encoding new productions for the device. It is still not a Vulcan mind-meld, or “holographic” virtual sex, but it is another step closer. Holographic images, of course, may get a real tryout within a few years—beyond the resurrection of dead rappers on stage—but the first such monitors will be very expensive.

Bring it on home

The proliferation of streaming media to the full range of consumer devices (phone, computer, TV), and the continuing convergence of the television with the PC (PCTV? IPTV? TVIPPC?), will make for a very interesting near future. “This is a transitional period for porn,” Graham Travis of Elegant Angel said when haptics first hit the headlines, “and I don’t think it’s possible to know exactly where we’re heading.” Echoing the view of several other industry veterans, Travis believes that a return to “quality adult brands” and an emphasis on excellence are required no matter where the technology leads.

At the same time, of course, there are real business challenges to confront. Travis thinks there are a few Internet maneuvers that can make the next few years ones of “opportunity”for the industry. From online media that is “free at the point of use” but incorporates in-player advertising, to “live adult chat”and other interactive technologies, he sees nothing but ongoing change—some proactive, some reactive.

Watch for Part 3, the conclusion of this magical mystery tour through puritanical culture!

Cogitation 101: Science and Technology

You don’t have to go “full tilt Foucault” to believe that words have great power, and when wrought and wielded in certain ways can utterly fail in their assigned tasks to explain and enlighten. We face that situation today with the words “science” and “technology”—two words often used quite interchangeably, even in places where people should take some care (colleges, laboratories, the media).

image

So what is the difference? Is Apple’s MacBook Pro a scientific breakthrough or a technological construction? Both? Neither? Something else entirely? Since it actually does matter, and will provide a foundation for further (real) understanding, let’s take about 500 words and a few minutes to go over some things.

Basic definitions = clear distinctions

Science is a systematized, evolving body (or “base”) of knowledge. Within a particular field, one can trust that following a series of steps will result in the outcome predicted. As evidence accumulates, an initial “hypothesis” or testable proposition becomes a “theory” of explanatory and predictive power.

The various pursuits of knowledge employing this methodology are what we know as “the sciences”—physics, biology, geography, chemistry, physics, and so on. Some 44 years’ worth of advances in computer science, for example, are represented by today’s basic, entry-level computer that’s incalculably more powerful than the primitive contraption that took Americans to the moon in 1969.

Technology is another thing altogether, the application of knowledge (or science) to problem-solving and service provision, primarily via manmade tools and devices. If we allow that science is the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake, for the evolving knowledge base, then technology is the practical application of that knowledge to meet people’s needs and solve their problems. Advancing solar energy science would lead to such technologies as more-efficient solar panels, for instance.

Science explains, technology performs

Science has analysis in mind, following which come generalizations, then the crafting of theories. Experiments are a way of controlling and defining discoveries, so excellence in science requires creativity, logical thinking, and the usual “x factor” that eludes definition, like Steve Jobs’ star quality and that of his game-changing iMac that revolutionized (modern) computing.

And technology? It brings design to the mix, as well as invention, production, process, construction, testing and measurement, quality control, and synthesis—thus possibly beginning the cycle again with new ideas, even new science, leading to ever-newer technology, and on and on.

To summarize:

Science studies specific subjects, technology applies what is learned.

Science analyzes the data, technology synthesizes a design.

Science is theory, technology is process.

It’s really quite practical and sensible, this “science and technology” lesson, as they both conspire to do us good at every turn even when we misuse them for ill. When the human imagination conjures up positive new ideas to replace the old, great things happen in science. When allowed to fly, creativity always takes wing.

That creative energy is amplified many times over as motivated parties all over the world turn sterile science into useful, productive, empowering, and, yes, fun technology. There’s the occasional nuclear bomb, sure, but it’s only slightly more dangerous than the testosterone that fueled the Manhattan Project, truth be told. Keep the latter in check, and we’ll likely have fewer of the former.

That Was Then, This Is Now

With all the talk about how prices on this, that, and the other thing are always going up, let’s stop a moment and bow, or at least give a polite nod, toward Silicon Valley, Poughkeepsie, and Boston’s Route 128. A rather more reverent appreciation is due entrepreneurialism, capitalism, and the pursuit of happiness. Over the past 40 years, the tech titans of the FPCE (Founding PC Era) have given us the greatest ongoing upgrade at the biggest continuing discount ever. The saga of the personal computer is as fantastic a tale as any sci-fi story ever.

Progress through self-seeking

In fact, truth isn’t just stranger than fiction—it’s often got more magic and miracles in it, too. And, I hasten to add, the progress whose techie little handiwork you enjoy daily is brought to you by a whole parade of people, groups, companies, and cabals all pursuing their own ends, competing more often than cooperating, looking to make a buck, and generally proving Adam Smith right.

PC - Going Back in Time

The longer you’ve been using computers—and some of us had the original Apple, Tandy (Radio Shack), and Timex Sinclair models in the 1970s—the more you can appreciate the astonishing speed of progress. This is a tale that everyone working with computers really should know, and uses terms that everyone really should understand. If you don’t understand a kilo-this from a mega-that, you will never get the full impact of this amazing tale. So read on—you’ll be glad you did.

You can visit PC.net or one of the other great online tech glossaries when you see a new term, but I’ve written such a way that you should understand much of it in context. Some of you, of course, are true experts, so if I’ve erred in any way, by commission or omission, let me know. I’m going to demonstrate just how much technological progress has been made in “personal computing.” It really is an awe-inspiring tale.

Basic computers in 1981

IBM introduced its first consumer-level personal computer in August of 1981, running on an Intel 8088 CPU with a clock speed of 4.77MHz, or 4.77 million cycles per second. It came with either 16 or 64kB of RAM, expandable to a whopping 256kB. It connected to a TV or a monitor, and gave you storage options that included one or two 5¼-inch floppy drives, an optional 10MB external hard drive, or your own cassette recorder. The software bundle? It came with an operating system. Nothing else.

With a monitor and a single floppy drive (giving you 180kB storage per single sided disk) it cost $3005 in 1981 dollars. Depending on how you figure it—Consumer Price Index (CPI) is one common method—today it would take about $2.57 to buy what a dollar bought in 1981. Translation: That IBM-PC computer would cost $7,722.85 (in today’s dollars). Now let’s see what type of desktop computer you can get today.

High-end computers of today

Entry-level computers today are thousands of times faster and more productive than the IBM-PC. The H-P xw8400 was a high-end model in 2006, but it’s still a decent workhorse today and, arguably, is better than many newer models as an entry-level workstation. It features dual 2.66GHz quad-core Xeon processors, meaning eight separate CPUs. A single one runs almost 600 times faster than the IBM CPU, so we’re talking almost 5,000 times as fast with a rough clock speed comparison.

The xw8400’s 160GB hard drive, one-sixth the size of most desktop internal drives these days, holds close to million (932,000) times as much data as that single floppy. There are now hard drives 2TB in size selling for $80—that’s 250MB for a penny, versus the floppy’s 250MB for $7,500 ($30 per MB). That’s 750,000 times less expensive.

For the monitor, the comparison is between today’s 16 million crisp clear colors, precisely displayed by about 2.3 million pixels, with about 9,700 pixels per square inch—and a black-and-white TV with 480 wiggly lines for the entire screen. Today a 20-to-24-inch flat-panel display, bargain basement variety (which are darn good), would set you back as little as $100.

In 1985, when you could get a color MacII for $3,898 without a hard drive, or $5,498 with an internal 40 MB hard drive, you still had to buy a video card and a monitor. That would come to an additional five grand or so. Color system with 40MB hard drive: Over $10,000. Today?

How about we just say, “Infinitely more for infinitely less” and leave it at that?

Bottom line

Today, you can store a million times as much, crunch numbers thousands of times faster, and watch videos in beautiful, high-definition color. For a few hundred bucks you can buy a pocket-sized tablet incalculably more powerful than the room-sized, air-conditioned behemoth that helped send Apollo 11 to the moon—and you don’t have to be a programmer to use it, either.

Off the Grid but On the Job

It’s exciting when unpredictable mixes and mashups of today’s various technology trends converge into something new or, as often happens, new againTelecommuting is presently enjoying a resurgence of interest, a second wind, you might say.

As high-performing media and tech professionals seek lower-impact lifestyles, enlightened firms are attempting to integrate them into a workforce of both diversity and flexibility. But will companies be able to accommodate telecommuters working off the grid, in so-called tiny houses or other alternative structures?

off-grid solar-powered home

Living Large in a Small Way

The new generation of high-tech pros includes a sizable fraction of folks that are ready to commit to a lower-impact lifestyle. The formula has three ingredients that can be combined in various ways to make it all happen:

  • Smaller, more affordable, greener, smarter home designs have made it possible for today’s professionals to lessen their total “eco-impact”;
  • the proliferation of WiFi and the ubiquity of the Internet mean that distance workers can log in remotely with computers or what-have-you; and

Fork in the Country Road: Which Way for You?

Is a simpler, halfway-back-to-nature lifestyle right for you? There are many variables, but the number one priority is picking your piece of paradise. If you have land, or the means to get some, but have no patience, you can buy a Tumbleweed house-to-go and drive it right onto the property. In many states you need no building permits, because little houses on wheeled platforms are, ahem, trailers.

If you’re the kind of nature lover that needs to upload files while watering the vegetables, you’ll be glad to know there are a variety of ways to power your lifestyle in a sustainable, suitably eco-safe and -sane manner.

Power Sources of the Future… Now

For years, the only way to get sufficient power living off the grid was to use gas-guzzling, smoke-spewing generators, essentially little car engines running to charge batteries of some kind (12v DC railroad systems, battery and bulb, were a popular choice, and still are).

Today, we not only have more options, we have clean and consistent ones. We’ve been hearing it for years, but it just may be true this time around that solar is poised for a big breakthrough. As the cost of sun power continues to drop, there are other alternative sources maturing into cost-effectiveness, such as wind power.

Power requirements for a laptop and a few tech devices are not difficult to achieve with small solar arrays, but you need to evaluate your situation carefully. It may be better to get small, individual chargers (solar, hand cranks, stationary bikes, etc.) for your small devices. Your main power generator needs to support the computer and satellite Internet.

A Few Limitations, but Worth It to Some

Assuming you’re not too far into the wilderness, you may also be able to establish a WiFi connection over 3G/4G with your smartphone or mobile hot spot doohickey. Of course, Verizon and other telecoms have 3G/4G netbooks and laptops on the same kinds of monthly plans as phones.

You can probably forget the big flat-panel TV, though, and may only be able to use a few devices at a time on your “main,” although you can run some on their built-in batteries and schedule recharging. (How much simultaneous power slurping do you really need to do?) Try minimizing your power use, even as you balance your career/work obligations with your new lifestyle.

Yes, you can have your cake and eat it, too, but perhaps we should tweak that metaphor a bit. Try this: We can live and work in nature, without devouring it.

Apple: From ‘Insanely Great’ to Greatly Insane

When Apple puts on one of its press extravaganzas, as it did this week on Tuesday, the entire world expects “insanely great” product introductions, every time. Fact is, Apple needs another of its occasional “boosts” as the phone biz is getting saturated, the iPad is getting some good competition, computer sales are tanking, and Apple seems to be flailing around a bit. So what did the world get from the Cupertino brain trust on Tuesday?

We will continue to monitor the reactions, but it is doubtful that the “insanely great” level was achieved (one pundit called it “half-awesome at best”). This was especially so at Wednesday’s Beijing follow-up non-event, where it was thought Apple would announce a big phone deal with China’s #1 carrier. Instead, Apple just rebroadcast its Tuesday presentations.

The day before, in Cupertino, Apple had killed the iPhone 5 in favor of the new, multicolored iPhone 5C low-end model and the metallic-hued, twice-as-potent iPhone 5S; announced the release date for iOS 7; promised free iWork apps to new iOS device buyers; and introduced the Touch ID sensor, a fingerprint reader built into the Home button. Some good stuff, sure—but is it enough?

Let’s Break It Down

iPhone 5C — With phones half of Apple’s profits it’s no longer the iconic iMac that represents Apple to the world. The iPhone 5C is now Apple’s entry-level phone dressed up in bright hues: blue, white, green, yellow, and pink. With two-year contracts, a 16GB model is $100 and a 32GB model is $200. The specs are mid-range today, or consider it a high-end model from 2012. It carries over the iPhone 5’s 8-megapixel rear camera and A6 processor, and has a 4-inch version of the incredible Retina Display. Pre-orders for the iPhone 5C begin September 13, and in-store sales on September 20.

iPhone 5S — The iPhone 5S is nearly identical to its predecessor in size, shape, look, and heft. Visual changes are few, with important upgrades inside: the new 64-bit A7 processor and M7 motion co-processor. The M7 offloads work from the A7—continuously monitoring the device’s compass, gyroscope, and accelerometer—for greater power efficiency, even as it invites new fitness and health apps to leverage the technology. Camera, flash, and battery life are all somewhat improved, too. On a two-year contract, the 16GB iPhone 5S is $200, the 32GB model $300, and 64GB will be $400. The phone goes on sale September 20.

Touch ID sensor — Apple built a touch-capacitive fingerprint scanner into the Home button, so forget poking in passwords. Simply run your finger over the button, and it will positively read your fingerprint in any direction. Apple says all fingerprints will be encrypted and secure, and won’t be uploaded to Apple servers or backed up to iCloud. You can use it to unlock the phone or okay iTunes purchases.

iOS 7 — Apple announced the next iteration of its mobile operating system at this past summer’s WWDC event. Its completely new look features more color, flatter graphics, simpler fonts—and something like 200 new features, from Control Center and improved multitasking to a refreshed Notification Center and AirDrop (near-field file sharing). Apple announced a release date of Sept. 18 for iOS 7, which will run on iPhone 4 and up, iPad 2 and up, iPad mini, and the 5th generation iPod touch.

WWST? (What Would Steve Think?)

So, what kind of reaction did the event receive? Yawns, for the most part, as Apple has continued to eschew excitement and creative disruption for the safer play of incrementalism. That approach will not work for a company built on insanely great ideas. In fact, it’s greatly insane to think it will.