Tech Fueled Vacations

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 In April, my wife and I spent a few days in New Jersey and New York. I reflected recently on how much technology I used to plan and execute the few days there. I booked our flights online, secured a place to stay through Airbnb, and downloaded apps, which gave me maps and schedules of the New Jersey and New York Metro system. I secured Broadway tickets online and got recommendations for places to eat. When we got lost, I just asked my phone to guide us to our destination. This doesn’t include the countless hours spent on Google Maps ahead of time trying to memorize the landscape. Here are some other tech solutions that may help you with your vacation this summer.

Route Planning

A friend recently turned me on to the Waze app, which is a community-powered mapping and navigation app that gives you real-time traffic information and road alerts. Waze was acquired by Google last year and is available as a free smart phone app. It can help you in planning and executing your road trip by alerting you to traffic delays, road closures, speed traps, and changes in traffic patterns. It is a great way to get real-time alerts from other Waze users.

The Nearest Gas

One of the largest costs of an automobile trip is gasoline. While Waze provides gas station locations and prices, I have relied on the GasBuddy app, which is available for the iPhone, Android, or Blackberry platforms. This is a community-based app that relies on user input to locate gas stations and post their prices. People who input gas prices are eligible for possible prizes.

Price Comparisons

There are many travel sites on the web, but Kayak searches those sites to determine the lowest price airlines, car rentals, hotels, and more. This is available as a web app for planning your vacation ahead of time or a mobile app for planning on the fly. Kayak is a good way to make your vacation bargain hunting more efficient.

Where to Eat

At the end of the day, we all need to eat, but when you are on an adventure, you may not know what is available or where. For some it may be as easy as looking up to see the ubiquitous golden arches. For others, however, it may not be that easy. For example, if you are gluten intolerant and you are traveling in a strange town or country, how do you find a place that will accommodate your dietary restrictions?  Not to worry. There is an app for you! Findmeglutenfree is a web and mobile app that will search by location for local gluten free options. Other apps cater to needs such as a kosher diet. There are so many options available that it is a matter of finding the right one for you.

Thoughts

With all of these options available, I wonder if vacation planning or the actual vacation itself is more stressful or less stressful. The ability to secure every last detail ahead of time or on the road takes an incredible amount of time. Is the payoff worth it? Whatever happened to a spontaneous road trip? Do those exist anymore? Tell me about your vacation this summer and the tech that you use. I would love to hear about it.

About Kelly Brown

Author Kelly BrownKelly Brown is an IT professional, adjunct faculty for the University of Oregon, and academic director of the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

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So We Held a Parade: How Shared Experiences Strengthen Organizations

Today’s post is written by Tim Williams, a 2000 AIM graduate, an adjunct instructor for the AIM Program, and COO of Sesame Communications. We asked Tim to share his thoughts on his experience on organizational culture and team building.

Like many organizations, we at Sesame Communications can sometimes find ourselves interpreting the best path to common goals differently depending upon the lens we have inherited based on our position in the organization. Usually a quick meeting with clarifying questions, scenarios, and use cases can align everyone and get us on the path towards a successful project.

Sometimes, though, it’s important to ensure an alignment of spirit as well as intellect. No matter how tight knit the group, a little time to connect as people and come together around shared experiences can be a foundational element in forming and building an organization’s culture.

New Orleans parade

Photo credit: Anthony Ricci / Shutterstock.com

This year, our company’s biggest sales event was in New Orleans. After a long day of training and preparation for the upcoming show, we needed to get our team of thirty-four people to a restaurant for a team dinner. We could have all made our way there separately and had the dinner be the shared experience, but that’s a memory that would fade quickly. Trying to create an enduring memory and a strong shared experience, we looked to take advantage of the unique opportunities presented by the venue of New Orleans…so, naturally, we held a parade.

Yes, a parade. Complete with motorcycle police escort, a band, Mardi Gras revelers, and beads. Oh, and me starting the parade as a surprise by riding the escalator into the hotel lobby while drumming out some marching cadences.

No one remembers the dinner, but everyone is still buzzing about the parade and the unifying, galvanizing effect it had on the team. We began the show the next day and delivered our best performance ever from that event—including a few new customers who stopped by because they had seen us marching down the street and figured that’s a company they want to work with.

When it comes to inspiring an organization and achieving stretch goals, clarity of expectations and quality tools are obviously critical, but never underestimate the cultural impact. A little dash of creativity mixed with equal parts spontaneity, fun, and participation can work wonders on anorganization’s psyche, approach, and results.

About Tim Williams

Tim Williams, a 2000 AIM graduate and adjunct professor in the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program, is COO of Sesame Communications. He combines his passion for technology with his love of organizational culture to lead Sesame to innovative patient management solutions in the dental space and to teach AIM courses touching on organizational development and business process engineering… all while maintaining the ability to lead a mean parade.

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A Terabyte of Storage Space: How Much is Too Much?

Over stuffed suburban garageI read an article a couple of weeks ago about Microsoft raising the Office 365 storage limit to one terabyte. Office 365 is a solution where the end user pays a monthly fee for the MS Office suite along with hosted storage on OneDrive. I really wonder how much storage is enough? Can I really generate and save enough Word, PowerPoint, or Excel files to fill one terabyte? I decided to dig into it further to see just what will fill 1,000 gigabytes.

Office Documents

It is estimated that 85,899,345 pages of Word documents would fill one terabyte. Now, if you can truly generate that much content, you have a serious archiving task on your hands. I am currently reading the book “John Adams” by David McCullough; it is approximately 650 pages long which means I could archive about 132,152 books of similar size. It has taken me nearly two months to read this book so it would take 66,076 months or 5,506 years to read my entire library. I cannot read that fast, nor do I have that much life left in me.

Music Files

Assuming that an average song takes up five megabytes, one terabyte could fit approximately 200,000 songs or 17,000 hours of music. How many songs do you have on your iTunes right now?

Movies

You could fit approximately 500 hours worth of movies on one terabyte. Assuming each movie is roughly 120 minutes long, that would be about 250 movies. I do know people who have that many movies in their library, so it is possible that they could build a database of movies to fill that space.

Pictures

You could fit approximately 310,000 photos in one terabyte. You could fit even more if you used a compression algorithm. How would you even catalog that many photos? By time, by subject, by category? Suddenly, we are facing big data issues in our personal lives, and we are going to need similar tools to be able to make sense of all of our potential data stores. With digital photography, it is possible to take a lot of photos without ever having to worry about development costs, so maybe 300,000 pictures is not out of the question.

Thoughts

With advances in technology, we have a lot of potential storage space available to us. Microsoft struck the opening salvo, but I expect Google Drive, Dropbox, Box, and others to follow suit. One terabyte hard drives are not uncommon right now and even though we have the potential filespace, can we fill it responsibly? If we can fill it, do we have the skills and tools necessary to keep track of our digital belongings? Perhaps there is a new IT job category—personal archivist—created for those individuals drowning in their digital “stuff.” My point is that we need to take a step back and assess the data that we are keeping and ask ourselves: “Just because I can keep it all, do I need to? Do I have the skills and tools necessary to ever find what I am looking for?”

If we don’t need it and we can’t manage it, maybe it is time to clean out the digital garage. Do you need to clean out your digital garage? Let me know your thoughts.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional, adjunct faculty for the University of Oregon, and academic director of the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

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Tips for Successful Online Students

Jon Dolan and Bart Sumner, 2013 AIM Program graduates

I read a report earlier this week titled “What We Can Learn from Unsuccessful Online Students.” However, I prefer to focus on the positive, so this week I would like to present tips from successful online students. This comes from my own experience as an online student as well as from teaching successful online students.

Time Management

I have found that the number one predictor of a successful online student is the ability to manage the twenty-four hours that they are given every day. Online students do not have to attend an onsite class in a physical building at a particular time, but they still need to set aside a discreet block of time to study. When students try to squeeze studies in between other activities, often that time is co-opted by other pressing or higher priority items. One has to be realistic about how many hours a week it takes to review lectures, participate in discussions, and complete assignments. Set aside enough time to produce quality work without being rushed by deadlines.

Priorities

Successful online students are skilled in balancing their schoolwork with other activities and responsibilities. School does not have to be the number one priority, but it should be in the top tier. Family, work, health, friends, and service are also possible high priorities, but a successful student realizes that each has their place and time. If family is high on the list, you may need to block out time for schoolwork after 10 p.m. when the house is quieter. If friends are of a significant importance, you may need to balance an active social calendar with schoolwork. If they are good friends, they will understand your priorities. Work to set aside the time for the things important to you and prioritize the things that must get done.

Support

Build a support network. It is difficult, if not impossible, to complete online studies in a vacuum. Engage your friends, family, a spouse, or colleagues. Help them understand why reaching this milestone is important to you and enlist their assistance in achieving your vision. Let them be invested in your success. Let your support network compensate for your weaknesses. Is your writing rusty? Find at least one—I often recommend two—proofreaders to catch mistakes and help polish your assignments. Are you not confident in your technical abilities? Approach your favorite tech person and offer something in return for helping you set up applications and infrastructure. Some of the best tech people I know will work for food. A well-cooked meal beats chips and energy bars any day. Create a support network and let them celebrate successes with you.

Ask Questions

Be humble enough to realize that you are not an expert on every subject. You are pursuing online education so that you can learn, grow, and become better at your chosen profession. Don’t be afraid to ask questions of the instructor, the other students, or of your support network. No one will think you are dumb. You left that thinking back in high school. Colleagues, friends, and instructors genuinely want you to succeed and are there to help—all you need to do is ask.

Thoughts

Time management, discipline, a support network, and the ability to reach out for help are all success factors in online education. It will not necessarily be an easy journey, but it will definitely be rewarding as you grow in your new skills and accomplish important milestones such as graduation. Learning is life-long, and while milestones are important, it is equally important that you are continuously growing and learning. What are some of the factors that have made you successful? Let me know.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional, adjunct faculty for the University of Oregon, and academic director of the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

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A Photonic Life—Our Rapidly Increasing Computer Processing Speed

Abstract sine waves, numbers and design elements I have been thinking this last week about the current advances in technology and what they will mean for us in future computing systems and how we do computing. HP announced last week they are working on a new machine that is dubbed simply “The Machine.” While the moniker is not very inspiring, the technology is groundbreaking. HP is working on two different technologies they will build into The Machine, memristors and silicon photonics. These technologies will need an entirely new computer and operating system wrapped around them. I think that will present some opportunities for forward-thinking information technology professionals willing to blaze some trails.

Memristors

Memristors or “memory resistors” were first proposed by Leon Chua in 1971. This is basically a resistor that remembers its state when electricity is turned off. The first silicon based memristor was announced in 2012, though there is still much work to do to make them commercially viable. Their value is that you can use these as storage now and they can be right on the same board, or even the same chip, as the processing unit and can replace offline disk storage. The ability to access information in such close physical proximity to the processor will boost access speed exponentially. Instead of having dual core or quad core or eight-way core, you can now have a multicore processor.

Photonics

Photonics, or the process of transferring information via light, is not a new process but it is shrinking. Fiber optic cable allows us to easily transfer information and voice across the ocean and is increasingly used within buildings as well. It is faster than copper and requires less energy. What is new is the application of photonics. It is being shrunk now to the point of transferring information across a blade server and even between blade servers in the same rack across the backplane. With this miniaturization, it takes some very creative nano technologies to create the path for transferring those light pulses. This, combined with the new memristors, yield data access rates much faster than ever before. An added benefit is increased energy efficiency because copper paths tend to lose strength and need repeaters to refresh the data. Those repeaters add to the overall heat given off and energy consumed.

Thoughts

Part of the push to create faster computers and faster networking is because we are so data rich right now we cannot process it fast enough. We became data rich in the first place by building fast, low-cost computers and storage that allowed us to collect statistics on anything and everything. I am wondering now if the dog is wagging the tail, or is the tail wagging the dog? In all of this, through change comes opportunity. Today’s programs and operating systems are constrained by the current hardware. If the current hardware changes to the point that there is no delay in data access or processing, there will need to be new software, new applications, and a new operating system. I believe that infrastructure will need to be built from the ground up to maximize the capabilities of the new hardware. Is there anyone out there up for the challenge? Let me know your thoughts. We only have a few years before the future is here.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional, adjunct faculty for the University of Oregon, and academic director of the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

 

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WANTED: More Cybercrime Sleuths

Internet theft - a gloved hand reaching through a laptop screen Last week, a report released by the Center for Strategic and International Studies and McAfee suggested that “… likely annual cost to global economy from cybercrime is more than $400 billion. A conservative estimate would be $375 billion in losses, while the maximum could be as much as $575 billion.” This amount includes hard figures such as money stolen from a bank account or charged to a credit card. It also includes soft figures such as the loss of intellectual property, which is much harder to estimate. In any case, the estimated loss is more that the gross domestic product (GDP) of most countries. The good news is that IT solutions exist that will help reduce this figure.

How IT Is Battling Cyber Crime

IT is battling cybercrime in two ways. One is education of the public on safe computing and the other is through better IT security applications both for server and mobile platforms. Law enforcement agencies around the globe are starting to add more IT security specialists to their organizations. They realize that cybercrime is not a physical crime but a virtual one, although real money or property is lost. They often are not equipped to detect or enforce this type of crime so they are turning to IT specialists to provide that expertise. Credit card companies and banks are also working to devise new IT solutions to detect cybercrime before it happens. I have been issued a new credit card twice in the last few years because of activities that I did not initiate. The first was caught because there was activity at online stores that I do not or would not frequent and the security filters flagged that and notified me. The second time, it appeared that my physical card had been used within twenty minutes in Oregon and Texas. Again, that was flagged as an impossibility, so I was notified. These are examples of how IT can and does play a significant role in stopping cybercrime.

Career Opportunities as a Cyber Crime Fighter

As mentioned above, law enforcement such as the FBI and local agencies are increasing their force dedicated to cybercrime. They are looking for IT specialists in the area of IT security. They are looking for those individuals that have a degree in IT security such as Carnegie Mellon’s master’s degree in Information Security and Technology Management or certifications such as the CISSP or Certified Information Systems Security Professional. This additional training prepares you to take on the challenge of fighting cybercrime. There are growing opportunities for those who have skills in the IT security field. If your current skillset is becoming obsolete, this would be an emerging field that you should definitely consider.

Thoughts

Have you ever been a victim of cybercrime? Did you lose anything or was it detected before a loss occurred? Do you have people in your organization that are dedicated to monitoring and fighting cybercrime? Let me know your story. 

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional, adjunct faculty for the University of Oregon, and academic director of the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

 

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Tech Heroes Among Us

People standing with hero shadowsThis week I have thinking about the tech heroes among us. You may be one or you may know one. This is the person that helps you get a new app on your phone or customize your LinkedIn account. As I have mentioned in previous blogs, technology is not always user friendly, although it is improving. Interfaces are not always intuitive even though we now have dedicated user experience engineers. Until we get to that perfect understanding of every app, tool, and device every time, we need the tech hero.

Celebrating the Tech Hero

Cloud services hosting company Carpathia has a mechanism for nominating tech heroes. The chosen few receive a backpack filled with things that tech heroes need such as a notebook computer and toolkit, even energy drinks. Carpathia is also hosting Tech Hero events in various cities around the country to meet and celebrate tech heroes. The purpose is to recognize those unsung heroes that keep us going every day (and to sell cloud services to those that know exactly what that is).

Who Are These People?

I have found that tech heroes are not always the people with the deepest knowledge of technology but those people who have taken the time to understand the logic of computers and applications AND have the ability to explain it to the rest of us. That is sometimes a rare combination of talents. Perhaps there should be a designated position of “Tech Hero” within an organization. That way, the current tech heroes—currently just over the wall or around the corner—can get their real work done.

Who Is Your Tech Hero?

Tell me who your tech heroes are. I would like to recognize them in future blogs and give them their fifteen minutes of fame. Is it an IT guru, coworker, spouse, son or daughter? Or is it you? Add a comment to this blog naming your tech hero and explaining why they are so awesome. They may be quietly performing miracles, but it is time we honor them for the very necessary service that they provide. Let me know.

 

About Kelly BrownAuthor Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional, adjunct faculty for the University of Oregon, and academic director of the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

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The Not So Flat World

Road closed by gateThomas Friedman wrote a book in 2005 called The World Is Flat in which he painted a borderless world. It would be borderless in terms of trade, information exchange, resource sharing, politics, and workflow. His premise was that the Internet and associated periphery would level the playing field so that all countries could enjoy prosperity and the full employment. Nine years later, we are certainly further down that path, but there have been some setbacks and roadblocks.

Rebuilding Walls

A recent article suggests that not only is the world not flat, but borders are reappearing that indicate that countries and cultures are closing their doors, as opposed to opening them. In the article, the author suggests “the burst [of the Internet] is leading to a world that is disconnected from physical and political geography.” In other words, there are two developing worlds—one physical and one virtual—and they are not necessarily in lockstep. This idea aligns with recent blogs that I have written on virtual currencies and the retrenchment of countries after the revelation of National Security Agency spying.

Borders in the Physical World

In his book, Friedman cites the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall as evidence that borders are opening and the world is becoming flatter. He argues that this event ushered in a new era of cooperation and a homogenization of communist and capitalist ideals. It was indeed a momentous occasion and did much to introduce western thought into former communist East Germany and beyond. The eastern block countries struggled mightily as western marketers suddenly discovered untapped consumers. They struggled to build their own industry to compete in this new, flat world. This great change aside, borders are still rising and falling as evidenced by the recent integration of Ukraine back into Russia. I think we will see more countries follow as they decide which combinations will bring them the most prosperity and stability.

Borders in the Digital World

Much of Friedman’s book focuses on the Internet as the great leveler. As people have broadened access to thought leaders, they expand their thinking beyond their geopolitical borders and are influenced by a host of outside sources. If we consider this a separate world outside of physical boundaries, then the possibilities are unlimited. Virtual currency is trying to accelerate this growth of the digital world by creating a trading mechanism, uncontrolled and independent of the currency attached to a physical country. Even the digital world has borders however, generally where it intersects with the physical world. Europe, Russia, and China are all talking about creating a local Internet where citizens trade within their own borders and are protected from influences outside of their borders. Thus, the world is becoming less flat as countries and regions struggle with how to keep their citizens secure from threats that were not supposed to develop in a flat world.

Thoughts

Two things intrigue me about this idea of a flattening world. One, the idea that there may be two independent developing worlds, and two, the fact that borders fall and borders rise in both worlds. Again, independent of each other, or at best, loosely connected.

Do you think the world is getting flatter, or do you think it is getting spikier? What do you think of the notion of two separate worlds? Let me know your thoughts.

About Kelly BrownAuthor Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional, adjunct faculty for the University of Oregon, and academic director of the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

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Simplicity on the Other Side of Complexity—Quality Does Matter

Road and roadsigns in the form of a question markI have been thinking recently about software and product quality. There is a software quality conference this fall here in the Pacific Northwest and I recently read an article on the top ten software blunders of the last decade. As we rush products to market, are we compromising quality? What negative effect does that have on our product? Is it worth it? Is it acceptable? Is it the price we pay for doing business in a hypercompetitive world?

Continuous Exploits

In late April, it was discovered that there was yet another hole in Internet Explorer that allowed hackers to exploit vulnerabilities and plant malicious code on individual computers via infected websites. This is just one example of applications and operating systems with bugs waiting to be exploited. My question is this—are product developers and quality assurance teams releasing inferior, not-yet-ready–for-prime-time products, or are the products so complicated that developers do not understand all of the implications until after they have been tested by consumers? If it is the former, then the answer is to wait until all of the bugs are detected and corrected to release a superior product. If the answer is the latter, then that means that you and I are paying for the privilege of being product testers. Personally, I can think of better things to do with my time and money.

A Simplistic View

I will admit that I may be taking a simplistic view. My experience runs towards hardware products and support, although there are still quality products in that arena as well. According to Microsoft, Windows XP, which was released in 2001 and recently became unsupported, was compiled from forty-five million lines of code. Thirteen years later we have Windows 8.1. How many lines of code are in this operating system? Is the complexity sustainable or are we building products that we cannot manage? With this increasing complexity, have we resigned ourselves to a certain number of acceptable bugs? What is our tolerance level? One percent of nonfunctioning or potentially compromising code? Is that acceptable?

Thoughts

Nineteenth-century writer Oliver Wendell Holmes once said “I would not give a fig for the simplicity on this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.” I believe that we are stuck in the middle of that complexity right now. While our products are sophisticated, they lack that elegance on the other side of complexity. We have learned to write incredibly complex code, which is understood in part by individual coders but in entirety by no one. This is the very thing that makes that code vulnerable to exploits and security breaches. If we could somehow find that simplicity or elegance on the other side of complexity, then we could enjoy robust, secure, and usable products.

Do you have or use a product or application that you think has broken through that complexity curtain? Share your find with me.

About Kelly BrownAuthor Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional, adjunct faculty for the University of Oregon, and academic director of the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

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Beyond Life Hacking

Bench under a tree in autumnWe shared an article recently on the phenomenon and history of life hacking. That article started me thinking about the need for life hacks. Which life hacks am I employing to simplify my life or make it more efficient?

History

As the article explores, life hacking as a term goes back to the mid-2000s but the concept dates back to the beginning of the twentieth century and beyond, as we sought ways to wring out every last ounce of inefficiency, especially in the work place. The wisdom says that if we can find five minutes here and ten minutes there, pretty soon it all starts to add up to real time savings that we can use in other parts of our lives. Perhaps we can gain a few minutes to actually relax, for example. I would argue, however, that we are human beings and not systems or machines. I am not convinced that it is a good idea to measure and systemize everything just to realize a few minutes of time savings.

Fifty Life Hacks to Simplify Your World

The official website of life hacking (you knew there had to be one) is lifehack.org. On this site, they list fifty life hacks to simplify your world. A lot of them are common sense but they are all designed to save you seconds or even minutes in your busy life. Some are designed to help you find things that you misplace, such as keys. Personally, that would give me back quite a bit of time. Others are everyday tips to simplify and unclutter your life, ostensibly so that you can have a few more minutes to actually live and enjoy life.

Life Hack Apps

The modern version of automating tasks is to create an app. I entered “life hacking” in Google Play and there are several apps that share tips or work to organize your life. They help you set alarms, keep lists and schedules, or remind you of appointments and life events. Some scrape data from the Internet, some just help you access tools that are already on your smartphone to make you more efficient. There are apps and devices that help you track and maximize the value that you get from your sleep each night. Now we have sleep hacking! Everything is designed to make your life ultraefficient, but I worry that it is also taking some of the fun and uncertainty out of life.

Thoughts

I understand the need for life hacking tools. We are all crazy busy and our work lives and personal lives often have melded into one continuous stream. It is sometimes hard to tell where one stops and the other begins. I would like to suggest that instead of hacking every aspect of our being, we put on the brakes once in a while and just be. Sit in a chair in the sunshine and do nothing. Reflect on the wonders of nature or the success that you have attained in life as opposed to worrying about the next minute, the next meeting, and the next assignment. I think that will do as much to recharge your system as any life hack. The world will still be there when you come back and most likely will not have missed you as much as you think. We thrive on being busy and accomplishing incredible tasks, but when was the last time you really relaxed? There is real power and real health benefits in shutting down occasionally, even for just a few minutes.

When was the last time you stopped your world for some time out? Do you have one favorite life hack that affords you those few moments to do just that?

Let me know your thoughts.

 

About Kelly BrownAuthor Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional, adjunct faculty for the University of Oregon, and academic director of the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

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