The Value of Real and Virtual Communities

A couple of weeks ago I learned some lessons on community while in a small rural ranching valley. I learned how a community can come together in an emergency and how they support each other and watch out for one another.

 Perfect Storm

I arrived in this valley at just the right time, or just the wrong time depending on your perspective. Earlier this winter there had been one to two feet of snow and sub-zero temperatures, but when I arrived the daytime temperatures were in the high forties with occasional rain and it barely got below freezing at night. Mountains surround this narrow valley with a river running sometimes close to homes and through ranches. The warmth was melting the snow in the hills and valley but because of the prolonged sub-zero temperatures the ground was still frozen, so it couldn’t absorb the melt. This turned the normally placid river into a quarter-mile-wide path of running water that could not sink into the ground. The creeks coming out of the hills were seeking drainage anywhere they could, which meant flooding over roads and fields.

Life Lessons

During this flooding, I helped position straw bales in front of one home to keep water from entering it. Shortly afterwards, some community volunteers came with sandbags and helped us stack them around the house. After they left a group of at least twenty high school youth arrived and stacked a few more sandbags. I was so impressed by the community response that I asked one of the youth why they were not in school today. His response was classic, “Today is a life lesson day.” It turns out this was their third life lesson day since they spent the previous days filling sandbags and preparing for distribution. This caravan moved up and down the valley helping community members prepare for rising water. What a great lesson indeed for the students.

Physical and Virtual

In the case of potential physical danger it is nice to know we can rely on community to help us, but what value do we get from our virtual networks? There are no virtual sandbags, but it would be shortsighted to say our virtual friends cannot come together to support us. A number of years ago I was surprised to see a friend’s Facebook post asking for prayers for her husband who had just had a stroke and was on his way to the hospital. I would have been focused solely on the physical problems at hand, but her virtual community meant enough to her that she reached out in that moment. The requested prayers were her sandbags against the coming storm.

A recent article highlighted people with disabilities who have built a community in Second Life. They cannot always participate in their local physical communities so they have built a virtual space where they can make friends and get and give support. This is their community and support network.

Thoughts

Since my recent experiences with community support, I have been thinking about the differences and similarities between virtual and physical networks. I value each community differently. My social media friends around the world cannot come to my aid in the event of a physical problem, but they provide me with different support that I value just as much. At the end of the day, I think it is important to maintain both groups. Let me know what you value about your communities, virtual or physical.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for 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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Planning for the Wireless Future

A recent article in my local paper showcased a new solar powered phone charger and wi-fi hotspot built into a park bench. Apparently these are coming to cities such as Boston and New York, but they are already in a park in my own town. This got me thinking about the ubiquity of wireless connections and the expectations that there should be access almost everywhere. Vehicles are becoming personal internet access points, and I suspect that I could even turn my bicycle into a hot spot. With this expectation of widespread and growing wireless access, how is a network architect supposed to plan for the future? In this post I hope to synthesize best practices of corporate and campus planners to help you plan your own infrastructure.

 Greenfield or Incremental?

Unless you are moving into a brand new building you don’t have the luxury of the greenfield approach, or starting from scratch. The folks at Cisco and other network component providers recommend developing a master plan and then tackling the project in stages. A wireless network consists of routers and switches in the back end and access points at the front end. If you have not been performing periodic upgrades then the entire infrastructure may need to be replaced.

When replacing the system components, look to the future in terms of technology and capacity. There is still a lot of equipment running on the old 802.11b/g standard but 802.11n is a better solution. Even better is 802.11ac but there are not many current devices that can access this standard, although they are coming fast. When developing a plan, look out at least five years to estimate the wireless devices that will be accessing your network. Don’t forget about bring your own devices (BYOD) and Internet of Things (IoT) introducing devices that we may not even have thought of yet.

Appetite for Bandwidth

A December 2015 Educause survey found that 61% of undergraduates in a typical college or university are trying to connect at least two wireless devices to the network at the same time. Some are trying to connect up to four devices at once. University of Oregon enrolled 23,634 students for fall 2016 so using the average of two devices, that is over 47,000 devices potentially hitting the network. That is a lot of access points and switches that need to be working right. Particularly for colleges, but also for businesses, it is important to have the right mix of access, speed, and reliability.

In the article mentioned above, Michael Spande, director of Enterprise Services at Bethel University, says “People pick their colleges based on factors like how good the wireless network is. They share their experiences online, and we can either look good or have a big black eye.” Quality wireless access has become a competitive differentiator.

Refresh, Refresh, Refresh

Whether you are managing a university, corporate, or hospital network, it is important to keep refreshing the hardware and software to ensure high performance. It is hard to predict what the future will hold, so network architects need to be part seers and part engineers. Just like PCs, the technology changes so quickly that a planned refresh cycle is critical to keep up with demand and with newer devices trying to access the network. Some recommend replacing one-quarter of the components every year while others stretch that out to a five-to-six-year refresh cycle. It depends a lot on demand and requirements of the devices accessing the network.

Thoughts

I remember when we installed the first wireless access points, they truly were a novelty. We targeted conference rooms because all of the offices were already hard-wired so wi-fi in those areas would have been redundant. Times have changed and wireless access is the future. Whether sitting on a park bench or in a restaurant, or playing golf on the front nine, our “always on” society is quickly adjusting to internet access anytime, anywhere. Are you ready?

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for 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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Planned Obsolescence in Technology: 1930s to Today

Planned Obsolescence in Technology: 1930s to Today

There is a light bulb hanging in a fire station in Livermore, CA that was installed in 1901 and has been glowing almost nonstop since. It has a carbon filament, unlike incandescent bulbs of today, which use tungsten. It was originally a 60 watt bulb but now gives off the glow of a night light, but the fact remains it has been going for over 115 years. Incandescent bulbs of today have a rating of 1,000 hours and LED bulbs have a life expectancy of 50,000 hours. How did we get from a 115 year bulb to a 1,000 hour bulb to a 50,000 hour bulb? Is the life expectancy planned or completely arbitrary? How does this apply to other technologies?

Lightbulb Cartel

In the 1920s, light bulb manufacturers banded together to create the 1,000 hour limit. Sales of bulbs were flattening since no one had to replace them so, to stimulate sales, alternative materials were introduced to reduce the life expectancy. This created a new avenue for manufacturers, the replacement market.

The term “planned obsolescence” can be traced back to a 1932 business pamphlet. Bernard London proposed to end the depression by taxing people who used goods beyond their life expectancy. This included clothing, automobiles, tires, etc. In his treatise, he explained:

“I propose that when a person continues to possess and use old clothing, automobiles and buildings, after they have passed their obsolescence date, as determined at the time they were created, he should be taxed for such continued use of what is legally ‘dead.’”

Fortunately, this idea was never legislated but the concept seems to have caught on in modern consumer culture.

Old Before Its Time

There are many examples of goods that are discarded because of functional, natural, or style obsolescence. General Motors introduced the “model year” in the 1920s to entice people to purchase a new car to keep up with frequent style changes. In reality, the greatest functional automotive innovation came from the electric starter, which replaced the crank. Clothing styles change frequently as well in order to entice people to purchase the latest fashion.

The stage was set years ago for our current technology obsolescence cycle. Some would argue that our consumerism fuels a growing GDP or spurs innovation and new technological breakthroughs. Others would argue that it fuels mountains of electronic waste and discarded toxic chemicals and minerals.

Operating system upgrades create obsolete products by overloading hardware and firmware. This renders the product, whether it be a smartphone or a smart TV, obsolete and useless. Obsolescence also occurs when someone replaces one piece of technology, such as a computer or operating system, but not the associated printer. This creates a situation where drivers are no longer compatible and components either don’t work at all or work in a diminished functionality. Either scenario is frustrating.

Answers

Unfortunately I do not have the answers to the need for constant technology refresh but I am hoping to start a dialogue here so that together we can come up with a solution. I am the person still running Windows XP on one of my home computers. I understand the security and supportability implications in my decision, but it serves my needs just fine and I don’t think I am keeping any state secrets on my system.

In a previous blog post, I wrote about sustainable production and highlighted projects such as Google’s Ara which is a modular smartphone with replaceable components. I am heartened that there are people and companies that are tackling this issue but I think we all need to understand the potential outcome of our purchase decisions.

Thoughts

Let me know if you have ever been frustrated by a sudden lack of operability because of an upgrade or planned obsolescence. What is your answer? When you purchase a new product do you think about its total lifecycle? How does that affect your choice? Let me know your thoughts.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for 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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Raising Digital Citizens

When was the last time you read the use agreement completely for an app, a website, or new software? I am guilty myself of rushing straight to the “I Accept” button without thoroughly reading the agreement. I justify it, perhaps erroneously, by the fact that I have read standard boilerplate agreements in the past and like to think that I am tech-savvy and understand the implications. As we move into an increasingly digital world, not everyone understands the tech behind the tech and the consequences of agreeing to use documents, particularly young kids who are now growing up digital.

Growing Up Digital

The Children’s Commissioner For England recently published a report calling for increased internet protection for children. They called for greater oversight and user rights of websites targeting children and teenagers. When 13-year-olds were asked to read through the use agreement for Instagram, where many of them had an account, they found the legal language boring and incomprehensible. When the use agreement was rewritten to be understandable, the children were surprised at the rights that they had given up and their lack of recourse in case of problems. The report calls for more oversight of websites and apps targeting children and a crackdown on cyber bullying by children and adults.

In the beginning, the internet was designed for exchanging information between the military and advanced research academic institutions. I am not sure that anyone could have foretold a time when it was being used commercially for exchanging pictures and texts by people of all ages. It has morphed and grown over time and I think we have a responsibility to protect the youngest users.

Digital Responsibility

As educators and parents, it is important that we teach digital responsibility to young people to give them a basis on how to conduct themselves on the internet and in social media. I work with a youth group and we regularly talk about rights and responsibilities while on the internet. We focus on recognizing cyber bullying, sharing private information, and behaving appropriately on social media. We can all think of adults who should have had these lessons growing up.

I recently came across an article that shares ideas on how to teach digital responsibility. They give some great pointers on topics such as using social media wisely, developing a professional persona, and protecting your privacy. We may think that some of these are topics for adults, but children are building their digital footprint already. When my son was still a teenager, he somehow developed a profile that listed him as a 50-year-old veteran and father; the resulting advertisements showed up in my mailbox for several years afterwards. He got an invitation from AARP even before I did.

Tools

Dijiwise is a tool created to allow parents to connect to their child’s social media accounts (assuming they will give you the password). You can monitor multiple accounts, such as Instagram and Facebook, through an app. This tool gives real time notifications so you can steer a teenager toward responsible posting and sharing. Circle by Disney is a device that connects to your home wi-fi and controls all devices in the home. You can set various limits, such as times a device is used, sites visited, or time spent on a particular device. This is useful for monitoring younger children.

Thoughts

Young people are growing up digital so it is important they start off on the right foot. Even with all of the monitoring and tools available, I think that the most important tool is open conversation. “What are you working on tonight?” “How are things going in your social circle?” The earlier we start that dialogue, the better chance we have of setting them up for success as digital citizens. Let me know your thoughts.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for 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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Workplace Trends: Increasing Employee Engagement

As the US economy continued to grow in 2016, employers added more jobs and competition for jobs increased. By the end of the year, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 5.5 million unfilled jobs. Part of that is due to a skills mismatch and part to competition for a finite number of workers. What do employers need to do to fill all of these openings? I did some research on workplace trends that will hopefully attract workers to these jobs.

Generation Y and Z

The median tenure with an employer is currently 4.6 years. Among millennials, the statistic is 2.8 years. Millennials are concerned about respect and about doing great work. They are more confident in their skills and switch employers when they don’t feel respected or feel that their work is not meaningful. Employers will need to combat this with more transparency. Instead of rolling out new policies, companies will also need to explain the rationale behind the decisions. Better yet, employees should be involved in policy making. Generation Y and soon to follow Generation Z, are both tech savvy so it will be harder in the future to not be transparent. If you don’t believe me, look at Glassdoor.com to see what current and past employees are saying about your company.

 Employee Experience

In recent years, we have used data analytics to increase our knowledge about customers, potential customers, and even suppliers. This year, companies are turning the lens inward to observe employee experience and satisfaction. IBM has been developing people analytics tools as a marketable product and for use in their own workforce. Human resource (HR) departments are able to do predictive analysis on employee satisfaction and hopefully reduce dissatisfaction and excessive turnover. It reminds me of the movie “Minority Report” where there was a method of predicting when a crime would occur and the police stopped the crime before it happened. Perhaps HR can swoop in and persuade a key employee not to leave the organization since it costs a lot more to replace than retain one. HR departments are changing to meet organizational needs, and people analytics is one tool they will be using more in the future.

Blended Workforce

The gig or freelance economy has grown over the last few years, but the emphasis this year will be on blending these contractors with a traditional workforce. Freelancers work on discrete, time-based jobs or projects and then move on after the job is complete. Websites such as Taskrabbit facilitate this. If the trend continues, employers will need to figure out how to blend short-term contractors, who generally make more money, and full time employees who get benefits on top of a salary. They serve different purposes toward the same goal and they often work side by side, particularly on technical jobs such as coding. How do you reward and retain loyal employees who work alongside those who have no loyalty and are hired for a specific task?

Thoughts

These are just some of the trends that employers will be working through in 2017. Some can be aided by technology but most are a matter of attracting and retaining a talented and dedicated workforce in a competitive market.

What other workplace trends do you see for 2017? Let me know your thoughts.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for 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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Artificial Intelligence Applications

Artificial intelligence (AI) will continue to contribute to innovations this year. I think some industries will embrace the change and some will resist for various reasons, including job displacement and trust. Our world is changing already in terms of the tasks that computers take on. Let’s examine some of the ways that AI will change how we work in 2017 and beyond.

Definitions

AI is simply a set of cognitive tasks that can be handled by a computer. Some AI functions incorporate vision and robotics but do not necessarily resemble Arnold Schwarzenegger’s dangerous “Terminator” character. Think of the hundreds of decisions that you make every day and which of those decisions could be best made by a computer, thus freeing you up for more creative and innovative tasks. Another term associated with AI is machine learning. That is the ability of a computer to learn from past cognitive decisions and make corrective choices, similar to how we learn from our mistakes and change our thinking in order to produce a better outcome.

Security

In a recent InformationWeek article, the author is hopeful that AI advances will help solve a skills shortage in the cyber security field. Right now, computers are used to gather data on threats and potential threats to weed out erroneous information and help security professionals formulate a mitigation strategy. In the future, the computer will also be left to formulate and institute the threat response as well as gather the initial data. Far from displacing security personnel, it will free them up to work on higher level tasks such as business continuity and refining the data collected and filtered. In this case, AI provides another pair of hands but security professionals will continue to be in as high demand as they are now.

Automotive Applications

One of the AI applications I am most excited about is automotive. I have written about this in the past and there have been some real breakthroughs recently. One practical application of AI is Ford’s new Pro Trailer Backup Assist. I cannot back up a trailer to save my life; I was denied that gene when I was born. Somehow the trailer appears at my side whenever I try to back into a spot. With backup assist, the driver removes their hands from the steering wheel completely and backs up by using a small knob on the dash. Turn the knob to the right and the trailer moves to the right. This is just the opposite of trying to use the steering wheel and certainly much more intuitive. This is an example of machine learning using vision and computing algorithms. Another even more radical example is the upcoming autonomous vehicle. These vehicles make constant decisions based on sensor input from around the vehicle to safely transport a passenger.

Danger Zones

Robots using machine learning differ from simple drones in that they make independent decisions based on past experience. A drone is controlled by a human operator and cannot function independently. An example of independent robot development is CHIMP from Carnegie Mellon University. CHIMP will be used in industrial application and for search and rescue when the situation is too dangerous for humans. It makes decisions based on instructions, experience, and multiple sensor input.

Thoughts

These are just a few AI applications, with a lot more to come. Are there tasks or decisions that you would just as soon leave to a computer? Do you trust the systems to make those decisions? This is a brave new world and it will take a leap of faith before some of these developments become completely commercialized. Let me know your thoughts.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for 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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Education Trends in 2017

Image of a student walking a road labeled 2017 with a question mark on the horizon.I try to follow higher education trends to make sure I know what is coming and can gear my teaching appropriately. This blog highlights some of the strategies and technologies I think will emerge in 2017. We will see in 12 months if I was right.

Improved Distance Education

I think technologies that create a shared classroom experience will improve distance education in 2017. Students will increasingly enroll in distance education,  so it is important that we improve the virtual classroom.

Immersive virtual reality is growing in popularity. I was one of the first to try out HP’s Halo telepresence system, now a Polycom product. Each of the teleconference rooms were physically identical, right down to the wall coloring and furniture. The idea is that you see your colleagues across the country or the world on the bank of monitors in front of you and feel like they are just on the other side of the table. It is a good idea and it works great but is expensive to purchase and maintain. Imagine if you could take this same technology into distance education using virtual reality. You could hold debates, work on shared projects, and hopefully improve the overall education experience to the point where it approximates an in-person experience. A September article from the Center for Digital Education highlights some of the specific developments in this area. The experience won’t change overnight but it is an important tool to improve distance education and an area that I will be monitoring.

Industry Partnerships

I believe that we need to do a better job of matching curriculum with skills needed in the workplace. In ancient Greece, students attended Plato’s Academy to learn thinking skills and become philosophers. Today we also need to equip students with applied skills they can use to further the mission of an employer. Rather than guessing what skills employers need, it is important to form partnerships and allow input into curriculum design. This could also lead to more internship opportunities where students could practice newly-learned skills. A strong partnership will help schools meet the needs of industry.

Standardized Certification System

Particularly in information technology and information management, there are a large number of available professional certificates. They range from security to advanced networking to systems administration. As an employer, how do I know whether a new or current employee presenting these certifications can really do the job? How do I know whether organizations offering these certifications are legitimate? Author Matthew Meyer, in a 2016 article, argued for a national certification system. This would be a certification system for certifiers, if you will. With the rising popularity of certificates this is an idea whose time has come because it would add some legitimacy to a certificate and assure quality and rigor to an employer. As I write this however, the American Commission for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) is fighting for its survival in the courts after the federal government cut off student aid for people attending those certified colleges. It could take several revisions to work out an appropriate certification body similar to the current regional accreditors for non-profit universities.

Political Changes

The political climate in the United States changed with the election and that could mean a shift in direction for post-secondary education. There could be more focus on vocational education, research, or toward non-degreed education such as skills-based certifications. The government influences the direction and emphasis on higher education through federal funds and guaranteed student loans. I believe that there will be a split emphasis on advanced research and skills-based education as we focus on current and anticipated workforce needs.

Thoughts

There is a lot changing in higher education and it’s an exciting time to work in this field.

What changes are you seeing in education? Are we taking advantage of technology and ideas on improving learning? Let me know your thoughts.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for 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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Making 2017 the Best Year Yet

Image of exuberant person with raised arm forming the 1 in 2017.Our calendar was introduced in 1582 but was not widely adopted throughout Europe and beyond until the eighteenth century. Even now we have complex rules to align our timekeeping with the natural passing of seasons. Calendars are a human construct, but they do provide us with a beginning and end of days, weeks, months, and years. January 1, the official start of the western new year, is a chance to shed the old and consider fresh starts. I challenge you to finally start those things that will make you happier and more successful in 2017.

Health

A new year is a great opportunity to change health habits. They don’t have to be big changes like the traditional resolutions that many people don’t keep; small changes practiced consistently add up to big changes. Good health is essential for concentration and clear thinking. My goal in 2017 is to train more on my bicycle to prepare for long rides. I generally get to the last few miles of an organized ride and wish I had trained more because I feel like I am done before the ride is over. This is the year that I finish strong. A fresh commitment to train coupled with small changes in my routine will make a big difference.

Learning

Perhaps 2017 is the year to sign up for that class you have been meaning to take or get that certification, or maybe even start or complete an undergraduate or graduate program. Our AIM students are an incredible group who consistently balance school, family, and work. I know it is not easy, but at some point they committed to that new direction to enhance their lives and their careers. That commitment will not only aid them in the future, but may give them insights to help them in their current jobs.

I am challenging myself in 2017 to teach better than ever. That means I will need to prepare more, just as in cycling, and to expand my knowledge through training and research. I challenge you to find time for your own new direction in learning.

Choices

I believe that we all have choices in how we live and what we do to improve ourselves. We can put off making changes for another day or week or year, or we can choose to start today. We can either react to the world around us, or we can change our environment and ourselves. The opportunity, responsibility, and choice lies with us. I am responsible for the change I want to see in my world.

Thoughts

These are not necessarily new ideas and perhaps I have read too many self-help books over the years, but I do believe that whether it is January 1 or July 15 it’s always a good time to take that first step. Take stock of where you want to be in the future and take the first small step towards that goal. Let me know what steps you are going to take in 2017 to make this your best year yet.

 

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for 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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Only the Nose Knows: Technology vs. Canines

Photo of Customs K9 and human officers walking. I recently researched “electronic noses,” or the attempt to simulate olfactory senses via electronics and/or chemistry. While there is some wonderful work being done in this area, particularly with polymers at Caltech and electronics at the Monterrey Institute of Technology, I was pulled in the direction of real noses, particularly canine noses. Dogs possess 200–300 million olfactory receptors compared to our five million. It appears that we are just scratching the surface of understanding a dog’s ability to sniff things out. I want to highlight some of the advances in this area.

Electronic Storage Detection

Instead of using electronics to sniff out substances, dogs are being used to sniff out electronics. In a recent TechRepublic article the authors point out that dogs are used to find hidden electronics, from disk drives all the way down to microSD cards. Forensic researchers isolated compounds that are used in circuit boards and CDs and trained dogs to find them. Digital evidence is increasingly important in criminal investigations so this is a valuable contribution.

Medical Detection Dogs

Animals, particularly dogs, have a keener sense of smell than humans. They can detect small traces of various organic and inorganic substances and can alert to minute variations from norm. Dogs are being trained to detect various biological conditions such as diabetes and allergic reactions. Slight variations in a person’s odor will trigger the dog to react and either seek help or alert the patient. Dogs can also be trained to detect an oncoming seizure or panic attack. Research is being done now to try to train dogs to detect cancers. This is still a work in progress but would be a breakthrough in early intervention.

K9s on Patrol

The most visible group of detection dogs are the K9 units that accompany law enforcement. They can help to apprehend a suspect, but more importantly they can be used in search and rescue situations and are often trained to detect illegal drugs. Drug canines are trained to find particular odors through play practice with a similar scented toy. In essence, they really just want to play.

Other dogs have a very serious duty to detect bombs in police and military work. They are trained to find  specific chemicals used in bombs or an improvised explosive device. Unlike drug detecting dogs who actively paw at a potential drug find, the bomb sniffing dogs are trained to sit passively when they detect component chemicals.

Thoughts

With their ultra sensitive noses, it is no wonder that dogs are able to perform critical, possibly lifesaving, work. Can technology ever replicate this? Could such devices be used in areas where dogs would be put in danger, such as search and rescue or toxic environments? I normally write about advances in technology, but wanted to highlight canine heroes that are in many ways better than devices and applications. Tell me about your favorite helpful canine friend.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for 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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Lessons in Workplace Civility: Simple Things We Learned In Kindergarten

Photo of kindergarteners working together.In our hectic lives we sometimes forget some of the basic lessons we learned in kindergarten. In an article last year titled “How Lessons From Kindergarten Can Help Office Civility” the author highlights some areas that can improve workplace productivity and overall happiness. These are simple, often overlooked lessons that when not practiced can leave us stressed and frustrated. As we approach the new year, it is a good time to commit to be more civil and open with coworkers. Here are some simple reminders that are just as important now as when we were kids.

Smile

In the article mentioned above, some of the reasons for incivility include increased workload, stress, and being distracted when we should be paying attention to others. We may not even notice each other even though we exchange e-mails and texts and chats all day. I submit that a simple smile and a “good morning” would go far in creating a less stressful workplace. Those few seconds of interaction can open doors to authentic dialogue and better relationships and maybe even higher productivity. We often turn to technology to improve efficiency, but perhaps this simple step can contribute just as much.

Pay Attention

The urge to multitask can be great in our overloaded workdays, but when you are in a meeting or a presentation, it is polite to pay attention. We learned this lesson from our kindergarten teacher as well. A number of years ago I attended a meeting of coworkers in Texas. Most of us were teleworkers from various parts of the world so it was a genuine treat to get together and share ideas face-to-face. There was a  jumble of LAN cables strung out on the conference room table so we could each connect to the internet while in the meeting. This was in the days before wireless connections and smartphones. I thought at the time of the absurdity of these internet connections when we had all spent so much time and effort to come together to work through issues. It did cause a distraction for some and we did not listen to the presenter as deeply as we could or should have. Let’s make a point of giving the speaker our full attention.

Extend a Kind Word

I challenge you this week to reach out and extend a kind word to at least one coworker every day. Compliment them on the fine work that they do or something else you appreciate about them. For some, this may be standard practice but for others it may be difficult. If it is hard at first, work at it! It will become easier and it will improve your office environment. Once you start it, others will want to join in. Initiate a “kind word” movement at your workplace today.

Culture

Every company and organization has a different culture and different set of values. I would be surprised if any of them actually valued incivility. Intel, for example, practices “constructive confrontation” which may actually appear as negative to an outsider. This is a problem solving method that encourages frank dialogue about any ideas or issues. Intel employees recognize feedback as a gift and get to problem resolution quicker through honest and sometimes blunt discussion. While the communication may be direct they still have respect for each other and individual opinions. This blend of constructive confrontation and respect has kept them at the top of the processor game for many years. No matter your organization’s culture, the lessons we learned in kindergarten still apply.

Thoughts

These are simple ideas but they are as important today as when we first learned them. Be polite, pay attention, and extend a kind word or a hand to your colleagues. Put down the technology once in awhile and notice and appreciate the great people you work with. Let me know your thoughts.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for 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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