shutterstock_63935509I am a confessed optimist. I am not a realist, nor am I even a plain optimist. I am a flaming optimist. The glass for me is not just half full; it is completely full. Always. I go into every situation with eyes wide open, and I always expect the outcome to be the best. The focus of this blog post is to share my experiences and to show that a positive attitude can have physical and mental health benefits.

Expect the Best

Optimism comes from the Latin word “optimus” meaning “best.” Optimists always expect the best in every situation. It does not necessarily mean that they are perfectionists and get upset when things don’t go well. On the contrary, they are able to deal with adversity objectively, knowing that “this too shall pass.” If you always expect the worst, you will often get the worst. Conversely, if you expect the best, you will receive the best. Some dismiss this as a mind trick, but it does work.

Practice Gratitude

This may seem trivial, but regular practice goes a long way towards developing a positive attitude and optimism. Often, we have a tendency to focus on the negative things in life, but I challenge you to find something, however small, that you are genuinely grateful for. My wife often asks me what color the sky is in my world. My answer is always the same, “It’s blue, it’s always blue!” Even when it is raining, I try to think about the benefits of rain rather than focusing on my own discomfort. (This is not always easy to do when it is pouring). Once you develop a strong position of gratitude, you can then pass it along to others to help them on their journey. This has benefits for you and for others. Optimism is contagious!

Health Benefits

According to a recent article from the Mayo Clinic, researchers are finding the following benefits attributed to optimism and a positive attitude:

-       Increased life span,

-       Lower rates of depression,

-       Lower levels of distress,

-       Greater resistance to the common cold,

-       Better psychological and physical well-being, and

-       Better coping skills during times of stress.

Researchers are finding that a positive attitude leads to better health, which leads to a more positive outlook on life. It is a reinforcing cycle!

Thoughts

Are you an optimist? If not, I would invite you to try it out and see if it doesn’t improve your outlook. Find one thing that you are grateful for and focus on it. Gradually add other things in your life that you are grateful for and soon you will be expecting positive things to come to you. If you are already an optimist, let me know what you do to keep a positive attitude. If you are just starting your journey towards optimism, let me know how it is going! By all means, pass along your positive attitude to others.

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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Managing a Farm Today—Agriculture Uses IT Too

I occasionally research how technology is being applied to different fields. Lately, I have been thinking about how technology is helping agriculture. Obviously others have been thinking the same thing but with more of a profit motive in mind. In May of this year, there was a conference held in Palo Alto, California, titled “Silicon Valley Agtech.” Their tagline is “Silicon Valley AgTech is where technology meets agriculture, Silicon Valley meets the Silicon Prairie, and innovation comes back to the farm.” Their aim is to bring together agriculture technology startups and venture capitalists to try to accelerate the interest and growth of this industry in Silicon Valley. Here are a few technologies that are aiding farmers and ranchers now.

Telematics

Telematics is the combination of telecommunications and informatics. It has to do with sending information to and from a remote object such as a vehicle. The GPS unit in newer cars is one such example of telematics, but the agriculture industry is using it in unique ways. GPS technology in newer tractors and farm implements can tell the driver precisely where to plow, plant, spray, and harvest. Harvest yield information can be uploaded in real time so that a farmer can tell immediately what to expect from his crop. Of course, all of this information exchange is going to result in a larger amount of data to be processed.

Big Data

Information collected in the field will include a new array of data points and could easily move into the area of big data. Some farm service companies are already getting into the cloud services business, specifically to collect, process, and make sense of data points. You can either upload data from the tractor thumb drive or upload the telematics-collected data directly to the service provider. Either way, the service provider stores, analyzes, and creates visualizations to help you understand where you can improve your farming and your crop yield.

Robotics

Farm equipment is not quite to the point where it can drive itself (think Google tractor) but it is getting close. Sprinkler pivots in large farm fields are often computer controlled with a remote or an app and require little human intervention when set up properly. There are farm service companies, however, that are developing tractors and other equipment to operate without a driver. With the telematics mentioned above and smart cameras, they will be able to operate within the parameters and confines of a field. This will free up the farmer to do higher value work such as analyzing the yield report sent by his cloud service provider.

Thoughts

Technology can be used to aid efficiencies in fields (no pun intended) as diverse as agricultural production. This also represents new opportunities for entrepreneurs and IT workers who have a passion for farm production and want to work to increase yields and decrease waste.

Do you know of other fields that are increasing their use of technology in a unique way? Let me know. I am always interested in learning more. 

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 nigh

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IT Trends: How Will You Access Your Data in the Years to Come?

shutterstock_91611515I have been thinking lately about information technology trends and I want to highlight a few in the blog this week. This helps me to keep up on the latest in technology and I hope that it helps you as well.

The Cloud

According to a recent list from Gartner, one of the emerging trends over the next couple of years is that the cloud will become the most important data repository. This will have significant impact on IT organizations in the fact that devices such as PCs and laptops will be merely a window into the data and the applications. The computer will not actually house information; it will all be hosted in the cloud. Laptops could become simple terminals and more computing will be pushed to the tablet, which could serve the same function. With this push to mobile devices, the desktop PC could drop out of the scene completely. Device management will change dramatically, especially as employees become even more mobile.

Mobile

Another trend identified by Gartner is an increasingly mobile workforce. This includes not only telecommuters, but also those working in a progressively 24/7 world on company-issued devices as well as on personal devices. The line is blurring between the two, and IT organizations need to get a handle on who and what devices have access to their proprietary information. This goes beyond a Bring-Your-Own-Device (BYOD) policy and enters into the area of network design with an eye toward mobile security.

Security

With the movement towards the cloud and mobile devices, Sophos—the network and server security vendor—predicts there will be more attacks on personal and corporate data. They also predict mobile devices will leave personal data more vulnerable to theft, particularly through the use of apps. With larger numbers of employees working remotely and passing corporate data across their mobile devices, this trend spells trouble for the IT organization. The spotlight will be on them to keep the corporate data safe on the inside and keep viruses and intruders on the outside. More emphasis will be put on security, particularly the mobile variant. The upside to all of this is an increase in opportunities for security professionals. According to Robert Half, the staffing specialists, security professionals are one of the technical specialties in highest demand. If the trend towards mobile and cloud computing continues, this demand will become even more acute.

Thoughts

One of the benefits of trend spotting is that it points to where future opportunities lie. There is a need now for security professionals, cloud computing professionals, and those that can integrate mobile platforms with enterprise applications. If you are at a crossroads in your career, I would explore one of these areas. If you are just starting your IT career or education, I think any of these will be solid fields for years to come, with options to branch out into the periphery. Have you seen any other IT trends worth noting? Let me know. I will highlight other trends in future blog posts.

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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Beginnings

shutterstock_155422796As we prepared for summer graduation in the AIM Program, I was thinking about new beginnings. Our graduates now have a new degree in hand and the potential for a new beginning in their careers and in their lives. I believe that it is never too late to take on a new adventure and work to realize your full potential. As you read this blog post, I encourage you to examine your life and see if there is still something that you want to do to grow and stretch. If there is, then I challenge you to start the process now.

Examples

Examples of new beginnings could be a new job, a new college degree, retirement, moving to a new city, or the birth of a baby. All of these things move us out of our comfort zone and push us to do things differently. Often we talk ourselves out of starting the journey because we think that we are too old or maybe don’t have enough money or we have always done it the other way or we worry about what others would think. Take a hard look at each of the barriers that you have placed in your way to see if they are legitimate or if you can get past them and move on to your own new beginning.

A Plan

The Chinese philosopher Lao-Tzu once said: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” An important aspect of creating your own plan is identifying that first step to a new beginning. This summer I decided to do the Seattle-to-Portland (STP) bike ride again after a gap of twenty-five years. STP is essentially back-to-back century rides, or you can do all 203 miles in one day if you are strong enough and fast enough, which I am not. As part of my plan, I had to make sure I could still complete one century and I found that I could do that. I learned by riding the STP that I could have a new beginning and finish strong. I dubbed this my “comeback tour.” Even more important to me were the stories that I heard from other riders. This was a new beginning for many of them and was often instigated by an illness or an urgent need to make a lifestyle change. Some were riding the STP for the first time and some for the twentieth. They all made the decision to change, and they all crafted and executed their plan.

Thoughts

If you have put off starting your new beginning, I challenge you to start today. Whether it is going back to school or making a lifestyle change, now is the time. The barriers may seem high but if you start with that single step it can lead to a lifelong journey. Have you recently started a new beginning? Tell me about it.

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 nigh

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Plan To Get Back To Business Fast After A Disaster

Broken phone, notebook and glasses, in the dirt and covered in dustThis week I want to write about something that you are probably not thinking about in these lazy days of summer: disaster recovery planning (DRP). Last time I checked disasters do not follow the calendar, weather related hazards aside. They can happen anytime, even when you are on vacation and not thinking about work. If a disaster were to strike your business, do you have a plan in place and does everyone know how to execute it? If not, this is a tickler to make that a priority. Here are some tips on how to build a plan and keep it current.

Priorities

First of all, you need to understand your most important business processes. This is an exercise not only for IT, but also for finance and accounting, marketing, manufacturing, and operations. In the event of a disaster, many people would argue that payroll should be restored first. Others would argue that customer facing processes should come first. Finally, others would argue that manufacturing should come first since without active inventory there is nothing to sell to the customers and therefore no revenue to fund the paychecks. Each business is different but the key is to decide what processes should be recovered first, second, and third, and everyone should be in agreement.

Drafting the Plan

Just as important as deciding the sequence of process recovery is writing and publishing the plan. What components go into a good plan? I recently came across a template that will help you draft your first plan or help you validate your current plan to make sure that you have all of the components necessary. It is important to get a peer review on this document to make sure that all agree on the necessary steps to recovery.

Regular Review

Once drafted and written, don’t let your plan become “shelfware,” never to see the light of day again. It is important that this document be reviewed on a regular basis. Your organization is dynamic and this document needs to reflect that. I have found that it is best to tie this review to other regular updates in your business. For example, when you are budgeting for the next fiscal year, why not review the DR to see what has changed in the last year or the last six months? What is about to change based on your proposed budget? Be proactive with the DR plan.

Thoughts

A disaster recovery plan is one component of a good business continuity plan. It outlines the first steps of how you are going to operate your business for a prolonged period while recovering from an outage, whether due to a storm or your customer-facing web page going offline. It is important to think carefully about how you are going to come back from that adversity. The worst time to develop a plan is in the middle of a disaster.

Take a minute this summer to review your plan with your team. When disaster strikes, you will be glad you did.

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 nigh

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Is It Time to Start Your Own Business?

shutterstock_137403869_ConvertedHow do you know when the time is right to start your own business? Surely you have had one of those days in your job where you want to jump ship and start fresh on your own. In this blog, I will explore the three key areas I think need to be addressed before you become serious about pursuing your dream.

The Idea

Before you give up your day job, make sure that you have a winning plan that will carry you through a period without a regular paycheck. What is it that you do better than anyone else? Do you have an idea for a new product or service that is better than anything available now? It is not enough just to compete, you need to know that you are the best and have the best idea.

The Passion

Understand that you will most likely work harder than you do at your current job, at least at the outset. A forty-hour workweek will be a luxury that you cannot afford as you get your new business off the ground. Ask yourself whether you are ready and willing to put in the time and effort to start a successful business. Perhaps even more important is this question: Is your family ready for you to start your own business? They will have to sacrifice along side you as you work to make your idea successful. They may even be involved in the business in some respect. Growing up, my father always had a steady job but was a serial entrepreneur when it came to side jobs. I clearly remember sitting around the kitchen table filling, bagging, weighing, and labeling pistachio nuts that my father sold around town. I also remember dragging rebuilt transmissions out of our basement on cold winter nights as part of another business. It is not unusual for some or all of your family to be involved. Are they ready? Are you ready to see it through?

The Capital

It is a romantic notion to start a wildly successful multibillion dollar business on a shoestring budget, but the reality is you will need some sort of start-up capital to tide you over until you start generating revenue. At first income will go toward offsetting expenses, so you will need to have enough to operate until you become profitable. This could come in the form of personal savings, family savings, loans from angel investors such as family members, or even from venture capitalists if your business is solid enough. Any or all of these potential investors will want to see a business plan. What is your product or service? Who are your potential customers? How large is your target market? How are you going to price your product? When do you expect to be profitable? When will you see a return on your investment? These are all questions that you are going to have to answer in a business plan before they take a chance on you. Passion and an idea only go so far.

Thoughts

There are many other considerations to factor in when deciding whether to start a business but I believe that these are the three most important. Make sure that you can answer these three questions honestly before starting on the journey. Do you have an idea and passion for a new business? Let me know. You may find some supporters or customers among my blog readers.

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 nigh

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Form Follows Function: Why Do We Need Wearables?

shutterstock_134823296I recently read an article titled: “Smartwatches: Wear Did It All Go Wrong” which laments the fact that these devices have not been adopted into the mainstream and offers some explanation as to why. The article boils it down to the fact that while the technology is available, the social or personal need for it does not exist yet. In other words, there is still a very thin market for them. In architecture, there is an adage that “form follows function” meaning the shape of an object or a building should follow its intended function. In the case of smart watches, it appears that we developed the form and the technology before fully understanding the need or the function. In other words, the “what” was developed before the “why.

Transplanting New Technology Into Old Forms

As humans, we have a habit of trying to superimpose new ideas and new technologies onto old forms. I think that if the form is familiar and widely accepted, then it’s easier to sell the old form with new functions. Think of the evolution, or lack thereof, of the computer keyboard. The keyboard we use today on our smartphone stems from the 1873 manual typewriter. There has been no significant change in style in 141 years! In the case of a smart watch, it is a combination of a smart phone and a wristwatch. The smart phone has its origins in the 1876 telephone invented by Alexander Graham Bell. A person talks in one end and listens from the other. It became mobile and then other functions were added to simulate a personal digital assistant and then finally a full computer.

The wristwatch comes from the spring driven pocket watch of the sixteenth century; in the twentieth century, it became electronic with the advent of quartz crystals. Along the way, there were more functions added, such as timers and alarms and even an attempt to add a calculator, which had mixed results. The wristwatch also was made to simulate a personal digital assistant and now is attempting to become an extension or a replacement of the smartphone.

The Future

I believe that the smartwatch is the wrong answer to the right question. The question is: what will make our life better? It is time to stop extending the old forms to fit our modern lifestyle and needs. It is time to reinvent the form to fit our way of doing things. The technology is available now. It is time to think differently.

Thoughts

This blog post is a challenge to all to think of different ways to reinvent our outdated forms. We can do better than a nineteenth century keyboard. We can stop using sixteenth century metaphors such as wristwatches. Dick Tracy got his two-way wrist radio almost seventy years ago. Surely we can do better in 2014. Do you have an idea for a better form? Share it with me and together we can make the world a more elegant place.

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 nigh.

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Tech Fueled Vacations

shutterstock_133219739In 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.

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 nigh

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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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