Life Lessons from the Road

Kelly Brown riding in the Portland to Seattle ClassicEarlier this month I rode in the Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classic. That is 205 miles in the saddle over two days, although some choose to complete it in one day. I have done this ride before so I knew what to expect. Two days on the bike gives me a lot of time for reflection and I would like to share, particularly with AIM students, some of those thoughts. I call them lessons from the road, which applies to my time in the saddle and throughout my life in general. Hopefully they resonate with you as well.

Don’t Quit Until You’re Done

For those of us who choose to do the ride over two days, there are various towns where you can camp overnight. The official center point is the 102-mile mark and riders can camp there at a small college. Others, like me, opt to put in a few more miles on the first day and stay at the 120-mile mark, which makes for a much easier second day.

That night I ate with fellow riders and I repeatedly heard, “Oh, that last 20 miles almost did me in.” They set out that morning knowing full well they were going to ride the longer distance so it should not have been a surprise. After talking to many of them, it dawned on me that they mentally finished at the halfway point when everyone was cheering and congratulating them for a job well done. For the last 20 miles they were riding in body only, having already finished for the day in mind and spirit.

How many times in our lives do we do the same thing? We set an attainable goal for ourselves and then we quit mentally before we are finished. We try to coast for the last 20 miles or the last class or the last effort that needs all of our concentration. I am going to always try to finish strong and I challenge you to do the same.

Watch Out for Those Around You

In this ride they cap registration at 10,000 so there are always fellow riders around you. It is not as bad as a Tour de France peloton but sometimes the distance between wheels can be measured in inches. It can take a lot of concentration to watch out for others, but the reward is a safe ride. I came upon more than one accident involving multiple riders so I know the risk.

As in cycling, it makes sense to watch out for others as we pass through life. Not necessarily out of a sense of danger but in the spirit of lending a hand. Do you ever notice a fellow student struggling and reach out to try and help? Do you try to help young people, or perhaps the elderly, during your day? Sometimes others struggle with tasks that seem routine to us so it never hurts to lend a hand.

Enjoy the Scenery

One of the most important lessons I learned during those hours in the saddle is to enjoy the scenery. I am not the fastest rider and I often hear the phrase “passing on your left.” While I will most likely never finish first in any of these rides, I definitely take the time to enjoy the scenery. Each mile brings a different view and, while pavement is not very interesting to look at nature, people and architecture definitely are. Whether high up on a bridge or deep in a forest, there is always something interesting to see.

Life can be hard and finishing a degree program can be hard, but I think it is important to look up every once in awhile and take in the scenery. It helps to put everything else in perspective.

Thoughts

These are my thoughts from the road. Finish strong, help others, and enjoy the scenery along the way. Do you have any life lessons that you have picked up on your journey? I would love to hear 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.

Print Friendly

Pokemon Go and the Future of Augmented Reality

Photograph of a smart phone screen with an active Pokemon Go game.Augmented reality took a big leap forward this month with the release of Pokemon Go from Niantic Labs and partner Nintendo. This game has become very popular and has drawn praise and criticism from different groups. Many are excited about getting players young and old out of the house, but some are concerned about the potential security problems when the lines are blurred between the virtual and real worlds. Personally, I am fascinated by the social implications of this technology and its potential benefits in gaming and extended professional scenarios.

Pokemon Go

Pokemon Go requires players to chase Pokemon cartoon characters in the real world using a smart phone. It uses the smartphone camera and clock to overlay one of 151 characters in real places such as the city, the beach, the forest or in buildings. The player must collect these characters wherever they may be. Water characters can only be collected near waterways and night fairies can only be collected at night. The game has become so popular that Darwin police in Northern Australia have alerted players that they do not need to come into the police station to catch a particular character:

For those budding Pokemon Trainers out there using Pokemon Go — whilst the Darwin Police Station may feature as a Pokestop, please be advised that you don’t actually have to step inside in order to gain the pokeballs. It’s also a good idea to look up, away from your phone and both ways before crossing the street. That Sandshrew isn’t going anywhere fast. Stay safe and catch ’em all!

This is not the first augmented reality game, but so far it’s the most popular. Niantic released a similar game called Ingress in 2015. Pokemon Go uses the same database of features and is basically Ingress using Nintendo characters.

Recent History

Niantic Labs was a Google creation but spun off last fall during the Alphabet restructuring. The original intent by Google was to build things on top of the incredible mapping technology that they already have. Think about Google Maps, Google Earth, and Google Street View. They have a comprehensive database of geo coordinates, so it makes sense to augment (no pun intended) that work with a game. This is a great example of an innovation extension.

My Interest

I have seen similar application research recently in the field of education. The premise is that if young people could be enticed to go to a park or a museum or into the forest, they could learn about the features of that location and earn tokens at the same time. Basically, this is the gamification of nature or history. I have written about this topic before, but I am all in favor of enticing people to go outdoors, whether to search for cartoon characters or for solitude away from the stress and distractions of everyday life.

Thoughts

Games like Pokemon Go could be the first of many popular augmented reality games. While there are still some bugs to be worked out, the technology is promising. Have you played Pokemon Go? Do you think this is a passing fad or the beginning of a new reality? 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.

Print Friendly

Customer Data: The New Capital

Fingerprint weighted against a dollar sign.Sports Authority, a retail chain of sporting goods stores, recently filed for bankruptcy and sold off all of their assets. One of the highest bids was for their name, e-commerce site and customer data, bought by rival Dick’s Sporting Goods for $15 million. In contrast, a package of several store leases went for only $8 million and naming rights to Sports Authority Field, also known as Mile High Stadium, home of the Denver Broncos, is still on the auction block. It appears that customer information is the new desired capital, but what does that say about our privacy and the use of our personal information? Is it truly for sale to the highest bidder? Did we actually agree to that?

Privacy Policies

The Sports Authority privacy policy states, “We may transfer your personal information in the event of a corporate sale, merger, acquisition, dissolution or similar event.” Information collected and stored at the Sports Authority website includes full name, street address, e-mail address, telephone number, credit card number, and credit card expiration date. This is not unique to Sports Authority; other online retailers collect the same information and include a similar caveat in their privacy policies. It is up to the consumer to read and understand that clause and decide whether it is worth the risk.

Relationships

When signing up for rewards programs I agree to hand over my personal information, regardless of whether I read the privacy policy or not, but I expect our relationship to end if the company is dissolved. In the case of Sports Authority, my intended relationship was with them and not with Dick’s Sporting Goods or someone else. Is there a step in the process that lets me break off the deal should I not want to be solicited by the highest bidder?

Thoughts

With value on customer data comes responsibility to customers who have disclosed their information and expect at least a minimum of privacy and discretion. Privacy advocates are watching these developments closely. They are concerned that the new owners will not adhere to the original privacy agreement and will use the customer information in ways not originally agreed upon.

Let me know your thoughts on buying and selling customer information. It is not a new idea. I have received solicitations from car dealers for years based on information available from the division of motor vehicles. What is new is how easy it is to collect, buy, and sell this information and the amount of associated customer information collected, which can be put up for sale to the highest bidder.

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.

Print Friendly

Brexit and the Technology Industry

Puzzle with the national flag of great Britain and European Union on a world map background.The recent decision by Britain to exit the European Union (Brexit) has people asking a lot of questions. Some analysts are pondering British technology regulations and the state of the technology industry post European Union. There are surprising implications that perhaps have not been considered but probably would not have made a difference in the vote.

Silicon Roundabout

An area in East London has been dubbed Silicon Roundabout for the concentration of high-tech firms, particularly start-ups. In a 2013 Guardian article, director of Twilio Europe James Parton cites reasons for locating a hub in London, “…London was a natural choice for our first office outside of the U.S. Language, accessibility to rest of Europe, a vibrant start-up ecosystem, the financial market, talent and flexible business conditions were all contributing factors.” Other areas of Britain have attracted high-tech heavyweights and start-ups alike.

With Brexit, some of those desirable qualities could disappear. Accessibility to the single EU market is in jeopardy, which could result in less than favorable trade arrangements and higher tariffs for companies operating in an independent Britain. A recent BBC article suggests that Berlin, for example, will actively court those tech start-ups and venture capitalists that have been pouring money into Britain. In making her pitch, Cordelia Yzer, Berlin Senator for Commerce and Technology, said, “They are welcome, their talent is more than welcome. It’s a great place to live and we also speak English. Berlin is a place where their dreams can come true.”

High Finance

Another potential issue for tech firms in Britain is access to capital. Start-ups in particular, but all tech firms in general, are capital-intensive operations mainly used for talent and equipment. A recent Reuters article reports that Standard and Poors and Fitch Rating recently dropped their credit rating for the country. This could make it harder or more expensive for companies to borrow capital for expansion or for a start-up. These companies could consider other EU centers such as Berlin or Paris, where funds are less expensive.

Data Privacy

The EU and the U.S. are working on the latest changes to their data privacy agreement. The EU has some of the toughest privacy laws in the world with Germany and France leading the charge in areas such as “the right to be forgotten,” which require companies such as Google to erase all internet history of an individual upon their request. Britain has pushed for less stringent regulations but it remains to be seen whether they will still abide by the EU-U.S. data privacy agreement. That brings up the question of whether data flowing through Britain will still adhere to those standards, or will it be less secure?

Thoughts

The exit is still being planned, though EU countries are pushing to get it done sooner rather than later. With the separation come questions for high-tech companies and consumers. These will be sorted out over time and I will be watching the developments with interest. Can you think of any tech benefits or drawbacks to a post-EU Britain? 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.

Print Friendly

Careers in Technology: Threat Intelligence

A silhouette of a hacker with a black hat in a suit enters a hallway with walls textured with random letters 3D illustration backdoor conceptI recently came across an interesting New York Times article highlighting the field of threat intelligence. Gartner expects the market for this security service to reach $1 billion next year, up from $255 million in 2013. Surely there must be job opportunities for the person with the right preparation, education, and credentials. I did more research into this technology career and came up with some interesting prospects.

Making Lemonade out of Lemons

In the article, the author cited a case of a family welding shop in Wisconsin that ran a small server for tracking orders, billings and suppliers. Their server was hacked, and they were totally unaware until a Silicon Valley security firm contacted them. The firm noticed that it had become a proxy to get to other vulnerable servers, some from very large companies. The security firm left the server in place but now closely monitors the traffic going in and out of it and can preemptively warn clients when they have been breached or are about to be compromised. Threat intelligence is really about being proactive, as opposed to reactive, and monitoring security issues or paying others to monitor them for you.

Education

For education in this field, it is best to pursue the Certified Information Systems Security Professional designation. This training is available through self study, on-site or online training which prepares you for the mandatory tests. There is even a “CISSP For Dummies” book but I am not sure I would trust my network to someone who chose that route to learn the business.

In addition to the CISSP, there are specialized courses in threat intelligence to augment the CISSP training and certification. These courses take you beyond basic intrusion detection and teach you how to battle persistent threats and how to programmatically counter these threats.

Jobs

There are jobs available in private industry for security firms that do threat intelligence and sell that information to clients. Many major corporations want to build in-house expertise in this area in order to fend off hackers and protect proprietary information. There are also government jobs available from agencies trying to get the upper hand on security threats. This expertise might have prevented the breach of the Democratic National Committee that I mentioned in last week’s blog.

Thoughts

Network and system security is becoming more critical as some of our most valuable assets are the data we store about customers, new products, proprietary processes, and partner agreements. It is essential for firms and agencies to do all they can to protect that data. That means now moving from a reactive approach to the proactive and systematic method offered by the new field of threat intelligence.

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.

Print Friendly

Watergate 2016: The Evolution of Technology

Stylized photo of a hooded hacker at a laptop.The political season in the U.S. is now in full swing and I had to smile at a recent article about a security breach of a Democratic National Committee server and the  alleged theft of background information on the Republican candidate, Donald Trump. For a moment I thought I had slipped back to 1972 when a break-in and attempted wiretap occurred at the Watergate hotel and office complex where the Democratic Committee was headquartered. The more things change, the more they stay the same. In this case though, the technology has evolved from breaking, entering, and wiretapping to sophisticated digital entry to specific servers. Let’s take a look at the evolution of technology in terms of security.

1972

I followed the Watergate scandal closely even though I was only a teenager. Members of the “committee to re-elect the president” were found to have masterminded a break in into the Watergate office building to plant wiretaps on the phones of key members of the Democratic Committee. Several players were indicted and sentenced to prison and President Nixon eventually resigned under suspicion of having authorized the break-in and for keeping secret recordings. When the Watergate burglars were caught, they were found with:

“… at least two sophisticated devices capable of picking up and transmitting all talk, including telephone conversations. In addition, police found lock-picks and door jimmies, almost $2,300 in cash, most of it in $100 bills with the serial numbers in sequence.

The men also had with them one walkie-talkie, a short wave receiver that could pick up police calls, 40 rolls of unexposed film, two 35 millimeter cameras and three pen-sized tear gas guns.”

2016

Fast forward almost 45 years and consider the modern tools of the burglary/cyber espionage trade. No longer is it necessary to even be near a physical building; a lucrative break-in can be done from anywhere. As of this writing, it is believed that hackers linked to the Russian government broke into the Democratic National Committee servers, presumably while in Russia. Whether that can ever be substantiated or whether the individuals behind the break-in will ever be brought to justice is doubtful. Part of the hacking ethos is to cover digital tracks through multiple systems and connections so as to mask the hacker’s identity.

Thoughts

Catching five burglars with wiretapping equipment in an office building was a piece of cake compared to what law enforcement faces today. The stakes are higher in terms of the information stores that we keep and the break-in methods are much more sophisticated. The tools needed to track and prevent a strike are complicated and require advanced education and skills. As long as we continue to have security breaches, both in politics and business, organizations of all types will seek qualified professionals. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

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.

Print Friendly

Looking For Innovation In All The Wrong Places

Photo of lit lightbulb facing opposite direction of unlit bulbs.Our AIM course “Creating Business Solutions With Technology” will be starting soon, so I have been thinking a lot about innovation. This is an important course in the AIM Program where we explore the landscape necessary to innovate. Our students learn how to create an environment where new ideas can flourish and be converted to a competitive differentiator for the individual or organization. So, how can we create business solutions?

Innovators Are Born

In his new book “Originals,” Adam Grant dispels the myth that innovators are born, not nurtured. In fact there are multiple types of innovative people. There are those who can create solutions for new problems and those who can create new products or processes out of existing components. Both are effective in developing new ideas and both are needed to lead new product teams. Innate curiosity is the critical trait among those who devise solutions, and that can be developed in an individual or in a team.

How Do I Foster Innovation?

If everyone in the organization is capable of coming up with new and creative ideas, how do I tap into that to become competitive in the marketplace? A simple way to foster a creative environment is a suggestion box. Sometimes it takes someone outside of the organization to come up with a new idea because they are not entrenched in the daily operations and are not shackled by the current constraints. They are free to think beyond the real or perceived boundaries.

However, a suggestion box will fail if the organization does not embrace risk and new possibilities. If suggestions are rejected simply because they are too risky or do not align with current products and services, then the box will soon be empty. We talk a lot in our course about the organizational culture. Are they risk averse or are they open to new ideas and new ways of doing things? Companies such as 3M and Google require employees to set aside time each week just to think and create and innovate.

Procrastinators Unite

Grant makes another point that gives me hope, that procrastination is not always a bad thing. He suggests it is actually a way for creative people to mull over ideas on before they are introduced. He cites examples of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Abraham Lincoln both of whom were both editing and rewriting their famous speeches the night before or even right up to the speech. Innovation does not always follow a neat timeline; it may be messy and unorganized. The important point is that it is possible to harness that creative for positive change.

Thoughts

As I prepare for our upcoming class I realize that innovation and creativity do not always follow prescribed rules. The innovative people in your organization may not always be who you expect. It could be the janitor who devises a better seating layout as she works and thinks night after night, or it could be the IT worker who devises a better distribution process by connecting disparate data points. Encourage innovation in your organization and learn to look for it in the usual and unusual places.

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.

Print Friendly

Setting and Achieving Goals with Technology

Photograph of vintage map and compass.Technology has been used to establish and realize goals since mariners relied on maps, compasses and sextants to reach their destination. I have read several books and articles over the years that claim setting goals is a surefire path to success. Actually, setting and achieving goals are both required to realize dreams. If this is the case, then can I use technology to help me with my goals? Can technology accomplish my goals for me, or do I still need to do some of the heavy lifting? For this blog I researched applications that help in the process, but I have come to realize they are not magic.

Technology Assistance

If good health is the goal, then fitness trackers are a great way to monitor your progress. I spoke with a clerk last week at a large hardware store who claimed she walked 120,000 steps in the last week. In her case, her kids got her a FitBit for Mother’s Day so they could marvel at the energy she expended while on the job. For her, it is more for information and entertainment than for achieving a specific goal, but I have met others who set daily and weekly goals and are religious about achieving those steps walked or calories burned. In that case, the technology behind the fitness tracker provides very real motivation to achieve goals.

Tracking Goals

The Android app GoalTracker allows you to list your goals with particular target values and time deadlines and then helps in breaking down those goals into manageable pieces. This app will alert you when you are or are not meeting your goals. It provides for a nice visual interface to let you know how close you are to achieving your goal or whether you are on track based on your desired timeframe and values. This is a great way to easily track your progress.

Habit Forming

Another Android app that is helpful is the Habit Bull. This application helps you to cultivate healthy habits or break bad habits through monitoring, suggestions, and reminders. The app provides an intuitive interface for establishing achievable goals in areas such as fitness, finance, relationships, or relaxation. It seems odd that we would need reminders to participate in a relaxing hobby or diversion, but such is our modern world.

Thoughts

For ancient mariners the first step toward achieving their goal was to launch their boat in the water and point it in what they thought was the right direction. The compass and map was their guide, but they had to take the first step. In the same vein, I haven’t yet found an app or technology that will achieve my goals for me but they can help me chart my course, track my progress and stay motivated to complete my journey.

Have you found technology that helps you to complete your goals, whether personal or at work? I invite you to share your experiences of what works and what does not work for you.

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.

Print Friendly

Pay It Forward: The Value of Mentors

Mentor and mentee working together.I have been thinking lately about the value of mentors. I recently camped with a large group of youth and as we shared stories of past campouts I was amazed that some of them could remember details of outings five or six years ago. I reflected on the value of a mentor in a person’s life. Think about mentors in your life. How did they help shape who you are and what you do today? You can probably think of at least one mentor and have concrete memories of how they helped you. I have written on this topic before but I want to revisit it and expand on opportunities that everyone has to be a mentor.

Lifelong Learning

You do not have to be a professional teacher to be a learning mentor to someone. Many of our AIM alumni credit their spouse or significant other for getting them through this rigorous graduate program. Not only were they patient and picked up the slack so the student could succeed, they often filled in knowledge gaps and helped them study. My wife helped me through some tough mathematical equations while I was writing my capstone thesis. I knew what I wanted the outcome to be but needed help setting up the problem. Don’t hesitate to reach out to a student. Share your knowledge and you will indeed be rewarded.

A number of years ago I helped coach a group of high school students in a Junior Achievement group. The program teaches students how to run a mock company. They form a company at the beginning of the school year, create and sell a product, then liquidate the company at the end of the school year. I worked with the vice president of marketing; other adults mentored youth in jobs that mirrored theirs. I was able to teach some valuable skills, and I learned a lot about how to work with others and be an effective mentor. It was a great experience and I still use the skills I gained. Rather than keeping your valuable skills to yourself, consider how you can pass on your knowledge and expand your influence.

Mentors In The Workplace

In the workplace we have the opportunity to mentor and be mentored. Have you ever started a new job and found someone in the organization willing to share their wisdom? Did they help jump start your new job? If you have benefitted from a kind and wise mentor, consider being that mentor for others coming up behind you. We are all busy but I think carving out just a little bit of time each day to help someone brings many rewards.

Thoughts

I hope that you will consider being a mentor or accepting help from a mentor and I hope that you find, like I did, that the people you reach out to remember and value the experience years later.

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.

Print Friendly

Reducing E-Waste: Where We Stand Today

Photo of trash can full of e-waste.I have seen the future and I am not sure I like it. Recently I wrote about modular electronics and was hopeful we could reduce electronic waste, or e-waste, by retaining smartphones, tablets, and laptops longer and replacing only small broken or outdated components, such as memory or a screen. Although I am still hopeful for the future, I think that we have a long way to go to clean up the waste we have already generated. I was out and about yesterday and came upon a shop propping its door open with a Sony VAIO laptop. If laptops can be used as doorstops, then perhaps we have too many of them on this planet.

 Current State

According to Earthfix, 1.4 billion new phones are produced each year. Unless they are for new consumers, that means 1.4 billion are also discarded. In a recent article on PBS NewsHour, Jim Puckett, activist and head of the Seattle based Basel Action Network, led an investigation into the electronic recycling industry. Partnering with MIT’s Senseable City Lab, his organization planted tracking devices in 200 pieces of non-functioning electronic waste. They deposited the devices at recognized recycling centers and then followed the trackers to see where they ended up. To their surprise, more than a third of the devices ended up in Asia, most in Hong Kong. Instead of being dismantled and recycled in America, they are being shipped whole to Asia where there are far fewer safety and health regulations. They can be dismantled more cheaply because the methods are crude and dangerous.

While we can pride ourselves on the fact that our electronic waste did not end up in our landfills, we are transferring at least some of the recycling problem to less developed countries. Part of the reason for this is falling steel, gold, plastic, and copper prices. It is more difficult to recoup operating costs for a recycler so they sometimes shift the burden and sell the waste to others who can do it cheaper. What if we didn’t generate all of this electronic waste in the first place?

Future State

I am excited about the possibility of modular electronics and hope they lead to a smaller amount of electronic waste. Europe leads the world in regulations requiring manufacturers to take back and recycle their old products. Despite that diligence, a Newsweek article last year claimed that only one-third of Europe’s e-waste goes where it should and a lot of it ends up in Africa. The United States ships our problem to Asia and Europe ships theirs to Africa. We are both shifting the burden to those less equipped to deal with the problem.

In the U.S., several states have passed laws similar to those in Europe that require manufacturers to create or support outlets that take back end-of-life electronics. While this is a good first step, I think we need to go further. We need to try and find assembly methods that make products easy to disassemble and recycle at the end of the product’s life. While working for Hewlett-Packard a number of years ago, I came up with the idea to manufacture printer shells out of macaroni so that when the printer reaches its end of life, you just pop off the shell, throw it into a pot of water and you have dinner. My idea was not embraced but I still think it is a good one.

Thoughts

Electronic waste and our current recycling methods are a big problem and they are only getting bigger. I would love to hear your thoughts on ways to tackle this. Perhaps together we can come up with a solution.

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.

Print Friendly