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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Technology Trends: 2016 Year In Review

Image of a butterfly on a robot's finger.This blog post is a review of 2016 technology trends and their impact on how we will work and live in the future. Many of the advances are continuations of work from years past, but we are getting ever closer to a different world.

Communication Technologies

MIT Technology Review publishes a Top 10 Technologies list and this year it included research from the University of Washington on passive wi-fi devices. The UW team has developed breakthrough ultra-low power devices that reflect the signal or backscatter from a nearby connected wi-fi transmitter. This is important because it will allow Internet of Things devices to be embedded in areas that can’t always rely on a traditional wireless signal. MIT suggests that this will be commercialized in two or three years and will help spread the popularity of small, connected devices.

Another emerging communication technology is the conversational or natural language interface. With the introduction of Amazon Echo, Google Home and other devices, it is common to have a spoken interface as opposed to typed instructions. We are finally moving away from text input thanks to innovations in speech recognition. In a recent report in the MIT Sloan Management Review, vendors are taking this one step further and capturing chat or speech conversations via bots in order to offer associated services. For example, your next pizza order could be through natural language input to an app while conversing with a bot recording your instructions. Surely with your pizza and bread sticks you must need a salad or soda that just happens to be on sale right now. The bot processes information from the context of the conversation and makes decisions and offers on the fly.

Cognitive Computing

Artificial intelligence (AI) or machine learning is a technology that data scientists have been developing for many years and will continue to develop. Cognitive computing combines AI, natural language processing, speech, vision, and advanced data processing. These systems take input and match it to massive databases to form responses and learn new pathways. By learning and creating new algorithms, the system and applications are better able to serve you in the future. Examples of cognitive computing are IBM Watson and Google DeepMind. In the case of the pizza order above, cognitive computing is an example of how a computer can learn preferences and build responses appropriately.

Autonomous Technologies

Robotic and autonomous technologies have made strides this year as they move closer to mainstream adoption. Robots have been used for some time in industrial and assembly applications where consistency and precision is important. They also play a big role in areas where there are life and safety threats, such as search and rescue or in an area contaminated with toxic chemicals. We don’t have the same regard for the “life” of a robot as we do for humans. In that sense, they are very much welcome into our ecosystem.

Autonomous automotive technologies also made progress in 2016. Automakers are introducing applications like steering assist or autonomous steering and adaptive cruise control. New vehicles are slowly being equipped with technology that will eventually render them completely self-driving. Makers such as Volvo and Mercedes are testing more autonomous vehicles on public roads. Self-driving vehicles require advanced vision and learning systems provided by improvements in cognitive computing mentioned above.

Thoughts

Advanced communications, cognitive and autonomous technologies have all been in play in 2016. These are all interrelated advancements that often benefit each other. While exciting, these developments also bring worries, including economic and safety concerns with robotics and privacy concerns with learning systems and communications. It is important that we march into the future with a balanced perspective.

What do you see as the upcoming technologies in 2017? Will we see any breakthroughs? 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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Inclement Weather: Employee and Business Safety Planning

Photo of a man wearing a hat and parka, sitting at a desk in a snowstorm.One of my favorite short courses in the AIM curriculum is Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery Planning, which covers the steps necessary to protect yourself and your business from potential outages due to natural or technological disasters. I have previously written about the necessities of such planning. With the official start of winter just weeks away, I want to highlight safety planning for weather hazards that may not throw your business into disarray but could certainly provide a temporary hazard for employees. The good news is that there are ways to mitigate such disruptions and keep workers safe.

Plan Ahead and Prepare

Here in the Pacific Northwest winter flooding is always a possibility and we do get occasional snow and ice storms. A couple of years ago a river that had breached its banks and was flowing across the road blocked one access road to my home. While this was a minor inconvenience for me, think about how this might affect employees trying to get to or home from work. A recent Business Journal article highlighted a basic weather office safety plan that included documenting inclement weather scenarios. How would your business answer these questions:

  • If a storm prevented at least half of our employees from coming to work, could we still operate?
  • Do we have a way to notify employees to stay home in the event of an emergency?
  • How do we determine what constitutes a hazard that would limit or shut down the business?
  • What if a weather event strikes while employees are at work and they cannot get home? Do we have a plan for temporary housing, even for one night?
  • How many employees have the ability to work from home and can they effectively do so?

While continuing business operations is important, it is even more important to protect the safety of employees.

The Best Laid Plans

The key to effective employee safety is planning and communications. If you are making plans to deal with bad weather it is best to do it in the heat of the summer, well before any snow, ice, or rain. As part of the safety/communications plans consider:

  • At what point will we decide to shut down the business?
  • How will we communicate that to employees?
  • Does everyone know our method of communication?
  • How can we help employees develop their own safety plan?
  • Do we have supplies on hand to take care of employees temporarily?
  • Can technology help us operate without asking employees to travel?

This takes input and coordination from several departments including HR, information technology, and communications. We may take it for granted that someone is thinking and planning for this, but often no one does. Make sure a safety plan and structures are in place and then rehearse that plan at least once a year. A plan buried deep in a notebook or file is the same as no plan at all.

Thoughts

I think it has become a cliché to say that employees are the most important asset, but it is definitely true. Without workers business stops, so it is prudent to think of employees first. Does your business have a safety plan? Do you have a personal plan for you and your family?

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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Information Bias in Social Media

Photograph of a skeptical young man.I am enrolled in a refresher course on critical thinking and philosophy. I have been studying knowledge and particularly skepticism as it relates to knowledge. In applying these concepts, I realize that I need a healthy dose of skepticism when consuming social network news. Recent reports suggest that fake new sites on social networks and search sites could even have swayed the U.S. election. This news has spread over the last couple of weeks so I want to explore our personal responsibility for critiquing news and social network feeds and determining whether we are getting the full picture or whether we have customized the information we receive to fit our worldview.

Strength of Networks

There has been a visceral reaction to the U.S. presidential election with many people publicly expressing shock and joining in protests in cities in America. According to their network, their candidate should have had a clear path to the nomination. The problem is that we have intentionally and unintentionally built our social networks to look like us. Intentionally, we connect through our networks with friends and colleagues who share our political and religious views. Our network, and particularly social media newsfeeds, are fed by algorithms built to reinforce that bias, which is unintentional on our part. For example, your news feed on Facebook is influenced by who you are friends with, pages you like, what you post, and how you interact with others in your network. A recent article from Spredfast, a social media marketing firm, said it best: “On social media platforms, the world looks different depending on the candidate that you support.”

Is it True

We create networks of associates that look and think like we do. The news we get matches our biases. The question now is how do we know that the news we are receiving is true. We may read several articles a day but not take the time to consider whether they are factual or even plausible. As I mentioned in my post last week, our move away from deep reading may have left us unable or unwilling to take the time and effort to apply that skeptical filter. Sites such as Facebook and Twitter are reportedly stepping up their efforts to filter fake news feeds but even if they succeed there will still to be a built in bias, fueled by our online behavior.

Thoughts

I am challenging us all to slow down and take in news thoughtfully and skeptically. Challenge the source and ponder the premises and conclusions the author is making. Are they plausible and factual? Are their sources reliable? Are they slanted toward a particular bias or ideology? Does that bias color the actual news that I am getting?

I will strive to be more careful and thoughtful about news I am reading and will try to find articles from trusted foreign news sources as well so I can get a perspective outside of my own normal network. Do you think the U.S. election has been a wake up call to how we view social media in terms of shaping our worldview? Will it change our habits and usage? What would a less biased and more responsible social network look like? I think the responsibility lies with us to find out. 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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The Evolution of the Deep Reading Brain

Image of two human heads on a labyrinth pattern with a laser light connection.I recently attended a lecture on the restoration of the deep reading brain in the digital age. The implication was that in the digital age we no longer read and contemplate deeply but skip from one short article to the next. In other words, we live in a world of sound bites. Studies suggest that our new form of reading and study is actually changing neural connections in our brain. While this may be true, I think we need to understand whether this is a bad development or just part of our continued human evolution.

Deep Reading Brain

Maryanne Wolf, author of “Proust and the Squid,” coined the phrase deep reading brain. Deep reading is the process of sustained study and concentration, but more importantly it is associated with the ability to connect reading to other ideas in order to create unique thoughts. Shallow reading, on the other hand, is cast in a bad light as not promoting further understanding but merely informing about news or information. Some authors link the shift to shallow reading to the proliferation of digital devices and particularly handheld devices. This does not take into account the fact that we have a lot more information available to us than in the past, and it is available in a format that does not require us to sit down and actually read a paper book. Does the potential loss of a deep reading brain jeopardize other areas of our thinking?

Socrates and the Written Word

Is the concern about a shift from a deep reading brain a problem unique to us? The short answer is no. As humans, we have only been reading and writing for the last 5,500 years. Before that we communicated verbally in order to exchange information and record history. During the last transition, Socrates is reported to have expressed concern about the new written word of his day in an account from Plato. He was worried that young people would think that knowledge was now all recorded and required no further pursuit or contemplation. Does this sound like a familiar argument? To quote French critic Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

Thoughts

Aristotle writes about three lives that we should lead, the highest being a life of study and contemplation. Some argue that we now lead a distracted life instead and cannot slow down long enough to pursue the contemplative life. My purpose for this blog entry is to ask questions. Is this the new reality in our modern day thinking? Is it good, bad, or just different? As we build new neural connections geared towards processing large amounts of information, are we losing the ability for deep thinking and processing or are we building a new and more valuable skill? I would love to get your thoughts and start a dialogue to work through these questions.

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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Can Technology Help to Feed the World?

Aerial view of the tractor spraying the chemicals on the large green fieldThe world population is expected to exceed nine billion people by 2050 from an estimated 7.3 billion today, according to various sources. How will we be able to feed all of those extra people? Water is already in short supply so it will be difficult to create additional arable land. Forests around the world are being plowed under to meet this growing need, but in the process we are changing the balance of fragile ecosystems. A National Geographic author asks: How can the world double the availability of food while simultaneously cutting the environmental harm caused by agriculture?

The answer may be farms capable of increasing food production through technology while also reducing their environmental impact.

So Many Cows

Three Mile Canyon Farms in rural Boardman, OR combines a dairy operation with cropland dedicated to potatoes, onions, carrots, and various organic crops. The sheer size of this operation sets it apart from other private or even corporate farms. The entire ranch covers 93,000 acres and houses 24,000 cows that produce 165,000 gallons of milk each day. There are milk trucks lined up 24 hours a day to haul the milk to a nearby cheese processing plant. This farm is set up to be a closed loop system in terms of waste management. The manure is used to fertilize the potatoes and the potato skins and culls from the processing plant are used as feed for the cows. Any excess methane from the waste collection is used to create electricity for the operation. Automated milking machines collect the milk, which is how they are able to run such a large operation. The water for the potatoes and other crops comes from the nearby Columbia river but is used judiciously by employing computerized hydrology maps, which I wrote about in a recent blog. The farm has set aside 23,000 acres as a preserve for wildlife and endangered plant species. They are trying to reach a balance of feeding an increasing population while still being good stewards of the land and environment.

The Science of Crop Production

Another technology that is available is the controversial genetically modified organism or GMO. These modified seeds can achieve increased yield through built in drought or pesticide resistance. The manufacturer often controls the seed so it may not be widely available or affordable for emerging nations. The controversy surrounding GMO is that there are many unknowns. How will the genetic modifications affect the health of the consumer in this generation or in generations to come? How do we keep GMO seeds in one field from cross-pollinating with non-GMO seeds in another field? Will crops from GMO seeds have the same nutritional value as their unaltered counterparts? As with any new technology, there are initial barriers, but GMO is one potential solution for feeding a growing population.

Low Tech Solutions

In a Nature Journal article earlier this year the authors compared yields between organic crops and those raised with chemical fertilizers and pesticides.  Studies show a consistently lower yield for organic crops but when grown in drought conditions, the organic crops came out on top. This is due to the fact that non-chemically treated soils better retain moisture. Organic farming is potentially one piece of the puzzle for feeding a growing population.

Thoughts

Eighteenth century cleric and philosopher Thomas Malthus suggested in his book “An Essay on the Principle of Population” that prosperity would bring about population growth but that growth cycle was not sustainable and would eventually end in famine and starvation. It remains to be seen whether technology will help us forestall his predictions or whether his ideas are no longer valid. It is certain that we will need to produce more food for a growing population and technology is one way of achieving that. 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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Geek Gifts for the Holidays

Hand emerging from laptop, holding wrapped gift.I am compiling my gift list for the upcoming holiday season and paying particular attention to my tech friends. New devices are being developed to provide comfort, efficiency, or just plain fun. What would be the perfect gift for my geek friends?

Smart Devices For A Smart Home

Google introduced Home last week, just in time for the holidays. It is similar to Amazon Echo as a home device that accepts voice commands and can queue up a music play list, answer questions or interact with other smart devices in the home. It is basically a voice activated internet device that is paired with home wifi to connect to cloud storage or various web sites to check weather, traffic, answer trivia questions, or activate audio from sites such as Spotify or Pandora.

Home can be paired with Nest products which are home control devices. Nest, like Google, is a subsidiary of Alphabet so devices are compatible. The internet connected Nest Learning Thermostat replaces a traditional home thermostat and can maximize energy efficiency and comfort at the same time. Indoor and outdoor cameras can also be integrated into the home system to be controlled via an app while away or Google Home while in the house. OK, Google, it’s cold in here, and what is that noise outside?

You can go one step further this holiday and add TP-Link Smart Light Bulbs to your home system. These are wifi LED dimmable bulbs that you can operate via a smartphone app, Amazon Echo and presumably the new Home. Check to make sure your lights are turned off or turn them on remotely to greet you upon return. You can also establish a timed schedule. Home automation devices have come a long way to ensure security and comfort during the holidays and the rest of the year.

Just For Fun

For the geek on your gift list there are some fun new toys. Nanotips makes a conductive paint you can apply to the fingertips of your favorite gloves so you can operate smartphones and tablets without exposing your hands. This would be great for my ski, motorcycle or biking gloves, but I still need to figure out how to make a sharper fingertip so that I can text.

The Tap A Tune Musical Gloves sound like a lot of fun. These are musical gloves that play like a piano on any surface. There are sensors in the fingertips that are fed back to the speaker/controller so you can practice the piano or compose a new tune anywhere.

Finally, for the geek on your list who also happens to be a Harry Potter fan there is the Kymera Magic Wand Universal Control. It works through gestures instead of boring buttons and provides haptic feedback so you know whether you are casting the right spell or changing the channel up or down.

Thoughts

Technology is constantly evolving and entrepreneurs are innovating exciting designs they hope will enhance our lives. Some are practical and some are just for fun. There are many products to help automate our lives and some to bring a smile or a laugh. What are you going to get the geek on your holiday list? Let me know of great potential gifts you have found.

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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