Monthly Archives: June 2013

The Dark Side of IT

There has been a lot in the news lately about spying and the associated technologies used to aid said spying. Because of a leak by a contractor, it has been revealed that the US National Security Agency (NSA) has used a number of different technologies, including e-mail and phone surveillance, to spy on enemies of the state as well as regular citizenry identified as potential terrorists.


In a recent New York Times post, author Vikas Bajaj suggests that “consumers have traded convenience for privacy”. We have the technology already to track the Internet activity of an individual. This includes e-mail archives and digital phone records, including conversations. With the advent of digital consumer technology, storing 1’s and 0’s is easy and increasingly more affordable with efficient data storage. The tools around big data make it easier to sort and pinpoint a particular thread. It is easy to capture, easy to store, and easy to sort. As an Internet consumer, is there more that we should know about these tools to be informed of our privacy and dealings?


When it comes to digital surveillance, what is our responsibility as a consumer? What is our responsibility as an IT practitioner? As a consumer of all things digital, I think it is our responsibility to understand the extent of which our presence is being tracked and understand that our activity on the Internet is not as private as we think. Think before you share all of your deepest, darkest secrets on Facebook. The old adage applies—“never do anything you wouldn’t want your mom to read about in the morning paper.” As IT practitioners, we may be called upon to gather data or turn over records to comply with a subpoena or court order. It is our responsibility to understand to what extent our customers and employees are protected in terms of privacy. Do you understand your company’s privacy policies? Are your customers and their records protected to some extent?


The first solution is mentioned above and that is: be a smart consumer. Understand your presence on the Internet. Understand which sites provide a basic level of security and understand how your information moves about the Internet. The second is to understand and employ encryption techniques. This is especially important when handling customer personally identifiable information or PII. Make sure that this data is encrypted within your systems and while traveling across the network. Keep your own personal information secure and encrypted as well. Also, as an IT professional and a citizen of the cloud, you need to understand some of the techniques for preserving data such as private networks and private cloud computing.


Be aware before you share. Of course, all of the technology in the world is not going to stop your information from being extracted via a court order and, hopefully, you are never in that situation. For us upstanding citizens, it is imperative that we know how we are protected and how private and confidential our conversations and data really are or are not.

Do you stop to think about your privacy? 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 topics that keep him up at night.

Bridging the Technology Gender Gap

There has been a big emphasis over the last few years on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). Education initiatives are pushing STEM in elementary, middle, and high schools. With this emphasis we should see more young men and women entering college degree programs and careers in these fields. Will this push help to reverse the decline of women entering into the information technology field? Time will tell, but I have a few ideas for narrowing this gap.


According to a recent study by the National Center for Women In Technology, 57 percent of professional jobs in the US are held by women but only 26 percent of professional computing occupations were held by women. According to the same survey, only 18 percent of Computer Science and Information Science undergraduate degree recipients were women. The trend for women in technology appears to be getting worse and not better.


In a recent blog post, Jaleh Bisharat, vice president of marketing at oDesk, suggests three things that may invite more women into the technology and communications field:

  1. Make computer programming a requirement for graduating from high school.
  2. Aggressively combat the stereotypes of computer scientists.
  3. Expose the creativity involved in advanced math and science.

Her premise is that if we demystify information technology by exposing young people, male and female, to areas such as programming then they will begin to understand that tech jobs can be rewarding. The tech industry needs to shed its “nerdy” image in order to be considered a viable option for young women. As Ms. Bisharat points out, programming can be poetry and it is very much a creative field.


Here are some things I have been thinking about to attract more young women to STEM and keep them interested enough to pursue a degree and a career in technology or engineering:

  1. Bring more girls in contact with technology professionals, even as early as elementary school.
  2. Create better marketing by the technology industry to attract more young women to the industry.
  3. Make math hip by highlighting top-of-the-line applications!

If we are successful in introducing young people to technology and information professionals, they will understand that these are the people that help bring new devices and applications to life. In turn, the professionals can help reinforce the notion that math and science are cool and they are not limited to one gender. Finally, we need to do a much better job of marketing the technology industry. We have the Beef Council, why not a technology council, complete with a tagline and a jingle and a captivating app? Come and join us and help us invent the future! All of these efforts could help narrow the current gender gap in technology jobs and help us to employ the talents of creative men AND women.

Do you have other ideas for attracting talented women into the technology field? What do you think are our biggest barriers? Let me know your thoughts.


About Kelly BrownAuthor Kelly Brown

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

Looking Through the Google Glass: Trends in IT

Trashed computer hardwareI have been thinking lately about trends in IT and specifically about Google Glass. The prototypes are out now with full introduction expected in 2014. I think that the introduction of Google Glass and other alternative computing platforms and applications points to a world of much smaller computing devices and the separation of the client and the processor/data storage.


Throughout history, each new computer model has generally been smaller, more powerful and came with a friendlier, more intuitive interface. Compare today’s smartphone with the room-sized ENIAC computer of the early 1950s. It is smaller, friendlier, and far more powerful. We came from a room-sized computer to a computer that you hold in your hand within fifty years. How far can we take this paradigm? What does the future hold? How much smaller can we go?


With desktop computers, we have by and large mimicked the typewriter, which was commercialized in the 1860s. The typewriter in turn was just a portable printing press, which was developed in the 1400s. When we needed a portable version of the computer, we came up with the laptop and the tablet and the smartphone. It has the same display and often still a QWERTY keyboard. So, in effect, we are still modeling 600-year-old technology! With Glass and other similar technologies, I feel like they are finally trying to break that cycle. It is voice-activated and the heads-up display is integrated into the product itself. If you did need to create a document using Glass, I am not sure how you would do it (voice recognition?) but I am ever hopeful we can finally break our dependence on a 150-year-old keyboard design.

Processing and Storage

Because client devices are becoming smaller, they cannot maintain the level of on-board processing and storage that we have enjoyed in earlier versions. This is where the cloud comes in. It is almost as if smaller clients and the cloud were meant for each other. Remove the computing power from the client and move it to the cloud. Now, all you need is a client that can stay connected to the cloud and can find your setup and storage. With megadata centers hosting everything in the cloud, and increasingly reliable network connections, computing suddenly becomes much more efficient and clean. Small client, large storage and processing.

Trends For The Future

What does it take to break our dependence on the “product that came before”? How can we break out and truly reinvent how we communicate with each other and with our world? Can we find clues about our future in current and historical science fiction? We have been discussing a utopian “paper-free” world for at least thirty years. With new trends in IT, will we finally realize that utopia? Can we finally break free? These are things that I wrestle with and ponder as I envision the future of IT. How do you see the future unfolding? Are you hopeful or skeptical? For more on IT and internet trends, see the report from a recent All Things Digital conference.


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 topics that keep him up at night.


A Path to a Greener IT

Business man with laptop in green fieldEver since the early days of the Hollerith tabulating machine, computing has relied on electricity. Computers in the 1940s and 1950s were based on vacuum tubes, which used a lot of electricity and displaced enormous amounts of heat, thus requiring even more electricity to cool them down. As transistors and integrated circuits came into use, the amount of needed electricity went down but the amount of data and associated computing went up. IT continued to be a large power consumer.


As computers entered into the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, they transformed from a mainframe to a minicomputer, to a workstation, and finally, to the personal computer. We went from one computer in a room to several computers per rack. What we saved in size, we made up in volume. We were able to consolidate the number of computing centers that we built but increased the power and cooling needs of each computer room and data center. IT continued to be a decidedly “non-green” industry.

Current Trends

Through consolidation, we now build and operate mega data centers. According to the Data Center Journal, “Mega data centers sprawl over hundreds of thousands of square feet and can exceed 10 megawatts of power, with some approaching a million square feet or 100 megawatts” ( These data centers provide computing and data storage for small and large companies as well as individuals through services such as Dropbox. Through consolidation, many of these data centers are placed in areas that enjoy cooler temperatures, thus reducing the cooling and power requirements. Many are also placed in areas that enjoy close proximity to inexpensive clean hydroelectric power and wind power. An increasing number of companies are reducing their data center exposure in areas served by coal power, partly to save costs and partly to reduce their environmental footprint.


The current trend is more towards mobile computing and away from desktop computing. This trend moves our client computing away from large fan-cooled systems, towards more efficient laptops, tablets, and smartphones. These battery-based computers still require electricity but are much more efficient than their desktop counterpart.

On the other hand, because of the diminished storage capacity of mobile systems, they rely on cloud computing and mega data centers for their processing and storage needs. The key to a greener IT future lies in maximizing the efficiency of data centers. Computer manufacturers such as IBM and Hewlett-Packard are innovating ways to cool computers through the use of increased airflow and even liquid cooling. Data center operators such as Google and Amazon are aggressively pursuing techniques such as virtual computing so that they reduce the physical computing footprint while increasing the amount of data that they can house and process. A gallery of Google data center technology shows the physical infrastructure that Google maintains. Businesses are trying to save money and reduce their computing and environmental footprint by consolidating their computing needs into cloud computing solutions. Data center providers are trying to save money and reduce their environmental footprint by reducing their power consumption. Together, we can all move toward greener, more sustainable computing.

What have you done lately to improve your computing impact on the environment?


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 topics that keep him up at night.