Monthly Archives: January 2014

Whose Information Is It Anyway?

In a January 7 Wired magazine article titled “How the NSA Almost Killed the Internet”, the author detailed the Edward Snowden leaks, the US National Security Agency (NSA) revelation of widespread information collection, and the indignant outcry from tech companies. The fact remains, however, that there is a trove of personal information that is scanned and analyzed by governments, private companies, and even those with less than honorable intentions. The NSA claims to do it in the name of national security, private companies claim to help make your life better by predicting what information or product you will need next, and the thieves are just in it for themselves. Nevertheless, it comes down to the fact that it is your information, and the question is—how is it that so many people have access to it?

National Security

In the summer of 2013, former NSA IT consultant Edward Snowden revealed documents that showed widespread data collection by the NSA. He did this, of course, after he was safely out of the country and away from potential prosecution. The documents revealed programs designed to collect information from cell phone metadata and also personal information from Internet records kept by companies such as Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Yahoo. Some of it was done through secret court orders and some without the knowledge of the companies just mentioned—all in the name of national security for the purpose of rooting out potential terrorism. The question still remains, however, how and why do these companies have your potential information and for what purpose?

Call For Reform

In a December 9, 2013 open letter to Washington, eight tech companies called for reforms on how information is collected and for more transparency in the collection methods. A couple of things strike me as odd about this proclamation. First of all, transparency has never been a hallmark of spy agencies and it seems ridiculous to even suggest that new reality. Second, the companies that collect personal information are now objecting to someone gathering that data from them?

It All Begins With Me

I have no doubt that the NSA and similar agencies have thwarted potential terrorist attacks by analyzing and acting on the data they collect. I believe that some of the methods are suspect but those agencies believe that they are making the world a safer place. Tech companies that provide social media, communications, and search capabilities also believe that they offer a service by drawing inferences from your personal information and steering you toward goods and services that you may like. Most of all, I believe that responsibility for my own information and my own comfort level in sharing that information lies with me. I am as guilty as anyone when it comes to clicking “I Agree” on that End User Agreement without reading the fourteen screens of fine print. I can’t guarantee that I understand the security policy and opt-out agreements of all of the applications that I use, but I am aware of the options I have and which information is being collected. In a sense, the Internet is still the Wild West and we are still trying to grasp the potential and complexity of it all. The first step in understanding is awareness and education. That is our responsibility.


Have you got it all figured out? Do you know the best methods for keeping you and your personal information safe? If so, I would love to hear from you. If not, we can always learn together.

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.



Dare to be Different

Kelly Brown wearing the bicycle helmet cover.

I am not a big fan of New Year’s resolutions. I recognize time as a human construct and I would like to believe that I can make decisions to improve or change my life in July or October as well as January. That being said, I did decide on a personal mantra this year and came to that realization on January 1. My mantra this year is “dare to be different”.

Taking the plunge

Two things that happened on January 1 led me to this mantra. On this day in my town, the local pool holds a “Polar Bear Swim” to raise money for charity. For a nominal fee, you can plunge down the outdoor slide into the unheated outdoor pool. The outside temperature this year was in the high thirties and I willingly paid my money to participate for the first time. The water pushing you down the slide is cold enough but plunging into the pool at the bottom is a complete shock. I tried it twice to make sure I got the full experience before retreating to the indoor kiddy pool to thaw out. As I emerged from the water, I thought to myself, “if I can do this, I can do anything this year.”

A new hat

As different as it was to ring in the New Year with a dip in a cold pool with a few new best friends, I decided to up the ante. I recently purchased a bicycle helmet cover from an eleven year-old friend of mine who invented and sells this product. Think of a giant, stretchy Koosh ball. I decided to wear it as a swim cap since I was already far outside my comfort zone. I was amazed at all of the positive comments that I received from young and old alike. Needless to say, I was the only one sporting this new fashion trend but people genuinely connected with it, I think because it was so different.

The challenge

I have come to realize that many times in life we do things a certain way because others do it and have done it that way for a long time. I have caught myself several times questioning why I follow certain routines and have started to question them and challenge myself to try something different. For example, why do we all enter an elevator and then turn to face the door? I know that there are structural reasons such as an easy exit, but what would happen if you faced the back instead of the front? Would it feel uncomfortable to actually face strangers? Sure, the first few times. Would it give you an opportunity to ask a stranger how their day is going? Absolutely. Would it give you an opportunity to make a new friend? It depends on how many floors you travel together. It can feel intimidating to not travel with the crowd but it can also be potentially very rewarding.


Dare to be different. This is especially important for young people that face constant peer pressure but it is also important for everyone who wants to be genuine and true to themselves. It’s all right to step out of the crowd every once in awhile. Have you tried anything out of the ordinary this week? 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 night.

Jobs of the Future

I have been thinking lately about the jobs of the future and what kind of education and training will be required to perform them. A recent article about the need of a tech hero in the trucking industry caused me to wonder what other new skills will be in demand.

Tech Hero

In the article above, the authors lament the fact that trucking relies on an increasing array of digital devices, both mobile and stationary, within the vehicles. GPS tracking and mobile communication are now the standard. The fleet owner or truck driver, however, just needs to get the load from point A to point B in the most efficient manner possible. The technology helps them do that, but it is a double-edged sword because of the overhead and education it requires to keep all of the devices up and running on the latest revisions. There are other industries that could also take advantage of a tech hero, and it will be necessary to have someone to smooth the digital connection.

Home Systems Integrator

I never thought that I would see the day when home network hubs are a reality, but they are becoming more widespread. With the growing popularity of devices like the Nest home thermostat and smoke detector, and other connected appliances and entertainment systems, the home is becoming a sophisticated network. Already, it can be difficult to set up a new home entertainment system and make sure that it connects and stays connected with the other entertainment devices such as game consoles, movie streaming devices, and the home wireless system. Someone who knows the difference between HDMI and a DVI port could be in high demand because there will be a need to integrate all of these systems.

Personal Digital Assistant

I am not talking about an old Palm Pilot but an individual that would consult with other individuals to make their digital devices work better and connect with each other. As an example, there are thousands of apps available and some interact with other apps and other devices. While we have come a long way in developing a better user experience, certain devices, apps, and programs are not for the faint of heart. We already have the Geek Squad from Best Buy, but I think that people are going to want a more personal experience from someone who understands their unique situation and needs. This will become a growing opportunity for people with the right skills.


The person prepared to take on these new jobs will need to possess a combination of technical, communication, and entrepreneurial skills. Such specialists will have to be well grounded in various aspects of networking, connectivity, and consumer devices. More importantly, they will need to keep up on developments and changes related to this field. Excellent communication skills will be paramount to communicate with individuals—some of whom will require a lot of assistance and others very little. These professionals will need to be skilled at working with people from different backgrounds and of different generations. The entrepreneurial skills will be necessary to start and develop a personalized business niche of such services to individuals and small businesses. I believe that these jobs will be in demand but it will take a special individual to cultivate all of these skills.


Can you think of other new jobs that will develop in the near future? Are you preparing yourself now to tackle those jobs? 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.

Learning Styles, or How I Learned to Put On Chains

Recently I was thinking about the way we learn after being forcefully reminded about my own inclinations and limitations. There are four identified preferential learning styles: visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and tactile. It is believed that most people favor one or two of these learning styles when tackling a new subject or even performing day-to-day tasks.

Several weeks ago, Oregon experienced unusually heavy snowfall, which meant that I had to put chains on my vehicle to get in and out of the neighborhood. Usually a need to chain-up comes up only once a year and I was out of practice. As a result, I got the chains hopelessly tangled and was reminded once again that I am not a tactile giant. No amount of writing or lecturing could get it undone. The only saving grace to my ego was the fact that I spotted a young man in the exact same boat as myself. At least there are two of us in this world!

How do we learn?

The question I pondered was this: do we know our preferred learning style and do we work from that strength? How do we compensate for our weakest inclinations? A visual learner prefers demonstrations and graphic descriptions of a problem. An auditory learner understands best through verbal instructions and listening. A kinesthetic learner grasps the concepts through motion, particularly when he/she can participate. A tactile type learns by feel and manipulation. Most people can learn through all four methods but they prefer one or two. My style is mostly auditory and visual, whereas my son is the complete opposite of me and prefers anything tactile or kinesthetic. This has been reflected even in our chosen vocations.


We all have the opportunity to be teachers, even though it may not be our chosen or current occupation. We have formal and informal moments each day where we can teach those around us; it is important that we understand what their preferential learning style is and try to cater to that style. I believe that such an approach is the key to effective teaching, because if the students can learn using their preferential style it will increase understanding. I challenge you to take a moment and reflect on your own learning style and then observe and reflect on the learning style of those you teach. Mix up your teaching style to try and reach all types of learners.


My question is this: can understanding your own preferred learning style help you be more successful in your career and life? Can you find alternative ways to learn a concept so that you learn it faster and more thoroughly?

What is your learning style and how does it present itself in your daily activities? Do you apply your personal preferred learning style to your teaching or do you explore different methods for reaching all learners in your group? 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.