Monthly Archives: May 2014

Simplicity on the Other Side of Complexity—Quality Does Matter

Road and roadsigns in the form of a question markI have been thinking recently about software and product quality. There is a software quality conference this fall here in the Pacific Northwest and I recently read an article on the top ten software blunders of the last decade. As we rush products to market, are we compromising quality? What negative effect does that have on our product? Is it worth it? Is it acceptable? Is it the price we pay for doing business in a hypercompetitive world?

Continuous Exploits

In late April, it was discovered that there was yet another hole in Internet Explorer that allowed hackers to exploit vulnerabilities and plant malicious code on individual computers via infected websites. This is just one example of applications and operating systems with bugs waiting to be exploited. My question is this—are product developers and quality assurance teams releasing inferior, not-yet-ready–for-prime-time products, or are the products so complicated that developers do not understand all of the implications until after they have been tested by consumers? If it is the former, then the answer is to wait until all of the bugs are detected and corrected to release a superior product. If the answer is the latter, then that means that you and I are paying for the privilege of being product testers. Personally, I can think of better things to do with my time and money.

A Simplistic View

I will admit that I may be taking a simplistic view. My experience runs towards hardware products and support, although there are still quality products in that arena as well. According to Microsoft, Windows XP, which was released in 2001 and recently became unsupported, was compiled from forty-five million lines of code. Thirteen years later we have Windows 8.1. How many lines of code are in this operating system? Is the complexity sustainable or are we building products that we cannot manage? With this increasing complexity, have we resigned ourselves to a certain number of acceptable bugs? What is our tolerance level? One percent of nonfunctioning or potentially compromising code? Is that acceptable?


Nineteenth-century writer Oliver Wendell Holmes once said “I would not give a fig for the simplicity on this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.” I believe that we are stuck in the middle of that complexity right now. While our products are sophisticated, they lack that elegance on the other side of complexity. We have learned to write incredibly complex code, which is understood in part by individual coders but in entirety by no one. This is the very thing that makes that code vulnerable to exploits and security breaches. If we could somehow find that simplicity or elegance on the other side of complexity, then we could enjoy robust, secure, and usable products.

Do you have or use a product or application that you think has broken through that complexity curtain? Share your find with me.

About Kelly BrownAuthor Kelly Brown

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

Beyond Life Hacking

Bench under a tree in autumnWe shared an article recently on the phenomenon and history of life hacking. That article started me thinking about the need for life hacks. Which life hacks am I employing to simplify my life or make it more efficient?


As the article explores, life hacking as a term goes back to the mid-2000s but the concept dates back to the beginning of the twentieth century and beyond, as we sought ways to wring out every last ounce of inefficiency, especially in the work place. The wisdom says that if we can find five minutes here and ten minutes there, pretty soon it all starts to add up to real time savings that we can use in other parts of our lives. Perhaps we can gain a few minutes to actually relax, for example. I would argue, however, that we are human beings and not systems or machines. I am not convinced that it is a good idea to measure and systemize everything just to realize a few minutes of time savings.

Fifty Life Hacks to Simplify Your World

The official website of life hacking (you knew there had to be one) is On this site, they list fifty life hacks to simplify your world. A lot of them are common sense but they are all designed to save you seconds or even minutes in your busy life. Some are designed to help you find things that you misplace, such as keys. Personally, that would give me back quite a bit of time. Others are everyday tips to simplify and unclutter your life, ostensibly so that you can have a few more minutes to actually live and enjoy life.

Life Hack Apps

The modern version of automating tasks is to create an app. I entered “life hacking” in Google Play and there are several apps that share tips or work to organize your life. They help you set alarms, keep lists and schedules, or remind you of appointments and life events. Some scrape data from the Internet, some just help you access tools that are already on your smartphone to make you more efficient. There are apps and devices that help you track and maximize the value that you get from your sleep each night. Now we have sleep hacking! Everything is designed to make your life ultraefficient, but I worry that it is also taking some of the fun and uncertainty out of life.


I understand the need for life hacking tools. We are all crazy busy and our work lives and personal lives often have melded into one continuous stream. It is sometimes hard to tell where one stops and the other begins. I would like to suggest that instead of hacking every aspect of our being, we put on the brakes once in a while and just be. Sit in a chair in the sunshine and do nothing. Reflect on the wonders of nature or the success that you have attained in life as opposed to worrying about the next minute, the next meeting, and the next assignment. I think that will do as much to recharge your system as any life hack. The world will still be there when you come back and most likely will not have missed you as much as you think. We thrive on being busy and accomplishing incredible tasks, but when was the last time you really relaxed? There is real power and real health benefits in shutting down occasionally, even for just a few minutes.

When was the last time you stopped your world for some time out? Do you have one favorite life hack that affords you those few moments to do just that?

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 and business topics that keep him up at night.

The Maker Movement

Man making a guitarI have been reading up lately on the maker movement. This has been a recognized movement for at least two to three years, so I am late to the game but I am trying to understand the motivation behind it. Why now? What is driving us to want to make? Is this really something new or did we just give it a new label?

The maker movement is generally defined as a trend in which individuals or groups of individuals create and market products that they invented. This could take the form of electronics, clothing, food, or just about anything else. What is new and different about this trend is that people are pooling their resources, skills, and knowledge to create something new. The resulting products do not have large venture capital backing but are businesses growing from the ground up. Sometimes they use kickstarter funding which is a confluence of individuals making and individuals willing to invest in a new idea or product. People have found the tools and resources necessary to bring their idea to light (and the market) through maker spaces, also called hacker spaces, and through maker faires.

Maker Space

A maker space or hacker space is a collective place where people can use tools and tap into knowledge that they would not necessarily have access to. These can be a community space opened by an individual or they can show up in libraries and even museums. Some of these spaces have tools as elaborate as 3D printers and laser cutters. Some have circuitry, soldering irons, and instructions to develop skills. In other words, you bring the idea and skilled individuals are often available to teach you how to turn the idea into a marketable product. Large corporations such as General Electric (GE) are even getting in on the trend with GE Garages. They make available tools that would normally be out of the price range of individuals. I assume that there is some sharing of intellectual property in return for providing tools and expertise.

Maker Faire

A Maker Faire is a planned event that draws people to share their ideas and show off products that they have made. In the United States, there are large faires in the Bay Area, Kansas City, New York City, and Detroit. Internationally, there are maker faires in London, Paris, and other cities. There are also several smaller local faires that bring people together to collaborate and to exhibit crafted products.


With all of these products being made, there needs to be a marketplace to share and sell the goods. Etsy was one of the first to step up to fill the bill. This is basically an electronic Saturday market where makers get their own store to sell their goods. Their motto is “shop directly from people around the world”. The whole infrastructure is available to makers from tools and expertise to marketplaces. The maker needs to bring an idea and a desire to make something worthwhile.


As I first jumped into this, I thought that maybe this trend was a backlash at the isolation that is sometimes felt by pushing ones and zeros through the ether all day long. However, I think it is more than that. I think this is really a confluence of an innate need to make things combined with a need for the advanced tools and infrastructure and skills available to turn ideas into reality. People are relying on each other more and reaching out to help others. I believe that there is a need to own and use unique products that are made by individuals with a dream and a plan. This is one way that we are trying to connect again with ourselves and with each other. 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 and business topics that keep him up at night.

How Much Privacy?

Eye peering through computer codeI read an article recently in the MIT Technology Review titled “Laws and Ethics Can’t Keep Pace with Technology”. It helped me to understand that laws naturally follow our actions and experiments and there can sometimes be a lag between the action and the law. As technology development cycles become shorter, I expect the lag to become greater as we wrestle with exactly what needs to be regulated and in what form. With that in mind, I started thinking about privacy and security. Specifically, what message are we sending to our lawmakers about privacy? Do our words match our actions? Are we asking for laws that we are not truly passionate about, at least in deed?


The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) was passed in 1996 in response to a need to protect health information and the need to transport patient information securely from doctor to doctor. Within the HIPAA legislation, there is a privacy rule and a security rule. According to the U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS):

The Privacy Rule establishes national standards for the protection of certain health information. The Security Rule establishes a national set of security standards for protecting certain health information that is held or transferred in electronic form.

The Security Rule operationalizes the Privacy Rule and sets standards for maintaining and transporting patient information. This is a case where a privacy need was met but it did not come to fruition until there were some lapses of security surrounding patient information. It took a strong call to action before standards were formulated and established.

Current Privacy Debate

There are some serious lapses currently in how we handle customer or personally identifiable information (PII), such as credit card and social security numbers. I am thinking of TJX and the security lapse that lasted from mid-2005 to December 2006. It is estimated that 47.5 million customer records were stolen. More recently was the Target security breach, which left customer information vulnerable to theft. Target announced that they are moving to a more secure “chip and pin” card system, but this is of little consequence to those Target customers that have already been affected. The barn door is open and the cows are out. When breaches such as this happen, we are all outraged and there is a temporary furor, but then we go back to using the same card, downloading unsecure apps and shopping at unsecure websites. Are we really angry enough to ask for laws calling for stronger protection of our personal information? What if it inconveniences us? What if we could no longer find our best friend whose smart phone is constantly broadcasting their geolocation?

The Flip Side

I believe that there is a lot of complacency and apathy today in terms of privacy and security. There are a lot of apps that gather our personal information. They can and do so because we allow and enable them. While there is a growing number of people concerned about their privacy and security, flawed applications and flawed financial cards have become a way of doing business. It is becoming difficult to find alternate paths to work in a secure world. Although flawed applications and flawed financial cards have become a way of doing business, there are a growing number of people who are concerned about their privacy and security.


I don’t think that new laws are necessarily the best way to generate a sense of responsibility for our own security, but we need to stand up and vote with our feet and our pocketbooks to say, “I choose to keep my personal information private, and I will only deal with others that will do the same”. 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 and business topics that keep him up at night.