Author Archives: Kelly Brown

About Kelly Brown

An IT practitioner by education and trade and an educator by good fortune.

Baseball Technology 2017

With the 2017 baseball season approaching the midway point, I have been reading about the decline of fan interest, ticket sales, and athlete recognition. An article from my local newspaper reported that not one baseball player is among the 100 most famous athletes in the world, based on endorsements, social media following, and internet search popularity; those spots are taken by soccer, tennis, football, basketball, and even a few golf stars. I wonder what technology could do, if anything, to pull baseball out of this popularity slump.

Sensors

Technology is showing up in some unusual places, including wooden baseball bats. Sensor manufacturer Zepp has teamed up with the Old Hickory bats to create a smart bat. A device is built into the knob of the bat that records data points like swing speed, angle and motion and shares that information via Bluetooth to a connected device. A visualization shows the swing and connects to previous data to compare that swing with others, which allows the player to correct any issues in order to reach maximum performance. These sensors are available for tennis rackets, golf clubs and softball bats. While smart bats are meant for improving player performance I wonder if the visualization can be shared with fans as well, perhaps on the Jumbotron, to give tech-savvy fans something to do between pitches.

Of course, technology is also used for tracking statistics on pitches. For stadiums equipped with TrackMan, fans in the stadium and at home can track live information on pitch velocity, spin and exit speed among various radar tracked data points. This is sophisticated technology but I wonder if data driven fans even need to go to the ballpark any more or can they sit at their computer and analyze every pitch and swing as it happens? Is it more important to see the action or analyze? I foresee the day when machine learning enters into baseball and a computer directs players on their next move based on historical and real time statistics. Hackers could have a field day with that interaction.

Stadium Technology

We can now track every player and every swing but that still does not get people in seats, which is a real problem in baseball today. To try to overcome that problem, stadiums are being built and retrofitted with wireless access points for between inning entertainment and high definition cameras and displays so you won’t miss any action, even if you don’t have the best seat in the house. Various baseball franchises have developed fan apps that allow you to watch instant replays and view statistics on your smartphone or tablet while in the stadium. Apps also allow you to order up snacks and have them delivered to your seat, for a premium. The stadium experience today is a combination of live action and device interaction. There are virtual reality applications in development that will allow you to get a bird’s-eye view of the action or zoom into one particular area of the field using cameras positioned around the stadium. Reality meets virtual reality.

<h4Thoughts

There are a number of new technologies introduced or in development designed to bring fans back to baseball, either in the stadium or watching at home or on a mobile device. Time will tell if they are successful but with the price tag of new stadiums, there is a lot at stake. Have you been to a live baseball game recently? How was your experience? 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.

Leadership Lessons I Learned at Day Camp

I volunteered recently at a day camp for boys ages 7-10 and learned a lot more than just how to be a kid again. I created an obstacle course that presented challenges for each boy. As the boys came through my station and worked through the challenges, I saw some important management principles emerge. I want to share those unexpected lessons with you.

Ownership is King

I set up the obstacle course ahead of time and it included things such as a rope bridge, a rope swing, tires to crawl through and various other obstacles. This was my design and the boys enjoyed it. After the first couple of days I allowed them to make modifications to my design. Of course, some of the modifications would have caused great injury had I allowed them but such is the nature of a young boy.

I realized that as they changed the design to fit their tastes, they became more invested in the obstacle course. Comments changed from “great course” to “best obstacle course ever!” because it was now their course and not mine. As managers, are we guilty of handing down a vision or a scripted playbook for employees to carry out without giving them ownership of their work? Would they be more motivated if they had a hand in designing their own processes? Would they feel more invested if they contributed to the vision rather than simply executing it? Perhaps stronger ownership would lead to comments such as “this is the greatest workplace ever.”

The Suggestion Box

I told the boys early on that I would welcome suggestions for improving the course. I am not sure they took me seriously but they did offer several suggestions. Some were simple changes that I could make overnight and some were incredibly complicated and would have required super powers. I made the changes I could and the boys were surprised and delighted to find their ideas incorporated into the course. As they saw the changes they pointed out their ideas. One boy even suggested water balloons throughout the course and went so far as to bring some balloons to fill. He was totally invested in the outcome. In short, I took the ideas in the suggestion box seriously. As managers, do we welcome suggestions and try to implement them as we can? Extra effort in this area could result in more motivated employees.

Cooperation Increases Productivity

I allowed groups of boys to modify the course to fit their interests. I found the groups fell into two categories, those who agreed and executed the plan and those who were fractured and could not get beyond arguing about who was right. Those who agreed to work together had a lot more time to enjoy the fruits of their labor, but some groups never even got off the starting line. They split into factions that each tried to implement their own vision. I realized that while it is important to create and execute a shared long-term vision, it has a definite impact on short-term productivity. The longer it takes to agree on the future, the more it impacts current work. Does your team have a solid vision and is everyone working toward that future or do you still have factions trying to move in a different direction?

Thoughts

I never thought I would relate day camp to management principles but the parallels I found while observing the boys were unmistakable. I thought I was going to enjoy a week of sunshine and interacting with youth, and I did, but I also came away with new leadership and management insights.

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.

Eclipse Viewing

I am looking forward to the total solar eclipse that will travel across the USA next month. My house lies just south of the path of totality so if it is a sunny day I should be in for a treat. While a total solar eclipse is visible from somewhere on earth every 16 months, the August eclipse is rare in that it will pass over a highly populated area as it travels coast-to-coast from Oregon to South Carolina.

So how does current technology change how we observe and experience this particular solar eclipse? I expect that it will be the most photographed eclipse ever but I set out to find out what else will be different in our modern connected world.

Eclipse Megamovie

The good folks at Berkeley, Google, The Astronomical Society of the Pacific and others are using crowdsourcing to recruit 1000 photographers to take pictures of the eclipse along the path of totality. They will then combine those pictures into what they call an Eclipse Megamovie. These combined photographs will be valuable not only to casual observers but also to scientists. This is a great application of current digital photography, data storage and photo editing capabilities.

Viewing Choices

Modern transportation will also change how some people observe the eclipse. Alaska Airlines has chartered a plane to follow the totality. It will be open to astronomy enthusiasts except for two seats that will be given away through a social media contest. This will give some lucky observers a chance to see the event from 30,000 feet and should eliminate any chance of clouds obstructing the view.

This is not the first time that an eclipse has been seen from the air. A group of astronomers chartered a supersonic transport in 1974 and flew in totality for 74 minutes in order to observe a similar solar event. They were able to fly across the African continent at twice the speed of sound so that they could stay in the path of near darkness as long as possible. We have available to us great tools for expanding our understanding of the universe.

Thoughts

This upcoming solar eclipse may well be the best observed, recorded and analyzed event. There will no doubt be many terabytes of photos taken and shared on social media. Scientists will likely use modern computing power to reconstruct the event and study it for years to come. This is all part of our modern observed life using technology.

Are there technologies that you think will enhance the upcoming solar eclipse? 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.

Beginnings: Never Too Late

We celebrated the 2017 AIM graduates last week and look forward to starting a new cohort this week. In a way, these are beginnings for both groups. Our new students are just starting their AIM graduate careers with perhaps some uncertainty as to their new journey. Our newest alumni now have options open to them in terms of discretionary time and they will possibly pursue a passion or career position or even choose to continue their academic journey.

I think we often tie beginnings to specific events such as graduation or a new job or starting a degree program or any number of life events. In reality, we can declare fresh beginnings at any time for any reason. In this blog post I would like to explore ways we can move beyond our self-limitations and break out in new and productive ways.

Simple Steps

I have written about this topic before but I feel it is important to revisit. This message is as much for myself as it is for my readers. Beginnings do not have to be large undertakings. It can be as simple as taking a class on something you are interested in that is completely outside of your career field. If you have goals to improve your health and fitness, it is not necessary to run a marathon tomorrow but a simple step would be to get out and walk and enjoy nature. That can lead to other greater goals that could lead to running a marathon someday, or it can simply lead you down the path of better health. Sometimes it takes just simple steps.

One of the dilemmas of a new undertaking is devoting time to it. This could require giving something up. If you are like me, you may have habits and routines and commitments that fill your day. If you were to pursue something new, which of those routines would you be willing to give up? Sometimes this is the hardest part of starting down a new path and requires an examination of goals and values.

Thoughts

Congratulations to all of this year’s AIM graduates. I am proud of your accomplishments and am honored to have played a small part in getting you to the finish line. This is not an ending or a final resting place as such, but a beginning. Take advantage of your new knowledge and relationships that you forged and create the world that you want. Often, it starts with a simple step.

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.

Regulating The Internet

With the latest terrorist attacks in London there are renewed calls for regulating the internet in order to prevent the spread of extremist views. British Prime Minister Theresa May said recently, “We cannot allow this ideology the safe space it needs to breed – yet that is precisely what the internet, and the big companies that provide internet-based services, provide.” My goal for this blog post is to open a dialog on how the internet could or should be regulated. By regulating the internet, would we be regulating free speech? Would it just spawn an alternate internet, or would it fuel the dark web that already exists? What kind of international cooperation would it take to actually pull this off and hopefully stop the spread and growth of terrorism?

International Cooperation

Theresa May recently also said, “We need to work with allied democratic governments to reach international agreements to regulate cyberspace to prevent the spread of extremist and terrorism planning.” I believe that will be one of the largest hurdles to overcome if we are to provide any internet policing. The European Union can’t even agree on next steps so it may be impossible to get countries around the world to cooperate. Britain recently passed the Investigatory Powers Act which gives British security the ability to view and monitor all internet connections made within the country. It also binds internet providers to make connection and browsing records available to various British agencies. If this is truly going to be successful it will take a lot of expertise to sift through all that data to find nuggets that could help stop the spread of terrorism. It’s one thing to gather the information, another to make sense of it and detect important patterns. That will take a combination of software applications and technical expertise.

Free Speech

At the heart of it the internet is a communications medium just like the telephone and postal mail. Governments have long had the ability to tap into phone conversations or monitor mail as they try to anticipate and stop nefarious plots. These older mediums carry commercial as well as personal messages, as does the internet. The big difference is the fact that the internet is much faster and has the ability to broadcast a one-to-many message, in some cases to millions spread around the world. It is also searchable, meaning that if people want to align themselves to a particular ideology they can easily find like-minded individuals and activities that support their ideology. This is a whole new world and it is going to take new thinking and not just new regulatory powers. New proposed powers border on free speech infringement, which is near and dear to many. How do we establish that line between free expression and intentional malice?

Thoughts

If we truly want to regulate the internet, we need clear, unbiased thinking, technical expertise, and hardware and software technologies. We need to understand the line between freedoms and potential threats and tread that line carefully. Most of all it is going to take a lot of international cooperation to develop a strategy that will work for everyone.

What are your thoughts? Is it even possible to regulate the internet or is it too late? Is it possible to monitor internet traffic and patterns without infringing on basic privacy rights? 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.

Technology for Technology’s Sake

process-preparation-fresh-juice-juicerI am preparing for our upcoming AIM innovation course “Creating Business Solutions with Technology” and have been researching the use of technology in new consumer products. Whether the use of technology extends an existing product or category or develops a totally new product, it is important to balance the ability to apply technology with the actual need. Just because we can do something does not necessarily mean that it is right for the consumer and will make a better product or service. Sometimes the consumer is best served by simplicity vs. feature-rich technology. You can probably think of examples of products that miss the mark in terms of features or options that will most likely never be used, or worse yet, impede the consumer from using the product in the way they would like to. In this blog post I would like to explore that balance point between technological ability and need.

Too Much Technology

The makers of the Juicero juice maker came under fire in April when Bloomberg discovered they could make the same juice by hand that normally requires their $399 machine. The Juicero press requires proprietary prepackaged bags of chopped fruits and vegetables. However, it turns out that you can squeeze the same bag by hand and get similar results. The Juicero is wi-fi enabled so that it can read the bag’s QR code to ensure that it is legitimate and proprietary, and compares that code to a database to check that it is not past the expiration date or has been recalled. This is the Kuerig of juicers but with more limitations. I am sure that someone is working on a Juicero hack as I write this, so that you can press a freezer bag of your own produce. If the Bloomberg investigation is correct, I don’t need the machine at all. Yet, I can’t buy the bags unless I own a machine, so I am stuck. Granted, this machine does save clean-up time and effort but it also promotes waste from nonreusable bags. This company is trying to create a future revenue stream by requiring proprietary bags and providing subscriptions for automatic replenishment. There are some advantages to this product but it appears to be a case of technology gone crazy. All I want is a glass of juice.

Sensor Overload

I write often about automobile technology and I think that we are in an awkward transition period right now between traditional cars and autonomous vehicles. A lot of technology being put forward will be useful for self-driving cars. Although, will it keep us safe in the meantime? Sensor technology is being introduced to warn us about upcoming traffic or obstructions or dangers. Some vehicles even automatically correct for you if there is a present danger. I love the safety aspect of these sensors,but I am concerned that they are turning us into lazy or inattentive drivers who are lulled into a false sense of security. Until fully autonomous vehicles are commonplace, it is important to not over rely on the technology and to continue to be focused on the road and our surroundings.

Thoughts

Technology has its place, but occasionally we miss the mark in terms of what we think the consumer needs or wants. It is possible to create a technology-laden product just to create revenue without considering the end customer. This is a case of technology for technology’s sake and sometimes low-tech offers better solutions.

Which high tech products or services leave you scratching your head? Nominate your favorites here.

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.

Emerging Solar Technology

Beautiful sunset over solar farm.Summer has finally come to my house and the return of the sun is welcome and energizing. It has been a very long winter. With the return of the sun, I have been thinking about solar technology and the expansion of solar energy installations. My wife and I were traveling recently and we saw several new solar farms—the largest was outside of Lamesa, Texas. From a distance it looked like a lake but I knew being in west Texas that it had to be a mirage. The sheer scale of this operation surprised me and I learned upon further research it is by no means the largest facility of its kind.

Solar energy is not very efficient here in western Oregon due to our abundance of cloudy days, but it is becoming popular in the southern United States and other sunny parts of the world. In Texas, solar farms are augmenting or replacing oil pumpjacks as we move to a more sustainable energy model. The efficiency of solar is also aided by emerging technologies.

Perovskites

Traditional photovoltaic (PV) cells are made of a silicon semiconductor, similar to the material used for computer chips. This material is hard and rigid and lends itself to rooftop arrays and large ground-mounted solar farms like those I saw. This rigidity is also a drawback because it cannot easily be molded into surfaces such as automobile roofs or even clothing. A new class of materials called perovskites may prove to be just as efficient as silicon but flexible and cheaper to produce. Perovskites are synthetic versions of the naturally occurring mineral perovskite. Traditional silicon cells are produced by heating silicon dioxide, or beach sand, up to 2000 degrees Celsius. In other words, a traditional solar cell requires massive amounts of energy to produce something that will transform sunlight into energy. Perovskites, at least in the initial research, are much cheaper to produce and are approaching efficiencies similar to silicon.

Tracking Solar

While there are advances in solar-collecting materials there are also developments in the tracking systems under the cells. A fixed panel can only efficiently capture solar energy during the peak time of the day. Otherwise, the sun is at an angle to the cell, which reduces the energy collection. Solar panels used in large installations employ solar trackers, which allow the panels to follow the sun as it arcs across the sky, much like a field of Kansas sunflowers. This increases the amount of solar energy converted throughout a typical day and the efficiency of the installation. Manufacturers continue to improve and introduce new solar trackers to make solar energy an attractive alternative to fossil fuels.

Thoughts

Solar power is one component in a more sustainable energy portfolio. Solar and wind and advances in wave energy will hopefully offset the need for traditional power sources such as coal. The key to these new energy sources is technology which will make them cleaner and more efficient. 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.

The Face of Cyber Security

Conceptual image of a closed padlock on a digital field.A New Form of Hacking

The WannaCry malware attack has me thinking about cyber security and my exposure. I have at least one system in my home that is vulnerable to this attack and still needs to be patched. Fortunately it has been turned off for the last few weeks. Aside from my personal exposure, I have been researching efforts to fight and predict attacks. This blog post is dedicated to the security community and the fine work they do to stay in front of attacks like WannaCry.

Spy Vs. Spy

The latest attack was an example of ransomware, which promises to release the hold on a particular computer in return for compensation. In this case the ransom was the equivalent of $300 in bitcoins. The malware spread to computers in Europe and Asia until an analyst known as MalwareTech discovered a kill switch and disabled the attack, at least temporarily. MalwareTech and other analysts are constantly evaluating new threats and disabling them often before they propagate and cause widespread damage.

Vigilante Hacking

With the proliferation of Internet of Things (IoT) devices, hacking has gone beyond traditional computers and spread to unsecured devices. Since IoT devices are by default connected to the internet and come with their own address, they are vulnerable to attack. Hackers attempt (and sometimes succeed) to control a device through security holes. To combat this, applications such as Mirai were designed to act like malware but actually close security holes, at least temporarily. Technically, since the virus is spread without prior notification, it is still an example of hacking and therefore illegal. This is an example of “white hat” hackers versus “black hat.”

Predictive Cyber Security

I have written before about predictive analysis in conjunction with machine learning and AI. Using advanced algorithms, researchers are developing applications that can predict attacks based on patterns and previous system activity. With this information they can sometimes stop an attack before it breaches an organization’s defenses. Ideally this would stop every attack before it starts, but the algorithms are imperfect. With experience, these programs should combat most threats in the future.

Thoughts

Cyber security is complicated and as quickly as analysts spot vulnerabilities, hackers are there to exploit those holes. There is a need for trained security analysts to build and maintain defenses in our automated world. It is hard to turn over control to robots and automated manufacturing systems and self-driving cars when a security breach could leave us helpless. Certified security experts are needed to watch over our increasingly sophisticated computing ecosystem, as the recent attacks have shown. Do you think your organization is doing all it can to protect itself? 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.

Trends in Higher Education 2017

It seems like here in the U.S., higher education is being attacked for being too liberal or not liberal enough or not providing enough instruction in technical, hands-on skills. The new presidential administration will have some influence on the debate through what areas of education it funds. I believe that colleges and universities need to clearly articulate their value proposition. How does our school add value to students? What do we offer that differentiates us from our competitors? How can we better serve our current and prospective students? These are the same questions a business poses when trying to grow and thrive. In this blog I will highlight trends I think will have an impact on how we answer those questions.

Personalization

A 2015 article in EdSurge News defines personalized learning as “technology-assisted differentiated instruction.” The article made a valid point that we are in the business of educating real people and not just a generalization of students. This means tailoring curriculum to current students and their needs. Do you cater to first time students or returning students that have several years of industry experience? It does not make sense to apply the same model to all students. Personalization is particularly difficult when you have a mix of new and returning students, but technology makes it possible to create multiple tracks of the same course so that the outcomes are the same but the paths vary to suit the needs of the students.

High Velocity Learning

Businesses are increasingly asking employees to be more flexible and move faster. The United States Navy recently introduced what they call high velocity learning which means being nimble, flexible and faster at processing change. Educators should adopt the same mindset. This may mean an accelerated program for those who have already proven competencies or modifying the way we test for competencies. This goes right along with personalization and is a hot topic as tuition continues to rise and the length of time spent in college is extended. It is important to review our curriculum to make sure it is relevant, necessary, and promotes our value proposition.

Thoughts

I think in the future higher education will need to be more responsive and flexible and technology will be used to create dynamic curriculum that caters to individual needs. Just as important is an honest review of offered courses to ensure they still prepare students for the future. These are just some of the ways that educators can serve students. Do you have other ideas that will align education offerings with current needs? 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.

The New Face of Retail Delivery

The Future of Transportation

I recently ran across an interesting collection of YouTube videos called the Dead Mall Series. This series is filmed and narrated by Dan Bell and has nothing to do with suburban zombies but highlights our changing shopping habits. Bell tours and films shopping malls that have an 80 to 90% vacancy rate and then dubs in a personal narrative about his experience. It is a stark reminder that our buying habits have changed significantly since the 1960s, partly due to the popularity of online shopping. In watching these videos, I think not only about our changing retail experience but also about how the entire supply chain has evolved. Instead of driving to suburban shopping malls supplied by large trucks, we place orders online and our purchases are delivered to our doors by UPS or FedEx or USPS. While the video series shows declining retail shopping, this blog examines how transportation is changing to keep up with our new demands.

Trains

In the U.S. trains are used primarily for transporting industrial products such as lumber and chemicals, but are seldom used for retail products. Part of the reason is that we do not have an extensive infrastructure of stations, unlike in Europe. In Europe, the German Aerospace Center is working on next generation trains for both passengers and freight. They are proposing a train system that is more flexible and can get closer to filling retail orders. There the train is the backbone of retail delivery not the large trucks we see on our highways. In the U.S., the nearest train station may be 50 or 100 miles from the customer.

Trucks

Tesla CEO Elon Musk recently revealed that Tesla plans to unveil an electric semi truck in September 2017. The company previously announced it is working on vehicles other than autos. It makes sense Tesla would go after this market, but I think they will need to somehow extend the battery range in order to make it viable. The Model S runs 265 to 300 miles per charge. Large trucks travel constantly with two drivers and can go approximately 1000 miles between stops. Batteries are generally heavier than fuel for the amount of energy output, so electric planes don’t make sense yet and electric semis may need some newer technologies to make them mainstream.

Now, if you could outfit an electric semi truck with autonomous or semi-autonomous capability then you would have something. An autonomous truck made a beer delivery from Ft. Collins to Colorado Springs, CO in October 2016,  so it has been done. This could be the next wave of truck delivery.

Drones

Amazon launched Prime Air in December 2016 and completed the first two deliveries via drone. An Amazon video shows a small package that took 13 minutes from purchase to delivery. Amazon plans on increasing the customer count eligible for this service to dozens and then hundreds. A customer would have to live close to a fulfillment center in order to get the prime service. Apparently, next day or even same day delivery is no longer fast enough.

Thoughts

There are many pieces that make up retail sales and delivery, and companies are using technology to efficiently move goods to customers. Whether in the future we see a sky full of drones or a road full of electric autonomous trucks is anyone’s guess. Shopping options are definitely changing and the supply chain will have to change as well in order to keep up. What do you think the future holds? 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.