Category Archives: Uncategorized

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.

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Congratulations 2017 AIM Program Graduates!

Below is the transcript of AIM Director Kara McFall’s commencement address from June 19, 2017.

To our 2017 AIM graduates, their families and supporters; our AIM faculty and staff; and all others who are here to join in the celebration of our 2017 AIM graduating class—welcome. I’d like to start as I do at each graduation luncheon by asking the graduates, faculty, and staff to stand and join me in honoring the families and friends who supported our graduates throughout the AIM Program. Every one of our AIM graduates has worked hard to achieve the right to stand here today as a graduate of the program; but every graduate also had the help and support of their families and loved ones, who agonized along with them over proper APA citations, assignment deadlines, and countless rounds of edits in Capstone 1. The role that each of you played—as supporters of our AIM graduates—is an important one, and I would like to say thank you.

I will admit that I procrastinated in writing this address—I always do. There is always plenty of work to do in higher education so it’s easy to prioritize other work ahead of sitting down to write. Those of us who make graduation speeches feel the urge to say something profound and memorable, and I spend a lot of time searching for inspiration and the perfect words to say. Eventually, the realities of the calendar impose, and I’m forced to put the words on paper. As I pondered this annual ritual of procrastination, it occurred to me that I could take inspiration from this struggle and pass on a related and valuable lesson I’ve learned: the power of good enough.

The fact that all of you are here today as graduates of a demanding master’s program indicates that you are all high achievers, so the idea of settling for good enough may seem like an odd choice of inspirational themes for your commencement address. I know however that each of you were forced at some point in the program to settle for good enough instead of perfection; the demands of attending class, working full time, and meeting family and other obligations while still squeezing in sleep necessitates completing some assignments to standards that don’t meet your vision of perfection. My intention today as you head out as AIM alumni is to convince you that not only is the practice of sometimes settling for good enough acceptable, it is actually a best practice.

I was first exposed to the idea of good enough by my doctoral dissertation chair, who described the best dissertation as a finished dissertation. Writing a dissertation can be a paralyzing experience; you feel obligated to bring forth some amazing bit of knowledge that is brand new to the world, and to do so in a way that is brilliant and profound; this idea may strike a chord with those of you who recently went through Capstone 1. The result for me was a hesitation to put anything to paper, and my meetings with my chair were frustrating for both of us due to my lack of progress. We finally settled on the approach of setting hard deadlines for different sections, and when I left her office after each meeting she often reminded me that “The best dissertation is a finished dissertation.” In her own way she was advocating that I settle for good enough. This change in my approach is what enabled me to finally start the writing process in earnest and eventually earn my doctorate. Similarly, being forced by the calendar to complete this address is why I am reading a finished speech rather than standing up here winging it.

Some tasks benefit from a systematic approach to completion, while others benefit from a more fluid approach that may include procrastination. You don’t need to be creative when doing your taxes unless your goal is to be a tax evader; a systematic approach in this scenario is best, and it’s obvious when you have reached a point of completion. It can be hard to identify when you have finished a task that requires creativity, as the urge to edit, rewrite, and strive for perfection can be strong. In these cases, procrastination can force us to let go of whatever doubts have been holding us back and achieve a level of brilliance that might have otherwise eluded us. Sometimes pushing ourselves to the point of good enough actually results in a better outcome.

The realities of our schedules dictate that we make the decision to settle for good enough on a regular basis. One of the insights I’m hoping you take away today is to realize that the results of these decisions are not causes for regret, and that you will actually achieve more in life by giving up the standards of perfectionism that cause us to agonize later about not turning in the perfect paper, planning the perfect vacation, or throwing the perfect birthday party. While research backs up my advice, there are challenges all of us face that keep us chasing perfection. In addition to having more choices today than in previous times, we also have more opportunities to compare ourselves to others, through the media and especially through social media. But comparing your decisions and actions to the unreal and sanitized versions we see online doesn’t lead to improved decision making; it inevitably leads to regret. Don’t fall into this trap.

More than ten years ago, psychologist Barry Schwartz coined the terms “satisficers” for people who settle for good enough and “maximizers” for people who always try to choose the very best option. Schwartz’s research was anchored in the idea that all of us now face overwhelming choices for even simple decisions like which brand of cereal to buy. This kind of paralysis can be even more striking when the consequences of a decision are higher. I hold my own versions of the “good enough” discussion with many of my Capstone 1 students who admit they are stressed about picking the right topic, and are worried about the consequences of choosing the wrong topic. If you were one of those students, I hope you will soon discover a fundamental principle of the theory of good enough: you don’t need to achieve perfection in order to succeed. I hope you take the time later, when enough time has passed to put your time with AIM into context, to discover that all of the occasions when you were forced to turn in a paper that did not meet your ideas of perfection are not cause for regret, but instead enabled you to achieve your ultimate goals of gaining new knowledge, learning valuable skills, practicing innovative ideas, and ultimately becoming AIM graduates.

I want to close by clarifying one point: I’m not advocating that you give up high standards and start taking a lackadaisical approach. Instead, I’m suggesting that you recognize the limitations of time and energy and do the best job you can in the time allotted, even if you fall short of your version of flawless. Balance is achieved by learning when to go all-in on a task and when good enough is a smarter goal. You can’t achieve perfection in every task and striving to do so is counterproductive. Doing your best is different from seeking perfection, and if you make doing your best your goal you will find that your sense of satisfaction and of a job well done will rise.  One of the key findings that Dr. Schwartz found in his research is the fact that satisficers, those who pursue good enough, are much happier than the perfectionist maximizers.

AIM class of 2017, I am proud of each one of you and wish you well in doing your best and pursuing the satisfaction that comes with good enough. I hope you will take the opportunity to keep in touch with us as you move into your next phase as AIM graduates. Congratulations to you, AIM class of 2017!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Technology Assisted Parenting

I have been thinking about all of the conveniences and technologies that help with—and sometimes hinder—the raising of children. Do they make it easier to successfully and safely raise kids? I grew up with television, long before personal computers and modern electronic communications. I knew only one person with a car phone, but cell phones and smart devices were still off in the future. Our favorite technology was the bicycle, which gave us all of the freedom we needed. There was one computer in our town and it was housed in a large room at the local university. Now I have six computers just in my house.

We raised our son in the computer age and one of our hardest parenting tasks was keeping him away from technology so that he could do other things, like homework. The computer was more of a distraction than a tool in his young life. He and I built our own personal computer, which was a source of pride for him and helped fuel his love for all things technical. He now helps me with new applications, instead of the other way around.

This week I want to look at a couple of newer technologies I think can help parents raise children.

Newborns and Infants

Ford Motor Company created a prototype crib that simulates a car ride, right down to the sound and motion and even the passing street lights of a real car ride. The crib is internet connected so you can travel the baby’s favorite route, in your Ford of course, and record the movement and sound and then upload that to the crib. Ford built only one prototype, which will be given away in a contest, but who knows if it will catch on.

Homework Helpers

There is sometimes frustration around homework, both for students and parents. In our house, homework was sometimes completed but not turned in, which drove me crazy. Many classrooms now use learning management systems like Canvas or Blackboard that are accessible by both students and parents via computer or mobile interface. This may seem like spying but it greatly reduces surprises at the end of the term and hopefully promotes discipline.

There are several apps to help with homework. I am intrigued by the iOS Socratic app, which combines computer vision and artificial intelligence to help with problems in math, chemistry, science, and other areas. The app allows a student to take a photo of a math problem, for example, and then guides them to further material that will help them answer the question. The Android app is coming soon.

Becoming Responsible Adults

Circling back to the car theme from the beginning of this blog, several auto manufacturers are adding safe teen driving and monitoring features into their new cars. Chevrolet has introduced the Teen Driver System that allows a parent to limit functionality of the car and monitor the activities of the automobile. This function is tied to the teen’s key fob so that a parent driving the same car would not have the same limits. Devices such as Zubie work with older model cars and monitor not only teen driving but all aspects of the vehicle such as upcoming maintenance and fuel and oil levels.

Thoughts

My own son is grown now but I am glad there are technologies available to assist parents. Some innovations target safety, others convenience, and still others enhance learning. Do you know of other developments that help in raising kids? 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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Next-Generation Battery Technology

I have written about a range of emerging technologies. While the devices and apps I’ve featured were designed to accomplish very different things, they do have one thing in common—they all need power. In some cases, power limitations are holding us back from achieving even greater performance and options. What’s happening in the world of battery technology? It would be great if we could charge our devices in under a minute and the charge would last for two weeks. It would also be great if our electric vehicles could travel more than 500 miles on a single charge and recharge in only 5 minutes. How close are we to that? Read on.

Basic Batteries

A battery is made up of a positive and negative electrode with an electrolyte that allows for the flow of ions between the two poles. It is possible to make a basic battery out of a copper penny (negative anode), a galvanized nail (positive cathode) and a potato or a lemon (electrolyte). Energy is created as electrons flow from the anode to the cathode through the medium. This basic technology has existed since the first electric battery was invented in 1799. The only problem was that no one had yet thought of electric cars (or cars at all for that matter) or drones or handheld devices that need batteries we wish lasted longer. The requirements for the original battery were simple in contrast.

Battery Developments

Current battery technologies have settled around alkaline, used for household tools like flashlights; lithium-ion, used in cell phones, laptops, portable tools, and even electric vehicles; and lead-acid batteries, which power the starters on gas and diesel  vehicles. These all use chemicals like cobalt, lead, nickel, graphite, manganese, and aluminum that are available in limited supply on earth and can pollute the environment when disposed of. Tesla, for example, is betting on lithium-ion technology as it completes its gigafactory in Nevada. The company will produce batteries for their cars and to store energy for home solar collectors, among other uses. Tesla is betting that large-scale production and intensive research will allow to improve battery life and sustainably source or create components.

The next generation of batteries may include graphene, which was discovered in 2004. Graphene is a single-atomic layer of carbon atoms arranged in a hexagonal pattern. It is stronger than steel and diamonds and has the highest electrical and thermal conductivity ever recorded. Battery manufacturers are introducing graphene-enhanced batteries, but a full graphene battery is still in development. Companies, including Graphenano in Spain, are working to bring graphene batteries to market. One positive development is the availability of graphene filament from Graphene 3D Lab, which can be used in 3D printers (including home models) to print batteries. That could spawn a lot of new applications for the technology.

There is also active research in nanowires, which would store electrons and could be recharged more times than a traditional battery. Material scientists are searching for a substrate suitable for these fragile wires so that they can be used in a commercial product.

Thoughts

Battery technology research is marching ahead but demand for more efficient battery materials is adding pressure to speed the pace of development. Cars, electronic devices and sensors all require power that can be stored and used at the push of a button. I will be keeping my eye on new battery technology as we try to find the right blend of sustainable materials and modern efficient manufacturing.

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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