Tag Archives: ecommunications

The Information Umbrella’s Best Blogs of 2014

Happy New Year from the AIM faculty and staff!

Our blog writers’ curiosity took some surprising turns in 2014, which sparked us to ask what resonated with you readers. Below is our list of most popular blogs of the year, with a special challenge to astrologers to make sense of the odd coincidence involving publication dates.

Hand holds the world#5 Our Shrinking World

AIM blogger Kelly Brown ponders the question “With everything we have in place, are we really tapping the potential of a shrinking world or still limiting ourselves to the familiar surroundings and friends to supply us with answers and advice?” From April 15, 2014.

#4 So We Had a Parade

Guest blogger Tim Williams, a 2000 AIM graduate, an adjunct instructor for the AIM Program, and COO of Sesame Communications, shares his thoughts on his experience in organizational culture and team building. From July 15, 2014.

digital vortex#3 The Dark Side of the Deep Web

Kelly Brown’s curiosity takes him deep into the layers of the Web. Think onions and murky depths. From April 8, 2014.

overstuffed garage#2 A Terabyte of Storage Space: How Much is Too Much?

How much storage is enough? Kelly Brown calculates just what will fit into 1,000 gigabytes. From July 8, 2014.


child using computer#1 Too Many Coders?

Are there too many coders to meet the needs of the future? Not enough? That question resonated with more Information Umbrella readers than any other in 2014, rocketing this blog post to top spot for the year. From February 18, 2014.


What do you want to read about in 2015? Send us a message with your ideas.

Don’t miss The Information Umbrella next week when Kelly Brown scores a touchdown with a timely topic!

Managing E-mail Overload

My e-mail is officially out of control. To be more specific, my multiple e-mail accounts are out of control. I have all the right accounts and all of the right devices, but the combination of the two are making e-mail management overwhelming. I have a personal account on my local ISP, a work account, a Gmail account so that I can stay connected to all of the cool Google tools, and two different accounts that I use for services that I think might generate spam.

How many devices?

In a recent Capstone paper by AIM graduate Jon Dolan titled “Enterprise-Wide
Techniques to Remediate or Avoid Email Overload”, he defines “e-mail overload” as “e-mail users’ perceptions that their own use of e-mail has gotten out of control because they receive and send more e-mail than they can handle, find, or process effectively”. I was able to manage e-mail when I viewed them only on one device, but I now have two laptops, two tablets, a desktop, and a smartphone. It is very easy and convenient to check multiple accounts on each device but it also raises the possibility of reading the same e-mail—or at least subject—multiple times; that is not at all efficient. Fortunately, there are account settings that will help with this problem, but it really comes down to the question as to how often to check e-mail.

How often to check e-mail?

How often do you check your e-mail accounts? I think I check mine too frequently. I usually have many balls in the air and I try to keep up on the progress of each of those balls or projects. More often than not though, it tends to disrupt my workflow and break up my day. In other words, this pattern actually makes me less productive, just when it is supposed to improve my effectiveness. One thing that I do in an attempt to consolidate e-mail is to sign up for the daily digest version from several Google or Yahoo groups that I belong to. This means that I get one e-mail from the daily activities. The only problem with this approach is that not everyone else follows my style and I miss entire conversations that go on during the day. I am forced to choose between efficiency and inclusion.


I already use filters in my e-mail accounts, but I need to work even smarter to stay ahead of the load. I need to sort out which account to assign to which device so that I am not reading the same e-mail twice. In other words, I need a better strategy for managing my accounts AND my devices!

Do you have a method for dealing with e-mail overload? When you receive an e-mail, do you feel obligated to respond? What if the e-mail is to you only and not a larger group? How do you distinguish between an informational e-mail and one that requires action? 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.

Virtual Currency: One Coin To Bring Them All

There has been a wild fluctuation lately in the value of a Bitcoin, which made me take a second look. What is Bitcoin and what is all the fuss? Why the gyrations now? In short, Bitcoin is a virtual currency that is stored and transferred digitally through an electronic wallet. There is strong encryption surrounding the wallet to ensure that only the owner can transfer or trade Bitcoins for goods, services, or other currencies.


Bitcoin was developed in 2009 and there are two ways that you can secure a Bitcoin (or block of Bitcoins). You can mine Bitcoins by setting your computer to the task of solving increasingly difficult math problems that assist in Bitcoin transactions. You can also buy and sell Bitcoins on currency exchanges such as MTGox. The number of Bitcoins is mathematically capped at 21 million and it is estimated that the last Bitcoin will be issued in 2140.

Currency value

What fascinates me is the potential of a new currency that is not tied to a country or state and is not regulated by a central bank, yet is tradeable and can be used for commercial transactions. There are several establishments that are beginning to accept Bitcoins for products ranging from a foot-long sandwich to college tuition to attorney services—even a future space journey aboard Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic! The value of a Bitcoin in the United States has jumped from $13 in January of this year to currently $1,067. Part of the rise in the last two weeks can be attributed to U.S. Senate hearings around virtual currencies, which lent legitimacy to Bitcoin and others.


There are competitors such as Peercoin, Litecoin, and Anoncoin, the latter guaranteeing anonymity by operating in the dark corners of the Internet. All of these competitors hope to cash in on the same speculation that has driven Bitcoin to its current heights. Whether people hoard virtual currencies or spend them for goods and services will be the ultimate test as to how history views them. Will virtual currencies be seen as a speculative bubble, similar to the Dutch “tulipmania,” or, if they become legitimate, a means of trading?


At the end of the day, a currency—virtual or fiat—is really just a medium for exchanging unlike goods and services. The lure of Bitcoin is that it is not yet regulated, it can be traded globally without international constraints, and it does not carry the 2-4 percent transaction fees of credit cards. It relies on the collective power of individual computers on the Internet to process transactions. These are the very same computers hoping to mine new Bitcoins by solving the algorithms necessary to process those transactions. In other words, a very symbiotic relationship as long as there is a lure of potential gain. It is a well thought out system and time will tell whether it becomes a new legitimate currency or succumbs to speculation. Be it Bitcoin or a competitor, I believe that this is the new norm in currency.

Do you own any Bitcoins? Would you invest in Bitcoins or use them as currency? What do you find most attractive about virtual currency? What scares you? Let me know.

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.


Proximity Services: Cool or Creepy?

I have been thinking about technologies that have not yet been fully realized. One that comes to mind is proximity services which has been talked about for at least ten years but is still in its infancy. The idea is that a beacon could send a signal to your phone through the Near Field Communications (NFC) and offer you coupons as you walk by a coffee shop or as you enter a certain neighborhood. In the same vein, if you signed up for a service, you could get notifications when other people on the same service are in your proximity—a high-tech introduction service, if you will. Also, there is the notion that you could use your phone as contactless currency, tickets, boarding passes, and metro fare. Privacy issues aside, some of these services are in place and working now, but we still have a long way to go to fully use the technology available.

Proximity Services

There are phones in Japan now on the FeliCa network that have an embedded chip that allows them to be used as currency or tickets or coupons. Such phones need only come into proximity of a beacon to complete the transaction and do not need to be turned on or have an app engaged. This could make queuing up for a large event quicker and more efficient.

High-tech meetup

Highlight is an app that lets you enter a profile, then will share it with others and let you see their Highlight profile. The caveat is that you have to be in the same proximity. This is like Match.com except if the signal is good you can actually see the other person before approaching them. Remember, however, that they can also see you, and I don’t know if it matches people by profile before it shares, or if it allows you to see everyone in the vicinity. This could be a great way to introduce each other at a party or a reception or conference. Google Glass will make this even better.


Another novel use of proximity service is the Zabcab app that uses a smartphone’s GPS sensor. A passenger activates the Zabcab app and a driver in the area that is also using Zabcab can see the request and respond. To make it effective, a sufficient number of cab drivers have to use the app, and perhaps this could be a differentiator for the drivers that are early adopters. If effective, this could replace the dispatch call or the competitive hand waving that goes on in large cities.


I think the reason why these services are not more widespread is that we are not yet comfortable with the privacy issues surrounding proximity services. Many of us are not crazy about having ads pushed at us as well. We could always turn off our phone but I think that there is a middle ground that allows us to make use of this technology to improve our lives while protecting our personal information.

Do you use other apps that employ near range proximity sensing? How do you reconcile the privacy issues? 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.

Ready, Set, Go! The Value of Testing Before a Web Launch

IT has been in the news lately with the less-than-successful launch of the government healthcare exchange website, healthcare.gov. For some, it is an indictment of technology gone wild and for others it is clear evidence of political ineptitude. I am not used to seeing political cartoons about information professionals, but it is becoming the new norm. The reasons behind the failure are complex, but I would like to focus on one this week that I think will help all of us to avoid missteps such as this in the future. One thing that is imperative at a new launch is load testing.


Load testing is defined as executing the largest number of tasks, under test, that the system can handle. It also means understanding the behavior of the system under that maximum load. Is it just slow or is it completely unavailable? One may be acceptable and the other unacceptable. Load testing is most successful when the maximum number of users or concurrent processes is known in advance. In the case of the healthcare exchange, I believe that there is enough data to predict how many people would try to access the site in any given period.

All the Way Down the Line

It all sounds so simple but it can get very complicated. Not only do you need to test the potential load on the website and the web application, but you also need to test the potential load on the web server, the database serving the information, the database server, and the network tying it all together. Weak performance in any of these can cause the kind of problems seen with healthcare.gov. This is where an IT troubleshooter is worth their weight in gold. Someone who understands the interoperability between all of these systems and processes can root out potential problems before the application goes live.

Common Sense

When to launch a new application or website is also partly common sense. Computer testing can only go so far. If, what is reported in the Washington Post is correct, not only did the load test fail, the common sense test failed as well:

“Days before the launch of President Obama’s online health insurance marketplace, government officials and contractors tested a key part of the Web site to see whether it could handle tens of thousands of consumers at the same time. It crashed after a simulation in which just a few hundred people tried to log on simultaneously. Despite the failed test, federal health officials plowed ahead.”

In cases such as this I think of the immortal words of Walt Kelly: “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”


It is possible to correctly predict the performance of an application and have a wildly successful launch. Do you have stories of successes, large or small? Do you have stories of failures that you would just as soon forget but provided great lessons to you and others? I encourage you to share your story so that we can all learn. 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.


Yesterday’s News: Telephone Operators, Pay Phones, and Postage Stamps

I was reading an article recently about the possibility that the US first class stamp may rise another three cents and I wondered if maybe the US Postal Service is heading towards becoming an anachronism. At most, I use maybe fifty stamps per year, right now. At the rate I am going, I can probably buy enough forever stamps to last the rest of my life. I then pondered the reason for the slide and I believe that it is due in large part to technology. I pay a lot of my bills electronically. I can transfer documents electronically and get notices electronically. I use e-mail extensively, so I no longer send or receive personal correspondence through the traditional mail. The mail that I do get is largely unsolicited.

I think this is a case where technology will soon make a long-standing service obsolete. I then thought about other services that have already become what I call technology-induced anachronisms. Here is my list:

Telephone operators

When was the last time you placed a phone call that required a telephone operator? When was the last time you called “information” for a phone number and talked with a live person? Advances in phone switches, networking technology, and voice-activated response systems have made the telephone operator largely obsolete. I am even not sure what would happen now if you dialed “0” from your phone.

Public pay phones

Along those lines, when was the last time you saw a functioning public pay phone? These have been made obsolete by cell phones. Even if you forgot to bring your cell phone from home, chances are you could borrow one from a friend or stranger.

Photo film and film processing

Think about how quickly we have moved from traditional silver halide film to digital photography. It is difficult to find traditional film today, let alone a photo processor. Digital photography does have a lot advantages over traditional film such as the fact that it is less expensive, you get instant picture review, and you can take many more photos, depending on your storage capacity.


How much cash do you have in your wallet or purse right now? I have $16 and that is probably enough to last me for the next two to three weeks. While this one will not go obsolete as quickly as some of the others, I think that debit and credit cards and some of the latest apps will reduce or eliminate the need for consumer cash transactions. With the new phone swipe apps and devices, even my neighborhood lemonade stand will soon be able to take a credit card.


I hope you will take a minute and think about all of the changes that you have seen in your lifetime or even in the last twenty years. Take a minute and reflect on how technology has changed your life, hopefully for the better. What is your favorite technology-induced anachronism? Do you think there is a product or service headed for obsolescence? Let me know.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

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