The UpDating Game

WHAT ARE ALL THESE THINGS FLYING AROUND MY SCREEN?

If you’ve ever written an article or book, you revel in its construction. You are overjoyed as each new piece of your work falls into place. Well, what if you decided to release your writing when it was a rough draft, then break into the homes of all of your readers to inform them of your finishing touches?

There’s a new threat in the computer world, called auto-updaters. They hide in your computer, and constantly call home looking for newer versions of themselves. Some are from legitimate products such as Windows or Office, others are from vile spyware such as Ask Toolbar, or vToolbar.

I personally turn off any auto-updaters. Why? In a frantic frenzy to plug up the myriad holes in their products, products like the dastardly Adobe Flash, Adobe Reader, and Java attack almost every computer in the world CONSTANTLY with update popups that scare and distract the user.

Another analogy: You buy a brand new Chevy Malibu, but when you take delivery of it, the front end is smashed. For the next 10 years that you own it, the salesman follows you on a moped, flinging clumps of Bondo and duct tape at your car. That’s the world of software updating.

Dilbert comic from 5 Apr 2012

Storytime

One of my clients employs me and another IT firm to maintain their office. The other guys are there to break things, and I show up to fix them. Go figure.

“Hi Marc can you come in and fix one of our workstations? The other IT guys remoted in and broke it.”

“I see.”

When I got there, I learned that the entire computer was roasted and all the software needed to be reinstalled. I can’t say for certain, but the only thing that could’ve caused this was a Windows Update. My competitors re-enabled it when they remoted in.

So I got them on the horn and asked them why they enable updates. They gave me the usual excuse,

“Well, your computer is safer! Microsoft puts out patches to protect you! Long live the king!” etc.

And my response was, “It may patch holes in the product, but it doesn’t make the product safer. These people are no more or less safe than they were before – the only difference is, Windows Update CONSTANTLY FORCES THEM TO RESTART WHILE THEY’RE DOING THEIR WORK, and sometimes destroys the entire copy of Windows, as it has done here.”

The only thing he could counter with is, “Uh, well, Microsoft puts out patches to protect you. The computers are safer! Long live the king!” etc.

I quickly realized the debate was futile. It was almost like trying to talk to a pyramid scam zombie. I revel in the fact that I succeed by doing the exact opposite of the average IT guy.

If you insist on doing Windows Updates, at the very least, do them monthly at a time when nobody’s in the office. That way everyone isn’t forced to restart at random points in the workday, and people’s machines aren’t surprise-destroyed.

Organic Software

Pesticides were meant to help farming. They solve a certain problem and in small amounts won’t kill you. That hasn’t stopped a backlash against foods with them and the effects they may cause. (Why is everyone allergic to everything all of a sudden?) This also hasn’t stopped a huge new industry of organic foods from, er, cropping up!

One of the things that sets me apart from normal computer guys is the fact that I’m against updaters. In fact, I don’t run any updates on any of my technology. I guess you could say my computing experience is, well, organic!

WHAT?! Organic… what? Really, Marc? What are you, some kind of marketing bobblehead?

Actually it’s quite fitting.

Unfortunately, the term Organic Computing is in use already. IBM has a vision of a bunch of bacteria working together to solve math problems or something… okay fine, so I guess my phrase can be Organic Software. Performing a Google search for that term produces only nebulous results, so I’ll stick with it.

What is it, then?

I’ll define Organic Software as this – Software that doesn’t destroy itself often, and doesn’t nag the user with constant updates. In my work, the best I can do is disable the updaters, but at some point I hope to create my own software that comes this way out of the box. All of the software we discuss in this article is vile and toxic and not at all organic!

So, why are updates so bad?

Let’s employ these cartoonish characters to help us understand:

  1. Looney Tunes: Aside from nagging and scaring, updates can have side effects. When people update the software on their computers or smartphones, for example, many times the machine becomes slower, more confusing, or more unstable. I sometimes equate updates to one of those Looney Tunes episodes where a boat is sinking – whenever they plug up one hole in the boat, two more open up! That wasn’t the intended purpose of course, but it happens all too often. the updates, but oftentimes it is the outcome, especially with Windows Vista and Java.
  2. Bulk & Skull: Children of the 80s will recognize these guys – harmless yet extremely annoying. Such are Adobe’s Reader and Flash products. Adobe knows the world depends on them to read PDF documents and watch videos online. So, the arrogant buffoons pop up on nearly every computer in the world, every second of the day, Right now. And now. And… now. Nagging, clamoring, and begging, for updates. Flinging clumps of duct tape and bondo onto your computer. Slowing you down. Making you think you need a new computer.
  3. Angelica Pickles: “You dumb babies, monsters are just frigments of your infactuation!” Bossy and condescending, those updates just walk right into your computer. Why? Because they can. Because they do. Because they’re afraid of becoming known for what they are, which in Java’s case, is a gateway for viruses to walk into your computer. According to them, the machine in front of you isn’t yours. It belongs to Microsoft, HP, Norton, Java. It is on your desk to do their bidding, not yours. Why? Because too bad for you.
  4. Meatwad: “Where is my popsicle? You know i require a popsicle every 15 minutes!” Constant rearranging and inconsistency is yet another drawback to software, both in the form of constant updates (usually free), as well as upgrades (a whole new version of a product, usually paid).We won’t spend much time talking about upgrades today, but here are some great examples of products that are worse than their predecessors:
    • Microsoft Windows Vista
    • Microsoft Office 2007
    • Apple iTunes 11
    • Apple Final Cut Pro
    • Apple OSX 10.8
    • That’s not to mention the most COMPREHENSIVE SELF-DESTRUCTION of any tech product – Windows 8.
    • Even my beloved Ubuntu, once a perfectly good product, destroyed itself out of boredom a couple of years ago.

    captainhook

  5. Captain Hook: Adobe SNEAKS STOWAWAY SOFTWARE into your computer, in order to make money off of you if you appease one of its constant updaters. These stowaways occur in the form of adware, like McAfee Security Scan Plus, or  Google Toolbar. BE VERY CAREFUL if you ever have to download an Adobe product:adobe is malwareTwo of my favorite Adobe customers ranting about this: One, Two.

Thin Ice

While I love my Android phone, I won’t DARE update it. The only update I needed to do was one to the Google Voice app, which added the feature of daily crashes to the app. Out of fear of a complete overhaul of my user interface, I’ll just use it as-is until I buy another one. I don’t have time for that kind of hassle. I’m grateful that I know how to defeat updaters of all kinds.

I won’t even update my beloved Linux desktop. All too often I’ve run an update by accident and was unable to boot the machine afterward. Recently I witnessed a friend’s Sony PS3 update itself –  now whenever he watches video, he can no longer rewind/fast forward them, and the entire machine reboots itself during videos every 15 or 20 minutes. Too bad. No hope. Nothing he can do.

Finally, the whole mentality of “newer=better” has to stop. Recently, a friendly-looking jihadi named al-Gohary called for the destruction of the Pyramids. He described them as outdated idolatry. Yeah, sure buddy. Let’s run an update on Egypt. Who needs the pyramids anyway?

Defeating Them

Here’s how to kill the most common ones in Windows. First off, clear your Startup list in Msconfig (here’s how). That will disable many of them. Next, go into Control Panel and make sure “Software Updates” (a sneaky blue icon with a water droplet) is completely turned off. If you’re an advanced user, hunt it down in your “Common Files” folder and obliterate it.

Next, in Control Panel, if you have a Java icon (some versions of Vista will hide it in 32-bit preferences), double-click it and go to the Update tab. Make sure the “Check for updates every 3 seconds” box is unchecked. Once you uncheck it, it actually tries to BARGAIN WITH YOU:

disable-updates-never-check

“How about every month instead?” Punch it in the face by clicking NEVER CHECK. I really wish you could actually punch them.

More detailed instructions can be found at Java’s own website here.

Next, if you’re on a Mac, Google Picasa doesn’t allow you to turn off the updater. So, click here to learn how to defeat it.

Next, Adobe Reader. Their popups insist that if you don’t update RIGHT AWAY, the planet will explode. Let’s turn off the updaters and test their claim. First, find your Adobe Reader icon (e.g. Adobe Reader 8, 9, X, XI) and double-click on it. Then go to Edit, Preferences, then select the Updater category.

Updater_AI2You’ll notice that after disabling the updater, Reader attacks with ONE LAST DYING GASP, asking you for one more update for old time’s sake. Right-click it and hit cancel, then whisper, “Keep the change, ya filthy animal.”

Finally, Adobe Flash. You know, that thing that pops up EVERY SINGLE TIME YOU TURN ON YOUR COMPUTER? (Viruses have been known to impersonate this box!)

AdobeFlashVirus

Just go to Control Panel, then Flash, then Advanced, and click NEVER CHECK FOR UPDATES. That will kill that one.

disableflashupdater

They forgot to include an OK button there, so just close the window and you’re done!

Side note: Newer versions of Firefox are automatically disabling Adobe and Java plugins that are more than five minutes old, in order to protect and confuse you. Expert users can go to about:config and turn off the new “blocklist.”

Call to Action

Software developers should make functional products in the first place. When you buy a new car, nobody’s going to sell you a smashed car BECAUSE IT’S OBVIOUS AND VISIBLE. Since most people (including and especially many IT guys) are dreadfully unaware, jalopies from the likes of Adobe, Java, and Microsoft are allowed to exist.

Sure, flaws will be found in software. If updates can be done in a unified, civilized, less intrusive manner, without surprise-destruction, then that’s fine. Until then, we can all do without them.

Years ago, I worked in IT for a Very Large Organization. The IT staff at headquarters were clowns who escaped from a local circus, and had never used computers before. Thus, when it came to applying the thousands of weekly Microsoft/Adobe updates, they WOULDN’T BOTHER TESTING THEM. They would simply spray them at random (with no warning to my team, of course) across all the computers, virtually guaranteeing chaos every time. AT THE VERY LEAST, TEST THE UPDATES BEFORE deploying them across a 10,000-person organization. Please.

Finally, as tech journalist Brian Boyko says, let the market decide if a newer version upgrade is in fact better. Why pull Windows 7 off the market and force people to buy Windows 8 if it’s unusable? If you’re a near-monopoly already, at least give people the choice of buying whatever version they prefer.

That’s all for today’s article. We’ll see you all next time, or maybe we won’t. I hate computers and I want to retire.

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Shattered Windows

Jean

Baptiste

Emmanuel

Zorg.

As one YouTube commenter said, “That is hands down the best villain name ever.”

They say the devil speaks in half-truths. All comic book and movie villains have some sort of half-truth upon which they base their empires… upon which they justify their despicable actions.

In the movie The Fifth Element, Mr. Zorg’s misconception is that broken windows, once fixed, somehow benefit society. Sure, you’re probably thinking, “Oh yeah! I break a window, someone comes out to fix it, I pay him, and the economy moves forward!” So, why don’t we all just spend our days smashing each other’s windows? Because we quite literally have better things to do. French philosopher Frederic Bastiat explains it quite well in his “Parable of the broken window,” seen here on Wikipedia. Surely the glazier benefits, but at what opportunity cost?

A toxic waterfall

The computer industry is run by an army of Zorgs…

Imagine your house windows shattering themselves once every few years, and being baffled at a world that praises the glass repairman and doesn’t ask questions. According to this get rich quick website, computer repair is a $40 billion industry. Here’s why:

  • Some guys out there are honest technicians who want what’s best for their customers. A computer repair industry is necessary, because sometimes things do break.
  • Then you’ve got your amateur “computer guy” – we all know the type. He’s your aunt’s uncle’s cousin’s pastor’s goldfish’s dog’s neighbor. He runs virus scans, defrags, and installs destructive registry cleaning software, thinking that’s all still relevant: “Sorry, I couldn’t figure it out. That’ll be $100.”
  • The same thing goes for the Big Box stores, except they erase your data.
  • Some sharks encourage useless scans and updates, sometimes through yearly contracts. It’s a roll of the dice as to whether these guys are competent, and they might charge a mint.
  • Beyond all this, there’s a whole other industry – outsourced tech support for large organizations. Some of them love fixing recurring problems, because it means a lot of call volume.

These guys praise the Personal Computer and its extremely unreliable nature. As one acquaintance put it, “I’m grateful for Microsoft; they’re my bread and butter!” Many of these guys fall victim to the bread and butter routine.

Bottom line: They’re thankful for products that destroy themselves, for products that succumb easily to security threats.

Pretty Graph

Let’s step  back a moment and boil down what I do:

components of computer repairA: The first part is similar to that of an auto mechanic – some parts in your computer may die at random. With exception of hard drives and hinges, there’s no mechanical motion, so it’s hard to predict.

B: Oftentimes a complex software product (especially Microsoft Windows and Office, and on occasion Mac OSX) destroys itself. Few know or ask why. In such cases, I rescue the user’s documents & photos, and reinstall the OS.

C: Turtlenecks,  soy lattes, a goatee and a convertible… these are a few of my favorite things. I spend some winter evenings teaching adult continuing education courses. I also spend some mornings consulting for small businesses, making recommendations on what software, hardware, systems, or platforms, to implement. Being paid to give my opinion is indescribably awesome.

D: Many “IT Guys” spend time virus scans or adding patches and updates to people’s machines. They participate in the “Security Circus” – the idea that constant tar and pitch needs to be added to computer systems to keep them safe from mythological “hackers.” I replace this component with recommending/implementing software that’s much more robust.

My Suggestions

I’ve got a problem with B and D. First off, an operating system shouldn’t destroy itself. Even if it did, ideally the user’s home folders would be stored (by design, not by some hackjob Acer “Data Partition” that nobody uses) on another drive. Next, automated data backup is horrendously complex and confusing. Stay tuned for an article ranting about that.

Again, instead of participating in security paranoia, I replace unreliable technology (domains, POP email, overkill servers) with streamlined, robust, safer solutions. My goal is not to keep patching the same preventable holes – it’s to make you safer.

Aren’t I hurting my own wallet? Not at all, Mr. Zorg. First off, my happy customers talk. Secondly, I personally would much rather spend my time doing something important, such as solving world hunger.

Finally, I pose this dystopic scenario to you: Imagine if my industry began single-party third-party payer insurance services! You’d have half-wit computer guys walking around upgrading every single part in a customer’s computer, pointing and shooting needlessly, figuring “oh well, someone else is paying for it!” and people would allow them to fire away. The corruption would skyrocket, and we’d all pay. Food for thought.

Mi Futuro

What I know that no computer repair shop knows is this: Once Windows 8 forces Microsoft to become a niche company, people will migrate onto tablets, smartphones, and Mac and Linux desktops. Most of the traditional PC repair shops will fail to adapt, and go under. The future of my job contains more consulting (soy lattes) and MANY more man-hours performing password recoveries for people who didn’t realize how their entire digital lives are COMPLETELY dependent on those passwords they forgot.

We’ll see you next time on Teknosophy.

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A Fork in the Road

The skies are falling. All of them.

Unlike some ancient professions, such as plumbing or carpentry, my profession changes constantly. In order to continue crushing my competition, I have to stay on top by reading about the latest threats and opportunities. In fact, change disrupts everything like a politican ruins the economy. I’m trying to think of more current events jokes, but I can’t figure out how tie in Twinkies with our discussion. Either way, brace yourself for another exhilarating episode of Teknosophy.

Current Desktop Computers

Even today, consumers suffer with computers that were NEVER meant for the general public. PC software requires constant maintenance, attention, and skill. It brandishes confusing technical errors at random, and security violations are rampant. However, for those of you who are sick of this, I’ve been installing Ubuntu. (What’s an Ubuntu? Click here for my article explaining that.)

Basically, it’s a desktop Operating System (like Windows XP or MacOS) that runs on most PCs. If you have multiple computers in your house, I can take an old/spare/messed up one out of the closet and pop Ubuntu onto it and bam! Fresh machine. It looks and acts like Windows, except you can’t have problems. That’s right, no viruses, spyware, popups, Bing Bars, or Nigerian hoaxes. It just works and it leaves you alone. Even senior citizens like it!

My customers have seen how my eyes light up when describing to them the beauty of Ubuntu. Many of them are in culture shock and cannot believe it when I reiterate, “You can’t have viruses with Ubuntu. It just works and leaves you alone.” I could go on for hours about how the contrast between it and its competitors is so drastic.

So, why am I worried? Because Ubuntu’s changing too. In an attempt to shoot itself in the foot (a precursor to the digital house of horrors that is Windows 8), Ubuntu decided to destroy its User Interface (the way you use it) completely, and replace it with a ridiculous joke that scares away anyone and everyone. This joke is called Unity and it’s a huge piece of garbage.

The original Ubuntu interface looked like this:

Ubuntu Screenshot

Now, Unity looks like this:

unitysucks

As you can see above, the Unity interface throws a pile of icons to the left side of the screen. Fine, everyone has a widescreen now, it makes sense to plop the icons to one side. However, if you want to actually explore the programs available to you, you have to click the magical “Start” button at the top left, THEN TYPE IN THE NAME OF THE APP YOU WANT, which requires that you read their minds first AND KNOW WHAT’S AVAILABLE AND HOW TO SPELL IT. No more clicking the Applications menu and exploring to see what’s in the computer.

ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!?!?!

The rest of the flaws in Unity involve the titlebar of each maximized window being integrated into the top of the screen, meaning you can’t easily restore/move/close/minimize windows. Icons and mouse cursors fly around at random sometimes, too, misinterpreting what you actually wanted.

A terrible change for change’s sake. Makes everything LESS easy to use. Sure, this might seem trivial, but when the general public is already intimidated by computers, this is very poor design.

How to solve this issue:

1 – stick with Ubuntu 11.04 or earlier. (11.04 specifically allows you to go back to the old interface – at the login screen, choose Ubuntu Classic.) There’s no reason to upgrade. Just periodically update Firefox and you’re fine for a long time.

2- If you install Ubuntu 11.10, remove Unity by following the instructions here. It’s not going to look quite right when you’re done, but close enough.

3- Switch to another version of Linux, such as Mint or Zorin. These two Operating Systems are based on Ubuntu’s solid underpinning, but have prettier, more conservative user interfaces. In fact, after the release of Unity, Mint’s popularity SURGED.

What I Do

I’ve been putting older versions of Ubuntu on people’s older machines, and using the latest copy of Zorin on newer machines – Zorin is EVEN MORE similar to Windows as far as icon placement, so many people wouldn’t even be able to tell the difference!

MORAL OF THE STORY: What feature-happy nerds forget is, CUSTOMERS WANT CONSISTENCY, NOT CONSISTENT CONFUSION! Think for a moment about the commercial success of Windows XP, or DVD movies. Both have outlived their supposedly more advanced successors – why? Because people are sick of HAVING TO BUY & LEARN more things ALL THE TIME, even if there is some sort of marginal benefit in the newer version.

Postscript: It gets worse…

I might as well add another fighter to this beat-down criticism fest of my beloved Ubuntu: Richard Stallman. This “weird beard,” as the Register fondly calls him, is a HUGE stickler when it comes to… well, anything sticklable. He doesn’t believe in eating meat or shrimp, coal mining, going to Applebee’s, shaving, web design, and rumor has it, air or water. Anyway, Richard claims that recent versions of Ubuntu include a bit of software that collects information about you and reports it (just the data, not your name) to Amazon. Amazon can then pop suggestions onto your desktop.

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2012/12/07/stallman_on_ubuntu_spyware/

Sure, it helps Ubuntu raise money, and sure you can turn it off (Do users really know what these things are and how to disable them? The answer is almost never.) but… nope. I’m siding with Richard on this one. No way, Jose. No thanks, Ubuntu. Spyware belongs with common folk in the Windows world, not with enlightened users such as my customers.

Thanks for reading this episode of Teknosophy! More to come!

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You’re only as strong…

I’m Not Dead Yet! (As usual, bonus points if you get the reference.)

There’s a lot of life left in desktop computers. I’m not one of those pundits who expect desktops to become obsolete – tablets have awful touch-screen keyboards and are even more difficult to repair than laptops. The only reason people are moving to them in droves is because the absence of Microsoft = the absence of hassle.

So, I could sit back and just focus on Windows PC repair – and eventually put my competition out of business. Later on, after Microsoft goes the way of the Kodak, I can always help bewildered people set up their iPhones, Macs, and Android devices… but would I thirst for more?

Where do we go from here? What’s my long-term goal? Sure, I’d like to expand Teknosophy to other cities and focus on rescuing consumers from toolbar-infested computers, but what other horizons exist?

SMEs

Small businesses can’t afford their own IT staff. They need their computers up and running all the time, and when something goes down, they need it back RIGHT AWAY.

Much of the time, they’re disappointed with their incumbent “IT Guy”, be it a full-time employee or contractor. Said “Guy” received his most recent training from a textbook in 1991 (e.g. he still believes defragging is helpful) and was awarded the job mainly by merit of having a beard. Most “IT Guys” think they’re still in the late-1990s tech bubble, where anybody comfortable with a keyboard or mouse is a “computer whiz” – and unfortunately it still seems this way sometimes. They drive around putting useless patches, registry cleaners, and other digital “snake oil” on people’s computers.

There are also three significant needs that this dramatized individual doesn’t understand:

1- Web Design: 99.999999% of small businesses have a website that cost them several thousand dollars for, and was made by a Web guy who disappeared the day you paid him. Said Web guys are teleported to an alternate universe filled with all of your missing left-foot socks.

2- Proper cloud services: Once people discover that Microsoft Outlook is nothing more than a courier of viruses, they’ll need assistance in moving all their emails over to the cloud. Anyone who can assist them in moving their email messages over to BlueTie, Google, or any other non-Exchange service, will be in demand.

3- Custom software creation: One of the reasons I personally prefer residential work is the fact that every small business I work with depends on some obscure piece of horribly-made software. It’s usually a piece of software written by some guy in an Alaskan basement 30 years ago, costs $10,000 a year, and crashes all the time, yet the entire industry is resigned to using it because “nothing better exists.” I could make billions if I could just corral some software programmers into a cubicle.

In conclusion, by creating a Business Services division, I could search out and rescue these poor unfortunate small businesses that are paying tens of thousands of dollars to buzzword-spouting Jack Sparrow lookalikes.

Random business-looking buildings

The Weakest Link

I’ve been a huge Genesis fan my whole life. I’ll never forget their song “Back in NYC” – it was the first time I’d heard the expression “You’re only as strong, as the weakest link in the chain.”

Let’s talk about large organizations for a moment. The weakest link in the relationship between them and their customers is without a doubt, the “call center.” This is a building where hundreds of untrained people read from scripts handed to them, and deftly destroy any consumer confidence your marketing department worked so hard to foster.

Think about it… have you ever called a toll-free number and been satisfied with the result? Aside from calling Apple, or the 1 out of 100 times when you reach someone who defies their boss by actually helping you… the answer is a big fat no.

Get this…

So you’d think anyone with common sense would avoid abetting such a phenomenon. You’re wrong. Some executives have no decent business education, and instead read magazines while on vacation in order to keep current with business methods. (This is known as Management by Magazine Article!) Some of these folks read that it’s a good idea to outsource their large organization’s IT needs. So far so good?

It’s a known fact that some large organizations pay millions of dollars, sometimes monthly, to outsource their own in-house technical support to a call center. They assume that if they outsource their tech support to a company specializing in phone support, then they’ll be “taken care of” by “experts.” Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Much of this tech support is pitiful at best, involving a handful of un-empowered, de-motivated, under-trained, and underpaid agents reading scripts over the phone. If you’ve ever called any tech support line, you’ll realize that these scripts are basically lists of the most common “sticky situations” customers call about. (Think “Choose Your Own Adventure” book.) These agents slump helplessly in chicken coops that hang from the ceiling, supervised by middle schoolers who are fed a taco for every 1,000 phone calls that come in.

These poor chickens agents can be fired at any time. Any attempt to prevent recurring issues will be promptly quashed. Rumor has it, if there’s a fire in the building, they have to apply for permission to leave, via a website! (Obviously all morale-boosting policies.)

The result: The callers are frustrated executives who would give anything to have their problem actually solved by one of those rare knowledgeable people!

India

Let’s talk about a call center in India (or anywhere in the Far East). Imagine everything above, except with super-friendly people who have even less training and make even less money. (Some people complain about their accents but I can actually understand them just fine.) If they just received SOME sort of training, ANY training at all, and some empowerment, these call centers would be praised in places beyond magazine articles.

Conclusion

My buddy James works in IT, and he sees incompetence all the time. When asked why anyone would let this happen, he shrugs and says, “In the land of the blind, one-eyed men are kings.” IT is still a wild, wild west.

Computers themselves are scary, fickle little boxes that have a monopoly on our needs, our hopes, and our fears. We don’t know what to do or where to turn… and the result is what he calls “IT Jerkey” – a dried up, lifeless version of what’s supposed to be, that’s cheap to procure.

These concepts are surprisingly obvious, yet nobody seems to get it. People naturally want to help each other, and in a company that fostered empowerment and the prevention of recurring problems, these agents would shine.

I can shatter that industry like a wrecking ball through potato chips. All it takes is a bit more momentum…

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Association Genius

Hi folks, Marc here. Today we’ve got another article by our guest blogger, James. He makes us think about accommodating technology for disabilities, and how sometimes that old reliable cell phone you had was all you really needed anyway.

Happy reading!

Online Learning

The speed by which technology has changed our learning habits and the pedagogy has been transforms at lightning speed. We have gone from classrooms with chalkboards to classrooms with power point. Technology has taken us from over kill of Power Point presentations to “death by webinar.” This new webinar class room has become less interactive then the old physical classroom then the one with power point in it. The webinar does have its perks, and they are as follows:

  • The ability to reach a larger audience
  • Lower training staff cost
  • Ability to use staff differently
  • The ability to make people self-motivating learners, provided the webinar is created correctly from a pedagogical standpoint of stimulation, interactive, and able to reach the learning style of a broad audience
  • The ability to use more media in a presentation
  • Test-out options for participants and they are only tested on what they don’t know

Most of the technology convinces we enjoy as a society today has been developed specific uses for small groups in mind. Some examples of this are voice recognition, magnification and texting; these were developed as assistive technologies first. We now take the benefits of the assistive technology for granted in our everyday lives. This leads me to the largest issue with this format is that it needs to reach learners at all levels. The webinar needs to find an appropriate speed and be able to be viewed with the accessibility tools for those with disabilities. There are many e-learning and webinars that are still not created with the accessibility standards in mind for those with disabilities. When creating a webinar the IT staff and Trainers needs to keep in mind that people will be using software that will be reading the text or describe the pictures on screen to them. In the design and coding process this needs to be taken into account. The above list becomes a bigger obstacle when you take your learning process to the mobile device. Many of the makers of assistive learning technology still need to catch up to the mobile devices. Things to keep in mind:

  • Speed of webinar and e-learning seminar
  • Accessibility criteria
  • Audience and its diversification
  • Engagement and interaction
  • Realize not everyone picks up information the first time
  • If you insert a test into a webinar everyone tests at a different rate (multiple choice) is not always the best evaluation tool. If the webinar is based on participation find ways to evaluate participation.
  • Like in a classroom environment you may need to reinforce information more than once but in different ways to people don’t get bored.

We must be careful that in the process that we are not leaving people behind in this explosion of learning growth. We cannot ignore all that the traditional classroom has taught us about learning, either. Learning is difficult and no matter where you do it that difficulty will not change, the job of the educated is to make learning enjoyable, intuitive and to empower the learner to continue to learn. “An educated society makes and educated electorate.” – Thomas Jefferson.

Latest is not always greatest

The consumer, IT Departments and everyone in between, have become obsessed with the latest invention on the market. The wide choice of devices and platforms has led to confusion and decentralization of resources. This decentralization has forced IT Departments into high-expenditure projects, and to continue looking for the next great breakthrough in technology to keep people as customers. In the rush to “new” and “great” technology we have forgotten to harness what we have already. Many of the technologies people have they love and have not gotten rid of and they are simple to use.

We as designers and developers have disregarded for the “cutting edge”. What makes technology easy and accessible is the KISS principle (Keep It Simple Stupid). No matter how great your App or webinar looks people will not use it if it is not user friendly. User Design is essential to all platforms. Some of the oldest and most loved devices are our best friends in this mobile world. (Take a minute and think about some of them.) These are time tested, and inexpensive compared to current mobile devices and they have brand loyalty to them as well.

Quality and Availability of Information

When people speak of creating more accesses to information, people only think about it only in terms of how many ways I can get to the information or how much information. People don’t look at access to information in terms of quality, means, liberty or ability to enter. This has led to a lack of depth in the information because people only can handle small bits of information, changing the way we reach people and the level of knowledge people have. The above-mentioned qualities of access are very important to keep in mind when we put information out into the public domain for consumption. If the information is not of quality, means, liberty or ability to enter, then no one will stay with you. People must be taken on an epistemological journey. Information for the sake of information is no information at all.

Access can also be defined by equal opportunity to the information. This opportunity can be found in places like the Americans with Disabilities Act section 504 and 508. For this group it is not about how many devices you put the information or the quality of the information, it is about just viewing it. This is the basic access to knowledge that is so critical to so many people. By creating accessible programs, your audience gets bigger and the quality of your program improves. As a developer, it is shocking to see how these simple changes make a website or webinar better and improve everyone’s ability to retain information and your business to retain people.

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Boycott Linksys

Straight, No Chaser

Sorry folks, there’s no clever title or snarky intro for this episode. But the truth is, it’s time to boycott Linksys. Why? Because they’re spying on you.

Routers are devices that connect to your cable or DSL modem and allow you to connect multiple computers to the Internet. They also contain a component called a firewall, which is a passive security device that protects you from “crank callers,” namely Windows computers in your neighborhood that are spewing out viruses. Finally, most offer wireless connection to your laptops, smartphones, and tablets.

Pay Attention

For the past few years I’ve been whole-heartedly recommending AGAINST Linksys routers. Especially those newer black ones that look like cool UFOs:

Not only are these devices physically unreliable (some die within a year), but they also install bloatware. Lots and lots and lots of bloatware. (Hear it straight from frustrated consumers here: http://glocktalk.com/forums/archive/index.php/t-1289532.html)

Bloatware is software designed to nag you and slow your computer down. It has no other purpose. Some of it may even spy on you (as is the case with HP Printer Software). As an added bonus, Linksys bloatware also causes computers to crash.

So, when you buy Linksys routers, they come with a CD that you THINK you need in order to set up your router. You may even take it a step further and install it on all the computers in your house, THINKING you need it on all of them! It then bogs EVERY computer down, uses them to call home and checks for useless updates, and nags you every five seconds with warnings and technical information you don’t need to know.

But wait, there’s more!

Here’s the deal. The bloatware was despicable enough. One call to me and I can eradicate it. But recently they’ve gone further. They realized that some people refuse to install the software from the CD, so they became sneakier. They now embed SPYWARE and FORCED UPDATES into their new routers. You can’t even MANAGE your OWN router without signing up for their “Cloud Connect” garbage Service. (I understand many online services will require a subscription or at least a free account – but requiring an account and depending on a company to manage your OWN devices is ENTIRELY UNNECESSARY.)

Now folks, I use the word spyware liberally, and I am a bit of a libertarian, but when the Dell Support Forums “Virus-Spyware” section reveals this malarkey to the world, we’ve got a problem. Read the article here.

Again, the irony here is amazing. In the author’s words: “I consider my router an essential component of my layered security” – the Linksys device is supposed to PROTECT you from threats. They’re turning on their own customers.

The crowd goes Wild

There are many articles, such as this one, that show you how to disable the Cisco Connect spyware. However, there’s a certain point where no matter how cool the car is, you shouldn’t have to replace the engine the day you buy it. Hopefully this thing will go big and the market will put pressure on Linksys to suck a little bit less.

Cashing In… Selling Out

This article and this article explain the stealth coup d’etat. Get this – software SNEAKS IN to your device and CHANGES or CRIMPS your features. Basically someone at Linksys is using the “Management by Magazine Article” method, heard the buzzword Cloud, and is now attempting to monetize this buzzword. Nice job, doofus.

This isn’t the first time that a router manufacturer turned sour. Even Belkin, my favorite marque of router, betrayed its customers around 10 years ago. Luckily articles were published to BRING THIS TO LIGHT, they were caught red-handed, apologized, and eventually became my favorite brand of router!

Therefore

I sincerely hope Linksys (and its parent Cisco) is reading this now. Not just some statistic-recording computer, but a human being with the power to pull the plug on this outrage.

Again, if you have one of the older Linksys/Cisco routers, and have been infected with the bloatware CD that came with it, not a huge deal. But if you have one of the 2012 models, THROW IT AWAY. Better yet, soak it in manure and mail it back to them. Manure is also a good buzzword.

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Guest Blogging: Accessibility

Editor’s Note: James is our guest blogger today. He’s an IT professional who has a lot to say on a topic I take for granted – accessibility. We still have a long way to go in terms of handicap accessibility, such as page-reading technology.

Intro

Have you ever wanted that technology jargon explained in simple terms? Ever wonder why technology moves so fast and what is buried in those terms no one understands? Why no one draws parallels from one technology to another? Yeah, so do I. Ever wonder how exactly you get all that spam, why your information procreates quickly and whatever happened to your eyes and ability to read a web page? Most importantly how we got here? I’ll find out and explain concepts in plain English.

My name is James and I have partnered with the Teknosophy blog to help you wade through the mess that is computing, discuss the social, educational, regulatory, and down right closing of opportunity. I have spent the better part of my IT career advocating for better educational accessibility, usability and design standards that include all people. I have worked on web design that integrates with assistive technologies as well as ADA 504 and 508 compliance. I have been a frequent presenter on the topics of education and technology in the classroom, technology and security, technology and how its exclusion of people as well as inclusion.

My mission is to help organizations advance their message by making intelligent decisions, in the area of compliance and usability while it is still cost effective. Creating a preventative IT solution instead of a reactive and costly solution.

ARTICLE 1: What is accessibility in technology?

What is accessibility in technology? To many this means having access to large amounts of information all the time, or as Burger King puts “have it your way.”  Just because you can have it on any device any time your way does not mean information is accessible it just means it’s available.  We have come up with ways to make information deliverable in fast, mobile and most of all cool ways.  The information is neither engaging nor accessible.  The true measure of accessibility is usability and engagement.  Can a person use the information and do they get something from the information.  As of now these two things are not occurring; many people still struggle to have their PDF files read by assistive technology; assistive technology still lags behind in mobile devices.  Developers lack in the necessary skills to integrate true accessibility and the developers cob together application in the hopes of making something interesting.

ARTICLE 2: When purchasing a computer, how do you think of your computer?

When people go out to buy a computer they buy based on marketing deception:

–        The looks of the machine

–        Weight of the machine

–        What color can I get in?

–        How fast is it?

–        How big is the hard drive?

–        Size of the monitor?

When buying a car or hiring an electrician we often ask for a person’s qualifications, however, when we buy a computer we never ask that question.  We accept that they know what they’re talking about and more on.  Too many assume everyone knows everything just because they use a computer.  Just because you use it does not mean you know how to use it.  There is more to the computer purchase then the above list.  The inner workings of the machine and how the operating system interacts with the hardware is important.  How much space the operating system takes up on the hard drive?  What the graphics card is and the speed of the processor.  The understanding of the pixel ratio for your display is also critical.  This allows you to get the best image for your money.  

Do you consider your computer like an appliance?

–        How much heat does the machine create?

–        How much electricity does it use in a year?

–        Where and how do I discard the old machine once I purchase this one?

–        What can I do to make sure my data is securely destroyed?  

When shopping for a computer assess your needs first.  Second project how long you intend to keep the computer, with good maintenance and understanding of what you install one can keep a computer a long time.  Third and most important come to the store with a budget in mind. Do not allow someone to over sell you a computer that you will not need. This is especially true in the area of software.  Too many times people walk out of the store with a computer with more hardware then they will ever need and software packages they will never maximize.  They will be buying software just because it sounds fancy with the promise of learning it or because they may edit a few family photos.  A computer is not a game console either.  A computer is a machine that needs skill and in depth understanding on how to use it and build it and maintain it.

 

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