Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Kranzberg's Laws of Technology

Melvin Kranzberg (1917-1995) was a really smart guy. He earned his PhD from Harvard and was a professor at Georgia Tech. He also served in George Patton's army during World War II, so he had to be tough too. I respect smart, tough people so I pay attention to their ideas. He studied how technology and culture shape each other, which led him to some impressive insights.

Kranzberg is best known for his six Laws of Technology which state:

  1. Technology is neither good nor bad; nor is it neutral.
  2. Invention is the mother of necessity.
  3. Technology comes in packages, big and small.
  4. Although technology might be a prime element in many public issues, nontechnical factors take precedence in technology-policy decisions.
  5. All history is relevant, but the history of technology is the most relevant.
  6. Technology is a very human activity - and so is the history of technology.
At the heart of Kranzberg's laws is the simple understanding that humans are tool making animals. It understands that there is a coevolution between human kind and the tools we build

In any conversation about the development of a new technology, keep a copy of these rules nearby. Whenever I meet with entrepreneurs who want to enlist me in their new tech business venture, I always pull up a copy of Kranzberg's Laws. It helps me to frame the potential of the invention, and to look for the unintended consequences. I try to see beyond the immediate profit potential of the idea, and look to how culture and technology will interact to propel, or hinder, the business idea. It is surprisingly useful. 

Click for a deeper analysis of Krazberg's Laws

R-Squared Computing | Lou RG | Nearly Free IT | Firm Wisdom

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Monday, December 5, 2016

SMB Tech Mistakes - I Can Squeeze Another Year Out of These Old Computers

I'm certain my long silence on this blog has left many of you in terrible grief. Let's just say it has been a year of spectacular challenges that have left me with no time for anything but the necessities. I'm not alone in saying that I will be happy to see the end of 2016. Also, I want to start writing again, but no promises about publishing schedules. Onward...

Now that that is out of the way, allow me to vent a recurring frustration...the need for regular, planned IT upgrades. Otherwise known as "I Can Squeeze Another Year Out of These Old Computers." Allow me to cut to the chase: it's stupid thinking.

I get that the economy has been tough for many small businesses. I understand that cash flow problems are forcing budget cuts, and all the other bean counter excuses which fly around during budget meetings. Trust me. As a small business owner, I have learned to pinch a penny until old Abe Lincoln screams, but you just can't run your business without computers! And a broken computer is as good as no computer at all.

Old computers are absolute business liabilities! They're slow, buggy, cranky, and downright bitchy. They sap worker productivity to the point where you're basically throwing away their salaries. They consume more electricity than newer models. They require more time, attention, and hard-to-find (AKA expensive!) spare parts from your IT personnel. Old computers are costing you more money than you think!

Then there's the nightmare of a server failure. One client was out of business for a week because of a total failure of an old server. The downtime was caused by having to order a new server (made more expensive because we had to rush the shipping, which still took 3 business days), then we spent two days restoring the backups onto the new machine. Why? Because they refused to replace a 7 year old server even after I warned them it was heading towards a failure. I estimate that, because they didn't want to spend $10,000 for a new server when I asked them to originally, they ended up losing about $350,000 in lost productivity and business for the entire week they were down, and they still had to buy the new server. That's just a dumb business move.

Or the other client that refused to replace a 15 year old laser printer. The printer was so old it still used the old LPT port interface, which no modern computer even carries anymore. To make the antique printer work, they ordered an LPT to USB converter, which should have been fine, in theory. In reality, the converter blew out the motherboards on two separate computers because of some kind of bad power regulation. The converter manufacturer refused to accept responsibility, so everyone is waiting on the results of that lawsuit. However, my client lost two computers in one day which hurt their productivity, forced them to replace both computers, and they ended up buying a new USB laser printer. Because they didn't want to spend $200 on a new laser printer, they ended up spending $2,500 on new computers, plus whatever the lawyers will cost them.

Don't get caught in the same trap! Old machines need to be retired before they hurt your business. All it takes is planning ahead and smart budgetting. There are times to be prudent and cautious, but not at the expense of your operations! In the 21st Century, computers are integral business tools. Don't risk your business on old computers. It's really not worth it.

R-Squared Computing | Lou RG | Nearly Free IT | Firm Wisdom

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Monday, January 19, 2015

How Technology Changes Us

Every major technological advance exerts a biological change on humanity. In truth, the things we create, reshape us. Today we hear the frightening statistics on declining attention spans, expanding waistlines and shouts that the Internet makes people stupid. But this is nothing new. Each major technological advance has remade humanity. From our cultures to our biology, as we reshape our technology, we exert evolutionary pressures on ourselves.

One million years ago, the earliest humans napped stones to make hand axes. These axes made our ancestors much more effective meat eaters. It also increased caloric intake which allowed us to develop larger brains. Oddly enough, new research shows a connection between the parts of the brain involved in napping stones and the speech centers of the brain. It could be the simple act of banging rocks together (with incredible patience and precision!) is responsible for human speech.

Forty thousand years ago, humans started creating art. All over the world, Ice Age humans painted representations of animals and hunters on cave walls. Art was the moment where our species realized we could create representations of things that exist in the real world. We could capture a moment in time by using pictures. This small step opens the door to writing and math. The fact you are reading this is proof that those were significant advances.

Ten thousand years ago, our ancestors figured out farming and animal husbandry. This let them abandon their previous nomadic existence and let them settle down. This gave them more reliable sources of calories and, for the first time in history, created times of surplus. This freed up some of the society to specialize in tasks that would be useful. This change led to population growth which led to towns. Over time, towns grew into cities, and formal governments were born. This led to organized societies better able to manage resources and protect the citizenry. Which led to stability, which encouraged commerce, which increased wealth. You get the idea.

But the Agricultural Revolution had negative physical effects on our Neolithic ancestors. Because human diet and lifestyle changed, we know from archeological evidence that human height actually declined. When people started living off the land, they shrunk. To add insult to injury, it also shortened their lifespans too. Hunter-gatherers could live into their 30's, while Neolithic folks rarely made it to 20.

This is clear evidence of how our technologies change us. In the early stages, they cause us physical harm. It makes us shorter, dumber and we die younger; but only for a short span of evolutionary time! By the time of Ancient Rome, if you survived childhood, you had a fair chance of living into your 40's. The negatives were eventually overcome through a combination of new technologies (plumbing, hygiene, diverse diet) and human adaptation. In some ways the discovery of agriculture was a step backwards that allowed us to take several more steps forward.

The Digital Age is reshaping what it means to be human. Right now we are in the process of re-inventing humanity for this new technological age. As the discoveries of the Digital Age roll out in all their splendor, our species is being reshaped by new environmental pressures which will select for certain attributes. We will adapt, mentally and physically, to the new digital environments we craft. At first, it will have negative effects but, given time, those negatives will be surpassed. As a species, we will have to take a step backwards so we can leap into the future. 

Want to know more about the leap into the future? R-Squared Computing can help you prepare for tomorrow. 305-423-9574

R-Squared Computing | Lou RG | Nearly Free IT | Firm Wisdom

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Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Anonymous vs. ISIS

After the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris, the cyber terrorist organization, Anonymous declared war on ISIS and all other terrorist organizations. They have pledge to disrupt terrorist websites and social media accounts. I applaud their efforts. Remember, the Boston Marathon bombers were first  radicalized online. Someone needs to stop the spread of that poison. I applaud Anonymous for taking this on and I hope it consumes all their energy. 

Personally, I like Anonymous. I agree they are a terrorist organization who can cause genuine harm, but usually don't. Many people have commented how they only really cause inconvenience by shutting down websites for a little while before declaring victory and running off to the next idealistic movement of the moment. And there is nothing I can say to negate those realities.

However, I love what they represent. Anonymous is the collective voice of the super-geek who believes in many of the same things I do. As such, they will always have a special place in my heart because they have the courage to fight back.

They are also that thread of juvenile delinquency that I find so lacking in modern youth. In typical childish manner, they make boastful threats and grandiose claims. They make their political statements loud and clear then make some poor IT department miserable for a week to ten days. They accomplish little, but are heard by millions.

Their targets and behavior prove that Anonymous overwhelmingly consists of angst-ridden teenagers. Good! Kids should be morons and jerks. They should be angry and they should fight. That is perfectly normal. I worry about the teenagers that aren't jerks. I'm convinced they're adolescent serial killer sociopaths, or something.

But, these Anonymous kids are non-violent. No one has died because of Anonymous. More Americans may know about ISIS, but enough know about Anonymous, too. They achieved that notoriety without beheading anyone or actually destroying any real property. Taking down a website is a nuisance, nothing more. It has nowhere near the same life altering impact as watching your family murdered, your village burned then being taken into sexual slavery which basically describes a fun ISIS Saturday.

So, while Anonymous is, by any definition, a terrorist organization, let's all agree that there are degrees of terrorism. Therefore, ISIS would be First Degree Terrorism because they are hurting real people and Anonymous would be Twentieth Degree Terrorism because they can really only inconvenience people.

However, ever day that a jihadist website is down or terrorist Twitter account silenced, is another day without the spread of destructive, hateful ideas. I hope they shut down all those damn terrorists, saving themselves for last.

R-Squared Computing | Lou RG | Nearly Free IT | Firm Wisdom

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Saturday, October 18, 2014

Take a Social Media Marketing Class

For the past month or so, I have had the good fortune to be in Professor Maureen Lloyd-James' Social Media and Internet Marketing class at Johnson & Wales University North Miami campus.

As a self-described marketing moron, I was intimidated to be entering a class which boasted no text book. I'm old enough that such new fangled teacher-ing methods stink of witchcraft or hippie madness. The old prejudices that want to cling to a heavily bound, overpriced tome of knowledge have quickly evaporated, however. Aside from saving a small fortune in the bookstore, I have come to deeply respect the rapidly changing landscape of the digital marketing world.

The class lecture is fast paced and information dense. The Prof does not waste time and makes every second count. She assigns articles sourced from all over the internet describing various perspectives on the wiles of internet marketing. And, Professor Lloyd-James is happy to share useful online tools that extend our virtual reach.

All in all, it is a fascinating class. I am enjoying it immensely. I highly recommend anyone interested in learning more about this fascinating field of study to sign up for a class at their local university. You are never too old to learn something valuable. I have seen the positive impact of this course in my social media interactions already.

I can't wait for class tomorrow.

R-Squared Computing | Lou RG | Nearly Free IT | Firm Wisdom

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