of tools and systems

There are two things that I have learned as an IT person over the years that haven’t changed. The first is the System View, by Donella Meadows. Tragically her life was cut short, but her concept remains one of the top IT views ever. Simply put all things are a system; there are inputs and outputs. Air-conditioning systems, bathtubs, and technologies are all system. Every system has inputs, processes, and outputs. I still to this day use this simple view of technology when approaching something new. The other technology system I use still is the OODA Loops by John Boyd. Boyd’s view of the world more of a holistic view above what the system view would be. Observe, Orient, Decide Act.

Both of these tools remain in my toolbelt. The rest of the tools have changed over the years. Experience teaches us that over time, things change. There was a time when I considered UML the easiest way to present software and software solutions to other people. There was a time when I thought about using other systems. I have used DODAF, Zachman, and many other frameworks. It is all about creating a common language so that the software architect and the end user are better able to understand. The concept that architects start with is that of requirements. What is it people want the system to do. From there, we layer on user cases. Use cases are interesting but dangerous.

You can never cover all the possible use cases for a software solution. One of the things was always trying to understand the variability in the technology around the solution. There are five versions of windows right now — 7,8, 8.1, 10, and 10-second edition. There are at least 12 different versions of Linux desktops, and currently, there are at least 5 MacOS versions. Add to that that every single machine can have as many as nine different browsers and you see use cases that are comprehensive are not possible. There are always things you don’t understand, and worse, there are always things that get missed. I think for me, that is one of the reasons that Donella’s system view and John Boyd’s OODA Loops have stuck with me. They are flexible answers to a question that can be very confusing at times.

Funny what sticks with you throughout a career!

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Cooking tech

I don’t often talk about cooking tech, I probably should. One of the things I love is the Ninja Foodi! It is an air fryer and a pressure cooker. Both are things I hadn’t considered critical, my mom recommended an air-fryer, and I’ve been hooked ever since! Pressure cooking is not something I ever thought I would use, but frankly, I have since used it! Now the new thing we’ve tried lately is the concept of a Souve for cooking. There are several types of Souve’s you can get either on Amazon or other online or in person cooking places. Souve cooks with water. What you do is simply put your food, species altogether in a plastic bag, seal the bag.

I guess the other tech you need is a  bag sealer.  Seal the bag and put it either in a pot with an attached Souve or in a Souve oven. A Souve heats the water to a consistent temperature and allows you to cook something in its juices. So far we’ve tried it with a couple of chicken dishes. You mix the chicken, and other things (carrots and potatoes in our case) a little garlic, salt and pepper and then seal the bag. We heated the Souve to 200 degrees. It cooked the chicken in about 20 minutes. The chicken was fresh and tasted wonderful. I did add just a little chicken broth to the bag before I sealed it. I know I am probably more cooking tech-focused than most people.

But I love tech, and I love to cook! Sometimes the mixing of both is a good thing. Plus, one of the things I look for in cooking tech reduces the time I have to spend getting ready. The easier things can be up front the less time, it takes me. I love spending time in the kitchen when I have time to spend. But often the reality of the day is you don’t have time. Plus there is nothing fire than Maryland Crab Cakes done in the air fryer! They are crispy without being dunked in oil! You can air fry anything you would deep fry from French Fries to Crab Cakes. The next thing I want to do is a Souve Dinner Party. You put an empty pouch on the plate, let people fill it, and drop them in the Souve to Cook.

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The Rise of 360 degree cameras…

We have a GoPro Hero camera with a mount for our bike. We love getting out on the bike, and it is fun to video bike rides. We end up covering a lot of ground! When you think about the market that GoPro has created, it is interesting. In part because the origin of the market was the use by extreme athletes. Now, more and more people outside of just extreme adrenal junkies are using cameras to record their lives. One of the areas that I think is poised to make a move in the technology world is the reality of 360-degree cameras. Not only because Facebook can add those, but so does Android and iOS.  In both the phone cases you are using the panorama, but it is close to a 360 image.

One of the reasons that I believe technology is going to take off is the reality of the 64-bit processor in newer phones. The early computers were 4 and 8-bit computers. DOS, or the Disk Operating System, was the processor needed to hum along. You could address 640k of memory directly and using a switch in your Autoexec.bat (Himem.sys) you could you address up to a full meg of onboard memory. Hold me back! The iPhone launched late last year as between 2 and four gig of addressable memory. The 64 bit Apple processor and the 64 used in the Android world, both allow you to address more than one mega of memory. I remember the day we moved from 16 bit to 32-bit computers.

Suddenly you could have four megs of memory! With the available power in your cell phone, you suddenly have the power to easily render a 360-degree image. The problem with 360 isn’t taking the image; it’s stitching it together. The faster the processor you use to stitch your picture, the sooner you will see it. Honestly, with the newer cameras and the newer phones, it is real time. That nearly real-time presentation of images is incredible! It does, however, reminds me of the days of loading applications into a meg of onboard RAM. (Random Access Memory) and learning about the reality of swap files. (Back in the day, and frankly to this day but hard drives are much faster) Windows, Linux, and Unix (as well as MacOS) would load a portion of the operating system into a section of your hard drive called the swap file. You cared when what you had loaded on your computer, was more than the memory you had installed (RAM). That meant the swap file was more active, and because of hard drive speeds, the computer was slower.

The more RAM you have, the less likely you are fill up the RAM and start relying on the swap file!

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troubleshooting and asking for help

I have been chasing a strange technology issue for the past three days. Netflix, which runs on our connected cable box, loads shows to about 24% and then hangs there. I tried a couple of tricks after a Google search; it worked one time, and then stopped again. I am going to have to spend time on the pheon to deal with this, I am sure. I have a rule about troubleshooting if I can’t fix it in 3 hours or less, call someone else. It comes from the years I spent on the helpdesk when I was first in IT. Three hours is about the maximum time you can spend troubleshooting something before both parties start to get frustrated.  Network issues are often harder than other IT or Technology issues.

In part they, network, issues are harder is that for the most part we are connecting to work or things we enjoy doing. So the willingness to have an issue goes down! The most important thing, sometimes, is just knowing someone else had the problem. That is the beauty of Google, Bing, Yahoo, or other search engines. That you find quickly someone else has the same issue. Not that I would wish the issue on someone else, but that it is sometimes nice to know that someone else is also having the same problem. That got me thinking about problem solving and troubleshooting issues. Many years ago, I used to write a column for a magazine called the Vanilla Network.

The goal of taking something to vanilla is to remove the variables. I know that there are many things that are variables in the computer world. The computer you use, the browser you used, the virus scanner you use and what version of the operating system you are on (Windows 7, 8, 8.1, 10 or the now three releases beyond 10), Linux (Mint, Ubuntu, CentOS and many more) and Mac (10 or higher, 9 or lower). Each has variables within how they operate. It makes troubleshooting issues hard some times. So, as an IT professional, we always seek to get to Vanilla. One of the things I have built is a vanilla Windows 7, 8, and ten computers (called a virtual machine) so I can test things that are impacting me.

Sometimes it is my problem! Sometimes it is not. It is knowing absolutely the answer to that question makes my life easier.

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Technologies I think are going to be big…

Ok, I haven’t done this in a while so here goes.

Technologies that will change the world, or at least how we do something today!

1. Translation hardware- the quality continues to improve. The processing of the devices allows you to talk nearly real time even if you understand none of the languages. I played with Travis yesterday, listening to a YouTube presentation in Arabic. The translation fell behind a little but overall was nearly real-time from Arabic to English.

2. Voice control – the hardware can understand more and more.

3. Three hundred sixty cameras – again, the tech is improving, the cameras are smaller, and the abilities are really impressive.

I spend a lot of time in my job trying to see what tech lies just ahead, what tech is further ahead and what tech is well, way too far away to be useful now. The most important thing, by the way, is something I was reminded of yesterday and wanted to convey. Technology is always cool for me, but if it doesn’t help you, then, by all means, it isn’t important to you!

Things that do not help you personally are things you put aside to see if there will be changes.

I do think more people will be involved with Voice Control sooner than the other two. I suspect based on the integration that the Travis team is doing; many businesses are going to invest in the new form of meetings. Travis has partnered with an online meeting company to provide meetings, with live translation for all speakers on the call. I think that is a wonderful “flattening” of the world around us!

Three hundred sixty cameras are interesting as well, but the use for them in the general or business-specific population is the furthest out of the three today. I do think that 360-degree cameras are going to catch on eventually, but they may still be 10-12 months out!

My new Technology Mantra if it isn’t something you need. It isn’t critical (thanks to Vidocka and CarolDM for reminding me of that!!!)

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Poll Results

Q: Are there technologies I’ve missed that you think are going to be big?

  • Yes (3 votes) – 43%
  • No (4 votes) – 57%

Q: Do you have one of the three tech items listed?

  • Yes (2 votes) – 29%
  • No (5 votes) – 71%

Q: Do you think technology is moving too fast….?

  • Yes (7 votes) – 88%
  • No (1 votes) – 13

on voice control

One of the things that I do personally is the concept of Home Automation. I like having the ability to, turn off lights or TV’s etcetera in the house without having to go to the room where that device is. I use a system for a company called Control4. The latest release of their software now supports Amazon’s Alexa voice control. Now, instead of using my phone or one of the control stations, I can use my voice. Voice control has come a long way. I do and have posted several times the reality of voice control in crowded places. What I thought would be of value today is to talk about what voice control means and where it can help you. The most important thing about technology is always doing it help you!

IF tech doesn’t help you, by all means, do not use it!

Voice Control!

1. Entering a dark room, Alexa turns on the lights in X room.

2. Local weather (Bloomsky) and national weather (NWS) or (EWS)

3. Stock or new reports (Alexa what’s the news?)

4. Cooking? Alexa read my recipe! The

These are simple; you can also integrate many more things. The reality remains that voice control in loud places will not work. The voice control system in my wife’s Toyota does not work well. I would say it is her car, but it also doesn’t work well in the mini-van we have (Also Toyota). Ambient noise impacts the ability of the microphone to ascertain what is noise and what is your voice.

But, from the starting point to now, voice control has improved. I did a review spends a lot of time with the three primaries now four primary systems. At the time the Microsoft Cortana was the ablest to respond. But the advantage Cortana had was that it was integrated with Windows on more powerful hardware. Siri, Google, and Alexa are integrated with lower powered hardware.

Now the reality is Cortana only for PC’s and not stand alone any longer. The other three continue to improve!

Voice control is an interesting situation today. I will try to end with my new Tech Mantra. If this doesn’t help – don’t use it!

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I’ve talked in the past of my search to replace the Circular Slide rule my father got me when I was younger. It wasn’t that I want to continue using the slide rule; I have been chasing the functionality of that device for my entire IT career. At the time I got the slide rule, I was entering into high school math, and the slide rule helped me. First, I was faster with that than my classmates were about slide rules. Second, I could quickly look up formulas. Inside the slide rule was a plastic sheet with printed information on both sides. Today I can do all of that and so much more with my iPhone. I guess what I miss now is that my dad gave me that slide rule all those years ago.

However, today, I wanted to talk about an application I use all the time. The screenshot comes from my phone and is of the Wolfram Alpha application. It allows you to use natural language with mathematics. It is a resource I often use. Beyond Wolfram Alpha, I often use other applications such as the periodic table, and electrical circuit design (that because of a writing issue we’ve been working on in our house). The use of devices that allow you to quickly gather and use information is the value of a smartphone.  That got me wondering what applications do I use every single day on my phone or tablet. Not, applications that you open to clear messages, but use!

1. Wolfram Alpha

2. GPS (Apple Maps and Waze)

3. Email (outlook)

4. Canary (home security)

5. Control 4 (Home Automation)

6. ADT Pulse (home security)

7. Bloomsky and NetATMO (home weather stations)

I know, for the most part, I am more tech-driven than most people. But I also know that the number of applications I use on my phone has increased radically. The concept I introduced now, more than seven years ago is that of Bitesize applications. Where once upon a time, we never used applications on mobile devices because it was too hard, reducing what the mobile did (bite-size) allows us to use the application easily. I love what quite a few people have said to me over the years. It is not how fast technology moves; it is if I wish to keep up with the change!

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poll results

Q: Do you own a smart phone?

  • Yes (4 votes) – 100%

Q: if yes will you share the apps you use in the comments?

  • Yes (4 votes) – 100%

Q: Or do you not have a smart phone (or cell phone) at all?

  • Yes (3 votes) – 75%
  • No (1 votes) – 25%

Q: Do you ever get frustrated with your phone?

  • Yes (2 votes) – 50%
  • No (2 votes) – 50%