Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Web Secret #321: Upgrade or Die

I spend many hours every week keeping up with the latest technology hardware, software and social media as it impacts mental health and the employee assistance fields - my chosen areas of expertise.

It's a bit like jumping on to a moving treadmill that is keeping pace with a 4 minute mile, while you only have the capacity to run a 10 minute mile.

I have a lot of help - my Millenial children. And my nieces and nephews who range in age from 20 to 30.

This morning, my son told me about the Human Connectome project. A few months ago, I learned from my 20 year old daughter that one of the hottest game apps on college campuses is "2048". (Warning: download this app and be prepared to experience the gaming equivalent of crack cocaine.)

It does not surprise me that in 2012, Cathryn Sloane wrote a very controversial blog post "Why Every Social Media Manager Should Be Under 25," provoking outrage in a vast number of GenXers and Baby Boomers and a good number of scathing rebuttals.

So does everyone have to "Upgrade or Die?," as a 2013 blog post suggested? The author of that article makes an excellent point: "...[there is a] stereotype that older people can’t or won’t learn new technology, and that younger people are inherently better at new technology."

The truth is that there will always be people who live off the grid and embrace an "old fashioned" way of doing things. And depending on your job description, it may simply be unnecessary to have the latest gadget or use the latest operating system.

Putting that aside, there is extensive research showing that the most effective work groups are heterogeneous. That speaks to the importance of including representatives from different generations in many different settings. My relationship with technology spans from the IBM punch card to the iPhone 6. I have a lot of perspective and I understand the context of many technological advances.

My younger children grew up with social media and cell phones. They have neither perspective nor much context but they easily adopt new technology. They have nothing to unlearn.

Now here's the thing. Go into any restaurant around 6pm. You will see young couples with toddlers. The toddlers are very well behaved because they are each holding an iPad, playing with the game apps that have been created for their generation. In 20 years, when my children are middle aged, they will be working with those those now young adult toddlers. They belong to an as yet unnamed generation.

What will that look like?

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Web Secret #320: Is it live or is it Memorex?

Established in 1961, Memorex entered the consumer media business in 1971, first with its "shattering glass" advertisements and then with a series of famous television commercials featuring Ella Fitzgerald.

In the commercials, she would sing a note that shattered a glass while her performance was recorded on a Memorex audio cassette.

The tape was played back and the recording also broke the glass, the narrator asking "Is it live, or is it Memorex?"

Here is a commercial from the early 1980s so you can get a feel for their famous ads:


Thirty years later, the distinction between live performance and a performance that is recorded on some digital medium is fading very, very fast.

I recently purchased a set of Bose headphones to replace my Apple Earbuds. I was able to test them at the Bose store on my personal iPhone. I listened for approximately 30 seconds and started laughing. They were simply so superior to my Earbuds that it wasn't even close.

These headphones consist of a thin plastic wire, connected to some small plastic "buds" that I place in my ear. You would never imagine that something that looks so insubstantial can deliver so substantial a sound.

Now when I listen to music during my workouts, it all sounds so much better. In fact, the sound is so good that it's scary.

You see, my father was an opera singer. Now, when I listen to his recordings using my new headphones, and I close my eyes, I feel like he is in the room with me. The sound is multi-dimensional and I am enveloped by his voice. It thrills me to hear is voice. He is so present. It also magnifies my sorrow, as I am reminded of my loss.

I truly believe that the 3D virtual reality concert experience is around the corner. In the very near future, you will enter a pod and you will be surrounded by a virtual audience, watching a virtual recreation of that performance.

My father will be there.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Web Secret #319: The Internet of Things

Pay attention class.

There is an important concept that will impact all of us, (if it hasn't already,) than in the very near future. (Unless you are living off the grid and under a rock.)

It is called "The Internet of Things," abbreviated as IoT.

A British technology pioneer, Kevin Ashton, coined the term in 1999. As he explained:
"Today computers—and, therefore, the Internet—are almost wholly dependent on human beings for information. Nearly all of the ... data available on the Internet [was] first captured and created by human beings—by typing, pressing a record button, taking a digital picture, or scanning a bar code. ... The problem is, people ... are not very good at capturing data about things ... If we had computers that knew everything there was to know about things—using data they gathered without any help from us—we would be able to track and count everything, and greatly reduce waste, loss and cost. We would know when things needed replacing, repairing or recalling, and whether they were fresh or past their best. The Internet of Things has the potential to change the world, just as the Internet did. Maybe even more so."
Still not sure what the IoT really means? A thing can be:
  • a diabetic with a chip implanted in his body that sends an alarm when his blood sugar is low
  • a refrigerator that tells you when you are out of milk and sends a message to your smartphone reminding you to buy milk.
  • an automobile that has built-in sensors to alert the driver when tire pressure is low
  • any other natural or man-made object that can be assigned an IP address and provided with the ability to transfer data over a network.
While the IoT is currently in its infancy, it is estimated that there will be nearly 26 billion devices on the Internet of Things by 2020.

Infancy to adulthood in 6 years.

Are you ready?

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Web Secret #318: Learn to Fix Anything

In my apartment there is a Eurotech Washing Machine.

Never heard of this brand? You're lucky. The people who built my apartment building chose to install Eurotech machines in every unit. They are terrible. They break all the time.

Getting them repaired is a soul sucking nightmare.

So I no longer wait for the repairman. I Google one of the many do it yourself repair sites on the Internet and I fix it myself.

This might not sound especially impressive, but you should know that I am one of the least handy people in the world. This is partly due to my total lack of interest with DIY activities, and also due to a congenital absence of skill or coordination.

The great thing about repair sites on the Internet is that they not only post manuals, and written repair instructions, but they often post an explanatory video. Even a total loser like myself can follow a video.

(Well that's not entirely true. My teenage son and I watched multiple "How to Tie a Bow Tie" instructional videos before his high school prom night and failed miserably. But that's a story for another post.)

Anyway, thank you "Make Use Of" for writing about 4 fabulous sites that will enable you to fix almost anything:

Electronics: iFixit - With almost 2,000 Mac repair guides, 2,000 phone repair guides, and 1,000 PC repair guides, iFixit has you covered for just about any electronic repair you could want to undertake. There are camera, automotive, appliance, household, and computer guides, as well.

Around the House: The Family Handyman - Though The Family Handyman is a subscription magazine, their website offers a wealth of repair tips for various parts of your home. There are sections for heating and cooling, electrical, floors, automotive, painting, pest control, plumbing, and a wide range of other things.

Your Bike: Park Tool - If you’ve done any work on your bike in the past, you might have used tools made by Park. On the homepage of their repair section, there’s an image of a bike, and all you have to do is click on the part of the bike that you need to fix.

Your Car: DIY Auto School - Fixing your own car can be a bit scary, but DIY Auto makes the process a lot easier. From restoring a rusted-out car to fixing a dent, the guys from the school will give you tips to get you through the process, even if you’re a total newbie to car repair.

Warning: DIY Auto School is a YouTube channel and features some, at times, rather bizarre humor.

You may want to call AAA, pour yourself a glass of champagne and watch one of their videos for their entertainment value.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Web Secret #317: This is water

I have been writing this blog since 2008 and have featured only one guest post.

Today, I will do it again.

The Internet in general, and social media in particular, generate amazing amounts of crappy content. Sometimes it seems like there is a universe of cat videos, depressing clips of people doing dangerous and stupid stuff, and news that I would just as soon not know about. If you are looking for sad, evil, despicable evidence that humans are a sorry lot, then the web will reward you in spades.

However, when you least expect it, social media still has the ability to deliver a treasure. Something so beautiful and transcendent that you actually feel lucky to have lived long enough for technology to make this gift possible.

Such is "This is water," a commencement speech delivered in 2005 by author David Foster Wallace to the graduating class of Kenyon College. The speech didn't become widely known until 3 years later, after his tragic death by suicide. A video of an abridged version recently made it onto my Facebook page courtesy of Upworthy. I yield the floor to Mr. Wallace:



And when you're done watching the video, read the full transcript of the speech.

"I wish you way more than luck."

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Web Secret #316: Myth #1: People read on the web

I know for a fact that people do not read when they visit a website. You can bold the text. Make it orange and ALL CAPS. Move it to the most prominent place on the site. And they still call to ask you where to find stuff.

It's VERY irritating.

I do a fair amount of content editing and creation. And one thing that I have learned is that very smart people like to use a lot of words. A lot of very BIG words.

This was amusingly demonstrated in "How I Hacked Online Dating," a TED Talk by Amy Webb. Amy found out that like her many highly educated and intelligent peers, her profile on an online dating site was 4,000 words long. No one was reading it. In fact, by analyzing the most effective profiles, she learned that the most read ones were at most 100 words long.

Zoltán Gócza and Zoltán Kollin are two web design experts who believe that people should build websites based on evidence instead of myths. On their fantastically useful website UX Myths, they list the 32 most frequent user experience misconceptions and explain why they don't hold true.

You should read all 32, but I will summarize the #1 Myth: "People read on the web."
  • People only read word-by-word on the web when they are really interested in the content. They usually skim the pages looking for highlighted keywords, meaningful headings, short paragraphs and scannable list. Since they’re in a hurry to find the very piece of information they’re looking for, they’ll skip what’s irrelevant for them.
  • In 2013, analytics vendor Chartbeat found that most visitors scroll through about only 50-60% of an article page.
  • A 2008 eye-tracking study showed that less than 20% of the text content in an average web page is actually read.
  • In another usability test, researchers found that concise, scannable and objective copywriting resulted in 124% better usability.
  • Ergo, well structured pages that are designed for cursory reading are more likely to be read.
So trust me when I slash and burn my way through your copy.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Web Secret #315: my electronic journey

The other day I started to think about my long standing relationship with computers - astonishingly it goes back 40 years.

Though I was always intrigued, I did not fall in love right away.

Late 1960s - I go to a meeting of the 8th grade computer science club. Club activity seems to center primarily around creating punch cards which are in turn fed into a machine that produces a simple data output. Does not meet my expectation of the computing experience, primarily gleaned from watching Captain Kirk speaking to the Starship Entreprise's computer.

Mid 1970s - still looking for a computing high, I enter the Yale University Computer Science Lab. It's late at night and the room is filled with computers that emit a greenish glow against a black background. Everyone seems to be playing Star Trek, a text-based computer game that puts the player in command of the USS Enterprise on a mission to hunt down and destroy an invading fleet of Klingon warships. The game is played by laboriously inputing coordinates which in turn control the photon torpedoes necessary to annihilate a Klingon ship. A single move can take minutes. The screen shows dots and blips representing ships. (See top left photo of a typical Star Trek screen. Not quite as engaging as your nephew's "Call of Duty: Black Ops.") This is not for me.

Early 1980s - I go to the upper West Side apartment of one of my Columbia University social work graduate students. We are writing a manual together. She owns the very first home computer I have ever seen: an uninspiring word processor with a tiny screen. The screen fills with the words we are writing together. I know the machine is very expensive. In fact, she is the only person I know who has one. I am still uninspired.

1991 - I work in one of the satellite offices of a large national employee assistance program (EAP). The only person who has a computer is the secretary. You wouldn't know it, but she is the most powerful person in the entire office because she is the only one who knows how to operate this machine. The machine does only two things, word processing and Excel. One day we get a memo from company headquarters: "anyone interested in learning Word and Excel can do so on company time." Interested parties will receive VHS instructional tapes. I'm sick of depending on the secretary for my correspondence, so I sign up. I am the only one in the office to do this.

1996 - I am now the Director of Account Management at an EAP in Manhattan. I am given my first office computer, a Mac PowerBook which I do not know how to operate, having previously used a PC. My boss, upon noting that my resume stated proficiency in Word and Excel, promptly puts me in charge of making everyone in the office computer literate. My target population is 25 social workers and psychologists who have also just been given PowerBooks. Not only do they not know anything about computers, but they hate them. And they are highly resistant to being converted. Fortunately, I have an ally: our Apple tech support guy Nathan. Nathan is a disgruntled former attorney turned Mac support person. He knows about computers and is actually able to use the English language to explain them. He teaches me. Eventually, I teach everyone in the office how to word process and send e-mail.

1999 - I learn how to use Microsoft Publisher to create corporate newsletters.

2001 - with a partner I create a .com ePartTimeJobs - it fails

2005 - I learn HTML

2008 - I attend a social media boot camp. Five minutes into the camp, I learn about blogging and fall madly in love. I start this blog.

2009 - I get an iPhone3GS.

2010 - I get a MacBook Pro and a first generation iPad.

2012 - I get an iPhone 4s.

2013 - I get an iPad Mini.

2014 - I lose my 4s and get a 5c (just to tide me over until the 6 comes out.)

This is going to be a very long affair.