No Tech Like Old Tech

Some people just like to keep things working for a long time.  But I guess if you are into having the latest in personal tech, you’ve just got to be the first to have it.  Some might even say that this is all about “conspicuous consumption” to borrow a term from past decades that was often used to describe consumers who were obsessed with having the latest or newest for obvious display to their peers.  Could this be something happening in the tech world today?  Early signs seem to be that there might be a “used tech”market that is finding some traction in more urban centers around the U.S.  

At the same time many tech companies are trying to train people to constantly upgrade their gadgets as soon as something newer and faster comes along.  One Apple executive recently remarked at a product event last month that it was “really sad” that more than 600 million computers in use are more than five years old.  I guess he was thinking about people like me, but he can be assured that our family does have an assortment of old and new mobile devices.  And he should be happy that most of them are Apple products.  But from a business standpoint this is not really good news.  Industry data suggests that consumers are waiting longer to upgrade to new phones than they have in the past.

As a result the used tech industry is growing, and if you choose not be a consumer of the latest personal tech innovation, you can be as “techie” as you want.  Join a Fixers Collective, or find a repair shop like the NYC iPod Doctor, or find a local Geek Squad.  You might even come to form a more sentimental bond with the older technology and the people who fix it.  

Ray Myers

Facebook for Everyone Everywhere, We are the World

Remember that old Michael Jackson and company song, “We are the World.”  Well, it just might have been the inspiration for Mark Zuckerberg’s latest initiative he likes to call TIP, Telecom Infra Project.  Just mix in a lot of open source resources, including an urban wireless network that checks its performance at 125,000 times a second, and a long-range wireless system that can send a gigabit of data a second, about ten times the rate of today’s good-performing networks and enough for virtual reality.  Ultimately, Zuckerberg wants to triple the size of his social network over the next ten years  which now has 1.6 billion.  Let’s see, that would make 4.8 billion Facebook followers out of a current world population of 7.125 billion, and growing.  And cheaper open source technology might help make this all possible in the future.

I can hardly wait.  But how am I going to keep up with all my friends and followers?  I really don’t have that many right now, but I spend a lot of time reading newspapers, a few books, and put in some travel time to visit with friends and family in different parts of the country.  I guess I just have to get more with the Facebook program, and save myself all that time and costs of travel.

Yesterday I had lunch with an old friend at a nearby restaurant and really enjoyed catching up with him in person.  Neither one of us had a smartphone in his hand, but at some other tables, lunch-goers were multi-tasking, eating and presumably keeping up with their social networks.  Conversation with each other at their tables was non-existent.  They obviously enjoyed being more in touch virtually (with people or other activities?) than in reality with those at their table?

Ray Myers

Let’s Make America Great Again – Really Connect All Schools to the Internet

It’s almost been twenty years since American schools began having access to funding to wire their schools though the federally funded e-Rate program administered by the Federal Communication Commission (FCC).   Unfortunately, if you live in a poor rural area of this country, you will still find that the speed and reliability of connections to your schools are not what they are in your state’s larger cities or more populous communities.  It will not be high-speed Internet.  In fact, teachers and students may be spending more time trying to connect to the Internet than in actually teaching and learning with it.  I know Al Gore has moved on to saving the world’s environment but we could really use his help on this one since he very instrumental when all this began during the Clinton years.  He must be feeling our pain.

There are a relatively small number of schools and communities that have this lack of needed connectivity, but our larges telecommunications companies seem to have little interest in connecting to them.  And there is little competition to provide services.  Seven percent of U.S. schools nationwide fail to find bidders when looking to upgrade Internet connectivity according to the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN).  Should our federal, state and local governments be doing more?  Or should we just let a “free market” take care of all this.  Students in many European and Asian countries have better connectivity.  (See U.S. Department of Education report on International Experiences with Technology in Education,

I know there are many geopolitical and geographic challenges that are unique to our American schools.  But we are, or can be, “great” again as we will continue to hear throughout this campaign year.  Let’s make our schools part of that challenge, promise?

Ray Myers

Put Me In Coach, I’m All Caught Up On My eMail!

It’s half-time of the big game at the NBA finals and each coach must be delivering a fiery exhortation to his team about how victory will be theirs at the end of the second half.  Now if he could just get them to put down their cell phones and hear his inspiring words.  Social media has obviously invaded the sports world, but in this case we are talking about the athletes and how many feel has become a powerful distraction in their efforts to perform in an optimum way.  Not to mention the millions of dollars that are being spent to support their players’ efforts to be competitive and build a winning franchise.

Some players have readily recognized these distractions in more philosophical terms.  New York Knicks’ Lou Amundson, a philosophy major in college, observes that society’s collective phone addiction hinders “pure interaction” and “intention-filled relationships.”  He thinks texting and social media divide a person’s energy in negative ways, and rues how the dopamine-loop associated with devices obliterates a person’s attention span.  I think that he has certainly gained a unique perspective on his life in professional sports and, by the way, he is 6’9″ tall (what they call a power forward(.

Perhaps the basic lesson here (and I am not trying to philosophize too much) is to live in the moment.  Halftime for a professional athlete at an NBA basketball game is not a time to forget about the game.  It can help you get a second wind both physically and mentally, if you put down your cell phone

Ray Myers

Google is God!

Well, not really, but things got very confusing in Europe when they tried to regulate what Google could do, and not do, with respect to protecting their citizens’ privacy in the European Union.  I’ll try to explain it as best I can from one American’s perspective.  Here we go: the European Court of Justice does not require that companies make their decision-making process open to public scrutiny.  People must make privacy requests that relate to online information, like personal circumstances or past criminal convictions, that is no longer relevant or not in the public interest (definitions that privacy lawyers say are inherently fuzzy).  Well, I am glad that I helped clear that up, and I am sure that most privacy lawyers in Europe are also happy that they can continue to help wealthy clients in trying to understand what this all means.  Let’s chalk one up for Google, at least for now.

On another related note, how about that U.S.Supreme Court declining to hear the Authore Guild challenge to Google Books?  In effect, the Court refused to review a challenge to Google’s digital library of millions of books, turning down an appeal from the authors who said that the project amounted to copyright infringement on a mass scale.  So go ahead, just Google it!  I am not sure there is anyone to stop you?

Thank you readers for you patience over the past week.  I have been enjoying some time with family over these beautiful spring days in New England.  Not quite spring-like temperature yet, but those hardy souls really seem to get excited when the temperature cracks 50 degrees Farenheit.

Ray Myers 


A Child White House Science-Advisory Committee?

I am not really that sure how to comment on what this all means (and I apologize for the lateness of this blog on a M0nday night in the U.S.).  But I am fascinated about the concept of having child White House Science Advisors, particularly since the one recommended by President Obama was fortunate enough to have an iPad in his hands as a toddler.  As an adolescent, he has now been successful in making toys and miniatures on his 3-D printer.  

What’s not to like about all this?  Mostly, there is a lot to like, and this story should be an inspiration to us all.  But why do STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) success in the early academic grades warrant a presumption of better preparation for livelihood in the twenty-first century?  Some might say that we are limiting our children’s futures with such early predeterminations.  And as a parent in the end of the last century and now a grandparent in the current one, I continue to believe that all of our current school-age students will probably need some facility in STEM subjects, and many others as well.   I think the real challenge is to prepare these students to be much broader and curious learners.  The world is changing much too quickly.

Our children need to feel that they contribute in many varied and meaningful ways.  STEM subjects may be the routes for many bright students, but there are also many other avenues for future learning and success in this century.

Ray Myers

Is Life a Calendar to Fill Up?

Let technology do it for you.  Now you can go to your new improved Google calendar and find that “Goals” has scheduled all those things you have to do everyday.  “Goals” is the name of the software that offers you a menu of goals to choose from on a daily basis.  It can then scour the white spaces in your calendar for available times and will map out a schedule.  Of course you will still be in charge of deciding if this is all okay with you and let “Goals” make all the final arrangements.  Why not?

I don’t know about you, but all of this does scare me in my “old age.”  I really do have more spare time these days, and I would hate to have it all filled up by a virtual assistant of some kind.  I can still pretty much plan my calendar from day to day, and more often think in terms of month to month at a more leisurely pace.  And we can all thank artificial intelligence (A.I.) for making this all possible.  Yes, that’s right, your new personal assistant is really a robot after all.  And a very hard-working one at that.  He/she (your choice) can even sort your email into high and low priority items and weed out the junk.  Unfortunately, this appears to have freed up time for people to send more work email!

So be careful what you wish for, or in this case, what you really never wished for, but Google decided you needed.  Sherry Turkle at M.I.T. worries that “human” software agents can diminish authentic human interactions.  I don’t think robots ever worry about that!

Ray Myers

Shopping Online With Your Chatbot

Need someone to go shopping with?  Well maybe that’s not done so much any more, and you probably don’t need someone after all if you have Chatbot.  And you really don’t need a salesperson to help you since you will be online, and Chatbot will be there programmed to answer all of your anticipated questions.  At this rate there may not be any brick and mortar stores (malls?) to stroll through in the near future.  What’s going to happen to all of those gigantic shopping malls and parking garages?  As more shopping goes online, maybe they will morph into “distribution centers” where your purchases are shipped to your home, saving you from the inconvenience of having to go to a store to shop.

This is the future that many social media entrepreneurs are banking on.  “Facebook said it was opening up Messenger, it’s own messaging app, so that any outside company – from Applebee’s to Zara – could create a bot capable of interacting with people through the chat program.”  And Facebook may be the logical and most profitable place to begin.  It already has 900 million regular monthly users of Messenger with more than 15 million businesses having an official brand page on Facebook.

So this is shopping in the virtual world.  But don’t forget that you still need a home with a real address to have everything shipped to.  Or maybe you can just get a really big post office box?  After you buy all that stuff online, you may have to invest in a bigger home that will truly become your castle!

Ray Myers

All the News That’s Fit to “Media-ate”

So how do you get you local news these days?  And are you really that interested?  National and international news reporting is becoming increasingly Internet or social media-based.  If you are really connected to your local community the old-fashioned way, you might be getting the local news from neighbors or merchants that you meet on a daily basis.  But I don’t think that is happening so much today.  Local news is being eclipsed by twenty-four house news cycles on television and the Internet.  Our first stop in finding out what is happening in our communities seems to be our favorite media news outlet, but your local news will not be the headline stories.  Remember when local or regional newspapers would land at your doorstep every morning and national and international stories would be updated on the evening news TV broadcasts?

I guess my age is really showing.  Why would any one have to wait?  The world is much “closer” now.  We can get the news any time we want, pretty much anywhere we may be.  But I believe that there is something in print news reporting that often can not be replicated by the media alone.  A well written news story that provides more background and context around current or past events can provide us with deeper understanding of the “news.”  I think that even the reporting about current presidential campaigns in the U.S. is becoming more a story about campaign conduct in general than about the candidates’ speeches or political positions.  Perhaps the media itself is creating this message more than they even realize (or they do realize in “selling” the news).

Maybe it is all about being entertained, and the electronic media knows how to do this best, and eagerly becomes its messenger.  Unfortunately  it takes time to read the newspaper, and if you do, you might find yourself becoming more interested in what is happening nor only around the world, but in your own backyard as well.

Ray Myers

Virtual Assistants Need Some Personality – Hire a Human!

They really do need us.  Just when I was starting to worry that Artificial Intelligence (AI) would become so pervasive that it would eclipse our limited human capacities, I now read that the tech behemoths (Apple, Amazon, Microsoft) are now hiring real people to make these virtual assistants sound more human.  Microsoft, for example, has hired poets, novelists, playwrights and former television writers to be members of their writing teams.  So technology may help us become more literate after all, or at least will provide more employment opportunities for those who are literate.  Oh, I forgot to include comedians in the list of desired writing team members.  That makes me happy!

This is very good news for job seekers in the U.S.  By 2025, 12.7 million new U.S. Jobs will involve building robots or automation software; by 2019, more than one-third of the workforce will be working side by side with such technologies.  That’s only three years away (Forester Data).  What a change in the work place!  In the old days you just had to worry about getting along (or not) with the humans you worked with.  Now you will have to get along with your “artificial” colleagues as well.  I’m not sure that they will become supervisory personnel in the future, but I would guess that many of you are thinking that you have already worked for some real “bots” in the past.

Some early studies of human-robot interaction have found that attempts to make robots seem more humanlike can inspire unease or revulsion instead of empathy.  Maybe we all just have to learn to “get along,” but I don’t know if robots can be programmed for that?

Ray Myers

MIT Got Data

On Monday MIT Media Lab announced that Data USA was now available to the general public.  Government data will now be online and accessible to a much wider audience.  MIT bills it as the most comprehensive visualization of U.S. public data.  It is free and its software code is open source, meaning that developers can build custom applications by adding other data.  “The goal was to organize and visualize data in a way that a lot of people think about it.”  

When you visit the site you will see how user-friendly it is – sort of a USA Today for the data analysis layman.  For example, using colorful graphics and short sentences, it shows the median age of foreign-born residents of New York (44.7) and of the residents born in the United States (26.6); the most common countries of origin for immigrants (the Dominican Republic, China and Mexico); and the percentage of residents who are American citizens (82.8 percent).  And you can browse you heart away if any other topic might be of particular interest, e.g., the wages of physicians and surgeons across the U.S., or the names of the institutions that award the most computer science degrees, etc.

Seems like the only thing left for you to do is come up with the questions, or to actually build custom applications by adding other data.  You can become both the builder and the end-user.  It’s like Wikipedia without all the words.

Ray Myers

Throwing an Internet Lifeline to Low-Income Households in U.S.

This is all about broadband access for millions of households that have been described as living on the poorer side of the digital divide.  They will receive a monthly subsidy of $9.25.  The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) estimates that one in five people do not have access to broadband in their homes, and the vast majority of those disconnected are poor.  Only about 40 percent of people earning less than $25,000 a year can afford broadband whole 95 percent of all households making over $150,000 have high-speed Internet at home, according to the FCC.

Consumer advocacy groups cheered for this decision by the FCC.  Inexpensive options for access have dwindled, not grown.  “A broadband subsidy for Lifeline will transform access to this basic human right in American cities, where such access is necessary to apply for even the lowest-wage jobs.” (Media Mobilizing Project).   There will also be benefits for students from low-income families who do not have Internet in their homes.  Seven out of ten schools assign homework that requires Internet access.

Let’s remember that connectivity and all the technology tools that are now available to today’s learners and future generations can only be as helpful as we make them.   Educators and families remain the primary guiding forces.  I don’t think there will ever be “Siri teachers” that will replace classroom teachers in any of our communities, regardless of income.  But I could be wrong?

Ray Myers

Don’t Bank on It – “FinTech” is Here!

Digital disruption strikes again!  FinTech may actually result in a thirty percent reduction of the banking workforce.  What exactly in FinTech after all.  Sorry to make this so melodramatic, but I think the term itself, FinTech, conjures up images of sea monsters invading the mainland and seeking out victims on the streets of big and small cities around the world.  Those victims may actually be the current workers in the banking industry in the U.S.   FinTech has already had some great success in Asia, particularly in China, but what exactly is it?

It’s the technology, my friend.  In this case, let’s call it “digital disruption.”  It has been predicted that the number of employees in American banks will drop to 1.8 million people in the year 2025, down from 2.8 million last year and 2.9 million before the financial crisis.  An even sharper drop of 37 percent is predicted for Europen banks.  Tech start-ups will be taking the place of thes institutional giants.  So far most of this activity has been in the areas of online lending and payment transactions.

So goodbye, Mr. Pennington, our family’s friendly and helpful banker at Riverside Trust.  He would give us free candy when we actually walked into his bank, and we were proud to have his bank’s name emblazoned on our Little League uniforms.  I guess you could still put “FinTech” on those same uniforms, but I am not sure anyone would know what it was, and we would have to find those places in America where they still play Little League baseball.

Ray Myers