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Entries in Technology (5)


To Give technology or not to give technology…THAT IS THE QUESTION

I have four children in age from 5 to 17. They all use the tools and technology in the house. We have PC learning games, Shoot em up games, flight simulators, Reader Rabbit, the whole gamut. The older boys have been given iPod Touches. This has cut down on how much time they use the PC as they can do so much from their slacker slouches on the couch.

The problem begins with the 5 and 7 year old. They have used the older sibling’s I Touches and the kids have been super nice to the little ones. They’ve downloaded games and apps that are age appropriate. On the home PC we have Icon’s for the youngsters so they can (when allowed) access their favorite site, Starfall, Nick Jr etc.

Watching the older kids was interesting but seeing the two younger ones just accept and absorb this technology has been amazing. They have no limitations. They don’t know they can’t or shouldn’t do something. They watch and learn as well and attempt things older people wouldn’t. They think nothing of exploring and tapping on the iTouch. A trip to the mall now, requires us to navigate carefully around the Apple store, else we are there for ½ hour as the kids just soak up any time they can on the iTouch’s.

Driving to Cape Cod recently, I heard my blackberry ping with the sound of a text message. The 7 year old had taken a picture of him and his sister in the last row of the minivan with my wife’s iPhone and wrote on the picture….are we almost there?

When I asked them why they did that they giggled and said they were playing and weren’t sure I’d get it but it was fun to do. It is to the point now, if my wife leaves here iPhone unlocked and available the two gremlins scroll through the pictures and constantly change the wallpaper for her home screen. It won’t be long before they put a password on it and really cause havoc. (you will recall if you are a regular reader my wife was the subject of the Technology and Toasters article).

So here at the start of the second decade of the second millennium I face a challenging question. Do I enable the kids to just consume technology as fast as they are able?

I don’t want to hold them back and I want them to be able to digest the technologies as fast as they are able.

BUT, On the other hand, I want to make sure they have time to be little. To play dress up and make believe. To play with their friends , physical toys, dolls and trains.

Their little friends have Nintendo DS, everyone has a Wii, Xbox or PS3. Technology is all around the young people today. Thus it is a struggle to give one’s children a balance between childhood and technology. What is the right mix? How much is too much and at what age do you let them tackle the technology freely?

What do you think?

This post was prepared by John Manning, Associate Partner at Harvard Partners. He can be reached at john.manning@harvardpartners.com


In Search of a Dry Ass

I try and keep my posts related to IT infrastructure and operations but today I couldn’t resist discussing the issue of automatic toilets. These are toilets that are supposed to automatically flush when you stand. My experience has been different.


 The principle is simple. You sit down, do your business, stand up, and the toilet should flush. So, why must it always flush 5 – 10 times before you stand up?

Now, I am not what you would call a slender individual. My back measures at least a foot across. The “flush sensor” is less than 6 inches away from my back. I don’t understand why any slight movement triggers a flush. Of course, this includes what you must do in order to finalize the “bathroom experience.” At that point, you are trying to clean up while the toilet is getting you wet at the same time. Quite a predicament.

Another point of reference is the automatic “urinal flush.” My apologies to those of the female persuasion as you have no experience with this device. The automatic urinal flush never makes a mistake. You walk up, do your thing, walk away, and the flush occurs. Reliable every time.

To bring this back home to infrastructure and operations, I must challenge the project team that built this device. Clearly there is a flaw in design and engineering and I would have to seriously question the testing/QA cycle. BTW, can you imagine receiving testing instructions for this device. “1. Approach toilet; 2. Remove trousers; 3. Place ass on toilet seat; 4. Simulate wiping; 5. Rise from seat; 6. Observe flush.”

All I can say is I will stick with computers. They think more like real people.


Technology – When it’s not used or ignored

Every 6th grader knows water freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit, or 0 degrees Celsius. And most people living away from the Equator know ice is slippery. So why is it the Town of Westborough MA does not understand this?

This morning I was awakened to the sound of crunching metal…and car tires spinning on glare ice. I knew it was going to be icy the night before…television weather said so. Apparently my town didn’t pay attention.

Why didn’t my town monitor the weather more closely? Why aren’t they using simply freeze warnings, avoiding issues like this? Aren’t the police out all night, and wouldn’t they have noticed?

I felt terrible for these two cars (a nurse going to work, and a veterinary student off to the emergency hospital). The police said not to worry, the sanders are now out. A little late, I suppose. And a police cruiser is on the way.

A few minutes later, and the sander did come….sliding down the road. I felt even worse for the man in this car. Look closely…the car is off the road. The sander came over the hill, lost control, and tossed the car off the road.

The driver needed medical attention. Another call to the police, and we’re assured help is on the way.

The policeman said it took him an hour to get to the house. The fire department took about 10 minutes.

While all I lost was some sleep and my mailbox post, one car was damaged hitting my mailbox, and the other car will probably be totaled after losing in a collision with the sander. The poor driver was taken away in an ambulance, and I hope he is OK.

Massachusetts recently enacted laws requiring owners to remove ice and snow…is the town exempt? This road is part of a state route…is the state responsible?

There are a variety of technologies available….

From the feds, to local firms, weather forecasts are available. There are road sensors available.

Heck The American Meteorological Society is based in Boston.

Freezing roadways contribute to hundreds of million dollars in damages annually.

Today, in my little town and to be fair in others , a little technology and a little common sense would have gone a long way.


Campaign Technology – A Voter’s Perspective

The Massachusetts senatorial three way race offers an interesting look at how technology is being used to garner voter commitments between Republican Scott Brown, Democrat Martha Coakley, and Independent Joe Kennedy (not related to the Massachusetts’ Kennedy Dynasty). The special election selecting a replacement for the late Senator Kennedy offers an unfettered view of technological use, from a voter’s perspective.

The following table includes hyperlinks to the candidate’s social media sites harvested from each candidate’s main web page.

Scott Brown

Martha Coakley

Joe Kennedy


The independent Joseph L. Kennedy has largely limited his campaign to debate appearances. From a technology standpoint, Candidate Kennedy’s technology use is all very basic, somewhat surprising from someone who is a Vice President - Architecture & User Experience for a major Boston-Based Financial services firm. Mr. Kennedy’s materials do not have the appearance of being professionally produced.

Candidate Coakley’s website was developed by Liberty Concepts, with Candidate Brown’s put together by the Prosper Group. These are obviously specialist groups and both sites look very well designed.

Telephony is a major weapon in the Brown and Coakley camps.

Massachusetts voters have received phone calls from Presidents Obama and Clinton, American Idol contestant and Scott Brown daughter Ayla Brown, and Red Sox hurler Curt Schilling.

Brown and Coakley’s websites also encourage individuals to make telephone calls from their homes. This has created an annoying number of calls to individual homes (up to six a day.) Scott Brown is using technology from FLS Connect. This technology opened the campaign to callers from outside Massachusetts, dramatically increasing the number of available callers against an unwavering (in size) voter population. Better integrating these technologies would allow lesser annoyance to voters.

Social media is playing a major role. President Obama is issuing tweets in support, and sending You Tube videos.

While each candidate gives the impression of being active with social media, each is using to varying degrees.

Brown is issuing Tweets, including some rapidly corrected “Apparently, you are having a rally tomorrow and I’m invited: http://bit.ly/5gfbXl ” became “You are having a rally tomorrow and I’m invited: http://bit.ly/5gfbXl” an hour later. Facebook and YouTube were updated regularly, while flickr became stagnant since December 21. TXT messages were used to update followers on campaign activities.

To her credit, Coakley kept all her social media updated and active. Her tweets were generally thank yous…and appreciation of people waiting for her scheduled arrivals.

Kennedy sent a series of Tweets asking for information to be sent on to the media and updating campaign issues on the fly, “Joe Kennedy For Senate Campaign Promise: I will erase the “DO NOT CALL LIST” political exemption so you will not have to tollerate calls from Political Campaigns.” His last YouTube update was November 17.

The search engine optimization (SEO) race was won handily by Scott Brown’s campaign. Martha Coakley’s campaign was easier to find, especially after the DNC started to help. This author had to search to find Mr. Kennedy’s web site (using Google).

What are the lessons for the candidates?

  • All the web sites identify issues easily. This is a help for voters doing research

  • Search Engine Optimization is understood, and you need to use it.

  • Social Media can be used to your advantage. COORDINATE/REVIEW/SPELLCHECK your tweets as you would other messages. If you are not going to stay up on a given media, don’t include it as part of your strategy.

  • Try not to annoy voters with too much use of a media…repeated home telephone calls on the same topic are not endearing.

Good luck!



When Technologists Inhibit Technology – a VoIP Case Study

I am a Voice over Internet Protocal (VoIP) bigot. It works, it is cost effective, and it allows fast deployments of advanced capabilities. I have installed in numerous US cities, as well as Japan, China (Beijing and HK), Singapore, Australia, and the UK.

With a solid network (and this is key) you can hear a pin drop.

Yet some are still buying (new) installs of TDM phones (Time Division Multiplexing A technology transmitting multiple signals simultaneously over a single transmission path.) I can understand expansions of existing systems, but am struggling with why a new implementation wouldn’t be solely VoIP.

Let’s look at what you can do.

VoIP uses your dial-up, broadband connection or corporate network to make telephone calls over the internet or your corporate network.

Some people argue it’s not reduced to practice.

Let’s look at some business cases. This post is being written in late November, 2009. At this writing, there are 18, 224,622 users online with Skype. By comparison, EBay claims 88 Million active users. Active vs total isn’t a good comparison, suffice to say Skype has mass. Full disclosure, EBay just sold Skype for a deal valuing the business $2.75 billion. Around the same time, Avaya announced it was selected to acquire Nortel Enterprise Solutions for US $900 million.

During the third quarter of 2004, VoIP surpassed TDM phones 1.796 million VoIP lines were shipped compared to 1.793 million TDM lines. Somebody is using this stuff, and it must be successfully used or people wouldn’t still be using it.

In a corporate environment, a well designed network allows for calls to be routed to a local point of presence, saving on long distance toll charges.

With VoIP, “soft phones” are easily used. A soft phone is software running on a PC. In my business, we use an outsourced Asterisk PBX, with Polycom phones. My PC has CounterPath’s Bria softphone. Whenever I have a network connection wherever I am in the world, calls can be made and received on the PC. As a road warrior this functionality is invaluable.

VoIP systems generally all allow more advanced features, such as meet-me teleconferencing, and simultaneous ringing of multiple devices.

So what is the hesitation of some technologists to use VoIP?

I was at a car dealer today who had recently installed a newer generation Avaya TDM system. When asked why he didn’t buy a VoIP system, the dealer owner said he went with the recommendation of his technology vendor.

Hence the issue.

Some technologists are holding back on new technologies preferring to ‘go with what they know’ rather than getting into newer technologies. Yes, VoIP requires a solid network, and preferably one with Quality of Service (QoS) enabled (a networking technology prioritizing network traffic so ‘voice’ calls are not interrupted by general purpose network traffic.) Without a solid network environment, VoIP can be troublesome. I’m sure the car dealer rarely has phone issues with an older style TDM system, however they are paying more than needed.

When someone calls the “phone company” with a small business need, the data and voice sides of the house are often different. So compensation plans work against implementing an overall best in class service.

So technologists must think in terms of what they know, what they can support, and what’s best for their client. To be clear, I am not suggesting blanket installation of bleeding edge technologies. To the contrary, we need to provide solid technologies. Back at the car dealer, a simultaneous ring of the desk and cell phone is a win:win for the sales team (who might be out on the lot) and the customer (who probably doesn’t prefer voice mail.)

In the case of VoIP, leading companies are now working on unified communications strategy. Unified communications (UC) is the integration of communication services such as instant messaging, presence information, VoIP, video conferencing, call control and speech recognition with communication services such as unified messaging (integrated voicemail, e-mail, SMS and fax).

Technologists need to consider where technology is going, and make sure the building blocks being implemented are beneficial to their clients.