September 25, 2015

We’re feeling these little PSA missives, so launching another one.

Posting this while attending the 4th Annual Washing & Lee Entrepreneurship Summit.  This is part of W&L’s growing entrepreneurship undergraduate program, and it’s been amazing to see the program’s growth in just five years.  Demonstrates that going your own way may be the new norm in another generation or so.

Having this type of program grow so popular at a largely liberal arts university seems quite fitting.  To run your own business requires you to wear a multitude of hats.  Being great at one thing doesn’t serve you well in this line of work; being good to very good at a host of things is more of the job requirement.  That’s exactly what W&L is producing (and has produced).

That said, while a well-rounded education is a must, our growing reliance/dependence on technology has made us re-think how younger should be introduced to the sciences and technology.  Just look at your daily life – now take away every bit of technology you utilize and you’ll get an idea of why we think education is key.  We think all aspects of tech have become the most important subject that can be taught at every level of education (pre-school, kindergarten, elementary, high school, college, post-grad). 

In this sense, STEM –Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics – are the areas of education on which we should focus.  Not looking to minimize history, English, or any other education areas, but those should be utilized to round out a student.  The jobs available in 20 years are going to be filled by those with technical capabilities.  We already see it happening (and have since the 1980’s), so those already on an education path that does not focus on technology will be at a disadvantage in short order.

That is why we must demand better technology education.  San Francisco, Chicago, and New York City have all announced plans to make computer science a central course in their public school systems.  That’s a start, but one that won’t be get rolling for at least another decade.  So while that’s going to be a boon for a generation or two down the line, alternative solutions should be sought by today’s students.

Knowing how to use an app on a mobile device or tablet does not make a young person “tech savvy.”  Rather, building a mobile app and sharing it with an increasingly interested global audience does.  So does knowing how to secure a wireless network in your home, or driving data to a killer Cloud application, or repairing electronic devices.  These are skills that we should cultivate in our students now.

#PokeTheBear

September 17, 2015

Changing gears a bit from the usual Syzygy 3 Blog entry.  Consider this more of a Public Service Announcement than a blog.  Like any PSA, it’s your choice as to whether you heed the message or not, though we suggest you at least take the info below to heart.

Here we go.  Technology is fallible.  We know, it’s a stunning admission.  Many of you may be on a verge of fainting from shock.  For those of you still conscious, read on.

As much as we rely on technology to perform our everyday tasks, the technology itself will always be imperfect.  The coffee machine you program to deliver a fresh brewed cup o’ joe at precisely 7AM.  The geometrically-shaped credit card reader you use to swipe a customer’s card.  The wireless network that keeps your company online and operating at full capacity.  Today, tomorrow, or an unknown date in the future – all of these will fail (some multiple times).

Why?  Well, humans are the builders of this technology.  We will never create a flawless device.  There will always be flaws, bugs, kinks, holes, etc., etc., etc.  This is most especially true when it comes to new technologies or releases.  It’s just not in our capacity to make things perfect.

Watch Star Trek or Star Wars for any amount of time and you’ll see the greatest drama is generated when the technology doesn’t work as expected.  While these are merely science fiction plotlines, they speak to a prophetic truth.  Houston, we have a problem!

For all you Luddites out there, this is not proof of your right-ness.  This is simply a reality check for those who expect your IT to “just work.”  The fact we have grown so impatient when technology doesn’t work speaks to the quality of the devices and services that we – the human race – continues to produce.  That said, recognize that all IT is inherently fallible.  Coming to terms with this will save you a lot of stress and force you to construct your IT to minimize those times when it “just doesn’t work.”

#PokeTheBear

September 10, 2015

For better or worse, most technology users will replace their various devices every few years.  There are a myriad of reasons: always want the latest and greatest; being forced to update by vendor; or even a complete functional breakdown of the device.  Regardless of the reason, users should plan for these purchases accordingly, with in-depth research and possibly a consultation with knowledgeable IT professionals. (Hello Syzygy 3.)

But what many users and companies don’t ask is what’s to be done with the old technology?

Broken, obsolete, or unused devices take up real estate that you may need for the new technology or other purposes.  It’s also somewhat depressing having old IT just hanging around collecting dust.  (Don’t ask, it just is.)

So really, what should you do?

Well, what you shouldn’t do is simply throw out the devices.  All electronic equipment contains toxic chemicals that are harmful to humans, animals, and the environment.  The older the device, the more toxins it contains.  For this very reason, it’s now pretty much illegal everywhere to just throw out old IT.  While you may not go to jail for throwing your equipment in the garbage, you can be fined and publicly shamed.

Plus, improper disposal of your old technology presents a security risk.  Cutting and pasting data from one machine to another doesn’t remove the data from your old machine.  It’s still there, and with a little research, fairly simple to retrieve.  This is true for a PC, laptop, tablet, phone, Macbook; if you don’t properly wipe the data from a machine, it can be retrieved.

And your old devices are not your 5-year old car.  They have little to no resale value.  Technology value fades quickly, especially as the cost for the newest device continues to drop.  In rare cases you may get a few bucks, but don’t plan your kid’s college tuition payment around reselling your old IT.

We’ve found the best solution – especially for individuals or small businesses – is to contract with a certified technology recycler to dispose of the old technology.  Most disposal companies will pick up the equipment at your location, destroy the hard drives (either physically or through data wipes) – be sure to get documentation of the destruction – and then dispose of the devices in a legal manner.  Now, depending on the number of devices you want removed, you may have to pay for these services, but in the end, it’ll be money smartly spent.

The story is similar for larger companies, but with their larger quantity of machines, disposal firms may pay them to dispose of the equipment.  (The metals and chemicals in the machines can be re-sold, or the equipment can be re-furbished and sold elsewhere.)

While the trash may be convenient, it’s the wrong place for your old IT.  Be good to the environment or those who may still use your old gear, follow the above suggestion.

#PokeTheBear

September 03, 2015

It’s surprising to us given the current climate surrounding data security that more small businesses don’t take it seriously enough.  So many businesses – and their users – rely on lax protocols to guard their most sensitive information.  Yes, we’ve written about password protection and cloud-based back up services, but data security is much more than that.

One of the most erroneous assumptions you can make is that no one really cares about your data.  Don’t think because the media doesn’t cover the smaller breaches that they aren’t happening with growing frequency.  Sophisticated hackers around the world are using smaller companies as gateways to steal from much larger companies, stealing the smaller companies’ data along the way.  While you needn’t be paranoid, you must be cognizant of the fact that you may eventually be a target.  Act accordingly.

There are also those hackers who are just looking to have their malware propagate through unsuspecting users.  A great many of us have experienced that sinking feeling when “something funny” happens to your machine after clicking an email link or attachment.  By the time you run a malware scan or other security protocol, the bad stuff has already been spread from you to everyone in your address book or on your network.  Time to hide in shame.

Businesses must now focus attention and resources on data security.  Where once you purchased an over-the-counter remedy, today’s reality demands something a more seasoned.  You must also pay attention to your users.  They have become your weakest link, so like any good parent, teach them well.  Establish rules governing the use of email, social media, the Internet in general.  Develop procedures for the storing and sending of data.  Any make them aware of how to spot and report potential trouble.

Many will see this as just another annoying repercussion of our growing dependency on technology.  We understand.  But unless you have a better – practical – solution, this is where things stand now.  So adapt and put some effort behind you security.

#PokeTheBear