Saturday, January 7, 2017

New Years Resolutions - Technology Style!


New Years is a great time for reflection. A new start. A new set of opportunities. A time to do things differently. While you are cleaning out your closets and figuring out which gym to join, spend some time planning how you can do some new great things in your technology life. Here are five places to start. I've left "Backup your stuff" off the list this year. If you aren't already doing that, I can't help you.

Security - Let face it folks, it is time to get serious about information security. Why, you ask? Whats that? Never been hacked before? Good for you. Remember, the bad guys already have your information, they stole it from someplace else like the federal government, Yahoo, HomeDepot Target or any one of a thousand other places. They just haven't gotten around to you yet. Change passwords (see my next blog post for a method to remember them). Turn on two-factor for all your accounts that support it (also called second factor, enhanced security, second passcode, token generator). Delete old accounts. Review which apps have access to your Google & social media accounts. Make sure your virus protection is up to date.

Smartphone Love - Show your smartphone some love by updating the apps on it. Get it to the most recent operating system release. Use software like "find my iPhone" or "lookout" to be able to find it, wipe it or lock it when you can't find it. Smartphones are amazingly easy to lose, and it happens all the time. Make sure you do the minimum by turning on a password or passcode. Delete apps you haven't used in 3 months.

Learn Something New - Acquire a new skill in 2017. Learn a new coding language, become proficient in a new platform, develop a presentation on an emerging technology. Do something NEW. I don't mean play with something new. Part of the problem with technology these days is too many people play with it and not enough of them understand how anything really works. Above all else, be curious. This will impress your friends briefly at work and at parties.

Friends & Followers - Just like your closets, your lists of friends need to be cleaned out. Consider who the chatter-boxes are, and whether you still want them in your feed. The day I dropped Guy Kawasaki was the day I could start using my Twitter feed again. Take a look at your feeds for a day, and see where all the traffic comes from. Don't be shy about dropping people, they won't take it personally.

Emerging Technologies - The cycle for technologies to be conceptualized, realized, adopted and then mainstreamed is becoming shorter and shorter. We no longer have the luxury of waiting a few years to see how things will work out before paying attention to new technologies. Use 2017 to be more aware of what is new in technology and what it may mean for your future. There has never been a time in history when there has been more velocity in technology change. Don't get left behind!

There you go. Five things to get on the old to-do list. Technology is supposed to make our lives easier, more efficient. These things will help you help your technology do that. Good luck.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Three Innovation Hints - Millennial Style


“If you want something new, 
you have to stop doing something old” 
Peter F. Drucker

Innovation has been the focus of our conversations recently on my job. How to innovate. What it means to have an innovative culture. How to define the value of innovation. Innovation is one part of my vision for the department. My deputy CIO recently gave an award for innovation within his area, and it went to one of our rockstar millennial employees, Christopher Long (@Chris_Long_VT). Chris innovates primarily in the GIS area, but that is just part of his reach. He also programs in Python and works with open data.

Two of his primary outlets are the county ArcGIS Online pages GeoSpace and OpenGeoSpace. Check them out, much cool stuff about our county. 

Chris accepted the award and made some remarks that I thought were insightful and instructive. The remainder of this blog post are his (somewhat) reformatted remarks below.

 

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Fun Linux Things

Unix has always fascinated me. I was hired to be a Unix communications programmer in 1986. I taught myself C, learned the X.25 protocol, HDLC, the seven layer ISO model and started struggling with the bourne shell. By this time I had been coding for 11 years, having started with BASIC in 7th grade.

What stuck with me through all the years and versions and languages and floppy disks is the incredible versatility of Unix. For me there was, and is, a fascination with using free tools on inexpensive hardware to do impressive things. Fast forward 30 years. Unix has become Linux, and it is running on an amazing variety of devices. The source code can be customized by anyone. New lineages of Linux have emerged.Some are highly specialized, some are more generic.

I run Linux on a half dozen platforms at home. It is a great way to tinker. It is a great outlet for curiosity. Here are a few of the examples.

Raspberry Pi - I have a model 2 Raspberry Pi running Raspbian (A branch of Debian). It is about the size of a credit card and has 1 GB of memory.  It runs a twitter account that spits out a Game of Thrones quote each hour (http://www.twitter.com/BarryPi), and hosts a web server that will provide a random quote (http://GOTQuote.DuckDNS.org) and sigil from the series. This server also runs the network computing software from Berkley called "BOINC", which is a distributed grid computing environment. I participate in three projects on this server: Looking for pulsars in space, solving the original enigma code from World War II and looking for asteroids. See the list here, and look for the ones with the RaspberryPi symbol: https://boinc.berkeley.edu/projects.php
Late breaking note: My daughter just gave me (for my birthday) a Raspberry Pi model 3. Wifi, bluetooth, 4 USB ports, overclocked, all in the same form factor. Sweet! 

Pi Top - The Pi-Top is a crowd funded (https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/pi-top-a-raspberry-pi-laptop-you-build-yourself/x/6731763#/ ) RaspberryPi laptop. The version of the OS is not too great, and the keyboard is abysmal, but it is an interesting package. Fortunately it runs the standard Raspbian distribution too, albeit without the battery management functions. I use it as a TOR relay (don't tell Comcast) and shovel about 8 GB of encrypted data through it a day for anonymous darknet users all over the world. Thats all it does. For now. See here: https://www.torproject.org/

Ubuntu - I run version 14 (in long term support) on a old Sony VAIO laptop. On this I run the BOINC grid computing software and participate in projects to map cancer markers, sequence the ebola genome and do AIDS research. There are over 700,000 volunteers in this program, through the World Community Grid. See here: https://secure.worldcommunitygrid.org/index.jsp This is all very legit research for which there doesn't exist enough super computer power in the world. The workstation also runs background music for me and runs the TOR browser so I can anonymously and confusedly surf the deepweb.

Netbook - Remember netbooks? I came across a ATOM-powered tiny little netbook in my home office the other day, an ASUS 900e. Circa 2009. A quick google search revealed not one, but several Linux distros that will run on this unit. The easiest, named EasyPeasy, is a custom package of Ubuntu made for this line of ASUS netbooks. In about 30 minutes I had Easy Peasy installed and working. I have yet to task it with anything but hey, it has wifi, ethernet, three USB ports and a 6 hour battery. Sky's the limit. Find it at: http://www.geteasypeasy.com/

So, to sum it up...
You don't need expensive gear and proprietary operating systems to do impressive things with computers. RaspberryPi computers are $35. The old laptop is, well, free. You get the point. What you absolutely need is a curious mind.

Be curious about something, even if it isn't computers! Or, in Linux-speak:

sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get install curiosity



Saturday, July 11, 2015

E-Government: A Graduate Class

Wow! It has been 6 months since I posted anything to this blog. Not setting a very good example I am afraid. It has been a busy winter and spring, and I have a lot of material stored up. Now if I just had the time to write!

One thing I am working on for this fall that I am very excited about is a class at VCU that is near and dear to me: E-Government.

The class title is INFO 691 Topics in Information Systems – Digital Government

This class is about using information and communication technologies to provide government services. Open data, social media, websites, APIs, collaboration & sharing networks. Students will review and assess different levels of government and their approach to e-government. Business models and implementation strategies for e-government projects will be examined. Students will be prepared at the conclusion of the class to assess, design, implement and evaluate e-government solutions.

Students will be required to have and use a twitter account and other social media, create and contribute to blogs and use other digital resources.

This will be a very hands-on course. No tests or exams, we will have reading assignments and writing assignments and a main project for the course.

A word about me as the teacher for the class. I am not an college professor. I am a practitioner with 35 years in the IT industry, 9 years in government service and many awards.  I have guest lectured for the FTEMS program as well as other graduate MIS classes. Information security, leadership, coding and networking are primary interests of mine.

We will spend time on lots of websites for review of content and evaluating approaches including www.govloop.com, www.govtech.com, www.elgl.org, and www.data.gov.

This is a new elective course, and is described in this doc on the www.vcu.edu website.

Drop me an email if you want a copy of the syllabus.

Barry

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Five New Years Tech Resolutions

New Years is a great time for reflection. A new start. A new set of opportunities. A time to do things differently. While you are cleaning out your closets and figuring out which gym to join, spend some time planning how you can do some new great things in your technology life. Here are five places to start.

Mobile Security - Smartphones are amazingly easy to lose, and it happens all the time. Make sure you do the minimum by turning on a password or passcode, although free software can defeat those in a few minutes. Software like Lookout (www.lookout.com) for your smartphone can provide awesome functionality like locating your phone on a map, automatically taking a picture, wiping the phone remotely and notifying you if the phone is powered off or altered. Make sure whatever solution you use supports malware detection.

Two Factor Authentication - Passwords are fatally flawed for lots of reasons, and provide only one layer of security, the "something you know". Add another layer of security to your online accounts by using two factor, or two step authorization. It is the "something you have" layer of protection required for accessing your accounts. For google you can use a smart token or an auth code generator. Bank of America uses text messaging. As long as you require the "something you have" for access, the bad guys won't get in.

Friends & Followers - Just like your closets, your lists of friends need to be cleaned out. Consider who the chatter-boxes are, and whether you still want them in your feed. The day I dropped Guy Kawasaki was the day I could start using my Twitter feed again. Take a look at your feeds for a day, and see where all the traffic comes from. Don't be shy about dropping people, they won't take it personally.

Apps - We all suffer from "bright shiny object" syndrome when it comes to apps on our smartphones and PCs. Cleaning them up by removing the ones you don't use will free up memory and in general help your system. If you haven't used it in 3 to 6 months, you don't need it. Get rid of it

Backups - If you don't protect your information, you will eventually loose it. Period. There are easy ways to do backups, and depending on how much money you want to spend, it can be all but idiot proof. Apple Computers have a great "time machine" backup facility. Lots of third party solutions for PCs, based on USB connected external hard drives.  Cloud based backups are about as easy as it gets.  I have use Carbonite (www.Carbonite.com) before, which is about $50 a year or so. Mozy (www.Mozy.com) is another cloud based solution.


Saturday, November 8, 2014

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

All around the country kids have returned to school and written their papers on how they spent their summer vacations.

Blogging. That is how I spent my summer vacation. I applied for and was accepted into the GovLoop featured bloggers challenge. Essentially, we agreed to post a blog entry every week for a bunch of weeks over the summer. This explain my hiatus from this blog. I was too lazy to cross-post the entries as I wrote them, so I wanted to summarize them here. Its some good stuff, if I do say so myself.

GovLoop is a group based in Washington DC focused on all things government and tech. Federal, state and local. I had a great time working with them over the summer, and participated in their innovation virtual conference. They do good work. Check them out at www.govloop.com 

Here are my blog posts from the summer. Enjoy!

MOVING ON UP: 5 SECRETS FROM THE C-SUITE
We all want to grow in our careers. Here are tips from me on how to do that.

FIVE TIPS TO ENJOY VACATION
Being a leader and enjoying vacation don't always go together. Here is how you and everyone around you can enjoy your vacation more.

5 WAYS TO STAY SHARP AS A LEADER
It takes work to maintain your edge. But how to approach it?

FIVE FUN DEPARTMENT MEETING ACTIVITIES
A work environment that is fun is one people want to be in.

HOW TO LEVERAGE GENERATIONAL DIVERSITY
Never before have we had so much diversity in generations in the workforce. Curse or opportunity? 

BENCH-MARKING IN LOCAL GOVERNMENT IT IS VITAL. HERE’S WHY
So how is it going? Really? How do you know. You can't reliably improve what you don't measure.

DO YOU TAKE YOURSELF WAY TOO SERIOUSLY? PROBABLY
If you don't laugh at yourself, someone else will. Might as well enjoy it.

THE WEAKEST LINK & WHAT TO DO ABOUT THEM
The information security chain is only as good as the link that will break first. How to deal with it.

HAPPY, HAPPY, HAPPY CITIZENS. POSSIBLE?
Its is all what we want. Our customers, citizens, to be happy.

HOW TO LEAD IN TECHNOLOGY RECRUITING
You need employees to build a group, a department, a division. How to get them.

WANT BETTER CITIZEN ENGAGEMENT? THREE TIPS TO GET THERE
It is easier than you think.



Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Apple Success Isn't About Innovation

On September 9th 2014 Apple made several major announcements in a well choreographed event in California. Consumer electronic companies all over the fruited plain were heard to say as one ...

Why didn't we think of that?

So, why is that? Why does Apple make such stunning products that draw us like moths to the back-porch light? There were people camping out at the Apple flagship store a week before the announcement. They had no idea what was going to be for sale, but they knew that whatever it was they had to have it.

A disclaimer ... I am not an Apple fanboy. I have lots of issues with some of their products and the company. I do use some Apple gear however. For example I writing this on a Macbook Pro and I have several iPods. I use Android for my smartphone OS. I have a Pebble smartwatch.

Surprisingly the attraction to the Apple products doesn't just involve the innovation or the technology. For example, I have been using a Pebble smartwatch every day at work for 9 months and I love it. There are a variety of smart watches on the market, including those with color screens and app stores. The iPhone 6 and 6 plus are beautiful phones, but powerful, big and beautiful phones have been on the market for quite a while. Sure, Apple perhaps does the engineering a bit better. There is something else going on here. Something bigger.

To understand the attraction to Apple you need to watch the Simon Sinek youtube video on the golden circle. In this video Simon Sinek codifies why great leaders, companies, governments inspire us to follow them and support them. The basic thrust of the golden circle is that when you start with the why, you communicate a belief system. When you tell people what you believe, and if they believe the same thing, they will follow you anywhere, do anything for you and buy your products. You move from the why to the how, and then finally the what, which is the product, service or good that is produced. Watch the video. Trust me, it is worth it. It might change you.


As an anti-example of this, IBM has an advertising campaign underway for the new line of Surface tablets. These are nice tablets. They suffer from a bit of an identity crisis. Are they tablets, or are they laptops? The IBM message from the advertisement is (quite literally) "Surface. The Tablet that can replace your laptop", or something to that effect. Very uninspiring. Can you tell what they believe from their product? Can you tell why they created it? No. All you know is the what (a tablet). This is the opposite of the golden circle, and it is a flop.


Apple starts with communicating what they believe, then tells you how they demonstrate those beliefs, and finally they talk about products.

Consumers who believe what Apple believes will always buy their products. They will follow them anywhere. So what about the Apple watch? This is a prime example. What Tim Cook told the world on September 9th about Apple watch is summarized like this:

We believe you are ready for a new experience that fits with the way you live and makes your life better. (the why)

The new experience is beautiful, highly engineered, fashion-forward, technology focused and customizable. (the how)

We sell watches now. Wanna buy one? (the what).

This is why they sell lots of products.

There is a key leadership lesson here as well. All leaders have a desire to inspire people to follow them and support them.  Successful leaders start with communicating what they believe, and go from there. Think about it. Have you ever followed anyone who didn't share their beliefs with you?

So if you ever wonder why no-one is inspired by your meticulously crafted 9 point strategic plan with the executive summary, you have the answer. It is because you started with the "what", not the "why." Tell people what you believe and they may follow you. They may even read your plan. If they don't, buy them an Apple watch. At least they will like you better.