My Tech Usage

This is a continuation of my last post on tech ecosystems. The point is that when you buy a device you are buying into the company’s tech ecosystem. After more consideration, I now differentiate a person’s “tech usage” from a company’s “tech ecosystem.” The question is which ecosystem, or combination of ecosystems, best serves an individuals usage. These two graphics sum it up. Note that the 2nd image is slightly different than my last similar effort.

Click image to enlarge.

ecosystems personal_tech_use


Your Tech Ecosystem

While many of us are excited by Apple’s new Watch, iPhones and Payment system. It’s important to consider how these devices impact and integrate into our individual technology ecosystems. In order to approach this intelligently, I mapped out my own personal tech ecosystem using a cool mind-mapping tool at and generated the following infograph:


Chances are, your tech ecosystem isn’t all that different from mine, plus or minus a few nodes.

Equipped with this information, I can now associate different devices and services with each of my ecosystem nodes. For example, I use Google for many of my apps: word processing, spreadsheets, calendar, contacts, note taking, navigation, web browser, personal assistant (Google Now) and health monitor (Google Wear); I use a Macbook and iPad, but an Android Phone; and I use  Adobe for Graphics and Web Development.

There are three or four big tech companies: Google, Apple, Microsoft and perhaps Amazon that would like to take control of our personal tech ecosystems. They are able to do so by offering integrated services that are all part of their proprietary closed systems. So, if I buy the new Apple Watch, I will also need an iPhone. To get the most out of my iPhone apps, I’ll need an iPad, and a Macbook. I’ll also need to use Apple iCloud, which will make Apple Calendar, Mail, Contacts, Notes, Reminders, Pages, Numbers and Keynote the most logical apps to adopt.

The same is true, to a lesser degree with, Google, Microsoft and Amazon. To a lesser degree, because these companies allow their software to run on machines produced by other companies. Which of course, lends to more diversity in devices and lower prices, but perhaps less control over quality and security.

No company provides everything I need for my ecosystem – yet! But some nodes in my ecosystem are dependent on other nodes. For example, I use Garage Band and Screen Flow which are apps that are only available for the Mac. But, social media software Facebook runs on any platform. If I remove all nodes from my graph that run on any platform, I’m left with my decision makers. Those nodes that will either run a platform or not. In some cases, when I purchase a new device, I may have to sacrifice the quality of some of my nodes in order to maintain or improve the quality of others.

It’s becoming increasingly difficult to integrate devices from multiple platforms. In my case, I am working towards moving as many of my nodes into the cloud as possible so that the type of device I use isn’t so crucial. Google Drive make this pretty easy. iCloud? Not so much. I feel that Google has better overall reach than Apple, and am placing most of my apples in that basket – literally and figuratively. However, the new bling from apple is certainly hard to resist.

So before you whip out the credit card. I suggest that you consider how that purchase is going to impact your delicately-balanced personal technology ecosystem. I’ve almost got mine figured out. It’s not rocket science… bit it’s close!



Apple watch, sacred tablets, and the law of diminishing returns


I have a reputation of being a “gadget guy” due to being an early adopter of new technologies. My excuse has been that my gadget addiction contributes to my career as a technology educator. How can I teach students about technology’s impact on lives unless I experience it myself?

I’ve also been a big fan of Apple products since I bought my first macbook around the turn of the millennium, leaving behind a few decades of Windows use and never looking back. I bought the first five generations of iPhones, and three generations of iPads the day each was released.

In recent years, my enthusiasm for Apple as a corporation has begun to wither. I’ve been using an Android phone for the past year, and have begun checking out some of the higher-end Chrome books. Blasphemy in the eyes of the Apple faithful.

Part of my recent disinclination towards Apple are its overhyped “media events” for new products. Sure, these are beautifully engineered gadgets, but they are not the sacred tablets carried down from Mt. Sanai. They will not transport humanity to a higher existential plane. The scripted faux-heartfelt drama performed by the mere mortals that make up Apple’s highest ranks, does nothing for me but cheapen my perception of the product. If the product is as good as they make it out to be, they should simply release it and let people use it. Kind of like the Beatle’s White album. Let the product speak for itself.

The other reason I’ve lost my faith, is that Apple wants you to use only Apple gadgets and software and forces this agenda by locking down its technologies. The problem is, much of their software sucks! Apple doesn’t do social, doesn’t do productivity, doesn’t do personal information management. At least it doesn’t do these things well. So I find myself using Apple products but Google apps. That makes no sense. So I’ve switched to Android for my mobile devices.

So what do I think of the new Apple Watch? I’m doing a lot of soul searching. I already own the Samsung Gear Live smartwatch that I rather like. The Apple Watch is much more elegant with more applications, but I wonder if we need all of those applications? Like Todd Wasserman writes, “it could make my life worse … and wreak havok on what’s left of my concentration.” When I asked my students what they thought of Apple’s Watch one student said, my phone already tells time, why do I need a watch?

These comments make me wonder if we have not perhaps reached the point of diminishing returns. The point where adding more technology actually makes life more complicated and less productive rather than the desired opposite outcome.

I appreciate being able to glance at my swartwatch to see incoming messages. I also see real benefits in health applications. Beyond that, there are few apps I can think of that are easier accomplished on a watch than on a phone. Especially when considering phones connect effortlessly with car systems to provide handsfree phoning, messaging, and navigation. Perhaps smartwatches should be marketed as phone accessories – extending the interface to the wrist, rather than marketing them as independent devices.

So no, I won’t be purchasing an Apple Watch. Apologies to my friends that count on me for showing them the latest and greatest. When gadgets begin simplifying life, I’ll be happy to jump back on the band wagon. I wonder what that gadget will be?




glassken_closeupAfter a couple weeks of consideration, I decided to take advantage of my recent acceptance into the Google Glass Explorer club. I plopped down $1500 and my Google Glass arrived three days later just in time for me to take to the Course Technology National Conference. On day 2 of the conference, I shared my new Glass with dozens of computer teachers. All were equally astounded by the clarity of the small display dangling just above their right eye. It didn’t take long for most to master the interface, although there were some photos accidentally posted to my Facebook account. A few teachers were uncomfortable with the threats to privacy that Glass imposes. But all recognized the game changing impact that this technology will bring to our lives.

Personally, I find the potential of Glass irresistible, although I feel a little uncomfortable wearing mine in public. I generally don’t like to call attention to myself, or distance myself from those with whom I converse. Google Glass definitely draws people’s attention, even though I opted to buy the eyeglass frames to try to better disguise Glass. It also tends to serve as a distraction when interacting with others.

With Glass you can take a photo, store it in the cloud, and post it online all within a few seconds without people around you knowing. That ability makes many people nervous, and some irate. It’s also relatively easy to accidentally post photos and videos. I wouldn’t recommend wearing Glass in the bathroom or locker room!

I am still new to Glass, and perhaps some of its limitations are the result of my own inexperience. Google Glass is still new to the market as well, and has some pretty serious shortcomings that makes me think that it is not ready for prime time. For one, the battery lasts for only a couple hours before requiring a charge. I’m working on techniques to prolong battery life. Also, Glass tends to heat up during processor intensive tasks like recording video. The interface warns that Glass must cool down before continuing use.

As a teacher and researcher, Glass has provided me with fascinating insight into the next generation of computing, which seems to be only one small step from computers embedded in our bodies. Some public places are banning Glass, but, in my opinion, the pervasive existence of these technologies in public places is inevitable. Before long, as these technologies shrink, it will become impossible to detect if a person (or robot) is taking pictures or not.

I look forward to sharing more Glass experiences and opinions in future posts.

Telepresence robots may soon stalk you in your home.

Screen Shot 2014-03-03 at 8.56.42 AMSuitable Technologies is releasing a telepresence robot named Beam+. The robot adds mobility to video chat. Picture a Roomba vacuum cleaner with a tall stalk supporting an iPad at shoulder level. The caller uses an app to control the robot, rolling it around the home of the person he or she is talking to. Check out this amusing promo video from Suitable Technologies.

Personally, I’m not sure I’m ready for this technology. I like to be able to control what my callers see when we chat. I can imagine myself having to tackle the robot as it rolls down the hall towards a messy family room or barges in the bathroom. I especially enjoye the scene in the video where the husband surprises his wife in the laundry room. This just seems way too invasive even for married couples.

What about you?  Are you ready to invite spy robots into your laundry room?


The Promise and Threat of Network Neutrality

600px-NetNeutrality_logo.svg_The Internet is a powerful tool. It levels the playing field, allowing everyone to have a voice. Using free tools like WordPress, anyone can create a website, publish ideas, and provide resources to the public. The intent of the Internet’s founding fathers and mothers was for the Internet to be open, publicly managed and free from government and business influence and control. A network that serves as an open pipe, neutral in regards to the content of the packets it carries. A neutral network.

Because the philosophy of network neutrality has been for the most part supported by at least the U.S. government, the Internet has been free to implement the will of the people, shifting paradigms in many industries (music, travel, publishing, education, entertainment, etc, etc, etc), and governments, and leveraging political and economic control away from the few and placing it into the hands of the many. A free and open Internet is the ultimate democratic tool.

A free an open Internet is a threat to those in power. It reduces the leverage and control they hold over the marketplace and citizenry. Prior to the Internet, businesses and governments could control the information that the public received. With the Internet, information flows freely. It is no wonder that the telecom industry wants to have control over the information that flows over the Internet to its customers. Information is power. Now that the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia has denied the FCC the power to uphold network neutrality, the carriers have regained control over the flow of information. It doesn’t take a crystal ball to predict that once again we will see some services throttled (those that compete with the service provider), while others will flow unfettered (products of the service provider). We will also see a shifting in wealth from content providers, like Netflix, to content deliverers, like Comcast as the providers are required to pay fees for bandwidth.

It may be that the court was right and the FCC doesn’t have the legal power to enforce network neutrality. It may be that innovation is slowed by the red tape of government regulation – the innovation of carriers anyway. It looks as though the network neutrality issue will be kicked up to congress. Who do you think congress will stand by? The people or the telecom industry?

Congress Ready For Net Neutrality Standoff


Holiday Cards Over the Generations

HolidayCardRedEvery year at Christmas time, I spend a couple days composing a holiday greeting card to send to family and friends – “from our home to yours.” This year was particularly complicated as we transition from snail-mail to email.

When I was a kid growing up in Chicago, “back in the days” when COLOR TV was the latest cool technology, it was expected that family and friends would exchange holiday greeting cards through the mail, typically with personal notes written inside along with Hallmark’s greeting. Christmas holiday parties included time spent passing the cards around and reminiscing. If someone didn’t send a card, it was fuel for endless speculation about what could possibly have gone wrong? Illness? Death? Divorce? Or maybe the letter was lost in the mail?  Were they upset with us? Was there some sort of misunderstanding?

Some years later, holiday newsletters become popular with some. Hand-written letters on special stationary folded and tucked inside the greeting card, with updates on all that happened over the past year. Some recipients loved the newsletters and others found them too narcissistic. As generations aged, the newsletters often included lengthy descriptions of illnesses and death which tended to put a damper on the holiday party. As PC’s and printers became commonplace, people began creating their own card and newsletter designs for a personal touch, and significant savings.

Today there are online services that allow you to upload photos, select a design and sentiment, upload an address book, type your credit card number, and click a button to send dozens or hundreds of personalized cards through the mail. It’s not cheap, but it’s certainly time-saving in an era when time is in short supply. I’ve utilized these services in years when there was simply no time to do anything else.

As a person straddling two generations – the baby boomers and generation x, I feel torn between holiday card philosophies. This year, I sent paper holiday newsletters to those that I know expect them (the WWII generation), pdf’s to those who aren’t card senders (gen X), and both to those that I’m not sure what to do with (baby boomers and straddlers like myself). Ironically my holiday newsletter PDF file was too large to send by email so I posted it online and emailed a link to it. Somehow it seems less meaningful to send a link to a card than to send a the file as an email attachment. That’s just nuts!

I’m not sure what to do with my millennial generation friends who think that the holiday card tradition is unnecessary since we’re all in continuous communication online through social media all the time anyway. Also what up with all the commercialization? Are they the wisest of us all?

Of course there are exceptions in every generation. All generations are online these days, and I do have a younger friend or two who know how to mail a card or letter or are at least familiar with the concept. Maybe card-sending will be resurrected as a new and cool retro trend someday – like Bunco, LPs and peace signs.

So, how did you express your holiday wishes to your friends and family this year? How will you do so next year? Whatever your holiday card philosophy, or if you are in between philosophies as I am, I will take this opportunity to wish you Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year! I would post a link to our holiday greeting card here, but it has a lot of personal info that I’m terrified to share publicly where marketers and stalkers can access it. Next year I’ll have to have a 2nd version of our online card that with a privacy filter imposed. Sheesh!


Who will fund IBM’s 5 in 5

crystal-ball-dollar2In my early days of technology industry research, reporting and analysis, I would get quite excited by the promise of new technologies. Over the years I’ve learned that it can take quite a long time before amazing technologies like flying cars, dick tracy wrist watches, and flexible displays move from prototype to mass production. Specifically, it requires reasonable manufacturing costs, a potential market, and the absence of legal/ethical roadblocks. For example, I reported on flexible displays over a decade ago, and now they are just beginning to make their way into the first mass produced phones. Another example is Google Glass. Everyone’s talking about it, but who will be willing to sit across from someone wearing Glass as it records their face and sends it to Google as a geo-tagged image? Will Amazon ever launch its drone delivery service when little helicopters zipping around town are sure to cause safety issues, and merchandise is sure to be hijacked?

The same is true with grandiose predictions of how technology will impact our lives based on current capabilities.  IBM has predicted that using powerful processing power, artificial intelligence, and cloud computing, over the next five years everything will have the capacity to learn and adapt to each persons needs. Specifically, IBMs 5 in 5 for 2013 says:

  1. The classroom will learn you
  2. Buying local will beat online
  3. Doctors will routinely use your DNA to keep you well
  4. A digital guardian will protect you online
  5. The city will help you live in it

I wonder which of these five have the money and motivation to come true over the next five years.

1. The classroom will learn you

There is no money in education in this country at this time. Schools are struggling and many are being shut down. It would take major funding to develop an intelligent system that tracks the educational progress of every student, and recommends a curriculum to assist students in achieving their dreams.  Without money, there’s no motivation for any tech company to develop this solution. Perhaps Google can develop an ad-supported educational system. It’s probably already working on it.

2. Buying local will beat online

The blend of brick-and-mortar and e-commerce is already in full swing. I don’t see it helping local mom-and-pop businesses compete against the big block-buster stores. Sure, you can pick out an item at and go pick it up at your local walmart, but that doesn’t help our local businesses compete in price with walmart.

3. Doctors will routinely use your DNA to keep you well

The medical industry can’t even get standardized digital record-keeping implemented.

4. A digital guardian will protect you online

There are considerable investments being made in computer security as a necessity to protect countries and bank accounts from cyberwarfare, cyberespionage, and constant hack attacks. I find this prediction plausible since lots of money is at stake. Tech companies could gain considerable attention and business by promising tight security.

5. The city will help you live in it

This is also plausible and is already occurring through apps like Google Now.

Some may say that my years studying tech trends have made me a pessimist. I consider myself a realist. A realist that understands the benefits that miraculous predictions provide to those in the tech industry.

Business-sanctioned MOOCs

empty_classroomI’ve been following MOOCs closely since Sebastian’s first course on building a search engine, and the New York Times coverage of that first mainstream MOOC back in March of 2012 (although it seems much, much longer ago than that). I even enrolled in a MOOC, and stuck with it long enough to understand the framework and learning environment. Unfortunately, the presentation of the material was not engaging enough to hold my interest. Today, there are hundreds of MOOCs offered by Udacity, Coursera, EdX and others. While MOOCs provide free education from big name institutions, questions remain about the quality of the education they provide, and the perceived value of successfully completing a MOOC by those that review resumes and credentials. Here in academe we are wondering what threat MOOCs present to traditional educational institutions; what is the value of a college degree in this new educational landscape?

The recent Wall Street Journal article, “Job Market Embraces Massive Online Courses,” is sure to cause more concern for college administrators across the country. As I explained in my CourseCast, Google, AT&T, UPS, Procter & Gamble Co. Wal-Mart and other corporations, are beginning to design series of MOOCs that address the specific needs of their organizations. In this manner, these businesses are assured that students who successfully complete these sequences of courses and pass the exams have the desired skills. These aren’t necessarily low-level skills. They include subjects like computer science and supply-chain management.

As these new corporate-sponsored MOOCs expand to cover a wide variety of corporate jobs they may pose a threat to certain vocational schools and community colleges that focus on training high-school graduates, and returning students for specific vocations. But, how might they impact Universities?

Universities offer benefits and opportunities that MOOCs will find difficult to duplicate online:

  1. The emphasis on liberal studies in universities, and the ability to mix with a wide variety of students and faculty, broadens the mind and open doors to opportunities that are not found through narrow vocational paths.
  2. The residential aspect of university life provides a transition for traditional 18 – 21 year-old students from a dependent life to an independent life in a somewhat sheltered environment. As a University teacher, I often find myself assisting students with this difficult transition.
  3. Regular face-to-face contact with classmates and teachers provide opportunities to build deeper relationships and connections than is easily achievable in online environments.
  4. Universities provide opportunities for students to “think outside the box,” and achieve distinction in their field through independent supervised study and research, providing the personal touch that is difficult to deliver in a MOOC, and freedom and independence that is counter to the spirit of cookie cutter MOOCs.

Despite these comparitive shortcomings, MOOCs offer tremendous opportunities for everyone by providing free access to courses on valuable topics from top name schools. They are especially valuable to students who are unable to attend traditional college due to time or financial constraints. It is likely that over time, MOOCs will overcome many of these shortcomings by leveraging new technologies to provide a more personal online learning environment for students.

There is a lot that traditional schools should learn from MOOCs and the recent support MOOCs are receiving from corporations. It is important that Universities align with corporations to confirm that we are properly preparing students for all types of careers and opportunities. Not only should students be equipped with the skills to fill available jobs, but they should also have rich communication skills (written and spoken, online and off), problem-solving skills, computer skills, and the ability to innovate in their field.

I don’t see MOOCs presenting Universities with a choice between online education or classroom education. Both environments provide valuable opportunities. Universities should harness online environments and frameworks to deliver education outside the classroom walls so that students are engaged with their coursework and studies throughout their days and nights as they are engaged with their social media. Classroom time should be spent taking advantage of human face-time by engaging in discussions, problem-solving, and group work in the classroom or in the field. Over time, the most successful institutions will be the ones that provide the best value to students utilizing the online and onground classroom in the most engaging and productive ways.