Riding the Technology Wave

The old adage,” The more things change, the more they stay the same” is meant to describe the (non-) effect of technological, political, and social change on human nature. The original author intended this to mean that while the world today is very different from the world of the past, the people themselves are the same. If you were to use a time machine to pick up a baby from the 16th century and raise him today he would have all the same advantages and foibles of any modern man. Similarly, many of the obstacles we encounter as a society: bureaucracy, intolerance, and selfishness are present in every era of human civilization.

But it is a mistake to confuse the fact that human nature never changes with the reality that human behavior almost never stops changing. This is the cardinal mistake that industries and people have made for hundreds of years. The printing press changed the reading and learning habits of people around the world while early industrialization changed buying and manufacturing behaviors. At each turn, those advantaged by the old ways fought tooth and nail, ultimately unsuccessfully to prevent these changes. While human nature remained unchanged the actual behaviors: patterns of activity, methods of accomplishment, and ways of achieving success were fundamentally altered. The are some recent examples of this phenomenon that can help us understand where we might do better. (more…)

Avoiding the Meltdown

melted-animation-sculpture by Cecilia Fletcher, on Flickr
Image by Cecilia Fletcher, on Flickr

You need to learn from your mistakes in order to survive, but you need to learn from other people’s mistakes if you want to succeed. I recently had the occasion to research the nuclear power tragedies at Chernobyl and Fukushima Daiichi. Each disaster came about for very different reasons but both highlighted several common mistakes, both in preparation and in response. While very few organizations are going to have issues that are literally life and death, we can still take the key lessons to heart. These two nuclear catastrophes together have taken the lives of many dedicated and brave individuals and the communities and nations around the affected locations are still today trying to recover. Without callously pointing blame in any particular direction we will take a sober look at some of the commonly accepted missteps that occurred to produce these two terrible events and examine how the lessons that can be learned from them. (more…)

The Next REALLY Big Thing

Webb Telescope Mirrors Arrive at NASA Goddard
Image Credit: NASA/GSFC/Chris Gunn

The NASA shuttle program ended this month. Now, as NASA turns from government-funded space exploration to private corporation space commerce the future of space-based technology is (sorry for the pun) “up in the air”. Whether you believe that the capitalization of the space market is going to create a brighter, better future for space-based innovation and travel or you feel that the end of the shuttle age marks a new low in mankind’s more and more unlikely quest to conquer the stars you would almost have to agree that without the shuttle program and many of NASA’s other programs such as: Apollo, Gemini, and Mercury, space, and how we use it, would look nothing like it does today. Those programs and the technological innovations they helped bring to fruition cost the US government staggering amounts of money and never returned any direct monetary profit for NASA despite decades of continued investment. No matter how you look at it, only a government could pull off something like that. Some things are just so monumentally, enormously big that no private company could, or would, ever attempt, let alone succeed at them. Yet they make it possible for private industry to flourish in a way that would not have been possible before. So now that the era of government-funded space exploration is over, what will be the next really big thing? (more…)

Power Play

LTA, BALLOONS, USA, CIVIL WAR, LOWE, GAS GENERATORS & COOLERS by public.resource.org, on Flickr
Image courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution.

Mobile device manufacturers have made some incredible innovations in the past few years. It is even more fantastic when you consider that they have been working behind a major roadblock for the past decade. While microprocessors, radio receivers and transmitters, hard drives, RAM, LCD screens and other mobile device components have been getting steadily smaller and at the same time dramatically improving their performance, once particular component has basically stagnated: the power source. Now the largest, heaviest, and often most expensive part of your mobile device is the battery, without a dramatic revolution in power technology mobile devices may been coming up on an innovation wall. But there may be hope. (more…)

Gamers Did That

online role playing games by Combined Media, on Flickr

Illustration by Michael Whitehead for Livewire - Green Guide

Love your new, super cool smartphone? Being extra productive on that blazing fast laptop? Surfing the net faster than you can click your mouse? Thank a gamer.

When the first personal computers came out they were nothing more than a curiosity for technophiles. Few, if any, people saw any real-world advantage and certainly business owners weren’t going to shell out the thousands of dollars per machine to bring them to every desktop in the office. Then VisiCalc, the first spreadsheet program, came along and suddenly everyone understood what this new computer evolution meant. Later hardware would lead the charge with the introduction of the mouse. For the first time desktop publishing and digital design were feasible. But through it all, there was one group of users who constantly pushed the envelope and forced hardware and software makers to improve and innovate and they are still doing it today. (more…)

Browser War II – The Desktop Front

The Internet, April 14 – During this lull in the flighting our brave corespondents, from battlefields around the world, take a moment to collect their notes on the conflict, its combatants, and its origins. In the first part of this series, we examine the battle for the Desktop Browser, a conflict that perhaps has seen more brutal fighting in this war and in wars of the past than any other in the history of the digital world. As journalists it is not our place to promote any particular side of this struggle over any other, although as patriots we surely do have such bias. We have attempted here to keep such feelings from expression.

Browser War II

The Mobile Workforce – Where We Are

This is the second of a three part blog series exploring the mobile workforce: the past, the present, and the future. In some ways examining the current state of the mobile workforce is the hardest challenge of the three. While the past is easily researched and the future can be guessed, the present is a living, moving thing that isn’t easy to pin down. By the time you’ve think you’ve got a good handle on the situation you realize that things have already changed.

Rather than examining specific companies or devices, let’s instead take a look at trends: what do modern mobile devices look like, what do they allow us to do, and how are they being used today? (more…)

The Mobile Workforce – Where We’ve Been

This is the first of a three part blog series exploring the mobile workforce: the past, the present, and the future. I’m taking a risk by starting in the past and, combined with my last blog, this might make me seem like a old timer wishing for the good old days, but to understand the mobile workforce of today and tomorrow, you need to understand what it looked liked yesterday.

When I first left college, I took a summer job working as a field runner for a tomato cannery. My job, along with a few others, was to drive around from field to field, inspecting the harvesting efforts, taking samples for testing, and generally ensuring everything was going smoothly as the crops were picked, trucked, and delivered to the factory. Each of the runners was given a vehicle to drive, a Citizen’s Band (CB) radio, a pager, and a mobile phone. (more…)

The Future Is Behind Us – Why Developers are Bringing Back the Classics

It doesn’t sound like that long ago: 1997. But back then, when I was building my first web page, the world wide web as we know it today was basically unrecognizable. That first hideous, virtually unusable, and entirely pointless personal web page that I built thirteen years ago still put me on the cutting edge of the Internet. Companies were just starting to “get on line” and the early sandbox environments like AOL and Prodigy were only just beginning to give way to the open Internet. There was no Google, no concept of modern file sharing, few standards, and even fewer experts.

You’d think that as a developer in those early days I would have faced far different challenges than the developers of today but as it turns out when it comes for developing on the modern devices, maybe not so much. (more…)