Five Real Internet of Things (IoT) Scenarios

Technology is evolving so rapidly that the possibilities in front of us are limitless. Cloud, big data, analytics, IPv6, micro-computing, quantum computing, robotics, AI. It’s all coming together to create a perfect storm for perhaps the most exciting trend of all – the Internet of Things (aka, IoT).

What is the Internet of Things? Well, like a lot of big ideas, it can be defined in any number of ways. Let’s start with it’s the idea that you can leverage technology and the networks you create with it that when applied to various scenarios improves how things get done.

Like most ground-breaking ideas with the potential to revolutionize nearly everything we do, it will take some time for IoT standards to be established, for people to realize its potential, and for real-world scenarios to occur and drive adoption.

A real-world IoT scenario playing out in the market today is with wearables, which are being used to facilitate people being more productive, healthy, and safe.

Some other IoT devices are in use now, like the Amazon Echo (or “Alexis”, as “she” is referred to when taking voice direction) for home use and Electric Imp’s and Liberty Pump’s NightEye for use in business in the intelligent building sector.

All the tech players that you’d expect to be in the IoT game indeed are, including Amazon, Apple, IBM, Cisco, Intel, Microsoft, and many smaller players that are taking advantage of the opportunity.

Most cool new technologies begin with a vision, then follow a somewhat predictable hype cycle, followed by a slow, steady adoption curve.

For the adoption to occur, real-world scenarios have to reveal themselves. I’ve been paying special attention to situations in my own daily life where technology could have made my life easier, where implementing an IoT  solution could save me significant time, effort, and pain. The difference now is that all things are possible with IoT and associated advancements in tech.

Here are five scenarios where an IoT implementation will make a situation better:

  1. Swim competitions: Professional swimming competitions are already largely automated. Touch pads in the pool record swimmers’ times, which are immediately displayed when a heat is finished. However, local club swim meets require a significant amount of volunteer coordination. In fact, for every meet, 3 volunteer swim timers are required for every lane. For an eight-lane pool, that’s 24 volunteers for the first half of a meet and 48 timers for the second half of a meet (a typical meet is 60+ events and close to 100 heats). Most of these volunteers are parents of swimmers and would rather be helping to prepare their children for their races. With IoT there would be little need for volunteer timers. Pools would be enabled with timing devices, including failover/backup in case anything goes wrong with the automated timing systems.
  2. Sporting events: Referees could still make the initial call, but if the call is potentially controversial or game-changing, a crowd-sourced group of refereeing experts could confirm or reverse the call in real-time after quick review of the video. While in theory this could take more time and slow down games – a common complaint from “play review” naysayers – the new world of IoT will enable so many things in real-time that slowdowns won’t be a problem. And imagine how referees would appreciate the shift in shouldering the blame to the crowd-source panel of referees.
  3. Stolen bicycles. Bicycles are easy to steal. When I was in grade school, my bike was stolen from the front of my friend’s house. We were playing in the backyard and my bike was parked in the friend’s driveway on a quiet street. I never saw that bike again. With IoT, stolen bikes could become a thing of the past, as new bikes would become equipped with small IoT devices that would be hidden in a tire or inside the body and ping every few seconds to a geo-location service as soon as a bike begins moving.
  4. Dog “deposits”: Perhaps only dog lovers can appreciate this scenario, as it’s definitely not the most elegant use case for IoT. In my neighborhood, well-behaved dogs are allowed to roam off-leash. While owners are fairly diligent about picking up after their dogs, in order to pick up after a dog, the owner really have to be with the dog at all times to know where they leave their deposit. At some point, dog owners will have a very small IoT transponder/geolocation device to put in the dog’s food that will communicate when it leaves the dog’s body to a smart phone app so the dog owner can go find it and pick up the deposit from the off-leash dog.
  5. Personal safety. IoT also has the potential to also address life and death scenarios. Wearables have been available for those situations where an elderly or disabled person has fallen (and can’t get up) or similar.
    1. Imagine a wearable (and associated IoT infrastructure components) that knows when a disabled person is horizontal, not in their bed, and can automatically test or call a list of emergency contacts to ensure the person is safe.
    2. If we take this first safety use case a little bit further and apply it to the most vulnerable in our society – young children – and the all-too-common scenario of getting locked inside of a hot car. Again, imagine a “system” that monitors young children in a car. I use the term system here because it might be a combination of wearable and car IoT components that combine to protect against hot car death scenarios. Perhaps the child has a wearable that includes a heat sensor and location transponder. And maybe the car is equipped with redundant geolocation transponder, motion and sound sensor, and the ability to initiate an emergency call. As soon as the child’s wearable reaches a heat threshold, a call would be made to the mother’s cell phone, the father’s cell phone, and 911.
  6. Bonus scenario. Rechargeable batteries. I can’t believe the number of electronic devices that now come with a rechargeable battery: Smartphone, tablet, laptop, razor, video camera, digital SLR camera, electric drill, et al! All of these use various types of rechargeable batteries and several come with multiple batteries. Batteries that are not charged become discharged and no longer do their job. If we apply #IoT to this scenario, a battery could include the ability to communicate with a smartphone app to alert the user where it is and that it needs to be charged.

These are just a few examples of real-world scenarios where IoT will completely transform  how things get done. The number of scenarios where IoT can be applied to increase an efficiency and make people’s lives better is infinite. Naturally, it will take some time for people to recognize scenarios where applying IoT would make sense.

In addition, a lot of market changes still need to happen before we see a lot of these scenarios addressed by IoT solutions. In the meantime, I’m going to continue to keep my radar up for those real-life situations that are ripe for an IoT solution.

Long live (well, fast adoption) the Internet of Things!

Check out my tweets on Twitter @krisoccer.

 

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How To Activate Dell Fingerprint Reader

Change continues at a feverish pace in the smart device market, with fast connections, long battery life, and biometric security. Many have experienced the benefits of all day battery life and Touch ID biometric logons with their Apple iPhones.

Meanwhile, my newish Dell laptop is limited to less than 1.5 hours of battery life without attaching a cord and hardware interfaces that don’t come from the factory fully activated.

Take the fingerprint reader, for example. It comes standard on various Dell laptop models, but Windows (10, in this case) doesn’t even ship with drivers to enable the user to leverage this fingerprint reader to authenticate via a finger swipe. C’mon man! In other words, in its default state, the fingerprint reader doesn’t do anything till you “activate” it.

The good news is that Dell has easy-to-follow, step-by-step instructions on how to enable the fingerprint reader to make the process of logging into Windows, desktop, and web applications a breeze. Sorry, just kidding. Dell has some cryptic instructions that a person with average technical know-how would have a difficult time navigating. 

Dell does have some decent online sources, but you need to be willing to invest the time trying to figure out what might work. Hence, our goal is to provide step-by-step instructions for how to get your Dell fingerprint reader working.

First, my configuration: Dell Latitude E6440 64-bit laptop with Windows 10 (also 64-bit), 1TB hard disk, 16GB RAM. Nothing too out of the ordinary.

And here’s what you get when you leverage the fingerprint swipe capability that comes with your laptop – an extremely convenient logon experience. When all is said and done (what we’re going to cover in this blog post), all you have to do is swipe your finger across the reader and you will automatically be logged onto your computer.

If you compare the time it takes to perform a manual login by typing that increasingly complicated and lengthy password to the time it takes to swipe a finger, you’ll be more than willing to spend a little time upfront configuring your computer to leverage this feature.

Another benefit is the added layer of protection with biometric (fingerprint, retina, etc.) security, enabling you to have a complicated password that you rarely need to use because you’ve modernized the way you login with a finger swipe. Good on ya, mate!

Dell provides a reasonable quantity of online resources for customers to help themselves. So the first step in the process is to go to Dell.com and click on the Support link. You’ll be asked to identify your product via a search, Service Tag number, or by downloading and installing an app onto your local machine that can identify your exact laptop model.

I went ahead and downloaded, installed, and ran the Dell discovery app. It automatically found the relevant information, which then populated the Dell web application.

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Knowing laptop model# and Service Tag# is necessary before continuing the process.

The tricky part about enabling almost any technology is that steps have to be processed in a particular chronological order for it to work properly. The fingerprint reader is no exception. In fact, Dell’s lists necessary components in an order that’s inconsistent with the required install order.

Once you have the model# and service tag information, it’s really just a 3-step process to enable the reader: Install Dell Data Protection (DDP) Security Tools, install Dell Data Protection Encryption, and finally install the ControlVault driver.

First, download and install DDP Security Tools. Restart. Next, download and install DDP Encryption. Restart.

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Install these two components opposite of the order in which they’re listed.

The final install component is the Dell ControlVault driver for the fingerprint reader. It’s available from the same general location as the Dell Data Protection files previously downloaded and installed.

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Clicking on the “View details” link confirms this applies to the fingerprint reader.

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You’ll need to set up an administrative password for accessing the Dell Security Tools  utility. Be sure to save this in a safe place, like a post-it note stuck to your monitor… No, please don’t do this! That’s the old-school method. Many new and improved ways exist to manage credentials.

The whole purpose here is to increase our security, not create another breach point. Use a free or paid password manager like 1Password, LastPass, or KeePass to store the growing number of credentials for the plethora of mobile and web apps you leverage on a daily basis.

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To start using the fingerprint reader, you need to “enroll” fingerprints

When all is said and done (all components installed and working), you should have five separate entries populating the Windows Programs & Features utility.

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Windows utility Programs & Features looks like this when all component have been installed

Use the utility to “enroll” fingerprints so that you can login to your device with just a finger swipe. You should be completely set up and ready to go now. Time to test how it works.

Although visual artifacts seem to indicate that you need to be at a specific point on the logon screen before you can use a fingerprint to login, you can login from the home screen with a swipe without first clicking on the fingerprint swipe option.

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It’s unnecessary to click on the fingerprint login icon before swiping a finger to authenticate

Fingerprint reading and biometric authentication technology in general are still only moderately reliable. That is, the reader may not always recognize your fingerprint swipe and you’ll want to have access to your userid/password login credentials.

Similar to many programs, Dell Data Protection adds a desktop shortcut for quick access during the install process. I also like to pin important applications to my Windows task bar.

Like the computer keyboard and mouse, someday biometric authentication will be built into all pertinent devices we use and the necessary drivers and software will run and work without manual intervention. Until then, let’s continue to document the steps necessary to get features like the fingerprint reader to work so that we can save time and also improve security of our devices and data.

 

 

 

 

 

Putting Lie and Lay to Bed

Aside from hate, grammar correction is the another thing that’s all the rage on internet forums. Read any story or blog post that allows reader responses, and you won’t get very far down the page before the grammar police show up.

“It’s its, not it’s” or “It’s you’re, not your”, the grammar police will post with a wry smile and a bit of hand-wringing, anonymous behind their computer screens (and most likely situated comfortably in their parents’ basement).

Two things are difficult to imagine here:

  • That people still make these grammar mistakes when posting to online forums (and a lot of times are reprimanding others for making similar mistakes).
  • That the grammar police are still trolling online forums to find others’ grammar mistakes.

I’m sure you can think of others.

We can all agree that – even with all of its (not “it’s”) rules – it’s (not “its”) often difficult to navigate the nuances of the English language. Take the verbs to lie and to lay, which trip up even the most persnickety linguists.

Due to the difficulty in choosing the right lie/lay verb for a particular situation, there really are not that many examples of them being used in popular culture. But let’s see if we can find a few examples to compare against our lie/lay infographic, which guides us on when to use one vs. the other.

First example? Lyrics from the song Lyin’ Eyes by the Eagles. “You can’t hide your lyin’ eyes.” This represents a completely different meaning of the verb “to lie”. This “lie” is the one that made Pinocchio’s nose grow longer with each lie he told in the fictional story.

Another example comes from Sam Smith, the singer, who has a song titled “Lay Me Down”, which doesn’t actually use these words in the song lyrics. Even so, “lay me down” in the title is the correct usage of “lay” because it has a direct object of “me”. Very well done, Sam Smith. Five gold stars for correct usage of the verb “to lay”!

Next up is the well-known holiday song “Away in a Manger”. This one is bit more tricky because it uses lie/lay more than once. The first one is fairly simple. “The little Lord Jesus laid down His sweet head”. It helps to refer to our “Lie/Lay” infographic (below) to see that “laid” is the correct past tense form of the verb “lay”.

“The stars in the bright sky looked down where He lay” is a little tricky because we use the past tense of the verb lie to get “He lay“. Confusing.

I used to be more rigid about proper use of the language, but over time have become more tolerant. One reason is that I recognize people are born with varying aptitudes for hard- and soft-skills. For instance, my friend John can solve almost any math problem, but really struggles to put his thoughts on paper.

Even more important to understand, in my opinion, is how language evolves over time.

Some recall the uproar that the word “ain’t” had back in the 1980’s when it was officially added to standard dictionaries. It took a long time for strict interpreters (now known as the grammar police!) of the language to accept this abomination as an official word and not just slang employed by the less educated.

However, nothing could prepare lexicon lovers with the hurricane of change that would bestow the language in the 90’s due to the Internet and related technology. Applet, emoticon, malware, and micro-lending are a few examples of completely new words added to the vocabulary.

Languages continue to evolve and many words we hope are temporary may very well end up as part of the lexicon. “OMG!”, you may (rightly) exclaim.

Perhaps with all of these new words entering the language, we should occasionally take a moment and think about putting to bed some of the old, stagnant words that don’t get used much due to the confusion they cause. Like the previously-discussed verbs lie and lay, which require a detailed infographic before one could hope to properly use them…

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The Conference Call from Hell

Look, I hate to be pessimistic (not really), but has a single conference call in the history of time ever gone according to plan? I mean, have you once ever organized a call or participated in a call that involved more than just you and one other person and had it go smoothly from beginning to end? Of course you haven’t. And neither have I.

Today, though. I mean today I had a conference call that went really awry. I’m not really sure if there are varying degrees of awry, but if there are, mine went the most awry possible.

The sales person who works for my employer scheduled the call yesterday and couldn’t see my schedule online for some reason, and scheduled a call with her customer and me right over another important meeting that I had to attend. That was the least worst thing that happened.

Naturally I informed her that I couldn’t attend a meeting at that time on Thursday, so she called back her customer contacts and rescheduled the meeting for Friday at noon. Nobody likes to meet during their noon hour, but when a deal is going to close and a quota is on the line, you schedule meetings on Saturday if you have to!

The newly proposed time appeared to jibe with my Friday schedule so I accepted the meeting invite. Her invitation included all of the juicy meeting details, including a long distance number and an access code. Simple enough, right?

So I’m at my desk, involved in several different tasks, and at the last minute remember that a meeting reminder popped up fifteen minutes ago for this customer conference call, so I better jump on. I dial the provided number, enter the access code, and wait. Beep. Every few seconds – beep. Every once in a while an automated message plays just to let attendees know that they are on the call, but waiting for the organizer to join.

In today’s high tech environment, so many methods exist to communicate that it’s almost impossible to mess up something as simple as a 3-way conference call. Texting, instant messaging, mobile phones, landline phones, VoiP phones, walkie-talkies, sattelite, WiFi, LTE, 4G, Morse code, telegrams, smoke signals, email. It’s all there. If one thing doesn’t work, you switch to the other. And then the other. Unfortunately, sometimes too many options can lead to inefficiencies.

A few minutes pass while I’m waiting for the “conference organizer”, but still nothing. I notice an email pop up in my email inbox from the sales person: “I’m not in a location where I can access the conference call information. Could you please set up another conference call?” Sure, I think – no problem. I have a GoToMeeting acccount and can set up an instant meeting.

So I hang up on the current conference call that I’ve dialed into, load up my conference call application, start a new meeting, and invite attendees. It takes me a few minutes to access the necessary details, but I’m in a hurry and send my email with call-in information.

I wait a few seconds to see if anybody joins my meeting, and notice an email from the customer in my inbox. I take a quick peek. “I’m happy to set up a conference” says the message. Trying to be helpful, she includes new dial-in information for yet another conference call for attendees to dial into.

Meanwhile, the sales person has joined my ongoing conference call. We talk for a couple of minutes. Surely, the other parties will see my email and call into my updated conference call, won’t they? We wait. And wait. It’s 12:13 now, 13 minutes into a call that is supposed to take about 10 minutes.

The sales person decides we’ve waited long enough, puts me on hold, calls one of her customer contacts directly to see if they’re going to join our already-in-progress call. The answer to that question is no, as two of them have already joined the other call.

The sales person hangs up with her customer contact, gets back online with me, and informs me that we need to join the other call. By now it’s about 12:20pm, twenty minutes into our 30 minute call and we still do not have all parties on the same conference call.

So the sales person and I say goodbye for the second or third time now (I’ve lost track) and prepare to join the customer’s conference call. I look at the customer’s email with the call details and dial the number.

“Hi, this is Judy,” says a voice on the other line. “Hi Judy, I’m trying to dial into a conference call and was given this number. Is this 800-555-5555?”, I ask her. “Um, no, that’s not this number,” she replies. “OK, sorry for disturbing you.” I hang up.

I’m sure I dialed the right number, but it’s always possible that “fat fingers” got in the way. I hang up and try the provided number again.

“Hi, this is Judy.”

Not again.

I’m really confused now. “Sorry, Judy, but this is the number I was given. Do you ever get calls from people trying to connect to a conference call?”, I ask.

“Yes, I do,” she says. I ask her where she is located. “Arizona”.

We exchange our second set of pleasantries and hang up.

Ok, what now?, I think. I switch my attention to my email inbox.

A series of emails are flying back and forth between the customer, the sales person, and me.

Turns out my sales person is having the same challenges that I’m having with the dial-in number provided by the customer. Judy in Arizona is beginning to get perturbed about the quantity of wrong numbers she’s fielding.

The sales person calls me and tells me that she’s going to suggest we use the meeting I had previously organized. After 27 minutes into our 30 minute call, we finally get all parties connected on the same conference call.

One of our two customer contacts apologizes for providing incorrect conference call information. All parties discuss the issue at hand, get their questions answered, and we finish our intended business in about 15 minutes.

In retrospect, the irony about the conference call from hell is that the customer involved in this bridge call fiasco is a major telecom provider.

Which Web Browser Has the Edge?

I was intrigued when Microsoft announced that a brand new browser would be available with Windows 10, as I have extensively used all of the major browsers on Windows for years and none address my (apparently) stringent requirements.

I work in a fast-paced environment with frequent disruptions and constant deadlines. As a product manager in the tech industry, I perform a wide range of functions that demand enterprise-strength applications. Many applications are desktop-based; however, many have moved to the web over the years or involve the web in some manner.

While TCP/IP, HTML, and related standards have enabled browser makers to mostly deliver on the promise of the agnostic application platform, as well as work toward a platform for a consistent user experience, there’s still no one-size-fits-all browser.

Having worked with a wide array of web-based business applications, I’ve experienced applications that require specific browsers and versions from Internet Explorer (IE) version 6 and later versions of IE and various versions of Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox. None yet have required Apple Safari.

As the browser makers continue to address incompatibilities in their browsers, they’ve also attempted to address other lingering issues in how favorites/bookmarks are managed as well as a method for recovering multiple tabs that users have open and running on their desktops when the browser crashes or the machine locks and has to be rebooted (thus bringing down the browser with it).

The end-user experience in regards to these features and related use cases is the focus of this blog.

In the “old days” if you had 5 tabs open in a browser and then the browser crashed, the browser would not provide a method for recovering the lost tabs. The next time you’d launch the browser after a crash (or perhaps computer reboot), you’d be back to square one – with no simple way to get back to your 5 web pages.

Google addressed this issue in Chrome a few versions back. If you were to close the Google browser today with multiple tabs open, the next time you started the browser, you’d have the option of having it load the recently closed pages in tabs.

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The “Continue where you left off” option allows you to close several browser tabs and then restart the browser and have all of these tab pages reload.

If you don’t see the previously opened tabs, then you simply go to Chrome’s Settings\Recent Tabs to recover your prior browser session.

If this doesn’t do what you need it to, you can use the Chrome History feature in Settings and crawl through a history of visited sites to recover your recent links. A little cumbersome, but works well in a pinch.

Google Chrome provides the option to open a set of tabs that have been recently closed.
Google Chrome provides the option to open a set of tabs that have been recently closed.

So why not just use the Bookmarks or Favorites feature available in every browser to save a page or a group of websites?

First, browser crashes happen randomly and the user often haven’t made a decision whether to save open pages as bookmarks before a crash happens.

Also, I’ve personally never been a fan of bookmarks because, in most cases, I don’t need to permanently save a link; I just want to save it long enough to read the content and then decide whether to save it or not. Sometimes I need to save a page as a bookmark – like the link to my company’s web-based expense reporting app, as any process of monetary reimbursement is important!

I did stumble upon a clever application called Pocket that takes a unique approach to addressing part of this problem. Pocket saves all of your web page articles to a portal page on the Internet, so you can create a “for later” reading list and backup your open pages at the same time. However, you have to remember to go back and check Pocket on occasion to review your unread pages. If you’re like me, you’ll soon find your Pocket page full with an overwhelming reading list. Notably, Firefox does come with Pocket as a standard feature, as opposed to a browser add-on or separate app.

Firefox has an option called “Show my windows and tabs from last time” that functions similar to options in Chrome and Edge. When I open a set of pages, close Firefox, and then reopen Firefox, these pages have been remembered and Firefox reconnects to all of them. Good show.

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Firefox can load a set of tabs from a previous browsing session.

And Firefox’s Group Tabs feature almost looks like it could be the feature that would address my use case requirements, but it’s not intuitive so I can’t really make a determination without investing more time.

Microsoft’s new browser, Edge, has features to address some of the use cases described here. You can configure Edge at startup to open a set of previous pages OR a specific set of pages. This is effectively the same as the options we observed in Chrome noted earlier. But I want both of these capabilities at the same time.

That is, I want to shut down a set of pages and have Edge reload them next time I start Edge AND I want another set of pages that I always use to start at the same time.

What am I asking for, then, from my “dream” browser? It’s simple:

  • If I close a multiple-tab browser session on purpose or by accident (or by crash), I want the option to reload that set of pages next time I start the browser.
  • I also want to have the option to load a set of pre-defined pages unrelated to the multiple tabs session I had open.
  • I want both of these capabilities at the same time.

One way to address this would be to implement a feature that provided the ability to save browser sessions as themes. For example, I’d have a “Company Intranet” theme with tabs/pages to the sales portal, the development project portal, and the HR benefits page, I’d have a “Personal” theme with tabs to personal sites that I use on a regular basis, and perhaps a “Social Media” theme with Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, and WordPress sessions.

With Edge, you can choose to start a set of previous pages OR a default set of pages.
With Edge, you can choose to start a set of previous pages OR a default set of pages.

None of the major browser makers provide this full functionality – or at least in a way that meet my specific (but reasonable) requirements. So today I’m using (or having to use!) all four to maximize my productivity.

A properly implemented themes capability could motivate me to settle on a single browser and not employ all major browsers to do my web work. Browser makers, can you feel me? [If so, feel free to contact me via Twitter!]

My Great Alaskan Bear Encounter

Let’s just get this out on the table now. I don’t like bears. I don’t see any benefit to having bears in the vicinity. Yes, bears are beautiful animals and they can look harmless in TV documentaries; however they’re also ruthless killers.

I recall reading one particularly horrific bear attack story in Reader’s Digest when I growing up. A man who encountered a bear while hiking through Alaska promptly had his scalp removed.

Of course it wouldn’t have qualified to be featured in Reader’s Digest unless he somehow managed to survive the ordeal. So something positive can come out of being attacked by a creature 5 times the weight of the average human.

Those of us from the Pacific Northwest have our own opportunities to interact with the bears, since they roam the expansive forests and mountains from Oregon to Alaska. On occasion bears like to visit us in the city, but for the most part, if we want to increase the remote possibility of encountering a bear, we can choose to trek into the nearby woods.

People say the best thing to do when a bear is about to have you for lunch is to play dead. I’m sure a bear would like nothing better than to have you give up the fight so that he doesn’t have to put as much effort into making you his next meal.

The guy from the movie “Grizzly Man”, based on a true story, had the right idea. Just go hang out with the bears and pretend you’re one of them. This tactic apparently worked fine for about three years – until the bears finally realized one of us is not like the others and chowed down on him and his girlfriend. So much for bear tomfoolery.

My dad worked for Alyeska Pipeline Co. in Alaska back in the 1970’s. During the summers, my brother and I used to hop on a plane from Seattle and fly to Alaska to stay with him and explore wild Alaska.

Dad’s approach to life was unorthodox at best. No one would ever have accused him of taking the road most traveled. The road less traveled seemed fine to him, and he always managed to come out no worse for the wear.

I had little appreciation for the effort required to put food on the table until fishing the beautiful Alaskan rivers became one of our favorite weekend activities.

Our weekend routine consisted of packing Dad’s Volare (a car glamorized in TV commercials by the popular entertainer, Ricardo Montalbán) with fishing gear, driving a couple of hours from Anchorage or Fairbanks to the Kenai Peninsula, finding a place to park near the Russian River, and then spending the entire weekend hauling in fish out of little pockets on the side of the river where the fish rested before continuing their journey upstream.

The road less traveled meant accommodations only a boy scout could appreciate. We never pitched a tent; we simply drove the Volare into the makeshift, backwoods “parking” lots and that was our mobile hotel. The minivan hadn’t been invented yet, so sleeping accommodations were simply dad and older brother reclining in the two front bucket seats, and me squeezing my skinny, pre-teen body into a horizontal position in any remaining space in the back seat.

The Alaskan wild obviously provided minimal creature comforts that we were accustomed to from living in the city.  I don’t recall now how we brushed our teeth, took “bio breaks”, or managed to eat regular meals, but the fishing was simply too good for us to worry about the details. I do remember that after waking up in the car and taking care of the morning logistics, we set out for the best fishing spot on the opposite side of the river.

Since we were young and lightweight, Dad used to take each of us boys individually via piggyback across the river. The river was shallow in spots; however, it also was like the name implies – a rushing river – in others. If bears weren’t enough of a concern, we also had to worry about Dad losing his footing on his way across, dropping one of us, and then being swept away by the river.

We successfully crossed that river many times, made our way to what became our regular fishing hole, caught as many fish as we could legally catch, packed them up in a cooler, and made our way back to the city in time for Dad to start another work week with Alyeska. Somehow we survived Dad’s mother-unapproved method for traveling to our prime fishing spot, avoiding danger on the road, or river, less traveled.

Oh, yeah. So isn’t this story supposed to be about a bear encounter? Yes, where there are fish, there are bears!

One weekend we headed toward the river to cross to the other side and hike up the river to our favorite fishing location. Another fisherman just on the other side had his pole extended over the water and appeared oblivious to a dark creature approaching him from his back.

My heart began beating rapidly, as my instincts told me that this fisherman was about to be in very big trouble. A few us on our side of the river tried to warn him, waving our arms and yelling that he was about to be face to face with a bear!

During those few seconds, I questioned why he wouldn’t turn around to face his soon-to-be nemesis, why he appeared so casual when he was in obvious danger. Furthermore, he was perched on a high bank that did not provide an easy escape route, other than jumping several feet down into the river, which I expected him to do.

We soon discovered this fisherman was a true Alaskan grizzly man, at one with nature, not panicking for even a brief moment. I’ll be darned if that bear didn’t just stroll up to the man, casually take in the aromas populating the area, and then proceed to saunter up the river bank in search of fish or scraps from people cleaning the fish they caught.

It was quite a rush to see a bear, but I was even more impressed at how the grizzly man remained perfectly cool in a precarious situation. Alaskans will probably tell you that you don’t need to fear the bear, just respect it. Perhaps my fear had been overstated and bears weren’t so bad after all?

“Test Your Knowledge of Host Systems” infographic

Mankind has been automating tasks with computers to achieve greater efficiencies for about eighty years now. Today we rely on computers for any number of personal and business tasks – creating a document, building a spreadsheet, managing personal finances.

Most people are familiar with the personal computer and the types of work we accomplish with them and the entertainment they provide. There is, however, another class of computers that we use just as much that operate behind the scenes to run our utilities, make our travel reservations for auto, hotel, and air travel, and order goods at point of sale (POS) devices, to name a few.

These large, “enterprise class” computers have been marketed using varying terminology – mainframes (aka, Big Iron), mid-ranges, servers, distributed systems, and many others. As a general group, though, we often just refer to them as “server-based systems” or “host systems”.

Ultimately, these systems are just big servers that scale to run large quantities of transactions at any one time on the server side, while providing reasonable response time to users who are accessing these server-based applications from their client computers. Think of when you buy something online and thousands of others around the world are doing the same thing at the same time.

To illustrate the concepts discussed, we created the “Computer Host Systems” infographic. Take a short journey with Shonda, an IT administrator in a large company, who recently added responsibility for the organization’s mission-critical applications to her list of duties, and therefore has to quickly come up to speed on the different types of host systems and applications in use.

After many mergers and acquisitions, the organization has a wide range of systems supporting the business function and operation. By the end of Shonda’s journey in our “Computer Host Systems” infographic, you’ll both be in-the-know about the most common host systems (also referred to as legacy systems) running the global economy today.


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