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Tech Year in Review 2012

When I began this blog earlier this year, I had obviously hoped to be a bit more regular in my postings, and in the future maybe that will happen. For the time being however, I'll need to be content with a bit less content here. However, I didn't want to end the year without doing a quick tech year in review.

2012 was a very interesting year for technology, and I can say with confidence that I've dubbed this year, "The Year of the Tablet". No single consumer technology has taken the world by storm this past 12 months as the tablet.

Although tablets have been around in some shape or fashion for many years, it was when Apple released the iPad in 2010 that things really started to change. Suddenly you had a tremendously usable tablet interface on top of pretty good hardware. It took a couple years for competitors to finally get in to the game seriously, but in 2012 everything exploded. This was helped tremendously by the introduction of the Nexus 7 by Google, openin…

Quick Review: Google Maps for iOS

iPhone users rejoice! Google Maps is back! Today you can download a new standalone app for Google Maps for your iPhone. To top it off, it's a better offering than the old Google Maps you could get!

First and foremost, it's a vector based mapping system. The one feature I've LOVED on Apple Maps is the vector based nature of it. It means no more sitting around waiting for 'tiles' to load, the maps are drawn based on geometry and not images. Overall, one of the best things to come to mapping software in a long time.

The new Google Maps app also has nice tilt zoom features, with 3D renderings of buildings, and free rotation of your view. Everything else is as you'd expect it from Google Maps, with much more information than other mapping products. Only two criticisms:


I want to be able to turn off the tilt zoom and rotation. I'd like that the be a preference.I want a full iPad app (coming soon apparently)

Otherwise, it's a great app, and worth the download!

The technology of divorce

This morning a fascinating article showed up in my RSS feed on how technology is changing divorce. I encourage you to go read it over at the NY Times, but the quick summary is that things like texting and email have made face-to-face conversations less required in a divorce situation. That can end up being beneficial in situations with kids, since the chance of having a big argument in front of the children during an exchange or in a phone call become more rare.

As someone who is divorced with joint custody of my kids, I can say with first hand experience that it works. Firing off a quick text to coordinate scheduling or letting the other parent know about an upcoming event, are fast and easy. As talked about in the article, having the children have their own cell phones is also a great idea, since the parents can talk to their kids with quick calls and messages without having to deal with the ex-spouse.

However, there are certain areas where technology hasn't quite caught up to t…

Who's the boss?

I recently sent an email at work, that talked a lot about some of the more academic sides of "infrastructure". Particularly the notion of where infrastructure gets it's direction and workload from. So I thought I'd share a few of those thoughts here.

Infrastructure is a bit of a weird beast. It's a foundational piece of any technology deployment, but in most cases it isn't the "focus" of the deployment. Infrastructure is both independent-yet-dependent. It stands at a crossroads between two distinct worlds.

First, infrastructure is independent, in the sense that it is agnostic. It can be built in a similar fashion if you're deploying a bookstore, financial application, music player, or blog. There are general concepts, principles and tactics (see The HiSSS of Infrastructure series...) that are universal to whatever application you are building and deploying. So by that standard, infrastructure is a thing unto itself.

But yet, infrastructure is no…

Hurricane Sandy and Tech as Part of Our Lives

As most of the world is aware, last week was pretty rough for the East Coast of the United States. Hurricane Sandy left a trail of destruction through one of the most populous regions of our country, and even today, people have yet to fully recover from this incredible event.

I have some personal connections to this event, since my boss, and many of my co-workers are stationed in our NYC offices. Over the past week, a lot of meetings have started with questions like, "Are you doing OK? Do you have power yet?" The business of building a software product continued, but at the back of everyone's mind were questions about the safety of those we worked with.

For many of us, technology has become an embedded part of our lives. On any given day, I "chat" with people in two or three different timezones, hundreds of miles apart from me. Both in my personal life, and in my professional work. The internet, and our gadgets and apps, make this a simple proposition. Someone …

The Surface Revealed

A few months ago Microsoft announced their entry into the new tablet market with the Surface. For the first time in a long time, people were really excited about what Redmond was showing off. With an Apple style event to kick things off, they showed off a really cool piece of technology. However, they got one thing wrong, there was no price, and no ship date. Unlike the 'king of big reveals' that Apple is, Microsoft forgot this crucial step when you have a room full of hungry journalists and bloggers looking for information.

All is better now though, since the pricing on the RT (ARM based) version has been revealed. The base level model with 32GB of memory will be launched with a $499 price tag. That puts it right in the ballpark of the iPad, which is really where Microsoft needed it to be. For an extra $100 you can get it with their revolutionary keyboard cover. Considering you'll pay ~$100 for a decent Apple keyboard cover, this isn't too bad of a pricing model. I ha…

Finally a date....

Not that kinda of "date" silly, this is a tech blog. We finally have a rumored date for the much anticipated iPad Mini, and that date is October 23rd. Honestly, I'm more excited about this than the iPhone 5 or a new MacBook refresh. After playing with some 7 inch tablets, and having an eReader, I've come to find some really good value in that particular tablet size. The key is going to be price. If the rumors are true, the iPad Mini will NOT have a retina display. I'm really hoping it doesn't, because honestly, I want a value Apple device, not a top of the line tech device. I was sorely disappointed with the iPod Touch refresh, and it's sky-high price point because of it's retina display.

I think the key for Apple with this device is to target the Nexus 7, Kindle Fire and Nook HD. That means that they can't go above $250 for the base level model. No one is going to fault them for asking for a $50 premium over their competitors for the "Apple …

I don't have a wood shop...

It's been a few weeks since my last entry on this site, and there's been a good reason. No, it's not because there hasn't been anything interesting to write about, I certainly didn't take advantage of many good opportunities to write about tech news. It has been for a simple, somewhat silly reason. The new Warcraft expansion launched.

I hear the groans now, all the way through the ether. People screaming "Oh no... he's one of THEM!" Well, sorry to disappoint, but yes, I am "one of them". But, some clarification is in order. I don't abandon my family to play WoW, I get my work done, I don't call in sick, etc., etc.,. However, it does bring up an interesting new phenomenon in our modern society. Gaming as a hobby.

It's long been a staple of adult life to fill our time with hobbies and pastimes that give us something to do beyond work, but yet challenge us a bit mentally or physically. Video gaming has been around only a few decades…

Where in the world am I?

This week saw the launch of iOS6, the latest in Apple's mobile operating system iterations. For the most part, it's been a decent incremental upgrade, with lots of new little tweaks, such as Facebook integration, and the ability to update applications without inputing a password. However, the big feature that's been getting all the press is the new mapping app.

In Apple's bid to rid themselves of Google "taint", they decided to make their own mapping service, but I think it's become very apparent, that it's not as easy as it looks. Many places are mis-located, or labels are wrong (especially internationally), causing no end to the hilarity of people posting screenshots of mistakes. There's a reason why Google Maps is king, and it's based on why my friend Wes so aptly put forth, that Google is a data company, and Apple is not (yet). Providing good mapping data requires good... well... data. Google has it. Apple, and other competitors don't.…

A crab in the Apple tree

Today, I was among many geeks who, like the high school guy nervously awaiting the prom dance to end and the exit to the hotel room, awaited my semi regular dose of Apple branded technology porn. When the announcement of the iPhone 5 arrived, it was the same drug, administered with all the flourish and expectation of many similar injections of years past. We got to see all the leaked features put on full display, from the larger screen, to the oh so luscious LTE wireless speed. The device had everything we've been asking for, and even a few nice surprises like the new connector that you can insert in the dark, and it doesn't matter if it's upside down or not. The display was beautiful, the design and form factor was polished, and everything was exactly as we expected.

But wait! There was more! The iPod Nano got a complete redesign as well. The Nano is one of those products that can't seem to settle on a shirt to put on in the morning. It's worn the skinny tie, the…

Start a fire with some kindling

Yesterday was a big day for Amazon.com. They announced a whole new lineup of e-readers and tablets for their Kindle line of products. Many a pundit said that they were going after Apple in their latest play, and to some degree I think there's some small truth to that, but I don't think that's the whole story.

In fact, I think the first person that Amazon is trying to take down is Barnes & Noble. B&N's Nook tablet has been their answer to the Kindle for a few years now, and from a technology and feature standpoint, the two have been leap-frogging each other. Before the Kindle announcements yesterday there was the Nook with glow-light, so you can read in the dark. The ad for this device played constantly on TV in recent months, and I'm sure it caught the eye of more than a few customers. Yesterday Amazon answered with a version of it's own, that also upped the ante by including a capacitive touch screen, a step up from the Nook version.

On the high end, B…

Swinging a sack of doorknobs

This past weekend, the traditional Fall ritual took place, of stuffing hundreds of dollars of school supplies into backpacks that will then be placed on my children's backs, giving them a hunchback that would make Quasimodo jealous. As I was trying to cram in just one more 1.5-inch 3 ring binder, I started asking myself... "Self, why in the world are we teaching these kids to subsist on physical media still???" I didn't bother to answer my own question, because that would have made it a 2-way conversation, and I think there's supposedly something wrong with talking to yourself. But, I did start to take stock of all the paper, pens, pencils and composition books, and realized that maybe our education system needs to start embracing technology beyond learning PowerPoint, and playing Math Blaster.

OK, I realize I'm being a little harsh there, but my point is that when I look at how I use technology in my work and personal life, it's very often as a productiv…

Computers as work

The history of Labor Day is one of a celebration of work. For most people, work is a part of our lives, and taking a moment to honor that reality, and the history of how labor has developed is a worthwhile pursuit. But it got me thinking about how what we look at as work has changed in my lifetime.

When I was growing up, the career path for the computer field involved going to school to study Computer Science, and spending a lot of time working with mainframes, microchip design and so on. It wasn't really a field that interested me. With the advent of the internet, suddenly everything changed, and the practical nature of technology started to shape and create a new reality in our lives. Suddenly we were all able to interact with a growing, networked, world in a completely different way than we ever had before, and it was in this practical environment that my love of technology was nurtured.

This wasn't something that only existed for myself, but millions of other individuals s…

Thought Police

Yesterday I watched a live blog of the reading of the trial verdict in Apple v Samsung. The trial was complex, and the jury had to break down each patent by device. In the end, Apple won the day. They didn't get everything they wanted, but in contrast, Samsung got nothing.

I'm sure there will be an appeal, and this whole mess will drag on for another year or so, but it certainly says a lot about the patent system in this country. After deciding if Samsung had violated Apple's patents, the jury had to answer the question of if they thought those patents were actually valid. In all cases they said 'yes'. By the same token they had to answer if Apple violated patents, and even though they said Apple did NOT violate Samsung's patents, they also upheld Samsung's patents as well.

My personal assessment of all of this is that you had a jury full of regular people, who frankly, could probably have cared less about the mountains of patent law that was presented to t…

Going native

This afternoon I was pleasantly surprised to see the announcement that Facebook for iOS has gone fully native. Previous to today, the Facebook app has been a viewer to HTML5 based content that was mostly functional, but slow. The old app was adequate, but not stellar. When I fired up the new app I was greeted with a much nicer user experience in regards to smoother scrolling, and cleaner animations. Overall, it was a positive change, although it still does nothing to combat the incredibly content heavy feed that Facebook shoves at your phone. At least I get smoother scrolling while I'm waiting for all my content to take forever to load.

But this all got me thinking about the how far we've come in regards to write-once-run-anywhere promises of the web of the early 2000's. For a big part of my IT career everything seemed to be focused on a movement to make HTML everywhere, a ubiquitous language that could present it's content to all corners of the ever-more-connected glo…

Trial and Errol?

So I've tried to avoid it for the past few weeks, but I think it's time to finally say something about the whole Apple vs. Samsung trial debacle. The trial has dominates the tech news cycle relentlessly for weeks, and it's become so much of a sideshow that it's almost embarrassing to our industry. Between the swashbuckling Errol Flynn antics of the lawyers that finally emboldened the judge to ask them if they were on crack, to the completely idiotic and clumsy Errol the owl (from Harry Potter) arguments and missteps, this trial has ranked right up there with the must-see TV drama of the OJ Simpson glove fiasco.

At the heart of the trial is the notion that Samsung, in it's desire to catch up to the skyrocketing Apple, decided to simply copy Apple's trademarked designs for it's own products, so that they would be more competitive at market. Combine this with the pre-4.0 Android habit of trying to constantly keep up with iOS, and you get the making of a trade…

Tune in... tune out... tune it up?

The other day I fired up my Apple TV, and BAM! (just like that, seriously my imagination made some serious noise) there was a new button waiting for me to press it. That button had the nice familiar title of Hulu Plus. I've seen Hulu Plus before, but it had been a while, and so I decided to use this new and strange development to re-educate myself on what Hulu Plus has to offer.

Upon first entering the Hulu Plus homepage on my computer I was greeted with a very attrative graphic of a TV showing all of the many shows I could be watching right now if I was only using Hulu Plus. I was starting to feel like I was missing something. Then right below this link was a big green button offering me a free week! A free week!!! I'd be a fool NOT to take advantage of that!! But wait.... can't I first take a look and see if there's anything I'd even want to watch? Sure enough in small... er... small print was a link to a listing of all the wonderful content that was awaiting my …

Kids and cellphones

In a previous post, I talked about my views of technology and kids. However, I wanted to revisit the issue because of a recent story I read on NBCNews.com. This story asked the question "Does your middle school child really need a cellphone?"

I wanted to address this article because I felt it missed the bigger picture in some areas. First, in defense of having a cell phone, a parent is interviewed talking about how they wanted their kid to have a cellphone because it made them feel like they could keep tabs on them wherever they went. However, this viewpoint often is seen as a helicopter parent trying too hard to be a part of every aspect of their kids lives. Although I know there is a trend by many parents to be quite overbearing, I think the idea of a parent wanting to know where their kids are is only natural. Cellphones just happen to be the tool of the day that helps with that problem. More on that in a moment...

The second point in the article is when they interview an…

Twice the factors equals twice the fun

This entry might be pretty basic for a lot of my techie companions, but since we've been talking about security recently, I thought it might be good to do a quick introduction to 2-factor authentication for those that aren't as familiar with it. At it's most basic level, 2-factor authentication is about two things; something you know, and something you have. Most of us are used to working with passwords to authenticate ourselves to various resources. This is the something we know portion of 2-factor authentication.

The problem with something we know is that as soon as someone else knows it... it's not a secret anymore, and not very useful for security purposes. When we add in something we have to get 2 factors of authentication it's no longer just about what we know, but what we have. Then, it's not as terrible if someone knows what we know, because they don't have what we have, so knowing what they know doesn't help them as much, unless of course they e…

Hack! Slash! Burn! Crush!!

The big tech news story of the weekend was the hacked account of Mat Honan. As documented in his posting on Wired.com, in the space of a few hours his digital life was in shambles. And as much as we always talk about strong passwords, etc., this was not a case of password failure. It was a case that shows just how our desire for on-demand, cloud based services that are convenient can come back to haunt us.

I highly suggest you go read all 4 pages of the article, but the quick summary is that a hacker wanted control of Mr. Honan's Twitter account. In order to get it, they started with basic social scouting, and proceeded to use all of the built-in tools of Google, Amazon and Apple to gain access to his accounts without ever needing to crack a single password. At Google they discovered what his Apple ID e-mail address was when they did a simple "Forgot my password" query. Then at Amazon, they called up customer service and game'd the system to get access to the last 4 …

This log was made for rolling, rolling, rolling....

So I promised a blog post about monitoring and alerting in IT systems, so here it is. As with most liberal arts snobs I have a 'personal philosophy' about how to do things the best way. This philosophy is broken down in to three different components, based upon two critera; timeliness and context. Timliness in terms of how quickly an event needs to be acted upon, and the context in which the event is applicable. Therefore, a holy trinity of monitoring allows IT professionals to get the best information possible for any given situation. After all... the more you know.....

First off is the most immediate in timeliness, that of immediate alerting. When a system is about to come crashing down, seconds are of the essence. It's in this context that immediate alarming and alerting allows 1st level responders to get in to a system at the first sign of trouble. With any luck, they can repair and cirvumvent any problems before the problem is noticed by the client. This type of alerti…

My how they grow

I've been getting a lot of lessons lately in how kids grow up. My oldest son turned 13 this year, and in combination with his growth spurt, he's growing in to quite the young man in other ways. In this modern era, a father needs to think about more than just kicking their butts in to a summer job. A good geek father needs to start thinking about their 'technological growth'. That growth begins with the most basic of tech needs, that of an email account.

Since I've had my own domain through Google for many years, even my youngest son has his own email account. But what has become even more useful lately is the advent of more and more cloud services. In particular, Google Docs and Dropbox. Since my kids spend time at two houses, having the ability for them to start working on homework at one house, save it to a cloud location, and then continue working on it at the other house, is a tremendous advantage. So cloud storage is a must for children of a geek, especially di…

Wii, wii, wii all the way home

I'm no stranger to game systems, having owned an Atari 2600, original NES, and played on a room-mate's SEGA. When my kids were young we got a Nintendo Gamecube (though it was really for my spouse and I at the time), and as they got bigger we graduated to a Nintendo Wii. My son has a Nintendo DSi, and we now own an Xbox 360. I recount this history, not to brag, since there's people with a lot more credentials than me, but to show that for the most part, Nintendo has been a major player in my gaming experience for a long, long time. Looking at the future though, I'm afraid that's going to change.

Recently, Nintendo announced their new upgrade to the Wii system. However, they decided to choose price-point over innovation, so the new Wii U is a bit of a disappointment when it comes to performance (at least according to reviews). But, the bigger issue seems to be that Nintendo doesn't quite 'get it' when it comes to gaming of the future. First, there's …

The HiSSS of Infrastructure - Part 4

We've arrived at the end of our acronym-ical journal, and what better way to finish, than with everyone's favorite topic... security. Security is the often overlooked, and even more often derided, facet of information technology that everyone loves to hate. Security means rules, and rules means that we don't get to do everything we want, the way we want to. Security is the fun-killer.

Even though most IT professionals have to deal with security in some fashion, infrastructure has a unique role to play in securing systems. In fact, security needs to be right up there with the four other big paradigms of our philosophy of infrastructure. It needs to be there for one very important reason. In infrastructure we have the ability to make a huge impact in the security of a system, often times for very little effort. By the same token, if we don't take security seriously in infrastructure, we also have the biggest opportunity for a huge impact from a negative direction. More …

Auntie — the sky is falling!!

That's an 'em dash' in the title there if you were wondering about the joke...

So this past week Apple announced it's earnings report, and the worst thing in the world happened. They missed the predictions. Apple only made $8 billion in profit. They were supposed to make $10 billion.

I'll pause a moment to let that sink in.... one more moment... ok... So what does it mean when a company like Apple only makes an outrageous sum of money instead of a OMG FREAKING OUTRAGEOUS sum of money? It means that the pundits sit down at their iPads, at their kitchen tables, with their bluetooth wireless keyboards, and pound out paragraph after paragraph of snarky prose about how it's the beginning of the end for Apple, and that we all told you that it would never survive after Steve Jobs passed on.

I'll pause another moment to let the irony of that last run-on sentence sink in.... ready yet?.... ok.... So as much of an Apple fan boy that I am, let me begin by saying tha…

Seven inch what?

I've been a huge fan of the iPad ever since it was released, despite waiting until the iPad 2 before getting one. I remember one of the first competitors to the iPad was a 7-inch tablet by Samsung (IIRC). At the time I bristled at the idea of a smaller than 10-inch tablet. I just didn't 'get' why you'd want something, that I was viewing as a laptop replacement, in such a small size. But then a few weeks ago, something made me start to think differently.

First off, Google announced their Nexus 7 tablet. A seven inch device that starts at $200. That's a great price for what you get inside. But... it was still seven inches, so what would I use a device like that for? The answer came from a strange enough place. My ex-wife purchased a portable DVD player for the boys to use in the car on trips, and in their beds at home instead of falling asleep to movies on the living room couches. I looked at the devices and it hit me. Seven inches is a great size for a portable …

The HiSSS of Infrastructure - Part 3

We've arrived at the second 'S' in the HiSSS infrastructure philosophy, and that S is for Scalability, which interestingly isn't even a real word according to my spell check. However, mangling the English language is pretty second nature for people in the information technology field, so we can all be forgiven for yet another faux pas.

Scalability, simply put, is the ability for a system to grow as it's needs increase. Although this sounds like a simple concept, it actually is incredibly hard to achieve. When a software developer, or a systems engineer, sits down to design an application or build a host, they're usually most concerned with how they're going to accomplish their immediate needs. The idea of how they can grow their system to infinity is often something that gets considered later in a design cycle. Some shops are much better than others at considering scalability, but often times the answer is tossed back in infrastructure's lap as "de…

Best of... "To iPhone or not to iPhone"

I've decided to bring over a couple of my posts from my personal blog that talk about technology. This one quoted below is from when I was considering jumping from Android to iPhone. A few weeks after this post I did jump ship, and was happy I did, but I liked this post because it talked about my thinking at the time and why I considered it a big bonus to get inside the Apple ecosystem.


To iPhone or not to iPhone….
Apologies up front if this post is a bit more geeky than normal for me, but I’m going to dive into the realm of cool smartphones for a bit and ramble about things that most people might not care less about.  A year ago I decided to make the plunge and join the smartphone revolution. Since I’m a Verizon customer my choices were based on an Android phone, Blackberry, Windows Mobile or Palm WebOS. The iPhone was not an option at the time. Well, after a bunch of research I decided to go with the Palm Pre+ with WebOS. I loved how it was an entirely different view on how to cr…

Under the Surface of Microsoft

One of the big tech announcements recently, that caught the world by surprise, was the new Microsoft Surface tablet. Although many people expected some sort of tablet annoucement, I don't think anyone thought that Microsoft would pull out a full-on iPad competitor, complete with massive innovations in design and functionality. My first impression of Surface is that it's a really great piece of technology, and things like the built-in kickstand, and the smart-cover-like touch keyboard are really inventive. Since I'm writing this on an iPad with a wireless keyboard, I know there are plenty of times when the marriage of an old-school physical keyboard input method with modern touch screen interfaces results in something even better :)

The thing I wanted to comment on though wasn't the introduction of new hardware, because I think that story is still evolving, and Microsoft's involvement with it's OEM's could be quite the fireworks show. What I want to ramble o…