Technology

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I used to be an industry tech writer and blogger.

Due to my current job (and knowing too much about what's going on, and various non-disclosure agreements as well as diplomatic decorum), this is one of the more constrained areas for me. So while I'd like to write more, I'm restricted to very generic topics. Or just share articles from decades ago.



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I'm neither advocate nor foe of Amazon. They are a company, that's doing their best to adapt to changing market demands. Some things they do, like offering me better selection at lower prices, is great. Other things they do, like censorship or partisan politics, is annoying. A company isn't made up of any one act or person, but the aggregate of all of them. This article is a list of different Amazon related topics/articles that touch on the Amazon Gestalt. While I have individual opinions on individual acts, I'm perfectly fine leaving it to readers to make up their own minds on those micro-acts, or the macro-organization and personalities.
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A list of various articles and topics of discussion around Apple. Since they're a secretive company, I tend to avoid opining on a lot of things about them, out of respect for their desire and right to control their own messaging. So I tend to only focus on the trivial for a reason.
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Facebook is 3 things: bad interface, bad management, and biased policies. I want a social network that gives me control of what I see and share -- both to my friends and to advertisers. I realize they need to make a buck, and my information is their product, but the point is you can still give users the illusions of control. But Zuckerberg seems to have falling into the egocentric pit that many young billionaires do, they think because they timed things well, and worked hard, and got lucky that they're smarter than everyone else. This makes them arrogant, less mature, and slower to grow than the average human: Dunning-Kruger, inflated by being surrounded by yes-men.
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In 1995, two 20-something Ph.D. students from Stanford were looking for something to do their dissertations on, and decided that they should focus on a Web crawler and indexer research. Once they found funding and a revenue stream based on advertising, they became what's known in the Valley as a Unicorn: a multi-billion dollar company. And their saga from College Dormitory Culture to Corporate Cult began. Unfortunately, explosively rapid successes skip normal growth and maturing processes in corporations, and can create cults (or at least cult-like behavior). There's a line between corporate culture and conformity to the corporate line or expulsion, and that line seems to often get crossed at the Googleplex, without any of the normal checks and balances that might apply at a more moderate corporation.
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A bunch of startups didn't have money to create usable facilities, and they were often hiring students who didn't know better (about what private space was) and worked out of coffee shops, so they created "Open Offices".

Planners who failed at life decided that if Google/Facebook/etc. succeeded in spite of a horrendously distracted working environment, then everyone should suffer -- and Corporate America (especially Tech) started shifting to Open Office Floorplans; to the annoyance of tech workers everywhere. This was sold as "more collaborative", but there's no worker with a triple digit IQ that actually buys that, and there have been multiple studies that bear out the skepticism: workers get more quiet to keep from disturbing others (and hide away in meeting rooms or with headphones to create faux privacy). But the one-size-fits-all is attractive to the small-of-mind, paired up with the financial folks that could increase population density, without fixing facilities for parking, loading/unloading or eating. And the results have been productivity killing, increased employee friction, increased illness/sick-time, less face-to-face interaction, and more start working from home or as remote as can get away with. This will go down as proof that companies that ignore management fads operate much better than those that follow them.
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Quark is a company that helped revolutionize Desktop publishing. But they should be a verb for how to fuck-up your business. They went from 95% market share in desktop publishing (thought the 1980's and 1990), to 25 percent within a few years after Adobe InDesign was released. And InDesign was released with fewer features, not to mention conversion costs. Why would 3 out of 4 customers pay money and time to convert? The answer is simple: they outsources their development to India, had some of the worst support in the industry, had the most annoying copy-protection (DRM / Digital Rights Management) that made it expensive/annoying to use/maintain/upgrade their programs -- and they basically pissed their customers off, that they would have paid more to get less, just to get out from under their thumb.

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Twitter is an enemy of free speech and tolerance. Examples include them shadow banning conservatives (and admitting it, on-tape), some of their employees getting excited about violating their members privacy (assuming those members are conservatives/Trump), and how they suppressed anti-Hillary tweets during the election. That's scarily Orwellian. It's still their company and they get to be as dicky as they want to be with it (within the bounds of the law). But I'm going to point out their moral terpitude just so that consumers can make an informed choice -- not as any call to action (legal, governmental or otherwise).
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YouTube (a division of Google) has a specially abusive place when it comes to the world of selective censorship - that only seems to apply to truths liberals hate to hear.
  • PragerU's was suppressed/censored (silently), with no evidence offered that anything they have said it wrong, untrue, or racist. They do expose misleading beliefs of the far left, so that appears reasonable to block or punish them.
  • YouTube went on a crusade against guns, first you couldn't sell guns, then promote guns, and so on. They terminated gun parts channels, like Brownells. They're inventing laws and changing terms that are against the spirit of our constitution.
  • As part of an NYT Expose by Project Veritas (James O'keefe), they caught the NYT editor Nick Dudich explaining how he was using friendships and coordination with YouTube (Earnest Pettie) to manipulate social media to intentionally influence the news. YouTube was being a tool of evil, to work against a free election.

Every company has a right to decide who they support or not. But the problem is Google/YouTube PRETENDS to be an open platform (and community service). Yet, they're not doing what they advertise. If they openly admitted in their policies that they're a left-of-center advocacy site that will censor center/right positions at will, then at least that would be honest.




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As an oversimplification, balancing opposing forces in Sales/Marketing, Finance/Operations and Engineering is key to having a well run Tech Company. Throw in some other difficulties like good communication, good focus, and reducing politics, and things will hum along smoothly. But it's like trying to keep jugglers riding unicycles-sticks on a slack-line: while the theory is easy, the continuous shifting makes the real-life implementation hard.
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Ergonomics is the study of people's efficiency in their working environment. But it practically means adapting our environment (or tech) to meet our needs. Most commonly it is used to describe how we design our workplace (environment) to maximize our productivity or minimize our operator fatigue and discomfort. Let's focus on how it applies to computers and the workplace.
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There is a computer term that you hear some geeks and industry insiders use, but many people new to computers don't know, but should. That term is FUD. FUD means "Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt", and it was the tool of large companies to scare users from using small companies software (or hardware). They'd so uncertainty, so customers would buy from the safest (largest) company, even if it wasn't currently the best software, or scare them into buying the biggest program, over features they might someday need (but only added complexity today).

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Why are there so few female geeks? Sexism is a part of life.

Some who don't know me might call me a sexist pig. Not because I think one gender is better than the other, I just think everything in life is about tradeoffs. Genders are not better or worse, but there are differences. I don't just mean different as in input vs. output, or physical differences, I mean that we are fundamentally different in how we behave, what motivates us, how we think, as well as how our environment effects (and changes) us. This helps explain why there are so few Female Geeks.

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Intrusion and prevention is nothing like the movies. Think months to deliver an attack, to get through layers of defenses. And most counter-hacking is computer forensics to figure out what they got, days or weeks after they're gone: following log trails, or decoding some payload. If you know they're there, they can block you -- and they can usually only figure out someone was there, long after they're gone.
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Government/ARPA research gave us the Internet the same way they invented the car or airplane. By 1976 (founding of ARPA) we had hundreds of computers networked, by 1993 the Internet only carried 1% of the information traffic (and we had plenty of traffic). But by 2007 that had flipped and most traffic was TCP/IP based, because it was free, standard and good enough. However, without TCP/IP, one of the other protocols would have become a standard, and we’d still have had everything we have today (in some areas, more). The government gave us nothing that we didn’t already have (or wouldn’t have). Politicians (as usual) took credit for other people’s work.

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The media claimed last week was the 20 years anniversary of the "PC", and it was, if you think the IBM PC was the beginning of the computer or personal computer revolution. But of course it wasn't.
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Quality Assurance is a bit of an oxymoron, as quality is never assured. I spent a lifetime doing Software Quality Assurance one summer. After that, my dealings with QA, and appreciation for what they do has never been the same.
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Speed and Performance: how they differ. Many people understand simple specs and performance changes in a subsystem. What they don't understand is those effects on the whole system. Improving a subsystem's speed may have a very small impact on real-world performance. This is why you hear someone claim to increase the speed by 50% or 100%, while in the real world users only see a 5% performance gain. The claims aren't fraudukent, just misleading and people just don't get what the numbers mean.
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Why are programs so buggy? They're not bugs, they're features... sorry, that's an old programmer joke. Everyone has problems with their programs (software), it crashes, stalls, or does unexpected things. People ask about these "bugs", why are there so many, and what can they do about it. Hopefully this helps you understand why.


Programming


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What is Anti-Aliasing? It is using color to increase the percieved resolution on a display. It can't really alter resolution, but it can appear to do it, to the eye.
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Because I was a programmer, many people ask me, "How do I get started programming?" There are many choices, and it really depends on what you are trying to do. There is programming Applications, scripting, Web Programming, and so on. The bad news is that each of those choices will alter which language or tools you should choose -- and most people don't know this in advance. The good news is that when you get the concepts, many of them can follow from language to language and tool to tool. So the most important thing is to just show no fear, dive in, and start learning; some knowledge will be throw-away, but most you'll carry with you for years to come.

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What is Endian? How do you like your eggs? Big or little end up? If there are two equally valid ways to do something, then odds are that two different companies will chose to do those things differently. This is Murphy's law in action -- and it applied to different chip designers and how they ordered data in memory.

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Counting in Computerese: The Magic of Binary, Octal and Hexadecimal. Computers deal in the mystical numbering systems, like Hexadecimal, Octal and Binary. People get concerned over it sounding complex, but they are really quite simple. If you can read this article, you should have a really good understanding of what they are, and how they work.

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The other day, a friend and I were discussing the command-lines versus a GUI. His point, which I've heard a thousand times before and for 20+ years, is that unless you understand what's going on in the command line, then you don't understand what's going on in the computer. The idea being that the GUI abstracts you from what's really happening, and that some people can make command lines really fly; so they must be better overall. There's really a lot of different arguments and bias in there; so I have to break them down.

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Enterprise, Opensource or Commercial tools, which is better and why? Of course the answer is, "it depends": different tools are better for different things. Now I know that doesn't sound revolutionary, but that does seem to perplex some people. People don't understand the different tools or market segments they fit into, or what they are good for.

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There is a computer term that you hear some geeks and industry insiders use, but many people new to computers don't know, but should. That term is FUD. FUD means "Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt", and it was the tool of large companies to scare users from using small companies software (or hardware). They'd so uncertainty, so customers would buy from the safest (largest) company, even if it wasn't currently the best software, or scare them into buying the biggest program, over features they might someday need (but only added complexity today).

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In the tech world, I hear all the time about "Backwards" compatibility. That to me is like saying "I wish my hot new CD player would play my 8-track tapes as well". Backwards compatibility is when you create a new function or feature for your computer, but must also have a mode that works just like it did in the past. But this article is about learning to look forward,
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What are hackers, crackers and phreaks? This is the basics of how the terms evolved. They don't really mean what they meant when they were first used. So people date themselves with how they use the terms.
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Human Resources people, Managers, and general users, have no idea how simple or complex computer programming is. They think that they can just throw programmers around from one task to another, then some HR people select computer programmers based on language (Syntax), and not what really matters (skills and abilities). This would be like hiring an employee based on what school they attended and not what subjects they studied! This article will give some non-programmers a better idea of what Programming is about, and what they should be looking for when hiring programmers.
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The History of Visual Basic is a bit of a history of early computers and Microsoft, how they borrowed other people's ideas and even implementation and then took credit.
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MHz or GHz, what does it mean? Many people ask questions about Megahertz (MHz) or Gigahertz (GHz). Worse, some people don't ask, and assume they know what those terms mean. It isn't hard to understand (it's just clock speed) - but it isn't as easy as some assume either. Many people get it wrong, and assume that MHz (or GHz) is how much work a computer can get done: but it's more like RPM's in a car than MPH, it can mean the car is working harder, but not necessarily that you're going faster.
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What's the difference between a programmer or a software engineer? Trick question. Since "Software Engineer" (or not "Computer Scientist") has more prestige, virtually all programmers (software developers) call themselves by fancier titles. But in truth, there used to be a difference... since the age of agile programming (rapid application development), there are scant few software engineers. Unless you're doing genetic algorithms (or Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning) and running experiments on your code to see what it does, you're not really a Computer Scientist. But I'll cover what it used to mean.
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During the 80s and 90s there was a Computer Chip design war about RISC or CISC. What does that mean, and which is better? For a while, Intel (and AMD) were able to spend more on design and delay the inevitable, but once mobility (with performance per watt) became important, ARM and RISC designs have taken over for x86's older CISC design.
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Sometimes you'll hear people say, "rasterized image" (often as opposed to vector images), but what exactly does that mean? Here's the very basics of pictures or rasterized images (and a little bit about compression).
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I worked over a decade as a consultant, and used and managed them for a couple decades more. As a consultant I've worked for organizations (agencies) and as an independent. I have nothing against consultants or consulting (they're a very valuable resource), but there is an art to using consultants or consulting organizations wisely, and most companies don't quite have the artistry required. This article will try to explain some of the pitfalls and ways to use consultants better.

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There's a lot of variants of a Software Development Live Cycle. And the methodology has changed over the years... but mostly that about terminology or details, not the basics which seem to remain fairly constant, because physics, human nature, resource management, and the concepts behind writing software itself don't really change. So while companies (and some people) like to claim they're adherents to some methodology, if they are, they're idiots. The truth is every methodology adapts to the team/company, or that reflects the managements lack of a clue (or flexibility).
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Why are programs so buggy? They're not bugs, they're features... sorry, that's an old programmer joke. Everyone has problems with their programs (software), it crashes, stalls, or does unexpected things. People ask about these "bugs", why are there so many, and what can they do about it. Hopefully this helps you understand why.




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What is Network casting and subnets? Networks are ways to break up information into smaller chunks (packets) and then send them over a shared line or radio frequency, to other devices, where the parts can be rebuilt into the whole again. Casting and Subnets are ways to send to many people at once, but not everyone.


As a kid, I explored the dark side of hacking, cracking and phreaking... and as an adult, I challenged myself to get a CISSP : a 5 hour test/certification on computer security. While cramming with many professionals, it was nice to find that the top 10-20% in any one domain, knew more than me in that area, but I had the widest breadth of knowledge in the room.


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Cracking is the black art of removing copy protection from other people's programs. There are many "pirates" (people that use software without buying it) -- but far fewer crackers. Cracking requires enormous dedication and patience. It was far easier in yesteryear (systems were simpler) -- but now days there are better tools, so in some ways that makes it easier.

Cracking is often a battle of wits and patience, where the cracker removes all of the copy-protection code or figures out ways around it. At least it is a game for the cracker -- the companies that have their software cracked find it far from "fun" or "amusing".

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What are easter eggs, and where do they come from? And I'm not talking about the physical ones in springtime, I'm talking about hidden features or credits in software.

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What is a FireWall? In a structure or a car, the firewall is something that protects one area from another - usually in case of a fire. The firewall stops or at least slows the fire from spreading by being a physical barrier. In computers and networking it basically does the same thing, but the "fire" that it is trying to slow/stop is an intruder or security leak.

The network administrator turns on or configures this network barrier (firewall) between one network (or area of the network) and another. The firewall blocks everything, except for what it is configured to let through. This can seriously hamper intruders and increase security. To understand this better, let's get a little geeky.

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What are hackers, crackers and phreaks? This is the basics of how the terms evolved. They don't really mean what they meant when they were first used. So people date themselves with how they use the terms.
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It is not that hard to hack into a network/machine - far easier than people realize, yet far harder than the movies make it seem. It can get very complex -- but there are usually "easier" in's that the hard brute force methods. There are many levels to a break in -- from the ballsy "impersonating an employee" and just walking around a company (badges are easy to create, and don't slow most people down) -- to stealing network traffic and analyzing it. There are thousands of ways to get in, and the more complex the counter measures, the more potential holes there are (but the harder they may be to find).

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Intrusion and prevention is nothing like the movies. Think months to deliver an attack, to get through layers of defenses. And most counter-hacking is computer forensics to figure out what they got, days or weeks after they're gone: following log trails, or decoding some payload. If you know they're there, they can block you -- and they can usually only figure out someone was there, long after they're gone.
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How secure are your devices from intruders? The answer is "it depends", on a lot of things, like what machine you have, what you do, and so on. The short answer is in order of safety (from least secure to most), you'd go: Windows, Unix, Mac, Android/Chrome, IOS. And the OS's are more secure than the Apps you run -- so iOS running only Apps from their Store is going to be a lot safer than a machine that's running software downloaded at random from the Internet.

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The reason there's so many annoying password requirements, is because passwords are so instrumental to security (and human nature is so predictable). That being said, most of those annoying password requirements are doing it wrong, and just annoying customers.
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Are you out of your phreaking minds?

Phreaking is when people (hackers) figure out how to break the phone companies security, to get access to control the phones. Most often used to make free phone calls, or get operator powers. Network hacking is breaking in (usually looking around without doing harm). Cracking is defeating copy protection in someone else's code. But there is far less moral ambiguity about phreaking -- almost all phreaks get free phone calls, and that is something the law (and the phone company) frowned upon -- seriously. The phone company dedicated resources to countering phreaking, and hunting down phreaks. It became the blackest of the black computer "arts", and through improvements in security, and commoditization of long distance phone call costs, it largely doesn't exist any more.
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Privacy and the web: how safe is your info?

The other night I was watching a Television show that discussed computers and privacy, and like a geek, I was getting annoyed and talking back to the show; it seems that Hollywood needs to get better technology consultants instead of terrorizing the public with misinformation and calling it entertainment. If I didn't know better, I'd be paranoid too. But I'm not, so it's more mock-worthy than helpful.

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Shopping and Physical Security: One of the areas that people are very concerned about security is on-line shopping. I think they are often focusing on the lesser threats. People can hack your online shopping -- but it's a lot of work. It's far easier to steal your information through other means.

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Virus, Worms and Trojans, some various hacker terms/attacks explained (simply).