Saturday, May 10, 2014

OTR: Trains, Planes, Fire Trucks and Computers

It's likely no surprise to my friends that I like all of the things that I mention in the headline of this post. If the mailman pays attention to what he puts in my mailbox, I imagine he must wonder about what I do. There's Airways Magazine, Air & Space, Aviation Week and Space Technology, Trains, the Rail & Wire, Fire Apparatus Journal, some security magazines, and a handful of business magazines.

I suppose that when it comes to these things, I've never quite grown up. I didn't get the "car guy" gene that my brother has, or the boat-owner gene that my father had.

I've been a member of the Illinois Railway Museum for a few years now. I go out there a few times every summer, ride the trains, take some pictures, and get my train geek on. I haven't volunteered out there up to now because, quite honestly, I'm not that handy and taking up welding at my advanced age might be a little beyond me. Besides, I'm pretty sure the family won't let me out of the house wearing striped bib overalls. Nonetheless, I'm heading out there in the morning to see if I can lend some of my knowledge, and perhaps some of my writing ability, to the Museum.

I've observed some challenges, and I think I could help, but I need to see where they want help and how that matches with my time and ability. I get the distinct impression that the long term members value sweat equity over intellectual contributions as the true measure of the volunteer.

I think this is my favorite locomotive out at the Museum. When I was a kid, I had a Tyco HO railroad layout and the train set's engine was in the same colors.

Friday, March 28, 2014

OTR: Whatever Happened to Letter Jackets?

Sometimes I have to remind myself that 2014 is as far removed from the beginning of my high school days as those days were removed from the beginning of WWII. This is one of those times.

My younger daughter and I were doing the Spring Break college tour death march this week. At some point, I commented on the lack of letter jackets among the kids also doing the tours. I found it interesting that of the four letter jackets that I did see, three were worn by female marching band members and the fourth was the only true athletic letter jacket that I saw (worn by a young man). I commented that I didn't think I had seen anyone at her school wearing a letter jacket and I got one of those looks that a parent gets from a teenager when you are clearly beneath contempt for bringing up ancient history. ("The '80's called. They'd like you back. Please go.")

Looking across a number of college campuses this week made me reflect on what has changed. Back in the Stone Age, we carried book bags emblazoned with the school's name. It occurred to me that trying to describe one of these to my daughter was going to be impossible -- she has always known backpacks. Next to my gym uniform, the book bag was one of the first things purchased with the school name on it. It was all but required. I'm not sure what people without the official school book bag used. For that matter, I don't recall what I used in college to tote around my books to class. It seemed like I had to replace that book bag every year because the weight of the books I was carrying tore it up. I know I had an old brief case and a salesman's case, but I don't think I used those every day in college.

At one school, we looked in a museum display case and I saw my late 1970's TI-30 calculator. We were the first class to be able to generally afford calculators in class, and we were also the last class to be taught how to use a slide rule. I toted around the Handbook of Chemistry and Physics for two years, along with a mathematical tables book. I suppose every kid today has an app on his or her phone containing the same information, if they still use that sort of stuff.

I do remember ordering my letter jacket. It was the end of Freshman football and we could only then order our jackets. I seem to recall that it was a relatively expensive purchase for my parents -- perhaps around $100. We ordered it a bit larger than I would normally wear. Weeks went by until it arrived. It was glorious. Deep red wool with real leather sleeves (in white). The school name emblazoned across the back. And it was strangely reversible. You could turn it inside out and wear it with a slight bit on anonymity, although, curiously, my name was stitched on the pocket. It wasn't long before my graduation year was sewn on the jacket, then a minor letter and, finally, the varsity letter! (I still have the jacket, although it long ago stopped fitting me. The girls have never seen fit to wear it to school -- even on a Throwback Thursday.)

I have to wonder if letter jackets went the way of the dodo when our culture started awarding trophies to every kid who participated in a sport.

As I look back across over 30 years, I have to wonder if the adults of the late 1970's were thinking the same things that I am today. Were they feeling, "Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose"? Hard to say, although in the late '70's, I wasn't listening to Glenn Miller with the same enthusiasm that my kids listen to Michael Jackson and the Beatles.

Monday, March 18, 2013


Effective immediately, I am no longer a Certified Records Manager (CRM). If you should happen to see an announcement for a presentation that I am making and it shows me as a CRM, that is no longer the case, so please disregard the designation.

I suspect that I may overlook a few places here and there and there is no intent to mislead anyone or disrespect the credential or the ICRM. After 20 years, it became something of a habit, so I have to unlearn that.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

ATR: iPad, uPad, We All Pad...

As Apple announced the next iPads recently, it dawned on me that I'm a year into my personal experience with the iPad. Interestingly, that iPad2 has already been put two generations behind, plus there is a new size. Gotta love technology. I'm also now up to iOS 6, which means I have done two OS upgrades since I first opened the box. It feels like 1992 all over again.

The number of folks with iPads in the office has increased modestly. I'm not certain that most are as geeky about them as I have been, but they get plenty of use.

For this one year anniversary post, I thought that I would  noodle a bit about the state of BYO (Bring Your Own) and the smartphone / tablet revolution. I'm mainly going to set out some of my observations and analysis.

Trend: Fewer employees have company-issued smartphones. Like company paid Internet access, it seems that many companies are phasing out paid cell phones. While this can be a risk relative to information security and e-discovery, the cost savings are driving this, plus employees can buy whatever phone they desire rather than settle for what the company supports.

Trend: Tablets will represent the general limit for most organizations with BYO programs. While there are companies experimenting with computer / laptop BYO programs, integrating and monitoring unmanaged computers is hard. Virtualization is expensive and often doesn't work very well. HR and Legal have concerns about litigation and acceptable use. Tablets generally don't get onto the company network, have limited storage capability, and represent less risk across the board.

Trend: Smartphones and tablets will see increased security threats. With employees generally becoming smarter about threats to their computers, attackers will turn to smartphones and tablets to gain access to corporate data and networks. Antivirus / anti-malware software is immature and few users utilize the software that is available.

Trend: Monolithic vendors (i.e. Apple and RIM / Blackberry) will tend to become more sanctioned for office use. Android will lose share for devices used for business purposes. Windows will be driven by Microsoft's commitment and security patch velocity. More on this below.

Trend: Laptops will become more tablet-like. For all of Microsoft's efforts to get acceptance of Tablet PC, the real limiter wasn't the OS so much as the hardware (weight and battery life). With extreme thinness in, we're seeing laptops that aren't much bulkier than tablets, yet allow greater functionality. The new Dell Ultrabooks with the convertible touch screen refresh an older design in a thin package. That form factor should be the winner over the long haul. The next question deals with the ability of Microsoft to deliver an OS that is nimble.

A significant factor, as I mentioned, is the increased security threat represented by smartphones and tablets. Android devices will be at a significant disadvantage here. My 18 month old Atrix is no longer going to see its OS updated. That means, until I buy a new phone (which, because of subsidy contracts, means at least another six months), I'm not only stuck with an old OS, but I'm stuck with its foibles and vulnerabilities. Imagine that your PC was limited to Windows XP, and then only to the updates from 2003. Now look around your office. How many PCs are still running XP? Quite a few, I'll bet. The security issues with XP would be unmanageable if it wasn't continually patched. Eventually, Microsoft stops patching, but generally at a point where the risk is diminished.

The challenge with smartphones is twofold: hardware and carriers. Each manufacturer builds several different phones each year for each carrier... globally. That could mean several dozen new models every year, tweaked for the numerous cell phone carriers around the globe. And each manufacturer likes different chipsets and other hardware features. That means that "Android" has to be written to the specific phone and carrier, then tested on that network. And the carriers like to enable and disable certain features, as well as add their own bloatware.

Monolithic manufacturers like Apple and RIM control their own destinies a bit more. They are still at the mercy of carriers, but they can manage code updates far better than the Android crowd. This means more frequest OS refreshes and potentially longer life for the underlying devices. That said, smartphones and tablets appear to be destined to have much shorter lifetimes that the current generation of laptops and desktops. That very much parallels the experience of computer users 20 years ago. The computer OS and software changed at very high frequency and computers became more and more powerful with each new chipset, requiring frequent upgrades, replacements and software purchases. Somehow, Microsoft managed to ensure that DOS and Windows could support multiple generations of hardware from disparate vendors. This is what Google has to be able to do with Android at some point.

Corporate support for the BYO world is largely going to be dependent upon security down the road. Right now, the devices have to connect and not mess up the corporate network or cause networking issues. If they don't increase support calls, they are good. That's a given. But at some point, BYO devices will be vulnerable to a new generation of malware and frequent enough targets that enterprise IT will have to insist on protective measures. Otherwise, the noise level just gets crazy and the risk increases.

If I look at my own BYO behavior and computer usage, I would expect that within five years, I will revert to a desktop computer at work from my present laptop. My iPad will either have increased capability or I will switch to a convertible tablet / laptop device that allows for a full keyboard. I will have some sort of corporate-sanctioned cloud storage, and, that convertible device will likely have greater cellular telephone capability (I would expect that there will be some ability to answer calls from your tablet and switch from smartphone to tablet with ease so you don't have to carry around multiple devices). If I need to remotely get on the corporate network, I'll use a virtualization tool via VPN.

It's kind of fun to be an old dog being taught new tricks. Maybe I'll even buy a Mac for my home computer.... nah.