A Business Technology Place

Compete or get left behind

Ack!

This story about Eugene Kaspersky complaining about Microsoft including antivirus software with Windows 10 touched a nerve. I had flashbacks to the litigation against Microsoft and Internet Explorer bundling in the late 1990s. Fast forward 16 years later from the browser showdown and we see that Internet Explorer is currently only the third most widely used browser in the market. That doesn’t sound like a monopoly to me.

Could there be parallels to this story and a lesson for Kaspersky? What happens when like-products compete on value, ease of use, and reputation in the marketplace? There’s plenty of room for competition in anti-virus software market too. Will the best antivirus packages step forward?

Microsoft

In my experience helping friends with personal computer issues at home, I found that most have the antivirus installed that was bundled with the computer. But typically the free trial subscription has expired. That’s certainly not a scientific study and my sample size doesn’t register as adequate. But I’m guessing many people are like that. Microsoft is helping consumers that are not tech savvy by providing automatic antivirus updates and a base level of protection. I see this as a good thing.doctorpc

Competition

There is opportunity for other competitors in this space. Just like the browsers in the late 1990s companies may have to rethink how they connect with customers. The topic of computer viruses is touchy and consumers are wary of a barrage of pop-ups asking for money and subscription renewals.

So let competition find the real players. Build something better. Build something simple. Build something that adds value and builds a reputation of trust.

Onward and upward!

 

Photo credit: Intel Free Press via Creative Commons

Get some Wi-Fi feng shui

Happy Wi-Fi happy life.

When the Wi-Fi in my house is working well then life is good! When the Wi-Fi isn’t working so well then there is discontentment and restless natives. The quickest way to call a family meeting is to turn off the Wi-Fi and then walk to the center of the house. (wait for it…..)

I’ve been in search of Wi-Fi feng shui for a few years because the place where I chose to put my cable modem and Wi-Fi router created some difficulties with a strong signal throughout my house. Since I cut the cord on cable TV, I heavily rely on streaming video content. Stable Wi-Fi is a must.  The good news is that it my setup has improved and good enough to have multiple devices streaming simultaneously without lags.  So I wanted to write down some simple things you can do that may help you find that happy place too.

Some of this may be technical mumbo-jumbo to you but there are few good tips that I will underline. I’ll also add a picture that may help to visualize the wording.

My Setup

First, a little about my setup. I have a two story house sitting on a basement. I chose to put the cable modem and Wi-Fi router in the basement where the cable enters the house so that I didn’t have to look at the equipment in the main living area. A few years after doing this I hooked all the cable outlets in the main house to a HD antenna in the attic.  What that means is my only connection to the cable company is in the basement, so the cable modem is there to stay. The basement has some data wires (CAT-5) running to a few outlets that were installed a few years ago, but there are no data wires to the main levels.

This is not a typical setup. The important thing to get out of this is that the primary Wi-Fi router is in a corner of the basement (farthest distance from the main living areas).

Improvements I’ve made along the way.

  1. The first improvement I made a few years ago was moving from a Wi-Fi router that only supported 802.11b/g to one that also supported 802.11n. This isn’t a technical dialogue, but 802.11n Wi-Fi came with more range, faster speeds, and the ability to use the 5GHz frequency in addition to the standard 2GHz frequency. (It should be noted that there is a newer standard now 802.11ac that promises even faster speeds. Most new routers sold today should support this and the price is coming down.  Both your router and device have to support the protocol.)
  2. The next improvement was to get a Wi-Fi extender device to put on the main level. This device takes the signal from the main Wi-Fi router and rebroadcasts or strengthens the signal. I located this device as close to the center of the main level of the house as I could to provide the best chance of getting Wi-Fi signal to each corner of the house.
  3. Despite doing these things there were still issues from time-to-time with signal strength. I attributed this to the main Wi-Fi router being in a corner of the basement where the cable modem was. There are many obstructions in the way to degrade the signal (doors, walls, ceiling, and insulation). Remember I said that I had hard wiring to other parts of the basement. So I moved the Wi-Fi router to a bedroom in the basement more centrally located. This made a noticeable difference in the signal strength throughout the basement and main levels and also gave a stronger signal to the Wi-Fi extender. It follows a typical guideline that says to locate Wi-Fi as centrally in the house as possible.
  4. After some time I started getting some periodic Wi-Fi disconnect/reconnect events. The Wi-Fi would just drop and then automatically reconnect seconds later. After looking into this I believe the main cause was signal interference with all the Wi-Fi units from surrounding neighbors. The 2.4 GHz frequency (default for the Wi-Fi) is also a crowded space with other types of wireless signals. To help with this I moved some of my Wi-Fi to the 5 GHz range on the Wi-Fi router. The 5 GHz range was built-into my Wi-Fi router. It runs at a shorter distance but offers less interference. So I set all my Roku devices in the house to connect to the 5Ghz Wi-Fi. I also changed the channel my 2.4 Ghz Wi-Fi was using by a Wi-Fi analyzer tool.
  5. One of my Roku devices used for streaming video is located in the basement. The device supports Wi-Fi but it also supports a wired connection. Even though the Wi-Fi was working well with the unit I decided I wanted to make the connection better and less likely to have interruptions by using the hard wire. My problem was the hard wire terminated at the location of the cable modem but I had moved the Wi-Fi router to an adjoining bedroom. To accommodate for this I had to insert an old Wi-Fi router between my cable modem and Wi-Fi main router to act as a data switch.
  6. After I completed “improvement  4” I realized I had taken a step back for all the Wi-Fi even though I had created a hard-wired connection for a Roku device. The problem was that ethernet connection of the new router I added was capped at 100Mbs. Effectively, I had created a slower connection to the cable modem for my house. The ethernet connection in my newer Wi-Fi router (the one I moved to central spot in the basement) supported Gigabit ethernet. The solution was to swap the two Wi-Fi routers so that the Gigabit ethernet port was hooked to the cable modem, the other Wi-Fi router, and the hard-wired Roku.

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Results

Speedtest.net is a popular site to measure the speed you are getting from your internet connection. I have started using the tool from Google and Bing that shows in-line with search results. Just type “Speed Test” in Google or Bing.

After completing step 1 I went from speeds below 10Mbps to speeds consistently above 20 Mbps. Somewhere in this time frame my cable company provided a new cable modem and more bandwidth to the house. When I had the 100Mbs ethernet connection (step 5) I would top out around 20 Mbps on the Wi-Fi speed. After completing step 6 I now register speeds consistently between 50-60Mbps on the Wi-Fi. That’s plenty of bandwidth for streaming video content and hopefully enough to keep my data hungry family happy. I call it Wi-Fi feng shui.

Summary

  1. Locate Wi-Fi routers as close to the center of the house as possible.
  2. Use a Wi-Fi-extender if you have multiple levels in the house.
  3. Set permanent connections, like TV streaming devices or gaming devices, on the 5Ghz Wi-Fi.
  4. Check your Wi-Fi router to make sure the ethernet connection supports Gigabit ethernet for the connection to the cable modem or DSL device.
  5. Check your Wi-Fi router to make sure you are at least supporting 802.11n protocol but preferably 802.11ac.

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Onward and Upward!

Saying Goodbye to BlackBerry Classic Keyboard!

BlackBerry Chief Operating Officer Ralph Pini announced in a blog this week the decision to stop making the BlackBerry Classic. Pini writes that “sometimes it can be very tough to let go” but that “we will no longer manufacture BlackBerry classic.”BB Classic

It’s been so long since I’ve seen a BlackBerry in service that I was surprised they were still making the classic model. It’s no secret that BlackBerry hardware sales continue to fall and the company is desperately trying to reinvent itself. Just what would take to recapture the magic that a BlackBerry device once held in the business world?

The physical keyboard on the face of the device and track ball created a loyal following of addicts. It changed the way we both read and composed email. I don’t have any statistics to prove this but it sure seemed like BB users made less spelling mistakes with the classic BB keyboard. Amazingly guys with big fingers made it work too! I started composing email messages with a phone number in the footer so that someone reading on a BB could just scroll over the number for an instant phone dial.  The device was good at messaging and security. No frills. No Angry Birds. All business.

But take heart die-hards. Pini reminds us that “For now, if the Classic is still your device of choice, please check with your carriers for device availability or purchase Classic unlocked online. “ If you find a supply of them you may want to buy more than one.

Onward and upward!

Judging a computer algorithm

Does your GPS have a name?

Years ago when I bought the first GPS unit for our family we gave it a name within a week. There was a human voice. That voice gave us instructions and told us when we made mistakes and needed to correct our route. It was like having a live person in the car with us. The kids liked the naming process because we tried to match a name with the voice that came from the device.nuvi-265wt

But something else happened.

We started to rate the instructions we received from the device. We would get a little excited when we knew multiple ways to navigate a route and preferred another option from what the GPS determined to be the best route. We would talk to the device as if it could understand us and tell it that we knew a better way. We would stay on the larger interstate when the GPS wanted us to exit and drive on smaller two-lane roads. .

But why?

It’s just an algorithm in a computer program. It’s performing math calculations to determine the shortest route between two distances. This particular version of the GPS did not have current information related to traffic patterns that factored into the algorithm. Yet we wanted to treat the unit like a person. We judged the instructions and the outcome and expected the GPS to know about new roads and road detours.

Do we judge algorithm mistakes differently than we judge human mistakes?

There was a recent story on NPR from Shankar Vedantam in which he discusses research from the University of Pennsylvania about human’s use of algorithms. The research found that humans will typically stop using a computer algorithm after they experienced a mistake even though the computer algorithm was less likely to make a mistake than a human counterpart.

Vedantam goes on to discuss that algorithms are getting smarter and more complex. They learn from mistakes. They have the ability to make decisions based on a variety of inputs. So it’s illogical to judge the algorithm more harshly than a human but yet it feels so natural to many people.

Do we feel threatened by algorithms? Perhaps movies like The Matrix or Ex Machina make us more aware of just what a truly learning algorithm could be like. Maybe that’s what influences us to judge simple computer programs more harshly.

I will say this.

When the GPS takes us on a tangent, I’m always the one saying “Trust her. She’s always gets us there.”  I stand by her instructions even though she’s taken me to a few dead-end roads.

But I’ve never trusted Siri. :-O

Onward and upward!

Smartphone passwords and privacy

How would you rule in this case?

An employee is provided a smartphone and cellular service by their employer. The employee leaves the company and returns the device. Then the employee is brought under investigation for by the SEC for insider trading activities. The SEC requests the password for the phone in an effort to build evidence for their case.

Is the employee required to surrender their passcode so that access can be granted to the smartphone?

The result may not surprise you but the reason will.

A US District Court ruled that that the employee was not required to surrender their password in SEC V. Huang as this could violate their Fifth Amendment right to privacy.

In a court response it stated that,

“Since the passcodes to Defendants’ work-issued smartphones are not corporate records, the act of producing their personal passcodes is testimonial in nature and Defendants properly invoke their fifth Amendment privilege. Additionally, the foregone conclusion doctrine does not apply as the SEC cannot show with “reasonable particularity” the existence or location of the documents it seeks. Accordingly, the SEC’s motion to compel the passcodes is denied. “

The case revealed that Capital One, the employer, did have policies stating that the company owned the device issued as well as corporate documents stored on the device. As you would expect, Capital One also required employees to use a passcode and by best practice the code should be private and not written down anywhere. Hence the court ruling that the passcode itself was not a corporate record.

The court also stated that,

“Each party argues based on established legal precedent m non-smartphone contexts involving the interplay between corporate records and encrypted information on computers. As we find the personal thought process defining a smartphone passcode not shared with an employer is testimonial, we deny the SEC’s motion to compel. “

I bet you’ve never considered making your password part of your “personal thought process”!

How far could this reach?

Could this apply to computer and laptop passwords? Would an employee be able withhold their password from an employer if they were not under investigation for criminal activity?

If the rationale of this decision carried forward then I would think it could be far reaching.  Employers typically don’t assert ownership of the password or require they be stored where they are accessible. Hence they would be considered something personal.

If a Company wants maintain complete control and ownership of equipment issued to employees they should consider the following policies:

  1. Create a policy that issues passwords to be used by employees on company owned equipment.
  2. Designate a required storage area for passcodes.
  3. Equip phones with software that allows a remote wipe of the device if the employee leaves.

Photo Credit: binaryCoco via creative commons