A Gamer Geek's Cogitations, Conjectures and other Cortical Experiences

Category: Tech Talk Page 1 of 2

Tech Talk: Lateral Career Development

Lateral Career DevelopmentThis Tech Talk is going to be a little different than prior posts in this category. I’m not going to talk about a new gadget, technology milestone or the latest news headline. I want to know what it takes to achieve lateral career development. You can advance your career along two axes. The common route is vertical by getting a promotion, perhaps a title change and some underlings. You can also advance your career along the horizontal axis (i.e. laterally). This is most often accomplished via some form of training. When you improve a skill set or acquire new skill sets, you are a better asset.

Depending on your employer, lateral career development will not necessarily render more money. I understand for many that is the motivation behind additional training, but usually its training that isn’t very interesting. I’m talking about the kind of training that not only enhances your career but it’s also fun and interesting. There are a plethora of ways to get the training you want; Pluralsight comes to mind. However, this post isn’t about where to get your training (perhaps that can be a future post).

How Do You Transition Your Career or Integrate Your New Training?

Unfortunately this post also will not answer that question. I’m legitimately asking. In some cases integrating your new training can happen fairly naturally. For example if you are a .NET developer and you completed training on Angular development. Those two technologies are so tightly coupled, finding an opportunity to implement your new skill is going to be easy. I know that because I have done it.

On the other hand, what if you are a .NET developer and you completed training on iOS or Android? These two technologies are obviously two completely different worlds. I’m not necessarily suggesting a permanent transition. It might be for some but personally I want to increase my skills beyond .NET (and perhaps even my value to my employer). The challenge is overcoming the pigeon-hole of so much time working in one technology.

This kind of lateral career development can be stymied by various factors. Priority, budget, opportunity or even employee perception can be a factor. Of course the obvious hindrance is experience. The developers with more experience are the first to be selected for the project. It goes back to that age-old conundrum “you need experience to get the job but you need the job to get the experience“. Your expertise is more cost-effective on a project where you can be the most efficient.

How Do You Get on a Relevant Project?

Again I’m legitimately asking! Obviously this is beyond your control. I imagine certain things have to align properly. First you need people who are willing to let someone with little to no experience work on a project. Then, of course, the right opportunity has to come along. It will probably have to be something that is low risk and has a flexible timeline.

I’m curious if anyone has had any recent success expanding into other technological paradigms. Working in the same technology every day for several years starts to feel pretty stale and mundane. I understand that mundane usually means job security but it kills ambition. I found this quote by T.S. Eliot – “If you aren’t in over your head, how do you know how tall you are?” Sometimes you have to push yourself to get to the next level but it does help if there is someone willing to take a chance on you.

Perhaps that’s all it takes to make that lateral move; someone who recognizes your potential and gives you a shot. The greater the risk the greater the reward. I guess, in the meantime, you keep working on those projects at home. It will help keep your skills sharp and you have the free reign to push the envelope a little bit.

/cheers

apple_logo-263x300The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do
– Steve Jobs

Tech Talk: Apple’s Decision to Remove the Headphone Jack

Apple's Decision to Remove the Headphone JackApple has, yet again, sparked relentless controversy on the Internet with their recent announcement of the iPhone 7. The new iPhone will not have the standard headphone jack. You would swear Apple is trying to abolish Twitter. Everyone lost their minds. The ironic thing is Apple isn’t even the first company to do it! Many are going to accuse me of being a fanboy because I support Apple’s decision to remove the headphone jack. My reason is very simple: USB.

Folks are clamoring that removing the headphone jack is absurd. The 3.5 mm jack has roots that extend all the way back to 1878 when switchboard operators used 6.35 mm jacks. It is a technology that has withstood the test of time remarkably well. However, I pose this question for all those folks: do they still use the stereo jack for their headphones on your computer? I am willing to bet most people plug their headphones into their computer using a USB port instead of the 100-year-old 3.5 mm stereo jack.

USB Headphones Are OK but Lightning Headphones Are Not??

So this is what I don’t get. When the PC industry converted everyone over to USB headphones, nobody batted an eye. In fact I was rather pleased with the transition. It’s technological progress. The same can be said for using the Lightning Adapter for your headphones. What is the difference between using a USB for sound and using the Lightning Adapter for sound? Technically there isn’t. Sound waves are a form of data and both transmit data, ergo the headphone jack is superfluous.

There is one particular scenario I am curious about. What if you need to charge your phone but wish to listen music on your headphones at the same time? I find myself in this specific situation quite often, especially at work. The only solution I have seen Apple provide so far are wireless ear buds with Bluetooth. I’m not a fan of ear buds, they never stay in my ear so they aren’t a viable solution for me. So that issue remains unresolved and may just be a victim of progress.

in·no·vate(ˈinəˌvāt/) – verb – 
make changes in
something established,
especially by introducing
new methods,
ideas, or products.

“Times change and you have to adapt” – Jerry Cantrell

Apple’s decision to remove the headphone jack isn’t completely leaving 3.5 mm headphones out in the cold. Apple has promised to include an adapter with all the new iPhone 7’s. I don’t know what that means for future iPhone versions but headphone companies have a year to engineer new lightning adapter capable headphones.

I think people just like to target Apple, especially the Android community. The soliloquy on “courage” may have been overly dramatic but it has merit. You can call it crazy. You can call it “courage”. You can call it “user-hostile and stupid”. It was bound to happen eventually and I think you are going to see more companies doing the same thing. Removing the headphone jack may not have been revolutionary but it’s certainly evolutionary.

However, I don’t know about those wireless ear buds …

minion_keboard_smThe people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do
– Steve Jobs

Tech Talk: Apple Watch (vs Fitbit & Frivolity)

Apple WatchI used to wear a watch all the time. I had a Fossil watch so it wasn’t a luxury brand, but it wasn’t a bargain brand either. When I lost weight, the watch no longer fit and would need links removed to make it fit again. I waited so long to get the appropriate tools to remove the link that the battery died. I was unable to open the back to replace the battery, so I continued to go on without a watch. In the fall of 2014 Apple announced their latest gadget, the Apple Watch. I was skeptical, a watch is such a mundane accessory, what could possibly be cool about a watch. By the end of the demonstration I knew I would definitely use the Apple Watch. There was no doubt in my mind. Alas, the frugal part of me knew that I could not, and would not, pay the $400 price tag for a watch.

A little over 8 weeks ago, I was shocked to find an amazing, and rare deal on Apple Watches at Micro Center. After combining coupons and price matching, I saved about $150 on an Apple Watch. I knew that Apple will likely be releasing Apple Watch 2 this fall, but I didn’t care. I was more willing to pay $250 now rather than wait to see what I wouldn’t be buying in September. Granted $250 is still a pretty hefty price tag for a watch. I did some budgeting and some math and slept on it a few nights before I pulled the trigger on it. It was probably still a frivolous, luxury commodity, but most Apple products are.

There are two things that have really stood out after having bought and used an Apple Watch for about two months now. First, I use it a lot more than I thought I would. At first I was honestly worried that I may have just spent frivolously but the more things I discovered I can do the happier I became with the purchase. I think the most telltale sign was the fact that I only take it off when I’m going to bed. When I was wearing a normal watch, I would always take it off after I came home from work and I rarely wore it on the weekends. Now its the first thing I put on every morning.

It’s nice that I don’t have to take my phone with me any time I want to sit somewhere else in the room or go into an adjoining room. My watch can tell me if I have any messages or email I need to check, as long as I stay within Bluetooth range of my phone. I can even reply to text messages, if the reply doesn’t require an extensive response. I can quickly glance at sports scores, check the weather, control music, even access our smart home modules. I’m sure I have barely tapped the surface of what I can do. It is important to note though, that the more notifications you send to your watch the more it eats up its battery. On the other hand (no pun intended), I don’t have to use my phone as much for menial tasks like checking the time or a text message which saves the battery on my phone.

The second, and probably most peculiar, everyone thought I would be giving up my Fitbit now that I have an Apple Watch. I have been a loyal Fitbit user for over three years (i.e. I was using Fitbit before Fitbit was cool), a mere watch was not going to tarnish that relationship. Second, its alarming that people automatically associate an Apple Watch with fitness and health. Apple should be concerned about how they are marketing the watch if that’s what people are primarily using it for (which is simply ludicrous).

Also, I don’t really like the Activity app on the watch. I find the Fitbit app on my phone much easier to use for tracking my exercises and, of course, participating in challenges with my friends. My intention was never to replace my Fitbit with the Apple Watch, they serve their own purposes, independently. So, despite my initial concerns, I am more than thrilled with the Apple Watch and I highly recommend it to anyone who has already invested in the Apple family of products.

/cheers

minion_keboard_smI could get so much more accomplished if I only had minions!

Common Sense and Caution Keeps Your Computer Clean

Protect Your Computer With Common Sense and CautionI see the advertisements all the time on Facebook and on television for apps and software to “speed up your PC”. I’m not going to mention specific companies or products because this is not a smear post. I know some of that software is probably legitimate and who am I to ruin someone’s livelihood. I’m going to explain how I rarely have speed issues or viruses and I don’t use any of those products nor do you have to be a computer expert; and you can do it without spending money on software. You shouldn’t need to buy those kinds of programs when a little common sense and caution helps to keep your computer clean and performing well.

Anti-Virus

The first, and most obvious, step should be to install a virus scanner. The popular ones you have probably heard about: McAfee, Norton, Kasperskey, etc. Those also cost money and require a subscription in order to keep your computer protected against new viruses. Since I’m frugal (which is the polite way of saying “cheap ass”) I prefer less expensive means of virus scanning; and by “less expensive” I mean free. There are a couple of free options out there. I’ve heard that some people have pretty good luck with Avast, personally I like Clamwin.

I cannot speak on behalf of Avast, since I have never used it, but Clamwin is pretty discrete, low maintenance and does not consume system resources (when its not running a scan). I schedule it to run a weekly scan at a time I know I won’t be using my computer (2am on Saturday’s). If you shutdown your computer or you own a laptop then you will need to find a more suitable time for a scan, but you should definitely try to run it once a week.

Pay Attention When Installing

I install a lot of other tools to augment my everyday computer use. I install programs that allow me to move files to other computers (i.e. Filezilla), or programs for simple file edit that are more powerful than Notepad (i.e. Notepad++), etc. Pay close attention to each screen that comes up during installation, sometimes you need to uncheck a checkbox or deny an installation request because its going to install something you don’t need (like those pesky browser toolbars, ex: the infamous “Ask” toolbar). Granted Filezilla and Notepad++ are not notorious for installing that extra crap but if you download anything from the Internet 1) make sure its from a reputable source and 2) always do a custom install (if the option is available) and always double check what you are installing, don’t blindly click “Next”. There are a lot of programs out there that are great tools but they like to sneak in extra products because they can earn royalties from each installation so a little caution goes a lot way.

Paying attention to what you download and/or install is especially important if you use a lot of peer-to-peer software. You just never know what you are actually putting on your computer when you are using torrents. Granted if you are using a virus scanner or programs that remove spyware (such as SpyBot Search & Destroy) might prevent damage to your computer from something you downloaded but nothing is 100%. I’m not saying all torrents are bad just be careful and use some common sense.

Stop Looking At Porn

I’m sure I am getting some shocking looks right now. I’m also guessing a few of my male friends are rolling their eyes and mocking me from afar but hear me out. I am not trying to be your moral compass. I’m not your mother, I’m not your priest, this has nothing to do with morality.

Some of you may remember “warez”, websites that allowed you to download cracked software or product keys to pirate software. Warez sites were the underworld of the Internet and porn sites were often associated with many warez sites thus making porn sites seem more sketchy. Honestly, I don’t trust porn sites; harmful code can be embedded in pictures, videos, etc and can even be triggered by simply moving your mouse over it. You run a huge risk by downloading pictures and videos or any other programs and “games” those sites may offer. Remember a virus was spread by alleged nude pictures of Anna Kournikova. Hackers out there with malicious intents not only know they can exploit weaknesses of a system but also can exploit a persons lack of self-control. I’m sure there are probably some “reputable” adult websites and those might be safe, but if you are trying to be clandestine or access “free porn”, I think you are putting your computer, and maybe even your identity, at risk.

I love the analogy of comparing a computer to a car because 90% of the time maintaining a computer is very similar to a car. Of course the irony is that I could build a computer in my sleep but I can’t change the oil on my car. Be that as it may, treat your computer like its a brand new car. You want to keep it looking nice and performing efficiently. Obviously bad things can still happen despite your due diligence but as long as you pay attention and always be aware of what you are downloading, you can mitigate most PC performance issues.

minion_keboard_smI could get so much more accomplished if I only had minions!

Tech Talk: Apple Event

minion-appleThe Apple uber-fanboys waited with bated breath for September 9th. Everyone knew that Apple would be unveiling their next model of iPhone and I think everyone pretty much knew that the Apple TV was finally getting a long overdue upgrade. I know rumors were floating around about the iPad Pro, but I don’t recall if they were ever concrete enough to know, for certain, that Apple would be unveiling it.

I pseudo-watched the live event; by that I mean I watched the CNET live broadcast. Brian Tong and his crew are very entertaining to watch during these big events, especially when Brian is in full nerdgasm mode, which he was during this event.

The Apple Event talked about the Apple Watch, Apple TV, iPad Pro (with Smart Keyboard), Apple Pencil and, of course, the iPhone 6S/6S Plus. There was quite a bit of information disseminated; some of it good, some of it kind of blah. I talk more about each of these after the break.

Tech Talk: Upgraded to Windows 10

Windows_logo_-_2012.svg_-755x755Well I decided to upgrade my home PC to Windows 10. I have a desktop (not a fan of laptops) so I should never have to see the hideous start screen again. It’s a pretty bold move for me to upgrade to a new version of Windows so soon after its official release. Normally wouldn’t have done it had I not played around with it in the tech preview. Usually I wait until all the install and upgrade bugs have been worked out but there were so many articles (from trusted sources) that said the upgrade is pretty painless I went for it. I had some trepidation because I was worried about which of my previously installed programs and “apps” would and would not work once the upgrade was complete. I really only ran into one issue.

So here is my big tip for upgrading to Windows 10, especially if you are running Windows 7 and you skipped 8 (which is why everyone should have done). If you have any kind of VPN software installed (ex: Cisco AnyConnect) make sure either A) its up to date and compatible with Windows 10 or B) you uninstall it completely. I had done neither of these things and spent the better part of my weekend trying to figure out why my internet wouldn’t work properly – I could only browse secure (https) websites. It was frakkin’ annoying! Apparently even Windows Update doesn’t use a secure connection. Once I completely uninstalled AnyConnect all my internet problems went away.

The other thing I would recommend is the obvious suggestion – Back-Up Important Files! If something were to go terribly wrong with the upgrade you may have to format and reinstall which means all your data would be lost. Use Dropbox, One Drive, Google Drive, USB thumb drives, whatever you need to make sure you have copies of files you don’t want to lose. This should always be the first thing you do anyway.

I would also heed all the articles out there (here’s one) about what to shut off in Windows 10 to maintain your privacy, especially if you are upgrading a desktop computer. You don’t need to send your personal and location information to Microsoft to “enhance your computer and/or browsing experience”. Also, despite all the brouhaha that Mozilla was causing, there is a way to maintain your default browser while upgrading (not that resetting your default browser is terribly difficult to begin with). Do not select Express when you are setting up Windows 10 (after the upgrade completes). This is what all those articles will tell you to do anyway to toggle the various privacy settings. One of the custom options is to choose default programs and you can uncheck Edge.

Unless you want to use Edge, which is entirely up to you. Personally I think its horrid and plain. It doesn’t feel like a modern browser although it does perform better than Internet Explorer (Encyclopedia Britannica performed better than IE), but I still prefer Chrome or FireFox.

I hope your upgrade/install experience goes well and feel free to ask me questions and I can try to answer and/or help.

/cheers

minion_keboard_smI could get so much more accomplished if I only had minions!

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