A Future Including Virtual Reality

Seeing is believing—at least, that’s how it’s supposed to be. However, seeing may not mean believing anything in the future. During the building of the PC for Build Your Own PC on a Budget, I investigated various new technologies, including virtual reality, where what you see may not exist at all. Of course, gamers are eagerly anticipating the Oculus Rift, which promises to transform gaming with a monitor into an experience where you really feel as if you’re there. This kind of technology isn’t quite available yet, but will be soon. Even when the hardware is ready and the drivers work as promised, truly immersive games will take time to create. Look for this experience to evolve over time to the point where the Holodeck featured in Star Trek actually does become a reality.

To attract attention and become viable, however, technology must answer specific needs today. It was with great interest that I read Marines test augmented reality battlefield. Unlike the Oculus Rift, this technology actually does exist today and it demonstrates some of the early uses of virtual reality that you can expect to see. In this case, the background is real—it’s an actual golf course. The virtual reality system adds the hardware of war to the scene, including tanks, mortars, and features, such as smoke. What the marine sees is a realistic battlefield that doesn’t exist anywhere but the viewer’s glasses. This is the sort of practical use of virtual reality that will continue to drive development until we get a holodeck sometime in the future.

Virtual reality for gamers and the armed services is nice, but it’s also becoming a reality for everyone else. Samsung and Facebook are introducing a virtual reality solution for movie goers. That’s right, you’ll be able to strap some glasses to your head and get transported to a comfy living room with a big screen TV where you can watch the latest movies offered by Netflix. The Gear VR device promises to change the way that people see movies forever. This particular device actually works with your smartphone, so you need a compatible smartphone to use it. In addition to movies, Gear VR also promises to let you play virtual reality game and become involved in other immersive environments. All you really need is the right app.

An immersive experience, where you eventually won’t be able to tell real from created, is what virtual reality promises. Using virtual reality, you could travel to other parts of the world, explore the ocean depths, or even saunter through the solar system as if you’re really there, but still be in your own home. Virtual reality will eventually transform all sorts of environments, including the classroom. Imagine children going to school, interacting with other students, learning from the best instructors, and never leaving their home. A student could get a top notch education for a fraction of the cost that students pay today.

Coupling virtual reality with other technologies, such as robotics, could also allow people to perform a great many unsafe tasks in perfect safety. A human could guide a robot through a virtual reality connection to perform real world tasks that would be unsafe for a human to perform alone. Think about the use of the technology in fighting fires or responding to terrible events that currently put first responders at risk. Virtual reality will eventually change the way we view the world around us and I hope that the experience is as positive as vendors are promising today. Let me know your thoughts about virtual reality at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Considering Our Future Cyber War

It’s not if a cyber war will happen, but when. Precisely what form such a war will take depends on the perpetrators and their goals. I’ve spend quite of time discussing the relative insecurity of the Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems out there. However, I’m only assuming that SCADA is going to be targeted at some point because it’s such low hanging fruit and no one seems to have any interest at all in securing. Plus, the attack would be of the sort that we’d have a hard time defending against (and possibly identifying at first as the hospitals fill with victims of some mysterious problem).

I recently read an article by John Dvorak entitled, “What if Facebook Is Hacked Next?” John makes some excellent points, but probably doesn’t go far enough. Why would an attacker stop with just Facebook? Why not attack all of the sources of social media out there, including places like LinkedIn and Twitter? The confusion created by the loss of all social media would be amazing. It could easily act as a smokescreen for some other activity even more devastating than the loss of data. While everyone is scrambling to fix their social media issues, someone could work in the background to do something truly horrible.

Actually, the attacker might not even have to do anything other than disrupt all online activities. Think about the number of jobs lost, the hit to online commerce, and the other problems that such an attack would cause. Perhaps these people are simply waiting until more brick and mortar stores close that people no longer have local resources to help in such an emergency. For example, think about the problems that the loss of online stores would have to IT professionals who maintain huge networks of computer systems. The potential for truly terrifying results is amazing.

A cyber war is coming. Just when it will arrive is the topic of much speculation, but my feeling is that it’ll come sometime soon. What sorts of security measures do you have in place? Have you done anything else to prepare? Let me know about your thoughts on cyber war at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Central Clearing House for Book Contacts

A reader wrote to me the other day with an idea for creating a central place where any reader could contact any author with book-related questions. It would be a social media type idea along the lines of Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn, but with a book focus. The way this idea works is that a reader could leave a question on the central site and then the author would receive a notification through e-mail about the question. The question and its answer would remain public. That way, other readers with the same question would see the answer and not have to ask the author about it again.

This blog fulfills the idea that the reader has to a certain extent. When I receive e-mails from readers, I determine whether the question has enough interest to affect a large number of readers. When the question is better answered publicly, I put an answer up here, rather than answer it privately. Of course, there are times when a reader question needs and deserves a private answer. Using the blog approach does make it easier for me to handle some questions discretely, but nothing would keep me from including an e-mail address for that purpose in the book. The problem with this blog is that reader need to know to look here for answers. Even though I publish the URL for this blog in all of my books, readers still managed to miss it somehow and I get queries in e-mail about the availability of such a central knowledge store.

Wrox provides a centralized location for readers to exchange information of the sort that the reader mentioned, but it’s not as well known as the social media sites and I didn’t think to include the URL for it in my book (the publisher does include it as part of the Introduction). My experiences with Professional IronPython, Professional Windows 7 Development Guide, and C# Design and Development tell me that the concept is good, but reader participating is often poor. I actually get a lot more input on my blog.

I like the idea this reader has because it provides a social media type approach to a pressing need authors have to service reader requests for information. The problems are figuring out how to present the idea publicly, implement the idea in software, and then to make the site popular enough that it actually does what it’s supposed to do.

Of course, I’m always looking for input from you on making things work in a way that’s easy for you. What do you think about this concept? Is it possible to create such a site and have it become a success? Would you even frequent such a site? Let me know your thoughts on the matter at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Contemplating the Future of the Written Word

Last week I wrote a post entitled, “An End to the Written Word” that generated more e-mail than most of my posts have in the past. The e-mail content covered a broad range of thoughts and emotions about the written word. Of course, it’s hard to imagine that anything we have used so successfully for so long will eventually go away, but that’s how technology works. A technology is kept only as long as it’s useful. However, I need to provide some more input on my thoughts about the written word based on some of the e-mails I received.

Let me put one thought to rest immediately—I’m not just talking about paper print. Yes, everyone has been predicting the end of writing on paper for many years now and if anything, some businesses actually use more paper than before the computer revolution. However, paper will eventually go away in its entirety. There are a number of indicators of its demise in my own life and I’ll share them with you.

 

  • Manuscripts: At one time I sent my manuscripts to the publisher in printed form. I boxed up my books and sent them for editing in double spaced form. The manuscript would come back with editors marks in place at some point, I’d make any required changes and send it back (the postage really got out of hand at times). In fact, paper would pass back and forth several times before a printed book came out. The process was incredibly slow. Today I’m using electronic media for all my book needs and my printer is collecting dust.
  • Royalty Statements: All of my royalty statements used to come in paper form. Some of them still do, but many of them come electronically now. I eventually look for the huge folders used to store my tax information to become quite svelte indeed.
  • Contracts: A lot of my contracts are now issued in electronic format. I use an electronic signature to sign them. Not only is this approach faster, but I don’t have to provide storage for bulky contracts any longer—the contract goes right into the same folder as all of the other electronic files for my book.
  • Book Purchases: Most of my books are now sold as e-books, not as printed books. It will eventually become uncommon for me to sell a printed book. In fact, I have to wonder how long I’ll continue to obtain printed author copies.
  • Banking: More and more of my banking is done electronically. Even when I do send a check to someone, they often don’t send it back to the bank. The transaction is performed electronically.


I’m sure you can come up with examples from your own life, but the fact is that printed matter is going to go away. However, that’s not what I’m talking about. Eventually, writing itself will become something that professionals use to express abstract ideas that can’t be presented in some other way. People will commonly not use any form of writing because there will be other ways to convey thoughts and ideas to other people. In fact, those other ways already exist. I don’t look for writing to go away in my lifetime, or even in the lifetime of my grandnephew or grandniece, but I do look for it to go away.

Many of the uses that writing once fulfilled are being filled by other technologies. For example, it’s quite possible that contracts in the future will be written using a video record, not writing. A mortgage might show an actual recording of the property in question and include pictures of the participants in the deal. An iris scan of the parties will encrypt the video so it can be played, but not changed. Of course, this technology is quite futuristic indeed, but the concept isn’t all that hard to grasp.

Books and other forms of general communication are already starting to become more visual and less written—it isn’t much of a leap to think other communication will follow. Sites such as YouTube have become popular because it’s easier to show a video of an event than to write about the event in words. In addition, the recording is actually easier for other people to understand. Sites such as Facebook also rely heavily on graphics, not on the written word. The point is that anything that is concrete and easily conveyed using a combination of audio and graphics is already being presented in precisely that form, without written words.

I’ll be discussing this topic more as time goes on, but for now, this gives you an idea of some of the questions I’ve received. This whole idea of writing going away has taken some people by surprise (and others simply expect it to happen). What are your ideas about writing? Let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Social Networking Traps

I recently read an article on ComputerWorld entitled, “‘Girls Around Me’ shows a dark side of social networks.” It isn’t the first time that FourSquare and Facebook have gotten press for their lack of respect for user privacy and it won’t be the last. Even the social network I use, LinkedIn, has received more than a few black eyes in the privacy arena. Any time you engage in any sort of social network, everything that you upload is going to be treated as someone’s personal data source. You have no choice about it. Absolutely everything you upload, from your name and picture, to the last time you updated the list of things you’re interested in, will be used by someone for some purpose other than the one you envisioned—count on it!

Yes, these social networks help you maintain your relationships with friends and they do provide a means of creating professional networks with others. However, if you think that these companies are running these social networking sites out of the goodness of their hearts, think again. These companies run these sites to obtain any personal information about you that they can. The information is used to generate demographics, to spam your inbox with e-mail you never wanted, and to keep outsiders informed about your activities. If you engage in any sort of social networking, someone is spying on you and they’re doing it with the blessing of the company that hosts your page. In short, if you don’t want someone misusing a piece of your information, keep it to yourself because these organizations have no self-control in misusing your information.

What does surprise me is that anyone things that this old news is even worth printing. Do people not understand that the naked pictures they posted of themselves at an illegal party will have long lasting effects? If you think that there is any help coming from the government, think again. In the US, at least, there isn’t any chance whatsoever that the government will take a stand on employers and others probing every dark secret you’ve ever posted. Lest you think that you can take a stand and simply not allow information to your information, think again. People have gotten fired for refusing to share their secrets. Anything you post also lasts forever, like some sort of terrifying tattoo that you can’t scrub clean. I’ve used special search engines like the Wayback Machine to dig up material that the author was certain was scrubbed from the Internet forever. Get used to the idea that once you upload a picture, make a statement, or do something else weird on the Internet, the material is going to last forever whether you want it to or not and someone is going to dig it up to embarrass (or harass) you at the most inconvenient moment.

I’ve used social networking professionally. It helps me make contacts with other professionals so that I can get consulting or editing jobs. With this in mind, I keep my posts professional. I try not to post anything I think could be embarrassing later. Obviously, I’ve made mistakes, just like everyone does, but nothing of a gross nature. Still, these little errors have crept up in the past when talking with others. It begins innocently enough…but you said, “So and So” on your LinkedIn page. Didn’t you really mean that? As much as a misstatement makes me shuffle in my seat, I can only imagine the terror of someone finding a picture that was supposed to be viewed by friends alone.

The short version of all this is that you need to use social networking carefully. Share only what you want people to see forever. Write your posts and save them as drafts—let them sit a day or two before you actually publish them. Don’t think that your Web site or blog are safe either; both are often used as weapons against their authors by unscrupulous people. It’s a new world out there. Social networking as made it possible for more people to find out more information about you faster than ever before. The life you ruin could be your own! Let me know your viewpoint on social networking and privacy at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Is E-mail Dead?

I keep reading articles that tell me that e-mail is dead. In fact, there was one today on ComputerWorld that describes a company that is moving from e-mail to social media as an exclusive option. Currently, I don’t use any of the options mentioned in the article and don’t have time (or the inclination) to start using them. Don’t get me wrong, social media probably solves problems for some part of the population, it just hasn’t worked out well for me. I can’t see myself outputting tweets about my daily activities and some of the articled I read about Facebook are just plain scary.

My main problem with most modern communication solutions is that they’re overly intrusive. I was in the bathroom the other day and a guy was engaging in business while sitting on the commode; he just couldn’t be bothered to turn his cellphone off to take care of personal matters. That’s just one of many scenarios I’d prefer to avoid. There is strong evidence to conclude that our society has become preoccupied with communication, to the detriment of all. Just how many people died last year from texting accidents? According to the Washington Post, 28 percent of accidents now occur while people are texting or talking on a cellphone. I’m pretty sure I don’t want to talk with someone that badly.

I have to wonder how well social media will work for business needs. Social media assumes a level of connectivity that I’m simply not willing to allow. E-mail works better because someone can send me a message and I can handle it later; at my convenience. More importantly, I can handle the e-mail at a time when I’m not distracted by something else. In addition, I can provide a thoughtful answer; one that I’ve researched and thought through carefully. E-mail also provides me with a permanent written record that I can reference later when I have questions about the discussion.

There is some evidence to say that social media is actually costing business big dollars. For example, the BBC claims that social media is costing business £1.4bn. Other articles are equally certain that social media can save businesses money. I’d say it would be pretty tough to come up with a precise statement either pro or con when it comes to social media’s cost to business, but I know the personal cost. I tried a few solutions as an experiment and found that I was considerably less productive using them than turning it all off and using e-mail. Of course, that’s me, you may very well find that using social media makes you more productive; each person is different.

Personally, I don’t see e-mail as a dead communication technology. If anything, it’s becoming more important to me as I age and my memory becomes less dependable. As far as I’m concerned, the always connected nature of most social media today simply isn’t a good solution if you want to be productive. So, what’s your take on social media? Let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.