Checking for Mobile Friendliness

I’ve been writing computer books for over 29 years now and some people might think that’s long enough to know everything there is to know about computers. Actually, my involvement with computers spans over 40 years and I haven’t learned everything yet—nor will I. Every day is a new adventure, which is why I keep going. Besides the other projects I’ve been working on (which includes discovering the inner workings of both Near Field Communications, NFC, and machine learning), I’ve also been working through this whole concept of mobile device friendliness. In fact, I’ve discovered that there is actually a difference between sites that are mobile friendly and those that are mobile responsive, in that a mobile responsive design does a lot more for the mobile users (and is always mobile friendly by default).

During the time I wrote HTML5 Programming with JavaScript for Dummies and CSS3 for Dummies, the concept of mobile development was still quite new. There weren’t any good tools for testing mobile friendliness. Consequently, both books do try to address the topic to a small extent (the extent possible at the time), but neither book says anything about testing. Fortunately, vendors such as Google are now making it possible for you to verify that your site is mobile friendly with an easy to use check. All you need to do is point your browser to https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/mobile-friendly/, enter an URL, and click Analyze. You get a quick answer to your question as shown here within a few seconds.

Verify that your site will support mobile users by performing a mobile friendly check.
Output from a Successful Mobile Friendly Check

The page contains more than just a validation of the mobile friendliness of your site. When you scroll down, you see a simulated output of your site when viewed on a smartphone. The view is important because it helps you understand how a mobile user will see your site, versus the view that you provide to desktop and tablet users. It’s important not to assume that mobile users have the same functionality as other users do. Here’s the simulated view for my site.

Mobile users may see something different than you expect, even when your site is mobile friendly.
Verify the Smartphone View of Your Site

As more and more people rely on mobile devices to access the Internet, you need to become more aware of what they’re seeing and whether they can use your site at all. According to most authorities, more users access the Internet using mobile devices today, than other devices, such as laptops, desktops, or tables. If you don’t support mobile devices correctly, you lose out on the potential audience for your site. This means that you may make less money than you otherwise could from sales and that the influence of your site is far less. Let me know your thoughts about mobile device access at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

New Look! New Features!

If you’re visiting my blog for the first time this year, you probably noticed a few changes in its appearance. Sometimes a site changes its appearance simply to provide a different look—to enhance its aesthetic appeal. It’s true that I had used the previous design for a number of years, but that’s not the reason for the changes you see today. These changes come as the result of input from the people who read my blog and took the time to comment on it.

The biggest change is one that you can’t readily see until you access my blog from a smartphone. My site now works well with devices of all sizes so that you can gain access to the information my blog provides from any location using any device. It took me a while to find a theme that I thought would preserve most of the look and feel of the original blog, but allow for this added functionality. Even though the feel is a little different, the addition of this feature is important to enough readers that I really want it to work well.

As part of making my blog easier to use, I also went for a cleaner look. The new format should work in a wider range of settings, even in bright sunlight (as well as anything works in bright sunlight). The larger type should also make it easier for people with special visual needs to see. I tested the new setup out on a number of monitors and find that it scales better than the old design too.

Part of the update also affects my web site. I wanted to provide better consistency between the two locations. Some viewers said it was a bit disconcerting to use one layout on the web site and another on the blog. My original intent had been to provide the best layout for each setting, but this method of configuring the two locations didn’t work nearly as well as I thought it would.

Of course, I always want your input because this site is specifically designed to meet your needs. I want the readers of my books to get maximum benefit from them, which means having a blog that actually meets those needs. If you see what you like or want to express concerns about issues you don’t like, please feel free to contact me at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com. As always, your input is essential to the success of my books, my blog, and my other endeavors!

During the upcoming months I do plan to make additional changes. The blog has gotten a bit unwieldy, so I plan to remove some existing content to make room for new information. I’ll also be adding more linkage between my web site and the blog so that the two work better together. Your patience during this time of transition is greatly appreciated!

 

Considering the Effects of Automation

After recently watching Disney’s new movie, Tomorrowland, I started thinking about the world that really could come about tomorrow. Of course, it will have many of the same problems we have today, but I’m sure it will also have a few new problems and hopefully, some of the old problems will see some sort of resolution. My recent forays into advanced math have given me a new perspective of just what it will take to create tomorrow. In writing both Python for Data Science for Dummies and MATLAB for Dummies I’ve come to a greater appreciation of the role that both math and science will play in creating this new world—not that there was any lack of appreciation before I wrote the books, but the vision now is clearer.

The fact of the matter is that people will require more education. Even plumbers and electricians will need to know more in order to deal with new technologies coming on the scene (think about performing tasks such as installing solar panels). It will come to a point where advanced schooling after high school (whether trade or technical) is going to become a necessity. Yes, people can still get jobs today without a college education, but those days are coming to an end with the advances in robotics I keep reading about. For example, a recent New York Times article, As Robots Grow Smarter, American Workers Struggle to Keep Up, says quite a lot about the future of low paying jobs—they simply won’t exist. Articles such as the one found in MIT Technology Review, Robots That Learn Through Repetition, Not Programming, tell the story of why this is the case. In the future, robots will learn to perform new tasks as needed. The tone of some of these articles is a bit negative because we’re viewing the future through today’s eyes.

What I see in the future are opportunities for people to create, but in a safer environment than in the past. Just as it’s difficult to see the past as it actually was (the way the people viewed things at that time), trying to view the future, even if you have some inkling of what that future might contain, is difficult. For example, imagine having to saddle your horse before you can go anywhere—people today are used to simply climbing into the car and turning the key. However, if you lived in the early 1900s, a car was a really loud, obnoxious device that would spell the ruination of society—horses were far more practical and comfortable (interestingly enough, about 40 percent of those cars were steam powered). There is a difference in viewpoint that is hard to overcome (or even imagine for that matter). A ComputerWorld article, How enterprises can use artificial intelligence, describes how technology in the movies doesn’t quite match reality. In fact, you might find some of the ways in which advanced technologies and automation are used somewhat boring. Fraud detection hardly ranks as a highly exciting way to use technology, but it reflects the practical nature of how technology sees use today.

When I see kids today doing absolutely everything on a smartphone, I come to realize that they already live in a world far different from the one I knew as a child. There is no going back. Children today have different problems than I had simply because the technology is different. If I encountered a problem, I first had to find a phone to call someone for help—children today carry their phone with them (almost as another body part). Then again, children when I grew up didn’t have the problems with obesity that children do today.

A lot of the readers I talk with every day express various feelings about automation and all it entails—some are scared, others elated. The fact is that the future has always been different. Change is a part of the human condition. We’ll live through the changes that automation will create too. Let me know your thoughts on the changes that automation will bring at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Sensors and Animals

I still remember my early days in the Navy, when accelerometers were relatively large and most definitely expensive. They also weren’t all that reliable at times. (An accelerometer measures the amount of acceleration in a specific direction.) However, they were necessary equipment components because they helped ensure that any measurements compensated for the ship’s yaw, pitch, and roll. In fact, accelerometers continue to have a high visibility role in performing this task as part of Inertial Measurement Units (IMUs) used in all sorts of equipment. Fortunately, modern accelerometers are extremely reliable, quite small, and cheap.

You probably have several accelerometers on your person. For example, they’re used to change the orientation of the picture produced by your smartphone. In fact, accelerometers are one of the most common sensors in use today because they provide much needed information about the manner in which the environment is changing for a particular technology. There are all sorts of ways in which you could use accelerometers to determine how an object is interacting with the real world.

Using accelerometers with animals has gone on for a long time now. In fact, they’re used so often that there is an actual name for the practice, animal biotelemetry. Most uses for animal biotelemetry affect wild animals in some way, but you can find uses for domesticated animals as well. I recently read about a new use for accelerometers in working with animals, Moove it! Tracking the common cow. The title would have you believe the accelerometers are used to monitor cow movement, which is partly true, but the purpose is to determine when the best time is to breed the cow so that she produces offspring at the most efficient time for everyone (including herself).

The article points out that sensors are often used in ways that weren’t envisioned by their creator. In this case, the accelerometer is actually used for monitoring, rather than measuring direction. I look for continued new uses for sensors to come to light. These uses will help us overcome many of the issues that people face today in interacting with their environment. Let me know your thoughts about how accelerometers and other sensors might be used to track, monitor, and otherwise help both people and animals to lead better lives at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Are You Lying? Can I Tell?

I just read an interesting article, “What happens when your friend’s smartphone can tell that you’re lying?” The reason this article is so interesting is that it involves a kind of application development that I would never have thought possible at one time. That’s what is underneath the technology described in the article. The hardware provides sensors that provide input to application. The application uses the resulting data to determine whether the person in question is lying.

It’s an odd sort of thing to think of, but our society relies on lies to make things work. When someone asks how you feel, do you really think you can be brutally honest? Because lying has such negative connotations, most people would likely say that they’re honest all the time, but in fact, they aren’t. We habitually lie because it’s not only socially acceptable, but socially necessary to do so. Even if we feel terrible, most of us respond that we feel fine when asked how we feel. We know that the other person is simply trying to be nice and probably isn’t interested in how we feel. Asking how someone is doing or how they feel is an ice breaker—a means to start polite communication. The idea that smartphones can possibly detect these little lies will make people feel uncomfortable.

Our society is currently undergoing a massive change and most people aren’t even aware of just how significant the change really is. After all, the change lacks the protests, marching, and other indicators that previous changes have incurred. However, of all the changes I’ve read about, this change is possibly the most significant. We’re now monitoring every aspect of human behavior in ways that our ancestors couldn’t even conceive. Soon, we’ll have the capability of monitoring emotion. The idea that we can literally look into another person’s head and accurately see what they’re thinking and feeling is terrifying in the extreme. At some point we’ll have no privacy of any sort if things continue as they are now. We’ll become Borg-like creatures of the sort described in Star Trek: The Next Generation.

I’ve discussed privacy issues before. In An Unreasonable Expectation of Privacy, I pointed out that humans have never had complete privacy unless they became hermits (and even then, someone probably knew our whereabouts). I’ve also tried to help you counter some of today’s intrusions with posts such as Exercising Personal Privacy. Taking yourself off the grid, ensuring you maintain good privacy techniques online, and so on do help, but this latest article tells me that it may eventually become an issue of not being able to be private, even if you really want privacy. If someone can flash their smartphone at you and determine things like what you’re thinking and how you feel, the act of being private becomes impossible.

We’re on the cusp of a major change that we won’t be able to counteract. Humankind is plunging headlong into a new world where communication takes place more or less instantly and conveys more than just words. It’s going to be interesting to see what sorts of new social rules that we put into place to help with the loss of privacy. For now, users and developers alike need to consider how best to maintain privacy and allow for those times when privacy is no longer possible.

Where do you feel privacy is going? How do you think you’ll react as more and more applications are able to not only accept your input, but also sense your feelings and detect whether you’re engaging in behaviors such as lying? Do developers need to put safeguards in place to keep security issues under control? Let me know your thoughts about the future privacy implications of applications at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Using 3D Printing for Urgent Medical Needs

The uses for 3D printing technology continue to amaze me. For example, it’s estimated that 2/3 of manufacturers now use some type of 3D printing technology. This technology has the potential for significantly changing how doctors practice medicine. More importantly, it has the potential for changing how emergency services are offered. I actually started this series of posts by looking at some potential uses for 3D printing in the Thinking About 3D Printing Technology post. In fact, this is my sixth post about 3D printing technology.

The interesting thing about 3D printing technology is that it can be used to create body parts that won’t suffer rejection because the parts are made from the recipient’s own DNA.The latest use of 3D printing technology is to create skin for burn victims and others that will completely match the person’s own skin. The interesting part is that the skin can contain hair follicles and sweat glands, just as the original skin did. This means that there is a potential for creating new skin that looks completely natural because it won’t actually be any different from the person’s original skin.

It won’t be long and people will be able to get a replica of nearly any body part printed for various uses. Of course, the first use that comes to mind is as a replacement part when an older body part because dysfunctional. However, the uses go well beyond simple part replacement. By creating replicas of existing body parts, a doctor can test for drug interactions and other potential problems before starting a patient on a course of treatment. Many of the issues that patients face today will go away simply because the treatment can be tested fully before it’s applied to the person in question.

What intrigues me most is how this technology will eventually affect emergency services. Imagine what would happen if a first responder was able to apply a bandage created from skin printed from a person’s DNA right in the field. The temporary skin has the potential for decreasing all sorts of problems that people experience today because bandages sometimes just can’t do the job fully. A recent Smithsonian article, Inside the Technology That Can Turn Your Smartphone into a Personal Doctor, put an even stronger emphasis on things for me. When you think about the potential for advanced diagnostic equipment in the field combined with the incredible potential of technologies such as 3D printing, you start to understand that things are going to change in a big way in the next ten years or so. You may not even recognize today’s paramedic any longer. A paramedic may carry a tricorder-type device, rely on a robotic helper coupled to a doctor at a hospital for advice, and perform life saving measures that we can’t even dream of today.

I sometimes look at how computers, computer hardware, and other kinds of technology are being combined today and I’m just amazed. Even though many people view 3D printing as a fad that won’t last very long, I’m beginning to think that it will eventually become an essential part of daily living. Just as PCs were once viewed as toys (useless toys at that), some of the technologies that are in their infancy today will eventually prove themselves.

Where do you think 3D printing is heading? Let me know your thoughts on the matter at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com. What I’d like to hear about most is how you’d like to see this technology covered in upcoming books (or whether you have any interest in it at all).

 

An Avoidance of Technology

As an author, I’m always interested in hearing how people use technology to better their lives or as a means of entertainment. However, I’m just as interested in the non-use of technology. In fact, there are people who outright avoid technology or keep their use of technology at a certain level and I find that learning about these people makes me a better author. For example, I recently read about a family that won’t use any technology newer than 1986. A number of other people are discussing the avoidance of technology for technology’s sake as a means of creating a more sustainable environment. Some people equate these kinds of movements as a backlash against technology, but that truly isn’t what’s happening here. These people aren’t some new age Amish who choose to ignore certain technologies as part of a religious conviction. What is really happening is that people either fail to see a need to embrace certain technologies or they have chosen to use only the technologies that serve a specific need in their lives.

It’s currently estimated that 15 percent of Americans don’t use the Internet because it doesn’t make sense for them to do so or they lack access in some way. Interestingly enough, 9 percent of Americans don’t have cellphones of any type. There are many reasons for not having a cellphone, but in many cases it’s a personal choice. Even if the person had access, they wouldn’t want the cellphone because it would interfere with their lifestyle. The assumption that everyone owns a smartphone (essentially a computer sized down to fit into a cellphone body) is also incorrect. Only about 56 percent of Americans have a smartphone now. All these statistics, and many more, point to the idea that not everyone embraces every technology and there are many reasons for not doing so.

All of my books to date have assumed that someone has embraced a particular technology and wants to know about it. However, while many people assume that the potential reader has lots of experience with technology, my lower end books usually don’t make this assumption because many people are still adapting to technology. I also don’t assume the use of technology is a personal desire—many people use technology solely because of a job requirement.

The reason this post is important to you is that it helps to explain some of the things readers have questioned me about in the past. The question of why it’s important to explain a concept at a certain level hinges on the audience I’m addressing. Within this audience are people who have no experience and a low level of desire to interact with the target technology, so I must ease them into learning what they need to know. Unfortunately, the very act of easing some people into a technology offends other people who openly embrace a technology and were really looking for the short explanation for a technology. It’s hard for any author to find the precise mix of information that will meet the needs of the broadest range of readers possible and there will always be some level of disappointment for many readers.

Trying to figure out precisely how to present information to my readers is important to me. That’s why your input is so important. Always feel free to let me know how you feel about the coverage of technology in my books. I can’t guarantee that I’ll be able to change the manner in which I cover technology, because I’m always faced with competing interests between readers, but I’ll always listen to what you have to say and make changes as appropriate. Are you avoiding technology? Let me know why at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Every Move You Make, Every Breath You Take, They’ll be Tracking You!

I read a ComputerWorld article recently entitled, “So what’s wrong with being tracked by advertisers?” that really makes me uncomfortable. The author describes scenarios whereby advertisers could track your every move—up to and including your bathroom habits. Such complete tracking doesn’t seem doable today, but the author’s arguments really do make such tracking seem like a reality that is about to happen. Of course, the question that comes to my mind immediately is whether the author is sincere in stating that only advertisers should be able to perform tracking at this level. It’s naive to think that governments and others won’t use the same technology to their advantage. For example, consider the crook who tracks your movements and holds you up immediately after you cash a check or obtain some other source of money to maximize their haul.

The article is eye opening because apparently, some companies are already involved in this behavior to some extent. My Tracks seems like an interesting app for your smartphone until you begin thinking about the implications. Any signal sent out by any device is capable of being intercepted by anyone, including that person down the street who makes you feel really uncomfortable. It makes me wonder why anyone in their right mind would install such an app in the first place.

Don’t get the idea that smartphones and other sources of electronic emission are the only potential tracking devices. Your computer makes it possible for someone to create a thorough profile of your behaviors and to track your activities to a point that you’d probably find unbelievable. Most people realize that browsers use cookies to track them, but you’re open to tracking in so many other ways. The InfoWorld article, “Anonymous is not anonymous” makes it clear that the best attempts to hide your online activities are completely worthless. The movie view of the “ghost hacker” is a myth today (if it ever existed at all).

It isn’t just computers either. The rewards card that your supermarket or drugstore issues likely has a Radio Frequency IDentifier (RFID) tag in it that makes it possible to track your precise movements through the store. The fact that RFID is passive technology makes it particularly onerous because you have absolutely no control over its use.

People have to start thinking about securing their privacy in the same way that others think about peering into their every activity. A recent article, “Hacked wireless baby monitor lets pervert spy on and cuss at baby girl” shows just how far other people are willing to go to pry into your life and turn it upside down. You can read about other sorts of appliance-based spying in the article, “Your Home Appliances May be Spying on You.” This sort of activity happens regularly now. Someone may be spying on you right now through your home security system if it contains any wireless elements at all. More importantly, you really do need to consider what you’re giving up by losing your privacy. A recent article entitled, “Noonan: What We Lose if We Give Up Privacy” provides great food for thought on the issue.

I don’t mean this article as a scare tactic. What I want to do is arm you to think about your privacy and security in light of the gadgets that you use. My post, An Unreasonable Expectation of Privacy, received quite a bit of attention and I received more than a few emails about it. Some people felt that I was making up some of the issues I discussed in that article. It truly is hard to believe that things have become so bad, so fast. However, your privacy is in your own hands. If you want to keep a secret, then don’t tell anyone about it. Likewise, if you don’t want someone to know your location, leave your cellphone at home. If you don’t want someone to spy on you, make sure your home security system doesn’t have any outside connections or rely on wireless communication. Yes, the solution to the problem is inconvenient and frustrating, but that’s the only solution you truly have. Let me know your thoughts about tracking at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Technology Addiction

Whether a tool is an asset or a hindrance often hinges on how the tool is used. A recent Baseline slideshow added to my perception that addition really is becoming an issue with many technology users today. For example, the slideshow pointed out that 65 percent of iPhone users can’t get along without their iPhone, while only one percent said they can’t get along without Facebook. The issue from my perspective is that it should be possible to get by without either of these technologies for some period of time—they’re simply tools and not needs essential for life. How does a technology become so important that 65 percent of its users would feel some sort of withdrawal symptom without it?

The slides went on and I’ll spare you the crudity of some of the questions the author asked of the respondents. However, as you read through the slides, it becomes apparent that the respondents would willingly give up contact with loved ones in order to maintain a grip on their iPhone. There was one statistic that really got to me though. If you have personal business in the bathroom, please complete it before you call me. I’m more than happy to wait.

That this phenomenon truly is an addiction is no secret. A recent article in the Telegraph talks about students having withdrawal symptoms akin to drugs when denied access to their technology. The LA Times reported that technology addiction is more extreme than addictions to chocolate, caffeine, and alcohol. Even Web MD has gotten into the act and provided articles about the symptoms of technology addiction. Psychology Today recently provided an article that helps explain the underlying metal and physiological basis of the addition. My experiences with addiction tell me that it won’t be long and Americans will start seeing the rise of centers devoted to helping people overcome their technology addictions. At some point, people will be forced to do without their technology in order to save their lives. In fact, I’m already seeing articles such as the on The Guardian that describe how others have beat their technology addictions.

I’m often asked why I’m not using Twitter and Facebook (amongst other social media products). I do have a LinkedIn account that I visit it once every week or so, but I don’t devote a lot of time to it. In fact, I don’t carry a cellphone either and I perform all of my work using a desktop system. For many people, the lack of technology on my person is a bit puzzling. After all, I write about technology and I’m obviously familiar with it at a significant level. However, for me, computers are a tool and will remain so. I use my computer to write books, create applications, perform research, and do other sorts of useful work. However, when I’m done for the day, I gratefully shut my system down, turn off my office light, and close the office door. I go out and do something different for a while in order to actually enjoy my life. I’ve also written about how the technology is turned off during vacations—I really do need time to unwind.

The topic of just how much technology useful will take a long time to work out. The whole idea of a personal computer isn’t that old and the older systems weren’t user friendly. People haven’t had time to build up any sort of knowledge level about them. I imagine that the conversation about how much technology one can enjoy without becoming addicted will be a long one, with many professionals taking part. In the meantime, take time to enjoy life. Shut the cellphone off for a while. Better yet, just leave it at home. You really don’t need to be connected to the thing 24 hours a day.

What is your experience with technology addiction? Let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Bad Assumptions About Computer Use

There is a tendency to think that everyone uses computers of some sort today and that all of these computers are connected in some way to the Internet. When I use the term computer here, I mean some sort of device that contains a processor and runs applications. What you may have is actually a smartphone and not a computer in the conventional sense, but even so, a smartphone contains a processor and runs applications. So, when you define the term that broadly, there is an expectation that everyone is connected. The fact is that not everyone is connected. According a recent eWeek article entitled, “One in Five U.S. Adults Does Not Use the Internet: Pew” 62,318,383 people in the US don’t have an Internet connection (based on a US Census Bureau estimated population of 311,591,917 in 2011). That’s a lot of people.

So, why is this statistic even important? If you write computer books and articles as I do, the statistic doesn’t affect you at all. However, if you’re currently selling a product online and don’t offer a catalog for that product, you could be missing out on 20 percent of your possible sales. When you want to communicate with family members, there is a 20 percent chance you won’t reach the party you want to reach if you only rely on computer technology to do it. As I move more and more into self-sufficiency topics, I’ll need to consider the effect of print media on my books sales because 20 percent of my potential audience may lack the capability of using an e-book (see my post The e-Book in Your Future for my thoughts on e-book usage).

Every once in a while, I need my perceptions of the world around me stirred up and challenged. I get stuck in a pattern of thought that could be invalid or downright harmful for those around me. Finding information that challenges your view of the world is helpful and useful because it forces you to think through the assumptions that you’re making. If you’re a vendor, you may have thought about getting rid of your paper catalogs because you assume that everyone shops online, but that may not be the case.

Of course, you also need to read the report further to really understand the ramifications of the data it presents. For example, 95 percent of teenagers are currently connected to the Internet, which means that if you’re targeting a younger audience, chances are good that you’ll reach them using the Internet. Of course, that 5 percent is still a huge number. Whether you exclude them as a component of your sales, information, or other campaign has to be based on the focus of that campaign. The point is, assumptions are simply a bad idea if they’re never challenged, revised, and reevaluated.

What sorts of assumptions have you made lately that affect your world view of computers or any other technology for that matter? When was the last time you challenged your assumptions? Let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.