Discerning Where the Internet of Things (IoT) Really Fits

A number of people have written to ask me about the Internet of Things (IoT) and where it really fits into the technology picture. The current problem with this technology is that it’s so new that people really don’t know where it fits. As with most new technologies, you can find all sorts of uses that simply don’t fit. These uses will eventually die because there isn’t any pressing need to have them. I write about these sorts of uses in the article, What The Internet of Things Is Not. Of course, it’s possible to avoid this particular phase of a technology by asking a simple question, “Is there a pressing need that this solution answers?” Where there is no need, there is also no solution required.

The question I addressed in, What is the Internet of Things? remains. The technology elements are there to create some phenomenal solutions to pressing problems. That’s why I was interested to see a recent ComputerWorld article that describes industrial uses for IoT. No, it’s not as sexy as using IoT to monitor your microwave popcorn so it gets done, but not too done. However, these are the sorts of applications that keep a technology around and also help improve it. The industrial setting will present legitimate questions for IoT to answer. Interestingly enough, you’ll likely benefit from these sorts of industrial uses by not seeing them. That’s right! By making industrial processes more reliable and predictable, they begin to disappear from view. All you really see is the cost savings when it comes to buying products and services.

The IoT is here to stay, that much is certain. However, every year will see major changes to IoT until the technology becomes more stable. At that point, the true killer applications for the technology will begin to appear and everyone will begin seeing the true potential for this technology. For now, what you see is interesting applications—some will survive, many won’t. Let me know your thoughts about IoT at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.


Radio Shack, We Knew Thee Well

I’m dating myself here, but the first time I entered a Radio Shack was in 1972. I had just finished reading The Radio Amateur’s Handbook and was absolutely fascinated by the whole thought of working with electronics. The combination of reading science fiction and electronics books of various sorts, convinced me to go to a technical high school. I graduated with all the necessary knowledge to become an apprentice electrician. However, entering the Navy moved me into computers, where I remain today. (I started out as a hardware guy and moved into programming later.) Radio Shack was filled with all sorts of cool looking gizmos. It was akin to entering my science fiction books and experiencing what “could be” first hand. The day I finished designing and building my first power supply and amplifier was an absolute thrill. I still have the plans for it somewhere. The mono output of 20 watts seemed fantastic. I’m not the only one with fond memories—authors such as PC Magazine’s Jamie Lendino and John Dvorak have them as well.

Over the years I watched Radio Shack change from this absolutely fascinating place I had to visit every time I passed it to something less. Eventually, it became just a common store—the aisles filled with televisions, radios, and consumer gizmos of all sorts. It got to the point where I could buy the same type of goods just about anywhere for a much lower price. For me, the death spiral was just sad to watch. As a country, we really need stores that encourage people to invent—to think outside the box. Unfortunately, Radio Shack is no longer that store. I visited a Radio Shack in a mall the other day and there were only a few items left for sale at high discount. I helped a friend buy a mouse. It was an odd feeling to leave the store one last time knowing that I’d never see the store I knew and loved in the 70s and 80s again.

Even the salespeople changed over time. During the early 70s when I first started going to Radio Shack, I could hear salespeople talking the talk with any customer that came in. One of them even convinced me to use a different transistor for my amplifier and to rely on a full bridge rectifier to make the output cleaner. If these terms seem foreign, they do, in fact, belong to a different time. The surge of creativity I experienced during that phase in my life is gone—replaced by something totally different today. The young lad I talked with the other day was a salesperson and just barely knew his trade. Gone are the salespeople who really made Radio Shack special.

I yearn for the resurgence of creativity and of stores that promote it. This is one case where brick and mortar stores have a definite advantage over their online cousins. When you go into a brick and mortar store, you can talk with real people, see real demonstrations, touch real hardware, and get that special ethereal feeling of entering the zone of the tinkerer and the definer of dreams. Radio Shack, we knew thee well, and we really need something like you back.


Thinking About the Continuing Loss of Privacy

It’s easy to wonder whether there will ever come a time when humans will no longer have any privacy of any sort. In part, the problem is one of our own making. We open ourselves up to all sorts of intrusions for the sake of using technology we really don’t need. I’ve discussed this issue in the past with posts such as Exercising Personal Privacy. As people become more addicted to technology, the thinking process is affected. The technology becomes a sort of narcotic that people feel they can’t do without. Of course, it’s quite possible to do without the technology, but the will to do so is lacking.

A couple of articles that I read recently have served to highlight the consequences of unbridled technology overuse. The first, Getting Hacked Is in Your Future, describes the trend in hacking modern technology. Of course, avoiding getting hacked is simple—just stop using the technology. For example, people have gotten along just fine without remote car starts to heat their cars. Actually, it’s simply a bad idea because the practice wastes a considerable amount of gas. The point of the article is that hackers aren’t ever going to stop. You can count on this group continuing to test technology, finding the holes, and then exploiting the holes to do something horrid.

Wearable technology is also becoming more of a problem. The ComputerWorld article, Data from wearable devices could soon land you in jail, describes how police will eventually use the devices you use to monitor yourself against you. The problem isn’t the wearable technology, but the fact that many people will use it indiscriminately. Even though logic would tell you that wearing the device just during exercise is fine, people will become addicted to wearing them all the time. It won’t be long and you’ll see people monitoring every bodily function 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The use of cameras to view static locations on a street will soon seem tame in light of the intrusions of new technologies.

A reader recently asked whether I think technology is bad based on some of my recent blog posts. Quite the contrary—I see the careful use of technology as a means of freeing people to become more productive. The problem I have is with the misuse and overuse of technology. Technology should be a tool that helps, not hinders, human development of all sorts. I see technology playing a huge role in helping people with special needs become fully productive citizens whose special need all but disappears (or possibly does disappear to the point where even the technology user doesn’t realize there is a special need any longer).

What is your take on the direction that technology is taking? Do you see technology use continuing to increase, despite the problems that it can pose? Let me know your thoughts on the good uses for technology and the means you use to decide when technology has gone too far at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.


Practical Wearable Technology

I keep looking for useful, practical, wearable technology and Google Glass isn’t it. In fact, most of the wearable technology I read about hasn’t impressed me even a little. The problem is that most of this technology has no practical value. At best, it distracts people who are already so distracted that they do things like walk right into fountains while texting. As far as I’m concerned, these people don’t need even a small distraction, much less a major distraction like that provided by Google Glass.

However, Google is working on a practical, useful, wearable technology that apparently isn’t generating much press at all—a smart contact lens for diabetes patients. The new lens monitors a patient’s glucose levels continuously through tears. Instead of having to take readings several times a day (and still missing potential high or low readings), the lens would make it practical to monitor blood sugar continuously. There are technologies currently available that do monitor blood sugar constantly, but they’re inconvenient, restrictive, and uncomfortable. This technology promises to make it possible to monitor blood sugar without disturbing the patient’s daily routine. In fact, with the right configuration, a diabetes sufferer would live pretty much a normal life except for the need to take medications as needed to control blood sugar.

There are other health-related wearable technologies on the horizon. For example, there is Samsung’s Simband that monitors heart rate, blood pressure, and a number of other readings. A device of this sort could make it possible for people with serious health problems to get out of their homes and lead lives that are closer to normal.

Unfortunately, all of these wearable technologies are still in the planning, research, and development phases. Until practical devices appear on the scene, I’ll continue to view wearable technology as yet another disruptive toy with the potential to cause real harm to the wearer. Let me know your thoughts about wearable technology at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.


Texting and Common Sense

I had written a post some time ago entitled Determining When Technology Hurts that caused quite a stir. Some people accused me of being anti-technology (a luddite, which is actually a misnomer because the Luddites weren’t anti-technology either). If you read the post again, you’ll find that I’m actually pro-technology, I simply espouse common sense when using it. Using the right technology at the right time is an essential component of using technology responsibly and gaining the maximum benefit from it.

When I read about people doing all sorts of weird things while trying to text, the only thing that comes to mind is that they really need to reconsider their use of the technology. Obviously, it doesn’t work to text and drive at the same time, yet people continue to do it. The latest nonsensical use of technology that I read is about people who insist on texting 911, rather than call. It turns out that most 911 call centers aren’t equipped to handle texting, so texting doesn’t produce a useful result.

However, the problem is more subtle than simply not reaching 911 when you really need the service. After having had to call 911 several times to help my wife as a caregiver, I’ve learned that the officer responding to the call often needs more information. A text can’t provide this information, but a call can. The officer can request additional information that can make the difference between saving and losing a life.

The FCC has mandated that 911 centers do indeed implement a texting interface, but has no power to enforce it. The main reason for the texting interface is to address accessibility concerns for people who truly can’t call 911. It’s not meant as a method for perfectly able bodied people to text instead of calling. The truth is that even with a text interface, 911 works better with a call simply because a call allows for complete communication that is usually faster than texting will allow.

When working with technology, it pays to think things through and use the appropriate technology for a particular need. Let me know your thoughts on texting 911 at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.


Choosing an Example Type

It can be difficult to choose just the right kind of source code examples to include in my books. In fact, readers often write to ask why I didn’t choose a different kind of example for a book. For example, a lot of readers tend to prefer console applications because they’re:


  • Straightforward
  • Easy to understand
  • Easy to write
  • Demonstrate the code clearly
  • Don’t rely on any automation

Given these reasons, it would seem as if I’d use console applications for all of my examples in all of my books. In fact, these benefits (and others) are the reason I used console applications in C++ All-In-One Desk Reference For Dummies. In fact, to this list, you can add the benefit of the same example code running on multiple platforms to the list. The same example code runs on Mac, Linux, and Windows platforms with the GCC compiler. Even with this book, however, I’ve had readers write to ask why I didn’t use a different compiler or IDE and why I didn’t include examples that demonstrate the ability to use C++ to create user interfaces in anything but Visual Studio (the new edition of the book won’t include the Visual Studio examples).

Some books don’t lend themselves to console applications. For example, one of the purposes of Microsoft ADO.NET Entity Framework Step by Step is to show how you can use the automation provided by Visual Studio to write your applications with less code and in significantly less time. Not everyone likes the automation and I’ve actually had a few readers ask why I couldn’t write the examples using a console application format. The problem is that few people use the Entity Framework with console applications and the automation is there to simplify things. I understand that other books may provide console application examples, but I chose to provide the examples in a form that the majority of my readers would use in a real world setting.

Trying to come up with a book that pleases everyone is simply impossible because everyone has different needs. It all comes down to people wanting the best deal possible in a book, which means seeing an example that uses their environment on their platform and demonstrating precisely the kind of code they need to write. It’s an unrealistic expectation for any book. My Getting the Most from Your Technical Reading Experience post explains how you can optimize the purchasing experience to obtain the best book for your needs. The caveat is that no matter how good the purchase is, the book will never answer all of your questions and most definitely won’t answer them in precisely the way you need them answered for fulfill an application development requirement.

Of course, I’m always open to your input. It’s the reason I run this blog and ask for your input in nearly every post. My purpose in writing is to answer as many questions as I can for as many readers as I can in the best way possible. Sometimes that means I need to take a step back and rethink a particular process I’m using, technique I’m applying, or perspective I’m pursuing. I encourage you to continue contacting me at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com with your book-related queries. I always use your input to help create better books in the future.


Technology Hoaxes Galore

Looking for insane uses of technology has given me no limit of mirth in the past. Whenever I need a good laugh, I’ll look at someone’s interpretive use of technology that couldn’t possibly ever work. Sometimes it makes for good entertainment, as in futuristic movies (where it can’t be proven that the technology won’t work that way someday), but some offenders just look silly.

I read an article some time ago and recently read it again today because it really did bring home the absurd use of technology in some situations. In this case, the author is pointing out the odd and nonsensical uses of technology in crime shows. You can read 6 Howlingly Unrealistic Hollywood Portrayals of Law Enforcement Using Computers for yourself to see if your favorite show makes obvious errors in computer use. The fact is that most people buy into these computer usage scenarios, even if they know better. There is a point where artistic license for the sake of making a show or movie entertaining ends and these shows definitely jump the shark. It would be just as easy to create a convincing scenario that might not be precisely true, but close enough to reality to make for a better program. (I recently did a review of Gravity—a movie that does the job right.)

However, you don’t have to look to the entertainment industry for examples of technology hoaxes (or gimmickry, such as Google Glass, that should be a hoax). The most recent example of such silliness is the Amazon.com plan to deliver packages less than five pounds via drone. A number of industry pundits enthusiastically embraced the technology—I’ll spare them the embarrassment of a public mention here. One person who wasn’t fooled in the least is John Dvorak who lampoons the attempt as nothing more than an advertizing stunt (and he does name names).

The act of perpetrating technology hoaxes isn’t new and you can count on more of them appearing in the future because people will remain gullible enough to believe them. (If I’m really concerned about a particular hoax, I’ll check it out on Hoax Busters or Snopes.com.) Using artistic license to explore what could be true is entertaining and definitely within the purview of good fiction. Purposely creating a hoax for the purpose of fooling the public into believing something that can’t ever work is something else.

At some point you have to point out the hoax for what it is. What is your view on technology hoaxes? Which technology assertions do you see as a potential hoax today? Let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.


What Am I Reading?

Readers often write to ask me what I’m reading. It’s a hard question to answer in some respects because I have a broad range of interests and I often find myself reading more than just one text. However, it’s a valid question and concern because what I read eventually affects the content of the books that I write and that you read. I strongly believe that the most successful people in life are voracious readers as well. Of course, there are likely exceptions (and please don’t fill my e-mail with listings of them). Reading opens doorways to all sorts of new worlds and different ways of seeing things.

It won’t surprise you to discover that I do quite a bit of technical reading. Every day sees me scanning articles from eWeek, ComputerWorld, and InfoWorld (amongst others). I also regularly read a variety of magazines—some quite serious like MSDN and Dr. Dobbs Journal, others a little less serious like PC Gamer. I also technically edit some books every year and read them end-to-end. Sometimes I read a book simply because I want to learn something new. Currently I’m exploring Rod Stephens’ Essential Algorithms (an outstanding book that I’ll review at some point).

Given the content of this blog, it shouldn’t surprise you to discover that I also read a number of gardening magazines such as Mother Earth News and Horticulture (again, there are others). I usually read books from publishers such as Storey. It wasn’t long ago that I completed reading Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens. Of course, I look for articles online as well.

What you may not know is that I also enjoy reading other sorts of books and magazines. For example, I’m currently engaged reading the Patrick O’Brian novels for the sheer pleasure they bring. Captain Aubrey is turning into a favorite character of mine. National Geographic and Smithsonian are both monthly magazines that I read. I keep up with what is happening in the Navy by reading Seapower. Rebecca and I also enjoy a number of crafts and we read some of the same crafting magazines.

As you can see, it’s quite an odd assortment of materials and I love it all. The vistas opened by the materials I read help me provide you with better material that is both more creative and easier to understand. You don’t have to have the best education in the world to succeed. All you really need is a strong desire to find the information you need when you need it. The more you read, the better you understand the world around you and the better prepared you are to take advantage of the vast array of reading resources at your disposal when you need them.

It’s important to know that the authors you read are also well read—that they make use of all of the available materials to write better books. Experiencing the world through the written word is an essential part of the learning process. Today we have all sorts of multimedia presentations vying for attention with the written word, but in many respects writing isn’t easily replaced because it brings the world to you in ways that other forms of media can’t. Of course, that’s a topic for another post. Let me know your thoughts on the importance of reading at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.


The Science Fiction Effect

I love reading science fiction. In fact, one of my favorite authors of all times is Isaac Asimov, but I’m hardly unique in that perspective. For many people, science fiction represents just another kind of entertainment. In fact, I’d be lying if I said that entertainment wasn’t a major contributor toward my love of science fiction. However, for me, science fiction goes well beyond mere entertainment. For me, it’s a motivator—a source of ideas and inspiration. So I recently read A Warp Speed Analysis on the Influence of Science Fiction with a great deal of interest. It seems that I’m not alone in my view that science fiction authors are often a source of creativity for real world scientists who see something that could be and make it into something that really is.

The science fiction effect has inspired me in both my consulting and writing over the years. For example, I’ve seen how science fiction authors treat those with special needs as if they don’t really have any special need at all—science has provided solutions that level the playing field for them. It’s the reason that I wrote Accessibility for Everybody: Understanding the Section 508 Accessibility Requirements and continue to write on accessibility topics. The whole idea that science could one day make it possible for everyone to live lives free of any physical encumbrance excites me more than just about anything else.

What I find most interesting is that the ability to turn science fiction into science fact receives real world emphasis by colleges and universities. For example, there is a course at MIT entitled, MAS S65: Science Fiction to Science Fabrication. Many articles, such as Why Today’s Inventors Need to Read More Science Fiction, even encourage scientists to read science fiction as a means of determining how their inventions might affect mankind as a whole. The point is that the creativity of science fiction authors has real world implications.

Now, before I get a huge pile of e-mail decrying my omission of other genres of writing—I must admit that I do read other sorts of books. Currently I’m enjoying the robust historical fiction of Patrick O’Brian. I’ll eventually provide a review of the series, but it will take me a while to complete it. Still, other books focus on what was in the past, what is today, or what possibly might be—science fiction propels us into the future. The science fiction effect is real and I’m happy to say it has influenced me in a number of ways. How has science fiction affected you? Let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.


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.