Posts by Marcel Brown

The 15 Most Important Technologies of the Last 15 Years – #11: High Speed Internet

In the 1990’s, dial-up Internet was the cutting edge technology. By today’s standard, it is unimaginably slow. Yet even with this extraordinarily sluggish method of accessing the “Information Superhighway” (remember that term?) the Internet certainly changed the world. However, it wasn’t until the widespread emergence of high speed, i.e. broadband Internet that the mainstream use of the Internet really took off. Without high speed Internet, we wouldn’t have many of the services we take for granted today.

While broadband services started to become available in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, it did not start to achieve widespread market penetration until about 2002 and 2003. In some areas it took even longer to get going. While obviously the higher speeds of broadband service made a big difference as compared to dial-up, the “always on” nature of the service also made a significant impact on the way people used the Internet. Now instead of “getting on” the Internet and worrying about tying up a phone line, the Internet was always there. As we began to see the Internet as something that was an integral part of our lives instead of something that was a novelty, it set the stage for our highly connected society of today.

Do you remember using dial-up and when you first got high-speed service to your home or business? Did it feel like a life-changing experience? Comment below!

The 15 Most Important Technologies of the Last 15 Years – #12: Wikipedia

Do you remember heading to a library to look up information in an encyclopedia set? Maybe you were lucky like me and had a set in your own home. For many younger people, the evolution of technology means they never actually used a printed encyclopedia. A large part of this is due to the development of Wikipedia, which quickly became the defacto knowledge base of the entire world.

Before Wikipedia, there were many digitized encyclopedias available, first as CD-ROM based software and then online commercial encyclopedias. What set Wikipedia apart was first that it was and still is free, but more importantly the fact that it was a community project involving anyone in the world who wanted to add or edit information. Because of this, many regard Wikipedia as the most up-to-date database of the world’s knowledge. Despite the occasional highly publicized misinformation making its way onto Wikipedia, many still regard its data just as or more reliable than traditional encyclopedias since so many people contribute and manage its quality. Indeed Wikipedia was the world’s first major crowdsourcing project, even before that term became popular, and it has democratized the sharing of information throughout the world. No longer do people need access to a large set of books or pay for access to an encyclopedia to find answers to questions or learn more about a particular topic. The knowledge of the world is literally at most of our fingertips today and we owe a lot to Wikipedia for organizing this information so that we can find it quickly and easily.

How has Wikipedia impacted your life in the last 15 years? Comment below and let me know what you think of my #12 pick!

The 15 Most Important Technologies of the Last 15 Years – #13: Windows XP

In recent times, the mobile device revolution has changed the face of technology for most of us. Prior to that the dominant technology was the personal computer. Within the PC market Microsoft ruled for nearly 20 years with its various versions of Windows. Even as new versions of Windows were released over the last decade, for the last 15 years it was Windows XP that for better or worse defined what a personal computer was to most people.

Introduced in late 2001, it was within about a year that Windows XP started to gain significant footholds in the PC marketplace. This was likely because Windows XP was the culmination of years of Microsoft development to merge their aging Windows 95 and 98 line of consumer operating systems with the relative reliability of their business-oriented and modern Windows NT and 2000. From a practical standpoint, besides the usual hiccups involved in a Microsoft release, Windows XP delivered on the promise of bringing a powerful and modern operating system to mainstream computing. Truly, Windows XP was the pinnacle of Microsoft’s dominance in the technology industry before circumstances began to change that precipitated their slow decline.

In the year or two prior to Windows XP’s release, a big surge in high profile malware attacks started to plague all Windows-based operating systems. Windows XP was not immune to these attacks and within a couple of years, the rapid development of spyware and other new forms of malware threatened to cripple organizations dependent on their Windows technology infrastructure. Microsoft made a very public commitment to devote significant resources to revamp the security underpinnings of Windows XP at the expense of developing their next operating system. For a variety of reasons including the focus on improving the security of their operating systems, it took six years after the release of Windows XP for Microsoft to finally release a new OS. This delay of a new operating system had the effect of entrenching Windows XP in the minds of many computer users and businesses. The simple fact that many people became used to one operating system for so many years made them very comfortable with it and less willing to change. Then the publicity disaster of Windows Vista in 2007 further generated resistance to change. Many people put off buying a Vista computer or ordered new PCs with XP instead, keeping XP as the de-facto standard. Finally, the combination of a down economy and the start of the mobile device revolution depressed the PC market and Windows XP ended up far outliving its expected lifespan much to the chagrin of Microsoft and their stockholders. Even with the release of Windows 7 in 2009, it still took until late 2011 for Windows 7 to overtake Windows XP in number of installations. All in all, the Windows XP era lasted about 10 years or more and even though it is officially no longer supported, there are still significant numbers of Windows XP machines deployed and in use today.

For better or worse, was Windows XP a significant technology to you over the last 15 years? Comment below and share your thoughts!

The 15 Most Important Technologies of the Last 15 Years – #14: LED Lighting

In the last few years LED light bulbs have started to become mainstream. Because they provide very bright light at a very low energy consumption and can last for up to twenty years, they are quickly transforming the lighting industry. Yet the common LED light bulb is merely an evolution of LED light technology and is only one of the many important uses of LED lighting over the last 15 years.

We may not pay much attention to it, but most flat screen TVs and monitors made over the last ten years include LED lighting technology. Prior to that, most flat panel screens used small fluorescent tubes as their backlighting system. Besides using more power than LED, fluorescent tubes in LCD displays tended to last only a few years before they burned out and they were generally quite expensive or extremely difficult to replace. Often laptop owners would simply buy a new laptop instead of dealing with replacing a burned-out backlight, even though the rest of the laptop was often in perfectly good working order. LED technology changed all that. In addition to providing a brighter, more consistent lighting, an LED backlight can last well beyond the useful life of a laptop, making the possibility of a burned out backlight and a prematurely dead laptop less likely. The small size of LED lighting has also helped make possible the very large TVs and computer monitors of the last few years. Today’s displays would not be able to be as large and as thin if they used older fluorescent backlighting.

While light bulbs and large screens are important technology advancements, the most critical application of LED technology over the last 15 years has been its use in mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets. Truly, the mobile device revolution led would not have been possible without the use of LED lighting. Only LED can deliver the necessary backlighting in the small footprint and low power consumption that smartphones and tablets require. Without its relatively small size and long battery life, the original iPhone would probably not have been as popular and who knows how our technology lives would be different today? So while it is a mostly behind the scenes technology (literally), LED has certainly brightened up our lives over the last fifteen years and will become the dominant lighting technology in the near future.

Were you aware of the importance of LED lightning over the last 15 years? Comment below!

The 15 Most Important Technologies of the Last 15 Years – #15: The DVR

When the Digital Video Recorder was introduced to the world in 1999, most of us would record TV shows for later viewing on VCR tapes. The term “tape it” was part of every person’s vocabulary. Yet even at that time, I think most of us had an innate belief that the experience of recording TV shows could have been better. Besides the relatively grainy quality of the recorded programs, the limited recording time and sequential nature of the VCR (which means that we had to watch shows in the order of recording or suffer through extended fast-forward or rewind sessions) made recording more than a few shows at a time frustrating and cumbersome. In addition, if we were watching live TV and missed something, we were basically out of luck.

The first generations of DVRs were not overly successful in the mainstream market. It took a fair amount of technical skill to configure the early TiVo models. They were primarily a toy for tech hobbyists. But once cable and satellite operators started to incorporate dual-tuner DVR technology into their receivers around the year 2003, the world quickly caught on. The ability to record many shows easily without fumbling with tapes, store a large number of episodes, access any stored episode almost instantly, and quickly skip commercials made the DVR one of the most popular tech devices of the last 15 years. However, perhaps the most important innovation that the DVR brought us was the ability to pause and rewind live TV. Most of us today could barely live without being able to pause our TV when we need to step away from the screen or quickly skip back on a TV show or sporting event. In fact, many teenagers today grew up never having experienced life without a DVR and the concept of not being able to pause or rewind live TV is completely alien to them.

The effect of the DVR on society also paved the way for streaming video services such as Netflix and Hulu. Once we became accustomed to recording our TV shows for later viewing and keeping a library of episodes handy, we started to lose patience with the old model of broadcast TV. We began pushing for on-demand video and with faster Internet speeds becoming more common, streaming video services started gaining traction. Ironically the emergence of streaming video services has started to downgrade the importance of the DVR in our lives, but as long as there is broadcast TV, there will be demand for DVRs.

How did the DVR impact your life? And do you still use one as much today or has streaming video taken over most of your on-demand video watching? Comment below!

The 15 Most Important Technologies of the Last 15 Years – Honorable Mentions

In celebration of fifteen years in business, I have created a list of The 15 Most Important Technologies of the Last 15 Years. However, before I begin my countdown, I thought I would talk about a few important technologies that didn’t quite make the cut. Here are my Honorable Mention Technologies of the Last 15 Years.

Bluetooth: Bluetooth made cell phones more manageable by freeing us from excessive cords. Most cars now come with Bluetooth standard. Together with wireless headsets, in-car phone connections have made handsfree calling a viable option for most, which helps keep us all safe. Wireless keyboards and mice using Bluetooth are also popular. Portable Bluetooth speakers are quickly becoming a very common gadget as well.

USB Flash Drives: The convenience of having multiple gigabytes of storage in a tiny device that can plug and play into any USB port quickly made USB flash drives one of the hottest technologies of the last 15 years. It was pretty much the death knell for floppy disks as well as other removable media such as Zip drives and writable CDs. However, USB flash drives themselves are starting to become obsolete due to cloud data storage.

The Cloud: Once the mobile device revolution took hold, the nascent industry of cloud services took off like a rocket. The demand by users to be able to access their data and applications from anywhere started a stampede of cloud services such as Dropbox, Google Drive, and a variety of cloud-based applications that continues to this day.

Blogging and WordPress: One of the early uses of cloud technology (even before the term “cloud” become popular) was blogging. Where the early Internet loosened the grip of traditional media companies and allowed new media companies to emerge (think Drudge Report), the emergence of blogging after the year 2000 gave every individual the ability to be their own publishing company. There were a whole 23 blogs in 1999 but by 2006 there were 50 million. WordPress, which was officially released in 2003, soon became the Internet’s favorite blogging platform and now powers 25% of not just blogs, but all the world’s web sites.

Flat Panel Screens: Before flat panel screens became a mainstream reality, we lived in a world where TVs were big and bulky and computer monitors took up a lot of room on our desks. But soon after the year 2000, the emergence of flat panel screens transformed the way we watched TV and used our computers. Suddenly TVs and monitors became lighter, larger, and more affordable. High definition video became a reality. We began consuming online video media at a voracious rate. Software developers and web designers could take advantage of the increased resolution of computer monitors to create better and more interactive products. Flat panel screens changed the way we interacted with our technology and paved the way for the mobile devices of today. Ironically, the mobile device revolution means that many of us now watch a lot of video on really small screens, but we all still love our big screens when we get the chance!

I’d love to see your comments on the technologies above. Comment below and let me know what you think of my picks!

Fifteen Years in Business – Fifteen Years of Technology

This was cutting-edge technology in 2002

It was fifteen years ago this April when I made the decision to leave employment elsewhere and make my side business my full-time job. Two weeks later, April 15th, was the first day I didn’t go to work for someone else and instead went to work for my clients exclusively. I can still remember the feeling of independence, just like the last day of high school (which was the same day I turned 18), where I was in charge of my own life and I no longer needed to answer to anybody else. Of course, I had no idea what I was getting into at the time and maybe if I had I wouldn’t have done it. No, actually I know I would have still started my own business because the freedom one gets from being an entrepreneur and being in charge of one’s own destiny is worth the hardships.

Fifteen years is a long time, but especially in the technology field, which my whole life has been dedicated to. Looking back fifteen years, I thought about how far technology has advanced. It was spring of 2002. Windows XP and the iPod had just been introduced the previous fall. There was no such thing as the Geek Squad at Best Buy. The Blackberry was still just an oversized pager that only did e-mail. And there was little technology help available for small businesses and individuals. So I made it my mission to help those that were overlooked by the IT firms that claimed they handled “small” business. I also made it my purpose to stay well informed of the changes in the technology industry so that I could help my clients take advantage of the latest technology to stay ahead of their competitors.

Since I have seen so many changes in the technology field since I’ve been in business full-time, I thought it would be fun to look back and make a list of the most important technologies of the last fifteen years. Starting March 31st with my short list of honorable mentions and running through April 15th, the fifteenth anniversary of my first full day in business, I will reveal day by day my list of the fifteen most important technologies of the last fifteen years. Please follow along and reminisce with me on how technology has changed our lives in that time.

Don’t Forget to Surge Protect Your Garage Door Opener

LiftMaster 990LM Surge Protector for Garage Door Openers

In one of my recent conversations regarding surge protecting your electronic equipment, I was made to realize something that I had overlooked in the past. Jessica Schmitz, co-owner of The Garage Door Shop in O’Fallon, IL, let me know that most people forget about surge protecting their garage door opener and that has caused many a service trip to replace a damaged unit after a storm.

The good news is that an inexpensive surge protector can prevent these types of disasters. Jessica says that any good surge protector is better than nothing, but to fully protect a garage door opener, a purpose-specific unit like the LiftMaster 990LM is ideal. This type of unit also includes protection from the wires that lead to the control panel and safety sensors. These wires can pick up an power spike from a nearby lightning strike that can damage the garage door opener, so it is a good idea to get those lines protected as well. This unit is only about $25 and that is much less than the cost of replacing a garage door opener. You can purchase one online from Amazon, or if you’d rather have it installed professionally, The Garage Door Shop does carry them and can install it for you.

If you have any questions about surge protecting your electronic equipment, feel free to ask me, and visit The Garage Door Shop’s web site if you have questions or need service for your garage door or garage door opener.

Surge Protectors vs Power Strips

In my last article I wrote about spring coming early and the related storms that inevitably come with the spring season. I mentioned that most people do not pay much attention to the type of surge protector they purchase. In fact, many times I get questions about “power strips,” which are not necessarily surge protectors at all! So in this article I wanted to point out specifically the difference between a power strip and a surge protector, plus also show the potential differences in surge protection capabilities.

The one on the left is not a surge protector. It’s usually easy to see when they are in packaging, but out of the packaging it can be hard to tell.

In general a power strip is nothing more than a way to add additional power outlets to a wall socket. They should generally be labeled as power “strips” or “taps” as compared to “surge protector.” However, this distinction can be missed because in general they look very similar. For example, in the pictures to the right, if one weren’t to look at the packaging, it would be easy to miss that one is merely a power tap while the other is a true surge protector. As you will also notice, the surge protector is over twice the price.

Going further, the common form factor of the “strip” shaped surge protector makes many people think that all strips are surge protectors.

The one on the left looks like a surge protector, but it’s not. The two on the right are surge protectors, but they have different ratings and only the middle one has a protection indicator light.

But as these pictures show, a simple power strip is just that and a true surge protector will be labeled as such. In fact, the back of the packaging of the power strip explicitly states that it is not a surge suppressor. So please make sure to read the packaging when buying a surge protector to ensure you’re buying something that will actually protect against surges.

Now I think most people can understand the difference between a strip or tap and an actual surge protector if the device is still in its packaging. However, what about identifying a surge protector when the device is no longer in the package? At that point the device itself should have some sort of labeling indicating if it is a surge protector and the level of protection it affords. But a quick way to determine many surge protectors will be the inclusion of a light that indicates if the surge protector is still functional, usually labeled “protected” or something similar, as a couple of the surge protectors in the above pictures show.

Speaking of the level of protection, surge protectors are usually rated by a number of Joules, as you may notice in the pictures above. This is basically a measure of how much energy a surge protector can absorb before it should be replaced. The higher the better, but if you are protecting a valuable piece of equipment, you may want to investigate specs like clamping voltage and response time. Finally, the indicator light is important because all surge protectors will eventually stop working if they absorb a few big surges. It is a good idea to periodically check all your surge protectors to ensure they are still protecting your equipment and the indicator light makes this easy.

Please do not hesitate to ask me for help if you would like more advice about protecting your valuable equipment from power related events. Just a little investment into a good surge protector can save you thousands of dollars later.

Save Your Technology From Spring’s Wrath

About four years ago I wrote an article about how I warn my clients each year to protect their technology from the storms that inevitably happen every spring and summer. In that article I mentioned how most of the time the advice goes unheeded and people unfortunately suffer damage and even data loss because their equipment was not properly protected. Since that time, the same pattern has continued and people still spend needless amounts of money fixing or replacing equipment that has been damaged by electrical events such as power surges or lightning strikes. I thought about this recently as it feels like spring is coming early this year (the temperatures this weekend in my area are forecasted to be in the low 70’s!). If spring is coming early, that means that storms are coming early, which means that everyone needs to review how their technology is protected as soon as possible.

The mistake most people make is that they believe that simple surge protection is enough to protect their computer technology. While very good surge protectors can protect equipment from power surges or a lightning strike, most power events are not this drastic. The most common form of power problem involve small over or under-voltages, which while not as immediately damaging to technology equipment, it can nevertheless cause equipment to malfunction or shut down. Over time these events can damage equipment and simple surge protectors are not capable of protecting technology devices from these types of power issues. On top of that, most people do not purchase high quality surge protectors and this only becomes evident after their equipment has been harmed by a more serious power event.

The answer is complete power protection from devices called uninterruptible power supplies (UPS) or “battery backups.” These devices not only protect from power surges and spikes, but also condition the power arriving at your equipment so that small variations in voltage do not cause your equipment to malfunction. They also kick in if a complete power outage occurs so that your technology can keep running through short power outages or can give you enough time to properly shut down sensitive equipment like computers and servers. I recommend setting up UPS units on any device that uses a hard drive (or solid state drive) such as computers, DVRs, external storage devices, etc., plus any networking equipment such as your modem, router, and any network switches you may have. This will effectively protect the devices that are most sensitive to power problems and ensure your network connections remain as stable as possible. Battery backups come in different capacities as far as how much load they can handle and should be matched to the load they are protecting. Networking equipment generally uses little power so there is not much need to spend a lot of money on a larger capacity UPS device for networking equipment unless you are also plugging in a computer or two as well. Consult with a qualified technology professional if you are unsure what to purchase.

If you are wise enough to already protect your equipment with battery backups, you still need to review your units periodically as the original batteries tend to only last around 3-4 years before they need to be replaced. If the batteries in your UPS units are no longer functioning, the devices are not properly protecting your equipment. The good news is that the batteries can often be replaced economically, if you know where to find good deals. There are a few local providers of batteries that provide reasonable pricing on replacement batteries, but sometimes it makes more sense to purchase a new replacement unit. Please talk to a trusted technology expert like myself if you have any questions about your power protection strategy.



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