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Archive for the ‘Software, Technology, and Wow I Didn't Know That’ Category

The current top-of-the-line wireless technology, called 4G (for 4th generation cellular technology) ushered in an era of smartphone apps and capabilities like none before.  It also ushered in an estimated $125 billion in revenue for U.S. companies who had the leadership and foresight to embrace it.  AT&T and Verizon were two such leaders, and having this sort of technology available enabled everything from fast video downloads to the advent of Snapchat – simply because the app makers had the network technology to experiment with.

5G promises to deliver much, much more.  And more than ever, to the technology leaders will go the spoils.

5G is what will make the future possible, and will be even more transformative that prior iterations.  From self-driving cars to movies that download to your phone in seconds… not to mention true virtual reality and long-distance (remote) medical operations… all will be made possible by the embrace of 5G.

Consumers will only notice once they’ve upgraded to 5G compatible phones, which won’t become widely available until 2019 or 2020, but when they can, they’ll enjoy nearly instantaneous data travel nearly “fast enough to mimic human reflexes” (to help self-driving cars avoid accidents).

Telecommunication firms could be impacted too when download speeds are so fast that they can legitimately compete with wired systems like cable and internet providers that need to plug wires into homes.

With 5G, peak download times improve by a factor of one hundred times that of 4G, according to The Wall Street Journal.  Thus, important implications like…

  • Downloading a two-hour movie that currently takes six minutes will take 4 seconds
  • Self-driving cars will be able to “talk” to one another with human-reflex responsiveness
  • You’ll get smoother, seamless virtual reality experiences
  • Remote patient monitoring in healthcare can become a reality, as well as remote-surgery through connected health-care devices
  • The IoT: 5G will allow anything from your sneakers to heart monitors to be internet-connected. It is predicted that trillions of devices could be connected in the next decade, enabling smarter homes, cities and energy grids.  (Begging the question among cynics of course of… What could possibly go wrong?)

The key to all this lies with which countries and companies get there first.  According to the Journal’s Stu Woo, the leaders today include the U.S., China, South Korea and Japan. AT&T and Verizon plan city-by-city 5G launches later this year.  China predicts national coverage by 2020.

In the end, the patent holders may be the biggest winners of all.  Qualcomm, InterDigital, Huawei, Nokia and Ericsson are all major players.  Each represents a different nation, and all are vying for dominance.  But it’s safe to say that in the end, all consumers will be winners too.  The pace of change today isn’t just getting arithmetically faster, it seems – it’s getting logarithmically faster.

 

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Did you know that a trove of personal information about you can typically be purchased on the internet (actually, the “Dark Web”) for about $20 to $130?  That trove is known, in dark web parlance, as a “fullz” and comprises a complete package of everything needed to commit identity theft: your name, address and social security number of course, but also your date of birth, mother’s maiden name, driver’s license number and more.  When combined with widely-hacked credit card number identification, logins and passwords you’ve used and even your individual credit reports, the data set altogether provides a complete picture of you – and all the ammunition needed to steal your identity, or at the very least, wreak havoc on your life and time spent fixing the leaks.

Now, here’s the good news: experts tell us that in 2017, only 6.6% of the adult population of the U.S. were victimized by identity fraud – meaning over 93% were not victimized.  But then here’s the bad news: that was just one year.  Fortunately, there are some things we can do to protect ourselves, and best of all, professional scammers who will reveal their secrets – either because they have flipped sides and now work for the good guys, or because they are trying to ‘cooperate’ their way to lighter sentences – tell us that “even though personal information is everywhere, if you do just one or two things to create roadblocks for the scammers, people [like them] will probably move on.”  Why?  “Because there are plenty of other marks out there who do nothing.”

The fact is, about 5-10% of the internet is the surface internet – the one most of us see and use every day for stuff like Google, Yahoo, Amazon, our various news sites, Medicare, Fox News or MSN or WebMD.

The middle 90-95% consists of a layer of pages that use passwords and are not typically found by search engines, like PayPal, NetFlix, Bank of America, Dropbox, online banking, subscription websites, government records, emails and social media content.

The bottom .01% is the dark web, with sites like Silk Road, AlphaBay Market and, at least until it was shut down, Shadowcrew.  These are the places where criminals and scammers lurk, and where the buying and selling of so much personal information occurs.  This is where your information can be bought for the $20-$130 mentioned earlier – the fee mostly depends on your age and creditworthiness.

We live in a post-prevention world when it comes to our identities and online personae.  Assume much of your personal information is already on the net.  Cybersecurity experts conclude that there are three key things you can do “to make sure that stolen data can’t be used to defraud you,” according Doug Shadel of AARP, who has written on fraud for 20 years.  Those include:

  • Freeze your credit
  • Closely monitor all accounts
  • Use a password manager

Do at least these things, as our cybercriminal noted earlier said: “…because there are plenty of other marks out there who do nothing.”

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The internet is a dangerous place.  You never know who’s watching you.  If you’re in a coffee shop using the public Wi-Fi router there, you’re wide open… to hackers, Google, your internet provider or the person sitting next to you.  A VPN (virtual private network) acts like a curtain on your room.  They’re mostly open with daylight streaming in, but it’s nice sometimes being able to close them, when you need the privacy – or are simply and justifiably worried about unwarranted hackers and pranksters.

VPNs have become a popular tool today.  Once the domain of businesses seeking security and privacy, today it’s all too easy for hackers to infiltrate all of your devices, read your traffic or maliciously insert bugs, phishing efforts or other malware.  When private matters are involved like health, finance and personal communications, a VPN can be the best and cheapest method of maintaining your peace of mind and security.  By turning it on first before browsing, you’re far better protected.

Here’s a great explanation provided by Personal Technology columnist David Pierce of how a VPN works in simple terms:

“A VPN creates a ‘tunnel’ between your computer and the service you’re connecting to, using its software to make your connection direct and private.  Once this tunnel is established, a VPN encrypts all of the data it sends to you and receives from you through the tunnel.  Even if hackers decide to snoop on your data, they wouldn’t see anything they’d understand.

“Because your VPN provider is actually accessing the internet for you, the sites you visit won’t receive accurate identifying data like your location or IP address.”

You may be in California, but if your VPN provider is in New Jersey, your IP address jumps from California to New Jersey, and you’re not likely to be found.

While using a VPN does not excuse otherwise practicing safe computing, like strong passwords and multifactor authentication, it does add a whole new level of internet safety.  Common sense ought to take care of most of the rest (e.g., not using your credit card on shady sites, that sort of thing…)

There are a number of inexpensive VPNs available to any user today.  They typically charge between $3 and $12 a month.  Most claim to store no data, though they may actually store a little, and often not directly attributable to you personally.  Some names suggested by Mr. Pierce include the Hotspot Shield Elite from Anchor Free; Private Internet Access from London Trust Media; NordVPN; and Freedome VPN from F-Secure.  Many of these are part of a broader suite of security products that may include a password manager or other useful tools.

Today, according to a survey by Wombat Security, about two-thirds of users use a VPN on a corporate and/or personal device.  The rest either don’t use one, or (about 20%) don’t know what it is.  That last group might want to read up as VPNs today work on phones, tablets and PCs all across the spectrum.  And their added measure of security just might make them rest easier.

 

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In our prior post we highlighted the comments of two well-known hedge fund investors as they describe the shift from a world often dominated by software to the new world of the model-driven business, wherein models power the key decisions in business processes, creating revenue streams and improved cost efficiencies.

The co-authors, hedge fund CEO Steven Cohen  and venture capitalist Matthew Granade, both of Point72 Ventures, and writing in August in The Wall Street Journal’s Opinion section, conclude their essay by pointing out five key implications of these models for business in the future, which we’ll summarize below.

First, businesses will be increasingly valued based on the completeness, not just the quantity, of the data they create.  Companies like Amazon and Tencent (cited in our prior post) don’t just collect massive reams of data about their customers, they know how to act on it.  It’s not just breadth of knowledge in other words, it’s also a ‘closed loop’ in which each recommendation a model makes, based on that user data, is captured and used to improve the model going forward.

Second, the goal is a ‘flywheel,’ they state, or a virtuous circle: Models improve products, products get used more, the new data improves the product (and the model) even more.  It’s a nearly frictionless process of continuous improvement.  Pretty close to a business holy grail if ever there was one.

Third, as incumbents (i.e., entrenched, major, competitive, winning companies) they will be “more potent competitors in this battle relative to their role in the software era,” insofar as they will have a meaningful advantage (operationally and profit-wise) this time around.   They have the trove of data competitors don’t, and they’ve learned how to monetize it.  And they keep getting better at it.

Fourth, just as the best companies have built deep organizational capabilities around managing people, tools, technology and capital, the same will now happen for models.  Just as software has become an ‘agile’ process in its delivery, the data-driven companies now on the rise are creating a new discipline of model management that affect the same domains: people, tools, technology and capital.  The models can now deliver, and that creates a critical competitive edge.

Fifth, companies will face new ethical and compliance challenges, according to Cohen and Granade.  With data becoming more comprehensive and important, consumer concerns over use and abuse are bound to rise – in fact, they already are.  Facebook lost over $100 billion in market cap in a couple of days in July because investors became concerned about its data assets in the face of increasing regulation.  That’s not likely to abate, and examples will only multiply.

Still, while software continues to “eat the world” (prior post), yesterday’s advantage becomes, in the authors’ words, “today’s table stakes.”  In the hunt for competitive advantage, the model-driven business will become ubiquitous.  For the average investor, software has been a great place to make money since Marc Andreessen’s famous “Why Software is Eating the World” essay seven year ago.  But in the next seven, the serious money is on the model-driven business.

 

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A good post by a west coast NAV blogger provides steps for integrating your Dynamics NAV (in this case, 2018, though it should work basically the same for other versions) with Microsoft’s Excel spreadsheet.  The end result is a new, separate “Dynamics NAV” tab in the ribbon of your Excel application that links directly to NAV.

[Disclaimer: While some users may be able to handle this one on their own, feel free to contact us or your authorized NAV partner to installation assistance if it will make you feel safer.  Also note that this is specifically for NAV (in particular, though not exclusively, the 2018 version), and presumably not for the new Business Central.]

Step 1: Locate your installation file (that’s your NAV ‘setup’ file). The file location may vary depending on how and where your NAV is installed (you might be able to get help from your IT folks, or call us).

Step2:  Double-click the file name (setup.exe) and when asked “Do you want to allow this app to make changes to your device?” click the “Yes” box.

Step 3: From the Maintenance setup wizard, click “Add or remove components” which will open a box listing a lot of application parts under the heading “Customize the Installation.”

Step 4: From the listing, click the down arrow in the little box associated with “Microsoft Excel Add-In.”

Step 5: When the little down-arrow box opens, click “Run from my computer” and then click “Next.”

Step 6: You will see a screen of specified parameters and, assuming these are correct, click “Apply.”

Step 7: NAV will then run the function to enable the add-in and you should see a Microsoft Dynamics NAV information screen that says: “The modification of Microsoft Dynamics NAV has completed successfully.”

 

Again, while it’s pretty simple, we always suggest you have a knowledgeable NAV/tech support person available to you whenever making changes to your system.  Assuming all goes well, you’ll end up with a Dynamics NAV tab in the ribbon of your Excel for fast NAV access!

Our thanks to Encore Business blogger Eunice Gan who posted this tip/article, with screen shots here, originally.

 

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It was nearly 30 years ago that a Dutchman by the name Guido van Rossum set out to create a new programming language that would adhere to three principles: First, it should be easy to read; braces and dangling punctuation marks would be replaced by indented white space surrounding fairly readable code words.  Second, it should let users create their own modules or objects that would be usable by others to form the basis of new programs.  And third, he thought, it should have a catchy name.  And so he named it after the English comedy troupe, Monty Python.  The code package repositories became known as “the Cheese Shop.”

Little did von Rossum know that one day his creation – Python — would become the most popular language, said to have received more Google search hits in the past year than Kim Kardashian, according to the editors at The Economist.  Today, Python is used by nearly 40% of professional developers (another 25% wish to do so according to a programming forum).  It’s also popular with ‘ordinary folk’ as well, notes The Economist, and is snaring youthful adherents as well, noting that about 40% of American schools now offer computer programming (compared to about 10% just five years ago) and among them, about two-thirds of 10 to 12 year olds have an account on Code.org’s website.

Mr. van Rossum recently stepped down from his longtime role as curator and supervisor of Python (“benevolent dictator for life,” he once called it) saying he has long been uncomfortable with the fame.

Like all languages, Python is not perfect.  The more traditional C and C++ languages offer a broader suite of lower-level functionality (lower-level usually meaning that you are closer to the machine’s own language, and thus have more control over commands and overall language functionality).  Java is popular for large and complex apps, and JavaScript is the language of choice generally for apps accessed by a web browser.

But Python’s simple syntax makes it easier to learn to code, and share.  It’s used everywhere from the CIA for hacking to Pixar for producing films, in Google web page crawlers and in Spotify’s recommended songs feature.  It’s also recently said to have become a language of choice for AI researchers, which means it’s truly here to stay.

And even the non-coders of the world have taken it up in non-technical jobs, where marketers use it to build statistical models for their campaigns and teachers can see if they are properly distributing grades.  CitiGroup has introduced a course in Python for its trainee analysts, and it’s a haven for those who have long relied on spreadsheets for data analysis.

While no computing language can ever be all things to all people, specialization of languages matters, and so Python just keeps growing.  Over the history of computing, any number of languages have grown, dominated and then faded: think Fortran in the early days, then Basic’s many versions throughout the PC’s heyday, and even Pascal, a presumed lingua franca of the PC-era computing lexicon.  Presumably, Python’s day will fade one day as well, but now nearly 30 years after its birth, that day remains anyone’s guess – and probably in the distant future.

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Recently The Economist took on the issue of how the internet has changed and what they think can be done about it.  As an article called “The Ins and Outs” from June 30th 2018 (multiple authors) notes:

“Until a few years ago most users, asked what they thought of the internet, would have rattled off a list of things they love about it – that it lets them stay in touch with friends, provides instant access to a huge range of information, sparks innovation, even helps to undermine authoritarian regimes.”

Early cyber-gurus like Tim Berners Lee and Vint Cerf hoped to create a system “biased in favor of decentralization of power and freedom to act,” according to Harvard Professor Yochai Benkler.  When the first internet message was launched on October 29, 1969, a new era of unfettered openness appeared to be on the horizon.

Today, The Economist suggests, there is much disenchantment over the ways in which today’s net has become so much more centralized – and is becoming increasingly so.

In the West, the internet is dominated by a few giants like Facebook and Google, and in China by firms like Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent.  As historian Niall Ferguson argues, this pattern – a disruptive new network being infiltrated by a new hierarchy – has many historical precedents, from the invention of the printing press through the time of the Industrial Revolution.

The internet has become much more strictly controlled, they note, pointing out that when users were mainly accessing via desktop or laptop computers, they could stumble across amazing new services and try many things for themselves.  These days however, more folks get online via phone and tablets that confine users “to carefully circumscribed spaces, which are hardly more exciting than television.”

In the early days, Vint Cerf and others worked to make the internet largely “permissionless.”  Any computer and any network could join in if it followed the right protocols.  Packets of data were handed from one network to another, regardless of contents.  This looseness is what caused Tim Berners Lee to come up with the basic idea for the world wide web, which worked on top of the internet’s basic structure.

“These protocols were complemented by a set of organizations that allowed the rules to evolve, along with the software that puts them into effect” and kept them from being hijacked by outside interests.  Most notable among these was the Internet Engineering Task Force, whose founder David Clark put forth the philosophy that probably best summed up the early innovators’ intent: “We reject: kings, presidents and voting.  We believe in: rough consensus and running code.”

This openness and flexible governance set off a flurry of innovation and activity and by the mid-1990s millions of websites were up and running, and thousands of startups were launched.  Even after the dotcom bubble collapse around 2000, decentralized activity like blogs and forums continued unabated, with links to one another creating an ever-evolving ecosystem.

Today the connections to transfer data still exist, as to ever-growing reams of data, much of it now residing in cloud-computing silos within mega-companies like Google and Facebook, all closely monitored and metered, while billions of smartphones tap their available – and closely curated and counted – content.  Someone is always watching.  And most likely, monetizing off your data.

Whether it’s due to the workings of an authoritarian country or a monopolistic company, the internet’s protocols, governance and controls have swiftly and subtly evolved, and they are never going back.

[The original article in the June 30, 2018 Economist has many more sections and is worth a read.  We’ve reviewed and rendered here only a small portion today due to space constraints.  Again, it’s worth a read.]

 

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