Stop Spreading Manure

It’s an example of yet another brouhaha: a report a few years ago that Google blatantly admitted you should have no expectation of privacy whatsoever when using their services. The internet went crazy. Many sources proclaimed, “How outrageous! We told you so! Google is evil!” Mainstream news outlets picked up stories from smaller publishers, and they all confirmed the entire sordid mess.

Except the internet was wrong. Manure, to use a polite term, was being spread far, wide, and fast.

That’s where things get complicated.

Read moreStop Spreading Manure

If I Had to Do It Over…

I never planned to be a writer.

When I entered college in 1975, I had no plan at all. I had a vague interest in electronics, and seeing that on my application, the University of Washington saw fit to put me into College of Electrical Engineering.

It was there I encountered what would become my career’s passion.

Read moreIf I Had to Do It Over…

The 40-year Take-away

I was feeling rather reflective the other day, which lead to a discussion with a visiting friend about what their young son could expect over the course of his lifetime.

I started by looking back in order to look forward. It turns out I have a lot to look back on. 🙂

Read moreThe 40-year Take-away

What are the Internet’s Rules about Free Speech?

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Can you advise me on the “rules” of the internet regarding free speech? I’ve had comments on some sites and posts on a discussion group deleted by the owner. Doesn’t that violate my right to free speech?

No, it doesn’t. Not even close.

Free speech is an interesting concept in general, especially in these turbulent times. Take it to the internet and things get even more “interesting”.

Yes, there are rules, and even laws, but it’s an incredibly complex issue.

Let’s start by acknowledging that there is no such entity as “The Internet”.

Read moreWhat are the Internet’s Rules about Free Speech?

Why Can’t You Give a Straight Answer?

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 I’ve looked at your answers for problems that seem like they relate to mine, but everything seems to be “check this” or “it might be that”. Why can’t you just give me the specific steps I need to solve my problem? Why can’t I get a straight answer?

It’s a fair question.

I wish I could.

Honestly, I truly wish I could give everyone a simple, step-by-step, here’s-how-to-fix-your-problem answer. When possible, I try. Unfortunately, it’s rarely possible to be that specific.

There’s a reason my most common answer is “It depends.”

Read moreWhy Can’t You Give a Straight Answer?

Why Can’t I Talk To a Real Person?

It’s a common frustration. You have a problem, concern, or complaint, and you want to reach out to the company or service involved. Try as you might, you can’t find a phone number. If you do, you find an endless phone-tree of automated assistance options, or worse, a scam.

As far as you can tell, there’s simply no way to locate a real person to talk to.

There probably isn’t, and the reason is simple.

People are expensive. Incredibly expensive. Even when they’re overseas, compared to automated or self-service alternatives, people are still costly and often unreliable.

Let’s look at why this is, and explore your alternatives.

Read moreWhy Can’t I Talk To a Real Person?

Watching for Interactions

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I experienced Macrium Reflect taking a long time to perform its backups. I discovered that if I end task OneDrive Sync Engine in Task Manager it reduced run times from hours to minutes.

This isn’t an isolated report, and highlights something important to consider when troubleshooting slowdowns, delays, and other problems.

Software like OneDrive and Macrium Reflect is complex. Running multiple complex applications at the same time increases the demands on your machine tremendously.

Step one: simplify.

Read moreWatching for Interactions

“Is It Possible” is the Wrong Question

I get a lot of questions that start with the phrase “Is it possible.”

“Is it possible I’ve been hacked?”

“Is it possible to recover an email from 10 years ago?”

“Is it possible that my video chats are being recorded?”

The list goes on.

There are two problems with these questions: they all have the same answer, and they’re all the wrong question to be asking.

Read more“Is It Possible” is the Wrong Question

When Tech Drives You Crazy, Don’t Make the Problem Worse

The other day, I was helping someone deal with a problem on their computer. While I was diagnosing the problem at hand, I noted several other issues that could impact the computer.

As is my way, I started to poke around, looking at this and that. When I’m focused on a problem, it’s not unusual for me to mutter a bit to myself, saying things like “Well, that’s odd”, or, “I wonder if that’s the issue?” It’s part of my exploratory process… just me gathering data, wondering out loud about what I’m seeing.

The person I was helping reacted to my words in an extremely common way.

Unfortunately, it’s often a very dangerous reaction.

Read moreWhen Tech Drives You Crazy, Don’t Make the Problem Worse

Are Human Relations Skills Important in Tech?

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This is actually for a school assignment for a class called Human Relations in Organizations. I have to ask someone with a career in my technology these three questions:

1.) What skills do you use every day to deal with others at work (co-workers and clients)?

2.) How often do you use those skills (a specific number, like a percentage of a typical day, or week)

3.) Do you think a class about human relations should be required for an Associates degree in computer programming? Why or why not?

Normally, I don’t answer homework questions. You’d be surprised at how many I get that are obviously someone trying to get me to do their homework for them.

This one, besides appearing to be an honest question as part of an honest assignment, speaks to something I feel strongly about. It’s not something I would have guessed when I started my career in computer programming.

Dealing with people is much more difficult than dealing with computers …

… and yet way more important.

Read moreAre Human Relations Skills Important in Tech?

How Do I Become a Computer Programmer?

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My son wants to become a video-game programmer or designer. What advice do you have?

This is a very common question – particularly with video games. Kids really enjoy playing them and are often drawn to the potential of creating them as well.

I’ve hired a lot of programmers in my career. I’ve also not hired even more. So I definitely have thoughts and advice.

Read moreHow Do I Become a Computer Programmer?

Is the internet directly responsible for our economic problems?

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I was going to ask you this but I posted on Yahoo Answers and got a stupid response. Brick and mortar stores and restaurants are dropping like flies. I was actually referring to Radio Shack at first. Well, today, Quiznos just filed for bankruptcy. The only one near me was turned into a Little Caesar’s. So I’m asking you anyway if this depression is caused by the internet with the web and people buying things online instead of real stores with real workers and across the country instead of a central location called Amazon?

You’re basically asking  “Is the internet directly responsible for our economic problems?”

In my opinion: absolutely not! Things are certainly changing, but that’s nothing new. Things have been changing well before the internet came along.

I’m no economist, but as you can tell, I do have a few opinions and I can go on about this for quite some time. I’ll try and control myself.

Read moreIs the internet directly responsible for our economic problems?

How the Internet Is Breaking Journalism (and What It Means to You)

I recently realized something very critical about how the internet works today and how broken it is.

The assumptions that readers are making about the information they find online – even at relatively “reputable” sites – are wrong. The internet is breaking what “journalism” means. As a result, it’s become even more critical for online information consumers (that’s you and me, by the way) to take on a burden we haven’t been trained to even concern ourselves with until now.

The burden of confirmation.

I’ve written about it before, but the sad fact is,you just can’t believe everything you read on the internet. It is now your practical responsibility to do the legwork to confirm whether something is or is not true.

Yes, I agree: that’s totally broken.

It’s partly our fault.

Read moreHow the Internet Is Breaking Journalism (and What It Means to You)

The Most Important Skill

I’m often asked what it takes to become a computer programmer.

I’m also often asked questions about computers in general – everything from broken hardware to lost Hotmail passwords.

The answer to the first, and the chances of getting an answer to the rest, have something exceptionally important in common.

Something that most people don’t even consider. And I’m willing to bet it’s not at all what you think.

I’ll give you one hint: today’s topic is off-topic, since it actually has nothing to do with computers or technology.

And yet, it kinda has everything to do with it.

Read moreThe Most Important Skill

Shouldn’t Everyone Have Internet Access?

Last week, I shared on the Ask Leo! Facebook page an article from my local Seattle newspaper. It originated in the New York Times with the upshot that, “Roughly 20 percent of American adults do not use the Internet at home, work, school or by mobile device…”

My thought: How do we fix this?

Surprisingly, I got several comments to the effect that it’s not something that needed fixing.

I don’t think I could disagree more.

Read moreShouldn’t Everyone Have Internet Access?

Are Humans Getting More Stupid Because of Computers?

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Are humans getting dumber or lazier because of computers doing all the work? For example, spell-check replacing dictionaries? After 20 years, how can some one not know about the BIOS when the computer displays a message, “Press F1 to go into setup”? Or should they choose better instructions? Some of the new questions here seem like déjà vu and to me and probably lots of your readers.

I love these philosophical questions because they actually speak to the heart of what people are thinking and wondering about when it comes to computer from time to time.

My opinion is that people are as smart – or as dumb – as they’ve always been. Obviously, some are smarter than others and people have different strengths and weaknesses but by and large, people are still people even with 20-plus years worth of computers under our belts. I think what’s changed is where and how we spend our time and focus our energies.

Read moreAre Humans Getting More Stupid Because of Computers?

Embracing the Most Important Attitude

Today, a couple of major online applications released user interface changes. Some of the changes are major, some are minor, but the bottom line is that what people were using yesterday is no longer available today.

I don’t have to tell you what applications those might be. Whatever they are today, there will almost certainly be other commonly used applications that change when you read this article in the future.

I get frustrated when this type of change happens.

But not for the reasons that you might think.

Read moreEmbracing the Most Important Attitude

Why Shouldn’t I Forward this Email Asking Me to “Forward to Everyone I Know”?

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I received an email with a disturbing story that seems like more people should know about. At the bottom, it even suggests that I forward it on to everyone I know. It seems such an important issue … and yet I’ve been told that I shouldn’t forward this kind of thing. Why not?

I get that kind of email from time to time also. Over the years, I’ve developed a pretty good skeptical “nose” for sniffing this kind of thing out.

What is it I’m smelling?

A big pile of lies, frauds, and misinformation usually.

Read moreWhy Shouldn’t I Forward this Email Asking Me to “Forward to Everyone I Know”?

Why you should never blindly trust an online recommendation (even mine)

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From: Billy Bob Macrium

Mr. Leo, your check is in the mail 🙂

I recently got that as a comment to my article How do I restore a backup to a smaller hard drive?. Presumably, the commenter believes that my reasons for recommending Macrium Reflect are somehow financially motivated and is trying to make some kind of snide remark to make his point.

(For the record, there are two completely separate reasons why the implication is wrong – more on that in a moment.)

I’ll admit that it irritated me. No one likes having their ethics questioned.

Read moreWhy you should never blindly trust an online recommendation (even mine)

Do Desktop or Laptop Platforms Really Matter any More?

The Mac versus PC battle is legendary.

But at the risk of pissing off both sides, I’ll claim that it’s also becoming largely irrelevant.

My laptop is a MacBook Pro with Retina display, and purchasing it led me to think about platform wars, religion, choices, taste, and what’s really changed over the years.

The reason why I bought a Mac might not be the reason you think.

Read moreDo Desktop or Laptop Platforms Really Matter any More?