Blake Snow

content advisor, recognized journalist, bodacious writer-for-hire

As seen on CNN, NBC, ABC, Fox, Wired, Yahoo!, BusinessWeek, Wall Street Journal
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Tagged technology

There’s no such thing as a tech company anymore

“The reality is that calling a business a ‘tech company’ is a ploy to make it sound exciting to potential consumers and investors, not a method of assigning greater meaning,” aruges David Yanofsky for Quartz. “The moniker says nothing about what type of company it actually is, only that it is a business that uses at least one technology to provide its product or service.”

He goes on, “The era of tech companies is over. To stay competitive in today’s marketplaces, every company, by the current standard, could be called a tech company, which of course, is another way of saying that none of them should be.”

Nailed it.

Notable tech: 5 gadgets that rocked this year

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I’m by no means an expert on technology. But I’ve covered the industry long enough (since the mid ‘80s to be exact) to know that very few innovations really matter. The vast majority of mainstream releases are merely novel diversions that fail to fundamentally change our lives, let alone improve them.

They are the opposite of personal computers, the web/email combo, GPS directions, social media, high definition, touchscreen phones that double as cameras, YouTube, and increasingly voice search. Over the last thirty years, those are the real innovative heavyweights.

Although nothing released this year approaches that status—uneven virtual reality very much included—they are several gizmos released this year that excited and even enhanced my life on a near daily basis.

They are as follows:  Continue reading…

Published works: Skydiving, Australia, computers killing writers, and battery tech

front

Here’s where my byline published last month:

The Network (aka Cisco magazine)

Paste Magazine

Getting smarter: The myth of STEM shortages and world education rankings

wikimedia commons

wikimedia commons

To improve the future of education, America must focus on science, technology, engineering, and math fields (aka STEM). We must also meet, if not exceed, international test scores.

Or should we?

Said focus has increasingly been criticized in recent years—ironically due to a lack of scientific evidence. After researching “hundreds” of reports from the past six decades, for instance, Robert Charette of The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers said the so-called STEM shortage “is a myth.”

Continue reading…

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Published works: Predicting the office of the future, women in tech

2016 cisco logo

I started freelance writing for Cisco.com last month. Here are my first few stories:

Published works: Latest version—the problem with online user reviews

TA_550x370My latest, reporting for Paste Magazine:

“Obviously, user review repositories such as TripAdvisor, Yelp, and Google are a net gain for people in need of lodging, a delicious meal, or a new tool, gadget, or surprise to solve their current problem. But as we increasingly turn to big, crowd-funded data to help us stay informed and avoid buyer’s remorse, we need to be thinking of better ways to get the most up-to-date and accurate information available while also rewarding the efforts of those who aim to please us.”

Continue reading…

Pretty sure I have the best job in the world

Courtesy 20th Century Fox

Twentieth Century Fox

When I was nine years old, I saw Big starring Tom Hanks. It’s a movie about a boy doing young-at-heart things in a grown-up’s body. That and being employed to have an opinion on (i.e. review) toys.

At the time, I thought it was the coolest movie ever made. I still think it’s pretty darn cool.

In reality, my work as a writer over the last decade is not unlike protagonist Josh Baskin’s. I get paid to have an opinion and ask a bunch of questions. I tinker with ideas, learn from those who are smarter than me, and slay the dragon of misinformation with research as my shield and a keyboard as my sword.  Continue reading…

Everyone who works with computers should read this (i.e. everyone should read this)

whatiscode

Credit: Business Week

I recently read Paul Ford’s special report on software—all 36,000 words and three hours of it. If you work in computers, you should read it. If you work in business, you should read it. If you’re an adult human, you will learn a lot about the way things are and where they’re headed by reading it.

Admittedly, the story could have benefitted from some additional editing. Ford, after all, veers a little off topic. But like Bill Bryson, Ford is a master at explaining why things matter—in this case, why coders matter, and how they will increasingly influence the future.

If that’s doesn’t convince you to read the article’s entirety, maybe my 10 favorite excerpts will:  Continue reading…

Either/or: How using the Internet affects our lives

Wired

Andrew White/WIRED

Ev Williams believes the internet is “a giant machine designed to give people what they want.” In a speech reported by Wired, the co-inventor of Blogger and Twitter added, “We often think the internet enables us to do new things, but people just want to do the same things.”

For instance, we want to socialize, entertain ourselves, learn, and make work easier. The internet does all four better than any other convenience of the last century.

It does this in two ways, Williams explains. “Big hits on the internet (think Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon) are masters at making things fast and not making people think… But the internet is not a utopian world. It’s like a lot of other technological revolutions.”  Continue reading…

Published works: 10 ways to save on tech this year

(CNN) — From Airbnb to GasBuddy to shopkick, lots of apps and websites help consumers save money.

But how do we spend less on technology itself — that digital drug we can’t seem to get enough of? How can we save money on electronic gadgets and services … so that we can buy more gadgets?

Here are 10 ways to stretch your tech budget this year: Continue reading…

Published works: How to fix Microsoft, suspect dental technology

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I fell behind in updating my published works section this year (there’s always Google right?). In any case, here are a couple of recent stories I’m proud to have written:

Here’s why we’re more comfortable online than offline now

phone in public

Since it’s related to my book, I was fascinated by this excerpt from USA Today:

“Our brains are sensitive to stimuli moment to moment, and if you spend a lot of time with a particular mental experience or stimulus, the neural circuits that control that mental experience will strengthen,” he says. “At the same time, if we neglect certain experiences, the circuits that control those will weaken. If we’re not having conversations or looking people in the eye — human contact skills — they will weaken.”

In essence, we’re willingly training ourselves to favor online virtual stimuli more than offline real stimuli, which is madness.

How I use technology: 2012 edition

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In order of most-used to least-used technology in my house, here’s how I rank ’em:

  1. Running water. Since I suck down water all day, I go to the bathroom a lot. I’m also regular in other ways too, so working plumbing keeps my house and body sanitary and fresh. Love it.
  2. Permanent shelter. You know, to keep my family warm, dry, and cozy.
  3. Piped in power and gas. Not only does this utility extend our days and heat and cools, it enables my families digital lifestyle. The meter man still gives me a scare in the rare times I spot him near our back door. But other than that, this is nothing but upside.
  4. Broadband internet. It’s my office cubicle, research tool, educator, informer, and pipes in much of the on-demand entertainment we bring into our home.
  5. Smartphone. Primarily used to communicate with friends and loved ones (voice, SMS, portable email) but also used as my new personal computer, one I largely carry with me. Continue reading…

Why Internet access (or any technology for that matter) is NOT a human right

According to Vin Cerf, any early pioneer of the internet:

Technology is an enabler of rights, not a right itself. There is a high bar for something to be considered a human right. Loosely put, it must be among the things we as humans need in order to lead healthy, meaningful lives, like freedom from torture or freedom of conscience. It is a mistake to place any particular technology in this exalted category, since over time we will end up valuing the wrong things. For example, at one time if you didn’t have a horse it was hard to make a living. But the important right in that case was the right to make a living, not the right to a horse. Today, if I were granted a right to have a horse, I’m not sure where I would put it. The best way to characterize human rights is to identify the outcomes that we are trying to ensure. These include critical freedoms like freedom of speech and freedom of access to information — and those are not necessarily bound to any particular technology at any particular time.

How staying informed makes us stupid

This is a great piece by Neal Gabler on how original thought has taken a back seat to being informed. Teaser quote to make you click:

It may seem counterintuitive that at a time when we know more than we have ever known, we think about it less… While (Facebook, Twitter, iPhones, etc) may change the way we live, they rarely transform the way we think. They are material, not ideational. It is thinkers who are in short supply, and the situation probably isn’t going to change anytime soon.

It will if we decide to reflect more on our surroundings, noting what we don’t like about them and how we might fix them. To do that, however, we have to regularly remove ourselves from the information trough.

It’s difficult for the brain to think if it’s always capturing data.

Interesting perspective on overpopulation

YouTube Preview Image

I suppose the above is possible, but why might the Earth’s population decline after reaching 9 billion in 2050? Deficit fertility rates?

In any case, check out the follow-up shorts as well: Offsetting low fertility rates, Food: There’s lots of it, and Why poverty isn’t caused by overpopulation.

Pretty convincing thesis.

Shoot first, focus later

If accurate (and I stress accurate, given that the photos are supplied by the company hoping to sell the new camera), this still unreleased camera sounds super cool. Since it reportedly records more information than a normal camera, the user can refocus after the fact. Try it by clicking the image above.

I haven’t used instant messager in five years

aol-manOkay, that’s not true. But I haven’t IM’d more than 5-8 lines of text in the last five years.

Why? I loathe the technology. It’s so obtrusive. Consequently, I only turn on Skype when I need to make a call. And I haven’t logged in to Google Chat since 2006.

No, asynchronous email is a better respecter of your schedule when it comes to TCB (taking care of business). And meetings and phone calls are my go-to source for real-time communication.

What about you: do you still use instant messenger? If so, why?

Print magazines: Are you buying this damage control?

2010-04-20-724x1024As seen in this month’s issue of Wired.

My thoughts: Agreed that information technology isn’t always replaced by newer technology (i.e. pens, pencils, paperbacks). But to suggest that printed magazines are actually thriving is a bit of stretch. My guess is the quoted “11 percent growth” stems from that fuzzy “pass along” metric magazines still use to measure audience size. (And to suggest that magazines are the superior way of reading essays is also wrong.)

Either way, stop hard-selling yourself, magazines. We know what you’re good for: Bathrooms, waiting lobbies, and other offline environments.

Kinect is the most impressive Microsoft product in 15 years

kinect

I’ve been playing with Kinect over the past few days, and I gotta say: It’s the most significant consumer product the company’s released since Windows 95. It’s not a home run—at least not yet. But it’s definitely a double stretching for a triple.

It’s also extraordinarily cool and brimming with promise. Continue reading…

Your government isn’t Big Brother. Your gadgets are.

Written by Chicken Little of the Digital Age

Technology is making us stupid.

Don’t believe me? Read this story about how Apple is now tracking the exact location of iPhone users and sharing it with advertisers.

Or this one documenting numerous Facebook security holes.

Or how have slowly made themselves more vulnerable while broadcasting there whereabouts on Twitter (NOTE TO BURGLARS: When I message that I’m away from home, don’t believe me).

Or the mother of all “You’re freakin’ crazy” behavior: The whole idea behind Foursquare (aka willingly telling the world your precise location so marketers and predators could potentially exploit you.)

I’m not saying the above mentioned technologies aren’t without their advantages. Or that we should shun the use of such technology.

But our intimate relationships with many (if not all) of these technologies have gone too far. As a result, our privacy has been compromised. In many ways, we’ve become our own oppressors. Obsessive sharing might even have consequences on our freedom.

The good news is that much of this can be reversed by hitting the power button or delete button. Of course, you need to know where you’ve posted personal information online, including photos. Delete the ones that no longer (or never did) have any utility.

But most of all, be wary of publishing anything online you wouldn’t broadcast on your front lawn (including your blog).

Now back to regularly scheduled TMI…

DISCLOSURE: This post was written by a protective husband and father. (D’oh! I did it again.)

Top 10 personal technologies of the decade

A lot of cool things were released this decade. But no other personal technology influenced society more in the last 10 years than the following—in order of impact, because I said so.

  1. Cell phones (see also: SMS)
  2. Online search (aka Google)
  3. Self-publishing (i.e. Blogging, Facebook, YouTube)
  4. Digital cameras
  5. Broadband Internet
  6. Web software (Google Docs, Firefox add-ons, etc.)
  7. Really Simple Syndication (aka RSS)
  8. Gesture control (i.e. Nintendo DS, Wii, Apple iPhone)
  9. Global positioning systems (aka GPS)
  10. USB storage devices (i.e. thumb drives)

I’d probably put digital video recorders at no. 11. Am I missing anything?

Review: Nike Lunar Glides are unattractive but competent, light, and smart running shoes

Nike Lunarglides

Although the inventor of modern running shoes, Nike doesn’t have a reputation among distance runners these days. Said athletes usually wear one of five brands: Asics (which Nike first sold as a distributor in the ’60s), Mizuno, Brooks, Saucony or New Balance. You just can’t “do it” in Nikes anymore, at least without looking like a corporate shill.

Continue reading…

Microsoft has forgotten it makes software for a living

I don’t despise Microsoft. I still use XP (alongside OS X on my Mac). Xbox 360 can be a fun time. And Word is still a must for professional document design (GoogleDocs is too limited in some cases). But in recent years, I’ve started to like Microsoft less and less. The reason? They follow the leader now instead of carving their own path. Says long-time tech columnist John C. Dvorak: “Microsoft is a software company. It has been distracted too easily by the success of others in essentially unrelated fields.”

Too support this claim, Dvorak convincingly mentions Microsoft’s ambitions to launch a Google-killer, iPod-killer, and Apple Store-killer… all at the same time! Previously the company tried to be an AOL-killer, Netscape-killer (that didn’t make any money), book-maker, toy-maker, and Photoshop-killer… all while Microsoft Office/Enterprise—the company’s bread and butter—brought in the real money. Frankly, I’m not sure Microsoft has pioneered an original idea in the last 15 years.

I didn’t have cell reception in Montana… and it was awesome.

BlackBerry with lots of unread messages

The girls and I just got back from a sweet vacation to Teton, Yellowstone, and Montana. It was one of the best vacations I’ve ever had, given all the sights and activities we were able to participate in. One of the coolest “features” of the trip: no cell reception, internet, or TV at our cabin. We were utterly disconnected, which allowed us to be completely present in the moment. “It totally changes the dynamic of the group,” my wife told me yesterday. It sure did, for the better. Can’t wait to go even longer without a connection next time.

Mailbag: Does social networking really work?

Smooth Harold reader Scott Daniel asks via email:

Does social networking really work as a marketing tool? My CIO is standing firm that it does not.

Yes, it does, provided you have something interesting to say. For example, my blogging efforts on Smooth Harold alone have directly resulted in checks amounting to around $17,000 over the last four years, excluding advertising. Continue reading…

Even if you don’t Twitter, you should search it for real-time reaction

I was pretty stoked by the U.S.’s 2-0 victory over Spain today, which vaulted the unlikely team into the final of the Confederations Cup, a World Cup warmup. In my excitment, I do what I always do: head to Twitter Search (no account required) to start reading immediate reactions from fans. (Google is just too slow sometimes.)

Without an active Twitter account, I don’t participate in the conversation—I do that elsewhere; on my blog, on Facebook, and in various comment sections. But it’s fun to get up-to-the-second reactions to breaking news in one location, without perpetrating your offline life like so many Twitter users seem to do.

I wait 2½ years to upgrade phones

Blackberry Curve 8320 Titanium

I got my first Blackberry, a pancake of a thing, back in January 2006. One replacement and 31 months later, I finally upgraded to a quasi outdated Blackberry Curve — I guess I’m what you call an apathetic technologist.

I’ve quickly grown fond of the 8320 and prefer it to the iPhone for the keyboard alone (though the camera, iTunes syncable media player, 2GB SD card, and Wi-Fi are more than functional).

But I digress. How often do you upgrade phones? It seems like some people swap every 6 months…

Get this! Firefox 3 is mucho fast

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I just upgraded from Firefox 2 to 3 on both my PowerBook and desktop PC. Man is it noticeably faster and less of a resource hog (like, my CPU fan no longer kicks into high gear when 10-15 tabs are open). Though some of my nifty extension are incompatible on launch day, those things usually get upgraded in a matter of days. Get this!

Some of America’s most venerable newspapers face extinction

Economist.com — “Pick almost any American newspaper company and you can tell a similar story. The ABC reported that for the 530 biggest dailies, average circulation in the past six months was 3.6% lower than in the same period a year earlier; for Sunday papers, it was 4.6% lower. Ad revenues are plunging across the board…”

Fact: many technologists were quick to predict the death of pen and paper with the rise of typewriters and personal computers. Similarly, many technologists predicted book sales would decrease with the rise of e-book readers.

That being said, older technology can often persist in light of new technology through adaptation (i.e. new technology does not always obviate older technology). I believe the same is true for newspapers and magazines, provided they accentuate their remaining value (portable text, reputation, local community, and/or more non-ephemeral reporting like features).

[via Digg]

Now with 100% more milkman

According to Wikipedia, milk was first delivered in bottles on January 11, 1878. As of April 14, 2008, it is still delivered to Wasatch Front doorsteps in plastic jugs.

Though Lindsey and I had heard and tried Winder Dairy in the past, we recently become customers in a cooperative with our downstairs neighbors, the Johnstuns. We pay about a dollar more per gallon than we would at retail. The milk (not to mention bread, cheese, and whatnot) is not only deliciously fresh, but it’s delivery method is loaded with history, something I’m convinced makes the cow extract taste even better.

To my surprise, milk is still delivered in isolated regions of the United States, but it’s seemingly a rare luxury for most. It’s amazing how long older technologies can endure, and with the quiet resurgence of web-to-order grocery delivery, the milkman may still have a future.

Fun Fact: I was in talks with Winder Dairy many years ago as a web consultant to redesign their website.

Visual search is nothing more than a lame gimmick to rival Google

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When will software executives finally learn that speed of functionality will always trump bells and whistles. You’d think RedZee and SearchMe would already know this after the “we’ve got more glitz” Ask.com called it quits last week.

Build a better mouse trap, people — not a sexier one. Google is number one because it returns relevant results faster than others. It takes a lot more than good looks to be “cool.”

Report: “Google generation” doesn’t use Google

Ars Technica reports: “A new UK report on the habits of the ‘Google Generation’ finds that kids born since 1993 aren’t quite the Internet super-sleuths they’re sometimes made out to be. For instance, are teens better with technology than older adults? Perhaps, but they also ‘tend to use much simpler applications and fewer facilities than many imagine.'”

A Digg user responds: “Quite true — my youngest brother (14) is constantly asking me how to do this or that on his computer. Usually it’s quite simple, and the first thing I ask him is if he Googled it first. The answer is invariably ‘no.’ Kids are lazy, no matter when they were born.”

Disruptive Technology or Disruptive Myth?

John C. Dvorak, a good but rather quirky writer at times, has a great article on why disruptive technology is just a bunch of business rubbish.

Disruptive technology is a term coined by Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen. He claims it to be an innovation that comes in cheaper, and is better than current technology. The disruptive technology then supposedly replaces the older technology. Only problem is, there is no real evidence supporting this idea.

Quote from Dvorak: “There is no such thing as a disruptive technology. There are inventions and new ideas, many of which fail while others succeed. That’s it. This concept [of disruptive technology] only services venture capitalists who need a new term for the PowerPoint show to sucker investors.”

Can we stop with the cliches and false ideas as to how to make more money in business? The equation is simple:

Consumer Need + Quality Product + Great Service = Happy Customer. That yields happy profits. (more oversimplied business equations coming soon!)

It’s funny how many businesses forget the first ingredient in the equation…