Apr 192015
Future proofing your business free webinar

On April 29 I’m helping Flying Solo with a webinar on how small and single operator businesses can future proof their businesses.

During the webinar we’ll be looking at how businesses can adapt and profit from a rapidly changing economy.

Some of the things we plan to discuss include the trends driving the changing marketplace, some of the tools businesses can be using to harness a rapidly evolving workforce and methods to attract mobile consumers.

We’ll also have a look at some of the ways canny business owners can use social media, cloud computing and other online services to make their businesses more profitable and flexible in a tougher business world.

The webinar itself is free and you can sign up at the Flying Solo website. Hope to see you there.

Feb 172015
radio programs for techonology, web, social media, cloud computing and computer advice

Paul Wallbank joins Tony Delroy on ABC Nightlife nationally from 10pm Australian Eastern time on Thursday, February 19 to discuss how technology affects your business and life.

If you missed the show, the program is available for download from the ABC site.

For the February 2015 program Tony and Paul look at robot driven hotels, the internet of rubbish bins and how your TV could be listening to you.

Last year a lawyer read the terms and conditions of his new Samsung TV and discovered that the company recommended people don’t discuss sensitive information around it. This has lead to widespread, and justified, concerns that all our smart devices – not just TVs but smartphones and connected homes – could be listening to us. What happens to this data and can we trust the people collecting it?

The internet of rubbish bins

It’s not only your TV or smartphone that could be watching you, in Western Australia Broome Shire Council is looking at tracking rubbish bins to make sure only council issued ones are emptied.

Shire of Broome waste coordinator Jeremy Hall told WA Today  the council’s garbage truck drivers had noticed more bins than usual were getting emptied and a system needed to be put in place to identify “legitimate” bins.

While Australian councils are struggling with rubbish bins a hotel in Japan is looking to replace its staff with robots and room keys with face recognition software. The Hen-na Hotel is due to open later this year in Nagasaki Prefecture, the Japan Times reports.

Join us

Tune in on your local ABC radio station from 10pm Australian Eastern Summer time or listen online at www.abc.net.au/nightlife.

We’d love to hear your views so join the conversation with your on-air questions, ideas or comments; phone in on 1300 800 222 within Australia or +61 2 8333 1000 from outside Australia.

You can SMS Nightlife’s talkback on 19922702, or through twitter to @paulwallbank using the #abcnightlife hashtag or visit the Nightlife Facebook page.

Jun 222014

A few weeks back I gave a presentation to the Australian Seniors Computer Clubs Association as part of Staying Safe Online Week.

The presentation, Security In The Age of Connected Kettles, looked at where we are today with online security and some of the challenges facing individuals, businesses and communities as threats become more pervasive with cloud computing, personal technology and the internet of things while the people creating these risks become more professional.

Overall, it’s not a cheery scenario and I end with a call to action that we have to start insisting business, public sector and political leaders start taking online security seriously as a public safety issue.

Over ten slides we covered where we are today in personal and small business online security and some of the challenges facing individuals as computing moves onto the cloud and smartphones.

The ongoing online safety battle

Online safety is evolving as we move from PCs to tablets and smartphones, today the risks are increasingly appearing on our mobile devices although the desktop computer and email scams remain the biggest risk.

It’s increasingly about the money

A change to the security landscape in recent times has been the rise of professional malware. While a decade ago most of the hacks and viruses we saw were the work of people demonstrating their skills or causing mischief, today there is big money in compromising computers and capturing data.

The rise of ransomware

One of the best examples of the professionalisation of the internet’s bad guy is the rise of ransomware.

Ransomware locks your computer with a demand for payment to release your data; if you don’t pay you lose all your information.

Many of the online threats though are far more subtle; the theft of data from Target, compromises of Sony’s customer databases and ongoing security breaches illustrate how the risks are far greater than just on our desktop.

Smartphone lockups

Ransomware has moved off personal computers onto smartphones with both Android and Apple systems being attacked.
The ‘hacked by Oleg Pliss’ message is a good example of how Apple’s products are just as much at risk as other companies’ platforms.
Also the ‘hacked by Oleg Pliss’ lockup shows how the security aspects of cloud computing services are going to become more important to the average person.

Security basics

The basic advice for the average user remains the same;

  • Strong passwords
  • Don’t use common passwords
  • Be careful what you click on or visit
  • Keep your systems up to date
  • Have good security software

However times are changing and many security issues are out of the average person’s control.

Lessons from Heartbleed

The Heartbleed Open SSL bug illustrated the limits of individuals in protecting their information. As a bug in the secure socket layer software, the Heartbleed Bug could expose sensitive data on websites using the service.

The disappointing thing with Heartbleed is that people following good security policies were vulnerable.

Probably the biggest threat with Heartbleed however is the Internet of Things, where relatively simple devices – the connected kettle – could expose security credentials.

The Target hack

Another example of how security is beyond the control of the individual user is the Target hack. Hackers found their way into the US department store’s network though an airconditioning contractor. From there, they were able to steal millions of customer payment details.

The Target hack is one of dozens of similar coporate security compromises and this will continue until security is taken seriously by company directors and regulators.

A pocket sized security breach

As the Oleg Pliss hack showed, smartphones are not immune to security breaches.

With our phones gathering increasingly more data on our behaviour, protecting the data they gather is going to become one of the biggest challenges facing us.

Rich data

Smartphones are not just gathering location data, as technologies like iBeacons roll out more information is being gathered from more sources.

When we go shopping, attend a football game or visit the doctor these technologies are collecting information on our personal habits and behaviour.

Not a generational issue

One of the myths around security and privacy is that concerns revolve around the generations.

The idea that only older people care about privacy or that younger folk understand technology is a myth.

Unfortunately however our political and business leaders come from a segment of society that doesn’t care about or understand the technology or issues.

If meaningful change is to be made in securing our information, then we’re going to have to demand our business and political leaders take these issues seriously.

Jun 102014

Today I spoke about online safety to the Australian Seniors’ Computer Clubs Association about staying safe online.

Hopefully I’ll have a copy of the presentation up tomorrow but what was notable about the morning was the concern among the audience about security and safety of cloud services.

The ASCCA membership are a computer savvy bunch – anyone who disparages older peoples’ technology nous would be quickly put in their place by these folk – but it was notable just how concerned they are about online privacy. They are not happy.

Another troubling aspect were my answers to the questions, invariably I had to fall back on the lines “only do what you’re comfortable with”  and “it all comes down to a question of trust.”

The problem with the latter line is that it’s difficult to trust many online companies, particularly when their business models relies upon trading users’ data.

Resolving this trust issue is going to be difficult and it’s hard to see how some social media platforms and online businesses can survive should users flee or governments enact stringent privacy laws.

It may well be we’re seeing another transition effect happening in the online economy.

Aug 252013

Business Insider’s unathorised biography of Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer is both enlightening and scary while giving some insight into the psyche of the tech industry.

Nicholas Carlson’s story tells the warts and all tale to date of a gifted, focused and difficult to work with lady who’s been given the opportunity to lead one of the Dot Com era’s great successes back into relevance. It’s a very good read.

Two things jump out in the story; Mayer’s desire to surround herself with talented people and her chronic lateness.

When asked why she decided to work at a scrappy startup called Google, which see saw as only having a two percent chance of success, Mayer tells her ‘Laura Beckman story’ of her school friend who chose to spend a season on the bench of her school varsity volleyball team rather than play in the juniors.

Just as Laura became a better volleyball player by training with the best team, Mayer figured she’d learn so much more from the smart folk at Google. It was a bet that paid off spectacularly.

Chronic lateness is something else Mayer picked up from Google. Anyone whose dealt with the company is used to spending time sitting around their funky reception areas or meeting rooms waiting for a way behind schedule Googler.

To be fair to Google, chronic lateness is a trait common in the tech industry – it’s a sector that struggles with the concept of sticking to a schedule.

One of the worst examples I came across was at IBM where I arrived quarter of an hour before a conference was due to start. There was no-one there.

At the appointed time, a couple of people wandered in. Twenty minutes later I was about to leave when the organiser showed up, “no problem – a few people are running late,” he said.

The conference kicked off 45 minutes late to a full room. As people casually strolled in I realised that starting nearly an hour late was normal.

It would drive me nuts. Which is one reason among many that I’ll never get a job working with Marissa Mayer, Google or IBM.

A few weeks ago, I had to explain the chronic lateness of techies to an event organiser who was planning on using a technical speaker for closing keynote.

“Don’t do it,” I begged and went on to describe how they were likely to take 45 minutes to deliver a twenty minute locknote – assuming they showed up on time.

The event organiser decided to look for a motivational speaker instead.

Recently I had exactly this situation with a telco executive who managed to blow through their alloted twenty minutes, a ten minute Q&A and the closing thanks.

After two days the audience was gasping for a beer and keeping them from the bar for nearly an hour past the scheduled finish time on a Friday afternoon was a cruel and unusual punishment.

This was by no means the first time I’d encountered a telco executive running chronically over time having even seen one dragged from the stage by an MC when it became apparent their 15 minute presentation was going to take at least an hour.

It’s something I personally can’t understand as time is our greatest, and most precious, asset and wasting other people’s is a sign of arrogance and disrespect.

Whether Marissa Mayer can deliver returns to Yahoo!’s long suffering investors and board members remains to be seen, one hopes they haven’t set a timetable for those results.

Feb 182013

Technology has transformed workplaces over the last century, drove huge income growth and moved many into the middle classes. Are we now seeing computers and robots displacing those middle class jobs?

At Tech Crunch Jon Evans warns Get Ready To Lose Your Job  as “this time it’s different” – unlike earlier periods of industrialisation where jobs shifted to the new technologies such coach builders became car makers – robots and computers are making humans redundant.

So I see no mystical Singularity on the horizon. Instead I see decades of drastic nonlinear changes, upheaval, transformation, and mass unemployment. Which, remember, is ultimately a good thing. But not in the short term.

In The Observer John Naughton, professor of the public understanding of technology at the Open University, says Digital Capitalism Produces Few Winners.

Professor Naughton’s view is that high volume, low margin businesses like Amazon mean there’s fewer well paid jobs available and many of the lower positions will be soon replaced by robots.

At the other end of the digital marketplace, the high margin businesses like Apple, Google and Salesforce don’t need many staff to generate their profits, so wealth is concentrated among a small group of managers and owners.

While the low paid and manufacturing workers have been squeezed for decades in the West, it’s now the turn of the middle classes to feel the pain of automation, outsourcing and restructuring.

There’s two ways we can look at these changes, the optimistic is that our economy is going through a transition to a different structure; those out of work coachbuilders a hundred years ago didn’t immediately get jobs building cars and the same adjustments are happening again.

A more pessimistic view is that the Twentieth Century was an aberration.

It may be that Western world’s steady climb into middle class prosperity was itself a transition effect and we’re returning to the economic structures of the pre-industrialised age where the vast majority of people have a precarious income and only the fortunate few can afford middle class luxuries.

The next decade will give us some clues, but the portents aren’t good for the optimistic case, the Pew Research Centre shows America’s middle classes has been shrinking for forty years.

For those Americans still in the middle class, the Pew research shows their incomes have been falling for a decade.

Regardless of which scenario is true, the dislocation is with us. As individuals we have to be prepared for changes to our jobs, however safe they look today. As a society we have to accept we are going through a period of economic and social upheaval with uncertain long term consequences.

What’s particularly notable is how today’s political and business leaders seem oblivious to these changes and are locked in the ‘old normal’ of thirty or fifty years ago.

One wonders what it will take to wake them up to the changes happening around them and what will happen when reality does bite them.

Picture of a nice, middle class house by Strev via sxc.hu

Feb 172013
cheap robots cleaning computers

Ahead the Ovations Speaker Showcase on Tuesday, I’ve been looking at robots as one of this decade’s trends.

What’s interesting is how our perception of robots has evolved over the last half century.

The idea of Robots in the 1950s and  60s were ones with human shapes – four legs, a torso, two arms, shoulders and a head – otherwise known as anthropomorphic. Lost in Space and the Day the Earth Stood Still are two good examples of those human like machines.

How robots looked in the 1950s

1950s robot chic – the day the Earth stood still

Today’s robots have much more utilitarian shapes, like the Winbot window cleaner pictured at the beginning of this post.

Many of the robots look like the machines we use today, mainly because they are today’s technology with the driver or operator replaced. A good example being the Google self driving cars.

google self driving car

The idea of a robotic car isn’t completely new though; the 1980s action series Knight Rider featured KITT, a robot car with an almost equally mechanical David Hasslehof as its sidekick.

The Hoff and KITT

More interesting still are the tiny robots who look, and act, like insects. Wait until these guys infest your internet fridge.

All of these technologies had to wait until computers became small and cheap enough to fit into the systems. In the 1980s a computer with the capabilities to run KITT or a Google Car would be the size of a large warehouse, today it can fit inside a cigarette packet.

Of course the real power for robots comes when computers talk to each other and form a collective intelligence. This is the Internet of machines.

The terminator

Skynet has told The Terminator to destroy us all.

Which brings us to Arthur C. Clarke’s and Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and the 1980s vision of Skynet which gave birth to the Terminator.

Hopefully those visions of the future of network connected robot are just as misguided as those of 1950s movies.

If they aren’t, we’re in a lot of trouble.