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The Spam plagueOn my recent European tour and cruise, I resolved to abstain from email. On the tour, most hotels had Internet access and I sneaked a peek. On the cruise, Internet access was SLOW and by the MINUTE, which made my resolution easy to maintain. Then, I finally succumbed after a few days (at great cost) and did get some good emails. But the bulk of it was SPAM. Ouch@#!
You know, Spam - "Stupid Pointless Annoying Messages". Electronic trash includes everything from harmless unsolicited marketing to phishing and virus attacks. It arrives disguised in a variety of insidious ways, triggering needs and stimulating fears - job loss, cheap medicines, religion, charity, money transfers, romance, pornography. It accounts for almost 98% of daily e-mail.
Spamming remains economically viable because spammers have no operating costs beyond the management of mailing lists, and it is difficult to hold them accountable. Because costs are low, there are lots of spammers and the volume of spam has become very high. The burden - lost productivity and fraud - is borne by email users and by Internet service providers forced to add extra capacity to cope with the deluge.
There are some good spam-blockers on the market, but they only block 90-95%, and (this is the hard part) sometimes block valid emails. So you still have to review emails in the spam folder to make sure you didn't lose anything genuine.
The best way to cope with spam is to "white-list" your address book, and "black-list" all spam as it arrives. Antispam services do this for you, by sending a message asking for acknowledgement before the email is accepted. I'm considering that type of service, though I'm still working to improve my spam-filtering before I take that step.
For businesses, particularly those with thousands of employees and sensitive corporate data, electronic spam is a serious problem. Aside from bandwidth and storage, which is growing as spam goes multimedia, it's one of the primary entry points for security risks. The price of effective management of spam and malware is skyrocketing.
No one has made much of a dent in the problem, and Spam is getting worse. Now, why can't the high-tech gurus in Microsoft, Apple or Google come up with a new spam-elimination invention? We are waiting.....
Email, Text and TelephoneThe way we use voice-telephones is changing, and voice calls are migrating to other media. The phone calls we do make are reserved for focused personal or business discussions.
Beyond caller-ID, phones don't provide any information about the reason for the call, and so we are constantly interrupting each other. Voice calls are emotionally high-bandwidth, which is why it's so intrusive. Most people coordinate important calls in advance using email or text messaging. Unscheduled phone calls usually default to voice-mail, and many voice messages are never listened to because they're obsolete.
In India, they don't even have voice mail - when a call comes, it rings ten times and disconnects. When I was visiting, I called my niece and she texted back, "Who r u?" (She didn't have my local cell-phone in her address book). When I texted back, she called instantly. Nice!
After hitting a peak in 2007, the average number of phone calls (mobile or land-line) is dropping every year. And calls are getting shorter: In 2005 the average was three minutes; now it's half that.
To eliminate the cost of phone-calls, in India they have another trick (with its own new noun), "Give me a missed." You phone when you arrive (expected) at the airport, and they don't answer - they "miss" the call (free to caller and receiver) and they know you've arrived. I signal the auto-rickshaw driver, he "gives me a missed" and just arrives a few minutes later.
Phone calls are becoming obsolete because everyone is in constant contact in so many other ways: email, texting, social-networks. Today, many teens feel that texting beats driving far away.
SMS (short message service) or "texting" works wherever there is cellphone service. The drawback is that it costs money and message length is limited, while email is free, without any word-limit. Of course, you can have "unlimited" texting for a monthly fee.
The general feeling is that e-mail is used for business, whereas texting is informal and personal, with words shortened to stay within the 140-character limitation - Twitter length. But, you can always spell out a word, rather than "shrtn" it, if you want to seem more polite (showing your age...)
With Blackberry and iPhone connectivity, e-mails can be checked anywhere. But sending a long reply is usually impractical, and a short text-response is always acceptable. Email is still the best way to send a long response, with attachments. So, both ways keep being used.
Still, because of spam and access limitations, many email messages simply don't get opened - the average time to read an email is several hours. By contrast, most text messages get read within 15 minutes, and 95% will read the message. It's a mixture of easy-access plus expected response time.
As video-chatting becomes more common, enabled by the new iPhone and other devices, we might see the growth of "telepresence", leaving video-chat open all day so we can speak to each other spontaneously. Some Skype users already do this - I just chatted with my grandkids while they were bowling with Wii in Florida.
Bottom line: We are phoning less, but communicating more.
America's jobless malaiseHere is my summary of a significant March 2010 article by Don Peck in "The Atlantic" magazine (weblink below). Read it.
The new American era of high joblessness is just starting, and will change the landscape for the next generation. It has already made many industrial cities into ghost-towns. It will continue to affect American politics, culture and society for decades.
US unemployment has been at 10% for a while, and there seems to be a conspiracy to keep that number "just under 10%", while many states are showing 15%, and approaching 20%. This includes people who want to work but have stopped looking, plus those who can only find part-time work. American joblessness is the highest since the 1930's. One recent survey showed that 44% of families have experienced a job loss, a reduction in hours, or a pay cut in the past year.
The worst effects of pervasive joblessness show only very slowly. The longer our economic slump lasts, the deeper the effects. Ultimately, joblessness is warping our politics, our culture, and the character of our society.
Temporary layoffs usually result in permanent job eliminations with "restructuring". Manufacturing jobs move overseas, and companies that have cut domestic payrolls rebuild in China or India. When new US jobs open, they often require different skills. Meantime, the old skills erode. Read the Honeywell and Rockwell weblogs, which discuss the effects of layoffs on American workers.
In the past, recessions stimulate innovation booms, as laid-off employees become entrepreneurs. Is that a dream, or will it happen? Consider this: Will new innovations come from America, or somewhere else? Where will the true benefits (new manufacturing jobs) show?
My old hero, Andy Grove, former President of Intel, writes:
"You could say, as many do, that shipping jobs overseas is no big deal because the high-value work - and much of the profits - remain in the US. That may well be so. But what kind of society are we going to have if it consists of highly paid people doing high-value-added work - and masses of unemployed?"
How? We cannot discuss problems without discussing solutions. The best solution comes from combative and determined Andy Grove:
Stuxnet - automation systems cyber warfareWell, by this time the Stuxnet worm has been discussed in all the news media, with little left for me to add. Still, many have asked me to summarize my view from the industrial automation standpoint.
This malware surfaced about 2 months ago (July 2010). It can take over industrial Supervisory Control & Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems in power plants, pipelines and factories. It is used for espionage or sabotage, and can cause serious damage. About 15 systems have already been infected globally; several are in Iran.
Stuxnet spreads via infected USB thumb drives (memory-sticks) exploiting a vulnerability in Microsoft's Windows operating system (now resolved). The worm looks for Siemens' software which controls industrial equipment like valves and motors.
Most industrial control systems are not connected to the Internet, but do have USB ports. So, this would require an "insider" to physically load the software via the USB. Once the worm infects a system, it quickly sets up communications with remote servers to steal proprietary data or take control of the SCADA system.
While other cyber attacks have slowed or stopped communications, Stuxnet is the first aimed specifically at physical destruction. It hides, waiting for certain conditions before it changes set-points, alarms and controls.
Stuxnet's sheer sophistication suggests that it may have been developed by a country, or nation-state, which feels immune to direct retaliation. Experts have not yet determined who developed Stuxnet, except that it was not some lone hacker, or small, isolated group. It is clearly someone with significant technological and financial backing.
The investigations will eventually show who the attackers are (the location of the remote servers), and the hackers clearly don't care - perhaps because they are backed by a government which will shield their identity.
Says Eric Byres, well-known automation security expert:
Strategic American Energy IndependenceMy friend Ron Bengtson started his AmericanEnergyIndependence.com website about 10 years ago, and it is now consistently at the top in any Google search for that phrase. Many of the other sites are either political or government related agendas, or support for programs such as wind and solar energy. Ron Bengtson's website deserves your attention. Read on.
Today, over 80% of world petroleum reserves are controlled by countries that have the power to manipulate supply and price with impunity. This fact goes directly to the heart of energy security.
Strategic energy independence allows for imported energy, but only if that does not create vulnerability. It does not allow imports to create economic, political or military dangers.
Strategic energy independence can be achieved through an alliance of nations that share mutual interests. Economic and military interdependence between nations can produce a powerful global force for good, but only if the members of the alliance share basic cultural values and a commitment to protect the freedoms of their people.
Anyone who values our open culture and freedoms must ask:
From an economic point of view, Energy Independence means energy security (supply and price stability). This objective can be achieved through the development of alternative transportation fuels and multi-fuel vehicles (including electric), which would give consumers an opportunity to choose non-petroleum fuels at the pump. The phrase "Energy Independence" is a verbal icon embodying an idea that resonates with the character of America. It is a call for return to economic balance and protection from vulnerability created by over-dependence on petroleum to fuel our cars, trucks and airplanes. It is a public outcry voiced by citizens demanding government leadership in energy production, distribution, security and fuel choice. Today, Energy Independence is a powerful vision of America's energy future and the title of America's new energy policy.
eFeedbackRussell Kinner [email@example.com] wrote about his own "reset" after a "SEE moment":
"Without a time when your very foundations are shaken, you never really change how you approach life and make decisions. That happens in business as well as personal life.
"I was in a car accident 3 years ago, and both my wife and I view life quite differently now - we had our SEE moment. We are checking off the bucket-list items, as you are. We probably wouldn't have done that without that shaking of our foundation. Things that we worried about are now less of a concern and different ideas occupy our minds today.
"Today's financial upheaval is the world's 'SEE' moment. What we do with the chance is not obvious quite yet but the last 3 years has shaken the foundations of our society and business. It certainly is possible that we will cede our leadership to others as many will want things just as they were, and be left behind. The world will change, with or without our involvement."
"We did not follow the traditional product marketing and development rules of the larger organization but worked closely with key elements to ensure that the methodologies we used would not tarnish the 'brand'.
"The 90's were an exciting time of risk taking and making multiple bets, not all of which paid off. This was a good example of 'Intrapreneurship'."
"Congress has become an expensive debating society. The dreadful scenes during the 'health reform' legislation process, with phony numbers and outright lies, cannot ever be repeated. None of us will ever trust the CBO again, so we have no referee to keep Congress honest.
"The present administration has the attitude which leads to central control over everything. We have too much of that already. I hope that we stop trying to spend ourselves into prosperity. That has not worked."
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