Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Future is Young...

Information Technology managers have to deal with "new" often as technology itself changes daily, but as the work force gets younger, IT managers also have to deal with "young".

The challenge, in my mind, is going to be how to "Manage IT", but provide the resources and creative outlets to meet the demands of the next "young" generation. The generation growing up in the socially connected world of Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Flickr, and beyond... WAY beyond in fact as new ways to communicate and work are added every day. Where time at work and time at play have no clean edges. Sometimes that is good - the melding of personal communication and work skills at least in the Government world where MORE transparency, collaboration, and participation is not only desired but ENCOURAGED and not only for our citizens and customers of the government, but for it's employees as well.

"UnManaging" Managed IT

For those that have managed networks, systems, applications and Internet access for very long, you know the challenges faced to keep that balance - Secured and controlled, but not restraining. Of course 'restraining' seems to be quite relative depending upon if you are "in" IT or not. To some not being able to spend all work day on Myspace, Facebook and Youtube IS 'restraining', for others anything besides official "approved" websites is insubordination. Finding the balance both technically and administratively is one of the bigger challenges I see facing IT and management in the future.

Obviously you have to empower your employees, citizens and customers to use the modern tools of communicating and getting things done while insuring all this is done without wasted time, resources, and money. Letting things "be free" while not giving away the farm... or City... or country in the process. A place where fewer FILTERED SITE ACCESS LOGGED screens are encountered but more productivity is obtained through true collaboration and communication.

But it takes more than just empowering citizens and employees to use social media tools to do their job better, it also takes the mature use of those tools by employees AND citizens for the betterment of the entity, not just the enjoyment and entertainment of the employee or the anonymous bashing of public officials or entities by the Citizens.

Can it be done? Sure. HOW can it be done? Not sure..... yet.

It should be very interesting in the next few years as "Gov2.0" concepts take over the historically bland world of local, state, and national governments entities.

Stay tuned - the ride should be worth watching.

-Stephen W Nolen

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Online House Updated - Home Automation

Fueled by many cups of 1/2 Caff coffee (hey you have to cut down when you get old), cold and wet weather and a huge need for an update, I've spent my spare time in the past week or so updating our Online House and home automation system. The house can be visited HERE and the descriptive history is found HERE.

We've had an "automated house" since way back in the 80's when I had an old VIC 20 computer turning lights on and off. The next step up was in the 90's when we moved and I purchased a JDS Timecommander Plus system. The new system provided much more capability and is still the stable work horse for our system. When we moved to our current house in 2000, the system moved with us but the installation was half hearted. It worked fine and spent the past 10 years doing it's job but needed to be cleaned up and some new features added and some broken features fixed.

I feel I have somewhat accomplished that... but there is plenty more to do. The biggest need was to get a better mobile phone interface. The house has had mobile access for a very long time when "WAP" and "WML" were the only thing a phone understood. With the advent of the new smartphones and the iPhone that world changed and a much better interfaced was needed. The iPhone can handle the main site but it is still not optimized for small touch screens. The basic screen is shown at the right and allows access to most all the features and information the house provides. This interface will continue to get updated as ideas pop up and time allows. For now it is much easier to use from anywhere in the world to not only know what is up in the house but to control things as well.

Some of the "new" features... although planned all along, just not implemented, are the integration of the HVAC units so I know when and for how long each unit runs. Not a big deal but nice to know for cleaning filters and maintenance issues. I also re-integrated the washer and dryer that had to be removed when new units were purchased. Another fix, not new feature, but a handy item to have the system tell you when the machines are done across the speakers instead of waiting for that high pitched beep that I can hardly hear anymore...another getting old thing I guess.

On the new side all new paging and email routines were added to keep me updated even if I am not looking at the house remotely. Items such as burglar alarm, garage door opening during the day, motion detection when there should be no motion, phone calls, etc were added. A new routine to speak the current weather forecast was added that gets the Yahoo weather RSS feed, breaks it down and speaks it on command. Handy sometimes. I also added some bluetooth based proximity sensing. The system knows when I am around the server and can act upon that. Nothing really programmed in yet but the capability is now there.

The biggest thing added was putting the house on Twitter at Yeah, I know... WHY? Because I can? Because *I* like the idea. There are only a couple houses I could find that have done this and with my work on @ShawneePD and @ShawneeFD it was so easy to do... so WHY NOT?

I also updated the basic look and feel of the control pages replacing icons from the old clipart versions to new, more modern looking ones from across the net. I also changed the color theme "back to blue" because that is what I like.

But what about security?
That is the biggest question I seem to get and it *IS* a valid one. With all that information out there couldn't someone figure out when you are home or not and break in. Sure they could... just like they could your house by simply counting cars or watching the house. Of course THAT is what all the automation is about. Webcams that capture pictures, motion sensors that know when someone is there, burglar alarms watching windows and doors, and more that will not be listed here. So yes, it is a concern but the house has been online since 1999 doing it's best to protect and serve.

Of course there is always the watch dog... no, not THAT one...

For more information about Home Automation visit the Wiki or visit