It didn’t get much attention at the time -- and I was busy here writing about other issues that kept cropping up, waiting to address it -- but three weeks ago the Biden Administration did something critical that was largely ignored during the Trump years, whether through apathy or intent. But there was a major meeting at the White House to deal with cybersecurity in the country. And among the top business executives in attendance were some significant heavyweights: the leaders of Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, Google and IBM. At issue was how government and business can work together on cybersecurity.
Afterwards, the White House put out a press release that the National Institute of Standards and Technology “will collaborate with industry and other partners to develop a new framework to improve the security and integrity of the technology supply chain."
More importantly, several of the company already pledged significant involvement. Among them:
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said the company will invest $20 billion on security solutions over the next 5 years, along with $150 million “to help US government agencies upgrade protections and expand our cybersecurity training partnerships."
Google CEO Sundar Pichai said they would over $10 billion during the next five years in cybersecurity efforts, among them helping secure the supply chain and strengthening open-source security. Additionally, Google will expand "zero-trust" programs, whereby companies don't automatically trust any person or device. And also, they pledged to train 100,000 Americans in tech support and data analytics – and they said they would train another 10 million Americans in a range of digital skills over the next two years.
And IBM said that it would train 150,00 people in cybersecurity by the end of 2024.
Clearly, this is not The Solution – nor are these the only initiatives to come out of the meeting. But given the lack of attention on cybersecurity by the government over the past four years, it’s a strong start on something so deeply necessary.
If you missed Last Week Tonight with John Oliver last night, his Main Story was about ransomware. It was a very good, comprehensive report -- full of alarm, yet with humor -- though I follow this subject fairly closely and so fast-forward though a bit of it. The report was very good, though I had another quibble similar to one last week -- it's about him taking to task the administration supposedly having a "you're on your own, pay the ransom" policy. Yet earlier in the story, even the show acknowledged that some of the money of the big Colonial Pipeline attack had been recovered. That money (and it was a lot) was recovered specifically because the FBI got involved
No, no, don't rush off, this is seriously fascinating, bordering on important for what technology can do in the future.
Having written my tech column for about 20 years, I tend to pay attention to tech thingees (the official term). And when I came across this yesterday and first read the description, I thought “What in the world??" It’s about the first FDA-approved video game for kids with ADHD, and I wondered if they were stretching the limits of government approval for such things. But then after watching the details, it's much more clear, and I was really impressed.
This is really weird -- but for being SO unexpected, mainly because of the source. Which is Microsoft, not known for its humor, let alone self-effacing humor. And boy, does this define self-effacing humor.
Last year, Microsoft released a new video game for the Xbox, called "The Outer Worlds." It was very popular, so they went into making a sequel. And this is the teaser trailer the company released to announce the upcoming release, only a year after the original game it the market. The teaser is wonderful. (And all the more so to me for having written my share of movie trailers and teaser trailers.) And it's gotten a great reaction online..
As a bonus, here's the same teaser trailer, but embedded with podcaster/influencer reaction watching it blind -- not knowing what it was for -- when it was shown online to them exclusively during the "virtual" E3 gamer expo. There is a whole series of these "reaction" videos for the game, all of which have a similar response (especially fun since these are people who have seen SO many teaser trailers trying to sell them and who know every cliché about them that's been written and after all this time are a bit jaded from it), but this reaction video is one of my favorites.
And this one is fun, too.
It will not come as a shock that tech conventions have had a lull the past year. ("Had a lull" shall be used herein as meaning "fallen off the face of the earth.") However, the Pepcom group (whose events I've attended at the Consumer Electronics Show for years) has periodically been holding "virtual exhibitions" online that have been pretty well organized. And they just did one for health-related products, which they called WellNow.
Healthcare isn’t an area that I tend to cover much in my Writers Workbench column that I do for the Writers Guild of America website. However, over the years I’ve periodically found some interesting health products that stood out in some way. So, I figured that this would be a good way to attend a tech event during a time of paucity, and write a column on it. The result isn't necessarily a collection of products most people will rush out to get, but there a few products in the health field that were at at least interesting for their inventiveness. Or just perhaps odd. And I think -- or at least hope -- would be interesting to read about.
As I noted in the past, putting a column together takes a bit of coding, so since the folks at the Writers Guild kindly do it for me, I figure why go through it all again for these pages. And so instead I've linked to it here.
On this week’s Al Franken podcast, his guests are Anti-Trust Lawyer Zephyr Teachout and early Facebook investor Roger McNamee. They discuss the dangers posed by data behemoths like Facebook, Google and Amazon.
In the past, I've periodically mentioned my friend Ed Bott, who is a major Tech Guru I became friends with on those IFA tech show trips to Berlin. For those new to these pages, he’s a wonderful guy, but truly brilliant with tech. (And arguably has one of the best names for someone in tech.) We've often heard the expression about experts, when people say, “He wrote the book on…" whatever their top-notch skill is. Well, Ed literally “wrote the book” on how to use Windows 10. He wrote the official Windows 10 guide for Microsoft Press. In fact, he’s written 27 books for Microsoft Press. (Though it might be more, I've lost count...) And has a regular column on ZDNet, a major tech website. (In fact, I knew who Ed was before we met, from his columns.) Good, too, is that when he writes his tech pieces, he speaks human English and not techese.
Sometimes when I have an utterly bewildering tech issue, I’ll ask Ed how to get out of the weeds, and he’ll almost always have the solution, no matter how convoluted the problem, no matter how convoluted other online experts say the resolution is. (My favorite Ed Bott Line came after I once asked him about some problem and passed along the very long resolution I found online that I was wary to try before asking him if it made sense. His great response was, “Oh, Lordy, someone is sending you down a long and twisted path.” And being Ed, what he also said, “No, do this” – and it was like four easy steps, and it worked.)
You cherish such people and keep them close. Not just for their good cheer as a friend, but their tech expertise getting you out of Tech Hell. I’m always wary though of contacting him too often with a problem since he is, after all, such a major expert, and he always devotes so much time to helping me resolving it. (I had a laptop go belly-up in a totally weird way a few months back, and the effort Ed spent trying to resolved it via countless emails was Herculean. And he finally did.) But he always says the time he spends is not a problem because, “This is what I do," and also "When I answer your questions it gives me column ideas, because I figure if you're having that problem, other people are, too..” And some of those headaches have indeed turned up as jumping-off points for his columns.
Anyway, that’s the brief background of who Ed Bott is.
A couple weeks ago I was looking into getting a new computer system. I mentioned this to Ed and asked if he had any suggestion. And being Ed, he not only had suggestions, but thought it deserved a "Windows Meet Now" video call. (That's Windows' new Zoom-like feature they've built into the operating system that's based on Skype, which Microsoft owns.) And so, we spent a lot of time talking about all the various options, including things called NUC’s (which I'd never heard of) and Small Form Factor systems and laptop docking stations, beyond the normal tower systems. In fact, we literally spent over an hour talking, to the degree that I told him once again that I really did feel guilty with this issue using up SOOOO much of his time. He laughed and said, no, that he would get a column out of it. And that he had even asked certain questions which would help in such a column.
The thing is, he not only did it, but it turned out that it wasn’t just an idea for a column – but it was the column, the whole experience. And he published the column last Friday. The piece is about the various options most people don’t always consider when getting a new home computer system, and it's specifically based in full detail on our hour-long discussion..
And funniest of all is in the third paragraph. That’s when he explains the basis for the column and talks about how he has a friend in Southern California looking into getting a new computer, and adds, “Let’s call him Bob.” I burst out laughing. Great pseudonym. I later told him that since the article was based completely on our video conversation, it was the first time I’d read one of his articles and after every paragraph was able to say, “Oh, pffft, I know that.”
If you’re interested, you can read the article here. It would be especially valuable if you're thinking of getting a new computer soon. Or if you think you may want to get one in the near future. If not, it's still an interesting thing to read (because that's how Ed writes), but at the very least, the third paragraph is the treat.
But even more fun is that he does a video version of the article. ZDNet often has one of their reporters talk to Ed after one of his columns, usually Karen Roby, and they get a more personal, detailed version of what he wrote. In this case, the video is much closer to the video chat he and I had, rather than the article which is more about the specific options. But what’s funny in the video is that he skips over the “Let’s call him…” part, and it’s just plain, “I have a friend in Southern California named Bob.” And if you do decide to click on the video for even just a minute, you’ll get to see Ed and how personable he is, especially for a serious tech maven.
For those who do watch the video, it's excellent, though I do want to take squatter's right and make a few minor disclaimers. I told Ed later that my only tiny “quibble” with the video is that he mentions Bob’s old system is 14 years old – which is true, but of course I did have it upgraded during that time as much as I could. (It's pretty funny in the video, because when Ed mentions this to the interviewer, Ms. Roby's mouth drops about eight inches in horror...) The one problem I face with my system is not that "it's old" (since as I said I've upgraded most of it), but mainly that the RAM is limited to a paltry 4 GB and can't physically be upgraded. And as a result of that, the processor is a bit slow, too, though not as much an issue. Also, another disclaimer is that when Ed and I spoke about “expansion” which he brings up in the video, my bigger question was less about expansion cards, which is what he discusses here -- since he had told me that that was not much of an issue today -- but rather, USB ports. However, I realized I could use a USB hub, so that issue was resolved. And at the end of the video, he says that I haven’t decided what to get yet but am considering the NUC and may still stick with another tower system. However, while I did say that, it was only in our first conversation. At this point, after more research on what Ed discussed with me, it’s down to an NUC or laptop docking station. The bottomline, though is that the video very enjoyable.
By the way, Ed describes what an NUC is in the video and very well. The short version is that they're small boxes, not significantly bigger than a cigar box, that are full-powered computers. They have a few limitations, but for most people those limitations won't overlap with their needs.
If you’re interested to even briefly see Ed, the video is right under the list of products near the top. And even if you skip the article entirely, at least you know that Ed Bott has a friend in Southern California who, for the sake of discussion, let’s call him ‘Bob.’”
I've written a tech column, "The Writers Workbench," for the Writers Guild of America for about 20 years, and for a few years even wrote it for the TV Academy. And as readers of those pages -- and those -- know, I love the Consumer Electronics Show held every January in Las Vegas. To me, it is Disneyland for adults, the Most Wonderful Time of the Year. Well, this time of year it came around again, and it was held...well, not officially in Las Vegas, but online.
CES this year was quite weird, a virtual show all online. It was nothing like a "real" Consumer Electronics Show, of course, and by comparison it wasn't especially good. But considering the realities it faced, it was enjoyable and seriously impressive that it went on at all, let alone as well-done as it was. I missed the wandering the halls and crossing paths with friends I only see once a year and the buffets. But I had a lot more to write about than I expected, and I liked the job that everyone was able to put together. I may have liked some things more than others, but overall I thought it was a terrific job all around.
So, here's my round-up of CES from this virtual year. The good news for most people is that it's overwhelmingly shorter than the epic-length article I usually write. However I still was able to cover a fair amount of ground. And even if I couldn't track down nearly as much fascinating tech that usually falls under the wire, hopefully there's enough to stand out -- like a Bluetooth speaker for showers powered by the running water, eyeglasses that let you change focus depending on what you're using them for, a scanner that can read aloud text from any surface including a Smartphone screen and more.
Because it's a major bother to re-code the whole article for here, instead I'll just link to the article on the WGA website where it's not only done, but far better than I could. So for thems interested, click here to take a look at some of the new, and often interesting tech that is coming in the year (and in some cases, years) ahead.
Even though the article itself is far from the norm, I must admit that I liked the twist on my normal title for the thing. So, if only for that, it was worth it. If you’re interested in reading anything else beyond the title, that’s totally up to you...
Okay, this is a bit weird (with "a bit" being an understatement), though really quite wonderful.
Netflix says it commissioned a fellow named Keaton Patti to run 1,000 Christmas movies through a bot and “created our own mathematically perfect Holiday film made entirely by bots.” Now, of course, it’s possible that this is just a terrible video that they created to be funny. But it’s really SO nonsensical in insignificant ways that I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s on the level. In fact, the only thing noticeably missing is a bakery, department store and Christmas tree farm. But otherwise, they've given Hallmark a run for its money...
I haven't been doing as many of my "The Writers Workbench" columns for the Writers Guild as in the past. But I do pop in with one every once in a while. And given that I suspect the television has become a lot of people's New Best Friend during the past eight months, I thought it would be good timing to look at the new Chromecast with Google TV, a device that "casts" or basically mirrors whatever is on your mobile device onto your TV. It does more than that, but it sort of, kind of turns any television into a Smart TV.
(I also explain in the article how you can mirror your laptop to your TV extremely easily and inexpensively, with the help of only an HDMI cable, which some people may even have a spare lying around the house.)
I addition, the articles look at the Anker PowerExtend USB-C Capsule, a device that expand your outlets and serves as a surge suppressor, but I found that it can also fill a potential limitation of the Chromecast.
As I always note, because the Writers Guild has already coded the article, and it would be convoluted to read it here, this is the link to read all about it.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
Feedspot Badge of Honor