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This Week in Tech – September 12, 2017Monday, September 11th, 2017

Every week, Ken Whittaker, Director of Engineering, and Neal Cook, Director of Support at Front Rush, review recent tech news, offering analysis and banter about changes in tech.

Neal: Hey Ken! It feels like fall today, so I have a joke for you. What is the cutest season?

Ken: Fall?

Neal: Awwwwwtumn.

Ken: Hahaha. You know I love a corny joke. How have you been?

Neal: Stop, you’re making me hungry! Live is amazing, let’s get started!

So another company was hacked this week. Big surprise? This was a big one as Equifax, one of the three main credit reporting agencies, announced they were hacked back in late July. Up to 143 million customers (mostly Americans) were hacked. Which is a big number considering the population of the USA is 323.1 million-ish.

Names, social security numbers, birth dates, addresses and some driver license numbers were accessed. About 209,000 people also had their credit card numbers leaked. It’s ironic we trust these companies with our trusted information, and they lose it. How do you feel about this?

Ken: Not good – but I guess it comes with the territory. As you mentioned, Equifax is one of three main credit reporting agencies. As prestigious as that is, there also comes a lot of responsibility. The big change here is the sensitivity of all the information that was leaked. One thing you’re typically taught when you’re very young is that your social security number is extremely sensitive and that you should be cautious with where or how you share it. The ironic part here is that – one of the companies responsible for that information was the target of this information. Cyber security is extremely important, and a hack of this scale just drives that point home even more.

Neal: Hacking has been so commonplace (Verizon, Gmail, Blue Cross, Chipotle, Brooks Brothers, Xbox all have reported hacks so-far in 2017), that I almost don’t fault Equifax. The hackers, in my mind, are just too good to be stopped…..but that doesn’t mean companies who store our data are off the hook.

To find out if you were affected you can head to www.equifaxsecurity2017.com and Equifax will tell you if they think you were impacted. If you were, you’d be given a date where you can come back to the website to start your one year free of credit monitoring.

One year of credit monitoring? Heck, you lose my credit, you watch my digital self for life.

Ken: This is just the beginning. Although it took over a month to make the announcement, at least it was done in a way that so far seems organized. But, you bring up a good point. Even setting this discussion up, it’s no longer a question of “can a hack happen?” but rather “who got hacked?” – and it’s almost commonplace. While there is definitely a need to beef up cyber security efforts, there’s always something new – or a different vulnerability that is exploited. Something else I think about is – why are our passwords more secure than our social security numbers? Think about it, a small set of numbers is basically a huge piece of the puzzle protecting our identity. But, if I sign in to Gmail, I have a complex password that meets requirements, and two factor authentication. I’m not allowed in unless I verify myself at least two ways. Perhaps it’s time we start looking at Social Security Numbers as more than just a number. While yes, in theory it could still be hacked, it still makes me wonder.

Neal: 9 numeric digits is all a Social Security Number is. I was surprised when I learned that social security numbers weren’t given out until 1936 and they were only created for the sole purpose of tracking our wages and determining Social Security benefits.

It’s evolved into so much more now as it’s the primary identifier we use in our daily lives to confirm we are who we claim we are. Knowing that, the security of our Social Security should definitely be reexamined.

Ken: Well, if there’s any benefit to this – maybe this is the kind of event that will spark some type of advanced discussion. Hopefully, we can get something sorted out, but that comes with own set of challenges. That’s about all I have for this week. As always, it was good chatting with you!

Neal: We’ll change the world one day, that’s for sure, Ken.

Let’s leave with an E-A-G-L-E-S chant. Peace!

This Week in Tech – September 5, 2017Monday, September 4th, 2017

Every week, Ken Whittaker, Director of Engineering, and Neal Cook, Director of Support at Front Rush, review recent tech news, offering analysis and banter about changes in tech.

Ken: Hey Neal! Another week, another piping hot, fresh blog post to write. How have you been?

Neal: Hey Ken! It was my birthday week so it was extra spectacular. Hope your week was just as groovy!

Ken: Well Happy Birthday to you! As we know, the biggest story of the week has been surrounding Hurricane Harvey which affected Texas and Louisiana early in the week. If you’ve seen any of the images coming out of there, it’s truly a devastating scene. Watching the constructed effort by first responders to rescue affected people and pets has been remarkable. However, another fascinating thing to see was the power of social media during this natural disaster.

Neal: Thanks for the birthday love!

What happened in Texas and Louisiana is gut-wrenching. Looking at the pictures of the men and women crying, outside of their demolished homes, was a tough thing to do. Major love and respect to those brave individuals and rescuers who did their part to save those who may have died. The power of social media may have very well saved the lives of 18 people and one cat after Tim and Kim McIntosh tweeted a photo of the nursing home that their mother runs in Dickinson, which is close to Houston. The now viral image showed residents of the nursing home in waist deep water. After the tweet went viral, the National Guard and the Galveston City emergency crew were able to rescue all of the residents and someone’s cat.

Ken: Remarkable. The power and instantaneous nature of social media is hard to match. While many times it gets a bad reputation for the way some people use it to criticize others, we can’t forget the profound effect it has on society. Within seconds, this photo was made visible to millions of people. There’s no fault of having a phone hotline to report incidents, however, as the family stated – they were unable to get through to have this situation addressed. Social media gave them the power to get their message heard.

In a time where people get their news on their phones more than they read it in a paper, it’s important to understand how powerful social media is. It’s no wonder why so many athletes, celebrities, and political figures take to social media to deliver powerful news – rather than having traditional press conferences. The old saying, “a picture is worth a thousand words” is also important here. When looking at the photo of the nursing home, there was no mistaking how bad the situation was or who was affected. Someone with access to the correct resources was able to see it and take action.

Neal: You are spot on. Social media, and Twitter specifically, has always taken heat for promoting ‘fake news’ or for allowing users to disrespect and troll one another. It’s a refreshing change of scenery to see it be used to save the lives of others. Not surprisingly, USA TODAY reported that there are some who questioned the authenticity of the photo, showing us what we already know: Some people do not have social media etiquette.

The Verge wrote an interesting article about the flight controllers at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, which is outside of Houston. The flight controllers here actually control all of the movements of the International Space Station (it was surprising for me to hear this – I thought it would be the astronauts themselves).  A lot of the work the controllers do can be done remotely, like our team at Front Rush, But the #1 important task of the flight controllers (sending commands to the orbiting lab) has to be done on site at this space center. The leadership at NASA had to consider evacuating the station and moving to a backup space station (which was also in Texas and most likely going to be hit as well), or, would they ride out the storm and bunker down in the station? NASA also made sure to reach out to the astronauts families who are in the Houston area to make sure they were OK. Another example of humans doing what humans were made to do: love and look out for one another.

Ken: I was surprised too – but after reading the article, now I understand that the International Space Station has a heavy ground operation that is closely monitored by a whole team of people. Ironically, they are all working “remotely” if you think about it, but semantics aside, this article was still interesting. While everyone in harm’s way should heed the warning of officials to evacuate, this was a unique situation where it was actually more beneficial for the operators to shelter in place. Who would have thought a hurricane near the Gulf of Mexico could have such a profound impact on the research done in outer space? In any case, I’m glad to hear that the situation in the area is improving and now the focus can be shifted to recovering and rebuilding.

Neal: Mother Nature can pack a punch, that’s for sure. Let’s hope that the recovery is quicker than anticipated. I read up a little bit more on the International Space Station and it actually orbits low enough in space that you can see it with the naked eye! That’s freaking awesome! You can put your location in on this site and it will tell you approximately what time the station will pass over you if you want to take a peek.

Ken: Haha, cool! I’ll have to check that out. That’s all we’ve got for this week. I look forward to catching up with you next week!

Neal: If you want to have a space station viewing party, I’m in!

Have a great extended weekend, see ya next week!

This Week in Tech – August 29, 2017Sunday, August 27th, 2017

Every week, Ken Whittaker, Director of Engineering, and Neal Cook, Director of Support at Front Rush, review recent tech news, offering analysis and banter about changes in tech.

Ken: Hey Neal, welcome back!

Neal: Hey Ken, it’s nice to be back in action! I managed to go 10 days without a phone and it was wonderful.

Ken: Wow, good for you! Well, it’s time to get plugged back in and catch up on these stories. So, this week we heard news that Google and Walmart teamed up in an attempt to take on Amazon. Whether it’s a fair matchup or not, we’ll have to see – but yes, once more Amazon has made headlines this summer as the company continues to stand their ground.

What does this mean? Well, Google has an online store called Google Express where retailers can sell stuff through Google’s marketplace. Basically, Walmart has reached an agreement to load it’s online store into Google Express so users can utilize Google services – specifically voice services through the Google Assistant or Google Home – to order things much the same way Amazon customers can order items through Alexa.

Neal: No surprise here. Both Google and Walmart are trying anything they can to catch up to Amazon, as the internet retailer continues to dominate online shopping. While Walmart does have an extensive inventory that will benefit Google Express shoppers, does it really matter?

What Google should be thinking is: What differentiates us from Amazon? Consumers know and trust Amazon. I don’t know about you, but this is the first time I’ve heard of Google Express. They need to do a better job of stealing Amazon’s shoppers. Agreeing to a partnership with Walmart is good for short-term PR, but they have a lot ahead of them if they really want to make strides in e-commerce.

Ken: I think the focus here is definitely on voice, and making the Google Assistant / Google Home more powerful. From a logistics standpoint, this makes sense. Walmart has it’s own warehouses and distribution, and Google offers an additional platform for those goods to be sold on. If a user remembers they need something, they can just talk to their phone or Google Home and order it. The other benefit is, there won’t be any required membership to do so. As long as your order meets some minimum requirements, you’ll be all set. Yes, Amazon is the leader in this space right now – but competition is good and I think we’ll start to see more intelligent Alexa capabilities while simultaneously watching this Walmart/Google partnership materialize.

Neal: Great time for some competition, especially since Amazon announced this past week that they would be slashing the costs of many of the items at Whole Foods. There’s a running joke that Whole Foods is where you go to spend your “whole check”. If you’ve followed what Jeff Bezos has done with Amazon in the past, this comes at no surprise, as they constantly slash prices on certain items, like books, to gain market share.

So what changes will consumers see besides lower costs? Well, Whole Foods will start to sell some of their private label products through Amazon, and Amazon will install some of their Amazon lockers in certain Whole Foods. Those that pay yearly for Amazon Prime will also get special benefits and lower prices versus those who do not shell out the extra $99 a year for Prime.

Ken: Again, no surprise here. It’s a smart decision – and I’m sure it will transform into much more as the acquisition takes place. I wonder if there will be any movement on that smart grocery store our colleague Julie Weiss blogged about a few months ago!

Neal: As a fan of fresh produce and lower prices, I’m buying into this. I can’t wait to look back ten years from now and see how far these companies have progressed

Thanks for letting me reclaim my spot this week, Ken! See you next time!

Ken: Of course! See you!

This Week in Tech – August 22, 2017Monday, August 21st, 2017

Every week, Front Rush reviews recent tech news, offering analysis and banter about changes in tech. This week features Josh DiCristo, Software Developer and Ken Whittaker, Director of Engineering, at Front Rush.

Ken: Hi Josh, thanks for stepping in again this week.

Josh: I just can’t stay away.

Ken: Alright, so this week we learned quite a bit about some deals and whatnot surrounding Netflix and Disney – a different change of pace from Amazon who seems to have been in the news quite a bit this summer.

Josh: Yeah! So Disney announced that they would be throwing their hat into the streaming market by starting their own streaming service in 2019, once their current Netflix deal is up. This is a big deal for anyone who wants to watch their favorite classic Disney movies on Netflix, but also, Disney owns ABC, ESPN, Marvel, and Star Wars among other film studios. So this is potentially a huge split.

Ken: The whole thing is very interesting to me. By announcing it so early, it isn’t exactly a surprise to Netflix – who we know is one of the biggest players in the streaming game. But as you mentioned, ABC, ESPN, Marvel, Star Wars – to name a few – aren’t exactly just random companies. They are responsible for billions of dollars per year in creating the original content we have all come to love. Though not necessarily a surprise in the traditional sense, it’s not like Netflix can just whip up their own franchises in within 2 years to directly compete with Disney – right?

Josh: As far as film franchises go, no. They’ve produced some great original movies but haven’t had any luck really getting them off the ground. With original series’, I think the biggest issue is going to be what happens with the Netflix-exclusive Marvel shows. Shows like Daredevil and  Jessica Jones are huge hits for the streaming service – are they going to lose subscribers if they move over to a Disney service?

Already picking side in this fight is Shonda Rhimes, who’s created Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, and How To Get Away with Murder for ABC, just to name a few. They’re huge hits for the network and even bigger* hits on Netflix. She just signed a deal with Netflix to develop original shows after her ABC deal is up.

*Netflix does not release numbers, that is a complete guess on my part

Ken: Yeah, there’s definitely a sticky dynamic here – it’s hard to have a partnership that fundamentally competes with the bottom line of each company. While the two major companies try to hash things out, the way they each handle the user experience and transition will be key. I don’t think people necessarily care where they stream something from, as long as it’s affordable and provides a good viewing experience. Perhaps in some ideal scenario, there could be a new agreement in place where the two continue to act as partners. In this way, Netflix wouldn’t need to worry about replacing irreplaceable content and Disney wouldn’t need to reinvent the wheel in terms of launching a successful streaming platform. However, we’re talking about billions of dollars here – so I’m not sure it’s as simple as drawing a line and splitting things up.

Josh: At the very least I hope Disney’s streaming user experience is up to par with Netflix. Honestly I think Amazon Prime has better movies than Netflix does but I always find myself going to Netflix just because I like their UI more. But I wouldn’t count on any “friendly” competition between the two.

To me the biggest question is how many services are users going to sign up for? I know that just between HBO Go, Netflix, and Amazon, I really only go to HBO and Netflix because three is just a lot to keep in mind. Do you think people will really add another login to their list?

Ken: Probably not. I guess it also depends on how often you go to a platform – and for what type of content. The other part about Netflix that has always made me curious is that as a subscription based company, they release full seasons of their original shows at once. I think the hope is that with enough new content, people won’t feel the need to unsubscribe or take a break, but if people have to shell out additional money to Disney to be able to get what they used to pay for – the frequency might become more of a concern. Devices like the Apple TV make it easier to manage multiple logins because of the “Single sign-on” feature, but your point is still valid.

Josh: That’s a good point about the subscriber model when you release all of your content at once. Because I know people who will only get HBO for a month or so while Game of Thrones is on but I don’t know of anyone who does the same with Netflix. So if Disney is just starting out with this, they may not want to dump whole seasons of original programming online at once. But if all of the Marvel shows were released with one-time releases and they change that model, I think that’s going to anger people.

Ken: Yea, it will be interesting as we watch this unfold – to say the least. If you want to read more about either topic, check out these links here and here. Thanks for joining me again this week!

Josh: Anytime! Thanks for having me.

This Week in Tech – August 15, 2017Monday, August 14th, 2017

Every week, Front Rush reviews recent tech news, offering analysis and banter about changes in tech. This week features Josh DiCristo, Software Developer and Ken Whittaker, Director of Engineering, at Front Rush.

Ken: Hey Josh – Neal and I seem to be flip flopping these past few weeks. Thanks for filling in this week!

Josh: No problem! Happy to be a part of it.

Ken: Let’s dive right in. This week, we want to focus on how everything is turning digital! Just kidding, but to ease into our first topic, could you explain what Bitcoin is for those that might not be familiar?

Josh: Sure! Although I’ll admit, some parts of it are still kind of a mystery to me. But Bitcoin is a cryptocurrency – it’s an electronic form of currency where the current exchange rate is 1 bitcoin = $3,500 and a lot of that growth has been within the past year. To put it in perspective, a few years ago, two large pizzas would be about 100,000 bitcoins. That’s worth over 20 million dollars today. And that’s really the problem Bitcoin has been facing. They’re growing in popularity at such a huge rate, the software can’t support it. So while most currencies are controlled by the country where they’re minted or the international organization that mints them, cryptocurrencies work on algorithms that look at the current usage trends and will “release” a select few amount of bitcoins onto the internet per day. And the whole process is starting to get a lot slower, the more popular Bitcoin becomes. I feel like I need to take a drink of water after all of that haha so Ken – you want to explain what just happened with Bitcoin this week?

Ken: Haha, I’ll try. So basically, as you mentioned – the process of using or paying with Bitcoin has gotten a lot slower. If you want to read more about why it is slower, check out this link or this one. So as a remedy to the slowness, the company has split into another company known as Bitcoin Cash. Basically, this is a new set of algorithms that will allow bitcoins to be processed faster…for now. But, this article claims Bitcoin Cash is only eight times as fast as Bitcoin. Isn’t this just shifting the bottleneck until Bitcoin Cash gains in popularity?

Josh: Yeah, I thought the same thing, reading the article. Bitcoins “temporary” solution and Bitcoin Cash’s “permanent” solution seems a whole lot like the same solution. And the Bitcoin Cash solution depends on approximately half of Bitcoins user base moving over to Bitcoin Cash. I don’t know – is that even realistic?

Ken: Well, not if they continued to be valued significantly less. I know we all expect things to be fast, but personally, I wouldn’t pay 10x more at the grocery store to skip the long checkout line. To shift gears slightly, while our money is attempting to become fully digital – the Miami Heat have taken the digital revolution closer to home. In case you haven’t heard, the team will only permit mobile tickets at home games this season. Some other professional teams have pushed similar concepts, but the Heat seem to be unique in that there will be no alternative method of entry.

Josh: I know some airlines are already doing this and while I totally get that this is the way of the future and it’s easier and it’s more secure and yada yada yada, I don’t like it haha. Because I’m always anxious that my phone is going to die and I won’t have a backup.

Ken: The kicker for me was the statistic in the article stating that, “one in three fans entered with a mobile ticket last season.” I’m hoping they have some additional metrics, because 33% adoption in our line of work is a pretty poor indicator of a trend.

Josh: The first time I read that I thought they meant that only 1 in 3 people actually had a cell phone on them and I was like, “How do they even know that?” before realizing what they actually meant. So minus one point for ambiguous sentence structure. But seriously, yeah, I do see this being a problem especially for older people coming to the games. At least in movie theaters – where there’s also been a surge of online ticket purchases – they leave an option for physical tickets.

Ken: Yea, I think having the physical ticket backup is a good idea – or some type of process. I find it hard to believe it’s going to be: mobile ticket or go home. That doesn’t do much to help with the dilemma Neal and discussed a couple weeks ago with stadiums trying to build a better experience for fans. But in any case, I think that’s going to be a wrap for this week. Any final words?

Josh: Just that I barely trust myself to take care of a phone so this will likely limit the already-zero amount of Miami Heat games that I attend. That’s all from me!

Ken: Haha, well it was a pleasure chatting. Thanks!

This Week in Tech – August 8, 2017Monday, August 7th, 2017

Neal: Hello, hello! Thanks for filling in for Ken this week, Chris, he’s hitting the Jersey beach for some fun in the sun!

Chris: Thanks for having me, Neal!

Neal: Pleasure is all mine!

This week, there were reports that Facebook had to shut down an artificial intelligence (A.I.) engine that they created once they ‘discovered’ the A.I. had created their own language. As with all media, in general, you have to be skeptical of what you read. Pro-A.I. researchers slammed those reports saying it’s normal for two A.I. machines to invent some non-English languages in their exchange, as it’s commonplace. Fascinating read.

I haven’t heard your stance on the whole “A.I. has the potential to overrun humans argument,” Chris. So I’m curious to know what you take from these reports.

Chris: It does seem like the reports of this study were greatly exaggerated. The articles definitely took things out of context in the study and (correctly) assumed most readers would take them at face value.

Still, this doesn’t make being careful with A.I. irrelevant. The reality is that we don’t have proper “shut down’s” on A.I., it could develop much quicker than we are prepared to handle

The quote from Hawking in the Forbes article sums it up perfectly: “It would take off on its own and re-design itself at an ever increasing rate. Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete, and would be superseded.”

Neal: I guess you can say you reap what you sow. In some lighter A.I. news, Janelle Shane used a neural network (a computing system made up of highly interconnected parts, inspired by the neural networks in our brains), to invent some clever craft beer names (if you’re a craft beer fan, you know there are some unique ones out there).

Neural networks are intelligent machines, which, once fed large datasets, allows them to make their own predictions. For example, you can show a machine a hundred thousand pictures of moles, as this study did, and it will be able to predict which moles are cancerous, on par with your dermatologist.

I love brains, so, by default, I love neural networks. Some of my favorite ‘predicted’ craft beer names are La Cat Tas Oo Ma Ale and The Vunker The Finger.

Chris: The study with moles is amazing and a great example of the positive force A.I. can and should be. In the abstract, they mention mobile devices can be used for testing the moles for cancer, which can be ground breaking. If everyone can have an accurate way to scan a mole for cancer in their pocket, we could save a lot of lives.

The beer names is an entertaining test for what an A.I. can do for sure. I’m a craft beer fan and still can’t figure out why my favorite I.P.A. is called Space Race, but it’s really interesting that when tasked with naming craft beer, A.I. ends up with equally ridiculous names.

A.I. is undoubtedly going to change how a lot of businesses function. Especially in marketing, A.I. can be used to predict purchasing trends and help businesses who utilize it well to get ahead of the curve versus their competitors.

Neal: You’ve been a great guest blogger this week, can’t wait to have you on again soon! I’ll be heading out for a phone-free week of vacation. So we’ll have another special guest blogger next week. Farewell, my friend!

Chris: It was a pleasure, Neal! Enjoy the much-deserved vacation!

This Week in Tech – August 1, 2017Monday, July 31st, 2017

Every week, Ken Whittaker, Director of Engineering, and Neal Cook, Director of Support at Front Rush, review recent tech news, offering analysis and banter about changes in tech.

Neal: Greetings my fellow earthlings!

Ken: Hey Neal, I hope you had a good week!

Let’s get right to it today. Have you ever heard of a company named Amazon? I know you didn’t want to talk Amazon in this week’s blog again, but, as Mugatu said in Zoolander “Amazon is so hot right now”.

Ken: Ha! Yeah, Amazon has definitely not been keeping a low profile the past few weeks. But that’s a good thing. The fact that it’s a household name says a lot about what they’re doing and what people expect from them.

Neal: Amazon made the headlines again this week when it was reported that the e-commerce giant was getting into the Healthcare field – which is a $3 trillion dollar a year industry. Amazon has dubbed this new lab ‘1492’. Health care seems like an easy shoo-in for them, it’s ripe for improvement, and they already have the resources to create some awesome things. Think about it, Amazon already has data and server space up the wazoo, they are heavily invested in artificial intelligence and machine learning, if those are applied to healthcare, the possibilities are endless.

In the near future, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Echo (Amazon’s in home speaker assistance) could take a pin size sample of your blood, quickly analyze your DNA and that jazz, then Alexa would say to you “Ken, you glucose levels are low, eat some sugar. Also, it looks like you might have cancer, I’ve set up a doctors apt with the best cancer doctor in Philadelphia, your blood results and health history have already been transferred to her”.

Ken: Loving the technicality of those statements. What you described would be awesome, but I don’t think any of us know if that’s the direction they’re going to go in. I think if they start with making people aware of their choices and help us all live better lifestyles, that would be a tremendous start. Especially with the acquisition of Whole Foods, I guess we shouldn’t be as surprised about the report regarding this secretly rumored ‘1492’ team. Of course, just as people are concerned with privacy and HIPAA compliance, Amazon will definitely have it’s cards laid out if they want Alexa to ready your blood samples. If people are concerned with Alexa listening in on their conversations, I don’t think they’ll be keep to submit DNA.

Neal: I agree with your point on making people aware of their unhealthy lifestyle patterns and what steps you can take to not only feel better in the short term, but also, what you can do to prevent future illnesses. The healthcare industry as a whole needs to do a better job at preventive care, not just curing you when you are sick, or giving you drugs that do nothing to fix the root cause of the problem.

Let’s do a complete 360 now and talk about something that we can also use our magic ball to predict. The future of a fan experience at a live sporting event. A Huffington Post article gave their thoughts on how sports tech can improve the fan experience. As a sport and rec major at Temple, we often chatted in our classes about the future of live sports. Let’s face it, with jacked up ticket prices, super HD tvs, instant replay, and the comfort of being at your own house, it’s going to take some really cool innovations to get fans to want to shell out their hard-earned dollars to continue to support their team in person.

I’m going to throw the magic ball at you now (DUCK!), as you have a knack for blending current tech trends with the future. What do you think can be done to improve fan experience at stadiums?

Ken: Stadiums – especially MLB for example – have implemented features in their mobile apps that let you order food from your seat and have it delivered to you. Some might call that lazy, but if you paid $x for the ticket, why would you want to go wait in line for 25 minutes while the game is going on? I think other things – such as the huge super HD screens at stadiums (even surrounding them in a basketball or hockey arena) are helpful, but somewhat primitive. I think forcing technology into the stadium experience should be done with caution. It’s a hard balance, because on one hand you don’t go to the game to play on your phone or other smart device. While I obviously love technology and integrating it where appropriate, there’s a time and a place for everything. It’s an intriguing dilemma: the at home experience is as good if not better in many cases than the in person experience.  I think the focus should be – what can you do at home that you can’t do at the stadium? Lay sideways on a 3 person couch? Well that’s not really feasible with crowds of 50k people. I think part of the issue is that the in stadium experience is immersive. You go to the stadium for that event, but, at home you are likely doing something else. I’m sure not many people sit in one place for 3 hours from start to end. In my opinion, technology isn’t the inhibitor here.

One interesting concept will be to see if stadiums begin to use Augmented Reality (AR) as a way to hook fans in while at the stadium. If you’re unfamiliar, augmented reality is basically showing digital objects on a screen that don’t exist in real life. For example, sometimes it’s not easy to find out how fast the last pitch was or how many timeouts are left on the screens at the stadium. With AR, you could use your phone to get that information displayed on the screen on top of the live action. Of course, this technology is still being expanded – and fans don’t want to go to a game and put on a bulky headset or look through their phone camera just to get info they have on a TV screen at home – but I think AR has a lot of potential to blend technology and improve the fan experience.

Neal: You read my mind. There’s always the possibility that one day Virtual Reality (VR) get’s so good, you can actually be on the field with the players like you are fully suited up.

That about wraps it up for this week. Steadfast, until next time!

Ken: Looking forward to next week!

This Week in Tech – July 25, 2017Monday, July 24th, 2017

Every week, Ken Whittaker, Director of Engineering, and Neal Cook, Director of Support at Front Rush, review recent tech news, offering analysis and banter about changes in tech.

Neal: Aloha, Kenneth! Another week, another Tuesday, where does the time go?

Ken: Hey Neal, I hope you had a good week. This week was pretty quiet in the tech world, however, we scoured the interwebs to dig up the best stories from the week.

Neal: Even if I had a bad week, I’d say it was a good week. “How’s it going?“, should be replaced with a different question. You get the same answers all of the time. I do hope you and all our readers had fantastic, dream filled weeks.

To the tech front, one little bit of news that is really mind-blowing if you think about it, is Microsoft’s plan to bring broadband internet to an estimated 34 million Americans, 23.4 million of them in rural areas. How do they plan to do this? Well, it’s quite simple, they are going to use the ‘white space’ in between TV channels to give the household broadband Internet access.

It really confused me at first. White Spaces are gaps between television channels on the wireless spectrum below 700 MHz. Scientists have figured out a way to turn that unused ‘white space’ into internet for those who are in rural areas with either no access to internet (or over-expensive internet).

It’s a massive undertaking, and would need wide-adoption to be successful. It still boggles me that some households do not have access to internet. It’s become critical in all aspects of life, especially education. I’d love to see this take off and provide more Americans with access to the web.

Ken: Yea, and I think it’s great that such a big company – like Microsoft – is spearheading this. The article we read mentions that there has been some success already with similar projects in 17 countries around the world. Sometimes we take it for granted, because many of us live in overpopulated areas. It’s a no brainer for a company to invest in an area where hundreds of thousands of potential customers live. Those more remote places might not show such promising results. However, if this technology proves to be effective, Microsoft will be the only game in town – literally. And while we’re on the topic of location, let’s switch to this Hyperloop. It’s kind of ironic how on one hand, we have Microsoft trying to bring broadband internet to places in this country that don’t have it, and on the other we have Elon Musk trying to build a super fast speed line between major cities in the Northeast.

Neal: Elon Musk tweeted “Just received verbal govt approval for The Boring Company to build an underground NY-Phil-Balt-DC Hyperloop. NY-DC in 29 mins,” though, this hasn’t been confirmed by the White House or anyone else in government.

Ask any European what they think about the state of America’s public transit, and they’ll laugh in your face. The few subways we do have in the east coast fail in comparison to the transportation across the pond. We all agree that quicker transit is a win-win. The average American commutes 100 hours a year to work and would greatly benefit from such improvements to our infrastructure. The Hyperloop could travel up to 800mph (double the speed of an airplane), while whisking passengers in low-pressure steel tubes. I am a big fan of Musk and I hope that this project takes off just like Microsoft’s internet initiative. How do you see this playing out?

Ken: Well, like you said it hasn’t yet been confirmed – but I like the idea of it. Of course, this also wouldn’t just go up overnight, but Musk is ambitious and I think he’s got the right mindset to get the job done. While the ability to jump across a few states in under a half hour is appealing, the price tag might not be. I’ll be really interested to follow this story and see how it pans out. The idea of giving people more time to spend with their families or explore areas that might typically need to take place over a few days is a great concept. Plus, who doesn’t want to be stuck in a metal tube going 800mph first thing in the morning?

Neal: That would definitely give you an extra jolt with your morning joe. Hopefully, we’ll be able to see these both progress over the next few years.

With that being said, it’s time to say goodbye for another week. Don’t forget to be your unique self this weekend. You’re one hell of a guy. See ya!

Ken: Thanks, Neal – next week we’ll have to find a topic we can banter more about!

This Week in Tech – July 18, 2017Monday, July 17th, 2017

Every week, Ken Whittaker, Director of Engineering, and Neal Cook, Director of Support at Front Rush, review recent tech news, offering analysis and banter about changes in tech.

Ken: Hey Neal! Numbers for our last blog were off the charts – actually – we have no idea, but let’s just pretend they were! This time we’re going to tackle the biggest event of the week – Amazon’s Prime Day. Towards the end, we’ll touch on a topic you previously blogged about regarding Net Neutrality, as that was back in the news as well.

Neal: Bonjour, Ken! That blog was definitely off the charts; my phone has been off the hook with interview requests. We’re going to have take this one down a notch. Let’s get rockin!

Ken: Alright, so if you touched any electronic device this week – you probably heard, saw, or read something about “Prime Day.” The media outlets reported on it, Amazon’s competitors responded to it in one way or another, and you may have already started to see the cardboard pile up. A few years ago, Amazon started Prime Day to give it’s Prime users access to great deals. There was some criticism by those that said this was just a way for Amazon to clear the warehouse of items that didn’t sell. While that may be true, we can’t overlook its success.

Neal: I think most people were underwhelmed with the deals this year. I was able to score a 23andME DNA/Health/Ancestry test for $99 bucks instead of $200, that’s been on my wishlist for awhile. I tried to stay away from the rest of the deals, it’s very easy to be pressured online with discounted goods. Amazon absolutely dominates the e-commerce industry, one of the reasons why is there “aggressive pricing strategy.” They have so much data on you and I that they can predict the ideal price for every item. So, the pair of shoes you see for $78 might be $77.98 for me (or vice-versa). You can clearly see this when the items are priced at $12.79 or $13.60. Forgive me if I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure Amazon’s pricing strategy used to be more of a fixed price for most of the goods.

Ken: I browsed a little but didn’t make any purchases on Prime Day this year. One thing that often gets overlooked is that this event is for Prime Members. While there are free trials available to new users, an Amazon Prime account generally costs $99/year or $9.99 monthly. That alone is a massive boost to Amazon. Even those that sign up, think they can get the deals for Prime Day, and then cancel might not end up following through with the last part. And you’re absolutely right, Amazon has been able to dominate the e-commerce industry for years. I’m not too sure on the fixed price – but fluctuating pricing is just a simple example of supply and demand. It’s easier to change the price of an item for 1 hour only, then it is to have employees run around and change signs for door buster or flash sales.

Neal: I’m curious to know what metrics Amazon used to track whether or not the day was a success. On to net neutrality news, July 12th was ‘net neutrality’ day, prominent tech companies such as Google, Facebook, Amazon and Netflix all showed their support for net neutrality in one way or another. Net neutrality is the basic principle that your Internet Service Providers (ISPs) should never block or limit sites, regardless of the source. Tim-Berners-Lee, who invented the world-wide-web in 1989, said it best in this 44 second video, saying “If we lost net neutrality, we lose the internet as we know it”. My question to you Ken, do you think the cable lobbyists will get their way and reverse net neutrality?

Ken: This is a tricky one. Obviously, the world-wide-web is not even close to as primitive as it was in 1989. I don’t think Mr. Berners-Lee could have predicted the scale at which applications be built, but there’s no doubt in my mind he knew it would be huge. The problem the ISPs are faced with is – the internet is too good. Cord cutters opt not to pay for a cable subscription, because they can pay another service – such as Sling, YouTube TV, Hulu, etc. for live television channels. Of course, cable has the upper hand right now in terms of number of channels and content…but for people that only sit down to watch a specific show or channel, they don’t need all the fluff. Fast internet with the ability to stream the shows they want is the obvious option. The idea of packages and upgrades then goes away, somewhat. As content providers come up with their own free apps (getting revenue from advertisers) – ISPs are looking for an alternative. Yesterday I saw something interesting that hadn’t occurred to me before. A popular deal site Slickdeals had a posting where they put all of this in perspective. What if your ISP blocked access to content in a similar way Cable companies block access to TV channels? That part of Net Neutrality is scary, and I think will be a hard battle for these companies to overcome anytime soon.

Neal: Scary stuff there Ken, we need to start being more cheery. Let’s talk about unicorns next week. You are right about the cord-cutters, in news many saw coming, there are now more Netflix subscribers (50.9 million) than the total subscribers for the top cable companies (48.6 million). To your point, you can see how this scares the living s*** out of them. What scares me more is someone telling me what I can and cannot do online. We shall see how the next few months pan out. As a concerned citizen, you can go to https://www.fcc.gov/ecfs/filings/express, enter the number 17-108 in the proceeding field, and let the FCC know you want to keep the internet open.

That about wraps it up for this week. It’s been a pleasure, Ken. Once those DNA results come back I’ll be sure to share with you, hoping there’s some magic in my blood. See you next week!

Ken: Haha, great! See you next week!

This Week in Tech from Front RushMonday, July 10th, 2017

Each week, Ken Whittaker, Director of Engineering, and Neal Cook, Director of Support at Front Rush, review recent tech news, offering analysis and banter about changes in tech that affects college coaches.

Neal: Hello, Ken! I’m very excited to start our co-authored blog this week. Coaches have seen our blogs before, but never together, and you know what they say, one is the loneliest number!

Ken: Two can be as bad as one, but let’s give this a shot. In case our readers haven’t noticed we try to bring them some updates on the coolest news coming out of the tech world. It’s our job at Front Rush to bridge that gap and try to make technology seem less scary and throw in our opinions and hope people actually agree with us.

Neal: Ah, to add to the pessimism, technology can be quite scary with all the talks of robots taking over jobs and your smart machines listening to your every word, but let’s proceed!

Speaking of being scared, a subject that has always been close to my heart is smartphones. To be precise, how glued each and every one of us seems to be to our mobile phones. Adam Greenfield, from Radical Technologies, wrote a lengthy piece on “The Sociology of the Smartphone,” and when I say lengthy, I’m not kidding. Before you chime in, yes, I did force you to read this article, and I apologize for the excessive use of adjectives. But to sum it up, smartphones ARE TAKING OVER THE WORLD. They are the first thing we check in the morning, the last thing we check before bed. Even when we think we are safe in our homes, if we are connected to our phones, our data is still being gobbled up and sold by the apps and web services we use.

All humans want to feel connected. Interaction designers know this, that’s why we are quick to read a breaking news notification, smile when someone likes our photo, rush to open up a text message. But, Ken, have smartphones gone too far, or am I overreacting?

Ken: The (lengthy) article definitely started off by making a terrific point: smartphones are often the last thing we see before going to sleep and the first thing in the morning. As someone that develops mobile applications for a living, you might be surprised that I do agree that smartphones have gone a little far. It’s important to set boundaries so you can take a step back and appreciate things. I’m not going to get all sappy here, but it’s true. Think about the last time you went out to dinner. Did you play on your phone the whole time? How about check your email or respond to a text? For me – the answer is an absolute no. My wife and I decided years ago not to have phones during meals at home or out to eat, and I’ve got to say – I don’t miss it. How fun is it to talk to someone who’s head is down in their phone? While smartphones offer us everything we need at our fingertips, they can definitely take away from human to human interaction.

Neal: I can’t agree more. Though, I should, since we are supposed to be bantering. But, it’s safe to say, we both appreciate the convenience of a smartphone, but like everything in life, we need a balance. That’s why I never wake up and look immediately at my phone. Even if I’m eager to read my Bumble message, I make sure to get up, make some coffee and take some deep breaths before diving into the chaos.

On to our next piece of news. I’m sure you’ve heard about Amazon’s $13.7 billion takeover of Whole Foods. I don’t think anyone was prepared for that news. I certainly wasn’t. There’s been a lot of articles written about the acquisition since. And it’s fascinating to see how companies are taking the news. The stock price of many grocery stores went tumbling down, fearing Amazon would eventually disrupt the $800 billion grocery industry as it’s done with brick-and-mortar retail business.

One fear of those working at Whole Foods, and for fans of human connection, is that Whole Foods will eventually replace most of the workers with, you guessed it, robots.  Stacy Torres, of the New York Times, writes that what’s good for business (reducing labor costs) is not always good for people (less opportunity to interact with others). I can’t agree more. I worked at grocery stores throughout my teenage years, and I’ll never forget the customers I helped, especially the elderly. Looking back now, it’s odd that the smiles and chit-chat with your cashiers could become a thing of the past. What do you think?

Ken: The idea of a robot taking over jobs is always a fear people have. Look how many movies are centered around this simple idea. I think the important takeaway here is that – this type of automated or “convenient” lifestyle is for some people. On the way home from work, if you want to stop by the grocery store and pick up fresh lettuce – sometimes it makes sense to grab it, pay, and go – so you can get home quicker. I think having the option to do a speedy checkout is nice to have, but I think it’s far from being able to replace humans. How many times have you used the self-checkout and heard “Unexpected item in bagging area. Please stand by, help is on the way” when you did exactly what was asked of you? I think it’s hard to say – people just need to be patient. Sometimes we do end up behind someone who is paying with quarters, and we just don’t have time to put up with that. Or what if the small chit-chat is actually offensive, or the employee is in a bad mood? This might sound dark, but sometimes those interactions put people in a worse mood. My point is, I think we are quite a ways away from robots “taking over” these jobs – but they might be pushed into our lives sooner than we’d like. I do agree that it is often too easy to get caught up in this sense of urgency and demand perfection.

Neal: Great point. I think you summed up both of the topics today: there is good and bad in everything in the world. Smartphones and robots do have the abilities to bring joy into our lives, but, left unchecked, they could also rewrite history as we know it.

Alas, we’ve come to an and. Have a groovy week!

Ken: See you next time!

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