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Technical Support as a Career

“I work in technical support” is probably one of the less impressive admissions at a sociable meetup, and to be fair, it’s not ever been glamourous, nor will it ever be. The most admiration you’ll probably get is “Oh wow; hey I have this computer problem actually, you see it …. (badly summarized problem in absence of broken thing…) … do you think it’s a virus?”

However it is a viable career (with its admitted share of dead ends), with training on offer in the right companies, and plenty of potential for exposure to the core of businesses and some Real Computing (TM).

The following is a quick profile description of the most common configurations, if you were ever curious, or looking to move into IT – and one or two profiles to avoid as much as you can. Read more

“Social Media Explained”

A recent meme

“I’m sorry, but as you do not have a Twitter account, we can’t offer you this position.” This is what, my friend confided to me today, she was told at an interview for a job in media a few months back. At first I was surprised at such a requirement, but then again, if you want to be in media, I guess you do need to get your hands dirty every once in a while… But I was thinking, “what on earth would she have tweeted about?”

Not everyone needs to actively use all the mainstream services, but I must suppose it helps at least reserving your name on them – if only to keep your identity clean. There are some that will be used more than others, and recently, in ensuring the “cleanliness” of my online identity, I was confronted with logging in to many old accounts and checking what had been going on… Why did I have so many? Are they at all relevant to me now? What are they FOR? (and can I find kittens there??)

1) Identity

Examples: Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+

Reason to join: for any profile that has your name, other people will think it actually is you. Keep one aside that is indeed.

I believe most people know by now what each of these sites are. You can’t get away from them. If you don’t have an account, you’ve at least heard of them in the press.

These socnets are purposed to be your online “You”, the one that represents who you are, that connects you with those people you actually know, where your interests are laid bare and where, more often than not (and for G+ as a requirement) you use your Real Name.

I’d advise anyone looking to go into media to have an account on each of these. Even if you never use it. Just claim the space. Before someone else does.

Photos of Kittens: Not too many, unless they belong to your friends. A recent explosion of memes on Facebook is seeing them creeping in now though…

2) Sharing

Examples: Twitter, Pinterest

Reason to join: if you want to keep an eye on trends and “interestingness” in your area of interest, you could do worse than get the feed from the many who share those interests.

These are the “hey world, this is the interesting stuff!” sites. There are probably more of the same, but these are, it seems, the main players.

I’ll note that they are markedly different in purpose however, in that Pinterest is centred around sharing around full online content, whereas Twitter is aimed at sharing snippets and bites – which, with being accessible through SMS, is how it has been so popular in the mass-organization of protests, demonstrations… and parties.

Photos of Kittens: probably plenty on Pinterest, filed under “kittens”

3) Blog

WordPress, Tumblr, LiveJournal, Blogger, Blogspot, any website that has a “recent news [about us]” section…

Reason to join: if you enjoy writing, voicing opinions, and providing analysis, or simply entertaining, a good blog will let you build something to show for. If you’re just going to read – then just read 🙂

If you have not heard the term “blogging,” you’ve been living under a rock. The things are everywhere. You’re reading one right now.

The purpose, purportedly, of a formal blog is to provide news article-like postings for the general public to read – and sometimes even comment on. The BBC and CNN have blog sections; Apple, Adobe and Microsoft too; smaller companies around the world keep their latest news there… There are professional bloggers such as Cory Doctorow, an advocate of the Free (libre) Internet, Stephen Fry of television fame, Gary Marshall, a satirical technology writer…

… and then there the denizens. People who try to emulate the Great Bloggers by writing hopefully meaningful stuff. People who post pointed – and no so pointed – opinions online to be seen by few. People who post about events in their lives for friends and family. People who vent their spleen. People who just talk about their breakfast…

The blog is the vehicle of the in-depth analysis, the nattering mundanities, the lengthy diatribes. It is the preferred method of long texts.

Photos of Kittens: Probably on Tumblr, thanks to the “reblog” functionality. You may need to hunt a bit more on the others.

4) Pictures

Flickr, Instagram, deviantART, Picasa, Photobucket

Reason to join: if ever you want/need to share those holiday pics with friends and family, you’ll already have a space.

It seems like nearly everyone is taking photos now, and there needs to be a space to file them. For public and for private consumption. For the most part, the aim is not only to store photos, but to share them, to gain visibility.

Aside from the casual users who make up the bulk of Picasa, Flickr, Instagr.am and Photobucket, there some sites catering to more serious endeavours such as SmugMug.

And again, in all places, there are the denizens. You can find them in all places. But there are sites where the divide between the best contributors and the worst is eminently palpable. deviantART is one. But nearly anyone who wants their work seen by a wide audience has to foray into that murky place…

Always remember to enable Safe Mode on dA – or only look at the “popular” items if not. Both the crafts and the photography sections are littered with “artistic” nudes of… things.

Photos of Kittens: dA will try to claim having the cutest in the galaxy!

5) Multimedia

Examples: ReverbNation, Spotify, Last.fm, MySpace, YouTube, Vimeo

Reason to join: for content creators, to display content. For content consumers: to make playlists.

Some people create, most people consume. Under the multimedia banner there are two fairly distinct groups divided that way.

For original content creators, ReverbNation (music), MySpace (music) and Vimeo (video) are fertile grounds, and consumers looking for new obscure stuff to blow their minds should definitely go there.

Mainstream content consumers, on the other hand, are best served by Spotify (music), Last.fm (music) and YouTube (video). The latter is also a content creators’ platform – but I list it under consumers because, lets face it: nearly all the content there are mashups of other peoples’ content. Should a Vimeo video gain traction, it will probably find its way to YouTube. Think of it as “incubation” and “public release.”

Having an account on the first trio: good idea if you create original content. On the second trio? Not really necessary.

Videos of Kittens: not too many. Apart from Nyan Cat.

Animated Kitten Backgrounds: dammit, MySpace!

Sounds of Kittens: now there’s a thought for a new meme…

Which ones do I need?

For the regular person, I think the only thing needed is an email address with a good password. It’s a key to accessing any other site out there. It’s also your main vocal chord in the digital world when all else fails.

When travelling, it’s probably not a bad idea to have a Twitter with protected tweets (only people you approve can see what you post, get your nearest and dearst to keep an eye out for you), so that you can update it in the most circumstances possible and as necessary.

For people who enjoy writing, I cannot insist more: get a blog. Having something to point to can always come in handy should you need to showcase easily. Then, if you really are of the pen-and-paper persuasion… Know that Google will not find you.

Original Content Creators: I’d recommend Vimeo. There is a strong community, and I have mostly seen very good work on there. Know however that it’s a top notch crowd, so if you’re unsure, stick to YouTubing.

Companies: the first two are pretty much essential as these are the places people will virally share the most. You can cut costs by hosting videos on YouTube, you can share videos and blog posts/news articles through status updates and tweets (same thing, really) and use Tumblr re-blogging to spread marketing material. If the message is desireable, the people will share it.

Anything else… Ask yourself: how much time do you want to waste spend with the kittens?

This gallery contains 1 photos.

How things have changed… I really do wonder what Photoshop 1 was like, and if its features would still allow powerful image creation still by today’s standards – not considering ease of use which I suspect has come leaps and bounds! If Photoshop 1 or Photoshop 2, or a clone, were released today, would amateurs

Read more

The problem with using “Free Software”

Consider this: you are trying to get a task done, and the software is buggy or isn’t working as you expect it to.

You call for help. Where from? Nobody has any responsibility for free software. If you have a question, nobody has an obligation to answer you. A fix is only going to happen when someone decides they want to look into the problem.

Free Software is often horribly clumsy. Sure there are some stars of OpenSource to demonstrate it /can/ be done, but that doesn’t mean it is /being done across the board/

The only Free Software that is functionally stable to a point is software that programmers need. Things like operating systems, web browsers, compiler tools, etc.

Games come in a close second, but if it’s buggy, only coder gamers will fix that.

And photo management apps? All the free one’s I’ve had a go at are bad jokes.

Same goes for sound editing software which is in a dismal state (last I used Audacity [last year] it was still bare bones basic and not even fit for podcasts)

OpenOffice may be free, but it’s butt ugly and clunky. Okay, so I do have a rant to make on MS Office 2007’s interface, but MS Office 2003 got things pretty much right.

I could go on and on.

Red Hat and SUSE Enterprise run on open source software, but guess where they are making money? By selling support and code fix guarantees. To actually get help, you still need to pay.

So in the end, companies can use open source for business if there is a company guaranteeing support and fixes; and home users who aren’t techies still pay for their software – because getting help and fixing problems just doesn’t float well on forums with them.

The Cost of an Item

The truth that the internet is waiting for the mass market to finally understand is that information by its replicable nature cannot be made subject to a price. We will pay for hard goods and guarantees of service, but the information contained within cannot be taxed.

Objects derive their price from the resources and effort required to produce not one item, but many such items.

Question: how much resources does it take to produce 100 items? How much resources does it then take to produce 10,000 such items?

If the item is a shoe, it will take the resources to produce the fibres, plastic, cotton, process and transform them and make the shoes, along with labour and shipping (I discount advertising costs as this is not part of the production/delivery of the goods). A hundred shoes will cost X to produce; ten thousand will cost arithmetically more – say arbitrarily 100*X.

If the item is a space at a rock concert, that space is guaranteed for a certain time period. After that to replicate again, the band must be re-booked and the venue setup anew, with any energy, facilities and staffing costs being consumed again. If the venue takes one hundred people at N dollars per ticket, then two hundred tickets necessitate two concerts, at least doubling the resources required, and their associated costs come in.

If the item is a piece of information, then by its very nature it is able to be transferred without necessarily being damaged or consumed during that process. This was the marvel of the printing press – instead of months to make a copy of a book via scribes, the book could be printed a thousand times over, identical and cheap, in a day. The Internet is much the same, only that the copying does not remain in-house anymore, and concerns much more than just books. It has gone wild. The same amount of resources is required to produce one item as is to produce infinitely more. If you spread the cost of the resources over the number of items produced, this means that the shoe and the rock concert maintain a steady price over replication or repetition, whereas the digitizable information sees its cost go to zero.

We are consumers. Consumers of food, of gas, of natural resources, of time, of services, and of space in time, in performances. Once consumed, these cannot be retrieved and consumed again.

We are also users – users of music, of software, of books, of information in general. Once used it can be used again and again, over and over. The medium may be consumed in the end, but the information itself can be copied.

Information is never consumed, it is merely observed, used. The original copy of a piece of information is never lost when a copy is made, unless deliberately erased. Attempting to place market rules of the physical world on the digital world is, and will always be, futile. Information can generally retain its attribution, as a part of the information itself, but ownership is volatile and rejectable.

The costs for producing a digitizable piece of information must be re-distributed to associated goods or services/guarantees. Spending resources on anti-piracy measures and lawsuits will always be a drain on resources, not a revenue saver.

The truth that the Internet is waiting for the Mass Market to realize is that there is no such thing as “digital goods” to be mass-marketed.

The film industry on aritifcial life support?

The film industry is soon going to go the way of the dinosaurs if they don’t adapt. With file sharing showing no signs of abating, especially not in a recession, it is clear the industry needs a new business model to be found and adopted – lest the remaining funds be constantly tied up in the courts.

So here’s an idea for them:

Back in the day when the internet was for scientists and the Compact Disc more or less accepted as a music distribution medium, films were making money through cinemas, retail stores, rent outlets and TV airtime.

This can still be exploited today: supposing these institutions keep their raison d’être, any individual film could have artificially limited “outlet credits”

For example, cinemas: depending on the number of seats per room a cinema has, it can purchase a license to show a film, that license being part of a class specified for that cinema size. So far, any cinema can do this. Now what if the license holder only makes a certain amount available for a given film, week on week?

Cinemas will need to pick and choose carefully for which films they bid for. Reviews and attendance will determine what kinds of prices people are willing to pay at which cinemas. Smaller cinemas can compete with eachother for the biddings due to the classification of licenses.

As a side note, cinemas may also want to think of giving movie goers added experiences and incentives to grace their screens, what with HD TV and home cinemas gradually entering more and more households…

I’d even go so far as to say that through this mechanism, more thought will be given to what films are allocated a budget – both at the pre-filming and screening stages. I believe that’s where the industry is bleeding the most money, to be quite frank: careless budget-giving, so billions are spent on movies with bad scripts, un-honed acting and tacky direction.

The same artificial life support can be applied to renting, retail, and TV airing.

So long as the institutions remain extant.

ContactPoint – the UK’s infamous Child Database goes live

So the UK government has launched the new Child Database, “ContactPoint”

I obviously don’t know the specifics of its implementation (nor the generalities for that matter) but I can bet you that within a month or so, someone will demonstrate how it can be compromised. Let’s hope that someone is a professional and well-intended security expert.

I’m not a fan in principle of the movie Hackers but there is one probable kind of attack that could be carried out: the basic yet sometimes effective “oh my God [some boss] is gonna kill me if I can’t get so and so report in, gimme access to a computer…. remotely.” It’s called social engineering, and it is basically exploiting the weakest link in any security system: the human (I am not making this up – it’s stated at The Register and CNET and other sources… just do a web search)

You actually come to wonder: how much can we trust the Web when it comes to centralized databases of information? Admittedly, no system is perfect. Even without ContactPoint, many children’s lives are at risk from nearby, unscrupulous individuals – however has the government really thought out what making this information accessible on the web will do? (by “making available on the web” I mean “using technologies linked to a public network in some way no matter how seemingly insignificant”)

We already trust the internet with our money – that’s a convenience that the mass of users has accepted, by cause of convenience. Surely the secret services use internet technology to relay information from one point to another. We know for a fact that the FBI’s data centres are available to the outside world: when Gary McKinnon “hacked” various US Defense sites he alleges looking for weak security – namely computers where the password was still just “password” or plain blank.

So how’s the record for the British Government on information security? Grim.

I might have been generous stating that it would take a month to compromise the data. I might be disappointed in hoping it’s a security expert who exposes this. I am almost certain to be right that the weakest link will be human in nature.

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