Do You Speak ‘Search’?

The New Outlook’s web-based email client has powerful search functions to help you cut through the sheer volume of messages we store and don’t always sort. Taking advantage of them will require you to learn about “search” language, which has its roots in Boolean searches that offer precise options to find information. They use AND to expand a search, OR to introduce options, and NOT to exclude information.

Boolean searches are rooted in an algebraic method developed in the mid-19th century by the English mathematician George Boole. It’s fundamental to modern computing, and today’s database searches are based mainly on Boolean logic, which allows us to specify parameters in detail. If you think of your email inbox as a database, Boolean concepts apply to your searches.

Fortunately, we don’t need to remember our high school or middle school algebra to search our Outlook inboxes. Cheap data storage (it really is cheap even if you balk at paying for it) lets us keep messages for years…and years…and years. We can have hundreds of thousands of messages in one big folder or dozens of subfolders across several email accounts.

In a typical search, you likely type in a statement (the instructions for the search) that consists of the sender’s name, and often you’ll see a list of options that ties the sender to a subject line or specific content. The computing power harnessed by AI presents you with choices based on what your computer thinks you are looking for. It’s not an efficient way to search your emails for specific information. It’s more like using terms like “hot” and “cold” when looking for a hidden object.

Using Boolean terms, you can give your computer more specific instructions. For example, if you have written me emails for advice on antivirus and malware software, you can pinpoint my responses by typing Norman Rosenthal AND antivirus into the search box. You can also type it in this way: Norman Rosenthal +antivirus.

If you’re not sure whether the subject was spelled antivirus or anti-virus, you can type in: Norman Rosenthal AND antivirus OR anti-virus. If we had email exchanges about antivirus software or malware and want to restrict it to just antivirus, you could type in: Norman Rosenthal AND antivirus NOT malware or Norman Rosenthal +antivirus -malware.

That’s essentially how Boolean searches can work in your email boxes, but they’re not the only kind of search you might need. You can use a statement to find all the unread emails in your inbox. Unread emails can cover several days and pile up when you’re especially busy.

Note that the same search techniques and languages apply to searching your Sent Items.

The New Outlook has removed Unread as a category of messages you can click on. But you can still find them by typing this into the search box: isread:no. This will give you a list of unread messages. There is also a prompt for unread messages when you open the search box, but the list may differ from the list generated by the isread:no statement.

With the increase in the use of email, email manageability and security will become more tightly intertwined, especially for offices with multiple people collaborating on servicing the same accounts, clients, or patients. Good practice for subject lines on outgoing emails will help manage searches for your inbox and messages you’ve sent. The subject line may also influence how email spam and security filters handle your email (see Quarantined Messages and Email Security).

We’ve hit the highlights here. Every organization or person has specific email handling needs. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us with specific questions about email management. We all have a ton of emails; don’t let them weigh you down.

Where is Technology Going?

Apple just introduced Apple Vision Pro, and it’s as revolutionary as anything we’ve ever seen. In short, it’s a set of goggles that can immerse you in a totally new environment, and it makes Apple’s innovations like the mouse, click wheel (iPod,) and multi-touch (iPhone) seem primitive by comparison. See for yourself how immersive it is, and then step back into reality. Will technology be a tool or a controlling force?

The technical term for Apple’s new technology is spatial computing, and their promotional video will give you a sensual rush. The technology behind the mouse, iPod, and iPhone changed how we looked at computing and forced other technology companies to step up their games, too. In our eyes, Apple has upped the ante again with a quantum leap in technology that will open unimaginable vistas to the public – once we get over the $3,499 price tag and once the price drops.

So what, in essence, is spatial computing? In this case, using Apple Vision goggles and technology enables you to use your eyes, hands and even thoughts to create a screen in front of you that’s as big as you want it to be (larger than life, if you like) and open and use apps as you would from an iPhone, iPad, or Mac computer.

While that might be great for editing photos or videos or really zooming in on a map or satellite view of a place you’re going to visit, just think of what it would be like to watch a movie or sporting event in your kitchen or on an airplane. It can become a totally immersive experience. Likewise, think of what it can do for teams of surgeons or infrastructure repair technicians who need the same detailed visual information to complete delicate tasks in tight places. They can take this technology right to where they’re working.

One of the features that separates Apple Vision from VR (virtual reality) goggles is that you’ll still be able to see the space you physically inhabit, such as the room you’re in, and people will be able to see you. That helps for collaborative efforts professionally, and it doesn’t seem as isolating on a personal level.

However, it’s yet another move away from face-to-face human interaction, and that’s what’s bothering us. We already sit in rooms together, each of us busy with our cell phones. If we’re talking about something, at least one of us is consulting the internet to answer a question, provide more information, or order a pizza for delivery. The smartphone is an extension of each of us.

Where will it go with Apple Vision? Will we sit in the same room – and even look at the same things – but still be in our own little VR cocoons? Will we sit in conference rooms and look at the same presentation through our own set of goggles? That will totally defeat the benefits of eye contact and body language in learning some fine points that go into the decision-making process.

We know that’s taking an extreme view, but technology seems to remove more and more human interaction from every transaction. How often have you called a business’s customer service department and gone through exasperating menus before getting a human being to help you solve a problem in a few short minutes? More automation, it seems, makes our experiences more complicated and time-consuming.

Personally, I don’t like where we’re heading with technology. AI and chats don’t do it for me. We still need human interaction. What are your thoughts? Leave a comment.

Why Can’t We Vote Online?

We file our tax returns online. Our Social Security system is online. Businesses and financial institutions transfer billions of dollars online every day. Why can’t we vote online?

I know this is a politically charged issue, but we need to look at online voting to make our elections more accessible and more efficient. I say this as we wait for six states to reach a result, including Georgia, where my in-laws live, and neighboring Pennsylvania. We’re not complaining about the time-consuming, labor-intensive process required to count every vote, but it has given us time to think about how we can make the process better.

I’m casting a vote for online voting, and I am highly confident the many disciplines that make up our technology industry can make it happen. I know that fraud is a major concern, and while some may have overblown concerns, fraud is a valid worry. However, the industry does a good job of minimizing it.

On the personal level, we’ve already mentioned that we file our tax returns online – federal and state. Those who are part of Medicare and receive Social Security benefits can complete all transactions online, including paying their premiums and receiving their benefits by direct deposit. We can file for unemployment benefits online, access our medical records online and even re-enter the country using apps such as Global Entry, which relies on biometrics, and Mobile Pass, which relies on info accessed from a smart phone.

Businesses use all sorts of online systems to transfer money safely and securely. While government elections are sacred – as well they should be – there’s a lot of money at stake when companies and banks send billions of dollars through millions of transactions every day. When breakdowns occur, they can generally be traced back to the exploitation of someone’s sloppiness or ignorance. We know that one country’s government can have an interest in affecting another country’s government, but there’s a far larger universe of hackers looking for ways to get their hands on someone else’s money. There are more ways for them to access and monetize someone’s sensitive health information.

Therefore, if we focus just on elections, I believe we should be able to make those systems safe and secure. We have the tools in place; we just need to refine them and make them stronger. We constantly refine and strengthen tools as a general practice, so it’s not like we’re looking for something completely new.

We can also make better, more extensive use of two-factor authentication – as well as increased biometrics and other forms of password-replacement technology that can make our entire internet experience more secure.

Artificial intelligence (AI) and signature verification software has been used for years. We have systems for providing electronic signatures for financial transactions great and small. Why not apply this technology to elections? Technology can be used to verify or update many a person’s residence. We have driver’s license information and utility bills online, for example. When we change addresses, that information changes – and is recorded. In many states, we are automatically registered to vote or can register to vote when we get or renew driver’s licenses.

We have the technology to coordinate all this information. What we need now is the will to do it. Our COVID crisis has forced us to take long, hard looks at new ways of doing things we’ve always done. New processes and procedures are likely to stay as we emerge from the pandemic (we will at some point), and voting is one of them. States expanded early voting and mail-in or absentee voting to avoid larger lines and longer waits in crowded places. The overwhelming response likely means we’re not going back on that.

Going forward with online voting will require governments at all levels to change laws and requirements, and that won’t be easy. There’s a lot of passion and fears when it comes to politics and elections. The technology industry, too, will need to prove it can – beyond any doubt – provide a secure platform to hold elections.

But we, too, as individuals, will need to step up our game. We’ll need to make sure that our individual systems are secure by keeping our network and device firewalls, antivirus and malware software up to date and installed. We’ll need to make sure we have the latest operating systems – with security patches – installed, and the same goes for all the apps we use.

Online voting may not be the right option for everyone. We just think it’s time to add it to the other options already available.

And regardless of whether we have online voting, you should still take all the steps that are needed to keep your networks and devices safe and secure. If you have any questions, we can help. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us to discuss your online security needs – and talk about how we can promote effective online voting.

Security Not Top-of-Mind at CES

It’s fair to say I was disappointed when talking to IoT device manufacturers at CES in Las Vegas last month. Security was not the big thing on their minds. And except for a TV screen that you can roll up like paper (which I couldn’t see at the show), there wasn’t anything I wanted to bring home and install.

The lack of emphasis on security was baffling, especially when you consider that a lot of companies at CES were talking about AI (artificial intelligence) and 5G networks. The latter are the newer, faster wireless data networks that will play an important role, along with AI, in the next generation of the IoT, especially autonomous vehicles (AVs), which are expected to be an established mode of transportation in the next 10 years. We’re simply going to require more data at a faster speed to make AVs work.

However, it seems that AI – and maybe 5G – was more concerned with what we’ll be running to the store to buy instead of how we’ll get there. Samsung, which makes refrigerators, among other appliances, started to show off Bigsby, its version of Alexa. And when you combine it with a smart refrigerator, this new power team can create a shopping list for you. You can even use voice commands for your washing machine. OK…

There is still a big push to get more devices into the home, and we certainly have more than our share in ours. We find the ones we have to be either great conveniences or highly useful. We just wish that the manufacturers were paying more attention to security, especially with hacking and information theft so prevalent. However, nothing stood out like that TV that rolls up. I really would have liked to be able to see it, even if I couldn’t buy it.

On the other hand, one of the more ridiculous things I saw was either a blanket or mattress pad with dual temperature control and a discounted price of $2,000. Sony also had a Walkman that weighed 5 pounds and had a heftier price tag: $2,500. Sony said there’s a market for it: audiophiles who want high-quality sound.

Speaking of sound, I took note of Panasonic’s automotive offerings, though none was available for consumer purchase. Rather, it seems that the automotive manufacturers are going to rely more on electronics manufacturers and the mobile operating systems to provide the devices and infrastructure for in-car infotainment systems. As part of that trend, we note that Toyota is dropping its plan to introduce a proprietary infotainment system.

We applaud Toyota’s decision for three reasons:

  1. In-car systems from the automakers don’t work well.
  2. Each in-car system has its own way of displaying and using information, and that can be confusing for people who drive multiple cars, including rental cars, where roads and a car’s system are unfamiliar.
  3. Because they are built into the car, it’s difficult to update them in a timely manner.

Just about all manufacturers offer connectivity to either Apple or Android in-car systems – or both – throughout their product lines. Our devices are already customized for driving directions and play lists, and we know how to use them. We also can make our devices secure in the same way we update our OS and applications on our computers.

I think some exciting new products and changes in the way we use technology are a year or two away, but that doesn’t mean we should sit on our hands. If you need a new IoT product now, we can help you we can help you select and install one for today – and make sure it’s secure – and see how it could fit your future needs. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us to talk about it.

Death of the Smartphone?

While we all wait for the next versions of iPhones and Galaxies, are they “dead men walking?” Technology changes – fast. Where could the smartphone go?

To use an analogy for most of you, it could go the way of the VCR. That technology is commercially dead, but its function lives on through DVR capabilities, and it’s more robust than ever by allowing you to record multiple programs and play them back on any TV that’s part of your in-home cable setup or any device that’s connected to your TV provider’s app.

The iPhone, the world’s first smartphone, is 10 years old. In dog years, that’s well into senior citizenry. In tech years, it’s older than dirt. In its time, it revolutionized how we interface with the world. Besides being a telephone, it’s a handheld computer and an ever-improving still/video camera that gets better only because engineers in a competitive market find new tweaks.

Smartphones have crossed several major thresholds in the way we live:

  • We can communicate by voice, text message or email with anyone at any time.
  • We can search for and buy almost any product imaginable from any place in the world that has an internet connection (make sure it’s secure).
  • We can buy tickets for a local theater production or an around-the-world trip.
  • With ability to broadcast videos over social media, we have changed forever the ways in which government agencies and businesses deal with us a citizens or customers.

What’s next? We have some glimpses, and here are some thoughts – in no particular order.

  • Wearables: They come in all forms, sizes and shapes, and I could foresee parts of smartphones in all of them. For example, you could have a telephone in a headset or small earpiece, and that could connect to eyeglasses and/or a wristwatch. We have a lot of the individual pieces now, and Bluetooth to connect them. In the short term, we can refine them to make them easy for the masses to use and make them as affordable as a smartphone.
  • Augmented Reality: This can create safety issues while driving or walking, but AR tied to your glasses can replace the smartphone screen. You’ll be able to read documents or view pictures and videos with part of your visual field – and it could be made adjustable depending on where you are and what you’re doing. You might use it for Google Maps walking directions, and maybe your AR glasses could project a heads-up display on your windshield for driving directions.
  • Artificial Intelligence: When combined with a wearable, it might ask you questions based on your activity – like “do you want directions to the supermarket?” – and automatically connect you to an app to get you there. It might ask you if you want to count steps and take your pulse or blood pressure.

Some futurists think our species will become cyborg-like over the years, combining our humanity with biomechanical advances to improve our motor skills. Add in AI, and we could just become “walking smartphones.” Speculation aside, technology always advances to help us do things better and develop new ways of doing things. It’s the way of the world, and it happens faster than we can usually imagine.

As you adapt new technologies for your everyday life, we can help you integrate them across all platforms and help you look at how new developments can affect the way you live, work and play. Always feel free to contact us by phone – 973-433-6676 – or email for assistance or answers to your questions.

Off to CES Next Month

I’m looking forward to going to CES – the Consumer Electronics Show – in Las Vegas next month. It will be my first time there; I had to make sure I did the planning needed to make it happen. I plan to look closely at home automation and AI because both will play growing roles in our lives.

We already have a lot going on. I was an early adapter of Doorbot, which we now know as Ring. It’s the camera system that works in conjunction with your doorbell and smartphone to let you know who’s at your front door. You can talk with the people at the door whether you’re in the next room or the next country. When I installed Doorbot, it paid immediate dividends when I could tell delivery people where to leave packages. It helped me serve my clients better.

As Ring, the product has evolved into a security camera. With a wide field of vision, it can activate as soon as someone gets near your home and take a clear picture of everyone at your door. It’s also instantaneous. With a standard alarm system, any thief knows he has 5 to 10 minutes before the police respond. Now, you have a way to identify the person. You can use it in conjunction with other camera systems to see who’s there, and you can use it along with electronic door locks that you can remotely control to let someone into your house.

We have more automated systems in our homes. Nest is the first one you think of when it comes to having a thermostat that you can set or change through an Internet connection, and there are all sorts of lighting systems that you can automate or reset.

We’ve added Google Home, and it can do searches – just like Siri, Alexa and Amazon Echo – and turn on lights in various rooms in the house to light the way without having to turn on switches. If your hands are full, it’s more than a convenience. More systems likely will come to market that analyze movements in your house and either reset HVAC or lighting as you need them or let you know what’s happening in your house while you’re away. We have all these systems today, but AI will tie them together to give you faster access and coordinated control from a single device.

I’m also interested in seeing what’s new for cars. It’s only a matter of time until cars become driverless; we’re likely to see driverless trucks a lot faster. Driverless vehicles will be the ultimate in AI as a consumer application, and we make great strides toward that every year. More and more cars have a variety of systems to analyze a car’s position and traffic conditions to warn you or take a programmed action – such as apply the brakes. What will be the next steps in the home automation/AI arena?

We’ll let you know what we find out. In the meantime, if you have any questions about systems installed in your home or car that you control from a device, we urge you to make sure you have changed all the default usernames and passwords that came with them. That’s crucial to keeping outsiders from entering and controlling your space. If you need help in configuring or reconfiguring your systems to maximize their performance and security, we’re there for you. Just call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us. And be sure to read Network Strength and Costs.