Archive | Technology

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Too Connected For Our Own Good?

Posted on 13 January 2012 by Philip Brookes

Around the world, we’re all becoming ‘connected’ 24 hours a day. We’re tweeting, texting, emailing, Facebooking, and generally accessing and accessible from the moment we wake up (sometimes even moments before), until after we’ve switched off the light and are about to drift off to sleep in bed. China has 500million internet users; Brazil had 210 million mobile phone subscribers in August 2011, for a population of 195 million people; almost 300 billion emails are sent every day worldwide (although 90% of these are SPAM which we need to filter in order to get to the ‘real stuff’).

Research by German IT association Bitkom found that 88% of German workers are reachable for clients, colleagues and bosses outside business hours, compared with 73% only two years ago.

On the one  hand, we can’t remember how we survived before we had all this connectivity and information at our fingertips. But on the other hand, we’re struggling more than ever to put boundaries on our activities and just ‘be present’ with our family, friends, and even our work tasks. Whilst a degree of multi-tasking is a necessary human function, we struggle to perform to peak efficiency during our ‘normal work hours’, and then continue to have work bearing down on us in the evenings and on weekends when we should be relaxing and recharging.

Neuroscientists like Dr. Gary Small are confirming what we probably sub-consciously already know – multitaskers make more errors than people who focus on one task at a time.

Many of us escalate from multitasking to partial continuous attention: we’re constantly scanning the environment for the next exciting bit of information — the next text message, IM, email, or even land-line phone call. That next ping or buzz or ring interrupts our focus and charges up the dopamine reward system as we anticipate something new and more exciting than the task at hand.

When paying partial continuous attention, people may place their brains in a heightened state of stress. They no longer have time to reflect, contemplate or make thoughtful decisions. Instead, they exist in a state of constant tension — on alert for a new contact or item of news or information at any moment. And, once people get used to it, they tend to thrive on the perpetual connectivity. It becomes irresistible.

If we’re going to perform to our best, we’ve got to seriously reconsider the ways in which we work (and play). We need, as the new 21st century phenomena has come to be known, a digital detox. At work, we need to get serious about focussing on the task at hand.

  1. Create a list of tasks to work on today, and work your way through that list, only allowing yourself some preset times to attend to emails and other potentially distracting tasks.
  2. Turn off your email notifications so they don’t pop up while you’re working
  3. Switch off your iPhone, Blackberry, or HTC while you’re in the office, or at the very least while you’re working on your tasks. If you insist on just putting it into ‘silent’ mode, then place it in a drawer where you can’t see notifications popping up on the screen
  4. If you’re heading out for lunch or a coffee break, try leaving your phone behind. Chat to a friend/colleague instead, or enjoy the time out to read the newspaper, a book, or just ‘people watch’.

But just as significantly, we also need to reclaim our ‘personal’ time and make the most of that, enjoying the opportunity to socialise, relax, and not have to be constantly ‘switched on’.

In Brazil, new legislation was approved by President Rousseff last month deeming work emails sent and received outside business hours as ‘overtime’. Clearly workers had reached the point of saturation and were no longer happy to receive emails day and night without being compensated for being constantly ‘on duty’. Although the legislation doesn’t directly restrict the amount of after-hours communication, it should give employers good reason to reconsider sending emails if they’re going to incur additional overtime costs.

Automobile manufacturer Volkswagen has agreed with their employee’s labour representatives to limit emails to between 1/2 hour before the commencement of work until 1/2 hour after the end of their shift (Reuters). Whilst executives and mission-critical staff have been exempted, it’s clearly a significant step towards reclaiming a bit of work/life balance.

Numerous other examples of digital overload both during and after work hours  are emerging:

  • German consumer goods manufacturer Henkel imposed a ‘Blackberry-free week’ for the management board between Christmas and New Year (to be broken only in the case of an emergency)
  • Telecommunications company Deutsche Telekom introduced a “Smart Device Policy” encouraging employees to claim communication-free time when they are off work, and promised in exchange not to expect them to read emails or answer their phones during those blackout times
  • Multi-national IT services firm Atos plans to eliminate email entirely by 2013, with their CEO Thierry Breton describing emails as “an instrument to shirk responsibility” – the shift is already on to use Instant Messaging and Facebook-style internal systems which allow project teams to collaborate and communicate by posting on socially-enabled intranet web pages
  • The Saudi Government has touted the idea of a complete ban on smart phone devices for Government employees during business hours (the concern being that staff were receiving too many non-work related interruptions which were impacting the quality of service they’re delivering. Although this idea may not be ideal, and has a lot of opposition, it nonetheless highlights the substantial number of distractions workers are confronted with every day

We’re clearly struggling to find a sustainable balance in the way we use all of our gadgets and technology. What do you think? I’d love to hear your comments, suggestions and anecdotes!

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Why the NBN Should be Costed in Rupees

Posted on 01 June 2011 by Philip Brookes

ONE in eight Australians will be able to work from home by 2020 under an ambitious blueprint for the National Broadband Network that predicts it will save the typical family $148 a week. At least, that’s what yesterday’s Herald Sun declared.

For those not yet familiar with the currency exchange rate, that’s savings of about Rp. 7113. (The Indian national currency is Rupee, and there’s about Rp. 48 for every AUD $1.)

Yesterday’s launch of the National Digital Economy Strategy was, of course, the trigger for this most recent Herald Sun article.  A key plank of the ‘strategy’ is the supposed benefits to be derived from our improved ability to ‘telework’. The Gillard Labor Government jumped on “a recent survey of Australian businesses [that] revealed that 20 per cent believed the NBN would change their employment model by facilitating increased flexibility in the location of staff and expanding the supply of skilled labour”, and started throwing around figures of a few billion dollars extra value to our economy.

But as any economist or market researcher knows, you can’t make policy decisions and fiscal projections on the basis of a throw-away question in a popular opinion survey.

Any role that can be performed by a teleworker in Australia, can be done more cheaply by a teleworker in India or Philippines – which is of course the ultimate when it comes to “increased flexibility in the location of staff and expanding the supply of skilled labour”. Businesses in Australia don’t care who does the job, as long as it gets done – and preferably at the lowest possible price. They’re not going to give preference to a swag of individual home-based rural Australian workers when, for half the price, they can have a whole team of trained and supervised Indians working in a professional office environment in Bangalore.

Likewise, as the article points out, “by the end of the decade it will be common for people to visit the GP for a standard check-up without leaving their home”. Of course, this is not a capability that is the sole domain of the NBN, but its reach is extended into even the most remote rural areas, increasing the attractiveness and commercial viability of the Australian marketplace for Internet-based medical practices around the world.

And if we don’t feel confident going directly to an Indian online doctor and being quoted in Rupees, our entrepreneurial Australian medicos will be able to help us bridge the gap, providing a reassuring local face for a service which is Medicare compliant, but which they can then substantially outsource to India.

Meanwhile, Australia continues to strengthen our cultural and economic ties with India, as we welcome large numbers of students, migrant workers, and students who become migrant workers. In a bid to overcome our ‘skills shortage’, we’ve been able to import entire gangs of car wash attendants, shopping trolley collectors, McDonalds night crews, and of course 95% of our professional taxi drivers. This has been highly effective in releasing our unskilled Australian citizens from such mundane and mind-numbing employment to pursue more important roles such as trying to become a teleworker or perhaps develop some new skills in order to take on one of those burgeoning careers for which we currently have a skills shortage.

As our ties to India become more robust, Australian firms have the flexibility to improve efficacy through telework arrangements with India, and all Australians have NBN access to engage a GP, lawyer, accountant, business consultant, security monitoring firm, or even enrol for university studies in India at a fraction of the local cost, it begs the question – will the Government put pride above practicality and cling on to the Australian Dollar even after it’s passed it’s use by date, or will they be progressive enough to follow in the footsteps of the EU and consider adopting a common currency, most likely the Rupee because of it’s universal applicability?

The playing field is being leveled. Teleworkers will need to work for comparable rates to their Indian compatriots if they wish to have any real prospect of securing a job. Potentially, leveraging the benefits of the NBN, they could even secure contracts with Indian and other foreign employers. And as our income levels start to reach an equilibrium more in line with Indian remuneration, our spending power and economic activity will also adjust to a point where it will make more sense to collaborate with India using a single currency.

Given that the NBN is going to open up these amazing opportunities to a greater range of businesses and consumers to access cheap and efficient services from India, would it not have made more sense to cost and justify the NBN in the currency which is likely to dominate the transactions it facilitates?

No longer will your opportunities be restricted based upon your geographical location – thanks to the NBN, you will now be able to compete freely with anybody else, located anywhere in the world.

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Office space @ $50/per week for freelance IT person

Posted on 16 May 2011 by Philip Brookes

Yes, you read right – if you’re a freelance IT guru and would like a desk space in our modern, light, cheery office located in Nunawading, we’re offering a desk for only $50+GST per week.

You’ll have your own dedicated desk, all utility bills covered, use of our VoIP phone system, broadband internet, and of course the delightful pleasure of our company! With an office like this, you’ll be able to walk straight in and keep working for your existing clients from a far more professional and productive business environment.

But there’s a catch.

This isn’t a rental agreement in the traditional sense. We want to know a lot more about you. You see, we want to be able to ask you to look after our clients as well.

We want you to help out with designing networks, deploying servers and workstations, installing, maintaining and supporting applications, and generally performing all the I.T. support and maintenance tasks that a small business requires of you. You will of course be paid for this – we’re not expecting anything for free. We’re not even expecting preferential treatment. But we do want you based in our office, so we can work together and liaise more closely.

So you’ll need to have a strong background in Microsoft technologies – Windows Small Business Server 2008, Exchange Server, Sharepoint, Group Policies, enterprise-level anti-virus/Internet security solutions, desktop applications such as Office 2010, Adobe Reader, and so on. You know the drill.

This is really an opportunity for somebody who’s brilliant technically but gets bogged down by the headaches of running a business to jump-start things and take things to the next level through partnering strategically with us.

This offer is initially for 3 months, ideally as a transition to a more permanent arrangement between us. At the end of the 3 months we can all sit down and discuss how it’s working.


Give Philip Brookes a call on 1300 85 70 75, or email with your CV and a short paragraph about why you’d like to collaborate with us – we look forward to hearing from you!

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WordPress for Windows Phone 7

Posted on 26 December 2010 by Philip Brookes

I can’t claim to know much about Windows Phone 7, but it’s clear that it and the Android platform from Google are the two serious competitors to challenge the Apple iPhone’s meteoric rise. I remember reading a tweet from my friend @neilnuttall not so long ago suggesting he was pretty stoked after his first play with it, so that’s my first bit of anecdotal evidence that it should be taken seriously.

One of the major strengths of the iPhone is it’s huge spectrum of apps available either for free or relatively low cost. Any competitor to Apple is going to have to garner the support of developers around the world to come up with a competitive range of applications for their own platform.

And that’s one reason why I’m interested to hear that WordPress have released their first app for the Windows Phone 7.

I won’t offer a review here – after all, I haven’t yet used it – but you can read the official WordPress announcement at to get more information. (If you’ve used it, please share your experiences with us via the comments on this blog post.)

I think it won’t be long before I have to get my hands on a Windows Phone 7, at least to experiment with and review, and I expect we’ll have clients asking us to develop Windows Phone 7 applications before long.

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New Foursquare features launched today

Posted on 21 December 2010 by Philip Brookes

I’m quite a fan of Foursquare – it’s a bit of fun, I discover all sorts of new venues, and it provides all sorts of great marketing opportunities. To date, it’s been a pretty simple application which revolves around checking in at a venue, perhaps with a quick Tweet-style comment included, and optionally leaving helpful tips at various locations.

This has worked pretty well, but there have been a few capabilities notably absent which have reached the listening ears of the Foursquare development team and, as of today, are now welcome additions to the service.

  1. Comments – this is a way of leaving a message for a friend. Until the introduction of comments, you had to find one of your alternate communication channels (Facebook, Twitter, email, SMS) to communicate personally witBerry Cheesecakeh your friends. Now you can directly tell them that you’ve got some time on your hands and are nearby, so do they want to catch up for a coffee
  2. Photos – Foursquare’s tips provided great crowd-sourced reviews of establishments, but it was all text. Now, you can also leave a photo of that fantastic Mixed Berry Cheesecake, the funky night spot, or water fun park. Photos can be left with your check-in (in which case they’re only visible to your friends) or with tips or venues (making them publicly visible).

With Facebook Places posing a significant challenge to Foursquare, these new features auger well for Foursquare.

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Help – how can I stop all this SPAM I’m getting?

Posted on 09 July 2010 by Philip Brookes

In my regular ‘Nitty Gritty – Online’ column for Australian Business Solutions magazine, due to hit the shelves in a few days time, I address the question “Is there anything I can do to minimise the amount of SPAM that I’m getting each day?”. With only 500 words available to cover this whole, complex topic, I just briefly touched on how to avoid getting your email address into the wrong hands, and also how to try to filter incoming email for SPAM. This blog post is intended to provide a few more details about SPAM filtering options that are available to you.

As mentioned in my column, if you’re an individual user and use the mail services of Gmail, Hotmail/Live Mail, Yahoo, or another of the large, reputable, hosted email providers then most of the work will already have been done for you – with such enormous user bases, and a major investment in their email infrastructures, each of those providers already have very sophisticated SPAM/Junk Mail filtering capabilities and do a very good job of eliminating the bulk of unwanted messages. And because they’re hosting millions of email accounts, they can identify patterns across all the mail boxes and use this ‘collective intelligence’ to more accurately flag mail as ‘Junk’.

But what if you want host your own mail? Most corporate networks, and even small companies these days, will run their own in-house mail server. It’s pretty easy to set up, provides some great collaborative capabilities for your staff to work with each other, and leverages most effectively the capabilities of Outlook and your network infrastructure. However, once you take responsibility for your own mail server you’re also responsible for your own SPAM filtering. So what solution should you implement to protect yourself?

There’s a huge number of content and SPAM filtering providers around, so I’ve broken them down into two groups and outlined some of the most popular below:

Installed in your own premises

If you want to take full control (and responsibility) for SPAM prevention on your network, these are the top products to consider:

Mailwasher Enterprise Server

TrendMicro ScanMail Suite for Exchange

SPAMfighter Exchange Module

SPAMfighter Mail Gateway


McAfee Total Protection for Endpoint – Advanced

McAfee Total Protection for Secure Business

Symantec Brightmail


CleanMail Anti Spam & Anti Virus

Exchange Server Toolbox

GFI MailEssentials for Exchange/SMTP


Hosted Solutions

There’s a growing number of solutions available which usually involve having all your domain’s email forward to a hosted solution provider, and then forwarded on to you sans the junk. Known as SaaS (Software as a Service), here are some of the most popular examples of this approach:

Google Postini

McAfee SaaS Endpoint & Email Protection


Trend Micro Hosted Email Security

Netintelligence Email Filter

Spam Experts

Remote Anti Spam


This list is not comprehensive, but covers the best-known and most loved solutions. Each have their own strengths and weaknesses, and can use a variety of approaches. If you’re unsure about which solution is best for your needs, you can contact Aktiv Tactics for assistance in implementing an appropriate solution.

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Are you breaking the law with your Wi-Fi connection?

Posted on 23 December 2009 by Philip Brookes

According to the Herald Sun newspaper today, “a Monash university student has admitted in court scamming thousands of dollars worth of Internet access in what experts say is potentially a rocketing problem”. Considering I work with this type of technology (Internet, Wi-Fi, etc…) all the time and I’m not aware of the laws around this topic, I imagine there are many more people who would be equally in the dark.

The implication from the news report is that it was illegal for Zee Ping Lim, the individual at the centre of the case, to connect to another person’s internet connection and use it without authorisation. But considering that most computers with Wi-Fi support will automatically connect to an available unsecured connection with no user interaction whatsoever, can a user really be responsible for this usage? Sure, most users will be aware that they’re not connected to their own wireless network, and will have sufficient knowledge to realise they’re utilising another person’s bandwidth, but how can the law cover such an ambiguous area where another user could legitimately be unaware of an automatic connection?

Given that wireless access points are easily secured with encryption (WEP or WPA being the two main types), surely it would make more sense that the owner of a wireless access point should be responsible for ensuring they have implemented security. If a user then intentionally managed to hack their way into such a secured network (which in itself would be hugely improbable and a major achievement in it’s own right!) there’d be no doubt that they were there with illegal intent.

There are frequently legitimate situations where you can jump on to a free wi-fi hotspot, such as at a cafe or airport lounge, and there’s no way for a user to distinguish which connection they are entitled (and encouraged) to use versus which connection would be ‘illegal’ to use – until you’ve established your connection and opened a web browser window, you can’t receive any communique from the owner of the network to advise you of whether or not you’re welcome there.

What do you think? Although I agree that Zee Ping Lim would likely have been fully aware that he was utilising somebody else’s bandwidth and should not have done it to the extent that he did, I think the law should place the responsibility back on the network owner to implement some security if they don’t want somebody piggy-backing on their connection. That’s the only way to make it clear where each party’s obligations begin and end, and to protect innocent (mostly non-technical) users who have inadvertently ‘strayed’ onto somebody else’s wireless connection.

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