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April 2018

Technology Rules!

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By Karen Panetta, IEEE-HKN President Elect

Remember when cell phones first came out? Of course, you don’t. You probably were not even born yet. So, let me give you a history lesson. Phones were quite large and got so hot that you could fry a steak on them but had displays that you could actually see and keypads that were sized for human fingers. We would only use them sparingly, for emergencies for our loved ones because making calls was expensive. Cell phone numbers were protected like social security numbers and if someone gave you their phone number, you felt like you were in their inner circle of VIPs.
Ions ago, I handed down my first cell phone to my father and he immediately fell in love with it. However, whenever I would call him, the phone was either off or he would not answer. He never mastered voice mail so leaving a message was out of the question. I would ask him why he didn’t answer, and he would say, “I can’t carry the phone with me, I’d get a hernia.” He was right. The phone was so heavy and bulky that he would keep it in his trunk with his ever-present buckets of sand, that he claimed he needed for ballast in the wintertime.

When the phone finally died after 13 years, and no one would service it for him, he was forced to go search for a new phone. While we were in the phone store, other older customers noticed the dinosaur of a phone that my father held. One after another, they approached the salesman and pointed at my father, saying “I want to see that same phone with the large keys, like the one that man is holding.” The poor bewildered salesman was at a loss and begged me to put the phone away. I would have obliged, but the phone was so large that it wouldn’t fit my pocketbook.
We purchased a new phone, one with the biggest buttons we could find along with the loudest volume controls. To my dismay, my father still didn’t answer the cell phone when I called, or it would be turned off. When I questioned him about this, he came clean and gave me my first lesson in technology rules. He stated, “The phone is for me to make calls when I need too, not so people can bother me at their convenience. I rule the technology, it doesn’t rule me.”

My poor father made this statement in front of my mother who instantly chastised him for hurting my feelings. She also reminded him that I paid his cell phone bill. Needless to say, my father still complains about the microscopic keypad on his new phone and still uses it sparingly and only for emergencies, like when he needs me to pick up a sandwich and donuts for him.
Cell phone technology now makes us accessible 24 hours a day, but cell phone etiquette has not evolved as quickly. A few years ago, you wouldn’t dream of calling someone on their cell phone unless there was something critical at hand. Furthermore, you certainly wouldn’t call someone during dinner hours or on a weekend.
I went through a drive-thru and saw a sign, “No Cell Phones.” I had to ask what the sign meant. I thought maybe there was a construction project going on and they were using explosives and blasting in the area. I was wrong.

Apparently, people cause delays at drive-thru lines by keeping the servers on hold while they talk on their cell phones. I was amazed that there are few boundaries to where and when cell phones are used.

I was shocked the first time I heard people making and taking calls while in a public restroom. Imagine, taking a business call while conducting the most private of business!
A male colleague of mine told me he found it embarrassing that the fellow standing beside him was not only broadcasting bathroom sound effects to a stranger on the phone but considered this guy an invasion of his own privacy. Cell phone cameras can be activated and capture images of an innocent bystander’s “private moments.” He told me that women were lucky because at least there were stall partitions in the women’s restrooms to protect their identity, but no such privacy protection existed for men. We also both noticed that regardless of gender, these cell phone abusers were too busy talking to wash their hands before leaving the restroom. Gross and a great way to get sick.

Now, I know why all those signs reminding people to wash their hands are really posted on all the restroom doors. They really should say, “Get off the cell phone and wash your hands!”
Inevitably, the cell phone rings as soon as I sit down for dinner. I contemplate not answering, but deferring the call means that there is more work for me to follow up on later. Not answering and not having the time to respond immediately also has implications. People assume that having a cell phone as part of your anatomy means that you have no excuse for not being instantaneously available. Now that the restroom is no longer a “safe place” anymore, the only excuses we may have left to escape phone calls are in elevators, underground garages, tunnels and on airplanes. Unfortunately, since we are so technology savvy, now we are losing even these cell-phone free sanctuaries.

After years of suffering at the hands of intrusive cell phone calls, that have provided nothing more than indigestion, ruined good a mood and left a cloud over our free time with our loved ones, I have developed some simple technology rules that have helped.

1) Calls from family members should be answered. This may be painful to hear, but the infinite guilt of not answering is far worse than taking the call. If you are in a class, then leave or quickly text your family to say that you are in the middle of a class. My parents don’t have a phone that has texting capabilities, so I do the next best thing, I text my husband and make him call them back for me.
2) Do not answer cell phones during meals or during meetings/interviews. I almost fell on the floor when a visitor who wanted my advice, and help finding a job, kept interrupting our meeting to take phone calls. News Flash, doing this during an interview is a death sentence to receiving an offer!
3) Do not answer the cell phone if you are involved with a family, social outing or trying to sleep.
4) No cell phone calls in public restrooms. What you do in your own home is your own business, but remember, the person on the other side of your call would most likely be grossed out if they knew where you were and what you were doing.
5) Watch where you are walking! Too many people get hurt thinking drivers are looking at them while we are busy walking with our face in a phone. Wrong! The drivers are not looking because they are on the phone too! Furthermore, too many phone addicts are their way to earning a hunchback due to looking down at the phone. Humps and hunchbacks are not a good look on anyone.
Technology was meant to make our lives better, not to endanger us, stress us or negatively interfere with our health. Take a stand and do not allow technology to rule your life anymore!
Get off the phone and start looking at people in the face as you walk by and smile. You will be surprised how much you’ve been missing.



Confessions of a Digital Hoarder

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By Karen Panetta, IEEE-HKN President Elect

I was cleaning out my office recently and came across the media storage that contained my Ph.D. thesis simulations. I remember how proud I was that I had successfully simulated over 2 million simulations for a digital system containing over 1 million transistors on a conventional single CPU computer. I tried my best to make the simulator portable and thought it would be an interesting project to see how it performed on a modern multi-core computer.
Alas, the simulator was stored on something called a TK50 tape made for Digital Equipment Corporation MicroVAX computers. I am sure most of you have never heard of the existence of this company, which used to be a computer giant, or the uses of “tape” as digital storage. I was told I could go to the computer museum and have it ported to a more recent form of media. I decided that the two patents and Ph.D. degree the work earned me were mementos enough, and tossed the tape into the trash, along with old ZIP disks and hundreds of 3-inch floppy disks. Again, more things you probably never heard of, which just makes me feel really old.
I also found a larger floppy disk with holes punched in it from push pins. Why on earth would I keep such a thing? This memento also had significance in my career. It came from my first internship at the Gillette Company.
I worked in the Management Information Systems department as a systems analyst. One of my responsibilities was designing custom database solutions for those individuals not skilled in using computers.
The users loved my software and thought I walked on water. That was until one day when two managers came storming into my office complaining that they had lost their data and the floppy disks I gave them no longer worked. I looked at one of the disks and noticed that it was full of holes made from a thumb tack.
I asked him, “Why are there holes in the disk?” The manager replied, “I had it pinned up on my cork board to make sure I didn’t misplace the disk.”
I tried not to laugh but recorded a mental note that I needed to update the user manual I created for my non-computer savvy users to tell them that punching holes into the disk was a no-no.
The second manager’s floppy disk looked in tact, so I asked him how and where he stored his disk. With a smile and look of confidence he replied, “I use a magnet to hold it up on the metal wall of my cubicle and I don’t use any push pins!”
I thought I would choke trying not to laugh and waited for them to tell me this was all just a joke to evoke a reaction out of the poor naïve intern.
I then gave a short tutorial on the manufacturing and operation of floppy disks and explained why magnets and poking holes in the media storage meant certain death for their data. I was returned to saint hood in their eyes when they discovered I kept a backup of everything.
As powerful as the digital age is, the loss of data through the transition to new forms of media storage makes me wonder how much valuable history and other defining characteristics of our civilization will be lost over time. We wonder how the pyramids were built and know that there had to be some incredible engineers during those ancient times. What we know comes from the few surviving parchments and records etched in stone. Data carved in stone seems to be the most fault tolerant form of media storage and can survive for thousands of years. What about our digital media? What would happen if power was lost and the knowledge of computers vanished forever? What would someone in the far-off future discovering an ancient USB thumb drive, hard drive or CD-ROM do with these ancient relics?
They might do like my mother did and make a collage picture of a giant shiny fish using the discarded CD-ROMs as the fish scales.
You may be asking what brought on this morbid train of thought on. I’ll tell you. I was trying to find a picture I took with a digital camera. I have hundreds of images with randomly assigned names provided by the camera. In the old days, I would print out my pictures and stuff them in an album.
Now, everything is on the computer or worse, the cloud. I literally kill my computers within 2 years of purchase, such that I have gone through more hard drives in my lifetime than I have new pairs of shoes.
I even bought a NAS to use as a backup system just to store my pictures so I wouldn’t lose them. It doesn’t matter. I always seem to lose something during the transition from one computer to another or to some newer current state-of-the art media storage.
I have an arsenal of USB thumb drives. I should make a necklace out of them by hanging them off a rope like shark teeth, since I can’t remember what’s stored on the drives anyway. There isn’t a search engine on the planet that can keep up with my huge quantities of disorganized media and data.
I finally gave up on retrieving the picture I was looking for. Like an ancient civilization, it was lost forever. Then, when I gave up all hope, my mother called me. I told her how I spent hours searching the computer for a specific picture, when she described with great detail the exact picture I was looking for. I asked her how she knew and she said, “Because I’m looking at the eyeball of the fish collage I made out of those shiny circles you always throw out and one of them is labeled with that exact description. I also remembered that you told me that if I glued them, I would destroy the information on them, so I tacked them to the board using push pins in the hole in the middle to secure it in case you ever wanted them back.”
I borrowed her fish’s eyeball from her collage and successfully retrieved my picture. At this time, I really don’t need to etch my data in stone to have it survive. It appears that having it stored on a fish was sufficient.
I am hoping that someday one of our young professional HKN members will lead the way for developing intelligent methods for curating all the data I hoard and that I will be able to search and retrieve things I need effortlessly. I can dream.


IEEE Eta Kappa Nu (IEEE-HKN)