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The Google Question

Posted Tuesday, November 15th, 2011 Tagged:

While Google is a giant in the technology world, a company praised for innovation and worshiped by techies for their approach and workplace, one might wonder how the juggernaut will be hailed in coming years.  Businesses go through life-cycles so this is not earth shattering.  See the story of Apple or IBM.  The question is whether Google’s appointed moment at the crossroads is right around the corner.

Google has been attractive to technology proponents as an organization that embraces and perpetuates the ideologies of open-source and offering free applications. Professionals have envied their corporate culture that emphasizes informality, fun, innovation, and creativity. What Google has produced and offered is, without a doubt, game-changing to the point where they have steadily emerged as a major sculptor of our technology culture and have watched their corporate name morph into a common verb used by most of us: Want to know more about the company? Just google it.  Their popular search engine paved the way for other embraced applications such as Google Maps, Google Earth, Gmail, and Google Docs. They have continued to make gains and offer new services, so why do I believe the company is nearing a time when tough decisions must be made in order to maintain their stature?

This past week, John Sutter penned an article for CNN outlining Google’s failed iOS app which resulted in the company pulling the product and posting a quick apology on Twitter.  He cautions that Google’s image may suffer by such mistakes. Furthermore, despite the playlist of innovations that highlight their resume, Google has also landed some duds; applications that failed to generate buzz and were less than impressive. Think Google + which has yet to extract a mass exodus of faithful Facebook followers, Google Wave, Google TV, and Google Health.  Sutter, quoting MG Siegler of TechCrunch, adds, “They [Google] release something, and I no longer have any faith that it’s going to be any good. It’s hard to get excited about a company like that. It’s the same reason why it’s hard to get excited when Microsoft and Yahoo release new things. The track record just isn’t there any more. The faith is gone.” For the common consumer, I believe Siegler’s feelings resonate.

While Google’s approach to corporate culture has shifted paradigms, and their strategy for rolling out new applications by way of beta testing is common in the software world, the company as a whole may be under greater scrutiny as their popularity expands to discerning consumers with traditional expectations.  One of those expectations is a product that seems to “just work.”  Unlike technophiles, common customers do not understand, nor are they appeased by experiments and testing, and software applications with the potential to operate in a buggy fashion are viewed as “broken” rather than a work in progress. Google’s recent iOS app failures will earn a critical eye. From a consumer standpoint, it calls into question their integrity, warranted or not.  Do they know what they are doing? Will they continue to deploy technology lemons?

I believe common consumers also wonder what the company is really about.  So many ventures. So many ideas.

Is Google a software developer? A social networking company? A think-tank that thrives on creative ideas? A search engine company? An internet advertising agency? Or an organization with a vision for  creating operating systems for phones and computers?

At this point in time, the answer to all those questions is, “Yes.”  But I wonder if a company with such  broad interests is sustainable?  At some point, all ventures should connect the dots to a central vision and mission.  Maybe this is what Google desires, to be broad and not easily pigeon-holed. Time will tell whether it is a wise business strategy.  From the outside it feels more like throwing ideas at a wall and hoping they stick while rushing new services out the door before they have been completely tested and polished.

I can think of no other time that consumers have had such power, much of that attributed to social media where people can quickly let their endorsements and criticisms be shared with spheres of influence.  Can and will Google understand the momentum their customer base harnesses?  And will they be willing to structure the organization to the end of meeting and exceeding customer expectations whether or not those values mesh with their central vision?

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What Desk?

Posted Wednesday, October 26th, 2011


Many of you have heard of the Help Desk, and some of you have even had to visit us from time to time, but what do you really know about the Help Desk? Who is the Help Desk, what do they offer, and why are needed?

In the first of a 3 part series, we will answer one of those questions.

What is the Help Desk?
Founded in 2000, the mission of the Help Desk was to provide technical support service for our entire campus community, and to serve as a training environment for future IT professionals. 11 years later, you can still see that mission in action. Today, the Help Desk, with 12 part time student staff and 2 full-time senior support staff, serves as the front end support of the entire IT department. And in the last 11 years, 9 former Help Desk student workers moved into full-time positions in the IT Department (with 5 currently on staff).

What does the IT Help Desk offer?
For students, the Help Desk is a helpful resource for any and all technology related questions. Although we can not do any hardware repairs on your computer, we offer many other helpful services. From virus removal, to assistance installing software and printers, getting connected to Xbox Live, and the list goes on.

Due to our location away from campus, it can often make it difficult for us to be aware of any issues that may exist in labs or on general use computers around campus. We depend on user reports to help us quickly respond to any issues.

If you ever are in need of technical assistance or need to report an issue, please feel free to visit us at our new location at 503 S. Prairie Street, or you can contact us via any of the following options.

Phone: 618-664-7077

Email: helpdesk@greenville.edu

Twitter: twitter.com/gchelpdesk

Facebook: facebook.com/gchelp

How to get to the new Help Desk

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Goodnight, Mr. Jobs

Posted Wednesday, October 5th, 2011 Tagged:

The world lost a visionary today.  Steve Jobs, former CEO of Apple Inc. passed away after years of health challenges.  But his vision extended beyond the walls of technology.  Over the past couple of decades he gave us much to think about in regards to life and business.

 

From all indications, he was well liked by the company he led, he was a trendsetter in the world of technology, and his creative mind poured over into Apple’s approach towards personal computing. He will be missed but not forgotten.  Under his tutelage, Jobs ushered in new approaches to technology that have forever changed our daily interactions and normal life, even for the common man.

In recent years Apple became a trusted vendor utilized by Greenville College.  Their quality products and applications presented new opportunities for our students and employees.  By providing flexible technology solutions, cost-effective options, and personal attention through our sales representatives and systems engineers, Apple is helping us accomplish our institutional mission.  To that end, when school administrators were looking at how to commend employees on a job well done and encourage growth in the area of technology and teaching, GC chose to provide all employees an iPad with instructions to go play, learn, and create.  I think Steve Jobs would have approved.

In honor of Steve Jobs I present some of his key quotes over the past several years:

“It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”

“Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water or do you want a chance to change the world?”

“That’s been one of my mantras — focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”

“I think if you do something and it turns out pretty good, then you should go do something else wonderful, not dwell on it for too long. Just figure out what’s next.”

“But it’s a disservice to constantly put things in this radical new light — that it’s going to change everything. Things don’t have to change the world to be important.”

“When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: ‘If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.’ It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’ And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”

“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”
“Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn’t matter to me … Going to bed at night saying we’ve done something wonderful… that’s what matters to me.”

Goodnight, Mr. Jobs.

 

 

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Catching Up With A Former Student Technician

Posted Tuesday, July 5th, 2011

Each semester the IT Department hires several student workers to help maintain the college’s Help Desk.  Since 2001 we have employed over forty-five students and eleven former student workers have gone on to serve in full-time roles at Greenville College.  Today we catch up with one of our alums, Andre Anjos, a graduate of 2008.

 

GC IT: Andre, it is good to catch up with you again.  Thanks for taking the time for this interview.

Andre: “No problemo! Thanks for having me.”

 

GC IT: What have you been up to since graduation?

Andre: “This kind of began before graduation, but I started a small music company called RAC. It’s mostly been remixing, but it has since ventured into film/tv/advertising. I may or may not have been pulling all nighters only to go in to the Helpdesk to fix somebody’s VPN problems. In between school/work/music, I wasn’t getting much sleep. With the music side of things, I can’t complain, it’s been an incredible ride and I’ve been really fortunate to work with some of the best artists in the world.”

 

GC IT: How is technology impacting what your currently do?

Andre: “Without it, it wouldn’t exist, so in a way, it’s enabling me to do something I love. I use the internet to spread my music and to network within the music industry. I use recording equipment that is portable and 100x more powerful than what the Beatles had at their disposal. Technology is amazing right now and it seems like nobody is noticing. My phone can play Duke Nukem 3D better than my original PC could.”

 

GC IT: What motivated you to apply for one of our student worker positions when you were in school?

Andre: “I had a background in computer science and “network security”, so it was my first choice when it came to campus jobs. I’m not sure what I would have done if I hadn’t gotten the job. It’s still the only real job I ever had.”

 

GC IT: What did you like best about the job?

Andre: “Ann Freed*, Duran** & BBQ’s. No, but seriously, I really enjoyed my time there. I made some great friends and basically got to hang out all day while fixing some spyware issues. Every once in a while a challenging issue would appear, and we would all band together to try to figure it out. Sometimes it even involved freezing a hard drive.”

 

GC IT: Have there been any skills or lessons that you learned while working at the Help Desk that have been valuable in your new endeavors?

Andre: “Time management and multitasking. Basically doing things efficiently. With RAC, we have probably the fastest turnaround time in the industry and I think that is partly due to the constant multitasking we had to do at the HD.”

 

GC IT: Is there a funny story you can share about your time working at the Help Desk?

Andre: “I think the story of Ann Freed is one of the funniest but it has to be heard to be believed.”

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Editor’s Notes:

If you are a prospective or current student interested in learning more about the world of IT, contact us.  We maintain a student staff of 10-15 each semester.

*Ann Freed is a reference to a voicemail we received from an elderly lady very confused about who she was calling and our subsequent responses.  After a couple of colorful messages, we determined she had no intention of calling Greenville College for technical support and stopped returning her calls.

**Duran was a pet wolf spider, about the size of a silver dollar, we maintained at our Help Desk over the period of a few months.  He was discovered roaming our halls in Hogue Hall and was even buried beneath Old Main upon his unfortunate death due to injuries sustained by a cricket. A funeral was held and the whole IT staff bid farewell.

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Philosophy Friday: Google and You!

Posted Friday, April 29th, 2011 Tagged:

What search engine do you use primarily? Bing? Yahoo? Lycos? Probably not, like most people you probably use Google search.  Google processes several hundred million queries per day through its various services.  Google is really the front-runner of search engines as well as a huge player in various other free services like email, blogging, translating services, document sharing, etc.  Since Google is such a big player in the internet game, it is crucial that we ask, where does our data go?  It’s easy to think that once you enter your search terms and click “Google Search” that’s it, but Google wouldn’t pass up on all your data!  What you search for, what website you choose from the search results, and your IP address is all stored and analyzed to learn how to best serve its users.  Though don’t become too paranoid, because after a period of around nine months your data is “anonymized” by deleting the last eight numbers of your IP address.

Google keeps track of what you search for, no big deal right?  Well maybe, Google keeps your search terms in conjunction with your IP address and your Google account.  For Google, this means that they can keep track of trends in interest and how best to advertise to you. Have you ever noticed that after using Google for a period the ads you see around the internet seem to be specifically tailored to your interests? That is because they are!  Google uses the things that you have previously searched for to create a profile for you so that they can target the things you are interested in and advertise accordingly.

Then what does all this mean for us? Is Google some kind of “big brother” out there keeping track of the digital moves we make?  Maybe (again), Google has made it a priority to be transparent in the use of this collected data, which is why all of the information stated above can be found easily on the internet.  In addition, Google has made it a point to be as secure as possible with this data.

yes, yes I am.

 

Now for the philosophy portion of philosophy Friday.


The French philosopher Michel Foucault dedicated a large amount of time to describing the relationship between power and knowledge.  Up until Foucault, the English philosopher Francis Bacon best described the relationship between power and knowledge as “Knowledge is Power,” which has been perpetuated by programs like “School House Rock.”  Foucault mixes things up a bit by explaining a much more complicated and fluid view of power and knowledge.  Foucault explains that Knowledge and power are more closely related than that of Francis Bacon and “School House Rock” states.

Rather than looking at power as a hierarchy with knowledge being an instrument of that power, power is more of a liquid concept that has an ebb and flow between agents.  This understanding of power/knowledge means that knowledge is not a tool of power, but rather power/knowledge is inseparable.  In knowing we use power and in using power we know and produce knowledge.

How does all of this weird theory apply?  Under the Baconian assumptions about power and knowledge, the “big brother” image of Google’s data collection and data mining completely fits.  Google collects our data, analyzes it, and then uses it to be a successful search engine.  Our privacy is compromised, is in constant danger of being used in ways to harm us, and there is nothing we can do about other than some kind of complete revolution.  This understanding is normative of our society and is perpetuated by popular movies and books, like “1984” or “The Matrix.”

Foucault may not be in complete opposition with Bacon and the “big brother” image, but he does give a more nuanced and responsible view of the user’s relationship to Google.  Rather than being the victims with their privacy infringed on, there is a give and take between the user and Google.  The user produces knowledge and simultaneously controls Google and in the wake of this knowledge/power exercise by the user, Google collects the knowledge/power produced by the user and exercises the knowledge/power on their end by collecting data to better their service.  Neither has a monopoly on knowledge/power, rather both parties have each other by the throat.  Everyone could decide that they didn’t want to use Google anymore and therefore stop producing knowledge/power for Google to use reciprocally.  On the other hand, Google could be more lax with their security, be less transparent in their collection of data, and try to use knowledge/power to their advantage more.

Over all, it seems that the conspiracy and sensationalism that surrounds Google’s collection of data is a bit unfounded and unrealistic in that the relationship between Google and it’s users (or vice versa)  is a reciprocal one, that could easily be upset by either party that is involved.

 

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