PRISM This! Simple Things to Think about in the post Edward Snowden Era

Lately there hasn’t been a news cycle that hasn’t focused on the NSA and Prism. Debating whether Edward Snowden is a hero or someone who has done the United States wrong is  something the media will do for a long time to come. I believe that’s all just a distraction.

This episode should jolt us all to the stark realization that be it PRISM, the NSA, or private enterprise, the cost to track individuals is lowering, while the incentives for corporations and governments to correlate,use,store and sell your ‘meta’ data (information about your information) are rising. With the advent of Big Data as well as exponentially decaying broadband, processing and storage costs, this kind of tracking we are just starting to see now is really just a “no brainer” evolution in the world of advanced analytics.

Beyond the obvious idea of not posting huge amounts of personal information about your movements, and private life to social media sites, what SIMPLE actions could an individual take to try to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to on-line privacy? Here’s some of my thoughts on this subject.

1) Educate yourself – This one seems frivolous, but it’s probably the most important. Stay ahead of the curve. Understand what it means when you accept the fact that your mobile applications can send or store your location information. At the very least, understand the implications of new technologies – i.e. what it means when your online banking app on your mobile phone requests that you allow it to access your GPS, email, and call history when you install it.

Try to understand that although some technologies seem like they were spawned by tinfoil hat wearing nuts, but also understand that perhaps there are aspects to those technologies which highlight deficiencies in the status quo/incumbent system.

Bitcoin is a great example of such a technology. If you don’t know what I mean? Then you need to take point #1 to heart and start reading. When you do start your own research, you might ask, ‘what does a fully distributed, Peer 2 Peer, cryptographic currency have to do with personal privacy?’. The answer is, the incentives of corporations to pool and analyse your transaction information (credit card, debit, other). and to use big data technologies to link and analyse that information is very large. Believe me when I say that is happening today, and so, to be ahead of the curve you should learn about alternative payment systems that aren’t track-able, aren’t centrally controlled and allow you to spend your money anonymously but also securely. Capiche?

Never heard of the TOR network, don’t know what VPN stands for? How about PGP? What about a PROXY?

These aren’t just a bunch of acronyms for nerds, but if you either don’t know about these technologies or can’t follow them, find a friend who can explain them to you in simple terms. For example TOR is a network that acts to protect your privacy by redirecting your internet traffic in a way that is much harder to trace or analyse using the big data techniques we are starting to hear about in the media today.

2) Set up TOR on your mobile device – I just downloaded the TOR client on my android device. Because my android device is ‘rooted’, it is able to take all of my internet traffic and direct it through the TOR network transparently (without me having to do any complicated settings on my phone or apps). This effectively means that my “meta data” regarding my internet activities cannot be stored or analysed. Better yet, if I turn on the tethering on my mobile and convert it to a WiFi hotspot, anything that connects to my hotspot will be on TOR also. I specifically called out TOR for mobile (search on Google Play) because it literally takes 5 minutes to install and enable, however you should consider either TOR enabling your home machines or at least using a VPN service also. The other aspect for mobile is, that the device is always with you, can track your movements, and via mobile applications and meta data tracking, there just seems to be a much higher incentive to abuse this information.

The best part about TOR is that it’s free.

Read more about TOR here []

3) Use a VPN on your regular PC/home network - I regularly use a service called strong vpn []. For a few dollars a month, I can have all of my home PCs or network traffic securely encrypted and tunnelled through a trusted third party service provider. This has the unintended side effect of making my computers and network appear that it is in the U.S. even though I am actually living in Canada. (This has unintended benefits for services like Netflix and other on-line content restrictions)

A VPN (virtual private network) works by basically being a butler between your traffic and the internet. By acting as a buffer it encrypts your traffic but also in a rudimentary way prevents the outside network from actually seeing where your traffic is coming from.

Unfortunately this service does come at a nominal monthly cost. You may want to do your own research and find your own provider.

4) Encrypt your email – This one is for people who really are paranoid that your emails are being scanned and analyzed. Wait a minute, gmail does that! So maybe you aren’t that paranoid after all. As I said earlier, the cost is dropping, and the incentive is rising. I personally do not encrypt my email, however if you really wanted to start encrypting your email, then start reading up on a technology called PGP. It’s been around for a long time, it’s reliable, and although I find it clumsy, it’s probably your best bet for keeping your email secure. []

That’s a bunch of my quick notes on the subject for now, if there’s enough demand I may do individual in depth how-to posts for some of these technologies.

So have you followed my advice from point #1? If so you’ll know what the following two addresses are, if not…. time to go do some reading!


Sales Engineering for Software Startups – 3 Signs your Technical Sellers Need Help

As a former sales engineer turned technology consultant, I have a few comments I’d like to make about Sales Engineers and why I find most of them just don’t “cut the mustard”.

I’m a former sales engineer, I’ve held the performance crown, I’ve strategically sold highly complex technical solutions into big enterprise and big healthcare. I’m also in a position now where I watch dozens of sales engineers ply their trade bringing technology to the bank where I work. I think I’m in a pretty good position to comment on this – so here goes.

Now that I’ve got your attention, I’m assuming you’re a software business owner, or a sales VP so read on to see how these 3 small areas can affect your top line.

So you already have a highly seasoned enterprise sales team and on the pre-sales engineering side you think you’ve found the special blend of technical, sales and consultant that most software companies need. Yet you ask yourself why you aren’t selling product into the high value market your product belongs in? Why is your strategic sales pipeline weak? (tons of small deals, no strategic or large deals) Why does it feel like nobody can differentiate your product from the other vendors when the technical proof of concepts and bake-offs are over?

Before you start blaming your sales guys, or the raw presentation capabilities of your sales engineers consider these surefire signs that your sales engineers (technical sales) might be the problem.

1) Not selling value – It’s not about features. If you are selling  your product based soley on features and doing things like creating “feature comparison matrices” to beat competitors, you are already doing it wrong. Doing a “show up and throw up” demo of 100 different features in your product is also the wrong approach. If your sales engineer loads up 50 different screens, or command line windows as part of a standard product demonstration… they are selling features. If your sales engineer has a standard demo over 30 minutes, they are probably boring the potential client to death as well. Yes – this applies to technical products of all complexity. For all of my previous sales engineering positions there were occasions to do 3.5-4 hour demonstrations for enterprise clients, but these were non standard and only drilled into the into the areas the clients were interested in, typically these were also not the first demos, but the executive demonstrations with 20-40 people observing.  Your first demo should be no more than 30 minutes of demo and possibly up to 30 minutes of questions to prepare you for a secondary engagement. A good sales engineer should be able to talk about a product non-stop for 6 hours, but that doesn’t mean he should – which leads us to the next topic.

2) Talking too much – What? I thought we valued the “gift of the gab” in pre-sales engineers. Again… being able to talk your head off, doesn’t mean you should. As a technical sales person you need to “look for the angles”, and this is best done by listening more than talking. If the client is going to ask you a question – shut up, don’t try to prove that you know more than them. Remember – being right, and doing the right thing are 2 different things. On top of the commercial considerations that the sales person is dealing with, you should be asking yourself as the sales engineer “why is this person asking for this technology/feature/capability? Is this a technical problem, or is this a political problem?”. Some of the worst sales engineers I have ever witnessed are more concerned about getting through their boilerplate presentation and ignore the questions of the participants. This is a boneheaded move, mainly because by not fielding questions you can’t answer the questions I posed above, and you waste an opportunity to identify supporters, detractors, and to identify the prominence of each member of the prospective client team.

3)  Bad Tools and Workflows – Sales engineering is one of the most complex jobs as you cycle from field development, to sales, to support, and to implementation as a “trusted advisor”. This means, your tools should be ship shape at all times to make everything you do reproduceable, scalable, and consistent in quality. It is extremely important that the demo workflow you are using is optimized for maximum impact, and that it is supported by the right technology, as well as the right marketing materials to help you follow up. As an example, if the sales engineer doesn’t have a stable demo environment, doesn’t have a reproduceable demo workflow, and doesn’t have a way to reliably bring that demo to the prospective clients…. you are dead in the water. Even worse, if you don’t have the right highly polished sales materials that speak to technicall buyers to use as follow up tools, or the right sales automation tools to ensure that those deliverables reach the target audience at the right time….. what was the definition of insanity?

If you want to supercharge your technical sales process, and help build a strong sales funnel you need to address these 3 main areas when it comes to sales engineering. If you’ve tried before via standard sales management techniques and failed, maybe you need a technical sales consultant to sit in on your presentations, possibly work with your marketing to help you design new collateral, and even better create a whole new way of technically selling your software product higher into the value chain.

I hope you’ve found this post useful, and look forward to the discussion!


Why Defeat is Just the Beginning

Strange as this may sound, my personal experience with being “utterly defeated” didn’t come until I was 30. Obviously I had previously felt failure, had previously felt wronged, and had previously been motivated to incrementally improve my life. The type of aspirations I had for myself, the way I drove myself as an “A-Type” ensured that I labelled anything “imperfect” as a defeat or an anomaly.

However, my entire context of failure and defeat got reset the day I stood beside my 24 year old brother’s hospital bed in an intensive care unit and watched him breath his last breath. I can still remember the symphony of beeps and blasts coming from the monitors and machines, the tears, the utter disbelief. His frail body and chest coming to a final rest, tears streaming, the inevitable smacked me in the face. A wave of devastation, an utter lack of control, and a sickness to my very core swept over my body.

Unable to cope, I threw up in a hospital bathroom for a good 10 minutes…..

This marked the very beginning of a new era for me. A new way of thinking, a new way of living. All the cliches that have ever been written about seizing the day or living for happiness  sunk in violently and without further review.

If my brother’s example was to mean something, it would be that the new number 1 priority for me would be health. It would be balance. It would be fairness and justice. It would be the realization that life is frail, and that it was time to make myself healthy, to make my family healthy and to keep it that way.

It wasn’t a cake walk. For the next few months, my emotions were a nuclear winter.

I dragged myself to the gym – embarrassed, ashamed, weak, tired and frail, I started the process of lifting weights. I bought myself a nice car in rebel against the notion that I might die tomorrow, why was I saving all my money? I scheduled laser eye surgery, and the fitment of braces, 2 things I’d postponed and were frankly afraid to do for what seemed to be obvious health reasons (fear of mistakes). Now, I figured if they made a mistake or I suffered as a result, ‘meh who cares’, I didn’t feel anything inside anyways.

The same principles applied to my jaunts riding motorcycles, doing motorcycle courses, going on trips to asia, learning how to snowboard. The list of things I checked off the bucket list are immense, all approached with reckless abandon and disregard for personal safety.

My goal was to find my new self, a renewed confidence, a place where I felt that I had left no rock un-turned in pursuit of love (love of self first), life (leave no pursuit untouched) and enlightenment (how can I find my new safe place inside my mind?).

Remnants of my very high strung and entitled self remain, however, I am happy to report that I am on my way to becoming a better person, tempered by an event that I could not control. My focus on health has paid off in many ways, I no longer feel ashamed in the gym as I can definitely do my fair share of lifting and grunting.

I’ve also learned that the number 1 thing you can do is control yourself. The number 2 thing is to learn to love, to learn to tolerate, and to never write anybody off. I learned that we can all change, we can all grow, and we can all find an opportunity to remake ourselves.

This was how my utter defeat, literally became a new beginning, I hope you take the challenge when defeat or failure comes your way.

Digital Breakfast 2012 – Happy New Year From ‘Just Another Geek’

Digital breakfast for 2012 – I normally don’t post pictures of my food, but this is my “Happy New Year” post. Just a reminder that “the more things change” the more they stay the same. Sure I’m reading my New York Times on my digital tablet, but I’m still just another guy reading the news while eating his bacon and eggs. Keep this in mind this year as technology overwhelms our lives. Put your cellphone down a little extra this year, and enjoy your friends, family and success!! -Ken

My “Favorite” Apps for Android

I recently wrote a piece “5 Essential Apps for Newbies”. It actually got a bit of criticism for highlighting “boring” apps. This wasn’t the main problem though, because my friend @jmdc88 bought a shiny new Samsung GSII and asked me why she wasn’t liking Swype, and that made me realize that I might have missed a few things that newbies and just people in general who want to get more mileage out of their Android device might like. Remember these are “MY” favorite apps, so your mileage my vary.

1 ) Input Method: Swiftkey X – by far the best predictive input method for Android. Reads your Facebook, Twitter, and other text to find out your style, and makes the predictions super accurate. The keyboard layout is also amazing for both phones and tablets. My girlfriend has a blackberry and loves a physical keyboard but the more she uses Swiftkey the more she wants the nice white Samsung Galaxy SII.

2 ) Launcher: Go Launcer EX – This was in my other post, but the key that people need to understand is that the “launcher” is the window manager for Android. Changing this part of your system is essential to getting the “look and feel” you want from Android. Others to consider are “ADW Launcher” and “Launcher Pro”. Some niche ones are “Helix Launcher”, and there are some really funky alternative ones as well that convert your phone to the look of “windows phone”…. but why would you want to do that?

3 ) Personal Finance: – No need to talk about this. If you don’t know about it. Get with the program. :)

4 ) Backups: Titanium Backup – Requires Root

5 ) Web Browser: Dolphin Browser HD – A great replacement for the stock browser, generally faster, a much better experience.

6 ) Multi-Network Real Time Chat: Whatsapp – keep in touch with your old bbm pals, or iPhone users.

7 ) Text Messaging: Handcent SMS (already described in old post)

8 ) Mail Client – K9 Mail – more efficient works with all mail providers

9 ) Work Mail/Calendaring (Exchange) – Moxier Mail

10 ) Automation – Locale – Let’s you set your phone up to do funky stuff depending on where it is and how it’s oriented. For instance I set my phone off to be totally silent with no vibration and to turn the screen off if I put it “face down” during a meeting.

11 ) Lockscreen Customization – Magic Locker – Just really sexy lockscreens, bu also adds things like the number of missed calls, the ability to jump from lockscreen directly to camera etc. Others to try: Widget Locker, GoLocker

12 ) Notes and Files - Evernote – if you ever dreamt of being able to have anything you recorded on your phone, or any document or password available anywhere. Get this. I don’t know how many times I was doing something with my lawyers related to my Condo, being able to instantly pull up different versions of the agreements on my phone. Gold.

13 ) QR Codes/Barcodes – Barcode Scanner – enjoy being a monkey for marketing people, but also be able to lookup information on products based on bar code

14 ) Translation – Google Translate – Want to hit on a girl in a different language in near real time? (I’m not a bachelor anymore what am I writing here?). You get the point.

15 ) Stuff – Google Sky MapGreat to show off your non-existent knowledge of the stars when trying to impress a girl. Hold the phone to the sky and pretend that it’s not goofy what you are doing.

16 ) Music – Spotify – Synching all my music for access any time, any place all done in real time. All for one all you can eat price. I use this to rock music in my car, go to the gym, and just generally have access to any music – anywhere.

17 ) Tracking Flights – FlightTrack - If you are a frequent flyer and hate frequent gate changes, or want to know about delays in real time-  use this. Seriously, just use it, it could change your life. Having information while your plane is overheating, knowing you’ll miss your connection and being able to pro-actively re-route your flight at the desk before the masses also figure it out? That could be valuable. It happened to me, it’s real, “just do it”.

This is a good start, I’ll update this post and add more soon. Happy tinkering for now!