Posts By: John Stuart

Millennialisms

piggy-bank-850607_960_720Everyone loves to hate millennials these days. They are characterized as being lazy, entitled and self-absorbed. As is sometimes the case, those stereotypes might have some sort of basis in reality, but as is almost always the case, that’s not the whole story. Laziness, entitlement and narcissism aren’t all that millennials are good for. According to some recent studies, they’re also pretty good at saving. Maybe even better than their elders.

The percentage of millennials saving more than 6% of their income has increased substantially from last year. Not only that, it has surpassed the percentage of people in the 30-49 age range saving more than 6% of their income. Many have attributed these saving habits to the fact that millennials had to watch older generations struggle through an economic recession, as they were growing up. Keeping a healthy savings account is a precaution they can take against the economic troubles that their parents and grandparents faced.

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Cheers for Yuengling

yuenglingIf you’ve been keeping up with my posts, you may have read the ode to craft beer that I wrote several months ago. Although I’m always partial to a craft brew, sometimes I just need something cheap because drinking exclusively ‘craft’ can become quite expensive. I have nothing against a cheaper beer when I’m really just craving a cold one. Like any good Pennsylvanian, my go-to-budget-beer has been Yuengling traditional lager.

This beer is considered by many beer lovers to be one of the tastier budget beers. As a native of the state, I didn’t realize that Yuengling had the limited distribution that it does until I really started getting into beer. I was surprised to find that people in other states would trek across state lines to get a case. The amber lager is decidedly ubiquitous in Pennsylvania, however. If there’s anything you can count on to be on tap in any PA bar, it’s Yuengling lager. In fact, at many establishments, simply ordering ‘lager’ gets you a Yuengling.

The Future of Robotics

Robotics

Robotics

Artificial intelligence and robotics are advancing at breakneck speed, but do they make for a viable business? Google seems to think maybe not. Google’s new parent company Alphabet is planning to sell Boston Dynamics, a robotics company that it acquired a few years ago. Despite the marketability and relative success of simple, consumer-oriented robots like the Roomba, more advanced humanoid robots like those developed by Boston Dynamics probably have a long way to go before they will become feasible products. It has also been speculated that one deterrent factor is negative public response to humanoid robots that could threaten to take away jobs from humans.

Boston Dynamics have received funding from DARPA and the U.S. Marine Corps in the past, because many of their robots have been geared toward military or similar use. Historically, many of humankind’s greatest technological advancements have been made in the name of war. That makes it kind of disappointing that a consumer-focused company such as Google hasn’t found a way to make a sustainable business out of some of the most advanced robotics technology around. It would be great to see these kind of advancements supported by businesses and private investments, rather than military and government spending.

French, Spanish and Love are all Languages – but so is Computing

work-731198_960_720The Florida Senate has proposed a plan to offer programming languages to high school students to fulfill foreign language requirements. The plan has sparked conversation and has led to debates among passionate supporters and detractors. Those in favor of the plan cite the increasing importance of technical literacy in an ever-more-digital world, while those opposed question the viability of implementing such a plan, regardless of any potential benefits. The bill is in the process of making its way through the state legislature.

One huge potential problem is the cost of adding such classes to schools in a system that is already plagued by so many financial issues. Jeremy Ring, Florida Senator and former Yahoo executive, has been quick to point out that the idea is to offer computer programming as an optional choice for fulfilling language credits and not as a replacement for foreign languages or as a standalone requirement. Even so, some have questioned whether this would still lead to further inequalities across school districts that have varying affluence and access to computers.

Apple Speaks—Will People Listen?

Tim_Cook_WWDC_2012There’s a good chance that in the last couple of days, you may have woken up to one of your friends posting about Apple’s customer letter which was published a few days ago. The letter outlines Apple’s stance against the government’s request for allowing a back door to iPhones and the company’s commitment to using encryption and protecting their users’ privacy. It’s been quickly making its way around social media. The cynical side of me wants to say that this has been going on for months, and people should already know about it. I mean, I even wrote an article about Apple’s statements in court, as well as one about encryption scares in the wake of terrorist attacks. But the average Joe doesn’t follow court cases or read articles on technical subjects. Most people just aren’t interested in that stuff. That’s why Apple’s letter is such a big deal.

Though Apple has spoken in court about this, and numerous articles have been written about Apple and about privacy and encryption in general in recent months, this customer letter is the first time, to my knowledge, that Apple has made its own public statement about the issue. Anyone who owns an Apple product is going to be much more likely to read a letter addressed to them from the company itself. So far, that seems to be what is happening. I’ve seen more people talking about this letter than the court trial Apple was involved in or any articles about that. But is this enough?

I’ve been trying to gauge the public’s reaction to the post. For the most part, it has seemed to be overwhelmingly positive. But I have seen a few instances of those who would take the government’s side over Apple’s.

Windows 10 – What’s the Deal?

Microsoft_Windows_logo_(Pre-XP).svgMicrosoft made ripples when it announced that Windows 7 users who migrated to 8.1 would have the chance to upgrade to its latest OS, Windows 10, for free. Microsoft has a reputation for being stingy with its software updates, so this marked the first time in the company’s history that they have tried something more wallet-friendly. In conjunction with the release of the Surface and Surface Book computers, it all seemed like a calculated raid on Apple’s territory. But what about the upgrade offer’s fine print?

Supposedly, the offer will end this coming July, just a year from the date the free upgrade was launched. There is speculation that the deadline was put in place to try to avoid the kind of negative issues that Microsoft suffered when they dropped support for Windows XP. The problem with this kind of deadline is that, in all probability, users who decline a free upgrade for an entire year most likely don’t want the upgrade at all. If Microsoft is trying to transition its customers to a new operating system as efficiently as possible, they’re going to have a hard time convincing people – who didn’t want Windows 10 when it was free – to pay for it in the future. Hopefully, Microsoft has something else in mind with this deadline, because selling upgrades has never been the most lucrative part of their business model anyway.

Microsoft’s plan might include extending the offer, making a new offer once the next upgrade of Windows 10 hits, or taking the risky gambit of completely dropping the free upgrade. Right now, it’s all speculation and anybody’s guess. I hate to resurrect the age-old debate, but the whole situation just begs a comparison to Apple.

Having been a lifelong Windows user, I just recently made the switch to an Apple computer. I could go into a lengthy discourse on why I made that decision, but suffice to say that I have no particular allegiance to either company. I advocate the use of whatever tools help get the job done, whether or not they have a shiny white fruit on the outside. That’s why I keep a virtual Windows machine on my Mac for running Windows-specific applications that I still need. That being said, I have for the most part been happy with my switch to Apple. One thing that longtime Mac users might take for granted – but that I can appreciate as a virtual migrant – is how nice it is to not have to worry about software upgrades.

Frankly, I wouldn’t see any shame in Microsoft copying this feature. Microsoft seems to be trying to do a better job of integrating its hardware and software, and has even begun to produce its own high-end hardware with the aforementioned range of Surface devices. But part of the reason this model works so well for Apple is that they have made software integration seamless across all devices, while Microsoft still has people using old unsupported software that came out years ago.

If Microsoft is trying to hide the fact that they are competing with Apple, they’re not doing a good job of it. That’s not to say that either company’s products are inherently better or worse, but if Microsoft want to avoid the comparison, they’re going to have to figure out a system that works. The free Windows 10 upgrade offer seemed like a good step, but the jury is out until we see what they have in store for this July…. when the offer ends.