Rise of the Machines (aka: The IoT)

Imagine this: It is 6:00 in the morning, and a gentle, Siri-like voice begins to speak from a recessed speaker mounted in your bedroom wall.

“It’s time to wake up, Dave,” she says. (Your name, of course, is Dave). As the minutes tick past, and you still don’t rouse, her voice becomes a bit sharper. “Wake up, Dave,” she says, “or the alarm will sound in ten seconds.” Ten seconds later, your bedroom lights flash, and a shrill alarm begins to sound. As you finally sit up in bed, stretch, and yawn, the alarm abruptly stops, as sensors in your Fitbit-type wearable device register your alert state.

“Shall I start your coffee for you, Dave?” asks the house computer, her voice once again calm and serene. You give your consent and head for the bathroom, which triggers the shower to begin streaming water at a perfect 105 degrees Fahrenheit. As you continue your morning routine, your smart house warms your floor tiles, fills you in on the news, and informs you of traffic conditions before you head out the door for work.

Sounds cool and futuristic, right? Like some impossible, sci-fi novel dream?

The Jetsons future

“But all of those things can already happen,” says one of my kids in a bored tone. “The technology already exists for all of that.”

“Also, it would be lame,” said another of my kids, “because a hacker could just break into your smart home system and start playing jump scare sound effects or make you wake up to the Hamster Dance song.”

“Or make all your lights flash at two in the morning,” said another of my kids. “Or make your water freeze in the middle of your shower. Or change the computer voice so that it sounds like Fred Figglehorn.”

This is true. (And would be totally funny if it happened to someone who was not me). And my kids are right — most of these are not unattainable ideas, and in fact, already have the technology to make it so. If you’ve got the money, you can actually turn your house into a Star Trek-worthy, super-connected smart house where numerous electronic devices talk to each other and interact with you via your home wireless network. Welcome to the IoT, or Internet of Things, the fastest growing and hottest buzzword I technology today.

Internet of Everything

Of course, when you work in the IT industry, your tech-savvy kids tend to become fluent in current tech concepts, and the IoT is as familiar as Chroma keyboards and wireless 802.11 ac routers. They also learn to become aware of the need to secure one’s home network, smart or not, from intruders of the malicious, or just plan mischievous kind.  Whether or not you speak geek, the IoT is here to stay, and already taking a prominent role in our lives.

Mother and daughter making dinner using futuristic interface

But it is certainly not without its security risks. Just as people are slowly learning that one must do with personal computers, it is imperative to educate ourselves about the potential risk of attacks on home networks and cloud-connected smart tech devices. Not sure where to start? Check with your device manufacturers or internet service provider for ideas. Read some of the great free information provided by the FCC and others about how to protect your home network from outside intruders. Create strong passwords to protect your IoT devices. Keep software updated and patched. Need more ideas? Well, you can always ask Siri.

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Girl Power! (aka: Barbie, What on Earth Happened to You?)

Techie BarbieFirst of all, let me just say that I was a total Barbie girl. I was one of those girls who stubbornly refused to stop playing with Barbie dolls until long after my middle school peers had already lost interest. I adored her pink, perfect world of glittering outfits, miniature accessories, and stupid plastic shoes that would not stay on her dainty little feet. While other young teens were busy flirting with real-life boys and experimenting with styling their own hair, I was locked away in my bedroom, acting out these same things with Barbie, Ken, and the gang (including a few unfortunate punk haircuts).

Barbie careersTo me, however, Barbie was about much more than wearing cute clothes and having pretend sex with Ken (oh come ON…every girl in the history of Barbie fandom has tried that at least once). Barbie was the ultimate symbol of Girl Power. We girls can do anything! We can be teachers and doctors and zoologists! We can be high-powered office executives by day, and all dolled-up for a smokin’ hot date by night. We can work hard, and then buy ourselves a dream house, a townhouse, a pink camper, and a matching Corvette. If nothing else, the Barbie campaign of my childhood taught us girls that we could have it all and be it all, and still look great doing it.

So what on earth happened?

Computer Engineer Barbie

Just in case you’ve been living in a cave that is deeper underground than my cave, here’s the scoop: Mattel had a book, published in 2010, titled, Barbie: I Can Be a Computer Engineer. Like me, many people cheered the concept. Hooray! Barbie is helping to encourage young girls to consider STEM careers, which continue to be largely dominated by men. Good for Barbie! However, as you read the story, you are met with the sad reality – Computer Engineer Barbie is a fraud. Sure, she comes up with a cute idea for a video game, but then she explains to Skipper,

” ‘I’m only creating the design ideas,’ Barbie says, laughing. ‘I’ll need Steven’s and Brian’s help to turn it into a real game.’ “

Seriously, Barbie?! You’re a computer software engineer and you can’t do the coding for your own game without help from the men? What’s happened to you? And as if that weren’t disappointing enough, Barbie inserts her flash drive into Skipper’s computer and – whoopsie – ends up infecting the computer with a virus. So, does Computer Engineer Barbie use her brain and her education and disinfect the computer herself? Of course not! She calls the boys, who eagerly offer to remove the virus for her.

” ‘Hi, guys,’ says Barbie. ‘I tried to send you my designs, but I ended up crashing my laptop — and Skipper’s, too! I need to get back the lost files and repair both of our laptops.’

” ‘It will go faster if Brian and I help,’ offers Steven.”

Ugghhh!!! I am guessing that clueless Computer Engineer Barbie had fake sex with her boss in order to be hired for her IT job. Luckily for girls everywhere, Mattel has pulled the disaster of a book and apologized for supporting such garbage. And luckily for everyone, an awesome IT consultant named Kathleen Tuite created the Feminist Hacker Barbie website, where users can edit the original text of the story to create a better version. Twitter users have also chimed in, with their – uh, more colorful editions of the story, using the hashtag #FeministHackerBarbie. One of the coolest things to come out of this whole fiasco has been the number of really smart women, many with IT careers, who have stepped forward to rewrite Barbie’s airhead words (and the patronizing responses of her male coworkers) with much more appropriate and witty dialogue. Now that is true Girl Power.

My Geektastic Life (aka: Why I am Not a Nerd)

Nerd AlertFor starters, I am not a nerd. Got it? Yes, okay, so I used to compete on a forensics speech and debate team in college. And yes, I have read the Harry Potter series seven times and even have my own homemade quidditch robes. And fine, I was once captain of my school spelling bee team, and it was my (sadly unfulfilled) dream to attend the Scripps National Spelling Bee. But that does not make me a nerd! Revenge of the Nerds Tri-Lambs

Look, I have nothing against nerds. I am not a geek-a-phobe. I have known some very nice and interesting nerds in my life. Like back in middle school I was closet-friends with this guy named Michael. He dressed like Steve Urkel and I swear he probably grew up to join the Tri-Lambs. I couldn’t be seen with him around campus, of course, but he and I were the only ones in the computer club (and probably the whole school) who knew how to operate the Apple IIe. When no one was looking, he and I had a great time playing Summer Games and Karateka (Omg, Karateka was the best!).

But I can’t possibly be a nerd. For starters:

  1. I have never attended a Con. That is like a serious prerequisite to being a real, live nerd.

 

  1. I do not read comic books. Okay fine, I used to read Archie and Betty & Veronica. But that doesn’t really count.

 

  1. I have loved computers since before they were cool. So doesn’t that make me less of a computer geek and more of a techie hipster?

 

  1. I do not own Alienware or any type of badass gaming computer. (But I do have plans to build one soon, so maybe I should earse this one from the list)

 

  1. I am physically coordinated. I play soccer. I dance. I am athletic. I even like to watch sports. So I’m pretty sure the nerds wouldn’t even let me into their club for this reason alone.

 

  1. I am way too hot to be a nerd. ‘Nuff said.

Sexy Nerd

So you see, that proves it. I may geek out about GPUs and geocaching, I may be the Queen of Scrabble, and I may just happen to work in the IT industry, but you’d better think twice before slapping that Nerd bumper sticker on my back, or else the next virus you catch may just be on your PC.

I’m kidding, I’m kidding! Haha…see? Sense of humor and everything. I’d make a terrible nerd. Evolution of the Geek

 

Playing God (a.k.a. Life is a Simulation)

During the week, my routine is not very different than most of yours. I take kids to school, go to work, come home, cook dinner, pay the bills, etc. Just like most people. But when the day is over, and all the work is done, I am God.

Okay, okay, don’t get all offended. The thing is, I have these secret worlds, filled with people whom I have created, who wear what I tell them to, sleep when I tell them to, and live and work wherever I see fit. It is up to me to decide who will become a beautiful rock star, who will become a poor family with six children, or who will become a lonely insane genius who works all night in his laboratory, creating mysterious potions. In this world, I control everything. I can make it snow for weeks on end! I can (sort of) bring the dead back to life! I have the ability to turn an entire population into bloodthirsty vampires! Mwa-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!

A Sims 3 Family Did I get too carried away? Oops, sorry. Something about playing The Sims 3 turns me into a power-hungry megalomaniac. Yes, I said The Sims 3. It is one of my favorite creative escapes. Truthfully, I have been a huge fan of simulation games since I was quite young. Back when Sim City first came out, it was like I had discovered gold. Since then, I have played every subsequent sim game:  Sim City, Sim Earth, Sim Farm, Sim Tower, you name it. When The Sims was first released, I was immediately hooked. And now, more than a decade later, I am still Sim-ming.

Here’s the deal – like a god, you create a person, or an entire family. You dress them, give them names (and sometimes pets), then move them into a home in your neighborhood. Really, it’s like playing a sophisticated game of Barbies. Only get this – the Barbies have come to life. And you, the player, have to guide them as they live their lives, and help them to stay happy as they navigate the ups and downs of careers, relationships, and family. Just like real people, each individual Sim has wishes and desires, which you can help them to fulfill. Like real people, they age, give birth, raise children, and then kick them out into the real world. And, like real people, the Sims grow old and die. (Or they can die sooner, you know, like if their house burns down and they can’t escape because you “forgot” to add doors. Just sayin’.) You can even throw a funeral, and then watch your other Sims get freaked out when the person comes back to haunt them as a ghost. Best game of Barbies EVER!

(Great video of Sex & the City, Sims 3 style)

Sims can walk around the neighborhood and meet people.

Sims can walk around the neighborhood and meet people.

Okay, so maybe the Sims isn’t the right game for everyone. It does take a lot of responsibility, organization, and time management skills to succeed in controlling the lives of others. And while the Sims can satisfy my hunger for power much of the time, I recognize that some of you may need to control a greater territory than just one little town of Barbies. I understand. And for you, I recommend one of many great war strategy simulation games, such as Civilization, Europa Universalis, or my personal all-time favorite, Age of Empires (the second one – forget the others). Then you can have your very own world of Barbie warriors who engage in medieval skirmishes or global thermonuclear warfare. HUZZAH!

sims-3-university-life-screenshot

 

What Shall I Do Now? (a secret revealed)

Okay, brace yourself. I am going to let you in on a secret about me…a little-known secret from my past. But you must be careful not to judge when you find out, okay?

Here it is:

My very first computer was a Commodore Vic-20.

20111111-223330.jpg

I was six years old when my stepdad bought it for me for Christmas and hooked it up to my bedroom television (which looked a lot like the one in above photo, btw). I was smitten from the first moment my hands began to type on the clunky keyboard. I had discovered my calling. I was destined to be a geek.

And really, it took a true geek to love the Vic-20. These days, playing a game means popping in a CD-Rom or downloading a file. But the Vic-20 didn’t have such fancy-pants technology. Games either came on a cassette, like this:

20111111-224733.jpg

Or you could do as I learned to do at the age of six: spend hours copying BASIC code out of computing magazines in order to acquire new games. See, I told you…geek from the very beginning.

And the Vic-20’s best game ever? Adventureland. Ohhh…I spent so much of my early childhood glued to the screen, playing God in a very nerdy, BASIC, text-based kind of way.

I’M IN A FOREST. TREES. WHAT SHALL I DO NOW?
(answer) kick tree
OKAY. WHAT SHALL I DO NOW?
climb tree

Yes. That was computer game bliss in 1981.

Eventually, as time passed, I moved on to better, more powerful systems (Commodore 64, Apple II Plus, Apple IIe, Packard Bell 486…skip a few…iPad 2). I no longer program my own games, though I am still quite the gamer. Only now when I play God, it is usually to a family of Sims or a squadron of strategy-game soldiers with wa-a-ay more pixels and power than my first little personal computer could churn out. But my Vic-20 is the one that started it all, the one which opened the door to techie adventure, and taught me always to wonder, “WHAT SHALL I DO NOW?”