Turn the darn phone off!

I have been working home, long before the Covid-19 pandemic made it a requirement for many office workers. In the past, I struggled with productivity when working on multiple projects. At some point, I realized that mult-tasking was a euphemism and nothing more. I learned to focus on one task at a time for an extended period of time before moving to the next task.

Recently, I have found that my devices (‘tronics) have been more of an interference than productivity tools. However, this week I was extremely productive. I focused on several client projects and also made time for my volunteer translations. I was not ovewhelmed and I checked off everything on my list (well almost).

My secret? Every day, I silenced my mobile phone for the entire day. No news alerts sounding off. No phone calls from robocall central. No text messages with smiling or laughing yellow faces. O-F-F off. The result? Blissful completion of work, including a project with an important deadline.

Set the gadgets aside for focused, productive work.

But I didn’t stop there

It’s not just the phone that is clamoring to to take my attention away. I also get alerts from my PC. So I silenced the desktop alerts, too. No pop-ups for news, notifications about computer health, and no Outlook calendar alerts. I know my schedule. No need to remind me every hour about something I know I have to do.

Say No to Social Media and Other Apps

It’s not part of my daily work so unless I am taking a break, I close the social media apps. To get really extreme, I also close the Internet browsers. I even shut off Slack and Teams, too, unless it is required to be connected to my colleagues. Yes, I do sing the praises of office technology—technolo-gee is why we’re here, right?—but sometimes it just gets in the way.

Check in at Scheduled Times

There is no reason to keep my eyes on the email inbox. No incoming email is so important that a reply sent within a few hours is not acceptable. I schedule breaks into my day to read email. Depending on the day, I also go outside and walk around the yard, hop on the treadmill or bike, and practice my musical instruments (and I could always use more practice!).

Other Necessary Inputs

I am a natural night owl. It is painful for me to go to sleep before 10:30 p.m.—literally, because I will wake up at 3:30 a.m., not be able to fall asleep again. My entire day will be ruined and it can take two or three days to recover. Nevertheless, going to bed at a relatively early time, and sleeping for at least seven or eight hours, is essential to having a productive next day.

Sleep is a key ingredient to productivity.

On the next morning, I start my day with some Bible reading, prayer, light exercise, and breakfast in that order. My morning routine centers me and prepares me for whatever is heading to my desk.

And finally, a little about my desk. My workstation is conducive to focused work. I typically stand when I work but I also have a comfortable chair if I want to sit down and work. I use two monitors and a (mostly) reliable wi-fi connection.

With all these good practices in place, productivity is pretty much guaranteed!

What are your productive working habits? Send them to me in an email and I will update this list. Let’s share ideas!

Zoom keeps things interesting

I bought a new mobile phone a few months ago and yesterday was the first day I watched the “what this phone can do” video. Pretty impressive Motorola phone and I will keep it for at least five years (yes, I do keep my mobile phones that long).

If you are like me (and most people), then you are not using anywhere near 100% of your mobile phone’s capability. Or, for that matter, any of your computer or application capability.

After getting to know my phone a little better, I decided to poke around in my email app and my browser. Then I went to Microsoft Word (always something new there) and before my half day virtual conference, I spent some time checking the profile and general settings in Zoom.

Personalizing the experience

Zoom was probably one of the first applications to customize reactions to allow skin tones. This is an inclusive feature that I appreciate.

Zoom skin tones

But did you know that Zoom does facial grooming too to help you look your best on camera? Okay, well not really but you can use Studio effects to touch up your appearance.

There are shaped eyebrows—in your favorite pencil color—and lipstick in your preferred shade that digitally “glue” on your face. There are also beard and mustache options.

I did not think much of the idea until I tried it. It applied nicely trimmed eyebrows (as long as I did not move my head too quickly) and lipstick that did not end as part of my lunch when it rubbed off while I ate.

Zoom Studio Effects (Beta)

Download the Beta Studio Effects within the Zoom appl. It’s great once in a while to say, “Gee!” Technologee.

Bias in the Machine

Can technology really be racist?

Twitter’s image cropping program that automatically focuses on white faces and ignores black faces

Google labeling Black people as primates

Facial recognition algorithms that misidentify Black images

Bank loan software that penalizes Black and brown credit applicants

Industry accepted terminology such as “black list” and “white list”

Technology can be as biased or as neutral as its designers and leaders.

How can a machine, app or software be racist? Well, look no further than the people who design and build the technology. It is coded into the technology. Racial hiring disparities and exclusionary tendencies in the tech industry magnify bias.

This article puts Google on blast

In June 2020, Google announced that it would be (again) taking steps to increase diversity in its ranks of employees, which at the time consisted of 0.7% Black people. However, rather than embrace the diversity that will improve its products (and consequentially, customer relations), Google leaders have opted to terminate employees who challenge their status quo. A prominent AI researcher, a woman of color, was also fired, in addition to a diversity recruiter. Google also recently settled a $MM lawsuit for gender and Asian discrimination.

So why are things so bad at Google? After, all Amazon posted results of 7.2% Black employees and 9% at Apple.

How many Black engineers does it take to bring change to a team of biased developers?

One might conclude that Google’s leadership is not interested in hiring and cultivating a workforce inclusive of Black people. If true, then they will continue to distribute products that both exclude, and afflict BIPOC.

If Google’s managers are truly making efforts in this area, yet are failing, maybe it is because they have the wrong people working on the problem. The people who created the problem cannot fix it, especially if they are not committed to fixing it. As with any organization that attempts to solve its problems from the inside (think Office of Congressional Ethics, Internal Affairs), Google needs some outside help.

Have you ever met dentists who drill and fill their own teeth? Sarbanes-Oxley requires external auditing for public companies. Similarly, companies like Google need some outside auditors, shareholder demands and public policies that will hold their leaders accountable. Or, perhaps We, the Customers need to start our own commissions and oversight boards to hold them to the task.

Although Google is a major player, and a highly competitive one at that, someone must remind them that they are not the only game in cybertown. I think it should be all of us. But I suppose I will have to close my Gmail account first.

Data Purge: Tech as a Partisan Tool

I first read about voting data purges in 2018. It is an tactic to remove legally registered voters form the polls in efforts to, in theory, clean up records of people who have moved to different addresses. In practice, it prevents infrequent voters from voting and it attempts shape the electorate in order to ensure that those who would vote in favor of other candidates will have a difficult time voting, if they are able to vote at all.

Data purges are led by state officials, in the case of Ohio, the Secretary of State. The reason this administration has given for the undertaking is to remove names of people ineligible to vote. However, given that the process and the data system has had errors—up to 20% in 2019—, it is surprising that officials have continued to commit these actions, which hinder 14th and 15th Amendment rights.

As diverse as we are, American citizens have one thing in common—the right to vote. No elected official should impede that right.

The Columbus Dispatch reported in January 2020 that Ohio’s Secretary of State purged over 460,000 registrations, some in error. Many of those people found out when they got to the polls that they could not vote. At that point, it was too late. In August 2020, a list of over 100,000 soon to be removed registrants was published by the Secretary of State. In January of this year, a list was published of 98,000 additional voters scheduled to be purged. According to one report, registered Democrats were purged at disproportionately higher rates.

Ohio is not the only state where this has or is happening. Wisconsin is among many with elected officials that have taken steps to purge voters. Going further, state elected officials are enacting legislation that places further restrictions on voting freedoms, primarily because of the false narratives of voter fraud promoted by the previous president.

There is > 1 Way to Identify Ineligible Voters

There are many alternatives to deletion from a database. One method would involve a requirement to cross reference the state taxpayer database, and/or the IRS database before purging. Employment and tax address data is accurate and can easily be cross-referenced with SQL queries. But really, leaving voters’ data in place is the best option. With all of the voter ID requirements in place (state issued ID, utility bills, etc.), anyone misrepresenting an address will be caught. It calls into question the true motives.

Fight Back with an Old School Tool: Communication

Anyone who is online, knowledgeable and able to search for registration status will not be harmed by voter purging. The concern is instead for the populations who have no access to newspapers, transportation, computers or Internet, or are not able to view their status for any reason.

All of us in the tech community can help. First, register to vote if you have not done so already. Then, get online to verify that your Secretary of State lists you as an eligible voter, months ahead of any scheduled election. If you’re in Ohio, visit the Ohio SOS site.

While you’re checking your own status, verify the status of any relatives, neighbors and friends. Call them, or visit them if safe, and let them know you are checking for them. Teach them how to check for themselves.

If you are looking for a way to flex your tech muscles, volunteer! Check in with the local League of Women Voters, MoveOn.org and other voting advocacy groups to attend meetings or volunteer. Every bit of support will help. Let’s share ideas!

This post is political in nature and I normally do not wax political. However, the fact that elected officials have committed to data projects like this is disturbing. On a personal level, I will look to vote for candidates who work in everyone’s best interests, and who demonstrate that they want every eligible citizen voting age to be able to vote. The current officials have proven to me that every vote does indeed count—and they don’t seem to want it to.

Don’t help the scammers!

Have you ever received a collections call about a credit card that you have never used? Have you received a court order for an unpaid loan for a car that you have never driven? Or, has your bank contacted you about purchases you did not make?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, then chances are you have been a victim of identity theft. And, if you have, you might wonder how it happened. Those who are posting TMI (too much information) online should not be surprised when it happens.

A recent phenomenon that follows years of social media addiction is the posting of Covid-19 vaccine cards on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. According to the Better Business Bureau and the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), posting images of vaccine cards online is an invitation for ID theft crime.

The vaccine cards contain information that by itself, may not provide a complete data file. However, your full name, date of birth, can be combined with your current and former home addresses, family member names, current and prior employers, and your school and college—all readily available in an internet search—to create a full data file.

If you have been fortunate enough to have gotten an early vaccine dose, keep it confidential.

The vaccine card is not a badge of honor; it is personal health data that falls under the United States HIPAA laws and should be treated as confidential. Don’t give away your data (no regales a los estafadores tus datos)!

What have you seen family or friends reveal on the Internet and how do you discourage this behavior? Let’s share ideas!

Social Media Market Take-down

If you don’t already know about the furor over the gang of day traders at Reddit, then you have been asleep since the capitol riot.

I think VOX explained it best:

An army of traders on the Reddit forum r/WallStreetBets helped drive a meteoric rise in GameStop’s stock price in recent days, forcing halts in trading and causing a major headache for the short sellers betting against it and banking on the stock falling. It’s a captivating David vs. Goliath story, where David — at least on some fronts — appears to be winning.

So using social media technology, thousands of day traders took over for a few days, making purchasing and logging their activity on Reddit, shaking up the markets and forcing the hand of experienced investors and firms.

They selected a few undervalued stocks and “pumped” them up 200% or more percent. As a long-term investor it was unnerving and I reacted uncharacteristically to what was viewed as an attack on the market.

For one, I had purchased AMC at $2.00 several weeks ago, with the goal of watching it gradually rise. When the price rose to $21, then dropped, I reacted to the unexpected volatility and sold my shares. I actually felt violated because that was not my plan at all.

At the same time, I am intrigued by this class of investors, their solidarity and ability to influence financial markets. For just over six weeks, I have been trying my hand at day trading. For whatever reason, I have been unsuccessful at getting translation and training contracts so day trading was the next easiest thing (full transparency: my daily profit equates to wages of a typical day job).

Since the uproar, I have joined Reddit and am active on the WallStreetBets page. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.

How did this latest technology event affect your day/week? Let’s share ideas!

That cool drawing video

If you’ve ever seen a video where a hand appears to be drawing on a whiteboard and wondered, well how did they do that? Well, there’s an app for that!

This month, I downloaded a desktop app called VideoScribe to test out the capabilities. The tools are pretty easy to use. You simply select the images that you want to add to the timeline (from their library or select your own images), adjust the duration and transition settings and play.

These type videos can be used for demonstrations, eLearning, marketing or general communication. I would use it more for advertising, which is the project I created today. Here’s a video I made in about 15 minutes.

VideoScribe in action

Note that if you are using the trial version there is limited functionality and any exported video will contain a fixed background with the Sparkol logo.

There are other drawing apps out there with similar functionality. Try them out and send your comments about the best value in terms of functionality, subscription price, integrations. Let’s share ideas!

This month’s exploration into the drawing video had me saying that’s great technolo-gee, I did not know it was THAT easy. Try it for yourself!

Up-skilling for the Next Phase

When the pandemic has passed (or when vaccines become universally distributed) some might be wondering, Will I be ready for what comes next? What skills will be most valued? Will I even get a contract in my current field? Lots of unknowns.

Well, given that the new American president seems focused on putting in place experts in their respective fields, I am hopeful for the upcoming changes that will encourage equitable growth and development in technology. With that in mind, I have been skilling up to prepare for recovery.

I have spent many hours learning Microsoft Azure, Dynamics 365, C# and other technical courses. Training sources vary in their cost and relevance, but here are a few ideas that I have used in the past year:

  • Training Days offered by software vendors – I attended several Azure training days offered by Microsoft and its partners. I also attended an SAP free preview course.
  • Industry Conferences – some of the best training comes from industry professionals who are eager to share technological advances. The main benefit to conferences is having companies share how they apply the technology to their business. I attended a Developer’s conference and also attended Adobe Max this year for the first time.
  • Coursera – this leans more to academic topics but I have found some good IT courses offered in Spanish.
  • LinkedIn Learning (lynda.com) – choose a playlist for your topic of interest or risk becoming lost in all of the courses! There are quite a few IT and other courses taught by Spanish and Portuguese-speaking professionals.
  • PluralSight – I am new to this one but I have to give five-star rating for the course I took during their free preview weekend.

So, which sites are you using for training? Send me a note. Let’s share ideas!

Microsoft Azure Portal

Feel like someone’s watching you?

How would you like for your employer to monitor you while you working from home? Imagine sitting at your desk and your home office and your boss is tracking what you are doing. To a limited degree, your status on Microsoft Skype and Teams serve as monitoring; however surveillance applications can be quite a bit more invasive.

Why Monitor at all? Well, not everyone can be trusted to stay on task and do the work that he/she is being paid to do while in the office, much less in their private homes. Unless there is some hourly or daily deliverable, there’s really no way to tell that WFH is really happening.

Employers monitor “efficiency, attendance and productive time as well as detect slackers and late-comers.”

Janet Patterson, Medium.com

How exactly do employers monitor? Well, when I teach online university courses, my students must install a monitoring browser that uses their webcams and AI when they take exams. The applications check for head and eye movements that are attributed with cheating, and prevent the students from switching to other applications during the exams. Similarly, employer surveillance applications monitor keyboard and web activities and do the following:

Is there any lasting employer benefit of monitoring? Eventually, everyone will be back in the workplace. It’s already starting to happen. Rather than continue to play big brother, this is a chance for the company to start incorporating specific skills and traits into job requirements that will preclude the necessity of employee monitoring.

Yes, I still play with puppets

It has been a while since I have been smitten, enamorada, fascinée with a computer application. After my training and first few projects with Adobe Character Animator puppets (or characters), I am truly excited about the possibilities of this tool, from conducting online unbiased interviews, live virtual meetings, and recorded or live presentations.

So far I have learned the basics of setting up the Character Animator puppets, and editing them to change their features, skin color, hair texture and clothing. Although you do not have to be an artist to navigate this application, it’s definitely not one that you can jump right into (believe me I tried)—even if you are familiar with Adobe products. You have to get some training.


The best tutorials that I have seen so far come from Okay Samurai. Check out his videos, which cover the basics, intermediate and all the way to the projects I could only hope to someday create.

It’s certainly a fun product and you just need a computer with a microphone, camera and of course Adobe Creative applications. Enjoy!

Adobe Character Animator is challenging but worth the effort.