Friday, March 23, 2018

Silos on the Plains

“If you build it, they will come.”
-                                 - “Field of Dreams” (paraphrased)

Consider how farm crops like corn and wheat get from the field to your table.  Someone harvests the grain and hauls it to a shipping facility.  There it is loaded into storage – usually a silo - eventually it is unloaded from the storage (silo) onto a truck or a train and shipped to market where it is sold to processors – food manufacturers.

Here’s a typical grain shipping facility using silos.  Each individual silo could be filled with a different crop but each silo contains only one crop.  Silos dot the plains and agricultural areas of the world and will for as long as they are useful.

The New Silos
Now consider the history of the computer.  The same company that designed and manufactured the hardware also designed and manufactured the software that ran on the hardware.  Computer silos, if you will.  If one owned IBM equipment you couldn’t buy software from NCR – even if NCR software was superior in some way – because it wouldn’t work with your IBM hardware.  And vice versa.  Buying software that did something your current software didn’t meant buying new hardware too.  Silos containing only one set of compatible solutions dominated the computer plains.  One had to choose carefully, knowing that the path forward would be narrowly confined.

The Silos Crumble
Then came the personal computer (PC) revolution: IBM hired a reluctant Microsoft (imagine for a second that Microsoft was ever “reluctant”) to design an operating system (OS) for their new IBM PC.  For a while, you had to buy an IBM PC if you wanted to use the Microsoft OS, named MS-DOS.  But then someone cloned (reverse-engineered) the IBM PC and you could buy a PC from someone other than IBM for less money and the new machine would run the Microsoft OS and any software written to run on it.  You probably remember the phrase “IBM-compatible”.  The silos in the personal computer world started to crumble.  
Generally, the PC world ended up split between just two silos: Apple Computer - with software that only ran on their computers and computers that ran only their software (or software written specifically for it) and Everyone Else, as all other manufacturers integrated with the Microsoft OS and made hardware and software to the Microsoft OS standard.  All other silos in personal computer software and hardware crumbled.  You might recall some of the names: Osborne Computer, Eagle Computer, Commodore Computer, Digital Equipment Company, etc.  Compatibility of hardware and software drove the rapid adoption of the personal computer – the silo system was obsolete.  Choice was easier, knowing that the path could evolve without having to start over at the beginning.

The Silo Makes a Comeback
Fast forward to 2018.  Silos are once again starting to dot the computer plains:

Apple of course, continues to operate its own silo – designing both computer hardware and software including its dominance in digital music with iTunes.  Apple now has the “Homepod” – a digital assistant that responds to voice commands.

Google designed a cell phone operating system: Android, aka “Droid” that has become the new standard for a large percentage of cell phone manufacturers – this system is not compatible with phones designed by Apple.  Google has the “Home” – a digital assistant that responds to voice commands.

Amazon is building its own silo for hardware (the Echo – a digital assistant) and software (Alexa) as well as an entertainment silo delivering music and video tied to it’s Prime membership.  No Prime membership, no Amazon entertainment.

None of these digital assistants and their developing entertainment eco-systems are compatible with the others – e.g., iTunes doesn’t work on the Echo.  There are other examples – the point is that tech companies are finding competitive advantages in drawing customers into their solutions (silos) at the exclusion of other solutions (silos).  We’re back where we started – faced with making a choice that locks us onto a narrowly confined path.

© 2018 Kim Miller, Certified Financial Planner™

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Security vs. Convenience - The Equifax Hack

You have undoubtedly heard about the massive data hack at Equifax, one of three U.S. credit-reporting companies, referred to as “credit agencies” (Experian and TransUnion are the others).  With 143 million credit files identified as exposed, I think it safe to assume that your information is “out there”. 

You can check to see if your data was exposed: Equifax has established a “Am I impacted?” web page:

I personally didn’t bother checking but went straight for the only action I could take that would provide any real measure of protection: I called each of the three credit agencies and initiated a Security Freeze on my credit files.  A Security Freeze locks your credit file; denying anyone attempting to use your information fraudulently to set up loans, credit cards, etc.  Will this action prevent all possible fraud with my information?  No – fraud takes many forms, but it will prevent my credit files being used.

Applying a Security Freeze locks your credit file to all applicants, including yourself.  When the freeze is applied, you are given a PIN (either immediately or by mail) which you will need to unlock your file in the future.  With the PIN, you can unlock your file temporarily if you need to apply for credit or unlock it permanently.

You might reasonably ask: “That seems inconvenient - should I sign up for credit monitoring – that’s just as good isn’t it?”  My reply is “Are you willing to take the chance that monitoring will catch every fraudulent attempt?”

Costs: two of the agencies charged $10 while the third charged $0.

Pro tips: 1) you must contact each agency separately – there is no “one and done”; 2) each person has their own credit files – if you are married both of you need to take separate action.

You can count on data breaches like this one happening again.  Protect yourself.

Here are the phone numbers for the three agencies:

Equifax      (800) 685-1111
Experian    (888) 397-3742
TransUnion (800) 680-7289

You can learn more at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau:

© 2017 Kim Miller, Certified Financial Planner™