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Open Letter to Vlad Shmunis, CEO, RingCentral

CLICK FOR A WEDNESDAY, JULY 16th UPDATE
CLICK FOR A FRIDAY, JULY 11th UPDATE

ringcentral-logoAs a RingCentral (RC) customer since May of 2010, we have enjoyed your service and its capabilities. After my initial 40-50 hours of working with your Philippines-based support folks (yes, it was that painful to setup), we finally got everything up and functioning with our two lines (using Cisco analog telephone adapters), our 800#, fax line, and extensions. It has worked quite well ever since and we’ve evangelized RC to many clients and friends, many of whom have signed up with your service.

But man…is it ever hard to upgrade! Though we have had few issues with RC and little need to contact tech support, dealing with your folks in the Philippines is virtually impossible when it comes to upgrading our service or buying new phones!

[Read more...]

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Listening Point

Listening Point on Burntside Lake

Listening Point on Burntside Lake

Wilderness. It is a concept fading from our consciousness as more humans populate the earth and those growing up now increasingly have their attention focused on the virtual.

The wild places—those where it is just you, the natural world, and the past, present and future you become aware of when you truly listen and observe what is around you—are arguably more important now than ever before in our fast-paced world.

This is something that Sigurd Olson lived and taught. If it weren’t for Olson, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) would not exist.

Yesterday I had a chance to visit Olson’s cabin on Burntside Lake in northern Minnesota, a place he called Listening Point, and one now on the National Historic Register.

[Read more...]

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Podcasting in Minnesota

podcastmn-logoPodcasting first began in earnest around mid-2005, driven in large part by a guy named Adam Curry. Curry has often been cited as the “godfather of podcasting”—at least from the promotional side while a guy named Dave Winer figured out and delivered the technical capabilities to make podcasting actually work—and at least Curry is still active with his No Agenda podcast.

During 2005, Curry would often play promos from podcasters around the world. One local Minnesota tech visionary, Garrick Van Buren, had started up a podcast group called PodcastMN (site is gone but here is a link to an archived version). Van Buren graciously managed the show feeds, set up the meetups, and was the guiding light of the group. At one of our meetups he suggested that the group record a short promo and send it to Curry.

Curry never played it, but many of us forgot all about it (and mostly about Curry himself) and went on with our respective podcasting adventures. Some of us stopped our original shows, some morphed in to others, but I’ll bet everyone still listens to a lot of podcasts themselves!

The PodcastMN folks at this particular meetup were (in order of appearance):

  • Sue GrandysUncomfortable Questions was a show I always enjoyed — it’s been said ‘everyone’ has a story and Sue always pulled it out of people — but her last show was in 2012
  • Mike O’Connor – His show Sex and Podcasting was done as an experiment, one leveraging his background in community radio. He stopped in 2005 but then started up again with GeezerCast, an effort that entailed, “Podcasting to my unborn grandchildren.
  • Eric LarsonEricCast is his show and he’s been recording virtually non-stop since the beginning

It’s been nearly 8 years since we were at that meetup and podcasting is still alive and well in Minnesota as well as nationally and internationally (see Remember podcasting? It’s back – and booming). How many podcasts are out there? Stitcher, a podcast listening service and mobile app, states that they are, “… the easiest way to discover the best of over 20,000+ radio shows, live radio stations and podcasts.”  More shows, and video podcasts, are coming online every day as well so this medium is still in its toddler phase. It will be interesting to see where this goes when it becomes easier for listeners (or video podcast watchers) to discover and stream new shows.

Give a listen to this short ‘promo’ to Adam Curry recorded in October of 2005 so you can hear just a handful of we early podcasters here in Minnesota, and how we positioned our shows:

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Vatican City Explained

We’re preparing for a family trip to Italy and I’ve been collecting interesting things to read and watch beforehand. It’s always good to have historical context before any trip, so the places one goes has a deeper meaning than what the guidebooks or venue signs display.

A short video like this one is perfect for our adult children to whet their appetite for more. Several of these factoids I didn’t know either and have sparked an interest in learning more:

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I’m Jewish and Related to Hitler?

sjb-dna-compositionAs we are all connected and come from a few thousand humans 60,000 or so years ago, you are probably both too.

After attending two parties last night, on the drive home my wife and I had a very interesting conversation about ancestry, how we’re all connected, and how two of her nephews discovered that they had completely different perspectives on their respective heritages. One saw himself as German (since their father’s direct ancestry is German) and the other brother identified with his lebanese background (since their mother’s ancestors hailed from Lebanon). It was a surprise to both of them.

That sparked a renewed interest in my ancestry so today I invested some time in poking around my 23andMe account to see if I could gain more insight in to my own genetic ancestry.

Like that one nephew of my wife’s, with the surname “Borsch” I’ve also always identified with Germany as my primary ancestry. Imagine my surprise when I saw that new visual representation you see above which clearly shows that the primary concentration of my ancestral DNA is British and Irish! Only 9.2% is closely aligned with French & German. Guess I have to rethink my ancestral beliefs.

But it got even more interesting as I dug deeper and discovered my .007% Jewish DNA and that Hitler and I shared a (thankfully) very distant male as an ancestor… [Read more...]

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Connected Home & the Twin Cities

sb-st-tc-comLast week I was interviewed by Julio Ojeda-Zapata, the TwinCities.com and St. Paul Pioneer Press technology reporter. We talked about my enthusiastic use of the leading home automation platform SmartThings, Apple’s announcement of their HomeKit at WWDC, and home automation in general.

His article starts out with:

A slumbering Steve Borsch of Eden Prairie did not move when an iPhone notification pinged at his bedside. He didn’t budge for a second alert either.

The third time was the charm, and good thing. It was January, the temperature outside was minus 14, and his home was freezing because the furnace had mysteriously turned off.

Read the article at TwinCities.com…

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Slo-Mo Sprinklers

Foolin’ around this morning shooting video on my iPhone. After viewing it I really liked the haunting bird song, along with the moth flitting about back-n-forth, and it put a smile on my face so thought I’d share it.

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Frontline’s United States of Secrets

frontline-ussecrets

Last night was part two of the PBS Frontline program called United States of Secrets. It was one of the best, most thorough overviews of what is going on with the NSA’s vacuum surveillance that I’ve ever seen.

You owe it to yourself, and the future of our children, to be aware of what’s going on.

NSA Finally In The Light

nsa-logoI’ve been deeply concerned about the massive, sweeping surveillance going on for over TEN YEARS! Whenever I bring up this topic (and online security in general) too many of my family and friends just shrug and say, “Oh well.” Frankly, I just don’t understand why most people don’t seem all that concerned about our fundamental erosion of liberty caused by the NSA’s mass surveillance.

Thankfully the Edward Snowden whistleblowing finally shined a light on what I intrinsically knew was going on shortly after 9/11 (see Snowden’s revelations and the overall controversy at The Guardian’s NSA Files website section). Yes, I feel vindicated for my paranoia but that attestation is not something I longed for…instead I hoped the government’s drive to classify their constitutional violations and illegal activities as “keeping America safe from terrorism” would stop.

Unfortunately that whistleblowing has made it increasingly hard for companies who sell their technology outside of the United States. For example, the NSA was inserting hardware in Cisco routers which caused CEO John Chambers to write a letter to President Obama asking for it to cease…now.

We’ve only seen the beginning of the backlash and erosion of our competitiveness around the world since no one trusts us anymore.  [Read more...]

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Is the Wells Fargo Mobile App Anti-Security?

wellsfargo-app

The Wells Fargo iPhone app disallows using the “Paste” capability in the phone to paste in long, high entropy passwords copied from my LastPass vault.

It is always interesting to me how banking apps, both web and mobile, specifically making a smartphone or tablet app very hard to use if you use a password with high entropy (see this Wikipedia article on password strength and especially “Entropy as a measure of password strength“).

Since I use a password manager (LastPass) with literally hundreds of sites in my ‘vault’, I use very strong passwords. They are comprised of upper/lowercase letters; numbers; special characters; and are ones that make it simple to have quite strong passwords for anything that matters (and they’re all different!).

So what do I have to do on my iPhone? Open my LastPass vault app; login to LastPass; find my Wells Fargo account; touch it and, in the popup, choose “Copy Password”; and then open the Wells Fargo app and choose the Password field; then choose “Paste”.

EXCEPT THE WELLS FARGO APP DISALLOWS PASTING A PASSWORD IN THE PASSWORD FIELD!

The problem is this: There is NO way I could ever remember my password since it is so long and contains so many characters of different types. Curiously the Wells Fargo app also disallows pasting anything in to the Username field…so I can’t even do a workaround by pasting my high entropy password temporarily in to the Username field and then typing it in the Password field.

Get your shit together Wells Fargo. With this app developed this way you are DISCOURAGING THE USE OF STRONG PASSWORDS! 

Of course, they do say on their website here that, “We take your privacy and security very seriously. Read about why our mobile banking services are secure. Learn more…” but I’m not going to dumb-down my password to use their mobile app.

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We Are All Connected: My DNA Journey

UPDATE 5/11/2014
Saw this article today and did some investigation.
A variant of the gene KLOTHO (KL) is known for its anti-aging effects in people fortunate enough to carry one copy. Now researchers find that it also has benefits when it comes to brain function. The variant appears to lend beneficial cognitive effects by increasing overall levels of klotho in the bloodstream and brain.” Also, Klotho (KL) is generally considered to be a tumor suppressor gene in breast and pancreatic cancers.

Turns out I have the variant. I would never had known that had I not been able to login to 23andMe and discover that I had it. Cool, heh?

Three years or so ago National Geographic produced a fascinating show called The Human Family Tree as part of its Genographic Project. If you haven’t seen it I don’t want to introduce any spoilers, but it was the first show like this I’d watched that told real stories about the amazing connectedness of humans. It also had surprises in it that obviously changed the worldview of some of its partcipants!

That show was a big deal to me since it was the first spark of my internal fire to learn more about DNA and my own family tree.

23andme-kitAfter this show I became very intrigued by the work going on at 23andMe. At the time, the ‘swab’ kit (for sending in your DNA) cost $499 so I decided against it at the moment. In the fall of 2011 they dropped the price to $99 so I signed up.

It was fun to see the results but the key with 23andMe is that the participants have to answer survey questions…over-and-over-and-over again. I’m willing to do it since I benefit from other people doing the same, but it did become a daunting task after awhile. Still, I was able to see what others in my maternal/paternal haplogroups suffered from so I have at least an idea of what sorts of illnesses I’m prone to having.

I’ve also connected with 3rd, 4th, and 5th cousins. One woman who is a 3rd cousin, for example, connected with me and she lives in California. I looked at her profile and, in a long list of surnames she was connected to, was the surname of my maternal grandmother’s parents! So my great grandfather’s family in Norway had a male who, um, ‘connected’ with a woman in her lineage and passed on that familial DNA. Cool.  [Read more...]