Careers: Interviews
Arthur Entlich: Internationally Regarded Microsoft MVP in Printing and Imaging; Noted Professional Artist, Photographer and Lecturer

This week, Stephen Ibaraki, FCIPS, I.S.P., DF/NPA, MVP, CNP has an exclusive interview with Arthur Entlich.

Arthur EntlichArthur Entlich is a professional artist, photographer and lecturer, who provides creative graphic artists and others with information on how to bridge and integrate traditional art forms with high tech methodologies to allow them to broaden their creative techniques and output. His commentaries can be found in various internet printing and graphic hardware groups. He has been awarded as a Microsoft MVP in Printing and Imaging for the last four years.

Having studied social, health and natural sciences from an early age through university, Arthur has a strong commitment to social justice and environmental protection. He is a regular advocate for greater environmental stewardship on the part of high tech manufacturers, through to end users.

The latest blog on the interview can be found in the Canadian IT Managers (CIM) forum where you can provide your comments in an interactive dialogue.
http://blogs.technet.com/cdnitmanagers/

Index and links to Questions
Q1   Can you tell us more about your award area as a Most Valuable Professional (MVP) and how you came to work in this area?
"As digital imaging becomes part of broader areas of personal and commercial use, I'm helping people further afield. For instance, just the other day, a dentist asked about going digital with his X-ray lab."
Q2   What would make your list of the top technical challenges and how they can be resolved?
"In the specific areas of printing and imaging ......color management......image permanence......lowering the initial cost of equipment acquisition while asking highly inflated prices for consumables to make them the profit driver......scanners, printers and other similar peripherals are being forced into premature obsolescence by lack of upgraded drivers....."
Q3   Please make your top predications for 2007 and beyond in your areas of technical expertise.
"Much within imaging technologies will continue in an evolutionary, rather than revolutionary fashion........"
Q4   What should businesses know about future trends in the Internet environment? What are the implications and business opportunities? Why should businesses care?
".....the internet becoming a new place to "hang out".....telecommuting......virtual products are becoming acceptable......never before in the history of business has the ability to create a niche market out of thin air been so available........."
Q5   If you sum up your life experiences with some career tips for the ICT professional, what would be your tips and the reasons behind them?
"I suppose what I am saying is that besides developing methods of emulating what already is and translating it using current technologies, we need people who will unleash new capabilities and societal expressions and who will take their creative vision forward."
Q6   You have a passion for consumer advocacy. Can you tell us more about this?
"If the energy, time, materials, and a certain environmental cost are required to produce something, that item should be of value equal to or beyond the fundamentals that produced it. It offends me when manufacturers release products that are not properly implemented, incomplete, over-hyped, or of poor quality...........I note a tendency of products to last just beyond their warranty period, and as warranties become shorter, this is particularly concerning."
Q7   What are your views on the environment and e-waste?
"How many of us have stored away in our closets and basements perfectly usable peripherals that have been forced into obsolescence by lack of drivers, or change in a plug or interface? Each time a new operating system goes through an introduction, it negates hundreds of thousands of otherwise usable peripherals. For lack of a small bit of code, millions of otherwise perfectly functional devices will be forced into the e-waste stream."
Q8   You have a remarkable history. Please share this with our audience.
"What it ended up being was a forced entry into the early realms of computer graphic arts, which ultimately give me an early leg up on using computer technology in art and photography."
Q9   What are your "burning" questions that you want answered?
"....How do we maintain or re-establish balance between our humanity and technology?....Can the natural world survive technology?....Are we willing to speak up in the boardroom of our technological leaders about these issues?...."

DISCUSSION:

Opening Comment: Arthur, considering your deep schedule, we appreciate you taking the time to do this interview.

A: I'm very pleased to speak to you and your readers.

Q1: Can you tell us more about your award area as a Most Valuable Professional (MVP) and how you came to work in this area?

A: The area in which I have been awarded by the MVP program is called "Printing and Imaging". Microsoft's digital documents product group has a broad area of responsibility, so in spite of there being only a handful of MVPs in our area, we include a wide variety of competencies. For example, some have their expertise in printer, scanner or fax drivers, interfacing or networking, and others like myself, spend most of our time dealing with end users who are working with interfacing or managing non-Microsoft peripherals, (such as scanners, printers, and other imaging devices), within Microsoft operating system environments. I'm not the guy to ask if someone has an issue regarding coding or security, which may involve having to dig deep into the internal structure of a Microsoft product.

Over 20 years ago, due to some health related issues involving working with traditional photographic chemicals, I needed to adopt digital imaging solutions in order to continue working in my profession. Back then, options which today we would be considered totally inadequate, cost tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars and were out of my price range. As an early adopter of home computers for graphic image-making and output, I picked up some knowledge and skills regarding, not only what software and hardware existed that could further a graphic artist or photographer interested in using computers, but also how to do so as a small business owner with limited funds. Along the way I also learned some of the pitfalls to avoid, and finally, (I have always had curiosity about how things work), I learned how to maintain and repair some of these peripherals.

I became attracted to the internet when it was still mainly a text communication tool, before the graphical web was accessible to most of us. It rapidly became obvious to me that the internet was becoming a wonderful learning playground. I absorbed a lot of information that others had taken the time and energy to provide, and I felt that since there was a demand for the information I had acquired from my own experiences, that I should "pay it forward" by offering what I knew to others.

I have always enjoyed doing research for my own needs, so as questions came up on newsgroups and lists that I could not answer myself, I began to research them so I could add that knowledge to my own. Over the years, I have amassed experience and information that seems to be valuable to a lot of people. I deal with people on all levels of involvement with digital images - from those buying their first scanner or printer to people who own commercial graphics businesses. Many are established artists who have been working in traditional media for their lifetimes and are now feeling the need or desire to expand or convert to digital technologies.

Many artists have very limited IT knowledge and even smaller budgets to work with in developing digital studios and labs. I try to help them slice through the hype and get what they need without spending money purchasing equipment with excessive specifications they aren't likely to need. I also deal with many established and older members of the arts community, who sometimes exhibit fear and reticence about moving away from traditional methods of doing their art, due to the high learning curve when switching to a computer. However, by communicating in plain language, (I'll admit to having little patience for people who speak in acronyms and code), I often can explain the advantages to using computer technology either as a substitute or in tandem with their more traditional materials and approaches. I explain how they can develop new workflows that are quicker and allow for more creativity and experimentation, easier correction of errors, reuse of previous works into new projects, and in some cases, a safer work environment which eliminates or reduces toxic materials and labor. Some artists literally discover completely new art forms by working on a computer interfaced "canvas". In some cases, artists who were struggling to produce profitable output, find that with computers they can produce quality product that they could otherwise not afford to pay others to do for them.

As digital imaging becomes part of broader areas of personal and commercial use, I'm helping people further afield. For instance, just the other day, a dentist asked about going digital with his X-ray lab.

Q2: What would make your list of the top technical challenges and how they can be resolved?

A: There are, of course, challenges in many areas within IT that we all face and then there are those that are specific to imaging. I will cover both areas.

Challenges specific to printing and imaging:

  1. In the specific areas of printing and imaging, one of the main issues people have to deal with, (as a professional in a commercial setting or as a beginner just trying to get good output from their digital camera to their printer), is the matter of color management. This involves getting an image to maintain its color accuracy throughout the many changes of format it goes through, (from a scanned or camera data file, to being observed and perhaps manipulated on a monitor, and finally as hard copy print output). In its simplest form, the question I often get is "why doesn't my print look like the image I see on my monitor". In the more complex version, the question becomes "why did my very costly advertising brochure look so different when it came back from the printing company, compared to what I thought I sent them?"

    Unfortunately, the solution has been slow in coming and since it is such an important issue, many different segments of the industry have attempted to fix it over the years. The solution, ultimately, needs to be built into the OS. That was recognized by competing OS providers some years ago and may explain the still strong affiliations between artists and printers and those OSs and computer systems. Microsoft however, seems to have been a little slow in recognizing that people were moving to its platform from these professions due to cost saving and compatibility with other business affiliations. For years, when Windows users were only needing to produce color pie charts for business applications, it wasn't critical if the exact red was reproduced in the printed report. However, over time, more and more critical uses of photographic images and other applications which required exact color matches have moved over to Windows computers. Today, almost every Windows user expects to see accurate color images on their monitor, as well as a way to bring it to a printed hard copy. Microsoft's newest OS, Vista, has made some strides in this area, but is still not fully implemented. The problem, in part, is that the rest of the industry, (such as hardware manufacturers and application software manufacturers), who have come up with somewhat effective work-arounds for the missing tools within the OS, aren't quite ready to drop what they came up with and embrace and implement what Microsoft's engineers are developing. To some extent, it's a chicken and egg syndrome. Full color management will probably not occur within the Windows OS for a while yet and the industry seems to be fence sitting. This, (much to the frustration of some end users), leaves them still battling without standard workflows to apply color management and having to rely on both hardware and application software companies to work something out. Unfortunately, since it's now a free-for-all situation, some solutions create conflicts with one another. So even figuring out what to turn on or off within the software environment can be confusing.

    In fairness to Microsoft, they are taking this issue seriously and have expanded their color group internally. And although all the pieces aren't yet in place, some quite positive movement is at work. In the meantime, mission critical applications can be preformed on Windows OSs, but require extra hardware and software to do so effectively.

  2. The second issue with regard to printing and imaging is probably image permanence. Early inkjet printing technologies relied upon dye inks. While the image quality was great in many cases, the prints faded away in a matter of days, weeks, months or at best a year or two. For many transient documents it wasn't an issue. But as people moved to using these printers to produce artwork and photographs, either as salable works or keepsakes for their family archives, the issue came into the limelight. Black and white wet lab photos have been the mainstay of permanent images and good quality ones can last hundreds of years if stored or displayed properly. When photography switched over to color, people expected the same level of permanence, but most were sadly disappointed when their family archives began to fade away in a matter of years. Even original color movie prints like Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey began to fade away, and the industry was forced to come up with better quality dyes to transfer these valuable images onto for safe keeping.

    I suspect that when inkjet technology was first developed, no one recognized it might eventually take over for wet lab processing, so little thought was given to image permanence. However, as in the evolution of many products, the users of the hardware had other ideas and expectations. The good news is that the industry did eventually come to recognize that a good segment of their clients wanted more permanence from the image output and new formulations of both inks and papers have been developed to do that. There is still considerable controversy as to whether accelerated testing is giving an accurate indication of how long these images will last in the real world, and as often is the case, some manufacturers appear to be playing loose with the standards to imply better results.

    Further still, traditional color photos offer features such as being relatively waterproof and scratch resistant. But currently even though some inks have good fade resistance they do not necessarily offer all those features. Once again, the good news is that the industry is very much aware that the consumer wants better permanence and handling from their output, and they are developing new technologies to do so. To be fair, quality traditional color photo images took numerous decades to innovate, while inkjet and other color digital image technologies are just coming into adolescence, at best.

  3. Along the same lines, the third issue is the business model being used in the consumer printer industry. This involves lowering the initial cost of equipment acquisition while asking highly inflated prices for consumables to make them the profit driver. This was not always the case, but those who are old enough will recall how costly dot matrix and early laser printers were. At that time, cost of consumable items were kept reasonable. Somewhere along the way, someone decided to sell printers using what is often referred to as the 'razor blade' business model, in that companies selling razor blades would give people the handle for free or at cost, hoping to make up the loses by selling the refill razor blades at a substantial profit and by making their razor blades unique in some fashion so only their brand would fit the handle. In the printer business the printer hardware is sold at an unprofitable or break -even price point, and that profit loss is made up for by charging highly excessive prices for the inks and toners. In some cases, this marketing has reached a point of absurdity, where printers are provided free and the ink costs more than high priced French perfume per milliliter.

    Some people find this an acceptable or even a beneficial sales approach, as it does indeed reduce the cost of equipment acquisition. However, the manufacturers of these printers have become more and more covert, reducing yield without reducing cost, developing partially filled cartridges which are packaged with the original printer at purchase time, so the cartridges run out rapidly. Technologies are incorporated so not only can a purchaser not use generic or compatible ink or toner cartridges, but some printers are programmed to not work at all or work more slowly, if third party product is attempted. As well, microchips are designed into the cartridge circuitry which are destroyed by the printer when the cartridge reaches a certain level, in order to prevent reuse of that cartridge.

    Fearing third party entrepreneurs marketing consumables for less and cutting into those profits, has encouraged the printer manufacturers to find legal and technological methods to force consumers to use their products. This battle has now escalated to the point where the consumer and the environment are very much at the losing end. The consumer loses because a great deal of the R&D goes into methods to defeat the use of third party consumables, leading to overly complex designs and more technology to fail. The environment also suffers because it has become less costly to simply replace a printer when the inks run out or at the first sign of a service issue, than to repair it or replace the consumables. To me, this is the worst kind of waste, because both printers and their ink and toner cartridges are ending up piling up in the landfills.

    Some printers have limited lifespan so that replacing internal consumable parts is more costly than replacing the complete printer. I am regularly having to educate buyers about the disadvantages of buying a lower cost printer which provides minimal yield of prints until the cartridges are replaced, sometimes at a cost above that of replacing the 80 or more pounds of mechanics and electronics.

    The E.U., in its wisdom, has passed legislation which will require printer manufacturers to design their printers and cartridges to be refillable or they will not be able to be sold in those countries. Printer manufacturers have responded by making localized printer and cartridge versions which can be refilled, but they will only work together and will only be sold in E.U. countries, to avoid grey market exports. Obviously, North America needs to pass similar legislation to that of the E.U., so the manufacturers will implement these changes globally. This will only happen if end users demand this of our politicians.

  4. Along the same lines, scanners, printers and other similar peripherals are being forced into premature obsolescence by lack of upgraded drivers. Whenever a new OS is released, a large variety of peripherals become orphans without software drivers. The move from Windows 98/ME to XP sealed the fate of many otherwise working peripherals. This will probably happen to a lesser extent for those who move from XP to Vista, because the hardware manufacturers seemed to respond more responsibly this time around. However, there is a problem in the industry. OS producers typically do not make drivers, although they work with the peripheral manufacturers on some level. Peripheral drivers, when they require a complete rewrite of the code to work with new OSs become a costly liability. Besides, lack of a driver update can become an engine to force more sales of newer products that have current drivers. It becomes a 'catch 22', with each side pointing at the other as the cause.

    Again, the answer may have to lie with legislation requiring that products be supported for a certain lifespan, regardless of the number of OSs that are introduced, or perhaps some system of tax credits to peripheral manufacturers can be developed to help defray the costs of developing new drivers, so that these products do not have to be discarded so rapidly. Still another option may be to standardize drivers or the manner in which OSs communicate with drivers so that regardless of new OSs being released, drivers will automatically continue to function.

Challenges in the broader area of technology

  1. As a segue from printing and imaging into the broader area of technology, there is the question regarding how our current history will be recorded and saved. As the problem exists with obsolete drivers, we are also having to deal with obsolete file formats, media and media readers, and general archiving.

    Archivists and museum curators are trained to recognize media materials and how to preserve them physically. For instance, they know how to treat a newspaper, a glossy magazine, a wet lab photo, a canvas backed oil painting, etc. Today, they are caught trying to guess what type of file an image may have been saved as or which inks and paper or printing technology might have been used to create a document or image. Sometimes a false assumption can mean total destruction of the artifact.

    Data may be even more vulnerable, not because it is necessarily fragile, but because the media uses have a short functional lifespan. While we have the internet and web, which some will tell you is archiving every word and image somewhere for time immemorial, we regularly encounter disappearance of information and websites. Apparently, a large percentage of the web is regenerated with changes daily. Even a greater threat is the continual change of document and image file formats. When a standard appears to be set, it isn't long before another manufacturer tries to dethrone it. Some file formats become lost when manufacturers are bought out or cease to exist or readers are not updated to new OSs. Compounding this further are the nearly uncountable number of types of media that have been created and fallen into obsolescence, along with the devices necessary to read them. While a photographic print, negative, or a written or typed manuscript,( should it survive the ravages of time), is viewable with just about any light source, the same cannot be said of the dozens of disk formats many of us have in our collection, some of which are not even 10 years old. Further still, when our belongings are left for another generation to sort through, who will try to determine what is a backup of some obsolete program and what is an original work of art? Certainly, progress in storage technologies and file formats can be valuable to productivity, but not at the expense of losing our cultural, intellectual and academic history.

    Perhaps we need an international body to consider developing some deep standards in file and document format that can be passed forward without losing all backward compatibility. A great deal of sage wisdom has been lost throughout history when libraries were burned or lost to natural disasters. While we sing the praises of digital documents and paperless storage, perhaps we need to consider whether we wish our knowledge and culture to be available and accessible to future generations.

    Archivists will perhaps have an even harder time making decisions as to what should be saved for future generations. As more and more people have access to the web as a publishing venue, while it is a fantastic equalizer for empowerment, it also has become a collection of a very varied quality of cultural heritage. Every YouTube clip is not a valuable work of cinematography nor is every blog posting literature. It is going to be very interesting to see how decisions are made as to what is worthwhile to protect and maintain.

  2. Some of my other concerns are probably quite universal. Will spam destroy the usefulness of email or will regulations be enforced to curb it? Will some major destructive event or virus wipe out half of the internet? Will the internet and web be taken over by governments or commercial enterprise, reducing it to yet another controlled source of propaganda? While some people "expose" themselves, in all manners of that word, on the web, can those who wish to protect their privacy effectively do so? Can the industry, as it matures, agree upon universalized human interfacing such that the average person will find it as simple and reliable as making a phone call or driving a car?

Q3: Please make your top predications for 2007 and beyond in your areas of technical expertise.

A: Much within imaging technologies will continue in an evolutionary, rather than revolutionary fashion.

  • Color laser printing will become both higher quality and more economical even within the home setting. Inkjet printers will become faster overall, using larger heads, as the cost to produce them continues to drop. We may even see printers capable of printing a letter sized image in a few sweeps of the head in a matter of seconds. This may lead to better image quality and color rendition from basic four color printers, rather than the current trend toward more and more ink colors cartridges being required. Inkjet manufacturers will improve image stability and durability, and prices on consumables will drop, if for no other reason than competition from 3rd party suppliers, and because photo labs do not want to lose their market share and are already competing one for one with the home printing market output. Faster commercial inkjet and laser printers will make for even more economical small run printing services.

  • A bit broader afield, we are on the cusp of a change in how images will be distributed. New display technologies are being introduced, such as electronic paper, and more importantly, OLED, PLED and a number of other display technologies which mimic some of the important qualities of paper, including being produced in thin flexible sheets that are readable in daylight by reflected light, while producing a light source if required in darker setting. This may finally make paper a secondary method of distribution of images.

  • As it is, image distribution by internet and viewing on electronic displays has taken a big bite out of photographic printing, at home and in the advertising display market. With these new displays, and flash storage media, with its increased storage capacity and rapidly dropping costs, I foresee people downloading newspapers and magazines onto flash memory and reading it on their personal PLED panel in the bus or train. Same goes for photo albums. In fact, I expect most artwork on walls will eventually be shown on the same display materials and changing your art collection will be as simple as pushing a button on your remote. This brings up the whole matter of how artists will be compensated for their work and might also explain why the digital image rights to collections of several major museum contents have been purchased by Corbis, a stock image agency owned by Bill Gates.

  • Don't be surprised to begin seeing cars and buses, sides of buildings, and even mall floors awash in video advertisements as these new flexible thin film display materials become more widely accessible. Even clothes are being designed with electronic display interfaces.

  • Looking into the very near future, as displayed at the most recent CES, digital cameras will incorporate even larger screens so that they can be used as a method of displaying images to friends and family in an intimate setting, LED light sources will provide us with much smaller video and computer projection units, and with even faster internet connections, the internet will become a regular hi-definition content source for our living room entertainment experience.

Q4: What should businesses know about future trends in the Internet environment? What are the implications and business opportunities? Why should businesses care?

A: I believe one of the biggest movements taking place, especially among younger users of high tech, is the internet becoming a new place to "hang out". I don't just mean that people will spend a lot of time there, but that it is becoming a fully vicarious and virtual experience, and that virtual worlds are becoming acceptable places to exist within. This means people won't only be playing computer games with one another there, but it will become mainstream to go to concerts, experiencing virtual bands which only exist in cyberspace, shopping in virtual stores, buying virtual real estate and building a virtual home on it.

The internet will continue to play an important role in telecommuting. All the mass transit and alternative fuel cars in the world will not "fix" global warming, or clogged highways. Pressure from these quarters will make telecommuting even more desirable. In fact, I predict it will become mandatory as climate change forces us to make rapid changes in our use of fossil fuels to corporations to employ a certain percentage of telecommuting employees.

Virtual products are becoming acceptable, especially to younger people. If one thinks about music downloads, one sees a vast change in the philosophy of ownership. While many people from my age group still want to own a physical product, like a CD or DVD, younger people brought up on the internet have no problem with paying for their music or movies as a download. They don't feel the need to get a physical product for their money. In fact, as media content has become more transient due to the quantity available, many don't want to be burdened with its actual physical presence. The same holds true for software. A good example is what happened to the encyclopedia market in less than 10 years. One summer, years ago, I sold encyclopedias door to door. My job was to convince families that they should lay out thousands of dollars for a large set of books that was so voluminous that it came with it's own set of bookshelves. It would be updated once or twice a year with an add-on yearbook, which cost additional money. With the advent of CD storage most encyclopedias were transferred to software versions. They were made affordable and were completely replaced with updated yearly versions and some versions took advantage of the multi-media capability of computers to include video, and audio information. Although some are still available, most people now just use the internet to acquire this type of information, either from wide sources or from on line free or by subscription encyclopedias . We have become quite willing to pay for consumables and in fact most hard product have some gateway to more consumables.

Until recently, corporations owned access to the media, and therefore they were able to control how they marketed their products and services and their image. The internet has become a great leveler of communications. The voice of the disgruntled consumer can be almost as loud as the advertising campaign of the corporate giant. The internet has become a tool of democracy and the town meeting may now encompass a great deal of the industrialized world. If I wish to make a purchasing decision, besides going to the manufacturer's website or listening to a salesperson at my local retailer, I can now poll the opinions of thousands of people on a list or go to a website that specializes in collecting opinions. And further, I can add to those voices. I am no longer a lone voice telling my friends and acquaintances about a product or business.

As some products or corporations may suffer from this, products and service that meet or exceed expectations, can prosper from this new democracy. Praise and recommendations can also sway potential clients and purchasers. Businesses need to understand that how they treat a client may be broadcast to a great many potential customers, now that the internet allows for wide access with minimal cost. Each client now has the potential to make an impact on how a company is perceived in the internet community.

In terms of opportunities, never before in the history of business has the ability to create a niche market out of thin air been so available. A creative and unique idea which in the past might have required a local client base to be successful, no longer is limited by geographic boundaries, since the internet connects much of the industrialized world. If one is marketing a service that can be delivered via the internet, clients can be solicited from anywhere with few addition costs, and in many cases, with a well designed and functional web presence, the client may operate in a self-serve setting requiring little manpower. Providing services to a multi-lingual client base may create some challenges or be as simple as having the content translated. And being a 24 hour operation is the nature of the web, so the store can be open world wide, regardless of time zones.

Still other major benefits are the ease and minimal cost of updating or changing content. Furthermore, the impression left with a potential client isn't based upon how many employees one has or how large the factory or warehouses are, but how effectively the website functions, and quality of the content that will attract people there. In some ways, the new flavor of customer service is not about airy surroundings, plants and clean bathrooms, but instead, attractive and interesting information, eye appealing design, effective functionality, and creativity. These are all things that don't require huge bank loans to create, just the right mixture of personnel.

Q5: If you sum up your life experiences with some career tips for the ICT professional, what would be your tips and the reasons behind them?

A: Firstly, let me say that I may be the wrong person to ask, because I don't consider myself an ICT professional. I work around the periphery of this area and so I speak more as an observer than as an insider.

I know this expression is overused regularly, but I believe it needs to be emphasized: "Think outside the box." Computer technology, particularly the internet and whatever it will evolve into, is still a new medium. Part of working with any new medium is seeing how it compares with older ones and if it can accommodate or emulate what came before it.

A perfect example is when photography was introduced as a new medium. Until that point, images were drawn or painted. When the photographic process became available, the first thing that happened, besides it being questioned as a legitimate art form, was for artists to attempt to emulate all the compositions and techniques used in drawing and painting. Historically, paintings were uses for portraiture, still life, landscapes and grand iconic images. Indeed early photographers principally used those same subjects to create photographic art. Even today these are considered valid images, however, as photography has matured as a separate medium, new methods of expression have been discovered and promoted. Today, there aren't many households without a camera and personal photo collections.

So, I suppose what I am saying is that besides developing methods of emulating what already is and translating it using current technologies, we need people who will unleash new capabilities and societal expressions and who will take their creative vision forward.

Secondly, we need to understand more about how humans adapt and learn. Cultural and age-related differences mean different methods and rates of learning skills. While younger people, who have had contact with virtual tools like the internet may have complete comfort with them, there is always a large segment of the population who work with an earlier set of tools they have collected over the years. We need to be aware that the process of assimilation does not take place evenly within a population Some people are ill at ease with new technologies, in fact, some fear it. That doesn't make them foolish or less intelligent. People learn to embrace those things that best fulfill their needs and desires and to effect change, there needs to be a worthwhile reward at the end of the process. Therefore, sometimes the best method to get someone to integrate new technologies is by offering them something that they see as too valuable not to take advantage of. This may be something as mundane as on-line banking or searching genealogical databases.

Those of us who work daily with IT often become intolerant of people who are less comfortable with it and we need to remember we are ambassadors of these technologies. After all, in many cases, our livelihood is dependent upon the agreed acceptance of the personnel who use it.

I've met too many people who feel a right to be arrogant about their IT knowledge and even to belittle others who are less proficient. At a time when a great wave of change is at work, we need to recognize that not only is our method not necessarily superior, but that some earlier systems and concepts are still used today because they work. I don't know how many times I have seen a perfectly functional infrastructure become ruined by trying to "modernize" it. It is easy to become wide-eyed over new technologies, and ICT professionals are particularly vulnerable to this, not only because it is challenging, but because it involves bragging rights and a sense of being on the cutting edge. Sometimes ICT personnel are new to the particular workplace or as consultants have minimal background or history with the company. It is critical for ICT personnel to survey and query those who will be using new technologies as to what they need it to do and to encourage those staff members to provide input into what features they would like to see implemented to improve their jobs.

As an observer, I have seen overbuilt solutions, costly technology being incorporated which is only being partially used when less costly solutions are available to accomplish the same thing. Sometimes it makes sense to build larger for later scalability, but not in every case. Some businesses can't wait to eliminate ICT consultants to lower their project budgets, or they allow rapid personnel turnover to lead to costly errors. Most employees who use technology learn through repetition and correction of errors. If the ICT personnel is no longer readily accessible, new technologies may fall out of use once employees forget some of the complexities, or errors become ingrained.

I tend to think that at times, not enough effort is made to understand the broader opportunities some technologies can offer businesses. If the ICT professions don't themselves fully understand what is being acquired, how can they possibly train, and more importantly, include the non-technical staff in helping them to develop solutions with that technology. I don't place the responsibility for this only at the feet of ICT professionals. Management needs to provide enough time for the technology to be evaluated and experimented with so that a discovery process can occur. Once an ICT profession becomes friends with a technology it becomes much easier to introduce it to those outside of the technical circle.

Q6: You have a passion for consumer advocacy. Can you tell us more about this?

A: I have always been a bit of an anti-authoritarian and someone who finds injustice and industrial manipulation difficult to accept and I tend to stick up for the underdog. I have become a strong advocate for informing consumers about what I feel are poor business models and practices. If the energy, time, materials, and a certain environmental cost are required to produce something, that item should be of value equal to or beyond the fundamentals that produced it. It offends me when manufacturers release products that are not properly implemented, incomplete, over-hyped, or of poor quality. Sadly, I seem to be a dying breed, which somewhat surprises me in this age of environmental awareness.

I note a tendency of products to last just beyond their warranty period, and as warranties become shorter, this is particularly concerning. Many of the younger people I correspond with seem to have become jaded enough that they don't expect anything from a product in terms of reliability, nor any truth in advertising. If it doesn't work correctly or breaks, it goes in the trash, end of story. To me, that's just too easy. It lets manufacturers off the hook. I feel the same way about software. I understand that almost all software leaves the manufacturer with some bugs. The complexity of code today, followed by the amount of interaction with other code in the computer setting, makes it nearly impossible for it to be bug-free on first release. However, again, that doesn't excuse the manufacturer from correcting it, rather than expecting us to buy the next version to resolve the problem.

In the printer industry, some hardware is literally booby-trapped to stop functioning after a certain period or is designed to work sub-par if one uses non-OEM supplies. This is not because the supplies are of diminished quality, but apparently it is punishment for buying a consumable which will not provide profit for the printer company. There is legislation in some countries to protect consumers from this, but it is rarely enforced.

We are presented with software licenses which we must agree to before proceeding to use the product. In some cases, just opening the package is tacit approval of the license. Yet, I know of not one person who has the time to thoroughly read, let alone comprehend, the content of these licenses, some of which are thousands of words long.

Although there are stellar examples of companies who take their clients' concerns and interests very seriously and go beyond the call to resolve issues that may come up, there are still too many examples of product releases that are either not well executed or which have intentional dysfunction designed into them.

Q7: What are your views on the environment and e-waste?

A: As is probably relatively obvious by now, I have a strong set of beliefs about this. I was involved in the very first Earth Day in 1970. I was just graduating from high school at that time and it was obvious to me even back then, that human pressures were having an effect on the environment of this planet. Species were being lost to pollution and habitat loss. It is now over 35 years later, and although a greater awareness exists, I am quite disappointed in the lack of progress in this area. While some of the dirtiest industries have closed down, others have moved into the developing world where they are less regulated.

Earlier, I spoke about the limited lifespan of printers. E-waste is a growing concern, inclusive of desktop and laptop computers, monitors, storage devices and even storage consumables. As someone who stores some rather large image files due to my graphics and photographic work, I have gone through many hundreds of pounds of different storage media that are now obsolete because the materials are no longer reliable. The drives or storage readers no longer work or the data density is so limited that the space involved in archiving older methods is no longer worthwhile. How many billions of floppy disks are floating around or now in landfills? Individuals, small businesses as well as corporations and governments are saddled with the responsibility of trying to maintain or eventually discard millions of tons of no longer usable e-waste.

Both hardware and software manufacturers have a part to pay in the raising pile. How many of us have stored away in our closets and basements perfectly usable peripherals that have been forced into obsolescence by lack of drivers, or change in a plug or interface? Each time a new operating system goes through an introduction, it negates hundreds of thousands of otherwise usable peripherals. For lack of a small bit of code, millions of otherwise perfectly functional devices will be forced into the e-waste stream.

Some might consider me a Luddite, or someone who is just trying to slow down progress, but I am simply trying to get people to expand the usable time period for their technology, and to try to encourage OS writers and other manufacturers to support their products through a greater lifespan.

The EU is legislating some segments of hi-tech to "take-back" their products after their usable life is over, at the manufacturer's expense. This has caused a change in production standards and products are being designed to last longer and break down for recycling more readily. Some provinces in Canada are charging taxes or fees up front on the purchase of some technology, in order to raise money to pay for breakdown or recycling. That's a first step, but it still doesn't address the basic business model of driving sales through forced obsolescence of drivers.

Some of the questions that come to mind are:

  • Is this collusion between OS developers and hardware manufacturers to force replacement of peripherals and computers, or is this just a matter of poor communications between the two?
  • Why can't new OSs maintain driver compatibility with older peripherals, even if it is a backward compatible approach that may slow functionality of those older products?
  • Is it necessary when creating a new OS to "break" the old drivers?
  • Why can't peripheral driver "translators" be created to bridge between older and new OSs, so the older calls can be understood by the new OS?
  • Is legislation required, like that in the EU, to force these types of change in North America?

The current business model tends to encourages manufacturers to produce cheaper quality produce that doesn't need to last, yet little consideration is given to the real costs of this "throw-away" technology. Metals have to be mined, sometimes in politically sensitive areas, sometime at health or security risk to workers. Petrochemicals make up a great deal of the materials used today (plastics) over which wars and world political destabilization is occurring. With global manufacturing facilities, product needs to be shipped great distances, using energy and fuel. How can it be good to then just toss technology into landfills and replace them while they are still otherwise functional?

There is a certain irony that while the high technology industries try to imply that technology will saves us from our environmental difficulties, we are drowning in technology that was leading edge a few short years ago.

We have come to accept that businesses, governments and even schools must budget and expect to have to replace their computer systems every few years, due to loss of functionality and compatibility. Backward compatibility is rarely given a thought in production of new products. Why is this considered acceptable in this one industry? If the gasoline you needed to run your car became unavailable after 5 years, the auto manufacturers would be punished by consumers. Radio technology has been basically unchanged for nearly 100 years. Telephones from the 1920's still function on most phone systems, and the television in my living room, which by the way, has never required a repair since it was purchased, is over 20 years old.

Millions of tons of e-waste are sitting in basements, closets, warehouses and landfills. While great numbers of people have no access to technology at all, we are aching for a place to dump it. And although many industrialized countries (including Canada) are signatories to UN agreements that should prohibit them for exporting high tech waste, investigative reports have found tons of old technology from the Canadian Government being "recycled" in China.

For those who are unfamiliar with this "recycling" process, perhaps I should paint a picture. Mounds of computers, monitors, and other high tech equipment are shipped to small impoverished villages in countries like China, where families, including young children work at pulling apart these items, often without proper tools. Sharp pieces of rusted metal, broken glass and plastic are everywhere, including in the water they use to drink and bathe. The water is further contaminated with lead, mercury, cadmium and other heavy metal compounds from the solder, batteries, hard drives and monitors. Once the materials are separated into piles, the insulated copper wire is burned to remove the insulation while big black clouds of acrid, toxic smoke cover the landscape and the living areas. Again, children are working there, and breathing it in. The only benefit these villages receive is a small wage for their work; no environmental regulations or health benefits here.

Even in the best case scenario, where these products are properly recycled in a modern plant in the industrialized world, there is considerable waste. Many mixed plastics cannot be recycled into anything more than low quality toys, if that. The mixed metals require considerable reprocessing to separate out for reuse. Again, heavy metals are involved which require special handling. The process is costly. The materials, in most cases, had to be shipped to the recycling depot, and afterward will be shipped yet again for reclaiming and eventually will end being shipped back to Asia to make into more products. All of this movement uses up oil and other energy sources. And the sad part is that in most cases, the products hadn't reached an "end of life" point, but had simply become obsolete due to newer product being made available, or the older equipment no longer being supposed. We are all responsible for this. We feed the continual demand for new and faster, even when our needs may not require it. OS manufacturers provide the engine of change, and that offers the hardware companies their cue. And the cost to replace this equipment takes away from potentially more pressing social needs.

I am not suggesting we should sit stagnant without moving forward, but we do not all have to move lockstep if we have equipment that is adequate for what we are doing with it. It is not just a matter of financial resources, but of planetary resources. I'd like to see more IT professionals telling their managers, "You know what, what we have right now will do what we need for a few more years".

Q8: You have a remarkable history. Please share this with our audience.

A: Well, I'm sure most of us have interesting backgrounds. I was born in New York City, but luckily, my family moved to a more rural area when I was an infant, where I had the opportunity to commune with the natural world and indulge in drawing and painting. Once I got a camera in my hands, I became enthralled with photography, and put together my first darkroom when I was about 11. I wrote my first published article when I was 13, about tropical fish I had bred. As mentioned earlier, I became involved with environmental issues in high school and by university was involved in creating some of the early recycling programs and writing an ecology column in the campus paper. I began university as a pre-medical student, but soon became disheartened by the attitude of many of the student and professors who showed a highly elitist attitude and what I felt was a lack of respect for nature, so I moved into sociology, ecology and psychology.

My very first experience with a computer was in the early 1970's, learning to program a mainframe in basic, using IBM cards. The program involved research into conflict resolution (war, aggression, and global trade), followed with another research product regarding human ethical development, which required computer analysis of the data. I still recall carrying around the large boxes of punched cards, always concerned I might drop them and have to resort them. Over the years, I worked in drug and rehab counseling and a number of business settings, including co-developing a co-op university bookstore and managing a grocery. Later on , I took courses in music and theater, before managing a poster manufacturer for several years. We produced our panoramic poster series in Milwaukee on the same presses that were used to print Playboy Magazine's centerfolds.

A few years later, I decided to travel for what was supposed to be a 3-6 month trip, but ended up three years in Europe, the Middle East and Northern Africa. I spent much of that time in small villages, many without running water or electricity, (which was a much greater eye opener than anything I experienced in formal education or business), discovering the majority of the world's inhabitants do not maintain our standard of living. I did quite a bit of photography while there. When I returned to North America, I moved to Montreal to be with the woman who would become my wife, whom I had met while traveling in Spain. We then moved to British Columbia where we now live.

What finally brought me back to computers in the early 1980's was my interest in music as well as the ease in writing with a word processor, since I am dyslexic. I had begun to do some music composition using MIDI technology using a Commodore 64 controlling several music keyboards. At that time, I was managing a commercial color photographic lab and began experiencing some health symptoms. It took months to narrow it down, but it turned out I had developed a potentially life-threatening allergy to a chemical used in almost film developers. That seemed like a career stopper. What it ended up being was a forced entry into the early realms of computer graphic arts, which ultimately give me an early leg up on using computer technology in art and photography.

My company, Artistic Communications, came out of my interest in computer graphics and manipulated images. We do a mixture of image and graphic work, producing fine art imagery and some consulting. Currently, I spend more time on my MVP related interactions, working with a number of non-profit groups in the areas of environment, habitat loss, endangered wildlife, and social justice.

Q9: What are your "burning" questions that you want answered?

A: There are several. I won't guarantee I have the correct answers, but hopefully the questions have resonance and will bring people to thinking about them.

  1. How do we maintain or re-establish balance between our humanity and technology?
    There is no question that information technology affords us vast opportunities and options, and not only can't we, but most of us wouldn't wish to turn back the clock to earlier times without it. However, that doesn't mean it is without pitfalls. Technologies are supposed to simplify our lives, create more leisure time, improve our well-being and heath, yet we are often finding ourselves adapting to technology rather than the other way around.

    It is only through assimilating information within a context that knowledge develops, and then through reflection and contemplation, that we accumulate wisdom. We need to remember that information is raw data and although having it more readily available is beneficial, it does not in and of itself, improve who we are.

    Unlike the machines and technology we often create, humans as biological beings require downtime away from distraction to determine who we are. We also need to recognize that not all technology is necessarily good technology and that we can choose to be judicious in deciding which and to what degree, technologies are valuable to us. As an example, the internet is a tool. It can allow people with physical challenges to communicate, people have met on it and become life partners as a result, we can access libraries without leaving our home, and yet it can also become a way to become insular, solitary and superficial. It can even become an addiction.

    We need to be willing to look critically at technologies as they emerge and question their value on an individual and societal basis. We should not be afraid to ask if, overall, our well-being, health, productivity, human interaction and lives are improved by a technology before we promote or embraceit. Just because we can do something doesn't necessarily mean we should.

  2. Can the natural world survive technology?
    Let us not forget that there is a vast, exciting, wonderful natural playground out there that has evolved over millions of years. Although our ability to survive on this whirling orb depends upon it, we sometimes tend to neglect and lose touch with it. And while it is true that some technological solutions are helping this planet to support the growing human population upon it, we can ill afford to ignore the pressures other technologies place on the fragile infrastructure that maintains life here.

    Recently, one small technology collection campaign in Victoria BC amassed over 500 monitors and televisions, and two tractor trailers full of obsolete electronics, of which an estimated 70-80% were functional and replaced to upgrade. The event was so "successful" that another one is planned in less than a month. As pleasing as it is that these goods are to be recycled rather then end up in the landfill, it is some indication of the amount of e-waste that is being stored right now. We individually, along with industry, needs to do a better job of producing electronics that have a longer usable lifespan.

    As more and more of the world's populations progress industrially demanding higher standards of living and the technologies we have come to take for granted, we have a responsibility to progress to a model of reduced waste and responsible use of energy and resources; to be leaders for those who are new to this alchemy.

  3. Are we willing to speak up in the boardroom of our technological leaders about these issues?
    It is never easy, feeling that one is the lone voice in the woods, especially where one's livelihood may be jeopardized. Corporations will often state they have no business taking ethical stances. They call themselves "non-ethical" and yet corporations are made up of people who are employees, shareholders, owners, and people who use their products. Each of us live by a set of personal ethics within our daily lives. If more of us were willing to use that same ethical base in our business dealings, we might find more solidarity in the boardroom than we thought possible, and that might move us toward an improved world. One thing is clear, if we chose to remain silent or acquiesce to the general consensus of the easier corporate status quo, solutions will not be sought and we will be that much further behind.

Closing Comment: Arthur, you provide a thought provoking perspective on technology, the environment, our responsibilities and the world. Thank you for sharing your time and insights with our readers.

A: Thank you for providing me a forum to express them.

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