woman wearing black and red gingham sport shirt

Tech Support: Small Scale — At Scale

A popular buzzword or phrase in various industries recently is the term “at scale” — which refers to building systems or services that can be delivered and sustained over a broad area for many people.

It’s actually a very pragmatic and important concept. Very often people think of amazing products and solutions. Fusion energy systems have been developed and tested to work, but we’re not able to build models to power the entire country. Quantum computers exist that can perform tasks that might take ordinary computers millions of years to accomplish. However, those computers are limited in the types of tasks they can perform, they are very expensive, and very large. They need extreme cooling systems.

There are many examples of great inventions and ideas that haven’t been brought to market with broad distribution due to various limitations.

Electric vehicles are a good example of this. We know they work. Millions of people are using them. But are electric vehicles feasible as a solution to replace those currently powered by gasoline and diesel? We would need millions of charging stations, a massive upgrade to the national power grid, a big increase in electricity production capabilities, and a nation-wide workforce of auto mechanics trained on EVs would be needed. If any of these pieces are missing, it won’t work at scale. Yesterday the CEO of Ford announced that there isn’t enough time to train all the mechanics needed for a timely switch to EVs. [Source] For more on this topic, read, “Are Electric Cars the Answer?” by Nicholas Johnson.

To do anything at scale, often requires doing everything at scale. Logistics. Manufacturing. Sales. Customer service. Technical support. The list goes on.

I’m often asked why I don’t hire employees and build a large IT services company.

The reason is simple. Many years ago, I watched a friend do just that. He built up a an ITservices business. His role became managerial, administrative, and supervisory. One day he told me, “Greg, I’ve lost my tech skills. I’m spending all my time running the business rather than working on computers.”

In addition to losing his tech skills, he was losing touch with his customers. Service delivery was becoming impersonal. The necessity of efficiency and profits demanded fast bare minimum service delivery.

When a customer calls me, we have a conversation and talk about general life events, and when the conversation gets to the point of talking about resetting their router, I say, “Okay, your router is under the desk on the right. The cords are short so you might not be able to pull it out all the way, but on the back you’ll find at the top is the power button. Your old router had the power button in the front, but this one has it in the back.”

I’m able to solve common problems in minutes over the phone, rather than needing to go on-site and charge for an in-home visit. That’s only possible because we’ve developed a relationship over 5, 10, 20, or 30 years.

Instead of hiring employees, I train other people to do what I do — provide tech services and develop long-term relationships with people. I keep doing this over and over. I’m bulling small-scale at-scale. In this way, hundreds or thousands of people can get support, all from someone they know.

This idea of building optimal small-scale service models, and duplicating them, can result in the best of all possible options.

I’ve written the above as an update and addendum to my 2015 article, “Centralized and Distributed Support Models in Service Industries.” [View]

Note: Beyond tech services, the small scale at scale approach could be used for neighborhood volunteer helpers to assist those in need.

Tech Devices and Settings for Improved Hearing and Vision


Extended exposure to loud audio from tech devices can harm a person’s eardrums and degrade hearing. Bright lights from computers, smartphones, and other devices can fatigue the eyes. However, some devices when properly adjusted can reduce fatigue and injury.

Displays and Vision Care

I use a 42-inch 4K display for my all-day computer work, and on my mobile devices I select the dark mode and night tint to reduce the wavelengths of light, like blue light, known to tire the eyes. Using an oversized display and larger fonts results in a bolder contrast that makes reading very easy even when the brightness on the display is set at a lower level. The end result is less fatigue over extended periods of screen time.

Big screen televisions are commonly found in the 75-inch to 86-inch size. Best Buy has some of the 85-inch and larger displays for about $1,200. [View] That’s a lot of money to pa for a television, but much lower than the smaller television years ago that cost many thousands of dollars.

The benefit of a 42-inch display is that it is considered to be “small” by today’s standards, and for this reason the price is small. This size is available at Costco in the $170 to $300 price range. [View]

audio and Hearing Care

My approach to achieving low-fatigue high-contrast audio is similar to using a big display with big fonts that are easier to read. With audio, using a sub-woofer and high quality studio speakers can ensure that even at low volumes, the full range of sounds can be easily heard. Usually people turn up the volume when there are nuances they are not hearing. This can happen with music or spoken audio. Turning up the volume to the point that you can hear those nuances can result in harmful audio levels for extended listening.

In general, we tend to turn up the volume to hear low frequencies (drums and bass sounds), and we turn up the volume to hear higher frequencies that our ears are less sensitive to.

If the speakers are not easily able to reproduce low frequencies and high frequencies, we turn up the volume even more just to generate those frequencies we are trying to hear. This results in blasting the audio until we can hear the full range of sound, but it harms or fatigues the ears over time.

Good speakers with a sub-woofer need not be a big expense. Best Buy has some in the $60 to $270 price range. [View]

A good pair of headphones would be another option. Headphones can offer noise cancelling and good audio frequency reproduction, allowing for good quality sound at lower volumes. [View]


Look for ways to reduce fatigue and stress injuries across the variety of devices you use regularly. To learn more, visit Iowa City Tech.

A similar article on this topic is available, from Nov 2021, “Tech Tips to Protect Your Eyes and Ears.” [View]

Photo: The photo at the top of the page, and shown below, is of the Advanced Technology Laboratory building at the University of Iowa on 6 Oct 2016.

Heat Your Home for Free (DIY Video)

In this video, I talk about a smart high efficiency DIY home heating solution that can help reduce or eliminate your heating bill. This heater is Internet connected, remotely accessible, and uses very little power – resulting in reduced heating expenses.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JSXjVIZohoA?rel=0&w=1280&h=720]

Buying the Right Camera

I’m often asked by people: “What camera should I buy?” or “What’s the best camera?”

The answer really depends on what kind of photos a person typically takes. Even if you get the ‘right camera’ you may need several lenses to cover all the possible scenarios.

Below I describe a few cameras that I use and which cameras seem to work well for certain kinds of photography.

Types of Photography

My own photography spans a variety of typical subjects including architecture, wildlife, flowers, landscapes, and occasional portraits. I use the photos frequently in graphic design applications and websites. For any photos that I plan to print in large formats, I would want to use a full-frame camera if possible.

My Cameras

I currently use three cameras. Most regularly is my iPhone 7 Plus since I have that with me daily. The Sony DSC-HX50V is small enough that I can keep it in my carry bag. My Canon T2i is what I use on vacations or intentional photo outings where I have the time to take advantage of its manual settings.

Today, the role of the high-end DSLR camera is to offer high quality photos that can be enlarged or cropped without losing image quality. Full-frame cameras with telephoto lenses can capture some photos that smartphones or compact cameras generally can’t. Should you get a fancy DSLR camera? Well, one way to answer that question is to take a look at the photos on this page. None were taken with a DSLR. They were taken with a smartphone and an inexpensive point-and-shoot camera.

Because I have over 30,000 photos, I often rely on the GPS feature to quickly find photos based on their mapped location. So, GPS is an important feature for me. The Cannon doesn’t have GPS, but the Sony and iPhone do.

Social Media

Photos that aren’t shared are like the tree falling in a forest with nobody to hear it fall. The iPhone is definitely the easiest camera for sharing on social media. With the other two cameras, I need to transfer the photos to my iPhone or computer first, then prep for sharing. So, that’s another benefit of the iPhone — life happens in real time and there’s nothing to ‘work on later’ in the proverbial free time that never seems to materialize.


With architecture there can sometimes be challenges getting positioned for a photo. If an adjacent building or road with busy traffic prevents you from backing up far enough, you’ll need a wide angle lens or panorama mode to get the entire photo that you want. A zoom lens may be needed if you’re wanting to focus in on a certain aspect of a building. The photo below was taken with an iPhone 6 Plus using the panorama mode because an adjacent building made it impossible to back up far enough to get the entire building in the photo. If you click on the image, you can see the full image resolution which is 9820 by 2942 pixels.


Another challenge with architectural photography is lighting. The photo below of the Cedar Rapids Public Library was taken in the evening. The iPhone 6 Plus made the correct exposure adjustments to achieve what looks like an artists rendering of the building. If you click on the image, you can see the full image resolution which is 2448 by 2448 pixels.


Below is an example where the aspect of the building being photographed was very high up, so a zoom lens was necessary to frame in the photo just right without requiring any cropping later. For this one I used the Sony DSC-HX50V. If you click on the image, you can see the full image resolution which is 5184 by 3888 pixels.


Bird and Wildlife Photography

For bird and wildlife photography, my favorite camera over the past few years has been the Sony DSC-HX50V. There are other similar cameras today. The key feature to look for is a 30X optical zoom with 60X digital capability, as well as the ability to automatically lock-in-on and track a moving subject like a small bird in a tree from 100 feet away. Good image stabilization while zoomed in is important because typically when you’re hiking, you won’t be bringing a tripod with you.

The photo below is of a bird on a picnic table bench from about 100 feet away. Notice the detail of the bird’s feathers, and the staple that’s stuck in the bench below the bird. This is exceptional resolution and quality considering the distance and that no tripod was used. If you click on the image, you can see the full image resolution which is 5184 by 3888 pixels.


Flowers and Nature Photography

Below are some examples of nature photography taken with the iPhone 6 Plus which is at present 2-year-old technology. The dandelion photo with frost was taken in morning light as was the frost on a fence post photo. For these kinds of close up macro photos of stationary objects, one doesn’t need a fancy telephoto lens, so a smartphone actually does fairly well.



Landscape Photography

When taking landscape photography, with a subject that remains in one place, and with plenty of time to setup for a shot, a DSLR camera can be helpful. However, some DSLR cameras may not have features like panorama mode which are helpful. The photo below was taken with the iPhone 7 Plus using the panorama mode. If you click on the image, you can see the full image resolution which is 3264 by 2448 pixels.


Here’s a photo taken with the iPhone 7 Plus using panorama mode to capture an entire vista of a lake. If you click on the image, you can see the full image resolution which is 11354 by 3894 pixels.


Lunar Photography

Okay, so I don’t actually do a lot of lunar photography, but this photo illustrates how the Sony DSC-HX50V combines its digital zoom capability with image stabilization to take a fairly detailed picture of the moon. Low light photos are always challenging because longer exposure times typically mean there’s a greater likelihood that you’ll move the camera and end up with a blurry image. Photos from 100 feet are challenging, but even more challenging are photos when the subject is about 238,000 miles away. The quality of this photo approaches what you’d otherwise need a telescope to see. If you click on the image, you can see the full image resolution which is 5184 by 3888 pixels.


Portrait Photography

An area of photography that’s traditionally been the domain of DSLR cameras is portrait photography. With the iPhone 7 Plus, Apple has brought DSLR-like portrait photography to the smartphone form-factor. While point-and-shoot cameras like the Sony DSC-HX50v have had portrait mode settings for years, having this capability in a smartphone, at the level of quality produced by the iPhone 7 Plus is something new. An example is below. If you click on the image, you can see the full image resolution which is 3024 by 4-4032 pixels.


Interview with Fox News Affiliate – Email Security and Encryption

“On Monday, 25 July 2016, I was interviewed by our local Fox News affiliate on the topic of email security. The report is archived below, the original is online.” ~ Greg Johnson



Full Report

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (CBS2/FOX28) — Hackers have already disrupted the Democratic Party after releasing many damaging emails from the Democratic National Committee. They were embarrassing for party leaders and will likely result in at least the party chair stepping down this week.

But IT security for political groups and organizations at many different levels often balances on human error.

Running a campaign is a lot like a small business. There’s plenty of things to spend money on. With so much technology all around us, it’s often not an area where campaigns spend a lot of extra resources.

Physical protection is generally something we think politicians and their Secret Service Agents get right, especially at the highest levels.

Online, IowaCityTechnologyServices.com Director Greg Johnson says even they fall short.

“There are just so many points of failure,” said Johnson.

CBS2/FOX28 spoke to local campaigns and elected officials from both major political parties about their IT security. They say, generally, campaign staff email is handled through services like Google’s Gmail and some additional security options within those programs. Rarely will even the most Congressional races have a dedicated IT team to keep it safe.

“Just using Google, or some similar service, steps it up a bit, but it’s not entirely secure,” said Johnson.

Once a candidate is elected to Congress, their staff is brought on to Federal Government systems. That’s usually a step above most security, but Greg says it still doesn’t solve human carelessness.

“All it takes is for one person to lose their computer or have one person get their password and suddenly, that person has access to all those emails that somebody was copied on, or anything they’ve ever sent or received,” said Johnson. “It would be a huge collection of emails just from one account getting breached.”

Greg says there is encryption software that would make sure emails and information is locked and can only be accessed by someone with the right password. He says that can be free, or be as expensive at $175.

Reflections on a Year Using Gmail

As an Apple computer enthusiast, I’ve been using the Apple Mail client for years. About a year ago, I decided to switch over to using Gmail exclusively as an online email client. For my primary email accounts (included with my website hosting package), I set them to forward all emails to Gmail. I have a personal account and also a collection of other email addresses that I forwarded to a secondary Gmail address.

Here are the reasons I switched:

  1. Over time, the Apple Mail client became slower, and it caused my entire computer to slow down whenever it was running. I assumed this was due to the indexing of so many individual emails. I stopped seeking a solution when I learned that many people were having similar problems. Gmail was much faster than using the Apple Mail client.
  2. At the same time the slowness became an issue, about two years ago, there were known issues with Gmail compatibility and the Apple Mail client. Flagged and read emails weren’t synchronizing properly. For many months, people complained on the Apple discussion forums, but no solution was provided.
  3. In addition to these issues, I began hearing from people trying to reach me by email who were getting returned emails with an undeliverable message notification.
  4. I also heard from people that my emails were ending up in their spam/junk folder.
  5. At the time, my email inbox was limited to 1GB and constantly filling up, but Gmail offered virtually limitless email storage.
  6. Junk email wasn’t being identified accurately so I was having to manually sort them out.
  7. The Apple Mail client in iOS lacked mail rules and the intelligent Junk Mail filtering found in the native OS X desktop Mail client version. So, unless I had a desktop computer on all the time, with the Mail client running, those rules wouldn’t get applied.
  8. Gmail was identifying the Apple Mail client and others as non-secure email clients. So, using them required a special exception setting in my Gmail account.

So, for all these reasons, I decided to switch to Gmail.

As of January 2016, here’s why I’m switching back to using the Apple Mail client and the email accounts included with my hosting package.

  1. The Gmail conversation threads were problematic, and the nested messages made it sometimes hard to find where the conversation left off, especially if multiple replies were in a a thread. Messages people would send using feedback forms with the same subject line would be grouped as a conversation. Turning conversations off was an option, but not desirable either.
  2. Gmail would repeatedly put important emails into the Junk folder even for senders who were in my address book and even after repeatedly marking them as not junk.
  3. Gmail would automatically file emails into the Social, Promotions, Updates, and Forums categories, which was very helpful some of the time, but much of the time it caused important emails to be misfiled.
  4. Gmail lacks the ability to sort on sender, subject, date, and other aspects of messages.
  5. Once I setup my computer with 16GB of RAM and a solid state hard drive (SSD), the slowness issue went away. This may have also had something to do with upgrading to the latest edition of OS X (El Capitan).
  6. The Google Gmail client for iOS made it possible to send messages as another email. However, the Apple Mail client for iOS would not permit this with Gmail accounts. This was very frustrating. So, it was necessary to continually used the Gmail client for iOS if replying to a message and desiring the recipient to see the correct sending address.
  7. Clicking on an email address typically brings up the default email client on a computer. This doesn’t work with the Gmail web based system unless you’re using Google Chrome.
  8. The Gmail ecosystem doesn’t have the same instantaneous push feature that Apple offers with their other iCloud services.

During the transition back to my original email addresses, I’ve set an autoresponder letting people know my best contact methods — in case anyone had inadvertently received an email from those Gmail accounts.

I still maintain email accounts in Gmail, Hotmail, Outlook, Yahoo, and other services in the event there are communications issues with people using any of those third-party services. It’s sometimes more reliable to communicate with someone on the same system they are using, and other features exist that make it helpful to have an account on various services.

Please visit my contact page for further details about how to best reach me.


Radio Interview with Asa Crowe on the KRUI Poli-Tech Tuesday Show

I had the pleasure to be a guest on the Poli-Tech Tuesday show on KRUI with Asa Crowe and Arianna Chronis. In about 30 minutes, we covered technology on campus and a lot of other topics. The interview is available below. Click the play button to listen.

About the Interview

I was a sophomore at the University of Iowa when KRUI was launched. As IOWA alumni, it was meaningful to be at the station today during the weeks leading up to their 30-year anniversary celebration.

It was nice to have a chance to visit with Asa about the various technology resources available on campus. Here are some of the topics we discussed during the interview, and links to further reading:

  • Flipping the Classroom – We discussed the approach to instruction that involves delivering lectures and course content online outside of class time and focusing class time on interactive, participatory, and engaging learning activities.
  • GarageBand – An Apple program for multitrack recording and music composition on desktop computers or iOS touch interface devices (iPhone, iPod, iPad).
  • ITS Help Desk – The central source on campus where you can get support for all things tech.
  • Language Media Center – A computer and technology lab on campus for language learning and media services. The LMC is part of the Division of World Languages, Literatures & Cultures.
  • Lynda.UIOWA.edu – Over 100,000 video tutorials on topics such as: Microsoft Office products (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc.), Microsoft Windows and Mac OS, Adobe Suite (Acrobat, Photoshop, etc.), Apple products (iPad, iPhone, etc.), Web and mobile app design, Development and Programming, Google Products, Time management, running effective meetings, and Business skills (leadership and manager fundamentals, etc.).
  • Online Education @UIOWA – The University of Iowa offers Distance Education and online learning opportunities. This is explained on the Continuing Ed website as follows: “Online. On campus. On location. This phrase describes what Continuing Education at Iowa stands for: providing access to a nationally-ranked public institution to as many people as possible. In addition to where you take your course, there are a variety of ways the course is delivered. Many distance courses use the Internet to deliver course work to your desktop. Some distance degree programs or courses are offered on-location, such as Cedar Rapids, Des Moines, the Quad Cities, Sioux City, and Iowa Lakeside Laboratory in northwest Iowa. While still others are offered at the Iowa City campus, many at nontraditional times. Distance courses vary in delivery format and are supported with various technologies. Some are structured so you can complete them at a time that is most convenient for you (like our Guided Independent Study courses), while others provide a more specific set of deadlines and opportunities to collaborate with classmates.” [Facebook]
  • Stanford Open University – An example of higher education courses and reading materials made openly available to the public.
  • Tech Connection – The University of Iowa Bookstore computer center and authorized Apple repair center. [Facebook]
  • Two Koreas: Political Economy and Regional Rivalry – A course being delivered collaboratively by the University of Iowa, Ohio State University, and the University of Michigan. This is a CourseShare course offered by the Committee on Institutional Cooperation (CIC).
  • UI Capture – The University of Iowa lecture capture system that provides recordings of the audio, PowerPoint presentations, and other content from class lectures.
  • University of Iowa Photography Club – The UIPC has over 500 members on their Facebook Group page. Their organization page is just over 260 likes. The club offers various opportunities to meet other photographers, participate in photography events, and learn at workshops and presentations. The Iowa City Photographers Guild is another local photography group.


Below is a video sample of my music and photography. The song is “Arpeggio Rising.” The photos are from 28 days in India. More of my music is available on ReverbNation and SoundCloud.


Thanks For Sharing

I appreciate the interest everyone has had in this story, and those who have shared this post on Facebook and elsewhere. The maps below show recent visitors to this page. Click any map image for a larger gallery view.


What a Leader Looks Like

Having spent most of my career as a technology service and support provider, I’ve grown to appreciate others in the industry. Even if someone is your ‘competition’ you inevitably acknowledge and give them credit when they are doing things right.

At some point along the way, as a consultant you find yourself with an abundance of work to do, or you’re on vacation, or there’s someone outside of your service area, and you need to recommend a business you can trust. One such business is Erb’s Technology Solutions in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. They’ve been in business since 1961 and have many satisfied customers.

One day I had to deliver a printer for one of my clients to their facility for some in-warranty repairs. As I recall, back then, the equipment service entrance was on a lower level at the side of the building. I thought I’d take the opportunity to visit a bit with the employee working at the service desk.

The service reception desk is generally not the most glamorous job. The pay isn’t great. Usually a less experienced technician would work at the receiving and pickup area. It’s sometimes an unpleasant job if customers are upset about failed systems, crashed computers, delays in repairs, and/or unexpected repair costs.

I had a good talk with the technician that day. I let him know that I’m an area tech consultant and have been impressed with their business. He was very friendly.

When I asked his name, he told me he was Larry. Then I realized, I’d been talking to the owner of the business, Larry Erb.

At that point I just had to ask… why was he working at the service desk? Usually the owner of a successful business that size has managers who manage the managers who manage the employees.

What I learned is that he likes to have some hands on emersion in the various departments in his business. It gives him an opportunity to evaluate continuous improvement opportunities for better procedures and practices. It also lets him have direct contact with his customers and hear first hand about their experiences with his business.

Leaders are sometimes portrayed as people who are removed from the ‘commoners’ and  inaccessible. It’s assumed that one of the perks of being the boss is that you don’t have to do the dirty work and heavy lifting. You’re able to escape from listening to customer complaints. Yet, these portrayals of leadership aren’t the ideal.

A true business leader isn’t trying to avoid their employees or the customers they serve. A true leader spends some time with their sleeves rolled up, working side by side with their employees and serving customers. This builds relationships and trust. It also helps an innovative leader explore opportunities for improvement — since ultimately that’s what their highest calling is.

Related Media – Audio

The audio below is from 7 April 2003. It’s the story of how this kind of management style became the foundation for Honda’s success — success in job satisfaction, customer satisfaction, product quality, and customer service excellence.

Related Media – Video

The video below is about a Japanese airline industry CEO who decided to give himself a pay cut as a way of sharing the burden when a depressed economy adversely impacted the company’s revenue. This CEO frequently works along side with employees and listens to their ideas, praises, and suggestions for improvement.



About This Article

“In 1987, at 23 years old, I had my first experience with leadership and business management as a manager of a Radio Shack store in California. Going from a recently hired sales person, to managing my own store in 6 months was a kind of a record. In the 28 years since then, my interest in leadership and management has grown. I’m intrigued by innovative approaches to facilitating progress for organizations and businesses. Much of what I’ve learned over the years, I’ve applied to my work as President of the Small House Society (2002 to present). I describe myself as a “facilitator” in my work with the organization. I like the term facilitator because for me, that’s what a leader does — empower, equip, inspire, and help people grow in their areas of passion and expertise. So, the above article is inspired by these experiences.” ~ Greg Johnson, 12 March 2015


FOX News: Interview About Phishing Emails

[vimeo 119551631 w=540 h=304]

Updated: Thursday, February 12 2015, 09:46 PM CST

IOWA CITY, IA (CBS2/FOX28)– Internet hackers are still after your computers…and your identity. With some big name businesses being hacked, employers are trying to find new ways to protect themselves.

Today a technology expert tells CBS 2/FOX 28 businesses are practicing security from the inside…out.

“My husband is more into computers and I remember calling him and saying, “I clicked on this, what happened?” says Amie Villarini of Iowa City.

Most of us have gotten those emails, a convincing and seemingly legitimate message with a link that could install a harmful virus to your computer or get you one step closer to giving away your personal information. It’s called phishing. Some businesses are hiring companies to send messages like those to their own employees.

“As businesses lately have become more aware of the various threats that are out there, what people realize is that the greatest vulnerability is just the human factor,” says Gregory P. Johnson of iowacitytechnologyservices.com.

The businesses see which employees bite the bait and use the fake phishing email as a learning opportunity to increase security.

“It’s a stress test of the business to see if that business has both the physical security, digital security and that critical third component, the human training,” he says.

“Seems like a smart thing to do. I mean, if it is going to happen, might as well make sure that it happens in a way you can control,” says University of Iowa Senior Christopher Wright.

Johnson says to be careful before clicking anything. What is the address of the email? Does what they are asking make sense? Are they asking for personal information?

“That’s really the best thing you can do is go to the site you know is official and log in and then see ‘Oh, is this really happening,’” he says.

Johnson says if you receive one of these emails at work, report it to your IT department. If it happens at home, you can report it through your antivirus software. If the email claims to be from a particular institution, send it to them so they are aware of it.

If you feel your computer has been negatively impacted by one of these emails, he suggests getting it checked out by an expert. Johnson also advises regular computer check-ups.



Source: Fox News, 12 February 2015