The Need for Speed

By Larry Darnell, FDA Director of Information Systems

Twenty-eight years ago, I worked for Florida State University and I remember when the campus IT gurus hooked us up to something called the “backbone” of the internet. I had the fastest internet connection I’d ever seen at 1 Mbps (1 megabit per second or 1,000 Kbps [kilobits per second]). Crazy thing is, there was nothing to do on the internet back in those days. I’d go home and use an old school dial-up modem at a “blazing” 14.4 Kbps speed to look at my five AOL emails. I was jealous of the connection I had at the office. My, how the tables have turned. In 2020, I have a faster internet connection at my home than I do at the office. The internet of things (IoT) means almost everything at my house is connected to the internet. Who knew that my blender would need to be connected to the internet one day? Everything being connected to the internet (a tenet of IoT) requires a lot of speed and bandwidth to work.

This term bandwidth is like asking if the pipe is big enough for your data. In theory, more bandwidth equals more speed. Ever see the buffering delays? Yep, not enough bandwidth either coming or going. The same now applies to your office. Digital transformation has led to all things electronic: phone calls, practice management systems, cloud-based backups, X-rays or cone beam CT scans that need a lot of bandwidth to store, save or use, so you need to make sure your internet speed is sufficient for that need. That’s usually measured in megabits per second (Mbps). At the office, my personal usage is 120 Mbps while at home it’s more than 300 Mbps. How do I know these numbers? I don’t just rely on what my internet provider says I have. Neither should you.

Most internet providers have tiers of bandwidth plans. Whether at home or office, the concepts are the same. I recommend you test out your bandwidth. In a web browser on a computer that is “hardwired” (physically connected) to the internet, go to speedtest.net. Also test it with a device that uses Wi-Fi and see if it’s substantially different. You also can find speed test apps for phones and tablets, and internet providers may have their own incantation of a speed test. At home, my provider is Comcast and they insist I use their version. If the speed is substantially slower than the tier you’re paying for, there’s a problem. For instance, my tier is 300 Mbps. One day, I checked the performance and it consistently was less than 100 Mbps. Not good. I called them, and sure enough, there was an unreported issue and they fixed it.

Two years ago, I went to the Florida Dental Association’s (FDA) Governmental Affairs Office (GAO) and used their computers for a day. Their internet bandwidth was horrible. I investigated it and found that their internet provider was limited by what they could bring into that old downtown location. At one point, the internet cable was run through a gutter! Time for a change. We went to a different type of provider that uses a cable modem, so speed is no longer an issue. Problem solved. I’m sure you seldom think about the speed of your internet connection until you’ve used a faster one. It was that difference that tipped me off that something was wrong at GAO. For them it was “normal”— for me, it was unacceptable.

Here are three takeaways from this:

1. Find out what your internet speed is supposed to be.

Your provider needs to tell you the tier you should expect to be in. You’re looking for a number with Mbps behind it.

2. Test the speed over a series of days.

If you use one day, some providers will say it varies based on usage. Try off-peak times, for example, when the office is closed. If you’re info bytes not getting what you pay for, find out why. It could be the internet provider, your hardware, computer or network. You pay for it, so you deserve an explanation.

3. Buy all the bandwidth you can afford.

The need for bandwidth will keep growing and that growth will likely be exponential. We put a high-speed fiber connection here at the FDA that gives each person at least 120 Mbps, even in heavy usage. Our work is dependent on the internet now and that’s not likely to change. Why put in a two-lane dirt road when you’ll need an eight-lane superhighway soon? Every two years I go back to my home internet provider and they upgrade my bandwidth for free. This year they did it without me asking!

Bottom line: Make sure you’re getting what you pay for when it comes to internet speed.


Reprinted from Today’s FDA, March/April 2020. Visit floridadental.org/publications to view Today’s FDA archives.

Your Technological Legacy to Your Children and Grandchildren

By Larry Darnell, FDA Director of Information Systems

You might imagine since I am knowledgeable about technology that at least one of my three daughters might share that gift. Sadly, that is not so. It’s not because I didn’t try to make it so. I consistently provided them with above average technology (usually my hand-me-downs, but still). Often referred to as Techno Dad, I was available to answer any and all questions about technology they had. Once again, few questions arose. Perhaps technological ability skips a generation because two of my three granddaughters have picked up technology and have done things with it that I could never have dreamed about when I was 4 or 7 years old.

Every year before school starts, many law enforcement agencies put out a list of 15 or so apps you should be concerned about that your kids might be using. Google it, it’s easy to find that list. I bet you may recognize five of those. The other 10 you’ve probably never heard of at all. The list probably scares you into checking their devices just to see.

The real question is, how much are you paying attention to what your children and grandchildren are doing with the advanced technology they have at their disposal literally from birth? Do they have limits about when, where and how often they can use the technology? I’m no medical doctor, but I hear reputable people talk about the addictive effects this technology has on children. I see it with my own eyes, and I can’t help but wonder what that will mean for them as they grow older. We’ve had the opioid crisis and I’m afraid a techno crisis is coming soon.

I’m convinced I bought my teenage daughters smartphones so they could text me from their rooms 10 feet away. I know technology is not evil unto itself. It’s a tool. But like any tool, it can be misused, so you need to keep tabs on when, how and for what purpose it’s being used. I heard Simon Sinek in a video recently say, “They are children, you can take it away.” Talk about starting World War III. So, as parents or grandparents, what are we to do? Here are three things to consider.

First, set limits when the phone can be used.

There are technological solutions to this (setting up systems that permit use during certain time frames, etc.) or there is the Sinek method and just take the phone away. However, allowing children unfettered access to technology is not the best idea even if it seems to make your life easier now.

Secondly, determine where those devices can be used.

At the dinner table? Never. School? Limited usage. In their rooms overnight? NO. Teach your children and grandchildren proper use etiquette, but realize you’ll have to adhere to that, too. No “do as I say not as I do” with this stuff.

Lastly, see what they are doing on their devices.

The best way I could do that was have all the devices funneled through one account. If my kids or grandkids wanted some app, they had to ask me to get it for them. Did I track their website usage? You bet I did. I knew when and where they went on the web. I know all the bad stuff out there. I know the horror stories of people trying to get to our kids through technology. Occasionally, I physically inspect all their devices. I pay for it, so I can have access at any time. They knew this when I entrusted them with it. I’m the parent and I have the responsibility to do my best to protect them.

Our children are too precious to imagine that Google, Facebook, Snapchat or whatever is next will look out for their best interests. That’s our job, and it’s time we start doing it.


Reprinted from Today’s FDA, Jan/Feb 2021. Visit floridadental.org/publications to view Today’s FDA archives.

Who’s Zooming Who?

By Larry Darnell, FDA Director of Information Systems

The title refers to an Aretha Franklin song and the first time I heard it, I struggled to understand what that even means (it refers to checking someone out). Now it has a new meaning. I remember just a month ago, the FDA Board of Trustees had their first Zoom video call. It seemed like such a novelty then — almost like watching a Brady Bunch intro with squares of talking heads. Little did we know then that this novel way of communicating would now become the standard for so many of us.

In the last month, so much has changed thanks to COVID-19 and our response to it. The saving grace for us is that our technology is up to the task in most cases. My daughter needed to see a doctor for a minor illness. Thanks to telehealth, she “saw” the doctor and got a prescription called in the same day. My wife is a teacher and she has at least weekly and sometimes daily video interaction with her students via technology. I’ve even attended church services virtually through Facebook Live. A different world indeed.

This year, we had a few employees at the FDA who could work remotely. Now, everyone is setup with that ability. It’s a challenge to work remotely, but at least we have that option. There are a few things to remember in this new Zoom Age we’re in now.

First, remember to communicate with others. While social distancing may be around for a while, communication is still essential. I admit, despite my technology background, I like face-to-face communications better. There are so many obvious physical and non-verbal cues you can pick up on in person that are missed when the contact is virtual. However, we have to now relearn the art of communicating intent through texts, emails, phone calls and even through video sessions. Communication now is intentional and likely requires more effort, but do not cease to do it. When communication ceases, people are left to doubt, question and become fearful. Be honest, kind and as positive as you can be.

Secondly, get to those projects that have been “when I get around to it” things. For me, that means clean up my email inbox, organize our shared company file system and review our websites. I do these when they become emergencies, but seldom think of them when other things are happening. It allows you to stay productive and prepare for the time when we’re able to return to our new normal.

And lastly, do not lose your spirit of volunteerism. Dentists are caring and giving people. It saddens me that the Florida Mission of Mercy was postponed, but it was the only option. There are so many other ways you can volunteer. People still have needs. I’m helping my wife’s teacher friends with technology. I’m advising churches who are forced to go online how best to do it. I am assisting my daughters’ friends who now take all college classes online. I’m using my gifts to benefit others. I’ve always wanted to help others, and I’m not going to let COVID-19 stop me from doing just that.

The Value of a $10 Gift Card

By Larry Darnell, FDA Director of Information Systems

In light of Facebook’s personal data issues several months ago, there are more things out there that we never even think twice about. What about the innocent looking email that asks you to fill out a simple survey for a $10 gift card or perhaps a chance to win a larger prize? Most people never give those a second thought. You fill out that survey and even if you use a throwaway email address (with so many free email services, you can create one that you hardly ever check and use for just such an occasion), you still provide valuable data to the company or the people who sponsored the survey. The value of your personal information is much higher than you think.

There’s already so much data mining (personal data compiled into a profile about you) going on. One day my wife and I were talking about backpacks for a trip; the next day my Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Amazon shopping feeds were flooded with ads related to backpacks. So, who gave them that information? I never Googled it. Alexa heard me and so did Siri. Talk about Big Brother listening to me! I wanted to break out the tinfoil hats and go off the grid for a while.

We provide so much personal information when we use the internet, smartphones and tablets, and don’t even realize it. Facebook didn’t even have to try very hard. Several quizzes about which Kardashian you resemble and we have given up a lot of our personal information for free. So, what are we to do in the aftermath of this?

Here are five things to remember:

  1. Guard your personal information. There’s no need to give it away for nothing, and trust me, $10 is a bargain for your personal data. Are those $10 gift cards worth the risk?
  2. Never assume there are private communications on a public internet. Anything you put on the internet (social media, email, etc.) can and will be seen, heard and shared with others. This includes Snapchat and other sites that say they are “secure.”
  3. Use all security measures that are afforded to you by the devices you use. If that means encrypted emails or a virtual private network, then use them. Be careful about using open Wi-Fi (a password isn’t required to use it). Nothing is free, and although open Wi-Fi may appear free, it could cost you greatly in the end.
  4. Keep a tight rein on your personal brand. If that means regular credit bureau checks, services that monitor “risky” websites for your data or even staying off social media altogether, then do what is necessary to protect yourself. Once your identity is stolen, it’s nearly impossible to get it back.
  5. Treat your virtual world like you would your real world. If you would not do or say something face to face, in person, then why do it in a virtual world? If a stranger showed up at your door asking a slew of questions, you’d probably slam the door in their face. On the internet, we give them what they want and more.

Bonus tip: The next time you install an application on your smartphone, visit a website or use software on your computer, take a moment and read the terms and conditions that you blindly click to accept. You’ll be shocked by what you are agreeing to without even considering the consequences.

This article first appeared in Today’s FDA, July/August 2018, Vol. 30, No. 5.