Tag Archives: cloud

Technology for 2014

We still have a month before Thanksgiving, but already the Christmas countdown posters are busy. I admit it, I did copy a posting onto Facebook about how many days until Christmas just to piss my friends off! 

Apple’s next event is this week and the rumor mill is geared up trying to parse the invite text for clues to what is coming. Not sure why people can’t just wait until the event – you just look silly predicting stuff that isn’t true year after year.

Anyway, all this got me thinking about next year – what do I hope to see with tech in 2014? 
I think there are 4 main areas that will have increasing breakthroughs:

    Mobile
    Wearable tech
    Cloud integration
    Auto tech

Mobile

I am actually surprised by some of the surveys that show how many people in the US still don’t have smartphones yet.  This Mashable survey showed the US is beaten in penetration by 12 other countries! mashable.com/2013/08/27/global-smartphone-penetration

Part of the problem is the carrier restrictions here, I know in the UK pay-as-you-go is a much more easily adopted option than a 2 year contract. Also, personally I have found people have a lot of confusion about how to add a smartphone – cost of phone + plan? which carrier plan? What does a gig of data really mean? Big disconnect between people who get it and people skimming the edges not quite sure. The carriers need to do a better job of clearly explaining it – Apple ads would be a good template instead of showing robots and lightening bolts!

So assuming the penetration increases and your Mother, Aunts and Great Uncles all get smartphones – what now? For starters texting and calling (audio or video) need to be platform agnostic. Apple could do us a favor and allow FaceTime to work to any device. Same with iMessage.

Mobile payment is just about to burst wide open – even the banks have finally woken up. PayPal has a good head start, but Amazon and Google are looking to get into the mobile payment arena too. Amazon has a built in user base and the trust of those users, so it really could Amazonize the mobile payment space! These work with your smartphone and don’t require any new hardware, unlike NFC does which requires retails to invest in new hardware.

People want their phones to become smarter – don’t just remind me I have an appointment, act more like a real personal assistant and schedule things for me. Don’t interrupt me while I am in a meeting, but if I am sitting at my desk go ahead. Understand what I am interested in and automatically alert me when those things get coverage. Let me know I should leave the office now because the traffic is backing up or the snow storm has suddenly arrived early!

Wearable Tech
This year I have had a Jawbone Up bracelet constantly attached to my wrist. It monitors my steps and my sleep, and will buzz me if I have been sitting around too long. I really like it, but I want more – and developers think other people do too! 

There are developments in the fashion industry to create clothes that light up at night, or heat up when it is cold. There are temporary tattoos that can monitor skin perspiration and even bloody sugar. Some newer fit bands can monitor heart rate, blood pressure, etc. The encryption band that means you don’t need to remember passwords, just wear it and all your tech unlocks. I also saw a band that can unlock your car.

So now we want something that ties it all together – smart clothes that heat or cool to keep your body temp optimal, body monitoring tools that proactively monitor do I need to drink more water? Am I exercising outside of my target heart rate? Do I have a health condition that should be followed up by a Doctor? Did I already take my vitamins or did I forget? Charge my smartphone when I walk in the sun, or just by swinging my arms as I walk.

I wait with great anticipation for the long rumored Apple iWatch. It is going to be tough to keep up with the latest developments and still make a package that looks sleek, sexy and still functional, but if anyone can do it, Apple can! A point for designers to note, women don’t want to walk around with a brick on our wrists! And nobody wants 10 different devices on each arm either.

Cloud Integration

The internet of things is about to really take off, with devices around the home hooking up to the internet for control and reporting. The Nest thermostat is proving popular and they now have the smart smoke alarm. There are devices to make keyless home entry from your smartphone allowing you to set temporary pass codes for cleaners or the dog walker. No need to worry if you forgot to lock up the house. Put motion detectors and cameras around the yard to check for unusual activity and get an alert directly on your phone no matter where you are in the world. 

New technology is coming out of development that creates wifi networks from light bulbs – which are faster then your current router! Turn on your refridgerator and never run out of milk again. Hook this into an app on your phone and get an alert as you get close to the supermarket with reminders of what needs to be replenished.

Then there is the dream of the smart menu – what’s for dinner tonight? An app can suggest based on what is in the house and what could be made by picking up a few other items. If you scan your receipt (or ideally, use your supermarket smart cart) everything you have bought will be tracked. Or maybe you are already at the supermarket and stuck for ideas – scan some products on your phone, like chicken, and get menu suggestions with a shopping list right in your hand.

Mobile coupons are another opportunity waiting to be exploited more fully. Get pop-up coupons on your phone as you pass stores. Those reward card accounts you have – stores are tracking them and can tell how valuable a customer you are and customize coupons based on this. 

In the enterprise zone, more companies are realizing that developing a light front end app rather than an installable program is more cost effective and makes for quicker and easier updates and changes. SalesForce.com has really taken a lead in the arena and are showing other companies how this technology can be exploited. Enterprise buyers are more influenced by consumer technology now and are quite comfortable with adding apps to larger applications to solve different problems. Why buy a large manufacting software package if you can just add an app into your SF.com implementation that enables shipment tracking and receipts?

Auto Tech

Car manufactures have been feeling the pressure from consumers to make the car more integrated with smart devices and safety functions. Googles driverless car is going to be a major change for society with both positive and some negative implication – depending in which side of the equation you fall. Self driving cars will open the world for disabled and impaired drivers – especially with people living longer, with mobility needs, but maybe not quite the same unimpaired faculties as when they were younger. This will make the roads safer for everyone.If however, you make a living as a taxi driver or trucker then you might not be so happy about this change! 

Zip car allows people to hire a car only when they need it, but imagine if you have driverless cars available at your beck and call … why even buy a car of your own if there are fleets around just waiting for the next request? No need to worry about mandatory rest breaks or shift switches when there is a computer in charge.

And as the car gets smarter it will be able to monitor its own health. Get a reminder on your phone when the oil needs to be changed or if something else is needed. Safety features are becoming increasingly common and not just in the high end models. Automatic breaking in anticipation of an accident! I have to say my rebel side thinks it would be funny to prank these cars by blowing through a red light as everyone else automatically breaks… but I digress!

I saw a steering wheel cover that can monitor your heart rate and play soothing music as you get more likely to engage in some road rage! While we are waiting for the driverless car, diver monitoring systems would help everyone – too tired? Bit drunk? Not paying attention? Alert the driver or at least alert the drivers around them!

Conclusion

These are some of the major areas of tech that I am both looking forward to and excited about. Maybe not all will be quite possible in 2014, but as someone pointed out – marketing has changed more in the last 2 years then the last 30 years! Technology innovation is increasing as we all live in a more connected world where your idea can be shared among unbelievable amounts of people with one click of a button. The synergy of a connected world leads to faster and better innovation.

What are you looking forward to? Are you worried about anything?

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Online bookmarking app Pocket

Do you ever find yourself scanning quickly through email or Twitter and seeing links to articles that interest you, but you don’t have time to read right now? In an effort to keep your mailbox under control you delete the email, maybe you favorite the tweet. There is a much better way to stay on top of all of this though – using an online bookmarking app like Pocket.

Whats so great about Pocket? You can bookmark any web page or tweet, tag it and then read it on another device when you have the time. I spend a lot of time saving interesting articles during the day and then use the Pocket app on my iPad in the evening to go through those articles. After you have read it you can mark it as read and it goes away or keep it or make it available offline by making it a favorite.

The desktop app installs as a bookmarklet button on your browser toolbar – this is Chrome:

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If you are using your phone to browse Twitter and see a tweet you want to read later – just side swipe the tweet, select the ‘…’ and select Read Later.

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Depending on which Twitter client you are using you will need to adjust its settings so that it knows what app to associate with the Read Later button. For instance in Hootsuite click on the Settings gear icon, select Read Later and then set up your account for Pocket:

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To save a Hootsuite tweet to pocket, click on the tweet and then the ‘…’ button (next to Favorite). If you have added Pocket through your settings you should now see a button that says Send to Pocket:

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As you add articles you have an opportunity to add a tag to it – this gives you another way to keep your clips sorted – other than by just date. You can add multiple tags to an article – side swipe an article to get the tag button and then select or create a new tag for the article:

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To quickly find articles with the same tag you can filter them using the tag button next to the search bar – pull down on screen slightly to see the search bar:

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I have used Pocket while researching vacation spots and saved maps as favorites so that I could refer to them even when there was no signal around. It is also great for homework projects where you can save all the reference pages with the same tag for easy use later. If you save a tweet to Pocket you will not just see the article from the tweet, but also have an opportunity to retweet or favorite the original tweet.

Pocket just recently announced some new features including quick sharing with people – email sharing is still the most popular share method. People you share with frequently are now 1 button click away. All in all, a very useful app for anyone who uses the web for research and needs easy access to that information from any platform.

Apps are available for iPad, iPhone, Android and Kindle for free.

Technology Tool – File Storage/Backup

I thought I would share with you a few tools I have found that make file storage and backup easier. There are 2 options available: physical backup or cloud storage. Within the cloud storage option there are services that will sync files in specific folders across all devices or backup files to the cloud which can also be access remotely.

Physical Backup
This means using an external hard drive to backup your files or entire PC. Many come with software that will do automatic backups for you as long as the device is connected. Drives are cheap now and you can pick up a 750GB drive for about $100. As prices are dropping all the time you can even get 1TB
drives for not much more. Look for devices that are self powered rather than needing an external power hookup – makes them more portable. As drives increase in size there is some concern about whether you should put all your eggs in one basket with a single large drive or diversify with a couple of smaller drives.

The main issue with these are remembering to make the backups – even if you remember to always keep it connected, and if you do keep it connected it won’t help if there is a fire or other disaster at your location. Another problem is that you don’t have any remote access – you have to carry the device with you.

Cloud Backup
www.carbonite.com
A really useful and cost effective option to keeping your important files, music, video backed up is using a service by Carbonite. For a whopping $55 a year you get unlimited online storage in a really safe service. Initially all your files will be backed up and this could take a while even on a DSL connection, but once this is completed the software runs in the background and just uploads new or changed files.

The great advantage to this kind of service is that you can access your files from any web connection – PC, iPhone, smartphone, etc. Restoring your files, it’s all about this really, is simple too with an easy interface that walks you through the process. Your files are kept secure through the use of double encryption transfers.

The individual user service only enables a single computer to be backed up. The Pro version that can be used by companies is priced based on gigabyte storage per month, but you can have unlimited devices setup to backup. Pricing is reasonable with up to 99GB for $50 a month.

Cloud File Syncing
There are a couple of nice services that let you sync files to the cloud and across all your mobile devices.
Dropbox is my favorite giving you 2GB free storage. What’s great about this service is that it installs on your computer and mounts like a new folder in your My Documents area. This way you can just drag and drop files into it like any other folder on your PC. There is an iPhone/iPad and android apps for your mobile devices. You can also access your files via the Dropbox website from any Internet connection. You can work on your files files while offline and changes will sync when you get an Internet connection back.

After you have modified or added files the service syncs to the web and updates all devices when they connect to the Internet. The service also keeps older versions of files for 30 days in case you want to revert to an earlier version. Additionally, deleted files are also kept for a while for those who
like the delete button too much.

Unfortunately, there doesn’t appear to be a commercial version of this available, but additional storage space is reasonably priced: $9.99 a month for 50GB storage. Syncing is fast because only the changes to a file are updated, not the entire file – well, unless it is a new file!

For team projects you can share folders/files and invite people to access those files. I really wish I could find some team collaboration software that would allow multiple people to collaborate on a document and show what changes each person makes! When sharing the files an email is sent to the person and they have to either have an account or create a Dropbox account. There is another option though where you can put files in your Public folder and then share a link with anyone. You can use this to create photo galleries to share with people. The file is accessible to anyone with the link, so to unshare a
file you would need to remove it from the Public folder.

www.box.net
Box.net is a similar service, but you only get 1GB free storage and doesn’t give you file syncing unless you have a business account. This service does seem more directed to commercial applications giving the file syncing, document versioning and password sharing options. A Business account is $15 a month for 3+ users, 15GB per user and 2GB max file limit. Interesting to note, the free account only gives a user a max file upload size of 25MB. There is also an Enterprise option that gives unlimited storage and finally includes the file encryption security. I wouldn’t really recommend this service for personal usage for documents because it will not be using encryption for transfers – use it to backup your music or photos.

Summary
I decided to use Carbonite to backup my work PC and then use Dropbox to keep all my other files on other computers backed up. As you can specify the folders Carbonite backs up, I have it backup my Dropbox folder too – double security!  Carbonite by default does not backup your applications or Windows settings files, although you can manually specify them. Instead, I used my portable hard drive to make a full backup of my entire drive which will cover the applications too and then Carbonite will take care of keeping my other files up to date in the background.

Technology Tool – Evernote

Continuing on my series of posts on technology tools to help you work and live, this next tool is great:  www.Evernote.com

What does it do?
Kind of like a notebook that lives in the cloud, but also has web, desktop, Android and iPhone apps. Take notes, clip webpages, upload photos from the apps and it will sync contents to the web so that no matter where you next access Evernote, all your notes are up to date.

The great part is that you can save notes in to different folders (notebooks) so that you can keep everything relevant together. Planning a bathroom makeover? Keep everything related to that in one notebook. You can have a note with the room dimensions, keep notes on design ideas, clip screenshots or photos of things you see and like. Everything altogether and accessible were ever you are.

In a meeting where the team has been brainstorming ideas on a whiteboard? Take a photo of the whiteboard, upload it and Evernote makes the text searchable – right from the photo! Recorded the meeting too? Upload the recording to Evernote and you have the entire meeting saved. At a conference and getting business card? Take photos of them or scan them later, upload it to a notebook and all that text is searchable.

Another great feature is the ability to tag all your notes. Sometimes a note could be relevant to more than one notebook, so give it more than one tag. You can sort notes by notebook, date, tags or search through them all.

So how much does this cost?
How does FREE suit you? There is the premium version too for a whopping $5 a month, or $45 for a year. The free account gives you unlimited notes, but max of 40mb of uploads a month, premium ups that limit to 500mb a month. Free allows certain file extensions like images and PDF, premium enables them all. Going premium also gives you some nice features like secure encryption, ability to share notes with others for editing and PDF searching.

I haven’t gone premium just yet, but probably will soon. Right now I am writing this blog in Evernote so that I can add to it whenever the mood strikes. Now that I have a smartphone I am playing with the photo taking of receipts, whiteboards, etc and uploading them and testing out how good the text recognition is. Happy to report that it is damn fine for free!

A new feature I just noticed they have available form premium accounts is the ability to add Microsoft Office documents. Then you could access and edit(?) them from anywhere too. That in itself is almost worth the $5!

Not always got wifi when you need to access a note? On the Touch app you can favorite a note and that makes it available offline. The iPad caches all notes visited so they are always available. This was great for me when I was traveling – could keep my itinery, boarding passes, luggage tags and maps of visiting areas all as a favorite in my Touch. Even took scans of my passport and credit cards in case they got stolen. Even if my Touch was to have got stolen, I could access these documents from any Internet cafe by logging into the Evernote website.

Last month I cleared the clutter out of my filing drawer and scanned all those car service invoices. Now they are all in a notebook, tagged by the year of the service.

I installed the firefox clip tool which let’s you automatically add a note of either the whole webpage you are on or just the text you have highlighted. It can connect to your Facebook and Twitter accounts so that you can save information from your streams. Like RSS feeds? There is a connection for that too so that you can save the feed and edit to keep just the important links.

When you signup for an account you will get an Evernote email address to use so that you can automatically add notes via email. Looking in the user forums there also looks liken there is a way the automatically sync a local folder to upload new files automatically to Evernote. However, it does seem to involve a little scripting, so may not be ideal for a new user.

How stable is the company?
Seem to be doing well and they are always developing new extensions or adding to the apps that will work with them. Don’t really see a downside to it, even at $5 a month.

Is this what CRM is used for?

I have been ruminating for a while about how to remove the data silos of customer information that are at work. In theory it should be reasonably straightforward, but as with most things it is not. I wouldn’t have thought our company system was that unique – surely other people have solved this issue….

We use SalesForce. com for the sales people to track prospects and customer information. SF is only used by Sales though, because the rest of us don’t trust what is in it. Sales people have a tendency of not getting the customer order details correct or the shipping address. So when an order is approved, the details are passed to another team in the Production side who verify that the order details are correct – not ordering a Windows application and mainframe add ons!

Production then enters the order and customer details into our Heat system. Heat is really a helpdesk application and I kind of fudged pieces of it to enable to recording of the customer order details.

Benefits of Heat:

  • All information used by both Production and Support is visible – Support can see if a customer is calling for a product they are not licensed for;
  • Customer information is maintained in single system;
  • Heat has a familiar UI and can be customized to our specific needs;
  • Can publish sets of data to web for client or employee review.

Drawback of using Heat:

  • System designed as helpdesk and works well for that. Production use is more clunky;
  • Not a true relational database making keys alphabetic rather than system generated numeric – user errors;
  • Difficult integration with other systems because it is not a true relational DB with proper keys;
  • Reporting is done through Access DB queries reading in MSSQL Heat tables – maintainability!
  • Sales and Technology groups have different views of customers – each thinks theirs is best.

I have been looking at other helpdesk solutions, but again I am seeing limitations with capturing/editing/viewing customer purchases. We don’t need an accounting package because the sales order part is taking care of in the accounting group – completely different system!

How do other companies manage the support and order history of their customers? Is this what people mean by using a CRM system? What if you don’t trust your Sales people to keep information accurate?

I don’t know. Guess I will just keep looking at systems out there and see if anything looks good. Maybe Heat has more to offer in the newer releases….

My ZooLoo blog

Hmmm, I seem to have endless accounts I have created for all these free social media/online backup type sites. I never use them hardly, can’t even remember I have them usually. I think I have close to 6 free 2 gig online storage accounts that I signed up for cause they looked interesting. I don’t really need them though, so they just sit there.

ZooLoo was just sitting there unused too, until they sent me a reminder email. Couldn’t even remember what ZooLoo was to be honest, so I clicked on the link and explored again. I can see this being useful for the student or heavy socially active person, but I have neither time nor energy to be doing more than Twitter and Facebook updates – and the occasional blog posting.

Course, having read that something like 55% of companies block employee social media access, site like this might be a nice workaround. Be on ZooLoo, but really you are also able to access Facebook and Twitter from here. Sure the company dictators will spot this and block it too though!

I just downloaded dropbox app for the iPhone a couple of days ago. I like the premise of being able to sync files from any computer and easy to use. I still will be unlikely to remember about it though. I use Evernote for keeping things synced and TeamViewer to remote desktop into any of my computers.

Ah well, as long as they keep offering free stuff, I will likely keep signing up for it in case I might miss out on something REALLY useful!

Update: I posted this on my ZooLoo account under the blog feature and tweeted out the link. Someone said it came back as a spammy page. So I moved the blog back to good old WordPress – at least this works without me having to figure out what setting I screwed up on ZooLoo!