Tuesday’s Tips

Tuesday Tech Tips

New acronym to absorb: “WUW” – Wear Ur World.

 

 

iPhone, iPhone 3G and 3GS
Image via Wikipedia

As technology allows components to get smaller, and more powerful, the “geeks” among us come up with ways to apply them to practical problems. In this case, it’s a project called “SixthSense.”

I have dabbled in voice recognition as far back as the Apple II+ days (that’s a long time ago. I didn’t even ask about the cost of the software, I just played with it at Apple World in Boston for as long as I could, in my first encounter. Now, voice systems at the other end of our phones “know’ our voices without us “training” them.

Move to the world of “gestures.” Even before the iPhone using mulittouch technology (reads two points and reacts based on relative movement between them), Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) had a set of gestures for things like add and delete characters and spaces, as you “typed” with your stylus.

 

Add to this the next small mix of current technology: Face tracking on your webcams. As you move, the digital controls have determined where your face is and automatically keep it centered with in it’s limits of digital or physical movement. That’s on your desk today. More sophisticated systems are being used for security purposes, too.

Now we do have the iPhone and may copycats, like the HTC Touch phone. Microsoft and other companies have demonstrated multi-touch of many more points and Apple has recently patented a multi-user/multi-touch system, that just knows the different sets of fingers and palms touching the display. Look for this type of technology to show up on your favorite high end restaurant’s table soon, with a direct interface to the kitchen and bar staff.

Now, I’ll get back to SixthSense, which requires a small projector and a camera, and a place to project on.  Basically, the projector becomes your display, and the camera sees what your hands are doing between you and the projected image.  Now the software takes over to allow the interpretation, in context, of the hand movements to provide a “Minority Report” like virtual reality display operated just by the motions of your hands in mid air.  Just think, that movie came out in 2002, and here we are, coming close to this being a common method of interacting with a digitally enhanced world.  Does life imitate art or does art imitate life?

This project is designed to be part of a wearable computing system.  Other projects, such as the Microsoft Natal, are for use with a fixed system, in front of your installed display (TV/computer monitor).

This really isn’t far off, and while the videos show the interaction is a little bit jerky, and the componets, as small as they are, are still somewhat unwieldy, this is what “engineering models” look like, and then some other engineers get to work doing things like integrating projectors and cameras and mirrors into a designer set of glasses frames, so it’s actually useful and comfortable.

“Early adopters” will be the people who take a Dremel Tool to that fancy biking helmet, and won’t mind the wires running down the back of thier shirt’s to connet to the battery and computer package.  Trust me, you’ll be repulsed and attracted, simultaneously, to this person and want to know how you can do it too, but you’ll only buy in if they can guarantee you that there is no residual “helmet hair” when you remove your “device.” This prototype was put together for $350 in parts. Amazing!

Interested in the bigger story?  Watch this video of the man who conceived and made this work:  Pranav MistryTED.

 

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Tuesday Tech Tips

Black Friday is coming….are you ready?

Just what do I mean by that?  Her’s some information on the basic cycle of the electronics industry tha will help you each year, about this time, to make some great decisions on how to spend your money.

The sales are great this time of year.  Beginning with Black Friday, you will see what looks to be incredible pricing.  Some of it really incredible if you want to get to the front of the store and camp out all night and be ready for the rush when the doors open.  Why?

Generally, new technology hits the market in late January/Early February.  New processors, new video cards, and all sorts of extra capabilities in existing equipment.  I suspect there will be plenty of “multi-touch” toys coming our way in the coming year, and possibly many more than just seeing two points of contact.  “Gesturing” will become more of a capability, as we find computers can recognize certain motions we can agree to have common meanings.  So, all this being said, why do I mention early 2010?  Simple:  You have to clear the warehouses and logisitics pipelines of the “old” stuff.  There you have a reason for the timing of the sales.  And…it also doesn’t hurt the retailers to make some bucks…

The deals will be good, on newly manufactured equipment, that may have been in the supply chain for many months now, and they aren’t even making that model any longer, but it has to be sold at the best price possible.  What will be on the shelves coming 1st Quarter next year?  New stuff, and some people will be lamenting 1)  Hey, I paid that much for a system that can’t do that! and 2) I got ripped off!

Well, if you always wait for the next best thing, you’ll never get to buy anything.  So…take you lumps, and know this:

  • You get to write it off for this year, if it’s a business related item.  That adds back some of the value
  • For most people, unless you must be on the bleeding edge of capability, you probably got a perfectly capable system for your needs.  If all you do is basic office type documents, and email, and use something like QuickBooks, you’re fine.  Most of those programs don’t demand even a portion of the computer’s power you have right now, that you are replacing.

Bottom line:  If you need a new system for routine business work, shop this holiday season and go for it.  If you need the cutting edge, at least wait until ‘the cutting edge” is the majority of what’s on the shelves come early next year, then buy it.  Some of that equipment is available now, but it’s very pricey still.

Bonus information:  You can have all the “cores” in the world, but there is a very limited amount of software that will use more than one processor (core) at a time.  It will be sometime before multi-core functional software is mainstream, so short of doing very high end video/photo editing, two cores are fine for just about everyone.

Tuesday Tech Tips

My email box has had some intersting mail the last few weeks.  Actually more than one has had interesting received mail.

I have had many in the last week that say my Facebook account has had changes, needed to be closed down/needed verification….and then “the attached file will fix this,” or words to that effect.

Now, not having a Facebook account yet makes it relatively easy for me to get the antennas up and operating right away, suspecting foul play.

I’ve also received email from “IRS.”  I have always gotten letters from IRS, but…maybe they have popped into the electronic age without personally notifying me.  Same sort of thing:  “Click on the attachment to…”

What does this mean?  For one thing, it’s another wave of computer infections for you and I, the “good guys.”  The thing it also means is if you’re not reasonably alert, a little thing like this may well trip up you up, especially if you do have one of the accounts being mentioned (I’d be especially alert for Facebook items right now).

Thig before you click on that attached file.  “They” (the “bad guys”) are still creative as ever at “marketing” their methods to get you to “buy in,” usually to let your computer become a Zombie SPAM emailer.

Attachments are not bad things, if you know who they are coming from, and what they are supposed to be (sometimes freinds can forward something by accident/lack of fully scanning their own mail first).

Hopefully, mail like this is heading straight to your junk folder, but not all of mine is, so my tip for the day is to stay on top of email that looks out of place.  A hint is if the email for that social media site comes to an email address you don’t use for it, it should be your instant red flag moment.

So…let’s be careful computing out there!

Tuesday Tech Tips

Technology is both a curse and a blessing. In the case of the Soldier’s Angels VALOur-IT, it is a real blessing. Think about sitting at your computer, looking at the screen, and, if you choose, leaving me a comment on this post. If you can use your hands, even if you are a hunt and peck typer, you are blessed.

Now, consider those who have been wounded and can either not see to type and read, or use their hands to operate the keyboard, as a result of an injury while serving in combat, or even an accident while wearing the uniform of the Nation.

What if you could help them be able to communicate as you and I are now? What could that mean in the end game of a few bucks, or a lot of them? The widget on my sidebar gets you to the donation page. You can also help out and get some good things in the eBay, as there are many, many cool things there, too.

My best guess? well, the first part isn’t a guess: I heard Chuck Ziegenfuss say that the ability of the laptop with voice activated software had him asking the medical staff to cut back on his pain medication so he wouldn’t doze off while trying to use the notebook. I’ve also heard him say (and he’s stayed plugged into the program) others have done the same thing. He says the computers are used to talk to friends and family, but even more importantly to get in contact with their units and that has been a huge morale booster. The bonds formed in the service, and especially in combat, are strong and the drive to stay in touch a primary goal. Chuck indicated the people still in theater are excited to hear from their buddies, as they last saw them headed out in a MEDEVAC and the contact lets them know how their friend is doing.

This part, I speculate on, but I think I’m pretty much on target: The exposure to using a computer by voice control provides skills to operate computers anywhere, such as in an business environment, be it the retired service member’s own business, or one they work for.

The long term effect? Skilled men and women who can enter the work force and be productive, like their able-bodied counterparts.

To wrap it up: Your donation helps individuals, but also the economy.

Your choice. How about it? Put some port to the troops in the form of a few dollars. Trust me, you’re helping the country and people, too.

And, if anyone reading this works with the disabled, I bet the staff at Soldier’s Angels would be happy to consult on the best way to make this happen for anyone who has suffered injuries that limit their normal abilities to use a computer. They’ve been there, done that and they are great, giving people.

Tuesday Tech Tips

On Wednesday….but…here.

What’s your computer doing when you’re not working on it, and that even means in your mental pauses? Using electricity and waiting for you.

How would you like to help with solving some interesting scientific questions when you’re not crafting how to make your business huge?

Well, you can and it’s as easy as getting connected with a “distributed computing” project. What that means is a small application is installed and it sense when your system isn’t being actively used and it cranks out some calculations and ships them off to the researchers. Great way to make those times when you answer the phone or door, or run down to the grocery store have some greater meaning, doesn’t it?

Wikipedia has a monster list of such projects that you can help out with. The first one was named SETI@Home, where interstellar radio signals collected were sent out to computers to help run the analysis to look for intelligent siganls from space. You can still do that one, but my machine has been folding proteins (Foldng@Home – the largest project currently running), a part of cancer research, for several years.

Not only can your CPU be involved, one of the interesting thing that has come about as a result of higer powered graphics cards is those GPUs are even faster in crunching the numbers. For you gamers (or who have gamers in the household), yuo can get science ahead faster!  Better news:  Even PlayStation 3s can be used.

So, consider finding one of the distributed programs and put your system to work for science!

My recommendation: Home Page for Folding@Home.

Tuesday Tech Tips

Another Tuesday, another opportunity to talk “tech.”

The world is changing rapidly. Not only in the technology that allows us to do amazing things. but how we use it. eMail is actually becoming yesterday’s news. Many haven’t gotten the memo, but it’s true. Social Media sites and their connectivity tools are becoming eMail 2.0. Trust me, keep an eye on that trend, and the smart marketeer will make sure they are positioned to take advantage of the methods.

Will you have to learn some more things? Oh, yes, but….what haven’t you had to learn along the way in life?

Hardware is shifting. I’m now connected with Liberty International because of their WOW Mobile cell phones. Guess what? It’s not actually a cell phone anymore, it’s a small computer and you now are sending your voice over VOIP, just like you do with your Brighthouse/ComCast/Vonage phone.

Speaking of Wow Mobile (ask me for details, you can actually get your all you can talk.surf/text and connect) bill covered by referrals!), it works on 3G GSM formatted networks. It will will also work on 4G (4th Generation) networks. Haven’t heard of those? That’s a technology coming soon (and in a few cities now) based on Wi-Max service, which is longer ranged and faster wireless data connections. Sprint bought Wi-Max a few years back and they are now rolling it out in major cities. With Wi-Max, you have the capability of surfing at speeds you’re used to at home, connected via hardwires. Consider the possibilites there for really going mobile.

Consider the computing power being crammed into the form factor of a cell phone, rivalling what we called “desktop” computers a few years ago. And it’s getting better faster. For those old enough, the Dick Tracy wrist watch will be far more than a communications device, and probably smaller soon. And don’t forget about display technology, where they are even forging ahead with implants for you eye. Dude! You can be watching the game during meetings! Oh, sorry, you can be reviewing the applicable spreadsheet to make intelligent comments on at the meeting…

Apple, the leader in making “You can’t do that” possible, has put in for a patent on multi-touch surfaces, where it can even distinguish between different people’s hands on the surface, so responses are customized.

reuslting from that will be new ways we communicate with the ultra small computing devices that allow us this capability. Think virtual keyboard and also…get ready…mind control of your typing! Yes, it’s now been done on Twitter by a man who has devoted much time to figuring out how to sense the mind’s waves and direct them. Think of the implications for the disabled….a whole new world awaits them!

The future is heading our way faster and faster and getting more affordable. Overlay that with our instant gratification desires and know your customers will soon be expecting constant and instant contact with you. That, in and of itself, will present an entirely new set of challenges for appropriate behavior (and how to manage and pay employees) in the near future.

So…keep your ears and eyes open and don’t miss the boat!

Tuesday Tech Tips

Today: SPAM email.

Here’s a tip: Don’t “unsubscribe” as much as you’d like to.

Why? Yes, it seems counter to what you’ve been taught, but by making a reply this way, you’ve told the SPAM list that you exist and the email is a good one.

Better: Just flag it as a blocked sender and dump your junk folders regularly.

Let’s computer safely out there.

Tuesday Tech Tips

“BSOD” – Blue Screen of Death to all too many of us with Windows of some variant.

Cause: Depends. How old is your computer? Are your drivers up to date?

If it’s not a very old computer, it could be divers. If you’ve gotten your mileage out of it,then it may be something as simple as your memory chips, like a metal hanger, have been flexed so often they have broken connections way down in the chips from heating/cooling cycles over the years.

And then again, it could be something more substantial, like a motherboard chip going bad.

Does it happen in regular intervals? Does it happen when you do the same thing, such as opening picture files or playing videos?

If it happens, it could be anything from a few minutes to download and reinstall drivers, or a trip to the local computer parts store and complete re-install of Windows.

Tuesday Tech Tips

This has been the week of malware.

I have not had to fix two systems, where somehting crawled in via the internet connection and took over the computer.

Case 1) Total Security 2009. You could not get to the Internet, the screen was resized down to 640×480 (making it difficult to redo things like screen size settings, as the buttons were now below the bottom of the page and you couldn’t pull them up any higher), Task Manager was corrupted (so you couldn’t shut down the offending program), and any anitvirus/antispyware/antimalware program would not run. Top it off with the program put up a whole screen message about every 5 seconds showing a list of all the spyware it found on your system.

The way around this? My first effort was to just start over the customer’s installation on a new dick drive, then come back and move the data over. Once things were under control, I found the easy answer, but it wasn’t apparent while you kept getting a screen up every 5 seconds, the program had put a shortcut to itself on the desktop. Using that marker of its presence, I found where the program had installed itself, and it was not in the Program Files directory. It had put itself in My Documents/Application Data (a hidden file to the normal user) and it didn’t use it’s name for the program, it was numbers only on the folder that held the program. I verified this by changing the folder’s name and rebooting. The program didn’t start up this time, but the Task Manager was still damaged to the point it did not work. I also then scanned the disk using CyberDefender and it found Total Security and labeled it as a Rogue MalWare program. running CyberDefender while the malware was running resulting in saying there were no problems.

Solution? Pay attention to what your firewall is asking you to allow. Oh, better yet: Make sure you have a good firewall installed and that you use it. I use the PCTools firewall. Free and effective.

Case 2) No Internet, and you can’t run any program. Now, it’s difficult to discern exactly what this is right now, but the user said it had been like this for about 3 months. He had another computer sitting off to the side, actually a better one, and I spent last night moving the data off the hard drive of the first drive (while attached as an external drive, not the boot drive). I haven’t had the time to run the actually problem to ground, but I’m leaving to deliver the other computer, with all the work files moved over, so they can get back to work.

There are those who will spend their days figuring out how to attack your computer across the net, and make your life frustration, and maybe even stop your business for at least a day, while someone like me gets you back to operating mode.

Unfortunately, you just have to come to grips with the fact these people are out there and you need to make sure you compute safely!

Tuesday Tech Tips

Consider this: Every solution for a business is essentially unique, even when you are using some of the same hardware or software as the next person/company. Within what you are doing, there will be commonality, but…what suits one won’t suit all.

What got me thinking of this is a conversation that continued yesterday from a prior conversation regarding the direction the plan was to go. In the interim, the person had gone to some of the free seminars to gain some more understanding, which I appreciate, but, in the context of the specific goals of that business effort.

Here’s the deal: These groups are good for general purpose guidance, or to know what’s out there, but they can also be a source of chasing everything you hear about, while not focusing on getting your main content together and presented to the wbe viewers in a manner that you need.

At those groups, that meet at lunch, in the evening, or on a weekend, ask yourself this (if you’re tempted to go and consider it a “free” consulting opportunity): Which one of them will provide a venue to sit and ansk you about what you are trying to do, what you have tried already, what software you have, what expertise you have and such important questions that must be answered for you to be effective? Most likely, no one will provide a platform like that for free, and if they do, what’s the follow up cost? I’m willing to bet it’s not free.

As I mentioned, technology and your ideas have to merge on the digital super highway smoothly, which implies first, that you get up to speed, and two, you enter the traffic pattern without wrecking your “vehicle.”

Like just about every other thing in life, just because your friends/family do it/like/it/use it, does it mean it’s practical for you, or your tastes. In this case, how applicable to your business is it?

Put a good plan together, not just digitally, but for your whole business and then execute it. Revisit the plan and update it accordingly, just don’t launch and hope it all works out and then begin chasing every thing that crosses your path. Put the energy into getting a solid foundation, then you can consider diversifying your efforts, once the money flows.