Tips for Starting a Small Business

space-from-jays-desk

At AltamontCowork over the past 5 years, I have seen all sorts of small business owners / wannabes come and go.  Some have succeeded, most have not. 

Here are a few tips for the serious small business start-up:

  1. Follow your PASSION.
  2. In a GOOD economy it takes 2 to 3 years to build your business.
  3. Start slow and build.  Hire people only when necessary to keep growing.
  4. Trust your instincts: You know your offerings better than anyone.
  5. To build your business you are going to have to work your ass off and focus on your business.
  6. Working your ass off means you are networking with other small business owners and potential clients (get to know them, don’t just give them your card), you are marketing / advertising the crap out of your business including keeping up to date Facebook pages, web sites, blogs, Twitter, Instagram….etc etc.
  7. Be prepared to give away free stuff.
  8. It is going to take some $$.  Make sure you have enough money to last 2 years minimum.  I was still at AltamontCowork after 5 years of not breaking even…I had enough money saved, I only left because I got “tired”.
  9. If you feel you need and office: Save money, increase your exposure, get help and advice for free….by COWORKING.   Renting a $500 to $800 a month 10 x 10 office, with a door, will do nothing but drain your much needed budget.
  10. Just as things look the bleakest…do NOT QUIT!  So many businesses leave too early….hang in there, things will get better, and may even BOOM.
  11. Failing is not failure.  Try again….this time with more business knowledge and a better understanding of yourself.

Summary

Plan on putting LOTS of time building and growing your business.

Two to three years MINIMUM and tons of hours. Save money where you can to make sure you have enough to last for the long haul.

Starting a successful small business is a lot of work, but, it is worth it to be your own boss.

Cameras on Smartphones: Photography for Everyone

Call me old fashioned, but, this is the first year that I am really enjoying using the cameras (front and back facing) on my smartphone.

My new Samsung Galaxy Note 4 has a camera that is every bit as good as our standalone Sony camera for utility, instant, use.

Caveat: I am not a professional photographer, but, as a recreational photographer, I now use the Note 4 camera for 99% of my photos. The quality is more than good enough for my needs (posting / saving on the Internet, making flyers, Christmas cards, or just looking at photos / movies on our HDTV using Chromecast).

Do you need to take a shot NOW that will never present itself again?  Just whip out the smartphone and snap.

potato Blaze

If you just want to carry one device and still get a great picture….like at Kristen’s graduation from University of the Pacific.

kristen graduation

 

Meet an old friend at McDonald’s and want to take a selfie?

old guys selfie

 

Or walking thru town and see a nice landscape?

tracy watertower

Or do you want, or need, to grab a quick video?

NOTE: I took that video this morning(!) on the Note 4 then uploaded it to YouTube using the Android YouTube app. I trimmed out the last few seconds of Lori talking, then posted it.  Pretty cool!

Gotta love mobile technology.

Conclusion

Until this year, I was not entirely happy with the quality of my previous smartphone cameras. Now…..I am. So this blog post may be old news for many of you, but, it is quite possibly new news for those like me who needed just a little bit more convincing.  :-)

Oh….don’t get me wrong…..our little stand-alone Sony camera still has a better zoom capability, low light use, and sound capture and I do use it…..occasionally.

I am not sure if a professional photographer wants to use the smartphone cameras (I am pretty sure they don’t), but, for everyday Joe and Joanne I suspect the smartphone cameras will more than fill our needs.

And as technology marches on, one day these smartphone cameras will have abilities we can’t even imagine in 2015.

Beam me up!

 

 

 

Test Your Web Site to See if Google Thinks it is Mobile Ready

I found this link recently and gave it a try to make sure my web sites are approved by Google to be “mobile ready”.  They are!

You should do the same…..

TechyMike.com

Screenshot_2015-04-26-15-08-00 Screenshot_2015-04-26-15-10-11

TracyReaderDad.com

Screenshot_2015-04-26-15-08-27 Screenshot_2015-04-26-15-09-31

ForCarol.com

Screenshot_2015-04-26-15-08-50 Screenshot_2015-04-26-15-09-06

Conclusion

Change your web site’s to mobile friendly because the world is going mobile and you do not want to be left behind!

The Woz and Stan Lee Use Video Conferencing to Plan Comic Con 2016

How far has videoconferencing technology come in the past 25 years?

Pretty far, but, it sure has taken a long time. The culture has finally caught up with the technology.

Watch the YouTube video below as Stan Lee and Steve Wozniak decide to have Comic Con 2016 in the San Jose Convention Center, March 19 and 20, 2016.

The value of video conferencing is subtle, but, The Woz only needed to click on “Stan Lee” to effectively communicate with his geographically dispersed colleague. No need to travel to a conference room, or to visit him, and the value of seeing each other, as old friends, is readily apparent in this video.

Trivia: I attend several “early” video conferencing technology conferences and exhibits at the Convention Center. And I even gave a talk, or two, there on this great technology.

Google Project Fi: Google Wants to Be Your Next Wireless Service Provider

Google Fi

Google just announced that they will be jumping into the cellular wireless service provider space joining the likes of AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint, et al. with Google Fi.

Promising to use new technology to provide a robust, multi-network, multi-device, experience for voice, texting, and data from 120 countries, Google has the potential (in my mind) to change how we communicate.

Caveat: This blog is just an introduction and may not be totally accurate. Go to the Google Fi web site for ALL the correct information on this exciting service.

Google Fi Basics

multiple devicesGoogle Fi will initially work only with the Nexus 6 smartphone (or smartphone, tablet, or phablet that uses Google Hangouts). It uses T-Mobile and Sprint LTE cellular networks (4G, 3G) and WiFi to make the connections. If you start the call via WiFi and walk out of range, Google Fi will automatically connect your call to a T-Mobile or Sprint 4G or 3G LTE network to keep you connected. If you walk back in range of a WiFi, it will automatically flip you to the WiFi.

Very cool (if it works seamlessly…we will see.

The WiFi data is encrypted to help protect you in open WiFi environments.  The web site says it like having your own “private tunnel to drive through” the Internet.

Very VPN (virtual private network) like….

Google Fi Pricing

You can get more pricing details on the Google Fi web site (hmmmm, is the web site mobile friendly?).

But I ran some numbers here to give you an idea about the pricing.

Quickly: It costs $20 for basic service plus some additional cost per GB of data. I really like the fact that if you do not use all your data, you get money back on next months bill. It is month-by-month, and that is nice too.

  • A 10 GB data plan costs $120 per month
  • A 1 GB data plan costs $30 per month
  • A 3 GB data plan costs $50 per month

Reasonable costs if you can control your data usage. Hmmm, I “assume” this is data over the 4G and 3G networks and not WiFi, but, I did not see that specifically spelled out.

Other than data, the plan includes:

  • Unlimited domestic talk and text
  • Unlimited international texts
  • Low-cost international calls
  • WiFi tethering
  • Coverage in 120+ countries

Here is a snip of a theoretical person’s cost for the month:

save money get money back

Initial Questions

1. Can I experience Google Fi using my Samsung Galaxy Note 4 since I use Google Hangouts and have a Google voice number?

2. Will I be able to take advantage of the WiFi to 4G switching as I move about?

3. Not sure if the data plan is just for 4G and 3G data.  I am pretty sure WiFi is not included, but, I do not see it spelled out.

4. Hmmm, I will write more as I think of them….

On the web site they have a coverage / speed map for where you live.

Here is mine in Tracy, CA

4g lte in tracy

Conclusion

Google Fi can change the way we communicate.

I am excited to see how this all works out, and would love to be involved if I were not an unknown starving blogger once again.

If you want to fund my efforts….comment below.  :-)

HTC RE Camera Preview

htc re and me

I will write a full blog about the HTC RE camera in the near future, but, for now, here is a short video I took using the RE, aka “Blaze Cam”.  (Blaze is our 13 week old yellow Labrador puppy). 

Testing the video capability of the HTC RE, I uploaded the MP4 file from the RE directly to YouTube. Works great. :D

 

Google Search Goes Mobile

As of today (April 21, 2015) when you do a Google search from your tablet, phablet, or smartphone you will see a list of web sites starting with those that are “mobile friendly”, meaning those web sites that, when viewed on a small screen, do not need to be enlarged or scrolled to be read easily.

Google fired up this new algorithm because, apparently, over 60% of Internet searches now come from mobile users (see my Paradigm shift blog entry) and Google wants to capture this paradigm shift in usage by encouraging web site developers to be more “mobile friendly”.

Knowing this, I looked at this web site (TechyMike.com), and, damned if it was NOT set up to be mobile friendly. In the dashboard, I went into “Appearance” then “Mobile” and enabled mobile.

Check it out from your smartphone or tablet…..lookin good!  :-)

I also enabled: ForCarol.com and TracyReaderDad.com.

Screenshot_2015-04-21-16-12-31 Screenshot_2015-04-21-16-13-00

I should gets tons more hits….right?  We will see…..

Diversify Your Telephone, Cell Phone & Internet Services

Although a rare occurrence, yesterday we lost AT&T Wireless service to our cell phones. This made me think about diversity of communications in the home.

eggs verticalEvery time I go to pay our Comcast bill I am told that by adding telephone service (and more recently a home alarm system) I can “save money” over what I am paying for HDTV and Internet.

Every time, I say “NO”.

In the mail, we get a constant stream of ads for us to get UVERSE for our TV and Internet (we already have AT&T for our telephone services).

In the trash.

I do not purchase “bundles”, but, that feeling goes way back to when I was a working engineer designing large communication systems.

We always, always, picked what we thought was the best product for the task.

We needed a gatekepeer….Radvision.  We needed an MCU (multipoint control unit)….Accord or Codian.  We needed H.323 video conferencing endpoints….Polycom or Tandberg.

My point is: We always took the “best of breed” and never, ever, put all of our eggs in one basket.  

Yesterday, at home, when AT&T Wireless went down in Tracy, CA we had redundancy through diversity. We had our old fashioned land-line telephone from, hmmm, AT&T, that worked just fine. Our Internet was still fine, from Comcast / Xfinity.  Only our cell phone service was down (along with mobile data connectivity, texting, etc).

Using the Internet (from our laptops) we asked our Facebook friends if they had a problem…they did. Using our land-line we called a useless person at AT&T service support who said it was our phones.  It was not.  Then we called the AT&T phone store and they told us the wireless network was down in Tracy and Patterson. We ultimately just waited for AT&T Wireless to get their shit together and un-screw what they screwed up.

They did…..eventually.

Yesterday was not catastrophic…..just a reminder to diversify when possible or financially feasible.  (And keep your land line telephone?!)

Diversity of YOUR communications could save you trouble in the future.

Crowd Mics: Audience Participation via Voice, Text, and Polling

crowd mics

In the old days, I gave a ton of speeches at conferences on video conferencing technology.  At the end of my talk, during the Q&A session, two people stood in the audience with wireless microphones that they would give to audience members who had a question.

hold to speakInvariably, one of the two microphone people had to weave their way thru, over, or between other audience members to get to the questioner who was ALWAYS in the middle of every row.

Very funny, but, the process worked (as long as the mic batteries were working…).

 

create a pollSometimes, the audience was given a special polling device and the presenter would ask questions and wait for a response from the audience.  I loved this as the results of a poll question was available instantly.  Now every audience member with a smartphone has the polling device in the palm of their hand.  Cool.

 

texting commentsI am not an extrovert, so I had to pump myself up–a lot–to give a presentation or to ask a question as an audience member.

Having the ability to text my question, like I do in a video conference or streaming video presentation would have been perfect.

 

Fast forward waaaayyyy too many years, and a friend (errr, connection) on LinkedIn posted a link to “Crowd Mics”.  Trusting that persons judgement, I went to the Crowd Mics web site and immediately saw the value, and benefit, of this app…..wow!

Another paradigm is shifting. Very cool.

You can grab Crowd Mics for your smartphone on the App Store or Google Play. It is free.

crowd mics on google play

Here is a short commercial for Crowd Mics:

And here is Crowd Mics being used in a small conference room:

Conclusion

This appears to be a great app (I have not used it, so I can’t be sure).  But…..if I were back on the speaking circuit, I would definitely give it a try!

If you have used Crowd Mic, please comment your opinion below.

Remote Working Paradise

I will be spending a lot of time in the next few months evaluating remote working locations in Tracy, CA. Thought I’d add this one to the list: Our backyard paradise as a remote working location.

remote working paradise

“Retirement” is good…..I just need a bit more time to get used to it.

Probably won’t take long.

Here is the evaluation of this remote working location / paradise:

WiFi–Yes

Coffee–Free

Beer–Free, unlimited supply….want another….yup!  (hic)

Ambiance–Paradise

Noise Level–Mourning Doves, Hummingbirds, and distant pool pump.

Music–COUNTRY!!!

“No shoes, No shirt, No problems”   Kenny Chesney

“It’s 5 o’clock somewhere”  Alan Jackson

Conclusion

Remote working / telecommuting from home beats an office, or cafe, any day.

I wrote this blog which proves that even in “retirement” I’m being PRODUCTIVE!  :-)

Remote Working = Telecommuting = Coworking

 

COWORKING: An Open Collaborative Work Environment

I owned a COWORKING location in Tracy, CA for 5 years and 7 months, finally selling it for economic reasons on Dec 31, 2014 (see my blog about the lessons I learned about coworking in a small town).

One day a few years ago, some folks from Emergent Research came into the office to interview us for a research project they were doing on COWORKING.

The video below is the result of this research project.

Very cool, very interesting. Enjoy.

Remote Working at Starbucks by Raley’s in Tracy, CA

ultra wide angle

I have been using the Starbucks by Raley’s for meetings since selling AltamontCowork.  Since I am familiar with that location, I chose it to be the first of many in this new series researching remote work locations in Tracy, CA.

Note:  My original blog researching WiFi “hotspots” was way back in 2007.  WiFi was new back then and you had to pay for it.  At the time, there were only three WiFi locations in all of Tracy, CA.  Times sure have changed….

Research Methods (not rigorous)

I plan to arrive between 9 and 9:30 AM at each of the locations.  I will buy some coffee (black), then set up my laptop and Note 4 to the Internet (I need a mouse pad and mouse, so sufficient space is a concern) and do an Internet speed test.  I will take notes on the vibe, note the furniture and tables, see where power is, measure the noise level with an app on the Note 4, hang out for a little while then pack up and leave.  I will take pictures with the HTC RE before during and after.

Starbucks by Raley’s on South Tracy Blvd

Ambiance / vibe of the location 

Cafe vibe.

people in starbucksLots of people sitting, or standing on line to get coffee. Muted conversations and an energy I rarely had at AltamontCowork. There were people sitting at tables and in the chairs drinking coffee and chatting. To my left, on the long table, was a job interview. A few people looked like they were in a meeting and a couple of people had laptops and appeared to be working.  Note: My meetings there went well. The noise levels were not a problem, and, surprisingly, there is some conversational privacy afforded by the ambient noise.

The furniture is nice with comfy chairs, small and medium sized tables, and the one long table that I like.

Unlike coworking where you get to know people, these people are all pretty much strangers to each other and I am sure very little or no small business to small business collaboration takes place.

Availability of chairs, table space, power, and/or office amenities

working outside I have been there when it was impossible to get table space except for outside (it is “winter” so the meeting was chilly).

There are power outlets behind the long table and by the chairs near the windows.

No printers or other “office” amenities.

Noise level

As measured by my noise measuring app the noise level was about 75 db or “busy traffic”. But again, it was not distracting as all the voices melded together in a cafe vibe.

Ease of connecting to the Wifi

connecting to the internetConnecting to the Google WiFi at this Starbucks is easy with both my Samsung Galaxy Note 4 and Toshiba laptop running Windows 7.

Once signed in, you are taken to a landing page that I suppose is helpful to some, but, I just went to my browser and started working.

Be careful connecting to an open WiFi network.  Make sure it is THE WiFi for the location (and not a hacker spoofing the name), use https when browsing, make sure your firewall is on, that your computer is password protected, and do not do banking while you are there.

Staying connected to the WiFi

I have had no problems being kicked off the network.  But, then again, I have not stayed more than 2 hours, so you may experience a time-out for connectivity. Let me know in the comments below if you time-out.

Speed of the WiFi as per the Xfinity Speed Test

starbucks speed test

Pretty fast with a download speed of 51 Mbps and an upload speed of 11 Mbps. Certainly fast enough for applications up to, and including, HD video conferencing.

Managements tolerance of remote workers staying for the day

I have had meetings last over 2 hours and no one asked me to leave.  I have met (rather seen) people who seem to work there for long stretches at a time meeting with clients, or just working on their computers.

Conclusion

My Workspace

My Workspace

The Starbucks by Raley’s in Tracy, CA is a nice place to get some work done and meet with clients.  The long table rocks.

My burning question:

Why pay for a coworking location when Starbucks is free with almost everything you need to get the job done (and the rest: printer, paper, etc are at home)??  I need to answer that question as I continue this research. Comment below to help me out….

Beam: Robotic Video Conferencing

I started seeing robotic video conferencing devices appear around 2010.

I wrote a few blogs on the HeadThere Giraffe, AnyBots, and VGo  (see my blog entries here) and even watched an episode of “The Big Bang Theory” which featured Sheldon using a “nice virtual presence device” to meet the Woz.

Despite the fast early start for these new products, and not atypical in the video conferencing industry, I did not see or hear much about this technology after that.

Fast forward five years. I was surfing the Internet and spotted a robotic video conferencing virtual presence device that I had never heard of: Suitable Technologies Beam. (as in Beam me up Scotty?)

The GeekWire article I read talked about the Beam being tested at the Seattle Art Museum so people who cannot physically make it to the museum can be there, and walk around, virtually. (Read about more museums using this technology on the Beam Blog)

Very cool.

beamSufficiently intrigued, I went to the Beam web site to find out a bit more. The web site is a bit, hmmmmm, lacking in technical detail, but, it appears as though you need an app on a computer (mobile device?) connected to the Internet, some unspecified relays, and, at the remote end where the Beam smart presence device is located, WiFi (802.11 working at 2.4 GHz or 5.0 GHz). It appears to be able to work over 4G as well.

Also at the remote site, there is a charging / docking port that you drive onto when you are done. Preferably located near the rest room or hot dog stand. ;-)

Maybe setup is this easy….I have not tested it, so I don’t know. :-)

getting started

 

Note: They have videos on set-up and such but they are “unlisted” on YouTube and give me a warning about sharing….wtf.

Technical details aside, the Beam appears to be pretty cool. They have a bunch of videos on the web site showing how the Beam is being used in various scenarios. From those videos I picked two that might be of interest.

Education: (Bringing in remotely located experts to talk to students….we did that in 1990…see our Personal Telepresence concept).

Beam Store:  This is super cool!  A store where the salespeople are present only via the telepresence device. IEEE did the video and interview.

Conclusion

Ever since I first saw this technology, I thought there were a great number of applications for a robotic virtual presence device,particularly in education. As with most groundbreaking technology, it just has taken a few years to see those applications become reality.

Using MileIQ: The Smart Mileage Tracker

I saw an ad (I think on Facebook) for MileIQ. In that ad, MileIQ promised to make tracking personal miles vs business mile easy. Since I know a few people who travel by car for business, I thought I’d give it a try.

What is MileIQ

Screenshot_2015-03-16-05-02-58

Figure 1: Trip Displayed in MileIQ

MileIQ is an app for your android or IOS smartphones that automatically tracks your mileage, and calculates the IRS mileage costs, when you are driving. When you are finished with your trip it allows you to swipe left for personal or swipe right for business.  When you need an IRS compliant report, you simply ask and an email arrives with several versions of the report (CSV file, editable PDF for all my drives, or PDF business only).

Watch this short video for more:

TechyMike Using MileIQ

Setting up MileIQ (BETA version 1.0.1.84) on my Samsung Galaxy Note 4 was a breeze.  I took the car for a spin, and saw the mileage report and swiped it left for personal.

The first thing I noticed was that one MileIQ trip was significantly different than one TechyMike trip.  I quickly realized that my 40 drive free limit would get here REALLY quickly.  For example:

To me this is ONE trip:

Home–> Bank–> Orchard–> Costco–> PetSmart–> Best Buy–> Target–> Save Mart–> Home

To MileIQ, the above errands sucked up several trips….up to 8 !!!!!! (so much for a great deal with 40 free trips, haha):

Home to Bank, Bank to Orchard, Orchard to Costco, Costco to PetSmart, PetSmart to Best Buy, Best Buy to Target, Target to Save Mart, Save Mart to Home

How do they “fix” this? Not a clue, but, maybe they do not want to change this.  I mean, for about $6.00 per month MileIQ is a good deal especially if you travel even a little bit for business (even though you have to wait until tax time to see the reward).

Since I knew my 40 drive free limit was happening quickly, I wandered around the app to see if I could MANUALLY turn it off for personal trips and then manually turn it on for business trips since I take so few business trips.

I clicked on the three horizontal bars in the top left corner (not fooling you, see Figure 1, it really is in the top left).  And this page showed up.

main menu

I clicked on Account and got this.

Account page

Ah!  Tracking, that looks like the page I want.

pause tracking

PERFECT!

I hit the pause button and happily went about my personal driving without the fear of tracking 8 trips in one…..RIGHT?

WRONG!

A few days later, I looked and I was at my 40 drive limit.  Apparently, the pause did not stay paused (I did NOT go back in and turn it on since I had NO business trips lined up).

Oh well, this is a BETA after all, and I, of all people know more about Beta testing than almost anyone still alive.

I am sure they will fix this, I have faith in the MileIQ team. :-)

For each trip, you can click on the three dots on the bottom bar (See Figure 1) to pull up the Notes page.  Here you can input information pertaining to that trip: tolls, parking fees, vehicle information (Honda?  Mileage?) and you can add notes.

adding notes

Cool.

If you click the garbage can (bottom bar on the right in Figure 1) you get the option of not counting this as a trip (BUT….it still counts against the 40 free trips….I know, I tried).

trash can menu

I randomly clicked several trips as one of each of these. I do not see them in the reports below.

They have a nice set of FAQs on the app.

FAQs

With plenty of explanations….

Screenshot_2015-03-16-11-05-44

Very nice, and unexpectedly complete for a BETA.

Reports

After I categorized, randomly, the 30 or so trips I had not known were there, I asked for a report.  I asked for February (in my mind I had the app a long time….40 trips!) and was told I had no trips in February.  Hmmmm, I asked for March and was rewarded with an email.

Click to Enlarge (if needed)

CSV in Open Office (Business and Personal)

comma separated file

 Business Only PDF

business pdf smaller

Personal and Business PDF (multiple pages)

personal pdg small mult pages

Sweet.

Conclusion

Although there are a few things I see that can be “fixed”, overall MileIQ works great and does what it says it does.  Since it is only BETA, I am sure this app will only get better with time and iterations.

I am impressed with how it easy it is for idiot me to keep track of business mileage, take notes, keep track of expenses, etc.

If you are a small business owner, or traveling sales person, MileIQ is definitely worth $5.99 a month.  The 40 free offer gets your foot in the door, like it did me, but, I walked thru that door a believer in this product.

Great job, MileIQ (Dan and company)

Oh…..if you are a bad guy, watch out…..MileIQ knows your every move.  And no, driving to rob a place is not a business expense.  Is it?

Update: MileIQ sent me their latest version to test…….The new version is terrific.  If I were using my car for business and personal….I would use MileIQ.

I suggest you give it a try.  :-)

Blast From the Past: Cell Phones and Brain Cancer

This was published in early 2007 or 2006 (I moved to WordPress in Nov 2007).  Way back then, the cell phone was used mostly for talking and people were walking around with their cell phones plastered to their ear.  

textingTimes have changed:  Texting (and other Smartphone features) have made all the difference.

Enjoy.

Cell Phone and Brain Cancer Theory

My wife suggested I document this theory I have had for quite some time. But first, let me give you a very brief background.

When I was in graduate school at the University of Kansas, one of my research interests was on the effects of microwave radiation on the human body. I never got to finish that research since I accepted a research assistant position which paid me for doing other research (yeah…I caved in for money!).

But from the little bit I did on the effects, I came out with a VERY healthy respect for what electromagnetic radiation can do to the human body, either outwardly apparent or not at all apparent.

The theory I am documenting (and I have no proof that this will happen and, in fact, have seen reports / studies that say it will not happen. I do not believe those studies by the way):

20 to 25 years from now I suspect / fear that there will be a dramatic increase in brain cancer due to cell phone abuse.

There, I documented it!

Word of caution: limit your use.

 

Apple Watch

A few years ago, I lost my watch and searched everywhere for it.  No luck. 

But, since I had a smartphone, I decided that I could live without my watch. Interestingly, at about the same time, the whole world decided that watches were passe.

But as is the case in life eventually good things come back, and watches are a good thing.  

Sure enough….it is now 2015 and watches are the next big thing in technology.

Cool.

 

Conclusion

mickey mouseRetired old starving blogger can’t hardly afford one at $300 to $10,000 but I DO like the ability to make my watch a Micky Mouse watch, then a digital watch for when I run…..errr walk, and then a cool chronograph like the one I lost.

Digital watch technology: Everything to everybody.

Cool.

 

Paradigm Shift: Smartphones Change the Way We Work

A few years ago, I wrote about a technological paradigm shift in the home from a wired network with desktop personal computers, to a wireless, distributed, network connecting multiple laptop computers.

It is now 2015, and another dramatic paradigm shift is underway.  Here is how our household technology has changed in the past few years….

The “Old” Way (before 2010)

In the “old” days, we connected our one large desktop computer (a Dell) in the study to the Internet via an 8 port switch to the router supplied to us, at the time, by AT&T.

old days

The desktop was shared by all three of us.

The Near Past (2010 thru 2014)

I wrote my original paradigm shift blog in 2010.  At that time, we moved the router (now Comcast) and Internet connection to the Family Room (and yes the HDTV is in the picture, I am just leaving it out here to simplify the diagrams).

near past

Lori and I both plopped our laptops on tables in the Study and Kristen wandered around with hers (Family Room, Living Room, Bedroom, etc).  We use the laptops exclusively and the Dell is now in the garage.

Now (2015 thru 2017 ??)

The proliferation of smartphones, tablets, etc. changed our landscape a bit.

In the past year or so, I have had increasingly capable smartphones and started to use them more heavily for reading email, hitting Facebook and LinkedIN, reading the news, and playing games (Robo Defense!!!!). Lori has an iPad which she uses most of the time looking up stuff on the Internet.  Kristen is Snap Chatting her face all the time from her iPhone.

The importance of the laptops is fading, Lori’s the fastest, mine next, and, because Kristen has now graduated from the University of the Pacific and has a JOB, the least.

now

I see this architecture lasting a few more years….there are still many things I just can’t do on my Galaxy Note 4 that I can do on the laptop. But, technology moves on…..

Future (after 2017?)

Some of the stuff keeping me on the laptop (writing these blogs, making business cards, making these drawings, using a spreadsheet, etc) may be easier on the smartphone after 2017, but, maybe not.  It is possible the laptop (or Chromebook, or similar larger screened mouse controlled device) will still be necessary…I can’t foretell the future (as much as I would take advantage of that…if I could).

future

It is possible that: The laptop as we know it in 2015 will almost not be needed, the printer is always needed (maybe replaced with a 3D printer that can also make dinner), and our smartphones (or whatever mobile thingy) will be our main computing device.

Who knows..

I won’t look any further into the future since I probably won’t be around to see the brain implant that allows you to print an image in your memory then send it to selected friends, also in memory, and do all that a laptop and smartphone can do now, just by thinking.

Conclusion

Technology marches forward.  If you can’t adapt, you lose.

Remote Work=Telecommuting=Coworking

RIP Leonard Nimoy, Mr. Spock….I, for one, will miss you dearly.

Using the Bose Soundlink Color Bluetooth Speaker

We have several generations of Bose speakers. Unfortunately, they are not portable and Lori wanted to bring her music with her throughout the house or yard. The Bose Soundlink Color Bluetooth Speaker seems to fit the bill.

Bose speakers, in general, boast great audio in small packages. For us, all of our speakers / radios / HDTV sound systems (even those 20 years + old) are still working and still sound great. They: Are reliable, sound great, and are good looking….but, they are not portable. Time to get a new version.

We saw the Bose Soundlink Color bluetooth speaker on display at the Tracy, CA Best Buy just before Christmas 2014 and decided to give it a try.

Before I get into the details of using our Bose, some technical background is needed (this is a technical blog after all….haha).

What is Bluetooth?

You have all heard of bluetooth and many of you use it regularly to connect to any number of devices with your computer or smartphone.  But what is bluetooth?  Here is a quick lesson.

25 pin rs232 cableBack in the old days, electronic equipment that needed to connect together used standardized cabling, or more specifically, a RS-232 cable or if higher bit rates were needed (or longer distances), an RS-449 /RS-422 or, later, RS-485 cable (or wiring) which used balanced electronic transmission methods to minimize noise. How do I know all this you ask?  Well…It just so happens that much of my early life as an engineer was spent at Grumman Aerospace (Bethpage, NY), AT&T Bell Labs (Holmdel NJ), and Lawrence Livermore National Lab (Livermore, CA) designing interface solutions using these cable connect technologies.

As electronic devices proliferated, it became a bit unwieldy to connect them via large RS-232 cables.  According to WikiPedia, engineers at telecom giant, Ericsson, in 1994, probably got tired of dragging their RS-232 cables around so they developed “bluetooth” as a short-range wireless RS-232 cable. This wireless capability quickly became a standard that is now under the auspices of the Bluetooth Special Interest Group which boasts over 20,000 members worldwide.  Sweet.

Technical Stuff

(Rather than re-typing some technical details, I copied the blurb below from this WikiPedia article (I hope they do not mind))

“Bluetooth operates in the range of 2400–2483.5 MHz (including guard bands). This is in the globally unlicensed (but not unregulated) Industrial, Scientific and Medical (ISM) 2.4 GHz short-range radio frequency band. Bluetooth uses a radio technology called frequency-hopping spread spectrum. Bluetooth divides transmitted data into packets, and transmits each packet on one of 79 designated Bluetooth channels. Each channel has a bandwidth of 1 MHz. Bluetooth 4.0 uses 2 MHz spacing, which accommodates 40 channels. The first channel starts at 2402 MHz and continues up to 2480 MHz in 1 MHz steps. It usually performs 1600 hops per second, with Adaptive Frequency-Hopping (AFH) enabled.”

/Technical Stuff

Got that?  :-)

Anyway….Bluetooth has evolved to be easy-to-use by virtually anyone, and the frequency hopping data transfer happens fast enough that you don’t even notice it while listening to your favorite music.

Gotta love it how very difficult engineering can be made so easy to use that most people have no idea of the amount of time and effort put into the design.

Connecting My Galaxy Note 4 to the Bose

Confession:  I have never used Bluetooth until now. Yup, it’s true, I was a bluetooth virgin.  So much technology, so little time.

bose front

But, that aside, here is how I connected my smartphone to the Bose speaker.

I went into my Note 4’s Settings

settings

I clicked on Bluetooth

bluetooth off

I turned on Bluetooth and saw the Bose and my daughter’s Honda

available devices

I selected the Bose to pair with it

pair with bose

Easy as 3.14.  I could now listen to music.  :-)

Here is a video from Bose showing how to you can link multiple devices (up to eight pairings are stored in memory) to the speaker.

Using Our Bose Soundlink Color

After pairing, I could play music from any number of sources on the Bluetooth:  iHeartRadio, Pandora, iTunes, Google Play Music, or (very old-fashioned) music that has actually been loaded from CD’s that we own onto our devices or computer.

Lori uses this more than I do and connects using her very old (in technology age) iPod, her newer iPad, and her even newer iPhone 6.  She carries the Bose and, mostly, iPod around with her (the Bose is battery operated and lasts a long time) and plays music where ever she happens to be.

Very cool!

Conclusion

Bose continues to evolve with new technology while maintaining that great sound they are famous for.  We fully expect to be using this speaker for many years to come.

 

 

Google Drive Upload & Download Speed Limits

AltamontCowork member (and now owner) Brian needed to backup the contents of his computer to Google Drive.  

AltamontCowork’s network slowed to turtle speed.

drive limitsInvestigating the cause, we found the culprit: Google Drive upload was sucking all the bandwidth available on our Comcast router and Internet connection. As soon as we unplugged Brian’s computer from the network, everything was cool. Plug it back in, turtle speed.

I did some investigation and learned that, indeed, Google just let ‘er rip when connecting to Google Drive.

A VERY bad design….arrrgghh.

I wrote feedback to Google, and as expected, got no response.

Fast forward about 1 year, and I was looking at the new user interface for Google Drive on my computer…and guess what:

The latest version of Google Drive now has upload and download LIMITS!  

Took a long time.

Good engineering practice dictates that the design team perform detailed testing of hardware or software BEFORE it is shipped out. As is common in this new world, products are rushed out before they are ready. Maybe a bit more testing time and this problem (and yes it is a major problem) would have been found before shipping out?

 

 

 

Using Chromecast

A year or two ago, I started seeing information on Google’s new streaming video device: Chromecast.  The information I initially gathered was sketchy, but, as I studied it, I began to understand some of it’s capabilities. Sufficiently intrigued, I asked Santa for a Chromecast for Christmas 2014, and guess what?  I got it!  

What is Chromecast?

chromecast appOstensibly, the $35.00 Chromecast allows you to watch streaming video content (ie Netflix, VUDU, Hulu, Google Play, YouTube, etc.) on your big screen TV.  All this is controlled via your smartphone and an app called, ingeniously, “Chromecast” (see the red circle in the picture).

Hmmmm, I already have two devices that allow us to watch streamed content from many sources: Our old Sony Blu-Ray player and our fairly new Samsung SMART HDTV . Each connects to the Internet (one wired, one WiFi) and each allows us to watch all sorts of online content (i.e. movies or binge on TV) on the big screen. 

Why do I need a Chromecast when I already have these two devices and am perfectly happy with them?

Well….in addition to streaming the video content from the web, I can also stream much of the content on my Android smartphone, or iPhone, or laptop computer onto the big screen:  Photos, applications, games, or just share the screen.

Question:  Do I really need this capability?

Answer: Probably not (me personally), but, maybe. “Build it and they will come”

Connecting Chromecast to Your TV

The picture shows the main components of the Chromecast system.  Just plug the pieces together as shown, then plug the Chromecast dongle into an open HDMI port on your TV and the power plug into the wall or power strip.  You are ready to go.  Easy as 3.14.

chromecast components labeled

Setting Up Chromecast

Now that you have it plugged in and powered up, you are ready to set it up.  When I installed it (in the crush of Christmas) I did not take screenshots or pictures, sooooooo, here is a Google video that shows the setup:

How Does Chromecast Work?

Now that Chromecast dongle is setup and working, here is what I suspect is happening.

  1. Chromecast is connected to the Internet via WiFi.  (If you don’t have WiFi you are screwed, but, it is 2015…get with the program.  haha).
  2. Your Android or IOS smartphone, tablet, or computer connects, via the Chromecast app or program, to the Chromecast dongle.
  3. Your phone then tells Chromecast where to look to get content:  Netflix, VUDU, Hulu, Google Play, or any number of apps that support Chromecast, see this list.
  4. Chromecast then grabs the content you want and displays it on your TV via the HDMI port.
  5. You can control the dongle via your smartphone or computer: Play, pause, stop, fast forward, etc.

Very cool and you now have a new remote to add to all the others….your smartphone.  haha

Watching Our First Movie

Now that we have it all connected and setup (and sort of understand how it works) we are ready to watch our first movie.

the interviewWith all the buzz around “The Interview” around the holidays, we decided to watch it via Google Play.  After finding and paying to rent it on Google Play we simply hit the play icon and the Chromcast icon (in the yellow circle) and watched the movie come to life on our big screen HDTV.

Nice.

Although “The Interview” was kind of a crappy movie (see my review), the video and audio quality were comparable to the Sony Blu-Ray player that is wired to the Internet. It did freeze at one point and we needed to fiddle with it to get it running again. But then it was fine.

Very nice.

Possible Issues with Buffering?

the best exotic marigold hotel

We have watched one more movie and noticed that the video streaming, again, stopped at one point.  I fiddled around but finally just rebooted and went back to the scene where it stopped.

vuduAs a test, I have since watched a few trailers on VUDU and noticed that the playback of the video stalled with a spinning wheel until it started up again a few seconds later. Buffering. For a quick comparison, I immediately viewed the same trailers using the Samsung SMART TV and they were smooth as silk.  (Note: The Chromecast was plugged into the Samsung and both are connected to the Internet via WiFi).

In case there is any doubt…here is a measurement of our Wifi connection speeds at home.

home internet via wifi

Not bad and certainly sufficient for smooth video operation even at HD bit rates.

Other Chromecast Features

Viewing Photos

To view the photos, they must be online.

sunny at 7

If they are just on your phone, this is the message you get.

photos need to be on the internet

Sharing Your Smartphone Screen

In Beta is the ability to share your screen on the TV.  Probably will be useful for presentations and such.  You can see my Galaxy note 4 in the bottom right.

screen sharing 1

Backgound on Your TV

You can put your own pictures as the background on your TV, or you can select various options.  Since I do not sit and watch the TV while the background is running, I just picked from one of the options.  However, for family photo viewing, this is great.

background 1

background 2

Conclusion

Chromecast is a fun device to play with.

If you do not already have a more expensive device to play content from the Internet then Chromecast is a good, very affordable, product for you to have.

If you want to show photos, or display your screen, and applications on a large screen, then Chromecast is again for you.

There are other features I did not touch on here, so please go to this web site for all you need to know about Google Chromecast.

For some nitty gritty technical details, visit this site.

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