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. I will update the pausing issue here in a week or two. Stay tuned.

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.

“The Next Communication Revolution” circa 1996

Way back in the Dark Ages (1996) I wrote about the path I thought video conferencing needed to go to become ubiquitous: Videoconferencing technology needed to be “easy-to-use”….by anyone. This is 2015, has my vision come true?  

You can download the whole, very short, article here (the next revolution) but, I will re-type it below so Google sees it (hey, it’s all about the views, the views….haha).

It is helpful to understand that Skype, Facetime, and like video communication apps evolved from “desktop videoconferencing”.  

I reserve the right to edit it a bit (not to change the content) since I am a so much better writer now. ;-)

—-

The Next Communication Revolution?

by Mike Pihlman, August 1996

Throughout history there have been fundamental developments that have changed the way we communicate:  Language, writing, the printing press, and the telephone are four examples.

As the need to communicate over distances increased the richness of face-to-face communication decreased while the complexity required to communicate increased.

When we are face-to-face, we communicate interactively with ALL our senses (see, hear & touch) and we can exchange information easily (Here, look at this…).

Today’s technology provides us with the means to communicate very effectively over great distances, but, several key features of face-to-face communication are lacking:

  • A telephone call is highly interactive buts lacks visual cues and the ability to easily exchange information.
  •  The Internet is not real-time and does not provide adequate visual and audio information…..yet.  (Editor: I bundled email and other Internet-like applications under this one heading.  Also, make note of the word…..yet)
  • The fax provides information exchange, but, only on paper or in a file.

Desktop videoconferencing combines many of these capabilities into one package but it is still–for the average person–difficult to install and use.

The next revolution in communication will come when anyone, regardless of technical capability, can install and use a device that provides natural face-to-face communication capabilities at a distance.  The technology becomes invisible to the user.  

But building this kind of system may require a whole new way of thinking.

Almost all of the products on the market today use the computer as their platform.  But the computer, as we know it, can be a very difficult tool to use and maintain.  If we continue adding complexity to the user’s devices we will only limit the number of people who want to use it, or are capable of using it.

If we want to provide face-to-face communication capability at a distance, how do we do it?  Do we continue to develop it around current computer technology?  Do we build new devices?  Do we integrate our communication into the TV?  Do we relocate the complexity to a central location?  Does the $500 network computer fill the bill?

However we do it…..we need to keep one thing in mind above all others:

Can this new communication device be easily used by ANYONE?  If not…..then we are missing the point.  

—–

Conclusion

I will dig up more article on the history of desktop videoconferencing and post them periodically here.

To those of you who use this technology (video chat, video conferencing, etc) on your cell phones, at work, at Starbucks, or at home, remember that it took years and years of development and technical innovation (not to mention cultural change), by thousands of people in this industry to make it easy for you, in 2015, to communicate easily visually.  To them I say: Thank You!  

 

Cool Pet Technology

Is your pet a GEEK?  If so (or if not), check out these cool technology items for your pets….and you.

—–

PetChatz (http://www.petchatz.com/)

True to TechyMike’s technical expertise, I just had to lead off with this pet technology gadget.  Video conference with your pet…and give them a treat!  And you can do that all from your Android or iPhone smartphone.  Very cool.

Hmmmm, I wonder if they are planning to implement HD videoconferencing?  Pet telepresence….you heard it here first!  :-)

—–

PetCube (https://petcube.com/)

petcubes android

Another video conferencing application….sorry, can’t help it.

With PetCube you can see and talk to your pet (via your smartphone) and you can shoot a laser for them to chase.  Hmmmm, do they need goggles?

History / Trivia: Many years ago, I went to Old River Vet in Tracy, CA (our first yellow lab was his dog’s puppy) and proposed the installation of an 8×8 videoconferencing system so pet owners could visit their pets in the kennel.  The 8×8 worked over phone lines (the Internet did not yet exist for us normal folk) and the owner needed a like unit.  We never installed them (too cumbersome, too expensive), but, it might very well have been the first time that kind of application was put forward. 

—–

Pet Tracker (http://www.pettracker.com/)

gps pet tracker

If your pet wanders off, Pet Tracker knows that they have strayed (using GPS) and will send you a text message or email so you know they are missing. Find them using their GPS location. Cool.

Hmmmm, no more late night secret liaisons for fido. I bet it works on spouses and kids too!  Just attach it to their collar and keep them honest! :-)

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PetNet (http://petnet.io/)

petnet feeder

Commuting long hours to and from work?  Can’t be home in time to feed your pet? Or do you just need help feeding your pet?  PetNet is a fully featured pet feeding thinking machine to keep your pet healthy and happy while you veg on the couch.

Hmmmm, if you are a commuter, check out telecommuting / remote working and spend more time with your pet! :-)

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Go i Fetch (http://goifetch.com/)

ifetch screenshot

If your house is big enough to support this, this is super cool!  Keep your pet engaged during the day (and tired at night?) by letting them play fetch all by themselves. This is pet-enabled fun.

Hmmmm, where are my socks?  :-) 

—–

Conclusion

Technology is evolving and now your pets (and you) can be happier, healthier, more engaged, and secure…..with technology!

May the GEEK be with you.

The Pope Uses Google Hangouts

Back in the day, I knew videoconferencing would reach the highest level of attention. Little did I know how high this technology would reach. Apparently, almost all the way to the top.

VERY cool !!!   Gotta love video conferencing.  

On Feb 5, 2015 Pope Francis held his second (see below for the video of his first hangout) Google Hangout meeting. This one was with special needs children from around the world.  Here is the video:

Here is a video of the Pontiff’s first Google Hangout (which, for you techies out there, now uses WebRTC for the video and audio interactive communication).

 Here is our Google Hangout of a few years ago…..lots of fun.

Click these links to the preparation blog and meeting blog.  But you can watch the video’s below.

Pre-Meeting Preparation

Google Hangout Meeting

Home & Office Surveillance: Uniden Guardian

Home & Office security cameras have taken a huge leap forward in the past few years.  The ability to store video on SD or Micro-SD cards, wireless cameras, and smartphone apps that allow viewing of video via the Internet have forever changed the technology of home & office surveillance.  

A couple of years ago, we saw the Uniden Guardian on sale at Costco, and, always being curious about technology (and having an aging yellow lab (Sunny) that we wanted to keep track of when we were not home), we purchased a 2 camera set to install at home.

Feature Chart for Uniden Guardians G755 and G955

This chart shows the features I deem most important for a home & office security camera.  I will use this chart in this series as a quick comparison.

uniden guardian features

Figure 1 shows the architecture of the G755 at home.  At work we installed 4 cameras, two pointing down the hall in each direction and one camera in each of the two stairways.

Guardian home architecture

The Uniden Guardian version we purchased (G755) came with two wireless cameras, a base unit, and a 4 gig SD card.

home base niceThe base unit needs to be set-up in the house where you have a wired connection to the Internet, and is also within a 100 feet or so of all the cameras.  This is were the video storage happens, so if your house is broken into it should be hidden somewhere where the burglars can’t find it.  Needing to be connected to both power and a wired network connection makes hiding it rather difficult (it does have a battery, but, you lose Internet access when you take it out of the base). The base unit has a touch screen which takes a bit of getting used to (you really have to touch an option to get it to work). But, it does a fair job of recording the video (although on the G955 when all 4 cameras are active there are occasional lapses). The cameras work well in low light except that the resolution takes a major hit. Grabbing the video from the SD card is as easy as taking the SD card out and putting it in your computer. We have had to do this several times, including once for the Tracy Police Department who were called to our neighbors for a break-in (yes, we saw the guy who did it).

Tough neighborhood….arrrghhh.

guardian camera niceExcept for needing power, the camera installation was easy.  The cameras connected easily to the base unit and they work very well in full light and work at a much lower resolution in low light. In fact, watching Sunny at night in a dark house we could hardly tell that the lights were completely off.  Very impressive.  When there is fast action though (like cars driving by the house), the nighttime video kinda sucks.

We have had the outside camera (see the featured picture) in the elements for a couple of years and it has worked perfectly.  Rain, sunshine, 100+ degrees to 30 degrees..no problem.  The only issue I have with the cameras is that it clicks on with spiderwebs (and raindrops), and here, for some reason we have spiderwebs galore (not so much rain), so I am outside a lot with our handy dandy extendable Webster.

Using the Uniden Guardian

The base station has many features that can be set-up for your particular installation.

list of features

Here is a peek at the System Setup menu option.

inside system setup

In the G755 at home, I have to go into the “Format Storage” area quite often since this version does not allow recording over memory space.  That means that when the spiderwebs fill up the 4 gig of memory, I have to reformat the SD card.  A stupid design decision, and I let them know it!  FYI, The newer G955 at the office just keeps recording.

Selecting a video to watch is very easy.  The picture below shows the calendar of recordings.  You just select the day, then the time and watch the video.  You can fast forward and go back or go to the next or previous video slice.  Another complaint: The video runs for 2 minutes after the camera detects motion (or spiderwebs).  I want to make that 30 seconds or 45 seconds.  BUT, there is no adjustment even in the newer G955.  That is needed.  Hint, Hint.

list of recordings

recodings

The above picture shows the detailed recording list.  You read it like this: The recording A055209-1 means that the recording took place at 5:52 AM with Camera 1 and it is recorded in MP4 format.

Here is a shot of our friend, Pat, coming up the driveway as seen from the base unit.

pat

Smartphone Apps

uniden guardian app iconThe handiest feature of the Uniden Guardian is the ability to watch the video via a smartphone app wherever you are. You can also get an email when the camera detects motion, but, because of the outside camera spiderwebs and cars, I did not use that option.

Below are some screen shots of the app loaded on my Galaxy Note 4 (note that I could also see, and select, the office cameras when I still had the office). There is an app that works on the iPhone too.

home screen note 4 screen shot 1 selecting a camera

When Sunny was alive (we lost our 14.5 year old baby the day after Thanksgiving) we used Camera 2 as Sunny-cam.

Here is a video of some idiot thieves stealing a car battery I had ready to go back to Sears.

Conclusion

Technology has progressed enough to make home & office surveillance robust, inexpensive, and fully featured.

The Uniden Guardian is fully featured, easy to install and operate, and reliable.  Although it has some irksome issues, it has been a good choice for our first home & office security camera solution.

I will continue this blog series looking at several more home and office security cameras in the coming weeks, so click the “Follow TechyMike” button to get notifications when new blogs are posted.

Gotta love technology!

Sunny (May 3, 2000 – Nov 28, 2014)

sunny on beach

Blogging Increases Views to Your Web Site

I fired up TechyMike in April 2014 thinking ahead to the time when AltamontCowork might go away.  At that time, I just grabbed the domain name, set up a quick, free, WordPress.com web site / blog and pretty much ignored it.

As the demise of AltamontCowork came closer to reality, I posted a few random blogs on TechyMike, but, still did not pay much attention to TechyMike until the final decision on AltamontCowork was made in November 2014.

The Value of Blogging

Once I started to get serious posting blogs, you can see the upshift in views (light blue) and visits (dark blue) starting in November 2014.  And that upshift in readership continues to this day (Jan 30, 2015) as I am now posting 6 or 7 blogs per month (I am NOT advertising the site or TechyMike so this increased readership is primarily from blogging).

blog stats monthly since august

I still have one more day in January and have already gone past 1,000 views for the month.

Conclusion

If you set up a web site and just leave it alone, pretty much nothing will happen.  If you don’t advertise or market………the very least you should do is blog!

PS: This is my 7th blog this month….

COWORKING in a Small Town: Lessons Learned

On May 1, 2009 I opened the first COWORKING location in San Joaquin County and Tracy, CA. A revolutionary concept in office space I was sure everyone would instantly embrace. 

In 2009, our country was in the middle of the worst recession in history and many people were unemployed.  I was retired (from Lawrence Berkeley National Lab) but hoping to become a teacher.  Seeing the job market for teachers be completely wiped out, but having some extra money in the bank and retirement money coming in, I decided to start my own business…..preferably one based on my passions of encouraging and evangelizing: telecommuting, videoconferencing, & remote work.

Surfing the Internet, I happened upon a relatively new concept for office space: Coworking. The parallels to the 1990’s neighborhood telework center concept I worked on, were apparent, but with a modern technological twist (Internet, wifi, cell phones, laptop computers, etc), and with a social component not covered in the old concepts.

Although I did not fully understand coworking, I did understand the basics: Coworking is open, collaborative, encouraging, supportive, affordable, a community, and provides opportunities for continued education as well as free coffee, free wifi, with ample opportunities to socialize with other members.  In short, a great place for start-ups.  

It sounded great (to me), so I opened with great expectations. 

Before I talk about the lessons learned in my 67 months as owner of AltamontCowork, a bit of background on our small town of about 86,000:

Tracy, CA is located about 45 miles due east (as the bird flies) of San Francisco. Tracy was transformed from a sleepy farm town into a commuter bedroom community in the mid-1990’s thru early 2000’s as cheaper housing attracted people in droves from the Bay Area. Much of the working population commutes to the Bay Area. They leave at 5 or 6 AM and return home 7 or 8 PM.  Traditionally blue collar, older, family-oriented, no college in town, with three high schools. Tracy is equidistant to many of California’s greatest sights: Yosemite and the Sierra, the Pacific Ocean (Carmel, Monterey, etc), and THE City.  The government of Tracy has, for the 30 years I have been here, been content to keep things the way they were in 1985.

With AltamontCowork, I figured that:

1. Commuters would flock to the office to get off the roads, be more productive, save money, reduce stress, be closer to home, etc.

2. The City of Tracy would love the idea of people staying in town during the week (added money to local restaurants, etc.) and have a place were high-tech start-ups could affordably get their start.

3. Small business owners, or start-ups, struggling in the midst of the recession, would be falling over each other to rent an affordable office space where they could collaborate with other small business owners in an open, collaborative environment like the residents of the big cities (SF, NY, Chicago, Santa Cruz!, etc) were doing. Coworking was booming in those cities. It should boom here. Right?

I was wrong on all three counts.

After 5 years and 7 months in business, this is what I learned about coworking in small town Tracy, CA (and possibly any small town close to a large vibrant metropolitan area):

Commute Time Research1. Commuters are going to commute and they are not going to ask their bosses if they can work at a local coworking location. At the very best, commuters might ask their OFB’s (old
fashioned bosses) if they can telecommute out of their home, but, since they only do that 1 or 2 days a week, there is no time for them to get lonely, or distracted, and / or desire the collaboration & community of a coworking space.

Lesson Learned: In the 5 years and 7 months in business…only 2 telecommuters graced our halls. One of them left after a month while the other stayed for three years working on his own businesses on the side. He eventually bought AltamontCowork, taking over control at midnight on Dec 31, 2014.  

tracy city hall2. The City of Tracy City Manager, at the time it was Leon Churchill, hired consultants to research the feasibility of the City starting a “Business Accelerator” to attract creative high-tech start-ups to Tracy. The consultants found AltamontCowork and knew right away that we were a perfect fit.  I, however, being a 30 year resident of Tracy, had my suspicions that nothing would happen, but, we (I and all our members) went through the process anyway.

Guess what?  Nothing happened.

Lesson Learned:  The City of Tracy is not interested in starting a business accelerator for high-tech start-ups…….yet ….(I am still holding out hope that they will see the light in the next 5 or 10 years). Oh….Leon is no longer the City Manager.  

yellow office 13.  The small business owners, or wanna-be small business owners, of Tracy, CA want a cheap 10 x 10 office with a door, or are content to work at Starbucks, McDonalds, etc. for free. Only a very few embraced the open office collaborative concept, and utilized it to it’s fullest. The creative excitement and energy you get in San Francisco (or any bustling, vibrant, city) is simply not here.  Here, people are surviving, not creating.  Most who joined just saw it as a cheap office; a place to meet clients on the weekend or at night, send mail to, and visit occasionally to work. The open collaboration and community of a true coworking location are not something they care about.

Looking back to 2009 – 2010:  I believe I was actually “fooled” into thinking the open collaborative space would be a wonderful thing here.  

When I first opened many people were unemployed and collecting unemployment. My first coworkers were in that category. They came to the office everyday, they collaborated, they laughed, they went to lunch together, they helped each other, we had Tweet-Ups, Donut-Ups, Pizza on the Patio, and they worked on starting their own businesses. True coworking, exciting, fun, productive.  I just knew I hit on the perfect idea for Tracy, CA!  

It was only 5 years and 5 months later that I realized that I was fooled.  My original coworkers, as much as I love them all, were simply using the place to hang out while unemployment paid the rent. As soon as the economy started turning around, and the unemployment benefits ran out, I lost them all. Survival.

 Interesting….

Lesson Learned:  Fundamentally, Tracy, CA small business owners, or wanna-be small business owners, simply want a cheap office with a door.  

Conclusion

After 67 months in business, I finally had to give up on my dream of a collaborative coworking experience here in Tracy, CA.  I can also, now, look back more objectively and predict that coworking (in it’s purest form) may happen in Tracy, CA, but, it won’t be until the kids of today (18 to 25 years old) get to the point where they can start their own business (5 to 15 years from now).  BUT, these youngsters (those with ENERGY, EXCITEMENT and LACK OF FEAR to try something new) will have to stay in TracyAnd as my  similarly aged daughter says:  “Good luck with that!”

Lesson To Be Learned: Ex-City Manager Leon Churchill had the right idea: Tracy, CA needs to attract high-tech / professional businesses and advertise themselves as THE location for start-ups and as THE creative work alternative for Bay Area / Silicon Valley companies (while offering affordable housing, good schools, etc.)…..unfortunately, the City of Tracy is only going after warehouses (remember: Tracy is, after all, centrally located). 

 

Polycom Video Conferencing Report and InfoGraphic

In the old days, we (ESnet, Lawrence Berkeley National Lab) used to visit Polycom HQ (when they were in Pleasanton, CA) to either:  Get an update on the latest and greatest videoconferencing technology, or, prod them for one reason or another.

History Lesson: We (ESnet, Lawrence Berkeley National Lab) were pioneering cloud-based “ad-hoc” videoconferencing between 1999 and 2005 with over 1,500 IP-based video conferencing users worldwide, and we needed products that worked in that environment (groundbreaking at that time)…..so ALL the vendors were poked & prodded by us at one time or another.  “Oh no, here comes ESnet….hide…..”

I have been away for a few years and am happy to see that Polycom is still going strong and, this is major; that they changed their logo.  I ran across the below graphic while surfing, so I downloaded the report and snipped and posted the very cool graphic “Six Steps to Creating a Highly Collaborative Video Culture” below (I hope they don’t mind the extra advertising). Note: I can’t believe that the videoconferencing experience is still not totally intuitive to everyone after 25 + years in existence….wow.

vc graphic 1

vc graphic 2

vc graphic 3

vc graphic 4

vc graphic 5

vc graphic 6

vc graphic 7

While looking at Polycom’s web site, I spotted some stuff on “Working From Home”….when I fire up my “Telecommuting” blogs again, I will revisit that section.

 

Netflix Uses BlueJeans Cloud-Based Videoconferencing

Figured I’d jump back, at least a little bit, into the technology I helped pioneer….desktop video conferencing and cloud-based videoconferencing.  (VC vendors with a story to tell….send me your stuff!)

BlueJeans is a cloud-based provider of multipoint videoconferencing services.  I have looked at BlueJeans here, in older blogs, but, I thought you might be interested (and I am interested as well) to see how video conferencing using the BlueJeans network is being used in 2015.

Enjoy the video.

Ahhhhhh, it feels good to be back….if only part-time.  This is where my heart is.  :-)

Using Google Maps While Driving

Normally I am one of the first to try a technology.  There have been a few exceptions over the years, but, overall, I am more than happy to jump in and experience something new.

Not this time….

Paper Maps

In the old days (before 2012), I used to go to the gas station, or AAA, and buy maps of the areas I expected to go to, or visit. Unfortunately, I invariably needed another map (for example: Modesto when I already had Tracy and Stockton), so off I go to the gas station, or AAA, to buy a Modesto map.

triptik screen shot

If we went on a long trip, Lori and I would visit the local AAA and get a TripTik (after spending an hour or so with a AAA Trip Advisor).  That beautiful booklet of maps was just so cool!  I loved it.

Our cars were full of maps and TripTiks.

Note:  After embarking on our first road trip (30 some odd years ago), I realized that Lori is not a map reader!!!!  So I had to either drive dangerously, or stop to look at the map.  Arrrghh….

Internet-based paper maps

printed maps 2

With the advent of Internet-based maps, I stopped going to AAA, or the gas station, for my maps, simply choosing to print the maps out when we decided to go somewhere (enlarge the picture to see how Lori nicely labeled them).  And to make sure I knew the surroundings of the area we were visiting, I printed out the surrounding area and streets, just to be safe.

Now, the car was full of printed maps and regular maps….the TripTiks kinda disappeared.

But, Lori is still not a map reader.  Arrrghh.

Talking Internet / Smartphone Maps (I use Google Maps, but, there are others)

I had used Google maps previously to get me out of a tight spot, meaning I did not have a printed map for the area I needed to get out of, and I refused to ask.  But, this smartphone / Google map experience just was not a great enough for me to completely leave the paper behind.

But, I was getting ready….

Slow forwarding into the new world, this month, Jan 2015, I decided to try the marriage of my new Samsung Galaxy Note 4 and Google Maps to guide me to my destination: a house in Mountain House for my friend’s cleaning business (JBB Cleaning Services).

I put the address in Google Maps, hit the buttons as instructed and drove to my destination with the help of my cell phone telling me when to turn. I love it that it also gave me fair warning that a turn is coming up so I could move into the correct lane.  I got to the house perfectly.  When I was done, I put in my home address and followed the directions back.  A different path, but, still perfect.

I did not take screen shots of that trip (not expecting to write about it), so here are some screenshots of me going to get my haircut.

screen shot first screen shot middle screen shot last

By the way, I use AT&T DriveMode (which stops calls and automatically answers texts when I am driving). I was curious to see if Google maps would keep on working when DriveMode kicked in.  It did!  (To understand why I use DriveMode go to ForCarol.com )

This stuff is VERY COOL.  No more printed maps, no more regular maps (the ones shown were in Lori’s Sequoia, like she can read them anyway…how funny), and, sadly, no more TripTiks.

Now it is Just me and my Note 4 and the Internet and the open road with Google Maps leading the way.

Lori no longer needs to read a map.  Now she tells me to shut the phone up so she can listen to George Strait.  Arrrggghh.

Conclusion

TechyMike…always the first…..errrr, almost always the first to try new technology.

Ask Lori how long it took me to buy a phone with an answering machine, then, for comparison, ask her what she told me when I said (many many years ago) “I want to design an electronic Rolodex”  or  “Wouldn’t it be cool if I could record a TV show?” or “Doctors can use video conferencing to check in on their patients”.

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