Sunday, June 12, 2011

If you are not using Apple, then it must be a bug

Failure to launch
Yesterday I could not launch iTunes on my Windows 7 PC. Nothing would happen after clicking on the desktop shortcut. After spending a few hours debugging (won't bore you with the details), the issue was resolved when I uninstalled every Apple program and service on the PC, and installed the latest version of iTunes (64 bit).
This is no biggie, because stuff happens in the software world, and on Windows stuff seems to happen quite frequently.

Houston, we still have a problem
Today when I launched iTunes, the following message was displayed:
Visiting the Default Programs control panel confirmed that iTunes was already the default player for the music files in the iTunes Library. There were however some file types (eg: AIFF) that were configured for a different media player. Again, no biggie, but I still found the message to "fix this" a bit disturbing.

iTunes not being able to launch on the family PC was something I had to fix immediately unless I wanted to subject myself to serious nagging from the kids. But are AIIF music files being played by Windows Media Player something that requires a fix?

Meet the new boss....
Is Apple implying that "proper condition or working order" is achieved only when their application is the selected default player for a non-proprietary media type? Is this simply just arrogance or a sign that the next revolution is overdue?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Why iPhone Personal Hotspot is transformative

Buried in the splashy announcement of iPad2 and iOS 4.3 was the release of Personal Hotspot for the iPhone. Basically Personal Hotspot enables a Wi-Fi hotspot on an iPhone4/3G running iOS 4.3 for up to 3 devices.

My initial reaction was "cool, can't wait to try that out". Configuring it was dead simple. My two kids (age 9 and 11) were able to connect their iPod Touches the first time without any assistance. But what surprised me was the number of different situations in which I used Personal Hotspot and their frequency. A few samples include:
  • sales demos and consulting engagements with my laptop and/or iPad at customer sites where Wi-Fi and LAN access was not permitted for visitors
  • an unplanned week long Internet outage at my home caused by renovations
  • airport lounges where only expensive Wi-Fi was available
  • a surprising number of places that did not have Internet access when time critical workflow approvals (expenses, invoices, travel etc) had to be executed from my laptop
  • situations where secure Wi-Fi was available, but I could not successfully connect on my Windows XP 64 bit laptop (don't get me started on some of the issues with 64 bit XP)
Within weeks some purchases I was considering were dropped, including:
  • a 3G USB stick for my laptop
  • going with the 3G option for an iPad 2
  • a Boingo Wireless unlimited plan
To say that Personal Hotspot is a good app would be a deceptive understatement. A more useful description would be that it is a transformative app. What  is the difference?

A good app is a better mousetrap. A transformative app is a brand new weapon that extends capability, increases productivity and eliminates the need for other technical solutions to solve problems. Good apps improve the way we do things, transformative apps improve our lives. While it is nice to add good apps into our toolkit, it is critical that we incorporate transformative apps to accomplish our stretch goals.

Of course Android has had Wi-Fi hotspot capability long before  iOS 4.3 shipped. Unfortunately I don't have an Android phone. Well, not yet anyways :-)

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

When the browser is the operating system

The browser is the operating system. Can't recall when I first heard someone say that, but with today's announcement from Google about the Chrome OS app store and devices, the statement has migrated from hyperbole to fact. People use their netbooks primarily for their cloud applications: Facebook, e-mail, Twitter, playing games and enjoying video and music. The only requirement is an operating system that supports a browser interface to cloud applications. And it needs to be cheap, secure and fast.

For low cost netbooks, tablets and emerging portable or embedded devices that require support for cloud applications, Chrome OS will likely emerge as the optimum operating system. My crazy prediction - Chrome OS touch screen available on some refrigerators in the near future.

Congratulations Google.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Chuck and Vince drop the truth

For the longest time, the citizens of Toronto had to go through back hoops to get rid of their electronic waste. Now suddenly we can just take our e-waste to the curb on trash day. And everybody in Toronto knows this, thanks to Chuck and Vince.

This government ad is a great example of how to get a message out quick and cheap to a target audience:
  1. Keep the message focused. 
  2. Have your creative people create compelling content that delivers a focused message.
  3. Management's job is to hire the best creative people to do 1 + 2, and prevent anything from interfering with their work.
Sounds simple right? Well if it is that easy, why do most government ads make me want to vote for the opposition? Let's see what Chuck and Vince did differently:
The simple message is that the City of Toronto wants my e-waste. The humour made the message more compelling, but that was because the humour was honest and effectively supported the message. When you are spinning something to promote an agenda, you are no longer compelling. And so much of government and corporate advertising is spinning an agenda.
The City of Toronto hired talent from Second City. Brilliant, these are world class improv comedians. They can take any idea and turn into magic, instantly. Management let talent do their stuff and didn't interfere. Honestly, does this look like an ad from any government body you know? Some manager took a risk, did not follow the safe route, fought off the sharks and let the talent deliver. 

Did it work? Well ask any Torontonian how to get rid of e-waste and you are likely to get the right answer. And the video is now spreading virally on YouTube. Those of you that can count might have observed that other ads have hits that are orders of magnitude greater than Chuck and Vince. True, but in fairness Chuck and Vince are two large guys with message about waste disposal while the young sexy couple in this condom ad with 6 million plus hits is, well, it's just not a fair comparison.  But just like Chuck and Vince, this talent delivers a simple message with some very compelling content.

Social Media has a way of pushing the compelling content to the top. And nothing is more compelling than a simple truth.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Dark Shadows that WikiLeaks casts

The folks at WikiLeaks profess to pursue altruistic goals. And in their hearts, they might. However not every secret exists to perpetuate some evil power. Secrets are necessary for the proper functioning of good governments, corporations and individuals. Secure communication is necessary between groups and individuals if they are to build the trust necessary to overcome obstacles and resolve complex issues using honest data. When secrets are betrayed, trust, good data and potential resolutions are lost. 

A recent op-ed column in the Globe and Mail  written by former Canadian diplomat and current aid worker Scott Gilmore, illustrates some of the blow-back the world can expect following the November 28 leaks. For those that champion peace and human rights in the troubled parts of the world, Gilmore makes a strong case why the actions of WikiLeaks should raise concerns.

While the mass media has been doing its best Perez Hilton to publicize the most stinging diplomat disses  (my favorite: "Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi is rarely scene without his voluptuous blonde Ukrainian nurse"), Gilmore in contrast explores the dark shadows the leaks cast:
It’s not just the militant activist in Guelph, Ont., reading the cables. It’s the military dictatorships and the secret police in capitals all around the world. In the days and weeks ahead, people who dared to share information with U.S. diplomats will be rounded up. And thousands more who may have been willing to pass on pictures of tortured bodies will keep them in the desk drawer instead.
The world of whistle-blowing has changed dramatically since the days of the Pentagon Papers. Daniel Ellsberg had to photocopy each document page and clandestinely arrange drop-offs with his contact at the New York Times, an activity which took the better part of a year (Check out the fantastic documentary "The Most Dangerous Man in America"). He knew precisely what he was disclosing and fully understood the consequences of his actions as they would apply to himself and his country.

Today's anonymous leaker can uploads hundreds of thousands of classified documents they know or care little about with a few keystrokes and a USB drive. They can be distributed by organizations like WikiLeaks in the name of transparency and other purported noble causes for everyone to see with little regard to the short or long term effects of the disclosures.

Technology enables this mass indiscriminate disclosure of secrets by a few self-appointed jurors. While one might argue that some good may come from these actions, it is hard to justify given the immediate and future collateral damage. Technology allows us to obliterate a city to remove a villain, but only a madman would consider such a plan.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

A Tale of Two Hockey Teams

I am a Hockey Dad. My two sons, who go by the names Theo and Zach in the blogosphere, play competitive hockey in the Greater Toronto Hockey League (GTHL). With some sports leagues you are sent a schedule at the beginning of the season and you are good to go. Not so with the GTHL. The schedule is only published about 2 weeks into the future. And there is no such thing as a home rink where you would play half your games, we  play all over Toronto and its suburbs. Oh, and games may be rescheduled, practices moved, exhibition games and tournaments added etc.

Net-net, scheduling  is dynamic and complex. Effective communication amongst coaches and parents is critical. This a tale of two hockey teams, and how they communicate to make sure their players make it to the rink on time.
Theo's team uses email for 100% of team communication. I receive about 3 emails a week from the team manager on schedule updates and other team business such as payments, discussion on tournament participation, fundraising etc. I am asked to confirm attendance also by email.  Emails are also exchanged between parents as we coordinate car pools, play days and exchange contact info. To keep track I religiously enter events into my calendar and parents contact info into my contacts. Invariably both I and other parents have missed an update and turned up at the rink at the wrong time at least once. Its a lot of work for the manager, the coaches and all the parents, but it gets the job done.

Zach's team uses a Social Media tool called TeamSnap to manage all team business. A schedule is maintained, parents mark attendance for games and practices, each player has a profile with all their contact info, payments are managed, photos are securely shared and I could name another hundred great capabilities. Killer features include an RSS feed, Outlook calendar synchronization and an iPhone app. It is simple for the manager, coaches and parents to stay on top of the schedule and team business.

So which communication solution would you prefer if you were the manager or a parent? Now if you collaborate on a dynamic and complex project in the workplace would you still choose email as your primary communication channel over social media collaboration tools?

Monday, July 19, 2010

Driving to New York? Don't forget to take the train.

New York City is my long distance lover. Every opportunity I have to visit her I exploit. From Toronto (where I live), the optimum way to travel to New York is by plane. However opportunities to travel do not always line up with seat sales. Add in a wife and kids, and suddenly a 4 day New York trip can max out the credit card before the first cab has been hailed.
My kids travel well in the car so driving is viable. However parking in Manhattan is expensive and there is always the risk of being caught in a major traffic backup after a long trip. 
On our last trip we drove to Poughkeepsie, parked the car, and took the MTA Metro North commuter train to Grand Central Station. From there we rolled our luggage down Lexington Avenue to the wonderful  Affinia Shelburne Hotel.
Everything about this option was excellent. Parking in Poughkeepsie was $5/day and free on weekends. The MTA tickets were reasonable and almost free for the kids. It is a beautiful train trip down the Hudson River, passing by historic West Point Academy, and arriving at the splendid Grand Central Station. 

We will never drive into Manhattan again.

Commuter trains sprawl out from Manhattan into New York State and New Jersey. So if you are traveling by car to Manhattan, consider parking your car at a station and taking a commuter train into the city. You can save time, money and lots of stress.