Category Archives: Technology

Consumer Electronics Show Highlight: It’s iPotty Time!

As a father of three, and already had the challenge of putting two children through potty training, and now one on the way to potty training, it can be very challenging to get the toddler comfortable with transitioning from the diaper to the potty.  There were many a time where both me and my daughters were crying for different reasons, they wanted to use the diaper, and it was a struggle getting them in that comfort zone of using a potty.  One of the solutions I look forward to comes from a very creative team from Brooklyn, New York,  They are still working out the branding, marketing, and engineering of the potty, but as you are able to see there is a potty that the child can sit down on and play games on an iPad, or even read the award winning E-Book Once Upon a Potty on the iPad.  That is how we were able to get our daughters to go potty, reading that book every night.  To top it all off the “iPotty” am affectionately calling it, has a seat cover, so it serves a dual purpose.  The young man demonstrating the potty was talking about using the seat after the fact. Although, I believe from a physiological effect, put the seat on first, and have the child play on the chair with the iPad, reading the Once Upon a Potty book, or iPad games so they are very comfortable with the chair, and after a while the child wont even realize they are now all grown up, and you may shed a few tears, because after this, it’s off to college.

Android and iPad mini users, don’t fret, the designers mentioned compatibility for those products as well, and for under 40 USD it’s a steal.

2013-01-09 11.38.31

CES iPotty
CES iPotty

Consumer Electronics Show Highlight: Ford SYNC AppLink Developer Program Launch

Today I spoke with a Development System Engineer from the Ford SYNC AppLink Team at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), and he was extremely enthusiastic about their launch of their API which enables developers of Android and iOS mobile applications to use the SYNC AppLink SDK APIs so a developer may take advantage of SYNC through your mobile device.  The SYNC AppLink software development kit (SDK) the software engineer admitted that the library was relatively limited to roughly 50 API calls (estimate off the cuff), however, they are constantly looking to expand the SDK.  They are recommending utilizing the Voice Recognition API as an example.

As I explored the conversation with this System Engineer / Developer, I tossed a few ideas, and wanted to see the direction of the team.  I suggested expanding the SYNC technology to link the system to measuring tire air pressure, fuel, oil, and other liquids, as well as ‘by the book’ scheduled maintenance, air filtration quality, and so on.  Then the SYNC AppLink team would expose these functions through the SDK, so that mobile application developers can create applications from dashboards, which sync with the phone through Bluetooth automatically every time the user gets in the car, and has an up to date check of their whole car health and maintenance in or out of the vehicle.   There are endless opportunities, such as mobile notifications on low fuel, maintenance, and even may enter a reminder in a task list named after your car, e.g. need 60 thousand mile maintenance, and oil quality poor, must change oil.

There were some potential limitations such as the display of the SYNC system, the SYNC AppLink Development team try to steer clear from distracting the user by exposing the APIs which may allow the mobile development users to modify the graphical user interface, e.g. flashing menus, which may distract the user, and may cause an accident, which would potentially have liability concerns.  At most, they are looking to allow mobile application developers using the SYNC AppLink SDK to push smartphone pictures to an image frame, so you can see your phone pictures.  However, in my humble opinion, there may be significant opportunities, such as a sexier, and more accurate equalizer controls.  At last, we have the ability for SYNC AppLink SDK developers in the future to access information from your phone, such as calendar, stocks, tasks, and use the car sound system and SYNC microphone to add, hear, delete, and subtract any information from your mobile device.

I walked down the isle to another company, chargepoint, which manufactures charging stations, which are reasonably priced for stations at 5 to 10 thousand USD.  This is a system which is rugged and can endure outdoor conditions.  If we take the SYNC technology and integrate it into a Ford Hybrid & Electric Vehicle to analyze electric usage and be able to maximize your electrical charge.  Chargepoint happens to also have an the ability to have an affinity card.  That is for another post.  There are quite a few stories, and it is still early in the week.  Looking for the diamonds in the rough.

One note, although Ford went after Google Android and iOS first because of market share,  you can be sure, Windows Mobile 8 is not far behind.

Actor Voice Overs for Apple’s Siri and Google’s AI Voice

There should be add on, for purchase, modification packs, for the smartphone’s Artificial Intelligence (AI) Voice Command module, e.g. SIRI, or Google’s AI Voice Recognition, this way any retired, or semi retired actor gets easy money going into a studio recording their well known voice, and royalties go to the companies that are selling the AI voice over modification package, so instead of the standard woman’s voice, you can get anyone who would sell their voice.  It should be extremely easy to implement, the voice is probably a vocabulary indexed with certain words.  The actors or actresses need to record their voices saying a specific set of words as defined by the library of words, and I hope the Android and Apple operating system companies thought ahead to make these libraries like plug and play adaptable.  If Apple or Google made the AI Voice API open so anyone can record their voice and interchange with the default voice, actors, actresses, musicians, or anyone can sell their voice in the Mobile Vendor’s marketplace as an add on module.

Pavlov’s Perfect Pitching (PPPt) Trainer

Apply a basic material structure set to fit your pitching arm, add WiFi, or NFC which may communicate with your smartphone, and you get the perfect pitch.

Wear the PPPt, an erector set like brace, over your throwing arm. Get a coach to slowly walk you through the throw from stance to release.

The PPPt should record the movements,  and save to your smartphone and you should uniquely name each throw, e.g. pitch one.  The PPPt will playback the motions in whatever speed you choose, n x baseline at the initial slow movements.  Then when ready to throw, you can have the PPPt optionally shock you to remind you when to release the ball, a light electric shock.  Add pitches, like curves, or slider balls, or whatever.

The brace on playback keeps the arm in formation, and trains your brain to move your muscles in a reactionary format and consistent throw movements. Can be massed produced and sold for under 100 USD.

Predicted Trends for the Coming Year 2013

Here are some possible new trends to take hold in the marketplace in the new year. Best wishes on a good year.

Business

1. The companies that enable advertising users to send text messages, and the option to cover the receivers charges, e.g. the following is a free text message from [your co.].  Recent NY Times article covering some aspect, Is Paying to Message Strangers a New Texting Business?

Consumer

2. The year of the new visual paradigm for smart devices, such as new shaped input devices like Google Project Glass, Glasses, or Microsoft’s competitive approach.

3. New shaped mobile phones, phones that bend, like the announced Nokia phone, or apparel phones, maybe even a Star Trek like comm link phone worn on the wrist or lapel. The bendable phones may fall flat, but I can see arm band phones, if they can be miniaturized, and flat enough to be non obtrusive to the clothing, may become quite popular, from a fashion trend, and eventually spanning to law and military use. If they are fitted with a ‘pull out’ bendable screen, pulling out the screen for video communications, and once pulled out and locked, they become rigid, and then snap right back in like a tape measure, might be very hot.  Of course, this may be an alternate to the Google type Glasses.

Business

4. Recall in the late 80s and 90s when biofeedback glasses with LEDs and music were the in thing to calm one’s self, as well as mood audio books are also a current theme for a specific market segment.  We’ve all also bear witness to these Planetarium, Pink Floyd shows of laser lights and music.  These concepts may transform themselves into the trend mainstream with 3D screens, music channels that coincide with 3D fractal images, and other cosmic displays of lights for parties or easy listening.  We may also see this approach the Google Glass mediums, as well as partial transformations of knock off Google Glasses, with this effect for the traveler and their commutes to their destinations.

Clubs, Codes, and Kids

5. A fashion trend I see coming about with teens and older, are do it yourself tattoos that use a paper that you can print and stick seamlessly on your skin, a combination of transparent paper, and an adhesive.  A program runs on any computer, and there will be all different types of programs that use their own PR type codes, or other coded Engrams, that would allow teens to encode messages on their tattoos, and the encrypted message can be read using a smartphone app and a camera. Post with your friends the decryption codes on a blog that you need to log in, and there is a new fashionable way to share secrets with your friends, or a club.  We’ve all seen kids with lick and stick tattoos.  The inhibitor to getting a real tattoo is parent permission, but these new stick on tattoos are just as cool, and you can change the codes of the tattoos.  If you have gifted programmers, they can programs that encode messages in a wide variety of images.  This may become main stream to main street.  Also, if you want to pledge a fraternity or sorority, you might get their encoded tattoos. I can see this easily morphing as an amusement park ticket entrance annual pass, where people don’t want to carry wallets, as an example, and can make them water resistant (days) for water park passes.

A note of caution: any idea can morph into something with a dark purpose,  but technology can be used for societies’ betterment or decrement. As we have wittnessed, ideas eventually surface and are implemented regardless of inhibitors. It’s not that ideas that are damaging, it’s what we choose to do with the idea.

Input Alternatives for the Gaming

6. Remember in Stargate, the T.V. show, where the Ancients would sit in a chair and touch this funky, jell like pad, on the chair console?  It was like the chair was reading the neural impulses from the hand to bring up maps, and your hand had the ability to be the Near Field Communications (NFC) device.  Anyway, look it up.  I don’t think that technology will be available with a large set of functions. Basic applications and devices are already in the field as a novelty gifts with minimal set of applications, e.g. move a ball with your mind.  However, it is possible the gaming industry can take this minimal set of inputs and transform them into a gaming console pad with little additional research, so the person which is playing has a more rapid input response, and therefore, it’s almost as if the game is one step ahead of your visual acuity processing the commands already sent to your hand. The gamer would see an obstruction on the screen and want to jump over it. A neurological impulse would be sent from the brain to react, that response today can be read by these type of novelty items we see in catalogs. What I am promoting is pushing these out and allow the public access to this more integrated experience, in a controlled, regulated way to the mainstream.

Hybrid Netbook and Laptop, Chromebook or other?

7. I was hoping the Cromebooks were a hybrid between a Netbook and a Laptop.  I have had very little experience with Cromebooks, and they may be like the following:  The user has a small local footprint of the latest operating system, as of the last time they logged onto the Virtual Machine OS Farm, that covers basic off-line operations, such as word processing, and a relatively small storage capacity, which may be a small to mid sized solid state drive, so when they are offline they have the capacity to work, e.g. a person goes out of range, or starts up where there is no WiFi. Once they are back in range of WiFi, the files and OS syncs up seamlessly to the user’s machine and the VM OS farm.

Advertisements, Entertainment, Hardware Partners, Netbooks, and 3D

8. Coming into the mainstream, 3D personal streaming entertainment to video distribution networks, using 3D Web Cameras like Minoru, which claim to be the World’s first 3D webcam. Aggressively using 3D as a medium by potentially partnering with hardware vendors on a few basic netbooks and enable integrateion of this 3D technology.  This Minoru 3D web camera is only 89 USD, and if someone initially commits to an advertising budget of 200 USD for an initial spend, for example, why not send them a totally integrated Netbook with this or a similar type of camera.  Netbooks base price are very inexpensive.

Advertising, Partnering, Video Editors, and Streaming

9. I did a post about this one, but I cannot believe no one grabbed at it and ran with it.  A business paradigm could be to take a program such as VLC from Video LAN Organization, create a plug in to a video editor, and a robust player, and modify or create a new video streaming platform with an interactive video. This technology will allow users to use this to apply new educational methods, or be used to advertise products.

Create a video editing plugin allowing a video editor to ‘rope around, and identify an object’ in one frame, and the plug in will recognize the movement of the object and mark and follow the object for 30 seconds x 60 FPS (Frames Per Second), and the user inserts a popup bubble containing a clickable link, and some Ad text. In playback mode, when a viewer hovers over the object in the video at a particular time index code, the popup ad will appear, is clickable and will launch an application and pass information, such as a browser and a URL.

This should be extremely easy to rollout and implement.  At this point, it would take a small team, and financial backing, based on all the cloud computing and storage available, they should be able to establish a video streaming platform and integrate a streaming player that uses their modified streaming plugin that accepts the new encoding that is slightly modified from industry standards. This new platform would allow this team to compete with local, national, and global advertisers, and get local, national, and international brands to advertise with them using this new attractive medium.

If the platform is created, the amateur videographer can make their video as per usual, partner with some of the branded companies’ objects in the video, e.g. clothing, highlight a few advertising partner objects during editing, insert the ad popup bubble with Ad text and the link, and then upload the video to the new or modified platform that is able to playback these new videos with the slightly different encoding.  The Video Player I used as an example is from a non-profit organization, composed of volunteers, developing and promoting free, open-source multimedia solutions.

This post may be added to over the next few days.

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The Art of Playing the Hand You’re Dealt

Being a Scrum Master, in some ways, is harder than being a Project Manager, because the people on the project do not report to you directly or through a matrix management organization. A Scrum Master is charged; however, with keeping the team on task, setting up and facilitating team meetings according to Scrum methodologies, producing reports, and overall to help facilitate the removal of blockers to help the team to close sprint product backlog items, and deliver releases.  It was challenging enough not having direct management responsibilities.  Now add a new process, and few tangible, people management incentives, and you would think deploying systems would get more challenging.  However, the Scrum methodology, an iterative process, an agile software development framework for managing software projects, once thoroughly adopted by team members, should make the deployment process more dependable, enables your consumers to see incremental progress of products, thus allowing for a course correction, while enabling your team to provide more refined estimates on releases.

A scrum team is formed from all sorts, software developers, release, or configuration management staff performing deployments, infrastructure staff managing hardware, representation from business constituency, and Quality Assurance traditional test or use case validation staff, which seem to be junior developers these days, and they all come together to deliver for each sprint.

As the Scrum Master, depending on the level of process required or desired from your organization, your role may be diminished to a glorified facilitator, if that’s what you believe is glorious. It may be a bit of fun, if you choose to make it, and if you have a great Scrum Master, and elements of a talented team.

NOTE:

A release is a set of sprints, and the duration of each sprint time is constant,e.g. there may be 6 sprints in a release, each sprint lasting two weeks.  The duration of the of sprints should be static, and the Scrum master may even setup the calendar date and time in advance for the whole release.

I’ve dissected agile, scrum methodology into six major components, as it has been used in practice on several teams of the teams I’ve been a part of, using this methodology:

1. Meetings

For small or large corporations the agile team works, even if you have a very small team trying to deliver new functionality, and constantly in bug/fix mode, or a large team with a vast amount of resources.  If you feel you are always having fire-drill meetings, put down the fire extinguisher, and listen up.  There are fewer meetings with this agile process, in fact, if there are too many meetings, we might want to call the meetings themselves out as ‘Blockers’, which we will get to in a moment.

I recommend three types of meetings with agile teams that will help you both deploy and support your product: a daily stand-up meeting, a retrospective meeting, and a sprint open/close meeting, and the final sprint meeting may serve as your release end review.

The daily stand-up meeting, or DSU, should be at most a 15 minute session, which each member of the team says, what they worked on yesterday, what they plan on working on today, and any Blockers they might have.  The scrum master facilitates these meetings, and if he or she hears a blocker announced, they try to crawl the group to get some assistance from the rest of the team members to remove the blockers.  What can we do to remove the blocker, should be the resounding question, and anything that prevents your progress on the tasks assigned to you for your product backlog items (PBI) is a blocker.  To back up one moment, a clarification PBIs are similar to change requests, or modification requests that you’ve worked with before, however, they may be written in an abstracted way, and then there are tangible tasks, which are ‘children’ objects are associated with the Product Backlog Item (PBI).

Next is the retrospective meeting, what can we do better next time, what did we do well this sprint, and so on.  There is typically one of these retrospective meetings per sprint, just before sprint close.  Finally, there is a Sprint Close and Sprint Open session combined that serves as a PBI demo for the completed items, and an assignment portion for the next set of PBIs to be worked on for the next sprint.  This meeting is the bulk of where the processes takes place.

2. Product Backlog Items

In the initial Sprint Open meeting, you review all of the product backlog items, which may or may not have an associated business priority at the time.  Some teams use 1 to 1000, where 1 is the highest priority, up to the 100th priority may get ‘Committed to’ for the current sprint, and anything over 100, may get deferred to the next sprint, e.g. 200+.  Sometimes, if the team knows they won’t put a product backlog item in the current release, they set the business priority of the PBI to 1000, where it sits in the backlog to be reviewed for a future release.

During the sprint open, the business representative, with input from all of their sources, e.g. marketing, sales, assigns the highest priority to the PBIs they would like to go into the first sprint, second sprint,… and the entire release.  This process may actually happen before the Sprint Open meeting with the development leads, who may understand the dependencies of the PBIs to help guide the business people.  In attendance is also the scrum master, which is in most meetings to keep discussions limited on any particular item, for example.  If the Scrum Master during any of the meetings finds the conversation drifting into a long, and drawn architecture discussion, the team may decide to make a separate PBI for the discussion worth typically 1 point.

3. Points

The Scrum master will sort the order of the Product Backlog of Items by business Priority, 1 being the highest, and that’s the order in which the team goes through PBIs.  After each product backlog item (PBI) is assigned a business priority, the development team leads, in the Sprint Open, ‘commits’ to achieving them within the agreed sprint time. During the Sprint Open, the people on the Sprint Open (all team members) may add a bit of color to the description of the PBI, then it’s “Poker Time”.

4. Planning Poker

There are many free web sites, or utilities out there that help you facilitate planning poker. e.g., http://planningpoker.com/ or some teams just cut construction paper, and put a number on each page.  We will use the web site in our example.  EVERY team member logs onto the site, and sees a set of cards with numerical values 1/2, 1, to 100.  Different teams do poker in alternate ways, but what you are supposed to do is correlate the entire effort you think it will take to deliver a particular PBI, regardless of your role or intimate knowledge of the PBI.  You may ask questions to get an understanding of the request, but the idea is to vote on it, especially / even if you are not doing the work on the item.  This process is more physiological in nature, and should alleviate any deflation, inflation, or wild guestimates over time (e.g. multiple sprints, or releases).  There are natural habitual things people do when they provide estimates.  The person may want to impress their boss, and provide a deflated, or aggressive estimate.  The boss may in fact try to skew the inflation to the business representative(s) to put the product out ‘sooner than humanly possible’, or a person on the project may inflate their estimate to get more time than required on the project for whatever hedonistic reason.  All players put in their score of effort, e.g. 1 = 1 person day, for example, and each card is facing down until all team members enter their cards, then the scrum master presses the button to flip the cards, and the negotiation process begins.  The scrum master bargains with the highest and lowest scorers, “Can you come down from a 5 to a 3?” and “Would you be willing to go from a 1 to a 3?” to drive a consensus.  The team members talk about why they scored a particular item a certain way, and eventually some consensus is reached without using the heaving hand, or the boss persuading the vote.  This process helps over time give more predictable estimates from the team, and you may discover the average output of the team, with a few variable factors, such as blockers.  In the Sprint Close, the Scrum master may actually show a graph, here are all the PBIs we committed to in this sprint, here is their point value, and here is what we earned, and here is what we tried to earn.

5. Demonstration and Deployment

If you say all sprints are two weeks, rain or shine, you have the sprint close meeting, demonstrate the PBIs that were achieved, and theoretically, each sprint can and may be deploy-able to every environment, including production, if required.  Typically, you would wait till the final sprint close before deploying to production, but it doesn’t always happen that way, especially if we have a support bug/fix along the way.  That’s why each PBI is discrete and deploy-able on each Sprint Close, so when you assign the item after the points are agreed to, and close the PBI, it must be thoroughly tested (by whomever), and ready for production, that’s why you may associate several tasks to a PBI, such as unit, module, and system integration test case creation and execution.  If PBIs that are assigned to staff do not get updated with a status from Assigned to Closed, then those items during Sprint Close get reviewed during the second half of the meeting, in the Sprint Open, and the team decides if they want to move them forward to the next sprint, release, or to the backlog for a future release.

6. Incentives and Detractors

One incentive mechanism for the team is awarding team bucks.  This can be a great way to award team members.  Each person on the team gets imaginary team dollars, and they are to award monthly their allotment of team dollars to co-team members, and the team member should state some reason, however abstract, why they are awarding their allotment of money to this individual.  So for example, the Scrum Master at the end of each sprint, month, or some frequency which makes sense for the release(s) will say to the team staff, it’s the closing of the sprint/month, and you should allocate your, let’s say five dollars, to your co-team members.  Team members may divide their abstract money across a few of the team members.  At the end of the release, the senior staff, it would be a business sponsor, who is funding the project, would do some conversion, and allocate a monetary value correlation.  If it’s a large organization, there may be an internal store that sells company logo labeled supplies, so you might get a company mug, or tee shirt.  I have used this technique in at least one place, and it is mildly effective.  Depending upon team morale, they can be enthusiastic about it, or feign enthusiasm.  Either way, win, win.

One infamous detractor to coming late to meetings or swearing during meetings is “The Penalty Jar”.  I’ve used this technique, and heard about it in quite a few places.  It’s a basic premise, your late to a meeting, put a dollar in the jar, change, or whatever.  A collective donation, which is then used to perhaps buy pizza on the night of releases.  Jokingly some managers might off hand swear lightly and put a fiver in the jar, just to uplift morale.  It is a physiological counterweight effect, that depending upon the team attitude and company policy, some may say enforce swearing, but it’s light handed, and the fiver is meant to imply the manager is ‘paying forward’ to encourage the team toward the end goal, the release.

Conclusion:

I hope this was an easy read.  Many teams are using these methodologies today, but surprisingly, some have yet to adopt this process.  At times, this process may be challenging when interacting with on and offshore teams that have great differences in time zones because teams prefer to have the DSU in the morning or midday the latest, while the blockers are fresh in their minds, and able to help others get un-blocked after the call.  I’ve seen it work well with a 9 AM <->12 PM timezone delta although it could be done with a middle person playing the role as the off shore liaison.  However,  even if there are no language differences, the lack of full team interaction may inhibit team members to unblock someone for some cases, which require direct peer to peer team staff interaction.  Alternately, staff sometimes work off-shift to solve some blockers.

Facebook Trying to Kill Off Instagram?

So, the obvious thing here is Facebook wants to kill Off Instagram.  You think core users, won’t care, possibly?  Is it even legal, their new terms of service, questionable, with adding the bit regarding minors being included.  So why buy Instagram, and put outrageous terms to the very popular service.  One reason might be a common tale, where a suitor company will buy what it projects has high market share they are already, or plan on getting into, to allow them to grab mass market share.  The suitor company may already be in the market, and simply can capitalize on their resources, e.g. staff, technology, and then try to run the ship aground, i.e. sabotage. demoting the acquired company by putting a poor taste in the customers path, and the original suitor company offers an alternate path, which attracts the customer base to convert.  Some of the articles in the New York Times, What Instagram’s New Terms of Service Mean for You and an a Mashable OP-ED piece, Instagram Will Basically Sign Your Life Away imply picking up your pitchforks and rally us around Instagram, and apply a crowd mentality to trample yourself away from Instagram.

If this is the Facebook / Instagram business model, as these folk are interpreting the requirements, I am not so personally keen on my daughter using Instagram, and her showing up in an advertisement, as I think I read this bit from the interpreted TOS.  I don’t think the kid would be too keen either, probably for a different reason then her Father.  Advertisements can be taken out of context, or you may loose control of how your face is integrated with a product or service, and might not necessarily agree with its use.  Talk about your type-casting.  A teen shows up in an advertisement for acne, she doesn’t know about the advertisement until it’s posed on her locker, and this is a relatively innocent example..  In addition, a capitalistic kid would say, “I am not particularly keen on my face, or pictures showing up somewhere without my permission, but hey, where is my cut.”

There are already established platforms that sell photographer’s photos through established licencing models, and sure, that may be another more viable model for the Facebook / Instagram folks, but hey, I am just a man with a keyboard, and half a brain.

– Zaphod Beeblebrox

Google Play and Search Integration: Maximized Revenue.

Simple Question.  I look at the simplified view of the Google Search home page, and see the most obvious thing missing is Google Play integration.  Yes, they have a Mobile tab, but even under More, there isn’t a section for Music.  Why wouldn’t Google have Google Play tab with / or without submenus to products on the Android OS.  Makes no sense to me.  It seems like a clear win for Google and the mobile platform.  From an anti-competitive standpoint, you could hide it in the   More menus, but I don’t think that may be necessary, if you believed that it may attract negative attention.  Why would’t you, at a minimum put Google Play market in the Google Search.  How much of the market share in technology is mobile?  This is insane to me that they haven’t linked Google Play to their main Search menus.  Even more fabulous, if they do a regular search, segregate, or at a minimum highlight the Google Play results integrated into all the other results, with the new description format when you look up a movie for example, and have a download Android application right from the search results, just as if Google Play was linked to Google Search. Yes, they do have a ‘Mobile’ menu tab, but that doesn’t touch the integration they can do.  It explicitly abstracted, where they would be able to drive more consumers to the Android markets, and revenues.  A short synopsis, Google has yet to truly integrate Android Mobile into its Search and that is missed revenue opportunity.