Look – no wires

I recall a visit some years ago to the Royal Festival Hall for a concert. As we passed the sound desk with cables snaking out in all directions looking like a reject from an early Dr Who set, my wife commented that it reminded her of our living room – at which point the sound operator – who had obviously overhead her remark – replied “you must have installed Sky TV!”

He was not wrong – we had. And the back of our tv cabinet didn’t look a lot different from the multi-tentacled sound desk. This was 20 or so years ago and with the addition of multi speaker cinema surround sound system, the cables emanating from my tv cabinet would do credit to a major tv outside broadcast set up.

Which in this age of cloud computing, smart technology and remote working is somewhat surprising. It was therefore great to try out the new Sonos Soundbar and supporting wireless speakers.

I had already been using Sonos to stream radio and my Ipad music and was keen to see how the system worked as a TV surround sound setup. The key word in this is “wireless” which apart from a digital connection to the tv set and the power cables, it is.

The rear speakers are connected wirelessly as is the optional sub-woofer. The sound quality is superb and whilst I am in no way claiming to be a hi-fi expert, I would have thought that it would be sufficient for most TV viewers.

Its not cheap- a full set up including sub could cost in excess of £1,500 – bit the build quality, sound and wireless convenience make it a justifiable luxury.


The only way is down

My good friend and Cloud Advocates colleague, David Terrar (@DT) has just abandoned his Blackberry after many years and picked up his new Iphone 4S. My first comment to him was “about time” but then I started thinking about the meteoric rise of RIM and the Blackberry and their equally steep decline.

RIM were ground breakers with the launch of the Blackberry at a time when smart phones were not that smart and their use as a business tool – other than as a telephone (why should a phone be used for anything else – but hey!) was not seriously considered. They rapidly became the must have accessory for the up and coming business executive and were responsible for many a marriage break up as users became  - literally – addicted to checking their email when ever and where ever they could. There can’t be many gadgets that coin  a new word in the vocabulary – crackberry!

They were ubiquitous – anyone who was anyone had to be seen using their latest Blackberry phone and even President Obama, on taking office, insisted that he still use his and had to have it specially hacker proofed to enable him to do so. They gained a certain notoriety when it became apparent that they were the phone of choice for many who took part in the riots of last year and that the Blackberry messaging service was used to arrange riots and communicate amongst the youths organising the disturbances.

And then it all came to a rapid and sudden halt – not helped by a major disruption to its service in the 3rd quarter of 2011 which left millions without access to their emails over a 3 – 4 day period. At the same time Apple had introduced their latest operating system - IOS 5 and introduced the next iteration of the Ipad and suddenly there was a new kid on the block as far as business communication and acceptable gadgets were concerned.

RIM couldn’t compete – they made a half hearted attempt to do so with the introduction of their Tablet but next to the Ipad, it soon withered on the vine. The latest news is that RIM have laid off staff and proposed new models have been delayed.

So was their fall inevitable? Does it invariably mean that if something is the first of its type and achieves rapid acceptance it stays number 1 only until a competitor comes along and after that the only way is down? Perhaps the lesson to be learnt is that unless a product constantly reinvents itself and remembers to look at itself from the outside – as a competitor – it will make the same errors as so many have done before  and become complacent and uncompetitive.

Apple’s meteoric growth seems unstoppable and so far they appear to have avoided the pitfalls that have effected so many before them. It was, however, interesting to note  a recent headline that announced record Ipad sales but a decline in the  growth in the sale of iphones. Maybe they are going to become a victim of their own success in that with a new model coming out so regularly, fans are not quite sure when to jump in and commit.

Could Apple face the same decline as RIM – seems unlikely at the moment……until something better comes along!

Technology conspires against us

As many of you will know, I am a self-confessed and unashamed techno geek. If something can be done using the latest gadget, that’s for me, irrespective of other – possibly quicker – ways of dealing with it.

It would be safe to assume therefore that the great god of technology would see me as a loyal follower and favour me with its blessings – after all I must be considered a true disciple. But from hubris comes a downfall and like many of the old testament prophets, the “ggot” throws out these little tests  at the most crucial time just to prove my ongoing loyalty. Take today’s events for example:

A major client of mine requires a BACS payment run prepared every week to process the payments for its suppliers. Part of our brief is to prepare the BACS file from E-conomic and upload it to their HSBC online banking for payment. A simple enough process, especially as E-conomic  has a very efficient BACS compilation procedure built into the system. A slight added pressure was that it had to be done by 10am as the client’s FD was unavailable after that time.

No problem you would think, and so did I but today’s events conspired against me. Firstly, like so many of our wonderful banks, HSBC online banking only works with Internet Explorer. The fact that a substantial number of customers now use other browsers has totally passed them by. Normally this would not be a problem as, although I went over to the darkside some months ago and am now a committed MAC user, I have a Windows drive on my MAC specially for this purpose.

However this is where the fun started. In my wisdom I had decided the other day to upgrade my IE browser to IE9 – after all, if the latest version is out there lets go for it! But no -HSBC in its wisdom has not upgraded its systems to work with IE9 yet so with the deadline quickly approaching I found myself in somewhat of a pickle. Being the resourceful guy that I am, I reached for an old windows laptop that I have lying around and attempted to boot it it into existence. 15 minutes later with sweat poring off me, I still couldn’t get this bl..dy machine to react to any sort of commands whilst it noisily chugged away reallocating its file space or whatever Windows laptops do when you need them in a hurry.

In desperation, (it was now 10.05!) I reverted to my MAC sitting their with a superior and, I must admit, somewhat smug look on its screen and thought that maybe – just maybe things would work in Safari. At this point by remote keyboard chose to run out of battery power – yes it did warn me the other day that it was running low but who takes any notice of these sort of things!

My only choice was to rather unceremoniously (and if I am honest, somewhat recklessly) kick my long suffering wife off her PC and attempt to complete the process from there – at which point I lost my internet connection and had to reboot my router (note to self , I must move that wretched thing nearer to my office).

I am glad to say that this saga had a happy ending and the file was eventually uploaded and my client (whose time keeping is obviously as bad as mine) was happy. I on the other hand have just risen from a valium induced sleep – and any one who quotes to me … that what doesn’t hurt us makes us stronger… had better watch out!


Living with my IPad – literally!

I have had my IPad for 4 weeks or so and during that time it has hardly left my side – my wife is threatening to sue me for adultery, citing my IPad as co-respondent – I have promised to attend counselling sessions!

But, seriously though (really – I was only joking – sort of) what are my views on this amazing piece of kit after having used it in real life situations over the past few weeks?

Well, first off I am still convinced that it will, eventually, change the small net book computing market. It is comfortable to use and for emailing and web surfing there is no equal. Some web sites have not been fully optimised for the IPad – I am not just talking about the absence of Flash which, admittedly, can be annoying at times – but as time progresses this will improve (this, after all is still version 1).

What does take a bit of getting used to is the lack of any accessible file structure per-se. There are numerous applications which allow you to have a quasi windows – explorer experience but via your laptop which to me somehow misses the point.

However, the application market place is a wonderful resource and there are excellent applications that enable easy working with Microsoft Office files. Best of these is Documents To Go which enables easy synchronisation with DropBox and Google Docs.

Additionally there are some great notetaking applications available – I like using Note Taking HD which enables note taking by writing with your finger on the screen – a bit strange at first but you quickly get used to it. Notes can then be emailed in PDF format. The best application is Evernote which enables synchronisation between all my computers and my Iphone.

I have even made Skype calls using the IPad. Video calls are not possible but the sound quality for voice calls is excellent. I won’t embarrass a well known commentator with whom I was speaking the other day – he didn’t realise that the IPad had a microphone!

Using it in meetings is an interesting experience – it usually ends up with people spending more time talking about and looking at the IPad than the main subject of the meeting.

So my verdict – very definitely 10/10.

My New IPad – I love it!

I have at last received my new Ipad and I make no apologies for being very excited. As soon as I heard about the launch of Apple’s latest technological marvel, I just had to have it and have been waiting impatiently until the opportunity finally arose and I could lay my hands on one.

After some clever manouvering I was able to order one from the States and waited with ever increasing anticipation until it was delivered today. I even tracked its progress via the DHL web site and am only too grateful that I managed to avoid the Icelandic Volcanic disruption (as I re-read this, I realize how sad this sounds. I really ought to get out more!)

So what are my first impressions of this technological super star? Well to begin with it was certainly worth the wait. Anyone who has an Iphone will appreciate the superb design and tactile experience it provides (as well as being able to make a phone call – which is almost secondary). Imagine, if you will, that canvas multiplied 6 times and you begin to get the Ipad.

But, of course, it is much more than a larger Iphone. The design of the ipad specific applications are a pleasure to behold and more are becoming available on a daily basis. The crispness of the screen for viewing photographs and other graphics is superb.

The new ibook application takes e-book reading to a new level with its replica book interface and page turning graphics. Interestingly, the Kindle application is also available on the ipad – so I can choose which device to use when reading my Kindle e-books.

An indulgence maybe, but it does mean that if I am traveling I no longer need to take my Kindle and my computer – I could manage with the ipad on its own.

Will the Ipad replace the lap top – probably not in the short term. Although I am typing this blog using the ipad keyboard accessory – every time I reach out to touch the screen, instead of using a mouse, I feel like Tom Cruise in Minority Report – I am not certain how easy it would be to work on a spread sheet. I will have to give that a try.

Will the Ipad replace my net book – almost certainly as I will be able to carry out virtually all of my Cloud Computing requirements in a much enhanced user experience mode. The email and writing abilities are easy to use and practical.

Is the Ipad the amazing new paradigm shift that will change the face of modern day mobile computing – the jury is still out on that, but it is definitely a start. I wonder if Apple will produce a desktop touch screen version… that would be interesting

My computer doesn't understand me (sob!)

Back in the distant past of the late 90′s, I experimented with using voice dictation software. This was meant to be the next great thing – imagine, dictating directly to the computer, just print out and you’re done. No need for secretaries, cut down on your overheads and your away. Simples!

Except, of course, it wasn’t. The act of talking s..l..o..w..ley and clearly was tiresome. Correcting all the misspelling and gobbleygook took forever and by the time you had something anywhere ready to send out as a letter, the day had gone and you wondered why you bothered. Needles to say the experiment was soon abandoned.

Interestingly, with the advent of the Iphone, there are a number of voice activation packages which I have been trying, together with the phone’s own built-in software. What is apparent is that after all these years, I can’t see a major improvement to the results.

The three apps I have been playing with are:
Dragon Dictate Interestingly, this is the same software that I used in the 90′s now upgraded for the iphone. I must confess that I had limited success with this and one of its drawbacks, apart from its accuracy (or lack of) is the requirement to copy and paste the final message into your text or email application. All time-consuming.

Vlingo I had more success with this and, as with most of these apps, the more you use it the better they get. The nice touch about this app is that by giving the command “email” the programme enters the dictation directly into the email application without the need to copy and paste. The accuracy is not bad and I shall persevere with this.

Dial2Do This is not an Iphone application as such but a hands free aid to use when driving. The web site enables you to set up your contacts (you can import these from Google mail, Outlook etc) and configure the services you want to use. You can set up email, twitter and text plus a few others so by dialing Dial2Do and saying “text” or “email” for example, you can dictate a message which is sent without any further intervention. Depending on your phone connection at the time, the accuracy is not bad and its very useful for those occasions when you remember something you should have sent just as you have left the office.

There was a wonderful moment in one of the original Star Trek films when our intrepid heroes travelled back in time to 1980′s San Francisco (as one does) and Scotty was trying to work on a 1980′s PC by talking to it. He was quite dismissive when it was pointed out that he had to use a keyboard and mouse.

With the advancements in all things IT, it is interesting that voice activation is not quite there yet – in the end, in this instance, the old ways are often the best.

[tweetmeme source=”Richard_Messik” only_single=false]

Kindle (Part 2) – Function over form?

I had an interesting meeting with David Terrar discussing all things Cloud, gadgets and generally putting the world to rights. I happened to mention my new Kindle and that my wife, who is a self-confessed bookaholic, said she would never use one.

There is no substitute, she says, for the feel and smell of a new book and all that it evokes and reading from an e-book just doesn’t offer an equivalent experience. In this, of course (as with most things!) she is right – but it started me thinking about the way we adapt to technology and how what is important at one point in time, changes its emphasis as we embrace the current trend.

Take the LP for example. Those of us of a certain age will have fond memories of the experience of bringing home a new record – not just for the music inside the sleeve, but for the enjoyment of the sleeve itself and the write ups on the back.

With the advent of the CD, we felt that it was a poor substitute for the LP. But what the CD provided for the first time was that our music collection had become portable. Yes, a decision had to be made as to what music was going to be taken on a long journey but, nevertheless a music selection could be brought with you.

And then came the Ipod. The tactile experience of music buying disappeared entirely but what replaced it was the total portability the Ipod provided. It was no longer a question of what music you chose for a journey – you took the whole collection!

Will the same happen with the ebook? I wonder if the ability to take your whole reading collection with you on holiday or – in the case of the Kindle – the ability to choose a book and immediately download it will prove that function over form will win the day?