Really, Daddy?

(Reprinted from the Metro Spirit, July 20, 2011)

Our daughters spent the past week at the Tanglewood Girl Scout Camp (no word on any Ty Pennington sightings).  They’ve saved some money over the summer, so my wife told them it was OK to buy a little something at the camp store.  They brought home this really interesting gadget.  It is made of clear plastic.  You could see all the little the gears and sprockets inside.  Immediately we recognized it as an old fashioned, disposable camera.  To them it was magic.  “Can you really take a picture with it?” asks my daughter.

“You sure can.  Just point and press the button.”  She lines up the picture.  You hear the click of the shutter, and then,

“Mommy, I can’t see the picture.”

“Yes, that’s right sweetie.  You have to take it to the store, and they will make pictures for you.”

“Oh…”

My other daughter then decides it’s time to climb up the inside of the door frame.  “Hey, everybody, watch this!  Take a picture!”

Click.  Click.  Click.  Click.

My turn now.  “Hold on!  Slow down.  Do you see these numbers?  You only have 24 pictures, and then you have to get a new camera.”

“Really, Daddy?”

“Really, sweetheart.”


One of the big tech news items this week is the debut of Spotify in the United States.  Spotify is streaming music service that has been available in Europe for several years and boasts over 15 million songs in its catalog.  The Spotify service allows users to select individual tracks and play instantly.  Users can also build and share playlists with others through integration with Facebook, or through one of many Spotify playlist sharing sites (Google “spotify playlist”).  The free version of Spotify is by invitation only, limits users to 10 hours per month and contains advertising interruptions.  For $5/month, users don’t have to wait for an invite, and the restrictions are removed.  For $10/month, downloads to mobile device and offline play is enabled.  I like to listen to a wide variety of music, and I’ve had to shy away from iTunes because the per track purchasing gets too expensive.  Spotify is a great fit for folks that want to control their playlist but don’t feel the need to own every track.

The other huge Augusta tech news item is that I now am on Google+.  The one thing I really like about Google+ is the Circles concept.  Facebook’s big drawback has always been the all-or-nothing way in which you share information with friends.  Yes, I know you can create groups and you can limit the data you share with groups, but I’ve not seen anything in Facebook that approaches the simplicity of Google+ in managing and sharing information.  It doesn’t yet have all the features of Facebook, but I think that discounting Google+ at this point would be a mistake.

I received access to Google+ after another Google+ member sent me an invite.  If you are still on the waiting list, send me a note at augustatek@cmaaugusta.com.  I’ll send you an invite.  Also, I have one Spotify invitation for free service that I would be willing to give to a reader if they could convince me they deserve it.

Follow me on Twitter @gregory_a_baker.

 

Comcast Specturm

(Reprinted from the Metro Spirit, July 13, 2011)

When you see someone out there that gets it, it’s really fun to watch.  It’s even more fun when that organization is in your own backyard.  This week, I had the opportunity to see something fun.

What I’m talking about is the new Comcast Xfinity Spectrum set-top box.

Comcast has chosen Augusta as one of the few select areas to market this product.  That is fortunate for us, because in my opinion this product really demonstrates that Comcast understands cloud computing.  And it shows that they are not waiting around for someone else to define the market.

Ever since there has been television, all traditional content providers (over-the-air broadcasts, cable, satellite, etc) follow the same model of pre-defined broadcasts over individual channels, and viewers schedule appointments with their TVs to watch their favorite shows.  VCRs and DVRs create some flexibility in viewing, but the content delivery paradigm remains the same.

The disruptive nature of the internet is changing all that.  Cloud services allow content providers to distribute media on-demand, giving the audience more flexibility in content selection and schedule.  The transformation of the music industry brought about by iTunes is largely complete, although Amazon, Google and Apple are currently engaged in a battle over cloud storage of music.  The transformation of the video market is just beginning.  Netflix took the early lead in this space, but other providers are beginning to fight back.

With this product, Comcast is taking the next step by moving its content to the cloud.  The stations themselves are delivered via their conventional infrastructure, but everything else you see through the Spectrum box has moved to the cloud.  The conventional channel guide still exists, but it’s much cleaner and provides a quick search feature allowing you to search by channel name or program name.  Alternatively, you can browse content using an interface that mirrors current web-based services.

More options related to the content are available.  Selecting a show retrieves information from IMdB-like database of cast and crew with links to other programs by the same individuals.  A “More Like This” feature provides references to similar shows.  Viewers can specify Favorites and receive recommendations for personalized content.

The cloud nature of the box facilitates the integration of a number of web applications.  Weather information is provided through The Weather Channel app, and Pandora provides streaming music.  Traffic information is provided, and if a traffic alert is given, the live feed from the local traffic camera is displayed.  And, of course, Facebook is also integrated.  Some capabilities related to Facebook will be coming out soon, including a Friends Trend feature which allows viewers to track which programs their friends “Like”.

And finally for all you ubber-surfers, the Previous Channel button brings up a viewing history, allowing you to quickly and easily flick between more than 2 shows.  (Yes!)

As mentioned before, the content itself is still transmitted conventionally, and the DVR still uses an on-board hard drive.  Comcast’s transformation to a cloud-based content provider won’t be complete until all content is moved to the cloud, but they seem to be headed in the right direction.  It’s refreshing to see an established company embrace a disruptive technology like cloud computing to transform its service offerings.  The easy road would have been to lobby for protectionist barriers and maintain the status quo.

But where is the fun in that?

To view the Spectrum demo, see the YouTube video by Googling “Brian Roberts Next Generation Video.”

Until next time, follow me on Twitter at @gregory_a_baker.

 

M-I-C-K-E-Y M-O-U-S-E

(Reprinted from the Metro Spirit, July 6, 2011)

Regardless of where one may stand on the whole Augusta coolness debate, we can all agree that within a day’s drive there is place dedicated to imagination, and a certain mouse, that is decidedly cool.

Of course, I’m talking about Disney World in Orlando, FL.  My family spent last week experiencing the magic of Disney.  While the classics continue, Disney is investing in the latest tech to bring new worlds to life.

But before getting to the fun stuff, here’s a quick tip we discovered that other groups might find helpful.  We had 11 people in our group with 3 teenagers and 3 younger kids.  Needless to say, we had to split up in order to keep everyone happy.  (For whatever reason, teenagers seem to prefer Space Mountain over Winnie the Pooh and Peter Pan.)  Group texting proved to be a perfect way to stay in contact.  For you folks over 35, group texting allows members of a group to send a text to the entire group at once.  Groups are set up through services like GroupMe.  Grandma and Grandpa didn’t really get it, but the whole system worked quite nicely for the rest of us.

Now to the cool stuff.  The thrill rides are still there.  The Rock’n’Roll Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith and the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror in Hollywood Studios in particular are great.  The most compelling attractions to me are the 3D simulators.  Hollywood Studios and Epcot feature a number of 3D rides that were very satisfying.  All of these rides create a multisensory experience which enables riders to enter a virtual world, whether that is hang gliding over California as in Soarin’ or piloting a spaceship to Mars as in Mission: Space.  For me, Star Tours creates the best experience.  The simulation puts you on a Rebel Transport flying through a space battle over Coruscant and through the Imperial invasion of Hoth.     I found myself gripping the seats and holding on more intensely than I did on Space Mountain.  I couldn’t help but think (and hope) that this could be the precursor of next-gen IMAX.

In an interesting side note about the trip, the largest McDonald’s in the world is also found in Orlando.  This restaurant is decked out with all kinds of technology in order to speed the ordering process.  Two point-of-sale stations exist for each line, and no less than 20 flat screen monitors to provide information to customers and staff.  It took 20 minutes for us to get our order.  Just a reminder that no matter the technology, no matter how good your system, if you don’t have a team willing to step up and work together, your organization is not going to perform.

Until next time, follow me on Twitter at @gregory_a_baker.

 

Creating Value

(Reprinted from the Metro Spirit, June 29, 2011)

Every once in a while you come across a good example of how technology creates value.  This example appeared in last Saturday’s edition of the Chronicle.   I bet most people missed it.  On the surface, it seems routine, almost trivial.  It wasn’t until a second reading did I realize what a nugget it really was.

You see, technology by itself does not create value.  Technology must be mixed with vision and creativity to produce innovative solutions.  Innovative solutions enable organizations to perform better, faster, cheaper.  The services of these organizations become more relevant and essential to their clients, and clients reward these organization with little, green certificates of appreciation (or some other measure of success – money isn’t everything after all).  In the end, value is created.

On occasion, I see organizations pour large sums of money into technology without a long-term vision for its use.  A year later, the technology sits unused in a corner of the office.  Alternatively, I work with organizations that have a strong vision on how technology will help them serve their customers.  For these businesses, technology enables something special that sets them apart.

So when people read about the installation of new power meters in last Saturday’s edition of the Chronicle, most probably gloss over it cynically wondering if this is just another way to raise rates, if they think anything at all.

Not me.

I’m thinking about the entrepreneurial organization that develops these devices for Georgia Power.  Some leader has the vision and creativity to develop an innovative solution to better serve their client.  Georgia Power now possesses a new capability that improves the delivery of electric service by enabling remote management of the meter.  No more driving around to read the meter.  Operators now receive Instant notification of power outages during storms.

Cheaper maintenance cost.  Faster response time.  Better service.

Sounds like everything technology is supposed to do.

Until next time, follow me on Twitter at @gregory_a_baker.