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Category Archives: Technology

Testing My Universal Mobile Keyboard

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I took my 12-year-old to check out computers the other day and, after we looked at a few, I decided what to get her. Then I made a kind of an impulse buy and got myself a Samsung Galaxy Tab4 which, at the price they were charging, was almost free. Anyway, I got it yesterday (they didn’t have any in stock, so they had to ship me one) and spent a bit of time figuring it out and loading a few apps from the Play Store.

When I got to work today, I realized I had my universal mobile keyboard, which was designed to be used with phones and notepads. I had installed the WordPress app, so I thought I would give it a try and post this short note to see how it felt. I’m loving the Galaxy Tab4 and intend on using it to watch Netflix, which I also installed, post to my blog (tada), and probably read with the Kindle app, which I’ve yet to install. Think I’ll do that after I post this. I also need to get a sim card, as there’s only about 8Gb of addressable memory in this thing. Amazon Prime, here I come.

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Had No Idea I’m In Biotech

Wrong Way

Smart Marketing Technique?

The other day I received a huge catalog in the mail. As one who routinely has thrown printed Yellow Pages, or other directories, into the recycle bin immediately upon receipt, I was curious why this had come my way. It was addressed to me and the company I spent a couple of years dabbling in, Rick Ladd & Associates. I’m guessing they purchased a mailing list, most likely from the Simi Valley Chamber of Commerce.

It’s clear they did nothing to vet the list, as I don’t think I could be much further away from biotechnology, and have absolutely no need for any of their products, which are legion.

What’s a bit remarkable to me is the sheer size of the offering and the appearance they used a scattergun approach to market their products (did I mention they’re legion?). To help you appreciate its size the index, which is over 90 pages in length, begins on page one thousand. That’s 1-0-0-0. A thousand pages of biotech products, not one of which I can imagine I need, let alone understand how or why they’re used!!

I’m not in any way suggesting anything they offer is useless; after all, biotechnology is really changing our lives in many ways. What I am saying is that I, in every “professional” category I have engaged in, see no intersection with these products. They are almost unintelligible to me.

Oh, I understand the relevance of many of the disciplines or categories the catalog addresses, e.g. Molecular Biology, Immunology, Cell Biology, and Biochemicals, but the individual products are mostly a mystery to me and I have no intention of becoming conversant in their station in the universe, save for what I need to make my point here.

I must reiterate. I can understand the general relevance of a product such as “Goat Affinity Purified Antibody to Mouse Transferrin” or “MeOSuc-Pro-Ala-Ala-Pro-Pro-paranitroanilide”. I’ve even learned what Apoptosis is, for which I’m glad. Yet I have no use for these products; it’s not what I do. Why on Earth would they spend this much on producing a catalog and sending it to a person/business where it will be immediately (well, almost immediately) discarded? Maybe it’s worth it, but there wouldn’t be bankruptcies if everyone always did the right thing.

Perhaps I don’t understand marketing all that well.

PS – It also came with an 86 page price list in six different currencies (USD, EUR, GBP, YEN, INR, RMB) all of which are apparently good for 2016 – 2018! That’s an amazing length of time to be able to hold so many prices stable. It is printed in a font size for which I would need an eye transplant to be able to read comfortably.


Talking To Myself . . . Almost

Lately, I’ve been trying to use my iPhone’s voice recognition capabilities while in my car on the way to work. With the latest upgrade to iOS – I’m at 9.1 – you can now talk to your phone if it’s plugged into power, and I always plug mine into my car charger. All you have to do is say “Hey, Siri” and (most times) you’ll get a tone letting you know she’s listening. You can request music, ask for directions, record notes, tweets, and even Facebook posts. I mostly use it for playing music and recording thoughts I would never be able to remember or write down without pulling over to the side of the road. Although I have been known to do that, I don’t have to anymore. It’s not perfect, but it’s far and away a safer and easy-to-use method of remembering some things.

So, today I recorded a note on my way in. The only drawback is you have to speak fairly continuously. As soon as you pause for more than a couple of seconds, at most, Siri ends the task and reads the note back to you. I managed to make it through the thought I had with relative ease – my memory really ain’t what it used to be – and the playback was accurate enough to know I would be able to understand what I was thinking when I recorded it. As many of us are painfully aware, being able to understand what you were thinking when you were thinking of it later on when you read what you wrote about what you were thinking back then, is important to the efficacy of the effort.

On a whim, I said “Hey, Siri” and, upon hearing the familiar tone, “Thank you.” After a moment’s pause, she responded (in her Aussie accent) “You’re welcome.” Her tone was so upbeat it caused me to wonder if they don’t actually have the phrase recorded, or programmed, in several different intonations. I know we’re a long ways away from anything approaching sentient AI, but it was still oddly comforting, as well as a little weird . . . both the exchange and the reality I bothered to do it in the first place.


Chasing That Elusive Health & Fitness Goal

I have long wanted to get back to my original weight, 7 lbs. 9 oz. but I’m finding it difficult. Regardless, recently I purchased a Fitbit Charge HR digital tracker to monitor the exercise I get and, shortly afterward, a Fitbit Aria electronic scale. I won’t say I’m actually part of the #QuantifiedSelf movement, but I do like data and find they help me achieve goals by showing me how I’m doing and the consequences of not following the steps needed to accomplish them.

 

Fitbit Aria

My New BFF


Last Friday marked two very important milestones in my quest to get in better shape and, more importantly, to reach a point where I can either stop taking the two maintenance drugs I’ve been on for quite some time (for essential hypertension and type II diabetes). I test my blood sugar at least every morning and Friday, for the first time in my memory of the last over 15 years, it was under 90 upon arising. This is very unusual for me as I have always experienced an early morning spike in my readings.

I’m also weighing myself each morning as soon as I get up. The Aria scale measures weight and body fat percentage. After I stand on the scale and it settles, it shows me my weight, body fat %, and my initials (it will recognize up to eight people) twice, then syncs the data via our wifi to my Fitbit account. This morning I dipped below 180 lbs. for the first time in decades.

Over the weekend I indulged a wee bit and this morning my weight was just over 180, but my blood sugar was 89. My average before meal reading is now about 110, an amazing difference from what I’m used to. Last time I had an A1C test, I had dropped below the threshold of 7.0 and I’m quite certain it will be even lower this time. I suppose I could have achieved this a long time ago, but I didn’t. Better late than never, eh?


Why Can’t You Learn, Old Dog?

I am both amazed and highly disappointed at the number of people who believe the ability of colleagues to talk to each other via a tool that is either fairly ephemeral and basic (e.g. MS Communicator) or more persistent and inclusive (e.g. MS Yammer or Cisco Jabber) is a waste of their time. One of my least favorite things to hear is “I’m too busy to learn how to do that” or “I don’t have the time to waste on these things.”

Tin Can Phone

How can I help you?


“These things” are designed to improve our ability to share what we know and to find out what others know; not as a lark or just because, but in support of the work we do every day. How often have you remembered there’s some information that’s available to help you out, but you can’t quite recall where you last saw it or who told you about it? Imagine being able to essentially broadcast a question and have it reach dozens or more people, any one of whom might be able to answer the question for you. How is that a waste and in what way is spending 10 or 15 minutes to learn how to use a tool wasteful given how much time it can save in the long run? Even if you only saved 5 minutes per month, you’d be in the black after only a third of a year.

The business world is changing; grudgingly – at least in many places – but nevertheless changing. A long time ago one of my colleagues who had been a student of Deming’s and who was deeply involved in the understanding of systems, offered his belief that the main reason we survived as a company wasn’t so much because of how good we were at what we do. Rather, it was in large part due to the reality that everyone else was much worse. He wasn’t talking about our organization’s technical skills, but rather about our systems and procedures, most all of which exude bureaucracy from every corner.

I believed him then, and I’ve seen nothing to dissuade me from believing it still – even after a nearly five year hiatus and having been back for over six months now. I’m not sure how much longer any organization can continue doing business the way they’ve always done. I can’t possibly predict when it will be too late to change; when another business will match our technical skills and outperform our organizational skills, leaving us – eventually – in the dust.

It will undoubtedly take longer in aerospace than it would in, say consumer electronics, but even with long-term contracts and government funding there has to come a time when failure to learn and modify how things get done, especially those things that rely on people talking to and working with one another, will mark the end of an organization’s viability. I don’t dwell on it, but I do find myself occasionally listening for that other shoe to drop. You?


Heading Back To The Ol’ Homestead

Truth to tell, I never wanted to retire. I grew up around men who worked until they dropped dead and I had every intention of doing the same. This was especially so because I wanted to be part of humanity’s return to the Moon and our venture to Mars. It looked like that was not to be when the Space Shuttle program was winding down and those of us working on the Shuttle main engine (SSME) – and other rocket engine programs – who were over sixty were offered a decent severance package, which I accepted. I believed it was the best of several not optimal choices.

Asteroid Strike of Earth

It’s happened before. It WILL happen again.

Today I received a package from the agency that handles contract workers for what is now Aerojet Rocketdyne, and it looks like I will be brought back and will have the opportunity to be a small part of our space program once again. This is no small thing for me, as I have long considered it an absolute necessity for humans to establish not merely a technological, but especially a cultural presence off this planet; if for no other reason than the statistical certainty there will be an extinction level event before long. As long as the only presence we have is on this rock, it becomes a binary event. Having at least a seed colony elsewhere could make all the difference in terms of our ability to come back from such a catastrophe.

To say I’m excited is a bit of an understatement. I had pretty much come to the conclusion it wasn’t going to happen and I’m quite capable of dealing with that possibility. Assuming it works as planned, though, is like a lagniappe; an extra helping of dessert I wasn’t expecting. To think it came about because of a chance conversation with an old colleague at an event held by our children’s elementary school is really sweet.

I should also point out I am only going back as a temp, a contractor, and I have no reason to expect this employment will go on for long. In fact, I’m hopeful it will turn out to be more part time, but on a long-term basis, if that’s at all possible. I like some of the other things I’ve become involved in and I have a few obligations I need to conclude as well. l believe it can all be worked out in the next couple of months. I know I’m committed to making that happen. I hope everyone I’m working with is flexible enough for this to be a good thing for all of us. There’s nothing like the ol’ win-win.


Want Something to Worship? Try This

Instead of attending services — whether in a Church, Synagogue, Mosque, or Temple — watch this. It’s far more powerful than any scripture I’ve ever encountered.


Making Sense of All That Data

Deep Data

Transforming Big Data Information into Deep Data Insights

Yesterday I posted a question to several of the groups I belong to on LinkedIn. It was related to several of the things I’m interested and involved in: Systems Thinking, Knowledge Management, and Decision Modeling. It was somewhat informed, as well, by an article appearing in the Huffington Post, where Otto Scharmer, a Senior Lecturer at MIT and founder of the Presencing Institute, talks about the need to make sense of the huge and growing amounts of data we have available to us. He argues the importance of turning from “Big” data, where we mainly look outward in our attempt to understand what it is telling us about markets and our external influence, to “Deep” data, where we begin looking inward to understand what it’s telling us about ourselves and our organizations and how we get things done.

The question I asked was designed to seek out capabilities and functionality that people would like to have, but that is currently unavailable. My interests include working with others to understand and provide for those needs, if possible. I thought I would present the question here as well, where it will remain a part of my online presence and, hopefully, might elicit some useful responses. Here it is:

With the growing proliferation and importance of data — a development at least one author and MIT Lecturer has suggested is moving us from the information technology era to the data technology era — what tools would you like to see become available for handling, understanding, and sharing the new types of information and knowledge this development will bring?

In other words, what would you need that you don’t have today? What types of technology do you think would offer you, your colleagues, and your organizations a greater ability to make use of data to bring about a transformation from primarily siloed, outward looking data to collaborative, inward looking data as well?

I would love to hear of any ideas you might have regarding the kinds of tools or apps you could use to better deal with data by turning it into useful information and knowledge . . . perhaps even a smidgen of understanding and wisdom.


All Hail The Beneficent, Ubiquitous Keyboard

There’s a little sort of game going on in Facebook lately. Someone is challenged to list three things they’re thankful for for seven days, at the same time tagging a friend each day (or something like that) to do the same. I haven’t been asked to do it, and I have no plans of doing it either, as it just seems too spread out and broad to do justice to the recognition of those things we might be thankful for. Nevertheless, it does give me pause and I have been thinking about what I would say should I choose one or two specific things for which I’m thankful. There is one seemingly mundane thing that keeps popping into my head. My ability to type.

I can’t imagine how different my world would be if I had to use what an old girlfriend of mine called the “search and destroy” method of typing. Most people use the more pastoral term “hunt and peck”, but she spent several tours with the USO in Vietnam and her life was colored by her exposure to that war, the military, and her involvement in the movement to end it. If I were hampered by that inability, my social presence and my ability to communicate would be virtually non-existent.

I was fortunate. In Junior High School I took a typing class; instead of what I haven’t the faintest, but I recall it seeming to be the most useful option at the time. As a result, I learned to touch type. Later on, when I was in Law School, I secured a position as a legal secretary for a sole practitioner who did a lot of contract and property damage work for several of the largest car rental agencies in the country. We were very busy and my workload was challenging enough that my speed increased. I’ve never been as prolific as the best, but I was up to a little over 80 wpm, with few if any errors. That’s not quite as fast as the average person can speak, but it’s a respectable clip.

IBM Memory Typewriter

The IBM Memory Typewriter

The job turned out to be a major turning point in my life, as I was introduced to the early stages of office computing and word processing. We ended up getting an IBM Memory Typewriter, the one built on the correcting Selectric, but with a dial providing memory for 50 separate pages. We moved up shortly to an Artec Display 2000, which used two 8″ floppies and had a scrolling display of approximately 30 characters. I don’t remember if it was LED or LCD, but the characters were red. We used it for pleadings, and wills and trusts.

Back to typing speed and how critical it is to communication in today’s world. I don’t really have to imagine what it would be like, because I had an experience with a colleague that pointed it out rather clearly, though it took months for me to recognize what was happening. I was working with the Director of our newly formed Program Management Office at what was then the Rocketdyne Power & Propulsion business unit of The Boeing Company. We were at almost opposite ends of the main office building in Canoga Park and I was upstairs in what was called The Annex. The distance between his office and my cubesickle was around 400 yards; not a huge distance, but it took time to walk back and forth. Plus it meant passing through the Executive Office area and there were always distractions.

I can’t recall the exact dates, but it was very early in our use of Instant Messenger; so early that I had to point out its value, as most of the older staff (which meant all of the Executives) perceived it as only a toy their kids used to communicate with each other. I kept sending IMs to this Director, but he never answered them, nor did he respond in anything resembling a timely manner to emails, so I was forced to walk to his office repeatedly during the day.

It wasn’t until a couple of months had passed that I happened to be sitting with him in his office and he was answering an email. Watching him type . . . ever so slowly and painfully . . . made it clear why he never responded to me. He had to hunt anew for each letter and, with his two index fingers, peck them out in a long, excruciatingly difficult session. He clearly hated it. I know I was cringing as I watched. I never sent him an IM after that day.

I’m thinking the ability to type is one of those essential tools we seldom think about — perhaps take for granted — without which our world would be far less rich and fulfilling. I can type this post, tweet, post to Facebook, engage in lengthy, spirited debates with dozens of widely dispersed people, and participate in a plethora of other forms of communication or collaboration relatively easily, all because of my ability to type quickly and accurately. I imagine this is true for almost all, if not all, of my friends and acquaintances.

For this I am deeply thankful.


It Doesn’t Take a Rocket Scientist

Crosswalk Button

This is a switch, not a pump!

I saw a video yesterday of a dog figuring out how to drink from a device set on the ground. It had to be stepped on and held down, but the dog would stomp on it a few times before finally standing on it to keep the water flowing. It reminded me of one of my favorite stories.

Many years ago, when I first started working at Rocketdyne, we had a couple of buildings on the other side of Canoga Ave. from the main office and factory structure. People were always having to cross the street and there was a controlled crosswalk there for that purpose. I was always amazed to find engineers repeatedly pushing the button (like this dog’s doing) to get the light to change.

I kept thinking – though I never said it out loud – “you know that’s a switch, not a pump.” It might be expected of the dog; but, rocket scientists? Maybe they were accountants.


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