Categories
Media News

Somebody is Watching You (Via TV)

Last week my local Congressman Michael Capuano introduced some important legislation into the house regarding privacy and TV.

Like many of us residing in the US, Capuano was astonished and troubled by the revelations that home TV and telephone operator Verizon was required to give the government lots of data about our telephone use. They provide a daily list of all calls, duration and codes to identify mobile devices so that the government can look for terrorists.

Capuano decided to look further into issues of privacy surrounding this particular operator, and his legislation is a result of his findings.

He found that cable TV companies are developing systems that allow the TV set to watch the viewer. The idea is that a box sits in your house and watches you watch the TV so that advertisers can market their wares better.

A woman watching TV in the dark
Watching TV

The systems will be fitted with face recognition software (see this article for an idea of how far this software has come) so that publicity can be tailor made for the consumer.

So if I am watching something the publicity will be aimed at me, and probably cross referenced with data about my interests, life and Google searches. Fast cars, motorbikes and concert tickets.

If my wife is in the room maybe the publicity will also take her presence into account, and offer her shampoo, a fitness package or the likes, or maybe target us both with a cruise or a romantic weekend in the sun for 2 or likewise. If we are sat at opposite ends of the sofa maybe some counselling or a good divorce lawyer, who knows.

I can only imagine that if the watcher is eating a bag of crisps (chips) and drinking a bottle of beer then publicity for pizza and wine would be in order, the right message at the right time if you see what I mean.

What Capuano and his co sponsor are trying to do is to pass legislation to force producers to build and market a version of their cable interface box without the cameras integrated, and that the TV must show the message “I am watching you” when the machine is watching you.

Not too much to ask you might think but in free market led America I await the outcome. Read more about the legislation here.

I was fortunate enough to interview Congressman Capuano for my Bassetti Foundation blog a couple of years ago. We spoke about technology and his responsibility as a politician to society and his electorate. A transcription of the interview is available here.

Just as a sideline the BBC has an article out about hackers taking over webcams to spy on people covertly. Apparently there is a market for access to your computer, although the stated motivations are different and the practice is not legal.

EDITOR NOTE: Don’t forget the post I wrote about keeping Java up to date Jonny; it mentions about webcam hacking too 🙂 – note by Christopher

Categories
Business

Is remote working the future for business?

In previous articles I have talked about how technology and business interact, and what the future of technology might hold for the world of business. In this article I am going to explore the idea that in the future, almost all business will be conducted remotely.

The number of people who permanently work at home in the UK, (known as teleworking) was estimated to be 1.3 million in 2010. The working population of the UK at the same time is believed to be around 30 million, therefore around 4.5% of the UK’s population (in 2010) were teleworkers. That said, is is estimated at the same time that 3.7 million UK workers sometimes worked from home, and sometimes went into their place of work. That means that of the working population, around 12.5% were, at some point, working remotely.

The figures are similar for the USA, and other developed nations. More and more firms around the world, are offering their employees the opportunity of working from home, but why?

Cost Advantages

Many people do not realise it, but it is often much cheaper to give employees access to the technology they need to work at home, than it is is to provide them with a workstation in an office unit. Yes that might mean you need to buy every employee a laptop, printer and make sure they have an internet connection, however that is often much cheaper than maintaining a workstation, in a fixed location.

If employees work in an office, then the firm either has to purchase or rent the premises – this can be very costly. Furthermore, an (often very expensive) IT mainframe system needs to be in place, to ensure that the entire building is connected internally, and with the outside world – including offices in other locations. Most employees will need a computer to work at, so why not buy them a laptop, give them their own printer, make sure they are internet connected, and tell them to work from home? It is often much cheaper.

Technological Advancements

Improvements in technology mean that working from home is more viable than ever before. Thanks to online storage systems, which allow simple, easy and effective file sharing among workers, employees are able to connect with each other, and share data from almost anywhere in the world. Outsourcing such tasks is often a much cheaper option for firms, than maintaining their own expensive IT infrastructure.

Advancements in communication technologies have also improved the viability of teleworking. I have previously wrote about QB Robots, robots which are effectively your eyes and ears in the office, which you can remotely control, whilst you are not in the office. These sort of devices mean that you can still connect with other workers, almost as if you were there in the room with them.

Anybots QB Robot
The head of one of Anybots QB robots – notice the webcam eyes and screen inbuilt into the head – such robots can improve the potential for remote working

You don’t necessarily need a QB robot to stay in communication with others though. Technologies like webcams, and VoIP mean that it is really easy to stay in contact, and in the loop, so you are just as up to date, as you would be, were you in the office.

Service Improvement Through Better Access

Technology has made it easier to work remotely, and it is often cheaper, but another advantage of teleworking, and a reason which I believe will be one which causes further growth in the industry, is the improvements in accessibility that teleworking offers.

In his recent article ‘Five changes in video conferencing for the next decade‘ Rashed wrote about how improvements in connectivity could improve the prospects for services like telemedicine. Being able to connect to people remotely, means that those who live/work in more remote areas, are more likely to be able to become connected.

Improvements in Productivity

Many studies have shown that working from home can actually boost productivity and reduce the time employees take off ill.

British Telecom claims that its teleworkers save it an average of £6,000 per year (per worker) due to the reduction in the costs of having to provide a workstation, the reduction in commuting costs, and through the increases in productivity. BT claims that its teleworkers are 20% more productive and take fewer sick days. This is probably due to the reduced stress associated with working at home, due to employees not needing to deal with the hassles of commuting, and the occasional hassles presented by co-workers, arguments and misunderstandings can cause stress!

In addition to this, the less time employees spend commuting, the more time they have to themselves, and the more time they can spend working. Say an employee spends an hour and a half commuting each day (two 45 minute journeys) then they could spend an  get an extra 45 minutes working, and get an extra 45 minutes to themselves.

In Summary

To conclude, working remotely is often a much cheaper option for both firms and employees, it has been made more viable thanks to technological improvements, it can improve the services that a firm can offer, and also improve the productivity of the workforce. These are some of the reasons, why I believe teleworking will become much more common in the future.

Categories
Business Gadgets Technology

Technology and the future of work

Technology is always changing and advancing the way we live our lives, unless you are a luddite and live in an Amish community that is! Some people oppose technological change, and I respect them for that, but personally I embrace it – techie all the way!

Technology is likely to improve the way we do business significantly in the near future, but how? In this article I am going to write about some of the latest and greatest technology which is going to revolutionise the way we work!

Portable Laser Keyboards

Okay, so you may be thinking that we already have keyboards that are pretty portable, you can get role up ones that you can take almost anywhere. The problem with these is of course, they do take up space, and often they cannot connect to your smartphone or tablet.

The future solution to this problem is already here: The Magic Cube. The Magic Cube is a super portable wireless laser keyboard, which has been developed by a company called Celluon. It is basically a little box which can project a laser keyboard onto any flat surfaces, and then works out what you are typing by where your fingers break the lasers.

A wireless laser keyboard called the Magic Cube
The Magic Cube – a wireless laser keyboard

This is no ordinary keyboard though, it can connect via Bluetooth to most smartphones, laptops, tablets and desktops, so wherever you are, no matter what your device, if you have your Magic Cube, you have a keyboard!

Hand Motion Technology

In the very near future, we will be able to control screens using our hands, and not by touching the screen (that technology already exists) but by simply waving a hand in the air.

The 2002 film Minority Report featured futuristic hand motion technology where detectives could push images off to the side and bring up more content just by waving their hands in the air. This was in the movie, because the film makers heard that the technology was being developed.

Better Integration

In the future we are likely to see much better integration of all technologies. Mainly thanks to the likes of cloud computing and improvements in wireless technology, it should become easier and easier to transfer files from device to to device.

Apps

Smartphones and tablets have and are still revolutionising the way we do business. Smartphones and tablets have significantly improved the way we do business and communicate, but it is the apps that you can download onto them that are likely to significantly change the way we do business in the future.

We already have apps that can scan and store your business cards, store details on your asset and save your important documents, but in the future you can expect many more effective, impressive apps. Some examples of apps which we may see developed in the future (or that are being developed now) are the likes of more powerful, real time translators, high performance graphic design apps, apps which make paying, transferring and receiving money much easier, human quality text to speech apps, and many more.

QB Robots

A US based company called Anybots have created a very cool little robot called QB, which uses the latest in wireless technology to create a portable webcam, so when conference calling, you almost feel as though you are in the room (thanks to your movable position) with your colleagues.

Anybots QB Robot
The head of one of Anybots wirelessly controlled QB robots – notice the webcam eyes and screen inbuilt into the head

The robots have freedom of movement, so they can go anywhere in the office. On the head section of the QB, there is a webcam, so that you can see what the robot sees, and a screen, so you can be seen by those in the office.

QB means that you can be anywhere in the world, and yet still check up on those in the office, meaning that working out of the office is so much easier than ever before! QB could also help to significantly reduce the costs to businesses of travel, as fewer employees will need to be on the move.

3D Printing

3D printing is a new technology, which some critics say will be as big a revolution as the internet! 3D printing will allow firms to print products to order in store, bringing huge savings to firms in terms of transportation. Some predict that by the end of the decade, 3D printers will be a common household object, where we can print things, in 3D out of a whole range of different materials. I plan to write an article in the near future about 3D printing, so stay tuned!

UPDATE: I have now written that article, and it can be found here: 3D printing – a revolution on the horizon?

So, the future looks very exciting, but what do you think of it? Have you heard anything that I haven’t?

Categories
Business Technology

Five changes in video conferencing for the next decade

The collapse of the global economy has left big business needing to cut costs in every coroner it possibly can. For many executives the solution lies in finding high tech alternatives to many of the most costly aspects of business. One of the most effective ways this is being done is through video conferencing.

The constant stream of meetings and sales pitches being presented all over the world in the flesh accompanied by high priced business class air fairs and four star hotel rooms are coming to an end. More and more organisations are looking to replace this with video conferencing, making international meetings a far quicker and cheaper process.

As the quality of video conference technology improves and the experience gets closer to that of a real life encounter the adoption of video conferencing technology is only going to become more wide spread.

Video conferencing is already available in extremely fast frame rates at full HD resolutions, but what else can be done to help make the form of communication seem more real. What are the technological developments we can expect in the next decade?

Skype's Logo
Skype can be used as a video conferencing tool

1 – Translation software

With video conferencing making global operations affordable for even smaller business, more business are going to be looking to have presence over seas and this will call for low cost translation services.

Translation software is quickly developing; two years ago we saw the iPod app that used it’s camera to instantly translate any written text, and this will quickly be combined with high quality voice recognition technologies that are become standard on the new generation of smart phones. We are not far off software that will quickly and efficiently translate the spoken word.

2 – Holographic projection

Previously the types of light needed for this kind of projection were too hot to be used in the kinds of small devices available in offices. However laser lighting means that holographic projectors will soon be able to be built small enough for not only office use, but could also be built into many portable devices such as smartphones.

Flash memory in smart phones could soon be replaced with a new storage format based on this technology, holographic memory. This will greatly increase storage capacities as the same area of a storage device can be used multiple times by projecting the light at different angles, read speeds will also become much faster as holo-memory can be read from many different points in parallel. This eliminates many of the large file size issues that have been hindering the spread of video technology

3 – Video takes over from the written word

As high quality webcams become more standard features on modern netbooks and better integrated with communications services such as Facebook, it is expected that people will begin to move away from writing emails and instead compose video mail instead.

For many a video message is quicker and easier and also seems more personal, now that it is as easy as clicking a button on Facebook to send one it is only a matter of time until they over take emails in the frequency with which they are sent for personal communication. The paper trail that emails leave behind may mean it takes longer for them to be used in business.

4 – A rise in personal broadcasting

YouTube videos are increasingly becoming an entertainment format that rivals television. The content on You Tube that is produced by individuals or very small companies is now genuinely entertaining yet far cheaper to produce than more traditional formats. With cost cutting becoming more essential these lower budget forms of entertainment are only going to increase. This could shift the way the entertainment industry is structured with more talent choosing to run there own company and be there own boss broadcasting themselves over the web.

5 – Increased usage of Telehealth

Also expect to see the medical industries developing more technologies based on video conferencing which will allow doctors to diagnose and treat patients from a distance. Telehealth hardware is already on track to be a $990 million market by 2015 and predictions are that this will continue to $6 billion five years after that.

At the moment telemedicine technologies are very much focused on developing countries, where there are shortages of doctors in rural communities. As telemedicine technology improves though it could be adopted in the west too allowing anyone to be treated by the best doctors in the world, no matter there location.

Categories
Computers How To Guides Internet

How to choose the right laptop for you

After my recent post on how to be a smart online buyer, I thought why just help people get a good priced product, as a good price doesn’t always mean good value.

As a laptop is something most people probably buy online, and as it is also something that often costs a lot of money, I thought why not help people choose which is best for them. Maybe in the future I will do the same for mobile phones, digital cameras and who knows what else!

What is it going to be used for?

The main thing you have to work out is what is the laptop going to be used for? Do you need something that can cope with 3D HD gaming, or are we just looking at text editing, emails and the web?

The more you want to be able to do with your laptop, the greater ability it will need to have, meaning that it is more likely to need a higher spec, and therefore probably a more costly speck.

I only really use the internet

If most of the stuff you do is online, then you probably don’t need a very high spec laptop – just a good internet connection. If you laptop is mainly used for blogging using an online system like WordPress, Blogger or TypePad, playing your favourite online games, typing emails using an online webmail service, and socialising using Facebook and Twitter (I should point out other social media sites are available ;-)) then you might want to look into Chromebooks – or low spec laptops.

The Google Chrome LogoGoogle says that Chromebooks are ‘nothing but the web.’ They run a 100% cloud based operating system, meaning that all your data, settings etc. are stored online, safe and secure in the cloud. This means they only take secconds (literally 8 or 9) to boot up, meaning you are off and working/playing in an instant.

Here is how Google describes Chromebooks:

“Chromebooks are built and optimised for the web, where you already spend most of your computing time. So, you get a faster, simpler and more secure experience without all the headaches of ordinary computers.”

Chromebooks are very fast as they need no virus protection, have no background processes slowing them down, neither does it need updates, since all of that happens in the cloud, basically everything runs from the browser.

If you don’t want a Chromebook, you probably only need a really low spec laptop, so that could be very cheap. Regarding operating system, if you like pretty styles, then go for Windows7, as that it stable and also ‘looks good’ avoid Vista, especially on low spec laptops, as it can really slow them down – XP and 2000 are also good.

It’s going to be a family laptop

If you are looking for a typical family laptop, where some of the kids will want to play flash games, but they will also need to do their homework, and the adults want to be able to check their emails and social profiles for updates, then you are probably going to be looking for a pretty standard PC.

To make sure it is quick and doesn’t slow down you would probably benefit from a dual-core processor. Dual-core means that the computer possess more than one CPU. Extra CPU’s means that you can process data faster, therefore your laptop will run quicker.

In order for your extra CPU’s to be effective, it would be a good idea to have at least 1 gigabyte (gb) of RAM, and preferably 2.

Windows7 would be perfect for family usage, as would XP. 2000 may look and feel a little dated, and Vista is likely to cause you a lot of grief!

I edit photos and run games and watch online media

If you like to have a lot open, and often are found editing photos, playing CPU intensive games, and watching HD videos, then you probably need a pretty powerful processor, along with a decent sized hard disk, a good amount of RAM, and a dedicated graphics card. Screen display resolution is also likely to be important, as if you like HD, but have only a standard screen, you can’t display HD.

Intel make a type of processor called i3 and another called i5. These are very well designed processors and run very well. If you see i3 or i5 on a PC, it is probably going to be a good one. Photo editing and gaming can be very hard disk space hungry tasks, so I would recommend getting at least a 250gb (preferably a 360gb) hard disk. With a laptop, short of getting an external hard drive, there is no easy way of expanding the amount of space you have.

This type of user would benefit best from 4gb of RAM, and a dedicated graphics card – this basically means that the graphics card is a separate component within the PC, which has it’s only memory and processing unit.

I do all of the above and more, and I do it all at the same time!

If you can never seem to find a laptop that is powerful enough for you there are a few options available to you – sadly, they area all rather expensive ones!

The first would be to get a powerful MacBook. MacBooks are notorious for their high specs, stable operating systems and therefore lack of time spent loading.

The second would to be to buy a quad-core i7 spec laptop. Most MacBooks run off core i5 and i7 processors anyway, however Windows also performs very well when being run on a core i7 machine.

The intel Core i7 proccessor badgeA dedicated graphics card is a must for this type of user, and 4-8 gig of RAM is recommended. Depending on how long you want to keep your laptop will determine how big your hard disk will need to be. My advice would be that if you are likely to want to keep the same laptop for any more that 4 or 5 years, get a terabyte hard disk.

Another option would be to have a custom built laptop. These can sometimes work out cheaper, but you need to be cautious, as if you, or whoever is building the laptop aren’t 100% sure of what’s what, then you could face compatibility issues.

Certain processors work better with certain types of RAM, certain operating systems require certain types of graphics cards, and certain hard disks are needed in order to be compatible with the rest of the machine. Basically certain part of the laptop will naturally work well together, however if you custom build your laptop, you might have 8gb of RAM, but the problem is, your processor finds it hard to deal with that type of RAM.

Other things to consider

When choosing a laptop, it is also important to consider things like who it’s made by. Different firms have different reputations for the quality of their laptops, but also consider the quality of their customer service. If their automated calling systems drive you mad, then it may be wise not to buy one of their laptops.

Furthermore, consider your other devices like cameras and phones when buying a new laptop. Some devices may not be compatible with your operating system, or you may need to get some new camera cables if your current devices can’t plug in to your new laptop.

Connectivity is another important factor: does your laptop have inbuilt Bluetooth, Wi-Fi or infrared? If you are forever connecting to mobile Wi-Fi, or your phone to download pictures, then it would be useful to have such functions inbuilt.

An inbuilt webcam and microphone can be very handy if you are often using programmes like Skype to talk to friends on the internet.

Also don’t forget the battery. If you barely use your laptop when you are away from a plug, then the battery is probably not of much importance to you, however if your laptop battery is important to you, you may want to avoid second hand laptops. Laptop batteries from second hand machines can often be less powerful and last less time than a normal battery would.

The right laptop for you

Getting the right laptop for you can be crucial in making sure that you get value for money, as a laptop with spare capacity is a waste of money, as is a laptop that cannot perform to the standard you need.

If you need any more help in choosing the right laptop for you, drop a comment below 🙂

Categories
Business Internet

Stream Yourself into More Customers – With Little Buffering!

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When starting a business like a restaurant or a speciality retail clothing outlet, the main goal of the owner is to entertain customers in order to get repeat business. While retaining customers is the goal, how to attract them in the first place is a goal of all aspiring business owners. Once the events and activities at your location have become old news, customers can always go down the street to get a beer. Using websites and other technology to make your business more interactive will attract more customers and keep your location fresh and alive.

By placing a webcam in the kitchen, visitors to the website can watch cooks chop, dice, fry, and set on fire the food being prepared in real time. If you have a staff of flamboyant bartenders, visitors to your website can watch them craft cocktails, set tequila on fire, and entertain guests.

A Webcam

The Boatyard in Panama City, Florida has live cams on both their bar and the ship dock so website visitors can see what kind of seadogs are pulling up to get their grog. If a potential customer visits your website and sees a vibrant and lively atmosphere on your stream, they will be more prone to check out your physical location.

An event such as a concert is a sure way to draw customers into your building while naturally increasing sales. The same theory will hold true if you post a video or stream of your concert to your website. By marketing through social media, visitors will visit your website for the video and stick around to find out about your business. In order to guarantee maximum stream quality, your business can use a cloud gpu to ensure your event has a seamless broadcast.

Offering live streaming video of your business on your website will help you gain ground in search engine results. Instead of relying solely on word of mouth and reviews from other websites, your page will rank higher in search results even when people use generic terms like “best local seafood” or “high-end retail.”

Streaming video can also be used in reverse to keep customers who are already at your business entertained. While waiting for friends to arrive customers can watch streaming content on television while enjoying a drink at the bar. In a high end fashion boutique you can stream video about how your products provide more benefits than the competitor’s. By using cloud hosting services you can ensure that your streaming video network operating system doesn’t interfere with the day-to-day operation applications you use for business.

There is no doubt that everyone you want to visit your business is on the internet. Instead of sitting idly by, make sure you catch more customers by making your online location as cool as your physical.