Cloud Roundup and Links of Interest – May 14

The cloud helps during natural disastersHow Cloud Computing Helps Weather Dangerous Events

For emergency management, the biggest advantages of cloud computing come down to three words: virtual mission continuity. Cloud computing reduces concerns about whether the data center will survive a disaster, according to an article in the publication Emergency Management.

Businesses and agencies regularlycopy and back up data, but the real challenge is restoring the applications to keep essential services and critical functions online after a disaster. Entire servers, including systems, applications and data can be copied, backed up and be ready to activate in another data center in a matter of minutes.

“The cloud is going to change the whole mentality of emergency management,” said Pascal Shuback, a program coordinator for the King County, Wash., Office of Emergency Management.

“Responders can be anyone with connectivity, the public included. We can regionalize our capabilities and create virtual operation support teams composed of the people able to support an event, and it doesn’t matter where they are.”

Robot Cars Pass Driving Test

Autonomous cars have been granted permission to use public roads in Nevada.

After officials from the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles rode in the vehicles, dubbed “Google cars,” along freeways, state highways and neighborhoods, as well as the busy Las Vegas Strip, they were given the state’s stamp of approval.

The cars are controlled by computers processing a combination of mapping data, radar, laser sensors and video feeds.

Google is one off several firms racing to develop cars able to drive themselves. It is competing with car manufacturers as well as military firms to develop the technology.

It’s an interesting concept, but let’s hope these Google cars won’t exhibit signs of Droid rage while stuck in heavy traffic.

Apple Looks to Claim iPhone 5 Domain

Apple has filed a claim with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) for the domain name iphone5.com.

So far, Apple’s smartphone line has counted up only to the iPhone 4S, but the company is widely believed to be getting ready to bring an iPhone 5 into the world.

While there are no device specifications to be gleaned here, the WIPO filing does at least suggest that Apple is considering the iPhone 5 name for the next iteration of its immensely successful product. Or perhaps it just wishes to take that domain out of play, regardless of what it calls the device.

 

 

Yard sales – A good place for tech bargains

Tech Deals at Yard SalesStore prices for technology keeps getting cheaper — but even the prices you can find online or at retailers forrefurbished and remainder products may be more than you want to spend on some things.

Fortunately, there’s an even better-priced market out there, if you’re a savvy, patient shopper. No, I’m not referring to eBay, Craigslist, or other web-based shopping sites. I’m talking about the live in-person ever-changing marketplace of yard sales, a.k.a. garage sales, tag sales, and flea markets.

With the right combination of luck, timing, and product savvy, you can pick up some remarkable bargains, on everything from parts and accessories to entire systems.

My friend Howard, for example, says he has purchased some nice flat-screen monitors and TVs for $10 or less. (“Why on earth do people let these things go so cheaply?” he asks. If possible, he adds, get the remote — and the manual if they’ve got it, although those are available online.)

Yard sales have the advantage of instant gratification, no shipping costs, and being sure that you’re getting what you expected. The downside, of course, is the possibility it won’t work, and there’s no warranty or refund.

Don’t expect to find the newest products (although you may). Yard sales are where you go for last year’s — and last decade’s — stuff.

For example, you can find “classic-format” flat-screen displays, at $5-25; USB floppy drives for a buck or two; Unopened copies of Windows XP and Microsoft Office for $5-20; and keyboards, mice and USB cables for a buck. You can also find a range of computer desks and office chairs to outfit your home office.

And yard sales are a great place to find spares of niche products that you use, like trackballs, phone-to-audio connectors, adapters of various types, and the like — even if you already have one, stocking up on a spare or two at the right price never (well, rarely) hurts.

If you’re still listening to music through stereo gear, yard sales can also offer great bargains, especially as everybody else is discarding theirs. CDs and movie DVDs often for a buck or less. Good pre-BluRay CD/DVD changers are commonly available in the $2-5 range, good tuners and receivers for $5-20.

Great stereo gear costs a little more, anywhere from $25 to $200. Caveat emptore:you have to know what you’re looking at, and, if you can’t test it before you buy, be prepared for some to have problems.

Some things to avoid, or at least be cautious about: digital cameras and notebooks. Make sure they work. Think carefully before spending more than $15; these items become obsolete quickly, you may be able to do better through store/web remainder bins. The same is true for printers; I’ve given up buying them at yard sales.

Of course, not everything you buy will work. As a rule, yard sale purchases are “as is,” so if possible and appropriate, see if the item is working before you take your wallet out — if it’s an AC-powered device, see if they’ve got an outlet available.

You will, inevitably, buy some things that you decide weren’t worth it, or simply don’t work. But that’s part of the game; you have to decide whether, overall, you’d be better off sticking to the stores.

To know what’s a fair price, it’s helpful to periodically visit a computer store or scan the ads, so you know what new stuff is going for. (And you might do a quick check on the spot, from your smartphone. Be sure to pull the item from the pile so somebody else doesn’t grab it while you’re researching.)

And don’t hesitate to bargain! That’s half the fun of yard sales, after all. My rule of thumb is to offer one-third to one-half of the asking price, and be ready to go one more round after the counter-offer.

Another tip: if you’ve selected three or more items, make an aggressively lower offer “for the pile.” Remember, most yard sale runners are more interested in getting rid of their stuff than getting the most money.

And, of course, after a while, it’s probably time for you to do your own yard sale.

 

 

How to create trust with your online presence

How can online relationships fuel and shape how we interact with our colleagues in the real world? You know, that environment that exists outside our desktops?

Our newspapers and websites are filled with stories about how the nature of friendship has become devalued as we go about connecting on MyLinkFaceSpace et al. But what few have covered is how the online world creates new kinds of communities, and builds trusted relationships that carry on in the real world of face-to-face interaction. This post is how small businesses can enhance their online reputations to build trust in their brands.

Oddly, where I started thinking about this was reading a book from a couple who I have worked with in the past. Now, this isn’t your typical business book with about 10 pages of content and the rest is mostly common sense. Instead, it is a very practical hands-on book on geocaching.

Geocaching? You mean that hobby where people hide stuff in public places and then use their GPS to try to find them? Let me explain. The book, which is called The Joy of Geocaching by Paul and Dana Gillin, talks about what you need to get started, and has some great stories of very involved cachers that the couple met over the course of doing their research. This is where the lessons about online relationships come into play.

There is one story of a woman who traveled to Toronto on a business trip with several colleagues. She left them at the airport, and was picked up by a stranger – with the only thing in common being that both were cachers. How many of us would climb into a car in another country with nothing more than exchanging a few emails? That involves a certain level of trust and comfort that just doesn’t happen in the real world.

Other examples are people that use the Meetup.com site to find people of similar circumstances. And of course there are the online dating sites, too. Crowdsourcing is another. I am sure you could think of other examples.

This use of online connections to prime the pump for a face-to-face meeting happens more and more frequently because we are doing more than just sending emails, or friend requests, or linking to others via online sites. We are sharing a common bond, a series of interests. We are building an authoritative source of content, context and identity. And along the way, we start shaping these micro-communities one person at a time.

Yes, there are people who pride themselves on having thousands of “friends” or who can connect with celebs and CEOs alike. But that isn’t what today’s Internets are all about.

Yes, it takes a village. But increasingly, our villages are formed online and with hyper-specific interests – not just because we share a common street block or elementary school classroom of our children. This is nothing new. The early bulletin board systems were great at this. But what is new is the potency of these relationships, and how quickly they can come to fruition.

Sure, I belong to lots of different communities, some based here in St. Louis, some that include people from all over the world. So take a moment to think about the online communities that you are a member, or should be a member. And see if you can start building some trust.

And if you want to learn about geocaching, go get a copy of the Gillins’ book. It is a good read, even if you never leave the comfort of your home.

 

 

Mozy in the Running For Utah’s Most Admired Companies – People’s Choice

Mozy

Mozy is a participant in this year’s version of the Utah’s Most Admired Companies – People’s Choice contest, sponsored by Utah Business Magazine.

The contest is a people’s choice award, and the most admired companies will be selected by the total number of Facebook likes accumulated during the contest.

During the entire month of May, you can vote for Mozy and be entered to win one of 12 Roku LT boxes and a free year of MozyHome.

We need and appreciate your vote!

So what can I do?

Mozy

Vote, share your URL with your friends to gain more entries, and check back at the end of the month to see if you’ve won. Ready to get started? Vote for Mozy!

 

 

Travel Apps and Sites Worth Writing Home About

Travel Apps and Sites Worth Writing Home AboutWe’ve all been there. After several connecting flights, a bus ride on a road seemingly unfit for a vehicle wider than a scooter, and a hotel check-in experience conducted with the charm and warmth rivaling that of an episode of ‘Locked Up Abroad.’

But your relief is short-lived when you soon realize that “suite” may be a stretch. And “ocean view” apparently is a subjective term.

There’s nothing worse than being disappointed in the first few moments of what you had hoped would be a stellar trip. As Oyster.com, a website geared to savvy travelers, says on its homepage, “you can’t return a bad vacation.”

“Our special investigators visit, photograph, review and rate each hotel. We uncover the truth, before it’s ‘uh-oh’ time,” Oyster promises on its site.

In order to avoid that “uh-oh” moment, it’s important to do your research before embarking on a trip into the unknown. There are hundreds of sites and apps for the traveler that shed light on the far reaches of the globe. Here are just a few sites and tips that are sure to help you avoid some common traveling mistakes.

Pearl of a Site

Oyster.com provides actual photographs from thousands of hotels around the world. It allows you to sidestep the hotel’s carefully crafted marketing photos and see how things really are, good, bad or otherwise.

“Oyster strives to be as transparent as possible. When you’re looking at a hotel on our site, we clearly differentiate each room type so that you know whether an upgrade is really worth it,” Oyster says.

The site also includes a section called “photo fakeouts,” which compares the hotel’s own photographs to a more realistic view of the grounds and your fellow vacationers.

Warning: Some of the actual photos show some not-so-limber folks doing yoga on a Caribbean beach, and European dudes wearing what are apparently little European bathing suits.

That’s Trippy

Another cool site to check out before planning a trip is Trippy.com.

“Trippy is the place for you to collect and share travel ideas, and collaborate on your travel plans with the people in your life who know you best – your friends! It’s a full-circle travel experience that takes you from Dreaming to Doing,” Trippy promises on its site and app.

You have to sign up for Trippy and connect through Facebook in order to share photos of where you’ve been and peruse quality traveler photos of where you’d like to go.

Trippy definitely creates some wanderlust, and it was described as “travel candy for the eyes,” according to a quote in The New York Times Travel section.

Ex Marks the Spot

A great resource for travelers can be found on forums where expatriates discuss their new homelands. You never know what type of vital information you may uncover, and visiting these forums is a good way to get a sense of how things really are in paradise.

I once found driving directions from the mountainous center of the Dominican Republic to the country’s north coast. Since there are very few (if any) street signs in the DR, one courteous expat posted a photo of a particular road that was lined with bright flowers, and wrote, “if you’re on this road, you’re going the right way.” Sure enough, we found the road, and eventually, the coast.

Happy trails.

 

 

Cloud Roundup and Links of Interest – April 30

Cloud Computing a Lifesaver?

Cloud Computing - a life saverIn spite of its current popularity, many people don’t realize the cloud’s potential extends far beyond trimming budgets and bolstering the next social networking start-up.

Cloud computing is proving it can be an important tool for extending or even saving human life, according to an article from Silicon Angle.

Case in point: Cycle Computing created 51,132-core supercomputer on the cloud to test 21 million synthetic compounds that could be useful in treating cancer. The cluster ran for 3 hours on March 30 and cost $4,828.85. A comparable build out using a traditional infrastructure approach would have cost over $20 million and taken months to deploy. The same research could have taken a year to complete if the simulation was run on the 1,500-core cluster Cycle Computing’s client, Schrödinger, typically used for biotechnology and pharmaceutical research.

Researchers no longer have to endure the longs waits to rent time from supercomputing centers or obtain billions in funding, which is substantially speeding innovation in the industry, according to Silicon Angle.

Snapguide Becomes First to Have Seamless Pinterest Integration

Snapguide, a newcomer in the Apple App Store looking to make its mark in the social media world, wants to increase Pinterest’s presence on third-party mobile apps.

The app lets users create how-to guides, allowing them to easily incorporate pictures and videos. The idea is to post the guides online and share knowledge with others in a social and viral way. It has had integration with other networks such as Facebook and Twitter from the outset, some three weeks ago. But now, recognizing the extreme growth and increasing importance of Pinterest, it has added that to the list.

Because Pinterest doesn’t have its own application programming interface (API), Snapguide had to work directly with the Pinterest team. The result is a product that works seamlessly for end users. As for whether there will be a Pinterest API any time soon, Snapguide founder Daniel Raffel told paidContent, “I am confident they are doing everything they can to give developers high-quality APIs to interact with. I’m sure some great news will be coming soon and that when they launch developers will be very happy.”

When Calls Truly Get Under Your Skin

Nokia recently filed a patent for a communication system consisting of a magnetic tattoo that would receive signals from a smartphone and vibrate to alert users of incoming calls, according to Smarter Technology.

The new system could enable you to be in constant contact with family and friends. The Finnish phone company is working to develop a tattoo that would vibrate to alert you of a call.

Nokia recently filed a patent for a haptic communication system that would be “capable of detecting a magnetic field and transferring a perceivable stimulus to the skin, wherein the perceivable stimulus relates to the magnetic field.” In such a notification system, a small iron tattoo would be painted on a user’s skin. The tattoo would then be able to receive a magnetic signal and vibrate when the phone is ringing.

 

 

Should you consider a co-working space?

Co-working spaceMost of you are familiar with the idea of a shared tenant services for small businesses that can’t afford their own office space but want to take advantage of a common collection of services such as fax machines, conference rooms, reception areas, and the like. But what if the $400 or so a month fee for these services is still out of the park for your nascent business owner? And what if working out of a coffee shop or other free WiFi place isn’t really professional enough? In between these setups, several different kinds of shared office spaces are also available. Let’s look at the options.

First up is co-working, which also goes under various names, including the “Jelly” movement started by Amit Gupta. The idea is that people who want more than just a virtual water cooler of email, Tweeting and posting online can actually get out of the house and spend some time nearby other humans doing their work too. The goal is to create a community of like-minded people but from different walks of life, skill sets, and interests – just like your local Faceless Big Company Cubicle Warren. Bring your own laptop and cell phone, tie into a WiFi connection, and sip some of the included coffee. The “rent” is reasonable – about $50 a month or even less, depending on how often you need to show up. Some facilities have more, such as multiple-line phones and conference rooms, and some have less. All are a step up from Starbucks, though. Some are in business district locations, some in more residential areas that are not much more than a converted home with a bunch of desks in them. Some are sponsored by local governments, others are setup by private businesses.

Probably the best thing to do is just to check out some of the many resources on co-working on the web. Look at the co-working wikilistings by city, or the link for Jelly (listed above). Call a few of the places that are in these directories and find out the basics, such as price, hours of operation, and what else is included.

Before you visit with your laptop and cell phone, make sure you have a good pair of noise-cancelling headphones along too. Some of these places can get noisy, and you’ll want some protection from all the hubbub. Also, if you do get a lot of phone calls, consider leaving your desk and finding someplace a bit more private, so as not to disturb your fellow co-workers.

Somewhat different from co-working is where companies are renting spare office space by the hour. This is the growing trend in some California cities. An article in ReadWriteWeb talks about this and where you can find these kinds of services.

Still, my work style wouldn’t tolerate such close quarters – at one of the co-working sites that I visited last week, it could easily house ten people in a large bullpen area. I like it nice and quiet and no one else around, because that is what I need to write and to interview people on the phone. But perhaps you are different, and crave the company and companionship. You might want to investigate co-working, and see if there is someone in your area that has such a setup, or even start one in your own house.

 

 

Other Habits You Can Break With the Help of Mobile Tech

Breaking Habits with TechnologyA recent study revealed how mobile technology can help smokers break the habit. As a reformed smoker (butt-free for more than three years now), I can empathize with a smoker’s struggle, and as a techie, I can appreciate how technology continuously looks to improve our lives.

With that said, I got to wondering what other bad habits could be curbed with the help of mobile technology. Do I have a study, similar to the one conducted by researchers at Penn State and the University of Pittsburgh, to back up these claims? No way. Are these dangerous habits on the same level as smoking? Not a chance. The following is just a light look at how mobile technology can help cure us of questionable social graces and minor shortcomings.

Missing Anniversaries

Sometimes it takes more than a Zales commercial to jog the memory and recall that today is your five-year wedding anniversary. Unless you enjoy your posture-wrecking sleeper sofa, it’s probably a good idea to add important, recurring dates into your smartphone’s calendar.

As an aside, even though a traditional wedding gift for your fifth anniversary calls for something made of wood, resist the urge to get your wife a set of really cool nunchucks. Stick to something that comes in a little box, not something that comes with a big warning.

Partying Like It’s 1999 at a Work Function in 2012

Two words (OK, actually one word): YouTube. It’s fine to have one or two Malibu Bay Breezes (if that’s your tipple) at a work-sanctioned get-together. It’s not, however, the smartest of career moves to call for yet another round of Tequila Slammers before hitting the dance floor (which isn’t really a dance floor — just a spot on the floor where no one is standing) at your boss’ retirement party.

It seems technology has advanced much quicker than our common sense, and before you can say “Macarena,” your dance moves (and your career’s demise) are sure to be captured on video by four out of five co-workers’ smartphones.

Forgetting How to Have Fun

Your smartphone or tablet is much more than a device used for work-critical communications and support. It’s an arcade, a closet’s worth of board games and a blank canvas resting quietly among your car keys, Mentos and money clip (because you’re classy).

For all the seriousness surrounding technology and the business-critical capabilities of mobile tech, it also has the ability to keep us entertained and gives us permission to have fun. Need proof? One word: Frogger.

 

 

Cloud Roundup and Links of Interest – April 23

How Small Businesses and Local Authorities Benefit from Cloud Computing

A bright idea has emerged from a small Italian local public authority, the Asolo Ulss, near Venice. This public health company produced a charter, the Castelfranco, which provides a set of recommendations to help public authorities adopt cloud computing. The idea, launched in an international conference tour, is simple yet useful to promote cloud computing adoption, and could also apply to private companies willing to take up the technology.

The most relevant economic benefit of cloud computing is associated with a reduction of the fixed costs of entry and production by shifting fixed capital expenditure from IT into operational costs depending on the size of demand and production. This contributes to reducing the barriers to entry, especially for small businesses.

Some of the charter’s recommendations include:

• Operate on a redundant broadband network, for the connection between the company, the customers and the service providers.

• Ensure “private cloud” usability as a preliminary step before agreeing to switch to a “public cloud.”

• Establish a road map to move systems into cloud computing under sustainable economic, management and security conditions.

The iPad vs. Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime

Apple’s new iPad may be the top attention-getter since its arrival last month, but the Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime is earning a respectable amount of tablet buzz. As the tablet wars continue, Apple hopes to stay ahead of the competition while Android-based rivals such as the Transformer Prime are doing their best to grab techies’ hearts and minds. Many are eagerly debating which reigns supreme.Computerworld recently put the latest iPad up against the Transformer Prime, and the results may surprise you. Computerworld commenter John Faur noted: “I have the Prime and I love it, aside from the random reboots which they are working on. I waited till the release of the iPad 3 and decided to go with the Asus. I too am a Mac guy and love my 27″ iMac but i think the Android devices are more versatile.”

Mobile Technology May Help Stub Out Nicotine Addiction

Smoking is a tough addiction to conquer, but mobile technology may help, according to researchers at Penn State and the University of Pittsburgh, who recently published a nicotine-addiction study.

Their findings, which used mobile technology and software to track smokers as they tried to quit, offered insights into why some tobacco smokers quit the habit on the first try while others have to quit repeatedly, or never succeed. The study, published this month in Prevention Science, “demonstrates the potential for technology to help us figure out the processes involved in withdrawal,” said Stephanie Lanza, scientific director of The Methodology Center at Penn State and a lead author on the study.

 

 

How a More Visual Firewall Can Help Protect Your Network

Any business with a network needs a firewall to keep the bad guys out and the data safe. And it has done so behind a complex dashboard that was difficult to navigate and operate.

But lately a few vendors have begun to offer a more visual take on this venerable category, placing a premium on the User Experience. For smaller businesses this can be especially useful. Let’s look at what is involved with these products with some samples from McAfee, Palo Alto Networks and Sonicwall.

In olden times, firewalls were anything but visual dashboards. You had to navigate long lists of rule sets that would take a lot of expertise to craft correctly. The order of how the rules were listed were also important, as the firewall would process one rule at a time. Each rule would either permit or deny a particular kind of traffic to a particular port and protocol. They had dashboards like this one from Cisco’s ASA firewall that had densely-packed information.

That was great back when the Internet was young but these days playing ports and protocol games is more complex. Just about every new application uses the Web ports 80 and 443, so filtering on those doesn’t help much. And for corporations that want to be more sophisticated in what they block, you want something that offers more granularity and understands the way particular applications behave. For example, let’s say I want to allow people to use Gmail but not Google Earth. So my firewall has to distinguish between these

two actions. Here is how the McAfee Firewall handles it. You can see a long list of Google applications here in the screen capture above. It is very easy to click on the particular situation and quickly set it up to block other Google functions.

McAfee has a add-on option to its Enterprise Firewall called Profiler that includes a very graphical mechanism for managing its operations.

You can use its graphical interface to spot trends quickly, make adjustments to firewall rule sets, and see the results of your changes instantly, without having to plow through network traces and protocol details.

In the screen capture below, we are looking at the main Profiler screen and you see these bubbles that indicate by color whether traffic is allowed or blocked by particular user department and application category.The size of the bubble indicates the volume of traffic that is involved in a particular situation.

Some of the firewalls come with very graphical real-time monitors, such as this display from Sonicwall’s unified threat appliances below where you can see traffic patterns and drill down if you spot something that doesn’t look quite right.

Palo Alto Networks has this interesting global map of all your network traffic, again to help you spot some particular network flow to a country where you normally don’t do any business. Many of the firewalls have geo-location features where you can block traffic originating or destined for particular countries too.

These are just some of the more innovative firewall vendors out there who have begun to harness visual information displays to help you manage your network traffic and operations. If you are still looking at long lists of log files or rule sets, you might want to investigate one or more of these products.