A Man, A Plan, A Collaborative Period Close

February 17th, 2014 4 Comments

Sometimes, I get to share something awesome.

A post about how Oracle Social Network can be used by Oracle ERP Cloud users happens to be something awesome. Let me explain.

Despite assumptions to the contrary, accounting is a very collaborative exercise in many enterprises. Ultan (@ultan) does a great job explaining why in his post “How to Chat Up an Accountant Safely: Social Networking in the Finance Department.”

If you read that post, you’ll see that honorary ‘Lab member, David Haimes (@dhaimes) is the nexus for this OSN+ERP Cloud feature. Check out his post, “Socializing the Finance Department” on how accountants can use OSN to streamline period close for more background.

Rather than rewrite what David and Ultan have already said, I’ll provide some awesome, at least IMO, backstory.

Back in 2012, when I was a WebCenter evangelist, David and I chatted about a brilliant idea he had to integrate OSN into Finance. WebCenter included OSN at the time, not sure if that is still true or not. If you read the above links, you’ll know what David’s idea was. If not, you should read them, or feel free to proceed with incomplete context.

Deep backstory, I’ve known David for more than a decade and worked with him for several years on E-Business Suite Financials way back in the day. Anthony (@anthonyslai) was with us then as well.

Anyway, I liked David’s idea and coordinated the resources he needed. I didn’t do much, just connected him with the right people within OSN and watched the magic happen.

As Ultan mentions, this is a user experience win. OSN does exactly what the users need, nothing more, in just the right context, i.e. during period close, ERP Cloud users can use OSN conversations to communicate, exchange information and get work done, all in a traceable, easy to consume stream of relevant information.

I like telling stories, and this is a success story, spawned from a phone call from David that I took at the San Francisco Airport Marriott while attending a product management training that was a complete waste of my time.

Maybe someday I’ll get to tell this story to a user. That’s always a hoot for me, humble beginnings and all.

So, here are some conceptual screenshots of what this looks like.



And in conclusion, I give you Hannibal and a victory cigar.


Image courtesy of Universal TV, fair use

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A Roadtrip to Amsterdam

February 4th, 2014 1 Comment

Noel (@noelportugal) and I will be heading to the Netherlands in March for a special event at AMIS.

On March 18, AMIS will be hosting an OAUX (or Oracle Applications User Experience if you’re not into the whole brevity thing) Expo. The purpose of an expo, the brainchild of Misha (@mishavaughan), is to provide a showcase for all the work AUX has been cooking up in one place.

What work is that, you say?

Stuff like Simplified UI for the Sales Cloud and HCM Cloud, cutting-edge technology like Voice and even the research projects we’ve been doing like Glass, the Leap-controlled robot arms, Pebble and geo/wifi-fencing and other stuff still under wraps.

Expos have been a big hit so far. Don’t believe me, check out what WIPRO had to say about the one we had at OpenWorld last year.

I, for one, am really looking forward to this particular expo, not only because this will be my first trip to the Netherlands, but because I’m stoked to meet the good people at AMIS and swap insights about user experience and development.

Oh yeah, and I’m hoping to run into Patrick Barel (@patch72) on his home turf. I’m a giant baby about international travel, so it’ll be nice to have a local point me to the must-see places in Nieuwegein, Utrect and Amsterdam.

Want more information about the expo or AMIS? Check out Ultan’s (@ultan) post over at Usable Apps and news from source over at AMIS’ technical blog.

On the off chance that you’ll be in the area, you can register here, in Dutch, or here, in English.

2014 AT&T Developer Summit Hackathon

January 24th, 2014 4 Comments

Hackathons are a great way to stay up to date on the latest technologies as well as for keep your coding chops fresh. At the beginning of this month Anthony LaiRaymond XieMark Vilrokx (honorary AppsLab member) and I participated in the AT&T Developer Summit Hackathon. The event was held at Palms Casino and Resort in Las Vegas. The Internet of Things played an important role. New technologies that allow us to pinpoint our indoor location aka micro-location were all the rage. I am huge advocate for the technology that powers this: bluetooth low energy or BLE. Both winning teams used BLE beacons in their projects.

This was the second year that I attended and this time I came back with (almost) the whole team. We had a blast. During the hackathon there were two main tracks. A Wearables track and a Mobile track. There were a lot of sponsors that provided APIs to their products. Between AT&T and sponsors there were ample devices and gizmos available for us to hack with.


I won’t go into much detail about our project, but you will hear more about it later. Our team decided to participate in the Wearables track with an emphasis on public safety.  We decided to use AT&T’s M2X platform, which is AT&T cloud’s solution for the Internet of Things and they have branded it as “Machine to Everything.” This includes a basic REST interface to allow devices input and output data. We also used a Freescale FRDM-KL46Z micro-controller with ARM libraries provided by mbed. And if that weren’t enough, our project included our beloved Google Glass and a couple awesome Phillips Hue lights for visual notifications.

Obviously we also used their SMS and text to voice APIs (it was a requirement to qualify), which have gotten much better in terms usability and implementation. This is coming from the guy that loves Twilio for its simplicity to integrate with apps. Overall we were really satisfied with our results and we’re planning to come back next year.
Check the video after the break. Anthony  and I had a cameo along with our robotic arm (which we ended up not using).

Noel Has a Lot of Toys

January 15th, 2014 2 Comments

For some reason, Noel (@noelportugal) posted a picture of his IoT gadget inventory.

noelTweetClick to embiggen.

Home Automation for Christmas

January 15th, 2014 4 Comments

So, I got some home automation for Christmas, a Nest Thermostat and a Roomba. How about you?

Nest Thermostat

I’ve been eagerly following the Nest since its inception, and I finally pulled the trigger, right before Google bought them.

I’m not entirely sure why I liked the hockey puck so much.

It’s a beautiful little piece of technology, absolutely. Some users report that it pays for itself in energy savings rather quickly, sweet. It learns your home/away behaviors and sets itself accordingly, cool. You can control it from anywhere via the mobile apps and web app, great.

I finally settled on the fact that it’s a disruptive innovation in an area where you don’t expect innovation. Companies have been incrementally improving thermostats, but the overall experience has not been rethought. They just keep making them bigger, with more features and harder to use.

Anyway, I did my diligence first to make sure my system was compatible with Nest; they do a really nice job supporting the pre-purchase and installation phases. Installation was easy enough, and the initial setup went quickly. The entire process from unboxing to working thermostat probably took three hours, and I went very slowly.

The Nest itself has a very clever interface with minimal interactions, really only two, pressing the hockey puck into its housing, which makes a satisfying thud, and rotating the dial, which makes a click. Despite having limited interface capabilities, I found entering a wifi password much less annoying on the Nest than it is on a smart TV with a standard remote.

In addition to controlling the heat and air conditioning, the Nest has a motion sensor, so it will light up when you pass it, and presumably, it will set itself to Away at some interval without motion.

The Nest includes a subtle game mechanic, the leaf, which appears when, according to the Nest, you’re saving energy. My brain got a nice shot of dopamine the first time I saw that leaf, and now, I’m compelled to earn it daily and disappointed if I don’t. Nice touch.

The mobile and web apps are where most users will spend the majority of their time interacting with Nest. Similar to the hockey puck’s OS, these apps are simple and not overloaded with features. Here’s the Android app:


The Home screen controls all your Nest devices, both Thermostats and the newish Protect CO/smoke detector.



Details about your Thermostat, your energy consumption history.

Aside from one issue, I’ve been very happy with the Nest so far. Less than a day after installing it, I wasn’t able to control the Nest from any of its accompanying apps because the wifi receiver was off to conserve battery. This struck me as odd, given the device is directly connected to my home’s electricity.

I did some digging and went down a wrong path, but ultimately, all I had to do was upgrade my router’s firmware. Nest’s customer support was quite helpful and responsive.

Other nice features, Nest sends a monthly energy report, which gets more useful over time, and they recently bought a company called MyEnergy that tracks utility usage and offers energy saving tips.

Overall, the Nest provides an excellent experience, well thought out from pre-purchase all the way through continued usage. It’ll really rock if it can pay for itself in 12-18 months.


The other home automation gadget I got for Christmas was a Roomba 770. I’ve always been skeptical about the ability of these robots, but interested in the technology and the potential.

Image from iRobot

Image from iRobot


As with the Nest, I did my diligence, and it seems like most of the negative reviews center around people who expected the robot to replace a traditional vacuum cleaner. Luckily, I didn’t have that expectation; I just want it clean enough so I can walk around in bare feet without collecting miscellaneous debris on my feet.

The Roomba does this quite well, and it’s amusing to watch it navigate a room. I keep trying to see patterns, but I can’t discern any. It’s really a marvel of hardware and software technology.

It does take a while to finish a room, and it’s a bit loud. Neither really matters to me though. I’ve found the best time to run it is when we’re away. Otherwise, we bump into each other a lot.

I know less about the Roomba than the Nest, given it requires virtually no setup and configuration. The Roomba does have a long list of features, but I haven’t been curious enough to look at them all yet. So far, it does exactly what I want, and that’s perfect.

So, did you get home automation gadgets for Christmas, or semi-related, see anything at CES that interested you?

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Oh yeah, I almost forgot, we’ve grown again. Luis joined our little team in Mexico last week. Welcome.

Hot Oracle Applications User Experience News

December 11th, 2013 2 Comments

Lots of news coming out of Applications UX lately, so thought I’d share it here.

Over at Misha’s (@mishavaughanVoice of User Experience blog, you can read about Simplified UI for Oracle Human Capital Management Cloud and Simplified UI for Oracle Sales Cloud. Both versions went live in September when Oracle Cloud Applications, Release 7 was released.

Longtime followers of Jeremy’s AUX team may know Simplified UI as Fuse, which I test-drove for giggles about a year ago on some Android devices and other gadgets. Just FYI, I will never refer to it as that again, for it is the name that cannot be spoken.

Also at VoX, Kathy has a Q&A with one of the partners who attended the OAUX Expo at OpenWorld. Incidentally, Anthony (@anthonyslai), Noel (@noelportugal) and I were there, showing the Leap Motion-controlled robot arms, the Google Glass Sales Cloud concept app Anthony built, and another special project that I am not at liberty to divulge.

Finally, Ultan (@ultan) has a brief roundup of an Oracle partner event held last week in Manchester, specifically focusing on Noel’s demo of Google Glass’ look and translate feature. Noel’s been busy, presenting at UKOUG Tech 13 and trotting Glass around the UK. He has posted some pictures of his travels to our Facebook page.

Maybe he’ll post them to our G+ page so everyone can see, maybe not, we’ll see.

Some Random Links

December 6th, 2013 4 Comments

I’m cleaning up all the open tabs for the holidays, so here are some nuggets I found that may or may not be interesting.


Turkey Tweeter

Hinkmond Wong of the Java Embedded Technology team did a fun Thanksgiving project, a Turkey that tweets as it cooks.

It’s time for the Internet of Things (ioT) Thanksgiving Special. This time we are going to work on a special Do-It-Yourself project to create an Internet of Things temperature probe to connect your Turkey Day turkey to the Internet by writing a Thanksgiving Day Java Embedded app for your Raspberry Pi which will send out tweets as it cooks in your oven.

His DIY project, in six installments, is a fun read, h/t @rikang.

MIT’s Dynamic Shape Display

This is freaky cool and has enormous potential, h/t The Verge and Fast Company Design.

On Telepresence Robots

For reasons I can’t explain, I love robots. So, of course, Ars’ an in-depth review of Suitable Technologies‘ Beam telepresence robot caught my attention. We toyed with a similar idea, using the HEXBUG Spider XL, but it required a lot of hacking and other parts, namely a smartphone. I think the guys were just humoring me.

And Finally, Helvetica: The Perfume

I love this, even at $62 for 2 ounces of distilled water, h/t Kottke.

Four Months with Chromecast

December 6th, 2013 2 Comments

Since Google announced the Chromecast earlier this year, I’ve been stoked to see how it developed.

The little device has a ton of potential, and even though Google has been a little slow to push its adoption, even slowing down the efforts of some curious developers, they do seem committed to the device.

I preordered one immediately and have since added another, all for one purpose, cutting the cord, which I finally did a couple months ago. HuluPlus support sealed the deal for me.

After four months using the Chromecast every day, I still love it.

The Good

There’s a lot to like about the Chromecast, even if you set aside the price. One thing I’ve noticed over four months is there’s a ton of content available in the Google Play Store. The Play Movies & TV app supports the Chromecast, obviously, and before the Chromecast, I never really considered the Play Store as an alternative to Amazon or iTunes for movies and TV.

Unsurprisingly, it’s very easy to buy content and cast it, all from the device. I’ve never used an iOS device with AirPlay to do this with an Apple TV, but my guess is that they’re similarly easy. I don’t know if Amazon probably has anything like this for the Kindle Fire, but I have to assume if they don’t, they soon will.

If you don’t subscribe to Netflix and/or HuluPlus, you’re probably not in the market for a Chromecast. But if you do, it offers a great way to get content onto your TV, smart or otherwise. This is a plus, given the relative size of smart TV ecosystems when compared to Android and iOS.

Maybe it’s just me, but I’d much rather cast Netflix to my TV than use an app built for a smart TV OS.

Speaking of the TV, the Chromecast turns on the TV to the appropriate HDMI input when you cast, which is nice. You can also control volume from the player, if the app supports it, but alas, to turn off the TV, you’ll have to find the remote.

A final unexpected plus I’ve noticed is that having my device at hand while I’m watching and controlling programming means more second screen activity. So, I find myself looking up stuff on IMDB that I would have tabled for never in the past. On the downside, I end up reading email too.

The Rest

Not many apps have adopted Chromecast yet, which seems to be a combination of Google’s desire to keep development tight and perhaps a wait-and-see approach from content owners.

Right now, only a handful of apps support it, Netflix, HuluPlus, Pandora, Play Movies & TV, YouTube, HBO GO and Play Music. That’s a lot of content, but depending on what you watch, wider support probably matters.

Update: Today, Google announced a slew of new apps that support Chromecast.

Of course, one major feature of the Chromecast is its ability to cast from any computer with Chrome and the Google Cast extension. Although the majority of my experience has been casting from a device, I have done so from Chrome, with mixed results. You can also cast local content from the computer too.

Like anything over a network, speed matters. The faster your wifi, the better the casting experience.

Turns out that router placement for the device that’s casting matters too.

I’ve found that if my device has low (one bar) connectivity to my router, the device often loses connectivity to the Chromecast. This results in an uncontrollable stream, i.e. the player on the device disappears and I can no longer pause or stop playback, bit of a bummer, but not a fatal flaw.

It turns out that all players are not created equally. Most of them do offer the ability to pause from the lock screen on Android, which is very nice, but from a consistency perspective, each player implements casting differently.

For example, Netflix offers a stop button from their player, which is full screen, while HuluPlus does not, because HuluPlus doesn’t seem to offer stop at all in their app.


For comparison, here are the players for Play Movies & TV and YouTube.


So, yeah, each one is different, even those produced by Google for its own apps. Minor complaints, and to be expected.

Google seems poised to expand support for the Chromecast, which is great news. Rumors suggest that media center app, Plex, will soon release support for it. Personally, I’m looking forward to casting from the native Android Gallery so I can cast pictures and video of my daughter.

Anyway, those are all my thoughts on the Chromecast after using it for four months. At $35 a piece, it was a no-brainer to buy one for each of my TVs. I may even buy it as a holiday gift.

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Wearables and UX

November 29th, 2013 7 Comments

The holiday season is in full swing now, and I’ll bet a lot of people out there will be getting some form of wearable device as a gift.

Wearables is a pretty broad category, that seems to be right at the cusp of mainstream adoption. For now, it includes smartwatches, augmented reality on your face, and fitness trackers.

Personally, I’d like to see more fashion innovation, e.g. intelligent clothing. I’m not a fan of encumbrances, but since clothes aren’t optional, they might as well be smart.

As wearables gain momentum, I find myself increasingly frustrated because there are so many options, so many form factors and price points, and no clear leader where I feel comfortable investing time, money and development effort.

And that’s without even looking at the technical aspects of each device, sensors, SDKs and/or APIs, openness of data, associated ecosystems.

What a hot mess, but hey, it’s exciting too.

And top of mind for many of us in Applications User Experience. Don’t believe me? Check out these recent posts from Misha (@mishavaughan) and Utlan (@ultan):

Will You Be Wearing Your Enterprise Data?

Dress Code 2.0: Wearables

Bonus, Misha’s post includes an interview with our very own Anthony (@anthonyslai) about his adventures as a Google Glass Explorer. Noel (@noelportugal) is now in that club too, so expect more Glass content soon, e.g. I heard those two mad scientists got the Glass working to control the robotic arm.

Stay tuned, and as always, find the comments.

A Few New Concept Demos

November 25th, 2013 5 Comments

Our new team members, Raymond and Tony, have been busy in their short time with us, and they’re embracing the AppsLab way.

What way is that you ask? Since the beginning, we’ve always started with an idea and moved quickly to build something conceptual to see how and if the idea works.

Connect began life as the IdeaFactory, which Rich (@rmanalan) put together in 24 hours to give life to our idea about enterprise social networking. More recently, Anthony’s (@anthonysali) new toy, the Google Glass, begat the Fusion CRM Glass app.

To be clear, none of this is product. It’s not even really project work, although we do sometimes launch projects based on the initial concept work. This is just smart developers, messing around with ideas, trying to see what works.

Over the years, we’ve built lots of these demos, which I’m calling concept demos lately. Some have evolved into full-scale projects. Others have been moth-balled into our Git repo, which I’m told has something like 40-some odd projects in various states of completeness.

I like to think that code never dies. It just waits around for the right circumstances.

Sorry about that, won’t happen again.

Anyway, with Anthony and Noel (@noelportugal) tied up with travel and other projects, Raymond and Tony have taken the baton and cranked out a couple of cool concept demos.

First, they collaborated to build a working geo-fencing demo. The idea here is that data on a device should be subject to physical location, e.g. patient data in a hospital, customer-sensitive bank data. If the device is within the fence, data exist and can be accessed; when the device leaves the fence perimeter, the data are removed from the device and cannot be retrieved from the server.

Here are some shots of the concept demo at work.


Contact data for a fictional Swiss bank’s customers inside the geo-fence, i.e. Switzerland.


Customer contact data removed when the device leaves the geo-fence.

Tony did the groundwork development for this one, and Raymond cleaned it up to demo more cleanly. The toughest part of this one was spoofing the GPS with a fake location to fool it into believing it was inside/outside the geo-fence.

Second, Jeremy, our overlord, owns a Pebble watch, so we’ve been messing about with one for giggles. Possibly as a joke, Jeremy said we should build a watchface app for sales reps that showed “motivational” metrics like days to quarter close and percentage of sales quota achieved.

So, Raymond did that.


I guess the lesson is that it’s not always a good idea to joke around developers.

Why do we do stuff like this?

Aside from proving out ideas, projects like these, the Glass app and the Leap Motion-controlled robot arm allow the guys to go hands-on with the SDKs and APIs of devices we may actually build for in the future. These experiences are incredibly valuable because when it comes time to do a full-scale project, they have a baseline understanding of what we can reasonably do and how easy or difficult it will be.

That experience leads to much better estimates of development times, and it removes some of the uncertainty involved. Oh, and it helps control the scope early in a project, which makes execution and timely delivery achievable.

If you’re counting, that’s a win-win-win-win-win, or something.

Yeah, concept demos are usually rough around the edges, but they’re baked enough to give an idea of what’s possible. Plus, concept demos get done quickly, so ideas can be vetted and move on or be tabled without spending a ton of time and effort, e.g. Raymond and Tony banged out the geo-fencing concept demo in less than two weeks, and Raymond built the Pebble concept in under a week.

And that’s real time. They were doing other things too.

The Google Now TV Card

November 25th, 2013 Leave a Comment

A while back, I promised some details on the Google Now TV Card I found accidentally.

I was watching TV via an HDTV antenna and happened to pop open Google Now for some reason or another. Now showed me this card:


Freaky, right? I dismissed it, but my curiosity was peaked. So, I did some digging about the TV Card and went back to give it whirl.

The card only works on broadcast TV, which makes sense when you reverse engineer it a little. Google Now knows where you are, and based on that, can determine the shows that are being broadcast. That helps narrow down the possibilities, but even given that information, I found the card a bit tough to trigger.

I did my testing during daytime TV, and it failed to detect the Ellen DeGeneres show and another show I tried. It did finally work for the Fox broadcast of the MLB playoff series between the Tigers and Red Sox.

Here is the card it showed:


If I remember correctly, the announcers were talking about Torii Hunter.

Pretty interesting stuff, not mind-blowing, but interesting. This is a pretty powerful example of what Google wants to do though, which is integrate all it knows about the world and you, a.k.a. its knowledge graph, and provide what it thinks might be useful to you at the moment.

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Watch Paul on Shark Tank

November 25th, 2013 Leave a Comment

Did you know that Paul (@ppedrazzi) and his lovely wife and children were on Shark Tank?

If you hurry, you can watch their episode on Hulu. If you decide to wait, they appear in Season 5 Episode 10. Paul and family are the very first segment, so you won’t have to watch the entire episode, although I did because I’ve never seen Shark Tank. It’s an interesting show.

The premise is simple; companies seeking investment pitch a panel of investors, who, if they’re interested, commit a sum of money in exchange for a stake in the business.

Now for the background. Paul founded this little team back in 2007, along with Rich (@rmanalan) and me. Many of you may know Paul, but you might not know that he and his wife started a little lunchbox business called Yubo in their spare time. I think that was in 2009.

Using their savings, they set out to solve a common problem for families, the lunchbox and the jumble of containers and baggies that go into it. Yubo comes with BPA-free, dishwasher-safe containers that fit snugly inside, along with a reusable cold pack.

Plus, the Yubo’s faceplate is customizable and replaceable. It’s an ingenious product. I bought one for my daughter; she loves it; I’ve known Paul for years, etc. Consider that your disclaimer.

I remember the inception days of Yubo. Paul told me about working with an industrial designer and taking late calls with manufacturers overseas, all in his free time. It all seemed very draining, but like every small business, they soldiered through it because they believed in the idea.

Anyway, it was oddly gratifying for me to see Paul and family on national TV, successfully pitching this panel of luminaries. I can only imagine how elated they felt when they struck a deal.

If you’re wondering, Paul recently left Oracle, again; this time for a small company called Achievers.

Good luck dude. Without you, we wouldn’t be doing cool stuff here.

We’ve Grown

November 20th, 2013 2 Comments

Busy times lately here at the ‘Lab. We’ve grown from a small band of three to six in the past six weeks.

Joining our happy little crew are Osvaldo, whom we were lucky to find on our adventure to Mexico, Raymond, a friend of Anthony’s from Taleo, and Tony, whom I’ve known for many years.

Our ‘Lab veterans have been road warriors lately. Earlier this week, Anthony spoke at the OTN China Tour in Beijing, showing off the Glass concept app he built, as well as the Leap Motion-controlled robotic arms he and Noel hacked together right before OpenWorld.

Noel was in Mexico, and soon, he’ll be heading to UKOUG Tech 13 to speak. His session is called “Oracle Fusion & Cloud Applications: A Platform for Building New User Experiences” at the happy hour friendly time of 17:45 on Tuesday, December 3.

If you’re attending Tech 13, drop by and say hi, or just look for Noel. He’ll be hanging around the show all week.

Anyway, I have a backlog of posts, just not a backlog of time to push them. Stay tuned.

Hot Sriracha News

October 29th, 2013 5 Comments

I love a good pun. This way off-topic, even for me, but I can’t pass up not one, but two Sriracha stories.

As background, this is Sriracha, beloved by The Oatmeal and multitudes of others, including yours truly. Dare I call it “the Cadillac of hot sauces.”

First, there’s a profile of David Tran, h/t The Verge, founder and CEO of Huy Fong Foods, maker of Sriracha. Tran is secretive and seems to be the Bizarro of CEOs.

From the rare interview with Quartz:

His dream, Tran tells Quartz, “was never to become a billionaire.” It is “to make enough fresh chili sauce so that everyone who wants Huy Fong can have it. Nothing more.”

Well worth a read.

Then today, there’s news that the city of Irwindale is suing to stop production of Sriracha due to the smell produced by the Huy Fong factory, which sounds like it might be similar to, if not exactly, aerosolized capsaicin, a.k.a. pepper spray, h/t Foodspin.


Of course, if this suit is successful, production will be impacted, which means higher prices.

Tying it all together, Tran says he has never raised wholesale price for his hot sauce.

The Future and Past Are Google Now

October 15th, 2013 6 Comments

I like Google Now, and although it’s not a fixture in my daily device life, I it use pretty often, and it just keeps getting smarter and more useful.

Case in point, a couple weeks ago, I got my first Activity summary card, or at least, I noticed it for the first time.


Pretty interesting stuff I suppose. My biggest takeaways were: wow, if I could track older months this might be useful, the health tracking market is getting very crowded, and holy crap, Google could pwn that entire, admittedly nascent, market if they want.

To that last point, I use so many Google services that they could offer me a truly valuable summary of my activity, including the reasons, e.g. because of the events in my calendar, I walked more, or because of my searches for walking directions, I walked more.

From what I’ve seen so far, most fitness trackers are marginally useful at best. However, just by tracking my month-over-month walking, Google could offer cards that give me a decent incentive to be more healthy, e.g. the Travel Time card that shows time to work or to make an appointment on time could easily recommend that I walk, or walk a longer route, to spur healthy choices.

Plus, that card could create a competitive incentive by comparing my miles walking month-over-month.

If nothing else, it’s a reminder that I should at least consider walking.

I read about an internet of things startup today, Greenbox, that is building a smarter sprinkler system. In classic pitch terms, they’re calling it Nest for the garden. Sounds like a good pitch, e.g. using weather data to shut off the system when it’s raining.

There’s no reason to think Google Now couldn’t use weather data to produce more useful cards; Now already shows you the weather conditions and forecasts for cities to which you’re traveling in the near future, based on itineraries in your Gmail account.

So, cards that alert you to severe weather conditions or even changes in weather, e.g. to let you know to pack a jacket if the weather is drastically different, would be welcome.

And if micro-weather ever becomes a thing, like Waze for weather, Google could just throw money around to buy whatever startup seems right, just like they did with Waze. Incidentally, I’ve used the combination of Waze and Maps several time to avoid traffic jams.

There are lots of examples rattling around in my head, and I don’t even have all the Now cards enabled.

I stumbled across another new card over the week, the TV card. Although I ignored it at the time, I plan to test it out at some point if only to see the Info Cards.

All this is possible because Google has access to so much data and has so much computing power, and it certainly doesn’t hurt that they also have access to tons of mobile devices that we carry around all the time.

Google Now could easily lay claim to both the future and past, all provided in easy to consume cards. It’s too bad they’re just an advertising company.


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Some Random Cool Things

October 14th, 2013 2 Comments

For the nostalgic readers out there, I found the install disks for Windows NT 4.0 in my desk last week.


I thought it would be fun to spin up a VM for old time’s sake, but that idea will take some doing. Stay tuned.

If nothing else, I’ll keep these as a history lesson to amaze children who wonder about the Save icon or to demonstrate what a floppy disk is.

Kohler Moxie

I don’t watch many commercials, but thanks to Hulu Plus, I now know about the Kohler Moxie, a showerhead that is also a portable, Bluetooth speaker. You know, for listening to music in the shower.


Beyond my surprise that such a thing exists at all, I wondered how I had missed this gadget, given how much gadget and industrial design news I read. The Moxie is a beautiful piece of design that combines utility with luxury in a modern package.

I say utility because it’s a showerhead, and also because shower radios are a market segment, also much to my surprise. Amazon has a product category for Shower Radios with more than 250 results.

Rounding out my surprise was the lack of coverage about the Moxie, which has been on the market since late 2012. Here’s one of the few reviews I found.

Given the list price of $199, this is a niche market to be sure, but the connected home as an interest area of mine. So, I’m curious to see how devices like this evolve into the mainstream.

Speaking of, erm, speakers, one of my favorite listening gadgets, Sonos, announced the PLAY:1 today, just in time to add to my holiday wish list. I’ve had a PLAY:3 for several years, which I love, and I’ve been pondering how to justify adding another one. The PLAY:1′s price makes that justification easier.

Self-Assembling Robots

And finally, MIT is developing self-assembling robots for your amazement and possibly to haunt your dreams. So enjoy.

On Phablets and Other Observations

October 10th, 2013 12 Comments

Traveling a lot lately, which means I’ve had time to sit and observe people in airports. In today’s world, this is a great research opportunity for mobile devices. I’m a huge fan of anecdotal evidence, and I like to watch users in the wild to see what devices they use.

Numbers can tell you a lot about the rise of the phablet, you know phone + tablet. I liked that term better when I thought it was phab, as in phat for fab. Something about phablet in that sense suggested a blinged-out device, all sparkly and trimmed in 14K gold; related, the rise of phablets in Asia led me to this assumption.

Why? Gold iPhone.

Generally speaking, phablet is a phone whose screen is larger than five and smaller than seven inches, e.g. Galaxy Note, which could be said to have created this segment. I remember the negative reviews when the Note debuted; I remember thinking “that will never sell.”

Win some, lose some, am I right?


Image from Wikimedia

Lately, I’ve been seeing more and more phablets, and they’re growing popularity leads me to wonder why.

Beyond the allure of big screen, I’m not sure why people want such a big device. While in an airport, I got an interesting clue; I saw a person talking on a phablet, which looked comically uncomfortable until she went to the shoulder-chin cradle.

Physiologically, that makes sense. Holding any phone up to your ear for a prolonged period of time tires out the arm, which is why this plastic doodad exists. I think it’s called a telephone shoulder rest or something.


Wonder what future people will think we used this to do?

While the telephone shoulder rest has gone the way of the audio cassette tape and floppy diskette, the problem persists. Sure, headphones work, but sometimes, it’s just faster to put the phone up to your ear and go, assuming you even make phone calls.

In this instance, the phablet creates a bigger object to squeeze between your chin and shoulder.

Otherwise, I really don’t have a good understanding about the popularity of phablets. Do you?

Here are some other random observations from my recent time in airports.

Care to chime in or add your strange device observations? Your anecdote research is welcome here.

Find the comments.

Stephen Hawking’s Party for Time Travellers

October 3rd, 2013 2 Comments

This is just plain awesome. From kotte.org:

Steven Hawking came up with a simple and clever way of seeing if time travel is possible. On June 28, 2009, he threw a party for time travellers from the future…but didn’t advertise it until after the party was already over.

Usually, I’d be all over this type of story, but it somehow escaped my attention. Tracing the coverage, Ars mentioned this party last year but before that, this Hawking piece in The Daily Mail in 2010 seems to be the first mention of this time travel party. And that mention is purely conditional.

I’m wondering if this trickling out of coverage is all part of the experiment. Anyway, even though no one arrived at this party, assuming it really happened, that’s not empirical evidence to disprove the possibility of time travel.

Fun stuff.

Hey, A Link Post

October 1st, 2013 Leave a Comment

For some reason, I’m reminded of a lottery commercial that ran in my hometown in the 80s. The refrain was “Look, there goes another winner,” over and over; I guess the subliminal messaging has attached itself to other things in my mind.

Anyway, been busy lately, so here’s a recap of some stuff that I’ve found interesting, a curated list of cruft or something.

Ambient Technology

Somewhat ironically, ambient technology has crept into my consciousness and now seems to be a hot topic, to wit Ambient Reality and The Ambient Economy.

Ambient technology is evolving, but it seems to fall somewhere between gentle, environmental signals that let you know to pay attention and yet another notification mechanism to ignore. I like the intersection of real things and digital ones, made possible by IoT, and the opportunity to couple industrial and digital design.

It’s an interesting space. Stay tuned for more.

Infographics Reactionism

In the vein of WTF Visualizations, I give you Why We Hate Infographics (And Why You Should), a thoughtful look at the infographics fad. As an old school bar-chart-line-graph dude, I got a huge kick out of this.

Big Brother and User Experience

How Monitoring Can Affect User Experience is an interesting read. The Prius example resonates for me, since I’ve ridden in many a Prius cab. I’ve always wondered how distracting the UI is; Paul (@ppedrazzi) told me years ago that the UI dramatically changed his driving habits simply by showing the impact of a tire-burning start.

All interesting stuff, presented for comment.

Internet of Things that Go Really Fast on Water

October 1st, 2013 1 Comment

Even though sailing isn’t my thing, it was impossible to avoid getting swept up by last week’s boat race. Possibly lost in all the drama is the amount of technology these boats and race teams use to help them win.

Check out this video that highlights all the technology out on the water and how the race team uses it.

Even if you’re not into sailing or the competition aspects, these are very cool uses for technology that can be applied to everyday life improvements.

Bonus, there’s a 92-minute behind-the-scenes feature from Make you can check out if you want more.