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By Lou Washington

Following this year’s CES show there have been any number of pronouncements about the death of the desktop PC. I guess the first question I would ask is, what happened to all the desks?

Oh, we still have desks? I see, then we still have desktop PCs.

The whole question is rather silly. But the environment does not entirely drive the technology. The tasks to be performed are the critical factor in the selection of preferred platform architecture.

Which do you choose?

Does the task have a mobility requirement or user preference? Does the task not require mobility? Does the task have certain attributes or requirements that lend themselves to a fixed venue or other things associated with a desktop machine?

These are the questions we should be asking when deciding between ultra-book portability and desktop fixed location.

I’m not talking about what the device will look like, if it will have a big plastic box lurking under the work surface or if it weighs 40 pounds or 4 ounces. I’m talking about portable versus stationary. Mobile versus fixed location.

Once we get those questions answered, then perhaps we can talk more sensibly about requirements for our computing hardware.

Here’s is what you should ask yourself.

Am I mobile?

Seriously, how mobile are you? Do you travel as a part of your work? Do you have need of some functionality away from your desktop? How much of your mobility requirement could be handled by a smart phone? If you’re just concerned about staying in touch, phones do a great job with email, messaging and even voice communications.

Are my apps mobile?

If you run applications that are extremely visually oriented, you probably like a nice big monitor. Perhaps you spend a lot of time editing and touching up photography, maybe your thing is multitrack sound or video editing or perhaps you work with engineering drawings, floor plans or other oversized type imagery. Again, you’re not going to be happy with a 9 inch screen if you’re running apps of this type.

What would happen if my PC was stolen or lost?

If you’re walking around with your entire identity housed on a mobile device, especially if you are not disciplined about passwords and other security oriented activities, you don’t want to experience the loss of your device. Your life will be a living hell. If you’re talking about company data, your liability may be even more than you realize. This is particularly true when your work life and home life are blended together.

This is a serious consideration. Obviously, aspects of this also apply to the desktop world, but when the entire machine fits in a pocket and can be picked up while you’re busy sneezing, the danger of loss increases right along side the increase in portability.

How keyboard intensive are my needs?

Okay, I’ll admit it, I love touch screens. I like to be able to “turn the page” on my kindle and my iPad. But, right now I’m sitting in front of a full size keyboard. People who write a lot like real keyboards. Touchscreen keyboards are fine, laptop keyboards are okay, but neither of them will do the job for me when I blog or when I author white papers or even writing longer emails, I like a “real” keyboard.

So, for me I hope the desk top option remains available for many years. I don’t care if the big plastic box disappears, but I want my big screen, my keyboard, the security of knowing that I won’t leave my PC in an unlocked car. I want all the benefit that comes with a “big iron boat anchor” device.

I also want my smart phone, my tablet, my e-reader and I imagine I’ll be wanting an ultra book before too long as well. After all, I am a gadget freak and I love toys!

  By Lou Washington

In her excellent article, “The new rules for enterprise apps” (Computerworld, 23 January 2012) Minda Zetlin sets forth three specific things software developers need to keep in mind when designing and writing new enterprise level application software. She makes a compelling case and developers would do well to follow her advice when building apps for this market.

I won’t go into a lot of detail reiterating what she has quite eloquently stated in her piece, but to briefly summarize, she is offering the following three rules.

  • Make it appealing – The more appealing the easier it is to learn. This impacts implementation and training expenses and certainly impacts user acceptance.
  • Make it transparent – Transparency in this case means the app will deliver information that is current, correct and easily understood. So many apps seem to involve cryptic formats and symbology in lieu of just laying out the data in a recognizable form.
  • Update it often – The world is changing at an accelerating rate. Even users who hate periodic updates hate apps that are no longer relevant even more so. Keep the app functional within the platform and within the domain in which it functions.

I’m sure everyone would agree that this is wise advice indeed. However, as a software guy of more than a few years experience, I would suggest we could expand the list a bit.

Here are my rules to be added to the list . . . or perhaps ignored if you feel so disposed.

  • Include some marketing input early in the design/pre-development phase. Marketing folks are totally different from engineering types and we typically don’t know squat about coding. But, we do know one or two things about what people want. We can help you decide what’s really important to your end user and what’s just a nifty technical device.
  • Exploit current of existing architecture in the User Experience. Microsoft has a tremendous advantage with their products because they all tend to have the same look and feel. If you know Word, you’ll have an easier time learning Excel or Project. This holds true for any learning requirement. Anything you can reuse will make the whole learning process less onerous. It will get your app functioning faster and at less cost than redesigning everything from the ground up.
  • Build for the future. By this, I mean build your app in a way that anticipates change. Something as simple as expanding the size of an alpha/numeric field in a widely deployed legacy app can cost millions of dollars. Remember how your mom would buy big clothes for you to grow into? That works with software too.
  • Make it customizable without touching the code. Some platforms lend themselves to this better than others obviously. Think in terms of mass customization. Your end users will likely have widely varying needs and usage requirements. Build your app so Bob doesn’t have to learn Betty’s job in order to get to the functionality and data required for his job. Also, build it so when Bob and Betty get promoted their app can be expanded to include functionality in line with their new positions.
  • Include end user input whenever possible. You would be surprised how invested in success people will feel when they have been consulted about the app you are building. Aside from building a better application, you will help assure the end user community embraces the new app and that will make you look very smart indeed!

Finally I will add one last recommended rule. Read Dilbert regularly, There is more wisdom to be gained in any three panels of that cartoon then can be found at any three day Silicon Valley developer conference.

Happy Coding!

 

By Lou Washington

Technology has always been a major force within the music industry. It is, sometimes, a rocky marriage. Just ask Steinway, the iconic maker of pianos.

In the late 1960’s Steinway introduced teflon as a replacement for felt as a material used for bushings in the construction of their actions. An action, for those not familiar with piano construction is the complex assembly of levers and hinges that responds to the player pushing down on a key by lifting the hammer to strike the strings.

Teflon was a great idea, poorly executed. Field technicians responsible for servicing these pianos were not properly trained in the techniques required to maintain the teflon bushings. The result was a clicking sound that was audible whenever the instrument was played.

Steinway responded quickly and recovered from this adventure. They continue on today as one of the premier piano manufacturers in the world.

This year, at NAMM 2012, technology was the big story. Almost every manufacturer displaying is introducing new and innovative products. For musicians, this is our equivalent of the Paris Air Show or the Detroit Auto Show.

I took a look at the Guitar Center website yesterday. They are listing about 250 new products in a special NAMM promotional sale. Looking over this and a ton of NAMM press releases, most of the new offering fall into two major categories. First is what I’ll call Retro and the second is Technology. Technology is the frontman this year however, because so many of the retro offerings are “powered by” new technology.

What’s New?

On the retro side of the coin both Fender and Gibson are introducing more throwback models to their Guitar lines. These things really fascinate me. The guitars are actually built to specs used in previous models dating from long gone musical eras. Then the instrument is factory aged, complete with nicks, scrapes and factory installed rust spots. They are finally finished in a darker, yellowed shellac or varnish type topcoat.

The effect is amazing. You have a brand new musical instrument that mimics the sounds from say a 1950s Telecaster played in some rural juke joint roadhouse. The illusion is made complete by an appearance one would associate with leaving a guitar unprotected in the back of a pick up truck for several years. When you pick one up, you would swear you were holding a 50 year old Telecaster.

Fender introduced two new tube amps this year under the Pawn Shop Special banner. These are aimed at jammers or small venue performers. They are tube driven and are stylistically tied to the late 1940s or early 1950s. The Greta model even features a functional VU meter. Tube amps are a must have for guitar players looking to emulate the mid 20th century sounds that many of the older blues artists and early rockers produced.

I have a Fender Blues Junior Deluxe and I can attest that the sound produced by these amps is incredible. You simple can not get the same warmth of tone from a solid state, digitally produced signal.

All of the new models interface directly with iPod and iPads or other MP3 players. More on that later.

In the area of amplification another big star is the battery powered amp. These things are really coming on strong. I picked up a Pignose amp the other day and it’s quickly become one of my favorite toys. It runs on a handful of AA batteries and is well under a hundred bucks. It produces a great blues sound with just the right amount of distortion.

Lots of new modeling amps, those with built in effects, were introduced as well. This is pure digital technology. Effects like reverb, vibrato, rectifier, blues drivers, fuzz and wah are all there ready to go with the flick of switch on the amp itself or on a foot pedal.

iPad Heaven

Apple has made a name for itself as the go to PC for graphical applications as well as sound processing. A huge number of music apps are available for the iPad. Garageband, Apples hugely successful, easy to use, sound recording studio is getting lots of company from third party apps these days.

Wave Machine Labs introduced Auria this year and it promises to step things up for those of us who like to record live music. Auria is a fully functional 48 track DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) that runs on iPad. This is a pro-grade recording studio that features a Steinberg VST effects plugin to complete the offering.

You really have to wonder if the local recording studio is an endangered species. Will they go the way of the photo kiosk? Probably not entirely, but I see these tools affecting the price charged for services rendered.

The great thing that technology has done for the music business is provide accessibility. Local musicians can promote themselves also record their concerts or studio sessions. They can produce and sell their own work in CD format or downloadable MP3s. People can actually make a living today as musicians working on a local basis.

Technology has made music egalitarian and the music business a viable, locally focused industry. No longer do musicians have to “go to LA” or New York to gain a market that can support them. The best part is we as consumers win big. Thousands of musicians that would have otherwise been locked out of the market place can now be heard.

There will always be more talent than audience, but technology is significantly closing that gap.

The music business is alive well today because most of the industry has embraced technology. NAMM 2012 has demonstrated that quite well.

By Lou Washington 

I’m not talking about Southeast Asia here, I’m talking about one of the greatest tech trade shows of the year, the Anaheim, CA hosted National Association of Music Merchants show. NAMM 2012 kicked off its winter show on Thursday, January 19.

For any serious amateur musician, this show is somewhere on the bucket list. For me, NAMM combines two of my favorite things, music and technology. Make no mistake, this is a technology show.

Most people probably don’t associate the terms “Music Business” and “technology” in the same thought. Sure, the music publishing establishment nearly ruined the entire industry by refusing, for years, to embrace digital technology. But for musicians, musical instrument manufacturers and teachers, technology has been at center stage for a long time.

NAMM is the annual coming out party for technological innovation in the world of music. And let me tell you, this is one big party!

NAMM by the Numbers

NAMM 2012 is expecting attendance to hit 90,000 visitors during the four-day show. Attendees will be able to visit 1,400 different vendor booths displaying in 8 separate venues throughout the Anaheim Convention Center and area hotels. The local business community expects the show to have an 80 million dollar impact on the local economy.

The show is not just about looking at drums and guitar picks. NAMM is featuring around 140 separate live music performance events. Many of these events feature multiple musical acts. The musicians themselves range from widely known performers to the very obscure. The mix is, well the only word that springs to mind is eclectic.

If you like jazz, you can check out Saxophones Unleashed. How about the Get-A-Life Marching Band? Or, perhaps you would prefer some gospel. How about checking out The Darlings; not sure if we’re talking the old bluegrass group or the newer LA based rock group.

Lot’s of Rock, lot’s of Hip Hop and every other genre you can imagine is kickin’ it out in Anaheim this weekend.

It’s all about Innovation

But, let’s face it, the real reason people go is to look at all of those beautiful, shiny new musical instruments. I can spend hours happily wandering around the local Sam Ash or Guitar Center stores. I can’t imagine being able to take in the entire exhibit floor at NAMM. There’s just too much to see, too much to try out and too many people to talk to.

My second report will have details about the products, what’s new and what’s better this year. Here’s a teaser, guess what is establishing itself as the must have piece of hardware for musicians?

Would you believe the iPad?

More tomorrow!

By Lou Washington

I know there will be a chorus of voices putting down Apple’s motives for moving into the textbook market. But, honestly I can’t see any downside to this.

I don’t care if you’re a student, professor, parent, school administrator or author, this is going to be good for you.

Just consider the following:

  • Cost – Textbooks are far more expensive then market books because they are produced in smaller numbers than say, John Grisham novels. Much of that cost difference can be eliminated in the electronic format.
  • Currency of content – Again, school systems stretch dollars by delaying textbook replacement. Many times this means students are reading and learning material that is simply out of date. This format will allow updating and post sale edits. The book does not have to become obsolete.
  • Portability – You can take your iPad anywhere and view it anytime. Now that knapsack can be used for beer and other useful things. Seriously, one of my most not cherished college memories was the lugging of stuff around campus.
  • Format – The printed page has served us well for several hundred years. The iPad, the eReader and other devices offer fantastic opportunities to expand the scope of what text books do. They can actually present knowledge and teach knowledge versus simply recording it in a static format.
  • Stimulate creativity – One of the great benefits of e-published music and books is the fact that anyone who desires can create and self publish their own work. In the publish or perish world of academia, this has to be a huge plus.
  • Green issues – Trees all over the planet are breathing a big sigh of re-leaf (sorry). Paper is a great product, but, most books are read once and then placed on a shelf until the owner finally decides to get rid of them. Sure there are libraries and used book stores, but eventually way too many end up in the land fill.

I could go on with more bullets, but I think the point is made.

Apple has always been a strong supporter of education and this is another example of how they are really quite at home in the academic world. In the early days of the company, they readily donated or heavily subsidized academic use products for colleges and secondary schools throughout the country.

There will be some that suggest they are trying to corner the textbook market, but I think this is a market with plenty of room for more players. With Windows tablets on the near horizon, the whole tablet market is ready for a some healthy competition.

Any college student from my generation will well remember moving day with the boxes and boxes of books and the hundreds of pounds of LP phonograph records. No wonder we drank so much beer, we were dehydrated from schlepping all that stuff around campus.

Thanks Apple! Wish you’d have been around in my college days.

By Lou Washington

In case you’ve been in a Christmas Coma, you may want to check out some of the Consumer Electronic Show post-mortem reports. The 2012 event has wrapped and is in the history books.

Not that anyone will notice. Reading the various accounts of the show does not exactly get me all excited. Usually there is one outstanding product or product group that has everyone talking.

For me, CES is frequently the place where next Christmas starts. I can’t really get all excited this year. It just doesn’t seem like anything earth shattering was announced. The biggest news was the absence of Apple.

So what was on the menu this year?

Tablets, of course. This is one I really do not get. I think the manufacturers have completely missed the boat here.

I have an iPad 2. I love it. It cost me something like $700. I have the 64 gig version. It’s a steal! Nothing compares to it. My netbook has not booted up in months. My laptop rarely leaves the office. The iPad does everything and it does it better.

Why do people think we want a cheaper tablet that does less and does it less effectively? It makes no sense. What good is an eReader with a slow browser, blurry screen and no apps? I have better things to do with two hundred bucks than buy something that sort of works. I’d rather buy an etch-a-sketch.

Why hasn’t someone delivered a tablet for slightly less than a thousand bucks that offers more performance and more features than the iPad? That’s a market.

Speaking of which, let’s look at the Ultra-books. This is moderately exciting. Super thin, powerful and they run Windows. Isn’t this what the Apple haters have been looking for? I could get excited about an Ultra book. Lenovo has the right idea with their book morphing into a touch screen tablet. That will outsell all the iPad wannabes.

I’m not even going to talk about telephones. My contract doesn’t expire until July, so I’m still chugging along with my Samsung and my 3G hotspot.

The camera news was somewhat interesting but nothing really got me excited there either. For me cameras come from Canon or Nikon. I like having a snap-shooter in my phone, but for real photography, I’ll still be using my DSLR.

I am intrigued by the OLED TV technology. I like the idea of large light weight screens. At 4 mm thick, the weight to size issue should be getting reasonable.

But, all in all, I just don’t see much happening in the world of gadgets and toys that makes me want to reach for my plastic. I think this may be the year I upgrade my guitar. I’ll have a report on NAMM.

We all seem to have some morbid fascination with the death or destruction of the great. It doesn’t really matter if we’re talking about iconic people who publicly fail or once great companies that are circling the drain. We like to analyze and theorize what they did wrong, why they failed and how they might have avoided their demise.

One company that is surely under this type of scrutiny these days is Kodak. Bankruptcy seems to be just around the corner for these guys. Plenty has been written recently about the slow death they have endured over the past ten years or so. Many pundits are confidently explaining the whys and hows of this failure and asserting any number of “if only they . . .” actions Kodak could have taken to prevent their own pending death.

I read with great interest a piece in Information Week by Howard Anderson on the reasons for Kodak’s collapse. He also discusses Motorola and Nortel in the article, but my interest is with Kodak.

What sets Anderson’s piece apart for me is his assertion that Kodak really didn’t do anything wrong. There was no great mis-calculation and no collective refusal to see the realities of their market. He even enumerates many of the correct steps they took.

Digital? – They were their first or at least in the front row of the class. They made better digital cameras then their most recent film cameras ever aspired to be. They were already in the paper business, so print paper was a natural for them. The same is true for inks and dyes. They have a huge following still for their printers.

Market response? – They went everywhere and in many cases did it well. Healthcare? Memory? Anderson names a bunch. It was all for naught.

What is killing them is their film business. This was their great core competency and this is where they made huge profits over many years.

I spent about five years of my early professional life in the business of micrographics. Microfilm was a big business in the ’70s. The micrographics lab I supervised in those days for the University of Missouri bought microfilm by the mile. That’s not an exaggeration.

We would purchase the film used to record the master images and other films used for duplication and distribution to our end users. We also purchased huge amounts of processing chemicals to develop and finish the output we produced.

Every year Kodak, Fuji, Rochester Films and several other companies would submit samples for us to test. We maintained stringent quality standards and our supply contract was a winner take all kind of deal. We awarded the contract to the company that produced the best imagery as measured in our lab using a variety of techniques. Kodak always won. But, each year Fuji would score a little higher and a little higher again the next.

Anderson points out that Kodak’s dominance in the film arena was only threatened by Fuji after Fuji won over the professional photographers. Ultimately, they forced Kodak to respond with more and more investment in a technology they thought they already owned.

This investment was made just in time to see digital finally surpass film in the market as the medium of choice for many photographers.

Without film, without cameras, what’s left for Kodak? How many memory cards can you sell in a year? How can you make money selling printers at a loss? How much ink do you sell to recover your printer loss and make up for the lost film business?

There are a lot of very smart, very worried people in Rochester New York trying to answer that question right now.

To read Howard Anderson’s piece, “Why Did Kodak, Motorola and Nortel Fail?” please click Here.

Welcome to The Technology of Living.

Anyone who knows me personally will tell you that I am a gadget nut. It’s not that I have to be bleeding edge about everything, I certainly am not a bleeding edge kind of guy. I do however have an appreciation for innovative design, well crafted execution and aesthetic quality.

I choose the technology of living as a theme for this blog since it is something that I care about deeply. I am lucky enough to work for a company that is heavily invested in technology and one that serves a customer community equally tied to technology in terms of their own products or the use of technology to produce their products.

But, technology extends far beyond the workplace. Technology is a part of our entertainment, our education and virtually all of aspects of our lives. This is not a profound revelation, we are after all, technologists.

To that end, I hope to see this forum become a place where we can share our own experiences, good and bad, with our daily use of and exposure to technology.

We’ll talk about all of it by the way, technology at work, technology at home, tech on the move and tech in the cloud.

I hope you will participate generously and return here frequently.

Lou Washington

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