29 March 2011

The sweetness of syncing

Image representing SugarSync as depicted in Cr...
Image via CrunchBase

There’s not much worse when it comes to computers than losing all of your data and settings, apart from perhaps your laptop or computer catching fire and burning your house down. Losing all of those pictures or documents or records is a nightmare. Having to reinstall all of your applications, music from iTunes (that’s why I like Spotify so much) and remember all of your favourite websites is a pain, to say the least.

It’s a mantra in the world of computing to be constantly ‘backing your data up’ but that can be a pain in the neck too. With Microsoft Windows as an individual the system reminds you once in a while to back up. Unless you are permanently connected to an external hard drive to where you can make copies of all of your precious data items (which can also go wrong too), then remembering to regularly connect your machine to your back up disk is something which many people rarely do.

This is where backing up your data to an online service sounds great. There are lots of services to choose from like DropBox and Carbonite. DropBox is good and backs up your data automatically to the ‘cloud’. But, it only backs up the data in the ‘DropBox’ folder on your machine, which means you have to remember to save your data to that file. Microsoft offers free, online back up to ‘SkyDrive’ but it’s not automatic. Google Docs allows you to save documents to their service and, again, this is not done for you automatically. You have to manually load documents to their service.

So, imagine my relief when I came across ‘SugarSync’. This is an automatic service which backs up any folders you specify (and some by default) and it has a free service. You install the SugarSync application on your machine after signing up and it will begin to back your files up straight away. It’s only drawback is that it does not work on Linux based machines unlike some other services. But, that’s fine if you don’t use Linux.

The online access is very slick too so you can see all of your files very easily. You can also share the files with other people too. So, really, there is now no excuse for losing your data. You don’t have to remember to do it at all.
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28 March 2011

Guard your mobile phone as you would your wallet

Near Field Technology - Or pay with your mobile phone

Pickpockets in medieval times would cut the purse strings which tied your money to your body to get your money. Fashion and currency changed and through time, purses and wallets became the norm and people carried them about themselves in their pockets or bags.

Life became a little more difficult for the pickpocket with the advent of credit and debit cards, but not so difficult that they could not steal your cards forge your signature.Then came ‘chip and pin’. This made life even more difficult for the thief unless they could ‘skim’ your PIN at the cashpoint.

Next came credit cards which, for small amounts (e.g. less than £10), you would not have to enter your pin but just wave the card in front of the till in Starbucks to make your payment. It was designed to cut down on the queues at the coffee shops.

The next big thing in money is your mobile phone. ‘Near Field Communication (NFC)’ is technology which you will soon be able to use to make small payments using your mobile phone. No more cards. Just wave your Android phone at the till to buy your latte. Google is working on this technology to be included in its Android mobile phone operating system and phones.

But, it’s not just your wallet that could go. So, too could your house keys, your passport and dog tags. ( on the ‘Business Insider’ website for more ideas on how NFC could change how you shop).

So, in future, make sure you keep track of your mobile phone if it has NFC technology in it and protect yourself against pickpockets with a good password on your phone.
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25 March 2011

eBooks are becoming big business

Light and shadow on an Irex iLiad ebook reader...
Some ten years ago, talking to publishers about eBooks used to induce groans of despair. "Please can we move on from the subject?" was the response I recall when asking my General Manager at the time. I was working in the publishing arm of Microsoft and they had just brought out their 'Reader' software for eBooks. It was ahead of its time and nobody knew what to do with it.

Now though, the world has moved on dramatically. The book research company, BML, published findings at its annual 'Books & Consumers Conference' that publishers are predicting that, by 2012, ten percent of their revenues will come from eBooks.

'So, what?', you may ask. Only a year or so ago, you would hear publishers talking about their revenues from eBooks making up about one or two percent of their revenues. That's a huge change.

Furthermore, eBooks aren't destroying thir sales of printed books. Far from it. Publishers are saying that eBooks are helping to increase the market overall which confounds the 'traditionalists' who believe that eBooks will end their favoured, printed format.

That has to be good for everyone who reads and is a natural evolution in how we read.
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23 March 2011

Taking the drag out of writing reports

WILMINGTON, OH - DECEMBER 16:  Layed-off worke...
Looking back is something which can be fun, painful or downright dull. The latter is how I find writing my monthly report at work. Whereas, I really enjoying writing up articles for my two personal blogs, when I have a moment.

The first thought I have when writing this regular report is 'What the heck did I do at the beginning of this month?' It seems such a long time ago and I find it hard to recall what I was thinking at the time and why I was thinking that. I know, it's only a matter of weeks ago but so much has happened, particularly now as our business goes through a massive change.

In fact, my lack of monthly reporting was noted by my manager in my annual review. She knows I am busy but it is difficult for everyone to see what's happening day by day, espcially as so much is carried out through email and through the systems we use.

This had to change. This is how I changed it.

As I wrote at the top, I really enjoy blogging and I have been practicing this creative art for three or four years on business, technology and motorcycling topics. It is now far easier to write posts than it was when I first started to blog.

So, I decided to use that skill to write my monthly report each day. I write short posts after meetings, messages and discussions with everyone I work with using the 'blog post' feature in Microsoft Word.

I then publish each post to my personal blog on our SharePoint system with a category for the activity. The posts are published internally immediately so I am careful that I write sensitively and objectively.

Next, through the administration settings in my SharePoint site, I export all of the posts I have written over the month into an Excel spreadsheet. This makes them easy to filter and sort. I, then, edit the posts to make them as succinct as I can and add in the actions I took for each post. It's easy, effective and surpising just how much easier it is to read than when it is in a Word document.

SharePoint is one of Microsoft's best products for digital citizen in a corproate environment these days. It helps keep you to keep organised and to keep everyone as informed in your team as they want to be.

The only challenge is that, for most of my colleagues, they have no idea of the capabilities that they have at their disposal to be organised. SharePoint is excellent and it is good to be able to use my enthusiasm for blogging in my job.

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20 March 2011

Free eBook - Inspiring stories from SXSW 2011

Image representing Seth Godin as depicted in C...Seth Godin created this free eBook based upon the stories of people he met at SXSW this year in Texas. They are stories about how they have 'poked the box' and started things or shaken things up.
It's free to download from my blog here. Also, make sure you visit Seth Godin's website called 'The Domino Project' to learn about what he is sparking off.
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12 March 2011

Schools kill creativity

I heard Sir Ken Robinson on the radio this morning and I just had to place this video of him talking at TED in 2006 which is not only funny, it is inspiring.

08 March 2011

Armies Of Expensive Lawyers, Replaced By Cheaper Software

Lawyers find themselves replaced by software

The principle of this sounds good. Cut out the grunt work with some decent text mining software to save years and years of mind-numbi­ng, low value grunt work. But, lawyers are very useful when they have been on your side. They can protect you. Mostly though, you hear stories about the bad lawyers who are billing you for ringing you up and asking how you are today. "Fine, thanks". "Great! That'll be £150, thank you".

But, the broader picture here is about text mining. An industry is developing around this very thing which is helping people to find meaning and connection­s in text they would never have a realistic chance of reading without the aid of the software described in this article.

And, in a world which is increasing­ly competitiv­e, this would appear to be an inevitable fact of life where we need the finest of margins to compete and differenti­ate ourselves from the massive competitio­n there is out there.
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost
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07 March 2011

Cover of "Kindle Wireless Reading Device,...
It's been interesting listening to and reading about the eBook versus printed debate that has been happening over the last two weeks. There have been articles in the major newspapers, discussions on the radio, commentary on blogs and discussion on mainstream TV shows. For instance I watched the BBC TV Breakfast show presenters, Susanna Reid and Charlie Stayt talking about reading an eBook 'not feeling right'. Other guest on Anne Robinson's show 'My Life in Books' on BBC2 were picking up books and smelling them.

There really has been a lot of strong sentiment being expressed and it appears to have polarized into the lovers and haters of eBooks too. The commentary is often melodramatic about eBooks saying how un-green they are and that printed books are better for the environment. There have been observations that reading an eBook on an eReader allows you to read books in public that you would not normally read.

eBooks, it appears are like marmite. You either love them or hate them.

For me, the reality is that I like both printed books and eBooks. My Amazon Kindle is brilliant. But, I can't read some types of book on it like a colourful cook book, or an illustrated self help book on how to treat your own back. I do read a newspaper on it. I read novels, military history books, self help and business books. I also read a substantial number of documents on it too, which saves me both printing off lots of pages and carrying the damned stuff around with me.

The negative noise about eBooks is, generally, coming from the people who won't try an eReader. It's as though something sacred has been ruined for them. But, check the reality out. If you follow the business pages, you will have seen that, in the UK, the HMV Group, which owns Waterstones, the book chain, is in a bad place. Sales are declining as are their profits. People are buying fewer books. It's becoming increasingly expensive to have a high street presence while you have to sell books at declining prices and compete against the major supermarkets for your core business that have substantial economies of scale.

I don't want books to go away. But, in truth, I don't want authors and editors to go away. I want to read good, well thought out and researched books. I now read more books because of my amazon Kindle (it's so easy to get them) and I still read printed books. So, let the debate become a more intelligent one and let's start worrying about the authors and editors who are the life blood of the publishing industry. Let's debate the future of content and not the medium in which it is written.
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