April 5 2016

Coolest Tool Seen this Year 04:50 pm

Does anyone really need a robot to help attend remote meetings?  At first I was skeptical.  Our Network Engineers said that our client had ordered one because they saw it at their corporate Head Office in action.  Next it showed up at our clients office.  The engineers came back and said it was very cool.   I was still unsure.

A couple weeks later we had a meeting scheduled to try and offer some insight regarding collaboration platforms.  As we were onsite waiting for our scheduled meeting in came Carmen.  Actually Carmen was in Fort St John, but in came the robot with Carmen on the screen.  She saw us first and said something like ‘Oh Hi, I guess I’m a little early”.   Next she drove the robot, with her face on the screen, through the boardroom door, around the boardroom and took her place across the table from us.  The whole time Carmen was talking away and very gracious with some of our questions.

The ‘Wow’ factor was definitely happening.  We continued to learn about some of the features and were introduced to how she uses this very cool robot called a Beam .  For a good video  try this review.

The most memorable part of the meeting for me came a little later.  Carmen leaned into her webcam part way through the meeting and turned the beam a little bit to look and engage with a co-worker who was sitting beside her.  It was just like a human would do it.  Except she was 200km away at a remote office and the robot was doing part of the motion on her behalf.

On March 7 we also heard Cisco has a very cool robot used for remote meetings and connections.  She is called the Ava 500.  A little sturdier than the Beam, and no doubt a very well designed machine.  Can’t wait to meet someone over it as well.

The Beam made a great first impression on me.  Easily the coolest tool seen so far this year.   For as low as $2,000 USD your remote offices can be connected like never before.

Cisco telepresence robot

Cisco telepresence robot

Telepresence with robot

Beam Meeting in Action

January 29 2015

Wi-Fi Could Be Your Single Biggest Pain Point Too 11:24 am

What is your offices single biggest technology pain point? Speaking with some of our new customers in Q4 2014 we asked them this same question. To our surprise the most common answer was the reliability and coverage of their wireless networks. Often C level staff and key partners of the customers need a good Wi-Fi connection and in many cases coverage was spotty or unreliable. For the CAO, CFO or IT manager responsible for operations this often translated to a headache at the most worst times for the most valuable users at the office.
Getting good Wi-Fi coverage and reliability reminds me of the quote by Albert Einstein. “Everything should be as simple as it can be, but not simpler”. In this case the simplest approach is the very root cause of the frustrations.

A common approach to starting a Wi-Fi network for environments with 10 – 50 computers is to buy an access point from a retail outlet or have a single access point installed by IT. The cheaper the better right? This in effect makes the solution seem much simpler than it really is. With wireless networks it doesn’t work that way. There was a really good article from Tom’s Hardware (Why Your Wi-Fi Sucks and How it Can Be Helped) about 4 years ago that outlined why this is a recipe for frustration. Poor performance comes down to a few root causes.
a) Small office or inexpensive devices can be shown to be available for 10-20 or more users as an available connection but that is a mirage. The processors in a low cost device simply can not deliver quality connections to that volume of users and intermittent performance issues arise.

b) The wireless coverage and throughput to each unit shrinks considerably when devices are added to the wireless network. This is a different symptom of a. Some devices can not handle the workload of more than 5 users, some have their coverage shrink while others let everyone connect but deliver a lousy experience to everyone. Pretty soon everyone feels like they just checked into a fully booked hotel. The Wi-Fi connection shows it is available but good luck trying to get anything done when using it.

c) Even when a device can handle multiple users and keep the quality up what happens when an employee loves using Facebook on their personal smart phone? Just this week we seen a single employee account for 53% of the entire company’s internet bandwidth consumption in a 25 user office one day. The majority of that traffic was to Facebook. If that same employee tries to use their smart phone to the same capacity while on the wireless network a very good wireless network can all of a sudden turn into something many users start to call ‘garbage’ or ‘useless’ and more. Moreover, if the usage climbs up to 70 – 90% not only is the wireless network going to start underperforming, the internet speed for the entire organization is at risk of slowing down.

In this regard we had another new client who often called to complain about internet ‘failures’ occurring and staff not able to access their main cloud application. The internet started to perform much better when we identified there were some users downloading movies at work and others updating their iPad’s during the day. Once these habits were identified all of a sudden the internet ‘quality’ went way up.

These three common failures in a wireless network are from oversimplifying the solution. A single retail access point may have worked when 10 users occasionally switched their laptops on to Wi-Fi at work to check email. But in the world of smartphones, tablets, and laptops always being connected those same 10 users could account for 20 connections or more to Wi-Fi and a lot more traffic than the 3-4 connections that were normal just a few years ago.

To make good wireless networks work reliably and simply an organization with more than 10 staff need to manage a few simple things. First getting a business class device or devices will help ensure multiple people can connect at once and have a good experience. Wi-Fi units made for business use have proven time and time again to work better for more users and at greater ranges. The next step is to have a method to limit one user from taking over the network and consequently the internet availability at your office. The third step is to have a system in place to monitor and manage the usage of the network. With some visibility into the wireless and wired network pervasive issues can be turned into simple solutions. For organizations with multiple offices or hotels there is a fourth step often overlooked and that is to standardize this experience across all devices and all locations. Taking care of these four areas will often transform wireless network support from a pain point to a simple always available experience.

May 28 2014

Wow – A Bill For 11GB of data on an iPhone for doing nothing 04:24 pm

A call to assist came into our office as a lawyer who normally uses very little data each month on their iPhone got a bill for using 11GB of data in one month. The highest previous usage reported for that user had been 600MB. An estimated overage rate of 5 cents per MB and 9GB overage could mean this extra usage had generated an extra $450 in data usage fees! For comparison Telus produced this table in their online portal:

How much data is that? – Estimated usage for various downloading and streaming activities.

A web page 0.17 MB
A small novel 1 MB
A high-resolution photograph 2 MB
A game or app download 4 MB
A 10 minute YouTube video 10 MB
A full length MP3 album 60 MB
A feature length movie 700 MB

Note: these are averages and provided here only as best estimates.

This was the equivalent of watching 10 feature length movies in data usage. The user was shocked as their data usage had not changed and now they were faced with additional charges.  Searching online Mark, the lead of Customer Care at our office, found that other users had experienced something similar. Apparently when an iPhone has an email stuck in the Outbox and it is connecting to an Exchange server this can cause a large spike in data usage. Checking the user’s iPhone – sure enough there was an item stuck in the Outbox. We won’t know if this was the real cause as the carrier was of no help in isolating the cause for the increase.   Their primary interest was in isolating how the bill would be paid so they could get their balance owing eliminated in under 30 days and the customer was left on their own to figure the cause out.

I had read where iPhones connecting to Exchange could cause a massive spike in processing power due to integration issues. Seeing how it could also cause data usage to increase was a new danger requiring new diligence.

Other than never letting an email stay stuck in the Outbox on an iPhone there are other tools that can be of help. Apparently onavo is an app that can measure data usage. Some of the carriers also publish an app that will inform you of your data usage. I had downloaded the Telus app a couple weeks prior and could not get it configured to work at the time. This was done while travelling out of town so it could be due to lack of information on my part. If you are roaming out of the country or with a different carrier such a precaution is important so you will not be the next user with a $450 data usage bill. Also, if you ever notice something stuck in the Outbox, get it deleted fast….

April 2 2014

Replace your PC with an iPad 07:03 am

Microsoft announcing last week the availability of Office on an iPad is an exciting development for anyone who has gotten used to working with a tablet.  This announcement makes working from an iPad easy for the press and general public to recognize and helps generate good publicity. 

What the headlines don’t declare is that it has been possible to replace your PC with an iPad for several months now.  All of the desktop programs (or almost all) can be published on a private cloud and accessible for staff to use from an iPad, Android or Windows tablet.  The applications work in the same way as you would on a desktop except now touch functions are now possible.

There are plenty of scenarios where this can be advantageous.  Some of our customers are working on drawing applications in the field from a tablet.  This is much more convenient than having a laptop on a construction site.  Other customers are taking their tablet into the courtroom and are now able to access all of their files electronically.  They can even account for the time and billing on PC Law or Esilaw on the PC based application back at the office right from the tablet device.    Other clients are replacing the VPN connections between offices and making a much more mobile enabled environment.  Now staff can access applications from home or with clients just the same as if they were at the field office.

We think this is a very exciting time to be in Information Technology as new ways of doing things that are faster and more flexible are being implemented on frequent basis.  Replacing your PC with an iPad is now possible.  You may lose dual screens, larger screens and some familiarity with how things work by moving to an iOS environment but for the right person the trade off can be worth it.

August 10 2012

Apple And Amazon Close Security Hole That Grants Total Control to Any Account 01:33 pm

Up until Tuesday August 8 someone with an Apple_ID and an Amazon account faced a security hole that was so big it allowed anybody with a telephone and a little common sense to get access to both accounts in under 15 minutes.  It wasn’t until a journalist from Wired magazine had EVERYTHING on his iMac, iPhone, iCloud and Amazon account erased that this security flaw became publically exposed.

With surprising ease a complete stranger got control of Mat Honan’s Amazon account over the phone in under 15 minutes last Friday Aug 3.  Who cares if someone can get your Amazon account information? With this information they could get the last 4 digits of any credit cards you keep on file.  4 Digits don’t seem like much but this is the exact same information Apple Phone support needs to reset someone’s password!  What happened in the next 30 minutes was that Mat Honan had lost all information on his Apple devices, his Gmail account taken over and his Twitter account taken over. 

Most importantly, he lost every photo of his daughter from his iMac.  The hacker’s turned out to be juvenile in nature – Mat actually talks about his online chats with the hackers.  Immature kids who wanted nothing more than to take over his ‘cool’ Twitter account.  If they had some highly malicious intent it is hard to tell how much further they could have hacked his friends and families accounts as well as contacts saved to the iCloud.  But in 30 minutes he had lost everything, mostly due to a security flaw so big it’s hard to imagine that millions of users are exposed to the same thing.

By Thursday afternoon August 9 both Amazon and Apple had stopped resetting passwords over the phone as a stop gap measure to protect others from experiencing the same thing.  However, this is only a little bit better than a temporary band-aid.  Who knows how many other clever ways someone can conjure up to accomplish the same thing?  Single accounts that control many services are convenient.  But as Mat Honan experienced this convenience comes with a potential risk not easily calculated.