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Saturday, 12 November 2011

What to expect in Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich

What to expect in Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich
Takeaway:  A look at what we can all expect from the next flavor of Android.
Android 4.0 IceCream Sandwich
The next Android OS — 4.0 or Ice Cream Sandwich — is going to have the best of 2.0 and 3.0 on the world’s fastest growing smartphone. However, the tablet interface is quite a bit better than the smartphone iteration. That, of course, doesn’t mean 4.0 will have everything on the desktop the tablet has, but the smartphone version of the Android desktop will get a much-needed face lift.
Let’s take a look at what we can all expect from the next flavor of Android.


This is one of the best improvements Android smartphone users will appreciate. Instead of the 2.0 take on multitasking, Android for the smartphone will gain a big plus by improving multitasking by behaving similarly to that of the tablet. Instead of long-pressing the home button to bring up a list of most recently used applications, just tap the multitasking button to reveal all currently opened apps and select the app you want to bring to the fore.


Another outstanding feature, coming over from the tablet interface, is the ability to resize widgets. In the 2.x version of Android, widgets could not be resized. Yes, some widgets offered various sizes to add to the desktop, but even that could be limiting. Now, however, a widget can be placed on a desktop and then resized to precisely fit the desktop in exactly the way you want it.

Better spell checking

Predictive typing tends to get in my way. This is especially true after a while of the keyboard learning of my mistakes. Well, 4.0 adds a new spell checker into the mix to attempt to improve this feature. This spell check will work across applications (and is not limited to only SMS messaging).


Finally. No more using the Dalvek Debug tool or rooting a phone just to be able to get screenshots. Now, all you will have to do is press the home button and the volume down button to save a snapshot of your screen.


One of the faults I have endured with Android is the remarkably slow response of the camera. Well, with 4.0, the camera response time is instant. The instant reaction is not associated with the amount of time the camera app opens, but how quickly the picture is taken after pressing the shutter button.


The smartphone version will not benefit from the amazing notifications found on the tablet. But even without that great system, the notification system on the smartphone version of 4.0 will get some nice improvements. One of the major improvements is that notifications can be seen without having to unlock the phone. The current iteration allows you to see that you have a notification but not the contents. The upgrade will allow for the viewing of the contents of the notification.


Finally, copy and paste will be even easier. All you will need to do is highlight the text to be copied and drag the text to where you want it.

Data Tracking Tool

This will come in handy for anyone that needs to keep constant track of their data. The tool will tell you exactly which apps are using how much data. That way, when you’re going beyond your plan’s allotted data, you can easily figure out why!

Other minor updates:

  • The home screen can now span the entire device
  • No more physical home, back, menu, and search buttons — these buttons are now virtual
  • Deleting an item or dismissing a notification is as simple as a swipe to the right
  • Calendar is now zoomable
  • Voicemail shows up in a call log
  • Voice mail can be sped up or slowed down
  • Sync contact information (including HighRes pictures) from social networks
  • Facial recognition login
  • Beam web pages, contacts, and directions using Near Field Communication (NFC)
  • New semi-circular HD optimized font: Roboto to make screen even easier to read
  • Pan your camera to capture single motion panoramic photos
  • Built-in filters for easy editing of photos after capture
  • Out of the box speech-to-text input
  • Reject an incoming call with a custom message
  • Set data usage restrictions to help prevent overages on carriers with limits
  • Gmail upgrade allows swiping through new messages
The upgrades to Android 4.0 will be significant to the end user. The new Android interface will not only be better looking, it will be more user friendly and even more flexible. The details on the when are sketchy, but it will be in 2012. It’s also anyone’s guess as to which carrier will start getting the updates first, but I’m fairly confident that AT&T will be somewhere around dead last.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Five great tools for troubleshooting your Mac

Five great tools for troubleshooting your Mac
Recently Forrester Research released a report stating, in a nutshell, that it’s time to start supporting the Mac in the enterprise. If you haven’t had an opportunity to read the specifics head over to Fortune’s Apple 2.0 blog and check out the brief version. If you’re interested in the full report it’s a bit pricy at $499 but you can purchase a copy directly from Forrester.
As more Macs make their way into organizations, large and small, here are some great support tools for maintaining and troubleshooting Macs.

Memtest OS X

Its usually pretty rare thing these days for a Mac to crash and lock up frequently, however, when and if it does happen memory is the first thing I think to test. Memtest OS X is great open source tool that runs from the command line for identifying issues within memory.

DiskWarrior 4

I’ve used DiskWarrior for years and have to come to rely on it as my primary data recovery tool. Instead of rebuilding damaged data on the faulty disk, DiskWarrior rebuilds the damaged drive based on the data, which can reduce imminent drive failure. It’s simple, powerful, and for m,e has been a reliable way to recover data.

Carbon Copy Cloner

These days I find myself relying primarily on Time Machine for backing up data. Time Machine, however, doesn’t always provide the flexiblility that is required for some tasks. This is where Carbon Copy Cloner comes in. Carbon Copy Cloner features the ability to back up to additional drives that Time Machine sometimes can’t access. It can be scheduled to back up at specific times, and is great for making a bootable backup of your existing drives.

TechTool Protogo

TechTool Protogo is a great utility that you can take with you. Much like the aforementioned utilities, TechTool Protogo is great for scanning hard drives, testing hardware, backing up, and much more — only without the need to install it directly to a potentially unresponsive Mac. Just install the suite of tools on a USB thumb drive and take it with you.

iStat Pro

iStat Pro is one of my favorite utilities. iStat is a simple widget that can be installed into Dashboard and is a powerful utility for accessing system information in a flash. It’s great for monitoring Wi-Fi signal strength, hardware temperatures, hard drive capacity and usage, and so much more. You can even install iStat Pro for iPhone and monitor your Macs remotely!

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Can Google survive its blind faith in the algorithm?

Can Google survive its blind faith in the algorithm?
Takeaway: It’s been a tough year for Google search. It’s had a difficult time targeting content farms and has accidentally removed good content.
Google’s search engine is a triumph of technology. There’s no denying that.
It was the capstone that completed the initial structure of the Internet. But, the Internet is now in the midst of a dramatic remodel and it’s unclear whether Google search will get the refresh it needs to make it more appealing than ever or if it will be one of the things that gets painted over.

Google entered 2011 with two major problems that threatened the company’s immediate relevance and it’s long-term future:
1.) The search results on were becoming increasingly ineffective because they were littered with “web spam” and articles from “content farms” (sites creating faux content to turn as many ads as possible).
2.) Social media has been replacing traditional web search for many different kinds of information gathering and Google didn’t have a legitimate play in social.
The company went a long way toward addressing the second issue in July with the launch of Google+. After several high-profile social flameouts — such as Google Wave and Google Buzz — they’ve pretty much nailed it with Google+.
To be clear, we still don’t know whether Google+ will be able to win over the masses, but it has become wildly popular among tech and media professionals and it is already causing Facebook to react and make changes to buffer itself against people abandoning it for Google+. 
As huge as social media is, the even bigger challenge for Google has been the declining potency of its search engine. In recent years, Google searches have become a lot less useful and a lot more frustrating. It has become more difficult to find stuff that you know is out there — even stuff that you’ve searched for (and found) previously. Another example is pages that have posted to the web more recently. They get overpowered in the Google algorithm by older pages that have had time to accumulate more incoming links.
The big problem is SEO — search engine optimization. A whole cottage industry has arisen around helping sites optimize their pages to get ranked as highly as possible in Google. As a result, the sites that land at the top of Google search results have become more about which sites are best optimized rather than which ones have the best and most relevant content.
Even worse, whole companies have emerged whose entire purpose is to create low-quality content that is highly-optimized for Google and loaded up with ads to turn a quick buck. These “content farms” have become big business. One of them, Demand Media — which hates to be called a content farm and shuns the label — is now a public company and brags about having a close partnership with Google.
I’ll let you judge for yourself whether Demand Media is a content farm. Below are four articles from its flagship site, eHow. Are these helpful or useful? Would a site that aims to serve readers and not just serve ads publish these?
(We’ll talk more in a moment about whether Google considers eHow a content farm.)
Recognizing the growing risks that this stuff poses to Google’s relationship with users, and ultimately its business model, the company has moved aggressively in 2011 to fix the situation. It started with a contradictory blog post in January in which Google defended the quality of its search engine as “better than it has ever been in terms of relevance” while also throwing down the gauntlet on web spam (sites that “cheat their way into higher positions in search results”) and content farms (”sites with shallow or low-quality content”).
Then, it dropped the real bombs –  a series of major updates to its search algorithm. These have been dubbed the “Panda” or “Farmer” or “Panda Farmer” updates (don’t laugh). The first one (Panda 1.0) came in February, and it obliterated search traffic to a bunch of sites, but oddly, eHow (the site most notorious for the “content farm” label) escaped unscathed.
Google eventually unleashed Panda 2.0 in April, Panda 2.1 in May, Panda 2.2 in June, and Panda 2.5 in September. According to SEO analyst Sistrix, these Panda updates eventually crushed eHow, which relied on Google search to drive most of its traffic. Despite reports of eHow’s traffic dip earlier this year, Demand Media denied that it had been hurt by the Panda updates. Then, earlier this month, the company admitted eHow’s traffic problem, although it tried to brush it off as “an internal technical issue.” The public hasn’t been fooled, as Demand’s Media’s stock has fallen precipitously.
So, Google apparently bagged its big game in the Panda hunt. The problem is that it took months to do it and a lot of algorithm trial-and-error and there was plenty of collateral damage done in the process. It’s as if Google looked at its backyard, spotted a bunch of dandelions, and instead of taking hand trimmers and going out and clipping them, Google decided to build a highly-advanced chainsaw to deal with it. The chainsaw eventually got rid of the dandelions but it also whacked some chunks out of the hedges, put some gashes into the ground, and took out part of the back fence.
Still, what this all comes down to is Google’s faith in the algorithm. Google says that it doesn’t single out sites to include or reject in Google search results. It simply builds an algorithm that systematically finds the most relevant stuff and ignores (or removes) the least relevant stuff. Google argues that this creates a fairer and more objective system, and that introducing human filtering into the system would make it biased and subjective. While that may be true, the big question is whether human intervention would make Google search more effective, and ultimately more accurate.
The problem with the algorithm (and artificial intelligence in general) is that it has no common sense or wisdom — at least not yet. Meanwhile, the systems that Google search is increasingly competing with for information discovery — social search and mobile apps — use the collective wisdom of the community or targeted experts to deliver better information more quickly than Google search, in many cases.
Despite the early success of the Google+ social experiment, the Panda updates during 2011 show that Google still believes in the algorithm above all things. The company thinks that throwing more math, PhDs, and servers at any problem is the right answer. As we’ve seen, that approach has started to fail Google in 2011. It has had a difficult time targeting content farms and it has ended up accidentally removing a bunch of useful content in the process. The big question now is whether Google can learn from this experience and change, or if it will eventually fade into becoming a fallback mechanism that people use when they can’t find the information they need from social search (asking their Twitter or Facebook friends) or a mobile app.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Tech trends for 2012: Where career potential lies

Tech trends for 2012: Where career potential lies
Takeaway: Nucleus Research, Inc. has released its top ten tech trends for 2012.
1. The Productive Enterprise
Nudged by the ready adoption of Facebook, many enterprise software vendors are incorporating social capabilities to their apps. But, according to Nucleus, for every organization that has successfully adopted social capabilities, there are two that struggle to make it work. The biggest concern is that social media will leach productivity (like Facebook does) without adding to the collaboration wanted. Savvy enterprises will find a way to align social tools to support clear business purposes.
2. The cloud will change development
The cloud has made development faster and more iterative. When changes can be made on the fly, companies can deploy once and then adapt an app as business needs change. As we go forward, the cloud will make development more virtual. Crowdsourcing efforts and the integration of social networking tools into the dev environment will provide opportunities for developers no matter where they live.
3.  SAP will reemerge
SAP revenues have gone up and the company has introduced innovations in areas like mobile device access. According to the report:
We’ve started to see real traction with Business ByDesign. This is partly because customers that have growth aspirations are also risk averse given the economy. Also, cloud delivery makes BusinessBy Design less onerous to support than traditional ERP deployments.
Nucleus also cites last year’s exodus of top-level executives to be a good thing for its future.
4. Going big
Nucleus thinks that tech buyers are increasingly “going to look at big vendors with an 80 percent solution versus a best-of-breed application that must be managed, integrated, and negotiated separately.”
5. More ways for everyone to manage big data
Nucleus recognizes that although big data is definitely being overhyped, “companies will soon make smarter decisions using analytics to comb through huge amounts of data.” The report says that this is one area where we’ll continue to see innovation, like integration of field-programmable gate arrays.
6. Capital will move from labor to technology
While the unemployment rate will continue to hover near 10 percent, Nucleus sees technology hiring going up. A recent Nucleus survey (Nucleus Research 106, Nucleus 2012 IT spending survey, September 2011) found that technology spending is winning hands down. And there will be the need for people to support those technologies and to train end-users.
7. Smarter software
Nucleus says, “We expect to see more intelligent applications that search for and push information related to what workers are doing directly to their desktop, a rise in usability for analytical and text mining tools whose capabilities were previously only for the gearheads, and presence and location monitoring to drive new ways we interact with enterprise software.”
8. Labor will get optimized
Nucleus claims that workforce management software will change to show which employees are the most productive, show up on time, and create the least scrap. “Workforce management vendors such as Dayforce and Kaba are now delivering this data to managers by combining analytics tools with data gathered at time and attendance kiosks.” Slackers, beware!
9. Healthcare investment
Although the technology for moving paper health records into electronic form as been around for a while, Nucleus says that the availability of low-cost secure cloud applications such as those from Digitech Systems will drive significant investment in 2012.
10. Renewed focus on customer experience
Nucleus says it continues to see str5ong investment in CRM and related applications. They expect to see more investment in analytics, activity monitoring, and big data crunching as companies aspire to “the prefect combination of targeting, touching and treating their customers.”
The full Nucleus Top 10 Predictions 2012 research note is available at
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