Is Your Printer ‘Cloud Ready’?

As the world goes mobile with smartphones and tablets, there’s still one thing that has not changed much in the recent times – the printer.

Setting up a printer to work with multiple devices usually involves installing multiple drivers on the devices. You may need to print from any one, or a combination of the following devices:

  • Windows computer
  • Mac computer
  • Linux computer
  • iOS devices
  • Android devices
  • Windows mobile devices
  • Blackberry devices

And when dealing with these devices, not only do you need different printer drivers for different operating systems, you also need to keep updating the drivers to the latest version.

When managing the apps or drivers for the your devices, you may face the following problems:

  • Drivers not updated on the device
  • Drivers not supported (for example, for Windows XP)
  • Drivers not available (for example, for Linux devices)

When you want to print an important file, you may run into many problems which can be very frustrating. Not to mention the fact that your computer needs to be physically connected to your printer, or at least to your network. In a ‘Mobile World’, this may not be true anymore.

Thinking about these issues, I thought about the characteristics of my ideal printer:

  • Never needs updates – I don’t want to waste my time updating my drivers.
  • Is OS agnostic – the driver must work on all operating systems.
  • Is device agnostic – the driver must work on all devices.
  • Is printer agnostic – I don’t want to upgrade the driver even when I upgrade the printer.
  • Is network agnostic – the driver must work across networks or even over the Internet.
  • Is secure – the driver must be secure over the network or the Internet.
  • Is self-fixing – the bugs in the driver must be fixed automatically by the printer manufacturer.

I was wondering if there could be a driver that fulfills my stringent criteria. And then, I found my ideal printing solution – Google Cloud PrintGoogle Cloud Print lets me print from multiple devices and even print over the Internet!

GPC_Simple

All you need to make it work is a Cloud Ready Printer, an Internet connection, and a Google (Gmail) account.

How do I connect my printer to Google Cloud Print?

Make sure your printer is ‘Cloud Ready’. Most network or Wi-Fi printers are Cloud Ready these days. For example, the Samsung SCX 3405FW. Here are a few simple steps to connect your printer to Google Cloud Print:

1) Connect the Cloud Ready printer to your router over Wi-Fi or via ethernet.

2) Logon to your printer through a browser. The URL will be something like http://192.168.x.x. Once you enter the user name and password to logon to the printer, you will be presented with a dashboard to configure the printer settings. (Check the printer’s user guide for its user name and password.)

3) Go to the Google Cloud Print option. (Check the printer’s user guide for the exact location of the Google Cloud Print setting.)

4) Enter your Google (Gmail) user name and password. This step authorizes your printer to receive print jobs from Google Cloud Print.

5) After configuring your printer to receive print jobs from Google Cloud Print, your Google email will be displayed as the registered email.

GCP_Printer_Dashboard

How do I print a document using Google Cloud Print?

Once your computer is connected to Google Cloud Print, download the Cloud Print app on your mobile device. You can then print any file from any device over the Internet or local network. Here are a few steps to print any file on an Android device:

1) Open Cloud Print. Click Local > Files to access files available locally on your phone.

Cloud_Print1

2) Select any file and confirm the print action.

Cloud_Print2

3) Modify the Page Setup and print the file.

Cloud_Print3

The file is immediately printed over the Internet!

If you have multiple devices, with multiple operating systems, you need not worry anymore. Google Cloud Print automatically manages the drivers for all devices. All you need is a Cloud Ready printer connected to the Internet.

With Google Cloud Print, you never have to update the printer drivers. Even if you change your printer, you never have to reinstall the drivers. The only thing you need to do is ‘authorize’ your printer to accept print jobs from Google Cloud Print.

Is Cloud Printing useful for business?

Google Cloud Print could be a game changer for IT departments in small business. With Google Cloud Print, small businesses could avoid having a computer at various warehouse locations and just schedule a print job over the cloud.

Consider a hypothetical small business selling cosmetics to a small customer base across a distributed geographic location:

gcp-1
  • The mobile sales teams in various shopping malls (or the branch office) accept orders and send the print jobs to the cloud ready warehouse printers.
  • The warehouse employee creates a package and pastes the shipping label on the package.
  • Since warehouses do not have computers, there is no computer maintenance required.
  • Google Cloud Print not only saves money for small businesses, but also reduces the hassle of managing computers in multiple locations.

It’s really cool isn’t it? It’s time you upgraded to a printer that supports Google Cloud Print. Because, printer drivers could soon become extinct. It would be interesting to see how Google Cloud Print evolves in future. I would’t be surprised if Google adds multiple features like Cloud Scan or Cloud Fax considering the fact that most Cloud Ready Printers are Multi-function printers (printer, scanner, fax, and copier). 

The next time you want to print an important document, don’t wait till you get home. You could print remotely when you are on your way home in your car or on the train. Better still, you could print from halfway across the world, and your printer will still finish the job right away like a humble minion.

ZeroLemon: The Solution for Power Guzzling Smartphones

As the world waits for the launch of the new iPhone, can you guess the most requested feature? You may be surprised to know that it is not the fingerprint scanner or a better camera. According to a poll conducted by USA Today, the most requested feature in the new iPhone is improved battery life! The iPhone (or for that matter, any smartphone) guzzles power like a thirsty horse drinking water out of a river. It’s not just Smartphones, Tablets, or Phablets that guzzle power. With the launch of the Samsung Galaxy Gear Smartwatch, wearable gadgets need powerful batteries too.

Since the launch of the first iPhone, there have been numerous advances in smartphone technology. Better processors, more memory, increasing storage, and better cameras. The only thing that does not seem to have improved much over the years is the battery.

I have used many smartphones over the years, and all of them had the same problem; a battery that runs out when I was about to send an important email at the end of the day. Or, when I needed to call home to say I am on my way.

Over the years, I have tried many battery solutions and different ways to ensure my battery remained charged:

  • Mophie Juicepack Air –  Mophie is  a case for your smartphone that also includes a battery. The battery in the case charges the smartphone’s internal battery. The disadvantage of the Mophie is the lead time for charging your phone. When you are on a call, you are consuming a lot of power. Battery charging is a slow process and Consumption is always faster than Charging.
  • iGo Green USB charger –  iGo Green is a battery that plugs into the wall for charging. Once the iGo Green is charged, you can charge your smartphone through a built-in USB port. The disadvantage of the iGo green is that you need to charge the battery first. If the battery is already drained when you need to charge your phone, you are out of luck.
  • Spare charger – Of course, you could leave one charger at work and one at home. What about the car and the meeting room? Or the transit? I can think of too many situations where you need to charge your phone and it is practically impossible to have a charger everywhere.
  • Predictive usage – If your battery goes below 10% stop watching the YouTube video and wait till you get home! Believe me, I have tried this too.

A smartphone cannot work without a charge and you are disconnected from work, home, and friends when your battery runs out. I was wondering how to ensure that my smartphone’s battery stays charged for at least 12 hours. If I could get through the day without losing charge, I could charge my phone when I got home. With superior battery technology not coming anytime soon, I had to look for a solution to stay connected.

Then I found the perfect solution – ZeroLemon.

The ZeroLemon battery is a 7000 mAH (milli-Ampere Hour) battery as compared to the original 2100 mAH battery that comes with the Samsung Galaxy S3. It is obviously more than three times the original capacity. The ZeroLemon battery takes 6 hours to charge and lasts 3 days even with heavy use! Even when I used my S3 for calls, texting, social media, Internet, Netflix, flash photography, and email, ZeroLemon refused to die.

Here are a few photos of the battery that has truly changed the way I use my smartphone:

Front of the ZeroLemon battery when compared to the original Samsung battery:

1

Back of the ZeroLemon battery:

2

Thickness of both batteries:

3

Samsung Galaxy S3 when you insert the ZeroLemon battery:

4

Samsung Galaxy S3 with the Zero Lemon battery and case:

5

Finally, if you are interested in comparing the thickness:

6

The Samsung Galaxy S3 surely gets a bit bulkier with the ZeroLemon battery. However, it is interesting to note that it is less bulkier than the OtterBox case. For a little additional weight, you get three days worth of battery. Now, you can always stay connected.

Here are the battery usage statistics from my Samsung Galaxy S3 when the ZeroLemon battery was about to run out. As you can see, the battery lasted me a full 2 days and 19 hours with 3% remaining:

Battery_Stats

ZeroLemon is available on Amazon. ZeroLemon sells extended batteries for many Android phones. Sadly, they do not sell an extended battery for the iPhone. Try out the Zero Lemon battery and let me know how you liked it.

Disclaimer: The Digital Dimension of Technology is an independent non-commercial technology blog. We have not been endorsed by ZeroLemon. 

Managing Mobile Devices at Home

I am sure most of us have multiple mobile devices at home, such as smartphone, a tablet, or the distant cousin of the smartphone and tablet – the phablet. These mobile devices may be a combination of iOS, Android, and Windows Mobile.

With our kids, spouse, and parents using mobile devices, it becomes imperative for us to manage all these devices from a single interface. Especially with less technical users, it is important to manage tracking, apps, and other settings on the devices for them.

The Questions

When managing these mobile devices at home, there are some questions that plague us quite a bit, such as how do I:

  • Track my devices: Where are the devices right now? Where have the devices been?
  • Monitor my devices’ data: How do I monitor call history, Wi-Fi networks that the device has connected to, and Apps installed on the device?
  • Manage apps on my devices: How do I install an app on all my devices remotely? Can I delete Apps from my devices remotely?
  • Protect my devices: How do I enforce a Password Policy, remotely lock, or remotely wipe the device?

The Problem

Unlike corporate IT departments, we don’t really have a budget for advanced Mobile Device Management (MDM) solutions. So, in effect, here’s my problem:

  • I want to manage my mobile devices at home (for my family).
  • I have no money to buy an MDM solution for my home.
  • I don’t really have the training required to use an MDM solution.

The Solution

The answer to my problem is the Mobile Device Management solution by a company called 3CX. This MDM solution is cloud-based and so there is no installation required except on the mobile devices you want to manage. The 3CX Mobile Device Management solution is easy to use, has a web-based interface, and lets you manage up to 5 devices for free.

Setting up the MDM

Here’s how I set up the MDM solution on my devices:

  1. Go to http://www.mobiledevicemanager.com/ and sign-up. To activate the account, click the link in your email.
  2. Download and install the 3CX MDM App on the Android and iOS devices. When prompted, I logged in using using the credentials I created in step 1.
  3. Go to http://www.mobiledevicemanager.com/ from any browser and log in. Go to the Pending Approval node and approve the devices.

(For more information, refer to the 3CX getting started guide. It’s concise and well written.)

And Voila! The devices are visible on the web-based dashboard.

1Dashboard

The interface is clean and easy to navigate. I’ll talk about a few cool features of the MDM solution. I’ve added some screenshots of the MDM solution. You can click the images for a larger view.

Managing Mobile Devices

The Devices node lets you manage all your devices from a single interface. As you can see, both my devices are listed. One interesting feature is that the node shows you the last time when your device checked-in.2a_Device_List

Click the device you want to manage. For this example, I clicked the Android device. A few critical icons appeared as soon as I clicked the device. I’ll talk about a few important ones:

0_Device_List_Icons

  • Messaging – you can send a message to the device directly from this interface.
  • Lock – you can lock the device remotely.
  • Unlock – you can unlock the device remotely. You can also set a passcode.
  • Wipe – if the device was stolen, you can wipe the data on the device remotely.

The following tabs show a lot of useful information.

Map tab - displays the current location of the device.

2b_Map

The Info tab shows useful information about the device. I found it interesting that it was able to tell me if the device was charging or on battery. Interestingly, it displayed the memory and CPU usage too!

2c_Info

The Applications tab shows the list of applications installed on the device.

2d_Applications

The Location History tab shows all the locations where the device traveled to in a certain time frame. The grid shows a time stamp, address, and location co-ordinates. The location is accurate to a few meters. 2e_Location_History

The Call History tab shows a list of all outgoing and incoming calls with the duration.

2f_Call_History

The Policy tab lets you manage the usage policy. You can also enforce a password policy, if necessary.2g_Policy

The Wi-Fi tab shows all the Wi-Fi networks the devices connected to in a certain time frame. Interestingly, it also displays the security type and the visibility of the Wi-Fi networks that the device connected to during those times!

2h_WIFI

The Email tab lets you configure an email account on the device remotely.

Email_Tab

Navigation

The MDM has a Tree pane and an expandable node for easy navigation. You can expand nodes that have one or more sub-nodes.

3Nodes

Depending upon the node, the following information is available:

  • Dashboard –  a snapshot of the managed devices.
  • Devices – list of managed devices and detailed information shown through various tabs as described in the previous section.
  • Pending Approval – lets you approve the devices before managing them.
  • Group Policies – lets you define the behavior of certain settings. For example, your Password Policy.
  • Messages – lets you send messages to online devices.
  • Users – lets you add, modify, or delete users.
  • Alerts – lets you configure alerts for various actions performed by the device or the user.
  • App Management – lets you manage the Apps on the devices. (I will explain App Management further in this post).
  • System – settings for the Administrator.
  • Resources – help files and other useful links.

Alerts

The 3CX MDM lets you configure alerts based on various actions. Here is how the alert configuration screen looks:

4Alerts

App Management

I have saved the best for the last. App Management, in my opinion, is the most important feature of this solution. Expanding the App Management node shows these other sub-nodes:

5a_App_Management

1) Installed Apps – shows the list of apps installed on your managed devices. You can select a particular app and click Remove Application to remove the app from the device.

5b_Installed_Apps

2) App Repository – shows your own App Repository. You can create your own App Repository by adding apps from iTunes or Google Play store. You can use this repository to quickly install apps onto the managed devices. For example, if you are going to Disney world, you can add the Disney app to the repository. You can then easily deploy this app onto the devices used by your family.

5c_App_Repository

Once you have an app to the App Repository, go to Devices > [Your Device Name] > Applications (tab) > Add from Repository (button) and select the app from the dialog that opens. Select the App you want to deploy to the device and click Add.

Add_From_Repository

3) Whitelisted Apps – users of your mobile devices are allowed to download these apps. For example, I added the weather app as a Whitelisted App. The users of my managed mobile devices can now install the weather app. 5d_Whitelisted_Apps

4) Blacklisted Apps -  users of your mobile devices are not allowed to download these apps. For example, I added a poker app as a Blacklisted App.

5e_Blacklisted_Apps

Conclusion

Homes and people are now connected via mobile devices. With more and more devices entering our homes, the safety, security, and management of our mobile devices become a critical task. Consequently, Mobile Device Management solutions are not meant for corporates alone. Homes need MDM solutions too. Needless to add, you are now the IT administrator of your connected home.

Disclaimer: The Digital Dimension of Technology is an independent non-commercial technology blog. We have not been endorsed by 3CX. 

Mobile Payments: Leave your wallet at home!

How many times have you rushed to work only to realize that you have forgotten your wallet at home? Well, the only option then is to borrow money from your co-workers (for lunch or the odd coffee) and this can be quite embarrassing! And now think about the one thing you never leave home without these days? You guessed it right – your mobile device. People are glued to their smartphones throughout the day and sometimes, even in bed.

The mobile world presents a great opportunity for any seller to accept payments using your mobile phone. If your mobile phone was also your wallet, you would never have to carry your “real” wallet.

Just out of a curiosity to see how such a concept would work, I decided to install a mobile payment app on my Android phone.

Setting up Mobile Payments

Before paying using my smartphone, I had to enable NFC, download the mobile payment app, register my credit card, and configure the app itself.

Following are the step-by-step procedures:

1. Enable NFC: First, I enabled the Near Field Communication (NFC) feature on my Android phone. NFC allows smartphones to communicate with other devices in the vicinity. The communication is encrypted. Smartphones that do not have NFC cannot be used for mobile payments (for example, the iPhone). As soon I enabled NFC, a N sign appeared on the top of the screen.

NFC

2. Download the Mobile Payments App: I downloaded the CIBC mobile payments app. You can download the mobile payments app for your credit card/bank.
3. Call the bank to activate: There was a manual process involved with CIBC. I had to make a phone call to CIBC to activate mobile payments for my credit card.
4. Receive notification from CIBC Mobile Payments: Once I received the notification, I knew the activation was successful.
5. Set a password: This step is optional. For security reasons, it is better to set a password – just in case your mobile phone is lost or stolen.

Passcode

The configuration was complete and the app said ‘Congratulations!‘.

Config_Done

Making a Mobile Payment 

Once the setup was complete, I tried to figure out how I could make a payment. Surprisingly, making a payment was extremely simple.

1. Launch the Mobile Payment app (CIBC) on your smartphone. Enter your password if you have set one.

Launch_app

2. Tap the credit card to activate Pay Mode for 30 seconds.

Pay_Mode

3. Tap your phone on the payment terminal. You can also move your smartphone within 10 centimeters of the payment terminal. The payment is processed.

Security Features in Mobile Payments

The mobile payments app has many security features:

  • Call the bank to add your credit card. This ensures someone else is not activating your card.
  • Password on the mobile payments app. This is in addition to the password on your phone.
  • Pay Mode deactivated in 30 seconds. This ensures that your credit card information is not read from your phone when you don’t want it to be read. You are always in control.
  • Communication between the smartphone and the terminal is always encrypted.

Advantages of Mobile Payments

  • You don’t need to carry your wallet.
  • Reduce credit card theft. Since you are not swiping your credit card anywhere, it cannot be read by hackers.
  • Any terminal that accepts VISA payWave® or MasterCard PayPass™ will also support NFC transactions.

Disadvantages of Mobile Payments

  • There aren’t many touch-to-pay terminals at the moment.
  • Not all credit card companies offer mobile payments.
  • Not all mobile carriers offer mobile payments.
  • You need a separate SIM card to enable mobile payments (provided by the carrier).
  • If smartphones are lost or stolen, the credit card details can be extracted by a smart hacker.

The smartphone industry is growing at an alarming pace. Up until yesterday, your smartphone was your computer, camera, and maybe even your bathroom mirror. Today, smartphones are credit cards and mobile payment terminals. You can now forget your wallet at home and you don’t need to borrow lunch money from your co-workers!

Disclaimer: The Digital Dimension of Technology is an independent technology blog. We have not been endorsed by Rogers, Samsung, CIBC, or Google (Android). We do not endorse the security, usability, and reliability of mobile payments. 

 

When Earthlings become Martians

Did you ever wonder about traveling to another planet? Were you glued to sci-fi books and movies as a kid? If yes, read on. There’s a huge project underway to build a Human Colony on Mars. And interestingly, you can now be a part of it thanks to Mars One.

About the Mars One project

Mars One is the company that will give you an opportunity to live on Mars. The Mars One project involves sending four people to Mars every two years. Now, these are not astronauts or space-pilots, but regular people like you and me.  This is a great opportunity for people who want to be a part of a new era. Bas Lansdorp launched Mars One in 2012. He has an impressive team, well-known advisers and strong suppliers. Here is a cool promotional video.

The journey from Earth to Mars will take 7 months. The travel through space will be a great experience where you can view the stars, planets and asteroids with naked eyes. And finally, walking on Mars, an even better experience!

Mars_Landscape1
Mars Landscape. Photo by Mars Rover Curiosity: Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech 

The catch? It is a one-way ticket. You go to Mars, never to return.

Mountain_Top_Created_in_Crater_MRO
Top of a mountain that was created inside a crater due to impact. Photo by Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Courtesy NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

Here’s the roadmap for the Mars One project:

2013 – Accepting applications for going to Mars.
2014 – Building the first communication satellite.
2015 – Astronaut selection process will be completed.
2016 – A supply mission that will carry 2,500 kilograms of supplies to Mars.
2018 – A space exploration vehicle will be sent to Mars to pick a location for settlement.
2021 – Six capsules and another Rover will be sent to Mars. This will include two living units, two life-support units and two supply units.
2023 – History will be created! The first colonists will arrive on Mars.
2025 – A second group will be sent.
2033 – The number of colonists will reach 20.

The coolest feature of the Mars One project is that everything will be done using currently available technology. This means, no traveling at the Speed of Light like you read in science-fiction books. The Mars One project will only use technology of today that is reliable and tested.

Bacolor_Crater_Mars_Odyssey
Bacolor Crater. Photo by Mars Odyssey: Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech 

Why do we need to explore other planets?

Hundreds of explorers weathered deadly storms to discover new continents. Consider the Mars One project to be another exploration – but this time, in the solar system rather than on Earth. We could discover new ways to live and learn so much about living outside Earth.

Mars_Sand_Dune_MRO
Sand dune on Mars. Photo by Mars Global Surveyor Orbiter: Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech 

Aren’t there other planets that can support life better than Mars?

Astronomers have been trying their best to find a Goldilocks planet where life can be sustained. A Goldilocks planet is a planet that is neither too far or too near to its Sun. If it was too far from the Sun, it would be too cold and being too near would make it too hot to sustain water and any other life on its surface. Most of the planets we have found are so far away, that it is impossible to go there with the current technology. Take  Gliese 581 d for example, which is a Goldilocks planet that was discovered recently. Gliese 581 d is 20 light-years from Earth. This means it would take us 20 years to reach there if we were able to travel at the speed of light! Since traveling at the speed of light is not going to happen anytime soon, I don’t think Gliese 581 d is an option for now.

Evidence_of_Water_Stream
Evidence of water flow. Photo by Mars Rover Curiosity: Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech 

Why Mars?

This, by far, is the most important question and has many interesting answers:

  • Water - Mars has underground ice deposits and frozen polar ice caps that show an abundance of water. If we were to melt the polar ice caps on Mars, there would be enough water to cover the entire planet upto a depth of 11 meters. Now, that’s a lot of water! Water is the most important medium for life to grow. If not for water, we would not exist today.
  • Gravity - The gravitational force on Mars is 38% that on Earth. Unlike the Moon that has 1/6th of Earth’s surface gravity, Mars has enough gravity to hold down atmosphere, which is essential for life. The atmosphere also protects from solar radiation.
  • Temperature - The high temperature on equatorial Mars is around 35 degree centigrade. This is very comfortable and very Earth-like.
  • Mars Day = Earth day - Mars takes 24.622 hours to rotate on its own axis. This means that the day-night cycles on Mars are same as that on the Earth. It would be very easy for Earthlings to adapt to a Mars day.
  • Seasons - Mars has the same seasons as that on Earth. Although, the seasons on Mars are twice as longer since Mars takes 1 Earth year and 320 Earth days (685 Earth days or 1.8 Earth years) to orbit the sun.
  • Soil - The soil on Mars is conducive for the growth of plants. The soil contains Magnesium, Sodium, and Potassium that are useful for plants.
  • Atmosphere - Mars has a sparse and hospitable atmosphere. 95% of the atmosphere in Mars is CO2. Plants need CO2 to breathe and we could take seeds or plants to Mars where they could grow.

Mars_Water_in_the_form_of_ice
Ice found in a fresh crater. Photo by Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter: Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech

Ice_on_Sand_Dune_North_Pole_HiRise
Frosted ice on sand dunes (north pole). Photo by Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter:
Courtesy NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

What are the challenges?

After having talked about the advantages of mars here are a few disadvantages that create huge challenges:

  • Gravity - Since Mars has only 38 % of the surface gravity of the Earth, our bodies (especially bones) will get used to the lower gravity. Even if we wanted to return to Earth in the future, our bones would have weakened by adapting to the lower gravity on Mars. Our bones would be strong enough for Mars, but returning to Earth will just crush them due to the higher gravity. Although there has been enough research and treatment is available for astronauts living in zero gravity, our bones would develop a condition called osteoporosis (bones become porous). That’s why the colonists can never return to Earth even if they wanted to.
  • Atmosphere - With 95% carbon-di-oxide in its sparse atmosphere there would be no option but to wear spacesuits. We can build greenhouses to grow plants that would convert CO2 to O2, but this is really challenging. After all, we would need a good stock of oxygen to tide us over until we are able to generate oxygen on Mars.
  • Medical Services - We are on our own if we fall seriously ill. Mars One does plan for basic treatments. However, it would not be possible to provide the advanced treatment available on Earth today (for example a complicated surgery).
  • Natural Calamities - Since Mars is unchartered territory, Mars quakes (Earthquakes, but on Mars!), or dust storms might damage the settlements. We are in no way ready for this such natural calamities.

Mars_Dust_Storm4
Dust storm on Mars. Photo by Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter: Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech

Avalanche_Clouds_HiRise
Avalanche clouds. Photo by Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter: Courtesy NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

How would the settlement communicate with their families on Earth?

Mars One will provide Internet access. That said, communication with Earth is particularly challenging. Mars is at a distance of 55 million kilometers (shortest) and 400 million kilometers (farthest) from the Earth depending on the orbital location.

The_Earth_and_the_Moon_photographed_from_Mars_orbit
The Earth and her Moon. Photo by Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter: Courtesy NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

Therefore, it would take the signal anywhere between 3 to 20 minutes to reach the Earth. You could send e-mails or use video messages, but you’d have to wait 3 to 20 minutes for your message to reach there and an equal amount of time before you hear back. There goes your Skype party.

Mars5_Sharp_Mountain_5
Panorama of Mount Sharp taken by Mars Rover Curiosity: Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech (click image to enlarge)

How would Mars One fund the project?

The entire project from launch to settlement would be broadcasted to generate subscription and advertising revenue. As a business model, this is quite challenging. There must be a steady stream of revenue forever so we can constantly send supplies to our colony on Mars. Shutting down the company after sending humans to Mars is not an option. This, in my opinion is the most challenging because as a business, failure is not an option! 

Ripples_in_Proctor_Crater
Ripples in the sand at the Proctor Crater. Photo by Mars Global Surveyor Orbiter: Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech 

How can I help?

There are many ways you can help this amazing project:

Sunset_on_Mars_Mars_Exploration_Rover
Sunset on Mars. Photo by Mars Exploration Rover: Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech

Finally…

Mars has the potential to be our new home. If the Mars One project is successful, there is no limit to the extent of space colonization. Thousands of people could migrate to Mars and live a great life there.

And you could be one of them.

Mars_First_Daybreak_Gale_Crater
Daybreak on Mars (at the Gale Crater). Photo by Mars Global Surveyor Orbiter: Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech 

Disclaimer: The Digital Dimension of Technology is an independent non-commercial technology blog. We have not been endorsed by Mars One. 

Image Courtesy: NASA/JPL-Caltech (JPL Image Policy) and  NASA/JPL/University of Arizona (HiRISE Image Usage Policy).

 

Octa-core Superphones: When a Single Core is just not enough!

I was surprised to hear that the Samsung Galaxy S4 will have an Octa-core processor (a processor with 8 cores). A smartphone is essentially a computer – like our home computer. What do we really do on a home computer? We surf the Internet, create documents, and play movies. Among other components, a computer contains a Central Processing Unit (CPU) to perform all these tasks. Traditionally, older CPUs had a single core.

What is a ‘Core’, really? As a non-technical end-user, why do I really care as to how many cores the CPU in my smartphone has? Before answering these questions, let us talk about something else:

How does a motor vehicle with an internal combustion engine work?

Scooters have an internal combustion engine with a single cylinder, piston, and a spark plug.  When fuel is injected into the cylinder, the spark plug creates a spark and the explosion pushes the piston. Consequently, the scooter moves forward. With a single cylinder comes a limited amount of power. In comparison, the engine of a car has four cylinders. Four cylinders give more power than a single cylinder. More interestingly, the work is equally divided amongst the four cylinders. As a result, any one cylinder is not overloaded and any one cylinder never overheats.

Let us compare the processor with an engine and the core with a cylinder.

The biggest challenge chip designers face today is the inefficiency of a CPU in terms of heat emission. Like single cylinder engines, CPUs with a single core produce a lot of heat which makes them inefficient in terms of power consumption. To solve this problem, chip designers created a multi-core processor (like the multi-cylinder engine). The processing is divided between multiple cores thereby reducing heat emissions and consequently reducing power consumption. It is common to see dual-core or even quad-core processors in computers today.

cpu

So far, phones usually had a CPU with a single core. With the launch of Samsung Galaxy S4, we are entering a new era of smartphone computing. The Samsung Galaxy S4 has an Octa-core processor (8 cores). Why does a smartphone need so much power? When a home computer can do everything with a slower processor (and single core), why does a smartphone need a faster processor (with 8 cores)?

The Samsung Galaxy S4 has the following components that a home computer or even a basic business computer does not have:

Smartphone_Sensors-1

  • GPS tracks your location.
  • Proximity Sensor turns the screen off when you hold it to your face.
  • Ambient Light Sensor automatically adjusts brightness.
  • Accelerometer senses movement and orientation.
  • Barometer measures pressure.
  • Temperature Sensor measures the temperature.
  • Humidity Sensor measures the humidity.
  • Magnetic Sensor measures the magnetic field.
  • Gesture Sensor senses your hands to navigate.
  • Infrared Sensor turns the phone into a remote control.
  • Eye Tracker pauses video when you look away.
  • NFC (Near Field Communication) shares data by touching two phones and also enables mobile payments.
  • Dual Cameras are available; one on the front and one on the back of the phone. Both cameras can record simultaneously in the Samsung Galaxy S4.
  • Dual Microphones are used in the phone; one microphone for voice and the other to listen to the ambient noise and create anti-noise using the noise-cancelling system.

These sensors constantly gather large amounts of data and need constant processing. A CPU must have multiple cores to compute all this data simultaneously. The CPU assigns tasks to different cores, keeping a single core from overheating. Less heat is generated and hence, less power is consumed.

With battery technology not evolving as fast as CPUs, manufacturers don’t have a choice but to make CPUs that are  more efficient in terms of power consumption and heat emission. Unless better batteries are developed, smartphone manufactures will strive to use better processors with each new model to remain competitive. (You might want to read more about my idea on battery technology in my earlier post Is the Smartphone Industry Curious about Curiosity?.)

Next time you use your smartphone, you might want to count the number of sensors it has. It would be really interesting to see how many of us are able to identify all the sensors on our smartphones!

Where the Worlds Collide: Smartphones turn into Desktops (or SmartTops*)

The past decade has seen more technological innovation than the past century – at least in the world of mobile computing. Netbooks, Smartphones, Tablets, and finally Phablets have revolutionized the world.

A new phenomenon is emerging – where Smartphones are turning into desktops. Sounds funny, doesn’t it?

Consider this: What’s the configuration of your smartphone? Most likely, it’s a dual-core processor with at least 2 GB RAM, and a 32 GB of disk space. Good examples are an iPhone 5 or a Samsung Galaxy S3. What’s the configuration of your home computer? Most probably, the processor is lesser than a dual-core, with 2 GB RAM, and a large hard disk. Putting all of these together, your smartphone today may as well have more processing power and memory than your basic home computer.

Yet, we have a home computer, for general Internet surfing, printing, or for things that you can’t yet do with your smartphone. And yet, most of us carry a smartphone.

Here’s a revolutionary idea: What if your smartphone could also be your home computer?

And this revolutionary idea comes to you not from Apple or Google, but from Canonical, the guys that brought you Ubuntu. Canonical has released a developer version of Ubuntu for Mobile. You can load this operating system on your smartphone. You can connect your smartphone to a dock to switch to Desktop Mode. You can then use your smartphone as a desktop computer simply by connecting a mouse, keyboard, and monitor to the dock. After using your Smartphone as a Desktop, just unplug it and put it in your pocket!

Here is a conceptual representation of the setup:

Ubuntu_Mobile

Intriguing? I think so. Here’s where you can read more about Ubuntu for Mobile: http://www.ubuntu.com/devices/phone

In my opinion, here are some advantages of using a single device (for a home user):

  • Programs: Install all software programs on only one device..
  • Data: Store your data on only one device (may also be synced to a cloud).
  • Mobility: Carry the device around.
  • Security: Manage security for only one device (anti-virus, anti-spyware, anti-malware, theft protection etc.)
  • Cost: Cheaper, since there is only one device to buy.
  • Software Updates: Update software on only one device.
  • Space: Saves space in your home.
  • Environment friendly: Save power and creates less electronic recycling.

Here are some advantages of using a single device (for a business):

  • Mobility: Welcome to the mobile enterprise – all employees are mobile.
  • Mobile Device Management: IT administrators can now use Mobile Device Management instead of Desktop Management solutions (the desktop market is shrinking anyways).
  • Licensing: Save on licensing costs for expensive programs.
  • Unified Threat Management: Unified Threat Management on only one device – a boon for IT administrators.

I would love to have an Ubuntu Smartphone that is also my home computer.

In all fairness and much as I love the concept, there are some serious disadvantages to using an Ubuntu phone as a computer:

  • Processor Speed: Can we have a processor that is as fast as Core i7 on a Smartphone? Not yet.
  • Memory (RAM): Smartphones are yet to reach the 8 or 16 GB category.
  • Network Speed: Smartphones do not have Gigabit Ethernet. Ethernet ports are still very useful when it comes to communicating over high-speed networks.
  • Battery Technology: How reliable are smartphone batteries? Obviously not as reliable as a desktop computer that is plugged into a power line. (You might want to read more about my idea on battery technology in my earlier post Is the Smartphone Industry Curious about Curiosity?.)
  • Applications/Programs: Finally, the obvious – Ubuntu for Mobile may not have as many programs as Windows. Windows still rules the market with millions of programs, drivers, and tools for business.

I guess technology has reached a full circle from Desktops > Laptops > Netbooks > Smartphones > Tablets > Phablets > finally to SmartTops*!

Let’s wait and watch to see if SmartTops* rule the market like Smartphones or Tablets.

*SmartTop is not an industry terminology. I came up with this term for this blog post. Remember, you heard this word here first. Ubuntu for smartphones may get in touch with my $$ anytime soon :)

 

How would you describe Facebook without the Internet?

With all the Social Media buzzwords floating around, someone who was not born with a smartphone in their hands would find the idea of Facebook extremely complex. I tried to explain the concept of Facebook to my parents. However, I realized that some user-interface elements obvious to me were not obvious to someone who equates their computer with nothing except email.

Facebook does a great job of marketing itself. But in my opinion, Facebook does not do a good job of explaining user interface elements to non-technical users. Otherwise, basic Facebook concepts such as Wall, Posts, Comments, Message, Tagging, and Targeted Advertisements would be extremely clear to everyone.

This post is my attempt to explain the various components of Facebook to non-technical users. Let’s assume for a moment that there is no Internet. Describing Facebook without Internet is like describing automobiles without roads, but I’m still making an attempt!

For example, people in ancient civilizations – where modern technology was non-existent – still had a ‘Social Network’. How did they communicate with each other?

Let me tell you a story about ‘Social Network’ in a world without Internet, phones, emails, or smartphones.

Welcome to NoGizmo. NoGizmo is a small (imaginary, I hope) town with around 100 residents. As the name suggests, they have no phones, computers, or Internet. However, they have a very unique way of communicating with each other. This story is about Amy, Bob, and Jim who live in NoGizmo.

The Wall – the main feature

Residents have a whiteboard in front of their houses. They can write anything on the whiteboard. For example, Jim writes short messages about his day-to-day activities. People walking by read the whiteboard.

The Post – communicating with the world

Jim wrote on his whiteboard ‘There’s a huge sale in Home Depot.

The Comment – responding to posts

Amy walked past Jim’s house and she saw the post. Amy picked up a marker and wrote under Jim’s post ‘I’d like to shop there too!

The Security  – allowing only selected people to view/comment on the post

Jim did not want everyone adding comments on his whiteboard. He placed his whiteboard behind a glass door and locked it. He gave copies of the key to selected people who could unlock the glass door to write comments. When Bob walked past, he saw Jim’s message, but could not write on the whiteboard since he did not have a copy of the key to open the glass door.

Messages – sending personal messages not visible to the world

Bob decided to throw a secret party for Amy. He wrote a letter on a piece of paper and dropped it off at Jim’s house. Jim read the message and wrote a reply to Bob on a piece of paper and dropped it off at Bob’s house. They had now planned a party. Only Jim and Bob knew about the party. This was because, communication between Jim and Bob was not conducted on the notice board. This particular communication was private.

Photos and Tagging – sharing photos and identifying (tagging) people

Jim pasted a photo he took with Bob and Amy on the whiteboard. Jim marked the names of the people on the whiteboard under the photo – Amy, Bob, Jim.

Remove Tagging – removing identification

Amy did not want her name on the photo. She walked past Jim’s house, and with her key, she opened the glass door to Jim’s whiteboard. Amy erased her name under the photo.

Advertisements – displaying ‘relevant’ advertisements

The Ad Company  (AdCo) saw the whiteboards as a great opportunity to advertise various products to people. AdCo now has a small space on every whiteboard where it advertises products related to the interests of the people writing on the whiteboard. For example, Amy posted that she plans to go skating. So, AdCo advertised skating gear on Amy’s whiteboard. If Amy saw the advertisement and went to the local sports store to purchase skates, AdCo would get a 5% cut from sale.

Here’s how virtual elements in Facebook compare to real-world objects in NoGizmo:

  • Wall = Whiteboard
  • Post = message/announcement by the owner of the Wall.
  • Comments = response to a Post or a Photo.
  • Security = a locked or unlocked whiteboard; allowing only certain people to comment.
  • Messages = personal messages only visible to the intended recipients.
  • Tagging Photos = identifying/marking photos.
  • Remove Tagging = removing identification.
  • Targeted Ads = advertisements based on the demographic/interests of the user.

The next time your parents/grandparents ask you about Facebook, just ask them to read my story about NoGizmo. I am sure they will enjoy it.

By the way, I’m glad I don’t live in NoGizmo. I can’t live without the Internet or my gizmos!

DSLR Concepts: The watered down basics

For as long as I can remember, I have been a point-and-shoot enthusiast. After using a bridge (SuperZoom) camera for a long time, I finally upgraded to a DSLR.

When I upgraded to a DSLR, I started learning about the various aspects of DSLR photography. I read many blogs, websites, and books that attempted to explain the basics. In my humble opinion, however, all these sources were a little too technical when it came to explaining one concept – exposure.

After reading the definitions from various sources, I would always come away with a few questions:

  • What does exposure really mean?
  • What is the relationship between aperture, shutter speed, and ISO?
  • Do I really need to understand these concepts to take good photos?

For a person who has been taking photos for over a decade now, I found these concepts intriguing. I found a lot of technical explanations online for aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. But just like exposure, I found nothing that tied them all together in an extremely simple manner.

This blog post is my attempt at explaining the basic concept of exposure, as I understand it today.

What is Exposure?

A photo is all about light. Exposure is nothing but the quantity of light that is used to create a photo in a camera.

Before going into aperture, shutter speed and ISO, let us try to understand what one must do to fill 1 bucket of water. (Huh?)

Let’s assume you have the following three items to fill 1 bucket of water:

A pipe that carries water.

A valve that opens and closes.

A bucket of a certain size.

For the sake of simplicity, let’s say you could fill 1 bucket with the following parameters:

Use a pipe of 10-inch diameter.

Open the valve for 10 seconds.

Use a bucket of a 10-liter capacity.

It’s simple isn’t it?

Let’s compare the idea of filling 1 bucket of water to the concepts of photography:

Pipe = Aperture (the diameter of the opening that allows light into the camera)

Valve = Shutter (can be opened for a pre-defined number of seconds)

Size of the bucket = ISO (time taken to fill the bucket; smaller the bucket, the faster it fills up).

So, based on how much water you want, you can fill 1 bucket of water in any of the following ways:

  • Use a 10-inch pipe, open the valve for 10 seconds, and fill a bucket of 10 liters.
  • Use a 5-inch pipe, open the valve for 10 seconds, and fill a bucket of 5 liters.
  • Use a 10-inch pipe, open the valve for 5 seconds, and fill a bucket of 5 liters.

Water vs. Light

The world of DSLR photography with light is not different from filling water in a bucket. You can create a photo by adjusting any of the following parameters to adjust the quantity of light used to create a photo because:

Exposure = Aperture + Shutter Speed + ISO

  • Aperture: Increase the Aperture for more light and decrease it for less light.
  • Shutter Speed: Decrease the Shutter Speed (shutter stays open for a longer duration) for more light and increase the Shutter Speed (shutter stays open for a shorter duration) for less light.
  • ISO: ISO defines how sensitive the sensor is to light. In the older non-digital camera days, films were used to take photos. A term called film-speed was used define how soon the photo was created on the film when light fell on it. A 100 film-speed was less sensitive and 200 film-speed was more sensitive to light. With DSLRs, the term called ISO is used to define how sensitive the sensor is to light. The higher the ISO setting on your camera, the more sensitive it is to light.

Theoretically, you could increase one parameter and decrease the others to ensure that the same quantity of light creates the digital image.

Here are a few examples of a candle photographed with different settings:

1) Auto Mode:

2) High ISO (More Sensitive to Light): Aperture f5.6, Shutter Speed 1/125 second, ISO 1600

3) High Shutter Speed (Less Light): Aperture f5.6, Shutter Speed 1/1000 second, ISO 100

4) Low Shutter Speed (More Light): Aperture f5.6, Shutter Speed 1/5 second, ISO 100

4) Low Aperture (Less Light): Aperture f16, Shutter Speed 1/125 second, ISO 100

If you are using a DSLR in Auto mode, a good way to see the values for Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO is to view the properties of the photo. Better still, you can adjust these parameters to see what effect this has on a photo.

You don’t really need to know these concepts to take a good photo in Auto mode. However, to upgrade from a point-and-shoot mode to a serious hobbyist mode, these concepts are extremely useful. There is so much more you can do in composing the photo if you know how these concepts (Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO) work together to bring a ‘Digital Photo’ into existence!

Stay tuned for future blog posts on other photography concepts like f-stop, crop factor, and lenses.

To see my photos, visit my Photography Blog.

Apple Maps vs. Google Maps – a user’s perspective

When Apple decided to abandon Google Maps and create its own, users expected Apple to create the next generation mapping product. However, when Apple launched its maps with iOS 6, there were reports of multiple errors in Apple Maps. Collapsed bridges, wrong names, and non-existent landmarks were a few errors blown out of proportion by the media.

Do Apple Maps really suck? Are the maps unreliable? As an iOS 6 user, would I get lost without Google Maps?

The only way to answer these questions is for me to compare both maps using a user-centric approach. I decided to analyze the route from place A to place B using both maps. For my test, I chose two well-known landmarks in the Vancouver Lower Mainland, that is starting from the Metropolis at Metrotown Mall to the Waterfront Skytrain Station.

Apple Maps: Here is the route displayed by Apple Maps:

20120930-201318.jpg

The map view looked alright to me. However, to be more accurate, I looked at the list view:

20120930-201444.jpg

What I liked about the Apple Maps (list view) was that Nelson St, Hazel St, and Miller Ave were displayed. Depending upon where exactly the user was, one of the streets would be visible within 100-150 meters. Apple maps took me through the Dunsmuir viaduct and finally Cambie St, Pender St, and Seymour St directly into Downtown Core. As a person who lives here, the route looked alright to me.

Google Maps: Here is the route displayed by Google Maps:

20120930-202205.jpg

Let us see the Google Maps route using the list view:

20120930-202307.jpg

Apple Maps seemed to be taking a slightly different route, but at first glance, neither route is glaringly incorrect. Google Maps was taking another route via Main St and Hastings St to Seymour St and finally to Downtown Core. In the Google Maps route, the first step struck me as strange. Google Maps tells the user ‘Head Northeast’. How is the user supposed to know what Northeast is? Unless the user is holding a compass, it is not user-friendly to say head in a particular direction.

Both routes are correct. However, here are the differences:

Apple Maps:

  • Specifies each street right from the start to the end. Does not say head ‘in a particular direction’.
  • Gives turn-by-turn navigation via large, unmistakeable labels on the map.

Google Maps:

  • Says head Northeast at the start of the route. Pointing users in a direction rather than towards a street, in my opinion, is not user-friendly.
  • Provides street-view, showing users exactly where they need to go.

Aside from the above differences both Apple and Google maps seem to be quite accurate. Considering the fact that Apple Maps is just the first version and the error-reporting is crowd-sourced, I am sure the accuracy of the maps will improve as users use them more and more.

As for the errors like collapsed bridges and non-existent landmarks, Apple has no option but to fix them as soon as possible.

(Edited by Prarthna Sri)

 

 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 203 other followers

%d bloggers like this: