Auditing in a touch-screen world!

Every time I inspected a home before renting it out, or even before buying it, I wish I had a quick checklist of repairs or cleaning required. In the absence of a checklist, there was no perfect way to record the defects in a house. Not having a checklist would lead to problems later – if both parties do not agree to defects. For example, you may have to pay for the stain on the carpet that was not your fault.

I found this amazing app called iAuditor. The iAuditor has a few built-in checklist that can be filled out using an iPad or an iPhone. The UI is a very simple and intuitive:

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I started a new Audit. The App has a few built-in checklists (you can also create your own customized checklist):

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I decided to try out the Accommodation Inspection Checklist:

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The checklist has the following options: Yes, No and Not Applicable. Selecting No gives an option to directly add photographic evidence of non-compliance by clicking the Camera icon.
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There is also an option to add additional comments. An interesting feature of the App is the option for both parties to add signatures directly from the iPad!

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Once both parties have signed on the Audit checklist, the App gives an option to directly export to PDF. This is how an exported PDF looks:

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As a Technical Writer, I am extremely impressed by the perfectly formatted PDF output. I can imagine hundreds of good uses for this App in business. The following uses come to my mind:

– Safety Inspection
– Regulatory Compliance
– Manufacturing
– Pharmaceuticals
– Construction
– Real Estate

In addition to the above business uses, this App can be used in personal situations as well.

The next time you check out a home for rent, make sure to carry your iPad or iPhone. Using the iAuditor App, carefully track the defects that need to be fixed. If not, don’t be surprised if you are dinged for a stain on the carpet that existed before you moved in!

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Computer Technology is Imperfect

Computers have been around for a few decades now. But computers – unlike other devices  at home – don’t seem to be as reliable.

Here are a few examples of devices at home that always work as designed:

  • Television–  Switch it on, select the channel and you are ready to go. A TV is very consistent in its function whether it is an LCD, Plasma or an LED TV. A TV has become more like a computer since apps can be installed on some TVs. Some TVs have Wi-Fi or Ethernet built in.
  • Blu-ray player – A Blu-ray player works perfectly each time. These days, a Blu-ray player has apps like Netflix and YouTube that connect to the internet.

The above devices work perfectly fine. If they break down they don’t work. But as long as they work, they are fine and do their job. Using each of the above devices is very easy since they don’t change their settings or mutate on their own.

Let’s compare these devices to a computer. The following issues make a computer extremely complex and frustrating to work with:

  • Accidental misconfiguration– Sometimes, we make changes to the settings on our computer and we are unable to roll them back. A typical computer has hundreds of settings and an average computer user may not be familiar with all of them. If we delete important system files, the computer never turns back on.
  • Malicious misconfiguration – Other users may use your computer and make changes to settings without your knowledge.
  • Virus– Viruses not only modify your computer settings, but also corrupt data.
  • Spyware – Unsafe emails and websites install sypware on your computer that is later used to steal data.
  • Malware – Malware is installed by hackers to take control of your computer and propagate their illegal activities and steal your data.
  • Crash – When your operating system crashes, you have to reboot. This corrupts your operating system and programs.

A computer, due to all the above issues is an imperfect piece of technology. We have sent a man on the moon, but we have still not developed a computer, operating system, or a program that is perfect! Is there a solution out there that makes computer technology perfect?

Yes. Reboot to Restore technology transforms the imperfect computer technology into something reliable and perfect. Just reboot your computer and your operating system, programs, and the entire computer comes back to its original configuration.

Reboot to Restore technology would have been very useful when Neil Armstrong went to the moon. If the computers on his spacecraft had problems, he could just reboot!

 

Milk, Diapers, and an iPad

During my recent visit to the Apple store, I saw Apple experts demonstrating an iPad to a group of kids and their parents. I increasingly see kids holding iPads instead of toys. An iPad is expensive, and fragile. I was curious see how a 2-year old could use an iPad. Most importantly, I was also curious to see if an iPad App was simple to use for a kid.

I downloaded Crayola Paint and Create – a free App for the iPad. I was interested in studying the features, user interface, user interaction, and the overall user experience. This is how the App looks:

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The main elements were Coloring Pages, Fun Activities and Free Draw. I decided to use Coloring pages and color a drawing:

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I clicked the Crayola icon at the bottom of the screen to display various types of crayons with different colors. You can see the following icons on the right: Pause (to pause the movements like snow falling or pause other interactive elements), Undo, Redo, New, Settings, Share (to share via email or on Facebook), Help, and Exit.

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This is how a partially colored coloring page looks:

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I could easily use different colors and fill different parts of the page with solid colors. This is how a fully colored page looks:

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The app is configured to use a finger by default. There is also a setting to use an iMarker instead of a finger (an iMarker is like a pencil that can be used with the iPad). Obviously, the Help and Settings are a little complicated for kids since they may not be able to read. Apart from Help, Settings, and Share, the other options were extremely easy to use.

What is Apple’s strategy to promote iPads for kids by launching a Kids Corner in the Apple store? What is the value proposition for parents to purchase such and expensive device for their kids? Here’s what I think:

Get an Apple user for life – That’s right. Catching them young will ensure they are Apple users for life! Kids will never choose an Android device or another tablet if they are introduced to the iPad at the age of 2. Apple’s strategy of catching users at a very young age will lead to huge revenue for years to come.

Reduce cost per user – The cheapest iPad costs approximately 400$. If a family of four – two parents and two kids use an iPad, the cost of buying an iPad is divided by 4. Although families do not use terms like Cost per User to decide whether to buy an iPad, they definitely calculate it sub-consciously.

Tap a new market segment – Kids are a huge market segment – not just for games, but also in the field of education. Tapping this market segment leads to a huge revenue for Apple.

Use kids to market the iPad and Apps – I was amazed to see how Apple was using kids to market the iPad. With the Share option, kids could share their coloring pages with their friends (the parents might share it for them). Other kids looking at these colorful pages would want to do the same. Not only is Social Media being introduced at a very young age, the iPad is being marketed via Word of Mouth (the most powerful way to influence prospective buyers).

Save money for families and schools – Families and schools can save money on paper, crayons, and other consumables required on a daily basis.

A safer option – Kids (at home or in Pre-K) eat crayons that may be harmful for their health. Since the crayons on an iPad are electronic, it is very safe for kids.

Save the environment – Reducing the usage of paper obviously save trees.

Crayola Paint and Create gave me great insights to Apple’s strategy. I could also envision the future – where most of the interaction happens through touch screens instead of keyboards. It also helped me realize that language will never be a barrier for user interaction since expressive icons are a great way to communicate with the user. Intelligence, knowledge, skills, language, and education will never be a barrier for users in the world of touch screens.

Hello kids, welcome to the iWorld!

When will the Social Media Bubble burst?

Hundreds of Social Media companies have created huge opportunities for marketers to reach their customers more effectively. The Social Media landscape is growing so rapidly that mergers and acquisitions have started.

Facebook recently bought Instagram for 1 billion dollars. Here are some interesting facts about Instagram:

Number of employees: 7

Number of users: 30 million

Revenue: 0$

Profit: (You’re kidding, right?)

Facebook’s 1 billion dollar acquisition of a company that generates zero revenue sounds really bizarre. Facebook’s deal brings back memories of the Dot Com bubble of the late 90s. Companies with no revenue, weak or non-existent revenue models, and weak strategies tried to cash in on the Dot Com boom, which led to their demise. Social Media companies seem to be heading in the same direction. Whether it is Social Media (or traditional media), Dot Com (or physical companies), past (or the present), the rules of business remain the same. The basic rule of business is: Revenue – Expenses = Profit. And companies must deliver value to the customer to generate revenue.

Let’s see what Social Media companies are doing that may lead to their demise:

Skyrocketing Valuations – Facebook is valued at 104 billion dollars. Such skyrocketing valuations for Social Media companies raise a red flag. For a company whose assets and patents are not as valuable, the valuations seem astronomical. Such valuations were quite common during the Dot Com boom. Dot Com companies’ valuations reached exponential heights – only to come crashing down in the year 2000.

Weak Business Model – Facebook’s business model is based entirely on advertising. Show advertisements to the users – charge money from the companies. This is strikingly similar to the Dot Com business model where companies relied mainly on advertising revenue. Facebook markets itself as the only company that can show ‘targeted advertisements’ since it knows more about the users. But tell me, how many times have you really clicked on a Facebook advertisement? Moreover, if Facebook users install applications like Adblock plus, Facebook’s advertisement is blocked.

No Subscription Revenue – Most Social Media companies don’t deliver enough value for them to charge subscription fees. There must be a compelling reason for users to spend time on the site and they must be willing to pay for it. Some companies like LinkedIn charge subscription for value added services (LinkedIn’s basic account is free). However, most Social Media companies would start losing users if they started charging subscription fees since users don’t see enough value in paying for it.

Number of users is the only strength – Facebook’s only strength is its users. The advertising revenue, valuation, and bargaining power are all based on the fact that Facebook has 850 million users. Another Social Media company entering the market may immediately take away users from Facebook. Losing users would immediately drop Facebook’s valuation. There is also a theory that Facebook purchased Instagram since it was threatened by its 30 million users. What value does Facebook have to show apart from its 850 million user base?

Lack the Core Competence – Unlike companies like Apple that have changed the landscape of the mobile industry by creating awesome products, Social Media companies are just web interfaces with multiple users logged on. They don’t sell products, services, or generate subscription fees. Therefore, they will be unable to sustain exponential valuations, growth in revenue, and constant profits. After all, how much money can you really make on Likes and XOXOXs!

It would be interesting to see if there really is a Social Media Bubble and if the bubble will burst soon. The fundamentals of business remain the same whatever the business is. Therefore, Social Media companies that realize the basics of business will survive. Others will fade away.

If you are thinking about investing in the Facebook IPO on May 17th, just be cautious. Web 2.0 may just be Dot Com 2.0. And Facebook.com may just be the next Boo.com!

Turn your home wiring into a computer network!

I was watching Netflix the other day when it started buffering frequently. In this day and age, a constant wireless speed should be a given. We have put a man on the moon, but we can’t have constant wireless speed even within the same apartment

I did some research and discovered that many devices interfere with wireless signal. Wireless signal – by its nature – travels through air, and is subjected to interference from other devices that also create wireless signals. The list includes cordless phones (the main culprit), microwave ovens, computers, Bluetooth devices, television sets, speakers, air purifiers, home wiring, fans, and numerous devices we use at home on a day-to-day basis.

If only I could wire my entire apartment with Ethernet. It’s an expensive proposition – but is it worth it? Are there any alternatives?

Yes. I found a very cool solution to turn my home wiring into a computer network. The home wiring can carry data like the Ethernet and provide faster speeds than wireless. I installed a D-Link PowerLine AV 500 4-Port Gigabit Switch Kit. The configuration was extremely simple:

  • Step 1 – Transmitter: I plugged in the white device to a power plug near my cable modem/wireless router. I plugged in an Ethernet cable from this device to the cable modem /wireless router.
  • Step 2 – Receiver: I plugged in the black device to a power plug near my TV/Blu-ray. I plugged in an Ethernet cable from this device to the Blu-ray.

And voila! My Blu-ray was connected over Ethernet! I could now get a veryhigh Internet speed at my Blu-ray. Netflix never buffered again.It is amazing that my home wiring can actually be used as an Ethernet network. I am sure this is useful for people in large homes. Imagine working on a weak wireless signal on the second floor room when your router is in the basement. The Powerline Ethernet adapter will solve the problem. You could buy multiple receivers and plug them throughout your home. You can also build a nice network to share Internet data, music, movies, and files across multiple users in your home. This device is extremely useful for gaming systems as well.

If you build a home network, be sure to use advanced threat protection. You wouldn’t want unauthorized programs taking control of your home network!

 

Humans Are Obsolete!

My boss informed me that another employee was replacing me. The new employee was far better then me and would never take a day off. The new employee would never fall sick, never ask for overtime pay, and had nothing to do with the union. The new employee would not waste time near the water cooler socializing with other employees and would never waste time on Facebook. The new employee would never get stressed out, or have a nervous breakdown. The new employee would never get tired and will work tirelessly forever. Most importantly, the new employee will never get injured and sue the company for compensation.

Meet 1557. The new employee is a robot. This robot just replaced me in the warehouse today. This is the reality.

Amazon acquired Kiva Systems for 775 million. Kiva Systems makes robots for moving items in large warehouses. The task that was performed by humans will now be taken over by robots. All the fulfillment centers will implement the robotic systems designed by Kiva Systems as Amazon strives to be more efficient in this tough economy. Here is a really cool video about how these robots work independently in a warehouse.

Foxconn International Group – the company that manufactures smartphones for Apple and other companies – also plans to implement robotic systems to replace humans. This would resolve employee complaints of repetitive stress injury and employee suicides due to high stress.

Amazon has set a dangerous precedent that gives rise to critical questions:

  • Reliability – can we rely on untested technology that has not been around for long?
  • Security – how do we ensure that unauthorized users don’t take control of robots and wreak havoc?
  • Failsafe – what are the chances of Artificial Intelligence taking control of multiple robots? Is there a failsafe?
  • Ethical Issues – is it right to replace humans with robots? First, it was outsourcing, and then came the deadly recession, and now there is competition with Robots? It is obviously impossible for humans to compete with robots.

It would be disastrous if the software in robotic systems gets corrupted or is taken over by malware. Moreover, if Artificial Intelligence takes over the robots, we are doomed!

How do you fight an army of robots running berserk in the city?

 

 

Card-jacking at the speed of thought

8: 00 AM – Our flight lands at the Pearson International Airport, Toronto.

8:10 AM – We disembark from the plane.

8:15 AM – I buy coffee from a well-known coffee place. I pay around 9$ for coffee and breakfast.
8:25 AM – My card is cloned and someone in Laval, Quebec (~500 miles from Toronto) rents a car using my credit card.
8:35 AM – The same person goes to Home Depot to purchase something using my cloned credit card.
8:40 AM – I try to use the credit card to pay for my rental car. The card does not work.

It is amazing that 5 minutes after I paid for breakfast, my credit card was cloned and used by someone else in another city! Even the credit card systems were fooled into thinking that it is an authentic credit card that was used.

Credit card fraud has been a huge headache for credit card companies. Even with multiple fraud prevention systems in place, hackers find a way around it. What can we – as credit card holders – do to make sure our credit cards are not misused?

The following security protocols are available to ensure that your credit card does not get jacked:

RFID Keys (instead of a credit card) – The most common place for your credit card to get cloned is a gas station. Hackers place a magnetic strip inside the swipe machine on the fuel pump. When you swipe your card, it copies the data. To avoid this, you could use an RFID (Radio Frequency ID) key. Some companies like ESSO provide you with an RFID tag (like Speedpass) that you tap on the fuel pump. Your credit card number is not stored on the key – the key just gives you an access to operating the pump. Their backend (internal systems) store your credit card information. Since you do not use your credit card, there is no possibility of your credit card details to get stolen.

Secure Code – Companies like Mastercard have a password over and above your credit card number. When you use your credit card online, you are prompted to use your password along with your credit card number. This makes it more secure for online transactions.

Pre-paid credit cards – Another option is to use pre-paid credit cards for travel and online transactions. Your liability is limited to the pre-paid amount. Also, you could recharge the card. And most importantly, your regular credit cards won’t get cloned.

Inform your travel plans – Before you travel, you could inform the credit card company of your exact travel plans. If you are supposed to be in Washington D.C and your credit card is swiped in New York, the credit card company can block it immediately.

As credit card companies implement multiple anti-fraud systems, hackers constantly up their ante to beat the systems. As credit card users, we can contribute towards keeping our credit card information secure.

If you don’t keep a close watch on your credit cards, don’t be surprised if someone on the other side of the globe is enjoying a nice meal on your credit card!