October 31, 2012
The new Microsoft Surface
Two things arrived from Microsoft today, and one of them was the new Microsoft Surface RT.
Wow, I'm impressed! I've been playing with a Samsung Series 7 running Windows 8 before this, but the Surface seems way better with no fans. It just seems nicer somehow. Starting at $499, I think Microsoft is going to get some market share with this device, and not just for people who want to be able to use Microsoft Office. It feels different than the iPad or any other tablet I've played with. Kind of like how Xbox felt different from all the other consoles when it first came out.
I thought I would not want a keyboard, but the TV ads convinced me to give it a try. I actually got each of the two available keyboards and both are nice, but I'm writing this with the one with real keys and it feels like a great keyboard, with the keys in the right place for me. The keyboard really does just snap in place like magic and then it just works. It's actually been awhile since a piece of technology made me think, "that's cool" but this did.
Sizewise, it is a little bigger than the iPad 3 but it feels about the same even with the keyboard attached. The two keyboards weigh about the same, so I'm guessing most will go with the one with real keys if they get a keyboard.
I have resisted keyboards on touch devices, but I'm giving it a second thought now since this one is so light and gets out of the way easily. The photo above shows the Microsoft Surface next to an iPad 3, and the extra keyboard above that.
This is an RT version, so I was surprised that it came with Microsoft Office installed. The one drawback to RT is that you can't just install any Windows application on it. For that you'll need to wait for "Surface with Windows 8 Pro" which isn't available yet.
I'll do an update after I've had it for a while, but for now, I'm impressed!
May 23, 2012
Braingate - turning thought into action
In the early days of Gold Systems, I joked that someday CTI would stand for "Computer Telepathy Integration" and we would just think about what we want to do on the computer and it would happen. That was almost 21 years ago, and over the last five years I've been seeing signs that this will actually happen in my lifetime. Or rather is happening.
The latest example was reported in the May 16, 2012 article by Benedict Carey in the New York Times Science section. (You can try this link if you are registered on the site) The article talks about the first published demonstration about how people with brain injuries have been able to control a prosthetic arm. In other words, they can no longer control their own arms, but they are able to control a robotic arm, just by thinking about it. This has been reported in Nature, and can be found here.
This technology is in the lab today, and requires "a tiny sensor about the size of a baby aspirin" to be injected just below the skull. I've got to think a wireless sensor will come along at some point, and I hope that it will find its way into the real world quickly.
This photo says it all, which the New York Times credited to braingate2.org. Be sure and check out the BrainGate website for more information about the technology and photos of the amazing team who is making this dream a reality.
February 29, 2012
Speed up Comcast internet 3x for almost free
Dear Comcast Customer,
We are constantly working to serve you better, which is why we want to remind you that you have been leasing a cable modem from us for $5 a month for almost five years. We're so embarrassed by that, given that the modem only costs us about thirty bucks wholesale, so we quit charging you a while back, but really, you've paid way more than the modem is worth and it is terribly obsolete now. We suppose it is a credit to us that it works well enough that you haven't gone to another provider, but do yourself a favor and buy a new modem already.
OK, I in made that letter up, but it's the letter I wish Comcast had sent me. When I switched from DSL to Cable, I just wanted it to work, so I let Comcast lease me a modem. I figured I would get the service working and then in 6 or 8 months I would buy my own device, ending the lease payment. I got busy, and to be fair, it worked fine and I rarely thought about it. When I did think about it, I imagined the hassle it would be to buy the new modem, install it and then get the old lease charge removed from my bill. It turns out, Comcast really does make it easy.
If you have been leasing a modem, or you have a modem more than a few years old, you might be able to buy a new modem and in the process, significantly increase your internet speeds. I increased my download speed by 3X for no extra money, except for the price of the new modem. Here's how to do it.
Go to Amazon.com or your favorite store and buy this modem.
It's a Motorola SURFboard eXtreme Cable Modem Model S86121
(Note to readers of the future. This was written 2-29-2012. Check to see if there is an even faster modem available in your time. And drop me a note, I love to hear from people from the future.)
Before you disconnect the old modem, make sure you have your Comcast account number. You'll need it later, so if you do electronic billing, go online now while the old modem is working and get your account number.
You are going to need to plug the new modem into power, move your cable connection from the old modem to the new modem, and then you want to run the included ethernet cable directly from the new modem to the computer you want to use to configure it. Don't worry, when we're done, you can plug the modem into the ethernet cable going to your home network, but for now we need a direct connection to a computer.
After everything is connected, open up a browser on the computer. You'll be redirected to a Comcast page where you can change your service to the new modem. If you aren't getting any page, use the included instructions to interpret the lights on the new modem. You didn't forget to plug it in or attach your cable from the old modem did you? Be patient, the new modem may need a few minutes to connect.
Next you will be prompted to enter your home telephone number and your Comcast account number. Just follow the prompts, hitting next. Here's the tough part - be patient. It really may take a while for everything to work. Maybe 2 or 3 minutes, but it will seem longer and you may think you have done something wrong. Be patient.
If everything worked, you should be able to go to your favorite web page. Do that to make sure you have a good connection before you start trying to connect the modem to your home network.
Now unplug the new modem from your computer, and connect it to the ethernet cable going to your home network that the old modem was connected to. Don't forget to plug your computer back into the home network too. Now you really need to be patient. I was sure something was wrong and ripped everything back apart, but no, it just needs some time to reconnect to Comcast and for your home network to recognize the new modem. If you must, cycle the power on your modem and network device, but for me after about 5 minutes it all started working.
Once the new modem was in place and working, I went to speedtest.net and rechecked my speed. I was very happy to see that I was getting three times faster download speeds - I went from 9.72 Mbps to 36.01 Mbps. The modem cost me $82.19 at Amazon.com so I figure that's a great deal.
All that was left was to return the old modem and get the lease payment removed from my bill. I called Comcast (the first time I actually talked to a person) and they directed me to take it to my local Comcast service center which was just a few miles away. I walked in a half hour before closing time to find an empty room with four people ready to help me. One of the guys scanned the bar code on my old modem, printed a receipt and that was that.
I have to say, this was a LOT easier than I expected. I thought sure I would have problems, have to call a technician, and then wait all day for them to show up, but that wasn't the case at all. Thanks Comcast for making this easy, and I'm loving my new higher speed internet.
Update 10-24-12 Quite a few people have said they made this change and it worked for them. I was just asked about Ping times, so here are the before and after speedtest.net screenshots. I would say they didn't change, though several tests before had it at 9ms so maybe it improved a bit.
December 29, 2011
Gold Systems is hiring
With just a couple of days left in 2011, I have to say I think that 2012 is going to be a great year. At Gold Systems we have a new product, Vonetix 7 Voice, and business is really starting to take off. We beat our sales goals for Q4 by a wide margin, and we're going into Q1 with a LOT of opportunity. To say I'm thankful would be an understatement. 2011 was challenging and I'm hugely grateful to everyone who helped us end the year on an upswing.
Now we're looking for some great people to join our engineering group. We're mainly looking for .NET and IVR people, but check out our job postings at the Gold Systems website and if it looks interesting, shoot us an email.
To all my friends and business associates - have a Happy New Year and I hope to see you in 2012!
November 24, 2010
A good month for Microsoft
Last week I returned from a trip to find my new Windows Phone and my new Xbox + Kinect waiting for me. (It's my job to try out new technologies. Really. I have to do it.) Then on Wednesday, Microsoft officially launched Lync, the newest version of their UC product, formerly Office Communications Server.
I've had a lot time on Lync since Gold Systems was part of the early release program with Microsoft, and I believe we were the first or second company to go into production with it. Lync is the first version from Microsoft that can really replace a PBX, which is what we're doing at Gold Systems. This is such a big announcement, that they got Bill Gates himself to join in via satellite to talk about how he envisioned the day when software would replace hardware to really improve communications. Check out the Bill Gates video and more information about Lync at http://lync.microsoft.com/en-us/launch/Pages/launch.aspx
Having lived with Lync, and Office Communications Server before that, I really believe that Microsoft is going to have a huge presence in the communications sector. I also have a used PBX for sale if anyone wants it. :-)
I'll do more Lync posts soon, and I'll talk about how we're extending it to do even more interesting things.
I've been using the Samsung Focus, which is one of the new Windows Phone devices for a little over a week now. I have to say, I'm surprised by how nice it is.
Not that I was expecting it to be bad, but even Microsoft has said that they missed the boat the last couple of years and were starting from scratch on Windows Phone. I think that everyone who has seen and held this device has said it is lighter, prettier and more interesting than their iPhone or Droid. Given that it is only a week old, I don't expect it to compare feature for feature, though there are some things about it that I like even better than what I see on the iPhone or Android. It's worth checking out and it is nice to see that Microsoft is back in the mobile business.
A few things to note about Windows Phone. The new interface works and it is really snappy. The Zune pass allows me to download and listen to a huge catalog of music for $14.95 a month rather than 99 cents a track. I've downloaded at least 10 CDs worth of music since I got the phone.
It connects to Xbox, so if I play a game on my phone and get an achievement, it shows up on my Xbox Live account. I can also access my account, including my avitar, on the phone as well as my friends accounts. They are just getting started with the Xbox integration I think.
There are a few apps missing that I really need, like a Lync Communicator client (it's in the works) and a nice task list app. Word, Excel, PowerPoint and even OneNote are already there, which is great. It would also be nice to see eWallet, Evernote and a few others, but they are off to a good start and they already have more apps than some people thought they would at this stage. They've even managed to get some of the best sellers that were exclusive to iPhone to create apps for Windows Phone.
Here's my thought on this. If you are using a Blackberry, Windows Mobile device or you don't have a smart phone yet, be sure and check this out. If you are using an iPhone or Android, but you are a gamer or you like the idea of lots of good music for one low price then the Windows Phone just might get you to make a change.
I got the Samsung Focus, but there are other devices available so if you prefer a real keyboard you can get it.
Wow, the Xbox Kinect is just alien technology. I happend to see a commercial for Dance Central today, and it really is just like the commercial makes it look. Think Guitar Hero for dancing, except when you're done you might really be able to dance. It takes you through the moves and gets people up off the couch who wouldn't ordinarilly want to stand up and dance. One of the achiviements is the Off the Wall for getting past the Wallflower rank.
The Kinect really does track movement as well as they said it would, and I think we'll see a whole new type of game being developed over the next year or two. The hardware has definately leaped ahead of the software, or at least the applications. The current games that I've tried are good, but I imagine with just a little more time we might put down the controler for good.
That's it for now . . .
April 20, 2010
Aluratek USB Cellular Router review
It's the end of the day and I thought it would be nice to work on the picnic table outside of our office. It's just far enough away that our Wifi doesn't quite get there, so I'm using a neat little device that arrived in the mail last month. A PR person had (I guess) seen my blog posts about the FJ Car Computer project and the wireless access point I had in the back and offered to send me a new device to play with. (Disclaimer - it was a freebe but if I didn't like it, I wouldn't be mentioning it here.) The device I'm using is a CDM530AM and it sells for $100.
The device is a 3G Portable Wireless USB Cellular Router from Aluratek. To use it you need a USB wireless modem from Verizon or other carrier.
As you can see in the picture, it really is wireless. It has a rechargeable battery in it which is enough to power the device and the Verizon modem for a couple of hours. You can also plug in the power cord and run indefinitely.
There are a couple of things that are nice about this device. One is that it looks like a Wifi hotspot, and more than one person can use it at a time so you can share your wireless modem. The bottleneck will be with the wireless modem, so you won't be able to put lots of users on it, but it is a nice feature.
It also bypasses the need to start up the modem software, dial up and connect. I just turn it on and 30 seconds later my laptop and mobile phone has a wifi connection. Because they both think they are on the same network, I can transfer files and sync between the two devices which I couldn't do as easily otherwise.
Setup was pretty easy, and it is a one-time thing involving hooking up the device to the laptop with an included network cable and running a setup wizard. I had a glitch in setup (it was pre-release firmware) but tech support figured it out quickly and the new firmware release worked just fine.
One thing to be aware - it's only going to be as good as your cellular modem connection. If it isn't reliable, then you may experience drops in the connection. If that happens though, the device handles reconnecting without you doing anything. I've been able to write this, while keeping up with email and having a couple of IM sessions with no trouble at all, and no drops.
This device is a lot cheaper and easier to set up than the Kyocera that I wrote about here. And not everybody has 120v AC in their car, which this device doesn't need if you're only going to be on line for a couple of hours. It doesn't have the Ethernet ports that the Kyocera has, but I found most people riding in the FJ were content to connect to my hotspot wirelessly, so I won't miss the Ethernet connections. :-)
I was just about to wrap this post up when it occured to me to do another test. We're now live on Microsoft Communications Server 2010 at Gold Systems. The product won't be available until later this year, but it's been announced and some partners are using it. I just IM'd someone inside the building and it all worked as expected. What was unexpected was that we were able to elevate to voice and we had a 20 minute conversation with perfect voice quality and NO glitches. Let's let that sink in a bit - Voip from my laptop, to the Aluratek wireless router, out the Verizon USB modem, onto the internet, back across our SIP trunks in the public phone network, to a desktop computer with a USB phone connected to it. It. Just. Worked. We decided to get a little crazy and did a whiteboard share - it worked. We transfered some files back and forth. It worked. We even went to video and - it worked as designed. We were able to do video but the connection just wasn't fast enough so we saw frames being dropped but the picture quality was great and the voice quality was rock solid throughout.
Next I did an internet speedtest, while still talking over OCS. Here's what I got:
Next I dropped the voice call and did the test again.
We were talking during the first test, but it doesn't show any difference. It's also interesting that I'm here in Boulder, Colorado and Speedtest thinks Denver is 1,000 miles away. Who knows how that call actually routed, which makes it all the more amazing that it worked so well.
I first played with VoIP in 1997. I'm stunned at how well this worked, and how far the technology has advanced. Wow. Over a slower wireless connection no less.
One last photo - while we were talking and playing with the whiteboard feature, Ned drew this picture of the mountains. Notice how some of the trees even have some beatle kill damage.
Ned could actually hear the birds around me and the airplane that flew over. Cool!
April 09, 2010
Entrepreneur Ship Quotes
I've always loved the water and I enjoy being on it, in it and under it. My first memory in life, I think, is of my first swimming lesson. Mr. Epling said he would give a penny to the person who could duck their head under the water the longest. My memory is of him lifting me out of the water by my bathing suit because I wasn't ready to come up. I won the penny.
So - the quotes are really about life and entrepreneurship and they relate so well to what I've experienced since Jim and I started Gold Systems.
The picture that I started this post off with is of a ceramic tile that my wife brought home from the Netherlands for me years ago. It says "De beste Stuurlui staan aan wal" which translates to english as "The best steersmen are ashore." It's really easy to stand on the dock and tell the sailor what they are doing wrong, but it gives you a whole different perspective to sail into the storm and to be responsible for the ship. If people are shouting advice from the dock, they might have good advice, but remember their perspective and that ultimately you and the other people on the boat are responsible for bringing it home safe.
The next one reminds me that good times are easy.
"Anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm." According to the fortune cookie, Publilius Syrus said this in the first century B.C. The next quote gets to that idea from another angle. "A ship is safe in harbor - but that is not what ships are for." by John Shedd. The dates don't quite match the John Shedd from Chicago, but I'll bet it's him.
Too many boats (and people) spend their life in harbor because it is safe.
I've looked to that last quote a lot, especially in 2001 and again this past year. "I am not afraid of storms for I am learning to sail my ship." by Louisa May Alcott. I'm not suggesting we should sail into storms just to become better sailors, but if you find yourself in a storm, try to learn from the experience and you'll be better prepared for the next storm. You may still not like storms but after enough of them, you at least gain some confidence that you'll get through them.
Before quiting my nice safe job (HA!) I thought that if I was in charge, things would be different. Some are, some aren't. When things get tough I remind myself that THIS is what I wished for and I'm right where I wanted to be all those years ago. If I ever cross an ocean in my own boat, and I find myself in a storm, I'll try to remember then that "I'm living the dream!"
(When typing in the tags for this post, I noticed the word EntrepreneurShip. Coincidence? I don't think so.)
December 08, 2009
I'm hiring a VP of Engineering
(2/22/2010 - we've hired our new VP of Engineering and he started this morning. Thanks to everyone who emailed or helped in the search. I do appreciate it! -- Terry)
How would you like to start the new year with a new job? I'm looking for a VP of Engineering to join us at Gold Systems. Our expectations are high, because we don't trust our people to just anyone who walks through the door. It really does start with people - we have a great group of people and the new VP has to understand that we have to treat them right if we expect them to treat our customers right. Customers expect us to deliver the very best technology and software that always works and is easy to use. (And when it doesn't work, they expect us to fix it fast, whether it ends up being our bug or theirs.) They also expect us to deliver on time and to fit in to their way of building critical applications.
I'm looking for someone who has written code and met deadlines, and who understands that software is some part art and some part science. You should be comfortable sitting down with a couple of smart engineers and brainstorming with them about how to solve a problem. And you have to be humble enough to understand you probably aren't the best coder in the group, but that it's your job to look out for and then find more of the best engineers. You'll have some customer contact too, so you've got to be able to switch from low-level techie talk to high-level overviews that reassures the customer that they are in good hands. (Many of our customers are very, very technical, so you can't be too quick to assume who knows what.)
Having a bit of the entrepreneur in you wouldn't hurt either, because everyone at Gold Systems is involved in the business and everyone on the leadership team is a part of making it work. It's OK if you don't understand how to read an income statement, we can teach you that, but you do have to want to understand the entire system at some level, not just the software development piece.
Gold Systems is known in the industry for IVR and speech recognition applications, but our market is expanding as we do more Unified Communications. The last time I looked we had 11 of the Fortune 20 as customers. We were one of the first companies to partner with Microsoft on UC deployments and now we're one of the first to build UC applications. One of your jobs will be to think about the kinds of applications we can create for customers and to help the engineering team expand their capabilities. You're probably going to need a white board wall in your office - and yes, everyone at Gold Systems still gets their own office. No cube farms here.
If you think you have the right mix of engineering abilities and leadership skills, and you believe that a company can have a good culture and still do well as a business, then email me your resume. If you do email me, mention this blog post and I'll respond and let you know that I received it. Thanks!
(For everyone who knows Matt, he's decided to step back into a pure technical role. He's done a great job of leading the team through some tough economic times and he's ready to let someone else take it on.)
October 26, 2009
Mobile phones are not very good phones
I'm going to tell you something you probably already know. Most mobile phones are not very good phones. It is amazing to me how bad mobile phones are at being - phones. My phone, an aging Samsung device, is a great email and task management device, but give me a choice between it and an old-fashioned land line for an important call, and I'll chose the land line every time because I don't want my call dropped, faded or otherwise mishandled.
And don't blame it my particular device, because I hear how most people answer their mobile devices. "Hello, hello, can you hear me?" This article on Gizmodo reportshow a reader took their iPhone into the Genus Bar and was told that "a 30 percent dropped call rate is average" in the New York Area.
I find it amazing that our phone service was once considered to be so important that the network was designed to withstand a nuclear war. Remember the bomb shelter signs that used to be on some buildings? Many of those buildings were phone company buildings, though I'll bet if the bombs had started falling we would have found that 1) the doors were already locked from the inside and 2) nothing survives a nuclear bomb. Thankfully we never found out, and bomb shelters, in the US at least, are historical oddities.
Anyway, it is strange to think that we went from a world where not getting dial tone when we picked up the receiver was considered an emergency, to one where 30% of our calls failing is considered normal.
A few weeks go I received a press release from Spirent, a company that does test systems for communications platforms, including wireless networks. They've written a white paper about testing they did using six of the popular smart phones and how they put them through real-world test scenarios. The results are even worse than I would have expected, with some phones having high failure rates under extreme conditions such as the user walking around the block while talking on the phone.
Spirent made a couple of good points in their paper. One is that when people go to the phone store to buy a new phone, they are typically focused on everything but voice quality, and if they do care about voice quality and call reliability, it's impossible to get data that would allow you to compare two different handsets, much less two different networks.
Also according to their paper, there are huge failure rates in certain scenarios with every device tested. One device had almost an 80% drop rate in a particular scenario. No, you won't hit that scenario every day, but when you do, 80% of the time you're going to have your call dropped. Again, it's amazing to me that we put up with this.
I know it's not cool to actually talk on the phone now, but I still think the killer mobile app is this - voice calls that only disconnect when I press the little red button on my phone. If you have a mobile phone that never drops calls, feel free to leave a comment. Or if you just want to rant you can leave a comment too.
September 23, 2009
Another Social Center Demo
It used to be that people could tell how busy I was by how long my hair got between haircuts. Now you can by how long I go between blog posts. The good news is that I've been very busy this past few months, and at least from where I'm standing, it looks like the economy is improving and enterprises are buying again. We've already beat our sales goal for the quarter and now we're trying how much we can beat it by the end of the month - that's a good feeling.
I've recorded another demo of our Social Center concept software, and we're starting to roll it out to more users inside Gold Systems. Internally it's like "Twitter for the enterprise" in that as people change their presence and notes I can see those changes appear in the order they happen. Already I'm feeling better connected to the people I follow. Sometimes it is work related but not always - for instance I found out that one of the people I'm working with is having twins, which is pretty appropriate for her to announce it that way, because she introduced me to her fiance a few years ago using Microsoft OCS video conferencing.
You can watch the demo here - www.youtube.com/goldsys If you are interested in this sort of thing, Opus Research also just wrote a piece about what we're doing and that's available on the Gold Systems blog here - http://www.goldsys.com/blog/news/gold-systems-makes-ocs-more-social