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Archive for the ‘Distribution’ Category

Why Amazon Prime Air won’t work

21 Mar 2015

Blue OriginLast year, as the quadcopter fad took off (ahem), Amazon made a fun little video of an Amazon-branded quad that delivering a tool to someone’s home in 30 minutes. It was a joke. Yes, Jeff Bezos has created and built Blue Origin, but that’s a very different thing than RC toys delivering packages. Seriously – IT   WAS   A   JOKE.

WHY was/is it a joke? As an RC helicopter “pilot”, I can give you several good reasons why small product delivery via any unmanned aerial vehicle won’t happen in the next many years.

Weight
The inexpensive quads (let’s say ‘inexpensive’ has the ridiculous definition of $500) can’t carry much payload. About 12 ounces. A single DVD and case weighs about 5oz. So if you’re ordering two DVDs, maybe you’re okay… but forget it if you need powered sugar (16oz) for that frosting or you have a craving for Oreos (15oz).

Amazon Prime Air

Battery and distance
Amazon Air Battery and distanceAs of 2015, the batteries that run RC helicopters just aren’t that good. Even the newest tech batteries and heli’s get 20 minutes of flight time at most. Well, unless you are flying a monster helicopter that can carry some big batteries – but that also means less payload. And what about distance? At a max speed of about 35mph – which also means you’re draining the battery at top-speed – you better live close by a distribution center. That means at most 10 miles away – because it needs to do the round trip, plus carry a payload. Plus takeoff, which drains the battery more than sustained flight.

Capture
Capturing an Amazon Air quadPeople would LOVE figuring out ways to ‘capture’ these pricey little toys. The first thing that comes to mind is a DIY net gun. Ya know, an air-gun that shoots a net with a small weight on each corner that you can fire pretty far. Amazon Prime Air 30 minute deliveryAmazon’s quads would be like a fly in web. So no only would the inventive kid and his net catch a cool piece of technology that they could dismantle and re-use, they might get a couple DVDs or a cool 3-sided wrench.

Heck, forget about something as physical as a net-gun… there’s RF jamming hardware you can easily build that can cause RC toys to run amok. Oh, and don’t forget about rocks. Rocks are pretty… free… and kids love to throw rocks. One good hit and that 30 minute delivery never shows up – and Amazon just lost a $500 toy.

Obstacles
Amazon Prime Air - Amazon.comNow, probably the biggest issue is obstacles. I’m talking about power lines, low-hanging tree branches, water sprinklers, dogs, patio furniture, street lights… and people. Even the most sophisticated drone helicopters can’t navigate those items with much surety. I’ve had dogs chase my quads and REALY want to eat them, if they could only get their teeth into them. And yes, I’ve even hit light poles when I thought I was far enough away. Sure, there are good cameras and sensors you can add to copter, but every ounce added means shorter battery life and a smaller payload. Then, let’s not forget about good ‘ol human stupidity. The moron who wants to get a little to close while the device is landing and YOW! Those blades WILL cut you, and good!

So, if Amazon can work through all of the items above and still make it cost effective, then sure, you might see Amazon Air 30 minute delivery – if you live in the parking lot across from a distribution center.

 

Microsoft Stores – Have some stock!

27 Apr 2013

best-buy[1]Home-Depot-Black-Friday-2012[1]If you’re Home Depot or Best Buy, I can understand running out of stock on items. It happens. Businesses can only carry so much debt when ordering products from suppliers. It’s understandable that Best Buy might only have 50 iPad 2’s in stock at a given store. Home Depot could run out of 3/4 in. HD Maple Plywood, as they only order it once every 6 months and don’t sell much of it.

Let’s look at the Apple Store. Sure, Apple only makes and sells about 50 products, which includes everything from desktop computers, laptops, phones, viewing devices, software, mice, keyboards and other little 157186-apple-silver-apple-logo[1]accessories. Most of those items sell like hotcakes. Apple junkies know they can go to any Apple Store and get the product they want – Apple makes the products. Sure, they run out of stock too, but you can be sure they won’t be out of stock long. Apple wants to SELL PRODUCT. Before they had stores, they relied on retailers – until they realized they could make even more money by selling it themselves (and helping people upgrade.)

microsoft-store-logo-600x250[1]Now, let’s look at Microsoft. Specifically, Microsoft’s attempt at competing with Apple on the retail front – the “Microsoft Store”. Microsoft has been far more successful for much longer than Apple. Microsoft has released thousands of products since 1975. They came late to the retail game though and it looks like they still can’t compete. The first Microsoft Store opened in 2009 to sell THEIR products. Yes, they sell OEM hardware that runs Microsoft software, but they have plenty of other items that they make on their own; computers, tablets, phones, gaming systems, mice and keyboards, webcams, headsets and of course, software.

Considering the items that Microsoft sells, there are few that are really expensive to manufacture. Most of their branded items are peripherals; plastic (and thin metal) with small circuit boards that are likely made overseas in mass quantities. So why then, can’t Microsoft keep their own items in stock… at THEIR stores?

I’ve been looking for a new mouse. I have LOVED Microsoft’s mice through the years, but I’m down to my last one and it’s starting to fail. I’ve been studying the new models that Microsoft makes. There are a lot! So after reading reviews, watching videos and asking some questions online, it has come down to three. As it turns out, they are the three that are the most expensive. The “Touch”, the “Explorer Touch” and the “Arc Touch” – I’ve also thought about the “Wedge Touch”. Ranging from $50 to $80!

MicrosoftTouchMouseMicrosoftWedgeTouchMouseMicrosoftExplorerTouchMouse

A mouse is a significant piece of equipment to a computer geek like me. I use it a lot. I count on it for ease of use, control and the features it brings that allow me to work faster. I tend to be more of a keyboard guy, but I love my five-button Laser Mouse 6000. I use all the buttons. No, I’m not a gamer. I have buttons mapped for different shortcuts and I use them very efficiently. I understand that I’m odd – most people probably don’t give mice much of a second thought. I do.

Well, I’m not going to order an $80 mouse online just to find out I don’t like it. I want to go to the Microsoft Store and use it first. Make sure it fits my hand and feels good. I guess people buy shoes online, but I don’t want to have $80 to $150 in mice being returned each time I’m ‘trying’ out a mouse. I’m lazy, just like most people, and I’m likely to just leave the mouse in the closet and never return it. So, I’ve picked several mice made by Microsoft. Best Buy doesn’t have them in stock in the stores. Fry’s doesn’t either. Neither does Radio Shack, Sony Style Target, Walmart or OfficeMax. As it turns out, the Microsoft Store doesn’t have them either! That doesn’t mean the story near ME doesn’t have them… that means they haven’t had them in stock for MONTHS at ANY store in all of Southern California! What?!?!

Keep in mind, these are not old models. These are CURRENT products. Go to Microsoft Store’s “Mice” section of their website… *3* of the four mice I wanted to see in person at the store are at the top of the “Mice” section. These are the products Microsoft “wants” to sell? But they haven’t had them in stock at their retail stores for a long time.

What can be learned from this? Does Microsoft care about their customers? Do they understand how a retail location works? Do they not have the products because they’re going to abandon them like other products, but haven’t told customers yet? (ZuneKinSurface?) Are they really trying to stay in business?

ZuneMicrosoftKinMicrosoftSurface

 

Mobile phone apps and security

11 Apr 2012

People love their smartphones these days… and with good reason. They can be amazing tools for business and fun distractions from the mundane parts of life – like standing in line at the post office or waiting to be picked up from the airport. There’s a problem though. Those fun and handy apps can be setting you up for embarrassment, failure or good ol’ fashioned identity theft.

Live Free or Die HardIf you saw the movie “Live Free or Die Hard”, you’ll recall the premise that one bad guy who sold software to large companies and government agencies had a back door entrance into those same secure systems – allowing him to take control of everything from street lights to phone systems to fire alarms. Yes, that idea is somewhat far-fetched, but that’s because [most] large corporations and government offices pour over software to insure that it’s safe to run in their systems AND that it doesn’t allow for hackers to get in and access private data. But… what if they did that on a smaller, but huge scale? Like… mobile phone users?

Mobile phone game cradleMillions of people install and play Angry Birds, but it would be a good guess that 99% of those people did NOT look at the security and permissions needed to enjoy that game. Angry Birds is not one to worry about, but there are PLENTY of others you SHOULD worry about! Today, everyone and their dog now publishes mobile applications. Some let you fake-burn ants with a digital magnifying glass, others record your voice and change it to sound like a chipmunk and some let you track your weight loss or scan barcodes to lookup prices. Simple, fun or useful tools – at least, we hope so. Some apps that are probably installed on your phone right now have access to your address book, emails, photos and text messages – and can very easily download that data to a server in any country in the world. Hopefully they aren’t using it to send spam, or worse… (Remember when Paris Hilton’s phone got hacked? That was just the beginning.)

Motorolla Triumph - AndroidI recently got a new phone that was better than my ancient one, and I happily started installing apps that I couldn’t run before. This new phone included a flash for the main camera which, as many people are aware, makes a great flashlight when you’re fumbling to get your key in the doorknob or looking for that piece that fell under the couch. The problem is this – WHY does an app that just needs to turn on the light, need access to your precise GPS location? WHY would it need full internet access? WHY would it need the ability to read and write to your memory card or see the phone numbers of incoming/outgoing phone calls?! I am NOT exaggerating! I refused to install at least 8 different flashlight apps because they wanted access to do waaay more with my phone than just turning on the light!

There are NUMEROUS apps out there that ask for these permissions and more, that people just don’t pay attention to when installing that ‘fun game that everyone loves.’ Don’t be fooled – just because it’s available on the the iTunes App Store or Android Marketplace does NOT mean it’s trustworthy! And NO, just because an application has over 2 MILLION downloads also does not mean it’s safe! However, there are plenty of apps that ask for lots of permissions – but they offer more than just a silly game – they’re useful, they can be a great resource and some even come from reputable companies.

Trust - Honor - Honesty - Liberty - Rights

The take-away from this is – beware. You wouldn’t hand your phone (or phonebook) to a stranger at Disneyland while you went on a wet ride – so why are you doing it when you install applications without learning more about them (or the company/person who wrote them)?

 

Social marketing and the small business…

02 Apr 2012

CokeIt’s been a good five years since “social marketing” really took off in a big way. Big, no HUGE corporations use it in one way or another. It likely doesn’t help their bottom line, but Coca-Cola, Microsoft, NASA, General Electric and even Yahoo and Google use Facebook. So WHY don’t small businesses who actually NEED the help? The simple answer is: knowledge.

FacebookMost (not all) small business owners are intelligent go-getters who want to succeed in their chosen area of commerce. Those in the retail sector should be the first ones with a Facebook and Twitter accounts, but so many just don’t bother… or, they have the accounts and just don’t use them. As a geek, it’s frustrating to see those entrepreneurs leaving money on the table. If it’s good enough for GE and Coke, why not the local tire shop or tea room? Or for that matter, why not the local artist who sells prints at the weekend sidewalk markets?

TwitterAgain, “knowledge” is the short answer. Most of these businesses either think it’s a fad or that it wouldn’t bring them much business. Twitter claims more than 50 million daily users and Facebook has over 460 million daily users. That’s Million. Each DAY. If it’s a fad, I think it’s doing better than the pet rock. Businesses who aren’t active with their social media are telling customers (and potential customers) that they do business the old way – so don’t expect online coupons or special discount codes via txt message – just go buy from them because they’re there. The money they’re leaving on the table are the potential sales that are being gently reminded that their business is open and wants to serve their customers.

Two minutes - 2 minutesSavvy small business take advantage of discounts, services and offers that save them money. A six-month discount on phone service could save them a few hundred dollars. $25 off coupons at Office Max adds up. So something that is close to free – such as social marketing – should be a no-brainer. These days, just about every business knows that they have to have even a basic website. Yet sooo many small businesses just don’t want to take the time to understand the basics of Facebook. Sure, getting it setup PROPERLY may cost them a few hundred dollars to up front, but maintaining it themselves costs – $0 – the only real cost is a tiny bit of time each week – as little as two minutes. Yes, 2 minutes.

Two minutes by a business owner once a week means logging onto their Facebook page, clicking in the “What’s on your mind” text box and writing just one sentence that is relevant to the product or service they offer. If you’re a tea room you might write “Got in a fresh order of Caramel Rooibos tea today – stop by and have a cup.” If Social marketingyou’re an artist maybe a link to one of your pictures and a note like “I first had the idea for this image in 1991, but didn’t paint it until last year.” What’s the point of this? It’s engaging. It reminds people that you’re there. It’s short and easy to ‘consume’. Potential customers don’t get slaughtered with a 30 second ad, they don’t have to invest more than a few seconds to read it, and sometimes, people actually pay attention! (Then maybe pay for your product.) If they don’t buy this time, maybe next time – or maybe when a friend says “I’m in a mood for mexican food” and the potential customer says “Hey, I just saw the special today at La Sirena Grill is a Blackened Salmon Burrito… mmmm”. They just might stop in… But if that friendly ‘reminder’ isn’t there, what are they chances they end up at your place?

What's on your mind? - DaveTavres.com

Besides just having a Facebook page, it has to have the right name.

A page name that doesn’t look right when a potential ‘marketer’ (fan) tries to mention you in their posts means you won’t get those ‘free’ clicks… or traffic… or marketing. For example. Goodwill’s main Facebook page is called "Goodwill Industries International, Inc.". Most Facebook users are not going to post: "Anyone want to go to Goodwill Industries International, Inc. with me today?" (In fact, it won’t even pop up as a suggestion!). If their page name was just “Goodwill”, they would get much more social engagement… like this: "Anyone want to go to Goodwill with me today?"

I’ve been in the software industry and building websites, setting up Facebook, Twitter and many other social media sites for businesses for years. The ones that embrace it and USE it, sometimes enjoy it and always benefit from it.

 

PodNet

15 Apr 2011

As an avid podcast listener and business & technology fan, I began developing this idea a few years ago. I’ve called it "PodNet", short for Podcast Network. Here’s the quick-version of what it is; Combine the old Napster / file sharing idea with an affiliate program and the SETI program. There are a few pieces to the plan, but for those who don’t understand how podcasts work in general, here are simplified explanations for PodNet-MediaPlayerhow a content consumer and a content creator use podcasts:

Note: A podcast is nothing more than an MP3 file (or MPG for video podcasts). 1 hour of (spoken word) audio can be about 50mb.

Content consumer
User with portable audio devices (smartphone, Android, iPod, Zune, MP3 player, etc.) use a download manager (iTunes, Google Listen, gPodder, etc.) on their PC to automatically retrieve content that is frequently updated. For example, if they subscribe to the Adam Carolla podcast, the download manager reads an XML file to see what the current episode is, then downloads it and copies the file to their PC. The download manager is scheduled to check that XML file on a regular basis for new episodes and downloads as they become available. Then, when the portable audio device is connected to the computer, that downloaded content gets copied to the device for playback.

Content creator
Monthly feesTo stick to the Adam Carolla example, Adam creates a new episode every day (for the most part), and uploads that 30mb to 60mb file to a web server, then updates the podcast XML file (the file is like a catalog that gives the title, length, description, filename, etc. of the episode). As podcast management software reads the podcast.xml file, it downloads the file from a web server.

Web servers are the computers on the internet that "serve" a webpage or file. As each podcast (MP3) file is downloaded by a user’s podcast manager, the web server keeps track of how many megabytes it serves to users. If you’re Adam Carolla or NPR, you could be paying for thousands of gigabytes of transfers (also called bandwidth) each month – 1 podcast @ 50mb x 100,000 downloads in a month = approx. 5,000,000mb (~4.7terabytes). Web hosts usually charge the content creator by the amount of bandwidth they use, so the more popular your podcast is, the more it could cost you.

Adam Carolla, Kevin Smith, NPR, Ricky Gervais – these are some of the most downloaded podcasts on the web, so they’re paying a lot of money to get their content out there. In the television world, the cost of producing and broadcasting a TV show is offset by selling commercials. Most podcasts have few (if any) commercials, so the content creator has to foot the bill.

Enter PodNet.

PodNet-Peer2PeerOkay – almost… but before explaining PodNet, review these two distributed systems:

File-sharing services from years ago (or torrents from today) would take a single file – a video, mp3, game or program file – and break it up into smaller pieces. So let’s say a 50mb MP3 file is broken into ten 5mb pieces. Each of those pieces would get downloaded by the file-sharing software on various users’ computers then reassembled to the original 50mb file. Then those user’s computers would in turn serve several of the 5mb pieces to other file-sharing users on the web. Repeat that millions of times, and the load on the original web-server is reduced to almost nothing (assuming enough people are downloading the files.)

SETI@home is a distributed system that utilizes the "unused" processing power of computers that are connected to the internet, but which aren’t doing anything (like your home computer that is on while you’re at work or sleeping.) You install the SETI software on your PC, and it downloads a file containing a chunk of data collected from radio-telescopes, then analyzes the data for patterns. The software then sends any significant data back to the scientists for detailed analysis.

PodNet would combine some of these and other elements to create a new distribution system for podcasts. What makes PodNet different from normal file-sharing software is the affiliate payment aspect.

PodNet Problem Statements

  1. Content Creators must pay high monthly costs for bandwidth to serve their content.
  2. Non-commercial internet users (Home and small businesses) generally do not use the bandwidth they are paying for each month.
  3. Computers that are always connected to the internet, but which aren’t being actively used have great potential for distributed systems.

PodNet Offering
The PodNet service redirects requests for downloads to "PodNet Mini-Servers" located all over the internet, rather than the Content Creator’s web servers, thus minimizing their bandwidth costs.

PodNet Redirection Service
When download manager software initiates a request for an updated XML file to check for updated content, the Redirection service returns a dynamic file which changes minute-by-minute, based on various data points. A master status database stores continuous status information as reported by Mini-Servers. The Redirection Service builds the dynamic file based on the content requested and which Mini-Server would provide the best access to that content at that moment.

PodNet Affiliate Program
Affiliate programs generally allow members to get small payments for referring a product or service. The PodNet Affiliate Program would pay participating members for serving podcast content from their PCs. The most content they serve, the more money they make.

PodNet Mini-Server
PodNet Mini-ServersThe PodNet Mini-server is a very small application that runs in the background and communicates with the PodNet Redirection Service to coordinate serving content. The user has control over what hours content can be served, how much bandwidth to use by day/week/month and which content they want to serve. The Redirection Service reports overall usage which is used to calculate Affiliate payments (if the user has chosen to join the Affiliate Program.) The Mini-Server reports what the available connection speed is, what content is available, how many files have been served, how much time each transfer has taken, what IP address downloaded the content, start and end-times and other technical data to insure that content has not been tampered with before being served.

Obviously security, transfer rates, file sizes, throughput, tracking, usage and many other details are not included here, but that’s the basic idea. And yes, this idea could be akin to torrents, but on a “legal” and more automated scale. I’ve also looked around at ISPs to see what restrictions there are to running file servers over your home internet connection, and the main thing I find are rules against pirated content. In the case of PodNet, all the content is legally distributed.

As more media channels move to “anytime content”, the need for legal, lower-cost, distributed file-sharing is going to grow. PodNet may be one way to reduce costs while increasing availability.