Chris Hardie

Blog, Tech, Business and Community Building

tech

Unboxing the Twine sensor
January 5, 2013

Kickstarting Supermechanical's Twine portable wireless sensor

Unboxing the Twine sensor

In late 2011, I noticed a Kickstarter project to support the creation of a portable wi-fi sensor device called Twine. I was already a fan of Kickstarter and its model of crowd-funding the development and implementation of great ideas, be they for gadgets, business models, artistic creations or otherwise. The idea behind Twine struck a particular chord: "connect your things to the Internet."

Yes, there have been Internet-connected things coming out all over the place for years now, and pretty soon the average consumer of household products will find themselves in a store aisle asking, "what do you mean this model doesn't connect to my home network?" But most of these network-connected devices are using their own proprietary standards and protocols for having those "conversations," and often the information being transmitted is only available through some specialized website or smartphone app. Just like all of the web services you now have individual accounts for, you'll have your toaster username and password, your refrigerator username and password, your lawn mower username and password, and so on.

In contrast to this trend, I was excited to see that Twine was an Internet-connected sensor device designed to be tinkered with, expanded upon, customized and fully integrated in whatever way you could imagine. Almost as soon as the project was announced, the creators were receiving fun and useful ideas for how Twine could be used; clearly there was an unmet need (you know, in that first world sense of the word "need") for a device like Twine.

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pushover
December 28, 2012

Replacing Notifo with Pushover

Two years ago I compared Notifo and Prowl as tools for sending custom push notifications to your mobile devices.  I ended up relying on Notifo quite a bit to send me mobile alerts about certain kinds of events that I might not otherwise notice right away - email messages from certain people, some kinds of calls or voicemails at my office, certain messages meant for me in the office chat room, etc.

(You might think all that alerting would get obnoxious, but having these notifications sent to me according to my preferences has meant I'm less likely to obsessively check email or other digital inboxes for something important I might be missing.  The good/important stuff gets to me fast, the rest waits for me to view it at my convenience.)

In September 2011, the creator of Notifo announced that he would be shutting down the service.  It's continued to mostly work since then without his intervention (a testament to the self-sufficient nature of what he created), but in the last few weeks I've seen increasing errors or delays in getting messages through, so I went in search of alternatives to Notifo.

Today I found Pushover, a really simple but elegantly done service that offers all the features I want.

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October 31, 2012

Are Wayne County's voting machines trustworthy?

Early voting is underway in Wayne County, Indiana.  Voters showing up at the polling stations will find themselves directed to the Hart InterCivic voting machines. A 2007 study of these machines, initiated by the Ohio Secretary of State and conducted by Pennsylvania State University, the University of Pennsylvania, and WebWise Security, Inc. found that: the […]

September 10, 2012

Everything on the Internet is Free!

Brian Keith Whalen rocking out at the Starr Gennett Walk of FameAfter my post this past weekend about why I think paying for access to local news reporting is worth it, I checked out some of the reasons that people who were complaining about said fees were giving for not wanting to pay.  Chief among them was the argument that "if it's on the Internet, it should be free!"

I hadn't previously thought about how mainstream that line of thinking probably is right now.  But it makes sense.  The dominant business model for so many Internet resources over the last several years has been to give away access to tools, content or other things and then either sell advertising or sell a "premium" version (Wired magazine had a good story on this trend back in February of 2008 if you want to see how much it's taken hold even in that short time).

People are used to learning of some new service or app, putting in their e-mail address and picking a password (if that much), and they're off and running to use the shiny new thing.  Facebook, Gmail, Twitter, Google let users spend all day using up their resources at no charge.  You can download high quality web browsers and entire office software suites for free.  Pandora lets you listen to and discover great music all day long for free.  There are paid apps in mobile app stores, but the free or $0.99 ones get most of the attention.

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August 12, 2012

Facebook Likes as protected free speech

Facebook Meh ButtonDaniel Ray Carter Jr., a sheriff's deputy in Virginia, claims he was fired because he "Liked" a Facebook post belonging to the political rival of his own boss. When he fought the firing in court, the judge ruled against him saying that clicking the "Like" button isn't protected speech: "It is not the kind of substantive statement that has previously warranted constitutional protection."

The case presents an interesting dilema.

On one hand, I hope we're reaching the point where most people understand that clicking the Facebook "Like" on a statement, article or page is not the equivalent of an endorsement of all the things that article/page/group stands for.

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June 18, 2012

Against the proposed use of Richmond tech park funds

Cranes In The Sky.A year ago I blogged about the $5 million dollars that Richmond had available to promote high-tech business growth in our city.

An article in Sunday's Palladium-Item reports that the City of Richmond is proposing to use the funds to purchase 14 acres of land and buildings on the city's northwest side, which they will use to create a space for technology entrepreneurs.

For the record, as someone who created a technology business in Richmond, I'm against this use of the Certified Technology Park funds as it's currently described.

There are a lot of things that technology entrepreneurs in our community could benefit from, but a new physical space is generally not one of them. There are myriad available buildings already suitable for businesses of all kinds - retail, office, manufacturing, etc. With the advent of cloud computing, global distribution systems and other niche service providers, few tech start-ups have specialized space needs.

Not the least of the existing structures is the Uptown Innovation Center, originally designed and built to - you guessed it - house technology entrepreneurs looking for space to get their business up and running. I supported that effort and it's a great space with some great possibilities, but as far as I know, that building has not exactly operated at capacity in its lifetime, and when it has come close it's not been with high-tech businesses.

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January 30, 2012

In The Plex, a great history of Google

I just finished reading Steven Levy's In the Plex, a great history of Google, Inc.'s origins and growth, and a great insight into what the company could look like in the future, or at least how it might get there.

The story of Google that matters for most people is how it affects their daily lives (searching, web browsing, mobile phones, mapping/navigation, email, calendaring, YouTube, news, etc.) but I appreciate that Levy's book focuses on the personalities and processes driving the evolution of what is arguably one of the most transformative corporate and technological entities of our time.

It can be easy to forget that behind some of the game-changing products and services produced by the company, there were real people thinking through issues of privacy, dealing with cross-cultural considerations and navigating interpersonal dynamics all while trying to make a living and find a sustainable business model.  They had/have desks, meetings, slide shows to give, families to care for, water-cooler conversations to have, and Levy does a great job capturing and re-telling those stories from the days of "two guys in a garage" all the way through the present days of life as an international corporation.  This is not always done with the most critical eye - those with concerns about Google's operations or policies may be put off by the extent to which this book is an homage - but on the whole I think Levy is fair in calling out the moments when individual Google employees or the company as a whole screws up, and placing those in the context of Google's good intentions.

A few themes in what Levy's book revealed about "the Google way":

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January 2, 2012

Queries for good email management strategies

Inbox ZeroThe new calendar year is a great time to think about how you manage your personal and work/organizational email accounts.  I know that I benefit from the opportunity to purge or rotate out some old folders, delete large attachments just sitting around taking up space, and think about how well my setup is working for me in my daily workflow.

There are a lot of different strategies out there and each person has to find what works best for them.  Here are a few queries that might help you think about how well your strategy is working for you:

  1. Are you able to work through your e-mail inbox in a reasonable amount of time every day, respond to or delegate time-sensitive questions/comments, convert messages into to-do items, or otherwise file them away on the first pass through?
  2. Do you make good use of e-mail filters available in your mail reading program to highlight/tag/sort messages in ways that make you more productive? - Read More -
November 23, 2011

Review of CrashPlan for computer backups

I've been using the CrashPlan automatic backup system for my home computing devices for almost a year now, and I offer up this review.

Prior to using CrashPlan, I have to admit that my backup strategy for home computers left much to be desired.  Over the years I had tried various combinations of home-grown scripts and syncing tools that broke too easily or didn't offer enough flexibility in recovery, crusty third-party software that seemed to take hours to configure and then never quite did what I expected or didn't work with all the different devices I used, and even elegant tools like Apple's Time Machine backup system that still didn't offer me the off-site redundancy I wanted in case of physical catastrophe.

The end result was that my backups were happening infrequently, and in ways that did not necessarily guarantee the ability to restore what I would need in the event of a system failure or worse.  For someone who preaches the importance of backups to my friends, family and clients all day long, this was an embarrassing state of affairs. Then, one day a friend's laptop was stolen from his house, and as I listened to the stories of what was lost because of an incomplete backup and imagined what I would possibly lose if the same happened to me, I knew I needed to look for a better system.

That's when I found CrashPlan.

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September 8, 2011

Anatomy of a modern tech support case

Based on a true story:

Them: "Please fill out our online form and we'll get back to you right away!"

You in online form: "Hi.  I'm trying to find the button that does the thing I want, and your documentation says it should be there but it's not - can you tell me how to do the thing I want?"

Them: "Thank you for opening your tech support case - your question is very important to us.  We will get back to you very soon now."

Them: "Hi there, my name is Tech Support Rep#2342 and I'm going to be assisting you with your question."

Them: "It's me, Rep#2342 again, and I wanted to let you know that you can find out everything you'd ever want to know about the button you're looking for on our online knowledgebase, which is at http:....  I hope you enjoy all the information that will be at your fingertips there."

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