Rule in School

I’ve got one son heading off to Wayland Middle School, the other starting Cambridge School of Weston.  Both boys are tech savvy, so what are the right devices to support their educational experience?

Wayland High School is giving every kid a Macbook Air.  My high schooler, thinks that’s a great idea.  But recently he was interacting with his school portal and everything posted there was an Excel file.  He’s also into having “different” stuff than everyone else.  Could it be that a Microsoft Surface RT tablet makes sense for High School?

The middle schooler just want’s a Nexus 7 tablet so he can read and play tablet games.  So that one is easy.  Nexus 7’s are about the most reasonably priced devices on the market.

You might be thinking that these tablet devices are not powerful enough for real gaming (and that’s what kids really want computers for these days).  Right-O.  They’ve both already got PCs loaded with games and other distractions.  The idea of a device for school is something that can do email, writing, basic web searches, play music, and not much else.

 

Macbook Air vs Pro

I’ve been using a Macbook Air from 2012 for the last year and love it in general. Our Wayland High School is “loaning” them to every high school student as part of a 1-1 program. It is a sweet machine, but I’m learning it does have it’s limits.

The big limitation I’ve hit with my Air is fan noise when doing anything with video or screensharing. GotoMeeting, WebEx, Skype, all of these get the CPU fan spinning to maximum. While this isn’t technically a problem, it is lowering my satisfaction with my Air being my only computer. And for reference, I’ve got the Core i7 version w/ 8gb RAM.

I’m hoping the next generation of Macbook Pros with Haswell internals will be powerful and have great battery life. I’ll probably upgrade and pawn off my Air on one of my kids. Don’t tell them I said that.

Freemium ain’t Free

Over the weekend, PowerWeek.com switched from Freemium pricing to a Free Trial model.  The change was motivated by 3 factors.

  1. We looked at our user base and saw that lots of people signup and then never return. So we were emailing them every day for the rest of their lives?  Not good.
  2. Most of our user community is trying to make a change in their work habits. They want to get more done.  If PowerWeek is free, then we reduce the commitment and initiative to really try our dogma.
  3. Our users are business people who can benefit economically from adopting PowerWeek and promoting that others in their downline do the same.  By leading with a “free” promise, it becomes hard to see the product as something you pay to leverage.

Freemium is great for advertising driving websites.  We are the opposite.  Our users unanimously told us to NOT start using advertising to pay for the operation.

The experiment has begun.  We had an 8% conversion rate from Freemium (which is killer, we know), but we think we can do even better!  To read more about our user-driven decision, check out our press release.

Hangouts or Skype?

I’ve been relying on Skype as my primary phone at my Wayland MA office for the last 2 years.  It has been really good in general.  Then again, I’ve got super big pipes from Verizon FiOS (70mbs down/35mbs up).

Recently, I’ve had clients who prefer to use Google Hangouts.  On my Mac, it seems harder to get everyone assembled using the Hangout UX.  Also, the audio degrades for me after about 30 minutes.  If I disconnect and reconnect, then I’m fine again.

It is a pretty interesting story to see how Google has progressed to invade this space.  Check out the excellent chronology by the Verge here.

Jawbone UP is buzzing

I just took the plunge and purchased a Jawbone UP for my 49th birthday. The idea is the little bracelet keeps track of how active you are (or aren’t) and reminds you to get more exercise. I was waiting for the Fitbit Flex to be released first, but now they are sold-out everywhere and have an 8 week waiting list. I was able to get an UP at BestBuy right next to Wayland, MA.

It just buzzed at me to indicate I’ve been stationary in my chair for 45 minutes. I’ve got to get up now and move around. I’ll be experimenting with the app and device the next few weeks and will report back how it feels.

 

Parallels and Windows 8 – two core minimum

I’m amazed how well my Macbook Air (June 2012 version) runs Windows in a virtual machine with Parallels.  I’ve been doing a bunch of data migration work recently and need to run Windows 7, SQL Server, and Office 2010.  Everything is seamless and fast on a second monitor so it feels like 2 PCs on a single keyboard and mouse.

Then I started working with Windows 8 and Office 2013 for a different client and the wheels came off.  The VM would stutter like a car climbing snowy Claypit Hill Road in Wayland.  The CPU would peg but not even the animated cursor would be spinning.

Frustrated, I launched a case with Parallels support.  After a little back and forth, I got an appointment with an engineer who was polite, articulate, and — wait for it — helpful!  He indicated he had seen this problem before and adding a 2nd CPU core to the VM resolved the issue.

The change was painless.  It required fully stopping the VM, but no other surgery.  I haven’t seen the stutter problem since, and don’t notice any adverse performance consequences from the change.  Parallels get’s an A for technology and an A for support.  Nice to feel that way about a product and company these days.

Our Friend Big Data

Today we in Boston woke to news that one of the two suspects in the Marathon bombing had been killed.  The other, his brother, was being chased down. Watertown and Waltham are locked down and Wayland is just two hops away from the search.

I think how the Police identified the brothers is a great example of how Big Data can help us. As a computer guy, I’ve seen the decline in privacy caused by digital footprints we leave behind: credit cards, EZ Passes, cell phones, etc. Finally we are seeing the peace dividend from all this data.

A couple of things came together in the Boston marathon investigation.  First, there were thousands of cameras taking geocoded and timestamped photographs at the blast locations.  These photos were collected (voluntarily) and paired up with video from a few security cameras.  Add tons of computing horsepower with sweet pattern recognition algorithms and you can reconstruct the entire scene like a 3D movie.

So now we have a new weapon in our fight against terrorism.  If we (the people) are OK with more surveillance in public places, it will be really difficult to do something awful without getting caught.

Shame on Skype (Microsoft)

I love Skype.  I’ve been living on it for years.  It’s a good IM client, the VoIP is great and the group video is completely acceptable.  My Wayland office has one less device on the desk since I don’t need a regular phone anymore.

Today the wheels came off when I discovered that the Macintosh Skype client hangs up on callers when I reject a call.  On Windows, it sends the caller to Voicemail — which is what 95% of people would want.  I’m not sure what the other 5% want, but I’m guessing it isn’t a disconnect.  And the issue has been around for a year without resolution!

So is this a Microsoft thing?  Are they trying to punish me for leaving Windows?  I hope not, because I’m going to dump Skype before I leave Mac OSX.  They’ll be lonely in the Microsoft Store opening soon in the Natick, MA Mall if this keeps up.

Uggg, SQL Server 2012 Bummer

I’ve been having a great time in the Wayland Barn doing data migration work with MS SQL Server 2012.  The gigantic legacy database I’m moving to Salesforce.com is super speedy on my SSD so everything is good.

Until I find out that that legacy database has triggers and stored procedures written with a deprecated JOIN syntax.  They are using *= in a zillion places to perform OUTER JOINS.  and the rain starts pouring in Wayland. Truth is, that syntax has been out of style for a decade.  But Microsoft was still supporting it until just this newest release.  Check out this very good summary of the situation.