Email question about the mechanics of a Family History project…

I got a great email two days ago regarding the content of my other blog ( ) and my Family History project. The email was from a person I mentored many years ago. They were curious about starting their own Family History project but were scared/worried that people would leave nasty comments or worse on their blog in reference to the project.

First off, trolls are out there. If you live your life afraid of trolls then you will never look under bridges. Leave your blog in moderated mode and don’t approve troll comments. That also reduces the number of SPAM comments on your blog as well (how many SEO posts can one blog have anyway). So don’t worry about people that are going to post nasty comments. They will never appear on your blog if you so choose. You can also post home if you choose it is wholly your choice, your blog.

The next question focused more on how do you choose the stories you tell. My family history project started because my father died. I wish I had started the project before he died so I could have shared with him the memories he built for me. I am in fact now remembering my mother (with her reading it) on the family history blog for that very reason. There is something to be said for sharing what you remember of the people around you. the discussions, arguments and memories are things you can both share with them, and discuss with them. But it is also something that the future can enjoy. Once out there it is available for consumption.

The last question was one of post production consumption. In other words once you have the blog started what do you do with it? Personally I am a huge fan of Blog2print. They offer a great service (consuming your blog and turning it into a physical book, or a PDF file). The service they offer is amazing and you end up with either a physical book, or PDF files that encompass your entire blog. Some blogs are good, some are average and some are horrible. I write quite a few stinkers but the goal is write the blog and post it. Let others decide if the message has value for them.

How do I get started on a Family History project? That one is one I’ve answered before, and was the question that started my friends conversation. Not the last question but the first question. But handled last, because sometimes the first is last. Like this case, the first is last. Anyway how do I get started? Don’t wait for a moment you can’t go before. By that I mean don’t wait like I did for a moment that creates a need. Start earlier and share what you know. Play the Carpenters song “Sing, Sing a song” everyday for a week before you start. It will inspire you to get something out there.

It doesn’t matter what trolls say to you. It only matters that you get the stories out, that you share. Now the other part of our family history project was scanning all the old pictures we had. Pictures from many years ago (some 40 and 50 years old). I’ve added those pictures to the project recently and it makes the project that much more fun. Remembering who is in the pictures, many pictures I don’t even remember who is there. But other people do, and you can begin to share more and more.

You don’t have to do pictures. You don’t have to do a family history project. But if you do, start now. Start before you miss telling a family member how much they meant to you.


Family Historian

I’ll be home for Christmas. Well at least my PPD will be… :0-)

The holidays are a time for family. We’ve often lived far enough away that we traveled to the holiday celebration. In 2012 I got an inner ear infection. We didn’t travel for the family holiday that year. I regret that now, because of what was to happen two years later, but I could not have traveled. It is one of the things that I bleieve PPD’s (Personal Presence Devices) will change. It is not quite the same as being there but it is better than not being there at all.

Devices like PadBot, Keecker and Jibo will expand family gatherings. Want to have an impromptu family gathering? Send out in invite and people can attend via the various PPD devices. Facetime, Apple’s aptly named service, opens the door to seeing and hearing people that are far away. The concept of family gatherings may be a 1/2 empty table with iPad’s in attached to the backs of the chairs. “can someone please turn me so I can see what we are having for dinner” becoming the new holiday conversation. Those who are physically present getting up, not to pass the mashed potatoes but to turn cousin Jim’s iPad so he can see the Turkey.

I am going to an extreme here to make a somewhat humorous point. The real conversation is the reality of people not being able to be with their family and friends. The PPD opens remote doors. I have posted PPD rules of manners and social faux paux related to PPD use before so I won’t go into that. Instead I would like to focus on the positive messaging of PPD’s bringing families together more often.

Video, with voice isn’t as cool as in person but it is better than just audio and beyond that silence. Microphones will have to get better and like Keecker and Jibo, the camera will need to be flexible. Otherwise we end up with those who are there, running around turning the remote people’s devices. I think if I were to include a manners piece today, it would be, if you are remote, you can’t force someone local to move your PPD.

One of the things Jibo has that is amazing is the ability to manage both sides of the connection. In particular when considering this device as a connection with elderly relatives that is a value proposition in case of problems. Keecker is more of a multimedia system, but it offers much of the PPD value (that is Keecker there on the left) of Jibo, PadBOT and the more expensive PPD devices.

Like the rest of Cyber Physical Systems (CPS also called the IoT) there is an integration issue today. As we expand further and further into the world of PPD’s its critical that there be an integration standard. Many of the systems that are coming, have their own software and communication systems. We need a unified integration standard that will enable devices to connect and communicate. Skype, Facetime, JiBo, Keecker and others all able to communicate with each other. The value of a system is its integration with the existing systems. A System of Systems (SoS) has greater ability to impact quickly than does a series of systems (sos) that operate independently.

One standard to rule them all and in the internet bind them!


Lord of the Rings fan!

Wither tis nobler to automate or simply to wait…

I was thinking this morning about moving on my other blog (family history project). I was wandering around the fact that like my parents I have moved a lot. I’ve lived in three major cities in my life (Chicago, Bangkok Thailand and now Washington DC). I’ve lived in two medium sized cities (Cincinnati Ohio, Indianapolis Indiana) and one smaller town (Bloomington Indiana).

Geographically I’ve always moved south. (Chicago to Bloomington, Indianapolis to Washington DC not a lot south but a little). Not that I am a southerner just that I think I like warmer climates where snow is seen in the winter but not shoveled.

Its not that I cannot stay in one place or that I get bored, its that I have always wanted to live in various parts of the country. I love being now, in a place where there is 200 years of historical markers.

Moving is an interesting reality. First off, moving across the country isn’t easy. Moving itself is painful even if you are just moving from one side of town to the other. But moving is also something new. It’s a chance to start over and redo all your favorite projects. That got me thinking, we all have things we need in a house. Things that are important to us. For me it used to be Cat-5 wiring and home theater. Those were the biggies as far as I was concerned. Then it was an office space in the house.

That got me thinking about what a house I would build now, would like and what a house I built in five years would look like. Home automation has improved so much in the past 4 years. Its amazing what you can do now. But what’s coming is the fully integrated house of the future. Where everything that can be automated is easily automated. The lights, the heating and cooling and the solar power system working together. Solar power charging offline batteries so that we can reduce the need for power plants that aren’t environmentally great (coal) and replace those with local solar. Reducing the overall load on the power grid. We are adding 9.5 gig watts of solar productions in 2016. That growth is the largest single energy source in the US for growth this year.

Biometric sensors not security but comfort. Imagine your house, asking you if were cold or hot. Letting you chose if the heat gets turned up or the air conditioning increased. Or, based on budgetary concerns you instead let it slide and pull a blanket up (or put on shorts).

What will we have in the home of tomorrow. We recently got a new induction cooktop in our house. You have to get new pots and pans, but now water boils in less than 3 minutes. Cooking is fast and simple with this new technology. What else is out there for the home of tomorrow that we can consider.

One thing I hope will happen is the reality of built in automation. So the only thing you ever have to move is your couch and your clothes. Everything else is already there. The automated bed that warms in the winter and cools in the summer. Fans that turn on when the temperature in the room exceeds the rules. Lights that come on when footsteps are heard. Automation is coming. Moving will be easier!


Home automation dreamer

Success is not a destination. It is not a goal. It however can be the thing that ruins everything.

Each of us has our own personal measure of success. We take that internal “vision” and apply it not only to the world around us, but ultimately to what and how we approach the very things to be done, that get us towards our vision of success. It is less a measure and more a destination. Things we do today may impact our success of 10 years, 20 years and beyond down the road. So when do you stop and refocus your vision of success?

I know so many people that are trapped in their vision. They don’t mean to be, they just are. The old adage stop and smell the roses is important. Not from a roses really smell good perspective but from a life should be lived perspective. There are great moments that pass us by in our rush for that arrow tip Success. We wind the long mountain road seeking the top, instead of stopping and remembering why we started in the first place. Remember your passion, remember shy it drove you in the direction you are seeking.

It is not a race. Not to the bottom. Not to the top. It is not a race. If I were as poetic as Dr. Suess I would say it is not a race in a box, not with a fox, not to the top not to the bottom. But I lack his flair and drawing skills. You get wrapped around that vision. You can’t get trapped in that race. You miss something then, you can’t recreate. Lost in a box, or eaten by a fox. Something that you want later in life but can’t later.

Back to the question, it nags me. When do we stop and evaluate our goal, success? A life event nearly two years ago now, followed by two more life events within the next 6 months, have made me question my goals. First off because I met people whose goals were at the cost of others. That I have to say scared me. They believed their success was more important than anything or anyone around them. But the life events only opened my eyes to that. I’ve always run into people like that, I’ve just ignored them and moved on. But now, going through the life changing events of 2014 I notice them.

I wouldn’t seek to change them. I just recognize them now. From the past I see clearly who they were. I know now that I should have steered clear but I did not. I engaged and now I feel regret. People live within the box they create for themselves. They do not venture far from their box, even to forage and get food. They are wound around that stair step to success.

“Do the right things and the money will follow.” Does that fit on the path to success? It should, but I know so many people willing to discard that for success. Dishonesty or even a willingness to believe someone is less than they are, or many someone’s are less than they are. It is ambition no question, the desire to place your success ahead of everything else.

I also realize now that there are people that perceived me as seeking success at any cost. To them, I apologize. It was never my intent, but I do now clearly that often actions, intent and values don’t come natively to other people. In apologizing for actions perceived (actual or again perceived only) I understand that sometimes things are misinterpreted. I do the same thing, so to those who I have placed the moniker success only and at any cost, my apologies if that was not your intent. Both sides accounted for. Those who though I was seeking only success, and those I thought were only seeking success.

Great shame to those who were. Those who only sought success regardless of its impact. But there comes a time in life when you look back and remember. Forgive yourself, forgive others around you who sought that great path. Because it is not anything other than something to be embarrassed about, to apologize for and to accept you could have been better.


Wishing to be a better person, knowing I have a long way to go.

Remembering computers the way they were…

The personal computer. Not a room filling massive computational system that modified the trajectory of Apollo 11. But something that sat on your desk and has subtly changed the way the world works, forever.

I wonder about the name though. Back in the day the Mac was more personal. You could customize (easily) backgrounds on the Mac quickly. You could on the PC but it took some wandering and creative disk swapping. Plus the memory issue meant the PC had to have very poor graphics as your background.

But I am not writing to compare rather to remember. Not just to remember what was, but also the dreams that we had back in the day. I used to try to connect just about everything to the computer. From MIDI devices (which were very expensive at the time) to well just about everything. Today that is so much easier than it was (Wi-Fi and Bluetooth). But it isn’t as fun as it was.

First off computing was once about your ability to swap disks. Usually in the middle of a though if you were writing. The flopping containing the application would need to be swapped into the drive. Even with two Floppy drives you still did a lot of swapping. Enter the dream, the hard drive. Another game changer that ended up evolving rapidly as a new and better way to store files. But those first computers were filled with promise and frustration (SCSI chains – a maximum of 7 devices and you had better terminate them properly).

I was a computer tinkerer, still am. So I learned the reality of patience when it comes to computers. When things don’t work the way I want them to, I fix them. I look at the problem and evaluate the options I have. I consider the impact and then I try to fix the problem. Knowing what I know, from the dark days of compute past I can usually work my way though a problem. Setting up a virtual machine in AWS or Azure is not that much different than building a PC from scratch. What I don’t have is the nomenclature. I don’t know the words. So I use my peon and Google them. But the words aren’t in my head. The process the concepts and ultimately the steps you need to take to fix problems, build systems and design what will be, that’s in my head. There is a great concept called learning from your mistakes.

But if you have broken a SCSI chain or beaconed a token ring you wouldn’t think to look there. If you grew up in the age of the internet, then the network is always up. You never lived through the pre-internet reality of the network may be up but IT DOESN”T CONNECT TO ANYTHING ELSE. Remember that it isn’t just about solving the problem in front of you. It is also about building systems that are aware of what has been so you don’t miss an easy fix.

There is a higher order thinking skill involved in troubleshooting called memory. If you have never experienced something then you experience a shock and awe impact. If you have experienced a lot of bad things there is less shock and awe impact. Just because the senior engineer in the room doesn’t remember the names for an AWS VPC or how Azure Machine learning works, pay attention. They may be able to tell you why the computer connecting to your beautiful new cloud solution doesn’t actually ever get anywhere near your CSP.

Blend the old and the new. Remember to pay attention to those that built the system. Yes everything is new and shiny but remember there are people that were building before new and shiny existed. listen to them, sometimes they can fix problems you don’t see. I call this concept Brittle Computing. Originally I applied the concept to solution themselves. I have come to realize that it applies as much to organizations and people as it does to the solutions they are running. Brittle sometimes means resistant to change.


Old IT Guy

Excuse me, do you have a quarter so I can unlock my phone screen?

Smart device certification presents an interesting change as we head into the age of multiples of things to people. If we consider the traditional evolution of things, in the 1950’s and 1960’s the birth of the mainframe computer put number of things at far less than the number of people. In fact the number of things probably stayed below the number of people until the birth of cloud computing in the mid 2000 time period. That was when the first multiple occurred (2x). As the population increases the number of devices is also increasing, at a much faster rate. Analysts project that the multiple will be 4 or 5 x in less than 5 years.

Devices are interesting for two reasons. First the number of smart devices produced is increasing. Previously voiceless devices are gaining voices. Smart watches replace analog watches. The future of home home power production (Transactive Energy) is the introduction of a smart digital switch at your house for power. Why? Because with solar and wind turbines, you produce energy and it has to flow from the production system to your house. There are many hours in the day (with sunlight) that you will produce more energy than you consume. This flows back into the grid. All of these devices now chatter. They talk, converse and share.

In fact there are three distinct categories of the Internet of Things (CPS).

Category 1: my information is freely available to everyone, no password or identification required.

Category 2: I share some information but some of my information is only shared if you have a passcode or I recognize who is asking for the information (Device or person)

Category 3: I don’t like to share. (joke)! No information shared with proper deification which could be person, device or combination of device and password etc.

The first category is pretty straight forward. It is the raw consumable data that everyone can get. An example would be the shared temperature and weather services provided. No cost to the user and you can get it on any device you want.  This is a device that says “I have data to share, would you like it?”

Our next category is interesting. Weather is another example. Here we now add the NOAA weather radar feed. There is a free version of the feed that shows storms moving and storm activity. The paid version show lightening strikes, storm intensity, rainfall amounts and so on. It nicely as a category two device (weather station) that produces free information and paid information that requires either a user ID or a device specific ID. Simple and easy. “I have data to share. Some of my data is freely available would you like it? If you need specialized information though, I have to identify you first.”

In my  book the Syncverse I talk a lot about the broad concepts of information merchants and brokers. Where the brokers and merchants offer specialized information. That is where category 2 and 3 devices are going to live. The value of a Seismograph is free data. I want to know when the earth shakes how bad was the quake. But not everyone wants to see advanced radar when storms are approaching.

In fact the majority of people will consume data from Category 1 devices every day. You will have specific category 2 devices that you install (home weather station) and category 3 devices (Home automation, home security systems) in your life.

You will have look at me devices. Those are devices that freely advertise that they have information. Most likely this is the area where advertisers will explode. Devices placed that advertise services and connections to your mobile device that pop that information on your screen if you’ve left any service on your phone as you walk through the park. (SMS, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi). Look at me devices will become worse and worse I am sure.

In fact I suspect look at me devices will become as bad as ads on television and radio are now. Perhaps worse in that small devices could be placed everywhere. Go outside get inundated by Look at Me devices. Stay inside and we will pump those look at me devices into your home via the water system. Walk by the kitchen sink and get bombarded with Jim bob the plumber ads.

Lunch at your favorite restaurant having two distinct prices. With advertising you pay X-1, without advertising you pay X. I wonder in fact if the same is true for toll roads. The toll with ads on your car radio is X-1, without ads its X. Airplanes, Trains, commuter systems all flooding you with Look at Me device data.

Look at me. To remove ads please insert a quarter into the slot on the wall next to you.



Yea though I walk through my house, every device is playing the Irish Rovers!

Voice controlled speaker system the Amazon Echo. The device is addressed by simply saying “Alexa…” and the voice command is launched and you get back the information you are seeking. You can add things to your Amazon shopping list or you can play the new game Jeopardy J6 with Alexa taking the role of Alex Trebeck. Alexa will play all your music that you’ve bought/ripped and stored on the Amazon Cloud drive. It will also (if you have prime) play the various prime music channels. Yesterday being St. Patrick’s day and all I asked Alexia to play Irish music in the AM as I was blogging (then switched to the Irish Rovers my personal favorites).

Voice command remains however just out of the reach of perfection. We have two Echo speakers in the house. One in the kitchen and one in my office. The one in the kitchen picks up commands on the main level of the house pretty well. Although, the Amazon Echo TV Commercials, cause Alexa to respond in our home (personal note, this morning I was looking for images and searched Alexa, apparently that isn’t a good idea not a single Amazon Echo picture was returned)

They have ported this voice interface to the FireTV platform as well. Overall this has become a very powerful platform. But you are still limited by voice. In a loud room though would you listen to Alexa anyway? Alexa is the first of what I suspect will be a growing number of voice driven stationary assistants. Siri, Google and Cortana are already mobile (as is Alexa with the ill fated Fire Phone). The Echo system is also integrated with a number of home automation systems giving you voice control of automated lights and other IoT devices.

So why am I writing this? I’ve said several times before the voice control has limits, those limits haven’t changed. Alexa still talks back to the television commercials about Alexa and probably will for the foreseeable future. In a crowded train voice command is useless. But the functionality is effective when used in the right place. Voice command is improving. Gestures and motion are also improving. VR takes beyond gestures with our hands and bodies to Gestures with our face. All of this improving around us as we well speak.

I can’t wait for the Amazon commercial showing the integration of HUE lighting from Phillips. In the commercial the person says Alexa shut off the lights. And 1/4 of the homes in America go dark. People galvanized into action “Alexa turn on the lights in the living room.” Hackers attacking Alexa by creating an application that automatically shuts off the IoT connected devices every 11 seconds. Just annoying enough to make you unplug Alexa.

So the next thing of course will be voice training. Teaching the system to recognize specifically the voice of the person who is allowed to command the system. Everyone else saying Alexa shut off the lights, and having to actually get up and turn off the lights because Alexa doesn’t recognize them. Each human voice is unique but they can be copied. The voice is as much what you say as how you say it. But better than the Alexa TV commercials shutting off your lights every 15 minutes.

The reason for my fanciful wanderings this morning has to do with the evolving market of home audio. Between the Amazon Echo (kitchen and my office) and the Sonos system you can play music anywhere in the house. The two take different approaches but both integrate with a number of services. Alexa can play anything Amazon. Sonos can play anything including Amazon. You investment is much higher with Sonos, but the overall sound quality is exponentially better than Echo can provide. I have friends who love the Bose wireless speaker system as well. Similar functionality to Sonos.

Sound remains an interesting and growing market. As this market continues to evolve I am curious where it will go. Part of home automation is making everything easier to use. Part of having home audio will be the overall integration of sources. Perhaps someday Alexa will become the voice or your house. Or maybe Cortana will, possible Siri or even Google Voice. All are capable of driving parts of what you have installed today. Not everything mind you, that integration is painfully just out of reach. But a lot of what you can automate you can control now with the various voice control systems. Soon!

Alexa, please turn off the lights in the Children’s room and tuck them in. Don’t forget to kiss them goodnight!


Audio Fanatic