Monday, August 8, 2011

Cloud Backup

These days, everything is going to "the Cloud". The Cloud is a conceptual framework of network-connected computer storage, accessible to anyone from any location, as long as a network connection exists.

Apple recently came out with their iCloud product, a subscription service that is the latest iteration of their internet service which first was called dot-mac, then renamed to mobileMe. ICloud is intended to be a shared storage space for your MacBook computer, your iPad and iPod, and your iPhone. It will, Apple hopes, be able to unify several devices and their data for instant synching everywhere.

It isn't as if iCloud is the only cloud-based service. Amazon has its own Cloud Player and storage app for Android phones, and Google already has free web-based apps and storage. Carbonite, the backup company, has a system which backs up your computer to the Cloud, and allows for access to all of your computer's files from any internet connection. Verizon offers a cloud-based storage solution for their customers. There are other cloud services out there, as well.

When you start using Cloud services, you will have to create accounts, and probably also pay a monthly fee for access. Some services will provide storage space for no cost up to a certain quantity, then charge for a larger storage space. If you want to change cell phone or internet providers, you will often be required to migrate your data to another cloud. It will be very confusing for some, and the difficulty involved in changing services will be a real deterrent to ever changing.

Another likely scenario will emerge where users will have multiple cloud accounts across several different services. In fact, it is more than likely that people will establish their cloud storage accounts, then after a year or two may have three or more cloud storage locations at the same time. Married couples and families will have multiple storage accounts for each member. The number of cloud accounts will explode.

The ability to manage cloud storage services will become very complicated. The idea here is to create a device, which will be a Network Attached Storage device, which will automatically log in to all of your and your families cloud accounts, and make a backup of all of them on a local media. It could be called a Rain device, or a Snow device, or Precipitation device. Neat, huh? It would be made possible by creating a program in a ROM in a NAS device. In fact, it could be a program in a future upgrade of an existing NAS device, like Netgear or Linksys make. It would store the login name and the user's passwords in memory, along with the URL of the cloud resources. The whole thing would connect to your internet at home. It could also be used as a local storage device, as space allows.

It would log into the cloud, scan the file structure, and make a list of all of the files stored therein. Then, it would create a hierarchical file structure that is identical to your cloud service, and copy every file that it finds in there. Subsequently, it could react to duplicate files by comparing them and only copying them if they are different, and possibly based on a date or time stamp.

This is one idea which I expect to see in use very soon. I haven't heard of anyone doing it yet, so I want to be sure it is recorded here, in the cloud, for posterity, and also so I can show people later on when somebody patents it and makes a million bucks. If you read this, and you do make a million bucks, kindly remember me, and kick me down a little. Ten percent is all I ask.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Getting Rid of Automatic Checkouts

This isn't my idea, but it is a good one. A major supermarket chain has decided to remove its customer-operated automatic checkouts. They have over 100 stores which will have them eliminated. I am fully behind this idea.

They are an example of a complicated system to get the customers to check themselves out of the supermarket. There are some drawbacks, which make them less than desirable. For one thing, there is the bagging system, which expects a certain weight for each product scanned. There is a lag between scanning and bagging,  If you have a cart with 85 items, it can take quite a while to get out. Then there is the constant barrage of repetitive instructions. Scan the next item. Place the item in the bagging area. Unexpected item in the bagging area. Please scan your next item.

A human cashier has certain advantages that come from skill and experience. They can converse. They can press a button and scan 8 items at once. They can tell what your produce is without looking it up in the system. They move fast, and they can help you put your groceries in a bag. And they are skilled at getting your payment.

I have written about automatic checkouts in previous posts. I want them to have different user-selected voices, like a GPS. I want them to have a shut up button for experienced users. But I don't use them, for the simple reason that they are frustrating to deal with. I think they are a stretch for technology, unlike ATM's which anyone can operate because they are limited in their scope. Automated checkstands have too many layers of complication. I will be glad to see them gone.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Automatic Checkout Machine Voices

This seems to be a favorite subject for me. I do shop for groceries in my family, more than the other people in my household. I have had several ideas, some of which I think are quite good, relating to cash registers. I really can't understand why at least one of them has come to see the light of day.

My first was the beep sound where the cashier in the different lines scan the groceries and other items, and the register goes beep, beep, beep, as the products pass by. I think it would be cool and also somewhat pleasant if the registers each had a different beep, like register 1 beeps, register 2 beeps a little higher in pitch, and so on down the line. In some of the busier discount stores, it would be almost musical. I blogged this idea already, if you want to read more.

My next idea was to put a silence button on the new automated machines, which I find really annoying. They tell you to scan the item, they tell you to put it in the bag, they tell you to insert cash, and if you have a lot of items, you will have to listen to the machine tell you what to do for a long time. I don't know what the advantage is for the consumer, because it takes longer to check out that way than having an experienced cashier do it for you.

So today, I was at the supermarket buying a loaf of bread, when I was in the cashier line. The automated line was going pretty good and four machines were issuing their repetitive instructions to four different customers. They all had the same voice. The same woman's voice, probably some white woman, too. It is the same voice in all of the competing supermarkets and many other stores. Ralph's and WalMart's and Raley's and Home Depot, they all sound the same. It struck me: Why don't they give the cash registers different voices?

For one thing, the people at four different registers would be able to have four different voices telling them so that they wouldn't think the register next to them was telling them what to do. They could have a selection of voices, like several male and several female voices. They could have unique voices for their own stores, so Home Depot could have their own voices, and WalMart could have theirs. Next, they can have them in different languages, too!

I think it is a great idea. The cost of having someone read all the possible phrases a cash register uses would be minimal, and the license for the sound of a voice could be very lucrative for someone. I would offer my own voice, for a very reasonable price. Hey, they could license celebrity voices. They possibilities are endless. Now, how could one make a profit from this? If some chain of stores wants to have their own branding, like OSH could get their commercial guy to speak for the registers. People would go there just to hear the cash register voices. Sales would definitely go up, and personnel costs would go down as more people went for the automated cashiers, thereby eliminating human cashiers, saving the companies money.

Well, I'll be waiting to see when someone implements this idea. I don't care to make a lot of money off of it, but if you happen to use it, and it works out for you, please remember the guy with the coolest ideas. Ten percent is all I ask.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Intersection Beacons

Everyone has a Smartphone now, and the Smartphone is actually starting to supplant the dedicated GPS. Not completely, but starting. A dedicated GPS has certain advantages, like large amounts of data stored on-board, with no network connection needed. Smartphones need cell service, at a minimum a 2G network. With the number of G's increasing rapidly, soon we will be looking at 6G networks, but now everyone is at about 3G or 4G, with many people starting to make the move to 5G. This is all well and good, as long as you stay within the bounds of the network signal. As soon as you go beyond, the Smartphone becomes as useful as a brick with apps. This is not to denigrate Smartphones, actually, but a suggestion for improving the functions of dedicated GPS devices.

These days, pretty much every intersection is controlled by a computer. They are probably even networked, which gives this idea even greater value. I would like to see every computer-controlled intersection equipped with a beacon that would constantly broadcast the state of the intersection. It would be implemented using antennae that are directional in nature, pointing and broadcasting their status towards oncoming traffic. They would send a time signal and the color of the light to approaching traffic, plus the remaining time until the light is expected to change.

Each packet would contain the current time as a reference, plus the state of every light in the intersection, such as straight, left turn lanes, right turn and crosswalks. The current GPS databases would need to be extended to include the configuration of known intersections as to what signals were present, and the state of the intersection could be decoded on the GPS screen. It would tell you that the light ahead is green, but will turn red in 8 seconds. Given your then-current speed, it could warn you if you were going too slow to make the light, maybe advise you to slow down or to continue at the current speed, or accelerate if safe to the posted speed limit.

Already, GPS manufacturers have traffic service, where they broadcast traffic alerts constantly. Databases are showing where all the red-light cameras are, and it is only a matter of time before GPS databases will include posted speed limits and the location of every single stop sign on the planet. Making intersections broadcast their state to oncoming traffic could add a dimension of safety by warning drivers of the red light they might not be aware of, and lives could be saved.

This idea is not intended to make it easy to avoid red-light violations, and any suggestion of that might work to delay implementation of this fantastic idea. Probably anyone who is opposed to this idea works for the county or city government, and would not like to see people have this information available. They also might not want to spend public funds on something so frivolous, but if only one life were to be saved, it would be worth millions, right? Right? So who could object?

Also, the data could be put on the internet, and Smartphone owners could access the data from Google Maps, as they are being voice-guided on the way to work. "The light ahead at 6th and High Streets is red, and will turn green in fifteen seconds." "The light ahead at Main Street and Wall Street is red and the crosswalk is active." "The light ahead at First Street and Sunset Blvd. is green but will turn red in 7 seconds." These are just some off-the-cuff examples of what your GPS might someday tell you. And if you are the one to turn this idea into gold, can you please remember me? I only want 10%!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

How About PayPal Using People? or, PayPal Hell!

I have noticed a disturbing trend. It seems that many businesses are opting for voice-trained response systems instead of human operators. Maybe people are too expensive, because they tend to make small talk. I say this because I have been dealing with PayPal customer support for about three weeks on an issue that stems from a certain policy they have regarding the use of checking accounts. I have been trying to do some eBay business, and have gotten to the point where I have bought too much stuff from them. They flagged my as having spent to much, and asked me for a checking account number.

Well, I had no problem with that. I gave it to them. But it didn't take. So, I called them. Well, actually, I tried to contact them via e-mail. I had to select categories and then enter a PIN on the phone before the machine would talk to me. If machines that have to use and understand human speech become the norm, we are in trouble. A machine is only as good as the programmers who programmed it, and they are human too. For some reason, they like to make it very difficult to reach a human being. And once you get past the machine, after it cannot figure out what you want, you can go on hold for quite a while.

I called them, and it took a good two minutes for the machine to yield to my will. After that, it dropped me onto hold, where I was subjected to some horrible upbeat Jazz-like music, with a radio-announcer voice constantly telling me all the ways that I could get my problems solved by using their help system on the web page. I finally spoke to a human, and was told that my account was already being used. It seemed to have been stuck to a previous e-mail address that became a spam magnet, and I stopped using it. Subsequently, I closed that PayPal account, and another which had also been used with the same bank account.

Then I called them back. Same ordeal getting into a hold queue, then a different agent telling me the same things as before. After updating the story, I got another answer which was that I had to get the checking account off of a third PayPal account which belongs to my wife. She has her own use for it, and a checking account for that use, and the funds don't mingle with our home accounts. I tried to tell them, but they insisted that she call them to give them permission to break the connection. She did, and waited through the same hold pattern to be told the same things I already knew. Twice.

I have since called three more times, and e-mailed them a dozen more. They don't reply to emails most of the time, except by an automated response system, but I did get to speak to a customer service supervisor, with no resolution, and got a personal email from a tech in their system somewhere. I still don't have a satisfying outcome. I finally had to close the account because it is getting personal now. I'm waiting for my check, and then I'm going to tell people what they are in for.

Which leads to the idea part: I'm sure this is nothing new, but what about renting some office space, and putting a bunch of phones in there, and hiring some underemployed Americans to answer the phones and direct calls to qualified technicians? This would have the advantage of giving a sympathetic and understanding voice to people when they call because of some frustration they are experiencing. Heck, even if the problem were never solved, at least the caller would feel like someone cares. The technology exists to route calls to phones based on a formula to make sure every phone operator gets the same amount of time in calls. They could also put computer terminals in, where people could log the calls, and when someone has to call five or ten times, the problem wouldn't have to be re-described.

The problem here is time. If I call a company, like PayPal, and have to voice-navigate a computer system to get to a person, they have stolen some of my time. And when I send a long message and the system logs me off for inactivity before I finish the message, and then drops the message because I have to log in again, they have stolen my time. I have never experienced such poor customer service from any entity, not even the Department of Motor Vehicles.

This is my idea. I could make a million bucks off of it.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Earlobe Openings

Here's an idea I've been mulling over for a few weeks:

One thing I have noticed about people in the coffee shops is that there are quite a few that have wild and eclectic haircuts and many with tattoos and earlobe gauging. Earlobe gauging should be called gouging because it makes the earlobe larger. It has been a custom in some primitive societies to stretch parts of the body by inserting objects into openings, enlarging the openings gradually, and then putting in larger objects. Ear gauging is a variation of ear piercing, which makes a tiny hole larger and larger.

Personally, I am not a big fan of bodily immolation. I don't care for ear gauging or tattoos. It looks painful, and makes me cringe. Tattoos, because they are permanent and sometimes the content may be desirable at the time of application, but the tattooed may have a change in taste and be stuck forever defaced with images all over their shin. Because of these things, I usually get my coffee at the gas station nowadays.

But this is not about tattoos, it is about the ear gauging thing. When a person gauges their ears, they bgin with a pin, then insert a cone in the hole. The cone enlarges the hole, and they push it in farther and farther, until the cone goes all the way through. Then they put a disk in, which I have seen as big as a quarter in some cases. This actually can lead to a practical value for a loop of skin hanging from the bottom of the ear.

The disks I have seen are usually white or black plastic, and shiny. The do not seem to have any other function but to hold the opening open. Here's the practical part: Why not make something like a BlueTooth device, with a speaker in it? You could make a pair of stereo earphones that way, with no wires. They could have a jack for a very short single ear bud, or they could be designed so that the mass would be supported by the earlobe, bit part of it would be at the ear canal opening sending sound into the ear. A real advantage would be that the user could have sound but not have to cover the ear with extremal headphones or plug the ear with ear buds. Think of the safety ramifications of not restricting hearing while being able to listen to music! Wow!

Yes, well, I do get excited sometimes. This is my latest brainstorm, and I had to put it down on keyboard and screen before someone else thought about it. It's is like the app I thought up some time ago about turning the iPhone screen into a mirror. It would probably consist of a program that dims the backlight way down so that you could see your reflection on the shiny surface. I didn't think much of that idea, until I saw on the Internet, that someone else is making it.

Anyway, like other ideas I have had, this one is free for the taking, but if you use i and make money from it, at least mention where you found it. And if you are feeling generous, and want to take good care of your Karma, send me a few dollars. 5 percent is all I ask.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Sagging Suspenders

In a previous post, I described my idea for a garter belt-style of suspenders. I guess it was a decent idea, since someone is now marketing a similar product. Even though I didn't draw a picture, it is pretty clear that the product is just as I described it. You can read about it here.

It is always possible, actually, that someone else came up with the same idea independently. I didn't patent the idea, so I don't have any real claim on it. But this is why I blogged it here in the first place: I do get to claim credit for having thought of it first.

Of course, my ideas are free for the taking, but I do accept thanks in the form of a share of the profits, if you happen to make any money off of them. 10 percent is all I ask.