A Business Technology Place

Alexa, play my podcast

How hard can it be?

This week I wanted to play a podcast through my Amazon Echo Dot. It seemed so simple. I would have Alexa learn a skill for a podcast player and then queue the podcast to play. My preferred podcast player is Google Play Music because that’s where I keep my digital music. But I had forgotten Amazon and Google don’t play together. Silly boys.

Here are the options I found:

  1. Enable a skill on Alexa that plays podcasts. Some of the more well-known providers are iHeartRadio, TuneIn, and Stitcher.
  2. Use the Echo Dot as a bluetooth speaker. In this option, the Echo Dot can be paired to another device such as phone or tablet. Then play the podcast on the app installed on the other device.

Pick and go

For option 1, I didn’t want to register a new account. Since I don’t have accounts on iHeartRadio, TuneIn, or Stitcher I chose option 2.

Pairing the Echo Dot to my phone was easy. I turned on bluetooth on my phone and then said “Alex, pair bluetooth”. When I did this the Echo Dot showed as a device that could be paired. The obvious downside to this method is I have to use a second device to play the podcast through the Echo Dot instead of using the Alexa voice commands. I’m OK with that.

One thing to note if you try this. Other family members might not like your podcast content or want to listen at the same time. You might have to move Alexa to a private space. 🙂

Onward and upward!

Photo credit: F. Delventhal via Creative Commons

 

Right Sizing Advertisements

Advertisement cat-and-mouse.

For the record, I use an advertisement blocker extension in Google Chrome already. I don’t mind advertisements, because I realize they are necessary to promote products and services that drive the economy (the 4 Ps!). But let’s be honest. The placements of advertisements can be annoying when they disrupt the content of a broadcast, web page, place, or event. This is why I started using an Ad Blocker extension on my web browser several years ago. I wanted a smoother flow of content on the pages I was reading.

Creating guidelines.

In March 2017, the Coalition for Better Ads released some guidelines entitled Initial Better Ads Standards. The document is based on consumer research to identify the types of ads that promote poor experience ratings and create a greater propensity for consumers to adopt third party tools to block advertisements. This is the first step towards creating guidelines for internet ads similar to governing provisions of the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 for email.

Now, Google will start enforcing the “Better Ads Standards” by automatically blocking ads formats that fall outside the boundaries for acceptable-use. This is a big deal for several reasons:

  • Influence – Google Chrome is the most popular web browser in recent years according to multiple reports and studies from web traffic use.
  • Business Impact – The revenue model for some businesses will fall outside the boundaries of what is acceptable. Businesses will have to adjust to maintain revenue.
  • Industry Position- About $3 of every $10 on digital ads goes to Google according to this report in the Wall Street Journal. Is there a conflict of interest and will Google’s stance ultimately drive more revenue for Google?

A step forward, let’s take another one.

The Better Ads guidelines are not focused on what advertisers says, but how they say it. That’s a great start to bring some decency guidelines for how advertisers insert themselves onto my screen.

A few of the ads Google will block: Pop-up with Countdown, Sticky, and Auto-play Video with Sound (Source: Coalition for Better Ads)

The next thing I would like to see is a way for consumers to filter ad content based on their preferences. Perhaps the Better Ads group could designate ad content areas that could be objectionable such as alcohol, gambling, pornography, etc. Many publishers and ad servers are already making great strides in this space as they serve ads based on the content of the page or based on past searches. This is ad relevance and is a primary factor in driving clicks from consumers.  I have experimented with Google AdSense on my personal blog and Google allows me to exclude certain topic categories from displaying (Kudos Google).  My point is most of the decision power today is in the hands of the site owners and advertisers. I’d like to see the consumers have a bit more say in what type of content is displayed in the advertisements they see. Let’s keep right sizing this topic…..

Onward and Upward!

Click-to-run video and ad content in 2017

Most of the time when I browse and consume content on internet pages I’m trying to scan and read. Ads and videos that automatically start playing are more of a nuisance. They produce noise, delay the page from loading, and require I scroll through the page to stop them.  Last year I disabled flash player content from playing automatically in my Chrome browser by disabling plugin in the settings.

To do this type following in the web address bar: chrome://plugins/

Then disable the player but make sure the box is checked to allow it to run.

Now a page that has videos that automatically load displays this

Microsoft, Google, and Mozilla have announced plans to disable flash by default on future releases of their browsers. The reasons that drive this decision are performance and security. I’d like to add nuisance reduction as well 😉

 

Onward and upward!

Confessions from using Mac Linux Windows Chrome Android iOS

I’ve used them all.confession

Call me an equal opportunity technologist. I’ve given them all a try. From Windows to Linux and everywhere in between. Do I have my have opinions? Absolutely. Do I participate in the “Holy wars” for OS? Yes, on occasion, for entertainment in my life. So I thought it would be fun to write a few confessions about my experience. It’s purely for entertainment. 🙂

Mac OS

  • The ultimate OS right? Yet so many run Windows Parallels and I find that ironic.
  • I inherited a MacBook hand-me-down from daughter. To my frustration, Apple capped the MacOS upgrade level. It also ran super hot around the power cord connector so I had to download a special app for fan control and heat. I found these were common complaints via internet search. In the end, it was not a great experience.
  • Can we just agree on keyboard keys and shortcuts please?
  • Many Mac OS X zealots may not realize that  Mac OS is a Unix based operating system.
  • While viruses aren’t as prevalent on Mac OS. Mac OS is not immune to viruses as some have told me with a smirk.

Windows

  • Oh please Mr. PC tell me why you get slower with age? If your registry is bloated then give me a way to release the blockage please.
  • A breeding ground for viruses. Virus scanners are pricey and taxing to system performance.
  • Windows XP and IE 6. A match made in heaven and a marriage that outlived many attempts to kill it.
  • I have confirmed how long it takes my PC to boot in the morning. I turn it on. Then I go to the break room to put my lunch away and to get a cup of coffee. When I return, it’s ready to go. That’s Windows 7 and a platter based disk. (I’ve seen better with Windows 8 and a SSD.)
  • Windows 8? I get it.

Ubuntu Linux

  • It gave a few of my old PCs new life because it has less hardware requirements than Windows.
  • You can’t beat the price!
  • Software availability isn’t the best. Open Office has the basic features needed for word processing and spreadsheets. But it can lack the advanced features for power users and may not fully read a document prepared in MS Office.
  • Support is plentiful on internet forums. But I’ll admit, you have to be a geek to understand it.

Chrome OS

  • You’re right Google. I mostly just need a browser to complete my computing activities.
  • Google Docs is great. But just wait until someone passes a MS Office document to your non-techy spouse using a ChromeBook.
  • Boot-up time is amazing.
  • It’s really a “cloud” terminal.

Android

  • It works well for me because I’m in the Google ecosystem. Google docs, Gmail, Google contacts, Google+ and Google Voice.
  • Performance tends to lag at times. But I realize it’s tough to make judgements on this. Google doesn’t lock and control the hardware. So many combinations, so many possibilities.
  • Android phones don’t focus on simplicity. Some customizations can be hard to find, like speed dial and email account setup.

iOS

  • It’s not perfect as some make it out to be.
  • My daughter had reception problems from a dorm room in the basement of a building. I asked her to use wifi-calling, but found out it’s not supported yet. I’ve been using that for years on my Android device.
  • The marketing at Apple is the best. I’m not an Apple fan-boy, but their ads have won over an allegiance and created a brand title wave.
  • Let’s be honest, Apple die-hards are a bit snobby.

Infinite Storage

I received an email this week from Google with their latest offer on cloud storage. It’s a good one, targeted at business and group users of the Google Apps platform.

Google Apps, now with infinite space    

We’re excited to announce a new option for Google Apps customers: the full suite of productivity tools plus unlimited* file storage and Vault to protect critical business information. It’s a simple way for teams to share, sync and access all their files from everywhere.

For $10/user/month, upgrade now to Google Apps with unlimited storage and Vault. It also includes other business features to help your organization grow, like 99.9% guaranteed email uptime, 24/7 customer support and the freedom to add as many users as you want. To make the switch, sign in to your Admin console and click Upgrade now. Then click Billing and select Upgrade to Google Apps Unlimited. Please note that downgrading to Google Apps without unlimited storage is not an option at this time.

Wow! “Infinite storage”.  What a title. I can just see the Google marketing team grinning ear-to-ear when they received approval for that offer. It’s not surprising to me though. As space devices have become cheaper, online providers like Google, Apple, and Microsoft have lowered their cloud storage prices and increased the amount of space consumers and businesses get for free.

When I was in college in the early 90s a professor told us that in the future the hardware would be free as a commodity and people would pay for the value in the software.  Computer prices have definitely dropped since then, although not quite to free. But now I see his statement coming true in terms of disk space.

What’s really driving cloud storage is the ability of our electronic devices to share and pull from the same storage. Phone, laptop, tablet, and computer can all pull from the same storage. So cloud storage is really like universal storage. It’s fast, cheap, and easy.  The question is which eco-system will we live in? Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Apple, and others are all competing for our attention.  That competition is now bringing us “infinite storage” offers.  Sweet! To infinity and beyond!