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05/15/14
I’m Back!!!!!
Filed under: General, Innovation, New Product Development, Market Research
Posted by: Tom @ 10:48 am

After a long hiatus, I am back to communicating and networking with the Outcome Improvement Blog.

During the time away, I have been challenged by Mother Nature and a variety of other issues, but a lion’s share of my time has been consumed with InnoLigne, a business startup that is bringing breakthrough market research to innovation and New Product Development.

InnoLigne has proven to be a perfect extension to both my career and the scope and object of Outcome Improvement and its role in bringing progress to each one of us. What has been especially interesting to me is learning about theories that make research and development more structured and focused in a way that complements both business and consumer self-interest.

As part of the go-to-market strategy for InnoLigne and its Whitespace Innovation Research technology, we are seeking to build relationships with a broad cross-section of entrepreneurs, innovators, consultants, software developers, educators, and others interested in sharing and working as a community to advance wellbeing and progress through the application of technology. You are encouraged to join with us.

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08/21/12
How Would You Get Your Life Back?
Filed under: General, Healthcare, Electronic Records, Personal Information, Mobile Solutions & Smartphones, Contingency Planning & Disaster Recovery
Posted by: Tom @ 2:09 pm

Are you prepared to cope with the next disaster that comes along?  Even when there is no loss of life, it can be very difficult for anyone to fully recover mentally and physically.  Having electronic records and well thought out contingency plans could make a big difference in recovery.  They help even in the best of times. 

Imagine coming home from work one day and seeing what was left of your home surrounded by fire trucks and rescue workers.  Or you smell gas and start through the front door just as the entire place explodes.  Or there is a damaging storm, flood, forest fire, or earthquake.  Every one of these things is not likely to happen to any single individual.  However, over a person’s lifetime, probabilities add up, something serious could happen and we could lose everything.  Some people are luckier than others.  In addition, many people experience nuisances such as lost or stolen wallets, passports, credit cards or car keys at one time or another.  These loses can happen away from home and in a foreign country.  Although minor by comparison, until we get caught up in any situation, it can be difficult to understand their impact and realize the trouble and inconvenience they cause.  It wastes a lot of time. 

A woman in Missouri lamented as she stood in the ruins of her home.  It had been rebuilt after being destroyed in an earlier storm only to happen again.  She had just moved back in the week before.  Someone else had a laptop stolen at a business conference and did not have their files backed up. Between Acts of God, carelessness and deliberate acts, many disruptive things happen.  Imagine the bureaucratic nightmares that occur along with the pain and suffering.  Being better prepared gets lives back together faster and easier.

Facing reality, if it were necessary to evacuate a home and never return to it again, it is highly unlikely that anyone could take along everything that would be needed.   Without records it would be virtually impossible to substantiate insurance claims or establish a person’s identity.  What if someone needed to be taken to a hospital and get help from a doctor who was not familiar with their case.  How long would it be before they could be assessed and treated if they did not have a health record?  Delay costs lives.  Wouldn’t it be better if records were electronic and fit in someone’s pocket rather than in boxes of paper that had to be left behind?

People often lose everything they own when homes, neighborhoods and even whole towns are destroyed in fires, storms, earthquakes and floods.  The recovery process is often long and painful.  The last thing someone needs is bureaucratic red tape when they have already suffered enough.  Nevertheless, minor discrepancies in paperwork invite bureaucratic nightmares.  Whether information is missing, incomplete, inaccurate or simply does not match, even a typo that was made many years ago can be hard to change.  The rules of the game have changed, and we need to be able to substantiate who we are and everything about us.    Digital records that we carry with us or are backed up in “the cloud” make data available when and where it is needed. 

Even if paper records are not destroyed, they deteriorate over time.  Sorting through a shoe box for something and finding that it has become faded and is no longer readable can be pretty frustrating.  Conversion to electronic records is a big improvement. Although it takes time, gradual steps make a difference right away and not everything will need to be converted.

We recommend the following.

1.   Start by preparing basic contingency plans.  When calamities strike, being ready to address them is essential.   Plans can always be improved.

2.    Collect and save electronic files instead of paper ones, whenever possible.  Digital records provide convenience and portability.  Electronic records are easy to create when work is done a little at a time.  They are easy to search.  For example, include a list of phone numbers to call for help, a copy of a driver license or passport, a list of account numbers and instructions to access them on-line, copies of family photos, receipts, certificates, wills, powers of attorney, insurance policies, deeds, and tax returns.

a.   File records chronically by subject.  They can always be reorganized.

b.   Use file types such as PDF that can be read by anyone’s computer, tablet or smartphone.

3.    Create and include a consolidated, organized, digital summary of your health history.  It will help you to get in the habit of keeping electronic records, provide peace of mind, and enable professional caregivers to get up to speed quickly so they can help you when it is needed.  Use Lifelong Personal Health Record software (http://www.lifelongphr.com/) to store your data and create the summary.

4.    Backup Important Files.  In addition to having master copies on a personal computer where you can control and protect your data, backup electronic files using an encrypted Internet service and put copies on small portable devices such as smartphones, flash drives, tablets, bracelets and medallions for easy access.  Security is important to avoid worry about what someone else is doing with your data.

Not a Do-It-Yourselfer?  Contact us for assistance.

             TomR@OutcomeImprovement.com

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07/27/12
It’s Time to Overcome Disconnect and Disappointment
Filed under: General, Technology - Other, Problems and Inequities, The Economy
Posted by: Tom @ 1:53 pm

           

When I look around, I do not like what I see.  My perception is that nothing is working the way it should be, and strong measures are long overdue if the malaise is to change.  People seem to be living on entertainment and social media while waiting for things to improve.  Hope and euphoria alternate with discouragement and despair.  Neither is not the right answer; nor is procrastination and indecision.  Disconnects cannot be resolved by throwing gasoline on a fire when less of something else would be more appropriate.  It is time to face realities and stop rehashing the same things over and over again without providing answers.  Desperate times require desperate, or at least innovative, measures.  They also require a consensus.

For those who don’t get it, Main Street is in the toilet.  Everywhere I look, I see businesses closed that I depended on for many years and their space vacant for months, if not years.  One of my favorites had survived the Great Depression.  At the same time, even with financing, new shops have difficulty opening due to bureaucratic red tape and difficulties getting services connected and equipment delivered and installed.  They could be providing new jobs.  It is also no wonder that large retailers are doing poorly and closing stores when consumers learn from them and then buy from competitors on the Internet.  What are the limits to this punishment?  What will the Internet sellers do when they drive everyone else out of business?  Keep prices low?  I doubt it!  There needs to be a way to resolve these inequities.

As students get ready to go off to college and the unemployed ponder futures without jobs, I wonder what they are thinking.  Are they prepared to add more debt with no hope of getting a job if they are studying the wrong things or don’t already have marketable skills and experience?  Could it be that outdated teachers are passing along outdated information?  What about all the technical wonders that sit idle or are underutilized because someone bought ahead of their needs or failed to understand how to get a reasonable return on their investment before obsolescence set in.  Can we really afford to squander resources like that?

Could social media be the next bubble?  Perhaps.  Social media has probably been oversold, and now that there is so much competition, a major consolidation could occur anytime.  For me, it is difficult to decide which horse to bet on after years of mixed results and false starts.  Although lots of people use social media to share experiences, from a business perspective, I have not been satisfied.  It is too difficult for small businesses with small marketing budgets to gain traction solely because a few people happen to “like” them on facebook.  It is important to leverage new capabilities, but do so cautiously.

To put this subject in perspective, I have checked information about facebook on a financial website.  Their Initial Public Offering (IPO) was in mid-May (2012).  Price started about $42 and went as high as $45 soon after the IPO.  The stock was as low as $25-3/4 in early June.  Since then, there was a high about 33.  Monday (7/23), it closed at $28.75.  Today (Friday, July 27) it dropped to about 22-1/2, an all-time low, for a total loss from the high of 50 percent after disappointing estimates of future earnings before recovering to $23.71 at the closing.

With this in mind, I am more convinced than ever about social media being oversold.  I believe that it is important to hedge bets in the stock market, but also for a business to diversify itself by creating a winning combination of social media, e-commerce and traditional marketing and sales.

For a new business with an innovative new product, my first challenge has been to convince customers that they need something they have not already considered.   I look for a way to link what they already
know and accept to the new and different.  An innovative solution that provides added value and benefits may be wonderful, but it still needs to compete against the tried and true.  This provides a difficult challenge that many consumers and small businesses need to solve before committing too far, too fast to anything whether it is staying with the status quo or innovating.   Careful deliberation will improve outcomes, avoiding disconnect and disappointment.

                                                                               

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06/29/12
What Comes In Under Your Radar and Overwhelms You?
Filed under: General, Safety & Security, Contingency Planning & Disaster Recovery, Problems and Inequities
Posted by: Tom @ 12:53 pm

Becoming blindsided creates problems of epic proportions.  It doesn’t just cause accidents on highways.  The volume of changes that keeps growing, includes subterfuge that is practiced everywhere whether consciously or not.  This overloads systems causing surprises and incomplete and incorrect information that is then used in making decisions.  Human nature factors in as positives tend to be accentuated and negatives avoided and downplayed.  These things impact all of us in one way or another.

Motorists travel in packs and speed unopposed down highways.  Companies bury legalistic terms and conditions in fine print and apply hard to distinguish changes to product designs, packaging and warranties.  These mask the impacts of cost reductions that lower value propositions and trick consumers to make costly buying errors.  Politicians talk about lowering taxes while services decline even faster.  Spammers waste our time as they flood email accounts with threats to privacy, identities and livelihoods.  We are told what we want to hear, not what we should be told.  Even when something is flagged in red, it may still get lost in the noise and not get adequate attention.

These are symptoms of a world that has gotten so complicated and congested that even the most knowledgeable and vigilant among us is unable to avoid distractions and catch everything significant enough to have the potential for serious, negative consequences.  Even sophisticated systems designed to detect anomalies and warn of impending disaster are not always enough.  For example, weather forecasters were unable to provide actionable intelligence to residents soon enough to prepare for the sudden, severe storms that recently wreaked havoc in the Chicago area with 90-mile per hour winds.

Outcome Improvement is committed to finding ways to help consumers, businesses and governments to anticipate and prepare for contingencies while adding quality and value to life.  Your input would be greatly appreciated to identify topics for our investigation and reporting.  Please add your comments below.        

                                                                                                                                                                                                           

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06/27/12
Use It or Lose It!
Filed under: General, Safety & Security, Contingency Planning & Disaster Recovery
Posted by: Tom @ 12:40 pm

It is hard to anticipate all the things that can go wrong.  One example is consequences of inactivity. Some of them are more serious than others. Some can be reversed, others cannot.  Here are a few things that come to mind.

Although some of these may seem to be of minor consequence, collectively they can add up and have a major impact.  Not only can some of them be wasteful, they can also cause fires if left unattended for long periods of time.  Just like changing batteries in fire and carbon monoxide detectors, it is a good idea to check around on a regular basis.

Surprising things can happen.  My thermostat batteries failed prematurely.  When it happened a second time, I realized that each time there had been an extended power outage.  While the power was out, the thermostat had been futilely trying to turn on the furnace or air-conditioner.  This is what drained the battery.

The same thing can happen if a battery is being charged when there is a power outage.  Batteries can be ruined if they fully discharge.  It is best to pull plugs and turn off circuits when there is a power failure.  In any event, when power is restored, there can be excessive loads and power surges if loads are not added a little at a time. Motors require about three times as much current to start than they use to keep running.

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05/04/12
The Miracle of Personalized Information
Filed under: General, Technology - Other, Personal Information
Posted by: Tom @ 2:21 pm

This morning when I woke up, I turned on The Weather Channel to help me make plans for the day.  There was a commercial for their services that showed Noah out in the hills with two hands superimposed on the scene to represent God.  The hands were gesturing while there was talk about 40 days and 40 nights of rain and the need to build an ark.  The message from The Weather Channel was about the “Miracle of Personalized Weather.”  This is an example of personalized information that they and others are gradually making available to customers.

Better services and solutions are facilitated by storing and analyzing digital information about things customers need and ask for.  Everywhere vast amounts of data are being collected and mined to provide commercial value.  They are turning the digital data explosion into gold.  This is likely why Facebook’s IPO (Initial Public Offering) is being valued higher than the market capitalization of established companies like McDonald’s and Hewlett Packard. 

Of this new generation of innovators, Amazon is the company that I use most often.  My on-line account shows every purchase that I have made since January 1998.  I may have even made purchases before that, but in any event, the information they have been collecting about me is significant.  They are mining it to analyze my buying habits, find things that will interest me and compare my inquiries to ways other customers have satisfied similar needs.  All of this is available to help me make more efficient use of my time and better purchasing decisions.  I also learn from the feedback of others and contribute my own comments when I can. Teamed with UPS, FedEx and USPS, I can track most shipments and see when they will or have arrived even minutes before.

I suppose that everything has its downside.  Perhaps some of the information being collected could be used to take unfair advantage of consumers if it becomes too concentrated.  Thus far this does not seem to have happened.  There are many opportunities left where digital data and data mining can bring value to our lives. Healthcare is a perfect example with its paper legacy and consumers who have limited roles in decisionmaking. Challenges like these make progress especially difficult.   However, as I look back on my 15-year relationship with Amazon, progress and value go hand in hand over time.  Success requires participation, not just spectators.  As learning proceeds and roles change, benefits of mobile, information and network-based solutions will no doubt continue to grow. Expect this to be a continuing subject for this blog. Please share your views and comments.

                       

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04/22/12
Replacements for Incandescent Light Bulbs - Will You Be Ready?
Filed under: General, Resources and Energy Alternatives, Contingency Planning & Disaster Recovery
Posted by: Tom @ 12:33 pm

Soon the traditional Edison light bulbs that have been staples for years will no longer be available. Incandescent light bulbs of 40 watts and above are being phased out using government incentives and edicts to force energy savings and likely will reduce the number of nuclear plants that will need to be built.  The transition to energy-efficeint bulbs has been coming for quite some time.  With motivation from sky-high electric bills, I have been trying to find suitable alternatives for about 15 years, but have only had mixed success.  Here are things that I have learned that should help you get better prepared.

Compact Fluorescent Light (CFL) bulbs have been my primary alternative until recently.  I have a small stock of them that I am gradually using up.  I would not get any more.  A major reason is that I did not realize that they contained mercury when I purchased them.  With all of the controversy over mercury pollution from large tube-type fluorescent lights a number of years ago, it is hard to believe that manufacturers did not learn their lesson.  I never thought not to trust them.  Another reason is that it takes considerable time for CFLs to turn on and then reach full intensity.  This is annoying, and some CFLs do not fit a few of the lighting fixtgures that I have.  Others are poor quality and prone to premature failure.  One even corroded and came apart during my testing.

That leaves new LED replacement bulbs.  They are likely the ultimate answer, and they have been appearing in more and more specialty applications.  High cost has been a major factor, but considering lower maintenance costs and reduced accidents attributed to burned out traffic lights and tail lights, it can be well worth the added expense for more reliable, longer-life, more efficient bulbs.   I remember the need to replace a bulb in the dashboard of an old car of mine.  It cost a couple hundred dollars to disassemble the dashboard to replace a small bulb that cost pennies.  Christmas lights are no fun either when it is hard to find bulbs that have burned out. 

As far as finding replacements for standard higher watt bulbs, there are a number of challenges besides the cost.  Although costs are starting to come down fairly rapidly, the cost to replace a single 100-watt light bulb is still about $25.  However, there is no single replacement that is good for every application. Many LED bulbs are quite directional, cannot be dimmed and provide light that is much whiter than incandescent bulbs. This makes it difficult to mix bulbs, and each application can require a different configuration. Three-way LED replacement Bulbs, such as 50-100-150-watt equivalents, are not available as yet.

Things are gradually improving. A 100-watt equivalent bulb that I bought in late 2009 is very directional.  It requires 13-watts of power and retailed for over $50.  New ones only require 12-watts, are about $25 and much less directional.  I am testing one in a floor lamp in my family room.  It is much better than the earlier design.  Drawbacks are that their “warm white” light still lacks the slightly yellow hue of an incandescent, and some lamp housings lack the clearance to accommodate the bigger bases of LED bulbs.

LED bulbs have a lot of overhead compared to old-style incandescent bulbs that only contain a filament.  They typically have arrays of individual LEDs with heat sinks, rectifiers and cooling fans.  I found that a Ground Fault Interrupter (circuit breaker) in the 30-plus-year-old main incoming electrical panel in my garage did not allow me to put an LED bulb in the ceiling above my bathroom sink.  The LED bulb kept tripping the breaker.  I either needed to use old bulbs or re-wire the bathroom.  Because of situations like that and the need for 3-way lamps, I now have a few Edison bulbs that should suffice until LED alternatives become available to satisfy these needs.

Since stocks of old bulbs are disappearing and becoming more expensive, now is the time to learn about options, set expectations and get prepared.  When I gradually got rid of CRT computer monitors and tube-type televisions, I did not necessarily see my electric bills drop. Sometimes they stayed the same or continued to rise even as usage dropped. In any event, I would have been much worse off had I not continued to adopt new technology to improve efficeiency. Expect benefits like these to continue for many years to come.

 

For more about Outcome Improvement, please visit: http://www.outcomeimprovement.com/.

Tom Rockwood was formerly Corporate Engineering Manager for Energy and Material Resources at AT&T.

                                                           

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03/07/12
Error - Sorry, This Video Can’t Be Played (on your smartphone)
Filed under: General, Mobile Solutions & Smartphones
Posted by: Tom @ 12:08 pm

This is the message that my son got when he tried to download and view one of my vacation videos on his new Android Motorola Razr smartphone from Verizon.  It had worked fine on my laptop.

I tried to duplicate the problem on my own smartphone.  It worked perfectly.  Same thing on my Amazon Kindle Fire.  However, my wife’s Motorola Atrix had the same error message.  Could this be a Motorola problem?

I debated whether to contact the carriers or the manufacturer, but decided instead to put the error message into my search engine.  That saved me considerable time.  I found that many other users had gotten the same error message.  Unfortunately, no one seems to have an answer for it.  With all the different variations of Android, this is probably understandable.  Hopefully, software updates will come along that fix problems like this.  In the meantime, if you have the same problem, try a laptop or home computer, especially one that has sufficient power and bandwidth to handle streaming media.

By the way, if you are curious about the video that triggered this post, you can try it, too, especially if you are interested in iguanas.  (www.Rockwood.com/100_0078.MP4)  If you do, please be patient.  The download is a little slow, and quality is not up to Hollywood standards.  Taking videos in bright sunlight is tough with a little camera that only has a small LCD and no viewfinder.  Reflections made it especially hard for me to follow the action.

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I Gave My Smartphone a Stress Test
Filed under: General, Mobile Solutions & Smartphones
Posted by: Tom @ 10:29 am

For awhile, I have read that smartphones will replace laptops. This might work for many users, but I doubt that it would be adequate for me.  I have found that smartphones may do a lot of things, but they have trouble keeping up with high powered machines and special purpose devices, especially with current displays, batteries and input/output capabilities.

My latest laptop has the same capabilities that I enjoy in my office except I miss being able to multitask using two desktop machines.  Although I miss the two displays, I have gotten much more functional than when I traveled with my first 20-pound laptop and its heavy bag of accessories.  Today’s four-pound laptop does much more, but is still heavier than I would prefer especially when I bring along a Bluetooth keyboard, wireless mouse, 4-port USB hub, cooling pad, datacard, external hard drive, card reader and assorted cords and cables.  Everything does fit in a small carryon bag, and I no longer need multiple bags and a foldup handtruck.  However, I am always afraid that something will get lost especially when I take the laptop out of my carryon bag for airport security.  On my most recent trip, I saw someone almost lose their laptop itself.  Without a laptop, everything could stay enclosed in the carryon bag and cut the risk of loss.

I look at smartphones the same way that I look at Swiss Army Knives with one key exception. They’r both pretty good when they are only expected to do one thing at a time.  The Swiss Army Knife forces the user to stay in control and accomplishes this.  Contrast this with the smartphone as it bombards users with calls, text messages and email while they are trying to check GPS, watch movies, order something online, check bank balances, and a host of other things.  My life is stressful enough without all that going on.  Smartphones need smart attendants to manage the traffic!

I thought that maybe using a smartphone for messaging and a laptop for other things would work just like my two office computers. I decided to find out.  Before setting off on a recent trip, I set up my smartphone to collect email from my four most important email accounts.  I thought that as long as Microsoft Outlook did not download messages in my office, incoming messages would stay on servers and could be viewed on the smartphone and could be deleted manually if I chose to do so. 

The first few days, everything worked fine.  I must admit, I was a little sorry that I hadn’t done this sooner.  It saved me the trouble of going to the computer to check for email.  The only problem was I needed to recharge the phone more often.  Unfortunately, this situation got worse and worse.  After two weeks, it was necessary to recharge the phone every couple of hours.  Occasionally, especially during the night, the battery ran down completely and the phone shut off.  The battery nemesis had hit me with full force.

What surprised me was that I seemed to be getting all my emails, and the number on the phone did not seem excessive.  I deleted messages on the phone and the number of new ones was fairly constant.  The load did not seem to account for the problem, but I could not find and other reason.  However, unbeknownst to me, almost 2,500 emails had been building up on the servers for Outlook to ultimately download when I got back to my office.  After doing so, the excessive battery drain returned to normal.  Even though I deleted messages on the phone, the phone apparently continued to look at all the files on the servers before deciding which ones it needed to download.  This became an intense task requiring lots of battery power.

Although I read regularly about battery issues with smartphones and how battery technology continues to lag user needs, I had never seen a discussion about what I had experienced.  However, after using email for over 30 yers, I get a lot more of it than anyone else that I know.  I must have given my smartphone a real stress test!!

We hope that you will find this account to be interesting and helpful.  Please do not hesitate to comment.

                                                                       

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02/10/12
Preparing for the Unexpected
Filed under: General, Safety & Security, Contingency Planning & Disaster Recovery
Posted by: Tom @ 6:44 pm

It is impossible to predict when something unforeseen will cause death or serious injury. Often someone’s carelessness is at the very least a contributing factor. The disaster of the Italian liner Costa Concorfdia on January 14, 2012, was the responsibility of one man, the captain. It resulted in a few dozen lives being lost and thousands more, inconvenienced. Pilot error was attributed to the crash of Air France Flight 447 after it stalled at 38,000 feet en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris killing 227 people. Carelessness, impairment, distraction, and falling asleep at the wheel result in many lives lost and crippling injuries on our highways, too. It seems an inequity that those responsible often walk away with little or no injuries while others die or are maimed and live miserable lives.

Countless people also die in fires, especially in cold weather. Carelessness can be a factor, but so can poor maintenance. Smoke, fire and carbon monoxide detectors reduce the loss of life when they work effectively. However, they need to be installed and maintained properly. Just like many other things, they gradually wear out and need to be replaced. I am ashamed to say that it took five members of a Connecticut family to lose their lives before I replaced old detectors with better ones that check for both smoke and carbon monoxide. I am especially happy to have carbon monoxide detection since CO once made me quite sick. This was even when I had what should have been adequate ventilation. My new ones also use AA batteries which I prefer to 9 volt ones in the old detectors.

Other things can make our lives better and more secure. For example, the rubber hoses that supply water to washing machines are prone to failure at the most inopportune times. Substitute hoses that are reinforced with a stainless steel mesh cover reduces the likelihood of a failure. Turning the water off when the washer is not in use is also a good idea.

A few years ago, I bought a black box that connects to my telephone. If the temperature in my house deviates from a specified range, it calls my cell phone. If I do not answer, the device calls a few other people until someone answers. I never thought that I would need it. However, once when I was away during a very cold winter, my furnace stopped working. When the temperature inside dropped below 55F, I got called. It took a few seconds for me to realize what was calling me. The device prevented a big mess from frozen water pipes in my house. Now with smartphones and the Internet, it is possible to use wireless cameras and a variety of other devices to monitor things around our momes.

They say that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. There are many little things that can be done to lessen the impact of what can turn into major calamities. Look around and think of things that can go wrong with you. Create evacuation plans in case of an emergency. You will find that peace of mind is a wonderful thing.

If you like movies and would like to see how freak events affect outcomes, you are encouraged to see Unstoppable. You may think twice before you ride the rails.

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01/28/12
Apple’s “Knowledge Navigator”
Filed under: General, Technology - Other, Mobile Solutions & Smartphones
Posted by: Tom @ 9:07 am

Twenty-five years ago (January 1987), Apple Computer released a visionary VHS videotape entitled, “Knowledge Navigator.” What it depicts is amazing, and over the years, I have viewed it a number of times. It lasts 5 minutes, 45 seconds and shows future expectations from 1987. Many features have been validated by the direction technology has taken since then, but others, including ones that are important to me, have yet to be realized. Recently, I found that the video is available on the Internet.

The entire video takes place in the quaint office of a fictional college professor.  We watch him perform tasks and deal with distractions, such as a call from his mother.  To help him, he interacts with a remarkable device sitting on his desk.  It’s the Knowledge Navigator, a truly impressive, collaborative and analytical tool that operates proactively as it adds value and anticipates needs.  It could almost be mistaken for a tablet computer, but it must be one on steroids.  He talks to it, uses its touchscreen, sees and listens to voice responses, and gets intelligent input.  It also manages his communications and schedules appointments for him.

The Knowledge Navigator does some things without consulting the professor and adds value that he likely does not expect.  It is especially wonderful how fast it accomplishes things.  The Navigator barely receives a command before it provides a response.  Although I am truly grateful for my progress to date, a Knowledge Navigator would never-the-less make a big difference in my life by taking care of a growing number of time consuming, repetitive tasks.  For starters, it could manage my email, do research on the Internet, analyze data and create reports for me.

I see the vision of the Knowledge Navigator gradually being fulfilled, and believe that it will not be too many more years before we have true Knowledge Navigators.   Already, it is possible to take advantage of many of their capabilities by building solutions from commercially available hardware, software and services.   Numerous functions and apps are being created for increasingly powerful and functional smartphones and tablets.   Linking their capabilities will gradually provide seamless solutions to problems, enable computers to perform a wider variety of tasks with little or no supervision, and turn into true Knowledge Navigators.

                                                                                   

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12/30/11
Will a Major Cloud Computing Provider Fail in 2012?
Filed under: General, Contingency Planning & Disaster Recovery, The Economy
Posted by: Tom @ 6:00 pm

This warning was in a list of 10 predictions that a friend sent to me recently. The implication was that if a cloud provider’s business failed, users would lose digital images and other data. I did not believe that this was likely at first, but now I am not so sure. I have seen other concerns about bubbles bursting and started to connect some dots. Here are things to think about.

1.  Benefits of Cloud Computing

Cloud computing involves shared services.  Instead of everyone needing to have and maintain their own data and Internet services, a provider does it for them and it is much cheaper.  The provider’s computer servers are divided up to provide small virtual servers for users on a shared machine.  Smaller businesses find this especially attractive since they avoid the hassles of ownership and receive better service and support than they could afford for themselves.  However, the downside is that this requires reliance on others.

2.  Growth in Cloud Computing

A short article in a technical journal caught my eye.  The writer reported that a major cloud computing provider had a standing order for truckloads of brand new computer servers delivered weekly to expand their data center.  I was interested to learn that the servers were made in the United States by a little known company that made one of my own computers that I especially like.  It takes lots of money to buy this many servers and to pay for all the infrastructure, installation and on-going service and support.  Growth must be phenomenal to support this.  I wonder how long demand for storage will continue at this rate. Is it really necessary to save all this data?

3.  Underlying Business Models

I rely on a number of Internet Service Providers and e-Commerce vendors.  Some of them provide free services including large amounts of on-line storage for photos and messaging.  Although the cost of storage media has dropped considerably, someone still must pay for it and the related costs.  Businesses certainly expect to eventually recover expenses and profit through fee-based services, but I wonder how long they can operate in the red without becoming profitable.

4.  Level of Inactive Accounts

With all the competing products and services, no one has time to use them all.  However, when a new one comes along, they probably want to try it out to see if it is better than what they already have, especially if there is no cost to sign up.  I have several free accounts that I do not use regularly.

5.  Growth of Built-in Waste

Although many aspects of the Internet are automated, the infrastructure must be maintained.  The more e-mail and instant messages that are sent, the more server capacity that is required for logging, tracking and storage.  Multiple copies add to waste as do trivial messages and spam.

6.  Failed Business Models

What is troubling is how cloud computing and social networking compare to business models used by telephone companies in their heyday.  Back then, high costs discouraged usage of services.  Capacity was only added when revenue growth supported it.  Now low costs attract users in the hope that they will buy value added services.  If customers don’t rise to the bait, profitability goes out the window.  If value is not there when something is free, no one will be able to start charging. At some point, too many players chasing too few paying customers will no longer be sustainable. What will happen then? The recourse will likely be to pull the plug.

Maybe some of us really will lose our data if we don’t back it up.  

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11/08/11
The Great Halloween Nor’easter of 2011
Filed under: General, Contingency Planning & Disaster Recovery, Problems and Inequities
Posted by: Tom @ 1:22 pm

After Hurricane Irene two months earlier, we thought that a nor’easter would be a piece of cake.  Little did I realize in my wildest dreams that this storm’s impact would be much more severe.  In fact, there were reports that damage in my area of northern New Jersey was the worst since 1938.  After ten days some places still did not have power and just north of us Connecticut was hit especially hard.  In any event, when the storm started early Saturday, October 29, 2011, it looked like business as usual.  We expected possible freeqing rain and light snow north and west of us, but mostly rain where we live.

As things progressed, precipitation quickly changed to light snow, but not all that much.  As we ate lunch in our kitchen, we looked out the sliding glass door to our deck.  There was a little snow on it that seemed to be coming down harder, but nothing to really be concerned about.  A short while later, however, the lights started flickering.  My wife had been making lasagne.  I must have had a premonition as I told her to quickly finish up anything requiring electricity. She just finished cooking the noodles when the power went off not to return again for six days.

Later in the afternoon the storm worsened.  I went outside to shovel 4 or 5 inches of very heavy snow off the driveway.  All of a sudden, I heard explosions and loud cracking sounds.  I knew right away that the snow was breaking tree limbs that had not yet lost their leaves.  Those leaves played a major role in the major damage that was destined for my area including my own yard.  Unfortunately, even though Hurricane Irene damaged and destroyed many trees, there remained countless others that had been spared the first time.  Mother Nature was determined to finish filling the void and neglect of the power company, Jersey Central Power & Light, by cleaning house for them.

In over 30 years that I’ve lived on my street, we have had constant problems of downed wires in storms.  Our neighborhood has buried services, but is at the mercy of above ground feeders.  Had those been buried, we likely would have avoided many outages over the years.  The added cost would probably have paid for itself many times over.  In this case we probably would’ve lost power, but for a much shorter period of time.  The upsetting part is that we are paying premium prices for third world service.

With Hurricane Irene, the outage was much more localized and a day shorter.  We were able to find relief by visiting our children and their families who each live about 2 miles away.  They never lost power from Irene and only for a couple of days this time.  However, travel between us was difficult both times, mostly from flooding with Irene and this time from more extensive downed trees, branches and wires.

The small portable generator that I used for Hurricane Irene continues to be a godsend.  This time, I also used it in my yard to power an electric chainsaw, and spent three full days cutting up and clearing debris.  For anyone considering the investment in a chainsaw, I recommend getting a carbide tipped chain for it.  About ten years ago I got tired of replacing the regular carbon steel chains!

After the power went out, the Verizon wired phones worked for a couple of days before going out of service.   They came back on before the power did.  The Comcast cable did not come back until a day after power was restored.  My cellular services, including the data card for my laptop, degraded more severely this time (compared to Irene) until people started to get their power back.  There were also reports of over 200 cell towers being out of commission from the storm this time that may have contributed to weaker signals before being repaired.

From a contingency planning and disaster recovery standpoint, I believe that these storms provided good lessons.  The large medical center that I use near my daughter’s home, had no power for a few days and was completely shutdown.  Normally, they have an urgent care center.  Also, even though I am an advocate of cloud computing, I also believe that standalone local solutions should not be abandoned to assure more failsafe service. It is important to have a backup plan in case all else fails. In particular, one of my weak links is a limited supply of gasoline to run my generator.  Many nearby gasoline stations had no way to pump gas without electricity.  I am considering a solar panel to charge my batteries, just-in-case, but many businesses are also talking about getting generators. 

As for Trick or Treaters, they had their Halloween either Friday, November 4 or Sunday, November 6.  Most schools used up all their snow days by being closed for a full week because of lack of power.  So everyone seems to be wondering what will happen the next time.

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08/08/11
Small Things, Big Problems
Filed under: General
Posted by: Tom @ 1:37 pm

This morning I woke up to a warm bedroom.  At first I was a little disoriented, but soon I realized that something was wrong with the airconditioning.  Normally when the heating or cooling is not behaving, I go downstairs to check the thermostat.  If it tells me that something is on, but I do not hear it, I know that something is wrong.  This time the thermostat screen was blank except for a couple of small dark spots in the middle.

My first reaction was that the thermostat finally wore out.  After taking it off the wall, I got my glasses and took it out to the kitchen to examine it more closely with a better light.  Much to my surprise, those two spots said, “REPL BAT.”  I still was suspicious that the thermostat was bad.  After all I have a ritual of replacing the three AA batteries every January.  I put a piece of tape on the top with the date.  There was the tape and the date.  No problem there.  Rather than get a new thermostat, I decided to take the outside chance that the batteries were in fact the problem.  Much to my relief, I found that one of them had leaked.  So, I replaced them and all returned to normal after resetting all the times and temperatures.

Recently, I have seen a number of articles about Homes of the Future and the use of Smartphones to interface with them.  Everything relies more and more upon computers and electricity.  With all the complicated control circuits, it is logical that there are many more potential points for failure.  Unfortunately for me, if my thermostat does not work, all I can do conveniently is run the blower that forces air through the duct system.  Getting heating or cooling requires figuring out which terminals on the mounting plate behind the thermostat can be used to manually bypass the thermostat.  Not a job for a typical homeowner.

“What is this complicated life of ours doing to us?  What if all these things go bad at once?  Certainly food for thought when hackers can attack networks that control transportation systems, power generation, and virtually everything else that modern societies rely upon including Houses of the Future.  Image if someone incinerates your dinner and your house along with it.  Maybe it is time to get off the grid.   

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08/05/11
Learning’s Defining Moments Leave Lasting Impacts
Filed under: General, Healthcare
Posted by: Tom @ 4:29 pm

I often wonder what led me to do certain things that have proven to be invaluable.  One of them was to take typing in high school; the other was to take my first computer class in college.  At the time, boys seldom took typing, and I was in the last class of Mechanical Engineers to graduate without having to take a computer class.  I can remember hearing the dean emphasize this point in a meeting to discuss schedules for our senior year.  I am not sure whether he was telling us that we were lucky or that we should take one anyway.  All I know is that a good friend from the business school took a computer class and had a terrible time with it.

As a practical, hands-on person, I am a little surprised that I would have done anything that was not required.  I looked upon many required courses in Mechanical Engineering as being too theoretical with too many theorums to prove and not enough practical applications.  With the exception of a machine design class where we designed, built and tested our design, I preferred my business classes and was driven to be an engineer primarily because it seemed the best route to a good job.

After that first class, I found more and more reasons to get involved with computers.  I also found that knowing how to type gave me a distinct advantage.  Since then I have found that many of my peers have been forced into retirement because they lack skills that have become second nature to me.  It is sad to see how a person with an obsolete education is much like a machine that was built with old technology.  Although attempts are made to adapt or refurbish machines to perform like new ones, once they need to be replaced, they are simply thrown on the scrap heap.

Unfortunately, obsolete people with declining health require costly treatment and little to show for it.  Sadly, while machines get melted down and recycled, people at first get paid to do nothing.  Later as they add a growing number of affirmaties, they consume vast amounts of money for medicines, surgeries and constant care.  Hopefully, advancements in medicine will bring increased quality of life and reduce these costs.  However, people need new challenges that keep them mentally alert.  Perhaps, new occupations will be found that require minimal retraining and put them back into leading more normal, interesting, healthy and productive lives. 

I am happy that a series of decisions to stay informed about new innovations has helped to keep me in the game.  Hopefully, this is a lesson to all to keep learning.  

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07/11/11
Outcome Improvement Topics and Focus Areas
Filed under: General
Posted by: Tom @ 8:43 am

Following is a partial list of items where we have knowledge and experience, as well as opinions.  We recognize many interrelationships.  We will add to the list and provide information likely to be of interest and stimulate discussion. 

 1.  Personal Distractions - Overload, Errors and Omissions, Personal Assistants, Consequences

 2.  Personal Information Management - Content and Accessibility

 3.  Health Care - Living Healthier and Measuring Progress

 4.  Employment Alternatives - Options and Preparation for Robotics and Continued, Interim Outsourcing 

 5.  The Environment - Impacts, Ideas and Solutions

 6.  Resource Conservation and Energy Management - Recycling, Alternative Energy Sources

 7.  Occupational Health and Safety - Risks and Exposures

 8.  Security and Protection - Physical Assets and Intellectual Property

Please suggest any other areas of personal interest and concern.

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06/28/11
Welcome!
Filed under: General
Posted by: Tom @ 9:40 am

Welcome to Outcome Improvement! Everyone has a lot on their minds. The pace of life continues to increase and things have gotten more and more complicated. We first attempted to get this blog started on June 14, 2009.  Unfortunately, other things got in our way and we were never able to follow through until now. 

A lot has happened since then.  We have found that personal management and recordkeepting have become especially important to living a successful life.  Healthcare offers many opportunities for improving cost-effectiveness and quality of life.  However, since we have recently started another blog dedicated to Personal Health Records at http://lifelongphr.com/blog, we will concentrate on broader aspects of outcome improvement in this forum. 

We continually find challenges addressing technologies and products that get to market before they are ready.  However, we have found that with a little mentoring, a reasoned, incremental approach will deliver positive results for those who otherwise can become veru frustrated.  It is sad to see people abandon and miss out on something that would gradually deliver value and exceed expectations. 

If you are afraid to tackle something without a support group, please look for one in us.  You are invited to use this as an opportunity to make connections with others, share information and better address challenges faced with technology and the change that comes with it.   Expect to find new ideas and insights, lessons and experiences, viewpoints and suggestions that are relevant.  What you contribute will help others as well.

As we get started, we are especially interested in hearing what you are thinking including needs, interests and concerns.

Thank you for your interest and participation.

Tom Rockwood

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