Tuesday, May 26, 2015

How to Boost Strong Wi-Fi in Every Room

Is your Wi-Fi network more important than sex? Surprising data from March 2015 IDC study on home networks, sponsored by Linksys

Since the early days of computing, sharing content from place to place has been a challenge. Networks in the old days required installation by those who were expertly trained in their field. Small businesses used “sneakernet” (the process of carrying disks from one computer to the other). Now we have wireless connections and we all share. Yet in the age of this cutting edge technology, we often find ourselves waiting for that Netflix movie to stop stuttering or pixelating. Buffering is just plain annoying.

The first thing we think of, (and the most common solution) would be to purchase higher speed plan from our internet service provider. But wait before you make a sizeable ongoing investment. There’s a whole lot more that you can do on your end.
#TIP: If you haven’t spoken to your ISP in over a year, give them a call and they will probably offer you savings on your current plan with faster internet included. I just did that and doubled my speed.
Your internet connection comes in via a cable of some sort and is received by a modem. To build a wireless network, you cable the modem to a router, which broadcasts your internet thoughout your home or office. You may get a fast signal coming in, but what happens at your end can make a big difference in the quality of how the signal is delivered to your devices.

How many devices do you currently connect to the internet?

Take a moment to count them. Today we demand a lot from our networks. In my home, we have smart TVs, a gaming platform, multiple tablets and smartphones, Nest thermostats, WeMo security cameras, music streaming devices, satellite TV adapters, a weather station, wireless printers and, of course laptops. Not every device is online all the time, but it would be fair to say that we have at least 10 devices connecting to the internet at any one moment. What about at your place? Make a list and see how many device are competing for your bandwidth.

Where is your router?

Ideally you should position the router in the most central location in your home, preferably on top of a desk or (even better) on top of a bookshelf. If you have a multi-story home, its best to put your router on the 1st floor higher up in the room like on a book shelf so the wireless signal can be closer to devices on the second floor.

What is in “line of sight” of your router?

I realized that I had my router on top of a desk, but on the other side of the wall was a kitchen counter with a granite backsplash. Granite degrades a Wi-Fi signal as well as all of the pipes and appliances in the kitchen. Centrally located brick fireplaces, fish tanks (full of water), built in bookcases, hardwood furniture and even plaster walls are dense objects that cut down your signal. Older routers send the Wi-Fi signal in a single stream. As the signal reaches each device, the strength is leeched until the furthest device has a pathetically weak stream.

Why not consider a Wi-Fi Range Extender?

Very few of us live in an ideal world. My router is at the far end of a long, ranch style home. Your home may have more than one story and no doubt you have some dead zones. Because I have almost every barrier to a clear signal, I use a range extender. The best range extenders you can buy are compatible with all brands of routers (even the ones you get from a service provider). You place the range extender halfway between your router and your deadzone. It will pick up the Wi-Fi signal and increase the range. The one I am using, Linksys AC1200 Amplify, model RE6700 will extend your network up to 10,000 square feet.

Does your router support “Dual-Band” and are you taking advantage of it?

I first learned about bands when I learned about wireless phones. Their early roots were in the 2.4 GHz band but to beat interference from microwave ovens and went to 5.8 GHz then Dect 6.0. In practice, it was clear that the less crowded the band, the clearer the signal would be. Radio waves are everywhere and older routers only broadcast in that same 2. 4 GHz band.

Without going into a tutorial on radio waves, broadcast frequencies and connectivity, take my word that the 2.4 GHz band has a lot of traffic. It is crowded with cordless phones, Bluetooth devices, baby monitors, garage door openers, microwave ovens and more.

If you have a router that supports Wireless-N or AC, you have two bands: 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz. Run both at once and let your devices connect to the bands that work best for them. The range of the 5 GHz band is shorter than the 2.4, but the latest routers with this technology have a more sophisticated beamforming antenna array and MU-MIMO.

The 5 GHz has a wider wireless spectrum available compared to the 2.4 GHz, which leads to significantly better performance as the 5 GHz is best for usage that requires uninterrupted throughput. That is why it is recommended for media streaming and transferring music, pictures, and video throughout your home network.

What channel are you using?

I know, right? Wi-fi networks use channels! There are 14 available channels in the 2.4 GHz band. If you and your neighbors are using the same channel, it could degrade your signal too. There are a few ways to find out which channel has less traffic. I use an app called WiFi Analyzer (see below). The app will show you all the networks within range of your devices and recommend the best for you to use. You can also use it like I do. I open the app and walk around my house. As I walk, the graph below changes, picking up and dropping new networks as I move (no I do not live next door to a 7-Eleven). After a full walkaround of my home and office, I selected channel 11 for my network.

You can change the broadcast channels of your router from the router’s interface.

How old is your router? 

No matter how fast your ISP is pushing the internet to your home or office, you will not be able to benefit from speed if you are using old technology. New routers that feature Max-Stream MU-MIMO send out three streams, thereby allowing three devices to basically have their own dedicated high speed connection.

Many people I know are still using the router rented from their ISP, or one they purchased years ago. I remember when wireless-G was cutting edge, then Wireless-N; today it’s Wireless-AC. It’s doubtful that all your current devices support the latest versions of 802.11, but the latest technologies need more throughput as well as bandwidth. Why spend hundreds of dollars on new devices if your current router degrades their performance?

In upcoming posts, I will explain the facts behind the types of 802.11 and the things you need to know before buying a new router. If you have questions about your wireless network, please send them to me and I try to answer in a future post.

This post was sponsored by Linksys 

Monday, March 23, 2015

How Twitter Chats Can Build Topical Understanding and Community #GenerationSilos

In 2009, when I got the idea that online customer service via Twitter would be the future (and an idea for a book), I wanted community input. I found a like minded individual, Jeffrey Kingman, to join me in a #custserv (customer service) chat.

The #custserv chat was a success and has been running on Tuesday nights at 9pm ET for over five years. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of participants have joined in the chat. Each sharing opinions that have helped form the practices in customer service today.

When I postulated another idea, I was inspired by the large amount of social media engagement surrounding the generations. It seems that Millennials, Baby Boomers and GenX-ers all have their own hashtags; I was culpable too, as I had written a chapter about marketing to the generations in my customer service book.

But what bothered me about the current conversation was that the hashtags and the tweets generally served to promote differences, versus the commonalities, of those of us making our way in the 21st century.

Last November, I participated in the launch of IBM Verse with 31 other social business influencers. (IBM Verse is a powerful new email and collaboration tool guided by analytics). During that event, we brainstormed the future of work and the role that different generations played, that conversation inspired this chat.

#GenerationSilos was born

I was lucky enough to team up with @IBMSocialBiz for the #GenerationSilos chat and with Jason Eng as co-host. With Jason as my wingman, I was assured the chat would be balanced and would cover varying points of view.

The chat was scheduled for Wednesday, March 18. I fully forgot that the entire social media world would be at SXSW and that the day prior was St. Patrick's Day. We had a lot of promoting to do. Launching a new hashtag means a lot of work and we didn't have much time. Twitter promotion began on the 15th, the Sunday prior, and a framing post went on my blog on Monday the 16th. The theme was "Are we creating silos between generations? Are millennials the future of work? Tune in to find out!"

When you plan an online chat, be sure you have a list of questions that cover the topic, ten are good for a one-hour chat. Planned questions enable the moderators to keep participants on topic. Without questions, a crowd will often splinter into individual sub-discussions.  We prepared questions that opened discussion on the topic, the trend to siloing the generations.

The chat was held on CrowdChat, a platform that enhances the conversation, allowing comments to share on Twitter, automatically with the #GenerationSilos hashtag. Comments longer than 140 characters are posted truncated on Twitter with a link back to the chat platform. It is very efficient.

Five minutes prior to the chat, I watched the chat page and there was three of us in the room, Jason, IBMSocialBiz and me. I wondered if anyone would even show up. By 6pm PT a crowd began to fill in. We welcomed the community and the questions began.

By 6:37 pm, the chat was trending worldwide on Twitter and the conversation was interactive and eye opening. The two top questions in the chat were
  • Millennials say they have challenged the status quo. Does this differ from the mantra "Don't trust anyone over 30"?
  • What are the biggest myths you hear about millennials?
You can visit the transcript and find the answers here on CrowdChat. We ended up with 3,227 views, a reach of 23.6M and a total of 484 posts.

Thank you to everyone who stopped by to share their ideas. It proved that Twitter chats can really be a place where ideas are exchanged and solutions can be found.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Focus on People, Not Generations, to Achieve Transformation in Culture

Ariana Gradow of CrowdChat and I on TheCube at IBMInterconnect #NewWayToWork - two generations working together!

When generations collide; silos are built. Has anything good ever come from a silo mentality? Let’s define silos to be clear:
silo: isolate (one system, process, department, etc.) from others
In business a silo mentality reduces efficiency and can be a contributing factor to a failing corporate culture. Silos between people proliferate discrimination, isolation, a lack of team play and cooperation. In the workplace, this attitude is just as destructive to synergy and progress.

Today, silos are being built between people in the 21st century, brick by brick, by both ends of the demographic spectrum. The Internet abounds with posts vehemently pitting one generation against the other; written in words that border on hate-speak. Name-calling has become an obsession. Why take responsibility for anything when we can blame our difficulties on someone else?

Millennials have been called lazy, selfish, entitled, rude; .Boomers were called radicals, dirty hippies and slackers. The disparity between the generations goes back as far as around the 4th Century BC, when Socrates denounced the young generation “Children are now tyrants.”

In this post, I'm skipping past Gen X because the most populous cohorts today are the baby boomer and the millennial. Boomers were born between 1946 and 1964-and they represent 23.7% of the population and most began to enter the workforce in 1970. Millennials, born between 1980 and 2000, represent 28.7% according to 2014 U.S. Census data.

No one is that special: Workplace culture and Technology

While browsing the web, I found this, “I watched in horror as my baby boomer boss pounded on the keyboard in an attempt to figure out the e-mail." Agreed, there are those who are not well-versed in technology, but horror?

Before we arm up for generational confrontation, consider the points below to see the commonalities between the generations. While millennials have been immersed in technology since they were in diapers, who do you think developed all the devices that changed the way we work? Not everyone else on the planet is a luddite. Lets take a look at the workplace and a few of the innovations that led to the digital revolution that changed the way we work together.

In the Workplace

It wasn't until the 1930s that electric typewriters appeared. Proportional spacing didn't appear until 1944, but the most radical innovation was the IBM Selectric Typewriter in 1961. The Selectric mechanism used internal mechanical binary coding and mechanical digital-to-analog converters. Disruptive? Yes. Thomas Watson Jr., who commissioned the development, also believed that design was just as important as innovation. He hired the top mid century designers of the day to develop at style guide, to portray a modernistic motif. Having an IBM Selectric in an office was the ultimate cool factor; it eventually captured 75% of the typewriter market.

The Inbox

When boomers worked in an office, if they wanted to speak to a colleague, they’d call them or walk over to their desk ...and talk. If the person wasn't there they’d leave a little note on their desk. 

If you wanted to share a document, you’d have to put it in an “Inter-Office envelope”, address it (it could be reused multiple times) and put it in your Outbox. The outbox would be picked up once or twice a day by someone from the mailroom and delivered to the recipients Inbox. Archaic, isn't it?

I thought the last use of an interoffice envelope was in 2008 when Steve Jobs slipped a Macbook Air into one at MacWorld. I was wrong, when I posted on Twitter, asking for a picture of one of these envelopes I got tons of responses . Can you imagine an office using today’s email and these relics? Duplication in communication processes is more rampant than ever.

Digital revolution?

The digital revolution in media consumption could not have occurred without the introduction of television. In the pre-TV era, people got their news in newspapers, but “real-time” (changed twice weekly) images were shared on the big screen, in theaters via seven minute newsreels shown between movies. The disruption to real time media came in the 1960s when television became commonplace in American households and began to mold public opinion.
"The digital revolution is a digression, and television — the real video revolution that began in the 1950s — continues on." - The Hollywood Reporter

There are those who say television is dead, but it is “the screen” that carries its work in the digital age. What is your tablet but an alternative for consuming media? All forms of information appear, from fiction to news via a multitude of devices including OTT (over-the-top) content delivered through IP packets to “the screen.” As Stephen King so aptly put it, “Sooner or later, everything old is new again.”

Work/Life Balance

Did the millennial generation invent the desire for work/life balance? Ask anyone from prior generations and I think you will find that having more personal time was something all human beings aspired to have. Previously there was no option for "me" time in the workplace. So before we condemn, consider that there were no sabbaticals and allotted vacation time rarely exceeded 10 working days. Just like today, very few people were able to enjoy this time off. When employees had children, mothers were lucky to be able to combine sick days and vacation to spend time with their new babies. Fathers were expected to be at work and pass out cigars

Boomer Cultural Deceptions

Boomers were exploited by the media with a broken promise of “the American Dream.” To achieve this dream, both parents had to go to work and the images seen on television of mom staying at home as a housewife and dad being the breadwinner went out the door. They became unwilling workaholics in order to achieve the dream and were sold up the river by marketers and banks with promises of easy credit and long term repayment.

As parents of older children (and caregivers to parents) today, they now carry higher expenses than their predecessors longer into life, thereby causing them to attempt to stay in the workplace longer. There is no way to find the “golden years” they were promised. Social Security (which they paid into their entire working lives) can’t be expected to maintain a status quo.

Millennial Educational Debt

A top ranked betrayal that millennials feel is mounting college debt. They face not only debt, but a depressed economy with unemployment rates that, in 2010, reached as high as 9.6%. The dream of graduating and getting a high paying job disappeared, so many left universities without attaining a degree.

The truth, albeit somewhat time delayed, is that despite debt, the ROI of a degree can be high. A 2015 report from PayScale, reveals the ROI of the various majors and the costs involved. In short, assuming one completes four years and gets a degree, a university educated man can expect to earn as much as 70% more than one without a degree; in 1972 that number was only 22%. An interactive chart including degrees can be found at The Economist, here.

If you're looking to make a decision on which colleges give you the most for your money, visit CollegeRaptor for an interactive, free analysis.

We are all victims of politics and societal influences. No generation ever set out to deliberately screw another. Boomers are just as scared of the future as are Millennials, if not more.Suicide among Baby Boomers is one of the leading causes of death, behind only cancer and heart disease.

Today’s technology and culture represents the building blocks placed by past generations. We have more in common than you think. And as we all move through the circle of life, future generations will blame the previous for their life issues. We need to be more flexible. each generation brings new tools to the box. So why not take this moment to take the high road, and work together for a better future and a productive workplace.

Please join me on Twitter for a #GenerationSilios chat on Wednesday, March 18 at 6pm PDT. Details here

Monday, January 12, 2015

CES 2015: Technologies That Caught My Eye

I have attended almost every  CES since the early 2000s. I've seen new technologies launched and many drowned out by the excitement ginned up on the latest televisions and wearables. Here are some notable examples of technology that stood out from the crowd:

ReWalk Robotics Personal Exoskeleton 

This revolutionary technology will have life changing impact on so many. It helps paraplegics regain the ability to walk. The FDA cleared the company’s ReWalk Personal System for use at home and in the community.
ReWalk is a wearable robotic exoskeleton that provides powered hip and knee motion to enable individuals with Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) to stand upright and walk. ReWalk, the only exoskeleton with FDA clearance via clinical studies and extensive performance testing for personal use, is now available throughout the United States.
While attending the ShowStoppers Media preview, I took the video below.

Spin Master Meccanoid G15 KS building kit

Ever since I saw the movie, Short Circuit, I wanted a Johnny 5 robot of my own. It seems that I am a bit closer to my goal. At the Show Stoppers event I met a charming robot from Meccano, and with their kit I can build and program my own pal. Ever have an Erector set? (Erector is the brand for Meccano in the United States). The Meccanoid robot can recognize pre-programmed user-recorded Voice Commands and can be controlled by an Android or iPhone app. 

Toshiba's Communication Android Robot

This definitely takes the prize for the strangest (creepy?) technology. This Android is promoted to be the next big thing in customer service, health care and even as companions. Forgive me if I am not as enthusiastic as the other reporters and reviewers. The goal is to "achieve real heart-warming communication with human-like facial expression." Anybody else see Disney's Hall of the Presidents? Sigh. Read the Toshiba Press Release.

Lenovo VIBE Xtension Selfie Flash 

The end to unflattering selfies. The Selfie flash plugs into the phone's audio port and uses 8 LEDs to illuminate (not flash at) your face. This way you can get the perfect selfie every time. The price is only $29, but Lenovo has (currently) no plans to sell this cutting edge product in the United States. Let's hope they take pity on the selfie fans in the US!

Polaroid Socialmatic Instant Digital Camera 

Polaroid is back, and in a big way, utilizing Zero Ink Printing technology, They understand social media and their new Socialmatic camera is a fully operating touchscreen Android 4.4 Kit Kat system with GPS, WiFi and Bluetooth. The front facing camera is 14 MP  and the rear 2 MP. You can share your pictures online and through its built in printer, instantly print 2" x 3" hard copy for your friends. 

Also, the 2" x 3" picture of me at the top of this post is being printed from the new Polaroid Zip Mobile Printer which connects to mobile devices via Bluetooth or NFC.