Saturday, November 15, 2008

Going green

I am on this "less self centered kick" as mentioned in last weeks rant. This week I l am looking at this from a Going Green perspective. Imagine the impact we can make if we could combine three concepts "Less self centered" + "Green" + "Masses". I am sure you want me to to elaborate, so take a seat, put on your listening ears, as I take you through this tour of my going green masses pyramid scheme.

Going Green:
If each household saved just a little bit in electrical energy consumed, the potential Energy savings for the country as a whole has be exponential. I set about trying to find out how to methodically go about saving energy at home, with this intent of publishing a template so others can benefit from my experience. As with any project I started with a baseline of energy consumption in the house. I got that from taking a reading from the Power meter outside. I also walked around the house and documented the devices that was hooked into the electrical circuits int he house. This is a room by room list that includes lights, appliances, and anything can be plugged in to the sockets, even if it currently is not.

Benchmark: Benchmarking power consumption should not last more than a week. A seven day cycle of consumption documented daily should be our goal.

Documentation: Room by Room documentation of light fixtures, appliances, gadgets, computers, monitors, and any device that has the potential to draw current, will be used to tweak our benchmark, and set goals. If our goal translates of 1KWHour per day, it is reasonable to assume that we as a nation have the potential to save 1 Million KWHours per day, by engaging 1 million households in this effort.

Template approach: Any project that involves massive numbers should use templates for consistency, with that in mind, the idea behind this evaluation is to generate those templates and distribute them for others to use.

The Business Model for profiting from this scheme: How does one motivate a million households to save just a fraction of what they use on a daily basis?. How does this project then turn that savings generated by the million households for a larger purpose?.

Answer: Dashboards.
Dashboards provide us view into that what we take for granted. They can help by reminding us that you can tweak this and gain that. The more interactive the Dashboard becomes, the more involved the user becomes. If my dashboard says by turning these 5 lights for 3 hours in a day, I will gain my great grand children a forest, that could be significant motivation?

Calculating costs: Here is a great site on everything Electricity, from average cost of kWh by state to how much does a 100 watt light bulb burn if kept on for a month. Ideally what we need is a gadget that can map our electricity usage, so we can see "real time" how electricity is being used. The idea: if we can see where it is going, we can put in controls needed. I went looking for such a device and found this product by TED that actually has some pretty cool features. The only problem with this solution is that it will cost you around $200 for the gadget + footprint software, then you will have to get an electrician to install it. So lets say around $300 investment. Not many people will go for that is my guess. So what we need is a solution that every household should have, if we we are going to control our spending and making inroads in this area. In fact, I think this should be subsidized so its use becomes ubiquitous.

Collaborative savings
: are nothing new, many business models are built requires a community based business model that can leverage the strength in numbers to advantage. The idea is if a million households saved a million Kilowatt hours, what can they collectively gain from that?

That's my Saturday morning Rant, Next week I might be spewing Usability sensibilities as I will be studying all week for the HCI 440 exam. Wish me luck.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

On being less self centered

The elections are over, my HCI 440 class is coming to an end. My next class is in January so I plan on talking about "being less self centered".

In the end we need to take care of each other, the trickle just wont get us to where we want to go. So my next few posts will focus on the things I do on a regular basis and how over a period of time I have learned to do it smarter.

The Do It Yourself online store: We all have something to sell. So why not own a store, that you call your own and sell. It could be ideas, products or even advice. The point is you need a store and here is how you can set it up and maintain it for $10 a month.

1) Pick an ISP to host your website, this should cost you around $8 a month. Register your domain name for $2 a month, I think you can get it cheaper. Total for ISP and domain = $10. That is the extent of your hard costs.
2) Point your domain name to your ISP's name servers. Or follow their instructions to park your domain there.
3) Install OsCommerce (2.2 rc2 is the one that I installed the other day) using "Simple scripts", Bluehost my ISP has this available for free. I am not affiliated with Bluehost, It just happens I picked them instead of many comparable ISP's out there.
4) For ease of getting OsCommerce developer plugins to work, install OsCommerce in the /Catalog folder. For example, I installed mine as a test here
5) Once installed, login as admin, and change the machine generated password to your choosing
6) Change settings in the configuration submodules, go through each one of them and customize, if is fairly self explanatory. You can always come back here and tweak it further so dont go overboard in this step
7) Install the Easy populate module. You will need this to upload inventory, Later on you will find this really useful for mass updates. Trust me you need this feature, unless you like doing boring stuff manually. I installed "Easypopulate v2.76f-MS2 (with attributes) r1". Modules are easy to install, follow the readme and install documentation and test.
8) Install the Page Editor module, You need this to add pages or modify existing pages, again trust me on this. I installed PageEditorv1.6. Please note that this module requires you make changes to the DB, but the sql script is provided. I followed the install instructions which requires you to copy a few files and update a few. This is a little tedious, but if you want to know what is being modified, follow the manual editing process. If you trust this module, go ahead and copy the files provided. Test the module once installed.
9) Install the PayPal express check out module, you will need to get a paypal API access with the UID/PWD and signature, follow instructions on paypal for this, fairly easy to get it working. The payPay express module for OsCommerce I used for this is: paypal_express_checkout_IPN_v0_4_1. There is a module already installed in the default install, you will need to disable that, install this one and then enable the configuration
10) Install the USPS plugin. Again this requires you to get a UID/PWD from USPS. I installed version USPS Methods 4_1_4. Follow the readme file to get your account created, it takes about a day to get that going.

There you have it. Easy 10 Steps to setup your own online store. Why is this attractive? Simply becuase Amazon will charge you $99 a month to do the same thing and give you attitude to boot. So you dont need Amazon's charity trickling down to you any more!!

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Preparing for the HCI 440 final exam

I have always wanted to be different. While many other bloggers will rant about the historic elections, I will move on to more pressing personal topics, such as my upcoming exams. I had (last few weeks in play) the privilege of attending a HCI 440 course this Fall, as it is winding down, it is fitting I write about my User Experience (pun not intended or intended) this Saturday morning.

Design Theory: My bachelors degree many moons ago was in Architecture, this course in many ways was a rehash of design theories I learned and have forgotten since. There has been a lot of progress in 30 years in the field of design. But the essential fundamentals remain the same. ie. you are designing FOR USERS. The big difference this time around was the amount of involvement of users in the design process. There has been a significant body of research that has gone into cognitive studies understanding why and how we do things. This in my opinion has greatly enhanced the design process. I highly recommend this course to those of you who started out many years ago as I did.

The largest impact in my opinion is the application of design principles, processes and cognitive research that has gone into making what HCI (Human computer interaction) and UCD (User centered design) is today. There are many heavy weights who have contributed to this discipline. Names such as Jakob Nielsen, Bruce Tognazzini are just a few to scratch the surface.

So what exactly did I learn in these 11 weeks? The material we covered in class came from the book: "Beyond Human-Computer interaction" by Yvonne Sharp, Helen Sharp and Jenny Preece. Lots of great material in the book that spans Requirements gathering, Analysis, Design/Prototyping, Iteration, Evaluation and testing. Iteration by far was the most powerful concept that I latched on to. We also worked in a group of 6 to collaboratively design a Mobile application that replaces your remote controls around the house. It appears we will have a fairly decent final prototype by the 11th week.

We also covered various Theories, models and Frameworks that was a segway into Agile and SCRUM methodologies. I got a chance to watch what Jeff Sutherland did at google on the Adword project and what Jensen Harris did with the User Experience team at Microsoft as they developed the ribbon user experience for office 2007. Included here are links for your viewing pleasure if you are into that sort of thing.

Usabilty and User experience goals along with design principles and how cognitive theories tie into these, was fertile fodder. Use of metaphors was a fascinating study as you look around and see the rampant use of metaphors in design these days. Trashcan, desktop, Search engine, Browsing and exploring are all great examples of how metaphors have been used in todays design world.

I will leave you folks with these three thoughts:

The Architects of yesterday will really enjoy and benefit from this course, for it explains many approaches we gravitated to intutively years ago. The medium of design has certainly changed, and so has the process. Yet innovation, creativity and immagination are attributes that we will always strive to in our designs in years to come.

November 13th is World usability day. A lot of good events are planned around the world on this day, a testament to how far we have come. If you are inclined and wish to make time explore the world usability day event map is a great place to start

If you get an opportunity, try out Mozilla labs Ubiquity. It told me that there are some really sharp folks out there creating and innovating. All we have to do is be there to enjoy the USER EXPERIENCE.

That folks, is my Saturday Morning Rant for this Saturday November 8th 2008.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Store our family history on the world wide web for the future generations to read and enjoy?

First of all, I am going to break the 500 word rule and the Saturday morning Rant Rule. What I want to RANT about this morning is all about different ways to solve a problem, thanks to two of my relatives, One from Atlanta and one from Australia.

The problem at hand:

1) Why should we use Geni to document Family history? Why not facebook, Orkuchee (orkut), myspace, and other social media collaboration outlets that we currently use?
2) Why document Family history at all?.

Two questions with many answers: I hope I can get decent momentum going here. I don't plan on solving this problem, It would be foolish to do it by myself when I have 222 blood relatives on my Mom's side all participating (begrudgingly I think) on Geni. Insted I just plan on presenting some thoughts, that might provoke deeper insight, in the young minds of the Dsouza clan.

Documenting Family history: I have been a big proponent of documenting Family history for a long time now. I remember about 25 years ago a conversation I had with my Aunty Benna (then a principle of Mount carmel's mother ship) about this. The fact that I am still on this kick should mean something. There is also another reason. When I lived in India, not once was I asked to explain, why I have a Hispanic last name. After I came to the US, I have been asked this many a time. So I set out in search of the truth, at least the documented truth. What I found or did not find surprised me and increased my resolve to find out more.

Why not just use the world wide web as the repository for our family history?

I really believe we can pull this off:
But to understand how, we need to look at a similar problem space. A few years ago Google came out with the Google desktop. The feature that made it stand out from the rest was its capability to index all your files and even mail. By doing so they gave us an option to do away with filing/categorizing data. The premise was, you store data where ever and however you want to. Then when you need to retrieve a file, you simply search using key words and it pulls it up. So remember the time we used to spend cleaning our files and filing them away, If you were smart and used this indexing, you did not need to.

Let me give you an analogy. Lets say you lived in a college dorm. Your parents are not around to ask you to clean up your room. You just let it pile up. But mentally you arrive at this ingenious solution. Your mind indexed the contents of the room, so whenever you needed something, it was easy to find. So no sorting, no cleaning, no mus, no fuss. Its all there, and you get it when you need it. Indexing at its sophisticated best!!

The premise was simple: They did away with elaborate folder heiarachies to store and retrieve data, instead they just indexed every word in each document. It is an amazing retrieval system which they developed for the world wide web and just scaled it down to the desktop and it was a paradigm shift from the older ways of thinking about information retrieval.

So In theory we the M&M clan should be able to use any social network out there, and post our Zeitegeist as we live. If at any time any one wishes to retrieve how it came to be that Terry lives in Kalamazoo today, about 12000 miles where he was born. You can serch for Terry+Trichur+Fernandez Lane+Kalamazoo and wallah!! you have the answer.

I got out a couple of concepts there so let me tag them so folks can easily get to this information:
Semantic Web, cognition and recall, Indexing, Social media, Social networks, Search algorithms, Information retrieval.

The question is how do I capture the Stories I heard Dennis Britto tell us when we were young?. How can I capture and convey the moment, when he let us put our finger in the hole in his head? Gary V. is perhpas one answer. Any one who has watched Gary V and his incredible story telling, will agree he is Dennis Britto reincarnated. There are other great story tellers out there: Sir Ken Robinson, Larry Lessing, Jon Steward, Ze Frank to name a few. They all have one thing in common, they use other forms of media to convey their stories.

So lots of questions for the future generations in the M&M clan to sink their teeth into. One thing is for sure, When my Uncles, Aunts, Cousins travelled far away from Managalore (uncle George, Aunty Flavy, Uncle Willy, Uncle Jimmy to name just a few) their only medium of communication was writing letters. Whats more, I am sure there were Stories like Edgar told us the other day about a Dog named Puski that we are not priviy to becuase there was not way to use the world wide web as a repository and google was not aournd to index the information. With the result, we lost a lot of history. What are we going to do about it?

Let history repeat it self?

Saturday, November 01, 2008

November pictures

My goal as all goals go, is to write at least 500 words a week on this blog, to help improve my writing skills for the days ahead. So please dont look for any hidden agenda here. I dont think I have ever explained why this blog is called http. Well, the honest truth is, I was in search of a kitchy name for a brand that did not have any true substance other than being a sandbox. So I looked around, liked the metaphorical approach that slasdot, digg, 37 signals and the rest of the folks had taken and decided to invest in http. Remind me to tell you how I took on the moniker of mibdepot sometime.

This particular post is an experiment in sending pictures from my phone to the blog. What you see here is my teeny balcony off my home office, yes I am lucky to have that, and a view of the backyard as the leaves are falling in preparation for the winter from the said balcony.

I have been writing to prepare for some intense research and writing the next 5 years. This brand of this blog is just that. My research,writing and publishing sandbox. Pictures are worth a thousand words they say. So I am playing around with how to get pictures to the blog the unconentional way or any which way possible.

Podcasts and Videocasts will be next I am sure.

Saturday Morning Fall Shot

Saturday morning Fall Shot in November.