Group Projects

Web-based group projects can be a gamble.  If you do not know the key players on your team prior to the project, it can be difficult to collaborate and accomplish tasks.  Other concerns may also arise throughout the project such as miscommunication, lack of communication, troubleshooting, file transfer issues, poor planning, or inequitable allotment of work.  These and other factors can have dire effects on the success of a project.  Thankfully, for this web project, my group and I were able to avoid major problems, communicate effectively, and deliver our project successfully.
My team and I were assigned to research a company’s social media policy and online activity and provide our analyses and recommendations for how the firm could better their online presence.  We selected Nike and began distributing research among our team.  Each of us chose two social media sites to monitor Nike’s posts and drafted mini reports containing our findings.  The reports included our thoughts on Nike’s tactics and screenshots of the websites.  We posted our documents on our class’s online discussion board and determined who would be responsible for drafting the wiki and social media policy/recommendations.
One of my teammates had suggested that we share e-mail addresses as a means of additional communication.  This was a key factor in coordinating our project.  My teammate also asked that we determine a tentative schedule for our project.  I voluntarily drafted a schedule that outlined the components of our project and gave a proposed deadline for each.  This helped keep the group on track and allowed us to complete our assignment prior to the official deadline.
Personally, I was very impressed with how well my team and I worked together.  We each contributed to the project and communicated with each other regularly.  This helped make the experience less stressful and ultimately ensured successful completion of our project.
This assignment enabled me to experience collaborating with a group in a web environment and allowed me to practice organizing and coordinating an online project with a team.  Overall, the experience was beneficial.  Web projects are becoming widespread among businesses and it is, therefore, imperative to know how to engage in online projects with others.  The social media assignment allowed my team and me to get a taste of this and will provide us with an advantage in our careers.

Data Warehouses

In this week’s module, I found the information on data warehouses to be the most clear to me.  A data warehouse is essentially a warehouse that stores a HUGE amount of data. A data warehouse basically copies information regularly from transactional data into the warehouse.  In other words, it takes live data from operations and stores it. Sometimes when live processing of data takes place, a customer might have to wait for a response on a particular website and therefore, might choose to visit a buy from another site.  Data warehousing is useful because it allow analysis of the data to take place in the warehouse opposed to live online processing of data.  This gives the customer instantaneous data analysis allowing the customer to have a pleasant shopping experience.

Data warehouses can most definitely be useful in the business environment for several reasons.  One reason, as previously mentioned, is it stores a massive amount of data.  This is beneficial in the business world because it allows the business to analyze data from many different areas and manipulate it however they would like.  Another reason this could be useful is for the fact that it analyzes the data in the warehouse.  On a live online center, they are not able to analyze data like they would be able to in a warehouse. A data warehouse is also useful because it has the potential to make the customer’s shopping experience more enjoyable.

This simple picture illustration helps explain the concept of a data warehouse.  All these different elements of information are combined into one data warehouse.  The website above also helps explain the concept of a data warehouse a little bit more.  The website explains data warehouses to be an important tactic for any business.

Microsoft’s Cortana – Evolution of Siri

What — or who — is Cortana?
For all the non-gamers our there, Cortana is an artificial intelligence character from Xbox’s Halo series. But Microsoft seems to be planning to make her much more than that. ZDNet reported earlier this week that Cortana may be the base of new AI “shell” that could power the personal assistant features in Microsoft’s next iteration of Windows Phone.

In July, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said in a memo that the company was working on, “a family of devices powered by a service-enabled shell.”

He went on to say, “Our UI will be deeply personalized, based on the advanced, almost magical, intelligence in our cloud that learns more and more over time about people and the world. Our shell will natively support all of our essential services, and will be great at responding seamlessly to what people ask for, and even anticipating what they need before they ask for it.”

In sum, a voice assistant that knows what you’re saying and in what context you’re saying it, before you ask it, and tied into all of the important services you use on your devices. It’s a pretty tall order, and it could give existing personal assistants a run for their money.

Been there, done that
The personal assistant skeptics may be saying that we already have features like this, and that they aren’t that great. Siri was first released two years ago in its beta version and users generally have mixed feelings about it. Although improvements have been made, it’s often considered a novelty rather than necessity. Apple says the new non-beta version of Siri coming out this week will process questions faster, check more sources, and can handle more tasks, like playing voice mail or changing iPhone settings.

But Siri lacks the anticipated information sharing that Google. Now boasts. The Now app can tell you when a package is delivered, how long it will take to get to work, and when your next appointment is. Much of which can be had without even having to ask.

Up until recently, Google’s predictive information was strictly reserved for Android users, but a recent update to the iOS Google Search app added the same features for iPhone users as well. While iOSers actually have to open the app to get the info — as opposed to Android where the information just shows up — it’s more than Apple currently offers its own users. Google pulls information from Gmail, Google News, Navigation, Maps, and its other services to give users the real-time data. With reliable voice searching and predictive data, Google Now is one of the most advanced mobile personal assistants.

Though Microsoft may be excited about creating a new system shell that can anticipate a user’s requests, talking about what you want a mobile artificial intelligence system to do and actually getting it work are two different things. The company is set to release the next version of its smartphone platform around the holidays, called Windows Phone Blue, so it’s possible we could see Cortana sooner rather than later.

Microsoft is in desperate need of something that can lure iPhone and Android users away from their devices to Windows Phones. Holding onto just 3.9% of global smartphone shipment market share isn’t making investors happy. We really need to see new features from Windows Phone that prove Microsoft can create devices that users really want. Cortana could be a great first step in the right direction.

US Uses 11 Times More Energy than the UK

Last week, we called attention to America’s massive energy inefficiency problem. The amount of energy wasted by the US economy in 2012, we noted, could power the United Kingdom for 7 years.

But of course the United Kingdom is more than just a reference point. It’s an interesting energy case study itself. The UK is the European Union’s largest oil producer, the country’s renewable electricity use has quadrupled since 2000, and last year the UK was crowned the world’s most energy-efficient major economy. Not to mention its capital city is home to Opower’s European headquarters.

us energy efficiency uk energy efficiency

Given our company’s inclination to make insightful energy usage comparisons, we’d love to be able to present a side-by-side comparison of total energy waste in the US and UK. Unfortunately, each country takes a distinct methodological approach to evaluating economy-wide energy efficiency  – making it unfeasible to do a clean apples-to-apples comparison.

Source: UK Energy Flowchart, Department of Energy and Climate Change (July 2013)

Source: UK Energy Flowchart, Department of Energy and Climate Change (July 2013)

But, based on our knowledge of the energy economy in the US and UK, and equipped with their recently published Energy Flowcharts for 2012, we can still draw some meaningful conclusions:

  • In 2012, the US’s primary energy demand was 11 times bigger than the UK’s
  • The efficiency of electric power generation and transmission is roughly 35% in both countries
  • The average American household uses 2.7 times more electricity and 1.3 times more natural gas than a British household
  • Transportation, dominated by petroleum in both countries, is also their largest energy end-use
  • The countries’ electricity generation portfolios in 2012 were uncannily similar (Coal ~40%, Gas ~30%, Nuclear ~20%, Renewables ~10%).

The first point above, regarding the sizable divergence in per-capita energy use between the US (313.9 million people) and the UK (63.2 million people), may be the juiciest tidbit of all. Why does the average American consume twice as much energy as the average Brit? The answer is multifaceted and complex, but we can begin to identify a few key drivers.

First, consider transportation — the largest energy end-use in both countries. The average fuel economy of UK cars is currently 65% better than US cars. Americans also drive almost twice as many miles per year than Brits. More gasoline per mile, combined with lots of miles, is the perfect recipe for a bloated energy flowchart.

Second, compare a typical home near London, England with one in New London, Connecticut. You’ll see some clear energy-related differences: the UK home will neither have an air-conditioner nor a swimming pool (both are exceedingly rare there, largely due to a milder climate); they’re also far more likely to be hang-drying their laundry. These kinds of factors add up.

Third, UK energy efficiency policies have become increasingly ambitious. Last November, the UK Government unveiled a national Energy Efficiency Strategy, that included a £39 million investment in research on how to empower consumers and businesses to adopt more energy-efficient behavior over time. And starting soon, the UK will join other European countries in a regional effort to reduce energy use by 20% by 2020.

While the US has also made strides in boosting energy efficiency in recent years, especially at the state level and through innovative utility programs, the UK’s concerted nationwide initiatives to cut energy use have positioned the country as a leader…as evidenced by its #1 ranking in ACEEE’s 2012 International Energy Efficiency Scorecard. And these efforts are borne out by the 2012 data: as shown below, the UK’s weather-adjusted primary energy consumption inched downward for its 7th straight year.


The UK’s primary energy consumption (weather-adjusted) has declined for seven straight years (Source: UK Digest of Energy Statistics, 2013)

For its part, the US has also seen a general downward trend in total and per-capita energy use in recent years, but it hasn’t trickled down quite as consistently as in the UK.

There are many interesting insights to be drawn from recent energy trends in the States and the Kingdom — including how the Super Bowl and the birth of little Prince George exerted a surprisingly similar effect on national energy use. To dive deeper into the data from both sides of the pond, check out the 2013 Digest of UK Energy Statistics and the most recent US Energy Flowchart Analysis from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

Author’s note: The UK’s Energy Flow analysis is constructed on a “primary fuel input basis,” which differs slightly from the “useful energy basis” adopted by the US version. Interested readers can read more details about the UK’s flowchart calculations here and US calculations here. 

Special thanks to Nate Kaufman and Ashley Sudney.

Follow @OpowerOutlier on Twitter


How to make any TV a Smart TV

There was plenty of interesting advancements in home based entertainment within the last couple of years, but one is unique: smart TVs. Internet connected TV screens that pipe through all kinds of video on demand and then some. Everyone from Samsung to Philips will be vying to encourage doubters just why their smart TV is the smartest.
However the big brands aren’t telling you something: the television you have got in the living room is already smart. It’s not that hard to transform your flatscreen to a web TV with gear you have in all probability already, without cost. Keep reading, and we’ll explain to you how.

Got a gaming system?

Got an Xbox 360 console or Sony PS3? Then you’ve got the ideal smart TV money can get already. Both have access to an entire range of services already, including ESPN, Syfy, YouTube, Hulu, Netflix and several other available services. Both consoles can stream media directly from your laptop or computer. Sony’s gaming system can also be controlled with the remote control that is included with most advanced TVs. Both provide lots of content in HD, though Xbox users will have to pay the Gold subscription for everything other than the basics.
It is possible to get some of the services on the Nintendo Wii too, though not in high definition. Movie streaming service Netflix is also included in the Wii Shop Channel. If you would like stream your video from a PC, you can utilize a free application called Orb.

Some Blu-ray players (particularly Sony and Samsung models) will come with with web services built-in, so have a look in their instruction manuals to determine.

Tablet double duty

If you’ve got a tablet handy, you’ve probably got another smart TV option too. Every generation of Apple’s iPad could be connected to a TV using the official Digital AV Adapter, enabling you to play-back whatever you can view on your own iPad on your own Tv, from iTunes Tv program downloads to iPlayer and YouTube videos.

Got an Android tablet? If it’s got an HDMI (hd multimedia interface) slot perhaps you can do exactly exactly the same, and enjoy Flash video on any website too. It is likely you won’t possess the right cable in the box, but you can pick up a micro HDMI cable on Amazon for under $5.

Use your phone

Without a tablet, an advanced smartphone might also solve the issue for you. Apple’s iPhone works using its Digital AV Adapter in precisely the same way so that you can hook them up with ease and play all of your videos and stream from apps.

If you’ve got an Android phone meanwhile you could be in luck too. Some older Android phones use the same micro HDMI connection as Android tablets – and then there are apps which could permit you to take control of your TV right from your phone meaning you can do it all straight from your sofa.

Newer top of the line phones such as Samsung Galaxy line and HTC One all have a regular sized HDMI cable, but you’ll need something called an MHL (Mobile High-Definition Link) adapter to connect it. They are again available through trusted online retailers like Amazon, but once it’s plugged in, work the same.
Connect your laptop
Similar to a tablet, you can always plug in your laptop right to your TV to stream web video like a smart TV. Some laptops use a HDMI connection so a standard HDMI cable will do the trick, while other olders will only have a VGA connector (15-pins in three rows) or maybe a DVI connector (29 pins). If your TV doesn’t have either of them, you can aquire an HDMI adaptor for both that’ll share your laptop’s screen to your TV, however, you may need a different audio cable too.

Add Wi-Fi

Many new TVs are “Wi-Fi Ready”, meaning they could be linked to the internet, but you’ll need to purchase another little USB dongle to connect and hook them up to your network. Take a look in the user manual to see if yours is and be sure to search around: you can find discounted prices online, and many accept third party equivalents.
Time to Shop

If you’ve not got any of these, don’t despair: you could make your TV a smart TV using one of many little digital tuners or Android based mini-pc sticks. Google recently released its Chromecast media streamer, priced at $35. Check out our reviews of them all to find out which would be the right one for you.