The Perfect Tablet?

This is a very interesting time in the personal computer landscape. You might even say we are experiencing a Paradigm Shift, the post Laptop age. Mobile computing has been rapidly migrating towards an ever smaller form factor, and right now we are spoiled for choice.

tablets

The Tablet Landscape

The Tablet market is entering its third year with the iPad clearly leading the pack, having sold over 3 million units just on the launch weekend of its third iteration. Apple may have nailed a great combination, quality, size, price and ease of use. This has left the other contenders in a perpetual state of “testing the water”. Most are afraid of getting sued by Apple for imitating a black or white rectangle with similar dimensions so they are left to experiment with different sizes and form factors. There are a myriad of tablets available on the market today from manufacturers like Motorola, HTC, even Blackberry. Samsung has been the boldest in this regard, using an almost shotgun approach to tablet manufacturing. We have 7”, 7.7”, 8.9”, 10.1” Galaxy Tabs sporting Android, and even a hybrid phablet device, the Galaxy Note.

There are currently only a few options available in terms of operating systems, such as the leader, iOS from Apple, followed closely by Android from Google and Blackberry’s QNX in the “Also Ran” category. With limited support potential expected for WebOS from HP (Palm) we can just as well submit it into the annals of Tablet History. As great as these OS’s are, or might be, one day (looking at you Blackberry), they all have the same basic flaw… They’re light weights, intended primarily for media consumption, effectively making these devices little more than tagalongs on our daily digital trek. They’re great for updating your social networks, writing the occasional short email and catching up on your soaps, but lack that little something extra that prevents you from completely untethering from a proper computer. That is, until now.

The Game Changer

Thanks to Samsung’s relentless push into the personal computing market with tablets, laptops and Ultrabooks and pressure from their rivals, like Asus, they have come up with arguably the best answer to this conundrum… The Samsung Series 7 Slate PC.

Samsung-Series-7-Slate-Windows-7-Tablet

This bad boy is packing a real CPU, Intel’s Core i5 at 1.6 GHz and 4 GB of RAM this is arguably the fastest tablet PC on the market today. Sporting an impressive 11.6” wide capacitive touch screen complete with Wacom’s Digitizer technology you’ll be hard pressed to find a similar offering from Android or iOS. What sets this Slate PC apart from its light weight counterparts is that it comes with a full Windows 7 operating system. That means, real programs, real MS Office and real digital freedom.

Soon there will be a real competitor from Microsoft against iOS and Android in the form of Windows 8, or Windows on ARM with the beautifully simplistic and easy to use Metro interface.

windows-8-metro-apps1

I have had the good fortune of getting my hands on the Series 7 Slate and can personally attest to its versatility. As a matter of fact I’m writing this post on it with the optional Bluetooth keyboard and using the pressure sensitive Digitizer is just amazing. Performance wise, this baby cold boots in 18 seconds thanks to the lighting fast SSD. Let me say that again… 18 seconds… that’s faster than the iPad 2, and the Slate is loading a full featured OS, not some watered down mobile OS. The screen is brilliant and I have the brightness set to around 25% as full power would probably give me a tan. On the plus side, Samsung has included some great apps to improve the touch experience on Windows, such as the Swype keyboard. The touch interface is accurate and a pleasure to use. The pressure sensitive Digitizer is perfect for you artsy types and works great with ArtRage and Photoshop.

What could make it better?

Now, is this Slate PC the perfect Tablet? Maybe, but that depends on what you wish to use it for. This is a Laptop replacement. It wont be competing with the iPad on battery life due to the powerhouse processor inside, but it should get you through your day at the office, with the occasional top up on the dock back at your desk. Taking notes with the Digitizer on OneNote or Live Journal is superb with the built in palm rejection. You student types might want to consider this PC instead of an iPad as it will be immensely more useful to you.

So, how can we make this Slate any better? Well, what if I told you that not only will it run full blown Windows programs such as Office, CAD, Photoshop, Counter Strike, StarCraft 2 and more, but when Windows 8 arrives later this year it will open up the whole Metro App world to you as well. What’s this I hear you say? You would miss your other Apps? Well I can’t help you with the tightly controlled iOS Ecosystem but I what if I told you of a way to run Android Apps on your Windows PC, and that incudes running them on this touch enabled Slate PC. Are you interested now? Then allow me to introduce you to BlueStacks App Player.

blue-stacks-logo

They’ve just started handing out Beta invites and I got mine yesterday. To say that their program is impressive would be an understatement. I’m playing Android games and running Android apps directly on my 11.6” Windows Slate PC. So not only do I have the ability to consume media, but also create it, right at my fingertips. Their solution is perfect for integrating your Android based digital life onto your PC, they even have Could Sync to keep your Apps aligned across the different platforms. And as an added bonus, I can now run WhatsApp Messenger on my Desktop.

App Player

Lets Recap

You can now own a full blown Windows Tablet Computer that comes with a Bluetooth Keyboard, a dock and a Digitizer, that’s faster than an iPad and has real multitasking, with a screen format better suited to watching video and can run full programs and one such program allows you to run Android Tablet Apps right on your desktop… So, what more would you want on your checklist of the “Perfect Tablet”

As always your comments would be welcome.

Thinking Outside the Canvas

Many people ask me, “So, What do you do exactly?” and I’m sure the majority of you Xcelsius guys have a fun time explaining it to your non-IT friends. But have you ever asked yourself that question? I am a full time Xcelsius Consultant. I have lived, and breathed this tool for almost 6 years now. It’s more than just a job to me. It allows me to do what I love, be creative and, as I’m sure you know, solve business problems. Visualising data is a rich and rewarding career, but it is the problem solving aspect that drives me to keep at it.

I can confidently say that each and every Xcelsius Developer knows what I mean when I say this, “You sometimes have to think outside the Canvas to get the job done!”

The Challenge

You’re boss or client comes up to you and asks, “Can you do this?” and explains some hair brained thing that he / she wants done. You know the limits of Xcelsius, or at least the generally accepted limits, but you have a trick or two up your sleeve. You know the Functions; you know the true power of what Xcelsius is capable of in the right hands, your hands. Layering components, dynamically assigning colour, using images, directing a carefully choreographed ballet of dynamic visibility, you can do the impossible.

But I digress. What I really want to share with you are some of my experiences in some outside of the canvas thinking. I was working on an Xcelsius dashboard that was to form part of a training tool for a customer and one challenge I faced was creating a Break Even Point  calculator complete with a chart showing the profit and loss zones. Now Xcelsius has a few silly limitations that prevent this chart using the existing components. If you are a skilled Flex developer you can make your own, but I didn’t have that option. I had to work with what the BO-gods gave me.

Click to open dashboard
Click to open dashboard

Let the Games Begin

Using standard components and some images I was able to construct the basic dashboard view and simulation functionality without a problem, but the real challenge came in the form of the BEP Chart.

Break Even Chart

It had to clearly show the Profit and Loss zones and it had to re-act to the simulation inputs. I threw in the BEP dot just because I was in a good mood.

I was provided with the numbers to use and we were to simulate the Forecast values, which at the time was 2010. Next to this table I set up my inputs for the simulation, allowing both input as a % and as a value. This table contains most of the outputs for the rest of the dashboard.

In order to create a BEP chart from the 2010 data I would need to “stretch out” the Volumes and calculate the Revenue and Costs along the way. I decided on 8 data points, took the Simulated Unit Volumes of 7,000 and then calculated the values back to 0 using the following formula [Vol-(Vol/7)].

Calculating the Revenue and Costs was straight forward using the Price per Unit and Variable Price per unit from the Table and just multiplying by the Unit Volumes.

Fix Costs remain Fixed (thinks like rent etc) so I just stretched that across keeping the same value. Total Costs are just a sum of Variable and Fixed Costs.

The Tricky bit was creating the two Zones, three actually as I had to create the white space for them to “rest” on. I used a Stacked Area chart as the base and calculated the zones and the overlap point.

The Loss Zone was the easiest as it is just Total Cost – Revenue (which is used as the White Space). The X-Axis labels are linked to the Unit Volumes Range so as to provide an accurate, changing axis.

The Profit Zone requires some logic to calculate the point where they would overlap; it’s basically just the inverse of the Loss Zone. I get it using =IF(Loss Zone > 0 , 0 , Loss Zone*-1)

The Order is very important, White Space on the bottom, then the Loss Zone and then the Profit Zone. I also needed to leave the Series Name blank for the White Space so it won’t show up on the Legend.

You can set the colours of the three zones to whatever you like, so long as the White Space matches the background underneath – until SAP provides us with the ability to use transparent series like in Excel.

I used the Max function to determine the highest value, slap an extra 1000 on top of that and use it as a manual limit on the Y-Axis. This will be used next when I overlay the Line and Bubble Charts.

After setting up the Stacked Area Chart I was ready to add the Line Chart. This is a bit of Trial and Error to make it fit properly over the other chart. I recommend enabling the Plot Area Border to assist in this process.

Break Even Chart

Since the Stacked Area Chart starts at the Zero Point needed for the BEP Chart it makes sense to use its Axis as the base and align the Line Chart so that the lines start from the Zero Axis.

By disabling almost everything on the Line Chart’s Appearance Tab I could isolate only the features I wanted, namely the Lines and the Legend. I set up the 2 charts so that the Stacked Area Chart has its legend below and the Line Chart’s is to the right.

I repeated the same procedure for the Bubble Chart, but in its case the Plot Borders match up perfectly to the borders on the Stacked Area Chart. I linked the only Series to the Calculated Volume BEP and Revenue BEP in the Table.

The Last bit is to match up all the Chart Axis with the calculated Max Values so all charts would move in step with each other. For this I Linked the Y-Axis to the previously mentioned Max calculation and the Bubble Chart’s X-Axis to the last value in the Unit Volumes (7000). So whenever these values changed, everything changed in-step.

All of the other cosmetic aspects of the Dashboard are up to you as the creator, feel free to look over the Sources and make improvements or ad your recommendations or similar adventures in thinking outside the standard uses. Just Be Creative…

As always, let me know what you think by leaving your comments below.

The Little Wonder

Lets say you want to jump off a bridge, go dirt biking, snorkelling, snowboarding or partake in any other insanely fun but ultimately rough activities. Maybe not rough on you, but what about your equipment (get your mind out of the gutter). Seriously, you would not take your trusty DSLR with you on a bungee jump, would you? Perhaps you would, but I sure wont.

So, what can the avid photographer do to keep on snapping wile walking on the wild side?

Enter the GoPro HD Hero

 

Some of you may have heard of this tough little Point of View (POV) HD camera that can be strapped to your head, chest, wrist, bike, surfboard, paintball gun or lunar excursion module. It promises much, and then over delivers in every regard.

I planned a trip to the Maldives with my wife-to-be and thought to myself, Island Nation, water, sand, boats, sharks and sunscreen… No way was I going to expose my DSLR to unnecessary torture. I decided, while on a weekend trip to Dubai, to go and get a GoPro HD Helmet Hero and while I was there decided to give it a test run on the SkiDubai slope. Apart from a newfound respect for gravity my admiration was also won over by this little wonder. Waterproof (up to 60m / 180’) and shockproof, a much needed quality given that I have never been on snow before and spent more time getting back up than actually going forward.

Stand a chance to win everything GoPro makes, everyday!

Island Style

Out to Sea

Enclosed in its waterproof case I never had any worries about dropping or drowning it. Complete peace of mind while being able to snap away. At the Maldives it proved even more than capable with a 5 megapixel sensor and its f/2.8 wide angle lens capturing more on video underwater than I could see with the naked eye while snorkelling on a cloudy day. Of course the photos were not that good, I blame it on poor lighting and visiting the Maldives during monsoon season.

The Crew

Of course, having a wide angle lens does cause a lot of barrel distortion but that creates a very dramatic feeling of perspective. The camera can be set up to take single pictures, 3 frame bursts as well as every few seconds (2, 5, 10 etc.) leaving your hands free to do other things, like fight off a shark.

Now of course taking pictures is not the only feature of this little power house. It is not called the HD Hero for nothing. It has 5 Video recording modes to complement its photographic capability and this is where it comes into its own.

    • 1080p= 1920×1080 pixels (16:9), 30 fps, 15 Mbit/s data rate, 127º
    • 960p= 1280×960 pixels (4:3), 30 fps, 12 Mbit/s data rate, 170º
    • 720p= 1280×720 pixels (16:9), 60 fps, 15 Mbit/s data rate, 170º
    • 720p= 1280×720 pixels (16:9), 30 fps, 8 Mbit/s data rate, 170º
    • WVGA = 848×480 pixels (16:9), 60 fps, 8 Mbit/s data rate,

The 1080p mode has the lowest angle of view at 127º, more recommended to motorsport whereas the 960p mode is best for capturing tall angles of yourself, surfing or such. The 720p @ 60fps is great if you want to slow the video down. One thing to keep in mind, this little bugger is a memory hog, most modes will chow up around a 100Mb per minute, so be sure to get at least a 16Gb SD card.

Swimming With Turtles

To show you the underwater recording capability of the HD Hero I’ve uploaded a short video (viewable @ 720p) while snorkelling with a turtle on the reef.

Snorkelling with a Turtle in the Maldives

Caveats

There are quite a few people that would have you believe the GoPro is not that great at recording underwater, and when compared to footage taken on dry land on a sunny day I would concur. The main reason cited for this is the use of the Rounded Lens on the protective hard case, this causes extra refraction underwater or something along those lines. The guys at eyeofmine.com has some remedies to overcome this issue with the use of a flat lens. There are also rumours abound that GoPro might launch a flat lens for underwater use in the near future.

Another issue with using the camera underwater is the possibility of the lens fogging up, this is easily remedied with the Anti-Fog Inserts.

Conclusion

The GoPro HD Hero is arguably the best POV HD camera you can buy. It has so much to offer, great photos, superb HD video capable of rivalling cameras at 10 times its price, all in a neat little package. There are also many accessories you can buy from GoPro, such as the LCD BacPac, Suction Cup Mount and the Floaty Backdoor if you consider yourself a bit of a butterfingers near water.

Overall, I would definitely recommend buying this camera. It is so versatile that you will be asking yourself, “What other crazy s#!t can I do with it?”

Under Pressure

Par for the course really. How often do you get told the deadline is tight and cannot be shifted as the media slot has been booked?

When I was told I had 2 weeks to develop the Careers24.com Salary Survey Results Dashboard I thought to myself, “no problem”. The stats guy had 4 weeks to do his thing and I needed to supply him with my data requirements.

The client contact person came from a project management background and as such she nearly exploded when the data guy came with one excuse after the other for being late. First the data quality was bad because they added the dreaded “Other” field to the survey. This caused most participants to just type in their jobs instead of looking for them on the list. So he had to manually go through 20,000+ records to fix this.
That wasn’t the end of it, his second excuse for not being on time was that his computer was hit by lightning. This meant that while I could do the foundation work on the dashboard I couldn’t integrate the data. We were not sure if he could deliver the aggregated data in the format I required.

Crunch Time

So instead of having 2 weeks to develop the dashboard I had 1. Just 1 week to design, populate and test. There was no turning back, I had to deliver and deliver I did.
Squeezing 2 weeks into 1, working round the clock. I had to use Skype and email to communicate. PowerPoint slides with screenshots and annotations were sent back and forth, long hours on the phone and then, right as the client was about to crack I pulled through. The dashboard was finished.

I delivered in 1 week what the previous year’s flash developer took 3 months to do. The client didn’t believe me at the start that Xcelsius could deliver on my promises but it did. I had saved the day and the launch party was a blast.

Using Xcelsius 2008 I could deliver all but one of their requests, I could not display values above the bars of the charts. Now as of SP3 I can 🙂

Lessons learned

If you think you can’t, you usually can.
Time can slow down given enough Redbull.
Being a report developer can be quite exciting.
Pressure can turn a lump of coal into a diamond.

SLR Community

Camera Nikon D5000 and KIT Photographic Lens.

Image via Wikipedia

So I recently decided it was time to get a proper camera. My old FujiFinepix S5600 had served me well for 5 years but the 5.1MP and single fixed lens option was getting a bit dated.

So I found a good deal on a Nikon D5000 with a 18-55mm VR and 55-200mm VR lens kit. This is one of the top recommended SLR’s by Ken Rockwell. Basically a D90 in a D60 body. I couldn’t be happier. Read some guides, played with the settings and I was off.

Community

But enough about my excitement. I was soon to discover a phenomenon that I can only describe as the SLR Community.

Have you ever sat around with a simple point and shoot digital camera in a public place? Fun isn’t it… People come over spontaneously to ask you about it? Wanting to share their own experiences or photos? Didn’t think so. Now try the same thing with a DSLR. All of a sudden you look like a professional, even if you are just into photography as a hobby. Now people are interested in you, most of the time it will be fellow SLR owners.

This has been my recent experience. I have only had my D5000 for a month and I have already met quite a few fellow photographers, mostly through just taking my camera out of its bag.

4x4 in Riyadh

I’ll give you an example. We had gone 4×4 Dune Bashing just outside Riyadh (Saudi Arabia) for the day and were lounging about in the hotel lobby. We took out our cameras and were comparing some pictures when out of nowhere we were approached by an Asian-American gentleman named Cliff. He had noticed we were playing with our cameras and as a fellow SLR owner he came over to join the festivities. We talked about our cameras, our lenses, our photos. He even took out his iPad to show us some of his shots. I, as a newcomer to SLR and Lenses, learned quite a bit that night and was even able to teach someone a new trick too. We had great fun, all because of a simple little ice breaker which is the SLR camera. It gave us the common ground needed.

While travelling through Dubai Terminal 3 I came across fellow photography enthusiasts all huddling around the camera display. I was very happy at being able to assist someone in buying his first DSLR. Not wanting something too professional but needing something with a bit of a zoom to take snaps of his friends while surfing I recommended a D3000 with 18-55mm and 70-300mm kit. However the shop was being idiotic. The 70-300mm lens was not AF-S so it would not auto focus with the D3000, what a shame, so he settled on a Canon kit instead. I wish him many happy snaps of cool waves.

Conclusion

So, I was quite pleasantly surprised to learn that not only did I buy a great SLR camera, I had bought my way into a global community of like minded individuals all eager to share their pictures and experience. Another thing I learned about myself is that now I want an iPad too.

Do you have any interesting stories of how your camera made you some new friends? If so, please feel free to share it with us by leaving a comment.

Colours and Performance

What makes a Guru? Is it a person that already knows everything on a subject?

I believe it is someone who knows that they do not know everything and is still willing to explore and discover. As I have learned. We’re all quite used to using the RAG / Red Yellow Green / Traffic light approach to performance, but what happens when that fails?

History

SC1

A few years back I was part of a 3 man team involved in a Dashboard development for the Executive Committee of a mine in southern Africa. I was wise in the ways of visualising data, I knew Xcelsius inside out, I could deliver anything they asked for and more. I spent long hours designing and developing numerous different dashboards, from Strategy Scorecards to SHE reports. The main dashboard was the Scorecard and all other dashboards would be accessible from it. The Project Champion (member of Exco) was thrilled with what we delivered, he then presented to the rest of the Exco team…

SC2

The Problem

They loved it, but there was a major issue. 2 Members couldn’t see the KPI performance clearly… Wait what? Our scope was to build the dashboard with large text so the old guys in the back could follow… We couldn’t understand, what had we done wrong? He then continued to explain why, as he himself only just discovered the reason. 2 Members of the 8 man Exco team was colour blind.

This was the first time in my Dashboard Development career that I had come across this particular hurdle. As it turns out, colour blindness is more common than I originally thought, and it’s not as the myth goes, only men that are colour blind.

colour-blindness.com Men Woman
Red-green 7% to 10%
Monochromacy 0.00001% 0.00001%
Dichromacy 2.4% 0.03%
Anomalous Trichromacy 6.3% 0.37%

Visit the Colour Scheme Generator and use the Vision Simulation to see how colour blind people see different colours.

So now we were faced with an interesting problem, since performance is generally displayed as Green – Good / Red – Bad. We needed to come up with a solution and re-present the next day. I thought about it, and the solution was quite simple. We would introduce different shapes along with the performance colours.

The Solution

As we were using a XY Chart (No Scorecard component back in those days, you whipper snappers have it easy) to show the performance all we needed to do was create a copy and change the shapes, slap in a toggle and Bob’s your uncle.

SC3

After presenting the revised Scorecard to the Exco team everyone was happy. This was an interesting lesson to learn and one that I have carried with me for the last couple of years. It has served me well.

My advice to you as my fellow Xcelsius developers is as follows; In the design session with your client raise the subject of colour blindness with relation to performance colours and address the problem before it becomes a problem.

Further more, head over to colour-blindness.com and take the fun Ishihara Test for Color Blindness and the Color Arrangement Test.

Please share your experiences by leaving a comment…

Travel Safely With Your Camera

Westminster & Big Ben

So you’ve decided to travel to a new destination and, as the avid photographer you are, you don’t want to leave home without your snapper by your side. That’s understandable. You might only want to capture some memories of your trip or you might be more of an artist in which case you’d like to go out and find that special photo to hang in your gallery (wall). Who ever you may be or what ever the reason you might have for taking your camera along on a trip, holiday or business, there are some common safety tips you should know.

The simple ones are really no-brainers as you will probably cling to your baby like you wouldn’t even cling to your wallet. So I won’t even go into that, you know how to keep your DSLR safe. The rest of the general tips would probably be the same for any traveller; Right plugs, chargers etc. You know the drill and if you don’t then Google it.

Camera Bag

You have a good bag, don’t you? If not I would recommend the Lowepro SlingShot 102 AW. It’s a comfortable and versatile medium sized bag with enough space for every thing you might need. Plus your camera is easily accessible without needing to remove the bag from your shoulder.

Lowepro 102AW 2 Lowepro 102AW

Lenses

I agree with Ken Rockwell’s recommendation of the fewer lenses you lug around the better. Not only does it save on space and weight but also keeps from distracting you from taking good pictures. On my recent trip to the UK all I took along was my new D5000 and 18-55mm VR lens. Nice and compact, no need to change lenses the whole time so I could just shoot, 740 pics in total. Less is indeed more.

Bubbles

Airlines

Important point to consider if you will be flying to your destination is the Airline’s carry-on limitations. I was really upset to find out that that the Bags I had no problem with in South Africa was too heavy in the UK. Emirates has a 2 Bag 7Kg (14lb) limit in economy class. That limit is not per bag, that’s combined weight. I mean my Laptop and charger alone weigh that about that much. You have been warned. A good tip is to be nice to the person behind the counter and let them know that you have sensitive and more importantly expensive equipment.

The Law

This is the most important point I want to get across. Now you might be a person from a country where you take liberty and freedom for granted, well I have a bit of a wake up call for you. In some countries you can end up in jail for pointing your camera in the wrong direction. Do your homework. Seriously, this is important. I recently started working on contract in Saudi Arabia and here you are not allowed to photograph buildings that “might” be governmental or people (especially women). So anywhere you pull out your camera you need to ask the permission of anyone who might be in your shot. Seriously, even the newspapers blur out faces. In the shops you will find that all pictures of women on imported products are scratched out. Don’t be an idiot as ignorance might not get you off the hook and you could get up being detained for a long time. Google for photography / camera and the country you are visiting. Look up the country on WikiTravel, just be smart and research the areas you will visit, not only might it save your skin, but might also give you good tips of what to see and shoot.

Be smart, be wise and be careful. Get out there and snap a good one. Good luck on your trips.

Got some tips of your own? Please post them below.