Posts Tagged ‘AT&T’

Contextual Communications Management – Do Away with I/O Overload!

February 18, 2013

I have been “cooking” this idea since about 2006. There was a day “in the day” when my ability to manage intrusive communications was obviously nil – a day of epiphany. On one miserable day, I was overwhelmed:

  • four meetings occupying more than 6 1/2 hours of the day;
  • more than 40 telephone calls to four phone numbers that I answered;
  • more than 40 voicemail messages on five messaging systems;
  • more than 250 e-mails sent to six addresses;
  • no complete record of calls I missed…

My clients were frustrated. I was frustrated.

I really faced three dilemmas:

  1. No Prioritization – the priority of one call was almost indistinguishable from the next unless I knew something related to the ID of the caller (if I even glanced at the Caller ID – if the ID was even displayed);
  2. No Integration – 15 separate communications portals…
  3. No Local Context – my telephone services interrupted my meetings as though every incoming call was more important than the meeting I was in (and some were).

I need only the sufficiently important communications right away – in only one stream – from any service – directed to any device – anywhere in the world I happen to be – with zero effort – without unnecessary distraction – all prioritized, summarized and logged. I call this concept Contextual Communications Management.

Since about 2008, I have been embarked on a campaign to influence AT&T, Apple and Google with features that will help me wrestle with the overwhelming communications environment I work in. I write letters, make phone calls, write white papers, draw pictures – anything that has a bit of promise to find implementations in AT&T, Apple and Google products and services.

Here is a simple process flow for incoming calls and voicemail messages to begin solving my problem (click for a higher res image):

Incoming Calls and Messages Managed

At first glance, I get two remarks from people – either “Huh?” or “Duh…” Either puzzlement or a brush-off as obvious. For any incoming call, I want to reject it (block it) if it will waste my time. If I don’t reject the call, I want to redirect it (forward it) if another person is a better resource to answer the call. If I don’t redirect the call, I want to ignore it for the time being (let the caller leave a message) if my present activity is more important. I want to answer the call if it is the best use of my time at the moment.

But it’s not obvious how to make the decision that the incoming call is the best use of my time. Let’s “peel the onion” just a bit. If you know the person calling or e-mailing or messaging, there is a basis to prioritize the call. Here is an example of that basis (again, click for higher res):

Who-Basis for PrioritizationIt’s not that complicated – my address book on my Mac has a category for “Priority” that I added long ago of Privileged (AT&T calls White-Listed; Apple calls VIP – their responses to my proposals), High, Medium, Low, Unknown or Denied (black-listed). Recognize the White List and Black List concepts from my Robocaller Blocker? Yup! My “RoboBlaster” focusses on identifying and blocking the lowest priority callers.

This just scratches the surface of Contextual Computing – utilizing the context of Who, What, When and Where to make automated decisions about communications, tasks, activities, collaboration and the presentation of information in the user environment.  A clever app will stop my phone from ringing in a meeting unless the caller has a higher priority than the meeting does. Get it? It’s not complicated, but that clever app will be! How to integrate all devices and services? That’s another problem I am writing about right now.

Look for my book on Contextual Computing at Amazon.com soon.  I’ll be sure to let you know how to order it when it is available.

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AT&T U-verse Video – Doing Better!

November 18, 2012

About two years ago, I started to badger AT&T about their lacking elements for U-verse Video service… I wanted “everything everywhere.” Anything that came to me through the set top box should come to my cellphone and my desktop computer.

Did you notice the welcome online changes on November 1? I did…

After months (years) of e-mail with use cases and user interface design submissions and critiques back and forth, I saw my ideas put into practice. Almost everything I asked for was delivered – everything except a simple channel list to click on to watch what is playing on a channel right now. They did a nice navigation window to see what is scheduled, didn’t they? Some channels stream live to my desktop computer – most channels show the latest episode of most every program. Added to that is the Hulu-Plus library on demand that has been in place for quite some time, now. This is not bad. At some point, every channel will stream current programming to the desktop – just you wait.

So, I’m tickled pink!  They listened!  And they are following through! For now, though, you still need that darn set top box…

Where Next for My PC

August 25, 2010

I have been pondering this for quite some time:

Where is the PC going, and what substantial changes are likely for the operating system and for productivity software?

Keywords here for all of us: cloud, mobility and context.

Lately, Apple and Mac media has been asking, “What is Apple doing for Mac OSX 10.7? …for IOS 5?  Lately, Windows 7 has received some deservedly good press, and I wonder what is in store for Windows 8… Lately, there has been a lot of talk in the tech media about “thin clients” and “cloud apps” in lieu of locally executed productivity applications running on a “screamer” desktop PC. Hmmm… So, where is all this going? Well, I’ll tell you!

Minimal Local Storage – no petabytes, and probably not even terabytes. Here, the thin client pundits probably are on to something, but I don’t think they see the forrest for the trees just yet. What storage resources you have locally may really need to be quite small if you can utilize many devices and servers. The real evolution I expect to see will be with the file system…

Distributed File System – a combination of NAS and SAN functions with a substantial layer of security. I may have a folder of documents stored physically anywhere – on an Apple server, a Microsoft server, an AT&T server, a Google server, a Yahoo server, on my desktop hard drive, in flash in my iPhone – anywhere, and I don’t want to need to know where.

  • I need to be able to have instant access to my document files anywhere and anytime.
  • I need to be sure that I have exclusive access to my files.
  • I need to be sure that all my files are strongly encrypted to keep the server owner honest and to defeat the likely hacker.
  • I need to be able to share any file with anyone I designate.
  • I need to be able to define the organization of my documents and folders of documents without regard to the physical location of a file.
  • I need to have the same file organization presented to me regardless of which physical computing device I am using.
  • I need to be able to access certain files even when a local device is turned off or is not at hand (multiple device aware).
  • I need to be able to access certain files even in the event of a local computer failure (locally fault-tolerant).
  • I need to be able to access certain files even in the event of a remote server failure (remote fault-tolerant).
  • I need to be able to access certain files even in the event a network failure (network fault-tolerant).

Gesture-Based User Input System – gestures, but not necessarily touch or mouse. Here, I think that Apple is right on track. Mouse behavior has been exquisitely refined, touch interfaces are being diligently defined, cameras are being built into every display device. The next step is to extend type, point, click, touch and swipe to arbitrary surfaces and new hand gestures in the air. Any time, now… I’m waiting…

Agile Display System – my display “desktop” moves with me to the best display system that I have access to at any moment.  As I move from room to room, building to building or city to city, I want my work and my display desktop to follow me and be visible to me on the best display device I have access to wherever I am seamlessly and instantly at my command – with a gesture of some sort to cue and command the device and use it.

Contextual Environment Anticipates My Needs – community-aware, activity-aware, time-of-day-aware and location-aware. Who am I with with right now and who I am meeting with later in the day, what I was just doing and what is scheduled next on my calendar and what is queued on my To-Do List, what the time of day is and what do I usually do at this time of day and what is scheduled next, where am I now and where am I going next – all this has a direct bearing on what I want to do with my computer right now! I want my computer to anticipate my every move. This is a BIG effort to complete.

Unobtrusive Automatic Refinement – settings to accommodate the “cloud”, mobility and context should change automatically based upon limitations and failures encountered, additions to my community, appearances of new devices and services, and new collaborations.

Identification – this is key to secure sharing and hacker warfare. If your credentials are unknown, you don’t get in. How to assemble a set of trusted credentials? How to verify them unobtrusively? How to manage and maintain them? How to revoke them? How to detect spoofing and challenge the credential? Well, that requires some finesse, new standards and some user education.

If you ask me, this sounds like another decade of significant opportunity in this industry’s products and services – and a tremendous life cycle extension for the PC and its OS and applications.

The “Good Old Days” were… Good!

May 29, 2009

A few days ago, I was chatting with a neighbor who asked what my first real job was. Thinking 35 or so years back put me in the “good old days”…

I was a lab technician with a highly regarded communications equipment manufacturer called Collins Radio Company. If you were skilled and passionate like me working in the telecom industry in the early ’70’s, there were two premium employers on the radar screen among a field of many fine and notable companies: AT&T’s Bell Labs and Collins Radio Company. These companies were globally the most highly regarded in the industry on the service provider side and the manufacturing side respectively. They were innovative and engaged in some exotic endeavors. These two companies employed the “cream of the crop”. Work was exciting, and the people that I worked with at Collins (later a division of Rockwell International, and later a part of Alcatel) were dedicated and passionate just like I was. I worked in the same cluster of buildings with many of the same terrific people for about 20 years. I still have my old Collins “meatball” employee badge in a very special place.  

My coworkers and I were encouraged to come to the lab after hours in those days to “play” with anything that piqued our interests. I suspect that a goodly number of my coworkers preferred the lab to home… We built ham radio gear and satellite video receivers (out of some parts that Collins surely had paid for), and we worked on pet projects that were officially unfunded but somehow vital for something important – we played with the very newest cutting edge components available that manufacturers had sampled to our lab – we experimented with new assembly and manufacturing techniques, some of which crept into the factory over time – that factory was right outside of our lab’s large interior door. This was a “hoppin’ place” on many a’ Friday night, littered with fast food wrappers, and abuzz with excitement and camaraderie until the wee hours, and for some until sunrise. This was our own unique “skunk works” culture. The ’70’s were “heady times” for me that I still fondly recall.

When I show up at a client location today, I bring “passion” with me – it’s infectious. I try to “infect” as many people as I can! In a tech industry, I think that passion assures ongoing technical competency, fosters innovation and risk taking, and provides a compelling non-monetary reward system. Passion is an intangible that is hard to tally and put on a balance sheet. But, I tell you, it is essential to have passion if you are to be a leader in a crowd. It may be an even more important a factor of success today than it was in the “good old days”.

Those “good old days” were indeed good. I am highly curious what will make young people entering the workforce today regard this day among their “good old days” as they get older and mature in their careers… I hope that they have “good old days”, too.

U-verse runs Windows in the Set Top Box…

May 26, 2009

What a surprise – AT&T has put a Microsoft Windows product in my home… Well, that really shouldn’t have been a surprise. In my job, I have had some foreknowledge about AT&T U-verse service, and I knew that Microsoft was the major software supplier for the U-verse service offering. I didn’t know some of the “finer” details, though – not until I had some problems… 

AT&T U-verse service is a pure digital service. The video service is an IPTV over VDSL implementation that employs the standard AVC/H.264 codec in a set top box. I am a new U-verse customer this month! I am currently quite satisfied with U-verse and give it a “Rave” thumbs-up. The service had some initial hiccups, and the service techs who responded were happy to let me look (and look closely) over their shoulders. 

Calls to U-verse technical support were answered by folk in the Philippines who were polite and patient, and they all spoke English excellently. But none had any real technical knowledge aside from what their computer help screens told them. The first troubleshooting steps: restart the set top box, then power cycle the set top box, then power cycle the gateway box. I am thinking to myself that this is how I do battle with Microsoft Windows… And then it hit me – maybe the set top box IS running Windows – huh… Sure enough, a quick check of the System Information screen from the set top box shows it to be running Microsoft Windows CE 5.0. That should not have been a surprise to me, but it was. 

More surprises. The service was initially quite unreliable. After a short period of time (10 to 30 minutes) audio would begin to stutter and video would suffer pixelation defects and momentary image freezes until the stream was lost and I was left with a static image and an unresponsive set top box. The local service techs who were dispatched to my home can query the NOC and my residential gateway from their laptops, and they can see all the fault and performance monitoring statistics associated with my service. The NOC compiles the PM primitives and parameters that I helped to define many years ago at ITU-T and ANSI from the cabinet at the curb: ES, SES, UAS, LOSS, LOFS etc. The gateway box compiles CV and FEC counts and a host of other statistics. It was not clear what the standard for the FEC feature was – G.993.1 (2004/06) defines a VDSL FEC strategy, and I presume that it is employed with a low redundancy value or 2 or 4 by AT&T. G.775 (I participated in the drafting of this standard at ITU-T some years ago – it was fun!) with the “famous” annex provides a huge variety of alternative FEC strategies to employ – hardly a standard… I would be curious to know more about what AT&T is really doing for FEC in the U-verse TV service. 

I am happy to report that my U-verse service is currently stable and working very well for me, now – for almost exactly one week – with 2 ES, 0 SES, 0 UAS, 2700 corrected blocks and 7 uncorrectable blocks. I would like to see 0 uncorrectable blocks, though…

This was really quality time for me with the service techs. I am looking forward to my next service failure!

[Poster’s note: Windows, Windows CE and U-verse are trademarked products and services of Microsoft and AT&T respectively.]