Friday, December 26, 2014

How "The Interview" hack helped Google show off its capabilities

As 2014 draws to a close, "The Interview" became the most talked about movie of the year.  While many people may have otherwise ignored the Seth Rogen low-brow comedy, the Sony hack made it a must-watch movie.

An unexpected fall out the event was the release of the movie on online platforms after several theater chains refused to show the movie due to safety concerns.

For Google agreeing to show the movie was probably a risk-reward proposition.  Clearly there was some risk of cyberattacks, and of not being able to provide a smooth experience for what was expected to be a massive demand.  The potential reward was to expose the audience to a somewhat less used path for accessing movies and for providing producers with one more option to release content.

While several of the online sites had some problems, it appears that Google came out unscathed providing a very smooth experience.  In our case, with a large number of people in the house over the holidays and everything closed for Christmas, we bowed to popular opinion and decided to watch the movie. It was a completely seamless experience.  The fact that this experience involved using several devices and apps made it even more remarkable.

Let me describe the steps I took to access the movie.  There are many options, and there may be much simpler ones depending on your devices and platforms.

  1. We have an LG SmartTV
  2. A Chromecast device
  3. iPhone 5
  4. Win 8.1 Surface device.
So this is how we connected
  1. On the Surface went to Google Play and used Google Wallet to rent the movie.  Once rented, you have to start viewing within 30 days and once started, complete watching within 48 hours
  2. On the iPhone, installed the Google Play for Movies and TV app
  3. As soon as I logged into it, the movie I had purchased in step 1 showed up in My Movies
  4. Start the movie and chromecasted it to the TV
The whole thing worked without a single hitch.  The quality of the stream was superb and there was no issue with loading, buffering etc for the HD version.  
At the end of the day I was impressed at how well it worked and once set up the technology was invisible, and everyone could focus on the movie uninterrupted.  

It is quite possible that more people will be open to using Google Play to watch movies and TV shows.  The great thing is that you can go to a friend's place and start chromecast movies from your library easily.  

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Still waiting for your Gmail Inbox invite? - Make your Outlook work like the Gmail Inbox!

The new "Inbox by Gmail" is a terrific way to help manage your email. For a long time, we have known how to do this but Inbox is designed to support that workflow.

What is the workflow?

  • Do not open a message unless you are ready to work on it
  • Do not close a message without doing something with it
  • Use the following 4D actions
    • Delete it
    • Defer it
    • Delegate it
    • Do it 
The problem with traditional emails is that we often cannot decide whether we need to keep an e-mail or delete it and this means we err on the side of caution and not delete the email.  This leads to a huge list of opened messages in the inbox causing a lot of stress.

How does the Inbox handle this?

It has tools for each of these actions.
Thus you can do what is needed and "done" the message
Or you can snooze the message and thus defer it
Or you can forward the message (like any email client) and thus delegate it
But the best part is that you can pin the message - which leaves it in the Inbox.
If you Done a message, it is not deleted but archived and thus you don't have to agonize over this delete/don't delete decision.  You can "Done" a message with confidence knowing you can find it again if needed using the Gmail search.

I love the inbox workflow and managed to clean up my entire gmail with this tool very quickly!
Completely Empty Gmail Inbox!

If you use Outlook as your enterprise e-mail client you can do all these things and set up the right workflow.

The key step is: Create a "Search Folder" that is for mail that is "Unread or Marked for Follow up"

This is your default view of the inbox.
You can do all the key actions as follows:

  • Delete it - delete the email if you wont need it again
  • Defer it - use a flag and by right clicking it set it for appropriate time in future
  • Delegate it - forward to someone (or change to task for that person)
  • Do it - as usual
  • Pin it - when you flag a message it will be pinned in this Search folder view
  • If you open a message and do nothing - it is equivalent to "done" as it will drop out of the "Search Folder" view and still be available by searching the inbox.
  • You can drag a message to the calendar if you want to convert to a calendar appointment (Which you can't do yet with the Gmail Inbox)
For me at least this method really works and keeps the most important messages in my default view and keeps me organized.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Share your availability for specific dates to meeting organizer (Applies to Microsoft Outlook)

Do you ever get an e-mail from someone who is trying to arrange a meeting/conference call with multiple people who are at different organizations or institutions?  It often goes something like this, "Can you give me your availability for these dates or date range?"

If they were within your organization, you would just tell them to schedule using your Enterprise Microsoft Outlook.  Often people are unaware that they can schedule meetings like this, or are hesitant to do so.  They may also be uncertain if your Outlook calendar is up to date.

But what if the person organizing the meeting or conference call does not have access to your Outlook calendar?  They may use a variety of tools like Doodle or Calendly etc but these require you a follow a link and fill out multiple check boxes while viewing your calendar in another window.  Quite painful and time-consuming.  You have a couple of easier options:
  • Publish your Outlook calendar to the Web or
  • Sync it with a Google Calendar that you can share with someone
But both these options may have security or privacy risks particularly if you put sensitive information into your calendar or work at a health care facility and have to abide by HIPAA Privacy rules.

e-mail your calendar

A simple option for this problem is to e-mail your availability for the specific date range using the Outlook e-mail calendar functionality.  This is super simple and something folks may not be aware of.  The steps are explained here by Microsoft.  

The recipient gets an e-mail that looks like this:

Try it the next time you get a message asking for your availability.  It will save you a lot of email and phone tag and your colleagues will appreciate it.

The main risk is that if they don't schedule something soon, the calendar you sent them might be out of date.