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Toying around with Google Analytics 360 Suite February 19, 2018

Posted by Steven in In-Media, The-Web.
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Today I followed up on a long standing to-do on my list. For a couple of personal projects I use smaller German and American web platform providers. The projects are really small – like your neighborhood cooking bloc or the like – so there is not much traffic and I look at basic built-in statistic tools. Like aw-stats.

What I’ve done now: Cleaned it up nicely, set up an organization in the Google Analytics Platform. Hooked up the respective Google+ profile to make it look nicely (cool feature). Confirmed the domain ownership and created a nice Analytics account and property structure. And in the end I connected the Google Search Console data to Analytics.

The whole Analytics suite is rather impressive. The setup went smoothly and transparently. The UI is clean but powerful. Tracking works in real time – which is also rather impressive as you see marks on a map come in after just very few setup steps.

I must say it’s worth exploring further.

https://www.google.com/analytics/360-suite/

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Google giving away HDR images under CC license February 14, 2018

Posted by Steven in In-Media, The-Web.
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Google is giving away a huge package of single shots and combined/calculated images as HDR photos. The package is intended for machine learning and reasearch applications but the license is quite open so other uses are legally possible.

Here are a couple of important links if you would like to learn more:

working excel: how to find employees, reporting to someone in a flat and non-descript hierarchy February 12, 2018

Posted by Steven in The-Web, Work-related.
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Excel got me excited today. This rarely happens so I thought I would share my excitement and my learnings about this great and simple data crunching tool.

The Problem

It’s actually not so hard to explain: Imagine you have an spreadsheet list of employees (so far so good) and in columns further down the hierarchical reporting line of these employees is shown. So in the very simple example (filled with totally randomly generated data!) – column A shows the employees email address and column B the direct boss. Column C would contain his boss’s boss and so on.

As outlined in the above picture the relationships between the bosses levels are non-descript. Meaning that boss “Jon Doe” can appear on the first boss level or on the third and so on. I.e. it’s not clear from the data how the hierarchy works in every case it is just given in these columns on an per employee basis.

Now the core of the problem would be: Imagine you would be given a list of 5 bosses. Now we need to develop a nice and efficient report on this spreadsheet data, which shows all employees reporting in any hierarchical way (i.e. through bosses in the middle) to these 5 bosses. How do we do that (again remember – each of these 5 bosses could show up anywhere in column B, C or D)?

Building Blocks of the Solution

  • First of all I’d like to mention once again: This is sample data (i.e. I went to a place called randomlists.com and generated data)
  • I inserted a real table into the Excel spreadsheet (this makes relative cell links more readable and so on)
  • In order to make later steps like the pivot step work nicely I’ve inserted an artificial name counter (a column filled with 1)

Key steps to build the solution:

  • Do a string addition of all the bosses (just add up the boss-strings to one bigger string)  (my formula: =[@BossLv1]&”,”&[@BossLv2]&”,”&[@BossLv3] )
  • Make sure you can search for the relevant bosses in the hierarchy. I did this with a kind of parameter and an if clause that marks the boss I’m looking for (again this may seem strange but it helps in one of the next steps when it comes to the pivot)  (my formula:   =IF(ISNUMBER(FIND($I$3;[@AddedString];1));”Analysis Found”;”no”)  )
    • Note that in the above you need to catch the number with ISNUMBER otherwise the find function doesn’t help if something is not found.
  • Insert a Pivot. Define the Row data to show the added string of bosses and the users that show up in these string-added-hierarchies. Set a parameter on top of it to only show the boss you’re looking for (AnalysisFound flag is the parameter). And Add up the counter field in the Value section of your pivot.
  • Voila that’s it: and if you now change your analysis boss and refresh the pivot it shows you exactly how many users are attached to a particular boss’s hierarchy

I’ve attached my sample:  Test-pivot01 :-)

spotted Figma February 6, 2018

Posted by Steven in The-Web.
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Very much in line with previous reporting and tipps (i.e. Tipps for UI design; and entrepreneur links) I found another cool tool.

Figma.

Figma is an online and online-collaborative design tool. As such it draws inspiration from inVision. It looks sleek and very minimalistic. Also check out their sleek and dynamic error page: 404.

Wonder workshop cue and learn to code with Blockly January 11, 2018

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Here is a little neat thing I picked up via this year’s CES.

Apparently there is a huge movement (which I’ve kind-of missed) which tries to make coding more accessible. That is a great idea. AI and robotics is everywhere and the skills we need to learn is how to make these technologies work and how to code for our new robot friends and so on.

So two things I read about yesterday: A neat toy which seems really great and really good for teaching kids how to code and a framework or kind-of graphical language which makes it easy to learn and understanding what a programming language is and how to make simple software.

Wonder Workshop cue

cue is the toy robot your kids may want. It is a neat little gadget which you can customize physically and via elaborate software. It can talk to you with several different personalities and you can play games with it as well as teach it new things to do. All the demos I’ve seen looked amazing.

I hope eventually toys like this – triggering coding skills – will become the new ‘Lego’ of our time. Allowing kids to experiment, get closer to coding skills and enabling them to build cool stuff.

https://www.makewonder.com/cue_the_cleverbot

Google Blockly

What is Blockly: in my own words – it is a Google project (open source) which gives you a framework for using visual blocks as a kind-of programming language. In other words it is an easy to learn and purely visual thing which let’s you code or understand code more easily. It is not easy to explain :-) but I would really encourage you to try out some Blockly things.

I started with Googles Blockly Games. A set of playful missions which you need to solve using Blockly “code”. It’s fun and really teaches you how ot use the Blockly blocks.

https://developers.google.com/blockly/

Free stock photo services (royalty free – free use license model) January 11, 2018

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I am involved in a couple of website projects at the moment. One thing I always tell my customers is: An excellent site needs excellent photos. And I usually recommend talking about the structure and goals of the website first and then directly sketch out where to get the media (i.e. collaborate with a photographer or studio).

In many cases or for smaller more experimental projects you may want to search or suggest good stock imagery.

If everything needs to be real fast then here is a list of services / providers which let you download photos for free (commercial) use. To be clear they all provide royalty free images with a nice flexible free (i.e. CC0) license.

  • Pixabay
    That was my original suggestion. A big site offering free photos under a flexible license. Search is decent but the selection can be generic and a bit out-dated at times. Nevertheless a good place to get started.
    https://pixabay.com/
  • Pexels
    This was fairly new for me. I discovered, that the new WordPress editor gives you a Pexel photo search right within the media dialogue. I jumped to their website and I must say it’s a good service. As far as I see it uses standard public domain CC0 license and provides a ton of free and up to date images (for example this sweet happy 2018 graphic).
    https://www.pexels.com/
  • Death to Stock
    This is an interesting one – I actually found out via a Wired article. It is basically a window to a more broad design community and service. How it works? You sign up and then you get a monthly link with 10 stock photos for download. The service tries to bundle images according to topics and tries to give artists a platform and also tries to draw in the customers to seek more images from these artists or get more involved in other services. The images are great, very modern, very unique and high quality in my view.
    https://deathtothestockphoto.com/
  • Pixelio
    This one seems a bit old school and maybe focusing on the German market. Nevertheless it’s a nice little database of good and slightly quirky individual images. It seems there are two licences around one editorial use and one editorial and commercial use.
    https://www.pixelio.de/

Link Collection Jan 2018 – Entrepreneurship January 11, 2018

Posted by Steven in The-Web.
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Entrepreneurship-E-v10I’ve just bumped into a great colleague and after we finished our work business we started discussing some entrepreneurial stuff. And I was really wowed by some of the details I’ve learned.

For example he tells me that you can now just open an American incorporated with a flat fee (kind of an all inclusive service to set up your internet business based in the U.S. – brought to us from the fabulous people of stripe). While I have not looked into the proposition and the processes in detail, I must say it sounds like a great idea. For entrepreneurs who just want to get started and work on their idea this sounds like a good and hassle free point to start.

Another input from our little chat – which I cannot stress enough – is how amazed are we about the ways modern little companies make things work. People are located all over the globe and using clever technologies and clever cloud based tools people are seamlessly working together. A couple of links from my notes below:

  • Proto.io a nice little Invision alternative i.e. a cloud based tool that lets you create user interfaces and wireframes. P.S. they have a cute blog as well.
    https://proto.io/
  • Stripe Atlas – that is this all inclusive “inc” service I’ve mentioned above. A nice little service from the makers of one of the internet’s favorite payment solutions (stripe).
    https://stripe.com/atlas
  • If people are really interested in opening their new company then people may be thinking.. well an American “inc” may be too much – and I want to support my local European crowd. So even for this line of thinking there may be a solution: E-Estonia: The electronic citizenship product of Estonia.
    https://e-estonia.com/
  • Then let’s shift gears a bit: Say you’ve successfully launched your company and you have a fabulous idea. Now it’s time to crack on – push down the gas pedal as my boss said. So you may want to hire experts / expert workers to help with your project. So here is an easy to use portal to hire freelance workers:
    https://www.upwork.com/
  • Even using such a platform may be too much work. Maybe you just want to talk about your thing and not deal with individual people & freelancers. So even for that our beloved internet built a solution: Yeeply. You tell them what you want and they take care who to hire when and so on.
    https://en.yeeply.com/
  • And if you would be in the engineering / development business of apps or digital solutions you may need a lot of developer tools. One interesting proposition is the startup Gradle.
    https://gradle.org/

Note: I’ve frequently written about services for entrepreneurs – i.e. see this post here.

Add-on: Video Conferencing Services January 10, 2018

Posted by Steven in In-Media, Innovation.
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Here comes a quick add-on:

A while ago I wrote about appear.in a free video conferencing and screen sharing service. I do have strong sympathetic feelings for these kind of startup stories. But when I actually used appear.in in my line of work (some month ago) I believe we conferenced more than 4 people together. Now when I read the details again it occurred to me that the free version of appear.in only supports up to 4 participants in a call. 4 people is not much. So I wanted to share some ideas on alternatives.

The best solution I found at quick glance:  Jitsi (an open source platform for video calling and conferencing solutions).

Specifically I’ve liked their product Jitsi Meet.

It’s not as easy to set up and use as appear.in but if you install the free iOS or Android app then it’s a great and similar user experience.

Meltdown and Spectre January 10, 2018

Posted by Steven in In-Media.
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Initially I was hesitant to post about these low level flaws in today’s computing architectures. But I learned over the past days that these flaws are too big and the impact to vast to not write about them.

What is happening / what flaws? So in my own words: Researchers discovered new security holes and described scary hacking scenarios. These attack scenarios focus on the fact, that everything that a PC or smart device works on is saved in memory. Memory areas are kept separate (generally by tech built into your CPU and your operating system). But there are also techniques that allow to jump between memory areas (kind-of). These incredibly smart and complex technologies can be attacked as we know now. So some complex malware running in your browser could theoretically access memory data used by your password manager. That’s surely not what you want. But to put a disclaimer on this statement: You i.e. the user would have to get this malware and actually run it (under favorable conditions as described in the researchers works) – so what I’ve heard all the time is, that the attack scenarios are highly theoretical and that computer systems in the cloud are more likely to get attacked (as opposed to your personal laptop).

With this post I wanted to make people aware that this is really a big issue. It is a low level attack scenario on the CPU / RAM level. It affects many many kinds of devices – old and new ones. It is hard to patch.

I wanted to gather some ‘good’ sources here to help you read more details:

P.S.

I started reading about these attacks around 31st of December 2017. Intel may have been aware of the issue since July 2017. And in my view the media did not really know how to explain and talk about these attack scenarios. Just this week I started seeing simple logos and more adequate explanations and videos about these complex topics. I had a look at meltdownattack.com and I found great resources including the logos. Thanks for allowing free use of these logos and full image credit goes to designer: Natascha Eibl.

CES 2018 January 9, 2018

Posted by Steven in In-Media.
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It’s that time of the year again! The Holiday festivities are largely over and all tech journalists are eager to blog and write about the Consumer Electronics Expo in Las Vegas. A local publication once said that there is so much to see in the continent-sized Las Vegas Convention Center.

So let’s break it down or even better, let’s jot down some guesses or predictions what will be shown.

Televisions

In my view 4k (UltraHD) television systems are on the rise. They will be present in high-end tech but conquer mid-range sets in 2018. Also OLED is on the rise. OLED offers high contrast, superior color reproduction and the ultimate black (but it may lack regarding screen refresh rate).

Last year we have also learned that HDR (high dynamic range) can help produce superior images – and that superiority may be more noticeable than the actual move to a higher resolution (fun fact – 4K resolution is just 3840 × 2160 px – about 6.2 million pixel up from the FullHD resolution of 1920 x 1080 px). But last year also brought a big mess of strange hard to explain HDR standards. By the time of autumn the industry did a good job explaining to end-users that dynamic HDR is what you want. So basically the light / color distribution settings are provided and optimized for each scene (not for the whole movie – as it is in static HDR).

As far as I can see there are two dynamic hot shot formats now: Dolby Vision and HDR10+. And my prediction for TVs for 2018 is: We are going to see more and more affordable 4K TVs which support both standards and also the hot shot 3d Audio formats. So it’s less up to the consumer to check what standards his specific home cinema solution needs to support. It will become more generic and just known as HDR works.

Mobile

I don’t think we are going to see groundbreaking news in the mobile space. Maybe we’ll get some more rounded up (Android) tablets. And probably some more exotic handsets i.e. smartphones with built in projectors or more wild built in VR / AR capabilities.

Laptops

New laptops are always a safe bet for CES. So what could be the trend here: I believe the trend for slim but powerful laptops will continue. We will see more talk about the AR / VR capabilities of these mobile computers. Furthermore I see two specific trends: Intel’s 8th generation chips plus AMD Ryzen for laptops plus unified i/O – meaning we’re going to see USB 3.1 Type-C – hopefully multiple USB-C ports per device (but also pointing to the need for adapters). Second: Windows on ARM. That was big news at the end of 2017 and I believe we’re going to see some nice always on Windows machines.

Virtual Reality

Augmented and Virtual Reality applications will be shown all around. You will see a lot of screenshots and photos of people wearing VR headsets. I must say right now I can not really point to sensible real world applications for this technology. For sure the VR googles will get smaller and the need for tons of wires and for high powered PCs will vanish. We’re already seeing parts of this with HTC’s wireless adapter: https://www.theverge.com/2018/1/8/16863304/htc-vive-wireless-adapter-features-ces-2018

Cars / Mobility

Last year we’ve really seen a big push with strange Chinese company “Faraday Future” showing their vapor ware car the FF91 driving like one meter at CES for the first time. Well I’m not sure we are going to see more of that – but I predict that electric vehicles and the future of mobility will be big topics at CES.

Machine Learning / Digital Assistants / Home Automation

or as we call it today: Alexa everywhere. This already happened well in 2017 – the big battle between Google Home and Amazon Alexa showed every consumer that digital assistants are an interesting and not too expensive proposition. Well I have a more critical view on these things but I can’t say that this isn’t a big push. Especially Alexa is catching on in my circle of friends and in my family. It is really quite clever how Amazon pushed their own ~30 / 40 bucks devices. Even the upgrade to full Amazon Music for one of these Echos is a proposition which my friends use (3,99€ per month for a full music streaming service on one echo device).

We are going to see a lot of gadgets and a lot of companies trying to take advantage of this hype. Alexa will be put everywhere, in wearables, in gaming and media gear, in more cars and so on.

Philips already mentioned they are going to reveal more flexible devices for their home automation systems (something more exciting than a hue bridge – maybe a hue bridge that hooks up to your stereo with Amazon Alexa in it?).

 

So that’s it for now :)  I hope we are going to have a great and entertaining CES 2018!

Experimenting with WordPress child themes and overriding template-tags.php December 14, 2017

Posted by Steven in Software, The-Web.
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I recently realized a small project with WordPress. If I do get my hands dirty, the projects are really tiny so I usually resort to very simple platforms such as Squarespace, wix.com or indexhibit. Just anecdotally I believed WordPress has become to complex and the time vs. quality ratio of pulling together a good WordPress platform (with different plugins, template configurations and so on) is just not worth it. But as so many sites on the web are powered by WordPress I wanted to give it another shot.

I must say in current version 4.9.1 WordPress feels swift and powerful and also -in my view- the documentation improved and is now really easy to understand. So it was quite fun to set up the project.

Some things did not change: So either you fork $ for really complex and customizable themes or you start with a free theme and will eventually have to adapt it. Really any kind of intimate visual tweaks do require some jumps to the php / css code editor. I learned that my old copy paste approach is not the way to adapt themes. So I created a proper child theme. The procedure works fine but I must say.. again.. comparing it to Squarespace or the like: It is quite an intricate operation for something as simple as adapting an existing theme.

So I got basic custom styles and formats in and .. fast forward .. I needed to adapt some entry-meta-information. This resulted in the need to change php functions in:

template-tags.php

I used the good old child approach and simply tried to override the file in

<theme folder>/inc

But it turns out this approach does not override the functions loaded in the parents function tree. :-(

I googled and this forum post explains it very well:

https://wordpress.org/support/topic/customizing-inctemplate-functions-php-in-child-theme/

So the solution is to take great care in how the classes and functions are loading. And when you really step into this order of functions loading (pls. see the link above) than you can make it work and get your custom tags and stylings in.

HEIF HEIC Converter for Windows December 13, 2017

Posted by Steven in Apple, Software.
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Apple seems to be aware that local storage on iPhones is mostly scarce. Recent iOS releases brought a number of improvements and more transparency regarding the storage management on iOS and iCloud.

I was quite surprised that Apple did not only pull of a couple of tricks regarding the display and management of storage but it even thought about the file formats that take up most of the space on an iPhone. For many people the storage fills up quickly by taking a lot of pictures. Apple looked at the way photos are stored (usually in .JPG format) and jumped in to change that format on iPhones.

The new modern file format  HEIF was specially designed by Apple to efficiently store a lot of photos and save this precious storage space.

Now the downside of this great change is – that the format and the usage of this efficient image storage system is right now an isolated Apple thing. iPhones do a good job in letting you post to Instagram and Facebook – handling the conversions in the background. But when you use old fashioned cables to access or copy files off your phone than you might get stuck with a file that your Computer can’t open.

To solve this some free tools are available: For Windows have a look at:

https://www.copytrans.de/copytransheic/

And for Macs there are also free tools available: https://imazing.com/heic

My view: give it a try and fear not: the move to efficient image formats is surely a great move for users. More space on your device.. more features like these neat live photos and just a bit of getting used to in your daily workflows.

 

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