Computer and gadget related developments, comments and observations

Posts From May, 2016

The right to bare plastic arms

In the land of the free you don't have the right to bare arms that aren't made by a corporation

The US Department of Defense Trade Controls has just forced Cody Wilson to remove the plans for a firearm made of plastic from his website.

Wilson, a law student from Texas, caused a storm in the US recently when he fired a gun made by a 3D printer. The plans for the gun, a CAD file were put in the public domain by Wilson on the Defence Distributed website, giving anyone the opportunity to download and print their own weapon.

This act was met with criticism from many but in some quarters, it was seen as a victory for those supporting the right to bare arms.

Now the government has stepped in and tried to take the plans offline, however they have been downloaded over 100,000 times and now exist in peer to peer torrent sites.

It does seem very strange that only a month ago, Obama's attempt to introduce background checks for firearms purchases was thwarted by the huge a powerful anti-gun control lobby and yet as soon as it becomes possible for anyone to print a gun the legal action is instant and the lobby are silent.

The reason is clear - gun sales. They didn't want back ground checks introduced because guns sales would have fallen. They don't want Cody Wilson upsetting the apple cart by making it possible to print guns at home because this will also cause the sales to fall.

So much for the land of the free.

[Originally published 5 October 21013]

Social Engagement Metrics

Why it's important to keep track of your social capital.

One of the things I noticed when moving from the public sector to the private sector was the importance of metrics. Somehow in the public sector there was no interest in keeping track of numbers, probably because of the way the vote accounting worked. As long as you justified (i.e. spent) the money you had predicted you would in your budget, nobody asked any questions and you got voted the same amount or more in the following year.

In the private sector I found much greater emphasis on the use metrics to identify not only where money but time was going. I quickly learned that particularly with regard to marketing, that tracking the efficacy of every advert against leads and sales was key to determining future spend. A simple example, I was working for an IT retailer who put an advert in a newspaper with a phone number and a name, Melissa. Well there was no Melissa working at the company but we were instructed to note any calls asking for Melissa to be noted in our CRM system - a really simple trick but one that brought a concrete number of leads and sales attributable to one advert.

These days social media is the theatre of war for marketers but it is so hard to track what you are up to online. How to get a handle on whether your marketing efforts are winning or loosing is really difficult. Tools are now coming on-stream to help track what you are doing and I think that in time, these will become much more sophisticated. Three such tools are Kred Influence Measurement, PeerIndex and Klout.

KloutI'll focus on Klout for the rest of this post as it seems to have the best reach. Klout enables you to connect it to your social media accounts, currently covering Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, Foursquare and Instagram. From then on it tracks the posts on these accounts and monitors your social engagement - not only how many posts you've made on these services but how many times people have engaged with you. It reports this back in terms of a single figure Klout score, between 1 (low) to 100 (high). This is significant because it is a single metric by which you can monitor your efforts in social media. After a few weeks I've already found it incredibly useful to have this benchmark figure, as every day I know how much I have to post to advance it and I know that if I don't post (and post effectively) that the score will fall.

Klout has other information too, a recency chart showing where the most recent engagement took place and with whom, and a score activity report. This reveals with whom your most 'profitable' engagements were, i.e. who shared your stuff the most -  a pretty important source of information when you are trying to maximise online exposure.

Another useful feature is that you can identify the Klout scores of people you are connected with. This means you can take on people in the spirit of competition which always fuels success, but you can also identify people whose social credibility is greater than yours, and once identified, investigate the reasons for their success and make changes to improve your own performance.

At this point the analytics in Klout are very basical and there is no way to track campaigns or have multiple accounts from the same provider but these features will surely come.

It's early days for social media analytics tools but already I'm beginning to wonder how I ever managed without them.


[Originally publsihed 7 October 2013]

Dropbox file deletion

How to recover space on a full Dropbox account

In case you don't know Dropbox, it is a company offering online storage. Sign up and you can download an app that monitors a folder on your connected device, be it a computer, tablet or phone. Anything you copy into the monitored folder gets copied up to the cloud server and is then available to any other devices you have that are connected via your account.

I've been using Dropbox for a couple of years now and it has saved my bacon several times when I've deleted files and been able to recover them. The service provides an amount of free space and if you need more you can pay for the premium service. 

I try hard to avoid paying for anything so I'm pretty disiplined about staying within the limit of my free allocation. Yesterday however, an ominous red cross appeared in the Dropbox icon on my system tray. When I moused over it told me the worst. My Dropbox account was full and I needed to upgrade to a paid account.

I knew I was only using 3.5Gb of my  5Gb Dropbox allocation a few days earlier. The Dropbox icon had been busier than usually over the last couple of days but I'd not checked why. Clearly I must have inadvertantly copied something onto dropbox which was bigger than I thought.

I started trying to delete things from Dropbox but after ten minutes I was still over the limit. Also the message said I was over the limit by half a gigabyte - this same amount as it was when the icon first turned red. I wondered at that point that the inability to delete files was a feature of the way Dropbox worked. After a quick search I discovered what was wrong. When you delete files from your Dropbox dashboard, they are merely hidden from you. There is a button on the top menu which allows the deleted files to be shown in the list. If you click on any of the deleted files an option appears that lets you delete them permanently. After that the file's space will be deducted from your overall allocation. This is somewhat unintuitive, epsecially when you're in panic mode!

I was able to deleted sufficient space and soon the red cross disappeared from the Dropbox icon. I found later that I'd tried to copy a software installation file that I'd thought was 15Mb and was mistaken - it was 15Gb. Fortunately I deleted that just in time too, else Dropbox would have continued to try and upload it and I would have been in the red again!

Dropbox dashboard