Jelly Box Portable Bluetooth Speaker (Review)

Jelly BoxJelly Box Portable Bluetooth Speaker
OrigAudio
$34.99

OrigAudio designs some of the coolest and most affordable music/sound-related thingies on the market today. If you don’t believe me, check out the website and go to Amazon and search for OrigAudio and see for yourself. Cute, fun, happy, clever are all words that come to mind when I see the brain drizzle from OrigAudio’s founders Jason Lucash and Mike Szymczak. I’m assuming that Mike’s real last name isn’t really Szymczak. My guess is that he lost at Scrabble and is paying off some drunken bet that he made with Lucash, et al.

I digress.

This is a review for the Jelly Box portable Bluetooth speaker. They sent me a black one. Clever. I’ve heard of other colors, you know. Seriously, I’m not tricked by the thought of a Blue Raspberry, Dragonfruit, or even an <yuck> Grape Jelly Box.

Anyway, I’ve reviewed other portable Bluetooth speakers on frugalnetworker.com and this one stands well with the rest of them and at a decent price point. The Jelly Box has clear, bright sound, even at the highest levels where my teenaged children like to play it. I’m glad I was working in the yard the day my daughter decided to blast My Chemical Romance and Panic! at the Disco tunes on it. Don’t get me wrong, I like those bands but at a non-earwax cleaning level, thank you. In fact, I took my daughter to a Panic! concert earlier this month and now I’m a super fan. No T-shirts or faux-hawk yet, but the year is still young and summer’s coming.

Jellybox Bluetooth Speaker features:

  • Full stereo sound with Bluetooth functionality
  • Bluetooth range up to 33 feet
  • Built in microphone and one touch call answering for phone calls
  • On-speaker play/pause and change song buttons
  • Built in TF card slot to store your music in the speaker
  • Mini USB charging slot (cord included)
  • Speaker power: 3 watts
  • S/N: ≥ 60dB
  • Frequency response: 100HZ-20KHZ
  • Battery life: 10 hours
  • Size: 4 x 2 x 1.5 inches with a weight of 0.75 lbs
  • Compatible with any device that has Bluetooth connectivity. Also included is a 3.5mm audio cord for devices that don’t have the option of Bluetooth.
  • Available in 9 different flavors (colors).

Jelly Box BackSpeaking of summer, the Jelly Box would serve you well by the pool, on the beach, on a picnic, while doing yardwork while your lazy teenagers sit and drink iced tea and watch you, on a road trip, or even just chilling in your room. You can adjust volume on the Jelly Box or on your phone. You can also skip or revert tracks, replay a track, and answer your phone using the Jelly Box’s built-in speaker.

Note: The only thing jelly-related about the Jelly Box is perhaps the jelly-related colors, although I can’t really speak to the whole color thing directly, but I think that’s probably what they were going for.

Jelly Box Color with Band LogoI really like the Jelly Box portable Bluetooth speaker. You can plug in a non-Bluetooth device into it as well. The unit also sports a TF (micro SD) card slot for storing your music. I don’t think you can play it from there, although I didn’t try, I think it’s just for convenient storage. If you get one in color, you could write your favorite artist’s name with a Sharpie on it. It would look something like the illustration to the right. This is only a theory and I have not had the opportunity to test it for myself, so YMMV.

Of course, being young entrepreneurial types, living in (you guessed it) California, they’ve got their liberal, offbeat, hipster causes that some people view as positive, as uplifting, and as what successful and happy people should do with their millions of ill-gotten gain. I only mention it in passing.

Why it’s frugal: The Jelly Box is a lot of things but frugal isn’t one of them. It’s cute. It’s fun. It’s well priced for the market. Why does something always have to be frugal to be purchase worthy? It doesn’t.

Jelly Box ButtonsThe Jelly Box connects to your Bluetooth enabled device easily and immediately. My iPhone 5 picked it right up and all I had to do was tap “Connect” on my iPhone to make the connection and listen to my Frank Sinatra and Duke Ellington hits–HA! Kidding, I listen to Flyleaf, Mazzy Star, The Cure, Coldplay, Lisa Loeb, and Gotye. Yes, I know, I have varied tastes, shut up about it already.

What more can I say about the Jelly Box? It’s portable. It’s well-made. It works. I understand that it comes in a variety of awesome colors. It plays loud. It plays soft. It plays well with others. And I’m sure that Frank Sinatra and Duke Ellington sound great on it too. So buy one for Grandpa, Grandma, and the whole gang. Anyone can afford $35. And if it keeps the likes of Lucash and what’s his name off the street, I’m good with that.

Rating: 9.372/10

Recommendation: Buy one in one of those cool colors and tell me what you think of it.

Secur Sun Power Bank 4000 (Review)

Secur Sun Power Bank 4000Secur Sun Power Bank 4000 Portable Charger
Secur Products
A division of Maverick Industries, Inc.
$69.00 estimated

When I first saw a note about the Secur Sun Power Bank 4000, my curiosity piqued. “A solar-powered charger for my various gadgetry,” I queried to myself. Could it really be? Well, I had to find out for myself and report to you on my findings.

The Secur Sun Power Bank 4000 (4000) is approximately the same size and weight as an Android phone. The dimensions make it easy to carry or to stow away in a small bag. You can plug into the charger using your mini USB connector or you can use the built-in one. It’s a matter of convenience and space as to which one you use. For Apple device users, you have to carry along a charger cable to plug into the device’s standard USB port.

Remember to press the On/Off button on the bottom of the unit or your device won’t charge.

DETAILED FEATURES:

  • High Efficiency Solar Panel
  • High capacity lithium polymer battery – 4000 mAh
  • Built-in full size male USB cable and plug
  • Built-in male micro USB cable and plug
  • Female USB port for charging any digital devices
  • Built in micro USB for charging via USB power sources
  • LED light indicator for current battery charge

To charge the unit fully, you plug it into a computer’s USB port via the built-in standard USB cable. Alternatively, you can place the unit in direct sunlight to charge it via its high-efficiency solar panel.

As intriguing as it sounds to have a solar-powered battery charger, it’s not all that practical when recharging the charging unit itself. You’ll probably plug it into your computer for a full charge, which requires four (4) hours. The reason that using the sun isn’t practical for recharging the unit is that it requires 14 to 18 hours of full and direct sunlight to a full charge. I suppose that you could leave it on the dashboard of your car while you’re at work or in school and hope for a half charge when you’re ready use it.

TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS:

  • High Efficiency Solar Panel – 5.5V/280mA
  • 21.5% efficiency
  • High Capacity Lithium Battery – 3.7volts/4000 mAh
  • Micro USB Input – 5V/1A
  • USB Output – 5V/2.1A
  • Charging time via USB input – 4 hours
  • Charging time via built-in solar panel – 14 – 18 hours – Full Sunlight
  • 3″ x 5″ x .5″
  • 6 oz.

Secure Sun Power Bank 4000 Built-in CablesThat minor flaw aside, if you’re in a real power pinch and you’re also in the sun, you can use the 4000 to power your phone while you make an emergency call. As a charger, the 4000 is cool. As a solar-powered charger, it’s about average. Solar cells haven’t really made the efficiency leap that’s required for today’s power-guzzling gadgets. Maybe in a few years the battery charging technology and the battery-sucking technology will meet in a better place.

The lack of solar cell efficiency isn’t the fault of the manufacturer; it’s just a technological shortfall. It will get better (more efficient) and less expensive to use solar.

Why it’s frugal: For an estimated $70, the 4000 isn’t all that frugal unless you live in a place that gets a lot of sunlight or you do as I suggested and leave it on the dash of your car to power up. As a standard portable charger the 4000 is fine, but a little pricey. It’s frugality is mostly based on your access to the sun for recharging and your need for “off the grid” power.

I once owned a “solar” calculator that I loved. It lasted for more than 15 years. In fact, I might still have it somewhere in the garage. Solar-powered devices rarely die. The advantage my calculator had was that it really wasn’t bound to the sun for power. That would have been downright silly–that the only place I could use it was outside when I really needed it inside. Thank goodness it was photon-powered and not just solar-powered. If you don’t know the difference, this isn’t the place to learn it, sorry.

The bottom line here for the Secur Sun Power Bank 4000 is that it’s a clever device. It’s well-designed. If you’re a camper, hunter, beach-goer, or truster of things left visibly in the sun, then the 4000 is a jackpot for you–you can totally survive with your gadgetry in an off-the-grid fashion. For some people that’s really important.

If you ignore the whole solar thing, unless you really need it, the 4000 is still a good portable source of power. It’s lightweight, clever built-in cord design, and cell phone sizing makes it a nice companion for you on-the-go types.

Rating: 7.5/10

Recommendation: This is your chance to go “green” and to spend some time in the sun.

Little Scholar Educational Tablet for Kids (Review)

Little Scholar Main PageLittle Scholar
(Little Scholar Educational Tablet for Kids)
School Zone
$199.99

The Little Scholar™ tablet is an 8″ Android tablet designed by School Zone especially for children ages 3 to 7. Almost 40 years ago, James Hoffman, Ed.D., and his wife Joan Hoffman, M.A., began a retail supply outlet for teachers. Soon after that, they began School Zone Publishing and created flash cards and workbooks for students. You’d be hard pressed to walk into a teacher’s supply store and not see a School Zone product. School Zone is the brand that teachers and parents of young learners depend on–and have depended on for close to four decades.

The Little Scholar has a bright and cheery screen featuring delightful characters that kids love. The screen is fully touch interactive. Each tablet comes packed with games, songs, and apps that provide hundreds of hours of learning fun for your kids. The Little Scholar also comes with front and rear-facing cameras that your child can use to take photos and movies. And if you enable it, the Little Scholar can connect to WiFi access points to give you Internet access, including access to the Little Scholar app store where you can purchase more games and apps.

Internet access also helps keep your tablet up to date with the latest patches and software revisions.

For Parents

Turn on the Little Scholar by pressing and holding the power button for about three seconds. Be patient after you see the Lexibook logo and the School Zone logo as it takes a little while for the unit to completely power on. To access the settings, including WiFi, sounds, and so on, tap and drag the lock icon to the right until you drag the lock onto the circle. Once the unit unlocks, tap the gold lock icon in the upper right of the screen.

123 is the default password. Tap the Submit button after entering the password. Now you can access everything on the tablet that isn’t usually visible to your child. From the screen you see now, tap Settings.

Tablet SettingsIf you have an Android tablet, this screen looks familiar to you. Here is where you setup WiFi access, Bluetooth, check data usage, and adjust or view other relevant technical settings of the tablet.

The tablet comes with an instruction manual that is very good but this is such an important aspect of the inner workings of the tablet, I thought I’d make a point to share this with you. For the most part, the settings and other configurable items are intuitive for anyone who’s worked with any type of cell phone or tablet device. You don’t need a lot of experience or expertise to make the necessary changes. If you need assistance, ask anyone over the age of ten. <wink>

If you leave the Settings area and return to the Home screen, you will have to re-enter the password to make any other changes. It’s also a very good idea to change the password so that your child doesn’t stumble onto it by mistake and make changes to the system that might prove difficult for you to undo.

Parental Locked ScreenTo reset the system password (The 123 one), tap the Go Back icon (Bottom Left Corner) to return to what I call, The Parental Options Screen or Parental Lock Screen, and tap Reset Password.

From this same screen, you can hit Schoolzone.com, go to the App store and purchase and download new apps, provide feedback, and manage your apps.

Little Scholar Tech Specs

Screen size: 8-inch screen
Screen resolution: 1024 x 768 pixels
Display: Thin film transistor active matrix liquid-crystal display
OS: Google Android™ 4.2.2
CPU: 1.2 GHz dual-core ARM Cortex-A9
GPU: PowerVR SGX540
Storage: 8GB – Micro SD cards compatible up to 32GB
RAM: 1024MB DDR3
Camera: 300KP front / 2MP back
Wi-Fi: 802.11 b/g/n (built-in)
Audio: Built-in mono speaker
Connectors: 1 micro USB 2.0 port, 1 Micro SD card slot, 1 headphone jack, 1 DC port, 1 Mini HDMI port
Bluetooth® Version: 4.0
Battery: Lithium battery (included) – 5000mAh, 3.7V
Adaptor: Input: 100V – 240V ~ 50 / 60Hz 0.4A
Output: 5V 2A
Battery life: 7 hours (average)
Dimensions: 221 x 155 x 12 mm
Weight: 470 g/1lb 6oz
Language: English

For Kids

The kids will enjoy working with the apps, learning how to spell, learning math, singing along, and playing games. My son, who works with children in the age range of Little Scholar users, took the Little Scholar to work as a favor to me to see how the kids liked it. They loved it! A word of caution, though, the Little Scholar tablet is not a toy nor is it an “electronic babysitter.” It’s a piece of computing equipment that I’d suggest being used only with some supervision.

The Little Scholar does have a protective, rubberized case on the back but the front (screen) is still vulnerable to drops, scratches, and accidental foot-in-the-screen incidents. The tablet isn’t fragile or delicate but does require some care to prevent annihilation from careless handling. Just be close by during its use and you should have no problems.

Why it’s frugal: If you just look at the $199.99 price, it doesn’t seem frugal. But if you look at the Little Scholar as a learning investment, it’s extremely frugal. In fact, for the number of books, videos, songs, and apps, you’d pay much more for any other tablet computer plus the price of the apps. The Little Scholar comes with hundreds of hours of fun and educational material for your child. Additionally, the Little Scholar is made just for little learners. It isn’t simply a tablet computer that you add educational apps to; it’s a learning device and that’s pretty frugal for a mere $200.

Check out the School Zone Little Scholar Flyer for a lot more information on the product and its features.

I like the Little Scholar tablet. I find that the price is appropriate for what you get. It is a well thought out learning tool for young children. With proper care and cleaning, your Little Scholar should last for three years or more. School Zone products are well made and well supported. If your little scholar needs a fun boost or a little extra learn time, the Little Scholar tablet is better than television and the Little Scholar has no commercial interruptions.

Rating: 9.5/10

Recommendation: It might be the best $200 you ever spend on your child’s education.

In Search of the Holy Grail Screen Protector (Review)

iPhone 5 ProtectorHoly Grail iPhone 5 Screen Protector (clear)
Sir Lancelot’s Armor
$9.95 Available in clear or non-glare

The Sir Lancelot’s Armor iPhone 5 Screen Protector (Protector) is a reusable iPhone 5 screen protector made of bulletproof glass. I received the clear version of the product to review. There is also a non-glare version available but be aware that it causes a slight pixelation when you look at your screen. If you’ve ever used a non-glare or privacy screen over a computer or mobile device screen, you know what to expect. Some people don’t like the effect. I’m one of those people. It makes me a bit dizzy to look at a screen that has a non-glare or a privacy product attached.

The clear product is thin and practically unnoticeable when attached. It is unobtrusive and doesn’t slip or slide around on your phone. I tend to keep my phone in my back pocket and the protector hasn’t budged since I placed it on my phone two weeks ago.

If you don’t get the protector on just right, you can move it. It’s reusable. Just pry it up with your fingernail at one corner and lift. Reposition as necessary.

The protector also comes with a Home button protector as well but it isn’t mentioned in any of the literature. You’ll find this button protector handy for two reasons. First, it protects the Home button from impact damage due to drops. Second, while the protector is very thin, it still adds a bit of an extra layer to your screen so the Home button protector raises the button up to a better level.

In fact, I found that repositioning the protector with the Home button protector installed helped me better align the protector, so my advice is to install the Home button protector first.

To install the Home button protector, peel off the backing and place it over your Home button. Doing so will likely press your Home button but that’s not really a problem. Just lock your phone before installing it so that any presses will occur without issue.

Installation is very easy and consists of these four steps:

  1. Clean your screen with the supplied screen moistened cloth cleaner.
  2. Peel off the back plastic layer.
  3. Align the protector and press to set.
  4. Smooth out any bubbles with the supplied dry cloth.

I didn’t have any bubbles to smooth out on my iPhone, so I can’t speak to that aspect of how effective the cloth works for that. Keep the dry cloth handy to remove fingerprints from the protector. The protector won’t fingerprint as bad as the bare screen but you’ll still want to occasionally wipe it clean.

If you’d like to see the product interactively installed, check out the installation videos.

Notable features of the iPhone 5 Screen Protector:

  • Made from the highest quality recyclable materials
  • Protects your screen from scratches, cracks and the every day elements
  • Designed to inhibit bacterial growth
  • Easy to install
  • Lifetime Warranty

It’s difficult to show you the product because it’s clear glass. The installation videos are the best venue for viewing the product in action.

I wondered, as I installed the product, if it decreased the sensitivity of the original screen. Would I have to tap harder or leave my finger on the surface longer to use the phone. If so, those things would be a deal breaker for me. I want good protection for the device but I don’t want to have to think twice about using the phone because of it.

The good news is that it doesn’t decrease the original screen’s sensitivity or hinder you in any way. It doesn’t magnify the icons or require any extra tapping or pressing from you. It’s as if the screen protector doesn’t exist at all.

Why it’s frugal: The Sir Lancelot’s Armor iPhone 5 Screen Protector is frugal because it protects your iPhone 5 screen with a proven technology. To repair an iPhone screen costs an average of $250. The Protector is $9.95. You can do the math.

The manufacturer has tested the product in some very harsh ways: drills, razors, hammers, knives, and saws. The protector ranks at 9 on the Mhos hardness scale. A diamond is 10.

It feels the same as your regular screen and it’s much better than those little plastic screen protectors that only protect you from surface scratches. In fact, it’s kind of funny that the manufacturer basically provides you with two of those cheap plastic screen protectors as product backing for the Holy Grail Protector. They’re the ones that you peel off of the product and discard during installation.

Sir Lancelot’s Armor also produces protective products for other Apple devices, LG, Blackberry, Motorola, HTC, and Samsung smartphones. If you have another device, check the website as they continue to expand the line of offerings.

I really like the iPhone 5 protector product. What’s not to like? It was easy to install. It protects my phone. It doesn’t impeded usage, performance, or attaching chargers or other cases. And it only costs $9.95.

The product also comes with a limited lifetime warranty against manufacturer defects. So, the bad news here is that you shouldn’t purposely test the product by abusing your device. The damage you do to your device isn’t covered.

Review rating: 10/10

Recommendation: Buy it to protect your device’s screen and your investment.

Watson’s Mobile Challenge: What could it mean?

WatsonBy now you’ve probably read all about IBM’s Watson Mobile Developer Challenge, but what you might not know is what the long term implications of such a challenge are. The primary implication is that mobile developers will be able to tap into the power of Watson via mobile applications or apps. I know it sounds like a cliché, but the implications of the mobile to Watson connection are only limited by developer ability and imagination.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Carlos Paez, IBM’s Lead Mobile Developer, MobileFirst Global Center of Competency. Carlos will be developing some reference applications to help challengers get started on creating mobile apps. You can watch the IBM Watson Mobile Developer Challenge Virtual Roundtable video (below) to get a full explanation of what’s going into the challenge and how it works.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nQCfzYNHqow%5D

The video is 32:31 minutes long and also features Jen Knecht, Director for IBM MobileFirst Marketing, Sridhar Sudarsan, CTO for IBM Watson Ecosystem, Ron Norman, Chief Architect for IBM Mobile Innovation Labs.

And now back to the implications of this challenge and what it could mean for developers and users alike.

One significant implication is for driver-assisted navigation. For example, if you’re travelling by car, you could ask the app about weather reports, road conditions, hotels, gas stations, restaurants, rest areas, and points of interest without ever looking away from your steering wheel.

For television watching, not only could the app learn your watching habits, but it could also steer you toward shows and series that you want to watch based on a question such as, “I’d like to watch a comedy starring Steve Martin.” In seconds, the app would display a list of those comedies in order according to your watching habits and preferences.

Emergency responders could use an app to diagnose and treat trauma patients in car accidents, in fires, or in natural disasters. More lives could be saved and shorter recovery times might be possible by giving the proper treatment to patients in the field.

In education, a Watson-powered app could be used to drill students prior to an exam or to assist students in learning a new language. Teachers could use an app to create adaptive tests for students to assess their level of achievement on a particular topic.

“The power of Watson in the palm of your hand is a game-changing proposition, so we’re calling on mobile developers around the world to start building cognitive computing apps infused with Watson’s intelligence,” said Mike Rhodin, Senior Vice President, IBM Watson Group.” Imagine a new class of apps that deliver deep insights to consumers and business users instantly — wherever they are — over the cloud. It’s about changing the essence of decision making from ‘information at your fingertips’ to actual insights.”

But not every example of a Watson-based app has to be so practical. One could design an app to help predict March Madness outcomes or to narrow down the possibilities in a dream team challenge.

I see this new era of computing as expanding the possibilities for intelligent applications. It will allow humans to interact with computers in a natural way, via spoken or unspoken language. Wouldn’t it be cool if someone could write an app that would watch a deaf person using sign language and interpret those gestures into spoken words to a listener on the other end of a telephone conversation?

The Watson Mobile Challenge is an opportunity for creative thinkers to really show the power of their own innovative ability plus unleash the power of a supercomputer via a mobile app.

From IBM:

The IBM Watson Mobile Developer Challenge is part of the IBM MobileFirst strategy to help businesses of all sizes adopt mobile technology to better engage with customers and extend their businesses to new markets. The news also represents the latest milestone in the newly formed IBM Watson Group to fuel an ecosystem of developers, start-ups, tech companies and venture capitalists building Watson powered apps as part of the Watson Developers Cloud

To date, more than 1,500 individuals and organizations have contacted IBM to share their ideas for creating cognitive computing applications that redefine how businesses and consumers make decisions. In fact, global developers have created and plan to go to market in 2014 with Watson apps across a variety of industries.

IBM_logoThis post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet.

I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

Categories: Articles, IBM Tags: , , ,

Infrastructure Matters: Cloud Infrastructure Socialcast

Infrastructure Matters SocialcastThis post is based on the Infrastructure Matters Socialcast panel discussion that focused on midsize business cloud infrastructure. The panel included in this Socialcast is host Paul Gillin, Scott Hawkins, Cal Braunstein, and John Alday. The Infrastructure Matters Socialcast is a one-hour video discussion about key topics facing midsize businesses concerning IT infrastructure, infrastructure outsourcing, cloud solution costs, and the changing nature of information technology.
About The Panelists
Paul Gillin - A veteran technology journalist and a thought leader in new media. Since 2005, he has advised marketers and business executives on strategies to optimize their use of social media and online channels to reach buyers cost-effectively.
Cal Braunstein - Chairman/CEO and Executive Director of Research at Robert Frances Group, Inc. (RFG). RFG provides concierge advisory, consulting, and research services to business technology executives as well as to marketing/sales management for companies that provide IT communications services and products.
Scott Hawkins – IBM’s Program Director of X86 and Pure Systems Solutions organization.
John Alday - CEO of Cima Solutions Group (CSG). CSG delivers reliable and efficient IT solutions that create financial value for their clients. CSG offers its clients technology solutions from manufacturers such as IBM, VMware, Google, FalconStor, Compellent, Scale, and others.
Build or Buy Infrastructure
The first major topic covered by the panel is the question of infrastructure “Build or Buy”. Midsize businesses are focused on cost-cutting and optimization to better align themselves with today’s market. Some of those cost-cutting activities include making decisions about consolidation, virtualization, cloud, and outsourcing.
In the past, companies have built their own infrastructures and found that their systems were expensive to maintain, expensive to manage, and were vastly underutilized. Business discussions then turned to virtualization, optimization, and outsourcing.
The problems facing midsize businesses in this are a general lack of expertise in moving away from traditional computing models, a sticker shock of moving all infrastructure to an outsource provider, and a fear of using cloud-based solutions for a variety of reasons including cost, security, and control.
Infrastructure: On Premise or Off?
Then came the question of developing an on premise solution or opting for off premise. In other words, depending on where your business is in its life cycle, the correct answer might be different. For example, if your business is a startup or in its infancy, your best option is an off premise, cloud-based solution. You haven’t yet committed resources to on premise infrastructure.
Mature businesses will likely develop in-house cloud solutions to better serve their internal needs as well as their customer’s requirements.
It is every business in between those two that creates the dilemma, but the consensus is to implement a hybrid solution, which means to migrate some infrastructure to a provider as systems “age out”. This hybrid approach makes sense for most businesses. Financially, migrating toward a hybrid infrastructure means that business critical systems will remain in-house, while other systems will be placed at a cloud provider location. Think managed service providers (MSPs) here.
Cloud Cost Creep
Unfortunately, as the panel noted during the discussion, sometimes businesses find that there’s a cloud cost “creep” involved in migrating to an outsourced model. Cloud cost creep is the upward spiral of costs associated with moving your infrastructure, especially storage, to the cloud. Storage costs are still not where they need to be for a mass exodus from the private data center to the cloud.
However, there are currently available solutions for businesses to take advantage of, such as “pay as you go” models and metered usage. The pay as you go scenario involves using cloud infrastructure on an as needed basis and only paying for what you use.
Metered usage gives businesses the opportunity to charge back cloud costs to clients, to business units, and to individual teams. It also provides an excellent means of tracking usage per application so that businesses can make future deployment and support decisions based on cost vs. benefit of their solutions.
Investment Decisions and IT
The panel brought up an interesting topic about involving IT when making decisions on business direction. The problem with business integration with IT, historically, has been IT’s reluctance to become involved and the lack of understanding, from the business perspective, of what IT actually does.
The solution is fairly simple: Integrate IT into business direction discussions, without the use of jargon, and empower the IT staff to focus more on the business instead of just its niche piece of the company’s operations.
Is the Cloud Changing the Culture of IT?
Cloud is changing IT’s focus from its traditional role into a more “services” culture. There’s a lot less focus on hardware, maintenance, and management and more time spent on business and providing service to its customers. People skills are now more valuable than technical ones.
The reasons for this are not surprising given that hardware is getting “smarter,” automation is more available, management is centralized, virtualization and cloud infrastructures are more prevalent, and businesses now want employees who are more in tune with customer’s needs and the forward movement of the business.
The ultimate IT staffer will not only have an understanding of services and architecture, but also about business needs, such as cost-cutting, optimization, and intelligent outsourcing.
Future of VARs
VARs will also have to change their focus from providing a combined hardware/software/consulting solution to businesses with a service and consulting role. As the days of individually owned hardware come to a close and MSP and data center-owned hardware increases, VARs will have to alter their business models to partner with those providers.
Currently, MSPs and other providers concentrate on supplying infrastructure, environmental protection, and maintenance and leave most of the consulting and software solutions to VARs.
Infrastructure Matters
Your next steps in looking at your infrastructure are to evaluate where you are from an efficiency perspective. Look at your utilization. Look at your infrastructure resiliency. Look at your overall technology. Extreme advances have been made in the past five years in power consumption, speed, virtualization, and management. If you don’t have the expertise in-house, seek out a solution partner and find out what’s available to you.

IBM for Midsize Business
This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet.

I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

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Categories: Articles, IBM

Twitter and the Internet of Fake Things

Twitter Follow Ad ExampleIn January of this year, I decided to conduct an experiment on Twitter. I was partly inspired by the Kevin Ashton article: How to become internet famous for $68 and many reports that celebrities had huge fake Twitter and Facebook followings. No one seems to care that they do, although there are dozens of articles “exposing” the whole thing. I found it intriguing that people could actually purchase Twitter followers, Facebook Likes, positive reviews, and retweets. Social Media has sparked all these new markets and I was curious to get the inside story.

My own experiment’s goal was twofold: First, to find out what the real story is on purchasing Twitter followers (because I wasn’t convinced that you could do so) and second, to experiment with purchasing them with Bitcoin. The results of the experiment are interesting, but not nearly as interesting as the Twitterati* itself.

Excerpt from Kevin Ashton’s article: How to become internet famous for $68.

“On social media, it is easy to mistake popularity for credibility, and that is exactly what the fakers are hoping for. To most people, a Twitter account with tens of thousands of followers is an easy-to-read indication of personal success and good reputation, a little like hundreds of good reviews on Yelp or a long line outside a restaurant. Looking online to learn more about somebody has become a reflex—blind daters do it, potential employers do it, potential customers do it.
Specialist social media analytics companies do it too. These businesses claim they can analyze somebody’s social media behavior and accurately evaluate their level of influence.”

Background

On Twitter, it’s all about how many followers you have. It’s also about what you tweet to your followers. The theory is that you’re supposed to carry on 140 character conversations with your followers and fellow tweeters for entertainment and edification. Everything works in theory, doesn’t it?

Twitter has become one of those forums where speakers (tweeters) want to speak but not listen. It’s much the same as in any other forum, digital or physical.

I’ve found that Twitter has very little to offer outside of reading marketing bytes, automated tweets, or rancid dialog from those who disagree with what I’ve stated in an article or in a post. Occasionally, there are those who carry on a constructive dialog, but they are very few and far between. Some tweeters simply tweet just to tweet. It’s analogous to hearing your own voice. It’s both self-medicating and self-satisfying.

And perhaps the most entertaining of all is those who hide behind cryptic pseudonyms. They wish to remain anonymous because they want to tweet things that they’d never say in person. Refer again to my earlier digital graffiti reference.

Experiment Part I: Buying Twitter Followers

I researched the process and decided to try it for myself to see what happens when one purchases Twitter followers and to see if it was truly a scam or not. Spoiler Alert: You can purchase Twitter followers but you might not want to because a lot of them are fake.

I began my quest on January 8 with my own, organically grown 2,761 Twitter followers.

I found some fiverr.com** sellers advertise Twitter followers for $5. For that $5, you can purchase anywhere from 100 to 5000+ Twitter followers, depending on your “vendor.” Some vendors go so far as to advertise “Real” Twitter followers to differentiate themselves from those who sell you fake followers, also known, in some cases, as “Eggs.”

I started out by purchasing a batch of 5,250 followers who were guaranteed to be real.

So my goal from that purchase was 8,011 followers. It took a couple of days for the “delivery” but it finally happened. As if by Internet magic, 5,000 or so followers were now in my tank. I had more than the promised 5,250 followers. The reason is that when Twitter finds fake followers, it deletes them. I’m sure it’s done by some automated algorithm that scans the site for “Eggs” and user accounts that have never tweeted at all.

I was so excited by this, that I had to try again. This time, I went for a whopping 5,550+ followers for just $5. What a bargain. Sure enough, in about a day, I had another 5,000+ followers. Unfortunately, while waiting my total had gone down to 12,959 by January 11. By January 13, it was 12,823 and by January 15 my band of loyal followers had dropped to 12,730.

The 5,500+ followers were advertised as: 100% Real, No Egg Emage (Image, I assume), Fast Delivery, Full Customer Support. It was fast, for sure. In just a day, I had 5,000 more followers to my name. And I didn’t have to setup automated tweets or battle it out with the Twitterati to get them. Such a deal at only $5.

I thought to myself, “Wow, this is easy and cheap. I’ll just keep doing it.” I ordered up another ’3,000 Real Active Twitter Followers in just 12 hours.’ Yep, just as advertised, by January 16, I now had 15,983 followers. By the 17th, I had 15,931. I stopped counting on January 20th at 15,604.

I then tested my numbers at: http://www.twitteraudit.com.

To my surprise, I found that roughly half of my ‘Real’ followers were in fact fake.

You can only imagine my reaction to this. I kept watching my total number of followers go down every day, sometimes by more than 100 followers. I was devastated. To think that I paid good Bitcoin for those followers and half (or more) were fake.

Just out of curiosity, I checked the following accounts for fakes to see how I fared in the fake Twitter follower realm.

  • Charlie Sheen @charliesheen 40% (3 million+) fake
  • Bitcoin @Bitcoin 23% (6,857) fake
  • Chelsea Handler 43% (2 million+) fake
  • CNN @CNN 54% (4 million+) fake
  • Wall Street Journal 40% (900K+) fake
  • Dwight Howard @DwightHoward 47% (2 million+) fake

So, a full month after purchasing all those Twitter followers on February 17, I had 14.8K followers. I purchased another 3,000 from one of the people I’d purchased from before to see if she had another 3,000 100% Real followers to send my way. Sure enough, she did. She said my target follows would be 17.8K. In about a day, I had just over 18K followers. They always give you more because, as I explained earlier, the blatantly fake ones get deleted.

As it stands now, two months after my original purchase, I have 17.4K followers. According to twitteraudit.com, I have 50% fake, which would give me 8,600+ real followers. According to another auditing tool (http://fakers.statuspeople.com), 63% are fake, 24% are inactive, and a whole 13% are real. Calculating just the real from my current number of 17.4K, that leaves me with a total of 2,262 real followers.

But wait. I started with 2,761 organically cultivated followers. And now, I have as few as 2,262? What’s up with that? One can argue that some of my original ones were fake, maybe a few dropped out, or maybe something is wrong with the algorithms to calculate the totals.

Another tool at: http://www.socialbakers.com/twitter/fakefollowercheck tells me that I have 25% fake or suspicious, 0% inactive, and 75% good. So, who knows for sure?

Experiment Part II: Buying Stuff with Bitcoin

I really don’t like Bitcoin or bitcoin or however it’s supposed to be written. Sorry, the proper terminology for it goes into the “Who Cares” bin. However, for my test, it was the perfect solution. I could purchase something fake, or potentially fake, with something that is borderline illegal. But that’s another story. For the purpose of this post, I’m going to focus on my purchases with Bitcoin.

Remember that standard gigs on fiverr.com are $5.

Here are three of my Bitcoin transactions with fiverr.com:

  • -0.00786 BTC
  • -0.007965 BTC
  • -0.00828 BTC

You see, each time you buy something with Bitcoin, the amount changes because the “value” of Bitcoin constantly changes. Unfortunately, not always in your favor, as you can see by mine. There is also a small fee for carrying out the transaction. I’m not sure how much it is in Dollars or Bitcoins because I didn’t pay a lot of attention.

The problem is that if you use Dollars to pay for something and the amount is $5, you pay $5 on whatever day it is. Not so with Bitcoin. As you can see, I paid three different amounts of Bitcoin each time, although the value of the transaction was $5. Well, $5 in Dollars, that is.

This is one of the strongest arguments against Bitcoin. You don’t really know how much you’re paying because the value fluctuates so much, so often that you can’t track it and there’s not a single exchange value for Bitcoin. So, your favorite exchange might value Bitcoin at $500, while another exchange values it at $450.

One day you might barely be able to buy lunch with a certain amount of Bitcoin and the next day you could buy the restaurant with that same amount. Weird, huh?

I still don’t see the point of using it for transactions because of that point. There are many others, but again, that’s another story.

The jury (literally) is still out on Bitcoin. If I were a betting man, I’d say that the Federal Government or InterPol will shut down all Bitcoin and other cryptocurrency transactions in the near future. And if you think that Silk Road and Mt Gox left people feeling the pain, just wait until Uncle Sam decides that Bitcoin is not only shady but illegal.

Lessons Learned

You might believe that purchasing Twitter followers has left me with a less than enthusiastic endorsement of the practice, but it hasn’t. I think that growing your following organically is the best thing to do. It’s the most honest thing to do, for sure. But hiring “shills” is nothing new to the business scene. It’s actually a very old practice. People, by their very nature, are crowd followers. If you see that someone only has 100 followers, you’re not as likely to follow as you are if that same person has 150K followers.

It’s just the way we’re made. Do I believe that everyone I’ve listed in the examples above have “plumped” their following with purchased or fake followers? Certainly not. The fact is that anyone can buy followers for any account. If I wanted to, I could purchase 5,000 followers for a Twitter account other than my own. That part might surprise you. If you don’t believe me, I’ll buy someone, maybe you, 5,000 Twitter followers. There’s not much you can do about it.

You can buy a subscription to a service that will delete them. But what if they’re wrong? What if they delete real ones that are simply inactive? It’s a dilemma, for sure.

Unlike Kevin Ashton, and who knows who else, I only spent $20 to test this idea of purchased fame. I think the $20 was well spent. It gave me fodder for this post and a bit of entertainment as well. Can’t go to a movie and buy a Coke and popcorn for $20.

Do I think it’s a good practice to buy Twitter followers or Facebook Likes or any other form of fake fame? No, I don’t. It’s kind of silly, really. But, I wonder, is it really all that different than having a Publicist strategize a “chance” photo shoot of a celebrity doing something in public? Is it all that different than running a commercial on TV or sending out a Press Release? Or filming a music video where the artists lip sync while thousands of screaming fans look on?

I think the best practice is to grow your audience, attract your Facebook Likes, acquire multi-star ratings on Amazon, and gather +1s on Google+ by doing something well. That seems to be good advice.

However, in the grand scheme of things, who really cares how many Twitter followers someone has, fake or otherwise? I really don’t care. If you’d have told someone, even you, 20 years ago about Twitter, you’d have laughed a part of your anatomy off. It’s really a silly thing. Social networks in general are silly. Facebook is silly, Twitter is silly, and so on. LinkedIn is pretty good because it’s professional and you can actually measure its value but it’s the exception.

So many people use bots and automated tweeter software that everyone is tweeting but not that many people are reading. Twitter users tweet about everything and they expect that someone is reading their stuff but it really just goes into the electronic aethers to compete with all the other bots and automated quips, fluff, and “sage” advice.

This was an experiment for me. The greatest lesson that I’ve personally learned from it is that Twitter, Twitter followers, Facebook Likes, and Bitcoin only have value if you give them value–or if “everyone else” gives them value and you join in. On their own, they have none.

Now, how much will it cost me to get rid of the fake Twitter followers? Adding followers is easier than getting rid of them. There are services that want to charge you to do this but I think I’ll just wait it out and let Twitter Darwinism take effect. There is a person on fiverr.com, oddly enough, who’ll remove 500 fake followers for $5. So, it costs $20 to buy 15K followers and $150 to remove them. Not a chance.

*People who use Twitter, often as their own platform. Think digital graffiti artists.

**fiverr.com supports sellers of all kinds of “gigs” as they call them. From voiceovers to art to music and, of course, Twitter followers. The site is legitimate and most of the sellers are as well.

Related Articles:

I Bought 27,000 Fake Twitter Followers—and Then Twitter Zapped Them Into Oblivion

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