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Hamming from the ISS

Hamming from the ISS

The picture was taken on the International Space Station (ISS) and shows Doug Wheelock, KF5BOC, Expedition 24 flight engineer, operating the NA1SS ham radio station in the Zvezda Service Module of the International Space Station (courtesy Wikipedia).

My initial thought was Wow! A hobby aboard such an expensive science experiment – don’t they have more important things to do!

Until I gave it some thought. Ham radio (amateur radio) is not a hobby, but a service. The origins are vested in the original desire to get messages out when the public (or even governmental) services are under strain. The title of the American Radio Relay League (ARRL), which is the national association for amateur radio in the USA (SARL in my country South Africa) gives the secret away: It was a radio relay service that passed important messages around.

In just about all the major disasters around the globe, the ham radio operators were there first to establish an emergency communications network.

Now it makes sense. While the guys on the ISS are sometimes playing, it is serious playing. It is like keeping the skills sharp with a smile. And if all else fails … the ham radio will be there.

On The Way Out Maybe?

Next Wave

Next Wave

It is Monday morning, the beginning of a new week, and I have a few days off between projects which I use to catch up / read the news / ponder trends. So it strikes me: Is Project Management still the buzz it was 10 years ago, or is it fast becoming just another management skill to be diifused into the corporate fabric?

The discipline of planning and scheduling is almost embedded in the Microsoft Office Suites, and almost anybody with no idea of management can be trained to point and click and produce something that looks like a graph of activities.

The skill of cost estimating and budgeting has narrowed its focus into the Cost Engineering fraternity where they shun anything that even looks like a project manager, opting instead to play with their calculations and spreadsheets.

The art of risk and change management has become a no-mans land, where only the most daring of individuals tread with their powerpoint presentations in hand. Companies have become so risk-averse in general and perhaps rightly so. Multi-billion dollar claims for personal injury or loss is not uncommon and class-action suits appear more regularly in the news.

So what is the next emerging management trend? If project management was riding the crest of the wave ten years ago, what is the new wave? Are we for example retracting into a “safe” world where the accountants smile and there are no identified risks (but no great rewards either)? Or are we sidestepping the really interesting new emerging technologies in favour of old established patterns? Either way I think your competition might spot a weakness in your armour to exploit, and then?

But that wasn’t the question. The question is: Who are the next generation of creators of wealth? Who are the guys that will plan, organise and execute on the brilliant ideas of the inventors and entrepreneurs? What are we going to call that discipline, and what tools are they going to use? Their tools will define them, because it appears to me that we have managed to generalise all the important tools (Excel, MS Project, PowerPoint, etc) to the point where you no longer need a specialist with a big laptop to operate them. The existing tools can do everything we want to do.

It is time for an inevitable change. The old is done, the new is waiting in the wings. But what does it look like? Do you want to take a guess? Comments are welcome!

Windows Phone 8 Review



I had the opportunity to use a Windows 8 phone for a few days. Specifically the one made by HTC, the smaller 8S. I picked up and held the 8X, but it was about as heavy as my existing HTC One X, so I thought it would be nicer to play with the 8S.

It is the cutest-looking phone on the market today. Hardware and sexyness gets a full 10 out of 10. The rest is bad. Very bad.

After unpacking the box I spent 6 solid hours trying to get it going, and I am deeply disappointed. I feel like a Groom on the first honeymoon night when the Bride tells him she is very willing but sorry, she doesn’t have all the important parts yet. Yes, it is that serious.

This Windows 8 phone is not, by any stretch of the imagination, an upgrade from anything. It is too low on the scale.

For example, it has maps. OK. But not turn-by-turn voice directions. I found that out on my way to an important appointment.

Then there is the total lack of storage management. The phone itself leaves the user with just over a Gig or memory – and that is no problem. I inserted a 4Gb micro SD card and guess what – I can still not manage my storage my way.

Then there is the really interesting story of syncing your data. The new syncing situation is this with WP8.

1) You cannot sync over WiFi. WP7/Zune users enjoyed this feature from day one of the release. Even Zune 8 and Zune HD users had this ability. In Windows Phone 8, on both Win7 and Win8, you now are restricted to a wired sync.

2) You cannot sync Podcasts at all. The Windows Phone App on both Win8 and Win7 does not support podcasts. The only podcast support is via OTA updates on WP8 and they do not sync at all. You wrote a column yourself on this topic recommending iTunes of all things to work around this.

3) You cannot sync playlists to WP8 from Xbox Music. There seems to be a bug in the WP App that doesn’t recognize Playlists in Xbox Music. There is no way that I can find to create a playlist in the WP App.

4) WP8 uses different DRM than Zune making downloaded content incompatible.

5) WP8 supports fewer file formats than WP7 and there is no feature to convert content when syncing.

These are just a few of the biggest and most obvious issues. XBox Music loses a lot of the functionality that existed in Zune Music meaning that many of the Syncing features that depended on them are gone, specifically the concept of Dynamic playlists and auto-fill. The file browser in the WP App is really terrible and without filtering it’s really painful to get through music catalogs that are thousands of songs long. Organizing photos is no better.

The PC syncing situation with WP8 is nothing short of a disaster.

Did I mention that I cannot update my DropBox directly with my critical notes? Oops.

No MS, I think you have to go back to the drawing board. This phone is cute but useless.

Keeping In Touch



When you are a project manager on the road, happiness is a working phone, any phone, just as long as you can stay in contact. And pictures of sites, problems, designs, notes or whatever is an essential piece of that communications puzzle. Cairo or Cape Town, just get the message through.

I’ve been on Symbian for a few years (my favourite is a Nokia E72) and all my apps and contacts and mail simply works. I don’t have to waste time on technology, I can focus on getting the job done. Even if I lose a phone completely I could take (and have taken!) a brand new phone from the box (or a spare from the cupboard) and be fully operational in a few minutes. That is called peace of mind.

But as we all know, technology doesn’t stand still. Nokia sold out to Microsoft and their new technology is not very robust right now. iPhone is an option as a phone, but a few apps didn’t quite work together and so my iPhone went to one of the children. The remaining option is Android. But this is a big jump, changing your platform is a commitment for 3 or 4 years to get return on investment on all the time wasted transporting things across to the new world.

Nevertheless I decided to give the new Motorola RAZR a try. Note that this is not my first foray into the world of Android, I’ve played extensively with Froyo 2.2 and I have tons of experience on a Galaxy tablet. What I need is just that little bit extra in speed and future upgrade possibilities. Looking back, I made exactly the right decision.

My Motorola RAZR has been a pleasure to use, generally. I had a small problem with sending MMS pictures, which turned out to be a Vodacom problem but the folks at Motorola kept me constantly updated and they made sure the guys at Vodacom were aware of their responsibilities to deliver a working network. I love the RAZR form factor, I really like the software skin and Motorola customizations, and all my apps work exactly as they should. For staying in contact I use a cloud-based approach mostly based on Google. The RAZR excels at this task. I’m very cautious about exposing my contacts in the cloud, and my notes too, and I use a strong encryption layer. Encrypting files are a pleasure on the RAZR, it has more than enough power in the dual-core processor. I’m still toying with some minor utilities to do better backups of SMS messages, but there are tons of nice apps in the Marketplace to help me.

Back home I quickly set up a media centre and I can now stream any of my movies or music to the RAZR, something I wasn’t able to do previously. Clearly the guys at Motorola is pushing the envelope of what a simple hand-held device can do.

I’ll keep you informed of any new developments, but as of today I can confidently say that I am transitioning my lifeline (as a project manager) from Nokia/Symbian to Motorola/Android for the next few years, and I’m looking forward to the journey. Well done, Motorola!