Bits from Bill

Technology thoughts leaking from the brain of "Bill Pytlovany"

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Amazon Alexa, the Next Computing Platform

Anyone who has paid attention to my posts this year will have noticed two new topics.

1) Lyme Disease
I won't be the only one you’ll hear sounding this year's Lyme alarm. The medical establishment continues to debate the proper diagnosis and treatment of Lyme Disease. They all agree more cases are being reported but no organization has been keeping track of the exact number.  I may occasionally rant how long my “chronic CNS Lyme” was missed over years of various hospitalizations.  After weeks of daily intravenous antibiotics my symptoms definitely improved but after six months and the loss of over 40 lbs. my doctors are now ready to document my current condition.

The majority of folks who learn of my condition want to share their favorite tick removal method and tell me how Lyme disease must make my joints sore and I must have been given antibiotics. The CNS prefix in my diagnosis refers to "Central Nervous System" which thankfully only infect a small number Lyme cases. For me it meant early retirement.

2) Amazon's Alexa
Alexa devices have become the leader in services provided by its "Voice User Interface" design.  I invested in my first Alexa device, the Amazon Tap, in June 2016. I discovered the music library available to Amazon Prime members was huge and the sound quality of the Tap is outstanding. It didn’t take long before Amazon had a big sale day for prime users(July 12, 2016) and I upgraded to an Amazon Echo with its seven microphone array.  I was convinced that Alexa was a winner and Amazon had put together a solid development team. The guarantee for a future was Amazon’s efforts to attract a large number of 3rd party developers and create partnerships with both software and hardware developers.
 In February 2017, I noticed I my "Tap" had a firmware update. It wasn't a security update it wasn’t just a bug fix, it was a brand new valuable feature.  Just like my Echo I could now set my Tap to be hands-free activated. I now keep my Tap in the kitchen and still use it to play one of the many Playlists from Prime Music. I depend on Alexa to let me set timers when cooking or to remind me to check my laundry. Both ideal tasks for a voice user interface. For someone disabled because of a nervous system disorder like mine, Alexa would be a must-have accessibility device yet there is something for everyone.  
Last month I was surprised by a new firmware update when I noticed the color of the Echo's circle turned Green. So, naturally I asked Alexa what the green light was for and she told me I had a message. I learned that I could now use my Echo to call or send a voice messages to anyone with a supported Alexa device including the Alexa app on the Apple iPhone or Android phones.  Not only does it provide free voice messaging, I don't have to lift a finger to create a conversation. Just like a timer, this is a feature that makes living with Lyme disease just a little bit easier. Many times, if I don't have a chance to send a message immediately, I'll lose track of what I had planned to share. 
 I’ve seen a number of computing platforms come and go. Usually, the key to success is having what I call a “killer app.” The Alexa platform and the voice interface model developed by Amazon has already provided many killer apps* with plenty of imagination left for more. I’ve been asked to compare Alexa to the Google Home Assistant and the new Apple HomePod without starting a brand war. I consider other voice assistants as apps, where are Alexa is a platform. 
 If I sound over excited, check out some of the other new features at
Alexa Calling & Messaging  
or see how Alexa has been adopted by "The Seeing Eye" Guide Dog school in Morristown, NJ.

 *Instead of having “apps”, programs that run on an Alexa device are called “skills.”

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Sunday, March 12, 2017

Rebooting Bits From Bill

Over ten years ago I started to share my thoughts and advice here at Bits From Bill.  At the time I focused on new technology and what folks could do to make using a personal computer safe and efficient. Blogs may not be popular anymore but the support I've had here has encouraged me to keep in touch.

As many of you know I've battled with health issues in recent years. The struggle had an impact on my work including the time I was able to devote to this blog. I'm hoping to reboot sharing what my brain finds valuable and will write about topics I hope you'll find worthy.

"... the first tech toy... I use every day...."
I will be sharing tips about my new best friend Alexa. The popular Amazon assistant is being included in a variety of devices and is in a category all it's own. I've talked to many people who haven't explored Alexa enough to realize how powerful these devices are.  Alexa is the first tech toy I've purchased since 1999 that I use every day and it has truly enhanced my productivity. (In 1999 I discovered TiVo)

"... a lot of loT devices to be Alexa compatible."
Naturally, as a Blue Hat hacker, I will still be paying attention to tricks used to steal passwords and personal info. I'm surprised at the attention given to Wikileaks for disclosing details of tools we've been talking about for years.  I'll share my research into security flaws in Windows Universal and devices using the "Internet of Things"(IoT). Don't be surprised if I promote loT devices to be Alexa compatible.

"Central Nervous System Lyme Disease"
I will share my experiences with technology advances
in medicine. In 1980, I wrote a paper predicting how computers would be used in the future of health care. I may share more personal details of my own experience.
Dead Tick
I'm in the process of being a survivor of chronic Central Nervous System Lyme Disease. Only 10-15% of those infected by a Lyme infected tick are of the CNS type. Mine was finally confirmed following a spinal tap ordered by my hero, Dr. David Rockwell. The time it takes me to write isn't what it used to be but it's healthy for me and I'll save the best bits for you.


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Saturday, August 06, 2016

Retirement of an Independent Developer

As an Independent Developer I've experienced a couple common problems with growing old and planning for retirement.  The first is a challenge for anyone who works for themselves. When you have an occupation without  a pension or shared retirement plan you really need to put something aside for retirement. I reinvested most profits back into the business which mostly went to health benefits. Makes me wonder if adding 3rd party toolbars would have been the best long term business decision. 

Another more unique challenge is how to complete a product cycle.  Over the years I've developed special relationships with many of my customers. How do you notify a large user base that you no longer support a program because you want to retire?  In the case of my flagship WinPatrol product I found Bret Lowry. A young ambitious and experienced security expert Bret has an understanding and respect for his customers. Bret is now the face of WinPatrol and owns all its code, graphics and reputation. Many WinPatrol fans have been using it for over 10 years so it was important to meet everyone's needs. Bret has combined the best of WinPatrol technology with his own experience to create new solutions ready to battle with new security threats.

Over the last couple years, I've updated an old favorite called Task Catcher. I also created a service to let folks know what personal data has been compromised and how. Customers found the "BlueHat" service to be curious but most who took advantage of this service were already educated on best practices for personal security. As more attacks were acknowledged by large and small corporations it became increasingly difficult and costly to keep up. It also put me in contact with too many untrustworthy groups who were stealing personal information. 
I've had many ideas for the future but continued health issues have made me realize I won't be able to make the commitment required of an Independent Developer. As such,  I'm taking this opportunity to officially announce my retirement. I've had an amazing experience working in the personal computer; online service;  PC gaming; Interactive TV, Security industry and more. My brain will continue to think, "How can this be better?" as I use my laptop, phone and other programmable devices. Education is still important to me from sharing good computer stories to serving on the board of our local school district.

To my friends who have made donations during my toughest time of medical treatments, I will forever be grateful and will forward your kindness on to others.  If I do create any programs that might be useful I'll be making them available for free. I will also continue to live up to the honor of receiving the Microsoft “Most Valuable Professional” awards. I hope to have more time to help answer questions online, write useful Bits from Bill leaks and continue speaking engagements when possible.

THANKS!
Bill




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Saturday, December 26, 2015

BillP Studios Update for 2015

It's been awhile since I've updated my Bits from Bill.  After the sale of my WinPatrol program, life online has been quiet.  I do have a couple for utilities available along with my popular Task Catcher program but they haven’t required as much time as I put into WinPatrol.  It has still been a challenge since getting older has come with a few surprises.

The result of multiple hospitalizations has meant a temporary loss of many BillP managed websites. This includes email functionality for sites like BillP.com and TaskCatcher.com.  I can't say when everything will be back to normal so I'm making my personal e-mail available to anyone with questions.  I can be contacted at BillP@aol.com.  I've had this e-mail address for almost 30 years and I plan on keeping it even if they do make fun of America Online on NCIS.
  
Page Not Found

I've hosted my web sites using Verio for almost 20 years and this is the first time I’ve been offline for such a long period of time. Verio has helped as much as possible but this outage is a failure that is my responsibility.

The past year has been one of transition. I've really been lucky to have many friends online who have provided support in many ways. Over the years of developing WinPatrol  I’ve been lucky to  consider many customers as friends and will continue to be helpful as long as I can. I hope that 2016 will be a year of recovery and the introduction of new BillP apps that are universally available to all Windows 10 systems, including tablets, phones and the “Internet of Things.

I'll continue updates here on Bits From Bill.
Thanks,
BillP




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