Reading Books Faster: A Better Way

I have always like to read, as a child I would read anything from cereal boxes, to newspapers to Readers Digest to Encyclopedias, so it’s very much a part of my life. But if I could read faster and consume more information in less time that would be helpful. I recently found a way to do this that is very effective but I’d like to share with you.

I read a lot of different types of materials, including webpages, or paper books and magazines. But the last year so I’ve been using a lot more Kindle books as well as Audible audiobooks. Amazon has done a great job of combining the two so that you can now buy a Kindle book and read it on any device you have, and at the same time purchase the Audible book. The cost of the two formats combined is usually less than the cost of the hardcover book. The greatest thing they have done is integrate the two of them together so that reading progress in the book is also counted as listening progress on the audible app.  

I can start a book in the morning when I first wake up and read a couple of chapters, then jump in the car and while driving to the office listen to the next chapter, then over lunch read another chapter, and on the way home listen to the fifth chapter. This is allowing me to go through many more books in a shorter time.

I highly recommend this approach.

VCIO – Better IT for Small-Medium Organizations

The Problem of CIOs in Small-Medium Organizations

Organizations are designed with responsibilities and personnel capable to carry them out.  These are then placed in a hierarchical structure we see reflected in an “org chart”.  One of the boxes on this chart an organization sees a need for is a CIO or CTO, to reflect the need for somebody to be responsible for the information technology function and have the capabilities to carry it out.

But small organizations rarely start off with a CIO; instead they start off with a junior help desk person or perhaps a network administrator.  The cost of starting off with a highly skilled CIO is too high and having them do helpdesk work or fixing printers is not an effective use of budget.  But having the low-end skills of a help desk person doesn’t provide the organization with the ability to align the business and technology. IT personnel new in their career or more junior by default focus more on the technology and gadgets than they do on the business needs and technology that would solve their problems.  They request a lot of budget, but bring little new ideas to production that will help the business. By having the junior person on staff the organization is not only faced with a lack of necessary skills, they also now must manage a skill they have little understanding about.  This creates ineffective decisions and misspent funds.

You might consider at this point “Why not hire a CIO?”  For organizations of less than 500 users a CIO would be a luxury. They are a fairly expensiDavid Howard VCIOve proposition, and with the revenues of the organization they would not have enough funds to invest to take advantage of their skill set. They would have great ideas about implementing new sales force automation, e-commerce systems, inventory management and other exciting prospects for the business, but then face a budget that does not allow them to implement them.

What is the solution then? How can an organization have these essential skills and yet spend the right amount for their size?

Solution: A VCIO

A “Virtual CIO”, or as we will refer to it, a VCIO, is a fractional or part-time resource that can work with the business leaders of the organization and oversee IT operations.  They may work between 16 and 40 hours per month depending on the investment level and project status.  Sometimes they may be close to full time, but generally it will be much less than that.  They will be present for key meetings about the business strategy or perhaps the weekly operational meeting to review business status, and will do work on their own to review options, speak with IT staff, or end users about key issues.  You as an organization will pay for only what you need.

VCIOSome capabilities and services of the CIO can offer you are:

  • IT Strategy: develop an overall plan for information technology based on the discussions with business leaders and understanding of the industry and market conditions.
  • Understand the business: the key issue here is that the VCIO will be a part of your management team, and will listen from a technology perspective to the problems the business has. Every person on the management team comes from a different focus, a sales manager will talk about how to increase sales, or a production manager will be focused on how production works with the rest of the organization. The VCIO will listen from a technology perspective so that when they hear problems they will contemplate and suggest options that employ technology in ways that others on the team have not considered.
  • Design the technology platform, policy and process, and personnel for the current and future needs of the business. These are the three key aspects of IT: the technology put in place such as which ERP system or servers to use, the process IT uses to support and manage systems and users, and the personnel and their roles within the IT department. The VCIO can align these to provide a fully effective IT function that meets the needs of the business.
  • Business Process Mapping – people with an IT skill set are often very keen on the business process and flow of data through the organization. A skilled VCIO can help you map the business process and identify bottlenecks and points where efficiencies can be gained either by implementing technology or changing a business process.
  • IT Roadmap aligned to the business: they can develop a roadmap of technology changes and suggested projects with business analysis included to show you how the future can look with technology options.
  • Benchmarking IT capabilities against industry-standards: most markets are competitive, and technology is an enabler to increase the velocity of the business. To the extent a business uses IT well compared to others, they will have a greater velocity of revenue generation, product creation and production, and cash management. These key aspects of the business must exceed the competition or you will look up from the bottom of the market. A VCIO can help you benchmark and improve this.

Having a VCIO will provide your business with a single point of contact for IT needs that aligns to the business, a partner invested in your long-term needs, and a technology leader to sit with the CEO, CFO, and other business champions and make sure the technology is an enabler for the business.

Contact us today to discuss how we can help you for a manageable cost and maximum results.

Bimodal IT – Maintain the Now and Plan for the Future


Keystone Technology Museum

Bimodal IT is a methodology being adopted by organizations so they have a division of focus and effort between taking care of the current or legacy technology, while also looking to the future and what is needed to sustain the organization as business and technology cycles continue to ripple.

Every organization follows a methodology, whether it is formalized or not. This is true of the organization and the key components or departments. Your accounting department follows a methodology according to Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), your production and quality departments may follow methodologies directed by ISO standards for documentation, and Lean or Six Sigma for means to manage and measure production. The information technology department is no different though it often lags behind other departments in terms of formality in methodology. If a methodology is identified, trained, communicated, and followed it can assist the IT department in working with the business to align the technology to the needs of the organization.

One of the trends in Information technology management methodologies is Bimodal IT.

What is Bimodal IT?

Bimodal IT is an approach to information technology where two areas are in focus, with expected results established for each.

The first area is the traditional IT function which remains highly valuable: the normal “keep the current systems reliable, secure and performing” so the business can deliver on its plans and promises. The emphasis here is on safety, accuracy, reliability, and scalability.

The second area is innovative (or fast mode), and emphasizes speed and agility.

A great CIO will struggle to compete with small, disruptive startups that threaten the business. The startups do not have the overhead an existing IT operation must maintain, and are not limited by the lack of focus on something new.  They can be fast and agile. But a good CIO can simply shift resources to be focused on innovation.

Gartner research has studied this trend, where Peter Sondergaard, senior vice president and global head of research, said “CIOs can’t transform their old IT organization into a digital startup, but they can turn it into a bimodal IT organization. Forty-five percent of CIOs state they currently have a fast mode of operation, and we predict that 75% of IT organizations will be bimodal in some way by 2017.

Bimodal IT is simply a shift in some resources, with goals of speed and agility to develop options and solutions for current and future problems.

What Problems does Bimodal IT Address?

There are several problems this methodology is addressing.

  • Keeping IT current so the organization does not fall behind – a key business case for the danger of neglecting upgrades and innovation in IT is the New York subway system (discussed here). The subway system was designed and built in the 1930s to provide for safety and largely avoid collisions between trains.  The article’s author, Bob Lewis points out the details and the estimate to replace it was set at 20 billion dollars.   The obsolete technology’s issues had been known for a long time, and discussions held to plan its replacement in an orderly fashion for the budget and operational cycles had been thoroughly designed and vetted, right?  No, the discussions followed the same path they do in most organizations facing a potentially expensive replacement of a legacy system (the following italicized text is from Mr. Lewis article): Does any of this sound familiar — a legacy system that would be good enough except its architecture is obsolete, the platforms it runs on aren’t around anymore, and:
    • “Lift-and-shift” replacement provide no new features, and so no business-driven value to justify the expense?
    • Nobody can describe important new features that would justify anything more than a lift-and-shift replacement?
    • Investing in any replacement system would drain needed capital away from other efforts that are also important for the organization’s ongoing survival and success?
  • Increasing Value – the most persistent complaint from business leadership about IT is that it is unreliable. Once that is solved, the second most persistent complaint is that it is not adding value to the business. The IT department spends their budget and focus to “keep the lights” on, but never comes to the table with investment opportunities with clear ROI that will help the business. A lot of IT shops spend 85% of their budget on maintaining what is, rather than thinking about what could be.  This holds back 70% of IT leaders from focusing on innovative projects that will increase business value.  Bimodal IT allocates a certain percentage of the IT function to the future needs, and should be associated with an accountability to develop innovative options for the business.
  • Attracting great talent – Great talent in technology likes to work on interesting projects, so having projects that are more than just point upgrades will attract and retain people with better skills and ability to deliver innovation. They will add value in multiple ways in all areas of IT.

Is Bimodal IT a Fad, or Will It Help Me?

Maybe it is a fad term; the phrase Bimodal IT may go the way of “zero defects”, “Total Quality Management”, and other names for lost methodologies. But the concept of planning the orderly replacement of obsolescent technologies and developing new options is a good thing, no matter what it is called. This requires a focus on new solutions to the changing technology landscape and business challenges.

We focus on the actual goals, not the terms. And there are other methodology options that people are passionate about, such as Dev Ops or Agile which are also good.  The main thought we raise is we believe some of your efforts should be focused on the future, where technology can make an impact negatively if not dealt with (New York subway), or make a positive impact on a growing organization (disruptive technologies that provide a competitive advantage, e.g. “news blogs vs traditional newspapers”).

To maintain the now, and plan for the future, you will need a strategy to generate new options (innovations) which can be implemented (accountability).  This will help you avoid the negative and benefit from the positive.

Keystone’s Bimodal IT

We spend a lot of time looking at the current systems via monitoring tools, reports, and visual review.  We also look at the future: we just returned from the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, where we witnessed numerous trends in robotics, product development, monitoring with connected devices, and so much more.

We also published two articles on Technology Frontiers you may enjoy, part 1 and part 2.

One of the features we have at Keystone is a technology museum.  You may wonder what does a museum have to doKeystone Technology Museum - Bimodal IT with Bimodal IT?  It does for two primary reasons.

The museum has items that come and go to keep it fresh, but starts in t1800s technologyhe 1800s with old journals of a store’s transactions and accounts (“the books”), which were filled out with a pen dipped in ink.  This was “technology”. It then moves totypewriters that replaced the pen, and PCs that replaced the typewriter.  These were shifts that had to be planned for or the risk of being out of business was real. These past shifts give us insight into how to plan for future shifts.

We always reserve the last section of the museum for future technology; something that represents what IBM PCcomes that can make a difference and must be planned for. We see things here that are part of the Internet of Things (IOT), 3D printing for product development and someday delivery, voice command technology, and so much more.

It is all a continuum of technology we help clients understand and implement. The past into the future.  Maintain the now, and plan for the future.

You may want to know how to implement this approach, contact Keystone today to start that discussion!


Technology Frontiers, Part 2: IoT and Voice Recognition

We previously wrote about some of the technology frontiers we are exploring, and described three that are exciting:

  • 3D Printing
  • Clustered Computing
  • Latest Applications, Operating Systems, and Devices

But much like exploring a new area untouched before, we have two more that are both exciting and showing real promise for the future of technology and how it affects our lives.  These are the Internet of Things (IoT) and Voice Recognition, especially when paired with artificial intelligence and machine learning.   We describe both of these in this article.

Internet of Things (IoT)

The Internet was originally an environment where we hooked our computers to the internet provider and started using email or the world wide web (WWW). Humans were clicking links, watching a video, and sending an email. We initiated the majority of traffic by our explicit and direct actions, predominately in a web browser.

But the use of the Internet as a super-highway for information has changed: now devices and things are generating most of the traffic that is zipping through our data lines. In fact, Cisco did a study that estimated that “Data created by IoT devices will hit 507.5 ZB per year by 2019, up from 134.5 ZB in 2014.” (source: ZdNet Article: In case you are wondering, a “ZB” is a Zetabyte, or 1 billion terabytes – and that is a lot!

So what is the Internet of Things (hereafter abbreviated “IoT”)?  It is the accumulation of the devices that are connected to the internet and generating (and sending) or receiving data.  It is sometime analogous to Machine to Machine communication (M2M, no humans involved).  Some examples:

  • Your cell phones’ GPS coordinates while you are using maps
  • A Nest thermostat in your home that you can connect to and raise the temperature, and which “learns” your life’s patterns to automatically start managing the system based on your history.
  • A location based tracking beacon to show you where your keys were left behind.
  • Public trash cans that use real-time data collection and alerts to let municipal services know when a bin needs to be emptied.
  • Wireless sensors embedded within concrete foundations to ensure the integrity of a structure; these sensors provide load and event monitoring both during and after construction.
  • Activity sensors placed on an elderly loved one that monitor daily routines and give peace of mind for their safety by alerting you to any serious disruptions detected in their normal schedule.
  • And so many more…

In every case it is some device that is communicating data, not a person directly doing so.

Based on the utility as well as the total data being collected, we can quickly see where this can explode.  Instead of you personally collecting and transmitting data, a device will do this for you. It is in effect what everybody dreams about when you think that your refrigerator will send a list to the local grocery store for items to replenish (and by the way Amazon now offers a “Dash button” that is designed to order some common household items at the push of a button).

Voice Recognition

We are using Voice Recognition more and more every day, in applications like Apple Siri or Google Now, or when we call into an automated messaging attendant at an insurance company and say our date of birth or policy # to a computer, or use voice to text capabilities. You have likely used one of these recently, but never really thought about it. It has become commonplace, but is expanding to be an option of choice for interacting with data.

Like most people, I interact with a lot of email; usually between 100-200 legitimate emails per day that are critical.  Although I am sitting at a PC, I tend to grab my iPhone and use the microphone key to answer emails using my voice.  A quick press and I am orally stating my response, or sending a new email.  I also use Dragon products on both Windows and Macintosh OSX to generate larger documents.  In fact, this article is about 95% voice generated on a Windows laptop with Dragon Naturally Speaking.  I use it to dictate the text, select text and apply formatting like bold or italics, and other advanced capabilities.  I confess that I do not type very well (if only I would have joined the mostly female typing class in my high school!), so the ability to use my voice is a tremendous advantage. It is not only a convenience; it is a huge productivity boost; I have generated documents of thousands of words in an afternoon.

And while I love the ability to simply state my words and see them appear in an email or Word document, when I see them combined with artificial intelligence such as Siri or Microsoft Cortana, it provides a truly personal digital assistant – one that knows what I am looking for. Here are some examples.

  • On my iPhone, I long press the home button and Siri pops up, and I say “When do the Cleveland Browns play?”, and Siri responds orally and on screen with the opponent and date/time of the next game.
  • Voice recognition in CortanaOn my Windows 10 PC I ask the same question and Cortana (the Microsoft voice persona) answers the same basic info, but on screen she also shows the probability of victory for the Pittsburgh Steelers at a 70.2% chance today. And by the way, Cortana has been 140-84 through 16 NFL weeks.
  • On my Windows PC, I can ask “what documents did I work on today?” with my voice, and see a list of everything.
  • On my iPad, I can ask “What is my schedule tomorrow?” and see and hear a list of my appointments.
  • On almost any device, I can ask, “what is the temperature over the next 3 days?” and get a nice forecast for the next three days (it is getting colder…brrr…).
  • On my iPhone, I long press the home button, and say “Remind me to let the dogs in in 10 minutes” and a reminder is created that dutifully goes off 10 minutes later.
  • On my Android tablet I say “Ok Google”. Then “email to John Smith”, “subject Client X need”, “Message We need to call them back today” and it sends an email with that info to John on my team.

In other words, I can ask questions that are personal to me (what is my schedule?) or from my world (“what is the temperature over the next three days?”) and get a context specific reply. Or I can give instructions to do something I need (“remind me in 10 minutes to let the dogs in”).  It seems like I am asking a human who knows what I want, and they give me a reply that is appropriate for the context in which I asked.

These functions are easy to use, and I highly recommend that you try them out.  If you want a place to start, try one of the following:

  • On your Windows 10 PC, click the Cortana microphone and says “Help Me Cortana”, she will show a list of suggested capabilities to get you started.
  • Try the same thing on your iPhone, hold down the home button until it responds, and says “Help me Siri” to get a list of suggested actions (you can also configure it to respond to “Hey Siri).
  • On an Android device, try saying “Ok Google”, then say “help”

What you can see is that your devices can interact with you on your terms.  It is not perfect, sometimes we see the famous and usually funny (and sometimes embarrassing) auto-correct responses when we use our voice, but overall it is really working quite well.

Summary of Technology Frontiers

There are waves of technology shifts that represent new frontiers for users and business organizations, and each represents some questions: What is this?  How can it help me?  What are the risks? We are looking at these so you know we have an eye on what may make a difference for you!

This week, some of us from Keystone will be at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, which is the largest expo of technology directed at consumers and organizations that serve them.  We are excited to continue to dig in and see what is coming down the road that will affect all of our lives!

Five Overlooked Excel Capabilities

Microsoft Excel has numerous capabilities some of which are familiar such as the ability to sum a column, or create a chart. But there are also many that are little-known and yet very helpful. In this article we will examine five often overlooked capabilities of Microsoft Excel. For the purpose of this article, we will be using Microsoft Excel 2016, but many of these are available in earlier versions.  Microsoft has added numerous capabilities to Excel over the years, and we recommend keeping current to gain these advantages.  Hopefully, you find these overlooked Excel capabilities helpful!

Overlooked Excel Capabilities #1: Rollover Aggregates

Often times you might want to look at a range of numbers and determine the sum of those numbers, or average, etc. You may be tempted to create a formula in the spreadsheet in order to do this, but if you do not need to persistently see display that value you can simply highlight a range of cells and Excel will show you the sum, average, and count of values in the lower right corner of the status bar.

Excel Rollover Aggregates


Overlooked Excel Capabilities #2: Absolute References

This capability is actually something that has existed since very early versions of Excel, and in fact has been in all spreadsheets since the 1980s. But we included here because often times people do not understand how cell referencing works.

Normally when you create a formula in a spreadsheet it is using what is called “relative referencing”, which means that if you have a spreadsheet with a value in cell A1, and a second value and sell A2, and then you create a formula in cell A3 to multiply the two previous numbers, the formula will be relative.  This then allows you to copy the formula into column B, C, and so forth so that each row three multiplies the values in rows 1 and 2.

However, you may want to always reference a specific cell in your formula. For example, if you have a table of inventory items with their current sales price, and you would like to multiply every item by 1.05 in order to see what the price would be with a 5% increase, you may want to put 1.05 as a value in a single cell of the spreadsheet. This will allow you to change a single point, and the entire inventory would be updated so that you could change it from 1.05 to 1.06.  In order to do this you must use an absolute reference.

First let’s look at what a relative reference looks like in the formula.  In the figure to the right, you can see that cell A3 has a formula which is “=A1*A2”.  This formula is the same in cells B, C, D, and E, but in each case the “A” is changed to the column header (e.g. “B”). In this case we have copied the formula from A3 into columns B through E on the same row, but in each case it converted the “A” into the appropriate column header.Excel Relative Reference




But what if we wanted to create a formula as we describe before with inventory parts and potential price increases? In that case we will need to have an absolute reference. Here is what that looks like:

Excel Absolute Reference

In this case we have a set of parts that we can sell, and each has a current price shown in column H. In column I, we have a formula which takes the current price and multiplies it by the factor which we are increasing it by in this case it is shown in cell “I1”, and is 1.05.

Note that the formula has a ‘$’ character inserted in front of both the column reference and the row reference, so that instead of writing the formula as “=H4*I1”, we have written it as “=H4*$I$1”.  By doing this it will always reference cell I1 instead of adjusting it for relative position to wherever we copy the formula.  This lets us enter the formula one time in cell I4 for the horn, and then copy it to all of the other lines in that column so that each item is increased by the value in I1. If we do not put the dollar signs in the original formula, it will use relative referencing so that the guitar would actually be multiplied by cell I2, which is blank.  You can use absolute referencing with either the column, or the row, or both. So valid examples would include “$I4”, “I$4”, or “$I$4”.

Overlooked Excel Capabilities #3: Format as a Table

Sometimes you may want to use a set of data similar to a database, and be able to sort or filter the data so that you only see what you need to see, in the format that you would like to see it. In this case it is helpful to format the area as a table.

In this example we have a set of data for our employees which looks similar to this:

Excel Data Before Table





But this does not allow us to easily sort or filter the data, and in very long or involved data sets, may be hard to read from left to right. In this case it is much easier to work with it if it is formatted as a table.  To do this, select (highlight) the range that represents the table, in this case I will be highlighting from “Name” and then down and over to the last start date for “Kramer”.

While this is highlighted, I then select from the home menu of the ribbon bar in Excel, the option for “format as table”.

Excel data formatted as table


When I do this I will be presented with multiple options for how the table will be formatted with various colors, and row highlighting options. Once I have selected one, I will then be asked if my table has headers, and because I chose a set of data that does include column headers, I will click ok. The data area will be reformatted with banded rows and added drop down options next to each column header.

I now have many options to manage the data, including:

  • Sorting the data by clicking the down arrow key next to any of the columns, and choosing “ascending” or “descending”.
  • Filtering by some text or value
  • Filtering the data by clicking the down arrow key next to any of the columns and choosing some of the options with checkboxes. This allows me to turn off and turn on the display of certain areas, so that for example and may only see certain departments in my data set.

By using these features, you can more easily manage a large data set in Microsoft Excel.

Overlooked Excel Capabilities #4: Sparklines

Sparklines, are a function that was added in Microsoft Excel 2010.  These are small graphs that fit into a single Excel cell and represent a range of data, similar to the way you might insert a larger chart into a spreadsheet.

In our example we have a set of data which looks similar to this:

Excel spark line demo data

This is traditional data with information for revenue and customer count per month, and a calculation for how many new customers, or lost customers we may have experienced for the month.

There are three sparklines available to us in Excel each of which can be customized. They are:

  • Line
  • Column
  • Win/Loss

In order to insert a spark line, you must be in an empty spreadsheet cell. It is recommended that it be wide enough to show a nice range of data, but you can adjust the width later.  Once you are in this empty cell, go to the “Insert” tab of your ribbon bar, and find the spark lines available to you. These will look similar to this (from Excel 2016):

Excel spark line ribbon bar buttons

You can see that the three choices: line, column, win/loss are all available to you here. Click on the one that you choose, such as line and Excel will bring up a dialog box asking you for the input data that will be included in your sparkline.  Select the data in your spreadsheet, and confirm that the cell you would like the data in is shown in the dialog box. Click the Ok button and the cell will show a sparkline chart. In our example we have graphed each of the columns of variable data in our spreadsheet and we can see three different spark lines.Excel spark line example output



Spark lines are very convenient way to quickly show data, and in fact if you have multiple columns of data from left to right you can show an in-line chart for that data, similar to the following:

Excel Sparkline inline demo

Once you have inserted a sparkline, you can change the format by selecting the cell with the sparkline, and an additional toolbar option will be added to the ribbon called “Sparkline Tools Design”, selecting this will give you many more options.

Extra Tip: If you create a sparkling in one cell, you can copy it to others and it will copy the format and use relative data ranges.

Additional Info:

Overlooked Excel Capabilities #5: Print – Fit to Page

Sometimes your data will not fit conveniently on one page, or one page width when you send it to the printer.  For example, you may have too many columns to fit from left to right, and would like all of them to fit on one page in landscape mode. In order to do this we will take two steps.

  1. Change the orientation to landscape (optional)
    1. On the ribbon bar, click “Page Layout”
    2. Choose “landscape”
  2. Change the print scaling to fit on one pageExcel print options for scaling
    1. Click the Excel “File” option on the ribbon bar
    2. Choose “Print”
    3. At the bottom of the options you will see “No Scaling” by default, click this and you will see more options. Choose one of these each of which is described:
      1. “No Scaling” – the default option and which prints the pages according to the way they are laid out in the spreadsheet for sizing, etc.
      2. “Fit Sheet on One Page” – fits the entire spreadsheet, all rows and all columns, onto one printed page.
  • “Fit All Columns on One Page” – fits all columns on a single page width, but entire print job may span multiple pages top to bottom.
  1. “Fit All Rows on One Page” – fits all rows on a single page but entire print job may span multiple pages left to right.

Using these options will allow you to have a much nicer print output but be careful if you overdo it, it will be too small to read.

Technology Frontiers

The word frontier can be defined as “areas near or beyond a boundary”, and when we think of those who are “frontiersman”, we may think of ancient explorers, or the crew of the Enterprise on Star Trek who were exploring “space, the final frontier.”  These frontiers are new and exciting, but also fraught with risks and unknowns. We have gone through many frontiers in the information technology industry.  Looking back in my life we have had several: the move from mainframes to PCs, from character based operating systems to Windows and Mac graphical user interfaces, from local area network client/server applications to web based applications, and from PCs to tablets and other mobile devices. There are always new technologies and they drive change in how we operate and live and communicate.  Think of how the pony express system and telegraph allowed people to settle out west in the 1800s, far away from the civilization they knew in the eastern cities.  Similarly, today I write this at home while connected to my office and team via web, email, cell phone, and Skype for Business for chatting and sharing documents and screens. I am not 2,000 miles away, but I could be and it would be fine for what I need to do now.  This was not possible 20 years ago and yet it has become commonplace, and in it we see that I am using several of the technology frontiers of my lifetime.

And even now, we at Keystone are working with new technology that you may not even be aware of.  Why do we do this?  Inherently we love technology, so if you did not even need us to do it, we would still geek out at the latest mobile phone, backup software, security patch, and other fun to all or mundane to many technologies. We just can’t help ourselves, but we know that not everybody can stomach the pain of the new frontier.  They call it “cutting edge” for a reason, and sometimes it means “bleeding edge”.  We would not subject our clients to a new technology unless we have a good sense of the risks inherent, and how to overcome them to get the best value in the safest way possible.

Here are some technology frontiers we are exploring now in our Research and Development (R&D) that you may see as commonplace in your future.

3D Printing

So far, this feels like early paper printing technology.  Have you ever sent a job to a printer and nothing happens?  Or have you ever sent a 2 page document only to get 100 pages of what looks like alien communication?  That is what 3D printing feels like now.

3D Printing takes the concept of a data file, with instructions for how an object is shaped, and combines it with plastic extrusion technology to “print” the object.  You load the plastic filament into the 3D Printer, and send the job to it as a set of instructions.  The printer is supposed to print the object by feeding the filament through a hot end extrusion nozzle (the “print head”) and dropping it into a flat surface.  The print head moves up and down, and the flat surface (“the bed”) moves back and forth and eventually your object is sitting there; ready to use.

But it does not quite work that well.  Sometimes it runs for a while and stops, sometimes it slams into the bed and melts a hole, sometimes nothing, sometimes a big mess of plastic, etc.  But when it works it is great!

Think about some of the implications for your life.

  • You want to create a 3D representation of a new factory floor plan to test your kaizen or lean model more fully – just design it in the 3D software by dragging and sizing objects, and send to the printer. This reduces the time to prototype saving costs and improving flexibility.
  • Can’t find the battery cover to the remote control – just go online and download the design file and print a new one. No trip to the store, no tape over the batteries, etc.
  • Your client is not able to visualize what you are describing for your latest design for their building, and you are not going to make the sale because they lack a perspective needed to decide. Perhaps a 3D representation will help?
  • You need a new towel hook for the bathroom, but instead of buying online and waiting, you go browse designs, select and pay for one, and download and print.

At this point 3D printing has already been used to create new organs for your failing body parts, prototype new cars, create functional desk accessories, and help sell ideas.

It is new, it is exciting, and we are testing it now!

Clustered Computing

Most computing is one computer doing one or more jobs, and reliability and performance are based on what is in the machine’s box.  If you need more power, you open the machine and add more memory or disk space.  If the CPU is a few years old and not keeping up, you buy a new machine and rebuild everything. If you need reliability you buy one with at least 2 of everything you can: multiple drives, power supplies, and network cards. Performance and redundancy in this model are built on what is in the machine.

But if you could just add another machine and have it do ½ the work?  Or three more machines and they all share.  You now have 4 machines – 4x the performance, and if one goes down you run on 3 machines and replace the failed one as needed.  This is “clustered computing”.

It is not particularly new, and is sometimes called “Super Computing”, “Parallel Processing”, or “High Performance Computing”.  It was first conceived in the 1960s but required incredibly expensive hardware and custom software, and only accessible to organizations like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for use in weather studies.  In the mid-1990s new technologies allowed computer clusters to be built from commodity servers (search for “Beowulf Cluster”).  Suddenly organizations could build their own.  So at the same time that the internet was becoming available to everybody, the power of clustered computers became available to build search engines like Google and Yahoo!  (for a quick view of Google’s first cluster that looks like a Lego system, see this:

These capabilities are now becoming available in two ways:

  • Build your own local super computer from off the shelf parts. We are doing this now, using about $200 in parts primarily based on the Raspberry Pi motherboards. By linking 4 of these credit card sized motherboards that each have 4 “cores” together in a clustered network and using special software, we have what looks like one computer to a software application. In testing, using one unit in the cluster, it takes about 35 seconds to calculate the value of Pi to 16 digits on one core of one Raspberry Pi, but when we go to 4 Raspberry Pi units (16 cores) we are seeing times of less than 9 seconds!Raspberry Pi Cluster 2 - part of a technology frontiers approach
  • Rent space on a cloud provider’s platform and use it while letting somebody else (Microsoft, Amazon, Google, etc.) do the dirty work of managing the platform and the networking. See this for a quick description of Google’s current platform for this (

One caveat of this is the necessity that your software be developed to run in a multi-node, multi-core environment.  You can’t just grab a copy of Microsoft Excel and expect it to calculate your budget faster (although oddly enough Microsoft has extensions to support this (!  Your software has to be designed for multi-threading, multicore support (you may see things like “HPC”, “High Performance Computing”).  The leaders in this area now are big data database packages like Hadoop that have to process incredibly high volumes of data in a short time.

This technology may not be ready for the average small to medium sized business, but it shows what is possible and could help with growth and seasonal needs.

Latest Applications, Operating Systems, and Devices

This is the most basic technology we test – the thing you see next week, or next month, or next year.  We have multiple devices and many different operating systems and applications that are in beta form, and we are trying them out so we have a perspective on what you may see, when you should move to it, and what the risk and reward will be.

In fact, I just had a lock up when I was writing this article using Windows 10 in an advanced preview copy, and Microsoft Word 2016 latest version; it does not occur often, but does happen.  We are evaluating the features and capabilities, the user interface, and the reliability (in this case I lost a few minutes but no data).Windows 10 Blue Screen - The result of working in technology frontiers

Some of the tools we are testing now include:

  • The latest suite of Office 365 Products, including Skype for Business
  • SharePoint and OneDrive for Business
  • Apple MacBook 12” with a beta version of Apple OSX
  • Cloud Based Information Security Systems
  • Amazon Echo
  • Beta Versions of IOS (on iPhones and iPads)

Summary of Technology Frontiers

There are waves of technology shifts that represent new frontiers for users and business organizations, and each represents some questions: What is this?  How can it help me?  What are the risks? We are looking at these so you know we have an eye on what may make a difference for you!

Next time we will catch up some more, and include some other technology frontiers like Internet of Things (IoT) and Voice Recognition!

Information Security: Essential To Your Organization

Information security is essential to your organization.  You store data in spreadsheets, Microsoft Word documents, an ERP or CRM database, and human resources and payroll systems.  This data represents your business and the way it operates, its performance, its future plans and its personnel.  These items are unique to your business and pose a threat if lost or compromised, it is therefore essential to your organization, and must be protected.

You might think of it similarly to how you put locks on your doors, but this is oversimplified and does not adequately address the problem. Unlike the doors of the building which remained static over a long time period, information is fluid and changes daily and has new threats on a regular basis. Consider the fact that antivirus software vendors release updates daily to detect new viruses, or that your employees are changing over time and their access and policies are shifting. And these are just the internal problems. Consider also that new information theft tools, and those who we refer to as “hackers” are rising up every day to attempt to get into your systems without ever even entering your geographical environment; in fact it is likely they are doing this from another country.

This all presents an environment which is much more difficult to manage than simply considering it like “locking the doors”.

Information Security Venn Diagram

In this article we want to share with you the three factors that you must consider as you attempt to secure your environment. These are the policies you implement, the the tools used to protect your environment, and people that affect your information security.

The Policies of Information Security

When we speak of policies we are considering this in two ways: the written philosophy and policies of information security, and the enforceable policies due to system settings or tools that are implemented.

The first is your written policies and philosophy about information security. Some organizations consider this an afterthought and do not direct their information technology team or their employees to consider security important or behave in a certain way to protect it.  Does your employee manual have specific language about what information is allowed to be accessed? Do you have a published directive on what the Internet can be used for while inside your network? These types of questions and many others must be answered and a specific philosophy developed through written policy to inform your users of what they should and should not do. This also elevates the importance of information security because it is being published. Finally, it serves as a way to enforce your policies through potential employment disciplinary actions if they are not followed.

The second type of policies are implemented in the tools that are intended to protect your environment. For example, your organization likely has a “firewall” and this device manages the traffic in and out of your organization, permitting some and preventing others. These are known as firewall rules and are intended to limit the exposure your environment provides to the outside world. A specific example of one of these rules would be to not allow access to third-party public email servers from inside the network.  This would be intended to prevent viruses from coming in through Hotmail, Gmail, etc.  This may be a written policy that says employees should not access the systems from their company supplied computer, but the firewall helps you enforce the rule by preventing access.  Other examples would include a password length or complexity requirement (including a time requirement to change passwords), file directory security on a shared folder, and many more that your information technology team would implement. These would likely be very unique to your business and should be considered carefully and then monitored for changes as time goes on.

You can see where these two types of policies are an important consideration in your organization.  If you are not talking about these at least on some level annually it is highly likely that you have an insecure environment.  It is important to consider them both to provide information security, as well as provide access to your authorized users to what they need to efficiently perform their duties.

The Tools of Information Security

The tools of information security are the technology components which are intended to protect your environment. These include the ones you probably know about like antivirus software or your firewall, but they also include things like active directory security, monitoring and logging tools on system access, server patching for vendor supplied security updates, and many more.

Keystone has found that no one information security tool can effectively provide peace of mind by itself. If you have a great firewall, it also has to be effectively managed, and your users who bring a USB stick from home have to be prevented from accessing it on a work PC. In other words, the firewall by itself does not protect your environment.  In fact, we tested all of the popular antivirus tools and found that none of them could trap more than approximately half of the attacks they encountered. We determined that we had to use multiple tools in the environment carefully aligned together so that they would not prevent users from working effectively, while at the same time reducing the surface area of the risk.  Some of the tools you should consider for continuous review include:

  • Firewalls
  • Patch process and level of all components particularly servers and firewalls or routers
  • Physical security particularly to servers
  • Antivirus and Antimalware software
  • Active Directory configuration (this controls who can access data)
  • Personal computer updates
  • Administrative (or “root”) access on any system
  • Security and Access logs

Once again all of these should be reviewed on a regular basis because new threats arise, and new tools are available to counter them.

The People of Information Security

The people of information security include your users, and your information technology personnel.

Information Security and Users

A good IT team can go a long way towards protecting you, but unfortunately users can undo a lot of their efforts.

We recently had a third party perform a security audit of one of our client environments. This environment includes over 50 servers and 300 workstations.  The audit was limited to perimeter testing, which means that the firm performing it was not inside the building or on the internal network and instead was posing as a hacker from outside. We received the results and were pleased that out of the entire environment there were only seven issues, two of which were previously known.  What surprised us is that some of the issues referred to internal server names, as opposed to how they may be accessed from the outside. Further investigation revealed that the servers which were accessible to the security audit firm were behind the firewall and in no way available from outside. We asked the security audit firm to clarify that they did a perimeter security check only and they revealed that they had done phone calls to users posing as somebody who was authorized to receive their account and password and were told that over the phone. This then gave them access to inside the network where they ran scanning tools to find vulnerabilities.

In other words, the servers of concern were inside the network and were “protected” except for the fact that users had given out their credentials to somebody who requested them over the phone.

It is essential to train users and keep them continually updated on the policies you have written and threats they may encounter, and also the importance of information security for every individual. We recommend at least annual training, and regular bulletins to users about common security threats.

Information Security and your IT Team

Your information technology team will need to have two essential attributes:

  • IT Security Skills
  • IT Security Mindset

The first, IT security skills is the knowledge and capability to secure all of the components in the environment. This will not be possible with one or two IT people, as they will not understand the deep components of the technology involved in order to lockdown everything adequately. They may understand firewalls, but not know how to secure the email server which is available through the firewall. They may understand how to update antivirus on a desktop, but not know how to implement a server policy to audit for unauthorized access by internal employees. You should have an inventory of all of your systems and identify those people who are capable to secure them. Once again this is an ongoing process as the systems, and the threats to them, change on an almost daily basis.

The second is an IT security mindset. This means that the personnel who manage your systems and support your users have a top of mind awareness that information security is important. They will be making decisions on a regular basis as they design, implement, and allow access to systems. For example, if a user is having a problem editing a document some IT employees with a low regard for security will allow wide-open access so that that is no longer a potential inhibitor for the employee. A person who has IT security as their mindset will consider this as a potential issue, but would never remove all access rules. You may have a person on your team like this, but it is essential that everybody who manages systems and access is aware of this. Your IT team also needs regular training and outside assistance.


Information security is essential to your environment, but it is difficult to attain and maintain.  The constant new threats, varied and changing systems and personnel, and ongoing business needs make this difficult.

Keystone can help you with this. We have a security mindset because we understand you look to us to help you attain a good business flow of data and keep it secure. We have a large team of individuals with skills in all of the common systems in your environment, like email, firewalls, network file shares, etc. Once again all of these have to be considered, or else it is similar to locking nine of your doors and leaving the tenth unlocked.  We have a large enough staff to consider all of them.

We work with numerous companies and therefore get an opportunity to see all of the types of threats that you may encounter: the threat we see today and respond to is the one you may encounter next week. We often already have a plan to stop it before you ever see it.  We help you develop written policies, provide user training, and create an environment where information security is interwoven in a way that assists your business rather than prevented from performing basic functions.

We constantly review and refine our toolset, and usually include the entire package of tools in our services so you have a comprehensive mindset, team of people, and toolset to protect you.

Contact us today to see how we can review your environment and help you implement an information security solution that adds value.


Can the iPad Pro Work for Business Use?

Apple introduced the iPad Pro this week and states that it “lets you be more creative and more productive — at a whole new scale.”  The size of the screen on the new Pro model is 12.9” diagonally, making it bigger than the 12” MacBook laptop Apple introduced in April, 2015, and sporting a total surface area of 104 square inches, compared to the previous top of the line iPad Air 2 at 62 square inches (an increase of 167%).  All that says this new iPad Pro is BIG.  It is thin, thinner than original iPad from 5 years ago, but about the same weight at 1.57lbs.

In calling it the iPad Pro, Apple is positioning it as a professional system and more capable of creating content than previous iPads.  You may think the “Pro” moniker is referring to graphic designers, especially when you include the pencil.  But the vendors that came on stage at the launch were Microsoft to demo Office applications, and Adobe for document layout and image editing. Adobe even added their typeface library in the tools they were showing off, something they have never included in a mobile device. These are office PC type use cases, and have traditionally been done on a Mac OSX or Microsoft Windows based system.

Personal note: I have carried an iPad almost daily since 2010, and have had 4 different models.  I have 4 external Bluetooth keyboards and several styluses.  I use it for real work.  But the question is, can the iPad Pro work for business use?  Could it be my only device I carry, and leave the laptop at home?  Is the iPad Pro a possible replacement for your laptop with a traditional PC operating system? I do not think so, and here are five reasons why.

Applications are always a single document interface

Microsoft demonstrated the three office apps we most use to do professional content creation work: Word, Excel, and PowerPoint.  They showed the ability to copy and paste between them to create content that looked awesome.  But most users do not work with these applications like this – they tend to work in one of them and have two or more windows open at the same time, for example two Word documents at the same time, to allow comparing, referencing, copy and paste, etc.  This is not possible on an IOS based iPad Pro, where only one instance of Word can be open, hence only one Word document. So the way most people work is not supported.

Lack of a document centric file system

Apple’s IOS does not have Apple Finder or Windows File Explorer, instead each application can see its files but not another application’s files.  I have noted that most users group files together in a way that does not have anything to do with the applications they use.  They have a folder for a client, or a project, or a fiscal year – not folders for Word docs, Excel docs, etc. While the application’s support folders in the cloud, like OneDrive or Dropbox) that can mimic this topic centric organization, the local device does not do that, and there is no native way to search and store documents this way. Once again, the way most people work is not natively supported.

Usability Issues when Creating Content with a Keyboard

While I have not tried the new iPad Pro, I have tried similar keyboard and stands with an iPad.  The Apple Smart Keyboard costs $169, but has two flaws compared to other options: there is only one viewing angle (and the top of the keyboard is right against the screen), and it would not work well on a lap.  I think of two uses:

  • Walk in to a coffee shop or conference room and get to work on a table – the viewing angle and usability of the keyboard and screen angle is severely limited, especially when compared to a MacBook or MacBook Air, or even a Surface Pro 3. Long stretches of work can become uncomfortable.
  • Sit in a chair or on a couch and try to use it on your lap – the way the iPad Pro keyboard is designed I suspect there will be usability limitations here, and the potential to tip over especially when you have to use your finger or Apple Pencil on the screen.  A traditional laptop like a MacBook does not suffer from this, and even a Surface Pro 3 with the kickstand is usable.

For these reasons, I suspect the usability of the iPad Pro is less than desired. Other vendors like Logi or Zagg will no doubt provide options for the iPad which may improve this.

Lack of a Mouse or Track Pad Pointing Device

One of my complaints over the years is lack of mouse or track pad support on an iPad. I would not use it often, but there are two places I would love the capability if my iPad was the only device I carried. The first is the selection of text and objects on the screen.  Selecting text is tedious task in IOS, with tapping and holding, zooming the area, moving the finger, and then doing it all over again at the other end. And far too often it loses its anchor point and you have to start over. It would be far easier to simply move a mouse, click and drag, and be done with it.  The same is true of resizing objects, like an image embedded in a Word document. The second use for a mouse is when I connect to a remote system using a tool like Jump Desktop or Wyse PocketCloud.  I cannot expect to have everything I need when on the road with an iPad, so applications like Microsoft Project or Visio, or even opening shared Calendars in Outlook are only possible if I connect back to a remote system where these are installed. But when I connect from my iPad, I have to use odd ways to select menu options, select text, etc.  A mouse would make it far easier.  I love that the iPad works so well without a mouse, except for where it doesn’t, and for that reason a traditional laptop is a better professional tool.

When fully outfitted, cost and payload approaches small laptop devices.

In order to get the full benefit of the iPad Pro, you would need the iPad Pro, the keyboard, and the Apple Pencil.  You still will not have any of the things I listed previously, but you will have some tools that help. But now you have more to carry and more to pay for.  A quick review of the payload, the cost, and some key capabilities is below. I have all of these devices, except the iPad Pro (but do have an iPad Air 2).

  iPad Pro (128Gb WiFi Model) 2015 MacBook 12” (1.1Ghz, 256Gb HD) Microsoft Surface Pro 3

Intel I5, 256Gb HD)

Weight (with keyboard and Pen or Pencil)? 1.88Lbs

(iPad = 1.57 and estimated keyboard and pen at 5Ozs)

2.03Lbs 2.43Lbs
Total Cost (with keyboard and Pen or Pencil) $1,217 $1,299 $1,279 (currently on sale)
Multiple viewing Angles when propped up by keyboard hinge or kickstand? No Yes Yes
Can work on lap? Unknown / Not well Very well Acceptable
Multiple documents open concurrently? No Yes Yes
File System to collect documents by topic? No Yes Yes
Mouse or Trackpad? No Yes Yes


So, Can the iPad Pro Work for Business Use?

In many respects you are paying the same and carrying very close to the same when using an iPad Pro as you would using a MacBook 12” or Surface Pro 3.  I think the iPad Pro is limited in key areas of productivity compared to the other two devices, and for that reason I do not recommend consideration as the only device you would carry when leaving home for a day of traditional knowledge worker tasks like Word Processing, etc.




Charging MacBook with an External Battery Pack

Apple’s newest MacBook, the 12″ model released in April of 2015 (and simply called the “MacBook”) offers amazing portability, acceptable performance, and decent battery life.  Where “decent” means I will be sweating around 4pm because I am not certain I will get through the rest of the meeting. I decided to test the MacBook with some external batteries to understand if they would be of help.

Background on the MacBook and Charging Options

I was excited to get the new MacBook, adding it to a mobile technology arsenal that includes a 13″ 2014 MacBook Air, a Microsoft Surface Pro 3, a Microsoft Surface Pro 1, an Apple iPad Air 2, and a Samsung Note 10.1 tablet running Android. Three of these can be charged from an external battery that has a USB port and the appropriate cable (the MacBook, iPad Air 2, and Android tablet). The MacBook Air 13 is the battery king among the group: it wins out at around 13 hours of regular usage so it easily goes all day (in fact I often leave the charger at home). Next up is the iPad Air 2 and Samsung Note 10.1 – each is around 10 hours. The Surface Pros are both capable of getting through lunch, but die sometime in the afternoon unless they are charged up.

When I ordered the MacBook, I was excited about the smaller size and weight (2 lbs!), but not as excited by the published battery life of up to 9 hours.  Apple has always been good about exceeding the rated battery life, but 9 hours may create an issue towards the end of the work day for me (yes, I know, first world problems).   The main issue the MacBook has which reduces battery life is the high resolution retina display, which at 2340×1440 pixels requires a lot more power to drive than the MacBook Air 13 with its larger battery and 1440×900 resolution.  While I appreciate the nicer screen images and font displays, I would be fine with a lower resolution and longer battery life.

The MacBook’s battery is a 5674 milliamp model, and the included standard charger is a 39-watt model.  Apple has foregone the usual proprietary MagSafe charger connections on this new machine.  Because they were proprietary, third party providers of power adapters or battery packs are few and far between, limiting user’s choices almost exclusively to Apple’s offerings.


What’s different about the MacBook that allows external battery chargers?

But the new MacBook uses an industry standard connector, the USB-C, to charge, so any manufacturer can offer something that could power or charge the MacBook (or connect it to a display, add a third party device, etc.).  This also allows third party external batteries that have USB ports and were originally developed to recharge a cell phone or tablet while on the go.  There is a wide variety of these, a search of Amazon or BestBuy reveals numerous choices from many manufacturers and of various sizes, shapes, capacity, and features.

I decided to test two of these batteries to see if I could eek out a little more time and get the new MacBook to a fuller day of work.

Tested External Batteries

I tried two external batteries, both ordered from Amazon based on descriptions and reviews there.

Anker 13000 External Battery

Anker 13000 External Battery

The first was an Anker second edition, model E4 (Amazon Link).  This one has a very low price at $29.99 and comes with a nice carrying case.  With 13,000 milliamps, it is weighs 10.4 ounces. but feels like carrying around a small brick; it just weighs more than expected when I pick it up. The shape is fine for sliding in a bag, but do not expect to fit it in a standard pocket anywhere.

The second is an Unu Ultrapack (Amazon Link), and at $99.99 it costs a lot more than the Anker, and weighs a bit less at 8.5 ounces.  That is almost 2 ounces, but means the Unu weighed about 80% of what the Anker E4 did. The difference is noticeable when both are picked up.  The shape is also smaller, and does fit into a bag better, or even a larger pocket (thank you

Unu 10,000 External Battery Pack

Unu 10,000 External Battery Pack

SCOTTeVEST!).  But the Unu also has a lower charge capacity, with only 10,000 milliamps.  This is about 80% of the Anker, so the reason for the weight and size difference is pretty obvious.


The Unu does offer one thing the Anker does not: a much faster recharge time (the time the battery takes to charge, not the time it would charge a connected device). The Anker uses a standard micro-USB connector, while the Anker uses a wall adapter and proprietary connector that can deliver more power, thus charging faster. In fact, they advertise that it can go from 0-100% in 30 minutes.  My testing did not match that (it was close), but there was no match between it and the Anker, which after took overnight and a bit into the morning to fully charge from an empty state. That could be very handy if the Unu could do the basic job. I also liked that the Unu has a digital output of percentage it holds, but the Anker’s 4 LED lights (0-25%, 25-50%, etc.) are serviceable for most users. Also from a features standpoint, both devices offered an LED flashlight, a nice touch.

There was one feature difference that I found important to note.  The Anker has two auto sensing USB ports, meaning that they could charge at 1 amp (suitable for a phone device), or 2.5 amps (targeted at a larger device like an iPad).  While 1 amp can charge an iPad, it is a slow go, so a 2.5 amp trickle is far more effective. The Unu also has two ports, but they are not auto sensing, so while each is marked (1 amp or 2.5 amps), you have to think about which port to use. With the Anker, you do not have to think about it, just plug it in and charge.  (Note Anker calls this “Power IQ”, and actually rates the output at 3 amps).

Results of Tests of Features and Charging  MacBook with the External Battery Packs

Charging MacBook Performance and Testing Methodology

This is the key issue: can it charge the 2015 MacBook 12″ model?  If it cannot do this effectively, why bother?

To test the charge capability of each battery, I ran the MacBook down to 25% battery capacity.  This simulates how my day goes, because when it gets here I start thinking about my schedule and options. Then in each test, I left the MacBook turned on, but closed the lid which puts it to sleep, then I connected the battery pack being tested and set a timer of 30 minutes.  I followed 30 minute intervals in which I opened the lid slightly and checked the battery %,  and then closed it again, and noted the % on the external battery. I followed this course until I had either charged the MacBook fully, or had completely drained the battery pack. In order to understand the scenario I face without the battery pack, I ran the same test with the Apple supplied AC adapter.  I used the same USB to USB-C cable in all tests, so the cable would not affect anything. I also ran the tests a second time with almost identical results, so I omitted the second results in all cases to make the information simpler to follow.

I did not test either battery while using the MacBook, I may at some future point.

The results were interesting, and can be seen below in a table and a chart.

Source AC Charger Unu Ultrapack Anker 2nd ed Astro E4
MaH N/A 10,000 13,000
Cost N/A $99.99 $29.99
Weigh (oz) N/A 8.5 10.4
Time in minutes
0 24% 25% 25%
30 56% 33% 37%
60 87% 40% 48%
90 100% 48% 59%
120 56% 70%
150 62% 81%
180 92%
210 99%

MacBook Charging Chart

Interpretation of Results

The AC adapter charged the MacBook from 25% to 100% in less than 90 minutes (the chart has an odd bend, but it was linear, and probably finished at around 70 minutes).

The Anker was able to fully charge, but took every ounce of the 13,000 milliamps.  It was tapped out at 0% when the MacBook reached 99%, and took 3.5 hours to get there.  It never got to 100%.

The Unu was not able to get beyond 62%.

Features Comparison

In terms of features, I found the Anker more compelling, while I would appreciate the percentage display available on the Unu, the Anker’s auto sensing ports was a winner for me.

Other Comparisons

The charge time of the batteries themselves varies greatly (how long does it take to charge an Anker or an Unu, not how long it takes to charge the device it in turn charges).  The Unu charges all the way in under an hour, the Anker takes about 8-10 hours.  This could be a serious issue, although the non-proprietary charging port on the Anker is helpful.

The only other issue was weight and size; in this case the Unu wins the head to head because it better meets a desire to stay light and quick.  

Summary of Charging MacBook with a Battery Pack

The only option I see between these is the Anker.  The Unu is nice, but cannot charge the MacBook to the degree I would like. If you only want about 40% (which should be about 3 hours of use), then the Unu could work, but I did not see the benefit of it, especially at over three times the cost. That is not to say that the Unu is poor device – it is intended to charge cell phones and tablets, and for that it does a phenomenal job, as does the Anker. But for charging the MacBook, the only reasonable solution between these two is the Anker.

But to be fair, when you consider that the MacBook is attractive to many because of how light and portable it is, it may not even make any sense to carry an external battery.  If the Anker is the best choice (and for the goal I had it is for me), the 10.4 ounces adds over ½ pound to the load and extra bulk. At that point, the MacBook 13 may be the better option to carry when on the go.

Other Info:

I found this article helpful on 9 to 5 Mac.

Learning from the New York Stock Exchange’s Technology Failure

The New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) experienced a serious technology failure this week of approximately 3.5 hours, after experiencing reduced functionality for the first 2.5 hours of the trading day.  The NYSE is of course a very high profile, internationally critical component of our financial systems.  System wide failures are extremely rare, and when they do occur they are publicized.  This allows us to consider what happened, and what we can learn from it that may help you.

What was the Technology Failure?:

The NYSE has numerous software applications that are integrated to provide a cohesive system for access and control.  There is the core record keeping system, systems to manage the process, customer systems to control accounts and execute trades, systems that monitor activity for fraud, etc. These systems exchange data with each other at various levels, and are dependent on being compatible and reliable.

On Tuesday evening, July 7, 2015, NYSE administrators applied an update to one of these systems to support a change in how the industry timestamps transactions. On Wednesday morning, July 8, 2015 the NYSE started noticing issues with communications between systems and applied an update to the customer system, this in turn created more issues.

The problem was not resolved, and at 11:30am the NYSE shut down trading and continued to work on the issue. At just after 3:00pm, non-updated backup systems were brought up in place of the production systems and operations resumed.

A quick synopsis can be seen here:

What do we learn that is applicable?

What does you SMB sized organization take away from this?

We may be able to continue operations. The NYSE must have a level playing field to allow everybody to execute trades at the same time, or else fraud or inequality of opportunity become an issue.  Your business may be able to continue operations without a complete shutdown if one function is limited or creating any data issues.  For example, if your customer service system is down and orders via the web cannot be taken, it may be possible to place a message holder informing customers they can call customer service to place an order.  You may need to temporarily reallocate staff to handle more call volume, but customers can still be serviced and a more intimate conversation take place during the transaction.

Systems are complex, especially multiple systems that communicate with each other.  Software, especially software designed for a specific organization and use, can be complex. The luxury of waiting for others to test it in the real world is not present.  So testing is essential and it must reflect the real world: real data, real transactions, real systems that mirror the production system with the changes tested applied.  The testing must be broad, rigorous and deliberate, and results must be tracked.  Automated test tools can make the process more efficient, but they are just pieces of software and must be setup and used correctly. When multiple systems are involved and dependent upon each other, they all must be exercised.

Disaster Recovery works, but is a choice to execute.  In this case, the NYSE decided to cut over to the backup systems to continue operations.  This is not the same thing as pulling a server out of the closet and installing everything and going back to operations.  This is a “hot system”, one that has all of the live data but was not updated with the errant code.  It is not a small decision to cut over, as there is normally a cut back process when issues are resolved, but one they could make because they had designed the systems for it.  This allowed them to resume operations while still dealing with the issue. Most small organizations do not have this capability, but they can, and can have it for a very economical price.  My firm, Keystone Technology Consultants, offers this for even very small clients of 20 users. It is not just a peace of mind issue; it literally allows an organization to continue operations and keep the flow of work and money, and maintain their reputation and client relationships. It is essential.

I would love to hear your view of this, feel free to comment below.