Personal Use of the Cloud

Finally, after I’ve seen so much buzz about “the cloud”, it made me ask myself, “How can I personally be using the cloud to increase my efficiency and productivity?” Going between an iPhone and a PC isn’t as seamless as iPhone to Mac, so I got discouraged. But, there are still some useful things I can do.

Cloud computing is, in simple terms, using the internet to access everything you need (applications, operating systems, and data) housed on an outside server instead of using your computer’s storage installed/housed on your computer directly.

This technology has been around for more than a decade and is currently offered by a wide range of companies for use with PCs, Macs, corporate networks, iOS devices, and other wireless tablets and Smartphones. Thanks to Apples’ extensive advertising and promotion, cloud-based computing is a more widely-utilized, consumer-oriented feature.

One way I was already using the cloud, and didn’t really think about it is through Google Documents. Whenever I get assigned the dreaded group project, I suggest using it to create a document that everyone can see and edit in real time. After the initial getting group members contact info, it almost eliminates the need to meet in person, which can be very difficult coordinating busy schedules. I believe Google also has an application that allows everyone access to a collective calendar to coordinate dates and times, so you don’t have to contact each person individually and then try to coordinate a meeting time that works for all.

Using the cloud as a backup service is another great feature. As a student, or human being that uses a computer, the loss of critical data could be disastrous. You can definitely still use an external hard drive, but why put all your eggs in one basket? Use both, you never know what’s going to happen to the “intangible cloud we have no control over”.

One thing I do plan on looking into is this free application, Panda Cloud Antivirus, which offers protection from viruses and malicious websites through a process called Collective Intelligence, a system that detects and analyzes computer threats on an ongoing basis to make anyone’s online experience as safe, productive and pleasant as possible.

P.S. – If anyone knows how to have an excel document accessible and editable on both an iPhone and a PC, please share!

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The Home Improvement Crusade

The house my boyfriend and I rent is a complete fixer-upper. At first, this seemed like such a fun thing; being able to update as we feel necessary and ultimately increase the value of the home. Just as soon as we got started on some improvements, it quickly became apparent the endless amount projects this house needed.

To start off, every wall in the house needed to be painted. This was fun, being able to start with a blank canvas essentially and choose the colors. We still aren’t quite finished painting, with just the kitchen left. I’m thinking a nice yellow shade…

Then the bathrooms were the next crucial item on the list. They were carpeted! This was so strange, it needed to be fixed right away. We ended up getting some inexpensive laminate adhesive tiles and easily (with minor roadblocks) re-floored the two small bathrooms.

Moving outside, the grass was left for dead and all that remained were ugly, overgrown junipers lining every square foot of the fencing and up against the house. Our yard is decent size, and has a lot of potential, but it is a train wreck right now. We had a friend who was looking for an odd job to earn some money, so we gladfully “let” him help us rip up all of the junipers.

With times being tough right now for some, it may be a win-win situation for you and a friend with valuable skills. Another family friend who does lighting was looking for some work and we badly needed lighting! For some reason, the house was built without any overhead lighting (minus the kitchen and dining room). He is helping us install ceiling fan light fixtures in the two bedrooms and some track lighting in the office. I cannot tell you how happy I am to be done with lamps!

Each small step we take in making the house look better is very satisfying, but sometimes it gets overwhelming with everything I want to do. I just have to tell myself that it is going to take time, we can’t get it all done in one weekend. I am starting to learn that every project will inevitably take longer than you think, no matter how simple it seems! I just wanted to share some ways we are fixing up our house, and how much more enjoyable a place it is to live.

Brownie Mix Cookies

We recently bought a six-pack of brownie mixes from Costco and I was getting a little tired of the same dessert. Still wanting to use the brownie mix, I wondered what other desserts could I make, using the brownie mix. I found a lot of recipes that were just a twist on a brownie, but I wanted something different. Then I saw cookies!

I love brownies (hence the buying in bulk), and turning them into cookies allows you to enjoy them much faster. Making brownies can take up to an hour, cookies take less than 10 minutes. All you need to turn your brownie mix into cookies is:

1/4 cup of flour

1/4 cup vegetable oil

3 tbsp. water

2 eggs

Optional: chopped pecans, chocolate chips, peanut butter chips, etc.

After you mix all of the ingredients together, drop spoonfuls onto a greased cookie sheet and bake at 350 F for 9 minutes. I happened to have the Ghirardelli mix with chocolate chips already in it, but I did add some chopped pecans too and they turned out great. I was expecting a denser more brownie-like cookie, but these were actually pretty fluffy and light. Next batch I think I will tweak the recipe to try to make them more chewy.

I also think these cookies will last a lot longer than one pan of brownies do. And of course, in the spirit of efficiency – remember to clean while you cook – in this case I did, literally. I’m just glad I was able to satisfy my late night sweet tooth, and make a nice Easter treat.

Efficient Lot Traceability

I was just given the opportunity to help improve my company’s internal database in order to trace our entire inventory better.  We are upgrading from a pretty old program that runs on the infamous blue screen. It will also give us the chance to organize all of our data into one program, accessible across our multiple locations.

Effective daily tracking of a product is a necessity, especially in food manufacturing. Certain laws and regulations require accurate inventory tracking. In the event of a recall, being able to quickly and completely track the product can make or break your company.

Manual record keeping can be a big challenge because it takes a lot of time, money, space, and upkeep, not to mention the inevitable human errors that occur. Luckily we have computers! After you get past the initial software costs, an automated tracking system has many benefits:

Quick Access to Product Information – Provides accurate information storage, including lot number, location, date, weight, origin, etc.

Decreases Human Error – Eliminates incorrect product picking and reduces manual data entry, which is prone to errors.

Accurate Costing Information – Assists in selling and assessing inventory by tracing various products as they move through the production line.

Improved Quality Control – Helps maintain a quality product by tracking raw materials all the way to finished goods.

Integrated Communication – All departments (purchasing, shipping, manufacturing, customer service, sales, quality assurance/control, etc.) have easy access to and retrieval of all relevant information from one source.

Companies are being held increasingly accountable for tracking a particular lot of an item, along with maintaining superior quality control. Automated lot traceability software makes this possible and is very cost-effective.

I am very excited for the opportunity to learn the ins and outs of pretty much everything we do at my work. Not only will this upgrade bring my company into the 21st century, it has the potential to increase the overall efficiency of the business greatly.

Are Self-Driving Cars the Future?

This is no April Fools’ joke; Google has built the first self-driving car. What was once considered the realm of science fiction is quickly becoming reality. Today’s science and technology has reached a point where things that were only seen in the movies are now possible.

Not only are they possible, but these autonomous cars have been test-driven (more like, test-ridden) for over 200,000 miles without a single machine-caused mishap.  If this technology is widely adopted, traffic and accidents will be reduced by more efficient driving.

By using the searchable and surfable 3D image database Google Street View has developed, the car’s GPS can essentially navigate itself to your destination. The hardware and software in the car gathers and interprets massive amounts of real-time data and acts on that knowledge surely enough to find its way through countless types of crowded streets. Below is a picture of what the car “sees” when its driving.

These self-driving cars do not make the mistakes than humans can and will continue to make if we are behind the wheel. Autonomous cars will never shift their focus off the road to check a text, read a map, or change the station. They can also make split-second decisions without hesitation.

In the future, if self-driving cars catch on, couples can be chauffeured on their dates alone, business people can increase their productivity while commuting, and people with disabilities can finally drive. Nevada has established a testing framework to allow these cars to be driven for real, with California following suit.

Clearly there are many benefits to increased automation, but are there any unintended consequences we’re overlooking? Should we be wary of an iRobot-type situation, or should we just embrace the presence of technology in our lives?

Watch Out For Local Deal Events

If you have had any experience taking load after load of yard waste to the dump, you know that it can add up. I have even noticed inconsistencies in the pricing for similar loads. With an almost arbitrary method of pricing, it is only natural to feel mistrustful of the fees. But luckily there are things you can do to avoid paying full price at the dump.

You can find reduced prices, for usually not that much longer of a drive by skipping the local transfer stations and driving directly out to the dump. For Reno, the Lockwood dump is only 10 miles East of the city. There is also the benefit of having more room to maneuver a trailer, as the transfer stations can get pretty tight.  There is usually a smaller line too, if at all.

But even better, you can watch out for specific dates that Waste Management will hold free dump events. This weekend was the first event in Reno this year, and there will be two more in April. If you can take advantage of these events it will save you some money. You can find the specific dates here for reduced pricing at the Reno transfer stations and free dump days in Lockwood.

Other types of events to look out for like this include free entry fee days at places such as parks or museums. For example, the Nevada Museum of Art has free entry on the second Saturday of every month. I even took my dog to the vet on a day they were waiving the clinic fee. I would love to hear of more events like this to watch out for, so please share!

LA is Boosting its Efficiency with the Streetcar

 

 

The benefits of streetcars are being recognized in cities around the world, and they are investing heavily in these pedestrian-friendly, environmentally conscious systems to efficiently and reliably take people where they want and need to go. For more detailed information click here, but below is a summary of the benefits:

 

Catalyst for new development – With highly visible rails installed in the streets, a permanent, dependable streetcar system will assure investors that their investments have permanent access to public transit and a steady flow of customers. For example, when Portland installed their streetcar, the increase in activity that the streetcars generated, drove new retail, office, commercial, and home development around the streetcar line.

Creates jobs – With new homes, comes new residents, and they need jobs. With the streetcar, more people will have easy access to employment opportunities. The streetcar will force the downtown area to compete for skilled, educated, and in-demand employees throughout the region. The diverse urban environment will attract creative employees, making LA more competitive.

Stimulates tourism – The streetcar will connect major destinations together and will be easy for novice riders to use and understand. By traveling to the places that people want to go, the streetcar will capture riders that are willing, ready, and excited to engage in Downtown L.A.’s depth of entertainment, cultural, and shopping experiences. This results in more spending, more hotels booked, and in turn, more city revenue.

Sustainable power – Streetcars run entirely on electricity, which means they emit zero point-source emissions while operating, and as an added benefit, electric systems are virtually silent. They reduce carbon gas emissions by making urban living easier, more accessible, and convenient for live/work activity.

Promotes safe, healthy, active community – Streetcars extend the distance a person can comfortably walk. Streetcar schedules will be integrated into real-time transit maps, available on mobile phones and the internet, so riders know exactly when and where streetcars arrive and depart.

Increases productivity – Removing the stress of a daily commute increases productivity and makes getting to work an active experience. The streetcar system will be especially helpful for those who choose not to, or are unable to, use an automobile as their primary means of transit. This will decrease traffic and allow for easy circulation with less parking. The streetcar will make downtown transit connections seamless by directly interfacing with the regional transportation network, including numerous bus routes, rail lines, and multi-mobility hubs.

Cost effective – Streetcars are designed to integrate with the existing urban environment, can be constructed quickly, and flow with traffic in a shared right-of-way. They can be built on-time and on-budget while minimally disrupting businesses.

With the addition of the streetcar, urban living will become more sustainable and convenient. It can help revitalize communities and neighborhoods while providing significant economic and development returns city-wide. What do you think? Would one of these work in Reno?