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September 14, 2011

Roman SketchUp
Filed under: Computers in Construction — Tags: — nedpelger

Google SketchUp could be one of those planet (and construction industry) changing products. Developed a few years ago, the free drafting program from Google allows almost anyone to easily draw 3D models. It’s an open source program that has thousands of users creating models of things like steel beam shapes and windows that allow users to grab items without lots of extra work.

Imagine if AutoCad lost its iron grip on computer drafting and a free program took it’s place. Think Microsoft operating systems being replaced by Linux. To me, it’s a when, not an if, question. You might think, “Ok, so maybe SketchUp saves design professionals lots of money on licencing fees and allows me to work at their level for no cost, but how does that change the world?”


Folks use SketchUp to model the ancient city of Rome, as shown above, as well as the current city of Rome, as shown below.


Take a few minutes and watch those videos. It’s astounding the work that has gone into SketchUp modeling. Now think about every city and town being modeled in that way. There will be some weird folks in every location that will derive satisfaction from the mastery of creating the models and the camaraderie of working on the team.

Everything changes when a decent model of the built environment exists. Imagine how GPS will be different as you travel. Or think about all the things advertising could do with sites like Yelp and positioning software on your phone. I think this is a big trend and we’re in the early stages. As I’ve often said, “It’s a valuable skill to spot future trends early and position yourself accordingly.”

If you’re currently under-employed in construction, take the time to learn Google SketchUp. It’s free and a skill that will have future value. If you’re busy with work, think about the value of devoting some time to learning it. Remember, where you end depends on what you do now. If you do nothing extraordinary now, don’t expect to end anywhere special.


August 26, 2011

The Laptop, The SmartPhone and the Cloud: Where We Stand
Filed under: Computers in Construction — Tags: — nedpelger

You’re probably busy trying to make a living (and a life) in these exciting times. Don’t make the mistake of letting technology get too far ahead of you, don’t miss the efficiencies  that can improve your life and expand your options.

Let’s start with the SmartPhone. If you don’t have an Android or an iPhone, you’re missing opportunity. The Blackberry just hasn’t kept up. The apps aren’t being developed quickly enough and the platform just has too many phones and too many holes to work well. Androids and iPhones, on the other hand, provide unlimited useful apps, and the ability to access all your files, drawings and the internet where ever you have phone service.

Tethering your laptop to your SmartPhone to have internet access (either with a chord or a local WiFi hotspot) is a must to really be able to adequately access your files and drawings. Of course, you need to be backing up all the “My Documents” info on your harddrive onto the cloud by using either or I find that Dropbox offers a better user interface and makes a constant web back-up easy.  It’s wonderful to have all your files and drawings available to you at any time or location, as long as you have phone service.

So that coordinates your hard drive data and makes it accessible to you, but what about collaborating with others? You can’t beat Google Docs for online documents that a group can work on, improve and complete. One superb feature of Google Docs is their Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software. You can scan or import pdfs and the OCR software will turn them into searchable text documents for you.

So all of the above doesn’t take too much effort and really leverages your ability to resolve problems on the jobsite. Now what about the iPad and the new Google Chromebooks? Lex has been pushing me to buy a couple of these, though I just don’t see the value yet. I don’t get how they are an improvement from a tethered laptop to a SmartPhone. Especially when you can buy a great laptop for $225 and already have a SmartPhone.

Anyway, here’s Lex’s analysis, see what you think.

Boots in 8 seconds, resumes instantly
Connects to internet via Wifi or the mobile 3G networks that cover most of the nation
Can keep working on documents and emails even when not connected
If you lose your computer, all your settings and apps are saved in Google. Just need to log in to your account and everything is back.
Easy to share – people can log in with their own google accounts and never see any of your stuff

Only two manufacturers – the Samsung Series 5 line and the Acer AC700
PCWorld seems to favor the Samsung. It’s 80 bucks more but has bigger brighter screen, a VGA port for plugging in a monitor (amazing tool for efficiency if you haven’t tried it) and slightly longer battery life
Acer has HD audio support and an HDMI output (HD video)

comes in silver or white case
reviewers agree that it feels solid and well built
2 USB 2.0 ports
comes with 16GB SD card
SIM card slot for plugging in phone network card for 3G internet
VGA output for plugging in a monitor
small power charger
strong display
mouse trackpad – reviewers not too impressed, I recommend a logitech wireless mouse
keyboard – the F keys along the top replaced by function keys – backward, forward, and refresh buttons, along with ones for toggling between windows and entering / exiting full-screen mode. You’ll also volume, mute, and multimedia keys, as you would on most any other laptop.
1 megapixel camera for video skyping
nonremovable battery – 8.5 hrs – uses no juice when closed

netbook like processor – handled a dozen open tabs easily – only faltered once opening a bunch of Youtube videos
no harddrive/local storage – this means your only apps come from the web and the Chrome app store – still small but growing – contains the basics like image resizer, audio recorder, crude media player and file manager for downloads
doesn’t support Skype or Netflix yet…
can’t print yet – must printto computer on your network or use the HP ePrinter that supports google’s beta Cloud Print

an app called Citrix reciever still scheduled for near release – will allow any app sitting on the a computer on your network to be run – can run your accounting software, adobe photoshop, etc

$430 for Wifi only version – prolly good enough for a casaul user that has Wifi at their home – most apps still available when not on the internet and will sync later

$499 for 3G version – prolly needed for Dad & I – 3G handled by Verizon with 100 MB/month free for two years (but that’s a token amount)
even to get free amount, must provide name and credit card info to verizon

3G costs:
$50 for 5 GB
$35 for 3 GB
$20 for 1 GB
$10 for unlimited day pass

So, should I pull the trigger and buy one of these to see how it works? Or wait for a better sense of the value? You get to vote.


August 13, 2011

Up Your Password Strength
Filed under: Computers in Construction — Tags: — nedpelger

As I become more a disciple of cloud computing, I realize that my Gmail and Dropbox passwords have become tremendously important. It’s wonderful to have access to all my current files and drawings, real time anywhere I have my phone. Makes me look smart.

The potential downside, though, would be some yahoo getting access to those accounts and creating chaos. Lex sent me the graphic below which surprised me. I suppose I was thinking about a person trying to hack into my account by reading things about me online. I didn’t really consider computers working with random number generators at 1000 tries per second.

Their conclusion bears repeating:

Though 20 years of effort, we’ve successfully trained everyone to use passwords that are hard for humans to remember, but easy for computers to guess.

The take away from the XKCD article on password strength is that we tend to make passwords complex, which makes them hard for us to remember. We should make passwords long (and simple for us to remember), because every additional digit in the password hugely increases the strength.

So, ilovedebbysince1975 would be a pretty good password. It would also be true.


July 20, 2011

Google Scores Some Big Wins
Filed under: Computers in Construction — Tags: — nedpelger

If you’re thinking about starting your own construction company or help run one, you should consider what Google offers. To start, their email service allows you to move into cloud computing for free. What that means (for those that have heard the term many times but never quite gotten the concept) is your information is kept on their computers rather than on your own hard drive. Therefore, you can access it from anywhere in the world and aren’t at risk for fire or theft of your computer.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration just become the largest federal agency to Go Google. Wyoming just became the first state to adopt the Google Apps for Government. Their 10,000 state employees will now have tools like video chat and real-time document collaboration, and support for a broader range of mobile devices. Telework options are greatly enhanced by this change. Plus, think about all the savings from not purchasing Microsoft Outlook for each of those computers.

In another new direction, Google Plus will be a game changer for many business to business relationships. Building on the Facebook social media concept, Google Plus will be more easily used by businesses to connect groups of people to get things done. I encourage you to be an early adopter of Google Plus (at this time you can only sign-up to be notified when it goes live) because there will be benefits to being there early.

A nod’s as good as a wink to a blind horse. So don’t be a blind horse.

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