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DesignProcessTechnologyValue, A Conversation

Conversation regarding the architectural design process, and the technologies used.

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technology

PDF Expert App Review

What’s in a name? In this case, almost everything.

PDF Expert.

Who has the moxie, pluck, gall, cojones, pride – whatever – to call anything they are marketing as expert? 

The folks from Readdle do, and they make a strong effort to live up to the hype.

This post is not a tutorial on everything this app does, but it is an attempt to share how we use it.

Do we compose original PDF documents on our iPads? No. Practically none.

Do  we manage everything we do in all our PDF’s on our iPads? Nope.

What we do, however, is use these devices to converse (there’s that word again) throughout the design process with our clients and within our office. This app – PDF Expert – goes a LONG way to make that happen.

Do you have oversized documents you need to include in your process?

Do you have multi page documents you need to use?

Do you need to markup, sign, share, extract from, and otherwise include in your design process? Do you need to show, share, and issue documents to others?

Do you need to sign a document? Insert a photo? Share a website? Memorialize a document?

Build, assemble, alter, rotate, break apart, or otherwise manipulate a PDF document?

How about reformat something into a PDF document? Yep, this app (now with a companion app) does this.

In meetings?

On site?

On the go?

On the fly?

Without a net?

This app does that. You’ve heard there’s an app for that – this is it. Before I go too far into this post, let me say I think the name is silly. But I’m beyond that and no longer hung up on the name…because the app works. Hard, well, and consistently. It delivers.

I know there are others – BlueBeam, to name one – but as I posted earlier, when you find one that works, well, stick with it until something undeniably better comes along.

In this regard, I’m still waiting on a better PDF app.

Be aware that Readdle makes a family of apps for productivity; while we aren’t involved in the typical business process, we don’t utilize everything they offer. A companion app, PDF Converter, is used much like a plug-in. This app converts almost anything to PDF and allows use and full function in PDF Expert. This app is crazy simple and connects through menu functions with PDF Expert seamlessly. You can convert almost everything you see on your iPad screen into a PDF – websites, photos, text documents, whatever – and open directly to PDF Expert for your use. If you use PDF Expert, you will want to use PDF Converter.

As an aside:

1.  I have heard great things about Documents and how it allows filing and saving to folders with iPads that has been, until now, a frustration. I’m looking into this app and may adopt it in the near future, depending upon how and IF it works with our NAS here in the office.

2. In my experience, Readdle has been a company that communicates. We have, on occasion, needed to talk to them and they listened.

Screen Shot 2017-04-13 at 11.54.41 AM

I’m including another short video for this post; I’m finding it shows so much more than I can type. In full transparency, I just wanted to show how we use the app, and in what ways,but my first take was over 30 minutes. I know you don’t want to sit through (and miss) an entire sitcom while taking all of this in, so I’ve attempted to edit, clip, and otherwise shorten the summary video.

Consider how you present and share ideas as you review the video (PDFexpert has a couple of “modes” – my word in this case.) We leave it live and find it more engaging and immersive.

Try it. I believe not only will you like it, you will find your clients also like it and want to participate in meetings with you.

Regarding PDF’s, and their use in communication in the design process, it does not get better than this.

Noteshelf App Review

Noteshelf.

This app is one of my primary go-to apps.

Please understand, I am getting no compensation for this post. No free sample to try, no perk. I’m writing this blog because on many occasions I am asked, how are you doing this? or what app are you using to do that?

I cannot simply tell them which app I’m using without explaining how they work and why I’m using them. So here goes…

Again, if you know of an app you want to share with me, please do!

So, Noteshelf.

This is the little app that could – and can, and still does.

Earlier I stated some points that apps have to deliver on:

  1. Deliver consistently.
  2. Work well.
  3. Play well with others.
  4. Stay current.
  5. Let me be the author/creator and have my identity.
  6. As much as possible, coordinate and link to my desktop.
  7. Do not let me down.
  8. Communicate well with others.

This app does this and more – it is so intuitive it’s freaky sometimes. The user interface is wonderful. The ease of use is wonderful.

What’s not to like? Well, some may have a list:

  1. No search within the app. I haven’t needed it.
  2. No handwriting recognition. No need for that, too (although it may have that by now…).

What it does is let me record, draw, type, sketch, import images, mark them up, and create a document. Specifically, notebooks (hence the name Noteshelf, I suppose).

The couple of things I wish it did, but doesn’t?

  1. Import video. Not needed much, but as you can send out the “pages” to others, doing so with a video imbedded would be GREAT. If an image is good, why not a video, right?
  2. Work in layers on a page. As you note and draw and type and import and highlight and mark up, you will at times wish you could do so on layers. Maybe it’s coming…
  3. Alternative page sizes. The app has pages that are essentially 8 1/2 X 11 portrait and I wish it could do larger format sheets. It does landscape now, but still could use oversized sheets (type D, E, E1, etc.)

That’s about it. It pretty much does everything else.

What’s so great about it?

Of the items referenced above, item 5 – let me be the author and creator – is a game changer. What I do in Noteshelf is on my letterhead. Mine. Not some by-line created in Noteshelf, mine.

Noteshelf lets me create and share with my identity – and share with everyone at the same time with no additional formatting, titling, etc. It’s like I’m working on my letterhead all the time because if I want to I AM – and you can, too. This is simply great!

While out in the field, in the office, on a plane, on a construction site, where ever – you are working if you want to. On your letterhead, title, or border, you can send out to any and everyone you want to – instantly.

Have job site observations? Send them out on the site. Client meeting notes? Send them to your client while you’re still across the table from them.

There almost no end to what it can do in your mobile device – pending my wish list, of course.

Need to share something you did in another app? Do it it the other app, take an image of it, and upload it into Noteshelf. You can mark it up, erase, type over, highlight, and format as needed to share with others. The point of this is to share.

Share knowledge, direction, instruction, and clarity of ideas in your design process. Noteshelf scores in doing this.

Make your work yours.
Make your process yours.
Then share it.

You’ll find this is a daily app.

The app of my eye.

I have covered posts concerning connection, management, training, and concepts of software and apps used in our design process – now it’s time for a more detailed look at the individual apps themselves.

Below you’ll find a video of the apps on my iPad that I have attempted to integrate into my conversations. There are a lot of apps – only two games – but mostly photo manipulation, text, note-taking, and sketching apps.

MANY of these apps are award winners and great in their own right.

MANY of them have followers who swear by them. I found myself not swearing by them at times and maybe sometimes swearing at them – so they went.

If they work for you, that’s wonderful…keep reading.

All have their merits, but I have found that after I install an app I either warm up to it quickly or I do not – it gets uninstalled quickly, so as not to take up valuable space, and ceases to be a distraction on my desktop or iPad.

Yes, I use an iPad – Pro, even, and the Apple pencil – and I love it. Let me say that Apple has rocked the computer and computing world. For this, I tip my hat to them.

While I have not purchased Apple stock, I believe my office has invested Apple into our company. I will feel good about this until they appear not to be the best investment for us to make. I hope the apparent trend of them not placing a priority on desktop computing does not make us consider other alternatives, but it is looking like that may be the case with news of Apple closing desktop computing departments, OS divisions,  and offering no real meaningful developments and performance upgrades for quite some time. However, they are setting the bar consistently high in the mobile device aspect of our design conversations and processes.

The result?

While we may be considering alternative devices and hardware (and resulting software) for desktop office applications, we are NOT regarding our mobile devices.

In fact, we are so committed to Apple’s mobile devices that we recently purchased and provided iPad Pros and Apple pencils to everyone in our office (full disclosure: there was one person who had already committed to a Surface Pro, so I am eager to see how it works in our world. I’m looking forward to understanding what alternative things we learn in this). This very post is being composed on my iPad Pro while flying over the Gulf to Miami and on to Aruba – I can’t think of another device I’d want to use.

So.

What apps am I using and why?

The “why” is a more meaningful discussion to me. I’ll get into “what” apps soon enough.

Why use an app?

What do you desire to accomplish?

How do you work?

With whom do you work?

What is your product?

These questions will direct you to specialties of apps out there (there are thousands to choose from in several categories), but I find they all have to answer some basic questions.

Here is my short list of things an app has to do to have value in my process:

  1. Deliver consistently.
  2. Work well.
  3. Stay current.
  4. Let me (in this case, you) be the author/creator and have my identity, not the developer of the app. I am the one producing, let me and my office represent.
  5. As much as possible, coordinate and link to my desktop.
  6. Do not let me down – can you think of an app of yours that crashes often? That’s known to be “buggy”?
  7. Communicates and plays well with others – other apps, other devices, other people. Nothing is done in a vacuum; for an app to work well, it needs to add value to my companion apps.

That’s about it.

Not a lot of specs and nerd statistics. If an app works well for me and delivers, it stays. If not, it cannot go fast enough.

I’ve been asked, how do I find my apps? Easy answer:

1.Constantly be on the lookout for them. Keep your ear to the ground.

2.Read about them.

3.Search for them.

4.Talk to others about their apps.

5.TRY them.

Take a look below at the apps I’ve purchased.

202 of them.

How many are on my go-to list? Seven. 3.4%.

Not many make the cut. Frankly, as time goes on, making the cut gets harder and harder.

So, which seven apps have stood the test of time?

  • Noteshelf
  • Sketchbook
  • PDF Expert
  • Snapseed
  • Pages
  • Numbers
  • Mail

Short and sweet. Seven apps I do not want to do without. There are others, to be sure,  but these seven are workhorses for me.

These let me represent me and my company – my clients and their concerns and goals. These let me clearly represent the concerns and accomplishments of the design process and do not get in the way.

If an app can do this, it is a good one to have as a resource. If it does not, it will not get carried around.

If you find you visit an app frequently, then place it in your Dock – why hunt between screens? Keep it at the bottom of the screen, and it’s always there. Let yourself hunt for the lesser used apps; keep the go-to apps at your fingertips. Don’t limit this area to just Apple apps – they let you put any app there – use it!

Note: All seven of my go-to apps are in this dock. No accident.

This is why, in earlier posts, I discussed being familiar with your software and apps. If you are not comfortable with an app, either get there by playing with it or don’t bother at all.

The takeaway?

  1. Explore apps. When you find one, stick with it…until something better comes along.
  2. Talk to the designers. They sometimes really do want to hear from you.
  3. When you find some you really like, hang in with them and you will find their use becomes second nature.
  4. Enjoy – this should be fun, after all.

If you have some apps you think I should check out, let me know.

I’ll take a more detailed look at features and our use of particular apps on our next visit.

First stop:  1200x630bb

Stay tuned.

Training Day.

Last week I offered a series of  questions that you should consider when purchasing software.; this week I’ll consider you have purchased software and now plan to use it. You saw, evaluated, and purchased. Now what?

Press on! Learn it, use it, benefit from it!

Whether you are formally trained or you like to learn as you go, you need to get up and running as soon as possible in order for the new purchase to not be too much of a distraction. Pleasant, frustrating, or perplexing – any distraction for productivity is not good.

So, before you get started, how many are in the training? How long will the training last?

Let’s look at two examples:

When I was much younger, a colleague and I went away for three days of training in Versacad design software. We did our training, came home to the office, and proceeded to document the largest and most involved project that office had ever known – two young guys who did not know what they did not know. We figured the “not-knowing” part out quickly and, with support from each other, delivered what came to be a great project in our careers (thanks to Randy for going through that experience with me – it was quite a ride!).

Now, as an owner of an architectural firm, the thought of that scares me to death!

Another:

I recently heard of a large firm who decided to go with Revit in their office. I’m sure reaching the decision was much more involved than this, but it was described to me as one Friday they went home and when they returned Monday, only Revit was installed on everyone’s machine.

No 2D software.

No pre-emptive training.

No going back. 

It was added that they experienced quite a learning curve – a frustrating, painful curve – but now they never want to go back.

Both examples are frightening to some extent. Both mean a complete buy-in. Both have no alternative – and that was the point. At some time you have to decide – deciding is sometimes the hardest step in the process.

So, what about my own firm?

Now, we are learning Revit.

We are still hanging on to 2D, as well. We debate at times on which to use – what is most productive, efficient, valuable to the project. At times I wish we did not have the choice.

A process like this takes longer, brings everyone (including me) along at a slower pace, and gives you the opportunity to second guess.

This post is preaching to me. Remember, this is always personal.

Whether you are the guy cutting the check for the software, the designer trying to learn a new trick, the instructor who cannot understand how thick these new users are, or an IT guy trying to get everything installed and ready for everyone – it’s always personal to everyone.

So let me encourage you to discuss training, integration, and how success is going to be defined with everyone. 

Also understand this – training and learning never stops. If you think otherwise, consider how often technology changes, updates, and gets re-issued. Failing to keep up is devastating.

If you intend to not grow in technology, be prepared to go the way of dial phones, fax machines, 8-track tapes, and broadcast TV. While these older technologies may be novel and refreshing at times (I myself have a set of classic 70’s stereo equipment), they cannot process, deliver, nor promise what today’s tech can – old software is no different.

In earlier posts I referenced ZORK. How many of you got those references? How many of you went to your stash and pulled out your copies of ZORK and played?

I didn’t either.

Point is, keep up. Catching up is so much harder.

Some challenge this, but I am living Moore’s Law these days. If you want to nerd out on the pace of tech change let me refer you to Coursera.

Screen Shot 2017-03-20 at 11.16.11 AM

Remember, this is fun – or it should be.

Enjoy the discovery, training, and new abilities.

Keep the old tech if you want – it can always come in handy one day. Knowing not only how something got here but also why is a great thing.

So back up your junk. Save often and update as needed. And let me know if you have any vintage stereo equipment you need to get rid of – I’m looking for a particular Pioneer turntable. Vinyl is back, baby!

Hard Questions for Software.

 

This conversation series is about technology utilized in the design process; this week the conversation is about software purchases.

While we will focus in detail on software products in future posts, this post is looking at general questions to ask before you commit to a software.  Put simply, you need to make sure you’re going to get along.

When you acquire software, you do so in a number of ways and also have a number of things to consider resulting from that acquisition – this is the point  of this post. What are the things that result in the acquiring of software? If these things are not considered prior to committing to a software then surprises – usually unpleasant surprises – result.

Two examples of what I encourage you to consider:

  1. A friend of mine once told me that,  when considering the purchase of a new car , the measure of how expensive a car will be is to ask what the cost of an oil change will be. This will tell you how expensive the car will be to own – or will it own you?
  2. Someone tells you they have a free cat (or puppy or gold fish) just needing a good home…everyone knows there is no such thing as a free cat. Puppies and goldfish have very different requirements and responsibilities – computers and software are no different.

Think about owning the system and process more than acquiring a software, system, or process. This is where you can determine whether there is a value there for you.

Questions regarding software purchase considerations fall into 3 large categories:

  • Software: sometimes called software, sometimes just an app. It’s hard to tell the difference anymore.
  • Hardware: The host system of the software installation – this can be a machine or network – depends and affects complicated-ness.
  • Users: Somebody’s got to run the software, right? Look around and take inventory – are they already busy and covered up? Are they jumping at the chance to run this new software or running for cover? Be honest here, purchase may be a one-time thing, but using it is forever (or can seem like it!).

Software is what you think you are acquiring, but hold on – before giving them that credit card number and pushing the “complete transaction” button, think about the following:

  1. Can the software be hosted locally or does it require the Cloud?
  2. Is it a license, subscription, or one-time purchase? Long gone are the days of a delivery of an installation set of disks or going to a big-box store and purchasing a set of disks to install to have “forever.”
  1. How does it update?
    1. How often?
    2. Is it forced, invited, or pushed on you?
    3. How are they managed? By whom?

4. When you acquire the software, who owns it? What account was it purchased under? Who’s log-in account was it purchased through? Do you have a company account or individual accounts? Have you kept record of those log-ins and passwords?

5. Where does the software do its work? Some software coding and structure results in the processing not occurring within the CPU (as you would assume) but rather in the GPU – this is especially prevalent in graphics intensive programs. Be careful with this – we recently purchased a graphic intensive program and it was a better performer on a machine with a lesser CPU (due to spec of the CPU and the needs of their software).  Sure, a hotter CPU would have looked great on paper, but would not have been as fast or productive as the lesser CPU that was available. We were happy to purchase the machine with the less costly CPU and NOT the machine with the hot rod CPU that we did not need.

6. Where is the work product saved?

1. Locally on the machine?

2. Locally on a server?

3. Remotely?

4. In the Cloud?

7. Is the software comparable with multiple OS’s? If so, which one is the stronger performer? WHY?

8. Can more than one user be working in a file at the same time? What does this require?

9. How is the new process and product going to be used? Shared? Published?

10. What kind of service can I expect from this company? Call them. Email them. Text them. Whichever is their process of communication – see how quickly they respond and how helpful they are BEFORE you need them.

11. How long can I expect this software to be relevant?

12. Does this software require a software upgrade?

1. What are the minimum OS requirements?

2. What are the recommended OS requirements?

3. Go ahead and let yourself nerd-out on this with a trial, if available. You may be surprised what you find – and surprises before the purchase are much better than after. Do your homework!

13. What kind of training is typically required? What is offered? How do you get it?

14. Who in your office will be operating this software? Who in the office will “own” it?

15. How will this software make my design process better? Where is the value? How can this value be measured?

16. How will this software make my design process more complicated? If you haven’t figured this out by now, insertion of a software that is going to require training you may not already have, potentially new hardware to be purchased and, producing new information or product you untill now have not had access to – how can it NOT make things a little more complicated till you get this figured out?

17. How proven is this software?

18. How many folks in the industry want to do this?

19. How long will this process take?

20. How many copies or licenses are you going to need to acquire? Take this number and multiply the above responses by that factor – especially when considering hardware and training. Until now, the software purchase is the easiest thing you’ll do.

21.  Lastly – knowing your responses to all of the above – how much is this consideration going to cost?

New software can be exciting like a new bike or family pet – and it should be. But make sure you consider living with it before bringing it home. Ultimately, it’s your decision – get it if you want to. I encourage you to get it if the above considerations result in a “let’s do this thing” response, but do so with your eyes wide open.

Doing so will assist in making your new acquisition of software a happy new member of your design process family. Everyone will get along – right?

Enjoy! Now you can do new, better, and exciting things in your adventure.

Let me know how it goes.

The orchestrated conversation.

No one app does it all – if a developer tells you otherwise, turn and run.

BUT:

Used in concert with each other, multiple apps can be magical. This is when design, conversation, and collaboration are truly a joy – for my company and our clients. The conductor of this conversation is Reflector 2.

You may wonder why I went through all the technical jargon about being connected in prior posts; it takes cables and networks and even apps to make the magic possible. If set up properly and maintained, connectivity is seamless, unseen, and unheard. It allows you and the design process to shine.

If you utilize the devices and hardware that we do, it also demands consistent connectivity. Things happen that try to compromise what you are doing, but familiarity with your software, hardware, and design goals will make it all right.

As almost every blues rock song goes, everything’s all right – it’s gonna be all right.

So don’t fret – go for it.

If you (musically speaking) miss a note in the conversation, keep going.  Compensate and everything will truly be alright – great, even. What song has ever been played perfectly?

Conversations are not rigidly scripted;  they get vulnerable, and honest, and spontaneous. That is when art happens – when architecture happens.

So, Reflector 2. You aren’t going to see much of it, but everything you are going to see in the following video is borne on the shoulders and back of the app. There are other products that appear to do what Reflector 2 does, but I challenge you to find a better value in performance, stability, and price. If you do, please let me know about it. I want to see it.

Reflector 2 simply allows you to reflect: it broadcasts your mobile device signals & images to another device (in my case, a laptop computer – sometimes a Mac, sometimes a Windows machine). And it’s doing this live. Reflector 2 allows you to have a conversation with a client and literally have no limitations of media, technique, and images for your design process.

The accompanying video is a screen shot on my Windows laptop of example images and conversational sketching, design sketching that can be done, experienced and recorded – yes and recorded – with you and your clients.

We use this app and process hard. It is a software we do not want to ever do without. Reflector 2 is also one of the apps I have written about whose update I installed the night before a presentation – and it was not fully cooked and ready in the morning. I found an alternative, wrote the Reflector folks a pointed email, and it was corrected faster than I imaged it could be. Great service and a great app to boot.

The point is:

Take the connectivity thing seriously. Set it up  and use it up. Converse with everyone in the design process using every piece of software you need – now you truly have no limits.

Reflector 2 is a highly recommended way to do this.

What have you talked about today? Across platforms? With others? Live?

Give it a shot. I believe you’ll be pleased where the design process can go – and how fast.

FTP VPN OMG!

You likely have at least a simple understanding of how you connect in your office: wireless, Bluetooth, CAT 5, etc, but don’t forget or overlook other methods of connecting to your office and to your client – or how they connect to you.

VPN,

FTP,

& Dropbox to name a few.

How do you share files, information, and ideas? How can you share something with a client that is over the 5 or 10MB limits they probably have?

  • Email? Probably not.
  • Burn a disk? Those days are swiftly passing…going, going, soon gone?
  • Thumb drive? Sure, if you are okay with giving away a thumb drive every time you want to give a large file to someone (they say they’ll return them – they don’t).

We have utilized several options to connect and share files with others outside the office, with ourselves within the office, and with our mobile devices wherever we are.

Let’s consider FTP for a moment – File Transfer Protocol has been around for awhile. It lets you host a drive in your office (or in the cloud, I suspect) where you can control access of others as they retrieve files from you or upload files to you for design purposes.

But my firm  utilizes Apple devices. Guess what? Apple doesn’t allow or accommodate FTP hosting with their operating system.They may now, but it would be through some APP that you then have to purchase and maintain – it is in my opinion this has just not been something Apple has wanted to participate in.

That was one of the lessons we learned as we converted and drank the Cupertino kool-aide.

All in all, it has not been a problem.

We did host an FTP site at one time – in our Windows world – and as a result had to:

issue instructions to log-in,

access and

use the site with established permissions and protocols.

While it was a bit high maintenance, it did allow us to monitor, control, and otherwise be the gatekeepers of who saw what, when, and where.

We utilized a software called Cute FTP and, despite the very non-technical name, it worked great. This was a good system that worked well  through monitoring efforts and management of access log-ins and passwords. Now things are a little simpler – or so it would seem.

Enter Dropbox. 

Free(!) Dropbox.

Regarding the design process, Dropbox has been the answer to the maiden’s prayer for years. Dropbox allows for sharing files in a multitude of ways – from attaching file links in emails, sharing folders that allow download and upload, and apps that link automatically into your dropbox account to files located there.

One word of caution:

Dropbox loads up your computer if you are not ready for it. We use it a LOT in our office and have found whatever you have in your dropbox account, you also have on your hard drive.

YES. That’s right.

While Dropbox is in the cloud and extremely flexible, it is ALSO resident on your computer…this means every file in your account.

EVERY file – yours and those that have been shared with you. I’m not saying this is wrong, just a little known fact. The capacity of your account also needs to be accounted for on your hard drive – don’t accept invitations to large shared folders if you don’t have the space in your dropbox account AND your hard drive.

We have found it historically does not like to transfer really large files – we’re talking giga-bites of information – because they are suspected to be pirated movies. While we completely respect this concern, we have never found a way to get a large file we created to successfully transfer to other devices (specifically iPads, iPhones, etc.) through Dropbox.

But there is work around, so for now we enjoy Dropbox.
In all fairness, there are a variety of competitors. More power to them. We have tried some – OwnCloud and Citrix to name two – but we have found there is almost always a limitation or a catch – a required OS or difficult user interface (you shouldn’t have to know how to code or work in DOS to set these things up).

We have found Dropbox to be the most intuitive and universally known software of this type – and used by our clients as well – to the point that this is where we have landed for now.

VPN. Virtual Private Network.

The acronym is generic enough, the actual name doesn’t explain much to me at all, but it works great…basically providing the ability to log-in to your office and connect to all the files, printers, computers, etc. you would need as if you were in the office (which you aren’t if you are utilizing VPN connectivity).

Have you ever needed to access files from your office at home, in a hotel room in another city? VPN.

Have you ever needed to print something in your office while you aren’t there? VPN.

It does require some geekiness to set up and establish protocols. Find the nerd in the office, wind them up, let them go, and get out of their way.

screen-shot-2017-03-01-at-8-47-49-amWith establishment of a VPN router (hardware), VPN gateway (software), and established protocols (user accounts, log-ins, passwords and permissions – choices in software setup) you will be working in your office while you are not IN your office – it’s really quite cool.

It also lets you be productive at all times: business trip, vacation, home…your’e still “in the office.” So try VPN – you’ll be plugged in all the time.

With some caveats:

  • Windows does VPN really well.
  • It typically requires internet access – you will need that.
  • Apple used to do VPN – then quit. Literally, without warning.

We updated our OS to Sierra on our Apple computers and discovered they no longer “do” VPN. Just like that, the ability was gone.

Their answer? You guessed it – an app. This one is called Shimo and was (after about 30 frustrating minutes) immediately  purchased, installed, and working. We have had some update needs to keep things current, but all this is to say there is apparently always an app for that.

VPN is great.

Management of the protocols and permissions allow everyone to access the office/design process and be plugged in – literally – at all times.

Bottom line:

  • There is no reason why you have to be disconnected from the office, or your clients, or your design process.
  • Ideas happen when they happen; they are not 9 to 5 – they never were, they never will be.
  • Design is not a sterile “only in the office” process, but you can literally now take the office with you if you desire to.

VPN, FTP, Dropbox et al – all allow flexible, intuitive, 24/7 access to your design process, not just for you – but your clients as well.

This design process truly now has no limits – no down time.

What are you waiting for?

Hooked Up, Plugged In.

How connected are you?

Are you hooked up, plugged in?

These are all terms we have heard before – but regarding IT? Do you know how you are using your connections?

Wireless? Bluetooth? Hardwired?

Hopefully these are things you don’t have to worry about, but you better know the ways you are “connected” – otherwise you will find a time when you discover you have been functionally illiterate, working and productive until you suddenly aren’t, and you don’t know why.

Usually the timing of events are not convenient or beneficial to anyone. Making a presentation, downloading or uploading a large file, or needing to allow a client to connect as part of a design meeting – times when you need everything to run smoothly. Events like this seldom have a great recovery – keep them as few and as far between as possible. We have one client that I swear has bad IT juju and brings technology  – almost no matter what kind – to a screeching halt. Does that sound familiar? Be prepared for anything. Know what your reaction will be if connections won’t work – Plan B, C, and D.

Nimbleness in connectivity and command of at least the concepts of your software and hardware is critical. Sure, you can have someone be the gate keeper of things, but at least know the basics of how your devices are working with each other – or not working – so you don’t find yourself in a tight spot with no idea of how to wiggle out.

Can you diagram your IT world – your software and hardware? And their connectivity? Do this. Share it with your office. Have your IT folks correct you – and they will.

Recognize the difference between a router and a switch.

Know which devices need restarting, what passwords and admin log-ins are for those devices. Do you share access with others? Be ready to assist them in connecting.

Regarding the basic means of connections, I suggest you know the following:

Hardwired:

There are several versions: Cat-5, USB, HDMI, VGA, MIDI, RCA, etc – most are falling away as time marches on, so for now we will focus on CAT-5 (CAT-6 is out there as well and coming on strong).

Always – always go hardwired if you can. For what will soon become evident if it hasn’t yet, hardwired connections are the most reliable connections you can have. No dropped signals, no interruptions of other devices  – one pipe of data quickly moving from one machine to another. Speed is king. KING, I tell you. If you want fast and reliable, go hardwired. In your office, in your conference room, even in your hotel room.

Drawbacks?

The hard. wire. It cannot be denied.

A physical connection restricts. You have to conceal it, step over it, sometimes even pass it around like a joint…in meetings it seems like the Little Feat song, “don’t bogart that joint, my friend…” Sometimes you have to share the hardwire.

Do you know how to make a cat-5 connection? With the purchase of a few items you can be the master of your connectivity.

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Parts needed:

  • Wire (CAT-5 or some better version)
  • Crimping tool (beware, the knife blades are sharper than sharp).
  • Instructions and patience

Look at your devices – make sure they are all at the fastest speeds you can get. If one is slow, they ALL are slow. Check your switches and routers to make sure they are coordinated in speeds. Differences can be in factors of ten, so it makes a real difference.

Look at the wiring demarks and switches – are the different network cables labeled and marked? Are they organized? How about the data ports you plug into? Label these – keep record of them and you will be able to plug-n-play, swap, and adjust as needed. If you don’t, you will be forever trying to figure out what “they” did as they placed your lines.

Seriously, knowing this makes you much less dependent upon others. It’s not that complicated and it makes communicating with your IT staff much easier.

Wireless:

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This is the connectivities club’s sexy, cool kid. Everyone wants wireless.

Wireless wants to be as dependable as hardwired, and it almost is.

Wireless is infinitely more flexible and accommodating, allowing almost endless combinations of applications of hardware and devices. But beware of conflicts and surprises…

We use wireless to connect everything in our office from computers to our network, computers to Apple TV, and computers to our stereo, but it is not without its problems. You don’t want your Pandora station to start playing on your Apple TV during a meeting in the conference room…unless it’s a really cool station and a really cool client.

Wireless is probably the hardest working connectivity we use – it connects each user to our 3D printer, Pandora, Spotify, Stereo, and Apple TV. But we have to make sure it’s secure.

Case in point: I have had my dry cleaners down the street ask if they could jump on our wireless signal.

Ever use a hot-spot on your phone? Wireless. Protect it. Turn it off when not in use! Your data plan will thank you.

Keep it secure. Keep it secure. Keep it secure.

Consider the clients connecting in your office. They can – and should – be able to go wireless in order to have meaningful conversations and access info they need. But keep it secure! Maybe it’s a separate guest wireless account or other security measures (additional log-ins to go past guest-level access). There are several possibilities.

Then there’s BlueTooth.

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I never paid much attention to Bluetooth, it has been the lesser of the methods of connectivity until now. You have an Apple Watch? You are probably utilizing Bluetooth. How about an Apple Pencil? Bluetooth. We utilize Bluetooth mainly on a personal level with personal devices.

If I could have a wish for Apple and Bluetooth, I’d wish that iPad Pros could be drawn on by more than one Apple Pencil at a time – collaboration is stalled slightly when you realize you can’t draw on someone else’s iPad with YOUR Apple Pencil – c’mon Apple, allow piling on here.

All this is to say the flexibility, redundancy, and options for connectivity make your network for design processes a web. Simplifying and managing this web will make you design world cleaner and efficient. You’ll be the better for it.

Wonder how involved this can be? We are an office of 8. And have 70+ connections of wireless and Bluetooth systems. Each device has an IP address, MAC address, and other qualifying information to keep track of. To see this in action in your world let me suggest FING as an app to consider. We have it and use it to organize and troubleshoot conflicts, disconnects, etc.

Knowing the basics of connectivity, the nuances between them, and how to mange them will keep you working, your work flowing, and the conversations going.

When was the last time you looked behind the curtain of your connectivity? Check your speeds, organization, and security. You’ll be glad you did.

Now we can start conversation about what to do with all this connectivity…stay tuned.

Aunt Bee was right.

How long do you use your current versions of software?

It seems there is always some update, some new thing that needs to be loaded and installed. Have you noticed?

Have you measured what it costs to update versus not? How many machines do you have – one or one hundred?

In one of my previous employments, we ended up with a full-time IT guy who worked nocturnally.  He did all he needed to do when no one was around, having things ready when we all came to work the next day. And he ended up needing an assistant! I remember when an architectural firm’s needs were limited to clean and working drafting equipment, clean pens (anyone remember vibrating pen cleaners?), and having lots of scummex on hand. No longer. Sometimes it appears our software owns us.

Are you going to the Cloud? Why? Because it was your idea and you can’t wait? Or is it because the software product is pushing you there. 

What happens if – no, when – you lose internet connectivity?

My point is, it’s all getting complicated.

And with this complication comes the need to simplify.

If you cannot diagram your IT world and how you use it, you need to. This can be a chart or a spreadsheet – something that makes sense to you and the others in your office. Something that your IT guy can reference when he is called in to help.

It’s a frustratingly numbing process, but it’s vital to begin and maintain. Our record of licenses change at the software provider’s pleasure and it’s never just one piece of information to keep. License codes, authorization keys, email records of activations, user/ account records, versions past and present, machines these softwares are being used on, what virtual account the software was purchased on – and, of course, passwords. The list goes on.

For example, when you look at a computer today, if you see a simple operating system and let’s say 5 software programs, you are probably looking at a user account that has at LEAST the following:

1. a username

2. password

3. authorization

4. probably credit card info as well ( with name, billing info, security code, card number – all the stuff the bad guys are looking for). This is just to get the OS purchased and running…

Now add 5 software programs that also need:

1. a user account

2. email account

3. login

4. license code

5. authorization Code

6. version

7. I’m sure I’m missing something…

Seven components of vital information regarding ONE account of software. Multiply by 5 and you get 35 items, plus at least 4 for the OS…39 items of vital information to maintain ONE COMPUTER…how many computers do you have in your design world?

Add my little friend, the virtual machine, and all this compounds into multiples of the above – for ONE MACHINE.

The take away?

Keep records of everything regarding your software.

EVERYTHING.

Have a system that tracks the information of purchase, install, and update. If the software developers decide to update things (do you let this happen automatically? Oops!) you start to lose your handle on EVERYTHING regarding your software licenses.. There really should be an app for this. If you know of one let me know.

Our solution?

Spreadsheets. 

Numbers spreadsheets, in fact.

Software companies update (“to serve you better”) at their discretion – not on your schedule. How often do we receive an email to update our programs?

Annually.

The anniversary of your license subscription purchase.

Product update.

New version launch.

“Bug fixes” (this covers a gamut of things they really don’t want to share with you).

All provided – forced on you in an automatic update – without regard for the other softwares you are using. Provided without knowing details of the compatibilities of the other softwares you are using. Of course, they have no knowledge of what you’re using. But you do. 

Manage your software. Only YOU know it best in your process, your flow, your deadlines.

Did I say never update before a deadline? NEVER DO THIS.

Manage your software – updates, installs, accounts, versions, account locations, or do not at your peril.

Protect your software – always save .exe files or .dmg files within your system so you don’t rely on the software companies to save legacy versions for you.

In the old days you kept your scales and triangles clean, your drafting table surface dent-free, and your pens clean and unclogged – for good reason. Treat your software no differently.

As David Wagner reminded me 34 years ago, Aunt Bee from The Andy Griffith Show said, “Take care of your things and your things will take care of you.”

Remember this. Live it.

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