Tag Archives: technology

Construction Trends that are Beyond Science Fiction

In Chicago, it is said there are only two seasons: winter and construction (and the saying is employed in other regions of the Midwest). Even if true, that certainly has not detained the many predictions for 2015 trends from general contractors and other sectors in the construction industry. All the forecasts are based on sound data, and some are so innovative and high-tech, they could be in the providence of the next James Cameron film.

In fact, some of these haven’t even made it to any science fiction blockbuster:

Bottled water…so why not bottled sunlight ?

The solar industry continues to boom, and the idea of sunlight assisting society is no longer even modern (if that even makes sense). The U.S. has even surpassed Germany as the world’s leading producer of solar power. Solar panels and other solar equipment are becoming more available, but the cost is often something along the lines of buying a star.

So why not just buy the solar energy itself? That’s what one company already does, with one million customers and growing.  Consumers don’t exactly purchase liquid plasma, but electrical energy from solar energy at a much affordable cost.

Your home will be in the clouds, at least at first

A blogger from Construction Monitor wrote last year:

Designing and managing construction projects in cloud-based technology will soon be the norm. Now’s the time to get on board with the fast, efficient collaboration cloud computing enables .

Society has come a long way from the late 90s resistance to the notion of handing over large amounts of information to third party companies for online storage. Efficiency overcame safety in society. When it comes to general contractors, though, safety will surely always come first, even as project management becomes effortless and cloudless.

Put a cork in it and open your doors

Cork has been used since the days of the ancient Greeks, but it is actually in demand as a high-tech construction solution. It is waterproof, fire resistant, flexible, sound proof, and completely organic. Using cork on floors and walls in construction makes perfect sense, and furthermore it has been utilized in car engines, airport runaways, and even space shuttles.

Some companies now offer cork in liquid form, basically transforming any construction into a green and safe building with a few sprays!

Buildings that recycle more than humans

As seen above, solar energy can be transported and sold. In addition, solar energy buildings are now able to send surplus solar energy back into a grid, thereby assisting other green facilities.

In addition, using the Seattle Bullitt Center building as a prime example, it is possible to have buildings that treat and recycle rainwater or even sewage water. At this rate, buildings and houses will even be able to take out the trash on a rainy day…

Screaming at your appliances no longer makes you crazy

Grid-aware appliances are growing in numbers, and it basically means your smartphone will soon no longer be the only smart object at home.  A fridge can now remind one that it is low on milk, while the washing machine can be controlled remotely with a smartphone or tablet. Even if some of the grid-aware technology borders on creepy, its real advantage is that its controls are in real-time—meaning owners know exactly how much energy they are using. This will make anyone’s wallet speak with a positive tone.

As mentioned, some of the above trends have yet to make it to any science fiction, and perhaps the latest Avengers or Star Wars flicks in 2015 will catch up with the inventiveness and determination of general contractors, engineers, tech gurus, and architects in the (seemingly) mundane world of reality.

Until then, may the Force be with those involved in construction.

 Solar Energy Usage Statistics Infographic

 

Cutting Costs on High Tech Gear and Electronics

Consumers desire the latest electronics and high tech gear, but unfortunately cost can be prohibitive. Savvy consumers have blogs, websites and books dedicated to saving money both for the home and business. Here are a few non-traditional and creative ways to save money when it comes time to buy the needed items to outfit an office or the latest technology gadget.

 

Online Auctions

Online auctions claim to save buyers anywhere from 25%-75% on all sorts of items. One online auction generating attention is Quibids It’s free and easy to create an account but in order to bid, one must first purchase 100 bids at 60 cents a bid. Smaller bid packages may be purchased after the initial purchase. Items can be placed on a watch list to track selling prices at certain times. We saw two remote-controlled cars sell for vastly different amounts. In the early afternoon it sold for one bid (60 cents) and later that evening sold for 240 bids.

 

If one loses a bid on an item, QuiBids will sometimes offer the item at a Buy Now price, and will subtract the bids already placed on that item. For instance a $50 gift card that had $40 worth of bids already might be available to purchase at the remaining cost of $10.

 

Auctions are not a guarantee of lower prices, but often a creative way to try to buy high priced items at lower costs. All items on QuiBids are new and items ship for free within the U.S.

 

Use Online Shopping Carts

Another way to save money is to shop on-line at sites like Amazon. Items can be placed in a shopping cart for later and will adjust as the price either drops or rises. Amazon Prime membership will also save money on the item price and get two-day free shipping on Prime items. Overstock.com often offers cheap shipping as well.

 

In addition, if you place items in an online shopping cart but do not complete the purchase, you may receive an email within a couple of days offering you a discount on the items in your shopping cart. It’s the store’s way of following up to close a sale.

HiTechmoney

Planning and Patience

A tried and true way to save money on electronics and high tech gear is to plan ahead. During the year there are times when high priced items are on sale. Televisions, cell phones, iPods, digital cameras, computers and more have yearly sale times, especially when new models come out.

 

It’s good to research before purchasing. Consumer Reports has a list of which items commonly go on sale and when so that you can better plan in advance. For instance, computers are a popular sale item before school starts and TVs in January. You can also avoid spending hundreds at once when you buy an item by pre-buying gift cards in smaller amounts to save up for a particular item. Purchase gift cards at many retail outlets as well as online via Google Play, Apple, Best Buy, Amazon and more.

 

Gift cards can also be used anytime, including during Black Friday sales weekend. Stores advertise specials on everything, including electronics. Long lines may deter consumers from Black Friday sales, but it’s worth researching what items stores are selling at discounted prices as often you can get items for pennies on the dollar. Buying gift cards ahead saves you spending the full amount all at one time.

 

Ask

A great way to have the latest smartphone and save on monthly bills is to ask the phone carrier if there are deals, upgrades or discounts available. Customer service agents work hard to create customer loyalty by offering discounts, deals, and reviewing bills to make sure consumers are getting the best rates. Many big phone companies offer deals and discounts to keep customers happy (this also applies to cable/satellite and internet services) and you will never know-unless you ask. Remember the person on the other end of the phone wants to sign new people up and make sales.

 

Saving money is a strategy that can be applied to every aspect of business, including keeping up on the latest products that help save time, money and manpower. High priced technology and electronics can be made more affordable by research, planning and patience.

Classroom Technology: Engaging the Internet Brain

In the past, teachers have punished students for checking phones and tablets in the classroom, and even banned those devices entirely. Many universities continue to claim that smartphones, tablets, and laptops provide more of a distraction than an aid to education, but with access to so much information, literally at their fingertips, is technology in the classroom really such a bad thing?

Technology can be distracting, but the real issue is content and engagement. Just as in marketing, educators need to understand their audience and convey their messages appropriately. The student population is primarily comprised of millennials, and this is the internet generation. More than 60% own smartphones, and 75% even use them in bed. The last thing they see at night and the first thing they see in the morning is a screen. Technology is simply hard wired into their lives. With so many sources of stimuli, and constant bombardment of information, they’ve been trained to process data at unprecedented speeds. The benefits of this obvious, but one of the drawbacks is that it’s difficult to capture the attention of a content-oriented brain. Multitasking isn’t just a skill of the millennial. It’s a necessity, and educators must understand that 3 hours of reading lecture notes in a monotone voice isn’t the way to reach them. While students can easily process and retain the information that most lectures provide them, many teachers present it in a way that is incompatible with the internet brain. Traditional educational techniques are simply outdated and inappropriate for relaying information to students that grew up with the internet. This concept is fairly simple, and most teachers notice it while working with students in the classroom, so why are they still using outdated devices and techniques?

Naturally money is a factor. Up-to-date technology is typically expensive, and for many underfunded schools, the budget is already stretched to the breaking point before they consider upgrading. Projectors and smartboards can easily cost several thousand dollars per unit, and wireless internet to support browsing for large groups of students can add up quickly as well. The general mindset is to cut costs by extending the lives of outdated equipment, but this is a terrible mistake. While early millennials experienced both the pre- and post-internet worlds, current students haven’t. Their concepts of how information should be presented are vastly different than any generation before them, and universities must adapt. Investing in modern engagement tools is essential for achieving results.

Many devices are available, from interactive chalkboards, to ereaders that eliminate the need to carry bulky textbooks, but classroom technology isn’t limited to physical devices. There are a broad range of sites, programs, and applications that are available to teach and engage students. In many cases, these options are preferable to schools as they can be very cheap, and implemented on tablets, laptops, and smartphones which are already owned by most students.

Training is also a major factor. While it’s second nature for students to integrate with cutting edge devices, teachers usually require more effort and instruction to overcome the learning curve. This costs valuable resources that schools aren’t usually willing to dedicate to unproven tools. Older teachers especially seem to have a hard time, but can learn and flourish when given proper instruction.

Better engagement isn’t the only advantage of technology in the classroom. It’s also been shown to improve self esteem and skills in: accountability, communication, collaboration, critical thinking, creativity, global awareness, ethics, leadership, innovation, productivity, self-direction, and problem solving.

It’s very easy to say that technology is distracting, and that it should be banned from classrooms, but such a heavy handed snub of extremely powerful learning tools is foolish and shortsighted. Technology has been shown to improve self-esteem and attention span while preparing students for real world demands. It gives students and teachers an unprecedented access to information at the tips of their fingers, and it can be far more engaging than traditional methods. The millennial generation needs to receive information in a way that is compatible with their internet brains, and the only way to properly do that is through technology in the classroom.

 

 

Google’s Driverless Car Faces Significant Roadblocks

A few weeks ago, Google unveiled a new prototype of the driverless car, and sparked the imagination of people around the world. Unlike previous models, this version was designed entirely by Google and contains no steering wheel or pedals, making it the company’s first model to be entirely self-controlled. Consumer reactions were mixed, with excitement and support on one side, and skepticism on the other.

Google isn’t the first company to test a driverless car. The idea of a self-guiding vehicle has been around since the automobile was first created, and inventors have been testing prototypes since the 1920’s, but no one has been more successful than Google. This new prototype is the first of its kind that completely removes the steering wheel and pedals from the passenger’s control. Google announced plans to build 100 electric powered prototypes for thorough testing in the near future, which will be built by an unnamed company in Detroit. Those models will have a limited top speed of only 25mph for safety reasons, and should be road-ready within a year. Google isn’t the only company that is working on driverless car technology however, and some are even experimenting with larger vehicles. Peloton Technology, based in California, is currently testing self-driving systems in semi-trucks. Their program, which allows tractor-trailers to follow each other very closely in convoys, decreases wind resistance and fuel costs up to 10% for trailing vehicles, and 4.5% for leading ones. This could be substantial in an industry where fuel represents 40% of operating costs.

The practical applications are obvious, and companies are scrambling to spearhead the industry, but is society really ready for a driverless car? One major roadblock is human nature. People tend to be scared of new technology, especially when it removes control from them. According to a Harris poll of 2039 adult consumers, 88% of motorists indicated that they would be worried about riding in a driverless car, meaning that only 12% would feel no apprehension. Although many have embraced self-driving vehicles as a technology for the near future, some think of them as psychopathic vehicles that will terrorize motorways and run down innocent children in school playgrounds. Fortunately, Google has embraced the natural reaction of the public and is working to cultivate acceptance through strict testing.

Like any new technology, the driverless car is hampered by many problems and concerns. The systems used in Google’s prototypes are state-of-the-art, but still require a substantial amount of testing before they can even be considered for use by the public. Even with testing, things could still go wrong. Hardware can always malfunction, and programs can encounter errors. Consumers can’t trust their laptops not to crash, let alone a self-driving vehicle. In addition to this, a driverless car could be hacked or sabotaged. 39% of drivers surveyed indicated that they would be worried about hacking. The consequences of tampering with a computer-driven vehicle could be horrific. Therefore it is crucial that driverless cars be fitted with anti-virus software, and have safety features to prevent accidents in the event of a malfunction.

Legislation and regulations represent a significant problem as well. 59% of drivers surveyed would be worried about liability issues. Before a driverless car can operate on public roads, many questions have to be answered by legislators. For example: If a driverless car parks in a no-parking zone, who will receive the ticket? Should it be the manufacturer’s fault because the no-parking zone wasn’t programmed in? Or would the owner be ticketed for not supervising his vehicle’s actions? In addition to this, modern traffic laws are designed to accommodate human drivers. Artificial intelligence can respond to situations with staggering speed. Should driverless cars be allowed to drive faster and follow other vehicles at a shorter distance to mitigate traffic conditions? It may be some time before laws can be put in place to integrate human and computer controlled vehicles, and until those issues are solved, the driverless car will remain an ambitious dream.

Unfortunately, modern society is not ready to embrace a driverless car, but there is hope. Each of these problems represent a challenge and an opportunity for growth. If there is any company with the money and technological might to make the self-driving vehicle a reality, it’s Google, but it will not be an easy process. Challenges must be overcome, ideas must be accepted, and people must allow technology to flourish. It is human ingenuity that will pave the way for intelligent technology. For every roadblock in the path of the driverless car, there is a solution that can lead to bigger and better things.

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