Valve Announcements

So shiney!

Last week the video game distribution and development company, Valve Corporation, made three major announcements which give a clue on a new direction the company is taking. The three Valve Announcements were (click the links to jump to the announcement info):

  1. A new Linux-based platform to move Steam (the video game distribution software) from desktop computers and laptops to the living room with its SteamOS
  2. Valve entering the hardware business, Steam Machines, with the launch of its prototype Steam Box which would compete with Microsoft’s XBox, Ninento’s Wii and Sony’s Playstation
  3. The second hardware product unveiling of a new Steam Controller for Games
  4. NOT Half Life 3

The Marketing

The announcements were revealed through this landing page that had 3 symbols and a count down timer under one. When one announcement was made the timer would reset and moved onto the next symbol. This was a great bit of marketing as it drummed up PR (free advertising!) as journalists were predicting what the symbols meant and tried to anticipate the next announcement. Furthermore, the announcements were spaced out perfectly to allow the hype to extend over a week (as opposed to making all the announcements at once).

So mysterious!
Countdown timer for Steam Machines. With the SteamOS already revealed.

This utilises one of the fundamental concepts in marketing, as it taps into a tried and true technique of generating buzz and being the talk of the town, and that is… *drum roll*…

FREQUENCY

With the multiple announcements, came multiple instances of exposure to the brand and spreading awareness. With each successive announcement leading to the company being pushed further and further into front of mind for consumers, therefore building an association between brand (Valve and Steam) with a need (entertainment and escapism) that computer games provide.

Now a little more info on the announcement…

SteamOS

  • A Linux based back-end to power Steam is a FREE, standalone operating system for living room machines
  • Focuses on improving graphics processing performance and reductions in latency on the OS (operating system) level
  • An ‘open’ system allowing:
    • OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) (aka those in the hardware industry) to innovate a faster rate
    • Content makers to engage directly with their audience
    • End users to change and replace hardware and software as they see fit (highly customisable)
    • End users to be involved in the creation process of games
  • Features:
    • Streaming – From your PC to your TV via the SteamOS machine
    • Media file compatibility and availability i.e. music, TV, movies
    • Family sharing – families members are able to take turns playing your games but also earn individual achievements and save the progress for each individual
    • Content / visibility control – to ensure family friendliness to ensure you’re exposing the right games each family member taking into account age appropriateness

Steam Machines

  • The protoype ‘machine’ is dubbed as the Steam Box
  • But Valve is planning to make available multiple machines from different manufacturers
  • More information to come soon!
  • But the prototypes will be shipping this year
  • Due to the ‘openness’ of the machine, Valve is encouraging the ‘hackers’ culture to modify and change any part of the Steam Box from the hardware, to the software and to the operating system

Steam Controller

So shiney!
Futuristic looking Steam Controller
  • Designed to work with all Steam Games
  • Increased resolution and fertility of input for better control within games
  • Features:
    • Replacing the thumb sticks, the Steam Controller has two trackpads that are clickable (like a button)
    • Haptic feedback – providing information through force and vibration on the commands that were input into the controller (think more high tech version of the ‘rumble pack’)
    • Touch Screen – allowing for customisable button commands without the need of specific physical buttons
    • 16 Buttons in total
    • As with the culture of Valve, that involves the community in the product development, they plan for the Steam Controller to be ‘hacker friendly’ meaning it’ll can be taken apart and put together easily

Reinventing the Wheel

I’m interested in how far along these new products go. I don’t know exactly how USEFUL another operating system or console is and how it’ll integrate with currently home theatre / entertainment setups. Would those who already have an XBox, Playstation or Wii buy this, especially given that many gamers already have multiple consoles and developers already release their games on multiple platforms. Also given the fact, that the current console makers have already implemented an online market place for their games and probably have a setup for movies and TV shows.

I’m not sure what problem in the market place this operating system and hardware solves. I feel like those who would purchase the Steam Machines and use SteamOS are the small niche group of hackers (think tinkerer rather than internet espionage) and hardcore gamers, rather than casual or regular gamer, who like to play around and make modifications and contribute to the gaming community. UNLESS of course the adoption of SteamOS and Steam Machines becomes high enough to knock off its main rivals due seamless integration of traditional living room entertainment with PC functionality.

The Steam Controller however seems like a game changer, allowing for greater customisation, engagement and depth of gaming and for players to be more immersed into the games. They way Valve designed this product and the thought process behind it is very impressive. Given that it was the last announcement it seems that Valve has a ‘favourite child’ out of these three babies, and I couldn’t blame them. They aren’t reinventing the wheel, but making big leaps forward.

What do you guys think about these announcements? Otherwise leave your theories of when Half Life 3 will come out in the comments below.

Being Productive on the Internet vs Wasting Time

There are so many things you can do online, but making the most and being productive on the internet is a very useful habit that is hard to master.

I’ve realised, as I’ve gotten older, time becomes a finite resource, one that I wasted so much of looking back at my university / school days. So here’s my current most viewed sites, as well as places I should visit more often (not including emails).

Where I Actually Spend My Time

  • Reddit
    • They call this place the front page of the internet
    • It’s a social news and bulletin board site, where users (posters and lurkers) vote (upvote / downvote) on the quality of the post
    • Those entries that are popular, both original submissions and comments, are placed higher up on the thread whilst those with downvotes get pushed to the bottom and become hidden
    • There’s a lot of entertainment that can be taken out of Reddit, my favourite ‘subreddits’ are AMA (Ask Me Anything), TIL (Today I Learned) and Ask Reddit
    • There are more subreddits for many niche interests
  • OzBargain
    • I have a love/hate relationship with this site
    • It’s a great place to find a bargain
    • But it’s also a great place to waste your money on things you don’t necessarily need, but buy anyway because it’s just so cheap
  • Facebook
    • No introduction or link needed
    • This is such a time sink, but I have gradually reduced the amount of time I actually spend here.
    • I just need to reduce the frequency now
    • I do feel that Facebook has made our generation much more narcissistic, and promotes anti-social behaviour (FB ‘investigating’ and jealousy through fear of missing out otherwise known as #FOMO)
  • Feedly
    • This is probably my only ‘good habit’
    • Feedly is service which is known as an RSS (Really Simple Syndication) reader
    • What this means is that it ‘subscribes’ to websites and when they post new content, the RSS reader will grab that new post and collect it for you
    • This means you can read and watch all your favourite news / blogs / comics / videos from one place
    • Some of the news sites I’m subscribed to include: Inc, Lifehacker, Engadget, Ars Technica, Mashable, The Next Web, Wired and Gizmodo
    • Don’t forget to subscribe to my feed! – LINK
  • YouTube
    • Moving pictures!
    • A tonne of fun that you can share with friends, but 95% a waste of time
    • There are some great educational videos, though there are better places to find these
    • I mainly watch videos on: dance, computer game playthroughs and basketball

Where I Should Spend More of My Time

  • UDemy, Coursera and other Massive Online Open Courses
    • Further education and learning, it’s always good to continue learning after you’ve finished with formal education
    • A lot of courses are free, but premium content requires payment though a worthwhile investment
    • Courses include video recordings as well as other materials such as slide notes and links to further readings
  • Codeacademy
    • A very useful skill which I’ve been trying to learn, but it takes a commitment and getting into the habit of doing some coding every day to really retain everything to be able to code in a practical sense
    • The lessons are very intuitive, and start from the most basic, so no prior knowledge is required to start learning
  • Feedly ShortcutsFeedly (see above)
    • To keep up to date with news and what’s been happening in your area of interest and expertise
    • Ability to save articles that might be of use in the future
    • Convenient and quick – with its Android and iOS app, you can read on the fly
    • I’d advise those use it to familiarise yourself with the keyboard shortcuts (see image)
  • TED
    • It stands for ‘Technology, Entertainment, Design’ with its slogan as ‘ideas with spreading’
    • The site is full of videos which are both inspiring and educational that open your eyes to ideas by some great speakers
    • There is a lot of discover, but one of the best parts are the speakers themselves who are so passion during their presentation
    • A great place to pick up some pointers in presentation skills whilst learning a thing or two

So where do you spend most of your time online? Any other places you’d like to spend that’ll make you more productive? Let me know what you think.

The Fall of BlackBerry

You know you're in trouble when pets are your main consumer base

The Fall

On Monday,  Toronto-based financial holdings group Fairfax Financial Holdings agreed to acquire BlackBerry in a deal worth $4.7 billion. (Compared to to Nokia which was purchased by Microsoft for $7.2 billion a year ago)

The deals hasn’t been finalised, as terms of the agreement have been speculated to include a condition for the buyer to walk away at any time. However Fairfax and Blackberry will negotiate and finalise a transaction agreement by November 4 when the fall of BlackBerry will be official.

BlackBerry made major announcements last Friday which included:

  • It was cutting 4,500 jobs — between 35-40% of its workforce in an attempt to slash costs by 50 per cent and shift its focus back to competing mainly for the business customers
  • An estimated loss of nearly $1 billion in its second quarter mainly due to unsold Z10 phones
  • A reduction in its product offering from 6 phones to only two high-end devices and two entry-level
  • Revenue was expected to have been $US1.6 billion in the second quarter, almost half of the amount analysts had anticipated. Sales of phones during that time totaled 3.7 million, with the majority being older models. (Apple, by comparison, sold 31.2 million iPhones.)

How the mighty have fallen

During BlackBerry’s peak:

  • Mid-2007, BlackBerry was worth more than $100 billion (Canada’s most valuable company)
  • Autumn of 2009, BlackBerry’s smartphones enjoyed global market share of over 20 per cent including 51 per cent of the North American (their piece of the pie has since evaporated to just 1.5 per cent)
  • BlackBerry smartphones were a symbol of corporate and political power

Marketing failures

  • New competitors entering the smartphone marketing market (Apple and Google)
    • Who were using better hardware in their flag ship phones
    • Creating their own ecosystem of devices, services and software (e.g. Apple: iTunes, App Store, Garage Band, Keynote and Android: Gmail, Youtube, Google Drive, Maps)
    • Which threatened BlackBerry primary target segment, the enterprise users, but as their market share diminished they were slow to identify other user groups to focus on
  • Lack of innovation and adapting to competition
    • Stubbornness to hold onto certain ‘features’ which were becoming out of date *cough* KEYBOARD *cough*
    • Under developed and stagnant app store
    • Couldn’t penetrate into the tablet market i.e. PlayBook (BlackBerry’s tablet) was a flop that gained no traction with its user base
    • Instead of embracing change the market place the company was resisting it. They were resting on their laurels from the successes they gained in the past instead of looking into the future.
  • Customers loyalty and giving their brand champions a reason to fight for them
    • Postponing a weekend launch of an Android and iPhone app for its BlackBerry Messenger
    • Brand identity was being eroded, as newer devices weren’t as reliable with higher rates of breakages
    • Not listening to feedback from customers e.g. only in it’s latest operating system were BlackBerry users able to swap SIMs hassle free

I think there’s a lot to learn from BlackBerry, and it’s a great example of the life cycle of a company.

Job Applications: The Bane of Graduates’ Existence – Cover Letter (Part 2)

Writing a cover letter can be very daunting. I’ve written more than 50 over the past 3 years, and it gets easier with time as you better understand how to put your best foot forward in a highly competitive job market. But it’s only 50% of the work. The first 50% is the research – you can see read more about that in my previous post.

Purpose

The purpose of the cover letter is slightly different to the CV.  It’s the opportunity where YOU can provide a tailored introduction of yourself to the employer to see how good of a fit you are with both the skill requirements for the POSITION but also how you would fit culturally within the COMPANY. It’s like Jambaroo (recreation park), “WHERE YOU CONTROL THE ACTION”.

This is where the ability to research really makes a difference. Once you understand what kind of person the organisation is looking for, it becomes much easier to match your strengths and values with the company and the position.

It’s all about:

  • HOW YOU CAN ADD VALUE and
  • HOW YOU CAN GET ALONG WITH EVERYONE ELSE

Structure

  1.  Introduce who you are, and how you found out about the position and state you interest in the position
  2. State why you’d like to work for the company – show how you fit in culturally (refer to company research). Use the same language they use in their mission statement / values.
    e.g. ‘My passion is all things digital is because…’, ‘I can contribute to this transformation through …’ etc (see notes from previous post under ‘Values’ and ‘People’ for examples of keywords to use)
  3. Match the skills requirements and responsibilities with previous experience. However, don’t just state what your responsibilities were in previous position, but show how effective you can be through MEASURABLE RESULTS. Think of it this way: if you just tell a potential employer that you were responsible for sales, so what? Did you increase sales? By how much? How did you go about it?
  4. Give examples of work / projects that company has undertaken and show why you are excited about working for there. This is especially important as it displays your enthusiasm and research into the company.
  5. Closing statement is where you should give a wrap up of where your skills lie, but ALSO the place to mention anything else that you think will differentiate yourself from other candidates. Think about what you’d answer to the question: ‘Why should I pick you over other equally qualified candidates‘ and adapt that to the closing statement. It’s also important to mention your contact details and that you’re looking forward to hearing back from them.

Other tips

  • There is a need to sound confident (but no cocky) in your cover letter, I would recommend avoiding phrases such as ‘I believe’, ‘I think’, ‘I feel’ and go straight to the point, otherwise ‘I am’ would simply display more self-confidence. I understand sometimes you will need use those phrases, but be careful not to use them too often.
    e.g. Instead of ‘I believe Starcom Mediavest Group would be a great fit for the work I’d love to be involved and successful with…‘, we can change this to ‘Starcom Mediavest Group is a great fit for the work I’d love to be involved and successful with…
  • A cover letter should be ideally 1 page – it’s a teaser to get the attention of the decision makers so that they want to find out more about you and move you along the recruitment process. Anything over 2 pages I feels becomes a bit too long and you might be putting too much information
  • Add some personality, show them your experience and try to be just a little bit unconventional. Tell a story, make the beginning interesting enough so that HR or the managers want to hear more about you.

If you’d like to take a look at the cover letter I wrote for Starcom Mediavest, just shoot through an email (you can find it by clicking on my profile on the right side, typing it here would only attract spam bots picking up my email) and I’d be happy to share. (As long as you ask nicely.)

Notetaking Apps

There’s a smorgasbord (yes I just used that word, a proud moment for me) of notetaking apps for smartphones and tablets, I’ve used a bunch and here’s are the ones that survived first use.

Which ever app(s) to choose, the critical thing is to GET INTO A HABIT. Prepare for the worst i.e. forgetting / being knocked unconscious / Zombie Apocalypse. We become distracted, but the one of the advantages of being human is not our ability to remember, but our ability to create external memory banks. You don’t see other creatures with libraries do you? So might as well take advantage of this ability.

Before I start, I just want to preface that I am currently using the following operating systems:

  • Computer – Windows 7
  • Tablet – Android (Nexus 10)
  • Phone – Android (Samsung Galaxy S3)

What I use

Screenshot of the Google Keep Widget
Google Keep Widget for Android

Google Keep (Android only)

  • A simple notetaking tool created by Google. It’s very easy to use and very handy for jotting down anything on the fly to review later.
  • The good:
    • Great for those who have and Google account and use it often
    • Take notes, lists, photos, reminders and voice recording
    • Simple and intuitive user interface
    • More intergration with Google drive is coming
    • Great widget which quicker access to notes
  • The not(e) so good (bad pun intended):
    • Android ONLY for mobile app (sorry iPhone users) – accessible via all major web browsers
    • Besides colour sorting, no other way of sorting / grouping notes i.e. no hierarchical ordering
    • No password protect feature for those secret notes which you want an added layer of security
  • Links:
Screenshot of Evernote Widget
Evernote Widget for Android

Evernote (Android and iOS)

  • More features and more flexible app (and web app) than Google Keep. I use this for more document keeping and long term storage or information. The Web Clipper extension for web browsers is a MUST USE (see more below)
  • The good:
    • Web Clipper (better than bookmarks!) – you’re able to clip a whole page worth of content using the Web Clipper which will automatically add a new note and attach the URL for reference AND will scan the contents to suggest any tags you should add (for sorting)
    • Ability to edit font and formatting of notes
    • Ability to collaborate with others
    • Also has a very polished widget
    • Combined with Skitch (annotation on images) and Evernote Food (cooking recipes) for more utility
    • Optimised for tablet
  • The not(e) so good
    • Syncing issues when you have notes opened on different devices (which happens more often than you think due to the nature of the work you do with this app)
    • Formatting doesn’t transfer over exactly from word processing software (I’m looking at you Microsoft Office)
    • Some features such as sharing stacks of notebooks are hidden behind a pay-wall (freemium model), seems to take up a lot of my phone’s memory
  • Links

Colournote (Android)

      • Besides some design differences, pretty much the same as Google Keep.
      • The good:
        • The advantage and the reason I still have this on my phone is because of the password protect feature, which means I keep my high use account passwords stored here
        • (I know there are password storing apps, but this is my no-frills version without too much hassle and it’s working (so far)) <— DOUBLE BRACKET! (random  comment)
        • Syncs with Google Account – so you won’t need to rewrite all your note if you’re switching phones / changing devices
      • The not(e) so good
        • Doesn’t have a web app = can’t access information easy on your computer
        • Google decided to pretty much create an app with the same purpose, which means Keep will have better integration with everything else in the Google ecosystem i.e. Googletopia
        • Android ONLY
      • Links

Alternatives that I’ve tried

Wunderlist (Android and iOS)

  • A solid notetaking app I was using for a while before Google Keep came out. Some great features, but the ‘maintenance’ of these lists were just too high for an app that I just wanted the job done quick and dirty. This app might be more useful for those whose nature of work requires taking more detailed notes, as opposed to notetaking ‘on the fly’.
  • The good:
    • Ability to email lists
    • Sub tasks and notes means critical details aren’t missed
    • Great design and user interface
  • The not(e) so good
    • Figuring out how to delete items took a bit of time. Hint: find the trash can
    • Widget doesn’t have a great design (compared to the others)
  • Links:
Screenshot of Wunderlist Webapp
Wunderlist Webapp

 

Any.do (Android and iOS)

Screenshot of Any.do Android App
Any.do Android App
  • I was using this when this app first came out (so very hipster), but after downloading this app again and playing around with it…I might just start using it again. The main differentiating feature is its simple sorting system: Today, Tomorrow, Upcoming, Someday
  • The good
    • Unique sorting system which mimics how we prioritise tasks in our mind
    • Very simple design, but intuitive
    • The plan feature seems a great way to start the day
    • Status bar shows what you need to do (if selected)
  • The not(e) so good
    • There’s a Chrome extension, but nothing for Firefox (and no web app)
    • I think it’s a bit of a memory hog, especially because it’s running in the background
    • Unable to attach images to notes (or voice recordings)
  • Links

So that’s it for my suggestions: if you have any other suggestions let me know and leave a reply down below.

 

Job Applications: The Bane of Graduates’ Existence – Cover Letter (Part 1)

I understand that applying for jobs is never a fun activity, but graduates have it pretty tough, especially in the current job market.

They’ve just finished a 3-5 year degree, probably working part-time/casually at wherever that will pay them, so they have some pocket money to survive and now it’s time to join the full time work force.

This is my third time applying for full time positions, so I thought I’d share what I’ve learnt.

I only just finished applying for a position, so I’ll use it as an example. For this post, I’ll be going through how I prepare and do my research before writing my cover letters.

I wouldn’t say I’m an expert at this, but I do have some experience writing these things and I can say practice makes a BIG difference.

So here goes:

***

First of all this position that I applied for: http://www.bandt.com.au/jobs/digital/digital-coordinator

  1.  Opened up Word or whatever note taking program you’d like – You’ll be needing to a few of these open to do a couple of things.
    • One window will be taking notes
    • Another window will be used for copying and pasting slabs of text
  2. Read the job description and then copy and past ALL of it to a word document.
  3. Re-read the job description, but this time look out for keywords (highlight or bold them) that are important such as:
    • Functions of the company
    • Values / Goals of company
    • Responsibilities for the positions
    • Skills and experience needed for the position
    • Opportunities
  4. Write down the keywords and phrases onto the another document. This is what I had for The Position:
    • Entry level
    • Driven and technologically aware
    • Passion for all things digital
    • Work closely with digital planner in developing digital strategies, implementation plans and reporting framework
    • Monitoring campaigns to ensure correct delivery, optimization and campaign delivery
    • Experience working in agency environment
    • Positive and friendly approach to working relationships
    • Stamina for fast pace agency environment
  5. Then I did a quick Google search for the company name, and took down some more notes – The sites I got further information for were:
  6. I sorted and edited my research notes under a few headings (I’ve attached my research notes to this post for those who want to see the exact content):
    • The Position
    • Opportunities
    • The Company
    • Examples of work for clients / Success of the company
  7. From here I’ll be using these notes, as well my CV and seeing how my experiences fit with the position as well as the company to write my cover letter (this will be coming in Part 2)

Additional Files

Pilot – Let’s get this going

So after much deliberation and thought… I have finally decided to create my very own blog for all to read.
What will you be expecting to read?
Here’s a list (in no particular order):

  • News and opinions on the tech space
  • Marketing related posts
  • Mobile and web app reviews
  • Games reviews
  • Anything else of interest to me that may be slightly out of topic

Hopefully this will be an enjoyable blog to read and maybe helpful too. I’m mainly writing for my own demographic, so I hope the blog will grow and change as I do.