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Thursday, March 05, 2015

Samsung in hot water with EPIC and maybe FTC for privacy concerns surrounding its cloud-based SmartTV speech-recognition engine.

By Julie Jacobson

Samsung offers voice control for many of its SmartTVs. Instead of pressing a bunch of buttons, just say, “Channel up” or “Smart hub” or “Hulu.”

The way Samsung implements and improves its engine is by capturing your voice commands; shipping them to the cloud, where the commands are turned into text or some other format recognized by your TV; and returning the usable commands back to your television, where your utterance becomes action. In a split second, you’ve got that new channel.

The thing is: a third-party service (Nuance Communications, in this case) does the processing so they have your voice, and your spouse’s voice, and little Schmuel’s and Matilda’s voices on file (why does it always have to be Johnny and Susie?), along with the electronics you all are controlling … which is explained in Samsung’s privacy policy for its SmartTVs.

Bear in mind, also, that Nuance captures your voice during private conversations, says, if you’re messaging a friend via voice.

Users can easily disable the voice-recognition feature and change channels the old fashioned way: by swishing their hands to and fro in mid-air.

Even so, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) has asked the FTC to investigate Samsung because it “records and transmits private conversations through its SmartTV” (Read complaint, pdf).

The practice is unlawful and deceptive, according to EPIC, which quotes dozens of users like @CSElder, who posted, “@Samsungtweets i will NEVER buy another Samsung tv thanks to your recording feature. You overstep your bounds. #SamsungFail”

It must be true if @CSElder tweeted it.

In its section on “Legal…

Posted by Julie Jacobson on 03/05 at 12:16 PM
News, Blogs, Product News, Displays, TVs, (0) Comments, Permalink


By Jason Knott

How bad is the hiring situation? Pretty darn bad.

At the ProSource Summit this week in Orlando, integrators are swapping war stories about the difficulties they are having finding quality employees. One integrator in Southern California says he has let go six technicians in the last six months that did not work out.

Another dealer from Jacksonville just discussed how an employee showed up “high on crystal meth” on the second day of work. That same integrator recently had two young Millennials quit after the first week, deciding they didn’t like crawling in dirty attics after all.

But the ultimate might be a security dealer in New York who is openly encouraging former felons to apply to work for his company, according to a note to Ken Kirschenbaum of Kirschenbaum & Kirschenbaum, a security industry legal expert and columnist for Security Sales & Integration, a sister publication to CE Pro.

The compassion to give a person a second chance is admirable, but it shows how desperate the situation is getting for employment in the industry. The New York state licensing law includes a clause that stipulates a person applying for a job must indicate if he or she has ever been convicted of a felony “involving fraud, bribery, perjury or theft or any other misdemeanors or offenses.”

Related: Check Out the CE Pro Job Board

According to the CE Pro State of the Industry Study, the typical custom installation company grew to a median of eight employees in…

Posted by Jason Knott on 03/05 at 11:17 AM
Blogs, Business Resources, Buying Group, Legal, (0) Comments, Permalink

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Don’t think you need to actively growing your business? Thumbs down.

By Steve Firszt

Many custom installation company owners have told us they were “just fine” doing the amount of business they’re currently doing. This is a vulnerable view.

According to recently published research, the smart home market is projected for 17 percent compound average growth over the next several years. To put that into perspective, $2 million in 2014 is projected to grow to $3.2 million in 2017 (a 60 percent aggregate increase).

If the market grows by 60 percent and a $2 million company remains at $2 million, over $1 million in market share will be lost to competitors. There is no such thing as “standing your ground” in a growing market.

There are other important reasons for actively growing your business:

  • A business that’s growing gives customers more confidence than a business that’s not.
  • A business that’s growing gives employees more opportunities than a business that’s not.
  • A business that’s growing gives its owner more options than a business that’s not.

Related: ProSource to Dealers: Grow Smart, Bigger Is Not Better

3 Growth Challenges to Overcome

There are many challenges to growth, of course. Here are three key issues that must be correctly managed to grow sales while also improving profitability:

Financial Planning and Management: This goes without saying. You need quantified goals, strategies for achieving those goals, and a plan for how you will implement and manage the strategies.

Organizational Architecture: People are a huge part of any growth strategy. What should a $3.2 million organization look like, compared with a $2 million organization? We know it should have 15 to 18 full-time positions, but what should those positions be and…

Posted by Steve Firszt on 03/04 at 09:10 AM
Blogs, Business Resources, (0) Comments, Permalink

Monday, March 02, 2015

By Jason Knott

Did the custom electronics industry sign up for a life-long membership in the federal witness protection program? Is recognition for this industry buried with Jimmy Hoffa?

Yet another study has been released that unveils the obscurity of the industry, despite the growing popularity of smart home systems. This is the same mantra that has been repeated over the past decades about “hot” technologies such as home theater, audio systems, flat panel TVs and home automation.

According to a new study from Parks Associates entitled “Key Competitive Elements for Smart Home Service Providers,” three out of every four U.S. broadband households has absolutely no idea whatsoever where to turn to get a “smart home system” installed. Likewise, about 70 percent of consumers have no idea where to purchase a “smart home system.”

This lack of recognition of the custom installation channel comes on the heels of the recent 2015 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) where home automation and smart homes was clearly one of the hottest trends at the mega event. But there is also a long way to go in terms of product awareness. About 60 percent of consumers say they are totally unfamiliar with smart home products and smart home services. That, despite the fact that 16 percent of all homes in the U.S. have smart home devices in them.

Related: CE Pro 2015 State of the Industry Report

So here we go again with the custom installation industry perfectly poised to take advantage of one of the hottest trends yet…

Posted by Jason Knott on 03/02 at 01:00 PM
Blogs, Research, Home Automation and Control, (2) Comments, Permalink

Thursday, February 26, 2015

During peak times, reports suggest Netflix and shows such as “House of Cards” and “Orange is the new Black” consume as much as 30 percent of all network traffic. A newly announced ruling from the FCC will ensure consumers receive equal treatment from their Internet service providers (ISPs) to protect the quality of streams during high traffic hours.

By Robert Archer

Fans of “House of Cards” as well as thousands of custom integrators are rejoicing today over the FCC’s decision on net neutrality.

Roughly a year ago the streaming service company Netflix signed deals with two of the largest Internet service providers (ISPs), Comcast and Verizon, to protect the quality of the service its clients receive from these companies.

Taking it a step further, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) just announced that it is adopting, “strong, sustainable rules to protect the open Internet.” In a statement, the government agency says that it is ending the uncertain future of the open Internet by setting up rules to promote innovation and investment on the country’s broadband networks.

By taking these steps, the FCC is ensuring that all U.S. citizens receive the same level of service from their Internet service providers (ISPs) after two failed attempts in a court of law.

“Today the Commission—-once and for all—-enacts strong, sustainable rules, grounded in multiple sources of legal authority to ensure that Americans reap the economic, social and civic benefits of an open Internet today and into the future,” says the FCC in a press release. “These new rules are guided by three principles: America’s broadband networks must be fast, fair and open——principles shared by the overwhelmingly majority of the nearly 4 million commenters who participated in the FCC’s Open Internet proceedings.”

The government’s action should be well received by the nearly 58 million Netflix subscribers and the millions of fans of the service’s “House of Cards” and “Orange is the New…

Posted by Robert Archer on 02/26 at 01:03 PM
Blogs, Video, Digital Media, Legal, (17) Comments, Permalink

Friday, February 20, 2015

The Unhushables.

By Julie Jacobson

You gotta love DIY home automation and the people who blog about it, and the people who send me links to the people who blog about it.

The two most recent hilariously sad posts concern 1) Nest Protect smoke detectors that won’t shut up, and 2) a Wink smart home system that rarely works *amd* has a typo in its GUI.

Unhushable Nest

In Brad Fitzpatrick’s 6-minute video of his multiple Nest Protects going off, he tries pushing the button on each only to be admonished, “This alarm cannot be hushed.”

The flummoxed engineer yanks each unit out of its base, tossing them all into an ice bucket … and then an Igloo … but barely manages to muffle the sirens.

“Do not buy a Nest Protect,” he writes. “You will regret it.”

The products are, as he says, “unhushable pieces of crap.”

Oh, and Fitzpatrick is an employee of Google, which acquired Nest last year for $3.2 billion.

“I feel that these Nest Protect units are damaging the Google brand & reputation,” he adds. “So I’m defending Google by steering users away from this product, before those users experience the same thing.”

Wonky Wink

And now, the Gizmodo story read ‘round the world.

Adam Clark Estes titles his piece, “Why is My Smart Home So F***ing Dumb?”

Only he didn’t use ***.

Estes’ experience with Wink, a unit of GE-backed Quirky, can be summed up in a word: “Fail.”

But for some of the finest moments, read the captions that accompany his images and videos.

Like these:

“It amazing how much you miss a…

Posted by Julie Jacobson on 02/20 at 02:42 PM
News, Blogs, Home Automation and Control, Control Systems, Lighting, (2) Comments, Permalink

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Jeremy Burkhardt introduces Europe to Origin Acoustics at ISE 2015

By Julie Jacobson

So you think Jeremy Burkhardt has a big personality?

He’s a wallflower compared to Cyrille Vergely, who represents Burkhardt’s Origin Acoustics in France through the rep firm Vivateq.

Making its European debut at ISE 2015 Origin couldn’t find a more enthusiastic advocate than Vergely who says, “I was an installer and that’s why I love this product.”

See for yourself in the video below why Vergely is so excited about Origin.
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Posted by Julie Jacobson on 02/12 at 01:47 AM
News, Blogs, Videos, Audio, Speakers, Events, ISE, (1) Comments, Permalink

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

By Chuck Schneider

As I age gracefully through my sixties, how many more icons of my youth can I stand to lose? For example, I really miss Howard Johnson’s 28 flavors of ice cream and “sweet as a nut” fried clams. Radio Shack, at least in its original form, is the latest to go and this one hurts. Like Howard Johnson’s it was born in Boston and died nationally.

Those scrumptious chicken croquettes with yellow gravy notwithstanding, HoJo’s didn’t have a huge impact on my career journey in consumer electronics. Radio Shack did. I’m pretty certain it somehow impacted just about every baby boomer that reads this column.

Radio Shack started in 1921 (HoJo’s started four years later) near the sight of the Boston Massacre with the goal of becoming the place to shop for the new and booming amateur (or ham) radio business. By the time World War II was raging, the Shack had nine stores, a strong lineup of private brands and a burgeoning mail order business. In the mid 1960s they fell on hard times and were purchased for a song by the Tandy Leather Company. Déjà vu?

Those mid-60s were when my love affair with Radio Shack began. I built my first short-wave radio, an Archer Globe Patrol, in 1964. It had vacuum tubes, you whippersnappers.

My first Hi-Fi purchase was in 1966, a pair of Realistic Solo 4s, one of the best selling stereo speakers of all time. Later that year I replaced a mono amp I extracted from my mom’s Stromberg-Carlson portable record player with a 10 watt Realistic solid state (hard wired transistors, no integrated circuits) amplifier and a Radio…

Posted by Chuck Schneider on 02/10 at 06:27 AM
Blogs, Slideshow, Audio, (6) Comments, Permalink

Monday, February 02, 2015

Using a gross margin calculation in pricing your equipment vs. simple markup can add money to your bottom line. (Photo: PCG Services)

By Jason Knott

Warning: This is one of those “boring” accounting blogs that most of you don’t think you need to read.

If you discovered that one of the basic tenets you use to run your business was incorrect, would you fix it? Of course you would.

So how many times at either the end of the month or the end of a project have you discovered that you did not make the profit you had anticipated? It probably happens a lot. I am not talking about a job that had lots of mishaps or delays, but one that went smoothly; a job that you priced everything accordingly and your labor calculations were precise, but still your profit ended up lower.

This could be happening because you don’t know the difference between gross margin vs. markup. Indeed, most integrators do not know the difference between these two things, and the result is often a gross profit that runs well below their anticipated levels.

How Do You Calculate It?
Here is how it works. If you buy a product, let’s say a thermostat to keep it simple, for $100 and you want to make a 20 percent gross margin on it, at what price would you offer it to your customer? Most of you would mark the product up by 20 percent to $120. That is incorrect.

You see, 20 percent markup does not equate to a 20 percent gross margin. If you want to earn 20 percent gross margin on that product you would actually need to charge $125, or add a 25 percent markup.

Huh? What the heck is he talking about? How can 25 percent…

Posted by Jason Knott on 02/02 at 12:11 PM
Blogs, Business Resources, Permalink

Friday, January 30, 2015

Angry wife of a home automation-happy guy: “I’m sick of living in an automated house. Change it all back.”

By Julie Jacobson

It’s kind of cliché, but generally true: Women hate it when their husbands perform home automation experiments … at home.

And one particular wife of a particular tinkerer is not at all happy with his installation of a smart home system from SmartThings.

The husband, smarcc, posts in the SmartThings forum:

Here are 3 consecutive texts I received from my wife last week, after going from zero smart devices in December to a new SmartThings hub and 60 devices today. Brace yourself:

8:41 PM: [This is the] second time I have had to get out of the shower to turn on the g** d*** f****** [light] in our master bedroom. Because they keep going out even though the baby is in his swing. Pretty crappy motion sensor. Change it back.

8:43 PM: it just happened again. I’m sick of living in an automated house. Change it all back.

8:57 PM: And before you spend more countless hours on a project that will only make my life more difficult, how about you tackle the ones that will make it easier: patching the roof, fixing the sewer line so it doesn’t back up in the guest bathroom, getting new windows so we have windows that actually close, baby proofing the house, putting a fence around the pool, removing the bedroom set from the guest bedroom so we can have a nursery for the baby before he move out, getting your car fixed so you don’t have to borrow mine and leave me car-less, installing a car seat base in your car, etc. etc. etc.

I guess I have some troubleshooting ahead of me - all around. Anybody experience…

Posted by Julie Jacobson on 01/30 at 09:33 AM
Blogs, Home Automation and Control, Permalink

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