Conceived decades ago as the way forward for manufacturers who sought to harness technology to better plan business operations, ERP has been used to patch up disparate systems and processes to provide an integrated information flow to an organization. With technological advances and the explosive growth of companies like Amazon – online to offline, e-commerce, real time delivery, and drones – the logistics and supply chain industry of the new era needs entirely new levels of speed, accuracy, efficiency and cohesion from its ERP systems and other solutions that they use for driving business.
The traditional model of patchwork for disparate systems, along with the legacy roots in manufacturing, leaves these logistics and supply chain companies with a software that does not cover their operations comprehensively, creating gaps in vital functions. While a traditional ERP has tried to meet warehousing needs, integrating stacking and racking; companies are now demanding much higher levels of precision, real-time tracking and response systems, to manage the highly dynamic requirements of the modern supply chain business.
The nature of modern business, thus, makes it imperative for ERP vendors, and businesses as well, to think of ERP in a totally new context. There needs to be a fundamental shift in the way in which ERP usage is viewed, from a system of records to a system of insights and action. This system must gel with the usage patterns of new generation application users, who are tuned highly into social media. This system must, at the same time, provide high-level automation of routine functions, enabling all levels of user hierarchy manage by exception and ensuring quality time for users, to focus on strategy and innovations.
Logistics and technological advances such as Near-Field Communication (NFC), GPS, QR Codes, RFID tags and sensors have to be utilised and integrated with the ERP applications, in order to automate inventory transactions and maximise warehouse space and inventory. Store transactions getting completed in a jiffy, through a couple of scans of QR Codes have been in the mainstream for some time now. GPS enabled tracking of consignments and the ability to visualize real-time status through Google Maps, has brought tremendous benefits to many businesses, already. By using trend analysis through integrated data analytics, one can efficiently arrange warehouse space, ensuring high-traffic items are placed near loading doors, for quick movement. Additionally, in order to forecast demand and plan inventory effectively, one can leverage multi-agent based technology for real-time scheduling, Route Planning and Load Optimization and Inventory Forecasting. This will in turn increase the processing capacity, drastically, ensuring faster and smarter decisions. Also, Big data analytics using the terra bytes of data made available through Internet of Things is the other huge area both supply chain companies and the ERP vendors must focus together on.
Mobility solutions are now key for any organization. Smartphones are no longer news, they are a necessity. The smartphone penetration is increasing by leaps and bounds, globally. In a business context, there is always a need to be connected to the latest information, in order to make the best decisions. Being able to manage operations via smart devices gives flexibility and places critical information within reach, allowing thorough evaluations during any situation. Overseeing and managing the supply chain by walking around is no longer impossible, it is now mandatory for business success. Any ERP that lets a user carry out his or her day-to-day work through a mobile device – take customer orders, track statuses of an invoice, authorize a document, apply for leave – is bound to have a legion of fans in an organization.
Companies need to gain a competitive edge in today’s market. Ensuring that processes run at optimum levels is not enough. An organization must be able to make accurate, instantaneous changes and decisions. Real-time tracking of warehouse utilisation, supply chain movements and inventory status is now necessary for warehouse workers and top management to make decisions.
All this being said, user-friendliness is still key to determining whether an ERP is properly utilised. If the ordinary logistics worker is unwilling or unable to use the ERP, the system will lack necessary critical information. It is just as important to have an intuitive interface that can be used by everyone from upper management to workers, on the warehouse floor. Building on the new need for analytics, ERP software should also be context-aware. As businesses grow and shrink with the market, their internal functions have to adjust, accordingly. Having this foresight can make the difference between a successful or failed implementation.
As technology advances, and newer business models appear on the horizon, ERP solutions need to not only catch up and stay in tune with the technology trends, but also be agile enough to mould themselves into the ever evolving business models, to fit the needs of the various industries they serve. No longer can traditional ERP platforms shoehorn other business segments into legacy systems. ERP must be redesigned so that it can break away from its legacy manufacturing roots and create a platform to deliver and serve the needs of many.
USB Type-C (or USB-C) had its coming-out party quite late—at this year’s CES in early January, even though the connection type made its broad debut with Apple’s 12-inch MacBook in April 2015. Since then, more devices have adopted the format, such as the Chrome Pixel C and Nexus 6P. (The new Apple TV has a USB-C port but only as a connection option for debugging and making screen captures with a Mac.) An ocean of USB-C devices is coming that will include more Macs as part of the Thunderbolt 3 update—which relies on that connector style—and possibly some iOS hardware.
I’ve been waiting to test USB portable batteries equipped with USB-C since theMacBook shipped. But as long as Apple relied on the MagSafe connector, you couldn’t get a licensed and certified adapter that would work with a Mac laptop. USB-C changes that altogether. It has bi-drectional power support, allowing energy to flow from a laptop or other controller’s USB-C to charge or power external devices and via USB-C to charge a MacBook or similar device’s internalbattery.
In general, USB battery packs used to have limited capacity, offer slow charging of devices and recharge slowly, and cost and weigh a lot relative to the benefit they offer. But they’ve matured very rapidly over the last few years. With the very large-scale manufacture of standard-sized rechargeable lithium-ion battery cells, electronics makers have created affordable, high-capacity USB packs that range from recharging your iPhone 6s by about 50 percent up to the equivalent of a week’s worth of multiple full recharges of a set of iPads and iPhones.
Laptops have typically been in a different category, because they not only have large batteries, but when in use, they draw power faster than previous USB packs typically provide it because of limitation in the previous generation of USB connector and cable standards. In such a case, a Mac laptop pulls juice from the USB-connected battery, but also gradually runs down its internal one.
The iPad Pro suffers from this problem. It ships with a 12-watt power adapter that can’t always keep up with power consumed while you’re using the iPad Pro. While its battery could safely be charged at a much higher wattage (at least twice as “fast” in terms of power flow), the Lightning standard appears to limit its maximum rate.
USB-C breaks through that limit by allowing higher-amperage charging even though USB has a set limit on voltage. (Wattage is the product of amps times volts, representing the total energy transferred.) This higher amperage can allow a USB battery pack to recharge a 12-inch MacBook relatively speedy when put to sleep, although the units I tested still can’t keep up with its power consumption.
OS X requires changes to better recognize the kind of external device providing charge, rather than treating them as a “power adapter” as the MacBook did for all the batteries tested.
USB-C’s higher rate of power flow lets some of the batteries I tested recharge rapidly, although you need to find a high-wattage USB adapter to make that work as well—none ship with such an adapter. (One pack can use Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 2.0 technology, which boosts voltage for faster charger when used with a USB power adapter with the same tech.)
Being able to bring a relatively lightweight battery (half a pound to a pound) that carries a partial or full additional MacBook charge or could partly recharge aMacBook and handle an iPhone and iPad (some charging three devices simultaneously) can make extended travel away from electricity very practical. This can especially include long-haul flights where onboard power isn’t available or that power isn’t enough to charge devices fully. You would no longer have to camp at an outlet or leave hardware in a vulnerable place to charge via AC.
In this roundup, I look at four USB packs that feature a USB-C port for charging; some can also recharge through the port. These models appeared on the market starting in fourth quarter 2015, and three are from companies with good track records on electronics, cables, or batteries. (The fourth is less known, but itsbattery tested very well.) I tasked them to discharge and recharge on their own, and replenish a USB-C MacBook.
Juice it up
Unlike the fancy design-to-purpose batteries you’ll find inside Apple products, every USB battery pack I’m aware of uses cells purchased from a battery-making firm. Apple and other companies mold or terrace lithium-ion (Li-ion) polymer batteries to fit every nook and cranny. Mass-produced cells, however, are typically round, like normal alkaline and rechargeable consumer batteries, although they are often much larger.
While some small packs use flat arrangement to stay compact—such as Amazon’s super-cheap $6 Micro-USB Portable Power Bank—larger USB packs like the ones I tested rely on standard cylindrical cells and package them with the circuitry, heat dissipation, and connectors needed to move power in and out.
If you’re not familiar with power basics, here are just a few. The simplest way to discuss electrical power is in units of volts (V), amperes or amps (A), and watts (W). These can be compared to water pipes and water flow. Voltage is pressure, or the amount of water in a given space; amperage is pipe diameter, which has an impact on pressure. Low-amperage (a small diameter pipe) requires high voltage (lots of pressure) to move the same amount of power as a high-amperage (big diameter pipe) with low pressure (low voltage). Wattage is the product of amps and volts, describing the power (the “work”) passing through the system.
Now, with batteries and battery packs, we want to describe how much capacitythey have—how much power they can store and then provide to other hardware. That’s measured in milliampere-hours, abbreviated mAh, which you’ve probably seen repeatedly and wondered precisely what it meant. That number can be confusing because it also requires a voltage, something you rarely see listed. The batteries used in power packs typically discharge at about 3.6V or 3.7V and charge at 4.2V. (Lithium-ion cells, used for all the packs I tested, charge best at about that rate.)
So when you see that a battery pack has 10,000 mAh, that’s 10,000 mAh available at 3.6V. USB, however, is 5V, while smartphone batteries used in iOS devices discharge at about 3.8V (and charge around 4.3V or 4.4V). This requires converting voltage to figure out the idealized capacity. Because these voltages are so similar, you can mostly ignore that; it mostly matters with higher-voltage device batteries. (A similar measure, watt-hours (Wh), avoids this conversion, but because it’s not consistently used, it’s harder to find it for comparison.)
As an example, the iPhone 6s battery has 1,715 mAh of capacity. That should mean that a 10,000 mAh USB battery can recharge it about 5.5 times. (For comparison, the iPad Air has a 7,340 mAh and the iPad Pro a 10,307 mAh one.) The single-port MacBook is a trickier case, because its internal battery is 5,263 mAh but at 7.55V. If you do the math, 3.6 divided by 7.55 gets you the factor to multiply against the battery pack’s pack—roughly 50 percent or about 5,000 mAh. So you should be able to charge a MacBook from 0 to 100 percent almost twice with such a pack, right?
But that omits three other factors! Bear with me, as these are easier to explain:
Because power has to be converted among voltages to work over USB, both in the source battery and in the destination device, there’s always some loss. This is why you feel heat when batteries charge or discharge, as heat is wasted energy. (Some of the devices I tested seem to get noticeably hotter than others.)
Lithium-ion batteries can’t be taken down entirely to zero percent. As a spokesperson at Anker, the maker of many batteries and one best one we tested, conveyed from its engineers, “If the battery power is discharged to zero it will adversely affect the durability of the battery cell.” So even when seemingly exhausting a USB battery pack, its circuitry prevents it from tapping out.
Li-ion batteries also degrade over time and have a risk of expansion or even fires if they’re overcharged or charged too close to full too fast. (For reference, see all the Hoverboard fire videos from this last fall.) USB packs can charge rapidly at first, but as batteries approach full, they slow down, and stop short of 100 percent—sometimes far short in my testing.
To sum up? Batteries can’t give up their last ergs of juice, can’t be charged to 100 percent (and you never know quite how close), and lose power in converting over USB and back. This adds up.
In my testing, the best of the two highest-capacity batteries (both over 20,000 mAh) delivered 55 percent of its rated capacity to a MacBook. That was still enough to completely recharge a MacBook battery with some left over, which is magnificent both for performance and by price and weight. But it’s not as much as you’d reckon by using rated numbers alone. I’ll get into this more with individual reviews.
Another factor with power is “speed”—in this case, that’s directly related to amperage. Because USB’s voltage is fixed at around 5V, you have to up the amps to move more power, which equates to moving power “faster.” Devices with larger batteries, like tablets or these large USB battery packs, need high-amperage chargers to refill them in any reasonable amount of time. You also need high amperage to charge a device faster than it’s depleting power if it’s in use while charging.
Originally, most USB packs maxed out with ports that could each pass power at about 1A, fast enough to charge a smartphone at full speed. But an iPad Air 2and iPad Pro can charge at 2.4A (and the Pro even faster with a higher-amperage adapter), and iPhones for years charge fine at 1A, but can bump up to as fast as 2.1A with an iPad charger.
Modern packs typically have ports that can be rated at 2.0A, 2.1A, or 2.4A; all the packs tested have at least one Type-A 2.4A port, and one USB-C 3A port. Modern packs also use USB and other signaling to provide as much power as a device can accept but no more, while mobiles and computers won’t accept more power than they can safely use. (USB packs’ ports default to 1A or lower if they can’t sort this out with an attached device.)
Faster only works to a point: For keeping their lives long, batteries should only be charged between about a 0.50 and 1.00 ratio of amperage to capacity, which is called its C rating. An iPhone with a 1,715 mAh battery charging at 1A has a 0.58C rating, considered “gentle” and which maximizes cycles. Charge it at 2.1A, and you’re well above 1C, but Apple appears to have factored in, as it allows charging at that high a rate. The USB power packs I tested charge at about 0.15C to 0.30C; future packs might work with higher-wattage cables and adapters for faster recharge rates.
Only the Talentcell provided guidance as to the number of cycles it expects for the pack to perform as expected: 500. As with all lithium-ion charging cycles, that typically refers to complete cycles, so depleting to 50 percent and charging to full counts as a half cycle.
Finally (whew!) each battery pack has a maximum combined output across all ports. The internal electrical circuitry divvies up charge by port, but also can’t exceed that total when charging through multiple ports at once, like multiple iPads and iPhones. For example, the Anker PowerCore+ 20100 can output 2.4A on its two Type-A ports and 3A on its USB-C ports. With all three ports in use, however, it maxes out at 6A, with no more than 2.4A to any port.
Cook tells investors that fight with FBI over privacy ‘doesn’t scare us’
Although Apple’s shareholders followed the recommendations of the company and rejected four shareholder-generated proposals as well as re-electing the Board of Directors, the outsider motions — largely centered around accelerating existing company goals, such as being carbon-neutral, increasing diversity, and avoid doing business in countries with human-rights issues — did have an influence on the company’s focus nonetheless. Reverend Jesse Jackson, who attended the Annual General Meeting, said that Apple had done a good job of increasing diversity both in the general workforce and on its executive team.During the meeting, the company and its CEO Tim Cook talked frankly about its intentions to increase the diversity of its workforce, but also revealed some encouraging the progress: in addition to slowly increasing the minority count in it ranks, Apple reported that women earn an average of 99.6 percent of the money males earn — far higher than the US national average of 78 cents for women for ever dollar a man earns — and that minorities earn 99.7 percent of what white workers make, again a vast improvement on the US average of around 66 cents for minorities for every dollar paid to a white worker.
In answer to a question about the company’s current fight with the FBI and other government agencies over encryption and privacy, Cook said the battle “doesn’t scare us” and reiterated the arguments in favor of the company’s refusal that he has given in recent interviews, though he called the dispute a “tough fight.” Cook also tantalized investors at the meeting when asked about the possibility of a new Apple foray into the automotive world.
While refusing to comment on future developments, he asked the audience “do you remember when you were a kid, and Christmas Eve — it was so exciting, you weren’t sure what was going to be downstairs? Well, it’s going to be Christmas Eve for a while.” His answer plays into speculation that Apple is working on at least some aspect of its own vehicle, or possibly a partnership with an existing manufacturer, that will not be ready for a number of years. Typically, new car development takes around a decade.
In interviews, Cook has been more coy about the company’s possible plans, saying that Apple “explores technologies, and we explore products” when asked about the large number of automotive-connected new hires the company has recruited. Of this, Cook said only that Apple investing in people or a specific area does not assure that anything will come of it, but that doing so is part of a process of investigation that does sometimes lead to new products.
“we’re always thinking about ways that Apple can make great products that people love, that help them in some way,” Cook told one interviewer. “And we don’t go into very many categories, as you know. We edit very much. We talk about a lot of things and do fewer. We debate many things, and do a lot fewer.”
In other announcements from the meeting, the company will raise its dividend again this year, redoubled its commitment to customer privacy, and hinted that it will continue to be aggressive in acquiring smaller technology companies over the next year. Cook noted that Apple had bought some 19 tech companies since the beginning of last year.
At a recent optimizer webinar, I talked about MySQL introducing a new style for hints, and that MySQL 5.7 also added support for more hints, see Sergey Glukhov’s blog. A question I got at the end of the webinar was what to do with the hints in the application code after an upgrade?
The MySQL optimizer makes decisions on which query plan to choose based on the built-in cost model and statistics from storage engines, in addition to dictionary information. For each release, the optimizer gets smarter and smarter, the cost model becomes more advanced, statistics gets more fine grained, and with the planned histogram support, the optimizer will also get more information on data distribution.
While optimizer improves for each release, query plans a user has specified using hints in the application code remain unchanged. These hints may not be needed after an upgrade, and in the worst case, they can become counterproductive. We advise users to retest hints during upgrade and drop those that are no longer needed. This works fine if you have full control over the application code, but it doesn’t work if you don’t.
In 5.7, MySQL introduced a query rewrite plugin which can be very useful in such a scenario. Instead of adding hints directly into the application code, it allows users to rewrite a query by adding hints through the query rewrite plugin. Martin’s blog shows how to rewrite a query using this new plugin. During an upgrade, users can simply get a list of all rewrite rules from the rewrite_rules table, and then they can easily enable and disable each rewrite rule to verify if the hint is still useful. If not, the rewrite rule can be removed without changing any application code.
Siri is on nearly every Apple device but the Mac, but its debut on the desktop has the potential to change everything.
That was my initial reaction when I heard the report last week that one of the major features of the next version of OS X would be Apple’s virtual assistant, Siri.
That’s a long time in the making: Siri debuted on the iPhone 4s back in 2011—seems virtually ancient, doesn’t it? Since then, the voice-activated assistant has been a staple of Apple’s devices, migrating first to the iPad, and more recently to the Apple Watch early last year and the new Apple TV last fall.
But the Mac, Apple’s longest running product line, has been left out in the cold. It’s an odd choice, given that most Macs are plenty powerful to handle the computing needs of the virtual assistant. Meanwhile, there’s been competition from other quarters, such as Microsoft’s Cortana on Windows 10 (and even iOS) and Google’s voice search built into Chrome, Android…and even iOS.
That said, Siri’s late arrival on the Mac doesn’t make it an unwelcome one. I’m just hoping that it comes with some improvements.
According to the same report that heralded Siri’s inclusion in OS X, the Mac version will—like its iPhone counterpart—respond to “Hey Siri” when it’s plugged in. That’s good news for iMac users, since it means that Siri’s always available. As an Amazon Echo user, I know the benefits of having an always-on voice interface that you can use when your hands are full or you’re far away from your computer.
But I also have some worries, both in terms of software and hardware. For one, part of the reason that the Echo works so well is because it has an array of seven carefully tuned microphones designed to pick up your voice from far away. Most Macs, meanwhile, have limited ambient noise correction on their internal microphones—and most have only one mic, unlike recent iPhones, which use a second mic for noise cancelling. Hearing you say “Hey Siri” may be possible, but it remains to be seen how well your Mac’s internal mic will understand your query from across the room, or when there’s a lot of background noise.
Another potential wrinkle is that we have many devices that can potentially respond to “Hey Siri” these days, including iPhones, iPads, and the Apple Watch. Will Siri know, intelligently, which device to trigger when the phrase is used? Or will we instead be greeted by a chorus of Siri responses from all our various gadgets? While it may not make the first iteration, I’m hopeful this might lead to the ability to have customizable phrases to trigger Siri on different devices. (Okay, maybe I just want the Star Trek experience of calling my iMac “Computer.” Sue me!)
Talk to each other
I’d also like to see Apple make Siri more aware of all of our various devices, and in bringing the virtual assistant to the Mac, I’m hopeful that we’re one step closer to that being a reality. I’d like to be able to tell Siri to look something up on my Mac and send the result to my iPhone. Or have it tell my Apple TV to start playing a certain video.
More to the point, I’d like Siri to be a little smarter and, well, a little more assistant-like. For example, when I ask Siri “How long will it take me to get to my dentist appointment today?” it will tell me that I have an appointment at 3pm—but that’s not what I asked. It’s all the more surprising, since I know my calendar appointment has the location of my dentist appointment, and will pop up a notification when it’s time to go.
In short: Real assistants are good at synthesizing information. Siri, not so much.
Of course, that’s the hard part of programming a virtual assistant or AI: creating those links between different information, which the human brain does so naturally. I’m sure Apple’s engineers are hard at work on an even smarter Siri, but in the meantime it would be great if the company would make the assistant more aware of the information it already has.
The more, the merrier
Finally, many of us have long awaited some form of third-party extensibility for Siri. Might the integration with OS X at last provide a platform on which it makes sense to test that out? Despite the recent enforcement of restrictive features like sandboxing, the Mac platform has historically provided a much more open environment, and many of the concerns that one might have on a mobile platform—limited resources, locked-down security model, etc.—aren’t as much of a worry on a desktop or laptop.
I’d love to see Apple start to open up Siri to Mac developers, letting them integrate the virtual assistant with their applications. We don’t all do our email via Mail, our browsing via Safari, our writing in Pages, or our tweeting via the Twitter app. Letting third-party developers create hooks into Siri would open up the possibility for some great new implementations and innovation, just as it has for features like 3D Touch.
Siri on the Mac is full of possibilities and opportunities for Apple, developers, and users—just as long as the company decides to actually take a chance and not just give us a warmed over version of the Siri we already know.