Five Ways to Improve Your Work Productivity in 2014

Christmas and holiday season is a great time to relax and recharge to start the year. People often start the New Year with goals like exercise more, lose weight and eating healthier. I personally prefer to set goals to improve my productivity since who has time to waste? There are many productivity tools out there, but it helps to take a few minutes and get organized with the right tools.

Productivity Blog

1.       Organize your mobile apps

Over the course of the year, we all install apps and don’t organize them. We end up scrolling through pages on the phone looking for one particular icon. Spend a few minutes and organize your frequently-used apps like social media or collaboration apps and put them on one page of the phone.

2.       Keep your batteries charged

I am a heavy app user on my iPhone. My Wi-Fi is always on auto-connect mode to home and work networks, plus public access hotspot services like AT&T and Xfinity Internet for the best online speeds. All this requires very good battery management and charging discipline. I have chargers installed in my car and various points at my home and office so I can charge anywhere. Portable batteries like my Mophie pack have kept me going when I need to do conference calls standing in a lobby somewhere or do social media postings at a trade show.

3.       Pack a headset

When I see someone talking on their mobile phone in speaker mode in public, I cringe thinking about the amount of noise leaking into their call. Pack and use a headset for extended calls whether it is mobile or desktop, save yourself and the people with whom you are talking from background noise.

4.       Get a webcam separate from your laptop

Most laptops today have built-in webcams, but they are usually difficult to position and tend to shows you in an awkward angle. I always use a separate webcam for several reasons:

–          You can position the webcam level to your head.  That way, you can sit in a natural position.

–          A good webcam, especially one with a glass lens, has much better optics and viewing angle than the laptop camera.

–          If you have a physical object you want to share with the audience, you can maneuver the camera without moving the computer.

–          Better webcams have built-in directional microphones, which if you forget item #3 above, work better than built-in computer microphones.

5.       Don’t do audio-only conference calls
Conference calls are a necessity for team meetings, but doing a web-based meeting rather than distributing bridge numbers is much more productive.

  • The host can eliminate the “let’s do a roll call” by looking at the attendee list. Even if someone is dialed in by bridge number only, they are more easily identified.
  • Reduces the interruption of “who just joined?” or “Is XXX here?” questions.
  • The host can easily identify and mute any offending attendees who forget to mute their microphone during side conversations, or put the call on hold.
  • If the host or others need to share a document or a URL, or ask a question, then screen sharing and chat are instantly available rather than waiting for Email or trying to interrupt each other.

Hope you all find this useful.  Any 2014 productivity tools and advice you would like to share?

Kenneth Leung

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An Introduction to the Opus Codec

This is my third article on audio codecs. The first two covered the common codecs such as G.711 and G.729, along with the relative newcomers iLBC and Microsoft’s RTAudio. I felt that it was important for people to have a general understanding of the pros and cons of several different codecs.

For further reading, please see my articles, A Cornucopia of Codecs and Codecs Continued.

Just when you thought that there were enough codecs to last us a lifetime, another one jumps into the spotlight for its 15-minutes of fame. That codec is Opus and for the next page or so I hope to clue you in as to what it is and why it exists.

Compared to G.711 which has been around since 1972, Opus is still an infant. It was specified by the Internet Engineering Taskforce (IETF) in 2012, but because of its association with WebRTC, there is a lot of interest in Opus. Some of that interest is based on the technical merits of Opus, some because it has been proclaimed to be open-source, and some, frankly, because Google is so enamored with it.

History Lesson

Before I delve into these three areas, let’s first take a look at the history of Opus.

Opus actually comes from two independent efforts – SILK and CELT. SILK comes from Skype and was created to be a wide-band codec that supported a variety of sampling frequencies (8, 12, 16, and 25 kHz) and bit rates (6 to 40 kbits/s). SILK’s primary use was for human speech. CELT was developed by as a way to compress and transmit music with very little delay.

Opus incorporated the best aspects of these two codecs as a way to transmit music and speech over the Internet.

The Technical Merits of Opus

I took these numbers directly from the homepage:

  • Bit-rates from 6 kb/s to 510 kb/s
  • Sampling rates from 8 kHz (narrowband) to 48 kHz (fullband)
  • Frame sizes from 2.5 ms to 60 ms
  • Support for both constant bit-rate (CBR) and variable bit-rate (VBR)
  • Audio bandwidth from narrowband to fullband
  • Support for speech and music
  • Support for mono and stereo
  • Support for up to 255 channels (multistream frames)
  • Dynamically adjustable bitrate, audio bandwidth, and frame size
  • Good loss robustness and packet loss concealment (PLC)
  • Floating point and fixed-point implementation

In English, Opus is an extremely flexible, lossy (some data is lost during compression and decompression) codec that can be used for low bit rate VoIP that outperforms existing codecs such as G.729 and speex. At the same time, it supports high fidelity music with a quality that surpasses mp3.

Open Source

Opus was designed to be an IETF standard with algorithms that are openly documented and a published reference implementation. However, Broadcom and own software patents on some of the CELT algorithms and Skype (i.e. Microsoft) owns patents on some of the SILK algorithms. All three organizations have pledged to make them royalty free for use with Opus once the codec has been accepted as an IETF standard, but they also reserve the right to make use of their patents to defend against infringement suits.

So, open source and patent free to a point. I am no lawyer, but I also have great faith in the IETF and if they are comfortable with this arrangement, then who am I to question it.


The fact that Google has hitched its wagon to Opus isn’t something we can ignore. As one of the major drivers of WebRTC, Google has a lot of sway in its development and adoption. Having Opus as the default codec in Chrome is a big deal.

Of course, Google isn’t the only force driving WebRTC. Mozilla supports Opus for WebRTC in Firefox and since Chrome and Firefox are the two predominant WebRTC browsers, the Opus exposure is huge.

Final Thoughts

From everything I’ve read and heard, Opus is here to stay. In fact, I recently spoke with the WebRTC team at AudioCodes and they told me that they run native Opus in their 420HD and 440HD phones. This means that you can create a WebRTC call from a browser to one of their phones without having to transcode. I expect that other vendors will follow along that same path and Opus will make its way into aspects of VoIP that have nothing to do with WebRTC. And you know me, I love unified communications when it is truly unified.