First feelings for the Grok app

The new loft system is now in place with all Items, Containers and Positions recorded in the Grok Discover2 iphone app. Particular advantages of the app over the laptop-based database I used previously, are a) the ipad and iphone are much easier to carry around and use in the loft than the laptop; and b) the ability to take a photo with the iphone, have it seamlessly copied to the ipad, and then to be able to almost immediately pick it up from within the Grok app, made the task of inserting photos into the Grok database vastly easier than when I was using a windows-based database.

However, there were a few areas in which the app lacked functionality which the windows-based database had: a) today’s date can’t be auto-entered into the ‘Date this record created’ field that I had set up; b) the next available Serial No can’t be auto-entered; c) it is not possible to specify that a field should be populated with what was input for that field in the previous record (very useful for a field like ‘Date this record created’); d) the images that are input for each record can only be displayed, even on the ipad, at a maximum size of 3 x 3 cm – and these images, frustratingly, cannot be expanded using the standard ipad two finger screen expansion action (and users should note that photos need to be taken in the iphone ‘square’ mode otherwise the app will truncate the images); e) Only two fields are presented for each of the records selected in a search – annoying if you want to compare the values of another field across all the selected records; f) it is not possible to sort the records selected in a search.

Although these are shortcomings, I’m currently feeling they are a small price to pay for free, ready-built software which has been designed to work seamlessly with the RFID reader. Furthermore, the ability to share it via the Grok cloud, is another huge bonus. The ease with which this can be done was demonstrated last Sunday when I sat across the room from my son-in-law and suggested he search for Grok in the app store; and then, when he had it loaded it, I told him what the username and password were. He started exploring the app and soon found the items we are storing for him and our daughter. This was all accomplished without me moving from my seat or helping him in any other way.

No doubt, I’ll find out more about the utility of the Grok app over the coming months as we take items out of the loft and put new items in. However, the really interesting experience will be when I obtain the Grok reader and attach RFID tags to every item. Watch this space.

Spec for uGrokit system

In the course of documenting the system in our old house and specifying the requirements for a new system, I did some further investigations on the uGrokit website. There I discovered that they provide a free downloadable smart phone app that is designed to work with the uGrokit RFID Reader. The app has four pre-defined fields (last scanned, image, last scan location, EPC) and can be customised by adding Free Text or Value List fields at will. Images can be photographed using the smart phone’s camera from within the app; and the app can be shared on multiple devices by storing it in the uGrokit cloud service at no cost for “an unspecified time”.

After trying out the app with a few test items, and storing it in the cloud, I have concluded that it will meet my needs for the new system, and furthermore, that I can use it ‘in manual mode’ without RFID tags until such time as I can obtain the uGrokit Reader. Therefore, for an interim period at least I shall continue to use the numbering system I used in the old system. Details of the old system, and a description of the new system are contained in this Specification document. I shall now embark on putting Position Nos in place in the loft and logging Containers and Items in the Discover Grok 2 app on my iphone/ipad.

Loft phase 2 – maybe with RFID this time

Like many families with growing children, our loft was a depository for all manner of things. It got fuller and fuller until, at the end of 2004, I OFC’d our loft, and created a digital system to help us manage the contents. Each of the elements were specified as an Item or a Container or a Position, numbered and photographed, and recorded together with their photo in a database. I’d wanted to use RFID technology to tag each element, but costs were too great at that time.

The system served us well in our house until we moved a year ago. Despite having got rid of a lot of stuff in the move, we still have things in our new loft, and, when I went looking for something the other day, I realised that we could still make use of some digital support and that, possibly, RFID costs may have dropped sufficiently as to be within reach of the average householder. Initial investigations on the net revealed at least one RFID solution costing less than £500 – an RFID Reader which plugs into a smart phone, from a US company called U Grok it. The reader costs £359 +VAT, and the tags cost about £16 per hundred. So, this journey is going to be about reflecting on the lessons I learned from my earlier Loft Phase 1 experiment, and defining and implementing a solution for our new loft which, hopefully, will include RFID technology.