I’m sure you, like me, are amazed at what that smartphone we carry around in our pocket all the time can do. It’s a telephone, sure, but also a portable device to message, read email and access the web, a navigation system, camera, calculator, calendar, timer/alarm clock, weather monitor, radio or TV and even a wallet with ID and credit cards. And, of course, games.
I’m such an avid smartphone user that last year I traded for a new vehicle to get one with the Apple CarPlay app. Of course, I also upgraded to an Apple iPhone 13 Pro for the impressive 3-camera system.
I’m sure most of you use your smartphone on the job all the time. Besides communication, it’s a quick way to get information when and where you need it. This month, I’ll share some of the ways I use my smartphone and some of the things we do at the Fiber Optic Association (FOA) to make them more useful.
I apologize if you are an Android phone user. I have never used one, so my discussion is based on the iPhone; however, most comments should be applicable to both.
Last year, my August columns in ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR and online, “Decoding the Rainbow” and “Fiber Optic Color Codes,” discussed fiber optic color codes. One of the most read pages in FOA’s online guide is the page of fiber optic color codes, which is not unexpected since it’s something every fiber optic tech has to deal with daily.
Recently, someone asked if anyone made a simple pocket guide for color codes. That’s one of those “why didn’t I think of that?” kind of questions. Many other technologies use color codes, and I have seen dozens of little cards with the basic color codes for wiring, resistor values, etc.
So, we designed one. It’s a simple double business card with color codes inside and QR codes on the back for links to FOA’s online guide and Fiber U online learning site. We started giving them away at meetings and putting them in the credentials we send to every new or renewing certified fiber optic technician (CFOT).
Many of our nearly 90,000 CFOTs wanted one too, but that was more than FOA could easily handle. To solve the problem, we created a print-your-own color code card¾ a PDF file you print on your color printer and cut out yourself.
Then I realized I would prefer to have a color code reference on my smartphone, so we did another version, a PDF file that you can download. I store mine in my notes app.
Some of you will ask why we did not do a color code app. Apps are OK, but you must make unique apps for each mobile operating system and keep them up to date. A simple PDF file can be accessed with any browser on a phone, tablet or PC.
FOA is also involved in premises cabling, which includes copper cabling as well as fiber optics, so we also received requests for similar color code guides for UTP (unshielded twisted pair) copper cabling. Easily done. There is both a print-your-own version and an electronic version for your smartphone or other device.
When smartphone apps first became popular, FOA did create one for calculating loss budgets for the fiber optic cable plant (FOA LossCalc on the Apple App Store), which is how we learned about the issues with dedicated apps. We later created a web page that is just an online version of a spreadsheet that calculates the loss budget and works with any web browser, which makes it usable on any type of device.
Manufacturers of fiber optic instruments often do make apps or cloud portals that work with their instruments. Most are for specific test instruments and can download data from the instruments and format them to create reports.
One company we have talked with, ECSite, Santa Clara, Calif., has a general-purpose app that can store data from many types of instruments, including OTDRs and UTP cabling certifiers. That could save a lot of time learning numerous apps for each different instrument.
I’ll bet there are lots of apps and sites that techs use on the job. If you have some favorites to recommend, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. That may provide the topic for a future article.