My Writings. My Thoughts.

Make what you read on the Web actually readable

// August 14th, 2009 // No Comments » // Cool Tech, Featured, Web 2.0

OK, I admit it, I am a StumbleUpon addict… and I admit that you need to stumble through an awful lot of crap before you stumble upon a gem, but today I did just that!

There is a site called arc90 lab, which has put together several download-able experiments, one called Readability, caught my eye. It very elegantly solves one of the most frustrating aspects of trying to read something on the Web. Namely, that the article you are trying to read is surrounded with a bunch of noise, some of it static text in bold eye catching colours and others in animations or videos, all with the same purpose… “come look at me”.

By Simply adding the Readbility link to your links tool bar, you can eliminate the noise on any site you site by simply clicking the link. Here is a video showing it in action.

Readability : An Arc90 Lab Experiment from Arc90 on Vimeo.

Cool stuff, enjoy!

Let’s get together and feel alright!

// May 15th, 2009 // No Comments » // Collaboration, Featured, Tech for the masses, Web 2.0

OK, so this post has nothing at all to do with IT or technology….. or does it? The video below is powerful on a multitude of levels….

  1. Powerful message — One Love… unite the world !
  2. Powerful music — Who doesn’t like Bob Marley?
  3. Powerful demonstration of collaboration — People from all over the world, singing and playing in unison. But you know to make it look as seamless as it does, there were a lot of people collaborating for many hours to produce those few minutes.
  4. Powerful demonstration of Technology — Something like this would not have been possible just a few years ago, unless you had millions of dollars to spend.

Glimpse the future and the power of collaboration. It’s going to change the world, and this video encapsulates the how and the why!

The Best iPhone App ever – the electronic whoopie cushion

// February 18th, 2009 // No Comments » // Uncategorized

As you see from my Blog, I am a somewhat irregular Blogger (in whatever terms you care to define irregular). But sometimes you come across something that is so mindblowingly cool, that you are compelled to throw aside the blanket of procrastination and stand up and share your discovery with the world. This is one of those times.

Introducing the Best iPhone App ever :

The iFart is an app that does exactly what you think it would, and a lot more… You can select your type of flatulence from a wide array of options, from plain and simple to down right disgusting, and simple press the red button.

But that is not all, it has a stealth mode for surprise flatulence attacks… simple set the number of seconds delay you want and then leave your iPhone in the general vicinity of your victim. Once the timer counts down, your victim is surrounded by the wonderful sound of unabated flatulence.

There is also a security feature, which when set, counts down from 10 to allow you to put your iPhone down. Then if someone picks it up, the flatulence alarm wails. Your poor unsuspecting victim get’s embarrassed on two fronts (or is that one front and one back?).

OK, so I know this should only appeal to pre-teen males, but face it ladies…. most men are still mentally at that level.

And…. What is even funnier than the App itself is all the crap (sorry) that is flying in the courtroom. iFart rival “Pull My Finger” is suing iFart for using the phrase “Pull My Finger”. Here is a link to a great article on it in Wired.

You have to appreciate the irony of a bunch of high priced lawyers fighting for the rights of flatulence!

“Your Honor, I’d like show the court, defense exhibit A… the iFart….”
“Your Honor, we will prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that this case is built on nothing but hot air!”
I’d like to call my first defence witness, Mr Joe Average… Mr. Average, would you Pull My Finger?”

I digress… but the makers of iFart are laughing all the way to the bank. iFart is the number 1 “paid for” App on iTunes! You have to marvel that even in these hard economic times, there are still ways to make a buck!

UI of the future

// November 17th, 2008 // No Comments » // Collaboration, The Future of IT

Remember the holographic, hand gesture computers used in the movie Minority Report? Well it turns out that the technology was more real that we believed. One of the co-founders of Oblong (see video below) was the science advisor for the flick and much of what we saw in the movie was developed in his lab at MIT.

This technology is now available, sort of, to everyone (if you have the dough). As this system is meant to interact with projectors and computers in a specially designed room, it’s probably not something you are going to be able to buy at your local best buy soon. But it does bode well for the future, as more and more emerging UI technologies become main stream. The advent of multi-touch interfaces and the now infamous “Electoral Map” screen used by CNN during the election, means some of this stuff will start being main stream.

I for one, am excited about that prospect. The keyboard and mouse, and a single small screen (yes, even your 22″ wide screen is small) are limitations to creativity and the visual relationship of data.

Have a look at the future:

g-speak overview 1828121108 from john underkoffler on Vimeo.

The future is here my friends, and it looks bright.

Business Meeting coordination made simple

// June 30th, 2008 // No Comments » // Collaboration, Email, Office 2.0, Tech for the masses

One of the things that has consistently annoyed me about trying to set up a mutually agreeable time for a meeting, is the amount of back and forth emails and/or calendar counter proposals that are required. OK, it may be trifling to you, but it bugs the heck out of me.

So… to the rescue comes a simple new web app called When is Good. I like this app for two simple reasons, one is it solves a problem that has annoyed be for some time, and two is does one simple job, simply and very well.

So what’s the problem? We let’s say I want to meet with Larry, Curly and Moe, and they all work in different places. I send out a meeting invitation at a time that works for me and I invite all three. Larry and Curly accept the invite, so they can make it at that time. Great! However, Moe responds that he can’t make it and sends back a counter proposal for a different time on a different day. I check my calendar and that works for me, so I accept Moe’s counter proposal and and new invite goes back out to all three for the new time. Great so far. Unfortunately, now Curly can’t make that new time, but instead of responding back, he calls and leaves me a voice mail, without letting me know when he is actually available. Arrghh! It shouldn’t be this difficult, and now, thanks to WhenIsGood. it isn’t.

Same scenario, but now using WhenIsGood. I goto the website and click on the get started button. I am presented with a simple screen that has days listed across the top, and time’s listed down. I simply click on ALL the times that are good for me, enter a name for my meeting/event, and click on the create button. I get a unique code for my event, which they ask you to write down. I then get a link that I post into an email to Larry, Curly and Moe.

Larry, Curly and Moe, individually click on the link they get and are presented with all the times I say I am available. They click on all the times that would work for them. I can optionally get an email telling when they have responded, or I can go back and check the site using my unique code.

When I go back to check, all the times I specified, where Larry, Curly and Moe have all indicated they can make it are highlighted in green. Now I know when I schedule the meeting and be assured that they all can make it.

So let’s review

  1. I create the Event on WhenIsGood and indicate my available times
  2. I check back to the website to see when a mutually agreeable time is
  3. Send out a meeting notice for one of those mutually agreeable times.

I like it when simple, good and useful all come together. Go ahead and give it a try. Organizing family dinners just got easier too.

Email by Pony Express?

// June 11th, 2008 // No Comments » // Email, Tech for the masses, The Future of IT

I was stumbing around the Net and I found this article on the Popular Mechanics web site of all places. It talks about an initiative to bring the information age to remote villages in 3rd world countries by using store and forward technology. Each village has a local server which store cached web pages and email, and then this company has buses, scooters and oxen decked out with wireless equipment that picks up the date from the local servers as they drive thru the village. They then drive into or near by a bigger city that has wireless access to the Internet and automatically forwards the email on, and picks up any emails destined for the local village.

See article here.

This brings things into perspective a couple of things for me. One is how much we take for granted our instant and high speed access to the Net, and the other is how creative people can get to solve real world problems.

One of the disturbing aspects to the explosion in use of the web and wireless technology in the developed nations, is the widening divide between the information haves have and have nots. This article shows that although that divide is real, it may not be quite as dire as I thought it was.

I’d be interested in hearing of other unique and creative methods being used to give people access to the web. Maybe a google search for another day!

Presdo – digitation… simple, smart scheduling

// April 25th, 2008 // No Comments » // Email, Web 2.0

I stumbled upon the really cool web 2.0 scheduling tool, called Presdo. What’s so cool about this app is that it is simple and it does exactly what it says it does. It has a very simple Google-esque user interface, where, using natural language, you tell it what you want to schedule (ie: a meeting, lunch, bring the car in for service, etc…). Click the button and it presents you with it’s interpretation of what you entered, translated into dates, places and/or people. If all is well, you can hit another button to add it to your calendar!

This is a great example of what web 2.0 application should be. Nothing fancy and does one thing really well.

So… you say, why would I want to use this when I can just open a new calendar entry in my Email/Calendar software. Well, my dear naysayers, it comes down to less navigation, fewer keystrokes/mouse clicks, and you have to think less.

For Example, say I wanted to schedule a lunch with Mickey Mouse next Tuesday at noon, at Pluto’s Bar & Grill.

To put that into Outlook, you would have to:

  1. Bring up the calendar
  2. Navigate to next Tuesday on the calendar
  3. Click on or about the day to bring up the calendar entry form.
  4. Enter the subject “Lunch with Mickey Mouse”
  5. Tab over to the Location field and enter “Pluto’s”
  6. Tab over to the time boxes and adjust the time, if necessary
  7. Click save and send

To do the same with Presdo, you would just:

  1. Go to
  2. Enter “lunch with Mickey Mouse next Tuesday at noon, at Pluto’s” and Clcik on the “Do!” button
  3. Verify everything is OK (and it will be) on the screen that pops up and click Save to Calendar button
  4. Choose your calendar type
  5. Click save on the pre-populated Outlook Calendar Entry form (if that’s the email type you chose)

If you wanted to send an invite to Mickey, you could either have put his Email in the text, or clicked on the enter email link that shows up.

It’s not so much the fewer steps, but the ease by which everything I expected to happen, happened without me navigating and deciding what goes into each field.

In any case, I’d recommend you take it for a spin.

Anyone out there find something better or equal to the task?

VirtualBox – virtualization made easy

// April 10th, 2008 // No Comments » // Virtualization

I have recently discovered a very cool product and felt I had to share it. It;s called VirtualBox and what it does is let you host a guest operating system within a Window on your computer. After an easy installation, it has a Wizard to walk you through setting up your first Virtual Machine. I decided to try it out by creating a Linux guest on my Windows XP machine. It was so easy and quick to setup that I didn’t beleive I had actually completed the task when I did. It took me longer to download the ISO image for Kubuntu than it did to setup the environment.

The wizard walks you through deciding:

  • which type of OS & File system will be loaded
  • how much of your host computer disk space you will allocate
  • how much of your host computer memory you will allocate
  • how much memory to allocate to video memory
  • whether to have your host CD/DVD drive available to the new OS
  • How you want to handle networking (NAT, use Host connection, get it’s own IP address)
  • whether or not you want USB devices supported in the new OS
  • etc…

In my case, on my 2gb RAM laptop, I allocated 512kb to my Kubuntu environment, however I have since adjusted it down to 256kb and it works just fine.

Here is a snapshot of the main screen
Screen shot of VirtualBox interface

This is a cheap (it’s free) alternative to VMWare and it’s far less complicated.

VirtualBox has versions that run in Windows and Linux, and you can host Apple OS in either environment, although I haven’t tried that. It also has a strong set of APIs so that, if you were inclined, you could build your own virtual applications with VirtualBox underneath.

VirtualBox is now owned by Sun and indeed when you download, you are redirected to Sun’s site.

For anyone looking for a good, cheap virtualization software, I’d highly recommend it. And if you aren’t looking for virtualzation software, I’d say still check it out. It’s make a great way to test out and play with a new OS (such as Linux if you are a Windows user), test the effects of updates and new software on your system without killing your main system, and from a support perspective, would allow you to re-create a customer’s environment and test, while leaving your main system intact.

Check it out.

A whole lot of dough just to get BO

// October 10th, 2007 // No Comments » // Business Intelligence, The business of IT, The Future of IT

Well the big news this week is the acquisition of Business Objects (they don”t like it shortened to BO, but it’s just natural to do so) by ERP giant SAP. (SAP buys Business Objects) SAP paid dearly to get BO, $6.8 billion to be precise. The question is where are the synergies and will they make their money back! BO is an SAP business partner and have constructed their products to access the SAP databases directly. SAP has their own line of analytic tools that they hawk to their ERP customers, but I suspect that will slowly be phased out in favour of the superior BO products.

Apparently, SAP is looking to grow it’s install base for it’s main ERP platform, and believes that existing BO customers will be a captive market for it. SAP needs to grow it’s foothold in the SMB market and sees BO as a way to expand it. However, it’s a bit like the tail wagging the dog. Smaller companies who can and do leverage the BO product suite will not necessarily want to be burdened with the expense and overhead of an SAP ERP. In fact, it’s probably a safe bet, that any company that is utilizing the BO tools effectively, already has some sort of ERP or other sophisticated solutions managing their business. After all, the analytics don’t help you if your data is crap, and to have good data requires good systems (and good people to use them).

So, will SAP penetrate the SMB market via BO? Probably a little but, but I doubt it will move many SMBs off their existing systems. They are saying, initially, BO will remain a separate operating unit, but with that much invested, you know that won’t stay that way for long. I hope they are not foolish enough to build in special features and functionality in the BO suite that will only work if you have the SAP ERP in place. That would be suicide. To me this is an act of desperation as the market for the big bang ERPs like SAP wanes, and the market for improved analytics grows.

Unfortunately for SAP, the availability of low cost alternatives to BO will force prices down. BO’s new SaaS offering is a good go forward strategy, but with the relatively low cost of Compute power and Network access that is available, they will soon have competitors in the SaaS space as well. That, combined with the growth in the open source market will spell less and less licensing revenue in the long term.

I wish SAP luck, and I hope they are successful, but I hope they kept a little bit of money in the bank to buy some deodorant if the BO gets too bad.

Like it or not, Spreadsheets are here to stay

// October 3rd, 2007 // No Comments » // Business Intelligence, Collaboration, Office 2.0, The Future of IT

The venerable and well respected site CIO.COM has posted an article called “How to Say Goodbye to Spreadsheets“, which caught my eye. Having lived through the early years of spreadsheets, and having witnessed their evolution into a standard tool of business, I was curious. Having had to deal with the follies and foibles of spreadsheet usage within the companies for whom I have worked, I was hopeful.

But alas, just another case of sensationalized, presumptuous and misleading headlines.

To think that BI tools will eliminate spreadsheets is naive in the extreme. Can BI reduce your dependency on spreadsheets, absolutely, but eliminate them?? No way. I herein cite several major reasons for why spreadsheets are here to stay:

  1. People are basically lazy. Spreadsheets are easy and accessible, BI tools take time to configure and are generally restricted to a select few (due to high licensing costs primarily) within an organization. The poor relations will still be using spreadsheets and thumbing their noses at the BI enabled elite.
  2. BI tools are only as good at the data they have access to (ie: the predefined views that some techie type has deemed acceptable for the users to, well, view) A good portion of spreadsheets in any size organization will no doubt have data that exists no where else but in the spreadsheet. This goes back to number one above, as it’s easier to create a spreadsheet to track new data points than to get IT to build it into existing systems, and then get it into the views accessible to the BI tools.
  3. My experience with two major deployments of BI tools in large organizations, is… that most BI tool users, use the BI tools for 90% of the job and then export to Excel to finish it. It may be stupid, redundant and unnecessary, but that’s reality
  4. Spreadsheets are the tool of the masses. They are available to everyone and are easily shared. It allows anyone with just a little bit of training and a good deal of spare time, to build, maintain, discard and re-build virtually anything and everything. Just as Wikis have allowed anyone to contribute their ideas on any topic on the wiki, spreadsheets have enabled business users to do their own thing. It’s called freedom baby.

Now, I am not condoning the misuse of spreadsheets and I agree wholeheartedly with the reasons why BI tools are better, but from a practical standpoint, it will be a long long time, if ever, before spreadsheets are gone. Just look at all the free open source and free web based spreadsheet tools out there (eg: Open Office, ZOHO, Google Documents, etc…) and you’ll see their usage is growing. Even if corporate IT departments were to deploy MS Office without Excel, people will find a way to get access to the spreadsheets they need.
So, Philosphically, using BI tools in place of spreadsheets would be almost nirvana for large companies, but philosophies are what gets the user’s jobs done.

What’s your take?