Where were you last week Tuesday? What did you do? How much time did you spend doing whatever you were doing?
I’ve seen enough Law and Order episodes to know that if I’m ever asked those questions I better have an accurate answer. But have you ever really stopped to think how much time was spent working on “X” or “Y” last week Tuesday? For a small business consultant the answer to those questions directly translates into dollars and cents.
There are so many different things fighting time falling into the buckets of billable and non-billable. Keeping track of everything usually becomes a memory exercise when you actually have time after the fact to sit down and write it up. I would guess that more often than not things are forgotten. Think of the phone calls, the quick emails, the text messages, and multiply that by each simultaneous project (Dare I say per client?). Besides project scope creep, not tracking time and billing accordingly can lead to a serious migraine.
So where I’m going with all of this? I’ve been poking around for something other than my notebook, iCal and/or memory to track time. I’ve tried various methods over the years but haven’t been able to really get a solid solution. Personally, every minute needs to be tracked WHILE I’m doing the work.
OfficeTime seems to solve the problem. Upon mentioning it to my business partner ‘JH’ he responded – “Another tool”? But I think I’ve found a winner here. Here is why in a nutshell:

  • Simple “Play, Pause and Stop” buttons to activate a timer
  • Reporting of time spent based on a number of fields (Time, Project, Etc)
  • Team tracking to see how others are spending their time
  • Calendar Integration (Great for me as an iCal user!)

The only way to know if its truly it is the time tool of all tools is to demo it out for 21 days. I’ll let you know how it went.

In response to the follow-up on the “Flock” browser, I decided this post was necessary. You see, I too felt that the browser was too busy; almost like I needed ADHD just to process the shear amount of information being delivered! (As an aside, I think I’m going to trademark the term “informatsunami™”: the farther back a browser/feed goes, the more overwhelming amounts of data get returned…with no escape!) The painful reality of my discomfort with using the browser in its intended state hit me with force of, well, a tsunami: I’m older now, I don’t need all that “stuff”!

 

Perhaps it really is a sign of maturity, know quite matter-of-factly what I want and how I want it delivered to me. I could care less if my cell phone has a 2.0 megapixel camera with zoom, or that it plays mp3 files, or that I can download a new ringtone. I JUST WANT TO MAKE A PHONE CALL FROM SOMEWHERE OUTSIDE MY HOUSE AND NOT WORRY ABOUT FINDING A PHONE TO USE!!!! (whew, for a minute there, I lost myself…I lost myself…) Where was I…ah yes, how I want content delivered to me, I digress. I think it’s “cool” to have everything in one tidy Mozilla-based browser. But I really don’t want everything. I don’t want to be part of a social network online; it’s hard enough maintaining my relationships in person! I don’t want to share my pictures with the world (or with the select few people whom I grant access), nor do I want to view everyone else’s pictures. I don’t want to write a blog everyday, as indicated by this being my first blog post in about 5 months! I do want to check my email, the few RSS feeds I subscribe to, and some blogs/articles that center on my current professional activities; I may even want to play a game or two online. Of course, I realize that I could simply tweak/customize Flock’s settings to behave in manner more fitting my discriminating tastes. But then I realized something else: I don’t want to. I joked with “JH” about being too old for Web 2.0, about being passed by. That used to make me sad, but really, I feel liberated.
Getting to the title of this post, my memories too me back in time about 10 years ago. I was a young(er), cocky programmer who had just cut his teeth on a Y2K project, learning Fortran, TAL, C, COBOL and statistical analysis in 18 months. I was moving on to a small consulting firm where I’d learn VB/SQL/ASP development, along with Oracle, Sybase, Linux development/administration. I was barely old enough to drink, yet I had surpassed the technical experience of every person in my family. I had a cell phone! I knew every punctuation combination used to create a smiley! I knew every IM acronym! I downloaded mp3 files before it was illegal! (Ok, ok, it was always illegal; but that was when few got in trouble for it…) I read “journals” updated daily online. The fact is, I’ve already been there, done that. I don’t care anymore, or least I don’t care as much what’s new and improved: it’s really old and declining…or maybe I am. Either way, I might still use Flock and whatever else new comes along. I might even get swept up in the informatsunami™ (remember you read it here first!) But in the end, I’ll still pine for the “old days (you guessed it)…when we were kings…

This is a test. If this post is successfully published, it means I am currently using one of the most useful and complete web browsers of the Web 2.0 age.

Meet Flock. Flock brings together your online presence into one complete package. Using sidebars and widgets, flock connects you to your Gmail, Yahoo Mail, AOL Mail, Flickr, YouTube, Digg, Facebook, Picasa, Blogger.com, (etc., etc.) accounts and lets you access/use their features within one sleek interface. The actual core browser is powered by Mozilla, which means that if you know or use Firefox, Flock will feel very familiar.

Everyone’s been talking about Web 2.0, bringing the internet to life and exploring new possibilities with dynamic content and interaction. Well, here it is.

Blogged with the Flock Browser

I was looking out of the window during a brilliant sun-setting rainfall. Maybe it was the picturesque view that jogged my brother-in-law memory. He says: “Did I ever show you PicLens?” He has trained an almost muscular response in me with that sort of question. My mouse moved for the default Google Search in Safari. In less than 2.5 minutes after install I’m looking at a full screen 3D wall of images. (The application unfortunately won’t work for Safari 3.1.1. They are apparently working on a big release in the near future. I installed it with FireFox)
Okay maybe I haven’t drummed this up enough. 
How would you like it if you could see a wall of TV channels instead of flipping channel by channel? For those of us with over 300 channels and nothing good on we may be able to spare ourselves the agony. THAT is what PicLens is all about, but for the web. You are able to search pictures, websites, images and much more.
My explanation is not doing this app any justice. Just check it out—>(click)!

This may be old news since it has been documented elsewhere for a couple of years now (see the link at the end of this post), but I only discovered this recently. Over the past several years, I have worked with a number of wireless networks, but only recently have I had the very different experience of moving through the world with my own personal wireless device.

Picture me walking through New York City on a beautiful summer day. Having finished a few personal errands, I’m looking to settle down in one of its several parks for a little bit and get some work done on my Macbook Pro. Since most of my work recently involves development of web applications, naturally I get a lot more done if I have an internet connection. I have heard that many of the parks in the city are outfitted with free wireless, so I drop down my Airport list and begin scanning through the several wireless networks my lappy has found. I come across one called ‘Free Public WiFi’. This looks like it could be what I’m after, so I connect, get a very strong signal but no valid IP address; no internet; nothing.

Another day, similar scenario, but another part of the city. And this time, my Airport has already automatically connected to a strong signal. You guessed it, ‘Free Public WiFi’. Again, no kind of internet love coming from this network. But now I’m curious, so when I do find a valid connection, I set out googling about this mysterious network.

Turns out it’s a bug in Windows. It’s a viral wifi epidemic that has swept at least this country, if not by now, the world. On the whole it’s fairly harmless, but the potential for danger is very great, and it’s taught me a lesson that I should have realized earlier.

Here’s what happened:

  • Somewhere, someone created an ad-hoc network, named ‘Free Public WiFi’, either intentionally as a hoax, or for some indiscernible valid purpose.
  • One or more people connected to this ad-hoc network using a Windows laptop, again, either because they were duped into thinking they’d have free internet access, or for some unknown valid reason.
  • (Here’s the fun part): Once a Windows machine has connected to an ad-hoc network, when it disconnects, it now begins to broadcast that same ad-hoc network as an available connection, essentially inviting anyone to join.

And so it spreads. As more and more Windows machines connect to ad-hoc networks named like ‘Free Public WiFi’ thinking they’ll get free internet, more and more Windows machines end up broadcasting that same network. Take into account business travel, and you should see how quickly this thing is able to spread.

The danger here really should be self-evident. It is two-fold:

  1. An attacker could be broadcasting such a network, waiting for someone to connect in order to attempt exploiting their machine.
  2. If you’re running Windows, you yourself may be broadcasting that network, essentially inviting anyone, including potential attackers to connect to you.

My partial solution to this is to not use Windows. :) The rest is a principle learned that I will be careful to apply and which, I think, more people should apply as a best practice: only connect to networks that you are certain about. For example, after this experience, I researched more carefully what public wifi is available in the city, who provides it and their locations. So now I’ll know what I’m looking for.

Even so, it is likely if you have a mobile device that at some point you will open yourself up for attack. So there is sound reason to make sure your system is secure as a rule. Use a local firewall service. Update your system often. Don’t take candy from strangers.

See: http://www.nmrc.org/pub/advise/20060114.txt

It’s been around for a long time, and it’s had its fair share of abuse. If you’re like me, perhaps you can recall when one of the most popular uses of JavaScript was for dynamic looking buttons. Do a little mouse over on the button and the button glows, or changes shape, or some other little effect which really amounted to swapping out an image. It was often being used more obnoxiously than elegantly.

Then came Flash. Everyone loved it. And again, everyone over-abused it. Finally, it became obvious (at least to me…) that people tend to prefer simpler design with occasional purposeful animation. In walks JavaScript (again).

Developers began using JavaScript in much more powerful, interesting, and ultimately elegant ways. One of the biggest ways being accessing and modifying the DOM. By listening to user initiated events (mouse clicks, keyboard entries), a developer can dynamically alter, rearrange, delete or create new document objects, all on the client side. A user can even initiate a server request (via the XMLHttpRequest object) and receive its reply without reloading the entire page.

The power, flexibility and standard implementation of JavaScript make it a powerful tool in building web-based applications. It would be a mistake to ignore it. I’m certainly getting my hands dirty with it (honestly, more by chance than anything else) and I’ve been loving the experience. A book that I’ve really found a great tool in helping me get the most out of the experience is called The Art & Science of JavaScript. I’d recommend it to anyone in the business or habit of building web-based applications.

Just adding to my previous argument to move away from massive spreadsheets (See WebApp vs. Data Tennis) is the infoSoft Global application FusionCharts. I’m a huge proponent of being able to visualize data in a way that will make the most impact for your audience. This shouldn’t be sacrificed just because the application is on the web. As a matter of fact, it should be even more impacting with the speed of which information can be transfered and displayed.

We recently came across FusionCharts searching for a simple way to integrate web graphing with our already matured LAMP Application. The flash based graphing works well with PHP, Python, Ruby on Rails just to name a few. The best part is that all you need to do is feed it the right XML datafile and the graph is done. This makes it easy to read directly from a database (which we did) utilizing a few string manipulation techniques.

Did I mention that they have a free version?