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)!

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?

Yes, there has been quite a bit of lag between posts. I started to suffer from the Fallen Tree in Forest syndrome. I’m trying to make a melody with this blog but I’m not sure if it is even making a sound. That said, I’m posting again. I’m doing this not to force a noise in a plethora of internet data.  I feel the need to share my lessons learned with Objective-C and the iphone SDK. 
Here is where I am so far (in order):
  • Downloaded the newest SDK – Duh
  • Downloaded the core documentation for the SDK via xcode workspace guide – Getting Warmed up
  • Ran through iphone Fundamental Documents – Shallow Waters
  • Started the “Your First iphone Application” document in the workspace guide – Where’s the boat?!?!
I’ll pause there. There were really no issues following the documentation and getting a working application.  It was way more than an echo “Hello World”. As a total laymen in Objective-C and lacking a solid C++ background, I needed something a little easier to make the connection. 
Of course you could find plenty of other places to go, but I found this one as I was searching for something familiar to grab hold of. I’ve been doing plenty of php scripting and this was a useful transition site. 
After getting aquatinted with my first application and reading some basics on Objective-C, I downloaded all the sample programs on the Apple Developers website. I’ll say that I’m making some progress.
The goal of all of this? Besides being part of a technical tsunami, I’ve been avoiding non-scripting languages. Now was as good as any time to start tinkering again. I’ll let you know how long I last.

The iphone SDK has been installed!

For a neophyte with little objective-c skills, I’m still highly attracted to the possibilities open to developing for the iphone. Business users all over are constantly in demand for rich presentation in a small package. I’m convinced that the iphone will pave the way for that to happen. 
But here-in lays the uncharted territory. How far will CIO’s and their organizations go to develop custom applications to bring their executives into the new wave? Most executives travel light but require the information at their fingertips. I foresee a new demand for companies to step to the plate and provide rich media in that custom package. The iphone may not be the device of choice, but it is certainly moving the mobile community and enterprises to build the right custom application. 
If you are like me, you’ve gone through several different computers over the course of a decade. I’ve had Dell, Toshiba and HP laptops all that provided (at the time) the needed processing punch. Eventually my software demanded more memory and computational power. Now I reached the age of my MacBook Pro and…….”Wham”! It feels as if there is enough horsepower under the hood to last me a lifetime. Or so I think for the time being.
My feelings of laptop longevity, albeit easily susceptible to change, raises a question. Besides the fame and glory of trying to fabricate smaller and smaller chips, is it really necessary to continue the march down the nanoscale for the average home/business PC?
Don’t get me wrong! I’ll be the first one to ogle at the latest and greatest technology. Also if it wasn’t for chip makers getting smaller, conserving power, we wouldn’t have marvels like the Macbook Air. However, as chip fabricators are currently in the 45 nanometer range shooting to get even smaller, I wonder if Moore’s Law will stop for general consumers sooner than we think.

For some small business, IT procurement can be a challenge. Budgets are tight and figuring out hardware requirements could be daunting. How is it possible to ensure that you get the most out of your computing so your life-cycle isn’t shorter than it needs to be AND you satisfy your employees within reason? One simple key is to address the usage pattern of your employees.

What is the benefit of looking at it this way? 
My eureka story covers this best. I took my car for a routine service and was surprised when the mechanic said I needed new brake pads. They were changed not too long ago and the math wasn’t working out in my head. Skeptical, I ignored his comment. If it wasn’t for the insurance requirements of his company he would have pulled me under the car to see how bad it was for myself. After he told me how many millimeters I had left before I would hear screeching I grudgingly had them changed. Later that week (still doubting my decision) I noticed something while a certain family member was driving the car (Identity withheld to protect my life).  This unidentified individual habitually stopped hard at red lights. AH HA! That was the usage pattern that led to the breaks needing changing earlier than my projected life-cycle. Unfortunately for me I had to fork out the money and reacted to the usage pattern after the fact. It doesn’t need to be that way for IT Procurement. 
For most users they would like a computer to function like their mind. They want to multitask on several different things and they want to do it quickly. Even with most up-to-date system, there is a threshold where it will seem unresponsive because of the multitasking being imposed by the user. So if someone has, say Adobe Photoshop CS3, open with 15 different images, is checking email, listing to a Pandora stream and browsing the web, the usage pattern can change. The goal is to help users understand how they need to think a little differently to maximize their computing productivity. When that message is properly conveyed, the life-cycle will be extended. The trick is to convey that message without inflicting pain.
To avoid any toe to toe confrontations, a simple yet proactive approach can be taken, here are a few options:
  • Every so often, provide employees with reminders and tips on good computing. These can be gathered from the same companies who provide your hardware and software. Sometimes these companies send monthly emails and webinars on useful computing topics. Recycle those in summary to employees in an official company message.
  • Provide a checklist of monthly maintenance tasks to perform (folder organization, file clean up, desktop cleanup, etc)
  • Establish a system to share tips and tricks among employees (wiki page, whiteboard sessions). 
(Reader Beware – Oncoming Rant)

With a snowy afternoon and a hot cup of tea I decided to make good use of my time and start a document I’ve put on hold for long enough. In an attempt to open my eyes to more than the Microsoft Office Suite, I started learning/using Pages (Part of the iWork ’08). 

The initial keystrokes were hard enough just to get the thoughts flowing. I was able to get out of the mental rut and put down a few good paragraphs. Unexpectedly Pages crashed. No issue there, it should just restore my document…Right? 

Lets pause there for a moment to note a few things:
1. In the time that I’ve started this blog the automatic autosave in blogger.com has protected my work every minute, autosaving some 15 times.

2. TextEdit, a very basic word processing program has an autosave feature backing up SQL code I was messing with.
3. Time Machine on my MacBook Pro has backed up my system 12 times since the start of today.
In our world of computing backups, redundancy and autosaving, being able to recover has become common-law! So it was in disbelief that I re-opened my Pages file to find that NOTHING was recovered. There wasn’t even an indication that it tried! Thats right…no autosave in Pages!
I won’t drag on with any more rhetoric on the subject. This isn’t a bash on Pages. Just a rant that the simple programmable things in life should never be forgotten. Autosave is one of them!
Command – S

“If you don’t measure it, you can’t manage it!”

All too often we encounter small business clients who feel their IT infrastructure is operating just fine. When asked, “how is your IT infrastructure working”, they roll their eyes to the sky and think back to their personal computing issues over the past week. The answer is often, “things are okay…I guess”.
Then it happens…
“My computer crashed!” 
“Are you able to get e-mail?”
“I can’t print, can you print?”
“Why is the internet so slow?”
“My home computer is faster than this.”
With almost inborn instinct the victims hit the power button and pray for normalcy. If the situation is not resolved with a reset and the frustration level is high enough, a call for support is made. Since these issues typically happen sporadically they are often swept under the mental rug.
But lets examine this with business basics – Time Is Money! If we chalk down the lost time of the underrated comments above into dollars, the loss would be startling. This is where a small business owner with limited IT support needs insight into their infrastructure with simple “Key Metrics”.
Key Metric 1: “How many times a week, month or quarter have I experienced an outage, failure or issue?”
Key Metric 2: “How long was each outage, failure or issue?”
Key Metric 3: “How much did this on average cost me in dollars and cents?
The metrics are no more complicated than 5th grade math class, but pack the same power as E=mc
If the financial loss because of the issues approaches 40% (for arguments sake) of the cost of the hardware, software, or service being used its time to take action. Setting aside a little effort measuring IT outages (among other things) can save a bundle. A small business owner can use the information to target potential system failure, plan for hardware upgrades and more important have peace of mind.

Who would think that unlocked iphones would be such an issue to Apple? Don’t other companies deal with unlocked phones and get over it?


When 1 million are “missing in action” according to  the Reuters.com article “Quarter of Apple iPhones “unlocked”: Analyst” anyone would take notice. Being an iPhone user (one of the best company policies we’ve enforced so far) I’m pretty glad that I have a “virgin” phone.


The reason I’m so glad for having a virgin phone is that Apple is going to have to make some interesting decisions concerning the future of the iphone. Those decisions I feel will make it harder to have the iphone on any other network unless Apple says so. Here is the conversation that pSw (fellow blogger and LightCube Solution Associate) and I were having on the issue. I’ve decided to take it to the blog so that others can chime in.


Conversation to date:


pSw: Should Apple [if they could] block all those phones that are missing? 


Let’s loosely define “block” as jailing the phone so badly that the iphone elite team, Installer.app team, geohot and others would have no other recourse but to raise the white flag. (I personally think someone will always have the ability to jailbreak the phone but thats another blog entirely)


fhagard: It’s amazing that they could sell so many phones yet suffer financially because of it.


pSw: The loss will only be for AT&T if that were to happen. 


fhagard: Apple would also lose on the deal because they make their money on the AT&T activation of the phone and not the phone sale alone. As stated in the article: 


“If Apple cracks down on unlocked phones it could preserve its high margins but miss its sales target, whereas allowing them could erode profitability and make it tough to sign more carriers to similar revenue-sharing deals.”


pSw: Sign other carriers! Unlock the phones, or make a version for each carrier…that strategy cuts into profit margins on the phones themselves. But the returns are better in the long-term.


fhagard: Apple is all about the immediate returns for the hardware traditionally. If they focus on long-term returns they will never please their investors because they are coming out with something bigger in the next Macworld.


pSw: The problem with that is they already make a tidy profit from all their other hardware sales. If Apple were more like, say, Research-In-Motion, then that focus would make more sense. RIM makes the functionality possible; Qualcomm makes the phones. Their joint venture remains profitable only by making multiple versions of the same phone(s) for different carriers. Who’s to say that Apple can’t adapt to this and become bigger than Motorola, Samsung, and LG combined?


In response to pSw’s last comment I feel that Apple wont adapt to become bigger than Motorola and the rest. Why should they focus on making several different phones for different users/wireless companies when they can make THE best phone? They have always defined their game by being separate from the pack. They keep it simple and separate making the statement, ‘we play well in the sandbox when we own the sand’.


So in the long run I’m very glad for my AT&T branded iphone playing in the sandbox the way Apple wants. More power to the dev teams who are able to unlock the phone, but I think the battle is on.


Thoughts Anyone?

It’s a common practice for businesses small and large to use spreadsheets in their business processes. The dependency of these files grows to the point of painful return. 

Consider the common scenario:

Team A works on a simple spreadsheet for data tracking. This file (on a daily or weekly basis) needs to be sent to Team B as an input to their workflow. Unfortunately the update to the file was not complete. Team B needs to send the file with their changes back to Team A for updates and validation. Here are classic complaints of this common scenario:
  • You are KILLING my inbox –  We are now zipping 7Mb files to email.
  • Can I change the way this spreadsheet looks? Answer: Yes- But it will mess up the formulas and conditional formatting.
  • It takes forever to run the macros on this data.
  • Some of this data (from 10 versions ago) was fat fingered. I wonder what else is wrong.
Picture the WebApp:
Team A updates a webbased version of their spreadsheet tied to a secure database. Team B has access to the database via the same webapp and is able to read and write on their timetable. The database and webapp apply version control, user access, routine backup and enhanced functionality. Classic comments:
  • I didn’t know that this web stuff was so fast and flexible. 
  • This thing corrects me every time I enter something wrong, saves me plenty of time later on.
  • I get the solution to my data request right away. My macros used to take forever.
  • Both my teams can work almost simultaneously. They communicate much better with this WebApp in place. 
Yes its true. You can use conditional formats, data validation and scripting in spreadsheet applications. The problem is that over time managing these custom scripts files becomes a pain when going between different teams and business processes. Web based applications allows custom functionality without the overhead of large files. Yes its debatable, but why not limit the data tennis?
Telecom/Trunk ordering, resource allocation, reporting spreadsheets and the like can all be moved from 7Mb files (and growing) to a WebApp. Any questions?