Usability - Productivity - Business - The web - Singapore & Twins

By Date: October 2009

Online storage / backup

Question for the lazy web. There are a number of services around that allow you to keep a local folder in sync with a web storage and (optional) a folder on other machine(s) There is DropBox, the Ubuntu service Ubuntu One (UbuntuOne uses CouchDB as its backend, way to go Damien), SugarSync, PowerFolder, Little Networks, DocuSync, ZumoDrive and many others. Some offer a free limited account, some a trial account.
Which one works for you (and why).

Posted by on 24 October 2009 | Comments (9) | categories: Software

Listing custom fields and attachments in Lotus Connections

Lotus Connections 2.x allows users to specify custom fields to be added to any item. This option is very useful together with the entry template function. Once a set of additional fields has been defined, they can be reused to capture structured information into an activity. Currently these additional fields are visible with the entry, but can't be visualized in other ways, most notably a table (It is on the list for future versions). So when a developer has an itch, it needs scratching. Connections comes with multiple entry points: the webUI, a Sametime plug-in, a Notes plug-in and a ATOM/REST API. A quick check of the ATOM XML showed, that the custom fields are in the XML and would be retrieved when loading the ATOM url. Fields are encoded as snx:field inside a feed/entry element. They come as type text, name, attachment and url. 70 lines of XSLT would transform that into a table for me. I created 2 examples: one for the list of attachments in an activity and one with a table of custom field values. The stylesheet needs to be called by something (I just downloaded the ATOM feed using wget and the command line version of DXLMagic to do that). Enjoy. As usual: YMMV.

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Posted by on 22 October 2009 | Comments (0) | categories: IBM IBM - Lotus

DLink - a support experience (a nice one for a change)

One of my invaluable travel companions is a DLink Travel Router DWL-G730A. Plugging it into the hotel room internet wire frees me up to sit wherever I like instead of being glued to the desk (sitting in the bathtub with water still isn't recommended for laptop use). When it stopped working I felt a sense of urgency to get it fixed. So I gave the D-Link Hotline a call to get a RMA#. To my surprise they said: just drop by at the service centre and we will take care of you (sending things around isn't usual on our small island, so expecting a customer to drop by a service centre is absolute reasonable here). So I went there expecting all sorts of bureaucracy and hu-ha since I didn't have the receipt for that router anymore. The support representative just asked me to fill in contact details and serial# and indicated she would run a quick tests, I should be patient for a few minutes. Less than 5 minutes later she returned, stating that one of the test had failed. Then she handed me a shrink-wrapped new router, let me sign that I got it in return for the borked one and off I went.
Well done DLINK!

Posted by on 16 October 2009 | Comments (0) | categories: Business

Leadership, DaoDeChing and Technology

Currently I'm participating in IBM leadership training. Naturally leadership is a hotly discussed topic during the training (which is an interesting mix of online and physical meeting). I'm a big fan of the DaoDeChing and its advice on leadership ( verse 17 and verse 66):

The best rulers are scarcely known by their subjects;
The next best are loved and praised;
The next are feared;
The next despised:
They have no faith in their people,
And their people become unfaithful to them.

When the best rulers achieve their purpose
Their subjects claim the achievement as their own.

For IT people there is a translation into our reality (part of The Unix Power Classics):

The greatest project leaders hardly make their presence known.
Next best are those who are loved and honoured.
Next come those who are feared.
Next the PHBs*, who are despised.
The demand to be trusted is not enough; indeed, it finds no trust.

The true leader shuts up and shows us the code.

Then when the tasks are accomplished,
  and the project is complete,
  all the contributors say,
  "We did it ourselves."

Subscribe to updates to the UPC (Unix Power Classics)
* = Pointy Haired Boss

Posted by on 14 October 2009 | Comments (0) | categories: After hours Technology

Microsoft's licences to complicated - let IBM help you.

There is an interesting story on slashdot pointing to the complex Microsoft licensing model and Steve Ballmer's statement not to change that anytime soon. One nice snippet from Steve:" Customers always find an approach which pays us less money". IBM is helping customers exactly do do that. Our Project Liberate helps to minimise Microsoft software cost without breaking compliance. Now we only need to simplify our own licences, but that might come soon.

Posted by on 05 October 2009 | Comments (4) | categories: Software

In defense of the Inbox

Web 2.0 promoters(including myself), new emerging technology and a lot of offerings suggest the imminent demise of the inbox in favour of Wikis, Blogs, Activities, Tweets and all the other shiny new technologies. However once you descend from "the Olymp of IT- savvy ness" (or ascent out of Hades, depending on your point of view) you will find many uses clinging to their inboxes rallying around the battle cry "Out of my dead cold hands". Working on the technology forefront of collaboration one might easily dismiss this as fear of change. However on a closer look, you will realise that this users are right (I hear the howling of the web2.0 crowd, but bear with me and read on). As you might know, I am a big fan of GTD (and its Lotus Notes incarnation). When you look at its model of operation you will see a big box labelled "IN" at the very top and beginning of dealing with all the stuff entering your life. Any action you take, any decision you make starts with (explicit or implicit) " It came to my attention". The inbox supposed to provide the single point of entry for electronic attention. If I look at the current web2.0 offerings and presentation I see the digital equivalent of AHAD. Tweets compete with feeds with emails with chats for my attention. Neither of them magically increases the 86400 seconds that make my day. (And there is nothing easier than immerge yourself in a stream of twits and feeds to procrastinate that boring task). As a non-IT professional I'm working on problems like: how to run this project, how to close this deal, how to construct this engine, how to heal this patient. This are important questions and I don't want to be distracted by "how do I communicate with [insert name here] about [insert topic here]". So I go to my inbox and hit a button: New. So what makes a good inbox:
The eight properties of the universal Inbox
  • It is personal: It is my Inbox. I am in charge what ends up there, how long it stays and how it is visible (eMail inboxes fail miserably here)
  • It is complete: any time of digital artifacts is visible here: eMails, chats, files, wiki pages, blog entries, workflow items, custom application notifications. It doesn't mean that all these need to be stored inside the inbox, they could be just rendered there (automatic or on a click)
  • It is structured: It is not just a list of all items by date, but offers virtualization based on all available meta-data. All items can be shown in context (automatic and manual): what other item are related to the current entry (Google waves rides on that idea)
  • It universally available: It follows me. I can access my inbox Online, Offline, Mobile
  • It is actionable: Acting on new items directly from my inbox like: Turn any type of incoming item into any type of outgoing item (reply with blog is my personal favourite)
  • It is technology agnostic: Items can end up in my inbox using push technologies like eMail, web services or message queue or pull technologies like RSS and ATOM or custom transports provided by my applications
  • It is unlimited: Whatever enters my inbox stays there until I say otherwise (where "say otherwise" would include compliance and retention rules). The idea of an archive is a technical implementation detail I don't want to bother with (if that happens behind the scene, so be it).
  • It is synchronised: Items showing up in my inbox are synchronised with where they came from. So a presentation updated will reflect in the file in my inbox - unless I don't want that. (Technically that is what you do with Quickr, if it would sync into offline for me)
Looking at that list you will realise eMail ≠ Inbox. It is much more of that. There are a number of attempts to create the universal inbox: Websphere Portal (not perceived as personal), Lotus Connections Homepage (everything but eMail) or Lotus Notes sidebars & composite applications (promising but not complete). None of them is complete yet (some of them show the potential to eventually get there). We need to broaden our understanding of inbox. It shoud not be " the place where new eMail messages arrive", but rather " the place where I'm ready to pay attention to new [things|stuff|information|...] and can find what I'm looking for." I had an interesting insight recently in a chat with a (very competent) secretary. She stated " I keep everything in my inbox". Mentally rolling my eyes I set on to explain about information management with my general opening question " Hmm, interesting. Show me". To my surprise her eMail inbox was empty, she had nicely labelled action folders, information she wanted to keep was in her journal, she kept track of co-workers and friends with the Twitter plug-in, the Sametime UC2 plug-in gave her access to voicmail etc. For her anything in Lotus Notes was "The Inbox". Which just confirms my point of view: We need a single point of entry for digital items.

Posted by on 04 October 2009 | Comments (1) | categories: Software

Accessing EXT2 data from Mac OS/X - works on Snow Leopard (partially)

SWMBO and "The Gentlemen" use Macs at home. I got a bunch of disks formatted with EXT3 and EXT4 wich they also want to access, so I went out to research the topic. The EXT file systems have the unique feature to be backwards compatible. So a driver written to access EXT2 will still be able to access an EXT4 disk (obviously without having access to newer features). There is a commercial product available, but that wasn't what I was after. After wading through a lot of discussion board posts I did the following:
  1. Download and install MacFuse
  2. Download and install MacFusion. MacFusion is the GUI to configure MacFuse. Unfortunately it turned out, that they don't support EXT yet, but you can help and vote for this enhancement
  3. Download and install MacPorts (odd: I needed a reboot or it seemed so to get it to work)
  4. Open a terminal window and type: sudo port install ext2fuse You have to provide your password. That command send off my Mac for quite a while running a GnuMake/TCL script to download and configure all dependencies: expat, gperf, libiconv, ncursesw, ncurses, gettext, ossp-uuid, pkgconfig, e2fsprogs, macfuse. (failed since the macefuse installer didn't recognize SnowLeopard. I tried to hack the PortFile with little success)
  5. Download and install Fuse-ext2 from Sourceforge gives you - when auto mounting - read-only access (and a nice setting in the preferences)
  6. Reboot the machine and your EXT2/3/4 drives show up in Finder. I don't know if that works for internal partitions, but it worked for the one connected via USB very well

Lessons learned

  • On Snow Leopard EXT2FS didn't work
  • Downloading the sourcecode for Ext2Fuse from SourceForge and trying to compile on 10.6 (sudo ./config, sudo make, sudo make install) didn't work either
  • Installing MacFuse before MacPorts didn't help to avoid the dependency check
  • There are two project porting Linux software to the Mac: DarwinPorts and MacPorts. Downloading DarwinPorts gave me a File MacPorts1.7.0.pkg, while MacPorts delivers a file MacPorts-1.8.1.pkg. The two projects seem to draw from the same source
  • There seems to be way to go before everything works back on 10.6
  • Once you leave the realm of i[Insert-your-average-Mac-application-here] it gets as powerful and as complicated as any other OS
As usual YMMV.

Posted by on 02 October 2009 | Comments (1) | categories: Software