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Showing posts from 2010

What I learnt writing my first Android application

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I have recently released my first Android application to the Android market. Even with a basic application, there are a number of things that needed consideration I hadn’t thought about (particularly graphical design considerations).Application functionality overviewOne night at home, Jane asked me what temperature we should be cooking chicken to.  We had a meat thermometer, but each time we wanted to know whether a meat was cooked enough we resorted to an Internet search to find the appropriate temperature.  To make it easier I decided to write a basic application for her Nexus One Android device called Meat Temperature Guide that allowed her to select a type of meat from a dropdown list and to then display the details of the temperature to cook the meat to for rare, medium-rare, well etc.  I later embellished the application to allow a user to select whether they want to see Celsius or Fahrenheit temperatures displayed and default this and the meat chosen to whatever they last had s…

Are you making assumptions about how web-savvy your customers/users are? Two examples for consideration.

We were in Europcar the other day to rent a car and a gentleman who was probably in his late 40’s was being explained the options of how to pay for road tolls.  The first option mentioned was that he could simply go to the tolls website to pay.  He threw his hands in the air and expressed that he knows nothing about websites.  The option presented next was thankfully a lot more palatable, paying via entering credit card information over the phone.Just over a year ago I was involved in putting a site together for a closed group of invitees and we thought it was reasonably intuitive to use.  What we didn’t consider though was that some of our invitees were not used to signing up to websites and consequently they had never had to think about what their username would be or what picture they would use for an avatar (not to mention the process for how to get it onto their computer and then onto the website).  For a subsequent event, we took this onboard and generated usernames and password…

Is Social Media reducing the likelihood of serendipitously meeting people you know when travelling?

I was pondering earlier today while over 2000km from home whether there is less likelihood now of serendipitously meeting people when travelling, since friends and family now have a greater awareness through social media and location-based sites (Facebook, Twitter, Tripit, Foursquare…) of where you are and where you are going (and vice versa).About two hours after Jane & I had this discussion, whilst sitting down for lunch, a work colleague that sits a few desks away from me wandered past and said hi; she was in the area for a conference and both of us had no idea that the other would be in the area.So rest assured, there are still lots of opportunities to randomly run into people while travelling.  I wander who I’ll see next.

"Have 2-3 wins each week" and a few other pearls of wisdom

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A contractor recently gave me some simple pearls of wisdom that are relevant beyond a contracting role and can apply to working on any project:
Have 2-3 wins each week.Don't overstay your welcome. Deliver what you say you are going to deliver.Manage your stakeholders.I like the simplicity of these and the focus they drive.

NZ Google Barcamp 2010 #nzgbc

Arranged by Mike Riversdale, the NZ Google Barcamp 2010 brought together a bunch of people from throughout New Zealand to engage in discussions with a focus on Google. Here's a synopsis of my notes from some of the sessions I attended.Location Based ServicesThere was a good discussion re GPS / Location apps that would be great for Primary School kids.  Some of the key areas discussed (which are definitely not limited to only being suitable for kids) were:Museum tours (such as My Tours).Scribble maps enables you to easily scribble on Google Maps.Augmented reality and being able to visualise what a street looked like in 1910.History Pin has already collected some good content from the past.This is adding a time dimension to location.Simile (MIT) is focused on developing robust, open source tools that empower users to access, manage, visualize and reuse digital assets.There is a lot of excellent information available in Layar for augmenting the real world with what you can’t see.A lo…

Pros and Cons of Software as a Service (SaaS) with a focus on the cons

There is a lot about Software as a Service (SaaS) that I love, but it is important to ensure that if you are looking at a SaaS solution to also consider what some of the cons are.

I recently posted these as a comment over on Ben's "Software Delivery Approaches – Debunking the Myths" post and thought it worthy to reiterate the key points.

The key Pros (from my perspective) Ben articulated with SaaS were as follows:
Ability to provision almost instantly.Pushes infrastructure, service, and support costs to the vendor.Upgrades are automatically applied to all users – all customers work with the same application.
Cons of ASP and SaaS options (which will have differing levels of risk based on who the vendor is):
If the vendor goes out of business, then you may have a significant problem with little or no warning.Depending on where the data is hosted you may be subject to different laws.From an information/data security perspective you are placing trust in another organisation. …

Product Development: The value of asking "Why?"

I attended an excellent presentation from Daniel Szuc last night at the UX Auckland meetup.  There was lots of excellent content and one of the slides he presented was a good reminder about asking the simple questions when embarking on the delivery of a new product:
What does this product do?What do you love about the product? (Would you buy it?)What does the product team love about the product?  (Passionate?)Could you sell the product? (if asked to)By asking these questions up front you may avoid progressing with delivering a product that provides no or little value.  Up front it is easier and cheaper to either redesign or abandon as required.

Barcamp Auckland 4 Summary

I had yet another excellent time at Barcamp Auckland 4 #bcak4. This is an unconference run each year that brings together developers, designers, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and others for discussion about topics of interest.  The sessions are always thought provoking and there are lots of super knowledgeable people and hence great discussions. My notes from the sessions are below.Building client side libraries in the enterpriseSimon Lieschke, @slieschkeBuild on top of Yahoo! User Interface libraryYUI doc tool for generating source code notesDeveloper declares dependencies and this will then determine what libraies to useHave generated tag library docsWhen building javacript libraries, use a functional test page (e.g. if change CSS then show all different buttons) #regressiontestingcurrently build page manuallySelenium mentioned as a tool to consider. It looks quite good.Unit TestingJsUnitYUI test is a bit nicer than JsUnit. It provides better tools for simulating browser behavi…

Why is my Powerpoint 2002/2003 file so big? How big (MB) is each slide? A solution...

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I had an oversized Powerpoint 2003 presentation even after doing the tips and tricks I was aware of.  After a bit of searching I came across two excellent resources:
Why are my PowerPoint files so big? What can I do about it?Bill's SizeMe Add-inThe first link contains myriad information that is useful.  Bill's SizeMe Add-in (works with PowerPoint 2002 (XP) and PowerPoint 2003) is easy to install with the excellent documentation on the website and the amount of information generated about each slide surprised me.

It does take a while to churn through the slides (and it's a good idea to use a copy of your original presentation), however it does result it a break down of each component on a slide.  The information can be viewed from within the Powerpoint itself or within Excel where it is easy to see where the bloat is coming from through the sorted raw data and graphs.

Online calendaring tools: Google vs Yahoo vs Microsoft

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I tend to always use my calendar at work (MS Outlook with Exchange at the backend) as my core calendar and then synchronise this with my mobile phone.  This works well for me but I thought I should check out the Online calendar scene.

My requirements for an Online Calendar are pretty simple, but the caliber of the different tools was quite significant:
Has a nice look and feel and is fast enoughWorks!Can handle recurring appointmentsCan synchronise with iPhone, Android and ideally Symbian OSCan synchronise / provide data to other calendar based mashups The company is highly likely to still be around in five yearsReasonable availability, stability, data integrity and security Online Calendars
 Google Calendar

None of the other Online calendar came close to matching the slick usability of Google Calendar.  The look & feel of this calendar is excellent.  Nice stand out features also include having both public and private URLS (supporting XML, iCal and HTML), support for multiple calenda…

Exporting from Excel to a CSV with a delimiter other than a comma. It is possible!

I was surprised today to find that when I had a need to export an Excel file out to a CSV file that there wasn't anywhere within Excel (that I could find at least) to change the delimiter from a comma to something else.

The reason I needed to change the delimiter was that the text had commas in some of the fields, and although the text was put into double quotes by Excel this wasn't suitable for me importing easily via PHP into a MySQL database. I was initially wanting to import the xls file via PHP into MySQL but there was a lack of code available to support this, so I decided to stick with the CSV option.

After a bit of searching I came across a blog post from 2005 that had the answers, and I thought it worthy to replicate it here for when I or others need it:
To change the default on your PC to a pipe rather than a comma bring up your default options window by clicking Start -> Settings -> Control Panel -> Regional Settings.
Click the “Number” tab and in the “Lis…

Issues, Risks, Assumptions, Questions and Decisions Register Template

I have been using a spreadsheet that I have been slowly extending over the years for recording and monitoring Issues, Risks, Assumptions, Questions and Decisions. I tend to store this in a central repository and encourage team members to add and update entries. I also encourage the recording of entries to be in terms that somebody in another team (business or technically-oriented) could read and understand. We then review this regularly, particularly with how we are tracking with closing out issues.  Below is a link to the template that you are welcome to use and customise as you need.

The template can be downloaded at http://www.scribd.com/doc/32966336/Issues-Risks-Assumptions-Questions-Decisions-template

<p><p>Issues, Risks, Assumptions, Questions and Decisions Register Template</p></p>

Want to easily stream movies stored on one machine to another? Check out DLNA

Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA) has been around for ages, yet I have only looked into it in the last month.  I didn’t know it was so widespread and how useful it could be.Wikipedia’s entry for DLNA nicely summarises it’s purpose and how widespread it is:DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance) is a standard used by manufacturers of consumer electronics to allow entertainment devices within the home to share their content with each other across a home network.As of August 2009 it is supported in more than 5,500 different devices and in 2008 over 200 million devices sold with it built inHome Network DLNA devices fall into the the following categories (Source: http://dlna.org):Digital Media Server (DMS)These devices store content and make it available to other devices (e.g. PCs and NAS devices) .Digital Media Player (DMP)These devices find content on Digital Media Servers (DMS) and provide playback and rendering capabilities (e.g. TVs, stereos and home theaters, wireless monitors an…

Geocaching: What is it?

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Jane & I started geocaching this year and have been thoroughly enjoying it.Geocaching is described nicely on the http://www.geocaching.com/ website:Geocaching is a high-tech treasure hunting game played throughout the world by adventure seekers equipped with GPS devices. The basic idea is to locate hidden containers, called geocaches, outdoors and then share your experiences online.I was surprised by the number of geocaches very close to my home, and in fact throughout New Zealand and the World (over 1 million!!!).  Type your address into the search box on the http://www.geocaching.com/ website to see how many are near you. Inside a geocache you will find a log book to log that you have been there and depending on the size of the cache a pencil (for the logbook), items that you can swap out and replace with an item of equal value, a short overview of what geocaching is, and trackable items that tend to have a task associated with them that you can take out of a cache and help them…

Tutorial: How to draw abnormal filled-in shapes in Visio

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This week I learnt how to draw abnormal filled-in shapes in Visio, and it is actually easy to do.  I’m using Visio 2003 so other versions may differ slightly.For my example I start with 6 boxes and want to draw a shape around the 4 orange ones.I start by using the Line Tool, which is part of the Drawing toolbar.I then draw my first line segment and then continue it with a new line segment where the other one stopped, and continue until I get back to where I started.Changing back to the normal pointer once the shape is complete allows you to then tinker with it a bit.The first task I do at this point is to send the Shape to the Back.I then change the colour using a transparency of 80%.and finish by rounding off the line corners.You can actually also use the same technique with the freehand drawing tool too.  Thanks to http://help.lockergnome.com/office2/Irregular-Shapes-Visio--ftopict803521.html for the tutorial steps.

Webstock – New Zealand’s Web Conference – Day 2

I had a great day at Webstock on Day 1 and below is my synopsis of Day 2, which was also excellent. If you get the opportunity to attend Webstock, do it. Some of the key themes from the conference can be summarised as:Build with love, use common reusable blocks, deploy quickly, deploy often, listen to explicit and implicit feedback from real users, understand what their needs are (not what they say they are), consider social and ethical impacts. Repeat.The Lean StartupEric Ries (@ericries)http://startuplessonslearned.com #leanstartupSlides can be found at http://www.slideshare.net/startuplessonslearned/2010-02-19-the-lean-startup-webstock-2010Why build a startup?Change the worldBuild an organisation of lasting valueMake customers' lives betterPivot: change directions but stay grounded in what you've launchedSpeed Wins: If we can reduce time between iterations we increase chance of success.In start-ups, it's all about the teamShadow Beliefs:We know what customers wantWe can…

Webstock – New Zealand’s Web Conference – Day 1

I had heard lots of great stuff about Webstock in previous years so decided to go along this year to experience it for myself. This is a very professional conference and has (mostly) excellent speakers covering a variety of Web related technologies.Here’s my synopsis of Day 1.OpeningMike Brown (@maupuia)You will fall in love with things that are made with loveWeb Design that grabs peopleScott Thomas (@simplescott) – Design Director for Obama's campaign Web and Print overlap in campaignDeliver clear and concise messaging, focussed on the “We” rather than the “He”Keep the message of hope while dismantling the notion of being aloofEstablish a consistency and balance to exemplify stability and experiencePersuading people was the mission of the home page therefore needed to be prominent, with localised informationSpend more time researching than designInformation architecture (inc. wireframes) is a key part of the design process but is often overlookedThe fold is deadRecording speeches…

Book Review of “Cloud Application Architectures”

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Cloud Application Architectures: Building Applications and Infrastructure in the Cloud” by George Reese is more of an Amazon EC2 and S3 user manual than covering Cloud Application Architecture in general.Having said that I did find that it still did have some good content although in many areas it was very high level.  Some diagrams were also missing from my copy.There was a good Cloud Computing and Amazon Web Services overview.  Cloud ROI, Monitoring & Management, and reiteration that Laws need to be considered were also covered, as were development implications, and in particular multiple-server transaction management.If you want an overview of Amazon Web Services, EC2 and S3 then this book may be right for you.

Simple Motel services that make a difference & St Ives Motel

We have been staying at the St Ives Motel in Hobart for the past few days and there are a number of small little touches that this basic but clean motel about 10 minutes walk from Salamanca Place has that would cause us to strongly consider returning.Broadband: Whilst the broadband is not free, it is very reasonable at 5 cents per MB download.  There is not wireless available, however there is an Internet connection point in our room and there is also a computer available for use down at reception (for no additional cost than the MB) and free printing.Mini Bar: Mini Bar’s are notorious for being ridiculously priced.  The prices here however are just what you would pay if you at the liquor shop, which is in fact right next door.Continental Breakfast: At AU$3 per person for a Continental Breakfast Pack that contains Bread for Toast, a spread for the Toast, a pack of Cereal and Milk, this is very well priced.Phone Calls: Local calls at 15 cents for the call, and International calls at 20…