Slow blogging week

Due to personal circumstances, it is going to be a slow blogging week for me as I've not been taking transit to work the past week and this trend will continue for another week or so. The one thing I do have to say is that it is pretty amazing to realize how much I miss those train rides to and from work. For me, that time is my personal down time where I get to use it to catch on things that interests me like reading my rss feeds and blogging. While I haven't had time to read, it doesn't mean that the week hasn't been eventful. Here are some of the very brief highlights for me.

We've actually been working on the iPhone application for a few months now and the code was actually ready probably in late November or so. What we had trouble with was getting approval for an account to publish under. Once we had that, we were good to go. The first iteration of the application is a simplified version of our web application and we have a tonne of ideas that we want to put on over time. For those of you who read this in Canada, please feel free to check out our application in the iPhone App Store.

I'll officially become an official employee of Zoocasa on Monday. For me personally, there are a lot of good things that are implied with this change for me and Zoocasa in general. Zoocasa is now no longer just an "idea" of Rogers but rather confirmation and commitment to the success of the project itself. It's full steam ahead now for us here. 

From a tech perspective, I played with the VMWare VCenter Converter tool. It proved to be a really nifty tool to convert physical machines to virtual machines. Most useful for Windows environments. I decided to convert one of my "dying" machines to convert. It took well over 5 hours to convert but when I turned it on in VMWare Server 2, it worked with minor tweaks to the system. 

Things I like about Twitter

I decided to write a very quick blog about how I use twitter because I've had quite a few people asking why I think Twitter is an interesting tool. So why not? I'm in need of material to write about anyway. Lately we've been experimenting with Twitter a lot more at work. If I were less mature, I would say Twitter is DA BOMB. But since I'm not, I won't ๐Ÿ˜‰ In all seriousness, Twitter is a very pragmatic technology because it is simple and it's really up to you as to how to use it. Twitter really has only three very basic functions – public messages, direct (private) messages and search. Every other thing about Twitter is by convention.

The cool thing about it is that conventions were sometimes created by the community. The most common conventions are of course @[username] to identify the person you are responding to in a public message and d [username] to send direct messages. Recently #[title] has been used to identify topics.

Keeping in touch
Back in the day, when Twitter and SMS still worked in Canada, it was a good way to keep in touch with my friends and my mum. Sending a twitter update was a quick way to let people generally know that I'm okay and what ridiculous thing I'm up to. It's a good way to share a story quickly and really just let people know you're there. People will respond from time to time. For my mum whom I don't call that often, it's a way of letting her know that I'm still alive. Usually most people start this way. Unfortunately, most of my friends are that sociable on the Internet and find it a waste of time. Losing SMS capability on the other hand makes it harder for me to keep in touch with folks who aren't on the internet all the time.

Wading into a community
Since my primary interests are both mobile and web networking, finding a community to observe was relatively easy. I follow the likes of Mike Arrington, Robert Scoble and Guy Kawasaki for that. I have to say that some of the most interesting conversations actually happen in Canada by observing Mark Evans and Matthew Ingram. Mark Evans also writes Twitterati which is a specific Twitter blog. For work, I try to follow Canadian Realtor primarily but will follow any Realtor in general. I participate in some non-realty conversations but in general find them interesting and useful. It even proved beneficial on at least one instance. Toronto Twitterers tend to be quite friendly and the community here is quite vibrant.

I found out that Ted Rogers passed away and confirmed it through Twitter by searching for Ted Rogers. Every once in a while, I like to do a search on #Rogers, #Bell or #Telus just to see how the industry is doing. Unfortunately, no one seems to have anything positive to say about any of the big Telecom giants in Canada. The search function is quite interesting and very buried. In fact, you have to know to find it at in order to use it. When you get there, it highlights the hot trending topics. Another means of research really is to just ask a question. I find it works best when you direct your question at someone though. For the most part, people tend to answer.

SMS blasting (Link Sharing)
I always think of Russell Peters in his Red, White and Brown DVD when I hear the term blasting. Quite hilarious. Sharing is a very big part of Twitter. Some of the most interesting things I've found out are from finding the information in Twitter. Usually I favourite them if I am reading them in transit so that I can view them again later. In order to reciprocate to the community, I usually try to share the things that I find interesting. My primary RSS consolidator is Newsgator and they have a clipping function. I then use Twitterfeed to integrate the clipping into Twitter. My link stats usually show around 10 to 11 clicks per link in general.

All in all, I think Twitter is an interesting tool. It's a good way to build community and learn new things.

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Tracking traffic through twitterfeed

I've been using twitterfeed as a means to broaden my scope of readers generally because I'm trying to generate more conversations with others about things that really interest me. The cool thing about using twitterfeed is that it is an easy way for me to quickly broadcast my blog entries and to top it off, it uses snipurl which is pretty handy. The reason why I like snipurl is that it allows me to claim my links and then provide me with information about the number of clicks and the number of unique clicks. However, because of the way it does a redirect, Google Analytics does not know how to identify the source. So I decided to suffix my URLs with tags to help me figure out where it's coming from.

The strategy was simple but the trick was trying to find a way to do this without generating new code for it. I tried looking around snipurl and twitterfeed to see if they had any means of accomplishing this. snipurl had a way of modifying your snipr link by tagging it which wasn't useful to me in this scenario and twitterfeed had the ability to prefix text like "Thinking about [blog entry topic]" but didn't have a way of suffixing a url. While in the room with my developers, someone mentioned Yahoo Pipes which I've heard of before, played with it a little bit and had very little success to it. I decided to give it a try. After a couple of hours, I have success. So I'm going to give it a go with this blog entry. Hopefully this will give me some more insight as to how effective twitter really is.

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Cheap is not free

I'm typically a big fan of TechCrunch and it is one of my two must-read blogs that I read every chance I get. The other is DownloadSquad but I have to say that this blog entry definitely missed the mark on the topic. I'm definitely a big fan of trying out different webmail services that are free just to compare them and have had many an email account purged over time but personally I don't have a problem with that in principal or in practice.

In principal, these companies make money through advertising and an inactive user is not any different from a deadbeat customer. Yes, while storage is indeed much cheaper than it was a few years ago. Cheap is still not the same as free. Any business has to be financially prudent as going out of business does no one any good. I think sometimes it's forgotten that the primary purpose of most companies is to make money. Usually by providing users with something useful or convenient that will by in some means generate money but it's still primarily to make money.

In practice, if I'm not using an email account at least once a month, it's really not that important to me anyway. I've got multiple accounts sometimes with the same provider but I access them at least once a month. I think most companies have pretty generous terms in terms of the activity requirement. Another thing to note too is that most of the major providers give you a means to back up your email via IMAP, POP or HTTP. There's no real excuse to having your email account not being backed up.

In general, I think this blog post was a bit off and looking at the general comments, it looks like most of the commenters agree with the sentiment.

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Evernote – Initial Review

Evernote Logo

I started to use Evernote a little bit more over the Christmas break. It touts itself as the tool for you to “Remember Everything” and it doesn’t do a bad job of it. What I like best about it is that it has the potential to be used everywhere. My particular use case is that I tend to start my thoughts on my Windows Mobile device while in transit on the subway and save it as I exit the subway. If I have the time, I like to dabble a little bit more at work on my Macbook during the work day before heading home and completing it on the subway again. Sometimes I have ideas that give me restless nights so I like to try to write it down before I doze off and forget them at all.

Since my mobile device of choice is Windows Mobile, I use the WinMo version the most. By default, there are multiple note types that can create – text note, ink note and audio note. You can also initiate a web clipping but I haven’t had the need yet. For the most part, I use the text note the most to start my blogs but last night I used an ink note to doodle an idea that I had. Worked well but I haven’t yet edited it. The thing that frustrates me most about Evernote is also the thing that I like most about Evernote. The concept of being able to write any notes and then sync them to a web site is brilliant. My frustration stems from the times when I have to use it and have no access to internet like when I’m in the subway. In this case, it doesn’t work consistently. Creating a new note offline works flawlessly. Saving a new note gives you an error but it still queues it up and then uploads the note when you’re back online. In order to edit a note, you have to be online to download the note and invoke the edit command even though you may have a previous copy of the file. Saving an edited note offline just causes you to lose the note.

The desktop versions are underwhelming in general. I can’t say that anything really stands out. The cool thing that I like about the Mac version of Evenote is that it has the ability to create an iSight note. However there are quite a few things missing with it. For one, I can’t email a note using Entourage. It only supports the default Mac Mail application and there is no ink support for Macs  yet. The Windows version feels a lot fuller than the Mac version. There’s the ability to do Saved Searches, gives me a quick preview of my monthly data usage and the ability to create and view ink notes. This is espcially important when my Windows notebook is a tablet PC :D. Having the web version is a nice option when I’m working on my Ubuntu desktop. I wish they also had a non-AJAX version of the site so it would work better on my Nokia N810. The formatting of the site on my N810 is just unworkable as I found out.
As I use it more, the couple of features that would make Evernote even more powerful as a product would be the ability to share my notes with someone. As I’m using it more, one of the nice thing about this would have been the ability to share it with another Evernote user to update it. Another feature that would be useful in the future is the ability to archive it. While I can tag it, I can see the long flow of notes being overwhelming and cumbersome and I typically like to keep my notes and not delete them. The product has some flaws still but the ability to synchronize it to a central place is still quite useful to me at the moment. The key question is that will the flaws overwhelm its features to make this a long term product viable product in the future.
Update: Evernote has failed me again. I’m no longer as gung-ho about Evernote as I was when I started out. I lost another blog entry that I so dilligently wrote in the subway this morning.

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Maturing web products

Lately I've been playing with more and more web applications like Newsgator, Evernote and Task2Gather. All of these products are good at what they do but no where to being the best products in their individual category. What sets them apart in my mind is the ability to be accessible through different platforms such as desktops, mobile devices and web. As the web continues to mature and "web 2.0-esque" products become capable stand-ins for desktop products combined with mobile devices that have both the computing capacity and network accessibility, the demand for products to be accessible at all times through multiple devices will increase. Another outcome of the evolution of this maturity is the ability to integrate with other web applications. An example of that is the integration of Remember The Milk with Google Mail for instance.

Google is by far the leader in the web platform space. From the point of productivity applications, there really is very little need for anyone to leave the Google domain. For most, Google Maps is the defacto map product. Google Docs is a decent product. I am more than happy to use the word processor and spreadsheet to do simple stuff on the web. People either love or hate GMail and there is nothing better than Google Reader on Firefox with Greasemonkey scripts running on it. Most of these apps also work with Google Gears making them capable desktop stand-ins. I thought it was a bit strange that Google didn't seem to invest that much effort into the mobile space. Outside of Maps, it's approach seemed minimal; limiting it's offerings to mobilized versions of their web sites or a litter of small and clunky Java applications that no one really wrote about. I hope things will change with the emergence of Android as I believe Android will give Google a devastating advantage to integrate into its already vast set of web services and APIs.

I am currently a heavy user of Newsgator and I've started to use Evernote a bit more. Having the ability to have my RSS feeds synchronized and bookmarked or "clipped" has made me a more productive reader. I also like the fact that I can publish my bookmarked articles to Twitter through an RSS feed. What impresses me most is how natural the flow is. I don't have to do anything extra to perform these steps. Another product that I'd like to see integrated across multiple platforms are something like

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Minor problems with Evernote

One of the problems of trying new technology is sometimes things fall apart in the attempt. I’ve been trying to use Evernote as the primary means of writing blog entries but I’ve run into some issues doing so. You can bet your money that Evernote is in one of my upcoming posts. Overall, a good product idea but with some minor issues partly because of how I use them. Hopefully I’ll have a chance to catch up over the next few days. I’d like to try to top the number of entries from December. From a non-blog perspective, we’re on a full court press at Zoocasa. We’ve got some big plans for Q1 2009. It’s so weird writing that year still.

Happy New Year

What better way to end the year than to spend New Year's eve in New York? So this is where we are this year. It's our second trip to NYC at this time of the year and New York is still so new to me even after being here four times in five years. We've been lucky so far. The weather was relatively warm for the first few days and today is the only day where we've had real winter weather. A snowy New York is simply beautiful. I will put up pics in the New Year some time.

2008 has been a year of constant changes. I changed roles in early 2008 to be less managerial and go back to be much more technical and eventually leaving the provincial government sector altogether to join a pseudo-start-up called "Zoocasa." The role is interesting in its own way and it's nice to be this close to technology again instead of being at the stratosphere level of design. The fun thing about this role is that its not hard to see the potential as an organization. There is so much opportunity for growth for everyone who is day-to-day on Zoocasa. The big question mark for me is whether we can align ourselves to be independently successful in 2009 and whether or not I can be influential in that change.

The things I am grateful for in 2008

  • Family – Nothing brings you closer to family then a crisis. My mum was diagnosed with uterine cancer this year but has since healed completely. Despite the scare, one of the best things about that was that I got to spend a lot of quality time with my brother during that period which I haven't in years.
  • Friends – I am very blessed to have good friends who often put me to shame with their thoughtfulness and generosity.
  • Last but not least, my wife who continues to be my best friend and supports me through all the ups and downs of life
The things I hope to do in 2009
  • Continue writing blogs consistently
  • Stabilize my home technology infrastructure. I'm hoping to do my final migration to only have physical VM Servers and replace all my other server functions with virtual machines or hardware appliances. Hopefully with this, I can start building applications instead of managing infrastructure
  • Remove my dependency on Microsoft for Server software. I am hoping to go with Open Source products with the majority of my server stuff. I will probably still have to maintain one copy of a server to continue to host this blog.
  • Launch one prototype of some kind. Hopefully this can be used a jump point for my other ideas that I want to build in the future.