Sep 23 2010

Travel Tip

I recently completed my first big overseas trip as an adult. I had the opportunity to visit Japan in 2007, but this was a structured event with a large group. I learned the value of being able to use a cell phone abroad on my recent trip to Egypt and Germany.

I am an iPhone user from AT&T, so the good news is that I knew I would be able to get reception anywhere in the world with a GSM phone. The bad news is it still costs an arm and a leg to use the thing for calls, and even more for data!

In order to minimize my expense while abroad, but ensure that I retained connectivity I set up a 50 MB foreign data plan on my phone which gave me 50 MB of data anywhere in the world to use for the month that I was traveling. This was great for the occasional usage of Google Maps, or a quick check of email.

The key was to utilize the internet available at the hotels that we were staying in, the Skype application, and Google Voice to stay in touch. I altered all my voicemeail messages before I left to indicate that people should leave voicemails on my Google Voice number. Why? Because if they leave one there GV will transcribe the message and send me an email, thus eliminating the need for minutes.

The Skype app served the purpose of being able to call US numbers for free from any WiFi connection. The added benefit to this was I could call my actual cell number to see if anyone had left messages. This combination of email, Skype out, and Google Voice allowed me to stay as connected as I wanted to be while on vacation, and not worry about things back home because I could be available if required.

All in all I had a great trip, and although this straegy worked great, it paled in comparison to the rest of the vacation!


Feb 1 2010

iPhone Application UI Request

At my day job I spend most of my day working in Linux and Microsoft operating system environments. Coming from a background where my parents are both huge Apple supporters I miss the elegance of working in an Apple controlled operating system.

Courtesy http://www.allaboutapple.com/

Apple IIe

One of the ways that I get my Apple fix when using Windows 7 (which I very much enjoy), Windows XP (which I can do without) and Linux all day is by using my iPhone.

One of the applications for the iPhone which I have recently begun using is Tweetie2 [iTunes Link]by atebits. Tweetie2 is a Twitter client that I picked up after reading numerous positive reviews. I would like to use this blog post to publicise one of the great features of Tweetie2 and make a call to add the feature to as may apps with a similar  UI paradigm as possible.

The specific feature that I would like to praise/request is the way that Tweetie2 refreshes its Twitter timeline. As opposed to having a button somewhere on the periphery of the screen to refresh the stream a simple gesture is used. The gesture is a simple downward swipe when the timeline is scrolled all the way to the top. When you pull down far enough a panel showing information regarding the last time your Twitter timeline has been updated is shown. If you pull down far enough it locks in and performs an update of your timeline. If you do not pull down far enough the timeline simply slides back up and resets.

This feature is highly usable and I feel should be translated to other applications in the iPhone stack. Particularly, any application that uses a listing style that also receives fairly constant updates. Two applications come to mind immediately that could benefit from this.

First, Apple’s own Mail program. I find myself constantly trying to pull down on the screen to update my Gmail account. Currently this action displays the search box. I would prefer that the search box be replaced with the Tweetie2 update mechanism and the search button be moved to the bottom. Using this gesture just feels more intuitive to me.

The other application that could benefit from this refresh/reload mechanic is the ever popular Facebook application for the iPhone. Currently when you pull the list down to expose the top you get a button exposed which allows you to reload posts. Why force the user into an extra tap and not just dynamically reload based on how far down the user drags?

Feel free to let me know in the comments if there are other applications that could use this treatment or if I am completely off base.


Jan 15 2010

The Project Managed Cloud

Over the course of my career in consulting I have been on many different projects at many different clients. On a number of those projects I have been at least partially responsible for procuring and configuring much of the hardware that would be used over the life of the project. Most of the time, this setup involves a significant amount of planning and a lot of pain. The pain is typically caused by the time that it takes to procure hardware to use for simple tasks.

On a recent project, the team pushed for, and received, four bare metal servers. We were provided with licenses for VMware vSphere 4, operating systems, applications, and 500 GB of Network Attached Storage and allowed to perform the installation, setup, and administration of these four servers. The benefits that the project has seen from having individual control over this environment have been many fold.

Benefits

  • Standard time to acquire new hardware (even a virtual server) from the client ranges from weeks to months. With the self service model we can provide a new machine for the project in 30 minutes.
  • Having a flexible stack allowed the project team to quickly set up and perform proof of concept activities during early design. These proof of concepts involved integration components, security design, and application co-existence questions. Performing these POCs allowed project estimation to be refined and initial assumptions validated or disproved.
  • Ability to create virtual workstations with project level software installed. These workstations allowed the team to get a jump start on working with new design products while our client based on trial licenses from vendors. This helped speed the project development by giving developers a head start.

Downsides

  • Lack of support from the client organization. The client will not support the software or hardware outside of very basic issues regarding setup and network connectivity.
  • Requires at least partial dedication of a team resource to setup and manage the environment.
  • It is possible to have different versions and configurations of software than what is used in production. If documentation of these standards is unavailable the information can be hard to come by.

I will write more in future posts about this cloud, but needless to say it has been a huge success for our project and brought a lot of new ideas on environment management and virtualization to our client. All in all it was a win/win situation.


Jan 14 2010

Musings on Recent Events

I am working on the next few posts which relate to technology and the workplace, but there have been enough media stories that caught my attention this week that I just wanted to comment on a few of them.

  • Earthquake in Haiti – My thoughts and prayers go out to all of the people living in Haiti and their families around the world. The number of people dead, hurt, lost, and missing is just staggaring.
  • Mark McGwire – Big Mac took steroids. I wish I could say that I didn’t see that one coming. I fondly remember the Home Run races between McGwire and Sammy Sosa in 1998, but also remember being amazed at the change from early McGwire to Big Mac. I am happy to see that McGwire has finally come out and told his side of the story, but I don’t think that we neccesarily have all the details. I don’t think we will ever know everything about the era, but having this, possibly the largest drug related admission in MLB history, behind us will be good for baseball.
  • Leno vs. Conan – How bad can NBC screw up it’s late night lineup? Almost as bad as their Prime Time lineup apparantly. I am an unabashed Conan O’Brien fan, and have been for years. The only problem with Late Night was that growing up in the Eastern Standard Timezone the show was on Late! But that never stopped me from enjoying Conan’s unique brand of humor. To only give him seven months to transition that brand to wider audience an hour earlier (and torpedo him with the low rated Jay Leno Show). I apploaud Conan for taking the high road and pushing to keep the tradition of the Tonight Show alive, even as NBC tries to kill not only it, but Late Night. You can read the full text of Conan’s statement here.

Jan 11 2010

Welcome, to the real world…

With a line from one of my favorite movies, The Matrix, I welcome you to my blog.

Morpheus welcomes you.

I hope to use this blog to share my views and insights on any number of topics. I work day to day with great people who are doing great work in all facets of the technical architecture field. I hope to share the bits and pieces of that field that I discover with all of you.

I have a wide range of interests that you will be subject to but I look forward to entering the blogging community and (hopefully) adding some value to the internet.

Please check back for more in the coming days.