The Fork at the end of this blog

2009/12/29

This is the fork at the end of this blog. What I mean is that that this is the last post on this blog: http://thinkwrap.wordpress.com/

I am not going away from the blogosphere. Quite the opposite – after playing with Twitter, Facebook, Wave and other social fashionable tools, I think I have now better grasp on what is the place and meaning of a blog versus the microblog or social site. This blog is going to be split into two independent blogs, one completely mine and one shared with my friends and coworkers.

Yes, after the merger of Thinknostic and Pentura earlier this year, we (meaning ThinkWrap Solutions) have now integrated, corporate blog that is way more than a single guy’s opinion. I am one of the contributors, meaning that you will find posts by myself but also by Nael, Milos, Mike and few more great and talented guys we are happy to have as part of the company. And more will certainly come. Oh, the URL – see http://blog.thinkwrap.com/.

The second life of this blog continues on my very own URL, http://miroadamy.com/. For my own convenience, I have exported everything written here and imported it back. It is also WordPress, hosted by same service, all I have added is custom domain redirect – of a domain I am holding since 2003 and never had really good use for it. So now I have.
As the URL suggests, it will be personal blog, still very technically oriented, but occasionally going into areas of I have been avoiding until now – being one of the “unofficial” Thinknostic blogs.

Therefore – if you have bookmarked this site, please change the bookmarks to here or here. Or both :-).

And – as one of my favorite Sci-Fi authors would put it: So long and thanks for all the fish …


Facebook domain type-in hack

2009/07/24

You know the drill: open browser, new tab, type ‘www.facebook.com’ and in moment you can see who of your online buddies is up to something interesting. This is exactly what I did. Only I did not end up in well known Facebook page, but on something really fishy:

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This is definitely NOT facebook. How come I ended up on ‘quiz.us’ site when I typed in http://www.facebook.com. Or did I ? Let’s do it again:

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Do you see the problem ? It is the URL. Unlike real http://www.facebook.com, it is http://www.facebok.com. Easy to overlook. Modern browsers make our life easier by suggesting domain named. And ‘facebok’ comes in alphabet before ‘facebook’. Which is more than enough to catch many lazy users, like myself.

These guys – quiz.us – were obviously not Facebook related and judging by their pages behaviour, their were up to no good.

After clicking on ‘Skip this offer’ it opened up another window, did several redirects and reloads.

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The new window tried really hard not to allowed to be closed easily. Annoying pop-ups, deliberate language to confuse OK and Cancel, more pop-ups.

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The “company” is registered in Florida, US, as the Who Is told, it is Named “Moniker Online Services” with technical contact ‘Moniker Privacy Services’. Not sure what they really are, but certainly what their pages tries to achieve is a disservice to anybody’s privacy.

Lesson learned: use trusted bookmarks, do not click on combo box suggestions.

At least not until there are so many kinds of filthy internet vermin around. Facebook atracts so many new users that are not very experienced in dirty tricks the spammers, phishers and hackers use. Spread the word and help your friends to avoid pages and companies in business of phishing and deception.


Forget me not, Web2.0 edition

2009/05/23

I stumbled upon this pretty nice little application or service – depends how you see it. It is called reQall (obviously would have been recall, but recall.com as every good domain is taken.

What it does is that allows you to set a reminder in the future to do something – at given time and date: buy X, call Y, do Z. Nothing to earth-shattering about that.

What is neat is the way how you do it. Actually, many ways:

1) old fashioned: use web site, enter reminder. Just type text and reQall will extract both activity (buy / call etc) as well as date and place it in appropriate category. And when time comes you will be notified: either via email, or via SMS or even by some of the IM services. Currently supported are Yahoo, Google Talk, Jabber and AIM.

2) modern: use iPhone app to type in reminder. Same goodies as wit web, only – unlike Web – you have the phone with you available quickly at the moment when you actually need to remember something.

3) modern AND cool: use the same iPhone app, and speak up to 30 second message. It will be converted to text and then analyzed same way as typed text. I am not sure whether it is automated translation or some poor fellas in third world country and listening and typing it in. The understanding is VERY good. It even handles non-native speakers of English with strong accents (like myself) with surprising success rate. I had occasionally some question marks indicating that Person’s name or local place was not understood. For this occasion, you can always listen to your own audio ;-)

You can also subscribe to daily jots that sums up your upcoming events.

Best of all: it is a free service. There is a pro version for $2.99 a month which adds some nice features. I am seriously considering to go for Pro just to make sure they can survive – as long as I find that I use  it more than 1-2 times a week, I am in.

Give it a try, it may be worth one small chai latte a month.


Book recommendation: Outliers by Malcolm Caldwell

2009/05/20

From the author that wrote Tipping point (on my reading list) as well as Blink – which I listened to but found rather controversial. I was very curious what will this one be about.

The book is about success and people that managed to achieve extraordinary results. It touches several topics, I will pick three of them that I found most interesting. It starts with interesting observation – if you look at the MONTH of the birth of junior NHL hockey players, you’ll discover that over 50% of them was born between January and April. Certainly not anything like normal distribution. The point is that cutoff-date for signing up children into hockey training in Canada is January 1st. At the age when this happens (5-6 years), kid born in January has significant physical and mental advantage against kid born in November or December. As result, the early born children perform better in their category, and as result they are more likely to make the selection between the talented and perspective. Those selected get much more opportunities to play and practice, which causes them being really better players than late born ones – a kind of self fulfilling prophecy. As result – if your kids are born after August, better reconsider the NHL dreams. If you believe what M.G. is saying, I mean.

This topic leads to the second big theme that made me think really deep – the 10’000 hours rule.  M.G. claims that in order to be really good at pretty much anything, you have to spend about 10000 hour practicing.  Among many examples he mentions Bill Joy and Bill Gates with their early years almost unlimited access to the computer, Beatles during their concerts in Germany and several others. If this is really true, it has quite serious implications for our profession.

The third is very interesting comparison about how differences between eastern and western agriculture – growing rice in rice paddies vs  western farms has implications on the work ethic and math skills of the population.

He also explores many other quite interesting subjects – the ethnic theory of plane crashes (exploring how “power distance” in particular cultures impacts the communication between captain of the aircraft and first officers), why are merger and acquisition law firms pretty much of the same ethnic origin and also claims that the US schools are basically OK, it’s the parents that do not do enough for their kids education.  Hmm.

To sum it up, it was good and interesting read. Certain parts could be shorter – sometimes it unnecessarily re-iterates the same message,  but it is certainly very intellectually stimulating and thought provoking book.
Although I am a bit skeptical with respect to some of his conclusions or input data – as we know, if we properly select data set it is easy to prove pretty much anything ;-), I am very glad I picked it – the point of view and approach presented is absolutely worth the time and money spent.

The destilled message of the book can a bit demotivating to those who believe that talent and hard work will always pay back: even if you have all the talent and put in all 10K hours, you still need to have that final ingredients of success – such as being born in January for NHL hockey player and a bit of luck. Also those who believe that the succesful people are just lucky or born with silverspoon may be disappointed that all that does not work without the really hard work and practice.

Unless you belong to one of the above groups – recommended. And if you do – you should definitely read it !


Lost in the social networks

2009/05/17

This is public answer to all who were asking why is my blog so badly neglected. Short answer is: It is because I am pretty active elsewhere and did not really find any additional time to allocate. If you are busy person, now you know, see ya later. If you are curious what elsewhere means, read on.

Last year and before, blogosphere and this blog was *only* part of the social networking space I was paying attention to. Since about 3-4 months I started to really pay attention to Facebook. I originally joined to find out what my son and couple of friends are up to and somehow I started to see value in this channel of communication. Recently, even my nephews and children of a very good friend that moved from Ottawa to Europe.  So Facebook became the “generation bridge” and channel for stuff out of workspace.

With iPhoto’09 excellent Web integration plugin it is so easy to share picture that I could not resists and uploaded couple of albums :-) – like this one.

About month ago, I fell for Twitter. I had account on Twitter for several months, but did not really get it. Actually I pretty much hated Twitter being to most discussed topic on Twit. It was actually one of our owns – Nael – that caused

me to reconsider, and I am glad I did.  Speaking of Nael – if you are interested in social networks from developer’s point of view, SEO and location based services, follow Nael on Twitter. He also runs very good blog.

Again, Twitter is excellent addition – it covers the niche that is too low level or too short lived to be Facebook Worthy. With clients like TweetDeck I can even update both Facebook and Twitter, if I decide to do so. Different people use it for different purposes, for me it is replacement for news and RSS, filtered by the people I have selected combined with (filtered) lifestream log of events and ideas.

For the stuff that is really work related, we have two additional social network and collaboration tools, that limited to the company employees. One is Yammer – a private version of Twitter with very nice UI. Second is Wiki – we use Atlassian’s excellent product Confluence. This is location for everything that is either client confidential, covered by NDA or has intellectual property value. As it happens, lots of information, e.g. related to ATG development goes through and ends up in these channels.

I have also reluctantly returned back to log on into MSN Messenger and Skype. I generally find them quite disruptive and leave them off unless I have a immediate need to communicate. Which I do. The project I am working on has contributors all over the place – Toronto, Halifax, Cape Breton, Ottawa – and MSN is the “bloodline” of the project communication.

So if you want to keep in touch, do not rely solely on blog. You can see me on Facebook (search for Miro Adamy). If somebody I never heard of sends me a friend request I often ignore it, but if you mention blog, I will not. Or you can follow me on Twitter – the nick is miroadamy. For that you do not even need permission :-).

The only way how to follow me on Yammer, you must join ThinkWrap Solutions :-). The good news is that we may be needing just somebody like you – there are couple of really interesting projects starting soon, and besides, we are always looking for great people. Send resume to careers at thinkwrap dot com and you will hear back from us.

Please note – no overseas or teleworking and no agencies – you must be legally able to work in Canada and live either in Ottawa or Toronto (Mississauga).


Microsoft Office 2008 vs NeoOffice vs iWorks’08

2009/04/28

I was happy user of the iWork Suite 08 since I moved to OS-X. It somehow better matches the way I am thinking and does much better job than Office to get me from idea to acceptable looking rendering of that idea in the form of document, spreadsheet or presentation.

In past two month I was involved much more interaction with the requirements, business analysis and project management part of the process. Which inevitably means much higher exposure to documents creation, collaboration and exchange. iWork gives you reasonably good compatibility with Office document formats, which means that you can easily import almost every Office document modify it and export it back so that Windows user will see almost all of your changes. Almost everything will be just fine. Unfortunately, almost is not the same as everything: it often breaks fine details of formatting, reviewer comments and does not really work for more complicated Excel spreadsheets. Especially those spreadsheets which project manager-ish people so love to create.

I tried to use OpenOffice/NeoOffice which suffers from the same malady. It spoils different set of features than iWorks, quite often works well, but it cannot be trusted. On top of that, it just does not feel right and is kinda ugly.

So I had to take a deep breath and installed Office 2008. After few weeks, here is my impression and very brief comparison of all three mentioned suites.

With Office 2008, I was not having very high expectations regarding user experience on Mac and I have to report that Microsoft did not disappoint. I indeed was not too great experience, starting with installation.

Office 2008 contains 4 products. I absolutely wanted Word and Excel, was not quite sure about Powerpoint (because Keynote is sooo much better),  and certainly had zero interest in Entourage and Microsoft Messenger.
Guess what: Microsoft installer, as many times before, knew better what I want and did not give me a chance.  All questions asked were related to what Microsoft needs to know (serial number), with little regard for users interest.  It also installed whole bunch of fonts, which I did not really want – but I guess to provide 100 % compatibility with Windows, it may be a good idea to include same set of fonts as Windows office has.

After installation, Office 2008 works reasonably well. Minor annoyance is start taking forever – I guess it is because (unlike under XP/Vista) OS-X does not preload shared components (and does not eat up memory just to make Office appear start snappier).  As soon as any Office application is running, I have occasionally seen weird behaviour when switching between windows (note lowercase ‘w’) and does not play nice with Spaces. Sometimes scrolling forgets to redraw screen in word and you have to minimize/restore to get back to readable text. And it is generally quite slow even on very fast and powerful machine.

With respect to the main motivation for getting Office – seamless document compatibility – that problem appears to be solved. So far I have not seen anything that would be distorted or deleted just because I touched the file on the Mac.  Only exception is Excel – Office 2008 does not support VBA macros, so your mileage with more advanced spreadsheets may vary.

Should I mark my experience with Office 2008 using school grades, it would be:
- installation: C
- user experience: B-
- compatibility with Windows Office: B+
- price/performance ratio: D
- overall: B-

For iWorks’08 it would be:
- installation: B (if I recall correctly, it was OK, but required installer).
- user experience: B+
- compatibility with Windows Office: C
- price/performance ratio: A-
- overall: B

For NeoOffice:
- installation: C-
- user experience: C-
- compatibility with Windows Office: C+
- price/performance ratio: A
- overall: C+

Recommendation:

If you are working on Mac as part of a team that collaborates using Office documents, you most likely need Office 2008. Unfortunately the only office package that comes very close to be compatible with Office 2003 and Office 2007 is Office 2008.

If you value user experience, aesthetics and are OK with mostly one-way conversions between Windows Office, you will find iWork provides excellent value and will make you feel at home. If you never have to exchange documents with Windows world, enjoy it – we all who have to do it daily are green with envy.

If you for economic or ideological reasons refuse to pay for software (or only for software made by certain companies ;-)) – or if you require compatibility with Linux based office, you have no other choice than NeoOffice or OpenOffice. The first one looks considerably better on OS-X – although still not quite right.


Almost perfect backup backup solution

2009/03/24

The double backup word in the title is not an oversight. If I would be talking about “almost perfect backup solution”, it would be Time Machine – which has proven, despite it’s minor annoyances (see this) to be very unobtrusive and functional. As long as you have Mac and Leopard, of course.

What I am talking about here is second level – an offsite backup, that you may need in case you house burns down, gets flooded or your computer with time machine disk gets stolen. I do not live in tornado valley, earthquake zone and crime rate around Westboro is fairly low even compared to low Canadian levels, but anyway.

The product in question is Backblaze and I am happy user since December last year. It is cloud based service, running on (I assume) Amazon S3 and unlike Time Machine it works for all you stuck in Windows world as well. Not available yet for all you brave explorers of multiple universes of Linux, but I guess you would not give up rsync anyway :-).
All you need to do is setup a very low profile client that runs in the background and uploads all that was changed. The initial backup can take few weeks, depending on the size of the hard disk.

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It backups almost everything, except system areas and few excluded file types – like DMG and VMDK (virtual machine volumes). You can define your own exclusions but you cannot  un-exclude the default exclusions.

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Backblaze has quite attractive pricing scheme: you pay $5 a month per computer and can backup as much as the pipes between your house and cloud allow you to push up. The price of one venti chai latte is in my books very much worth the good feeling.

When the disaster strikes and you need your files, you do not have to go the slow route and download multi-gigabytes of data. For reasonable fee, Backblaze will send you your data on DVD’s or even on USB disk. I hope I will never need that :-). For small recovery you can always access files using Web interface.

Because I am curious creature and like to understand how thing work, I was watching its progress for few weeks. Thanks to my curiosity I had several communications with backblaze technical support. I am happy to report that:
a) it exists ! (this is always the case with cloud companies )
b) it is very fast – I got back response in few hours, one day max
c) it is very competent and friendly. The person I communicated with knew the product at the deepest technical detail level.

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Last but not least: privacy and security. Many people are concerned about having their data anywhere except on the server in locked office. I trust strong encryption. In addition to using SSL for transfer, Backblaze gives you an option for aditional encryption on client side – before the data leaves your computer it is encrypted with the key only you know. This way you cannot download the data through Web unless you enter the key and not even Backblaze can read your data.

So why almost perfect ? There are few minor issues. I would certainly like to have more control (and better UI) for both monitoring and management of the files to be backed up. Either GUI client, or simple way to put a file inside directory that would work as .gitignore. Actualy, for a developer, it would make sense not to backup anything specified in .gitignore or .svnignore or .cvsignore files, because if something is not worth putting to source control, it is not worth backup up either.

Other are duplicate files: I have on my notebook subset of pictures, podcasts and music from home iMac. Those files are backup up and tranferred twice. With volume, this becomes an annoyance. Backblaze could based on SHA1 recognize the duplicate files within same account and offer option skip those already uploaded – same way how Git stores each blob only once.

Last issue (which is completely out of Backblaze’s control) is your bandwidth. Since I started, I am maxing out my 95 GB transfer limit with Rogers in third consecutive month. Here in Canada, 95GB is max you can get unless you  pay for business connection[1] (which is several times the price of “Extreme plus”). You have some control over the backup upload speed – you can “throttle” the speed and you can also manage schedule (to a limited extend). This may or may not impact you – depending on your bandwidth allocation and size of the data to back up.

All summed – definitely recommended.

Disclaimer: I am not anyhow affiliated to Backblaze product or company. Only reason for this blog is my personal, very positive experience with their product and user support, which I believe deserves to be shared.


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