Taking off


In few hours I am taking off for a quick trip overseas, which very likely means that I will be quiet – at least as far as blogging goes. Not that the place I am heading to is not wired enough – actually, the broadband penetration is surprisingly high. The real reason is that I will be moving around a lot and meeting lot of people, so the blog must wait (yes, I am taking the Mac with me – what have you expected …).

On the topic of flying: this is hilarious account of what would a fly attendant say if they would drink Veritaserum before the safety instruction speech :-). Quick quote:

Your life-jacket can be found under your seat, but please do not remove it now. In fact, do not bother to look for it at all. In the event of a landing on water, an unprecedented miracle will have occurred, because in the history of aviation the number of wide-bodied aircraft that have made successful landings on water is zero. This aircraft is equipped with inflatable slides that detach to form life rafts, not that it makes any difference. Please remove high-heeled shoes before using the slides. We might as well add that space helmets and anti-gravity belts should also be removed, since even to mention the use of the slides as rafts is to enter the realm of science fiction.”

You can enjoy the rest here

See you in two weeks, assumed that Lufthansa makes it to Munich and Bratislava in one piece. If not – Yan knows all the admin passwords for the servers as well :-).

Moved in …


I have been pretty quiet in last few days. The reason why was hinted here – we have finally a space. The project started on Monday and we were running around like crazy since Sunday. Started with moving in looots of boxes – 9 workstations, each with two 19″ LCD monitors plus three servers, network gears, cables etc – three full cars. Then came the unpacking and setting up, which took much longer time that I would ever have expected. But it went well – modulo few glitches – like missing DVI cables and only one disk in server that should have been RAID-ed …

The new workstations are *really* nice, dual core AMD’s with 2 GB RAM, dual DVI card with double monitors – fast like hell and very very quiet. RB Computing did an excellent job once again – thanks Rob, we’ll be back. I think that the people on the team like it too – as Vlad put it, “this is the first time in 6 years that I have better computer at work than at home”.

The location itself is pretty interesting. Building at 349 Terry Fox is full of startups, in various stages of development, financing or bankrupcy. All the time somebody is moving, walls are being built and torn down and you can find people at work after 1 AM. The place has it’s own atmosphere and spirit, maybe closer to university than to a corporate building … What is very good is parking – no more cruising around as at 555 Legget and waiting until sombody leaves. And of course view of a golf course. What is also perfect is that Tirestamp office is across the street – at 350 Terry Fox. It makes my life so much easier as I am involved in both projects …

While I was busy with getting things up, few nice things happens out there – like new IPods, especially the new Nano’s – I’ll wait if the issue with scratching are solved with the new surface and then get one for audiobooks. Also the iTV is very tempting with the price tag < $300, albeit the user interface looks a hell lot like Window Media Center. Is the similarity just an accident or (as Scobleizer thinks) did Apple for a change copied Microsoft ? Honestly – I do not really care. The iTV is a device that looks pretty good, offers very interesting features and if it is really quiet, I will buy one. The only confusing part is the name – why did Apple chose a name that is already taken ?

Quote of the day


Testing by itself does not improve software quality. Test results are an indicator of quality, but in and of themselves, they don’t improve it. Trying to improve software quality by increasing the amount of testing is like trying to lose weight by weighing yourself more often.

What you eat before you step onto the scale determines how much you will weigh, and the software development techniques you use determine how many errors testing will find. If you want to lose weight, don’t buy a new scale; change your diet. If you want to improve your software, don’t test more; develop better.

Steve McConnell

On Ottawa beduins – or – We want Starbucks with whiteboards !!


We will be moving into new office space soon. It is exciting time, stepping from working (mostly) at customer’s locations to own project office. Location is of course Kanata Business Park North, with nice view to a golf course. This location brings several changes against the office in downtown – some of them are great – such as 1) we have lot’s of space and 2) parking is not an issue – arrive any time, park as long as you wish. Some of them are not so great – selection of possible choices for lunch shrunk considerably (with very few in walking distance) and to get to closest Tim Hortons you have to drive (unless you are ready for 25 minute walk one way). In case you are wondering – we are keeping the office at Albert Street – it is managed by same company as the new place, so we are just scaling up.

Now what relation has all this with the title – and who are the beduins ? Moving into own office may look these days like swimming against the stream. More and more people seems to be going the other way – out of office, towards working in public places – typically coffee shops (preferably with wireless access). It is quite a movement, judging by the topics of the blogs like Coffee Places Are My Office Space, Public Space As Office Space, The Coffee House Office of the Future or Why pay for rent and coffee?.

Some consider this to be a sign of new wave of start-ups: The rise of the cafe start up, Coffee Shops are the New Garages, Forget garages coffee shops are where businesses get started or Web-based Apps plus Coffee Shop equals Start-up Company. The site Web Worker Daily is a virtual exchange board of tips and hints for the modern Bedouins – “geographically uprooted from office-space, always-connected through wifi- and mobile broadband connections, laptop-hauling, latte-sipping cyber-beduins”. You can see them anywhere where they find WiFi connection or at least a power outlet. Our move from working mostly out at various customer’s locations represents a sort of “de-beduinization” if you wish, settling down, putting down the roots 🙂

This coffee-office culture is very visible in California (judging by the bedu-bloggers geography), but I’ve already notice signs of the new wave happening in Ottawa – even before I found the blogs above. Just look around in Starbucks at Chapters and you will find several people having meetings and at least 2-3 notebook workers every time. And btw – did you notice how many of these notebooks are actually Macs ?

I like working in coffee shops and use them as “creative retreat” as often as possible. What is great is the smell of fresh coffee and proximity of large quantity of books. All together it creates very stimulating environment for creative thinking. But I am quite sceptical on idea of having Starbucks or other public place as primary working place – as many of the cyber-beduins attempt to accomplish. My two main objections are that you cannot really have quality business discusion or phone call in environment like that (because of noise and privacy issues) and complete lack of whiteboards in each of the mentioned coffee shops. As you know, one cannot do design of pretty much anything without proper square footage of whiteboard space – (sorry, all you UML design tools makers out there). Which is exactly why we are moving in rather than moving out.

I am aware of the issues that such project office brings (or at least I think I am) – as Greg Olsen puts it:

“… dealing with real estate leases, leased-lines, routers, VPNs, servers, workstations, firewalls, DMZs, UPSs, telephone systems, voicemail systems, email systems, web servers & website management software, accounting software, sales & marketing software, software development software, groupware, IT support staff, attorneys, and many other things – none of which were directly related to our core business …”

but I can hardly wait until it happens. See you soon at the 349 Terry Fox 😉

Working On-Line: More to word processors and spreadsheets


Bruce Byfield has interesting article in Linux.com featuring hands-on comparison of four on-line wordprocessors: specifically ajaxWrite, ThinkFree Online, Writely, and Zoho Writer. I do not 100% agree with all his conclusions, but it’s interesting and worth reading if you are exploring these tools. I am certainly staying with Writely, right now I am using it on daily basis. Combination of WriteRoom for off-line concepts and “thinking phase” of writing and Writely for on-line editing, adding links, etc fits ideally my needs.

Regarding spreadsheets, Excellery seems to be addressing the shared pain of all on-line spreadsheet – which is need for connectivity. They claim that you can work on-line or off-line and synchronize. Sounds pretty good – I’ll give it a try !

This article in Web Worker Daily talks about on-line spreadsheets as well as Forbes – which happens to nominate (my favorite) Google on-line spreadsheet to be the winner !

Good choice, guys !

Harddisks turns 50 on September 13th


It is hard to imagine – on September 13th it will be 50 years since IBM introduced the very first hard drive.

Since that time technology made quite a progress. Compare for yourself:

1956 – RAMAC drive

  • capacity: 5 Megabytes, built from fifty 24″ spinning disks
  • weight: about one ton
  • price: $250’000 / year (lease)
  • price per gigabyte: about fifty million dollars

2006 – typical harddrive

  • capacity: 500 GB
  • weight: < 1kg
  • price: ~ $300
  • price per gigabyte: about 60 cents

Amazing, isn’t it ?

See full article.

Internal: Free books to a good home :-)


Again, I need to make some space on a shelf and I simply cannot throw away a book … This time I have decided to reduce my Java bookshelf to allow new (mostly .NET books) come in. No, I am not abandoning Java – but for next 8-12 months I am very likely fully booked in .NET projects, and after that, it will be time to upgrage to new sets of books for Java 1.6 anyway …

If you are interested, send me an email. You can pick the books in one of our offices – either downtown or new one @ Terry Fox. Thinknostic  people have first chance to select, but this offer is not limited to Thinknosticker’s – so if you know me and have a friend who may be interested, feel free to fwd this email.

Same as last time, I will donate unclaimed books to Ottawa public library. I plan to get rid of it before September 18th, so we have about two weeks.

The list of the books is here.

Working On-Line: Excell-ent On-Line Spreadsheets


Continuing in Working On-Line Series – see previous post on word processors

Spreadsheet is after editing text probably second most important business application. Let’s explore what is out there for those of us, who do not want to install Microsoft Office or commit yourself to one particular platform. Most of the spreadsheet try to copy or emulate subset of the features of “de-facto” spreadsheet standard Microsoft Excel

Good starting points for search is (obviously) Google search for “on-line spreadsheet” and Wikipedia. The offer of Web based spreadsheet programs is surprisingly large. They differ in capabilities, but typically allow import and export of Excel spreadsheets and CSV files, entering formulas (with subset of Excel functions), text formating, some form of graph creation and most importantly – colaboration and shared viewing/editing of the spreadsheet. I tried accomplish two task with some of them: import my timesheet from XLS and edit it online and do shared editing of a spreadsheet. Here is quick summary of the features and personal experience working with them.

EditGrid offers very strong features, including:

  • Collaboration with real-time update (RTU)- see changes immediately when someone modifies your spreadsheet.
  • Full keyboard navigation.
  • 500+ functions
  • Automatic versioning
  • Import and export in all common formats (MS Excel, CSV, HTML, Gnumeric, Lotus, OpenOffice, …).
  • Permalinks for addressing your spreadsheets in different formats very easily.
  • Comprehensive access control. Share to user, share with password, share to everyone, you control!
  • Cross-browser. Fully supports IE 6.0+ and all Gecko-based Browsers (Mozilla, Firefox, …).

Personal experience with EditGrid: nice, polished but fairly heavy. I have got few times “script taking too long to finish” warning from Firefox, something that did not happen with most others.

iRow is another very powerful spreadsheet with excellent 2D/3D graph capabilities. The look and feel is very Excel-like, including the color theme of the spreadsheets. Among other features, worth mentioning are:

  • Dynamic web functions: stockprice, convert
  • Upload and save Excel,CSV and OpenOffice files
  • Reference cells in other spreadsheets
  • Draw bar/line/pie 2D/3D charts sample
  • Allow multiple people to view or edit the same spreadsheet
  • Automatically saves previous revisions
  • Display a spreadsheet on any web page
  • Generate HTML from spreadsheets
  • Cell merge and un-merge
  • Scroll-lock, hide rows or columns

See also developer’s blog and this review.

With iRow, unlike with others, I could not import my test spreadsheet – the formulas based on date calculation (date+1 as next date) which worked OK in Google, EditGrid and ZohoSheet – were marked as errors. There may be other way how to achieve same functionality, but this lack of compatibility with “standard” makes iRow less practical.

ZohoSheet (from makers of Zoho Virtual Office). Virtual Office is web based collaboration suite which contains applications like E-mail Client, Virtual storage for Documents, Personal and Group Calendar, Task Scheduler, Contacts Manager, Instant Messaging, Discussions board, etc. Zoho Virtual Office allows users to create multiple groups, and use all of these components within group. Independent applications ZohoWriter, ZohoSheet, ZohoShow (presenter), ZohoPlanner (task manager), ZohoChallenge (conducts on-line tests) and ZohoCreator (web page creation tool) are independent applications that complement the suite and make it full-fledge, platform and location independent office. Zoho makes also CRM which is of course not free application.

It looked very polished, I liked the long text overlap by default to next fields (same as excel) but I have received several time warning from Firefox that the script is taking too long – this never happened with the other’s (except EditGrid).

There are many more, which I did not try out, for example Numbler or spreadsheet with yummy title NumSum – (is it just me or do you also feel like chinese buffet ?). Thinkfree office is more than just online spreadsheet: it contains bundles together tools that allow to create documents and presentations and 1 GB of free online storage. See the tour of the features.

Secure Spreadsheet is targeting mostly business users. Its strenghts is multi-user environment and managing access rights of large user community. Unlike others, it is not free service and the plans start from ~ $10/usermonth.

Last but not least – Google Spreadsheet

Another gift from Google is an on-line application, launched some time ago. This is the one that I actually actively use. It has maybe not as huge palette of functions or as polished interface, but it works very well. Concurrent editing works perfectly – we use it with Gabo to avoid emailing XLS documents.

The main dvantage of the Google spreadsheet is – well – Google. Despite the less features than other, relatively spartanian UI, missing Safari support (<sniff/>) – the Web powerhouse behind it makes long term availability of Google spreadsheet best bet from all the services above.

The google spreadsheet is not perfect. For example, it does weird formatting of the Weekday(Arg) results. I did not find how to show the Mon, Tue etc as in Excel. It shows instead numbers – 001, 002 to 006 and for some weird reason, 031 for Sunday. Despite of these problems, I will likely stick with Google Spreadsheet. It is very convenient to have single login to access Gmail, Google Calendar which I use a lot as well as spreadsheet. Also the concept of “per-sheet” sharing suits good my needs. It is very likely that the application will evolve and enhance .
This is enough for this part. If you want more details, either see this feature comparison or try for yourself.

Note: This blog entry was written in Bridgehead Coffee on Richmod Road. Recommend. Nice place with comfortable seating, good coffee and organic cream / organic milk. And unlike Starbucks, Bridgehead really provides free wireless access. Nothing against Starbucks – I quite like the place and spend there a lot of time – but asking $7.50 for an hour of wireless access on top of $3.70 tazo chai is a shameless rip-off. Not mentioning that Bridghead looks like a company with strong ethical values and unlike Starbucks – they are Canadian company.