Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Best of the holidays to all!

As I go offline for the next few weeks on holidays, I'd like to wish all the readers of this blog, my family and friends both here in London and back home in Trinidad, the most festive of holidays and the greatest successes in the year to come.

Be safe this Christmas everyone, especially when on the road. The last thing the world needs is another drunk driving statistic.

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Non-tech - In Memory of My Mother

Although I've tried to keep the content technical or business related, I've decided to dedicate this one post in memory of my mother, who passed on November 2nd 2008 after having suffered complications from heart surgery in September this year (about the time of my last blog entry).

I've decided to post the eulogies written for her and given at her funeral on November 6th, both as my act of remembrance of her, and also as I could not be present for her 40th day Mass in Trinidad. Rest in peace Mom, you've brought up three strong sons, and even though you're gone, we'll always remember you and continue to aim to make you proud of us.

From my dad (read by my brother Kiran):
Simple, friendly, charitable, devoted, tolerant, humble, magnificent and caring. All packed into one. What a great person she was. Like a fresh blooming rose.
The 2nd of 9 children, Leela Dookeran, nee Bachan, was born on 21st June, 1949 to parents Roopnarine (Peter) and Pearl Bachan of Ramier Street, Morvant.
She attended Nelson Street Girls R.C. School, Chadee’s High School, Curepe and Revos Secretarial College, Curepe where she obtained certificates in typing, accounts and short-hand, going on to work as a typist at the Film Centre, St. James.
She attended the Morvant Catholic Church in 1969, and would pass in front of the Morvant Police Station, where her future husband Bertram was stationed as a young police Constable. Bertram would sometimes escort her to church and back home. Leela’s mother insisted that she bring her friend home on and not meet him on the streets.
On visiting her home Bertram observed a closely knit family atmosphere. The Hindu traditions were prominent. Her home was always neat and clean. Respect for her parents was of the highest degree and this was a house full of love amongst the brothers and sisters.
Leela would always be singing Indian movie songs which fascinated Bertram. He believed that Leela knew Hindi and felt that if she became his wife their children would learn Hindi and many of the Indian traditions. Little did he know that Leela knew only a few lines of the song and when later on in life he asked her about this she told him, “You never asked”
But by then it was too late. Leela and Bertram were already head over heels for each other.
Leela and Bertram got married at the Church of Assumption, Maraval on 12th September 1969, thirty-nine years ago. They lived initially at an apartment on 9th Street, Barataria.
On the 18th M ay, 1972, their first son Russi Preston was born. Leela treated him like a child would treat a doll. He was her joy and happiness. When Russi was three months old they moved to Hillsdale Crescent, Mount Hope, where they acquired a house. She was such a devoted mother to Russi; however she never neglected Bertram, whom she treated and adored as a god.
In August of 1970 Bertram was drafted into the Port-of-Spain C.I.D. as a Detective, a non-uniformed position, and Leela enjoyed selecting his clothes on a daily basis so that he would look outstanding in his appearance. She never let him wear the same clothes twice. Bertram worked odd hours, and no matter what time of the night he came home, Leela would get up and heat his food and make sure that he was comfortable. She cherished Bertram so much that he often had cause to remind her he married a wife and not a slave. Leela always called Bertram by his middle name, Lloyd. She felt that she alone would call him Lloyd and that was her special name for him.
On September 14th, 1979, her second son Nissan Reddi was born. Again Leela showered him with love and attention. By this time Bertram bought a Nissan dump truck and it was as though their new son Nissan brought a sort of luck to the family; things began to blossom.
Bertram had twelve months vacation and he drove his truck during this time. Leela would get up at 3:00am each weekday and prepare roti and alloo for him and he would leave home at 4:00am. She would then continue to prepare Russi for school and after dropping him off would go to the mini-hardware in Mount Hope and conduct sales and take orders. Little Nissan would be with her, and she somehow managed to successfully run the show, putting Nissan to sleep in a make-shift bed.
Leela always wanted a daughter. And so on 20th June, 1984, twelve years after Russi was born and five years after Nissan, Runcie Kiran came into this world. She was denied her girl child once again.
However Runcie became her pride and joy. Despite the numerous headaches he caused it appeared that he was her favourite. This only came to light where after her operation, she only responded when Runcie returned from North Carolina and spoke to her. It was only then she opened her eyes and smiled.
As her children grew up, Leela would get them to school in Port of Spain and get back to the business. It was only after two occasions of being robbed at gunpoint did she stop going to the mini-hardware. That was when Russi stepped in and became a pivotal point in the business.
As time went by and the recession’s effects were being felt, Leela began to make dress-up dolls, wedding cakes and also sew curtains to make ends meet. She even ran her own classes from home, teaching others the art of making soft furnishings and draperies.
She contributed tremendously to her home by being a wife, mother and bread winner. Bertram would often ask her to slow down but she would say she loved doing what she did and continued.
A couple of years ago Leela began following the Hindu faith and would celebrate Divali at her home. The neighbours looked forward to her sending Indian delicacies which she made herself, at Eid and Divali times.
On 14th October, 2003, Leela got the daughter she never had. Heidi Priya was born to Russi and Lisha. This added a new spirit to her life. Heidi would accompany her to the grocery and Leela loved to show her off. Often Leela would become jealous when Heidi would cling to her grandfather instead.
Earlier this year Leela found out that she would need triple bypass surgery. This was the beginning of the end. She was prepared to go through with it. She was so brave. Bertram was silently reluctant but gave his support.
By this time, each morning at 5 a.m. she would make coffee and both Bertram and herself would sit in the gallery and listen to the Hindu prayers, and identify birds which would greet the morning sunrise. Suddenly Leela started following Bertram around the house. She appeared to be getting scared and was clinging to her Lloyd, who at the time did not take notice.
On September 15th 2008 she underwent the surgery and immediately complications developed. Her blood pressure would not stabilise and she developed an infection which attacked her nervous system. She was diagnosed with Guillian-Barre Syndrome, a rare disease which destroys the nerve ends and paralyses the victim.
At around midday on October 13th 2008, thirty days after surgery, she looked Bertram in his eyes and with a smile and glow in her which reminded him of the days of early courtship she pouted her mouth in a kiss-like fashion. Bertram was so happy thinking the worst had passed but at 1:15am that said night he was called into the hospital to be told that she had a seizure. It took some 25 minutes to get her heart going again, and she lapsed into a coma at 7pm on October 14th 2008 from which she never recovered after twenty agonising days for her family.
At this stage we want to acknowledge the tremendous effort made by the Doctors, the Cuban, Filipino and local nurses of the Mount Hope ICU and HDU, in particular one Dr Zaid Khan who manually operated a bag pump for ten continuous hours to supply Leela with oxygen due to a staff shortage and the unavailability of a ventilator.
Leela, who Bertram affectionately called Mindy, did more than what was required of a wife and Bertram often took her for granted. Yet their love for each other lay deep within their hearts.
When things were tough she never complained, and a more devoted wife and mother no one will ever get.
She loved entertaining her sisters and her in-laws. It seemed as though she would show off her culinary talent on them. She would prepare Indian, Chinese and Creole dishes at the same sitting. She would insist that Bertram find cascadoo and shrimps whenever Nyla or Debra visited these shores. As such Bertram had to go all the way to Otaheite to purchase fresh shrimps and Felicity to get the blue crabs and cascadoo. His sisters always reminded him of the wonderful wife he had, telling him that they would not tolerate some of his behaviour and that she truly loved him.
During her illness they gave Bertram great support and would call each day to enquire about her condition.
Leela’s brother Anand and sisters Penny, Dolly and Vidia flew in from the USA and Canada to be with their sister. Tanty Mamim and Uncle Mano were like parents to her.
Over the past few years Leela was able to visit Great Lakes, Illinois where she proudly witnessed her son Runcie Kiran graduate in the U.S. Navy uniform as a Naval Corpsman attached to the U.S. Marines. She also visited Canada and several other places in the United States whilst Bertram stayed at home; holidays she richly deserved.
During their 39 years of marriage Leela weathered many a storm. She was committed to her family whilst ill advisors fell by the wayside. She was one of a kind. She was deeply loved by Bertram and her sons Russi, Nissan and Runcie Kiran.
Her determination to live for her family was evidenced by her stubborn fight to survive her bypass operation, performed on Monday 15th September 2008. After several near death calls she succumbed on Sunday 2nd November 2008, a total of fifty days later, the last twenty of which she was in a coma.
Leela, Pinky, Mingy, Mindy, Aunty, Mom, Grandma - whichever name you were called, we all love you so much.
We will always miss your tender caring ways and may God be with you and may you rest in peace.

From my Aunt Sandra:
Today, we are here to pay tribute to one of our own – Leela (also known to many of us as Pinky). She was a devoted wife to Bertram, a wonderful mother to her three children and granddaughter. A loving sister to her brothers and sisters, and a true friend to many.
Pinky, whom we know for her generous qualities, was a person who always put the needs of others before herself. She was always willing to give without you having to ask her for anything.
All of us who live abroad only had to say we needed something and she would send it no matter what trouble she had to go through to get it. Such a quality in a person was a shining example of her love for her family and her generosity as a rare individual.
I myself was fortunate to have had Pinky as my sister-in-law. She was the first sister of my husband who welcomed me into their family. I remembered the day that she invited me to dinner with her family (that was over 35 years ago). She accepted me into the family and the warmth that she extended to me after our first meeting remained with me up to this day– so true, that i am privileged to mention it to you today.
In the beginning, i said a “devoted” wife to Bertram. That adjective described her so aptly because i can recall her cooking the many dishes that Bertram loved (especially the fried chicken on a Saturday). All Bertram had to do was give her that special whistle of his and she was right there by his side to help him in anything that was required of her. Her children would attest to her loving kindness because of the many tasks she performed as any mother would. Whether it was driving them to a class or to take them to a friend’s house to hang out – she would do so without a complaint and she was always happy to oblige.
She has had to overcome many obstacles in her life but as a faithful believer, she faced every challenge with strength and dignity. She was never afraid to take a stand for something she believed in. Her faith kept her going.
Pinky, we will miss the many lovely dishes that you prepared with your hands, we will miss the bubbly laughter that you shared with your family, we will miss the true gem and shining star that you are. Deep in our hearts, all of our pleasant memories will be stored and reflected upon throughout the years to come and the joy that we have shared will continue to shine through. To all of our families and friends, don’t be sadden by Pinky’s passing - instead, be glad and rejoice that the lord found a purpose for Pinky and she has fulfilled his every wish as a wife, a mother, a grandmother, a sister, a friend and indeed a worthwhile contributor to society.
Bertram, Russi, Nissan and Kiran, be strong knowing that your wife and mother loved you very much and let her kindness, love and generosity reflect in everything that you continue to do. She has left you a legacy that no amount of money can buy.
On behalf of the Bachan family (all of her sisters and brothers – Radhika, Anand, Penny, Indar (deceased), Merle, Dolly, Vydia and Sunita) we would like to say thanks to everyone who has offered words of condolence and those who have been at our side to offer their support.
Thank you

From my aunt Nyla:
Today we come together to honor the life of one of our precious and loved family members, my sister-in-law, Leela Dookeran. I would like to say a few words on behalf of Bertram’s siblings, and in particular, his 3 youngest sisters. I am Bertram’s youngest sister, Nyla.

I never knew Bertram without there being Leela. I was too young to remember the individual Bertram. Bertram and Leela were an entity, a unit, throughout my life.

Leela came from a family of 7 girls and 2 boys, where the age spread of the siblings were as wide as Bertram’s own family of 9 girls and 2 boys. When Leela met Bertram, there was that very present knowledge that he had several sisters in his own age group, but that he also had 1 brother and 3 sisters who were much younger. When they got married, the younger group of us lived in Rio Claro; I remember their many visits to Rio Claro. It wasn’t too long after they were married that our father passed away. This led Bertram to take on the role of father-figure for the 4 youngest of us. This required a lot of time and resources from Bertram as he helped us in our journey to adulthood. Of course, this could not have been accomplished without great sacrifice on Leela’s part. Leela accepted that we were a big part of Bertram’s life, and supported him in his efforts to protect and guide us over the years.
When our sister, Indi, was 11 yrs old, she moved to Port-of-Spain to go to high school. She lived with Bertram and Leela for some time. Leela was always receptive of this arrangement, and helped to guide Indi as she went through those rough teenage years. She often referred to Indi as the daughter she never had; such was the bond that they shared.
Leela had a deep love for her immediate family as well. Her love for our brother, Bertram and for our nephews, Russi, Nissan and Kiran, was amazing. She treated our brother like a king. She took pride to prepare coffee every morning, and she and Bertram will start each day enjoying their cups of coffee together. She continued that practice until her last day at their home. Her children were her treasures and she worked hard to build a strong family unit. She adored her granddaughters as well. We remember her joy when she talked about how Priya’s name was chosen; she had suggested the name.
It’s been almost 20 years now since I left Trinidad, however, every year when I came home, there was always a grand welcome for me: Leela always cooked up a huge dinner for us all to enjoy. We spent many an evening enjoying her wonderful cooking and, most importantly, each other’s company. The dinners became even more extravagant when I brought home my boyfriend, now husband, Bill, to meet my family. Since he is not from this country, Bertram and Leela’s intention was to educate him about all things Trinidadian. One of my most memorable dishes was the curried cascadura and pigeon peas which was a must-have at our annual dinners. She would send Bertram out to scout the country to find this unique fish, and then cook it up in grand Trinidadian style, bringing this dish to life.
My sister, Debbie couldn’t be here today. However, as we worked to put this eulogy together, she shared a similar story about Leela welcoming her husband, Ron to Trinidad, preparing a great feast, which of course, included the now- Signature Cascadura. She remembers Leela gleefully explaining the legend of the Cascadura to Ron with a great chuckle.
Leela enjoyed cooking and baking. Over and over again, she used these talents to bring joy to others. One year we visited Trinidad during Bill’s birthday. We did not really let anyone know that it was Bill’s birthday. As usual, we headed over to Bertram and Leela’s for our annual visit. We had our grand dinner, and to our surprise, Leela had found out about Bill’s birthday the day before. Not only did she cook up this wonderful meal, but she had also baked him a birthday cake as a surprise. There is a very special place in his heart for her.
In times of crisis, Leela was always ready to help. As a family, we have gone through many ups and downs in life. My brother Bertram, his wife, Leela, and their boys have been a constant source of support throughout. There have been many sacrifices made by all of them for Bertram’s little sisters to grow up. Bertram and Leela’s home was a safe haven to pour our hearts out, to share our troubles. We found strong shoulders to lean on there, and continuous support throughout our lives. We will forever be thankful to Leela for being so supportive along this journey.
The times we have shared, the memories we have created, they would always be a part of us. Leela lived a full life. We celebrate and honor her life. The memory we will keep of Leela is of someone who gave so much of herself to her family and to others. We thank God for her having been such a significant part of our family, for being a supportive wife, a wonderful mother and an ever-thoughtful sister-in-law. We will miss her dearly.

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Selenium and VS 2008 - nice, but watch this pitfall

One major problem for me with building web applications has always been testing the presentation layer of such an application, that is, the part rendered in the web browser. This not only includes ensuring that when a user submits information or clicks on links on a page the expected behavior happens, but that it happens in all the popular browsers. Making the assumption that because it runs in one browser means it will run in all is one that has been thrown to the wind a long time ago. The quirky behaviors made famous by Internet Explorer and poor CSS implementation have assured us of that. Despite open standards and open specifications, somehow consistent browser behavior still remains a mystical holy grail for web developers and users alike.

These days the browser suite has grown to include not only IE and Firefox on the desktop, but Opera, Safari (for Mac and Windows) as well as the recently released Google Chrome. Added to this are the new market of browsers for mobile devices such as 3G phones and wi-fi enabled PDAs. Even game consoles such as the PS3 and Nintendo Wii have web browsing capabilities, and all of these behaviors may need to be tested depending on the market a web application targets.

Selenium is a suite of tools to automate web application testing across many platforms. A great introduction to the tool suite and its capabilities already exists on its website. This post is about one of its features that is of particular attraction to me as a professional .NET developer, that is the ability to generate C# code from a test recorded in Firefox using the Selenium IDE plugin.

Utilising Selenium Remote Control and running the Selenium server included in this the generated test code can then be integrated into a .NET project and run from within Visual Studio. This would seem simple, and in fact the online demo is correct in how simply it is to generate testing code, however once you move to the Visual Studio IDE issues can arise.

One major pitfall I hit was once I had written my tests and clicked the "Run Test" button the security error "The location of the file or directory '...\bin\debug\ThoughtWorks.Selenium.Core.dll' is not trusted." would pop up and prevent the test from running.

It took some researching, but it was finally explained by this MSDN post.

Firstly, to implement the .NET code generated for tests your .NET project will need to reference the ThoughtWorks.Selenium.Core.dll included in Selenium Remote Control zip file. When I unzipped the folder I placed it on my Windows desktop. This DLL is included in the folder contents precompiled and so was unzipped into the desktop folder as well, and together that created the issue.

In Windows Vista (at least, not sure about Windows XP), when you attempt to use a .DLL file that was not compiled locally but acquired from the Internet or other location, Vista marks the file as potentially unsafe once it is copied to your local machine anywhere under the "Users" folder (which includes the Desktop, Downloads and Documents folders) and prevents it from being executable. One must first right-click on the file from Windows Explorer, go to Properties and click "Unblock" in order for the file to be marked safe for execution from within the Visual Studio debugger.

The workaround to these types of issues (referencing precompiled DLLs) I've found has been to unzip such folders directly to the root of a drive (C: for instance), and the referencing of such DLLs does not produce the same issue since apparently the automatic blocking happens only to files placed inside the "Users" folder.

Hopefully this post will save new Selenium users some time and not discourage the initial excitement about such a powerful, yet simple to use, tool. As I continue using it hopefully I'll have some more tips and experiences to share.

Google Chrome - Superior Javascript execution claim by V8 is true so far

The latest tech buzz created by Google has been about its new open-source browser, Chrome. While browsing the very informative (and entertaining) release done via comic book, one of the features that is touted by this new browser is a superior Javascript execution engine called V8. Firefox users have so far been used to the SpiderMoney Javascript execution engine, one which Brendan's Roadmap Updates had announced will be replaced in Firefox 3.1 with the TraceMonkey Javascript execution engine.
While the latest post on Brendan's Roadmap Updates shows that TraceMonkey is superior to V8 using the SunSpider Javascript Benchmark, I decided to run my own tests on my desktop using several other browsers I had installed on my desktop. The following link is my tabulated results from Sunspider's page, which show Google Chrome does significantly better than Mozilla Firefox 3.0.1, Microsoft Internet Explorer 7, Apple Safari for Windows 3.1.2 and Opera 9.52 in all but 5 categories of tests (Firefox wins in 4, and surprisingly Safari for Windows wins one).
Note: My actual technical knowledge of what each test does is limited, however the general rule of thumb is that the shorter the execution time is the better the performance.
Update: The converted Excel table won't display properly in Blogger because of the style used, however I have posted the results here for viewing. Enjoy!

Saturday, 16 August 2008

Congratulations to Trinidad's Richard Thompson - Olympic 100m silver medallist

My congratulations to Richard Thompson on his silver medal in the Olympics 100m Men's race. He and fellow Trinidadian Marc Burns have done my homeland of Trinidad and Tobago most proud with their efforts. The fact that the winner, Usain Bolt, was Jamaican is testament enough to the ability Caribbean athletes have to compete at world class levels in sports. I was lucky enough to be in Trafalgar Square in London watching the race on the big screen there. I've linked the BBC's coverage of the race as well as embeded my own video of Richard Thompson on Trafalgar Square's big screen for those interested in seeing this historic event.
Go Team Trinidad and Tobago!!


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Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Experiences with Google Technology Part 2 - Business Professional Track - Gmail


My initial experiences in a business professional role with Google technology beyond the search engine started with Gmail. Gmail started as Google's free web mail service and has been incorporated into its Google Apps suite, although you can still sign up for a free email account alone if you want. It set the standard for near-unlimited mailbox space among its competitors, and its easy to use interface, many intuitive features and powerful search capabilities made it a viral hit for many web users. In fact, Gmail set the pace for all other popular mail providers such as AOL, Hotmail and Yahoo to start AJAX-ifying their own interfaces in order to produce better user experiences.

One cool feature I liked about GMail was the ability to insert periods (.) anywhere within your email address to create separate "virtual" email addresses. Thus, for business purposes, I gave my email address as nissan (dot) dookeran (at) gmail (dot) com, but for mailing list subscriptions or sites which required me to sign up with an email address I would use nissandookeran (at) gmail (dot) com. This way I could easily use Gmail's filters to tag the business emails with their own label and prioritise them over less important emails.
Using labels rather than creating folders as destinations for filtered emails is definitely a different, but still very useful, approach to sorting volumes of emails. With 3GB and counting of available email space, there's definitely need for these types of innovations to keep things manageable.

Contact management is also quite simple with Gmail. Basically any email to which a "Reply-To" link is clicked automatically adds that email address to your contacts database. Now this initially was quite useful to me for creating quick coworker, client and mailing list emails. Eventually though the contacts database became a bit polluted, as one-time reply to addresses, such as mailing list subscription and unsubscription addresses, became automatically added into My Contacts as well. Google has recently produced a solution to this issue, deciding to auto-add addresses to a "Suggested Contacts" list from which a contact can then be moved into the My Contacts section manually, with the address being automatically added to your contacts database if you've sent email to the "suggested contact" five or more times.

Spam is virtually non-existent, as Gmail's powerful spam-filtering capabilities have in my experience only allowed at most one or two emails per month through their strong protective barrier. Compared to the hundreds of email per month I receive, and with hundreds of spam messages being caught automatically, this is quite good enough for me compared to my past horrendous experiences with Microsoft Outlook's Junk Mail feature. Google's recent acquisition of Postini has only served to strengthen its ability to produce higher grades of security in its Google Apps products.

Two useful sites I have found for maximising Gmail and becoming a power user are the official Gmail blog and the Gmail Google Group. Occasional checks on the Gmail blog reveal the new and upcoming features and by using the Gmail Google Group any technical difficulties not explained by FAQs or the help itself can often be answered quite easily.

One thing that Gmail still misses though is an offline/desktop client. The Google Gears technology makes one likely to be in the making, and the rumours are already there about it, but to date there hasn't been any beta produced (or even confirmation a beta version is in the works). Most folks would have no problem with web-based email given the superb nature of the Gmail interface, but there are two types of users who still require this. The die-hard Outlook users among us, and those who are on severely limited Internet connections such as dial-up and need to make web pages load as fast as possible as often as possible.
In fairness, the second type of user does have the option of disabling the AJAX features of Gmail and using a Basic HTML view, but this limits the user experience tremendously and being one of the second type, I found this option not very appealing.

I personally have chosen to move back to Microsoft Outlook as my email client of choice until my Internet scenario changes, but thankfully I've found the experience quite useful at learning just how much Gmail's creators have catered for a varying audience. Setting up Outlook to receive my Gmail content was quite simple as Gmail provides IMAP/SMTP settings or POP3/SMTP settings to allow receiving and sending emails through any mail client.
Google even surprised me when I saw that email that is sent from Outlook via my Gmail account gets logged into my Sent Items on my Gmail web interface, removing any concerns I had about future synchronisation problems.

While this is by no means an exhaustive list of features, and I have purposefully left out mentioning features such as Calendar synchronisation with Outlook and Chat integration in Gmail's web interface for future posts where I write specifically on GCal and Google Talk, I hope that this post is sufficiently enticing and filled with enough links to get the non-Gmail user (if they still exist) trying out this excellent free tool, and that it will also get current Gmail users experimenting and becoming power users in their own right.
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Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Experiences with Google Technology Part 1 - The Plan

Google Inc.Image via Wikipedia
I've always been a fan of Google and its innovative applications suite. Despite not having a funky name like the Microsoft Office System, the Google products out there today do form a cohesive structure of applications which can support the technical needs of any business or developer. This series attempts to take a look at my experiences with Google technology, both from the business professional perspective and the developer's perspective.
As such the tracks would be as follows:

1. Business Professional Track - focusing on Google Apps. These include details of my real world experiences using Google Docs (Writely, Spreadsheet, Presently), GmailGoogle Talk and GCal. I also mention Google Gears and how it brings the realm of web applications to the offline world making life much easier for mobile-but-offline folks like myself to keep productive.

2. Developer Track - focusing on my experiences building custom portals using devices such as the Google Mini as well as my recent adventures with programming tools such as Google Web Toolkit and Google Android and the recently launched Google App Engine.
A talk about Google APIs and initiatives such as OpenSocial would also be included here as well as links to learning resources such as Google Developer Day videos available on YouTube .

3. Hacker's Track - here it's strictly about how I have fun using Google tools. I talk about my experience with Blogger, their blogging tool, Picasa, their image sharing tool, Google Desktop, their desktop search tool and YouTube, their video sharing tool. Since I am in the process of moving I'll show the usefulness of Google Maps for getting one's bearings in a strange new location. I'll also look at how I manage my RSS subscriptions using Google Reader as well as fun enhancements I use in Firefox to maximise the experiences with some of these tools. I'll take a look at Google Labs and funky projects like Knol which let you write "expert" articles about practically anything. Finally, in a serious-but-fun moment I'll look at how i use Google Analytics to monitor how popular my blog posts are and gather feedback about what sort of topics I blog about are more popular than others.

My initial disclaimer is that this is by no means an exhaustive list of Google's applications. It's just a subset of the ones I've used and the personal experiences I've had with them. The plan is to create an intense but fun series of articles that other folks can look to as a guide for getting started. I hope I can do the guys at Google justice with my take on their tools.
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Saturday, 5 July 2008

Building a one page resume

So my time at Teleios has ended. It was a decent place to work, with many memorable folks and events, but at the end of the day life threw me a curveball which I chose to catch by moving out of traffic-centric Port-of-Spain and working from home for at least the next month or so. The upside is that I now have much more free time on my hand while I build a business pipeline and seek new opportunities for private jobs to sustain my income. One of the pet projects I had on my plate, which seemed appropriate to start with as I am now technically unemployed, was the "one-page resume."The idea of a one-page resume is not a new one. Sadly in Trinidad, it may be new since the inexperienced new graduate or recently working individual feels that a resume of several pages in length trumps that of a shorter length. In reality though, brevity can be a key component to whether you're put at the top of the pile for callbacks or whether you're lost in the sea of other candidates' resumes. I once had the task of "short-listing" the fifty odd resumes of recent university graduates to a list of no more than 20 for initial phone screenings, the first step in the hiring process at my previous employer, Medullan. Each resume had at least a two page length, with some being stretched to as much as five pages. Needless to say, it was very monotonous, and slightly headache-inducing, extracting the information from each resume needed to make a fair evaluation of the candidate to determine whether he or she fit the criteria for short listing, especially when superfluous information such as extensive details of course contents from irrelevant but standard university courses were included as an obvious attempt to make a lengthier read.In my interest to be fair, I ensured I read all the resumes, every detail, since I remember too well what it was like to be inexperienced and could forgive such mistakes in the interest of giving these faceless folks a fair evaluation. Another individual with such a task, with perhaps as many as two-hundred or more such resumes, might not. The five page resume filled with multiple suitable references to qualifications and job experiences in line with the position may find itself at the bottom of the pile, last to be read if read at all, simply because it would take too long to be evaluated fairly when compared to the much shorter two to three page resumes other, maybe less suitable, candidates might have put forward.Consider now if this bypassed candidate's resume was condensed to its smallest possible size, one page, and that its content, although brief, contained the necessary details for a fair evaluation to be made at a glance. The likelihood of this resume being read in its entirety when placed in a stack of two hundred lengthier but similar documents has now drastically gone up. Additionally, if written well enough, "hooks" can be planted into the wording of the details in this one page that make for the opening of your "selling strategy" when the actual interview happens. Experienced candidates know that the resume is an advertisement of yourself, an invitation to a recruiter to get to know you better as a potential suitable candidate for an opening. Having purposefully included starting points for exploration (or hooks) throughout your resume are key to allowing you, as a candidate, to direct an interview in a direction where you can demonstrate your strongest qualities and "sell" yourself as the best candidate for the job at hand.One person whose attempt at a one-page resume I highly like is Kevin Fox. His resume is freely available as a PDF file to download, and it is his layout that I have copied in my attempt to create my own personal one-page resume. One cannot create one's own one page resume by simply copying the structure used by Kevin though. Alone it is not the crux of things. The key to his resume is how subtlely his hooks are placed. The one page of details about Kevin is laced with sell points, from his experience with Gmail building, to his working with Apple as a client, to his interest in "Viral workflows". Not a keyword placed is wasted, for I am sure behind each keyword he has placed, there is a strong story demonstrating key attributes about him and his abilities.So now my challenge, which would be the same as all who seek to create a one-page resume, is to condense in a similar fashion my current three page resume into one page, ensuring I include the essential details that, at a glance, will make me an ideal candidate for any future software developer position I wish to apply for. At the same time, I also need to include the "hooks" in the content that can lead to sharing the stories with a future recruiter in an interview. These stories would demonstrate me as not just a strong developer, but a strong leader and team-player with a passion for using technology to create new systems, make existing systems work better, and finally sharing those stories with others as a means of advocating what works with others and gathering feedback to making my own processes better. In the end, I hope, this one page would help me more be the guy getting made the offer for a terrific job, and less the guy whose resume was at the bottom of the pile, passed over because its three pages couldn't stand out in the sea of similar candidates. Update: Please feel free to take a look at my first-cut at a one page resume.

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

On Open Source and Business Ventures

A question was posted recently to the TTLUG mailing list expressing the opinion that venture capitalists locally would never invest in a business which focused on utilising Free and Open Source Software, more commonly known in TTLUG circles as FOSS, because it was such a risky venture (in the writer's eyes). The following is my response to that post, which I thought I'd share with fellow bloggers.

Sell it as risky and no one will buy.
The focus of any new business should never be "to be FOSS based" or even alternatively "to be closed source based". If one wants to focus on the promotion of FOSS in a business venture, then it should be a business venture for which FOSS is the business-sensible solution.

Building a business just to use FOSS would be the equivalent of selling doubles (a cheap, tasty and popular Trinidian food) just because there happened to be a free corner spot in Curepe (a local densely populated town in Trinidad where doubles is popularly sold). It is doomed to failure unless there are other credible business factors to justify it.

In the case of my "doubles scenario", one of these food vendors I know who successfully made a move from the popular location in Curepe where doubles is sold to a less popular location got it to work because there also existed a bar in his new location to serve as a population centre for attracting new customers. The reputation of the vendor lended itself to helping his move succeed as once word got around as to his new location, loyal customers sought him out still dispite the less convenient location.

Similarly, new "FOSS-based" business ventures need other credible business factors to justify their coming into existence. Support from a major market sector/niche to satisfy a need not being met currently by alternate software vendors/solution providers could be a strong mitigating factor. When I started my first small business several years ago, not only could I not afford it, but my target market, the small business in Trinidad looking to now implement IT solutions, could also not afford the "costly-to-license" Microsoft software. This is why I chose to implement solutions based around the use of Open Office instead of Microsoft Office for solutions requiring no custom software to be built and building customised solutions using LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP) or FOSS built on LAMP.

The co-branding of a new venture with the "good name" of a well known vendor, such as IBM or HP or another major vendor who is known to proport open-source solutions could also help significantly. In the case of my first small business it was this, among other reasons, I believe that was a contributing factor to its failing, since the "branding" I had as a small business working only for other small businesses did not grow sufficiently for a sustainable new business pipeline (and thus income) to be maintained.

It is an excellent idea to want to promote FOSS through a business venture. But it is a terrible idea to simply start a "FOSS-based" business for want of having one. There must be, at the end of the day, strong, correlating business reasons to do so as well, if one is to make such a venture sustainable and profitable.

Monday, 16 June 2008

Comparing IT salaries across borders

An email was forwarded to me recently about a Trinidadian living abroad who was looking for a current salary survey for IT workers in Trinidad.
Having lived or worked in 2 countries outside of Trinidad for extensive periods (Barbados and the US), my first advice to this person was that a salary survey is not what one would need to make the decision of whether or not to work in a country.
Rather one should be looking for salary surveys as only one part in a "salaries vs standard of living" survey.

One may ask why does one need to know the standard of living if the salary is at least high enough to be comparable to what one currently earns in the country that one is presently resident, and at best some factorial higher than one's present salary. Here are several observations that may indicate why after they are duly considered.

1. A Trinidad based IT worker makes more than an Indian based IT worker, but not as much as a US/UK based IT worker if all typical annual salaries are equated to a USD dollar annual figure. For Trinidad I will exclude the Oil/Gas sector jobs as well as Government jobs, as I believe both of these are overinflated and eventually will collapse to normal market rates given sufficient time and pressure, especially from lower-priced global competitors.

2. As time goes by and competition through globalisation and offshoring/outsourcing initiatives heats up more from countries like China and India in IT industries, the salaries of those in that industry will tend to move more towards the India side of the scale rather than the US/UK side (unless Government intervenes to set local labour prices in some way, or Trinidad can offer something that proves a better incentive to India/China labour and negates the cost-per-person advantage Indian/China has).

3. An Indian IT worker, as an entry level graduate, makes a salary that is considered middle class income in that he can pay a mortgage, be married and support a family comfortably with that income. By contrast, Trinidad's entry level Computer Science graduates can barely afford to make monthly expenses at the salary one expects to get if not working inside the Oil or Gov't industries (if one rents and is not living with one's parents).

4. Given recent local inflation woes and the outlook that they will not subside anytime soon, Trinidad's cost of living is tending more towards the US side of the scale, even though Trinidad IT workers' salaries are expected to tend more towards the India side of the scale over time. This paradoxical movement would thus put an IT worker in Trinidad into a "lower middle class" level of living, vs a US worker who typically enjoys a "standard middle class" level of living, or an Indian IT worker who enjoys an "mid-to-upper middle class" level of living.

It doesn't really look like that much of a bold new world if one wants to work in Trinidad's IT sector and hope to live comfortably in the long run. This is, I believe, unless one is looking to start a business inside the IT industry that targets taking advantage of the wave of globalisation efforts currently happening worldwide.
Given sufficient incentives (from Government or outside venture capital investors to promote such initiatives) I'd say that this is one outlet I believe possesses the best option for local IT workers to make decent and sustainable incomes in the future and which can help in transitioning Trinidad from an "oil-driven" economy to a "services-driven" economy.

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

From Stacey Blackman Consultancy's latest blog posting:
“Do or do not. There is no try.”- Yoda...
...
Trying makes Yoda sad. Please be kind.

Even though he’s tiny, wrinkly and green, Yoda’s got feelings too. When you “try”, you shove Yoda’s priceless Jedi wisdom back in his face. Sources tell me his feelings get so hurt that he sits on the couch and eats an entire pint of Ben & Jerry’s Mint Cookie Chip ice cream. In case you didn’t know, Yoda is lactose intolerant. It’s not a happy evening for him. So if none of the other reasons are compelling enough for you, please stop “trying” for Yoda’s sake. OK :)?

Remember, the first step in any transformation is awareness. The fastest way to stop “trying” is start noticing all the ways you do! Then it becomes easy to shift out of “try” and into powerful action."

So funny, yet still so true!

Monday, 12 May 2008

Tip: Using SQL Server 2005 Stored Procedure to return the Top N records

I had a problem today where I tried to make a stored procedure to return the top N records from a table, where N was a parameter input to the stored procedure.
Apparently you can't say 'SELECT TOP @N..." where @N is the parameter.
A quick search led me to this article by 4GuysFromRolla which re-introduced me to the ROWCOUNT statement and showed how to use it most effectively in this case by saying 'SET ROWCOUNT @N" and then calling my SELECT statement to achieve the same effect.

The initial alternative a friend recommended was to dynamically build the SQL statement using @N as a parameter in the string being built and then calling EXEC on it, however dynamic SQL is something I was taught to stay away from unless absolutely necessary. This is because by its nature dynamically generated SQL would not have benefitted from SQL Server's built in query optimizer when the stored procedure's code was compiled and thus would run slower than fully declared SQL statements and stored procedures every single time it was called.

Saturday, 3 May 2008

On Lisa's Leaving


Lisa De Coteau is one of the most famous and well loved folks in Teleios. One of the core team members there, Lisa's been in it since the early days of the company when the offices were non-existent and coding happened in the house of one of the founders. Lisa left the company this week, her new husband anxiously awaiting her return to Washington D.C. for them to start their new life together. We at Teleios were each asked to give one word to describe Lisa, and having known her impact on me in the short time I knew her, and her impact on Teleios on the whole, I had to say my word for her, "inspiring," was justified in every sense. Here's my short plug on why.

I am not much for having heroes. Real-life heroes are, after all, only human. They can, and often will, fail one's rigorous vision of super-human perfection with one very human mistake. I do believe however, that there are people out there who through their very nature and cognisant effort to be the best they can be and to bring others with them for the ride, become great. If one is lucky, one builds a relationship with that person to the point where they become a mentor to oneself in one's own path to being a great person. That is Lisa in a nutshell. A great person who inspires others to be great people themselves. I have not been at Teleios long enough to have reached the mentor/mentee relationship with her, but I have been there long enough to see what great people those she has mentored are on the way to becoming.

From the history I've gathered, Lisa came to Teleios when it was very new as a company, and instilled in the initial founders an energy of passion and a drive to acheive a sustainable work culture that persists to this day. Without knowing it, (or deliberately knowing it, I never got to ask her), Lisa brought the core culture into Teleios and stuck to a major rule of Jim Collin's Built To Last as the company grew: ("Preserve the core, Stimulate Progress") by pushing the founders to understand, accept, and integrate a "well-balanced employee" concept where all managers gained an appreciation for time needed for personal lives of employees in addition to the time demanded for work.

Given enough time and research to prove the idea right I would venture to say that Lisa ensured that Teleios was "built to last" by promoting many of the core ideas of the well known book before the book was even written and the ideas articulated so clearly. Her driven yet unassuming nature, her willingness to sacrifice, to grow and to learn from feedback of others, to introspect honestly to improve herself and to inspire others along the way to strive to reach their fullest potential would have me thinking she also demonstrated a shining example of "Level 5 leadership", which according to Jim Collin's second book, "Good to Great" is a necessary component for any company to make the leap from good to great.

In honesty, Teleios has lost a valuable teammate, mentor and friend with Lisa's move, but as a true Level 5 leader she has ensured that despite her absence the culture and values she promoted and enshrined in the institution that is Teleios continue to live on. My fondest best wishes to you Lisa, may you in your new life inspire in Washington at least as many people as you have in little old Trinidad. Au revoir!

Thursday, 1 May 2008

Today is RSS Awareness Day

RSS Awareness Day

No, really it's true...Check out the RSS day homepage for more info on RSS, what it is, and how it can make your Internet experience a whole lot more fun.


I was made aware of this by the article on the Common Crafts blog who was pointed to it by DailyBlogTips.

To celebrate I've also integrated the "RSS in Plain English" video created by the Common Crafts folks and also available on their website.

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

I had one blog...now two?


I started a new blog today. I thought I would simply add it to the current Redditech blog of topics but realised that trying to get into graduate school to pursue an MBA is an entirely different aspect from this blog's focus of distilling technology and creativity and thus a different audience. It made sense to have a separate blog for these experiences to be shared.

I wanted to share this continually growing chapter of my life with the online community, firstly for myself as a way to judge a year or so from now how well I did at acheiving a set goal, and secondly to give back to future MBA hopefuls something useful, in the same way others have been assisting me with their words of advice throughout their MBA experiences. As far as I know I am the only Trinidadian who has started a blog on MBA application experiences. I would welcome being corrected on this fact, but until then this fact gives me a sense of responsibility to focus on both commonalities with other MBA applicants and particulars of the Trinidad situation.

I intend that the ReddiMBA blog's content will not be at the expense of quality or frequency of content for this one. I do still read widely on creativity, business and technology theories and specifics, and experiment with those ideas I can see integrating in my daily lifestyle and workstyle. I do still want this blog to exist as my way of distilling such ideas both for myself as well as others in the online community in general.

I don't ever intend for either blog to be popular, I don't think my writing is that persuasive or original as I am often inspired to write by more creative thinkers whose works I come across accidentally or follow passionately, to tweak their ideas for my own situation, and to share what insights I have on those tweaks.
If something I write one day inspires a future leader on his or her path to greatness, then I'd be happy this blog fulfilled its purpose. Thomas Friedman wrote in "The World Is Flat" that the new "middlers" in future society will be the great collaborators, orchestrators, synthesizers, explainers, leveragers, adapters and localizers, the green people and the passionate personalizers. I hope to be privileged enough to qualify for at least one of these roles one day with the continued writings in these blogs.

Friday, 18 April 2008

IT Outsourcing: Does Trinidad have the "something else" to become the next India










The title and summary of this Business Week article says it all:

"The New Economics of Outsourcing
Efforts to send IT work anywhere but Bangalore are taking on added urgency as costs of doing work in India rise and the dollar sinks"


The question to be asked is do we in Trinidad have the “something else” mentioned that businesses are now looking for?

I think we do.

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Yahoo acquired IndexTools Analytics, now makes it free!


Yahoo! made this announcement to acquire IndexTools' Analytics Business a few days ago.

Eric Peterson has a great blog article on how this action makes a possible permanent change to the field of web analytics in general.

Come today according to this blog post the use of the tool is now free, putting it head to head with Google Analytics as well as
Microsoft's Gatineau

And there's still the outstanding deadline on the offer by Microsoft to buy out Yahoo.

It seems like the board of directors are either outright refusing to think in terms of a Microsoft buyout, or ensuring there's reason enough for Microsoft to make a higher bid offer for them to consider, and not a lower one as Microsoft has subtly threatened to make if it has to go directly to shareholders.

Will this move by Yahoo's board also reinforce their shareholders' confidence to hold out if Microsoft makes them a direct offer after the deadline date, or pass altogether on being acquired if the Yahoo board chooses that route?

Time will tell.

Sunday, 13 April 2008

Things are happening on TTLUG


After the first meeting of the new TTLUG executives, of which I somehow ended up in the post of Trustee, I am totally excited with some of the initiatives we're looking to undertake. "Executive" is probably an old-school term for what we are though, we've agreed that really we are firstly the caretakers for the Trinidad Linux community's "de facto" group. I hope we can also become the model team for leading by example in getting things done, that will hopefully inspire others in the TTLUG to volunteer and also help get things done.

The makeup of the group so far is just the correct mix needed to get some of these goals done. I definitely look forward to learning a little more about each of these guys going forward as we work together on cool stuff for promoting the TTLUG.
While I've missed meeting one member, I'm sure his experience in other social groups in Trinidad would be excellent addition to the current team of "superheros-in-training."
I say this as from our "icebreaker" question and subsequent discussion I realised that I really do have Hawkgirl, Professor Xavier and SpongeBob aspirants working with my Batman personality to help uplift the TTLUG over the next year. What a crossover comic this is going to be!

I'm hoping my past experience in getting things done with Medullan , a high-growth U.S.-based startup, and the lessons learned there both in project delivery and in growing organisations can contribute to keeping the ball rolling and the energy high when the various idea advocates gather their respective volunteers and start brainstorming the plans for each of them.
I encourage anyone reading this post who has an interest in learning more about Linux (and by extension Open Source software) and contributing to its growth in Trinidad to join the TTLUG mailing list and participate in our discussions.

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Can't make Google I/O? Youtube videos are the next best thing


I really want to make Google I/O Developer's conference. At $400US for the 2 days, it's the most affordably priced developer conference I've seen so far. As an example, Apple's WWDC (World Wide Developer's Conference) starts its minimum ticket at over $1500USD. Unfortunately, San Francisco is pretty far from Trinidad, a ticket there borders on $800USD, and nightly accomodations will range anywhere between $200-$300 USD per night.
At over 6$TT to $1USD, I'm looking at quite a hefty amount, somewhere in the realm of a years' worth of savings if I want to make this dream happen.

I'm going to try several options to make it happen, and then deal with the issue of convincing my new employer, a staunch Microsoft shop, to give me the time off to go learn Google tools.

The next best thing though is watching various videos on Google's YouTube channels. For the developer, there are the GoogleDeveloper and GoogleDeveloperDays channels. There is also a generic Google channel, as well as a Google.org channel for promoting their philanthropical initiatives, and AtGoogleTalks where they publish videos from the various guest speaker events they have at Google. One new community oriented video channel, the GoogleDocsCommunity channel, is geared at pushing community oriented content for using their GoogleDocs product, and also a possible template for future community oriented channels.

Don't get me wrong, I have no qualms about reading wikis or technical manuals to get ramped up on new technologies, reading about things such as BigTable and GFS get me excited about these ideas as well.
Seeing these "wonder" tools and products in action via video have a greater "get excited" effect on me that transcends the reading experience. It literally has me feeling "pumped up" about being a software developer in today's world.
I'm hoping the content from Google I/O makes it to one of these channels eventually, because I have found the past ones extremely useful in getting me up to speed pretty quickly on the new tools out there.

Sunday, 6 April 2008

Microsoft's Yahoo strategy, will Google get involved?


According to the public poll on Mashable on whether Microsoft is still evil, as of today
56% believe it still is
21% believe it is not
20% believe it never was evil...

Google's blogged on the proposed takeover of Yahoo by Microsoft very early on. Google's code of conduct ("Don't Be Evil") would be lived up to by getting involved, which doesn't just mean to counter-offer. Ideas such as outsourcing Yahoo searches to Google will be pushed to have the effect of boosting shareholder confidence in Yahoo continuing to operate successfully and profitably in future. This in turn will not only keep shareholders supportive of the Board of Directors in their refusal of Microsoft's offer, but also convince them to vote against a direct offer by Microsoft for their Yahoo shares if it is made.

Yahoo has also been talking with folks outside of Google like the MySpace owners, News Corp, however the question remains as to whether they can crunch the numbers in time and develop the strategy to make viable a real counter-offer before Microsoft's hard deadline to Yahoo.

However, Google's leadership has in the past preferred the problem of moving too fast rather than too slow, even praising executives at the centre of huge loss-incurring incidents that result from such a position.
I wouldn't be surprised if not being able to totally mitigate the risk because of the timeframe involved didn't stop Google from pushing ahead any of their ideas, whether it be counter-bid or new joint initiative with Yahoo.

Saturday, 5 April 2008

Microsoft sets deadline on Yahoo offer...threatens hostil bid


I just came across this headline on Google Finance
Microsoft sets deadline on Yahoo offer...threatens hostile bid

A related article, Microsoft threatens Yahoo with proxy fight, offers some additional information.
CEO Ballmer set a three-week deadline for their offer, after which he says Microsoft will take a lower offer directly to the shareholders, in a hostile bid to take control of Yahoo.

After the statements at Mix08 by Steve Ballmer that implied Yahoo was key to reaching critical mass in Microsoft's business initiatives into the world of search and advertising, where "search is the killer application for online advertising", this move is Steve's attempt at forcing of a response to move forward by setting this deadline and consequences for missing it.

The statement by Steve should come as no surprise to anyone. Steve Ballmer is after all, that good.

Friday, 4 April 2008

Plan to get in the MIX 08 this weekend


It's several weeks past already, but I'm only now getting time to get into the sessions from Microsoft's Mix08 event. One cool demonstration of their new Silverlight 2.0 technology, a new competitor to Adobe Flash, is the enhanced interface for viewing the sessions.

I've already blogged about my takeaways from watching part of Guy Kawasaki's interview of Steve Ballmer, which you can view for yourself. I'm sure the sessions I view this weekend will provide some excellent food for thought for future posts.

Thursday, 3 April 2008

Steve Balmer already knows what Jane McGonigal just told us


I just took in some of Microsoft MIX08's Keynote between Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and Guy Kawasaki.

This is what Steve Balmer responds on Guy Kawasaki's question of "What Drives You?"
"1. I love what we do, I'm pretty jabbed about Silverlight 2, IE8...
2. I get a chance to work with customers as well as the folks at Microsoft. Some of the smartest most energetic most fun folks in the world...
3. I enjoy a challenge, and with the scale of what's going on in our industry...the folks we have to compete with...certainly we got them (challenges)"

In response to the question of the kind of days he has, Steve again summaries it into three kinds of days
"1. I'm out of Redmond, with customers, from 7:30am in the morning to 8 in the night, on a flight at night for another meeting at another location, that energises me...
2. I like to call it 'The doctor's in his office' day. Every hour I have a meeting, energising, but exhausting
3. Days where I can think, write and research. Mine to dig into things."

When compared to what Jane McGonigal said at SxSW on the four things that makes people happy, it seems that Steve is in his perfect job since the only area he missed explicitly was "being really good at something", which his position as Microsoft CEO could attest to in itself.
From programmer to politician to pundit, may we all strive to be as well matched in our own placements as Steve definitely is.

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

Jane McGonigal hits the nail on the head with "What makes us happy"

I'm sick at home today, so as I've slept more than I could, I took the opportunity to review some of the videos posted from the SxSW conference. I initially wanted to see the highlights of Mark Zuckerberg's interview. Honestly I agree with TechCrunch, it was not as bad as it was made it to be.

In browsing the video highlights of various speakers, Jane McGonigal made me sit up and take notice.
In the video highlights of her presentation she speaks of the four things that correlated research shows make people happy.
1. Satisfying work to do
2. The experience of being good at something
3. Time spent with people we like
4. The chance to be part of something bigger

Of course she relates this back to games, so my local gaming friends may argue that they are closer to happiness than the rest of us. The slides she used in this presentation are shared on SlideShare.Net, another site I am fast gaining respect for (slide 17 has the points mentioned above).

These four things should also be guides of advice for two groups of people I am quite familiar with, the individual job seeker in his quest for employment bliss and the high-growth company in its quest to attract and retain great people and minimise employee attrition.
Speaking as a fellow "blissful job seeker" I can attest to the above being definite criteria in my past searches, and a judgement of how well adjusted I am to a position I hold. It is not often easy to identify beforehand whether an offer of employment will hold when judged against the above criteria, especially when an employer is unaware that this is what people are really seeking when they look to promote an employment opportunity's merits.

As I was once a member of the recruiting team at a high growth company, I see now how these words of advice could have added to delivering the positive experience to prospective candidate we strove for. Demonstrating the ability to meet these four human requirements for happiness to any candidate are paramount in encouraging them to consider an offer if given.
In retrospect, I realise this was already done to an extent.

If I had the chance to do it again though I would first post these four points on the whiteboard during planning of a recruiting event as a criteria for success. If during the event there were missing demonstrations of how any of the four would be achieved by a candidate's joining the organisation, then the planning was incomplete.

The problem I previously wrote about is that too often job seekers believe that a high salary is the key to happiness, which in turn hurts both them and the employer. On the other hand, employers as well do not see the root problem, and instead believe that higher salaries alone would be the key to a reduction in turnover. In the end, neither finds what they want. The new employee will quickly discover his happiness stunted despite the level of compensation received, and the employer will find himself with the continued high turnover rate as still unhappy employees leave.

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

On buying things online and the power of the personalised experience

A friend recommended this Best Buy deal on a Canon Powershot 12.1MP camera. A quick Google search came up with this better Amazon.com deal.
It just goes to show the power of the Internet for deal-finding...if you're not the best price on the block, you're going to be found out pretty easily.

What will differentiate your site as a reseller then? It has to be the personalised experience.

Looking more closely, BestBuy's overview page is pretty brief. The "related items" listing has associated accessories, but because I know it's at the end a website for a chain of stores with inventory I don't know if that's what other people are buying or just what BestBuy is pushing.
The presence of multiple Best Buy locations also indicates to me that I can go and try it out before buying to make sure what I see is indeed what I do get.

In this example, I am an amateur photographer, so I need the layman's guide to making a good choice. The camera is pretty nice, and I like taking pictures but I have no idea of what a professional looks for in buying a digital camera.
Amazon.com's page has been more designed with me in mind. The product page focuses on educating the viewer in terms of similar items bought, product reviews, customer reviews and related recommendations that link to pages that are just as informative about alternatives.
It feels less of a "buy me" page, and more of a "learn about me and products like me" page. One key element, the "What Customers Are Buying" section, definitely helps to convey this effect.
What it risks though is becoming an overload of information by having all of this information on one page.

If I were new to buying online, I think the Amazon.com experience would make me more likely to come back to Amazon.com to search for my next purchase of an item I know very little about. My personalised experience with the website in trying to learn how to evaluate a good camera has lent itself to that.
Since I've bought from Amazon.com before and am logged in, I'll also have personal recommendations of items that are closely related to what I bought or viewed. These recommendations are usually spot on in terms of what I would buy. The personal experience will continue.
To borrow from the analogy inside Malcolm Gladwell's talk on Spaghetti Sauce, Amazon.com lets now find my "perfect pepsi" in a world of "perfect pepsis" more quickly than I would with the BestBuy.com experience.

In the end if I choose to buy this particular camera, I'll buy it from the Amazon.com website, because no matter the experience, the better price will win out for me once the after sales service and warranty support are there.
If there was a Best Buy close by, I would also walk into the store to try the camera out before I bought it online at the best price. That part of the personal experience BestBuy has won on. I don't know how many other consumers are that cautious before making a purchase though.

What is the lesson then?
If I were starting an online retailing store, I'd remember two things.
1. The personalised experience using a website is a value-added tool, and not the magic bullet for making the sale online.
2. Combined with the ingredients that make a traditional store successful, such as best prices, after-sales service and warranty/returns policy, and technology innovations such as personalised recommendations that I agree with, it's pretty close to being a magic bullet for making the sale online.

News from the front

A shocking headline in the Trinidad Linux world today!

MS G.Gobin elected TTLUG President-for-Life

Monday, 31 March 2008

Some MSDN resources on C# Generics

I've been working with C# Generics recently and in my research found this article on Generics Best Practices. I highly recommend the two as resources for any C# developer who is either new to the language or the concept of generics.

Friday, 28 March 2008

Today's Microsoft Excel Blog written by a Trinidadian

The author of today's post on the Microsoft Excel blog is by a Trinidadian, Ms Helen Hosein.

She's also a member of the Trinidad and Tobago Computer Society (TTCS) mailing list as well. Her modesty didn't allow her to toot her own horn by posting her entry as a link to that list though.

Congratulations Helen!

Thursday, 27 March 2008

A perfect example of being remarkable

My current read, Seth Godin's book "The Purple Cow", highlights the advantages of transforming your business by being remarkable.
A perfect example of how being remarkable helps one product, or in this case person, stand out in the crowd of millions is this article. An up-and-coming film-maker used the Internet meme of rick-rolling to inadvertently prank the New York Times and thus make himself remarkable.

The entire video he posted made it seem that there was a man interrupting a women's basketball game and had folks seemingly dancing to the music, when it fact it was edited from various clips. The event never happened, but the video is so realistic that it fooled even a New York Times reporter into believing it was real.
Almost any aspiring director worth his salt should be able to edit video in such a way, be he made his effort stand out and thus made himself remarkable.
He is no longer a one in a million aspiring directors, he's now the remarkable aspiring director who fooled the New York times with his work.

Who would you quicker hire to do your creative video editing?

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Apologies to all those who received Jaxtr invitations from me

This is my huge apology to those who received a Jaxtr invitation from me and the subsequent reminder email this week. Those for whom I have multiple addresses on file I especially apologise to as you probably received multiple invitations.

I was experimenting with the tool as a blog enhancement and stupidly (yes, I should know better) gave it access to my Gmail address book and it automatically emailed all 700 odd contacts in it with Jaxtr invitations.
This initial invitation was done without my permission. Jaxtr support is claiming otherwise. I leave it to you to choose who to believe. (Hint: Do a Google search for Jaxtr and spam to see how many other folks got caught in this same trap)

Today it sent another email to those same 700 contacts, something the support at Jaxtr maintains was a "reminder" email. I know for sure I did not authorise this, however it seems that Jaxtr cached all the addresses it sent the initial email to and sent a subsequent "reminder" email. I really hope the included email is accurate when it states this is the only reminder email they will send. For me it was two emails too many. There should have been no need to spoof my email address to send these emails.
Send it as yourself, Jaxtr, don't put my username in the from field, it is obvious that such a technique is your ploy to get past spam filters.

So as a warning to all those who still want to sign up for Jaxtr, don't give it your Gmail/Hotmail/other webmail username and password for it to access to your address books. More trustworthy sites such as Facebook may have lulled us into the false sense of security giving such access freely is beneficial, but sites like Jaxtr are a rude reminder of how damaging unsolicited emails on your behalf can be. Believe me, you'll save yourself much more grief by limiting what applications outside of your webmail provider should have access to your contacts' email addresses.

My account with Jaxtr is now deleted, and hopefully according to the email I received from their support about my querying their breach of trust in sending so many emails to my contact, this will be sufficient to stop these emails from occurring again in future.

For posterity here's the reply email I received to my initial complaint to Jaxtr, which came several hours after I finally figured out how to delete my Jaxtr account.
---Begin message---
jaxtr Privacy and Abuse to me
12:11 PM (1 hour ago)


KEY: 07-11

I'm sorry if there has been a misunderstanding. As a member, you have the ability to upload contacts into jaxtr and send those contacts invites to join jaxtr. Jaxtr has no ability to accomplish this automatically. Do you recall performing such an action, perhaps when you initially joined jaxtr? If so, this also schedules a one-time reminder email sent to these same contacts informing them your invitation is about to expire (assuming the contact has not responded). But under no circumstances does jaxtr send a message to any of your contacts without the interaction and approval of the jaxtr member.

According to our records, you have already canceled your jaxtr account.

Regards,

Jenny Ringquist


---End Message---

Saturday, 22 March 2008

Is blogging still "cool"?

The idea of rebranding what a blog is called is very insightful for me, and I'll share a short story that I hope lets you understand why.
I was talking to my friend about blogs, why I read them and why I continue to write one, and she was totally on the side of "why would I care to read other people's rants?"
I realized then that she associated blogging with ranting, something you see happen with many new bloggers in their attempts to generate content. This probably led as well to the creation of at least one award for "worst blog ever" at the Blogger's Choice Awards.
This doesn't qualify all blogs though. Those I choose to read, like Seth Godin's blog and the blog at Employee Evolution, tend to have very good food for thought. When blogging myself I also make a concerted effort to take the time to research a bit what I'm writing about. This I've found really helps keep me on topic, and keeps a blog post from being a rant.

When asked to describe a blog, "online journal" is a term I've often used. After reading this article I realized that I was being a very bad advocate of the craft of blogging. The term I was using is just as associated with "boring" as "blogging" was to "ranting" for my friend.

We now have to ask, are we seeing an expiry of the "cool" factor of new terms like blogging?
Will terms like "Twittering" become associated (if they aren't already) with ranting as well?
I know "Facebook" is fast becoming associated with spam among many of my friends because of its proliferation of unwanted application invitations.
One of the biggest false associations that permeates the local Trinidad industry is that "IM'ing" is associated with time-wasting, although I have personally been part of teams at leading companies where tools such as instant messaging are a critical component to daily productivity.

On the matter of rebranding blogging though, is trying to find a new name for blogging really addressing the root problem?
I think creating a new name for blogging may be the start of an approach, but the association of the word, and keeping it associated with positive things, will be the real challenge for any team taking on this challenge.