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.


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.

India to vote against OOXML, how feel you now TTBS?

For those who don't know,,India is THE powerhouse of IT outsourcing and have probably the largest base of knowledge workers in the world who could give proper technical opinions on whether Open Office XML or OOXML should be made an international standard for electronic documents format.
I am not saying the Trinidad knowledge worker community could not do the same analysis given enough time and adequate dedicated resources. I just was not satisfied that it would be done before the voting deadline.
Recently the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) has decided to vote against the proposal to have OOXML as a standard alongside the Open Document Format (ODF).

The fact that the Trinidad and Tobago Bureau of Standards (TTBS) intends to take an opposing stance to India on the OOXML debate now gives it the responsibility to be prepared to defend this position adequately if there is a serious debate about it and they are called out by India or any other opponent. Failure to do so would hinder seriously firstly our credibility as an independent decision maker and secondly our maturity and readiness to hold our current voting status.
This is something I strongly believe we were not prepared to do and why I believed the abstain recommendation of the TTCS was in fact the correct position to take. Countries like the United States, who intend to vote in favour of making OOXML an ISO/IEC standard can do so because they are in the position to engage in healthy, intelligent and facts-based debate about the topic.

I hope the TTBS board's advisory members who made happen the OOXML change of vote from "abstain" to "in favour of" are ready to ante up with more than Microsoft-given facts, facts which have an even heavier list of counter-arguments against.

Friday, 21 March 2008

Twittering - the new way to be connected

I've recently started experimenting with a number of Web 2.0 styled sites, one of which is Twitter. This tool allows you to basically let folks know what you're doing. I've embedded a great video about what Twitter is that I found on Youtube by some folks producing a series called The Common Craft Show. Feel free to play it before reading the rest of the article if you have no idea what Twitter is.

I usually "twitter" at least once a day and do so in one of several ways. The website itself, once you're logged in, provides the traditional "forms-based" way of doing updates. The Twitter contact I have in Google Talk provides a more convenient way for me to twitter, since I check my Gmail at least once a day. There is also an option to make status updates on what you are doing via your mobile carrier's SMS (Short Message Service), however this feature is currently unsupported in Trinidad's mobile network.

My updates are broadcast several ways.
Firstly it is broadcast to all my followers on Twitter. The TwitterFacts blog sums it well by defining a follower as someone who has indicated another Twitter account as following and receives all updates of that other Twitter account. My updates appear on my Twitter homepage, as well as that of every one of my followers.
Secondly, my Facebook homepage gets its status updated so that my friends will see this status change when they log in to Facebook. So if I set my status on Twitter to "I am home", my Facebook listing would have my status as "Nissan is twittering: I am at home." This is a great example of where advertising doesn't become intrusive and one word ("twittering") is a willing price I pay for the convenience of easier updating of my Facebook status (and in turn making me feel Facebook is useful again in some way).
Finally I have embedded in this very blog a Javascript that updates the sidebar of my blog's layout with my status. I think this is the feature I like most since it allows me to increase the level of dynamic content present with less effort than that needed to, let's say, write an entire useful blog post.

Just as I have followers, I too am a follower of several other Twitter users, including several fellow Trinidadians. Their updates appear on my Twitter page, although an option exists to enable updates via instant messages in Google Talk. I am trying out the latter feature. The option to have status updates come via SMS to your mobile phone is not available in Trinidad, and I wonder if it were if I would really feel the need to have that feature activated for any of my Twitter friends.
(As a sidenote, Trinidadian mobile carriers do not charge for incoming text messages, so the billing problems the "Twitter vis SMS" feature causes in the USA would not exist if implemented.)

Over time I hope to give my own detailed take on Twitter, its uses and its usefulness. For now, if you wish, you can follow me and give your own opinions, good and bad, about the tool. Comments on whether you think it is crossing a level of connectedness that borders beyond your own level of comfort would be especially appreciated. For now I'll leave you to take in Twittervision, a mashup site that combines Twitter status updates from people around the world with the Google Maps map of the world

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Trinidad senators, Free Internet, and why it's a half-baked idea

A recent post on the TTCS mailing list made me aware that the members of the Senate of Trinidad and Tobago's parliament were to be provided laptops and wireless Internet access, presumably with the use of Government funds. While two non-government senators praised the idea, the actual article did not give enough insight to prove to me that this was just another half-baked idea.

I would love to ask the proponents of this move if any mention was made anywhere in their discussions of training for senators in how to utilise the Internet effectively in order to better serve the people as members of the Senate?

Do any senators intend to start a blog to update the public on what good they are doing to justify the authority trusted to them by their appointments as Senators?

Do any senators plan to start receiving emails from the public and make a promise to respond in a timely manner to inquiries by the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago?

One of the independent senators who approved the move is also a practicing lawyer. The other mentioned in the report is an opposition senator who is a dentist by profession, although to be fair I am unsure of whether or not he is actively practicing his profession.
What is being put in place to ensure that these privileges given will not used as simply tools for Senators to carry about their private business or promote their professional careers outside of the Senate?

One colleague of mine, playing devil's advocate, argued that the laptops and Internet access would immediately increase the ability of senators to verify the truth of statistics and other claims made during debate and formulate more factually accurate responses. This in turn would build a healthier, more mature arena for discussion in the senate.
I agree with this, but I don't think this is sufficient value for money for the people. I want to see this facility justified by a demonstrable increase in the level of service FOR the people of Trinidad.
These are MY tax dollars (as well as YOURS) going to provide them with laptops and wireless Internet access.

I hope I am not the only one who wishes to see them benefit the people by bridging these apparent gaps between common (wo)men and the (wo)men in the Red House.

To whom much is given, much is expected
(Luke 12:48)

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Barack Obama's speech on race

He continues to impress me with his charisma and ability to confront very real, very controversial issues head on and come out still as a very real individual.
Here's a video link to his latest speech on race.

For those who prefer to read, here's the transcript of the speech.

Friday, 14 March 2008

Google Reader tips for optimising RSS feeds

With my heavy use of Gmail in the last 2 years, the trial of Google Reader when it was released was relatively easy. I have since become hooked on it as my RSS Aggregator of choice, and have adopted a few habits that help me manage my barrage of RSS feeds in a more optimal way.

1. Use the shortcut keys
These improve your "read-through" time tremendously.

2. Organise your feeds into folders.
My folder structure follows the 80-20 rule. I know 80% of my most valuable readings come from 20% of the material I read, so I created a folder called 80% for those feeds I found most valuable.

To make this work I realised my most valuable feeds had to meet 2 criteria namely:
a. The volume of updated content could not be so much that I could not read through a day's worth within a 2 minute period. This eliminated fun but overall less valuable feeds from Slashdot and Digg immediately.
b. I had to learn immediate lessons from those feeds OR they must have historically provided insights on which further pondering and discussions with colleagues could be based, and those in turn led to high-value lessons for myself.

3. Always find a category folder for your feed.
If one doesn't exist yet, don't be afraid to create a new one. At the same time, impose rules on yourself for categorisation that stop you from running away with categories.
For me that means I have locked it down to about 5-6 folders. I keep a folder called "high volume" just for feeds that generate alot of content daily and which I often use the "mark all as read" button on if I fall a day or two behind in "feed reading".
I have my "80% folder" which I never delete all but rather make time to read each article, and also keep a folder called "geek" which holds my useful, but not quite applicable to my day-to-day life feeds. Another called "career" holds feeds that offer career tips and advice. Podcasts go into a "podcasts" folder and my MBA research readings go into an "mba" folder.
The general idea behind this structure is if you don't have time to read all of your updated feeds' content, or you're just in a mood for one particular type of content, it's easy to lock down quickly what you want to read.
It's also easy to purge content you're 99% sure won't be missed if you didn't read, but you would have if you had time for the pure enjoyment of it.

What is your RSS aggregator of choice? Why do you use it? What are your optimisations for getting through a day's worth of feeds?

Thursday, 13 March 2008

What is RSS? What's an Aggregator?

RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication. For anyone who has frequented websites such as Slashdot, CNN or even your local newspaper's site, the advantage of having an RSS feed to keep up with the constantly changing content needs no mentioning.

RSS aggregators, also known as feed aggregators, are those programs which help channel the content of these RSS feeds into a common interface. A comprehensive list can be found here. Even Microsoft Outlook 2007 and Windows Live Mail Desktop have the ability to function as feed aggregators. I started initially with Juice, formerly known as iPodder, since the first feeds I subscribed to were Podcasts.

In tomorrow's post I'll list the ways in which I optimise my RSS reading experience.

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Hating on Facebook Applications

I love Facebook. I think the idea of social networking is quite marvellous really. Recently though I've quite become fed up of Facebook Applications. Every day it's a host of new invitations for applications I have no interest in, or will never have any interest in. The Facebook blog acknowledges this new trend, calling it "application spam".
My new favourite Facebook feature has in fact become the ability to "blanket ignore" all requests in Facebook. I share the opinion of this blogger that it is in fact a sledgehammer approach and not quite yet attacking the root problem and agree I would love the feature to include the ability to ignore both now and in the future an application's request to add itself to my profile. The techniques to counter this problem mentioned in the Facebook blog doesn't seem to be working.
The creative outlet that Youtube now affords many folks has also led to this video, which I find both quite amusing and quite true in expressing the pain of my Facebook experiences these days.

Friday, 7 March 2008

Impossible is nothing!

The challenges these two dancers had to overcome to reach the excellence they demonstrate in this video should be an example that no obstacle is too big to overcome for us to achieve excellence in our passions, however "disabled" we may feel when roadblocks are hit.

Originally found from this post on the "Escape from Cubicle Nation" blog.

Thursday, 6 March 2008

An Apology From TSTT

Background information:
TSTT is one of two major telecommunications providers for Trinidad and Tobago.
They offered a feature for their bMobile (cellular service) customers whereby pre-paid users could add credit to their phone's account via the web using credit card payments. The service, called ETopUp, was recently cancelled and an email sent to all registered users of the system indicating the service's cancellation.

I only used the service once, but because I knew the service would be carrying my credit card information I signed up for it using my main email address, one that's rarely known and thus rarely spammed.

I normally would be glad for such a proactive notification from TSTT, given not just my, but other people's problems and gripes with their services. Sadly, even in this small attempt to be more customer friendly, they managed to muck it up.

In sending the notification email, whatever person or program doing the mailing saw it fit to put my address, along with that of at least 50 other customers, into the CC: (rather than the Bcc:) field of the email.

I was so annoyed at this violation of my privacy that I fired off an email to the address that sent me the notification, indicating what had happened at my displeasure at now having opened up my private email address to many others, one of whom might be a potential spammer.

Today, about 48 hours later, I received this response from TSTT:
From: ETopup
Date: Thu, Mar 6, 2008 at 2:40 PM
Subject: Apology From TSTT
To: ETopup
Dear Customer,
We refer to the email correspondence sent advising of the suspension of
the online self top up service. We note your displeasure with the
disclosure of your personal information in the email and acknowledge
that this action was inappropriate.

The disclosure of the email addresses was a regrettable human error for
which we sincerely apologize.

Please be assured that this action is not in accordance with TSTT’s
Privacy Policy. We take the matters of information security and privacy
very seriously and have taken the necessary steps to ensure that this
does not reoccur.

Thank you for your understanding and continued business with us.
Manager, Top Up
T&T's # 1 Mobile Network

Common courtesy would have one think that the "Manager Top Up, Etopup" would have a name, and would be nice enough to attach it to his "apologetic" email.
It makes me wonder if it wasn't a manager but some customer representative, especially given that the ETopup service is now defunct, so why have a manager for it?

An email from the person who was responsible for sending out the email in the first place, and their apologies for the mistake would have been so much more effective. I would now know that the person who made this mistake was now, at the very least, more aware of the "TSTT Privacy Policy" and thus more aware of how he handles sensitive customer data in future when having to publish mass notifications.

It was a nice gesture perhaps, but I would be happier with it if I actually thought TSTT management was ever planning to spend a little more time making their own staff aware of their own privacy policy, especially now I know they have one.

Cool tool: Google Calendar Sync

One problem I always had with Google Calendar was that Microsoft Outlook already had great calendaring features and some folks I worked with preferred it but it could not sync easily with Google Calendar and yet Microsoft Outlook could not be a powerful collaboration tool without Microsoft Exchange Server in the back end.
At a small company it's easy to get fresh, inexperienced folks to use one tool, but as a company grows there are going to be new team members with already honed and optimised habits that may or may not be tied heavily to tools like Microsoft Office and Microsoft Outlook.
Hopefully this tool, Google Calendar Sync, will help with that issue.

Here's a link as well to Google Blog's own entry on it.

Let me know what you think of it.