Nov 252008
 

As an IT consultant, I frequently come into contact with other technology companies while providing consulting services to my clients. Sometimes the work is coordinated, often it is not. When work is not coordinated, my job can often become a bit more challenging than expected.

One of the more enjoyable experiences I’ve had recently was working a network installation that had been wired by Mr. Telephone. Several weeks before my client was to occupy their new office space, I had done a walk through to assess their data wiring requirements. Since data wiring is outside the scope of services I am able to provide, I forwarded my spec to the client so that they could contract a company to pull the data runs.

Prior to the network deployment, I had not been contacted by anyone with questions about the wiring requirement. When I arrived onsite, I was pleasantly surprised by what I found. My client had contracted Mr. Telephone to handle the data wiring, and Mr. Telephone did an outstanding job! Not only did they anticipate my needs (deploying a small rack complete with shelving for my network equipment), but they did something I have rarely seen and typically have to do myself: labelled each network drop and the patch panel. Each drop was labelled in an intuitive fashion so as to ensure that one could easily distinguish between telephone and data runs. Since cat5 cable was used for phones as well as the network, my client now has tremendous flexibility to move office equipment around without having to call Mr. Telephone back every time they want to move a phone extension or fax line.

The tech that was there when I was on location was very efficient and helpful. He even apologized for the placement of a few difficult runs. I had to laugh out loud at this. These runs were very well located, easy to work with, and better placed than if I had done the wiring myself. Ultimately, the quality of the workmanship put into the data wiring saved my client several hundred dollars by greatly reducing my anticipated workload.

If I am ever in need of a telephone system, I will take a good hard look at Mr. Telephone, given the quality of work they provide. I have worked on networks wired by Mr. Telephone in the past (including fiber-optic connections between buildings), and have found the quality of their workmanship to be consistent in its’ excellence.

Check out Mr. Telephone on the web, or give them a call at 508-394-4610 the next time you need a phone system.

Nov 112008
 

Does anyone else think the Pizza Tracker from Dominos is as cool as I think it is? What a great idea providing your uber geek pizza lovers with up to the minute status reports of their pizza order. So at first I was wondering how they managed to get the information back out to the web. Did it require some interaction on the part of the staff members manning the local Domino’s franchise? Then I thought that if I was implementing a system like that I’d want it to be as simple as possible. Print the order ticket, then automate the timer. Is Dobromir really making my pizza? If so, did his name get into the system from the timeclock, or was it prepopulated somewhere else…

Hmmm. Who cares! My pizza is on the way! Yaay I love Dominos.

Picture 1.png

Nov 112008
 

When I found out I was going to have some minor surgery a few weeks ago, one of the things I wanted to be sure to buy before being laid up was a good laptop desk for use with my laptop. I had seen some at Staples, and some others at Barnes & Noble, but never got a chance to grab one before the surgery. While I was in recovering from the anesthesia, my wife ran to the mall and grabbed me one. Later that day, when I wanted to check my e-mail, I unboxed the one she picked up for me. I was very pleased when I saw the box. It showed the desk in use with a MacBook Pro on it. Not to be a total Apple snob, but it seems to me that peripheral designers that show off their products by pairing them with Apple computers tend to be of higher quality. $40 is about twice as much as I would have spent on the desk myself. However, I’m very glad she bought this one. The cushion under the work surface is very comfortable. The weight and balance of the desk is superb, and I find that the surface fits my 15″ MacBook Pro perfectly. This laptop pad has gotten a tremendous amount of use over the past few days, and is sure to get a lot of use in the future.

200811111211.jpg

The e-pad for sale at BrookStone.com

NOTE: Hot chick not included.

Nov 102008
 

Again, in no particular order, more of my favorites:

Parallels – If you’ve actually been reading this, than you’ve probably caught on to the idea that I really like my Mac. One of the things I most like about it is the ability to run Windows. There are many programs that are critical to my business which are Windows only. Additionally, there are some Windows programs that are simply better (in my humble opinion) than their Mac counterparts (Outlook). When I first looked at running Windows on the Mac, I tried Boot Camp. It was great. I was amazed at how quickly Windows XP responded, even after I loaded up a whole lot of software. One thing that I absolutely wanted, though, was the ability to flip back and forth without restarting the system. This meant that I had to look at virtualization software. I looked at Parallels first, as it was first to market, and became used to it’s interface. For more about my early impressions of Parallels, read my blog entry here. Parallels has integrated my Mac life and Windows life so seamlessly that I am able to flip back and forth effortlessly. Parallels is set to release version 4 of their product soon, though I can’t imagine how they’ll be improving it.

Pwnage Tool – While the iPhone is a fantastic tool, with a great deal of software available from Apple’s App Store, you still need to jailbreak the iPhone in order to unlock it’s full potential. One of the most useful features of a jailbroken iPhone is the ability to connect to it via FTP and retrieve phone messages for archive purposes. I am surprised that nobody has released an App Store program that does this more gracefully, but there might be something in the license agreement that forbids this. It seems like such an obvious (missing) feature to me. Who wouldn’t want to be able to archive their voicemails?

iPhoto – One of the things that drew me to the Apple platform was the fact that most of the productivity software the average consumer would need is included with the operating system. While iLife technically is not a component of OS X, it does come pre-loaded on every Apple computer. iPhoto is a fantastic program that makes it super simple to manage your pictures on the computer. The closest equivalent on the PC would be Google’s Picasa (also a great program), but what makes iLife so great is the solid integration between the suite of iLife programs. For every feature that is missing (the ability to synchronize iPhoto libraries, for example), there is a third party add-on that can do the trick.

iPhoto Library Manager – If you have more than one Mac, I highly recommend this iPhoto add-on. Well, it’s not so much an add-on as it is a utility that allows you to manage multiple iPhoto libraries with ease. At home, we typically import all family photos to the iMac in the kitchen. I use iPhoto Library Manager to copy newly imported or updated photos from the family iMac to my laptop, where I manipulate them and manage the family website (i.e. post photos of the kids for the family to see). This program handles the imports with ease, copying all meta-data and leaving out duplicates. It’s an easy way of ensuring that our personal pictures are always backed up.

Snapz Pro X – I wondered what applications people were using to create screen captures for tutorials. A google search revealed this little gem for OS X. I haven’t had time to play a whole lot, but I figured this would work pretty well for me, given that I can run just about any OS I want in a virtual machine through Parallels. If I get any good feedback or suggestions from clients, I will likely use this to create tutorials for the knowledgebase page of my site. To date, I have been posting links to other tutorials and knowledgebase articles on my site, mainly because the interface to add new kb articles is web-based (not my preference.) Here is an example of a screen capture I created which demonstrates how to Restart the Windows Print Spooler service under Windows XP.

There are a whole bunch more, so I’m going to continue to split Part IV into many smaller parts…

Nov 102008
 

I first heard about this a few days ago, but I think I dismissed it as a rumor. I for one am going to miss DHL domestic service. That means that the bulk of my shipments will now be sent via UPS or FEDEX. The FEDEX shipments are always late in the day (unlike DHL), and the drivers have a tendency to leave thousands of dollars worth of merchandise outside, often in the rain, when I’m not home to sign for them. That totally blows!

Picture 1.png

Nov 082008
 

Now that I work on an Apple computer more than a Windows computer, I find that there are literally tons of software applications available for the Mac. When I first considered switching platforms, I was concerned that I would not be able to find software. Boy, was I wrong. So, in no particular order, here is a listing of some of the software I use on a regular basis on my Mac:

Microsoft Office 2008 – Since I run parallels on my Mac to gain access to my business applications, Office 2008 doesn’t get a whole lot of use. However, I use Entourage as my default e-mail program instead of the Mail application, due to its’ Exchange synchronization capability. While Entourage has a nice look and feel, it is definitely not a replacement for Outlook. Beyond function and capability, I believe style and layout play important roles in determining the usability of software. When Outlook is running smoothly, it just feels like a better e-mail client than Entourage. The search features (which I use the most), certainly function better in Outlook.

ecto – There are a number of desktop blogging clients available for OS X. When I was looking for an application that met my requirements (easy to configure, easy to use, and lot’s of features), I narrowed it down to three applications: MacJournal, MarsEdit, and Ecto. MacJournal was difficult to configure for use with My WordPress blogs. MacJournal has a nice clean interface, with lots of proofing and formatting tools. Most impressively, there is a built-in mechanism to record audio and video from within the application. I was most intrigued by these features, as I am interested in adding some video content to my blogs. Alas, I could not get MacJournal to upload video to my blogs. MarsEdit, on the other hand, has excellent support for a wide variety of blog types, but I just didn’t like the interface. Ecto, on the other hand, has a great interface, and works very well with my WordPress blogs. While it has the capability to upload video to blog posts, I couldn’t make it work, either. Presumably, there might be some code in WordPress that returns a 500 server error when these third party applications attempt to post certain media types. For now, I have a temporary work around, and I like ecto’s interface and add-ons.

Fetch – Fetch is an FTP application that I use on a daily basis. When I first looked around for FTP clients for OS X, I believe I looked at several different programs. Fetch has a user interface that I really like, and was reasonably priced at only $25. When I’m not using Fetch to make adjustments to WordPress plugins on my websites, I use it daily to extract voice messages from my iPhone. These voice mail files are then attached to the history records in my ACT! database. Pretty cool!

BBEdit – Now that I’ve begun to dabble in coding again (after taking nearly two decades off), I needed a text editor that was easy to use, and would recognize and properly format and display code for various languages. I’ve only scraped the tip of the iceberg with BBEdit, but I am totally impressed with this software. I would recommend BBEdit to any Mac user that has t make occasional edits to websites. BBEdit displays code, highlighting components of the text, in such a fashion as to make it real easy to find what you’re looking for.

Yojimbo – Broken down to its’ simplest form, Yojimbo is essentially a file cabinet for pdf files. This program is so much more. With options to synchronize content between computers via MobileMe, Yojimbo is my primary storage vault for non-business related data. Yojimbo adds an extension to OS X that allows you to print pdf files directly to Yojimbo. Additionally, you can organize your data into folders and simply drag new content to Yojimbo’s interface for easy retrieval later. This one is definately worth checking out if you have a Mac.

Mark/Space Missing Sync for iPhone – Over the years, I’ve used a variety of smart phones, and have employed different methods to record or archive call log data from them. (I’m obsessed with keeping a record of all my calls in the company ACT! database…) When I saw the iPhone advertised for the first time, I knew I had to have one. I was so excited about having an iPhone, that I didn’t consider the fact that I’d be losing the capability to extract call log data. I had used Mark/Space Missing Sync for Windows Mobile for awhile after switching to a Mac. This software was easy to use, and I received excellent support from the developers whenever I had trouble. Unfortunately, there was about a three month period between the release of the iPhone and the release of Missing Sync for iPhone, but thanks to the efforts of a few motivated programmers on the Internet, I was able to put a few stop gap measures into place. Now I am able to effortlessly extract call log data from the phone simply by syncing with iTunes. The call log application allows me to export the calls to .csv format, which I then transfer to my ACT! database via CRMADDON’s Import for ACT!

(Note: I had previously used Natara Comet with a Palm Treo (Palm OS based) smart phone. This software yields excellent results, and I highly recommend it. I had difficulty finding a software package that was so easy and effective for Windows Mobile based devices, but due to terrible performance from Windows based phones, I only ran them for a short while.)

OmniFocus – As many of you know, time management is one of the biggest challenges I face during the course of my work day. While there is no perfect to-do list program or methodology, David Allen has some great ideas as part of his GTD (Getting Things Done) methodology. I used OmniFocus to retrain myself to better use tools that I already had in place. From time to time, I find myself going back to his book, and listening to the audio book when traveling off-Cape. OmniFocus is a great GTD application with real-time sync (via MobileMe) for the iPhone. Highly recommended.

Things – Things is another great GTD application, similar to OmniFocus. There is an iPhone version of Things as well as a desktop version. Things seems to be a little less structured in the way that data is handled. Because OmniFocus was available first, I have used it more than Things (there is no way to export/import data from one to the other). The last version of Things I looked at seemed to indicate that recurring schedules would be available for individual tasks. In either case, the main weakness that I see is the inability for either application to schedule recurring tasks that occur on workdays (weekdays) only.