Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Outlook - Autocomplete email addresses

Have you ever wondered where Outlook keeps the hidden "address book" that auto-completes the email address as you type it in the To: box?
How do you get all those email addresses turned into contacts so you can move them around between computers etc?

The Answer: Outlook keeps them in an NK2 file. There is an NK2 file associated with each Outlook Profile on your computer and it is stored in the directory Application Data\Microsoft\Outlook
More good news, there is a free utility called NK2View available from NirSoft It works magic on the NK2 file allowing you to fix an erroneous entry, export, delete etc. Just download and run it. It will open your current NK2 file and you can see all the auto-complete entries. You can export them as a text file and import them into Outlook as contacts. You can also do the reverse and take addresses in your address book and add them to your NK2 Auto Complete list. JUST WONDERFUL!
Remember before messing with files that are important to you...BACK THEM UP! You will be so happy if somehow it gets corrupted and you have a nice backup file :)

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Extra Outlook - See Two different Exchange Servers at the same time

The problem has always been that Outlook supports only one Exchange server per profile. This means that if you are a consultant or work in a company with multiple Exchange servers that operate independently you were out of luck. You had to login to one...check your mail...close and open outlook a second profile and login.
After a while searching on Google I found a solution to this problem courtesy of Paul Ockenden.
Tim Mullen and Jason Geffner worked together and came up with a solution! The problem is that the programmers of Microsoft Outlook basically do a FindWindow to see if outlook is already open and then if it is they kill the new process and open a window in the already open version. Once Jason got past that, he found that the next thing those efficient programmers did was check to see if a MAPI instance was already out there and if so use it, thereby eliminating the ability to sign into a second profile.
Tim wrote a little utility that jumps around all that and allows you to open a true second instance of Outlook. So...
1. Create your separate Outlook Profiles for each Exchange account and set it to prompt for profile name
2. Go to Tim's site below and download
3. Copy ExtraOutlook.exe to your MS Office installation directory (C:\Program Files\Microsoft Office\Office12)
4. Create a Shortcut with a target like "ExtraOutlook c:\program files\microsoft office\office12\outlook.exe"
5. Double Click and Enjoy having two Exchange accounts open at once.

Kudos for this information goes to

Monday, August 31, 2009

Been busy

Things have been crazy fun lately. Joined up in May with a new company called AAR Global Solutions. We are having fun building a new business.

So the other day we needed to send a large presentation with lots of pictures in it. was too big to email, so what to do. There are a ton of file upload sharing apps out there, but most of them require a proprietary client install. Even good old reliable FTP can be cumbersome at times for the receipient. A quick Google and up comes an easy to use service called senduit. It just plain works for files up to 100MB! Very easy and intuitive for the sender and the receiver. Check it out at It works kind of like TinyURL. Cool!

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Google Wave

Go check out Google Wave.  It will change how we think of email, chatting, twitter, facebook, wikis, forums, boards etc etc.  A new communication pathway...a tidal wave of change is coming.............

It is open source!  It is amazing!

Excellent details on what a wave, blip, extension, playback, robots are in the world of Wave is located at

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Enterprise Architecture and the Zachman Framework

My experience and research indicates that high-performance businesses view IT as a strategic asset—a source of both operational excellence and competitive advantage.   So as an IT leander how do I help top management adopt that mindset and achieve greater business value from IT. My objecttive: IT is not merely a cost center but a critical contributor to the business, focused on improving business value and performance. 

First things is to get together a plan we can all see and understand.  Typically this has been called an Enterprise Architecture plan.  Enterprise architecture defines the vision, principles, standards and roadmap that guide the selection, deployment, operation, and refreshment of technologies within an organization.
On Wikipedia, it is stated that this is the definition that comes from the MIT Center for Information Systems Research:
Enterprise Architecture is the organizing logic for business processes and IT infrastructure reflecting the integration and standardization requirements of the firm’s operating model.
A little more reading will take you to dozens of Enterprise Architecture Frameworks with a dizzying array of acronyms.  See this Wikimedia graphic.
One of the most recent releases of an Enterprise Architecture Framework is the TOGAF 2009 (  On the other hand one of the oldest that orinated back in the 1980's is the Zachman Framework and although it started much earlier, it has stood the test of time and is still relevant today.  

It is relevant because of it's simplicity and structure.  The Zachman Framework for Enterprise Architecture is a schema or diagram that depicts  the intersection between two classifications. The first is the fundamentals of communication found in the primitive interrogatives: What, How, When, Who, Where, and Why. The second involes the transformation of an abstract idea into an instantiation and are labled: Identification, Definition, Representation, Specification, Configuration and Instantiation.  The result looks like this:

I like this model (as mentioned in a previous Blog) because it is clean and pure in definition and not complicated by a bunch of methodology etc.  The only challenge comes in some of the terminology in the cells and down the left hand side.  Everyone understand the top row of who, what, why, when, where and how.  But then getting the terminology straight for what the perspectives going down are results in a number of options.  Don't worry, hopefully I will make sense of it before we finish this post.
Regardless of what framework you choose it is VERY IMPORTANT to realize:
A framework does not make architectural design an automatic process, however it is an invaluable aid to experienced and knowledgeable IT Architects, Developers and management.
I am going to use the Zachman Framework.  It appears that the Zachman Framework has become almost a standard in the IT industry for classifying the artifacts developed in enterprise architecture. It is a logical structure for classifying and organizing the design artifacts of an enterprise that are significant to its management.  Typically these perspectives of the Zachman Framework have been defined as:
  1. Scope (Contextual) - Planner
    Presents the Scope of the Enterprise architecture (Enterprise View)
  2. Business Model (Conceptual) - Owner
    Documents the system view of the architecture. (Business View)
  3. System Model (Logical) - Designer
    Documents the logical design of the architecture (Logical View)
  4. Technology Model (Physical) - Builder
    Presents the physical implementation plan for the architecture (Physical View)
  5. Detailed Representations (Out-of-context) - Subcontractor
    The detailed specifications for the instantiation (Specification View)
  6. Functioning System
    These are the actual, working systems within your organization.
The views are arranged top to bottom with the Scope defining the highest level models and the Functioning System being the actual deployed hardware and software.  However I am going to add a little more to the diagram and fill it in with what I see as needed in each of the blocks and add an additional column on the left for who is going to use or own the information in each Perspective row as shown below:

There can be a negative side affect to all of this in this Agile world of ours...These 36 cells can easily lend itself to a documentation heavy approach.  Even with this potential pitfall, I believe that it provides very good guidance for your modeling and development efforts because it reminds you of the critical issues which you need to address. So the old idiom of KISS (Keep It 
Simple Stupid) needs to be applied to keep from going overboard on documentation, models etc.  It is not a requirement to create documentation or artifacts for all of the cells.  But it is very important that you at least consider the issues for each cell.  

As Scott Ambler shows here using the Zachman Framework can be Agile.

Classification.  Organization.  Covering all Angles.  This is what the Zachman Framework really promotes.  Unfortunately, what the executive "C-Level" individuals really want to know varies greatly by their discipline or operational viewpoint.  However, there is almost a 100% chance that if you have used the Zachman Framework to help develop your Enterprise Architecture plan, that you will have thier answers and more.
Remember: Don’t make the initial architectures, policies, rules and processes so involved and difficult that no one will follow them let alone maintain them.
Architecture.  When constructing a building it is important that the foundation be built with care since every other component of the building relies on it. The enterprise architecture is the foundation of the modern business and requires the stability and flexibility gained through planning and design. Just like a poor building foundation can result in a structure that is unstable, unable to be expanded or added on to, and in many cases, unfit for living. The same is true for poor enterprise architecture. Today many businesses suffer from a complete lack of EA.  There never was one and stuff just got built and today these businesses have an inflexible, inefficient, high maintenance foundation.
Unlike a physical foundation of a large building where complete repair may be impossible, in the information world, you can fix things.  We are blessed (and cursed) with a typically short 4 year lifespan on most hardware.  In other words, it is never too late to start developing your enterprise architecture, planning and implementing one piece at a time.  As you begin the journey and start "filling in" your Zachman Framework, it will quickly become clear where to focus first and what the dependencies are etc.  

When it comes to planning the information technology architecture, the “pay now or pay later” rule applies. Put money and time in up front in defining the architecture to avoid frustration and expense later in the process.  Remember...never too late to start!  When things are bad, sometimes it seems easier to just keep things the way they are...bad...but it is not.  Change ensures future viability for your company and a solid provable return on any technology investment. It allows us to minimize downtime, eliminate technical incompatibilities, and ensure smooth operations.

Defining, developing, and maintaining an enterprise architecture is a big job.  Put dedicated, experienced personnel on this job that understand the entire technology picture and the interdependencies between applications, database, network, security, and infrastructure.  A strong Business sense and ability to interact outside of IT is also very important.

In summary I would encourage you to look carefully at your enterprise.  Do you understand it and can you explain it and prove it to the entire executive management team?  Can your software developer understand where the routine he just built fits in the big picture?  Does operations support understand the criticality of each system?  If you hesitate with any of these answers then it is probably a good idea to spend some time reading up on Enterprise Architecture and how to use the Zachman Framework to help you.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Enterprise Architecture (intro)

Been reading up on this. Project for a company has me designing large scale solution. Last year with Bill I spent quite abit of time looking at this area of our industry and learned alot. The thing that made the most sense to me out of everything I learned was the Zachman Framework. A little research into the history of EA shows that Zachman's was one of the earliest frameworks out there and is still going strong. I find this easy to believe since it is grounded in common sense. A quick introduction to Zachman Framework:
  • It is a 6x6 grid made up of key questions along the top and domains on the left.  
The Zachman Framework for Enterprise Architecture is a diagram that depicts  the intersection between two classifications. The first is the fundamentals of communication found in the primitive questions: What, How, When, Who, Where, and Why. The second involves the breakdown of an abstract idea into an instantiation and these are labled: Identification, Definition, Representation, Specification, Configuration and Instantiation.  A quick look on Wikipedia shows that the questions along the top are almost always consistent but those going down are usually tailored somewhat to words that provide clearer meaning to the domain being architected, for example one that I saw had the common questions along the top and down they had:  Scope,  Enterprise Model, System Model, Technology Model, Detailed Representation, and finally Functioning System.  You can see these are synonyms if you will for the above words (ie. Scope=Identification and Functioning System=Instantiation.
Gotta run...more thoughts on EA soon :)  Hopefully a little more complete than this one.........

Friday, May 01, 2009

Pictures and Editing

I have used many editors and tools.  I have tried Photoshop, Paint Shop Pro 7, 11, 12, DotNetPaint, GIMP etc.  They are all good (PaintShopPro 7 (2001 Anniversary Edition) is my favorite) and have their uses, but unless I need a lot of power, modifying heavily, or creating from scratch I really have found that the best out there for working with the digital files out of my camera is Picasa.
Direct from their website it says, "Picasa is free photo editing software from Google that makes your pictures look great. Sharing your best photos with friends and family is as easy as pressing a button!"
  1. Free with a ton of cool features
  2. Comes with a free website so you can share your pictures quickly and super easy
  3. Easy!  Super easy to use adjustments (size, color, red-eye, brighness, sharpening etc)
  4. Organizes your pictures easily and super easy to download from camera
  1. Search, Find, tagging etc and finding an old picture could be improved
  2. File moving, reorganizing and merging well...not easy at all!  Put your pictures where you want them and leave them there is pretty much how it works.  
  3. The index that it creates gets really big over time on your hard drive and must stay on your C drive
Try it out.  I think you will like it a lot.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Requirements Traceability by using TheBrain

Last time (March 22nd) we discussed kicking off the project and getting the requirements gathering started off on the right foot. There are a lot of great books out there for detailed Requirements gathering, one that I enjoyed reading was Software Requirements, Second Edition by Karl E. Weigers. However I don’t want to re-hash the great material covered in books like Karls.

As I mentioned last time, I would suggest that you break free from preconceived notions of what a requirement, a change request, a use case, user story have been traditionally and look at the problem fresh.  For this installment I am going to look at tracing the requirement through its lifecycle.

The one item that tends to show up late in the project and normally during QA or Customer review is a traceability.  Traceabilty is tracking where a requirement came from, where it is going, its lifecycle of changes/modifications and then proving that it is there in the final.  Why does it show up in the end?  Customer asks, “How do I do feature request A?” Product team happily opens the appropriate area of the application and says, “Ta-da”.  The customer analyzes what they see and then puzzled says, “What about being able to do ?” Now it is the product teams turn to look puzzled…hmmm…developer speaks up about then and rattles on about some work around that might be possible, 10 minutes later, it has become obvious that somewhere in the requirements trail, something went off track and the required feature was not fully implemented and it is going to be tough to get it back in by the due date.
So is there hope to get around the problem?

Run to Google real quick and look up requirements traceability and you get back a few hundred thousand hits. So obviously this is a problem more than one group has struggled with this. Definition of this area is pretty good on Wikipedia (

By mind mapping out all your requirements you can visualize complex requirements and pieces of a process that can otherwise feel overwhelming. Furthermore, if requirements or other variables change you can instantly see what’s connected and therefore what impact these changes will have. This will help you anticipate any complications with changes and make more informed decisions about the future direction of the project.

In the last installment I mentioned using Xmind or other mind mapping software to get things organized. I really think this is an area that traditional tools for requirements tracking fall down.
Visualization of the relationships between them, see groups and how the are realized in the product.  By mind mapping out the requirements it is easier to visualized the complexity of the requirements and the pieces of the a process or feature that can get lost in the overwhelming complexity.  Getting it all understood by the team is normally possible right prior to development kickoff, but then in comes the changes, technical hurdles, timeline adjustments etc, and now how do we understand the impact these changes will have.

I have found a slightly better mind mapping tool than Xmind for these types of challenges. (Thank you Bill Deweese for showing it to me!!!)
It is called the PersonalBrain from TheBrain Technologies (
Of course there is a FREE version or I probably would not have tried it out!!! (Not open source but at least free for personal use :)

So let’s see what a simplistic example might look like. Here is the scenario depicted below.
We have a small project to develop a Resume Tracker for HR. TheBrain diagram below does not show the whole project, but shows the part of the requirement related to parsing the resume into the database and populating the persons biographical information. The part of the project team depicted below has a Project Manager (PM1), Lead Developer (LD1), Developer (D1), Developer (D2), and a Database Administrator (DBA1).

The above shows an expanded is a more typical view that shows the ResumeImport function centered and the related items to it:

Try it on your agile project and see if it works for you.  So far so good in my limited trials.  I like the visual-ness of using TheBrain to see the relationships.  If I drop a developer from the project, I can quickly see what requirements and modules are impacted or add a requirement for additional fields it impacts both the D1 and DBA.

I will continue to keep track of my thoughts on this huge subject and occasionally post my ideas.
Good Luck on all your endeavors!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Car or Boat or ATV?

The Aquada from Gibbs Technologies looks fun!  Fast enough to pull a skier...interesting.  Would be fun car to have at a lake house or vacation home.   Or how about there ATV/Jetski combo called appropriately enought the QuadSki (  Great hunting vehicle.  Or maybe try out their camo version as shown above...whole new meaning to getting to the blind :)
What would happen if someone mixed this with the BigDog...the Marines would love it!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

BigDog Robot

If you have not seen the Boston Dynamics BigDog robot, you must go to their website and watch the video. It is uncanny how agile this remote controlled bot really is. The quadruped walks across ice, slips, but catches itself and does not fall! It climbs over rocks, through snow, up hills etc all while carrying 340 pounds of supplies. This amazing 3 foot tall tool is going to dramatically help out our soldiers in places like Afghanistan.
While you are on the site, check out their other of them climbs walls like a spider!!!
Speaking of things that are Agile, check out the Agilistas group on LinkedIn....some great discussions going on :)

Sunday, March 22, 2009


Project Kickoff...excitement is in the air. We are going to really do a good job on this project. How will you, the business system analyst, developer, project manager and the business subject matter experts (SMEs) determine what the system should do when you are finished? There are many people involved. Everyone person hasdifferent expectations and needs. How do you deal with these difficulties, gather reasonable requirements quickly, and be agile?
There are some real common sense things to do which basically come right out of the PMBOK.

Identify stakeholders - Who is it that we are really going to listen to on this project? Who is vocal and who is knowledgable and really who owns it...these are the stakeholders.

Find a Vision Statement. This can come from senior management or the stakeholders. It must capture the essense of the project. On some of my projects, it has been almost like a second verbose name for the project. The team identified with it.

Now comes the hard part...them pesky requirements. The "Software Requirement Specification", the "User Stories", the "Use Cases"...oh...and are they Business, User or Functional requirements.
The excitement is quickly wearing off...this is where projects reach a real make or break stage. Successfully navigating requirements obstacle course and ending up with requirements that a developer can code to and a quality assurance specialist can test to is paramount to overall project success.

So the real point of this entry in my do we do that hard part. What tools? How verbose? Are little index cards sufficient? Do we need an inch or two of paper? How do we keep them up to date? Is this just a stage and once we finally get past it we can get to the fun part of doing the project?

I would suggest that you break free from preconcieved notions of what a requirement, a change request, a use case, user story have been tradionally and look at the problem fresh.

I came up with using a mind manager (XMind or FreeMind) as the tool of choice. It captures requirements in a lightweight fashion...I will blog more on the success of this tool next time...

Outlined below are important items to keep in mind for successful requirements capture and recording:

1. There are three levels of requirements.
1. Business Requirements - High level objectives of the project which are recorded in the Vision and Scope Document
2. User Requirements - Task and facilities available to the end user recorded in the Use Cases
3. Functional Requirements - Detailed listing out of each behavior that the software must exhibit. This along with the quality attributes and other non-functional requirements is documented in the Software Requirements Specification (SRS).

more to come soon...

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Shrinking Budgets...just focus

Budgets for Information Technology everywhere are shrinking. Does this mean that the business requirements that drove those budgets went away? No. In reality, during tough times, the business need for IT services and solutions tends to grow.

Why would the need grow when uncertainty and chaos abound? When times are good, the saying, "Easy come...Easy go" tends to govern the majority of companies...projects start...projects fail...projects succeed, it all works out in the big deal. However when the belt is tightened a notch or two, this is when the business actually begins to focus on how to really impact the bottom line and operate more efficiently.

How do you improve efficiency? DATA! I wrote a blog entry once on an internal company blog titled, "Data, Data everywhere. Not a drop of Information to drink" It highlighted the fact that too much data is useless without analysis and a framework to understand it in.  So...Who controls or is supposed to control all that data and turn it into information and eventually knowledge? The CIO...the IT department.

The business must adapt to this new environment quickly in order to survive and come out the other side stronger than ever. An excellent book on this subject: The Innovator's Dilemma  details how disruptive technologies redefined the competitive landscape.  In today's case, it is not disruptive technology so much as this disruptive economic downturn. Additionally, history has shown that hundreds of creative new companies start during every recession and of those new players could put you out of business with the disruptive technology they brought to the market!

Where do the answers lie? In the Data! Many of the companies highlighted in the above book and other similar books, show that, had the company been able to analyze and understand the data they had access to (either internally or externally), they could have potentially averted disaster and emerged a leader in their space. The challenge is that we are awash in thousands of gigabytes of data, how do you make sense of it all? This is where a Knowledge Management Strategy comes into play.
Data -> Information -> Knowledge
That sounds big, complicated and expensive!  But the amazing thing is that this does not need to be complicated.  Sure in the hey day we would make this into a multi-million dollar transformation project.  But by using simple needs analysis techniques, combined with a modest amount of initial research, you will generate multiple targets (more than your budget can support). The Criticallity and Priority can be quickly accomplished by bouncing these targets off the strategic plan. See...we looked at the data, mixed in needs, added in some context (strategic plan) and our raw data became information and then turned into knowledge. Now we know what really needs to be done first during this economic downturn. Start small and iterate quickly...agility is key.

Not sure where to start, download, install and open Xmind or FreeMind. Get 6-10 stakeholders in the room and start talking...a map will emerge within 2 hours. Allow someone a couple of hours to clean up the verbiage and layout and have a follow-on one hour meeting for fine tuning. You got your plan. Now using that plan focus your reduced resources on it and execute...your company, your bottom line and the team will thank you.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Under 7000....focus on cost effective solutions

Wow...The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed at a new all-time record high at 14,164.53 on August 9, 2007. Yesterday the market closed at less than 1/2 that number (6,763.29).  Quite a ride in the last 17 months!  We have a very confused Washington DC, all the politicians from the President on down are scrambling and jumping at any idea that seems like it has any chance of helping.
So what are we to do here in the business world?
Most of us have during school taken an economics or business course where we learned things like:
  • The balance sheet tells how much the business is worth.
  • The profit and loss statement tells if your business is profitable or not.
  • The cash flow statement predicts your cash balances into the future.
Somehow in all of the hoopla about stock price we have forgotten about common sense things like assets, equity and liabilities.  It became very in vogue for companies to finance growth through borrowing, but this is very dangerous and increases your liabilities in pursuit of cash flow growth.   Granted there are some valid reasons to do this, but it became so common place that many companies routinely were dipping into a line of credit just to make payroll!!!  This is wrong and is not founded in sound business principles.

Having a focus on the bottom line and affecting the profits is good common sense.  

Let's take something that we use everyday in the workplace and in almost every workplace...the telephone!  Many companies today use VOIP (voice over internet protocol) for economical and robust phone system.   The challenge is that it is still an emerging market and the vendor you pick could go belly-up during this economic downturn, or you could pick the leading vendor and be locked into an expensive proprietary solution.  Could you come up with an even better phone system?  One that is cost effective?  One that could affect your bottomline.  Yes :)  
Let me introduce you to Asterisk. ( )  Asterisk is a versatile VoIP PBX system that can be configured to accomplish almost any telecommunications task you require!  Asterisk has the lowest total cost of ownership of any solution in any class because it is the world’s leading open source telephony engine and tool kit.   Asterisk is a worldwide community supported product, because it is completely open, it has been connected to virtually every telephone system in the world!  Check it out and other GNU General Public License open source solutions.
For example...maybe you want to setup a discussion board at your company to discuss whether to use Asterisk...check out MyBB. ( Its an easy to use, powerful, multilingual, feature packed and FREE forum software package.  

Free is very cost effective.  These are both Free as in a free donut as well as free as in free speech (freedom).

Friday, February 13, 2009

In Stitches

So my sister called and wanted to know what Emily's room looked like now. So I ran in there with my Nikon D80 with its 18-200 zoom lens. do you get a picture of the whole room? So I stood in the door way and took 6 or 7 shots of the room. downloaded them and they looked fine, but you had to scroll back and forth through them to get the 'whole picture' of what it looked like. Hmmm if there was only some easy way to stitch them all together...I am in a hurry and do it automatically.
So I ask Google "stitch picture automatically" what my options are...the 3rd link on the page looked promising...something called AutoStitch. A quick trip the the AutoStitch website shows that I hit the bullseye first time out. I download the very small program (about 1 mb). Unzip it, click on the program name called AutoStitch.

There is a File menu, click open, browse to the pictures of Emily's room, select them and click ok, kinda wondering what was going to happen. The program, throws up a status thing about loading pictures and then something about RANSAC...I look away for a few seconds and bam, in my image editor there is a panoramic stitched together picture of my images of her room. WOW!!! I didn't tell it what order I took them in, I did not tell it where to start, no dragging, no dropping, just here are my files and it says here is your pano.jpg. Now it was not 100% perfect, but WOW!
The image posted here is the example that comes with AutoStitch when you download it. It took the seven images of the mountain and turned it into the full mountain.

Try it is FREE and I think you will like it.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Thoughts to paper or to computer?

All of us have created a new, blank document or doodled on a pad staring at the vast empty space wondering what to do next. Well there are a number of tools out there to help handle that situation or brainstroming meetings etc, it is call "Mind Mapping". Mind mapping uses a process that gets the ideas out quickly, without needless organizational burdens.

In my ongoing quest of finding new tools, I have come across a couple in this category that are interesting. A commercial program that I have used previously is the MindJet MindManager product. It costs money (but does have a free trial), but it is out of consideration. Two others that are fairly prominent in the open source world are FreeMind and XMind.(note that XMind is a relative new comer to the open source world)

I have installed both and am trying them out. So far they are both AWESOME. I will update this post with which one is my favorite and why in a few days. In the mean time check out an example or two or three.

Update: 3 Feb - Uploaded a basic XMind map to Xmind seems to work real well. Unfortunately, the ability to share mind maps between FreeMind and XMind is very limited. Heres to hoping for an open standard.

Update: 6 Feb - After using both for a few days, there are some great advantages to both. I really like the XMind layout options and floating nodes. I really like the copy and paste of text into FreeMind and its speed. I dislike the fact that interoperability between the two is so limited...please come up with a open standard format for mind maps. FreeMind has never crashed on me. XMind locked up one and blanked out my diagram (I had to close and reopen to get the graphics to redisplay.).
All in all if I was to tally points for features, etc, I think they would be in a dead tie. I will keep both installed for now. I find myself using XMind a little more because I can change the layout and look a little easier. Try them both you will win either way! :)

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

OpenProject - Microsoft should be worried

The number of great software projects that I never knew existed is simply amazing.  
Today I started using Serena OpenProj.  This is an open source ( application that is freely available to run and use.  The amazing thing is that it works just like Microsoft Project!!!!  Yep.  First thing I tried was to open an MS-Project file I had been working on a few minutes earlier and just basically continued editing it with OpenProj.  The user interface is somewhat different and not quite as crisp, but that is mainly because this is a Java program that I can run on any platform, not just Windows.  
It is not all super sweet, there are some very minor drawbacks.  If you print out your project plan and are used to the specific look of MS Project Gantt charts, is going to be a little different.  Oh...and don't expect to save it back as an .mpp file format.  You can save it as xml and then open the xml from MS Project.  Also if you are a true power user of MSProject, then there are numerous other minor things you will immediately notice.  But if all you need is a way to build the gantt, set up dependencies, use it to manage your project with...THIS IS IT...and it is open source! Free :)

TiddlyWiki and SlickRun

These are two utility programs that I have come to love in the short time I have been using them.   I have been using them since about the 8th of January.

TiddlyWiki - it is a wiki personal notebook.  I use it for keeping a daily journal of my notes and research and collection of links etc.  If you have a specific topic you want to collect notes about, just copy a blank Tiddly file and rename, double-click and begin adding content.   It is not designed to be multi-user.  It would be simple enough to publish the HTML to a webserver, but really it is supposed to run on your local hard drive.  I recommend using a different browser other than IE to edit it, because IE has all the warnings that pop up.  Personally I create a short cut to Google Chrome to open the specified Tiddlywiki file.

SlickRun - Switch little resident program that creates a little window that by default displays the date/time, but allows you to type in commands.  Each command is like a typical windows short cut link.  So you can set up a command (Called a Magic Word) in there to launch Microsoft Word.  You may decide you want your command(magicword) to be 'msword' or just 'w' or anything.  Then it will launch Word for you when you type the command.  Getting creative, you can set up a magic word called 'ts' (for timesheet) that will launch Microsoft Excel and open your XLS based timesheet.  Having it hover above all programs and being just a keystroke away is what makes it so Slick.  It is much faster to jump to it and quickly type 'exp' to launch explorer or type 'wiki' to launch Google Chrome with your TiddlyWiki file than to find the shortcut on your desktop and click on it etc.  it has some other fun features too, but I have not used them much.    

Check these two cool utilities out...I think you might like them :)

Thursday, January 22, 2009


What a cool tool. The Google Sketchup is amazing. So easy to use and yet very powerful 3d editor with a ton of free models available for making your drawing look great.
I threw the below together in about 20 minutes of playing.  Pretty fun.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Amazing Pictures

Awesome examples of some great photography, like this one:

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

CD and DVD Burning

ImgBurn ( is a lightweight CD / DVD / HD DVD / Blu-ray burning application that everyone should have in their toolkit!

It has several 'Modes', each one for performing a different task:

  • Read - Read a disc to an image file
  • Build - Create an image file from files on your computer or network - or you can write the files directly to a disc
  • Write - Write an image file to a disc
  • Verify - Check a disc is 100% readable. Optionally, you can also have ImgBurn compare it against a given image file to ensure the actual data is correct
  • Discovery - Put your drive / media to the test! 
Great little free tool!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Sweet little Excel Macro

I love Microsoft Excel macro's that make your life easier.  I was working on the collection of some data into a typical matrix grid, trying to compare items.  Formatting away getting layouts right and then it dawned on me, that I was going to have to put this grid online...ugh...I have seen the resulting HTML from an Excel save as...yuck.  So a quick search online revealed this little jewel of a macro.  This macro was originally written by Chris Mead (
It works clean and simply.  And produces a simple web page with the majority of formatting from Excel in tact.  Here is what it looked like in XLS

And here is what the output looked like in IE

Not to bad! And the HTML was clean and easy to edit for integration or use. The macro may require a bit of VB editing to make it work :) Have fun and enjoy.


What is the AMP solution? It is a collection of some of the most commonly used open source applications - Apache, MySQL, and PHP. There are a ton of resources from which to learn more about AMP, but here is a good article from the 2001 era on the Linux AMP or LAMP as it is known. 
I like this line best: 
"Of course, there are plenty of excellent open source variants for any of the pieces of LAMP. Let the L stand for Linux, FreeBSD, NetBSD, OpenBSD, and Darwin/Mac OS X, all of which are open source operating systems and all but the latter have open source GUI layers. Let the M stand for MySQL and PostGreSQL. Let the P stand for PHP, Perl, Python, and Ruby."

So what?  
Well if you are thinking of buying web based software for a small to mid-sized company spend a little bit of time researching the current offerings on the AMP stack and other Open Source platforms.  As an example I have been singularly impressed with the initial research on Alfresco. I can't wait to try out the integration with MS-Office, the collaboration options and workflow options.  Although technically not an AMP project (it is Java/mySQL), it still represents the open source movement well.    Read more here:


Friday, January 09, 2009

The Utility Master List

If you have never seen Scott Hanselman's 2007 Ultimate Developer and Power Users Tool List for Windows, you must go visit.  Many of what I listed yesterday are on there and much much more!

Thursday, January 08, 2009

More Utilities

I had to set up a new machine and as I started digging around I found a wealth of super tools that are mostly free and make experience on the PC and Web so much better. 
Here goes my list:
DropBox - The first 2 GB are free.  Then it is $99 for 50GB per year.  With DropBox you're paying for 3 features. One is an offsite storage space for your files. Two is a syncing application to synchronize your files on multiple computers, and three, is a system to keep track of incremental changes which at first won't mean much if you aren't doing project related work. 

IDrive - Similar to DropBox.  I am still comparing these.  Both are great products.  IDrive is cheaper... $4.95 a month for $150 GB.  No costs for the versioned files.

PicasaWeb - Awesome picture program for the PC and free picture online hosting for sharing with friends, families and blogs.

AxCrypt -  AxCrypt Great features like automatic re-encryption after modification, simple double-click to edit any file you encrypt. Love the integration with Explorer etc. Best of all it is GNU General Public License free software.  If you like it, consider their Xecrets free service as well.

CutePDF - Create professional quality PDF files from almost any printable document.  FREE for personal, commercial, gov or edu use! It works great!

7-Zip - Free, open source Windows utility for manipulating archives. The program supports 7z, ZIP, CAB, RAR, ARJ, LZH, CHM, GZIP, BZIP2, Z, TAR, CPIO, ISO, MSI, WIM, NSIS, RPM and DEB formats.  This is a great utility.

ZoomIt - This is a must have screen zoom tool.  Designed for presentations and it works AWESOME!  

WinSnap - WinSnap is a small enhancement utility for taking and editing screenshots.  WinSnap Portable is a special version of WinSnap designed to run from removable media like a USB flash drive.

Although everything above this is Windows oriented, I must give a big pointer to some really great software that runs on the Apache/MySQL/PHP stack.  Although these are not really personal use utility apps, some small to medium size business users will love this stuff!

XAMPP - New to AMP...just go get this.  It is slick and it installs super friendly and just works.  XAMPP is an easy to install Apache distribution containing MySQL, PHP and Perl. Many people know from their own experience that it's not easy to install an Apache web server and it gets harder if you want to add MySQL, PHP and Perl.  Just get this :)

Trellis Desk - A free help desk application with intuitive UI and user friendly system. PHP and MySQL.  

PureEdit - Simple easy to use Content Management System.

TiddlyWiki - A little background to go with this one...I went to SD West 2005 and bumped into personal use of wiki's for the first time.  I used FlexWiki at the time.  It worked so great for keeping track of personal notes, the syntax was quick and easy to take bulleted notes during a session.  So as I set up the new computer, I realized that I missed having that around.  My search this time around came upon TiddlyWiki, a single file HTML wiki.  It is self described as "a reusable non-linear personal web notebook".   It just flat out works and works well.  I like it.  Try it out for a notebook.  If you are graphically inclined then probably Microsoft OneNote is more up your alley.  

Well that is all for this time

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

PDF Utility

Ever need to turn a document into a PDF file? Don't have the money or desire to install the full version of Adobe Acrobat?
There is a great FREE solution out there that downloads easily, installs, and just flat out works. It is CutePDF - 
You can create professional quality PDF files from almost any printable document. FREE for personal, commercial, gov or edu use! It works great!
Need more than the free version offers? Consider their professional version (visit their website for the details).

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Happy New Year

Wow...2009. What will this year bring?
Personally...Last year was a roller coaster for me. Had a really good first half of the year, but then in July-August, my company (DynCorp International) went into turmoil mode, with a new CEO, change in management etc. On September 10, 2008 DynCorp did a RIF and laid me and a bunch of other people off! So the last quarter of the year was great too...just Unique!
I had been at DI almost 6 years and so being back on the job market was fun and exciting. I have not yet landed anywhere full time yet, but have had a blast working on numerous part time stuff including helping out on some marketing, proposal development, software development, general consulting and advice for firms in the small business, Natural Gas and Oil, RFID, and government technical services companies.
I am excited about the new year and look forward to what God has in store for me.
Information Technology...This coming year looks exciting. Some of the items that catch my eye are:
1. Cloud Computing - Still early and only those early risk takers will jump on this year, but it appears to hold great promise.
2. Business Continuity - The risks of disasters and turmoil are as great as ever, if not greater. Companies need to make sure their DR plans are current.
3. Agility or Agile - In business, agility means the capability of rapidly and cost efficiently adapting to changes. This term, primarily originating in the software development arena, has met the mainstream now and is overheard in conference across the industry. "How can we be more agile?"
4. Cost Reduction - This is not a 'fun' or 'exciting' topic, but a hard work one. How do companies stand out or differentiate themselves in these times? A great book that I read on this in the Innovators Dilemma which discusses how disruptive technology results in either success or failure for companies. I see innovative approaches to cost reduction as being one of the key disruptive technologies of 2009 and 2010 as we emerge from this depression/recession.

On a final note...Becky made me laugh the other day with this humor...she asked: 
"Whats the difference between a recession and a depression?" 
The answer: 
     A recession is when your neighbor loses his job.
     A depression is when you lose your job.

Have a great New Year!