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 (http://sourceforge.net/projects/openproj) 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, well...it 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

Visit http://1x.com/
Awesome examples of some great photography, like this one: http://1x.com/photos/landscape/21577/

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

CD and DVD Burning

ImgBurn (http://www.imgburn.com) 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.
http://www.meadinkent.co.uk/xladvhtml.htm  This macro was originally written by Chris Mead (www.meadinkent.co.uk)
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.  http://www.onlamp.com/pub/a/onlamp/2001/01/25/lamp.html 
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: http://www.alfresco.com/products/dm/


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 - http://www.getdropbox.com 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 - http://www.idrive.com 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 - http://picasaweb.google.com Awesome picture program for the PC and free picture online hosting for sharing with friends, families and blogs.

AxCrypt - http://www.axantum.com  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 - http://www.cutepdf.com Create professional quality PDF files from almost any printable document.  FREE for personal, commercial, gov or edu use! It works great!

7-Zip - http://www.7-zip.org 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 - http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/sysinternals/bb897434.aspx This is a must have screen zoom tool.  Designed for presentations and it works AWESOME!  

WinSnap - http://www.ntwind.com/software/winsnap.html 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 - http://www.apachefriends.org/en/xampp.html 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 - http://www.accord5.com/trellis A free help desk application with intuitive UI and user friendly system. PHP and MySQL.  

PureEdit - http://www.pureedit.com Simple easy to use Content Management System.

TiddlyWiki - http://www.tiddlywiki.com 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 - http://www.cutepdf.com 
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!