Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Leading Up

I read this article on Yahoo News. The content itself is not extraordinary, but I find the following passage quite interesting:

Abrams, 40, is the ultimate example of what can happen to the office busybody. After years of peppering his bosses with memos and suggestions about what MSNBC could do better, they finally said, "OK, you try it."

In probably all of John C. Maxwell's book you'll find him saying that leadership is influence. And like he writes in his book 360-degree Leader, the act of leadership includes influencing your boss. Another business reading on the topic is "Managing Your Boss", a classic  Harvard Business Review article by Gabarro and Kotter.
"Leading up" (Maxwell's term) is something that not a lot of business people appreciate. We often find it easier to criticize our bosses than to help them. It is indeed much easier to vent than to think and offer solution. But as the Yahoo article shows, leading up can mean a very successful career.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Would you like wi-fi with that latte?

Ars Technica has an interesting article on cafes giving free wi-fi. I wish they have that problem in Jakarta, where internet is still quite expensive.

I have to admit that working in a coffee shop has its own appeal. I'm usually more productive when working at a local Starbucks because nobody bothers me there.  Nobody comes to my table and asks why data is suddenly missing from their Oracle table. And because wi-fi in Jakarta is not cheap, I'm online only when I need to. The rest of the time, I'm typing away at my notebook, productively, offline.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Hua Hin, Thailand

I just got back from an event in Hua Hin, Thailand, arranged by our good friends at IBM. This was an event designed to build partnership between IBM and my company, specifically in selling one of their server lines. It was my first time in Thailand and I have to say that I had such a wonderful time.

First, the location. We stayed at Anantara Resort in Hua Hin and I highly recommend this place. It was a wonderful resort hotel and the place was simply beautiful. I wished my wife could have been there. I was treated to the spa and I had, for the first time, the traditional Thai massage (just the massage -- nothing else). I really enjoyed it. But I was slightly disappointed when I learned later that the masseuse didn't do all the tricks in the book, like lift up your body to stretch your back. But I'm a big guy -- maybe she was afraid she couldn't handle my weight.

The networking was also great. I met a bunch of new people, both from the IBM side and people from other offices of my company. I also had a chance to meet with the top leaders of my company -- people who I don't get to see often. And to make socializing even easier, the soccer world cup was going on, which made it easy to start a conversation.

As far as the content of the event (i.e. the products that IBM hopes we can help push to the market), I have nothing but respect for IBM servers. But there is so much more involved in buying servers. Clients may have their own product preference to begin with, they may be tied to a particular platform because of skills, they may already have good relationship with a particular vendor, etc. Sometimes the technology does not matter much in sales. (See any arguments on Wintel vs. Apple.) However I applause IBM for doing what they can and I think increasing relationship and partnership with a major SI/consulting company like us is a right strategy for them.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

X1 Desktop Search

af7f In my previous blog entry, I wrote about a few desktop search tools, namely Google Desktop, Windows Desktop Search, and Copernic Desktop Search. This past week I was fortunate to be able to use X1 Desktop Search for free. The tool costs $75 to the general public, but due to partnership between X1 and my employer, we were given free access to download and use the software.

One thing that's immediately apparent from X1 Desktop Search is its speed. Index building was about twice as fast as Copernic or Windows Desktop Search. Searching also feels faster and results seem to jump out immediately. I'm quite particular about resource usage and I complained about how Windows Desktop Search grabbed a lot of it. Obviously all of X1's horsepower needs resources, but I'm glad to say that its usage is still far below that of Windows Desktop Search (although slightly above Copernic's). X1 is also quite stable and never gave me problem despite heavy use alongside Outlook.

My complaints with X1 are related to the user interface and lack of information in the help file. Going from Copernic's elegant UI, X1's interface seems quite untidy. The icons are not the same size, and there are icons whose arrangement takes up too much space. Better interface design would increase screen real estate. The deskbar (the toolbar in the taskbar) also needs redesigning, or at least ability for customization. It has icons that do nothing for me other than taking real estate.

X1 comes with a modest help file, but a power user may need to find information somewhere else. For example, in Copernic I love the ability to scroll through instances of found search terms in the search results. In X1 this feature is also available, but you wouldn't know it unless you dig through the user forums because the help file doesn't mention it.

Which brings me to something that X1 excels compared to Copernic, which is community. I'm surprised that in this day and age, there is a company like Copernic that doesn't try to involve its users more. X1 does a good job in providing its users a community where everybody can interact, ask questions, and give suggestions. I believe this will make X1 a better product for its users and in turn foster loyalty.

I still have both Copernic and X1 installed on my notebook. I believe both are excellent products for my needs, but I believe X1 will someday be a  better product than Copernic.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Desktop Search Tools

The desktop search industry has been around for some time, but we only started hearing a lot of it when Google came out with its product in 2005. If you recall, at that time most internet tech publications did reviews and comparison articles on this matter with Google, Microsoft or Copernic coming out on top. Unfortunately, the interest on this matter seemed to wane down and if you do an internet search right now on desktop search software comparison, you won't find a lot of recent articles.

Desktop Search is something I use daily and I admit I followed the reviews closely in 2005. The 3 products I tried hands-on were Google Desktop, Microsoft Windows Desktop Search and Copernic Desktop Search. I ended up using Copernic Desktop Search mainly because it was the only product that could work well with multiple Outlook profiles. Believe me, I wanted to use either Google or Microsoft because of brand familiarity, but in the end logic prevailed over heart and I stuck with Copernic to this day.

With the recent release of Google Desktop 4, I again revisited my Copernic Desktop Search decision and decided to do another hands-on evaluation for myself. Coincidentally, the company I'm working for released their version of Windows Desktop Search that integrates with the company's enterprise search. Additionally, the research team at Microsoft came up with Phlat -- a new user interface that sits on top of Windows Desktop Search. So here are my thoughts.

Google Desktop 4 If you read the reviews, the new features of Google Desktop (sidebar, gadgets) are what separates them from the rest of the pack. I actually found them to be a bloat and wish they were not included. I use a 15" laptop most of the time and the sidebar reduces the screen real estate and is a distraction for me when I'm doing real work. I don't need for RSS feeds to be constantly displayed all the time and I'm sure the weather doesn't change every minute. If I want to read the news or look up the weather forecast, I'll go to my browser.

The Google Gadget is another thing I don't need. Well, I like the "gadget" concept, but I already have Yahoo Widgets which has a lot more software at this point. I don't care for the Google Gadget and I wish it wasn't bundled with Google Desktop in the first place.

Microsoft Windows Desktop Search I really wanted this product to work for me because it's endorsed by the company I'm working for and I want everything on my company-issued laptop to be compliant with their policies. After installing it and playing with it during actual work environment for about a week, I discovered a few things I really have a problem with:

  • It's a memory hog. A big one. If I go to Task Manager, it eats up about 200MB more than Copernic Desktop Search.
  • I simply prefer Copernic's philosophy on searching user interface. Having Phlat sit on top of Windows Desktop Search helps a bit, but not enough. More on this below.

Copernic Desktop Search CDS is never a flashy product and the company seems slow in releases (it's stuck in 1-point-something version), but CDS is good in areas that matter. CDS runs on a small footprint and the performance is pretty good (I never do a time comparison with other products, but it is as good or better than the rest). There are 2 specific features that keep me coming back to Copernic Desktop Search. First, it works with multiple Outlook profile. I use multiple profiles in Outlook because of my job and I found that neither Google nor Windows Desktop Search handle it well.

Secondly, CDS lets you choose a document type prior to conducting the search. Then, after search result is displayed , it provides an easy way to refine the search by adding filters or choose another document type. I find this to be more intuitive because 95% of the time I already know if I want to find an email, a file or a picture.

This way of searching is, in fact, what the folks at Microsoft Research agree to be the most intuitive way. This is in essence what Phlat does when used with Windows Desktop Search. Yes, Phlat provides document tagging and other little features, but it largely just gets Windows Desktop Search to where CDS already is.

What I'd like to see from Copernic (the company) is more effort to reach out to its customers. Other companies already have RSS feeds, forums, and other ways of interacting to its customers. I'd like to see Copernic start doing this so I can tell them to jump on the document tagging bandwagon.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Learning to value Social Bookmarking tools

7420 When David Filo and Jerry Yang first started Yahoo on a campus trailer in 1994, they could list the whole internet on a few web pages. Now, any 13 year old has a thousand of web bookmarks he needs to manage.
My first experience with bookmark web sites was with Yahoo's own. It was quite adequate for many years -- or at least I think it was adequate -- until Furl and brought new ideas to the game. To me, it was not the idea of sharing my bookmarks that mattered the most. The main advantages of such Social Bookmarking tools are (compared to Yahoo's old-fashioned bookmarking tool) for me are:

  • It makes more sense to save web "pages" (articles, blog entries, etc.) in Social Bookmarking sites rather than old-fashioned bookmarking tool. For example, can be saved in an old-fashioned bookmark. But an article about avian flu in should be saved in a Social Bookmarking tool.
  • You can easily create tags or notes to the bookmark to clearly explain what the web site is about
  • In the case of Furl, it keeps a copy of the web page, in case the original web site goes down or goes out of business
Since mid-2004, I started keeping entries in Furl. As of this blog entry's writing, I have 654 bookmarks in it. I still keep my Yahoo bookmarks because I wanted to keep "home" pages of web sites (,, etc.) separate from articles and blog entries I keep in Furl. On last count, my Yahoo bookmarks has 600+ entries in it and keeping them within the (numerous levels of) folders are beginning to be quite a hassle. That is why I am now revisiting other methods/tools for keeping my bookmarks.
After evaluating a number of bookmarking tools out there, I can sum them up thusly:
  • Yahoo Bookmarks. Cons: Simply put: not sexy. Needs the bloated Yahoo Toolbar to take advantage of.
  • Chipmark is a Yahoo Bookmarks clone. Pros: doesn't need Yahoo Toolbar. Cons: Saving bookmarks is constrained to the folder hierarchy, so you cannot have multiple tags to a bookmark (i.e. old-fashioned bookmarking).
  • Furl. Pros: Saves a copy of the bookmarked web page. Cons: Interface is a bit clunky -- it takes multiple clicks to attach new tags to a bookmark.
  • Yahoo My Web 2.0. Pros: Easy to have multiple tags to a bookmark. Easy import from Yahoo Bookmarks. Integration with other Yahoo services. Cons: Plain-looking. No easy way to import 654 bookmarks from Furl. Bulk edit can be improved.
  • Pros: Multiple tags to a bookmark. A gazillion tools/extensions available to enhance usability and user experience. Cons: Ugly-looking. Doesn't save a copy of the web page. No easy way to import from Furl.
  • Blinklist. Pros: Nice looking. Multiple tags to a bookmark. Easy to import from Furl and Yahoo Bookmarks. Cons: Doesn't save a copy of the web page.
At this point I have imported my bookmarks from Yahoo and Furl to Blinklist. However, because Blinklist doesn't create copies of web pages, I'm also keeping my bookmarks at Furl (I know, it sucks). What I'm really hoping is for Google to start getting serious in this area and enhance their own bookmarking tool (e.g. have an import feature, to start with). With its integration to the rest of Google service, it would certainly be kick-ass.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Evaluating your workplace habits

Often times when you spend your 9-to-5 at the office, you feel like you're not getting as much done as you'd like. Or maybe you're just curious about how much of your work time is taken away by non-work distractions (impulse to web surf and other things). One tip I got from reading sites such as Lifehacker and 43 Folders is keeping track of the time you spend at the office. This means literally take note of what you're doing, including the start time and end time. Fortunately there are tools out there that help you do that.
Ideally, a tool that I'd like to use for this has the following features:

  • Small enough to fit in the toolbar and has an always-on-top option
  • Installed on the PC (because I don't always have internet connection)
  • Can easily switch from one task to another (because I do many different tasks in a day, and I don't do one task continuously from start to finish).
  • Has a decent reporting feature.
  • Free

I tried a number of different tools, ranging from the basic to the sophisticated, but finally settled on TimeTracker. It doesn't meet all my criterias, but I'll settle for it for now.
I've been using it for only 3 days now, but I'll share my experience. First, I regret to say that I broke the first rule of scientific study. When you're observing a subject, your observation is not supposed to affect your subject. However, in my case, the fact that I'm able to dissect my working habit as I'm doing it and evaluate whether it's good or bad, makes me improve my working habit at the same time. So at the end of 3 days, I see that I'm actually doing more work that before.

Well, in any case, even though my study is not valid, my goal to improve my productivity is achieved.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

GTD and ebooks

I became aware of Getting Things Done (GTD), a few months ago from various web sites around the internet. The more I read about it, the more I became interested in it. When I decided to buy the book, about 5 months ago none of the bookstores in Jakarta carried it. Fortunately Amazon carried the e-book version. 5 minutes later, I was happily reading the electronic version of David Allen's Getting Things Done on my iPaq hw6515.
This book started a whole avalanche of e-book purchases and the beginning of e-book love-fest for me. My preferred format is Microsoft's eReader (.LIT) because of the ClearType (seriously, I mean it) and other wonderful thingies such as bookmarking and highlighting.

The reason I prefer e-books to regular books are related to the teachings of GTD itself. GTD teaches you to utilize time more efficiently. The 5 minutes waiting for a meeting to start, the 2 minutes waiting for the light to turn green, etc. Those are the times I use to read my ebook. And I carry 10 books with me all the time... in my iPaq.

One good e-commerce site I discovered for e-books -- besides Amazon -- is FictionWise. Of course, relatively speaking, the choice of e-books for sale out there is pretty pathetic. I'm pretty pissed that publishers are not offering more titles as e-books and I can't understand (or rather, I refuse to accept the explanation) why they won't do that. Even if they offer a title, the cost is the same or more expensive than the paperback edition. Why? There's no cost for paper, no cost for distribution, no cost for the middle persons. Why the high price??