Attending Kiwi Foo Camp 2009

I’m one of those people who believes that if you don’t have something worthwhile to say, then don’t say anything. That’s one of the reasons why this blog has been dormant for so long – the other is that daily life is too hectic to make the effort to post. Hopefully that will change during 2009 – who knows.

That said, attending Kiwi Foo Camp last weekend was inspirational and, more than anything else, has triggered this post. Others have been more timely in describing the event and what happened. I’d just like to take this opportunity to:

  • Thank Nat, Jenine and Russell for their huge effort, and their adeptness at bringing a diverse mix of skilled, smart people together.
  • Comment that, in the structured world that we live in, there’s sometimes a need for us to let go of such structure, and be prepared to participate in broad-ranging, open discussions that may quickly diverge from what was originally intended, but which will inevitably draw out other valuable contributions, comments and ideas.
  • Remind myself of the experiences I had there. Whether it was discussing the future of news media in New Zealand, appreciating the complexities of under the hood browser technologies, or mixing with acquaintances – new and old – I got a head-full of thoughts and ideas which has given me new reserves of energy, ideas I want to apply, and knowledge I want to share.
  • Look forward to re-engaging with the people I met, and see what can be discussed and accomplished between now and Foo Camp 2010. While such an event is a self-contained creator of value, it’s also the catalyst for other ideas and contributions that can’t help but drive new experiences and opportunities in the future.

Thanks once again to those who organised this and took part, and I look forward to participating again next time.

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How to fold a T-shirt in three perfect folds

Off topic, but useful for those of us travelling or the neat-freaks out there.

Haven’t you always wondered how retail staff fold t-shirts so well? Or how you can tidily pack a bunch of t-shirts in a suitcase?

I hadn’t, but after seeing this on TV last night, it certainly got my attention: How to fold a t-shirt in three perfect folds. Enjoy!

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Opportunities to improve Microsoft Outlook

Microsoft Outlook is much maligned in the technical community, with critics lamenting its occasional lack of robustness and its variable performance.

The undeniable fact is that most information workers use Outlook. The product is installed on 350 million desktops worldwide, and represents a fertile market for third parties who can take advantages of its weaknesses to add value. Where there’s weakness, there’s always opportunity.

In the past few days, there have been a couple of developments that have really added to my Outlook experience:

  • Xobni has been made available to a broader beta community. With all the recent discussion about the “social graph,:” Xobni (which is “inbox” spelt backwards) acknowledges that there is a significant amount of this data contained within email: the people you send email to are often those with whom you have a close relationship, more so than many “friends” you may attract in Facebook or elsewhere. Xobni makes it easy to make the most of these relationships, analysing the messages to pull out contact information, email messages and documents relating to an email address/contact. Very nicely done, without a performance hit.
  • NewsGator also announced its entire range of RSS readers are free. I used NewsGator’s Outlook reader years ago when there were few options around. For a period I also used FeedDemon, but gave up because it was sometimes less than stable. Now these clients are both free and updated. And, as an aside, this is a fantastic strategic move by NewsGator who can use their client products to drive interest and use of their enterprise RSS offerings.

Lastly, I’d be remiss to not mention the Outlook support we provide at ActionThis. We’ve supported Outlook 2007 since launch, and quietly released our Outlook 2003 client at the end of 2007. If you’re looking for a service to help you get more things done, that works the way you do, then look at our free trial.

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Where do you get your news from?

The erosion of traditional media continues, with the New York Times reporting that CNet’s financial future is uncertain.

Years ago – and we’re going back to the late nineties here – I used to diligently read CNet’s News.com news service virtually every hour. News.com was comprehensive in its coverage of the tech industry, across all facets, and met my news requirements for the best part of a decade. Not only did they break news first, there was also analysis, lengthy and detailed features, and – most of all – the site was considered authoritative in this area. I relied on News.com to be the first and best resource for giving me the news I needed.

As we all know, over the past few years the media industry has been impacted by online media, with the arrival of multiple online sources, including blogs. With the arrival of these, and the emergence of RSS, my news consumption habits have changed.

Going back to News.com, I’ve very rarely visited this site in recent years: I’ve found it to offer dated information, from fewer writers, and its focus has diverged from the things that I’m interested. I’ve located alternative resources for tech news and information, many of these blogs, whose writers either directly create the content or point me to the stories I need.  Typically, I don’t visit the web sites themselves either – rather, I consume the feeds with Google Reader or the feed reader within Outlook 2007.

As a result, my approach to getting news has changed:

  • I use Techmeme to give me the significant stories of the day. News tends to break here early, and important stories rise to the top of the page as more people report and comment on a piece of news. With the velocity and volume of news, Techmeme has replaced News.com in guiding me to where news is breaking.
  • I read dozens of blogs – time permitting – including obvious choices such as TechCrunch and the GigaOm Network, New Zealand blogs such as Rod’s and Geekzone, and a more eclectic mix of news, start-up, finance, analyst and technology sites, amongst others. My current interests are in start-ups, marketing and – more broadly – technology and media trends, so my focus is on sites that service these areas; in six months time it could well be different.
  • And, so that I don’t ignore the other world events, I continue to glance through Stuff, the New York Times and other traditional publications when time permits.

Media is changing and it will be those sites and services which offer timely, accurate and authoritative information that will survive. In recent years the quality of media here in New Zealand has really diminished, and there are ample opportunities in this area right now.

Where do you get your news from? Tech news or otherwise?

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Google Maps on Windows Mobile – Vodafone supported?

Last week, Google announced an update to its mobile mapping software which, in addition to providing maps, also provided the user’s location – without the need for GPS.

Enthusiastically, I installed the software on my iMate JasJam and showed colleagues our location, even though it was working to a range of +/- 1700 metres. Fantastic.

Next day: It couldn’t locate me. And I’ve not been able to get it going since.

There’s a bunch of speculation as to how this service works, all of which essentially require the cellular network to provide some data. There was talk of Google having arrangements with networks to make this data available, but there’s been no confirmation if that’s the case, especially here in New Zealand.

To me, it appears that Vodafone was allowing this data to be transmitted/received and then turned it off – for whatever reason.

Has anyone else used the latest Google Map application on their mobile device, and have you been able to get location information? Any other thoughts as to how this works?

UPDATE: This service still works, although it’s variable.

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ActionThis is live

Shipping is the goal of any software company. Tonight we pushed the button, flicked the switch – however you want to put it. ActionThis is now live.

The team’s worked fantastically hard over the past few weeks, not to mention the 10 months of effort that had already gone into the solution.

Over the next few weeks we’ll be listening to what people say about ActionThis. Thanks to Read/WriteWeb and Mashable, amongst others, for their support and coverage.

We believe we’ve got a great foundation to help people get things done, and this is just the start – there are a lot of ideas as to how we can add more capability, develop our community, and drive growth through partnerships.

It’s been a busy time up until now, but this work has largely been behind the scenes. Now our service is out there, our focus changes: we need to make ActionThis a compelling and useful service that helps people get things done and go home early. Does that sound interesting? ActionThis trial for a free trial.

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Business vs. Personal Travel

Business travel is completely different to personal travel. Last year, I traveled more than 100,000 kilometres for work purposes, comprising several trips in multiple cities across the US, Canada and Australia. Traveling alone or with colleagues, the trips mainly comprised series of meetings and business dinners, with the occasional weekend to see sights and have some personal time. The work/personal split is very clear – very tilted towards work – and the desire to make the most of the time with colleagues or customers you don’t see that often is important and determines what you do and where you go.

Traveling for personal reasons is completely different. We’ve recently come back from two weeks in the US – and New York in particular – where our whole family congregated for a family wedding. Traveling with family – and our young kids – puts a completely different perspective on all facets of a trip:

  • Traveling with kids is possible. We’ve got two young kids, who we needed to get from Wellington to New York, a trip comprising three separate flights and some 20+ hours of flying time, Our kids are great, and were able to negotiate all of that and deal with the vagaries of multiple time zone shifts. The trick? Give them the attention they need and keep them busy and engaged – sleep will come.
  • US immigration is a challenge with young kids. When you’re traveling alone or with a colleague, it’s straightforward going through immigration and customs, unpacking and de-robing when required. With kids it’s different: there’s an element of anxiety about how they’re treated and how they react to a process they don’t understand – no one else asks them to take off their belts, or handover toys etc. Like most things, the ease of the process depends on the people involved.
  • Americans are (still) really helpful. After working with a great bunch of US colleagues, I was familiar with how helpful they can be. Traveling with kids added a new dimension to getting about, and all the locals were helpful, opening doors and generally being patient if we were struggling with a stroller or negotiating steps. (Compare that to New Zealand, where everything’s a race and people are always in a hurry – no matter where they are.)
  • The luxury of time is wonderful. Having two weeks away, with a relatively free agenda, gave us the freedom to do the things we wanted to do, when we wanted to do them. Work travel, by necessity, doesn’t afford those luxuries. (and nor should it, I must add). By balancing what we wanted to do, and planning the time we had available, we were able to achieve everything we wanted, giving the kids the experiences we wanted them to have.

Travel is a necessity of business life, and something I’ve grown to enjoy, and despite some of the challenges, it’s great to know that traveling for personal reasons is just as rewarding.

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Moving On

After a four year journey, I’m moving on from Quest; a journey which began when we started AfterMail in 2003. Quest has been a great company to work for, but there comes a time where it’s time to try new challenges – this is my time.

When AfterMail was born, we were confident that we were creating a technologically innovative solution to solve the email management problems facing most organisations. As a start-up, with a great team of people, we were able to develop a product, a customer base and a market presence through a lot of skill, hard work and – dare I say it - luck, culminating in the sale to Quest in early 2006.

Quest has continued that momentum, combining the strength of our technology with its global sales and marketing organisations. The underlying product technology of Archive Manager (which AfterMail is now called) is still a differentiator, and will be leveraged even further in the years to come to deliver some compelling features. I will continue to watch the company’s progress with interest, and want to thank everyone with whom I’ve worked – it’s been a great ride.

As for the new challenge, I’m joining Intergen to help launch ActionThis, an innovative service designed to help end users and managers get things done. Success is all about execution, and there are few products which drive this while working in conjunction with everyday tools. More will be revealed in the coming months, but sign up here for the beta if you want more information.

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Australian Do Not Call Register Launches

Busy times here, but will hopefully get back to blogging more regularly in the near future. I had to find time to follow up an earlier rant, where I commented on the number of unsolicited calls we were receiving.

In the intervening period, these calls haven’t stopped, but one pleasing development is the launch of a Do Not Call Register in Australia. The Daily Telegraph noted that the system suffered during its first few hours, but if anything, this shows there’s a great demand.

Given we’re so privacy conscious here in New Zealand, I wonder if this will trigger anything similar here?

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Better broadband means more than faster video and web pages

There has been lots of discussion and debate around our need for faster broadband, better network infrastructure and a more open and competitive market (not to mention who should make the required investments).

Many proponents are arguing that by having faster broadband, we New Zealanders will have improved access to overseas markets and be able to access, market and sell ourselves and our products to the world. 

Surely this is only one benefit of improved infrastructure?

Why not take a broader view, looking at what else would be possible by having a more robust and better performing network infrastructure. Such infrastructure is an enabler for more than online applications and services.

Quoting Paul Budde:

“These commentators are missing the point – that the need for new infrastructure has little to do with high-speed Internet access – that the major usage of this new infrastructure will be to deliver healthcare services such as video monitoring of patients at home, remote healthcare for aged people, education services, smart energy meters, allowing home owners to monitor and better manage their energy usages, e-government services and so on.

A mindshift is necessary in relation to the use of this infrastructure. It should be looked at from a social welfare and economic benefit viewpoint, rather than the present discussion about how fast our Internet access or video downloads need to be.”

These arguments don’t contradict what’s being sought by many people; rather, they provide further justification for what’s being discussed.

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