I/We are officially moving. We’re moving houses as well, but I was talking about my blog. It has been hosted with Newtek (formerly Crystaltech, http://thesba.com/) and running on BlogEngine.NET (http://dotnetblogengine.net/) for years and it seems like I spent more time updating it then posting. I know that’s mostly my fault since I enjoy the technical side of it as much or more than the writing.
My work has slowly got me dabbling in WordPress, so I figured it was time to dive in and play with it more. I’ve officially made the move and it caused me to clean things up some in a good way. Though I’m not completely satisfied with the move yet, I’m glad I’m going through it.
For the most part WordPress is a huge upgrade from BlogEngine.NET. I did the whole .net thing because I worked with it and thought it would get me a good introduction into what was going on in the back end. Well it didn’t directly apply to what I was working with so it helped a little, but not a ton. The technical part of the blog should be a good adjustment for me to get used to php & Apache. Its the design part of WordPress I’d love to learn more about. I know enough CSS to cause problems and fix most of them, but I know I’m not doing it the “right” way. So the next big step for me is finding a theme I like and can play with, then to eventually try to build my own.
By the way the family is moving from Omaha, north a few miles to Bennington. I’m ecstatic about the move and our house should be completed by October. Maybe in the future I should write more about the specifics of both moves, that would be fun.
This brings me to ask, why would Quora start blogs. It actually makes me feel like I could contribute without being put on the spot and being graded. I’m allowed to be a little wrong or not know everything, but still contribute my opinion or possible answers that could be used by someone. I’m not ready to dive in to using this as my only blogging avenue, but my mind is racing with possibilities of how to take advantage of the platform and audience. That’s what I think Quora really offers is a focused audience that always has the right answer.
My ideas still need a little focusing, but one thing I thought of is to use this as a way to start my football coaching blog. I think there are things I could offer in this area if the football coaching audience was a little more tech savvy. Again, its not that I have all the answers, but I’d love to make myself available in this area and learn about it at the same time. So we’ll see where it goes, but I’m excited about the possibilities that Quora Blogs offer.
I finally got the opportunity to attend the 3rd annual Big Omaha event, hosted at Kaneko by Silicon Prairie News and many other sponsors. The 2 day, 3 night event hosts many speakers of all areas of technology and entrepreneurship. Some notable ones this year are Aneesh Chopra, Mark Ecko, and Gary Vaynerchuk. Of course there are many more, but the event is truly a driving force in getting people together to discuss ideas, find answers and network with people that have similar interests. I don’t really consider myself an entrepreneur, but I really enjoy technology and putting ideas into action. You’ll also notice I’m not a writer, so bear with me.
I finally decided to attend for many reasons and I’m not sure why I waited for so long. Sure I saw the past presentations online and have read up on SiliconPrairieNews.com, but with the price tag and not being directly related to entrepreneurship, even the proximity of the conference couldn’t get me to attend. I’m not the best at networking in person, so watching from a distance was enough. Boy was I wrong. I talked my employer into footing the bill and attended the 2011 conference with an open mind. I planned on hearing personal stories from the technology field and hoping to be motivated to work on some of the personal projects that get put off in my everyday life. I was blown away by the atmosphere and it exceeded my expectations. The speakers where great, the atmosphere was amazing and it really shows what this city has to offer.
The conference itself was very well executed. Everything stayed on time, we were greeted every morning by coffee, Red Bull, snacks, and a continental breakfast. The branding around the event was beautiful and I don’t use that word very often. The cow/moon theme went from the $5 t-shirts, to the free stickers, coffee & bathroom labels, to the accordion style program, charging station, stage decorations, photo booth, and pretty much everything you could see. It wasn’t overpowering or in your face, just perfectly styled to prove that every little detail was planned out. Everyone that helped host was very nice and helpful. The venue, Kaneko, was the perfect setting. I can tell why they don’t want to grow too much, it did a great job of offering a blogger lounge, side rooms, and greeting area so that even the speakers were always accessible and everyone was openly approachable. The walls were full with local artwork and gave the vibe of open minds and creative ideas. Not to mention that what Jeff Slobotski, Dusty Davidson and their staff have done to Silicon Prairie News and this event are great for the community. I haven’t met either of the guys, but you can tell they stand for what they believe in and are great characters. They were constantly thanking everyone else, when I’m sure they could have taken more credit.
I had such a great time I would recommend this event to any one in Omaha interested in tech or not and to anyone in the US interested in the ideas and topics that were discussed in Omaha. Some day we will look back at this and say how Big Omaha put the Silicon Prairie on the map.
I heard about Tagxedo.com on Net@Night from the twit.tv network and figured I had to try it. It is actually pretty neat. You can plug in different websites, twitter ID’s and search terms to create a neat tag cloud of the words you use. Here’s an example of mine. I uploaded a graphic and adjusted the fonts, colors and layout until I set it how I liked it.
I kind of feel like Jeff Jarvis here complaining about Dell Support, but I guess my issue isn’t near as bad as his was. Overall I have never had any problems with them and trust me I have dealt with them a lot. My personal computers have mostly been Dell and the companies I’ve worked for have always used Dell. So I’ve called and chatted with them a lot on may different kinds of issues ranging from servers to this one being a $3.99 bezel. I prefer to chat with them online to save myself talking to people, elevator music, and being placed on hold. Plus this way I can get something done, or blog about them while I’m waiting for responses, like in this case. To show how long it’s taken for this $3.99 part to be ordered, I’ve formated and reinstalled Windows on the computer I was calling about and I’ve written all of this post so far.
The chat started off pretty simple, I asked for a replacement bezel for a laptop. I knew it wasn’t covered, I offered to pay and that was followed by 30 questions about what happened, what type of computer it was… again. Then finally she said that I would have to pay $3.99 for the bezel. Sweet, only took 20 minutes to pay $3.99. Then before I could give her my credit card I was asked atleast 6 times if I needed a new battery. Yes you heard me right, a new battery. I started by kindly saying “no thank you”. She proceeded to tell me that batteries degrade over time and need replaced. This lady must be a rocket scientist or something, I should ask for her virtual autograph or something. Here’s the transcript. I removed her name to protect the annoying.
So now that I count it looks like there were 7 times on the battery, and once for memory. For some reason I don’t think Dell made enough profit off the $3.99 part to pay for the 6 minutes it took to say no to a battery replacement. Let alone over an hour I’ve been working with them. I’m still working with her about something else, but I guess that’s my fault for waiting until I had 3 issues to work with Dell Support. So next time you accidently drop a laptop and it cracks a little cosmetic part, you better pick up a couple batteries, because “it would be best to have an extra battery with you always”.
So today at work I faced one of the things you hope you never have, but you are sure you will some day when you least expect it. For example when your supervisor (IS Director) is supposed to be somewhere in north-central Iowa climbing a hill on a 21 speed, road bike. This morning when I was on my way to work, I got within 1 block and there was a street light out. I didn’t think much of it, there were stop signs 1 way so I wasn’t worried about getting hit, on with my business. I pull in to my parking lot and noticed that nobody is parked in our companies private lot. It would be very surprising if I beat everyone in. I noticed that most of the cars were parked just outside of the lot in the metered parking. Again, not a huge surprise, we seem to have alot of problems with our electronic gate. Usually the problem is someone drives through it to get prime time parking on the weekends. So this was a little odd, but oh well. I’m walking in and one of the maintenance guys is removing the arm from the gate and says “gonna be an exciting morning”. Again, I figure he’s just referring to a broken arm on the gate and having to work outside when it’s already humid and warming up. Then I walk into the building and the light for the first floor isn’t on for the elevator. Weird, but I remember 1 of the lights was burned out before, but I thought it was 2nd floor. Maybe it just burned out over night. Then I press the up button and the elevator doesn’t open. It hits me, “THE POWER WAS OUT”!
I mentioned my supervisor was out, so is my office mate, the 3rd guy in the IS Department. So that just leaves me. I raced up the stairs, the server room had been getting hot so we had a portable air conditioner in the server room (more like a closet). The room was open to keep cool, but there was not a sound. Everything was off, the lights were obviously all out, network and phones down, everything.
I hear there was a fire in a man hole in downtown/old market and that power has been out since 2 AM. I figured there wasn’t much I could do, but hope that the power came up soon. I texted my boss to see if he had heard. Turns out he was still in town and was on his way in. He was trying to put together some paper work for me to do some work today and was unable to get into the system from home. So he ran in to check on the cooling unit and discovered the problem a little before I had. So that was a relief. I hate to bring him in from vacation, but it took a little pressure off my shoulders trying to explain to everyone what all was down, how long and what could be done in the mean time. I was prepared for the questions, but still not my favorite situation.
I tethered my laptop to my phone and got a little done. Grabbed breakfast and then it was just a waiting game. Word was power could be out anywhere from 2 hours (12 noon) to 24 more. The most solid news we heard was that the area was still to hot to work in and repairs would probably start around noon. Still just a guessing game. The CFO and CEO decided to ask me how hard it would be to bring in generators and get atleast the server stack up and going. Which brings me to the main point of this post. What’s your disaster recovery plan?
Every company has one in place. When you think about it, it’s pretty obvious. What would you do in case of any possible disaster that could happen to your work place, or the information needed to work. Like most companies most of our server stack is in the building. We backup off site and have a pretty solid disaster recovery plan in place, should we know that the disaster will last atleast 1-2 days or more. It’s tough in this case when we didn’t know if it was going to last from 2 to 8 working hours. So I was asked how hard it would be to bring in a generator, I mentioned we needed to have the networking gear and atleast a few of the servers plugged in to accomplish what they wanted. My supervisor quickly came to the rescue again. He had ran power meters on the servers halfway recently and with the help of the building maintenance guy and his electrician, we were quickly able to decide what was needed and how long it would take to get the equipment there and working. The guesstimate was a little less than 3 hours and they were able to beat that by 30 minutes. Pretty quick turn around actually. The networking, phones and servers were up and running by 3 PM and we didn’t have to go into our full disaster recovery.
As for our full disaster recovery, we have a hot site setup that we can restore our servers to from backup. Then they set up 10 work stations imaged like our computers so that 10 people can be officed and fully working in 4-8 hours. The tough part of that equation comes when we have to change our DNS settings so that people on the outside can reach us. The only guarantee that we are given in that situation is 20 minutes to 48 hours. Since we have properties all over the US that access our systems though a web interface, it could cause a little more of a damper for them. The main goal is that the company has an answer for any possible thing that could happen. Today we learned how long it takes us to adapt and gives us real experience to know if we can handle it.
The other thing that faces many companies today is, if servers or the services they provide can be moved off site or hosted. We have been toying with this and many companies already have hosted email solutions and are starting to move other services into the cloud. I wonder if this will come up in the near future.
So what’s this mean to you? Do you have a “disaster recovery plan” in place for your home computer or information. What would you do if your hard drive crashed and you lost your family pictures? What if there was a fire in the house and you lost your photo albums? How far are you willing to go to make sure your information AND stuff is safe? I have a server that backs up the information from my home computers so that any 1 of them or all of them can crash and I don’t loose anything important. Then that server duplicates the data so that any 1 hard drive can crash. I hate to admit this, but if someone steals my server I’m currently out of luck. I’ve backed up most of the data to an external hard drive that I store in a fire safe box in my house, but really people should be saving this stuff to the cloud or somewhere offsite. I could talk forever about backup solutions, but the point is, make sure you have a plan.
I had the chance to play around with an iPad recently. The chairman of our company got one and liked it so much, he asked me to set one up for his wife. It felt like Christmas opening an $800+ Apple package before anyone else got their hands on it, since I don’t get the chance to do that much. The task was to get it working on AT&T’s 3G, to setup an iTunes account, and to add an Exchange email account. Sounds easy enough. I really didn’t run into any problems. Like I’ve mentioned before, I have a 2nd Gen iPod Touch and now have iOS 4 running on it, so I’ve setup apps and added Exchange email accounts before.
I was suprised at how easy it was to get 3G running. From the phones that I’ve had activated on Verizon, Sprint and AT&T, I was expecting this to be a little more tedius than it was. Basically I just put in the credit card info and the rest took care of itself. I wish there were a few more options so I could tell if and when it was going to renew. Then choosing between the different levels of service was a pain. It’s too bad there’s not 1 unlimited plan for a low price.
My first observation about he hardware was how heavy it was. I never would’ve guessed from looking at it. I think the size is a little awkward, it was tough to type with my thumbs in portrait mode and too small in landscape, but I guess my hands are probably a little bigger than the average person. Once I turned the screen on I was pleasantly surprised with the quality of the screen. It is clear, vibrant and crisp. I could see a use case for showing off photography if I was good at it. The default wallpaper was so detailed a few of the lines on it looked like scratches at first glance.
As for software, this in my opinion is the only way to really get value out of the iPad. There are some nice news apps that were specifically written for the size of the screen. That part seemed nice, that I could look at a news paper and see a few headlines before I chose what to read. But it actually frustrated me that Facebook and some other games had to be blown up 2 times to fill the screen. Then the resolution looked horrible and it took the value away from having a nice big screen.
I’m happy with my iPod Touch and it was quite a bit cheaper. It gives me my fill of the iOS and it’s apps. I also have a Dell Mini 9 netbook, so I have a small device I can travel with if I want that. So the only place an iPad would really fit into my lifestyle is for a couch device that turns on quickly and can find information fast. I don’t watch enough videos that a need a new device to do it with. I don’t ever read, but if I did, I could borrow my wife’s Nook. As far as that goes, I could just go back to the 1 book I’ve been reading for a few years now and flip pages manually. I can already search for info, read my email, and scan my calendar from my Android phone, so I just really don’t have a need for it. i suppose if I had some expendable income that was burning a whole in my pocket I’d get one to show off to my friends, but only when they put a nice camera in it for “FaceTime” or taking quick pictures and videos around the house. Oh yeah, and on Verizon. So think about that Apple, you might be able to sell 1 more iPad if you found me some expendable income.
I’d consider something like this for my family members that aren’t so computer savvy, but the more I think about it, I go back to one of my principle technology theories. If you can’t handle figuring out a new piece of technology, then maybe you shouldn’t be using it. I’ve always thought people should embrace technology as it could make their lives easier. It won’t make it any easier if you spend more time trying to figure it out or getting help than you would’ve saved.
I’ve used an iPod Touch for a year and a half and Windows Mobile for about 5 years, but this is my first Android phone and I think the 1 key difference everyone would agree on is – the apps. Other than the iPhone OS, the other operating systems can be on about any piece of hardware you could imagine, with different variants such as proccessor/memory speed, screen size/orientation, hard/soft keyboards and basically all have wifi and GPS now. So what is different about the apps? Before I get too in depth, I’ll admit I’m a little biased against Apple and actually a little biased towards Windows Mobile – that part will surprise some people. I started using a Dell Axim PDA with a form of Windows Moble probably 6 years ago and then went to the Moto Q in 2006 when it was released and then to HTC devices in 2008 (Verizon VX6800, Touch Pro 1). So I thought the non techies/apple fanboys got a little over excited, when their iPhone was doing some of the things my phones had done for years. Once I got an iPod Touch I realized what the real difference was is the developers. There were some really fun games and apps that people didn’t take the time to develop for Windows Mobile. iPhone users could jailbreak their phones, but couldn’t install custom ROMS and upgrade their OS as fast as Windows Mobile. Windows Mobile had all the apps I needed and even more that were business focused, including Exchange support, which wasn’t available on the iPhone yet. So I guess the point I’m getting across is I could do a lot with my WinMo phones and I was pretty happy with them. If anybody’s interested I could give my WinMo or iPhone app suggestions in another post, but this ones focused on Android, since I decided my new phone would be a HTC Incredible (obviously running Anroid) on Verizon instead of my 2nd choice, the HTC Touch Pro 2 (Windows Mobile 6.5).
The Incredible, of course, comes with the basics that I needed: HTC email (exchange), GMail, Google Maps, and YouTube. The first step for me was to start grabbing apps from my iPod and WinMo phone that were also on Android. That list included Evernote, an absolute must for me. I love to over organize stuff and keep a copy of everything. I use it to make lists, outlines, databases, recipes and then to store pictures of menus, hand written notes, and to record audio notes or music I want to remember to download. Others that directly came over from my iPod were Pandora. A great music app, I’m sure about everyone has heard of. Having the ability to use it over 3G is amazing. I’ve gotten pretty comfortable with the stations I’ve created and now I can access them from anywhere. Speaking of using an app on 3G, I recently go the Slingbox app when they brought it to Android, and that app is amazing. I was a College World Series game and when I got a text that I was on TV, I was able to pull it up from the game and see myself on ESPN. I was also the go to person for when ESPN showed instant replays that we didn’t get to see at the stadium. It’s too bad that it cost $30 and I had already paid that for the iPod Touch version. Here’s a quick round up of the rest that come to mind: Shazam (amazing how much more I use this when I have 3G to instantly tag a song, instead of tagging it and waiting till I got home with my iPod Touch), Google Maps/Earth/Latitude (way, way better on Android, turn by turn navigation, Latitude, which isn’t even on the iPhone), Waze (I don’t use much, but still cool), Trapster (again, not very useful where I’m at yet, but cool), Urban Spoon/OpenTable (once in a great while, this comes in handy), Sportacular (many good competitors, but this one’s great), Qik (better on android)/Ustream (I’m still trying to figure out how to use this, but I love the idea), Amazon, Yelp (I didn’t realize how useful it was until I had GPS), Photoshop, USA Today, Dropbox, Bump (neat, but I’ve never used it), & Flixster.
Then there are the apps that are only available on Android, I should’ve listed these first, but I really did start with my iPod apps. These are the cool apps like Shop Savvy, Google Maps Navigation, Google Goggles, My Tracks, Advanced Task Killer (oh wait you can’t multitask on the iPhone) & Astro (you can’t manage the files on an iPhone either?, really? plus it’s a great app for backups), Key Ring Rewards Cards, TripIt, Google Listen, and how could I forget Google Voice. Then the apps that do the same thing as some iPhone apps, but are made by different developers handyCalc, Astrid Tasks, GMote, LED Scroller (I don’t really expect many people to use this, but I love it [marquee replacement on iPhone] and I consider Google Listen different since it’s so flexible with Podcast subscriptions over the air.)
I know what you’re all saying, there are 2 huge apps you haven’t talked about much yet. How do you keep up on your social networking without a Twitter & Facebook app. I saved them, because I have two opinions about them that are probably different than most. Facebook sucks – yeah that’s right. The Facebook app for Android is horrible, maybe that’s because I was spoiled by the iPod one, but I can now see why Joe Hewitt (Facebooks ex-iPhone app developer) was considered to be so good at what he did. The WinMo app was better and I still use the web version over the app. I couldn’t believe it. It even calls out to a worse mobile version (m.facebook.com) through a built in browser instead of the nicer web version (touch.facebook.com). To be honest, I couldn’t figure out how to see profile pictures or accept friend requests – two pretty big things in my opinion. So I haven’t used Facebook on the Incredible near as much as I did before. The tools for contributing to Facebook aren’t bad, but don’t post too much. I do post some to Twitter and I have a few different accounts I like to manage, so Seesmic was the Twitter client I went with. I’m not sure anything on Android could compare to Tweetie 2 for iPhone (now known as Twitter), but I’m liking Seesmic more and more everyday. I’ve heard Twidroid and Touiteur are pretty good, but I haven’t given it a chance yet. To bring up another bad subject for developers, I did try the official Twitter app. It was pretty nice, but when I found out it only supports 1 user – I had to pass it up. It makes me support Loic from Seesmic more when he said it drives competition and pushes him to be better. Which is good, because I like their approach to Twitter apps and I now use them on Android, Windows and the web. Tweetie is still my Mac and iPod app of choice. I also like some of the custom options Seesmic offers allowing me to use my custom bit.ly url shortner, 19r.us for my links I post. That way I can track my stats better and it looks more uniform.
There are a few things that I really, really wish did make it onto Android that I can’t seem to find and a few that are just wishful thinking. I wish there was an app that combined Nike+, MyTracks/runstar, Livestrong/Calorie Counter by FatSecret, the FitBit/BodyBugg and Google Health. I know this is a little bit of a stretch and these apps overlap a little, but can you imagine if there was 1 go to app that tracked your eating calories, burning calories, scanned barcodes, told you your WeightWatchers points, mapped your workouts, shared all of this info to the web in a downloadable form and then synced with Google Health AND synced info from my FitBit or whatever piece of hardware you used whether it was a Garmin watch, Nike+ shoes, a pedometer/heart rate meter or a BodyBugg (these things are all the rage right now). I would love to be able to go to one place to follow my health and share it with other people to motivate myself. I guess I’ll just have to find a good way to combine them on my own.
I’m hoping I will push Android developers to make more apps and more advanced apps, because I’m going to have to say I don’t think Android has quite caught up with the iPhone apps. Obviously the quantity of apps is lower, but I’m talking about the quality as well. There are still a few that I really liked on my iPod that I just can’t find equivalents for like Everlater, Posterous, Tumblr, and RibbitMobile. Then some of the ones they do have just aren’t quite as good like Facebook, Sportacular & Livestrong. Also, gaming hasn’t come near as far on Android. I enjoy the puzzle games the most, but will also do some social gaming. I just hate paying for apps and most of the good Android apps aren’t free other than lite versions.
In my opinion these are the top 2 lists for Android apps: Gina Trapani & Matt Cutts. Most tech sites will try to mention cool new apps when they come out, but as far as people I really trust in the Android area, these 2 are on top of the list. I think I’ve listed about everything I’ve tried on my Incredible, so comment or tweet me and let me know what apps I’m missing that I have to have. I’m always willing to try out new stuff and if you can fill any of those voids I listed, I’d love to hear about it. I’ll also try to mention a few more specifics about apps and how I use them in future posts.
UPDATE (02/10/2012): FitBit has added more functionality with apps, here’s a link to the ones their compatible with. FitBit Apps
I really need to write another one of these, I just keep putting it off.