Technology

Broadly defined "technology" e.g. software, water pumps

Critique of Google Calendar

I've been using Google Calendar for a while now and there are a couple of problems that I have noticed and a couple that friends have pointed out.

Event Parser

Generally, Google has yet again made a great product. The new event parser works really well. If you don't know, it basically allows you to type in events the way that you think about them (e.g. "

adding event to calendar

Public Calendars

Another thing that they got right is public calendars. There are currently thousands of public calendars that you can add into your Google calendar like a calendar of holidays. But you can also subscribe to iCalendar feeds (as I have demonstrated icalendar importing of Drupal events in the past). This is the kind of thing that will take a geeky technology (iCalendar) and hopefully make it easy enough for "my mom" to use. She can just use the "search" box for the term in an iCalendar feed and there she has it without knowing about iCalendar protocol at all.

Shared Calendars

In that same vein, you can have multiple calendars in your google calendar - e.g. work and personal - and share your calendar with different permission levels. So, the wife can see and edit my personal calendar but not my work calendar. You could allow coworkers to view (bot not edit) your work calendar and only let your coworker friend see your personal calendar as well. Pretty cool.

Pretty Impress Templates OpenOffice.org

I knew about the ooextras Sourceforge site that has plenty of fun stuff macro but there are some really pretty templates for presentations at The Linux Box' templates page. My favorite by far is the Squares template, but the chalkboard has a fun feel as well.

an open letter to sun microsystems

In his weekly article Robert Cringely decided to skewer Sun Microsostems:

[...]Sun is simply doomed. Their software isn't better, their hardware isn't better, and they can't see themselves as anything but a maker of hardware or software, so my simple recommendation is that they take the rest of their cash and try entering a hot new field like -- say -- space flight. Or making really fine cakes. The world will always need fine baked goods. Or just give it back to the shareholders. Really.

Ouch. It does raise an interesting point: what do you do if a company has a hoard of cash and no growth prospects. That's a little bit of exaggeration to say "no growth prospects" but it's pretty accurate in their case ($11B in revenue last year, $107M in losses, made more money on investments than operations in 1Q06) . The value at Sun is in tangibles that have lost their value --the hardware they design is increasingly unimportant-- and intangibles that have been replaced --Java goes out for free and even after opening Solaris the OS is not compelling.

One argument is that they should invest their massive hoards of cash in new projects. That they should buy existing companies and bring them into the Sun enterprise and grow really big. From a shareholder's perspective, that's a horrible idea. If Sun is going to innovate in that way, they would be better off simply giving the money back to the individual investors and letting the individual investors decide where and how to invest the money.

So, I guess it's just time for them to sell the assets, close the doors, and send out a massive dividend. Not on McNealy's watch, for sure, but what other options do they have?

Best Free PDF Creator or Generator Software

I can't believe this is the first time I'm writing about this, but google did not return any docuents (though it will in a few days...).

Sending files in a manner that allows them to be preserved and viewable on any computer presents a problem to everyone. You can use text or "RTF" and get limited formatting options. Or HTML and get different rendering on every system. Or you can use PDF, but to do that you have to use expensive Adobe software, right? Wrong. There are several providers of "free" and "Free" software programs. Recently I had been using Primo PDF which is not "Free" software but it is "free" (as in, it doesn't cost anything).

Update: More recently I have been using PDFCreator. PDFCreator works really well and actually makes smaller PDFs than PrimoPDF even though Primo gives all sorts of confusing options for "optimize for X" output. PDFCreator's main drawback is that the download from sourceforge is confusing. It's amazing - that sourceforge download page has been up for years and it's still confusing to many people (self included sometimes).

Update 2008 More recently I've been using the built in capability to print to PDF from Ubuntu. Thanks, GNU/Linux!

SEO Advice

It seems like SEO is the hip new thing to be talking about, so I guess I should talk about it too.

What my clients do

When I'm working on a new site for someone, I do a few things to try to make sure that it is "search engine optimized" but it doesn't take extra effort for me or for the client. I ask them to create the content for their website and create titles that are descriptive. I ask them to get some periodic content (like a forum or a newsletter) about whatever it is that is important to their business or website. And that's it. The website should handle the rest of it for you.

What I do

Me, I just implement Drupal and in my theme and in the features I add to the site (my "module mix") I make sure to follow the Webmaster Guidelines from Google and some of the tips from Matt Cutt's blog.

The Result

The websites rank well. Sometimes for stuff I don't even want them to rank well. For example, on my personal calendar I have some classes I took at The Passionate Palette which is a great cooking school in Southern Denver. Depending on a variety of factors, my personal website ranks in the top 5 sites for the search phrase "passionate palette". I didn't do any magic and no fish oil is involved. Simply building the website the right way from the beginning gets this ranking.

Also note that this ranking is based upon content within my site - i.e. within my control. If someone is going to sell you a link exchange program to get better search engine ranking, ask them why they need to rely on a practice that the search engines disagree with.

Colorado Wind Power

Ecology by Choice

I'm a big "choice" person. I want people to have the choice to do a lot of different things. I don't like monopolies, or overly restrictive regulation and I think those are fairly commonly held beliefs.

A few years ago I bought a house and started to pay more attention to the bills from our utility company, Xcel energy. One thing in the newsletter they send out got me curious: wind power for your homes. Xcel offers a program where you can buy wind electricity credits to cover your home usage. The details of the program aren't important aside from the fact that I pay a few extra dollars each month (and it really is just a few) so that my house and everything inside it "runs on wind power".

I like this solution because it lets Xcel know that I prefer a renewable energy source to a non-renewable one. Wind has its own problems, but I think they are outweighed by its benefits. This is great and I tell everyone I can to sign up for the program. It's amazing to me how many "environmentalist" friends that I know do not use this service.

Ecology by Force

A year and a half ago Colorado voted to force Xcel to make more of its energy from renewable sources with a specific amount from wind and a specific amount from solar. I'm opposed to this kind of regulation because our prescriptions for the amounts of wind/solar in the mix may not be the best decision 5 years from now, but we're basically stuck with them. I would much prefer that Xcel and residents work together in the way demonstrated by the wind credit program and through net-metering of home solar panels to help bring renewable energy into the mix based upon market demand. My belief was that if the people who voted for that renewable energy signed up for some wind credits then Xcel would see that the renewable energy sources stand on their own and that Xcel should provide more of them.

At the time of the legislation, there was excess capacity in the wind farm even though it's only 2% of the state electricity generation. How can a program that provides only 2% be under-subscribed when a ballot measure gets a popular vote by approximately 20% of the state? Basically it's because people are hypocrites or lazy or both. note: I got to 20% based upon ~60% of people in favor and ~30% voter turnout.

Advice for small ISVs and Scumbucket Investment Bankers

I stumbled upon this article yesterday and it's a good read. Basically, Eric Sink, who founded a small ISV (Independent Software Vendor) writes about life as a small ISV and why you should make lots of mistakes, just not any fatal mistakes. ISV's are small to medium businesses - maybe somewhere between 2 and 200 people and they create applications to sell to other people. I guess I was in an ISV when I worked at Connexn and indeed I think we faced many of the challenges that Eric discusses.

Scumbags

Eric's listing of the heierarchy of scumbags particlarly interested me since many of my friends and acquaintances are lawyers or investment bankers. Apparently the heierarchy goes something like

* At the top of the scumbag pile, as the lesser of four evils, are the lawyers.
* Just below that you've got the people who cheat senior citizens with scams.
* A bit further down, you find the pimps.
* Finally, at the very bottom of the scumbag hierarchy, you find the investment bankers.

Independent Software Vendors

His various lessons for ISVs are also interesting to me as I grow my own Independent Software company. I think I'm staying away from most of the mistakes he mentions. I think so...

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