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Posts tagged ‘technology’

Mailbox iOS App – I Like It

Last year I looked at a new app called Mailbox that was promising to tame the beast that is your gmail inbox. At the time, I was turned off for a couple of reasons:

  1. There was a wait list within the application before I could use it. There were something like 500,000 people ahead of me.  This seemed bogus to me at first.
  2. They store my email on their servers.  I have my own system of rules setup within gmail, so this did not seem like an appealing approach to me.
  3. It was only available for gmail. I have an Exchange account for work and an iCloud account for personal communications. I was really looking for a more complete solution.

I finally gave in and began using the app a few weeks ago, and I really like it. I thought through my original list of complaints, and have come to grips with them in the following ways:

  1. Because they were storing messages, they needed disk and i/o capacity. The wait list approach allowed them to grow predictably rather than get flooded and be rated as a crappy app out of the gate. I think ratings probably did suffer a little bit by the wait list (e.g. it too me a long time to go back and give them a try), but in the end I haven’t heard anything negative about their service overall.
  2. Google stores my email on their servers. If I allowed them to, with all of their data mining and ad targeting capabilities, why wouldn’t I let someone else? How much worse could it really be?
  3. Mailbox added support for iCloud and Yahoo.  This made it so that all my personal mail (gmail and iCloud) could be processed by their app, and my work email could be entirely processed by the native iPhone email app.

What does mailbox provide that my own rules based approach not?  Reminders.  With Mailbox, I have the ability to tell it to remind me of a particular message later today, tonight, tomorrow, or at some future date and time. It then removes that message from my inbox so it does not clutter my thinking.  At the appropriate time, I get a notification on my phone and the message re-appears for me to act on.  The service also works with gmail rules – I just have to go back in and change my rules that route to my old “_Read” label to the one within Mailbox.  This will make it so that newsletters and other general information sources automatically go in a “to read” list that I can process when I have free time to catch up on stuff.

So far, so good. I am happy with the application as is, but also looking forward to seeing what these guys do next.

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Enterprise Facility Map Searching

Recently I have been looking at an interesting enterprise problem – providing a mobile enabled facilities application. The idea is that we have a vetted list of between 100 and 1000 facilities for the company stored in a database. If an employee hits our mobile application, we can interrogate it for current geographical location information and, in theory, show them the facilities nearest them. Sounds simple, right? I mean Google does this all the time.

Let’s take a step back and define our problem.

1)      We know the user’s current location (using geo-location on the device)

2)      We have our own proprietary database of 100-1000 addresses that are vetted and maintained as real facilities.

3)      We want to compare the user’s current location to that database of addresses on the fly and determine the ones within proximity

Item #1 is clearly solved 100 times over.  I see the confluence of #2 and #3 as our real issue. If #2 were simply the public Google search on McKesson near 34.089203, -85.2593 (the Marriott), it would be easy. This works fine for retail establishments where weighting can be given to a location, but it’s simply too inaccurate for what is being passed off as an authoritative list of corporate facilities. In my case, we have a vetted list of facilities whereas the Google search includes outdated real estate, home offices, etc.

Possible Solution

On the server side, we could blow through N map searches using starting location as the user’s current location and N[x] address from the database.  I see one main risk here: we would not have an SLA in place, and someone may approve using this as a mission critical location system. Stranger things have happened. I think this can be mitigated with strong messaging, but it’s still a risk.

An example implementation of this could be using MapQuest. They have an OpenAPI that is free for use (requires registration w/ MapQuest and attribution on pages that use it). Each of the queries would look something like this:

http://open.mapquestapi.com/directions/v0/route?outFormat=json&from=34.08955,-84.25856&to=34.088422,-84.247541&callback=renderNarrative

This example is from the nearby Marriott to Windward HQ. The response contains a distance: element that will tell us how far away they are (1.17 miles in this case). The only data translation that would need to be done is to pre-geocode the addresses in our database.

Is this the right solution? I don’t know, but it’s A solution to a complicated problem.

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Right Size Your Resume in a Tough Job Market

With all of the “right-sizing” going on in corporate America, a lot of IT folks are looking for their next gig in the job market. Many of us in IT have experience in a lot of areas and can quickly get the label “overqualified” when applying for particular jobs. An article written back in 2005 by Bob Weinstein called Too Good? sheds light on a technique that job seekers should seriously consider -> toning down the resume. 

Common wisdom in the job hunt has always been to tailor the resume to the job offering. This rings true in today’s job market – especially for those of us with a lot of experience in a lot of different technologies, tools and platforms. Rather than submit the same 5 page resume to every employer, job seekers really should highlight their skills that the employer mentioned in the job requirements.

Why would you want to do this? I have been screening and hiring candidates for the past several years and have seen these bloated resumes and here are the thoughts that enter my mind. My two primary concerns are that the candidate will want too much money, or will become bored after a few months on the job. Either way, they are likely to leave once the market improves. Candidates who present their relevant skills and only a few value-adds that complement those will be much better positioned to make it through those filters and at least score a phone screen.

Read More: Too Good?

Building A Platform – Farmville Should not Take Down Facebook

I am joining a project at work that will revamp our intranet architecture and allow us to continue to bring innovative and cutting edge capabilities to our workforce. One of the issues that we’ve seen over the past few years had been that rich applications that have integrated with our portal have been too tightly integrated. In several cases, they have the capability to hog resources or even take a server offline due to a catastrophic fault. This is one of the areas that we want to prevent in the future and are working with our partners to articulate this desire.

This week, one of those partners was in town to talk through our needs and the analogy I came up with was that “Farmville should not take down Facebook”. That is to say the Facebook is an application platform that provides base services (demographics, content, wall updates, etc) to applications that can then use them to do interesting* things. This is similar to a corporate intranet that knows who a user is, what permissions they have, and what their demographic information is and then exposes those to applications and portlets based on their permission. In my current environment, there are some of these constituent applications that use the same resource sets as the portal platform and thus, they could negatively impact the performance of the intranet. In V.Next this should not be the case.

*Pre-emptive snarky comment: I do not consider Farmville or any of those games to be “interesting things”. In fact, I’ve never played a Facebook game. It’s merely illustrative of the type of Platform as a Service (PaaS) model that we are striving for.

Transparency in Vendor Selection


transparent screen
Originally uploaded by fromform

Part of my job involves evaluating and recommending IT solutions to business problems we face. I have a wide background in technology and do not fit the mold of a “Java guy” or “Microsoft guy”. This can be exasperating for some as they try to figure out which direction I lean and offer me sales spiels to convince me toward their product.

Even more troubling to sales reps is determining how I view solutions from IBM, Microsoft, Sun and Cisco. My previous employer was a business partner / gold reseller for those vendors and you would think that I automatically drank the kool-aid. There are people that I work with that have obvious biases towards some vendors due to past affiliations and/or friendships. If it works out for them, great. But that’s not how I roll and I do not appreciate people toeing a company line for a company they don’t work for.

I will always prefer the solution that supports the most features my business partners require, with the lowest initial and recurring costs, that has the best chance at adoption and longevity within our environment. I don’t fit any mold – I make the mold.

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