Archive for Work

Project Management Software

As many of you know, I work for SALEient and we sell a product called Conflux. Conflux comes in a couple different flavours (hosted by us at conflux.ca, your own server that you can put in your office or a dedicated server which is a server in our rack space that you have to your self but it’s on the Internet rather than on your network).

As well, many of you know I also do Internet software development through Sloan Consulting. As part of Sloan Consulting, I’ve worked on a lot of different and interesting projects over the past 6 or so years. Throughout my time developing, I’ve been adverse to using Project Management Software. Mainly, people wanted me to use Microsoft Project and I feel this isn’t a good product unless you have a formal project manager willing to make it work. As a result of my aversion, I’ve now finally chosen to write my own project management software for my consulting work. Conflux has a project management module (called Workflows) but I need something a bit more robust and flexible (and besides, a lot of my consulting clients aren’t using Conflux, yet…)

Here are the major premises of this software.

  1. It should be web-based and easy to use. I like the Basecamp model but I like a bit more information than they allow. As well, if I build it myself, I’ll be able to make changes. I’ve been working with the Python (programming language) Django Framework for the past year or so and I really enjoy it. It’s a great way to build web-based software.
  2. It should do what it is supposed to do and nothing more. I’m not trying to build a million features or move my accounting process onto the web. I just need to track and manage my projects. A project is a lot more than a simple to do list and it’s a lot more than a fancy gantt chart. My software should track what I’m doing and what I’ve done on a project and it should give me some insight into what I can do better. It also should help me communicate about my status to my clients. Lastly, people are people–we shouldn’t call them “resources.”
  3. It should be based on proven practices. Joel On Software has a great breakdown of how to painlessly schedule software development. I’m going to incorporate these ideas. Zel Nadal has some good ideas about why a project management database is a good idea. These ideas are going in as well. Also, this past summer, I worked with the Alberta Department of Agriculture (AAFRD) to scan the types of project management they’re currently using and to work with the Project Management support unit to recommend a more unified solution. It was a tough project to pull off but after many hours of interviews I got through a lot of people. Also, we eventually realized that a government department in Ontario was a leader in this field and we chose to piggy-back on what they are leading the way on. The Ontario Template and the wisdom within are also incorporated here. Lastly, the Getting Real book by 37 Signals has some more wisdom to incorporate.

Well, here goes. I’ll keep you posted. I’m hoping to complete this project in less than 25 hours.

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Freedom of Custom Web-based Software Assets

by Tim Sloan, Pivot.IB Lead Developer

Before I begin, I have a quick disclaimer. I believe anyone can use the Internet to help their business. My great-aunt Violet asked for my help getting her online book store, specializing in Canadian and award winning books, up and running. It took a while but she took orders and was running an online business. She was 84 when she started the store and she lived in a tiny town in central Saskatchewan. If she can do it, anyone can. She operated her business for two years before she decided to close it down for health reasons.

Now here is a fundamental statement: the Internet is nearly ubiquitous. We can hook up our cars, our refrigerators, our television remote controls and nearly anything that runs on electricity. Since we have the Internet everywhere, it only makes sense that if we want the flexibility and freedom that comes with this power that we move our businesses and the software we use to run our businesses onto the Internet.

Within a year, several major cities will offer free wireless Internet to their occupants. As they do this, they’ll bring hundreds of thousands or even millions of new consumers onto the online world. They’re doing it to improve the economies of the businesses in their boundaries. Imagine if your city suddenly offered free Internet to everyone. Would you be ready for the dozens or hundreds or thousands of people what would suddenly start looking for local businesses or web-based businesses. If your business leverages the Internet in some way, you may be ready. If you operate your entire business online, you are definitely ready. My great-aunt was ready.

Custom web-based software has a few very interesting characteristics and some of these will surprise a lot of people.

Custom web-based software is available anywhere and therefore it makes people more productive. I’ve stopped in at libraries, at my parent’s house or even hooked up my laptop in coffee shops to do some work online. If your business uses custom web-based software, you can imagine how easy it would be to do a little work from home or even handle an emergency while you’re on a vacation. This is real freedom.

Custom web-based software scales up and down more easily than standard desktop software. More often then not, if you hire a new person, you can just add a new user. You don’t need to go buy a new license or install anything. Sure there are still limitations but for the most part, they are much cheaper to fix and simpler to handle.

You can use custom web-based software to expand your office. Not just new personnel but with custom web-based software assets, you can open new branches in new cities and have everyone tied into the same business processes. An initial investment in custom web-based software will pay huge dividends if you try to set up a new office.

It is a bit counter-intuitive but it should be noted that old computers, even old clunkers that are still running Windows 98 and are really slow, can still be useful if you have custom web-based software. Maybe a little RAM upgrade and a bigger monitor and suddenly that old beast is a functional unit in your business. While this may not do much for employee morale, it can be good for the balance sheet.

Also, if the software is built correctly, it doesn’t matter what operating system or web-browser the user has, that user can operate the software. Windows, Macs or even Linux operating systems all have anopportunity to work together.

Are you tempted to move your business’s software onto the Internet? Is it possible and how do you start? As well, how can this software make your business better? These are big questions that need to be answered before you begin.

My last piece of advice is that no matter what, make sure you take enough time to build your software well. Even if you’ve got a company promising a quick turn-around time on building the software, make sure you’re ready to extend the deadlines. There’s a saying in IT, “you can have it good, cheap or quick-pick two.” For a software asset, it’s important that it be good so you need to worry do I want to pay a lot and have it sooner or am I willing to wait and pay a little less. If you give a project enough time, you’ll get quality.

Great custom web-based software gives you something that can increase the value of your business. However, you’ve got to be willing to invest it the software to get it made right. With some patience, a bit of a budget and a clear idea of what you want to do, you can harness the power of the Internet to enable your business to do more.

For more details on custom web-based software for your business, contact us at info@pivotib.com or call 1-800-971-4673

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Commuting

The CBC posted a story about the commute times of people and that they are rising. There could be many factors, such as more traffic, urban sprawl, etc., but there’s no denying that it’s true.

I generally commute about 40 minutes per day. There are a few days (not many, maybe 2 or 3 per month) when I either work from home or am on the road and therefore no commute time. It would be nice if this were less but it’s not too bad. It’s about 135 hours per year or 3.375 work weeks of time.

I wonder if “commute time” is from door to door or time in the car driving. I like my parking situation but a lot of people have to find a parking space and then walk to the office.

I’d say the biggest issue that one is faced with while considering the amount of time spent commuting in a vehicle is, couldn’t I be doing something better with my time. Sure, some time in the car may be on a cell phone so technically you could be productive while commuting but that’s dangerous. Also, what if you don’t have any work that you can do on the phone?

Personally, I like the time in the car on the way home to decompress from the day. The morning radio is great for entertaining me on the way to work. Maybe that 40 minute per day isn’t a waste after all is said and done.

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Web Developer stuff

A Web Developer’s Bookmarks List. Huge list of useful links.

If you’re making HTML forms, you should make them pretty and accessible.

Need some icons for your website. Here are some free ones.

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How to Choose a Secure Password

Choosing a secure password is a matter of creating unlikely letter and number combinations. The more obscure your password, the tougher it will be to crack.

Steps

  1. Do NOT use words or phrases that have personal significance.
  2. Mix letters, numbers and symbols, and use case sensitivity. With pseudo-random alpha-numeric combination, it is almost impossible to “crack” somebody’s password. (i.e. instead of “password,” try “pAsS34%(6*2woRd,” etc.)
  3. Try to memorize the password, and avoid writing it down. Somebody could very easily find the slip of paper that the password is written on.
  4. The longer the better. Don’t make a password that’s less than 6-8 characters. Anything less can be deduced from brute force software.
  5. Do not use the same password for everything. If someone finds this password, they would have access to everything. At the very least, make at least one password for sensitive things (i.e. online banking, etc.) and one for everything else (AIM, email, etc.).
  6. Do not try to follow all the above “rules”, combined. They are simply contradicting, not practical and you will end up in the mad house. Choose one or two and follow them with a critical mind.
  7. Let us suppose you have 5 email accounts, 3 Operating system passwords, 3 bank accounts (each with username, password, extra security pin), 10 internet forum user/passes, 1 cellular phone (uses 2 to 4 pins), should? (if you are a programmer or db administrator, multiply the total by 3). Say for each of one you chose a variation of “pAsS34%(6*2woRd,”. Try to memorize 20 of those gibberish sequences! Ohhh very easy. Do not write them anywhere! the longer the better! try 15 chars long to be safe! do not use the same for 2 purposes!
  8. Use a password manager (PM). It is a utility that creates an encrypted file where your passwords are stored. To open the file you need ONE password. Once open, you don’t even need to know the pass. Just click copy my pass, and paste it in your browser. Find a PM that’s freeware and open source so you dont have to pay for every new version, and if your good you can play with the source and create your variation. Find one that does not need to be installed in your system (will work just by copying the executable to any folder, any pc, any storage medium: cdrom, hard disk, usb flash stick). An example is PIN http://www.mirekw.com/winfreeware/pins.html.

Tips

  • If possible, try to use “nonsense words.” Combine these with numbers to make memorable, secure passwords. For example, “brickbeak9468.”
  • If possible, try to create an algorithm that is unique for each site. This way all you have to memorize is the algorithm, yet the password will be different for each site. Make sure the algorithm is sufficiently difficult to decipher if someone were to find one of your passwords.
  • If you are so inclined, scripture references make good passwords. Choose a passage you can remember and use the reference for your password. An example would if you chose The Beattitudes, your password could be Matt5:1-12.

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