Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A simple way to be reminded of things you need to do

Nudgemail LogoSome people are very effective at using a methodology like GTD to track what are the most important things to do each day. However, the rest of us tend to simply focus our attention on the most recently arrived emails in our inbox. Luckily there is a really useful service called NudgeMail that I recently discovered which will send you email reminders on a scheduled date.

This free service is amazingly easy to use. For example if you wanted to be reminded that you should return your library books next Saturday you simply send an email with the subject "Return library books" to "Saturday@nudgemail.com" and next Saturday you will receive a copy of your email sent back to you. You don't even need to sign up because the one piece of personal information they need is your email address and this can be retrieved from your first email. They accept a wide variety of formats to specify the reminder date and time - they will send you a full list of acceptable formats in response to your first email.

I have no association with the people behind the service, but if you try the service I know you will find it useful. Maybe your first email can be emailing "tomorrow@nudgemail.com" with a subject line of "leave a commend on Brian's blog thanking him for recommending Nudgemail to me" :-)

Thursday, November 25, 2010

What operating system do people use to read this blog

Google Analytics is a wonderful tool for collecting statistics about the users of your web sites. I blogged before about how the readers of this blog are much more likely to use Firefox than the readers of another blog I maintain with news about a local soccer team. This time I decided to look at the operating system used by the visitors to the two sites.

The results are summariesd in the table below:
PlatformMy BlogSoccer BlogDifference

The facts that jump out at me from these statistics are:
  • While Windows is clearly the most popular operating system, its level of dominance is nowhere near as hight as I would have thought.
  • The second most popular platform for readers of this blog is Linux (probably because I occasionally write about Linux related topics), but the second most popular platform for readers of the soccer blog is Macintosh (almost one in five readers use this platform).
  • Most of the "other" category is accounted for by various mobile platforms. They account for relatively few readers of either blog. I think that although many people have SmartPhone devices, they don't often use them for browsing the web of reading blogs.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Finding your way around Dublin using public transport

Recommended public transport route from IBM Mulhuddart to BrayI just discovered a brilliant site Hit the Road which allows you to find your way around Dublin by using a combination of different modes of public transport.

One of the things that makes getting around Dublin by public transport difficult is the fact that there are three totally independent public transport systems, Dublin Bus, Irish Rail and Luas each with their own web site which contains routes and schedules. However, if you use the Hit the Road web site, you can  simply enter where you want to go to and where you are starting from and it will automatically find the best combination of services to use. It will even give you an estimate of your overall travelling time including walking to and from the bus/train stops. If there are a few alternatives which are close to being optimal it will show each of them so that you can manually choose and it will include a helpful link to the schedule for each of the services it is recommending.

It is great to see private innovation helping solve real problems for the citizens of Dublin while we are still waiting many years for the long promised integrated ticketing system between the various services.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Upgrading my HTC Hero to Android 2.2

The mobile phone I use is a HTC Hero, which I bought with a Meteor contract. In general I am very happy with both the phone itself * and the phone service which I get from Meteor which is quite reasonably priced. The one main complaint I have is that Meteor are very slow to roll out system updates. When Android 2.1 was released it was almost a year later before Meteor made the update available to their customers.

Image of the FroydVillain default home screen
The 2.2 release of Android has been available for some time now and most commentators speak very highly of the release. Until a few weeks ago I was patiently waiting for Meteor to roll out the update to its users. However, when I got a chance to take part in the Beta program for the Lotus Traveler product and found I needed to update to Android 2.2 to take part in the Beta, my patience finally wore out and I decided that I needed to do  a manual update.

The instructions I followed were documented here and here. I was quite nervous about this update because it is theoretically possible to render your phone useless if this process is not done properly. Although I did not have any such serious problems I did have a few issues while doing the update. I will list here the various steps I carried out and how each one went.

  1. The first step in the instructions is to back up all of your personal data. Although I did this to be safe, it was not really necessary since I store all of my contact information etc. in the cloud.
  2. The next step was to root my phone and install the new recovery image. The rooting of the phone went very smoothly using an application named "Universal Androot". Initially I had terrible trouble installing the recovery image and I nearly gave up on the whole processes, until I discovered that the problem was caused by the fact that I had downloaded a corrupted copy of the recovery image. I needed to download a fresh copy of the recovery image from here and then it worked smoothly.
  3. The next step was to boot into recovery mode, wipe all of my personal data and install the new boot image. Although, there were many dire warnings that this was the most dangerous step, I found that it went very smoothly for me. However, I discovered that the link I used to download the new image no longer works, so I shared a copy on my Dropbox account here in case anyone wants to follow in my footsteps.

The moment of truth came when I turned on my phone for the first time with the new updated software. I must admit that the new UI is definitely much slicker and pleasant to use. A few of the UI elements have moved around, but it did not take me long to learn how to use the new menu structure.

The only serious issue I had was in trying to connect my phone to the company WiFi. My first attempts didn't work and I ended up with the WiFi completely broken on the phone. However, since I hadn't done much customization to the phone yet, I reset the phone and went back to the start of phone setup again and the next time the WiFi worked properly and I had no problems connecting to the company network.

Another thing that frustrated me slightly was that I was initially unable to install Lotus Traveler on my phone. When I went to the download link, entered my username/password and clicked OK I got the very helpful error message "-1". Luckily my colleague Fred Ragilaut was able to tell me that the problem was that the screen lock password was not complex enough to meet the IBM security standards. I suppose it is reasonable to impose such restrictions, but it would have been nice if the error message gave me some clue why it was refusing to install. Once installed the Lotus Traveler is a joy to use, but I will write another blog post about that later.

* The HTC Hero was the best phone available at the time I bought it, but there are much better phones available now.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Experiences as a mentor for the IBM SmartCamp world finals (cross-post)

This is a cross-post of something I posted on the IBM SmartCamp blog.

I was honored to be invited to act as a mentor at the IBM SmartCamp world finals which are being held in Dublin this week. In preparation I had a look at the videos from the finalists and it was clear that they were all very deserving finalists. I also was somewhat overawed to see the very impressive list of mentors that had been assembled. After a few introductory speeches, each of the companies then gave a six minute pitch about their company. We then broke up into a series of small mentoring teams and we met with each of the companies in turn to discuss their strategy.

The purpose of these sessions was to give them advice about how they can improve their chances of success. In initially I was doubtful that I would be able to give much useful advice since I have no personal experience of working in a small start-up. However, after listening to the discussion I found that I was able to offer some real advice which the participants seemed to value. I must stress that the advice was only very minor tweaks to their strategy since all of the companies seemed to have well thought out strategies. Nevertheless the companies seemed to really appreciate the advice they got and I can see how they really gained from their involvement in the event. There was only one company where we advised them to radically alter their strategy (I won't embarrass them by identifying them).

The day's activities were wrapped up with a masterclass by Chris Horn about building a successful company. Chris spoke about the lessons he learned during his time as a CEO of Iona which was probably the most successful software company ever to originate in Ireland. Chris' advice was very relevant and I could see that many of the company founders in the room were taking notes. The important points were:

  • The main issue facing all startups is that they need to simultaneously lower the cost of adoption for their potential customers while at the same time ensuring that there is a high cost for any potential competitors to replicate your product ans service. For Iona he described how they were building upon a public standard, but at the same time managed to keep ahead of their competitors. He also described how the focussed on making it really easy for customers to adopt their technology by making their entry package very cheap and easy to install.
  • Another factor he spoke about was the fact that potential customers were nervous in buying from a small company. He felt that the fact that Sun Microsystems became one of their shareholders helped build their credibility.
  • The world is not entirely flat and it matters where your company is based. In hind sight he feels that he would have been more successful if he had relocated to the USA when the company went public. He feels that the way forward for Irish companies could be to have their R&D headquarters in Ireland, but their business functions headquartered in USA.
  • He felt that he was too quick to promote internal people who had been with the company from the start, while the company could have been better served by getting in people with more experience. 
  • Chris feels that the number of talented entrepreneurs in Ireland has really increased in recent years, bu Ireland is still very short of experienced chief financial officers who know how to raise capital and grow a company.

At the end of the day, we had to submit marks for how we rated each of the finalists. This was very hard they were all very good. I can't reveal any voting yet, because the winner will be announced tomorrow morning at an event in the new convention center. I am sure that whichever company is chosen as a winner, all of the finalists can look forward to a bright future.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

IBM SmartCamp world finals being held in Dublin next week

IBM SmartCamp events are an exciting series of events which aim to find some of the most innovative start-up businesses that are helping build a Smarter Planet  and connect them with the resources that they need to be successful. The winners of the various competitions held in different cities around the world are coming to Dublin this week to compete for the title of "IBM Global Entrepreneur of the Year."

I am honoured to have been invited to be one of the mentors for this event. As part of my preparation I had a look at the short videos which all of the finalists have posted on line. It is clear that it will be hard to pick a single winner among such a brilliant bunch of entrepreneurs.

If you want to track what is happening you can follow the Twitter stream, read the event blog or even watch the live video stream.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Irish Lotus Users Group (ILUG) 2010 conference starts tomorrow in Belfast

The Irish Lotus User Group is one of the most active Lotus users groups anywhere in the world. In recent years their annual conference has become very popular and it attracts attendees and speakers from all over the world. Last year no conference was held because the organizers wanted to devote their energy towards launching the UK Lotus user group conference. This year they have decided to hold the conference in Belfast rather than Dublin to give the non-Irish visitors a chance to see a different part of the island (technically this makes it both in Ireland and in the UK).

This years event features 3 days crammed full of interesting talks (often 3 different streams at the same time). Most of the big names in the Lotus world are speaking so it is a great chance to catch up with the latest news on what  is happening with Lotus products. You can check out the full schedule of talks at the conference web site. You must register if you plan to attend, but registration is free. If you can't attend in person, you can normally find out a lot about what is going on my following the twitter hashtag ILUG.

Much of the development team for Lotus products is located in Ireland. This year we will be arranging a meet the developers stand in the exhibition hall. We have arranged a rota of staff to attend so that there will be representatives of all of the major development teams on the stand at all times. This means that if you wish to ask a question about any of the Lotus products you can come and ask one of the development team directly. This is called getting your information straight from the horses mouth!!!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The annual Innovation Festival in Dublin starts next week

Innovation Dublin is an annual festival held in Dublin to promote science and innovation The 2010 festival will run from 10th to 21st of November and a huge number of events are being held in various venues around Dublin. From IBM's point of view the highlight of the event will be the worldwide finals of the SmartCamp event which is being held in Dublin. However, there are many events to suit all age groups and is if you check out their web site I am sure you will find something of interest to you. You can also follow news about the event on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or YouTube.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

How can I trick Google into accepting my money?

I have been the proud owner of an Android phone for the last year or so. I have installed and used many free applications and because of the large range of excellent free applications I never felt the need to purchase any paid applications. However, when I saw that Bike Doctor application got a very good review on the London Cyclist blog I decided it was time to open my wallet and purchase this application (after all the price of £2.99 could be considered good value if it eliminated  a single trip to the bike repair shop)

According to this announcement it should be possible to purchase Android applications in Ireland since the start of October and indeed I was able to see it in my Android Market, but when I went to pay for it Google refused to accept my credit card. A colleague told me that this is because Google Checkout refuses to accept credit cards that are registered to Irish addresses Does anyone know if there is any way to trick Google into accepting my money?

Is there anyone out there who can explain why it might make sense for Google to refuse to accept money from a significant market where it has several thousand employees and which is home to its European headquarters?