Monday 29 October 2007 at 12:07 pm
Joel Spolsky is always worth reading - his notes from the software development trenches are always well written backed by a wealth of experiance. He's implemented a new Evidence Based Scheduling
module into his companies FogBugz
software project management tool. It attempts to predict when a project will be delivered based upon a developers track-record in terms of setting and delivering on their targets using Monte Carlo simulation
Oh and their tool uses the Kiwi
as its mascot - they actually list
* A fresh new user interface with a cute Kiwi mascot.
In their feature list
Monday 04 December 2006 at 12:46 pm
So I've been putting in place a small scale Visitor ID System
('System' seems overkill for something this simple) from Dymo. Dymo also have another system - GuestGaurd
which does something similar.
It does the basics very very well and its ideal for a small organisation - you just need a Windows PC capable of taking a Dymo USB label printer
. The software acts as a simple kiosk which people can sign in and out of at reception (instead of filling in a Visitor Book). You can also hook up a USB camera and the application will allow you to print a picture to include on the label. Visitor reports can be printed at any time (on a normal printer). The printers are thermal which means you only need to keep it fed with labels rather than worrying about ink/toner.
The software can work in networked mode and it will allow someone at Reception to administer the system from their own PC as well as notifying staff when a visitor arrives - this mechanism was a little clunky to implement (relied on file shares rather than a standard windows messaging interface or email) and most IT people would be a little reluctant to network a system that was publicly accessible.
Still the basic configuration works really really well - Reception and their Visitors no longer have to mess around with the Visitor Book or its little labels.
This is kind of a long winded way of saying it would make a fantastic Open Source product idea - a LAMP based system (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP) with a Firefox front-end (in Kiosk mode). Visitors fill in a simple form when they arrive (some basic customisation could be carried out in the admin/reporting interface) - a list of who they're visiting could be pulled from an LDAP source with type-ahead auto complete and a simple email message could be sent to whoever they're visiting to inform them that their guest had arrived.
The back-end database would keep track of peoples comings and goings (and if you're a frequent visitor the system wouldn't make you sign in all over again) and let Reception print out visitor / fire-evacuation lists.
The admin / reporting interface would also just be a web form accessible to anyone supplying the appropriate username / password.
Enhancements could include a simple SMS gateway to text people when guests arrive or automatically call and inform them their guest is waiting for them. Then you could get really fancy and have modules that would integrate with CRM's to track client site visits.
You could get really fancy by allowing normal staff to 'pre-book' their own guests and automatically generate visitor labels which Reception could present to them when they arrive and send a reminder email when they're due to show up.
The LAMP advantage would be that you could install the entire system to a PC via bootable CD, configure it via the admin interface and then you're all set. As its all open source stuff it would be pretty simple to customise.
Monday 30 October 2006 at 1:41 pm
We have accumulated lots of cd's collected over many many years. A rough estimate was 'about' 600.
After upping our home & contents insurance policy we decided we needed to figure out exactly how many we actually had and what they were.
There are a bunch of ways to do this - I have a Rateyourmusic
(free online web-based music catalog) profile with almost 300 CD's in it; we could also just manually put them into Access or Excel. Thats pretty painful for so many CD's and it also doesn't give you all the goodies available nowadays via internet database lookups.
I'd heard about a few different media management applications - I was keen to try Delicious Library
on my MacBook and there were a few tools available for Windows too (that didn't look quite so nice but offered the same functionality).
A key requirement is to be able to use a handheld barcode reader to enable a data lookup on the scanned CD. We popped down to the local gadget store and picked up a cheap $90 hand scanner
- it was PS/2 only (there was a passthrough for the keyboard) so we also bought a USB keyboard/mouse adaptor.
Unfortunately the USB adaptor seemed to munge the input on both a PC and Mac laptop - oddly the keyboard and mouse work fine through it. Turns out theres a super special USB adaptor that is specifically designed for use with the scanner - we ended up returning the adaptor and just using the scanner on a desktop with a PS/2 port.
Since it didn't work easily via USB (although I could have used the MacBooks built in camera too) we needed to find a decent PC media management application. We found MediaMan
which was surprisingly similar to Delicious Library
. After trying out a few CD's to verify it worked with the scanner we paid the shareware fee and put it to use.
So far we have 550 CD's in the database and about 50 which weren't recognised (the scanned barcode is cross-referenced to Amazon
USA/UK) and will have to be manually entered. We also added 110 DVD's - the vast majority of these had to be manually looked up - I suspect the barcodes on the back are region specific. We also started adding some books into the database - every single one was properly identified.
If an item isn't detected via barcode you can search by artist, author, title etc and select the item from a picklist. The great advantage of having the item referenced from Amazon
is that the database is automatically propogated with a cover picture, title, artist, author, track-list and reviews. Putting that information in manually would take at least 15 to 30min per item.
There are some excellent export options (csv, rtf, html and even png for a rendered media shelf) but unfortunately no import options (you can't import from csv).
Between manual data entry and the barcode scanner we managed to do almost all our CD's and DVD's in about three hours. The rest of our books we'll leave for a rainy day
Of course the really scarey part is when you export a csv, pull it into excel and add up the amount of money (each item from Amazon
is imported into the database complete with its price field) spent on little silver discs . . .
Tuesday 23 May 2006 at 12:06 pm
My never ending search for a 'brain-dump' tool continues.
I've given up on KeyNote
whose development has unfortunately stalled and the search/password protection didn't work well and NeoMem
which kept crashing on me.
So I've decided to give Ecco
a go. A little bit of an indictment on the software industry that a tool written in 1997 is still useful today. If I had the money possibly something like Microsoft's OneNote would be a comparable tool for structured/unstructured note-taking.