Wrapping up an assessment today and I’d like to give props to Web Log Explorer, which I’ve been using for some ad hoc analysis of IIS log files. The parsing is a bit slow given that I’m running Parallels on a Mac, but not by much, and the options to export the data are quite good. Not sure where log file analysis is headed, since when I started consulting it was all the rage, but today the notion that all things point to "the website" is rather naive. The IIS log files, like so many of them, weren’t customized or extended, so there isn’t much to work with, and the servers are load balanced, so if I really wanted to dig in I’d have to weave them together, and that takes time and processing power.

Even my own tracks today were a bit crazy — in and out of virtual machines and three browsers, downloads and transfers through Remote Desktop, use of TweetDeck instead of going to Facebook and Twitter … things like that. How would you ever track that sort of thing, the new form of "browsing" and interaction? Comments to this question are welcome.

Tell EPiServer I’m coming

October 20, 2009

Just started digging into EPiServer and I’m going after it in a big way. My hope is that somewhere between the heavy weight and cost of SharePoint and the weaknesses at the enterprise level for eZ Publish there is a middle ground where solutions can be built and deployed and integrated more effectively. I’m in the process of downloading almost all of their products now and will see how things go. Having the stability of the core Microsoft stack and the power and analytics of SQL Server are very attractive at this point after a couple of years with MySQL.

EPiServer also gets marks for going with "world" in its domain, putting http://world.episerver.com out there as advanced notice for domination. But then that didn’t quite work for JDE and OneWorld, which my friend Brian McHugh liked to call "the software that time forgot." More posts to come as I get into the EPi world.

Shift to mobile has started

October 20, 2009

I’ve always hated phones, at least in the past, maybe because I don’t like the interruptions or I have yet to find a mobile device I like. The Samsung Blackjack was one, a really durable phone all things considered, and as of late the Samsung Jetset through Cricket has been very good. So I guess I don’t like the phone much yet I really like phone technology. I’ve supported a PBX system, sourced a VoIP solution and managed the installation (Mitel), then run a bunch of analytics against said Mitel system. While doing that I switched the home phones to Vonage, and in all the new technology beats the old hands down.

So today I’ve fired up Google Voice — 708 406 9066 — after getting an invitation, and I’m looking forward to having a main number that I can manage behind the scenes. I’m also writing up a big SharePoint application assessment, and the more I’m in SharePoint the more I’m thinking about the mobile aspect of it. Much to look into on the mobile side, what with so many things headed that way, and functionality such as LED lights and, finally, the ability to project presentations so that you don’t need a computer. Help me, Obi-Wan. Sales in the west are terrible. Installing SharePoint is our only hope.

I’ve decided on a return to Microsoft to work on building out solutions for SharePoint/MOSS and try to get in early on the connection between enterprise content management and analytics. I was up the better part of the night installing software, turning my MacBook into the most versatile of machines.

At first I was building out images using Virtual PC, but by now a lot of my towers are short on RAM and a bit too old for heavy work, and I did not want to get new towers and have to deal with driver issues if I was installing say Windows 2003 Server. While tinkering a bit, I installed Parallels on my MacBook (which is running with 2 GB of RAM, so decent enough) and found it fabulous for server as well as desktop software. In fact, server software is easier because you avoid the registration key loops in which you activate a product and then all of a sudden Microsoft thinks you are on a new machine, so it logs you back out. A very annoying aspect of the new virtualized world.

At any rate, I installed the following in short order and find they all run very well:

  • Windows 2003 Server with SharePoint 2007
  • Windows XP (the usual workstation)
  • OpenSuse Linux 11.1

These will get me started, and I’ll gladly pay the $80 for Parallels to have everything on one machine. The goal now is to get back to MOSS and the analytics side of things, and I’m starting with an assessment of a multi-tenant hosted platform that seems to be having a few issues.

Last week I was working with my project managers doing a retroactive analysis on project work in which we were left in a lurch by a developer who was leaving to take a new job. The question came up — could we have had better insight into the risk when the reports we were getting in status meetings and on timesheets all pointed to good progress?

I decided to take a look at Perforce reports, thinking that we should see a pattern of source code check-ins with timesheets and progress on assigned work. What follows is a quick review of what it takes to get reports out of Perforce from a management perspective if you need to watch development.

Perforce has a reporting toolkit for download off of their site, and I sensed that the Windows version was most established even though they have a Linux command line utility. I ran the installer, provided my account information, and connecting was pretty easy. I tinkered with the Linux and BSD utilities for a few minutes on Mac OS X, but no luck there, so off to Windows I went.

The toolkit gives you some Crystal runtime reports, but the date parameters don’t seem to work and I was getting back comically huge “monthly” reports that went back to the beginning of time. The Crystal report output was rather basic, without good filtering or export capabilities, so I skipped past the lot of them and moved on to the ODBC driver.

The ODBC driver was the valuable thing in the mix, and I setup a quick connection to Excel and pulled in data from the CHANGES table. The basic trick here is to apply the p4options = ‘longdesc’ filter to the query, which will give you back all of the comments in the Description field.

For a brief time I toyed around with trying to get into the FILES table, wanting the details of all files checked in for a particular change, but for us the FILES table has over 1.6M records, and Perforce doesn’t really support joins in the traditional way, so for now I’m focused on the information in the FILES table.

At the moment I’m pulling a report that sorts line items in the CHANGES table by USER (asc) and DATE (desc) going back a month or so. When compared to timesheet data, this gives us a bit more insight into the work being done on projects and whether or not team members are a) working on files with the right frequency, b) checking in code on a regular basis, and c) working on the right projects in Perforce.

I’ll give the analysis about a month to see if this is a good way to track progress and assess risk. If it seems helpful, then I’ll probably look at setting up a report in SQL Server Reporting Services and then publish out weekly and monthly reports to the management team.

Comments on reporting on Perforce are welcome.

Whacked email

June 9, 2009

Pelted with allergies today and feeling sick and utterly annoyed by email and all the knowledge and effort and whatnot that goes into writing and reading and organizing. For the most part I stay organized, but eventually I hit days like today where I select hundreds — and yes, I said hundreds — of emails in various states, mostly read, and then push them off to an archive. Still there, just out of view.

This week I am experimenting with Dave Seah’s Day Grid Balancer, which is a nifty representation of what I’ve been doing for years with notecards. The big philosophical debate with things like the DGB center around people who perceive fielding emails to be an achievement versus people who try to center in on a handful of core tasks. Me? Oh, I am in the core task camp to be sure. On one level I’m impressed by those who fire back emails promptly, ping ping ping, and give the indication that they are utterly on the ball. Maybe they are. Who the hell knows. Maybe I think, somewhere in my vague thoughts, that the important stuff will circle back around like planets in orbit even if I miss an email.

Let’s leave off with a quote from Jackson Browne. I think this will sum it up for today:

Boy of mine
As your fortune comes to carry you down the line
And you watch as the changes unfold
And you sort among the stories you’ve been told
If some pieces of the picture are hard to find
And the answers to your questions are hard to hold
Take good care of your mother
When you’re making up your mind
Should one thing or another take you from behind
Though the world may make you hard and wild
And determine how your life is styled
When you’ve come to feel that you’re the only child
Take good care of your brother
Let the disappointments pass
Let the laughter fill your glass
Let your illusions last until they shatter
Whatever you might hope to find
Among the thoughts that crowd your mind
There won’t be many that ever really matter
But take good care of your mother
And remember to be kind
When the pain of another will serve you to remind
That there are those who feel themselves exiled
On whom the fortune never smiled
And upon whose life the heartache has been piled
They’re just looking for another
Lonely child

Just read a good post on Executive Update about looking for work, not necessarily a job, and I completely agree with the theme in that article. It may very well be the case that those of us with deep expertise and solid experience across various industries end up as contractors in one form or another. In late 2008 I wound down a company, worked on a couple of contracts, built up a profile, and did a lot of connecting on LinkedIn, and certainly a great deal of this was driven by the economy, but it was, I think, an early showing of what Gartner has been trumpeting related to HR, that in the days ahead it will all be about talent, networks, and projects. Even to the level of office space — the need for physical space drops off too in many cases with the connected nature of the world.

I’m going to use this post as a placeholder so that I can come back and think about related measurement. How do we measure and track success in this sort of working world? What are the personal KPIs, both for ourselves and for people looking to measure our skills and success? Surely the data mining of keywords in resumes won’t do, because any fool can pack a resume full of keywords and get good results in searches. Maybe recommendations on LinkedIn? Star ratings? An aggregate of LinkedIn, eBay, and Survey Monkey results? No idea. All I know is that the change is coming, and at this point it seems equally exciting and depressing.