Computer Security and Apathy…

Increasingly I’ve noticed a disturbing trend with me and computer security.  I’ve become somewhat apathetic.  My parents are telling me not to shop at Target anymore because they disclosed a zillion credit cards.  My response is “Meh, damage is already done, if anything Target is more secure now.  I think the more logical response is to avoid shopping at Wal-Mart because they haven’t been targeted for massive Credit Card  theft, yet.  So they’re not as conditioned to the response.”

Though the reality is,  near as I can tell, no major credit card or identity breach has hurt me directly yet.  I do follow my credit reports semi-regularly and haven’t seen a thing yet.  Chances are the bulk of Americans never will.  In fact I’ve had nobody who’s been a victim of Credit Card fraud in recent times tell me they could link their fraud incident to the Target data breach definitively.  Wonder why I just shrug my shoulders and think “Much Ado over nothing?”

So far my one credit card fraud incident I suspected was a local guy who ripped off my credit card when he had it in hand.  In fact I think I had a sneaking suspicion of which restaurant it could have been given my legitimate charge history at the time.

So folks, live life, take some comfort that the credit card companies are responsible for eating any fraud losses and move on.  It’s likely you’ll have a credit card issue at some point in your life so just be vigilant so you can catch it early.  With credit reports being free and banking accounts online where you can see up to the minute transactions, there really isn’t an excuse.

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In Defense of MS Office

So I caught this disturbing article today:

Seems to think that MS Excel is the only reason people still buy MS Office.  NO!  Reasons I still like MS Office are below.

First of all, I like my PC, which throws anything from Apple’s Office Suite out the window to use offhand.  The interface for Windows 7 is nice and clean and I’m not inclined to change.  I’ve used Macs, and I find them no easier than a PC to use.  But this is a separate argument.  So why are the PC Users still on MS Office as opposed to Google Docs or OpenOffice.  Well here we go.

First, please find me an email/integrated calendaring platform that has offline viewing capability that doesn’t say MS Outlook.  Gmail/Google Calendar is good, if I have a WiFi connection, and I’m not always 100% connected.  So tell Google to come up with a decent desktop email platform where I can at least view my email and Google Calendar offline and I’ll consider MS Outlook dead.  No a Droid/Google Tablet isn’t a substitute, I like big views that are easier on my eyes and my standard keyboard.

Second and I know you’ll all laugh: Macros.  If I need to build automation for a repetitive task in an office platform, there is no easier way right now.  Going deeper than that both platforms have API’s and I know the OpenOffice people will argue “But you can even modify OpenOffice if you wish!” sure if I wanted to expend the time.

Third, Lync.  The OpenOffice and Google world does not offer a better IM Client for in-house use.  The ability to take my assigned work number with me on my computer is unduplicated and very convenient.  There are no free alternatives to Lync server out there that match up and it’s integration with MS Office is outstanding.

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E-books and Paper Weights

Awhile back I wrote about why I don’t like the E-Book format.  Mostly afraid that when the creator of an E-Book technology (Amazon, Apple, Barnes and Noble, etc.) goes out of business, your Ipad, Kindle, Nook, etc. is now a paperweight and soon you’ll lose access to your Ebooks.  Here is a perfectly vivid example of why:–nook–2009-2014-183424551.html

So Barnes and Noble has effectively stopped developing Hardware for its Nook platform in an effort to survive.  If you were a Nook owner, how would you feel?  You should be nervous granted Barnes and Noble has no stated continuity plan for its Nook platform should Barnes and Noble not survive.  There could be a very real possibility that your Nook platform will be discontinued, you’ll be unable to purchase new E-books for your nook, and eventually when your Nook and any platforms that read Nook Books die, that you’ll never be able to access your Nook E-Books again.

Well, I own a Kindle, but even then I’m a little nervous.  Sure Amazon gives no sign of going out of business anytime soon.  All the same any books I’m hoping to keep more than 5 years down the line I buy in paper still.  Sure Amazon is mighty, but so was Sears 30 years ago.  If you asked anyone even 30 years ago if Sears would go under, they’d laugh at you.  Just like today if you asked if Amazon would go under, they’d laugh at you.

What can Barnes and Noble do to help its format?

  1. The easy way: Partner with a winning E-Book platform and offer books for that platform, offer their hardware in the store (Picture buying an Ipad in a Barnes and Noble and offloading your Nook books to the Ipad).
  2. The way it could survive indefinitely: Open the platform up a little, let others build Nook Hardware, let others create Nook Books freely and open competing bookstores on the Nook Platform.  It won’t make much money, but it’ll keep Barnes and Noble creating E-Books and competing in a thriving marketplace.  I know I’d get more interested in owning a Nook if I could buy books and competing Nook Hardware from multiple sources.  At the very least I’d be assured of some continuity if Barnes and Noble went under.

Anyways that’s my 2 cents…

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My latest endeavour

For those of you have been wondering, yes I’ve been busy, took only a month+ for me to post again.  My client was taking up a big chunk of my time with many a 50-60 hour week involved.  But I’ve been granted a respite for the time being.

Don’t get me wrong though, this has been a fascinating client.  In particular a few unique challenges.

1) Custom application development to the extreme, as we learn to provide an overriding authentication mechanism to a proprietary login system our client had.  Lessons learned in custom authorization and authentication.

2) SharePoint in an external website.  While I can’t say who this client is, let’s just say this was one of my few external facing websites.  You may have already seen my handiwork!

3) Code remediation, sadly the former people working on this code needed to remediate some serious issues and never did.  This was definitely a classic turnaround story for me.

With this in mind, I look forward to posting more in the future, have faith!

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What’s great and not so great on websites going into 2014…

Slightly off topic from SharePoint, but hey I’ve been known to do this…

As we say sayonara to 2013, I hope these web trends go with it:

Annoying advertising including but not limited to:

    1. Attempts to mislead or “Save on Auto Insurance by Using this One Weird Trick…” you’re not fooling me.
    2. Interstitials or big banners you see before your content loads

Making money via advertising is possible.  However points off when you’re obnoxious or misleading people.  How long must it take before advertisers understand that?

Paywalls for Content That Do Not Work

Fort Collins Coloradoan is a great example of this.  Or why would I pay more for online access to their articles than I would for at home delivery (which also includes online access).  People seem to think that when I just want to read one article online, I’m willing to make a major committment to your site and pay $200 for a years subscription.  I’d rather go without.

My idea, do what a few sites are starting to do now, and allow me access to an article for a petty amount of cash, say 50 cents.  Maybe 2 dollars buys me a 24 hour all access pass, and $30 buys me a month of all access.  At least you get something out of it, rather than having me get sticker shock at the $200 it will take to read an article.

Video Firing up Right Away When I access a Page

Sometimes I’m at work and can’t have audio blaring at me when watching a video.  Good content operators wait until I hit the play button.  Great content operators put the text of what they’re saying either in the video or immediately below.

Also Video is still crap when inline in a mobile browser.  Please just pull your videos when I’m in a mobile browser on your site.

Still Relying on Java/Flash/Whatever plugin I’m Never Gonna Install

First of all, mobile browsers don’t do plugins well, period.  Make sure your page has a good out of the box experience or you alienate Iphones, Ipads, Droids and Kindles of this world.

You can’t justify the use of Java Applets and Flash exclusively anymore, HTML and JavaScript as well as increasingly sophisticated images and video have given people plenty to work with in page creation.

Some plugins do well however, PDF’s are fairly universal in the mobile world, ergo somewhat acceptable for mobile use.


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My Critiques Against Agile

Agile is seen by many as the savior of the development world.  Many a project has gone in this direction, and many a project has seen good results.  However, I’ve seen many an agile project go south.  Some of my observations:

1) Agile’s long term vision by itself is pretty hazy.  Someone really needs to keep an eye on what is coming up in the next 4 Sprints, the next 8 Sprints, and the next 32 sprints.  Don’t fall into the trap of just dragging items out of the backlog and marking them for the next Sprint.  Not being a far seer may bite you in a later Sprint when tasks you should have seen coming really weren’t prepped for in the current Sprints.

2) It rewards a good worker, it punishes a bad worker.  Bad is not necessarily unwilling to work (that’s a problem in any kind of project and shouldn’t be tolerated regardless), but to those whose skills are not quite up to 100% and are faced with a learning curve, this can be hell as time is unforgiving in 2 week Sprints.  Choose your teammates well, and get them trained outside of the Sprint if they’re not quite where they need to be.  Similarly I’ve seen situations in larger projects, where newer developers, unfamiliar with the code, have initially performed below Sprint expectations for them, dragging the project down, stressing them out and often leading to their departure from the project and/or company.

3) It does little to stop the #1 killer of projects, greed.  Scope Creep, Feature Creep, all can get into a Sprint as easily as into a Waterfall project.

4) It suffers from victory disease.  People often have a sense of inflated expectations from all the good news they’ve heard about Agile and SCRUM.  This often leads to disappointing results.  To the project managers out there, manage the expectation, and manage it well.

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Just checking in…

It’s been a busy few weeks everyone with my new job.  Promise I’ll be back and posting more.  Take care!

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My SharePoint Next Version Wish List

Ok so SharePoint 2013 is settling in a bit, let’s open up the wish list for SharePoint’s next version shall we?

1) Great job with managed metadata and navigation.  However let’s make it truly universal, allow multiple site collections to connect to managed Metadata without prompts that it is already being used.

2) Add some additional controls for a page that are native to SharePoint.  I’d love to see something along the lines of a JQuery-UI like tab control that has tabs trimmable by the permissions as set up.  Or just use the JQuery-UI Tabs for this, modifying the JavaScript behind the scenes for better SharePoint functionality. Do similar stuff with Accordion Controls, etc.

3) Get back to the basics with search.  It’s too complex to set up as is now, and most people will use 1% of its functionality.  Stick with the current engine, but think about engineering an “Easy” mode where the basics are pre-configured, all I have to do is create a service app, set a crawl schedule and I’m good to go.

Any suggestions from the crowd?

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The SharePoint Assessment

Every so often as a SharePoint consultant you are asked to just “give your opinion” of the farm.

Gaaah now where to start.  So much to look at, so little time.

I decided to do something about this, long story short.  Attached to this article is a “quick check” document I’m starting.  That for any consultant starting a SharePoint engagement, these are the tasks (s)he should perform straight away.  Regardless of the scope of the projects (s)he’s being assigned to, and then in recurring intervals on the farm thereafter.  It’s designed to be given to senior management telling them the health of the SharePoint installation taken as a whole (not just the Health analyzer stuff), and brought to their attention for further action.

SharePoint Basic Assessment

This document is still in Beta.  Feedback welcome.

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SharePoint and AGILE/SCRUM Round 3, the Environment

So, let’s zoom in on the SharePoint Infrastructure team for the next round.

By now the analysts have gotten a lot of the top-level requirements, this should include:

1) What services the end users will be using, necessary in setting up service applications

2) Performance requirements, how many end users are expected to access the system

3) Availability requirements, what’s the expectation for how long the system is supposed to stay up, or SLA

4) Security requirements, who is and is not allowed to access what data

…and plenty more…

At this point the SharePoint infrastructure team needs to figure out the following for the developers to work on development sprints:

1) What the SharePoint development farm needs to look like

2) What the SharePoint test farm needs to look like

Development and test farms need not be as fully scaled as the UAT and production farms but:

1) Versions of Windows, SharePoint and SQL Server must match the UAT and production farms, down to the service pack and cumulative updates

2) If the UAT and production farms are to be multi-server, than the Development and test farms must be multiple server as well, however the development and test farms need not match server for server.  But if the Web Front ends are load balanced, the Dev and Test Farms should be load balanced to test interactivity in a load balanced environment.  But if UAT and production have 4 web front ends load balanced, it’s acceptable for 2 servers to be load balanced in the Dev and Test environment.

Typically this is the process per Sprint:

1) Devs build and commit their code on the production farm, while testers are testing on the more stable test farm.  Why not have the Dev and Test farm the same?  In my experience the Dev farm winds up being less stable, once a build package is considered “stable enough” move to test farm.

2) After Sprint, we everything that made it past the devs to complete, and implement on the test farm as the start of the next Sprint.  The test farm now becomes the testers problem.  Now then, can devs be testers?  Sure, as long as they understand what they are testing.

3) Once test is considered stable enough after however many Sprints it takes, we can discuss moving to UAT or production.  I’ve seen a few places that do one Sprint that’s pure testing on the test farm before additional promotion to UAT and production is done.

So the Sprints for Infrastructure look something like as follows:

1) Determine what services, tools etc. need to be activated on the farm

2) Lay out the basic infrastructure, determine what the farms will look like

3) Lay out the build and promotion process (something similar to my guidelines)

4) Install each farm, validate and accept

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