Category Archives: Miscellaneous

New Role: Technology Advisor, Walnut Street Labs

I’ve been co-working at Walnut Street Labs since December of 2013 and recently stepped up my efforts to support WSL and the start-up community in the Philly ‘burbs.  I’m now a volunteer Technology Advisor for the Labs.  In this position, I’ll advise start-ups on their technology for free.

I’ve been “working with computers” (as my friends and family call it) for just shy of 20 years.  In that time, I’ve done everything from Novell and Windows NT networking to Lotus Notes development and administration, cc:Mail and Exchange and now SharePoint.  Recently, I’ve been involved with Windows Azure, Amazon Web Services (AWS), WordPress, PHP, ASP.NET MVC, Orchard CMS and mobile technologies – Apple, Android and Windows Phone.

If you’re a start-up in the southeastern, PA area and need some help with your technology, want to discuss and white-board some issues, or just want a second set of eyes to look things over, then please feel free to ping me via my scheduling link: http://ohours.org/DMann.  I’m available for four fifteen-minute sessions every Thursday morning at WSL:

23 N. Walnut Street

West Chester, PA 19380

During these sessions, we can chat and work through whatever technology topics you would like help with – guidance, planning, etc.  When you make your appointment, please describe what you’d like to chat about.  If it happens to be a technology with which I’m not familiar, that will allow me to track down someone at WSL that is comfortable with it and able to help. 

While these sessions aren’t intended to be debugging or direct coding help, we can delve into those areas if they’re a part of a larger technology or capabilities problem.  The sessions will be most valuable for start ups trying to figure out their technology direction, determine which technology will be most advantageous to their product, figure out how to support new technologies, design an architecture, etc.

These sessions are free.  While there are no legal NDAs involved, I can assure you that your information will not be shared.  I prefer to do business on a handshake and am generally too busy with my own start up ideas to “steal” someone else’s ideas.  You’ll find, once you’ve been doing this for a while, that the idea and the technology pieces tend to be the easy parts.  My list of product ideas is pushing 50 applications these days; I’m not looking to add any more products to my repertoire.  If your start up is too close to something I already have in the works or am planning to move forward with in the near future, I’ll disclose this potential conflict of interest to you up front and we can figure out how to move forward.

If you’d like to schedule a meeting, please visit my scheduling page: http://ohours.org/DMann

Capturx for SharePoint

Several years ago I had a convertible tablet PC and I *loved* it.  The ability to sit in a meeting and take notes and have them instantly digitized into OneNote was tremendous.  As the computer horsepower needs of my professional life increased with SharePoint, I found that my poor little tablet just couldn’t keep up – mostly on the RAM front.  It maxed out at 4 GB of RAM and I needed more.  I reluctantly gave up on the tablet and moved to a “regular” laptop with sufficient oomph.

I’ve always missed my tablet, though.

Fast forward to some work I was doing for a client at the tail end of last year investigating alternative inputs for Information Workers to use to load content into SharePoint.  I came across a product called Capturx from a company called Adapx.  They have a whole range of products but the two that I’ll cover here work with OneNote and SharePoint.

Capturx for OneNote

I love this app.  It’s simple, as it should be, unobtrusive (also as it should be) and it just plain works.  I take notes in a notebook using a special pen (more on this in a minute) and when I dock the pen back into its charger, the software takes over and automagically imports my notes into OneNote.  The paper in the notebook is special, too.  Here’s what it looks like:

IMG_20110516_132448

It doesn’t come across in the picture too well, but it’s got a very tiny little series of dots on the page.  This is how the handwriting gets digitized.  The dots on the page allow the pen to record where you are writing on the page.  It then hands that information over to the Pen Manager software installed on my laptop which does the work of getting it into OneNote.  I don’t need to do anything but dock the pen, which I do to charge it anyway.  I have the software configured to dump the new pages into a OneNote notebook called Imported Pages and then I periodically file them into my regular OneNote notebooks.  I now have fully digitized notes that are searchable and everything else that OneNote provides.

As I said, the paper has a grid of tiny, unobtrusive dots.  This pattern is a proprietary pattern from a company called Anoto, but it is used by most major digital pens on the market today.  The paper is a little pricier than a regular notebook but not too bad.  I also have the option of printing my own sheets using the Capturx software but I don’t have a PostScript printer handy so this doesn’t work for me right now.  Honestly, I’m not convinced that printing my own pages is much cheaper or any easier than just buying notepads online.

The Pen

As I said, the pen is special.  As near as I can tell it is a generic Anoto-compliant pen marketed by Adapx.  The pen itself is a little bigger than I’m used to but not too bad.  It writes pretty well.  I had an initial problem with the digitized copy of my notes being gibberish, as seen here:

image

A quick conversation with the Adapx technical support group uncovered the problem.  During shipping, the ink cartridge in the pen had become too tightly seated inside the pen chamber and it wasn’t recognizing when I had lifted the pen from the paper.  A 10-second fix and this was resolved and hasn’t been a problem in the past 3+ months of use.

Capturx for SharePoint

The OneNote software is great for regular note taking, but honestly its not groundbreaking.  Don’t get me wrong, it works great and I use it all the time, but its not really anything that new and there’s other software out there that does the same thing.

The SharePoint integration, though?  That’s groundbreaking. 

Let’s face it.  There are times when lugging around a laptop, even a little netbook, isn’t suitable and trying to enter data on a smartphone isn’t the right solution either.  Sometimes paper is just the right solution – especially when what you’re trying to do is fill out a form.  I don’t know about you, but I find it pretty annoying when I’m sitting somewhere (doctor’s office, etc) waiting for someone to fill in a form on their computer.  It invariably takes longer than a comparable paper form would.  I *completely* understand the desired end result – a digital copy of the form instead of a paper copy, but the approach of a digital form just doesn’t work all the time.

Enter the Capturx for SharePoint solution:

1. Fill in a regular paper form (OK, it has the little dots on the page, but its still a paper form that’s MUCH easier to fill in than a digital form)

2. Dock the pen in the charger (or even just send it via Bluetooth to my phone and on to SharePoint from there)

3. Go have a beer, knowing that an electronic copy of the form I just filled out is already safe and sound in my SharePoint environment.

The nifty part is that not only is the form data digitized and available electronically, but the original handwritten version is also available via a custom Silverlight form that Capturx provides.  Here’s some pictures to help you visualize this:

The original hand-completed form (this is a sample form Adapx provided to me):

IMG_20110516_133320

The electronic copy in SharePoint:

image

The original handwritten ink notes are available via a slider control in the Silverlight.  I can either see all-converted as shown above, all original ink:

image

or some degree in between, all by simply adjusting the slider control in the Silverlight form:

image

Now if there’s some concern about a discrepancy in the conversion from handwritten notes to text, I can look at the original ink.  Outstanding.

The sample form I’m using here is one provided by Adapx but you can design your own forms and have them integrate into SharePoint.  For situations where paper is just the right answer, this is a great solution.

Customer Support

I mentioned Adapx customer support above but I’d like to call it out here.  I had two occasions to deal with their support department and in each case they were excellent.  The first was the pen issue I mentioned above (which technically isn’t “their” problem as they don’t make the pen, but they resolved it quickly and easily for me anyway).  The second was an issue that prevented me from logging into their test environment and was caused by a problem with my password management software – again, not “their” problem, but they took care of it anyway.  Each person that I dealt with was courteous, professional and knowledgeable.  All in all it was a good experience.

Full Disclosure

In the interest of full disclosure, I will mention that I received both a pen and licensed copies of their software from Adapx.  Anyone who knows me, though, will tell you that I’m not so easily for sale.  If I didn’t like something, or if something didn’t work, I’d say so, or else just never post a review (I was raised on “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all…” – thanks, Mom).  There are a few quirks about the software that took some getting used to, including a problem with the Pen Manager when viewed at what I suppose are “non-standard” resolutions, but nothing major, and certainly nothing that gets in the way of using the products.

Conclusion

All in all, a great set of solutions from Adapx – for OneNote and SharePoint.  If you have a need for either of these, I strongly recommend that you check out Capturx.

 

By the way.  My screenshots above really don’t do the SharePoint integration justice.  If you’re interested in this, I recommend you view their video here: http://www.adapx.com/resources/videos/capturx-sharepoint-services

Doh! Deleted the Wrong VMWare Snapshot!

The title says it all.  Damn.  Damn.  Damn. 

Not that big a deal, perhaps, that’s what source control is for, right?  Unfortunately, source control is only good when you check in.  I hadn’t.  I was still in the middle of fixing a bug so I didn’t check in when I shut down the other day.  Did I say “damn” already?

So, fast forward a few hours and I’m all recovered – fortunately, I had the DLLs for the code changes I had made and was able to recover the code changes using Reflector and a good recollection of where I had made changes recently.

Now here’s the real reason for this post…preventing this in the future.  I now have the following set up:

1. TFS 2010 AutoShelve extension to automatically create a shelveset in TFS every 15 minutes.  This overwrites the shelveset every time so I can only recover back to the previous shelveset

2. A batch file using the following command line and the regular old Windows Scheduler to create a shelveset every 2 hours.  These are named such that they stick around for a week before getting overwritten.  I’ve got plenty of disk space on my TFS server so I’m not concerned.  This gives me the ability to recover back to any 2 hour block for the previous week.  Here’s the command: tf.exe shelve /replace /recursive /noprompt “AUTOSHELVE_%date:~0,2%%time:~0,2%” /login:<user_name>,<password>.  I got this from the comment by Jaap here: http://geekswithblogs.net/MikeParks/archive/2009/09/15/tfs-auto-shelving.aspx

3. Last but not least, Dropbox.  I moved my TFS Workspace LocalPath into the DropBox folder so now every change to a file is whisked off into the cloud.  Dropbox gives you 2 GB of free storage which is plenty for source code files.  I haven’t looked into it extensively, but DropBox also has a Shadow Copy like capability to look at previous versions of files if I ever need it.  Why not Live Mesh, you ask.  After all, it gives you 5 GB of free storage.  I’ll likely switch to that eventually, but for now I still need to support a client on SharePoint 2007 running on Server 2003 and Mesh won’t run on Server 2003, apparently.  Once I no longer need to do this, I’ll likely switch to Mesh, although DropBox looks really slick.

Is this all overkill?  Perhaps.  But it was easy and free to set up and now I’m about as idiot (me) proof as you can be.

The Perfect Office

With the advent of Aptillon and a few other things I’ve been putting in motion for the last few months, I find myself getting ready to build a new office.  I’m curious…what makes “the perfect office”?  There are a few restrictions that I have to live with:

1. The space I’m using is going to be in my basement, so “a nice view of the outdoors” isn’t going to happen

2. I’m building the office space.  It will be about 10′ x 10′ – I can’t get away with any larger without taking over too much of the kid’s XBox space and the pool table space

Other than that, pretty much anyhting goes…what should I do?