My Calendar Wish List

Between the recent demise of Kiko and Scoble’s rants about Google Calendar, online calendars are a hot topic. I don’t use an online calendar because I have yet to find one that does what I want. Here’s my scenario:

  • I use Outlook with Exchange with work
  • I use Outlook without Exchange at home
  • I carry a Palm PDA on which I want to see both work and personal items

I don’t know of any way to sync my Palm with Outlook on two different PCs, so I must currently enter appointments and tasks in Outlook and on my Palm.

I’d love an application that lets me enter all my appointments and tasks in one place, then syncs my work-related items with Outlook at work, my personal items with Outlook at home, and a combination of items with my Palm. Attention Web 2.0 companies: I would happily pay a monthly fee for such a service!

I had high hopes for AirSet, and it’s close. But I don’t see any way to sync personal items with Outlook and both personal and work items with my Palm.

Am I the only one who wants this? Do you know of an app that supports this scenario?

 21 Aug 06 11:43 PM · Comments (2) · Tags: Palm, Windows
Mailing List Drama: I'm a Net Nazi

Consider this scenario: One of your neighbors wants to build a deck. He’d like some assistance, so he decides to ask the community if anyone is willing to help. He climbs atop the roof of his house with a bullhorn and announces: “I am building a deck and would appreciate some assistance. If you are willing to help, please let me know. Thank you.”

Shortly thereafter, another of your neighbors replies through his bullhorn: “I built a deck not long ago. I’d be happy to help you with your plans.” A third neighbor replies (also via bullhorn), “I have some tools I can lend you. What do you need?”

This exchange continues over several days among various neighbors. Finally, you ask politely if they’d consider taking the conversation to a less public venue. Your deck-building neighbor becomes angry and uses his bullhorn to publicly object to your “incredibly stupid” request. He calls you a “Nazi” for trying to “control” his ability to communicate, and suggests that if you don’t want to hear it, you can simply wear earplugs.

Sound ridiculous? I experienced something similar this week on a private mailing list to which I subscribe. The list is hosted by a product group within a large corporation for the purpose of sharing future plans with and soliciting feedback from advanced users of the product. A member of the list asked if anyone would be willing to help him localize a free utility for which he is responsible. A few members responded, and over the course of several days they exchanged nearly two dozen messages on the list.

Eventually, one of the members (not me!) asked if they’d consider taking the conversation off-list. The original poster replied at length, explaining that this exchange had about run its course, but he didn’t think there was anything wrong with using the list for this purpose. At that point, desiring to express my support for the member who had objected and to discourage this type of activity in the future, I posted the following:

From: Phil Weber
Date: Apr 4, 2006 5:54 PM
Subject: Re: Want to show off your bi-lingual skills ?

I can't speak for Matt, but I have no problem with your posting a request for help to this list. But once someone decides to volunteer, they could (and should, in my opinion) take it offline and communicate with you directly. Thanks!
--
Phil

That’s when the original poster got angry, calling me a “Net Nanny Nazi” and my suggestion “incredibly stupid” on his weblog.

Personally, before posting to a mailing list, I ask myself:

  1. Is this message appropriate, considering the topic and purpose of the list?
  2. Will the majority of the list’s members find this information useful?

If the answer to either question is ‘no,’ then I don’t post it. Does that make me a Nazi? You be the judge.

  6 Apr 06 01:46 PM · Comments (11) · Tags: Rants
My Virtual Coffee Table

Kathy Sierra asks, “What's on your (virtual) coffee table?Here, in roughly reverse chronological order, is my recent reading list.

As I entered my books into LibraryThing, I was surprised that I had read so many books last year. Most of my reading is technical in nature, so I tend to prefer electrons to atoms. Two factors contributed to my reading more than usual in 2005:

  • Our trip to China. There’s plenty of time to read on a 12–hour flight (especially when the movies are in Chinese!) I polished off four books on that trip, including the only fiction title on the list, which I purchased at Shanghai airport for the flight home.
  • Starting a new job. Two of the books on my list are related to my new position as a trainer, and Kathy is responsible, directly or indirectly, for both of them.
  • The first, Head-First Java, bears her byline. I purchased it after she revealed in an e-mail that “the exercises in our head-first books come right from our classes.” Variations of the book’s exercises have indeed proved effective in my C# classes.
  • In that same e-mail, Kathy recommended the other book, Designing World-Class E-Learning, whose primary message is that students learn by doing (and failing); to teach effectively, we must let students experience what we want them to learn. No more Death by PowerPoint!

The only disappointment on my list is Gerald Weinberg’s Weinberg on Writing. I bought it on Johanna Rothman’s recommendation; she seemed to promise that the book would help me become a prolific writer. Weinberg is an engaging storyteller, but his book is really about accumulating ideas for writing: he advocates carrying a notebook at all times and recording “stones” (ideas) with which you can construct “walls” (finished works).

Ideas are not my problem: I have a long list of topics about which I’d like to write. My problem is lack of motivation. After 40+ hours of work and 10 hours of volunteer work each week, all I want to do is sleep or watch TV. Unfortunately, I haven’t yet found a book to solve that problem.

 28 Feb 06 01:40 AM · Comments (2) · Tags: Career, Personal, Reading
Cingular Update

I never received a reply to my e-mail to Cingular Sales (brimstone beasts!) I was all ready to close my Cingular account and switch to Verizon, when I realized that it would cost me $175 to get out of my contract. Time for Plan B…

I switched my account to “Cingular Orange” (a full-blooded Cingular account, as opposed to “Cingular Blue,” a half-breed formerly-AT&T Wireless account) and ordered a free Nokia 6102. If the Nokia had Bluetooth so that I could use it as a wireless modem, that would have been the end of it. But it doesn’t, and I’m not crazy about the clamshell form factor (“Is that a phone in your pocket, or…?”)

So I purchased an unlock cable for my one-year-old Sony Ericsson T637 and unlocked it. I inserted the SIM card from the new Nokia, and voila! My old phone works great on my new Cingular account, and I now qualify for the $60/month unlimited LaptopConnect plan. I also unlocked the new Nokia phone (which I was able to do free of charge online) and gave it to my wife, whose 5+ year-old Nokia 8290 is getting a bit long in the tooth. Transferred her T-Mobile SIM card to the new Nokia, and it works great, too!

It cost me about $30 to unlock my old phone and I had to sell my soul to Cingular for another two years, but I now have high-speed-anywhere connectivity and my wife has a shiny new phone. I can live with that!

 27 Feb 06 10:09 PM · Comments (1) · Tags: Tech
And the Winner Is...

I closed the polls on my contest at midnight (Pacific Time; apologies to my readers in Hawaii who thought they had three more hours to enter) on February 1. Next, I went through the 100+ entries and disqualified those that were over 100 words or lacked originality. I forwarded the remaining 26 to my boss, who volunteered to help me judge (she’s a sucker for a good contest: she also loves American Idol). She narrowed it down to eight, and from there I agonized over three. The winner of the free copy of Visual Studio 2005 Team Suite with MSDN Premium Subscription is...

John Dukovich of Green Moon Solutions!

It was a difficult decision. I like that John works for non-profit and socially-responsible organizations, and his company may actually be able to take advantage of Team System’s features.

Congratulations to John, and thanks to everyone who entered. Just a reminder that if you’re a teacher or student, you may qualify for free or dramatically discounted Microsoft developer tools through the MSDN Academic Alliance program, and if you run a software company, you can join the Empower for ISVs program.

  7 Feb 06 12:42 AM · Comments (2) · Tags: .NET, Microsoft
Cingular Sucks

From: Phil Weber
Sent: Monday, February 06, 2006 8:15 PM
To: sales@cingular.com
Subject: Please take my money!

I am a former AT&T Wireless customer. I am satisfied with my current phone and calling plan. I would like to add a Laptop Connect Unlimited line for $59.99/month and purchase a Sierra Wireless Aircard 860 PC Card modem. Cingular's Web site allows me to order them, but when I get to the checkout page and enter my payment information, I am told to “double-check my address and try again” (see attached screenshots; the address is correct).

I went into my local Cingular Wireless store today and attempted to order them in person, and was told that because I am a former AT&T Wireless customer, I do not qualify for the $59.99/month price. In order to qualify, I must switch to a Cingular plan, which would be fine except that in order to do so, I must also purchase a new phone!

This is unacceptable. I am an existing customer who WANTS to pay you an additional $60/month, and Cingular won't let me. I would prefer to keep my existing phone and calling plan, but if I have to purchase a new phone in order to obtain wireless broadband access, I'll do so with Verizon.

Can you help me?

Thank you,
Phil Weber

Update: Apparently, I’m not the first customer to experience this frustration.

  6 Feb 06 11:56 PM · Comments (3) · Tags: Rants, Tech
Wanted: Programming Topics for High School Students

Several co-workers and I have volunteered to present lunch-hour sessions for Advanced Placement computer science students at a local high school. Mine is on January 30 and I need to choose a topic. Games and gadgets would probably go over well; maybe something about how chicks dig geeks? :-)

Seriously, if you have any ideas, please share them!

  5 Jan 06 09:54 PM · Comments (1) · Tags: Geek
Contest Update

It’s been three days since I announced my Visual Studio Team Suite / MSDN Premium giveaway. Since then, I’ve noticed that several other MVPs are planning similar giveaways. Come back often (or subscribe); I’ll alert you to any additional contests I discover.

I’ve received 67 comments so far and I have to say, I’m a little disappointed. The majority of comments say, essentially, “I really want it but I can’t afford it.” Come on, people! This isn’t a raffle; you need to give us a reason to choose you over someone else. A few have resorted to threats (“Choose me or else I’ll use Java/Linux”), promises (“Choose me and I promise to learn how to use it”), or pity (“Choose me or my children will starve.”) I was hoping to hear, “I work for this charity/non-profit” (I did get a couple of those) and/or, “I could really use these specific features of VSTS...”

There have been a few standouts: Aidan is working on an innovative Web project that deserves some attention. And I enjoyed Adam Wright’s poem. No promises, guys, but you made a favorable impression.

FYI, if you want the software because you’re a starving student or running a startup, Microsoft offers significant discounts to both academic institutions and software companies. If you don’t score a free copy from an MVP, you should check those out.

Update: Patrick Santry, owner of WWWCoder.com, is giving away several VSTS/MSDN licenses.

Update 2: XML guru Oleg Tkachenko has licenses to give away and is looking for ideas.

  5 Jan 06 09:20 PM · Comments (5) · Tags: .NET, Microsoft, Microsoft
Contest: Win Visual Studio 2005 Team Suite with MSDN Premium Subscription

Microsoft has generously given me (and, presumably, other MVPs) a few licenses to Visual Studio 2005 Team Suite with MSDN Premium Subscription “to share with other individuals of [my] choosing in the community.” Now, I’m under no delusion that this is sheer altruism on Microsoft’s part; I’m sure they want to drive adoption of VSTS (and I want more readers!) Regardless of the motives involved, however, I have cool software to give away, and that’s where you come in.

In the comments to this post, tell me in 100 words or less why you should receive one of these licenses. I’ll keep the comments open until January 31, at which time a panel of judges (to be determined) will select a winner.

So, make us laugh, make us cry, give us goosebumps. Convince us that you deserve a free copy of this $10,000 software package (and in case you don’t win, start sucking up to other developer MVPs you know!)

  2 Jan 06 10:02 PM · Comments (108) · Tags: .NET, Microsoft
Funny Story of the Week

Bala suggests that I add a “Funny Story of the Week” category in order to boost readership. I don’t know if I can come up with a funny story every week, but I have created a Humor category; here’s this week’s entry:

Not long ago, we had a “Bring Your Child to Work” day at my office, and we had a barbecue for the kids. I was eating at a table with some boys, so we started telling kids’ jokes. At one point I asked, “What's round and white and lifts weights?” (Correct answer: Extra-strength aspirin.) One of the boys looked at me and answered, “You!”

  2 Jan 06 08:11 PM · Comments (0) · Tags: Blog, Humor