Wordle & TagCrowd

Put in some words, hit create. Goof with the jumble.

Here’s a pretty cool tool: Wordle.  It’s a Java applet created by an employee of IBM Research (on company time… nice!) who has shared it with the world.  You can use it to create really nifty text graphics.

To the left is one I did that may become the header for my family blog over at RockyMtnFuller.com.   The tool will automatically change the size of text based on how often a word is used (more usage, bigger text) and you can also customize the color palette, fonts and text orientation.

Another on-line tool I like is: TagCrowd.  This little app takes a bunch of words and creates a cloud similar to the “CATEGORY CLOUD” over on the right side of this blog.  It too is simple to use and sizes text base on word usage, but it doesn’t have as many customization knobs to twiddle.  Still, it’s also useful.

I can imagine using these websites to make some interesting graphics for slide decks.  Now, where’d I put my copy of slide:ology… ?

2009: A Brief Year in Review

Well.  Here we are once again. Another year come and gone. For some reason this year I feel like I didn’t really accomplish as many things as I’d hoped to.  I really threw myself into working with my Point B friends / colleagues to help our clients and our firm weather the storm, which took its toll on my personal time especially since my work assignments have been at client locations 30 to 45 miles from home, sapping away precious time driving on the days I need to be in the office.  I also gave up quite a few evenings for work-related outings plus business trips to Frankfurt (once), Hartford (several) and Seattle (once).  I believe it was worth it, but hoping to take a small step back in 2010.

Still, I did manage a few other things.  Made personal trips to Kīhei, Bismarck and North Platte.  Sold off my ’88 Jeep Wrangler and acquired an ’03 Flagstaff 208 pop-up camper.  Spent 300+ hours on soccer from coaching practices and games to coaching education and even playing.  Plus at least 100 more hours doing work with / for our soccer club’s board.  Soccer has become my number 1 hobby, dominating weeknights and weekends alike.  Made a batch of beer.  Built new friendships in the neighborhood where I live, which is something sort of new to me as I tend to hang out with work colleagues.  Thanks to John, Tinna, Mark and Cee Cee for the good times this year!  And thanks to Julie for getting me out of my office to socialize.  Helped out Erin with her school’s Flat Stanley Project.  Hosted Thanksgiving for 11 including my first fried turkey (much to learn about that process).  Sitting at 591 LinkedIn connections and 259 Facebook connections.  Posted to this blog a dozen times and 8 times on RockyMtnFuller.com.  I say it every year, but I need to write more!  Supported Bal Swan Children’s Center and Hope House of Colorado.

Now for some New Years’ resolutions.  I need to run, ride and swim more.  My mileage (e.g. only 358 run miles in 2009) was pushed down to the bare minimum and that has to change.  More beer making.  I need to work with Grace on posting to the family blog.  She’s become a wonderful, imaginative writer and should be leveraging the outlet.  A bit less soccer (although I’m not sure how I will make that happen yet).  Put the new camper to use and accrue a lot of outdoors time this coming summer.  I live in Colorado.  Time to get back to why we live here.

And I leave you with this: JibJab’s usual irreverent compilation of recent events encapsulated in their short film entitled Never a Year Like ’09.

Yammer: Hanging Out at the ol’ iWater Cooler

For about a year now my company has been using a social networking tool called Yammer.  Yammer describes the service as “enterprise microblogging”, but it’s basically a secure, private Twitter that an organization can use internally.  Yammer’s home page currently claims 40,000 companies use the service.  Like Twitter, each user can build a short profile about themselves, then shoot out little messages to everyone in their network (e.g. your company) regarding what they are doing or thinking including the ability to attach a file to the message.  There’s a way to subdivide the Yammer network into smaller groups (e.g. a group for office A and another for office B) so folks with common interests can communicate without everyone getting potentially unwelcome information.  Messages can be generated and viewed using an Adobe AIR-based client, a Blackberry or iPhone app or through a web browser.  There are other features, but these are the big ticket items.  In generally, it’s a well designed service.

I use Twitter in my personal network and mostly I get random messages from friends about their children’s strange behavior, plans for the coming weekend, current weather and so forth.  My own messages almost always fall within this same garden variety.  If you look at typical Twitter traffic, it’s essentially electronic chit chat.  How is Yammer traffic different?  By and large it isn’t and that’s precisely its value.  In today’s modern business place where employees often work remotely, by choice or due to travel, the proverbial water cooler conversation has largely disappeared.  For some businesses in particular (such as consulting) or in segments of businesses (such as sales), employees can be especially isolated from one another.  Tools like Yammer provides a way of maintaining a personal connection between far flung team members.  And that connection isn’t always idle conversation or gossip.  Often times, great ideas are generated or big problems solved by the casual hallway meeting that is increasingly uncommon.  An unlike regular instant messaging, many people can listen in and join the conversation, just like that hallway meeting.

My experience with Yammer has also shown that it’s a useful tool for:

  • disseminating information about what’s going on in the organization (“Hey! Didja hear we just won this deal with such and such new client?”),
  • quickly reaching out with a question to many colleagues via a channel that’s not as busy as e-mail (and which is logged away for future reference by everyone in the company) and
  • for simply sharing person tidbits.

It’s an impersonal way of making personal connections, if that makes sense.  There are people I only know on Yammer because they live in Seattle or some other city, but their personalities and interests show through across the Internet based on the comments they make and the way they make them.  It’s a little weird, but wonderful at the same time, because I’d not know them at all if it weren’t for my use of Yammer.

So, I like Yammer, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t offer that much of the basic functionality (if not all) could be recreated using direct competitor Present.ly, DIY social networking offerings such as Ning (which is more than messaging), the ageless Internet Relay Chat (IRC) or even Twitter (one can have a private account, you know).  You can even make your own with open source package StatusNet.  There are many options.  So it’s not so much the tool I like, but the idea.  I’m enamored with this type of communication capability, regardless of how you achieve it.  If you work in an organization where face-time is ever decreasing, you might want to strongly consider rolling-out a capability like this.

Want more?  Here’s a nice compilation of similar services from Mike Brevoort.

Trillian Astra

It’s been a while since I wrote about a web service or product, so I thought I’d take a moment to put something out there about Trillian Astra.  Astra is the latest incarnation of a multi-protocol instant messenger (IM) client from Cerulean Studios.  I started using the original Trillian client several years ago when I got tired of managing multiple IM clients to connect with AIM, Y! Messenger, MSN Messenger (now Live Messenger) and private IRC chat rooms.  I discovered Trillian 3.1 and was immediately smitten by its ability to work with all these services while consuming as much computing resource as just a single client.  I was so impressed that I eventually paid to upgrade to the Trillian Pro version.  While there were a few additional features in Pro, I can’t remember what they were (integration with Google Talk?).  I upgraded to Pro because Cerulean Studios earned their $25 (and then some) for creating such a great product.

Fast forward to the fall of 2007 when Trillian began Alpha testing for its new Astra platform.  I immediately signed up to help test and I haven’t looked back.  While Astra has added additional plug-ins for newer social network services such as Facebook and Twitter (you can see FB status updates and Tweets as they are generated by your friends), the big feature is a browser-based client in addition to the locally installed client.  While most of the services already offer this to their users, it was a big advancement for Cerulean Studios to offer such a “works wherever you can get an Internet connection” type solution.  The browser client looks very much like the local client and their servers hold copies of your connections, buddy lists and so forth so you can IM on the go, even if you’re on another person’s PC.  Very handy.

I highly recommend Trillian and if you use more than one IM service, give it a shot as I think it’s the best solution amongst its group of competitors.

Barley + Yeast + Coffee Grounds = Cheap Printing?

Late last year, Diageo announced plans to build a bio-energy power plant hard by Scotland’s Firth of Forth in Fife (say that five times fast).  The plant will be fueled by the organic waste yielded by Diageo’s Cameron Bridge distillery and should supply the supermajority of the steam and electrical power needed to operate the plant.  This is practically perpetual motion (not really, but fun to say).  Diageo produces a dizzying array of “adult beverages” including 46 different blended and single malt whiskies; Guinness, Red Stripe and Windhoek (my favorite Namibian lager) beers; Dom Pérignon; Gilbey’s, Gordon’s and Tanqueray Gins; Captain Morgan Rum; Romana Sambuca; Smirnoff vodkas; José Cuervo tequilas and all kinds of other good stuff to drink. Clearly, with all this boozing, these guys produce a lot of waste that could be converted to energy and it will be interesting to see if this first Scottish experiment spreads across their empire.

Today, an outfit called E-Fuel announced a deal with my favorite pale ale producer, Sierra Nevada Brewing, to install a bunch of their EFuel100 MicroFueler machines in SNB’s Chico, CA brewery (the location where I consumed first glass of their legendary Big Foot Ale).  The machines will be fed all the dead yeast and other gunk found at the bottom of the fermentation tanks after each batch of beer is drained off to be bottled and in turn the MicroFueler’s will make ethanol out of that waste.  Fill a MicroFueler with 200 gallons of goop and get about 35 gallons of ethanol a week later.  The machines do require 110V / 20A power supply and water to produce the ethanol and CO2, so it would be interesting to understand their true efficiency.  Brewer’s yeast isn’t just for breakfast anymore, I guess.  Not sure what SNB is going to do with all the ethanol they make, but it would be cool to roll into the pub attached to the brewery with your 64 oz beer growler and get a little ethanol to go.  It seems E-Fuel will sell you(!) one of these machines for about $10k ($7k after various federal tax credits) and their website promotes the idea of just pumping the ethanol right into your vehicle’s gas tank.  Unless you have an E85 flex fuel vehicle, not sure it would be a good idea to try to mix in ethanol on your own, but it’s a cool idea to have one of these sitting next to the house.  Although they are bright green and I’m not sure my HOA would go for it.

So we’ve pretty much covered green ways to deal with the production waste of two of my favorite things, whiskie and beer.  If only there was something for coffee.  Besides composting.  Or Java Logs (who has a real fireplace these days?).  Enter the RITI printer.  While just a concept, this home printer uses the wet dregs from your morning brew as the “ink”.  Although you can’t plug it into a computer and you have to advance the paper / operate the print stylus by hand (a good notch below dot matrix print quality), it’s an intriguing idea.  Some day.

Maybe in the not so distant future, I’ll have an ethanol-powered electrical generator to run my power hungry home office (including a coffee grounds printer), while sipping on Diageo-powered Long Island Ice Tea.  Maybe the future isn’t so dark after all.  I guess it’s time to write Obama and ask him to toss a few bucks in to the next stimulus package for green drinks initiatives.  What could it hurt?

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

Long a fan of telling business “stories” with pictures, I’m always looking for new sources and references for ideas.  One dropped in my lap the other day when a Point B colleague mentioned A Periodic Table of Visualization Methods in a Yammer posting (more to come on Yammer in another post…).  Graeme’s gift prompted me to recollect and revisit Visual Complexity, another longtime favorite of mine.

Was ist das? Eintausend Wörter.

Was ist das? Eintausend Wörter.

Used in the right way, pictorial presentation of material can communicate far more than a stack of bullet points on a slide.  Which leads me to a visual tool I’m experimenting with: mind mapping.

I’ve been exposed to mind mapping a couple times and it’s nothing new to many folks, but I personally haven’t done much with it. However, it’s picking up steam with many of my colleagues, so I’m giving the Mindjet application a shot as a way to learn about mind mapping.  In many respects, Mindjet is just a different way to collect and organize notes, which is something I do a lot regularly with MS OneNote.  But it’s also interesting in that it does a lot of things you might try to do graphically with MS Visio, but a bit easier.

So I guess it’s sort of a hybrid tool, but it’s really not the tool that interests me.  It’s the mind mapping techniques and other presentation formats like you see on the Periodic Table that I need to spend time learning how to use.  Really not sure where this post is going other than making plugs for PToV and Visual Complexity.  They’re just cool.

Dell Inspiron Mini 9 Unboxing

I’m a wee bit behind on my posts and can’t believe it’s taken me this long to publish this post which I started on 30.Nov.08.

Julie was due for an upgrade on her personal computing power. As I reached the checkout on Dell.com for her rather snazzy new Dell Studio 1537 (in lime green!), I was offered the opportunity to add a Dell Inspiron Mini 910 netbook to my order.  “How much you pay?”, I asked.  “$173.85 with shipping & handling”, sez Michael Dell and crew.  Sold!  Here’s what came in the cutest little box ever:

  • Intel Atom N270 CPU (1.6GHz w/ 512k L2 cache)
  • 1GB DDR2 RAM
  • 8.9″ Wide Screen WSVGA TL monitor
  • 8GB Solid State Drive
  • Ubuntu Linux

Make no mistake, this is not your son’s gaming power house PC.  But it runs Ubuntu real nice, goes for hours unplugged, comes with Star Office out-of-the-box and boots up in 42 sec.  Really.  It does.  Honest.  With WiFi, a 10/100 Ethernet NIC, 3 x USB ports and a 15-pin VGA video output, it’s got the basics covered. It is sort of hard for me to touch type on, so I pretty much peck type when I use it during the occassional Saturday morning outing to Starbucks.  My kids like to steal it and check on their Webkinz.  Other than that, I haven’t found too many uses for it.  I think I need to be more purposeful in taking it with me when I run random errands.  If you’ve got ideas on how to use it more, I’m all ears.

So, without further ado, here are the unboxing pics. Enjoy!