My second and last article for Blogging Idol 2011: Switch by Chip Heath and Dan Heath

Switch by Chip Heath and Dan HeathSwitch by Chip Heath and Dan Heath

I am sure each of you tried to change something in your life at least once (lose weight, change the way you do paperwork so you submit your taxes in time and do not get fined, make your developers comment the code they write… you name it). The goal may be clear and theoretically desirable to all the stakeholders, and the means to reach it, not very taxing, but still, for some reason, six months later you discover that your tax receipts are mislaid, you have to pierce another hole in your belt, and your developers spend hours trying to figure out what exactly does this piece of code do, even if they wrote the code in question themselves not yet five months since. Sounds familiar?
Well, Chip Heath and Dan Heath know what ails you. You may have heard of them: they wrote “Made to stick”, a beautiful book about how to explain things to people and make the lessons stick. This book is written using all the lessons from the previous one. It is clear, lucid and sticks to memory. Chip and Dan tell us stories: about a manager who transformed a lackadaisical customer-support team into service zealots by removing a standard tool of customer service; about a simple technique that helps desperately exasperated housekeepers to overcome the dread of undone workloads and get away from the slough of despond by following a simple routine.

Read the rest of the article on the Blogging Idol website

ComputerWorld Canada’s Blogging Idol 2011 contest starts on April 11!

Join the contestants, it will be fun! Register here

Last year I took third place! Let’s see if I can do better this time.

(Here are my articles written for the 2009 and 2010 contests)

Yay! I took third place in Blogging Idol contest

A special thank-you goes out to Greg Wilson who gave me an idea for this post.

You can read all my contest posts here.

Book review: True names and eternal questions: Vernor Vinge and the cyberspace frontier

This book contains “True names”, a novella by Vernor Vinge, and nine essays on deep political and technological issues underlying the novella. As it often happens with true artists, Vinge, who published his story in 1981, predicted a lot of problems that we face today. He was the first to describe cyberspace (although the actual term was coined later by William Gibson). The book poses so many questions that we are asking ourselves still and they, if anything, become more acute.

To what extent shall we cede our freedom to the government in the name of fighting the “four bogeymen”, or what Bruce Sterling characterized as “four horsemen of Modern Apocalypse”: terrorists, child pornographers, drug dealers and mafia? And if the “key escrow” scheme were realized in the USA, for example, how would that not make it a totalitarian state? Besides, if you outlaw the weapon (in this case, cryptography), then only criminals will have weapons, right?

Another interesting issue raised by Vinge is the cyberspace and people’s lifes in it. Almost 30 years later we know that people can get divorced because of virtual reality and even sue for very real money to compensate them for their loss of virtual property. One can be poor in real life (or in “real life”?) and be a powerful magnate in cyberspace. On the other hand, Vinge’s character gets caught by the police because he is wealthy and influential in both the cyberspace and the reality.

The characters of the novella have to keep their true identities — their True Names — secret to avoid prosecution by the “Great Adversary”, the US government that tries to find them out.The police who busts into “Mr.Slippery”’s house one day calls itself Welfare department, and they accuse “Mr.Slippery” of “interference with the instrumentalities of National and individual survival”. The police lets “Mr.Slippery” off the hook but only so he finds out and turns in to the police a certain “Mailman”, another cyberspace character.

Read the rest of the article at Blogging Idol website

My article for Blog Idol contest: Resources for technology-related startups in Toronto, Ontario, Canada

This article contains some useful information that I inevitably accumulated over the past few years, as a SR&ED consultant and as someone who has recently started a business. It might save you some time that took me to figure out all this. Good luck with your startup!

Various camps, startup drinks, green drinks

Startup entrepreneurs and people who has been there and done that regularly meet to have a drink, exchange battle stories, get a sound advice and find a potential business partner or even an angel investor. Startup Drinks is a simple concept: a grassroots effort to make sure startup folks get in touch and stay in touch.

The same refers to Green Drinks which is a casual, monthly forum for environmentally-oriented individuals to have a few drinks, mingle and toss around ideas.

By the way, the next Green Drinks together with Startup Drinks will happen on May 26 at Grace O’Malleys – 14 Duncan Street, Toronto, from 5:45 to 9:00.

Various camps are also held in Toronto every month. See the description of some in this article. The admission to them is affordable or free. (Some impose a nominal fee to ensure that people who register do indeed show up, and your admission pays for your first drink.) Among other nice get-togethers, I should mention Product Camp and Girl Geeks Dinner.


Democamps are such an important feature in the life of Toronto technology scene that it is worth a separate mention. An evening of beer, cocktails and tech demos for designers, developers & marketers, Democamp became quite an institution. It was conceived in Toronto, but now there are democamps in other cities and towns, too.

Creative spaces for independent entrepreneurs

When you work from home, it is very difficult to concentrate! Independent business owners know that better than anyone. Besides, sitting between the four walls tends to get lonely. Because of that, several creative spaces opened in Toronto. Their founders, entrepreneurs themselves, formed a community of like-minded people and opened spaces downtown, offering reasonable monthly rates in a comfortable space. Born from the feeling of collaboration and connection found at events such as BarCamp and tech conferences, coworking is the social interaction of independent entrepreneurs, consultants, freelancers, developers, and writers out of their homes and cafes and into a creative space. A coworking facility is the shared office space for these individuals, where they can work independently in a social way. Rachel Young and Wayne Lee cofounded Camaraderie. Tonya Surman founded Centre for Social Innovation at 215 Spadina, and CSI recently acquired another building in the Annex to expand their space.

(Read more at BlogIdol website…)

My article for Blog Idol contest: Cloudcamp 2. Cloud Computing: Return on Investment

This is another session from Cloudcamp that was held in Toronto on April 6, 2010. (Find the article about the first session, with links to the CloudCamp sound files and some presentations, here.) The session was facilitated by Dave Nielsen and discussed the ROI of cloud computing. The following questions were raised:

What is cloud computing anyway?

How do we measure the ROI of migration to the cloud?

What’s the cost of intangible benefits?

When does it make sense for a startup to use the cloud?

Not all of them got answered but some certainly did, and the answers given were very interesting.

(Note: I did not catch the names of all the people who answered questions, so if one of them is you, please let me know so I can acknowledge it properly! – Tania)

Dave Nielsen: I’ve been saying, “Here’s what I think cloud computing is,” over and over and over again and it’s changed a little bit every time, but actually hasn’t changed much at all in the last like 10 times I’ve done it. But it still could. I’m hoping to get to the 80/20 rule where I come up with 20 percent of what is the main thing of cloud computing and 80 percent of the people agree. But basically, here it is: so you know, you guys know the triangle, the pyramid, cloud computing, Infrastructure as a Service, Platform as a Service, Software as a Service, right? Right here. This is a very, very simple, like over-simplified definition of cloud computing, types of cloud computing.

So Infrastructure as a Service is really providing a service to IT folks. And Platform as a Service is really providing a service to developers where they can put their code. And then Software as a Service is providing a service to business users who don’t want to have to set up anything, don’t want to have to install software on their desktop, right? That was basically the three types of cloud computing but if you don’t know who you’re talking to and they ask you what cloud computing is and you don’t know what type of person they are, or you simply ask yourself, what do all these things have in common, it turns out they really have, in my opinion, three +1 things in common. And the first one is super obvious. What do you think that is?

(Read more at BlogIdol website…)

My article for Blog Idol contest: My Microsoft Outlook Connector suddenly stopped working

Our dependency on technology becomes rather alarming.

If a global disaster strikes and you live in the country in an 18-century house, you will be able to get some firewood in the forest, bring water in a bucket from the river, catch a rabbit with a snare made of your suspenders, and roast that rabbit in your fireplace, or, at worst, on a barbecue in your backyard. And you will be able to have a proper outhouse of the system our great-grandfathers used.

If a global disaster strikes and you live in the city, on the 18th floor of an apartment building, you are helpless. There is no water source, no way of using the washroom and no way to cook food (most certainly your cooker uses gas or electricity).

What I wanted to say is, today my Microsoft Outlook Connector suddenly stopped working.

I have a Hotmail account. It is about 12 years old. It is the second e-mail address I got in my life. For many years it suited all my needs.

When I had to switch to Outlook Express, it took me about 1 minute to hitch it on to Hotmail, and everything worked perfectly.

About a year ago I started using full-scale Outlook, just because some illogical behaviour of Windows prevented me from doing something I needed, otherwise. It took me about 1 minute to hitch it on to Hotmail, and everything worked perfectly. Outlook has some extremely strange bugs but I eventually got used to them.

Then Microsoft decided that this is not good enough.

(Read more at BlogIdol website…)

My article for Blog Idol contest: Review of Tom Rand’s Kick the Fossil Fuel Habit

Both in the YouTube clip for the book and in his TED talk, Tom speaks about possible replacement to fossil fuels we are hooked on. His confidence that we can kick the habit is contagious. Just a few solar farms in Sahara can produce enough electricity for the entire world! Instead of burning coal to heat water, use geoexchange technology that can reduce energy use and carbon emissions by up to 70%, and lowers peak electrical load in the summer months. Tom is currently implementing this technology by converting a derelict building at 357 College St., Toronto, into a green hotel.

Sounds great. However I am a pessimist, or an extremely cautious person (call it what you like), and I have been taught by experience that, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. As some of you may know, it is actually possible to make a gravity-powered clock, for example. The only catch is that manufacturing this clock will be a lot more expensive than a regular alarm clock and a lifetime supply of batteries.

I will be happy if someone explains to me that I am mistaken and the obstacles to Tom’s suggestions that I see are no obstacles at all.

(Read more at BlogIdol website…)

My article for Blog Idol contest: Open Data and disclosures, or Beware of the leopard

With governments looking to do more with less, adopting open government strategies marks an ideal way to better deliver public services and foster increased confidence in government institutions through greater transparency.

Michael Geist

‘Crowdsourcing’ puts many extra hands to work

The move toward open government is now a fact. In Canada (and specifically in Toronto) many  groups such as Visible Government, ChangeCamp, etc. are working on a multitude of new sites and services. The one I want to tell you about is, a site created by a Toronto developer, Ilia Lobsanov. The site performs web scraping to capture information from government sites about contracts awarded to various contractors. This is, officially, publicly reported information. It is, however,  displayed and stored on hundreds of disparate government sites in various forms, and this hinders the search and use of the information should anyone need it.

(Read more at BlogIdol website…)

My article for Blog Idol contest: what’s most important in Enterprise IT?

What is the most important thing in enterprise IT?

Some may say, budget. Others, the timely adoption of new technologies.

Not really.

The best technologies may fail and the lushest budget be wasted by human efforts gone astray.

Imagine several new college graduates hired by a big company, as software developers. They all can write code, create design specifications, search information to solve difficult problems. It seems that they have everything they need to settle down and start being productive, right?

Not really.

(Read more at BlogIdol website…)