Thursday, March 23, 2006

Dumber than ... 101 Dumbest Moments in Business

I like the fact that CNN have given us the 101 Dumbest Moments in Business, but I can't believe that they were dumb enough to end the article with this line:
Where's No. 101? You've got to see it to believe it, so turn to page 136.

Great, page 136. Now that does me a LOT of good on the web, right?!

Of course they could have remedied this by having a link to a special page ... but no, they just end with the plaintext shown above. Grrrr ...

OK, I get that the CMS they use is probably not up to the job, and they find it hard to re-purpose printed material for the web, but those are just excuses.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Google Mars

I just found out about Google Mars today, an amazing new tool from Google that shows you the surface of Mars, as mapped by NASA researchers at Arizona State University.

There is even a 3 min 50 sec video flyby using the map data, called Flight Into Mariner Valley:

Monday, March 13, 2006

NETaccounts: The MYOB killer?

On the way to a client this morning I came up with a great idea, a Web2.0 business application designed to kill off MYOB by providing SME owners with a basic accounting package that does 80% of what they need, a là Getting Real.

Well, hang on a second, it looks like NETaccounts has beat me to it with a nifty web-based accounting package. They have a good simple interface that also provides an easy way for SME owners to share their accounts with their bookeepers and accountants for a relatively low $295 per year (that's AUD, including 3 user logins). Even better, they have a published API on their developer network page that points out how to use web services to talk to their application.

I've tried out their demo account, and it's a much nicer user interface than the confusing gray wasteland NetSuite throws at its users, but it still could learn a lot from Web2.0 applications like Gmail or They seem to be solving more than the 80% of problems that I would have targetted, but then they have been doing this since 2000. Their marketing could use a lot more money, but then again I found them within 30 seconds of googling for something like this, and they seem popular in the Mac community because they manage to bridge the Mac/Windows divide that separates many designers from their accountants.

From the look of it they are still actively developing the application, and seeing as they write in .Net I think we will continue to see them implementing new Web2.0 functionality (but RSS feeds will probably never be appropriate for this sort of app). Mashups with NETaccounts could be very cool, something with could be useful for many organisations - the only worry is that NETaccounts may have too small a subscriber base to justify the effort involved. Their focus is on Australia at the moment, but there are some signs that they have considered expanding overseas, in which case having a mashup would help them get exposure. Other mashups could include integrating POS/EFTPOS systems or even an online calendar like 30 boxes.

If they get their marketing act together and try to generate some buzz about their product then I could definitely see this givng MYOB a run for its money, especially with a slightly prettier user interface. If I had known about this product when I bought MYOB over a year ago then I would have reconsidered the decision and probably convinced my bookeeper that this was a better solution. A year after having bought MYOB I still haven't managed to get it setup and working right with my data file. This solution would have been an easy buy, especially as it would have impacted our cashflow less.

NETaccounts have a free 30-day trial in case you're interested.

Friday, March 10, 2006

GigaOM : Un-Origami

Om Malik, a well respected Business 2.0 writer, is decidely unimpressed by the Origami. His point is that Microsoft missed an opportunity to do something truly new, like the XBox 360, and instead just came up with 'yet another' Windows variant.

Om says:
If you read Michael Gartenberg hands on review, you will soon be running off to the nearest store wildly waving your credit card yelling take my money, and give me Origami.

I think he does Michael a disservice here as whilst he thinks Origami has a rosier future (if they can avoid calling it Ultra-Mobile PC - UMPC), he also says:
Expect the Origami story to evolve and remember, we haven't seen the Origami story in the Vista timeframe. Look at Origami the way you might look at a new platform, not the value of a particular machine today.

Perhaps Om is allowing the ugliness of the current hardware devices to influence his opinion. There is a potential market for this device, especially if it can fully handle Office documents, including SharePoint integration (and not just the cut-down functionality WinCE gave us).

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Origami Project Unveiled

Sometime later today (whenever America finally catches up with the fact that it is already the 9th March 2006) Microsoft will reveal the Origami Project. Except it's already obvious what it's about.

Amid intense speculation to what this really is, some details have emerged (at, c|net), perhaps only because Microsoft's hardware partners have decided to leak their prototype gadgets in order to harvest the buzz for their own products. So far the hardware manufacturers have simply disappointed the market with what seem to be badly designed, barely out of prototype devices.

So here goes my take on Origami ...

Microsoft are not really into making hardware, Origami is a platform for hardware manufacturers to use for a new type of device, much like TabletPC was. The key question is what kind of device?

The simple answer is a mobile one, something affordable enough to be considered attactive to consumers (unlike the TabletPC which has amore corporate market), something that offers mobile and wireless access (all kinds), and is portable enough that it can replace your mobile phone. Something that allows you to enjoy video on the go, much as iPod allows you to enjoy music.

Actually that's an interesting point. Apple are very good at delivering focussed products that just do enough to be usable, but are beautifully optimised. Microsoft tend to deliver broadbrush products that can do all things ... adequately (the Xbox notably departing from that).

The business world doesn't need a cutdown mobile solution, so this has to be aimed at consumers. So far, Microsoft wins in the business world, but in our personal lives Apple has hit a major win with the iPod. The real question is not what Origami is, but whether you want one badly enough to plunk down the cold hard cash (or warm springy plastic) to get yourself one.

Personally I won't ... but I'm old school and enjoy reading a book to killing my hearing with headphones. I love good music, but without great (bulky) headphones the experience is a turnoff after more than 5 mins. Will you be in the market for an Origami powered device?

Well, I was right, Engadget confirmed that it is a platform for a new set of consumer devices, and gave us some pictures from CeBIT.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

GTD with Gmail and Greasemonkey

I mentioned my HipsterPDA the other day, but the more important half of my re-organisation was getting Gmail sorted so that I could properly capture everything I am doing in there, thus relying on it being always available, despite signs of it not being always reliable.

Other people have blogged about using GTD with Gmail, and even written a whitepaper, others have gone further using the filters in Gmail, however they have not taken advantage of the Mozilla/Firefox extension called Greasemonkey.

Now Greasemonkey is truly evil (in the best possible way). Basically it allows you to run Javascript from your own set of user scripts on a page before it fully loads. Some user scripts are intended to be run on every page and wipe out ads, or particular types of text (e.g. swearwords), or killing frames. Others are customised to particular sites, for example allowing you to add tags to your blog posts in Blogger, or remove ads and multi-page annoyances from the SMH website. There are a set of user scripts created for Gmail that I found particularly useful:The only problem I had with the Power Gmail tweaks script was that it had the search bar showing after the labels, which for me always placed it below the fold. In order to rectify that, you simply need to edit the script and change this line:
... to this:
But enough ado about nothing, how does it actually come together?

Getting Things Done (GTD)
with Gmail and Greasemonkey

Bryan Murdaugh's whitepaper on Getting Things Done with Gmail is a good starting point as he discusses why you would use Gmail in this way, and covers GTD in general for those rusty or unfamiliar with it. Here is my brief take on it, assuming you are familiar with GTD.

Firstly you use labels to store all emails relating to projects, and general reference material. Secondly you also use labels to identify the context of the next action related to that email. Thirdly you Star emails that are current deferred Next Actions, and delegated ones get labelled with a "Waiting For" label. You send emails to yourself whenever you need to capture a deferred Next Action, delegated item or some reference material (like a set of links, a quote, or a PDF article). Lastly you leave a Next Action item unread if you want to prioritise it over other Next Action items with the same context.

Better Labels
This is all well and good, but as anyone who has used Gmail will realise, the problem quickly becomes how to sort these labels into meaningful order. I started with the idea of using prefixes for each type of label. "Project:" for projects, "Ref:" for reference and so on, with perhaps "@" for context labels. I quickly ended up with ones like "Ref: Ind: Venture Capital", which is just too long and unwieldy. A web design post covering how to get funky looking text bullet points using unicode inspired a more visually interesting set of labels.

Context labels:

Waiting For label:

Project labels:

Someday/Maybe and Tickler labels:

Corporate reference:

General reference labels:

Household reference labels:

Personal reference labels:

Catch-all special labels:

You can use the utility in Windows to get what you want. The first set for a given font (Arial in this case) will show reasonably standard characters:Scroll down and some more interesting ones soon appear:
Finding Urgent Items
One of the problems with Gmail is that it does not allow sorting within a particular label, just searches. I mentioned above that I leave urgent Next Action items marked as unread in order to show them as urgent. That is OK, particularly given the power of some of the special searches which allow me to identify unread or starred items with a particular label.

However, it is a real pain trying to do that search every time you need it. One idea I had was to use to store bookmarks of these searches, then subscribe to the RSS feed for a special tag that marked those bookmarks, and place that feed onto my browser's bookmarks toolbar. This only works in Mozilla Firefox, but it's a little too roundabout to get what I want. The URL looks a bit like this:

This is where the user Power Gmail tweaks and Gmail conversation preview scripts really became useful. Power tweaks allowed me to have saved searches within Gmail, like the one at right, and more importantly it uses a special contact record to store the searches in Gmail, so I can access them from any computer (provided it has Greasemonky and the right user script).

You can see that I've used it to show me Next Actions for certain contexts, as well as all urgent ones (marked unread) and all Next Actions (which is really just like my Starred label, except it shows how many I have). The preview user script allows me to look at a conversation and then leave it marked as unread, which means I don't stuff up my urgent list when checking what I have to do for each one.

Sample Project
To save you imagining what one of my project labels might look like, here is one I am able to share with you, which is my preparing my home office filing system for GTD:You can see that there are multiple actions, one of which is the selected Next Action. It is marked as read, so it is not an urgent item, but it will appear in my overall Next Action lists, as well as the one for when I next have the car.

Word of Warning
Remember I said that Greasemonkey is evil? The power it brings to bear is amazing, but the downside is that you could truly stuff yourself up by installing a malicious user script, or even just by badly hacking a reasonably benign one. Having some familiarity with Javascript is essential to be sure you are secure, or you must place your trust in sites like that (hopefully) have Javascript gurus reviewing and checking the scripts out.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Jungle looking for entrepreneurial business lawyers

Jungle Management is a great little law firm that I ran across whilst looking for great business names (Jungle was one of the better ones). Since then I had a chance to interest one of their lawyers, Wei-Ling Chan, in the NSW Knowledge Management Forum and consider using them for my own legal needs.

Jungle's CEO, Kim Tunbridge, sent out an email to their newsletter subscribers today mentioning that they are looking for more legal talent to add to their team. In her words:
As you have come to know Jungle through our regular newsletters, we thought you would have a fairly good idea of the type of people who would be great in our team.

We are expanding in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane and are looking for dynamic lawyers who think outside the square and are passionate about business, getting results and building relationships. Please see our advert below.
These guys are great, and I really believe in their business model, so I am quoting their job ad in full in case any readers of my blog know someone who would be interested in this sort of career move.

Senior & Junior Legal Counsels

• Entrepreneurial hybrid law firm
• Sales, marketing, advertising, media, entertainment and IT industries
• Recruiting for Sydney, Melbourne & Brisbane

The Company

Entrepreneurial by nature, Jungle Management is an innovative law firm in an active growth phase. The lawyers, who are more akin to in-house counsel, work for a dynamic client base in sales, marketing, advertising, media, entertainment and information technology.

The Roles

These senior and junior roles are pivotal to the business. You will provide expert legal advice to existing clients as well as be responsible for business development.

More than just another role for just another lawyer, these are hands-on legal and business focused roles for lawyers wanting to play a strategic part in a non-traditional and growing business.

There are also opportunities for lawyers with the right skills, experience and attitude to take on managerial roles, establish new branches of the business and own equity in the business.

The Lawyers

You will have 2 to 8 years experience in corporate and commercial law, and ideally intellectual property law. You are ambitious, dynamic, genuine and have excellent interpersonal skills. You are also an outstanding drafter and negotiator who is commercially focused and has experience on secondment or in house.

If you are interested in joining our dynamic team, please email your cover letter and resume to Alexandra Lazar at or PO Box 633, Queen Victoria Building NSW 1230.