Thursday, 24 January 2013

So, what do you actually use ?

Over the past few years I've done a 'what worked' post at the end of the calendar year. As an experiment I thought I'd list what applications I use most and then review it in twelve moths time. 

I nearly wrote software rather than applications, but some of the things I want to mention aren't really software programs – they're applications and often depend on infrastructure hosted elsewhere.

Here goes

  • Dropbox – used mainly to sync files across computers irrespective of file format
  • Libre Office – platform agnostic document editor for off line writing. Often used in conjunction with Dropbox
  • Evernote – used as a notes and document management system (Nixnote is used on Linux to access my evernote files)
  • Wunderlist for 'to do' list management
  • Chrome – browser extraordinaire
  • Gmail – email solution
  • Google docs – fast means to create quick and dirty documents irrespective of platform
  • Windows Live writer – offline blog post creation
  • TextEdit – android text editor for note taking and integrates nicely with evernote and Gemail
  • Microsoft Skydrive – used for document backup
  • Excel Web App – for these occasions when Google Spreadsheets or Libre Office Calc will not do
  • Google reader for rss feed management
  • Twitter for tracking interesting things – rarely for messaging
  • Hosted Wordpress and blogger for blogging, and wikidot for creating structured web pages

The interesting thing is the omissions. For example I use pdf files extensively, but I often view them inside evernote or via the Google Docs viewer – hence no Acrobat, Evince, or Preview. Microsoft Office again is something I use – when I need to create or edit a complex report it's what I turn to as it is simply better than Libre Office, but it's Libre Office I turn to for day to day work.

Most of the applications are multi platform. The two that aren't, Windows Live writer and TextEdit are a reflection that (a) most of my offline blog writing is done on a Windows netbook and (b) most of the note taking I take in meetings is done on an Android tablet.

Otherwise I flit between platforms – the operating system I use has basically become unimportant – I have a Mac and a Linux laptop at work and a Windows pc and an iMac at home plus a couple of netbooks, one linux, one windows, for travelling. It is truly the applications that are important not the operating system. The reason why I use so many operating systems is because of the applications I need to use occasionally – some are not available for some platforms, and some simply don't work as well on some platforms as others.

Looking at the list it's basically a work list. If I was to include receational activities I'd add flickr an picasa. Reading e-books takes place on a dedicated e-book reader – these days usually a kindle. I'm also purposely not counting things like newspaper web apps or weather apps as they're simply an alterantive to using a browser.

I also don't use facebook – I have a facebook account that looks as if it does purely because my twitter feed goes to it, but, believe me, I don't use facebook. The only reason I have an account is because of other things that use facebook's authentication service.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Twitter and bushfires

Yesterday we had a bad bushfire day here in Canberra.

We got through and nothing really bad happened but on days like yesterday you're always a little bit on edge.

One of the important things about days like yesterday is communication, and here twitter came into its own. The Emergency Services Agency posted regular updates on events, with meaningful descriptions and links to detailed posts on their blog site.

The thing about twitter is that it stayed up and it got the message out, even when at busy times, the ESA's main site struggled.

There's a message here for all problem management guidelines. Fortunately we don't all have to manage bushfires, but I did once have to manage a major SAN failure, and learned the hard way that communication is key.

Tell people what is happening, tell them when the next update will be, and be accurate. No spin, no doom and gloom. If the problem is being worked on and there's no accurate time to fix, say so. If you're having an unexpected delay, say so.

The point is that people may not like it when you tell the truth but they'll take you seriously when you tell them.

One of the best techniques I have found is that when there is crisis, appoint someone like a moderately technical manager to manage the communications. That way he or she can ask the engineers what's going on, and understand what's being said to them. Use someone from corporate communications and they won't understand the implications of what they're being told, or worse keep on hassling the people trying to fix the problem with inane supplementaries.

Like all good management it's basically common sense, but even so it's a good idea to work out how you're going to do things in advance. Like the bushfire survival plans the Rural Fire Service keeps on telling us to make, it means that you make decisions about what you're going to do and how you're going to it in advance so you know what to do and there's no last minute arguments about what's going to have to happen ...