Thursday, May 8, 2008

Apps that Irk Me and one that suprisingly doesn't

I am trying to break the mindset I have that applications need to be hosted locally in order for them to be valuable or useful. I am used to having the DB server be on a system I can administer or a webserver that I can tweak by updating a config file using vi. So I am highly skeptical that an online application can provide me all the necessary functionality needed to complete my tasks.

I apply that same 'locally hosted' mentality to office suites (although, I don't really know why). I just want to have them local so I at least the ability to change or fix one of the upteen hundred silly things that seem to happen with Microsoft applications (one example being the stupid disappearing menus in Excel 2007). Which brings up the question of whether we have reached the pinnacle of usability with Excel (which I will save for later in this post).

So I am off to try and create documents using Google Docs (http://docs.google.com).

So far, I have been able to copy in a list of performance metrics taken from a clients system and create a graph. Hmm. That is a pretty big step for an online application. Even more impressive is I did not have to hunt for menu or icon needed to create the graph. Its right there on the front screen (see micro screen shot below). That's cool. I don't have to hunt for something. That probably saved me at least 45 seconds and quite a bit of invective energy.

What impressed me even more was I created the graph based on three columns of information and did not have to identify which column contained the labels and which contained the data. That's amazing! This application created a graph without my having to go back and poke around through the selection parameters. I'm stunned I tell you. In all the years of using Excel I can't remember a time where creating a graph did not at least require going back and making adjustments to the data.

So, back to the question about whether we have reached the pinnacle of usability with applications like Excel. I have to believe that at some level there is nothing further that can be added to this spreadsheet, in this current format, to make make it more efficient as a tool for creating reports. All the gizmos and extra doodads in Excel 2007 make it less usable and more annoying. Do we really need to have hiding menus? No.

So, if using local apps means having to live through the silliness of ever expanding application gizmo wizardry, then maybe there is something to this hosted application thing after all.


Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Back from the Westminster Elks Club

It was a joyful occasion. We met my mother in-law and her boy friend at the local Elks club for dinner. The thin t-bone steak was pretty good and the potato and corn were good additions.

Other than that nothing else of note happened today. I had quite a few meetings at work and was too busy to get back to by SAP Business by Design.

A brief note about BBD. It is a very clever application. It takes much of the functionality found in the Enterprise Portal and applies pre-set business processes against it. So quite a bit makes sense from the minute you log into the hosted application.

Once you do log in you are met with the home page which presents any outstanding tasks that are nearing a due date or have been recently assigned by other workers. Across the top of the screen are tabs that contain business concentrations. Each of these can be assigned one-by-one to each user.

After learning some basic navigation, I was able to go from concentration to concentration. What made the transition easy is each default page within each concentration is the same for each one. So when you go from one concentration to another, you are met with the same layout.

That may not seem terribly important for seasoned SAP users but for mid-market companies that lack the resources for training, this can make a big difference. This can also play a key role where a user is tasked to many different assignments and has to remember how to complete a process in between them.

So far my impression of BBD is favorable and I look forward to how the interface is extended in the future.

Monday, January 14, 2008

I just want to record the adventure I had buying a new car.

I. Background
Before I go too much further I have to mention that I don’t buy cars often. My last purchase was a used 1984 RX-7 (which I still have) and my last new car purchase was a 1996 Ford Ranger. I have also worked for a subprime auto loan lender. So not only do I know auto finance well I also know how dealerships work and how slimy their sales tactics are.

I am one of those people who studies in detail the objects that I want to purchase. For months I have been poring over the car guides from Consumers Report and Road and Track along with watching episodes of MotoWeek. Generally, I am a car nut (I am one of those crazies that gets up at stupid hours to watch Formula One races) so I pretty much know all the details about what I want to purchase. After several months I came up with these cars as candidates for purchase:

Honda Pilot
Honda CRV
Toyota Highlander
Toyota Rav4
Hyundai Sante Fe
Suburu Forrester
Mitsubishi SUV

The timing was good all around. The truck was getting tired and we just moved to Denver. I started working downtown which requires a good car for the commute. We also needed a car that has four wheel drive for the snow and enough seats so we could pick up relatives from the airport.


II. The Dealers
First, I want to cover the dealers I visited because I think this represents a large part of buying a car. I know from experience that dealers can be crooks. That is a bold statement to make but it is a fact of life. Dealers exist on the edges of civility when it comes to the legality of buying and selling cars. They generally have the same legitimacy as street vendors selling fake Rolexes.

Honda
I live in Westminster which means I started looking at cars on 104th street. The first dealer was the Honda One dealer off of Federal Boulevard. First let me state that it was a nice place. The cars were displayed well and the wife and I were met within a few minutes down in the used car area. We entered the new car area and were greeted by another sales person. This guy showed us the cars and answered our questions without being pushy. Generally, I liked the place because it felt like we could look at the cars without being pushed into a purchase.

Toyota
The next place was the Toyota dealer off of highway 25 and route 36. We drove up to the showroom and found somewhere between 5 and 10 sales people skulking outside the tall windows. My wife mentioned that they looked like a bunch of vultures. The young guy who stepped up and greeted us was nice but did not know much about the cars. He led us to a highlander and then a Rav4. I will note later why I did not like these cars but will briefly mention that the interiors looked cheap and the prices high. After looking at a RAV4, we went inside. The dealer did not have any brochures for either car and the sales managers astounding recommendation (which he wrote down on the back of his business card) was to visit www.toyota.com. Wow. I can’t imagine what the look on my face was but I can imagine that it was one of disbelief that someone could be so pathetically unhelpful. In short, we felt hounded by the sales vultures and I felt like the dealer was not willing to deal. We walked out with the feeling that we were escaping a sleazy cheap operation.

Subaru
The next dealer was the Suburu place on 104th. After driving up we were greeting in a few minutes by a salesman. He asked a few questions and starting showing us what we were interested in. The best part was he let us look around without trying to put us in a car we did not like. He opened up a car and sat in it with us to show all the amenities. When we wanted to look at another car he ran off to get the keys. All in all I liked the sales guy because he let the cars sell themselves and did not push too hard. I probably would have purchased a car from this dealer if not for the small size of the cars and the expense of the Tribeca.

That was it for my wife. She was tired so we went home and discussed what we had seen.

Denver Children's Museum

I am writing this blog on my lunch hour so I apologize for the staccato style of writing (it comes from being interrupted quite a bit).

This weekend was beautiful in Denver. So the wife and I gathered up our energetic two year old (there's a redundancy I need to work on) and took him down to the Children's museum in Denver.

It is a wonderful place. Especially for a kid like mine who doesn't get outwardly excited about something new (much like his father but unlike his Mother who has been known to dance during the installation of a new washing machine).

We walked in and found a firetruck. He did not get excited. Probably because he took a ride on a real firetruck (bigger, louder and way more exciting since he got to sit in the drivers seat) a few months back in Vail.

He did get excited when we took him into a room that was setup for younger kids. There was a small fishing boat where he could pick up fish using a velcro adapted pole and another room where he could turn knobs on a big centerpiece that had big bolts sticking out of it.

What is so funny about kids is how excited they can get about even the smallest of things yet get so overwhelmed so quickly by the very same things. I could tell after a few minutes in each area that the stimulation was overrunning his ability to deal with it. So he would pick up just one thing and play with that for a while (in this case it was a fish).

I find myself doing the same things some times. When we have people over, sometimes the noise level rises above my ability to deal with it. I can almost feel my brain slowing down as a greyness fills my vision. To decompress I need to get into a quiet room for a while (usually in the basement which is really quiet). So it is good to know that my kid reacts the same way. It must be a natural thing.

After playing in the infant section for a while we went upstairs to where some of the older kid areas are. Once was an construction place where kids could follow printed instructions on how to create models out of plastic bottles and boxes. The area was a madhouse with excitement and I could tell Alex wanted to stop and watch. So we walked through and to the other side. He wanted to do what the other kids were doing but at two, he just isn't there yet (it would have been frustrating for him since he's like me in that he thinks he can do everything and yet can't).

The next area was an enclosed basketball court and health displays. Here, we sat Alex down and had him color a giraffe ('raffe' in toddler talk) with colored pencils. After measuring his height, we went off to the wooden train area where he was able to push an engine around the tracks. After that was a small dance area where we dressed him up first as a king and then a sheriff.

We left soon after that. The kid was just getting a bit too tired and hungry.

The funny thing about your kids is they are enough like you that you just know when they have had enough. Part of it is knowing that you yourself have had enough and the rest is just an intuition you get from looking in their eyes and seeing that the excitement has just overwhelmed the system. The thing to do is take them out, get them a meal, and let that superfast little brain start processing all the stimulus it just recorded. But first get some sugar into the system. The brain will need it.

We stopped at a restaurant on the way back which was probably a mistake. He was so tired by this point that he started falling asleep in the booster. We gave him some french fries and oreos but really, all he wanted to do is lay down and sleep. We ate our meals, took him home, and after an hour or so he was out and had to be put to bed.

So, it was a successful visit to this fun little museum. We will be going back (quite a few times I imagine).

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Things are good

First, here is a quick update.

I am coming to the end of a six month contract I have supporting the folks at StarTek. So at the end of January I will be going to work for MindWorks, which is the company that I was consulting through.

It has been a good contract and I have learned quite a bit. The workload fell significantly when a project was cancelled and my role changed to support two landscapes (BI and ECC 6.0) instead of four. The hard part was quite a bit of the challenge went away. I like working on the edge being forced to learn something new everyday.

I am not sure what I will do for MindWorks. I know they have quite a few projects going on and they promise that there are more to come. Which will work well for me since I like going into new situations and having to learn a huge amount in a short time.

The basis guy for StarTek will do a very good job. He as the right attitude to learn SAP and the aptitude to maintain it. Being the 'Basis' guy at a small company (a small installation rather) can be a challenge because you are often asked to resolve non-technical issues. And like many small companies this one has embraced SAP on the technical side but not yet on the functional.


Whelp. That is about it for the update on the job side. On the family side of things the news has been very dramatic. Which I will update later.