Covered topics: life in general, personal productivity, life hacks, organization, software development, technology, etc.

BlogWiki

Richard Hall over at connexions has started BlogWiki, a wiki about, what else, blogging. There are some interesting tidbits in the works, but much more can be done. Let's help out and contribute to the effort. I've already edited a page, DesktopBloggingClients. Here's a thought, how about some external links to the software mentioned on the wiki?

I like his comment:

This wiki has been set up to enable bloggers to share information and advice and provide a forum for the discussion of blogging issues. Of course, this already goes on in blogs themselves, but it's in the nature of a blog that discussions quickly "drop out of sight". On a wiki this doesn't happen.

(emphasis mine)

On wikis, the discussion is maintained in the "Perpetual Now" where a conversation is fluid, evolving, and represents the current state of affairs.

Cool Upcoming.org features

Upcoming.org has some interesting features:

  • US "Metros"--cities with events
  • Most popular events and metros
  • Browse Venues by Metro (Columbus, Ohio)

    It also offers some interesting syndication formats including RSS (Columbus, Ohio) and iCal (Columbus, Ohio).

  • Upcoming.org's limiting policy

    Upcoming.org has some interesting features, but by its own words, its use is limited:

    Upcoming.org is not for self-promotion, either by a single organization (e.g. a political candidate, artist, or band) or a single venue.

    Also, Upcoming.org is not for personal events (e.g. birthday parties, weddings, Little League games). If your event isn't of interest to the public, please don't add it.

    I would love to use functionality like that of Upcoming.org for syndication of themed events, but its policy prohibits that. And, as far as I know, its functionality is not available in other forms. Well, its feature set is compelling and worth imitating for a calendar syndication application.

    Response to OpenEvents

    I know I'm following an old, cold trail, but here are some comments I found on the OpenEvents [standard?]

    I have never heard of it, seen it in action, or seen any kind of spec on what it is or what you think it should be.

    [Christopher Schmidt]

    Anything to solve the current calendaring hell. I'm all for the "conversations" that blogs are enabling, but at the end of the day, sometimes I just want to meet people face-to-face. It's a higher bandwidth form of communication, plain and simple. We definitely need something akin to web RSS syndication for events (whatever happened to RDF calendaring?) - assembling centralized event sites make no sense.

    [Brendon J. Wilson]

    Hmmm...centralized event sites? Well, they have their place, as long as they are well-themed and focused. But I think Brendan would agree that we should have lots of them--select the ones we want. My goal is to have a centralized event site that offers a standardized client or clients. I want Outlook integration, web accessibility, and extensibility. Is this possible?

    ESF - the Nonexistent Format?

    ESF seems to have fallen off the radar. Or has it? The real question is, has it been adopted? And the next question is, what ESF clients/tools exist? There was some discussion by Jeff Julian and John Bristowe of a NewsGator extension, but it seems to be MIA.

    Then there is another XML format of unknown weight--the RDF Schedule format.

    My goal is to integrate syndicated event information into Microsoft Outlook. Is there an existing way to do this?

    There is the vCal format for sharing appointments, and its cousin, iCal. But these solutions all involve a multi-step pull operation via email. This is where RSS excels. You don't have to sign up on an email list. No spam!

    ESF gets a few hits on Google (around 67,000 as of today). I still need to research more to find tools for ESF. But if ESF is as obscure as some reports, maybe ESF is not right for the job. Is anybody still working on it? Here are the sponsors of the standard:

  • Jeff Julian
  • Devin Rader
  • Kirk Allen Evans
  • Steven Smith
  • We'll see. I left a comment on John's blog with a question about the status of the briefly-celebrated NewsGator extension. I first got excited about it when I saw Jeff Julian present it in Columbus, Ohio at an INETA user group meeting. It had me drueling! Well, maybe not drueling, but certainly excited.

    Update: Jeff Julian says this is the "Year of the Event." He points to an updated ESF/ESS spec. The other competitor for event syndication is the OpenEvent specification.

    Conditional Formatting and the 80/20 rule

    Microsoft Excel is a widely used tool in American business. For that matter, the computer spreadsheet category, in all its incarnations, is one of the primary business tools period, next to the word processor.

    I happen to use Excel frequently for data analysis and general business math (add, subtract, multiply and divide!). Nothing fancy really. However, I do consider myself to be a power user, relatively speaking. Now, I haven't mastered statistical formulas, pivot tables, or every feature of the graphs and charts, but I believe that I have mastered the 20% of functionality that yields the 80% of results, and then some (maybe 35/90).

    I believe that one of the most overlooked and powerful features of Excel is the conditional formatting feature. This allows things like changing the background color of a cell based on cell values or formulas--simple but very powerful. In fact, with a few simple techniques, you can find data mismatches, unused data, duplicate data, or matching data--all visually so the opportunity for error is greatly diminished.

    Amazingly, I've found that very few (actually none) of the people to whom I have mentioned this feature have ever heard of it, much less used it. That is why I feel it to be my personal duty to extol the virtues of this feature to the few that read this blog.

    The conditional formatting dialog can be found under the Format menu. Note that it does not appear when you right-click on a cell. I believe that this is an unfortunate omission on Microsoft's part, not only as a missing convenience, but also as an opportunity to advertise this useful feature.

    A cell is allowed to have up to three conditional formats. For example, a number value could have three different colors if it was positive, zero, or negative, respectively. Or a cell could be specially colored if its value was the same as the cell preceeding or following it. This can be helpful for spotting duplicates, although there are more effective ways to do this without using conditional formatting.

    I just used this feature today to compare values that were supposed to match but didn't. Rather than using the error prone technique of manually inspecting and formatting the data, I used conditional formatting and a formula to highlight mismatched values. The result was a professional-looking spreadsheet that I presented to management to visually illustrate a scenario that needed remedied. And of course, since I was the one who did the analysis, I will likely get credit for the proposed remedy. Bonus!--not $$$, just brownie points. And I did it with very little manual work on my part: just a couple of database queries, some conditional formatting, and some headings finish it off--oh, and repeating rows for page headers too. Fun stuff!

    So, without giving a complete tutorial on conditional formatting, I urge you to check it out in the Excel help documentation. I admit, I'm probably being negligent in my responsibilities by leading you this far only to leave you without detailed instructions, but time is short, and I've at least wet your appetite. But, just to provide some degree of assistance, here are a few links to learn more:

  • Conditional Formatting
  • Add, change, or remove conditional formats
  • How to Use Conditional Formatting to Shade Every Other Row
  • Microsoft Office Assistance: Highlight operations performance with conditional formatting
  • How to Create a Conditional Format to Hide Errors
  • Demo: Use conditional formatting to highlight operations deficiencies and opportunities
  • Creating conditional formatting formulas
  • Once you master the conditional formatting technique, you will likely find multiple uses for it that will make your life (if only slightly) easier. Enjoy, and here's to the 80/20 rule!

    Radio doesn't get it

    Guess what? NewsGator will take Evolution's feed, but Radio UserLand won't. I don't get it. Radio usually supports just about every conceivable format.

    Got Description?

    After some feedback from a reader, I revised these posts regarding freshmeat releases to include detail so you don't have to follow the links to determine what the content is. I guess that is the job of a good weblogger--give the reader a taste of the content and maybe some commentary or reaction.

    Unfortunately, freshmeat's RSS feed does not give any description, and often the products/projects featured there have odd names that do not give a clue to their purpose.

    Using Drupal

    Drupal is a versatile open source content
    management system. I'm trying to install it for my own use, but I need to
    upgrade my PHP version first. My friend suggested that I rebuild the
    server with an updated Mandrake or SUSE distribution. I'm currently
    running Mandrake 8.2, and I can't get patches for it anymore.

    It just sounds like the task is going to be a major pain. Plus, I don't
    think I have any way to burn an ISO image from Windows XP. Drat! Maybe
    I'll have to dual boot to Win2K to use my CD Creator software that no
    longer works under XP. More work.

    A friend of mine is considering replacing his entire small business website with Drupal. I think
    that's a smart move. Right now his website is still developing (partially
    under construction) and I think now is a good time to make a move like
    this. It will support his blog as well as a number of
    other features. Good stuff. Jeff K., if your out there, I hope you don't
    mind me referring to your site. As they say, the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.

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