Category Archives: blogging

Reading And Writing Resolutions For 2014

The past year was a pretty busy one for me, with quite a bit of enterprise client work that I couldn’t discuss here, so my blogging was mostly limited to conferences that I attended and webinars/white papers that I created. Okay for information dissemination, but not so much for starting conversations, which is why I started blogging 9 years, 2,400 posts and 850k words ago. I’m also way behind on my reading of other blogs, so much so that the older unread ones are starting to drop out of my newsreader.

Catching up on the reading will likely involve committing a drastic act in my newsreader (clearing all unread – yikes!), trimming down the blogs that I follow, and making time regularly to browse for interesting developments in blogs and Twitter.

Getting back to some more interesting writing will follow from the reading: reading other people’s interesting ideas always helps me to generate some of my own, then it’s just a matter of putting hands to keyboard on a regular basis, and letting the ideas out into the wild.

Here’s to 2014!

New Theme for Column2.com

I’ve been looking for a new theme for this blog that has more functionality built in, especially a more responsive feel on mobile devices. With the latest upgrade to WordPress 3.6 and the release of the Twenty Thirteen theme, I thought that I’d give it a try. I’ve left the sidebar pretty much the same, although removed the Pages and Search items because they are in the theme’s title bar, and added links to my online social presence. I added a custom header image that matches my business cards. The default location for widgets with this theme is at the bottom, but I need to think about whether I want to exclude any content before I move to that format. There are now nested comments, gravatars and the ability to login using your social media accounts in order to post a comment.

Let me know if there are any strange behaviors on any platforms. I’ve tested it on Chrome and IE (newer versions only) on Windows, Chrome and Safari on iOS, and Chrome and Firefox on Android; so far, so good. Note that the mobile theme in Jetpack is disabled; otherwise the header was a bit wonky. The header is a bit large on an iPhone but looks okay on the desktop and tablet versions, and the header fonts are a bit big on the desktop; I’ll continue to do some tuning. And hopefully start adding some meaningful content again soon.

Maintaining Ethical Standards As An Industry Analyst And Enterprise Consultant

Every once in a while, someone suggests that vendors pay me for coverage. The latest accusation actually used the term “pay-for-play”, which is a derogatory term for industry analysts who require that vendors be their paid clients before they receive any coverage by the analyst, and is often considered to be unethical. Vendors who work with me know that’s not true, but I just wanted to sum up how I work with vendors.

Unpaid Work

  • I will accept a briefing from any vendor whose products that I find interesting. I might also write about an interesting piece of news, a webinar that I watched, or information about upcoming events. If I choose to write about any of this here (which I sometimes don’t, due to time constraints or lack of interest), the vendors do not have review/edit privileges before I post: they see my review the same time as all other readers. This last policy, by the way, has resulted in some vendors shutting me out of their analyst programs, since they want to control the message; needless to say, I don’t write about them much since all they give me is the same information as you could find on their websites.
  • I will attend a vendor conference but must have my travel expenses reimbursed since I’m an independent and would have to pay these costs myself.

I know that a lot of analyst firms charge for merely attending briefings and conferences, and maybe I will start doing that some day, but I want the freedom to write (or not) whatever I want about what I see without any sort of oversight or censorship, since I think that’s important to my readers. If there is information presented that’s under embargo or NDA, I always honor that. Note that in both of these cases, I give up my time – which could have been spent on revenue-generating work – to attend events and briefings, so if you’re envious of all my “free” trips to exotic locations, remember that I don’t get paid while I’m there unless I’m doing paid work.

Paid Work

My website describes the types of paid work that I do for vendors, but to sum up:

  • I consult on strategy, including product and go-to-market strategy. When I do this, you’ll probably never hear about it since anything I produce will be under NDA to my client.
  • I give webinars and conference presentations, and write white papers. Although I choose my subject to be of interest to my client (the vendor) and their audience, what I write is my own opinion: the fact that a vendor pays me to write a white paper does not mean that I am endorsing their product, even though they appear as a sponsor of the paper. If appropriate, I will mention their product as an illustrative example. I upload my presentations and papers and link to them from my blog because people always request copies, and because these materials form part of my online portfolio to allow other prospective customers to understand what I can do for them. When doing a (paid) conference presentation, I may also be blogging from the conference, which is covered under the unpaid work section above.

Regardless of my relationship with a vendor, I am never compensated for product sales, nor for blogging about them, nor for giving a positive review about their product. I have a disclosure statement that summarizes these principles and lists current and recent vendor clients. It would be fair to say that vendors who take the time to cultivate a relationship with me and invite me to their conferences tend to get more coverage because I’m exposed to more information about them, but it’s not necessarily favorable coverage.

Since most of my work is for enterprise clients – primarily helping financial services and insurance organizations with BPM implementations – I follow strict ethical guidelines, including disclosing the names of my vendor clients to my enterprise clients at the start. Since many enterprise clients use my blog and white papers as a way to get to know my work, it’s important that I present unbiased information of value.

</rant>

Lightening Up The Travel Gear

Google_Nexus_7_front-back-side_270x206This week at bpmNEXT was my first solo outing with the new blogging setup: Google Nexus 7 tablet, Logitech Bluetooth keyboard, and WordPress app for Android. I was also working on a white paper for a client, so had to edit and view documents in Word and PowerPoint formats, for which I use use the Kingsoft Office Android app, plus Dropbox for synchronizing my work to the cloud for backup and Astro File Manager for local document management. Prior to this, I carried an HP Mini netbook running Windows 7, which provided me with the same functionality as on my desktop, with all of my documents synced locally via Dropbox. When I started carrying the Nexus while travelling for media consumption, the combination of Windows netbook + Android tablet + iPhone started to seem like overkill; a comment from my brother (a non-technical lawyer, of all people) made me start thinking about adding a keyboard to the tablet as a netbook replacement.

wpid-91hO7brqtZL._SL1500_.jpegIn summary, it worked great. Once I learned that some familiar keyboard shortcuts work on Android (Ctrl+X/C/V for cut/copy/paste, Ctrl+A for select all, Alt+Tab for switching active applications, Fn+Backspace for Delete), my productivity increased tremendously. The keyboard is as big — maybe a bit bigger — than my netbook keyboard, so touch typing was speedy as you might have surmised from the thousands of words that I pumped out in blog posts this week. Kingsoft Office had a hiccup over one particular Word document, but I copied and pasted the text to strip out the formatting and had no problem with basic editing. Today, when I had to send off a draft of the white paper to my client, I used Astro to attach the Word document to an email (native Android only allows adding media file attachments). Email worked well, since my domain email is hosted on Google Apps: I could add/remove tags for organization, as well as send/receive and most other functions; since I also had my iPhone, I did a lot of email and calendar functions there. Chrome, Pocket and Feedly kept my online reading in sync, and for tweeting, I used the very capable Buffer and Twitter apps. Also, the battery life on the Nexus is great, lasting for an entire day even with Bluetooth and wifi enabled, which is better than the netbook. If I needed to scrimp on power, I could turn wifi off since most things could be done offline.

There are a couple of remaining challenges:
- As far as I know, there is no way to give a presentation from the tablet using the standard setup that is available at a conference (namely, a VGA cable connected to a projector). That means that I still need to carry the netbook when I will be giving a presentation, unless I am so organized that I have it completely finished before departing for the conference, and the conference has a PC with my presentation loaded. If anyone knows of a small gadget that would allow me to connect my tablet to any standard projector (a Bluetooth to VGA converter, maybe?), I want to know about it.
- The formatting in the WordPress app is a bit basic, with no support for bullets or quote blocks as I would have in the regular web interface or Windows Live Writer on the PC. Unlike the web, however, I can compose offline (as I’m doing right now at 35,000 feet) and it saves a local draft for posting later.
- The usage of Bluetooth devices is not really permitted on aircraft, although I have to believe that there are many devices on my current flight with Bluetooth enabled, and we’re still flying. Flight attendants either haven’t noticed or don’t care about the keyboard.
- Dropbox requires that I mark each file individually that I want synchronized locally, which means that I have to remember to mark the right ones while I’m connected so that I have my reference and editing materials available. A “sync this folder” function would be great.
- Kingsoft Office is good for editing, but I really need to review any document that I create or edit with it on my desktop to make sure that the formatting didn’t get screwed up. Kingsoft is free, and I’d be happy to pay for an Android MS-Office clone if I had better confidence in its formatting integrity.

The verdict: this will be my go-to gear for travel when I do not have to do a presentation, or when my presentation is submitted in advance. If I find a way to present directly from the tablet, then this will be my only travel configuration unless there is a weird requirement such as Visio on the road, and the netbook may be permanently retired.

Having A Spammy Time

This blog has been inundated with comment spam lately: yesterday, I deleted over 4,600 spam comments that had accumulated in the spam folder in the past two weeks, which is about 100x the usual volume. Akismet is doing a great job of trapping it, since I’m only seeing one or two per week pass through to the moderation queue, and none have been auto-published. However, that means that I can’t manually check the spam queue and fish out legitimate comments, so if you make a comment and it doesn’t show up, let me know and I’ll try to find it.

New Mobile Theme

Since the Jetpack plugin is now available on self-hosted WordPress sites, I’m gradually rolling out more of its features. Today, I enabled its mobile theme (disabling the previous MobilePress plugin, which hasn’t been updated in over two years), please let me know if you experience any problems with it. Note that it only changes the theme for smartphones, not for tablets, which is the same behavior as MobilePress.

I’m also using Jetpack for site stats (replacing StatCounter code, although I still use Google Analytics), sharing (for the buttons at the bottom of each post, replacing the WP Tweet Button plugin) and a few other functions. If you’re running WordPress, definitely worth checking out what’s in Jetpack.

Reorganization Underway

In the anticipation of ramping back up with blogging this year, I’m doing a bit of housekeeping. I’ve been getting the urge to write things longer than 140 characters at a time, and to keep my content someplace where I have better control over it, prompted in part by this article.

First of all, I’m converting all of my conference subcategories to tags, since they have got a bit out of control with the number of conferences that I attend. I’m using a redirect so that if you had a link to the conference category page before, it should redirect to the tag page, but let me know if that’s not happening. If you follow the comments feed, you will see a flurry of activity, since updating a post causes any trackbacks to be refreshed, which appear in the comments feed.

Second, I’ll likely be changing the theme fairly soon to something that allows (at the very least) nested comments. Last time I tried this, I had complaints from a few people on IE6 saying that their browser didn’t support some of the feature properly, but the percentage of IE6 readers has dropped to 0.1% so likely no longer an issue. Again, if you see a problem with the new theme, let me know.

Third, I’ve trimmed out a number of unused plugins and some widgets from the sidebar, which may improve speed somewhat.

Fourth, I’ve added more sharing options at the end of each post – Twitter, Google+, Facebook and LinkedIn – to replace the Twitter share button that used to be at the beginning of each post.

Update: Fifth, I’m replacing some of the little-used or old categories with tags, but without a redirect since I don’t think that there’s much linking to them. If you have a link to a category that no longer works, either check for the same name in a /tag/ URL rather than a /category/ URL, or let me know and I’ll add an explicit redirect.

New Toys

For those of you who see me at conferences occasionally, you may see a new (and even smaller) setup in front of me next time: my Google Nexus 7 tablet (which I carry with me anyway as an ebook reader and general media device) and a new Logitech Tablet Keyboard for Android, plus the WordPress Android app for offline (or online) composition. Although the combined weight of the keyboard, case and tablet is probably about the same as the netbook, I am currently carrying both the netbook and the tablet when I travel, so this will lighten things up slightly. Also, it’s less bulky, and the keyboard can be tucked into my suitcase with the tablet in my handbag, meaning less weight over my arm rather than rolling along behind. One question is whether I will have to pull out the keyboard for separate security scanning at airports, where I currently have to take out my netbook but not my tablet.

The keyboard is really good: the keys have plenty of space — at least as big as my netbook, I think — and good feel and travel, so I can touch-type without a problem. The keyboard case, which protects it during travel, props up and doubles as a tablet stand. There are a few things I haven’t figured out how to do yet, such as moving forward/back by a word at a time rather than a character (shift+left/right arrow on a regular Windows keyboard), but everything else is in just the right place. Obviously, I can also just touch the screen to reposition the cursor.

The remaining challenge is what to do when I have to give a presentation, since I usually present from my own device to include any last-minute edits. Kingsoft Office (a free Android app for viewing and editing Office documents) seems to work fine for my travel writing needs including lightweight PowerPoint editing, with the added bonus that it integrates seamlessly with documents on Dropbox, where I keep my travelling files, but there’s no way to hook this baby up to a projector, as far as I know.

Conference Season Begins

I attended one conference back in January, but the season really starts to ramp up about now through June, and I kicked it off with the Kofax conference in San Diego earlier this week. Just a few disclaimers about my participation in conferences, in case I forget to mention it in each case:

  • Conference organizers provide me with a free conference pass under the category of press, analyst or blogger. In exchange, they receive publicity when I blog or tweet about the conference. That publicity may or may not be favorable to them: giving me a conference pass does not guarantee that I will like the content.
  • For vendor conferences, the vendor always reimburses my travel expenses. This does not give them the right to review or edit any of the blog posts that I publish; in fact, it does not even guarantee that I will publish much while there if I’m really busy investigating their products and talking with their customers. However, it does guarantee that I understand their products and market much better afterwards.
  • If I’m giving a formal presentation at a vendor conference, it’s safe to assume that they paid me a fee to do so; at some other conferences (such as academic or non-profit ones), I may waive my fee. Paying me to speak at a conference does not give a vendor any additional coverage or editorial rights with respect to my blog posts.
  • Everything is on the record during the day, and off the record once the bar opens in the evening, unless otherwise requested. I created the “Kemsley rule” after noting that people tend to spill exciting upcoming news after a few drinks, then follow with a slightly horrified “don’t blog that”. I’m almost always invited to briefings under embargo or NDA at vendor conferences too, which I don’t blog either.

In April, I’m scheduled to give a keynote at Appian World in DC, and possibly sit on a panel (and definitely attend) IBM Impact in Las Vegas. May and June will be pretty busy, and I even have something scheduled in July, which is usually quiet for conferences. More to come on all of these as they get closer.

Recording a “Hello World” Podcast with @PBearne at #pcto2012

I’ve been blogging a long time, and participate in webinars with some of my vendor clients, but I don’t do any podcasting (yet). Here at PodCamp Toronto 2012, I had the opportunity to sit through a short session with Paul Bearne on doing a simple podcast: record, edit and post to WordPress.

In addition to a headset and microphone – you can start with a minimal $30 headset/mic combo such as a USB Skype headset that he showed us with decent transcoding included, or move up to a more expensive microphone for better quality – he also recommends at least a basic two-channel audio mixer.

He walked us through what we need from a software standpoint:

  • Audacity – Free open source audio recording software. We recorded a short podcast using Audacity based on a script that Bearne provided, checked the playback for distortion and other quality issues, trimmed out the unwanted portions, adjusted the gain. I’ve used Audacity a bit before to edit audio so this wasn’t completely unfamiliar, but saw a few new tricks. Unfortunately, he wasn’t completely familiar with the tool when it came to some features since it appears that he actually uses some other tool for this, so there was a bit of fumbling around when it came to inserting a pre-recorded piece of intro music and converting the mono voice recording to stereo. There’s also the option to add metadata for the recording, such as title and artist.
  • Levelator – After exporting from Audacity project as a WAV or AIFF file, we could read into Levelator for fixing the recording levels. It’s not clear if there are any settings for Levelator or if it just equalizes the levels, but the result was a total mess the first time, not as expected. He ran it again (using an AIFF export instead of WAV) and the result was much better, although not clear what caused the difference. After fixing the levels with Levelator and importing back into Audacity, the final podcast was exported in MP3 format.
  • WordPress – As he pointed out, the difference between a podcast and a regular audio recording is the ability to subscribe to it, and using WordPress for publishing podcasts allows anyone to subscribe to them using an RSS reader or podcatcher. You may not host the files on your WordPress site since you may not have the storage or bandwidth there, but we used WordPress in this case to set up the site that provides the links and feed to the podcasts.
  • Filezilla FTP – For transferring the resulting MP3 files to the destination.
  • PowerPress – A WordPress plugin from Blubrry allows you to do things such as creating the link to iTunes so that the podcast appears in the podcast directory there, and publishing the podcast directly into a proper podcast post that has its own unique media RSS feed, allowing you to mix podcasts and regular posts on the same WordPress site.

He also discussed the format of the content, such as the inclusion of intro music, title and sponsorship information before the actual content begins.

There was definitely value in this session, although if I wasn’t already familiar with a lot of these concepts, it would have been a lot less useful. Still not sure that I’m going to be podcasting any time soon, but interesting to know how to make it work.