Tom Petrocelli's take on technology. Tom is the author of the book "Data Protection and Information Lifecycle Management" and a natural technology curmudgeon. This blog represents only my own views and not those of my employer, Enterprise Strategy Group. Frankly, mine are more amusing.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Tripping Over Myself to Talk about TripIt

I travel a fair amount. Keeping those trips organized is a huge time suck. Just getting all the pieces of my itinerary into one place, printing maps, and making sure I have my schedule down takes a lot of time and effort. That is until I discovered TripIt. A free web service, you e-mail all the itineraries and reservations that you typically get from travel agents and websites and it organizes it into a full view of your trip.

But wait. There's more! Once the itinerary is created, TripIt displays buttons to call up maps, directions, on-line check-in and flight information. It becomes a dashboard for your whole trip. You can also add meetings and other parts of your trip manually to get a complete picture.

The downside? TripIt only understands standard formats used by travel agents, airlines, major hotels, and car rental companies. When I e-mailed the site a reservation from a small Bed and Breakfast, it couldn't figure out what it was. It isn't fair to expect that the software behind TripIt can understand every way that a small B&B may e-mail a reservation.

Overall, this is one of the best and most useful travel tools I've ever worked with. I'm glad I tripped over it.

Friday, January 18, 2008

I Can't Cotton to On-line Office Apps

I still don't like on-line office applications. It's not that I have anything against on-line applications. Heck, the company I work for (and the line of business that I run) sells that as an option for our customers. I love Xpenser, which helps manage expenses and Stikket which is an on-line sticky note app. It's the office apps I can't cotton to.

To start with, they all feel somewhat lightweight to me. Let me put it another way - most are only about as good as a decent text editor. Even for people who just want to write a letter, on-line office applications offer too little in automation and features. You can enter basic text or numbers and perform some simple editing functions but that's it.

I'm writing this on Google Docs and am not enjoying it a bit. I want margins! I know this is electronic and going to get published to a blog but if I wanted to print this, it would be ugly. It's also very web-centric. If you look at the style menu you see typical internet styles like "Heading 1". That's an HTML programmer's idea of how to write documents not a writer's. There is no way I could write a memo on this, let alone something substantial like an article.

Now, I can already hear the howls from the promoters of these applications. They will say "on-line applications are not meant to do everything a desktop office suite does" and "your expecting too much". All I'm asking for is basic functions. I'm not suggesting that these apps be used to write the great American novel, just simple stuff like the kid's school papers. Wordperfect circa 1985 has more functionality.

There is also the whole problem of it being on-line in the first place. It's great to imagine that you can access your documents from any computer in the world. That assumes you have a network connection. Without that, you can't access your documents from anywhere in the world. So, while the dream of documents everywhere is a great one. It doesn't help if you can't get to them. Once your network connection is down, they may as well be at the bottom of the ocean.

I don't mean to beat on Google Docs alone. All of the on-line office apps are like this. They have no choice. If they add more features then dragging that code across the Internet will eat bandwidth like frogs eating flies in late summer. This is why I think the whole concept is flawed. Applications that encompass lots of back-end processing but few upfront features are great as Software as a Service. Applications that need to have a lot of features on the front end do not.

What makes this especially amusing is that there are free alternatives such as It's not like the only choice is to buy a professional office suite for $500.00 or use the on-line apps. There is a free but full-featured alternative.By the way, I hate having to use the ".org". Someone should fix that situation.

So, for lightweight writing tasks like blogging, the on-line apps are certainly interesting. For most anything else, they are useless. I'll stick to

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

He's in the Jailhouse Now

Well, it looks like Greg Reyes has finally found out what his sentence will be. While not as bad as it could be, 21 months in the slammer along with a $15 million fine is not fun. Of course, the fact that he might have the $15 million to pay the fine kind of blows my mind but some guys get lucky. This, however, may be the luck you can do without.

Anyway, it's still not fair. Okay, the guy lied but no one has been able to show that he profited from his lie or that anyone was hurt by it. Give him a spanking but not 21 months in jail and a reputation what will follow him for the rest of his life. And remember, when he did this, it was not clear if backdating was even a crime. Scooter Libby out a CIA field agent and gets a pardon. Reyes adjusts some options and he gets the big house. It ain't right.

What is clear to me is that going after executives for accounting irregularities is the new witch hunt. The average jury can't even understand what this is about but it doesn't matter. The fact that there is no evidence of hurt to anyone doesn't matter. We just want to start stoking the fire around the stake and need someone to tie to it. So let's burn Reyes!

And do you know why he was picked for particular honor? The answer is in the witch burning scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

Crowd: She's a witch! Burn her!
Sir Belvedere: How do you know she's a witch?
Peasant in the Crowd: She looks like a witch!

That's pretty much it. I don't have to understand the intricacies of securities law to figure this one out. Reyes looks like a witch so we should burn him.

The good news is that his charity work counted for something. We should all remember that next time the PTA asks for volunteers.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Getting My Due

The company I work for is really good at handling expense reimbursements. Despite the hard time I give the people in Accounting about expense reports, they turn these puppies around pretty quick with minimal hassle. The biggest hassle is on my end. Compiling and tracking expenses is a pain in the tookus. Tracking which expenses were paid and which are outstanding is also a chore.

Now, there are lots of software packages to do this for you. Some are expensive, some cheap, some even free. The failure of all of them is the inability to record an expense with your computer off or when the package is not loaded. In other words, when you are actually incurring the expense you likely don't have access to the software. I probably could buy something for my cell phone or purchase a PDA to do this but I'm doomed if I drop it in the toilet.

Enter stage left: Xpenser. Xpenser is neat little web service, available for free, that allows you to record your expenses, then organize and track them. Neat! Even better is that you can interact with Xpenser via e-mail and even IM.

What makes Xpenser really cool is its connection with Jott, the previously blogged about voice transcription service. So, I can now record expenses from IM (via cell phone or laptop), e-mail (via same) or voice. I call Jott, tell them to send a jott to Xpenser and - voila - it is recorded on the site.

As all things with Jott, it's not perfect. The way Jott pronounces Xpenser (which is supposed to sound like ex-pen-ser) is comical. It sounds like Chinese when they pronounce the X and P together. Still, it's functional and getting better.

So now I can record and manage my expenses anywhere I am through whatever means is convenient. This is the real promise of the next wave in Internet services. The tethering of the 'Net is over and it is now time to truly go mobile. The 'Net is not its own place anymore. It's where I am wherever that may be.