Sunday, March 23, 2008

Blackberry and Mac: a match made in Tukwila

Let me start out by saying, if you've got a Mac, you should consider your options for a smart phone very carefully. I've only got one phone, and I've been frustrated with my Blackberry ever since I gave up my work BES connection. If you've got a phone connected to a some sort of a data plan, how could you accept anything less than fully-connected, fully-synchronized? I know I can't.

The options:

Probably the best, most complete option is BES on a full corporate-style mail server. You could go procure a copy of Exchange and BES (only $500 for 5 used BES licenses) and let 'er rip. Of course, if that's too complex, rich or bandwidth-hogging or all three for your tastes, you could try a hosted Exchange solution with BES. This will probably run you about $25-$35 per month for the server side. Your carrier, if it is like mine, will want to ding you about $15/month over the personal Blackberry plan to connect to a BES server that you're paying for. So, you're in $40 to $50. That's pretty steep when coupled with your probably $65 phone bill for voice, data and Blackberry Internet Service (BIS).

Which brings me to BIS. BIS should be a full-featured BES replacement for those of us outside of an enterprise, right? Wrong. With GMail or Google Apps, it doesn't seem to get the state right between the device and the IMAP connection I use for my desktop mail. It doesn't even purge deleted items. GMail may have a hand in that one, but you can't tell anything about what BIS and GMail are doing because BIS provides very few visible configuration options for much of anything, other than to import an Outlook or Outlook Express email profile which does me very little good on my Mac. But it gets the job done, sort of. I have a hard time believing I pay for this service. It's all TCP/IP and data, right?

Open source is often right where you need it, and in solving this problem, it's very close. Funambol has most of the pieces you need -- SyncML servers to hold your data, free and hosted at and, an open-source client for Blackberry to push your data to the SyncML server, and early client for iPhone and Mac which will sync your contacts with a SyncML server. Maybe on a good day, but I was unsuccessful. Even after busting out the debugger to see what was happening on the client, I still got server failures with both services as I was trying to get my data up to the server. Next stop on that road would have been running the server locally, debugging the issues and fixing the code. I can't fault this group for having a not-quite-working system, but I'm looking for something that works now, rather than a project.

Enter BusySync. BusySync is a calendar publish/subscribe facility subscribe to your main Google Calendar and publish an iCal calendar to Google calendars, as well as provide ad-hoc calendar sharing. BusySync works smoothly, effortlessly and is perfect if all you need is to synchronize your calendar to a Google calendar. Unfortunately, for reasons that I won't explain here, you can't sync the Entourage calendar with Google calendar in a way that you get two-way syncing through Google to a Blackberry. If you use iCal, this scenario works great.

If you want to use Entourage and have it sync to your primary Google calendar, there is another Mac to Google synchronization option available. It's called Spanning Sync and it works similarly to BusySync, but it allows you to map the calendars you want to synchronize. With Spanning Sync, I can synchronize my Entourage calendar, or the iCal version of my Entourage calendar, with my primary Google calendar. Google calendar sync picks up that calendar and synchronizes it with my Blackberry and the calendar problem is solved!

For the moment, I'll put up with cabling up to sync my contacts...until I decide that I want a single, cohesive solution that I can host, and I'll either pony up the cash for BES or pony up the code for funambol.

I think I'll go the funambol route.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Passion, Drive and Management

I've read a couple of books lately that really spoke to me. It isn't so much that they educated me or really made me see things in a new way, but they better articulated things I'd been thinking about and hadn't necessarily put words to yet.

The first was Michael Lopp's Managing Humans: Biting and Humorous Tales of a Software Engineering Manager. This work took form from Lopp's Rands in Repose blog and his career. In this book he tells fabricated tales based on his experiences in the software industry. The experiences don't fall too far from my experiences, but the value of this book lies in creating terminology, and providing some tips, tricks and suggestions for given situations. For anyone who works with or in a high-functioning team, this book will provide insight into the people and systems involved.

The second is Randy Komisar's The Monk and the Riddle : The Education of a Silicon Valley Entrepreneur. In this book Komisar warns against the deferred life plan (if I only do this now, I can do that other thing later), and unfalteringly recommends what to some might describe as work-life balance. What he's really describing is pursuing your career and your life, and making what you are passionate about your life's work. This has certainly been the key recipe for my motivation in the past.

This is a timely message for me as I've just stepped out of my job. It gives me insight and again provides voice to some of the thoughts I had as I made my decision to leave and at the same time gives me courage to be selective of my new role and only go for things that I'm passionate about.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

NAFTA Road Trip 2008

Philosophers have said that the path is the destination.

The path is unknown, the destination is unknown, what we do know is this:

Sometime in the next few months, we will embark on a road trip of monumental proportions. Two adults, a kid and a dog will go on a road-trip. We'll be camping. Our path, or our destination, is to travel the West coast from Canada to Mexico.

No specific route, no plans other than a few destinations we want to visit and whatever strikes our fancy along the way.

If you have a suggested stop, We'd love to hear it -- comment or contact me.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

SuperSync: favorite software of the week

Apple clearly got it right when they built the iPod.  Unfortunately, iTunes has some pretty serious flaws in situations where people want to legally share their music collection.  iTunes is simply a menace on a Windows system using fast user switching.  If one person leaves it running in one session, no one else on the computer can run it.  Sometimes your iPod will connect to someone else's iTunes.

SuperSync fills part of that hole by providing synchronization of libraries between iTunes installations, across whatever network connection you have, including the Internet.  Providing a remote player, and two-way synchronization is a band-aid on the iTunes problem.  It is a good utility at a low price and it gets the job done -- my iTunes library is now seamlessly replicated to my laptop.

But, is that what you really want?  I mean, my wife now wants to sync her iPod from her laptop, and she doesn't quite have the storage for the entire library.  Now what?  New hard drive?  And my son... It hardly seems efficient to have a local copy of the library for everyone.

On the other hand, we've gone the server route and that doesn't work either.  The wireless access is simply too slow to run iTunes using storage on a server.  What's the answer?  I'm not exactly sure, but it is pretty clear that for the basic use case iTunes is sufficient, but for situations other than the one person/one library/one computer model, there is some definite room for improvement.