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Burned again!

By William Mooney, Posted on August 30, 2010 at 2:20 pm

I’ve just been burned again by a third-party application that doesn’t integrate with Office 2010. To the bane of our IT department, I’m constantly upgrading to the latest and greatest version of everything—the latest being Office 2010. [Note to our ISVs:  I’m like that customer who makes you cringe when he/she calls… ;)] And while I really, really, really love Office 2010, it just doesn’t integrate well with the applications I use, almost negating all of its benefits. My first productivity loss came when my emails to customers weren’t automatically going into our CRM app.  I am not the only one who is just blown away that this major player in CRM does not support Office 2010—and is not expected to until later this year! Next came our VOIP telephone system, which, when integrated with Office 2007, practically eliminated the need for a telephone handset. Office 2010 has brought me back to the hand set, and I just learned it will be at least another 6 months before our phone system supports Office 2010!  So much for keeping current.  I was so excited to use a 64-bit program, but what’s the point if the apps I use don’t work with it?

Perhaps I am overly sensitive to this issue because it has always been so important to us to support new versions of third-party products before our customers need them. I recall several years ago when Roger Andrews, our Synergy/DE Architect, was urging us to prepare for native 64-bit support. I thought at the time that we were way too early in the game. But, as it turned out, we were just in time. We work diligently to keep up with current hardware and operating systems so our customers can plan and anticipate the needs of their users. The proliferation of 64-bit systems has actually caught many of our customers by surprise. While 64-bit systems have been out for several years, the O/S support hasn’t always been there. That’s not the case today. Today, customers (like me!) are expecting 64-bit hardware, 64-bit operating systems, and 64-bit applications. They view anything less as inferior. Many of our customers are now catching up. This brings me back to my Office 2010 dilemma. While I’m benefitting from the substantial application enhancements and incredible performance enhancements of a native 64-bit program, I am losing several productivity tools that don’t yet support Office 2010. Almost defeats the purpose of upgrading.

I’m sure that there have been cases where we have not been ahead of the game, but I’m appreciative of the effort we make to anticipate the requirements of our users, often before they even request them. My personal experience has really brought home the point that the best, shiniest product in the world doesn’t matter too much if the software you want to use doesn’t run on or with it. Lesson learned: keep your software up to date so your users don’t get burned like I did!

P.S. I still can’t believe Adobe has not released a 64-bit version of Flash on Windows — argghhhhh


Mr Numpty’s hair stood on end. It must be the static!

By Richard Morris, Posted on August 26, 2010 at 8:09 am

One fine day (well, it was raining – it is the UK after all), not too long ago (yesterday), there was a man called Mr Numpty (names changed to protect the innocent).  Mr Numpty was a seasoned Synergy developer and wrote Toolkit applications in his sleep (amazing what Workbench can do for you these days).

This one day, Mr Numpty was browsing the spc.synergex.com web site for the early bird registration form when suddenly his big red support phone rang.  It has a unique ring tone and a strange light appears in the sky, which can be easily seen on the lovely grey storm clouds forming outside his window.  Mr Numpty says to himself “this must be very important” and reaches for his cloak.  Picking up the phone, a rather bemused voice, which he recognises immediately as his uncle, ‘Uncle Joe’, says;

“Numpty my man, things they be strange. My list is looking great, but my data’s in a rage.”

“Is it the new product browser?” asks Mr Numpty.

Uncle Joe replied;

“It is indeed, that’s the one.  ‘Been using it all day, ‘cos it’s so much fun.  The windows are great, and the tabs are a hit.  But when I print, the results are not that great!”

“OK Uncle Joe I’ll take a look” replied Mr Numpty.  He looked through the code but could not see any errors.  He ran the program, and clicked on the tab.  Uncle Joe was right.  The list looked great with all the right data.  Printing from here worked also and the results were fine.  Confused, Mr Numpty pondered and scratched his head.  He scratched so hard his hair stood on its end. From the corner of his eye he caught sight of himself in the mirror.  Wow he thought. My head looks funny. I must be fully charged with static!

Ping!  Suddenly he remembered a dim and distant UI Toolkit training course, and the voice of a PSG consultant began to haunt him… “Remember the golden rule: The list processor first updates the current non-window data area, processes the request, then returns the current non-window data!”  So something must be corrupting my non-window data, but only sometimes. 

Taking a closer look at his list routine he noticed his problem.  The data being passed to the list processor was defined as ‘stack’.  This means that each time the routine is called the data area is created, and the contents undefined.  Calling the routine for the first time creates the list, which is correctly loaded from the load method.  By clicking on other tabs means we leave the list routine.  Clicking back on the tab containing the list causes the list record area, defined as stack data, to be created with the contents undefined.  When this is then passed to the list processor the non-window data will be updated with this undefined data.  Visually, everything will look fine, but the data used by the program will be corrupted.

Taking inspiration from his static hair style, Mr Numpty changes the record declaration to ‘static’ and his program now fully works.  He updates Uncle Joe’s computer.

“Numpty my man, it all looks swell.  Now can we filter and sort the columns as well?”

Mr Numpty thought for a moment, “I’m not sure how to do that, but it sounds like a great idea.  Now where was I?”  Mr Numpty continues to complete the spc.synergex.com early bird application form, wondering if this year’s conference will give him the knowledge to give his uncle the features he wants.


Airline Baggage Roulette

By Steve Ives, Posted on August 8, 2010 at 7:07 am

Well it's another day in United Airlines "friendly skies" for me. I'm setting out on a week-long treck around the East Coast and Mid-West to visit several Synergy/DE customers with one of our sales account managers, Nigel David. It takes a LOT to make me smile when leaving home at 4.am on a Sunday morning, but today that's exactly what hapenned.

I walked in to the airport terminal at Sacramento "International" Airport, and I couldn't help noticing that one of the baggage carousels had been somewhat "jazzed up" (see photo). I just had to smile … I don't often check bags but it seems like every time I do there is some kind of issue. Now, at least, it seems like this airport has decided to be honest about the state of things … checking a bag with the airlines is somewhat like a game of roulette! OK, maybe the odds of getting a checked bag back on time may be a little better than one would expect in a casino … but not much!


Giving people what they want

By William Hawkins, Posted on August 6, 2010 at 12:53 pm

I just spent the past few days in Seattle attending Visual Studio Live! 2010. If you’re a regular follower of the Synergex PSG blog, you may have the impression that we swan around the world doing nothing but attending conferences. While I'd like that to be true, it's really in an effort to provide our customers with consultants that are more knowledgeable in non-Synergy technologies, Synergex has expanded both the number of people that we send to conferences and the number of conferences that we attend.  For example, this week I was accompanied by Jerry Fawcett and Steven Lane—both from our support team. And, in my defense, this is only the third conference that I’ve been to (as an attendee) in a decade and a half.

Anyway, I digress. The VS Live! conference was hosted on the Microsoft campus in Redmond, but the speakers were mostly non-Microsoft peeps. There was a keynote presentation on two of the days from Microsoft peeps, both of which were delivered in a very professional manner, but (with a few notable exceptions) I was disappointed by the presentations. The presenters obviously knew the topic matter, but had not coordinated session content very well, or made sure that the infrastructure was setup (doing a demo on Cloud/Azure technology requires a properly configured internet connection) or even made sure that the presentation slides were in the order in which they wanted to present them. Even little things like closing unnecessary toolbars/windows in Visual Studio, or using an appropriate font to show code, impacts the perceived quality of a presentation.

For years, Bill Mooney has been telling PSG that he considers the SPC presentations amongst the best he seen. I always just put that down to his enthusiasm, but after this week I can see what he’s getting at. I know I’m far from the world’s best presenter, but after this week I’m starting to appreciate the level of professionalism with which we’ve been providing Synergy customers at our conferences over the years.

Last week, the PSG team met to go over the SPC 2010 conference content, and we all gave an overview of our planned sessions. Most of us were still in the planning stage of content development, but I had mostly completed my allotted sessions. So I thought I was pretty much done. But, as they say, no good deed goes unpunished, and I managed to get myself allocated a new 3 hour tutorial session to prepare.

The SPC this year promises to be another great conference with lots of hands on (and a reappearance of the CodePhantom), and I hope you will come see us in Sacramento.


Gearing up for another great SPC

By William Mooney, Posted on August 4, 2010 at 1:47 pm

It’s been a while since I posted a blog, but the SPC always seems to propel me back into the blogosphere! SPC 2010 is unbelievably just around the corner, and we are once again gearing up for a conference that is not-to-be-missed.

A few years ago, a customer asked me to help him justify the conference to his team and upper management. I quickly jotted down the top reasons to attend the SPC and ended up sending the list to all of our customers. As the reasons haven’t changed much since then, I won’t bore you by repeating them all but think the main ones deserve a recap.

Here goes…

  • Continuing education. Imagine going to your heart doctor for a check up and learning that he or she has not been to an industry-related conference for several years. How has he/she kept up with all of the advances in the technology? Reading journals and surfing the net? Wouldn’t you prefer he/she had a more well-rounded education including hands-on instruction, networking with peers, and one-on-ones with industry experts? Likewise with your software—make sure your “application doctors” are getting the best education possible.
  • Break away from your day-to-day routine. One of our customers said about the SPC, “The SPC gives me a chance to escape the hustle and bustle of business and think strategically—I use it like a software development retreat.”  I have to agree. More often than not I solve problems or come up with new ideas when I’m away from the office on a business trip or seminar. And, your employees who attend will come back motivated and inspired by your confidence in sending them. I know this first-hand from the responses I get from my employees when I send them to conferences.
  • Learn about the future of Synergy/DE. Version 9.5 will offer native support for Microsoft’s .NET Framework, enabling you to interoperate with applications written in other .NET languages, such as C# or VB .NET; to take advantage of all .NET Framework classes; and to develop Synergy code in Visual Studio. At the SPC, you will learn the ins and outs of the new technology, and get the opportunity to try it out for yourself with hands-on exercises. (Note: The focus isn’t on getting to .NET. The focus is on modernizing your application – and .NET just happens to be the best way to do it. I’ll be blogging more about this shortly!)
  • Experience the latest functionality hands-on. It’s one thing to hear about all the new features we’ve added to our products over the years—it’s another to actually try them out with the knowledgeable PSG consultants standing by for questions. The popular Code Phantom is back, offering even bigger, better, and more enjoyable challenges to help you experience the latest functionality first-hand.
  • You want to make sure you are fully taking advantage of Synergy/DE 9.3. Synergy/DE 9.3 delivers a number of important features that enable you to improve security, performance, and productivity. The SPC will cover these features in detail so you can be sure you are making the most of them in your own applications.
  • Networking. SPC attendees often describe the networking opportunities as the most valuable aspect of the conference. Where else will you be among so many other Synergy/DE developers, who may be working on or may have completed projects just like those you are considering or may be struggling with? One of our customers who traveled from Europe told me he justified the entire conference just by one conversation he had with another customer at the welcome reception. The rest of the conference was just icing on the cake. And because this year’s conference is in Sacramento, the Synergex staff members who are developing and supporting your Synergy/DE products will be there to answer your questions.
  • Your business depends on it. I could go through several analogies ranging from maintaining your health, home, investment portfolios, etc., but the bottom line is that your business depends on your Synergy/DE solutions. With that in mind, how could you not take advantage of this once-a-year opportunity to make sure you are taking advantage of all that is available to you—that you are working most efficiently, and that your products are as functional and powerful as the technology allows them to be?

You can find details about the conference at spc.synergex.com. I look forward to seeing you there.


Blunt Pencil?

By Richard Morris, Posted on August 2, 2010 at 10:22 am

I guess all jobs have their perks. This week visiting the office in California, in July, is certainly one of mine. OK, so being stuck in an air conditioned office all week is not exactly lapping up the sunshine, but today is Saturday and I’ve been loaned a bike!  Now, when I say bike, let me explain. It’s kind of like a laid back Harley Davidson Fat Boy with thick tires, wide handle bars and a thick padded seat. That’s where the resemblance with a Harley ends I’m afraid. There is no chrome laden chassis, or thumping V-twin engine, just two pedals, powered by my spindly and pale English legs! It’s certainly no wheelie machine either. Actually it’s quite a cool ride, just totally out of place against all the racing style cycles I found myself among while cycling along the great American River towards Folsom Dam. But I mind not. Those spandex and lycra clad enthusiasts take it far too seriously! I was simply out for a great ride through some stunning scenery.  

So, MP3 player blasting in my ears I boldly set off on my adventure. I made sure it was only the guys on the ultrafast slick racing bikes that overtook me, but the trouble was, everyone seemed to be on a slick racing bike, honest! I still can’t explain how the walkers got past me though. I’m sure they were taking short cuts!

Undaunted, I pedelled on. Some of the downhill sections of the cycle track may well have been enjoyed at slightly more than the 15 mph speed limit – no, not me officer! Some of the rather tight corners were taken pedal down (similar concept as knee down, just at a more sedate pace). Big smiles all round.

And then the inspiration came to me! My MP3 player has a very varied collection of tunes from many different decades and genres. I regularly add new CD’s to see if I like what I hear. One new song had a lyric from which my inspiration was born. “Like a pencil, old and blunt, I’m writing in a bolder font”. I thought, "ya, how true!".  There is nothing worse than trying to be artistic with an old blunt pencil that smudges as you scribe. So, is this what I’m trying to do with Toolkit? Recent posts on Synergy-L continue to highlight the challenges we all have with fonts and colours, trying to make our applications look cool, modern and saleable.

So maybe it’s time to sharpen our pencils, utilise the new capabilities in Synergy 9, and begin to incorporate new slick UI’s into our existing applications. This is my focus for SPC2010 in October. I’ll present the tools and techniques we can all use to implement new, modern interfaces within our existing and proven Synergy applications.

My adventure is over now and I’m back in the office. Now, where is my pencil sharpener?  It’s time to give ChronoTrack a new lick of paint.

Not convinced? Then why not rise to this challenge…  Send me all the code and data required to build and run a sample element of your application and, in return, as long as you’re at the conference, I’ll demonstrate your same code running with a modern UI. And did I mention that it doesn’t have to be a toolkit application?

Glossary of terms. Wheelie: The act of raising the front wheel of your bike, in a controlled manner, while propelling your bike forward at high speed. In my case: always unintentional and usually with painful and expensive results! Knee down: The art of skimming your knee close to the tarmac while engaging a perfectly executed cornering manoeuvre. In my case: falling off!


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