Creating an Outlook plugin with Add-In Express

Addinexpress

I’ve always written Outlook plugins from the ground up in C++, since I’m very wary of dependencies on frameworks like .Net and other components that can turn deployment and debugging into a nightmare. I recently ran across the Add-In Express suite of tools for building Office plugins, and it offers enough to change my mind.

I paid $349 for the standard version, and the first pleasant surprise is that there’s no royalties for your end-users. Another big plus is that you can upgrade to a premium version that includes full source code for just $949. This is very important if you’re creating a commercial product, it means if they go out of business you can still keep tweaking the code to deal with OS upgrades or minor bugs. There’s also various discounts available for things like blog reviews, though I didn’t take advantage of that. [Update- After posting Andrei from ADX was kind enough to give me a free upgrade to the Premium edition]

The purchase and download was very painless, and it installed itself as part of Visual Studio, offering new project templates for the various Office plugin types. The license is limited to 3 development machines, so I will have to see how that works with my frequent reinstalls of my Parallels VM. I chose ADX COM Add-In from the extensibility section of the project templates,  and then went through a couple of wizard screens choosing which language and applications I wanted to use. I went for C# (new to me, but since I needed a heavily UI-based plugin C++ was just getting too painful) and Outlook.

You choose to have an installer automatically generated when you create your project, and this is an incredible time-saver. I’ve lost countless hours fiddling with the guts of WIX installer, so this alone could be worth the price. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to get it working, and it looked like it was related to my use of UAC on Vista. I discovered a workaround I could use during development though, the ‘Register ADX’ context menu item on the project worked like a charm. It looks like UAC may be an ongoing problem for Vista deployment, but their forums are extremely active with both developers and support staff, so I feel confident I can get help on issues as they come up, and I’ll be on a well-trodden path unlike my home-brew efforts.

Their claim is that they will handle all the horrible add-in plumbing and let you focus on writing your application code, and so far they live up to that promise. I was able to get a simple window added to Outlook within a day, a lot faster than my previous plug-ins I wrote from scratch. There were plenty of head-scratching moments as I read through the documentation, but nothing that I couldn’t figure out with some experimentation and looking through the forums.

All-in-all, a big thumbs up for Add-In Express. I’ll have a more detailed review once I’ve really used it in anger, but I’m optimistic I’ve found a real time-saver.

Adding cookies to CPeteHttpRequest

Cookiemonster
Photo by Esti-s

I’ve recently been emailing back and forth with Edward Hibbert as he builds on some of my BHO work to create an Internet Explorer plugin for Freecycle moderators users. I’m a fan of the organization, it’s a real win-win if unwanted items that would otherwise go into a landfill can be passed on to someone who can use them. I was the treasurer of a vaguely similar alternative currency group when I lived in Dundee, but this is a much simpler way of unlocking untapped value in a community.

One of his requirements was that he needed to pass around cookies in his internal HTTP requests, something that my base CPeteHttpRequest class doesn’t support. He’s implemented this functionality and kindly passed me the modified code, which I’ve included below.

Download httprequest_cookies.zip

[Update- corrected a couple of details like plugin’s homepage]

Run the Backbone Trail

Backbone

I like to think I’m fit
, but ultra-runners like my friend Howard Cohen make me look like a couch potato. I just discovered a great page he’s got up on running the Backbone Trail, going the length of the Santa Monica Mountains on the western edge of Los Angeles. It’s about 70 miles with some serious hills, and he’s managed to do it all in 16 hours on a single day. That blows my mind considering how tough I find some of the sections just to hike!

It’s through a beautiful expanse of wilderness just a few miles from the city. If you’re one of those crazy ultra-runners and you make it to LA, check it out, you won’t regret it.

How close are we to Vernor Vinge’s future?

Truenames

Vernor Vinge writes about the future, and the worlds he builds fascinate me. They’re packed with weird but plausible tools, and he understands the world-shaking power of communication. If you want a flavor of his writing, check out his first novella True Names online.

He’s best known for predicting the singularity, but I think his most interesting innovations are much more personal, and I see a lot of Defrag’s community starting to turn them into reality. Here’s how some of is ideas are moving towards the real world.

SM-ing

In Rainbow’s End, a lot of the dialog takes place by ‘Secret Messaging’, or sming. It’s like instant messaging, but with an interface through wearable computers that lets anyone silently send with no sign to the outside world. One of the most revolutionary uses of IM I found at Apple was having hidden side-channels to your colleagues in meetings, so you could frankly compare notes while someone else was talking, and plan your next moves together. This required a laptop open and visible typing though, but Vinge understands how much a truly hidden version of this changes. The plot is driven by people conspiring through sming, everyone’s addicted to it.

You can see how we might end up there with companies like Parlano turning IM into a vital workplace tool, and SMS through mobile devices making it possible to send from anywhere. The real leap will be the interface, and though it seems sending through something like tapping or subtle gestures should be possible, receiving requires retinal displays.

Relevance mining

Even way back in 1979’s True Names, Vinge’s background in computer science let him see how you could find patterns in massive sets of data. One of his recurring themes is that the characters have technology that searches through large sets of messages and pulls out a small group that are potentially interesting. This sort of assistance is a lot more plausible than the common SF trap of tools that require computers to grasp meaning, since that’s AI-complete. Having this kind of filter on your communications lets you monitor far more channels than you could without that help.

Companies like AideRSS are doing this already with their PostRank algorithm to pick out relevant articles from the noise of the blogosphere. You could even view Google’s PageRank as doing something similar for the wider web, and Xobni attempts to do the same thing for email. The key is that these are largely statistical methods that don’t need to understand the contents of a document at all.

Implicit Data

A lot of Vinge’s writing involves some kind of intelligence agency as a protagonist, and the use of advanced traffic analysis to reveal hidden information. Both traffic analysis and Google’s PageRank are part of a class of algorithms that use incidental, ‘implicit’ data to infer information that can’t be accessed directly.

Me.dium is trying to do something practical with this, building tools like search on top of massive amounts of data gathered on their user’s browsing habits, though you can argue that companies like Amazon have been doing it for years with their proprietary recommendation systems. The biggest barrier to wider adoption is how hard it is to access information across services or companies. To realize the promise of implicit data, we’ll need a lot more openness across the different silos that currently exist.

Who’s who at Defrag

Masked
Photo by Rent-a-moose

Defrag is now only six weeks away, and there’s an amazing lineup of speakers. I wanted to know more about some of them, so I turned to Google. This seems like it could be useful for everyone, so I’ve turned it into an unofficial personal ‘who’s who’ for the speakers at Defrag. This is strictly based on my own research, so let me know if I’ve got anything wrong in the comments, drop me a mail or give me a twit.

If you’re inspired to go by looking through this, use the code ‘pete1’ and you’ll get $200 off!

Daniela Barbosa – Dow Jones Client Solutions

Personal: http://danielabarbosa.blogspot.com/
Company: http://dowjones.com/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/danielabarbosa/

Daniela works within Dow Jones, so she has direct access to lots of lovely premium data, and she’s a pioneer in applying modern semantic technologies to it all.


Mayank Bawa
– Aster Data

Company: http://asterdata.com/blog/

Aster Data are a company I’ve been very interested in, since the work they do with massive databases to deal with business analytics is also very applicable to analyzing enormous email stores. Mayank is deeply technical, heavily involved in cutting-edge work on Aster’s MapReduce implementation.

Lane Becker – Get Satisfaction

Personal: http://monstro.com/
Company: http://getsatisfaction.com/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/monstro/

Previously co-founding Adaptive Path, Lane’s now the president of Satisfaction Unlimited. Get Satisfaction is a glorious conglomeration of independent customer service tools, all of which can be adopted as the official forums by the companies involved. I love GetSatisfaction, there’s a big hole in the market where few companies have technically decent forums, and even fewer have the guts to run them without heavy moderation and obscure registration procedures.

Stowe Boyd – /Message

Personal: http://www.stowboyd.com/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/stoweboyd

Stowe doesn’t need an introduction to anyone who’s had an interest in the world of social networking. He’s consistently been one of the smartest and most energetic advocates of social tools for more than just socializing. What makes his writing so valuable for me is that he’s got a firm grasp of the technical details as well as the big picture, which avoids a lot of the ‘everyone will have jet-packs’ hyperbole that can sprout once you start extrapolating without limits.

Buzz Bruggeman – Active Words

Personal: http://buzzmodo.typepad.com/
Company: http://www.activewords.com/

As the author of GoogleHotKeys, I’m obviously a bit biased, but I love being able to find shortcuts for frequent commands, whether they’re iPhone gestures or keystrokes. ActiveWords is a PC program that gives you hundreds of shortcuts to control almost any program you’re running in windows. Buzz is one of the two folks behind that, and I’ll be fascinated to hear more about the challenges of marketing something so useful but with a geeky perception to a mass audience.

Garrett Camp – StumbleUpon

Company: http://stumbleupon.com/

Garrett was a co-founder and chief architect of StumbleUpon, the most successful company I know based on dealing with implicit data recommendations. It might be better to call it semi-implicit, since there’s an explicit recommendation step, rather than completely relying on passively analyzing the user’s history, but I’d love to see it tied in with something like the social history hack.

Ian Davis – Talis

Personal: http://iandavis.com/blog/
Company: http://blog.talis.com/n2/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/iand

CTO of Talis, Ian’s done lots of heavy lifting with RDF. Talis is a fascinating company, with decades of experience dealing with semantic data within libraries, but now pushing into the web world with new tools based on that knowledge.

William Duggan – Columbia Business School

Company: http://columbia.edu/

William is an expert on strategy and intuition, teaching and consulting for the last 20 years, with several recent books on the subject too. I’ll be fascinated to see what he thinks of what we’re trying to do to turn the Defrag topics into concrete tools.

Esther Dyson – EDventure

Company: http://www.edventure.com/
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Esther_Dyson

One of the big guns in the digital world, Esther’s done everything from running ICANN to venture investing to journalism. She’s one of the folks connecting Defrag to the late lamented PC Forum, which explains part of the spirit of the conference.

Ben Finkel – Fluther

Personal: http://benfinkel.com/
Company: http://blog.fluther.com/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/finkel

I don’t know much about Ben, but Fluther is a very active question and answer community site. My favorite current query is "Why does Gary, Indiana smell so horrible?"

Aaron Fulkerson – Mindtouch

Personal: http://www.oblogn.com/
Company: http://wiki.mindtouch.com/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/Roebot/

With MindTouch’s success in the enterprise wiki space, Aaron should have a lot of war stories to share with the rest of us who are interested in moving our innovations into large companies.

Ian Glazer – Burton Group

Personal: http://www.tuesdaynight.org/
Company: http://www.burtongroup.com/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/iglazer

Ian’s an analyst at the Burton Group research service, with a focus on the techie side of privacy and identity. I’d be curious to know what he thinks of the recent explorations of browser history analysis.

Jon Gosier – Appfrica

Personal: http://appfrica.net/blog/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/jongos

I’ve got a few personal connections with Africa, and I love reading through AllAfrica.com, so I’m deeply interested in Jon’s work enabling web development out there. He’s taken some concrete steps to provide the basic tools (web space, code repositories) that local entrepreneurs need to start building applications. There’s now so many ways to build services with almost no capital, and my long-term hope is that will unlock the creativity and energy of geeks all over the world.

Ilya Grigorik – aideRSS

Personal: http://www.igvita.com/
Company: http://www.aiderss.com/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/igrigorik

Ilya’s a hardcore Ruby developer, and I can see why he’s such a database expert when I look at the heavy lifting aideRSS does to pull out interesting posts from all the noise of RSS feeds. With their PostRank, they’re one of the companies pioneering the use of implicit data to actually do something useful.

Dick Hardt – Sxipper

Personal: http://identity20.com/
Company: http://www.sxip.com/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/Dick
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dick_Hardt

Dick gave one of the most entertaining talks at last years Defrag in the same vein as his OSCON classic, and I’m looking forward to seeing what he pulls out of his hat this time. It’s not just showmanship, he’s got some pretty deep thoughts on identity on the web, but his style actually helped my dense brain remember some of his insights.

Deva Hazarika – ClearContext

Personal: http://www.emaildashboard.com/
Company: http://www.clearcontext.com/

ClearContext is one of the most interesting tools for email, and Deva’s given a lot of thought to the future of email, so I’m looking forward to some good discussions of how to get people excited about it again.

Bruce Henry – Liquid Planner

Personal: http://www.brucephenry.com/
Company: http://www.liquidplanner.com/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/brucephenry

As somebody who’s worked at the sharp end of managing, Bruce is well qualified to build the LiquidPlanner online scheduling tool. As another tool being aimed at the business market, it will be good to hear more about what works and what doesn’t when you’re selling online tools to companies.

Jeff Herman – fuser

Company: http://www.fuser.com/

Fuser’s are working hard to unify all your email-like messages into a single view, pulling in social network communications as well as conventional mail. I will be interested to hear how they’re getting on using a Java applet for their service, I loved the potential of Java for my original SearchMash but the loading times were just too painful for me.

Rich Hoeg – Honeywell

Personal: http://econtent.typepad.com/
Company: http://www51.honeywell.com/honeywell/

Rich is a true renaissance nerd, with an infectious enthusiasm for everything engineering, from math packages to hardware. At Honeywell he’s drawing on his decades of training and eLearning experience to build collaboration solutions from low-cost components. As one of the people who’s out on the coal-face building tools for users, he’ll be able to tell us a lot about getting technology adopted.

Paul Kedrosky – Infectious Greed

Personal: http://paul.kedrosky.com/

One of the pioneers of internet business coverage, and a well-known blogger and TV commentator, Paul brings a long history of analyzing technology companies to the conference.

John Kembel – hivelive

Company: http://www.hivelive.com/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/jkembel

I’ve spent some time evaluating HiveLive for integration with my own work, and it’s a fantastic off-the-shelf tool for building forums and community pages, with lots of customization possible. As another veteran of the fight to get modern technology into big companies, John will have a lot to offer.

Mark Koenig – Saugatuck Tech

Company: http://www.saugatech.com/

Saugutuck focus on researching and advising companies about the latest technology changes, so Mark should be able to draw on that analysis to help us understand how to make progress in the areas Defrag focuses on.

Steve Larsen – Krugle

Personal: http://stevelarsen.net/blog/
Company: http://blog.krugle.com/

I really admire Krugle’s approach to selling their code search tools to large enterprises and enjoyed Steve’s contribution to Defrag last year. They’ve taken what could be quite an obscure offering, and highlighted the concrete benefits of adoption in very simple and compelling terms. It’s a trick I’m hoping to copy with my own services!

Chris Law – Aggregate Knowledge

Personal: http://1000flowersbloom.typepad.com/
Company: http://www.aggregateknowledge.com/

Chris has spent a lot of time thinking about the implicit web, and put that to work with his Aggregate Knowledge discovery network, Pique. I’m really interested in discovery myself so I enjoy what Pique is up to, and think there’s a lot of mileage in using implicit data to handle recommendations rather than relying on explicit tools like Digg.

Sam Lawrence – jive

Personal: http://gobigalways.com/
Company: http://www.jivesoftware.com/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/SamLawrence

Sam is a true phenomenon on Twitter, and his blogs jam-packed with tasty nuggets of business wisdom. Jive Software are pushing social network solutions into big enterprises in a way nobody else is, so he’s got some hard-won insight into the joys and perils of ‘Enterprise 2.0’. Plus I want to meet the Enterprise Octopus, I hope he comes along too.

Charlene Li – Forrester

Personal: http://www.charleneli.com/
Company: http://forrester.com/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/charleneli

Charlene is an analyst at Forrester, focused on social software, so she’ll be able to bring her research experience to bear on the Defrag topics we’re all interested in. Don’t forget to check out her personal blog too, she’s got some great practical advice about things like networking.

Kevin Marks – Google

Personal: http://epeus.blogspot.com/
Company: http://google.com/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/kevinmarks
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kevin_Marks

With a deep history in the technical end of the web world with companies like Technorati, Kevin’s most recently been the brains behind OpenSocial at Google. He made a fun unplanned appearance last Defrag to explain more about Google’s attempt to standardize the social networking world, I’m looking forward to seeing what surprises he has in store this time around.

Kevin Merritt – blist

Personal: http://blog.blist.com/
Company: http://www.blist.com/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/kmerritt

Kevin has a history working with email software, so I hope I get a chance to pick his brains about where he thinks mail can go in the next few years. His current company has an admirably sharp focus on providing the best way of publishing lists online. I wish I could be that disciplined!

Perry Mizota

Personal: http://abovethenoise.blogspot.com/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/pmizota

I’m very interested to hear more about the company Perry’s working on, he’s spent a lot of time thinking about IM and instant communications.

Derek Murphy – ISYS Software

Company: http://www.isys-search.com/

ISYS have been delivering search tools to large companies for many years, so they obviously know a thing or two about creating something valuable for enterprise customers. They’ve recently begun to dig deeper into email searching, so I hope I get a chance to chat to Derek and learn more about what they’re offering.

Dan Neely – Networked Insights

Company: http://www.networkedinsights.com/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/dneely40

Dan has spent some serious time working with customer and marketing data. With his company Networked Insights he’s trying to build better tools for connecting businesses with their customers.

Yori Nelken – TimeBridge

Personal: http://www.timebridge.com/blog/
Company: http://www.timebridge.com/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/TimeBridge

I know from talking to business customers that one of their most important tools is a good calendar. Outlook/Exchange works well within an organization, but it’s a nightmare if you want to expose any information outside of that circle of trust (eg so your spouse can see your schedule). TimeBridge does a fine job of offering an online schedule with a heavy focus on integrating different services, and they’re getting a lot of users, so I’ll look forward to hearing the secrets of their success from Yori.

Jeff Nolan – Newsgator

Personal: http://venturechronicles.com/
Company: http://newsgator.com/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/jeffnolan

I keep nearly meeting Jeff, I’m hoping this time around we’ll finally see each other face to face! He’s been a driving force behind Newsgator’s success in the enterprise market, and keeps a lively blog going too.

Brian Oberkirch – Like it matters

Personal: http://www.brianoberkirch.com/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/brianoberkirch

Brian’s relentless focus on people who actually make tools is so refreshing. He’s got an inbuilt bias towards getting things done that shines through in all his writing, rather than obsessing about the short term hype or the search for The Next Big Thing that pervades a lot of tech commentary. He’s also good at knowing when to stop writing a blog post, so they get right to the point without waffling, something I admire but seldom manage.

Lou Paglia – Snagajob.com

Personal: http://www.loupaglia.com/correlate/
Company: http://www.snagajob.com/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/loupaglia

I met Lou at the last Defrag conference where he got me thinking with some of his comments on the future of search and discovery. He’s moved on from Dow Jones, and is now working at SnagAJob, so I’ll be interested to hear how he’s applying what he knows about search to a job site.

JP Rangaswami – BT

Personal: http://confusedofcalcutta.com/
Company: http://bt.com/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/jobsworth
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/JP_Rangaswami

I randomly ended up at a lunch table with JP last year, and it was one of the best moments of the conference for me. He’s spent a lot of time thinking about how to make BT work better, often in truly outside-the-box ways like opening up all his email to his reports as a learning tool. In a position where many would kick back and follow trends, he’s genuinely interested in experimenting and finding new tools. I hope I get a chance to talk to him about my own email work, I think it would be right up his street.

Kathleen Reidy – The 451 Group

Company: http://the451group.com/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/kreid451

Some of the most in-depth technology information available is from the 451 group, and Kathleen handles a lot of the enterprise information system analysis for them. With that background she should be bring some real quantitive knowledge to help ground some of our hand-waving speculation.

Deborah Schultz – deboraschultz.com

Personal: http://www.deborahschultz.com/

Deborah’s another deep thinker on how social software will impact businesses, working with P&G to set up their social media lab. Her blog’s byline is "Technology changes, people don’t" which I think is a great antidote to the techno-utopian undercurrent to a lot of web 2.0 evangelism. Not everybody wants to create content and be an active participant, and while technology can open the door to people who were truly blocked from expressing themselves before, things like blogs and wikis aren’t for everyone.

Chris Shipley – Guidewire Group

Personal: http://www.cshipley.com/
Company: http://www.guidewiregroup.com/site/home.html
Twitter: http://twitter.com/cshipley
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chris_Shipley

As the founder of DEMO, Chris has probably evaluated more software products than anyone, so it’ll be fascinating to see how she reacts to some of the new services that will be strutting their stuff at Defrag.

Tom Tague – Thomson Reuters Calais Initiative

Company: http://opencalais.org/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/tomtague

I’ve been putting OpenCalais through its paces and I’ve been impressed. I’m looking forward to seeing Tom in person and talking some more.

Andraz Tori – Zemanta

Company: http://www.zemanta.com/blog/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/andraz

Zemanta are another of the small band of companies building real-world tools using semantic technologies. They’ve got an easily understandable, focused and useful purpose, finding related content as you’re preparing a blog post, so I can understand why they won seedcamp, and look forward to seeing their progress.

Pete Warden – Mailana

Company: http://mailana.com/
Personal: http://petewarden.typepad.com/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/petewarden

I’ve already talked about how much I got out of last years Defrag and I’m even more excited to be speaking this year.

David Vanheukelom – IGLOO Software

Company: http://www.igloosoftware.com/

Working in a similar market to Jive, David should have some good war stories about what it takes to sell social tools to big companies.

Jonathan Yarmis – AMR Research

Company: http://www.amrresearch.com/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/jyarmis

AMR cater primarily to large, fairly staid companies, so it’s a sign of hope to see them so interested in social software. I’ll be very interested to find out what Jonathan’s hearing from their clients about what they want from the new technology.

Tim Young – Socialcast

Company: http://www.socialcast.com/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/timyoung/

SocialCast are reinventing enterprise messaging, and since my focus is on doing cool things with business email, it’ll be great to hear more about what they’re up to. They’re also fellow SoCal entrepreneurs, though Orange County so they’re on the other side of LA to me.

10 tips for surviving Heathrow Airport

Heathrowsocket

1 – Rip up the floors for power sockets. Everyone needs power for their laptops and cellphone chargers these days, but almost no airports were built with that in mind. At least in Terminal 3, none of the few official power sockets worked, but I noticed a couple of the cleaning sockets hidden in the floor were in use. These were all taken up so I roamed the lounge finding more hidden under panels in the carpet until I found another one that was live. This is probably not approved by BAA, but since their staff follow the British policy of avoiding the public at all costs, they’re not likely to notice. Be careful that you don’t trip people up though, I found placing your luggage by the cord very helpful.

2 – Bring a small power strip. On the same topic, this one works in any airport. If you can’t find any free sockets and you have a mini adaptor that turns one socket into two, then you can ask the person using a socket to share, leaving you both happy.

3 – Fly Virgin Atlantic if you’re a US citizen or resident. Virgin has decent prices and service, and is advertised mainly to British holiday makers, so almost everyone goes to the opposite line at passport control when you’re an American. Incidentally this was the first trip since I got my green card and joined the Residents/Citizens section. The difference was amazing, with a smile, small talk and "Welcome back" from the official.

4 – Take the train if you’re in a rush.
After landing, we took the relatively new Heathrow Express, and it literally on took us 15 minutes to reach the center of London, with no stops. It’s 25 pounds and leaves you at Paddington Station. We stayed at the Royal Park Hotel which is only 200 yards away, had impressive service and clean, comfortable rooms.

5 – Take the subway if you want to save cash. On the way home I had plenty of time so I took the Piccadilly Line on London Underground to reach the airport. It takes 45 minutes to an hour, but if you go after 9:30am you can get a ticket to go anywhere in London including Heathrow for about 6 pounds. The biggest downside is fitting your luggage on. There aren’t any racks, so you’ll end up building a little fort around yourself and trying not to crush the other passengers.

6 – Wear really comfortable shoes. Getting to the various terminal entrances from the train often involves walking several hundred yards, and then your gate can be another 20 minutes from there. Make sure you’ve got shoes that will cope, and luggage that wheels easily. Luckily there are moving walkways for part of most journeys.

7 – You don’t need your boarding pass at security. This one always confuses me. Unlike US airports, they don’t ask to see your boarding pass as you walk through the metal detector. They also hoard the trays for your loose items, with somebody standing there handing them out, and signs requesting that you only use one. On the positive side, they’ve stopped asking for laptops to be removed from bags which speeds things up.

8 – Eat before you get there. I wasn’t too impressed by the range of food available, at least in the Terminal 3 departure lounge. It was mostly either sandwiches, or full sit-down meals, so if you have kids or just want something hot and greasy, pick up some food in London first. One bright spot is the EAT shop, part of a wonderful British chain that offers a lot of fresh fruit and other healthy snacks. I’d love to see them expand over here too.

9 – Keep valuables in your carry-on. I’ve had a camcorder and watch stolen from my checked baggage going through Heathrow, and the airport is notorious for its criminal gangs. I now tend to keep anything I’d be sorry to lose in my hand luggage so I can keep an eye on it. You also might consider a TSA-approved padlock instead.

10 – Think about Gatwick or Stansted. There’s a couple of other London airports which are not as heavily used as Heathrow. They’ tend to have more charter flights than scheduled services, but if you can land at one of them you’ll have shorter security lines, shorter walks and generally less congestion. They don’t have quite the same connections to the city, but you can get direct non-stop trains from both.

Congratulations on Air Sharing Dave!

Airsharing

I worked with Dave Howell for years at Apple, and he left a few months before I did. He was always a very smart guy, and I’m really pleased to see that the startup he founded, Avatron Software, just released a chart-topping iPhone app. It’s currently at number 1 on the free chart, but in a week the trial will end and it will become a commercial application. Download it here:

http://phobos.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa/viewSoftware?id=289943355&mt=8

It’s a simple but brilliant tool, that lets you wirelessly use your iPhone as a file server. It’s the best sort of third-party extension, adding a whole lot of value. Dave was in charge of our third-party APIs in the video world at Apple, so it’s fun to see him succeeding so well on the other side of the fence.

What’s search got to do with it?

Tinaturner
Photo by StrahlemannBE

Back in the mists of time when I started this blog, my focus was on improving internet search. So how did I end up obsessed with email?

There were a lot of intriguing directions I wanted to take with search technology, but I realized the problems I was solving were nice-to-haves. I was producing vitamins not aspirin. As I thought about where my time actually went in my daily life I realized email was at the center of everything I did. I looked around Apple and saw how even at probably the best big software organization in the world, projects failed because the left hand didn’t know what the right hand was doing. Individual groups would create brilliant solutions to hard problems, but there was no way to share that knowledge with other teams dealing with the same issues. All the information’s locked up in email, but there’s no way to discover it with current tools.

It strongly reminded me of the web before Google arrived, and I knew that the lessons from that revolution would carry over to email. The hard part technically would be getting a large set of email into a modern database system, thanks to the obscurity of Exchange’s APIs. Once it was there, you could build search-like applications using the wealth of easy building blocks designed for the web development world.

My vision’s still about search and discovery. I just realized that email had by far the most painful user problems, which made it much more interesting than the web for me.

Goodbye Al

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I’ve known Al Bandel for many years, and I was deeply saddened to hear he’d died on Sunday. He was passionate about trailwork, not only going to most scheduled work-days, but even organizing his own expeditions out to the Channel Islands, where he was well-known and well-loved.

I always looked forward to seeing him, he was a live wire, always full of stories about his life both recent and from when he was a young man. I particularly remember his tussles with big consumer firms, where he was unfailing polite but determined to get what he was promised. He never took himself too seriously, and loved to tell of the day he bought some cans of Guinness, and discovered there was something rattling at the bottom of the first can he drank. Worried there was a foreign object contaminating it, he phoned up their customer service line, who explained it was just the widget that gave it an on-tap fizz. He was full of apologies once he understood, but the girl on the other end insisted on sending him a free 6-pack, no doubt as charmed by him as we all were!

The photo above is from a 2006 trailwork trip we took with Al to Santa Cruz Island. After a hard day’s work, he loved to crack open a bottle of wine and cook up something wonderful. Me and Liz soon learnt to pack less food ourselves on these expeditions, because Al was sure to make enough for all of us, and roll his eyes if he saw us heating up anything pre-made. "It only takes a minute to make something from scratch!" You can tell from his clothes in that picture that he worked just as hard during the day, usually leaving the rest of the party panting while he powered on.

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He specialized in the really heavy work, never happier than when he was dragging a boulder into place for a step, or dragging a post-pounder up the side of a mountain to set in a sign. He built to last, always digging the deepest hole and finding the heaviest rocks. He was a keen-eyed and good-natured collaborator, always vocal ("What did you go and do that for?!?") but ready to listen and compromise.

I’m going to miss him a lot, his determination, his laughter, and his spirit of fun. Life was never dull when Al was nearby, and everyone who knew him loved him. I’ve put together a memorial page up for the Trails Council website, and his family have asked that instead of flowers, people donate to the SMMTC if they want to remember him.

Goodbye Al, we’ll miss you!

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Escape from the world at Windrush House

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If you want to get away from it all, I can’t imagine anywhere better than Windrush House on the coast of County Kerry in Ireland. I just returned from a week there with my family, and it gave us a true home-from-home.

Just yards from the miles-long Banna Beach, it’s sheltered by dunes from the wild weather that rolls in from the Atlantic. We walked there early every morning, and it was always like the first day of creation. We saw rainbows daily, the wet sand and clouds glowed in the sun, with patches of blue sky alongside dark banks of rain moving in. There was often howling wind and rain beating against the windows, but we were snug and warm inside.

The place is so comfortable because for many years it was the owner’s home, built on a corner of the family farm. Cows in the surrounding fields kept a careful eye on all the visitors, and we had a morning serenade from the local donkey. Another great bonus for us was a kitten that lived in the garden. It might be grown by the time you make it, but the mother was pregnant again, so it may be a recurring feature!

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The house is enormous, with 6 bedrooms, a big, well-stocked kitchen, a games room complete with pool table, a couple of living rooms, and a conservatory to watch the rain from. We only had 8 people, but 12 would have still had plenty of elbow room. It was remodeled last year, with a crisp modern design, and great craftsmanship on all the work.

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The owners, Pat and Liz Lawlor, went overboard in welcoming us with bottles of wine, milk, bread and dessert waiting for us when we arrived. They book up fast for the summer, but to my mind going off-season is a grand idea. There were no crowds, still had some great warm days of sun between the showers, and everything was glowing green.

Aside from the coast, you’re near the ancient village of Ardfert, with an enormous medieval monastery being restored, and some atmospheric local pubs. The area’s full of history, practically next to the house is the memorial to Roger Casement. He was a leader of the 1916 uprising, landed there by German submarine and quickly caught and killed by the British troops nearby in the first phase of the fight. Despite the grim history of violence between our islands, with local graffiti demanding justice for the H blocks, I never felt anything but a warm welcome from the people around us. Liz Lawlor was even diplomatic enough to describe Casement’s execution as ‘a little misunderstanding’!

A couple of miles down the road is Tralee golf course, designed by Arnold Palmer. I don’t know much about the game, but it was a gorgeous location, and the fact that some people landed in a private helicopter to play while we were there gave me the idea it’s a highly regarded club. The nearest big town is Tralee itself, packed with pubs and shops. It took around two hours to drive from Shannon airport, but the much smaller Kerry one looks to be less than an hour from the house.

If you’re interested in going yourself, contact Pat and Liz directly or check out http://windrushouse.net/. I can’t imagine anywhere better for a week of quality time with friends and family.