Wednesday, September 18, 2013

#SpeakerU - Building Your Deck, or "You Want Slides With That?"

Previously, on #SpeakerU...
So, you sucked up your courage, submitted a proposal to a meeting or conference, and then--O happy day!--you received that wonderful "your abstract has been accepted" message.

Now you must...MAKE SLIDES.  You may need to make MANY SLIDES.

Here's where you really have to start thinking about the mechanics of your presentation: how much time you'll have, what points you MUST cover, your own comfort level with the information, how much time to spend on each piece of information...all of this goes into the slides you're about to create.

At this stage of the game, one's slides often take on the 'personality' of the speaker.  This is, I think, as it should be.  The goal of #SpeakerU is not that everyone who reads these articles churns out presentations of identical style--that would result in really boring conferences, if you ask me--but rather that your slides balance your speaking style with the material you need to cover.  Remember, those folks are coming to hear YOU; if they only wanted the raw information, they could have stayed at home and read a book.  Find that comfort level that lets you feature the content.

I'll also recommend a visit to Slideshare, where folks from around the world have posted presentations on a wide variety of topics.  There's nothing wrong with looking at the different formats and styles on display to find your way, but resist the temptation to copy slides wholesale.  (You WILL be caught eventually; remember that the attendees can check out Slideshare, too...)

Instead of going through the mechanics of building slides or talking about point sizes and the like, I'll leave you with some general guidelines I use when laying out the slides for a presentation.  Feel free to use or adapt them as you see fit; your deck is about your style and your information, not mine.

So, then, in no particular order:
  • Assume that your audience can read.  Reading your slides is THE fastest way to lose your audience.
  • Make a noticeable transition, either vocally or by changing slides, every 90 seconds or so - or you'll start losing people.
  • Resist the urge to use copyrighted material of any sort.  Imitiation is the sincerest form of flattery, but it's also the fastest path to a conversation with lawyers.
  • If you can't cover a one-topic slide in less than 2 minutes' time, split the information across multiple slides.
  • Only use effects/animations when they deliver a necessary accent or transition to the content - in other words, forget the eye candy.
  • Don't be afraid to use a (well-designed) graphic instead of words, but remember to give enough written information to spark the listener's memory when they read your slides a month or two later.
  • Don't "get fancy" with language. You'll be seen as a show-off, especially where words/phrases from other languages are concerned.
  • Remember that you will be "talking AROUND your slides," adding perspective/depth to what your audience is reading.
  • Don't let your slides "skip around" - don't take your audience to Point C if you need to talk them through Points A and B first.
  • If you use graphics, remember that they need to be clear to the folks in the last row - avoid clutter.
  • Be VERY careful with humor, especially when delivering to an international audience.
  • Don't create eye charts; use a reasonable font/size for the projection system that will be in use, and stick with it.
Once I've made a "rough draft," I usually put it to two tests; I hand it to someone who knows the topic well ("Did I miss anything?"), and then hand it to someone who doesn't know the material at all and ask, "Can you follow the general flow?"  Remember that your audience will probably cover the spectrum from 'newbie' to 'expert;' you want to inform the former without losing the latter.

Next up - putting it all together...

As always, feel free to add your own experiences, tips, or pasta recipes in the comments...

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

#SpeakerU - Writing an Abstract, or "PLEASE PICK ME!"

It's time to get back to #SpeakerU, our ongoing discussion of how you can "get up on stage" and become a technical presenter/speaker at conferences like IamLUG (now ICONUS), ICONUK, and IBM Connect.  (If you want to play catchup, my previous #SpeakerU articles are here and here. Several other folks have written articles, as well; a quick search for "#SpeakerU" should bring their work to your attention.)

Most conferences do NOT expect you to have a full deck of slides (or a complete paper, or a finished poster) prepared in advance; instead, they'll ask you to submit an abstract - a brief explanation of your topic and material.  Now, whether you realize it or not, many conferences make the abstracts of accepted sessions public well before the conference meets, so that prospective attendees can begin planning their schedules.  Thus, your abstract has to do two things:
  • Convince the folks hosting the conference that you know your stuff, AND
  • Convince attendees to attend your session.
Your task is complicated by the fact that abstracts are usually limited in size; you might have as few as 500 characters with which to "make your pitch."  (Remember in the last article, when I said that a big part of picking a topic was fitting it to the time available?  Well, here's another reason to choose wisely; you have to be able to explain it succinctly!)  So, how are we going to accomplish so much in so few words?

I tend to use abstracts to do one thing - ask/answer attendees' questions.  If you've identified where folks are having problems AND can deliver solutions, that's going to be a big win with the conference organizers; if you hit upon a common problem (or a Frequently Asked Question), you may hear a buzz about your presentation well before the conference and (eventually) face a packed room.

Instead of creating spurious examples at this point, I'm going to point you to Russell Maher's recent article on the subject.  He gives the best possible example of the abstract process - his own abstracts. (As you'll see, I collaborated with him.)  The key point is take your topic and put it in terms of the attendees' environments, their questions and your answers; remember that they may not even realize that they need to visit your session until they read your abstract.   It isn't what you can teach - it's what they can learn if they attend.  Russell provides a before-and-after view of two session abstracts, which I think illustrates the process pretty well.

For all this talk about 'selling' and 'pitching' your session/presentation, it's important NOT to oversell.  Remember, you can't claim to make attendees experts in a one-hour session, nor can you ever answer "all the questions."  Be reasonable and straightforward about what you can deliver; as I've often said on stage, sometimes the best outcome of a presentation is NOT that everyone finds their questions answered, but rather that they learn the right questions to ask!

A good abstract requires effort; it isn't something you dash off in 90 seconds.  If you can find old conference programs, take a look at successful abstracts from past events.  Ask your friends to review your first effort, ask others to rewrite them, and don't be afraid to take it through several iterations.  The important thing is NOT to give up - keep trying!

Next up: You've Been Chosen - And Must Now Create Slides...

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Puzzling Through Music? Here's My Chordspeller...

If you've been paying attention to this blog (or if you've ever met me), you know that I'm a complete music nerd.  Well, that extends to music theory; I'm one of those folks who fakes playing piano by cheating from the guitar notation, and I'm one of those singers who wants to know whether I'm singing the root, third, fifth or seventh of that big chord at the key change.  Well, to do that stuff one needs a fairly comprehensive chord library, whether it be a mental storehouse or a cheat sheet.  I'm not that good - I need a cheat sheet.

Long ago, when I first started dissecting barbershop music (and, yes, baritones DO have the strangest part!), I had a great 'chord spelling' chart; unfortunately, it was lost some years ago and I've never been able to find a good replacement.  My daughter recently ran across some 'fake sheets' for current pop songs, which have naught but lyrics and guitar chords; she started asking me "What's a Cdim7?  How do you play an Fm9b5?"  I thought of my old chord speller, and decided to create my own.

Simply put, it's a one-pager that includes:

  • Nomenclature (e.g. dominant 7th, minor 6th, etc.),
  • Symbol notation (e.g. Cm7, C+, etc.), 
  • Scale note formula (e.g. C minor triad = "1 b3 5"), and
  • Chord listings (e.g. "Gbm9 = Gb A Db E Ab")
for 204 chords, plus extra notation & scale note formulae for another 15 chord families, for a total library of 429 chords - on a single 8.5"x11" page.

You can grab a PDF copy of Chordspeller from my Slideshare library.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

#SpeakerU - First Step: Picking a Topic

OK, so you've decided to take the plunge and become a technical speaker/presenter.  Excellent!  Well, the obvious question must be this: on what subject(s) will you speak?

This question is not as simple as it might seem at first glance.  Most of have a mental library that looks something like this:
We all have some old volumes (ask me about provisioning cylinders on a 3380 DASD sometime...), some nifty books that are rarely used, stuff we thumb through regularly, and new stuff that we haven't really read through just yet.  Now, your first urge will be to find something new/hot/shiny to talk about and/or something with which you are familiar in great detail, but there are three things you MUST consider:
  1. Know your audience.  Are you speaking to a highly technical audience, a management-heavy audience, a room full of "just want it to work" end users, or a combination of the three?   Some events (notably larger regional/national conferences) may have separate "technical tracks" and "executive sessions," but that won't always be the case.  You may need to pick a topic on which you can (potentially) engage a broad range of listeners.
  2. Know your limits.  I'm not referring to your skills in public speaking or slide layouts, or even your knowledge of the subject matter; rather, I'm talking about the simple mechanics of the venue.  Will you have a projector available?  How much time will be alloted to your presentation?  Will there be a mandatory Q&A period that cuts into your speaking time?  Will you have network connectivity for use in live demonstrations?
  3. Know what fits.  You may be the world's leading expert on foobiebletches, but you won't be invited back if you run out of time, lose half of your audience halfway through, or rush through a massive deck of slides in an attempt to "cram it all" into the alloted time.  As an experienced speaker, I can tell you that there are few things more painful than watching a speaker who has bitten off more than can be chewed...
So, this boils down to a single statement - "Pick a topic with which you are familiar, but also which can be discussed in some detail in the time alloted, in terms that most of the audience can follow."

A few suggestions:
  • New speakers are often comfortable with a "tips and tricks" presentation; most of us have favorite configurations/tweaks for various applications and/or devices.  If you stop to think about it, "12 Neat Things You Can Do with Your iPhone" or "What You Don't Know About Hotmail" would be great presentations for the local Toastmasters, school groups and the like; something like that would be a good "hip pocket" presentation to keep around for short-notice speaking opportunities (especially since they can often be "trimmed to fit" different time limits!).
  • Brainstorm with friends and colleagues.  Ask them, "what would YOU give up an hour to hear?"
  • Draw upon your own experience, for better or worse.  I've seen some EXCELLENT presentations on topics such as, "10 Things I Learned While [fill in the blank]"...if you happen to write a blog, go back and review your old articles; you may find raw material there that can be refined into a great presentation.
  • Take a look at sites like Slideshare, where thousands of presenters have posted copies of their slides.  Take a look at their topics, and think about whether you could take a slice of that pie and run with it.  (NO, DO NOT JUST COPY THEM WHOLESALE - you will be found out...)
  • Search for meetings/conferences in your field, and check out the presentations being made at those events.  You don't have to start at that level of difficulty, but it will give you a good idea of topics that made it through the selection gauntlet.
Well, that's simple enough - so go do it!

Next up: the art of writing abstracts...

Monday, May 13, 2013

Time For You to Get on Stage - #SpeakerU

Having just returned from IamLUG, I've realized that it isn't too early to start thinking about next year's IBM Connect.  At both Connect 2013 and IamLUG, there was a great deal of discussion around the question, "How can we get more people up on stage presenting?"

Well, I've been doing this for a while (as a speaker, coach, and content selector), so I've put together a few thoughts, a few experiences, and--yes--a few war stories, in the hopes that some of you will be encouraged to make that jump from "attendee" to "speaker/presenter."  For lack of a better title, I'm calling it Speaker University, or #SpeakerU for short.

Now, let me be clear; there is no One True Path to success as a technical speaker.  Each of us has both strengths to which we can play and weaknesses to be avoided.  My tips may not work for everyone, and I ABSOLUTELY encourage everyone to chime in - not just here, but on their own blogs as well.  (I would like to see the #SpeakerU hashtag, just so that folks can more easily find a range of voices on the topic...)

Having said that, here's what I'm going to write about over the next few months:

  • Picking a topic
  • Writing an abstract
  • Outlining a presentation
  • Creating slides
  • Timing
  • What to do (and not to do) while speaking
  • How to catch that person in the last row AND hold their attention
  • ...and more.
Down the road, I'm planning to move this into small-group and (perhaps) one-on-one coaching sessions, using Skype, Sametime, Google hangouts, or whatever works best.  Think of it as an online Toastmasters meeting, and you won't be far off the mark.

Here's what I ask of you:

  1. If you're thinking about jumping into the pool - GREAT!  It's an incredible experience, whether you're presenting at a small local meeting, a user group conference, or a major industry event.   You won't regret it.
  2. If you're already an established speaker/presenter, I'd LOVE for you to post your own tips/tricks/techniques - write a blog entry, a series of tweets, I don't care...but it's time to start priming the next generation of speakers.  Use the #SpeakerU hashtag when possible, so that folks can catch all of us in as few searches as possible.
That's it for now...coming up: Picking the Right Topic.  See you then!

Thursday, May 09, 2013

IBM Notes 9 Social Edition on Ubuntu 13.04 (Raring Ringtail) - Some Tweaking Required

OK, so you've downloaded the Notes 9 Social Edition for Linux, and you want to give it a spin on the latest rev of Ubuntu Linux.


As it turns out, Ubuntu has moved to a newer release of CUPS, the Linux printing subsystem; as a result, Ubuntu 13.04 installs libcups2 instead of the libcupsy2 package Notes expects to find.  So, the install falls flat on its face with a failed dependency.

If you don't mind a bit of debfile editing, you can fix this one yourself.  Basically, we're going to go into the control file for the Notes .deb install file and fix that pesky little dependency.  Here's what you need to do:
  • Move the ibm-notes-9.0.i586.deb file into a temporary directory; I used ~/tmp/notes9
  • Do a "raw" unpack of the debfile into a subdirectory, like so:
    • dpkg-deb -R ibm-notes-9.0.i586.deb ./working
  • Move into that subdirectory (~/tmp/notes9/working), then into the DEBIAN subdirectory
  • Edit the file named 'control', change the one instance of 'libcupsy2' to 'libcups2', and save your changes.
  • Move back up to the unpack directory (~/tmp/notes9/working) and issue this command:
    • dpkg-deb -b ../ibm-notes-9.0-FIXED.i586.deb
  • Now, move back up to the temporary directory (~/tmp/notes9), and you should see both .deb files.
You may now install Notes 9 and its various addins with the dpkg command, like so:
  • sudo dpkg -i ibm-notes-9.0-FIXED.i586.deb
  • sudo dpkg -i ibm-sametime-9.0.i586.deb
  • sudo dpkg -i ibm-feedreader-9.0.i586.deb
  • sudo dpkg -i ibm-opensocial-9.0.i586.deb
  • sudo dpkg -i ibm-cae-9.0.i586.deb
  • sudo dpkg -i ibm-activities-9.0.i586.deb
So, there you have it - a fully functional Notes 9 Social Edition client for Ubuntu 13.04.  If you haven't taken a look at Notes 9 yet, you should grab the free trial!

UPDATE: I neglected to mention that I specifically tested print capabilities; I didn't notice any problems pointing Notes to libcups2 instead of libcupsy2...

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Improving the NCAA Basketball Tournament - Earning/Losing At-Large Bids

I've said this before, but Wichita State's run to the Final Four brings the issue into sharp focus - so I'll throw the idea out for consideration.


Every year, several conferences get an outrageous number of at-large bids; every year, we see those teams fail to play to the level at which they were seeded.  It's time for those kind of choke jobs to carry tangible consequences for the conferences.  Let's not forget that MILLIONS of dollars are riding on at-large bids, because tournament revenues are funneled through the conferences, NOT the individual schools.

So, let's take a look at the two conferences represented by Wichita State and Ohio State.  For purposes of this experiment, let's say that a "bad loss" is a loss to a team seeded more than two spots lower; that way, #8/#9 matchups and "First Four" (blech) games are "pick 'em" situations that don't hurt the, who took (or delivered) "bad losses" this year?

The Missouri Valley Conference received two bids; Creighton was an #7 seed, and Wichita State was a #9 seed.  As the tournament progressed, Creighton played up to its seed (they beat #10 Cincinnati and lost to #2 Duke), so that's an "expected result."  The Shockers, of course, played far above their seeding, knocking off #8 Pitt, #1 Gonzaga, #13 LaSalle and #2 Ohio State.  It's now impossible for Wichita State to suffer a "bad loss," since they'll face either #1 Louisville or #2 Duke in the national semifinal.  The MVC overperformed by seeding, delivering two "bad losses," and should be rewarded with an additional at-large bid for next year's tournament.

The Big Ten, on the other hand, has not fared quite so well.  The conference received 7 bids, but #1 Indiana took a "bad loss" to Syracuse, #2 Ohio State took a "bad loss" to Wichita State, #3 Michigan State played to its seeding, #4 Michigan overperformed by one game, #5 Wisconsin took a "bad loss" to Ole Miss, #7 Illinois played to its seed, and #11 Minnesota overperformed by one game.  The conference delivered 2 "bad losses", but underperformed by seeding and suffered 3 "bad losses" itself; the Big Ten should lose at least one at-large bid for next year's tournament.

A quick look at a few other conferences...the Sun Belt performed to its seeding with 2 teams, so they get status quo next year....the SEC overperformed by seeding and administered one "bad loss" (#13 Ole Miss over #5 Wisconsin), so the SEC gets an additional at-large in 2014...the Big East had 8 bids but underperformed, delivering 1 "bad loss" while taking 2 "bad losses" (Georgetown and Notre Dame), so they lose at least one at-large bid next year...the Moutain West's 5 bids resulted in underperformance by seeding and 3 "bad losses," so they lose at least one at-large...Harvard's overperformance and delivery of a "bad loss" brings the Ivy League a second at-large bid next can see how this plays out.

This would redirect a substantial amount of money to conferences who perform well across ALL their representatives in the tournament, give a boost to smaller conferences through the reallocation of at-large bids from underperforming "big" conferences, AND pressure the NCAA to make its seeding process more realistic.  How is this NOT a win-win-win for college basketball?

2013 NCAA Tournament Bracket - March Madness Tournament Brackets - ESPN

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Twitter on Linux - Goodbye Tweetdeck, Hello Polly!

Twitter's impending retirement of its original (v1) API will be the death knell for more than a few third-party clients, one of which is Tweetdeck's original Adobe AIR client.  Sure, Tweetdeck stopped supporting its Adobe AIR clients some time ago, but I and many other Linux users had been quite happy with the Linux variant.  Needless to say, I was not looking forward to searching for a replacement Twitter client.   Ubuntu Linux ships with the Gwibber client, but--to be honest--it wasn't impressive at ALL; the Ubuntu release is actually a downgrade from the development release, because it removes several features that "don't fit" with Ubuntu's Unity GUI.  I spent a bit of time with several decent alternatives, and two of them deserve mention; either Turpial or Hotot would serve as a good 'entry-level' client for a basic Twitter user.  However, I wanted multiple columns, multiple accounts and support for Twitter lists; neither of those clients really fit the bill.  Then, thankfully...I discovered Polly.

Polly is the brainchild of a Brazilian developer by the name of Marcelo Hashimoto (@conscioususer).  It's a straightforward client, written in Python, and I'm EXTREMELY impressed with its features and functionality.  In 15 minutes of playing around with Polly, I had configured its display into a near-clone of the original Tweetdeck UI - separate columns for timeline, mentions, DMs, and the lists I follow (including my own @wesmorgan/bluegrass-area compilation of Central Kentucky sources).  Polly is responsive, low-impact in terms of system resources, and "just works."  Now, the Launchpad page for Polly says that it's still "pre-alpha" code, but it most certainly rises above that label.  Development is ongoing--font/pointsize controls are slated for the next release--and I'm looking forward to watching Polly improve further.

If you're looking for a solid Linux Twitter client, take a LONG look at Polly.  I think you'll be glad that you did.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Tech Side of #socbiz - IBM Support Assistant

One of the most frustrating aspects of systems administration/management is the all-too-frequent discovery that a problem you're experiencing is actually a "known issue", and that you've gone through the hassle of opening a trouble ticket and collecting/transferring a few hundred megabytes of logfiles and debug traces for something that already has a known fix or workaround.  Well, I'm going to help you avoid that - or, at least, make the data collection as easy as possible - where many of IBM's products are concerned...and the tools are FREE!

IBM Support Assistant
(ISA) was developed to speed both the collection and analysis of diagnostic data.  There are two main "pieces" in the ISA architecture: the ISA Lite Data Collectors, which automate the collection of data for specific products, and the ISA Workbench, which lets you drill down into collected data for problem discovery, trend analysis, and the like.   ISA Lite Data Collectors are available for products in every area of IBM's software portfolio, including IBM Connections 3.x/4.0, IBM Sametime, IBM Websphere Application Server, IBM Tivoli Directory Server, IBM DB2, and more; check the ISA webpage for a complete listing.

The other side of the ISA architecture--the ISA Workbench (ISAW)--is where the rubber hits the road.  There are dozens of analysis tools available within the ISAW framework, allowing you to get down to the nitty-gritty of your data quickly and easily.  I've had particularly good results with several tools:
  • Log Analyzer: This Tivoli plugin not only performs basic log analyses, but also allows you to import "symptom catalogs" for various IBM products.  For instance, you can import a symptom catalog for Websphere Application Server 7.x that is based on the current Technote library; this will allow you to catch "known issues" through a log review - possibly doing so BEFORE they become a major problem.
  • Memory Analyzer for Java: This tool is a Java heap analyzer that will help you find memory leaks and manage memory consumption of Java apps.
There are also some promising new tools in the "Tech Preview" category; I'm particularly interested in the "IBM Trace and Request Analyzer for Websphere Application Server," which works to detect delays/hangs in Websphere and HTTP plugin trace files.

I think it's well worth your time to download ISA, collect some sample data and put it through its paces.  ISA is available for both Windows and Linux.  While RHEL and SUSE are the only officially supported Linux variants, I have installed ISAW under Ubuntu 12.10 with no problems noted in my preliminary test cases.  (You'll need to use alien to convert the downloaded .rpm to a .deb file for use with Ubuntu...)

Give it a shot; there's no telling what you might find.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Feeding A Young Science Geek - Free Stuff

I've always thought that a big part of the "educational process" is the active encouragement of young minds.  That's more than just tutoring or answering questions; you can accomplish far more than one might suspect simply by making stuff available.  Toward that end (and yes, one of my daughters is taking AP Biology *grin*), I've been scouring the Internet for science materials that hit the sweet spot of "interest them, challenge them, but don't drown them", and I thought I'd share some of my finds with you.  Almost all of these resources are available in both electronic and print form at no cost to you; my only request is that, if you order printed copies, consider passing them on to your local high school science teacher(s) when you've finished them.

In no particular order, then:


The National Institute of General Medical Sciences offers a series of science education booklets with titles such as The Chemistry of Health, Inside the Cell, and The Structures of Life.  They range from 20 to 80 pages in length, and I find them extremely well-written.  They also offer several posters; I didn't order those, but the PDF versions look really nice.  One may also view, or subscribe to, Findings Magazine, which showcases cutting-edge research and includes puzzles and other activities.

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute publishes a variety of science materials, on topics ranging from the age of the dinosaurs (their The Day the Mesozoic Died DVD) to evolutionary biology (The Making of the Fittest DVD) and modern genetics (The Genes We Share with Yeast, Flies, Worms and Mice).  One of the most interesting HHMI offerings is their Virtual Lab CDROM, in which one can "go in the lab" for five different projects.  Want to explore the nervous system of a leech, or perhaps use DNA sequencing to identify bacteria?  You'll do it through the Virtual Lab.  All items in the HHMI catalog are free.

iOS Apps

There are several iOS apps which provide a Periodic Table of the Elements, but I find Merck's to be the most comprehensive by far.  Simply put, this app seems to provide everything a typical scientist (or science student) might need "on the fly."  It covers not only the basics of the table, but everything from states of matter (as shown in the screenshot) to molar mass (as in "enter a chemical formula and see its molar mass breakdown") to boot.  Even if your interest is a first course in HS chemistry, this app will prove its worth in short order.

The Merck PTE is available for iPhone, iPod touch and iPad, and requires iOS 3.1 or later.  If you're using the US iTunes Store, it's EMD PTE; in the GB iTunes Store, it's Merck PTE.

Grab this one now; it's that good.

Invitrogen Corporation has created a number of free iOS apps, including 3D Cell.  One can take a 3D tour of a typical cell, with extra information avialable for each major cell structure (e.g. Golgi apparatus, endoplasmic reticulum, et al.).  This app does exceed the "sweet spot" I mentioned earlier, in that it goes into details more suitable for college students and professional scientists, but the basic information is accessible to HS students.  (You can see Invitrogen's other apps in the App Store; scroll down and look for the "More Apps by Invitrogen" section on the left margin.)

Along the same lines, the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory has produced 3D Brain.  This app should be of interest to students of both biology and psychology (the AP Psychology exam requires knowledge of the relationship between brain anatomy/injury and various mental health conditions), so consider this a two-fer.

Both 3D Cell and 3D Brain offer extensive background information, including videos.

That's all for now; I'm sure that I'll revisit this topic in the future, simply because there's SO much material "out there".   I will say that I'm enjoying these things every bit as much as are my kids (perhaps a bit more!)...have fun.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Where Has All the Bandwidth Gone? Free Apps to Inventory Your Home Network

Everything is Internet-capable these days, from handheld gaming devices to refrigerators with built-in Pandora.  Surprisingly, however, most folks don't really know what they have, or haven't, connected to their home network, especially where Wi-Fi networking is concerned.  Well, this isn't necessarily a good thing, especially if your neighbors are leeching your bandwidth through an unprotected wireless access point (Shame on them, and shame on you for not securing it properly!), so here are three free apps that can, among other things, take a quick-and-easy inventory of your home network.

First, for the Windows platform, the folks at Fluke Networks offer IP Inspector.  This is a nice little app that simply reports every active device on the specified network, and does so rather quickly; it required less than 1 minute to scan my /24 home network.  IP Inspector can also do some limited port scanning; however, it only provides a list of 30 or so commonly used ports.  You can grab IP Inspector from Fluke's promotions page; while you're there, you might want to take a look at some of their other free packages.  (I found that their Switch Port Monitor worked quite well to watch my SNMP-capable DSL router...)

Moving to the handheld/tablet world, I recommend Fing Network Scanner for iOS.  Fing not only does the basic inventory-by-IP-address, but allows you to name individual devices (useful for identifying newcomers), maintain a history and run complete port scans.  If you're using Wake-on-LAN with any of your devices, Fing can trigger them as well.  It will even do reverse DNS lookups and 'remembers' disconnected devices!  Fing runs on any iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad running iOS 4.0 or later.  I've only had Fing for two weeks or so, and I've already inventoried several networks out of idle curiosity (think local McDonalds and hotel wi-fi...)

Finally, for the truly serious, there's Nmap.  Nmap is, in my estimation, simply the best network scanning software to be had.  It does EVERYTHING, from simple IP inventories to elaborate port scans, OS identification through IP fingerprinting, and penetration testing.  One can even write scripts to drive particular test methodologies.  Nmap is so complete that the original author had to write a book to explain it all.  Best of all, Nmap is open source; its download page includes precompiled distributions for Windows, Mac OS and Linux, with full-blown source code distributions to boot!

You may have noticed that I rarely discuss Android apps; well, I don't own an Android device, so I can't test anything on that platform.  If you have a recommendation for Android, PLEASE share it in the comments!

(UPDATE: In the comments, I learned that Fing is available for Android - thanks, Peter!)

ONE WORD OF CAUTION: You should not use ANY of these tools on networks where such scanning/inventories would be unwelcome!  While many public access networks are fairly lax in their security, most enterprises of any size DO run active intrusion detection systems (IDS), and a far-ranging address/port scan WILL set off their alarms.  You do NOT want to have a meeting with Corporate IT Security folks to explain yourself - trust me on this one.

Having said that, I think that any of these tools will do a fine job of helping the typical "I got Internet at my house" user to better understand exactly what devices are using their network.

PS: If you're curious, here's my home network: 1 desktop PC, 3 iPhones, 4 iPads (3 school-issued), 2 iPods, 1 Blackberry Bold, 1 Blackberry Playbook, 1 Nintendo Wii, 3 Nintendo DS/3DS, 1 Lexmark printer, 1 HP laptop, 2 ThinkPads, 1 IdeaPad, plus my "work kit" of 1 ThinkCentre, 3 ThinkPads and 2 IBM xSeries servers.  Toss in the wireless AP and the DSL router, and that's 29 devices...

Saturday, January 05, 2013

A Cheapskate Traveling Social Network Geek Gets an iPod - Favorite Free Apps

Two weeks ago, I finally joined the ranks of the iOS-enabled; I'm now stress-testing a 16Gb iPod touch (4th generation).  Being a disciplined kind of guy, I resolved not to go app-happy with paid apps. (The truth is that, with 4 kids, buying apps is WAY down on the disposable-income list.)  I've spent a healthy chunk of time browsing the iTunes store for free apps, and I thought I'd share my favorite finds with you.  Without further ado, then:


Fing - Network Scanner: This little gem has already proven useful on my home network.  It's a full-featured network scanner; not only will it discover every device on your wi-fi network, but it will also perform port scans (and identify the ports found, when it can), allow you to make notes, and maintain logs.  Needless to say, this app appeals to both my "network geek" and "security geek" sides.

Networking Toolkit: The fine folks at Chesapeake Netcraftsmen whipped up this little app to provide a subnet calculator, a network calculator and a wildcard mask calculator.  Whether you're designing a network layout, troubleshooting a problematic server (is that mask right?), or trying to figure out your ISP's network, this app will come in hand for any networking professional.

Pcap Touch: It's really simple - this app reads PCAP files (that is, network packet captures from Wireshark, tcpdump or any other pcap-aware network analyzer) and allows you to "drill down" into individual packets.  It doesn't perform any analysis, so you'll have to know what you're looking for, but I can't find any other iOS app that handles PCAP files.  (No, it doesn't capture packets to/from your iOS device...) Mobile Speed Test: If you've used the browser-based speed tests from, this app will be familiar on first launch.  It does one thing--a quick ping/upload/download performance test against your wi-fi network--but it does it cleanly and well.  It also logs your results to the device, so running comparison tests over time is a simple matter.


IBM Sametime: 'Nuff said.  Point this guy at the Greenhouse (if you don't know about Greenhouse, you should - check it out!), and you're ready to go.  I like the organization of live chats, and response is snappy.  If you're using Sametime in your enterprise (and your BYOD policy allows you to use your device at work), this is a no-brainer.

IBM Sametime Meetings for iOS: I'm on an iPod touch, so working with meeting content on the small screen is a bit awkward at times, but the functionality is there.  (It's REALLY nice on an iPad!) Again, point this to Greenhouse and start working immediately.

IBM Connections: IBM's flagship social software for business defies explanation in this small space.  Let's just say that it provides a toolbox of social applications to fit your style, whether you're collaborating on a document, writing a blog, or lurking in discussion forums; it also allows you to track specific team activities and form dynamic communities of interest to tie it all together.  Test-drive it on Greenhouse!

Dropbox: The ubiquitous cloud storage app is, of course, avaiable for iOS.  I find it useful for everything from showing off pictures of my family to checking my documentation library and reading the odd PDF ebook.  (Incidentally, it's also the easiest way to get PCAP files onto your device for review with Pcap Touch!)

UPS Mobile and FedEx Mobile: I'm one of those work-from-home guys, and it's always frustrating to miss a delivery - especially when it's new equipment!  It can also be a pain to "make sure someone's home" when you're waiting on a package.  Well, these two tracking apps let you run those little hometown errands without worrying about missing a delivery.  If you're using MyUPS, the UPS app will also let you set shipments and pickups, get price quotes on shipments, and generate shipping labels.


Fly Delta: Most airlines have a free iOS app, but I do most of my air travel on Delta.  You can do all the typical stuff - check flight status, check in to your flights, get a digital boarding pass on your device, etc.  It's simple, straightforward and easy to use.

FlightAware Flight Tracker: On those occasions when I'm not flying Delta, I use FlightAware to check the status of my flights.  FlightAware has the two qualities you want in a travel app; it's quick and it's easy.

Weather Channel: I'm often sent "on the road" on very short notice (as in "Can you be in NYC tomorrow and stay through Wednesday?" or "Be in Seoul for 2 weeks starting Monday"), so quick access to weather data is an essential part of my business travel.  The TWC app's "favorites" list also allows me to plan for travel when I have more than one day's notice...*grin*

Wi-Fi Finder: JiWire's wi-fi finder shows you all nearby wi-fi hotspots listed in its database (which you can download to the device); you can filter on free/paid, location type, or wireless provider.  I've tested this in Central Kentucky, and I've been impressed with the accuracy of its database.

Google Maps: Still the best.  The "driver's view" map, as one usually sees with a GPS device, is most useful when driving in a strange city.

KHSAA Scoreboard: My kids are active in high school sports (among other things), and it always stinks to miss their games when I'm traveling.  This app provide a live scoreboard for the major high school sports in Kentucky.  As something of a stats geek, I also use it to see how their upcoming opponents are doing.


UberSocial: This is still my favorite mobile Twitter app; I use it on my Blackberry, and the iOS version is every bit as good.  Yeah, the ads pop up a bit too often for my taste, but it's still a well-written Twitter app with a decent UI.

FourSquare: I'm a big fan of Foursquare; in fact, I'm a Level 2 Superuser, which means I spend time adding details to venues, purging fake venues and merging venues because people thought "Arby's" should be "Arby's Roast Beef Sandwiches".  The iOS app is easy to use, and a growing number of business are offering specials/discounts/freebies to those who check in via Foursquare.

Snapchat: It's a cute idea - take snapshots, write a quick (hopefully funny) caption, and send it to your friends.  I have the app because it's REALLY popular at our high school, and all of my kids are using it.  (It's interesting that my credibility among high schoolers is on the rise because I actually understand how "all this online stuff" works.  *laugh*)  If you want some on-the-fly goofy fun with your family, even when traveling, this is a cute app.

There you have it - my favorite first-impression free apps.  Add yours in the comments!

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Planning for #IBMConnect - Maps, Apps & Hotel Points

Well, IBM Connect (formerly known as Lotusphere) is almost upon us, as you can see by the countdown timer on the right margin of this page.  (If you want to see the "countdown timer" JavaScript, check out this post from last month.)  This will be my 15th January in Orlando (I think - they blur together after a while), so this stuff is old hat to me; however, I thought that newcomers might like to get a feel for the layout and logistics of the conference.

For starters, your biggest daily concern will be getting from one session to the next.  We're going to be using the full range of meeting facilities in both the Swan and Dolphin hotels, so you may be facing a rather brisk walk in between sessions.  Here, then, are PDF maps suitable for planning (or downloading to your smartphone/tablet/whatever).  NOTE: These are FTP links, not HTTP!

Swan and Dolphin Resort Map
Dolphin Meeting Space Aerial View
Swan Meeting Space Aerial View

A few key points to remember as you plan:
  • Most of the labs (Meet the Developers, IBM Research, etc.) are on the Lobby Level of the Dolphin, in the Oceanic, Asia, and Europe rooms.
  • You'll be eating in the Pacific Hall, on the Ground Level of the Dolphin.  It's a long walk, so plan accordingly.
  • The Product Showcase (both IBM and third-party vendors) will be in the Atlantic Hall of the Dolphin.
  • Most Birds of a Feather (BOF) sessions are held in the Swan.
For your downtime and recreational use, the Swan and Dolphin hotels have created an iPhone app with a general resort map, information on restraurants, activities and the like.  It isn't really useful for business visitors, but your family may enjoy it.

Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Iphone App |

One last point - the Swan and Dolphin hotels are not owned/operated by Disney, but rather by Starwood Hotels.  If you're a member of the Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) loyalty program, you can pick up points for your stay during IBM Connect.  If not, you can join SPG here.

Feel free to add other resources in the comments - and I'll see you in Orlando!