Create a Word Cloud with Wordle

A word cloud is a cool way to present data, and they can be created really easily with free tools like Wordle. Word clouds are typically generated by analyzing text for the frequency of words and phrases. More frequent words are displayed in a larger font making it easy to identify themes.

If you already have text for the word cloud, that’s great — just copy/paste it into the tool and click generate. You can “engineer” a word cloud by simply repeating words and phrases. To adjust the appearance of the generated word cloud, most tools have some sort of style randomizer. I typically randomize until I find something I like.

The above example was generated by using the following text. Note that “~” can be used to chain words together into phrases.

word~cloud
word~cloud
word~cloud
amazing
amazing
amazing
amazing
whoa
whoa
cool
so~easy
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The Magic of Doing One Thing at a Time

Full post here: http://blogs.hbr.org/schwartz/2012/03/the-magic-of-doing-one-thing-a.html

In the past, the focus has always been on doing more at the same time. Multitasking equals increased productivity, right? This article states the opposite, and I agree. I know from personal experience that trying to do 3, 4, 5, or more things at the same results in thrashing that absolutely destroys my productivity. So much time is spent switching between tasks that nothing is ultimately accomplished.

One of the methods that you can use to help keep focused is called The Pomodoro Technique. The idea here is simple: get yourself a 25 minute timer, pick a task, and work on that task uninterrupted for 25 minutes. After each interval, you get a short break to collect yourself and rest, and then you start again. After 4 intervals, take a longer break. Keep a list of your tasks on a blank piece of paper. When interruptions that need your attention occur, add them to your list but do not let them distract you. Getting behind on email? Make it a task! This is a great way to improve your time management. As a bonus, you get a documented log of all that you’ve accomplished in a day!

However you do it, try to focus on a single task at-hand, and I bet your productivity will skyrocket!

Eight Qualities of Remarkable Emloyees

Inc.com is running a great article by Jeff Haden titled Eight Qualities of Remarkable Employees. The article discusses eight non-tangible behaviors exhibited by the best of the best. These qualities all transcend industry, but there were a few that I felt were particularly true for software development.

They ignore job descriptions

There are many external factors that can influence a software project, and any one of them can roadblock the whole thing. New requirements, unexpected challenges, verification, and deployment issues all have the ability to derail your timeline, and it will often be someone else’s official responsibility to deal with the problem. Waiting for somebody else costs you valuable time and can ultimately lead to missed deadlines or failure. Cut out the middle-men, do what needs to be done, and enjoy success.

(This seems obvious, but I’m going to say it anyway: be aware of the politics of your actions. Preventing a distraction: good; doing someone else’s job: bad.)

They like to prove others wrong

If you’ve got a great idea that others don’t believe in, there are two options: let them go down what you believe to be an incorrect or inferior path, or prove them wrong. When you set out to prove them wrong, you may find that you were actually wrong. (*gasp* I know–not likely, right?) That’s still a win, though, because you (hopefully!) learned from it. If you’re right, you’ll help steer a project toward an optimal solution and gain credibility with your team.

I think healthy competition also falls into this category. If you have individuals competing with each other to find an optimal solution, you’re more likely to find it than if you have a single person trying to accomplish the same thing. Each person is likely to come up with a solution that they feel is the best, and the way to “win” is to prove its the best to their peers.

Theyโ€™re always fiddling

Tinkering is SO important to software developers. It’s how you practice and hone your craft. It’s how your learn new things. Evolving your skillset and tools allows you to be more creative and innovative with your solutions, which further energizes the team.

Make Your Job Obsolete

A long time ago, I read a book by Chad Fowler titled The Passionate Programmer: Creating a Remarkable Career in Software Development. This is a great book that I’d recommend to anybody getting started in software development. It’s full of great tips and ideas like trying to be the worst on your team (surround yourself by greatness), the importance of practice, and striving to be a little better every single day.

One of the concepts that really resonated with me is making it a goal to make whatever position you’re currently in obsolete. With a larger software company, it’s easy to get your hands into a lot of different projects. It’s also easy to become the person with specialized knowledge on specific topics. There’s a feeling of security that comes along with that–they can’t get rid of me; nobody else knows this–but it also makes it harder for you to move forward. I fell into this trap myself a few years ago. There was nobody on the bench to replace me so that I could move on to new and different challenges, and it took some time to get myself out of that position.

Keeping the goal of obsoleting your job in mind day-to-day helps you accomplish two major things: your tasks get easier and you stay available for whatever’s next. And, one of the amazing things about being a software developer is that you have the power to do this through software! The key is identifying processes that can be automated and then mustering up the motivation to follow through and execute.

So what processes can/should be automated? This will be different for everybody and largely depends on your typical tasks. Here are some examples I’ve encountered:

  • Anything that involves cutting and pasting
  • Things that are run on an interval (e.g., daily/hourly/weekly reports)
  • Complex data entry tasks (i.e., create an application to simplify the process)
  • Abused spreadsheets (spreadsheets that are modified and emailed each day can be replaced with web portals with databases that have entry and reporting)
  • Utility-type or out-of-application SQL scripts

Your imagination is the limit. Dream it, create it, and share it. If you do a great job, your managers and co-workers will thank you!

Connectify Mobile Hotspot

A friend and I wanted to play a LAN game at work using our Kindle Fires. The problem is that Kindle Fire is wifi-only, and we didn’t have a wireless network available. First we tried using our Android phones. (In retrospect, this would’ve worked, but we unknowingly had different versions of the game.) The next thing I tried was to find software that would allow me to use my laptop as a mobile hotspot. And that’s when I found a great little application called Connectify.

With Connectify, you create a virtual hotspot that you can connect your devices to. You can choose to share your internet connection–an AMAZING feature for Kindle Fire owners–or simply act as a local network. For my LAN gaming needs, we chose to create a non-internet-sharing hotspot, and it worked fantastically. You can use the application for free or upgrade to the Pro version for $30 to get some additional functionality.

I definitely recommend checking it out!

Dear WP7, I’m in love with Android

Ever since the 2010 PDC when I got my first Windows Phone 7, I’d been in love with it. I was coming from a Blackberry and was thrilled with everything I was getting–Zune, local scout, a decent camera, the UI.

Buuuut there were some things that I wasn’t so happy with, too. The biggest thing for me was the availability and quality of apps. Sure, there are some great apps. But there’s a lot of essential apps that aren’t available, like Pandora and Google+. The “standard” apps that were available–like Facebook and Twitter–were glorified bookmarks and didn’t have nearly the functionality that my wife had with her Android. The thing that finally pushed me over the edge was seeing a co-worker use Android’s mobile hotspot while on the road at a customer site. That justified a new phone platform right then and there.

So I’ve switched from my Samsung Focus to Samsung Epic 4g Touch, and I must say, I’m thrilled! What do I love about it? All the apps are great. I have two GPS solutions (Google Navigation & TeleNav) that are WAY better than what I had with WP7. I have unlimited data, which is incredible. (I know this isn’t a WP7 flaw, but it’s something that I didn’t have with AT&T that I now enjoy with Sprint.) I love having access to Pandora again. Oh, and MOBILE HOTSPOT!!

Is there anything I miss about my Windows Phone? Not a lot, but there are some things. The integration with SkyDrive and Office was nice. I love OneNote, so I liked having it as an app that would sync automatically to the web. The battery life was great. Battery life is what I was worried most about before switching. My wife’s EVO 4g has pretty sad battery life, but my E4GT seems decent.

So, WP7, we had a good run together, but my heart now belongs to Android. The E4GT is the everything I’ve ever wanted in a phone, and I plan on sticking with Android for the foreseeable future.

Wireless TV Receivers from AT&T U-verse!

I’m so excited that AT&T U-verse has come out with wireless TV receivers. I have not had cable in my upstairs bedroom for the 6 years that I’ve lived in my current home due to the fact that the wiring was not in-place. I’d been told by multiple companies that I couldn’t get cable installed up there without tearing through the walls or running a cable up the side of the building, and I haven’t been ambitious enough to do such things. I’d dream to myself–why can’t they just come up with a wireless receiver? I can stream wirelessly from my computer, so why not do the same with TV?

Well, my prayers have been answered, and I am so happy! I ordered my wireless receiver from AT&T the day after I found out that they offered it. They charged me a one-time fee of $49.99 plus $7 per month, which is the same as a second non-wireless, non-DVR HD receiver. It arrived in the mail two days later, installed in minutes, and has worked flawlessly since.

There are two pieces to the setup. A small access point that plugs directly into the U-verse home portal (or whatever they call it–the router), and the wireless receiver. When you turn them on, you pair them much like a bluetooth device. And that’s all there was to installation & setup.

Hats off to AT&T for this. I love it ๐Ÿ™‚

Force the Mango Update

I have a Focus v1.3 on AT&T, and it was announced that the Mango update was available for me. I got home from work super excited, but when I went to my computer, Zune told me that there was no update.

After a few minutes of googling, I found this link that tells you how to trick/force Zune into letting you have the update, though! It worked for me, so give it a try if you’re in the same boat ๐Ÿ™‚

http://www.wpcentral.com/force-mango-update-early-through-zune-software

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