IBM Lotus Domino: Classic Web Application Development Techniques – Book Review

The folks at Packt Publishing are continuing to expand their shelf of IBM Lotus books.  Their latest addition – Classic Web Application Development Techniques by Richard G. Ellis.

Before I tell you how absolutely awesome this book is, I have to get something off my chest.  The word “Classic” in the title is the absolute key word here.  Mr. Ellis starts off the book by saying that everything here was written for and tested with Domino Designer 8.0.  Upon reading that sentence I just had to go back to the very first page to check the publication date: someone is playing a trick on me.  Alas, no tricks.  The book was indeed published in March of 2011.

The book also stays away, far away, from anything related to XPages and says so right off bat.  But it is about classic development after all.

Once you get over those two facts, the book is actually very good.

I was afraid that it would stick to the trivial topics of web enabling Domino applications and using framesets and tables to layout an application.   Of course, you can’t talk about web development without explaining the basics of including HTML in a Notes form.   And the book certainly does mention framesets and tables.  However, it quickly moves to more advanced techniques of using DIV tags and CSS to effectively build a modern-looking web application.  And for Notes developers who are not faint of heart, there are even sections devoted to advanced JavaScript and AJAX calls to boost performance.

If you are an advanced Domino developer building web applications every day, this book may not be for you.  But if you are a Notes developer who is making a transition to the web and want to know how to web enable your awesome Notes apps without looking like they were built by 5th-grader in 1999, get a copy of the book.  You’ll be hard pressed to find a better single source collection of Domino web development tricks.

Axure updates its Beta 6

Axure released what may be its last update to its beta release of version 6.  The update can be downloaded from the Axure website.  The update contains some cross-platform fixes, making this one of my favorite pieces of software.  The 100% fidelity between the Mac platform and Windows is amazing.  I don’t think I’ve seen any other software that is able to reproduce its UI so flawlessly between different operating systems.

The update also extends the beta version from end of April to end of May, just in case they don’t hit the release date.

Thrashing

As I get older I realize that I hate thrashing, jumping between multiple tasks.  Thrashing is not the same as multi-tasking.  I can still walk and chew gum; listen to a meeting, take notes and balance my chair on 2 legs at the same time.

Thrashing is working on a document, jumping into your email because you just remembered that you forgot to send that email, getting stuck in your email because you just got an email from a client asking for your help, remembering that there was something you needed to ask somebody and jumping to your IM client, returning to your email to check that person’s response, returning to your original document, remembering that you were supposed to check on the status of another task and so on and so forth.  By the end of the day, that original document is still not done.  Sounds familiar?

These days I’m working on 3 projects for 3 different clients.  I spend most of my time at one of these clients, where on my desk I have a client’s desktop PC and my laptop sits right next to it.  The temptation to thrash and the opportunity to thrash is plentiful.  But so are the tasks, the expectations and the deadlines.

Every now and then I’ll find myself working on something on the desktop, then suddenly turning to my laptop to check on something else because I just remembered it.  And then having to remind myself to stop, turn back to the desktop and focus on that first task.

The solution?

Write it down.

Something that Eric Mack had said during his presentation at Lotusphere, “the reason I can stand on this stage and focus on this presentation without thinking of all the other things I have to do is because I wrote them all down.”  (Not an exact quote, of course.)

In my younger days, I’d scoff at such statement — heck! I can remember it all.  And I can.  But because I do have to remember, those tasks are all twirling in my mind.  My undisciplined brain keeps pulling me towards them as they rotate on a carousel of distractions.  Maybe it’s just my ADD personality.

When you write all your tasks down in a list, you no longer have to constantly think about them.  Your brain takes them off the carousel, forgets them until it’s time to check the list.  When there’s no spinning carousel, you can focus on the task at hand and actually get it done much quicker.

Works for me.  Maybe it will work for you.

You get what you pay for

Store brand cough medicine vs. Robitussin.  Store brand cereal vs. Cheerios.  Emerson vs. Sony.  You don’t have to pay a lot to get a lot.  Pay less and get a product that’s just as good as its higher priced competitor.  In a lot of cases that works.  $3 for 8 bars of Irish Spring soap or $11 for a bar of L’Occitane?  I’m going for Irish Spring.

But when it comes to cycling, the old adage of “you get what you pay for” holds a lot of truth.

When I got my road bike, it came with a set of Continental tires.  Not knowing much about it, I thought them pretty good, until I started getting one punctured tube after another.  Accepting that as an inherit danger of road cycling, I had gotten very good at changing tubes by the road side and at spending money on tubes and CO2 cartridges.  Not a big deal except that instead of focusing on enjoying my rides I was focusing on spotting and avoiding sharp road debris.  All great until one day I went through 3 tubes during one 50-mile ride.  So instead of buying more tubes, I went shopping for new tires.

Today I ride on a set of Hutchinson Fusion 3 tires.  They are not cheap, retailing in some cases for $60 per tire, especially when compared to the original Continentals, which sell for about $15 each.  But they are well worth it.  Being Kevlar reinforced, these tires are puncture resistant and they have given me many flat-free and worry-free miles.

So while the old saying may not always apply when comparing brands of cereal, in cycling I hold it to be true.  Every little bit more that you spend will make your rides a little bit more pleasant.

Of course, now I have probably jinxed myself and will get a flat on my next ride.

Disclaimer: unless you’re a pro racer, I still think that 1500-dollar Zipp discs (that’s $1500 for each wheel) are nothing more than a ridiculous indulgence, more so when you only ride on your local bike path.


The Lazy Project Manager – Ridiculously Simplified Synopsis

The Lazy Project Manager is arguably one of the better project management books I read in a while.  It does not propose to teach your hard project management skills, the ones that being a PMP is all about: WBS, costs, schedules, etc.  Instead, it focuses on some of the softer skills, the ones that we often forget about, thinking that a good Gantt chart is all a project needs.  You probably have heard it all before at some point, but the book is a short, it reads well and serves as a great reminder.

As someone said on Shelfari.com, “Twice the taste, half the calories of regular project managers.”  And writing a simplified synopsis of it is easy — Peter Taylor provides it himself at the end of the book.

  • A project is thick, then thin, then thick again.  As a project manager, work hard at the start of the project.  Then you can rest in the middle of it and work again at the end to see it to a great close.  Kind of a variation on the old proverbs: measure 10 times, cut once; fail to plan, plan to fail.
  • Stay ahead of the game, start confidently, dress appropriately.  I especially like the dress appropriately part.  Dress appropriately for being in charge of a project, and not just for the organization you work for.  You don’t have to wear a suit everyday but being dressed a notch above everyone else won’t hurt.
  • Manage your project sponsor; know what’s in it for them.
  • Manage the project and scope creep.
  • Avoid communication breakdown.  But know when to communicate and how.  Multi-page status reports make for great documentation but, if nobody reads them, for poor communication.  As a project manager, sometimes you have to get out of your office and have a face-to-face conversation.
  • Have fun.
  • Stay calm.
  • Get the best team and retain them.
  • Don’t overload yourself.
  • And make sure to learn from each project.

I love books that can be summarized in a bullet list.

Ability to work disconnected – does it matter so much?

One of the strengths of Lotus Notes that always gets brought up in any technology discussion is the Notes’ off-line abilities.  To date, nothing else truly matches the replication engine that’s been a core part of Notes for the past 20 years and the ability of Notes to provide full fidelity of applications in disconnected mode.  Many Notes proponents, when discussing pros and cons of Notes vs. other technologies, will beat their chests, “But, replication!  A couple clicks and we can work off-line!”

But how much does that truly matter today?

Other than being on an airplane and being too cheap to pay 5 bucks for Internet access, I can’t think of another situation where I find myself completely and totally disconnected.  Ubiquitous wireless networks, Verizon 4G air card, tethering through my Blackberry – I can always get online.  The Skynet is here.

If I don’t have the laptop with me, then my Kindle or Blackberry (or iPhone and iPad for many others) can get me online.  And even if I do have the laptop, rather than waiting for the fat client to load, I pop open a browser and go to my applications.

Web and mobile — that’s where the true power and the true differentiation lies.  How easy can take my application to the web and serve it up on my travelers’ iPads?

I’m waiting for the day when Notes proponents will beat their chests, “But, the iPad!  A couple clicks and my application can work on an iPad.”  Think that day will come?

Or are the off-line abilities still a big requirement in your organization?

 

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