Behavior, Content, Money – 3 Things you should never give away for free!!!

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Working with Apache Cordoba to make a cross-platform hybrid Mobile App

Posted by bcmoney on January 30, 2018 in AJAX, HTML, Mobile with No Comments


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Write once, run anywhere

English: A pile of mobile devices including sm...

A pile of mobile devices including smart phones, tablets, laptops and eBook readers. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Despite its best intentions, the motto of Java did not ring quite so true when it came to natively supporting the complex slew of Mobile devices such as Smart Phones, Tablets, E-Readers and Fitness Devices (wearables, smartwatches, etc) that began to emerge in the mid 2000’s through to today. Theoretically, yes, one could write a small basic Java project using only the most essential native Java library packages/APIs, which “should” then pretty much just run on any device upon which you were able to get root access and install a JVM (if one weren’t already installed), and then run your compiled code. On smaller less powerful devices like Mobile phones in the early days we could use various flavours of Java Micro Edition (or “JME”, then called “J2ME”, although rarely used it is still deployed in edge contexts, mostly just for IoT and embedded devices these days). The problem was we could not use the full suite of Java Swing or later JavaFX UI components, and had to learn a whole new set of UI programming techniques which was more similar to the “bad ol’ days” of Applets and raw GUI programming via the Abstract Windowing Toolkit (AWT). Inefficiently re-painting the complete GUI with each interaction programmatically, and commonly needing to get right down to X,Y,Z graphics programming, rather than deferring to UI libraries for rendering reusable components.

“Ok, I’m sold already” you say? Then jump to the Apache Cordova instructions! If not read on for the rest of the abbreviated/opinionated take on Mobile development history.

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Taking over a large-scale Adobe Experience Manager (AEM) project

Posted by bcmoney on April 19, 2017 in AJAX, CSS, Java, JavaScript, JSON, Multimedia, Web Services with No Comments


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This week, we traveled to Toronto in order to negotiate with our primary Content Management System (CMS) vendor, Razorfish. We all know what the Agile Manifesto says about “Customer collaboration over contract negotiation“, so don’t get me wrong, I’ve never been a huge proponent of contract negotiations, but even I’ll admit that sometimes it does seem like a bit of a “necessary evil”. Particularly when certain vendors aren’t necessarily will to “play ball” or “come to the table” to collaborate and work to find mutually beneficial solutions (won’t name names right now, but HINT, its definitely not Razorfish!)

ALC initially started working with Razorfish back in 2015 (when they were still called Nurun before rival larger digital interactive agency Razorfish acquired them) on the “Corporate CMS re-design project”, which aimed to upgrade and migrate the entire “corporate.playsphere.ca” sub-domain’s content over to a modern enterprise CMS, namely, Adobe Experience Manager (AEM) which ALC has chosen as its corporate CMS. Of course in November, 2016 even larger rival firm Sapient negotiated an agreement with Razorfish to merge, creating a somewhat “super digital interactive agency”. (UPDATE 2020-02-18: and perhaps at the borderline “disturbing” scale, Publicis then acquired the Sapient-Razorfish — SRF for short — conglomerate, creating a frankenstein’s monster digital interactive agency with few remaining significant rivals for the big contracts, this entity now called “Publicis-Sapient-Razorfish”).

Since then, quite a bit has changed, as there were a number of “pillars” in the Darwin programme (collection of projects), which made it the single largest undertaking in ALC’s history according to most in-the-know who I’ve spoken to, coming in at a whopping ~$35 million total estimated cost. Whereas AEM was initially selected to replace only that “Corporate” part of PlaySphere, it has since been selected to replace the entire PlaySphere system (particularly the front-end portions), and provide a number of vendor integrations. This is because only the “Corporate takeover” portion of the Darwin programme was actually on track.

The Darwin portfolio of projects rather ambitiously aims to simultaneously rejuvenate and completely replace both our legacy PlayShere system and a very large number of its vendor integrations, alongside our Retail systems, part of our Call Center technologies, and, a number of other supporting systems that are expected to get small updates. Of particular contention are those myriad of 3rd party APIs we need to support and integrate, each provided by vendor partners, and needing to be consolidated in a number of ways. The aim is to reduce the total number of vendor touchpoints (vendors needed to be contracted with), Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) providers, and, other similar agencies/consultancies we need to work with and/or get support from.

As I shared with my team, I’m happy to report it was a very productive jam-packed 2-day trip. Most importantly, they’ve tentatively agreed to move their code repository for the Darwin project’s new AEM-based ALC.ca replacement for our prior PlaySphere system from their internal Stash (BitBucket Server) instance running within their network, and where all our codebase currently lives, over to our own BitBucket Cloud instance. They will also move away from using their JIRA Server instance as their “source of truth” for all tickets and issues, to instead using our JIRA Cloud instance which we have been using for over a year now. We’re aiming at mid-to-late May at the latest to get these cut-overs done, it will be alot of work to first test out “mirroring the repo” between instances and exporting then importing all the JIRA issues. All agreed though, to pull this off at least one additional trip would be recommended, to bring more of the team up to Toronto next time in order to “observe their day-to-day Agile methodologies” and which pieces of that we may want to bring into our new team as it grows. Agile will be a new thing at ALC in general, so I want to be really certain we “get it right” (and yes, I realize there is no such perfect combination right out of the gates, rather we need to just start somewhere and regularly evolve/tweak it as we go). However, towards still trying to have some kind of plan together, I always love referencing this meme:

After what I’ve seen so far, and my past experience at other companies, we will likely end up adopting some kind of hybrid of Scrum and Kanban. I am hearing that “Scrumban” term more and more, so we’ll see how that goes. Scrum seems like a great fit for project implementations, while Kanban seems like the no-brainer choice for all our enhancements, bug fixes, and “keep-the-lights-on” (KTLO) types of development activities.

With our current plan, its looking like we’ll finally launch one full year behind schedule in September, 2017 some time (that’s without true Agile so far, more like an “incremental Waterfall” approach so far, mostly due to vendor limitations and nothing spelled out in our contracts about how we want to and/or expect our partners to work). I’ve been told the September date is not negotiable and can’t slip no matter what, but also the famous like “September is a long month” (an inside joke reflecting the FUD). Will do what I can to prevent such a large set of initiatives and projects to ever need to be cobbled together again, and instead hopefully we can just do a great job maintaining this new AEM platform, so that all we need are little feature delivery sprints and minor projects.

Leading up to September, 2017 we will be collaborating heavily with the SapientRazorfish team, bolstering our current team of 5 with their 15+ active Developers (although with a tapering down towards eventually only having a few of them remain for at least a year in a support role during the “warranty period” as we call it, post go-live). The plan from our launch date onwards will be that our team slowly but surely ramps up to full capacity to be able to support the web application and Mobile App webview integrations that have been done within AEM totally by ourselves, and, to continue to build on that with various other business project, enhancements, internally drive innovations, etc. It will be an interesting challenge, and we’ll see how it goes.

UPDATE (2017-09-17): We finally launched the darn thing, and it wasn’t even the last possible day of the month as many expected! What a whirlwind the past nearly two and a half years have been (feels like I’ve done about 3-4 years worth of work myself, and I’m certain that if you add up all the person hours on this project including OT and “extra efforts” that went into getting this beast across the finish line, you’d come to like 100+ years of life force spent). But I can finally show off the new look of the webapp:

ALC

Example authoring, to choose which Components are allowed within a given Static Template in AEM:

Feeling lucky? Give it a try yourself now, at https://www.alc.ca

HTML Tutorial and Web History lesson

Posted by bryan on May 21, 2016 in AJAX, Flash, HTML, JSON, XML with No Comments


No GravatarToday, something unexpected happened. I had the (somewhat unplanned and impromptu) pleasure of showing the ropes to the “new recruit” at work, a student here for a work term over summer break.

Now, we’re not necessarily doing that much coding here yet, as we’re still in the process of bringing back large portions of IT functionality in-house. We do, however, do a lot of software configuration, release management, testing/QA tasks, and, we are ramping up to use a major enterprise CMS to be able to create front-end content quickly (HTML/JS/CSS backed by JSP & EJB following OSGI structure).

I’ve always wondered in the back of my mind, if I were “in charge”, how would I more gently introduce the younger generation to the world of “enterprise programming”? Certainly the “enterprise world” is often significantly different, if not completely far-removed, from the real-world of cutting edge software development based on agile methodologies and lightweight web frameworks, co-developed with the customer in real-time, or implemented competitively overnight at a weekend hackathon. It is also far-removed from the naiively specialized world of “academic coding”, where “programming problems” (albeit sometimes very tricky ones) are assigned with a very clear set of up-front requirements and well-defined metrics for acceptance, where every assignment is given a certain amount of time to complete and graded for completeness and of course for “originality” or “ability-to-follow-the-book-without-copying” (where copying any minor component is seen as the devil’s work, labelled plagiarism, and ostracized).

Enterprise application development on the other hand, often times has no clear-cut requirements, no well-defined acceptance criteria (other than customer happiness) and is both behind schedule and over-budget before coding even begins. That thing about the no copying? Yeah that’s tossed out the window in favour of cutting corners and “getting it to market” as quickly as possible, often at the expense of quality (or in some cases even the development team understanding the solution, the most recent case that comes to mind is this hilarious StackOverflow verbatim copy “programming faux pas” from a Nissan connected car developer). All that being said, enterprise application development isn’t that hard, just more complex and frustrating than greenfielding, open source work, or even consulting. So it turned out to be a good opportunity to take a stab at it, as the student in question only had a year of Computer Science so far and despite some exposure to Java had not much in the way of Web development yet as those courses were coming later in the program. He did however, have a healthy interest in the Gaming industry, an industry which is increasingly finding an audience and monetization options for its wares on Mobile and Web platforms.

 

“The only thing constant is change”

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JS Podcatcher v2.0

Posted by bcmoney on September 18, 2015 in AJAX, JavaScript, XML with No Comments


No GravatarThis is the first revision of my quick and dirty Podcatcher (podcasting client).

English: Podcast or podcasting icon Fran├žais :...

English: Podcast or podcasting icon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It adds three new features:

  1. Ability to search for Podcasts by name (via iTunes API)
  2. Resolving the actual RSS feed URL from the Podcast ID
  3. Caching a copy of the RSS feed on the server in XML and only requesting updates if changes have been made

The last features I want to add in my next post will be the ability to arrange and sort multiple Podcasts you’ve “subscribed to” by dragging their “album art covers”, and . This little Podcatcher app would by then have pretty much the full capability of the native “Podcasts” app (official Podcatcher from Apple).

 

I’ve done quite a bit of research into Podcasting lately, particularly because they are making a comeback in popularity, far surpassing their original interest. There are a number of factors contributing to this resurgence, including:

 

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LayerPlayer released for SkipSearch

Posted by bcmoney on December 21, 2014 in AJAX, Cloud Computing, HTML, JavaScript, Semantic Web, TV with No Comments


No GravatarAnnouncing the availability of SkipSearch’s new Layer Player ALPHA version. This is still early days even though its a multi-year project for me, as I continue to work on this in my very rare spare time. This new feature will much more readily bring to light the capabilities of the recommendation engine built under the hood of SkipSearch (powered by OpenRecommender). With this release, SkipSearch is effectively moving from Alpha to Beta in 2015 and getting further and further from vaporware and inching slightly closer to being a legitimate full-blown, widely usable (and hopefully well-used) Web 3.0 application. Please take a moment to check it out, and sign up for the BETA if you haven’t already:

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For comparison’s sake, here’s the architecture of a typical Web Crawler that powers most Search Engines:

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BC$ = Behavior, Content, Money

The goal of the BC$ project is to raise awareness and make changes with respect to the three pillars of information freedom - Behavior (pursuit of interests and passions), Content (sharing/exchanging ideas in various formats), Money (fairness and accessibility) - bringing to light the fact that:

1. We regularly hand over our browser histories, search histories and daily online activities to companies that want our money, or, to benefit from our use of their services with lucrative ad deals or sales of personal information.

2. We create and/or consume interesting content on their services, but we aren't adequately rewarded for our creative efforts or loyalty.

3. We pay money to be connected online (and possibly also over mobile), yet we lose both time and money by allowing companies to market to us with unsolicited advertisements, irrelevant product offers and unfairly structured service pricing plans.

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