sim.plified.com

Chris Pollock

Chris Pollock - web developer & ecommerce entrepreneur
undivided… my thoughts on world, family, church, business, technology and Jesus Christ (all in all)

Idea For Power Companies. Offer Something Different

A couple of weeks ago I was accosted on my front step by a power company that wanted me to switch. I was called a liar and a thief by an ignorant rep who didn't know what a spreadsheet was (honestly I felt bad for her). They basically wanted to get my business by offering a fractional of a percent in savings while still offering me the same fundamental service. This is one of those areas where competition in the free market does not seem to be working.

Here's an idea for a bright young power company out there. How about offing something different. How about moving things in the direction of the smart grid by offering me a device to allow me to track my power usage or better yet allow me to control certain parts of my home electricity usage via a web accessible control panel. This would be something. This would be a reason to switch.

There it is power companies. Have a think on it.

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You know you’ve risen in the industry when…

You can call me Mr. Kee Klamp

You can call me Mr. Kee Klamp.

PS > Google’s new image search is pretty stinking cool!

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Stand and Work!

On my company blog I posted a complete step by step processes with videos of a standing desk that I built.  As a programmer I do a lot of sitting and the standing desk is a great way to get out of the seat and be productive.  Learn more about this project: Simplified Building – Standing Desk

Standing Desk - Finished! Standing at the Desk

Standing Desk - Finished!

Standing Desk - Finished!

Standing Desk - Finished!

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The Consumption Society

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My wife found this site and I just spent 20 min watching the video: http://www.storyofstuff.com

If the consumption mind set of our culture troubles you.. check out the video, it’s worth watching.  I’m not sure about the validity of all the stats or claims.  A few of them seem a little over the top and might be “spun” to further the argument she is making, but with that in mind, I think there’s still space for thoughtful review of how and why “stuff” is purchased. 

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My Latest Creation: Simplified Safety

Just about 18 months ago we conceived of a new web site that was focused on safety solutions.  As we conducted business on Simplified Building Concepts we saw an increased emphasis on safety railing and safety products.   This led us to create an entire site that focused on providing safety solutions and advice.  The site was designed in collaborations with Squared Eye.   Matthew Smith from Squared Eye did a fantastic job working with me to put together a site that is both beautiful and usable.  I highly recommend his services.

I welcome you to visit the site and give feedback (use the black tab on the right side).  In the future I plan on releasing some posts on the ins and outs of the architecture of the site.

Here’s a bit of information about the site:

Simplified Safety is a company specializing in safety products and advice.  We aim to provide customers with tested, top quality safety gear and the appropriate advice to identify the products that are needed by each individual customer.  Working closely with each customer to arrive at a tailored safety solution is how we hope to set ourselves apart in the industry.  Here are a few examples of the safety products we supply: Guardrails, Skylight Protection, Lifeline Systems, Personal Protection Equipment, Harnesses, Lanyards, and more.

 

ssi-home

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A Solution for the Missing Routing Feature in Excel 2007

In software development, you usually think of the next version of a package as containing more features, not less!  Especially when you consider such a featured glutted product as Microsoft Office, you don’t just expect things to just “go away".  Perhaps you are one of the people who was shocked to see the Routing feature disappear from Excel 2007. 

A couple of years back I worked for Roberts Wesleyan College, a higher educational institution that made frequent usage of the routing feature found in Excel.  One of their bright developers, Todd Andersen, has developed a plug-in to bring routing capabilities back to Excel 2007. 

I invite you to check out his routing plug-in for Excel 2007.  He offers it for reasonable price, and knowing Todd’s programming ability, I have no problem recommending it as quality plug-in that will help fix what Microsoft has broken 🙂

 

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Pushing Leads to Salesforce with PHP

Recently our company began a trial of Salesforce.com.  In doing so we opted not to layout the cash for the program that gives you full API access (at the moment any ways).  I needed a way to push leads into the system.  They have a standard web-to-lead process that requires a form submission and then post back to return URL.  I already had a lot of forms that I was using to capture data.  Instead of reworking all my forms, I just created a way to post to the Salesforce web-to-lead form from the server side. 

I started by creating a basic function which passes in the data I want to capture and pushes it to the Sales force form.

    function add_to_salesforce($source, $name, $email, $company, $city, $state, $zip, $phone, $description, $street = "")
    {
        // simple way of breaking apart the name
        $names = split(" ", $name);
        
        //set POST variables
        $url = 'https://www.salesforce.com/servlet/servlet.WebToLead?encoding=UTF-8';
        $fields = array(
                                'last_name'=>urlencode($names[1]),
                                'first_name'=>urlencode($names[0]),
                                'street'=>urlencode($street),
                                'city'=>urlencode($city),
                                'state'=>urlencode($state),
                                'zip'=>urlencode($zip),
                                'company'=>urlencode($company),
                                'description'=>urlencode($description),
                                'email'=>urlencode($email),
                                'phone'=>urlencode($phone),
                                'mycustomefieldid' => urlencode($source), // custom field
                                'oid' => 'youridgoeshere', // insert with your id
                                'retURL' => urlencode('http://www.yourreturnurl.com'), // sending this just in case
                                'debug' => '1',
                                'debugEmail' => urlencode("youremail@youremail.com"), // your debugging email
                        );
        
        //url-ify the data for the POST
        foreach($fields as $key=>$value) { $fields_string .= $key.'='.$value.'&'; }
        rtrim($fields_string,'&');
        
        //open connection
        $ch = curl_init();
        
        //set the url, number of POST vars, POST data
        curl_setopt($ch,CURLOPT_URL,$url);
        curl_setopt($ch,CURLOPT_POST,count($fields));
        curl_setopt($ch,CURLOPT_POSTFIELDS,$fields_string);
        
        curl_setopt($ch,CURLOPT_SSL_VERIFYPEER, FALSE);
        curl_setopt($ch,CURLOPT_RETURNTRANSFER, TRUE);
        curl_setopt($ch,CURLOPT_FOLLOWLOCATION, TRUE);
        
        //execute post
        $result = curl_exec($ch);
        
        //close connection
        curl_close($ch);
    }

 

Once that was setup all I had to do was call the function (which I wrapped in a class with something like this:

$myclass = new Myclass;
$myclass->add_to_salesforce("Contact Page", $name, $email_address, $company, "", "", "", $phone, $enquiry);
      

Works like a charm so far.  If you’ve got a slicker way of perfoming this operation, let me know, I’d love to learn how you did it.

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Productivity & Organization

As a entrepreneur, web developer, husband and father of four, staying organized is not just a “good idea” it is and absolute necessity.  In this post I will unpack the productivity tools that I rely on to keep afloat in the flood of information.

 

Basics

Email is where it’s at for me.  It is the center of my productivity world.  Most of my work, in some way, touches my email.  I have used Outlook and Gmail extensively, and in my estimation Gmail wins!  For me the context threading of emails was a stroke of genius by the Google engineers, and that along with a host of other highly usable features has won my loyalty.

 

Gmail

Gmail is my information hub.  Here are a couple of things I do to keep the things flowing.

Filters & Labels

Filtering is the first line of defense.  When one of my contacts fits a category, the get a filter and a label so that I can keep all those correspondences together.  If I am on any sort of list does not require my attention, I filter off those emails so they never even appear in my inbox.  They are labeled, so i can easily get to them if needed.

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ScreenShot005For labeling I use the Folders4Gmail script that turns your labels into a folder like structure.  This method helps cut down the visual noise of the "Labels” sidebar.

 

Zero Message Inbox

Several months ago I adopted the stance of trying to keep my inbox empty.  This has been excellent.  When there is information in my inbox, my eyes constantly go over it, rereading subject lines, sorting through visual noise, wasting precious time.  The biggest aid to achieving the zero message inbox was the Remember the Milk plugin for Gmail (more on this in a minute).

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In short, every email that comes in is either: Deleted, Archived, or made into a Task.  In some cases a label is applied where necessary.  The idea is to keep things moving and not to allow the visual noise to build up.  Read it and decide what to do with it, don’t postpone this decision (It’ll just take longer next time).

Remember the Milk Plugin

ScreenShot003 For a long time I mourned the lack of a “todo” list inside of Gmail.  Finally, Remember the Milk (RTM) came to the rescue.  To keep my inbox empty I am constantly turning email messages into tasks (RTM has some slick ways of doing this).  I make it a task and archive the message.  When that task comes up, the email message is readily accessible through the RTM interface.

In addition to assigning emails to tasks, I can create independent tasks which are dated so that I only ever have to look at “today” and “tomorrow” to know what I need to do.

Its not complicated, and it keeps my life a bit more simplified in the deluge of information that comes to my door step every day.

 

 

Todoist

Being a developer, I need a tool to help me manage the projects I am working on.  The best interface I’ve found for a sole developer to keep track of a project is Todoist. Todoist is a super simple, super slick task management application that has a couple of core features that I find very helpful:

  1. Interface is simple and easy to use.  Simple keyboard shortcuts allow you to add, edit and organize tasks quickly.
  2. Organization of tasks into projects
     ScreenShot007
  3. Ability to organize tasks into hierarchies. 
    ScreenShot006

The third point is the real winner in my book.  Being able to quickly and easily create tasks and sub tasks really helps me to organize my development projects.  On top of this I can reorder the tasks.

What would really transform Todoist into a great web application would be the ability to interact with others.  For instance, others could assign tasks to me and vise versa, and then I could organize them appropriately.  I know this feature has been requested, so we’ll have to see where it goes from here.

 

In Closing

Above I’ve tried to outline the key tools that help keep me productive on the web.  Share your advise!  If you’ve got some processes which have really helped you be more productive, please share them in the comments below.

 

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Get a Free Copy of Wired Magazine

I got my copy of Wired Magazine today and on scanning through some of the news and notes I noticed that they are giving away 10,000 free copies of this particular issue (which has an article on giving things away for free). 

To take them up on their offer visit: http://www.wired.com/free

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Coworking and Rochester, NY

Coworking is an idea that appeals to me. Coworking involves independent people collaborating in a shared space. The idea has a number of appeals. As an independent contractor or developer its easy to get walled up in your own space and never sit across from like-minded individuals and share ideas. It allows you to maintain your freedom as an entrepreneur and contractor, yet have a place to collaborate and perhaps even meet with a potential client.

A while back I started imagining a space like this, never knowing what to call it or if it existed. Well today I read an article in the NY Times on Coworking (found via Web Worker Daily) and found out that not only do such places exist, there is one that will be forming right here in Rochester, NY.

Today I exchanged some emails with Dave Moffitt about a coworking space set to open in Rochester very soon. You can discover more details about the Rochester site by visiting: http://www.coworkingrochester.com/

For more on coworking try visiting the Coworking Wiki

I tend to think that as more people become independent contractors that these types of spaces will flourish. Hopefully they can become a new "agora" for meeting people, talking, influencing and sharing ideas.

Will it work in Rochester? That remains to be seen. Your comments welcome.

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Things I see

Love that night field magic #littleleague #baseballHow many times do I have to tell you. No ski helmets at the dinner table @amylpollock #lifewithboysBuffalo waterfrontMorning bike rides with my oldest. Loving this extended summer.Giving him the family pack of toilet paper rolls to build towers with seemed like a good idea when I was getting IN the shower. Not so good after :joy: #lifewithboys"Where's Lucas...?. #lifewithboysThis little piggy went to the 19th ward market......#19thwardmarket.The prettiest cluster of grapes picked today. They're ripe. Anyone want any?? Thanks for helping Levi!!Can't beat this 10day #rochesterny #forecast@southsidelittleleague 12U Hayes defeats Eastside 25-8. Beautiful evening for baseball.Things I didn't miss about EnglandDeparting TorontoI walked in the front door and said, "it smells like a smoker in here." Then I went the the back yard and found out why. #lifewithboys #funwiththesunCaleb pitched two innings. His team beat Pittsford 15-3.#cyclocross in Rochester

Chris Pollock

Web Developer - proficient in both PHP and ASP.NET.
Rochester, New York

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My Pictures

Love that night field magic #littleleague #baseballHow many times do I have to tell you. No ski helmets at the dinner table @amylpollock #lifewithboysBuffalo waterfrontMorning bike rides with my oldest. Loving this extended summer.Giving him the family pack of toilet paper rolls to build towers with seemed like a good idea when I was getting IN the shower. Not so good after :joy: #lifewithboys"Where's Lucas...?. #lifewithboysThis little piggy went to the 19th ward market......#19thwardmarket.The prettiest cluster of grapes picked today. They're ripe. Anyone want any?? Thanks for helping Levi!!Can't beat this 10day #rochesterny #forecast@southsidelittleleague 12U Hayes defeats Eastside 25-8. Beautiful evening for baseball.Things I didn't miss about EnglandDeparting TorontoI walked in the front door and said, "it smells like a smoker in here." Then I went the the back yard and found out why. #lifewithboys #funwiththesunCaleb pitched two innings. His team beat Pittsford 15-3.#cyclocross in Rochester