John Kaster

Behind the Screen

What’s your giving IQ?

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My company, Transactis, just launched a new service called GivingIQ. It’s a great way for non-profits to raise money. I’m going to tell the director of SPIN, my favorite local non-profit, about it so they can get signed up for it. Be sure to spread the word to your favorite non-profits!

Written by John Kaster

January 19, 2011 at 6:16 am

Posted in Uncategorized

What’s the staying power of your code?

with 2 comments

I just reconnected with an old friend (he called us both dinosaurs, but we’re not that old!) on LinkedIn. Brian has been in business so long his company actually has a three-letter domain name, cus.com. CUS Business Systems does auction software and consulting, and many years ago I wrote some utility functions for him.

Part of his reconnection email to me said “We’re still writing software for auctioneers, and still using those rtf routines you wrote for me 20 +/- years ago…”

Naturally, I was amazed and impressed by the “staying power” of code I wrote more than 20 years ago, still being used in production. (This is for a Clipper application, by the way.)

So, this prompted me to ask both of my readers:

  • What’s the oldest code you have that’s still in production use?
  • What language is it written in?
  • What is it used for?

Written by John Kaster

January 19, 2011 at 5:35 am

Posted in IT Industry, Personal

MacBook Pro Impressions #1

with 8 comments

I got a MacBook Pro on December 23rd, 2010.  I’m jotting down my impressions as someone very familiar with DOS and Windows, and not at all familiar with the Mac.

I haven’t worked on a Mac since about 1986, so any previous experience I’ve had with them is irrelevant.

I’m not comparing Windows vs. Mac OSX. In fact, the primary reason I got this laptop is so I could run both Windows and Mac software on the same machine, which I’m already doing.

Naturally, the shipping box for the Mac is attractive and well-designed, with a plain outer cardboard box, and a cardboard anchor/pad for each corner of the inner decorated box. The inner box has a black plastic handle so you can lift the box out of the outer box without any difficulty. I like that the self-contained and compact design of the shipping system.

The lid opens and closes nicely. I think it’s held shut magnetically. The power plug also is magnetic – it plugs itself into the laptop when you get the adapter near the receptacle on the laptop. It’s also reversible, so the cord will run alongside the laptop coming toward the front or the back, allowing you to choose which way works better for your current layout. The power brick has a short plug adapter that can be swapped with a longer cord if you need to reach further to your power source. (I just leave the longer cord on all the time).

Apple provides some introductory training videos I found somewhat useful. It’s interesting that options for also running Microsoft Windows on your Mac are also prominently featured.

The keyboard has a pretty good feel. There’s no home or end key, or page up or page down. The delete key is really a backspace key. I really miss not having both. You have to use various multiple keys to get the missing keystrokes and some of them are less intuitive than others. The use of the command and control keys is completely inconsistent, and is still a source of frustration for a keyboard jockey like me.

I’ll record additional impressions in later posts regarding sleep mode, headphone jacks, ISO support,  “intuitiveness”, spotlight, VMWare fusion/parallels, VPN client, Finder views (no tree!), VoiceOver and more. If you care! Winking smile

Written by John Kaster

January 19, 2011 at 5:24 am

Posted in IT Industry, Mac

Transactis is hiring!

with 2 comments

Transactis is looking for a few good developers to help develop highly scalable, distributed systems for the US financial services market. The software is written C#. If you’re interested in finding out if Transactis is a good fit for you, send me an email with your CV/Resume.

Written by John Kaster

January 12, 2011 at 7:29 am

Posted in IT Industry

Dell "Chat Expert" is not quite so expert

with 6 comments

This is the transcript of a chat I just endured with a Dell representative when trying to get some answers regarding the Dell AY511 I just received. The only change I made to the chat was replacing the name of the rep, and other identifying bits of information. The text of the transcript is unaltered, for your reading enjoyment. (Someone should get some joy out of this, since it won’t be me!)

This is an automated email sent from Dell Chat. The following information is a log of your session. Please save the log for your records.

Your session ID for this incident is *******.

12/30/2010 03:07:20PM
System: “Thanks for choosing Chat to assist you in making your purchase on Dell.com. A Dell.com Chat Expert will be with you shortly.”

12/30/2010 03:07:26PM
Session Started with Agent (DellRep)

12/30/2010 03:07:30PM
Agent (DellRep): “Welcome to Dell US Chat! My name is DellRep and I will be your Dell.com Sales Chat Expert. I can be reached at us_con_sl_apos_chat or via phone at 1-****-****-**** ext. *******.
Hi there, feel free to provide your phone number so we can contact you in case the line got disconnected. Thanks. How can I help you today?

12/30/2010 03:07:46PM
John Kaster: “Hi. My phone is ****-****-****”

12/30/2010 03:08:03PM
John Kaster: “I just received a Dell AY511 SoundBar and have some questions regarding accessories for it.”

12/30/2010 03:08:07PM
Agent (DellRep): “Thanks John, glad you chatted in today and hope you’re doing fine =)”

12/30/2010 03:08:20PM
Agent (DellRep): “Sure thing, how may I assist you on that?”

12/30/2010 03:08:47PM
John Kaster: “I’m well, thanks. it comes with an external power supply. I thought it would also come with the power plug for plugging it directly into my monitor. I’d like to know what part that is so I can order it.”

12/30/2010 03:09:04PM
John Kaster: “Also, I’m interested in what subwoofer you sell that’s compatible with the AY511”

12/30/2010 03:10:30PM
Agent (DellRep): “I’ll be glad to assist you on that. Please give me a minute or two while I’m checking on the specs of this sound bar. One moment please.”

12/30/2010 03:12:30PM
Agent (DellRep): “So it didn’t come with instructions on how to connect it to your computer?”

12/30/2010 03:14:18PM
John Kaster: “I have it connected”

12/30/2010 03:14:35PM
John Kaster: “but I have to use an external power plug (that came with it)”

12/30/2010 03:14:57PM
John Kaster: “my monitor has a power plug for a sound bar – but I don’t have the cord to go between the monitor power source and the sound bar”

12/30/2010 03:15:04PM
John Kaster: “it didn’t come with the AY511”

12/30/2010 03:15:46PM
Agent (DellRep): “External power plug in order to connect it to your monitor, right? The external power supply of it is connected directly to the wall socket?”

12/30/2010 03:16:16PM
John Kaster: “yes, connectied directly to the wall socket right now. No cord to plug the sound bar directly into my monitor”

12/30/2010 03:16:38PM
John Kaster: “that’s what I’m looking for. a cord for plugging the soundbar into the monitor directly”

12/30/2010 03:18:29PM
Agent (DellRep): “Actually, you don’t need to get any cord to connect it to your monitor. It says here that this item is directly mounted on the monitor.”

12/30/2010 03:18:48PM
John Kaster: “yes, it’s directly mounted. but that doesn’t give it power.”

12/30/2010 03:19:21PM
Agent (DellRep): “I see. May I ask for the model of the monitor that you have?”

12/30/2010 03:21:09PM
John Kaster: “it’s a Dell U3011”

12/30/2010 03:21:48PM
Agent (DellRep): “Got it,so you already mounted it on your monitor or not yet?”

12/30/2010 03:21:58PM
John Kaster: “yes, it’s mounted on the monitor, and working”

12/30/2010 03:22:36PM
John Kaster: “again, what I’m looking for is the cord to connect power to the AY511 from the monitor power plug available on the Monitor.”

12/30/2010 03:24:33PM
Agent (DellRep): “Alright, as per checking, this sound bar is connected via mini-phone stereo 3.5 mm cable. What we can get here is a cable that has 3.5mm jack on both ends. And you don’t need to connect it directly to the monitor. You will connect it to your tower. In the”

3.5mm port for headphones.

12/30/2010 03:24:58PM
John Kaster: “DellRep, you’re not answering my question.”

12/30/2010 03:25:05PM
John Kaster: “I have it mounted. I have sound.”

12/30/2010 03:25:49PM
John Kaster: “What I’m asking about is a cord for electrical power that goes directly from the AY511 to the monitor”

12/30/2010 03:27:36PM
Agent (DellRep): “If that is the power cord that is directly connected to wall socket, it should came with it.”

12/30/2010 03:29:01PM
John Kaster: “I know about that cable. I’m using it. Can you repeat back to me what it is that I’m looking for so I can be sure you understand my question?”

12/30/2010 03:30:51PM
Agent (DellRep): “You mentioned that you are looking for a cord that connecting the sound bar directly to the monitor.”

12/30/2010 03:32:24PM
John Kaster: “Correct, a POWER cord that connects the sound bar directly to the monitor.”

12/30/2010 03:33:01PM
John Kaster: “There’s a power plug on my monitor that’s compatible with the power plug on the AY511. What I don’t have is the power cord that will connect both to each other.”

12/30/2010 03:35:10PM
Agent (DellRep): “You mentioned that it already has a sound? What is the reason why you want to get it?”

12/30/2010 03:35:26PM
John Kaster: “without power, the sound bar will not work”

12/30/2010 03:37:37PM
Agent (DellRep): “You mentioned that it also has a power cord that is connected to the wall socket right? That cord will give the power to the sound bar.”

12/30/2010 03:38:51PM
John Kaster: “Yes, DellRep. I’m aware of that. Is there someone else I can chat with? We seem to be having trouble communicating.”

12/30/2010 03:40:33PM
Agent (DellRep): “Let me just connect you to our technical support department, since this is just a new Sound bar, you should get free technical support on this.”

12/30/2010 03:41:27PM
John Kaster: “ok, thank you”

12/30/2010 03:41:43PM
Agent (DellRep): “Please stay on the line.”

12/30/2010 03:41:53PM
Session Ended

If you require further assistance, please visit us at support.dell.com
The customer experience is our top priority. Your feedback would be greatly appreciated (link removed)

In case you wouldn’t know by this point: I did not actually get connected to a tech support rep, nor did anyone from Dell call me back after I was disconnected during the “transfer”.

I hope Dell provides better training soon to “DellRep”, and that this blog post helps inform Dell they need to improve their online service.

Written by John Kaster

December 31, 2010 at 6:10 am

Posted in IT Industry

New support forms

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The Embarcadero support site has some new support forms. You can see a link to them on the support home page.

2010-12-21_1348

The new support form interface will display a different form based on what you select in its drop down.

2010-12-21_1352

If you are already logged in to any EDN service via EDN member services, your personal contact information will be automatically filled in so you can focus on the reason you’re contacting support, rather than on data entry of information you have already provided Embarcadero.

After submitting your support case, you will receive an automated email response confirming the receipt of your case.

Support for Japanese customers with the new support forms should be available in a month or two.

Written by John Kaster

December 22, 2010 at 5:57 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Moving on

with 50 comments

On December 27th, 2010 I will leave Embarcadero to pursue a great opportunity for myself. Please don’t view this as a sign that I think Delphi, InterBase or any other of the Embarcadero products is in trouble. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Delphi XE is my favorite version of Delphi, ever. I have even gone so far as to call it “my” release. It has features in it (particularly some of the new DataSnap features) I’ve been wanting since Delphi 5. Really! It has great quality and performance, and I really enjoy working with it every day. Furthermore, the next release looks like it could be the most exciting release since Delphi was first launched in 1995.

Having said this, you’re now probably wondering why I’d be leaving Embarcadero if I feel that way about Delphi and its future. That’s a fair question. I hope you give me a fair chance to answer it, by reading this post to learn why I joined the Delphi team, and why I’m now leaving.

When I graduated from college in 1985, I sent my resume to Borland, because I wanted to work for the company that made Turbo Pascal. I never received a reply. I had already started building things in Turbo Pascal for my own use before I even left college, and these tools rapidly grew into popular public domain, shareware, and commercial products, which I sold and supported. Even while working as an employee of other companies, I kept building software development tools on the side, based on my own needs. 

After a couple years of working as a PC expert, consultant, and systems analyst for lots of major organizations in the Washington, DC area, I went out completely on my own.

In 1997 (12 years after sending my resume to Borland), while deeply engrossed in running my own very enjoyable and successful one-man product development and consulting firm, I got a call from a  head hunter that ended up changing the direction of my career for more than a decade. Based on the deliberately vague description he gave me of the position he was trying to fill, I knew the job involved working on the Delphi team.

I love using Delphi even more than I liked Turbo Pascal, and I thought it would be great to be a part of the team building the product. The thought of personally contributing to its success, and helping shape the product as one of its Product Managers was very appealing to me.

On the other hand, I had my own customers, whom I liked, and my own products, which I really liked, and I was making really good money from the combination of software consulting and product sales.

I was really tempted by the offer, but I was having a hard time deciding which direction to go.

So, I discussed the idea of putting my own business on hold with one of my best friends, Ali Davachi. At a Clipper conference back in 1990, I’d met Ali when he bought two copies of one of my products (TechWriter) with great panache. In the following years, we worked together on some projects, and I have great respect for both his business acumen and technical skills. We also have a fabulous time working together.

Ali said he thought it would be a great idea for me to work for Borland for 2 or 3 years, to get some experience working as a Product Manager on a major product I loved, from an industry-leading software company.

So, I accepted a huge pay cut to “get in the door” at Borland as a Product Manager. I started working as the Enterprise and Distributed Computing Product Manager on November 3, 1997. I was responsible for everything related to database connectivity, and anything to do with DCOM, CORBA, or any other distributed technology. This included the BDE, MIDAS (now DataSnap), and a variety of other “connectivity” technology that has come and gone.

After working in that role for about 1.5 years, I went to work for David Intersimone (David I) in Developer Relations. I became an “evangelist”, traveling all around the world, launching new versions of our products. Together with David and Charlie Calvert, I also launched what is now called EDN in 1999. Ever since then, I have managed, built, and maintained services for EDN, even while traveling.

When Embarcadero acquired CodeGear, I officially became the EDN Program Manager, which is basically what I’d already been doing for over 10 years. This is still my primary responsibility at Embarcadero. I still get to use Delphi to develop services for EDN, and I am constantly in conversations with the Delphi, RadPHP, and InterBase teams about their products, how they are used for EDN, and what I’d like to see in future releases.

A few months ago, my friend Ali contacted me. He told me he was accepting a position as CTO at a great new company called Transactis, and he thought it was the opportunity we’d both been waiting for: to work together again on great technology and services for our customers. In short, he made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. On January 3rd, 2011, I start working for Transactis as their Senior Vice President of Development, reporting to the CTO (Ali).

I will miss the people I work with at Embarcadero, the products I use, and the EDN services with which I’ve worked for so long. It’s very hard to leave, particularly because the projects never stop. But for me personally, this is an opportunity I can’t pass up.

Delphi will be just fine with me gone. EDN will be just fine, too.  As I pointed out in a previous post, many, many people have worked on EDN over the years. Many more have worked on Delphi over the years. Even more people will work on Delphi and EDN in the future.

I’m just one person, who stayed on the team 5 times longer than I originally planned, helping support Delphi. You don’t owe me any favors, but I’ll ask one anyway: if you share my love of Delphi, don’t worry about my departure, and don’t let others make it into some huge disaster for the future of Delphi. My departure has nothing to do with how I feel about Delphi, C++Builder, RadPHP, InterBase, or any other Embarcadero product. Even though I’ll no longer be “on the team,” I’m still a huge supporter of the Embarcadero products. I still plan to use them whenever I can in my future work.

In fact, Transactis will be buying some Embarcadero products in the very near future, so Embarcadero has just gained yet another customer! Smile

Keep the faith, and I’ll see you around.

Written by John Kaster

December 16, 2010 at 2:05 am