Getting organized in a digital age

I’ve always been a visual learner. Couple that with a diminished capacity to remember anything other than which son likes cheese and which prefers vanilla yogurt over blueberry, and I tend to forget anything that I haven’t written down. Hearing it isn’t enough, I need to see the words to take it in. Better yet, see the words and visualize the scenario or object in my head – then it’s in the vault.

For years I carried around paper notebooks of various sizes and shapes. These helped me remember things, although having to flip through them to refer back to the details I had written was always bothersome. Oddly enough, it wasn’t until I left Microsoft and started my new job with Compugen that I fully embraced a digital solution. Sure, I had dabbled in OneNote while at Microsoft but I never gotten into it for my own personal day to day work.

However, in my new role I attend a lot of meetings. A *lot* of meetings. Many of these are customer meetings and so I quickly adopted OneNote as my go to tool for keeping track of who attended, which customer it was about and the salient points for later recall. And from there, I started adding to and organizing my digital notebook into something that makes sense and works really well for me.

So now I’m a OneNote junkie who can’t function without it. I live in it every day. However, whenever I’ve espoused the wonders of OneNote to others in the past, I’ve always been aware that there are free tools like Evernote that do an ok job too. They may not be as feature rich as OneNote, but hey they’re free – that’s hard to compete with. Until now!

This week, Microsoft made a few exciting announcements:

  1. OneNote is now a free download – yay!
  2. OneNote is now available for the Mac. So now it doesn’t matter if you are on a PC, Mac, Windows tablet, Windows phone, iPad, iPhone, Android or using a web browser. You can use OneNote and each device will always be in sync.
  3. There is a cloud API for OneNote which means that OneNote apps can be created in the cloud, compared to add-ins which are installed and used locally on each OneNote installation.

If you’re looking to try it out or you’re already using OneNote and would like some ideas of how to use it better, I’ll share how I do it. This may not be the best method for everyone but it definately keeps me sane.

I keep one notebook for work and one for personal activities (vacation planning, shopping lists, volunteer work, etc.) and save both to OneDrive so that I can access them from anywhere. I’ve organized my work one by types of meetings – customer meetings, 1:1 meetings with my manager, meetings with partners, etc., and activities – event notes, blog ideas, etc. Below is a screen shot of my Compugen notebook opened to the Blog tab, where I jot down and develop ideas to write about on the corporate blog (click for larger image).

Screenshot of my OneNote workbook

Along the right hand side are the titles of each idea, but also there is a Submitted page, with several blog idea pages as subpages under it.  I can show or hide subpages as needed. On my customer tab (which I can’t post here for obvious reasons!), this allows me to have a main page for each customer with sub-pages organized by date underneath for each meeting or conversation about that customer.

One more thing I have to show you. For any free form folks reading this, OneNote also works great with a stylus. Here is an example of an intense brainstorming team meeting I participated in. As most doodlers know, far from being distracting, doodling can help focus concentration and increase retention so every once in a while, I break out my stylus and go to town!

OneNote Doodle

Any other OneNote aficionados out there that would like to share how they use it? I’d love to hear your methods, tips or tricks.

Windows 7 Desktop Migration Webinar


If you’re in IT and just now considering moving your organization off Windows XP to Windows 7, first of all, what the heck took you so long? And second of all, now that I’ve probably totally insulted you, won’t you join me for a free webinar on how to do it? 🙂

I’m doing 2 webinars, both covering the same material but the first one targeted for healthcare organizations and the second one not specific to any vertical. One is this week on Wednesday and the other is next week on Tuesday. Although the title says Windows 7, you can use the same information moving to Windows 8. Hope to see you there!

Read all about it and register over on the Compugen IT Buzz blog.

Living without Lync: No Thanks!

[Cross-posted from the Compugen ITbuzz blog]

I’ve been working out of a home office for the past 10 years and although it may not be for everyone, I’d have a hard time going back to being in an office every day. While there are both merits and pitfalls to telecommuting, there is one tool I couldn’t do it without: Lync.

I have to admit, I have a certain bias here. After all, I did just come from 6 years of working at Microsoft where Lync is baked into the company’s corporate culture. When I was interviewing for my current role, I was happy to discover that Compugen is also heavily dependent on Lync and use it to embrace a flexible work place for employees. It weighed nicely in the “Pro” column when considering my options.

Why Lync? Implemented right, it’s more than just a teleconferencing application. For example, it integrates with Exchange, SharePoint and other applications to show presence. When I open up an email or shared document, I can see who is offline (gray dot), busy (red dot), away (yellow dot) or available (green dot) and I can click on the person’s name to email, IM or call them right from my computer.

Presence information in Outlook

Because I’m not physically near my colleagues, being able to see who is available and being able to have multiple ways to easily contact and communicate with them is critical. I don’t want to miss opportunities to have quick chats with a colleague on an issue or ping someone with an idea simply because I’m not in the office around the water cooler.

Through federation, I have similar visibility into the online status of customers, partners and others using federated Lync. With Lync 2013, federation extends to customers, partners, etc who use Skype as well. Even though I’m sitting by myself in my home office, I’m totally connected to all the people that I need to be in order to be productive and effective. All without the daily commute.

Federated contacts in Lync

To be optimally effective on any conferencing software, it helps to have good hardware. In fact, ineffective hardware can be a big barrier to adoption and can make telecommuting very frustrating. I had the opportunity to speak to Jabra, Plantronics and Polycom at the recent Lync Conference in Toronto and each of them have solid Lync optimized options for whatever environment you’re working in.

There are hundreds of hardware options on the market. Here are my two personal favs:

  1. For in my home office, I like to use what I call my Jabra hockey puck. The Jabra SPEAK is optimized for Lync and all I have to do is plug it in to my notebook’s USB port. The call quality is great and people don’t realize that I’m calling through my computer without using a headset. Because it’s a speaker phone, I can get up and stretch without being tethered to my computer or worrying about my glasses or hair getting in the way of an earpiece.clip_image003
  2. For the days when I do go into the office or I’m working from a coffee shop, train, airport or other shared workspace I have been using a Plantronics Voyager Pro Bluetooth headset which I’ve absolutely loved. I’ve never felt like I needed to raise my voice any higher than normal, it’s pretty discreet and it fits over my ear well. However, I was given the latest version, the Voyager Legend, at the Lync Conference and I’m pretty excited to try it out.clip_image004

It looks much like my old headset but with a few key improvements. The volume and power buttons are easier to work with and it comes with this great little case that has a rechargeable battery to charge the headset when it’s stored there. How cool is that!clip_image005

So how do you like to work when you’re on the road and mobile? What are your favourite tools? Post a comment below – I’d love to hear your thoughts.

What not to do when deploying Windows 7


My first real blogging experience started when I joined Microsoft back in 2007. It was such a scary experience to post something so publically to such a large ready-made audience! I worried about being profound enough, smart enough, witty enough and died a little inside each time I discovered too late that I’d made a spelling or grammar mistake.

Fast-forward to today and I’m happy to say that I’m blogging again on a corporate blog. I worry a lot less and enjoy it a lot more now than I did then! It feels good to be able to stretch my creative writing muscle.

Below is my first post from the Compugen blog, ITbuzz. The first of many more to come! Enjoy.


[Cross-posted from the Compugen ITbuzz blog]

April 8, 2014 is coming up fast. Too fast for many IT shops. That’s the date when Windows XP extended support ends and Microsoft will stop updating the OS. Many organizations are finding themselves in a bit of a time crunch to complete their desktop deployments before time runs out.

Windows XP will not suddenly stop working on April 9. It’ll still boot, it’ll still run applications, and it’ll still connect to the Internet. But it won’t get any more security updates and when hackers find and exploit holes and bugs in the OS, XP users and their IT support folk will have no avenue of recourse to patch the OS. It’s a very vulnerable situation that businesses and organizations don’t want to find themselves in.

Having spoken to many IT folks lately who are getting started or are in the midst of their deployment, here are my 5 things not to do for a successful and timely client OS rollout:

  1. Ignore the size and scope of the project before starting. Let’s just add to the project as things come up. So don’t assess hardware so upgrades can be planned. Maybe an Office upgrade should happen at the same time. How hard could that be since the OS is being updated anyway? Let’s ignore the fact that the company uses macros and depends on Access databases which will need to be tested. April 8, 2014 isn’t a hard stop date anyway right? We’ve got lots of time for extras.
  2. Forget about doing a thorough assessment of your applications. Does it really matter that there are 5 versions of Adobe Reader on the floor, that the 3 different graphics packages could be consolidated down to one and that no one uses QuoteRUs although it’s installed on 50% of the desktops? Let’s just inventory the environment and test everything because we have lots of time and money to do so. Or let’s just assume we know what people are using and only test and remediate those applications to save time and money. Of course people may not be very productive after the rollout if we guess wrong but how bad could it be?
  3. Don’t consider who owns the applications. While the business unit may champion the use of some applications, we can save time by doing our own testing of the applicaiton. Regardless of whether we understand how people use the applications or what the business unit really needs we can decide if an application can, should and will be moved to the new environment. Consulting with the business just means more delays and we’re on a time crunch!
  4. Don’t put together a detailed project plan. Gantt charts are scary. Need I say more?
  5. Don’t worry about having solid technical leadership. Microsoft is pulling support and our executives are behind the project and expecting timely results. We’re experts on our IT systems so we’ll figure it out even though we haven’t done a rollout this extensive or invasive to our business since moving to XP 10 years ago. Let’s get ‘er done.

Now I must say our customers are pretty astute when approaching a project of this magnitude. But despite that, in just about every conversation I have there are always things that come out that weren’t considered. That’s why our customers love working us – we’ve got the knowledge and expertise that they need to be successful and we make them look good.

For more information about Compugen’s Windows 7 Acceleration Services, check out the deck that my boss, Joe Addison, and I presented at a recent event. Let me know if you want to know more or are interested in one of our workshops or assessments.

Making the most of your commute

(Image credit:

I really don’t like commuting. When I was single and renting and living in Toronto, I could simply pick from jobs within a certain radius of home or move residence so that I was always within a 30 minute drive in the worst imaginable traffic. Now that I’ve got a few more roots and live outside Toronto, I don’t always have the luxury of choosing to work for a company close by. Happily, many companies have telecommuting policies and my jobs for the last 10 years have been such that I’ve been able to work out of my home office.

However, there are times when commuting is a necessary evil. Take now for instance. I just started a new job and even though I’m a mobile worker, it’s in my best interest to be in the office regularly for the next while to get to know people and let people get to know me. Unfortunately, the office is over an hour away even in decent traffic. Ugh.

However, it’s not as bad as it could be. I can be in the car, focus on the road and still be productive by making sure I’ve downloaded all the latest episodes of my favourite podcasts. I just connect my Windows phone to the auxiliary port in the car and listen to my podcasts through the car speakers. This morning I got up to speed on the Office365 Consumer launch, learned what was happening (or not) with the Windows Phone 7.8 update and listened to commentary about the pending Windows Surface Pro product. On the way home, I decided to widen the scope of my listening a bit and learned about scientists who have been able to encode data on DNA stands and others who have been able to transform any material containing carbon into graphene. My commute seemed much shorter and I was able to catch up on my industry.

I use the SlapDash Radio app for Windows Phone but there are many different apps out there for iPhone, Android and probably even Blackberry.Just install the app and search for the podcasts you want to subscribe to. Here are some of my favourite podcasts to listen to:

Freakonomics Radio
The Freakonomics Radio podcast is hosted by Stephen J. Dubner, one of the authors of “Freakonomics” and “SuperFreakonomics”. It continues on in the tradition of the books, exploring “the hidden side of everything”. Prepare to be enlightened, engaged, perhaps enraged, and definitely surprised.

NPR: Technology
NPR: Technology
I had never heard of NPR before, but I really like this podcast. It covers digital culture, research news, the tech industry and more. The best of Morning Edition, All Things Considered and other award-winning NPR programs.

Manager Tools
Manager Tools is a weekly business podcast focused on helping professionals become more effective managers and leaders.

Windows Weekly
Windows Expert, Paul Thurrott and Microsoft Watcher, Mary Jo Foley talk about Windows client, Windows phone and all things Windows on this weekly podcast.

Tech News Today
Hosted by Tom Merritt with co-hosts Sarah Lane (TechTV, Revision3), Iyaz Akhtar (PC Mag, TechVi) and others and recorded 5 days a week.

GeekBeat.TV presents the day’s hottest stories, tips, trends, and news all in one place.

Under the Influence from CBC
The first 50 years of modern advertising was hard-sell. The next 50 years was persuasion through creativity and media tonnage. But advertising is no longer a loud one-way conversation. It’s a delicate dialogue now. The goal is no longer to triumph by weight, but to win by influence. Welcome to Under the Influence. An exploration of that critical shift.

The Public Speaker’s Quick and Dirty Tips
Short podcasts with practical tips for effective communication.

TED is a nonprofit devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading. On this feed, you’ll find TEDTalks video to inspire, intrigue and stir the imagination from some of the world’s leading thinkers and doers, speaking from the stage at TED conferences, TEDx events and partner events around the world.

This Week in Tech
Leo Laporte and other tech luminaries have a roundtable discussion of the latest trends in digital technology.

BBC World Update: Daily Commute
30 minutes of the latest interviews, reports and analysis of the day’s top news.

Moving on to new adventures

I can’t believe it’s already 2 weeks into the new year! I had a great time over the holidays visiting with family and spending time with the 2 special little 4 year olds in my life. I would like to say I got to visit with a lot of friends, too, but I had to bow out of most social gatherings due to being sick *sad tuba*. Luckily with some good drugs, I’m now healthy again!

However, what made the holidays particularly relaxing is that I accepted a job offer in December with Compugen, one of Canada’s largest, privately-owned IT services providers and PC systems integrators. I’ll be working in technical pre-sales focusing on Microsoft technologies. I’m pretty excited about starting this next phase of my career, but before jumping in, I decided to take a bit of a break to recharge and have delayed my start date until February. So until then, my days are filled with home projects, school and day-care drop offs and pick ups and relaxing.

However, I’m not slacking off entirely! I’ll be presenting on Windows Server 2012 at the Waterloo Wellington IT Pro user group on January 28 and if you’re in the area, I hope you’ll join me! For more information and to sign up, visit the website at

Shiny new toy–Nokia Lumia 900

Not too long ago, I wrote about the unboxing of my Nokia Lumia 800 Windows Phone. I was fairly impressed with it at the time, however, since then it’s been sitting on my desk unused. Why? Partly because it requires a micro SIM to use and I hadn’t gotten around to getting one. But a lot of the functionality is still usable without the SIM card as long as wifi is available, so that wasn’t entirely the reason. I still think it’s a sleek looking phone, but there isn’t enough compellingly different about the experience of using it to make me want to switch from my trusty Samsung Focus.

However, recently each Microsoft Canada employee was given a Nokia Lumia 900 and I am totally thrilled with it. It doesn’t hurt that it came with a pre-configured micro SIM so I could activate and use it almost immediately. But it’s also bigger than either the 800 or the Focus and as you can see from the photo below, the screen size (outlined in orange on each phone) is quite a bit larger and the colours are much more vibrant.


Now that I’ve started using it, I’ve found that the unmarked buttons along the side that I wasn’t sure about in my unboxing post are actually very well designed. Unlike the Focus which has buttons on both sides of the phone, the Nokia phones only have them on one side. Which means that once I figure out that the volume is at the top, the power is in the middle and the camera is on the bottom, it’s simple to remember as I don’t have to also remember which side they’re on. I didn’t realize how often I was getting the buttons on the Focus mixed up until I started using the Lumia.

One downside however, is that the larger form factor doesn’t fit in my purse pocket as well. The upside…I now have a good excuse to go buy a new purse!


Unboxing my Nokia Lumina 800 Windows phone

One of the great perks to my job is all the cool toys I get to play with. This week I was given one of the new Nokia phones running Windows Phone 7. It won’t be my main phone since it’s actually a European phone and my SIM card won’t work in it. But I’ll use it to show off Windows Phone on a Nokia device when I’m out and about and have access to wireless Internet. For my everyday phone, I have a Samsung Focus also running Windows Phone 7 which I love.

The Nokia is quite nice. I would have liked to have gotten one of the cyan blue ones, but beggars can’t be choosers, so basic black it is.




Nice box. Oooooo.








Opening the box. Aaaaaaaah.








Feels good in my hand. It has a nice weight to it even though it feels slightly heavier than my Samsung.










Shiny and smooth. Nice.

But they used the same types of buttons as the Samsung. That’s the one thing I’d change and was hoping manufacturers wouldn’t implement in future versions of Windows Phones. It’s too easy to accidently brush your finger over one of the buttons and find yourself back on the home page or staring at the Bing search field. Guess they didn’t get my memo.




It’s got really nice lines, although none of the buttons on the side aren’t marked. I have a hard time not hitting wrong buttons on my Samsung and they have distinguishing markings. Hmmm…perhaps I should look at the markings more often and then I wouldn’t hit the wrong buttons. With the Nokia though it’ll be the device’s fault, not mine. Smile





The accessories. It’s a European phone so hence the European power plug.










A rubber sheath to keep my new toy looking shiny for longer and to help me keep a grip on it. I like.









My new phone in it’s new rubber clothes.











Sleek new phone + sleek phone OS = awesome

Can’t wait to show it off.

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