Google Chrome – A new web browser that’s fast and simple

Posted on Tuesday 2 September 2008

Google has done it again.  They’ve just introducing a new web browser called Chrome that is fast, easy to use, and has lots of nice features — oh ya, it’s also very pleasant to look at.  If Microsoft wasn’t worried before, they had better be worried, now.

Here’s a screenshot of chrome in action:

What I immediately noticed about Chrome is that it is amazingly fast.  I use Google Apps (mail, calendar, maps, and docs) a lot and found these sites to be way faster than when using IE or Firefox.  Also, opening new windows and tabs is faster, as is start-up time.

I’m definitely looking forward to spending more time using the web with Chrome.  And, as more applications move to the web, I guess I might be spending more of my time, in general, with Chrome.  That said, one thing that seems to be lacking with Chrome, is support for 3rd-party extensions and plug-ins — maybe that’s why it’s so fast.  But, I doubt that that’s really what Google was going after, when it designed Chrome.  They were probably trying to build (among other things) a super-fast browser for running Google Apps.

Jim Kring @ 6:57 pm
Filed under: Developer Tools
Squeezing LabVIEW into Universities

Posted on Tuesday 2 September 2008

NI is hard at work enabling young people to learn about science, math, and engineering via LabVIEW with products Lego WeDo and Mindstorms, as well as sponsorship and involvement in the FIRST Robotics Competitions.  In addition to doing a great thing by helping young people learn, a side effect is that LabVIEW is being squeezed into universities.  I’ll explain.

LabVIEW has been highly successful in industry, where it really has become a tool of choice for engineers who need to automate test, measurement, and control applications.  Additionally, the NI platform is well poised to be a tool of choice for system design, development, and deployment, as industry sees that the graphical approach, with a fully integrated tool-chain, just makes a lot of sense (because it saves time and money).

However, universities and engineering schools are very entrenched in both older (and freely available, open) technologies.  These academic institutions currently feel the top-down weight of industry demanding engineers who are proficient in LabVIEW and will soon feel the bottom-up swell of myriad youngsters who learned LabVIEW while playing with the Lego WeDo and Mindstorms and then participating in FIRST Robotics Competitions.

Universities won’t have any choice but to start using LabVIEW to teach a variety of engineering courses, because students will be demanding it — that’s the squeeze. When this happens, NI will have realized its goal of getting LabVIEW to be used everywhere from “K through Rocket Science” (an NI marketing mantra).

Now, I don’t want to undermine what an incredible thing NI is doing by helping educate our youngsters, using LabVIEW — I’m just saying that it’s a pretty smart move ;)

Note: I wish that LabVIEW was a standard at UC Berkeley, back in the late ’90s, when I was in school.  I was fortunate to get a student research assistant job at LBNL during my first year, which lasted through graduation, where I was assigned the task of learning LabVIEW and adding a couple features to spectroscopy control and data acquisition system.  I loved LabVIEW and had to fight hard to get my instructors to let me use it for my assigments instead of HP (now Agilent) VEE.  Anyhow, I kept using LabVIEW all through school and decided to keep using it, to this very day.

Jim Kring @ 12:00 am
Filed under: Uncategorized
XML Notepad 2007 – new release

Posted on Friday 29 August 2008

One of the members of the JKI team just pointed me to the new version (2.5.2798.17141) of XML Notepad.  The major improvement is performance — it’s MUCH faster!  The old version was pretty clunky (although, very feature rich and easy to use).

This free tool from Microsoft is very useful for editing and debugging XML when you’re working with XML data in LabVIEW (which doesn’t have to be hard).  Give it a try, and you’ll be happy that you did.

Jim Kring @ 9:33 am
Filed under: Developer Tools and XML
Video of JKI’s NIWeek 2008 presentation on code reuse

Posted on Friday 29 August 2008

We’ve just posted video of JKI’s sold out NIWeek 2008 presentation on Effective LabVIEW Code Reuse Strategies and Tools.

We used Zentation to mash-up the Google Video with the PowerPoint slides and it turned out very good.  Next year, we’re going to try to focus on taking video of the presenters (hopefully with better lighting), rather than video of the slides.

We hope you enjoy it.

Jim Kring @ 9:22 am
Filed under: JKI and LabVIEW and NI Week
LabVIEW 8.6 Quick Drop is awesome (and an unfair advantage)!

Posted on Tuesday 26 August 2008

I’m lucky enough to have a new project that will be developed in LabVIEW 8.6 (which was just released at NIWeek 2008), so I get to start using various new features like Darren’s totaly awesome Quick Drop tool.  I’m really excited to start using Quick Drop, because I saw Darren (the LabVIEW R&D team member who created it) use it during the NIWeek 2008 coding challenge and he was able to code ridiculously fast.  Seriously, you’ve got to see it to believe it.  He’s even faster than me!

Quick Drop even works with OpenG VIs!
Now, that’s an unfair advantage.

In fact, I didn’t even bother to enter the coding speed challenge at NIWeek this year (which I won at NIWeek 2005), because I saw how fast Darren was coding during the NIWeek keynote (here is a video of it), and my LabVIEW skills were more than a little bit rusty at NIWeek 2008, as I hadn’t touched LabVIEW for 3 weeks (I was traveling for a wedding, and also visiting some of my European LabVIEW buddies, in France).  Ya, excuses, excuses…

So, instead of competing, I hid in the JKI booth and pretended to be too busy to enter the contest.  Of course, I didn’t want to loose my unofficial “fasted LabVIEW coder on the planet (or at least, NIWeek)” title in a head-to-head match up against Darren — the dude is fast!  I wanted to at least have some time to practice using the Quick Drop tool and try to level the playing field.  Then, I’d come back and challenge Darren to a fair match — pretty sneaky huh?

Speaking of fair competition, they weren’t even letting contestants use OpenG VIs in the coding speed contest, this year (I guess OpenG is an unfair advantage).  Like Darren didn’t have an unfair advantage ;)

All joking aside, the Quick Drop tool is amazing.  It’s basically like auto-completion for text-based languages (so, it gives text-based programmers one less reason not to go graphical).  Just press Ctrl+Space and then type the name of the VI or function you want to place on the Block Diagram.  As the list of possible items appears, press Enter to select the top item in the list, or click on any other item, to place it on the Block Diagram.  It really lives up to it’s name by allowing you to quickly drop nodes onto the block diagram.  There’s no doubt it will become one of your favorite tools in LabVIEW, once you give it a try.

Jim Kring @ 12:00 am
Filed under: Developer Tools and LabVIEW and LabVIEW Tips and NI Week and OpenG
OpenG – Committed to Green Engineering Since 2001

Posted on Saturday 23 August 2008

I read a funny rant today, green gone wrong, by JA Varnell. This got me thinking…

OpenG has been green since 2001! In fact, we’re known throughout the LabVIEW community for how green our VIs are :)

But, that’s not the only way that OpenG is green.  Think of all the energy (both mental and electrical) that is saved by not having to write these VIs yourself!  (Thanks, Antoine, for reminding me of this fact.)

Jim Kring @ 1:18 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized
Your child can be a LabVIEW wiz kid!

Posted on Saturday 23 August 2008

This year, at NIWeek 2008, we saw a demo of the new Lego WeDo platform that allows primary school students, 7–11 years of age, to build and program Lego robots.  The demo was given by a youngster named Sara, who showed how to program robotic animals like a pro, using LabVIEW. (here’s a video of Sara that will blow your mind — jump to the 8 minute mark).

Seriously, watching this keynote demo almost made me cry (in a happy way).  I get very emotional seeing kids who are excited about learning and being able to express their creativity (it probably has something to do with the fact that I also love Legos, LabVIEW, and robots).

Last year, at NIWeek, we saw Samuel Majors, a 10 year-old wiz kid who uses LabVIEW to control model trains.  I can’t wait to see what kids are doing with LabVIEW, next year.  And, I can only imagine what these kids will be doing with LabVIEW when they hit the work force!

It is really amazing what an opportunity NI and Lego are providing young people and I hope that every parent get’s this message:

Start your child programming Legos in LabVIEW, now! Computers aren’t just a window into the world and a way to find information.  Those who can effectively use computers to automate our world are in top demand, and that isn’t ever going to ever change.

Jim Kring @ 11:45 am
Filed under: Uncategorized
Delivering Sold-out NIWeek Presentations

Posted on Wednesday 13 August 2008

The JKI presentations at NIWeek 2008 were very popular -- the rooms were full to capacity while eager attendees were (unfortunately) turned away at the door due to fire safety concerns.  While the size of the audience is a good indication that people anticipated high-quality presentations, we were thrilled to received direct feedback from many attendees, afterward, who stated how much they enjoyed the presentations.

As a thank you, we decided to share some tips, below, for how we pull off high-quality, enjoyable presentations that people will remember:
  • Have passion for your what you are presenting -- if you don't care, neither will your audience.
  • Tell a story that will relate to the audience -- the story is what people will remember.  If they care about the story, they will come looking for more detailed information, later.
  • Use images as a backdrop to your story, rather than slides with lots of bullets and small text -- the images set the tone and give people an emotional connection to what your talking about.
  • Include well-scripted demonstrations -- show them some LabVIEW, in action!
  • Keep text to a minimum and use large fonts -- any text should be mostly subliminal, meaning that the audience should not have to try hard to read it.  They should be listening to your story and not reading your presentation.
  • Stand up next to the screen and talk directly to the audience, rather than sitting in front of the computer and reading slides -- you want people listening to what you have to say, not reading the slides.  Be a good story-teller!
  • Use a wireless presenter mouse -- it will untether you from your computer and enable you to interact with your audience
  • Don't take too long -- There's nothing worse than not making it to the end of a story.  And, make sure to leave time for people to ask questions and make comments.
  • Know your material -- you need to be able to give the presentation without reading your notes.
We are excited that JKI has earned a reputation, building on our success at NIWeek 2007, for dilivering high-quality, enjoyable presentations and we look forward to trying to raise the bar again next year :)

Even if you missed our sold-out presentations at NIWeek 2008, you can still check them out by follow the links, below.
We'd love to hear your feedback.  What tips do you have for giving great presentations? How might JKI improve our presentations, next year? What are some presentation topics you would like JKI to cover at NIWeek 2009 (next year)?

Jim Kring @ 11:54 am
Filed under: JKI and NI Week
Why I blog

Posted on Thursday 24 July 2008

Recently, a couple blogs that I follow discussed why they blog.  I figured that I would add to the discussion by sharing why I blog...

In 2002, I founded JKI, a LabVIEW consulting company that also dabbles in LabVIEW software product development.  When you work as a consultant, it's easy to start equating every hour as potential billable income, which makes it difficult (by simple accounting) to justify the time expense of blogging.  Since the day I started this line of work, I've rarely had a day where I haven't been busy working (actually, it goes back way farther than when I started consulting).

I live by the mantra: work hard (and smart) on interesting and rewarding projects with great people.  Most other things work-related tend to fall into place and the end result is that you stay very busy, have an enjoyable time, and accomplish some amazing things.  I should also add that I'm lucky enough to live and work in the San Francisco Bay Area where there is tremendous opportunity, fueled by an abundance of technology, funding, and great people.

So, how do I find (and why do I make) the time to blog? (...since it would be easy to see blogging as just an expensive hobby)

1) I accept that fact that blogging is a great way to hone one's writing skills, which are extremely important for technical communication.  As I mention in the sidebar of this blog, I love writing so much that I took the time to write a book (which is not a painless process) -- this blog now serves as a great outlet for that passion, now that the book is finished.

2) I find ways to overlap by blog with the activities in my life that provide me with the luxury of being able to take time to blog (my book, JKI software products, LabVIEW consulting, etc.).  I've always been the type of guy to try to kill the most eggplants with one pitchfork (I assume that's a reasonably good way to kill eggplants).  I have a forum (this blog) where I control the dialog, so why not talk about things that matter to and are of interest to me?  The key to making this overlap function is to provide content with value, first and foremost.  For example, when I talk about how VI Package Manager is going to revolutionize software reuse in LabVIEW, I truly mean it and am excited about it, because it's a tool that I've personally wanted for a long time. (Pretty sneaky how I worked that in, right?)

3) I realize that my blog is a place where I can have a positive influence on others.  I can give my readers something of value and affect their lives.  As someone who gets a lot of pleasure out of helping others, this is not something to be overlooked.

Catrellezilla4) Blogs are the Resume 2.0.  Whether we as bloggers accept it or not, people judge us professionally by the quality and subject matter of our content.  Our blogs are both a way of showing the world our skills as writers & thinkers and showcasing things that we are working on outside of our blogs.  If we don't acknowledge these facts, we might was well just blog pictures of our cats (and believe me, I've got a ton of them).

At the end of the day, technical and professional blogs serve to get our ideas across to others so that we can be measured by those ideas and empowered by those who believe in them.

Jim Kring @ 12:00 am
Filed under: Uncategorized
ESX Server 3i – Scalable Virtual Machine Harware

Posted on Tuesday 15 July 2008

I really love VMware (who recently had their IPO). I've used their VMware Workstation product for quite a while (I love the snapshoting and branching features), I just started using VMware Fusion on my Mac at home, and I'm evaluating their VMware Server products for some of JKI's office servers (such as our daily build machine). That's why I was very excited to hear the announcement that they are coming out with virtual machine hardware. Now, you're probably thinking "What does that mean?". Let me explain...

VMware logo

One of the reasons that I was dragging my feet a little bit about getting started with VMware's server products is that I don't want to purchase and manage a Windows Server installation.  That was going to be yet another responsibility -- upgrading service packs, keeping it virus free, etc.  But, with the new ESX Server 3i, I won't need Windows Server (or any other operating system, for that matter).

VMware is teaming up with hardware vendors (Dell, HP, IBM, etc.) to sell computers that basically have no operating system (no MS Windows, no Linux, etc.) -- they only have a very thin VMware Server operating system (ESX Server 3i) for running virtual machines. Let me just say that this is awesome!

Virtualizing server machines makes total sense. Backups/rollbacks are easy.  Hardware is more fully utilized.  Migration to new hardware is seamless.  There are just so many reasons to do it.

Adding more computational power to ones computing systems should be like adding gasoline into one's car tank.  Right now it's like we let the tank run empty and go buy another car.  That just doesn't make any sense.  VMware's new hardware virtualization platform has the potential to bring cloud computing out of the clouds and into your on-site data centers.

Disclosure: I did not receive any compensatiuon to write this post.  I'm just a huge fan of VMware.

If you’re interested to learn more about VMware be sure to check out the article at ExpressionFlow on setting up Windows XP on VMware Server.
Jim Kring @ 12:00 am
Filed under: Cloud Computing and Virtualization

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