Posts

The Healing Power of Coffee

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We can debate the health merits of coffee and tea but there is no doubt that its availability and consumption is connected to employee satisfaction, culture and, to a lesser degree, performance. The office coffee ecosystem is simple and sometimes appears way too vital to the daily operation.

Like many companies we have a coffee service that keeps our shelves loaded and these days delivers almost every week. We have grown to trust that just as the boxes start to empty and all that remains is the decaf and green tea supply (no offense to those who subscribe to those flavours). The next day, our trusty coffee vendor will arrive with a fully loaded shipment to fill the shelves once again.

These routines for most of us are so entrenched that significant disruptions and distress is most noticeable when our coffee supplies are low, and we all forgot that Helen was on vacation. You see Helen has assumed the unofficial responsibility of coffee orderer for our office. Even though she is a talented developer and a very senior member of our team one of her most critical connections to our organization is the coffee monitoring work that she does. Our team unknowingly depends on her to keep a close watch on the coffee pod inventory so they can maintain their morning or hourly routines.

Active monitoring and business continuity planning are a key component of our service delivery model that we provide to our customers. We have actually developed the same technique to provide coffee in the event of us forgetting that Helen is away. You see we have a secret stash of coffee and generic pod system that provides 3 days emergency rations so we can survive while one of us manages to place an urgent order with our supplier. So, while not a perfect system, it preserves a critical piece of our operation.

 

The top 10 Innovations of all time

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The means to make Fire

Let’s not kid ourselves. This is the big one. Without this, nothing. While not truly a human invention (more of a discovery) controlling fire is one of the cornerstones of what separated us from the animals. It lit our nights. It kept the predators away. It cooked our food, helped us cure meats, and kept us warm.

The Lever

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“Give me a place to stand, and I shall move the Earth with it”. One of the original ‘six simple machines’ as defined by the scientist of the Renaissance era.  The Egyptians were known to use it as far back as the 3rd century BC; often to move blocks weighing up to 100 tons.

The Plough

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When humans made the big switch from hunter-gatherer to simple agriculture, the Plough lead the revolution. Well, when I say ‘lead’ what I really mean is followed…from behind an ox.

Bricks

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More than just an inspiration for a great song by Jethro Tull, bricks allowed humans to build. And build we did. The earliest known bricks have been found in the region of what is now Turkey, and have been dated to 7500 BC.  As you can see, each invention brings us closer to an ideal. Fire kept us warm, the Plough kept us fed. The brick let us build everything from simple huts and houses to pyramids.

The Wheel

thewheel

It’s inception is placed in about the 4th millenium BC, in several areas.  It’s impossible to determine who invented it first. The wheel is thought to have brought us not only the beginning of transportation, but also Industry. From water wheels and mills, to chariots and tires, the wheel is roundly (get it?) considered to be a pretty big deal.

Writing

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The beginnings of written and recorded information date to around 8000BC Mesopotamia. Today, we consider writing to be the very identifiable distinction between history and prehistory. Written communication is, by and large, what defines us as species. It’s how we exchange our ideas, hopes and dreams. It’s also the basis of how we attempt to influence those around us.

Metallurgy

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The first evidence of this extractive metallurgy dates from the 5th and 6th millennium BC and was found in the archaeological sites of Serbia. As in many of the previous inventions, Metallurgy wasn’t an end in itself, but was generally an improvement upon what came before. Prior to this invention, we still had arrows, axes, and other tools.  But, with the introduction of metallurgy we are now able to produce superior tools made of metal.

Gutenberg’s Press

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Johaness Gutenberg began working on his breakthrough invention in approximately 1436. We know this because he was subsequently sued. Ah…Innovation. Within a few short decades, there was a huge increase in the circulation of books, as printing presses began popping up in every town. As production increased, the unit costs fell, which gave rise to inventions like the ‘Newspaper’.  Suddenly the masses at large had increased access to news, information, and advertising.

The Harnessing of Electricity

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When Ben Franklin went out to fly a kite in a thunderstorm little did he know what would follow. Simple advancements such as public Gas lighting making way for electric light made a huge improvement in the lives of millions of people. Suddenly the turbines and engines of the industrial revolution were being turned by electric power, and not the spindly little arms of Oliver Twist. Which is all to the good. Little Oliver never deserved that sort of thing.

The Computer / Internet

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And here we are today. The Computer allowed humans to figure out math equations and logistics at a previously unheard of rate. Coupled with Moors law (which states that computer performance would double every year), we went from computers that were the size of a grocery store to slick little laptops that are as thin as a magazine. Along side (almost parallel) is the development of the Internet. Now that we have all of these personal computers, tying them all together seemed like the logical next step. Then Tim Berners-Lee developed the protocols to build what we call ‘websites’. Now, here we are in what is certainly a new golden-age, the age of the world wide web. People around the world not only have access to the web (and thus the combined human knowledge of all time) but the means to communicate with each other 24/7 despite geographical location. At first the barrier to entry was the ability to write computer code to create your own websites but now, thanks to programs like Digital Agent, anyone can build and write a well designed website of their very own.

Customer Love

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One of my all time favourite movies is Field of Dreams. I can watch this movie over and movie again because it works on so many levels….it’s a great baseball movie for sure, but it’s also a movie about family, about risk taking and about commitment to a dream.

If you are in business for yourself you absolutely have a dream and you definitely then have to think about your commitment to customer service.

The background voice from “Field of Dreams” says it all on this topic: “Go the Distance!”

Going the Distance when it comes to Customer Service means simply you have to work diligently at helping to solve your customers problems, being respectful and professional in all of your interactions and going that one bit further each and every day to separate yourself from the competition.

Going the Distance when it comes to Customer Service does not mean that you have to do everything for your customer. It simply means you have to think about every interaction you have with them and make those interactions, consistent, efficient and effective.

If you Go the Distance, then as Terence Mann stated: “Ray, people will come Ray. They’ll come to Iowa for reasons they can’t even fathom. They’ll turn up your driveway not knowing for sure why they’re doing it. They’ll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past. Of course, we won’t mind if you look around, you’ll say. It’s only $20 per person. They’ll pass over the money without even thinking about it: for it is money they have and peace they lack. And they’ll walk out to the bleachers; sit in shirtsleeves on a perfect afternoon. They’ll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they’ll watch the game and it’ll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they’ll have to brush them away from their faces. People will come Ray. The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again. Oh… people will come Ray. People will most definitely come.”

Bottom line is your customers will come and they will stay!

How to Manage Dozens of Themes?

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In the world of web applications, there is a clear divide between the front-end (client) and the back-end (server); In the last several years, frameworks have emerged for both areas that offer substantial time savings in development and design. Libraries like jQuery, Backbone.js, and Underscore.js make life in the front-end much easier, and technologies like Spring, Hibernate, and Jersey reduce tedious rework and ease integration in the back-end.

It’s only logical that tools would evolve also for creating stylesheets, which can grow to gargantuan sizes in an enterprise portal environment. Enter LESS (and other CSS pre-processors), which provides JavaScript-like functionality to CSS – the ability to define variables, create functions, and nest rules, which results in being able to write better code, faster. In a Liferay portal with dozens of themes, the time savings achieved by using a pre-processor can grow to be substantial.

Variables

The attention to the styling of a website can often be eclipsed by the attention to the functional specs; how a website *works* is more important than how a website *looks*. If the styles are ignored for too long, however, especially in a Liferay portal environment with lots of themes, performing edits or upgrades can become hard to manage.

LESS allows for the declaration of variables, which greatly simplifies the reuse of colors, dimensions, and properties. Want to change the entire color palette of the site? Change 2 or 3 variables. Want to add a layout for large, widescreen monitors? Add a single variable and re-use logic for containers and columns. Want to change the size of every piece of text on the site? Define a base font-size and scale all other elements from that.

Variables also allow for consistency between themes – common elements like fonts, banners, and logos can be changed across dozens of themes by altering a single variable.

Functions

The use of functions (or mixins) in CSS pre-processors is well-documented; it’s easy to find libraries that will provide multiple vendor prefixes (-moz-, -webkit-, -o-, -ms-) or adjust multiple properties with a single parameter (border-radius, text-shadow). What about a function that will allow you to use different versions of images based on the style of the theme? By passing in parameters like size and color, it’s possible to create themes that are ‘aware’ of their layout and color palette and can provide corresponding images.

Here’s an example of a logo that can adjust its color and width, with a default of 280px:

.logo (@color, @size: 280px){
background:url('../images/logos/example-@{color}-logo-@{size}.png') center center no-repeat;
}

To use this in a LESS file, this function simply needs to appear along with any other CSS properties:

#my-logo {
position:absolute;
top:25px;
left:50px;
.logo("black", 200)
}

This would output a logo with background image source:

‘../images/logos/example-black-logo-200.png’

Again, the use of LESS allows for more efficient, more flexible code that reduces rework, enabling common elements between themes that can easily be changed to match the overall aesthetic of the theme.

Nesting

The benefits of a CSS pre-processor that allows nesting are two-fold. First, it saves time and keystrokes by not having to re-type selectors. For example:

#my-section {
border:none;
background-color:#000;
  a {
  color:#FFF;
  }
}

Is rewritten by LESS into:

#my-section {
border:none;
background-color:#000;
}
#my-section a {
color:#FFF;
}

Second, nesting ensures that all of the style definitions have the proper top-level selector. This is especially important in a portal environment, where there is no guarantee that a given class is not in use. From the example above, if ‘#my-section’ contained all of the edits, there is no chance that another, more specific selector (from either the Liferay portal or the browser styles) will take precedence. Avoiding these conflicting CSS rules is a huge time saver and prevents the front-end team from having to play ‘CSS Detective’ more than necessary.

In conclusion, the addition of a CSS pre-processor to any development environment can be a great quality-of-life improvement by increasing the productivity and consistency of the front-end development team while simultaneously decreasing maintenance overhead. When applied to Liferay portal, a pre-processor can assist in ease of re-use between themes and avoiding collisions and overwrites from existing styles.

The Longest Vacation

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The idea that vacations should be restricted to 1 or 2 weeks sounds like a good principle to protect the company when it is young and growing; however managing the line between firm policy and flexibility is important to successful growth.   Throughout our history we have decided several times to draft vacation policies that we believed would protect our precious company from a resource shortage at a critical yet undefined time. Usually right around that time one of our employees comes to us asking for a 3 or 4 week vacation because they are getting married, going to the world cup or going around the world for a great friend’s wedding. It’s moments like these which revealed our leadership culture by forcing us to consider how to balance our employee and corporate health.

Like most modern software shops, Veriday has a healthy and diverse employee culture formed by individuals who like to travel, have immigrated from elsewhere and maybe a few who need to significantly recharge their batteries now and then. All of those elements including significant life events that we often share with our colleagues make for challenging vacation scheduling at times and sensitivity to important life needs that supercede the value of the corporation.  So while we still have policies that are designed to protect the health of Veriday we have learned repeatedly to maintain a healthy amount of flexibility.

 

New Interactive Widgets for Digital Agent!

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We’re excited to launch a number of different interactive widgets to our library!

Google Maps has never been so easy!

Have you always wanted an interactive Google map on your website that your visitors can use to find your exact location? Well, look no further. As long as you’ve correctly typed in your address in your approved profile, you can drag and drop a Google map anywhere and as many times on your website!

Interactive Google Map widget

Twitter Widget

Do you use Twitter to communicate with your audience? Digital Agent now has an easy-to-use tool that that enables you to add a Twitter widget to your website. Marketing and Compliance, don’t worry, each Twitter widget created using Digital Agent will go through an approval and vetting process before being published on a Digital Agent website.

Twitter Widget Example

Interactive and Mobile Ready Calculators

our brand new interactive calculators to our inventory of widgets! And yes, they’re mobile ready! Choose from 5 professional looking calculators that will exponentially enhance the attractiveness and usefulness of your website! These interactive calculators have been designed to increase your visitors’ time on site thereby increasing the likelihood that they’ll read your amazing content!

Interactive Savings Calculator

Announcing French Language Support

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Parlez-vous Français? If you do the I have some news for you. French language support is here, and it’s here to stay.

Digital Agent now has the capability of fully supporting the creation of both a French and English website. Digital Agent’s French support allows advisor users to author content in both French and English without compromising a visitor’s user experience to the website. Visitors can toggle between the two languages to suit their browsing needs.

Pre-approved content features have also been enhanced to accommodate for French. This means that content stored in the pre-approved content library and subsequently used on advisor websites can also be bilingual in nature.

What about creative corporate artifacts? No problem, Digital Agent gracefully handles French logos, standard footer elements like links and disclaimers and can even handle other colour palettes if needed.

Stay tuned for more languages that will be added in the coming months!

If you’d like to see a demonstration of this new feature or a full demo of Digital Agent, please contact questions@digitalagent.ca