Mar 30, 2012 @ 9:22
Today’s video post is a short introduction to microcontrollers. Watch in the coming days for our next post which will be about our first microcontroller project. It probably will be Arduino-based.
Mar 28, 2012 @ 22:12
I’m hard at work… Actually make that “I think” that tomorrow’s video post will be an introduction to microcontrollers. I will dig some stuff out of the drawers tomorrow and as usual make it up as I go and it will probably be about microcontrollers.
Mar 14, 2012 @ 23:39
This blog was launched close to 2 years ago and was active only a few weeks. Our work load got the best of us and most of the blogs we maintained have been inactive since then. In the past weeks we have started to revamp our web presence and for this blog the first step was to change its focus and name. It was started as a consulting industry blog called “Consult Ants” and it will now become “The Alpha Geek” a video blog about all things technological. In the coming days the first video post will be live and we will also start posting project from programming of all kind (desktop, microcontroller, web and mobile) to electronics and even music instrument hacks.
Watch this space in the coming days for our debut video and further announcements.
Apr 30, 2010 @ 20:40
It has been one of those days. Somebody reported to me last night that the theme of our <a href=”http://www.igourmand.com/eatdrink/”>food and wine blog</a> did not display the first photo of any page correctly. The first image appeared after a huge space. The problem only happened with Internet Explorer and everything was fine with Firefox. Thus became the quest early this morning at 8am and I started tracking the problem.
I first thought that it was some “Div” problem as the theme used was one that I had made over 5 years ago. I recently rewrote it to change the look and then I rewrote it again last week to bring it into line with the current WordPress theme architecture. I had yet to polish it and finish formatting it and commenting it properly, so my logical thought was it was just some error in one of the PHP files of the theme. I even remembered checking it with various browsers just last week to make sure there was not such a problem, but since I have been doing small incremental update maybe some little error slipped in and I did not catch it.
I first checked the source code in the browser to see if I could find something wrong there. I used a few automated HTML formatter and the results were dismal. If somebody has a good HTML formatter that actually works to recommend, please let me know.
I ended up formatting everything by hand and after reviewing the code found out that there was absolutely nothing obviously wrong with it, and nothing that would explain the discrepancy between Firefox and IE. I had a hunch that the problem might be with the sidebar code, so I disabled it and low and behold the huge space before the first image on a page disappeared. Thus my hunch was right.
I then re-enabled each section of the sidebar one after another until the problem reappeared and finally found that the problem was with the image links I added a few days ago in the sidebar. There is absolutely no reason that IE should behave this way, except that it does not interpret the CSS properly. There is plenty of space for both the sidebar image links and the image in the post, and even if I resized the image in the post to a smaller size the problem continued.
I then starting fine-tuning the CSS and with just a few minor changes of around 15 pixels in one section everything popped back together as it should. I guess that IE is just very bad at properly following the CSS and placing elements on the screen.
Once that was done I decided that since I was in the middle of doing a lot of things with the theme, I should finish it properly. I spent the rest of the day properly formatting the code, changing deprecated WordPress functions to their new versions, profusely commenting the theme so the next time I need to modify things I can quickly find what I am looking for, doing some minor cosmetic changes to the theme, and generally improved its function and look. I still want to spend a bit of time beautifying things, but now it will be a much simpler job after the work that was done today.
What started as what I thought would be a simple job finding a faulty line of code, ended up a day of detective work. The nice thing is that I learned a lot dissecting the more recent template format of WordPress as I had not digged in its depths since version 1.5. It is much more flexible and powerful now and I will go to bed much less stupid tonight after a great day learning new things about the inner works of WordPress. I’m just glad that the work was for myself as I would not have like to explain the reason to justify a full day a work simply to move a picture up in a blog to a client.
Apr 26, 2010 @ 21:03
We are actively looking for renting or buying a house in a good colonia of Mexico City. We have been renting classrooms and space for our various courses and conferences for a while and renting space for this in a good area of town gets very expensive very quickly. It prevents us from giving as many course as we wish, or making the courses as long as we wish. We also cannot cater to smaller classes like I prefer to do as we have to have a certain amount of people registered to justify the rental of a room for the course. Add to that that traveling time from where we currently live to most centric areas of town have increased from around an hour to from 2 to 3 hours each way 7 days a week, so even going to give the classes is getting more and more difficult and I do not see any real change except for getting worse.
We want to remedy the situation by either renting or buying a house in a good area of town and use part of the house to give our courses and conferences. This would solve the problem of being able to offer as many course as we want, being able to offer course for smaller groups, and definitively eliminate the traveling problem.
If anybody reading this post has something to offer us, or know of someone who might have something, please contact me directly as I am open to any suggestions.
Apr 26, 2010 @ 18:54
Today while I was doing some cleanup around the office I came across some letters and messages from people who had contacted me over the past few years either to ask for work or to ask to distribute some of my software products. I had kept them aside as a reminder on how not to do business. It is a pet peeve of mind that when you communicate on business purposes to do it properly and to write well and to try to do your best to use proper grammar and spelling.
I might be showing my age, but it does gets me very mad when I receive some business message that is either very badly written or written as it you are sending a SMS message like the title of this post. There are no reason for either ones, especially the first one as nowadays spelling and grammar correctors are ubiquitous on all computer platforms. If somebody wants to find a job or wants to do business with someone it looks very bad on you when you send messages like that as the first impression you make to your prospective client, employer, or partner is one that you cannot even bother to put your thoughts down and write them properly.
Professionally I write thousands of words daily on various subjects and for various purposes, all of it with minimal editing and proofreading, so I am the first person guilty of grammatical and spelling mistakes, but when you come across as if you have no idea of what you are talking about due to poor writing skills or worse you consider business communication no more important than a quick SMS to your best buddies you will have problems going forward with any goals you might have in mind. This is not just for the younger generations out there, a lot of people of my generation suffer from the same problems.
I deal with people from all over the world daily and I do understand that if English is not your primary language, you might have some problems in communicating perfectly. I know from experience as English is not my mother tongue, French is. I have also spoken English since early childhood, and essentially have studied and worked in English since my late teens so English is my primary language these days, even though that at home now for the past 2-3 years we have switched from using English to using Spanish. I find the same problem with French and Spanish speaking people, that the quality of the written communication has dropped down dramatically over the past 10 years, when it should have increase a lot with all the spelling and grammar correction facilities we now have. It seems that people just don’t care anymore.
Wake up people, you have the tools to communicate in a better and more effective way. If you are too lazy to even take the few second to communicate effectively life will pass you by as where it counts people will think that you are too lazy to work effectively. Also take pride in you language as if you do not use it properly who will? For those like me who communicate mostly in languages that are own, take pride in learning it properly so that you can communicate and work effectively.
Take this advise seriously as we human can make something with our lives and progress with effective communications and those who do not even make the effort to do so will be left behind. It is not just an old consultant like me who says it, it is the entire business world. When faced to choose between two candidates, which one do you think a decision maker will select, the one that sounds like a professional or the one that sounds like some street gang member?
Apr 25, 2010 @ 20:17
There are many reasons why one would want to become a consultant.
Some would love to ditch their corporate jobs and be lured to become self-employed. After being self-employed all of my adult life I would not know what to recommend to those as I do not know any other way. I know that my wife Norma had problems getting adapted to the consultant way, as she had the opposite experience of being employed all of her adult life by banks or investment firm. Being self-employed to her was very traumatic at first, and still is when business slows down. Leaving the security of a good job is very hard to do, especially if you are used to have and count on a regular income. It becomes very difficult to plan things like mortgages and car loans or other regular types of expenses, when you are never sure of exactly of what your income will be next month. For some this is something they cannot live with, and to others like me, it is something so normal that you never really think about it. You just have to be very careful with your expenses and plan your life and budget accordingly. Those who cannot live with that kind of uncertainty should no even think of being a consultant or to be self-employed for that matter.
Other people would love to work at home like a lot of us do. For that too you need to have a certain sense of organization to be able to do it without all the normal distractions around the house preventing you from doing any works. It all depends on how well organized you are and how you can isolate yourself from other things and concentrate on your work. Most people find it difficult at first, but get used to it with time. For those who can’t it might be better to think about working for some consulting firm that will place you at their client’s site.
Others are lured by the large fees that some consultants charge. This might look very tempting at first glance, but when you start analyzing it in depth once you take this high fee, deduct from it your operating expenses, the equipment, tools and software you might need to perform your consulting, publicity, legal and accounting fees, office expenses, and the fact that you are rarely billing the full time you are working each week, you might not be making a huge amount more than you are doing right now at your current job. Add to that all of those other things that you never think of, like the fact that normally when you are on your own you do not have the niceties of things like health and other types of insurance, retirement plans, benefits and more.
Does that mean that you should not become a consultant? Of course not! If you can live with all of the above and more and have the personality to enjoy those kinds of challenges and live your life differently than most of your neighbors and friends, consulting is an immensely rewarding profession that can offer you things that you would never have the chance of experiencing otherwise. I would not even dream of doing something else and if I have not become a consultant so long ago I would never had the life and the experiences I have had. Sure, it can be very hard at times, all the good things in life are hard to achieve, but the rewards are huge for those who like a challenge and can focus to achieve their goals.
Apr 24, 2010 @ 14:29
There are many ways of defining oneself as a consultant. The traditional consultant is normally somebody who is an expert in his field with either a long career behind him or very specific specialized knowledge that is not common in a field. He is hired to resolve specific issues by clients or “consulted” when his client need information on some topic that they are an expert.
The term is also used for people who do contract work in a specific field. They usually work one contract at a time and they will build something, or deliver a project for their client. This used to be called a contractor, but these days the definition is getting fuzzier as a lot of “Consulting” firms are normally placing “Contractors” at their client’s sites and calling them “Consultants”
More and more self-employed workers, or workers moonlighting in their spare times are now calling themselves “Consultants” though they might not be doing much actual consulting or contracting work.
This confuses a lot of people looking to hire external resources as a lot of people are calling themselves “Consultants” and actually offer a wide variety of services only some of which are actual consulting. It is a good thing for people who which to hire external help, consultant or other, to make sure before they start looking that they know what kind of help they are looking for.
Coming back to the main topic of this post. I started in the mid 1980’s as a traditional consultant in the food and wine business. My various clients hired me for my specialized knowledge and consulted me on various topics and I would also do specific contracts for them on a regular basis like travel to various places worldwide to purchase various things for them or just analyze what was available in the market. I started during that period doing consulting work in computer graphics and animation which was a new field in those days and then I started to consult more and more about IT using the knowledge I had as I trained as a mainframe programmer at university ten years earlier.
In the early 1990’s I was doing more and more IT consulting for local clients and prior to the advent of the Internet, in the old days of the original CompuServe network of which I had been a member since around 1986, I started consulting with many clients worldwide from my office at the edge of a lake in Northern Quebec. I also started doing more and more contracting for various large companies in the United States and elsewhere. I spent most of the 1990’s traveling over 6 months of the year to work onsite with many clients worldwide. The rest of the year was spent either consulting or contracting, as I do differentiate, for my clients from my office in Quebec.
In the late 1990’s during the time of the big Internet crash, I started developing my own line of software products for retail business management, point of sales, ticketing systems, kiosk systems, and decision support systems. In 2003 I moved to Mexico City to promote some of my products and to get away from the cold of Quebec as my Mexican wife was feeling somewhat unaccustomed to the long winters and isolated over there.
Today I am back to being a traditional consultant full time, though I still work regularly on my software products and actively promote and find new markets for them. I continue my IT consulting as always and consult with businesses looking for new markets or with startups looking for advice. I also do contract work developing innovative software, integrate software with hardware, and of course I still do consult in the food and wine industry, my first love.
My motto has always been since I was a kid that I need to learn something new every single day as if I do not that day is wasted. Since I have been in the consulting business for so long, and tried hard to not waste any day of it, I have accumulated a lot of knowledge over the years. This is why for many years now that I love to teach and give conferences to pass this knowledge to others. I tend to be very passionate about this, as I have always love to educate people and convince them that they should learn something new every day. My wife Norma always says that I should have been a preacher, but what I am really is a traditional consultant that likes to share is experience and knowledge with others.
Apr 22, 2010 @ 19:23
As you main have noticed the blog is launching its new look today. I spent the last hour creating a quick and dirty theme for the blogs with a few simple graphics and over the new few weeks I will probably refine the look when I have a bit more time.
Some of you might be wondering why I named the blog “Consult Ants”. Besides the obvious bad pun, the name reflects my view of what the consulting business has evolved over the last decade. When I started as a consultant over 25 years ago, the profession was very different and was guided by some standards, which of course a lot of consultants were not following and giving a bad name to the profession, but it did meant something to the users of our services as the consultants that were doing a good job were respected in the industry and by our clients.
Today it seems that everybody and their cousins is a consultants, and just mentioning the name “Consultant” brings a bad connotation to a lot of people’s minds. It used to be that one would rise to the top of their field and then become a consultant, but now I see teenagers that label themselves consultants and want to sell their services at $5 an hour. That is not good for them, their clients, and for all consultants. I will rant and rave about this at length in the future, but this is what brought the name of this new blog to my mind. It seems that in lots of people’s minds us professional consultants are like a bunch of little interchangeable ants that are just running around in circles doing work and that every ant is doing the same job mindlessly. I want to bring this piece of information to the surface and dispel it, thus the name “Consult Ants” is there to bring it to the attention of most.
Since this blog will not be a structured one and will be more of a stream of mind type of blog, I am not sure exactly where this will lead, but bear with me when I try to find its directions and feel free to participate in the comment section.