Category Archives: General

Opendata in Montreal

Just came out of the first Montreal Ouvert open meeting.

I was pleasantly surprised to see so many interested people showing up, and from so many different backgrounds. Developers, entrepreneurs, municipal employees, students, journalists, and more that I forgot about of course.

In the end they were all just citizens, enthusiastic about the possibilities of open data, ready to put in some grey matter and some work to help make it a reality. For some the work began some time ago, as much as a few years back.

And the possibilities of open data are many: availability of fresh, constantly updated data leads to increased government transparency, increasing its accountability and usefulness. It also means more tools for the population to get involved in the process and take informed action, making democracy work better.

Having data available in open, documented formats will tremendously benefit the city itself, as its own employees often struggle to obtain data from silo-ed, undocumented and not always fresh data.

And open data by the way is not only about having the government publish the data it has, it’s also about the free flow of data in general, as much as practically/legally possible, in both directions. Quality data exists out there which could complement what the government is producing, potentially making it more aware of what’s happening, sooner, making it again more responsive and relevant.

And last but not least, the economic consequences are real and tangible. Head over to Montreal  Ouvert’s blog and you’ll find multiple reports of other cities that are going through the process and reaping the benefits. The numbers are just staggering, both in the form of savings and local business generated.

So this first meeting brought all these different people together, and provided a space for a discussion to happen. All kinds of ideas where exchanged on how to make it happen, information about what has worked for other cities, about the realities and limitations of those and in the end, what would be the best things to do to make it work in the interest of all parties.

All in all, very exciting!

Montreal Ouvert as a collective is already pretty focused, and I’m sure there was enough material tonight to help it gather even more steam. At the very least, tonight’s meeting will have served to rally all sorts of isolated efforts, thus increasing greatly the potential power to make change happen, in the interest of everyone.

So, make sure you follow their blog, and contribute your ideas and comments wherever you can.


On taking action

So what happened in all that time since my last substantial blog post?

No, I wasn’t busy counting red cars passing on the street, or marveling at the cat’s anatomy as my kids do.

After mulling over the possibility for a while, I finally decided to quit my job and go solo, and that turned out to be one of the greatest, most satisfying choices I have ever made!

But it wasn’t an easy one. Continue reading On taking action


A2Hosting makes another happy customer

I’ve been hosting this blog over at A2Hosting for a while now. I was looking for a reliable, developer-friendly, not too expensive web host, and I must say I’m pretty satisfied so far. It seems that they are providing just the right balance between price, flexibility, and performance.

I found a responsive and knowledgeable customer service that has always proved helpful, their servers’ performance and connectivity has remained top-notch to this day, and their referral program is quite nice, which doesn’t hurt.

So all in all they well deserve the thumbs-up that I’m giving them right now.

Thanks A2Hosting!


Why a blog

I wanted to do the blog thing for quite some time already. I always imagined it would be in the context of my daily job, however, I never thought it would ever be in the form of a public blog.

I work for a fairly small company (Cobi: 20-30 employees) and the department I’m working in is in charge of the ERP solution we offer to SMB’s, as well as the inevitable customizations, extensions, and specialized interfaces with bolt on top of it.

This ERP suite (SouthWare) is quite capable — on the ERP side of things. But it also carries a legacy of being built with a seemingly ancient technology. So we devised different ways to teach this old COBOL dog new HTML, AJAX-y PHP and SQL tricks to bring it into the Internet age.

It’s been working quite well. The modern web interface driving the mature, rock-solid back-end has proven to be a pretty nice combination.

So how did that lead me to the blog idea?

Well, to put it shortly, it’s all about sharing (and recording) knowledge.

Being a small team, we end up doing a bit of everything, but we each necessarily become specialized in our own area of the system. Some feel more comfortable near the back-end and others, with the object-oriented PHP programming, for example.

All of this is fine, but what happens is that when a member of the team leaves the company, for a reason or an other, a big part of the experience this person earned disappears also from the company. Sure, some things are documented but the vast majority of the know-how, the experience, is lost.

This is why I thought that a way for employees to blog their findings into posterity would be a good solution to this problem. The first post to explain why an HTML block-level element’s height is not affected by the height of a floating child block-level element unless it is itself also floated would thankfully save the other developers the time to make experiments (the shoot-in-the-dark kind) and google for a solution.

The blogs would be appropriately aggregated, tagged and indexed, and everybody would get a continuous stream of new things to learn, and an ever expanding knowledge base to dig into. Pretty neat, isn’t it?

When I approached the direction with this idea, however, it got rather quickly turned down for one simple reason: employees would never get to put content online, they would see it more as a burden than anything else — blogs would not fit into the company’s present culture.

Actually, given said culture in this company, I think that’s a rather valid argument. One to which the direction added that it would be nice that some day, this culture would have changed enough that such a project could become a reality.

I am not so sure however, that cultural changes inside a company happen all by themselves, while wishing for them to happen. I think that people have a natural tendency to resist change and as such, efforts of some kind are necessary in order to bring such changes about.

So wishing luck to this project for some distant future is a bit disappointing. It is also some kind of assurance that the current state of affairs will stay as it is for quite some time, if you ask me. Or maybe we are just too small a group to ever hope get enough writing-inclined people to post blog material.

Anyhow, no company-endorsed blog for now, but I still think disseminating knowledge is a good thing, so I decided to do this on my own.

We all are reinventing the wheel over and over, so if I can help somebody find an answer more quickly by having it recorded here, I’ll be happy about having offered this contribution.

So… drum roll… This blog is open!