About John Roling

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We’re the subject of an IBM Whitepaper

We’re the subject of an IBM Whitepaper

It’s been a long time in the making, but myself and the company I work for are the subject of an IBM Whitepaper: IBM Notes and Domino Applications: A Road Map for Modernization using IBM XPages.  I’d like to thank John Head and PSC Group for their work on this whitepaper as well, and thanks to IBM for getting us involved.

Lastly, I’d like to thank my development team at work.  They are some of the best in the business, and their hard work is what drives us.  It’s easy to look good when you have an excellent team.  Thank You.

Resolute 2015 – This time it’s Personal!

Resolute 2015 – This time it’s Personal!

Alright.  Since I failed so miserably at last years resolutions, I’m going to really try to focus on these this year and make them a reality.

  • Get Healthier.  I just added a standing desk at work, so that will help.  I think I’ll cut back on cigars some and replace them with vaping instead.  I’ll eat a little less, eat a little healthier and when a certain health conscious watch comes out this year, I’ll probably integrate that into my routine.  I looked at my weight chart for the past two years and 2013-2014 really let me down from where I was in 2012 when I was at my best in years.  I’m going to do little things all around and hopefully that will help. 
  • Do more with my photography.  No, really.  I want to go through my catalog and tag metadata correctly, import my iPhoto library into Lightroom, and whack a bunch of pictures that just suck.  I’m not going to promise I’ll take more photos, but I’ll try.  I have an excellent camera on me at all times, I really should make use of it. 
  • Write more again.  Whether it’s a music review, internal marketing of our IT team at work, hardware reviews, my musings on the world, or tips and tricks in the IT space, I want to do more long form stuff.  I do quite a bit on Twitter and Facebook, but I need to not let my longer form writing skills languish like they have been. 
  • Learn.  I don’t care if it’s learning more about software, hardware, cigars, photography, vaping, managing or creating music.  I need to learn new things and make it a priority. 
  • Work/Life Balance.  This has been a staple here in my resolutions, but it’s really the most important thing to me.  I need to make sure that work doesn’t consume me and make me ever place my family on the back burner. I’ve focused on it over the last few years and I will continue to do so. 
  • Be kind. 2014 had a lot of very unkind things in the world.  I’m just going to do my best to be nicer and kinder in all of my dealings.  If we all do, maybe the world gets just a little bit better.

I think that’s where I’m going to leave it this year.  Here’s wishing you all an exemplary 2015.

The 2014 Greyhawk Recap

Okay, I completely sucked on my resolutions this past year.  Lose Weight?  HA!  Have fun with photography?  Nope.  Learn More? Not enough.  Put some reviews on the blog?  Two.

Did I keep a good work/life balance?  There I think I did pretty well.  I didn’t let work consume me to the point where I would sacrifice the family.  And since that was really the most important resolution, I think things went well.

So 2014 in general for ME was okay, even though I didn’t do anything resolution wise.  However 2014 sucked for humanity in general.

  • A friend of mind and a brilliant mind committed suicide.
  • One of my childhood icons committed suicide.
  • Gamergate raised a level of misogyny online that made me embarrassed to be called a gamer
  • The Israeli/Palestinian conflict caused immeasurable suffering
  • Ferguson Missouri, NYC, Ohio and more proved that it’s hard to get rid of bad cops, and that race is still a very big issue in America
  • Execution of police officers in NYC in retaliation for the above just answered injustice with murder.

All of these horrible things made 2014 one of the worst years in recent memory.  I’m glad for it to be over, and for the world to heal a little.  Be kind to one another everyone.  Let’s pledge to do better in 2015.

REVIEW: Ed Sheeran in concert

REVIEW: Ed Sheeran in concert

A couple of years ago, I heard a song by a new artist out of England named Ed Sheeran.  That song was Lego House, and I was instantly hooked.  I love a good singer/songwriter and after delving into his album I really loved his style.  He plays acoustic guitar, can sing wonderfully and can really flow with his lyrics if he wants to.  So much so that a couple of his songs can even be considered hip/hop in nature.

When I was getting into the album, I brought my wife out onto the deck one late night and made her slow dance with me to the song “Kiss Me.”  That got my wife listening.  A little later I introduced my eldest daughter to some songs and she fell completely in love with Ed.

She has his poster on the wall, can recite every lyric at will, wanted to play guitar because of him, and even learned “I See Fire,” Ed’s song from the Hobbit soundtrack, to play in her band.

Because the other three of us in the house listened so much, the youngest jumped on board as well.  And even though she’s not AS big of a fan as the rest of us, she still really likes what he does.

Anyway, long story short, last April tickets went on sale for Ed to play here in Chicago.  I ponied up the money for the whole family to go.  This was going to be the first arena concert for the girls.  We never told the girls we were going, we simply drove to the venue a couple nights ago and surprised them.  It was awesome to see their reaction.

We were second level but near the front and could see directly down on the stage, so they were good seats.  There wasn’t THAT much to see however, as Ed did the entire show without any stage setup or backing band.

That’s right, it was him, some floor monitors, two microphones, his looping equipment and a steady stream of acoustic guitars.  He had ONE roadie, his guitar tech who would bring him a new guitar pretty much every song.

Okay, so how does one pull this off?  Standing alone to a packed arena, with only an acoustic guitar?  Well simply, the man is pretty much a genius.  He uses looping pedals to record various bits of the song in real time.  So guitar riffs, percussion (by banging on the guitar and strings) and harmony background vocals (sometimes 4 part.)

So what happens, is that for every song, he’s the producer and all of the music as well as the singer and guitarist.  And he does it so deftly that it’s hard to believe how well it comes off.  And in some songs he creates a wall of sound so powerful that he can simply lay down the guitar, stand on monitor and belt out the lead vocals.

He had some large displays behind him that would show artwork, or pictures, or camera angles of him singing, and there were a couple lights, but there wasn’t much else.  No giant laser show, no pyro, no giant stage to run around.  It was just him, and he held the audience in the palm of his hand for an hour and 45 minutes.

Besides that being an amazing feat in and of itself, I started thinking about it.   He didn’t have to pay a band.  He didn’t have to pay a huge bunch of roadies.  He didn’t have to buy all the staging equipment.  At $60 or more a ticket, he is making a TON of money on this tour.  From a business perspective, being able to pull this off, a one man show in sold-out arenas, is just incredible.  It shows just how talented he is.

We bought my eldest a sweatshirt ($65 by the way) from the tour and it had his birthplace and EST. 1991.  Yup, the kid was born in 1991 and is 23 damn years old.  TO be that talented and savvy at that age is incredible.  I think we’ll be hearing from him for a very long time to come.

If you have a chance to see him, do, you won’t regret it.

BoxWorks 2014 Recap

BoxWorks iPhone AppAs a person who has worked for a long time in the IBM Software space, I’ve been to a ton of IBM conferences. This past week, I decided to get out of my comfort zone and go to BoxWorks, the conference for box.com.

For those unfamiliar, box.com is a cloud-based secure enterprise file sharing and collaboration service. It’s a new hip company that’s been kind of an analyst darling as of late. I brought it into our organization a couple years ago now, and usage has grown quicker than anything else I’ve ever worked with. My rep has been bugging me to go to the conference for the last couple years, so I finally said yes and made the trip along with 5800 others to Moscone Center in San Francisco.

Out of the gate BoxWorks felt very techie. I walked in the door and was pointed to a bank of iPads. I entered my email address and they printed my badge on-demand. I was just handed the badge and lanyard. It included a very brief printed schedule and $100 worth of credit in the Box store.

I really liked not being given a bag that I may or may not use. I was able to go to the store and choose from hats, shirts, bluetooth speakers, chargers, books, mugs and pens. It was a nice way to get some swag, but to choose exactly what I wanted. It was different and nice touch.

The schedule was unnecessary because the BoxWorks app was so good. It let you choose your schedule, get push notifications to remind you when sessions were about to start, it gave you info on each speaker, sponsor and more. They did the app right and I lived in it the whole show.

The opening keynote brought CEO and co-founder Aaron Levie on stage. He’s a young, goofy, charismatic leader of the company. He wore a suit, with bright blue tennis shoes and socks with the clouds from Mario Brothers on them. Being a cloud company, it was a funny touch.

The thing that really stood out, is that you know this company is his baby. And he’s passionate about his baby. It’s not like the IBM cycle of putting an executive in “Lotus” purgatory for a couple years before they move them on. Don’t get me wrong, IBM Social Software has had some great leaders over the years, but that post was never a destination for any of them, it was a stepping stone along the way. I think it’s a completely different animal when you have a leader that is so deeply engaged.

He did a great job interviewing Jeffrey Katzenberg of DreamWorks and then academy award winning Jared Leto of movies and music (30 Seconds to Mars) fame. Both claimed to use Box heavily and loved working with the company. Leto even let his Oscar travel through the audience so people up front could get selfies with it. Pretty cool move. I spoke to several folks who said Jared was truly a big fan, and had shown up to several events and even lunch at Box on occasion.

The theme of the interviews were about leading and being entrepreneurial. In fact those were the themes all week. Every single keynote touched on leadership, and with speakers like Andrew McAfee, Jim Collins and Jeff Weiner, they definitely knew what they were talking about. I always came away from those sessions inspired and ready for action. I thought that was an excellent tactic, and something you could tell that Box was really passionate about.

There were technical sessions as well, and those were also very good. That said, as a pointy-haired boss, I connected more with the leadership messages along the way.

Now even though box.com is a huge silicone valley darling right now and I love the product, their new announcements were a tad funny to me. They announced a workflow engine for document routing and approval, and they also announced enhanced metadata.

The metadata were nothing more than forms with drop downs like Notes has had for two decades. And well, workflow was something we’ve done with Notes since its inception too. That said, the crowd loved them. It was like they were the best features ever created. It was, for someone like me, really bizarre.

Here’s the thing though. We’ve known forever how great using forms and workflow is. And box.com is not going to do anything that much better than Notes. The difference is marketing, plain and simple. Box did one thing brilliantly in its secure file sharing and is now adding things to enhance the experience. And they tout each advance, and show how useful it is. You see articles about box.com everywhere, and advertising where it makes sense. And they integrate with everything they possibly can. They play nice. Hell, there’s even a box.com widget for Connections.

They also have salespeople who actively sell it rather than alternatives, but that’s a whole other blog post.

Anyway, what is old is new again. And it makes me wonder what could have been, or what could still be if IBM really put some muscle behind Notes and Domino. But they haven’t, and they won’t, and that’s definitely sad.

It was definitely cool to see how a hip young startup does a conference, and IBM could certainly learn a thing or two. BoxWorks might be on my agenda every year. We’ll see.

Farewell Robin Williams

Three months ago I said farewell to my friend Tim Tripcony.  Tim was a kind gentle genius, who felt that he needed to leave us far too soon.  This past week, I learned that a childhood idol of mine, Robin Williams, felt he had to do the same.

It’s a horrible feeling to write back to back posts about people who felt they had no other option to combat the darkness they carried with them.  Depression is a very real disease, and I’m thankful that I’ve never felt that level of despair.  For my friends that do occasionally fight this disease, please know there are people out there like myself that care, and will be there for you.

Now, onto Robin Williams.  Robin was a stand-up comedian and actor whom I adored growing up.  When I was a young kid, I was introduced to Robin as Mork on the TV show Mork & Mindy.  Then (when I was probably a little too young) I fell in love with his stand-up.  He was such a funny comedian.  I remember laughing so hard I cried during his routines.

When he was on talk shows, there was this manic energy that emanated from him.  He could ad-lib, improvise, and make anything funny.  And he was ALWAYS like that.  That’s why you were drawn to him, he was uplifting and funny.  He had a comeback for everything.  I loved that about him.  I wanted to be him, wanted to always have that comeback, and always try to be funny.

Then there were the funny movies like Mrs. Doubtfire, Good Morning Vietnam, The Birdcage and even Aladdin.  Then you had his serious side, like Good Will Hunting, One Hour Photo, and one of my favorite movies of all time, Dead Poets Society.  Dead Poets Society also made me cry.

For someone who was so funny, to be able to be so uplifting, touching and inspirational in their serious acting was something that was so impressive to me.  I admired that skill, and wanted to emulate it.

In my Junior year of high school I was president of both the Speech and Drama clubs.  For Speech that year, I did two things.  Improvisational Acting, and Dramatic Acting.  On the Drama side, I did a compiled monologue from the Vietnam war play Tracers by John DiFusco.  I took on the personas of soldiers and it was dark and sad and I made myself break down into tears while performing it.

For Improv, we drew two characters and a situation, and 30 minutes later we had to act out a scene we improvised.  I had a formula where the two characters were part of the same person with multiple personality disorder and they were suing each other for whatever the situation was.  I had stock characters of a drugged out Judge Wapner and others, but I always tried to made it the funniest most outlandish scene I could come up with.

So like Robin, I wanted to do it both.  I wanted to do the drama and the comedy.  I did, and made All State in both categories.  In fact, I was one of only 30 high school students in the entire state of Iowa to do so.

When we went to All State, my dramatic was first and it went well.  After all the actors had performed, you had judges who would critique you in person and give you pointers.  I got some great advice on the dramatic side.  Then it was time for improv.

I don’t remember what characters or situation I got, but whatever it was I went for it.  I left everything on that stage and I remember getting an incredible reaction from the crowd and judges and I couldn’t have been happier.  Or so I thought.

After everyone else had gone, it was time for our critiques.  A couple folks went first and got the standard fare.  Then it was time for me to stand up.  When I did so the first judge started laughing.  I hadn’t been on stage for 15 minutes at that point, but he looked at me and laughed.  

After a bit he stopped and said “You remind me of Robin Williams.”  I don’t remember what he said after that, because quite frankly, that was the highest compliment anyone had ever given me.  To laugh and compare me to my idol was something special, and something I’ll always remember.

So this past week, we lost another person who shaped my world view.  I’ll miss his humor, and I’ll miss his tenderness.

“No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world.”

Indeed, thank you Oh Captain My Captain.

Farewell Tim Tripcony

My friend Tim Tripcony passed away this weekend.  As many others have said, he was a kind, caring soul who always gave of himself, and it’s a tragedy that he is no longer with us.

Since hearing the news, I’ve been haunted by something he said to me one time.   One night after too many drinks at Kimono’s or some other Lotusphere party, we were talking and he no-so-jokingly said that he always felt “like he didn’t fit in.”  When I asked “Where?” his answer was “Anywhere.”  It lead us to a long talk about being an awkward introvert, and I explained to him that he very much fit in within our community, and our group of friends, and that he would always fit in with me. I was proud to call him my friend.

The thing that saddens me so much, is that he never got to see the outpouring of love that came from this community this week.  There were tributes and blog posts and tragic tweets of disbelief from all over the globe.  I’m in no way exaggerating when I say that Tim was universally loved, respected, and looked up to by a great many people.  Myself included.  I really wish he could have been able to appreciate that before he departed this world.  I’m sure it would have made him smile.

So I ask you, for those friends of yours around the globe you care about.  Let them know a little more often.  Check in and say Hi out of the blue.  I’ve done a lot of texting and emailing this week doing just that.  Chances are, if you read this blog, I call you a friend.  And I love a great many of you.

So in a few minutes, I’m going to mix up a white russian, and connect to a Google Hangout celebrating his life.  I’ve posted the video to Warren Zevon’s “Keep Me in Your Heart for Awhile.”  Tim always kind of reminded me of a redheaded Warren Zevon for some reason (check out the resemblance in the black and white footage of Warren playing the piano) and this song, while it almost always makes me cry, is a perfect sendoff.

Farewell Tim, I’ll definitely keep you in my heart for awhile.

Create the infamous Pretzel Cookie at Home!

Lotusphere Pretzel Cookie

Lotusphere Pretzel Cookie

Alrighty, my awesome wife found a recipe at cookiesandcups.com that emulates the taste of the infamous Lotusphere Pretzel Cookie almost perfectly.  It requires the following:


  • 1 cup butter, melted and browned
  • 1 1/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 2 eggs + 1 yolk
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 1/4 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 cups crushed pretzels
  • 2 cups chocolate chips

How to Make

  1. Preheat oven to 350°
  2. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, set aside.
  3. In a medium saucepan melt 1 cup butter over medium-low heat. When butter is melted continue to cook, swirling butter constantly until it becomes a golden brown color. Remove from heat and allow to cool for 10 minutes.
  4. In bowl of stand mixer mix butter and sugar together until combined. Add in eggs, extra yolk and vanilla. Mix until smooth.
  5. Add in baking soda, salt and flour. Mix on low until incorporated, then mix in crushed pretzels.
  6. Finally stir in chocolate chips.
  7. Using a large cookie scoop, drop dough on baking sheet about 2 inches apart, baking until just golden at the edges, about 8-10 minutes. Centers might not seem done yet, but remove the cookies and allow them to cool for 3-4 minutes on baking sheet before transferring to a wire rack to finish cooling.

I hearby declare my love for Shelly over at cookiesandcups.com.  If you want to see everything step by step, it can be found here.  My wife made them as shown in the tutorial, and the taste is perfect.  The size of the cookie is still off though, so we will have to experiment with that to get an exact duplicate.  That said, they taste the part, so I’m not sure they have to look the part at all :-)

Some other beginning’s end…

Some other beginning’s end…

I spent the past week at a conference in Orlando Florida like I have fifteen times prior.  IBM Connect (Lotusphere until last year) is an IT conference that focuses on IBM software and technologies.  It’s been a place where I’ve networked, met lifelong friends, learned all about the software that manages our business, engaged with IBM and had some fun along the way.

I think this might be the last time I’ll make the trip.

Don’t get me wrong, I thought the conference was great this year for the most part.  Having a host (Jay Baer) run the keynotes helped keep things moving.  Online a-lister Veronica Belmont hosted a bunch of events in the social cafe, and that was excellent as well.  American Authors opened the show and rocked the house, Seth Meyers shared some laughs with us, and Scott Adams of Dilbert fame gave a great session as well.  It wrapped up with a really inspiring session from NASA’s Dave Lavery and how the Mars Curiosity Rover came to be.

All of those things were awesome, but didn’t really speak to my business needs.

The opening general session showed a fake bank increase its fake profits with its fake website.  And while for a demo that’s fine, I would have really liked to have seen something demoed from an actual customer.  Call me crazy, but nothing ever works as well as the pie in the sky demos.  Seeing real world use would have made me happier.

And you could tell the old time Notes and Domino crowd hungered for something more tangible.  Hell, when the loudest cheers came for the brief time Ron Sebastian graced the screen, I don’t think that bodes well for your demo.

Next was yet another re-branding.  We’ve been through this before, and I don’t have a huge problem with it, but I really wish IBM would pick an angle and stick with it.  Changing Sametime’s name back in the day worked out so well, why don’t we try it again?  So it will be Connections Chat, Connections Meetings, Connections Mail… and will Connections be Connections Connections?  Is there a Connections Notes?  A Connections Domino?  It wasn’t as clear as it needed to be, and I bet downloading software from Partnerworld will now be so much easier right?  Right?

Next, let’s get to the technical tracks.  I saw a lot of really great stuff, and two of my team presented this year.  That said, my staff could really teach a lot of the XPages classes themselves, so I’m not sure those help us that much when considering paying again for another year.  I know I’m blessed with a particularly excellent team, so other companies probably get a lot more out of those classes.

In past years, almost every timeslot required a decision as to what session to attend.  Sometimes you could find three or four you wanted to see.  It was much easier last year to choose slots, and this year it was particularly trivial.  Other than a few minor exceptions I only had one session that would really stand out to me.  In fact there were several timeslots that didn’t require my attention at all.  I’m just afraid that the technical classes will continue to dwindle, and the HR, marketing and other Kenexa type stuff will slowly take over.  I could be wrong, but I doubt it.

One of the reasons I doubt it were rumors of long time folks responsible for the show stepping aside after this year.  I also spoke to several speakers who said they were done as well.  And these weren’t small name draws either.  People whose sessions you may have attended for years might not make the trip next year.  I just expect that after this year, there will be a precipitous drop off in the amount of things I want to see.

And you know what, that’s okay.  Things change over time, and I’m not really that upset.  Maybe it’s me growing up, the hair getting pointier, or simply getting old.  But I had a great week, and it seems like a great time to move on.

It’s not that we are moving on from IBM Technologies.  Far from it.  We just put in Connections, and will look to roll that out by mid-summer.  We already have Sametime 9 (Er, Connections Chat) in place.  Our business runs on XPages apps on Domino.  All of our mobile devices connect via Traveler.  I’m really interested in the new IBM Connections mail that was shown off (as soon as it’s available on premises.)  So we’re still very much an IBM shop, and that’s not likely to change any time soon.

All in all, I felt that is was a very nice IBM Connect.  I learned a lot, was entertained and got to hang out with people who are genuinely like family to me.  I love this community of people and always will, but the community isn’t tied to one event, or one location, or one week throughout the year.  These friendships will survive whether or not we all migrate to Orlando once a year.  With all the good memories I’ve had of this conference, I’m going out on a high note, and these sixteen years will always be an awesome memory.

Like Semisonic says “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.


*I completely reserve the right to change my mind and go again next year, but I don’t think I will :-)

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