Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Windows Live Writer Beta

Ok, enough with the Beta software.  As I have started blogging now I became interested in this product.  I can't yet recommend it for the production environment as I haven't finished testing it.  Actually I just started testing it and this is my second entry using the tool.  But so far it is pretty cool and I haven't even played with adding the rich text stuff.  Looking forward to more playing and in a couple of weeks maybe it is something to look at.  For now just make yourself aware of it.

Things I like so far are:  being able to set up multiple blogs as I am trying to maintain more than one, and not having to login to them in order to write a post.  I also like being able to view the result as if I was looking at my blog without yet posting.  The spell check works more like my Word program (duh) which is nice since I previously lost a post trying to make my spell check work in Blogger.  I probably did something wrong but still frustrating.  I'll see how other things go, looking forward to easily inserting Tags such as technorati tags with the easy tool.  I played with doing that by hand and it's not the most fun I've ever had.  I'll see if this is better. 

I also added the Blog this add-in for it and used that to create this particular entry...Coool!

Link to Windows Live Writer Beta

Wednesday, October 18, 2006


A brief observation:

If you are completely and fully competent you will be destined to always do the job you at which you are skilled.

If you are completely incompetent you won’t have a job at all.

If you are semi-incompetent (or carefully plan your incompetence) you will be supported by more competent people and you can manage them.

(I would pick the last one)

Monday, October 16, 2006

Who is in control?

This is something that bugs me about technology…take that back it bugs me about people. Maybe at the core of it I’m bothered because it bugs me about me. Technology should be around to serve us. We created it for our own use and it should do exactly that. It should not determine how our lives or days go. This isn’t just hi-tech but some pretty simple stuff also. Some examples.

  1. A computer should not decide that you must look at and read email whenever they arrive at your Inbox.
  2. A computer should not determine when you go to a meeting or what you should do at that meeting, or for that matter what you should do any time of the day.
  3. A phone should not decide that it is time to answer a call.
  4. A TV should not decide when you can watch a show or movie or anything else you wish to watch on the device.

Question: Wouldn’t it be stupid if a car decided where you were to go?

This seems easy enough and yet many people seem to let the technology force them into situations.

Opinion: This isn’t a technology problem. People…I, let situations throughout the day guide what I do rather than sticking to the plan. The problem is sometimes there isn’t a plan so of course I don’t have an idea of what I should acomplish. But often I do have a plan and it is up to ME to make sure I stick to it. Truth is because I work with technology so much I don’t let it guide my day that much I use it to help me get the plan for the day accomplished. I see however many people who aren’t as comfortable with technology letting the technology guide the day. An old school example of this is the parents (not mine) who have to watch a show on TV when it is broadcast because they don’t know how to operate the VCR. I believe that in the future the concept of “broadcast” will go away. We will be able to pick what we want to watch when we want to watch it. That is so long as whoever comes up with content has created it yet. So I will watch episodes of my favorite show whenever I wish (without having to record it) with some limitations. For example I can watch episode 10 & 11 but 12 I have to wait for because it hasn’t yet been created…bummer.

My goal by the way is to help people take control of technology so that it will help them accomplish their goals and plans for the day. So I have technology mostly mastered but it’s other things that distract my day. Still it’s not their fault it’s my fault. Heavy!

Confession: Junk Mail and Phone solicitations don’t bother me (that much). The reason is because I can throw it away or refuse to answer the call (thanks to caller ID I know when I am getting a call I want to answer).

And further more I also don’t like when computers decide to crash, I mentioned this in my first post and will probably mention it again. I believe that I can take control of the technology and very much so limit when problems arrise if not eliminate them all together. However if I refuse to upgrade my software and my hardware I will most likely fall victim to the technology. That’s experience talking. I have experienced a greatly improved lifestyle by taking control of technology and other things. I have watched enough sci-fi movies and television shows to know that if we let technology take control it will rule us or maybe try to eliminate us. So the goal of getting control of technology and of other distractions really relates to getting control of time. And THAT is a powerful thing.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Breaking My Own Rules

Like a civilized society a civilized corporate network is based on the laws that exist and the enforcement of them. Very legalistic view I know but boy if your goal is actually uptime and not always being the hero by swooping in and recovering after the major crash then this philosophy sure seems to work. If only I had a police force or better yet my own military to enforce my rules…ok back to reality.

This week I found a reason to break my rule. First the reason is Internet Explorer 7 (IE7) The rule is that I don’t like to put Beta software onto production workstations. They leak memory usually and other things have problems. You see IE7 is not yet a released piece of software. It is so far along in the Beta process that it is called Release Candidate 1 (RC1). I have had it installed on a non-critical computer for a while now. It has done fine but I hadn’t thought of actually using the software yet.

The real problem: back a while ago I added MSN toolbar to my IE and loved the tab browsing and other features such as Phishing Filter, Pop-Up blocker and recently I have been playing with RSS feeds and Windows Live (live.com). So back a while ago I updated the toolbar and I started getting IE sessions lock up on me. It would happen mostly when I closed the session. It wouldn’t close and I got a blank page saying it was “about”. I couldn’t figure about what? So then I happened upon the LIVE toolbar. (figured it’s better than the dead toolbar apparently I was using and upgraded.) Now my sessions started locking if I clicked on a link that opened a new IE session it would sometimes lock up. Results varied. But basically I was having to go into Task Manager and nuke iexplore.exe a number of times a day. Sometimes every half hour. I contacted Microsoft they acknowledged the problem, said they were working on a permenant solution and gave me some tips that “had helped some users”. They didn’t help but I think eventually they did. I had to do a disk clean up of temp files and run a program to remove fragments left over from Windows Installation programs. So that clean up I think eventually helped but not immediately. I tested and still had the problem.

Now remember back to my test computer with IE7. I started thinking you know I have been running that computer for a while now and haven’t had any problem. So I began a more rigorous testing of that machine and felt good. I also found out that IE7 is likely to release this month. I decided not to wait. I cleaned up again and instead of re-installing the Live toolbar I installed IE7 RC1. I’ve been a few days now and the results are great. The odd thing is my computer has actually speed up in the process. Must be using memory more efficiently. I have all the features that I cared about from the previous toolbar, better improved tabbed browsing, and some enhanced search capabilites (I can pick and choose search engines on the fly there are many of them out there such as eBay, Amazon, Wikipedia, etc (I tried to find one for Encarta but haven’t yet, sad). So there you go Beta software actually performed better than released software. You know thinking about it I broke the rule before also I installed Miscrosoft Expressions – Graphic Designer and had upgraded a few times in their process. So far I have come to depend on that program.

I’ve broken the rules, and now it’s a good thing I don’t have a military because they would shoot me on the spot as a traitor.

Update: I had a customer install IE7 and after doing so lost connection to the Internet. On the other hand I thought I should try a couple more machines. I successfully installed on another of my computers and at a test computer at a customer setup similar to the one where it didn't work. So far all my tests have been successful so I'm not yet sure why the other one didn't work.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Get 'er Done

On days like today if you really want to have customers years or maybe even weeks from now you set everything else aside and focus on a project. Today I set aside the whole day so that I could make sure I got a couple important projects done for a customer. I made sure that everything was lined up so that I could make these things happen. I had a couple of things to get done on an database created in Microsoft Access. I didn't think they would be difficult, but I was determined to meet the deadline.

Sometimes the planets all line up and everything goes just right. The report changes were done within 2 hours. So now I had the rest of the day to figure out what to do. Well there is always something pressing to do but I took a few minutes to run an errand and get tea with one of my favorite projects...my wife. Life is good.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

What does it cost?

What does what cost? Exactly! Often people want to know what something is going to cost. I am learning how to deal with this question. Back in the early days I could deal with it by saying it costs what it costs. There was a lot of trust. Those were kind of the good old days. Now you don't get away with that as much. The whole computer things isn't so new any more. Used to be nobody knew how really to measure these projects that well. I read a number of documents in business magazines such as Forbes and Harvard Business Review. It seemed clear to me that there was not an easy way to measure not only the cost but the return on the cost (ROI for those of you Accountant types).

Now it's different. I still don't know if many people know how to measure the return on the expense but that doesn't matter. People have to control their costs no matter what, so they want to know, "what is it going to cost?" So you have to pick a number and hope that you can live with it later. Sometimes you can and sometimes you can't . The average is what you want to deal with. Of course the longer you are in the business you have a better idea what it will take to make a project happen. You pick a number and you can't add too much to it for difficulties that may arrise because the other people you may be bidding against may have a lower number. Which there is another cost...what does it cost to sit idle? Boy you don't want to start thinking about those costs.

The funny thing is that now it's not enough to know what it costs but you have to justify the expense. Of course to justify the expense and write up the appropriate backup and documentation to go along with an invoice takes a lot of extra time, and that is going to cost somebody. Hopefully not me because if I spend all my time writting backup documents I can't make much money doing actual work, or I have to do like the big guys and start raising my rates to allow for a little idle time. Of course if you do good work then you are too busy to spend all of your time doing that, or you have to hire somebody to do one or the other. Boy now there is another person around and that raises the costs. Now I will be like the big guys, I'll have employees and they will need more time for oversite. So now I have to spend time meeting with the customer, writting backup and managing employees. Oh yeah I'll probably have to spend time finding a good Health Insurance plan and figure out other benefits for my employees.

May sound like a complaint...no it's an adventure. It's business and that collection of businesses make the economy and it is sure fun to be a part of it. It's also nice to get away from it to go to a hotel somewhere walk up to the desk and say how much is a room?

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Deciding for my customer

Why would I do that? Ok sure there are times that it is tempting. This is a follow-up to managing my own services for the customer. As I said in that post there is definatly the need to take control of the account or there will be no control whatever. This is a slightly different situation, this one is about assumptions. There have been times (and one recently or I wouldn't be writing this) where the tone changes with a customer. The relationship becomes strained. I tend to assume I know the reason, and then I act on that assumption. In the past things began to go downhill from that point.

For me it seems to happen soon after I send a big invoice. By big I mean that it represents 1 or 2 months if my time. It means I completed a time consuming project and because I devoted so much time to it I don't have much money coming from any other source so now I need the cash (I don't necessarily but the people I owe want to be paid).

So now for some reason my customer takes a long time to pay. This makes everything stressful. This has happened a few times and usually ends the relationship. Here is what I'm doing different this time...nothing. I don't mean I am doing the same thing I have always done, I mean I'm doing nothing.

I have decided not to put words into my customers mouth. I am not going to decide for them. I am going to wait to hear it from them. I will let them do the talking. So I had to wait a while. Waiting...waiting, then I heard. It wasn't as bad as I had decided it was. In fact it isn't bad at all. There may be a future here. I still don't have any money yet but hopefully there will be for years to come. I don't know, that's my customer's decision.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006


Being in my own business for about 16 years now has been great. There have been many wonderful times. I’m sure that if I went on about them you would tune me out right away. So instead I’ll talk about one of my mistakes. Ok, so it’s difficult to zero in on just one but this is one that I have been coming up against recently. My business is a corporation. That’s nice but before that I was what we call a Sole Proprietor, a one-man shop-except of course that my wife works with me some. I do a few different things for customers including network administration and also I have written some custom software using MS Access. Here is the thing, in both of those areas I have believed that if I just did the best job I possibly could the customer would be happy and they would continue to want to use my services.

My Thinking - I should continue to do a good job and to research in my fields of interest and stay on top of the systems and result-the customer will be happy. In other words I need to mind my shop. The customer on the other hand is the best person to look after their own interests. They will make sure that they utilize me as a resource for their business. They know what their Business Plan is and their Mission Statement. They will make sure that I fit in with those and that the work I do is for the betterment of the company as a whole. They will also manage the amount of time and therefore money they use of my service to be in line with the financial interests of their business.

Reality Check! Ok so that isn’t how it turns out.

Why? Well I can’t say that I really know the answer to that question but the best I can think is that they are busy. The Executives of the company that are aware of those things such as the Business Plan and Cash Flow are busy. They don’t have time to manage me as a resource so they pass it down a level or two in their company and hope that those people can get it done. Well those people usually aren’t ready to write software specifications or deal with the implications to the company of one choice over another. They just want all their friends to be happy. So do I, but then somewhere down the line the Executives come in to review what has gone on. Amazing to me that this doesn’t happen on a monthly schedule, sometimes not even on a quarterly or oddly sometimes not even on a yearly schedule. But when they do they wonder why these certain things were done and why the heck did it all cost so much. They wonder why it isn’t making a bigger difference. Now there is a problem. My unrealistic goal is to hand invoices to customers that they are happy to pay. They are happy because it was small change compared to the wonderful effect it had on the business. Good one huh!!

So what is the answer? Right now I am under the assumption that I can’t do it all. It’s time to grow up and act like a real business. Ok this isn’t a new realization but a difficult one. It is not easy to grow from a one-person operation to a multi-person operation. But I have to. Some how- some day I have to. Because it is impossible to run around and administrate computer networks, write software and do the management of those things that the customers need so desperately. They don’t just need the work done they need somebody to manage the work being done. They aren’t going to do it they are just going to go from one consultant to the next until they find somebody that will do ALL the work for them. This isn’t a bad thing.

There are still a few problems that I haven’t quite figured out yet but I’m working on them. First The Cost, it’s going to cost more, that’s just the way it is. That is where my sales experience is going to come into play. Next how am I going to do the management for them and yet help them achieve their business goals according to their business plan? Don’t know. Another is how am I going to get some of the time of the Executives on a periodic basis so that I can make sure they are happy and that objectives are met. The answer for all this I fear is something I didn’t think I was ever going to have to do but appears to be essential. I believe the answer to all my problems actually is GOLF!

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The Network Administrator

I hope to begin to put down some of my thoughts about network/software administration and running a business in this blog (maybe even unrelated stuff that comes up). I tried to put down ideas on my company website before I became aware of the concept of blogs. I had heard about them for a while but being busy keeping networks running I didn't realize they were exactly what I was looking for...a way to write down some of my thoughts if for no other reason than that some day I can go back and read over them to remember how brilliant I was before I became so stupid. That's maybe a subject for a future post or maybe I should find a good therapist of some sort to help. I hope to come up with something to say often (even if it does turn out to just be for me) but there will no doubt be a shake-down period of this whole process. Maybe I'll get better as I go or maybe just become more stupid. Here goes...

I have a vision of how networks should run. In the process of running my own business there have been times when I scanned throught the job listings in newspapers and now of course throught the Internet (some days it's like that). Many of them describe network administration jobs as On-Call available 24-7. Popular phrase. I can't help but look at that and wonder what is wrong at that place? When I was younger (oh so long ago) I remember the excitement of having a computer/server crash, rolling up my sleeves and saying, "well it's going to be a late night". There were times I was on the phone with tech support people until 2AM. Finally the job was complete except that come 7AM people were going to return to the office and want to work. I hopped that the system would cooperate but just to make sure I went home got 4 hours sleep, got up, took a shower and was back in the office to make sure it was ok. I suppose some times that has to be done. And I have to admit it was a little exciting.

Even in college I was not into cramming for tests. I did not do well staying up late at night to study for a test the next day. I tried it a few times and it didn't work well for me. So I adopted a method of scheduling out my studies and I did them when they were scheduled. When pre-test night came I ate a good dinner (school cafeteria style) relaxed and got to bed early. That is only partially true. Sometimes I would go find a group of students cramming for the same test and see if I could have any fun with them, then I went to bed. Usually it worked out pretty well.

Why can't network administration work like that? I like to create a regular maintenance schedule and set policies, as well as develop hardware and software standards. In addition to that I like to spend my time developing training programs for the employees to teach or "empower" them to use the programs they have on their desk to do the job they need to get done. There are more things than that of course such as trying to tie the IT goals to the Corporate Business plan so that the IT department is not just a Zen type area for Computer Geeks but actually a place that supports the Mission of the company. Whoa!!! So for me Network Administration is less about computers and circuits and more about people. Double-Whoa!!!

Is that too much to ask? Seems so. I have yet to find many customers where that works. It works for a while and I have had good success, but then something changes. People want to do whatever they wish, don't have time for training and when it all comes crashing down just want you to "fix it" no matter how late you have to stay up. If you can't stay up (because you are no longer young) then somebody who can is brought in. It's how I see it. I believe there is a better way. Maybe some day I'll hire a bunch of young guys to stay up late instead of me (guys who liked cramming for tests in all-nighters) and every once in a while I'll go find them and see if I can have some fun with them.