Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Obstacles (remove them, set them aside or climb over them)

When you are in business for a little while you are bound to come across obstacles.  The truth of the matter is that there are tons of them.  Some I have found are self-imposed.  If I manage my time poorly I have a problem.  Many of course have to do with money, and rarely that there is too much of it (although I have heard that too much money can be a problem as well and I would like to test that theory).  Some come from outside. 

I have an outside obstacle right now.  I am the only employee of my nice little computer consulting business.  I have great customers that are easy to work with.  Right now I am the sole wage earner in my family.  And about two weeks ago I got a Jury Summons.

I believe in the right and responsibility for citizens to participate on juries.  However I have attempted to get out of that responsibility because it would create a hardship for my business and therefore my family if I were to loose valuable days of business while sitting on a jury.  Unfortunately I can't really pick when a computer crashes or when my customers will have some other emergency.  There isn't anybody I can pass the work off to in my absence.  As well I don't have an employer who will continue to pay my salary while I sit on a jury.  I read the notice I got and it says if it would create a hardship for you that you can request to be excused.  I did.

I got back a letter a few days later saying my request had been denied.  I sent another email trying to explain the hardship in a little more detail and it fell on deaf ears.  The person in charge of this matter for the King County Superior Court seems to feel I am probably just making it all up and need to do my time.  I'm sure he has heard it all before and is therefore very callused to the arguments.  I'm not sure what his interpretation of hardship would be?  Maybe if you needed a triple-bypass surgery.  He says I should show up for 2 days and if I am called to a jury I can make my case to the judge.  I'm wondering why the courts would want to waste time (mine and theirs) by bringing reluctant jurors in and then excusing them because of the financial hardship it would cause? 

At this point all I can do is request a delay of one year.  Hopefully by that time I can make some arrangements that will allow me to serve without difficulty to my business.  If I don't get that delay granted then I feel sorry for the poor guys who's trial I sit in on because I will be ready to hang somebody.

Sometimes you can remove an obstacle, sometimes you can just step over it but sometimes like this time hopefully I can set it aside for a while.  Of course sometimes you have to just plow through it.  Maybe I'll write more on obstacles soon.  They come in many shapes and sizes and never at a good time. 

It helps to verbalize the pain.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Same ole, same ole

Busy day today many thoughts on my mind.  Many of them are way too complex so this one is pretty simple and straight forward. 

In business or in life there are habits that we develop.  They become part of our programming.  My family watched the movie "Click" this week and sometime life feels like we are on automatic, like in the movie.  We learn from our mistakes and then create patterns that we re-use in a similar situation.

This is a good thing for the most part however there is one question that has come to mind for me today...

If we do the same thing as before is it the reason for our success or is it that which holds us back from greater accomplishments?

The problem is we will never find out if we continue to do the same ole thing.  If you want to find out if there are greater things ahead you must RISK!  Risk can be terrifying.  You may fall flat on your ###, you know.  But I can also say there has never been a great accomplishment where somebody did not take a risk.  Mankind has been doing it for a long, long time and somehow we didn't blow ourselves up (well some have). 

Try it, the one thing guaranteed is you will get a different result.

The use of the word guarantee does not imply a contractual arrangement of any sort or any actual guarantee of different results.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Zune - will it sell? Society is the Key

The Zune was released yesterday Nov. 14 Wow.  I have read a number of things about the excitement around this device.  Of course a number of people don't seem to give it much chance of overtaking iPod.  Probably true!  At least not for a while.  So is Microsoft stupid to get into this market?  It's a huge market and with their power they can easily become number 2 in the field and that will mean a lot of money. 

Past that is there anything cool about this device?  The biggest one I can think of is the one they seem to be playing up themselves but others don't just seem to yawn at the thought.  The ability to share.  Big Deal?  Well, Microsoft introduces the concept with one simple word on the Zune site "Social".  That's it, that's why My Space and YouTube are such big hits.  The ability to socialize is powerful especially among teens.  And let's face it that the real market here isn't it?  If teens can walk into a room and identify the other devices, potentially see what others are listening to and share songs and pictures with each other you can't tell me that won't be powerful.  Love letters can be passed as a video clip from one person to another.  A prank can be pulled by sending an audio file to everyone in the room.  A guy can ask his girl to the prom by creating his own music video and beaming it over.  Like I say you can't tell me that won't be huge.

And let's talk about marketing.  So you are a band trying to get started.  You walk into a concert beam your music video to every Zune in the room and then enjoy the concert.  Same deal if you are selling Pepsi Cola.  Wow.  So teens could flip for it and Marketing companies could exploit it and...

Is there more?  You bet it has WiFi 802.11(b/g) which means the sky is the limit for what you want to do with them in the future. 

I predict iPod's are a little worried even though they are in a pretty cool lead.  Go ahead buy one today and catch the wave.  I'll be considering it.  Tell me I'm wrong.

Costs Again (but different)

So I was just doing some consulting for my church (website).  The church is Washington Cathedral in Redmond.  Here is the question that came up...somebody has a cool Laser printer that they will donate if we want it.  So do we want it?

Now as a non-profit this church has a much better position to analyze the numbers than most businesses.  In most business to purchase a Laser Printer you have to add the costs of buying the printer.  In our case here we don't ...the printer is free!  Cool huh?  So why not go for it. 

The main question to me in either case is do you need a Laser Printer?  You see all the analyzing that follows either supports or doesn't support that decision.  Could you use an Ink Jet printer?  If you want a Laser can you justify the cost.  An example I used was Coca-cola spends millions in advertising but no problem because it leads to billions in sales.  Millions sound like a lot until to realize what it buys you.

The costs on consumables (Ink, Paper) and the costs of repairs differ.  The Ink Jet printer has ink cartridges for $50-$70 (both black and color) The printer itself can be as cheap as $100 at Costco or Amazon which comes with one set of cartridges.  $100 - $70 = $30 for the printer.  This is one of the reasons as a Network Admin I don't like to spend much time trying to figure out or fix Ink Jet Printers.  Why do it, the solution to the users problem is $30 not my high hourly fee.  Now the Laser printer has toner costs far above the price of Ink Cartridges and to get a good deal you buy a few of them at a time so you have a pretty big investment.  Laser printers are coming down in price and almost disposable but the fancier ones are a lot, maybe in the thousands.  In either case if you have $800-$1200 of toner sitting around you will probably want to fix your Laser printer when it goes down.  That can be expensive.

In my opinion at the church the best course of action is to decline the offer of the laser printer because the costs to operate in the first year would allow us to operate an Ink Jet printer for years and probably still buy a new one after a few years.  The costs are less total and the church could use color printing but doesn't really need Laser quality (the Laser printer is black only).  But that doesn't mean this is the best decision.  For example I had a Real Estate Agent customer who bought a very expensive Color Laser Printer years ago that would still be state-of-the-art today.  It made since for him because he printed very nice looking brochures for the properties he sells.  Not just these cheap flyers you see on the post in front of the house.  He sells multi-million dollar properties and does print quality brochures for them.  In fact he used to have these printed on 4-color presses.  That's expensive so he actually saved money and provided a quality job for his customer.  It made sense.

Don't think about technology with your emotions, have a reason the technology is needed and analyze the costs like an accountant.  Then the best part you get to decide whether to do it or not...Good Luck.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Carry a VoIP phone in your pocket

This phone is something.  I haven't used it yet mostly because I can't yet find a good justification to get one.  This is pretty cool though.  I have used Vonage for well over a year now.  I have 2 phone lines from them and I use a number of virtual phone numbers which allow me local numbers in Oregon and New Mexico as well as Washington where I live.  I have loved the service.  It sounds good and the additional features are really cool.  We get voicemail in our email I can make changes online to the service and the phone rings simultaneously on my cellphone.  What could be better?  Well if I could carry it in my pocket and plug in to any computer connected to high-speed Internet, that's what.  This little baby has all the features of my Vonage phone and I can also store other files on the flas drive portion of this device.  This thing is cool.  So let's see what can I do to justify it?  I'll come up with something.

 Added Later:  I had provided a link to Amazon with information about the V-Phone by Vonage but the graphic changed and I looked and can't find it on their site any more.  Maybe they sold out or discontinued. Any way I'm leaving it here to see if it comes back at some point???  Of course you can also click on this link and search for it yourself.  Sorry about that.


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Efficiency - lacking everywhere?

I read this post and the phrase "strange inability to find efficient solutions" kind of popped out at me.

Link to Ernie The Attorney: The lawyerly tendency to overbill

In Network Consulting this issue has come up for me as well.  I have even been guilty of it I suppose.  One problem in my field is it's always a moving target.  Another problem is if you are busy with work there really isn't much motivation to change or to come up with more efficient ways to do work.  Until of course you have been burned a couple of times.  If you have been in business for a while you realize that you must always come up with more efficient ways to do things, it is a (or should be) a constant process.  Of course this is one of those lessons often learned in hard ways. 

I suppose in the olde days of crafts and tradesmen (I even spelled old in and olde way) you could learn how to best do something from the master and that pretty much never changed.  Then along comes technology and changes everything.  Technology has been around long before computers but computer technology changes rapidly.  I have been trying to keep up on changes on the Internet for a bit now and it seems that new capabilities come out every week.  Within a couple of months a corporate procedure could change.  All companies must be pretty adaptable.

In technology we have for a long time been in the position that we have been able to change everyone else's environment but in truth not much changed in the way we could do things.  We still had to go to the office and sit at a keyboard and poke around for a while to figure out the problem.  That was inefficient but it was the only way to do it.  Updates didn't happen rapidly and you could subscribe to a new CD every few months or even once a year with changes and updates. 

Today I do most of my work from home, I have mentioned that before.  My customer says that I could even work in my underwear.  I wondered how he knew?  (Before you get creeped out don't worry I am actually in shorts and house shoes as well as a shirt.)  I can work on pretty sophisticated stuff from my laptop.  The really cool thing, efficiency wise, is I can often work on 2 different systems at the same time.  While I am browsing the Internet for a solution and maybe even listening to music digitally, viewing a video or talking to somebody on my phone, actually maybe through Skype.  It's all very cool. 

This for me has opened a whole new door.  Because I don't have to travel to my customers where I used to be able to see 2 or 3 customers a day I can know be on 10 systems a day easily.  Have a nice lunch with my wife, weight lift (which I'm getting ready to do when I finish this).  Life is good, but how does that change what I do?  For me I am trying to develop services where I am in constant contact with my customers and their systems.  I can actually keep their systems tuned up and avoid many of the problems that used to plague people.  Patches and updates come out weekly and often a few times a week.  This is a lot to keep up with.  You could just setup your computer to automatically update using Microsoft Update, the problem is the number of updates.  It is best to not do them constantly but at off hours and then there is the problem of being an administrator of your computer.  In a network environment I don't like to grant users administrator privileges (which is probably a separate post some day).  So they users often can't update.  There are network administrator solutions and I can oversee those from home for a reasonable price.  There are many things a person can do proactively to try to keep problems from happening and that is what I enjoy spending my time on. 

Hopefully I will always remember that there may be a more efficient way and will keep looking for them.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Wish you were here

When I recently met with Rick of J. Scott he said that he was jealous of the fact that I can do most of my work from home now.  I can login to servers and workstations of my customers as well as the websites I maintain.  I can download patches without having to put a CD in the drive and clean up most issues on a computer.  I can also write code and zip and email the result to my customers after they let me know over the phone what they need (I used Microsoft Access).  I pretty much don't have to go to the office of my customer at all.  In fact I have never been to one of my customers offices.  It is CJ Plumbing and is partially owned by Rick as a side hobby because he just doesn't have enough to do apparently.  He ordered a server and I picked it up from J. Scott and set it all up then delivered it back.  Rick then took the server into the offices of CJ's Plumbing and plugged it in and turned it on.  He also plugged the workstations in and got me some IP address info.  I then logged into the server from home and helped with workstations as needed.

It has all happened quite naturally over the last couple of years and sometimes I don't even think about how huge this is, or didn't until Rick said something.  I don't drive as much, hardly every have a work commute.  In the past I used to drive to one or two customers a day which could easily account for 2 hours of driving not to mention eating out at fast food restaurant and spending that money as well as spending my valuable health.  I have all that time back and now eat much healthier lunches and dinners at home.  If I need to work a little late not a huge problem I can still stay home with the kids if my wife needs to run an errand.

This is quite simply the future of the Internet.  You could say that it will keep people inside and they will never get any exercise.  I suppose that could happen but in my case the regular hours and being close to my weight equipment and healthy snacks has mean I get more exercise and my health has improved (so there).  This is not all that there is to the new wave.  Microsoft just released Internet Explorer 7 and it incorporates a Feed Reader.  I don't even have to browse much any more to get the information I desire.  It comes to me.  I also set up Google Alerts as well as Windows Live Alerts and those arrive from time to time in my Email.  So there again better time management.

More and more we will see information coming to us.  And not that useless information we call spam, but good stuff the stuff we need to see.  It's all going to be right there.

The funny thing was that I have thought over the course of the last few months how much I would like to be in Rick's place building houses, developing land and that sort of stuff... he does some pretty cool things.  After my visit though I realize that it would be fine so long as I can build the houses from my living room.  Not yet but some day.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Good Customer Visit

I sure got to have fun today.  It's always a pleasure to work with the customer I visited today.  Rick Neumann of J. Scott Construction.  (Website)  The time usually goes pretty well while I am there and we have a good time.  Rick is one of my favorite customers because even though he is SUPER busy running the construction company in which they build houses and commercial properties he takes the time to not only talk to me and find out what I think about things but he takes the time to try to learn about technology.

He has a real passion for computers and the networking.  You can also tell he has a passion for a lot of things and maybe even life itself.  Rick really seems to appreciate what I do for J. Scott and I have always believed that is because he knows more than the average customer about the technology.  He understands more specifically what it takes to fix a problem and therefore appreciates the solution.  Of course also because he invests some time to learn about the technology he also save me time by directing me specifically to the problem. By understanding and defining the problem not only does he save me time but he saves himself money.  Now of course maybe somebody like him shouldn't be spending time on tech stuff because he has a construction company to run, but you can't do much about your passions can you?

I became acquainted with J. Scott Construction and Rick because of Lona Hyatt.  Lona worked previously for another customer and then moved to become the CFO at J. Scott.  They developed a need for a network guy and as Lona and I had a great working relation previously she recommended me.  Lona was another great person to work with on the computers but of course at J. Scott she has Rick to do things and I often work with him.

It was a great day at a great customer and that is ALL because of great people.  Isn't every great experience in life?  It's not the place, or the stuff, or the's the people.