Sunday, November 11, 2012
Consumers, I think we can all agree, are generally not specialists. A consumer does not care what makes a product work or how a product produces the results the operator is expecting. Normally we want push button, get result. A consumer knows what end result they want but how a product gets that result is unnecessary trouble.
And yet computing technology denies the consumer that simplicity. Oh, sure. Apple has made some good headway on this but you still need to know obscure things like SSID, PSK, service pack, OS versions, etc. For those of us working in the tech sector these are simple things but not for the consumer. Why isn't it simpler yet?
The most common question I get is, "what kind of smartphone should I get?" For the less technically savvy person my answer was often iPhone. Lately I've begun to answer, "whatever you like," as ease of use and interoperability become less of an issue (iTunes aside). But, fact is, I do not like this answer. I know that there are countless other factors that ought to be considered. I wish I could answer as confidently as the auto mechanic who says "I recommend the <car brand name>, <model name>. They're well-built and I've had few problems with them."
Technology needs to aspire to simplicity. It needs to progress from the domain of wizards to the compact sedans of the masses. Put gas in here, push this lever to go, this lever to stop, turn this to steer. We've come a long way. Now I call on all IT-types to get out of the way and let tech become simple.
Wednesday, October 31, 2012
I've switched from a binder full of dead trees to all iPad. I've been using it for the last couple of months and I've been very happy with the change. No more lugging the 8 inch binder full of charts around.
There's a few good apps out there for charts on iPad but the one I decided on is called Unrealbook by Aron Nelson. Its worked well for me and the features it offers are really great. Includes a few nice amenities like a metronome and a recorder. What really sets it apart for me is the annotation capabilities (different color highlighters and pens) and the integration with Dropbox.
I've been preparing for a CD release concert and I've been having some problems with the page turns while I play. Its one thing to sustain a note in a church service while you tap the screen to turn a page but when you're trying to duplicate what you did on a CD you don't always have the best charts and your turns come at the worst times it seems.
Enter the AirTurn BT-105!
The AirTurn is specifically the unit in the middle. Its a bluetooth device that presents itself as a keyboard to the iPad, has two inputs for switch pedals and a rechargeable lithium battery. The BT-105 comes with a nifty plastic base that ties the base unit together with two silent pedals.
Tapping the left pedal sends a page up key stroke to the iPad for a previous page while the right pedal gives a page down key for the next page.
After removing the BT-105 from its package and charging it up I paired it with the iPad and presto! Pages were turning as if by magic. I stood in the kitchen playing my parts on air guitar turning the pages using the pedals and it made me really excited to give this setup a try in a live setting. I'm not the most coordinated person so adding my feet into the mix might be more challenging than I'm prepared for. Even so, this looks like its going to be a handy tool to have!
Sunday, September 9, 2012
Just the other day my wife and I pulled the trigger on an iPad. Finally decided we could squeeze one into the budget. It wasn't a hard sell to her since it was another Apple product. She looks content sitting at her desk working with all her Apple devices surrounding her. But I digress...
One of the main reasons I wanted to take the iPad plunge was for use on stage. I'm a gigging musician and I have a lot of lead sheets to sort through; One group has an eight inch binder full of tunes. I was getting very tired of sorting all that music every week. I compared the sheet music apps on Android and iOS and found that the usefulness they had on Android was pretty lacking. As a long-time droid user that was disappointing.
The iPad has not been disappointing, however. I chose to try the app named UnrealBook by Aaron Nelson for my first attempt on stage. Scanned in my lead sheets for the next couple of weeks and gave it a shot this Sunday morning. It was a wonderful experience! The app performed perfectly and although it's takes a little getting used to the tapping to turn pages and hitting the little hot spot links you create for coda jumps and repeats it replaced my smaller three ring binder well.
UnrealBook allows you to annotate and highlight your music on-screen. You can create set lists and even grab music from a Dropbox account. One feature I haven't tried yet is the photo to sheet music function. I can see that coming in handy for rehearsal situations where there aren't enough copies for everyone or when there wasn't enough lead time to get music ready.
My scanner is going to be busy for a while, I think.
Friday, August 24, 2012
The FCC recently released a new map outlining the wired broadband coverage of the US. It shows many things those of us in rural areas already know. Coverage sucks.
I zoomed into the county I live in (Brown in MN) and see a lot of green. On the face of it that is pretty good! Residents can subscribe to DSL in much of our area. Two problems though:
1) The DSL available is slow and expensive
2) Business class service is non existent.
If you need an MPLS connection between towns in our area I wish you good luck. Oh, you can get them but you're going to be bonding T1's until the cows come home. And a T1 ain't cheap. I've heard worse from other areas of the US (>$1k in some places), but it is still crazy expensive when you consider how much bandwidth it takes to run a business network today. 3-6Mb is pretty restricting.
I've done the math on connection costs and I'm wishing I knew someone in the fiber install business. Looking at what T1's cost over 5 years is a lot of cash. I wonder how far out the return is on running my own lines. If nothing else, 50km wireless equipment is very inexpensive these days...and I know I've got line of sight between at least one town.
Rural MN economic development will continue to stagnate with telecommunications as they continue to be. It's time for businesses to band together and do something about it.
Sunday, July 8, 2012
One week into my injury and expecting surgery soon to repair my arm and I still haven't seen any costs or estimates. This is pretty striking to me. Its seems so strange to me that no one consults with the consumer about the cost of the care.
Take your car in to the mechanic and you'll practically get a play-by-play about the work needed and how much it will cost. The consumer is consulted constantly along the way. Not so with medical procedures and practice. Whatever the doctor thinks you need is what you get.
When I saw the general practice doctor he gave me a diagnosis and then referred me to a specialist. At the end of my visit he said "I know the specialist will want to do and MRI or X-ray but I won't send you in for them without knowing what they want." A few days later with the specialist, she asked what tests the GP had done. When I responded that no tests had been done she replied "That was kind of him. He saved you some money."
That's when it struck me: in medicine I am NOT the consumer. I am part of the product. A strange sort of product since I am also paying for the service indirectly.
Reforming the insurance industry is probably a start to fixing some of the problems in health care. Until patients are the consumers again and medical practice is put in a position to deal with patients directly for making care and treatment choices all the insurance reform in the world is pointless.
Thursday, June 28, 2012
Now, here comes my sales pitch.
Dear IT workers of the US: Please do a stint in public sector at some point in your career!! Look specifically for jobs in local government!
If you want to have the most sizable impact possible on an industry and have the opportunity to start from scratch in an underdeveloped field you have an amazing chance in local government. There are counties and cities nation-wide that are so far behind the rest of the world that words like "typewriter", "minicomputer", "dial-up concentrator" are still used in the present tense. These are places with so much IT low-hanging fruit that you just cannot imagine.
The difference IT can make in local government is profound. I've seen it and, with all humility, have had the chance to participate in making that difference I think. This is an industry just begging for a talent infusion. As the IT world continues to forge ahead there is a skills gap growing in local government where the right people would make a huge difference.
The problem with local gov't is that the pay isn't so great and locations often leave something to be desired (in some peoples' opinion). On the other hand, benefits are often decent/good, time off can be generous, and the gratitude is deep.
You will meet people incredibly dedicated to their job and the people they serve. There will be a surprising mix of problems for IT solve from mundane and easy to insanely difficult. If you are a driven individual with some motivation you will never be bored. Frustrated at times, yes. Bored? Very rarely.
Look at it this way: Local gov't is a chance to serve your country in a way. The sacrifice is a lower paycheck. The pay back is getting the chance to serve the people in your community and make a difference at a level of government where the rubber really meets the road.
You will never regret the difference you'll have made. I know I won't!
Tuesday, June 19, 2012
Myself? I want a vacation from job and people to get a chance to use my electronics for what I want. Not for doing my job, not for fixing someone else's problem, not even for communications (maybe). I want a chance to play a video game. Do some reading. Build or create something.
Sunday, June 10, 2012
I think it was only natural to find myself thinking about legacy and how the time we spend working leaves a lasting impact. Watching the family business being liquidated has that effect.
We IT and technology types work in a very short-lived universe. I've been doing this as a career for eleven years myself. I can almost guarantee that none of the systems I installed at the beginning of my career are still in use. How about you? What kind of longevity has the work you've done in your career had?
A farm has a very obvious legacy. There's many assets: equipment, a building site, real estate. There's also the impact on the people who've grown up and worked there. Work ethic, a wider perspective about our food, deep appreciation for the cycle of life just to name a few.
So what is the IT legacy? When it comes down to the end of it all, what can an IT worker say she/he has accomplished and has a lasting impact? When your grandkids ask you what have you done what will you be able to point out?
Sure, we have an impact on the business, the processes, the systems. However, the lasting impact is on the people we and our technology serve. We tend to interact with people most often at the worst part of their day, especially if you are in any sort of tech support. The people we help are unhappy, often angry, frustrated, even scared. At that point we have the chance to touch a person's life, to improve it. There is the possibility to care for and nurture the people around us through our support of technology.
I'll be telling my grandkids about the crazy things people needed help with. How to deal with and help people when they're bent out of shape and scared for their jobs. Most importantly that confidence, kindness, and understanding in difficult situations will leave a deep impact on people for the better.
Technology for its own sake is pretty pointless. Technology for improving our lives and the lives around us, now that is where the good stuff starts to happen!
Tuesday, May 15, 2012
A user emailed me this morning to let me know a payment submission worked. She had tried most of the day before to submit this payment request to a cloud service and couldn't get it to go through. First question she asked me when she called for help the day before: "Did you make any firewall changes?"
Now that's a fair question, I hadn't, but it made me realize something when I thought about my response. "Try it again tomorrow. Let me know if it works or not." She tried it the next day and, presto! It worked. The service she had to work with is notorious for unscheduled downtime with no forewarning so I had suspected this was another one of those cases.
I predict that we IT types will be telling our users more and more to "try it again tomorrow". Especially in public sector. Many of our services are without contracts or SLA's. They are provided by a higher level of Gov't that is the actual holder of the contract or SLA. The service providers themselves are not beholden to the lower levels of local government so we get what we get.
In the cloudy future IT will need to get better at helping users understand that neither IT nor the user has much control over cloud services. IT will, however, still get the blame when things don't work. Users don't (and to some extent shouldn't have to) distinguish between what is internal and what is external. Users will need to be educated and have their expectations set for how the technology is going to work for them as they use it in their tasks.
Most importantly, IT needs to learn some PR skills. "Try it again tomorrow" isn't a good answer. Our customers are used to us working magic and when we're made impotent by offsite services the customer's expectations don't change. The successful IT shops will be those that find creative ways to help users understand that services won't always be there and sometimes its out of everyone's control.
I like this idea: an intranet up and down chart for services. When something doesn't work, users can go to that chart to find if the service they rely on is up or down and who's responsibility it is. Sure would decrease many of the cranky calls to the helpdesk!
Tuesday, April 10, 2012
This specific user will ask me exactly this question at this time of year because its the one time she fires up this software/device/whatever.
This made me think crazy thoughts.
How about this solution - create an automated email knowledgebase where "Past" you emails "Present" you with the answer automagically.
Create a rule in your email software for whenever a specific person emails you during a specific time of year about the Widget2000 device. When that condition is met, email yourself the instructions for creating the magical comma-delimited flat file with the special format that makes it work.
Saves you the trouble of sifting through all your email archive to find the answer. Automated knowledgebase search in a way.
Or you could just invest in a reasonable knowledge repository software. But I think the automatic email knowledgebase sounds kinda cool.
Sunday, April 8, 2012
I finally had some time today to pause and realize there were thoughts and ideas in my head that I hadn't heard because of my hectic life lately. Problem is, though so many of them are blog-worthy and have enough merit to be fleshed out in more detail, I lose most of them quickly.
A few people I know keep notebooks on their person. In a way, I do as well with my smartphone. Unfortunately, using a smartphone in many contexts is frowned upon. Use your phone in church and everyone assumes you're surfing or texting. Take out a notebook and start writing and everyone assumes you're paying close attention. You might even get kudos for being "so attentive and taking notes."
So I think I'm going to give a notebook a try. No harm in that. Hopefully I'll find some things to write about.
Sunday, March 25, 2012
Recently a client asked me to help them buy a new laptop. I set them up with an HP ProBook 4530. I knew it was a nice unit but was really surprised when I got it on hand. There was a really neat design surprise.
First remove the battery
But then there's no obvious way in. But a quick push of the battery latches past the battery release point and surprise!
The entire bottom cover pops forward and lifts off. Nearly all the most frequently serviced parts were right there in the open: hard drive, memory, wireless nic, etc.
Very simple. It made me wish that this kind of design had been around 8 years ago when I was disassembling dozens of laptops each month.
Sunday, March 18, 2012
Many people think of service to county as something you do by joining a branch of the military or getting yourself elected to an office. Those are certainly worthy services but the opportunities are broader than that.
When I started out in IT I was working in a small sales and service shop. Fast paced, close contact with the customer, very service oriented. I learned first hand what customer service meant and how much my work impacted the people who paid for it.
Then I moved on to public sector. I discovered an organization that was purely service. The whole thing is dedicated to providing service to customers. This crystalized what service meant to me. It was a truly fascinating discovery. Up to that point, government had always seemed like a black box that created unneeded rules and forced people to pay for its existence.
A number of years later I am still in public sector despite dipping my toes in the private sector job search from time to time. I know that my private sector colleagues with similar experience and training make 50-75% more than me. Their organizations stay closer to the cutting edge of technology. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little envious. I continue in the work I do because I see that the service I provide is making a difference in the communities I live in. I am a service provider to the people who provide services to our constituents. It is some of the most rewarding work I have ever done.
Ms. Pahlka's talk gets to the heart of why I've stuck it out in public sector: this is an exciting time in government, especially at the local level. There are huge fundamental shifts happening right now and some amazing opportunities for change. The missing ingredient is YOU!
What we need is even more talented people to taking up the torch of service. I would love to see more young and creative technologists getting involved and solving the really cool problems waiting for solutions. Don't ignore the call to service. You can make a difference!
Friday, March 9, 2012
Our users were busting down our doors asking for tablets. They still don't know what a tablet is for but I can see some usefulness for some business cases. When it came to deciding whether to recommend a specific Android device or the iPad my recommendation to my boss was the Apple device.
Basically it comes down the the fact that Apple offers ONE device. There's no surprises. Just the exact same device with more storage or different networking options. It just works, its simple, and the ease of use is undeniable.
People have been giving Apple accolades for ages for the "it just works" design. I think the real advantage to the enterprise is the uniformity and predictability of the product. No need to support a fragmented product line that changes daily. An iPad is an iPad. Simple.
Plus, with virtualization and application streaming who cares that its an Apple. Its just a delivery platform in the end.
Friday, March 2, 2012
The diversity and variation in the people we have on Earth is amazing; We are a truly beautiful, strange species. I love it.
Thursday, February 23, 2012
Would medical providers please get their act together and give us a service catalog? Bob's post in the link above discusses the account management and billing on the back end of the service. I want something on the front end while services and treatments are being discussed and decided.
Here's what I want: A service menu with retail costs along with service description and how the service will be provided.
Nothing too complicated. The problem I have with the current procedure is that those of us with high deductible insurance plans (who can afford anything else these days?) have to manage our own costs to some extent. People without insurance have an even larger degree!
Not long ago my wife went to the doctor for an ailment. The doctor initially wanted to run a battery of tests after giving her a possible diagnosis. In the end, only a small subset of the tests requested were actually done and we promptly got a bill just under $1000. What would the cost have been if more tests had been performed? Because there is no service catalog we have no idea.
As a diagnostician myself I fully appreciate the necessity of tests to narrow the problem down to a few likely suspects. I don't suspect the doctors of running unnecessary tests. When the stakes are high you want to be sure of your diagnosis to protect your customer and yourself.
The real issue is that I cannot be a partner or good consumer in the medical process without knowing cost, test function, or test method.
I suspect that if my wife had known what all the tests were, what they tested for and how much they cost she could've talked with her doctor about what the best process for testing would've been. In the end we would've known upfront what to expect when we were billed.
We in the technology field have to provide this sort of information to our organizations. If we try to obfuscate the cost and anticipated results of projects we get called out quickly and the business units that depend on us get pretty frustrated that they are not equal partners in the process. I don't see how we can continue to let medical providers get away with treating us this way.
Tuesday, February 21, 2012
There, I've said it.
If we are to bring about the glorious future we must sever all ties with these cursed devices. Sure, there's a monetary benefit to ridding ourselves of printers and the reams of dead trees covered in toner. That's only part of the story.
Printers and paper represent employee indifference and organizational inertia. I've known employees that wouldn't walk down a short hallway to retrieve a print job to save money by using a cheaper printer. I've seen organizations that wouldn't embrace new methods for delivering their services for fear of losing their paper.
Trapped by expensive archaic mechanical monstrosities and dead plant cellulose. Worse yet, trapped and paying good money to stay in that situation.
Cut out paper and printers and you might find that all those MS Office licenses are no longer needed. Workflows that were merely for supporting paper become unnecessary. New methods for providing services to your customers aren't encumbered by prose and templates, network drives, and office workers. There is nothing to stop you from creating new mobile tools to use your data in the field to provide service. Better yet, your tools can deliver the service directly to customers.
It all starts with getting rid of printers.
Sunday, February 19, 2012
We've been revamping our web presence with many more great things to come in the future hopefully. One of the processes we go through every spring requires some notices and frequent updates of lists online. In the past this was all done manually with either IT or another department producing Word docs (in the past) or PDFs (since my arrival). Yes, every day, documents were re-generated and posted manually to the website. Its was every bit as tedious as it sounds.
We already had an application in-house that would have done most of this for us. For a variety of reasons it was never implemented and they were someone opposed to using it.
This month, as we spoke about how to streamline some of the things they're doing, the question arose - "How can we update this stuff daily without having to involve IT?" My answer was that we should use the application that integrates with their current project management software and posts it online in real-time.
The answer was a resounding "Let's try it!"
I tied up some loose ends on my part and they read up quickly on how to use the tool. In less than two weeks project documentation was successfully being posted online in real-time and they have complete control over the content.
Wow. For as much as there was unwillingness to use the tool before I was surprised they went for it. And we are using the tools we already owned to lessen the work. I wish this is always how it worked.
Sunday, February 12, 2012
Our routine for a Sunday service is to rehearse, set up in the sanctuary, then play through some of the more critical songs before people start to find their seats. After we got done with setup and the on-stage quick run-through today the son of a friend was asking about our music.
"You want to see an accordion, Connor?"
He pressed a couple keys while I explained how it worked. We made some crazy sounds with it.
This of course attracted even more kids. What shocked me is that none knew what an accordion was! What does not shock me is that nearly all the kids were interested in the music it could make.
Give a kid a chance to make music an they will. They're fascinated by instruments. They need to create and express themselves. Music is a language everyone has some capacity to communicate with.
We don't give kids enough chance to commune with music. In my perfect world every child would know what an accordion is. They wouldn't get to college not knowing how to attend a large ensemble performance (phones off, don't applaud between movements, and so on).
Eventually you'll have to stop playing football, but you'll always have music. We should be giving our kids the chance to create their music, not just pay to consume it. They're craving it.
Wednesday, February 8, 2012
This was a wonderfully liberating thing to hear. I have much the same problem and always assumed it was a personal flaw. It seems, though, it could be a common problem in IT particularly among folks in generalist type positions that have a lot of project styles tasks.
A typical day consists of a series of tasks to fulfill for ongoing projects. This would be great except for the plethora of interruptions.
The phone rings. Forgotten password.
Phone rings again. Unexpected error message.
Phone rings. How do I this task again?
Email arrives. Some horrible meltdown.
Instant message. No I can't try the solution you suggest. I demand that you come to my workstation and do it for me.
Every interrupt causes a the list pointer to be reset to the beginning. End of the day arrives and you're no further along in any project than when the day began.
Time management is a tough problem no matter how much experience you have in a career I think. I know that I have to work really hard to not resent the people looking for help. They just want stuff to work so they can too.
Its really about service. Make stuff work so the business works.
Friday, February 3, 2012
Listened to an employer lamenting their situation the other day. They were on their fourth posting for an IT job and were still having problems finding candidates. The person also mentioned that they had changed the job description a few times to try to attract more applications. Despite this there were few takers, let alone qualified ones.
While we listened another person leaned in from across the table and said, "Then why don't you offer more money?" Well, he could, but...
That's the problem there. So many organizations don't understand that unemployment in IT in the US is generally less than 1%. If you want qualified people you're going to need more than a nice job description and title. This is particularly true in public sector for a variety of reasons.
Apparently the CISO for Minnesota agrees with me to some extent.
While we're at it, maybe we should try to understand why qualified young workers are fleeing public employment in general (at least in Minnesota).
Friday, January 20, 2012
I recommend giving it a read.
Scott Fulton gets a lot things right in his analysis. It is true we're seeing a massive shift in how governmental agencies approach their compute strategies. With budgets shrinking into oblivion most agencies are forced to put everything on the table as they plan out their future. Until recently most application vendors in the public sector required dedicated hardware for their software. Getting a new app meant getting more hardware since vendors would not support their software in a consolidated environment. This was probably compounded by the fact that many application vendors were also trying to push their own hardware as part of the contract.
Now that most app vendors are comfortable with virtualized environments new strategies are becoming possible. This is a very Good Thing (tm).
Intra-Agency cooperation isn't quite as rosy a picture as the author makes it out to be and maybe I can use Minnesota as an example.
Mr. Fulton really seems to like the possibility of smaller agencies taking advantage of larger agencies' compute investments. True, this has been advantageous for some counties and cities. The State of Minnesota has offered cloud services to local units of government for quite some time. The State has gone all in on cloud for its own services (email, Office 365, Sharepoint) so it is certainly eating its own dogfood. The reality is that the bigger agencies are often not a reliable partner.
The problem for local agencies is that politics on the State-level change as often as the wind direction. With a two-year budget cycle, power mongering, and constantly changing staff the State's local agency customer doesn't know what to expect, sometimes even on a month-to-month basis. Mostly due to politics, the State has a history of forcing changes in delivery methods down local-agency customers' throats.
My experience with local units of government is that they take a much longer view of things. Even IT purchases are looked at from a 5-10 year perspective. I suspect this is because elected officials are more easily accessed by their constituents and also have to live with their decisions in a more tangible way. Many of the organizations I know would recognize that a State-provided cloud service will save money from the start but then would immediately ask how this would affect them 5-10 years from now.
In Minnesota, at least, we have a pretty fantastic push toward better connectivity. The State, much to its credit, is working hard on bringing fiber-speed connections to most counties. The speed of these connections means that local level governments have some opportunities for collaboration amongst each other that they didn't have before.
In the end that's what it all comes down to: connectivity. Without that all the cloud computing in the world is useless.
Saturday, January 7, 2012
What are we paying people for?
Paying workings an hourly wage is certainly a decent way to pay people. This has been the paradigm of unionized labor for decades. The amount you are compensated is based on one metric - attendance. Keeping your job is based on two metrics essentially - attendance and productivity. Your presence is easily measured. In a manufacturing or manual labor environment your productivity is easily managed.
In the world of knowledge workers does attendance matter? For that matter, how do we manage productivity for someone who is working in their mind?
Obviously, employers have been solving this issue for ages by paying salaries rather than hourly. Its a step in the right direction but its a solution that's just too easy to abuse and burn people out.
A system I'd like to see someone try would be a combination of salary and value-based compensation. Finish a project and get compensation based on meeting the metrics or set goals.
Its something I could see working in public sector. I think it would encourage creativity and reward efficiency.
Friday, January 6, 2012
The new equipment is:
2x HP DL380g7 servers (1x 6core Xeon X5649, 48GB RAM, 4GB Flash storage for OS, 6 NICs)
1x IBM N3400 filer (12x 600GB 15k SAS)
I've been working hard on bringing my VMware skill set up to date with a ton of reading. Fortunately, because everyone else in the world is a VMware customer, there's lots and lots of content in communities all over the internet. I've also been enjoying Mastering VMware vSphere 5 by Scott Lowe (published by Sybex and read on safaribooksonline.com). Doesn't go into detail on a lot of things, but its a good overview of the product and implementation tasks.
So far I've got ESXi installed on the servers. Next week will involve preparing storage for the environment and installing the latest vCenter server. After that I'll start cold migrating servers over! Can't wait to be up to date with enough storage to do work again!