For years, I maintained a blog on my own website, even as that site took several different forms. I enjoyed the act of regularly writing, putting thoughts to paper so to speak, and sharing what I’d learned with others as I did. It was a creative outlet, an opportunity to practice writing and getting used to being concise in my words, and it was particularly useful in business when I could post an article on a topic and refer back to that topic in a context where non-technical folk could appreciate the value.

Then I got up to my eyeballs in work, in a significant international project with a non-profit organization where I worked. Blogging went on the back burner. I overworked myself, and through a combination of too much work and not enough taking care of myself, I found myself waking up one day in the ICU after a severe medical condition that has left me irreparably changed. I now live with a chronic disease and have had to make several life adjustments just to continue functioning on a daily basis.

However, I’m thankful. Thankful that despite the disease, I’m actually healthier than I’ve been in years. Perhaps, even, because of the disease I’m healthier. I’m thankful that having this has helped to give me focus. I’m thankful that in the midst of this, I had new business opportunities present themselves to me, and I’m continuing to do what I love on a daily basis.

And equally thankful that after nearly dying in the spring of 2018, I was able to write and self-publish my first book. The first of many, I hope. As life has begun to level out a little again, I hope to continue back on the path of writing and sharing, and perhaps this blog will be the opportunity to do that.

I’m adding this post now, as a fresh start, to have some live and active content, and to start pushing the older posts farther into the archives so that I can eventually retire them and start fresh. As the opportunity presents itself, and as I continue to determine the specific content that I’ll be focusing on, I hope that anyone following along will have an opportunity to learn and grow along with me.

Windows 8 Activation Process

For anyone whose Windows 8 OEM or MSDN installation fails to activate with a “DNS does not exist” error, you can solve the problem fairly easily by retriggering Microsoft’s activation process by doing the following:

  1. From the Start screen, press Win+R to get to the traditional desktop and bring up the run dialog.
  2. Type cmd and press enter.
  3. Once running, right-click the taskbar icon and select “Pin this program to taskbar.”
  4. Once pinned, right-click the icon again, and then right-click the “Command Prompt” menu item, and select “Run as administrator” from that menu.
  5. Exit, and re-run the command prompt from the taskbar.
  6. At the command prompt, type: slmgr.vbs -ipk XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX where the X’s represent your product key. Just reuse your original key. You’ll get a notice that the key has been applied.
  7. Clear the dialog, then type: slmgr.vbs -ato. You should now get a notice that Windows has properly activated, and everything should be working as expected.

On Patents

Patents drive me crazy.

While on the one hand, they protect the intellectual property of a company or individual, on the other hand, they are completely ruining the technology industry. Instead of spending time innovating, and building systems for the betterment of our society, companies are embroiled in litigation with each other over incredibly vague and abstract patent concepts, and are thereby blocking a lot of incredible opportunities for innovation.

I think the patent system needs to be reinvented. Here’s how I think it should work:

  • The first person or company to submit a valid patent (the current rules on this are okay*) on intellectual property should be awarded the patent.
  • *However, patents should not be awarded purely on design unless the design is critical to the functionality (such as a particular shape that allows a function to work). In essence, technology patents should be on function, not form.
  • The patent should immediately apply for 3 years if it’s related to a physical product or hardware (a tangible item).
  • The patent should immediately apply for 2 years if it’s a business concept or software product. Basically, if it’s an intangible or semi-tangible idea.
Now, here’s where it needs to be very clear:
  • If the intellectual property (IP) is usable and complete (ie, a fully drafted model for intangibles, or a working prototype for tangibles), then the patent should extend for a base period of, say, 50 years.
  • However, if during that time the IP fails to procure revenue, fails to make it to market, or fails to become publicly available in any manner, the patent should only apply for a maximum of 10 years.
  • If it’s a tangible patent (product or hardware) but the IP owner has not yet built a prototype or physical product, the patent should apply for only 3 years.
  • If it’s an intangible patent (concept, model or software), and the patent owner has not yet produced a working model or usable product from it, the patent should apply for 2 years.

In effect, on those latter two, if you secure a patent, but fail to produce anything under that patent, the patent should be revoked after 3 years for tangible items, 2 years for intangible. However, there should then be a grace period after that, to be fair for things like economic conditions that make the 2-3 year period reasonable:

  • The patent should remain vague on public records (a description without full IP details) for a maximum of 2 years after being awarded the patent, to give the patent holder a reasonable time to secure a working prototype, if applicable.
  • For a functional patent (one that applied for 50 years), the patent can simply be renewed, but the above conditions must still be met.
  • For a functional patent that failed to produce revenue, or for a tangible or intangible patent that never reached a completed state, at the end of the patent period, the patent should be automatically made available for sale, with a price set at 150% of the cost of registering the patent. The patent owner may optionally “repurchase” their own patent.
  • Any buyer (including the original owner) now has half the time available to fulfill all of the above (except for the 50-year patent, provided the rules are still being met).
  • The process can repeat until a patent has a 30-day life or less, at which time it becomes void.
And then one additional magic rule:
  • If you fail to allow your patent to be licensed to any other companies, all of the above times are immediately cut in half at the time you are awarded the patent; whether you are awarded the patent by merely having it approved, or if it’s by purchasing it.
And one exception:
  • If you are awarded a patent and are then able to license the patent to another company (without producing a tangible product yourself), that company must meet the above conditions (ie, creating a working prototype) in the same timeframe as though they owned the patent themselves. But if the license ends, or if the product doesn’t meet the above criteria, the same timeframes still apply. This prevents someone from securing a license, but then simply never producing anything from it. They would still need to meet the criteria as though they themselves owned the patent.

Basically, this would completely eliminate patent trolls, and would prevent any company from securing a patent and then simply blocking anyone else from implementing it while the owning company or individual simply sits on it waiting to collect money. To ensure that happens, a company would be perfectly free to develop a product that is a complete rip-off of a patent, and then simply wait out the patent’s life and either purchase the patent, or wait until it expires and then produce a working product with no licensing requirements. This gives the owning company or individual time to make their patent usable (hence the brief period where the patent is not publicly available) in order to secure the 50 year patent, or effectively give up their rights to the patent. Meanwhile, another company may steal the idea and owe you no royalties, but really, if you can’t produce a usable product from your patent, you don’t deserve to own it. With the licensing requirement as an option, this ensures that companies who are genuinely interested in the patent will be motivated to license it, rather than risk waiting for it to become void, knowing that a competitor could simply scoop up the patent.

In effect, if you invent a concept for, say, software, but it never sees the light of day, your patent goes up for sale in 2 years. If it fails to sell within 1 year, it becomes void. If it sells, the buying company then has to the end of that 1 year period to produce something usable. If they fail to, the next buying company has 6 months. Then 3 months, then 1.5 months, and then the patent is void. Thus, a software patent that never comes to fruition is void in just shy of four years. With hardware, just shy of six.

Goodbye patent trolls. Goodbye ridiculous litigation over intellectual property. Hello fair competition and innovation.

What do you think?

Technology at its Worst

Every once in a while, a completely ridiculous activity is needed on a computer, and it seriously makes me question my entire profession. In the past 16 hours, I’ve had two fully baffling user experience situations that have almost had me ready to toss my computer.

Microsoft’s User Experience

The first involved Windows. I run Windows 7 in a virtual machine (VM) on my MacBook Pro. I do this every day, and usually, I just close the lid at the end of the day to go home, leaving OS X and Windows simply running while the lid is down. Everything suspends, no big deal. OS X rarely needs to be restarted, but I reboot about once a month or so (usually as part of my monthly password reset). Windows on the other hand, needs to be rebooted about once a week, usually once it reaches a point where it’s mostly non-functional. Yesterday I decided I’d actually “shut down” my Windows VM, leaving only OS X running so that today would be a fresh restart. So at 4:30pm, I click Start > Shutdown.

Windows tells me it needs to update my computer (with whatever stuff it downloaded in the background), and it begins immediately applying those updates (without prompting me, I might add), and I can’t shut off or unplug my computer while it’s doing so. Swell. Bad user experience there, Microsoft. If you want to hijack my machine to apply updates, do it at the beginning of my day, not the end. I’m almost never in a rush to start working, but I’m always ready to go home at the end of the day. If I were using a desktop, that might be fine. But on a laptop, you need to flip the process around. I’m shutting down because I’m ready to leave… with my computer.

And so, I sat. For 15 minutes waiting for Windows to do its thing. That 15 minute delay also translated to me being caught by a train on my way home, contributing to an extra 25 minutes on my drive. All in all, a 20-minute drive home at 4:30 that should have had me home by 4:50, resulted in a 75-minute trip, and I got home at 5:45. My kids are visiting my parents, except for the youngest, Noah, who, although exhausted, greeted me with a smile an numerous hugs, just before going to bed. Thanks to Microsoft’s dumb implementation of an update, I lost out on a good hour that I could have spent with that little guy, and instead just kissed him goodnight and watched him go.

Adobe’s User Experience

The second bad experience involves Adobe. In fact, I’m still sitting in the middle of this experience right now. I decided I needed to test Adobe Dreamweaver temporarily to see if some of the problems I’m having with my current code-editing tool could be alleviated for the next few weeks by switching to another platform temporarily. My current development environment is actually causing errors and code problems.

One such crazy feature (that can’t be turned off by the way, due to a bug) is “quote completion.” This means that when you type a quote, like “, the program automatically adds a second quote, but leaves your cursor in the middle, like “|”. So in code, if you want to type: $fred = “sample”; you would start typing the characters: $fred = , but as soon as you type the first quote, the program automatically adds the second, and you see this on the screen: $fred = “|” with your cursor flashing where the vertical line is. You can then proceed to type the word sample, and you’ll see this: $fred = “sample|” with your cursor flashing at the line.

Now the problem is, in code (for this particular language), the semi-colon is necessary at the end of the line. Normally, you would have just typed your ending quote and then a semicolon. But because the quote was inserted, you have to either delete the quote, then type the quote and a semicolon, or use your right arrow to move past the quote and then type a semicolon. In other words: automatically inserting the quote saved me no keystrokes whatsoever, and in fact, made me have to rethink the process of typing that line of text, making it slower and harder to type. Pain in the neck.

Anyway… back to Adobe. I decided to download a trial of Dreamweaver. You’d think it would be a simple process. Go to Adobe’s site, find the trial, click a download button, wait for the download to finish, then install it. At least, that’s how it should be. Here’s how it really went. (Incidentally, I’m going to put “DBC=#” throughout, meaning “Dialog Box Count” every time I’m prompted with a dialog box that I have to answer):

  1. Since I was using Chrome, I just opened a new tab and typed “Dreamweaver trial” in the address bar, and got Google search results. The first result took me straight there.
  2. On the page it talks about downloading the trial, but there’s no download button. It turns out that the download button is a Flash object, and I have a flash blocker installed, so the button doesn’t appear. I have to click a blank space on the page to activate the download button, which I can then click.
  3. I get a notice that there’s an Adobe Flash update. [DBC=1] I do the update, which also requires me to answer Windows’ prompt [DBC=2] that I need to be an administrator to do this. When complete, I have to close the Flash installer [DBC=3]. The Flash update reveals nothing new for me.
  4. I then restart my browser and repeat steps 1 and 2 [DBC=5].
  5. I click the download button, and get a Flash dialog [DBC=6] telling me that I must use the Adobe Download Assistant (I’ll call it “ADA”) to download Dreamweaver, and that the download assistant will launch automatically. This is an Adobe Air application.
  6. The ADA starts to launch, but I get a notice [DBC=7] that there is an update to Adobe Air. I start the update, which prompts the Windows dialog again [DBC=8] asking me to prove I’m an administrator. The update runs, and then tells me (after three dialogs [DBC=11]) that I can now run ADA.
  7. ADA launches. I get a notice [DBC=12] that there’s an ADA update as well, and I can’t download my program until the ADA update is applied.
  8. I download the ADA update, close the updater [DBC=13], which relaunches everything. It’s been about 10 minutes by now.
  9. Once ADA finally launches, it tells me that I need to sign in to my Adobe account [DBC=14] to download my program. I sign in. I forgot the password on my first attempt, but got it on my second.
  10. Once I sign in, I have to accept the new terms and conditions for ADA [DBC=15]. I agree to the terms.
  11. ADA just sits there looking at me, not downloading anything. It’s recommending various applications like Photoshop that I can download. I don’t want that, I want Dreamweaver, but that’s not in the list.
  12. Then a dialog pops up [DBC=16] saying that Adobe Air has now finished updating (I had thought it was done in step 6, but apparently it was still updating in the background). This triggers another Windows dialog [DBC=17] asking for confirmation of the changes because I have to be an administrator. ADA restarts as a result.
  13. ADA then prompts me [DBC=18] to log in to my Adobe account to complete my download. I log in again. Again, ADA just sits there, not giving any indication that it’s downloading Dreamweaver. It’s a good 15 or 16 minutes by now.
  14. I close ADA [DBC=19], and go back to the Adobe web page and repeat step 2 again. This causes step 5 to happen again [DBC=20]. Then ADA launches.
  15. ADA again prompts me [DBC=21] to log in to complete my download. I log in.
  16. Now it sees that I’m trying to download Dreamweaver, and begins downloading the file. It’s going to take about 15 minutes, so I start writing this blog entry while I wait. I’m now basically done, and there’s still about 10% more to download.

All of that–21 dialog boxes confirming my actions–just to download a single EXE file to test an application. And then from there (now that the download has just finished), I have several dialogs to step through including yet another Windows prompt asking me to confirm that I’m an administrator.

And people wonder why I’m trying to eliminate using computers and somehow run my entire life off an iPad which typically has only one prompt when I want to do something.

On Microsoft’s Surface…

For those who didn’t see it, Microsoft’s mystery announcement yesterday was the introduction of the Microsoft Surface–their “answer to the iPad.” You can watch the video here.

Personally, I think last night’s presentation was a step in the right direction for Microsoft, but only a step, when what they really needed was a jump. RIM introduced their PlayBook too early, and look where it got them. Microsoft tried this once before with the HP Slate. And it crashed and burned. And while I don’t think Microsoft should be more “Apple-like” in its culture, it definitely needs to take more cues from Apple in its strategy. Apple’s $500+ billion value is evidence of this. They’re worth double what Microsoft is worth, and they have less than 10% of Microsoft’s market.

The presentation was decent. Good, even. They did several right things: Announce the product, as they did. Focus on the business usage, as they did. Acknowledge that they came late to the game, as they did. But they should have also acknowledged that Apple achieved something in this market that they couldn’t. When the economy was going down the tubes, Apple was still selling strong, because they had brand loyalty, and people who use Apple products are passionate about them. Microsoft should have accepted that reality, and taken a stand that they’re looking to compete, and that they are committed to competing in every way. And that means making a few changes to Microsoft’s old way.

Here’s what they should have done to nail that:

What Microsoft Missed

  1. Emphasize the Windows Marketplace ecosystem. Show how it integrates, seamlessly, with the OS. Perhaps it’s obvious to some people, but not to average consumers who are used to the iOS App Store’s simplicity.
  2. Set a release date. The fact that this is still months away was a bad call. Building up hype 5 months in advance may as well be a year. They’ll miss the Christmas rush, and with Surface Pro coming out 90 days later, Apple will have a fourth iPad model at the same time Microsoft will be releasing their first professional tablet.
  3. Set a price. Saying you’ll price competitively is nonsense. It’s competitive if it’s competitive. When it doesn’t exist yet, it’s not competitive. And if you can’t do a feature-by-feature comparison, it’s hard to be competitive, or to measure a competitive price. They could argue that $1,000 for the product is competitive, because it has “USB and HDMI.” But who wants to pay more than what they pay for the highest-priced iPad?
  4. Integrate 3G/4G. Apple did it, so Microsoft should too. Not having 24/7 connectivity on a business device is bad news.
  5. Show the feature comparison. Not to single out Apple, but with Apple’s retina display and 10-hour battery life, I would think that knowing the exact screen quality and battery life would matter to most people.
  6. Make it a portrait and landscape device. If you watched the video, did you notice that the screen never rotated into portrait mode? What if I want to work on a long document? The iPad’s portrait mode plus a keyboard makes it a perfect 8.5×11 ratio for editing a full document, and on retina, it’s crystal clear, like real paper. That shortcoming in the Surface might be a fundamental flaw.
  7. Get Ballmer’s vacuous stares out of the presentation. Leave up the people who can actually smile and not look like they’re searching for Apple employees in the crowd. All kidding aside though, Ballmer’s hard-nosed, out-of-touch, corporate mentality introduces an element of Windows that may attract business users, but as the traditional business model is moving into a more “freelance” or “entrepreneurial” mindset, that kind of corporate rigidity is losing favor with people. There’s a reason why the relaxed atmosphere of companies like Google and Facebook are highly sought after.

But… to credit Microsoft, they did some things very well.

What Microsoft Nailed

  1. Those covers, and the keyboard. Assuming it works (none of the testers were apparently allowed to use the keyboard), it looks like a game-changer. I would love a soft-touch cover like that for the iPad. Rethinking the input devices (something that I think Microsoft has been a leader in for many years; they made great mice and great keyboards) is a wise strategy, and really helps to bridge the PC and tablet market in a way Apple never did. Apple’s keyboard solution was more of an afterthought product, rather than an integrated solution. Microsoft nailed this on an all-in-one product.
  2. The magnesium casing. That’s slick, and tasteful. Their focus on the strength and lightness of design was critical, if this tablet is to compete with the iPad. Furthermore, it raises the standard from the cheap form factor of other devices (laptops and PCs) that are made from cheap plastic and sharp metal.
  3. The kickstand. No need to buy lots of extra accessories: the stock products from Microsoft cover all the bases. Well done. It locks the device into a single landscape orientation (meaning, you can’t flip it upside down), but that might be a result of the tablet being a landscape-only device anyway. On my iPad, I am forever rotating it from one landscape side to the other, depending on how I’m using my case. If I want to hold the iPad in landscape mode, my case is only comfortable in one orientation. But when I want to use it as a desktop tablet with slight elevation, I need to rotate it the other way for the case to be in its propped up mode. The kickstand eliminates that constant rotating.
  4. A better presentation. Finally, Microsoft has started to show some artistic culture, and it wasn’t a “PowerPoint presentation.” I don’t know… maybe it was using PowerPoint, but it didn’t feel like it, and that’s the point. It didn’t feel like a presentation from 1995. It felt like a metro-infused art gallery. Notice the minimal text during the talks. One and two word sentences. Unfortunately, the speakers’ enthusiasm still felt a little forced, like they were trying to communicate a culture they hadn’t fully adopted yet, but it’s better than they’ve done before.
  5. A consumer and a pro version. While Apple’s “one product fits all” approach is good for Apple’s culture, Microsoft’s statement that Windows has always been “all about choice” is a good statement to make (though in the past, that would be a lie, as was proven with Internet Explorer: Microsoft did not want anyone to choose another browser). The point is, they’re providing choice, but not too much. Just two. Great call.

All in all, a job well done. We need a price, and a launch date. Microsoft has been notorious in the past for failing to meet their targets (they even started their own presentation 40 minutes late), but it’s time for them to step up their game and meet some deliverables.

Well done, Microsoft. Keep it up.

Why I Feel it Necessary to Correct Stuff

Consider this scenario: you receive an email, or come across something online that concerns you, upsets you, worries you, excites you, woos you, or renews your faith in humanity. You share it with your friends on facebook… either to warn them, or to warm their heart, too, depending on the context. Then some jerk decides to respond to your post and correct what you’ve posted. “Sorry, but that’s an urban legend,” or “Nope, not a true story,” or “You have your facts wrong. This is what it should be…” says the jerk. Now you just feel like a bit of a heel for posting it in the first place. You feel devalued. You feel let down. Sometimes, you even feel a little annoyed that this person wouldn’t let it drop, and had to continually point out the mistake, often missing the underlying reason you posted it in the first place. They even back it up with some links or facts from credible sources.

Maybe it wasn’t the truth or falsity of the story that mattered to you, but the heart of what you were trying to share. Maybe you experienced something in your life that made you enraged when you found something online that was offensive to that life event. Maybe you’re coming at it from a perfectly legitimate perspective, and the person who takes time out of their day to correct you was simply pouring more fuel on your fire, and making you angrier in the process. Or maybe the heartwarming story now suddenly feels pathetic, not because it’s no longer true (The Princess Bride isn’t a true story, but it’s a good one anyway) but rather because the person replying made you feel like a heel for thinking it was true, and made you feel like a loser for sharing it with others.

I’m sure we’ve all experienced something like that. We’ve all received or encountered those kinds of stories that we feel prompted to share. A heartwarming story about an old man saved from certain death by his faithful dog. A story about an impoverished family that inherited a fortune and used the money to save an entire village. A warning about a computer virus or link in Facebook that will destroy your hard drive. A caution about a company’s business practices that are enslaving children around the world. A story about an underdog who overcame all odds and fought the system and won. We’ve all seen those stories. Many of us have also shared them.

And sites like Facebook are making it easier to share these kinds of things, and to have discussions about them. In most cases, those discussions wind up taking place in front of all of our friends and co-workers (because Facebook loves that we’re willing to mix those together now), and standing our ground on our reasons for sharing become all that much more near and dear to us, because, really, who wants to look like a goof in front of friends, family and co-workers?

Sadly, in this story, I tend to be the jerk who feels it necessary to point out whether something is falsified, miscommunicated, rooted in urban legend, or is pointing blame at the wrong party. I’m the guy who often feels it necessary to pipe up and point out a mistake. I’m the guy who comes in like rain on a parade, and often, I wind up looking like a total jerk for doing it.

But I have good intentions. Just like you did when you shared whatever it was you found online.

Problem is, we all know where good intentions lead. It works out poorly for both of us. So if nothing else, this post is here to explain why I feel it necessary to offer corrections, restatements, or to shed additional light on the stories that others feel a desire to share.

A Little Back Story

Years ago, I had a friend who was notorious for sharing half-truths. Not on purpose. This person just had a knack for missing critical parts of a story, and the result was that many people heard half-a-story, and then the telephone game ensued (remember that game?) as a result, pretty soon the story was twisted beyond its original meaning. Even to the point that my friend would get confused in the details and would interpret events wrongly because they only half-heard things in the first place.

Long story short, I was on the receiving end of a half-story once, in that one of the things my friend shared was about me. It was miscommunicated, others heard very different things, and it reflected poorly on me. By the time I offered a correction to the story, the damage had already been done, and people had even “taken sides” so to speak, and some friendships became very awkward for me, for several years afterwards. It was actually quite traumatic for me. It affected my school life, and my work. Every time that friend continued to incorrectly communicate stories, I felt a need to correct them–even publicly, sometimes–because I hated being on the receiving end of wrong information. That caused strains, and relationships failed. We were both to blame, but I still stood behind the need to correct that person (though I stopped doing it publicly). But even when I tried to correct that person privately, they never took the steps to correct their mistakes with others, and lots of false information got communicated to people as a result.

Because of those events, I tend to be a little sensitive to stories that are incomplete, especially when someone or something near-and-dear to me is painted in a bad light because of it.

Fast Forward a Little…

Not long after those events, I began my career working in IT. I was well-known as a “go-to” guy for solving problems with peoples’ computers, networks, and basically anything tech-related. For years, that’s all I did. I thought that when I “grew up” I’d eventually own a store and sell computers. What did I know? I was just a late-teenager at the time. I thought owning a computer store was where the real money was at. I eventually realized that business solutions and business development in IT was the real career path for me, but that’s another story.

Actually, no, that really is the story. As I shifted into a business-focused career path in IT (more formally, “IS”, meaning Information Systems, not Information Technology), I found it very hard to shake this “former life” where I was “The IT Guy.” I was still the go-to for technical problems. Even when I was building core business systems for multi-million-dollar companies, people still looked at me as “the guy who can fix my printer” or “the guy who can make my WiFi work.” It even got to the point of being a little frustrating, when I’m sitting at home working away on a multi-million-dollar budget plan, and an email would come in from someone saying, “I can’t get my Windows XP to boot, can you come out to my house and look at it for me? I can pay you $20.”

It’s not that I was insulted by it… but rather, taking three hours to solve a computer problem that isn’t even my area of strength any more, and being offered $20 just wasn’t even worth the gas to drive there. I’m all for helping people (and in most cases, I just did it to help out and wouldn’t take any money for it, and that was a big part of the problem), but when it got to the point that I was getting several dozen of these kinds of requests every week, it was too taxing on me. I had to reply with things like “sorry, I just don’t do that any more,” which made me feel guilty, because I knew full well I was perfectly capable of doing it, but those side-tasks were a distraction to the rest of what I do.

Fast Forward a Little More…

Now we have Twitter, Facebook, and Google+. Now it’s easier for people to pose those kinds of questions. Now it’s harder to “ignore” those kinds of requests. One person, recently, even tried to “insist” on using my time for a while to “pick my brain” on an idea. It was time I simply couldn’t afford, and it was for someone who has frequently “picked my brain” but never brought me any real business. I had to say no, despite multiple attempts (even after saying no) for this person to try to get me to help them. It’s too much, and with full-time work, side-work (that’s necessary to maintain a well-rounded skill set for my field), four kids, and all the usual stuff associated with that, those kinds of events are even more stressful for me than they are for the people having problems and needing help. And I still wrestle with saying “no” when deep down, I’d really love to just help.

But here’s the painful part: the vast majority of emails and communications that I receive which I would consider to be “distractions” in my life (and for which I have to say, “no”), stem from people trying to do things where they’ve been misinformed, or have received bad advice, or because they panicked over something they read online.

  • An email talking about a virus that will wipe your hard drive unless you forward it to twenty people.
  • A warning about the socioeconomic practices of a company that we all know and love.
  • A fraudulent post or facebook rant about a friend or a co-worker.
  • A failure to read a dialog box properly, resulting in a virus or other type of malware that mucked up your whole computer.
  • Confusion about up-and-coming upgrades to free systems we all use like Gmail or Facebook.
  • Confusion about privacy settings and how things like phones and iPads are tracking everything you do.

Stuff like that.

People post these things all the time. And despite the fact that I haven’t worked in a technical support related job for well over a decade, people still tend to turn to me for help when they have a technical problem. That seemingly harmless post you just shared about how Facebook is going to start charging for using it? Well, that just prompted ten people to email me privately and I have to explain that it’s not true multiple times. It took an hour. That little post about how Company X is run by a secret society that supports supports human slavery? I now have to respond to people wanting to know how to eliminate software made by Company X because they refuse to support slavery. That took another hour. That fun and light-hearted comment about why Blackberrys (or Androids, or whatever) are better than iPhones (or Androids, or whatever)… I just ended up with a dozen emails and private messages from people concerned that their Blackberry/iPhone/Android is now suddenly a security threat, because the article that was shared wasn’t a lighthearted one, but rather just some misinformed journalist who wrote a bad article.

The internet is littered with this crap, and it’s making my job harder.

Those posts, those comments, that sharing… they become my problems. Day after day after day.

But that’s not your problem, and I don’t hold it against you. It’s my problem. And in a way, I hold it against me. It’s up to me to fix. It’s not your fault: you shared with good intentions. But that tiny piece of misinformation, that small missing detail, that seemingly minor component left out: those just became my worst nightmares. Or least, some bad dreams for me.

When it really gets difficult is when something gets shared about a company or a person that I support. I’m very choosy about which companies I’m willing to buy from. I’ve made conscious choices about the technologies I will support and why. In many of those areas of my life, I’m either an advanced user or an expert in my field. I’m making my choices based on verified information and on information I can deduce from being an expert in that area. I’ve made choices on certain home technologies because I’m the guy who supports those technologies among friends and family. I chose a Mac because they’re less maintenance for my family members, and although lots of people disagree with me on this one: they’re cheaper. I had a discussion with someone recently who complained about what they considered a “fundamental flaw” in a Mac, and explained to me why Windows doesn’t have that flaw, so I’m inherently flawed for leaning towards Macs. No, I’m leaning towards what is needed for what I do, and what the people I support do. Ironically, the person pointing this out just didn’t realize that what they classified as a flaw was just a setting they could change. They just didn’t know how to do it. So it comes back to someone being misinformed, and making my job harder as a result.

When you share something that calls those things into question, legitimate or otherwise, I have to deal with the effects of that. So when it’s misinformation, it’s all that much more important for me to correct it. Not because I’m trying to correct you, but because I have to correct everyone else. I have to correct it for those who then grab a phone or start emailing me because they “read something on Facebook” and now they think that some piece of technology that I helped them buy is causing hackers in Tibet to break into their personal bank accounts, or monitor everything they’re doing. I had to explain to one person, once, that the camera on their iMac is not monitoring them or spying on their home and sharing it with Apple and other third parties. It’s not watching them get dressed in the morning.

In short… I can’t get people off my back when misinformation gets spread around, so my only way to solve it is to the correct the information when I get a chance. It’s nothing personal… but it really affects me, personally. I read, or skim through, an average of about 600 emails and communications every day. I deal with most of my unread emails at the start of every week (Monday morning), and I try to respond to anything I can about 20 to 25 times each day. All day, every day. I currently have 179 unread messages, carried forward from Monday, Tuesday, and today. I don’t know who they are all from, but I have to sift through them. If I miss one from someone, they’ll probably email me tomorrow and say, “hey, why haven’t you replied? did you get my email?” Yes, but you’re not the only person emailing me, and I have 179 unread messages right now. I will sift through 3/4 of them tonight, and deal with them.

And amid that, I’ve received about two dozen direct messages (via Twitter, Google+ or Facebook) this afternoon alone. And that’s mainly because I’ve left my instant messaging program offline all day. Since that last paragraph, four more emails have come in. A communication containing some misinformation could cause several dozen emails in the span of a few hours. It might take several hours of my time to respond.

Misinformation costs me. A lot.

And it’s not that I’m trying to be the jerk who always has to point out when people make mistakes… just like I don’t think you’re a fool for sharing something that isn’t correct. You’re trying to share what you’ve learned, and I’m trying to prevent people from sharing something that isn’t correct, to cut down on how much time I have to spend fixing it later on.

Keep on sharing. Make sure that what you’re sharing is accurate.* And don’t be too upset when I pipe up and point out something that’s misinformed.

* (If you’re ever unsure whether what you’re sharing is true or not, try searching for a few of the key words in what you’re sharing on a site called Snopes, which exists purely to help people understand what emails and internet-based communications are based on truth, and what are fraudulent:








Windows 8 is Getting There…

I like what Microsoft is trying to do with Windows 8. I really do. But they still have three fundamental flaws they don’t seem able to overcome.

  1. They still have Ballmer at the helm. Get someone with a character like Jeff Bezos or Tim Cook and they’d be all set.
  2. They still don’t have a clue how to market to the average consumer. Stop telling us how cool Windows is because of its specs, and start showing us how to use it in every day life. Use words like “magical.”
  3. They need to build their own hardware. Don’t release “Windows 8 for Tablets”… MAKE a tablet. Make it beautiful, reliable, and don’t quit on it two years later. Make Windows 8 work perfectly on it. Then rebrand ALL of your software with the Metro look and feel so it’s a consistent experience.

They’ve got a good shot at making this thing work. Here’s hoping they get it right.

Focus Mode

November is nanowrimo – National Novel Writing Month. While the goal is to produce a novel of 50,000 words by the end of the month, I’m likely to be far short of that.

However, I’m also not writing a novel. I’m taking the time to focus on writing a guide, if you will, to teach non-project managers how to do project management without getting into the overkill practices that are commonly associated with project management disciplines.

It’s based on the SMART management system I developed about a decade ago, and that I’ve been using for years to help guide projects through to completion. And in the process of doing this, I’ve realized that while a goal of 50,000 words is a great target to set, a goal of producing a focused result is better. Whether it be 100,000 words, or 1,000 words, the point is: can I be focused enough to provide the minimum of what is needed to get the point across?

I may not get it done by the end of November. But the concept of nanowrimo is all about the focus. Dedicating your time each day to a focused task, and achieving that result by a deadline. And in the end, that’s really the essence of project management: setting a deadline, and working hard to meet the result. The idea of a “focus mode” has been around for a while, and even tech companies are capitalizing on the effectiveness of it; with companies like Apple encouraging “full screen apps” and the single-window model of the iPad, which encourages uni-tasking above multi-tasking.

[pullquote2 align=”center” variation=”deepblue”]How are you using the month of November? Are you writing a novel, a training manual, a story, or a guidebook? When November is over, will you turn off focus mode and go back to chaos mode? Or are you willing to turn December into another focused month with a specific goal to meet by the 31st?[/pullquote2]

Before the new year, and the abundance of abandoned new years’ resolutions, why not make a decision now–today–to turn each month into a focused month. Start with November. If you aren’t writing a novel, make November a month to plan out the next 12. Each month, pick something you really want, or need, to accomplish in your life, and set a focus for the entire month. Make December a family-focused month. Make January a decluttering month. Make February a rebudgeting month. Whatever your life needs are, make it a focus for one month each year. And every once in a while, don’t forget to set aside time to reevaluate the things that matter, so that each month becomes a focus on things you really need to concentrate on.

Good luck, and let me know how you make out in the comments!

Responding to Failure

By now, I’m sure most people have heard of the global outage experienced by RIM a few weeks ago. Shortly after the outage, RIM co-CEO Mike Lazaridis offered a public apology for the issue, and RIM itself offered free apps and a month of free technical support in response, which were received with mixed reactions.

My comment, on both Twitter and Facebook that RIM clearly just “doesn’t get it” was met with some confusion as well. One person indicating that the difference between a regular mobile plan and a smartphone plan is about $10/month. So, a refund on services equates to about 30 cents a day, so a three-day outage means a $1 refund.

All joking aside, that’s actually accurate. A recent lawsuit confirms that it equates to only about $1.25. The cost of the outage, per person, is negligible. But, at least that has a monetary value that directly corresponds to the outage. $100 worth of free apps (most of which are games, and targeted at business professionals) is just out in left field. And that’s the reason why I said that RIM doesn’t get it. As a company that appeals to businesses as a primary market, the offering of free apps and free technical support was an insulting and degrading statement.

If your product is so problematic that you need technical support, such that a month of free support is valuable, you have a problem with your product right there. Most businesses however, run on annual budgets, and paid technical support is budgeted. Adding a month of free support to the end of the plan also means that billing cycles just got shifted by a month, and the cost associated with making budget adjustments accordingly far exceed the $1 refund or the lost business associated with the outage. As many companies are relying on mail communication through enterprise-grade servers, a three day outage is a serious problem when they are paying for a service that offers a 99.99% uptime guarantee. For the record, 99.99% uptime means that service is “guaranteed” not to be down for more than 20 minutes per year.

When you’re paying for that, any outage–even accidents–is considered professionally unacceptable. Most home users won’t care. But business users are paying for service guarantees, and make decisions accordingly. Three days of downtime can translate to millions in lost revenue.

Personally, I think RIM would have been better off to offer no free apps at all, and simply stick with the public apology, fix the problem, show how they’ll prevent it in the future, and move on. The free apps was just a completely off-track, insulting statement. It sent a message that RIM wasn’t concerned with the effects of the outage, and was more interested in simply pacifying people with something that in the end really didn’t cost them anything. It sent a message that RIM doesn’t get how businesses operate any more. It sent a message that a business professional’s downtime can be pacified by giving him or her a free copy of The SIMS to pass the time.

And so I stick with my original comment, that RIM simply doesn’t get it.

But what about your business? How do you respond to your clients and customers when your own services fail to meet expectations? How do you value your customer when your mistakes cause an interruption to their work? Do you see it as a cost of doing business to pacify the customer? Or do you see it as an opportunity to really learn your customers’ needs, and provide solutions that will help them improve in the future?

What’s Next?

I consume a large volume of industry news on a daily basis, most of which is general business and technology oriented. It seems that a vast majority of the content is focused on what’s next.

Focused on tomorrow’s technology.

Focused on what’s the next big thing.

Focused on Company X’s new, soon to be unveiled product.

Focused on what we don’t have, but we can have later.

It never catches up. There’s always tomorrow’s technology, and always something we’re supposed to look forward to. We’re so focused on tomorrow’s things, that we miss today’s moments.

When you’re planning your day, are you thinking about what you’re going to deliver tomorrow, or are you thinking about what you need to deliver today? Tomorrow has its place in planning, but once the planning is done, tomorrow is most importantly not today.

Plan for tomorrow all you want. But live for today.