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Archive for the ‘Computers’ Category

UPGRADING COMPUTERS AND THE HASSLES THEREOF

Posted by Tim Bryce on November 20, 2011

My Windows XP computer finally died last week after six years of loyal service. The symptoms began with a fluttering screen which made everything appear to be swimming and caused some rather serious eye strain on my part. I also noticed a strange whirling of my hard drive caused by my swapper file (which is used to handle virtual memory). At first, I thought it was nothing more than the monitor going out, but discovered the video card on my motherboard was dying. In other words, it was time. Wanting to ease its pain, I pulled out my .45 and shot it square between the hard drive thereby ending its misery. Fortunately, I had everything backed up to a portable external drive so I knew I was safe.

Our company is probably better than most in taking care of our equipment, thereby stretching out the longevity of the computer. We still have operational hardware and software that is more than twenty years old, much to the chagrin of the various vendors. No, we do not believe in regularly contributing to their cash flow. In this case though, the hard drive and video card died and it was time to upgrade, like it or not.

The machine was replaced by a new box which quadrupled the amount of memory, and hard drive space, not to mention processor speed. I took it to the office and swapped out the old with the new and booted up the computer. The machine came with Windows 7 Professional pre-installed and the start-up time was surprisingly nominal. After using Windows products for a long time now I had grown accustomed to a lot of “hurry up and wait” time. If you haven’t guessed by now, No, I am most definitely not a fan of the operating system as I consider it a necessary evil that suits the masses. I view it more as mass mediocrity as opposed to state of the art. Nonetheless, Bill Gates and company laughs all the way to the bank.

After the computer started, I registered the product on-line and installed an anti-virus product, a lesson I learned the hard way years ago. I then moved my files over from the backup device, downloaded new Internet programs, and organized the desktop. So far, so good. Next, I tried to install some older programs I actively used for a number of years, one of which was Lotus SmartSuite which competes with MS Office. Consequently, I wasn’t too surprised when Win7 informed me Lotus could not be installed. Next was a copy of Adobe Pagemaker which was also prohibited from loading. And finally, a DOS based financial package we’ve used for years. Admittedly, we probably should have upgraded these products over the years, but we didn’t as they satisfied our needs. Nonetheless, we had thought Win7 would provide a migration path for such older programs but they do not. We also tried to change the “Compatibility” settings to run these programs under Windows XP which, of course, did not work. Basically, we were stuck. Other than these programs though, everything operated properly under Win7.

My next dilemma came when I tried to print a document on our Lexmark wireless printer which is about three years old. Unfortunately, Win7 wouldn’t connect with the machine. I installed the printer driver numerous times before researching the problem on the Internet where I discovered there was an incompatibility issue for this particular printer. I went to a Microsoft web site who claimed to have a correction for the problem. Alas, it was the same drivers I was installing earlier. In other words, if I wanted to keep the computer, it was time to purchase a new printer, and the price of computing kept going up.

All said and done, installation of the new computer took approximately two days of my time which I could have obviously spent more productively elsewhere. I finally came to terms with my new computer and am now using it as part of my daily business life, despite its inadequacies and incompatibilities. I think we’re all familiar with Microsoft commercial where users proudly proclaim, “I’m a PC and Windows 7 was my idea.” Frankly, if it truly was the idea of these ignoramuses, they’re not particularly bright. I for one am NOT a PC, and Windows 7 was certainly not my idea but, as usual, we’re stuck with it.

Having been in the systems business for over three thirty years now, I am probably more adept at upgrading computers than most people. However, the thought occurred to me, if I am having this much trouble, imagine what John Q. Public is experiencing. No wonder everyone is depressed as we are all made to feel inferior by our technology. I only wish the people would Occupy Microsoft as opposed to Wall Street.

As to my older programs I can no longer run on Win7, I have moved them to an old WinXP machine where they keep chugging away. I really resent being extorted to upgrade. As for my office suite of programs, I guess I’m off to Google Docs. Meanwhile my 20 year old OS/2 computers sit quietly in the corner, still running, and no crashing. Yea, it is possible to build a reliable operating system, but don’t tell Microsoft.

Keep the Faith!

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M. Bryce & Associates (MBA) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

For Tim’s columns, see:
http://www.phmainstreet.com/timbryce.htm

Like the article? TELL A FRIEND.

Tune into Tim’s THE BRYCE IS RIGHT! podcast Mondays-Fridays, 7:30am (Eastern).

Copyright © 2011 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

Posted in Computers, Technology | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

TESTING PROGRAMMERS

Posted by Tim Bryce on November 2, 2010

You have no doubt heard my criticisms of computer programmers in the past, a lot of which dealt with discipline, organization and accountability issues. Quite often problems begin with the recruiting process whereby companies do not take time to substantiate the programmer’s knowledge. This is what caused me to write “Hiring the Right Programmer” a few years ago. Basically, I contended it was too easy for someone to bamboozle their way through the process. In our case, our company invented a written test to verify applicants possessed the knowledge and skills they claimed to have. They either could successfully answer the questions and give a brief demonstration of their skills or they couldn’t.

This problem is certainly not unique to our company as many have struggled with it over the years, including Jimmy John, founder of CodeEval of Berkeley, California, a company who recently introduced a clever new approach for testing programmers. The purpose of his Internet based service is simple: “CodeEval is a tool used in academia and the recruiting industry to evaluate students/candidates effectively. In academic institutions, CodeEval intends to be an easy-to-use tool where instructors can create programming assignments and auto grade student submissions. For employers, CodeEval provides an effective platform to identify promising candidates from a crowd of applicants by creating challenges and viewing their live coding submissions.”

Whereas the test we devised years ago tested programming knowledge, CodeEval provides a means for programmers to review assignments and demonstrate their coding abilities. Just introduced in April 2010, CodeEval can be used for the following languages: C, C++, Java, PHP, Perl, Python, and Ruby. However, the company contends over time it can be used to test other languages as well.

Using CodeEval, companies and college professors can devise courses and programming assignments. As the programmer completes assignments, his answers can be reviewed and evaluated. CodeEval makes use of the company’s server which means historical data can be accumulated and used for comparative analysis. The more historical data collected, the more valuable this service becomes. A timing component has recently been added to set limits for completing the tests, which is beneficial both in the classroom and in job applications.

Jimmy Johns is quick to point out, CodeEval is still in Beta Test and, as such, is currently available free of charge. This will undoubtedly change as the product gains acceptance. Even though it’s still in development, it is a good first start and enhancements will be forthcoming, such as adding a test to check for cheating.

Even though the product has been available for only a short time, it is already getting good reviews. Frankly, this is something HR Departments and IT shops should definitely check out, as well as college professors. CodeEval is a slick way to substantiate programmer prowess. They can either prove they know what they are doing or they cannot.

For more info:

CodeEval, Inc.
http://www.codeeval.com/

Keep the Faith!

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M. Bryce & Associates (MBA) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

For Tim’s columns, see:
http://www.phmainstreet.com/timbryce.htm

Like the article? TELL A FRIEND.

Tune into Tim’s THE BRYCE IS RIGHT! podcast Mondays-Fridays, 11:30am (Eastern).

Copyright © 2010 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

Posted in Computers, Software, Technology | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

PARKINSON’S LAW IN I.T.

Posted by Tim Bryce on October 24, 2010

Ever wonder why our computers typically last no more than three years? Many contend it is because of the fast pace of technological advancements. Maybe. But I tend to believe there is a little more to it than just that, namely “Parkinson’s Law.” For those of you who may have forgotten, “Parkinson’s Law” was devised by C. Northcote Parkinson, noted British historian and author. His original book, “Parkinson’s Law: The Pursuit of Progress,” was introduced in 1958 and was a top-selling management book for a number of years (it is still sold today). The book was based on his experience with the British Civil Service. Among his key observation’s was that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” Basically, he suggests that people make work in order to rationalize their employment. Consequently, managers create bureaucracies and superfluous work to justify their existence, not because it is really needed.

As an aside, CEO’s clearly understood Parkinson’s Law, which became the driving force behind the flattening of corporations in the 1990’s, such as General Electric under Jack Welch’s reign.

Whereas Parkinson was primarily concerned with people, his law is equally applicable to machines, particularly computers; for example, Parkinson’s Law can be applied to computing in terms of “Data expands to fill the space available for storage.” Years ago I had a Compaq Presario computer with 50mb of disk space, which I considered substantial at the time. I never dreamt I would be able to fill up the hard drive. But, of course, I did (as well as other PC’s I have had over the years). My current PC has a hard drive with a capacity of 224gb and though I’m a long way from filling it up, inevitably I know I will for two reasons: I now feel more comfortable with downloading large multimedia files (MP3, AVI, WMV, etc.), PDF files, data base files, and other larger file formats, and; Second, because developers have become sloppy in programming.

Back when memory and disk space were at a premium, there was great concern over the efficient use of computer resources. Program code was written very tightly and consideration was given to file size. For example, establishing a simple file index was scrutinized carefully. But as the computer capacity grew and hardware prices declined, developers became less interested in efficient programming. To illustrate, not too long ago packaged software installation programs were delivered on 3.5″ diskettes. Today, it is not uncommon to use multiple CD’s to install the same products. This means that as computer hardware capacity increases, software becomes more bloated. This is but one example of Parkinson’s Law as applied in computing.

As another example, let’s consider data transmission lines as used in networking. It doesn’t seem long ago we were using 14.4 baud modems over telephone lines. I remember when we doubled the speed to 28.8 and then 56.4. It seemed like the sky was the limit with every increase. But eventually performance seemed to slow to a crawl. Was it because the technology was aging or was it because our web pages were becoming bigger and more complicated requiring greater data volume over the lines? Frankly, it was the latter. Today, DSL and cable are commonplace in households as well as in business and “dial-up” is rapidly becoming a thing of the past. But as data volume increases with the number of subscribers, will we ever hit a wall in terms of capacity with DSL and cable? Undoubtedly. Again, more due to Parkinson’s Law then anything else.

Make no mistake, computer hardware and software vendors are acutely aware of the role of Parkinson’s Law. It is what allows them to build-in planned obsolescence into their products. As consumers reach capacity, they can either add additional capacity or, more likely, purchase new computers.

There is undoubtedly an incestuous relationship between hardware and software vendors. Hardware enhancements are primarily implemented to increase capacity in order to overcome software inefficiencies, and software vendors make their products more bloated as hardware enhancements are introduced. To illustrate the point, is it a coincidence that every major release of Windows requires additional hardware support? Hardly. This is done more by design than by accident.

Parkinson’s Law is just as much a part of computer technology as it is in the corporate world. But what would happen if we decided to “flatten” computer technology in the same manner that Jack Welch flattened G.E.? Keep in mind, Welch did so to eliminate bureaucracy and force his workers to become more efficient and focus on the true problems at hand. By flattening the “bloatware” we would probably get a lot more mileage out of our computers. But I guess that wouldn’t be good for selling computers (or the economy).

I guess Parkinson’s Law and the vicious circle of computing will be with us for quite some time.

Keep the Faith!

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M. Bryce & Associates (MBA) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

For Tim’s columns, see:
http://www.phmainstreet.com/timbryce.htm

Like the article? TELL A FRIEND.

Tune into Tim’s THE BRYCE IS RIGHT! podcast Mondays-Fridays, 11:30am (Eastern).

Copyright © 2010 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

Posted in Computers, Technology | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

COMPUTER GOBBLEDYGOOK

Posted by Tim Bryce on September 16, 2010

Every now and then something sets me off about the computer industry and reminds me how screwed up it is. This past week I heard three expressions bandied about which have been around for a number of years and frankly, I had hoped they had died off.

The first one is “Information Management” which may sound innocent enough but reflects the naivety of the industry. The name itself suggests control over how information is disseminated and who is allowed to access it. Such control is common under dictatorships such as Hitler, Stalin, and Communist states. These regimes want to tightly control information in order to keep their people in the dark. After all, information is power.

The reality though is the people using this expression really mean “Data Management” or the management of all the resources needed to produce information. Actually, a more appropriate title would be, “Information Resource Management.” Either way, the expression “Information Management” reveals a complete misinterpretation of what “information” is, which is “the understanding or insight gained from the processing and/or analysis of data” (PRIDE). Information is a perishable commodity, it is consumed by humans to make decisions and take actions. On the other hand, “data” is the raw material needed to produce information. By itself it is meaningless; only when we put it into a specific context with other data elements does it become information. We collect and store “data.” we do not store “information.” It is a subtle but important distinction.

Next, I cringe when I hear the expression “Computer System.” There are three fundamental characteristics of any system: it is a grouping of two or more components which are held together through some common and cohesive bond; it operates routinely, and; it has a purpose. For example, an irrigation system is used to distribute water to plant life; a television microwave system bounces a communications signal around the country to consumers, and; an “information system” produces information for people to use in conducting business. In other words, “computer system” is a complete misnomer; what they really mean to say is an “information system” implemented with computer assistance. Understand this, you can also implement “information systems” using manual procedures or other equipment. A computer is but one device to implement such systems.

The final term that draws my wrath is “agile” as derived from “agile programming” which is a technique for writing software whereby users are interviewed, software is written quickly, then the programmers iterate through this process until the customer is satisfied. In most instances, there is no documentation associated with “agile programming” which complicates maintenance of the program, as well as modifying/improving it later on.

In reality, the concept of “agile programming” is not new and has been used over the years under a variety of names. My favorite is “QAD” – “Quick And Dirty.” Interestingly, the proponents of “agile programming” encourage the use of these concepts for other things, such as project management (which would be a huge mistake in my opinion).

All of this is indicative of the sloppy thinking in the computer industry. Although people in this field may mean well, until such time as we define and standardize our terminology, nobody is going to take us seriously.

Keep the Faith!

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M. Bryce & Associates (MBA) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

For Tim’s columns, see:
http://www.phmainstreet.com/timbryce.htm

Like the article? TELL A FRIEND.

Tune into Tim’s THE BRYCE IS RIGHT! podcast Mondays-Fridays, 11:30am (Eastern).

Copyright © 2010 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

Posted in Computers, Technology | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

WHY I HATE COMPUTERS

Posted by Tim Bryce on August 24, 2010

I hate computers. There, I’ve said it, the cat is out of the bag and I feel better for publicly admitting it. I’ve quietly shared this sentiment with many people over the years who look at me puzzled as they know I have been in the computer industry for over 30 years now. Some have even suggested I’m a bit of a masochist staying in a field I do not respect. It’s not that I am not proficient in the use of computers, I am actually better than most. As an aside, you’ll notice I didn’t say “computer literate” which is an expression I detest as it typifies the sloppy thinking permeating this business.

Nine times out of ten my frustration is not with the physical hardware but with the software instead. Maybe it’s because I know how computers are programmed which can hardly be called an exact science. In fact, it is downright scary how programs are slapped together and superficially tested before being released to the public. Considerable time is wasted determining what a program is intended to do and how to best design it. There is also a lot of redundancy in work effort whereby the same code is rewritten over and over again. Rarely is there concern for producing programs that will be compatible with others, and standards are avoided at all cost. If the average person truly understood the organization and mechanics by which programmers practice their trade, they would be astonished as to how anything is accomplished and would probably never trust a computer again.

In their defense, programmers live in a world of complexity where they must juggle many variables even in a simple program. However, I am highly critical of how they manage complexity which is typically inscribed in the programmer’s head and not on paper. The average programmer loathes documentation of any kind. Without proper documentation programs are difficult if not impossible to maintain or modify by others. But I digress.

Because the programmer lives in a world of complexity, they insist on sharing it with the rest of us, a kind of “misery loves company” phenomenon. Instead of simplicity, they tend to force us to learn their convoluted approaches to life. To illustrate, remote controls for televisions used to have buttons for power, volume, and station selection. Today, it is not uncommon to have upwards of fifty buttons on remote controls, most of which are not used by the consumer. It should be no small wonder that most devices today are under utilized, including cell phones, computers, and the electronic trinket du jour. Simplicity has been superseded by complexity, not because it has to be that way, but because programmers make it that way.

As consumers we patiently try to adapt to our computer, but we grow frustrated with such things as computer freezes (an endless hour glass), software downloads requiring the computer to be rebooted at the most inconvenient time to do so, and the legendary “blue screen of death” (a complete computer lockup). Nobody likes to execute the same task twice on the computer, yet due to programming snafus, such activity is commonplace. I don’t have an exact figure, but a substantial amount of time during the business day is lost simply due to the peculiarities of the computer. Programmers make computers functional; they do not make them idiot-proof.

Recently I was involved in a writer’s discussion group on the Internet whereby the question was asked, “Do computers now make better decisions than humans?” Actually, this is an old question and goes back to the 1950’s when computers were first being introduced. Since the computer only executes the instructions as programmed by the human being, it will only be as smart as the person programming it. It’s not so much a question of making “better” decisions, it’s a matter of being able to execute instructions faster (processing speed). A computer offers invaluable assistance in terms of executing complicated calculations, then again, the answer would not be any different than that arrived at by the human-being. It’s a matter of speed. Let us also not forget that if the formulas or algorithms are programmed incorrectly, the computer will produce an incorrect answer at an incredibly fast speed. As an example, there have been various calculation errors reported over the years in various software products, such as calculators, financial software, spreadsheets, etc. Here is one applicable to the MS Calculator:

3,600,523 divided by 6,000,000,000

Returns with: 6.0008716666666666666666666666667e-4

In other words, there is a problem expressing decimal fractions (the answer should be .000600087).

This number may seem innocuous on the surface but suppose it served a mission critical purpose, such as directing military operations, space trajectory, or patient health care? The number becomes very important in such situations where it leads to erroneous decisions or actions. The next question becomes: who is liable for the miscalculation, the computer hardware manufacturer or the person who programmed it incorrectly? Ultimately, it is a PEOPLE problem.

“If the mind really is the finest computer, then there are a lot of people out there who need to be rebooted” – Bryce’s Law

Keep the Faith!

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M. Bryce & Associates (MBA) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

For Tim’s columns, see:
http://www.phmainstreet.com/timbryce.htm

Like the article? TELL A FRIEND.

Tune into Tim’s THE BRYCE IS RIGHT! podcast Mondays-Fridays, 11:30am (Eastern).

Copyright © 2010 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

Posted in Computers, Technology | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

THE DIGITAL PANDEMIC (Book Review)

Posted by Tim Bryce on March 17, 2010

As someone who has written on the “Adverse Effects of Technology,” my interests were recently piqued by a new book entitled, “The Digital Pandemic” by Mack R. Hicks, Ph.D. (New Horizon Press), a fascinating thesis on the effect of technology on our youth. So much so, I believe it should be considered mandatory reading for everyone involved with PTA and school SAC programs. The premise behind Dr. Hicks’ book is that technology has an addictive quality to it which will have long-term adverse effects on our culture.

The book includes statistics demonstrating the pervasiveness of technology. For example, he points out 97% of twelve to 17 year-olds play video games, a third of which play adult games. This may not be startling to those of us who already guessed it but, as a noted psychologist and educator, he goes on to describe how it physically affects human thinking patterns. There have been plenty of such studies to indicate the adverse affect of technology, such as the King’s College London University study by Dr. Glenn Wilson which found that workers distracted by technology suffer a greater loss of IQ than if they’d smoked marijuana, but Hicks’ work goes further to demonstrate how technology alters the minds of impressionable youth. Further, they begin to exhibit the same robotic mannerisms of the technology they use which is not conducive for grooming socialization skills. Hicks basically argues that technology is a genuine threat to the human spirit. Such a claim should sound warning bells to parents as well as business people who will have to deal with these youngsters in the years ahead. He writes:

“This whole electronic revolution, with its emphasis on generational differences, is reminiscent of the 1960s and 70s, but this time the goal isn’t peace and love as much as unfettered, self-directed pleasure (and learning?). Well, if you’re a kid and you don’t trust adults, it’s likely you’re headed for trouble, big time.”

Hicks stresses the need for effective mentoring and parenting, something which may sound reminiscent of a bygone era. Aside from simply describing the problem, he goes on to offer pragmatic suggestions for parents, kids, and schools to help curb technology addiction. He devotes a whole chapter (17) to “Suggestions for Inoculating the Family,” as well as “Suggestions for Schools” in the Appendix.

The adverse effects of technology is a bona fide problem, and I, for one, applaud Dr. Hicks’ initiative for bringing this to the attention for all of us. As he writes, “If the growing epidemic of machines infests us all, I believe we’ll lose our humanity.”

Hicks’ work basically confirms one of our Bryce’s Laws, whereas: “As the use of technology increases, social skills decrease.”

“Digital Pandemic” by Mack R. Hicks, Ph.D.
List: $14.95
Printed 2010
http://digitalpandemic.info/ISBN-13: 978-0-88282-315-7
ISBN-10: 0-88282-315-9
New Horizon Press Books
Available at:
Amazon
Barnes & Noble
Borders

Keep the Faith!

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is the Managing Director of M. Bryce & Associates (MBA) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

For Tim’s columns, see: http://www.phmainstreet.com/timbryce.htm

Copyright © 2010 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

Posted in Books, Computers, Family, Technology | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

THE TOWER OF BABEL EFFECT

Posted by Tim Bryce on February 22, 2010

According to the Book of Genesis, the Tower of Babel was erected in Babylon as an attempt by the people to build a structure so immense that its top would reach into heaven. To do so, the people worked in a concerted manner by speaking a single language, thereby expediting the project. Displeased with the builders’ intent, God came down and confused their languages and scattered the people throughout the earth, thereby creating the many different tongues we know of today. This, of course, brought an abrupt halt to the project.

We see a similar Tower of Babel effect in just about every company who has an Information Technology (I.T.) department. Because the I.T. people work in a technical world, their jargon is laced with a lot of well meaning, yet very confusing gobbledygook. Their language abounds in seemingly strange acronyms, abbreviations and buzzwords. So much so, it has alienated non-I.T. people for many years. Sometimes this is done to deliberately lay down a smoke screen to confuse end-users, other times it is done as an attempt to baffle people with seeming brilliance, but most of the time it is done innocently as I.T. developers must cope with fast changing industry developments and vendor nuances.

What might come as a surprise to outsiders is to learn the I.T. staff has trouble communicating amongst themselves. It is not unusual for sharp disagreements to arise among the staff in terms of what something means and the best approach for implementing something. Ask ten I.T. developers what something means, and you may very well get ten different answers. Why? There are painfully few standards in the industry which means I.T. developers are forced to learn the peculiarities of each vendor’s hardware and software, and the incompatibilities between products, hence a Tower of Babel effect.

A Systems Analyst (or Business Analyst) is typically the intermediary between the business and I.T. people and, as such, acts as translator between the two groups. This means the analyst must be knowledgeable not only in the vernacular of the business world, but I.T. as well. A good analyst understands the business, the end-user’s wants and needs, develops an approach for solving the user’s problems, translates it into specifications the I.T. staff can understand and implement, and reviews their finished product to assure it satisfactorily solves the user’s requirements. Some people would argue an analyst is not necessary, that the I.T. staff can competently represent the users’ interests. I’m sorry, but the communication aspect alone prohibits this and requires the talents of a true analyst.

One of the best ways to hold any job hostage is to cloud what you’re doing and keep it so seemingly cryptic that your superiors are afraid to terminate your employment in fear your technology will go awry and nobody will be able to correct it. This typically happens when no standards are in place thereby encouraging the Tower of Babel effect. However, imagine the progress that could be made if I.T. developers operated according to a set of standards, that they spoke a common language and worked in a concerted manner. As long as they don’t try to build another tower to heaven, I doubt the Almighty would be displeased (or the executives of the company for that matter).

Keep the Faith!

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is the Managing Director of M. Bryce & Associates (MBA) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

For Tim’s columns, see:
http://www.phmainstreet.com/timbryce.htm

Copyright © 2010 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

Posted in Computers, Society, Software, Systems | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

TELL THEM WHAT YOU NEED, NOT WHAT YOU WANT

Posted by Tim Bryce on February 17, 2010

When a person visits a doctor to complain about an ailment, it is not uncommon for the patient to try and diagnose the problem himself and prescribe a cure. The doctor listens politely but then asks a series of questions aimed at analyzing the patient’s symptoms, for example, “When and where did you first notice this?” “How often does this happen?” “What medication are you currently taking?,” etc. By analyzing the symptoms, the physician is trying to diagnose the problem. If he cannot ascertain the problem through questioning or a basic examination, he may order additional tests, such as an MRI, X-rays, a CAT scan, blood tests, urine samples, etc. The point is, the doctor is more interested in attacking the root cause, not just the symptoms.

We see this same type of phenomenon in Information Technology (I.T.) related projects where the end-user approaches the I.T. manager with a request for service whereby he sincerely believes he knows the right technical solution to solve his business problems. Two things may result from this request: either the I.T. department will treat the users symptoms, and give him what he wants, thereby not really solving his business problem correctly, or; the I.T. department will study the user’s problem more closely, possibly order some tests, and prescribe a solution that properly addresses his problems. Regrettably, this latter approach is rarely performed in companies anymore.

There is still a huge frustration factor between users and I.T. developers. On the one hand, users claim, “They (the I.T. people) don’t understand me,” and on the other hand, the I.T. people contend the users “don’t know what they want.” This void between the two groups is unhealthy and not conducive for solving the company’s problems. Frustrated, I.T. management tells developers not to ask questions, “Just give them what they want.” This scenario is obviously counterproductive, yet commonplace in the corporate world today.

When I am asked how to deal with this situation, I emphasize the doctor-patient analogy as mentioned above. First, the I.T. people have to learn to ask more questions and differentiate symptoms from problems. In other words, let’s not be in such a hurry to program a solution before we truly understand the problem. I.T. has a horrible track record in this regard. The idea of specifying user information requirements is the Achilles’ Heel of every development project. If it is performed superficially, the wrong solution will inevitably be delivered. Second, the user should play the role of a patient, meaning don’t try to prescribe a solution but concentrate on what you truly need and let the doctor (the I.T. department) prescribe a suitable solution. After all, who has more training in this regard, the doctor or the patient? Let the I.T. people do what they’re trained to do (and are paid for).

As long as we know our roles and do not try to do the other person’s job, we’ll get along just fine. Now turn your head and cough.

Keep the Faith!

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is the Managing Director of M. Bryce & Associates (MBA) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

For Tim’s columns, see: http://www.phmainstreet.com/timbryce.htm

Copyright © 2010 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

Posted in Business, Computers, Management, Software, Systems | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

PASSWORDS

Posted by Tim Bryce on January 29, 2010

In this age of the Internet, we have all learned the necessity of using passwords to safeguard our identity, our credit cards and bank accounts, travel planning, etc. Come to think of it, just about everything on the Internet now requires a password, even if it’s free. They can get rather voluminous and difficult to remember, particularly if you have no control over the assignment of the password. Unless we are allowed to use a single password, which a lot of people do, it becomes a real headache to commit all of our passwords to memory. Consequently, we write them down on scrap paper and store the list away so we can reference it in the event we forget them (which seems to happen frequently). We don’t keep them on the Internet or our own local computer as we are frightened a hacker will somehow break in and steal the list.

Selecting a password is a very personal thing. Some companies suggest using the name of a favorite pet, a mother’s maiden name, a favorite movie or book, a school mascot, or whatever. I don’t believe many people use such passwords though and, instead, invent some rather interesting and unique passwords, using key nicknames, dates, items close to their heart, or their favorite character in such movies as “Star Wars,” “Harry Potter” or “Lord of the Rings.” Sometimes a password becomes so secretive a person may actually forget it which becomes rather frustrating particularly when it involves the processing of a financial transaction.

I find it amusing when some web pages test the “strength” of a password, meaning it should be made more complicated and as idiotic as possible to memorize. Instead of something as simple as “seabiscut,” they insist you change it to “SeaBiscut9xr3” which is a nightmare to remember the proper keystrokes.

It would be nice if we had only one password, but unfortunately this is not the world we live in and also explains why we have to carry so many keys with us. You would think that someone would invent a computer program to store and maintain passwords. Indeed, such programs do exist, but I don’t think many people trust them with passwords for critical accounts. The thought would be that it might secretly pass the passwords and accounts off to a third party who would then be at liberty to invade your privacy and steal your money. Frankly, you would probably be better off inventing your own scheme for managing passwords and somehow encrypting them.

If we lived in a perfect world, we wouldn’t need passwords. People would respect the privacy of others and wouldn’t try to cheat them out of their hard earned money. Regrettably we live in an imperfect world and, as such, we will continue to write down passwords on the backs of envelopes.

Keep the Faith!

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is the Managing Director of M. Bryce & Associates (MBA) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

For Tim’s columns, see:
http://www.phmainstreet.com/timbryce.htm

Copyright © 2010 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

Posted in Computers, Family, Internet | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

COMPUTER PRINTERS

Posted by Tim Bryce on November 23, 2009

In my 30+ years in the systems industry, I have seen a lot of computer printers; everything from high speed line printers that print 132 characters per line to the early laser printers and plotters, to today’s consumer dot-matrix printers. I even have some of the original print wheels from the first high speed printer for the UNIVAC I. They’re over 50 years old and I’m sure they’re worth something, but I digress.

What bugs me though are today’s consumer printers which can be unusually inexpensive, so much so, the ink cartridges for them are almost as expensive as the whole printer, which turns the printers into disposable commodities. It’s no small wonder that our garbage dumps are filling up with printers as people change printers more frequently than years ago. This implies the real money is not in the printers themselves, but in the ink cartridges which bears a hefty price tag for replacements, be it new or recycled, which, to me, seems odd as ink should be relatively cheap. Then again, I suspect the manufacturers of such products probably have a better grasp of marketing than I do. As a consumer though, I object to paying $25 – $35 for a lousy little black ink cartridge which lasts no more than a month, and much more for color.

I generally don’t have much of a problem installing printers, then again, I have a bit more experience than most people. To the novice consumer though, installing a printer can be a very traumatic experience, primarily because the software is designed by programmer geeks who haven’t got a clue what “user friendly” means. Some of the common mistakes I’ve seen include:

  • Installing a cartridge without first removing the tiny plastic strip under it.
  • Trying to insert the cartridge backwards or upside-down.
  • Inserting the black cartridge into the color cartridge position, and vice versa.
  • Plugging the printer cables into the wrong sockets.
  • For Wi-Fi printers, trying to get them to communicate with your network. Better yet, if something crashes, reestablishing the connection can be a painful experience, even for me.
  • My personal favorite though is fighting with the printer to get the cartridges to reveal themselves in order to change them. You know, watching the cartridges as they zip from side-to-side in the printer thereby keeping them out of the person’s reach, kind of like a game of Tag.

Then there are the printers that talk to you, such as “Printing started” and “Printing complete.” Then it begins to get insolent with you when something goes awry, “Please fill paper in the auto sheet feeder” or “Your ink is low, time to replace the cartridge.” These statements are all based on small sound bites that are assembled and broadcast as required. Interestingly, one of my computers suffered a crash which distorted the sequence of the sound bites. Now I get things like, “Problem started” and “Please fill your ink in the auto sheet feeder and replace the cartridge with paper.” Frankly, if I’m going to be insulted in this manner, they could at least do it with a sexy voice.

The geeks may think this is funny. The rest of us do not.

Such is my Pet Peeve of the Week.

Keep the Faith!

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is the Managing Director of M. Bryce & Associates (MBA) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

For Tim’s columns, see:
http://www.phmainstreet.com/timbryce.htm

Tune into Tim’s new podcast, “The Voice of Palm Harbor,” at:

http://www.phmainstreet.com/voiceph.htm

Copyright © 2009 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

Posted in Computers | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

 
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