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There’s not an app for that yet!?

If a man believes and expects great things of himself, it makes no difference what gadget he puts in his pocket or which gadget you show him. He will be surrounded by magnificence. He is in the condition of a healthy and hungry man, who says to himself, “How sweet this crust is!”

Conversely, if a man believes and expects that an app should take care of him, it makes no difference where you put him or what you show him. He will be surrounded by pity, ignorance, self-doubt, and dependency. He is in the condition of a weak and pathetic man, who says to himself, “Who made this for me? This app tastes bitter!”

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Document Retention vs. Disaster Recovery

Subject:Record Retention and Disaster Recovery & EPHI & PHI

Hello Ian and Ben,

HR would like to meet with the two of you and discuss [the] record retention program and the safeguards in place to restore data.

We would also like to discuss EPHI & PHI policies to ensure [we stay] in compliance.  It would be helpful to gain a better understanding of IT’s processes and procedures concerning data back-up and the access to sensitive personnel information.

Would you please suggest a day and time when we can meet for about half an hour?

Thanks.

Read the rest of this entry »


Is there anything an iPad can’t do?

Give a man a hammer, everything is a nail. Give a man an iPad, everything is an ‘app’.

When I went to the theater this weekend, an iPad and several iPhones were used to set the mood by casting a rainbow of soft, shifting colors on the movie screen.

Then there’s the heavy, but high tech, name tag app. This app shows a sense of style and prowess while attending a conference about ‘technology’:

The salsa app is my personal favorite:

http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/268823/april-01-2010/stephen-gets-a-free-ipad

“Remember the iPod?” That is sooo 2001…  But the iPad: now that’s here to stay!

Paperless at the Co-op Board Meeting?

ECT.coop posted some material that made its way into one of our board packets.  Read the full article here.

“I rolled into the board room a handcart carrying 22 reams of paper, I told them, ‘this is a year’s worth of paper.’”

This quote came from the same source.  Read the full article here.

“Before you know it you’ve gone through 25,000 sheets of paper, or 50 reams, in a year. [We’re] going paperless to cut costs and increase efficiency.”

Seriously?

I decided to decipher all the articles and posts about cutting costs by using iPads in place of paper or a web page in Electric Co-ops.  Is there more wheat than chaff or is it more hype and type?

Not wanting to miss out on the efficiencies offered by iPad presentation technology, I called the accounting department and asked them how much a box of paper cost us: $27.90.  So, $27.90 for 5,000 sheets; printing on each is .02 per page: that gives me $127.90 for 5000 printed sheets of paper or $0.026 per sheet.  Each of our 7 board members are getting an average 85-page summary per month – this amounts to around 600 printed pages a year for each board member * 7 board members = $185.64.

Using mathematics technology I learned in the third-grade, I was able to derive that printing board reports are costing the co-op $15.35 per annum negating the capital expense of the fully-depreciated $350 printer on the executive secretary’s desk.  Needing to get the reports to the board members, it would cost $5 in postage * 7 board members = $35 per month * 12 months = $420 postage per annum.

(Start Edit) It was later brought up to me that the executive secretary’s time was not accounted for in my 3rd grade calculation.  I did ask payroll if the secretary was getting a significant amount of overtime during the board weeks: “No”.  Armed with this information, I made the assumption that overall time spent compiling the reports was not significant enough to take into account. My rationale was that the wage is going to be paid if time was spent surfing Facebook or stuffing envelopes, regardless.  The time to compile the information is the most significant factor no matter if the effort goes into printed or digital medium.
I’m sure that there’s one person out there who is going to argue that time could be spent doing “other” things – such as researching the cure for cancer, taking on a teaching job with an online university, or some other noble cause.  Unfortunately, I can’t quantify this in real terms. SO… (End Edit)

In total, it is costing me $605.64 per year for all board members to get their reports using the latest of USPS and yesteryear laser printing technology.

Now to find the cost savings! First, let’s add the costs involved with a ‘high-tech’ iPad board report:

  1. iPod2 (mid-grade): $599.99
  2. ‘apps’: $50 (let’s be conservative)
  3. 4/3G Internet MRC@ $59 per month * 12 months = $708 * 7 board members…

huh…

Need I calculate further?

facetious & sarcastic curmudgeon


How to Complain to the Power Company

Via Internet message board:Not the original poster, but giving my old house in central MD as a data point: my 20A Furman unit would sometimes show line voltages above 130. My two APCs would regularly have the “trim” light on and occasionally some red overvoltage lights. In the last year I was there the Furman would trip its protection breaker about once every week or two, so I’d come home to find my rack powered off (including the DVR, which made it extra annoying).The Innovolt protector I got back in August logged over a dozen current spike events.

Almost every X10 device installed in that house failed after a couple years, and the more expensive Leviton ones died the fastest. I had some Insteon in there for a year or two and lost one dimmer so far. I got this behavior even on my freshly-run 20A circuits. The power in that community was just dreadful and was at the far end of some old, convoluted lines that were subject to wind and tree problems. Every time it went out (up to several times per month in storm season) the Insteon would freak out for about 20 minutes, the halogen under-counter lighting in the kitchen might start flickering, and if the furnace happened to be running at the time it would trip an internal breaker that required removing several panels and feeling around blindly inside to reset it.The analog phone lines were even worse. My 56K modem never once managed any better than 28.8.

Earlier this year I moved about 10 minutes away and the power situation seems to be much better so far. I think I’ve had one outage in four months and as I write this my kill-a-watts are showing a reasonable 122.6V.

Reply:

I am sorry to hear about your issue. Are you renting or buying? If you are renting, move. You will spend a fortune on electronics. If you are buying, call the electric company every time you have issues. I mean every time. Take pictures, take notes, and start a log of everything that goes wrong with the power. Complain, complain, complain. This, I have learned, is a good way to get things fixed. You are paying for a service they are providing. If that service is causing you financial ruins, you have rights. I have the H10 and I have everything plugged into it. I love it. I have stable power where I live, but I don’t want to take chances. When I say complain: I’m saying to be a pain in the power company’s ass.

Via YouTube:

Audience Definition

My audience is usually IT people who work for electric cooperatives.  The audience for this post is being expanded and intended to all consumers of electric service from an electric cooperative or company.  If you do not use electric service but are a technical employee for a coop that fields consumer complaints, this also pertains to you.  Please comment below if you work in the industry and have anything to add.  I’m writing this to “get the word out” to us consumers on how to communicate with their utility to address service issues.

What is an Electric Cooperative?

Your electric cooperative is a non-profit organization.  Our existence is based on serving you with power because no for-profit business believes you are worth serving.  The USDA gives cooperatives low-interest funding to the members of cooperatives to build infrastructure and to provide you with power.  You might not know it, but you are an owner of the system.  By electing and talking with your board member, your stake in the company is being represented.
It is common for your electric cooperative to have an average of less than one person per mile of line.  Last I checked, electric cooperatives own a considerable percentage of the miles of power line in the nation yet they serve a very small portion of the national population. In a rural area, it takes an awful lot to distribute the power and keep your lights on.  With IOUs (investor owned utilities), investors will go only where big cities and big profits are.  With one mile of power line, an IOU in a city can serve thousands of people. They maintain less and serve more.  Keep this in mind when making comparisons to the quality of power you experienced when you lived in a city.  If you are going to compare a city’s grid to a rural area as the basis of your complaint… well, your mileage will vary.

Complaints

Over the years, I have fielded a number of consumer complaints regarding power quality.  Working in both cooperative IT and engineering departments, I am usually brought in when a member’s computer equipment is not operating normally or if a piece of power protection equipment is being questioned for an insurance claim.  These devices have ranged from APC UPS to a simple surge arrester.  I have also been called in to investigate other abnormalities that were outside of the scope of IT: an improperly-grounded swimming pool that would cause a person to be shocked when the water was touched and when lights were flickering only on one side of the customer’s house.

The end result of investigating these abnormal cases was usually a hefty repair bill being sent to the member by their electrician.  Unfortunately, we took the majority of the blame, red-faced screaming, and continued acts of belligerence from the customer when it came to power quality issues behind the point of delivery (POD) or their load center (breaker box).  It upsets me because the POD is legally where our responsibility ends and the homeowner’s responsibility begins – there’s nothing we can do about bad house wiring, open neutral, or a loose ground on the customer premise side.

How to complain

I searched the Internet looking for “how to complain to the electric company” and to my dismay read the top hits on Google had common thread-of-thought and method to simply “be a pain in the ass”.

I’ll just tell you now that being a nuisance will get you only so far having your service problem addressed.  As a consumer subscribing to electric service, I can understand that a service issue is frustrating and as an employee in the industry, I really want to fix it.  But realize that sometimes there’s nothing I can do to fix certain problems because, well, the problem is not mine to fix.  Directing anger at me in these cases would be like yelling at the fuel pump attendant because your vehicle wont start:

“Go see a mechanic; the poor guy at the service station only pumped the darn fuel.”

I’m not inferring that in all cases the problem lies behind the meter and is the consumer’s responsibility.  Being a consumer of electricity myself, I have personally filed three complaints with electric utilities resulting in them fixing/reconfiguring their equipment: two regarding low voltage and one regarding an abnormal number of outages.

In these cases, my number-one goal was to raise awareness by collecting empirical data as the basis of my service complaint.  After collecting the data, I dropped it off with the electric utility’s engineers to analyze it and correlate it with other problems they confirmed to have on record.

Let’s get started collecting the data – but in order to collect this data, you must first…

Read the rest of this entry »


Androids and iPads and Platforms, Oh My!

 We are currently presenting our board package using coop provided laptops to our board.  The full report is put in a pdf format using adobe software.  I am somewhat intrigued about using ipads and some of the board portals apps that are available these days.  Participated in a web demo from Diligent Boardbooks this morning.  Very impressive but a little pricey. Just wondering what some of you may be doing?

CEO to Ian-

Is this a possibility for [us]?  How would we communicate with ipads?  Can Board members […] who don’t have email use an ipad?

Yes.  This is a possibility here.

However consider the cost of using existing paper vs. the iPad.  An iPad is simply another means of presenting the same information.  The only time I prefer a computer interface over a paper one is when I would like to conduct my own analysis of the empirical data being presented or summarized.  Being that the information described is merely a PDF file, this information format is the relative equivalent to paper.  Saying that continued use of paper over the long-run is cost prohibitive is a difficult claim to make.  We know the life of paper; do we know the life of an iPad?

As far as e-mail or communications go, iPads do have CDMA and G3 options for connection to the cell phone network.  This will negate the e-mail connectivity requirement for each board member.  For a monthly fee, they can communicate over the cell network.  But also consider the issues we’ve experienced with cell coverage in our rural service territory… it’s not good.

If the goal of the iPad is to make information look cool, I agree that it certainly will do just that.  In the end, we will still have to compile the same information but it would be presented on a “high-tech” iPad platform instead of being sent to a printer. The function remains the same: to present information and reports to a board member. Speaking from experience, when installing video conferencing systems, smart phones, or the latest gadget to giving laptops to board members in the past, they always relied on that paper report in the end no matter how fancy the tech was at the time.
I’m not saying that I don’t want to do it or I am against it. Heck, I’d like to have an iPad as well. What I am saying it that it brings nothing new and the cost to maintain vs. paper is high, relatively speaking.

-ian

—–

Should people buy their own iPads, iPhones, or tech, I personally would choose to support them.  Recently, the question was asked about personal devices and changes to policy that would allow for personal devices to sync with a mail server. I found the question interesting because I figured a policy should cover all modes of communication.

So, as part of the rebel alliance: “Yes” We allow personal devices, and other unorthodox “catwalk technology”, and gadget fads.  Even the older versions – such as a favorite personal pen, feather quill, or ergonomic keyboard, paper memo, file cabinet, or a Gutenberg press would be allowed as long as the manager thinks that it helps an employee get their work done.  We don’t have a policy defined outside of the standard regarding security, document retention, and e-mail use.

Specific to cellphone-based gadgets, we will support the interface only (OWA/SSL). We provide the user with Exchange interface and encryption information that we are responsible for maintaining.  All of the cell phone companies I’ve dealt with offer to setup the gadget for their customer as part of the sale: business, hotmail, yahoo, corp synch, skype, transfer their phonebook from the old device to the new, et al.

As time passes, I’m noticing how ridiculous people are when it comes to gadget envy.  On several occasions, the gadget owner told me that they traded-up to get corporate synch to work because they simply “couldn’t live without it”.  Because I now refer the user to support provided by the cell phone company (a.k.a. the “Drug Dealers”), that e-mail junkie that needs a synch-fix every second is no longer my problem.
Even my cheap, pre-pay personal cell can access corporate OWA on its included WAP browser.  The OWA interface is fairly standard. I’m sure a high-speed/low-drag R2-D2, C3PO, or fruit phone with an appropriate app will have no problems interfacing with an SSL webmail site or corporate Exchange synch as long as the external e-mail interface is already available, allowed, and supported.

Why should I disallow corporate e-mail use on a mobile device if OWA or webmail is already offered to my colleagues via SSL on a PC with a browser?  Better question: how would you disallow it only on mobile devices if access is already offered via the Internet?  In my brain, e-mail is mail. Mail is a transported message or payload. It doesn’t matter if its transport medium was a smoke signal, Morse code, diesel truck, ship, courier, fax using v.32, or SMTP with MIME, a PC or a Internet enabled cell phone.  The end result is the transport of a message or payload.

A Coop policy should be gray enough to address all mediums and modes of transport no matter what future gadget Steve Jobs or Intel comes up with next.  In my view, these gadgets are merely an extra-extension of an existing technology.  They give us a new “how” to get things done.  This is why policy should focus on addressing the “why” to get those things done.

If you are worried about e-discovery or legal liability issues, shouldn’t your existing document retention policy cover this?  Should a user remove a paper folder or memo and not follow the document retention policy, wouldn’t the same unmitigated risk exist?  If OWA is already allowed, what’s to keep a user from copying e-mails on their home PC? Aren’t we always at the mercy of people to do the right thing? With today’s tools, with today’s gadgets, rarely is how to do it the problem.  That’s just a call to tech support – these are easily accomplished.

If Customer Service Sue comes to you asking to configure her shiny new toy to the corporate network, would you do it simply because you know how? When asked why, she tells you that she would like to get her electronic vacation approvals and submit her time with it.  If Terry the Foreman would like to use his Droid (with the latest Han Solo OS that you are not familiar with) to enter and approve time from the field, use the internal GPS to inform mapping of his location, and send pictures of damaged structures to the warehouse after a storm, why not give him the information and refer him back to his cell provider?

The problem with some co-op policies is that they focus too much on procedure rather than defining why.  So, instead of worrying about how to put new tech in your cooperative, make sure there’s a good answer to why in there somewhere before you do it.

Following the yellow brick road of techno-gadgets will eventually lead you to the Wizard, my friends.  If you don’t already know it, the Wizard will reveal your purpose and reason.  Be sure to stop and look around when you arrive. Notice that there are others with you.  Some are holding iPads, laptops, PC’s, Droids, and others still hold paper.  Ponder the thought that they all arrived at the same time.  Watch as they tap on their gadget of choice while reciting in unison that “there’s no place like home.

In this moment, I hope that you ask yourself:  “Why?”  You might then realize that it wasn’t the gadget or software that lead them to accomplish their purpose and mission; actually, you’ll discover that it was them all along.

 


TechAdvantage 2011 – Virtualization Questions

Questions asked before and after the presentation are posted here.

There’s been a big push in the Midwest for Google Gmail to take over in-house hosting our e-mail.  My Redhat is 7 years old, handles all our e-mail and should be replaced.  You mentioned Postini: should I outsource my e-mail entirely?

In my opinion, the fact alone that your server is 7 years old is not a compelling reason to move to Gmail.  There are usually 3 reasons people choose to upgrade: technology, security, and functionality mandate.  All of these are really driven by risk and cost.  Cost does not always have to equate to dollars but it is good to do so if you have to explain it to someone other than yourself.  The way I rationalize with it is that if the cost of holding what you have exceeds the cost of the technology upgrade, then you need to upgrade.

In your case, hardware “getting old” would fall into a technology mandate.  The hardware needs to be replaced because it is seven years old.  You can purchase a less-problematic and brand new box for relatively less cost than is required to maintain the current one.  Because your e-mail is doing everything that you want it to, this would not fall into a functionality mandated upgrade.  E-mail is really a simple and common service for an IT department.

Again, this is only my opinion, but moving to Gmail without defining a business need would be like throwing the baby out with the 7-year-old bathwater.  This is not a good practice in most cultures.  With virtualization, the bathwater can always be fresh.  No reconfiguration necessary.  All stays the same and essentially eliminates the technology mandated reasons for upgrading – such as a dated server.

Didn’t you guys do it backwards?  Should you have purchased a SAN first? Read the rest of this entry »


TechAdvantage 2011 – Virtualization

I just uploaded all of the video to YouTube today.  Here are the videos if you care to view them:

Part I

Part II

Part III

Stay tuned…

I am finishing the post of how-to virtualize for free.  This will be a step-by-step guide on how we accomplished this task.  Also, I will be posting some more information based on some of the questions that Ben and I were asked before and after this presentation.

(Edit: trouble with transcoding video.  A replacement video is being uploaded)