Sometimes you just need to step back…

I worry that people struggle with things that aren’t critical. One of the things I learned many years ago was the importance of systems. In particular, I was working with a Hospital in Chicago. The IT leader and I were sitting in his office, and he was detailing the importance of programs. “Will someone die if this machine isn’t working” it was a simple yes or no question.  It did, however, change how I viewed problems after that. If it isn’t a life-threatening or life-saving system, it is not critical. Based on that I’ve been posting both troubleshooting and expectation setting posts lately. Starting from that frame of reference, life or death systems,  it becomes much easier to troubleshoot problems.  Yesterday I posted a consider the variables post. I worry that people are too fast in our modern world to cast blame. To assume that their problem is wholly someone else’s issue.

I talked in my post yesterday about the number of variables. I wanted to push this a little further and point out that I didn’t even start with many other user variables that can have an even greater impact. The reality of the impact of networks can be critical. For example, if you are on a saturated network segment, it changes how sites respond to you. It adds some variables to an already huge number. The age of the computer, type of processor and available memory also can cause a huge impact. Computers are smart, enough to not use bad memory and bad sectors on a hard drive. But if your hard drive is full or your memory if fully allocated the system has to use the bad memory as well. That is a huge variable.

I am reminded of an old proverb. A person struggled with their problems. They were more than the person could stand. They went to the village elders and said “I can no longer deal with my problems. They are far too hard, far too random and they cause me great pain.” The elders looked at each other, smiled, and then the head of the elder’s counsel said: “write your problems on a piece of paper.” As the person did that, the elders said to everyone else in the room. “Write your problems on a piece of paper as well.” The elders then said to the first person to “hand your problems to the person next to you, and they will hand you their problems.” The man smiled and passed his problems away, taking the problems of the person next to him. He read the problems and frowned. The elders asked “are these problems better?” they asked. “no” the man said. “they are worse.” The elders smiled “change with another person.” The person did, changing with everyone in the room eventually until finally, he smiled. “Are these problems acceptable to you?” The elders asked the person. “Yes,” the person said “I know these problems well. They are the ones I brought and the ones I will take with me.”

If you don’t own your problems, you are doomed always to seek a better path, and likely never find one.“

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tech wiz

It is YOUR fault. Or is it?

There is an old story about a child crying wolf. The villagers rush to the child twice, but there is no wolf. On the third time, the child cries wolf, the villagers don’t rush to them, and the wolf eats the sheep. Who is to blame? Well, you can find blame on both sides. It is the reality that we as humans always have to consider. That in fact, we live in a complex environment and are responsible for our interaction.  Complexity is a growing problem in the world around us. The more complex a solution is, the more likely it is that users will struggle. Let’s spend some time dispelling great myths instead of screaming that the water is hot. If you select the hot water faucet, the water that comes out should be hot.

  1. Sites are built for all browsers. This is a great myth. There are unique things that every browser does. Plus, there are unique components of every single platform. No one can build a website that perfectly services all the variables. The best you can do is the LCD third grade math. Yes, create a site that always delivers the lowest common denominator. Anything beyond the LCD adds complexity to the site and increases the potential for user failure.
  2. If something works, it doesn’t mean everything will work. I cannot tell you how many times I have had people tell me; I can do this but not this. Therefore, the second problem isn’t mine. An example would be someone saying I cannot connect to x site, with my computer browser. But I can connect to any other site with that browsers. Therefore transitive logic tells me that it is X-Sites fault. Except for two small problems, first that isn’t logic, and second, it isn’t right.

Many years ago I used to write a column called the Vanilla Network. It was devoted to solving problems for users. The first thing I always told users was to get to a vanilla configuration first, see if it works. Then layer on all the other pieces and see when it breaks.

To be clear, there are more than 1200 flavors of browsers available. There are more than 2000 varieties of computing platforms that can run those browsers. There are more than 21,000 extensions and add-ons to the browsers. Within the 21000 add-ons and extensions, there are at least 100,000 different combinations and variables of both releases dates and updates. Add to that variable in network connection, virus scanning software, and you end up with the following:

1 X 10 to the tenth power variables.

Just to be blunt, that means there are 10000000000 possible outcomes based on the configuration for any one computer.

10,000,000,000

It is not a small number. It is a massive number. It means that Myth 1 isn’t feasible. It means that Myth 2 isn’t feasible either.

Let’s be realistic; this is completely and end-user computing variables. We can add another 10,000 variables or more when it comes to technologies used on the server side.

When you combine the two, it is not additive. It is multiplicative. IE the new number of possible combinations is:

1,000,000,000,000,000

A very smart person once told me that the best thing to do was to get to a vanilla configuration. They also told me if there are five ways to do something, one works then stop worrying about the others. Look at the variable number, if you have something that works. Don’t complain, just use what works.

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Tech Wiz

Tech Wiz on Upgrades!

One of the things I used to dread was upgrades. There was a time, back in the dark ages of phones, when if you were upgrading your PPC phone, you had to start over every single time. In the past six years, I have updated my iPhone every single time and only bricked my phone one time. That said, I have a full online backup of my phone so bringing it (making the phone unable to be operated or restored) meant getting a new phone from my cellular provider and restoring my backup. Apple gets Kudos for making upgrades painless. Microsoft and Google also get high marks now. Android and Windows updates are incredibly easy to start, finish and move on from!

The reality of what an upgrade represents is frankly that you are adding new functionality, new security, and new features. You are fixing old issues and solving old security issues. You get to start over with an operating system. There was a time, many years ago, as mentioned that you had to start over. The reason for starting over has to do with drivers. The impact of the internet on upgrades is that you now can do the upgrade and not work on drivers. The drivers are on the internet and for the most part, are provided back to you in a fairly reasonable manner automatically. I suspect back in the dark ages we called the beginning of personal computers, that was the single largest impact on systems.

What used to take 4 hours, or more now works in minutes. Worst case, with a failed upgrade you go to a backup. The freedom created by not having to stress about updates is an incredible value. It makes me wonder if I can get all those lost upgrade hours back? Imagine, consider, contemplate all the time you have lost over the years on a specific task. What, if you could ask for that time back. It would be interesting, of that I am sure. Not the activities you love. But things you wished you didn’t have to do. Things you would have preferred to, well not do. What would you spend all that new found time on? I know that not having to waste time upgrading causes me to spend more time playing with other technology. I guess I really don’t save much time after all!

Tech Wiz

Tech Wiz what’s on your desk?

I have five model cars in my office at home. One is the English Double Decker bus that my grandfather gave me (after his trip to London). Three of them are old slot cars that were bought more than 30 years ago. The last one is my LaFrance ladder Firetruck purchased in Europe back in 1971. All of them are important to me, which is why I keep them. Three, the old slot cars, are technology and the other two are models. The London bus is the newest of the five.  Not sure why I am talking about them this morning, just that I looked up in my office and remembered that they were there. The Firetruck is missing the Fireman that used to operate the ladder portion of the truck. It is also missing most of the ladders.

That is looking up conversation got me thinking about my desk. I do, already, need to clean it again. But regarding what is on my desk today versus what was on my desk in the past, it is an interesting conversation. For example, I have golf balls in sleeves on the shelf above my desk right now. The golf balls are from various customers and places I’ve been. I do have the complete Disney set of golf balls out in my basement display area. The ones in my office are from customers.  I also have a Yo-Yo’s and pens. Over the years I have collected a lot of pens that I haven’t used. They were gifts from people. I have many pens I’ve used, but the ones I got from various people are often more symbolic than useful.

I have a couple of things given to me by people that worked for me (a melted clock from a former employee and a pencil holder a former principal gave me). On top of my monitor I have some other things as well. Meepers, a great Lego automation technology, minion duct tape, Minon Band-Aids and several things I’ve been given. A figure my wife gave me, a Mercedes Benz hood ornament my daughter gave me and a glass paperweight my mother gave me. All of those things look down at me as I write my blogs. I guess, I never really shared the entire collection. I’ve talked about many of the things and shared pictures of a few, but this is the first time talking about all of them.

Perhaps I should start the Tech Wiz what is near your desk challenge!

Tech Wiz

more Tech Wiz troubleshooting and link to the poll…

I spend a lot of time troubleshooting technology problems for some people. It isn’t that difficult a transition for me, because in part because I started my technical career as a helpdesk professional. I don’t count the six months where I sold computers as really the start of my IT career. That was more of a transition period from teacher to technologies. I was also training people at that time. My final transition out of education was in the space where I became a helpdesk professional. The sale is a huge part of what I do still, but when I was a dedicated sales person, that was very different.  I was less focused on problems and more focused on selling solutions. I still sell solutions.

The reality of troubleshooting is that you can solve your problems. I always tell people to make sure they do the simple things. Restart your computer is the easy one. If that doesn’t solve your problem, then you need to do a little thinking. When does the problem occur is the next thing to consider. By this I mean does it happen while you are using a program or does it just randomly happen when you are using your computer? The first one is easy – next step is to update that program. If that doesn’t work, uninstall the program in question and reinstall it. If it is a while I am using the computer issue, you will have to do a little more digging into what might be wrong. Easy things to check, remove everything connected to your computer but the network, monitor and keyboard/mouse.

Removing everything gets you closer to vanilla. Vanilla is the helpdesk friend. It is also your friend. Vanilla systems let you figure out what isn’t working quickly!

If your system is stable after removing all the USB and other items plugged in it is time for one at a time plug them back in. I have a USB device at my house that doesn’t let my computer operate properly if it is plugged in all the time. Windows 7 and later allow you to plug USB devices in while the computer is operating and use them. That means you can keep it unplugged and only plug it in when you need it.

Good luck, troubleshooting isn’t that hard!

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Tech Wiz (link to the poll)

Tech Wiz on being secure!

There were a bunch of interesting releases from NIST yesterday (National Institute of Standards and Technology for the US Government) two of them were focused on the Cyber Security area. I spend a lot of time thinking about the impact of security. First off, I am not by any means or meaning trying to say anything about Cyber professionals. Nor is it my opinion that we spend too much time on Cyber Security. Rather, there has to be a balance between security and users. I think the reality of security today is that it applies to you. That is a hard thing to realize. That security applies to everyone the same across the board. Except those of us that produce information that has additional value, then security applies more!

(The last line was a joke)

Security is something that all os of has to consider. Our PII is our responsibility (PII, is personally identifiable information, i.e., what someone needs to have to steal your assets or your identity). What is unique about us we need to protect. That said it isn’t as easy as me simply saying it is your responsibility. Many companies get involved in this process. Some companies focus on monitoring your identity to protect you. Some organizations focus on your overall credit health and current credit status, and there are computer security companies that protect you from Virus and Malware attacks. All of these things are a part of what cybersecurity is.

It is as much a way as anything.

For example, how often do you change your banking password? How often do you change your ATM pin? Yes, I know both of those things are incredibly frustrating, particularly if you forget.

Simple security – change passwords every 45 days. Yes, that is truly annoying. Yes, that can be difficult. Yes, that, just that one thing, can prevent other problems quickly.

Oh yeah, and update your virus and malware programs at least once a week!

Security is your problem.

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Tech Wiz

Tech Wiz on GPS!

The rise of mapping and GPS solutions is always something that I watch. There was a time when I had external GPS units. I still have two of them. They connect to the PC via the USB port. I don’t use them anymore, but I keep them attached to the filing cabinet in my office. There was a time when I only used Delorme software. I have to say their customer service before Garmin purchased them was horrible, so I stopped using their products. I loved their handheld GPS and their offline communication unit, but I won’t own their products ever again. They are on my customer service list with Noah’s Properties and Vonage as companies I will never do business with again.

I do still own two different mapping packages on my phone for driving, one for walking and one for boating. Each of them is useful for the environment being considered and that they are used in. Marine has to provide you with the channel (where it is safe to be( as well as any known water hazards. Driving and walking are the same, although with walking you do have time to respond to things if you are paying attention. the New GPS systems for cars include weather and traffic. The improvements in the products have been impressive. When I was first using a GPS, now nearly 20 years ago, the reality of the GPS was that it could be off by as much as 300 yards.

300 yards doesn’t seem that much, but it is when you are in a big city. Now the GPS is accurate to within 3 or fewer feet. The same is true for boating GPS fixes. It is also interesting because when you fly a drone, the reality of accuracy becomes critical. When you pick a GPS fix for the drone, you need to make sure you have three feet on either side so the drone has some wiggle room. I learned that the hard way two years ago, and ended up chewing up the propellers of my Drone. I ended up not seeing the rock on the far side of where I was landing, and ended up hitting the rock, the drone dipped and I had a damaged drone propeller (actually two). All that said, it is amazing how accurate GPS solutions re now!

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GPS Geek