Month: January 2014

Telecommuting: Good or Bad?

While I am certain that in some cases allowing an employee to work from home would work, I believe that we may be taking it too far.

 

Recently I was doing business with my bank and had to be transferred to a specialist. “Due to the overwhelming response all agents are busy, please hang on.”

 

After about five minutes of being on hold the phone is finally answered.  The girl that handled the call was somewhat disorganized and I know this as she ask me for the same information several times as she most likely was stalling while she got to the right screen or possibly off of Facebook.

 

Between the pauses I could hear a baby crying in the background.  I am not sure that allowing people to work at home with many distractions is a good idea however; commercial offices are sold or rented by the square foot.  The amount each department is charged is allocated by the square footage that they occupy.  Electricity used is divided up the same way.  I.e. if sales uses X square footage and accounting uses X and IT uses X that is all split up so the bean counters can accurately assess the cost for each department or cost center.

 

Many companies are trying to cut cost by having people share a desk, meaning that they work from home so many days, then the other person works from home.  Personally I think this idea is really poor as your phone, keyboard and lets face it; every surface is a harbor for germs.  The phone especially as it is close to your nose and mouth.  In this day of bacteria and viruses that are mutating and becoming resistant to the antibiotics that we have, I don’t think it a good idea to provide yet another way to transfer them.

 

So what kinds of folks could work from home?  I think people who are self starters.  There are folks out there who look forward to Monday.  I know this as I am one of them.  While most can’t wait for Friday to roll around I am one that looks at the clock not to see how much more time that I must endure but, how little time I have left to complete what I wanted to get done that day.

 

That is a self starter.  That person could work out of their car or where ever.  My office was the airplane and airport for years. 

 

I mention this as I doubt that the bank had an excessive surge of calls today and I doubt that the cable company does every time that I call etc.  While some of this may be to understaffing I suspect some of this is people being distracted at a home office. 

 

Customer service is part of your brand much like the poor customer service at HP is iconic of what not to do and has been immortalized in shows like Big Bang and of course the ever famous YouTube video where the Marine shoots his printer with an automatic weapon, as his HP support was so bad.

 

Whether your company is public or private you must protect your brand.  Think carefully about where your employees do their job and what kinds of employees are able to work from home.

 

Think really hard about outsourcing your customer service to “Peggy!”

 

-Best to you and those that you care about!

Disaster Avoidance

 

 

Consulting as a Disaster Recovery Specialist, I often find things that need to be changed to avoid a disaster, much like a loose rug over a threshold or too many things plugged into one circuit; which would be an issue in your home.  In the business world it comes down to security issues both IT related and physical, as well as simple things like a lack of fire extinguishers or the wrong type of fire retardant system in the computer room.  I am trained to notice the smallest of details including things like cable management issues. 

 

When Best Practice scenarios are not followed by sys-admins or networking guru’s, they too trigger red flags.  There is an art to designing data centers.  I have designed and built many over the last 30 years complete from the ground up; from air handling to power requirements to working with ADA compliance issues.  I have designed cable management for many companies that include the MDF and IDF’s and working with building management to handle communication through multiple story buildings making sure that they pass fire code.  You would be amazed at how many data centers that I walk into that are under wired, lack proper air handling and have a sprinkler head above the equipment!  The cable management looks like Spiderman installed it, nothing is labeled, and there is absolutely not one shred of documentation.   And the boss / owner is oblivious to the immanent disaster, as he thinks his guys are pretty good!

 

When business’s start up, often times they don’t contact the brightest and best to build it as they are on a tight budget.  When I am called, their data center is generally a candidate for one of those web sites that post “what not to do.”  The exercise of unraveling the Gordian knot comes into play before anything can be changed.  Many times a family friend is called to assist or the business owner has a home network and thinks that a business network is no different.

 

When these knots are constructed; most if not always there is limited or no documentation and the original creator has long since abandoned ship as he undoubtedly realized the ice berg ahead was not too far off.   To that end there are many land mines that have to be discovered and diffused.  This practice is akin to changing the tires on a racecar, while it is going down the track, and part of that track is in no mans land!  The catch 22 is that no business can afford down time but, if they don’t address the issues they will have un-planned down time!  Un-planned is always much longer than planned, and always more expensive!

 

As an SME on this and many subjects regarding IT, I can offer many things to mitigate any issues and put them on a road to setting things right. Whether that is working with their current IT staff, or bringing in hired guns to knock it out quickly!

 

The business must be willing to want to change, and have Executive buy-in as well as buy-in from the local staff.  The process can take weeks to months depending upon the situation; but after it is all said and done, procedures and processes are put into place to keep up with change.

 

Some policies addressed are Change Management, Incident analysis; complete with root cause analysis, documentation with the introduction of the concept of a living document. The run book, what is it and how does it work?  Testing the Disaster Recovery plan and then implementing changes from things learned. Other topics include SAM (software asset management,) and of course hardware management including lifecycle, and the budget process.   

 

All too often the CFO or CEO is told that IT needs X thousands of dollars for this, that, or the other thing; not because it is a new project but because something failed!  With proper asset management this can be mitigated greatly and things can be budgeted for.

 

Much like any other audit, I don’t guarantee anything will be pleasant other than the knowledge that when it is done you will have the documentation you need, your network will be running at peak efficiency and it will be secure.  Depending upon your growth and company needs, a design can be implemented to make sure your data network is robust enough to handle changes and or growth!

 

The last thing that I can address for you is personnel.  As a manager of and director of IT for 2 decades I know people.  I know who is right for a job and who is not.  If that type of expertise is needed; look no further.

 

-Best

“Schools are a pipeline to prison.”

 Those words were spoken by our not so illustrious AG, not so long ago.  I don’t know where this man got his degree but, I firmly suspect it came out of a package with a little blue man with a dog by his side as the logo.

 

The problems in our society are not a mystery as to how they happened and the “fix” is really not that esoteric either.  The simple facts are that there is no easy fix.

 

To repair the problem one first has to identify where the problems started and reverse the trend.  Any pilot knows that when you get into trouble or off course or what have you the first thing is not some knee jerk response but, slow small course corrections.  

 

It still boggles my mind that we are where we are at and the AG makes such a lame statement on national TV.  The answer he says is to “give minorities a pass.  Don’t correct them as harshly as you would someone who is not a minority.”

 

There are two basic problems.  The breakdown of the family unit, (no dad around) and the schools have been neutered by those that feel that grading with red pens or reprimanding children or heaven forbid, spanking a child is just simply not done!  You might damage their self esteem!  The parents have gone as crazy by giving into their children’s empty threats of “give me my way or I will hurt myself, I will cut my self and then you will be sorry!”  “Oh ok honey, here is your iPhone back and I have upped your data plan, please don’t hurt yourself.”  Kids have taken “I will hold my breath” one step further to cutting or worse.  If they do this parents, they need more help than you can give them with your parenting skills, seek help!

 

Consistent boundary setting is a lost concept today.  “Explain to the “child” I really wish you wouldn’t do that because there will be consequences to your actions if you do but, that is your decision.  I am keeping the phone for X weeks as I told you, because you did not do what you were supposed to….” 

 

When you set their expectation that “if they do or don’t do” as the case may be the consequence will be X,Y,or Z than you must follow through each and every time.

 

The legal system is real good about setting boundaries for all of us in that if we speed, and get caught, we will get a ticket which cost us money, time and yes it could be embarrassing.

 

When I was in school if we did something that was even slightly egregious, it usually meant a visit to the dean, coach or principal which usually ended up with a few swats and depending upon the offence, may be followed up with after school detention.

 

If you check the charts of people in prison in this country today you will see that there is a direct correlation between that rise in prison population and this drive to neuter the teachers from disciplining your child!  There are 2.2 million people in prison in the US, 75K from non-violent drug offenses.  If you could do the math you would quickly see that we have made an industry out of housing inmates! 

 

Let’s take that one step further, of the people that are currently on the government dole, how many of them could have benefited from a little “course correction” in school?  There is such a thing as character, and I think that between missing dad’s or sperm donors; and the lack of programs for young people and quite frankly the “Stuff” that these teachers are forced to teach, you have the elements for the perfect storm of mediocrity and or “failure as a people.”

 

For instance, if we could re-direct some of that money currently going out to welfare or to house prisoners and put it towards the space program, we no doubt would have people living on MARS by now.  Instead we have to waste our precious resources housing prisoners and paying people not to work. 

 

How about educating those “Americans” that would like to learn, before worrying about educating illegal aliens?  This is not a diatribe against Hispanics or others who come here to have a better life; it is however a statement that those that are here “legally” should have fist shot and not the other way around as we are currently doing in Texas and Mr. Christie is proposing doing!

 

The goal of school is to turn out taxpayers.  School by definition is part of the process and tax payers invest in you, your children and so forth in hopes that you will be a productive citizen. While I doubt few get up in the morning and say, “today I want to be a better criminal,” there are probably some who do, and that is a real loss, not only for them but for all of society.

 

Give the schools the power to discipline all children equally.  That means make the course correction in a way that will get through to that child.  If the consequence is embarrassing and painful enough, the odds of the kid doing something to earn it again are much lower than if you simply throw them onto the street!  You were right about one thing MR AG… We need to show these kids that “we do love them and care for them, and one way you do that is by not sparing the rod!

 

The numbers don’t lie and I am aghast that no one has put it together and done something about it.  So get out those red pens teachers!  Not everyone wins a trophy and some need to see a big red “F” to get their attention.  No child needs to be on the street or swept aside in some “program” that is indeed a pathway to prison.  Make some course corrections before it gets that far.  How about spending some of that money allocated for “prisons” on programs aimed at working with those families with “no dad at home.”

 

It is not rocket science MR Holder but, if we would take some steps now, just maybe we could get to teaching “rocket science” instead of “how to look innocent in a lineup.” What kids see at home today they will no doubt re-peat in their lives thus adding to the already growing prison populations, broken families and homes and “Detroits,” all over America!  Stop the madness!

 

Happy 2014!

Ebay, some things to watch for.

 

 

Greetings to you and so long 2013! 

 

I have spent a number of years on eBay and for the most part been happy with the services and products.  Having said that a few stand out in my mind and I thought an airing of the facts might help someone else.

 

Sites like eBay have accountability built in however; many of us don’t leave a negative rating when the person deserves it, thus skewing the results.  Some of us leave them a bad mark because the item was defective or what have you when it was clearly marked “as is no returns.”

 

I have been known to leave them a positive feedback but then voice my concerns for their way of doing business in the comments.  For instance one fellow sold me something and then just threw it into a “if it fits it ships box, no packing and barely any tape.  Why the post office took it is another story but it did make it.  The box did not survive and the device inside looked as if the Cowboys used it for a football.  Anyone reading his feedback will see that he needs to step up his shipping game.

 

Here is my argument, see what you think.  I have always felt that we are too litigious of a society, we are “sue happy.”  Anything goes wrong and there is some lawyer somewhere looking to make some money and will take the case no matter how petty the suite.  Much like sharks; the more hungry the beast, the more appetizing a license plate or old shoe looks as opposed to a “wrongful death suite” that just don’t fall into “everyone’s” lap..

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Is there a time to sue and is there a time to leave a negative rating?  The answer is yes to both.  If you are suing someone because you see it as a way to make money; (much like the lawyer,) than probably not.  However; if you are bringing legal action as a way to hold the entity accountable, and possibly get them to change the way that they do business, than I believe that you are not only justified, but you should.  The same is true about not leaving five stars. 

 

Did they earn it?

Was the description accurate?

Was the product or service delivered as expected?

Was the shipping “normal” or was it high?

Was the item packed correctly?

If there was a problem, did they go out of their way to make it right?

Did they communicate with you until it was resolved?

 

Online buying has evolved over the years and I would suspect that the day of shopping via printed catalogue will be history in the next few years.  With companies like Amazon, and others, it seems that the market place is much larger, only limited by internet access and access to the mail, or UPS or what have you.

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I collect, purchase and refurbish old radio’s, purely as a hobby.  I visited a re-cycle plant a few years ago where I saw home electronics being shredded, ground up, pulverized etc.  While there is a need for this, I really would like to salvage some of “Americana” via its technology of the 50’s and 60’s and before, for the next generations.  This quest has me looking for and purchasing unique antique e-stuff and than looking for the parts to repair it.  Few young people today know what a tube is or how it works.  We have managed to pack a video camera into wristwatch that still tells the time and only a few years ago (60) the transistor was replacing the tube allowing for smaller power supplies and of course smaller radio’s.  We got the first transistor radio in 1954 which was a combined effort of Texas Instruments and Industrial Development Engineering Associates.  A year later over 100,000 pocket radios were on the market.  That is when Raytheon jumped in to make a better radio hence came along the 8 TP 1 which basically was a radio that doubled the amount of transistors incorporated from 4 to 8 allowing for better sound.

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eBay seems like a natural place for this as it is rife with all kinds of these things.

 

Here are some things that I learned over the years that may help you and or might guilt the person or person’s who practice this type of behavior to stop it.

 

When selling an old “transistor radio” the seller said, “I am not sure how to test this.”  Translated “I have done everything that I know and this thing is dead.”  If you are incapable of installing a 9volt battery and turning a couple of knobs to see what happens, than perhaps you should not be selling on-line.

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“I put a battery in and just static, there are no AM stations in my area.”  Unless you live on the moon or in a cave or a solid brick building, there are radio stations that you can hear, that is especially true if you have the internet and cell phone.  Translated, “this thing is screwed up and I will say this in hopes that someone will buy it.”

 

I guess what I see most of is that “I got this at an estate sale and have no way to test it.”  Folks, the most idiotic person out there knows that it is worth more money if it works and most people who buy at an estate sale know more than just a little about what they are buying.  So, translated, “I did everything that I know, called all of my normal resources and this thing appears to be dead so I will say I don’t know how to test it and it will be someone else’s problem.” 

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A few others that I have received over the years are “for parts or repairs.”  Now this is fair game.  Accompanied along with pictures so people can see what they are bidding on, I now know that it is dead, that you don’t know how or don’t want to repair it and you want to move it.  Here is where the rub comes in.

 

I have bought many such radio’s to find that someone had opened them up and removed parts to repair another radio and then sold what they did not want as “for parts or repair.”  Translated, “I took what I needed, but I am not going to tell you that there are parts already gone.” The real problem is that I can’t prove that is what they did, but I can watch them and not purchase from them again.

 

Another “parts or repair item” is this, electronics that have been under water.  Folks, it is dishonest to sell something as “unknown condition,” parts or repair, I don’t know how to test etc if the item has been under water!  It is ruined if that is the case.  Case in point, I purchased a “lot of 3”  RCA radio’s from the 50’s.  Three radios’ that were of an unknown condition, “for parts or repair.”   There were fuzzy pictures of the cases and that was about it.  By the time you bid against others looking for these little collectables, pay shipping to find out that they are worthless well; that is just wrong on so many levels.  Not only were parts missing out of the three, each and every one was filled with mud.  The cases are not pristine so I pretty much threw away money and have nothing to show for it.

 

My last bone of contention is really the first radio that I bought like this.  As a long time Ham I started my radio hobby with a borrowed Hallicrafters SX-99 back in the late 60’s.  If you have not experienced what I am going to relate, you have missed out.  There is something magical about sitting in front of a radio such as this and listening to stations from all over the world; bask in the glow of dial lights, knobs and meters swaying with the signal strength. It is as if you are somehow connected to the station on the other end. I remember listening to a station in Hawaii and for a few moments I was there.  Shortwave used to be much more influential than it is today.  I think it was used as a propaganda method as well as a way to get information into areas that were blacked out by their local government. To control the people, you control what they hear, see, read and so forth.  We still do it today but that is another blog.

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I think a huge part of the success of eBay is people, much like me, trying to reclaim that lost moment through an old radio or trinket or favorite toy.  I started my search looking for one of these radios.  They are popular these days so the bidding gets intense and they frequently go for much more than they are worth.

 

Found one and bid on it. After an intense bidding war I got it from a local store and by local I mean in Texas.  Bad news there, not only did I pay premium dollar but, I had to pay sales tax.  Good news, I arranged to pick it up some weeks later when we were both going to be at the same event saving me $40 in shipping.

 

At first glance the case was not right; I could tell that it had been dropped.  Looking through the top cover everything else seemed rough but workable.  The money I paid for this the radio should have been turn key but alas, it was not.

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After getting it home I pulled the case off of it thinking I would straighten it out, to discover that this radio must have sat in a barn where water was allowed to enter it every time that it rained and stay until it evaporated.   My guess is that it was in this barn for years.  A restoration of that radio would mean replacing each and every control, the capacitors and who knows what else.  These things are very old and finding parts for them is not as easy as one might think.

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The person, who sold it to me, took it on trade. The person who traded it to him is likely the person who knew its history, and just did not care.

 

So here is my last bit of eBay advice, if they took it on trade, you may want to think about looking elsewhere as that is another escape clause if you are unhappy.  “No returns, all sales final etc” are just things that I tend to stay away from.   Now I know why some take no returns as there are those out there who need a part and will buy your item, take the part that they need from it and than send it back to you as a DOA. You are then held hostage by your eBay rating. 

 

I would rather eat a bug than take advantage of someone or a circumstance or in this case, steal from someone.  Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone felt that way?

 

Watch their feedback, if it is less than 100%, why is it that way?  If you get had by someone; warn others by leaving them less than positive.  eBay has a good resolution center which I have used before but this was really only when someone sold me something that they did not have to sell.  This happens more than you might suspect.

 

Hope that you have a great New Years and that you can use this to your advantage or at least to protect yourself, friends and family from the less than scrupulous people out there.  And by the way, some of the junk on eBay really does need to go to the e-cycle place, especially if it has been under water.

 

Best to you and those that you care about and Happy Bidding!

 

 

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