Sunday, 31 July 2005

Recently I've had a number of interesting (albeit often protracted) conversations with people about processes in business, and how formal, written procedures and established processes can be good (I agree, to a point) and can also be very, very bad.

I'll explain in a minute, and while I'm at it I'll do some tangential opining and show why I think Sarbanes Oxley and other process-intensive initiatives and guidelines don't always accomplish what they set out to do. In fact, in the case of SARBOX, I'd argue it doesn't even come close to accomplishing what it was originally intended for. But that's another story...

First a reminder and a bit of clarity: This is a personal blog, so anything I write is my opinion and mine alone.

Saturday morning telephone support call: Failed process illustrated...

Saturday morning I woke up at a criminally early hour (for a weekend anyhow). Since sleep apparently wasn't in the game plan I decided to call Vonage to see if I could actually get someone on the phone, and if I could convince them to listen to me long enough to troubleshoot a hardware/firmware problem I've been having with my VOIP terminal adapter.

For the record, I like Vonage. A lot. I recommend them. I'll refer you if you email me and ask. But I'll be honest - I'm never too excited about calling them.

But on Saturday morning, that's what I did. After umpteen layers of voice menus and hitting random keys to get pretty much nowhere, calling back after being disconnected (don't hit 'zero' in Vonage's voice prompt system...), and then finally getting someone on the line (whom I could not understand and who it seems could not understand me during the entire painful process of validating my account, name, billing address, etc.), we finally got around to troubleshooting the problem:

Vonage Lady: "Yes, hello mister huge-hess...

Me: (silently) <grrrrrrr!!!>

Vonage Lady: "...how can I help you with today?"

Me: "Okay, so I am having a problem with my Motorola VT1005 terminal adapter, about once a day it loses its connection with Vonage and I have to pull the power plug and plug it back in to get it to work, and several times a day the network data port stops communicating completely so my computers here at home cannot get to the Internet. I have to unplug the Motorola device and plug it back in in order to resolve that problem, too, and then it happens again later, a few times a day."

Vonage Lady: "Okay, so what I understand from you is..." (reads back a different version of what I just said, but leaves out all the key points, like the whole data connection problem, etc)

Me: "That's partly correct, but the worst part of the problem is that several times a day..." (I explain the loss of LAN port connectivity issue again)

Vonage Lady: (seemingly ignoring what I just told her) "Okay, I would like you to go to your router and unplug the wire from the PC port and so you will have the modem and the wire, and the Vonage router and then your computer, and I want you to plug a wire into your computer okay can you do that and tell me?"

Me: (wondering if I - a high-tech IT guy with lots of experience fixing crap much more complicated than this - really understand what she means) "Umm, okay, so... You want me to plug the ethernet cable that goes from the Motorola device on the LAN side into my computer directly then?"

Vonage Lady: (pause, pause, pause) "Uhhh, yes, I need you to put the wire from the PC port in your computer."

Me: (deciding the only logical thing to do is to go with my gut) "Okay, so I have done that, okay I am ready for the next step."

Vonage Lady: (seems to be shocked that the next step is already starting) "Ohh umm, okay, one moment please... Okay, I need you to open your Internet Explorer, and in the address bar at the top of the screen..."

Me: (I'm starting to quietly get a little frustrated now) Okay my web browser is open, you want me to type in an address?

"... I would like for you to type this address in the address bar."

Me: (I'm already on the adapter's admin web page, I think to myself, she's gonna send me there - slowwly) "Okay, ready."

Vonage Lady: "Okay, One-Nine-Two..." (pause, pause, pause)... "No, wait... H-T-T-P --"

Me: "192.168.102.1?"

Vonage Lady: "No, no no. AICH-TEE-TEE-PEEEE, COLON, SLASH-SLASH, ONE-NINE-TWO..."

Me: (waiting for more numbers) "... ... ... okay, i got that part, you can keep reading it to me."

Vonage Lady: "DOT-ONE-SIX-EIGHT-DOT-ONE-ZERO-TWOOO-DOT-ONE"

Me: (Thinking to self: Is there an echo in here?) Okay, I'm there.

Vonage Lady: "Oh well, now we need to go to the admin.html page, so to do that please click in the-"

Me: "Okay, I'm there."

Vonage Lady: "Oh, okay... Do you see a button that says Restore Factory Defaults on the page there then?"

Me: "Yes. I have a fixed IP address though, so if we do this it will stop working 'til I reconfigure."

Vonage Lady: "That's okay, push that button and tell me when it's done."

Me: <click>

Vonage Lady: <she's now long-gone due to the fact that she just told me to kill my phone line>

Bad process and procedure? Most certainly. But what's the real problem in this story? Unfortunately it's one that we see happening more and more these days, over and over again with all the emphasis on building deep, complex, wide swaths of processes and supporting procedures.

I'm not here to argue against process. I'm here to argue for thinking.

When process hurts...

People have stopped thinking for themselves and doing critical analysis of the situation at hand. Instead, they read from a script. They follow a written procedure. They stay exactly between the lines, thinking the lines are the end-all-be-all of clarity in every situation. When I speak to people in my field about this, I describe it as being similar to walking around with blinders on.

We're suffering from a deficit of creative thinking and reasoning. But more on that in a few minutes.

What does this result in? Three things mainly:

First of all, people increasingly look at the world and the things going on around them as being bipolar in nature: black and white. In reality though, it's all about the infinite shades of gray. Oh, how simple the world might be if it was all pure black and white in nature, but in the real world it's just not so. Unfortunately, the desire to simplify things cognitively into black/white, us/them, good/bad is probably a greater part of the way people look at things today than it has even been.

Second, people have lost their sense of ownership and don't think for themselves. Pride goes soon after that. More and more the accepted method of teaching people how to do things has become the "hand-me-the-procedure" method. But, absolute processes and procedures are fundamentally flawed. There's simply no way to compute every possible outcome or input to a situation, yet we expect that by creating processes and procedures that *must* be followed, we can solve critical problems. The fact is that while they may ensure compliance most of the time, they can also often ensure lack of compliance some of the time - especially when the procedure or process doesn't exactly fit, but the person applying it doesn't stop to think about that fact. Or, even worse, they're not given the level of permission needed to stop, think, and evaluate situations on their own.

Third, we walk around with a false sense of confidence and safety. By assuming we are creating controls and processes to keep the bad things from happening, we do the one thing that police officers and security professionals have known better than to do for all time: We lure ourselves into that place where we believe everything will be okay, everyone will follow the rules, everything will be out in the open, the checks and balances will all work because the auditor signed a pieces of paper (not like the auditor had any real guidelines to audit against or anything...) and the bad guys won't be able to get away with anything anymore.

But it just won't work. Nope.

I'm sorry Senator, I have no recollection...

Example from the real world: The Sarbanes Oxley Act (SARBOX for short) was terrific for consultants, and lots of people are making lots of money off lots of companies that are shelling out big bucks for something that only minimally does what it needs to do (if that). The fact of the matter is that SARBOX resulted in huge expenditures and rampant development of crippling processes that offer little protection from bad, smart people who want to pull a fast one on investors. Even one of the sponsors of the act says it doesn't really accomplish what was originally intended. Hey, Senator, can we send you an invoice for the costs of this mandatory program that won't do what it's set out to do? Let me know. Thanks.

So, SARBOX is good for consulting companies, and expensive for business, and even though the rules and regs don't really fit small to mid-size businesses, they have to follow them anyhow. It doesn't really prevent another Enron from happening. In the end, it's costing the shareholders it was intended to protect a lot of money, and it's not really doing what it needs to do.

Hmm. That's like going to a store with no knowledge of tools, telling the sales person I need a something to help drive a nail into a wall, being sold a bunch of hard hats and yellow vests and thick gloves, along with a pneumatic nailing system and a whole stack of safety equipment and mandatory classes to make sure I use it right, and a certification that's required to issued by the government before I use it... And then six months later finding out there's this thing called a claw hammer...

Maybe we forgot what we set out to do. Maybe there's a short term memory problem involved. Or maybe too much vague, confuse, poorly-defined process got in the way of building (wait for it...) effective process.

This is starting to sound like "the meeting to plan the meeting."

Anyway, back to Vonage...

I made another call to Vonage (after I set up a fixed IP, reconfigured the TA, etc., and this time without getting disconnected), Communication went a little easier with the support worker I got this time, and within a minute of the same scripted process, I heard him pause for a moment. He stopped what he was doing and said, "Mr Hughes," (thought: do people who put time and effort into pronouncing names correctly also think more for themselves?), "I am going to transfer you to another number because I think they will be able to help you with this. I could go through all of the things I have here, but I really don't think they will help you."

There ya go, now that's thinking for yourself.

Within five minutes, another Vonage rep (who was quite knowledgeable and professional by the way) had deduced - after listening to my technical explanation and asking a couple follow-up questions - that my terminal adapter is pretty much on its last legs, and offer to send me a replacement.

I spent two hours on the whole deal, between the first phone call, phone menu prompt maze from hell, getting disconnected by the voice menu system, the first rep, getting disconnected by my hardware reset,. It took 10 minutes to solve it, as soon as I spoke to a couple people who were willing and able to think about the situation outside the script.

Now, I've picked on Vonage here just because they happened to be the company I called on Saturday. I have tales of woe from a slew of other tech support experiences, too. A friend just IM'ed me to vent about his phone call this morning to Dish Network. I like Vonage, I like their services, and I like their prices. I think they're doing a good job, and they are adding (literally) 10,000 new users a day (got that from the last guy I spoke to on the phone). They have more than a million users now. So don't take this to be a Vonage bashing post - it's not. But I do think it illustrates an important point.

So - what do we do now?

Okay, great so what are we supposed to do about the Blinders of process? It's simple: Let your employees take them off. Encourage them to!

In fact, it might be worth training employees in two basic skills that most people don't get any decent training in: Listening and troubleshooting. Think about how much time we spend learning to read and write, to speak in front of others, to read from the script. How much training in our lives, from school to professional adulthood, is spent learning how to listen well? How much time do we spend learning the nuances of critical thought or effective problem solving and troubleshooting?

Not much. Not enough, for sure.

But we'll have to save that topic for later.



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Personal Stories | Random Stuff | Things that Suck
Sunday, 31 July 2005 03:37:07 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Saturday, 30 July 2005

Seen this? It's The News Show. A bunch of quick off-beat daily tech/geek news items. It's interesting and sometimes funny. It's relatively short.

I could maybe watch this once a day, but the f5 ads might convince me to spend money.

   News-Show  

But I'll be damned if I can find the RSS feed (and my magical to-remain-unnamed RSS-savvy browser doesn't "see" one on the page either...) No RSS feed???

Oh well... Check it out anyhow.



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Humor | Random Stuff | Tech
Saturday, 30 July 2005 20:15:25 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Monday, 18 July 2005

Over on the Microsoft Office Assistance web site, there's a great video of Chris Bertelson - an long-time Microsoft employee with lots of experience demonstrating software - navigating his way around the features available in Office OneNote 2003.

  • If you've never seen or used OneNote, this video will show you all kinds of cool things, and gives a great idea of what OneNote is all about.
  • If you're already a OneNote user, don't skip this one! Be prepared to see all sorts of great things that you can add to your personal toolkit to make you a OneNote power user.

This 45-or-so-minute video (see links below) should be mandatory training for OneNote users. It's that good.

I use OneNote every day on my Tablet PC as well as my desktop machine. One thing many people don't realize is that OneNote is not just a Tablet PC application - In fact OneNote was initialy conceived and designed before the Tablet PC was born, and it's a great program for desktops and laptops, too.

Chris covers some serious ground in the video:

And if you want even more detail, check out the webcasts:

The Webcasts of this demo are available on demand. These are generally more in-depth than the demos because they include audience interaction and questions and answers. You can watch them on your own schedule.



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Office 2003 | OneNote | Tablet PC | Tech
Monday, 18 July 2005 21:07:54 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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One more dedicated post reviewing the new X41 ThinkPad Tablet and my experiences of the past week, then back to our regular (random) programming. You can read my first two review posts here and here.

Walk into an aiport or a coffe shop and start writing on your screen. You'll get "the look." Tablet PCs tend to attract and grab the attention of people who have not seen one before. They're also of interest to gadget freaks, of course.

X41-SlateModeI spent a few hours Saturday with some "new media" geeks, hanging out in downtown Portland. Several of them asked if I brought along the new ThinkPad X41 Tablet PC I've been using this past week. Well, of course I did. Several of those present said they've been thinking about possibly been getting a Tablet PC for their next computer, and wanted to see one. Others were simply curious about what IBM has done with their initial foray into Tablet-Land.

Of course, Josh Bancroft wanted to take pictures, heh. Many wanted to hold it in their hands, see how it feels, and to learn about what you can do with it. I've noticed one of the huge selling points of these things (with geeks and their wives and girlfriends, anyhow) is how the thing feels in your hand. Once I rotated the screen and placed it in their hands with the extended battery as a sort of "book spine" grip, that Tablet PC realization kicked in and you could see the expressions change on each of their faces. When people start using the pen, the "ahhhhhhh's" come out and the questions start. The main difference this time around is the X41's an even better example than most of why Tablet PCs are so darn cool.

Anyhow, I have been making a quick little list of things I'd like to see IBM/Lenovo to do to improve this thing, because while it's a terrific machine and I'm definitely won over, it's not quite perfect.

ShockerUse the hard drive protection gyroscope for screen orientation
I've been playing with it for a while now, and as far as I can tell, this model has a gyroscope (or similar) device built in that's used for real-time awareness in order to protect the had drive from shocks. You can even open the active-protection configuration applet and move the computer around and watch the picture of the thing on the screen move around just as fast as you can make it. But it doesn't appear the IBM software is connected in any way to the software switches that control screen orientation. Why not? If I'm holding the thing in my right hand with the battery on the left, use that technology to make sure the display isn't upside down, for gosh sake. Or, if I am missing something and the capability's already there, tell me, please.

Better stylus/pen
I wrote about this before. The pen has no "eraser" end on it. As expected, I was able to verify that any standard stylus that does have an eraser end works just fine with the T41 (I used an Acer pen for the test)... So, hopefully IBM will ship a new pen that has the eraser end, and I will buy it. Honestly, it's driving me nuts every time I work in pen mode. But that's okay, I'll live. For now, anyhow. I just wish the Acer stylus was the same size and shape as the IBM model, so I could just swap them out. No such luck.

Fingerprint software loses focus when Windows has been console-locked
This is a software nit-pick, and I am not sure if the problem exists on non-tablet versions of Windows XP or not (and I don't have a computer to test this with), but when the computer is "locked," the fingerprint reader dialog (they replace the regular Windows "This computer is locked" dialog with their own) often loses focus, and swiping your finger does nothing until you click on that Window to bring it into primary focus. I am wondering if it's because of the on-screen virtual keyboard, since it appears to have focus on the screen. I'll have to check on that and figure out how to turn it off, if that's the issue. Anyhow, it's a usability issue, and should be addressed one way or another.

Your mother is a hamster; Your father smells of elderberries
Just seeing if you're paying attention. Are you? Hmmm... If you can read this, you're too close. No, I mean you're doing fine. Yes, fine, thanks for asking. No, sorry I am busy tonight. Move along, nothing to see here. Maybe lunch though? Oh, oops...

So - All in all, not much to gripe about. If those are the worst things about this computer, then hey - it's a pretty darn good machine.

There are (of course) also a number of things about the computer that I really like over others I have used. So, to tie this thing up and put it to bed, a couple of them are:

The wireless networking software and hardware is pretty much rock solid
They got it right some time ago, and I really appreciate the reliable, easy to use and easy to count on wireless networking setup. I especially appreciate the fact that the ThinkPads are among the few computers  that load the wireless drivers right up front, so when I log onto the Windows domain, the login scripts are able to run just like I was plugged into the wire.

Sturdy, very light, and everything is right where it should be
From the pen location (front left side edge, right up front) to well-placed slate-mode controls (the fingerprint reader is on the monitor frame along with special Tablet PC buttons for rotation and common keyboard buttons as well as CTRL-ALT-DEL), they put stuff right where it works well. It's super-light, and no rickety construction here. The real point is that IBM waits til they know they've got it nailed down before they release it to the market. We've seen them do this before, and I remember talking to and IBM rep over a year ago when they told me IBM was working on a convertible Tablet PC overseas, and that it was definitely coming, but not to expect anything for about a year because there was no way they were going to get it wrong when they actually released it.



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Tablet PC | Tech
Monday, 18 July 2005 20:25:45 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Saturday, 16 July 2005

UnderdogOh, if this turns out to be true, this could end up being my favorite movie of the decade. You think I'm lame for it? Fine, I can live with that...

Dude, Underdog is going to be a freakin' movie star.

Shoe Shine Boy's alter ego (that would be Underdog for the uninitiated) was my number one favorite cartoon character when I was a kid. I still keep thinking I'm going to get an underdog tattoo one of these days (I almost did a while back, but got a different one instead).

It sounds like it might not be a cartoon, though. Something about a real dog and CG. Hopefully they can pull it off and not ruin the name, heh. We'll see.

BTW, I found this while checking out the blog at the Delta Park Project (I met Jason of DPP today at a podcast/videoblog roadshow meetup in Portland - cool dude).

More info about the movie? Ya you betcha, available at Empire Movies. And about.com (pronounced 'uh-boat'). Or just Google it.



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Movies | Random Stuff
Saturday, 16 July 2005 20:06:58 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Friday, 15 July 2005

Come geek out this weekend. Bring a friend, your audio gear and a camera (or just yourself if that's easier), and lets do some podcasting and videoblogging as the Podcast and Videoblog Roadshow comes to Portland, Oregon. It happens Saturday at noon downtown.

Podcasting, videoblogging, audioblogging, etc. Get creative. Fun stuff. 

All the obligatory W's: 

See ya there.



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AudioBlogging | Blogging | Geek Out | Tech
Friday, 15 July 2005 21:20:00 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Thursday, 14 July 2005

System Administrator SongChris points out a funny song that describes with uncanny accuracy that which is the SysAdmin. Check out The System Administrator Song, at Three Dead Trolls (cool site by the way). Several video formats are available as well as an MP3 file.

You probably know these guys from their "Welcome to the Internet Help Desk" skit. Wow, Wes has really grown his hair out, eh?

Next time you cuss your system administrator, stop and listen to this song or watch the video. Be nice, and they will too. Heh.

You'll likely laugh. And no drinking soda while you watch - or you'll be sorry.

Click here to watch.



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Geek Out | Humor | Tech
Thursday, 14 July 2005 14:28:37 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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Where I work we run a couple of high-security data centers, and the security policies don't allow outbound network connections to the Internet to be initiated from inside the datacenter. It's a good policy and makes for a much more secure environment. So, when it comes time to activate a copy of Windows Server 2003, I frequently get asked how to do that over the phone.

I could just say "Ask Google," but instead I think I'll just point people here, heheh...

The Microsoft Windows Product Activation phone number (for the US anyhow) is 1-888-571-2048

Also -- It's worth noting that Windows should tell you what number to call if you let it. From the Microsoft web page on the topic:

** Toll-free telephone numbers are available in all countries where telephony infrastructures provide for them. The telephone numbers are displayed when telephone activation is chosen.



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IT Security | Random Stuff | Tech
Thursday, 14 July 2005 08:14:59 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Wednesday, 13 July 2005

MiniMacYAYI (finally) removed the Free Mini Mac banner from the top of the page, as I (finally) got the required number of referrals (again) to qualify to get the "free" computer.

I say "again" because I had the required number of referrals once before, a f=couple months ago. But apparently there was a repeat-visitor that signed up for more than one offer, which invalidated both of those referrals. So, I've patiently waited and waited, and now I have enough and I think it'll all be good to go.

But that's not the real news... So, what is the news you ask?

Soon enough, I'll be a <shudder> Mac user. That should be interesting.

Woah dude. Woah.

UPDATE: I've received approval for all my referrals and just ordered the Mac Mini, so soon I'll be a cult member, too! I'll post more when I get the thing.

FreeMac3



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Random Stuff | Tech
Wednesday, 13 July 2005 20:41:37 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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Ok, this is almost weird and takes ego issues to a whole new level, but what the heck...

Handwriting

Rich Claussen proves he's easily excited (heheh...) when he says:

"My goodness! What nice, legible handwriting! You need to get that MyOwnFont app that won the Think in Ink contest and make the dang thing available!"

MyOwnFontChattingAtMeDude, way ahead of you on that. Already did that, yesterday while showing the new tablet off to a coworker. See the attached file below.

Download: GregWrite.zip (TrueType font file)

For those of you who got here looking for the Tablet PC My Font Tool, it's on the Tablet PC Power Toys page at Microsoft's web site - but for quick access, here you go:

Download: MyFontTool for Tablet PC (.exe installer)

Oh, and that whole "easily excited" thing? Just kidding, bud. Rich also lists some cool places to download free fonts on his weblog.

Oh, and there's nothing quite like someone chatting with you on IM, using your handwriting. Crazy. 



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Random Stuff | Tablet PC
Wednesday, 13 July 2005 19:57:10 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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ThinkpadX41TiconIt's been a day and a half now since I started using a ThinkPad X41 Tablet PC. Yesterday I posted a few initial thoughts, and today I have some more (part three is also now onlline and can be found here). I'm pretty much using the new computer exclusively now, which is a testament to it's usability, since I really liked the Acer I've relied on for the past couple years.

Update - Many people won't ever find it on the ThinkPad site, since it requires st00pid pop-ups, but there's a very good animated 3D demo of the X41T on the web site. And that link doesn't require a pop-up.

X41TA bit of a description of how this thing feels...

Essentially it's an X-series ThinkPad notebook, one that's thin and light. Mine has the 8-cell extended battery, and in the real world it provides about 5 hours worth of juice for off-the-grid computing (no pun intended, old-timers).

The keyboard is predictably great. I am surprised at how quickly I am adjusting to the little rubber eraser-like mouse pointer device. It's not as bad as I'd feared. I still need some time with it, but that has nothing to do with the fact that this is a Tablet PC - all the X-series notebooks are built with that pointer.

The pen/stylus provided with this model lacks an "eraser" end on the blunt end. I am used to having that with my Acer C300-series model, and I keep catching myself turning the stylus around to try to erase something and finding it lacking in that regard. I'll need to try an Acer pen on the ThinkPad tomorrow and see if it behaves well. If it does, someone needs to produce a good after-market stylus that fits in the ThinkPad holder and includes the "eraser" end. I'd buy a couple of 'em.

It's solid, clearly very-well-built, which is exactly what you'd expect from a ThinkPad. The hinge/rotation point appears to be significantly better-made than the one on my Acer tablet (which has a tendency to buckle and break under extended use).

The fingerprint reader and software (again, not tablet-specific, although on the X41 the reader is on the display panel (in the lower right, so you can use it in slate mode to log in or unock the computer - nice!) gets lots of "WOW, COOL!" comments, and it works quite well. So far, in my totally unscientific study, it has only let me unlock the machine - the fingers of others don't work. That's a good thing.

When you convert to slate mode (by rotating the screen panel backwards and folding it down over the keyboard), the whole thing fits in the hand quite well. It's well-balanced and the battery lets me comfortably grip it much like I would a paper notebook - a good physical metaphor. It also makes it easy to keep a very solid grip, which is a great think in the IT department world - Anti-dropping features are always good. And as a bonus, it has the requisite ThinkPad "hard drive air bag" capability that protects the drive and heads from shocks.

The screen has a very wide viewing angle (I think it's like 170 degrees). Once I installed the hey-its-about-time patch for the Tablet PC OS and configured a few tweaks on the machine (typical Windows stuff), it's running like a champ.

X41T-Detailthe 1.5GHz Pentium Mobile processor is quick enough, and the machine seems to run a little faster than the Acer overall. We'll see what happens when I install VS.net on it in the next day or two - Oh and that reminds me, it needs a bigger hard drive... I have a gig of RAM in it, and that certainly helps performance. the IBM software that helps control the display and a plethora of other things has improved over the years, and that's good to see. It even let me map the Right-ALT key to act as a Windows key, which is a welcome feature since the IBM keyboards don't have one. Nice tweak.

I was a bit confused when I saw a USB port on the right side, and another one on the left side with some goofy looking, slightly narrower port right below it. After doing some looking around, it appears the extra port is a power port that accompanies the USB 2.0 port. Nifty. Power to the people. There's also a SD card slot, which is how these pictures reached your eyes.

Okay - so... What makes this one better?

Up til now, most Tablet PCs have often been heavy in the "shiny" department - lots of cool looks and nifty flair - but somewhat lacking in the durability and consistency areas. Keep in mind, I haven't used every tablet out there. Motion and others make Tablets that I have no experience with. I have extended experience with the Compaq, Toshiba and Acer models. Of those, the Acer has been my favorite. Until now, that is.

But what I can tell you is that the ThinkPad X41 takes the strong utility value and characteristics of the IBM line, trims it down, and adds Tablet hardware. It's classic IBM (now Lenovo) to watch the market and wait things out to see what works and what doesn't, then take the market by storm.

X41T-DetaiLogolIn my book, it's all about ThinkPad keyboard and durability, light-weight construction, lonnnnng battery life, a nice bright/contrasty display (much better than Toshiba's in that area), and excellent placement of controls.

Areas to improve? Better pen (with the eraser end on it), higher-res display (Toshiba may be flat in terms of contrast, but they kick serious ass in the resolution department), more microphones (again a Toshiba win) and find some way to build in a slot-load or slide-out optical drive (not likely in this form factor, I know, but hey I can dream).

By the way, the screened label says "IBM ThinkPad" on it. On the bottom it also says "IBM" with no mention of Lenovo. I assume that will probably change over time.

There's no huge surprises here - and that's what makes this Tablet so great... You get everything you'd expect from a quality, lightweight, compact and durable ThinkPad, and you get well-designed and -built tablet PC components and functionality built into it. And it all works, without the typical third-party software glitches and digitizer electronics frustrations I've had to deal with in the past. It's already fitting like a glove.

In my book, that's a real success.

By the way - just to be clear - in my original post I said I have received this Tablet for "evaluation and testing." This is a purchased computer, one we are checking out for use at work. I just wanted to be sure to explain that no one sent a free one and I am only blogging about it because I think it's pretty nifty and sweet. - gh



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Tablet PC | Tech
Wednesday, 13 July 2005 19:31:55 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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I am showing my co-worker, Alex, how I can blog in text entered with the pen, as well as in ink on the screen via email to dasBlog. 

<Handwritten content / / / />

By the way - this is nothing new... I did the same thing over a year and a half ago (see links below), but it still gets a bit of a "wow, that's cool" reaction.

Also did pretty much the same thing a few times from OneNote (which tends to group multiple images in a confusing way to try to avoid positioning problem unless you tell it not to, by the way):



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Tablet PC
Wednesday, 13 July 2005 08:51:38 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Tuesday, 12 July 2005

Hopefully you don't need this advice because you've been victimized, but this is something everyone should know.

If you ever become a victim of online fraud or any other form of fraud where you believe or know your personal information has been obtained or used improperly, there are a number of things you need to do. Microsoft's Security at Home team has put together a list of things you should do. They include:

  • Close any affected accounts - both verbally on the phone and in documented written form
  • Place a fraud alert on your credit reports - will all the credit reporting agencies
  • Contact the proper authorities - both federal (FTC) and local (police or sheriff's office)
  • Record and save everything - document, document, document

That's all good advice in general. Additional resources and more specific information is available on their web site.



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IT Security | Safe Computing
Tuesday, 12 July 2005 21:42:11 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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My favorite RSS aggregator, FeedDemon, has just had an update pushed out in beta form. Existing registered users of FeedDemon can run the beta (warts and all) now.

Surfer Newspaper Style - click to enlargeAnd there's a whole slew of add/changes/fixes in this beta release from v1.5, all of which can be read on the release notes page.

The announcement from Nick is here. A download link is on that page.

New in this beta release is greatly enhanced synchronization with NewsGator. In a matter of seconds I got my NewsGator account hooked up to FeedDemon and was on my way.

Sync_all_yayAlso, you can update all your feeds - across your subscription folders -at once. Nice!

And it looks great, too. "Surfer" is definitely my new newspaper style. I can group and sort inside the newspaper, and can choose whether I want to view full, short or no descriptions. Very slick.

Great job Nick!



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RSS Stuff | Tech
Tuesday, 12 July 2005 18:44:11 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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Update: Part two of this review is here. Part three is here.

Just in time, since my old laptop's hard drive just started making shhhpppppttt-CLACK!!! sounds (sure sign of impending hard drive death and doom), an IBM X41 Tablet PC arrived on my desk this morning for testing and evaluation. I'm doing more and more travelling, so a single-machine solution with killer battery life and compact size is of interest to me nowadays.

Anyhow... So I've spent the last half a day between meetings and conference calls with a new X41T. That and backing up the old machine.

So what's it like? Well, let me just say this: "Finally – a Tablet PC that really makes me really want to have and use a Tablet PC."

Keep in mind, I’ve been using Tablet PCs ever since the TC1000 came out a couple or so years ago. Since then, I have primarily been using an Acer C300-series Tablet. That’s the one with the sick hard drive. A week or so ago I wrote about past experiences and how much I use the Acer machine. I also wrote about my thoughts spawned by an Engadget article that asked "How would you change the Tablet PC?"

While the X41T doesn't have all the things in my wish list, what it does have is quality and well-put-together.

Initial thoughts:

  • This one has the biometric fingerprint reader. Cool, and it actually works.
  • The red eraser/nub/pointing device will take some serious getting used to. Touchpad would be better.
  • /me likes the keyboard - ThinkPad keyboards rock.
  • Nice display, wide viewing angle, matte finish reduces glare nicely but doesn't sacrifice contrast. Needs to be higher than 1024x768 resolution, but I'll live.
  • It's really light and really sturdy. Even with the extended battery I have on it. In fact the 8-cell battery makes it easy to handle when walking around with it, due to the ergonomic shape (OMG did really I just type "ergonomic???" Aaagh!)
  • Seems to be speedy and snappy in terms of processing and computing power. I have a gig of RAM in this one.
  • The hard drive is this goofy new short/stubby model, not something you can easily replace with another available standard notebook hard drive.
  • Overall, impressive!

I'll have to live and work with this thing for a while, and then document some more thoughts. For now, the honeymoon has started and so far it's a lot of fun. But don't read anything into that.

More to come...



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Geek Out | Tablet PC | Tech
Tuesday, 12 July 2005 16:29:41 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Wednesday, 06 July 2005

WHAT YOU SAY???

Zero Wing meets Star Wars in the English translation of the Chinese translation of the English version of Revenge of the Sith, a.k.a. "Backstroke of the West."

Click here for full details and a bunch of laughs. It gets fairly colorful.

Sw15

Swb36ty

Swb84iu

[via Rory]



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Humor | Movies | Random Stuff
Wednesday, 06 July 2005 20:54:51 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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Over on Microsoft's Channel 9, Scoble's posted a new video of Kim Cameron, who has a weblog called the Identity Blog. He discusses identity and trust, and what it will take to build a single-experience trusted system for common identification. It's an interesting conversation. I've read his weblog for a while now, so it's good to see him speak about this.

"Identity is like the Hotel California of Technology - you can come but you can never leave. We have a lot of work to do."

This is a topic that is near and dear to my professional heart. Identity protection and theft is something I deal with every day. It's complicated. It's not easy. It's a goose chase at times. There are almost no standards. But it's of great importance right now. The people I manage and work with are super-talented and are building a couple terrific pieces of security software right now, software intended to protect people who do critical personal transactions on the Internet, and to catch the bad guys that try to steal and use your personal information.

Where I work we are charged with protecting the identities and assets of people who are doing critical financial transactions with their banks and credit unions. To us this stuff matters - it matters a lot. And it should matter to anyone that's doing business on the 'net and everyone who writes software used to do business on the 'net.

"It's impossible to be too paranoid about this ... We have to be paranoid."

The video is about 55 minutes, and it's worth the time for people who are concerned (or who should be concerned) about the topic. You'll need to get about two-thirds of the way through it til you get to Cameron's "Laws of Identity," which are akin to pure gold in their simplicity. Go watch.



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IT Security | Safe Computing | Tech
Wednesday, 06 July 2005 19:08:11 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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Microsoft has officially released a hot-fix for Windows XP Tablet PC edition that fixes the memory leak people have been complaining about for ages:

"A memory leak in Windows XP Tablet PC Edition 2005 causes a gradual decrease in available system memory. This loss in available memory causes degradation in system performance. When this behavior occurs, the user must restart the computer. This problem is caused by a memory leak in the tcserver.exe service."

You can download it here. More information about the issue can be found here.



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Tablet PC | Tech
Wednesday, 06 July 2005 12:43:32 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Sunday, 03 July 2005

Last week I went on a mission trip with our church youth group. It was fun (for the short time I was able to be there), and a good experience. One of the youth talked to me for awhile about a book I gave him and the other group members several months ago.

The book is called "Always Use Protection - A Teen's Guide to Safe Computing." It has its own web site, and is a great conversational read for both teens and adults. The author, Dan Appleman, wrote it with the assistance of youth he works with - they were his editors and reviewers, and because of that it is a great book for young and old people alike.

I had given the books to the youth group members during a meeting, and we'd discussed some of the content. Now my young friend has continued reading it (as have several of the others in the group), and as a result he understands his computer much better than most kids his age.

I had used the book to talk to the youth about security and safety in the computer world, and so they could have an excellent reference for them as they grow up to become the next digeratti. I'm a security and IT guy by trade, so it was not too much of a stretch for me to take this on - but the book enhances the experience, and is a permanent fixture for these young people to use and learn from over time.

In fact, when we returned to Portland, the young man's grandmother had her own glowingly positive review when she picked him up. Apparently she's been reading it as well, and found it easy to understand and quite useful.

So Dan, if you happen to see this, know that your book is doing good work with good people. And thanks for that.

Also - Dan was interviewed on Microsoft's Channel 9 a while back in a series of very good segments - so hey kids, check them out:



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IT Security | Safe Computing | Tech
Sunday, 03 July 2005 22:28:16 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Saturday, 02 July 2005

07worksI have a couple of hobbies that have stuck with me for a few years. And one of them culminates yearly on the 4th of July. I have a license to blow up stuff granted to me by the State of Oregon - a pyrotechnician operator's license. Thanks to some friends at a commercial fireworks display company near me, I get to have some fun now and then by shooting their shows.

On Monday, a bunch of friends and coworkers of mine will be meeting me in a town near here, where we'll be setting up the public fireworks display show to be launched later that evening. Then we'll clean it up. It will be a blast. Pun completely intended.

It's not a huge show or anything, but it's more work than you might realize. While the sponsoring city has a backhoe dig an 18-inch trench about 150 feet long, everything else is done by hand by the pyro crew. We will be unloading and burying over 400 individual mortar tubes, all of them 4- and 5-inch diameter sizes. We'll set them in the trench, backfill the trench to hold the mortar tubes securely in place, and prep the area. It's quite a bit of work.

And by the way - the crew is made up completely of people who are interested in doing the work. I just ask people I know if they're interested and see who wants to help. The only qualifications I put on my crew are those placed on them by the state - you have to be old enough (21), sober (duh) and not legally banned from handling explosives (the ATF cares about this a lot) - plus my own additions of "must not be crazy and must be able and willing to be very, very safe." It also helps if you can bear some fairly acrid smoke and don't mind getting dirty. Sometimes very dirty. In other worlds, it's open to most people who show an interest and want to give it a try. Some people even come back for more.

20040709_fireworks2Anyhow, after we get the mortars installed in the ground, we'll unpack the explosives - the fireworks shells that is - and carefully load them into their individual mortars. We'll check and double-check them, and if necessary we'll prep the whole thing in case of weather problems (wet fireworks simply don't work very well). We'll have time to be meticulous and make sure everything's just right. By the time we're set up, everyone working will be more than ready for a break. We'll break for dinner, followed by an evening of hanging around keeping the curious gawkers with cigarettes away, while waiting for 10:00pm to come around.

Then, in a total of about 15 or so minutes, we'll light some fusees and destroy what took us several hours to prepare. After the excitement is over, we'll spend an hour or so cleaning it all up, digging out the mortar tubes in the dark and putting them back on the truck. And then we'll finally get out of there.

It makes for a long, fun day - you're worn out by the time it's all over with. Because I have some pretty nagging back problems, I can't really do any of the heavy lifting or twisting this year, so I am quite grateful there will be a good crew of people there to share in the fun. I'll just focus on the requisite safety teaching and making sure no one does anything that could get them hurt. It's no fun anymore if anyone gets hurt, after all.

Once you've smelled the smoke, there is no return. Fact is, there's nothing like lighting several hundred big-bore cannons you've stuck in the ground - firing out loud concussions of kaboom and hurling colorful stuff into the sky - to get your blood pumping. Travis (in his typical colorful blog entry style) put it this way last year:

"An exhausting day, to be sure, but there's something about it that, once you've done it, you can't not do it again. It's all of the scariness and loud bang and fire of war with the safety of proper setup and equipment (and the knowledge that no one is actually shooting back at you). You smell the gunpowder smoke, you feel the impact, and you're hooked.

"We'll definitely be back next year. Hopefully it won't be at the sewage treatment plant."

Umm, sorry dude - same misty city as last year, applicators and all. Heheh...

Happy 4th!



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Random Stuff
Saturday, 02 July 2005 11:30:27 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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I've been using MS Tablet PC powered computers since Compaq came out with the TC1000 a couple/few years ago. After that I switched to the Acer C300-series devices. I've had a couple of the Acers, because they don't wear quite as well as one would have hoped. Thank goodness they have a reasonable RMA/repair policy. As it turns out, the Acer has pretty much everything I need and want: A big, bright, contrasty display; built in DVD burner; touchpad and decent keyboard. What it lacks is frustrating, though: Durability of the pivot hinge with significant use is bad; the case's surface finish wears off; battery life is fair; screen resolution is typically marginal (it's the standard 1024x768). I use the Acer as a laptop more than I do in tablet mode. but when I want tablet mode it's there for me in a matter of a couple of seconds. Oh, and the Acer's a bit heavy. There have been others. I carried around a Toshiba M200 for a while. I didn't like it. The display was flat and dim, and performance was mediocre. No built in optical or removable drive. It just didn't work for me.

Anyhow, yesterday over at Engadget they asked "How would you change the Tablet PC?" There are pushing 100 comment responses as of the time of this post, and while some of the answers are not that helpful, some of them are quite interesting. Check it out over there.

What do I think needs to be in every Tablet PC? Here's my own quick list:

  • Greater than 1024x768 resolution (I can change font and icon sizes if I need to)
  • Display must be bright and contrasty (I like the Acer and Sony bright displays for this)
  • Included high-end docking station
  • Optical burner drive built in (DVD+RW, dual layer even better, make it so I can replace it in a year when the "standards" change)
  • OneNote included (like Toshiba does)
  • Extra pen built in (like Toshiba does)
  • Use a power source readily available on the market so I can plug it into my generic Car/AC/Airplane power adapter
  • Up to 2GB RAM (or more would be fine)
  • Touchpad (I really don't like the red rubber eraser nub thing)
  • Microphones everywhere, high gain, noise canceling
  • Built in camera on the top edge that can rotate/flip to point at the user or away (like Sony's portables) - at least a couple megapixels with a glass lens
  • Biometrics - a fingerprint reader that works

That's for today. What do I want to see in the future?

  • One button, two-second power-on-to-available capability
  • Roll-up computer
  • Gesture tough control support
  • Whatever input recognition they choose, it sure as heck better not be T9...
  • Brain input must not require use of the Microsoft ImplantTM (nor the Apple ImplantTM for that matter)
  • Media center, personal media center, tablet, etc all in every device: Desktops, notebooks, handhelds, etc.


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Tablet PC | Tech
Saturday, 02 July 2005 08:33:12 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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