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“cloud computing” December 1, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Definition, Pictures, Seen Elsewhere, Technology Trouble.
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cloud computing
KLOWD kom-PYU-ting

If you want to get technical, cloud computing is a very cool way to keep all your stuff in internet-land, where you can access it from anywhere because you don’t own the media or servers upon which it’s stored. But if you want to get corporate, all you need to know is that corporations are likely to be very, very leery about implementing it despite how into it their tech folks are.

The problem with cloud computing, from a corporate perspective, is all about control. Most people have Google accounts, and already live somewhat in the cloud — if you have webmail, you’re doing cloud computing. Google is by far the king of the cloud, though Microsoft’s Office 10 is going to attempt to make some inroads into that market share. But whether it’s via Google, Microsoft, or even Yahoo (anyone remember Yahoo Briefcase?), the company doesn’t own the data. The data is held by the third party, who has their own set of terms and conditions as to the warranty of the data (T-Mobile Sidekick Fail, for example), the accessibility of the data (you can’t call Google and complain that Docs is down), and their right to read the data or be subpoenaed and hand the data over. And what happens if the third party suffers a hacking attack that ends with the data being taken by hostile parties? What’s the company’s recourse?

That’s why so many companies use VPNs instead of cloud computing — they let employees log into their work PCs using secure connections that they control. It’s way slower than the cloud, but it lets the corporations exercise their own security measures. And, I have to admit, as much as I love cloud computing (I do most of my first drafts on Docs), there’s a big difference between running a blog and running a multi-million-dollar corporation.

Of course, all companies have to do their due diligence and pretend to be interested in cloud computing, as illustrated by the above Dilbert strip. The tech guys always get excited about it, hoping they can link their tricked-out Google accounts to their work life. Just remember — if the company does go with the cloud, you’re going to have to make all your Google stuff available to them upon request. You know it’ll show up in the IT policy. I’d certainly put it there.

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printer signs November 24, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Seen Elsewhere, Technology Trouble.
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Refrigerator signs aren’t the only signs you find at the office. There’s also the collection of exciting missives pinned up around ever printer.

from Passive Aggressive Notes

The printer is an interesting place. It’s somewhat replaced the water cooler as a kibitzing zone, since more than half the time the damn thing doesn’t work anyway, or you’re stuck there rifling through someone else’s jobs, or you’re busy reading all the signs.

Most common is the “pick up your printing promptly” sign, which is pretty understandable. The average office printer can hold maybe 100 sheets in the output tray, though there’s no safety that says “if you hit an obstruction, stop printing”. Instead, the printer keeps shoving pages out through its slot, crumpling them up and losing them amid contracts and documentation and coupons and personal e-mails and funny pictures of cats and, of course, signs asking people to pick up their printing promptly. These can be ignored because if you see them, you’re not the culprit, and if you’re the culprit, you’ll never see them.

Next-most-common is “don’t remove others’ print jobs” or something similar. Admittedly, I’ve done this. It happens sometimes; I’ll print four or five documents, pick them up, and realize five minutes later as I’m sorting that I’ve got someone’s travel plans in between copies one and two. Usually I’ll just bring the pages to the person’s desk; it gives me a chance to waste some time at work chatting, which is always a plus. The thing is: if your print job isn’t there, odds are good you’ve already reprinted it. Unfortunately there’s no way to be sure someone else has taken your printing. I wish there was.

You’ll also find retaliatory signs, such as the one above about robots learning about love. Wherever there are office signs, there are retaliatory signs — signs that make fun of the signposter for his or her spelling, grammar, bad jokes, repetitiveness, or anal-retentiveness. These are fun to make, but don’t do it. Everyone knows it’s you.

And, finally, there are the helpful signs. I tend to make these. For example: about four years ago, I figured out why one of our printers kept jamming: the rollers that controlled tray 3 messed things up for some reason and told the printer it wasn’t working, even when it was. So I hand-lettered a little sign that said something like this:

Do not put any paper in Tray 3. This will cause the printer to think it is jammed. Use Tray 2 instead.

See? Nothing snide or snarky. Just a simple note.

I also found a way to fix my printer settings so that the computer wouldn’t even look for tray 3, because that particular model of printer would try tray 3 before every page, thereby making the print jobs take five times as long as they should have. Not everyone got the fix… just people I liked. You know who you are.

What kind of signs are up by your printer? Anything interesting? Send in your photos; if I get enough, I’ll do a “printer sign week”.

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That Guy’s Tips For Not Looking Stupid On The Internet, #4 October 29, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Did I Hear That Right?, Technology Trouble, Tips for Not Looking Stupid.
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Don’t type when you’re frustrated.

funny pictures of dogs with captionsAs a writer, I know that writing is one of the best ways to work out frustrations — you can put together a fantasy e-mail, do a quick story where your character kicks your boss’s character in a very uncomfortable place, whatever — as well as your fantasies. Some of which are driven by your frustrations.

But remember this: if you’re at work, you’re likely using a computer owned by the company. You’re probably complaining to a co-worker about how annoying or stupid someone is. You might even be doing it via IM instead of e-mail.

Don’t. Just stop. Step away from the computer.

Example: over the last two weeks, a client asked my department to mount a logo onto one of our pages and send them the mockups. I did so. They sent it back, saying they weren’t pleased with the amount of space around their logo. I increased the space (by decreasing the size of their logo — the area available has hard boundaries around it) and sent it back. They said it still wasn’t enough. Finally I e-mailed back my client representative (the person who is a co-worker of mine who actually talks to the clients so my department doesn’t have to) and said “please ask them to tell us exactly how much space they want, and warn them that, as I increase the space, their logo will get correspondingly smaller”.

Finally, after three more days, they gave me an exact measurement and I was able to provide them with a mockup they liked. But instead of going back to my CR and saying “this has been an exercise in futility”, I mentioned it to her during a meeting we were both in. I didn’t commit it to anything electronic because it’s perfectly within the company’s policies to hold such words against me — and in this economic client, you really want everything that reflects upon you to do so positively.

By the same token, proofread your “to” and “cc” fields; if you’re discussing something a client sent, make sure the client is removed from the chain. Before the reorg, whenever people replied to customer comments, they often did not remove the “all-production-employees” e-mail address, and we were just lucky that very few people realized exactly what they had.

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if you have received this communication in error October 27, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Technology Trouble.
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cc-licensed photo by SAN_DRINO

cc-licensed photo by SAN_DRINO

Being that I’m working with some fairly large agencies that are concerned with intellectual property theft, I’ve lately been seeing e-mails with something like this at the bottom:

The information contained in this message and any attachment may be proprietary, confidential, and privileged or subject to the work product doctrine and thus protected from disclosure. If the reader of this message is not the intended recipient, or an employee or agent responsible for delivering this message to the intended recipient, you are hereby notified that any dissemination, distribution or copying of this communication is strictly prohibited. If you have received this communication in error, please notify me immediately by replying to this message and deleting it and all copies and backups thereof. Thank you.

I realize that this is all at the behest of the legal department, but what does it actually accomplish? If you received the e-mail in error, you’re more likely to delete it out-of-hand than actually pay any attention to it. I understand asking people to reply if the message was received in error because the sender needs to know, but it’s that last part that kills me:

If you have received this communication in error, please notify me immediately by replying to this message and deleting it and all copies and backups thereof.

Deleting all copies and backups. Right. Because you’re going to call IT and say “hey, I got this message in error, can you delete the backups off the server to comply with their legal statement”?

Of course not. You’re just going to throw it into your deleted items and go on with your life.

If you’re the e-mail’s sender, well… it’s your own fault if the wrong person gets it. You should proofread your “to” field.

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playing dress-up October 12, 2009

Posted by That Guy in A Very Corporate Something, Did I Hear That Right?, Seen Elsewhere, Technology Trouble.
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Dressing up your character in World of Warcraft or The Sims is one thing, but what about dressing up your avatar for work? Analyst firm Gartner warns that, by 2013, avatars will have to have dress codes too.

“As the use of virtual environments for business purposes grows, enterprises need to understand how employees are using avatars in ways that might affect the enterprise or the enterprise’s reputation,” said James Lundy, managing vice president at Gartner, in a statement.

Image from the World Economic Forum

Image from the World Economic Forum

Seriously? Companies are really going to start having business meetings in the corporate version of Second Life?

Yeah, I don’t see that happening. I mean, there are already classes being taught in SL, but to me that’s more a fad than anything else. Conference calls, WebEx meetings, and long chains of e-mails will continue to be the norm for quite some time.

Think about it: you meet in Second Life, but all your stuff is in Word, or Excel, or Powerpoint — so you have to flip back and forth, right? Either that or you’ll just end up using the SL interface to view the files being shared by everyone.

Actually, y’know what the future of collaborative meetings online will be?

Google Wave.

Although I do think that, as more companies adopt instant messaging and company-sponsored tiwttering, people are going to have to stop using amusing pictures of puppies as their IM or Twitter avatars and start using their company ID headshots.

Yes. I groaned at that thought too.

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let me google that for you September 21, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Technology Trouble.
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This message is not sponsored by Google, or by “Let Me Google That For You”.

CC-licensed photo by SAN_DRINO

CC-licensed photo by SAN_DRINO

Early this morning one of my friends tweeted that she couldn’t figure out how to make the LED on her Blackberry stop blinking. I replied that the solution was in her settings (I used to own a Blackberry), and she said “I know; I just can’t figure out where.”

So I googled blackberry led off. I clicked the first item. It gave me the answer.

Now, instead of telling my friend, I decided I wanted her to learn so she wouldn’t need to bother anyone else. Enter our good friends at Let Me Google That For You. Basically what they do is create a Google search portal — which is perfectly all right under Google’s TOS — and, when you type in your search term, they build an animation. Then you send the URL to someone (like I did to my friend). That someone clicks the URL. That someone is shown how to find answers via Google.

Click here to see the link I sent my friend.

They even have an option for the internet-savvy: they’ll give you a TinyURL that runs the animation, if you ask for it. My friend happens to be internet-savvy; she runs a relatively-popular sex blog*. I’m actually rather surprised she didn’t just Google an answer.

Ah well. She, like so many others — and, I’m sure, like the others at your office — sometimes doesn’t have time to Google an answer. But for those people who have no excuse, feel free to use LMGTFY (as the site is abbreviated). You’ll probably get a laugh, and hopefully people will start checking Google before they bother you. Because really all you’re going to do is go to Google to find the answer anyway.

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* I was friends with her before the sex blog. Not that that really matters, but I figured I should say that so I’d look a little bit less of a perv.

countdown to Jupiter September 16, 2009

Posted by That Guy in A Stunning Example of Synergy, Technology Trouble.
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You probably know that it’s best to reboot your computer every few days, just to clean out your virtual memory and get everything refreshed. Here at CorporateSpeak we have one server that, if you don’t reboot it every week (or more frequently than that), it crashes, usually at a very inopportune moment. And no, it can’t be updated or replaced because we can’t afford the software upgrades that would come along with it. It’s also a very heavily-used server — there’s years worth of data on it, much of which isn’t backed up (because, again, to back it up would cost money we don’t have). Nearly everyone on this half of the building uses it. It’s almost always full, and temporary files are never cleaned out by the people who create them.

So we reboot it the minimum number of times, which is once per week. I know, surprising that they even do it that often.

It's 2:00. Log off. Or else.

It's 2:00. Log off. Or else.

Anyway, every Monday or so, we get an e-mail from IT saying “The Jupiter server will be rebooted at 2 p.m. Tuesday”.

Then on Tuesday morning: “The Jupiter server will be rebooted at 2 p.m. today.”

Tuesday at noon: “The Jupiter server will be rebooted in two hours — at 2 p.m.”

Tuesday at 1:00: “The Jupiter server will be rebooted in one hour — at 2 p.m.”

Tuesday at 1:30: “The Jupiter server will be rebooted in 30 minutes — at 2 p.m.”

Tuesday at 1:45: “The Jupiter server will be rebooted in 15 minutes — at 2 p.m.”

Tuesday at 1:55, the IT guy will go on the intercom and say, quite clearly, and twice, “The Jupiter server will be rebooted in five minutes. Please save your work and log off. Thank you.”

Then, at 2:00, all hell breaks loose. They make another announcement on the intercom. Someone comes into the room where I work and yells loudly that Jupiter is being shut down, so everyone has to log off. Three IT techs go through the room and manually log off every computer that employees didn’t bother to correctly shut down when they finished working. And, invariably, someone says “I just need five minutes!”

They’re given that five minutes every time.

It takes about an hour to reboot Jupiter and run it through the startup procedure so the rest of the computers reconnect to it properly. From 2 p.m. to 3 p.m., people always ask “is Jupiter up?” “Is Jupiter back up?” “How long will Jupiter be down?” “Can I use CServer yet?” (CServer is the internal content management system that runs on the Jupiter computer.) “Who’s rebooting Jupiter?” “Are you done rebooting Jupiter?” “Can we log back on yet?”

You get the idea.

At 3 p.m., the IT guy will go on the intercom to announce that Jupiter’s back up. An e-mail will be sent. Someone will shout it through the various rooms where people use Jupiter-connected computers. And still my colleagues will ask frantically if Jupiter is back yet.

You’d think they’d plan for this; they are, after all, informed a full day in advance exactly when Jupiter will be down. It’s always down for one hour; they could plan for that, too. But they don’t. They just whine and complain and extend the time Jupiter is down by not logging off when IT tells them to. They’re not just screwing themselves; they’re screwing everyone.

The best option, of course, would be to upgrade Jupiter to the latest version, called Saturn. Then we could buy licenses to Saturn, upgrade all the crappy computers Jupiter software runs on (they’re so old that installing IE6 would actually break them — that’s right: they’re still running IE5.5 as their web browsers, under Windows 2000 professional), and expedite the process by which everyone gets their work done. If only we had an extra million dollars laying around to do it with.

The countdown is the next best thing, and that, my friends, is quite sad to contemplate.

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the wrong ways you talk to your web guys August 27, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Experiences, Seen Elsewhere, Technology Trouble.
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I really need to stop reading Smashing Magazine because every time I do I find more things that my company refuses to get right. Today it’s communicating with developers.

As a designer, you don’t need to have every single page thought out before starting development, but it is helpful to stay ahead of the developers. Plan your features accordingly, and make sure you at least have some type of structure (HTML, etc) ready to go when they need it. It is a lot easier for developers to come through on a polished page and insert data where it is needed instead of creating the page from scratch and having the designer come in after them.

It’s more likely that the marketing department will come to you with a vague drawing born of a brainstorming session, and said drawing will be full of features that you can’t provide because either they don’t exist or because your company is so enamored of its walled garden that you’re not allowed to use that new technology. And they won’t give you a full design, either; they’ll give you some chunks of artwork and hope you can get it to work. Oh, and if you don’t use their fonts, they’ll bitch until you build a ton of tiny JPEGs full of font (that you’ll then have to change 60 or 70 times apiece) because that font is the linchpin — the linchpin — of the project.

It is also important to try not to change the design while the developers is in the middle of developing that specific feature. […] As designers, we should try to avoid any type of refactoring of the UI as we can. It is tedious work for developers to go back and change HTML.

Changing a few things here and there is acceptable. Changing the entire focus of the project? Not so much.

It is also important to not drop off the project here. At the least, be available by e-mail so the developers can contact you about issues with your designs. Respond quickly to ensure your developers are staying on track with the final product. Once again, be decisive in your communication. Most of the time, the real data doesn’t match what you mocked up, and there are many issues you will need to work out in conjunction with your developer.

Let’s repeat that part:

Most of the time, the real data doesn’t match what you mocked up.

Learn this, marketing departments. Learn it and remember it.

Avoid Feature Creep

I’ve got a whole post on this that I’m in the middle of writing.

As designers, we can quickly turn around designs in a few days and be done with it. Unfortunately, this is not the case for development. The ratio of design to development hours is not even close to 1:1. Make sure your deadlines allow enough time for the developer to implement the features, as well as any back and forth time for questions.

What is born of a series of meetings usually ends up being coded over the course of two weeks, with the lion’s share being done furiously at the last minute because someone — or, more likely, several someones across multiple departments — didn’t bother to get their deliverables in on time. Of course, it’s the web guy who always gets in trouble when this happens.

Don’t rely on your developers to write perfect code, as it will never happen. You can’t always rely on developers to test their code to make sure it functions properly, fulfills requirements and ultimately works in the manner you described. But remember, developers don’t write buggy code on purpose.

As fewer people are doing more with less, it’s become virtually impossible to get anyone to proofread your stuff. You can show it to people and they’ll say “oh, that’s great, that’s perfect”, but they won’t proofread. They won’t take an hour or two to read all the text, check your spelling, and click every button. (That’s what interns are for, if you’re lucky enough to have them.) In the old days, my boss used to want me to send him everything so he could proofread and check it. Of course, he never did, and then it became my fault when something was wrong. If companies can’t be bothered to have someone make time for quality control, then why are we developers trying so hard in the first place? We’re just going to get in trouble for every single mistake we made trying to get the project done on an impossible deadline.

In an ideal world, none of this would happen. But we’ll never have an ideal world, so let’s just try to educate our bosses on the right way to talk to us. If we’re lucky, we won’t get fired for it.

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let’s just do it ourselves August 21, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Big Boss, Did I Hear That Right?, Management, Technology Trouble.
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This was going to be a post about cargo cults and social networking, but a friend of mine recently told me about something her company did that put the average company’s cargo culting to shame.

Celia is a graphic designer for a web marketing company. You’ve probably seen her work in some of those silly Flash games showing up in banner ads when you check your e-mail or visit popular websites. Anyway, Celia was part of a series of meetings where various companies pitched their services in building iPhone apps out of their more-popular games. It would have been Celia’s job to make sure the art was available to these third-party vendors.

Celia told me her boss went back and forth with their Big Boss several times over the cost of doing business with the vendors — not that it would’ve cost a ton of money, but in this economic climate no one wants to spend cash if they don’t have to. Celia’s boss got to the point where a contract was drawn up and vetted by both legal departments… and then her Big Boss said “let’s just do it ourselves.”

One of Celia’s co-workers is named Larry. Larry is a Flash developer; he takes the art Celia makes and puts it into the games. Larry knows Flash and ActionScript, and a little PHP, but he’s not an expert with the iPhone SDK or the programming language that the iPhone is built upon. Still, the Big Boss said Larry could do it, so Larry had to teach himself the SDK (of course there was no training budget). Celia helped as much as she could, but she’s an artist, not a programmer. And none of the web guys at Celia’s office knew how to do it either. Larry seriously considered hiring an iPhone developer to do it for him, but he couldn’t afford it.

Two weeks later, Larry had his first iPhone app ready to go. It was a very simple side-scrolling shooter based upon a Flash game he’d coded for the company. Celia sent me a copy.

CC-licensed photo by William Hook, remixed by That Guy

CC-licensed photo by William Hook, remixed by That Guy

It was awful. The controls weren’t good, the graphics weren’t good, the game was slow to load and clunky to play, and it didn’t have the slick look that the iPhone is so capable of presenting to users. I can’t see how anyone would pay $1.99 for this app — that’s what the Big Boss wanted to charge for it, so that’s how much the company was going to charge.

I feel really bad for Celia, Larry, and their company. Celia, because she has to work at a company that will cut corners this way; Larry, because his first iPhone app is so bad — I’ve seen Larry’s Flash work and it’s frankly amazing; and the company, because they’re going to have their name attached to an absolutely atrocious piece of software.

Let this be a lesson that no company will heed: there are some things you just have to pay for because doing it yourself will make it look like ass. You don’t necessarily have to spend a ton of money, but sometimes you do have to spend it to make it. Given the size of the iPhone’s user footprint and the sheer visibility of everything iPhone, that’s one place where you should pay someone else to make sure you do it right.

Hopefully Celia’s Big Boss learned his lesson. Doubt it, though; Big Bosses never do.

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the more they overcomplicate the plumbing August 20, 2009

Posted by That Guy in A Stunning Example of Synergy, Technology Trouble.
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In Star Trek III, Mr. Scott said of the U.S.S. Excelsior:

The more they overcomplicate the plumbing, the easier it is to stop up the drain.

James Doohan as Captain Montgomery Scott

James Doohan as Captain Montgomery Scott

Monday morning, my co-worker Bill had to transfer a video from DVD to our proprietary system. Now, when Bill used to work in Jackson, MS, he could pop the DVD into a DVD player, press play, and press record on the computer system. It wasn’t a perfect system, but the quality was good and it took him all of five minutes for a four-minute video.

Bill and I both work in a major city now — you’d know it instantly if I named it for you. You’d think that when Bill got here things would be at least as easy.

You’d be wrong.

Here are things we don’t have here:

  • A DVD player hooked up to any computer system anywhere in the building. (DVD players in PCs notwithstanding.)
  • A connection from the DVD player to the video editing suite. (All of our mega-awesome video editing software is in a single suite.
  • A connection from the video editing suite to any network drives Bill can access from his desk. (He has to edit the video, then export it and send it to himself via FTP.)

So here’s what Bill had to do to obtain a four-minute piece of video that someone sent us on a playable DVD:

  1. Put the DVD in the DVD player.
  2. Find someone who can let him into the server room (our keycards don’t work; only IT’s do).
  3. Find someone in IT who can cross-connect the system in such a way that the DVD player is spliced into the internal CCTV network and the internal CCTV network is sent down to the video editing suite.
  4. Go to the video editing suite (on a different floor than the server room) and reboot the computer he needs (because it’s ancient and needs to be rebooted before each use).
  5. Start recording from the CCTV network, wasting hard-drive space.
  6. Go to the DVD player and press play.
  7. When the computer finishes recording the footage, edit it down to remove all the useless parts.
  8. Export the footage in a format that his computer can read.
  9. Upload the file to the FTP.
  10. Go to his desk and download the file from the FTP.
  11. Put the file into the Flash component where it’s going to play from.

Total time spent: one hour. For a four-minute piece of video.

This is why we tell our clients to upload the video to our vendor FTP.

The more your company overcomplicates the plumbing, the easier it is to kill productivity and lower employee morale. When employees like Bill come to the big city after working in smaller cities where everything works — not perfectly, but efficiently — they get discouraged and their productivity as a whole slows down. That extra 45-50 minutes Bill spent getting the DVD player to play in the video editing suite could’ve been spent responding to e-mails, or planning out new projects, or coding, or eating lunch. With the amount of meetings and e-mails the average employee has to deal with each day, every productive minute counts, and wasting that much on a tiny chunk of video that’s less than 10 percent of the entire project is extremely disheartening.

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