Friday, December 31, 2010

On Cloud Computing

From an e-mail to friends...

Cloud computing is a strategy to outsource complexity and risk. Most SMBs can’t stand that their Windows systems constantly need maintenance, updates and repair. A ‘cloud’ service is really just a way to fix the cost and get out of the PC Problem Pool.

Until you get a generation of users that are willing to STOP using Word, Excel & Quickbooks you won’t have cloud services replace local servers. Likewise: Autocad, Photoshop and a myriad other apps that put a strain on even CAT6 infrastructure. Microsoft wants to hurry that along (Office365 – not to be confused with Office360) but Google is already there. Trouble is that very few of my customers know what the cloud is or why they’d want one ;)

If you don’t have a local server (like ours: you’re going to be sucking data through a straw until everyone gets fiber to their dmarc from their ISP. And our experience is that customers are already pushing back on $100+/mo broadband. They want to BROWSE, BACKUP TO and GET THEIR EMAIL from the web but not much else. A few have tried VPNs to virtual servers and they think it sucks. We get calls all the time from customers that simply need to reboot their routers. We have 100+ FileSafes in the field that check in every three minutes. There’s always a few that stop checking in and it’s almost always because of Internet issues. And sometimes our monitoring page lights up like NORAD because there has been a system wide Internet failure. This ain’t like the old phone system with five nines uptime.

If you want to access files remotely you use LogMeIn or, better yet, RDP – it’s free and fast right back to your desktop.

I agree that, Sharepoint and some other hosted apps – in particular Hosted Exchange with smartphone integration – are MUST HAVEs for many small businesses, but our customers are much more comfortable knowing their data, docs, pics and all the important stuff they ‘own’ is inside their four walls. Don’t get me started on data privacy concerns, cloud vendor security/availability (DDOS risks,) and lock-in.

And just wait until ISPs start putting tolls on bandwidth! This ‘all you can eat’ free lunch we’ve been eating is going to end someday. That will certainly put some hail in those clouds.

Like many things, the story is more complicated than it first appears – and hybrid solutions are still the right answer.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A Horribly Broken Prescription Delivery System

From a recent e-mail to friends...

I rarely write during the day - I actually stay pretty busy. But I'm 'relaxing' over the holidays (only trying to work 8 hrs/day,) and I needed to focus on my Zolpidem (generic for Ambien) prescription because I'M ALMOST OUT!

So I wanted to order some online now that we are on an HSA and paying cash for them...I thought that it would be no big deal.

Lots to talk about here for the next time we're together. But interesting results from price checking a few local pharmacies: One tech told me she had know way to find out what prescriptions cost. The range was $45 ( to $164 (CVS.) Walmart was $86. The CVS tech asked me, "Do you know how many insurances (sic) there are?" She passed me around for a while and I finally learned that you need to specifically ask for the 'Cash' price - a keyword that takes you into the 'this poor bastard doesn't have insurance' queue - which they know means you'll PAY ANYTHING SINCE THERE IS NO MARKET FOR PRESCRIPTIONS SOLD AT AN ADVERTISED PRICE! (I use the term 'Market' in its technical/economic sense here.)

I ordered from on 12/9. The flurry of paperwork ended today when I practically had to conference them together to exchange info. My doctor still depends on faxes and phone calls exclusively to do this. There is no system of electronic communication. Zolpidem is a 'controlled substance' and must require doctors and pharmacists to pledge their first born sons or daughters to keep paper documentation authorizing them to write/fill prescriptions - with penalties like dismemberment if they can't provide the paper trail. (So much for the ubiquitously available ED meds!)

It would be MUCH EASIER to get Pot, Cocaine or Heroine. At least I know the service would be driven by market forces! I may try later today and report back ;)

P.S. turns out to be the BEST place to get this stuff so far. I know exactly what phone numbers to dial and IVR prompts to pass to crack their system now ;) I'll clue you in for free drinks!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Real Royal Society

A few friends and I meet from time to time to discuss the issues of the day. We careen from subject to subject and pontificate on a variety of topics, making assertions, citing dubious references, pillorying our lunchmates and attacking sacred cows with vim and vigor!

I have named the group the Royal Society and I mean it no disrespect. I long for the polemics and debate of a latter day; courteous, informed and energetic!

But there is a 'real' Royal Society which is celebrating its 350th anniversary - and they deserve congratulations and honor. The home of such great minds as Newton, Laplace, Maxwell, Hawking and Berners-Lee, all FRS - Fellows of the Royal Society, and countless others who have preserved science over centuries when, to paraphrase a popular country music song, science wasn't cool. We owe the Society an immeasurable debt for a life unparalleled in abundance, convenience and longevity.

You can read a brief (32 p) report, Science Sees Further, which their President, Martin Rees, calls "an opportunity for us to look at the key scientific issues of today, and those of tomorrow."

Edit: And then there was this.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

This just in

NYU moves to Google Apps for Education. Does that score one for Microsoft 0n-premises solutions?

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Couldn't help myself

Redmond Channel Partner is a thin magazine that extols the virtue of Microsoft Products and generally heaps praise on whatever they do. The last issue served up lots of affection for Microsoft's latest strategy to dominate the universe with their Cloud technology.

I think reports of their imminent success are a bit premature. But what do I know?

So I sent the author of the article a short note (using my Google Apps account,) to wit:

Hi Scott,

I read with interest your recent piece in RCP, "Bet on MS Cloudy Forecast." I got a kick out of the quote from the reporter: "What is it?" or words to that effect.

One of my customers recently asked: What is it? That is *not* a closing question.

The problem is that MS has hit a wall dictated by physics in a way. Customers' needs are well met by local apps, Internet for most is a flaky $20 DSL connection, they see the 'bleed' of a subscription service (I know, I sell one,) and open source is right on their tail. I say MS is a short sell opportunity.

What they can't control is the very real fear that viruses, malware and security risks impose. MS is at the root of all this, whether they are to blame or not. Bad PR is bad PR.

We've moved lots of customers to Google Apps. I love hosted Exchange @ $5/user per month. I think Windows servers are stupid complex and I'll be the first to admit my reluctance to sell them is that I'm not smart enough to work on them. My small business customers (less than 20 users, 5+ million,) are stupider than I am! They think I'm smart!

MS can't deny gravity. This cloud initiative is chasing Google. Apps are a commodity and search is all that matters.

Loved the article,

Kim Brand

Thursday, November 04, 2010

What does this mean?

I was just minding my own business when Tom Lapp, Co-Inventor of FileEngine, forwarded me a story from that includes this 'strategy' comment by a Microsoft executive:
“We are going to lead with the cloud,” Microsoft COO Kevin Turner said during a speech at the company’s Financial Analyst Meeting July 29. “Leading with the cloud actually helps better position Microsoft to sell more on-premises products than we ever have before. … Very strategically, it signals a very clear commitment to our customers and our partners.”
How could a C level exec attempt to convince intelligent finance managers that delivering cloud based solutions will accelerate sales of on-premises solutions?? Maybe Google should sell on-premises solutions to promote sales of Google Apps?

I had never heard of the term 'on-premises' solutions before. Was that Windows Server 200x? Almost sounds cooler when you call it an on-premises solution. (See my older blog entry here on how Windows server is like a puppy trying to find a place to pee.)

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Harry Potter's Mom Gives Harvard Commencement

What a great resource for my website! 

Early in the presentation I read...

On this wonderful day when we are gathered together to celebrate your academic success, I have decided to talk to you about the benefits of failure. And as you stand on the threshold of what is sometimes called ‘real life’, I want to extol the crucial importance of imagination.

And it just kept getting better and better.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Sales 101

This week Jeff Bowe and I spoke at the Business Ownership Initiative. The SRO crowd (15) were all starting businesses or trying to develop the one they had. I love that crowd!

We ended up in Chicago this weekend to care for a daughter with a strained ankle. Ouch! So during the unexpected 'down time' I'm trying to do some 'sales development' by reading thoughtful sales articles. (You might find my collection of same here and here useful.

Anyway, the stuff I'm reading this morning is here...and from Sharon Drew Morgen. All good.

I spent some time this morning trying to understand the 'demotivators' that impact sales. Have you ever studied demotivators in a sales class? Looking at the sales encounters we've had over the years it's like a blinding flash of the obvious. The 'Features & Benefits' weren't enough to overcome the demotivators. I've been wasting all my time attacking one (price) and leaving all the rest unresolved.

So much to do ;(

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Another Rotary Invocation

October 5, 2010 - Indianapolis Rotary Club.

I wanted to write on the theme: 'If this life was all there was.' Rather than hoping that when we die you reach your final reward, you realize that you better eat desert now - cause when it's over, it's over!

But I couldn't write that invocation and make it positive. I'll try again later.

So I started banging away on the keyboard Monday night around 9pm while Beth Ann was watching Dancing With The Stars. (Not exactly the most conducive environment to write.) Words didn't flow, sentences appeared and disappeared. It was a real struggle. Writing each line took effort. I felt like I was hewing art from stone. Ultimately, I finished it Tuesday morning after spending another hour. Our lunch starts at Noon.

I wanted to connect the recent discovery of a star system which may include a planet in what is called the Goldilocks zone which may harbor life of some kind to my belief that life on Earth is actually not that special. Interesting, definitely; but not unusual. There is no need for a deity (at least at this stage of the game.)

As you can read below, I believe we are special for entirely different reasons. But these ideas actually emerged on the page as if I was conjuring an 8 Ball. It was like I wrote words, stared at them for a while, assembled them in sentences, deleted a few, moved them around and then stared at them some more. Over a couple hours, a few ideas consolidated on this framework of words that allowed me to connect the parts into a whole.

I got several compliments on it. A few were quite enthusiastic. So I guess this worked. It was athletic in a cerebral way.

Are we special?

Science is nearly ready to answer that question in a way that wasn’t possible a decade ago.

120 trillion miles from here scientists say they have found what appears to be an Earth-like planet that may be just warm enough and wet enough to make the chemistry of life possible.

Our special place in the universe is about to be challenged. We may not be alone.

So much of life’s meaning is connected to a feeling that we are special. From religion to education to management, the means may be different, but the ends are the same: to affirm each person’s uniqueness, each person’s right to be different; to make each person feel special about themselves, their abilities, their relationships, their potential.

So today, we learn we may not have such a special place among the stars. So what?

Being special was never about being alone. To be truly special requires the attention of another human being. A gift given by one person to another; at arms length, with a smile, a sympathetic ear or just a sincere hello. Making another person feel special and cared for is something we do around here . . . in our corner of the Milky Way.

As you sit with each other, greet each other, interact with and work with others throughout the rest of today, and every day, remember that while we are each made from basic elements, combined in interesting but somewhat predictable ways, what makes us special is the way we love each other; the gifts of care and attention we freely give to make another person feel special among all the planets and stars of the cosmos.

When we do that, we can still be special, in the hearts of the ones we love, in the communities we serve, across continents and who knows, across light years. Making someone feel special is your personal gift to the galaxy, and as far as we know, uniquely human.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Another great quote

Reminds me of the 'Sunscreen Song', but contracted for the Twitter generation.

Live with intention.

Walk to the edge.

Listen hard.

Practice wellness.

Play with abandon.


Choose with no regret.

Appreciate your friends.

Continue to learn.

Do what you love.

Live as if this is all there is.

-Mary Anne Radmacher

Monday, September 13, 2010

A Dearth of Curiosity

A brief conversation with an old friend tonight reminded me...

She's working at a new charter school now; nothing but the best. New technology, nutrition plans to combat the let down after lunch, no desks, etc. She was so enthusiastic!

But I've mused before about how absent curiosity seems to be in schools that are otherwise well resourced. No pedagogical excess can overcome a dearth of curiosity. But a driving curiosity can lead to a fascination with learning that trumps suboptimal learning conditions. Indeed, what passes today for an impoverished educational environment would have been a luxury to the peers of Newton, Leibniz and countless others whose discoveries form the foundation of today's science curricula! Lavish the Internet on idiots and you end up with idiots!

What a tragedy! Anyone can now indulge their curiosity to nearly a limitless depth, for free, 24/7, from home, and avail themselves of knowledge formerly reserved for the bourgeois. Perhaps getting an education would be more desirable if it was hard?

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Real Poetry

Thanks to my parents I had an excellent education. (I own the meager results.)

I came across a poem by Shelley by accident this morning. It spoke to me about the futility of desire for fame or riches. The author advises us to relax, enjoy the ride; it will all be lost in the end anyway.

An education could be wrapped around this poem. At least I found it. Better late than never.


I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

A further analysis can be found here and here.

Thursday, September 02, 2010


We've seen more and more cases where perfectly fine PCs get totaled by malware. The analogy to a car being totaled is apt: You slide into a barrier on ice in your 2002 Camaro at 10 MPH. No injuries, airbags don't deploy; the fender's messed up, front suspension too, the engine mounts go a little whacky. Fixable, right? Not!

The insurance guy says your car is worth $5K and the repairs will be $6K. Your car has just been totaled.

Think about the similarity to PCs but apply 'Internet Time' and 'Moore's Law': PCs change far more rapidly than automobiles. I need to remind customers all the time that the $1K PC they are buying today would have been $5K a few years ago - if it was available at all. Add in the cost of labor: probably not accelerating in this economy, but a good technician still bills out at $80-$110/hr.

How much can you afford to invest in that old 'PC Clunker' when it gets into an 'accident' with malware? (BTW: malware isn't the only malady: OS updates, hardware failure and abuse may be more familiar if less less likely threats.)

I assess the damage across several dimensions:
  • How old is it?
  • Is there important information still on it?
  • Is the software installed on it recoverable? (i.e. do you have the rights and/or media, keys, codes, updates, configuration details, etc. available to make a new PC work like the old one.)
  • How well did it perform before the crash?
Do you want to spend the cost of a new PC costs fixing up an old one? Not unless there are compelling reasons. For example: your old software won't work on Microsoft's latest OS (which is all you can find,) or the additional time and cost to configure a new PC is intolerable if not impossible. We wear-in PCs like old shoes. Sometimes, you just can't find one that fits as well.

We estimate that migration of all the stuff from an old PC to a new one can take from two to four hours - that adds hundreds of dollars to the equation. Your mileage may vary, but the pain is real.

What can you do to avoid having your PC totaled? Keeping it well maintained is a good start: update antivirus programs, safe surfing practices, store copies of the software, license keys and summary of significant configuration changes you've made in a separate place. This is like the little book you have in your glove compartment that records when you got oil changes and factory recommended service. It's a good idea for your PC too.

We recommend that important PCs use backup imaging software like Backup Exec System Recovery Desktop Edition and Acronis True Image. Both are available for under $100 and allow you to capture everything on your PC to a USB hard drive. On-line backups are fine for data - and may be OK for DOCs, databases and photos - but getting your programs and the functionality of a finely tuned PC back is just as important, if less emotional. You won't appreciate all that stuff until it's gone!

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Confused at a higher level

25 years ago, a friend (Mike St. Pierre) sent me the following. Mike was one of my first customers for the Data Digger software I wrote for his and about 1000 other funeral homes.

I came across a copy of the original fax that has managed to remain on the pile of papers that haunt my efforts to get organized. By memorializing the original here I may finally be rid of the stress of possibly losing it. (Which would occur after a purge inspired by the hopelessness of never being able to dig out of the mess.)
I fully realize that I have not succeeded in answering all of your questions. Indeed, I feel I have not answered any of them completely. The answers I have found only serve to raise a whole new set of questions, which only lead to more problems, some of which we weren't even aware were problems.

To sum it all up: In some ways I feel we are as confused as ever, but I believe we are confused on a higher level, and about more important things.
Despite the humor in this, every time I read it, I nod my head in agreement with is existential truth.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Password frenzy

Today I helped the Latino Coalition setup e-mail, change Windows logins and generally get their employees' accounts organized. OMG!

There were three employees and each required a password for their desktop PC, a POP account, and SMTP account. We needed passwords for their e-mail/web hosting service, (to administer the e-mail accounts,) Yahoo! account (to create and then validate their e-mail accounts for sending mail,) and router. To change former Windows user account passwords required knowing the former user account password to change them. The SMTP service required a separate password and non-standard port number; that's like a password too.

Like most of our customers, the 'boss' wanted to know these website URLs, logins and passwords. She was overwhelmed! Who wouldn't be? When we were finished, she had a spreadsheet with six lines and eight columns - just for three employees!

No wonder many of my customers are frustrated to the point of distraction with computer security. What does is get them? Where is the trade-off? What is the upside?

Each of these people probably have personal e-mail accounts, bank accounts, a dozen other services and websites that require logins and PIN codes.

We are being punished by all these passwords! They buy us precious little security and simply don't work.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Born May 7

May 7, 1840: Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Wolfram Alpha is good for this kind of stuff. But I actually noticed it on Pandora.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Where O death is your sting?

I've registered to develop an idea about what funerals should be. This woman said it better than me . . . and put up a video too. Thanks, Reddit users, for getting it to the front page.

Her son posted the final entry (her eulogy) on her blog on June 10. She was a comedienne and, to my view, a philosopher of life. She was obviously a great mom too.

I hope to get the chance to meet her someday.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

I told you so

From the Associated Press: College for all? Experts say not necessarily. I've written about this before (somewhere.) There is a 'newly' discovered disconnect in College determinism: get a college degree = have a better life. Not necessarily so.
  • Colleges want cheap money to effectively lower the price of their product; fatten their endowments and broaden their brand
  • Governments want to give away college to appear egalitarian; to tap dance around the expanding gap between rich and poor
  • Financial institutions want to suck from the tits of market manipulation and fees.
  • Parents, pushed by their peers, long for success for their child and don't pay attention to the cost:benefit ratio; a healthy dose of nostalgia may be added - but their college experience came before the 'bubble' (like the real estate bubble) when too much money chased too few real degrees and too few jobs.
  • Students want to dodge reality for as long as possible - who can blame them?
We all want to deny that hard work, curiosity, discipline, cleverness and the right parents are enough, (and necessary.)

If there was ever a time that a motivated student could manufacture his own education, network with leaders in the field and create a job that didn't exist ten years ago - today is the day.

And if there was ever a time when the lag between what could be taught from textbooks for thousand of dollars was less relevant than what can be delivered from a laptop for free - today is the day.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

[Too much] More of the Same

Microsoft has unleashed another revenue release of their category dominating office suite: Office 2010. With a name like that, you just know there will be office versions in perpetuity. If only skill with a word processor was related to facility with words.

I was struck by the lambasting the multi-gigabyte/multi-hundred-dollar package received from Wired. They summarized thusly:

TIRED More bloated than the Goodyear blimp. Printing is slow and buggy. Useless spam filter even after a decade of development. Occasional system crashes. Still feels like spending hundreds of dollars for the privilege of sending e-mail and typing letters.
If only I could so successfully monetize such a stream of ponderously mediocre technology ;(

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Love, browser

Why Steve Ballmer must be buying stock in Pepto-Bismol: Google's Chrome browser.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Dividends or Taxes?

Talking with a friend (Travis Cross, OfficeTone,) about technology adoption by small businesses and I ask:

What happened to the Technology Progress Dividend?

My answer:

It became a Complexity Tax.

No doubt: small businesses spend more money dealing with technology than they earn from adopting new technology. Think: password mahem, upgrades that go wrong, incompatible versions, security threats and training that never seems to be enough to improve productivity or enhancing skills.

Just a thought.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Solving the Candle Problem - Daniel Pink

Love this Daniel Pink presentation on what really motivates people to solve complicated problems. This is especially relevant to entrepreneurs working with knowledge workers in technology start-ups.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Like finding a place to pee

I love my toy poodle Flower. But I have found little consistency in her choice of places to pee. It is not completely random; she generally goes on the grass. She knows where she is going before I do.

After working on Windows servers for the past few weeks, it occurs to me that Microsoft's flagship server product for small businesses is like my poodle. You can lead it around, but it decides what to do for reasons that are neither consistent nor understandable.

I think Flower is much more lovable.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Further along the path to despair

News comes from the Krebs on Security Blog that hundreds of PCs on the network operated by the City of Norfolk have been rendered useless by a 'Time Bomb' distributed to them by malware that infected a print server. Clever. Nobody worries about a print server, cares about its antivirus subscription or manages its updates. Who knew it could be the vector for such scurrilous attacks.

The shadow knew!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Change for change's sake

Will consumers ever be left with software products that they simply use, understand and become productive with? Or will they constantly be upgraded, service-packed, hot-fixed and release-creeped until they are so frustrated they abandon computers altogether?

Have you grown weary of Adobe updates? Windows updates? Java updates? Is the counter to the right of the version number of whatever software you are using spinning like the odometer on a rental car you're paying for by the mile? Can't they just get this stuff right when they release it?

I'm suffering from IT Fatigue. I believe we've stopped producing software products and have just put software seeds on systems that constantly grow into weeds that smother productivity with empty promises of new features, better security and improved performance.

But to wish they would stop is naive. Not only are connected computers vulnerable to changing threats, but software businesses want to monetize their install base. You are an all-day sucker constantly generating the sweet liquor of recurring revenue. Those publishers know you are an easy mark for 'New and Improved' even if leaving well enough alone is better for you.

And don't get me started on app-jealousy! When subsequently installed applications hijack settings that make them your new-best-friend! Like when my wife installed Adobe Elements to get her new scanner to work and it 'adopted' her SD Media Card - effectively replacing Picasa - and upsetting her expectation and dependence. Old behaviors that she had become accustomed to and which made her computer understandable and predictable were replaced with confusion and frustration.

Where do I get off this merry-go-round?

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Google for Non-Profits

I don't think enough people know about Google's dedicated portal for the free Non-Profit applications and services they offer.

We serve lots and lots of non-profits that should consider this option to traditional software, license fees and support options. It may not be for everyone, but how can you lose by giving it a try?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

It's not a Virus - It's Malware!

Our customers have been tormented by rogue fraudware more than ever lately. Despite antivirus programs, operating system patches and attention paid to avoiding 'bad' websites.

I was interviewed by Channel 13 last week on the subject. What can you say in 15 seconds? So I wrote a brief article about Malware for a CEO Networking organization and posted it here. Hopefully you'll find it interesting and helpful.


The Complexity Tax

The growing complexity of our lives - a byproduct of engineered flexibility and abstraction of utility - operates like a tax whittling away at the value of a given object. Like this blog post, for instance.