Monday, December 31, 2012

The End of 2012 and the Start of 2013

It seems appropriate that this New Year's greeting is coming to you from a plane at 32,00 feet over the Tennessee/Kentucky line, as a good bit of my time in 2012 was spent in the air and a good bit of my time in 2013 will be spent here as well.

I have much to be thankful for as I look back at 2012. I'm blessed with a great job, friends I can tolerate, and an awesome family. My wife and kids make the many cool things I get to do possible and I appreciate that. They could easily be selfish with my time but they choose not to be.

We are returning home to frozen Indiana having spent the holidays in sunny, warm southwest Florida. We are returning tan, rested and refreshed, ready for another exciting year. 2013 promises to be a great year in ministry as well as for our family and me professionally. It also looks to be an exciting year of technological advancements.

"To whom much is given, much is also required." Take a moment and make some plans for next year. Don't make foolish resolutions but rather make some obtainable goals that you can measure your progress towards. Then when 2013 ends you can look back and see how far you've come. Be specific, loose weight isn't specific enough.

As for me, my goals are set and I'm looking forward to what's next.

See you in 2013!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Windows 8 - Tenth Pass: Driving the Touchscreen

It is obvious that Microsoft plans to drive the touchscreen as being the primary way we interact with a PC in the future, much in the same way we interact with smartphones and tablets now. I agree that it is the future but it isn’t now. Window 8 however is relying on that being the future and those unhappy with not being able to touch the screen of their desktop in their cubicle at work will eventually get over it.

Several times during the launch event, they referred to the start screen as “beautiful” and that it work great with both a touchscreen or with a keyboard and mouse. I found it interesting that during the rest of the demo they didn’t use the keyboard or mouse once, confirming to me that it really isn’t designed for a keyboard and mouse but that if you care to figure it out it will work with a keyboard and mouse. In other words, the intuitive part of it is only for touchscreen-based devices.

Fortunately, for them the second demo did use a keyboard and mouse the entire time. I actually learned a few new keyboard and mouse shortcuts for interacting with the start screen on a non-touch device. While that helps me use Windows 8 on my existing non-touch laptop it does mean I have to remember how to interact with the operating system based on the type of hardware I’m using. Microsoft must think I’m smarter than I really am.

The best part of the start screen demo was when the elephant in the room was finally brought up. The presenter asked if the Start Button worked for people as opposed to the Start Screen. I along with half the room raised my hand. This is what I had been waiting for; tell us why the Start Button was gone forever?

According to Microsoft, the Start Button took too long to use. Think about that for a while and then do some trials comparing how long it takes you to do the same functionality between the Start Button and the Start Screen on a non-touch enabled device. Oh, wait. There it is. A non-touch enabled device. The Start Button is very difficult to use with your fingers and since Windows 8 is all about the touchscreen, you now have your answer, at least according to Microsoft.

As the demo concluded they emphasized that Windows 8 brings work and home together. I look forward to seeing how that pans out. How many work computers will get touchscreens? How many corporate IT shops will allow users to login using personal MSN accounts to access corporate resources and then take those some accounts home? How many supervisors will want users bringing in games from home?

Microsoft admits that the change to start screen is a big change and that there is no legacy mode. They don't admit why.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012


Today is December 12, 2012, or 12-12-12. This date fascinates me a bit, as the mathematics that makeup our calendar limits the number of times you can have such a date. In my lifetime I’ve been fortunate enough to live through 01-01-01, 02-02-02, 03-03-03, 04-04-04, 05-05-05, 06-06-06, 07-07-07, 08-08-08, 09-09-09, 10-10-10, 11-11-11, and now, and finally, 12-12-12.

Even if the Mayans are wrong there still won’t be a 13-13-13 so as this day fades in my time zone I can’t help but wonder what the world will be like when this pattern starts all over again and we reach the next 12-12-12. In 89 years we will hit 01-01-01, that’s January 1, 2101. Odds are I won’t be around then but when you look back at where we’ve come, it is intriguing to think about where we will be.

Think about the last round of dates, starting back in 01-01-1901. Back then, we didn’t even know how to fly. Now we’re landing small cars on Mars via sky cranes.

In 01-01-2001, we didn’t have Facebook, Twitter, blogs, Foursquare, or iPhones and iPads. Laptops were just starting to become more readily available and email was still something you had to be on a computer with a modem to access. Music was only available on round silver disks or cartridges of magnetic tape wound around sprockets.

By 07-07-2007, Twitter and Facebook were emerging on the scene and we had our first iPhone.

Now on 12-12-2012, the date is trending on Twitter and we are connected to email all the time by small pieces of glass we won’t leave home without.

So, lift a glass to the Mayan’s being wrong and the next 12-12-12!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Windows 8 - Ninth Pass: The Sales Pitch

Last week I attended one of the many official Microsoft launch events for Windows 8. Naturally I arrived with a bunch of questions I wanted to get answered but I was also very interested in how they were going to pitch the various changes I've already discussed here to a room full of several hundred IT Professionals.

If you've wasted any time reading my blog as of late you know I not a big Windows 8 fan, but despite my bias I went in with an open mind to allow them to sway my views. Unfortunately that didn't happen. While I understand the 'why' a bit better I'm still not sold on the 'how'.

It was obvious from the keynote that Microsoft believes that Windows 8 is as much of a game changer as email, the iPhone (they even gave Mr. Jobs a shout out), and even the printing press. They believe they are changing the game in terms of tablets and smartphones now being integrated together for the first time on a single platform - Windows 8. Microsoft is leading with the software of the future as opposed to the software we need today.

I agree with the premise but the implementation is where it fall apart for me. This is a good example of software driving hardware. Windows 8 is designed for the end of the desktop - a future whose ending hasn't been written yet. Microsoft believes the rate of change is going to be fast enough to justify their changes now. I agree the pace is fast but the implementation could have been done in a way that made the changes easier to adopt. From their perspective it is easier to just make the changes and deal with the fall out of user adoption. Speaking of adoption, according to Microsoft it has been low however Windows 8 has only been public for just over a month now.

It was obvious that Microsoft believes they are on the right track with Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8. Time will tell.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Fun with Symantec

At a recent Microsoft event I was at I had the chance to speak with the folks from Symantec at their booth. They were giving away little footballs as swag and naturally I needed one of those. Of course in exchange for said football I had to talk with them and let them scan my name tag.

As I was talking to the rep I told them that I was already a customer. He asked me what version we were using and I told him the latest. Then, as if he didn't hear that I was already a customer and already sold on their products, he started to explain to me how great the latest version was and that it was "killing it" out there. He also explained how their technology was superior because they were moving away from definitions and using signatures to detect infected files which was not only more secure but faster.

What the rep didn't know was that I was looking for just such a segue. You see, the week before the event our latest version of Symantec, the one "killing it", let a bug through from a web link in an email. This gave me the perfect opportunity to point out that while their product may be "killing it" they missed a bug that wiped an entire workstation.

The rep then tried to sell me on the idea that I should have submitted the infected files and they would research it and update their signatures because they had the best team in the world for doing that. Again, I'm already sold on them but I had to explain to the rep the role his company plays in our environment. In the ideal world I'd have plenty of time to send samples to them but most times I'm depending on them to "kill it" and be one step ahead. Otherwise my time is spent fixing the bug that got through as opposed to post infection analysis.

I'm still sold on Symantec and I understand that even with our multiple layers of protection things still get through, especially this time of year, I was just enjoying, perhaps too much, pressing the front line guy Symantec happened to send to the same event I was at. I'm sure he'll go on his break if he sees me coming at a future show.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Windows 8 – Eighth Pass: Official Launch

Even though I’ve been quiet over the past month that doesn’t mean I’ve grown to love Windows 8 any more.

Tomorrow I’m attending the Windows 8 Launch event in Indianapolis. As you know I’ve not been very kind to Microsoft’s latest flagship operating system. I am not anticipating that tomorrow will do much to change my mind however; I’m hoping it at least allows Microsoft to better explain why they think Windows 8 is the best way to go for the future of the desktop, laptop, and tablet. And no, I don’t buy the argument that the desktop and laptop as we know them today are going away anytime soon.

At the Server 2012 Launch, a lot of time was spent talking about the cloud and very little time spent talking about the improvements to the operating system. Part of me wonders if that isn’t also going to be the focus tomorrow. I predict a bit of dancing around the issues and very little addressing of those issues.

I’ll be posting what I learn and maybe even posting that I’ve had a change of heart, feel free to contact your bookies now to place your bets.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Windows 8 – Seventh Pass: The Surface Tablet

For many reasons I’m very interested in the new Surface tablet from Microsoft – that runs Windows 8. This device could perhaps be my dream device. A tablet that can do everything my laptop can do and allows me to dock it at work and at home to use my peripherals but also travel with all my stuff without the need to carry a bulky laptop.

Early reviews are good but the sequence Microsoft is using to deploy the Surface seems to be derailing a bit of the momentum.

The Surface you can by now is the RT version, or Run Time version. This runs on a processor that requires applications to be specifically designed for it. Microsoft says their App Store now has 50,000 apps that will run on the Surface RT. While that may appear to be good news, it really isn’t. For me the issue is can it do everything my laptop can do?

The RT version may have some apps but it is missing several key things. It can’t run Office right now, there is no RT version. You can get to your Exchange mail using the Mail app for the Start Screen but it isn’t Outlook. While there is a version of One Note that works well on the Start Screen it won’t run the current desktop version. It also can’t run Photoshop.

For some this isn’t a deal breaker but in order to replace my laptop it needs to do what my laptop can do. The bad news is right now it can’t, the good news is in January they will release a version that can. The January version, called the Surface Pro, runs on an Intel chip and can do everything Windows 8 on a desktop or laptop can do. The challenge will be whether or not it is powerful enough to pull that off in ways that doesn't make me miss my laptop.

I’ve talked with several developers and others using the Surface RT and they like it. I’m sure for some it will work fine, but for me, in order to replace my laptop and iPad it has to do everything they can do and then some. Will the lack of a Retina display be noticeable? Will it be fast enough? Will the touch keyboard cover be an adequate replacement for my laptop keyboard? Will there be wireless accessories for it?

If the stars align, it may just be the ticket and may just be the only way Windows 8 can show some relevance. If so then Microsoft just has to convince everyone that doesn’t own a Surface that designing Windows 8 around the Surface doesn’t hinder it being used effectively on your current laptop or desktop.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Windows 8 – Sixth Pass: Lenovo T400 Fixes

At long last, I have finally been able to resolve some odd Windows 8 hardware compatibility issues with my Lenovo T400 laptop and Windows 8. I’m not sure if these are related to Windows 8 finally being available to the public or not.

A good bit of internet research revealed that for legacy hardware, like a T400, your best bet is not to use the general Windows 8 drivers come with the OS but rather to revert back to the latest version of the driver for Windows 7.

As I’ve posted here, I’ve been having problems with my display. Areas of the screen will at time fuzz out and become unreadable and I have to refresh the display to solve the issue. I’ve also had issues with my ATI Radeon Mobile 3400 chip overheating. My T400 has switchable graphics and in order to avoid the overheating problem I only used the Intel Mobile Series 4 chipset graphics driver. This created the fuzz out problems. Both of these graphics chips were using the built in Windows 8 WDDM 1.1 drivers.

Lenovo’s website has not been very helpful in terms of Windows 8 so I manually downloaded the latest Windows 7 switchable graphics driver. I installed it and then manually updated each graphics card driver using the Device Manager to the Windows 7 driver.

Presto – success! Not only did it solve my overheating problem but also my switchable graphics is working again and there are no more areas of fuzz out making my computer very difficult to use.

Through a bit more research, I discovered the Lenovo System Update utility has finally been updated and released for Windows 8. I installed it but it didn’t find any updates for my computer. Again, as this is legacy hardware there probably won’t be many drivers released specifically for Windows 8. As such, the Windows 7 drivers are the way to go. I did find it interesting that it didn’t find an update for my touchpad through the tool but I found an update for it manually on the Lenovo drivers list for the T400.

Another problem I had was with the wireless network indicator light. After the Windows 8 upgrade the light was on when the wireless was on and off when it was off. With Windows 7, it would flash to indicate activity. Reinstalling the latest Windows 7 driver, downloaded manually, also fixed that problem.

I’ve been running Windows 8 since mid-August and I’m just now starting to feel as though my laptop can be productive once again.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

MediaShout #epicfail

Every once in a while a software program, and those who write it, have the opportunity to really mess with your life. Yesterday was one of those days where my schedule, along with that of our worship pastor, was majorly disrupted by someone failing to do their job with a piece of software we use that is critical for our Sunday operation.

I started the day at the soccer field with our son, 2 sets of grandparents and 1 set of great-grandparents. Eric was playing well and the family was enjoying the game and the sunshine despite the cool, breezy weather. As I’m cheering Eric on our worship pastor texts me a picture of an error message he is getting with MediaShout on his office computer. MediaShout is presentation software that we use in all of our worship spaces for projection graphics, background, lyrics, etc. on the projection screens. As a church we do this quite regularly.

I wasn’t able to figure out his problem via text message so I headed towards his office thinking it would be a relatively quick fix. As any IT person does, I Googled the problem and the first hit I got was this link.

The lead story is about the Activation Error that we were getting. The details of this issue, affecting all instances of MediaShout are available here.

Since they don’t go into any great detail to explain the actual issue that gives me license to explain it the way I see it. It would appear that some software engineer somewhere along the way didn’t do this job and then the quality assurance person who is supposed to help the software engineer get it right also failed to do their job. As a result the software was released with a time/date bug that on a Thursday night, software that is used at churches all over the country on Sunday would stop working because it couldn’t tell if the software was legally activated or not.

I understand, to some degree, the need for software companies to have activation routines in order to prevent software piracy and theft. However, when your activation routine prevents EVERYONE, legal and illegal, from using your program then you have completely missed the boat.

To their credit MediaShout did release a patch however the patch was less than simple for many to install. A quick check of Twitter indicates that many ministries opted to forgo MediaShout completely and go old school back to PowerPoint or some other creatively engineered solution as time didn’t allow them to fix the problem in just 48 hours with 24 of those hours being a Saturday. (Some churches even have services where they use this software on Saturday nights.)

In my case I started working on the problem during the rest of the game and realized that this wasn’t going to be a quick fix. The installer would fail at different points each time I tried it on our various presentation and back office machines. Our kids wanted to take the grandparents to a train museum/restaurant for lunch so I stopped working and had a great time with the family before coming back around 4pm to give it another go.

By 10pm we were back in business and things today are working as they should. When you write software for churches it has to work every Sunday. When it doesn’t work those of us who support churches really get jammed up. Unfortunately MediaShout has yet to release a cause or detailed technical description of what happened, why it happened, and what they’ve done to prevent this from ever happening again. Until they do we are all left to wonder what’s going to happen next weekend.

My personal sob story aside, I trust you haven’t run out of tissues whilst reading this, here are some tips for the fix that I hope help anyone else struggling with this upgrade.
  1. One of the things that got me into trouble was some old Group Policy Restrictions related to security permissions for the Windows Installer. These permissions have been set for at least 5 years dating back to our Server 2008 upgrade. Until yesterday we haven’t had any problems with them. It would appear, based on a chat with a MediaShout employee on their forum that MediaShout made some changes to the Windows Installer which required more rights. The challenge was figuring out what policies were hindering the install. Being a Saturday while I was working on this no developers were available to help.

    As a result I went through our GPO’s and removed everything one at a time until it finally allowed the installer to work. The error message I was getting was that the “Installation was Forbidden by System Policy.”

    While I can’t tell you which specific policies fixed that problem I can tell you that your Windows Installer policies from 2008 might need a pass. I was able to allow MediaShout to install without compromising security by updating those older policies. The policies are located here:
    applicable policy name/Computer Configuration/Administrative Templates/Windows Components/Windows Installer

  2. The next issue was related to drive mapping. MediaShout apparently is very fragile when it comes to its installer. MediaShout will say it is Microsoft’s problem as they just use the Windows Installer but again, the only program I’ve ever had an issue with is MediaShout. I would get past the System Policy issue and then get an error that the Drive Mapping was invalid. I could see that the drive map wasn’t invalid however as it was there on all our machines. We use MediaShout on a network so all the users share the same library of backgrounds, effects, songs, etc. I found 2 workarounds for this. First, I disconnected the existing map and manually recreated it. That worked on some machines. On other machines that didn’t work at all so then I would copy the MediaShout 4.ini file from its location and place it on the desktop. Then I deleted the original copy of the file. MediaShout would then install and when it was done I would copy the ini file back thus restoring all my settings and customizations. 
I realize if you had been working on this it wouldn’t have taken you 6 hours but I’m not that smart and a ton of time was spent rebooting and waiting to see if anything had worked.

Despite all this I am a fan of MediaShout as a presentation platform. It works well and is easy for our volunteers to use. I do believe they need to invest more time in their installer and making it more universal and not so fragile. It should be able to work through some of the install issues better than it does. Whether I continue to be a fan will be determined by their honest answers to what they did this weekend and how it impacted their customers. At the least they should send all those affected a Starbucks gift card.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Windows 8 - Fifth Pass: Wireless Network Management

The other night in a hotel room, I stumbled across another “I can’t believe they removed that!” issue with Windows 8. This one has to do with managing your wireless network connections. I wanted to remove an old wireless network connection and in Windows 7 you could easily see a list of all the wireless networks you had previously connected to, their priority, what kind of security they had, and of course their name. This was often helpful if you ended up with duplicates of the same one or wanted to remove all but the most recent connection. It was also useful if you wanted to set the priority for one network over another. This was done from a shortcut in the Network and Sharing Center called Manage Wireless Networks.

No such thing exists in Windows 8. Microsoft believes that Windows 8 can manage this list and prioritize multiple connections automatically much better than you can manually. They also don’t care that you might not want your home connection to be named Network 3 and might want to delete Network 1 and Network 2 and then rename Network 3 to just plain Network. They don’t care about any of that as they removed a valid and very useful feature.

There is of course a rather cumbersome work around if for whatever reason you want to edit your wireless network connection list.

The easiest way is to use the ‘netsh’ command from the command line. Run the command line as the administrator and enter ‘netsh wlan show profiles’. This will show you all of your wireless connection profiles. The simplest thing to do is just to delete the one you don’t want by typing ‘netsh wlan delete profile “SSID-name”’. You can also enter ‘ALL’ instead of the name if you want to flush them all. More details can be found by entering ‘netsh /?’.

You may find that one or more of your profiles can’t be deleted and will always appear in the show list. To remove any stubborn profiles turn your wireless radios off, then reboot, and remove the profiles while the wireless radios are still off and not connected to anything.

Of course, if that’s too difficult Microsoft has provided a harder way.
  1. Turn on View Hidden Files and Folders. 
  2. Browse to C:\ProgramData\Microsoft\Wlansvc\Profiles\Interfaces\ 
  3. You will find a list of XLM files with GUID names; open each XML file using Notepad to see which connection profile it is. 
  4. To delete one just delete that XML file. To change the name edit the XML file however if you want to rename a newer profile the same name as an older profile you must first find the older profile XML file and delete it before you rename the newer one. 
  5. Now locate the same ‘Network GUID’ in the following regkey HKLM\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\WLansvc\Interfaces\[Interface GUID]\Profiles 
  6. Delete this as well 
I had to restart to make the show list refresh and any updated names to appear in Network Connections. Simple, right? It’s always nice when technology advances forward and makes things that were easy and accessible more difficult.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Sharing with Those with All the Power

Today I had the unique opportunity to learn and share with IT folks from electrical cooperatives around our state at their fall IT Section meeting in Indianapolis. They invited me to share with them some of the challenges with deploying and using Windows 8 and were kind enough to allow me to stick around and listen to several of the other presenters.

Two things came out of today:
  1. It was great to present to those who make IT possible at the most fundamental level. Without electric service providers none of our IT toys and gear would work. Our datacenters would fall silent after the backup power sources ran out, the cloud would dry up, and the sun would come out again.
  2. If you would like me to present the Windows 8 Experience and some of the challenges associated with it to your organization please let me know. However, hurry, dates and cities are filling up fast. 
If you’d like to read more about Windows 8 click here to view those posts.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

TSA Pre is Awesome - Live from the Sky

So this is my first blog post from 37,718 feet flying over the Grand Canyon.  I hope the altitude makes it much more enjoyable for you to read.

This morning I got to use my TSA Pre credentials for the first time at the Indy airport and from my perspective it is totally worth the effort to have. 

The TSA Pre line is at the Concourse A checkpoint. There was no one in the line and all I had to do was let them scan my boarding pass and that verified I was part of the program. No additional ID was needed aside from my drivers license. 

I was the only one one in line and I put my 2 bags on the conveyor and walked through the metal detector with my shoes on. I got through the checkpoint in 20 seconds. 

There were 3 folks who came through after me and they all sailed through just as fast. While some argue that the program is an invasion of privacy I contend that it really isn't. I only provided the TSA information they already had and then proved to them who I was in a personal interview. 

TSA Pre was deployed to more cities just last month making it much more useful and at $100 for 5 years it is well worth it considering the convenience it provides. 

If your on the fence about enrolling in TSA Pre I suggest you do it if you fly at least 6 times or more per year and carry a lot of tech gear.  The only hassle is going to a Custom and Border Protection Office for your interview and finger printing. 

I look forward to using it again on Sunday. 

Someone’s Taking My Spot

My wife has oft compared me to one Sheldon Cooper.  One of our apparent similarities is that I have a spot, a parking spot that is, and don’t feel the world is right if my car isn’t in it.

We don’t have assigned parking spots at work or anything but I’ve been parking in the same spot since 2001 and over the past 11 years, no one has consistently parked where I do.  I think the main reason is because I park away from the doors.  Being of able body, I believe the spots close to the building and doors should be available for others and not for young men like me.  As such, I park a bit out of the way by a landscape island in the parking lot.  If nothing else, the extra walking is good exercise.

Recently though someone has been parking in my spot requiring me to park elsewhere and ending an 11-year run.  My spot is so familiar with my car, yes, I’ve had the same car the entire time, that there are indentations in the asphalt where my front wheels rest as a result of them resting there so often.

Now trust me, I understand how trivial this is but this isn’t the first time my spot has been taken from me.  My original spot, also out of the way and next to an island, was taken away when a building was built, again, bringing a non-issue into my life.

While I could respond by parking where others on our staff routinely park, I’ve just decided to attempt to create wheel indentions in another unused spot.  (I could put my car in neutral in my old spot and it would just roll into place, as if it was more at home there than it is in my garage at home.)  Hopefully I’ll have enough time to create those indentions before someone else starts parking there. 

There is one bright spot here in my pettiness.  My old spot faced south so my dashboard was cooked with the sun.  My new spot faces north meaning my back window is now cooked with the sun.  Maybe the front and back of my car will balance out over the next 11 years.

So there you have it, proof that I am more like one Sheldon Cooper than I care to admit.  I now return you to things that are far more important.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Windows 8 - Fourth Pass: Start Screen

One of the key functions of Windows 8 is the Start Screen. This is key; as it has replaced the Start Menu we are all used to. In early releases the Start Screen was called the Metro Interface and not only referred to the Start Screen but the touch interface that has been baked into Windows 8 to make it more touch screen and tablet friendly.

Just before Windows 8 was released to manufacturing Microsoft stopped referring to it as the Metro Interface and Metro based apps and started calling it the Start Screen. Rumor is that this was to appease a European company that was already calling their software products and interface “Metro” but I think it was an attempt to calm fears over there not being anything in Windows 8 called “Start”, be it Start Menu or Start Screen. Brilliant, release a product and then change the name.

The thinking is that you won’t use the Start Screen much if you are on a desktop while you will use it all the time if you are on a tablet or other touch screen enabled device. So far, I believe Microsoft is very wrong on both accounts.

Somehow, Microsoft got it in their heads that most Windows users don’t use the Start Menu very often but have shortcuts to everything on their desktop or pinned to the taskbar. I’d like to know how they figured that out because this user does most of his work via the Start Menu. I prefer to keep a clean desktop, my physical desktop, and my computer desktop are both kept pretty clean as projects and tasks are completed. As such only common tools and programs are on my desktop. I don’t have a shortcut on my desktop to the Control Panel or to my Network Settings as those are easy to get from the Start Menu. I also don’t have shortcuts to my recent documents as I got those from the Start Menu. The Start Menu is also where I would go for apps I don’t use very often, like say Notepad.

With the removal of the Start Menu in Windows 8, I now have to completely change my workflow, and that is something that most business users are going to baulk at. For example, in order for me to get to the Notepad now I have to press the Windows Key, and then start typing “Notepad” on the Start Screen. I then have to select Apps, Settings, or Files and then I can select the shortcut for Notepad, which will take me back to my desktop and open up Notepad. In what world is that faster? Alternatively, I can start cluttering my desktop with shortcuts so I can avoid the Start Screen completely.

For sake of argument, let’s pretend that I decide to embrace the Start Screen and so I start creating shortcuts to apps on the Start Screen itself so I don’t have to search as often and so I don’t have to clutter up my desktop. This can easily be done however, what you end up with are several pages of tiles you have to click or swipe through and most of the tiles take you back to the desktop where you started from to launch the app in the first place. Am I the only one baffled by this?

The only way this makes any sense is if you are using a tablet or touch device and need to find something. Using the Start Menu with your finger is a bit difficult and from that perspective, the Start Screen works. However, on a desktop using the Start Screen when you are already on your desktop is just as difficult. I get the concept of making Windows 8 a single OS for both touch and non-touch enabled devices but I think the way they’ve done it is wrong. A better implementation would be the Start Screen on touch-enabled devices and the good old Start Menu for those on non-touch devices.

Later this year I look forward to getting my hands on a touch enabled tablet or device with a physical keyboard so I can more fully test out the application of the Start Screen and the lack of a Start Menu.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Windows 8 - Third Pass: Windows Update

Another oddity of Windows 8 is how Windows Update works.  Unfortunately it appears that Windows Update is another app that runs one way in the Start Screen (formerly the Metro Interface, I’m trying to adjust my Windows 8 vocab here) and another way in the desktop environment.  It took me a while to figure out that there was a difference here and unlike Internet Explorer, there is no check box to make the Start Screen version run the desktop version.

Originally, I was running Windows Update by going to the Start Screen, typing Windows Update, which opened the search box, then selected Settings, which revealed a shortcut to Windows Update on the left and allowed me to open it.  This opened the Start Screen personalization settings, which has a Windows Update tab.  While providing a slick interface it does not provide the many features or customization options that the old desktop Windows Update app provided.

After a bit of digging I did find that the original desktop app does exist, you just can’t get to it via the Start Screen unless you create a customized shortcut.  In order to get to it you have to go into the desktop environment, open the Control Panel, and then select Windows Update.  I do that by pressing Windows-X while on the desktop, selecting Control Panel from the menu that opens and then select Windows Update.  This provides you the same features and control you are used to from the Windows Update app in Windows 7.

To say that this is the long way around the barn is an understatement.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Windows 8 - Second Pass: Early Reviews

Today I found several very helpful articles online that mostly support what I've been saying about Windows 8.  My point is not that they have to support my ideas but rather that they show that there is some consensus about the various issues with Microsoft and Windows 8.  I've posted these on my Facebook Timeline and Twitter feed but since I live to make your life easier I've also posted them here.  Check them out, they are well worth the read.

This first article talks about the lack of Start Menu and how Samsung attempted to correct the problem by providing their own third party app to bring the Start Menu back to life.  While the notion is good Microsoft apparently saw this one coming and has blocked it from happening in the final release of Windows 8.

The second article talks about the business concerns with Windows 8 and helping users make the transition in workflow from the Start Menu to the Start screen.  Apparently Microsoft wants to distance itself from calling it the Metro Interface, as I've been calling it, and started calling it the Start Screen.  This is confusing to me as we are going from the Start Menu to the Start Screen.  Regardless, I agree with her business case argument.

The third article refers to some of the great new hardware coming out to support the Start Screen and Windows 8.  I've worked rather hard on my old Lenovo T400 laptop to make it last through the end of the year so I could see what hardware, if any, came out to make Windows 8 and the Start Screen really pop.  Here are some previews and while the concept looks good on paper it is always fun to see if it works out in the reality of IT.

And finally, here is an article I completely disagree with (just to show you what others are saying).  I disagree with the notion that the Start Screen will be beneficial over the Start Button.  That is very hard to quantify. It will take time to get used to but I doubt the business world is excited to retrain everyone on how to get things done. The author also isn't recognizing that it shouldn't be up to Microsoft whether it is better for me to click Start or press the Windows Key. Everyone functions and interacts with the OS differently and here MS is saying they know what's best. Hardly.


Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Windows 8 - My First Pass: General Overview

I got my hands on Windows 8 two weeks ago and started playing around with it. Several folks have asked if I like it so here are my initial thoughts having used it for a week now.

My overall impression right now is that I don’t like it. I expect that to change as the OS matures but right now, it is driving me nuts. I’m only using it on a test machine that isn’t mission critical and for the time being can’t imagine putting it on any production machines. The only reason I may put it on my personal laptop would be to force myself to have to get used to it. Right now when it baffles me, I just go back to my Windows 7 machine and the world is right again.

One of the challenges to getting a new OS when the manufacturers do is that nothing is really ready for it. I’m running it on older Lenovo Thinkpads like a T60 and T400. Since Lenovo got the final OS at the same time I did there are no drivers or other specifics ready for my machines. Such drivers and custom programming won’t be readily available until much closer to the public release on October 26.

That also leaves the new Metro interface struggling for usefulness, as there are less than 500 apps for it. I’m sure the app number will grow but up until this point, only registered Microsoft developers were able to get their hands on trial versions of the unfinished software. Now that it’s done, more and more folks will start writing Metro style apps.

I decided my first install would be an in-place upgrade of a laptop running Windows 7 Enterprise to Window 8 Enterprise. This allowed me to keep all my programs, data, and settings.

I installed Windows 8 from a DVD I created from the ISO I downloaded from TechNet. The install took over an hour. This could either be due to the age of the laptop or the fact that it had a lot of stuff already on it. Either way it ran for over an hour before it finished. The install of Windows 8 was quick; it was the configuring that took a while.

During the upgrade process, it warned me of a few things that I should do. First, it stated that my ATI Catalyst graphics card was not compatible and it required that I uninstall the device driver and ATI software before it could continue. Therefore, I did. It also warned me that iTunes may not work and that I should deauthorize my computer in iTunes before continuing the install. I also did that, after the upgrade I ran iTunes, and it came up fine. I then authorized my computer again and all has been well with iTunes.

Next, in order to use the account personalization features of Window 8, including adding your Windows Live account and using any of the sync features, you must activate Windows 8. This proved to be difficult since I upgraded an existing copy of Windows 7, which already had a product key installed. When I went to check activation Windows 8 told me it was not activated and that the key could not be validated. It took me a while to figure out how to enter a new key. I expected a “Change your Key” here button but none was to be found. I ended up using the command line tool 'slmgr' to manually change my key. Once changed Windows 8 instantly activated and all the personalization features were immediately available.

My biggest complaint right now is navigating around without a Start Button. The functionality of the Start Button has been replaced by the Metro interface. It is difficult to explain the Metro interface and how it relates to your desktop. Metro is basically the primary shell for the OS and your desktop is now an app that runs from the Metro interface. From Metro you can launch any of your programs, any of the Metro designed apps (think touch apps) and your desktop. This gets confusing, as right now, there are so few apps written for the Metro UI so when you launch something like Word 2010 for example, it automatically opens your desktop up and you can toggle between Word and any other apps like normal. The one key difference is in the bottom left corner of your screen there is no Start Button.

In order to get used to finding things without a Start Button I’ve began to use more Windows key shortcuts to get around. For example, you used to be able to click the Start Button and then start typing to find anything. Now to do that you hit the Windows key, the Metro interface opens and then you can start typing. Your search results are then displayed in the Metro interface with Metro shortcuts, which for now seems a bit odd.

Apps that are native Metro apps, such as anything from the new App Store (Weather, MetroTwit, Messenger, etc.) can only be run from the Metro interface whereas you can add a shortcut to the Metro interface for any of your other apps. This makes running apps interesting as sometimes you have to go to Metro and sometimes you don’t. If have a shortcut on your desktop for a program then you can run it from your desktop. Otherwise, since there is no Start Button, you have to go back to the Metro interface and click the shortcut or search for it. I have added more shortcuts to my desktop (which remember is basically an app that runs inside Metro) so that I don’t have to leave it and go back to Metro so much.

Another little trick I learned was to put the Desktop app in the top left corner of the Metro interface as a large tile. When Windows 8 boots the Metro interface comes up by default. To get to my desktop all I have to do is hit enter since that opens the top left corner tile.

System settings have also been harder to find. Windows 8 has a charms menu that opens on the right side of the screen when you place your mouse in the upper right or lower rights corners. You can also get this to open by pressing Windows-C. From the charms menu you can access certain system settings, like power, shutdown, restart, personalization, etc. Other system settings like the Device Manager, Control Panel, etc. can be accessed by pressing Windows-X which opens a menu on the bottom left of your screen that contains the majority of system features. Alternatively, you can search for these by going back to Metro. Windows-X is like the old Start Menu but with only system functions and no graphics.

Putting the mouse in the upper left hand corner of the screen brings up all the tiles open from the Metro interface, moving your mouse down the menu shows a graphic of each one. These are only your open tiles. To see all running apps, including those on Metro and in your desktop you can still use ALT-TAB. Putting the mouse in the bottom left corner reveals a Metro start button, a cruel irony as it just takes you back to the Metro interface.

The Metro interface also creates confusion between apps that are normal desktop apps and apps that are Metro designed apps. The biggest problem here is Internet Explorer 10. By default, the IE tile (shortcut) that appears on the Metro opens the Metro version of IE 10, which is designed for a touchscreen device, making it very hard to use with a keyboard and mouse. The URL bar appears at the bottom and only when you right click. The tabs appear as images of the pages across the top when you right click and there are very few settings and configuration, again, this is made for touchscreen devices.

In order to run the traditional desktop version of IE 10 you have to open the desktop app from Metro and then run the IE shortcut from there. I find this to be very confusing and a horrible implementation of both tablet and desktop hardware into a single OS. There is a reason Apple has OS and iOS but I digress. So what if you want to the desktop version of IE10 from the Metro tile so you don’t have to go to the desktop each time you want to run IE10? Glad you asked. After a bit of research I found a small checkbox in IE settings that allows you to change the function of the tile from running the Metro version of IE to the desktop version. I checked that box and now when I run IE from the tile my desktop opens and runs the traditional IE 10.

If by now you are confused between the Metro interface and the desktop then my point has been made. Explaining this clearly isn’t easy so if it doesn’t make sense then you may just have to wait until you get to play with it. I’m also a bit concerned as to how the average user I support at work will be able to handle this paradigm shift from the Start Button to Metro interface. Maybe by the time you get it most of these issues will be fixed. Doubtful, but we can always hope.

Ok, changing gears. I mentioned the lack of driver support earlier. Windows 8 is supposed to have drivers for just about everything. I found that it had drivers for all of my T400 hardware except for my switchable graphics. It found a driver for the Intel part of my graphics cards but it was unable to find a driver for the ATI Radeon HD card. It correctly identified the card but was unable to start the driver. As with most manufacturers who got Windows 8 when I did AMD (owns ATI) does not yet have a driver update. I also noticed that without the driver running properly my processor temps were rather high. I also had various artifacts all over the screen that made working difficult. I could clear them with a refresh but they came back often enough to be a hindrance to productivity.

To fix the heating problem I disabled switchable graphics in the BIOS and am only using integrated graphics. This removed the device from Device Manager and solved my overheating problems. It also resolved about 50% of my artifact issues. That has made using the computer much better however the screen is still a bit goofy and I’m using the latest Intel driver for Windows 8. To resolve these issues I’m probably going to have to wait for a dedicated driver either from Lenovo or from AMD for my Radeon HD card.

Another odd driver issue has to deal with the wireless network card. All ThinkPads have a wireless network indicator that flashes with activity. In Windows 8 the indicator does not flash, it is either on when the wireless radio is on or off if the wireless radio is off. It no longer blinks to indicate wireless activity. Incidentally though all of the other Lenovo ThinkPad features and drivers work, including all the FN keys.

I know this is a rather long post but you asked for my thoughts.

Let’s circle back to IE 10 for a bit. I don’t run it in Metro mode since I am not running Windows 8 on a touchscreen device. I’m waiting for this fall to see if any Windows 8 worthy hardware is released. A small part of me wonders if we should skip Windows 8 and wait for Windows 9 but I think that will be determined by the hardware that comes out and either makes or breaks the need and purpose of Metro.

I’ve found IE10 to not be very compatible with most of the sites I use. There seem to be a lot of basic functionality that is lacking that IE9 had. Everything from airline sites and seat maps to many social media sharing options on sites just don’t work. For a lot of sites I would click links and nothing would happen, no error message, no network activity, nothing. While all of my settings, shortcuts, and layouts came forward from IE9 to IE10, the lack of compatibility is a bit frustrating. Developers only have until Oct. 26 to fix their sites to work with IE10 or hope that Microsoft adjusts IE10 a bit to make it work better with sites that run fine in IE9.

For now, I find myself running Chrome a lot on my Windows 8 machines as everything works in Chrome while on my Windows 7 machines IE9 is still my preferred browser. I now there are a lot of issues with IE in general trying to adapt to standards but I can’t figure out why IE10 messes so much stuff up? It’s almost as though Microsoft wants Chrome to be the preferred browser of Windows 8. Of course, Chrome doesn’t run as a Metro app with a tile but for now, who cares.

Office 2010 works fine in Windows 8 but all the Office 2010 apps run in the desktop as none of them are tile compatible for the Metro interface. While the Metro interfaced does have a tile for Mail and Calendar, (both are compatible with all major email providers including Exchange) all of Office including Outlook run on the desktop from simple shortcuts on the Metro. Why you would want your Exchange mailbox and Hotmail in both Outlook and the Metro Mail app is beyond me but for now if you want to use the live tiles that’s the only way to do it. Rumor is Office 2013, which doesn’t even have a release date yet, will use the live tiles on Metro, and run in the Metro interface but who knows when we will get that? It also begs the question will Office turn into IE where you have a Metro version and a desktop version making it all the more fun?

The Task Manager in Windows 8 is much improved and shows a lot of useful information however another oddity of not having a Start Menu is there is no Start folder on the Start Menu. While the new Task Manager shows you what starts automatically via the registry it does not show you what starts from the Startup folder on the start menu. To find any programs starting this way you have to browse to the two Startup folders located in the user profile. To make this easier I pinned those locations to the File Explorer on the taskbar in my desktop. Clear as mud? By the way, File Explorer is the new name for the Windows Explorer in Windows 7.

One of the few companies that had an updated version of their software that works with Windows 8 is the VPN client we use at work. When I tried using the VPN client after the update I discovered that it didn’t work and had failures at both the hardware and software levels. Much to my surprise there was an update available that fixed the problem but I had to completely remove the old version of the client, reboot, and then install the new version. Regardless of the process, I’m glad it worked and am glad their latest update is Windows 8 compatible well ahead of the public release date. The downside is that in order to support Windows 8 on our corporate network we will have to make a firmware update to our VPN appliance to make the latest version available for our users to update.

Last, but not least, docking. I have a docking station for my laptop and it works fine. It even transfers the little artifacts on my laptop screen to my monitor connected to the docking station. Windows 8 found all the drivers for the docking station hardware, including the integrated storage device in the dock. The only issue was the undocking process. Windows 7 automatically provided an undock option on the Power menu. Windows 8 only provides Shutdown, Sleep, and Restart. This could be due to the lack of driver support from Lenovo but there is a workaround. First, I can push the undock button the docking station itself. This works fine and Windows 8 popped up a notice saying it was safe to undock my laptop. Second, using the Device Connections icon down by the clock I was able to Right Click and select Eject Docking Station with the same results.

So, after 2 weeks there’s my review. I’m glad I’m not running Windows 8 at work yet and only in a non-production environment at home. My next step will be to put Windows 8 on my laptop to force myself to get used to the navigation. In the meantime, I plan to make my old T400 laptop last through the fall to see what hardware is released. It would be ideal if an iPad style device would come out that runs Windows 8, is a touchscreen, and provides all the features of a laptop and iPad combined into a single device that I can dock at home and at work to my existing peripherals. It sounds like a dream but my understanding is that’s the goal of Windows 8 and only time will tell if that goal is made real.

As I have more experiences or learn new things, I’ll be sure to post them.

Thoughts? Comments? Ridicule?

Monday, August 27, 2012

Can Someone Explain the Difference?

As you know if you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, I’ve had issues posting to Facebook reliably through every third party app except TweetDeck. While I really like the product of HootSuite, they have a major issue with posting consistently and frequently to Facebook. I’ve been around and around with HootSuite and Facebook and have posted many of those conversations on this blog. I’m happy to report that I appear to finally have answers and workaround for these issues.

The issue, as we thought all long, is Facebook. There are many posts online where you can find that Facebook limits posts from third party apps by both app and person. That means they throttle the app (HootSuite) and the user (me) based on all aggregated activity from both and based on interaction both receive. So, if I’m posting a lot from HootSuite to Facebook and am not getting much interaction in terms of comments and likes then I’m subject to being limited. I have noticed the more interaction I receive the longer I can post before I am cut off.

However, it isn’t just up to me. In their futile effort to prevent spam by punishing everyone else the Facebook algorithm also looks at all content coming from HootSuite so I could be limited quickly even if I haven’t posted in a while because of the activity of other HootSuite users.

This explains the issues with HootSuite and with several other Twitter apps that also post to Facebook that I’ve tried. Tweetings, Tweetcaster, all of them, except TweetDeck. For whatever reason the current web app of TweetDeck, the old Adobe Air version, as well as their existing iPhone and iPad apps don’t have this limit. TweetDeck must connect to Facebook through a different API or they must have an exclusive agreement where Facebook doesn’t throttle their API. I’ve posted to Facebook hundreds of time an hour from TweetDeck without any issues where with HootSuite, I’d have been throttled after 6 posts.

So can anyone explain the difference? Does anyone know why TweetDeck appears to be exempt from Facebook’s policies?

At least we have the answers and for now, we still have TweetDeck so you can post as much as you want to both Twitter and Facebook without fear of being limited. Otherwise, you can always post to Facebook directly from the web or their apps as those obviously have no such limits.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

A Funny Thing Happened at Work the Other Day...

I've been working at Faith since 2001 and on August 17, 2012 one of the oddest things happened.

I was sitting in my office hardly working when a knock came at the door. I opened it and one of our volunteers said she needed a man. I asked her to give me a minute while I found one but she insisted that I would do. She told me there was a woman in the lobby with a bug stuck on her.

As I was rushing to aid this damsel in distress, several thoughts went through my mind as to what kind of bug would be stuck to this woman. I soon discovered that a cicada was firmly attached to her apparel and she was rather nervous by its presence.

I knew what I had to do first. The first thing any one of you would do if you were in trouble and needed help. I called the one person who can solve any problem. In fact, we call him the problem solver. That's right, you like him, you love him, you can't get enough of him, I called the one and only Donnie Payne.

The lady informed us that she was getting out of her car in the parking lot when the cicada attached itself to her. She tried to push it off with her iPhone but it wouldn't budge. Due to the location of the cicada on her, I knew it wouldn't be appropriate for us to just grab it. I also didn't want it flying around inside the building. Knowing my luck it would hide out in the auditorium and start buzzing during the Sunday morning sermon.

So while Donnie helped her back outside I grabbed a broom. The plan was to just brush the bug off her outside. Once we got outside Donnie snapped this picture of the intruder. She also snapped a picture from a different angle where I can only imagine the lens of her iPhone camera looking right into the cicada's menacing eyes.

I asked her if she was ready and she crossed her arms and closed her eyes. I gently swept the cicada with the broom and it immediately started buzzing and flew off and landed on a tree about 20 feet away where I'm sure it stopped to update its Facebook status so all the cicada lovers out there would know it was ok.

The lady was very relieved and thanked us for helping her out. I put the broom back in the janitor’s closet and Donnie and I returned to our hardly working, heroes, confident we had saved a lady from a cicada and a cicada from a lady.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Why I Don't Give Blood

I'm all for donating blood and I appreciate those who do give blood as there may come a day when I’m in need of that blood but as for me I’m not able to give blood.  The reason is simple, it’s psychosomatic.

When I was a sophomore in high school, there was a blood drive and in order to get out of Spanish class I volunteered to donate.  This very nice lady with very long decorated fingernails hooked me up and without being indelicate, I started filling the bag.

My bag was about half way full when the needle clotted and the blood stopped flowing.  The nice lady noticed and told me she was going to tap on the needle to see if she could get the blood to flow again.  She tapped and the clot remained.  So she told me she was going to rotate the needle a bit, a notion that made me nervous but what else was I going to do.  She rotated the needle, and as I remember, the pain was excruciating. 

As she turned away after rotating, the needle one of those long, decorated fingernails caught the needle and pulled it out sideways.  The upshot was it cleared the clot.  The downside was the rest of my donation ended up on the floor.

When we returned to Spanish my friends all had small armbands indicating that donated blood.  I returned with an armband that was twice as big.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

HootSuite's Achille's Heel, part 2

Back in October I posted this article relating to a key flaw I saw in how HootSuite interacted with Facebook.  Since then the issues expressed in that post have only gotten worse so I decided to open another ticket on the matter with HootSuite.  I figured I might as well get my $5.99 a month worth as it seemed I was pushing the envelope on what HootSuite was able to do.

Here is the latest reply from HootSuite support.

Rob F., Jul 06 16:43 (PDT):
Hello Jonathan,
Thank you for your patience as we have looked into this issue.
Between discussing this error with our development team and communicating with our partners at Facebook, we are able to verify that you are experiencing this error precisely because the quantity of postings that you are making is breaking the limit imposed by Facebook.
The error message is generated by Facebook and is adjusted automatically in response to how users are using their API. These limits are created dynamically by Facebook itself and there is no easy way to have them raised as they are correlated to how you are using their software.
According to our research, the limits are generated on a per application level. This means that their algorithms measure posts based on quality (in terms of how many times people like or interact with the posts themselves) versus the quantity of posts with little or no engagement.
Since this limit is issued on a per user and per day basis, the best practice would be to attempt to limit your postings throughout a day to match the amount of interaction that you are receiving.
Please note that because Facebook's API is maintained by Facebook, we cannot pinpoint exactly why you're encountering this error. If you'd like further insight into why it's happening, we strongly encourage you to contact Facebook Help Center regarding specific reasons why this error is occurring for your particular postings.
This ticket will now be marked as solved. If you have additional questions regarding this error message, or about Facebook's API in general, we suggest contacting Facebook themselves regarding this matter.
If you have any additional HootSuite related issues that we can help with please do not hesitate to contact us; we are here to help!
Thanks for using HootSuite!
Rob | HootSuite Help | @HootSuite_Help | HootSuite University -

This again confirms that HootSuite, operating on a Software as a Service platform is aggregating all posts to Facebook through their single API.  As a result the Facebook algorithm they mentioned is viewing posts from the application first, and the user second.  As such I only have partial control over when Facebook won't accept any more posts from HootSuite.  I don't have this problem when I use TweetDeck as Facebook views me as a single user only from TweetDeck.  I have posted as many times as 50 in a single hour without issue using TweetDeck.

Seeing as this issue is with HootSuite only and that their platform probably won't be changed to correct this I find myself shopping for an app I can use on my iOS devices that will allow me to post to both Twitter and Facebook without limits.  On my desktop I use TweetDeck for Chrome and even the old Adobe Air TweetDeck client without issues but TweetDeck has abandoned the iOS platform with no recent iPhone or iPad apps.

A recent development between Twitter and LinkedIn also means if I want posts to go to LinkedIn I need to use an app that will post to all 3 networks.  On my desktop HootSuite and the Adobe Air TweetDeck app can do that but on my iOS devices I'm limited to HootSuite.

It's 2012 - how many more years we do have to wait for a single social media app allows for cross-posting, without limits, helps avoid any disputes between social networks sharing information, and runs with all features on all platforms?

If social media is indeed the future and my next refrigerator will be on Twitter and able to text me when I'm almost out of milk then someone needs to figure this out.

Friday, July 6, 2012

And Another Island Forms...and Then Bites the Dust

Taking a page from Google+ it would appear that LinkedIn has decided to become an island, and not just an island, a forced departure point for all other social media communications. Think of it as an airport with no lounge and only a single flight to a single destination.  You can no longer connect your LinkedIn account to Twitter and have your tweets automatically appear on LinkedIn thus increasing your audience, which I thought was one of the goals of this site. Instead you have to use LinkedIn as your starting board and send any tweets from LinkedIn to Twitter and then of course you have to return to Twitter to manage those conversations.

LinkedIn says this is as a result of some changes Twitter made but I doubt that. So once again another social media player is not playing nice with everyone else in the sandbox. Now my LinkedIn audience if they want to continue to follow me, which I don't know why they would, will need to join the ranks for Twitter or Facebook as those posts will no longer appear there unless I use a software program that allows me to post to all 3 at once. In addition LinkedIn only works with Twitter and not with Facebook and of course not with Google+ as nothing works with them.

More fragmentation, that's what we all need. As I say to my friends on Google+, I hope to see you sometime soon off this desolate island.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

It Shouldn't Be This Difficult

I’ve decided I’m through with paying for HootSuite. While the concept is great and while they have great iOS apps, the lack of functionality is killing me. I post frequently and to multiple accounts and need software that allows me to do that quickly and easily. I find I’m spending too much time trying to get HootSuite to work and not letting it work for me.

As such, I’m back on the market. I’ve posted other things here about why I initially chose HootSuite over TweetDeck but the time has come for me to start again. Here are my issues:
  • In HootSuite, I have large gaps in my streams and lists so whenever I open the desktop program I have to manually refresh each list otherwise I will have several hours worth of gaps where tweets are not appearing.
  • HootSuite also has issues with posting to Facebook. They like to blame Facebook and I don’t really care who is to blame all I know is I can post 100% of the time from TweetDeck to Facebook but with HootSuite after 1 or 2 it stops and fails each time thus wasting my time. 
You may ask why I don’t just go back to TweetDeck, and that’s valid. On my desktop, I have gone back to using TweetDeck as it works 100% of the time. The challenge is TweetDeck does not have very good apps for iOS, which leaves me stuck and the actual desktop app is no longer supported. The new web app is ok but limited.

If such an app exists, that is the best for desktop and the best for iOS then I’d love to check it out. Please let me know what you are using. Here is what I want:
  1. Posts to both Twitter and Facebook reliably without any limiting or throttling that prevents frequent posting.
  2. Allows me to choose my image service, I prefer TwitPic but I want to be able to make that choice and not be forced into one like HootSuite does.
  3. Ability to natively post pictures to my Facebook wall and Twitter via TwitPic at the same time. HootSuite forces you to use their service sand only posts links to Facebook. The last version of TweetDeck for iPhone allows you to use TwitPic but only posts links to Facebook. The previous version was perfect, it would post a picture to Twitter as a link from TwitPic and then post the picture to your Facebook wall, it was perfect but it is no longer support and TwitPic no longer works with it.
  4. Ability to schedule tweets and Facebook posts.
  5. Fast. 
Its 2012 – this shouldn’t be that difficult.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

What the Problem is....

Someone who I would consider a mediocre friend sent this to me.  He knew I would enjoy it from both a technological and political perspective.  I hope you find it humorous and worth the read.  I don't know the origin of this story but I have updated a few parts of it.

A cowboy named Bud was overseeing his herd in a remote mountainous pasture in Montana when suddenly a brand-new BMW advanced toward him out of a cloud of dust.

The driver, a young man in a Brioni suit, Gucci shoes, RayBan sunglasses and YSL tie, leaned out the window and asked the cowboy, "If I tell you exactly how many cows and calves you have in your herd, will you give me a calf?"

Bud looks at the man, who obviously is a yuppie, then looks at his peacefully grazing herd and calmly answers, "Sure, why not?"

The yuppie parks his car, whips out his Dell notebook computer, connects it to his iPhone, and surfs to a NASA page on the Internet, where he calls up a GPS satellite to get an exact fix on his location which he then feeds to another NASA satellite that scans the area in an ultra-high-resolution photo.

The young man then opens the digital photo in Adobe Photoshop and exports it to an image processing facility in Hamburg, Germany.

Within seconds, he receives an email on his iPad that the image has been processed and the data stored. He then accesses an MS-SQL database through an ODBC connected Excel spreadsheet with email on his BlackBerry and, after a few minutes, receives a response.

Finally, he prints out a full-color, 150-page report on his hi-tech, miniaturized HP LaserJet printer, turns to the cowboy and says, "You have exactly 1,586 cows and calves."

"That's right. Well, I guess you can take one of my calves," says Bud.

He watches the young man select one of the animals and looks on with amusement as the young man stuffs it into the trunk of his car.

Then Bud says to the young man, "Hey, if I can tell you exactly what your business is, will you give me back my calf?"

The young man thinks about it for a second and then says, "Okay, why not?"

"You're a Congressman for the U.S. Government", says Bud.

"Wow! That's correct," says the yuppie, "but how did you guess that?"

"No guessing required." answered the cowboy. "You showed up here even though nobody called you; you want to get paid for an answer I already knew, to a question I never asked. You used millions of dollars worth of equipment trying to show me how much smarter than me you are; and you don't know a thing about how working people make a living - or about cows, for that matter. This is a herd of sheep.  Now give me back my dog."

And that folks is what the problem is all about.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Transit of Venus

Today the Transit of Venus occurred, an event when Venus passes between the Earth and the Sun and appears as a black dot on the surface of the sun.

The history of the transit and those who first discovered it in the 1700's is fascinating but for me this was a once in a lifetime opportunity to see something way cool for a space geek. What makes this so cool? Simple, it won't happen again until 2117. That means my grandchildren will be playing with my great grandchildren by the time this happens again.

The other cool thing about this is it was easy to see both with the naked eye and with a telescope. I got a telescope for Christmas when I was in elementary school and tonight it came in handy. The hard part was finding a place to view the transit from as we live in an area with a lot of trees.

Fortunately, I was able to abuse my key where I work and gain access to the roof over the pool at our Community Center. From there I setup my telescope and my homemade iPhone mount for the telescope lens and dialed it in.

The pictures I took are available here. Enjoy – as these will have to hold you until 2117.

Friday, June 1, 2012

On this Day in 1997…

It was on June 1, 1997 that I first met my first wife.  It was pouring down rain and when I first saw her, she was wearing a stripped polo shirt with overalls.  Apparently in the late 90’s overalls were all the rage but don’t feel bad, I missed that fad too.  All I knew was that chick was hot.

We met at a Christian youth camp we both worked at that summer.  My job was to hire the summer staff and so that spring I started reviewing applications.  For whatever reason the camp’s application form required applicants to submit a picture with their application, and when I opened Heather’s I fell in love.  Not only was she the perfect applicant but she was also drop dead gorgeous.  I told the staff she was hired and it was their job to help her fall madly in love with me.  For my part it was love at first sight, first site of the picture she had submitted.

For Heather’s part, she had just finished her freshman year of college and was looking to get away from home and a small camp in the middle of nowhere Indiana seemed like the best place to do it.  When she first saw me, the word “geek” flashed through her mind and the words “I’m not leaving my daughter here” flashed through my future mother in laws mind.

My heart a twitter (that meant something different back then) I set my plan in action.  I abused my authority and told folks if they wanted paid they needed to convince Heather what a great guy I was.  I event sent out reconnaissance to learn everything about her and then my master plan hit a snag.  She had a boyfriend.  Now I not only had to convince her I was awesome but that I was better than the guy she was already dating.  Thanks to some wonderful friends, the snow job of the last century began.  After a while I’m sure Heather figured out something was going on but she continued to play along nicely as my minions worked the plan.

Further intelligence revealed the boyfriend was more of a childhood friend.  They had grown up together, their families were close, so they hung out a lot, but they were not a serious couple.  Perfect.  Now it was time to make my move. 

With all the pieces in place, I knew it was time to see if the snow job had worked (and if I should pay the staff).  17 days after we met, I asked her out on a date.  To my surprise, and probably everyone else’s, she said “Yes.”  Mission accomplished.  Now everyone else was off the hook but I had to deliver on whatever truths I’m sure they told her about me.

We got to know each other pretty well that summer before she returned to college.  We both returned to the same camp the following year and on July 18, 1998 I proposed and again to everyone’s surprise she said, “Yes.”  The rest, as they say, is history.

As for that picture I first fell in love with, I stole it from her application file and put it in my wallet, where it still is today.  Ask me to see it sometime.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Local Paper Charging for Access

Every once in a while I like to tilt at a few windmills.  Sometimes I rant about the futility of Daylight Saving Time, sometimes about how I’m the only person who knows how to drive, and sometimes about politics. 

Today I’d like to surprise you with a new rant.  One that even surprised me.

I live in the thriving metropolis of Lafayette, IN.  To you it may not be much but to me it has been home for over 3 decades.  While not an exciting or sexy place, it is home and it is a solid, stable, great place to live.

While not being a huge town we are big enough to have our own TV station and our own newspaper, the Lafayette Journal and Courier.  The J&C as we call it is owned by Gannett, the same folks that bring you the USA Today.

Over the years, Lafayette has been the test market for several new Gannett products.  For instance, our paper was one of the first to change its form factor to a different, smaller, more compact size that travels and reads better.  I found this to be a great change but one that I wouldn’t take advantage of because I read the paper electronically on any number of my pieces of glass.

Their latest change is my latest obsession.  The J&C website, used to be free.  Now it is only free for a limited time and then in order to consume any content you have to pay to access the site.  I know some folks who work at the paper and they tell me that Gannett is testing this out for expansion to all of their other newspaper markets by the end of the year. 

The local TV station has seized upon the irony of this and they are now running ads saying their website is “Always Connected, Always Mobile, and Always Free.”  Nice.

According to Wikipedia, “In February 2012, Gannett announced a new policy use of the Internet content provided by its newspapers.  By the end of 2012, non-subscriber access will be limited to between five and fifteen articles per month, varying by newspaper.  The USA Today website will be the only one continuing to allow unrestricted access.  Similar restrictions have previously been implemented by other major publications, including The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.”

Newspapers are struggling to stay relevant in a world of glass and I fully understand their argument that you aren’t paying for how you get their content (web or paper) but for the content itself.  I get that, the bigger issue though is how long can they stay relevant in a world of free news sites including our local TV station, CNN, and other news outlets that provide full access for free.  Competition from changes in technology is the biggest threat here, and they are not adapting quick enough to survive.

Friday, May 25, 2012

So you don’t like the Law

One of the things that struck me at a recent government hearing I was at is how little people know about how to influence change.  They don’t like what is allowed under the law but they also don’t know how to change the law.

The hearing I attended was for a project for the ministry where I work.  The law allows non-profit organizations, any non-profit organization to receive more favorable interest rates on financing projects through the use of tax-exempt bonds.  Granted this is a complicate process but for numerous reasons many folks were opposed to a religious non-profit group getting this kind of financing.  If I disagreed I’d go after the law however many of these folks chose to go after the organization.

One of the folks who presented against us summed it up well.  She said, “I know this is legal but I’m asking you to do the right thing and not approve the request.”  That is a contradiction in terms.  If it is legal than the right thing for elected and appointed government officials to do is to support and uphold that law, which all but one of the officials did.  Otherwise, you have the right and privilege in our country to get those laws changed.

If you don’t like the speed limits on the interstates do you attack the driver who is driving the speed limit or do you try to get the speed limit changed?  You can go after the driver but that won’t change the law.  Even after the attorney for the city presented this was a legal process approved and supported by the US Supreme Court, many who spoke decided to go after the organization as opposed to the law.

There are many laws on the books that I don’t like or agree with but I’m not going after those who are playing by the rules.  If I wanted to bring about change, I’d lobby those who make the laws to change the laws.  A concept that appears to be lost on many.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Blessing of Living Here

Today the ministry I work at went before our local government to get approval for tax-exempt bond financing for a project we want to build near Purdue University.

The details of the project are available here but the project itself isn’t the point of this post.  After spending 2.5 hours standing at West Lafayette City Hall and watching the process work it reminded me how fortunate I am to live here.  Regardless of the outcome of the approval vote today I wasn’t worried about being gunned down on the way out of the building.  I wasn’t worried about my family being persecuted for my involvement.  I wasn’t worried that my place of employment would be attacked.  I knew that whatever the outcome everyone would move forward and life would continue without issue.

I think we often times take this for granted.  We get all worked up in a situation and supporting our causes that we don’t realize how fortunate we are to be able to get worked up and passionate about supporting our causes and that we are able to communicate that passion and zeal to others in a public process.

Today was a great example of that process.  Many folks spoke, both for and against our project and no one was booed, no one was harassed, no one was laughed out of the room, even though there were a few opportunities, like the person who addressed the group and wanted to talk about global warming.  Talk about the wrong setting.

In the case today, we were able to get the approval we were seeking.  Agree or disagree with the outcome the discussion was civil and respectful.  Our freedom to express ourselves is precious and we shouldn’t take it for granted, even with those with whom we may not agree.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

IT and Community Support

In March, the community of Henryville, IN was wiped out by an EF 4 tornado.  I was traveling at the time and watching the news from the Pacific Northwest and amazed at the extent of the destruction.  As I’m watching the images of devastation on TV I was also wondering what a geek like me could do to get involved.  Being a geek, I’m thinking about things like cell phone service and internet access and what my life would be like without those things.

When I returned home, I contacted our local emergency management agency, or TEMA – Tippecanoe Emergency Management Agency and asked how I could get involved.  The answer surprised me.  I was thinking my involvement would help those directly impacted by the disaster.  Instead, I was asked to support those helping those directly impacted by the disaster.

During the response at Henryville, the Indiana Department of Homeland Security realized they were lacking in IT support for the responders.  They were unable to provide basic IT services so the first responders could communicate, process paperwork, manage rescue efforts, and provide assistance to those impacted.  As I continued digging I found they were unable to share a network printer so if folks had to print, and they print a lot, they had to take their laptop to a printer with a USB cable and plug in to print, sometimes waiting line.  This slowed response times and communication with those in the field.  They had everything necessary to share the printer wirelessly they just lacked someone to make it all work.

This is basic IT support, even stuff I can do so I offered my services to TEMA and said if there was a disaster deployment and they needed help I’d be happy to show up and setup their printers and do anything else they needed.  I also indicated I could probably recruit other IT folks who would be happy to serve their friends and neighbors in need.  They took me up on my offer and invited me to a statewide training exercise in Southern Indiana so I could see what this was all about and learn how I/we could play a role.
Muscatatuck Urban Training Center
Since I often get in trouble while traveling alone I took a fellow IT friend along with me.  The plan was for Joe to do all the work while I took all the credit, ended up there was plenty to do to keep us both busy once we got started.

One of the first challenges to helping out was the paperwork.  I filled out tons of forms just to volunteer.  I’ve been to the White House 3 times, 2 of those times I met the President.  It was easier for me to get access to the White House than it was for me to volunteer to serve our state during a time of disaster.  I’ll explain how this will pay off for everyone later.

The second challenge was knowing what to do.  When we arrived, there wasn’t any one person to tell us what they needed.  We had to take initiative and setup things we knew would help everyone out.  This is where IT folks can really improve things as we know what’s possible and we know how to make that happen.  Once we started, it wasn’t long before everyone was asking for our help and even tracking us down so we could not only help our district but others.  Indiana is divided up into multiple Department of Homeland Security districts and each district is responsible for their own IT support.  More on that later too.

We also found that our district was well equipped with gear but not well equipped on how to use it.  They had a satellite internet provider and an access point that could broadcast for 3 miles.  We discovered it barely broadcasted 3 feet so we fixed it.  We also discovered that our district had an unactivated AT&T micro cell.  We worked to activate it to improve communications.  The training center was pretty isolated so we needed all the communications help we could get.  Besides, I needed to keep on top of Twitter.
While this may have been a drill, I found many ways where IT folks could quickly and easily serve their communities in a time of need. 

So my question to you is how would you like to be involved?  Here are some details.
  1. The paperwork is done.  The training exercise required more paperwork than an actual disaster as each person participating in the drill had to have credentials to access the base.  In the event of a real emergency, you would be added to a list of folks allowed into the command center.  Once there you would just identify yourself as IT support from Jonathan Smith at District 4 and get to work.  If a security perimeter has been setup your state issued ID will get you in.
  2. Each district in our state has its own strengths and weakness.  As a result, the state is encouraging them to share resources, including things like IT.  So instead of IT being something owned by each district it would be a shared resource.  This means you could help any district out regardless of where you live.
  3. Be prepared for some rough accommodations.  For the training exercises, we stayed in a hotel.  Were this a real emergency like Henryville we would have slept in tents or stayed wherever available.
  4. This won’t cost you anything.  Even though you are volunteering all costs associated with your travel, meals, and accommodations would be reimbursed. 
If you would be interested in helping please let me know.  I’m creating a list of IT pros from our state or neighboring states that would be available to help.  When there is an emergency, I would be notified by either our district or the Indiana Department of Homeland Security.  I would then communicate with our volunteer group and coordinate getting IT support on site as quickly as possible.  It may not always be me, Henryville happened while I was in Seattle but had we been organized we could have quickly sent folks there that live closer to Henryville than I do and helped serve the first responders and victims.
If you have questions or comments please post them here for all to see.  I’ll respond as best I can.  My dream would be to have IT pros within an hour’s drive of any site in Indiana so when the next Henryville hits we can quickly respond with top quality IT support and show our community that IT folks aren’t just interested in control and power but are willing and able to empower and equip those on the front lines, in some cases literally saving lives.

Thanks for your consideration.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Email from my Boss

Here’s a little peak into my life.  I work for our Senior Pastor.  He likes to think of himself as a savvy tech person despite being just the opposite.  He emailed me recently needing a multi-function printer/copier/scanner/fax device for home.  I recommended one to him and let him know that my dad and granddad bought the same model and were able to set it up without my help. 

He bought one and then sent the tech team the email below.  This email is equivalent to me going to a heart surgeon bursting with pride that I was able to put a Band-Aid on a cut.  Enjoy.


By now you've probably heard (I assume this was on CNN) that I successfully installed a device at my house today capable of copying, scanning, printing, and faxing. No kidding--I've been doing all of that and more all day.

2 things I want you to know:

1. Please don't hesitate to ask me any tech question if you come up against a challenge that's too hard for you. We can do it quietly--I wouldn't make a big deal out of it or anything.

2. I don't want this to be a threat to your positions. You guys are still useful for some of the less complex tech issues--so all is well.

Have a pleasant afternoon.

Sent from my iPhone