Miscellaneous Links

Ban It Now! Friends Don't Let Friends Use PowerPoint
Fortune Magazine
As a constant Powerpoint user, I also fear that it is a cancer and pox upon corporate communications.  It has become a crutch for bad speakers, and it has ruined the development of oratory skills.  This article agrees and makes one interesting point.  Powerpoint is used at worker bee presentations.  High-level executives don't bother.  They'd rather hear actual knowledge than look at pretty and over-produced pie charts.  The article also makes an observation about meeting planners wanting a consistent look from presentation to presentation.  Hmmmm.  Does the audience really want to look at the same formatted slides for the entire day's seminars, through all of the speakers?

UPS Software Woes Reveal Risk, Opportunity of Direct Marketing
Wall Street Journal
Recently, UPS, the folks who run "the tightest ship in the shipping business," sent out a software update to their customers.  They made a few changes and now have a whole bunch of upset customers.  You see, the software crashed some computers and caused downtime of several days for many customers.  The problem is so widespread and serious that UPS is sending out technicians to help customers who want to uninstall the software.  This proves my long-standing policy.  I avoid, like the plague, adding new software to my computer.  If some company sends me an offer for an application that involves adding a program to my delicately configured computer, I'll ignore it.  Because EVERY time I install something on this beast, something goes wrong.  If the folks at UPS can send out problematic software, anyone can screw up.  If you LIKE fussing with your computer, restoring data, updating drivers, and so forth, more power to you...enjoy your hobby.  As for me, I prefer to get some work done, such as writing deathless prose like this.

The Gettysburg Powerpoint Presentation
One of the best illustrations of the misuse of Powerpoint and technology that I've ever seen.  Imagine the Gettysburg Address reduced to a Powerpoint presentation.  It's frightening.  It makes me wonder if there are great and truly inspirational speakers today who are submerging their talents because they're using laptops, LCD projectors and Powerpoint as crutches.  Whoa!  We need to pay less attention to technology and more to oratory.

Pull the Plug!
CIO Magazine
This is a fascinating and certainly contrarian article about computers in schools.  The author makes the argument that computers waste teachers' time, replace other and more important curricula, cost too much, become obsolete too quickly, and really don't teach that much.  Certainly worth a look if you have kids in school, or your community is floating a bond issue to set up a computer lab.

Best Beats First
The mantra in the New Economy is that you have to be fast,and you have to be first to market with the glorious new idea you've got.  Well, that idea may not be so great.  First to market ain't always the winner.  New Economy types like to think they're nimble companies that can run rings around the old brick-and-mortar oxen.  The reality is that, just like the tortoise and the hare, slow and steady usually wins in the long run.  This article recounts some famous firsts that didn't work out:

Visicalc - remember them?  How about their successor, Lotus 123?  Anyone out there NOT using Excel?

About portable computers, know who had the first laptops I worked with back in 1985?  Grid and Hewlett-Packard.  Then, of course, there was the Osborne.

How about the Newton?  The Palm is currently winning that battle. 

America Online?  Compuserve was there LONG before AOL.

Others who weren't first include Disney, Starbucks, IBM, and VHS (remember betamax?).

The point of the article is that being first doesn't make any difference, unless you have absolute patent protection (pharmaceuticals), or can set a standard that is too difficult or costly to ignore (Windows).  What does count is doing it right.  Being the second, third or fourth to market allows you time to see what the first guy did wrong and go to school off of him.

Being first isn't much.  Being best is where it's at.

Online Office Suites
PC Magazines
Online office suites are coming.  They're not here yet, but they will soon be a popular alternative to installing tons of code on your PC - using an Internet based application service provider instead.  This articles reviews three such sites that are in beta, and also discusses upcoming efforts from Sun and Microsoft.  Imagine being able to edit a document using the latest software from Microsoft or Corel, and not having to trot out to the store to buy it, or waiting for a delivery from UPS.  You can't yet.  But it won't be much longer.  And the sites this article reviews are baby steps in that direction.

This column is worth a visit, and if you like newsletters, a subscription to their daily update.  They detail cluelessness and stupidity in the workplace.  Read these stories for a couple of weeks, and you'll learn everything NOT to do at your company.  If you enjoy Dilbert, you'll love this.  And the scary part is, these are true stories!

Startup Newbie FAQ
The Standard
This is an enjoyable and dangerously accurate "FAQ" for newbies joining a dot com start up.  Thinking about leaving that comfortable but low paying job in the "old economy"?  Read this first.  You'll probably still want to move, but at least you'll be prepared.  And you'll be prepared with a big supply of t-shirts.

How to Read a Business Book
The Standard
This article, by Albert Madansky, is an excellent discussion of the intellectual process of reading a business book.  He discusses the three levels of reading: figuring out what the author is saying, analyzing it, and putting it in the context of other thinking on the particular topic.  He goes into the process of analyzing the book, particular the weaknesses in inductive and deductive reasoning.  Finally, he provides a useful list of classic business books.  If you enjoy business books, this article is highly recommended.

Buzzword Bingo
Perhaps you've heard of this game.  Or worse, your staff has been playing it during your meetings.  Basically it's a bingo game where you win by collecting the most jargon and buzzwords on your card.  There are a couple available that are listed here.  I'm sure there are more.  Make your next meeting actually entertaining.  Offer prizes!

Dilbert and Wally's Buzzword Bingo

What is Buzzword Bingo

Business Buzzword Bingo

When You Can't Afford to Stop
ZDNet, SmartPartner

This is a good discussion of the basics of setting up high availability systems.  Some good ideas are presented:

1.  You must do fundamental project planning and management to make sure that you get what you want and that all of the stakeholders are included in the process.

2.  Plan for a HA (high availability) system from the start.  Adding on components later may not address all of the key issues.  It's best to design the system for HA from the beginning.  Avoid complex systems, and make sure your staff are fully trained on HA issues.

3.  You should not only have back up system components, you should also arrange for alternate sources of power, Internet services, communications, and DNS servers.  Is your data truly being backed up sufficiently?  Is the replication process working and tested?  Is it supported by the manufacturer?  What about the PC's in your organization?  Are there critical data or services on them that aren't being backed up?

4.  Use modular and industry standard equipment.  PC's, servers, disk drives, UPS's and other components should be easily replaceable with little effect on the continuing operations of the system.

5.  Keep your systems well organized.  Wiring closets should not look like a bucket of spilled spaghetti.  Server rooms should not be used as storage closets.  Room should be provided for access to all of the equipment.  Maintain consistent configurations and set-ups for all of your systems and keep careful documentation.  Consider periodic audits of your systems.

6.  Implement aggressive change management.  Many failures occur because of a configuration change or the implementation of a "harmless" utility.  Be very careful of what changes you make to your stable system. 

7.  You may not be able to get by with duplicated systems.  You may have to have a second backup site. 

8.  Keep your HA system secure.  Protect it not only from viruses, Trojan horses and hacking, but also from unauthorized physical access.  And keep in mind that current or past employees pose a serious threat as well.  A single firewall may not be enough.

Managing Change and Technology
This is a monthly newsletter on change.  While not as cynical as I am, they show a VERY healthy attitude about change. 

Business Continuity Planning
This is a short introduction to business continuity planning.  The issue is more severe than it was years ago because of the pervasiveness of computers and their use in 24x7 environments.  It used to be that, if a computer went down, you had a little time to fix it or get a replacement part.  Nowadays, some businesses that must be up constantly have to be fully prepared to deal with any disasters on an almost instantaneous basis.  The article features the plans and experiences of Nasdaq, whose systems must be up and running all the time or there would be worldwide market disruptions.  There is a sidebar recommending the basic measures to start a business continuity plan.

Internet Country Codes
Ever wonder what "BE" at the end of a URL means?  I had someone subscribe to this newsletter recently and I wondered where they were from.  This handy-dandy little chart told me that my new reader was from Belgium.  Welcome, by the way!

Analysts: Lockdown Vital to Win 2k Value
Getting the best return on your Windows 2000 workstation investment likely means "locking down" your workstations, per the Gartner Group.  This short article discusses some of the pros and cons, and what companies are planning on doing.  Keep in mind that a Windows 2000 roll-out is the perfect time to do this, as opposed to after users have had the product for a while.  And companies that have locked down their workstations experienced some initial end-user blowback, but found that it eventually settled down.

Newspaper prints codes that link readers to the Web
This goes in the category of exciting new technology.  Yes, I don't do this very often, and this particular idea definitely has some issues, but long term it could be very powerful.  It's a combination of a printed bar code and a scanner that would allow the reader to link to the exact Web site that provides additional information about, well - whatever.  In this case, the newspaper would link the reader to additional information on the subject of the article.  Alternatively, you could have a print advertisement that would deep-link to pages in your Web site that cover the specific products the ad mentions.  The concept is that it saves typing, and anything that makes it easier for the user is a good thing.  The only problems are:  who reads a newspaper right beside their computer?  And there's that pesky scanner.  But there is definitely some potential here.

Signs of defection
Worried about IT worker turnover?  This article gives some good advice on spotting workers who are getting ready to bail out.  The most important sign is apathy.  Rabble-rousers don't rouse anymore, whiners don't whine, and volunteers don't take on those whacky assignments anymore.  The article also discusses other techniques to reduce turnover, such as rotating interesting assignments, exit interviews, etc., but it really focuses on apathy.

Fortune 500: No Dot-Coms Need Apply
The Standard
Here's a reality check.  There are NO "dot.coms" on the Fortune 500 list.  Aside from AOL, which is not really a dot.com, your average Internet company is sorely lacking in the one thing that's critical to being on this list...revenue. 

Fortune 500
Fortune Magazine
In case you're interested, here's the list.  Besides revenue, you can sort by company, CEO and industry.  Curious to see if your company is on it?  The 500th company had sales of $3.037 billion.

Study: Number of households online to soar to 60% in 2000
The title is pretty self-explanatory.  For those of you making decisions about whether or not to be on the Internet, or to enhance your presence, this statistic is worth noting. 

Have you gotten your DVD player yet?  If you haven't, this article may make you think twice about the investment.  If you've already taken Grandpa's advice and hooked the cables up properly, then you may suffer some buyer's remorse after reading this.  And if you don't care about DVD, the article is an interesting discussion about Linux, copyright issues, piracy, and how nothing is foolproof.

Knowledge management is not an oxymoron
By Robert Sutton, Computerworld
If you're in love with knowledge management, read this article before you buy the engagement ring.  The gist is that the important information isn't being stored, or can't be stored, and that we've put the wrong people (technologists) in charge of the data.  The author argues that knowledge should be managed by the people who created it, and these same experts should also be in charge of disseminating it.  His best quote: "The reality is that most information warehouses have become junkyards, databases cluttered with forgotten information.  They are seen as a waste of money by those they were meant to help. The most valuable employees often have the greatest disdain for knowledge management. These people are the most talented, so clueless curators of these junkyards badger employees to enter what they know into the system, even though few people in the company actually use information." 

Entrepreneur's Complete Guide to Software
Entrepreneur Magazine
While this list may not be too helpful for larger organizations, it is a nice collection of most of the more well-known packages in various categories such as anti-virus, accounting, contact management, etc.  There is a capsule summary of features and price, as well as the vendor URL's.  There are some glaring omissions, such as Great Plaines from the accounting section and Novell's GroupWise from the groupware section.


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