Repeat after me: The technician is your friend…

Sixth in a Series: Technology and the SOHO

A good PC technician is worth their weight in gold. They really are. No matter their stereotypes (and there are quite a few) if you have a good tech, you know it and do everything in your power to keep them. A good tech seems to know what is wrong before you fully describe the problem. A good tech has an encyclopedic memory for odd configuration facts that might affect your computer. And when they don’t know the answer, they have a website, blog or friend just an instant message away who does.

They are an unappreciated, overworked, cog in the vast IT machine. They are the front line troubleshooters, the guy crawling under a desk to track a cable, they are the girl getting up at four in the morning because her pager is buzzing and a necessary server just went off-line. The PC technician is our first line of defense against all enemies foreign (Toshiba) or domestic (Dell). But what are the qualities of a good PC technician?

A good PC technician has several amazing powers that when used properly make them invaluable in any environment they work in.

  1. They are ethically impeccable. They have access to the most private information of their clients. They have access to the inner workings of the IT environment they are working in. If they wanted to make your life miserable, they could easily. But instead, they put their client first, protect their client’s needs and assets and understand that their reputation as an IT technician is of the highest value. The PC technician believes in providing the best service at a fair price.
  2. They have the power and desire to share their vast knowledge with their client. They empower their client with information and documentation. They teach the client what went wrong and how to prevent it in the future. They are not looking for the quick buck; they are looking for the satisfied client. A good tech can make you understand the problem and the solution in clear, concise language.
  3. They have the power of discernment. They can ask the right questions, listen intently and understand what the client is talking about, even if the client is upset and yelling at the top of their lungs. They can stay focused on the task at hand, even if it has been hours with no results to speak of. They recognize that success may be just around the next bend.
  4. They have the power to calm their client. When something is wrong with a mission critical PC, clients often go ballistic, but a good technician soothes the savage client so they can get the information they need to solve the difficulty. They have an affable manner and can remain calm themselves so that they can engage the client in a meaningful manner.
  5. They are enthusiastic about their career choice. Their love of computing allows them to be fully engaged when solving a problem for a client. These are the people who eat with their computers, take their PC on vacations with them, speak to their computer like it’s alive. Yes, they may seem strange but it is that connection to their machine, and a possible lack of connection to other people, that gives them such an affinity for troubleshooting PCs in the first place.
  6. They have the power of focused analysis. A great PC technician can look at the million possible combinations of things that could go wrong and whittle them away until there are only a few possible choices. A great PC tech can do this in their head, virtually, before even touching the keyboard, eliminating possible choices with lightning speed; once they touch the keyboard, they are on a path toward resolution.

Okay, so I have painted the portrait of a super-being. No PC tech can be all of those things, can he or she? Not likely. But the more of those things a PC technician possesses, the better their chances of being the technician you want in your office, solving your problems. Even I have to admit, when I first started doing PC technical work, I wanted as little to do with the client as possible. I was only interested in the technical challenge of solving the problem. It took me a long time to realize that my work was not dealing with the computer, but with making the client comfortable with me working on their computer.

To be fair, as a client, you have a few obligations to your PC technician as well:

  1. Take the time to know what equipment you are using. You would be surprised how much this may help a technician when they are attempting to solve your problem over the phone before they make that hour drive to your office.
  2. Keep your workspace clear of unnecessary clutter. Do I need to elaborate here?  I won’t even begin to tell you what some of the workspaces I have had to deal with have looked like…
  3. Make sure you have enough space to work effectively in your environment both on your desk and on your computer’s desktop. If you work with very large files, make sure you purchase removable media or external hard drives from reputable companies and make as many backups as necessary for you to feel safe.
  4. Take the time to learn how to use your computer effectively. Not just the one program you really like. The more you know, the better your chances of getting the most out of your computer. Your PC technician will likely be more than happy to teach you anything you need to know for a nominal fee. Sometimes they will do it just to ensure that the difficulty never happen again.
  5. Try and find a technician who has a style you can work with. If you dislike your PC technician, and you are unable to come to some sort of accommodation, it will be a miserable relationship for you both. Some PC techs like to work remotely, others like to be totally hands on, some like to hold your hand, and others just want the technology to work. Shop around for the technician that suits your needs.

Be honest with your PC technician when he comes to help you. I know that seems like a weird statement but many people fail to realize, that the more your technician knows about how you use your computer, the better his chances of figuring out where or how a problem affected your system. Your IT tech’s job is to take millions of potential possibilities for why your computer failed and reduce them to a small number of potential answers; more information helps refine this process.

  • He won’t judge you and like your doctor needs to know everything you were doing when your problem occurred. So if you are addicted to Facebook or MySpace, he won’t care but the fact that you use those sites might explain where you got that latest Trojan horse or virus file.
  • If you can replicate the problem, it helps to solve the issue, see if you can repeat it before you call for help. She might even be able to help you resolve it over the phone.
  • Know everything that goes on your computer. If your computer is how you earn your livelihood, be mindful of computer and online games. Advanced computer games (especially online games) can cause problems with your configuration.

In an ideal world you would see that technician at least once per quarter, to run a basic diagnostic, that checks for machine performance, runs at least a quarterly virus scan and malware scan (if you have not been as diligent about it as you should), run any updates that my require special handling, and have your tech check to see if your system backup and restore is actually working.

Be nice to your technician! A tech’s lot is a long and difficult one. You would be surprised how far a heartfelt thank you would go to keeping a tech in your good graces. A good tech asks a lot of questions, seeks to understand your business, helps you design technology that will work for your industry and still remain easy for you to use. A good tech will check those things that need handling that you might be reluctant (or forget) to take care of. Once or twice a year, she will likely:

  1. Check your computer’s overall performance. They will determine if you need to upgrade your hardware (add RAM or a new drive for more disk space)
  2. Check to see if you should erase your disk drive to improve your system performance, if he does not erase your drive he will likely…
  3. Perform a high level diagnostic: antivirus, anti-spyware, reduce disk fragmentation, and remove temp files.
  4. Optimize your bookmarks or other data collections if they are not managed well or you request the assistance.
  5. Check your peripherals and software installations for latest updates to improve their performance.
  6. Assess your processes to see if there is a better way for you to accomplish your goals.
  7. Check to see if your network or network services are optimized for your environment.
  8. Document his work and explain what he has done when he is finished.
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Never Underestimate the Value of a Good Reference Library

Fifth in a Series: Technology in the SOHO

Sadik Antwi-Boampong recently established the first library in a poor town in Ghana.
Sadik Antwi-Boampong recently established the first library in a poor town in Ghana.

How many of you don’t have a reference library? You know books that support your computer technology after you finish NOT reading the manuals that came with your hardware and software. You realize that there is an industry designed around showing you how useless the manuals that came with your computer are. And you need to do your part to keep that industry thriving. Not for the industry’s sake, but for your own. Manuals just don’t tell you enough. They were never designed to give you more than rudimentary skills in using the hardware and software you purchased. You need supplementary publications and a lot of that information is available on the Internet. However, the best of these books will always cost something. Remember our earlier post: you get what you pay for…

You should keep a library of information regarding your hardware, software, network technology and other assets. Download and keep the PDF manuals and enhance them with books that may increase your understanding. I know you are not a computer person. You are <insert occupation here>. The days of the singularly dedicated IT person standing by waiting for you to call them are gone.

Okay, that is not quite true. IT people are still out there. But corporations are reducing the number of them at every turn. There are fewer and fewer of them while the number of things they are responsible for continues to grow in number and complexity. You may have to wait a while if you are working someplace that has managed to keep IT on staff. If you are a small business, you are not likely to have an IT person at all. You will have to find someone, hopefully someone good, recommended and vetted by someone you trust, or you will have to go to the phone directory and hope for the best.

When I was in the Navy, everyone onboard the ship was trained at boot camp and again at later training schools with the basics and practical skills for firefighting techniques. We were taught how to put out fires, wear breathing apparatus, use fire hoses and perform CPR.

Why you ask? Because when you are a thousand miles out to sea, you cannot call for the fire department. You are responsible to know enough to get you through the day, until you can call for help and while you wait for help to arrive. This is just as true with your computer, especially if your business revolves or is highly dependent on your computer.

Having access to a reference library will, over time, give you the basic skills to handle simple problems with your technology. 75% of all computer difficulties can be corrected by the user without serious technical support by first checking the technical guides that can be found online or with the service disks that shipped with your hardware.

Creating a directory of information about your hardware does not mean you need to do a lot of work, just copy the Adobe Portable Document files about your hardware created by the vendor of your equipment onto your computer (and a flash drive as a backup). These files are usually found on the disks that ship with your equipment. You can also usually find them on the vendor website that you bought your computer from.

If you got a computer without the original disks you may have to do a bit of work using Google to find those files. You can search by the name or model number of your computer, found on a tag in the back. Dell, Gateway and other large manufacturers have databases of PDF files on each model of their equipment. If you cannot find a specification file, you can get general guidelines from the advertising brochures that companies use on their vendor websites.

These files are often called User Guides, Technical Specifications, and Customer Brochures. User guides are what used to be printed as the User Manual. In order to save printing costs, the PDF is all some vendors are giving out now. You don’t usually need to print them for them to be useful, but it would be good to keep a copy outside of your computer just in case. Technical Specs are the hardware specifications, gear inside your particular computer, your motherboard, your hard drives, your CD-DVD drives and any other attendant information to help define your hardware. Your technical person would want this document the most. A Customer Brochure will have general information regarding a model of your computer. It is not as precise as a Technical Spec document, but it is better than nothing in the hands of a skilled technician.

If you keep up with these files, especially when you get new hardware, it will help you when you troubleshoot problems that may show up when you connect that new hardware into your environment. You can also search with precise product names because you have the specification and model numbers in your documentation. Printers are especially difficult with all of the different model numbers and very slight variations producing a forest of devices to search through when you need help with your particular device. If you can, you should create a small network map of your environment if you have more than three or devices, as this will help you if you start having network difficulties in the future. You can also convince your network technician to do the same thing for a modest price. (A platter of brownies usually does the trick. Some might want money, though. Your mileage may vary.)

You Get What You Pay For

Fourth in a Series: Technology and the SOHO

Your real mission is to get the best value for the price, and ensure the longest functioning life for your technology. The best way to do that is to buy as close to the cutting edge as you can afford. The cutting edge is usually the province of gamers and hardware enthusiasts (with rigs that cost anywhere from $3,000 to $10,000.)

Normal non-graphic business users can get away with significantly less power (and cost). The range for a good business rig is from $650 to $1500 for a desktop and $900 to $2500 for a laptop. You can spend more if you like, but try not to spend less. The less you spend, the faster you fall on the obsolescence curve. Buy the fastest processor and the most RAM you can put on the computer. These two elements compose the most important devices you can put on a computer and are the most important factors in determining how long your computer can resist obsolescence. Here go a few things to remember about your computer to help you enjoy it for a good long time.

  1. Know your hardware and the software that you use. I know how hard it is for some people to focus on their computer’s age, processor speed, and hardware it has shipped with, but this information is very important, especially once your computer begins to age. If you bought your computer new, your shipping information should include all the most important data about it. File all the paperwork that came with your computer, you may not need it now, but two years from now, you will be thankful you have it.
  2. Know how old your computer is and keep track of the day you got it. Your warranty will be based on that date. You may be able to extend the warranty on the computer before it has expired, especially if the computer’s hardware has been problematic. Know the operating system that came with it. It is likely that your computer was optimized for that operating system and will work best with that one installed. If you have a very powerful computer, it may not matter what operating system it shipped with as long as you have the driver disks needed for installs. If your computer came with a set of CD or DVDs, keep up with them! You will need them if you ever have to reinstall your computers operating system.
  3. If you still have a warranty, familiarize yourself with what it covers and what it doesn’t. A good warranty covers all hardware issues and offers free over the phone technical support for software issues. A new computer should have at least one year of warranty. A new laptop should have a three year warranty (even if it costs more) because laptops are more likely to suffer problems due to their traveling lifestyle.
  4. Know your basic internal hardware: Processor name, hard drive, CD-DVD drive, internal cards, (video card, sound card) RAM amount and type of peripherals attached. This helps your technical support person know how best to help you when they come to see you or when you have to get tech support over the phone.
  5. If you got your computer without any specification data, use the free application System Information (Sysinfo) to make a printout of the most important data about your computer. The system summary contains the info you need. You can find Sysinfo under the Start Menu>Accessories>System Tools>System Information. You will be amazed at how much information there is to know about your computer.
  6. Know the names and versions of the applications that you use the most. This helps when you are troubleshooting, updating, seeking out new versions of your software or updating your drivers. Invest some time in mastering the programs you spend the most time with. Time invested with a program pays itself back tenfold over time. You can usually find the version number under the Help Menu or under the menu option, About <insert software name here>.
  7. Its time to buy a new computer if: you spend more time waiting on your computer than working on it. Let a tech come out and evaluate your system to make sure you have the most RAM and the fastest processor your motherboard can support. Let them determine if your technology is running okay, or if there are still things you might be able to do to make it faster.  If after a complete reinstall, you are still waiting, let your current computer go and embrace something new.


Pricing Estimates for PCs

User

Low End

High End

Vendors
Home Desktop – email, web surfing, simple games

$300

$600

E-machines, Acer, Gateway
Student – desktop; web surfing, email, office suites, proprietary class software

$450

$700

Acer, Compaq, Dell, Gateway
Student – laptop (mini-laptop); desktop, web surfing, email, office suites, proprietary class software

$650

$1,000

Apple iBook, HP, Fujitsu, ASUS
Entrepreneur – desktop; web surfing, email, office suites, high speed network connectivity, quality motherboard, 2 GB RAM, video card

$800

$1,300

MPCCorp, Dell, HP
Entrepreneur – laptop

$900

$1,800

Sager, Dell, Lenovo, Panasonic
Enterprise – desktop; web surfing, email, office suites, high speed network connectivity, quality motherboard, 2 GB RAM, video card, CD/DVD RAM drive

$1,000

$1,500

MPCCorp, Dell, Lenovo, Toshiba, Panasonic
Enterprise – laptop – armored shell, quality display, high end video and sound, 2 GB RAM, video card, CD/DVD RAM drive

$1,500

$2,800

Sager, Dell, Lenovo, Toshiba, Panasonic
Gamer – Dual video cards, sound cards, fast processor, 4 GB RAM, video card, CD/DVD RAM drive

$1,600

$6,000

Alienware, Falcon, Velocity Micro
Graphic Design/3D Intensive – fast processor, 4-16 GB RAM, large HD

$2,000

$8,000

Apple, Dell XPS, Alienware, Velocity Micro

Computers can be even more expensive than this but it is unlikely that your average computer user will need more horsepower than we have mentioned above. A computer is a personal choice and likely to be the most important technology you will buy after your car. You (or someone in your household) will certainly a significant period of time on it, so consider it an investment in your future. Spend some money on it, but talk to someone who knows.

“Obsolete before I opened the box!”

The computer of the 2004 as imagined in 1954

Third in a Series: Technology in the SOHO

You have always suspected it. It is true. Your technology is obsolete before you get it out of the box.

Planned obsolescence is real (where companies plan for things to become obsolete or ineffective as quickly as possible to maximize their profits) but computers are really developing faster than any other technology that has ever existed before them.

If cars developed as quickly and as effectively as computers have, you would have a car that would virtually indestructible and drive to the moon and back on a teaspoon of gasoline! A computer is the most advanced technology on the face of the earth with over a billion manufactured parts inside of each and every one.

  1. A tightly-packed stack of new $1,000 bills totaling $1 billion would be 63 miles high. In comparison, jet planes fly at 30,000 – 40,000 feet (5.7 – 7.7 miles high).
  2. About a billion minutes ago, the Roman Empire was in full swing. (One billion minutes is about 1,900 years.)
  3. About a billion hours ago, we were living in the Stone Age. (One billion hours is about 114,000 years.)
  4. About a billion months ago, dinosaurs walked the earth. (One billion months is about 82 million years.)
  5. A billion inches is 15,783 miles, more than halfway around the earth (circumference).
  6. This sophistication does not come without cost. Thousands of man-hours have been spent in the design of the manufacturing process that creates computers and millions more on the programming of the operating systems that allow them to do even the most rudimentary task of booting up.

You get what you pay for.

Your real mission is to get the best value for the price, and ensure the longest functioning life for your technology. The best way to do that is to buy as close to the cutting edge as you can afford. The cutting edge is usually the province of gamers and hardware enthusiasts (with rigs that cost anywhere from $3,000 to $10,000.) You don’t have to spend what a good gaming rig costs to get a box that will do what you want.

  1. Free is nice and low price is good, but sometimes, what you need will cost money and you will often pay handsomely for it. The trick is to be able to get help in deciding what something should be worth to you and what a reasonable price for that would be.
  2. This does not mean you can’t economize and buy effectively or wait until a good price shows up at your computer store but this rule is one that should always be in mind.
  3. Buy the best equipment you can. If after determining your needs, talking to a professional, and deciding what would truly be the best for you, you cannot afford what you need, then wait.
  4. Save to get exactly what you need rather than a poor substitute. My experience after buy millions in information technology is: Buy it once and buy it right. But if you buy it cheap you’ll buy it twice. Once for what you thought would work, and then twice because you have to still buy what was truly needed in the first place.
  5. Normal non-graphic business users can get away with significantly less power (and cost). The range for a good business rig is from $650 to $1500 for a desktop and $900 to $2500 for a laptop. You can spend more if you like, but try not to spend less. The less you spend, the faster you fall on the obsolescence curve. Buy the fastest processor and the most RAM you can put on the computer. These two elements compose the most important devices you can put on a computer and are the most important factors in determining how long your computer can resist obsolescence.
  6. Know your hardware and the software that you use. I know how hard it is for some people to focus on their computer’s age, processor speed, and hardware it has shipped with, but this information is very important, especially once your computer begins to age. If you bought your computer new, your shipping information should include all the most important data about it.
  7. Know how old your computer is and keep track of the day you got it. Your warranty will be based on that date. You may be able to extend the warranty on the computer before it has expired, especially if the computer’s hardware has been problematic.
  8. If you still have a warranty, familiarize yourself with what it covers and what it doesn’t. A good warranty covers all hardware issues and offers free over the phone technical support for software issues. A new computer should have at least one year of warranty. A new laptop should have a three year warranty (even if it costs more) because laptops are more likely to suffer problems due to their traveling lifestyle.
  9. Know your basic internal hardware: Processor name, hard drive, CD-DVD drive, internal cards, (video card, sound card) RAM amount and type of peripherals attached. This helps your technical support person know how best to help you when they come to see you or when you have to get tech support over the phone.
  10. If you got your computer without any specification data, use the free application System Information (Sysinfo) to make a printout of the most important data about your computer. The system summary contains the info you need. You can find Sysinfo under the Start Menu>Accessories>System Tools>System Information. You will be amazed at how much information there is to know about your computer.
  11. Know the names and versions of the applications that you use the most. This helps when you are troubleshooting, updating, seeking out new versions of your software or updating your drivers. Invest some time in mastering the programs you spend the most time with. Time invested with a program pays itself back tenfold over time.
  12. A quick rule to determine whether its time to buy a new computer: if you spend more time waiting on your computer than working on it, it probably means it’s time for a new one. Let a tech come out and evaluate your system to make sure you have the most RAM and the fastest processor your motherboard can support. If after a complete reinstall, you are still waiting, let your current computer go and embrace something new.

Moore’s Law states that the capabilities of computer processors will double every 24 months. Yes, this means approximately every two years, a new processor comes out and computers get faster. This also means that every two years your computer loses potency, effectiveness and becomes slower. Programmers write their programs for the fastest chips possible, so when this new software is used on your computer, the program will feel slower and slower as time goes on because it was not designed for your slow computer. Moore’s Law has been effectively predicting the capabilities of processors for years and is believed to be able to do it for another ten to twenty years at least before physical limitations in the construction of materials and the limits of the laws of physics (as we understand them currently) will prevent components from getting any smaller. They might still grow more efficient but that remains to be seen. When Moore Law reaches its limit, it may be that the current design of computers as we know them may radically change, almost as much as the concept of the computer did compared to the ideas of the 1950s and now.

Weird Al’s video “All About the Pentiums” is the source of the quote for this section. Enjoy!

So You Need to Design a Small Office?

Second in a Series: Technology and the SOHO

office_landingWhat does the successful small office have in it that sets it apart from the unsuccessful small office? The expectations that your time in your office is as productive as possible. Having the technology you need within reach, easily configured, can go a long way toward enhancing your productivity. Your technology list should include some or all of the following:

  • A good desk, with the ability to alter part of its height or the ability to raise and lower your keyboard and a good chair, also with the ability to raise or lower it as well as the ability to tilt it forward or backward
  • A foot rest to place your feet on, to help give your back the support you need if you are sitting for extended periods.
  • A comfortable keyboard and mouse setup if you spend a lot of time with your computer
  • A large and easy to use display (or two) to help you stay organized on the screen
  • A color-coded cable management system to keep your cables untangled and easily identified
  • A telephone headset if you are on the phone for a good portion of your time at your desk

Technologically sophisticated

  • A computer (needs internet access, either wirelessly or through a secured medium)
  • A friendly operating system that works with you, not against you
  • Well designed software, that is user friendly, powerful, works as part of an industry standard and reliable
  • A good printer (inkjet will work, a laser printer is better) I recommend the laser printer over the inkjet printer. Two problems are deal breakers for the inkjet.
  1. The first is cost. The inkjet printer is very inexpensive as little as $100, but the cost of the ink is prohibitive considering the output level of a cartridge of ink. The average ink cartridge will produce 150 pages and cost $50-100 dollars. The average medium volume laser printer can sell for as little as $300. The average laser writer cartridge costs $75 to $150 but will produce 5,000 to 10,000 sheets of output.
  2. The low cost of the inkjet printer is significantly offset by the high price of the consumables (ink). A laser printer is a significant investment but the quality of output, quantity of output, the durability of the device and the volume of output are far better than the inkjet device. The only exception to this rule is if you need high visual quality (but low volume) color output. Then inkjets are only a bit more economical.
  3. The second reason is output durability. Inkjet output can be destroyed by something as simple as a sneeze or cough. The ink does not penetrate the paper deeply and can be damaged by sneezing, coughing or even sweaty hands. Laser output is far more durable and stable and can be stored effectively for years.
  • A fax machine (or the technological equivalent to be able to send and receive a fax). There are online services as well as office devices that will allow you to send faxes (eFax Plus for $16.95 per month is one such service). Multipurpose printer/scanner/copier/fax machines are how most offices send faxes both from their computer and from the copier/scanner surface of the glass.
  • A copier (or the ability to duplicate a page successfully using a scanner and software like Acrobat). A multipurpose scanner/printer/copier often serves this function in a small office. This is not recommended for heavy duty printing as its capabilities are generally sub-par and printing is very, very expensive on an inkjet printer. You can use the scanning function to import documents into the computer, convert them into Adobe Acrobat PDF files and store them on your system, print them out, or send them to someone else as an email attachment.
  • A telephone (or technology that allows you to make a phone call such as Skype)
  • Buy a GOOD surge protector! Most places have questionable power quality. Old buildings are especially likely to have electrical spikes and drops in power integrity. Depending on where you live, more dangerous than just ‘dirty power’ is lightning!
  1. A lightning strike can have over one million volts of electricity and can destroy your computers internal components in seconds. A good surge protector protects your computer by dying instead of your computer if a major power surge should strike your power line.
  2. Quality surge protectors will defend against lightning, offer insurance coverage (at least the cost of your tech) and connect your modem or cable line as well. It will also offer spacing to support large power bricks from external devices.
  3. A good surge protector can cost upwards of $30 to $100 dollars. (Balanced against the cost of replacing your tech!)

Information-retrieval friendly

  • A fireproof and waterproof safe (not water-resistant) to protect your backup files (either on digital analog tape, CD/DVD, a small removable hard drive or on a USB flash drive) and your most important office documents; property deeds, insurance policies, warranties, etc. All of these documents and gear, should be stored in watertight sealed bags within the safe, (just in case the seal is not perfect).
  • Good filing cabinet or storage for reference materials, a bookmark system for storing important websites. I recommend the Google Toolbar online book-marking feature or the program Evernote (in working beta format) from the Evernote Corporation as online bookmark libraries. The bookmarks are not stored in your computer, they are stored online, so they are available to you anywhere you have access to a web browser.
  • Good asset management of all IT related documents, software, receipts, and warranties. A secondary external hard drive to back up your important files or a tape storage media system if you have a server or small enterprise environment and need to backup more than one computer. See Rule number 7, Backing Up.

Technological luxuries would include:

  • An iPod or other MP3 storage device – if the device has a large hard drive, it can function as another form of data storage for files you might need to transport such as PDFs or PowerPoint presentations.
  • A portable computer, portable printer, a webcam to create a conference call environment and a small removable hard drive – for the road warrior
  • A smart phone or personal digital assistant – If you communicate mostly by email, this is the way to go. The smart phone or personal digital assistant or PDA allows you to connect to your office and get your email and respond without the bulk of a laptop computer. Like any technology it will have its limitations and should be a part of an entire office plan.
  • A USB flash drive (2-4 gigabytes, with security features if possible) – One of the best technologies to come along in decades. You can store your data, you can install your programs and run them from the device, you can even store entire operating systems (Linux, easily, Windows with some work) on it and use them from the USB drive.
  1. The only weaknesses of this excellent storage medium are its size (so easy to forget somewhere or lose by accident) or its interface (USB is ubiquitous in new systems but not always responsive in older ones such as Windows 2000 or Windows 98.)
  2. There is a question of security as well, since if you lose it, you lose all of the data it contains.  New vendors are creating tools to encrypt your data automatically and several of these devices are already on the market. Kingston DataTraveler Elite Privacy Edition is a good example of such hardware.
  3. You can also use software to encrypt the data yourself but this is not without its own inherent risks. If you lose your password, you lose access to all of your files. If the password is not robust, it won’t keep anyone out. If it’s too robust, you may forget it. I have included PassWordSafe on the CD for you to experiment with as a password manager.

Remember, you get what you pay for!

  • Free is nice and low price is good, but sometimes, what you need will cost money and you will often pay handsomely for it. The trick is to be able to get help in deciding what something should be worth to you and what a reasonable price for that would be.
  • This does not mean you can’t economize and buy effectively or wait until a good price shows up at your computer store but this rule is one that should always be in mind.
  • Buy the best equipment you can. If after determining your needs, talking to a professional, and deciding what would truly be the best for you, you cannot afford what you need, then wait.
  • Save to get exactly what you need rather than a poor substitute. My experience after buy millions in information technology is: Buy it once and buy it right. But if you buy it cheap you’ll buy it twice. Once for what you thought would work, and then twice because you have to still buy what was truly needed in the first place.

The Care and Feeding of Small Office Technology

This is a series of documents dedicated to the use of small office technology and the basic concepts for anyone establishing a technology center in their home.The article can be downloaded in its entirety.

First in a Series: Technology in the SOHO.

Remember that first pet? No matter what it was, you loved it the moment you saw it. And then it hit you, how do you take care of it? Like that first pet, or for all of you parents out there, your first child, you suddenly wish it came with a good instruction manual. Then the beads of sweat start forming; how do you know if you are doing the best for your pet? What is the best food for it? Who do you ask? Should you check the Internet? These are all of the questions you should have asked before you took on this great responsibility.

A small home office is very similar. You started your business and hoped that it would take off. But the kitchen table is not exactly an ideal workspace. Perhaps you can still work at home, but you need a space with the right tools. Maybe your home is not an ideal workspace, so you decide to get yourself a small office space in town. Now that you decided what you want to do, you still need a list of things to get your small office off to a good start. This is that guidebook.

  1. You are the most important technology in your office. Nothing you buy is more important than what you started with. Knowledge is your first and best weapon. No matter what your job, in a small office, you are also the first technician for your technology. You have to take the best care you can to keep your gear working.
  2. The design of your small office environment needs to take into consideration: needs of the occupation, quality of technology, ergonomic requirements, file storage and retrieval space. Set your office up with comfort in mind.
  3. You get what you pay for. Free is nice and low price is good, but sometimes, what you need will cost money and you will often pay handsomely for it. The trick is to get help deciding what your new gear should be worth to you and what a reasonable price for that would be.
  4. Your technology is obsolete before you get it out of the box. Your mission is to get the best value for the price, and ensure the longest functioning life for your technology. Know your hardware and its software. Mastery of the technology and software you use most often is critical, because time invested in learning a program pays back tenfold.
  5. A small reference library is a must. You should keep a library of information regarding your network and other technology assets. Download and keep the PDF manuals and enhance them with books that may increase your understanding. This will help you troubleshoot basic problems with your technology. 75% of all computer difficulties can be corrected by the user without serious technical support. Keep track of your equipment, especially if you purchase new technology. Often, introducing a new piece of gear will play havoc with your existing setup. If you know your setup well, you can inquire online about the compatibility of a product.
  6. Be honest with your IT technician, when she comes to help you. If you are having recurrent problems, write down whatever you are working on and what happens when your system fails.
  7. Learn how to backup your important information. Loss of your business data can be catastrophic and over 50% of businesses that have lost their data go out of business in twelve to eighteen months.
  8. Maintain your updates and patch your software: A sign of the times is that software is never truly finished being developed. Even though you have paid for it, it often has undisclosed (or undiscovered) bugs and flaws that can only be corrected after you have paid for it.
  9. Install and run your defensive software regularly. There are so many threats out there, if you have anti-malware tools installed, they cannot help you if you do not use them.
  10. Listen to your computer. Try to be aware of its ambient sounds. If your computer sounds different, chances are it is having a problem. The temperature of your system may affect how it sounds; strange sounds often indicate that your system is in distress. Protect your investment in your computer technology; keep it clean and free of dust, dirt, food, liquids and debris that may cause it to overheat or short out. Get a good surge protector to protect against power spikes.
  11. Keep the number of a qualified technical professional; see her at least once a year. Be nice to her, too.

Best Hardware EVER!

  1. You are the most important technology in your office. Nothing you buy is more important that what you started with. Knowledge is your first and best weapon. Before we delve into the intricacies of technology and how it can be used in the small office, we need to discuss the most powerful computer on Earth.
  • You already have it. You got it the very first day you arrived on Earth and it still has the most sophisticated and adaptable software interface the world has ever known.
  • No other creature has managed to develop software as sophisticated, create and master tools as complicated as humanity has. Yes, there are other intelligences on Earth that might rival ours, the underwater phyla of the Cetaceans (whales and dolphins) but they have not managed to change their environment the same way we have due to our use of tools.
  • When fully developed, it has allowed humanity to master a near-limitless number of technological, scientific, social or philosophical disciplines, given us an opportunity to learn to speak over six thousand different languages, to navigate the myriad environments scattered across the surface of the globe, the ability to domesticate thousands of species of plants and animals, and even divine the hidden secrets of the universe using advanced mathematics and cosmological concepts.
  • It has allowed humanity to build some of the most spectacular structures in our twenty thousand year prehistory, and at one point enter the most inhospitable environments imaginable, plumbing the deep sea, scaling the highest mountains and crossing that boundary into the final frontier; space.
  • The award for best information processing platform ever designed on Earth goes to the Human Brain!

The Human Brain…

is currently the best computer known to Man. This organic super-processing computer has no technological equal on our planet. In overall performance, it is superior to any computer ever made. If you wanted to try to make a computer comparable to the human brain, using today’s technology it would:

  • Cover an area the size of the state of Texas (over 268,601 square miles!) and stand over 1000 feet tall (as tall as the Chrysler Building)!
  • Need to have a nearly infinite storage capacity, (when was the last time you bought a hard drive for your brain?)
  • Have to be able to process over 100 billion instructions per second! (take that Intel!)
  • Have to have the ability to handle 100 billion bits of information! (take that Microsoft!)
  • Have to possess infinitely adaptable software capable of upgrading itself whenever it wanted to! (you can develop a new habit in as little as 21 days.)

But if we are so smart why do we even need computers? Why do we seem so slow in comparison?

a) We don’t. Much of human civilization was completed and able to be done, long before complex computers were even in existence. We built the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World1, the Seven Wonders of the Modern World and sent men to the moon, all without the use of computers (the primary calculating device during the moon launch was the slide rule). In China, there are people who can still use an abacus faster than most people can use a calculator.

b) The human brain appears slow due to the overwhelming amount of data being processed. Unusual humans who are gifted, have specialized autisms or have suffered brain damage can exhibit computer-like functions like total recall, super-fast calculations or abstract thinking capacities that appear far in advance of normal human functioning. But the human brain at its best can be trained to do many of these feats.

c) Our sense of sight (which is our primary sense organ) is creating a visual information smorgasbord of sensitivity that prioritizes our vision, (what needs to be seen first, the cobra near me or that tree over there), can detect range to an object, discern the nature of an object, and determine what kind of benefit or threat that object might be to our existence.

d) Our eyes process about 575 million pixels of information per second, covering a 120 degree field of vision. This is a constant flow of information and we only discern what is important to us at the time, but no computer is capable of even a fraction of that capability yet.

e) We are constantly sorting and managing a huge amount of data from our senses. All of our senses are linked and capable of initiating information retrieval (so when you smell a cake baking you might remember your grandmother and all kinds of thoughts related to her) are all linked and processing simultaneously. No computer technology even comes close to the capabilities of our human senses!

f) Our brains do not dedicate functions to singular tasks like computers are able to: hence a computer’s apparent superiority with mathematical calculations.

g) We are also processing an entire virtual environment within our head. It is our abstraction of the universe based on our belief systems that we are constantly working with when we are interacting with the real world. This virtual environment is superimposed on our real-time view of the world, helping us navigate our way to our goals.

Why is this important? I mention this because many people have developed phobias about their computers or technology in general, preventing them from harnessing the complete power of that device.

a. Take back control of your technology. Have no more fear of your computer than you do your toaster. You put toast in, press the button and toast comes out.

b. Computers are just like your toaster or your refrigerator, nothing will come out of it that you did not put into it, but just like your toaster or refrigerator you have to be aware of what you put into it, to know what CAN come out of it.

c. Your computer will never do anything you do not tell it to do. So why does your computer do so many seeming inexplicable things, that you did not tell it to do? That, my friends is because computers are a product of their environment.

d. Computers will take instructions from anyone who knows how to tell them what to do. This could be as simple as printing your document or as complex as erasing your hard drive.


Footnote 1: And now a word from our sponsors…

Brought to you by the WikipediaSeven Wonders of the Ancient World is a well known list of seven remarkable manmade constructions of classical antiquity. It was based on guide-books popular among Hellenic (Greek) tourists and only includes works located around the Mediterranean rim. The Greek category was not “Wonders” but theamata, which translates closer to “must-sees”. Earlier lists included things like the Walls of Babylon. The list is at its core, a celebration of Greek accomplishments. Only two of the final seven were non-Greek. Interestingly enough, since the Colossus of Rhodes fell down after a mere 50 years (it fell in a massive earthquake in 226 BC), few historians could have seen it standing (Philo amongst them), and as a result; the exact form of the statue is unknown- but it is believed to have looked much like the Statue of Liberty.

Antipater’s first list replaced the Lighthouse of Alexandria with the Ishtar Gate. Of these wonders, the only one that has survived to the present day is the Great Pyramid of Giza. The existence of the Hanging Gardens has not been proven, though theories abound. Records and archaeology confirm that the other five wonders used to exist. The Temple of Artemis and the Statue of Zeus were destroyed by fire, while the Lighthouse of Alexandria, Colossus, and tomb of Maussollos were destroyed by earthquakes. There are sculptures from the tomb of Maussollos and the Temple of Artemis in the British Museum in London.

Wonder

Date of

Builder

Notable features

Date of destruction

Cause of destruction

Great Pyramid of Giza

2584-2561 BC

Egyptians

Built as the tomb of fourth dynasty Egyptian pharaoh Khufu.

Still standing

N/A

Hanging Gardens of Babylon

605562 BC

Babylonians

Diodorus Siculus described multi-levelled gardens reaching 22 metres (75 feet) high, complete with machinery for circulating water. Large trees grew on the roof. Built by Nebuchadnezzar II for his wife Amytis of Media.

After 1st century BC

Earthquake

Statue of Zeus at Olympia

466456 BC (Temple) 435 BC

Greeks

Occupied the whole width of the aisle of the temple that was built to house it, and was 12 meters (40 feet) tall.

5th6th centuries AD

Unknown, presumed destroyed by fire or earthquake.

Temple of Artemis at Ephesus

c. 550 BC

Lydians, Persians, Greeks

Dedicated to the Greek goddess Artemis, it took 120 years to build. Herostratus burned it down in an attempt to achieve lasting fame. Rebuilt by Alexander the Great. Destroyed by the Goths, and rebuilt again.

356 BC(by Herostratus)
AD 262 (by the Goths)
AD 401 (by John Chrysostom)

Arson, Plundering

Mausoleum of Maussollos at Halicarnassus

351 BC

Persians, Greeks

Stood approximately 45 meters (135 feet) tall with each of the four sides adorned with sculptural reliefs. Origin of the word mausoleum, a tomb built for Mausolus, a satrap in the Persian Empire

by AD 1494

Damaged by an earthquake and eventually disassembled by European Crusaders.

Colossus of Rhodes

292280 BC

Greeks

A giant statue of the Greek god Helios, c. 35m (110 ft) tall.

Toppled by an earthquake in 226 BC, with the bronze scrap removed in AD 654.

Earthquake

Lighthouse of Alexandria

c. 280 BC

Hellenistic Egypt

Between 115 – 135 meters (383 – 440 ft) tall it was one of the tallest structures on Earth for many centuries.

AD 13031480

Earthquake