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A Little Weekend Remodeling Sun 30 Nov 08

Beautiful_tools_geishaboy500I spent a lot of this holiday weekend doing some remodeling on this site.  Spending a lot of time wasn't what I had planned but as with many remodeling projects that is how it turned out.

I made a couple of minor changes and one big change by adding a menu at the top.  I placed the "essentials" in the menu to de-clutter the sidebars.  Included in this are dropdown menus for Categories and the last 18 monthly Archives and that's where most of the problems were.    While I was able to get the menu to work properly the dropdown was shifted way to the right of where it should be.  Fortunately Dave Weiss helped me out with some tips and suggestions that let me adjust the CSS (cascading style sheet).

If you're thinking of adding a menu to your blog check out Dave's suggestions.  I'm sure you'll find them very helpful, I know I did.  Dave also pointed out a great tool by Chris Pederick that is a Firefox addon that allows you to see your CSS and HTML code.  You can also adjust it and see the impact of your change as you make it. -- Great tool

If you have any suggestions for further improvements please let me know.  I'm always looking for ways to improve.  Some future enhancements I want to do are:

  • I need a new banner design.  This stock Typepad design is nice but not great.
  • A new photo of me.  I'm not really as serious as the current one makes me look.
  • Publishing the blog directly on mwschaffner.com.

"Beautiful Tools" photo by geishaboy500

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What Obama's CTO Should Do Wed 26 Nov 08

Here's a list of issues to focus on, including data security and growing our tech workforce.

President-elect Obama's announcement the he will appoint the country's first chief technology officer (CTO) has caught the attention of the IT world. It has a lot of people excited and has generated a lot of speculation over who he might name as the nation's first CTO. I think this is a great start, but I hope the new CTO takes advantage of the opportunity and expands on his defined role.

The brief job description states that the role of the CTO is "to ensure that our government and all its agencies have the right infrastructure, policies and services for the 21st century. The CTO will ensure the safety of our networks and will lead an inter-agency effort, working with chief technology and chief information officers of each of the federal agencies to ensure that they use best-in-class technologies and share best practices."

As defined, the CTO's role is focused internally, concerned primarily with the mechanics of IT--the hardware and software. This isn't surprising given that Silicon Valley was a big Obama supporter--the same Silicon Valley that sold us all that expensive hardware and software that would (supposedly) miraculously solve all of our problems. No doubt Valley companies are hoping for similar opportunities with the new administration; they have probably been using this to push their agendas.

Achieving the CTO's goals will be difficult. We've seen a number of government agencies try this unsuccessfully in the past at great cost. Government bureaucracies are very resistant to change, and if changes are not done properly, we may end up combining a number of fragmented bureaucracies into a new one that is even more bloated and inefficient. But for anyone that has had to deal with the government, I'm sure any progress is welcome.

Rather that focusing solely on the internal mechanics, I'd suggest that the new CTO focus externally on some strategic IT issues facing the country. As in the corporate world, the new CTO could fall into the trap of thinking that running the IT operations efficiently is the critical measure of success. While important, the real measure should be "value" (addressing strategic issues) moreso than "cost management" (efficiencies and best practices).

Continue reading "What Obama's CTO Should Do" »

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Words Matter Tue 18 Nov 08

Written_or_spoken_christy_b_2I ran across an interesting article, "Lighten Up On Language"  by Ellen Perlman.  What made it interesting for me was that Perlman talks about one of my favorite topics - the words we use to communicate.  Perhaps I should say it talks about how the words we use hinder our communications.

As she points out, "Language matters. It shapes how people interpret concepts — or whether they think about them at all. And whether, in a serendipitous elevator ride with a mayor or governor, a CIO could quickly make his or her case."  I couldn't agree more.

Perlman wrote her article for Governing.com and therefore naturally talks with public policy experts.  Interestingly enough she quotes an expert that illustrates how some words can dull your message through two example words commonly used in government: infrastructure and architecture.  Two examples that also have meaning in the IT world.  As Perlman explains:

"Using a big word as shorthand doesn't advance a technology department's cause with non-technologists, who draw a blank when they try to apply architecture to something digital."

Technical jargon and acronyms may be efficient and precise when talking with other IT people but when conversing with not-IT folks it is unhelpful.  Specifically, it can drive people away from our message.

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IT Survival Advice Wed 12 Nov 08

How to maneuver in the down economy and prepare for a rebound.

Coins_darren_hesterBudget season is upon us and we struggle to make plans for next year not knowing how the current economic situation will play out.  The recent roller coaster stock market and credit crunch has the corporate world taking a hard look at spending in all areas, including IT.  As we prepare for tough times, I thought it would be worthwhile to discuss a few things to keep in mind about managing under these conditions.

A rising tide lifts all boats.  - At the danger of taking this popular economic cliché too far, we need to realize that high and low tides vary in size and don't occur at the same time at all places.  In practical terms, that means not every industry or company will be affected in the same way.  Tough economic times can be a growth period for some while many others may be severely impacted.  Structure your plans around your situation, not what's happening to others.

Don't panic. - First of all, don't panic.  Times may be tough but the sky is not falling.  As a leader, your people and other departments are looking to you to make the right choices in how to manage IT under tight economic conditions and they'll be looking to IT to help them manage their operations with fewer resources.

Hope is not a strategy. - Yes, things will get better--at some point.  However, you cannot sit back and simply wait and hope for things to get better soon.  Take advantage of your budget preparations to fully understand your costs, what it takes to run various systems and what the impacts of cuts in any particular area will be.  One of the best things you can do is to present informed alternatives.  For instance, if we cut "X" it will save this amount and here are the ramifications.

Continue reading "IT Survival Advice" »

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Desired Windows 7 Features - Dependable Availability Tue 04 Nov 08

Window_h_wren_3I saw Microsoft CEO, Steve Ballmer speak at a Gartner Symposium a few weeks ago.  He was touting Vista and suggesting it has actually been a very successful product launch despite all of the perception to the contrary.  He also suggested that people not wait until next year's launch of the new Windows 7 operating system to switch from the XP operating system.  His reasoning was that Vista is a good system that can benefit you now and going from Vista to Windows 7 will be easy and trouble free.  Judging by the audience reaction I would say he still has a lot of convincing to do.

We are now starting to hear a little about Windows 7 and some of its features.  One of the things that is getting the most attention is the multi-touch capability that is very similar to the iPhone touch capability and Microsoft's own surface computing.  As you can see from this demo video it really is a cool feature and you'll apparently be able to do this on currently available PCs.

While this feature is cool and will certainly generate a lot of excitement I'm not sure it is enough for the corporate computing world to finally say "It's a great operating system, Microsoft has really gotten it right."  While this touch capability is probably then next big breakthrough in user interface I think there are a couple of things that the business world would rather see first.   The touch capabilities will take some time to become the dominant interface mechanism, applications will have to be developed and our way of thinking about how we interface will need to evolve.

The things I think the business world would like to see first are rather basic and rather than represent some new thinking are an outfall of current shortcomings.  These things are basic concepts that will only be complemented by new developments such as multi-touch.

So what are these things?

Continue reading "Desired Windows 7 Features - Dependable Availability" »

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