Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Dead Grass....

The school in our neighborhood is Roosevelt Elementary in Nampa. It is a relatively new school, opened in 2002. Well since it has been opened, the grass has been neglected severely. You would think that we were in the middle of a drought and no one had grass, but the school is the only place without good grass. Unfortunately that makes it hard for kids to enjoy the area and when the heat arrives in May through October the lack of grass makes the playground a hot place to be. The solution is easy, spend a couple thousand dollars to fix the almost non-existent sprinkler system and re seed. I would imagine that people could volunteer much of the resources needed to fix the situation.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Looks like someone escaped...

Looks like someone escaped from the Idaho Legislature and went to the Colorado Legislature.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

IT Consultants....not what they are cracked up to be

There is a great column about IT Consultants from Robert X. Cringely. It does a great deal to explain why IT transitions happen as they do; off schedule and over budget. Also, why many IT consultants stick with inferior products like Microsoft Windows...if the products work as advertised then they have nothing to do. Read on...

The Truth About IT Consultants: Some are great but most are not.

By Robert X. Cringely

These days everyone in IT is a consultant, employs a consultant, or both. I'm a consultant, aren't you? Outsourcing, offshoring, LEAN management, a lousy economy, and covering one's IT butt have led organizations of every type and at every level to look outside for answers to their IT questions and often even to ask those questions in the first place. This has led to the greatest disconnect I have seen between job requirements and apparent internal capability in the 30 years I've been around IT. It's scary. Hardly any organization can get by without using consultants and -- here's the bad news -- most consultants aren't very good. So here is my advice on how to select and use an IT consultant followed by a grim list of the 10 most common lies told by bad consultants.

What led me to write this column were the troubles of a local company here in Charleston -- American LaFrance, the storied maker of fire engines. American LaFrance was last year spun off from Freightliner, the big truck manufacturer, which agreed to maintain the company's computer systems for a few months while the new American LaFrance bought its own systems with the help of a big IT consultant that rhymes with I-B-M. At the time of the cutover the project was months late and millions over budget. The company suddenly had no idea where it stood in any part of its business and today is in bankruptcy likely as a result. The company is close to failure probably because a consultant didn't perform as it promised. The consultant didn't perform as it promised most likely because there was no way to do so and still make money on the contract, which was underbid.

Who does YOUR IT consultant really work for?

So here's my guide to the various types of consultants, what to look for, and how to get the most good and the least bad for your money.

There are generally three types of IT consultants, which I'll simply label A, B, and C.

Type A consultants are hired to do a specific thing -- set up an email system, design and install a network, put in a POS system, etc. Usually the customer knows what they want before they find a Type A consultant to hire.

Sometimes a customer does not know what they want. These customers start with a Type B consultant who is supposed to help them think out of THEIR box, develop an improved business or IT vision, etc. In the early days when finding ways to improve things was easier, good consultants came to a new customer armed with benchmark data. They could look at a company's various departments and give some good guidance on what areas needed work. They'd tell a customer they were spending too much or not enough on xyz. One of the biggest roles of this type of consultant was to help sell the eventual plan to upper management and secure funding.

These days it is doubtful that most Type B consultants can provide any good ideas. They are mostly expert at being salespeople. The solutions they offer are often what their firms have to sell -- not necessarily what the customer actually needs. This can get exciting when it comes time to implement the project, as Type B consultants tend to be very poor project managers. They don't fully understand the technology they are selling so overruns are common.

There is another class of consultants that are mostly project managers, which we'll call Type C. These folks are brought in as contractors to help implement a given project. The good ones are like Attila the Hun and can get things done even in a very uncooperative environment. They don't care about making and keeping friends, just getting the job done. This is both good and bad. Good project management is important, but equally important is the environment. Getting Attila may be a case of treating the symptom and not the problem. Why is it so hard to get things done in your company? Could that be what is really holding back your business?

Far too often projects fail at the requirements phase. That was most likely the case with American LaFrance. The new organization was probably incapable of setting its own requirements and the consultant didn't help.

The next common problem in managing both IT projects and the consultants who usually do those projects is scope. Projects are often too grand by design or by default due to a lack of requirements. In either case you don't know you've bitten off too much until it is too late. This causes many problems and often destroys the ROI value of the project.

Remember that more than 50 percent of big IT projects fail completely with an ROI of zero percent, so while succeeding is good, not failing is even better.

The best consulting efforts are the ones that take a long hard look at the ROI and have a proven track record of making it happen.

The best consultant I ever knew was Christine Comaford-Lynch, who is now an author and a VC and no longer does IT consulting at all. A key part of her success was her requirements gathering process. She turned it into a very effective collaboration effort involving the key people who would use the software. The requirements would be tight, the project would be highly focused, and there would be little or no scope creep. When it came time to implement the project her project managers didn't have to be Attila's -- there was cooperation and enthusiasm. The training and start up of the application was quicker and easier. There were few surprises that needed to be fixed.

The Holy Grail of IT has long been the convergence of applications and databases into a unified environment where everything would work together. The original hope was to use relational databases and base all future applications on them. Next was the ERP wave. Talk about a huge and expensive effort! Putting in ERP was like a Borg invasion. Today we have SOA, which is even more complicated and expensive code that is supposed to be the glue between disparate applications and databases. Most of these approaches follow the classic computer industry business model -- make the customer spend lots of money and invest in lots of consultant time.

There is an easier way to do this stuff. The best consultants are the ones who come with a portfolio of products and tools. Their trick is to have a really good portfolio of stuff that really works, is really good, and can be sold and implemented quickly in a very cost-effective way. So it isn't necessarily a bad thing at all when a consultant offers to sell you tools, as long as they are the right tools and the consultant really knows how to use them.

What's key to my simplified concept of IT consulting is adapting a limited number of very robust and proven products and to do it all in a reasonable amount of time. Having fewer choices is vital because many companies will spend months or years making a decision. And some consulting firms will bill these clients a small fortune as things drag on.

Now to the 10 most frequent lies told by IT consultants. When you hear these lines spoken you have two alternatives: 1) fire the consultant on the spot, and; 2) bring your smartest and most crotchety nerds into the room and make the consultant explain his or her statement to their satisfaction then back it up with some performance guarantee and penalty clause.

1) "This can only be accomplished through a large custom development project."

2) "Of course your data is safe."

3) "We'll need a day or two for optimization and debugging."

4) "Yes, we've done this before. There are several companies using this product (or technology). They really like it."

5) "Server consolidation and virtualization will save you money."

6) "Storage consolidation and virtualization will save you money."

7) "The upgrade (or change) will be seamless and will not affect production."

8) "The upgrade (or change) will be transparent to users."

9) "Yes, we tested this thoroughly before installing it."

10) "If you install Tivoli it will solve all your support problems."

Friday, April 18, 2008


For those of you that know me, one of my favorite musical groups is Erasure. Erasure is Andy Bell and Vince Clarke. Vince Clarke was a founding member of Depeche Mode and was also part of the duo that formed Yazoo (Yaz in the US) with Alison Moyet . Yazoo was not around for too long and only released two albums. They did a lot to get electro-pop to the mainstream. The artwork from the albums and videos influenced many other artists. Including the video from Herbie Hancock "rockit". You can read more at wikipedia Yazoo are reuniting for a tour this summer. In preparing for this there has been a lot of media attention for them. Here is the site I wanted to share the video of "Only You" that was released in 1999 when Yazoo released a remastered compilation album.

Only You (1999 Mix)

Thursday, April 17, 2008

If you needed anther reason to HATE microsoft and Get a Mac...

In case you needed another reason to drop your PC and get a Mac... Here is something that might help push you over the edge. According to Engadget it "burns our eyes"...Watch

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Time to chime in...

The Nampa Public Library has been in the news recently, for nothing new. Just the same people trying to raise a stink about what they think is and is not appropriate. I am not going to re-hash all that has been said (there has been a lot). But I wanted to share the letter from the Library Staff to the board. They have some very valid points. I agree with the staff. We can not let one vocal minority dictate what the rest of us can have access too.

As a Latter-Day Saint, this is the kind of mentality that lead to early church members being driven out of their homes and off their land by hate mongers. Free and open communication for all sometimes means that people can say (write) things that I don't agree with and guess what; I don't have to listen to them (or read what they wrote). But they should not be removed from the library.
Here is the letter from the Staff to the Library Board (PDF file- highlighted by BroncoP3t3).

Macs are for business. I thought you knew!

Macs are business machines. Plain and simple. Excel was written for the Mac before it was written for the PC. So Microsoft knew that Macs were business machines. I guess the message hasn't got to all the IT professionals (see MS lackeys). Well here is another legitimate testimony of that fact; Macs are business machines. From Jupiter Research (source)

The Myths of Apple and Business Users

Michael Gartenberg | April 14, 2008, 08:21 AM

With the growth in popularity of the iPhone, there's a lot of questions about how suitable it is as a business tool. That question alone has raised the issue of how suitable Apple is in the Enterprise in general. Most IT departments are not deploying Macintosh systems in large numbers and those that are are deploying are usually in niche spaces such as graphic arts, multimedia and publishing. The truth is that Mac OS has changed quite a bit in the last few years and today's Apple systems offer a reasonable alternative for Windows systems for many mainstream uses OS X Leopard is rock solid UNIX at the core with Apple's elegant user interface on top. One of the big issues around business use centers on myths that still exist regarding the platform.

The first myth is that Apple computers are expensive relative to their PC cousins. While Apple is certainly not a discount brand and will almost never be the cheapest computers that can be purchased, they are certainly price competitive with PCs. While users do pay some premium for both the Apple brand and the innovation that goes into Apple's often brilliant hardware design, the premium is not out of line with that users already pay for name brand systems from vendors such as Sony, HP or Lenovo. In many cases, comparable Apple systems are priced similarly or in some cases are even cheaper than their competition.

The second myth is that there is a lack of software available. While OS X does not offer the same sheer number of titles that Windows offers, there is an abundance of business software for Macintosh. In some markets, such as content creation, there is actually more software available for the Mac. In addition, Microsoft offers a complete and compatible version of Office for the Macintosh so knowledge workers can easily share documents and communicate with colleagues across platforms. AppleĆ¢€™s support of web based Internet standards mean that most Internet base applications will simply run without modification. While there might be a specific application lacking that can hold back some deployments, most organizations might never hit that wall.

The third myth is that Apple architectures are based on proprietary protocols. While that was certainly true in the past, it is not an accurate portrayal of Apple today. Today, Apple is one of the most standards driven operating systems you can purchase. From MPEG 4 support in Quicktime to full TCP/IP support for networking and WiFi protocols for wireless access. (Apple was actually the first OS vendor to bundle TCP/IP support into a commercial operating system).

Apple systems can be a seamless fit for many organizations. Time to get over the myths and take a closer look.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Have you heard of R.E.M.? I hope so!

If you haven't heard R.E.M. has a new record out, Accelerate. If you haven't heard it yet, it is pretty good. Some people are saying the best since Bill Berry left the band in 1997. There has been a lot of press about this album. The band was on Fresh Air on NPR and The Colbert Report (two very different programs). There are overall, great reviews for it. Here is one that I liked. Here is their performance from The Colbert Report.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Idaho Legislature...

The legislative session recently came to a close and there are many opinions about what was accomplished and what was not. But something that is always brought up during the session is "The State of Ada". This is in reference to Ada County (The Treasure Valley) trying to force it's opinion and rule on everyone else. Isn't that what is supposed to happen? Majority rule right? That is how the legislature got so one-sided, majority voted them in. So it only makes sense that where the majority of the people are so should go the majority of the resources. Don't agree? Look around where does Idaho rank in resource allocation? We are not at the top of the list I assure you. Have you seen how long it can take for new streets and roads to be added to Google Maps...lower population = lower priority. Now I am not saying that it should ONLY be divided by population, that won't work. But those who live in more sparsely populated locations CHOOSE to live there and resource allocation is one of the trade-offs.

There is a great post on Ida-Blue that talks about this disparity and the realities of it...Read on

Monday, April 07, 2008

The Great State of Ada

Some folks who don't live in Ada County call it the Great State of Ada. I see quite a bit of this anti-Ada/Boise sentiment by N. Idaho commenters at Huckleberries Online. Here's an example. DFO, the proprietor of HBO, poised the first question below, and a poster (Spencer) reframed it against Ada County.

Question: Who's to blame for the Legislature's failure to provide funding for Idaho road repair this session -- Otter? Or Republican leaders? (Spencer: How about asking if the legislature did the right thing by not raising $200 million in taxes to fix Ada county roads?)
I guess the point is, gee, they don't want their tax money spent in Ada Cty, which is understandable but parochial. So, let's have a look at the facts.

A excerpt from the Legislature's Fiscal Facts.

First off, note the overall per capita distribution of various funds (some not shown here, visible on the linked page). Canyon County gets the fewest overall funds per capita, and Ada Cty is second lowest. (Clark Cty is highest at $1,297.12). Kootenai gets more money p/c, though not a lot. The populous areas subsidize the less populous.

Doing the highway funds math, it breaks out like this. Ada Cty gets $58.75 in highway funds per person; Canyon, $63.03; Kootenai, $65.68; Bonner, $72.20; Boundary, $105.03; Shoshone, $112; Benewah, $131.32.

Ada Cty has about 24% of Idaho's population. It gets $21 mil in highway funds. 24% of total highway funds would be $30 mil, so Ada is shorted $9 mil. Adding in Canyon Cty increases the shortfall to the Treasure Valley to about $17.5 mil.

Granted, that's not $200 mil. But, if Canyon and Ada Cty had an additional $17.5 mil PER YEAR to spend on roads, I think that'd take care of the problem over time. Of course, roads in the rest of the state would deteriorate pretty badly.

It just shows me that we're all in this together. Carping about spending highway money in Ada Cty is silly; Ada is actually subsidizing the rest of the state. C'mon. Do you really want to keep all money in the county in which it's generated? Ada Cty will win. Get over it.

Please, Spencer and others in N. Idaho, I'd like your response to this. I'd like you to prove me wrong. If you can't, stop with the anti Ada/Boise rhetoric.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Conference Weekend...

This past weekend was General Conference for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. It was a great conference, the new Prophet Thomas S. Monson was sustained as well as a New Apostle named to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, D. Todd Christofferson. I had the opportunity to meed Elder Christofferson last spring while visiting Salt Lake City for Conference. Elder Christofferson was one of my fathers instructors when he was in the missionary training center in the late 1960's. So my father set up an appointment and we were able to meet with him and he and my father talked about thier lives and how things had changed with the Chruch in South America. Elder Christofferson served in Argentina and my father served in Chile. and had recently returned there for a visit. It was a great time to spend with the man that was to be a future Apostle of the Lord.

Here is the press conference following his sustaining.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

It's the economy, stupid.

This is a quote fifteen years old and it is still relevant today. There are many issues facing our country today, the economy is just one of them. It is a large part of what will determine the next President of the United States. Anyone telling you that the economy is fine and that in Idaho we are weathering the storm need only to look around and the press reports and the Idaho Legislature. Last night on the news I saw Idaho House Speaker Denney say that the job of the legislature is to pass a budget and that the process that was started in January ended differently because the economy was not as strong as anticipated. In other words we are at the cusp of bad economic times (a recession). Then I just read two articles about business losses in the region, Micron had pretty big losses and in Tremonton, UT the La-Z-Boy factory is closing, 630 people will lose their jobs there. Tremonton is a small town 3.5 hours from Boise just across the border in UT. So we are not immune to the financial difficulties facing the nation. But people are still getting wealthy, just not the working people. The state legislature gives tax breaks for businesses while the average taxpayer making $30,000 or less can not even afford health insurance for his family. The family of which children will be paying the social security tax and medicare of the legislators who decided that they were not important enough to help.