Disby Widget – Go Ahead – IM Me

The Digsby Widget ROCKS! On my blogs main page it takes up a little space and is a virtual IM screen. When someone views my web site, they are automatically given a virtual Digsby session and can IM me anonymously. For my low volume sites, that’s very cool. IF I ever reach a significant volume I may withdraw it. For now, it might be fun.

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Messaging from Heaven (aka Digsby)

I’ve been a tech head since Commodore 64’s were the mainstream method of dialing into a BBS.

Over the year’s I’ve accumulated a few e-mail and instant message addresses. Some are clearly the primary source of keeping in touch with the world. Others, for subscribing to more questionable world or communicating with people on another service as a spam mailbox.

One day I was browsing techsupportalert.com to check out their instant messengers. After trying a few out, I quickly fell in love with
Digsby.

So what does it do that’s so special? First it provides a single interface for logging into all the different IM ID’s that I have. AIM, MSN, Google Talk, Yahoo! messenger with the capability of logging into more than one ID on each.

An ADDED feature is it’s ability to status you on multiple web mail accounts. So I no longer have to log on to each messenger or each web mail site just to find out if there is anything new in my inbox.

I kick off Digsby and there it goes. All my IM’s in one screen, in one place, with a status of my web mails if anything new shows up. Click on any new arrivals and it opens your default browser to the correct web mail service.

OH, there’s more you say?! Yes there is. It also has the capability of tracking status of social networking sites like Twitter and Myspace. I don’t have accounts on either of those, but its a neat feature for someone who spreads themselves further than I do.

There is even MORE. On my blogs main pages are Digbsy widgets that allow someone to anonymously IM with me with no log on needed.

Summary: 1 – Browse http://www.techsupportalert.com/ by Gizmo. You never know what little kernel of goodness you’ll come across. 2 – Try Digsby to simplify your complex techie life. 3 – If you blog, use the Digsby widget. A neat feature.

Passing of a Techno-Soul

It is with sad heart and long face that I pronounced the surprising death of a long standing emblem of versatility and team spirited support in my household.

This simple Compaq Presario 5360 held it’s head high when upgraded from 95 to 98 as buggy and flawed as they were, enduring BOSD’s repeatedly and the occasional reformat to eradicate the last infestations of malware. It stood stalwart when replaced by new technology to reign in our household, subordinated to the role of ‘test bed’.

It saw a reprieve restored to full and continuous use when the household grew a new live-in member, though not the glorious position of top-dog it felt it once again had a purpose to fulfill in satisfying the needs of a teen-ager.

Ultimately, as with all things, it grew older. Obsolete was the word. Once again, pushed out of the production line into the shadows. But powers that be saw clearly that the Comapq still had a life of positive contribution once again as a test bed. With memory upgrades to the max, it underwent multiple makeovers and changes. Windows XP, Red Hat Linux 9, Knoppix Live, Ubuntu 5, Ubuntu 6 and Knoppix hard drive install.

Although 8 years old (born 1998) it’s demise was a complete surprise. The tester at the time had been trying to overcome configuration issues and startup hangs through multiple power on resets. Maybe this was an indicator of impending doom? No one will know for sure.

Then, the display refused to show anything. Never a good sign in any pc. Emergency response was called in and mobo diagnostics instituted. Power on resulted in immediate BIOS 13 results with no other result leading to or following after. Time was running out as more research was done. And finally after several attempts to find life on 6 August 2006, CQ5360 was officially pronounced toast.

In true tradition of any technology driven household, it was dismembered for all that was salvageable and desireable. It’s remains have been parked unceremoniously awaiting final disposal for display or disposal.

And thus we honor the passing of a little techno-soul.

Telecommuting – Its Your Infrastructure Now!

Telecommuting, work at home, virtual office all mean essentially the same thing. Having an employee perform a portion or all of their work from home with the assistance of simple office equipment like a computer and phone line. One can argue its driven by economics more than the beneficence of the powers on high.

The argument would hold a lot of weight. With commercial square footage, power requirements, networking hardware infrastructure, facilities, furniture, liability insurance etc. etc. employers could easily be averaging $100 a square foot and be nowhere near a prestige footprint in a major metro area. Easily $1500 an employee at the low end. In step with the modern age of widely available broadband, vpn networking, instant messaging and there you have a formula for a new workplace in your home. For less than $4000 initial outlay and less than $150 a month the employee is set up in their own home with no excuse for being late for work.

Vunderbar we all say. You get to work from home, you get to keep your job, you save on the commute, the corporate costumes and the dining out that inevitably comes from being away from home.

However, you are also now faced with the logistical challenge of ensuring you have a viable space to work in, productively, effectively and provide your own infrastructure. Someone out there is saying, ‘Huh?!’. Yep, you now have to provide everything your employer provided in you new work environment.

Granted, much of it you have to provide for your own home anyway. Water, food, shelter, heat, air conditioning, and power. All of that will now, to varying degrees, increase. You’ll be running the heat and air, using lights, and running pc’s for 40 plus hours a week(for full time telecommuters), not to mention any dedicated sqaure footage you may use. This should be a minor increase in the total cost of a home, especially when weighed against the savings of daily gas, corporate costumes and the dining out. It’s an upfront cost that can be accounted for with your annual taxes. Its something to be aware of.

Then there is making sure you have a good connection for data, whether it’s via a cable internet, ISDN, DSL connection, using wireless or old fashion phone lines via modem. These will ultimately be your responsibility. By this I’m not necessarily talking about the service provider, but the connections from your provider to where ever you will be working in your home. Whether it’s dsl jacks, lan connector ports or wireless adapaters for your computer it’s something you need to plan on. Where in the home will you work? What kind of construction is your home? Do you have pre-existing network connections or nothing at all in place? Will you be installing the connections yourself? Definitely stuff to consider.

Then there is the more technical stuff. Any outage or difficulties with communicating to your corporate applications and you’re not walking down the hall to the on site IT guy. You’re on the phone with whatever support will help you best. Whether its your PC support group, your broadband provider, your phone provider, the know it all nerd that you used to hang with, you need to know who to call and when. Nothing is more irritating than calling multiple support groups only to find out you’ve wasted an hour with someone that can’t help you. So this is a two point tip. 1) Write down all the different organizations you get support from in one place 2) learn the basics for each element as best you can.

Here in the lightening belt of the ‘Sunshine State’ and host to an annual six month long event called hurricane season continuity of power becomes a challenge. Not to mention if you happen to be a part of any neighborhood that has any level of construction. So, as good corporate citizens, it behooves us to find a quality UPS (un-interruptable power supply) to fall back on for just such occasions that may last for 20 to 30 minutes, enough power to allow you to save that critical document you were churning away on all morning, a last e-mail or call to inform whoever that you are off line and then power down. Ensure it has enough outlets with battery backup to power the laptop/pc, the broadband modem, and any power needs for your phone.

Do you have a choice of what phone service? If you do, I would strongly recommend considering a VOIP (voice over internet protocol) service. You should shop around with the more established ones and monitor reviews and consumer reports. Although still in its infancy as far as large industries go with some of the VOIP providers still learning the ropes and getting their corporate formula solidified VOIP can provide flat rate service with long distance throughout the United States with unlimited calling and losts of extras. They include a large variety of bells and whistles included in their normal costs, that can cost a ridiculous amount with business line services provided by your local phone company. Things like caller ID, automatic call logging, call forwarding, three way calling, on line feature control, voice mail alerts and voice mail audio sent to the e-mail ID of your choice.

An item on the list that I haven’t seen employers provide, a quality phone. The phone must have a mute. You have to have some way to mute out all the background noise of the neighborhood lawn workers, garbage trucks, passing emergency sirens and the occasional Scotsman bagpipes. Other nice to have features cordless (that doesn’t conflict with your wireless network), a speakerphone, memory for saving phone numbers, a voice mail waiting indicator (that work with supporting phone services), and a quality headset for hands free multitasking.

These are key infrastructure elements that can be easily addressed if thought about. Or they can prove to be continuous irritants that cause constant time loss and distractions.

Telecommuting – A Two Edged Sword

Whenever you meet someone for the first time the subject invariably rolls around to what you do for a living and where.

I’m a telecommuter (aka working virtual office, work at home, etc.) Working for an IT organization over the past fifteen years I’ve been blessed with the experience of telecommuting part time from 1998 to 2002 and then full time from 2003 to the present.

Almost all of the reactions I get are ‘That’s fantastic for you’ and they get that envious look in their eye. But they become baffled when I tell them it’s truly a two edged sword.

They all day dream of waking up, avoiding the long drives to the office and working in their PJ’s. Yes, it’s true you can work in your PJ’s and allow your personal hygiene to slip for as long as you want and spend no money on gas.

On the other hand, there is the total isolation. You only communicate with another human being when your on the phone or via the already impersonal means of instant messaging. You can never truly judge the other persons reaction through all of this.

Not to mention you really have no friends through all of this. Sure, you may have one or two people you work with that you develop a rapport with and can talk more candidly with, but when your entire strata of work relationships is scattered across the eastern seaboard, your opportunity for developing a true camaraderie is slim if at all. You can’t just strike a talk about the game passing in the hall for thirty seconds. Meeting for lunch and after work for drinks or maybe the Monday Night Football game are gone.

And, as much as everyone says they would love the isolation, (like marriage) that honeymoon feeling fades and you settle into a grind that is much easier to get through when you have other people around for the simple recognition that you are a good person no matter how hard the corporate grist mill grinds because no one passes by your cubby on the way to the water cooler to recognize your new hair or how much weight you lost or how well you handled that jerk in accounting.

Then, there is the work environment. You have to own a home thats conducive with residents that are cooperative with working at home. Working at the dining room table while the wife or kids or noisy large dogs or lawn mowers are going is not the best way to focus on what you’re doing and produce for the team. Trying to use a master bedroom when a mate wants to sleep or watch tv or have that discussion you’ve been putting off doesn’t fly either.

Then there is mental self discipline. You need the self discipline to ensure that you stay focused on your work rather than doing all the chores in the house to avoid that project you so dread. And you also need the self discipline to tell yourself enough is enough, you’ve slaved from 8am to 11pm on nothing but coffee and chocolates for the past week and you need to walk away, take a break and visit the land of the living.

Here are some tips for telecommuting sanely and successfully:

  1. Have a room dedicated to use as an office, preferably with an insulated door and a normal interior door lock to isolate yourself from the live-at-home distractions who invariably believe that if you’re at home, your free whenever they are. If it has a limited number of windows, all the better for noise dampening in the suburban setting when the lawn warriors are out in force and it sounds like the deck of an aircraft carrier.

  2. Set a schedule and try to keep to it as best you can. Start and end your day at a given time each day. And for heavens sake include a lunch break in your schedule. Just because you’re working at home doesn’t mean you have to be inhuman. A little break from work is a good thing. It allows you to regroup and finish out the day more refreshed. Healthy alternatives like exercise will definitely generate endorphins to combat cabin-fever. Or meet a friend for lunch. Or run a few errands. Or satisfy some self serving whimsy, just take that break.

  3. Avoid distractions in the schedule. Don’t think you’ll be able to concentrate on leading a conference call while sorting the laundry, doing the dishes, starting the roast, scrubbing the bathroom and cleaning the pool all at once. The distractions will take away from your ability to focus on the quality of your work. Try to limit all non-work related activities to non-work hours or at least to times of work when there is little or no demand for your attention. Additionally, don’t get caught in the middle of something you can’t stop easily if the boss calls and needs your undivided attention.

  4. Get the cooperation of those you live with. When you first start telecommuting, those immediately around you will have to be trained that just because you are at home does not mean you have all the time in the world to get things done for them. Getting a honeydew list from the spouse with a ‘before I get home’ deadline doesn’t fly. Things will have to wait until the work day is done. You’re time is supposed to be dedicated to working. On the other hand, using that ‘commute time’ that got freed up to contribute before and after your working hours will win kudos with the significant other.

  5. Telecommuting (aka virtual office) implies you will be using a few technology solutions. This post won’t discuss details. From my personal experience, keep it as simple and flexible as possible. I’ll cover more details in the future.

As for the conversation with those that ask about the two-edged sword of telecommuting, it’s up to you whether you decide to gloat or put a picture of reality out there for them. So for those exploring, consider the possibilities. For those with no choice, take heed. There will be more to come.

Advice to the Future IT Techs of America

Let’s look at a little history.

We could start in the cro-magnon of the technology era with the birth of the transistor, the birth of the CRT, the birth of the computer, or the birth of the Internet (by the way, Al Gore had nothing, zippo, nada to do with the birth of the intenet).

Instead, let’s fast forward to a more recent age. The internet is on the up-swing, IBM as a company had been suffering brutally at the failed OS2 operating systems market performance in light of strong handed exclusionary marketing tactics by MS. Like other manufacturers, IBM turns to overseas sources for production.

But that was only the beginning. They progressed over time to embrace the ‘International’ of the name to expand the business to allow non-US offices to take on more and more of the basic business production (programming, support, etc.). This allowed them to hire qualified people (albeit with potential language and cultural differences) to perform tasks that would replace the US worker that cost as much as ten times as much. And with the progesses in telecommunications and excess in bandwidth available across the globe, the process became a foundation of the business model.

Funny thing, they weren’t the only ones or the last. So, as corporations are pushing for high performance and lower overhead, US workers are not the prefered employee. They can hire someone anywhere on the planet.

What does this mean for the Future IT Techs of America? If you’re interested in IT, corporate IT is probably not the prime direction if you’re looking for upward growth, opportunity, income growth and a strong career.

Is IT dead? Not by a long shot. Local businesses will always need someone to walk in and provide the installation and on hands support to their offices. This is where the IT future is. Small shops and teams of people that can provide monthly installation, support, direction, administration and response.

But, with the excess exodus of IT pros on the streets either looking for new jobs or starting new businesses either in or out of the industry, you can bet that the competition is tough.

Get in with or start a small or medium sized organization for an opportunity at staying in touch with the real technology, the real customer and a career that can reward you on issues directly based on your productivity, rather than the desparate gasps of a US industry that is shrinking.