Microsoft Account Mayhem

Mayhem

Recently, I purchased a laptop for a non-profit organization. The user was not a super tech-savvy individual, so I decided to get everything setup as much as possible for her. Since the laptop was running Windows 10 in S mode, I would need to first upgrade to the standard Windows 10 version. During the initial laptop startup, I avoided using a Microsoft account. However when started the upgrade process, the first thing Windows did was ask me to sign into my Microsoft account. No problem, I enter my credentials and wait for the upgrade to complete. As I continue, however, I notice that Microsoft added my OneDrive account and had started downloading my data. Then, I see that Microsoft Office is registered to me. Obviously, I didn’t want any of this. So, now I go through everything piece by piece and remove my account information.

A few days later, I’m at a client site setting up Office. I enter the credentials for the user, and am provided with an error that another Microsoft user is already signed into the machine. Search as I may, I could not find out what Microsoft was complaining about. Fortunately, after a reboot I managed to get it working again.

I really like how Microsoft has integrated their services into Windows. OneDrive is an amazing tool to easily share between machines, and using a single sign-on to enable all the Microsoft services can be convenient. Or, it can be a nightmare. Microsoft, how about you stop forcing someone to login to get a Windows update. Or, better yet, ask if we want to use that same sign for other services. While you’re at it, change Office registration to be more friendly for business users. I think we’d all rather have a product key than to worry about registering Microsoft accounts for every member of our team.

The Simplest Solution

Simple

When we encounter complex problems, do we seek the simples solution, or the most complicated and costly solution?

Recently, I had to upgrade a client machine. The old machine was running Windows 7, and I suggested that the client upgrade to a newer machine running Windows 10. Fortunately, the client’s requirements were rather simple – they needed Microsoft Office and the program they use for creating a lot of their printable resources – Print Shop. Their data was all stored on OneDrive, so this would be a simple upgrade. Or would it?

Unfortunately, the version of Print Shop the client was running was from 2006. We looked at newer versions, but it appeared that there was a substantial risk that their existing documents would not transfer to the new version without substantial rework. While the client was willing to accept this risk if necessary, their preferred route was to get it working on the new machine.

I started the installation, and patiently waited for it to complete. At the end, a screen asked me to wait while the installation concluded. I waited and waited, but the screen did not go away. I was able to run the installed application, but the installation would not terminate. I hit the cancel button, hoping the dialog would disappear and we could go on using the application. Unfortunately, hitting cancel caused the application to uninstall.

I thought that maybe there was a glitch or that I needed to wait longer. I installed the application again, and the same dialog appeared. It hung just as before. So, the first step was to wait… for three days. Unfortunately, the dialog still didn’t go away. I thought of just rebooting, but was worried that would, ultimately, cause the application to uninstall again. I could copy the files and the registry, but that could have caused more problems than it solved.

What would I do? I took the simple answer – I unplugged the machine. Since I didn’t cancel, and didn’t shut down, Windows didn’t try to uninstall the application. And, upon reboot, the software was still there!

While I don’t like unplugging machines, in this instance – it was the simple solution that worked. Sometimes, we need to put aside the technically correct answer and just go with what works. In the end, the client doesn’t care – they just want their problem to go away!

Coding Style

Writing

One of the most important skills for any team of engineers is to develop a consistent coding style. Without it, development and debugging times increase and productivity decreases. Coding style is much like the rules of writing a story. Sentences start with a capital letter and end in a period. New ideas are started in new paragraphs. Spaces exist between letters of words. If someone were to write a book without following those conventions, it would be substantially more difficult to read. Coding style works the same way.

One of the projects I worked for years was a complicated telephony system. It included low-level code for interfacing with the phone boards as well as high-level code for displaying data to the user. This was a lengthy project that took substantial time to develop. During development, John and I worked to develop a consistent coding style. A mentor on the team, Mark, would review our code, provide feedback, and fanatically insist on standard coding conventions and style.

At first, this seemed silly to me. I’m a developer, let me do what I do! But, as time went on, it became increasingly apparent how valuable it was. After a while, I was unable to tell the code I wrote from what John wrote. While this may seem silly, this meant that when bugs were found, either of us could feel equally comfortable understanding and changing the code.

Today, when I learn a new language, one of the first things I try to do is learn standard coding conventions for that language. Some languages, like Java, have well established and followed conventions. Unfortunately, many other languages do not. When that happens, the team needs to determine what conventions they will follow for their team. If not, expect bugs to take longer and development to be slower.

Electronic Check Payment

Money

Like many small businesses across America, I use QuickBooks to manage my accounting. While it’s sometimes buggy, overall it’s a great application. So, when I got a message to setup online payments for my customers, I thought it sounded like a win. Customer’s wouldn’t have to deal with writing a check, and I’d get my money quicker. Or would I?

I typically bill customers at the end of the month. So, when October 31’s rolled around, I sent bills to all my customers. It was the first time I enabled electronic payment services, and one of my customer decided to take advantage of that service. In fact, he had paid me within 2 hours of receiving the invoice! I was excited, and eagerly waiting for the money to appear in my bank account. And I would be waiting for an entire week. That’s right. In a world where I can email someone in China within minutes, or call someone in Australia right now, it takes a week for money to electronically transfer to a bank across the city.

This isn’t the fault of QuickBooks. When I went back to their terms, I found out that 5 business days was the expected turnaround time. But for the $10 fee they charged me, I actually waited longer for the check to clear than I would have if the customer mailed me the check to manually deposit in the bank.

How is this even possible today? How is it that banks – where I can withdraw money at an ATM anywhere in the world, won’t let me move money electronically in the same time period?

Well, as it turns out, I actually received an email from QuickBooks today – their new service will offer next-day payments. Thank you, QuickBooks, for bringing payment services into the 21st century!

Mac – Not For Business Anymore

Catalina

A few years ago, I fell in love with the MacBook Pro. From the amazing display to the incredible battery life and everything in between, the MacBook Pro is an amazing machine. Unfortunately, Apple started killing that when they removed support for standard USB and I decided not to upgrade. Now, Apple has placed the final nail in the coffin for professional users with Catalina.

Apple has grown accustomed to telling their customers what they want and providing few options. Whether it’s the iPhone, the iPad, or their computer products, you typically don’t have many choices. This has always been a complaint lodged against Apple by PC users. But during the last year, this has killed the effectiveness of the MacBook Pro for business users. With Catalina, Apple has removed support for 32-bit software applications. Unfortunately, as a business user, I don’t have the luxury of upgrading my system if it’s going to kill applications I need for my business. In the business world, legacy code and applications may exist for a decade or more. So, I need to support those systems until they are end-of-life. This means insuring that I having support for 32-bit applications well into the future.

So, as of Catalina, I am no longer an Apple fan. I will keep my current MacBook Pro until it is no longer usable, but my next machine will be a Windows laptop. I can pick what ports I want, and find the corresponding laptop. I can decide what OS I want and what software. I don’t need Apple to tell me what I want – I’m a business user and I know my tech needs far better than they do.

WiFi Calling

Vintage Telephon

During the last few years, WiFi calling has become an option for cellular users. This is particularly exciting for those who use smaller cellular providers, those in rural areas, or those in building with poor cell coverage. But how good is it?

I have two cell phones – one that I use strictly for development and one for general use. A few months ago, I purchased a cell plan for the development phone to use Google Fi. My personal phone uses Verizon. My office is in a concrete building that does a pretty good job blocking cell signals. I do, however, have pretty solid WiFi. So, it only made sense to setup both phones for WiFi calling in my office. Now, no matter what, I can make calls from anywhere in the building.

My Experience

Unfortunately, the only option for WiFi calling on my Google Pixel is on or off. I can’t specify which should receive priority – WiFi or 4G – and I can’t specify what access points to enable WiFi calling on. So, when I’m in my car (with cellular WiFi), my phone uses the car’s WiFi for calling. Hardly optimal given that I pay per megabyte for data. When I’m at home, I have an excellent cell signal – so there’s no reason for WiFi calling. But that won’t stop my phone from defaulting to WiFi anyway.

This wouldn’t be a big deal if WiFi calling was as good as the cell network. But, unfortunately, it’s not. Even on an access point without any other users, my WiFi calling tends to break up or be delayed. Sometimes, it’s so bad that the other party complains and I’m forced to call back later. Of particular annoyance is that there’s typically a several second delay after the other party answers.

While I think WiFi calling is a great idea, it’s not reliable enough – at this time – for me to rely on. If I’m in an area without cell service, I may switch it back on, but until then I’m keeping it shut off.

Sleazy LinkedIn Users

Bar

As a small business owner, I am always trying to improve my social network. It’s an essential part of business development and the main point of LinkedIn. During the last decade, I’ve communicated with clients, prospective customers, old colleagues, and people I went to school with via LinkedIn. Unfortunately, now that I’m a business owner, I increasingly find that too many LinkedIn users behave like they’re at a sleazy bar. They connect with me to ‘grow their network’, and within a month I’ve received a half-dozen unsolicited messages to give them my business. I find this utterly annoying. Just because I connected to you doesn’t mean I am looking to outsource to your company, purchase your health care, use your accounting services, or anything else. And your behavior ensures that won’t change.

Previously, I wrote a blog about Social Media Etiquette. In that blog, I mentioned the Like/Know/Trust model. The idea is that you move connections from the outer circle to the inner. I start by getting you to like me, then get you to know me better, and finally get you to trust me with your business. Unfortunately, when you start by spamming me, I don’t like you. If I don’t like you, I will never get to a point where I trust you.

Why are people engaging in this sleazy behavior? I assume, sadly, that it gets results. If you spam enough people, you only need a small percentage of conversions to consider your method a success. But what happens to your reputation among those who didn’t purchase your product? It’s possible that I may have purchased your product at some point, had I ever gotten to know you, but now I never will. You have lost a potential customer who, because of your sleazy business practice, will never be converted to a client.

My advice for social media: slow and steady wins the race. Develop meaningful relationships with people, share meaningful content, engage your network. Through this process you will earn friends. And we all know that given the choice of working with a friend or a stranger, nearly everyone will chose to give their business to someone they know and trust.

To those who spam me on LinkedIn: my new policy is to immediately remove you from my network. You bring nothing of value to me. I get enough spam in my email, I don’t need it on social media too.

MATLAB

Code

Running my own software company, I run into people trying to solve all kinds of different problems with software. As such, I end up using a variety of different technologies, languages, platforms, and frameworks. Recently, a client project required me to download MATLAB in order to experiment with several existing toolkits needed for the R&D phase of the project. The first thing I noticed was the price tag. Today, the overwhelming majority of development environments are free. However, MATLAB carries a hefty price tag of $800/year for commercial customers. After installing the application, I found out that the plugins (called toolboxes) averaged an additional $500/year. All told, this development environment was going to cost me around $3000/year after all necessary plugins were purchased.

Is It Worth It?

Seeing that MATLAB is so expensive, and so highly regarded by many in the research and academic community, I assumed that the MATLAB user experience was going to be epic! How wrong I was. The code I was examining contained dozens of files across numerous folders. Of course, this isn’t abnormal for any large project and I expect any decent IDE to be able to handle it. Any IDE except MATLAB. Need to find where a function is defined? Don’t expect any tools in MATLAB to accomplish that! Of course, you can do a find in files for all references of a string, but that’s not particularly helpful when a function is called dozens of times or has a short name. How about displaying a call hierarchy so that you can see where functions are being called? Nope – that’s not possible either. Ever aspect of the IDE proved to be well below what was commonly available in other IDEs.

If you’re not intersected in the user experience, I guess MATLAB is great. Apparently, its ability to perform all kinds of mathematical wizardry is beyond compare. It’s great for solving linear algebra problems and other advanced math tasks. Unfortunately, I wasn’t interested in that.

Open Source Code

I managed to find several open source projects and toolboxes for MATLAB. I was interested in understanding how these particular toolboxes work, so I started examining the code. MATLAB, like so many other languages, is a weakly-typed language. While weakly-typed languages do offer many benefits, readability is rarely one of them. MATLAB also does not require variables to be defined before use. This can be very difficult to follow particularly when the bulk of the code I saw contained neither useful variable names nor adequate comments to understand what’s going on. Very typical of people without a development background.

Conclusion

I was very disappointed with everything I saw in the MATLAB community. I assume most of the users are mathematicians and have no idea the kinds of features that are available in modern environments, so they have no idea what they’re missing. Likewise, I assume they’re used to digging through poorly documented code with variable names like g, f, c, and y. For me as a developer, this is neither acceptable nor maintainable long-term. For number crunching, I much prefer R. It may not have the most advanced IDE, but it doesn’t set me back anything either!

Value & Time

Growth

When we think about value, we think about the cost we pay for something. However, that’s a very shortsighted definition. We probably only consider cost as defining value because most of the things we buy are defined this way. For instance, when we go to a grocery store, we look at two brands of cheese, and the cheaper one is the better value. It doesn’t matter much which is the better quality cheese, it simply matters which is the cheaper cheese. As consumers, we typically only consider the cost. To me, the definition of value is far more complicated.

Buying Vacuum Cleaners

Twenty years ago, when I would buy a vacuum cleaner, I only considered cost when purchasing. The cheapest vacuum was the best value and the one I would purchase. But time and time again, I found that my value vacuum cleaner would stop working after about a year. So, I’d go back to the store and buy another one. I was paying about $100 per year to purchase vacuum cleaners. Note that now my value definition has a time element. After several years, I considered buying a Dyson vacuum cleaner. It was four times as expensive, but I had hoped it would do a better job than the $100 vacuum cleaners and that it would last longer. And today, 15 years later, I still have that same Dyson vacuum cleaner. If it were to break today, I would have spent $400 over 15 years for my vacuum. That’s a substantially better value than before!

Value of Technology

The cost of computer technology is very similar. You can buy the $300 laptop and expect to replace it next year, or you can buy a MacBook and have it for 10 years. But custom software is a little more difficult to directly compare since the price tag isn’t as clearly defined. What I’ve found is that when customers purchase consulting services or software development services based solely on the cost of those services, they often find that the price tag explodes over the lifespan of the product due to poor development. When you find the developer with the lowest cost, he probably has the least experience. He will take longer to accomplish the work since he’s bound to run into more snags than an experienced developer. He’s also likely to overlook things that a senior developer wouldn’t. These issues will result in additional costs during the lifetime of the application to fix in addition to lost time and productivity from your software users.

Conclusion

Paying for custom technology services is more like buying a vacuum than it is purchasing a block of cheese from the grocery store. The true value of those technology services will be defined not by cost alone, but by how long those services solve your technology problems.

Drive & Success

Drive

Most people would say that I’m a successful person. I’ve started my own business, enjoyed 20+ years of a happy marriage, raised a wonderful daughter, earned a third degree black belt, and done so much more. Of course, each of us may view success differently. To some, success may be earning their first million before 30 or to earn their MBA. Success may be marrying the woman of your dreams or buying the car you’ve always wanted. Regardless of how you define success, the formula is pretty much the same.

Drive

The relationship between drive and success is well defined. Tommy Hilfiger said: “The road to success is not easy to navigate, but with hard work, drive and passion, it’s possible to achieve the American dream.” Chuck Norris also recognized the connection: “I’ve always found that anything worth achieving will always have obstacles in the way and you’ve got to have that drive and determination to overcome those obstacles on route to whatever it is that you want to accomplish.”

But what too many people seem to ignore, is that the opposite is also true – without drive, you will have a very difficult time being successful. When I look around, the people I most often see struggling to get by are the same people who have little – if any – drive. They buy their next lottery ticket and hope this is the one. They put their money into fad diets because it’s easier than working on the body they want. They rely on whatever easy method or get rich quick scheme they can find. And where does it leave them? Exactly where they started.

My wife has often says I’m driven by a rubber band. She says that I never stop, and that she believes I could achieve anything if I set my mind to it. I’m thankful to have that drive. It has served me well. But to those of you who have not achieved the success in your life you have wanted, why do you think that is? Are you driven to success, or just driven to the couch to binge watch the next season of your favorite show? Are you as interested in learning Italian as you are sitting on the deck all summer? If you’re not getting where you want in life, what do you intend to do about it?

It’s never too late to change your life to be what you want it to be. However, you need to start by taking charge of your life and focusing on the things that will drive you toward the success you wish to achieve!