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When The Client Asks For An Elephant, Don’t Come Back With A Camel And A Story

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Do you realize that these requirements introduce a lot of security risks?

Yes, but. . .

How do we even know that the client is going to need physical devices?

Well. . .

I mean could they use an emulator instead of an actual device?

Ah. . .

And how often will they need to access each device. I’m not sure we even know enough to start building their solution. There are A LOT of unknowns.

What do you do when the client asks you for something you don’t necessarily want to build? We had built an environment for our client that was pretty locked down.

- 24 Hour security
– 100% camera coverage including all entrances and every desk
– A one strike policy on cell phones. Bring it on the floor one time and yred
– Turnstiles that prevented “passback.” Meaning, once the system knew you were “inside,” your badge could not be allowed to gain access until you went “outside”
– No paper
– No pens
– No laptops
– No thumbdrives
– Frosted windows on the ground floor.
– Multiple card readers to get in and no line of sight from outside the production area
– No internet access
– 100% of calls were recorded

I worked for Microsoft for nearly a decade and we didn’t have anything approaching this level of security even in our most sensitive areas. My current employer took security very seriously. Our agents had access to credit card data, insurance information, pretty much anything you would need to steal someone’s identify.

The call floor was a secure as we could make it.

And now, the client wanted us to take on a new line of business supporting their mobile customers and provide our agents for this new line with

- Cell phones
– Laptops
– iPads
– Nooks
– Kindles
– Multiple computers

It was a security officers worst nightmare. The client wasn’t much help. This was the first time they were outsourcing their work to a 3rd party provider. They could tell us what hadn’t worked for them, but they were less helpful on what would work.

We had multiple internal meetings. It wasn’t necessarily IT vs security, but as the IT project manager, I was trying to figure out how to provide the service the client wanted, and security was trying to protect corporate ass-ets; ours and theirs.

The executives had already signed a contract and they were looking to us to figure out how to fulfill it. Unfortunately the more meetings we had the more scenarios security came up with for how someone could use these tools to steal member information. We were getting further from our goal not closer. And we had a deadline for providing our client with a technical proposal.

Project Managers have an interesting role. No one reports to us, but from the client view-point, we own the technical solution. And yet, I couldn’t build it myself.

Look guys. We could speculate all day on how they might use these tools.

And we have to answer those questions before we can proceed, Rodney.

No. No we don’t. The fact is we will never understand the role until we actually start taking calls. So, we can pool our ignorance and try to guess on an answer, or we can do exactly what they asked us.

What do you mean?

I mean that the contract says we put these items on the production floor. We make whatever security restrictions we can, but ultimately we do what the contract asked us to do.

But, the security. .

Right. Put it down in a document and we provide it to the client along with our proposal. It’s called a Risk Register. We get them to sign off on the risks. What we cannot do is keep delaying because we want to have perfect clarity before we make a move.

Your job as a consultant or a project manager is to provide the best advice possible to the client. However, once the client makes a decision, sometimes you have to actually give them what they have asked for.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and one grandchild.

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How U2 Aided Piracy

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(Photo Credit: U2)

I’m sure it seemed like a good idea at the time. After all, U2 is a legendary band. And who doesn’t like free?

It turns out a lot of people don’t.

By now you’ve seen the U2 album in your iTunes application. Apple decided that you wanted it. They gave it to you. . .it’s like a gift. Why wouldn’t you want a gift?

Partly because if I have to take something, it’s not a gift. It’s more like a fee or a tax. But, worse is what that 500,000,000 “giveaway” does to the struggling artist, or writer, or musician. It kills them.

You might ask:

How does U2 giving away an album hurt anyone?

Because it reinforces the idea that music, especially online music, is not worth paying for. Why should I buy albums when I can download them off of Youtube? Why should I buy books if I can access them from http://www.gutenberg.org? If a picture is posted on the internet doesn’t that mean that anyone can freely copy it? (Not really.)

U2, regardless of the quality of their music, has reinforced the idea that digital rights do not apply.

I can see you now, saying:

Rodney, I think you’re overreacting about a simple launch promotion.

Think about this. If you go on iTunes and buy the newest Brad Paisley album, Moonshine In the Trunk, are you allowed to burn those tracks to a CD and hand them out to your friends? Of course not. You can make your own “archive” copy, but that’s it. Why? Because you paid for it.

Now, imagine you have a friend who doesn’t have an iTunes account. Odd, I know. Maybe think of a grandparent or something. Can you burn the new U2 album to a CD and hand it to your grandma?

See the problem?

If I never paid for it. If none of us paid for it, then it’s not really possible to pirate it. Of course, you can make a copy for grandma. And if you can burn U2 to a CD and give it away, why can’t you do that with your other iTunes songs? Does the U2 album include clever “share freely” stickers that are missing from the other albums? Nope.

Now, you might ask,

Rodney, why do you care?

I’m glad you asked.

I care because I am a content creator, and I have friends who are content creators. U2 can afford to give away an album. (The reported $100,000,000 from Apple means U2 isn’t exactly coming out on the short end of the stick.) But, most artists cannot afford to give their music away for free. I have a sister-in-law who is a professional photographer. She deals with piracy all the time. No, pictures on the internet are not free to copy.

Someone recently asked me if I worry about people plagiarizing my blog posts. Seriously? No. I don’t. I love and appreciate you readers, but if someone wants to take my writings and spread them around? It’s why we write.

On the other hand, I’m completely scrupulous when I post a picture. I always include a link to where it came from. Sometimes that’s the content owner, sometimes it’s someone who lifted the picture from elsewhere. Regardless, I know it isn’t mine.

U2 is helping the pirates.

Today is September 19th. It is the official Talk Like a Pirate day. I’ll leave it to you if that pirate would say

Arggh, Me hearties. More rum!

or

Can you copy the new Brad Paisley album for me?

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and one grandchild.

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or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

How To Spoil A Meal

Hey, Rod, why don’t we go to lunch next week?

Sure, Dad. That sounds great.

It wasn’t. I loved my Dad. He’s been gone about 5 years and I still miss him. But, none of his kids wanted to “go to lunch” with him.

Oh we did at first. . .before we learned.

Food is a strange ritual. We are not all that much different than our ancestors who would “break bread.” Meals become a ritual as well as a source of nourishment. Food has never been that important to me. (You Don’t Get To Pick Anymore.)

Last week I was in Richmond, Virginia. I arrived on Sunday. The rest of the team didn’t arrive until Tuesday. Monday night I was on my own for dinner. I found a local comedy club (Bottoms Up Pizza.) The Pizza was outstanding. The comedy was mixed, but everyone was enthusiastic. The comics invited me to come out to the shows for the rest of the week at various other locations.

Watching comedy is not for everyone. Tuesday night was going to be a business dinner. It wasn’t scheduled, or on anyone’s calendar as such, but with our management team in town and important clients in town, there was no way we weren’t going to dinner.

The executives left Wednesday afternoon and Wednesday night I was back trolling comedy clubs. Actually it was a bar, but a really cool bar called McCormacks.

While working for Microsoft I had a manager once whom I really didn’t get along with. (Finally Putting Down The Rock.) We both knew I was leaving his team one way or another. I dropped a comment that I really hadn’t intended to say.

You should really watch who you end up going to lunch with.

What do you mean?

The only team member you ever go to lunch with is Morgan. And she just happened to get stack ranked #1? Ahead of your senior engineers?

He had no idea. She was the one who did the inviting to lunch. There was nothing improper about it. The lunches were always very professional and above board, but he didn’t realize that Morgan was using the lunches as a way to sell him on her contributions to the team.

And to her credit, it worked. The #1 stack ranking probably netted her several thousands of dollars. It also protected her in the event of the team downsizing. You take the people at the bottom of the stack rank (like me in that case) first.

Prearranged lunches with Dad were always an opportunity for him to tell you what he thought you were screwing up on. Sometimes it was very personal. Often it was completely uncalled for. My brothers and sister eventually figured out that an invitation to lunch was the adult equivalent of a trip out behind the woodshed.

Like my clueless manager, my Dad may not have even realized he was using them that way. He didn’t want to have that talk at his house because it would be awkward. We didn’t have it at my house because he would feel at a disadvantage. So, the talks were held in a public place over soup and sandwiches. . .which eventually lost any appealing taste.

Eventually I quit accepting. I love my Dad and I knew he only wanted what was best for me, but it was hard for him to show it at times.

My adult daughter recently asked me to go to lunch. All of a sudden I was right back to being the child and fearing a tongue lashing. Did she have something negative to tell me? Was she angry about something? Was her marriage okay?

Why would she want to go to lunch with me!?!?

Turns out, she wanted to go to lunch so that she could see me and give me a chance to play with my granddaughter. No hidden agenda. No ulterior motive.

Sometimes a meal actually is about the food and company.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and one grandchild.

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or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

Five Percent Travel

I’ll see you next week, right?

You will? Where?

In Richmond.

Why?

Aren’t you still coming out for the launch?

Right. The launch. . . what line of business are we launching?

I started a new job about six months. Actually it was exactly six months ago today, March 17th. The original job posting was for a product manager. My job is to work with one of our biggest clients. I’m a dedicated PM. That means that when the client travels to one of our call centers so do I.

That’s not exactly how it was presented. The original posting didn’t mention travel. I asked about travel more out of habit than anything.

Probably not more than 5%.

I thought maybe an occasional conference. Maybe a trip to Texas to meet the client. There are 2080 work hours in year. (40 hours per week times 52 weeks.) Five percent is 104. I love my job. I like my boss, but he totally lied to me about that travel commitment.

In the past six months I’ve been to:

Texas: Twice
Richmond, VA: Three or four times (I honestly don’t remember which.)

In the next six months I’m scheduled to go to:

Texas: Once
Richmond: Three times
Louisville, KY: Three or four times

Flying isn’t as fun as it once was. Every trip involves at least once layover. Security is annoyingly invasive. The seats are so close together that the “sardine can” analogy is more true than not.

However, flying represents some unique opportunities. I’ve met with my company president in informal brainstorming sessions. I’ve had to make on-the-fly decisions that fortunately turned out to be right, but would have been passed through some layers of management if I weren’t at a remote site. And there is really no substitute for meeting people in the same room.

Being there in person changes people from a just a voice on the phone to real people. You can work with real people. A voice on the phone has no real substance.

So, I’ll keep packing my kit, shoving my overstuffed bag into the overhead bin.

I travel because I have a job. And having a job is much better than the alternative.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and one grandchild.

Follow him on
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or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

I Used To Have An Incurable Disease

Do you want to be tall, or do you want to be well?

My dad was serious. He was giving me the choice. I was 13 years old. Dr Lamb, had just given me the diagnosis for why I had ended up in the hospital with what turned out not to be acute appendicitis.

It’s called regional enteritis. But most people call it by its more common name, Crohn’s Disease. I’d like to attack it aggressively, with lifestyle changes and a combination of azulfidine which is a sulpha drug and prednisolone which is a steroid. Given your age, the prednisolone will most likely take about 4 or 5 inches off your height. It keeps the bones from growing.

What’s the alternative?

Well, most doctors treat Crohn’s by cutting out the affected portion of the intestine. But, we don’t really understand what causes Crohn’s. Often after surgery the disease comes back elsewhere. In fact, it’s the biggest worry about Crohn’s. We end up removing most of the upper intestine and people eventually starve to death.

But, you don’t want to do that?

No. I want to see if we hit it with massive amounts of azulfidine and steroids, if we can’t get it under control so that at least you can have a chance at a normal life.

That was the start of many years of doctor visits, blood draws, massive amounts of drugs, and months of bed rest. And slowly I got better. I abandoned spicy food. I cut out as much stress as possible. I learned some pain mediation techniques. And I resigned myself to being 5″ shorter than God intended and to a lifetime of living with a chronic disease. Crohn’s has no known cure.

I lost the height, but something strange happened on the way to that lifetime of chronic illness.

When doing international adoptions, the child has to be tested. Immunizations are sporadic at best in third world countries. Typically they are fairly routine. One particular adoption wasn’t so routine.

Your daughter tested HIV+. It’s not uncommon for children to contract the virus. We’ll send the blood work off to lab in the US, but that’s just a formality. I’m really sorry.

We were crushed, as you can imagine. So, now what? We had to decide if we could parent an HIV+ child. Would our insurance cover the drugs? Would it put our other kids at risk? Suddenly, we were confronted by the prospect of our entire world being turned upside down.

Nothing in business compares to the devastating news that a child is sentenced to a lifetime of illness.

Let’s move on to Networks. Jack, what can you tell us about the network status for our new location?

Not good. We do not have routers available. In fact, they won’t even be arriving until after you want to start training. I’m really sorry. We’ll continue to look for options, but it looks like we may be the team to cause you to miss your date.

There it was. Not a “worst case” we might be late, “best case” we get the equipment on time. Simply a “It’s not going to happen.”

And then, the miracles occur. A supplier suddenly finds an extra set of routers that just happen to be the same kind that we need.

Another time, we were not going to have the circuits we needed in time. Best case was 2 months after we were scheduled to go live. And then, a couple weeks later, we discover that we don’t need to do any construction to link up to fiber. Two months becomes three weeks.

Not every project gets blessed by miraculous updates, but enough do that it pays to plan for the worst and hope for the best.

And that’s what happened with my daughter. We fasted and prayed as a family. Our friends and church members fasted and prayed and when the second set of tests came back, the results were negative. She no longer had HIV.

Some will insist that the fact that she doesn’t have HIV and the fact that there is no known cure for HIV means that she never had it in the first place. She was simply misdiagnosed. To those people I tell the story of my Crohn’s Disease.

I eventually got better. By the time I was in high school, I was attending school nearly fulltime. I stuck to my treatment and medications and worked by butt off to attempt to have a normal life. And it worked. I was able to go and serve a two year mission for my church when I turned 19. I was able to attend college without any special accommodations. In fact, the disease went into complete remission.

And then, I found myself working for Microsoft in a very stressful job. I didn’t like my boss (I Finally Put Down The Rock.) And I was struggling at my job. And the symptoms started to come back. Not terribly, just a tingling in my lower right side, brought on by my increased stress no doubt.

So, I went to see a specialist before things got really bad. To test for the severity of an intestinal issue, which Crohn’s is, they give you what’s called a “Barium milkshake.” (If you’re lucky you get the milkshake. If you are unlucky you get something less pleasant.) The milkshake tastes almost exactly like someone ground up chalk and mixed it with a small amount of water. . .but, not as tasty.

A week later I came back to get the results.

Mr. Bliss, your results are negative.

What do you mean?

I mean that you tested negative for Crohn’s. And since it is incurable, it’s my professional opinion that you never had Crohn’s to begin with. I don’t know what stresses you are under, but Crohn’s disease is not part of it.

Of course, Dr Lamb was amused to hear that diagnosis.

I cut you open. I saw the results. I don’t know why you don’t have it now, but I will stake my professional reputation on the fact that you had it when you were 13 years old.

Miracles happen. They can happen in our personal lives, the lives of our children and in our professional lives. The world is much more complex than we can ever hope to understand. It’s governed by forces that we can only dream of.

I’m grateful that my project was the beneficiary of miraculous scheduling changes. I’m grateful that my daughter no longer has HIV. And I’m grateful that I was spared a life sentence of a chronic illness. And for that, I’ll give up being tall.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and one grandchild.

Follow him on
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or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

What Corporate American Can Learn From The Piano Man

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Excuse me sir, are you here by yourself?

Yeah.

Big fan?

Sure. I love Billy Joel’s music.

You must be if you’re willing to sit in these seats. Would you be willing to exchange your ticket here in the nosebleed section for one on the front row?

Excuse me?

Yes, that conversation really happened. No, it didn’t happen to me. My wife and I were sitting a few rows in front of the guy. We were in the rafters of Seattle’s Key Arena. Billy Joel was touring, but didn’t have a new album out. We were just fans who wanted to come hear his old stuff. None of us were sure if the ticket offer was a scam or not. The man making the offer had a name badge, but he also had a scraggly goatee and multiple piercings.

The tech show promoter had a problem. Not enough people where signing up to attend his show in Sydney Australia. He had plenty of presenters, but the economy was down and he just wasn’t getting the number of attendees he needed.

He had a couple of options:

First he could lower the ticket prices. It’s always easier to raise your prices than lower them. If you raise prices on a service or product, your existing customers feel like they got a good deal and they feel smarter for getting in early. In addition, potential customers who are “on the fence” are more likely to buy. After all, the price might be higher next week. Better buy now.

When you lower your prices you have the opposite problem. First, your existing customers feel slightly cheated. After all, they paid more than the people buying right now. They might even come looking for a refund. And worse, the fence sitters might decide to wait even longer. After all, the prices came down once, maybe they’ll be lower next week.

So, lowering his prices was not something the promoter wanted to do.

Second, he could cancel the show. This really comes down to a cost/benefit analysis. He’d already paid out a bunch of money that he wasn’t going to get back. Would it be cheaper to cancel and lose all his deposits, or risk a half full show and only lose some of his money?

Also, his show was sponsored by his company. If you cancel a show, it makes people worry about the financial state of your company. Perhaps they were mistaken to invest in your products after all?

The promoter opted for a third strategy. He went to his management and told them they should give the show away for free. It would mean $50,000 in lost ticket sales. At first glance this strategy seems to fly in the face of the “don’t lower your prices” argument. It’s hard to get much lower than free.

The thing is, the promoter didn’t tell anyone he was giving the show away for free. To complete his deception he needed an accomplice. He went to one of his biggest sponsors.

I have a proposition for you.

We’re listening.

I’m going to give away free attendance to my show in Sydney.

Okay.

But, I don’t want people to think it’s a free show, or they will decide it’s not valuable.

Why tell us about this?

I want to announce that your company has offered to sponsor the show. That thanks to your generosity, all attendees will have their entrance fees paid by your company.

But it won’t cost us any extra?

Nope. You get tons of free publicity and goodwill, and I get a well attended show.

The show was “sold out.” Once people heard that the attendee fees were being sponsored, they rushed to sign up. It was first come first served. (Actually, it was open to as many people as wanted to attend, but the perception of limited number of tickets helped drive attendance.)

The show was an overwhelming success. The corporate “sponsor” was thrilled with the exposure they got. The promoter’s parent company lost out on some attendee revenue, but more than made up for it in product sales and positive perceptions.

What’s this story have to do with Billy Joel?

The offer was on the level. They guy exchanged his ticket with the man with the goatee and the piercings. A few minutes later we saw him sitting on the very front row. Even from 100 yards away his beaming smile was visible. And then I realized the brilliance of Billy Joel’s strategy.

His concerts at that time had the exact same price for every seat in the arena: first row, last row, both paid exactly the same price. So, if you were willing to pay full price and sit in the rafters, it meant you were a dedicated fan. If Joel could get those fans onto the front rows, he would be playing to his most devoted and passionate fans.

Most concerts have a tiered ticket price where the closer you are to the stage the higher the price. That means the people sitting closest are the most wealthy, not necessarily the most passionate. Joel, didn’t offer the first three rows for sale. Instead, he packed them with fans who would have been willing to sit in another county and listen.

He lost out on some money that he might have gotten from higher priced tickets, but on the plus side, he gets passionate fans at the stage edge. The fans in turn get the chance of a lifetime. It’s a positive experience all the way around.

I just wish the guy with the goatee had made the offer to my wife and me.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and one grandchild.

Follow him on
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LinkedIn (www.LinkedIn.com/in/rbliss)
or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

The Power Of The Red Shirt

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Red shirt.

What does it signify?

Make no mistake, more than any other piece of clothing a red shirt is symbolic, both good and bad. First let’s talk about the negative stereotypes. In the original Star Trek series, (referered to as TOS), each department had it’s own color of uniform. Command was gold. Captain Kirk wore gold. Science officers like Mr Spock and Doctor McCoy wore blue. And engineering, headed by Mr Scott, wore red. But, in addition to engineering, red was also worn by security. And it was the unfortunate security officers who turned “red shirt” into a synonym for someone who will soon die.

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(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the 79 episodes of TOS 58 people died. Of that number 43 of them were wearing a red shirt. Most of the red shirts died without saying a word. Howard Tayler, of Schlock Mercenary fame created a character named Der Trihs.

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(Photo Credit: Tayler Corporation)

Der Trihs is redshirt spelled backwards.

Red shirts are also associated with positive images. The most famous one is this image.

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(Photo credit: Sasquatchfilms.net)

Tiger Woods is no longer the best golfer in the world. But, there was a time where you could make the following bet and get even money: Tiger Woods or anyone else. He literally took on the world. And on Sunday, Tiger always wore a red shirt. And it was part of the intimidation factor. Tiger Woods single handedly turned red shirt into a cool image.

Of course, part of the problem is that the nerds who watch Star Trek TOS probably weren’t big golf fans.

During my job as a manager over the monthly maintenance tasks at a large non profit, I wore a red shirt, (the one you see at the start of this post.) I never mentioned to anyone that I was specifically wearing the red shirt. It just became one of the symbols of our maintenance. Not unlike Red Tie Thursdays.

Today is Friday. And I’m also wearing a red shirt. The company I currently work for has a suggestion. . .in fact, a really strong recommendation that we wear red on Fridays to show support for our military. Red shirts can represent both incompetence and brilliance; disaster or dominance.

Clothes are symbolic. They can be uniting. And they can be a reminder that there are those who put themselves in harms way so we don’t have to. Our office will be a sea of red today. It’s a very inexpensive way to unite our team and honor a higher cause.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and one grandchild.

Follow him on
Twitter (@rodneymbliss)
Facebook (www.facebook.com/rbliss)
LinkedIn (www.LinkedIn.com/in/rbliss)
or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

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