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Apples, Music And Email

Do you like apples?

Yeah.

Well, I got her number. How do you like them apples?
– Good Will Hunting

Actually, I do like apples. I have one of those mini-fridges under my desk at work. I keep it stocked with milk, apples and baby carrots. (Don’t judge. It’s my fridge, not yours!) Fortunately, for me, I really like Red Delicious apples. I say fortunately, because they happen to be the cheapest apples. But, truth be told, I like most kinds of apples. 

Do you know who doesn’t like apples? Apparently grade school kids. But, what if you could make one small change and suddenly the kids would start eating them? This study found that just slicing the apples increased consumption by 70%. We could say that the kids are too lazy to cut their own apples, but that’s not the reason. Apparently the kids were put off by the aspect of taking the first bite. 

Researchers found if you could just get the kids to start eating them, then they would continue. This study made me think of my days as a corporate trainer. No, I didn’t share apples with the class. We handed out peanut M&Ms. But, during the labs, when people were supposed to be putting their skills into practice, it would get very, very quite. Like a tomb or the awkward time in church when the organ has quit playing, but before the bishop starts speaking. 

Simon and Garfunkle explained,

Fools said I you do not know, silence like a cancer grows.

(Okay, Distrubed did a version that is even cooler. But, the point is that silence breeds silence. But, I found if I disrupted that silence, even just a little bit, it would shatter like a light bulb on a tile floor. 

I found that I could put music on in the background and it would be enough to shatter the silence. Students didn’t even know that they were keeping quiet so as not to disturb the silence. But, the difference between doing a lab exercise with music vs one without was profound.

At one point I was the manager of a team of engineers who maintained our email system. The email system was brand new and really expensive. (Yes, it was Microsoft Exchange, as many of my techy friends would have guessed based on the cost comment.) I started sending out status updates on the system as it came online. At first these reports were sent twice per day. We wanted to make sure our 30,000 system didn’t unexpectedly topple over because we missed a step. Later, I cut the reports back to once per day. And eventually back to once a week.

As the reporting period got spread out, I added content. I started reporting on all aspects of our team’s work. I highlighted engineers. I included historical graphs of our system performance. Before long, the report was many pages long.

Rodney, why don’t you just throw that report up on a SharePoint site and send out a link?”

It wouldn’t work.

What do you mean?

I mean that everyone reads this report. If I put it behind a link. Even asking people to click a single time means I would lose much of my audience.

And that’s what the kids and the apples teach us. We aren’t lazy, but we do tend to follow Newton’s laws of motion.

A body in motion tends to stay in motion

A body at rest tends to stay at rest.

It’s that first step that causes us the most effort. If we can get people moving, either by cutting apples, or playing music, or NOT hiding behind a link, they will keep going. It’s getting them started that is the key.

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 grandchildren. 

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

(c) 2016 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

What Not To Wear On a Business Trip

In hindsight, it’s easy to see where I went wrong. But, I was young and dumb. Years and years later, I still cringe at my fashion choice for my first Microsoft business trip. 

I have a friend, Eric Aroca, who is a motivational speaker and fashion guru. He has a page called The Walking Fashion Show. His philosophy is that as a businessman you are always being judged by what you wear. He gives great advice on not only general fashion trends, but also coaches men directly. It’s an odd choice of professions to me. Eric is great at it. But, if I think about it, it’s certainly a valuable service. I’m much better now than than I was early in my career. I could have used his help. 

I recently took a trip to an important client. I was the lowest ranking person from my company on this trip. This was a “getting to know” visit. We’d recently signed the contracts and we were working on building the personal relationships that all business depends on. 

I wore slacks, a dress shit, coat and tie. Okay, I was probably slightly overdressed. Most of the executives were wearing business casual. they had slacks and dress shirts, or blouses for the women. Everyone except one vice president. He wore slacks and a polo shirt. It wasn’t the polo shirt that I found odd. It’s that the shirt had a corporate logo on it. Not our corporation, and not the client’s company. It was a computer company. 

Maybe it was a former employer. Maybe, he bought it. Maybe it was a giveaway at a tradeshow. Regardless, it had nothing to do with either one of our companies. It’s not like the company on the shirt was a competitor to either of our companies, but it was odd to see this VP essentially advertising for a third party company. 

I rarely wear logo shirts. I’ve actually thrown lots of them away over the years. Microsoft was famous for giving their employees clothing. I got t-shirts, of course. But, also polo shirts, dress shirts, aprons, jackets, hats and even hockey sweaters. Friends have given me shirts from their companies at times. And it’s impossible to come home from a trade show without at least a couple of free t-shirts. 

I almost never wear them to work. There’s nothing wrong with it, but I just don’t want to be a walking billboard for some company that isn’t paying me. I’ll wear logo’d shirts from my own company. In fact, on our business trip, one of the shirts I took with me was a dress shirt with our company logo on it. I typically wear it with a tie and jacket during our product launches when I’m on site. Our client asked me about it one time.

Rodney, do you always wear a tie?

Nope. Only when I’m visiting with y’all. 

I learned that it’s possible to decide to dress down, say by taking off the jacket, or losing the tie. But, it’s very hard to dress up if you havnen’t brought the right clothes. that was my experience on my first Microsoft trip. We were flying from Redmond to Los Colinas, TX to meet with our support teams. Since Microsoft dress code was shorts and t-shirts, I figured I’d upscale that slightly by wearing jeans and a t-shirt. My manager looked at me as we met for breakfast. I don’t even remember what he said. But, the man who wore t-shirts in Redmond was wearing slacks and a dress shirt. 

It’s the reason why I was wearing a jacket and tie on my recent trip with the VP in his computer shirt. It would not have gone over well for me to correct the VP. He didn’t need me to tell him what to wear. Although, he could have used the services of my friend Eric.

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 grandchildren. 

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

(c) 2016 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

How Much Are You Missing Every Day?

What would YOU do in that situation, Carson?

The teacher repeated the question, not for emphasis, but to try to get Carson to quit looking at his phone and pay attention to the lesson. It worked long enough for Carson to stammer,

Uh. . .I don’t know.

Teaching 12 year old boys can be challenging. I know. I’ve taught this same group, and will again next month. Many of the 11 boys in the room were paying attention. A few of them weren’t. Suppose the information was really important to them? Do they care they missed it?

I recently read an article that decried the goal of a Zero Inbox. The author’s point was that anything that is truly important, the sender will follow up again. Is that who we have become? Have we become so distracted that we assume that anything worth knowing, people will hit us up a second time? Or a third? Or forth?

My family has a planning meeting every Sunday. We have eight teenagers at home, and with my lovely wife’s and my schedules, if we want to get to the important events of the week, we bring them up in this planning meeting. The kids are less interested. And yet, I wonder how much they are missing by not paying attention. Several of them have jobs this summer. We have a couple of family vacations planned. (One for my family reunion, one for my lovely wife’s.) Plus, the boys have scout camps, and two of the girls and one of the boys are going on a handcart trek: Three days of pulling handcarts across the Wyoming prairie to appreciate the early Mormon pioneers who used handcarts to travel to Utah. 

There are a lot of dates to keep track of. I’ve tried to explain to my kids that having a job means they will need to ask their manager for the time off. And if they wait too long, they may not get it off. And yet, they still don’t pay attention as we literally give them the days they need to request off. Maybe they figure, if it’s important we’ll follow up with them again. . .and again. 

We’ve become a nation of people staring down at our devices. It would be easy to talk about “the good ol’ days” before cell phones and iPads. But, personally, I don’t think they exist. By that, I mean that what we have is much better than what we had, just as cars were an improvement over horses, and electric lights were an improvement over candles. 

But, we still have to make sure that we are managing our devices and not the other way around. As someone with ADHD, I understand the attraction, and in fact, the value of distractions. Being bored, we can miss just as many messages as being distracted. I heard an interesting talk in church on Sunday about the need to stop and smell the roses. With modern devices, I think we need to also add the importance of looking up and noticing the roses as well. 

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 grandchildren. 

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

(c) 2016 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

That Man Isn’t Who You Think He Is

I may have been slightly, okay more than slightly, I just might have, okay, I was wrong about who was at fault.

Yesterday, I wrote a post about security called “Hey Apple, That’s Not Security – That’s Insanity.” I complained loudly about how Apple forced me to change the passcode on my iPad and it actually harmed my security rather than helped it. The post got shared a couple of times and sparked some interesting discussions.

One of the great things about writing this blog is that I get to share some of my 30 years of IT experience with some people who maybe are not as familiar with the industry. The other great thing, is that my friends, who are smarter than me, read and comment. That’s what happened yesterday. 

My friend David Madison pointed out that he has had an iPad for years and Apple has never forced him to reset his passcode. He suggested that the real culprit might lie elsewhere. And the real culprit was particularly ironic given mine and Dave’s history. 

About 25 years ago, I left WordPerfect Corporation to go to work for Microsoft. Dave was one of the first people I met in my new role as a Gateways specialist in the Microsoft Mail Support team. Dave and I both left Microsoft in the ensuing two and a half decades, but thanks to Facebook, we still keep in touch. Dave suggested that if my iPad had my corporate email on it, it was probably governed by a Mobile Device Management process. MDM allows a corporation to ensure compliance with corporate security policy when employees can “Bring Your Own Device” (BYOD.) 

The iPad is my personal device, but I do get my corporate email on it. And we do have an MDM process. And it required me to put a passcode. The email system that we use is Exchange. I have Outlook on my laptop, but I added my Exchange mailbox to the Mail app on the iPad. 

The MDM policy is based on the email security policy. So, the real culprit in yesterday’s rant was not Apple, but the maker of our email system. The same company that Dave and I worked for all those years ago. 

So, my corporate security team and Microsoft Exchange required me to reset my passcode. It’s still not a way of improving security, but neither is it Apple’s problem. 

Sorry, Apple. My bad. Or rather, Microsoft’s. 

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 grandchildren. 

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

(c) 2016 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

Hey Apple, That’s Not Security – That’s Insanity

I’m an IT professional. That means, I don’t ever backup my own data files, but I keep my systems secure. I know not to click on links in unsolicited emails. I know that there’s no way to find out who has been viewing my Facebook profile. I realize that I’m not the 1,000,000th visitor today and I did not win an XBox. 

I do many practical things to safeguard my online security. I have strong passwords that are more than six characters long and include a mix of upper and lowercase letters with numbers and special characters. I have two step authentication enabled for my social media and email accounts, meaning that even if you knew the password for my Facebook account, when you tried to hack into it, you would also have to gain access to my phone so that you could read the one-time security code that Microsoft texts me each time I log in. 

I protect my hardware as well. If you were to steal my phone, you would need a passcode to turn it on. Try guessing too many times and the phone will wipe it’s memory. (Something, I’m very aware of after the second fat-fingered mistyping of my passcode.) My laptop has the harddrive encrypted with BitLocker. When, I boot it up, I have to type in a code. 


I’m also aware of how much I just compromised my security by telling you all the ways I stay secure. My point is that, I get it. I understand why security is important, and I understand how to keep my systems and devices secure. That’s why the message I got on my iPad this morning was so annoying. 

THE PASSCODE ON YOUR iPAD HAS EXPIRED. PLEASE RESET YOUR PASSCODE

This is one of the worst abuses in the name of “security,” I’ve seen in a long, long time. Apple is not making me more secure. They are making me less secure. The fact that they are telling me it’s for my own good is maddening. 

Resetting your password is a good idea. My work account resets on a pretty short schedule. (No, I’m not going to tell you what the schedule is. Because, you know. . .security!) I have a plan in place for how to ensure my work password is secure and also so that I can remember it as I change it on a regular basis. 

My bank makes me change my passcode on a regular basis. Most of my social media accounts and email accounts do too. And I’m fine with that. It’s a security best practice. I might grumble at the extra 2 minutes it takes me to update my devices with a new email password, but I understand it’s value. Changing the passwords on a regular basis makes the system more secure.

Changing my passcode is different. 


Changing my passcode doesn’t make me more secure. It makes me less secure. Let’s talk about how it weakens security. I have committed my passcode to memory, of course. When I open my iPad, I enter it almost without consciously thinking about it. Changing it means that I now have to think I about it. I have to try to remember it. I might even be tempted to write it down. Logging in goes from being a natural act to an unnatural one. It breaks the routine. 

Think about when you were in Junior High School. The first week of class, everyone carried around little slips of paper with their locker combination on it. You had to pull that out of your pocket every time you stopped between classes and carefully go through the sequence. . .twice, because you forgot that you have to go all the way around on the second number. But, eventually you memorized it. You could get your locker opened, switch books and still have enough time to run to the hall where the cute girl would be walking by. 

You were never asked half way through the school year to change your locker combination. Should you have been? Wouldn’t it make it more secure if we changed up everyone’s combination on a regular basis? Of course not. In fact, it would weaken security. You’d have everyone walking around with those little slips of paper again. 

The passcode on the iPad is like that. Passwords need to be changed on a regular basis because they are vulnerable to hacking. If someone can compromise a system that you have an account on, they can get access to your password, and therefore to your account. And since hackers do not always announce when they have compromised a system, it’s a good idea to regularly force users to change their passwords. 

However, your Junior High locker combination wasn’t stored in a vulnerable location. You had a copy and somewhere the office had some master list with serial numbers matched to combinations. But, unless you shared it with someone, it was secure. Now think about your iPad. That passcode is stored locally. It’s not sent to Apple. It’s not in some master database somewhere online that is succeptible to hacking. 

No one can hack their way into finding out your passcode. It’s like your locker combination. It exists in one place. It’s not a password. Changing it no more secures your iPad than switching combination locks would make your locker more secure. I wish the Apple engineers would figure that out. 

Of course, being a professional IT person, I realized that I can change my passcode back. Not immediately. Apple keeps track of your last passcode and won’t let you reset the passcode to the one you used previously. However, if you change it enough times, you can eventually get back to the point you can reset your locker to the original combination. How many previous passcodes does it save? I’m not going to say. Because, you know. . .security.

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 grandchildren. 

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

(c) 2016 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

Where Were You When?

It’s strange how certain dates stick in our minds. Today is one of those dates, one of those “Where were you when?” days. 

Sometimes we remember a date because it’s unique and combined with a personally significant event. For example, I will always remember the original release date of Novell GroupWise. It was called WordPerfect Office when it launched. And for marketing reasons it was called version 2.0. It’s official release date was August eighth, 1988. Let’s write that with slightly different notation: 8/8/88. The first service patch was released 10/10/88. Likewise WordPerfect 5.0 was released on May 5th, 5/5. (I don’t remember the year, because it wasn’t a year with a “5.”)

Sometimes the date becomes significant, but we forget way. Cinco de Mayo, is a huge celebration in the United States, even more than it is celebrated in Mexico. It occurs on May 5th, of course. But, most Americans couldn’t tell you why it’s significant. If pressed we might offer up a suggestion of “Mexico’s Independence Day.” It’s not. It’s the date of a significant battle between the Mexicans and the French. 

Even July 4th, which most Americans can identify was “Independence day” isn’t well understood. We know it’s Independence Day, but independence from what? Taxes? Slavery? Aliens? Even people who understand it, don’t really understand it. They will tell you it is the day the Declaration of Independence was signed, declaring our Freedom from Great Britain. That’s almost right. It’s the day the declaration was ratified, meaning it passed the Continental Congress. The document was signed weeks later. (Yes, that picture on the back of the $2 bill is an historical lie.)


(Image subject to copyright) 

Other times, the event itself is so shocking, so noteworthy, that the date becomes impossible to forget. September 11th, is one  of those days. No one who was old enough to watch television that day will ever forget. Often we remember where we were, what we were doing, who we were with. 

Today, May 18th, is one of those days for me. Thirty-six years ago today, I was 14 years old, living with my family in Olympia, WA. It was a Sunday morning and my brother Richard and I were getting ready to go to church. At about 8:30, some 200 miles to the South, a mountain blew up. In one of the most spectacular and well documented eruptions in history, Mt Saint Helens blew over 1,300 feet of dirt, rocks and mostly ash off the top of what had been one of the prettiest  mountains in the Cascade range. The ash cloud was visible for miles. I remember standing on my front porch looking South. The southern sky was filled with clouds. Living in Western Washington, that wasn’t unusual. These clouds however, were growing. Just standing and watching, I could literally see them climbing into the sky. The ash cloud would reach 80,000 feet: fifteen miles into the air. 


The explosion was estimated to be in the 10-50 megaton nuclear bomb range. The largest man-made explosion ever was a 50-megaton bomb. (1 megaton is equivalent to one million tons of TNT.) The eruption was 2500 times as powerful as the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima. 

Fifty-seven people died in the explosion, we think. There’s still some debate, but that number is pretty close. One of the most colorful characters was an old man named Harry S Truman. He was essentially a hermit who lived in a cabin in the forest on the mountain. When the earthquakes started a few weeks before the actual eruption, the area around the mountain was evacuated. Harry, refused to go. He insisted that he had lived his life on the mountain and that’s where he wanted to die. 

But, Harry, we don’t want to leave you all by yourself up here. 

I won’t be by myself.

Who else is here?

I’ll have the company of Jim Beam, Johnnie Walker and Jack Daniels.

(For my non-drinker friends, those are the name of popular whiskey brands.) 

No trace was ever found of Harry or his cabin. He probably died before he even knew what hit him. 

Here’s to Harry and the other 55, or so people who lost their lives that day. Our small efforts to reshape the environment pale compared to what nature can occomplish in an instant. 

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 grandchildren. 

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

(c) 2016 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

The Worst Part Of My Trip Was His Best

Each step was agony. And it didn’t have to be this way. I mean, we planned better than this. Here I was literally stomping steps in the snow as my knees complained with each step. And yet, I shouldn’t have to do this.

We’d summited Mt Baldy with a group of 6 Boy Scouts and one Cub Scout after about a three hour hike. 


The trail back to our gear descended along the north face. In North America the north face is the last to lose it’s snow. And there was still plenty of snow. We’d hiked through some of it on the trail on the way up. But, we had another idea for the trip down. 

You know, Rodney, you could ski down this mountain and cut a good hour off our return trip.

You have a funny definition of the word ‘you.’

The other leader was an accomplished skier. I’ve been skiing twice. Mostly so that I didn’t have to tell people I lived in Utah and never went skiing. 

No, it’s easy. You sort of set your feet and ski/slide down the snow. I can give my two boys permission to do it. And you could give your two sons permission. But, we’d need to ask the rest of the boys.

When we explained it to them, the boys’ reaction ranged from enthusiastic to guarded agreement. The process is pretty simple. It’s sort of like running and sliding on the ice. Only you are going down hill, around trees, in the snow. 


For the first 75 yards the boys had a great time. At that point a couple of them decided they were done. The problem is that there was literally no where for them to go other than down. The trail was 75 yards up a very steep slide covered with snow. 

It was at this point that our entire adventure changed. Several boys darted ahead with the other leader. But, a group of three hung back and tried to gingerly pick their way down the slope through the trees and the brush on the side of the snow field. We were probably about a half mile above where we would intersect with the trail. The boys were going to have to push through until we got out of the snow and trees. 

Now what?

Our quick shortcut had just turned into a much longer delay. No matter how much we encouraged them, the boys were not interested in sliding on the snow any more. Their hands were quickly torn up by the rough bark and sticks in the underbrush. 

My solution was to create a stairway for them. I walked out to the middle of the snowpack, where the sun had melted the top layer and began stomping steps. 

Just follow me, boys. Walk in my footsteps. Go slow and you’ll make it down just fine. 

I’ve had aching knees since I was a teenager. A years long bout of steroids to treat Crohns when I was 14 had left me with little cartilidge between the bones. I knew the hike was going to be painful, but this side trip was brutal. 

Stomp, stomp.

The snow was soft enough to break through, but I really had to dig my heal in to create an effective step. 

Stomp, stomp.

Knowing the boys were following, I intentionally made the steps close together. No more than six inches from the toe of one step to the heal of the next. 

Stomp, stomp.

I use a walking stick to take some of the load off my knees. However, I’d surrendered it to one of the boys to help him navigate the slipperly slope. 

Stomp, stomp.

Stomp, stomp.

The other boys were far ahead of us. Occasionally, I’d catch glimpses of them through the trees, or hear them laughing as one of them slipped and crashed into his friend. Meanwhile, I continued my slow, painful trudge down the mountain. 

I love working with scouts, but I was really struggling to remember that, as I built my snowy staircase down the mountain. Eventually, we saw the trail below us. I stomped my way to the edge of the snow.

I think you boys can get there through the trees from here.

I was beat. We still had five miles to get back to the trailhead at the mouth of Battle Creek canyon. I hobbled my way down. I’d retrieved my walking stick and used it as a crutch to lever myself down the rocky trail. 


It really was a wonderful trip. The weather, so terrible the last two years was gorgeous. The boys, several of whom were not sure they could go on at times, all made it to the top of the mountain and back down. Teaching a 12 year old that he can do hard things is always rewarding. 

The only negative experience for me was the trip through the snow. I enjoyed skiing down the first run. It would have been a blast to “ski” down the mountain instead of plodding along six inches at a time, while thrashing my knees. But, you can’t have everything, right? Take the good with the bad and all that.

The next day I saw most of the boys at church. Our troop is associated with our church group. The boys were walking a little stiff. One of the mom’s came up to thank me for taking her son hiking. He was one whom I had really encouraged to push for the summit, promising him that it would be worth it. 

Gerry had a great time.  He wanted me to let you know that the best part of the trip for him was when he was following along in your footsteps in the snow. He really appreciated that. 

Suddenly my knees felt a whole lot better. 

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 grandchildren. 

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

(c) 2016 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

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