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You Don’t Know That Song As Well As You Think You Do

Anything I don’t understand must be easy.

– Dilbert’s Pointy Haired Boss

Karaoke must be easy. I’m not just saying that because I don’t know anything about karaoke. I do. . .sorta. Look, it’s singing, right? I know about singing. I’ve been in choirs since I was a kid. I’ve even performed some of my own songs. And it’s a performance, right? I’ve never met a microphone I didn’t like. Some people fear public speaking more than death. I’m not one of those people. And you just sing along to the melody, right? I do that daily in my car to and from work. 

No problem. Just combine all of those and you’re singing karaoke, right? Sure, and riding a motorcycle is just like combining driving a car with riding a bicycle. 

My company has a “fun committee.” The fun committee is responsible for planning activities to improve company morale. One of those activities is a “karaoke night.” Actually, we hold it from 3:00pm -5:00pm, but “karaoke afternoon” just didn’t have the same ring to it.

I was asked to be the MC. Mostly that involves telling some jokes, and getting the audience to agree to come up and sing. Employees would wander through the cafeteria as they had time. Some would walk on past, some would sit and listen, some would actually get up and sing. But mostly they just sat and listened. 

After running through all the jokes I had, I thought, “Well, I can show them how it’s done.” It didn’t go the way I thought it would. 

Part of my job involves reports. It seems like we track everything. We track how long agents are on the phone. We track how long agents are off the phone. We track how long they are on the phone, but not talking to anyone. We track how long the system is available. We track how long it’s unavailable. We track who is who broke it. Lots of reports.

Rodney, I need to see lost agent minutes grouped by line-of-business instead of our current report showing it by site. 

It was a simple request. But, only if you don’t understand it. Have you ever organized your library by book title? Since you already have it organized, how easy is it to go back and reorganize it by author? Could you just do that before our meeting on Friday? 

I’ve been equally guilty of making that assumption. That just because something looks easy to me, it must be easy to do. My friend the cartoonist? It takes him mere moments to draw a character. And the character has emotion and movement and presence. And he has spent about 20,000 hours making it look that easy. 

Once while a support operator at WordPerfect a user called in with a problem on a corrupted file. As I started to walk her through the process of fixing it, she grew frustrated. “Can’t you just fix it can call me back?” It was simple for me, but very complex for her. And since the file existed on her computer, Ithere wasn’t much I could do. 

My karaoke experience was eye-opening. I picked a Prince song. Prince is a great musician. I realized that as much as I love the Purple Rain sound track, I didn’t actually know those songs well enough to sing, even with the words. I tried Willy Nexson and Toby Keith’s Beer For My Horses. I love that song. I’ve song along countless times as Willy and Toby croon about those bad boys who are gonna do . . .sumptn’ with the sumptn’ sumptn.

Oh, THAT’s what that says. It was amazing how much I didn’t know the lyrics for songs that I “know.” 

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. 

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(c) 2016 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

Training Leaders Or Herding Cats?

Joel and Bill were wrestling on the floor. Jackie was bouncing a basketball off the wall. . .and occasionally Kelly’s head. Arthur was dribbling a soccer ball around the chairs and other boys’ legs. Meanwhile, about half of the 10 boys were actually trying to listen to the instructions of how to run a human foosball game. 

In other words, another typical Boy Scout meeting. 

In addition to work and home, I spend part of my week as a volunteer Boy Scout leader. Our boys were all between the ages of 12 and 13. Our scout meetings are Wednesday nights. Most weeks, it’s just our own group. But, on the first Wednesday of each month, we meet with a larger group of youth aged 12-17, for a combined activity. Each group takes turns planning the combined activity that occurs on the first Wednesday of each month. Next month it’s the scouts turn to plan and run the activity. We have more than 80 youth, boys and girls, the youngest, 12 years old, the oldest 17. 

Trying to get  nearly 100 youth to do anything all at the same time is a challenge. Trying to get them all to listen to a bunch of 12 year olds? That’s why we were taking this week’s lesson time to practice for next week when the boys would have to lead the group. 

Bob is the other leader. In fact, as the Scoutmaster, technically, he’s in charge, but we typically divide up the work. Our challenge is whether to try to allow the boys to lead, or simply step in and run things ourselves. Of course, the “best” course is to allow the boys to do it themselves. We’ve all heard the saying about “teach a man to fish.” Well, if you have 80 guys trying to bait hooks and getting their lines tangled, and arguing over whether boppers should be white-side up or red-side up, and why-can’t-we-just-play-baseketball? it is easier to simply hand everyone a fish and remind them not to spill on the carpet. 

One of my first program manager jobs was at Microsoft. I was working on the early Microsoft Vista software. Our team was building accessibility tools for screen readers. One of my first responsibilities was to prepare a presentation to give to our other technical teams about the advances our team was making. I struggled through mastering the content well enough to present it. My PowerPoint slide deck was not coming together as quickly as any of us would like. There were still plenty of blank spaces. 

One day, I came in and my boss came by my office as I was getting my computer set up. 

Rodney, I’d like you to send out your slide deck to be reviewed today.

Well, I’m still working on getting a couple of slides completed. I’m still struggling with the programmable access module.

Don’t worry about it. I created those slides and sent you a finished copy. Let me know what feedback you get.

Well, I had some feedback for him. At our next 1:1 I pointed out that he had given me an assignment and then he’d completely cut me out of finished product. He’d handed me a fish while I was trying to figure out how to cast. He acknowledged that he’d overstepped and we figured out how to address similar issues in the future. 

When I hire people, I want people who can do their jobs better than I could do their jobs. That’s not always possible, and even when it is, there’s a learning curve. While the new people are coming up to speed, it’s often quicker to simply do it myself. But, that’s the mark of an inexperienced manager. 

I have thirteen children. The youngest two are part of that scout group I mentioned. As our children grew we had to teach them to work. I don’t mean that I had to teach them that work was important, I mean that at times I literally had to teach how to do tasks. Have you ever tried to teach a six year old to vacuum a room? You get one REALLY well vacuumed section right in the middle of the floor and nothing else. It would be much quicker to simply do it yourself. Of course it would be. But, by the time that child is 12 or 16 or 25, they need to know how to vacuum a room. Putting in the time training them when they are young, will pay dividends both for you and for them later in life. 

Bob and I reminded ourselves that we were training future leaders. 

Okay, boys, let’s go over it again. Next week when those older kids are looking at you to tell them what to do, you’re going to to want to have practiced this. Let’s line up on the rope again.

Maybe next time we’ll simply take them all fishing. . .or hold a cat rodeo. 

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. 

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(c) 2016 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

(If you are curious, human foosball is played similar to normal foosball, except that you have lines of people on a rope. Three rows face one direction, three face the other direction. Players cannot let go of the rope. You play it with a soccer ball. )

I Don’t Want To Listen Anymore

The speech was affecting me in ways I never expected. The speaker started out talking about a Bushido blade, a Japanese sword that is considered one of the finest crafted swords in the world. But, the topic quickly turned darker. He referenced a friend’s son who had committed suicide and the ripples that impacted family, and friends. Then, he went even deeper and darker, talking about a sister who died as a teenager when struck in the head with a baseball bat by her best friend. 

It was only scheduled to be a 10 minute talk, but I didn’t want to listen anymore. I wanted to leave. Unfortunately I couldn’t turn away. I couldn’t do that thing where I retreat inside my head and “internally” block my ears. It’s a technique I learned to deal with the PTSD associated with some traumatic hospital events when I was a kid. I can “plug” my ears similar to how it feels when the pressure on an airplane changes before you “pop” your ears. Then, if I hum, very VERY quietly, I literally cannot hear anything. The people around me, have no idea that I’ve hit the internal MUTE button. I only use it at times when someone is telling some story about medical procedures or operations and  I cannot physically leave. And seated in my Toastmasters meeting yesterday, I couldn’t leave in the middle of someone’s speech. 

But, mostly, I couldn’t leave because I was tasked with evaluating this speech focused on inspiration. 

Please let him bring this rollercoaster back up to at least even. Please.

Speeches are told for many reasons. We are in the middle of the political season. Politicians are giving speeches to try to convince people to vote for them, or as more often seems to be the case, speeches trying to convince us to not vote for the other guy (or woman.) 

I travel a fair amount. The safety lecture before the plan can leave is a speech designed to give you information. . .again. . .and again. 

But, a speech designed to inspire us is different. No one is going to be inspired by an explanation of how to buckle your seatbelt. People are not going to be inspired by a speech describing how terrible your opponent is. People might be inspired by a speech describing what you are going to do for the country, if you do it right. The content is not as critical as the path the speech takes. 

I have a friend who is an award winning playwright. He could describe to you how a three act play should unfold. I understand it a little. The idea is that your hero starts facing a challenge. In Act I, he figures out what the problem is. Act II has him trying to solve the problem and failing miserably. Act III sees him recover from Act II and finally succeed in overcoming the problem. Think of your typical action movie. You know when Act II is coming to an end because, “Your heroes are scattered, your floating fortress falls from the sky.” 

The height of the payoff in Act III is defined by the depth of the crisis in Act II. The concept is defined in philosophy as “You can never be truly happy if you’ve never truly suffered sorrow.” “You cannot appreciate the light unless you’ve seen the darkness.” 

Even in Christianity, this concept can be see in the Passion Play. Jesus Christ, comes as the savior of the world. He preaches peace and love for your fellow man. Act I sees him enter in triumph into Jerusalem, the inhabitants lining his path with palm branches. Just one week later, we see him deep into Act II. His apostles have deserted him, including Peter, the chief apostle. He’s suffered in the Garden of Gethsemane where he sweated great drops of blood. And in the culmination of Act II, he’s unjustly arrested, accused, tried, condemned and finally crucified between two thieves. 

It would be difficult to find a more bleak and dark end to the story that started with angelic choirs announcing his birth. However, it’s this very hopelessness that makes the rest of the story so inspiring. From the depths of the Garden and the Cross to the heights of the empty tomb and his appearance as a resurrected and glorified being promising the same for all mankind. The height of the third day is set up by the depth of the 1st day. 

An inspiring speech needs to take the listener on that journey. And you cannot get the payoff in Act II unless you are willing to pay the price in ActII. The speech I listened to yesterday definitely paid the price. And it was more personal to me than it was to many of the others in the room. I had a child that nearly died. He went catatonic with a fever of 108. The doctors said he was about 15 minutes from death. As the speaker talked about how his father dealt with the death of his sister, I could relate. I’ve had family members who attempted suicide. I’ve felt the survivors guilt. “What if they succeeded? Have I done everything I could to make sure they know I love them and don’t want them to die?” I’ve even had a child that was struck in the head with a bat. She didn’t see her brother was standing behind her as she swung at a ball. 

It was as if the speech was designed to take me back to some of the most traumatic events in my past. Yes, we were well into Act II. Why did you bring me here? He brought me here so that he could pull me out of the depths of despair to set me on the path of inspiration. The speaker returned to the Bushido blade. He reminded us that like the blade, we would each be folded and hammered, heated and cooled. The payoff? We would, like the blade, be polished and sharpened. The adversity is what would, like the sword maker’s fire and hammer, forge our characters and souls. 

As a speaker, you can take drag your reader down into the Garden of Gethsemeane, if you are willing to raise them up with the resurrection. An inspiring speech should take the listener on a rollercoaster ride. 

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. 

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(c) 2016 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

Deadlines Kill Productivity

Don’t rush me. You rush a miracle man, you get rotten miracles.

You know that scene in the movie where the bomb is about to explode? Our hero stands there with a pair of wire cutters watching the digital clock slowly count down to zero, trying to decide to cut the red wire or the blue wire. And, right before it blows up, he finally snips the red wire, and the clock stops at 00:00:01. 

Nothing like a deadline to motivate you, right? Deadlines, and objectives are almost always more trouble than they are worth. As a new manager, this might not make any sense. I mean, how are your employees going to know what they should be working on unless you tell them and then hold them accountable? 

They are going to do it, because you hired people who know what they were doing. Or, you hired people and then trained them to know what they are doing. I should make a distinction between goals and objectives. Goals are good. Goals should be set together with your employees. Goals should line up with the company’s mission statement. But, a goal and an objective are not the same thing. 

I once worked for a company where I was responsible for the email system. Everyday a report would run that showed the availability of the email system. If we had a server crash, or lost connection to the Internet, it would impact our availability. The “goal” was 96%. If the system was available for 96.1% of the time, my indicators were green and no one bothered me. If the system was only available for 95.9% of the time, the indicators turned red and I had people yelling at me to fix the system. 

In a 24 hour period, that 0.2% difference is 173 seconds. Just a little less than 3 minutes. So, three minutes were the difference between a “healthy” system and a “broken” system. Do you think anyone actually noticed that 3 minute difference? I mean anyone who was actually using the system? No. It wasn’t a goal. It was an objective. 

I set a different goal. My goal was to have the system up and running as much as possible. If we had a system outage, I wanted my engineers to figure out why and then fix things so it wouldn’t happen again. 

But Rodney, it only dropped out availability numbers by 3%. We’re still in the green. 

More than once I had to explain to my engineers, and my boss, that If our systems were unavailable for 4% of the day, that was unacceptable. That’s nearly an hour per day. It didn’t matter that we’d get a green indicator light. The purpose of our team was not to get green indicator lights. The purpose of our team was to make sure the email system was available for people to use. And being unavailable for an hour per day was simply not good enough. 

You’ve no doubt, heard that goals should be S.M.A.R.T

  • S-pecific
  • M-easurable
  • A-ttainable
  • R-ealistic
  • T-imebased

And I agree. But, I see those as more often describing objectives. My goal might be to become more healthy. The objectives might be to run a certain number of miles, three days per week. My goal might be to publish a novel. My objectives might include taking a creative writing class, and writing a certain number of hours per week. 

When you hire smart people, and you’ve properly trained them, you should be able to give them a goal and let them set the objectives. They will do it anyway. The danger of setting the objectives for them, is that they may start to perform to the objectives. In other words, they may decide to do just enough to satisfy the “goal” and no more. You might be getting 96% availabilty when you could be getting 99% if you had instead set the goal to “keep the system up and running as much as possible” and let the employees set their own objectives. 

Let’s go back to the bomb with its ticking clock. You’re going to risk getting blown up on the flip of a coin? In the movies, the hero always picks the right wire. But, in real life, you don’t want to rush through an important decision. The goal is don’t get blown up. The objective should be left up to the guy who actually knows how to defuse a bomb. 

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. 

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(c) 2016 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

Brotherhood Is Wasted On The Young

Hey, I’m going to be in Salt Lake next week. Can I crash on your couch for the night?

My brother lives in Washington. He’s got a wife, four great kids and a job running his CPA firm. I don’t get to see him as often as I would like. If he didn’t do my taxes, I wouldn’t guarantee that I get to talk to him at least once a year. 

He’s four years younger than I am. It was close enough that we could hung out a lot growing up. But, we were far enough apart that we had separate groups of friends. We have different fathers, so he bounced back and forth between our house and his dad’s house. Still, we spent lots of time together growing up. Sometimes, it was annoying to have my little brother tagging along. 

Rodney, make sure your brother gets home from the game.

Rodney, don’t forget to pick your brother up from the mall.

Rodney, you’re the one we are looking at to be responsible while you’re both home alone this weekend.

What’s odd, is that today I love getting to hang out with him. We live 1000 miles apart. He’s in town for just a day. I’ll rearrange my schedule to meet him for breakfast and then shuttle him to my house. The amount of time I’m going to get to visit is brief. I will spend almost as much time arranging to visit as the actual visit time. And yet, it’s worth it. 

How different from when I was a kid. I spent far more time with my friends than I did with my brother growing up. And yet, other than a couple of friends that I only talk to because of Facebook, I’m not close with those kids anymore. 

It sounds like some old-guy nostalgia to lament lost opportunities from my youth. And I’m not really fretting over lost youth. It is true that we often don’t recognize a valuable experience until it’s over. Sometimes the memory of a time is much better than the actual experience of that time. Rarely are we able to look around and say, “Someday, I’m going to want to remember this. I’m going to look back on this and be glad I was here.”

I think we are better at doing that as adults. At least I hope so, for today, anyway.

Live in the moment. 

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. 

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(c) 2016 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

You Have To Touch Them All

The ball sailed high over the outfield fence. A home run. Your team get’s a run, right? 

Not quite. Your batter has to round the bases, touching each one. If he (or she) misses one, the batter is out and the run doesn’t count. 

Sara Tucholsky was a softball player for Western Oregon a few years ago. In her final home game, the diminutive 5’2″ player did something she’d failed to do in 4 years of college fastpitch softball, with two runners on base, she hit a ball over the fence for a three run homer. The first, and probably last home run of her college career.  And it was an important game as her team battled Central Washington, their opponent that day, for a chance at the post season. 

Sara knew that you had to touch them all. In her excitement rounding first base, she missed the bag. As she turned to go back and touch it, she ruptured her ACL and collapsed in a heap of excruciating pain. She wasn’t sure she could crawl the few feet to first base, let alone the unreachable distance around the basepaths. The rules are simple. If the runner cannot advance, a pinch runner can be substituted, but the home run, the only one of her career would be ruled a single. And if any of her teammates even touched her, she would immeadiately be called out. 

Tough luck, huh? You have to touch them all.

Mike Price wasn’t involved in softball, he was a football coach, and a really good one. In 2003 he was offered the head coaching job at Alabama, one of the premier football schools in the country. A funny thing happened on the way to the field, though. Price got into some personal problems when he brought a stripper back to his hotel room. He lost his job when the story made the papers. He was never fired though, because technically he’d never been hired. He failed to sign his seven-year, $10,000,000 contract. You have to touch them all. 

I sometimes teach Sunday school. One time I was teaching a group of high school kids. They were all great kids. I asked them if a mass shooter were to break in and threaten to kill them unless they denied their testimony of Jesus Christ, would they do it? Would they deny the Savior to save their lives. To a person, they all enthusiastically announced they were willing to die for their beliefs. 

Now, we have a service project scheduled for Saturday. How many of you are planning to be there?

They were comfortable committing to the big things, they hit the ball over the fence, but they were less enthused about some of the smaller things. You have to touch them all.

There are times in business where we spend so much time working to get an approval for a large project, or getting the prospect to commit to the big sale, or getting the book contract, that it’s almost a letdown when we have to follow through on the smaller pieces; when we have to go touch them all. 

One more baseball story. In 1908, rookie Fred Merkle’s New York Giants were battling the Chicago Cubs in a game late in the season. With two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, Merkle was on first and Moose McCormick on third. The score was tied 1-1. Giants shortstop Al Bridwell hit the first pitch into centerfield for a single. McCormick trotted home from third and the Giants won 2-1. Or, they would have if Merkle hadn’t stopped running between first and second. He joined the crowds swarming the field and completely forgot about the fact that he was still a baserunner until he touched second or was forced out at second. 

The Cubs didn’t forget. Legendary Cubs second baseman Johnny Evers called for the ball and stepped on second base. Merkle was out, the run didn’t count and the game ended in a tie. The Cubs won the make up game, and it was enough to help them win the National League pennant. They went on to win the World Series that year. The last World Series they’ve ever won in the ensuing 107 years. You have to touch them all. 

Unlike Merkle’s blunder, the college game between Central Washington and Western Oregon had a better outcome. In one of the most remarkable displays of sportsmanship ever recorded on a ballfield, the Central Washington players picked up Sara Tucholsky, their opponent, and very carefully carried her around the bases. She gingerly placed a toe on each base in turn before finally touching home plate and being carried off by her teammates to seek medical attention. The Central Washington team lost by two runs. They picked sportsmanship over winning. 

They understood that even if you are on opposite teams, you have to touch them all. 

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. 

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(c) 2016 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

Leading Boys – Leading Men

On my honor 
I will do my best,
To do my duty to God and my country
And to obey the Scout Law;
To help other people at all times;
To keep myself 
Physically strong, 
Mentally awake and 
Morally straight.

Boy Scout Oath

Once a week and for a week in the summer, I get to become 12 years old again. I’m an Assistant Scoutmaster in BSA troop 832. Last night we had our parent’s meeting to discuss our summer activities. In July, we are taking the 12 and 13 year old boys in our troop on a rafting trip in Moab, UT. The trip will be four days; Tuesday through Friday. The preparation will be months. Last night was the kick off. We shared the schedule and costs. One of our leaders went on this trip two years ago. He talked a little about how much fun it was. We also started on the mountain of paperwork that goes into taking a dozen pre-teens and those just barely in their teens, on a trip involving travel and an element of danger.
I spend my days as an IT project manager. I’m constantly struck by how much project management concepts transcend disciplines. We are in the middle of a big project at work. We are opening a new call center in Shreveport, LA. We started the project in mid March. We had a kickoff meeting that was not unlike last night’s parent meeting. We got permission from our stakeholders to move forward. We got the budget approved. We laid out the tasks that needed to be complete to get us to our launch day on May 4. We also talked a little about how exciting adding a new facility would be. Shreveport is a wonderful little city in Northern Louisiana. My company already has a call center there. We will be taking over some of the space to support my client. 

Many of the elements that make up a successful rafting trip are also important to a successful product launch, or a successful call center opening. 


Our rafting trip will be four days. The preparation will stretch over months. During the coming months we will go over some of the concepts of rafting. We are calling it the “Stay in The Boat” program. We’ll have plenty of time to prepare the boys, and the adults for what will turn out to be an intense four day trip. 

A call center has many moving pieces, circuits, facilities, furniture, cameras, turnstiles, computers, phones, security, networks and more. All of these pieces have to come together perfectly on the day of the launch. If the preparation goes well enough, the actual launch is very smooth. If we miss a piece, then launch day gets hectic and tense. 


The troop will cover part of the cost of the trip, but much of it will come from the boys and their families. As leaders, we’ve had to set a budget that was not too big, but big enough to allow us to have an activity that will be fun for the boys. 

The budget for our call center opening is much, more more than a rafting trip. But, we still have to consider the functionality we can get for different budget amounts. 


Scheduling a trip for a dozen different people in the middle of the summer is not as simple as it should be. There are sports camps, family reunions, and even kids with jobs that influence the schedule. Then, there’s the vacation schedules for leaders and parents who will attend. The imporant thing to remember is that we are not going to be able to please everyone. But, we want to make our activity more appealing than the competition. 

Typically we want to get our call centers open as soon as possible, but there are still many things that influence our schedule. We have a certain number of weeks of training before agents can go on the phones. We have constraints on when suppliers can provide certain pieces of the infrastructure. Then, there’s the consideration of people’s schedules. And of course, theres’ the need to have our center staffed in time to meet the projected call volumes.

Our boys are really excited about our summer trip. Some are a little nervous, while still excited. As the adult in the discussion, I understand the amount of work that needs to happen between now and July. The boys just know “it’s months away.” 

While opening a new center is always exciting, I’m pretty sure that those four days in July are going to be more memorable. 

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 (
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or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

(c) 2016 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 


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