Where’s my iTablet!

Disclaimer:  I am not an Apple hater:  I’ve owned two Apple laptops, a 3rd generation iPod, and two iPhones, and loved each and every device.

I’ll admit, when the rumor mill started about the Apple tablet (you know, like years ago) I was excited.  I have always wanted a tablet:  I’ve always wanted a device smaller than my work laptop, where I can take to meetings or on the road with me where I can jot down notes, perform simple tasks such as email and surf the web, and look at documents if need be.

I have two device types current which I depend on throughout my entire day:  my iPhone, which is a quick reference guide to my life and any information I may need no matter where I am, and my laptop, which is where I conduct business.

What is missing, from an organizational standpoint, is a middle ground.  The iPhone is just too slow for me to jot down notes throughout the day, and voice recording is sometimes impossible.   My computer is not always next to me and when it is, sometimes it’s not in a state where I can easily access the information I need or where I can jot down notes.

For years I’ve thought that the tablet PC was the answer to this problem.  The concept of flipping the monitor around and hand writing notes and diagrams has always appealed to me.  However, I was never really comfortable with the price, especially when most of the tablets had Microsoft Windows on them (nothing against it, I just felt the computers were underpowered to handle a full OS)

Fast forward to this year, where I was practically PROMISED an Apple tablet.  I own a Macbook Pro, and love how quickly I go from opening the lid to using the computer.  I love the interface, the usability.  It’s clean, usable and all in all fun. If it had tablet functionality, I’d be all set!  Finally the announcement came, and we were presented the iPad.  I guess the device is cool and has its uses, but there’s one problem:

IT’S NOT A TABLET!

Aside from my opinions of the device itself (ahem, iTouch XL), it’s missing key components which make a tablet PC great:  stylus functionality and multitasking.  The operating system should have been a slightly stripped down version of OS X, and not a beefed up version of the iPhone OS.

Am I asking for too much from Apple?  I don’t think so, because I, like the rest of the world was anticipating a tablet.  An Apple tablet would have been awesome.  Knowing Apple, they would have refined the handwriting detection, it would be a dream to use, and I would be excited to get my hands on one.

I guess I will have to wait for that day to come… I will NOT be getting an iPad.  Sorry Apple.

College Education: Why we Go

Penelope Trunk is the author of “The Brazen Careerist” and in my opinion has one of the most well written blogs out on the Internet.  I also find myself not agreeing with a lot of her posts.  She is what I like to call a great blogger:  One that you can really get into her writing, even disagree with, and yet still go back and read more.  She has an interesting life and perspective.

I caught one of her recent blog posts: How to manage a college education.  It is an interesting read, which discusses how obtaining a traditional liberal arts degree is elitist and overpriced.  She mentions how the Internet already has places for learning and discussion, and all that needs to be supplemented is experience.  She tells us that career centers are generally terrible, and concludes that prospective students should pick a college based on a good track record for getting student jobs.

I didn’t graduate with a Liberal Arts degree, so I cannot speak to this this mentality directly.  My gut tells me it’s missing two important advantages college offer which work experience right out of high school doesn’t: trying new things in a safe environment and it’s difficult to find a first job in a field you desire when the employer generally requires a degree, such as application development.

I graduated with a degree in Information Technology from RIT three years ago.  When I was 18, I was convinced I wanted to build circuits and design computer chips.  I was accepted into the Computer Engineering program.  After 18 months however, I decided engineering was not what I wanted to do.  I then was convinced I wanted to be in network administration where I would help set up routers, learn the OSI model, help decipher IP address and sniff packets.  I joined the IT department at RIT in hopes of doing this.  What do I do now?  I am a lead web developer, developing and maintaining a platform for Brand Integrity — far from networking, and I am STILL searching for my career path!

I’ve changed my career path 3 times in the 5 years I was at RIT.  I could have gotten all the information for my current path online.  There are millions of resources out there that teach and discuss web design and database architecture.  But being part of the student body, seeing my peers go through exactly what I was going through was invaluable.  Making mistakes in class planning would at worst make for an uncomfortable 10 weeks (at least at RIT).  Having access to teachers to reach out to was also a perk, one I don’t think a majority of the student body really appreciates as much as they should.  Guidance from those teachers really helped me figure out where I was going.

So the question to ask is, “Which is more useful– four years of education, or four years of experience?”  In my field, the former is true.  Sure, we can all come up with the raising stars– those who have not gotten formal education.  Steve Jobs and Bill Gates are always good examples… but how many of us are a Steve Jobs or a Bill Gates?  It’s a great goal to strive for, but we ALL cannot be Steve Jobs!

Penelope does bring up a great point in her post however… schools need to learn how to get their students great jobs. The relationship shouldn’t end with education.  Schools need to become more aggressive in alumni affairs, teach how to effectively network, and provide networking events.

So in conclusion, why do we go to college?  Because, at least for us in IT, it’s required by most desirable entry level job postings, and it’s a safe environment to experiment on what you THINK you want to do with your life.

Support: Not just for Fixin’

As the sole IT person for the company I work for, my responsibilities are to make sure the nine employees have working computers, back up solutions, and can come to me for any questions or problems that may arise.

We have a humble back up solution.  It involves a server and an external drive which gets switched out every week.  While it’s not perfect, it has worked great for years… until that faithful afternoon, December 31st 2009.

Because my schooling is not in server administration or networking and quite frankly, I have no time to research the problem, I called Dell.  After two separate calls (the problem was intermittent, so it was hard to nail down and test), Dell decided the motherboard was fried on our server.  Ouch.

Then came one of Dell’s consultants the following day to our humble set up.  He determined that it was my backup drive which was causing all the issues! What was worse was that the drive was not purchased from Dell, so it wasn’t under warranty.  Even bigger ouch!

What happened next was the unbelievable.  He could have left.  He could have reported back the problem and perhaps, made my life a little harder with Dell.  Instead, he took a look at the backup solution and advised me on how to strengthen it.  He told me about how inexpensively I could configure redundancy, and which particular hard drives I should look to purchase.  While this was all stuff I’ve dabbled in on a personal level, it was very educational to learn on a professional one.

If he just replaced the motherboard as Dell sent him out to do and left, without checking how everything was working?  I would be calling Dell back, 3 weeks later, with the same problem.

The Chinese proverb:

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.

Comes to mind.  It’s absolutely true in this case.  I am glad to have my server back and set up with redundancy (as it should have been in the first place).  However Dell was the true winner in this case:

  • I personally have further trust in Dell and am more likely to pick them for buying new equipment in the future. (more profit)
  • They’ve avoided another support request from a disgruntled customer (doesn’t matter whose fault it is!) (less cost)
  • I’ve told multiple people of my story, thus giving more positive awareness to Dell. (more positive exposure)

What can be learned from this experience?  Focus on what the client/co-worker/customer is looking for before fixing the problem.  Sometimes, the problem is over the user’s head, and you cannot explain the fix.  That doesn’t mean you cannot help them change their usage and perhaps curb them from getting themselves into the problem again!  This empowers the user to accomplish their goals, while lessening your support requests.