Friday, March 30, 2012

"How do I get experience working on computers?"

The one question I am constantly asked by students (other than how to get into IT) is "how do I get experience working on computers?" The best way to get experience and the method I used is by constant hands-on practice. Check with family and friends to see if they have old computers lying around that they can give you (or sell to you cheap). Goodwill, The Salvation Army, yard sales, Craigslist and eBay are also good places to find old computers. Take it apart. Put it back together. Learn what function each part you take out performs. See if you can upgrade it. Install the operating system. Just keep doing it until you familiarize yourself with it.

Building a computer from scratch is also another way to get experience. It can seem very intimidating at first but it is not as difficult as you might think. It takes research, time and patience (a lot of patience) to build a computer especially for the first time. However, when it is done, not only will you have gained knowledge of how a computer works but you will find it to be a very satisfying experience.

The bottom-line is that you will not get the same level of exposure or experience working on a computer by just reading a bunch of books and magazines. The key is getting hands-on experience to go along with the knowledge you gain from books or any classes you take.

It's All About the Technology!

I need to make a statement. I am not a PC/Windows guy. I am not Mac guy. I am not even a Linux or Android guy. I am a TECHNOLOGY guy.  I love technology and gadgets. It doesn't matter if it's Windows, OS X or Ubuntu, I get excited about it. Apple is my preference for my primary computer but I'm excited about Windows 8, Windows-based tablets and ultra books. I use an iPad but I also drooled over the Asus Transformer Prime.

That said, when I buy my "toys" as my wife affectionately refers to them, I generally buy what works best for me and fits my workflow. What works for me might not be the most popular or the hot item on the market now. Even when I recommend technology to family and friends, I do a little extra investigating so that I recommend the proper technology that is appropriate for their needs and their budgets. People can easily miss out of great technology by aligning themselves with one particular brand/product/technology. Don't get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with brand loyalty (until a couple of years ago, all our TVs, VCRs, DVD players, etc. were Sony because I would not settle for anything less), but blind loyalty can cause you to miss out on some great gadgets available on the market.

It's all about embracing technology that fits your digital lifestyle.


Wednesday, March 21, 2012

I'm Hooked on Skylanders

I have been playing video games since my parents bought me an Atari 2600 when I was a young geek. As an adult, gaming is not just for personal enjoyment but also my stress reliever. Some people drink, I take down Brute Chieftains with a battle rifle (notice the Halo reference). While I generally play FPS (First Person Shooters), I have recently been addicted to playing Activision's Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure.

In the game, players become a Portal Master who can control over 37 different characters (32 regular Skylanders plus additional Legendary, silver, gold and translucent blue collectible characters), each of which belong to one of eight elements (air, earth, water, fire, life, tech, magic and undead). Each of the eight elements has four Skylanders (not including the collectibles which are copies of the original characters) that have varying levels of attributes such as strength and defense. You are able to explore different lands, fight creatures, solve puzzles, and collect treasures on a quest to save their world from Kaos. That's it! Pretty simple and straightforward. It's not complicated but it can be challenging in an old-school way.

Skylanders that my daughter and I currently own
What makes Skylanders different from other video games is that each of the game's playable characters has a corresponding figure. Placing the figure on the "Portal of Power" peripheral that comes with the Starter Pack brings that character into the game.

The secret is that each figure has an RFID chip that wirelessly communicates with the Portal of Power. The chip also retains the player's stats such as level and upgrades purchased in game. Because each figure retains it's stats, you can play with your character on any supported platform (Xbox 360, PS3, Wii, Nintendo 3DS). This is true cross-platform gameplay. Image a game like Marvel Ultimate Alliance taking the same approach.

The Starter Pack comes with three characters. You have to purchase the rest in either single and triple packs or an Adventure Pack. That can get expensive. We have 24 of the 37 characters. It's like the American version of Pokeman for this generation. The great thing is that Activision is going to release a sequel called Skylanders: Giants this Fall so you can still use the characters you have bought. The plus for gamers and downside for your wallet is that Activision is going to release some new characters as well.

Here is the great thing about Skylanders that I love the most: it's one of the few, non-Kinect games for the Xbox 360 that my daughter and I can play together. While I enjoy a good game of Team Deathmatch online in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3,  nothing compares to spending time playing with my daughter. We both look forward to playing it together on Saturday and Sunday afternoons (my wife does too because if we are playing video games, we won't bother her while she is working on her graduate degree). Flameslinger is my character of choice and my daughter loves Stealth Elf.

Is Skylanders a game for children? Of course, but it is one of those games that while it might not have the complexity of a game like Portal 2, it has the simplistic gameplay and challenge that you loved in old-school games like Super Mario Bros. Great for casual gamers or parents who want to play along with their kids. Just get ready to empty your wallet.


Friday, March 16, 2012

I touched a new iPad today and it was okay

So if you haven't heard, the new iPads were released today and of course folks lined up early in the morning to be the first to get one. I stopped by my favorite Best Buy store after work and they had plenty left. Got a chance to play around with one for while (surprisingly, I did not have to wait around because no one was using them).

My initial impressions? As many of the reviews have indicated, the retina display is beautiful, but (you knew there was going to be a 'but') unless you do a lot of video and photo viewing it's not a biggie in my opinion. The screen quality of the iPad 2 is more than capable to meet the needs of most users. The speed felt about the same as the iPad 2. I do admit that I was impressed by the quality of the rear-facing camera. The pictures I took were gorgeous (the retina display helps too of course). That said, I can see where the 16GB model will not be enough storage for most people because of the file sizes necessary for the new display.

In a nutshell, it is nice, but there is nothing innovative about it that warrants the frenzied demand of the previous two iPads. If you had a 1st generation iPad and have the money, it is a worthwhile upgrade. If you have an iPad 2, I would not bother. It's like buying a new car each year because they change the rims. If you don't have an iPad and have been waiting to get your hands on one, you won't be disappointed.


Wednesday, March 14, 2012

What I Use: Logitech Tablet Keyboard For iPad

As you probably already know, I recently purchased a new iPad 2 to replace the 1st generation iPad that I have been using (if not, read about it here). I am one of those few individuals who uses their iPad more than they use their desktop or even laptop computer(s) nowadays. Because of this fact, I have wanted to find a decent keyboard to use with the iPad that was easy to carry on a daily basis as needed.

Tried a typical Apple Wireless Keyboard, but found it to be too much of a pain to carry around in my bag. Plus, the original Apple case for the 1st generation iPad was not the best for using in conjunction with some type of iPad stand without going through the hassle of removing it from it's case. I also took a look at some of the keyboards that doubled as a screen-protecting case such as the Logitech Keyboard Case for iPad 2 (formerly known as the Zagg Zaggmate with Keyboard). I wasn't too fond of them because the small keys made for a cramped typing experience like early netbooks.

Landscape Mode
Entered the Logitech Tablet Keyboard for iPad. It is a slim, low profile keyboard. Pairing the keyboard with the iPad using Bluetooth was surprisingly fast. I was quickly able to start editing notes in the Microsoft OneNote app immediately after pairing and I have not seen any latency while typing on it.  Another plus is the carrying case for the keyboard. The case can "transform" into a portable dock that allows you to place your iPad at a comfortable portrait or landscape viewing angle while typing.

The feel is very good for a small keyboard. It is comfortable and the keys are spaced out well. It does not feel cramped. Some reviewers have complained that keyboard & case combo is heavier than expected but I like that because it gives it a sturdy feel as opposed to feeling light and flimsy.

Portrait Mode
The only downside, if you want to call it that, is that as I use the Logitech Tablet Keyboard for iPad, I instinctively reach out expecting to be able to use a mouse with it as well :-)

The bottom line is that if you find yourself using your iPad more than you use your laptop and have the occasional need for a keyboard, you'll find that the Logitech Tablet Keyboard for iPad may fit your needs and is an excellent alternative to the Apple Wireless Keyboard. While it can't quite meet the needs of users who desire the familiarity and comfort of creating content on a laptop, pairing the iPad with a good keyboard brings it closer to being the device of choice for the early post-PC era (gotta love tech buzzwords).


Friday, March 9, 2012

What I Use: 32GB Wifi iPad 2

Picked up a 32GB wifi iPad 2 today. Yes, you read correctly, an iPad 2. As I mentioned in a previous post, while the new iPad was nice, for what I would be using it for on a daily basis, I could get by with an iPad 2.

The iPad 2 is much snappier than my 1st generation iPad and a bit lighter to handle. The Smart Cover is amazing yet simple. A worthwhile upgrade in my opinion. Another plus for me was that upgrading also gave me the opportunity to organize my apps. You never realize how many apps you download until you start installing everything again.

My personal recommendation is if you have an original iPad and want to upgrade, now is the time. Determine your needs and then decide which model best suits you. If you already have an iPad 2, you can wait on upgrading to the new iPad (unless you have money burning your pockets and you can't resists).

From the Archives: Making Meetings Meaningful

NOTE: This was originally posted September 9, 2009 on my first personal blog which is in the process of being closed. 

Here is a little known secret about me - I hate meetings. Ok, maybe I am being a bit too harsh and need to clarify. I hate non-productive meetings. What IT professional doesn't? Why might you ask? Because it takes away from doing what we love doing best, working on technology.  Nowadays people love to meet for the sake of meeting. I remember once in a previous position, we had an hour long meeting to discuss when to have meetings! Granted, meetings are a necessity of the workplace, BUT if you want to have an effective and productive work environment, the frequency and relevancy of meetings must be taken into consideration.
I generally have five rules on meetings that I try to follow:

1. Don’t schedule meetings on Monday morning or Friday afternoons. People are just starting their week off on Monday and they are getting ready for the weekend on Fridays. Meeting participation will not be 100%. Warm bodies in a room is what you will get instead.

2. Don’t schedule long meetings. An effective meeting last about 30 minutes, 45 minutes at the most. After that time, participants attention generally wanders to other things like when will this meeting be over. Plus, when you schedule a meeting for an hour, there is a tendency to fill the remaining time with off-topic discussions even if the main topic of the meeting is covered in less time.

3. Pick appropriate times to schedule meetings. For example, don’t schedule a meeting at 8AM in the morning or 4PM in the afternoon. When people are just walking into the office, they don’t want to have to run to a meeting nor do they want to sit through a meeting at the end of the day. Additionally, try to respect a person’s calendar when scheduling meetings. No one likes to attend back-to-back meetings all day.

4. Have an agenda. There is nothing more that I hate is when the person who called the meeting says “Let’s go around the room...” Contrary to popular belief, that shows that no preparation was put into the meeting. Have a set agenda/topic to be discussed during the meeting. Also, if you have an agenda, send it out a day or two BEFORE the meeting. Nothing worst than finding out an hour before a meeting that you are on the agenda.

5. Keep meetings fresh. I don’t care what anyone says, meetings do not have to be boring, behind a closed door in a cold, sterile room. I’ve had some of my most productive meetings at a coffee shop or over lunch. The key is that you want people to relax and feel comfortable enough to be an active participant in the meeting. If meeting outside of the office space is not an option, bring something to the meeting. For instance, if it is a morning meeting, bring donuts or bagels or have cookies or a bowl of candy for an afternoon meeting.
What I suggest is that organizations perform an assessment on meetings in their organization to see why they are meeting, who is attending meetings, and the rate of project/work completion. I've done this in the past and you would be surprised at how many meetings can be consolidated and/or canceled if information is effectively communicated to employees. Believe me it pays off big-time in the long run.
The point of this is not to come off as totally anti-meeting or even be viewed as "not a team player in HR speak, but to have people step back and ask themselves “is this really necessary” before scheduling a meeting. Far to often people will schedule a meeting for a purpose that could be addressed by technology (instant messaging and email) or by good, old fashioned conversation. The key is to make your work-life less frustrating and make positive contributions to your organization.


Thursday, March 8, 2012

The New iPad...not yet for me

So Apple announced the iPad 3…oooops, I mean NEW iPad on Wednesday.  It has a retina display with twice the resolution of the iPad 2 at 2048x1536. It has a 5-megapixel rear camera with a bunch of bells and whistles.  It has a dual-core A5x processor with quad-core graphics. It has ultrafast 4G LTE. It’s “AMAZING!” Yeah, well, I’m buying an iPad 2.

I have a 32GB 1st generation iPad that I love and use everyday. It meets my needs, but like an old car, you need to get a new one eventually. Logically, one would think that being the geek that I am, I would jump at the chance to get the new iPad. Nah, it’s cool but it only has small improvements. No real ground-breaking or earth-shattering innovations. More importantly, I'm being cheap. 

The new iPads are priced the same as the previous generations, but each model of the iPad 2 has been reduced by $100. So I can essentially get a 32GB iPad 2 for the price of a 16GB new iPad. If you're like me, I use and play around with a lot of apps so space is important. I could probably use a 16GB model with no problems, but I don't want to remember to always check my available space whenever I install or copy something to the iPad. 

As far as the new features of the new iPad, the retina display is nice and it is indeed amazing technology, but it's a mixed blessing. Furthermore, it is still a 9.7 inch display with a 4:3 aspect ratio. Plus, let's be real, most of the stuff you will watch will not be of top quality (I'm talking about YouTube videos of guys getting hit in the groin). I don't plan on taking still pictures or videos with my iPad so the 5-megapixel rear camera is not important to me (it really looks corny doing so). I don't play many games or really do anything requiring heavy processing power, so the dual-core A5 in the iPad 2 should meet my needs. I own a Verizon 4G LTE MiFi. 'Nuff said. 

Moving from a 1st generation iPad to an iPad 2 will be a leap for me even though some might argue that I should invest in the new iPad. The iPad 2 meets MY needs for what I will be using it for everyday. More importantly, I'll have some money left over to buy accessories such as the Smart Cover and Digital AV Adapter.  At least until the NEXT iPad, iPad 4 or whatever it will be called comes out.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Windows 8 Consumer Preview

The Windows 8 Consumer Preview was released yesterday and of course I jumped at updating my Dell Inspiron Duo to it from the Developer Preview.
My initial impressions? Microsoft has a winner on it's hands IF it doesn't drop the ball.

As expected from my experience using the Developer Preview, you really need a computer with touch-screen capabilities to get the full experience that Windows 8 has to offer. That is the cool thing about the Dell Inspiron Duo is that it operates both as a traditional laptop and as a tablet. Even if you don't have a computer with a touch-screen, Windows 8 is still very easy to navigate once you familiarize yourself with the Metro UI.

It's been a LONG time since I have been this excited about using a Windows operating system instead of OS X. As I play around with it some more, I'll continue to post comments on some of it's features.

Read more about it: Introducing Windows 8 Consumer Preview

From the Archives: Instructional Technology is the Missing Piece

NOTE: This was originally posted June 24, 2009 on my first personal blog which is in the process of being closed. 

I had an interesting IM conversation with a friend/mentor about educating users on technology. Here is something to think about, in this day time, how many organizations budget for user training? Keep in mind that I am not referring to budgets for personal development/growth training or tuition reimbursement. I am talking about in-house, application training. How many organizations have a full-time trainer/technical writer on staff? Not many. Most organizations look to the ones who implement technology to take on the responsibility of providing training and creating documentation for the users. There is nothing wrong with that, but many IT professionals don't want the added task of training on top of their regular, day-to-day tasks. Plus, many technical people are not always good at translating tech-speak to human-speak. They can tell you what the technology can do, but have a hard time educating users on how to properly use it.

When new technology is implemented, who is the person responsible for determining how it can be use to add value to the organization? A large amount of money is spent to purchase and implement technology, but the same cannot be said about the amount of money spent to get people to use it correctly. This results in two things occurring. First, you have technology that is probably under-utilized. Features that can increase productive aren't used. Second, because users don't know how to use it, they think the technology is junk and a waste of money.

Individuals are hired to implement technology and fix technology, but not hired to work closely with users on how to figure out how to properly use technology. Ideally, organizations need to have someone on staff that can show users "best practice" techniques so that they may better incorporate technology into the workplace.

This is where a dedicated trainer comes into play. Someone with an instructional technology background can develop educational programs that meet user’s needs within the workplace. An instructional technologist can evaluate the processes and resources for learning to ensure that the appropriate training is provided based upon different learning styles. Most importantly, they can adjust training to specifically fit the needs of the organization.

An IT department has to show value and in order to be able to do so, it has to link its services to where value is realized and not to where value is added. If an IT department cannot do this, then whatever technology that is implemented will always be viewed as money spent and not value added. Proper training can help in determining how the new technology adds value to the organization and how is the value realized.

From the Archives: Are You Proactive?

NOTE: This was originally posted July 6, 2009 on my first personal blog which is in the process of being closed. 

We hear the phrase, “we have to be more proactive” being thrown around at lot these days, but what does it really mean? My very basic definition of being proactive is being in preventative maintenance mode as opposed to fire-fighting mode. Finding solutions to problems and fixing them to prevent them from recurring. Alternatively, fire-fighting mode only puts out the immediate problem, but doesn't resolve it, so it will most likely recur or cause rise to other issues.

In a perfect world, the ideal work environment is working in a continuous, proactive mode with preventative maintenance. This would allow you to be more creative in finding solutions before the needs arise in a crisis. Working in preventative mode usually keeps the urgent challenges out.

Again, that is in a perfect world. The reality is that the organization’s culture will dictate how things are handled. Organizational culture varies widely and all too often some managers are uncomfortable when leaders show up in subordinate levels. Imagine how it would look if a subordinate instead of management starts pointing out ways to be proactive and minimize the amount of issues. They fear competition as well as the possibility of transferring of loyalty within the staff. Instead of encouraging and incorporating leadership at all levels of the company, too often we still see the “just do your job" message being sent from management to the employees.

If you are a person who is truly proactive in your work ethic, you will find the fire-fighting work environment extremely frustrating, especially in IT. You'll most likely start developing negative feelings out of frustration. Be careful, because this undermines your proactive work ethic and people will no longer see you as being proactive, but rather as someone who is complaining and negative. Furthermore, complaining is itself a reactive behavior and not a proactive behavior.

In order to truly be proactive, you need to understand the limitations of your role and responsibilities within your organization and act within those boundaries. Believe it or not, being proactive and having initiative is appreciated and strongly supported by management, provided it's in-line with the overall culture, policy, goals, and strategy of the organization. If you are not being allowed to be proactive that you cannot move within your boundaries, then ask management what are your boundaries.

Remember, Being proactive has nothing to do with your boss or your co-workers. Being proactive is how you conduct yourself in your day-to-day tasks. People who complain that their organizational culture is not proactive and that management does not acknowledge the fact that they are being proactive are usually the people who are NOT proactive and instead try to pass the blame onto the people or their particular circumstances.

You must learn to work the culture or be an empowered agent of change in order to change the culture. Try not to fight the culture, but instead LEARN to work the culture in order to move forward. If you fight the culture, you will most likely lose.