Horse Sense #81

In this issue of Horse Sense:
  • Tips
  • Finding Money for Your Pet Projects (1)
 
Tips
 
Is Firefox stealing your memory?  Lower the amount of RAM Firefox needs when minimized by opening the about:config page, right click, choose new and Boolean, and create a new Boolean value config.trim_on_minimize, then click OK.    Double click the entry and make sure it is set to true.  Now when you minimize Firefox, it will free up RAM for other applications.  On a system with plenty of RAM, this won't make much of a difference, but in RAM constrained systems, your performance could improve a lot!

 
I like having common icons on my desktop.  To restore My Computer, My Documents, and My Network Places on the desktop in Windows XP, right click the desktop, select properties, select the desktop tab, and click customize the desktop and choose the icons you want.  In Vista, right click the desktop, select personalize, click change desktop icons, and add back the icons you want.

 
If you read long articles on line in Firefox and need to pick up where you left off, pick up Scroll Marker <http://userscripts.org/scripts/show/38805>.

 
In Windows Explorer's detail view, if you want to resize the columns so you can see the full file name, hit ctrl and + on the number pad (laptop users will probably need to use their function key to get this to work) together and the columns will resize to the width of the largest entry.  To resize only one column, double click the divider at the top of the column (your cursor needs to change to a bar with expansion/contraction arrows).  Instead of clicking on a folder to expand it, you can hit + on the number pad when it is selected.  Hitting * on the number pad will expand all of the folders and - will contract them.

 
Find out detailed information about your systems hardware, software, versions, and license numbers use the free utility at <http://www.belarc.com/>. It will even help you check your security. This is a great tool for technical support situations, like when you need to reinstall some software and need the installation key.

 
Vista Business and Ultimate will let you recall earlier versions of a document by right clicking on the file and telling it you want to restore a previous version.  ANY modern version of Windows will work with Executive Software's Undelete <http://www.undelete.com>.  We use it at Iron Horse for fast and safe recoveries of files, even from our file servers.  We sell it too, of course.

 
Want to find the perfect digital camera for your business?  Look at <http://www.bestinclass.com>. Then call Iron Horse to buy it.

 
To save a YouTube video, go to <http://keepvid.com/> and enter the URL you want to download.  You can download videos from many web sites and save them to your iPod, for example.

 
To search Craigslist classifieds from multiple locations, use <http://crazedlist.org/>. You will have to lower the security settings on your browser to use the site.


 
Finding Money for Your Pet Projects (1)
 
Many people think that in difficult economic times, they can improve their situation significantly by harder negotiation or shopping for lower priced vendors.  Focusing on price alone ignores the much larger monetary and non-monetary benefits of other approaches to obtaining value for your efforts.  If you want to get more bang for your buck, you need to think more along the lines of Return on Grief (TM, see <http://www.ih-online.com/hs73.html>) and work with someone who cares more about you and your business than selling you an item and calling it a day.
 
I will be making a number of recommendations here.  So far, I have enough to fill three Horse Sense newsletters.  To some people, it may seem that I'm repeating myself with a new point.  All of these points are somehow related because I'm talking about various ways to maximize the value of your efforts.  Sometimes we end up at the same place by taking a different train of thought.  That is OK.  Some statements will strike a cord with some people, and some with others.
 
We never claim to know everything at Iron Horse and learn most of our truly useful information from clients, partners, and friends.  Please share any ideas with us you feel will help someone else.  We'll put your name in lights if it is new to us (and you want your name mentioned)!

 
(1)  Reexamine what you are doing.  What you are doing now may have made sense to you a while back, but it may not any more.  For example, a client added one phone line after another.  Eliminating some of those lines and combining the rest into a single circuit saved thousands of dollars a year.  In many cases, you should have someone from outside review what you are doing to see whether it is appropriate.  They can ask the "stupid" questions, like questions where you "know" the answer, but the answer has changed.  Even organizations with significant resources can miss opportunities to save.  I'm happy to tell the story of one government customer for whom I was able to identify $360,000 in hardware savings, $40,000 in yearly recurring maintenance savings, and several million dollars in yearly telecommunications savings by challenging some assumptions they had.

 
(2)  Say no.  Anything you don't do is easy.  Streamline your procedures.  Prioritize your business needs, and then allocate effort and dollars towards those needs.  One of my former employers hired me to implement and teach others how to use a new payroll and personnel system.  I was to teach myself out of a job.  By creatively saying no to people, like refusing to do work I had just trained my boss to do (don't try this at home!), my staff of one was able to complete the project 9 months ahead of schedule and $250,000 under budget.

 
(3)  Use consultants.  Use outside resources to do the heavy lifting of figuring out what you need or performing more specialized tasks.  We have hundreds of clients for whom we research and implement solutions. Look at it this way:  properly diagnosing and setting your broken leg is best done by professionals.  Then it is your job to properly follow up, manage your rehabilitation, and, of course, live with the results.

 
(4)  Extend your warranty for free!  See http://www.ih-online.com/hs80.html for one example on how to do it.
 
Warranties are a measure of the level of confidence that manufacturers put into their products.  Manufacturers calculate how many returns they might see during a given period and add this cost into your purchase price.  So, longer warranties can cost you more.
 
Right now, some companies are quietly lowering their warranty periods and changing their terms so you can have a less costly product.  An identical product purchased a couple of months ago may have more protection than one purchased today.  The product itself may not be any less reliable now, but they have the option of making it so when they lower the warranty.  The manufacturer is also not likely to give you full value for the warranty decrease, so they can make more money in the long run.  The "fine print" can be worth a lot to you, so pay attention to it.
 
The absolute best warranty is the one you never have to use.  Some warranties are easier than others to exercise no matter what the fine print says.  There are contracts, and there is customer satisfaction. I've found that highly detailed warranties and bureaucratic companies are often hell with warranties.  Those manufacturers who want a close relationship with their customers and value customer interaction and satisfaction will make the always painful process of getting support or warranty work done as painless as possible.
 
Some warranties are a really good deal.  Some are not.  You have to live with your choice, so warranty and support agreements are important.  In addition, warranty, support, maintenance, and upgrade costs often dwarf the cost of the product itself over its useful life, so concentrating only on the purchase cost of a product can be very unwise.  For example, because laptops are quite often damaged, a warranty and support agreement that has a rapid turn around time and covers accidental damage can be extremely valuable.  It is easier to determine that something is broken rather than proving how or why it broke.  I usually recommend such no-fault warranty and service contracts to people buying laptops because they are so easily damaged.

 
(5)  Do less.  One place where you can save a lot of time is in window dressing.  Often, we get requests for quote and often answer with a simple text e mail reply.  For some clients, this doesn't work.  They want a highly formatted document on letterhead.  We can produce these, but it doesn't change the pricing, delivery, or anything else of consequence.  It does delay the response time quite a bit.  Just because you can do "more" doesn't mean you should or that it is worth it. Studies have shown that efforts at window dressing in business are one of the biggest reasons computers haven't delivered on their productivity promises.  After all, with a computer, shouldn't we ask for and provide more information, make it look prettier, store more information, etc? Not if you want to get real work done.

 
(6)  Get someone else to do it who values your business.  I'm amazed when people spend an enormous amount of time researching something when they can get inexpensive or free advice from someone who does that type of thing all the time.  I often tell people that I've been doing what I do for a long time.  If you manage to stump me and the people I know, then you are either (a) good (b) in trouble or (c) both.  Seriously, if you have a problem, ask us for help.  If we cannot help you, we may well be able to point you to someone who can.
 
In general, you aren't going to get this kind of help from a large company.  They often only know their own products and services.  Smaller businesses look more at the problem and its solution than products and services.

 
(7)  Think small.  Wolves don't survive by eating caribou, but smaller game.  Smaller projects entail less technological and business risk and tend to give those involved more direct input and control so they can build solutions that work for them.  There is also a greater feeling of accomplishment and recognition for those affected by the project.  While large projects are sexy, smaller ones have a much better Return on Grief.

 
(8)  Be prepared.  There is a lot of emphasis on bang for the buck and Return on Investment at the moment, and it is shortsighted.  I can prove to you that these ideas don't work.  If you were to look purely at costs, anything and anyone that wasn't bringing money into the organization should be terminated.  That means no insurance policies, no accountants, no management, no security software....  You get the idea.  If you start thinking about Return on Grief, you also start thinking about building a strong, reliable, secure, flexible, and resilient architecture.  You need to be able to answer the "What if....?" questions.  For example, in Horse Sense 73, I talked about an avian flu scare, what could happen, and gave simple health and business tips to keep you going <http://www.ih-online.com/hs73.html>.  Usually, technical problems pale in comparison to human ones.  How would you survive key employees being unavailable for a week or more?  In short, planning for the future may not pay dividends immediately, but down the road can prove invaluable.  Do you have a good business continuity plan?  "He who fails to plan, plans to fail."

 
(9)  Maintain what you have in good order.  Just like your car, you need to keep your computer network in good running order.  Are your UPS batteries charged so that you can survive black or brownouts?  Are your backups good?  Do your computers need a hardware or software spring cleaning?  Do you need to delete old and useless information that is making it harder for you to find what you need?  We can give you examples of discovery and cleanup jobs that had enormous Returns on Grief.  Invest in preventative maintenance, bandwidth management, desktop management, disk defragmentation, and other tools and services to keep the old stuff humming.  Heading off potential problems before they become problems is a smart decision.

 
(10)  If you can't hire staff, consider outsourcing functions.  You can get professional help for a fraction of the price of someone in house. Ask us about your options.  In some cases we can provide you with the help you need directly.  In other cases, we can act as advisors so that you get the help you need.

©2009 Tony Stirk, Iron Horse tstirk@ih-online.com