Horse Sense #83
In this issue of Horse Sense:
Teach your old cell phone new tricks: <expired
Want to do something on your computer and wonder what
software could get the job done? <http://alternativeto.net/>
has lots of good ideas for you. You can even find out if there are free or
paid alternatives to the software you are already using. This is a good
place to look when looking for software to implement point 12 of Finding
Money for Your Pet Projects.
You can work faster in your applications by keeping your
hands on the keyboard and using short cuts. You can find short cuts for
many applications and operating systems at <http://www.keyxl.com/>
and the less comprehensive and less nerdy <http://shortcutworld.com/>.
For a free and useful addition to Firefox, download New
Tab King from <http://www.newtabking.com/>.
When you open a new tab, this add on allows you to see and select your most
visited sites, your most recently closed tabs, your most used applications,
Did someone send you a file you can't open? First, make
sure you can trust the file. Just because that e mail says it came from
Jimmy does not mean that file is safe. Check it out. Then visit <http://www.openwith.org/>
to help you find a free program to open that file.
To enhance your security, train your people. If you want
to see how the best security measures in the world can be easily
circumvented, read The Art of Deception by Kevin Mitnick. After reading it,
you will know why professional security people never assume the network is
You can try the latest Windows operating system, version
7, which is still in beta, free until 6/1/2010 here: [dead link--Ed. 9/17/19] Remember, beta is the computer industry term for broken as one friend of
mine puts it. This is unfinished software, but Microsoft thinks this late
beta is nearly in the final form, so it is calling it Release Candidate 1.
Microsoft intends to have Windows 7 in stores by October 22, 2009. I find
this rather interesting, because the beta Release Candidate 1 will still be
functional. Note that if you want to use this beta software, Microsoft
recommends that you wipe your disk and start over when you install the
official version. For those who never transitioned to Vista from XP, there
should be an upgrade option. To make sure machines will be available on
October 22, Microsoft will release the Windows 7 code to manufacturers in
late July. Once the manufacturers get the code in July, they will be able
to offer you a license that will give you the option of a upgrading to
Windows 7 when it ships.
Finding Money for Your Pet Projects
Here are some ideas on how to find money for your pet
projects and how to spend that money wisely. Some may be obvious to you.
Others may seem to repeat a point I've already made, but that is only
natural since we are talking about improving on the same basic processes.
Looking at the problem from a different direction sometimes triggers a
revelation. Be on the lookout for our next Horse Sense which will cover
still more ways for you to get a Return on Grief (TM). Of course, if you
have any ideas or comments you would like to share with us, we are
(1) Reexamine what you are doing.
(2) Say no.
(3) Use consultants.
(4) Get a better warranty.
(5) Do less.
(6) Get someone else to do it who values your business.
(7) Think small.
(8) Be prepared.
(9) Maintain what you have in good order.
(10) If you can't hire staff, consider outsourcing
(11) Consider different methods of paying for what you
(12) Use free stuff.
(13) Consider bulk buying, even if it costs you more
(14) Buy for the long term.
(15) Start at the right end of the problem.
(16) Use dates wisely.
(17) Keep a wish list.
(18) Cut recurring costs.
(19) Cut your licensing by using only what you need.
(20) Go green or turn it off.
(21) Buy the latest and greatest if you can. Sometimes
the latest edition is not only better, but it is cheaper and safer. Adobe
fixes security flaws in its current products before it does so for its older
ones. Newer licensing options from Symantec are less costly than
maintaining older licensed versions. Maintenance costs on old Cisco
hardware can often be easily recouped by buying newer gear.
(22) Don't be afraid to stick with an oldie but a
goody. We run the same DOS based contact management software to track our
clients that I was using in 1986. We periodically think of upgrading it,
but it works well enough for us. Not that we aren't looking....
(23) Retask and reuse. We decommissioned a 486/33
Windows 3.11 machine after 12 or more years of service. It was my primary
machine for a while. Then someone else in the office had it. It spent the
remaining years of its life as a fax server. Finally, the hard drive died
and it didn't make sense to replace it. Just because a piece of hardware or
software isn't getting the job done for you doesn't mean that it won't work
fine for someone else. If your organization doesn't have use for it, you
might be able to sell or give it to an employee, sell it to a used equipment
dealer, give it to a charity for a tax deduction or that warm fuzzy feeling,
or reuse some of the parts internally as spares while recycling the rest.
(24) Anything that saves you time is probably worth
paying for. What can you automate that is sucking up your time? For
example, you could build a house with a hand tools, but power tools will
speed things along and often give a much better result. What power tools
could you use in your business to save time and money? A good place to
start is our newsletter articles on "The Best Technologies You Still Aren't
One example from that list: disk based backup is often cheaper than doing
tape based backup, more flexible, and quite a bit faster, allowing you to
get back to doing something useful quicker.
(25) Have Uncle Sam pay for it. In addition to having
someone else in your organization pay for what you want to do with their
money (tip 11), you should look outside the organization for money. For
example, if you use a Section 179(a) tax deduction, you can treat your buy
as an expense rather than depreciate it over several years.
This can result in some pretty substantial savings. Who says you can't use
those savings to help justify the expense of doing something you need to
do? These deductions are based on your tax year. So, if you are nearing
the end of your tax year, you will get an enormous bang for the buck if you
buy before year end rather than wait until the new tax year.
The federal government will also help you pay for energy
saving equipment and upgrades with tax credits in some cases. Want a
digital TV converter? You can get a coupon worth $40 towards its
purchase. The federal government has many other programs as well.
It doesn't stop there, though. States and even
corporations will pay you to change your behavior. Building power
plants is extremely expensive. Virginia has delayed building power
plants, so it imports power from other states. Imported power is often
more expensive and less reliable than more locally generated power. To
keep from building new plants or importing as much power, some utility
companies have funds to help their customers become more energy efficient.
They will even help you buy light bulbs!
I have even seen utilities help power hungry customers afford more efficient
equipment by providing hundreds of thousands of dollars in electricity
(26) Renew on time! Maintenance and support agreements
are usually least expensive when purchased with the original item and for
multiple years (see point 13). However, you really don't want those
agreements to run out. The renewal price of an agreement is much less than
having to pay a reinstatement or upgrade fee. Missing a renewal opportunity
can cost you a ton. In some cases, a renewal might not even be available.
In general, renewing early isn't a problem, so if you have cash lying around
(hey, it does happen!) and a maintenance agreement you know you will have to
renew, go ahead and do it early.
Don't renew without reassessing your needs and talking to
a licensing expert. We recently had a client upgrade to a more
comprehensive bundle of Symantec software and it actually saved them
thousands of dollars versus renewing the software they had. Terms and
conditions can change radically. One client could never afford 24x7
support, but wanted it for some software they had. After a couple of years,
Symantec changed its policies, and they got their 24x7 support for a nominal
(27) Kill the budget! I understand how important a
budget is for many people, but I frankly don't care about it (not my job)
and neither should you. A budget is what you thought you were going to
spend at some point in the past. It is a guideline. It doesn't reflect
current needs. If you need something bad enough you will do it. I doubt
during your next heart attack if you will be worried whether you budgeted
for it. At that point, you just have to deal with it as best you can.
Budgets can be very destructive to good business. They can "force" you to
do things like buy maintenance in only one year increments, even though you
know you will need support for multiple years and can save a lot by buying
those years up front. It won't "allow" you to spread the cost of a project
over two years. It won't allow you to rob from one area (utility costs, tax
savings) to help you pay for something you need. This is a very
shortsighted view and is a good reason why accountants and finance people
don't run companies. They tend to look at costs, not benefits and value.
I am actually relieved to hear it when people say, "We
don't have any money to spend." "Great! Now we can talk about your
problems without your fear that I'll try to sell you something, because both
of us know you are broke!" Of course, they think I'm weird, but I'm used to
that.... In any case, we can start a relationship with less stress and
often, using the ideas I've expounded upon here, we actually end up doing
mutually beneficial business together!
When management is spooked, as in this current fiscal
climate, it is a good time to challenge many assumptions. And one that is
easy to challenge is that the budget is immutable because, for many
businesses (including governments and schools), revenues aren't meeting
expectations, so "radical" changes are being made. This is a good thing for
radical thinkers who have been restrained in the past by their budgets. Now
you can do things that never would have been considered before.
(28) Stop (or start) the vicious cycle. Everything has
a useful lifetime, except husbands. You do want to replace your computing
tools when they fail to meet your needs. Typically most organizations do
this on a three to five year cycle. Can or should you change that cycling
because of your current needs and challenges? If all you are doing is word
processing and surfing the web, you can use a machine that is quite old, for
example. But, if your server can't keep up with the load you put on it or
you want to lower your costs by combining many servers into one via
virtualization, you will need a new, more capable server. You also don't
want your cycle to "force" you into replacements that will be hard to
swallow. Remember tip 7 about thinking small? One local school decided to
purchase all new computers for its students. That mass buy may have saved a
couple of procurement dollars, but staging the equipment and getting it out
to the students proved difficult, and now at 3 years later, the warranties
have all died, the machines are failing, and there isn't the money to
replace them all. Financial experts recommend periodic investment to
maximize return on your personal financial portfolio. The same is true of
your business. Investing over time is easier, less disruptive, and more
likely to return value.
If you want your cycle to last longer, you need to buy
that way. Cable in your walls should last a very long time. You don't want
the expense and disruption of recabling or pulling additional cables, so you
should buy towards the high end of the market and pull that cable to every
conceivable spot you might need to put some networked equipment. Fiber
cabling isn't that much more than copper cabling to put in your walls,
though to connect to it normally costs $150 or more per connection. It has
unique advantages over copper cable. It will not conduct potentially
damaging electricity between devices. Light will travel reliably in a fiber
cable much farther and faster than it will in copper cables. You can't tap
into a fiber cable as easily as you can a copper one. You can even send
multiple non-interfering wavelengths of light down a single fiber cable.
These are all very good reasons why utility companies are moving so quickly
to replace their copper cabling with fiber and why almost all new
developments are cabled with fiber.
(29) Procrastination kills (and saves). Few things
actually need to be done right now. It is OK to procrastinate, especially
when it comes to your computing needs. In general, next year's products
tend to be better, faster, cheaper, more capable.... People ask me when
they should upgrade or buy something new. I ask them if they are missing
something they want now and/or in the not too distant future. If the answer
is no, then they can stand pat. Usually, the answer is yes or they wouldn't
have called. With a yes answer, you shouldn't procrastinate. The greatest
costs in your business life are lost time and lost opportunity. If
something new can help you save time or create an opportunity, don't wait.
Buy it now. If I told you for every $1 you gave me, I'd give you $2 in 1
year and you knew you would get that money, how many dollars would you want
to give me, even if it wasn't in the budget?
(30) Ditch the big contract. I am always disheartened
when I hear that someone is shackled to a contract that forces them in
directions they may not want to go. Even if it is a "good" thing, it may
not be all that palatable. Think of it this way. You are a kid. You like
popsicles. You tell your mom. She finds a buy on popsicles at the local
Large Mart and buys 748 grape ones. It takes up all of her freezer space,
so you and your siblings only get to eat grape popsicles for the next 6
months until she buys another set of mango cherry (not your favorite).
Large organizations like large contracts. They can throw all of their money
in one direction and "get out" of the procurement business while that
contract lasts. But, it raises your technological and business risks, often
to unacceptable levels.
Many organizations, especially governments, like large,
sexy contracts and that makes it tough to change directions and obtain more
value for your money, even from the same supplier. It makes it hard to take
advantage of openings in the market as well. Wouldn't you hate to pay
higher prices or get inferior service or work with people you detest because
you had tied yourself to a long term contract with one supplier? You have
to follow the rules of the contract until it expires, don't you? Even more
damaging is creating a process that makes it difficult to work with someone
else. Governments, especially, have all types of unique barriers and
rules. It can be especially hard for many organizations to contract for a
smaller amount of labor. For example, let's say someone in a remote office
needs some hands on help setting up their network or getting training on how
to handle a new piece of software. Getting that contract written could be
just as hard as writing a $50 million "catch all" services contract. That
is like telling someone you will only work with them and the people they
pick to paint your house, mow your lawn, fix your car, drive your kids to
school, fix your plumbing, take our your appendix, and clean your teeth.
Does that sound like a good idea to you? And, if you don't have that large
contract, you can't get anything done until it gets awarded. Getting what
you need without using an existing large contract can often be quite
difficult, and it should be or no one would want to enter into a large
contract. Large contracts often don't work well in IT because they can't
deal with the rapid change in the technological and business environment.
Make sure you aren't artificially limiting yourself by
your contracts or your process for getting the help you need. The best
contracts are short term, have incentives for both parties to do well, have
clearly articulated expectations and easily measured results. Often, these
contracts are very simple and the contract documents are minimal and
sometimes non-existent. The best contracts build relationships that
everyone hopes will continue far into the future with more partnerships.
Put it this way: everyone wants to be the reference success story for a
vendor. They want to know and show how startlingly well everything went.
The written contract matters far less to the parties than their mutual
cooperation and results. We would like all of our clients to sing our
praises to others and do business with us forever. I work with a lot of
professional procurement people in governments. They have to follow a
tremendous number of rules which would seem to say that their process needs
to be micromanaged because they are incompetent and that their vendors will
somehow shaft the government. If that is the way you slant the process,
then you will probably get what you expect, lots of grief and not enough
relief. In the real world, though, there has to be a trust and partnership
between any two business partners. The more you can build on relationships,
understand one another, and be committed to your mutual success, the better
off you both will be.
Tony Stirk, Iron Horse firstname.lastname@example.org