Rick Broida over at Lifehacker has written a nice how-to on making Microsoft Word less annoying. The comments seem to reinforce the most intriguing tip I saw: Ditch Word altogether.

Heh. We do use Microsoft Office at the office, but I think I will take the plunge and try out the Open Office suite at home.

Here’s a bonus tip not included in Broida’s post.

Turn off Reading Layout. One of the first things I noticed when I began using Office 2003 was the Reading Layout “feature”. When opening Word documents as email attachments, Word 2003 by default would open the document in Reading Layout. This was supposed to make documents easier to scan through but the first thing I’d do would be click the Close button and view the document in another Layout mode.

Here’s how to turn off Reading Layout:

  1. Click the “Tools” menu and choose “Options”.
  2. When the “Options” multi-tabbed dialog box appears, click “General”.
  3. Uncheck “Allow starting in Reading Layout”.
  4. Click “OK” to close the dialog box.

www by hugoslv on sxc.hu

Companies are very concerned with providing more effective (and more cost-effective)

technical support. As an information technology manager, I receive another SOA, remote support strategy, CRM, or other service related notification via email on an almost daily basis. With these new hot buzzwords and with so many strategic options available, it can be easy at times to lose sight of the ultimate goal.

What is that ultimate goal? Customers with some sort of technical problem want to solve that problem quickly and easily. Some prefer to speak with a representative on the phone. Others prefer finding the answers themselves in the relevant manual.

I am of one of the “self-help” types. I hate being placed on hold. I hate to perform troubleshooting steps I’ve already performed because the support technician must follow a certain script. I hate listening closely because menu options have changed. Unless I need hand holding, I’d rather not obtain my support over the telephone. In most technology-related situations this means I want to find help another way. In other situations, such as getting a pre-qualified mortgage, I’d like that hand holding and trying to get in touch with a human being becomes more of a priority.

Recently at work, we came across an issue in which the the inventory management software system’s database was not successfully getting transferred to the barcode scanner Palm OS PDA. The manuals are all well written and easy to follow. But this issue wasn’t listed as one of the common troubleshooting problems.

Did the problem lie with the Palm OS, the PDA’s hardware vendor, or the inventory management system? I made sure that the latest version of Palm Desktop was installed. Since the PDA was a special type with a barcode reader installed, I thought I’d try contacting them. We decided to telephone for support because the online FAQ focused more on vendor’s generic products. I am grateful to have encountered the following feature:

After being placed on hold for a couple of minutes, a recording notified me that a technician would call me back. Sure we still have to wait to get help, but at the very least we don’t have to suffer through indefinite hold periods.

While waiting, I thought I’d take a look at the inventory software’s online support page and see what I could find there. Lo and behold, I picked up a similar-looking issue on the common problems page for our particular software package. The question posed was not the same as the issue we were experiencing, but it also had something to do with the database. It was worth a closer look. The issue and solution looked promising so I tried it out. Success!

By maintaining a thorough and updated knowledge base, this software package vendor helped us to find a solution quickly. Next time, I know to begin my support quest with the vendor that combines various technologies, rather than those individual technologies themselves. Going straight to the inventory software maker would have made more sense than starting with the hardware manufacturer or operating system maker.

A simple feature that allows users to avoid long hold times and a frequently updated (and searchable) online knowledge base resulted in a satisfying technical support experience. Neither of these two things involved outsourcing or advanced SOA strategies.

Have you, like the vast majority of other music listeners, grown tired of mainstream broadcast radio? Internet radio sites, such as last.fm and Pandora, offer a wonderful alternative to broadcast radio with a wealth of listening features. I know I’ve personally discovered a plethora of new music that I actually enjoy through these sites. These webcasters are completely legal and offer a way for those whose tastes have evolved beyond standards available on broadcast radio to discover new music without resorting to risky piracy.

I abhor piracy and strive to support artists I like. Internet radio allows music lovers like me to better determine who should receive my support.

However, if the Copyright Royalty Board and RIAA lobbyists get their way, Internet radio will be silenced. New fee structures would effectively raise rates for webcasters by 300 to 1,200 percent. Interestingly, these increases would only affect Internet radio. AM and FM broadcast radio would be left alone. The new fees are supposed to go into effect July 15, 2007.

I sincerely hope you join me and prevent this from happening. Savenetradio.org closely watches this situation and will allow you to get involved. Stay tuned as I plan on sharing updates and action items to help save net radio.

SaveNetRadio.org

The American Lung Association has released its State of the Air 2007 report. In short, the report finds that more than 136 million Americans are living in communities where they are exposed to unhealthful levels of air pollution. Polluted air hurts us all, but most especially children, the elderly, and those living with chronic lung diseases like asthma, emphysema, or who have diabetes and cardiovascular disease. From the link, you can check on the quality of the air in your area either by typing in your zip code or selecting your state from the map.

State of the Air 2007 report

The Congressman Frank J. Guarini Library located on the New Jersey City University campus has begun its first blog. They’ve already added a few posts and plan on using the blog to keep you updated on library events and resources and to share stories about libraries and librarians.

I’ve been to the blog and already like the frequent updates and the clean design of a layout which validates. It’s been added to my RSS reader and perhaps you’ll find it useful enough to add to yours as well.

Libraries sometimes get negatively associated with being outdated. “Who needs books when we have the Internet?” some may say. I disagree completely. Libraries are perfect examples of utilizing the best of yesterday’s, today’s, and tomorrow’s technologies. Do you like to carefully turn the old, worn but original pages of a great novel? Do you marvel at the speed of database catalog queries? Is there so much information that you simply need a human being to guide you in the right direction? Would you rather quickly access multitudes of REPUTABLE content libraries on your own? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you will find that the best place to find any of these things is at a library.

NJCU’s Guarini Library has entered the blogging world. Once again, a new vehicle of communication is being utilized and a wider audience can benefit. I welcome this library into the blogosphere.

I never admire another’s fortune so much that I became dissatisfied with my own.

Marcus T. Cicero
(c. 106-43 BC, Roman orator, politician)


Join MoveOn.org's Virtual Town Hall: Iraq

Without getting into political preferences, I wanted to share a virtual town hall meeting happening this evening at 7:15 p.m. Click on the banner above to join this meeting. Regardless of your political affiliation, this is a rare opportunity to connect directly with presidential candidates.

Perhaps I’ll get into some more detail in a later post, but this virtual meeting is yet another example of how the Internet has made it possible for democracy to again be accessible to ordinary citizens.

Unfortunately, concerns regarding the decline in undergraduate computer science enrollment are already being realized.

InformationWeek summarized the report released by the AeA as stating that the United States has lost its competitive edge just as other countries are becoming more aggressive in technological pursuits. But the 32 page report is not all doom and gloom. It includes both immediate and ongoing recommendations to alleviate this crisis.

Some more good news is that is seems like federal legislators want to make technology more of a priority. Hopefully it is not too late to regain that competitive edge.

Don’t complain because you don’t have. Enjoy what you’ve got.

H. Stanley Judd (American author)

An article by InformationWeek asks “Where are the Programmers?” The future of computer science in the United States is in peril as indicated by a sharp decline since 2001 in college undergraduates choosing computer science as a major. Furthermore, this decline comes just as a new challenge of programming tomorrow’s multicore processors arrives. As a degree holder in computer science, I feel a personal concern at the prospect of a skill vacuum in my industry.

InformationWeek quotes Rick Rashid, senior vice president of Microsoft Research:

We are at a low point of interest in computer science. Jobs will go begging in the next few years because we don’t have the people willing to take on the field.

Researchers and large technology corporations are looking for tomorrow’s talent. This shows a marked difference from just a couple of years ago when I earned my bachelor’s degree and entered a saturated market. During my undergraduate academic career I regularly became concerned about the prospect of encountering difficulties finding a job once I graduated. (Luckily, these fears were not realized.) In a future post I will divulge a little more about why I chose a path in computer science. For now suffice it to say that technology has been an interest of mine since receiving a personal computer as a gift for my seventh birthday.

But I happened to declare my major at the peak of computer science undergraduate enrollment. Dot com hype had not yet given way to dot bomb fallout. Indeed, there were quite a few classmates who unabashedly proclaimed they were only studying CS for the money. These “insincere” techies of course were the least successful. But in addition to diluting the talent of the workforce, those money grubbers may have also contributed to the watered down image of computer science as a viable industry. Barely muddling their way through programming classes and not bothering to learn the fundamentals of the subject matter, they concentrated instead of finding ways to pass their classes. They then emerged into the workforce lacking fundamental computer knowledge. One stands out in my mind as not knowing how to access the volume controls on her computer and needing help with her sound problems.

Is it any wonder that computer scientists are viewed by the general public more as technical support operators than as research scientists? I may be more interested in discovering how Noam Chomsky’s theories in linguistics apply to programming languages, but others see a degree in computer science as a help ticket in setting up a wireless network.

An undergraduate major in computer science no longer means a guaranteed comfortable paycheck upon graduation. The fluff is gone. So are the unskilled tech wannabes who are only interested in making an easy buck. For me this trend is a good thing. Highlighting the enrollment decline can be seen as stripping away the veneer and exposing an underlying problem. That problem is an overall public ignorance of what computer science is. Until that image is made more clear the aforementioned “insincere” techies won’t be the only ones staying away. If the genuinely talented youngsters out there are unaware of the challenges offered in computer science, they will continue to stay away as well.