New Year, New Technology Configuration

Cleaning the messy office. Cleaning closets. And reviewing my personal technology configuration. In my current case, I’m talking more hardware than software! That’s what I’ve been doing over the slow weeks of early January before client work tends to kick in (and yes, I’m available!)

After cleaning up my office (lots of paper recycled and still two drawers of articles printed off from the net that I can’t quite let go of, organizing accounting stuff, etc…) the next thing I had to deal with is my internet service. I’ve had DSL, orginally through the beloved Speakeasy, but now part of Megapath. I loved the localness and great customer service of Speakeasy, but after about a year of their VoIP service for my phone I started having problems. And they said I needed to buy more bandwidth. I was stubborn. They sold me the package based on the level I bought and it SHOULD work, right? So I dithered for another year, contemplated moving to Quest Fiber, but once CenturyLink took over the complaints scared me away. That left me with Comcast. Sigh. I resisted for years. But we have Comcast for TV service (I am married to a television fan).  So after researching, I took the plunge.

But, if I canceled my old Speakeasy internet and phone for my business, I still needed phone service. Comcast pitches the old “six months at a reasonable price,” then it balloons. And I don’t use my phone THAN much. So I decided to follow the advice of Eugene Kim (now at his new venture, Groupaya) and port my business line to GoogleVoice, then use the OBI110 device (Amazon associate link – full disclosure)  to bridge Google Voice to my regular phone handset (not needed the computer to be on for calls). There are a few little twists to this process, which Eugene has generously captured on his wiki. This link is particularly helpful if you have to port a land line into Google voice via a mobile line, as Google does not port land lines.

So far so good. I purchased the required cable modem as directed by Comcast (Motorola SB6121 SURFboard DOCSIS 3.0). Check. Bought a new router as my two year old router has been needed more frequent resets. (Linksys E3200 High-Performance ) Check. Scheduled install of Comcast 20MBS service for yesterday.  Check.  Clean out the stereo cabinet where I hope to put all this equipment (and free a little more room in my micro-office.) Check.

Delay leaving for meeting Sunday afternoon to be there when the Comcast tech arrived and … Comcast was a no show. Somehow, it seems, our appointment was cancelled. Now rescheduled for Thursday. Grrr. Am I going to regret this choice?

Today I still went ahead with the line porting. I got a cheap TMobile pay per use sim card, popped it in my old Tmobile handset (unlocked that I use for travel), and ported my business phone to my mobile. That took about 2 days. Today I started the porting process to Google Voice. Now I have to learn the ins and outs of GoogleVoice, how to get voice mail and all the myriad of options. Mamma mia. It ain’t simple.

Then I set up the OBI110 and tested my phone with it. The audio quality was terrible with lots of breakup, but I suspect this is an exacerbation of the problem I’m having with my VoiP from Megapath, so I can’t judge the sound quality until the new internet service arrives. Yes, I’m impatient. I also need to assess if the headset I’m using is fried, further deteriorating sound quality. I’m hard on headsets.

But wait- that’s not the only change. I have been frustrated a the current limitation of our home audio/video system. I want to stream music from my computer, I want to get rid of half the devices cluttering up our tiny living room and I want to bring more music into my daily life, not just when I’m at my computer. So we bought ourselves an 28th anniversary present of a Sony home music system (Sony BDV-E780W Blu-Ray Disc Player Home Entertainment System which we got on sale much cheaper than the current Amazon price – yay! But it still hasn’t shipped. Boo. ) which will replace the Roku box, the BlueRay DVD player, the old Onkyo tuner  and trigger my husband to finally remove the VCR that isn’t working from the stack! The five small speakers will replace the huge, ancient (well used, loved and now not so great) speakers, freeing up more space in the micro-living room. We’ll be Freecycling the speakers.

The router I bought has a USB port and I plan to put a large external hard drive on that as my file back up (and if I can configure it with some of the constraints I’ve heard about Comcast) be able to access some of my key files from the road. Then I can also transfer all my audio library so I can stream to the new wifi enabled stereo and play on another remote speaker that, natch, came free with the stereo set. I understand that there are some format constraints with Sony (and which almost caused me NOT to buy it, but it was a weak moment, what can I say.)

The final part of my configuration update will be a new desktop. Since my computer is essential business equipment, I tend to replace it every 2-3 years, donating my old computer to Interconnection here in Seattle. They make it free and easy. Thank you, folks! I bought an iPad2 last summer – my first Apple product — and I hate to admit it, but I love it and use it. A lot. Which has me considering an Apple product to replace my pee-cee. For years, the money I invested in PC software was a major barrier, but I’m doing more and more in the cloud. I open Office much less often and everything else I can use on a Mac. So should I do it? What is the migration path? I have gone to the Apple store a few times considering MacBook pros hooked into my existing ViewSonic 21 inch monitor. Or the slimmer MacBook Airs. But to be honest, where I travel in my work, I rarely have secure places to lock up computers and I hate carrying that much money around. So I travel with cheap netbooks. So do I need a laptop? Why not an iMac all in one? SOOO many decisions. I have not decided on this last step and missed my December 31 deadline (for accounting purposes) so I’m sitting with the question. There is no urgency. It may, however, impact how I set up my remote drive on the hub. Hmmm…

It is no wonder my mom calls me every time she needs to change her tech configuration, or why my husband has me do most of it for him. This takes a lot of time and consideration.  Technology stewardship is not for wusses! Even for me, who helped write the book.

How do you manage your personal technology configuration? Any tips or breakthroughs? Please, SHARE!

 

iPad Lust and Clash with Ideology

I have been wanting an iPad for my graphic recording work but I just haven’t given in. (I’m also debating various ebook readers to cut down on paper. I have a book habit.) But I keep getting uncomfortable. George Siemens sums it up for me.

However, for those committed to openness, the iPad forces a clash between technolust and ideology. Perhaps we need a self-help group for people in a state of cognitive dissonance due to the impressive Apple technology, but less impressive stance on openness and end user control.

via elearnspace › iPad. Yes, it’s rather good.

More Reflections on SharePoint and Picking Technology

Creative Commons image Yesterday I woke up and checked my email. It was clear that the email lull of the holidays was over. I was taken by a post on one of my core community lists, KM4Dev, from one of my colleagues. You can see the full thread here (or if that page won’t load I save them here KM4DevSharepointDiscussions):

Dear colleagues

A few weeks ago, I posted a query on IT-tools for virtual projects and got very useful recommendations. One colleague pointed out to me that, for an organization like SDC (big, Government), one of the main elements to consider would be the IT department. This proved to be very true. Our ministry’s IT department over the past few years developed one major collaboration application (consultation tool to develop consolidated Swiss statements for UN), based on MS Sharepoint. This application has a fantastic track record: it is used, it is appreciated by ist users, it produces good results and it saves time. Our IT department therefore concludes that MS Sharepoint is the basis on which to build SDC’s collaboration platform.

We are not quite sure they are right, but for the time being they definitely got more and better arguments than we do. This is why I would like to tap into the km4dev collective experience again: what do we as a group know about MS Sharepoint as basis for building a community collaboration platform?

Some of the questions turning in my mind are:

* What was MS Sharepoint initially conceived to be? What is its development history? What are the core functions it is really good at?

* I got somewhat alarmed when seeing that MS Sharepoint is not mentioned at all in “Digital Habitat” (book by Etienne Wenger et al on Technology Stewardship for communities). Nancy, why don’t you mention it?

* What are “make it or break it” features we should ask for, which would guarantee that a useful community collaboration platform can be built on MS Sharepoint?

Wishing you all a great start into the new year. Thanks for helping us along

Adrian

Adrian Gnägi
Knowledge and Learning Processes

Being on the US West Coast, my other KM4Dev colleagues had already provided some great responses (again, see the thread!) But since Adrian had asked me specifically about why SharePoint was not in our book, Digital Habitats, I wanted to answer. My friend Jon Lebkowsky suggested that I blog my response. Considering the number of page views on my last SharePoint post I figured that might be a good idea. SharePoint and other collaborative platforms are also not  new topics for the community as you can see from this summary on the community wiki:  http://wiki.km4dev.org/wiki/index.php/SharePoint. The topic stays alive, so I chimed in:

Adrian, by the time I woke up, my peers pretty much summed up what I would have said. I found all the messages really resonated with my experience and research.

We did not include it in the Digital Habitats book because in the community we have seen more failures in the use of SharePoint than successes and our goal was to tell stories of usefulness, not frustration. 😉

Others have already well articulated the core strengths and weaknesses of SP. From my personal experience with older versions of SharePoint (I  have VERY little with 2007) is that it is built  p from the metaphor of one’s hard drive. My folders. Your folders. Each community “ready to go with a click” but siloed in the very design of the software. Have you ever noticed that out of the box you can’t easily cross link once you are deep into a community space? You have to go back “up” to the top of the system, find the other space, and drill down. In essence, there is no fundamental network structure to the platform. In today’s world, that represents a significant problem for me. It actually creates more division, rather than facilitates connections.

There is also a distinction for all products that is important to consider. The differences between the tools a platform offers, how it does or does not integrate them with and without, and the features that make them usable all matter. (Quick definition: platform is the integration of a number of tools. Integration can be incredibly important and is probably the biggest “sales pitch” for any platform. Tool is a piece of code designed to do a particular thing. A feature is something that makes a tool usable. ) For example, a wiki is a tool. The wysiwyg feature, makes it easier for non-geeks to use. If a group makes a lot of tables in their wiki, they probably don’t want a wiki that requires wiki syntax to make the tables. These are examples of features.

Many platforms (not just SP) started bending their base structure (often built off of discussion threads) to “act like” newer tools such as IMs, wikis, blogs, etc. These re-purposed bits of code often lack the features we come to know (and depend upon) so they don’t feel right nor are they as useful. This is where examination of technology at all three levels: platform, tool and feature — can really matter.

As Matt says, who knows what 2010 version will bring. If it doesn’t bring a network sensibility, then MSFT will lose the game of both collaboration and cooperation because we are in a networked world and we need both. Simply having spaces for teams to collaborate won’t work for most of us, particularly in international development.

The key is always to start thinking about what ACTIVITIES you want to support in your collaboration platform, then assess the tools in the context of those uses and the environment of the user. The comments so far have really done a good job exploring some of those aspects:

  • What are people already using (start where they are)?
  • What are the connectivity issues (SP has a problem with this internationally, even when people have built “low bandwidth friendly add-ons)?
  • What tasks do people have to do individually and together (yes, consider the range from individual, to defined group, to network, which includes internal and external folks many times! So often we only look from the organization’s perspective if what it mandates)
  • Where is the locus of control of the software? we find that communities that have control of their environment tend to “bend” it to their needs more easily, more intelligently, than if they have to keep asking IT, who may or may not understand the context of their community. This is at the heart of the idea of “community technology stewardship” — in, from and for the community)
  • How can the tool allow a community to face in the directions it wants to face – in other words, if it is totally inward facing (private in all ways), a mix of inward and outward, or very outward facing (meaning it wants to connect outside itself with other individuals, communities and networks)
  • What is the simplest possible thing you can use now that will support your purpose and how can it grow, vs having every possible thing now and none of it is used (this is probably one of the biggest traps we all fall into)
  • How can the tool connect with, integrate, grow , evolve with outside tools and services (no community is an island!)?

If SP can support the activities you want, in your context, fabulous. If not, try and open a dialog that shows why not. Use the Spidergram (http://www.fullcirc.com/wp/2009/03/31/digital-habitats-community-orientation-spidergram-activity/) as a talking tool, and then, if their arguments are verbally convincing, try USING different tools. The FEATURES of the tools, what makes them useful (not just thef fact that there is a wiki or an IM tool in Sharepoint), is the difference that makes a difference. SP locks everything down to its specs. It is one way, or no way. If that works, fine. It has rarely worked for me.

You may also want to see this wiki http://cpsquare.org/wiki/Technology_for_Communities_project
And this chapter from the book, the Technology Steward’s Action Notebook

Nancy

Photo Credit: Dereliction Splendor
http://www.flickr.com/photos/71038389@N00/2218657600
http://www.flickr.com/photos/vermininc/
/ CC BY-NC-SA 2.0