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For Your Information - Information, Technology, Society

Issue #4.2, May 19, 2003

I've received a number of comments about specific articles recently, and would like to share them with you. My thanks to everyone who took the time to comment on the articles.

  1. Technology is a Two-Edged Sword
  2. Wireless Networking
  3. How's Your Business?
  4. Fineprint & Fineprint pdf Factory

Technology is a Two-Edged Sword - Don't get cut on the backswing

In Newsletter #4, April 6, 2003 I asked the question, somewhat tongue-in-cheek: "If I continue to use the navigation system, will I lose the ability that I have to find my way to places and avoid getting lost?"

George Fruehan, NUMBERS TALK, writes:

Before I had a watch I always knew what time it was. Now I have to look. Before my DayTimer (and Palm Pilot) I always knew what was coming up next week. Now I have to look even to check tomorrow.

Somehow, I think the trade off is worth it.


An automotive GPS installation will certainly change how you navigate. It will not change your need to navigate.

My first "job" out of college was as a Navy Bombardier/Navigator in the Grumman Aerospace A-6A Intruder aircraft. For its time it was "state of the art", with an inertial navigation system and a capability for the crew to update the aircraft's position by placing radar cursors on known navigational check points.

Of course, like with most technology "state of the art" also meant "bleeding edge". Inertials would happily dump under the tremendous acceleration of the catapult launch. The drum memory (now that dates me) of the Litton digital computer did not take kindly to the humidity and salt-induced corrosion of SE Asian flight operations. The mean time between failure for the Intruder's system was just about an hour, with that ~hour often expiring right in the middle of something important, like dodging a SAM or coming aboard the ship at night.

All of these experiences bred a healthy caution in one's trust and utilization of the Intruder system. The net was that we all became very proficient at degraded system operations, which meant figuring out how to complete the mission and get ourselves back aboard the ship in spite of our broken or misbehaving toys. This essentially meant keeping several alternative means of "knowing where we were" active throughout the mission, like a good dead reckoning navigational plot for example.

All electronics are especially prone to failure when exposed to extremes of temperature (closed car - hot summer day), humidity (I live in Half Moon Bay, where mold grows year-round on the north side of my house) or physical shock (your car hits one of those crater-size potholes that appear every spring).

Because of this you will always need an alternative way to do what you intended. In the case of an automotive GPS installation, this means some fairly simple stuff, like always carrying a Thomas atlas and a scrap of paper with the destination address and phone written down. If it's a destination you visit frequently, you will also develop a subconscious mental map of how to get there and return, using physical landmarks like, "turn right at the Shell station and continue until you pass a new Albertson's with a Straw Hat Pizza two doors to the left of it."

WIRELESS NETWORKING -- How well does it work?

In Newsletter #3, January 7, 2003 I discussed the difficulties with getting wireless networking to work.

Jesse Tenenbaum, GRADUATE STUDENT, writes:

FWIW [For What It's Worth], I love wireless and find it highly worth my time. I do recall some issues starting up, but a relatively painless tech support call cleared it right up. And now I'm at a conference in Hawaii, able to do email while listening to talks, and even better, able to access the web from outside, while enjoying the beautifully landscaped courtyard. Gotta disagree with you on this one. I do admit, though, that there's not much advantage for a desktop machine.

AJ Fraties, THE RAIFORD COMPANY, writes:

Jon, this is very interesting stuff, and very well-written. I especially like the articles on AT&T Wireless and on wireless networking. Sometime when you are up this way I will have to show you my internal network so we can compare notes. We live in an older Spanish-style home that (when we moved in) had no internal wiring. We managed to run in 27 four-port drops....all inside the walls. I still don't know how we did it, but we did...and I can empathize with your desire not to want to do any more of it.


I had looked briefly at wireless LAN in 2000, but decided against it as a means of connecting neighbors... Recently I came across an article about increasing range, which was your problem...

www.tux.org/~bball/antenna on building your own external antenna... you might take a look.

Tu Jarvis, COLLEGE PROFESSOR, writes:

Thanks for the note. I found the ones on Yahoo, AT&T, and using (or trying to use) a wireless connection particularly useful. I had decided against the new Yahoo connection for my DSL for the reasons you mention. I have had terrible experience with AT&T in the past, though my office cell phone is AT&T and it has worked fine. And I decided against trying a wireless connection and you made me feel that it still wasn't time to try it anew.

How's Your Business?

In a separate mailing to my consulting friends (Newsletter 4.1, April 16, 2003), I asked the question: "I'd be interested to know if things are up/same/down for you compared to last year in terms of new opportunities that are opening up." Here are the responses I've received so far.

Steve Epner, BSW CONSULTING, writes: (UP)

Business seems to be starting to climb again. It stalled when the war started and people seem to be ready to make decisions to go forward again. This is mostly on system selection. HIPAA [ED: Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 ] work has been strong and we think it will get stronger even though another [government] deadline passed. Industry initiatives are slow right now. New ones are not being started as there is too much uncertainty. We could really help, they need the help, but no one wants to get out in front right now.


My only two yardsticks are these:

a) I am a contractor with <company> and provide consulting and mentoring services to various accounts where <company> is providing support to customers. Their business appears to be slowing down. I billed only 16.5 hours in March, and have only billed 6 hours in April. I see it, and I have talked with many who see it across a good part of <company>.

b) Most of the customers that I am supporting are State Agencies. They are faced with significant budget cuts. They are cutting back on the work they do with vendors.


For Cornerstone, things are unchanged / flat. At any time during the last 18 - 24 months we've had from 2 to 5 proposals in front of folks. Of these, only ONE made into a revenue-producing engagement - fortunately, though, a "gorilla" gig that's still rumbling along. We've had 3 - 4 others that self-aborted before "start work", all for the usual reasons (budget got cut, sponsor boogied / was laid off, firm turned turtle or downsized big-time, etc.). The rest of our proposals are still out there in the Land Of The Living Dead - not alive but could still rise from the grave. I can't say yet that things are looking up as I see no tangible change in our conversion rate (proposals into paying work). I do sense more optimism, especially over the past month as the Iraq situation is now MUCH less an unknown. Also, there is a certain amount of work that firms will soon be forced to do, bad economic karma or not. You can put off stuff for only so long. Then there are opportunities that happen due to government fiat / legislative spending: Defense spending (inventory of Tomahawks is way down), homeland security (Insight (baggage scanning equipment) is going nuts down in Fremont), voting systems improvements (Sequoia Voting Systems in Oakland just got the Santa Clara County contract, having "saved the bacon" earlier for several Florida counties caught up in the 2000 "hanging chad" election circus), to name a few.

Walter Moeller, PRINCIPLE PARTNERS, INC., writes: (UP)

Things have improved for me personally, I am billable! That is something I have not been able to say since Jan, 2002! I do not see very many reqs for "consultant," however, a few for 'developers' with very specific requirements and specific experience.

I find rates are way way down from two years ago!

Nancy Williams, INDEPENDENT CONSULTANT, writes: (DOWN)

In answers to your question about business this year, my answer is it is down significantly. Clients and potential clients are laying off and cutting costs, especially consulting costs. Probably the best gage of the health of the consulting business is the number of consultants networking with each other. All those who have called me and who I've called are experiencing a steep decline in business. They have proposals out, but few clients are acting on them.

Chuck Walrad, DAVENPORT CONSULTING, writes: (UP)

Up. I have signed a P.O. with Pro for new work for myself and have been talking to 3Com.

Tom Nugent, NUGENT & ASSOCIATES, writes: (UP)

I'd say opportunites are up over last year, although far from recovered.


The current situation reminds me of a remark you made 17 years ago: "As a profession, we will not be able to continue to get away with the kind of stuff we've been doing" (to paraphrase). Therefore it is our obligation to recognize opportunites however remote from our zone of comfort. I'm re-working www.promethod.com to reflect this. BTW, we just became a MSFT ISV. With good luck, in these fast-paced times we will see only 3.5 lean years instead of the full 7. But can't count on luck [due to the consequences of internet time].

[EDITOR'S NOTE: This is not a scientifically valid survey, so no percentages, averages, or other statistical measures can be drawn from the responses. This is because the sample is not random: it is drawn from only my newsletter recipients and the respondees self-selected themselves.]

Fineprint & Fineprint pdf Factory

I've had a product review on my website for some time about Fineprint and Fineprint pdf Factory. These are two great products that you should consider, both for personal as well as corporate use.

Fineprint is a "virtual printer" that can do all kinds of special formatting of *any* printed output from *any* program, and then send it to your "real printer". Formatting options include 2-up, 4-up, booklet, watermarks, collating multiple print jobs into a single package with consistent page numbering, stationary, etc. See my longer review at www.edpci.com/SoftwareReviews/fineprint.html.

Fineprint pdf Factory is a "virtual printer" that can create Adobe Acrobat pdf files (and it's much cheaper than purchasing Adobe's own product). Again, you simply print to pdf Factory from *any* application, and -- presto -- you've got your pdf file suitable for emailing or placing on the web. See my longer review at www.edpci.com/SoftwareReviews/pdffactory.html.

I've used these two products for quite some time and recommend them to anyone. Recently, I passed this along to an associate of mine in Phoenix. About a month later, I got this email from him:


I wanted to thank you for the tip about FinePrint. I was in Spain last month on (mostly) vacation and had to get a report to a client in PDF format when my copy of Acrobat got corrupted. YIKES. I had no CD with me. So I bought the whole Fineprint pdf Factory package and it saved the day . . . plus, now that I'm back, I really like the 2-up, 4-up, and duplexing capability that I never had before.

Great suggestion.


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