Vestavia Boy Scouts collecting items for storm victims in Birmingham

Vestavia Hills area Boy Scouts are collecting items for the storm victims around Birmingham all day on Saturday, April 30 and Sunday, May 1 at Scout Square on Highway 31 (where they normally sell Christmas trees – in front of the Post Office and across the street from Publix).

I’ve been up here a few minutes this morning and at this point, I don’t think they need any additional labor. If that changes during the day, I’ll post an update.

They will take anything that you can think of, but here’s what I’ve seen so far:

  • Bottled water
  • Non-perishable food items. (If you are at the store buying canned food, maybe throw in a hand-held can opener.)
  • Flashlights and batteries
  • Toilet paper and other toiletries
  • Clothing
  • Blankets and sheets. (I’ve seen a couple of sleeping bags.)
  • Small toys
  • Baby wipes
  • Hand sanitizer

I’ve seen lots of big trash bags of stuff. If you can separate (toiletries separate from food separate from clothes, for instance) and label things (even writing on a trash bag with a Sharpie helps) – that will make the process more efficient.

Is Microsoft the new IBM?

In the early 90’s, I was starting my programming career. I had a job programming COBOL on an IBM mainframe. I wanted a job programming Visual Basic (3) on Windows 3.1.  At the insurance company where I worked, the old guys (you know – the ones over 40) thought you couldn’t possibly run a company without computers from IBM. (I’m pretty sure we were one of the few sites that ran OS/2.)  I remember thinking that those guys were dinosaurs that didn’t have a clue. PCs and Microsoft were the future

Soon after, I started my own consulting company which has been a Microsoft partner since then. I’ve gotten over 30 MS certifications (going back to VB3 and Windows 3.1). You could definitely call me a “Microsoft guy”.

So now, I’m the old guy (over 40 anyway) and I’ve been listening to younger guys talking about PHP and Ruby on Rails for a few years now.  My initial reaction was something like – “Those are toy languages.  To any serious programming, you need to use .Net.”  The other day it occurred to me that to today’s twenty-something codejocks – I’m the IBM guy from the insurance company.

Well lately I’m starting to think it’s more than just their perception. I’m really starting to hate Microsoft. I don’t mean just the sales side. I’ve hated them for years, but the technology has always been good.  Don’t get me wrong. Visual Studio and SQL Server are still great and I really like SharePoint, but a lot of the other stuff frequently annoys the hell out of me.

Looking back, the decline has been going on for years. Starting on the consumer side – I used Microsoft Money since version 1.0 and loved it but the last few versions really sucked.  (They finally got out of the business and now I have to use Quicken.)  Windows XP was a great operating system, but when Vista came out – our company upgraded in anticipation of our customers upgrading.  No one ever did. (Vista was like the corporate equivalent of Windows ME. Very few people ever saw that either.)  I was hopeful when I heard other people saying good things about Windows 7. Maybe it would be a move back in the direction of XP. Nope – they doubled down in trying to out-Mac Apple. (If I wanted a Mac, I’d buy a Mac.)

I used Windows Phones for many versions – all the way to 6.5. I finally had enough and got a Android phone and love it.

I upgraded my Windows 7 to IE9 the other day and my computer no longer knows that Outlook 2010 is my default email program. (Notice I’m on the current version of everything.)  When I tried to send a file as an attachment today, I got an error message saying I had no default email client. Oddly enough, the message wasn’t from Windows, but was from Outlook.  My default email program was telling me that I had no default email program.

You get the idea.

We’re helping one of our clients move their corporate email.  We use a hosted Exchange service for our email and looked at that first.  It’s basically $5/month/mailbox. They’ve got about 20 mailboxes so that would be about $100/month.  Then we looked at Google Apps and it’s free so that’s what we went with.  One of my co-workers asked me “why do they need an Exchange server?” and I didn’t have a good answer. Just like the old dinosaurs when they tried to explain why we needed a mainframe.

Survey questions – don’t make them mandatory

I just closed my Mint.com account. (Nothing wrong with Mint.com. I use Quicken and so I didn’t really need it.)  In their confirmation email, they gave me the standard “We hate to lose you as a customer. Would you mind filling out a survey to give us feedback?”

OK – I’ll take a couple of minutes and let them know that I didn’t really have a problem with their service. (I actually think it’s very interesting.) I just didn’t need it.

The first page has 10 or so questions. I answer the 3 that are relevant to my situation and click Next.  I’m then told (in red) that the 7 questions I didn’t answer are Required.  So I clicked close on the browser and went on about my day.

This happens all the time. Seems like 3 answers from me are better than none.  If you’re really interested in feedback – take the feedback a customer is willing to give you.