Forget Everything You Learned In School?

For those of you who went to college directly after high school, how many of you graduated and got your first job only to hear the words "Forget everything they taught you in college"? To be honest, hearing that would tick me off immensely. After working very hard for more than two years and racking up somewhere near $25-30k in student loans, I would not be happy to hear that the entire time was mostly a waste and the concepts I just spent time and money learning are only theoretical and won’t do me any good in the "real world".

The University of Phoenix is far from perfect, but one thing I do like about the school is that instructors are required to have a minimum of a Master’s degree and must be leaders in their fields. I spent my entire time in the FlexNet program, in which a student attends the first and last class session at the campus and the weeks in between are conducted online through a newsgroup. I’m currently taking my final class onground at the Buck’s County campus. I’m finding that the on ground program is much more demanding than FlexNet. I don’t mean demanding academically, but more demanding on time. Since I go to class directly from work, I stay at work until time to leave. That means putting in more than a ten hour day at work, then driving to Buck’s County, PA for four hours, then get home around 11 PM when I normally leave the house at 6 AM.

Because instructors must be highly educated and experienced, I’ve had some really good people to learn from. One instructor had risen all the way to Vice President at a telecommunications company. Another instructor was an IT manager in a very large corporation. My current instructor is a microbiologist who has had a highly successful business career.

The material that I’ve learned in my classes is much more than theoretical. I truly have learned material to help me in my current job and to give me perspective on how we conduct business. I was hired into my current job after providing onsite support to engineers for development testing of the very large scale program that I work on. (I purposely leave my employer and industry vague when I have to mention work on this blog.) One of my responsibilities in this position is to represent our customer during a hardware acceptance test. I act as an observer and sign off after analyzing data with my counterpart in another organization. I then produce a report. When I first started in this position, I was trained as an observer on the last shipment of the previous platform. Because this was an established platform, the hardware acceptance test took about 40 minutes to complete and sign off. We had a few "glitches" to adjudicate, but for the most part the test went off without a hitch. After that, the platform changed. The hardware changed, and the program had to change to accommodate the hardware and newer features. The next three acceptance tests I observed took more than five hours to complete. Talk about being late for lunch! Because of my background in developmental testing support, I murmured that the program was bad and needs a lot more work however; officially I did my duties with the sign-off and report.

After beginning the IT program at the University of Phoenix, I learned about concepts such as the Systems Development Life Cycle (SDLC). To be honest, I had not up to that point differentiated between hardware and software testing. I assumed that the software did not work therefore the entire system had a problem (part of the reason for Microsoft’s reputation smile_teeth) . That was not so. Because the platform changed, the hardware had done its job but the program had not been developed enough yet to be mature. I talked with some members of my organization and learned that indeed, the software being used to certify the hardware was only guaranteed for that test. Because this is such a large program, the hardware is shipped first and the software is installed later.

I now have a new appreciation for the hardware acceptance test that I observe. I got a chance last year to assist the engineers who conducted the development testing, and that was a lot of fun and very interesting. I learned a lot from that experience and now having worked both hardware and software testing I have a new appreciation for how programs like this (large scale programs) go together. I tried to get a position in the development test group, but at the time it fell through. I’m needed in my position, and while development test would have appreciated my help, nobody would provide funding for me to have an extra computer to keep in that office, and I could not get VPN access to the network that they have to use.

I am pleased at least in this regard with the University of Phoenix: I will not be told "forget everything you learned in school."

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IT Needs A Backup

Even though I’m about to get an IT degree, and I have a lot of IT experience and knowledge, and a lot of my friends work in IT, I don’t actually work in a straight IT capacity. I’m more of an engineer working on a testing program. I know enough about IT to be at least a little bit critical of other people’s work when the situation warrants it.

I was talking to some people recently about the IT field. I can’t say that IT in many organizations has a stellar reputation, and in some cases I would say it is deserved. If you’ve ever read (or been) the Bastard Operator From Hell, you might understand what I’m talking about. What I told the people I was talking to that day is that IT is a very strange paradox. IT is a highly service oriented field, but the qualities that might make a person good at IT also tend to make them less personable. Most IT training centers around the technical and so the service aspects are often left out. I do notice that a lot of IT departments don’t provide a lot of user training, and most users aren’t interested in that training. If anything, the goal seems to be to lock the user down so that the helpdesk has to be called to change the wallpaper on a user’s workstation.

What really gets me though is when IT departments seem to go out of the way to appear incompetent and lazy. Last night I had class at the University of Phoenix’s Bucks County campus. UOP does provide wireless Internet access, as they should when the textbooks are all online. Why shouldn’t you be able to get to your textbooks WHILE YOU ARE AT SCHOOL? Last night, I was able to connect to the access point but there was no further connection to the Internet. My instructor was having the same problem. We also noticed that the projector was projecting "Please clean filter" onto the bottom of the lecture Power Point presentation, cutting off some of the text at the bottom. When the school’s employee came in to pick up the attendance sheet, we decided to ask her about these problems. As for the "Please clean filter", she said that IT told her it’s supposed to do that. Seriously, they said that? Talk about lazy. Just clean the damn filter, turn off the warning, or return the projector and get one that works. Doesn’t anybody do research before they purchase equipment?

As for the Internet issue: "Oh, our IT guy is on vacation." So, what? I’m paying $1400 a class, and I should be able to get to the textbooks while I’m actually at the campus, shouldn’t I? They do have another IT guy, but he doesn’t know where the router is. Son of a motherless goat! How stupid and incompetent can this department be? We’re talking about an organization (UOP) that supposedly trains professionals. Don’t they hire any? Of course, if the IT guy who was not on vacation actually knew where the router was, he could probably fix the problem in a few second by resetting the router, which is one of the most common reasons why a wireless access point would allow connections in but not back out.

I know there are a lot of problems in modern companies regarding the IT department. They’re often overworked and under appreciated and at war with their users. I’ve worked support jobs before, and it’s hard when every single phone call starts off with somebody yelling that somehow you did something to cause their problem before you even know what the problem is. It’s very, very hard not to go to war with your users under those circumstances. We have to avoid it though. We have to face the fact that IT is service oriented. We have to provide some training to the users whether they want it or not, and we have to make sure that somebody else knows how to reset the router when we go on vacation.

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How To Interpret Technology Product Reviews

I’m still considering options to replace the productivity void left by the death of my hx4705 Pocket PC. I’m trying to avoid what would be the easiest and most inexpensive option: learn to live without a Pocket PC. I spent a good part of time the other day looking over the pool of available devices and comparing them to the features that I need, the features I want, and the features I can compromise on. One problem I’m facing is that Pocket PCs, especially phones, are still an emerging technology and a lot of good features aren’t completely worked out yet. There has been a lot of progress but I still find it hard to narrow down my choices to one particular device.

As much as I would love to have kept the 8125 if it had worked properly, I am now scalded and do not plan to buy another one, even if it were brand new with a warranty. The model that I had was a store return, reason unknown. Some of the usability problems that I had were widely reported by other users, although my stuck camera button problem seemed to be unique. After spending a decent chunk of time comparing my options, I am seriously thinking about the HP iPaq 6945, which is the unlocked GSM version of the 69xx line of iPaq Pocket PC Phones. However, if I were to buy this phone, I would have to expect it to last for at least two years. I can’t decide in two months that I’d rather have a 4" VGA screen, and I can’t decide that the thumb keyboard is not adequate for my short, stubby fingers. In order to help me to make an educated choice, I have to rely on hardware reviews as taking a "test drive" of a phone is never easy. I don’t know anybody who has this model, and while chances of AT&T having one in their stores are slim, chances of them letting me try to make and receive calls while browsing the Internet and writing a paper for school while taking pictures of my kids are even slimmer.

When evaluating and interpreting hardware reviews, you have to consider several factors:

1) What kind of review is this?

There are professional reviewers and there are user reviewers. One of the first places I like to go when researching cell phones or other gadgets is CNET.com. CNET has been around for many years and has access to all of the cool gadgets. They have the tools to test every aspect of the device. However; CNET falls short on long term usage. They may play with the gadget for a few hours, but they really can’t tell you how well it will hold up over a period of six months of heavy use. For that, you need a user review.

Where do you get a user review? Well, what is this? My blog is an example of a user review. I have owned several gadgets, and I write about them. I may not write extensively and I may not be formally trained but maybe I complained about a feature and your Google search dropped you here to read it. CNET does have user reviews for most products as long as users provided them. Some gadgets get more reviews than others; for instance, the Cingular 8525 had 270 reviews last night while the iPaq 6945 had only four. To get more information, I had to go to Google.com and Live.com to search for "iPaq 6945 user review". I found some blog posts and forum discussions, and Amazon.com had 29 reviews that gave me some good information to make a decision with.

2) What is the perspective of the reviewer?

CNET.com has professional reviewers. Typically, the manufacturer will send them a review unit that they can play with, post a review, and send back. They’ll tell you what features the device has, how well it operates under certain conditions, and of course they can compare the device against more "absolute" standards. I think of them like movie reviewers, except slightly more useful to society. How many times have you seen a professional movie reviewer dismiss a movie as a total waste when you saw the movie and thought it was great entertainment? The reviewer is trained differently than you and has a different perspective. The reviewer normally has very elite tastes and is trained to recognize concepts like plot and character development. Maybe you just want to see some zombies getting their heads blown off. The movie may not have any real plot or character development but it keeps you entertained for about 90 minutes. CNET.com reviews can be looked at in this light. They are comparing the iPaq 6945 against a higher standard while I’m only comparing it against devices in my price range. They might say that the 8525 is a better device, but if the 8525 is out of my price range, I am not going to be able to compare the 6945 against it. It’s the same with cars. If you can only afford a $12,000 car, you honestly don’t care how well it stacks up against a $50,000 car; you want to know how it compares against other $12,000 cars.

3) What information does the review contain (especially important for user reviews)?

If you look at reviews on Amazon, and you see something resembling the following:

THIS DEVICE SUCKS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! DON’T BUY IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Mine broke. Tech support is horrible!

What does that actually tell you? You know nothing about the conditions the user tried to operate the device under. You know nothing about the user’s knowledge or skill level with this device. This tells you nothing about the user’s expectations for the device at the time of purchase. I read some negative reviews about the 6945 from Palm users who preferred the Palm OS better. They compared the 6945 to a Treo. That gave me some information about their background, skill level, and expectations. Similarly, when I read reviews from previous 63xx and 65xx users, I could tell that they had used this platform before, had experience with similar devices and software, and I could relate to their reviews. Their reviews gave me an idea of how the device would operate under my conditions at my skill level. One review from a Palm user said that "todo list doesn’t support categories" and "Outlook isn’t customizable". I see that these statements show the user to be unfamiliar WITH THESE PLATFORMS, as I do know that Pocket Outlook tasks do support categories and Outlook is highly customizable, but only an experienced power user such as myself can unleash a lot of the customizability of Microsoft Outlook.

Remember to use critical thinking when reading reviews. As an experienced Windows Mobile user, I can sympathize with a "newbie" having problems adapting to the platform but newbies complaining about "this device sucks" really doesn’t tell me what to expect if I buy the device.

Actually, after doing all the research I did the other day, I have come to a conclusion for now. I’m going to wait to hear back from PDASmart.com and if my hx4705 can be fixed for a reasonable amount, I’ll just continue to use it for a while. This is a tricky time to buy a Pocket PC, especially the phones. Windows Mobile 6 is out, but not in wide circulation yet. If I bought a Windows Mobile 5 device, chances of an update being provided (you heard me, HP) are almost non-existent.  I might as well wait for a complete line of WM6 devices to hit the market and build up reliability and usability statistics before I jump onboard. In the meantime, I borrowed my mother-in-law’s iPaq 1940 to get me by. It’s WM2003 1st edition and lacks wi-fi, but it will hold my calendar and tasks and I can keep my UOP textbooks on it in RepliGo format. That helped me survive the staff meeting yesterday… There are few things in corporate life worse than an hour or more long staff meeting with no Pocket PC to help pass the time.

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Conclusion to my Cingular 8125 Adventure

I returned my Cingular 8125. The intermittently sticking camera button rendered the device unusable. I was thrilled with it, and I really wanted the 8125 to work so I could use it. The company that I bought it from through an Ebay auction, Dyscern, has a return policy so I mailed the 8125 back yesterday. I also sent my old hx4705 to PDASmart.com to see if they can diagnose and repair it.

Having had my taste of a Pocket PC phone, however, I’m hungry for more. However, as I survey the field, I’m having a hard time making up my mind. I talked my dad into the 8125 as a graduation present, even though I haven’t completed my degree yet, I have three more weeks of one class and one DANTES exam left. I asked my dad what sort of limit I should adhere to and the figure he gave me should be enough to get a new model rather than a $219 "Buy it now" deal on Ebay. However; I’m having a hard time deciding if I should look for a Pocket PC phone, wait to see if my hx4705 can be fixed, or just wait until next year and see what comes out. I saw a post on Pocket PC Thoughts stating that SonyEricsson apparently contracted HTC to make hardware for a Windows Mobile phone. I haven’t used any of SE’s smartphones, but the two SE phones I’ve had did impress me so if SE could combine the best part of their phones with Windows Mobile, I could see waiting until next year.

I have many conflicting preferences and the pool of available devices does not match them. My hx4705 had a 4" 640×480 VGA screen, and frankly the smaller 2.8" 320×240 screen on most Pocket PC phones is hard to adjust to. The slide-out hardware keyboard is nice. I like a lot of the utilities and customizations that HP adds to their iPaq line and HTC did not include similar features in the 8125. However, HP does not have slide-out hardware keyboards in their Pocket PC phones. They have the thumb board, which might be acceptable but the screens on those devices are 240×240.

Of course, the iPhone does fall within the price range my dad mentioned, but the data plan is separate. I’m not sure that the iPhone is worth using without a data plan.

And so, my options appear to be three or four:

  • Get a Pocket PC phone such as the Cingular 8525, making appropriate sacrifices in preference for features.
  • Get a regular Pocket PC and just continue using a cell phone.
  • If hx4705 can be fixed, continue using that until next year and see what devices are available then.
  • Live without a Pocket PC.

While I’m waiting for PDASmart.com to receive my hx4705 and contact me, I might spend some time reading reviews. I will also return this blog to normal programming.

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The Cingular 8125 Saga Continues

I made a little bit of progress on my Cingular 8125. My years as a technician combined with my IT degree are becoming quite an asset to me. I couldn’t sleep last night; at least, I couldn’t sleep very well. I actually did fall asleep twice just long enough to dream about wandering the house because I couldn’t sleep. You have to love that. My wife told me I should stay home from church (I also didn’t feel well at 11 PM last night) but I still couldn’t sleep so I went to my computer room to get my geek on. I put the battery in the 8125 and tried to turn it on. It actually looked like the unit would boot up, and it did. I shut it down to swap my SIM card back in, and I was back to the "crashed" splash screen. I tried off and on to get it to work, and finally after about the 40th try it did boot up. I didn’t bother to put my SIM card in this time because I wanted to try to get some of my data off. We went to the Lindenwold Park for Lindenwold Day (yearly town celebration) and I got some pictures of my kids riding ponies that I wanted to recover if possible. Also, many of my tasks in Outlook disappeared somehow and I wanted to see if the Pocket PC still had them available. They are gone. I have no idea why.

When the Pocket PC booted up, I did find one problem I was having last night. For some reason, the camera keeps coming on and taking pictures. I guess the hardware button is stuck somehow. That’s not a good thing. I wonder if that’s why I can’t restore the Pocket PC to factory settings. I went into the button assignments and assigned the camera button to <nothing>.

I’m still hoping to return this 8125 for a refund. I’m not sure I want an exchange considering the problems I’ve been having with it. I did some reading last night and discovered that a lot of people have the same problems with the Cingular 8125 (HTC Wizard).

By the way, if you see the screen on my previous post, it is a bootloader screen, according to XDA-Developers. The bootloader screen appears when you start up the phone with the camera button pressed. This is more confirmation to me that my camera button is stuck on.

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Yet More Pocket PC Problems

I’ve had my Cingular 8125 for just over 24 hours and it is already dead. I emailed the company I bought it from to ask about a replacement or a refund. Their policy states that they do refunds or exchanges within 30 days. I have been using the phone most of the day. I installed all of my usual programs, although a few such as Magic Button just don’t want to work on this phone. There were a few problems I was willing to learn to live with. Some areas of the screen, especially the taskbar, didn’t want to respond to tapping. I had to slide the keyboard open to put the Pocket PC in landscape mode to take my chances. Toward the end of the evening, the input methods started to fail one by one. First the DSC00033hardware keyboard started spitting out special characters rather that letters, then it stopped working altogether. Next the software keyboard suddenly didn’t want to respond to input. Finally, the 8125 rebooted to the screen to the left. Rather than the Cingular splash screen, this is what I got. I have not been able to get a functioning ROM since. I am a fairly heavy user of Cell phones and Pocket PCs, but I should not have used this one that much in 24 hours.

In the meantime, I’m back to my trusty SonyEricsson z525a. The z525 is a great phone. I just like to have the Pocket PC functionality as well. I followed the links on HP’s website to send an email asking for support for my hx4705. I strongly suspect that the battery is the problem; however I did not want to spend money on a new battery to find that the hx4705 is completely dead. Perhaps HP can confirm a dead battery or can fix the problem. One thing the Cingular 8125 taught me is that I really miss the 640 by 480 VGA screen on the hx4705.

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I’m Back In Business With My Cingular 8125

I got the battery for my 8125 yesterday, and spent several hours last evening setting it up. I can’t say the situation was ideal. I had been waiting all week for this battery, and having a working Pocket PC meant a lot to me. My wife went out with her sister for a while, leaving me with the kids. I had school Thursday night, so the kids didn’t see me at all. They missed me, I missed them, yet I also wanted to get this Pocket PC setup. I tried to play with the kids and install my applications and setup and test the 8125, but I can’t say I did either well. My kids wanted me and I wasn’t focusing well, so I ended up making the same mistakes over and over again. Eventually things calmed down and I was able to get enough of my favorite programs installed.

For the most part, I like the 8125. I definitely miss the large, 640×480 screen on my old hx4705. However, this device is built to run Windows Mobile 5 and it does run WM5 with a decent amount of efficiency, considering this is only a 200 Mhz processor. My last two Pocket PCs had 624 Mhz processors. This one has the 2.25 ROM update, so the OEM software is current. I might consider upgrading to one of the cooked ROMS on XDA-Developers.

I have to drive up to the University of Phoenix’s Wayne, PA campus for a CLEP test today. I’m taking the Analyzing and Interpreting Literature CLEP. Next Saturday I take the Here’s To Your Health DANTES test. If I pass these two tests, I should be good to go to complete my degree.

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