Doing more with more?

IT leaders and practitioners are often compelled to do more with less. But what if we leveraged tools to help us do more…with more?

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote on my LinkedIn about unashamedly using tools like ChatGPT to help out with tasks.

It’s something that I’ve been thinking of a lot lately, if I’m honest. In the IT world–and especially in the nonprofit IT world, the phrase “doing more with less” has become a mantra, as we are all constantly challenged to achieve greater outcomes with limited resources (whether real or artificial).

Seeing tools like ChatGPT come around, and the attendant press that’s come with it, makes me feel like we’re standing at the precipice of a major paradigm shift. These tools aren’t limiting us; rather, they can make us do more. In other words, we can do more with more.

By leveraging these tools, perhaps IT practitioners (nonprofit or otherwise) can focus on the creative aspects of our work, leaving the machines to do the mundane. And let’s be honest: Computers love mundane tasks.

So over the next few weeks, I’ll be writing some thoughts on this matter. Join me, won’t you, as we do more…with more?

Sousa in Minneapolis

A Minneapolis connection for the composer of the Independence Day soundtrack: John Philip Sousa

As we settle in to the Independence Day holiday, one of the things that happens is that we hear all of the John Philip Sousa marches on the playlist. While his most popular marches like The Stars and Stripes Forever, Semper Fidelis, or The Washington Post get played a lot, there’s an obscure march of his that has a uniquely Minneapolis connection.

In 1929, at the opening of his eponymous tower in downtown Minneapolis, the businessman Wilbur Burton Foshay (1881-1957) commissioned a march from Sousa, called the “Foshay Tower-Washington Memorial March.” At 447 or 607 feet tall, depending if you count an antenna on top of the building, the Foshay Tower was the tallest building in Minneapolis from its 1929 opening until the nearby IDS Center surpassed it 43 years later. The building was built not only because Foshay had money, but it was to pronounce to the world that Foshay had money. (Most things built in this time did that.)

The run of good luck for Foshay was short-lived: Six weeks after the opening of the building, Foshay’s company was thrown into receivership. The $20,000 check to Sousa bounced, and Sousa ordered that the march penned for this occasion was never to be played until the debt was settled up. In 1932, Foshay was convicted of running a pyramid scheme with shares of his own stock, and sentenced to 15 years in prison. Even in marching band circles, few knew of this mysterious 135th Sousa march.

It wasn’t until 1988 when a group of Minnesotans paid Foshay’s debt to the Sousa estate, allowing the Foshay Tower-Washington Memorial March to be played again.

The A in AI stands for anchovies?

In which we merge two controversial topics: Generative AI and…anchovies on pizza??

I’m about to write probably the most controversial sentence I think on this blog in its decade-plus long history:

I like anchovies on pizza.

No, seriously, I do! But according to a 2023 YouGov survey, nearly 3 in 10 Americans definitively say that anchovies are their least favorite pizza topping. (The same survey said that only 2% of Americans preferred New Haven style apizza, which is clearly another conversation for another time!)

Lest you think I’ve departed from writing on tech matters and going full foodie on you, there is an actual tech angle to this. Presumably because anchovies on pizza is such a controversial thing, the number of pizzerias in the Twin Cities that offer this is not a lot. I’ve found a couple of places, but I’m still searching. I found a pizzeria in a grocery store – Pizzeria Pezzo in Kowalski’s Market in suburban Woodbury (and before you send me your letters, I wasn’t compensated for this pizza or paid to say this) – that had anchovies on their toppings list. Of course, a field trip had to be on the menu.

(To my readers back in Phoenix: Actual restaurants in grocery stores is quite a thing up here. And they aren’t fast-food burgers or sandwich shops — they’re proper standalone restaurants that happen to share a building with a grocery store! Also, Kowalski’s Market would be similar to AJ’s Fine Foods.)

My usual thought process is to have capers on this pizza, but those weren’t on the toppings list at this place. That led to a spot of inspiration: See what ChatGPT recommends. Maybe it might be spot-on; maybe it could be way out of its depth. But it was worth a go at least for some ideas, right?

I scanned the toppings list to my iPhone and copied the text into ChatGPT. I gave it the prompt: “Propose a pizza with 3-4 toppings from this list below. Anchovies have to be one of the toppings.” The toppings list was below my prompt sentence. Almost immediately, it responded:

I would recommend a pizza with the following toppings:

  1. Anchovies (required)
  2. Roasted red pepper
  3. Caramelized onion
  4. Fresh mozzarella

This combination of toppings will give your pizza a delicious blend of flavors, with the unique taste of anchovies complemented by the sweetness of caramelized onions and the smokiness of roasted red peppers. The creamy fresh mozzarella will provide a delightful contrast in texture. Enjoy your pizza!

So ladies and, in a broader sense, gentlemen: I present to you a pizza whose toppings were suggested by ChatGPT:

A pizza with anchovies on it
An anchovy pizza with other things. Rather tasty!

It was spot-on. And probably one of the 10 best pizzas I’ve had? (And also deserved a visit from the pizzeria manager, who said he appreciates someone who does anchovies on pizza.)

This is what I say when I talk about “doing more with more” – here’s a system that we can use to comb through different combinations and permutations of everything, and recommend something that makes sense. I gave it a baseline, and it went to work. What surprise and delight.

Whither Microsoft Planner

Microsoft Planner can be so perfect if it had a few extra things. But for now, there’s PowerShell

I want to love Microsoft Planner. But there are some things it has in it that just confound me. Rather, I should say it has omissions that confound me and make me question its usability.

For the uninitiated, Planner is a user-friendly project management tool designed for teams to collaborate and stay organized. Planner helps users create tasks, assign them to team members, set due dates, and track progress visually on customizable boards. It’s not a full and formal project management software, like its older sibling Microsoft Project, which is way more robust and suitable for complex projects with intricate timelines and resource management. Planner is more accessible; Project is more involved. Still, Planner excels at promoting collaboration, task management, and maintaining an overview of project activities, making it ideal for smaller teams and less complex projects.

Here’s a perfect example for Planner that we’ve rolled out at my company: organizing all of the activities and tasks around what it takes to bring a new employee onboard and for their first few months on the job. It’s a perfect solution for that, because there are different buckets of tasks, a deadline for those tasks to take place, and different people responsible for those tasks (be it IT, HR, or the new employee’s manager). Instead of having these tasks live in a spreadsheet on someone’s desktop, they can now live in a collaborative environment.

Continue reading “Whither Microsoft Planner”

Sometimes we get it wrong

Stories from misadventures in rolling out a new printing system, or: Sometimes we get it wrong

Back in January, we started down the path of migrating from PaperCut’s on-premises solution to their fully cloudy PaperCut Hive. Whilst I was initially skeptical about it at first, it seemed like it had enjoyed success in larger organizations, so certainly it should work for a small nonprofit of ~30 people?

Oops. Also, [expletive deleted].

Sometimes we get it wrong. The rollout went about as well as it could go. I’m still frustrated by the fact I had to manually deploy the print client to our users and that the software wasn’t any sort of identity- or directory-aware. Getting a executable file that’s coded in the installer for each user? That’s not nice. Requiring administrative permissions to install that? Go away or I shall replace you with a very small shell script.

What ultimately doomed the rollout for me was that we had users who had sporadic and random issues. There were no common threads among those who had printing errors (other than, presumably, they were trying to print and the day ended in y), so troubleshooting was next to impossible.

Since printing’s kind of a mission-critical task where I am, we made the decision to abandon Hive and go back to MF. And I’m fortunate that I have supportive management and colleagues who understand that sometimes, you get it wrong.

Friday Five-ish: A Year in Minnesota

Today marks a year since I moved to Minnesota. In this special edition of The Friday Five(-ish), here are some photos from the past year

Today marks one year since I boarded an airplane headed from Phoenix to Minneapolis to start a new chapter up here. In this special edition of The Friday Five-ish, here are a few photos from my first year up here.

Five Things for PaperCut Hive

A return of the Friday Five and some of my observations on PaperCut Hive, a software stack I’m currently deploying

Where I work, we’re almost complete with a migration from PaperCut MF on-premises to the fully cloud PaperCut Hive product. For the most part, I’m pretty pleased with how it’s gone and how it supports some of our organization’s transition goals to less on-premises. But there are some things that have been some definite head-scratchers in the process.

1. There’s no migration. That’s right: there’s no migration. Any data or user provisioning settings in MF don’t transfer over. You’re starting from scratch. Do you have RFID badges for your employees that they use to authenticate to the copier or MFP? Gone. Custom scan locations? Gone. While I’m thankful that I have a small number of colleagues and they have been more patient with me than I deserve, imagine if you have to have hundreds or thousands of employees re-authenticate on the new system. At least it’s a one-time only process.

2. There’s an app, but you don’t need it. PaperCut makes a big push to have users download their app for print management. I have issues with making people download company software to their own personal smartphones. Thankfully, even though PaperCut makes this push, you can ignore them.

3. Communicate early, often, and concisely. One of the questions I received a lot was about why we were doing this and how this would affect them. Fortunately, by planning the deployment, I was able to say that except for two initial tasks, everything would remain the same. And I told them why this change was being made, which was to support our organization’s future technology stack.

4. If you have multiple copiers/printers/MFPs, don’t move everyone over all at once. Keep both printing systems running in parallel so that you don’t have to sweat it having some users unable to use the printers and you have to rush the migration. By having some machines on the new system and some on the old system, you don’t have to be so aggressive in moving everyone over.

5. What automation? What year is it again? There is no way to use automated tooling to deploy PaperCut Hive software to our colleagues’ computers. To install the software, I had to go to each machine, download the unique software that PaperCut generates for each user, install it using my administrative credentials, and go on. That worries me, because that means the software is not directory aware and also means that I can’t include it in a base deployment configuration. While I’ve heard that this may change in the future, had I known this limitation, I would have postponed our deployment until later.

Those are some of my observations about this. It’s been received well by my colleagues, but some of the initial challenges made for a fun week.

A blogging renaissance?

Are we standing at the front door to a blogging renaissance?

Back in October, I put some thoughts out on LinkedIn about the future of social media and if we’re headed toward a renaissance of the blog. Given the public agita about the current social media landscape and the associated issues regarding content moderation, ownership of those platforms, and bullying and minimization of minority communities.

Personally, while it had been festering for some time, I finally pulled the plug on my use of Twitter. While I had been using it for 15 years, it felt to me like it had run its course and was far more noise than signal. And, to be absolutely fair, the whiplash changes to that platform under its new ownership helped push me to making this decision. It doesn’t feel like a huge loss for me.

The heir apparent to Twitter seems to be Mastodon, but I’m not sure if I’ll go on that. Not because I have issues with that tech stack – it sounds fantastic and totally dismantles the so-called web3 notion that anything decentralized has to have blockchain technology and some sort of transactional monetization to work – but because I’m not sure if I need to be on that. You might recall my essay on Five for the New Year 2023, in which I said one of the things I’m going to work on in 2023 is limiting digital distractions. It’s also why I want to spend my time in this world, and not some digital “metaverse” world that is definitely totally happening* at some point in the future.

I’m therefore led to make the following bold proposition: One of the major moments in the changing of the internet from independent communities to being controlled by a handful of social media companies was when Google killed Google Reader ten years ago. Instead of a choose-your-own Internet that was based on what you wanted to read from the sites and sources you chose, social media companies sucked us in to their sites and subjected us to their algorithms and rage. If you wanted the latest news from major news organizations, you are left to the whims of the social media networks whether they’d even allow it, or if the platforms were even telling publishers the truth. And that all led to the advertising dollars going to the websites that got the most views, which were not the traditional journalism outlets and newspapers, but rather internet content farms.

I digress. This isn’t about my views on the internet, but on blogging specifically and my proposition that blogging will see a renaissance in 2023. I realize my blog is a special case, because this is not a revenue-generating operation for me. With platforms like WordPress still out there, and even with some free or relatively inexpensive, there’s no barrier to entry.

I’ve been at this for well over a decade now, and I think I quite like it. In 2023, it takes a renewed interest with more frequent essays and columns, and frequent photography. The best part? It’s mine. Not Meta’s or Twitter’s.


blog image derived from a photo by 4motions Werbeagentur on Unsplash

Five for the New Year 2023

With a new year comes a new way of thinking about things. Here are five thoughts as we stand at the doorway of 2023…

Happy New Year to everyone. Let’s hope that 2023 is less chaotic than 2022 was.

In the spirit of a new year with new beginnings and new possibilities, I’m offering five things I’m going to work on in this New Year 2023. I’m hesitant to call them resolutions, but that’s probably what they are. Rather, I look at these as things I’m going to be deliberate about in this new year, and hopefully beyond.

Disable the electronic distractions. In the course of an average week, 72 hours is not dedicated to work or sleep. That’s less than half of the hours in a week! In that 72 hours, that includes errands, cooking and meal preparations, home chores, hobbies, learning, and also everything else that has to happen. And, now that I’m in a different city from friends and family, it means I have to be more deliberate in when and how I connect with them. One of the things I noticed toward the end of 2022 was that I was on my phone a lot. I’ve deleted all of the social media apps from my iPhone, instead accessing them in the browser on my computer. I’m going to work next on tuning the focus features on my iPhone, making sure that I only get the notifications that are important to me and engage on the spaces that are important to engage. With apologies to Mastodon, I probably won’t go there.

Automate this blog. No, I don’t mean turning over the authorship keys to some AI software to write whatever it feels like. Rather, I mean finding ways to automate photo posts. I’ve taken quite a few photos of my new city, and trying to find a way to post them without me having to think about it. I have a few thoughts on that, but I’m wondering if WordPress is capable of handling it. That’s a whole different thing…

Write more. In one of his talks, the technologist Scott Hanselman reminds us that we only have so many keystrokes left before we shuffle off this mortal coil. A technique to be efficient with that is to put responses or writings on a common platform (if it’s appropriate, of course). So I sense that instead of sending a few emails to external partners that might be on a common topic, that may be a writing for this blog.

Get back into the piano practice habit. When I moved to Minneapolis, my baby grand piano went into storage in a climate-controlled facility in suburban Phoenix. The rationale was that it wouldn’t have fit in my interim apartment I have in downtown Minneapolis, and I only want to move the instrument once. Now that I’m settling in to a new space that isn’t that apartment, I’ll get my piano back. It’s been a long year without it, and I can’t wait to have it back. It’s worth investing some of my ~72 weekly hours in! Now, to get back to working on Debussy’s Suite bergamasque

Throw caution to the wind once more… It was a tremendous leap of faith to move up to Minneapolis to take this position at Meda and the epitome of throwing caution to the wind. I’m not saying I’m going to leave Meda to move again – there’s so much left that we can accomplish together at Meda – but I’m thinking of doing something out of the ordinary. Getting involved in winter sports? Flying lessons? Finding an entirely new hobby? This will be fun to see how it progresses.

As this New Year 2023 is not even one day old, these are some of my initial thoughts. I’ll be writing more on these subjects throughout the year, not to mention sharing some of my photography. And if there’s a post that pops up that seems out of the ordinary, then you’ll know what I’m being asked a lot.

Happy New Year 2023!