Today I read a blog that was a continuation of the series of ads that Microsoft has about why you should buy a PC instead of a Mac.

The article (see http://tinyurl.com/cncx73) was one of those cutesy marketing ideas that looked at the alleged difference in cost between a Mac and a PC and came up with an imaginary tax rebate based on the savings. The author used this whitepaper as the basis for the comparison. Like all of these comparisons, comparing apples to oranges results in the preferred hardware (in this case the PC) being shown to be a better deal.

I do most of my work on a MacBook Pro, after being a laptop user for more years than I care to count. I switched when it became possible to do so without giving up Windows. With the current crop of Apple machines, you have the option of running Windows directly, setting things up to dual boot (BootCamp), or running Windows in a VM (using Parallels, Fusion, VirtualBox, etc.)

Which once again leads me to ask why would Microsoft bash Apple ?

For me, nothing changed in what I buy from Microsoft – I still need a copy of the operating system, and application suite. I can choose to run some parts under the Mac OS, or just use the Microsoft products as I always have. Granted there are open source alternatives for many of these, but that is true for both the Mac OS and Windows.

When I bought the first Macbook, it was only very slightly more than a comparable IBM thinkpad (which at the time was the business laptop of choice). The only selling point for me was that I would have a second operating system on which to test my development work. In other words, I was getting a dev box that I could use for much less than buying a second machine would have been.

My other reason for buying the MacBook was that it weighed about half of what the ThinkPad did, and had that nice aluminum shell to protect it. Lugging a laptop with a power supply and extra battery around cost me about 10-12pounds in my backpack, so reducing that by about half was very attractive (especially on the 20 mile bike ride home).

What I learned after the fact has made me very glad about making the purchase.

Advantage 1 – Better battery life

I gained a great deal of battery life. My first MacBook Pro gave me 4-6 hours of life on a charge, meaning I could go from meeting to meeting and not have to worry about it dying because I couldn’t find a plug. I could also make it through most flights without the machine dying. I used to have to lug extra batteries for this.

Advantage 2 – Instant sleep

On some laptop PC‘s, when you close the lid, it will try to sleep, or hibernate. The problem is that it doesn’t always work, and even if it does, it seems to take forever to wake back up (and occasionally won’t wake up). With the Mac, I was pleased to find that as soon as I closed the lid, the machine went to sleep. On the MacBook, the little power indicator does a slow blink to let you know it is asleep, and that happens almost immediately.

Especially on days that I was rushing out of the office to catch the train, or hop on my bike, it was immensely gratifying to know I didn’t have to worry about whether the machine actually was sleeping or not. I can recall a few times getting home, unpacking my PC, only to find that it had been ON in my backpack for the whole ride home (and sometimes had overheated because of being in that enclosed space). I eventually learned to shut down the machine before leaving, which meant another 15 minutes or more of non-productive time.

Advantage 3 – Start up time

When I was lugging a Thinkpad to work every day, I would plug it in, dock it and go get breakfast. That was because it took around half an hour to fully boot up the machine from being powered off.  With the Mac, if I had powered it all the way off, it only takes a minute or so to boot up, and it is almost instant when starting from sleep.

Advantage 4 – Support

While having a Thinkpad and working for a large corporation, I never had to really think about hardware support. If something broke, I’d just take it to the IT guys, and they’d get it working again (or replace it). When I went out on my own, the very scary possibility that my work machine might die came into play. I bought service contracts for my first few machines, and learned that while they protect you, it is definitely not the same as you get with the desktop support guys.

To get support, you had to wade through a web site, and it was almost impossible to find a real person to talk to (other than the chat bots that everybody seems to use now). And if you had a hardware problem, it was: ship it back to us, we’ll fix it and if it was under warranty we won’t charge you, average turnaround two weeks.

To be fair, I’ve never bought a machine from one of the retail markets like Best Buy or Fry’s, and that’s mostly because of my experience when talking to the people that work there. My impression is that you’re not going to find stellar support there, since you’re basically working with a group that has a broader focus than just the PC’s they sell.

With my first Mac however, things were indeed different. I bought the machine through the web, and the first time I had a problem,  I was able to call support. And when I had my first actual issue (a hard drive failure that was caused by me dropping the Mac from about belly high), I took it to the store and they fixed it. Let me say it again: they fixed it, and I only left it with them for a couple of days. And this was before I bought an Apple Care contract!

Advantage Mac OS X

So for me, the advantage is clear, and Microsoft doesn’t even lose out since they don’t sell hardware. I gain significantly in productivity with the Mac, and have my VM for those Microsoft apps I need to stay compatible.

I still don’t get why Microsoft bashes the Mac, maybe they’re worried about the home user who might not need any PC software, but that seems like a sale they would have lost anyway. I’ll continue to buy solid hardware like Apple makes, and decide on which operating system based on the needs I have to interact with my customers, which will include Windows for the forseeable future.

Today I finally finished updating my application for the PMI PMP certification. I used a spreadsheet to gather all of the information that I needed for the forms that you can see here.

The process of filling out the application turned out to be a lot more involved than I had expected it to be for a number of reasons.

My original thought was that I would be able to use information from my resume as a starting point. That turned out to be much more difficult for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that the resume is far too condensed to contain individual project start and stop times.

So my fallback plan (part of my risk management plan for my PMP quest) was to wade through my timesheets and emails to get as detailed information as I could find.

Since 1994, I’ve been doing work through my own business, so I have detailed timesheets for every week I’ve worked. This is where I ran into my first SNAFU: file corruption.

Over the years I’ve kept backups of my files in all sorts of places: external hard drives, thumb drives, and network backups, and email folders (PST files). At one point in the not too distant past, I had backups scattered across a number of devices, all from different points in time. I had an external hard drive crash on me, which made me realize I should probably have multiple copies of the same data, so I built backup folders on several different machines from the data on my thumb drive.

That, I believe, was my biggest mistake. Because when I started looking at the files, I found quite a few that were unreadable. Thinking it was an isolated problem, I checked every location I had a backup of the files, and (no surprise), they were all corrupt. So for a half a dozen weeks or so out of those years, I didn’t have the detailed timesheet.

This turned out not to be a huge problem, because I had invoices from those same periods, and was able to at least get the hours to add up in my spreadsheet. I proceeded to print out the entire book of timesheets that were still valid, and note the missing hours in the binder I filled with them.

My next issue turned out to be with the way I kept the timesheets when I first was working on my own. I was billing through another company to Cisco, and was reporting my status to Cisco separately, so I didn’t bother to fill in very detailed information on a daily basis. The timesheets said things like “analysis for FDF project”, or “design of component X”, so I knew my estimates were going to be based on my own memory (the worst type of historical records according to the PMBOK).

So now I figured I needed to dig through my emails, which once again turned out not to be as simple as I had hoped. I have copies of archive files from every project I’ve worked on since the early 90′s, so I thought this would be easy. But of course, nothing is ever easy. Always prepared with my fall back plan for this part of the project, I dug out my email archives, and realized that I didn’t have a copy of Outlook running (I’d switched to Entourage on my Mac a while back, and Microsoft in their infinite wisdom didn’t build a way for Entourage to read PST files).

I went to my wife’s desktop, and clicked on the “switch user” button, where I thought I’d be able to open the PST files using that copy of Outlook, only to be thwarted by some mystery on that machine. Immediately after logging in as “Rob”, the mouse stopped responding. I tried a couple of times, even deleting the new user and adding another one, with no luck. This mystery was obviously something I’d need to deal with later, but this wasn’t helping my quest for information.

So I decided to pollute my wife’s Outlook by opening my PST files while logged in as her. I clicked on “open user data file”, and started looking for my projects, only to see that not everything was there. There were folders for each project, but some of them were empty, and others were incomplete. I was beginning to feel like this was a project that was doomed to fail.

I poked around all my old backups, and found a few more PST files, and after much hunting, found the missing data in an archive file (victim of autoarchive I suspect, gotta love Outlook, archiving an archive file).  So finally I had folders for each project, and could figure out the start and stop dates, and look at email to see if I could find the missing timesheets.

Once I figured out the start and stop dates, and thought I remembered enough about each project to get started on the application, I went back to see if I could find the missing timesheets. I then ran into yet another place where I had outsmarted myself. At one point I had a much smaller hard disk, and my Outlook files were approaching several gigabytes in size.

I had just rolled off a project where I had to write a VBA macro that sent attachments to a client using MAPI, so I did an experiment: I wrote a macro that would automatically save message attachments to a folder, and place a link in the message to that file. I played with it for a while and it worked pretty well, and it made a HUGE difference in the size of the PST file.

Well, needless to say, when my external hard drive crashed, the folder that all of those attachments were saved to disappeared with it. Which means that all of the emails that have attachments in them, really only have links, which means no help there either. That was OK (other than reminding me that I need to try not to be so smart sometimes), since I had all the information I needed for the application already.

Now prior to 1994, I worked for another consulting company, so all of my time and email should have been in the backup from that job. But when I searched, I didn’t find the backup for that, so I had to resort to a combination of email (luckily the work was also at Cisco, so the emails were in the same PST file as I had been using) and estimates based on work days.

Finally after assembling all of this it was time to fill out the spreadsheet with the details about the specific time for the process groups. Being a good PM, I decided to do a PERT estimate, using the hours from the timesheet as the pessimistic (since timesheets always only reflect billable time, and not time that is above the cap), 8 hours a day, with vacation as the most likely, and 9 hours a day with vacation as the optimistic value, I calculated total likely hours for each project (formula is [P+4M+O]/6).

I then took my understanding of what I’d done on each project, and tried to come fairly close to that number (although in most cases I actually ended up arriving at something closer to the lower number).

Finally, this morning at around 10am, after almost two weeks of work, I have a reasonable spreadsheet, and I start sending it out to the people I’ve identified as my contact for validation. Once I hear from them, I will hit submit, and hopefully I’ll be on my way again to being a PMP …

Recently I downloaded the iPhone beta 3.0 firmware upgrade and decided (without thinking it through) to update my phone to use the new version. In hindsight, Apple makes it pretty clear this is a bad idea, and warns you that you won’t be able to revert to a prior version of the software:

iphone upgrade warning

But warnings were meant to be ignored, so I blithely went ahead and updated with the new firmware. Immediately after doing so, I had a d’oh moment when I realized I better not have my business phone running on beta software, so I wanted to revert.

No problem I thought, I’ll just follow the steps to downgrade that I wrote about previously

Well, this turned out not to be so easy, as soon as I tried to reload the prior version of software, I got to a place where the firmware restore would simply stall, and eventually fail.

I tried every version of firmware on my machine, including the beta, and my phone simply couldn’t be reloaded.

Just when I thought I was going to have to give up and take the phone to the Apple store, I remembered that jail breaking your phone involves a process of putting your phone into DFU mode (allegedly stands for Device Firmware Update, but I think it stands for Dumb Frantic User).  In essence this does a hard reset of the phone and puts it back to a factory clean state.

Once  I fired up PwnageTool, and ran through the process of jail breaking my phone (mostly because it has a step that helps you through the steps of getting your phone into DFU mode), the restore of the firmware worked again, and I was able to restore to the current 2.2.1 version of the firmware without any problems.