When investors forget about the big picture

It’s been an interesting couple of weeks for Microsoft, most notably thanks to the announcement of their new CEO, Satya Nadella.

Amid all the chatter, I stumbled upon this article from The Washington Post titled “Investors want Microsoft’s new CEO to kill Xbox, Bing and Surface”. Apparently, some “influential” Microsoft shareholders have been putting pressure on the CEO to focus on enterprise software by killing off some of their consumer-oriented offerings.

This made me think about what investors of these large companies are in it for, and how everyone wants things to be done their way without really considering the bigger picture.

When you’re one of those investors that just looks at everything from a profit perspective, demands like these seem to make sense to you. After all, these consumer divisions lose a lot of money before they ever see a dime of profit.

Out of the three products listed (Xbox, Bing, Surface), I think the Xbox is the only one making any money right now, and that’s after they lost billions of dollars trying to build their brand for the first few years.

But from a long-term strategy perspective, it would be stupid to kill off Xbox. It’s practically one of the only brands in the Microsoft family that isn’t viewed negatively by the general public and it only recently started turning a profit despite doing (almost) all the right things during the 360 generation.

And while I don’t personally care for Bing or Surface, I think they’re important enough to keep around simply to provide consumers a choice outside of the Google monopoly.

These are products that only came to be possible thanks to the enormous amount of losses that Microsoft is capable of sustaining during the beginning phases of the development of their brands. They will only see the benefits of these products in the long-term game, which is unfortunate given that not a lot of investors are interested in the bigger picture these days.

Without companies that take financial risks on new products, who will disrupt future monopolized markets? You almost always have to take a loss before you see anything come of it. As they always say: The bigger the risk, the bigger the reward.

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The Last Middle Class Family

I stumbled upon this tweet a while back about the Amazon Prime Air drone delivery service:

And it made me think…

The idea of replacing human workers with robots has been toyed with since (probably) the start of the industrial era. The problem is that it would have a severe impact on the number of menial labour jobs available to the public.

Don’t get me wrong. It would be good (no, great!) if humans could start focusing their efforts on real innovation and progression instead of just trying to make a dollar by doing a brainless job.

But that’s not the reality of the situation.

With the population booming, there can’t possibly be academic or intellectual jobs for everyone… right?

If we really got serious about moving beyond “just making a buck” and actually strive to grow and constantly learn, we could readily give up our menial jobs to the robots so that humans can get busy doing more important things.

The whole point of technology is to enable the human race to solve their menial problems so that they can move onto solving bigger problems.

Until we come to realize that, we’re just going to continue trying to flip companies, make useless apps for our phones, and live paycheque to paycheque so that we can get drunk on weekends before having to head back to our “boring” jobs on Monday.

It’s time to embrace technology as a mechanism for solving our problems so that we can go to the next level as a society before we just stagnate in this era of pointless entertainment and consumerism.

Otherwise, we risk losing the middle class (and widening the social divide) as we tread down this inevitable path of solving menial problems without chasing the bigger ones.

Sleep Schedules versus Productivity

The other day, I was thinking about the balance between sleep and productivity.

I’ve always been a fairly light sleeper. I tend to sleep late and wake up early, so sleeping until 10 or 11am is considered “sleeping in” for me.

I’ve come to believe that waking up early lets you tackle the day with a fresh focus and new energy. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of getting stuff done before noon. The sense of accomplishment and productivity can be exhilarating.

In the afternoon, the day’s energy starts to wear off and the hours start ticking away easily whether you’re being productive or not.

Soon enough, you start telling yourself “I didn’t get around to it today, I’ll get to it tomorrow” and that’s how the list of things to do begins to pile up.

When it comes to sleep schedules and productivity, my experience tells me to sleep around 6-8 hours a day (max) and aim to wake early in the day (7-9am) to get a head start on getting things done.

It also helps to establish a rough to-do list of immediate items you want to tackle so you have something to work off of in the morning.

Redirecting with Frames in ASP.NET Web Forms

In one of the applications that I work on, we have a frameset layout consisting one one horizontally narrow frame at the top of the page (composed of the header/menu), and one main frame in the remaining lower part of the page (composed of the rest of the content).

Ignoring the fact that I’m well aware that using frames is not a good approach in this day and age, there are some things that take time to move away from in an established application such as the one I work on.

In the mean time, I have been working on a “welcome screen” of sorts, where the user is given some stats about their account and those stats are occasionally linked to redirect them to the appropriate part of the application if they wanted to look more into the numbers.

I came across a problem when I attempted to redirect the user. In the header frame, we have a drop-down list made up of different sections of the application that users can navigate to. When the user clicks on a link from the welcome screen, they should be taken to the appropriate related screen in a different section. Thus, we would expect that the drop-down list in the header would automatically update to reflect the change.

This did not work in Chrome. However, it worked fine in Firefox and Internet Explorer. Yet another “feature” of Chrome. Go figure.

Get to the point

Yes, right. So in ASP.NET there are two controls for links. Either you use a LinkButton (with a PostBackURL attribute) or a Hyperlink (with a NavigateURL attribute), depending on if you need an event or not. I used one of those controls with the attribute instead of an event to avoid unnecessary calls to the server-side, but alas, that was the cause of the problem.

I had to switch the Hyperlinks to LinkButton, and then create an event that fires on click to do a Response.Redirect instead. This worked handsomely on all of the major browsers, and the drop-down list now updates appropriately.

I didn’t look more into it so I’m not quite sure about the technical details about why Chrome was not behaving like the other browsers, but nonetheless, I hope this tidbit of advice helps someone out there.

Follow-up on RIM

So, here we are, just over a year since my last entry when I specifically said that if RIM did not release their QNX OS by the end of 2011, I would be back with a grim entry.

Well, I’m back (and I don’t plan on abandoning the blog like that again) and I’m not about to add myself to the pile of negativity currently surrounding RIM. I’m here to renew my stance on RIM and the future of BlackBerry, given the happenings over the past year.

One thing’s for sure; not much has changed on the media front. They are bashing and burning RIM as often as they were this time last year, but the difference now is that in addition to being biased, they are just simply being unfair. It’s one thing to seek out cheap headlines to get the clicks, but it’s something completely different to turn every news story (positive or negative) into an opportunity to ridicule and berate the company and their products.

I don’t understand why people aren’t realizing that competition is healthy and important. It’s the sole reason why the iPhone even has most of the features it has today. Without competition, innovation stagnates (ala Microsoft in the 90s and early 2000s) and then you’ll be begging for someone to step up to the plate to break the monopoly.

Instead of encouraging and cheering on the demise of a product line, people should be giving RIM a chance. Sure, they are taking some time to get BB10 onto the market, but this is a completely new platform we’re talking about here. The iPhone and Android platforms were not created in 1 or 2 years, and neither will BB10.

RIM has already taken great strides in the recent months to show that they are serious about getting back into the game. Their marketing efforts are being redefined, they have a real and meaningful social media presence, they are reaching out to developers with useful open source tools, guides, and community events, and they are trying to get those stragglers who are still using OS 5 phones to upgrade so that they stop attempting to unfairly compare their ancient phones with the latest iPhone.

Of course I realize that I’m asking too much from society. Being mindless jackasses is in the human DNA. No matter what anyone says, people will be people, and of course that means they’ll hop on whatever bandwagon everyone else is on. At least this mindless jackass will continue to support local, and not give into the hive mind.

Clipboard Conflicts in Windows 7

I was recently made aware of a problem that has been plaguing my colleague for a few days, where when he would copy and paste rich-text content, or dynamic content such as formulas in Excel spreadsheets, the paste action would result in a plain-text version of the content to be pasted.

Let’s give an example

In Excel, you can copy formulas from one cell to another. This is normally evidenced by the “dotted line” outline you see when you copy a cell. However, in this scenario we were not seeing the dotted line, nor was the formula copied over to the other cell meaning only the actual text value of the cell was copied.

Another example would be to go to your browser and copy some text from a website that had changes in font (size, weight, etc). Upon pasting into Word, you can expect that all of the formatting will come along with it. However, in this scenario we were seeing only the text, stripped of formatting, being pasted.

Here’s the kicker

The problem would only appear when Internet Explorer (tested with v. 8 or 9) or Firefox (v. 11) was running.

If neither of those browsers were running, everything was working fine.

Let’s cut to the chase

After much debugging and troubleshooting, we found that there was an add-on enabled in both IE and Firefox (but not Chrome, which was not exhibiting this issue) which was the Skype Click-to-Call add-on.

For those of you unfamiliar with this add-on, it simply detects instances of potential phone numbers displayed in the HTML source and replaces them on-the-fly with clickable shortcuts to call the number using Skype.

Upon disabling the Skype add-on in both browsers, the problem disappeared and the clipboard was completely usable once again. It seems like the add-on was somehow hijacking the clipboard in some odd way.

The real interesting bit was that even if the content was copied to the clipboard without the browser running and pasted successfully with formatting, upon launching the browser and trying to paste the content again (without re-copying), the formatting would be stripped again.

TL;DR (Too Long; Didn’t Read) Version

If you are having problems with your clipboard behaving awkwardly around rich-text or dynamic content, first make sure the problem doesn’t persist even if no other programs are open, and then try disabling the Skype (or any unnecessary) add-ons in your open browsers.

Why all the hating on RIM?

Let me get right to the point: The online media seems to be hellbent on ruining RIM and the BlackBerry name.

I don’t understand it, really.

Instead of giving the benefit of the doubt to the company who literally invented the smartphone, all the tech blogs have been doing recently is downright hating on it. Why all the hate? I’m not suggesting that RIM hasn’t been a bit of a laggard these days with their BB OS, but it’s a bit of a stretch to think that they’ll be completely out of the game any time soon.

RIM isn’t stupid. They know that they need to do something, and they need to do it now. Don’t ask me why they’re pushing the PlayBook before they refresh their aging BlackBerry line with the new QNX OS, but clearly they just want to get that out of the way so that they have their hands in the tablet market before they’re left out of that game too.

Fact of the matter is, most of the people I know still have BlackBerries. It seems to me that these bloggers (whom most of which seems to be located in the West Coast, where the Apple stronghold is much stronger than it is here in the East) see their colleagues with their iPhones and Androids and think that there is no one left on the planet with a BlackBerry.

Newsflash: The world doesn’t revolve around the Bay Area.

RIM’s recently leaked roadmap indicates that they plan for a release of BB OS 7 by the end of this year. You can rest assured that RIM knows full well that this OS release needs to be their brand spanking new QNX OS, otherwise I may end up writing up a grim entry when I find out that it is not.

So, I’d really wish the media would not continue to brainwash people into thinking that the BlackBerry is dead or that it is so inferior to iOS or the Android platform, when in reality it is still a completely viable platform that is alive and kicking. And frankly, there are a lot of features that are BB exclusive that would make it very hard for me to leave behind (and no, it’s not BBM).

Bring on the future of the BlackBerry, RIM. We’re waiting.