Wednesday, December 19, 2007


I never properly learned how to type. Lately, the Shift key and my fingers have been at war. I think changing keyboards at home and work have somehow messed with my modified hunt and peck style of typing.

So why is this worthy of blogging today?

Well, think about it. When I was growing up, typing was something that clerical workers did. In the late 1970's, I was attending a college prep school. They still offered a traditional typing class -- the room full of IBM Selectrics and all that. They also offered a computer programming class. Back in the day, I lived 13 miles from my high school and rode the bus every day. In retrospect, probably a bad idea, but I did get a very good education, even if I didn't do much there outside of school hours. There really were no comparable Catholic college prep high schools nearby at the time, so I was stuck. What that meant was that I was very limited in what I could do before and after school. I played football and belonged to a couple clubs, but any after school activities meant that my grandfather had to drive out there to pick me up.

And this is relevant how? Well, back in the day, my parents had a typewriter. It was some sort of old Smith Corona electric beast. I can remember playing with it as a small child. Problem was, if you took typing, you really needed to use the Selectrics. My mother had one at work, but using her primary tool at work to practice wasn't going to happen. So my other option was practicing after school in the typing room. But that would have meant no after school job and an extra trip for grandpa, plus my Dad wasn't enthused about paying for bus service and not using half of it.

Besides, I was going to college... I was going to have a job where typing wasn't required. Or so we thought...

Geek that I am today, why didn't I take a computer class? Well, same reason. The computer at school in 1978 was a PDP-8, which used Teletype interfaces. No monitors. Just a keyboard, a roll of paper, and a punched tape reader. You type the input, the machine would echo back the characters on paper and store the input. You would then run the program. If it worked, you would then generate a punched tape output of the program so that you could load it again. Problem was, the computer room was not much more than a big broom closet with three Teletype machines. There were a couple more in the science labs, but you had to sign up for time on the machines. Yep, after school. And if you couldn't type efficiently, life was going to be miserable.

So I start college in 1980. First thing out of the box, I need to buy... a typewriter. We lug that old Smith Corona to school and I discover the joys of Wite-Out. That old beast let everyone know when you hit the carriage return. We later bought a Brother CE 50 correcting typewriter (which I still have, although I have no idea if you can get ribbon for the thing). Now this is the height of typewriter technology in the 1980's -- changeable Daisywheel and a lift off correcting ribbon that will remove the entire previous line of type.

So the way that I learned to type was purely hunt and peck. Today, I have a better idea of where the keys are, but since I never properly learned how to type, I still type looking at the keyboard and with only a couple of fingers (I am pretty fast, however). It's just that pesky Shift key these days...

One of my challenges in never learning to type properly was speed. That meant that I had to pretty much get it right the first time. What may have been a draft for many people was a finished product for me. That tends to focus the mind a bit. Somehow, I managed to muddle through. It has been helpful today in thinking through what I write before I put fingers on keyboard.

The computer and word processing software was a huge breakthrough for me. Where I once thought that being able to retype one line of a paper was a big deal, I could now insert new thoughts, rearrange paragraphs, and compose whole new sections. My first computer (a Kaypro IV) became part of my life in about 1986. The rest is history...

Was I going to make a point? Oh yeah. Besides explaining random lapses of capitalization in my posts, I wanted to point out a revolution that many people may not have grasped. While typing was offered to many people in the past, and college-bound students often had to learn to type, that skillset often went away once the person entered the working world and had secretarial staff available to type letters. The limited resources also meant that far fewer written records were created. Today, small children are learning to type. They have to. They all have email accounts. It is a given that every child (at least in my neighborhood) has basic keyboarding skills and is able to use a computer before they leave 8th grade. Looking at high school course lists, typing (as such) is rarely taught today. It is generally bundled with a class on using word processing software and basic computing. What this means is that everyone is a typist. And if everyone is a typist, everyone creates and files records. Welcome to full employment for records managers!

If I had only known then, what I know now...

Tuesday, December 11, 2007


My ten year old is getting a telescope for Christmas (all this travel yields a fair number of Amex points which converted nicely to a decent telescope). Don't tell her that.

Owning a telescope in a metropolitan area leaves a lot to be desired, I suppose. When I was a Cub Scout, I recall that one of the things that we had to do to get a merit badge was see a satellite in the night sky. I recall all of us laughing at that because we could hardly see the stars! And in ca. 1972, there were no Internet sites that would enable you to schedule a time to see one fly over. There also were a whole lot fewer satellites in general.

When I moved to Quincy, Illinois to attend college, I can still remember going outside one night and looking up and suddenly seeing all sorts of stars in the night sky (along with a few airplanes and satellites). It was amazing. I wish I had that telescope then.

The infinite reaches of space always amaze me. It boggles my mind when you look at a star and realize that what you're seeing today happened many years ago. The star may not even exist today. I have a hard time with the whole "Earth is round" thing. I know it, but I have never really experienced it. I can certainly understand how people felt thousands of years ago. Guess I need to join the Flat Earth Society.

I was watching a program the other day that discussed how people would travel to Mars some day. That sort of math is far beyond my meager abilities. It looks so simple in a computer simulation, but the math behind it is insane. And I have to sit and shake my head when some astronomer talks about getting glimpses of the formation of the universe because of the vast expanse of space and time. My head hurts.

So I always have to laugh when someone wants to assign a retention period of "Permanent" or, periodically, "Infinity". Sure, yep, we'll get that calculated for you right away...

Virtual Worker, Virtual Workspace

In a previous post, "The Two Minute Commute", I talked about moving to a situation where I will find myself working at home with regularity. In that post, I walked through a number of issues that I wanted to address. Since then, I've been exposed to some additional information about how some organizations are going to handle the increasing need for lower real estate costs -- and the increasing need for lower IT costs.

I tend to be conservative in my approach to records management. I think that is a trait shared by many of us in this profession. We look for risk around every corner. We look to mitigate that risk, protect records, and ensure that we have a consistent records management program. The sea changes of the past 20 years in computer technology and the last ten years in email and Internet technology have messed with our nice neat world of color codes and file folders. On the one hand, we now have the ability to better track files and boxes through bar codes, RFID, and computer databases; on the other hand, we have an incredible proliferation of electronic records that we struggle to manage.

Twenty years ago, offices were just beginning to use personal computers. There were limited networks, but a desktop computer on every employee's desk was still not the norm. The tidal wave of personal computing was coming, however. If an employee had a computer, it tended to be a "green screen", or mainframe terminal. Desktop computers tended to be used as word processors, with the output printed, put into an envelope, and mailed. Some files were retained on floppy disks, but the record copy was a paper copy for most folks. In essence, the computer user rarely was responsible for retaining electronic records. The green screen user relied upon the mainframe to retain information; the PC user relied on paper copies. There were many users who, when faced with a corporate bureaucracy that wouldn't buy personal computers, would bring in their own PC from home -- or buy a PC on an expense account. These pioneers found great utility in the home PC and made them work in the office. It wasn't long before corporate IT departments found themselves buying PCs for every employee -- and upgrading those PCs every two to three years.

Flash forward 20 short years. Today, we have utter and total anarchy when it comes to electronic records. Very few companies have their act together. The end user has a variety of managed and unmanaged repositories for information. The volume of information being retained is growing exponentially. And now we want to drive those end users out of the office and into locations where we can't see what they are doing? Yep. And we want them to bring their own computer to work, too. WHAT?!!! Yes, you read that correctly. As corporate IT departments are faced with escalating costs for storage and management of information, they are also faced with the costs of PC and laptop replacement -- and support. Users are complaining to IT that they have a PC at home "that is better than what is at work". The upgrade cycle continues and that is a serious drain on an organization's resources. Add in the cost of support and you have a serious cost issue.

At the same time, many employees are working from home on home PCs that are powerful and use the same software as the employee has at work. The employee wants to use his or her home PC when working from home. The employee typically has some sort of broadband access. For many companies, the company-issued laptop sits idle when the employee is at home. This makes for an interesting financial calculation. The employer has a tremendous investment in computer hardware that often sits idle much of the day. The employee fully owns the "personal" in "personal computer" and hates the IT department for preventing the installation of unsupported software or the customization of desktops.

Many companies are now seriously looking at providing employees with an annual allowance to purchase and support their own computers. These companies are also investing in technology that will protect the computing environment from viruses and spyware (and ill-configured computers), while allowing employees access to company information and resources. These initiatives are sold as "win-win". The employee gets the computer of their choice and the company (in theory) saves the cost of purchase and support of hundreds or thousands of computers.

And we records managers lose more hair and start examining the Grecian Formula with intent.

So let's recap... what am I talking about here? There is a near future scenario where a company;s IT department will no longer automatically supply a PC or laptop to every employee in the company. If an employee will primarily be mobile or working from home, the company will provide an allowance to the employee to purchase his or her own computing device(s). The employee will also need to provide a means of remote access (typically some flavor of broadband). The company will provide a secure portal via the Internet and typically provide applications to the employee in a "Software as a Service" or SaaS model. In many cases, this will mean that the company is using a third party to host email and the various business applications that employees use. In addition, this access will often be facilitated using Application Delivery / Desktop Virtualization models such as Citrix or VMWare. (Neither company is being endorsed here, just used as examples of leading technology in this space.) In effect, the user accesses his or her "business" desktop through a secure Internet connection. The data is typically hosted remotely on a company server and the user's local computer retains no business data. (Back to the future, eh?) The user may also be restricted in what can be copied locally or copied to USB devices.

The drawback here is that the user must have an Internet connection to be functional. That doesn't help the mobile user who is sitting on an airplane and wants to work on email or a presentation. With some of these models, however, the latest releases also allow the end user to retain a copy of their virtual desktop on their local machine or a portable media device like a thumb drive. So that, in theory, could mean that the employee would have the capability of retaining a complete copy of their business information on a device that they have purchased personally -- and that gets us into the issues discussed by John Montana in his AIEF paper. That is mitigated (to some extent) by encryption. The local copy is encrypted and the decryption key is controlled by the employer. The minute that the employee is terminated, the encrypted data is rendered useless. The employer retains access to the data that has been replicated to its servers and normal retention periods can be applied. Of course, the challenge here remains that the employee (or former employee) is still in possession of corporate data (albeit encrypted) and may be subject to seizure or subpoena of his or her personal computer.

So what I've described actually takes us back 20 years or so to some extent. The upside is that the data is generally going to be retained primarily on the company's (or the company's agent's) servers. Controls may be put in place to prevent local retention of records of the company. The information is maintained and transmitted securely. Backups are automatic.

So what's to worry about? I suppose there are a few things. Companies like Google and Microsoft are moving headlong into this space. They will be hosting data in huge data centers. In theory, they may have the ability to see at least some of the data, so that is a potential problem, although most data will likely be heavily encrypted. The legal aspects of access to an employee's personal computer still need to be worked out. What expense will the employee bear when he or she is subject to subpoena of their personal property? Security of the information is a major concern. And lastly, but certainly not of least importance to us, the ability of these applications to integrate with records management software and processes remains to be seen.