On Submitting my Thesis

Eight months of painstaking work is nearly over. 51,000 words and 213 pages later, I am submitting my thesis A Framework for Managing Multiple Vendors in an Outsourcing Arrangement for examination at QUT. While I am (very openly) excited at the near completion of my second qualification (this thesis is for my honours degree), I think it is important to keep things in check.

So what did 32 weeks of hard work teach me? A lot, and that’s outside of what I learnt about IT multivendor outsourcing. While research has been an exhausting, stressful and exciting experience, I think there is a lot to learn from the experience before saying all is done and dusted.

The first thing I learnt is that you must always have a “Plan B” (and Plan C wouldn’t go astray either) research. Given the size and complexity of everything, it’s important to have a second way out. I must admit I’m not great at this: it’s often either my way works or it’s time to start a yelling match (always at my Mac that probably did nothing to deserve that kind of treatment). The one thing I’m going to take away from this is have someone else there to help you find Plan B; in my case it was my supervisors that did that. I’m thankful they had a Plan A and Plan B all along (I suspect they were both probably planned up to Plan X though).

Secondly, never trust Word. While I respect what Microsoft does in developing and supporting a gigantic, feature-packed office suite, Word’s performance and reliability starts to break down at around a 100-page document. When you’re working for hours on end on a 200+ page document, the last thing you want is a crash. I learnt that the best thing to do is create a template with all the layout, styles and bits and bobs you want, and then use it as a pseudo-template. Do things in bits (chapters for me, that is how serious things get). Save frequently. Backup often. Version. Just always do one thing: don’t trust your computer not to crash.

Some of the other things I learnt were small but valuable lessons. I really should know these things by now, but who has time to try and remember these sorts of things?

  • Have a plan and keep a journal. Do this from the beginning.
  • Ask for help (this is one of my biggest issues).
  • Use mind maps. A lot of them.
  • If something isn’t right the first time, iterate.
  • Know when to stop writing (this is a hard problem).
  • Don’t trust EndNote or any of the academic databases to get citations right automatically.
  • Get someone else to do your printing and binding (using Officeworks saved me a lot of time!).

The last thing I want to do is thank every single person who helped me. I must thank my supervisors or their support and interest in the project. Thanks to QUT for the scholarship that made it all possible. I want to thank every participant and supporter of the project for their ability to make things happen (especially data for the research). Thanks to my family that had to listen to constant complaining, put up without seeing me surface from my desk for hours at a time and for being there to provide much needed support. For my manager and co-workers at Tech-Knowledge, thanks for providing support in terms of study time off and for having someone to vent to. To my friends who were keen supporters of me, thanks for being supportive and hilarious at the same time. Every single person’s support was invaluable and I doubt I’d have gotten this far without you all!

The Lost & Found USB

I recently picked up a great deal at a VIP sale at The Good Guys Ipswich: a 4GB Verbatim flash drive for A$3 each. Given there was a limit of five, I took advantage of the deal and bought my limit of five. I’m pretty happy with that deal (seeing I just returned from my local supermarket where the same drive was selling for A$27!); now just to find a use for all of them…

A specimen of the amazing A$3 USB deal

Given I have so many now, I’m getting into the habit of carrying one with me everywhere (you’re likely rolling your eyes now: USB sticks are so 2005). But they don’t rely on the Internet and every computer has a USB port these days. That makes a USB drive a must have tool. I’m also running PortableApps on the drive. It’s a great way to have important applications configured my way wherever I go, plus a good way to carry work from machine to machine at university without having to continually log in and out of Dropbox.

Carrying this USB drive with me everywhere got me thinking – What if I lost it? USB drives are small (admittedly the Verbatim ones are a bit of a chunky monkey, but A$3 is a steal anyway you look at it). I’ve already dropped one in the car (luckily I knew about it that time). What would happen if I lost my USB drive with all my important files and apps?

Appealing to the belief that most people are at least a little altruistic, I decided I would put together a short text file providing my name and return/contact details at the top-level folder (the root for the technically inclined) on the drive (and a thank you to the person for finding it). It is a quick way to identify a drive as yours and have it returned quickly (rather than having it stolen).

I uploaded a template text file that I used for my lost USB drive notice over here. Just populate it how you like and copy it to the top level directory of your USB drive. It is simple. You can add or remove entries in the contact details section to you liking (for example, I don’t include the Facebook entry on the version I use).

Hopefully this simple solution will save your USB drive from being lost for eternity at some point in its life. But lets hope it never comes to your USB drive being lost.

Clean a dirty iPad 2 Smart Cover with an eraser

If you are anything like me, your Smart Cover is a saviour for your investment into the Apple tablet; without it, my screen would likely already be damaged in some way or another. My fluorescent green Smart Cover, while a great protector and feature of my iPad, it really does take a beating. My iPad floats around in my bag with all of the other things I happen to take to uni (folders, Livescribe books, textbooks and sometimes my MacBook Pro). This leads it to collect all sorts of grime on the Smart Cover’s polyurethane front.

I have no real idea of what to do to clean it up – it had become quite unclean in the few short weeks I have actually had it. I was sitting at my desk when I was holding on to a rubber (or an eraser, depending on who you are and where you are from) when the idea struck me  – why not use the eraser? I wasn’t sure it was going to work, but after a few moments, all the gunk that had built up over the life of the cover came off easily. See the image below (sorry it isn’t amazing; my iPhone and desk lamp don’t like each other much). Note this approach may not work for permanent marks like those made by biro and marker pens, but works for general everyday grime.

The iPad Smart Cover can be cleaned with an eraser. The dirty areas are in the red squared. The clean panels are on the right.

But it just goes to show the best solutions are the simplest ones.