Monitoring the Media for the Public Good?

A group named Reporters Without Borders recently ranked the United States all the way down at 46th out of 180 countries in a ranking of press freedom. Doesn’t this seem a little odd to you? Wasn’t there something in the Constitution about freedom of the press? No wait, that was in the Bill of Rights! In fact, the first amendment goes something like this:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peacefully to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

If you just stop to think about it, there is a lot in those 44 words. I want to focus here on an even smaller portion of those 44 words related to “freedom of speech, or of the press”. It should be noted that the “press” referenced here no longer represents just newspapers or books, but has come to encompass many other types of media including more recently the Internet and blogs. But what does freedom of the press really mean? Does it mean you can say anything you want? Does it limit the opinions you can print or just guarantee the right to publish totally unbiased facts of the daily news?

A little over a third of a century ago in 1974, the Supreme Court ruled in the case of Miami Herald Publishing Co v. Tornillo that the government may not force newspapers to publish that which they do not desire to publish. While it does not specifically state anything about preventing them from publishing anything that they want to (coming from the opposite direction), it might seem like a logical extension to most.

On the other hand, the government already regulates some of the content of the media through the FCC, specifically in relation to radio and television broadcasting to restrict what it deems to be “indecent” material. What is “indecent” I guess they want us to believe that they will know it when they see it. But again, some may say that the definition of “indecent” has certainly changed over the last century with content being aired today that would never have been allowed just a few decades ago.

On a more personal level, the Ninth Circuit Court has recently ruled (2014) that journalists and bloggers are one and the same when it comes to protections under the First Amendment. So where is this going and why should it be the topic of this week’s rant?

Last year the FCC quietly announced that it will be monitoring newsrooms under the guise of determining how stories are selected, how stations set priorities, and the percent of news dedicated to different topics. Now I don’t know about you, but my management training says that you cannot control something unless you can measure it. So does the ability to measure something mean that you have the intent to control it? Now to be clear, nothing was said about the FCC ‘adjusting’ the content on the media they control or what those adjustments might be. Maybe they just want to measure things for the sake of measurement. After all, everyone knows that some media outlets tend to be more right wing while others tend to more left wing in the news they present and often the way that news is presented. The fact that we can identify them by their extremes merely says to me that the system is working. It allows for multiple points of view and lets the listener make up their own mind which to believe or even how much of each point of view they want to believe. Isn’t that what we want?

If instead, we let the FCC or other government agency begin to control the media so as to force a ‘more balanced approach’, would we lose the ability to explore all points of view? Who will define this balanced approach? And even if it does start out being totally 100% balanced, can we guarantee that it will stay that way over time? If all the news you hear begins to slant to one side or the other, would our media, through government control and oversight, be guilty of guiding the thoughts of its citizens to a singular point of view? No wait! Isn’t that what we accused the press of the Soviet Union during the cold war (and maybe even a little bit today) of doing to their own people? If a person does not know what else is going on outside of the media news they are given, how would they develop a basis to decide whether their situation was good or bad? If media control was bad during the communist era why would we think that media control in any country today would be any different?

Does allowing even a little control open the door to additional controls being added later? Consider that a war on a political system does not necessarily require a shooting war if one can win over the minds of people a little at a time by shifting what they think or how they think. In fact, the changes can be so slow and subtle over time that most people are not even aware of them until it is too late. In the meantime, the changes disguise their real intent behind such grad sounding themes like ‘This new recommendation to the media will protect you and your children from hearing any news that may be offensive or might upset them.’ After all, who is going to argue against providing greater safety and protections to our children. Well, it is something to think about.

C’ya next time, …. Maybe.


Likert Scale Revisited

Creating surveys in SharePoint is relatively easy and there are many different question types that can be used. However, one of the more interesting question types is the Likert scale question. You know, the question that asks something like: How much do you like chocolate: and then gives you five possible answers: Hate it, dislike it, don’t care one way or the other, like it, live for chocolate. Ok, so the question may not be about chocolate and the number of possible responses can vary greatly, but the point is that it allows the survey taker to rank their option on a scale.

One of the problems I have found is that the way SharePoint composes the Likert scale is that it has a generic question portion (some might even think of it as a section title) which appears above the scale and then individual options in rows beneath this question with each row representing one instance of the Likert scale. I suppose a picture would better explain that so, here is an example:

You can see that I’ve used the question section to tell the survey taker that the following questions use a scale of 1-10 where 10 indicates highly satisfied and 1 is highly dissatisfied. I then proceed to ask four questions with the first question being: How well do you understand SharePoint? The problem clearly is that it is difficult to tell where one question ends and the next one begins. This makes the survey hard for the survey taker to understand and they just get frustrated and close the survey. That is not what you want. Suppose you try to add extra line breaks between each choice?

Unfortunately, there is no way to add a page break between the choices because SharePoint just ignores the separate line returns. I even tried to add blank spaces and tab characters to the separating lines, but all of these are ignored as well. I even tried the HTML trick of inserting   to represent a space that should not be ignored, I then just got a new line with   displayed in the left column.

Next I tried just typing a period on the line between each question. This generated the space between questions, but generated another row of radio buttons:

The problem is that the text in the left column is too long and SharePoint has no way for the user to control the width of this area. As an example, suppose I word my questions differently such as the following question that asks survey takers how well they understand different web parts?

This question is a lot easier to understand, but only because the text for each line does not need to wrap over two or more lines.

But if I put my question in the Question column so that it appears above the Likert scale, I could just display the Likert scale with no left text so a question might look like the following:

But notice that I do not get the radio buttons to make an actual selection. Therefore it appears that the sub-question must consist of at least one character.

Another option might be to enter as my sub-question, a period.

At least this gives me the line of radio buttons to make a selection, but I may not like the dot sitting off to the right and survey takers may question what the dot means. So I started looking for other symbols that I could use instead of the dot. I found that by holding the ALT key and then entering the ASCII decimal value for a character on the numeric keypad, I could insert special characters as the sub-question. For example, press ALT-16 would give me a right pointing arrow head (if you are using the numeric keypad, make sure you have NumLock on when you do this) while ALT-17 would give me a left pointing arrow head as shown below.

When I save this question and display the survey, the arrow head still appears to the left of the row of radio buttons.

This solution means that I must enter every sub-question as a separate Likert question with a single sub-question consisting of the arrowhead as shown in the following figure with a variety of symbols.

While this solution may not have been the one I wanted (just adding blank lines between each sub-question, it does kind of work around the problem. Anyone else have any other solution to this problem?

Having a great day at SQL-Saturday Tampa. C’ya next time.

When Counting the Beans Is More Important Than What the Beans Mean

It seems like today everyone wants to measure their business processes.  If it cannot be measured, it is not important.  In general that is not a bad practice because all businesses whether they are multinational corporations or Mom and Pop corner stores needs to know at least a few basics about their business to determine if they are doing well or are about to go bankrupt.  But the fact is that many newly minted MBAs focus so much on counting everything that can be counted, that they lose sight on the long term goals of the business or trends of the industry.  Often this is a lack of keeping an eye on large scale business trends and being aware of how customer tastes and purchases are changing.  Then when business drops off, they scramble to find other reasons for why the business is failing.  This is what I mean by being too concerned with counting the beans rather than what the beans mean.

Not too long ago, one of the top businesses many people tried to get into was renting movies through local brick and mortar video stores.  Demand was growing as people moved from VHS tape machines to watch their movies to DVD discs.  The number of available movies grew.  Total rentals were up.  Profits were up.  Some movies made more from DVD sales than box office sales.  What could possibly go wrong?  Then it seemed like the bottom dropped out of the market as first local Mom and Pop stores closed and then the chains began to close.  Did people stop watching movies at home.  No.  If anything people watch more movies than ever.  The difference is in the way people get their movies.  Most TV cable companies and even Satellite companies now provide movies on demand.  You can rent movies from many local libraries for free.  Some of the big online retailers like Amazon provide movies on demand.  Why get into your car to drive down to the local video store, look for a video (only to find the last copy has already been rented), bring home an alternate movie that you really did not want to see but felt you had to get to justify your drive to the store, watch the movie, and then rush back to the store just before it closes to return the movie on the last day it is due.  Stores missed the convenience factor that has taken over the market.  While counting their beans, they missed the fact that their beans were changing.

A similar argument can be made for bookstores.  At one time, the only way to reasonably get the latest best seller or a technical reference book was to go down to your local book store to buy the paper version of it.  It was not all that long ago that every mall had at least one bookstore.  Now many malls do not even have one dedicated book store.  Many small bookstores have closed shop because they could not compete with the large chains.  Then some of the large chains even started to fail.   Some tried to counter the trend by adding lounge areas where you could grab a book and read a bit of it before deciding to buy it.  Some added cafes.  Some included live music on select nights.  But sales still continued to fall.  Again the driving factor was ordering books on line could often be accomplished from the comfort of your living room chair and you could get the book delivered.  Some libraries also added home delivery of ordered books.  But I believe one of the big game changers here was the introduction of digital book readers.  Sure the early ones were bulky, heavy and limited to monochrome text and little to no graphics.  But these quickly evolved until today the quality of digital books displayed on light weight tablets and even phones rivals the quality of printed books.  Sure many people still like the feel of a real book in their hands, but as the ebook versions of popular best sellers came down in price and more technical books became available in digital form, the demand for digital books has grown.  I confess that in the past two years, I have not bought a single paper book, but I have purchased at least two dozen digital books, often at 50% of the cost of the paper versions, and I could download them to my device immediately.  Many classic books are available free and at least my public library has been ‘loaning’ digital copies of books on-line for several years now so I do not even have to go into the library anymore.

Both of these examples clearly show the demand for the end product growing yet the distribution method for these products have changed dramatically.  Some libraries understand what the change has meant and they have adapted to it.  Clearly, they understand what the beans mean.  Others who have been too busy counting the number of patrons or the average number of books borrowed or the total size of their collection have lost track of what the beans (reading books) really means to the public.

How is your business adapting.  Are they busy counting the beans in the current month, quarter, or year?  Or do they spend time trying to understand and predict where their business I going in the next year, 5 years, or even 10 years.  Are they preparing for that future or do they assume that tomorrow will be the same as today and success is simply counting their current sales, profit margin, customers, etc.  I’m sure you could look at other industries and make similar analogies.  What is happening to newspapers and magazines, professional photography, or even education?  Is the method of delivery of your product or service changing?  Do you really think you will be doing the same job in 5, 10, or 15 years?  Knowing which beans matter and which can be ignored might be a more valuable skill than merely counting those beans.  Many people have made careers counting beans or having others count their beans for them.  In the meantime, other organizations more interested in what the beans meant have surpassed them and will (if not already) threaten their existence.  Some express surprise when companies or industries fail.  Others express surprise when new companies they never heard of before succeed.  But now you know the real reason why companies succeed and fail.  After all, any simple computer (or average math student) can count your beans.  But can a computer program tell you which beans matter the most for your future or your company’s future?

Remember to come out to SQL Saturday Tampa this Saturday.  C’ya next time.

Some Additional Word Comments

Last week I showed you how to use a Word template as a form in a SharePoint library. I kept the form fairly basic, and did not have the time to cover some additional considerations when choosing to use Word to create your forms. This week I will cover a few of those considerations.

The first consideration is that since form text is stored in SharePoint lists, SharePoint 2013 does not support standard text columns of more than 255 characters by default. Sure you can use a single line of text data type or a multiple line of text, both of which default to 255 characters. At first I was surprised by this since I expected the multiple lines of text to automatically support substantially more text than 255 characters because by default, SharePoint 2010 does.

Therefore, when I created the SharePoint metadata in the library where the form would reside, I created the Lesson Learned Description as a multi-line text data type. Granted, I did not read the 2013 properties carefully because I fully expected that I would be able to store long detailed descriptions in that column. After I added the column to the Word form and saved the Word template back to the library, I created my first form record as shown in the following figure.

After entering the data I wanted into the form, I tried to save the data back to the data store, which in this case consists of the metadata columns in the SharePoint document library where I modified the form template. Notice that the value for the Lesson Learned Description column has a dotted red line around it. This means that there is an error with the value. There is nothing to indicate what the error is. However, since the column is a text field, there are very few things that can cause an error. The most likely cause for the error, and in this case the correct cause, is that the value supplied is larger (in total characters) than the program can save back to the data store.

To test this theory, I deleted a few characters from the description and tried to resave the form data. This time, as you can see in the following image, the save succeeded.

But wait just a second, this problem is even easier to solve. Just go back to the library settings and open the column settings for the multi-line column. By default this data type limits values to 255 characters or less. (No it really does not say that.) However, look for the Allow unlimited length in document libraries setting and change the selection to Yes. While you cannot specify an absolute column length in characters, you do have the ability to allow the column to accept as much data as you want to throw at it.  (Note, this was done in SharePoint 2013.  SharePoint 2010 by default allows multi-line text to be larger than 255 characters.)

However, some of the other column types present more of a problem. For example, it is not possible to surface a hyperlink field from SharePoint in a Word form. Perhaps this is because a hyperlink field actually consists of two values, the hyperlink itself and a description. You also cannot display in the form a multi-selection choice or lookup column. While these fields may appear in the Document Properties panel as shown in the following figure, I have had problems saving the result back to the SharePoint library even if the column in the library is defined as a multi-value choice field (or lookup field).

When attempting to define a multiple value choice data type, I do get the following message when creating the column.

Returning to the question of saving the data, let me show you what happens when you save the form. Unlike InfoPath which just saves an XML file containing the data. The XML definition of the form is saved separately and only once. While this greatly reduces the number of bytes saved with each instance of the form added to the library, it does limit your ability to make changes to the form fields without creating a new content type each time. On the other hand, since the entire Word form including the values are saved with each instance of the form in the library just like any other Word document, it is a simple matter to change the template to add, delete, or change any of the columns on the form. All new forms will use the new template when you create new documents. Furthermore, you can still open the old form instances since they are nothing more than regular .DOCX or .DOC files depending on the form template from which you started.

The following figure shows the first part of the Save As dialog in which I can select where I want to save the completed form. By default, the Current Folder points to the SharePoint library where the Word template has been saved. However, there is nothing to stop me from saving the document in a local drive or network drive. (I can also click on SharePoint to the left of this figure which should also show the current folder at the top of the list on the right.)

If I select the Current Folder, Word opens the Save As dialog as it usually does, but notice in the right panel that the default location points to the SharePoint library. Also note that the form is saved as a regular .docx file. The File Name defaults to XXX.docx where XXX is the first line of text in the template. You will probably want to change this as I have in the following figure. Note however that even here I can select any other location where I have permissions to save files including SkyDrive, Google Drive and other locations.

The last thing I want to point out before ending this week is that when you display the contents of the library, text strings, no matter how long their values may be, do not get any preference during display over columns that have smaller values (in terms of characters). In fact, as the number of columns that SharePoint attempts to display increases, the widths of the columns appear to be controlled more by the name of the column than the data included within the column as shown in the following figure.

If this is a problem because you need to display the data in a report, the easiest solution is to export the data to Excel. Just click on the Export to Excel button in the Connect & Export group of the Library ribbon of the library.

A dialog appears that prompts you whether you want to open the .iqy file or save it. Use the Save option only if you want to copy the file to open the Excel spreadsheet to a different computer.

Opening this file first opens Excel and then loads the data from the current library as shown in the following figure.

At this point, a few simple formatting adjustments to the columns in Excel including possibly the turning off of the grid lines, adding a style, removing some unnecessary columns and you have a presentable report.

Wait a second, what happened to the Lesson Learned Title? Remember that when you export data from a list or library to SharePoint, the export only includes the columns and rows you specify. In this case, the default view displayed the FileName so users could click on it to view the data in the form. However, you probably want to hide this field and display the Lesson Learned Title field. Note also that any filtering on rows carries through to the export. Even if you have your SharePoint view set up to only display pages of 30 rows at a time, export ignores this functionality and exports all rows that match the filter criteria, not just the first 30.

To take this example one step further, you can copy and paste the final Excel spreadsheet into a Word document if it is relatively small. Of course, you could also use Reporting Services to generate a report from the SharePoint library or even use Report Builder with the Excel spreadsheet to create multi-page reports.

Well, that’s it for this time. C’ya next week maybe. I’ll be at the SQL Saturday in Tampa, FL ( ). If you are in the neighborhood, stop by to say, ‘Hi!’ I’ll be presenting in the afternoon on building cubes with either PowerPivot or Analysis Services Tabular model (I haven’t decided which way I’ll go yet.)

Will 2014 be a Turnaround Year or Just More of the Same?

The other day I was listening to a podcast from Mike Huckabee that talked about the recently released index that ranked 178 nations with regard to their economic freedom. The source of the report was the Heritage Foundation and the Wall Street Journal so there is probably some credibility to the report. The disturbing part of the report was not that the United States was not in first place, not second place, not even 5th place. No, the United States no longer falls even within the top ten of these 178 nations. In fact, it is now in 12th place behind Estonia. I was shocked, not that we were no longer in the top 10, but that even Estonia has surpassed us. Some of the factors that have contributed to our decline are a surprise though. Things like the fiscal soundness of our economy and the size of government compared to the total economy have clearly hurt us over the last several years. The ‘recession’ since 2008/2009 has had a devastating effect on our economy as companies shrunk their workforce and many closed their doors entirely. In the meantime, the growth in the government and their attempt to infiltrate every aspect of our lives telling us what we can or cannot do by passing hundreds of new rules and regulations has undoubtedly been more effective at hurting our economic growth rather than stimulating the necessarily growth to pull us out of that recession faster and stronger. Some people would even say that the supposedly good unemployment numbers have dropped only because so many people have dropped out of the official job market and are either depending on government handouts or are working in the underground economy where wages do not get reported or perhaps both. If we are really at around 6.5 to 7 % unemployment, that might be considered in past times as full or near full employment with that percentage representing the constant ‘friction’ of people looking for new jobs, starting new businesses, or just not looking in the first place. Yet at the same time, the government is looking to extend unemployment benefits. Why would they do that unless they knew things were worse than they are telling us or to protect the bloated bureaucracies that they have built around all the government programs to ‘help’ the poor.

A couple of indicators I’ve been watching are not the typical indicators that most people might think of. In fact, while I did not perform an exact scientific analysis, I can probably say that as a whole most people feel a little more optimistic about their own personal future than they did a few years ago. The first factor I’ll mention is the number of people visiting the theme parks here in Orlando. My unscientific study indicates that more people are coming to the parks. Not only are the parking lots fuller than they have been in years, but the number of people I have to weave around getting from one point to another has increased. Lines for the more popular attractions at these parks have grown substantially along with their wait times.

Another indicator is the amount of traffic on the roads at 6 AM. It was not all that long ago that the main roads were almost empty at 6 AM. Getting to work was almost relaxing, but not anymore. Now the main highways are full this early in the morning. While the traffic is still generally moving at highway speeds unless there is an accident, the traffic is much heavier with barely more than a 2 to 4 car lengths between vehicles. Some mornings it is even less. Where is everyone going at 6 AM if it is not to a job? Or is it that they had to take a job far from their home just to get a job and therefore leave earlier to try to beat the worst traffic? In any case, the roads are fuller.

The third indicator is the increase in the number of people in restaurants, not just on weekends, but during the workweek as well. Not too long ago, it was possible to walk into a major restaurant chain between 6 and 8 in the evening and get seated immediately. No longer. We again have wait times sometimes as much as 45 minutes at the more popular locations. And then when you finally get seated at your table and open the ‘new’ menu, you are greeted with new prices which are generally about 10% higher than just a few months ago. In a way I don’t blame them. If the restaurants are now full again and people are waiting in line to get in, you are leaving money on the table if you don’t raise your rates. That is the same philosophy of the theme parks. As long as people keep coming and the parks are full, you can raise your prices and improve your overall profit margin. If the parking lots are full, raise the cost of parking as well until your net profit stops increasing because fewer people are coming.

Does this mean that we are out of the recession? Or is the gap between those that can afford vacations, eating at restaurants, or going to sporting events and those that cannot afford to do any of those things is just widening? But as I mentioned last week, just raising the minimum wage will not solve the problem if that causes employers to higher few workers, cut worker hours, or go out of business. You cannot legislate equality, but you sure can legislate inequality. The economy is controlled not by one or two factors, but hundreds of intertwining interactive components which are difficult to model. As a result, attempts to modify the direction of the economy often leads to unexpected consequences like squeezing a water balloon in your hands.

Can we expect a Congress that cannot even pass a balanced budget and begin to pay down our debts to lead us out of a recession into prosperity rather than spend us into a deeper hole, a hole where our nation’s debt and future is held in the hands of other countries, countries that may not always have our best interests at heart? Again, such a decision to continue on this path or even to change paths might be fraught with unintended consequences. (Remember the water balloon.) I suppose I am looking for new bold leadership who can return America to the land of economic freedom that it once was, a time when the nation was prosperous. It was a time when you did not have to write or read tens of thousands of pages to understand a law. One law would serve where now ten now take its place. The laws were simple and easy to follow. People were free to start business as long as they did not hurt anyone else in the process. It was a time when politicians worked for the citizens they represented, not a time when the citizens worked to support the politicians. Will the next election cycle turn us in this direction or will it be more of the same?

C’ya next time.

Building SharePoint Forms with Microsoft Word

Microsoft has announced that InfoPath is at the end of it’s life. Sure they promised to support InfoPath as it currently exists until 2024 which may seem a long ways off. If you have the typical form application, you may think that it will be replaced within the next ten years anyway so why not use InfoPath for now. There are a couple of commercial alternatives to InfoPath such as K2 or Nintex. I’ve not taken a look at either of these two products yet, but if I can get my hands on a trial of either of them, I’ll let you know what I think.

In the meantime, another often forgotten alternative is to create your forms in Microsoft Word. While Word based forms may not provide the functionality that you are familiar with from using InfoPath, you can create basic forms that even reference data in other SharePoint lists and build workflows to support the forms using SharePoint Designer. So for this week, I’ll check out the possibilities in Word so at least I can later compare this alternative to some of the other commercial products. Of course, one of the immediately obvious downsides of this technique is that all Word form users must have Microsoft Word on their local machine to open and fill in the form. Therefore, this is not a preferred solution for forms that I want the general public to use.

Before I begin working on the form, I need to define a few lists and libraries. The figure below shows the schema for a simple four table database to track lessons learned for a company. (These were used in the last couple of weeks to illustrate calculated columns and referential integrity between lists.) I will use the three tables on the left (Projects, Status, and Lesson Types) as lookup lists. The table on the right shows the additional metadata I want to add to a basic SharePoint document library.

Just like I created lookup columns and referential integrity links between lists last week, I can do the same thing between lists and a document library. To begin, I first create the lookup tables as custom lists. I will not go through the steps here on how to create custom lists because I assume that you know how to do that. I next create a new document library named LessonsLeaned.

I next went into the Library Settings found in the Settings group of the Library ribbon. I first need to add the metadata columns that will link to the lookup lists.

As mentioned before, I will not go through the details here of adding the columns as lookup columns since I have done that before. For your benefit, the following figure shows what the column schema should look like for the LessonsLearned document library when it is complete for this example.

I am now ready to edit the Word template that SharePoint uses to create a new document. To do this, I need to still be in the Library Settings page. Then in the General Settings section, I click the Advanced settings option.

Then I look for the Document Template section. On the right side I see the Template URL. This is where SharePoint puts a copy of the default blank Word template for document libraries based on Microsoft Word. (Yes, I can build document libraries with different default document types, but that is another story.) Don’t try to navigate to the URL. It is not directly visible when you navigate through SharePoint. However, I can click on the Edit Template link shown immediately below the URL.

SharePoint now opens the template in my local copy of Microsoft Word. I can now create my form using normal Microsoft Word skills, perhaps by creating a table and then placing text in some of the cells and leaving some of the cells empty where I want to add user prompts for data. I can also include any additional text in the document outside of the table if desired, I can format the table using one of the pre-defined table styles or create my own, and I can use any of the text formatting styles, insert images, and insert hyperlinks.

Once I have finished designing the overall form, I can then begin to add the document fields. I place the cursor where I want to insert the first document field and open the Insert ribbon. I then click the buttom half of the Quick Parts button in the Text group of this ribbon.

This opens a dropdown list of available fields. Some of these fields are part of the default document library definition or even part of the default Word template. However, you will notice the names of the custom fields I added to the LessonsLearned document library such as Project, Style, and Lesson Type.

In a similar fashion, I would add the other metadata fields from my document library. My final table might look something like the following:

When I am done defining the form, I simply save it. Microsoft Word remembers where I opened the template from and saves it back to SharePoint as a template in the correct document library.

Now to use the form, a user only has to navigate to the document library and open a new document. SharePoint uses the just saved template as the default document it opens.

I can also start a new document by opening the Files ribbon and clicking the top half of the New Document button in the New group as shown in the following figure.

SharePoint now opens the new template in my local copy of Microsoft Word were I can begin to enter data into any of the fields. To enter text data, just click on the field name and begin typing. If the field is a lookup field, when the user clicks on the field, a dropdown arrow appears to the right of the field. Clicking this dropdown arrow opens a list of the possible values from the corresponding SharePoint list.

When I save the document, I must specify a file name. However Microsoft Word does default the file location to be the SharePoint library where I saved the template.

In summary, I have built a simple form that can be used with other SharePoint lists and can save the data back to the SharePoint library as metadata. Is this form as powerful as an InfoPath form. Not at this time. Microsoft may be planning on enhancing the form features of Word in the future. In fact, a few rumors have already leaked that we may see some of these enhancements later this year, perhaps as soon as an upcoming SharePoint conference.

Until then, C’ya next time.

Why a Minimum Wage Increase Is Like Chasing Your Tail

By now you all know about the efforts by the president to increase the minimum wage for people.  He is doing this because he thinks this will level the playing field between those who earn a lot and those who don’t.  But it is disillusioned dream on many levels.

First, if employers are forced to rIse wages on top of the already heavy burden of increased health care costs that have been mandated, many small employers, of which employ the vast majority of Americans, will be increasingly forced to cut back staff expenses.  They may do this by laying off staff, cutting their hours, bringing in more automation or even relying on more foreign labor, even if that foreign labor is in this country illegally.

But it goes deeper than that.  When the bottom rung of low or unskilled jobs command more money per hour, it puts pressure on jobs at a higher level to pay more as well.  This creates a ripple effect up through the job tiers as people with more skills, more experience, more education, and more at risk require higher salaries to justify the effort they put into getting where they are and staying there.

This applies especially to small business entrepreneurs who risk not only a large amount of their own money, the money of other family members, friends, neighbors, and others, but also much of their time and lives, especially time they could have spent with family.  Why do that except for the potential of much greater reward?  If America is to remain the land of opportunity, there must be compensatory reward for an individual’s efforts.  Don’t think for a minute that these business creators would put forth this level of effort if they merely received the same income and benefits as the unskilled workers they hire.

Why would a young adult want want to become a doctor, surgeon, engineer, lawyer or any other professional if they did not make substantially more than the unskilled burger flipper who did not go to school for 4 to 8 years (or more), paid out thousands of dollars or took on large amounts of debt to get the training and degrees they needed and sacrificed  for years after graduation to pay back that debt?

This does not go against the concept of fairness, but is the very definition of fairness.  Fairness must consider the whole, not just the salary of a person.  Salary has for the most part always represented the level of skill, the amount of effort and the degree of risk required to perform any job.  These factors are not something that can be ignored by dictating a new salary without expecting a corresponding ripple throughout the rest of the economy.

What does that mean?  Well if the lowest level jobs get an increase in salary, the jobs atr the next level up will demand a corresponding increase to justify the effort they expended to meet the requirements for that job.  And if one employer doesn’t raise that group’s salary, another one will, one who needs those higher skilled employees to achieve their goals and dreams. However, then the demand for more money ripples up to the next level to those employees who are required to have even more skills, education, and/or responsibility.  And on it goes all the way to the top because why would a person risk their money and devote their time to advance their education, some would say life, if the return was hardly more than that hourly worker?

Of course the business can counter the higher salary demands by cutting staff, reducing hours or making full-time positions part-time.  They can subcontract work out to lower salary countries.  They may even be able to raise prices of their products or services.  They may even decide to close their doors and then everyone suffers.

But in the end, the results are the same.  Those same people at the bottom of the wage pool begin to cry out for higher wages to keep up with increasing costs.  Eventually, one political group or another hears them and decides to take on their cause.  Not because they truly believe in income equality because if they did, they would lower their own salaries as a show of support.  Rather, they take on the cause to divert attention from other problems.  Maybe they are behind in the public opinion polls and figure that they can get a quick surge in their popularity by appealing to the lowest income classes with their ‘quick fix’.  And thus we have come full circle.

The real problem is that any gains by boosting the minimum wage are short term as described above and merely create a cycle.  No real productivity improvement has occurred to increase the overall value of the economy.  No new products or services have been developed.  No new markets for their products and services have been opened.  So the result is a vicious cycle.

The only way an individual can get out of that cycle is by investing in themselves to develop new skills, learn new techniques and concepts, create a new product, service or company.  You could also say that the reason the rich fall back to middle class the middle class descends to poverty occurs when they lose the drive, the incentive to make things better.  Thus society as a whole could be viewed as a pot of boiling water with some of the poor and middle class rising to the top as they get hot while others fall back down as their drive cools off.  Through all of this, it is not the artificial support of individual wages, or company bailouts that determine success, but their collective efforts to make a difference and grow the economy as a whole.

C’ya next time.

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