Posted by & filed under General.

Here’s a bit of info for the Canadian IT sector: In the new budget the Capital Cost Allowance for computer hardware has been temporarily increased to 100% (from 50%). This allows businesses to write-off 100% of the cost of computer hardware purchased between Jan 27th 2009 and Feb 1st 2011.

What does this mean for IT departments? Tough to say – it depends on the performance of the business itself to justify whether there are any tangible savings – there are many businesses that pay little or no tax already.

For those consultants with small businesses on their client list – you may wish to remind them of this development. It may allow them to increase their IT spending.

Read more here:

Canada’s Economic Action Plan – Budget 2009

Posted by & filed under Security, Windows / Server.

This is an old trick that was documented on the Microsoft website for Windows 95 – Windows 2000 but seems to have disappeared since. Here’s a basic retelling of the procedure to block all Internet access and allow only approved sites using the FREE content advisor found in Internet Explorer.

1. Copy the following text into Notepad and save it as “noaccess.rat” in the Windows\system32\ directory (or another directory of your choice). Be sure that the file extension is .rat and not .txt. You can download a zip file containing noaccess.rat here.

((PICS-version 1.0)
(rating-system “http://www.microsoft.com”)
(rating-service “http://www.microsoft.com”)
(name “Noaccess”)
(description “This file will block all sites.”)

(category
(transmit-as “m”)
(name “Yes”)
(label
(name “Level 0: No Setting”)
(description “No Setting”)
(value 0))
(label
(name “Level 1: No Setting”)
(description “No Setting”)
(value 1))))

2. In the “Control Panel” double-click on “Internet Options” and click on the “Content” tab. If in Internet Explorer, click on “Tools” and “Internet Options” and click on the “Content” tab.
3. Click “Enable.”
4. Inside the “General” tab click on “Rating System.”
5. Remove all entries and click “Add.” Add “noaccess.rat” from the Windows\system32\ directory.

Content Advisor Block Internet

6. Click on the “Approved Sites” tab and add all the websites you wish to allow access to.

Content Advisor Block Internet

UPDATE (Dec 14 2009): I have added the noaccess.rat and noaccess.txt files to a zip file that can be downloaded here.

Posted by & filed under General.

With the slowing economy and layoffs in the IT sector, many unemployed or underemployed IT professionals will be thinking of entering the consulting field. The question is – how do you set your fees?

I’ll explain one method of determining billable hours and fees.

Determining Workable Hours

First calculate your working hours in a year. You’ll need to decide how many weeks of vacation you’ll take and how many days/week you are willing to work.
As an example I’ll take 4 weeks of vacation per year and work 8 hours a day.

(52 weeks) – (4 weeks for vacation) = 48 weeks.
(48 weeks) x (40 hours/week) = 1920 hours / year.

Determining Billable Hours

In my example I’ll work 8 hours per day. But will I be able to charge the client a full 8 hours? How much of this is overhead? Travel time? Negotiating? A long-standing rule of thumb in any singular consulting practice is that you only end up charging 50% of your time to the client – the rest is spent on building your practice, finding new clients, learning, and administration.

Here is how a typical computer consultant’s time will break down:
-25% on administrative tasks, running errands (picking up parts, etc), paperwork, billing, etc.
-15% on marketing, networking, and pursuing clients.
-10% spent on learning or other activities.
-50% on client work.
(1920 hours / year) x (50% utilization) = 960 billable hours

Bad Debt

Now that I’ve figured out the true billable hours of my practice, I’ll need to consider bad debt. Not all clients pay on time, some don’t pay at all. Over an indefinite period, expect about 4% of your clients to not pay the bill. This may be higher in murkier economic times, and may require a shorter grace period between when the work is completed and the bill is paid.

960 hours x 96% = approximately 922 hours

Determining Rate of Pay

I now have a solid figure of 922 billable and collectable hours per year. This is the number that will determine my income in a given year. It is possible to work backwards at this step from what I hope to make, or simply multiply 922 by the average rate of pay for a consultant in my industry.

Suppose I wish to make $100, 000/yr.
$100,000 (gross)/yr / 920 hours = $109/hr

The example above doesn’t take into account renting an office or the overhead of hiring an administrative assistant. It also doesn’t include office supplies, phone, internet, etc. Add up all the annual costs of the items below and divide by the number of billable hours to see the overhead. Add that onto your consulting fee.

Ex. Overhead: $15,000/yr / 920 hours = $16/hr in overhead costs

Resulting consulting fee: Desired income + overhead = $109 + $16 = $125 / hr

After taking into consideration my annual overhead costs and billable hours, I find that $125 / hr is sufficient to average $100 000 / yr before taxes. If you find that $125/hr is beyond what your current market can handle, ask yourself if you can make it work with whatever the average is. You’ll find, as in any situation, some overhead costs are unncessary, and perhaps your desired yearly income is not plausible. What I did not mention was when starting a consulting practice, take into consideration the possibility of months of little to no billable hours near the beginning.


Items that should be taken into consideration when determining a consulting rate are:

  1. Medical benefits, life insurance
  2. Office equipment (computers, printers, test equipment)
  3. Office facilities, mortgage or rent, property taxes
  4. Business vehicle, insurance and cost of operation
  5. Office utilities
  6. Office phone, cell phone, internet connection
  7. Office consumables (paper, printer toner, business cards, flyers)
  8. Subscriptions/training/professional conferences/professional associations
  9. Advertising and marketing costs
  10. Business licenses and permits
  11. Legal and accounting services

Posted by & filed under Windows / Server.

I ran into an interesting problem at a site a few weeks back. A user had a laptop with Vista and Office 2007. Here were the symptoms:

1. When the user double-clicked on a Word attachment in Outlook, Word would open but the document wouldn’t. After the user closed the Word session, it would immediately hang.

2. When the user double-clicked on a Word document on the desktop, it would open Word but an error would come up stating it could not find the path or file. When closing the Word session, it would hang.

3. When the user opened Word first, then navigated to the desktop or attachment folder from within Word, the document would open correctly. Word would still hang when closing.

In every case, the Word options were grayed-out, so disabling add-ins was not possible.

The first step to solving the problem involved disabling add-ins temporarily in order to enter the Word Options. Enter “winword.exe /a” in the Run/Search dialog in the Start Menu. From the File Menu in Word select Word Options -> Add-ins. Disable all add-ins through the “manage ### add-ins” drop-down. After this was performed the user could open Word documents from Outlook and the Desktop without hassle. Word would still crash upon exiting.

The next step was to navigate to: Users\Application Data\Microsoft\Templates and delete normal.dotm. This file is the default template in Word 2007 (normal.dot for Word 2003). This normally does the trick with a hanging Word app since it forces Word to re-create the template. In this particular case it did not work.

As it turns out, the following registry key is responsible for re-creating the template:

HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Office\12.0\Word\Data

If the registry key itself is corrupted, every normal.dotm template that is re-created would be corrupt. By deleting the entire registry key (which would be re-created) it solved the problem of Word hanging on exit.

Other symptoms that could be caused by a bad add-in or corrupt normal.dotm/registry key:

Word crashes when you try to start or to exit Word.
You cannot open a Word document from Windows Desktop Search.
The mouse does not work when you use Word 2007.
You cannot open a Word document from the Search window in Windows Vista.

Posted by & filed under Windows / Server.

Modifying the User Account Options in Windows 7 is slightly different than in Windows Vista. The default UAC prompts in Windows 7 are, in my opinion, sufficient for the average user. There are instances when a user would want to disable UAC or a Network Admin would want to disable UAC on all computers via Group Policy. Below are 3 methods to turn up, turn down, or disable UAC completely.

Disable UAC via Control Panel

  1. Go to the Start Menu -> Control Panel -> User Accounts and Family Safety -> User Accounts -> Change User Account Control Settings
User Account Control User Account Control User Account Control User Account Control User Account Control

 

Disable UAC via Registry Editor

  1. Type “regedit” in the Start -> Search bar.
  2. Go to the following Key: HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINESoftwareMicrosoftWindowsCurrentVersionPoliciesSystem
  3. Locate REG_DWORD: EnableLUA
  4. Set the value of EnableLUA to 0.
  5. Locate REG_DWORD: ConsentPromptBehaviorAdmin
  6. Set the value of ConsentPromptBehaviorAdmin to 0.
  7. Restart

Disable UAC via Group Policy

  1. Type “gpedit.msc” in the Start -> Search bar.
  2. Double-Click: Computer Configuration -> Windows Settings -> Security Settings -> Local Policies -> Security Options.
  3. Scrolling to the bottom of the screen shows the following User Account Control Settings.
    User Account Control Group Policy
  4. Locate: “User Account Control: Behavior of the elevation prompt for administrators in Admin Approval Mode” and modify to “Elevate without prompt”
  5. Locate: “User Account Control: Detect application installations and prompt for elevation” and modify it to “Disabled”
  6. Locate: “User Account Control: Run all administrators in Admin Approval Mode” and modify it to “Disabled”
  7. Locate: “User Account Control: Only elevate UIAccess applications that are installed in secure locations” and modify it to “Disabled”
  8. Restart.