Sunday, December 31, 2006

Happy New Year!

HourglassI looked at my countdown counter this morning and it told me that I have only this one day before my life enters its new chapter. In fact, looking below the big "1 day" read out, I see a smaller readout which says 8:09:22, ... 21, ... 20. A little more than eight hours.

So, what am I feeling right now? Well, I'm pretty darned excited, to tell the truth. It's bound to be an interesting year. I've got my list of 101 goals for 2007 (from which I've already been completing things). I can't wait to see what I can accomplish. I'm a little scared, too. It's a big step to go off on my own. If I let my mind wander, I can conjure up all sorts of catastrophes. Let's not go there, shall we?

In a few hours, Lisa and I are heading out to visit friends for the evening. We'll cap off the year with good conversation, maybe a game or two, champaign, and, of course, watching five minutes of TV so we can see the ball come down over NYC.

Tomorrow morning, the adventure begins.

Drive safe and have a wonderful new year!

So, what are your plans for the evening?

1 day.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Notable Notes

Google Notebook LogoI read somewhere that when you have a good idea, you must capture it quickly. You have about 37 seconds before it is lost in the general clutter of day-to-day life. Of course, I've also read that 76.4 percent of all statistics are made up, so I don't know how accurate that 37 seconds really is. I do know that I probably drop a lot of good ideas. How many? I haven't a clue. I usually only remember that I had them when I happen to have them again, so, assuming I have, on average 14.3 good ideas for every one that I actually remember, well, you do the math.

Anyway, I figure that any tricks or tools that I can use to help reduce this terrible waste of my brain cycles is probably a Good Thing. Soon to be listed among those Good Things, I think, will be Google Notebook.

Google Notebook screenshotGoogle Notebook is a combination online service and browser extension which makes keeping track of those good ideas pretty easy. Before I go on, though, do be aware that Notebook comes out of Google Labs and at this time should still be considered an "alpha" service (i.e. functionality and appearance could change at any time). That being said, though, it sure is convenient. On Firefox, my browser, it sets up a small tab in the lower right corner of the screen. When, in the course of my daily browsing of the Web, I uncover a thought-provoking concept, an idea for writing, or even a hint for a future product, I can click on that tab, select the text and or pictures of interest, and click on the "Add note" button. Notebook will even record where I found this tidbit.

All of these notes can be sorted into different notebooks (I have different ones for each of the above areas). They can be edited, added to, and deleted. You can share them with friends and colleagues. And the best thing of all is that, so long as I am connected, my notes are always with me. I don't have to worry about lugging along an extra paper notebook in addition to my computer. Heck, if you really need the dead-tree edition, you can even print out your notes for offline consideration.

There are a few features which are missing, which I think would make things even better. One minor one would be a time stamp for the note. Sometimes things make more sense in context. Yes, I could just add a time stamp myself, but the easier a tool is to use, the more likely I am to use it. The user interface for the full page site is a bit rough around the edges still, too, but I'm sure that will even out with time.

So, I recommend that you check out the possibilities. Notebook has extensions for both Firefox and IE under Windows XP, OS X, and Linux. Let me know what you think!

So, what tools have you found helpful in capturing your good ideas?

2 days. (2 days!? Ack!)

Friday, December 29, 2006

Partial Redemption

Computer supportA few days ago, I devoted a good portion of my post to ranting about the quality of customer support at my current hosting service, You can read the details in that post, but the short of it was that I couldn't access the configuration tools for one of my clients and the hosting company was being less than helpful in resolving the situation. The problem has since been solved. In my last missive to them, I made the suggestion that, since I couldn't access the control panel where it was currently located, perhaps they could move it to a different server. The next morning, the company took my suggestion and I was able to complete the initial set up of the CNP of Ohio competition registration. Keep an eye on the CNP of Ohio website for more information about the upcoming competition.

So, it was a happy ending, right? The customer got what they needed and I got to ride off into the sunset?

Not so fast.

Yes, the hosting company did finally respond to me and implement a solution. For that I will give them a partial redemption from my vitriol. The technical issue, though, was not the real problem here. I understand that, every once in a while, things just go wrong. It's no one's fault in particular. My problem lies in how I was treated. What follows are a few tips on how this whole situation could have been handled just a little better and have made me a whole heck of a lot more sanguine about recommending this company to future clients.

  1. If the only way you are going to accept support requests is through the Web, your interface must be clear and professional-looking. In the form with which I was working, one of my options was "Category" for which there were three options: "Emergency", "Not Listed", and "Site Down". Perhaps one or two other major areas might be appropriate? Don't even get me started on the part which asks for a "Sample URL". The whole thing felt like it had been designed for a different purpose and then shoe-horned to serve in this capacity.
  2. Make sure your response method is consistent. As I mentioned in the post, responses to my queries sometimes came through email, sometimes only on the support site, and sometimes through both. Don't make me wonder if you have responded.
  3. Don't tell me the problem is somewhere on my end and that I should just wait for a couple of hours to see if it fixes itself. That's not a real solution and it makes me feel like you are just trying to get rid of me. How about trying to open up a dialog to help me debug the situation from my end?
  4. Don't blow me off if I don't fill out your form correctly. Maybe this should be #1, because it really got me steamed. In this case, I had provided all of the necessary information in the body of the support request. If the support person had taken half a moment to read the message that I had typed up, he would have seen this. Instead, I felt even more like they were hoping that I would just go away.
  5. Solve my problem. Don't make me do it for you. The solution which I came up with doesn't take a degree in rocket surgery. I don't care who is at fault. All I know is that your service isn't working for me, through no fault of my own, and I don't know the first person other than you to contact in order to fix the problem.
Whew! Now I feel a little better.

On a somewhat related note, I started uploading the new Community Housing Network online donation system to their new secure website. Thus far, the transition is going smoothly. I've still got a way to go before I can give the hosting service,, an unqualified testimonial. So far, though, things look good and, as I mentioned before, for non-profits, you can't beat the price!

On a More Personal Note

I signed Lisa and I up to go on a VIP tour at Artrain USA. I recently learned about Artrain from Barb Shoffner, whom I met through Muriel Converse of our local SCORE chapter (isn't networking a wonderful thing?). The Artrain is, for lack of more poetic language, a mobile art museum, housed in a series of renovated 1940s passenger cars. It travels all over the country, from coast to coast not only bringing it's current exhibit, "Native Views: Influences of Modern Culture", but also revitalizing the local art scene and often starting a process of community renovation which lasts long after the Artrain pulls out of the station.

Barb told me about the VIP tours which are set aside for a limited number of visitors. The tours include a guide who will present information about the exhibit and point out the details of specific pieces. For Lisa and I, who spent part of our first date at the Toledo Art Museum, this is going to be a lot of fun! By the way, while donations are encouraged, the price of admission for this event? Free.

If you are going to be in Ann Arbor in January 2007, you might want to give them a call (734-747-8300) to find out more.

So, what fun events would you recommend in your community?

3 days.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

A True Fan

Disney OrnamentSeth Godin has a short post today asking the question, "Would I buy the T-shirt?" By this he means, does your business inspire the kind of fans and fanaticism that would inspire the purchase of a t-shirt with your logo? If not, why not and how can you change?

Wow! What a question. I'm trying to think of the last thing which inspired me to buy a t-shirt (or other souvenir with a corporate logo). I'm wearing a sweatshirt from my trip to Alaska this summer. On our Christmas tree, we have ornaments from Disneyworld, and Cirque du Soleil. Probably the largest number of "t-shirt" purchases for me would be from the "Babylon 5" franchise.

So, what do these all have in common? What do they have that other television programs, travels and/or performances don't have?

Looking at them I can see one common thread. They each in their own way transported me to another existence. I saw sites which I had never before imagined. I experienced whole new viewpoints and ideas. I even discovered whole new areas of my own life which have colored my days since that time.

So, how do I put my own business in such rarefied company? How do I make my clients want to buy my t-shirt? I'll admit to being stumped right now on that one, but the question has opened up a whole new area for me to ponder. I wonder if Seth has any t-shirts!

4 days.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

This is Help?

Computer nightmareSo, as I mentioned yesterday, my big goal for the day was to get the CNP of Ohio contest registration feature up and running on the production server. Should only take an hour, I said. Usually only a few tweaks, I said.

Sometimes I'm such a Pollyanna.

The hosting service we are using for the CN website is, a budget hosting service that I myself use. The least expensive of their plans costs $70 per year and has most of the modern conveniences of a hosting service. To access and set up these facilities, you must use a feature called "CPanel". It's basically a control panel for websites. With it you can, among a myriad of other things, check stats, create new email addresses, and (most important to me in this case) set up MySQL databases.

Today, unfortunately, I couldn't access the CPanel site for the CNP of Ohio website. It's actually located on a different server than the actual server, so this only posed a problem for adding new features, it didn't mean that the production server itself was down. After a couple of hours of waiting, though, I decided that I needed to bring in, you guessed it, Customer Support.

Now, I realize that, being a budget service, they have to cut corners somewhere. To save money, they've chosen to have only web-based support. I've used it in the past and, while it does have a clunky interface, the folks there have always been responsive, usually getting back to me within the hour. I'm hoping that today is an exception and not a foreshadowing of things to come.

I placed my first ticket this morning around 11. At around 12 or so, I got a response back that everything was fixed. Great! Except it wasn't. I was still having the same problem. So, I went back to the now-closed ticket and re-opened it, letting the support folks know that there was still a problem. A few hours later I was told that the problem lay in the network and that I should just wait for a few hours. I might want to try a command called "traceroute" which for those who don't know, will print out the path that a network message takes as it finds its way from one computer to another on the network. If there is a problem, it will tell you where that's happening, too.

So, I waited another couple of hours, with similar results. So, I decided to try another help ticket. From my tests, it looked like there was a problem in a significant network node which meant that pretty much no one in the midwest was going to be finding this particular server. As a hosting service, it would behoove them to make sure this got cleared up. I thought I would just re-open the original ticket. This time, though, the ticket had been deleted entirely. All of my old tickets were there but that one.

Strange. OK, I'll just make a new one. Once again, I worked up the details, including a dump of the traceroute results. Off it went to the great and powerful Oz. A few more hours later and I got the message back that I had filled out the form incorrectly and to create a new ticket with the correct information. Guess which part of the form I got wrong? Nope! It was the field which called for an "Example URL". Apparently they didn't want the URL of the CPanel which was causing trouble, but rather the URL of the site about which I was asking the question. Obviously!

Don't even get me started on the response mechanisms -- sometimes response by email, sometimes only on the support website, sometimes in both -- consistency is apparently vastly overrated.

On a positive note, the work on the donations features for Community Housing Network are coming along nicely. I even managed to fire off a test transaction to (the front-end service which we are using to process credit card transactions).

More as the situation develops.

On a More Personal Note

I did manage to get our new cell phones set up today. Well, to be more accurate, I got them registered and turned on. It's probably going to take me about six months to really get the hang of this thing. My old phone did about one thing. It made phone calls, two if you count receiving calls. This new one does that, plus just about everything else except walk the dog (and I might be wrong on that -- I only just started reading the voluminous documentation). Still pretty exciting!

So, which hosting service do you use? Would you recommend their customer service?

5 days.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Back in the Saddle

Just a quick post tonight as it is getting close to my bedtime.

I've pretty much finished up the work on the CNP of Ohio contest registration form. It's all running on my test machine. Now I just need to upload, install and test it on the production server. This is always a pretty exciting and sometimes exceedingly frustrating part of any project for me. Inevitably, I will discover some minor issues which differ between the testing site and the production site. This leads to a bit more tweaking on the system and then back to the testing phase. If things are going smoothly, this rarely takes more than an hour or so. After all, I do attempt to make my testing server "look" as much like the production server as is reasonable. I mean, I'm not going to completely reload my system or anything, but I do at least try to get all of the directories in the same locations.

After I take care of that tomorrow morning, it is back to getting the donations facilities up and running for the Community Housing Network site. I think I now have all of the pieces to at least do the system building. Now we just need to nail down the details on the production server and we should make it with days to spare before the deadline.

On a More Personal Note
Perrysburg Christmas
Lisa and I just got back from our holiday travels. We were down in Texas visiting her family for most of a week. We then flew back early Christmas morning in order to go down to Perrysburg, Ohio for a big family Christmas with my Mom. The Perrysburg Christmas was a bit smaller than in previous years. We have had as many as thirteen or fourteen of us sitting around the table. This time, we were a comparatively manageable eight. Still my mom cooked as if there were an army showing up and I don't think a one of us wandered away from the table hungry.

We ate, talked, did puzzles, and, of course, opened presents. With two kids, five dogs (including a new puppy) and a cat, we had our share of mayhem. Still, we did experience occasional moments of peace and quiet. And, no matter what the atmosphere, we all had a lot of fun.

So, how did you spend your holidays?

6 days.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Of Gadgets and Songs (not)

OK, so I had written a nice little post about Google gadgets and such and a short bit about attending a fun holiday musical event, but then my browser crashed and I lost everything. So, it will have to wait until tomorrow, because it's late and I don't feel like trying to re-create the post right now.

When was the last time you wanted to defenestrate your computer?

9 days.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

The Challenges of Building Stuff

constructionMy business affords me a great job. I get to build things from pure thought-stuff. From the depths of my mind come the impulses which set colors swirling, text marching, and forms processing which are all part and parcel of making up a sophisticated website. I don't have to mine any raw materials, purchase nails, rivets, or other fasteners, nor do I risk developing blisters on my delicate hands. I don't remember the last time I broke a sweat working on my business.

That all being said, web developers such as myself do still have the occasional challenge. Even the simplest thing can blossom out of control into a morass of complex code and interdependent requirements that have me reaching for the aspirin (or a bottle -- of Coke).

For example, this evening I was whipping up what was supposed to be a quick tool for one of my clients, CNP of Ohio, Ltd. The goal was to allow them to accept online registrations and perform tracking on a contest that they'll be running in February. I figured that it would be a quick task. After all, I've done pretty much all of the pieces of the project before in one way or another. Cue the foreboding music, and the swirling dark clouds of the impending storm.

So, I set out, grabbing pieces of code and design from my libraries. In general, it went swimmingly, but every once in a while, I would do the coding equivalent of stubbing my toe. I would be missing a feature here, or a webpage there. I finished setting up the ability for the user to create an account and login. Then I remembered that they might want to change their password. Then I realized that they might forget their password and require a feature to deal with that. I set up a method to record their progress in the contest. Then I remembered that I have to deal with the situation where the user records something (which leads them to a confirmation page) and then hits reload. If you don't take the proper steps, that progress will be recorded twice.

This all does eventually get done, but it always surprises me how the smallest details can make the project take so much longer than originally planned.

Still, for all that (or maybe because of it) it is a great feeling to stand back, when the virtual dust has settled, to see the clockwork mechanism that I've created, humming along without a hitch.

So, what are the special challenges that your job presents?

10 days.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

The Life and Times of a Cavedweller

CavemanI mentioned a few days ago that things were looking pretty busy over the holidays. I count it my great good fortune that my business is picking up. In fact, just yesterday I got the final OK on another project referred to me through one of my Leadership Ann Arbor classmates, Jim Anderson of A.J. Boggs & Company. Of course, on top of that is the normal rush and bustle of Christmastime down in Texas with Lisa's family. I'm very fortunate that they are completely understanding of my working over the holiday. I've been holed up in my cave most of the day, cranking out Java code for U of M, debugging problems with the CNP of Ohio mailing list, and even writing an article or two.

The big news is that today was (functionally) my last day at University of Michigan. OK, yes, my countdown would indicate that December 31st is my last day, and my actual letter of resignation would say that it is January 3rd. It's all true. I had set December 31st as my last day. Unfortunately, U of M has a rule that you have to work your last day. That means that, since the U is closed from the 23rd through the 1st, I would lose my pay for the end of December. I didn't think that was cool, so my official last day is the 3rd (don't ask me why it isn't the 2nd, it doesn't make any sense to me either).

So, since it isn't terribly likely that I will get anything useful done at the U on the 3rd except turning in my keys and cleaning out my desk, today was really my last working day. At this point, I've pretty much worked through the melancholy. I'm ready to move on. I'm ready for the new chapter. I'm especially ready to clear my mental space of the old ways and start looking at how I want to organize this new adventure. I've got my 101 goals in one hand and my notebook of to-do lists in the other. Look out world!

So, where will you be spending the holidays?

11 days.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Waiting For JoAnn

Twas the night before ChristmasAs I mentioned last night, we're down in Texas to celebrate the holidays with Lisa's family. Right now we're waiting for her sister, JoAnn, to arrive from Austin. While we're waiting, I've been reflecting on the season.

I love the holidays. I especially love Christmas. I have loved it for as long as I can remember. When I was a kid, I used to start my daily countdown in about late September (sorry, Mom). Thinking back, it wasn't just about the presents (though I was as material as the next kid). It was everything. The decorations, the food, my grandparents visiting. I loved the smell of the real tree that we always had (complete with bubble-lights). Christmas carols, including the occasional family sing-a-long around the piano.

I remember making the funky little craft projects in grade school. Construction paper and cotton balls to make Santa. Popcorn strings. Loops of more construction paper to make chains for the tree. What could be more fun?

Most of all, I guess what made it fun was that at that time of my life, as with most kids, life was uncomplicated. Each moment was a surprise. Each Christmas special was the pinnacle of meaning and high art. The traditional reading of "The Night Before Christmas" was the prelude to a long night of trying to sleep which was summarily terminated at five in the morning (sorry, Dad).

I'll never be able to recapture that simplicity of youth, but I will continue to enjoy the holiday. My enjoyment will change as I do and evolve into something new each year. For now, I am glad that I have so many families to visit and so many celebrations to savor.

So, what are your favorite memories of the holiday season?

12 days.

I'm Dreaming of a Texas Christmas

Busy peopleWe just arrived in Texas to celebrate Christmas with Lisa's family. We're fortunate that our jobs are so mobile that we can largely accomplish them anywhere -- anywhere there's a wireless network anyway.

It's going to be a busy few days on the business front. I've still got a couple of days of U of M work to get done. Mainly tomorrow and half of Thursday -- after that, nothing until my last day on the third. The big stuff is happening with Cyber Data Solutions. My project with Community Housing Network is coming to a hard deadline. We've had a number of delays, so naturally things are down to the wire now. In the next ten days I will be setting up a donations facility and donor management database for them. I've got about half of the online donation interface working and I should be able to get the rest up and running by tomorrow night. My big worry is actually attaching the front end interface to the bank on the back end, so we can actually process the credit card transactions.

Add to these tasks a smattering of minor issues on other projects and the hustle and bustle of the holidays and you've got the recipe for a busy couple of weeks. Wish me luck!

So, what tasks do you have in the upcoming weeks?

13 days.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Not Getting Things Done

measuring timeI'm no expert on personal productivity, but I have at least learned to recognize a lack of it in myself and, with a little observation, have discovered certain behaviors which can prevent me from getting things done. What follows is my list. Yours may vary.

  1. Keeping it all in my head. I don't even like to think about the number of times I've gotten to the end of the day only to discover that I forgot to do some vital thing -- like call someone or pay a bill. It goes on a list or it doesn't get done.
  2. Multitasking. If I try to do two (or three) things at once. In general, it takes me longer than the total amount of time it takes to do them separately. There are very few exceptions to this. The only one I can think of off the top of my head is watching TV while riding the stationary bike. Even then, though, I think I get a better workout when I am fully focused on the exercise.
  3. Having a cluttered workspace. For me, a cluttered desk is the physical manifestation of multitasking. Each additional object takes up a small amount of my mental cycles. I'm at my best when the desk is clear.
  4. Overloading the "To Do" list. When I am working up my "to do" list for the day, I sometimes get over-ambitious and really pile on the tasks. The problem is, I then get discouraged that I can't get it all done. After that, it;s a short downhill slide into apathy and an afternoon of wasted time.
  5. Insufficient rest. I am a chronic night-owl. This wouldn't be a problem except that the rest of the world still wants me up bright and early. I can get by with only five hours of sleep, but too much of that and the best that I can hope for is a day of nodding off at my desk. The worst is that this can lead me directly to migraine-town, where I can't even beg to die.
  6. Irregular schedule. I love meeting with people and going to networking events. The difficulty arises when it chops up my day into small chunks of 30-60 minutes of usable work time. I barely have the chance to get into "the zone" before I have to run off to my next event.
I'll be fighting these pitfalls even more now that I'm going off on my own. I've been reading the books and blog posts on how to improve my chances at success, but I fear I will be fighting these battles periodically for a long time to come. I guess, though, that we all have our blind spots and our Achilles heels. At least I've started the process of identifying mine. Next, I'll need to find some ways to counteract them.

Any advice would be appreciated.

So, what keeps you from getting things done?

14 days.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

On Being A Teacher

Seth Godin had an interesting post tonight. He was talking about dealing with the naive prospect for your business. He pointed out that some businesses will experience this more than others and provided some tips on how to deal with these prospects.

I've had some experience with naive clients. Not all of them, and certainly not stupid by any means, just uninformed as to what exactly I can provide for them. My work is fairly technical. Web development, for those in the know, is no more complicated, really, than writing a document using a word processor. To those outside our world, though, it is more akin to the Dark Arts.

So, how do I deal with the naive client or prospect? First and foremost, as Seth mentions in his list, I avoid the use of jargon. If I use a single three-letter acronym, I'm almost guaranteed to lose the person with whom I am chatting. Believe it or not, the word "blog" is often enough, even, to set the average neophyte on the run.

Second, I try to provide very short, non-technical analogies. In general, I try to liken anything that I describe to some sort of real-world equivalent. Of course, the analogy isn't always accurate, but I would rather they understand that a "blog" is a public online journal first. Later I can explain all of the other myriad possibilities which it offers. Education by a process of successive approximation.

Third, I try to inject a little fun. Do you remember kindergarten? We learned a lot then, but most of it was disguised as play. I try to tell a story or two, especially if the main character is someone with whom my audience can identify. Heck, telling people I meet that I'm the "international superhero known as the Webmaster" is designed to make them laugh and help them feel more comfortable around me. After all, I'm here to "rescue" lost souls, right?

I guess the bottom line is to put yourself in their shoes. We've all been confronted by a highly technical and/or confusing topic in our life. Remember what that felt like, and you are more likely to show compassion for those who are lost in your neck of the woods.

So, how would you describe what you do so that I would understand?

15 days.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Breaking Through

board breakingOur Karate school had a board breaking event today. Professor Hafner called it the "Smash All Fears" Fundraiser for the Ann Arbor Homeless Shelter. Basically, participants made a donation and, in return got the chance to break a board (or a slab of concrete). The idea was to make the board represent some limiting fear or belief in your life.

Before I go any further, one warning: Please do not try board breaking unless you are with an experienced coach. Doing things incorrectly will very likely lead to injury. Imagine willingly slamming your hand into a brick wall with all your strength and you'll get some idea of the possible results.

Some of the people who participated were doing this for the first time. Heck, some of them weren't even in the martial arts! We had several moms and dads, sometimes at the urging of their children, getting out on the floor and giving it a whack. I'll tell you, there is something truly amazing about watching someone's face the first time they break. I saw it today on five-year-old children and 60-year-old grandmothers. They suddenly realize that, despite their fears -- of failure or pain or disaster -- they did this thing which seemed impossible. That look of personal power shone through in their eyes and, as one of the coaches for the event, I felt a tremendous rush just to be a part of that moment.

I've broken many times in the past myself, the most recent was last year, when my Karate Master, Professor Hafner, had me break five 1-inch concrete slabs. The amazing thing I learned in that moment was that I have the power of focus, to such an extent that, for me, the obstacle ceases to exist. To me, breaking through those slabs was no more difficult than pushing my hand through the air. My challenge, and my excitement, is to apply that same focus to my goals in the rest of my life. What could I achieve??

One of my favorite quotes is by Marianne Williamson and it begins:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.
On a day like today I understand that fear, and I am ready to push beyond it.

So, what experience have you had which uncovered your fear that you are "powerful beyond measure"?

16 days.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Multi-tasking is Bad

Multitasking guyThrough circuitous routes I found myself reading a delightful blog called "Brazen Careerist" by Penelope Strunk. This is one I'll definitely be adding to my Google Reader list. The post I first read was about time management in a multi-tasking world. Penelope offers ten tips on how to be more effective with our time even as technology continues to place greater and greater demands on us.

I loved tip #2 -- Admit multitasking is bad. This one goes right to the heart of some of my personal time management challenges. I've tried to convince myself in the past that I could just quickly check my email in the middle of my programming time, or watch TV while answering my email, or play a quick game of solitaire while waiting for a long upload to complete. Looking back, though, trying to do two things at once, just made things take a lot longer than if I had just done them sequentially (or not at all, in the case of the TV thing). I would have been much better off focusing my attention wholly on the one task at hand (and making sure that this task is a priority).

So, this is something that I want to work on, as I move more into my new career as a self-employed business owner. Wish me luck. Old habits die hard.

So, which of the ten tips speaks most clearly to you?

17 days.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Leadership Ann Arbor: Month 2

Yesterday was our second day of our Leadership Ann Arbor class. As a part of this class, around 50 of us get together on the second Wednesday of each month to learn about some aspect of Ann Arbor and its surrounding areas. Last month we had "Economic Development" day. What a skull-buster! This month was "Community Service" day.

Unlike last month, where we all piled into a big bus and drove all over, this month we were broken up into cars. Pairs of cars were assigned five different charitable organizations (out of a group of eleven) to visit and learn about. Oh, and there were a few others who sent representatives to speak to us at lunch. Our group visited the American Cancer Society (where the women whooped the men in a quiz about cancer myths), the American Red Cross, Habitat for Humanity, the Womens Center of Southeast Michigan, and Ronald McDonald House.

Unfortunately, all of the charities are hurting this year, what with the difficult economic times we've been having in Michigan. That wasn't too much of a surprise. Still, they somehow manage to achieve their goals. These people have a tremendous passion for what they do and they move mountains to take care of their constituents.

What impressed me, and made me pretty proud to be living in this town, was finding out just how generous the folks living in Ann Arbor can be. Heidi Grix, Director of Development fLonni Vitale of Habitat for Humanityor the Washtenaw County chapter of the American Red Cross told us that after hurricane Katrina, over 1400 people from our area showed up to volunteer their time and effort. Lonni Vitale of the local Habitat for Humanity (pictured) told us that they often have enough volunteers that they could put up twice as many houses as they currently do, if only they were able to raise enough money to pay for that much construction (and especially the land upon which it would take place).

So, if you are looking for a worthwhile venture to support, you shouldn't have to look far. I'm sure other locations are similar to Washtenaw and have hundreds, if not thousands of nonprofit and charitable organizations which could use your help.

Quick bit of trivia: The American Red Cross has a congressional mandate to provide two services. The first is disaster relief. What is the other? Hint: It isn't blood donation!

18 days.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

On Being a Class Act

Cast of 'A Class Act'I've been reading Jack Canfield's Success Principles, lately. Most of the stuff in there I've read before in one place or another, but it's nice to have it all gathered into one book. The repetition of the information never hurts, either.

In the section I am currently reading, he talks about being a "class act". Everyone would prefer to be around, work for, or work with a class act. We can all recognize these people. They always live up to their highest ideals. They help others to achieve their goals. They never gossip nor criticize in an inappropriate way. A class act sets the standard by her actions and then encourages us all to live up to that standard.

I wish we had more class acts in the public eye. I would love it if, going through the check out line, I could read headlines about the good things that our public figures have achieved, rather than their imperfections and peccadilloes. Sure, these people aren't perfect, but it may be a measure of our own lack that we focus on these imperfections as opposed to the good that they have tried to achieve.

Don't get me wrong, betrayal of the public trust should be exposed, but I'm not sure that it really uplifts my life to know the latest about Brad and Jen's romantic relationships.

So, who, whether on a local or global level, do you think merits the label "Class Act"?

19 days.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Tell Me a Story

Story timeI was reading Seth Godin's blog this evening. He made some intriguing comments about "mythic" brands. These are powerful brands which connect with people on almost a spiritual level and often have a story associated with them.

This fits right in with what I learned first in the Certified Networker training program. When you are telling people about your business or your brand, whether you have a minute or an hour, you must tell them a story. No one cares that you have features A, B, and C which you support or that you specialize in selling framjantz capacitors. What they really want to know is how those framjantz capacitors made someones life better (especially someone with whom they can identify closely).

Personally, I'm not doing too bad with the storytelling. I do think I should work on that second part (about making an emotional or spiritual connection). I think that this is what will take my brand from an interesting curiosity to a compelling need.

So, what's your story?

20 days.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Customer Service Nightmare: What Am I Buying?

TiVo LogoIn several business coaching classes and books, I have heard and read that, to be successful in business, you must understand exactly what it is that you are selling. This is to be distinguished from your product. For example, a limousine service isn't selling transportation to an event. It is selling convenience, luxury, and a trouble-free evening out on the town.

I recently dealt with a company of which some of you may have heard: TiVo. Lisa and I had decided to purchase a TiVo box for my parents for Christmas. We were heading up to their place the second weekend in December to celebrate the holidays with them. I placed my order online on the Friday after Thanksgiving (two weeks prior to our departure). My credit card was charged and I received an acknowledgement of my order via email.

Then I heard nothing. No notice of shipment. No information that it would be late. Nothing.

Finally, on Wednesday evening, I thought I would just quickly check online to see what the status of the order was. Guess what? I couldn't check. There was no way to check the status of the order. OK, first rule. If you can order something online, you should be able to check its status online, too. So, I resigned myself to calling TiVo directly.

Those of you who remember my difficulties dealing with Sears will recognize that the procedures at TiVo were born of the same litter. I called the sales number. After wending my way through some less-than-self-explanatory voicemail options, I was able to speak with a human being. Next rule. If you require me to enter a phone number/order number/credit card number/address, etc as a part of the voicemail process, *don't* ask me again when the human gets on the line.

Apparently, this gentleman was not really interested in speaking with me, because immediately after I explained the situation (that I wanted to know the status of my order) he told me he couldn't help me and that I had to call Customer Service. He then gave me the number and wished me a nice day. Next rule. If you aren't the person to whom I should be speaking, give me their number, but also transfer me to them. Don't make me go through voicemail hell again.

So I called up Customer Service. Again I went through voicemail and had to enter phone numbers/addresses/etc. Then I was to be transferred to "an agent". I then proceeded to wait for forty-five minutes for someone to answer the phone before I hung up. Next rule. If you are going to make someone wait, at least tell them how many people are in front of them on a periodic basis -- unless you are trying to make them lose all hope.

So I called back Sales (since there at least I had someone to talk with). This time I took a different path through voicemail and, lo and behold (after entering my phone number/address/etc), I was speaking with Customer Service! I don't know how I got there, but I did. Now this person seemed bemused that I would want to know the status of my order and really couldn't help me with that so escalated me to his supervisor, a delightful young woman by the name of Nikita. She finally had the clearance to discover that the unit I had ordered was on back order, but that it should go out on Friday. I had ordered it with 4 to 6 day delivery (those are business days) and I expressed my concern that it wouldn't arrive in time. Would it be possible to change my shipping method? At this point I was willing to actually pay the difference just to make sure it got there on time.

"I'm sorry, sir. There is no way for us to change that once it is in the system. Not even my supervisor can change that. But, don't worry, I'm sure that it will there on time." Next rule. Don't patronize me. Give me a solution.

To reassure you, the unit did arrive on time (Tuesday morning, to be exact). As a gift, it was well-received. TiVo might even see this as a success. From my viewpoint, they failed in their job. As an online retailer, their job is more than just delivering the goods. It also has to be delivering confidence and reassurance that the goods will be there when they say they will and good communication (and *real* solutions) when they won't.

Next time? I'll go to Best Buy.

So, do you have any holiday Customer Service nightmares?

21 days.

Good Things: Free Hosting

Angel spreadnig good newsQuick post tonight.

I just got a message from a coworker at U of M. He let out the news that his hosting service, DreamHost, is offering free hosting to 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations. If you are a member of such an organization or work with one in some capacity, you might want to pass along this information. I did a little research on DreamHost's quality of service and, in general, it seems to be pretty good. Of course, you should do your homework, but this sounds like it could be pretty valuable all around.

So, to which nonprofit organization would you pass this along?

22 days.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Best Things: Steam Tunnels

steam tunnelI've mentioned that I've tried to come up with good ways to connect with people no matter where I meet them. I've found that asking them the question "What's the best thing that has happened to you in the last week?" is a great way to get them talking and to find out who they are.

For example, this afternoon I was meeting a friend at a local coffee shop. I don't actually drink coffee, but they usually have a passable hot cider. While waiting to get my cider hotted up, I asked the young gentleman behind the steamer about the best thing in his week.

He thought about it for a few moments and said "I got to see the steam tunnels under the University." (Quick note to those unfamiliar with the University of Michigan Ann Arbor campus, steam tunnels criss-cross the entire area. Supposedly you can walk through them from one side of campus to the other without seeing daylight at all).

"Wow! So you went on a tour or something?"

"No, I just kept trying grates until I found an open one."

"Well, I guess it's good that you didn't get caught."

"Yeah. I heard an alarm at one point, so I ran. But now I can cross #42 off my list of lifetime goals!"

Sounds like this guy is a listmaker, too. I just hope his list doesn't land him in front of a judge someday!

So what is on your list of lifetime goals?

26 days.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Bothered and Bewildered

Straight from the "I Just Don't Get It" file.

I've spent a good chunk of time over the last couple of days trying to figure out a bug in the new scripts for the site. One of the new features that Jake wanted this year was an area where he could upload files for his users that would be protected by the same subscription model which protects the rest of the site. This I managed to do.

He has the ability to upload files and give them a tag which will determine where his users find the files. In this case he either tags it as a "Bracket" file (such as a single-elimination competition bracket -- think about the NCAA Basketball play-off brackets and you'll get the idea) or a "Normal" file, which could be anything else -- a schedule of events, a map to a location, or even his world-famous recipe for barbecue ribs.

The problem is, those tags weren't assigning themselves correctly when he used the system.

I checked and double-checked my code. I verified that he was following the correct procedure. I even followed the exact same steps as he did, including using the same files in the same order. It always worked for me. It continued to fail for him. I finally came up with a work-around which avoids the situation entirely. It solves the immediate issue, but, as a programmer, it is vastly unsatisfying.

Here's the rub: Unless I can actually get my hands on his particular machine, I may never solve the problem. Computers have become so complex and the individual software components can interact in such odd and occasionally unexpected ways, that to exactly duplicate his situation is an exercise in futility. Unfortunately, without that exact duplication, I can only approximate the interacting systems involved. Most of the time this is sufficient, but sometimes you just have to go to the source.

So, when was the last time you said "Huh, that should have worked" at your job?

27 days.

Working from Home

Luke and Ray in teh cat condoFor a number of years now I've done most of my work from home. Of course, from the start, the time I've put in on my business, Cyber Data Solutions , has been from the home office. In recent years, though, even my University of Michigan work has been largely done from the confines of my home.

Of course, as with most things, I've discovered both the good and bad aspects of this situation. On the good side, I can pretty much work whenever I want. I can schlub around in my sweats and slippers all morning and take a break in the middle of the afternoon to get in a workout. I get to arrange and decorate my office exactly the way I want it -- the way that helps me to be my most productive. As if this weren't cool enough, a little over a year ago, my lovely wife's job shifted. From that point on, she, too, was able to work from home. I'll have to admit that it's more than a little wonderful to be able to share my breakfasts and lunch hour and the occasional afternoon break with her -- to hear all about the challenges of her day.

Now, before you start to think that it's all buttercups and warm Spring days, working from home does have its downside, too. I have to provide and maintain all of the equipment in the office. I occasionally have a cat or two who think that the keyboard is the perfect place to take a nap, no matter how many times I shoo them out. Working from home can also lead to a certain level of professional isolation. I have to make a much greater effort now to maintain contact with my peers.

Of course, the biggest disadvantage, bar none is...

... the job is always there. From the moment I wake up in the morning to the last key-click before I retire at night, I hear the siren call of the work. This is Lisa's major concern about me going off on my own to focus on my business -- that the business will consume me. I can't say that it isn't a valid concern. Heck, after Lisa went to bed, I sat down "just to check my email". Two hours, ten emails, two web scripts and the beginnings of a proposal later, I'm still here sitting at the desk.

Fortunately, I'm still loving what I do -- right now. I guess I'd better re-read my copy of The E-Myth Revisited before I get too much farther into this adventure.

So, do you work from home? How do you keep the job from taking over?

27 days.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

A New Season

Christmas cookiesToday we made cookies.

For me this is the start of the Christmas holiday season. My mom comes up from Toledo and we spend many hours baking batches of cookies. Cut-outs, almond crescents, thumbprint cookies, plus new ones every year (this year Lisa made some mint chocolate cookies that she found in the American Airlines inflight magazine). By the end of the day, we have six or eight different kinds of cookie all ready for our enjoyment over the next several weeks.

In other seasonal news, I've almost completed my first post-decision project. My friend John "Jake" Jaksetic has a website devoted to high school wrestling in northwest Ohio. He's created a site which allows his subscribers to search for the records of just about any student or school in the area. A lot of people were pretty excited about the site last year, so this year he had me put a little spit and polish on the system to make it that much more cool. If you are into the high school wrestling scene you should really check it out.

So, what sports do you follow or what's your favorite Christmas cookie?

29 days.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Follow-up

I love reading Seth Godin's blog. I'm always finding things there which lead me to changes of viewpoint. In one of his recent missives he talks about the seemingly difficult act of following up with your customers and clients. "Seemingly difficult", because almost no one seems to do it. Of course, his point is that it really isn't that difficult and the simple act of reaching out, human to human, is what will turn a one-time customer into a long-time (or life-time) customer.

I would add that the same holds true in the best kinds of networking. If I can find some way to bring two of my contacts together, I'm the hero -- if everything works out. If it doesn't work out, then I need to know so that I can adjust my approach, adjust my estimation of the skills or needs of one or both people, help one or both to be better able to respond in the future, and/or (if things go horribly awry), help make restitution to save or repair a damaged relationship.

Following up with both the person who needs the service and the one who provides it is the best way I can continue to build and enhance my reputation as the "go to" guy. It builds my network and makes it more likely in the future that I will also receive a great referral.

So, when and in what situations do you follow up?

33 days.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Crossing the Finish Line

Crossing the finish lineActually, I have a bit of a double victory celebration tonight.

First, As of 10:30 this morning, I finished my last physical therapy session for my shoulder. I can now honestly say that the pain they show PT patients going through on television is drastically overblown. In fact, I was talking to Michelle, the young PT who took care of me through my rehabilitation. She told me that there were really only two situations where pain is a part of the therapy. The first is with knee replacement surgery. Apparently it can be quite uncomfortable to get everything stretched back out after the procedure. The other is when you have something called "frozen shoulder". This has nothing to do with the icepacks they use, but rather (from my limited understanding) seems to be caused by a breakdown in the normal mechanisms of the shoulder, the end result of which is you can't lift your arm more than a few inches. I guess if I were in either situation, I'd probably be in a lot of pain anyway, so what's a little more to get back to healthy, right?

Of course, just because I completed my course of physical therapy doesn't mean that I get to just goof off. Michelle gave me a series of exercises to do to continue building the strength in my shoulders so that I won't have to experience this trouble again in the future.

My second crossing of the finish line was that I finished making my list of 101 goals to accomplish in 2007. These include everything from fixing some broken wind chimes that are sitting on my workbench, to going on a trip to Hawaii, to my sales goals for my business. I decided to try this on a recommendation from one of my heroes, Scott Ginsberg. In his article on making lists, he claims that this one challenge can make the difference between a good year and a fantastic year.

I'll try to keep you up to date on how I do in accomplishing these goals. I've already got my first checkmark. I put it next to #2 -- "Make a list of 101 goals".

So, what finish lines have you crossed lately?

33 days.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Preparing A Feast

Table laden with Thanksgiving feastFor those who were concerned that I wouldn't have enough to eat, please see the picture. Given that there were only five of us to sit down to this glorious repast, you can guess that we had a few leftovers. I love leftovers.

JoAnn, my wonderful sister-in-law, with the assistance of my wife, Lisa, and their mother worked for a good two days to prepare this feast. They brined and then roasted the turkey, whipped the potatoes, prepared the stuffing, mashed the yams, etc, etc, etc. They even prepared a Tofurky for my dining delight. I'm deeply thankful to have married into such a wonderful family.

Thinking of them preparing for the Thanksgiving meal makes me think of my own efforts to grow my business, Cyber Data Solutions. I've been doing all the planning and taking the classes to learn how to do what I have to do. Now I've started the actual work of networking and building my word of mouth marketing. Of course, during this part of the process, I only get the occasional small taste and the tantalizing aroma of the meal yet to come. If I've done everything right, all of this preparation will lead to a feast of work in the future. Even better will be all of the "leftovers" as my name continues to be passed along.

Of course, there's always the chance that I'll burn something, but if that happens, I'll just have to learn from the mistake and do a better job the next time. Perhaps that is what makes these celebrations so sweet -- the effort to get everything to come out just right despite the chance that things will go horribly awry.

Anyway, I hope you and yours had a wonderful holiday weekend (assuming you are here in the United States) and that you continue to find things for which to be grateful in your life in the coming year.

So, what did you have for your Thanksgiving feast? Who was there to share with you? For what are you the most thankful?

35 days.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

World Traveler

Lisa at DFW chatting with Jo AnnAs I mentioned before, we are heading down to my sister-in-law, JoAnn's, house for Thanksgiving. I'm writing this from the Dallas-Fort Worth airport where we are on layover.

This airport isn't too bad, but I think my favorite airport so far has been the one up in Boise, Idaho, where we went this summer. A friend of my wife's family had gotten married and we were invited to the celebration reception. The Boise airport is much like any other, with one key difference, at the time of our visit, it had free wi-fi. That one little feature immediately propelled it to the top of the list.

I'll admit that I really like to be connected. It's not like I'm a captain of business (yet) and millions of dollars ride on my being able to receive a crucial email (yet), but I just like to have that access. I want to be able to read my mail, to check the blogs that I read, to get a little work done, or even just to relax with a little online music. I wouldn't say I'm addicted. In fact, I do enjoy the rare occasion when I take a vacation where I have *no* connection at all -- no Internet, no phone, no television, no newspaper. Right now, though, with me starting up the business, I've got so much I want to do that it would be really nice to have access.

Well, since I don't, I do get to enjoy the one thing in my life that I enjoy above all others -- chatting with my lovely wife.

So, when was the last time you were completely disconnected?

39 days.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Oh, The Pain!

Michelle, my physical therapistFor over a year now I've been having trouble with my shoulder. Most days it's just uncomfortable, but if I try to exert it by doing some sort of repetitive motion like painting, or just push it to the limit with push-ups in Karate, it can be painful enough that I have problems tying my shoes. At my most recent physical, I told my doctor about it and she recommended (cue dark foreboding music) physical therapy.

Now everyone has heard the horror stories of going in for physical therapy and the agony perpetuated upon the poor unfortunate souls who take part. The therapist are all sadists and devise ever more elaborate plans to inflict unspeakable pain upon their charges. It's almost enough to make even the bravest among us blanch in fear.

OK, I'm here to tell you that it's just not true.

I started working with my physical therapist, Michelle (pictured) about a month ago. The first day was all about where I was right now. What moves could I make? What were my limitations? How much pain did I experience? What was I trying to achieve with the therapy? Then we did a few easy exercises and that was it. No pain and very little discomfort. I discovered that my shoulders were slightly out of alignment which was causing stress and inflammation throughout the whole area.

In the following weeks, Michelle gave me a regimen of exercises and stretches to remedy the problems in my shoulder. Each time I came in we would work on new techniques to strengthen the shoulder. In all that time, not one scream of pain escaped my lips nor tear of agony fell from my eyes. In fact, I didn't see a single patient weeping while I was there.

Was it always easy? No. But, really, it was no worse than a good workout at the gym. The therapists very carefully chart your progress and if you follow their instructions, you will end up feeling better and stronger. I just recently had my one month evaluation. I was amazed at how little pain I was still experiencing and how much freer my movements had become.

So, if you have been experiencing pain, whether from an accident or simple overuse, and your doctor recommends that you go in for a little PT, don't worry. You will survive and it's very unlikely that there will be any screaming involved!

So, what experiences have you gone through that have been blown out of proportion in the minds of the public?

41 days.

100 Percent!

The Success Principles BookI've been reading a pretty good book lately called "The Success Principles", by Jack Canfield (one of the guys who brought us the "Chicken Soup..." books). I just read one of the section last night called "99% is a Bitch; 100% is a Breeze". The basic concept here is that, if you set a rule for your life, it is easier to follow it 100% of the time rather than allowing yourself to break it "occasionally".

I've found this to be true in my own life. For the last two years, during Lent, I've given up television. That meant no watching DVDs, no live programs, no taped programs, no channel surfing. Nothing. The only difference was that the first year I allowed myself to watch on Sundays.

Ask me which one was harder.

That first year was a real drag. I would tape all of my programs and starting at 12:01 am on Sunday morning, I would spend a good portion of my day in front of the idiot box. I would watch that evening and then at midnight, I would turn it off for another week. I'm rather ashamed to say that hitting that "Off" switch at midnight was truly difficult, especially if I was in the middle of a program. I was always tempted to just finish up that show, or just watch "until the next commercial". Boy, was I glad when Easter arrived!

The second year? Well, it was tough for a week or so, but, you know? It gave me a completely different mindset. I knew that I wouldn't be watching TV again until Easter, so I started doing other things with my time. I read. I chatted with my lovely wife. I worked a few extra hours. I listened to some good inspirational and educational audio programs. After that first weekend was passed, I didn't even really miss it. To tell you the truth, I think I even lost some weight (since I tend to get snacky when I sit in front of the babblebox).

Now that I'm going to be working on my business full-time, I'm going to remember this lesson. What sort of things could I accomplish if I commit 100% to reading for an hour a day? To taking one business course a semester? To writing for 30 minutes every day?

Kind of exciting thoughts, right?

So, tell me, what one thing would you commit to 100%?

41 days.

Monday, November 20, 2006

A List by Any Other Name

My To Do ListI have come recently into the use of lists.

My wife, Lisa and I have often joked that, while women seem to have the ability to keep ten things in their heads at once, we men are lucky if we can keep two. When the two of us are at the grocery store, all I am thinking about is getting to the checkout aisle and getting home. Lisa has meanwhile stopped at the greeting card display to get the month's birthday cards (for both our families), two graduation cards (one for a cousin and another for a young friend) and a sympathy card. Not once do I see her hesitate trying to remember for whom she is buying.

Personally, I would love to emulate this level of attention to detail. In starting my business, I know that the details can make me or break me. Still, every time I have tried to just use my memory (as good as it is), I seemingly inevitably forget someone or something, So, the solution?


If I can only remember two things, I'm going to make one of them a list. For several weeks now, I've maintained a prioritized list of daily tasks. Wow! What a difference in my productivity. Fewer things are slipping through the cracks, too, which makes everyone happier.

That's the little stuff. Now I'm going for something bigger. One of my heroes, Scott Ginsberg, recommends the practice of making a list of 101 goals that you will accomplish in the upcoming year. I decided to give it a shot. I'll tell you. 101 goals is a long list. The first twenty were pretty easy. Since then, though, it's gotten harder and harder to come up with new stuff. Not so amazingly, I'm having to really examine what I want in all parts of my life.

I think this year is going to be a good one!

So, what is on your New Year's list?

42 days.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

It's That Time of Year

I love Thanksgiving.

I have deeply cherished memories from my childhood of going to my grandparents house for the big Peters' Thanksgiving celebration. Both my grandmother and grandfather had large families and they all still pretty much lived in the same area of western New York, so the gatherings always included a ton of aunts and uncles and cousins. My immediate family lived in Michigan, so we always drove in the night before and got there late. We would get up the next morning and watch the parade on television while Grandma and Mom prepared for the feast to come. In later years, after my grandparents moved to a smaller house, we would all get dressed up and hop in the car to go to whichever relative's house who was hosting that year.

We always watched the Lions play football (no matter how bad they lost) and at sometime during the day/evening, we'd get the cards out for rousing games of 31, euchre, fantan, or (for the more skilled group) pinochle or bridge. Depending on the actual venue, we had video games or a pool table to keep the kids amused. Sometimes there'd even be a ping-pong table.

Of course, given the nature of the holiday, we always had a ton of food. Just walking into the house, you were overwhelmed by the savory aromas of turkey and stuffing, gravy and potatoes, fresh bread, and that odd cranberry sauce that was in the shape of the can in which it came. Of course, before the actual mealtime came, most of us kids had already spoiled our appetites gorging on cheese and crackers and the myriad other snacks which had been positioned throughout the house.

It's been years since we've all gotten together. My grandparents have passed on and we've mostly lost touch with the relatives from New York. Still, the holiday warms my heart. This year we're heading down to Austin, Texas where my sister-in-law, JoAnn, will be hosting the holiday for the first time. The outer trappings may be different -- the warm Austin climate is a far cry from the blustery weather of western New York -- but this is still family getting together to celebrate.

And I'm sure I'll spoil my appetite on the cheese and crackers.

So, what is your most cherished memory of the Thanksgiving season?

44 days.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Getting Things Done

Clockwise from left: Nathan, Greg, Chris, Jong, and SarvagyaFinally! After many late nights and as many long days, we finally got things up and running. Oh, there are still one or two things to get done, but my last big deadline working for U of M has passed. Now, I will spend my time cleaning up my code, documenting everything I've done, and packing up my office. Going through this big rush has reminded me of all the projects I've been on in the past. The deadlines, the site reviews, the software releases.

I've worked with some truly talented coders in my time at the U. I've been on projects that excited me with their possibilities. I've served researchers, like George Furnas, who had a grasp of the world which exceeded my own, but whom I helped make their ideas into a reality. Of course, traveling right next to the good were those moments which I would just as soon forget. Frustrations caused by bureaucracy, by small-minded empire builders, by those who wouldn't trust that I knew my job -- they all deserve their positions in my personal Hall of Shame.

Greg in front of display wallStill, I've enjoyed my time at the U far more than I've regretted it. I've met some great friends, from Ken Alexander, my first partner in crime, to Dan Kiskis, a great boss and a great friend, all the way to today, with my newest coworker, Sarvagya Kochak (whom I have to thank for these pictures of us down at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign). We've shared the long hours and the last-minute pushes and come out at the end with great memories and stories.

So, I guess, in my rambling way, this is sort of my tribute to all my years at the U. It's been a great place to work and learn. I only hope that my next adventure will be as challenging and rewarding as this one has been.

So, how many of your closest friends and cherished moments have come about from where you work?

45 days.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Trying to Get It Done

Puzzle PiecesI'm in the middle of a big deadline push with my U of M job right now. One of the problems with large, distributed institutional projects is that communications becomes much more of a challenge. This is especially apparent when you are the only "distributed" one. Of course, knowing this, it really is up to me to make sure I am getting the information I need, I suppose. Still it's a heck of a lot more fun blaming someone else.

The upshot is that, on Monday morning, I'll be flying down to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for a site visit by the funding agencies of the Mid-American Earthquake Center project. This is not necessarily the bad thing. The bad thing is that I was informed last night (Thursday) that some of the attributes which I thought were somewhat optional are, in truth, due to be demonstrated on Tuesday.

Fortunately, I do have most of the pieces working. Now the tricky part is to get them all put together and working. It's a good thing I enjoy a puzzle!

So, what was the worst deadline surprise you've ever experienced?

51 days.

Friday, November 10, 2006

What Do You See Through Your Lens?

Squidoo LogoSo, I decided to start checking out some of the new and cool toys out on the web. As a web professional, I hate to be too far behind the curve. I think I have about the 10 millionth blog, so I'm pretty much out of luck there. Still, I figure if I keep plugging away, I am still ahead of most of the crowd.

Keeping this in mind, I was reading Seth Godin's blog tonight. He wrote about this new gadget called Squidoo. From what I gather, it allows you, me and even Aunt Mary to create a single web page which points to other stuff. The idea is this: Each of us is an expert on something, even if it is only ourselves. On this page (called a "lens") we create lists and links and short commentary about that one topic. This gathers all of the important info into one place, and makes it easier for other people to find it.

I'm going to have to explore the Squidoo-sphere some more to get an opinion of how well it works, but for now, eschewing my usual paralysis of analysis, I have created my own Squidoo lens. I've decided to focus on the experience of starting my business. I hope to include links and reviews of resources which I find along the way.

Sounds like it might be fun!

So, on what topic are you the expert? How did you become such an expert?

53 days.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Leadership Ann Arbor: Class #1

Cara, Jenn, Peter, Mike, and MikeI think my head is going to explode.

Today was our first day of the actual Leadership Ann Arbor classes. Peter Allen of Peter Allen and Associates, Inc (pictured to the right, with the red pants) led us through a very full day on the topic of economic development in the Ann Arbor region. You might remember me mentioning the homework I had to do to prepare for the class a few days ago. Well, that homework acted as a flashlight in the darkness of my ignorance of the ins and outs of Ann Arbor. Today's class was closer to a lightning strike. Very bright, very quick, and I'm left trying to make sense of the after-images seared into my brain.

We met this morning at eight o'clock at the Downtown Home and Garden, a great shop over on Ashley Street. I found out today that it was originally a feed and seed store long ago. The owners attribute part of its success to adapting and changing with the times. Now, not only do they sell "feed and seed" but they also offer a wide variety of gardening tools, furniture, and lawn art. Inside they have a variety of high end kitchen supplies. Right now they are getting out their fun, retro Christmas ornaments. They were also the first shop not owned by Zingermans to offer Zingerman's baked goods.

And that was what we learned in about the first ten minutes. Now imagine that same density of information spread over eight hours and I think you'll get some impression as to why my head feels like it is going to explode!

Mike and II was chatting with Mike Stevens, the CEO of Midwest Financial Credit Union and my seatmate on the bus as we drove around this afternoon. We were both amazed that, despite the fact that we had each lived in Ann Arbor for years, a huge amount of the information today hadn't even made it on our radar. This was just the first day. I can only guess at how many more times my head will feel stuffed to the bursting point!

So, what cool stuff have you learned about the town in which you live?

54 days.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

A Wealth of Wisdom

Muriel Converse, SCORE SuperheroAs I mentioned in a previous post, I recently visited the Ann Arbor chapter of SCORE, a national group of retired executives who provide free, confidential business counseling. When I met with Karl Hauser this past Friday, he recommended that I meet with one of the other Ann Arbor counselors, Muriel Converse.

I think I owe him lunch.

I met Muriel this morning at 11am at the Ann Arbor Chamber of Commerce's offices on Main Street. Even if she were unable to assist me in any other way, just listening to her stories of running a consulting business would be well worth the time spent. She told me about the life of her company from the point that she left the University of Michigan, through the work she did for various auto companies, to the time she decided to sell her company. She told me about the choices she made (and even revealed which ones she would have changed under different circumstances). She even filled me in on some of the pitfalls for which I should keep on the lookout.

On top of this wealth of experience and advice, she came up with some people, both general and specific who she thought would be able to advise me further in how to grow my business. Just as in my first meeting with Karl, I walked away with specific action steps that will take me forward in my career as a business owner. Do you know what she asked for in return? That I come back to tell here what was happening with my business.

Heck, I would have done that anyway.

As I said in my previous post about the SCORE program, you owe it to yourself and your business to avail yourself of the wisdom that these folks have to offer. Give it a shot, unless you think you already know it all. ;-)

So, what neat and helpful people have you met recently? How did they help you?

55 days.