Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Compulsive Puzzler

puzzleI've mentioned before how much I enjoy puzzles. I suspect that this is part of the reason that I'm a relatively good programmer. There are downsides though.

Take tonight, for example. I spent a couple of hours working on my laptop computer because the audio wasn't functioning properly (or at all, for that matter). I finally had to just put it down because I was getting too tired.

I'm still itching to fiddle with it and make it work right. Sometimes, though, you just have to let it go.

So, what situations bring out the compulsive in you?

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Missing "Duh!"

I've got to say, that I really like my new cell phone.

For Christmas, Lisa and I finally traded in our (very) outdated old phones for brand spanking new LG enV's. Now I use mine to make calls, take pictures, find my way (with the included GPS), and check my email. Heck, I even use it as an alarm clock!

So, what's the problem?

The problem is Verizon.

I've mentioned in the past my love-hate relationship with the "Can you hear me now?" service provider. This is not so much a story of hate, but rather annoyance would be a better descriptor. I think that it is also a lesson about taking care of your customers, important for all of us in business.

As I mentioned, I just got this new phone. One of the things I wanted to do was transfer my contacts from my computer to the phone, without having to laboriously type in each one. This seems like one of those "duh!" things that you should just be able to do. I looked high and low, on the Verizon site and on the Web. I checked out everything I could find about the phone and the Verizon service. I even sent "V" an email through their "contact" page with no results.

I saw a lot of glowing reviews, and on the Verizon site, I saw a lot of commercials.

The only thing I found that was remotely close, after much searching, was a service on the Verizon site with which you could type in each contact entry and it would then be synchronized with the phone, but there was no way to import entries wholesale from Outlook or any other Contact Management System.

So, I ended up having to type in each number by hand. At least I could use the computer keyboard instead of the one on the phone. What a huge waste of my time! And you can't tell me that I am the very first person who wanted to transfer their contact lists from whatever system they use (Outlook, AirSet, etc). Why is this service not available?

And the funny thing is, the person who is most likely to want this tool? It's the new customer. You know, the one you want to retain?

Apparently, the folks at the big "V" are too busy trying to figure out new and annoying ways to make money from us.

So, what "duh!" services have you found missing?

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Stopping in to Say Hello

Joe SchulzOne of the more pleasant duties of being an Ambassador for the Ann Arbor Area Chamber of Commerce is acting in the role of a Road Runner. No, it has nothing to do with an anthropomorphic coyote with a penchant for improbably complex schemes and an unhealthy dependence on the ACME Corporation. Rather, this kind of Road Runner goes out and about on the town to welcome new members of the Chamber, delivering their "Welcome" kit which includes their membership plaque (to be proudly displayed in their place of business).

For me, I love this part of the job. I get to visit people in their offices (or restaurants, or kitchens, or even in their homes). I get to learn about the cool work that they do -- often completely foreign to my previous experience. I get the opportunity to start a possible friendship with someone whom I might otherwise not have met.

On Friday I got to visit my most recent new member, Joe Schulz of Schulz Development & Consulting, LLC. After chatting with him for just a short time, I felt a strong kinship with him. I have a suspicion that the reason, in addition to just being an interesting person to chat with, is that, in the broad strokes, our careers have been somewhat similar. For fifteen years he worked for another company, safe and secure in the regular paycheck. Then, in January, he decided to go off on his own and live the entrepreneurs dream -- he opened his own business. Sound familiar?

Now he's running his real estate development and consulting business out of a second-floor office on Fifth Ave in downtown Ann Arbor. Of course, he's excited about the opportunities, but being self-employed brings its own set of challenges. One of the ones he's having to deal with right now? After 15 years of working in an office with ten to fifteen other people around, he's finding it a little tough to deal with the quiet. He's says he needs the radio on because the silence is just too distracting!

At any rate, if you should see him around town, be sure to say hello and ask him about his latest projects. If you are lucky, some of the passion and excitement he has for his new life might rub off on you!

So, who have you met recently that inspired you with their enthusiasm?

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Learning to Live the Dream

Keith HafnerI got up early this morning and headed over to the Chamber of Commerce building in downtown Ann Arbor. Professor Hafner, my Karate instructor and business coach, presented his seminar, "How To Go From Where You Are To Where You Want To Be". I've taken the seminar a few times before, but I always feel re-motivated when I hear him speak.

His class covers a lot of the same ideas mentioned in Jack Canfield's "Success Principles", but that is where the similarity leaves off. The thing that makes the seminar truly powerful is Professor Hafner himself. Reading the concepts is one thing. Listening to and interacting with someone who has applied these principles in his own life makes the possibility of achieving your dreams seem that much more real. He practices what he preaches and his life is a (very successful) mirror of that practice.

The main goals of the seminar are to create a five-year plan for yourself and to learn the techniques to become the person who grows into that plan. Professor Hafner actually shares one of his plans with the class. I've known him for a while now, and it always surprises me how close his present life matches that plan that he crafted long before he reached his current level of success. I myself took the class about four years ago and while I may not have achieved every goal that I set myself (yet), I've hit enough of them. Looking back, I'm actually shocked by not only how much my life has changed, but also at how easy it was.

And don't think I picked things that seemed like a breeze to do. If the plan doesn't scare you, then you aren't dreaming big enough. I made that mistake the first time I took the course. I kept my dreams small and completed them within the year.

If you have the opportunity to attend one of the Professor's seminars, whether it be this one on goal-setting, or one of his others on entrepreneurship, running a business, or raising "Rock Solid" kids, register now. Don't wait and don't you dare miss it. His last message in this seminar says it all for me.

"In my life, I'm painting a masterpiece and I will settle for nothing less."

So, if you absolutely could not fail, what would you want to achieve?

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Analog or Digital?

LG enV Cell phoneI'm running into a bit of a minor problem right now with my organizational system. It's my calendar. You see, I really like having a web-based calendar, like Google Calendar. It's easy to use, easy to share. I've also used Yahoo! Calendar and AirSet in the past, but Google Calendar has everything I want -- except one thing.

I have no way to take it with me.

Well, to be accurate, I can print out the calendar, but I have no way to electronically access the calendar when I'm away from my computer. Ostensibly, my cell phone can browse the Web, and therefore access my Calendar, but apparently, Google Calendar is a bit too complex for it. For right now, whenever I try to connect to the calendar with my phone, it just says "Sorry, we don't support your device, yet".

So, for now, I'll just have to continue taking the paper version with me to networking events as I did this morning and then transfer any appointments I make back into the calendar. In the meantime, if you've heard of a way to display your Google Calendar on an LG enV cell phone, I'd sure appreciate a few pointers.

So, how do you keep track of your appointments?

The Black Jacket Club

Master Terry Brennan, Master Ian Hafner, Master Jason Hafner, Greg Peters, and Peter GluckI've been training at Keith Hafners Karate for almost ten years now. In that time, I've earned a belt or two, I've picked up a smattering of skills in the martial arts, and I've even taught a few classes along the way. I've learned from and enjoyed almost every aspect. OK, I'll admit that I probably could have skipped the various minor injuries and been just as happy, but in general it was all worthwhile.

This past weekend I received a "lifetime" achievement award down at the school. Professor Hafner occasionally singles out one or two (or in this case four) students who, in addition to their efforts to become better martial artists, have devoted time and energy to help the school as a community.

The physical manifestation of the award was a beautiful wool and leather "letterman" jacket. Not including Professor Hafner himself, only twenty people have one of these coats. For the most part, they are Masters and other former and current instructors. Needless to say, I'm pleased to be a part of such an august company.

The ironic thing is, though, that every accomplishment in the martial arts is really only a milepost. I still have so much to learn that I will probably be training for the rest of my life. The road goes ever onward.

So, let's hear some horntooting from you. What awards or recognition have you received recently?

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Extra! Extra! Read All About It!

Newspaper CarrierAs many of you know, I have a tendency to suffer from a paralysis of analysis. This means that I will spend a lot of time studying, strategizing, researching, and planning any given situation before I actually do anything. I was well on my way to doing just that with my goal to create an e-zine this year (one of my 101 goals for 2007). Fortunately, because I can be taught, I listened to my lovely wife's advice and just started in on it.

As a result, as of 11:55pm this evening, I sent out my first issue. Hooray! Oh, it's not perfect by a long shot. I still want to do a lot with layout, creating an archive, using images, etc, but at least I can say that it's begun. The pretty details will follow.

If you are interested in receiving the e-zine, you can go to the subscription page and sign up. Be sure to check your email after you do as the mailing list requires a verification response. I hope to hear from you!

So, what project have you been putting off until you have the perfect plan?

Saturday, February 17, 2007

A Whale of a Tail

Whale TailMy buddy, Dave Bodner, asked me to talk a bit more about our experiences with the whales on Hawaii. How could I disappoint a friend?

Lisa and I arranged a sunset cruise with Blue Dolphin Tours for Sunday evening. Not surprisingly, given it was Superbowl Sunday, the crowd was fairly sparse. There were probably about 30 of us on the boat with three crew members, including the captain. We had pretty much perfect weather -- warm, with a slight breeze and no significant waves. A gorgeous evening.

We departed the dock around 4:15 and within a few minutes of clearing the harbor we spotted our first whale. To be completely objective, they really aren't much to see. We didn't see any do a full breach, leaping out of the water to come down with a huge splash. Mostly we would see the plume from them surfacing with a brief glimpse of their back and occasionally a tail flip as they dove back underwater.

Subjectively, it was probably one of the most exciting moments of my life.

Seeing a spout and knowing the tremendous size of the creature below is more than enough to send shivers down your spine. They have an aura of playful serenity and peace about them, almost magical at times. Pictures can't do it justice. I tried to snap as many shots as I could, but even the best photo pales in comparison to being near the real thing.

Can we learn some sort of life or business lesson from the whales? Maybe. One thought came to mind as I was writing this. While the passengers on the boat were rushing from side to side to catch any minor glimpse of cetacean presence, the crew just went about their duties. They had seen everything so much that it wasn't particularly magical for them.

I think the same can be said for almost any business. Whatever we do, whether we do someones taxes, design their new home, or set up a website for their business, to them, whatever we do is almost incomprehensible, magical. That may be one of the secrets of success in business: Amaze your customers with (what for you is) the everyday.

So, what businesses can you think of which are almost "magical" in what they do?

Thursday, February 15, 2007

School Days, Part 2

Back to schoolSo, as I mentioned yesterday, we had our most recent Leadership Ann Arbor day on Wednesday. This one was all about education. Due to the snow up here, we missed out on the K-12 presentations (though we will supposedly be making it up at some point), instead we focused on higher ed and pre-K information.

All of the presentations were quite informative. Unfortunately, most of the information was pretty depressing. Still, I would rather know where we stand. Here are just a few of the points we covered:

  • In Washtenaw County about 48% of adults between the ages of 25 and 34 have at least a bachelors degree. That compares to 22% for all of Michigan.
  • According to census data, lowering taxes does not lead to more prosperity. In fact, those states with the lowest taxes also have some of the lowest personal income per capita.
  • According to a report presented by Michigan Future, Inc.'s President, Lou Glazer, prosperous regions tend to have three characteristics in common:
    1. Focus on knowledge/export-based sectors. Where growth in these areas exceeds the national average (29%), prosperity follows. Michigan currently has growth in these areas of around 13%.
    2. High proportion of four-year degree holders.
    3. Anchored by a central city with an even higher percentage of four-year degree holders.
  • In the same report, the authors came to the conclusion that for Michigan to succeed, it must focus on two policy priorities:
    1. We must invest in the higher education system, especially our research universities.
    2. We must develop the welcoming aspects of our central metropolis (Detroit), in order to retain existing talent and attract new.
  • These are the two areas which Michigan has cut the most in recent years.
After this pile of sobering facts, it was a relief to listen to my friend, Jerry Bowman of NSF International talk about the "Scrub Club", a program developed by NSF to encourage kids to wash there hands adequately in order to reduce the spread of contagious diseases in schools. Ironically, the poor guy was having trouble speaking because he had come down with a cold and had largely lost his voice!

So, what can we do to get talent to come back to Michigan?

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

School Days, Part 1

School HouseWell, I was partially right.

Today we were scheduled to have our fourth class in the Leadership Ann Arbor course. This month our focus was on Education. According to our agenda, we were to visit a number of local schools this morning and then spend some time at Washtenaw Community College (WCC) this afternoon.

We did make it to the afternoon festivities (more on those later). This morning, though, as I expected, we got to experience a different school tradition -- Snow Day! As I mentioned yesterday, we got hit with a minor snow storm last night and, sure enough, when I awoke this morning I found that the Ann Arbor schools had been canceled. So I did what any self-respecting computer programmer would do at 6:30am. I crawled back into bed!

After getting in my beauty sleep and getting in a little work this morning, I was off to an afternoon of learning about education. Our first stop was lunch at Garrett's, the restaurant at WCC where the culinary arts students get to refine their skills. Unfortunately, due to the heavy snows, the students weren't able to get into the kitchens at 6am as they usually do and so could not create their masterpieces as they had planned. So, as far as I was concerned anyway, they did the next best thing.

They made pizza. And a delicious pizza it was, too.

After the delightful lunch, which included poetry readings and singing by our maitre di, we filed off to one of the auditoriums on campus to learn more about the state of education in Washtenaw County and in Michigan. Some good, some bad, and some that was downright depressing. I'll come up with more of a list tomorrow, but suffice it to say that, if Michigan wants to pull itself out of the economic doldrums, we've got a long row to hoe.

After we broke for the day, a few of us stuck around and chatted about what we had learned. Then it was a long, bitterly cold walk to the car before we could head for home.

Next month: Local Government!

So, what are some of your fondest memories of school?

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Snow Day!

Southeast Michigan is getting a little bit of a snowstorm right now. Looking out my office window I can see the snow flying past in the light of the street lamps. It's been falling since around three this afternoon.

The funny thing is, I've had several meetings set up for this afternoon and evening. All of them canceled due to the inclement weather. Suddenly I found myself with unscheduled time. I had a Snow Day! I don't think I've had one of those since high school. U of M never closed. In the twenty-one years that I either attended classes or worked there, I don't remember a single official inclement weather day. If we didn't think we could make it in, we either arranged to work from home or took a day of precious vacation.

Now, of course, as a self-employed person, I don't really have a true Snow Day. There's always work to do. Still, it felt a bit like one. Before the snow got too bad, I went out to run a few errands and took some time to sit and enjoy a chat with Lisa. Not quite the hours of sledding I would have indulged in as a kid, but still kind of a fun release.

Ironically, tomorrow is supposed to be our next Leadership Ann Arbor class -- Education Day. If the snow keeps falling like this all night, I may have a Snow Day tomorrow, too!

So, when was the last time you had a Snow Day? What did you do?

Monday, February 12, 2007

Up and Running Again

I should have added to my list of lessons from Hawaii that it isn't necessarily a bad thing when your notebook computer has both its battery and its AC adapter die on you. OK, yes, I will admit it, I took my computer with me to Hawaii. There, I discovered that my battery could only hold about five minutes of juice and that the AC adapter had been damaged en route. As a result, I was just able to squeeze off a short message to one of my clients that I wouldn't be able to do anything until I returned from vacation.

After that I just relaxed.

Of course, when I got home, I still had to get this old beast running again. Since I work mostly on web servers which run some flavor of Unix (as opposed to Windows), my desktop machine does the same. Still it is nice to have a machine booted into that other operating system for testing purposes. Since most of the world runs Windows of some description (not that it's a monopoly or anything, no-o-o-o), I figured it would behoove me to keep an eye on how my systems run under that benighted excuse for an operating system.

Oops, am I standing on my soapbox again?

Anyway, I remembered reading on the lifehacker blog about some ways to save money and one of them involved buying your computer peripherals from Ebay. So, I decided to check them out. I am glad I did. I easily found several highly-rated sellers on Ebay selling what I wanted at a comparative discount. The AC adapter cost me about $20, including shipping. The battery, a much higher capacity one than I had purchased originally ran about $60 with shipping.

Just for grins, I thought I would compare that to buying from the manufacturer. Unfortunately, my machine is so old that apparently the manufacturer doesn't sell the parts anymore. Checking around other sites online, though, I found that the AC adapter alone could sell for as much as $50 and the battery that I chose could easily go for well over $100!

Now, might I end up regretting buying these lower-cost parts? Maybe. But that's one of the benefits of the Ebay rating system. If a seller has thousands or tens of thousands of sales and still has a better than 99% positive rating, there's a good chance that you're safe. Heck, I "won" these auctions on Friday morning and they arrived on Monday afternoon. Not too shabby on the customer service side, either.

So, if you find yourself in need of widgets for your computer, you might want to check out Ebay. It's a cheap and relatively safe way to go.

So, what was the last thing you bought on Ebay? How was your experience?

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Adopt an Attitude

Stranger in a Strange LandWhile I was vacationing in paradise, I brought along a couple of books to amuse and edify me. One was a "business" book, Jeffrey Gitomer's "Little Gold Book of YES! Attitude" and the other, one of my old favorites, Robert A. Heinlein's "Stranger in a Strange Land".

Now, at first, one wouldn't think that these books have much to do with each other. One is a guide on how to achieve a positive attitude and then take it one or two steps further. The other is a classic science fiction novel of a young human, raised by Martians and returned to Earth and his strange and wondrous adventures on our planet. Yet, as I was reading them over the same few days, I seemed to catch echoes of one in the other and vice-versa. How could that be? What was the link?

Well, I sat and thunk for a while and I think it finally came to me. In Gitomer's book he recommends approaching things as a child would, with all of the enthusiasm and joy for discovery that we all had at one point in our lives. Valentine Michael Smith, the protagonist of Heinlein's epic, does just that. He has no preconceived notions of how things are supposed to be and therefore approaches all aspects of life on earth with a curiosity and an eagerness to understand which is almost childlike.

What a wonderful way to be. Fearless in exploration. Curious in all things. What would life be like if we lived that way all the time? How many new things would we discover? How many old things would we rediscover?

Sometimes, when we go through our everyday lives, we don't really look around us to see the opportunities at hand. For those of us who want to take our lives in powerful directions, whether through our careers, our education, or our relationships we have to open ourselves to those possibilities.

Perhaps it would behoove us all to be a bit more childlike (or Martian) at times.

So, how do you keep yourself open to new possibilities?

Friday, February 09, 2007

Lessons Learned in Paradise

Lisa and I on KauaiLisa and I just got back from a wonderful, if all too short, vacation on Kauai, the "Garden Isle". I knew it would be a magical visit when, my body still on Eastern Standard Time, I awoke at 4am on our first night there and light from the full moon streamed through our open window.

While there, in between hikes and our many adventures, I had time to just sit quietly and stare off at the horizon and contemplate whatever thoughts entered my mind. From this time, and in no particular order, I came up with some life lessons learned from our trip:

  • There are times to "do" and other times just to "be". I loved my moments of just sitting on our balcony, reading a pleasure-reading book, and just appreciating the particular sounds and scents of where we were. I also wouldn't have missed going out on our sunset cruise to see the humpback whales.
  • Sometimes you have to miss a little sleep to find the beauty in life. One of the mornings we got up early to drive down to the beach, climb the cliffs and watch the sun rise over the Pacific. While we enjoyed the golden spectacle of the sun clearing the horizon, we also witnessed whales off cavorting in the distance.
  • Don't give up when the storm gathers. The sun is just on the other side. One of the peculiarities of the Kauai weather was that if it rains on one side of the island, the other side is quite often clear and sunny.
  • Dabbling is easy. Commitment, while ultimately worth it, is a challenge. As I said, we loved visiting Kauai. In chatting with some of the locals, however, we discovered that living there can be quite a challenge. Due to the high cost of living, many have to hold two or three jobs just to make ends meet.
  • When you are someplace new and strange, it helps to have a guide. We stayed in a great B&B called Marjorie's Kauai Inn. Our hosts, Daniella and Michael, took time the very first night to make recommendations on places to see and food to eat. Daniella pointed us to our amazing sunset cruise and even helped to arrange everything.
  • For the best experiences it helps to have the right tools. On our hike into the Waimea Canyon, we would have been "challenged" without a good map and hiking boots. Being a person of occasionally poor directional sense, having a GPS built into my cell phone took that particular stress off my shoulders.
I'm sure some other lessons popped into my head, but that's about all I can think of for right now. Funny thing is, I could take those same rules and apply it to having my own business, too.

So, when was the last time you took a moment to just "be"?

Thursday, February 01, 2007

I'm Off!

In a few minutes I'm heading out the door to begin my Hawaiian adventure. I may post from paradise, but probably not. At any rate, I will be back on the 7th. Aloha!