Friday, March 30, 2007

That Olde Tyme Radio, Gone?

Could someone explain this one to me? Apparently some nozzle in the federal government decided that Internet Radio broadcasters weren't paying their fair share of costs for sending out music over the Internet. So, they've decided to increase the rates, drastically, at which the 'net broadcasters have to pay per performance. OK, so maybe they should have to pay more, after all, they've probably been paying less than everyone else for years, right? It's only fair.

Well, maybe not.

Now, granted that this comes from the site, which does have a vested interest in this whole situation. If it isn't true, I'd appreciate someone setting me straight. According to Live365, Internet broadcast stations will now have to shoulder the highest royalty payments. Satellite and cable radio pay about half the 'net broadcast rates, and old-fashioned AM/FM radio doesn't have to pay those royalties at all.

So, could someone explain to me how this works out to be fair? I would really like to understand.

Live365 has apparently always paid the rates expected of it for it's broadcasters. Unfortunately, these new rates will mean that it has to drastically roll back its support of niche genres. Right now, it has in the neighborhood of 260 different genres. If these rates come to pass, they will be reduced to about 10.

And do you want to bet that those stations will sound remarkably like the homogenized, bland offerings which we get to hear every day on broadcast radio?

When I was younger, OK, much younger, I loved to listen to recordings of old radio programs. Our local public library had a few copies of The Phantom, War of the Worlds, and I seem to remember even hearing some of the old Lone Ranger radio dramas. Imagine my pleasure when I recently discovered that Live365 had a whole genre devoted to these old radio dramas, comedies and so much more.

Unfortunately, like jazz, traditional folk music, and the occasional celtic reel, old radio plays aren't exactly in the mainstream. I'm guessing that shortly Fibber McGee, the Green Hornet, and my old friend Sherlock Holmes will once again fade from memory and all that will be left is the dull hum of a radio tuned to a station which no longer exists.

Perhaps you should give a listen before the final "off" switch is thrown.

Cheap(er) Gas

If you are like me, you've got maybe two or three gas stations you frequent on a regular basis. As far as you know, they tend to have the lowest prices in the area, right?

Well, how do you know?

I mean, really, unless you drive to each of them, how do you know that the one you choose will be the lowest price in the area that day? And wouldn't all that driving around just use up the money you would have saved (not to mention the waste of time)?


I don't have anything to do with this site other than as a happy visitor. All you have to do is go to the site, enter your zip code, and presto! you have a list of gas stations in your area, listed in ascending order by price per gallon.

Isn't it wonderful that all of these gas station owners are willing to post their prices. Wow! They must be super confident that they have the best prices around.


The reason this site works is that the users are the ones who keep it up to date. If you want to help out, all you have to do is register and you, too, can lead your fellow motorists to the cheapest fuel in town. The site even has a social reward for the reporters. The person who reports the current price at a given station is posted next to that station along with an icon representing how frequently they contribute. The social recognition, I'm sure, is what keeps people coming back.

I still won't go too far out of my way to save 5 cents a gallon, but if I'm out running errands, I might check along my path to see where I'm going to get the best deal.

Oh, and they even have support for mobile phones. They've got a site which is specifically designed for smaller screens or, if you prefer, there's an option to get the information using text messaging.

What a cool use of the group mind on the Internet!

So, what other daily activities could make use of a similar feature?

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Cool People: MegaGear

Fred and SarahThe author of this blog would like to apologize in advance for the following highly emotional and wholly inappropriate outburst. Thank you for your patience.

[Fanboy mode on]

Oh my gosh! I got to meet Fred Gallagher, the author and artist behind the webcomic MegaTokyo! I got to see his warehouse! He talked to me for a whole hour! I didn't even have to wait in line like at a convention. Woo Hoo!

[Fanboy mode off]

Once again, we apologize for any discomfort or inconvenience this childish outburst may have caused. We now return to our regularly scheduled blog post which will be shown in its entirety.

It's funny, but you never know who you are going to meet during the course of a normal day. I've been reading MegaTokyo for over a year now and only recently discovered that the creator of the webcomic was from the area. Of course, I could have walked past him on the street and wouldn't have known him from Adam, but it was kind of neat to know that someone whose art I enjoyed was a local.

So, this leads up to a couple of weeks ago, when I got a message from Cheryl O'Brien. She's the membership director for the Ann Arbor Area Chamber of Commerce. I volunteer for the Chamber as one of Cheryl's Ambassadors. She wanted to know if I was interested in tagging along to deliver a new member bag (it has a bunch of information about being a member and, of course, the plaque which you display proudly in your place of business). The name of the business? MegaGear.

MegaGear? Why does that sound familiar? I thunk for a few minutes and realized that MegaGear was the merchandising alter ego of MegaTokyo. For those who've been with me that long, you might remember that MT was on the list of comics that I recommended you check out a few months back.

So last Wednesday, I met Cheryl at the Chamber offices. We drove over to the MegaGear warehouse where I got to meet Fred Gallagher, the author and artist responsible for MegaTokyo, and his lovely wife and business partner, Sarah, the person who apparently keeps him sane and on track.

Both Fred and Sarah welcomed us warmly and made us feel right at home (or as much as they could in their warehouse). While Cheryl and Sarah took care of the whole "new member bag" thing (I knew there was some reason for this visit), Fred and I spent the next hour or so chatting about comics, science fiction, conventions and the vagaries of fans. In the course of our discussion, I felt that I was chatting with a kindred spirit. Ironically, he was at University of Michigan at about the same time I was (though in completely different disciplines -- his was architecture, mine was computer science).

I appreciated the opportunity to chat with Fred and to understand some of what he has to go through as a part of the creative process (when he first started the comic, it would take up to eight hours for him to complete a single four-panel page -- on top of his full-time work in an architectural firm!). Then there are also the challenges he faces being someone with a fan following. If it's all the same, I think I'll stick to being the faceless, nameless Webmaster. It seems like a heck of a lot less trouble.

If you'd like to meet Fred and Sarah, they are going to be at "Wizzyfest" at the Wizzywig shop in downtown Ann Arbor this Saturday, Mar 31, 2007. I'm sure they'd love it if you stopped in to say hello (and maybe picked up a book or two or all four). In the meantime, you can read all of the comics for free online (though I've found reading the books to be a completely different experience). If you do enjoy the dead tree versions of MT, be on the lookout for book number five coming out soon.

So, what cool people could you meet in the course of your everyday work?

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

When Two Equals Three

Those of you who have had first grade math realize that the title of this post doesn't make any sense at all. After all, numbers are numbers. How could two equal three? Stick with me. It will all make sense in the end.

So, last night I sat down to get the third issue of my biweekly e-zine ready to send off. That's "biweekly" as in once every two weeks (this is where the "two" comes in). I was so proud of myself. I had set up a "to do" list on my personalized Google homepage in order to remember some of the ideas I wanted to cover in the articles I was to write. I had added a recurring event to my "Remember the Milk" calendar, so I'd know which Tuesday I was supposed to be sending out the next issue. I had even blocked off the time necessary to write up the introduction and article and to look through to find a good "guest" article.

At this point I should tell you that I have a template for the structure of the e-zine message. I make a copy of it and rename the copy with the date of the issue as the file name. As I was copying the file, I glanced at the other files to make sure that I had formatted the file name correctly.

It was at this point that I realized that the most recent file was three weeks ago (you guessed it, that's the "three" part), not two, as intended.

No! That's not possible! I did all of this stuff to make sure that I would stay on time. I was organized. I was prepared. And yet, somehow, that extra week had crept into the calculations. Apparently I have a problem with multiplying and adding small numbers (isn't that what the computer is for?).

Let this be an object lesson for me. I sometimes forget that, while the tools with which I surround myself run almost perfectly, as of yet, they cannot think for me. If I don't check the information that I provide, I shouldn't be surprised when the computer tells me, quite logically, that up is down, black is white, war is peace, and the next issue of a biweekly e-zine will be in three weeks (or 2 == 3, Q.E.D.).

Assuming I haven't frightened you away from the idea, if you are interested, you can sign up to receive my biweekly (no, really) e-zine on the subscription page. It should be coming out every two weeks from now on. I usually write about interesting widgets, gadgets, and other cool things I find on the web, some for work and some for fun.

I hope you'll join me!

So, when was the last time you were caught by a "two equals three" moment?

17 Random Thoughts on a Sunny Day

random thoughtsScott Ginsberg in his post from Monday challenged his readers to make a "random thoughts" post. His was so entertaining, I thought I would give it a shot. Hope you enjoy the ride!

  1. Just because he or she wears a uniform, doesn't mean that there isn't a person underneath.
  2. Impatience will get you into trouble. Slow down and enjoy the experience.
  3. In sales, the difference between theory and practice is a yawning abyss. I've learned a lot of information already in my sales training. Ask me how my first sales meeting went.
  4. In any pursuit, the difference between theory and practice is a yawning abyss.
  5. When learning new skills, the most uncomfortable place is "conscious incompetence". You start out at "unconscious incompetence" -- you don't even know that you don't know. Then you learn a little and you realize how monumentally ignorant you really are. Fortunately, this gives you motivation to move quickly into "conscious competence".
  6. 5 to 10 minutes every day is more powerful than an hour once a week. This is true of just about everything, good or bad.
  7. Random thoughts tend to skitter away when approached too openly. You have to sneak up on 'em.
  8. The hardest time to work is the first sunny, 60-degree day of Spring.
  9. When you are recording your daily voicemail message, the cat will meow on the last sentence.
  10. Sometimes you have to make a decision without all of the information. Even ambulances get moving without knowing the final address.
  11. You don't always need the latest and coolest gadget for a good website, sometimes you just need the latest news.
  12. A papercut covers only a fraction of a percent of your skin's surface, yet it has a marvelous way of focusing the attention. This is why people will pay more to avoid pain than to achieve pleasure.
  13. Working on your own business is often harder than working on someone else's. This would be why the cobbler's children have no shoes and why my website is still under construction.
  14. The person on the other end of the phone line can tell if you are standing or not. Stand up and smile. Hunching over your desk sounds like desperation.
  15. If I don't record it, it never happened. We get to choose the life we remember.
  16. Websites are a lot like a newspaper. No matter how well-written or beautifully laid out, no one wants to read it if it's two years old.
  17. I've heard a theory that cats have "naps" stored in their fur. This would explain why I tend to fall asleep as soon as they jump into my lap.
Well, I think that might be my level of profundity for today.

So, what random thoughts have you had recently (the ones that won't get you locked up)?

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Ride Along with Officer Dye, Part 2

Continuing the story of my ride-along with Ann Arbor Police Officer Steve Dye.

So, Steve and I headed out to "serve and protect" - ever vigilant for the call over the radio for "2-David-1". Within 30 minutes, only a mile away from my own home, we chased down our first law-breaker.

OK, so it was just a woman who was using the bicycle lane to make an illegal right turn. I'm not saying that I've never done that same maneuver in the past. I'm also not saying that I have. I am saying that I definitely won't ever do it in the future!

This led to a theme for the day. As Officer Dye put it, "Impatience will lead you into trouble." Almost without exception, the various tickets that he issued while I was with him were because people were trying to take shortcuts to save time -- usually only a matter of seconds. People would speed, make illegal turns, and cross into the oncoming lane -- all because they were in a hurry -- and it ended up taking more time than if they had just slowed down and followed the rules.

There's probably some sort of life lesson in that.

Officer Dye was always smiling and friendly when he walked up to chat with the offending motorist. He believes that they already know that they've done the wrong thing, so no need to make them any more unhappy than necessary. He's not there to punish people, just make it safe for everyone. Some people just need a little reminder.

This was something that really struck me about Steve. He was always friendly to everyone. He would joke with his fellow officers. He smiled at the motorists. When we stopped at Briarwood Mall to pick up a security tape, he would stop occasionally just to say hello to some of the store clerks. Some of them obviously knew him, but others had no clue who this grinning, 6'3", uniformed giant was entering there store. He said that he thought it was important to let everyone know that it was a person who drove around the cars with the flashing lights, not some nameless, faceless authority figure.

When he was younger, he first wanted to be a doctor, then thought that being a Navy pilot would be a great experience (unfortunately, being 6'3" and needing glasses put the kibosh on that plan). He then decided to follow in his dad's footsteps and join the police force. After almost ten years now he still counts himself as fortunate.

"I have a job that I look forward to every day and it pays my mortgage. What more can I ask for?"

So, can you say the same thing about your job?

Friday, March 23, 2007

Ride Along with Officer Dye, Part 1

Officer Steve DyeYesterday I worked on some homework. No, I didn't crack open my math book, or write an essay comparing the works of Dante to Homer's Iliad.

I rode in a police car.

For our next Leadership Ann Arbor class (Law Enforcement day), my homework was to do a ride-along with an Ann Arbor police officer as he or she made his daily rounds. So, at 2pm I found myself sitting in on the briefing for the afternoon shift, hearing about subpoenas which needed to be served and UDAA's (Unlawful Driving Away of an Automobile -- a stolen car) which had been recovered. For those who are wondering, it really is a lot like they show on TV, with the sergeant running the show over a respectful undercurrent of jokes and teasing. At one point, the sergeant was talking about a home invasion and he asked the room in general, "Guess what was taken?" One of the officers replied (correctly) "Laptop and iPod!"

I guess they've heard that one before.

Within 20 minutes, Officer Steve Dye and I were in car 66 heading out to "serve and protect". I have to admit, I wasn't sure what to expect. All I knew was that I had signed up for a four hour tour. Those who know me know that the idea of four hours in a car is the stuff of nightmares for me. I couldn't imagine doing this job for an eight hour shift every day.

Steve, on the other hand, obviously loved his job. He always had a grin on his face and a story to tell about his experiences both as an Ann Arbor police office and as a member of the MSU campus police (from which he graduated with a degree in criminal justice). Fortunately for me, he was willing to explain all of the specialized jargon and protocols used on the job (otherwise I never would have known what a UDAA was).

One of the first things he explained was the radio call signs that we used. We were in car 66, but that is pretty much the luck of the draw. You get the car that shows up when you show up. Our call sign was Two-David-One. This breaks down to:

Two - We were the second, or afternoon, shift.
David - We were covering the south side of town. "Adam" covers downtown, "Baker" the West Side, "Charlie" is to the north. There are a few others, but that's the big chunk.
One - Even numbers indicate two officers, odd indicate one.

I'd only been on the ride-along for a half-hour and already I had learned so much!

Tune in next time when I write about chasing down law-breakers!

So, when was the last tmie you rode in a police car? Voluntarily?

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Seminar Day

sales seminarWhat a whirlwind! As a part of the Presidents Club sales training that I'm taking through Marr Professional Development, I was invited to attend one of Joe Marr's additional seminars, called "No Pressure Prospecting". Some good information. I'm already pretty comfortable with business networking and attending networking mixers. This seminar gives me another tool in the toolbox. It's called a thirty-second commercial.

Now this is not a television spot on Super Bowl Sunday, but rather a way of presenting myself in conversation which is designed to draw out a potential prospect and get them interested in what you have to provide. I've learned this lesson before in my Certified Networker training, but this sharpens things a little bit. Of course, some would say that this is just a means to manipulate. In truth, the technique won't work unless I've taken a genuine interest in that other person and found out, really, what challenges they are facing. Also, this technique isn't designed to make people want something that they don't need, so I guess I won't be selling water to any fish in the near future.

Of course, the instructor, Joe Marr, provided a ton of other information (it was a four hour seminar). Some of it I will use right away, some I'm going to have to adapt a little to fit my style. Personally, I want to avoid "cold-calling" as long as I can. From what I've seen, I should be able to manage that. Still, I suppose it is good information to have as, if the worst comes to past, the techniques I learned will at least make me a far less annoying cold-caller. ;-)

So, what's the best seminar you've attended recently?

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Fun Stuff: Watching the Google Sunrise

Google beach themeThis morning, I was following my normal morning ritual of checking my Google homepage for the events of interest to me. I happened to glance at the top of the screen and I saw that a new feature had appeared. "Select themes" it said, beckoning me closer.

What the heck, I clicked on the link.

Google is now offering themes for the banner of your personalized Google homepage. They have six from which to choose. My favorite is "Beach", although "Tea House" is a close second.

"What's the big deal?" I hear you ask. "So you get a pretty picture at the top of your screen." Well, for me, anyway, the cool thing is that the picture changes during the course of the day. This morning, as you can see in the picture above, I saw the sunrise, by midday, the sun was bright overhead. Later this evening was a glorious sunset, somewhat reminiscent of our trip to Hawaii. Now? A peaceful starlit scene. One other nice touch was that the colors of the title bars shifted throughout the day to match the scene.

The "Tea House" theme follows an anthropomorphic Japanese fox as he goes about his daily chores with Mount Fuji in the background. The only reason I didn't choose this theme is that it takes up just a little bit too much space on the screen.

Is this stuff really important? Probably not. Does it contribute to my overall productivity? I doubt it. But it sure is fun, and sometimes that's enough. Plus, I figure that anything that makes technology and the Web more approachable can't be all bad, right?

So, which is your favorite Google homepage theme?

Cobbler's Children Getting New Shoes

Cyber Data Solutions logoMy company website has been needing an overhaul for quite some time. Oh, back when my friend Kristin designed it, many seasons ago, it was pretty snazzy. I've touched it up a bit, over the years, including adding a section for testimonials and a link to this blog. I never really did anything with the actual design and layout.

This year, one of my 101 goals was to redesign the whole site, from the ground up. I want to add features which make it easier for my visitors to use, dynamic content which makes people want to come back, and tools which would make it easy for me to maintain and update the site. After all, as a web developer, my own site should be my best advertisement, right?

So, I decided to take a class in website development. In this line of work, you always need to update your skills on a regular basis. I'm always looking for new techniques to add to my repertoire and some of the classes at the local community college (Washtenaw) really fit the need. As a part of this class we are to design a website for a fictional restaurant. Fortunately, we can substitute a real site that we are working on for the assignment. You guessed it, I chose my company site.

So, I've made the first step (a rough redesign of the home page) and am now working on the actual informational structure of the site. You can see my efforts, if you are interested. I would love to hear feedback, positive or negative. Let me know what you think!

So, what classes have you take to update your skills recently?

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Clockwork, Part 3: Helping the Homeless

Jared Collins and Laura RayburnThis is the last in my series about the Leadership Ann Arbor Local Government Day. Be sure to read parts 1 and 2.

Our final stop of the day was at the Delonis Center (the Shelter Association of Washtenaw County). This building was built as a part of the Washtenaw Housing Alliance's "A Home For Everyone" program. Since it opened three years ago, it has served over 1200 clients per year and has been able to achieve a 60% success rate of getting those clients into sustainable housing (the national average is closer to 35%). According to their Director of Development, Jared Collins (pictured at right with Volunteer Coordinator, Laura Rayburn), their program has become an international model on how to deal with homelessness. People from as far away as Japan have come here to Ann Arbor to observe the center's success.

The center brings together as many services as possible in order to address any possible barriers that the client might have. Forty full-time and part-time employees, 400 volunteers, doctors, nurses, and representatives of other community services are all available on site. Their goal is to meet the client's basic needs and help them to find employment. This, in turn helps to defeat the root cause of homelessness: poverty.

If you have a few moments, you might want to visit their website. They have a great FAQ there which addresses many of the concerns that were raised in the planning of the center. While you are there, you might check out their wish list, or, if you have the time for a worthy cause, fill out the form to help out as a volunteer.

So, what steps has your community taken to end homelessness?

Friday, March 16, 2007

Clockwork, Part 2: Mountains

Mountain of TrashYesterday I gave a brief overview of our most recent Leadership Ann Arbor class. Of course, we learned about some of the goals, challenges, and jobs of the various levels of government (state, county, and city), and that was interesting. OK, maybe I dozed a little bit during the talk about the city budget. That wasn't the fault of the speaker. It was right after lunch in a room that must have been around 80 degrees -- the same reason I had problems in my computer theory course in grad school.

While that information was interesting, I think I was most engaged when we actually visited the sites of some of these services for which the government has responsibility.

In the morning, we all piled on a bus and drove to the southeast edge of town to see the new Materials Recovery Facility (MRF). As a gardener, driving past the acres and acres of compost just warmed my heart. From my seat on the bus, I could see the rich, black soil that resulted from all their work -- soil that really wanted to come home with me to give my flower beds a boost in the coming year!

We then moved on to the recycling building. This structure really had one purpose: To sort and bail the tons of recyclable materials collected each week. Huge front-loaders would push mountains of plastic, paper, metal, and glass onto conveyor belts. That garbage would pass through a variety of sorting stations, some mechanical, but many staffed by hard-working human beings. Eventually, that trash would leave the building on the front of a fork lift to be place on trucks and carried off to processors that would recycle the refuse into new products.

As I recall, our tour guide told us that Ann Arbor currently recycles about 60% of the possible residential garbage -- not too shabby. Now we need to work on the corporate recycling which is only at around 20%.

More tomorrow!

So, do you recycle at your business?

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The Clockwork of Government

clockworkToday we had our fifth Leadership Ann Arbor class -- Local Government Day.

As with most Leadership days, this one has left me a bit tired. For some reason, trying to cram all of that information into my head just wears me out. Unfortunately, this has left me a bit too befuddled to really do the story justice (especially since I would have to read my notes from the day -- a task which would exhaust me on the best of days!). So, I will fill in the details tomorrow.

For now, suffice it to say that we received a day long tutorial on the different levels of local government, from state to county to city. We learned about the different jobs and responsibilities held by each level, the challenges they currently face (many, but certainly not all, caused by the impending departure of Pfizer from the state), and, to some extent, how we can get involved.

We even visited some of the services provided by our local governments. We saw the Bill Wheeler Materials Recovery Facility (run by the city), and the Delonis Center homeless shelter (a county facility). I have to admit that I had no idea the number of things that our local governments do. Ironically, many of these services are the kinds of things that you really take for granted -- unless you don't have them. Then they become really important.

Anyway, more on this adventure tomorrow.

A Good Cause

Cynthia Dorow, a Board member for the Huron Valley Boys and Girls Club (HVBGC), forwarded along this information: The HVBGC will be holding their first annual Dancing for the Stars dinner and dance on March 24, 2007 at the Ann Arbor Marriott. It sounds like they have a fun event planned. So if you are in the area and are looking for an enjoyable evening (and would like to support this worthy group), be sure to check out this event!

For more information check out the invitation and reservation form.

Time to Remove the Training Wheels

training wheelsToday was the last of our preliminary classes for our sales training. Next week, we start the big kids class. As I understand, we will be working on more advanced techniques and spending time role-playing and practicing what we've learned. My attempts thus far to apply what I've learned have shown me that this is really something I need to do. It's one thing to read about this stuff. It's a completely different ball of wax of a different color to actually apply it.

Ironically, I've gone through a process similar to this before. When I first started training in the martial arts, I didn't go right into group class. First we had two or three private introductory lessons so that we at least knew roughly what a punch looked like and could approximate a front kick. This way, when we actually started group class, the instructor could fit us right in with the rest of the students, without having to bore our classmates with such rudimentary concepts.

Similarly, these intro classes with Sandler Sales Institute were designed to help us understand the basics of the Sandler sales process and give us a grounding in the vocabulary that we would be using with the rest of the group. I'll have to let you know if it works as well in sales training as it did in the martial arts.

So, what sorts of training have you participated in recently?

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

"In" Basket Full

In BasketI'm discovering that I have yet another mental adjustment to make in my path to being an entrepreneur. I've found that my "in" basket seems to be constantly filling up (and occasionally overflowing onto the floor). I've got three development projects going on right now for clients (cellochan, AJ Boggs, and Community Housing Network), two classes (sales training, and website development) each with its own homework. I'm re-designing the Cyber Data Solutions website (as a part of the latter class), trying to maintain my correspondence, writing the occasional article, and attending the occasional networking event or meeting with a potential networking partner or prospect.

Don't get me wrong. I'm enjoying the process. Each of the items I've listed above has it's own appeal and challenge to it. I certainly don't wish that I could go back and change my decision to leave the University and go full time on my business. In fact, thinking back, I probably had just as many "to do" items back then as I do now. So, what's the difference?

I think it's the fact that the items that await my attention are so much more directly tied to my livelihood.

I think that this simple fact has placed a little more urgency in my life. Not necessarily a bad thing. I need a little discomfort to motivate me. I just need a little time to learn to deal with that urgency. I think it also wouldn't hurt to spend at least a little time each week developing systems to help process these requirements a little more efficiently. Maybe that would help me lossen up and relax a little more.

Maybe I should go finish reading "Getting Things Done". ;-)

So, how do you deal with the overflowing "in" basket?

Friday, March 09, 2007

Writing Some More

According to Tom Stanley in "Networking with Millionaires", talkers are hawkers, but writers are experts. I don't know about that, but I seem to be doing a lot of writing lately. Of course, I post in my blog five or six days a week. I also write articles for the CNP of Ohio monthly newsletter, for my own e-zine, and I just finished writing an article for the Chamber's Business to Business section in the Ann Arbor Review.

You know what? Thus far it hasn't gotten any easier. There's something about being confronted by that blank page that really freezes me in my tracks. I keep hoping that with continued practice, the ideas will flow faster and more clearly.


I'll let you know if it happens.

So, what writing have you done recently?

Thursday, March 08, 2007


toothpasteMaybe everyone in the world knows this trick except me, but, just in case, I have to share.

The other night I was trying to set up my old laptop computer as a "ripping" station for my MP3 player. Basically, I wanted to use it to convert the contents of audio CD's into computer files which could then be saved on my portable audio player. In order to do this, though, I had to install the software that came with the MP3 player.

I dug through my files of installation disks and finally located the one I needed. When I tried to load the software, though, it failed. Nothing specific, but it just started spewing messages that it couldn't load this library and then the next library and then... Well, you get the idea. I fiddled around with the computer with no good results. Finally I took the disk out and turned it over. Somehow, the back of the disk had a huge scratch in it. Curses!

So, I went online to the manufacturer's site (Creative), to see if I could download the software from them. Nope. If I wanted it, I had to purchase a replacement CD. Drat! I'm constitutionally against spending money unnecessarily. So, I looked around to see what it would cost to purchase a CD repair kit. If it was cheaper than a new disk then I had my solution. In my researches, I came across the answer...


It turns out that you can use toothpaste to fix those minor scratches on the backs of CD's. Toothpaste is a mild abrasive and will smooth those scratches to the point that the reader can read past them again. The trick is to rub across the grooves in stright lines from the center to the edge and back, never in circles.

A few minutes later, after scrubbing the back of the recalcitrant CD, I had the software loaded and running on my laptop.

And everything was minty-fresh!

So, what's the strangest home technology remedy you've ever heard?

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Sales and Networking

used car salesmanAs I mentioned before, I took a lunchtime sales seminar from Joe Marr, the local franchisee of the Sandler Sales Institute. What I learned in that two-hour class excited me so much, that I enrolled for the full sales training with him. Why did I sign up? I had several reasons.

  • I had no real sales skills. I had never had any formal training and prior to going full-time on my business, I had never needed any. Most of my business came looking for me.
  • I have no sales staff. (yet) I'm still the chief cook and bottlewasher for Cyber Data Solutions. That means that I am entrepreneur, manager, technician, and, yes, salesperson. Perhaps one day I will grow my business to a size where I have separate people for each of those jobs, but before that happens, I'll need to earn a little cash.
  • They teach sales like networking.
That last one might seem a little confusing. After all, isn't sales all about getting people to buy, no matter what? I always thought so, which is probably why I never learned anything about sales. The way Joe teaches sales, though, it's really all about asking questions and finding out more about the prospect and the challenges they face.

This sounds more like the lessons I learned in the Certified Networker training course than the kind of things you see car salespeople doing.

Of course, the goals are slightly different. In networking you are trying to build strong relationships for mutual benefit. Using the Sandler sales techniques, the goal is to determine whether a prospect has a need for your product or service, and, if they do, to provide it to them for a fee.

Hmm. I guess when you get down to it, they are *both* about building good relationships for mutual benefit. No wonder I feel comfortable with this training!

So, what was the most recent training course that you took?

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Catching Up

ketchupJust following up on a few previous posts.

The Cell Phone Blues

I wrote a short while ago about not being able to import my contact list into my new cell phone. I realize that cell companies have no real incentive to support you after you've already signed up, but I thought it a bit rude that something so obvious seemed to be ignored.

Well, it turns out that they didn't ignore it. A few hours after posting that entry, I received a response from the support request that I had placed on the Verizon site. They do indeed have such a facility...

... and they'll sell it to you for $24.95.

Fortunately, my buddy Al pointed me to the Howard Forums, where the user community has gathered everything you could possibly want to know about the cell phone industry. I started reading in the section devoted to my phone, the LG enV and within twenty minutes had found a free application called BitPIM which did everything that I needed and more.

New E-zine Issue Released

My report about the Howard Forums above is the core of my article for the most recent issue of the "Clearing Up the Confusion" E-Zine. I sent out Volume 1, Issue 2 shortly after midnight, right on schedule. Well, that's two out of two! Really, the process of creating and mailing out an e-zine is much easier than I thought it would be. I wish I had started a long time ago.

If you are interested in subscribing, go to the subscription page and follow the instructions there.

Still Waiting...

For those who were interested, I still haven't heard back from Concordia University. I presented a proposal to update their web presence at their business school on Thursday morning. I'm guessing that, in this case, no news is not necessarily good news. The project does have a time crunch, so I can't imagine that they would really want to delay any longer than necessary.

Ah, well, at least it's a better quality of rejection than I'm used to. ;-)

So, what's the coolest website, application, or online toy you've found out on the Web?

Saturday, March 03, 2007

The Commitment Spreads

Clement BoydBack in November, I wrote about my decision to go full time on my business, Cyber Data Solutions -- how a book I had been reading led me to commit myself to a new path. Fast forward now to the beginning of January. I was sitting in our local Thai restaurant meeting with my friend Clem Boyd and relating the story to him. He got so excited that he started scribbling notes down on a small pad of paper that he had with him.

A few weeks later, he called me up to let me know that I had inspired him to quite his job and go out on his own. Wow! I guess there should be a warning label on Eker's book, "Secrets of the Millionaire Mind" -- something to the effect of "Warning: May lead you to pursue your dreams".

I met with Clem this week for coffee. He has been transformed.

He always struck me as a pretty happy guy, but, wow! He's off the chart now. He's working for himself harder than he ever worked in his former job, and he's loving every minute of it. I can't wait to see where he goes from here. I've heard some of his goals and if he completes even half of it he is going to be popular with a lot of people.

With his attitude now, I'm confident that he'll accomplish all his goals.

So, what would happen if you followed your dreams?

Thursday, March 01, 2007

A New Business Experience

Presentation jittersThis morning I drove up to Concordia University, Ann Arbor, to meet with representatives from the Haab School of Business and Management. About two weeks ago, I received a request for proposals from them to update their web presence. Now, I've become a bit leery of RFPs in my professional life. Every time I have responded to one, I put in a lot of work coming up with ideas to meet the prospects needs. Then, shortly after the decision deadline I would receive my "thank you for submitting your proposal..." rejection letter. As a one-man band, spending that time didn't seem to have a very good return on investment.

This time I tried a slightly different method. Instead of just reading the RFP and creating a response, I actually called up the contact, Professor Jon Luker, and chatted with him (even though the RFP pretty much said not to call). I found out a lot more about their needs and the background behind the project that I ever would have through their written description or even what I would have learned via an email exchange. According to Professor Luker, I was the only one to have called to talk with him.

I submitted my proposal around 3pm on February 27th. By shortly after noon on the 28th I received an email from Professor Luker letting me know that I was one of three finalists. So, today I met with the committee to answer whatever questions they might have. Even if I don't get the job, it was a good meeting. I've not had any experience with the second tier of the RFP process. This was an excellent opportunity to learn and develop my skills, so the next time I jump into the fray, I will know better how to deal with the situation.

I'll keep you apprised as the situation unfolds. Given the tight timeline on this project, I expect that I will hear by tonight or early tomorrow whether I got the job or not. I am expecting not. I know one of the other three vendors to whom they were speaking and they are much better suited to this project than I am, no false modesty implied.

Hey, even if I lose out, at least I'm getting a higher quality of rejection. ;-)

So, what new business experiences have you had lately?

Take a New Vu on Your Website

NvuI've been asked occasionally by clients, friends, family, acquaintances, and the occasional stranger walking down the street whether they should maintain their own website. My response has in general been an unequivocal "Maybe". The biggest problem was that if you wanted to actually edit a web page, you either went out and purchased a graphical web page editor (such as Dreamweaver) or you delved into the scary world of HTML yourself. The problem with the first is that those packages tended to be a little expensive ($400 on the Adobe website). The problem with the second was that, if you didn't know what you were doing, you might unwittingly change something which ended up causing the text on your website to blink in bold, red, italic font (not a pretty picture).

Then a few days ago I discovered nvu ("new view").

This cool little program is a fairly complete HTML editor. If you can handle a word processor, you can probably handle making simple web pages. If you can create a newsletter with multiple columns, pictures, captions, and a variety of fonts, you should feel right at home building gorgeous web pages.

Now, nvu isn't a perfect tool. In particular, its publishing mechanism, which should allow you to automatically upload your website to your hosting service, doesn't seem to work properly. Or at least I wasn't able to get it to work after an hour of study. Also, it can only handle HTML files (those which end in ".html" or ".htm"). If you have a more advanced site populated with PHP or ASP scripts (URLs which end in ".php" or ".asp") or scripts running out of the CGI directory (which usually contain "cgi-bin" somewhere in the URL), then you should consult with your webmaster first as nvu probably won't be able to help you.

Still for all that, this is a neat little tool especially for those who want to try to maintain their own site. It's free and it runs on Windows, Mac, and a variety of flavors of Unix. Give it a try (just be sure to save a copy of whatever it is you are going to work on).

So, how would you use this tool to update your site?