Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Taking Flight

I've heard it's a good idea to come up with specific goals and dreams to use as motivation for your success. By placing reminders of these physical manifestations around you, it supposedly gives you a concrete focus to what might be otherwise a vague notion. Well, it may sound a bit petty, I've got one that I'll be posting on my "dream board".

First class airline seating.

I just got back from a quick trip to Texas to visit my wife's family. They are a great bunch of people and I love them all dearly, but the flight down there can be a real pain in a variety of body parts.

I'm a pretty big guy (6'2") and I'm reasonably certain that the aircraft engineers didn't have me in mind when they designed the economy class seating on commercial jets. Often, by the time I get to the end of even a two-hour flight, my back and legs have pretty much seized up.

So, I've decided that my business is going to be so successful that I will be able to take first class flights to wherever I go -- for vacation or business. Heck, maybe I'll even get one of those "Admiral's Club" lifetime memberships, so I can be comfortable before the flight, too!

I'll let you know when I get there.

So, what goals and dreams inspire you to keep on toward success?

Saturday, September 22, 2007

On Articles and Weapons

bo formToday I taught my first martial arts weapons class. Our Karate school recently implemented a program where black belts are to declare a "major". Once a month they attend a class focusing on that subject. I'm in charge of the weapons classes.

I also recently uploaded a new article to EzineArticles.com. My goal is to upload at least one new article a week. This one was about using creativity to renew your enthusiasm for networking. According to the response message I got, my new Platinum status should mean that the article will be reviewed and available to the public within two business days.

So, what to the two situations have to do with each other?

Really, it comes down to the benefits of sharing. In both cases the immediate goal is to help others by conveying information and/or ideas. The indirect benefit, though, is that my own skills improve as a result of the sharing. In the case of teaching about martial arts weapons, my students ask questions which I wouldn't have considered previously. With writing the article, the very act of putting my ideas down on paper made me think them through and examine them a little more closely to make sure that they held water.

So, the next time you go out to share with others, just remember that you'll be getting an awful lot in return.

So, what was the best return you've ever received on a "teaching investment"?

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Natural Introvert

techno nerdSo the joke goes something like this:

Questions: How do you tell the difference between an introverted computer programmer and an extroverted one?

Answer: An extroverted computer programmer looks at your shoes when he's talking with you.

Often those of us in the technical fields are stereotyped as a bunch of t-shirt wearing, Star Trek watching, basement living, introverted techno-nerds. Expectations of social skills are somewhere between a log and some particularly interesting slime-mold.

Guess what? That stereotype couldn't be further from the truth.

Now I count myself firmly amongst the ranks of the nerd set, so I feel that I can make a few blanket statements for my people based on my observations over the years.

The balance of introverts and extroverts within this group seem to be largely the same as with any other. The main difference is that most nerds don't feel comfortable talking with non-nerds. If you watch them within their own groupings, though, you will see that there are some who lead the conversation and others who are content to sit back and listen.

If you'd really like to test this out, just walk into the midst of a group of nerds and lob a grenade. No, not a real one. All you have to do is say something like "Who was the better starship captain, Kirk or Picard?" Then just step back and watch the fur fly!

So, the next time you run into a techie, geek, or nerd, understand that they aren't being rude or overly shy. They just aren't quite sure of the rules, yet. With a little coaxing you might even be able to have an enjoyable conversation or two. You might even make a friend.

And everyone should count a techno-nerd amongst their friends.

So, who do you think was the better starship captain?

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Chains of Networking

chainAfter I posted my business update last night, I began to think about the various projects I've done over the years and how I came to be working on them. It's kind of fun to play the "network chain" game to see how far my networking connections had to go to lead me to a job.

Some of my projects, like the ones I've done recently for AJ Boggs, are "zero links". I met the person with whom I worked (in this case, Jim Anderson, the president) myself with no intermediaries. Jim and I both were in the Leadership Ann Arbor class of 2007.

Then I have my "one link" projects. These are the ones where someone referred me or introduced me to the person who had need of my services. My recent work for cellochan would fall into this category. My good friend Cheryl O'Brien, the Membership Director at the Ann Arbor Chamber of Commerce, referred Suzanne Smith, the director of cellochan, to me when she found out that Suzanne needed some help setting up her website.

Of course, I have a few projects that are two and three links. My longest, though, would probably have to be the project about which I wrote last night, the new one with Defrost Design. As I mentioned, I met Craig Steen and Matt Raup of Defrost through an introduction from LeAnn Auer, the Executive Director of the Michigan Venture Capital Association. I met LeAnn, through her husband, Joe. Joe and I first got together because when he and LeAnn first came to Michigan, he asked his friend, Myra Klarman, formerly of Studio Mobius to introduce him to people who worked on projects similar to those he did.

How did Myra know me? She and I worked together to set up online seminar registration for a couple of her clients, Lou Rosenfeld and Peter Morville. The two of them recommended me to her.

Peter and Lou? Oh I met them ages ago in some of my first projects when I worked at the University of Michigan. When Peter and Lou first left the University, they formed Argus Associates, Inc. They hired me for my very first freelance programming project, thirteen years ago.

It amazes me that from that first meeting way back then, I've had a chain of networking which led to working on projects at least four links deep.

That word of mouth stuff is a pretty incredible thing!

So, what is your longest chain of networking?

Monday, September 17, 2007

Business Update

Cyber Data Solutions LogoIt's been a while since I posted an update on how things are going with Cyber Data Solutions. We've (and I'm using the royal "We" here) had a number of developments recently

First off, I finally got around to setting up CDS as an LLC. This is something that I've been meaning to do for quite a while now -- at least since I went full time in January. I had it all built up in my head as this big difficult thing to do that I would probably need a lawyer to help me out. Well, it turned out that I did need a lawyer, but only because the process was so simple that I didn't believe it. Honestly, it's about as difficult as filling out your name, address, and the new company name on a form and sending it in (with appropriate payment, of course) to the state of Michigan.

Next, I just picked up a new project with Defrost Design. For those who've been reading for a while, you'll remember Defrost as the design company with whom I worked on the Michigan Venture Capital Association's website. They did all the heavy lifting to make a gorgeous website. Then I came in to build some if the back end systems. The new project is fairly similar, though on a larger scale. This one will also be using Flash as the front end technology. Should be an interesting site when it's all done. I'll let you know when there's something to see.

I'm still attending Chamber events among other networking opportunities. In fact, I'm scheduled to work as an Ambassador for the Wednesday "Morning Edition". It's the monthly Chamber networking breakfast held at Weber's Inn at 7am. They always have good speakers and usually there's a pretty good crowd of people who are ready to network. Hope to see you there!

So, what was the last good networking event that you attended?

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Karate Video: Bo Form

I've been meaning to post this for some time now, but haven't had a chance to do the little bit of editing required to get it ready for public consumption. Back on August 18th I had yet another of my monthly tests for my third degree black belt. This time we were allowed to present a demonstration of our own choosing. Since I've been training in traditional weapon styles for a few years now, my choice was an easy one.

Lisa shot the video and I used the Microsoft Movie Maker software to create the titles and prepare it for upload to YouTube. I hope you enjoy it!

So, have you uploaded any videos to YouTube?

Saturday, September 15, 2007

New Way to Watch TV

TiVo LogoI watch a lot of stuff through TiVo. The ability to time-shift, to cut out commercials, and even to save my episodes on my computer have made our TiVo unit almost indispensable.

The other night I was intrigued by an offer that TiVo was advertising on the main screen. In concert with Amazon.com, they were offering free previews of the pilots for many of NBC's new programs. Lisa and I thought one or two of them looked interesting so went ahead and ordered.

It took most of an evening to download the episodes, so we didn't get to watch them that night. They were of a higher quality than TiVo can usually record, so that was nice. We ordered three shows, "Journeyman" (OK, but felt a little too heavy for us), "Bionic Woman" (I'll probably catch an episode or two, but it was way too intense for Lisa), and "Chuck" (Our favorite by far. Just the right blend of adventure and humor).

I'm not going to claim that this was a revolutionary new way to watch TV, but it does give you glimpses of what the future might bring. You've also got to hand it to NBC, TiVo, and Amazon for at least trying new things. So many times, we see companies who spend all of their efforts just trying to protect the status quo instead of innovating to put themselves in front of the curve.

I know in my business it's pretty easy just to continue doing the same old things -- especially if it is still bringing in money. Let's face it, though, current techniques and technology can go the way of the horse and buggy pretty darn quickly. The challenge for me is to be aware of this fact and to devote a certain amount of time to updating my products, services and skills to continue to support my clients as their needs change.

So, how are you keeping up to date and pushing to develop new skills in your business?

Friday, September 14, 2007

Cleaning up the Computer

As I sat down across from Jeff Morris of Hybrid Technology and Training Partners, he struck me immediately as a very focused person with a keen eye for the details. When I later found out that he served as a police officer in Oak Park, Illinois for three years, I wasn't a bit surprised.

I'm sure that some of those skills he picked up from back then serve him in good stead when tracking down the problems his clients experience with their technology.

Jeff just recently joined the Ann Arbor Chamber of Commerce and it was my lucky responsibility as an Ambassador with that august institution to deliver his welcome materials. I do enjoy getting out to meet new people and getting a chance to connect with another techie is always a blast.

Jeff just recently started his business (about six months ago) and already he's developed a host of satisfied clients. Mind you, the folks he works with aren't stupid. They just don't have time to do the work to maintain and troubleshoot their own computers and networks. They call on Jeff to make sure that everything continues to work efficiently. As Jeff pointed out, most of us could probably change our own oil, it's just that it makes more sense in time and effort for us to pay someone else to do it.

If you've ever had computer trouble (and who hasn't?) then you know the great feeling of relief you get when someone comes in and, seemingly miraculously, makes all of the bad stuff go away.

So, if your computer or network is acting like the "bad side of town", be sure to give Jeff a call. No matter what the nature of the evil-doer, whether virus, software failure, or a vulnerable local network, he will bring the problem to ground and make it safe for you to work and play once more.

So, what was the biggest problem you've ever experienced with your technology?

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Privacy, Please

I was reading Seth Godin's blog tonight. He was pointing out how, with this new era of blogging and twitter and such, almost everything is "on the record". This is all well and good. After all, people should feel free to reveal as much or little of their life as they desire. The problem arises when someone else is involved in the activity. When do we have the right to reveal something about someone else?

His recommendation was the acronym NFYB ("not for your blog") be prepended to any statement which you wanted kept private.

His post reminded me of a book I'd read a while ago now called "Earth" by David Brin. In it, Brin postulated a future in which we basically have no privacy. Technology and miniaturization had progressed to a point where anyone could afford to have a tiny mobile spy-eye wherever they wanted. In his future, the elderly in the neighborhood used such technology to keep track of everything that went on. As a result, even the biggest city became like a small town. Everyone knew exactly what everyone else was doing, so no one could get away with anything.

Personally, I don't know how I feel about that. In Brin's belief, the fact that no one could get away with anything meant that everyone pretty much behaved themselves. Me? I'm not so sure. So far, we humans seems to be a pretty clever species when it comes to "getting away with it". For the most part, if someone really wants to misbehave, they somehow find a way.

The people who really suffer from lack of privacy are those who have some quality outside the norm over which they may have no control (and who doesn't fall into that group?). Their "outing" is painful and embarrassing and undeserved. So, I guess until we have evolved enough that we can fully accept those who are different from us, we can only hope that social convention is enough to smooth over the differences.

Will "NFYB" do the trick? Sure. Just as soon as everyone agrees to follow that social convention.

So how do you decide what's OK to pass along, whether by email, telephone, or blog?

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Impact 2007

Impact 2007 Breakout session
Bhushan Kulkarni and Andy LaBarre listen
while Trenda Rusher leads our discussion
I spent the first part of my day today at the Impact 2007 conference put on by the Ann Arbor Chamber of Commerce. This is a meeting of minds of those who are interested and concerned about the state of Michigan in general and about the Ann Arbor area in specific. This is the second year I've attended the event. Last year I was there because it is also the kick off for the Leadership Ann Arbor class.

First off, Impact is just a great networking event in a great venue. A lot of local business people show up to hear what's going on and Kensington Court does a great job making sure everyone is comfortable and well-fed. Beyond that, though, as with last year, the organizing committee sets up some interesting speakers. Of course, Michigan is going through some hard times right now, so not all of the news was positive. Still, we all tried to look for the best and, further, tried to look for ways that we could help to solve some of the area's problems.

To that end, this year we broke out into several groups to examine some of the bigger issues going on right now. The group I was with looked at the "Talent Wars" -- the fact that many of our most talented workers are leaving the state -- and what we can do to turn that tide. We had about forty of us in the room, so we actually came up with many actions which might help in a variety of areas, including attracting and retaining talent, developing career paths which keep talent in the area, and developing leadership to oversee all of this activity.

Of all the solutions, though, the biggest one -- and the biggest challenge -- was communication. Many of the root problems we uncovered already have solutions in place. Unfortunately, the population whom we need to address regarding the problem seems not to know about the solution, whatever it is.

I'm not sure there is a silver bullet for this one. I'd love to say that all we need to do is build a great website, but there are already a ton of websites out there with this information. What it may require is actual personal coordination between industry, education, and community organizations and I'm not sure what the mechanism is to make that all work.

Ah, well, I guess the first step to wisdom is admitting you don't know.

So, what forms of community communication do you have in your area?

Monday, September 10, 2007

Your Momma Dresses You Funny

clothingIn my last post, one of my regular readers, Jacki Hollywood Brown, commented on the need to dress for success. She further recommended, for those of us who are "fashion challenged", to take along a friend who knows something about how to put an outfit together. I thought I would share my experience in this area, because I agree wholeheartedly.

About eight years ago, I was going through a hard time in my life and my mom decided I needed a little "retail therapy". She took me out clothes shopping. Now, don't jump to any conclusions. I enjoy clothes shopping about as much as any guy (not much at all -- I don't shop, I go to the store to buy). The difference this time was that we enlisted the help of a professional.

Caroline Bishop worked for Marshall Fields at the time as a personal shopper. When I showed up at the store, she had already reserved a large dressing room with a plethora of shirts and slacks waiting for me to try on -- many in colors I would never have picked for myself.

Here's the funny thing. With Caroline's help, I found out the colors I had been wearing (dark greens, deep blues, and a "rainbow" of browns and golds) were completely wrong for me. They made me look washed out and some brought out the dark circles under my eyes quite nicely. It turned out that the colors that looked best on me were bright blues, cool mint greens and even, yes, vibrant pinks.

And I didn't just take her word for it. I could see the difference with my own eyes.

Dressing well, and knowing that I looked my best in the clothes I was wearing made a major difference in my attitude and the way I carried myself when it came time to meet with people, especially in a networking environment.

Of course, having confidence in your appearance is only half the battle, but when you are going into a potentially uncomfortable situation, it's better to start out with that half won.

So, if you are considering a wardrobe upgrade, and like my friend Jacki, I would recommend it if you are planning on going out on your own, I would consider looking into working with a personal shopper at your local department store. At least when I went, it was a service they offered free of charge -- a small price to pay for a dose of confidence.

So, have you ever worked with a personal shopper? What was your experience?

Friday, September 07, 2007

Bad News for Nerds

Hello, my name is Greg and I'm a nerd.

I've always had a pretty technical mindset and have, until recent years, felt more comfortable programming a computer than talking with fellow human beings. Looking around, I know there are many out there like me.

Then I started my business.

I know there are many other technical folks who dream of one day throwing off the yoke of oppression and starting their own business. I am here to tell you that it is possible, but there is one caveat.

You have to learn to like being around, talking to, and working with other people.

Unless you've come up with a way of making money by purchasing your own product, here's a list of behaviors you'll want to pick up:

  • Making friends -- All things being equal, people buy from friends. In fact, things don't even have to be all that equal.
  • Leaving your desk -- If you don't meet anyone, you can't make friends with them.
  • Making small talk -- Just because it's called "small" talk, doesn't mean it is of little importance. This is the technique that starts a real conversation. It also doesn't have to be meaningless drivel about the weather.
  • Having a conversation -- This is an extension of the "small talk" skill. Think of small talk as the spark and conversation as the campfire. Conversation is when you go beyond the surface and find out about the person who will someday be your friend.
  • Asking questions -- Questions perform two tasks here. First (and foremost) you get to find out more about the other person. Second, it gets them to ask about you. Any question you ask will very likely be reflected back to you. So, be prepared with an answer.
  • Listening, not talking -- We nerds often want to feel like experts on everything and we want other people to recognize our expertise. That's all well and good, but save it for the next time you are arguing with your friends over who's a better starship captain, Kirk or Picard. Who knows? By asking questions and letting the other person talk, you might find that they, too, share your enthusiasm for "Battlestar Galactica".
  • Being approachable -- This is more than just bathing on a daily basis -- although that's a good idea, too. Work on your confident smile, your firm (but not crushing) handshake, and your ability to look someone else in the eye (without the crazy psycho stare that eventually leads to a restraining order).
  • Taking the first step -- Nerds tend to sit back and wait for others to come to us. Guess what? That behavior will lead to a very lonely life. Look for people to talk with (not "talk to"). Who knows? That person who's hanging back from the crowd might well be a fellow nerd.
Practicing these behaviors can be a little scary at first, but if you persist, one day you will suddenly discover that you are actually having a good time with other people!

And that's the first step to success.

So, what behaviors would you recommend to a fellow nerd who's aiming for success?

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Networking for Nerds: Meeting "Buck Rogers"

Gil Gerard as Buck RogersLisa and I just got back from the DragonCon Science Fiction Convention. While there, I had an interesting networking experience.

I was sitting with my sister, Rebecca, in the Concierge Lounge of the Marriott Marquis in downtown Atlanta. I happened to glance across the room and who was sitting there, but Gil Gerard, the actor who portrayed one of my childhood heroes, Buck Rogers. I really wanted to just walk up and say hello, but the whole concept of his celebrity was stopping me. What if he's sick of talking to people? What if I bother him? What if he tells me to get lost?

Finally my sister pointed out that if he really didn't want people to talk with him, it wasn't very likely that he would come to a public area like this. So, I mustered up my courage and walked up and said "Hello."

And he was totally cool about it. He and I shook hands and chatted for a few moments, then I let him get back to his snack. He even remembered me (in a good way, I think) the next day when I attended his panel.

If I had let my fear get the best of me, I would never have had such a great experience. It was a small thing, but for the rest of the weekend, when I saw someone famous just walking through the halls or waiting for an elevator, I didn't hesitate to say hello.

And not one of them spit in my face or even laughed at me. Could it be the celebrities are people too?

I'll remember this weekend the next time I'm feeling nervous about talking to someone at a Chamber mixer. Whether a movie star or a business mogul. They're all just people and they all have an interesting story to tell, if you are willing to take that first step.

So, who was the most famous person you've ever met? How did you meet?

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Geek Tour

Haley Shanoff
Haley Shanoff,
Segway Expert
Last weekend, Lisa and I took one of our semi-regular pilgrimages to Toronto. We seem to show up there about every other year to see whichever Cirque du Soleil show which happens to be in town. We stay for the whole weekend, so we always try to find one or two other things to do while we are there. This year we took a tour of the Distillery District.

OK, I saw you stifling the yawn. I guess historic buildings aren't your thing, huh?

Just hear me out on this and you'll understand why this was a cool tour, even if you don't appreciate century-and-a-half old architecture. The fun part of this outing wasn't only the buildings, but rather the mechanism we used to explore them.

We rode Segways.

For those who've never heard of these things, they came out a few years ago. They were supposed to revolutionize the way we lived our lives and even how we build our future cities.

Greg and LisaI don't know about all that, but it sure was a lot of fun.

We walked out to the Distillery District in a light drizzle, debating with ourselves whether we really wanted to be out in the rain. We showed up at the Segway of Ontario shop where we met our tour guide, Haley Shanoff. Haley is a Masters student at University of Toronto in Museum studies.

The truly great thing about her, though, is in five minutes she was able to get us up and running (if not entirely comfortable) on our rented Segways. As a teacher myself, I know how difficult it can be to establish trust with your students. She made the whole activity just a heck of a lot of fun.

We took the short tour (30 minutes), which meant that we spent a lot of time just riding around and relatively little on the specific history of the area. Just from the way she spoke, though, it was obvious to me that Haley would have had no problem filling us in on every single detail of the District.

So, if you are ever visiting the Toronto area, be sure to stop down at the Distillery District for a fun and educational tour. Tell them Greg sent you. It won't get you anything. In fact, they won't know what you're talking about, but you can enjoy the confused look on their faces.

So, have you ever ridden a Segway?