Thursday, December 18, 2008

Last minute gift ideas: watch (NOT Amazon Prime)

There's a great watch company in Denver called Serket Watches -- they make awesome automatic watches with mechanisms manufactured for Serket in Switzerland, and they are made in small, serial-numbered batches, so you're probably unlikely to bump into a large number of people that are wearing the same watch as you. As you can see in the picture, they come with a very distinctive leather band and, as cannot be seen in the picture, the back of the watch is transparent, allowing you to see the mechanisms and serial number.

Although the watches are well worth the original price, here's a coupon code that will get you $100 off through December 20: SHOPIFYE7BJ4K7T.

If you have someone that is a huge watch fan and/or collector, this will definitely make an interesting addition to their collection and express shipping for Christmas is an option.

Click to purchase

Last minute gift ideas: electronics

Some ideas for electronics:



iPod Touch 8GB (sure, there's a 16GB available too, but the 8GB keeps it under $250.00). This one also opens up opportunities for other people to just give the recipient iTunes Store gift cards (i.e., uncle Larry needs something at the last minute and he's standing in Safeway).




MacBook Air -- I love this thing and it's perfect for the Mac person in your life, especially if they do a bunch of traveling. Yup, it's expensive.





MacBook White -- spec'd the same as the Air, but under $1,000.00; not as sexy and cool, but still a nice gift.





Logitech QuickCam Pro -- small enough to take with you, good quality video. The video conferencing is free through AIM or Google or Skype -- what are you waiting for?



SmartParts Digital Picture Frame -- might as well put all those photos on display, right? This one doesn't have wireless, but it comes in right around $100.00, which you'll probably save in photo printing at Costco over the next year, right?




Shure SE110 Sound Isolating Headphones -- Shure designs in-ear monitors for musicians, so they know what they're doing. These headphones are awesome, great to travel with, and you'll be amazed how low you can keep the volume.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Last-minute gifts, a series

I almost started posting these without making you aware of my assumption: I assume that you have Amazon Prime. If you do not have Amazon Prime, you may consider buying it as a gift for you and your family (5 people in your family in addition to you, to be exact). Prime gives you free 2-day shipping on any item marked with the "Prime" symbol or overnight shipping for $3.99.

Just the thing for last-minute gifts and all the gifts I post in my series will be available via Amazon Prime to make sure that you can get them in time.

AmazonPrime

Last minute gift ideas: business books

First in the series: business books.


Reality Check by Guy Kawasaki







Triibes: We Need you to Lead us by Seth Godin









The 4-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferris






Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Slow blogging

I'm blogging from the San Antonio airport, using the free wifi that they provide, which is great. I've been traveling since Thanksgiving and finally conclude my travels on December 15, so I promise some more frequency starting that week.

Expect some last-minute recommendations from me for gift purchases, etc. on the 15th.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Save some money on wrapping this Christmas

Wrapping paper can be expensive; add on the bows and other silly crap, and just the wrapping decorations on a single present can be a few bucks. We went searching for a clean and professional way to inexpensively wrap corporate gifts -- we send out about 150 gifts -- while also creating some branding on the wrapping. Here's what we came up with:

This is basic brown shipping paper that you can purchase in any office supply or paper store. We wound up buying a pretty large roll of it in a 50 weight, but the entire roll was less than $50. The logo is applied with a self-inking rubber stamp that cost us around $25 and was produced in 24 hours by OfficeMax.

In order to wrap the presents, we simply measured paper strips against the boxes we were wrapping and pre-cut them. Prior to actually applying the paper, we randomly hit the paper with the Argus stamp -- it works best on a very hard surface as opposed to stamping after the box is wrapped. To keep a clean look, we wrapped the bottom and corners and held them closed with scotch tape. Then we applied adhesive brown packing tape (it has to be wet with a sponge) so that no seams were visible. We wound up with exactly what you see in the picture and exactly what we wanted: a clean, professional-looking wrapping that displays our brand.

However, you do not have to limit this method to corporate gifts, it works just as well for home applications. A side bonus is that you can tear off a big chunk of paper for your kids any time and let them draw all over it throughout the entire year; wouldn't want do that with wrapping paper. You can also use the paper as an expensive and disposable tablecloth -- if you get the heavyweight stuff, it will absorb some amount of spills and if you have a party with kids, they can draw all over it.

Happy wrapping.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

MacBook Air

I'm switching to a MacBook Air, not one of the newer generation, but a brand new older generation -- I couldn't pass up the deal of saving over $800. I'm in the process of migrating everything from my MacBook Pro over to the Air right now, so stay tuned for updates once I get everything up and running.

But because I'm writing about it -- a few quick migration tips:
  • Get the USB to ethernet adapter for the Air and plug both it and the Mac you are migrating from into the same switch.
  • Make sure that you don't have more data, applications, etc. on the Mac you are migrating from than will fit on the Air. I had to do some pruning and archiving, which actually wound up being a good process.
  • Use the Apple Migration Assistant -- it just doesn't get any easier.
Stay tuned.

Reality Check by Guy Kawasaki

Reality Check by Guy Kawasaki could be the most useful business book of the year -- I highly recommend purchasing it even if you do not typically purchase business books.

Guy has put all of his years of knowledge, including information from his blog, into a single volume of reference. One word of warning: this book is huge (think 400+ pages). I actually read the book all the way through and am glad that I did because I can now use it to reference particular topics. Whether you choose to read it using my method or prefer to have it around as a reference on particular topics is up to you, but the writing style is engaging enough to not make it a chore to read all the way through.

Although Guy has a tech and venture background, most of the lessons and information that he provides in the book are applicable to all businesses. For example, designing good PowerPoint for a venture pitch provides excellent guidelines for designing good PowerPoint in general.

I was fortunate enough to participate in a teleseminar with Guy and he explained two reasons for his book: (1) all the information in his book are answers to questions that he gets asked all the time, and; (2) although some of the information is available on his blog, blog posts do not necessarily stay fresh and current and get lost, even with Google's ability to index them.

There is only one bad and inexplicable thing about Guy's book: the Kindle version is only $1.99 less than the hardback version.

Definitely a worthy purchase and a no bull shiitake corporate/employee gift.

Monday, November 24, 2008

A few interesting things I found over the weekend

Monolingual. Free application that allows you to remove a bunch of localization files from OS X, specifically languages, keyboard layouts, and processor support files. Essentially you can delete a bunch of megs of stuff you'll never use; when I ran it, it deleted 65MB worth of files.

Is.gd. Another URL shortening service that seems to super-compress URLs. Seems pretty useful for Twitter and other character-restricted applications.

MailSteward. Archive and search all of your mail from OS X's Mail application. All the mail gets put into a file that can be moved and copied and backed up like any other file.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Audioacrobat

So I wrote that fairly long post about how conferences could create value -- remember that? Ok, so I found a single-source provider that can handle hosting and dealing with all of your audio and video content: AudioAcrobat. AudioAcrobat handles the hosting (and bandwidth needs for doing so) of all of your audio and video files -- not only can you provide download links, but they also are a streaming host.


Pretty cool stuff.

Pricing is around $20 per month with 5gb of bandwidth each month. Again, you're selling a sponsorable vector and potentially have the ability to get sponsor revenue on top of an ancillary revenue stream, so $240 a year is relatively negligible in the face of the potential revenue. Also note the fact that you can record teleconferences . . . imagine doing some teleconferences in between actual conferences with subject matter experts; you could use them as teasers for the conference, as an added value to conference attendees, and/or as an additional revenue stream.

Google search gets social/interactive/addictive/wikish

So, if you have a Google Account (if you use any Google service where you have to login, you have one) and you are logged in when you search, you can now actually play around with search results that you receive on any topic. What do I mean by "play around"? Take a look at these extra icons next to the results:

Now I can remove results that are irrelevant to my search parameters and promote search results above how Google ranks them. Essentially every search becomes an editable wiki for registered users. This makes Google searches exciting again (for now), better than other search engines (until they copy it), and perhaps might even result in more relevant, human-reviewed search results (until it starts to be exploited and becomes irrelevant/useless). But remember that Google makes its revenue from advertising, so if more people search their site and are exposed to ads they can potentially click, Google gets a first-mover advantage (just in time for the end of FY2008 Q4).

Cold season and Zicam

I think that the original Zicam is a little bit of hocus pocus and some real homeopathic remedy -- quite frankly, the original Zicam zinc nasal spray makes my nose bleed and makes it sore . . . and I really didn't see that much of a decrease in cold symptoms because I was too busy blowing blood out of my nose.

Zicam now (and when I say "now," I mean they came out some time last year) has these quick-dissolve tablets that seem to be the same amount of hocus pocus, but they don't make my mouth bleed like my nose did. Here's the deal: these tablets come in a couple of flavors and give you a pretty concentrated dose of zinc, vitamin C, and echinacea. I tend to believe that zinc and vitamin C can't do anything bad for you when you have a cold, so I can get on board with the dissolving tabs except for the fact that they don't tell you how to use them.

Here's how you use the Zicam dissolving tabs:
  • Pop the tab into your mouth
  • DO NOT swallow the stuff that immediately dissolves, just hold it in your mouth
  • Hold all the dissolved stuff in your mouth until the entire tab dissolves and then swallow it
  • Don't drink and orange juice (citric acid) for at least a half hour
  • Do your best to take these things with a little bit of something in your stomach
If you do not hold all the tablet in your mouth at the same time, the good tasting coating that is designed to mask that totally nasty taste of the zinc goes away and the thing tastes horrible and makes you want to throw up. Hey, there's no reason to get sick to your stomach when you're just trying to prevent/cut short your cold.

Oh, and if you're going to buy into this as a treatment, buy it a Costco -- it's unbelievable what it costs at normal stores.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Two Types of Management

Another one from Meeks:

Two types of management:
  1. Strategic management. Use the strategic process to plan and execute against strategy.
  2. Shit-slinging management. You show up and shovel shit all day long with a smile on your face and at the end of the year you hope some of the shit stuck because you don't have a plan.
Let me expound on this a little bit more with some of my thoughts:

The strategic process is an important thing. It's hard to run a business without a plan in the long run; it can be easy to have no strategy in the relative short term because you may find yourself in a position where you really are throwing something against the wall to see if it sticks. In an ideal world, you approach even your startup with a good knowledge of goals and objectives and a plan about how you are going to get there with the knowledge that things are likely to change, perhaps significantly change in the very short term.

What you don't want to wind up with is a company that started small with the slinging stuff around principle, what I'll refer to as the "lemonade stand" strategy, that relatively suddenly becomes a big company is just a million dollar lemonade stand . . . throwing cups of lemonade at the wall.

Picture from maubrowncow.

Rainforests: managers and leaders

I was reading through some notes from a strategic management course I took in college and ran across this explanation of management vs. leadership:

If the goal is to cut a 100 mile path through the rain forest, then the managers manage the people by providing sharp machetes, showing the workers how to swing them, and providing water, while the leaders climb the tallest tree to make sure that everyone is going in the right direction. The managers strive to make sure that all the workers are working in the most effective manner, while the leaders are making sure that the work is effective.

As I read more through my notes, I may share some more information like this. Far and away, this strategic management class was the best class I attended and the most impactful class on me in all 4 years of college and it was taught by Michael Meeks -- thanks, Meeks.

Rainforest picture by orvaratli

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Provide more value from your conferences

When the economy faces a downturn, one of the easy things to cut is travel and conference attendance. For people that sell services to conference attendees, the smart decision is to actually increase frequency of attendance, but for those that consume services, the bottom-line focus tends to cause fewer attendees.

Here's what I propose you do:
  • Equip every speaker with a microphone (yes, even the small sessions), plug a digital recording device into the sound board, and capture everything as a MP3. This can be easily accomplished with very inexpensive hardware that will capture and encode on the fly. Once you have the audio, post it on your site for attendees to download (even better, post it for everyone to download so that they can see the value of content at your conferences -- you are providing fresh and valuable content every time, aren't you?). Total cost of this is whatever the recording devices cost you, some server space, some additional bandwidth, and maybe the rental of a few extra sound boards and microphones during the conference. Of course, this is a sponsorable vector, and you could probably invest in some solid equipment in year one using sponsorship dollars and still have some revenue left over.
  • Give people access to the presentations. This doesn't cost anything and you can use a service like SlideShare (I like SlideShare because you can view the presentation on the web and also download it) to do everything for you; you just have to make sure that you get digital copies of everyones' presentation. If you don't use SlideShare or something similar, you can just put the slideshow files right next to the MP3 files on your site. Providing slides costs even less than the MP3s because the presenters are creating the presentations and all you are doing is uploading them somewhere and making them available for download. Again, this is a sponsorable vector (though it's likely that the same sponsor would want to own MP3s and slides under the same sponsorship).
  • Do a video recording of the presentations and make the videos available to stream from your site. People are used to YouTube-quality recordings, which can be created with very inexpensive digital video cameras. So you invest in some cheap, moderate quality cameras and get the interns to run them during the presentation. I would think in the first year you just upload them to YouTube and embed them on your own site so that you can wrap them in sponsor branding; sure, they'll be available to the world, but you're proving the value of your conferences, so who cares? Again, this is very low cost proposition: just a few cameras and tripods, some interns to run them, and a computer to upload to a service provider. And again, this is a sponsorable vector, so you should be able to get the first year sponsorship to pay for all the hardware and still have a little profit left over.
Let's say you do some combination of the above options -- you've now made the registration fee for your conference more cost effective and you've created sponsorship opportunities that did not previously exist. You could get more creative by loading up all the MP3s on to a cheap MP3 player (think SanDisk) or thumb drive and sell the audio; you could load up all the videos and sell them in much the same way (I probably don't need to say it again, but I will: distribution on a physical product is another sponsorable vector that is easily argued to be separate and different from the online distribution side). Perhaps you get even more creative and have one registration fee that only gets you into the conference and another more expensive fee that gets you into the conference and also gets you access to all the digital content after the conference: now you've created an incremental revenue stream along with the additional sponsorable items.

Just my $0.02.

PS -- I'm not sure that "sponsorable" is a word (spell check doesn't like it), but it should be as it describes perfectly anything for which a sponsorship can be sold.

Photo from ALA TechSource

Monday, November 17, 2008

The service of trash

Do you think of trash collection as a customer service activity? I think, in general, most folks are just happy to get their stuff hauled away and don't mind much about how it happens. However, if just one company raises the service bar a little bit, then suddenly the consumer takes notice.

For years and years I was with the same trash company in Colorado. During the summer, they left my cans (usually with the lids inside them -- gross) to fester out on the curb or in the street; during the winter they left them usually in the street with the lids wherever the dropped them (slightly less gross, but inconvenient if they were left upright with no lid and filled with snow). I just switched to the company that takes the extra 20 seconds to walk the trashcans with their lids in place and put them in front of my garage door. Not only are they a little less expensive, but they provide the extra customer service and recycling service for that less expensive price.

Most of the folks in my neighborhood are with the company that I just switched to, which means my former company had opportunities every week to show how much better they could be. Had it been me on that green truck, I would have made every effort to do better than the other guys -- every single time I picked up the trash, I would have not only returned the trashcans to the front of the garage, but I would have put them under an overhang when it was snowing.

What's really interesting is that the old green truck company had 2-3 people in the truck while the new company has only one guy -- from a resource perspective, it is much easier for the old company to provide a higher level of service than the new company, so they are consciously making an effort not to.

How much do you think it costs to provide this level of service? Bear in mind that the new company only has one guy working the truck, so if the old company pays their 3 guys $35,000.00 per year, the old company's cost is $105,000 in salaries plus another $26,000 in fringe (using around 25% for fringe). The new company probably pays their guy $50,000 plus another plus another $12,5000 for fringe; he's slower because he's alone and has to carry cans up driveways, but the lower throughput is more than made up for in the extra service and salary savings.

Here's something else that's silly: the old green company had a bunch of churn, had a bunch of guys that did not speak English, and had a set policy that their guys could not accept gifts of any kind, even during the Christmas holiday time. Compare that to the new company that has the same driver every week, that speaks English, that can be talked into taking some extra stuff, and is not restricted from taking gifts in return for special service.

Bottom-line: even if the new guys were a little more expensive, I probably would have changed to them anyway; the lower price is just a free prize.

Remember what Seth Godin said:

"Maybe the reason it seems that price is all you customers care about is . . . that you haven't given them anything else to care about."

Picture by Daniel Spillere Andrade

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Publishing errors

Not sure what's been going on, but Blogger hasn't been publishing my blog for the last few days. I think I have everything fixed and please accept my apologies if you've been getting errors.

Ross

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Obama Tribe

This guy has some true tribe leadership, doesn't he? I recently stumbled upon will.i.am's first video that he released on YouTube entitled Yes We Can. Following Obama's win, will.i.am produced another song and video entitled It's a New Day, which debuted on Oprah last week. Perhaps I haven't paid attention in the past, but I don't remember this level of support and endorsement for any Presidents in the past. Sure, celebrities have always picked sides, but I don't recall the amount of passion that Obama seems to receive.

Maybe it's because it has never been easier for videos like the ones produced by will.i.am to be distributed and become viral. Maybe it's because Obama embraced social tools to reach his tribe. Maybe it's because the soon-to-be-previous administration left a vacuum that needed a particular kind of leader. Maybe.

But consider this: powerful people say things like "Obama inspires me to be a better person." Wow, really? Or more personally, my dad, the last person that I would expect to do so, paid his own way -- airplane ticket, lodging, food, laptop, cellphone, opportunity cost of not working -- to spend almost a week in Pennsylvania supporting the campaign. (I would love to share some of his stories, but they are not mine to tell, so I'll see if he wants to write a guest post or 2).

It seems like there is something more fundamental going on here, doesn't it? Like maybe what is expected in a President has fundamentally changed. Maybe the tribe that is America desires something new in the leadership that is the President.

Picture from radiospike photography

Friday, November 07, 2008

No more advertising on this site feed

I've disabled the advertising for all of the site feeds for this blog. Although all of the dollars went to my daughter's college fund, the dollars were negligible and I've come to the realization that the ads simply detract from the content and potentially may even cause people to unsubscribe.

I write this blog because I feel like it, not to monetize it, so enjoy subscribing to read ad free.

PS -- yes, the static ad at the very bottom of the site will stay for now, but I welcome any feedback on that. The primary people that see that are those that happen across a post based on a search result, not anyone that reads via RSS.

Avoiding bad presentations


Although I've posted a number of times about this, there's a concise article in the current issue of Fast Company that's worth a read for anyone the has to create and give presentations.

If you don't feel like reading the whole thing, here's the quick take-away: Use your presentation medium (not necessarily Powerpoint) to illustrate your story, not tell it; create curiosity to keep your audience engaged.

More details via the link below.

Link -- Fast Company

Image from cogdogblog

Monday, November 03, 2008

Drobo

I've changed my home digital storage from a Mac connected to 2 external drives that I striped to RAID 1 using Disk Utility to a Drobo. More specifically, I've changed from a computer that is managing and sharing my storage to a network attached storage (NAS) system. Here's why I did this:
  • I'm either getting rid of the Mac desktop or plugging it into a TV, so I don't want all of the external drives attached to it anymore (especially if I get rid of it).
  • The primary computers in the house are going to be laptops, so I need a storage solution that allows me to connect to it via the network, but doesn't need to be physically connected to any one machine.
  • Drobo allows expandability up to 16TB through the insertion of up to 4 SATA drives -- the price of these drives continues to go down and 16TB as an upper-end single device limit seems reasonable to me.
  • Data storage needs to be redundant and fault tolerant and the way that Drobo distributes data across multiple drives and reports on impending drive failures is attractive.
  • I could have simply plugged the Drobo into the USB on my Airport Extreme and shared the disk, but the Droboshare device is attractive due to the DroboApps that are being developed to make it act more like a lightweight server than just a traditional NAS.
  • I like the fact that the NAS can be easily disconnected and the Drobo simply plugged into the USB port of any computer -- this is not functionality normally found on NAS-capable devices.
While certainly not the cheapest NAS solution, I've been very happy with the performance of the Drobo unit thus far. I have initially set up the Drobo with two 1TB drives, which leaves about 1TB free for storage with the other 1TB reserved for data redundancy. My previous set-up was two 250GB drives striped for RAID 1, which left about 250GB for storage, so I've effectively quadrupled my storage capacity and built in expansion. Furthermore, the external drives I was using did not have any external warnings for drive failure or the ability to hot swap drives.

As I mentioned, one of the exciting parts of the Drobo, and specifically Droboshare, is DroboApps. Two apps in particular are very cool: Yoics, which allows me to access the Drobo remotely via the web and Firefly, which is an iTunes Media Server (i.e., you point it to your music files, and they show up as a shared library for iTunes-capable devices connected to the network). Essentially Droboshare is a lightweight Linux server, so there are people writing all kinds of software for it.

My biggest challenge right now is figuring out how to back up everything on the Drobo into the cloud. Ideally Jungledisk or someone similar would write an application for Droboshare that would allow it to back things up by itself without needing a connected computer to do it for you.

Link -- Drobo main page
Link -- Drobo purchase on Amazon
Link -- Droboshare purchase on Amazon

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Durant's

Excellent steakhouse in Phoenix -- red velvet and Rat Pack with a great wine list.

Durant's

Getting items back on to your Kindle

AKA: "Getting purchased items onto another Kindle."

Part of the attraction of the Kindle, outside of other things I've posted about it, is the ability to share purchased books with up to 6 other devices. This isn't entirely perfect yet as the devices all have to be linked to the same purchase account (i.e., someone with a Kindle on my account can place orders using my credit card), but it's still pretty cool if that's not a concern for you.

Perhaps I missed it or just didn't look in the right place for it, but I couldn't figure out how to get access purchased content that was deleted and/or purchased content I wanted to put on another device from the Kindle -- that's because you can't. What you have to do is access yourmedialibrary on Amazon; this is where all of your digital purchases (e-books, music, movies, etc.) is stored. As it relates to the Kindle, from the yourmedialibrary dashboard, you can choose to resend a book to your Kindle via WhisperNet, send a purchased book to another Kindle on your account via WhisperNet, or download the e-book to load it via the USB cable (this must be the solution for purchasing books while traveling outside of the WhisperNet coverage area).

Kindle

Friday, October 24, 2008

Free video-based knowledge featuring Seth Godin & Tom Peters

The delicate balance of leadership
Social networking for small business
No cares about you
The importance of decency

Less than 10 minutes out of your life -- well worth it.

P&L killed the radio tribe

Radio stations used to have tribes; DJs on radio stations definitely used to lead their own tribes Listeners used to listen to radio to find new bands, to interact with artists, and because the DJs lead them. DJs used to be local and talked about local issues and people showed up at remote broadcasts to see them and interact with them, sometimes in acting out insane stunts. It wasn't unremarkable to see people driving around with stickers of their favorite radio station plastered on their bumpers because it was cool to announce that you were part of the tribe.

Once the consolidation of radio stations took place and playlists were programmed nationally and it was cheaper and easier to syndicate national DJs, the radio stations lost their tribes. Initially people continued to listen to the radio stations and the advertising revenue stayed flat or rose with yearly rate increases, so the radio stations had a good model: less costs and the same or more advertising revenue. Then the listeners decided not to listen any more because, after all, the same 12 songs every hour with some DJ based 10 states away didn't really do anything for them; listeners could load the same 12 songs on their iPods for $12 (or steal them). Now not having tribes is killing the advertising revenue for many stations around the country tribes=listeners, so kill the tribe, kill the listener pool, kill the advertising revenue.

The death of the radio tribes has left a pretty enormous vacuum that has not been adequately filled. I would hazard to say that if some stations exited their cranial-rectal inversion and turned the clock back, they could probably resurrect their tribes -- the former listeners still want someone to lead them. Certain stations prove this point overwhelmingly with KROQ in Los Angeles being a great example. In some cases, listeners have turned to satellite radio or internet radio (go try Pandora to find some new music), but that's content without a leader. In other cases listeners are connecting directly with bands, subscribing to the band and allowing the band to fill the role of leader and that's the opportunity.

It's never been easier for bands to connect to their listeners and it's never been easier for people to build platforms to make this happen. Take Hot Spot Radio Network as an example. Instead of providing DJs, they simply play a bunch of music that you've never heard and give you a way to interact directly with the band. The bands get commercial-free airplay, the get a distribution platform for their music (if you like what you hear broadcast, you can buy it), and they get a social network backbone to interact with their fans. Essentially a service like Hot Spot Radio makes it easy for the bands to lead the tribe; the tribe that Hot Spot leads is content and band access driven. Oh, wait, isn't that a big part of the leadership that the DJs used to provide? New content and access to the artists?

Again, it's never been easier to act the role of a DJ -- if you're an artist you can set up the ability to connect your tribe worldwide at almost no cost. You can get distribution at a worldwide scale at almost no cost. You can buy a computer and produce your music on it for about the same price as a couple of hours of studio time. You can achieve worldwide song distribution in seconds. You can shoot a live performance and post it on YouTube and let the whole world see you live. But you have to decide, can you lead your tribe? They want you to.

Picture from seychelles88

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Review | Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us by Seth Godin

FULL DISCLOSURE: An advance copy of this book was provided to me by the author.

Those of you that read my blog know that I am a fan of Seth Godin and his newest book, Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us does not disappoint. As with his last book, Tribes is short and to the point -- I easily completed it in a 2 hour workout session at the gym the first time that I read through it. Unlike some of his other books, Tribes is a little bit non-linear, but based on the main concepts of Tribes and leadership, the style works very well.

The underlying concept of the book is that there are many kinds of what Godin refers to as "tribes" -- they exist around specific interests, exist inside and outside of organizations, and that they need leaders. Further, Godin explains how the flattening of the world through the internet and easily accessible social applications provide powerful tools for leading a tribe.

There are some powerful concepts in this book in relation to leadership. Many of you have probably heard Peter Drucker's quote: "Management is about doing things right. Leadership is about doing the right things." Godin provides a more updated version: "Management is about manipulating resources to get a known job done. Managers manage a process they've seen before, and they react to the outside world, striving to make that process as fast and as cheap as possible. Leadership, on the other hand, is about creating change that you believe in." Kind of a much longer version, so try these from Godin:
  • "Leaders have followers. Managers have employees."
  • "Managers make widgets. Leaders make change."
Throughout the book there are powerful concepts regarding change, elements of leadership, and how to break out of the routine of being sheep ("sheepwalking" as Godin calls it). I frequently use the classic term of people having risen to their own level of incompetence -- Godin updates it with this: " '. . . in every organization everyone rises to the level at which they become paralyzed with fear,' " and continues with saying, "The essence of leadership is being aware of your fear."

Tribes does not disappoint and is well worth the read. The book will be released on October 16, 20008.

Link -- Seth Godin

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

What's Seth's free prize this time?

If you are like me and pre-purchased Seth Godin's new book, you may have taken the time to follow the instructions and become a member of Triiibes (if you haven't done it yet, don't bother as Triiibes goes public soon and the offer was only good for a limited time). And, if you are like me and completed your Triiibes registration, you may have received an e-mail asking for your home address so that Seth could send you a small gift.

I received my gift yesterday and it turned out to be a pre-release copy of Seth's new book, Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us. Pretty cool. What Seth asks is that in the next couple of weeks when the pre-ordered copy arrives that I give it to someone to read to spread the word. Brilliant.

I'll actually be giving both of my copies away and also purchasing the Kindle edition, so you never know, you might be receiving a copy of Tribes from me to read and share. Believe me when I say, with what I've read so far, once you read it, you're going to want to own your own copy.

PS -- you'll know if you get the pre-production version from me if it has dog-ears all over the pages.

Invest $0.99 for landscape e-mail on your iPhone


Yup, it just works -- enough said.

Link (straight to the Apple Store to buy TouchType)

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Is there any company that is not experiencing "extraordinary call volume"?


Have you called any large corporation's customer service phone number and not heard some version of "We are currently experiencing heavy call volume"? Do you realistically not expect a call to customer service to not be a 15-30 minute experience?

There are companies out there that make it a goal to never send their customers into an IVR system and to allow them to always speak with a human. Some companies even have benchmarks of how many times a phone will ring before it has to be answered by an actual person. My guess is that these companies don't really incrementally spend that much more on call center operations and that the incremental revenue far outweighs the incremental cost.

I will note that you always seem to get a human when you call to cancel services and generally that human will make you some sort of offer to stay with that company. Here's the other part to this equation: if you can offer me 3 free months after I've been a customer for 3 years, why not just offer it to me before I decide to leave? By the time I get to the human in retentions, I've already fired you as my provider.

Image from lawgeek

Aren't we done with comment spam in blogs yet?


I'm guessing that there are still some percentage of blogs out there that don't moderate their comments, but I have to imagine that there's a pretty low percentage in effective comment spam these days. With that said, I've been getting blasted for the past few days by someone with a Blogger username of "hjk" and last night he posted a comment that actually contained an e-mail address, so, without further ado, here it is:

janifar.lopez7@gmail.com

Stop spamming my blog, dude.

Image from david ॐ

Closing time


Up!
Originally uploaded by ellectric
Let's try to stop lying to our customers.

I went to Home Depot last night -- the hours on their recording state that they are open from 8AM-9PM; I got to the doors at 8:54PM and they were locked. Here's the thing: if you're open until 9PM, then you need to stay open until 9PM. I know it sucks when that last guy wanders in right at 9PM and delays everyone from leaving until 9:30PM. But if that's the case, then just list the store hours as 8AM-8:30PM so that you've got that 1/2 hour buffer built in and everyone can get out by 9PM without pissing any of your customers off.

We recently faced this issue with accepting applications: our application and screening process takes about 1.5 hours and we stated our hours as 9AM-5PM. Inevitably we would have someone show up at 5PM and need to go through the process; we always did our best to accommodated them, but it was painful for our administrative employees and there were times that we couldn't. To fix it, we did some backwards math: if it takes 30 minutes to shut the office down and that normally takes place at 5PM, then the last time we should accept an applicant is 3:30PM; adding a little buffer, we choose 3PM. Now we advertise that we are open from 9AM-5PM, but that applications are only accepted from 9AM-3PM.

This seems like pretty simple stuff and it is pretty simple stuff, so why is it so hard to pull off?

Monday, September 29, 2008

Why the Kindle truly changes the game

So, I've had my Kindle now for 2 or 3 weeks and it's pretty incredible: it does truly change the way that I read. Example 1: I was in an airport looking at hardback books that cost about $26 in the airport bookstore, so I turned on the Kindle, turned on the wireless, went to the online store, found the same books for $9.99, and purchased and downloaded the one I wanted in less than 1 minute. Example 2: I was at the gym this morning on the stair climber when I finished my book, so I hopped on to the Kindle store, found a book I wanted to read for $6.99, downloaded it, and continued my workout with a new book to read.

It's easy to compare the Kindle to the first gen iPod: lots of feature requests, some design issues, some kludgy software issues -- make no mistake that this is an early adopter piece of hardware. However, consider how far and how quickly the first gen iPod has changed into the iPhone and iPod Touch. It's not hard ot image the next generation Kindles with bigger screens, smaller frames (maybe even flexible or foldable), expanded document type handling (i.e., PDF, Office XML, etc.), built-in wifi and Bluetooth. I wonder if Kindles could even be subsidized by publishers in some sort of subscription model (i.e., subscribe to receive 5 Penguin books per month delivered via Whispernet for 2 years and receive a Kindle for $99).

One of the things that sucks about the Kindle as compared to the iPod is that all of the boxes of books in my basement cannot easily be loaded into my Kindle like ripping a CD. Presumably Amazon has a record of every book I've purchased through them -- maybe they could be some sort of verification clearinghouse for me to get digital versions? Even if Amazon played that role, I still have tons of books that I did not purchase from them. Just like the CD manufacturers, book publishers never conceived of, or at least never implemented, a unique serial number system for each book produced, so there's no way for me to verifiably claim a copy as my own.

More to come I'm sure.

Link -- Amazon Kindle

The Blending Cellar in Boulder


I was up in Boulder this past Saturday walking around on Pearl Street and happened across what I thought was a wine tasting room that had a happy hour special, so I went in -- $2 off a glass caught my attention. It wasn't until after I had consumed a couple of glasses of wine (the chardonnay was pretty good, but the Cab Franc was excellent) and was in the bathroom that I realized why the name of the place sounded so familiar and why the wine menu was quite limited for a wine bar.

The Blending Cellar, aside from providing a cool atmosphere, good music, and reasonably priced, solid wines by the glass is notable for it's namesake: allowing you to blend your own wine. If you opt for the blending session, it's $15 and you receive blending bases and personalized instructions that will allow you to create Cab, Merlot, or Cab Franc. Should you like your wine, you can purchase bottles for $25 per bottle (3 bottle minimum) and even design your own label.

I know what I'll be doing for Christmas presents this year.

p.s. -- if you go to their site, click the "About us" link, and give them some pretty basic information, you can become part of "The Blending Cellar Pearl Street Club," which provides some discounts.

Link -- The Blending Cellar

Ross on Twitter


After signing up for this and not really doing anything with it, I'm making a renewed effort to try and use Twitter.

So, without further ado, feel free to follow me below:

Ross on Twitter

Monday, September 22, 2008

Content Rich Review

FULL DISCLOSURE: a copy of this book was provided to me free of charge to review.

If you are looking to get results from the internet by simply managing the content the you publish and the places that you publish the content, then Content Rich is a worthwhile (and quick) read. From the content perspective: the book takes you through processes and procedures for producing content that is appealing not only to the people reading it, but also to search engines (read "search engine optimization"). And from the placement perspective: the book provides tactics and strategies in where to publish your content.

You might be unlikely to pick up this book without some sort of existing web presence or some desire to create one, but the writing style is not too technical. I think that the author could have spent some more time on blogs as I would make the argument that a blog with well-written and optimized content can make up your entire web presence if done correctly. However, for anyone engaged in or getting started in creating internet content, the book is a worthwhile read.

The book is currently available in hardback, audio, and e-book formats. Interestingly, the e-book format is only available via the book's website and is not available in a version for the Kindle -- perhaps this has something to do with the fact that the e-book version from the book's site is $14.95 (only $5 less than the hardback version) as opposed to the normal price of $9.99 for the Kindle.

Link -- Content Rich

Friday, September 12, 2008

iPhone 2.1

Downloaded it and installed it a few hours ago -- here are my impressions:
  • 3G signal strength is dramatically and noticably better. I used to maybe get a bar or 2 in my office and it's up to 5 bars.
  • 3G voice calls are not dropping. Areas where I was dropping calls from the day I got the iPhone no longer drop.
  • The 3G and Edge icons changed on the screen. I'm sure this is totally cosmetic, but I noticed it.
  • The whole system seems snappier -- there've been times in the past weeks where the phone has been so bogged down that I can type an entire sentence on the keyboard and it takes 4-5 seconds for it to actually show up on the screen.
I'm leaving the 3G on all day today to judge battery endurance with the new update.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Billion Dollar Lessons




FULL DISCLOSURE: a copy of this book was provided to me free of charge for review.

I had a chance to read Billion Dollar Lessons, which will be publicly available on September 11, 2008 and I found it to be a worthwhile read. The book essentially extracts failures that very large corporations have made and performs a failure analysis to provide readers with the ability to (hopefully) learn from those failures without having to actually having to fail themselves.

Some of the stories have been told before in other business books, but I did like the level of depth that the authors put into many of the stories; I especially enjoyed the story about the Motorola Iridium project and the amount of detail surrounding the failure of that project. I actually thought, and still do think, that a satellite-based voice and data network has a place and can be profitable, but it was very interesting to read about how not to go about launching one.

The underlying theme of the book is that failures in large-scale corporations result from overall strategic failure and poor implementation of the strategic process. There are many examples within the book about how the flat out ego-based decisions of upper management flew baldly in the face of what, in retrospect, appears to be common sense and/or researched conclusions. Although the authors do not try to pin everything on an ego vs. common sense argument, as many good business decisions involve a healthy amount of ego-based thinking, they do suggest the use of someone within the strategic decision process playing the role of advocatus diaboli (devil's advocate) -- read Chapter 10 about this as it's a very worthwhile takeaway from the book and immediately applicable to businesses of all sizes.

Some of the chapters are really only applicable to very large businesses and could probably be skipped unless you work in one.

Overall I found the book to be a worthwhile read.

Link -- Amazon

Monday, September 08, 2008

Television service


So I've looked at what I'm spending on television service and TiVo and it's quite insane. I called my current provider, DirecTV, over the weekend after looking at offerings from various providers, including Comcast, Dish, and DirecTV. Like most companies, these companies are focused on getting new customers and offering insane deals for becoming a customer rather than making offers to existing customers to keep them around. Case-in-point: I've been a DirecTV customer for almost 8 years (through 3 moves), and they've never offered me a thing.

Here's what I did and what I got:
  • I called DirecTV customer service and asked for retentions. The customer service rep tried to field the call, but based on the fact that I was asking for upgraded equipment, he had to transfer me to retentions.
  • Once retentions got on the phone, I explianed that I had been a customer for almost 8 years, that my payment history was perfect, and that I had also moved with them 3 times -- she acknowledged all of that.
  • I told retentions that I wanted the DirecTV Plus HD DVR for one tv and didn't want to pay for it and I wanted the basic HD receiver for the other tv and didn't want to pay for it. Furthermore, I requested that she change my programming package to the promotional price advertised on their website for new customers.
  • Retentions did this for me: Plus HD DVR normally $199 with a $100 instant rebate and $19 handling for $0.00; they charged my card for the $118 and immediately refunded my account $118. HD receiver normally $99 for $19 handling. Promotional price of half what I'm paying now good for the next 12 months. Free installation.
So with all of that, I'm paying $19 in equipment, which is pretty negligble, my monthly service charges drop by about 50%, I can cancel my TiVo description because the DVR service and equipment is included, and I get HD service to boot. Granted, the DirecTV DVR is not as feature-rish as TiVo, but based on what I'm using TiVo for now and what it's costing me, it's good enough.

Sometimes all you have to do is ask in order to get companies to stand up and take notice. It would sure be nice if there were more structured programs around upgrades for existing customers -- I would be happy to execute agreement extensions if companies were willing to manage the upgrade schedule for me and do it in such a way that it felt good.

Moral of the story: if you're going to play this game, be sure to stick to your guns until you talk to the right person and be sure that you know exactly what you want before you start the conversation. (you might also want to be really willing to switch if you can't get what you want)

Picture from thebeev

Thursday, September 04, 2008

How to get content on to your Kindle with OS X



I can't believe how hard this was to find, but I'll share it with you now in 8 easy steps at zero cost:
  1. Go download Stanza (this is through VersionTracker and has a direct download link).
  2. Mount the disk image and drag Stanza to your Applications folder.
  3. Open Stanza.
  4. Open any PDF or Word or supported text document with Stanza.
  5. Choose "Export Book As" and select "Amazon Kindle"
  6. Plug your Kindle into your Mac with a USB cable -- it will show up as a USB drive.
  7. Drag the exported book/document (*.aws) into the "Document" folder on the Kindle.
  8. Read it on your Kindle.
It doesn't seem to get much easier than that.

Tags: Kindle, PDF, e-book, Amazon, conversion, Strategize, Ross Hollman

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

2008 Democratic National Convention

Argus Event Staffing successfully provided access control, credential verification, physical security, and customer service for the 2008 Democratic National Convention at the Pepsi Center and at INVESCO Field at Mile High. Additionally, Argus provided services for affiliated at events at Red Rocks Amphitheatre, the Denver Coliseum, the Colorado Convention Center, the Denver Performing Arts Complex, and for other private parties and venues throughout the Denver metropolitan area. We worked directly with the United States Secret Service, the Democratic National Convention Committee security and operations departments, and numerous local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies to coordinate efforts and produce the results that all of you may have seen on television.

Due to the sensitivity of the security surrounding the event, I did not post any information or pictures leading up to or during the event, but now that the event has come to a close, I wanted to at least share some pictures. Please note that I will not respond to requests for any information that may reveal anything related to the security of the event. All of the pictures were taken on my iPhone.

Here's a shot of the podium inside Pepsi Center:

Pepsi DNC podium

Here's a shot of INVESCO Field at Mile High before we opened doors:

DNC at IFMH before opening

Here's one shot of Obama on stage with INVESCO Field at Mile High full:

Obama at IFMH 1

Here's another shot of Obama on stage at INVESCO Field at Mile High:

obama at IFMH 2

The Democratic National Convention is a National Special Security Event (NSSE) -- you can read more about it in the Wikipedia article here.

Tags: Democratic National Convention, DNC, security, Strategize, Ross Hollman

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Airlines cut fuel costs by eliminating life vests

Not to be cynical, but: realistically, aren't the vests used to locate the wreckage after a crash? I think the chances of being in a physical state to actually use a vest are pretty low.crash

Link -- CNN article

Photo by rk.bala

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Took the iPhone plunge

Finally got the iPhone 3G. As you may remember, I had the first gen and took it back for a multitude of reasons. Here are my impressions and things I'm doing with it:
  • I don't use Visual Voicemail. I'm continuing to use CallWave, which I like because it sends me a text message with a quick gist of the voicemail and forwards the recording as WAV file to my e-mail.
  • The Google iPhone application rocks (and, like most Google products, it is free). I don't event use the built-in contact manager as I can search all of my contacts and recent calls through the Google interface.
  • I'm using NuevaSync to spoof an Exchange server and push my Google Calendar to my phone over the air; I'll likely enable the over-the-air contact push as well, using Plaxo as my sync point. A few things to note: it's not 2-way, so you need to decide if that's important to you. I use Jott or access Gcal over the web to add appointments -- the free Jott app for the iPhone is pretty click for this provided you set up the relationship between Jott and Gcal. Note that once you set up an over-the-air sync relationship, your phone deletes all of the data in the affected relationship (i.e., calendar data) and disables the ability to manually sync through iTunes.
  • 3G and wifi stay off unless I absolutely need them for something -- it's a battery life thing.
  • I leave the location-based services on because right now it's interesting to see how different applications interact with that data -- I'll probably shift that to an as-needed thing as well.
  • Creating ringtones is not that hard. I take a MP3 file into Audactiy, chop it, increase the basis volume, export the chopped version as a MP3, import the MP3 into GarageBand, export the file to disk (exports as a M4A), change the extension to M4R, drag it into iTunes, and sync the iPhone. Sounds a lot harder than it actually is.
  • The GrandCentral GranDialer application is pretty cool (and free) -- let's you make outbound calls through your Grand Central number, which makes that number show up on the receiving caller's caller ID.
  • I've got links on the home screen to Gmail, Gcal, and my work e-mail through Google Apps. Unfortunately the actual GrandCentral site requires Flash -- hopefully GrandCentral will build a mobile site similar to the one they built for BlackBerrys.
  • I have the AIM app, but it's actually more effective to simply use AOL's AIM forwarding that uses the text messaging interface.
A few things to note on the purchase:
  • AT&T stores are starting to get their direct fulfillment orders in, but do not seem to have any actually in-stock for direct purchase yet.
  • Apple Stores (at least the one at Park Meadows in Colorado) are flush with phones -- I just walked in and bought mine.
  • Apple Stores have an ok, but not great, selection of cases.
  • Very important for existing AT&T customers: you have to be the authorized person on your account, FAN (discount) on your account has to be removed in order for Apple Store personnel to activate -- AT&T customer support can remove this prior to the purchase and add it back when the purchase is complete, you should research your upgrade eligibility on the AT&T site before you go to know what you are spending and speed the process along.
I'm sure I'll have more as time goes on.

Monday, July 21, 2008

What's wrong with writetomyblog?

Writetomyblog is one of my favorite blog posting services -- create your post on their website, post it to your blog, and our done; hey, and it's free!

So, here's the problem: it hasn't been working for me at all lately. When I publish, I get this:

Post Entry Successfully Published (Post Entry as Draft, has no URL).

What the hell does that mean? It thinks that it's posting to Blogger, but by not getting a URL, there is no unique blog entry and, despite what it says above, the post doesn't go into my drafts folder on Blogger.

I have not idea if this is a Firefox 3 issue, some sort of permission issue with the Google API, some issue with the new version of Blogger, or something I haven't thought of, but I miss using the service and hope they fix it soon.

Do you need your own personal domain?

I don't know, do you have an extra $0.83 per month? It's not really a matter of affording it anymore -- you can probably find offers that will get you domain hosting for free; I reference the cost of registering through Google Apps and using Google Pages.

If you want people to be able to find you, it seems like a good idea. If you want an e-mail address that you'll keep forever, it seems like a better idea.

As the cost approaches zero, I think the better question is: Why wouldn't you have a personal domain?

Link -- here's mine (took about 5 minutes with Google Page Creator)

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Kinetic phone cahrgers . . . about time

Ok, it's big and ugly and not built into the phone, but Orange is testing this out:

Dance Charge

Named as the "Orange Dance Charge," it's similar to the sort of strap you might use for an iPod when you're working out. A series of magnets and weights very similar to the systems used in kinetic watches is used to generate electricity.

I want to see this built into the phones, but it's a step in the right direction.

Link

Tights are not pants

This kind of stuff cracks me up:

tights are nto pants logo

Imagine how hard this would have been just 5 years ago . . . and how expensive it would have been.

Go read the manifesto.

Link

Monday, June 09, 2008

BlackBerry Flickr App

Not sure what more I can tell you about it as it does exactly what the title suggests: provides you with a native BlackBerry application to upload pictures to your Flickr account.

Download here

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Wine


Lots of people that know me think that I know a lot about wine and I guess that spending a lot of time in the Napa Valley while growing up and being acquainted with family and friends that greatly enjoy wine helps a lot. However, I'm going to share my advice about wine with everyone:
  • Drink what tastes good to you at the time. Sure, there are all kinds of "rules" about what to drink with what, but if you really want a glass of white wine with your steak, by all means drink a glass of white wine.
  • Don't care about what others think. This is especially true if you're ordering bottles based on price -- the only person in a restaurant that is likely to care about how much you spend on a bottle is the waiter that's watching his tip go up geometrically.
  • Hold a sip of wine on your tongue and taste the flavors, but don't announce them. If you think your wine is earthy and peaty and has notes of currant, keep that stuff to yourself -- think in terms of it being undrinkable, crap, ok, good, or awesome.
  • Don't be intimidated. If you find yourself in situations where you are frequently choosing wines, go spend an afternoon at a good wine bar with a wide selection and make friends with the bartender. Find a couple of mainstream whites and reds that you like that are likely to be on most wine menus and find a couple of lower production whites and reds that are less likely to be on most menus, but will seem impressive if you dig them out of a menu.
  • Don't get upsold. If you get the sense that a waiter, sommelier, dude at a liquor store, etc. is trying to upsell you into expensive bottles, go somewhere else or order a beer. Knowledgeable waiters, sommeliers, etc. know that if they find you a solid bottle at a reasonable price, you are likely to drink more than one and you are likely to come back to their establishment.
  • High price is not always directly related to good taste. I once was able to view one of the oldest bottles of wine in the world at the Graycliff restaurant in the Bahamas from 1726 that sells for $200K -- I have to imagine that stuff probably tastes like straight vinegar at this point.
Let me share this quote from Richard Betts, Master Somelier of the Little Nell in Aspen (this is from a recently published article in 5280 Magazine):
"My philosophy? Wine should be fun. People get all freaked out about ordering the right wine, but there is not such thing. The right wine is the wine you like. That's it. So find what you like and go for it."
Easy enough.

Picture from glovsky225

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Do you still have a landline phone?

phonesI haven't had a traditional landline phone since I left college; in college is was provided for free where I was living, but I think the only people that called me on it were my parents. For a few years I had a phone from Vonage that was $15 per month for 500 minutes of long distance and everything else, but after reviewing the usage, the $15 was a better incremental spend for more minutes on the cell phone.
What's the value proposition in having a landline anymore? If you still have one and swear by it, let me know why.
Picture from Darwin Bell.