Category Archives: Business Technology

Are there Dumb Questions or Correct Questions?

This is an answer to Scott Sakamoto on his blog post on Portland Westside Guy about “dumb questions”, titled High Tech: Asking the Correct Questions.

Hey, all questions gladly accepted. Answers? That’s a whole ‘nother can of worms. Continue reading

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5 Reasons Why You Should Not Use A Service Provider Email Address

Actually there are probably more than 5 reasons to not use service provider email addresses. You know what I am talking about. These are the email addresses we all get “FREE!” from our cable, telephone, or other service provider. The email addresses we might have for personal or small business use.

It’s a BAD IDEA to use those email addresses. Here’s why: Continue reading

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Insanely Great Memories

First off, I never personally met Steve Jobs, but like many people, I did have brushes with his genius.

When I first joined Tektronix in 1985, my desk came with the typical desktop terminal with connections to the Internet through UNIX servers from Gould and VAX. This was standard for technical employees, but not particularly useful for marketing employees outside of sending email. So I ordered a Continue reading

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WordCamp Portland Day 1: Why Am I Here?

I made it through the first day of WordCamp Portland 2009, not the type of conference I normally attend. But I learned a great way to help some of my less-technical customers develop continuously updated content on their web site by using Microsoft Live Writer to add to their WordPress based web site.

This may not seem like a major breakthrough to sophisticated web developers, but making it easy for non-technical people to add content to their web site has been difficult. Most non-technical people quickly choke and their eyes glaze over when presented with a typical CMS or blogging dashboard. Although there are millions of bloggers using similar tools on blog sites, most of these sites restrict the tools to a range of flexibility that meets the needs of the most basic author and avoid confusion.

I support a web site for a dance company, Dance West, where having dancer-created information would be an excellent addition to the site (this is a site built on WordPress using a variation of the K2 theme). The problem is that these dancers are not technically proficient and they already blanched when confronted with the dashboard.

Using Microsoft Live Writer allows them to work within a familiar user interface to “type” in their content, adding photos and videos as they go, in what looks like a simplified version of Microsoft Word, an application they are all familiar with. I’ll be starting them using Live Writer in the next couple of weeks and I think there may be another client or two who will be interested in using this same process to engage their employees and speak to their audience.

This post is my first using this method as a trial.

This is one of the valuable ideas I picked up on the first day at WordCamp Portland 2009. I also enjoyed the talk with Matt Mullenweg, founder of WordPress, and a discussion on plugins used by WordPress designers to extend the capabilities of WordPress for different businesses. More to come tomorrow.

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Three Rules Of Small Business Computers: Backup, Backup, Backup

There’s a big chunk of Dance Among Elephants missing and that’s because I broke one of the cardinal rules of small business–or any business for that matter–I did not back up my data.

I have regular back ups of my projects and all their attendant materials. There is also a complete backup for my financial system. I even maintain a backup system for my personal photos and that big library of MP3s I ripped from my old CDs and vinyl records (Jimmy Hendrix and Patsy Cline just sound better taken from vinyl). But I never considered backing up the blog to be all that important, especially when it is hosted on line.

DUMB.

Stuff happens and this time it happened to me. Some glitch hit the blog and it was empty. I restored from my backup and then realized that I was kind of busy this summer and had not backed up since May. I keep rough copy in text as a way to quickly jot thoughts and save links for the blog, so I can slowly rebuild from those notes and probably have much better writing, but this is still a set-back and you should not have to suffer this.

So, lesson learned once again: back up everything. Now this includes material that does not even sit on my hard drives. Somewhere in that mess of blogging missing from earlier this summer is a post of two about the need to back up in multiple geographic locations, including online. I think I’ll rewrite that material as quickly as possible and take my lesson from there.

Enjoy the business day!

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My First Anniversary With Twitter

Yes, I’ve been on Twitter longer than I’ve been blogging; although I think we can safely say that Twitter is a short-form blog, so maybe Twitter counts in my blogging  timeline.

What have I learned in this first year?

Twitter is something I really enjoy. I follow a small group of tech industry analysts, a few Web 2.0 proto-celebrities (a couple of whom I’ve known for a few years), a group of marketing and communications workers like myself, some new media workers, a large number of Portland, Oregon-area tech industry workers, and a few good friends that have no connection to technology other than using it on  a regular basis.

As a feedback mechanism, Twitter works pretty well. Twitter has a Virginia Woolf stream-of-consciousness about it that can be distracting, but it also gives a good feel for the emotions of the day outside my office. And I’ve gotten instant news reports on Twitter that beat the timeliness of any other communications medium.

Could all this Twitter stuff fall into group-think and garbage? Yes, but I think that depends on who you follow and pay attention to. I follow as many people as I can keep up with and I drop those who add nothing valuable to the daily conversation.

So, the first year with Twitter is up and I’m giving it a successful rating, with an expectation that the next year will be even better. Hope I can say that about my blogging activity.

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London to NYC Real-Time, Jules Verne Style

There’s a certain charm to Jules Verne. Maybe it’s the innocence of the era, the belief in a better world–notwithstanding his bleak view of the future in The Time Machine–or it could be that he was so right about our future technologies. Either way, today New York City and London are involved in a trans-Atlantic experiment that has a Jules Verne twist almost 200 years after his birth!

This BBC article spells it all out and adds video that gives a much better feel to the story.

What I find interesting is that today we can easily reach in our pocket, pull out a mobile phone and simply call someone in London. So why are so many people in two of the more sophisticated cities in the world enamored with this idea? Is it the steampunk physicality (check this site for more steampunk) or is it a basic human reflex of communicating?

Most of us spend a large portion of our day communicating. We talk, type, text and sign. We are drawn to the unique. As business people we look for new ways to get our message across, to excite and entice our audience to engage in conversation and purchase from us instead of the guy down the street (or from around the world in today’s Internet age).

Obviously, there is a human-interest draw in this art installation. There is the happenstance of connecting and meeting with people one does not know personally. The novelty of the installation removes the fear of strangers and helps people interact. My father would say “it’s just damn fun, stop thinking about it,” but we can all see how the idea of a novel way to communicate has removed the barriers between people.

With a little work, we can apply this same process to our business communications. Start a newsletter, follow and respond to customers on Twitter (build a customer group on Twitter), update our web sites more frequently with new information, there’s dozens of actions we can take to be more interesting and exciting, and to draw more customers. By doing something new and unexpected, people will follow, and business will follow the people.

What new twists on existing communications technology have you put in place or just think might be interesting?

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Even Better Package Tracking

Twitter seems to be the newsiest item around these days, but there’s good reason and it isn’t just for the geekiest of consumers. There is a great new application using the Twitter API that could have a major play for small business–TrackThis.

TrackThis is easy to use, just follow @trackthis on your existing Twitter account. If you don’t have a Twitter account, now is the time to sign up. Once you follow @trackthis, you get automatic updates on all the packages you want to follow. You can use this to track packages you are expecting, or track those packages you sent to customers.

Using TrackThis is simple, there’s only one page of information and two frequently asked questions. You can decide which or how many Twitter accounts you want notified to separate the different packages being tracked. You also decide how you want to receive the information, by email or the online Twitter screen or by SMS on a cell phone.

For instance, track that package of architect renderings scheduled to be presented at a meeting of city planners. Or rest assured that the RMA is on it’s way back to your facility. Or keep track of those handmade specialty items you shipped cross-country. This is a real benefit for small businesses of any size or design, as long as they use shipping services.

A sole-proprietor might want to follow packages ordered by SMS in order to more closely time a presentation or project due date, while a shipping department might simply want an on-screen update for all packages they have going to customers. There’s lots of opportunity to put this to use in business.

Tracking packages has traveled light years since the days when we would travel across our respective city to the shipping company office, fill out multi-part forms–taking care not to smudge black on our white shirts from the carbon paper–and then phone the tracking number to the receiver so they could track the receipt of the package. Let us know in your comments about the uses you come up with.

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Can Twitter Drive Business?

Last week I had drinks with some ex-Intel friends, mostly folks like me who left Intel during the recent layoff of the last year or so. Some I have not seen since the layoffs, so we got to talking about the work we do now.  I mentioned some of the work I am doing bring social media to small business, like using Twitter, which started a short debate.

With any tool there are personal uses and business uses and Twitter also has two sides. My friends were a bit wary and there were a couple of incredulous looks and references to MySpace trash. One of our group has started a series of small businesses in Vernonia: a bed and breakfast; a newspaper; and a couple of other ventures. So I set about explaining how Twitter could help her.

The newspaper was an easy target for using Twitter. This is a monthly newspaper, Vernonia is a small town without the typical big city news stream, but the advertisers are trying to get the paper to move to bi-weekly. I explained that Twitter could help build a news stream for the paper as well as build community conversation during the weeks in-between the publishing cycle. There are journalistic advantages beyond building a news stream, Marshall Kirkpatrick of ReadWriteWeb has a great blog entry covering journalism uses of Twitter, check out his story.

Additionally, the paper’s advertisers could monitor Twitter for comments on their products and services, and give instant feedback on problems and questions. Instant feedback can be a real help in a rural setting, you never know when someone has time to drive to town and a business gets an immediate read on the feelings of it’s customers. This type of use has been reported constantly over the last few weeks. I’ve heard reports on Cnet’s Buzz Out Loud podcast, Leo Laporte’s TWIT netcast, even a tweet this morning from Jeremiah Owyang about his Dell computer needing a repair brought a return tweet from Circuit City–OK, maybe that’s getting to the edge of creepy, but it is forward-thinking and maybe it will grow into a useful and acceptable format.

Using just this single tool, the newspaper can extend it’s reach into the Vernonia community, mesh more tightly with the community, gain more community support, build business for it’s advertisers, and serve the community even better than before, all without adding major expense to its current operations. The community growth and business involvement should also support a jump from monthly to bi-weekly, by making more news available and adding to the community engagement.

Of course, I wanted to add blogging, real-time Flickr news photography, and a few other tricks to the equation, but the my beer glass went empty and it was time to head home. I plan to follow up with my newspaper mogul during our next get together, whether it is at Mint or some other local establishment, maybe she will have started something with Twitter or one of the other ideas I passed along….or maybe she’ll ask me to get it all started for her, we’ll see.

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Loose Laptops Expose Data Even With Encryption

We all certainly use passwords for our hard drives and encryption for our sensitive files–but none of this matters anymore if someone can gain access to a computer that is still powered on.

This is a difficult issue for small businesses such as doctor offices, health clinics, accountant offices, and others working very hard to protect client information. Some information is required by law to kept private and there are horrendous penalties–business-ending penalties–for disrupting that privacy.

Now it turns out that none of our security defenses matters if our computers are left operating when we are not present. According to a new report from ars technica, a group of Princeton computer scientists has hacked through all the security measures available–including on a new Macintosh, a computer celebrated for it’s security!

The trick?

Pull the encryption information from the RAM before it has a chance to clear itself.

Fortunately, there is one simple answer to the problem outlined in the paper: make sure your computer is completely shut down before you physically leave it. This is true for desktop computers as well as laptop computers.

It seems that RAM holds onto memory for far longer than previously, up to an hour or more if handled properly. The scientists found they could extend the residual memory by cooling the RAM chips using a can of compressed air similar to those found in many photography and computer store, or even sewing stores and hobby shops.

The only sure defense is to completely shut down the computer and allow the RAM to clear. This means overnight back-ups may need to be re-timed to occur during work hours in order to avoid leaving operating computers in a small office overnight. It means shutting down your laptop any time it might not remain in your hands, putting the laptop in sleep mode or hibernation means the security is exposed once the laptop is awakened.

Granted, thieves still need access to the hardware, but this may be fairly simple if your business contains information of value to the thieves. So remember to keep physical control of your computer at all times, and ensure that the computer is shut down whenever you leave the premises.

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