Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Another Rotary Invocation

This Rotary Invocation was inspired by Ken Burns' The National Parks: America's Best Idea, in particular the scenic beauty it portrays of America's Southwest. It made me wonder about how inspired Native Americans must have been to live amongst such majesty. So I Googled for American Indian Religion and found this prayer:

Oh, Great Spirit
Whose voice I hear in the winds,
And whose breath gives life to all the world,
hear me, I am small and weak,
I need your strength and wisdom.
Let me walk in beauty and make my eyes ever behold
the red and purple sunset.
Make my hands respect the things you have
made and my ears sharp to hear your voice.
Make me wise so that I may understand the things
you have taught my people.
Let me learn the lessons you have
hidden in every leaf and rock.

I seek strength, not to be greater than my brother,
but to fight my greatest enemy - myself.
Make me always ready to come to you
with clean hands and straight eyes.
So when life fades, as the fading sunset,
my Spirit may come to you without shame.

Translated by Lakota Sioux Chief Yellow Lark in 1887
published in Native American Prayers - by the Episcopal Church.

Like Whitewater Rafting

The IT business today is like whitewater rafting. It is terrifying and exciting and the reality is we don't really know where we're going except wherever the river takes us; too fast and very scary.

It makes me crazy that our customers have PC problems like viruses, hackers, failed hardware, Windows calamities and Microsoft maladies like operating system 'upgrades' that few people need and nobody wants!

Like riding the torrent, we can't just choose to get off. We are being swept along and out of control.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

1300 Setting in IE8 - not enough!

Our customers often feel abused and tormented by technology...it's just another rock in their backpack. So it was not surprising that I discovered today that Microsoft has built in over 1300 options in Internet Explorer.

In their own words:

There are approximately 1300 Group Policies for managing Windows® Internet Explorer® 8. Configuring these for the first time may seem like a daunting task.

How could a browser have 1300 options? OMG! What design purpose could be served by such complexity? Does the user want these options?

I spent over an hour finding and adjusting one of these 1300 options to allow QuickBooks to run for a customer logging into a session on a Windows 2008 Terminal Server. The default settings for Internet Zone security properties wouldn't allow QuickBooks to operate. OMG! Why does a bookkeeping program care about Internet properties? Can't I just use it to write checks and print bills? Obviously not in today's connected world.

Wake me up when the Windows 2008 nightmare is over. Can we just have DOS back?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Like practicing law in a corrupt country

We [maybe, nearly] finished the upgrade of a Windows Server 2003 Small Business Edition to Microsoft's latest, flagship product for small businesses: Windows Server 2008 Small Business Edition. This product is one of four Microsoft server versions to choose from. They are masters of monopoly marketing. Why look for an alternative if Microsoft offers everything you need?

This server will be used in a law firm with 12 employees. They have a dedicated web server, a dedicated VOIP system server and a dedicated Terminal Server. A Gen-X'er would say their technology was majorly tricked out.

But as a consultant I come away from the four day, 32 hr install-fest (that doesn't include the 8 hours of preparation,) feeling like a lawyer who practices in a corrupt country. The deck is stacked, the outcome dependent on the 'fix' that can only come from Microsoft. Your skills are irrelevant, your ambitions frustrated. If you're having trouble getting the system to work it must be because you are incompetent!

Windows 2008 is Vista on steroids. It is configured out of the box less like a Ferrari than a Fisher Price Pull Toy: you can drag it around your network but without serious Googling, support from friends and forums, and expensive phone calls to Microsoft, it doesn't do anything. Microsoft has recoiled into defensive server configuration mode that their server doesn't do anything without disabling, undoing and overriding 'features' designed to protect you from yourself.

If this experience is typical of hundreds of thousands of small businesses that are going to be prodded to upgrade from Server 2003 soon, we will all be able to share the young lawyer's experience in a dictatorship defending the rights of his client against the power of the state and a corrupt judiciary.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Finally, the Million Dollar Madness is [almost] over

The NY Times reported today that In a Digital Future, Textbooks Are History. This couldn't happen to a more anachronistic habit of public education.

If we can save hundreds of millions of dollars on outdated, proprietary and increasingly irrelevant implements of education maybe we can start to spend more where it counts: inspiring teachers, personalized education plans and creating curiosity!

I hope Indiana catches on.

Sunday, June 21, 2009


My FileEngine product was the outgrowth of my frustration with increased functionality being peddled as improvement. We deal with lots of attorneys who still use Word Perfect. Truth be told, they'd probably still be using Version 5.1 or 6.0 if they could find systems that ran DOS!

Well, a recent post by Steve Lohr in the NY Times: Tech Payoff for Companies Remains Elusive, Study Finds, sums it up nicely. The 'more is more' philosophy just isn't paying off. We knew that - now we have proof.

Steve did an article titled: Tracking the World’s Appetite for Innovation in January 2008 that anticipated the conclusions of this study. We just don't want anymore. We have enough. Go away.

Now it would be easy to accuse me of being a Luddite, and I'm not so sure I'd be offended. I'd defend some advances in consumer technology...it's nice to carry books & music with you on an iPod or Kindle. And improved TV resolution is appreciated. But 200+ channels of crap in HD isn't progress. But how is it the government's responsibility to assure anybody with rabbit ears on their TVs can get a digital converter? Did they subsidize their upgrade to a DVD player from VHS when Blockbuster stopped carrying 'tapes'?

The real suffering is being felt by businesses who need to withstand a torrent of SPAM (or pay to have it filtered,) constantly worry about Internet borne threats and attacks that sneak into their network (and pay big bucks to innoculate systems or have them de-loused,) and worse: struggle with employees that consider broadband at the office just another entertainment option.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Another odd Rotary Invocation

My Rotary Club assigns the job of presenting invocations to volunteers like most clubs.  Our club is larger than most and with a diverse membership representing many faiths.  So when the duty came to me I wanted to do something different that the 'stock' Christian invocation we hear nearly every week.

My first invocation was based on a Masonic theme.   My most recent was on Karma.  Another was on Stoicism.  

A recent blog posting by Tim Ferriss titled: On The Shortness of Life: An Introduction to Seneca really resonated with me.  I had read quite a lot about Stoicism but didn't know nearly as much about it as I did after I had read his post.  This is a 'must read' for anyone convinced that we are living in unique times, with unprecedented challenges and confronted by post-modern issues of meaning and relevance.  Get over it!  It's all been done before, thought before and reasoned before.  Our best course is to take advantage of this great work and benefit from it.

With humility, I present the invocation I delivered at the Indianapolis Rotary Club on January 29, 2008.

"In the third century BC a philosophical movement known as Stoicism was conceived in Greece by a philosopher named Zeno.  His teachings ultimately gained popularity thoughout Imperial Rome.  Much of what we know about Stoics today we have learned from the diary of the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius.  

In those days, religion wasn't helpful to mark the path to a desirable "good flow of life".  Philosophers literally gave such lessons on porches - the Greek name for which is stoa - thus the first teachers became Stoics.

Stoics believe that all that is necessary to have a happy life is to 'live in agreement with nature'  This included practicing prudence, wisdom, justice, courage and moderation.  These are purely internal prescriptions.  Virtue is the sole good.  Humans can exercize their power of choice and decide to be happy.  Stoicism shows them how.  The way may be hard, but the rules are simple.  A person who achieved the pinnacle of Stoic virtue was called a Sage.''

Like our Rotary Four Way Test, a Stoic life emphasized Ethics.  In addition to truth, they believed that to conform our affairs with nature demanded consideration of the concerns of others.  Sounds like 'Fair to all' and 'Beneficial to all concerned' to me.  Over 2000 years before Paul Harris was born, Stoic philosphy anticipated the words 1.2 million Rotarians would use to inspire our thoughts and actions.

Least important to a happy life were external attributes that include wealth, possessions, status - even health.  They called these 'indifferents'.  As if, with the proper internal focus, these common measures of success were unimportant to true happiness.  So should we believe today.

Many of you may not have heard of the Stoics, or of their philosophy.  The agreement of their views with our Rotarian mottos should give us confidence in their timeless relevance.  But most of us *have* heard of this prayer that unmistakably encapsulate Stoic beliefs.  It's called the Serenity Prayer:

God, give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things that should be changed, and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.  Amen."

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Entrepreneur Inspiration

Found this video on Technorati in a story on Blogtrepreneur
I cried.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Perfect doesn't matter

People are busy. Attention spans are short. They don't care nearly as much about whatever you are saying or doing as you think they do or should. Except maybe for your mother.

There are many conclusions that can be drawn from this inference. But the one that makes the most difference is in your effort to delay an introduction of a product or service until it is perfect.

Remember the 80-20 rule? It is a Universal Constant! Most of your customers don't care about 80% of your features. They don't read 80% of your website or user manual. They don't hear 80% of what you say. So don't sweat the details - throw it out there in reasonable form and make an impression!

BUT: sloppy isn't good. Misspellings are symptoms of carelessness or worse: illiteracy. So just keep it simple, brief, functional. As the guys at 37 Signals would say: "We believe most software is too complex. Too many features, too many promises."

Get it out there. Perfect doesn't matter.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Note to a friend

An old friend (30+ yrs) is an avid bicycle enthusiast. I don't see him as much as I like, but I think of him often.

Randomly browsing the web turns up interesting links. I occasionally share them with friends. This one popped up today. So I sent him a message with a link.

"Could either of us have predicted that 30 yrs after we met we would be able to sit on our porch, type a few commands onto a system with a VDU (color & high res!) running on batteries, with a wireless connection to servers (millions of them!) with content uploaded with all manner of content (including video!) of stuff that was simply interesting (not corporate!) by normal people from all around the planet??"

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Poincare's beauty of science

A friend (Woody Hill) recommended a quote by Henri Poincare regarding the beauty of science and the delight of scientists who spend their lives in the pursuit of discovery.

I thought the quote was a bit simple.  Poincare was a polymath, a genius and I'm not.  So my criticism should be treated with some suspicion.

But I thought about science and beauty and all that and decided to try my hand at describing a feeling that we both share.  Here's what I came up with.

"The Scientist, armed only with curiosity and experiments to tease truth from Nature, is driven to make sense of the world for himself as he pushes back the shadow of ignorance on behalf mankind.  With each discovery, he assembles a part of a vast puzzle; the whole of which can never be known to one man, but the significance of which is core to our ambition as a species.  When, by chance, a part is thought to be 'understood', (whether by the scientist alone or an entire culture,) Nature exchanges joy for mystery and at their nexus beauty is born."

How do you think I did?

Saturday, April 18, 2009

E-Mail Roach Motel

Are you the target of too many e-mail newsletters?  I receive 5-7 a week.  These appear during the day.  They momentarily distract my attention.  Many of them are from companies and people I like.  But I don't have time to read them when they arrive.

In the past, I'd let them accumulate in my in-box to read later.  Then the torrent of e-mail (even after filtering) left anything delivered in the morning hidden by the pile that arrived in the afternoon.  I stopped reading any of them.

I try to politely unsubscribe.  Have you noticed that some e-mail newsletters make it hard to unsubscribe?  I hate it when they make you send an e-mail; to which they reply with a questionnaire!  The worst is when they make you login to unsubscribe.  How many logins have you accumulated with how many variations of passwords?  It just turns out to be too much work so I give up.  

It's not like I'm wasting paper - but nevertheless I have the feeling that I'm contributing to wasted energy on the Internet.  All those network bits, all those spinning hard drives - let alone the admin utilities, database programs and operating system components cranking out countless trillions of charge reversals - just so I can get an e-mail newsletter I don't want.  It just sounds so un-ecological.

This morning I found a great way to eliminate the e-mail quickly - if not my guilt.  There is a free service called Mailinator.com that acts like an e-mail Roach Motel.  It can get in but it can't get out!

Instead of using your real e-mail address for subscriptions, give the sender a Mailinator e-mail address.  Creating one is free.  It can be specific and personal, like 'kjb-marketing-newsletter@mailinator.com'  or completely random.  You make up this address before you even go to the Mailinator website - they accept e-mail for any address that goes there.  When and if you care about the contents of that newsletter you simply go to Mailinator.com and login with the address you chose - no password required.  The service keeps them for a few days.  But really, what are the chances you will care after that?

You may have a hard time imagining all the uses to which this great service can be put without actually trying it.  So just try it.  Next time you get a newsletter you can't remember reading for several weeks, change the e-mail address you gave them to a Mailinator address.  Next time you are asked to register for anything or subscribe to a newsletter give them a Mailinator address.  Visit the Mailinator website occasionally, enter your manufactured e-mail address (no password required!) and find out what you missed.  You can create dozens of special-purpose e-mail addresses that are dedicated to different uses.   

Then you can watch the junk flow to your nom de plume while your real inbox gets some relief!  Amazing!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

MIT Media Lab gadget

My view of technology has ranged from delight to dismay to dischord lately.  It seems like the interruptions are offsetting any benefits.  I'm not sure whether it's just my age or attitude.  But I'm not happy about my tech trajectory and don't know what to do about it.

Tonight I browsed a link on reddit to a short piece from TED that simply amazed me and brought back some of the thrill technology used to deliver.  It showed a device that purports to deliver sixth-sense experiences.  That's a new phrase that will describe another wave of must-have gadgets every 20 something has before I do.

Maybe it will vindicate the last few years of disappointment in technology that has grown to annoy more than serve.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

TIF, Freeze, NAV and RDC

I attended my first Cumberland Indiana Redevelopment Commission last night. 10 people dedicated to moving the small town of Cumberland forward (we'll find out what that means over the coming months.)

Although this was the very first meeting of the Cumberland RDC, redevelopment commissions have a lengthy legislative history. As with any government entity, I stepped onto a train mightily speeding down the track; lots of acronyms, concepts and constituents with a vision of the public role in private lives, property and progress.

I got a real education - I'm naturally curious (did you notice the title of this blog?) And this was an area that I had never considered interesting. Now, I consider it interesting.

It's like the first day of class at a new school, a new semester with a veteran teacher that knows everything about an arcane little piece of the world that so far has existed beneath my feet but beyond my awareness. (Nearly literally.) Fascinating!

I'm looking forward to nailing the final.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Marketing, Entrepreneurship, etc.

I recently facilitated a seminar on marketing for the Business Ownership Initiative.  (Slides available here.)  This non-profit helps women and minorities create businesses and become entrepreneurs.  I was happy to help.  

I've been adding to a wiki on entrepreneurship for a long time.  I call entrepreneurship Economic Alchemy because I believe it creates something from nothing.  And small businesses in particular create value for our entire economy.  The risks entrepreneurs take result in jobs, incomes, dividends, products and prosperity for our entire economy.  Their contributions can't be overvalued.

Meanwhile, I'm not an expert on marketing.  My experience has been fraught with stammers and stutters and miscues and mispent fortunes.  My great hopes for sales success reliably resulted in big disappointments.  I've spent $200K on marketing advice, programs, collateral and misadventures.  Probably 10:1 mis-spent.

Lately, I received my third $50K proposal for marketing research from as many advisors.  I don't doubt spending $50K would help - I just doubt that it would help more than $5K based on empirical evidence.   At that rate, I'd rather pay customers to accept my products - at least we'd start to capture market share!

The latest marketing consultant seemed annoyed with I responded that I'd rather try 10 marketing campaigns at $5K each, then try research at $50K.  I've never found anyone in the marketing business that would give me a guarantee.  So I figure they're all making educated guesses about what works.  I figure I've got a 1:10 chance of discovering a campaign that works based on my experience - and that's at least as good as they can reasonably offer.  And trying 10 different campaigns will result in learning how at least 10 marketing tactics don't work and learning from 10 mistakes.  (Trying something is called a 'tactic.'  Thinking about it is called 'strategy.')  

Finding out how one campaign doesn't work for $400K (the research was $50K - the estimated follow-on campaign was $350K - a modest campaign mind you,) versus 10 campaigns that don't work for $50K sounds like a better deal to me now.

The moral of the story is painfully obvious: you ought to be able to figure out how to market your product by asking your customers why they buy, how they found you, analyzing your competitors' strengths and weaknesses and depending on your own instincts.  That may not propel you to the Fortune 500, but it should prevent you from wasting $200K like I did.  

Just run your marketing budget past me before you write the check.  I'll be happy to scream at you for being stupid before you make the same mistakes I did!  For free!