Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Sharing Bandwidth and Disk

A short guide to the art of maintaining multiple copies of data using everyday Windows applications. All of the tools to keep yourself a-float in today's computing environment: more network storage than you need, smart backup choices for your disks and discs alike. Also a tool for compression and another for revision tracking in work-groups.

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Thursday, July 19, 2007

Value of a Word

If a person tells you he's going to be somewhere, or that he's going to call you at a particular time, usually I get in the habit of expecting that he's going to follow through with that commitment. In dealing with some people, in fact this is true for most every business person I have had association with recently, there is a gap. That's a gap between the explicit meaning of the words you choose to express yourself, and the reality of your actions.

This is not unusual, and I believe from a sales perspective it may actually be the norm in most businesses. When I am dealing with a web developer, I don't expect to hear this: "We're doing our best, however this or that feature will not work in Internet Explorer, Mozilla, or Opera," or "That sounds like something I should be able to do, but I'll have to check the API documentation for our particular framework." I have experience in the area of web development and software in general, and I understand that different platforms have different strengths and weaknesses.

Just as different implementations have different behaviors, to some extent different cultures have different interpretations of right and wrong, of good and bad, and so in your personal life as well as business, it is nearly impossible to please everybody all of the time. But from my perspective as a consumer, does that mean that I should lower my expectations? NO! Absolutely not. If your business model depends on lying to the customer, and if I catch you doing it, then you will receive a hard time from me, your humble customer.

However; if I'm at your door begging for a job, then it's a completely different story; you pay your employees because they are valuable to you. As a business, you have to consider the time and money that you spend to recruit your employees. Some people that you never hire will cost you money! This fact will influence your decision to either offer a job, or to circular file a paper application from a person who just spent 30 minutes of their own time in your business, perhaps even without contributing a single dime to the cost of rent!

Even so, we get experimental results like my experience earlier this week at the Verizon Wireless office. I walked in the front door and asked for what I thought I wanted (to buy a phone, and that's what I thought they were in the business of selling), and holding a contract in my name, it was perhaps an obligation on them as a good business to sell me what I really should have rather than what I think I want, or even what I say I need. So I walked right back out the front door, and no sales were made. Is that good business? Perhaps it is.

It's worth mentioning also that my visit to the Sprint store on the same day ended with a similar experience; these guys didn't seem to want my business as long as I had a contract with Verizon Wireless. They were aware that I might become unhappy with the Wireless Phone industry as a whole if I had a bad experience switching from Verizon to Sprint. Whether the experience is billed to Sprint or Verizon is immaterial to me, the disaffected wireless customer. They are in league together.

I haven't done the fact checking to support this, but I suspect that wire-line phones are still cheaper than wireless by at least a 2:1 ratio. If I spend my days in the office and my nights at home, and if I'm living in a relatively safe city where I can reasonably ask for the help of a stranger, for example, if I have a flat tire, then I can surely save money by dropping my cellular phone and living the hard-wired life. Fact!

Of course, I'm one of those who receives internet service at home as well as the office; the situation gets much more complicated when you consider Voice over IP as an alternative to traditional phone service. I'm still not completely sold on taking that route.

Also, If you're following my portfolio decisions in the Beat the Street stock market game, you will notice that I'm having a great week! Actually, I'm not any better off than last week. I won some, I lost some, but perhaps most important to note; Red Hat is still the biggest loser! I almost wish I had held on to my Sony stock, and sold Red Hat instead. Luke, I don't think you're a vampire... but the charts! Only kidding :) war is hell. By the way, did I pick up a subscriber somewhere?

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Lost my Phone! Help!

I haven't really lost my phone, it was hiding in the green bag, but for a day or two I thought I might have lost it forever. I've been visiting lots of friends recently, including camping out by Lake Ontario and digging in the gardens at Battle Green, you know my phone might be in the depths of the sea or buried neck deep in soil, if not for the notorious green bag!

While I thought my phone was gone, I spent some time looking for a new one. I checked out the Verizon website and was informed that my contract had a few months left before I could make a trade, but I spotted an option to upgrade early under the New-Every-Two program and so I checked it out. I'm a sucker for cool features, and I'm always looking to replace my other gadgets with more featureful, less expensive alternatives.

My old phone has a data cable that doesn't work, on account of proprietary software that wasn't included and can't be downloaded anymore. I was attracted to the Nokia 6315i for the GPS VNavigator service, EVDO data plan, and Bluetooth wireless connection; the cost was $29.99, and while I could have a phone for free, those extras were enough to seal the deal for me. I filled out the form and printed it out, then hopped in my car to go pick up my new phone at the local Verizon Wireless office... if only it were that easy.

David, the first sales rep to greet me when I came in the door, was quick to explain that I really didn't want a new phone if my contract was not up. I showed him my print of the deal from the website, and he told me he couldn't honor that price; he was also suspicious that if I had actually placed the order, I would have been billed the full retail price of the phone, costing me over $200. Great job sir, you know I'm definitely sold now!

I explained that my phone was lost and I was looking for work, and so I would really rather not leave the store without a phone. He told me my best bet was to order through the website, and I would only wait a couple of days for shipping. The model I wanted was not in stock here, and he couldn't help me anyway until July 22, on account of my contract. Needless to say, I had heard enough from David at this point.

I walked over to the customer service desk and explained my situation with the lost and found phone, to see if perhaps there was a data cable that I could purchase to back up my contacts in case it was lost for real; of course not, those are a special order, and of course you will need another different cable to load the numbers onto your new phone when you get it. The customer service rep explained, "Navigate through the Get-It-Now menus and find Backup Assistant, and for an additional $1.99/mo your contacts will automatically be stored daily on our servers." On their servers. Right... so much for data retention.

Might as well put the icing on the cake: I asked about the EVDO and Bluetooth support on the new phone that I was meaning to buy; well, that sounds like something you should be able to do, in fact the phone supports that, but you can't use it; we disable that functionality. The bluetooth is only for those headsets that our customers use so they can walk around looking like Borg drones. I think Verizon executives should own stock in AT&T/Apple. Can you hear me now?

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Tuesday Evening Update

What an awful day for my stock portfolio! Boy am I glad this is not real money. TNE (Tele Norte Leste) still carries the losers WMT, RHT, and ADBE, while IBM is just barely in a profitable position since I've bought it. EMC also not doing so poorly. What have we learned? Listen to The Motley Fool before you listen to Kingdon's natural instincts for a good stock pick.

OK, now that we have that ugly business out of the way: Wednesday Eve Landscape and Taxi is also making some progress. This evening I will transplant the remaining Zucchini plants to the flower boxes in the back yard, and hopefully they live. We need some weed killers to spray into the crevices, and it's also time to get out the edger and clean up the lawn. The roof also needs work, and I'll probably have to farm out to a local company with insurance for that.

I'm writing up some job descriptions to help form a model of my activities, and to help quantify sources of work and my expenditures of labor time within a day. As much as I would like to immediately in-source a project and charge a fee to carry it through to completion, it is not easy to do this completely independently, and even harder to keep things straight without writing job descriptions. Hopefully my work scales well and I will find myself managing a team as I run short on my own time.

I'm also working with the people from ArabicPod trying to diagnose their podcast feed issues—for some reason there are serious problems with iTunes and even worse with Safari. Internet Explorer 7 and Google Reader work just as expected, but neither of these viewers are intended for audio podcasts. I would love to have a look at the source and spend a couple of minutes fixing it up, as Feed Validator indicates there are some problems in the proper formatting of the RSS, apparently generated with a buggy PHP script.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Revenue Units

Earlier this week I sold my Sony stock. Today it gained over $1k. Figures! Now I'm selling WDC for my first profit, and buying EMC and TNE, on the Motley Fool's advice. I'm optimistic, but we'll see how this works out in a few days when I come back here to read the charts again.

What else is new: today I'm drawing up some marketing information and invoices for services that I perform regularly (I fix computers), and making a chart of my real expenses. Expenses are how you (the competition) get my money out of my hands, and that includes everything from the food that I eat to the rental costs for an apartment, office space, a car, gasoline, food, and yes: even entertainment. I think the average college newbie who probably doesn't track his expenses spends 30-50% of their money on what you could call simple entertainment.

Bearing this in mind, I've shifted most of my entertainment to the sorts of things that are free, or that help build value. Going over to a friend's house is building value in the form of a relationship. On that same vein, playing a video game is like getting to know the developers. You can either pirate these (bad, how will these poor artists eat) or you can play the freely available demos (this is good, for all parties involved). It's almost like going to a friend's house and taking a tour of the grounds. I've been visiting EA Games lately to play the Command and Conquer 3 Tiberium Wars demo in skirmish mode (GDI vs NOD). I look at it as building value in that I am honing my skills, so I don't get owned completely when one day my friends decide to pirate this game, leaving me with no choice but to play!

Building relationships on shared entertainment is very fulfilling, but it does not usually generate positive revenue for those involved. There are only a few different ways to generate revenue, if you don't count lottery winnings and similar techniques. (Don't laugh, paying diligent attention to your stock portfolio is just like playing the lottery, and it can really pay! Ask your grandparents.) So buying a computer is like buying a stock, in that you don't really need a computer to live, and also in that it's easily transferable. If you work diligently at a computer, you can make it more useful (valuable) over time, through manipulation of data bits in various ways. That's really why they're so popular, and this is exactly how Ken Kutaragi (formerly of Sony) described his vision for the PS3.

Step beyond entertainment and lotteries, into the realm of tangible services. You can receive payment for a one-time simple labor service without any property of your own. Make a capital improvement to a rental property, document your labor and make an appraisal of the value. Negotiate your way through the billing with the owner, and hopefully cash your paycheck. The value of your services (it's called making money for a reason) is a product of your investment of sweat and time, as well as the cost of materials and expenses. Don't shortchange yourself on labor: if your rates seem high and difficult to justify, consider the time that it took you to learn your skill. This is a part of your investment.

Here's my story: I fix computers. When they're not working how they should, my skill is to quickly identify the source of the problem and to fix it. That is certainly one way to make an honest buck. But remember: work smarter, not harder... big earners will set up a reliable delivery system for a valuable service and charge a recurring fee for access. Time Warner Cable and Internet, health insurance providers, and even Microsoft all work like this. If you can make a good one-time investment like one of these companies, then you are justified in charging a recurring fee for your services. If you manage to paint yourself into a heavy maintenance niche, then the service you're providing had better be worth your repeated time investment.

Meet the Wednesday Eve Landscape and Taxi Company: lawns in suburban neighborhoods usually require weekly maintenance in the warm Spring and Summer months, or the community of property owners will risk devaluing their investments as the area begins to look less suburban and more rural. A landscaping company should provide simple weekly maintenance as well as value-add services like building a garden. The difference between planting annuals and perennials is the difference between a yearly recurring revenue stream and a one time capital improvement. Of course that's assuming they hire you again next year!