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July 12 2011


Music Services I use: Rhapsody vs Rdio vs Spotify vs Pandora

So, Spotify is allegedly (finally) coming to the US.

I, for one, welcome our new music overlords. Rhapsody pulled a fast one on me yesterday, after years of loyal service with them (dating all the way back to when Windows Media / MTV’s Urge was enveloped). They told me I needed to up my plan. I’m basically giving them an “up yours” and likely switching to Spotify when it’s available.

How did Rhapsody offend me? They’ve switched their plans, rendering the standing $10 a month option only viable if you have one mobile device. I happen to have two mobile devices (plus Sonos), which would push me into their $15 a month plan – and that’s a bit steep, considering the active alternative: Rdio.

For $10 a month on Rdio, you get unlimited web AND mobile access. While the library on Rdio may not be the same as what’s on Rhapsody, I can’t see Rhapsody giving THAT much more value for the additional $5 I’d spend with them every month. I was given a trial with Rdio but didn’t renew it. I’m waiting to see what Spotify will have to offer me (in terms of pricing AND features) before I spend money with Rdio.

I’m also considering downgrading my Pandora premium account when it’s up for renewal this September – not because I don’t use Pandora prolifically, but because it’s not delivering insane value for the money I’ve spent (and higher quality audio and fewer commercials doesn’t cut it for me). Not to mention: WHO still uses Flash for web services?!

The good news is: I can easily float between these music subscriptions without fearing I’ve lost much. I can still get access to most (if not all) of the music I love, and not have to worry about buying tracks ala carte or going through the nightmare of managing media in any way. That, and… at least I’m trying to play along with the industry.

Tell me I’m not alone with these music subscription service woes?!

Tags: General

Google+ is a Game

So, I’ve seen a lot of the Empire Avenue community spending more time (like myself) in Google+ since its launch. This hasn’t diminished the value of EAv for me, but it likely should force the evolution of the Avenue into multiple lanes. Why couldn’t people choose their own adventure there? Only the first lane would be “the game.”

  • Lane One: for those who wish to continue down the path of Empire Avenue as it is currently paved. The features here should likely be frozen to make way for further development on other lanes.
  • Lane Two: for people who only want to see their social media scores and collect stats on them (ala Klout).
  • Lane Three: like Lane Two, but for brands who wish to see how current registrants are interacting with them.

In other words, I’m guessing that all most Empire Avenue users would want to see is this – coupled with richer statistics and suggestions on how to increase those scores (is something that I can help with):

At this time, I’m earning ~300,000e every day with my portfolio, and my stock is well on its way to 300e per share – so it’s not like I am suggesting a radical transformation because I feel I’m personally slipping. I see bits of the community slipping away to another game: Google+.

The achievements? Connections. The levels? Attention. The score? Credibility.

I’m not suggesting that Google has developed Plus to be a game – just that for any community or social network to drive addiction, the system must continually reward us for our behaviors. We post something, people comment and share. We comment somewhere, people respond to us. Even if you’re someone who loves to lurk, Google+ should prove to be an amazing idea exchange.

I know that some people don’t like Google+ already (although I’m a bit baffled by the logic that Plus would be the first place where cliques exist or insider information is shared). But things are definitely happening here – even with a fraction of users compared to Twitter or Facebook today, the number of engaged users on Google Plus appears to be higher due to how content is surfaced in the system. I feel more connected to others on Google Plus.

Due to a severe lack of time in the day (and night), I am usually drawn to one “entertainment” outlet over another. What brought me to and kept me in Empire Avenue was knowing that it was satiating curiosities – and was fun. That fun factor hasn’t worn off, but it’s been outshined by the fun of Plus.

Empire Avenue was already ripe for a reinvention of itself, but that reinvention seemingly needs to happen sooner rather than later. The team can drive that change forward with new lanes, given EAv’s powerful data collection engine driving the Stock Exchange. Some passionate players are already begging them to integrate Google+ data – which is very telling.

I can’t be the only Empire Avenue addict who is looking for a change – and this evolution would also likely address the standing issues people have had with the platform (learning curve, time requirements, communication challenges, etc.).

Tags: General

July 07 2011


The Importance of Technology in Education

Technology has become a defining force in our lives, and its relevance is spreading to virtually every field in one way or another. While some people may go their entire lives never needing to recall the knowledge they gained in various classes throughout their educational career, their experiences with technology will most certainly come in to play very early during their adulthood.

Colleges have taken steps towards online learning by giving students access to professors virtually that otherwise might have an overcrowded and counterproductive learning environment as a result. Assignments are given out and handed in more efficiently, and professors are able to use more of their time with students individually as their office schedules are easier to manage. Many students have to work their way through college to support themselves while receiving an education. This is much easier with a more flexible online schedule and for those that don’t have the ability to move to another state, the college they wish to attend is just a few mouse clicks away.

Is this where grade-school level education is headed? I can’t say for certain that is the case, though it would be beneficial for students to have access to some of the greatest minds in the country during various lectures and lessons versus receiving their entire curriculum from local teachers that may or may not have the knowledge to present their content with the most efficiency.

Bottom line, if you’re not connected to the Internet, you’re not learning as effectively as you could be. Face-to-face interaction is important for students. No one is denying that. What is being ignored by some districts is the importance of keeping technology within grasp as a way to prepare the student for the world that’s ahead of them. The workplace requires you, now more than ever, to know the ins and outs of whatever operating system they work with. If you wish to move up, you’ll need to prove again and again that you know how to navigate technology. Sometimes, having that little bit of extra knowledge can really make a difference in your salary and lifestyle down the road.

Tags: General Life

July 06 2011


How to Increase Gas Mileage on Your Car

Brandon Wirtz, a member of the LockerGnome team, decided it was time to make a few upgrades to his Mini Cooper. One of these upgrades – which is primarily focused on increasing horse power and gas mileage – is to increase the amount of air flow to the engine by replacing the stock air intake with something better.

By replacing the stock paper air filter with a larger cloth model, the amount of air flow to the engine increases. This increases the combustion efficiency and results in a few extra horsepower. Improved gas mileage and slightly increased speed are a couple expected advantages to this upgrade.

Cloth air filters are slightly more expensive, though they are reusable and allow for the free flow of air between the environment and the engine. Cleaning can be done using a special kit that maintains the chemical balance required for the intake to function properly.

One thing to keep in mind when doing this upgrade is to make sure the mass air flow sensor is out of the way and safe while you’re replacing the intake. This is a $150 part that can impact the way your vehicle works and performs. Another item of note is that you will want to secure the new intake to avoid bumps and dips in the road causing unhealthy jostling. In this instance, Brandon went with zip ties (also known as cable ties) to keep the intake securely in place.

A new air intake won’t create a drastic change in your car’s overall performance alone. It is one of several upgrades that can improve the way your vehicle functions. A slow car won’t become an instant drag racer, but the benefits in the improved gas mileage may pay off financially over time.

Do you have any gas mileage improving tips or tricks? Please leave a comment below and let me know.

June 17 2011


How to Trade in Your Smartphone for Cash or Gift Cards on Amazon

Amazon.com announced new features to its buyback program recently, adding “electronics” to the categories of things that you can send in to the online retailer for some extra cash. While you might not be able to get as much with Amazon Trade-In as you can get by selling the device on eBay, Craigslist, or Swappa for Android phones, the process is a whole lot easier on Amazon — and you’ll know exactly how much your phone is worth.

Here’s how to use Amazon.com to get cash money for your old, gently used Android phones, iPhones, tablets, and a lot more:

Head to Amazon’s Trade-In page.

Select the category of your item. Amazon currently buys back textbooks, video games, DVDs, and select electronics. Then, put what you’re trying to sell in the search box.

You’ll be taken to a page that lists the search results for that item. Find the item that you’re trying to sell and click the Trade in button underneath the item. IMPORTANT: Make sure the item you select is the exact item you have. It needs to be the same size (16 vs. 32 GB iPhone, for example), the same carrier, the same color, etc. If you don’t pick exactly the right item, your phone will be returned to you and you’ll have wasted time and money.

Select the condition of your item. Again, you need to be accurate here or your phone will be returned to you. “Like New” means that there are no visible defects and all of the original packaging and cords are present. “Good” might have a few very small dings, but everything works. “Acceptable” is working, but might have a few dents or scratches on the screen. Amazon does not take non-working phones.

Check out and ship the item to Amazon. Amazon will provide you with a free UPS shipping label to send your products to them. Ship the item to them, and they will send you back a gift card for the amount your electronics are worth.

Convert your gift card to cash. If you’re not interested in an Amazon gift card, there’s an easy way to turn that gift card into real cash. Sites like Plastic Jungle will give you 92% of the gift card’s value in cash instantly. You can also sell the gift card to friends who need to buy something on Amazon.

June 15 2011


Should I Buy an Unlocked iPhone?

Should I Buy an Unlocked iPhone?The tech world is abuzz with the announcement that Apple is now selling unlocked iPhones in the US for the first time ever. An unlocked phone is sold without a contract, and is free to be used on any carrier on the same wireless frequency, all you need to do is swap out the SIM card. You could use an unlocked iPhone on AT&T or T-Mobile in the US, and on a variety of carriers should you be traveling elsewhere in the world.

The question is: should you buy an unlocked iPhone? Is it worth it? The price can be a little off-putting to your average US cell user, mostly because we are used to seeing contract-subsidized prices. $650 is a lot more money than $200, but there are some tradeoffs that you may need to take into account that could end up saving you money in the long run.

The first plus of buying an unlocked phone is that you are not tied down to a contract from your cell carrier. If you are unhappy with AT&T’s service, you are free to leave and bring your phone over to T-Mobile without worrying about an Early Termination Fee (ETF). ETFs can run hundreds of dollars depending on how long you have remaining on your contract, which is a lot of money to pay just to switch cell carriers. With an unlocked iPhone, however, you are free to change without any fear of a penalty.

Secondly, you might even be able to save money on your monthly bill depending on your carrier. While AT&T doesn’t give a monthly rate discount for phones purchased contract-free, T-Mobile has a plan that is cheaper than its usual plans that doesn’t include a phone subsidy. It’s not available online; you have to call and ask for it, but if you want to use an unlocked iPhone on T-Mobile, give the company a call and ask for the “Even More Plus” plans. The plans are significantly cheaper than its other plans, so you can save a lot on your monthly bill with an unlocked iPhone.

Finally, unlocked iPhones come with the bonus of being able to work all over the world. If you go on vacation to Europe, for instance, you won’t have to bother with expensive Europe roaming plans or buying a pay-as-you-go phone once you get there. Just bring your unlocked iPhone and buy a prepaid SIM card in any convenience store, swap it into your iPhone, and you will be good to go for much less money than if you had to buy a whole new phone just for your vacation.

If you have the money up front, buying an unlocked iPhone will probably end up saving you money in the long run, especially if you travel a lot or want to use T-Mobile instead of AT&T. In addition, the resale value of unlocked iPhones (especially official Apple unlocked iPhones) will be much higher, as they will work all over the world and people without official iPhone options in their country will be willing to pay more for an unlocked version. However, if you plan on sticking with AT&T and your iPhone for the duration of the two-year contract and don’t plan on traveling a significant amount, the usual contract-locked iPhone is probably still going to be the best choice for you.

June 14 2011


Is the Future of Windows Going to Be Cross Platform?

Is the future of Windows going to be cross platform?What’s trending in technology this week? Microsoft Windows 8. It’s not available yet; currently the only version of Windows that you can buy in stores is Windows 7 (and it’s a great operating system). But Microsoft has recently shown off some of the changes we can come to expect with the next version of Windows, and it looks great — at least the surface looks great. It’s been completely redesigned using a very familiar UI (user interface) — the “Metro”esque UI that you may have seen in Windows Phone devices and some other Microsoft software available today.

So the UI atop Windows is nice. It’s optimized for touch — but that’s not the big story. Ars Technica definitely did not miss a beat. The UI sitting atop Windows 8 is built on HTML5 and JavaScript! Huge news! So the same technology that’s now powering thousands — if not millions — of Web sites is going to be powering the layer that sits atop Windows. And why is this big news? Think about it. A Microsoft operating system — Windows 8 — built on blocks established by others rather than relying on its own business-as-usual, proprietary formulas is a huge step in a direction that’s very new for the company. Such an operating system could feasibly run on desktops, notebooks, netbooks, tablets… and Macs (in theory on that last one, if not in actual practice)! What a world; what a world! It could even be cloud-based like Chrome and webOS. Will this be the thing that makes us fall in love with Windows all over again (or for the first time)?

Is the future of Windows going to be cross platform? Will Windows 8, with its ground-up foundation in JavaScript and HTML5, be cloud-based? I believe that’s what’s trending this week. Maybe you disagree? Maybe you agree? Leave a comment or drop by our chat room where we’re geeking out 24/7.

Tags: General

June 13 2011


What Does Open Government Mean at NASA?

Since their founding in 1958, NASA has been dedicated to doing a lot more than exploring and understanding space. Over the past 52 years, they’ve been responsible for some of the most significant advances in technology. Almost everything we do have been influenced in some way by discoveries made through NASA’s research. NASA has provided an incredible amount of information to the public over the past five decades including stunning images and information that has helped us (mankind) understand how our Universe works. So, what does Open Government mean at Nasa?

Keeping with the spirit of a more open government, NASA has moved forward with several initiatives aimed at promoting collaboration between the scientists of NASA and the public including NASA TV. With NASA TV, the public has live access to NASA and their missions around the clock. This video is also made available to documentarians and media outlets in order to enable them to relay detailed and accurate information to their audiences.

Another initiative by NASA is NASA Open Source Software Development. This program gives the public access to the programs and source code used at NASA. By doing so, they are breaking down the barrier of entry for the private sector to reach space through use of NASA’s investments. This also gives the public a chance to make improvements on the software which may help NASA achieve their goals with less of a burdon on the taxpayer for development.

NASA has also entered the world of cloud computing with their Nebula Cloud Computing Platform. This open-source tool is intended to provide a more cost-effective alternative to building additional giant data centers in order to store and exchange information with the public. Nebula is classified as an Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) platform, though there are Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) and Database-as-a-Service (DBaaS) systems planned for 2011.

NASA has even established a Participatory Exploration Office with the goal in mind of not only informing the public about NASA’s discoveries and data, but give the public a change to contribute to the process. By providing as much information as possible to the public, they are also enabling private citizens to contribute their input and ideas towards the betterment of the program.

May 21 2011


Are You a Social Media Expert?

I have to admit that seeing someone call themselves a “social media expert” is one of my biggest pet peeves. Finding the words rock star or guru in a profile gives me the shakes. Realizing that most of the people using these labels definitely don’t deserve them causes me to break out in hives. A child of fourteen is not a social media expert. A recent graduate who happened to take a course or three pertaining to social networking is not an expert. Someone who talks a lot on Twitter is not an expert. Simply knowing how to use the tools doesn’t mean a damn thing, y’all.

Becoming an expert at anything takes years of practice. You’ll make hundreds of mistakes and learn through trial and error. Simply mastering hashtags or knowing how to tag people on Facebook isn’t enough. I was greatly amused the other day to see the profile of a woman claiming to be one of these new-fangled social media gurus. She offers to give talks to help others learn her secrets. Said young lady has a grand total of forty-three followers. I’m not sure who – exactly – she’s even pitching her talks to. Every one of her followers is someone with less than 100 users keeping an eye on them, as well.

I noticed that a teenaged boy on Twitter recently changed his profile to claim he’s the premiere social media expert for teens. I couldn’t help but ask him what gave him the idea that he was “the one” other kids should go to. He replied that he has the most followers out of all of his friends – 61, to be exact. Thus, he has deemed himself an expert.

A true expert is one who would never dream of calling themselves that. They don’t care about titles – they care about the people whose lives they are changing. It doesn’t matter which platform is being used, nor what type of service, product or organization they are working with. The real movers and shakers are touching people’s lives day in and day out, sharing information and ideas, sparking imagination and passion and driving engagement beyond the boundaries we thought existed. They are connecting others and giving them the tools to go out and create change of their own.

Do yourself a favor: stop giving others a reason to dismiss you before they bother to read anything you’ve said. You may just have amazing ideas, but no one is going to listen when you come off sounding like a know-it-all. Calling yourself an expert without something to back it up is often nothing more than an ego trip and a pathetic attempt at getting people to think you’re important.

The problem is that it is backfiring in a very big way.

May 18 2011


How Important is Post-Purchase Support?

If you’ve ever had a bad post-purchase support experience, you may have told a few people about it and avoided doing business with them again in the future. Terrible support can destroy a company’s bottom line, and one negative experience can turn away the customer, their friends, family, and Twitter followers. So, how important is post-purchase support?

Sales shouldn’t stop at the check-out counter. A brand is selling itself every time they answer the phone, approve warranty repair, and replace defective products.

Many companies, especially in the tech industry, have tried to save money by consolidating their phone support departments and giving every employee multiple areas to support and virtually destroying their ability to specialize in specific issues. Their sales department receives their detailed tech support calls while their tech support team is busy covering both their department and shipping support.

Often, the struggle for a solid customer-brand relationship can be won or lost by how they handle warranty issues. If you have a problem with your new computer or mobile device within its warranty, how confident are you that the company will take care of your issue without charging you an arm and a leg or making you wait while your product is shipped across the country? Being quick to help the unfortunate victim of a defective device can define a great company. Just because someone got a bad mp3 player or notebook, doesn’t mean the relationship can’t be salvaged by quick and effective warranty support.

Here is what some of our YouTube viewers had to say when we asked which companies provided the best (or worst) support:

“I’ve had great support with dell. i broke my screen 3 days after i got my new Inspiron 15R. they replaced it.. no cost to myself.. it was done within 2 days.”

“Toshiba = Worst
Asus = Best”


“Dell has the WORST customer support.”

“Worst technical support: Cisco… not manufacturers of computers I know, but their support was the worst. Not only was it outsourced help in India where I couldn’t understand the support rep (and he couldn’t understand me). Also, if you don’t have warranty, they won’t help at all unless you pay a price… I NEVER heard of such a thing; it’s one thing to just ask for help and not repair help which may require a warranty, but just to get advice/help?”

“Recently i dropped a glass of juice on my macbook Pro. I went back to the Apple Store where i bought it and they said, they fix it for free, because i was honest that it was my fault.


“dell are the worst i never got my inspiron mini ten after 4 months and over 8 and a half hours on the phone”

May 15 2011


Where Two Hillgroves Hang

I first met Justin Hillgrove (and Mike Capp) at the Northwest Folklife festival in Seattle last year.

Before that day, I had no idea I’d ever want to collect art the way I’ve been collecting art – specifically, Justin’s. I saw “Party Crasher” (pictured below) and was able to name darn near every character in the painting. His style immediately drew me closer, and that’s where I discovered a nefarious cast of cartoon characters from my childhood. He-Man (and the Masters of the Universe), Thundercats, and GI Joe. In fact, Justin was shocked to find out that I could correctly name BOTH Hordak and Mumm-ra without hesitation.

While I didn’t pick up any original works that day, I’ve purchased several since. Mostly his smaller canvas paintings, which you would find scattered throughout my home. I also picked up a print of “Party Crasher” and had it hanging in my dining room.

A couple of days ago, he posted new artwork to his site – impsandmonsters.com – and sent out an email newsletter. I snapped up the top four originals so quickly that he didn’t even have time to change the page before subsequent orders blasted in.

Justin was able to get them to me quickly, including the one you see hanging to the far left (which I believe is “Support Group”). He also mentioned that “Party Crasher” was currently hanging at the Twilight art gallery in West Seattle. I had NO IDEA it was still available!

“Party Crasher” features a scene depicting a party held to celebrate He-Man villain Skeletor’s birthday. While the fiendish bunch are celebrating heavily, an unexpected guest has arrived to crash the party. His unique style comes out with his unique interpretations of the iconic cast.

From left-to-right: Hordak, Mumm-ra, Beast Man, Skeletor, Sorceress (background), Cobra Commander, Mer Man, He-Man.

I called this morning and decided that it would be amazing to cherish the very first Hillgrove I saw. And so, my friends, it’s my intention to turn this home into the world’s largest Justin Hillgrove gallery (which will take time).

Tags: General

May 11 2011


How to Tell a Story on Your Blog with Storify

With social media, you can tweet about your friend’s birthday, share pictures from the party on Flickr, and microblog afterthoughts on Facebook. But how do you pull all of this multimedia into one streamlined story about your friend’s birthday? With Storify, you can tell stories using social media such as tweets, photos, and videos by searching multiple social networks in one place, and then dragging individual elements into a story that can be shared with friends and family. You can let your social media tell the story, or add your own text for more context. This seems ideal for events, like weddings, concerts, or conferences, where there’s a great deal of social media generated.

Putting together a story told with elements of social media that are created by others that shared an experience with you makes it easy to share this experience with others, especially as a blog post. When you create a blog post from scratch, it can take a lot of time — especially if you have to cut and paste text, download, and then re-upload photos, copy links to original sources, and then attempt to format all of these elements. With Storify, you just have to drag and drop each element, and Storify even lets you notify any quoted sources to help you share your story (which can help get the word out about it). If you want to use your Storify story as a blog post, it’s easy to embed Storify in your blog post (just like you would a YouTube video) if you have a self-hosted WordPress blog, Tumblr, or Posterous blog. If you don’t want to use Storify within your own blog, you can just point your friends and followers to your own Storify page, which is at http://storify.com/your_username.

Storify is ideal not only for compiling the development and reactions to news and shared experiences through various multimedia, but also for curating content related to a single event or moment in time. If a reader of your Storify re-tweets an element from your story or interacts with it, you get attribution as the curator. This means you could become an “expert” of your niche if you follow certain events closely and compile the most meaningful multimedia into a Storify story.

One area of concern is whether using social media postings from other people in a Storify story is okay. How do the various people who take photos or shoot video get attribution for their work? This doesn’t appear to be sorted out just yet, so in the meantime, you might want to think about ways you can credit the people you borrow from, just like you would if you were citing a source.

Storify is easy to get started with and even easier to use. Just visit storify.com and log in with your Twitter account — or follow Storify on Twitter or Facebook.

Tags: General

Google Docs – Just How Good is It?

I have been using Microsoft Office since you had to install the program from floppy disks. I recall using Windows 3.11 and having to insert and remove about 20 floppies or so [the exact number I do not recall], just to install MS Office on a computer. These were the days before the Internet became popular and there were no product registrations or updates. What was on the floppies is exactly what you got and nothing more.

The reason I mention this is to show that I have been using Microsoft Office for many years. For the most part I have enjoyed the various versions I have used, up to and including Microsoft Office 2010. When I received the Google Chrome Cr-48 I was forced to use Google Docs in order to create written blog posts on the go. Since about mid-December, Google Docs has become my main writing tool.

Like many of you have expressed in previous comments, cloud computing may not be your cup of tea. Many of you distrust Google or other companies who offer cloud computing and storage of your precious documents in the cloud. For me, I do not much care if my writings are looked at before, since most of what I write ends up being view publicly.

Google Docs reminds me of OpenOffice. There are plenty of features to keep most of us content and many more features that will go unused. There is one feature that saved my bacon this morning. I was using my Google Chrome Cr-48, with Google Docs open as I wrote a blog article. I wanted to copy the document over to our LockerGnome article submission form. Unfortunately instead of hitting Control key+C to copy the text, I must have hit something else, because all of the text disappeared on the screen. Thankfully, all was not lost. I hit the Undo key and presto, my document was back on the screen.

For those of us who are using smartphones, tablet computers, or the first generation of products from Google using the Chrome operating system, Google Docs will be your main source to write and save documents in the cloud. To me, the benefits far outweigh the privacy concerns many people have. I can access my documents online from any device and work on the document until completion. I don’t need to worry about a hard disk failure since these new devices have no hard disks, per se, to store documents.

But here is the best part. I can download or export my documents if I wish. Google Docs works for me and will replace my using Microsoft Office. Will I change my mind sometime down the road? Maybe. The first time I either lose a cloud document or I am prevented from accessing a cloud document, it may annoy me enough to return to MS Office. But until that happens, Google Docs is my tool of choice.

Comments welcome.

Tags: General

How to Help Non-Geek Family Members With Computer Problems

Being the only geek, or only admitted one, in your family comes with a great responsibility. Whether you like it or not, you’re going to be called on by members of your immediate and extended family from time to time to fix their computer issues. If you’re married, your in-laws will undoubtedly add you to their phone tree as their official “computer guy”. Here are a few tips on how to help non-geek family members with computer problems:

Make Out Lists of Steps for Family Members to Follow
Sometimes, it can be very difficult to explain the process of checking email to someone over the phone. It’s not like you have training and/or experience doing tech support. Even if you do, family members seem to be more difficult to work with than strangers by an extreme degree. Next time your mother calls you right before you sit down to dinner because she can’t remember how to check her voice mail, make a mental note to type out a step-by-step list of instructions to give her the next time you see her. That way, instead of calling you, she may be more inclined to check the list to jog her memory.

Invest in Remote Access Software
Software including: GoToAssist (use coupon code: CHRIS), TeamViewer, and LogMeIn are all excellent solutions that can help you connect to your family member’s misbehaving PC and show them how to solve their issue without having to hop in the car and drive over. When long explanations aren’t yielding any results, remote access can very well be the next best thing to spending an entire weekend in front of their computer teaching them how to use their system. In many cases, it’s faster to solve something yourself than explain it to someone else.

Create a Support Strategy
If you don’t live in the same city, and your relatives have an issue you really can’t resolve yourself, it’s probably a good idea to do some research on their local tech businesses to determine where they can go. It’s too easy to go right for the big store where they charge insane amounts of money for what amounts to a few minutes of actual work. In some cases, it may be easier to research and call these places yourself. That way you can describe the problem as so they have something more to go on than, “It doesn’t work!” Make sure, especially if they have no real understanding about what the repair shop tells them the problem is, that they call you or make you the primary contact.


If You Want To Sleep At My Mom’s You Brought That On Yourself: Airbnb Integrates with Facebook

Thinking of using Airbnb but you don’t want to sleep on a total stranger’s couch? How about sleeping on the couch of your last boyfriend’s 3rd grade teacher?

Airbnb announced they are offering Facebook integration so you can choose to stay with the Facebook Friends of your friends, or people who went to the same school, or worked at the same company, or who share your interest in Justin Bieber. Basically rather than staying at a complete strangers house for $95 per night, you can feel good that this is a person you might have run into at a party if you ever went to those kinds of parties where people sleep over with people they just met.

With over 1.5 Million nights booked on Airbnb it is likely that you are friends with someone who has used the service. Though with 300 plus friends on Facebook, many of whom I wouldn’t really care to share a meal with, let alone crash at their place, I’m apparently not the ideal Airbnb client.

Facebook’s social graph functionality is part of the leak they are attempting to plug today that let 3rd parties see more about you and your friends than was intended. Clearly this functionality has some uses, but it still creeps me out. My mom, who has always wanted to run a bed and breakfast, seemed to think the name “Airbnb” was cool. When I explained to her that strangers would call and book a night in my old bedroom she said, “how will I know they aren’t murders”. I promptly replied, “if they want to stay in the middle of nowhere in my old single bed, and wake up to the smell of the neighbors cows, I’m not sure if I should worry more about you or them”.

Clearly if you are looking to save money on a trip to New York, or anywhere that has outrageous prices for hotels, Airbnb makes some sense. Meeting someone who you might be able to get a friend to vouch for makes sense. I would personally be more excited about LinkedIn integration since I have fewer “weird” friends on that social service, which is more geared towards business, so my business trip might also be a chance to sell something to a colleague.

Tags: General

WordPress vs Tumblr: WordPress.com approaches 20 Million Blogs, Tumblr will match sometime in July

WordPress.com is fast approaching 20 million blogs, double what it was just a year ago, but Tumblr is hot on its heels with 18.5 million blogs, and having reached that number in half the time it took Automattic to get there.

In a world of spam blogs built by robots, it isn’t the number of blogs that is the big deal, but the amount of traffic. WordPress.com gets about twice the traffic of Tumblr.com.

Daily Reach WordPress vs Tumblr

Some of this difference is related to user engagement and the way users use WordPress blogs vs. Tumblr blogs, but the biggest difference is in how Google treats these two sites. That bump in traffic WordPress.com has for most of 2010 is Google favoring WordPress content. The drop at the beginning of 2011 is Google changing its mind.

Search visits percent WordPress vs Tumblr

In the above you can see how Google’s “Panda” revision to search results negatively impacted the percent of traffic it sends to WordPress. The growth of WordPress.com is likely more in the hands of Google than it is in the hands of WordPress.

Tumblr on the other hand has been growing despite no substantial increase (or decrease) in the percentage of Tumblr traffic from search. Tumblr continues to increase user engagement with nearly 2.5 times as many page views per user of WordPress.com. The number of pageviews per Tumbler user continues to increase, where as WordPress has maintained just about 3 page views for the past 2 years.

Daily pageviews per user WordPress vs Tumblr

Tumblr gets about 15% of its traffic from Facebook, whereas WordPress.com gets about 8% of its traffic from Facebook. Tumblr actually gets more traffic from Facebook, than from Google. While the content publisher in me cringes at the inability to monetize traffic from social media with ads, this statistic does actually speak to the way Tumblr is used. WordPress.com really is a home for spammers and marketers. Tumblr is much more a place for life bloggers and those who want to be online celebrities if only to an expanded group of friends. For building long term engagement with people Tumblr appears to be the preferred platform. For search engine optimization and finding leads via search, WordPress.com is the way to go.

Tags: General

How To Write a Blog Post in Ten Minutes

Before I made a living entirely from writing blog posts (…about blog posts) I had to squeeze in blog posts I wrote for contract work and for fun in between a 9-5, a treacherous commute, and the other requirements of life, like eating and sleeping. Though sometimes I get lucky and can pull an idea out of thin air, more often than not a blog post is generated by inspiration – another blog post, a friend’s tweet, a conversation at dinner, or a story in the news. Thanks to a constant flow of information, and always having something to write with (including a whiteboard I keep in the bathroom) I could quickly generate a blog post when I actually had a few minutes to write.

It is important to know that a blog post doesn’t have to be that long. Ideally, 300 words should be sufficient. So how can you write a blog post that’s not-too-long but not-too-short in just 10 minutes?

Set aside time When you know you’re going to have a break in the day, or in the week, mentally (or, if you have the luxury, make a note in your calendar) to blog during the break. Even if it is only for 10 minutes, 90% of writing a blog post is getting in the mindset and environment to write.

Curate inspiration There is a lot of noise on the internet, but if you’re looking for ideas about a specific topic that you want to blog about, it is helpful to follow specific lists of people on Twitter talking about what you find interesting, or read about stories that others have automatically compiled as interesting. To follow lists on Twitter about specific topics or interests, Listorious is a good place to start your search. If you are more interested in reading compilations of stories about certain topics every day, check out Paper.li, which organizes links shared about specific topics on Twitter and Facebook into an easy to read newspaper-style format. Use these lists and links for ideas, to help develop your opinion, and to provide sources for your blog.

Use RSS Using an RSS reader, such as Google Reader, can help you stay on top of other blogs in the same niche as your blog. RSS makes it easy to spot new posts that may break news, or analyze news that may help you decide how to write your related blog post. Quoting another blog can make writing your post especially easy – but don’t forget to cite, of course, and when you cite keep it to a bare minimum.

Set a goal Trying to blog twice a day, 7 days a week is kind of insane, but if it makes or breaks your rent payment, then I absolutely understand and can only wish you the best of luck. Setting reasonable goals – such as blogging once per week – is a good goal to start with when time is a limiting factor. Throughout the week you can jot down ideas, arguments, and opinions, and when you return to your blog on Monday night, you’ll likely have much of your thoughts already written out (at least in your head.)

Write it down I have a whiteboard in my bathroom (no joke!) and one in my living room. I also keep a real notepad next to my bed, and am addicted to keeping notes on my iPhone. Whenever inspiration strikes, I am ready to start – or add to – a blog post. This is key in keeping me from starting at a blank screen when I actually sit down at my desk and allows me to finish a blog post much faster.

Learn to walk away If you have writer’s block, don’t stress. Start writing about something else, or come back and finish your blog post when inspiration strikes again. Unless you are on a deadline, there will be another 10 minutes to write. Use the next 10 minutes to do something more productive.

Tags: General

How to Guard Against Garden Jawa Theft

Jawas, the scavengers of Tatooine, are known best for their practice of seeking out technology to sell or trade from their huge sandcrawler transports. These creatures have an affinity for technology, and have earned a place in the hearts of geeks from all walks of life. While they may occasionally snag a droid or two that may still belong to someone, it would be impolite to call them thieves. In modern times, Jawas have taken to seeking new homes in systems far far away. This brought them to our planet, where they eagerly fulfill the duties of keeping droids, and other technology, from straying too far away from a geek’s home. Their payment consists mostly of used cell phones and other obsolete gadgetry. While they’re keeping tabs on your tech, who’s watching out to make sure they’re safe and sound? Here are a few tips that can help you guard against Garden Jawa theft.

GPS Tracking Device
Jawas usually put tracking devices on their merchandise in order to make sure they don’t just up and walk away. These tracking devices can be small, but effective. You can return the favor by giving your Garden Jawa a tracking device of its own. There are some remarkably portable and low-cost GPS units that will allow you to locate your runaway/stolen Jawa within a 10-foot radius. If someone has nabbed your faithful Jawa, you should be able to locate them promptly and rescue them from the thieving Sith Lord’s lair. Companies such as Garmin and Zoombak make these small and useful gadgets.

Give Them a Cactus or Nettle Plant to Hide Behind
Some would-be thieves will quickly think twice if their prize is nestled next to an intimidating cactus or nettle plant. The sharp thorns that adorn these plants can give their would-be kidnapper a nasty sting they won’t soon forget. This isn’t such a good idea if you plan on keeping your Jawas around a particularly curious canine.

Assign Them a Guard Dog
A noisy dog with the freedom to join the Garden Jawa in the yard at a moment’s notice (dog door) will create a protective environment that allows your Jawas to carry on with their work in safety. This doesn’t mean the dog has to be on duty at all times. A dog dish in the yard within reach of the Jawa will help get the point across and prevent attempts as well.

Deflector Shields
While our current technology doesn’t exactly allow us to set up deflector shields around the Garden Jawa, we are able to set up low-voltage electric fencing around it to keep it safe. This will deliver a nasty shock to the would-be Jawanapper and likely scare them off. You may have to explain the fence to the Jawa prior to installation to prevent it from accidentally leaning against it.

If you’re interested in getting a Garden Jawa of your own, you can find it here. You can also save money on it by using one of the coupon codes found here.

Tags: Fun General

May 10 2011


Has the Freemium Ship Sailed? Rise of the Pay Wall in Post-Panda Google-nomics

Google recently made changes to its Apps For Domains pricing, which doesn’t impact existing users, but new small businesses will be impacted. Today Google announced that App Engine will get a different pricing model, which still includes a free tier, but is essentially raising the costs of App Engine to 3x what it had been for small users and 1.5x for large users.

Companies are coming to the realization that ad supported models will only take you so far. As more of the Internet became free, the number of online ad dollars didn’t match with the inventory on Web sites. As a result, more businesses, including Google, are being forced to transition users from free to paid-subscription models.

Google seems to be fighting the economics of this trend on two fronts. The obvious one is the charging fees for more Google services, including offering premium upsells for its products. The not so obvious method is that Google is reaching out to an increasing number of AdSense users and killing off sites that fail to meet Google’s quality guidelines or use ads from competing services. These actions are supposed to be working toward raising the value of AdWords buys, but for the most part seem to encourage publishers to look at doing more direct sales of their ad inventory.

Google’s changes through the “Panda” algorithm update have created penalties for sites with high ad to content ratios. While this is supposed to reduce the amount of spam in search results, many legitimate publishers are reporting that their content is dropping off, while spam sites with fewer ads and stolen or duplicated content are ranking. In a recent phone conversation I had with a sales consultant at Vibrant, it was mentioned that most of Vibrant’s top publishers have seen at least a 20% drop in traffic post Panda, and many have seen over 40%. Vibrant has reasonably high traffic and content quality thresholds for the publishers it works with, so hearing many of these have been penalized is surprising, especially when a conversation with AdBrite, which is known to be the ad provider of last resort for many online publishers, has said most of its publishers are seeing a lift in traffic.

Much like when governments try and regulate markets, it appears that Google attempting to regulate the price of ads on the Internet is creating an imbalance in not only ad inventory, but in the content that is capitalizing on ad revenue. Pretty soon the only way to get good content will be to access it from behind a pay wall. Could the next Google be a search engine that only searches the sites to which you have subscribed?

Tags: General

QuickBooks Simple Start Free Edition 2010 Review

Intuit, the company that brings simple accounting to small businesses, has a free edition of their popular software available for downloading. QuickBooks Simple Start Free Edition 2010 is a trimmed down version of the QuickBooks accounting software that many businesses rely upon for their daily transaction and record keeping of expenses and income. Over the years Intuit has provided consumers and small business owners the tools necessary to keep track of their finances, employee payouts and also inventory control.

I used the 2009 version of Quickbooks Simple Start Free Edition for the past several years. When I saw that Intuit was still offering the software for free, I downloaded the newer version to my system and updated my backup files to work with the newer program. Speaking of downloading this program, it is a whopping 466MB, so a broadband connection is highly recommended. Also keep in mind that 2010 is the latest version of QuickBooks Simple Start Free Edition because Intuit lags behind a year with free versions.

After the upgrade was completed and my company files were updated, I took the 2010 edition of QuickBooks Simple Start Free Edition for a spin. What I immediately noticed is that the new version started quicker than the 2009 version. The older version had a ‘poky’ start and opened slowly. This never concerned me since it is a freebie software product and I am just appreciative that Intuit offers the software. I also noticed that opening of my company files was also quicker than before.

There are limitations to the software, including a limit of 20 employees to keep track of. In my opinion that in itself is a generous number and again will be appreciated by most users. The free edition also doesn’t provide the option to produce a backup copy for your accountant like the Pro edition does, but again, this is a small price to pay for the free version.

So who can benefit for the Quickbooks Simple Start Free Edition 2010? If you are like me and just need a simple to use accounting program to track expenses and income, this program does these functions extremely well. Also if you are a small shop with a limited number of employees, this free edition will work well. However, if you have a larger business or need the services of an accountant, your best option is to get the paid Pro edition of the software. The added features of the Pro version alone will make the additional cost well worth it when it comes tax time.

Direct download link for QuickBooks Simple Start Free Edition

Comments welcome.

Tags: General
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