This month has been a bad one for me and computers. First my MacBook Pro died (due to a video card that had been recalled), and then my desktop PC decided to fall over dead.

The Mac failure was another study in why I love Apple service: The video just died one day, no screen, external monitor wouldn’t work. Since a Mac has a real operating system (Mac OS X – a Unix variant), I was able to determine that the machine was actually still working by connecting from my desktop PC using ssh.

I did a bit of system administration black magic, and turned on the remote desktop service (see http://support.apple.com/kb/HT2370 or http://discussions.apple.com/thread.jspa?threadID=2081446&tstart=1 for a writeup of how), and was able to connect to my MBP using VNC. That allowed me to validate things were working, and to make sure I had a current backup before doing anything else.

A quick call to Apple’s support desk, and the helpful tech looked up the problem, found there was a recall on the video logic board for certain MBP systems, and walked me through a few things to validate it wasn’t just user error. He gave me a case number, told me to go to the Apple store, and have them check for the recall.

So I made an appointment at the store, got there a little early, and waited for that piece. In a reasonably short time, my “Genius” was testing my MBP for the recall issue, and sure enough that was the problem. Next a few minutes as he got the RMA set up, inspected the machine (noting that there was a small ding on the case), and asked me if I wanted it shipped back to my home address. The usual disclaimer about “if we can’t fix it, we might charge you $100 for looking at it”, and it was off to the races.

A couple of days later, I get a call from the Apple Repair Center. The guy on the phone tells me that yes, the recall is covered, but it appears the machine was dropped (which it was many moons ago), and there are all sorts of things that need to be replaced to bring the machine back to factory specs. This all comes with a price tag of $1,200 … Once I recovered my breath, I tell him “but at the store they said all I needed was the recall”. He tells me that, yes that would give me a working machine, and they could probably have fixed it at the store, but since it’s at the repair center they have to apply quality to it.

I tell the guy I’m not in a position to come up with the $1,200 right now, so can he ship it back to the store and let them do the repair. At this point, he tells me, that since I’ve been nice, and since I’m a good customer, he’s going to waive the fee. So Apple basically solidifies my glowing opinion of their service, and I get what for all intents and purposes is a brand new MacBook Pro.

I’m so relieved that this didn’t happen with my wife’s PC …..

Murphy’s law bites me again …

…. But while my MBP was off for service, I revived an old laptop I have for backup purposes. I had it almost completely configured when I got my MBP back. Then, a few days ago, my desktop PC (a Sony) crashed.

I go to the Sony web site, and do one of those instant chat sessions, and through a little back and forth, the chat agent tells me it is either a bad video card, or my memory has gone bad. In either case, it will require service. Now the wheels start spinning, because I know how much video cards cost, and I know I’ll have to pay a few hundred bucks just to get somebody to look at the machine (no Genius bar to bring my Sony to).

In the old days I would have just replaced the video card and memory with spares, but since I’m greener (and don’t really work on hardware any more) these days, I don’t keep things like that around. So now I have a useless desktop, with an unknown problem, with 500Gb of data that I can’t get to. Worse, the Sony has a RAID card, so I’m not sure the disks will be readable  except in that machine (it’s really 2x250Gb).

So I’m still trying to figure out what to do to recover the PC, but I’m guessing that will wait for a while …

Restoring my wife’s PC

Luckily for me, I had rebuilt my spare laptop, so I’m able to get the most important files onto my spare laptop, and within a few hours, it’s happily driving my big Gateway monitor (with Quicken and email files restored).

This is possible because of two backup strategies: Quicken online backup (which is a remarket of Connected Backup), and Microsoft Live Mesh.

I’ve used the Connected product ever since I learned about it while working at Cisco. They use the enterprise version, and it does a great incremental backup of your PC, that helped me recover accidental deleted files more than once. For a few bucks a month, the home version does the same thing for a few gig of data.

Live Mesh on the other hand, is a synchronization tool, that is a bit like the old Microsoft Briefcase on steroids. You mark a folder as being a Live Mesh folder, and it gets replicated to the Microsoft cloud. You can then synchronize that folder across systems, and even share it with other users. I created Live Mesh folders for all of my web site work as a way to share files with my clients, and to keep data on my Mac and PC in synch.

What I hadn’t really realized was that I was in effect getting a backup with this as well. I simply shared the folders to my backup laptop, and voila, I had all of my important data back and ready to update. For me, this is one more bit of evidence that there will continue to be interesting applications brought about by the cloud: I hadn’t really thought of Live Mesh as a backup strategy, and it lacks the versioning piece, but in a pinch it’ll do.

I’ve been using some of the more interesting “cloud” applications recently: Google Apps, Live Mesh and a few others.

I’m really impressed with the capablities and use of these free web applications. It’s a really interesting marketing tool as well: give away the low end product to build user acceptance, and then add a bit more to give value to the enterprise.

My first foray into the personal cloud was Google docs. This product has to be the coolest idea ever: create your documents on a web site, and let them be shared and simultaneously editable. The concept is awesome, and works really well for some documents (most notably spreadsheets). I can share a spreadsheet with any number of people, and they can all edit it at the same time.

Sort of like Netmeeting on steroids, I open my spreadsheet and there’s a little notification that somebody else is editing or viewing it. As they make changes, I see them in real time, and they see any changes I am making. Now the interface is not quite as friendly as Excel, but for most of the spreadsheet light users like myself, it’s more than adequate.

This is supposed to work for documents as well, but I’ve had less success with them (changes seem to get overwritten if more than one person updates at a time).

The other beauty of this is it effectively gives you a network storage for all of your documents, solving the problem of how to keep them safe and secure. I no longer have to worry (as much) about backing up my hard drive, since I know Google is taking care of the hardware. If a drive crashes there, they are ready with a failover, and I never even know that it was lost.

After using docs for a while, I also started playing with the other apps and found them all well thought out and useful. One of the main reasons that I had a Windows VM on my Mac was to support Outlook because of it’s tight Exchange integration, and ability to handle my calendar well. I combined Outlook with Plaxo to keep my various calendars and contacts in synch, and was very happy with this.

The bad thing about Outlook however is the way it stores its’ data: the dreaded PST file. They’re notoriously tempermental, extremely space wasteful, and difficult to back up. So I started trying other methods for dealing with email, including the built in mail client for Mac, and Entourage. None of these were as easy or as complete as Outlook.

Then I tried GMail‘s client. I’d had an account for years, but had never really tried the mail client. But as I thought things through, the benefits were clear: I get a huge amount of storage for my email, and I don’t have to worry about losing any history ever. I’ve lost years of email in a single PST or drive crash before.

At first I wasn’t convinced. The UI seemed cluttered, and I wasn’t a big fan of the way the conversations were threaded (in Outlook I used to categorize, and had lots of options for sorting folders just so). With GMail, everything is in a big pile, and you filter by tags. After a few weeks, another benefit became obvious: the fact that I could search for anything in my mail.

In Outlook, there was always a find feature, that if you could get it to work, took a very long time. Worse, it wasn’t possible to search across different mail accounts unless you added some search add-on. I had been using Google Desktop for this for some time, which worked well as long as the index had seen the message I was looking for (it only indexes message as they are opened, so when they get archived the search may find them, but you can’t get to them because it’s pointing to the wrong place).

With GMail, everything is indexed, no matter where it is. And interestingly, this also includes your instant messages, so if I remember I talked to Warren about something, I can search for it and GMail will find it in both my email and chat conversations with him. And when I look at a message, it shows me the whole thread of the conversation, with the bits that match the search expanded, making it easy to put the whole thing in context.

So now I’ve got free document storage, free email with more storage than I’ve ever used (a PST with 10 years of email had to be split because it was over a gigabyte in size, yet contained less than a hundred megabytes of data). I don’t have to manage my email any more than to tag it in ways that are useful to me (and I can tag it for multiple things, and there is still only one copy of the message to worry about, unlike with folders where you had to have two copies if you wanted to categorize things that way).

So how does Google monetize this? Well, it turns out they have an enterprise version that they sell for $50 per year per user. Compare that with the cost of hosting Exchange, and a file server, and you have a no brainer for most small enterprises. And even for the standard version, they let you use it for free for up to 50 users, so a SMB can get started for even less than the $50 per user.

Considering the Microsoft equivalent functionality would require the full Office suite, and Exchange server, and some collaboration server, you’d be looking at an outlay of a few hundred dollars per user. The clear win here is that you’ve now got a suite that works for the home user, and can also be used effectively by business users. Google wins on the marketing front, leveraging the lessons of open source to gain customer base and entry into the enterprise market.

Next: Live Mesh …

Over the years, I’ve observed that there is a common set of behaviors that is part of what makes people successful in business that I think of as the rules of service. The most successful companies actual incorporate these rules into their corporate culture.

Here they are:

Rule #1 – The customer always comes first

Rule #2 – Your network (business) is your first customer

Rule #3 – You are the most important customer in your network (business)

These are very much part of the western culture, and parts of these are taught to us as we are growing up. For me though, there were subtleties in these rules that took me years to learn, and I’m still learning to apply.

Let’s look at the rules in more detail, starting with the last one.

Rule #3 – You are the most important customer in your network

This one is a subtle part of the golden rule that I misunderstood for a long time. There is a great deal of teaching about sacrifice and serving others, which can be mistakenly incorporated into our values as putting others ahead of ourselves.

Large organizations instill self-improvement into their workers as a way to make them more valuable, and therefore make the organization more successful (e.g. – “Be all that you can be” – U.S. Army).

The problem with this approach of being completely selfless, is that we are missing out on the opportunity to give the greatest gift we have: ourselves.

What I mean by this rule, is that you need to care for yourself before you can care for others. If you don’t remember to breathe, eat, and sleep, you will have nothing to give. If you truly want to be of service, you must instead be the best that you can be.

God grants us all special gifts, our gift back to God is what we do with those gifts. By making yourself the most important customer, you make the choice to make sure your needs are met in order to share those gifts with the world. This is not being selfish, this is the truest way to be of service.

This is so eloquently expressed in the following quote by Marianne Williamson (often attributed to Nelson Mandela):

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

Look at that last line again: As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

By becoming all that we can be, we liberate others to do the same, thereby improving the universe in ways we cannot imagine. We not only serve ourselves, we give others the ability to serve, and to find their true selves.

Rule #2 – Your network (business) is your first customer

As people, we need help from others in order to do most things of importance in our lives. First we became tribes, banding together in small groups to survive. Then we formed communities, which allowed for a people to begin to explore their special skills. Eventually, we formed companies, which were in essence a more specialized community: join together people with different skills in order to accomplish a common goal.

You’ll notice that I changed this rule to say “network” and placed “business” in parentheses, because I fell we’re in the midst of a return to a more community based way of interacting. People band together in a network, which allows them to accomplish things in a much broader way than simply being members of the same town or company would.

Many of the most successful corporations have incorporated this rule into how they do business. They educate their employees on the importance of treating co-workers as the most important customer.

Why do they do this ? For the same reason that you put yourself first: if the company can’t function well, they cannot serve their customers, and they will go out of business.

By understanding that the people in your network are your most important customers, you strengthen that network. By helping people in that network, you effectively serve not only that network, but all of the people served by that network.

I may have a hundred customers that I can serve one at a time. If I come up with a way to better serve those customers, I can do so one at a time. But imagine if I share that same method with my network. Now not only do I serve my hundred customers, I multiply that by serving their customers too.

From my experience this is an accelerating process: the stronger my network becomes, the more valuable it becomes to everybody in it, and the more effective we all become. Finally lessons on sharing from kindergarten really pay off !

Rule #1 – The customer always comes first

This is the one we all know and is the most obvious. It doesn’t mean that we should do whatever the customer wants at the expense of the network/company or ourselves. It means, that in order to provide a service, we need somebody to provide that service to.

You have to have a customer, and by following the rules, you will be able to serve them with your unique talents coupled with the strength, skills and support of your network. This is also a twist on the golden rule: in order to put the customer first, you have to treat them as you would treat yourself (remember rule #3?).

By helping the customer be successful, you not only help them to continue to be your customer, you also allow them to help you be more successful. Their success improves the success of your network, and helps your network’s to improve their ability to make their own customers successful.

I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together.” – I am the Walrus, The Beatles

Last night I went to an event hosted by Redhat, Infogain and Azul Systems as a networking opportunity and to learn a bit from the vendors with my friend George Ross. It was held at Tesla Motors in Menlo Park, and the door prize was a ride in the new Tesla Roadster.

After the presentations, they had the drawing, and I was thinking it would be cool if George or I got picked. Right about then, they called out “Rob Weaver of AccuWeaver LLC” … I was the first pick to get a ride (they gave 5 people the thrill ride).

Naturally I’d been admiring the car the whole night, it’s a very cool looking sports car that is entirely electric. Does 0-60 mph in 3.9 seconds, and has a range of 240 miles on a charge.

So the guy pulls the car up (no noise at all) and I get in. Well actually, it was more like I fell in. I wasn’t prepared for the fact that the seat of the car sits below the frame rails, so you sit only a few inches off the ground. I was very excited and anxious to see how the car felt as they snapped this picture:

 

Then we pulled out onto the street with a smooth quiet glide. When he finally hit the accelerator, I was pushed back in my seat at with at least as much acceleration as you’d feel in one of the old muscle cars we all used to covet, and no jerks as the gear shifts (because the car only has one gear).

The other thing that impressed me was that there was no apparent drop off in power. As we approached 60, the force pushing me back in my seat was the same as it had been when we started off from a stop. The only noise was the wind through the top, and the whine of the electric motor.
On the way back, there was an empty stretch of road, and the car easily hit 80 and felt like it could be over a hundred in the blink of an eye. It was definitely a thrill ride, and I would have loved to drive it myself (although I probably would have been more conservative with it).

We pulled back in, and I’m sure my smile in the “after” picture tells it all:

 

I’m definitely impressed.  Just slightly cooler than my Prius, and way better gas mileage, I only need three jobs at about twice my normal rate and a loan on my house and it’s mine….

I just had an interesting experience with some exam preparation software that I bought a couple years ago for the PMP certification from Rita Mulcahy. According to the installer, the software license had expired !

I took a class to prepare for a certification exam, and bought a bundle that included an exam simulation called PM FastTrack for PMP.

I was only slightly annoyed that I had to be connected to the internet to install it: lots of software has started following the annoying activation model. The license says the software can be installed on (1) work computer and (1) home computer, so they have to manage the count some how.

Anyway, at the end of my class, I got on one of those gigs that sucks all of your free time out, and didn’t have a chance to finish my studying and simply didn’t think about the software. Top that off with the fact that I’ve been running it all in virtual machines that I tend to have to rebuild, and I end up not uninstalling the software from somewhere I don’t have access to any more.

Time goes by, and here it is almost two years later, and I try to install the software (I’ve long since reimaged my machine, so it’s time to try again). First I get several annoying messages that tell me to change things that make no sense (control panel change to get the date format right) and another that says to download a new version of the software.

Finally I get to a screen that tells me to contact support. This ends up with me downloading a new version of the software, which then tells me that the license key has been installed too many times, so I call support (which of course is closed) and leave a message.

I get back this email that says:

Rob,
I received your voicemail. You first installed the software on January 28, 2006. There is a one year term of use from the date of the first installation according to the license agreement. Your license has expired. If you would like to use the FASTrack software, you would need to purchase a new license.

Well, first I was surprised it had been that long, but second I was more than a little irritated. I looked all over the CD case, and could find nowhere that it said the software was only good for a year, only that it is limited to two computers (I even scanned the case and sent that to them).

It feels a bit like my experience with renting a movie from the iTunes store: I rented the movie, started watching it on the plane, and then by the time I got to watch the end of it, it had expired. They gave me a one time refund on the transaction so with the exception of my having to rent the movie a second time to see the end, it was a positive experience.

Now I understand that for software that helps you pass an exam, they want to make sure you’re using a new copy, but shouldn’t I be able to use it regardless of whether it is outdated or not?

I’ve recommended this software to others in the past, and probably generated more than a few sales for them. From a sales perspective, it seems like they should want me to continue that, and perhaps buy the next version of the software when it comes out.

But repeated phone calls, and emails, and no response. If I had to guess, I’d say they feel they have a locked in market, so they don’t have to try to be good about this.

Guess maybe it’s time to build a competitor product, I’m sure I could build a web based Q&A that would do as well for less than $299 a year.

And now I find the license info on their web site (not on my CD) which does have the notice about only working for a year after initial install here. They even have some verbiage about paying $75 to extend the license for three additional months, but that apparently doesn’t apply except for the 3 months immediately following the install.

So apparently, my choices are to either buy a new copy of the software (which will be no good in a couple of months since the test is changing), wait for the new software (which won’t be out until the end of this quarter), simply do without.

I’m just glad they didn’t print the book and flash cards with ink that fades away over time. Not a great way to operate a business if you ask me, but I guess I never had that sort of monopoly.

I ran across a post on one of my LinkedIn groups from a fellow member named Mike Smith, the text of this post is on his blog at http://dominoconsultant.blogspot.com/2008/12/export-pdf-resume-from-linkedin-without.html

Basically the trick is to make sure your profile on LinkedIn is up to date with all of your best resume information in the career section, then use the magic icon on your profile to produce a PDF. My friend Walt Feigenson posted an entry on his blog that takes this idea one step further by introducing a web site that allows you to pick and choose which pages to include in the PDF before you send it. Walt’s post can be found at http://feigenson.us/blog/?p=163

While this isn’t an ideal resume, it does get to the “good enough” level for recruiters (assuming you’ve actually updated your profile with all the salient information), and as Walt points out, you can extend the idea by splitting out information like your references to send along to a hiring manager.

A couple of people suggested to me that perhaps using a PDF printer would be an easier way to accomplish this same task. The advantage that using the PDF button on LinkedIn has over this approach is that it produces a nicely formatted version of your profile, which doesn’t include all of the buttons and other things that are displayed on your profile. By downloading the PDF in the format that LinkedIn produces, you get a relatively simple resume that you can send out (either with the technique that Walt talks about, or printing to a PDF printer the pages you want to keep).

Recently I’ve entered the world of using the web for self marketing.

I saw a very interesting talk by Walter Feigenson at the last CPC Job Connections meeting about marketing yourself using the web.

I already had a LinkedIn profile, and had my resume on a couple different places, but his talk convinced me that I ought to do some more. So I did the following:

  1. Set up Google reader so I can see all the web changes in one place.
  2. Built a profile on Naymz (http://www.naymz.com), unclear on exactly what this one does.
  3. Ziki (http://www.ziki.com) – Signed up, but never got the validation email. This is supposed to be a job finding service.
  4. Spokeo (http://www.spokeo.com) – Signed up – not clear on what this site does beyond search for names.
  5. Ziggs (http://www.ziggs.com) – Signed up and built profile, this one looks interesting.

Just signing up for these things takes time, getting them to be consistent seems like it will be a pain. It reminds me of posting your resume to all of the job search sites. Not too bad the first time, but then going back to update is going to be hard.

Next thing I did was to add cross links from as many different places as I could to my web site (http://www.accuweaver.com). This is supposed to help with the ranking on the search engines, since the search engines use the assumption that if a lot of sites link to you, you must be important.

I also cleaned up my LinkedIn profile, added links, and added my company to the Companies part of LinkedIn.Then after all of this, I got hit again with the suggestion that I should set up a Facebook profile. Walt had mentioned it, but it took hearing it a few more times for me to act.  It still seems a bit smarmy, and unlikely to be useful as a business networking tool, but we’ll see.

Next: Making sure I’m posted on a huge list of sites I got from Valerie Colber