Yearly Archives: 2011

This entry is part 3 of 3 in the series How Times Have Changed

How Times Have Changed - EntertainmentI know many readers will have a hard time remembering the excitement of attending a movie.  You knew of a movie you wanted to see that was playing, you went to the theater with friends, bought the overpriced drink and perfunctory popcorn, and were entertained!  If that was not your thing, you scheduled time for your favorite show on one of the 3 or 4 channels you could get on the TV (and this was over the air programming that was FREE – no cable with hundreds of channels to choose from).  If you were fortunate enough to live close to a larger population concentration you could go to a play or a concert (by some bands that were actually selling records and getting radio airplay).

Talk about changes!  Most of the commercials now are talking about getting your favorite sporting events, movies and concerts on your smartphone.  Entertainment is everywhere.  It is this writers opinion that entertainment is now so pervasive in our culture and society that it is now an expectation for everything we desire to partake in.  If we watch sports, we also expect some entertainment before the competition, during any break in the action, and as we exit the event.  In our work places, just to keep our attention during training many times elements of entertainment are introduced (for security training a game show type of question and answer section – just to make sure you got the concepts).  Pumping gas at our local refueling stations entertain us with targeted songs, messages and images on the screen so they don’t lose the opportunity to upsell.  Even going to church has – in many ways – changed from a time of learning about and meditating on a higher power to entertaining us (want to leave happy with a ready-made slogan for the week, looking forward to see what rabbit can be pulled out of the hat next week).

Now don’t get me wrong, entertainment is not evil or bad, but I don’t believe it is the end goal of our existence – it has a time and a place in our lives, just like most other things!

In my lifetime it has been a progressive shift – I remember the radio and listening to music as well as watching TV (especially watching on Saturday mornings – it was the only time to watch cartoons).  Then we moved forward to portable music (from 78 rpm’s, 33-1/3 rpm and 45’s – then to 8-track, cassette tapes, CD’s, now MP3’s and keeping our tunes in the cloud).  We have moved from spoon-fed programming on the TV to the offerings on cable and satellite providers.  We went through recording our favorite shows on Beta or VHS to on demand offerings and streaming movies and events.  Each of these are great advancements – but I wonder if we are progressing in our appetite for entertainment or are just becoming a culture that yearns for entertainment to the exclusion of things that actually matter.

Video games are another huge growth area of entertainment.  Long gone are the days of traveling to some area to put quarters in a machine to play your favorite game (I use to go to our local campground to do this – it was within biking distance).  And we certainly have traveled quite a way from the entertainment of pong in the comfort of our own homes.  Now we have choices to gathering the ‘band’ at our house to play (Rock Band), or we could compete in dancing (Just Dance), or go out on the battlefield to meet up with very realistic combat (by ourselves against scenarios or on the playing field with others from around the globe online).  Many of these games are also portable, so you can take them with you on your gaming device, smart phone, tablet or eBook device.

With the availability of the internet in the mix, the opportunities for entertainment increased exponentially.  Think of how many times you have been to YouTube (founded in 2005 – it’s ONLY 6 years old) or other sites to see either a music video, someone doing something just plain dumb (what were they thinking?) that was caught and shared on camera, or to see a creation by someone that commemorated a trip or other noteworthy event.  Or perhaps you see social networks (like Facebook) as your form of entertainment (of note – many here will argue that this is ‘news’ and not entertainment; I would say that this is akin to a long running soap opera with all the drama, therefore should be included in the entertainment category!).

Yes, things have changed in the area of entertainment.  The good news is we have more advances to make in these areas of entertainment!  My concern is that we become more and more consumers of entertainment so that it becomes the goal in many of our lives.  I’m certain that each generation has similar concerns, but it seems to me that other generations never had so many opportunities to use up so much time in this area – time that will not be recovered.

Do you have concerns about the entertainment industry and the impact it has on consumers?  Perhaps you want to comment on how much entertainment has added to our culture and society – either way I look forward to hearing from you, and thanks for reading!


 

I’ve often written about the need to backup data in the event of a hardware failure or corruption of a computer. I haven’t written much at all about the possibility of other services that we depend on could stop means to us – and our business (or school work, gaming world, etc.).

DependencyWhat brought this to mind is an interesting development earlier this month (December 2012) about a site called Regretsy.com (you can read the article from Lockergnome titled It’s PayPal’s World – We Are Simply Living In It).  The site did some ‘charitable’ things, but that is not the true point – what they did was dependent on PayPal – and that is a company I use as well – and now you have my attention.

Looking over the information in the article it appears that someone froze the PayPal account for the company because they felt it did not meet the criteria for a charitable cause.  Don’t get me wrong, that is the company’s decision – however it is entirely possible it was not a company decision, instead it could be left up to the feelings of some capricious agent who could be having a bad hair day (or an agenda if you want to look at this nefariously).

There was some food for thought.  What if one of my customers that uses PayPal suddenly faced a frozen account?  Who decides that what was OK to set up is now not acceptable to the company?  This was the point of the follow up article (another great Lockergnome article titled 6 Reasons to Be Cautious when Using PayPal).

By this point you may be a bit concerned about PayPal, but let me say that is not the main thrust of this post.  I want you to think larger – and make it personal.  What application / company / software do you absolutely depend on for your work / business / home?  If it is something you have little to no control over, then a failure in that area will have consequences.  Once you have thought of this potential, you can plan how you would deal with it.

For our purposes, we will stick with PayPal to illustrate the point.  The business needed a way to take in money through their website.  PayPal is an easy, safe way to do this!  Once it was done and you start to obtain funds, realize you now show up on various internal reports (in other words, you show up on the radar).  If you are a charity / non-profit, PayPal will (and should) ask you to give them some information to verify this status.  At the end of the day, they get to make the call (since they own the company) as to you and your business meeting the criteria they put forth – no matter how detailed or ‘warm and fuzzy’ the criteria is.

If PayPal accepts you and you get to meet your needs using their system, that is great.  What if the winds of change blow in your businesses direction and – for whatever reason – you are no longer welcome there?  What is your plan?

Now take that and apply it to the area you are dependent on.  Say you depend on Photoshop for your work – what if that software was no longer available (think of a doomsday scenario – like Adobe planted a self destruct routine in the software so that you couldn’t fall back on older or other copies of it)?  Could you switch to PaintShop ProIrfanviewGIMP?  Do you have a plan if something did go horribly wrong with what you depend on?

Think through what you truly depend on and create your own doomsday scenario – you can no longer use that for whatever the reason is.  What is your plan to get back up and running again?  How can you best execute that plan?  Are you familiar enough with the 2nd best thing so that you could use it to get up and running again (so that may mean you need to get a copy of that 2nd best thing and familiarize yourself with it)?

Thanks for reading – from our family to yours Merry Christmas (no, Christmas is not a dirty word here, and for the politically correct crowd – get over it) and Happy New Year!

 

 

This entry is part 1 of 3 in the series How Times Have Changed

How Times Have Changed - BankingI remember a time when it took foresight and planning to have the money necessary travel, vacations, or just everyday purchases. Over the course of a week you knew you would get a paycheck and that paycheck would need to be a deposited into your financial institution. When you made that deposit, it would either be made in the night deposit slot or be made during the hours that the bank was open (so you could get some cash).  Normally you would park your car, go into the bank and wait in line for an available teller, and proceed with the transaction you needed for the upcoming days ahead.

It was quite an innovation when banks allow customers to use drive-through windows. The convenience of never having to leave your car to do most of your banking needs! After that came ATM machines – some saw these as a great innovation in other saw them as potential job killers. The truth of the matter is consumers would never look back after innovations such as these. However, it could be beneficial for us to remember how banking used to be and to see the changes that came about because of consumer demands.

Planning to Obtain Funds

The story above (driving to a bank, waiting for teller, planning and obtaining funds for the following week) was the normal way to obtain funds. These were days before direct deposit, online bill paying, and a host of other ways to conduct financial transactions.

On the positive side, we had to think of how we were going to spend the money we earned. Hardly anything was an impulse buy, because we knew exactly how much money we had coming in, and how much we could afford to spend on items that were not in our budget. On the less than positive side, funds were not available to us when we needed them.

I recall many years ago, being towed because I chose to park in the wrong spot. How was I going to pay to get my car back? I was lucky my grandmother was available to not only gave me a ride – she also loaned me the cash I needed it to obtain my vehicle. I lived over an hour away, and the banks were closed that Saturday after I got out of work to find my car missing in action. In short, I was up the creek without a paddle.

Today this may be handled differently because of the changes in the way that we obtain money. I could send money from my smart phone directly to the tow operators bank. If I was within walking distance there is a good chance I would have found an ATM to get money out of in order to pay for my car. And there are many other ways that this financial transaction could take place today.

Go Big or Stay Home

Many of us choose to bank with a large financial institutions. There certainly are distinct advantages to doing this, such as the ability to have a bank almost anywhere you travel nationally, the opportunity to take advantage of cutting edge technology when we bank (online deposit or smart phone deposits as well as many other ways to bank), and taking advantage of this size and scale of the banks footprint (ATM availability, keeping fees low, etc.).

Don’t neglect the smaller banks that are considered local financial institutions. There are advantages here as well. Here you have the ability to get to know them partner with your banker. Often times these banks exclusively make loans locally – this can mean a more stable investment because of the relationships and knowledge of the ability of local businesses to survive and sustain profitability in the region.

Either way as a consumer you have a choice. In fact, you may choose to take advantage of both big banking institutions as well as local financial institutions!

Banker’s Hours are Now 24×7

You used to make an appearance at your financial transactions when your bank was open for most of your money needs (loans, deposits, withdrawals).  Those days are gone! Today you have the ability to apply for a loan with most financial institutions online. Not only that, your bank of choice probably offers you ways to deposit checks or smart phone or computer. They may offer you a way to pay at the cash register with just a swipe of the smart chip enabled device. They certainly allow you the ability to look at your financial statements online. If you do not have a bank that is available when it’s convenient for you, it’s probably time to look for a bank that can better meet your needs.

In conclusion, banking has changed and with that consumer habits have changed. That’s not to say all these changes are positive! The way we make purchases became very dependent on credit cards and debit cards. We often overextend ourselves financially because of things we desire – not things we need. Then when the bill comes in the best many can do is make a minimum payment instead of paying off the purchases.

In what ways has banking changed in your area? How have the changes in banking, major life better or worse? Feel free to comment, and as always thanks for reading!


 

This entry is part 2 of 3 in the series How Times Have Changed

Imagine a place where you can sit in the comfort of your own home and shop for any item you are interested in. You are not constrained by geographic locations or many of the other limitations that could stymie your shopping. Imagine that the item you choose to purchase is delivered right to your front door. Imagine a store that allows you to return items that you purchased for almost any reason with a minimum of inconvenience. This is the experience many shoppers now enjoy when they shop online. However, it wasn’t always this way.

How Things Use To Be - ShoppingIt was not long ago when a shopping trip consisted of knowing the general item you wanting to shop for, traveling to a store or stores that stocked the items you were looking for, and then hoping the item was available for purchase so that you could take it back home with you. Even before you went to the store you had done your homework by looking at store ads, in catalogs, and even in the newspaper. My how times have changed!

Within the last couple of decades shopping has experienced a transformation. Among the many ways, that shopping has been transformed in our culture include:

Total Access

Today’s shopper does much of their comparisons online. We utilize various sites that give us not only product information and specifications, but they also offer us valuable consumer insights such as feedback from customers who purchased and used the items we are looking to acquire.

We can see if stores in our area have the items we are interested in stock – or find out if they don’t. We can have an item either shipped to the store or can go to another store in the area to purchase the identical item. We compare prices, features, warranties, and a host of other options with the click of a mouse. Some shoppers even look for coupons from an available retailer or other incentives for them to shop from online vendors such as free shipping, low or no interest rates, or return policies to make their shopping experience met their needs.

Savings

One of the first areas the consumer saves on their time. No need to compare various magazine articles, catalogs or newspaper offerings – instead consumers get to take advantage of savings for many reasons. The first is we get the opportunity to do comparison shopping online at any number of stores without leaving our own home. No need to travel to the store at that store and the other store just to make sure we get the best price!

Another example of savings would be the price we pay for an item. How is it that many online stores can offer not only a competitive price with our local retailers – but can beat that price? Many merchants do not have the overhead that is included in the price when they purchase online. They don’t have to pay for the rent, lights, employees, health benefits, etc., as do many of the big stores that are in our neighborhoods (they drop ship and take advantage of other niceties available to the online retailer). Because of that, they can offer items at a lower price.

A final savings example could easily be transportation costs. Consumers are well aware of the increase in the price of a gallon of gas and the savings we get from not having to travel everywhere all the time is substantial. I mean, why would I want to run all over town when I can have an item delivered right to my door? It saves me on the regular maintenance items for my car, along with the savings in gas – what is not to like?

Purchasing Refurbished Items (or used items)

Gone are the days of only being able to get rid of your used items by word-of-mouth or having a garage sale. Today’s consumers can easily buy items which are shipped to us as pre-owned (read that – used), recently refurbished, or they can sell their items online to buyers inside and outside their geographic area. This gives us true freedom in purchasing – not only on items that are gently used, but some that are abused (for those that feel the need to fix up an item of theirs with the spare parts that are of no use to the seller because of their condition). Of course, this brings its own share of concerns and the buyer needs to be very aware and informed of what they are purchasing.

Consumer Feedback

A huge draw for this writer is seeing consumer feedback on items I’m interested in. Again, a word of caution, because some like to stack the deck with super reviews for the items (that may not be from your average consumer). However, that does not mean you should shy away from reading the reviews. Here you will find pros and cons for items that individuals have purchased (both on the item and from the seller of the item). With this information, you can be more informed about the suitability of the item in your environment.

In conclusion, shopping not only has changed, I believe it has changed for the better.  That does not mean consumers should drop their guard and not touch items or review them before they decide to put their hard earned cash out for them (why do you think many flock to Best Buy and other stores to actually play with tablets, smart phones and computers before they make up their mind on what item is right for them).  We have an avenue that allows the savvy shopper to save money, time and maintain peace of mind if an item needs to be returned.

Have you changed the way you shop because of the advances in technology?  Let us know how you do it better by leaving your comments, and thanks for reading!


 

Clean MeAt our home we have certain things that happen on a more-or-less schedule.  Some call it spring cleaning, others hang their hats on fall cleaning.  I like to call it nesting – you know, where furniture needs to be ‘rearranged’ and everything gets cleaned that was hidden, stays put or gets moved.

One of the posts a while back (New Year Resolutions for Your Computer) looked at getting the dust bunnies out of your desktop computer (so we won’t cover that here, read the earlier post).  That is a good example of geek nesting – unfortunately many don’t move that object around much nor do they take the time to use canned air to clean out their equipment.  With cleaning as our goal, let’s look at options for keeping your geek stuff clean.

Screen

I admit it – I can’t stand a screen with fingerprints all over it.  And not all screens are created equal – CRT screens, LCD’s, and many other types of screens (like plasma, rear-projection, smart phone screens, eReaders, etc.) are in use at your home and mine.  It is best to look at what the manufacturer recommends for each of the devices you need to clean.  Also you can look into purchasing computer screen cleaner to take care of most of the jobs for your desktop / laptop screen cleaning needs.

BUT (you cry out) can’t we just use Windex (or insert the brand name of your choice for general window cleaners) on all these items?  Since many of these contain ingredients that are harmful in the long term to monitors (like ammonia) I would not recommend doing that.  Read your owner’s manual for your equipment (because a monitor I have may be very different from the one you have) and follow the instructions.

A good example is found on many manufacturers sites (here’s one that is very general from HP).  Notice a couple of things.  The monitor is powered OFF.  Yes, that would apply to your laptop and other gear, power it down before you clean it.  Don’t ever spray the solution (store bought or home made) directly on the monitor, instead spray it on the cloth you will be applying to the screen (no need to soak the equipment and cause issues by liquid in the device).  Last, if they have special equipment they use, you may not want to substitute (say, the battery powered hand held vacuum they show with your shop vac – or canned air for your air compressor).  Just don’t even think about it, it is all fun and games until you blow the fins off your cooling fans or components off the circuit cards.

Keyboard

There are many products that can help us in this area.  We can purchase wipes, get out the handy battery powered vacuum, or try to save a few bucks and do it ourselves.  Here we run into many of the issues we addressed earlier.  Why not use our regular cleaner?  You may find out the answer when the finish of the keyboard is damaged (or the letters are wiped off).  Or you may find out that using the shop vac was a bad idea when you are digging in the debris container for those laptop keys that got sucked off the keyboard.

Again, don’t spray any solution directly on the keyboard – instead spray it on the cloth you will be using to clean the keyboard with and then clean!

Mouse

Dodge Charger Mouse (Wireless)Times have changed in the area around mice.  You can get and use an mechanical mouse (perhaps you still have one with the ball on the bottom), an optical or laser mouse, or a wireless mouse.  Some of the newest designs seem to be works of art, combining comfort with function so you are almost one with the computer!  Of course, there are many other fashionable mice (like the yellow Dodge Charger you see here…) you can get for your computer.

As noted before, cleaning your mouse depends on the type of mouse you have.  Many times I have opened the bottom of mechanical mice to clean them (this thing just WON’T move right).  With laser mice you still will want to clean them with canned air and a good wipe down to get rid of all the gunk from our hands.

I hope this gets you started on your geek nesting.  With articles like the very general from HP that covers basic cleaning of all your components it seemed unnecessary to show lots of pictures, so we hit general areas of cleaning various devices.  If you have a favorite trick or tip for cleaning your geek items, feel free to post them – thanks for reading!


 

ColorsOne of the things that all web designers get to do battle with are colors.  And when I refer to battle, I mean actual struggle in many areas.  As a web designer, I need to ensure that all areas below get the necessary attention so that good design principals for readability and concepts are presented in the best possible light while ensuring the customers needs are met and also avoiding pitfalls that could impact visitors to the site.  Let me explain a bit more…

Color elements play an important role in the perception and presentation of a web site.  If you are building a site for a customer, you will need to ensure that the customer’s style, culture and mood are properly conveyed by the colors you render the site in.  Do the colors blend well?  Do they contrast properly?  Do they coordinate?

Colors & The Designer

Color is perceived by viewers as a representation of the culture and industry that a company participates in.  Think of colors that are hard and bright and you may see a company that is portraying itself as flashy and artistic in terms of industry and culture.  In contrast, a site in more subdued colors (like a soft blue, a gray or white) could be perceived as a more traditional or conservative industry.

As a designer, you must account for the effectiveness / appropriateness of the colors you choose based on the intended audience.  It may not be a good choice to go with the hot and racy color scheme when designing a site for the local funeral home.  Or choosing very subdued colors such as a palate of pastels for the local custom motorcycle shop may not be the best impression to customers you can make on behalf of the business.

Culture makes a difference as well.  For the local store that is reaching out to the area they are based in, color selections that are familiar and speak out to those in that area are very appropriate.  A lawn care / landscaping company here in the Tidewater area of Virginia could easily go with green or earth-tone colors, but that same company is not targeting folks that live in an area like folks that live in the desert or in the mountainous areas where that same color scheme may seem out of place.

Iin some cultures colors are immediately paired with a recognition of political, religious or cultural movements.  If you are building a site that is a global presence or is targeted to those cultures, be aware of what you are portraying or inferring without saying a word – just by the colors you have chosen (it is best to get with experts in those cultures to do user testing to uncover any faux pas in the choices you have made – and why wouldn’t you do user testing in those areas anyway BEFORE you make the site live?).

Colors & The Customer

If you are working with businesses that have their own style guide, you are in luck.  Some may think you are handcuffed or constrained, and to some extent you are.  The business has given thought to the image and way they want to portray themselves to their audience.  Most of us do not deal with businesses that have a developed style guide, so we are listening to the customer to hear what they want or desire.

At this point we need to take what we know of colors in design and apply it to what our customer is requesting.  The business should want to portray themselves in the best possible light for the widest audience, so there should be a good dialog along with give and take as the design takes shape.  You, as a designer, should always be mindful of the visitor to the site and offer the business potential reactions to the color choices as appropriate – they will thank you for the insight and may not have thought beyond their locality (sometimes it’s easy to forget it is the WORLD wide web).

Colors & The Visitor

This is where it pays off to know what the business is aiming at.  Are they looking for the ‘younger’ customer?  Perhaps those that have children at home?  Or perhaps those that are older and have more finances free (is that ever a reality for most folks…)?  It is easier to target a specific demographic with pleasant colors if you know what that demographic is!

I think of Oprah – she knows the demographic she is after (women, many stay at home for a myriad of reasons) and creates her shows, magazines and web site with colors that appeal to that demographic.  Make sure you dialog with the customer to make sure you understand the audience they are targeting.  That will assist you in making the site with appropriate and appealing colors that visitors want – and businesses need to provide.

In conclusion, this is just a set of thoughts to get you thinking beyond using the colors that come in a pre-designed offering.  I do have a couple of recommendations for those that would like to know more:

Color Harmony for the Web: A Guide for Creating Great Color Schemes On-Line
Head First Web Design

There are many other resources online as well, why not search for more using your favorite search engine?  Thanks for reading, and happy designing!


 

What is going on with your software...You’ve probably been there.  You leave your computer on and go to sleep, you wake up and you are back at the log in screen.  Or you get back to your computer and it is asking you to reboot so some changes can take effect.  Huh?

Now it could be pretty easy to explain these types of occurrences.  Many folks set up their software to update automatically – and if one of the updates requires a reboot, your computer may be rebooting while you are away.  If you leave files that you are working on (photos, documents, code, etc.) open in other programs this could be problematic (always save your work if it is important to you).

But there are times where this type of behavior just does not make sense.  And perhaps you have seen that as well.  I admit I am the curious type and want to know what is going on with my computer.  So I thought I would let you in on a little tool I have used to show me what is going on with various software I have installed on my computer.

The software is made by MediaChance and is called Spy-the-Spy.  It is free!  Now this is not software that I ask to do much of anything other than to monitor files in the folders I set it up to monitor.  So, for my purposes, I want to know when anything in C:/Program Files changes.  I set up the program to monitor that folder and all sub-folders to let me know if anything changes.

So, when I install a new program and it installs in that directory, the software tells me that a directory is being created and various files are put in there.  If an existing program experiences a change (say, my anti-virus software automagically updates) then the software notifies me of the various files that are being changed.

Now this could be useful to see if some malware started to do things in this folder.  But note, this is file monitoring software and not malware software – it won’t do anything other than notify me of the changes unless I tell the software to.

This allows me to know that every time I boot up that udhisapi.dll is modified.  Since this is part of the UPnP area of Windows, and I know I use a wireless printer that talks to my wireless adapter and a wireless mouse, it makes sense that each of these 3 check in when I boot up the machine and I see that dll is ‘modified’ each time it talks to / receives a response and is tracked by my machine (for a longer response on this dll and what it does, look here).

This helps me know what is going on ‘behind the scenes’ of my computer for software I have installed.  I’m just the type of person that wants to know when my anti-virus or malware software is updated – as well as when software that automagically calls home to update things makes that update.  I know exactly what was updated in any of the folders I choose to monitor.

If you wonder what is going on feel free to give this software a try.  It has a small footprint for install and system resources, and it may show you some things that you were not aware of!  Thanks for reading, feel free to comment about this post or let others know of neat file monitoring software you are aware of.