Retreat Reflect Return

By Mike Maddaloni on Monday, August 24, 2015 at 08:41 PM with 0 comments

photo of The Freedom Principle mural at Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago

You have certainly heard the expression, “if you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.” Where the idea behind it is that when things are going (or cooking) it can get intense. However I don't think the phrase was to infer you have to spend every waking moment in the thick of it. At least I don't think that.

Early in my career this was something I learned – you need to sometimes get a break from it all – even for a little bit – to be able to keep sharp and focused on the task at hand. Not to forget if you are stuck on something, staring at it all day in itself will not solve it.

Early Lesson Learned

Years ago I was told a story by a manager at the time that really hit home with me, and changed my work habits to include stepping away from it all.

In the story, he was in a distribution center, standing among the racks of palleted merchandise with senior executives of the client. There was a problem and everyone was talking but nobody was really contributing to the situation. In the middle of this, he hopped on a hydraulic scissor lift and went up about 3 levels of the racks. Several minutes later, he lowered the lift and descended, and had the solution to the problem.

Where all of the clients thought he went up on the lift to physically solve the problem, he actually did so to get away! He couldn't think among the bloviating of everybody so he went up the lift, and away from them, to clear his head and logically solve the problem, which he was able to do once free of the clutter. The client was impressed, and in the end had no idea they could have been an impediment to solving the issue at hand.

In short, what he did was retreat, reflect and return.

This is something I have done and continue to do. I touched on this when I wrote how I came up with the name of my Web site assessment checklist. Among some of the ways I have and still do retreat, reflect and return to the workplace include:

  • Penguins – When I worked in downtown Boston I would go to the New England Aquarium and lean over the railing of the penguin pool at the base of the giant tank. I would stand there and watch the penguins for a while. They have such a simple life, and watching their interactions with each other made for a great way to clear my head.
  • Plymouth Rock – When I worked in the town where the Pilgrims from England landed in the New World in 1620, I would occasionally go to a sub shop in the center of Plymouth, Massachusetts, across the street from the infamous rock on which the Pilgrims reportedly were first to step on when descending from their ship. I would take my lunch from said sub shop and eat it while leaning over the railing of the shelter which covers the Rock. Staring at the Rock and Plymouth Bay behind it was a great stress reliever.
  • Modern art – My latest venue is the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, located across the street from my newly-joined workplace. Though said workplace is a great environment to work in and in no way stressful than, say, my last job, it is still nice to recharge my brain a bit on Tuesdays when the museum is free to Illinois residents. I do plan on getting a membership there as I may find the need to think a little differently on another day of the week other than Tuesday.

I am eager to hear if you have any techniques – or destinations – of your own, when you retreat, reflect and return. Please share then in the comments of this post.


This is from The Hot Iron, a journal on business and technology by Mike Maddaloni.


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It’s OK To Lie On Web And Mobile Security Questions

By Mike Maddaloni on Tuesday, August 04, 2015 at 12:13 PM with 0 comments

lie!

Your first love. Your first pet. Your first car. And Mom – what was her last name before she got married?

The preceding paragraph was not a trip down memory lane. Rather it is a list of some of the most commonly asked questions on Web sites and mobile apps to verify who you are. Where at one time a simple username and password were enough, now you could be answering one of almost a half-dozen questions and answer pairs to log into an online service. With everyone wanting a higher degree of security, these types of extended login functions are becoming more commonplace.

But I have a secret to share with you. Lie!

When these challenge questions started popping up on online services, I pondered their need, as well as the fact that more personal information about myself would be out there in random databases, and probably not encrypted or secured as well credit card information (or as well as credit card information should be secured!). Though these seem harmless questions, the information can be very personal, yet for some reason we share it.

That’s when I decided to lie – rather than put my Mom’s maiden name on the Web or app form when it is asked, I lied. Instead I put in something different altogether. For ease of remembering, I often use the same answers to similar questions, bit if I am using an online service I may not go back to, I will completely make something up.

The advantage to using a made-up answer to a security challenge question is that should this information get hacked into or otherwise compromised, further personal details of my life are not out there. The disadvantage to this is you will need to remember or log somewhere these questions and answers. Granted there are online secured “wallets” for this type of information, but those too need passwords and perhaps challenge questions and answers too.

Until something better comes along for secured access to online services, username, passwords and challenge question and answer pairs will be prevalent. By using an answer other than the truth, you can feel a little more private. Plus nobody has to know your first pet was a French poodle named Fifi Petunia Marmalade.


This is from The Hot Iron, a journal on business and technology by Mike Maddaloni.


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2 Questions I Ask Anyone Thinking About Blogging

By Mike Maddaloni on Thursday, July 23, 2015 at 08:26 AM with 0 comments

photo of a hand showing the number 2

As someone who is been blogging now for over eight years personally and has built commercial blogs for many clients, I can to get asked by a lot of people about blogging. Many of their questions get down into the weeds and minutia and details of a blog, everything from readership to monetization. As they spout these questions I sit back listen and then a smile usually comes over my face. I wait for them to pause and then asked me what I think.

When it's my turn, I look them straight in the eye and I tell them I'm going to ask them 2 questions that are most likely unrelated to anything they've already brought up so far. Those questions are:

1. Why do you want the blog?

It's a simple enough question, but this is something that will lead to eventually creating a vision and mission statement for the blog. For the eventual reader of the blog, this will tell them why they should not only read post the blog now but why they should come back and read in the future and even subscribe to its RSS feed or by email. Having a mission statement and goals for the blog will be is important as it helps not only to drive content but also to motivate the writer.

2. Are you prepared to commit to writing on a regular basis?

As a blog is a Web site that is regularly updated with new content, ideally your blog should also be updated on a regular basis. So the question I ask people is if you are ready to write on a “regular basis.” What is a regular basis? That is really up to the writer if it’s once a day, several times a week, once a week, every other week, etc. Whatever it is, it should be have some consistency to it. If you have been a regular reader of The Hot Iron you will know that I have change my regular basis many times over the years and now try to commit to at least once a week, but even that for myself is sometimes a challenge with my personal and professional schedule. That is why I like to ask people that question in particular.

And that is it

Note these questions do not address anything about the topic of your blog, the voice of your blog, the technology used for your blog or anything of such. As you embark down the path of deciding if you're want to have a blog of your own, I like to pull it up to the 50,000 foot level and ask basic questions and then from there determine if blogging is something that you want to pursue.

So what do you think – are these basic enough questions to ask people or are they too simple? Or do you think that they are right on the mark? I welcome the thoughts of people who were considering blogging as well as people who have been blogging for many years on questions of people should consider before they go down the path I've enjoyed very much – a great journey of creating and writing a blog.


This is from The Hot Iron, a journal on business and technology by Mike Maddaloni.


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My Takeaways From The Book Scrum by Jeff Sutherland

By Mike Maddaloni on Wednesday, July 15, 2015 at 12:21 PM with 2 comments

Imagine a workplace where not only you can work without impediments to your progress, but one where you have a say in what and how you do it? And to top of it you’re much more productive and successful and so is your ultimate business customer.

So what’s the catch? You simply have to drop the current way you work and adopt something called Scrum.

What is Scrum? The origins of the word come from the sport rugby, where a tight formation of players move and work together to get the ball forward. The term Scrum here has its origins on software development, where a small team of people work closely together to build software. The difference is in how they build it – using an iterative cycle of a few usable features at a time rather than defining everything upfront, then months (or years) later receiving software with all of the features.

The later process I described above is commonly referred to as “waterfall.” As one giant cycle produces all software (or the falling water) and the remaining project time is used to fix bugs and make changes in the business process (or the water flowing from the waterfall). It is far from a perfect system, especially as it doesn’t take into consideration business changes, let alone end users not always knowing what they want, both upfront or a year from now!

The former process I described above is Scrum, and was created in the 1990’s by Jeff Sutherland and Ken Schwaber. This book, Scrum: Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time, is written by Sutherland, and presented in a format to introduce Scrum to the wider world outside of software.

As someone who has built software all of my professional career and then some and has used scrum formally in some of my past roles, I was interested to read this book, not only because it is written by one of the co-founders of Scrum, but to learn more how it can be used in other aspects of business and life.

Among my many thoughts from reading Scrum, I have the following takeaways:

  • Building software – or anything really – is a journey – It’s hard to be perfect and know upfront everything you will possibly need in software you will use. Rather, admit it is a journey, build it over time, and get it closer to your needs while getting functioning features along the way.
  • You have to be committed to Scrum to reap its true potential – Dipping your toes in the Scrum swimming pool will not give you the benefits of it. You have to fully commit to it. If you are hesitant to commit, read the book.
  • If you don’t do it someone else will – Scrum as a framework is always gaining in popularity, and the number of people becoming certified in Scrum as well. If you or your organization is resistant to it, realize more organizations are always adopting it.
  • I want to be Scrum Certified more now than before – after reading the book and hearing Sutherland’s stories of Scrum’s successes in business and beyond, I really want to take formal Scrum training and become certified more than I did before reading the book.

Scrum: Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time is a great read, for those who work in business or any organization. I wish I had this book years ago when I was starting my Web consulting business – not just for building the Web software but for the overall running of my business. It is packed with stories of its successful use in various industries. Though it is very supportive of Scrum, it is not a “fluffy” and rah-rah story – it gets straight to the point and reinforces all that is stated. The book concludes with a step-by-step plan for deploying Scrum.

This is the part of my book takeaways where I disclose why I read a book. As I said, when I heard of it, I needed to get it and bought it myself, and for 2 reasons. The first and most important is that I wanted to read the story. The second and anecdotal reason is that I once worked at the same company as Jeff Sutherland, and we once had a brief work-related phone call. As I read Scrum, I could hear his no-nonsense style, which added to the reading.

As I conclude this post, I have not decided whom to give the book to, as it is something I do after I read one. If you are interested let me know. If you have read the book, or based on this are interested to, I welcome your thoughts in the comments to this post.


This is from The Hot Iron, a journal on business and technology by Mike Maddaloni.


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New Approach To Managing My Email Inbox To Zero

By Mike Maddaloni on Tuesday, July 07, 2015 at 09:42 PM with 0 comments

screenshot of my new email foldersOver 6 years ago I wrote about a process I had then been following for almost a decade – managing my email inbox to zero. The idea was straightforward – your email inbox is not a to-do list or anything else. You take mail from it, and do something with it, just like the postal mailbox at your home. Doing this is something I continue to do – dare I say obsess over – now for over 15 years.

Like any process, a better way to do something comes along, including how I was managing my email. Where the basics of keeping the inbox to zero still applied, the one part that wasn’t working for me was the filing of emails. It became clear that while email is not a good task list, it is also not a good archive, especially how I was managing it. So I came up a new process I’d like to share with what I did with the emails I wanted to file.

A Better Way To File

While archives of email folders are searchable, have date/time stamps and so forth, pouring through email messages and threads was becoming more and more inefficient for me. To start, I had my email stored offline in an email client software, Mozilla Thunderbird, on my PC. If I needed something while away from it, I couldn’t. Even with all of the emails I had in the archive within Thunderbird, I rarely would have to go back far in time for something. Needless to say, I was continuing to save email message after email message, and it was cluttering my hard drive more and more.

The change to my filing was in 2 steps – the first was to eliminate Thunderbird from the picture and only use Web-based mail. The second was to create folders for email messages I was saving for a particular month, and only keep the current month and 2 past months in Web mail. Once a new month rolled over, I would create a new folder for it, then go through the oldest folder and either delete or save to my PC archive the individual email message as a PDF file. The accompanying photo to this post shows how my mail folders look – the “_201507” is the current folder, and those prefixed with “X” (namely so they will appear at the bottom of the list) are for the last 2 months prior.

I started this process back in March, and now we are at July. I have since cleared out 2 months of old emails, and probably only saving half of them. I have at ready-access email messages I need through Web mail and on my mobile device, and I have a more robust archive of my “stuff” on my personal hard drive.

In short – so far, so good.

Now I will get back to the 17 messages in my inbox. In the meantime, I’d welcome your thoughts on my revised approach, and feel free to leave them in the comments of this post.


This is from The Hot Iron, a journal on business and technology by Mike Maddaloni.


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Why I Am Walking In the Chicago Liver Life Walk On June 13 2015

By Mike Maddaloni on Monday, May 25, 2015 at 11:48 AM with 0 comments

photo of Mike and his MomThis year marks 15 years that I have laced up my sneakers, grabbed a bottle of water and a few family and friends and walked along a body of water for a great cause in memory of a great person.

In 2001 I participated in the first of what is now called the Liver Life Walk, a walkathon in support of the American Liver Foundation, or ALF. It was literally a few weeks after my Mom lost her battle with primary biliary cirrhosis, or PBC, an autoimmune liver disease that inflicts women. At the time I really knew little about liver diseases, heck about how the liver works in concert with all of your body. Since then I have learned much, including the work the ALF does in research, education and advocacy for the fight against the many forms of liver diseases.

As I have done in the past, I ask you to join me, whether literally in walking with me in Chicago on Saturday, June 13, or by supporting my team, The “A” Team, by making a donation.

It goes without saying what this means to myself and to the cause. Thank you in advance for your support.

Donate to the Liver Life Walk


This is from The Hot Iron, a journal on business and technology by Mike Maddaloni.


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Revisiting My Web Site Redesign Checklist

By Mike Maddaloni on Friday, May 01, 2015 at 12:22 PM with 0 comments

photo of The State of Your Web Site Web Redesign Checklist

There comes a time when we reevaluate something we are doing. This thing may be an ongoing activity or something is simply still “around” that requires little to no attention, but is something we are aware of. The thought process involved in determining to continue or suspend something can be interesting in itself, and can lead to a go or no-go or a change to what it is we are doing.

Among my seemingly too many projects and activities is something I am still proud of, but wondered if I should keep it out there. About 5 years ago I launched The State of Your Web Site within my former Web consulting firm. It is a checklist of 34 items which I felt are important to the vitality of a Web site. As I later wrote in a post about the process of creating it and naming it, a lot of work went into it. That being said, should I still keep it out there in the Internet eye?

The evaluation process boiled down to 2 points – 1 for and 1 against it. The con is the amount of time that Is needed to keep something like this current, as tools and technology and trends are always evolving and changing. As it is almost 5 years old now, there are some parts of it that are in need of updating. The pro, however, is that people still seek my advice on their Web site, despite that I no longer offer that as a service any longer (if they need someone, I simply refer them to Visible Logic). For that reason alone, I felt it was worthwhile to keep The State out there, and to spend some time to update it and keep it fresh.

Once I made this decision, another “pro” came to mind – this is a good way to keep my own Web skills sharp. As I am still in the profession of building great Web sites and Web applications, to have a “home” for my research and thoughts would be an ideal use for the checklist.

The first step of this process is to do just that – establish a new location to host and offer The State of Your Web Site. This will be the place where, when I review the checklist items and update it, I will post and announce the updates. What better place than right here, at The Hot Iron? Going forward, you will be able to find the latest post on The State at thestateofyourwebsite.com. Right now that link points to the very post you are reading. If a new post had more current information, the link will redirect to it. By clicking on the image at the top or this link you can view the original version of The State – as I said, it came out in 2010, and the list does need some updating, but as you review it you will find some “timeless” items to consider for your Web site.

As I work on updates to The State I of course welcome your thoughts and comments on it – on the list overall to specific elements within it. You can leave them as comments to this post or contact me directly. Your feedback will be vital to the validation of changes to The State of Your Web Site, and I thank you in advance for your time.


This is from The Hot Iron, a journal on business and technology by Mike Maddaloni.


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photo of television test pattern art at Columbia College in Chicago

Where the Anchorman movies were a good laugh, weaved in between the puns was a story of both the “golden age” of local broadcast television and the genesis of cable television, which had a transformative effect on local television.

As I grew up in western Massachusetts, the local TV station to watch was WWLP channel 22 in Springfield, MA. It was an NBC affiliate who consistently was the ratings leader for news and local programming. Part of that local programming included editorials by the station’s president, Bill Putnam, which were highly informative, opinionated and entertaining. When I heard that Putnam and his then business partner (and now wife) Kitty Broman Putnam wrote a memoir about the formation and the behind-the-scenes of the operations of WWLP, I had to get a copy of it. That memoir, How We Survived in UHF Television A Broadcasting Memoir 1953-1984, includes insider information and photos about not only the founding of the TV station, but the UHF television band and entities like the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

Though there are many tales which are local to western Massachusetts, from places to politicians, it is a book for anyone who is interested in broadcast communications and its history. For someone like myself who is interested in that and local history in general, it is an interesting tale, spanning over 30 years, of the creation, evolution and positioning of a local television station during a time when broadcast television was evolving and positioning as well. It was of course interesting to learn the why’s and what-else’s about the TV station that I probably spent too much time watching during my own evolution and positioning.

Learning the “inside baseball” of WWLP (whose call letters come from Putnam’s full name, William Lowell Putnam) was of course a great takeaway for me from this book, but there were others that make this an interesting read for others, including:

  • Entrepreneurial ventures come different forms - When you think of a business labeled with the word “entrepreneur” one often thinks of a small space with a shoestring budget in a remote office. This was the case with WWLP, whose studios were atop a mountain and was built by Putnam and other staff. Where what you saw on TV looked polished and expensive, it was far from that, and the station also had a stable of investors who help funded the lean operation. Plus in those days, long before high-definition television, studio sets could have been made of cardboard colored by markers and you wouldn’t know the difference.
  • The tools are always getting better - This is a term I use quite a bit, especially when describing the evolution of my former Web consulting business, where changes in technology often drove changes in the business model. The same can be said for television, whether it was in broadcast transmitters or from black and white to color pictures. Being aware of these changes and having the capital – both money and time – to address and adapt to them is important in the survival and thriving of any business.
  • You’ve got to know when to fold ‘em - Putnam, Broman and company sold WWLP in the mid-1980’s and got out of broadcasting altogether. This was in the early days of the large expansion of cable TV across the US. Though local broadcast stations would get their signal carried on the cable, the revenue model for those same local stations was not defined, nor was it understood what the real impact of cable would be on broadcast. With this on the horizon, Putnam got out of the business early, at a time when he was able to sell for a good profit.

Though How We Survived… hasn’t made many national top-seller lists, it is an entertaining read. It starts technical where Putnam goes into the definitions of what the story of people and places is about. It then ends with recipes by Kitty Broman, who in addition to her leadership role hosted a daily TV show. One thing the book doesn’t do is get into too much detail about all of the various on-air personalities, and only mentions a few of them. One is Bill Rasmussen, who was the sports director at WWLP prior to founding ESPN.

As I do with all of the books I read, I like to give them to others. I am giving this to my friend Tom, as he grew up watching WWLP like myself, and lived near the access road to the mountain-top studios.

Have I convinced you to read this book? Have you read it? I welcome your thoughts in the comments to this post.


This is from The Hot Iron, a journal on business and technology by Mike Maddaloni.


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Easily Create A UNO Social Site With Free .UNO Domain Name

By Mike Maddaloni on Monday, April 06, 2015 at 01:00 AM with 0 comments

screenshot of Mike Maddaloni’s UNO Social Site

Personal Web sites are nothing new. Where they started in the early days of the Web – I created my first one in 1994 – they became more popular and pervasive with improved Web publishing tools. Technical knowledge is not even required for most of them, and there are a variety to choose from. So when I heard of UNO Social Sites, I wondered why another brand? When I tried it out and created my own, I found what could be the best way for people of all tech levels to make one.

UNO Social Sites are offered by the .UNO registry, which began offering the .UNO domain name last year when dozens of new global top-level domains (or gTLDs) were made available for registration, I wrote then why I registered my own .UNO domain names and what I felt were the compelling reasons to do so. My intent was to use my domain name, maddaloni.uno, as my personal home page and build a site there. I never did (the domain name now points to this blog), but still wanted to. I don’t need to worry about that as now the .UNO registry has created UNO Social Sites, which are easy to create and customize personal Web sites.

As I mentioned in the above-linked article, I know the people behind the .UNO registry, and they invited me to beta test the service before it went live. After trying it, creating my own site and testing it all, UNO Social Sites, at hello.uno, are now live for anyone to create one, plus get a .UNO domain name… for free. Where some may want this solely because it is a free service that comes with a free domain name, the site you can build is solid and offers some great features. Once you create your account and choose your domain name, you are free to add a variety of information, pictures and feeds to your site.

In order to create a UNO Social Site, you need a Facebook account. As I don’t use Facebook personally, I inquired why and was told this is solely for verification of your identity. As you can see from my own page pictured above at mikemaddaloni.uno there is no link to Facebook for me, as I was able to use a Facebook account I created solely for this purpose.

Among the features of the site you can customize are the following:

  • Name, photo, tagline, “about me” description
  • Background photos – 1 or up to 3 that rotate
  • Responsive site templates, which means they size nicely for large and small screens, and within them choices of fonts, text sizes and colors
  • A contact link which will send an email to you, as well as an email forwarding address using the domain name
  • A link to your CV or resume which you can upload as a file
  • Links to your chosen social media feeds, and a snapshot of those feeds
  • Something called “My UNO Moments” where you can create a custom collage of photos and text

If all of these customization options are too much for you, coming soon Is the ability to create a page from information on your Facebook page with simply a couple of clicks.

With the variety of customization options, you can create a site with either a social or business focus. Though called “social” sites, you could create a site that is solely for your job search or business, with links and feeds just to LinkedIn, for example. Otherwise you can have it as a multipurpose one as I do for both personal and business. Having the link to your CV or resume upfront is a handy feature, and good way to share more on your profile when exchanging information with a prospect client or job recruiter.

There is also an option to explore others who have a UNO Social Site and follow them. I haven’t used this much other than to see how others have configured their sites, and it has given me some good examples. From what the people at the .UNO registry have told me, these are just the beginning of features and more will be offered in the future. You can see how to setup a site with the video embedded at the bottom of this post, or link here to view it on YouTube.

If you do not have a personal site, or do have one but may want a new approach to one, I recommend getting an UNO Social Site. Whether you have created one, or not, I welcome your thoughts on it in the comments of this post.


This is from The Hot Iron, a journal on business and technology by Mike Maddaloni.


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My Guest Post On The Barrel Of Monkeys Blog On The Big Wedding Gala Fundraiser

By Mike Maddaloni on Wednesday, April 01, 2015 at 08:47 PM with 0 comments

Barrel of Monkeys logoThis past Saturday night, Barrel of Monkeys, a non-profit education arts organization in Chicago, held its annual gala fundraiser. Barrel of Monkeys teaches creative writing to schoolchildren in Chicago, and what the kids write is adapted into sketch comedy and performed by the same actor-educators who are teaching them. It is an amazing program that gets even more amazing results, which is why I am proud to be on its Board of Directors.

The fundraiser was called “The Big Wedding” and was based on a story written by a student in a past creative writing course. A performance of the sketch was part of the event, and it was a not-to-miss event on the city’s social calendar.

You can read my thoughts on the event in my guest post on the Barrel of Monkeys blog. After you read it, I welcome you to peruse the entire Web site and learn more about the entire organization, especially its weekly showcase of sketches, That’s Weird Grandma, which is performed every Monday night year-round (and Sundays for the month of April).

If you have any questions on Barrel of Monkeys, or are thinking of taking in a show, I welcome your questions in the comments to this post.


This is from The Hot Iron, a journal on business and technology by Mike Maddaloni.


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