Most of my career has been in a consulting role. Whether working as an independent or for a consulting firm, I have had the great fortune to work with a wide variety of clients across many verticals.
But why have I traveled so far along the consultant path? Many people become consultants by choice, where others either back into it or take it as a second option.
For me, it began in high school.
There is a picture of my high school mug here, not because it is in remarkably great shape after all these years, but it shows when I graduated, and that is solely for the context of the type of technology I was working with when I took on my first consulting gig.
As I had been programming in BASIC since junior high (a story in itself for another post) by my senior year in high school I was not only quite good at it, but I was known as one of the few people with proficiency. This led to the assistant superintendent of my school system, whom I knew and his sons were also classmates, asking me to write a program to collect survey responses and generate a report with the results of the survey. Remember, this was the mid-80’s, and this is what you needed to do to get such a task done. And I used a Digital PDP-11 minicomputer to do it.
His request, however, was not a favor, as I would be paid for it. Sweet! So I went right to work, first writing the program to collect the data, which would be entered by another classmate who was also being paid for her time. Once that was done I went to work on the report itself – I had the desired format, then I mocked up the report with fillers, then added the computations from the survey data in the database. Knowing my work wouldn’t be perfect, I did many manual calculations of the data to ensure the report data was accurate. When all was done, the school committee got a 2-page report with the survey results. (I know I kept a copy of the survey, and if I ever find it, I will post a PDF of it.)
Of course there was a change in ownership of the project – what consulting gig is without that? The project started in the fall, but at the end of the year the assistant superintendent was leaving the school system. As the project was to be completed in the spring, he told me the superintendent would be my point of contact, and the one who would pay me. Where I didn’t think much about it, I did when it was time to collect my pay, as the superintendent, in his first year on the job in this school system, was a shrewd cost-cutter. He did things like take over the school buses and managed them himself, and after I graduated he even reduced the size of the nearly floor-to-ceiling windows by 80% to save energy. I was worried I wouldn’t get anything at all, especially as I had absolutely nothing in writing!
Shortly after the survey was delivered I asked to meet with him about payment. The conversation went something like this… keep in mind it’s a few years later:
Superintendent – “So Mike, you were promised to get paid for creating the survey?”
Me – “Yes.”
S – “ Well, how much do you want to be paid for it?”
M – “$250.00”
S – “Why that much?”
M – “Well, um, the girl who did the data entry got paid $50, and I certainly did 5 times as much as work as she did.”
S – “How about $200.00?”
M – “It’s a deal.”
Now there’s some negotiating, and not too bad for a kid who not only hasn’t ever negotiated anything more than staying up late to watch Saturday Night Live, going up against a man with w PhD.
It would me several years before I used my computer skills for profit again, and that was in college and in exchange for pizza (yet another story for another time). From thereon in, and with a college diploma, it was all about contracts, invoices and payment or salary. We all start someplace, and my place was very close to home.
Technology • Web Development • (2) Comments • Permalink
As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. But can something that is barely a quarter of an inch square make the difference in whether people read the words of your blog?
Among the recent changes to the user interfaces and experience of Google applications over the past few weeks, favicons are now showing up next to the titles of blogs in their feed reader, Google Reader. Favicons, as I have talked about here on The Hot Iron before, are a 16 pixel square icon that is displayed in the address bar and bookmarks of most all PC/Mac and mobile Web browsers. Their real value is when scanning bookmarks or scrolling thru the history in the address bar as they provide visual cues to which site is which, providing enhanced differentiation from plain text Web URLs. For years I have always added favicons to sites I build in my Web consulting business and I continue to evangelized about them.
With the addition of the favicon to Google Reader, not only a reader can leverage this visual cue convenience, but brands of all form – personal and business – can gain by adding a visual where previously there has been just text in the list of blogs available to be read. Pictured here is a screen shot of my own Google Reader, where you can see a selection of blogs I read, along with their favicons. For most of these, the favicon extends their branding very well, such as with this blog and Active Travels, which is a client. One example here that does not leverage any branding is ChicagoBusiness.com from Crain’s. Where the Web site itself has a favicon, the RSS feed, which is aggregated with others in Google Reader, does not. I cannot say why specifically, but it must be related to how its Web server and RSS feed is configured. I did nothing unique or specific to add the favicon to The Hot Iron's RSS feed.
Another observation I made is that some blog feeds had the “default” favicon for the Web server or Web hosting provider. Many blogs – and I will spare them embarrassment buy not mentioning them by name – have a 3 by 3 grid of squares, which is the favicon for Web host BlueHost. If you don’t change the default favicon that is in a root folder on the Web server, then whatever is there will be “discovered” and used.
Favicons are a small but mighty file that can go miles to extend your brand. Does your Web site have a favicon? Let myself and other readers know by commenting on this post, as well as any questions you may have on favicons.
Build • Social Media • Web Design • Web Development • (0) Comments • Permalink
Recently I was interviewed by CT Moore for the Web site Web Central Station on the topic of open source development and interoperability. As I have worked with both open source and commercial software and development tools over my career, I welcomed the opportunity to share my perspective with their readers.
You can read the article here on the Web Central Station Web site, which is a Canadian Web site sponsored by Microsoft. In short, as I have always said to my consulting clients at Dunkirk Systems, LLC, it is about the right tools or technology for the project.
Announcements • Build • Web Development • (0) Comments • Permalink
The 12 Most has only been live for a few weeks, but it has garnered a lot of attention and traffic. At 12most.com, it is a Web site featuring posts by guest contributors with 12 tips or items on a particular topic. Thus far topics have included business, technology, social media, and a tribute to Father’s Day.
Last Friday I was honored to contribute a guest post titled, 12 Most Basic Things You Can Do For Your Web Site Without Modifying It. In it, I present a dozen tips to benefit your Web site without actually making any changes to the site itself. Some of these are based on The State of Your Web Site checklist, the others come from the full Web site assessment my Web consulting firm Dunkirk Systems, LLC offers.
With the quality of posts and contributors so far, The 12 Most is poised to be one of your 12 most favored Web sites.
Announcements • Blogging • Social Media • Strategize • Web Design • Web Development • (1) Comments • Permalink
The next likemind will be Friday, April 15, 2011 in dozens of cities around the world.
In Chicago, it will be at Argo Tea, 140 S Dearborn St. at the corner of Adams and Dearborn Streets in the Loop from 8:00 am to 10:00 am.
I call likemind a gathering of creative-minded people, from various disciplines including Internet, advertising, art, social media, et. al. For more on likemind, read this great article on likemind Chicago from the Newcity and likemind from the New York Times.
Watch for future date announcements at http://likemindchicago.com/ - and Web site coming soon at that address!Announcements • likemind • Thrive • Web Design • Web Development • (0) Comments • Permalink
We at my Web consulting firm Dunkirk Systems, LLC are proud to announce the re-launch of a Web site that barely looks different than before, but has a completely new infrastructure behind the scenes.
Valcour Strategic Group, LLC is a long-time Dunkirk client and we have collaborated on mutual client projects in the past. Valcour is a Strategic Growth Focused Consulting Services Firm committed to developing and launching New Technology Products that benefit the Water, Food, and Beverage Processing Markets in North America. Their Web site at www.valcourstrategic.com has been live for several years, and has been a static Web site, meaning any changes to the content of the site were a technical task to change hard-coded Web pages. This posed issues with making even the smallest of changes as soon as they were needed. Valcour needed greater content management capabilities with their Web site, but their needs were straight-forward and didn’t need a robust CMS, at least not yet.
After making many changes to their Web site and understanding their needs, I felt a new CMS called MojoMotor would solve their needs, and it is now live powering their Web site. MojoMotor was released last fall by EllisLab, who also offer ExpressionEngine, Dunkirk’s preferred CMS upon which we have built many client Web sites, blogs and forums. MojoMotor positions itself as “the publishing engine that does less,” and the question was if less was more for Valcour. After reviewing the technology with Norman LaVigne, Valcour’s founder and president, he gave the ok for the project.
So how has MojoMotor worked for Valcour? In hs own words, Norman said, “I have made numerous text updates since going live with MojoMotor. I like the ease of doing this so I can tweak something on the site quickly and keep it aligned with my business without having to accumulate changes and do them all at once later.”
Dunkirk is now offering MojoMotor as part of our CMS offering. There are many times when a robust CMS is needed, and in some cases it is not. A great feature of MojoMotor is a built-in upgrade path to ExpressionEngine. Where a Web site may start out with basic needs, when those are exceeded, there is a path to expansion, and greatness!Announcements • Build • Web Development • (2) Comments • Permalink
Microsoft recently launched a program for “moving the world off Internet Explorer 6” called the Internet Explorer 6 Countdown, aptly at IE6Countdown.com. For some of you reading this, hearing about this may be somewhat amusing, for others, you may not know why Microsoft would want this to happen. I will try to address the reasons for upgrading your browser here, and why many – including myself – want IE6 to go away!
A Lot Has Happened In A Decade
IE6 was launched on August 27, 2001. A lot has happened in the area Web technology since then. Web programming standards have changed, with an emphasis towards heavy use of cascading style sheets (CSS) to position content on a Web page, when previously HTML tables were used. This has made Web code “lighter” in it’s physical file size, as well as ease of maintenance. As IE6 itself has not changed, many newer Web pages may display differently, or not display at all. This forces Web designers and developers to add functionality and code to display specific code on IE6 that is different than on other browsers, which only adds to future maintenance.
As well, other browsers have entered the marketplace, including Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome and Opera. These browsers have been designed to render newer Web standards properly, though each has its own nuances. Not to mention newer features to the browsers, such as tabbed browsing and subscribing to RSS feeds. One feature of these other browsers is in their ability to “self-update” and apply incremental changes to the browser software, and prompt the user to download completely new versions of the browser. IE6 does not do this. Windows Update will prompt a PC user to install a new browser version or incremental browser update, but the user can opt not to install them. In some cases, a user may not even have the option – these tend to be corporate users, who centrally control what updates are made on a corporate computer.
Another reason why corporate users may not use the latest browsers is due to some corporate Web applications requiring IE6 to run. Many of these apps may not have a business need to change, thus corporate IT staff have made no efforts to upgrade the browsers. Only newer versions of Windows have come with newer versions of the browser, and hopefully by then these apps have changed for the newer versions.
So Why A Campaign?
Microsoft relied on people to upgrade the browsers themselves, and in many cases the browser never updated or upgraded. Also, IE6 was viewed as slow and unfriendly, which attributed to a migration away from them. People may use IE6 on occasion – for certain Web apps that required it – but would use Firefox or another browser as their primary browser. Thus not only did IE6 lose market share, IE browsers overall lost market share. So why not a marketing campaign to bring attention to the browser already installed on your PC?
Where the idea of a campaign around a countdown to IE6 going away is interesting, it’s just that – clever marketing. If you look at the chart on the IE6 countdown Web site, the country with the largest use if IE6 is China, which raises all sorts of questions around piracy as well as their ability to even get access to the newer browsers.
As someone who build Web sites, I have IE6 installed on a computer I use, and this is namely for testing my Web sites. My primary browser is Firefox 3, and I also use Google Chrome on occasion, both for Web browsing and testing Web sites. I agree the world would be a better place without IE6. Unfortunately I don’t think this campaign will make it go away completely.
I once had an idea about how to rid the world of IE6 – rather than have a marketing campaign, hold a contest for someone to write a virus or malware which would replace a version of IE6 with a newer version of IE. Though ethics heavily come into play, it would certainly be more effective!
What do you think of this campaign? Do you still use IE6? I welcome your thoughts and reasons in the comments of this post.Build • Technology • Web Design • Web Development • (6) Comments • Permalink
Last week I received an email from Yahoo indicating it will be shutting down the service MyBlogLog on May 24, 2011. For some of you reading this, you may be saying, what the heck is MyBlogLog anyway? Allow me to explain.
MyBlogLog was a social community for blogs. Bloggers joined MyBlogLog and would put code into their theme or template pages to display a widget. If you were a member of MyBlogLog and visited the Web page of another blog who was also a member, your avatar would appear within the widget. This would show that you - and others - visited the blog site. The widget could be adjusted to show a small or large list of avatars, as well as the names of the person and blog behind the avatar. By clicking within the widget you could go to the MyBlogLog page for the blog itself or for the visitors.
For myself, MyBlogLog was more of a merit badge for how many different people would visit my blog more than a way to learn about my visitors. I rarely went to the MyBlogLog Web site itself. Overtime, the widget was slowly demoted on the sidebar of The Hot Iron and other blogs which I had signed up for it. Where it was something I would recommend for client blogs, eventually it was not. The accompanying image shows the latest status of the MyBlogLog widget for The Hot Iron as of this writing.
My guess is its popularity waned for others as well. Here’s the text of Yahoo’s email:
Dear MyBlogLog Customer,
You have been identified as a customer of Yahoo! MyBlogLog. We will officially discontinue Yahoo! MyBlogLog effective May 24, 2011. Your agreement with Yahoo!, to the extent that it applies to the Yahoo! MyBlogLog, will terminate on May 24, 2011.
After May 24, 2011 your credit card will no longer be charged for premium services on MyBlogLog. We will refund you the unused portion of your subscription, if any. The refund will appear as a credit via the billing method we have on file for you. To make sure that your billing information is correct and up to date, visit https://billing.yahoo.com.
If you have questions about these changes, please visit the Yahoo! MyBlogLog help pages.We thank you for being a customer on Yahoo! MyBlogLog.
The Yahoo! My BlogLog Team
When I read this, my first reaction was, “people paid for this?” It was always free when I signed up for it, which pre-dated Yahoo’s acquisition of it. The link to the help pages originally linked to a MyBlogLog page which basically stated what was in the email. As I write this it links to a help page on Featured Listings, which looks like another soon-to-be discontinued service.
My guess is after May 24 the widget will not appear on Web pages, and soon I will remove it from The Hot Iron’s templates. This appears to be yet another change Yahoo is making to slim down its operations, including the shutdown of Geocities and using Microsoft Bing’s search marketing services instead of its own. With MyBlogLog, and the same can be said for Geocities, why didn’t they just spin it off and give this away to someone to let them continue with it? Perhaps they didn’t want to incur the cost of doing so, or perhaps it was easier to just shut it down. I don’t know, as the help topics don’t pertain to it.
So long MyBlogLog – it was fun while it lasted! What do you think about this latest decision by Yahoo? Should they have kept it going? Did it provide any value to you, even if only as eye candy? Please share your thoughts in the comments on this post. And perhaps you will see your avatar in the widget when you do so?Blogging • Build • Web Design • Web Development • (1) Comments • Permalink
While I say I cannot predict the future, sometimes things are so glaring to some and not others, by pointing out you are opening eyes for some people. One of them for me is “a” next frontier in the use of mobile technology – to get beyond the corporate firewall and use all of the tools and data like you can do on a full computer. Note I say “a” next frontier, as it is out there, I just don’t know if it’s the “next” or “last” frontier.
Why do I believe this? Over the years I have managed public Web sites, corporate Intranets, Extranets, portals and knowledge management systems. I have seen how these tools, when used effectively, make people productive. I have also seen how when not managed properly they become a huge mess and waste of resources. Typically, there is a mix of these within most organizations, everything from advanced applications, to a PC under someone’s desk hosting a group’s Intranet Web site, to email.
Going Beyond Email
Using your mobile device to work as you would at work is long overdue. Most corporate workers who have a mobile device use it for email. But beyond email, there may be a limited amount of apps or data available to them. Mobile devices have Web browsers, but you may not be able to make a VPN connection within your company’s firewall. Not having this prevents you from accessing what you can do on your work computer, from your desk or away from it.
More and more email is being used to get around this lack of access. Have you ever asked co-workers or your admin to send you files or information you can’t get at? I see this all the time as friends – even my wife – have to do this in order to get what they may need for a conference call they have to make from a remote location. There’s no other way, especially if getting online with your notebook computer is not an option, or you don’t want to lug it (and power cables, etc.) around.
Going Beyond Mindsets and Existing Network Infrastructure
Shortly before his inauguration, there was buzz about how US President Obama wanted to carry a BlackBerry. In the end, he got one. It is not completely known what kind of security is in use with his device, but the bottom-line is it was achievable. My guess is it’s not out of reach for most companies.
Part of the issue with going mobile with your company information is a mindset it is not secure. This is where you need to go beyond your current infrastructure. As tablets and smarter phones hit the market and become more and more commonplace, the demands from staff will require both of these looming issues to be addressed.
Do I Need An App For That?
Once you go beyond the firewall, the fun begins. Some content and applications may already look great on a mobile browser. Some package applications may already have mobile-friendly interfaces, or even apps to access data. I recently saw a development tool for interfacing with CICS screens on an iPad. (If you don’t know what CICS is, its how most applications were developed on mainframe computers that allowed users to enter and query data. As many CICS screens are still alive and kicking today, thus the opportunity for such a tool). Then there’s the content and applications where you’ll need to either build or buy (or both) to access them outside of the office.
Access content and data in multiple formats on multiple platforms is an opportunity to drive innovation in your corporate Intranet and sites. Everything from comprehensive search to centralizing content to reaping value “dead” or unpopular content can be gained from this effort. As you go forward, build into your requirements mobile platform compatibility, whether for your own internal development or for your third-party vendors. Just think about taking an online training course on your mobile device while sitting in the waiting room for jury duty, and you get the power and convenience of extending the workplace to mobile devices.
Keeping Up With Small Businesses
Many small businesses have some of this capability already. Google Apps works well on Android devices. Salesforce.com has apps for many devices. QuickBooks Online has mobile versions of its full Web-based application. All of these are hosted, third-party services, which does not require the infrastructure to go beyond the firewall. As some larger businesses use Salesforce already, they have an advantage with the ability for their users to work on a mobile device.
Big Picture Thinking On Little Devices
Looking back on what I have presented, I covered a lot, and at a high-level, big picture perspective. As anyone who has worked in computer systems knows, the devil is in the details. But keeping in mind a roadmap to where you want to be, from the short-term to as far out as you can realistically plan, literally getting the information into the hands of those who need it will be critical and advantageous for any business. Let alone the opportunity for those who will be involved in making this happen, whether they build mobile hardware, platforms, apps or supporting software.
Do you agree on this future frontier of mobile? Are you looking forward to it? Are you using it today? Please share your thoughts in the comments of this post.Business • Technology • Mobile Technology • Strategize • Thrive • Web Development • (0) Comments • Permalink
Where we at Dunkirk Systems, LLC have clients who sell goods and services through eCommerce Web sites we built for them, never have we built a Web site for just one sale. In this case, it is a condominium in downtown Chicago, Illinois.
The property is at 5 North Wabash Avenue, Suite 1204 in Chicago’s Loop. In a century-old building recently renovated and around the corner from Millennium Park, this 1 bedroom, 1 bathroom plus a den with loft ceilings is a unique property. To enhance the sales process, we were brought on to develop a Web site for this recently listed property. It leverages information from its multiple listing service (MLS) listing, as well as a service used by the REALTOR to photograph and create an interactive floorplan. This also includes a North Wabash Avenue Suite 1204 mobile Web site complete with a QR code and link on every Web page. As with any Web site Dunkirk builds, we built into it the ability for the client to specify and define content, sitemaps to submit to search engines, statistics with Google Analytics and social media link buttons.Announcements • Business • QR Codes • Web Development • (0) Comments • Permalink