I find the office supply wars in Chicagoland mildly amusing. It may be the same in other areas – you tell me – but this is the first time I have been exposed to it.
Hailing from Massachusetts, I have shopped at Staples, which was founded in the Bay State, since they opened in the 80’s. Staples has dominated the northeast, even with the few OfficeMax stores that come into the area.
When I moved to the Windy City a couple of years ago, there were no Staples stores. Then they arrived, or should I say invaded. As I had a Staples Rewards card (their frequent shopping program) I was invited to their launch party, featuring a performance by Chicago’s own Mavis Staples. And for what seemed to be almost half a year, I was bombarded with general discount coupons (e.g. $5 off a $5 purchase) by guerilla marketers in the streets and by mail.
Prior to their arrival, I shopped at OfficeMax and Office Depot and I still have their respective frequent shopper cards. Therefore I am in their "systems" and they should have noticed that my purchases dropped and pretty much ceased. If so, you could have fooled me. I have yet to hear or receive anything from them to indicate this. How about a "we miss you" mailing with a general discount coupon or other incentives to bring me back? That would be my thinking, but not theirs. I get specific, low-discount coupons for items I am obviously not buying. Not to mention their lack of response to the general discount coupons I continue to get from Staples.
Or maybe OfficeMax and Office Depot do not have that kind of information on me, or they do but don’t know what to do with it?Business • (0) Comments • Permalink
This Saturday, February 10, there will be an amazing concert just outside of Chicago put on by the Sing to Live Community Chorus. The chorus is made up of people who have been personally affected by breast cancer, whether it was themself or a loved one. I am proud that my wife is a member of this chorus in honor of her aunt, grandmother and a dear friend, all who had breast cancer.
I am also proud to have an advertisement in the program book for the entire season of three performances. Do I have the ad because Super Bowl ads are outside of my budget? Or is it because I believe my phone will be ringing off the hook after each performance? Though the latter would be nice, it is to show support for an amazing organization that puts on equally amazing performances, and I hope my small contribution will help in their cause.
Community service is a big part of my life. The experiences I gained from being a member and president of the Boston Jaycees helped shape me greatly, not to mention that is where I met my wife! Our support of the American Liver Foundation has helped channel the energy and emotions from the loss of my Mom to liver disease over 5 years ago. I also have several pro bono clients I help in communicating their message on the Internet.
As much as these organizations have benefited from the little bit I give to them, I believe I get back more from them. And I hope to see you at the Sing to Live concert on Saturday night!Diversions • (0) Comments • Permalink
Happy Groundhog Day! Today is the day when we find out whether we have six more weeks of winter or not – not in the sense of when spring starts, but what the weather will be like.
When most people think of today, they think of Punxsutawney Phil, of the town by the same name in Pennsylvania. But there are other groundhogs, and my choice of weather prognostication animal is Dunkirk Dave from the city in western New York that also inspired the name of my business.
This morning Phil did not see his shadow, meaning an early spring. Dave did see his shadow, meaning six more weeks of winter. Maybe a split difference is in store? In either case, it would be nice to get some snow to go with the single-digit weather here in the Windy City.Diversions • (0) Comments • Permalink
Podcasting has been of mind lately, as I pondered an accompanying podcast to The Hot Iron blog. A monthly or semi-monthly podcast featuring highlights of recent posts and perhaps some unique content was my running thought.
Then along comes a new, free service to automatically convert the words of blog posts to an audio file. Odiogo takes my RSS feed and creates an MP3 file with a digitized voice reading the text of each blog post. About a week after signing up for the service, I am in the program, and MP3s of the last ten posts are now available – you can follow this link to Odiogo or subscribe to their feed.
How does it sound? You can tell it is a digitized voice, but it is very clear and it speaks "difficult" words well, like Maddaloni. I put my last name, which people have been mispronouncing all my life, into my last post to see how it sounds, and it was better than I have heard from many people. The service is free to bloggers, and there is an ad program available to blogs with high traffic, sounding similar to Feedburner’s ad program.
Give it a listen and I am eager to hear your feedback.Technology • (2) Comments • Permalink
It was not until 11:30 pm Central time yesterday, January 30, 2007, that I realized Windows Vista was officially launched. I only heard about it because Craig Ferguson, the host of The Late Late Show on CBS, mentioned it in his monologue. Maybe I saw headlines earlier, but note I have been hearing about this product going on eight years, back when it was code-named Longhorn.
As Craig continued to his punch line on Vista, and I paraphrase, he noted people will use it because they have to. Where the studio audience was laughing, I was not. It is an inevitable truth that at some point, I will be running Vista. For the Internet design and development I do at Dunkirk Systems, I will need to test Web sites and applications on Vista. Eventually all new PCs will be shipped with it as the only choice, with Windows XP going away.
As a result, Microsoft Corporation never does sell me, Mike Maddaloni, on their newest operating system. If I don't want to run Vista, I need a separate license for an older Windows version, or go down the Linux path. Yet Microsoft spends millions on marketing and selling Vista. Where it's easy to attack the giants, there are other products we buy where we really don't choose.
The first example of a lack of choice coming to mind is with the airlines, and maybe it's because I am planning a trip. This choice is different, as the entire industry is at a point where there is little differentiation between brands. The only news you hear about brand differences is when they cut snacks and olives in drinks and the like. If you are going to fly, you are more concerned with the price and maybe the number of stops, and only if all flights are the same price may you choose one airline because you have more miles with them.
Maybe it's a nice situation to be in, but I'd rather not be there. When something better, or different, comes along, as your customers have no loyalty to you, they will leave, with the speed depending on the level of difficulty in doing so.Business • (0) Comments • Permalink
I was catching up with my friend Steven Benjamin today and I want to share part of the story. I got to know him originally through the ColdFusion community here in Chicago, and not only is he a talented developer, but an engineer as well – an engineer as in building things with tangible objects, not code.
Last year he launched a new business, MightyMugs.com, and I was asking him how things were going. MightyMugs gives people the ability to upload a photo or image via the Web site, and Steven would make a single or multiple coffee mugs with that image on it. He developed the process to put the image on it and makes them himself, and is a stickler for quality.
As he started marketing his services, he found a lot of interest from businesses, great and small. The fact they could order a quantity as small as a dozen was a key selling point, as other “swag” vendors usually require minimums from several dozen to a gross. Another nice feature is he can create a “3D” animation of what the mug would look like. It’s a great selling point – I know, I am a customer! He also launched a complimenting site for businesses, MightyMugsB2B.com. Not only can you upload an image, but you can email or post mail it, as he got many requests for the latter two.
I think the mark of a good entrepreneur is in how she or he can react to their audience or market and make changes in a way that large corporations cannot. Where he still sells his service to consumers, his tailored Web site and marketing to businesses has helped propel his own business. Same product, different markets, one entrepreneur. It makes you think of what you can do with your own offerings.Business • (0) Comments • Permalink
With the weather in the Windy City hovering around the single digits, thinking about temperatures seventy degrees warmer is always welcome, and Super Bowl XLI this coming Sunday makes it easier. As a Chicago resident and follower of the game, my support is behind the Chicago Bears. They are a hard-fighting team that takes a holistic approach to winning. What do I mean? As much as people think it’s about the quarterback leading the team, all of the players have risen to the occasion over the year to achieve a 13-3 regular season record and win the NFC Championship.
My decision to back the Bears was made easier when my team, the New England Patriots, lost to the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Championship game. I am a New England native, a long-time follower of the Pats and remain a season ticket holder, making as many games as possible. Not to mention co-operating a Pats fan Web site, GoPats.com for the last decade. The Colts are a long-time rival of the Pats as they were once in the same conference division. The play of the Bears feels to me a lot like the play of the Patriots over the last several years, a level of production that won them three Super Bowl championships.
Coincidentally the last time the Bears were in the Super Bowl, 21 years ago, they beat the Patriots. The teams then couldn't have been further apart, as compared to the similarities of this year's teams. Though I will always bleed blue and silver, I will be wearing a different shade of blue with orange this coming Sunday. Go Bears!Diversions • (4) Comments • Permalink
Last month, after much thought and dragging friends through my thinking, I bought a Palm Treo 680 smartphone. It coincided with my switch to T-Mobile. It has been a good month using the phone, and here is my feedback and rants about the device.
My decision to buy the 680 is built on my 10+ years of using a Palm handheld device, including the Treo 600 I had for the last 2 years. Though not multi-threaded and simple in the minds of many, I like the Palm operating system, or whatever it is called these days. Oh, and I should say that I did purchase the phone, and it was not given to me and I am not writing this in return for the freebie.
Here’s what I like best about the 680:
- I lock my device, and when you power it on, you see the date and time, which is why I turn it on half the time.
- The nub antenna, an ugly mainstay of other Treo models, is gone.
- The SD card slot is on the side with a protective cover, meaning it won’t pop out when I lightly tap the phone.
- When I switch it to silent mode, the phone vibrates to confirm.
- I was able to buy an unlocked phone (directly through Palm) which means I can use it anywhere in the world no matter the provider.
- As it runs the Palm OS, I was able to charge the battery, HotSync it and all my information was there with no problems, though I did backup the Palm database folder on my PC just in case of problems.
- I can hear much better on it than on my old 600.
- It supports video, unlike the 600, and its quality is ok for quick video clips.
- The cradle charges a spare battery.
And here’s what I am not a big fan of on the 680:
- Low battery life, which is drained quite a bit by Web surfing and Bluetooth. Get a spare battery and charge it in the cradle.
- The email program does not allow you to change the font sizes and is small for my aging eyes.
- The red or hang-up button is used quite a bit, especially when unlocking the phone, however it is a tiny button for something that is used a lot.
- The green or dial button is NOT used much, especially as you can start a call without it, and just sits there.
- There is no reset button, a long mainstay of the Palm, and you have to yank out the battery to reset the device.
- The earphone jack is still on the bottom, which means you can’t charge the phone in the cradle and use an earpiece.
These are a things with which I am indifferent:
- Bluetooth – I've received mixed reviews over the Bluetooth earpiece from people I talk with, but I bet the first time I print from the device I will be happy.
- The model number – 680. Why? Palm went from the 600 to the 650 to the 700, then back to the 680. It does look a lot like the 750 which is available outside the US – is it the same?
Overall I like my phone, a vast upgrade from my old one, and I recommend it to anyone who does not need CrackBerry push mail and a nice looking, serious smartphone.Technology • (0) Comments • Permalink
I'm sure it's no surprise I majored in computers in college. I got an IT degree – computer information systems – though I usually refer to it as management information systems, or MIS. I maintained a 3.0+ average in my major, and put most of my time into IT courses, and as a result not as much in those other courses that they made me take. As a business student, all was not lost, and some of the pearls of wisdom from those other classes still resonate today.
One is opportunity cost, which I learned in Economics 101. I have the link to Wikipedia so you can get a more formal definition than I am about to give. I remembered it because it loosely related to decision making in the tech world. If you make one decision, what is the cost, or loss, from making that decision over another one? The cost is not just in dollars, but in time or other "opportunities," thus the name.
Do you spend two hours to save one hour of time for a one-time decision? Do you spend money fixing something now that you know you will need to fix again, or just scrap it and buy something else that won't need to be fixed for a long time? A simpler example is using the Peapod grocery delivery service. Without boring you with the details of my life, we have determined that it is worthwhile to pick our food online and have it brought right to our door, rather than taking a large part of an afternoon to get the very same food. This is justified even with the delivery and sometimes higher costs on some items.
And paying a $1 service fee to buy stamps online from the postal service sure beats waiting in the hellish line in the Chicago Loop post office! So the next time you're doing something that you don't think is a good use of your time, maybe you're right.Diversions • (0) Comments • Permalink
Fresh off the TechCocktail networking event last night in Chicago, I have been pondering the state of the "tech community" here in Chicagoland. But as I was thinking in all kinds of direction on the topic, I slapped myself and came back to the reality that the online world, stripped of its technology, is very much like the offline world.
Do you know your neighbors? Think about it – people that may live in the next apartment, condo or house from you, do you know them, and if so to what degree? What about the person in the next office or cubicle? Or the person you greet every day when you get your coffee, dry cleaning or lunch?
If you don't know them, why is it? Did you try to initiate a relationship and they did not reciprocate? Or vice versa?
It is easy to dismiss the tech community as anti-social or people who would rather interact with avatars than people. Where there are some people like that, those people exist in society in general. There are social tech people, and they are organizing events, networking and starting sites like WindyBits to help foster the community.
I believe there is hope. Now I need to get back to sending emails and notes to people I met last night.Technology • Diversions • (3) Comments • Permalink