Buying from Microsoft and airlines without an option

By Mike Maddaloni on Wednesday, January 31, 2007 at 11:33 AM with 0 comments

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.

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An Entrepreneur Reacts and Conquers

By Mike Maddaloni on Tuesday, January 30, 2007 at 11:28 AM with 0 comments

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.

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Go Bears!

By Mike Maddaloni on Monday, January 29, 2007 at 07:56 AM with 4 comments

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!

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30 Days with my Treo 680

By Mike Maddaloni on Sunday, January 28, 2007 at 08:48 AM with 0 comments

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.

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All I remember from Economics 101 – Opportunity Cost

By Mike Maddaloni on Saturday, January 27, 2007 at 11:17 AM with 0 comments

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.

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Community building is up to ALL of us

By Mike Maddaloni on Friday, January 26, 2007 at 08:43 AM with 3 comments

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.

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QuickBooks Can’t See the Vista

By Mike Maddaloni on Thursday, January 25, 2007 at 10:32 AM with 0 comments

This just in from Intuit... if you are using a version of QuickBooks prior to 2006, you will have problems if you upgrade to Windows Vista. To quote the email from the Senior VP of QuickBooks:

Since QuickBooks 2006 and earlier versions were developed
and released before the introduction of Windows Vista,
these versions may be adversely affected when used on
a computer running Windows Vista.

(it was centered and bolded in the email)

Most users aren't compelled to upgrade QuickBooks or Quicken every year, mainly due to the fact that if you want to use the same functionality, what has really changed? I heard one time in the early 2000's that Quicken hadn't changed since the mid 1990's.

Not that I needed another reason not to upgrade to Vista.

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Yesterday my friend Chuck asked me how I have the time to write for my blog. I told him that doesn't take as long as it would appear, as I usually write and edit the first draft in my head before I type it.

This reminded me of a conversation I had with someone recently (sorry, I forget who) about the concept of making time. Unless you are a supreme being, super hero or maybe even Adam Sandler, we don’t have any control of time itself – it's what we do with the time that we have control of. Or as it appears to me and many people, we don't have control of.

I have found that it's about scheduling time, not making it. Open-ended appointments usually don't happen or do not go as well as they should, usually due to lack of preparation. I strive to schedule appointments, prepare for them, and execute on them efficiently. The fact that the appointment is written down also adds a level of accountability to the meeting or event.

This has worked well for me. Does anyone else have other ideas on scheduling time?

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LaLa Hunkpapa

By Mike Maddaloni on Tuesday, January 23, 2007 at 10:05 PM with 2 comments

If you are a fan of Web 2.0 and the 80’s band Throwing Muses, then the subject of this post rings familiar, and here’s how they are connected.

LaLa.com is a CD swapping service. It is a true Web 2.0 application in its functionality, and in this case it works well as getting pop-up details on CDs and artists is a great help. I literally ran into this service at the main post office Chicago over the holidays of all places – there was a giant sign in the lobby. Here’s how it works in brief: you create a free account, list CDs you are willing to swap, then you search for CDs you want, and initiate a swap. Shortly thereafter you get a set of special mail envelopes (thus the USPS connection?) and CD cases that fit nicely in them. If someone initiates a swap for a CD you have made available, you register the code on the special envelope and you are given the address of whom to send the CD to. There is a charge of $1.75 for each CD you receive.

Out of curiosity I signed up, and have sent and received a few CDs without problems – only mail delays over the holidays slowed some deliveries to almost a month. The CDs are coming directly from members, and sometimes there are notes on the back of the envelope. On the back of a Throwing Muses CD I just got, there was a note from the sender hoping that I was as much of a Muses fan as they were. No fear, as my college radio days in the late 80’s, complete with skinny leather ties and gelled spiky hair, says it all.

Though I don’t know how many CDs I will post, I am wondering how long it will be around. Once I receive a CD, it goes onto my list of CDs available. So am I supposed to send it back out? That should be a huge red flag to the lawyers at the RIAA. The $1.75 comprises 75 cents for postage and $1 for the service, with a portion – 20% - going to a foundation to support performing artists. Not sure how that will be executed on, but maybe it will keep the lawyers away for a bit. Now I will go see if I can complete my Husker Dü collection.

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TechCocktail this Thursday in Chicago

By Mike Maddaloni on Sunday, January 21, 2007 at 09:07 AM with 0 comments

This Thursday, January 25, 2007 is the next TechCocktail. As you can guess by the name, it is an tech networking event where drinks are served. This is the third of what has become a quarterly event, and will be held at Amira at the NBC Tower in Chicago.

I went to the first one, missed the second, and I am looking forward to this one. Its success can be contributed to many reasons. It was heavily promoted on blogs, and as a result brought in a wide variety of people in technology including programmers, entrepreneurs, bloggers, venture capitalists and lawyers. As a quarterly event, it is not overdone, and still has momentum. And free admission and drinks aren’t a bad thing either.

TechCocktail's success is in its simplicity, and that’s why I think it will be around for a while. Many user groups or other organizations fail because of the complexities of their services and offerings. As well, when there is a turnover in the organizers, it is hard to regain much of the momentum the group had. I have seen this personally with tech user groups as well as established organizations like the Jaycees, and it falls in line with the team development model of forming, storming, norming and performing.

Are you going to TechCocktail? Hope to see you there!

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