Inc. Magazine’s Growco Orlando

March 23rd, 2009

Last Friday I traveled to Orlando with a family friend to Inc. Magazine’s Grow Your Business Expo (known as Growco) as an invited guest. I had been contacted by Athena Schindelheim and asked if I could pass the word along in some way so I included mention of Growco with the billings I send for my annual registered agency renewals. Later I was contacted by Brent Williams, the Marketing Manager and he offered to comp me and a guest or two, so I included Tina Walker of First Data/Colonial Bank when I went on Friday. First Data is a large credit card processor. 

The venue was the JWMarriott Grande Lakes not too far from Universal Studios. It is a massive hotel with first-class conference facilities. Inc. Magazine was sharing about half the facility with Holland & Knight, the undisputed 800-lb gorilla of Florida law firms.

I wish I could comment on Thursday’s program, but I just couldn’t spare two days out of my schedule. So let’s get straight to Friday. First up at 8:30 was Keith McFarland, author of “The Breakthrough Company,” which explores exactly what it takes for a growing company to achieve market dominance and tremendous growth, and “Bounce”, about companies that have survived tough times. One observation he made was that many of these companies are one and the same … those that break through typically have had to develop extraordinary discipline and focus to survive one kind of existential threat or another. After a short video that illustrates perceptual distortions in business, Keith described the manager’s role as that of absorbing the troops’ anxiety about what’s going to happen to them and replacing it with anxiety about what’s going to happen to them if they can’t effect change in the company, as well as managing money appropriately by cutting things that aren’t working early rather than cutting late and across the board in a misguided focus on perceived “fairness”.  

He pointed out that in many cases the company will need a facilitator to draw out the employees’ real knowledge and wisdom. As an example, he pointed out that a contestant on Who Wants To Be a Millionaire will improve his position to 50% accuracy if he uses the 50/50 option for help. Phone-A-Fried is right 60% of the time. But polling the audience produces the correct result 90% of the time. However, only with a facilitator will the company have the right process to get the right result.

As for the makeup of those employees, Keith pointed out that the best companies spend 10% of their effort finding the right people and 90% of their effort grooming and retaining those poeple for years and years.

Keith was followed by a panel made up of Inc.’s Bo Burlington, World Poker Tour founder Steve Lipscomb and Jack Stack, the CEO of SRC Holdings Corp.

Steve describe how World Poker Tour has had to reinvent itself, because the TV money is gone and so they are now entirely sponsorship based. He bemoaned the fact that the Justice Department is making minimal efforts to enforce the anti-internet gaming laws on the one hand, while as a publicly traded, legitimate company he can’t get involved in it at all on the other hand. For his part, Jack described competitors who cut too much during tough times as the competitors who will be outsourcing their functions to your company when they can no longer service their customers as they once could.

Tina and I attended a breakout session by Mike Faith, the founder of Headsets.com, who described how to grow through Customer Love. Essentially, his company had plateaued and he realized that you’ve either got to charge twice the price or give half the service. He decided to focus on service. As a result, he began to measure customer satisfaction and to focus on choosing phone reps who could stand to sit still all day on the phones and smile while doing it, as well as pass periodic tests about product lines and policies. Instead of measuring the length of their calls and driving them to keep them short, he measured whether customers thought they gave outstanding service and got rid of the ones who didn’t–including the automatic attendant. He put all of his key staffers’ names and e-mail addresses right on his website for any customer who had a problem or question to contact. Every year he sends customers a thank-you letter–minus any sales pitch. Mike also advocated being your own customer … calling and using your own website to make an order from start to finish (actually receiving and inspecting the package rather than abandoning the cart before checkout).

Finally (for us) we attended another panel sessionwith Christos Cotsakos, founder and CEO of Pennington Ventures and Gay Gaddis, CEO of T3. Gay recommended highly LinkedIn, Facebook, Myspace and Twitter, and described her internal social network, “The Tank” built on Jive software’s platform. Cotsakos recommended converting the unproductive time that employees are surfing the internet and playing games into social networking time … the employees will still be recreating rather than working, but their recreation will have benefits for the business. He mentioned that social networking’s next frontier is mobile phones because there is a 4-1 ratio of mobile phones to PCs. Although Cotsakos didn’t discuss it, Korea is the undisputed leader in this area … their mobile phones will alert you to the presence of a member of the opposite (or same) sex nearby whose dating profile dovetails with yours and even cause both phones to ring. Also you can have a feature on your mobile phone there that will pick out your friends as dots on the map. Cotsakos pointed out that it’s free to be on social networks and that they provide extremely low-cost marketing platforms to any business. He cited the surprising statistic that at 175 million users, Facebook would be the world’s 5th largest country. He advocated collecting prospects’ e-mail addresses and delivering periodic e-mails that they would find valuable … if opt-out ratio creeps above 1%, the messages are either too frequent or not helpful enough to the recipient.  Gay stressed updating a website’s content frequently because search engines like new content, and also adding Google Analytics to the site. She pointed out Angie’s list, Yelp and Citisearch as websites important to businesses. She pointed out that video blogging could best be done with a $300 Flip Video camera that is designed for immediate uploads to websites like YouTube. She also advocated website owners spend the money for an SEO Audit and described ihandy.biz as a site she admired for its simple, focused approach.

Tina and I unfortunately had to return to Tampa and our respective family responsibilities before we could hear Ping Fu, a computer pioneer who worked on the Mosaic project that ultimately became the Netscape Navigator browser and who has founded a company that amazingly can take a 2-d photograph of an object and render it as a 3-d engineering drawing. Since she did so without the benefit of formal schooling, I’m sure it would have been a fantastic story to hear.

I’m also leaving out a handful of very interesting people we met among the vendors and at our lunch table … one of the contacts I made could well affect what you see on TV in the near future (don’t worry, you won’t have to look at me).

Reaching Young People with a Text Message Bible

March 13th, 2009

In a post entitled “Retreat!” Christian blogger Tim Challies decries the ubiquity of cell phones and texting among Christian youth, rightly noting that they can’t stand going a few minutes without talking or (nowadays) texting. The martial art of Judo teaches us to use an opponent’s own weight and momentum against him, and a small group at the Willow Bend Community Church of Lutz, Florida has figured out one way to do just that by translating the entire Bible into mobile message text. A confession here: it was my wife’s idea, she discovered a way to do it as well, and I actually did it. We have created a site to sell d Old Textament and d New Textament at Textament.com. A Mobipocket version will follow soon.

Joining Technorati

January 20th, 2009

Technorati Profile

Newbie Miscues Hampered Eldorado Deployment

January 20th, 2009

First, I want to thank Trevor Turk, Eldorado’s creator who chimed in with a comment a couple of posts ago. He must have an RSS feed from Technorati that caught my posts and afforded him the opportunity to make a comment that eventually sent me down the right path.

Briefly, I had Eldorado in two folders on my development machine’s Ubuntu drive partition dedicated to Rails development. Only I hadn’t clearly understood that at one point, and at another point (or more) I had taken steps in Trevor’s README file in one place or another, but never consistently in both. To top it off, I had bollixed a “rename” in Trevor’s README file (because I was looking at it in Microsoft Notepad and all the paragraph breaks were ignored so all the text was run together). This caused me to copy config/database.example.yml to config/database.yml2 when the latter should have been config/database.yml.

So I concluded that the Eldorado folder under the “root” folder was hopelessly buggered and I copied the contents of the relatively unscathed Eldorado folder that was under the system’s root (and not under a folder named “root”) to the root folder. Then I performed the steps as outlined in the Eldorado Readme file and Eldorado loaded and ran flawlessly.

There was no need to edit any “routes.rb” file. Nonetheless I will be needing to edit, so my advice to newbies is to make sure you learn the following:
1. Make sure you either load a Ubuntu distro that has the GUI on your Rails development machine or on a separate machine on your network.
2. Make sure you understand permissions and set up an icon that invokes nautilus and gksudo so that you can have admin status in your GUI session.
3. Know how to “mount” a drive from within the GUI session so that you’ll be able to reach your Rails development folders on the separate partition while still in the GUI session.
4. Load a basic editor like Emacs that gives you a simple editor in your GUI session. If you’re ready to
pay for something more advanced, Radrails would probably be the pick.
5. Know how to log in as the “root” user on the non-GUI partition where the Rails environment lives.
6. Know how to change directories (the CD command, just like good ol’ MS-DOS) under Linux.

If you get those basic things under control you will save a lot of time and headaches.

For the moment I have to back-burner the project I’m working on though and pay more attention to some quotidian billing concerns at my business.

Getting Eldorado Going

January 20th, 2009

Well, since my last post I started eldorado running using the “script/server” command and got this:
“NameError in WwwController#index
uninitialized constant WwwController

RAILS_ROOT: /root/eldorado”

Apparently it’s the result of the default route I set up in the routes.rb file “map.connect ”,
:controller => ‘www'” which was supposed to “work like a charm”

http://www.ruby-forum.com/topic/70135

Not so much. But getting rid of the statement entirely (and commenting out the two operant statements in the routs.rb file set me back to:

“Routing Error”

No route matches “/” with {:method=>:get}”So that wasn’t the solution.Now it was time to punt. This site said eldorado could be installed automatically.http://blog.fiveruns.com/2008/10/20/automatic-production-railsThe trouble was, the “wget” command didn’t work on the Ubuntu install where rails lives.I’ll try to get that working next. 

Getting Ruby To Run An Actual Development Website

January 19th, 2009

I’ve been able to get a basic ruby on rails installation to boot, however in order to get my chosen package, Eldorado installed it hasn’t been easy. I downloaded Eldorado from the http://almosteffortless.com/eldorado/ website. Then I unzipped it on my PC and wrote it to a CD-ROM. Trouble started after that. I got a quick hard, lesson in LINUX permissions, as Ubuntu wouldn’t let me load Eldorado onto the hard disk. Finally, I found a page that taught me how to make an icon called “root” on my Ubuntu desktop that would log me in temporarily as the root user (a status that the user on the Ubuntu desktop does not have, just as the Vista user doesn’t have “admin” access unless he specificially invokes it).  I created a root access Icon using this set of instructions: http://www.instructables.com/id/creating_desktop_shortcut_for_root_permissions_in_

More detailed discussion of how to get temporary root access is here: https://help.ubuntu.com/community/RootSudo

Once I did that, I was able to launch Firefox in ubuntu, download the Eldorado zip file, and unzip it to the newly created “Eldorado” folder on the partition set aside for Ruby, which got the ball quite a bit further down the field.

So Eldorado’s creator, ‘foo’ included four instructions for how to get the thing going:

1) Copy config/database.example.yml to config/database.yml

(I was able to do this)
2) Create your database (“rake db:create”)

This one went wrong … the database work hadn’t been done, so I had to get mysql3 going. The error message was “no rule to make target” and the fix was described here: http://groups.google.com/group/rubyonrails-talk/browse_thread/thread/aa726882c3bbb2e6?fwc=1 Specifically, I needed to issue two commands:

sudo apt-get install sqlite3 libsqlite3-dev
sudo gem install sqlite3-ruby

3) Load the database schema (“rake db:schema:load”)

This step worked.

4) Start your web server (“script/server”)

And the web server could be started. That’s where things got murky again, because the standard Ruby welcome screen came up and said to do three more things:

  1. Use script/generate to create your models and controllers

    To see all available options, run it without parameters.

  2. Set up a default route and remove or rename this file

    Routes are set up in config/routes.rb.

  3. Create your database

    Run rake db:migrate to create your database. If you’re not using SQLite (the default), edit config/database.yml with your username and password.

I was pretty sure that 1) had already been taken care of, leaving 2) and 3). Trouble is, the newbie has no idea where “this” file is and no idea how to set up the default route.

“This” file is /public/indx.html.

There is some help on the default route problem here:

http://www.ruby-forum.com/topic/70135

I’m working on the problem now but I don’t have the answer yet.

Miracle on the Hudson – Miracle on Wall Street?

January 16th, 2009

Yesterday’s USAirways crash landing on the Hudson River between Manhattan and New Jersey has been fodder for wall-to-wall news coverage since it happened just after 3:30 yesterday. But while the word “miracle” has been used over and over, I haven’t heard many people reference God in the equation, although “miracle” carries with it the connotation that God did indeed perform the act. Of course, Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberger III certainly played no small part in what happened, but then miracles usually do have human heroes as well.

What I am really driving at is that God really does still perform miracles, and we see them every day. This one, in full view of Wall Street is perhaps also a sign … a sign that we can all survive the crash, pick up the pieces and go on with our lives. The global economy is like a large and very complex aircraft whose engines have sucked in a couple of birds. And it may be unsalvegeable in its present form (or not), but the key is that our leaders (political and financial) have the opportunity to scramble to build something better. If they fail to do so, it will cost lives. If we pray for them and they are guided by Godly principles and create a structure that accords with such principles, we will all be better off.

Ruby On Rails is Running on the Ubuntu Box

January 14th, 2009

A couple of quick notes. First, the completion of the Ubuntu box and its successful boot yesterday fulfilled what I said I set out to do in one of my earliest posts: http://www.fromjumpstreet.com/?p=3#more-3

Also, by close of business yesterday I had also installed a second Ubuntu operating system in a separate partition on the main hard drive, and it carried with it the Ruby on Rails web development environment. I simply downloaded a turnkey Ruby on Rails implementation from http://www.turnkeylinux.org/appliances/rails and used InfraRecorder again to make an image onto a CD-ROM, then I booted from that image and allowed it to partition the hard drive on the Ubuntu box. Once that was done, Ruby on Rails was running on that box and could be accessed from any PC on my network through any web browser.

Back to What I’d Intended After a Long Layoff

January 13th, 2009

When I started this blog, I was building a PC to run Ubuntu. Several things interfered with progress on that front, including lack of a monitor and the physical arrangement of my office, which was not conducive to having a second or third PC set up. Recently both of those problems were solved, and I scrounged the oldest CD-ROM drive in our home, installed it with instructions from http://www.duxcw.com/digest/Howto/cdrom/cdrom2.html and I’m installing Ubuntu on the box as I write this post. The CD-ROM drive was simply a matter of connecting the power cable, the ribbon cable and finding the speaker pins on the motherboard to install the four-pin connector for the speaker wire that runs to the CD-ROM (you can skip this if you don’t want to play CD’s through the speakers on your computer).

Yesterday I followed the instructions at http://ubuntuforums.org/showthread.php?t=505456 for creating a Ubuntu boot disk and after downloading Ubuntu from a Georgia Tech mirror site I found at http://www.ubuntu.com/getubuntu/download. I downloaded the desktop edition, which should be sufficient for me to prototype the Ruby on Rails app that I intend to develop as a fork from Beast or Eldorado. In order to create the image disk that could be booted to install Ubuntu I had to download Infrarecorder, a free utility that burns the Ubuntu files as an image onto a CD-ROM.

BTW, the keyboard and mouse I chose for this PC were both under $10 each from Big Lots. I’m using products by GearHead.

When the Ubuntu install began, I was asked what language I wanted to use, and then numerous files loaded and a second screen asked me again. The language choices were seemingly endless, including Esperanto. I chose English of course, being an American whose Arabic, French and Spanish are rusty perhaps beyond repair. That was step one of seven. Step two was to select a time zone, and New York was the default. Since I’m on the Wwst Coast of Florida in the same time zone, that worked just fine. The third option was to choose a keyboard layout. Even for the USA, there were perhaps a dozen, including numerous Dvorak variations. I chose the plain-vanilla option. The next choice was disk partitioning, and I chose to use all of an old 15gb Maxtor I installed. I also have a Fujitsu disk in there, but it doesn’t seem to be working and I’ll need to see what (if anything) I can do about that. The next step required me to enter some information about myself and a username and password. The last step was simply to review and accept all the settings. I received a final warning that the existing data on the hard drive would be destroyed, and installation began.

The ubuntu installation routines formatted the disk and proceeded to install the system files, about 45 minutes after which I was invited to reboot. The PC detected the install disk in the tray and prompted me to remove it. Then the system booted ubuntu. Unfortunately, it booted with numerous errors and immediately dropped to a shell (the equivalent of the C:/> prompt on a PC. A steady parade of errors scrolled up the screen, all of them variations on “DRDY ERR” “ICRC ABORT” “SRST FAILED” and “exception eMask” and various things being frozen and timed out. I pressed the small button on the front of the PC for a soft reboot.

The key problems seem to be “Gave up waiting for the root device” and “Alert! /dev/diskby/uuid/66b494d8-0861-4955-8e0b-8a25b2c2a1d6 does not exist.” I can enter “help” for a list of built-in commands. The commands are hardly less cryptic than the error messages.

I checked ubuntuforums.com for a fix, and found a post that seemed helpful, but I couldn’t get the editor working, nor could I change anything. Being the type who is prepared to deviate from the obvious track to something he suspects may be a problem, I removed and examined the hard drives, since I had noticed that in the BIOS boot routine for the motherboard only one drive was being auto-detected, and it was the old 4gb Fujitsu (contrary to what I had thought previously, even though the OS had installed onto the Maxtor drive), and it was being detected as a slave. On removing the Maxtor I discovered that its label declared Jumper 50 should be “on” to make it the master. So I closely examined the board on the bottom side of the drive and spotted a small “50” by one set of pins. When I jumpered those pins and reinstalled the drive, Voila! the machine booted to a desktop that looked like a coffee-stained leather blotter, and I was able to access the Ubuntu GUI.

The next step will be to get this thing working on my LAN, and that will require digging out an old Linksys wired router and setting it up in sequence with the newer ATIVA WiFi router I have … we’ve run out of ports around here.

Ripples of Success

December 7th, 2008

Today as we drove past a roadside yard sale that we see regularly on U.S. 41, my wife remarked that a painting she flashed on might be a “highwayman” and I gave a little thought to the highwaymen and how their story might be relate to the current recession and how people who are suffering might make it through.

In 1954, a young black man named Harold Newton met Beanie Backus, a white painter from Ft. Pierce, Florida. Soon Beanie had taught Harold and another painter, Alfred Hair, to paint Florida landscapes. Hair began painting on a production basis, attaching several pieces of Upson board to his fence and making the same brush stroke on each, assembly-line fashion. He taught other young black artists to do this, and soon they were all making decent money in an era when jobs were scarce for blacks, and good jobs even scarcer. Their paintings graced the walls of many, many independent Florida motels and hotels because, well, they were both good and cheap, and they reflected Florida’s natural beauty.

Hair even bought himself a new Cadillac, though later he was tragically killed in a bar fight in 1970. The highwaymen kept painting though, and they sold their paintings from the trunks of their cars for $25 apiece. I own a Sylvester Wells that my father bought that way on the streets of Tampa in 1971. As times changed, many of the artists drifted away from painting and entered the job market that had been opened to them by desegregation and affirmative action, but today in their sixties and seventies they have returned to painting and they are still teaching others to do what they did.    

Nobody gave these men permission to succeed, indeed the deck was badly stacked against them in those times. But they learned and applied a simple skill, they hustled, and they not only survived but thrived. And that is how we will get through the huge economic mess that Wall Street and Washington have left us with.