I Feel Like Alice Down a Rabbit’s Hole

Recently I used a data modeling tool called TOAD to reverse engineer a SQL application.     The basic idea is that you can take an application, load it into the tool and magically you can generate a report including a visual diagram showing the layout of the application (where data comes from, what it links to — that sort of thing).  This is really handy because normally it would take the original programmer “knowing” or days and days of searching through code to find the information.

In TOAD if you click on one of the tables in the diagram it takes you to a report showing you all the information you’d ever need to know (and some you could care less about).   Really cool.

Even cooler is the fact that using TOAD you can write in stuff you need and it will generate the SQL (structured query language) code for you — programming in other words.

The reason I feel a bit like Alice falling through the rabbit hole is because there are a ton of these tools out there.  I stumbled upon TOAD (which is owned by Dell Computers), but there are tons of these tools.  Some are in the thousands of dollars and support big companies with big staffs.  Some are free or pretty cheap.  You can get a free, albeit limited, version of TOAD.

Computer departments use these to help in development, but they can be really valuable business tools — if you have the right information that isn’t “all technical in your face” — and some of the tools can generate business type reports which will let management make intelligent decisions based on the information they glean from these reports.

My confusion of the moment is finding the right tool for business users — one that creates a web site that lets them move around the information they need without being overwhelmed.   I guess I better get back to my analysis!


Remember the song “Steam Heat”?

There was a famous Broadway musical back in the 1950s (and NO I am not old enough to remember it from back then!) called Pajama Game.  The show stopping number was called Steam Heat — and the number and show helped to make Shirley Maclaine a star!

These days the word “steam” evokes a whole different image.  Ask my son who is the expert on all things gaming (as are most teen boys).    Steam is a platform developed by Valve Corporation.  It lets users download games (and in October 2012  Valve expanded the service to include non-gaming software).  In our tech world, Steam gives access — digital distribution, digital rights management, multi-player and communications.

If you haven’t heard of Steam before — it will probably become part of your life in the near future.

Remember the X-Box from Microsoft?  The X-Box (the current one is called the X-Box 360) is a video gaming brand created by Microsoft. It includes a series of video game consoles, the latest of which will be the X-Box One.   Kids all over the world love the X-Box because they can not only play games on it, but they can play games with others from around the world using something called X-Box Live.  Xbox Live costs about $60 a year and for that fee you subscribe to a service  that lets you stream multimedia content from PCs, purchase and stream music, view TV programs and films through the Xbox Music and Xbox Video services, along with access to third-party content services through third-party media streaming applications.  Microsoft does offer a free X-Box Live, but functionality is very limited — it lets you get to the store so you can actually pay for stuff (hmmm, and the ability to shop is free, how ironic is THAT?) and you can play demo games to see if you want to buy them.   As I said the free version is very limited.

X-Box took over the gaming world in a big way — thanks in large part to the multi-player gaming abilities of X-Box Live (not to mention some killer shooting games). . .   But thanks to Steam this reign may be about to end.

Steam now has more than 65 million active accounts.  65 million!  This is a 30 percent rise in players in just the last year.  On any given day Steam may have more than 6 million concurrent users.  Microsoft’s X-box Live has 48 million accounts — around half of whom reportedly paid extra for a gold subscription.

Steam has 17 million more accounts than Microsoft’s X-Box Live!

I can almost hear 17 million voices crying out “In your face Microsoft!”

Poor Microsoft, once the king of technology the iPad and Google Android tablets are sucking life out of its key computing model, and now Steam is taking a bite out of its lauded gaming throne!

Steam is not new.  Steam has been around for 10 years.   There was a time I hated Steam because of the complexity it took to download games — if they even worked at all after you went through the trouble to download Steam and then download a game. . .

Ten years is a long time in tech years.  Most tech companies who survive that long have come to prominence and then decline — if they ever became a leader in the first place.

The success of Steam in keeping up with technology and even leading it contrasted with so many high tech companies who lay in the graveyard of technology past brings to mind Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey A. Moore and Regis McKenna.    The concept of the chasm of dead products that either never make it to main stream or hit it and then rapidly die out was brilliant.  Moore and McKenna said there is a chasm between the early adopters of a new technology product, mainstream users — and then finally the late adopters.    In the “old days” a product could be designed and last a lifetime (more than a lifetime — think of something like a shovel or a hammer — how long have those tools been around).  Now think about how Math technology went from a slide ruler to a calculator to Lotus 1-2-3 to Microsoft Excel to an app on your cell phone or tablet. . .   That product life cycle just gets faster and faster — and companies rise and fall so rapidly it makes your head spin!

Valve is innovating so it shouldn’t fall into the chasm any time soon.  Valve (owner of Steam) announced a new operating system.  SteamOS is a Linux-based (bypassing Microsoft) operating system — a navigation solution for gaming PCs in the living room.  It can be installed on any PC (and it’s free).   SteamOS will be the operating system powering the physical Steam Machines that Valve will soon be shipping to eager gamers.  The Steam Machine is supposed to be its ability to stream games from your regular gaming PC to any TV.

Valve also announced a new game controller.  The Steam Controller has two clickable high-resolution circular track pads with haptic feedback, which supposed to be precise enough to match gaming keyboards and gaming mice.

Time will tell if Steam will continue to steam roll over its competition — but our high tech world keeps on a changing!

Who Do You Believe: The White House and Wall Street — or the American People?

I did not write this post.  I read it on LinkedIn.  It was written by Jim Clifton, CEO of Gallup. 

The White House and Wall Street keep telling us that the economy is improving, and they point to the unemployment rate and other economic indicators.  This is starting to worry me.

The 7.3% reported unemployment rate from the Bureau of Labor Statistics is an illusion, because it doesn’t include a shrinking workforce, which reflects the deeply discouraged unemployed who have simply given up on seeking work, as well as the grossly underemployed. According to Gallup, real unemployment plus underemployment is 17%, which means roughly 20 million or more citizens wish they had a full-time job with a consistent paycheck. But we don’t hear the president or many Wall Street leaders saying, “More than 20 million people are miserably unemployed or grossly underemployed — so things can’t be too good.”

What’s more, the percentage of American adults holding full-time jobs as a percent of the total adult population is only 43.5%, as measured by Gallup’s Payroll to Population employment rate (P2P).

Now, the economy grew at 2.5% in the second quarter of this year, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, which is surely better than the pathetic and anemic 1.1% first-quarter growth. But in my view, a blended 1.8% means the economy is barely keeping up with population growth, and the economy added only 169,000 jobs in August. No one could be excited about these numbers. From where I sit, we need a minimum of 4% growth for the American economy to boom again.

But don’t take my word for it. If you want to know the truth about the American economy, ask Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, who shocked the world in mid-September when he announced that there would be no change in the Fed’s $85 billion-per-month asset purchase program. The Fed wouldn’t be continuing its “quantitative easing” if it thought the economy was improving substantially — in fact, Bernanke’s surprise announcement belies the White House and Wall Street’s rosy claims.

Or better yet, ask the American people. Gallup’s Economic Confidence Index fell five points last week, which means that Americans’ confidence in the economy is now much worse than it was in May and June. The American public is clearly seeing and feeling something quite different about the economy than what they’re being told. Cheerleading from the White House and Wall Street is falling on deaf ears.

Who are you betting on? Washington and lower Manhattan? Or the American people? I’m putting my money on the wisdom of the masses.

Hasn’t Google Changed Your Life Enough? Apparently Not!

Take a look at this little tiny USB device from Google.    It is about to change the way you watch television in a big way.

The device is called “Chromecast“, a nice little play on words given that Google’s internet browser is called “Chrome.”  Plug Chromecast into any HDTV slot on your television, control it with your laptop, tablet (Apple iPad or Android) or even your smart phone.  You can send videos from Google Play, YouTube, Netflix, and more to your TV.  No more huddling around a 15″ laptop screen to watch a movie or viral video — now you can watch it in high def on your TV with surround sound if you have the capability!

The best bit of all?  Chromecast costs $35.

Yep, I said $35!

You connect Chromecast to your local WiFi network.  It will “find” other WiFi devices on your network that it can work with.

You do have to plug it into a power source as well — via a USB cord.  Most HTML TVs have USB slots, so conceivably the best way to power Chromecast is via the TV itself.    Here is an image showing the USB cord attached to Chromecast.

There are some folks grumbling because although Google offers an open Software Development Kit (SDK) some developers are finding that you can’t stream videos from your own source (e.g. your hard drive or an online storage area like “Dropbox” or “iCloud.”  Local media streaming is, for now, unavailable.  Some earlier developers had built ways to add this functionality, but the latest version of the SDK killed this ability.  Google insists that they will allow this option eventually, but that for now the quality isn’t good enough for it to be available.

Google insists that they love open platforms and are not trying to close off other methods for developers.  A new version of the SDK is expected soon, so for now try to be patient about local media streaming.

One last thing– at this price point Google Chromecast is very, very popular.  As I write this it is sold out on Amazon.   If you want one, good luck on finding it!  There are a few for sale on eBay — but you’ll pay more than $35!

Apple Marketshare @ 13% — Android @ 79%

Those statistics just blew me away. The  WallStreet Journal reported that Android has 79.3% of the Smartphone market and Apple only 13.2%!  Windows (fuggedaboudit) has a whopping 3.7% and Blackberry (oh how the mighty have fallen) 3%.  The report is actually from IDC (a leading technology research company).

I can’t say I’m terribly surprised.  My early career was with AT&T Computer Systems — a huge proponent of open systems.   UNIX, the first truly open operating system, came out of AT&T Bell Labs (where I once worked).   Open means more competition.  Vendors have to build superior products to survive — and they have to price them competitively, too.   In a proprietary world (like Apple) you have closed the gates limiting your users to the products you want them to have.  Less competition means higher prices and usually less innovation in the long run.

Apple may increase its market share later this year when iOS 7 (the new version of its operating system) is released.

Long term I still place my bets on open systems.

My Son’s High Tech School Tools!

When I attended school we had number 2 pencils, college ruled lined paper and very heavy books.   My son, now in the 9th grade, has an iPad with interactive eBooks and apps and a Learning Management System (LMS) called Sch oology.

There are some other amazing tools, too, and I plan to write entries on some of them in other posts.   In this post I am going to discuss Schoology.  There are other LMS solutions available.  Schoology is the LMS used by my son’s school and it is one of the most popular ones available.   Schoology is a free web-based learning management system (LMS) built on a social network.  The “free” may have something to do with its popularity, but many schools are opting for the paid iteration for its additional features.

So what the heck is an LMS and why do schools use them?

Think of ERP and CRM in businesses  — big applications that put out tentacles into all the various departments to link processes together for efficiency.   That is precisely the thinking being LMS for schools.   Students who login to Schoology through the internet (browser) or through an iPad app see a list of their classes and assignments which may be due.   Teachers can upload assignments for the students to access, and the student can do the work in an app on the iPad and then choose to save it to the Schoology “dropbox” (a cloud storage area) where the teacher can retrieve it.  No more lost homework!

No excuse of “I forgot what my homework was” either.

Students can also share files and create messages (ala Facebook) on a school topic for discussions.

A nosy mom (like me) can check to see what my son is assigned and if he has turned it in yet.

From a teaching perspective Schoology helps with course creation and teacher management tools, too.

It just amazes me the tools my son has as a part of his life to help him learn and grow in his education.  It really is a tech world!



Amazing CRM from Lenovo!

lenovo-laptop-ideapad-y410p-front-1Some time back I bought a Lenovo Z580 laptop for my son.  From the start he had problems with the mouse.  My son is pretty “tech savvy” — but he kept having problems.  Finally we agreed to mail it to Lenovo to replace the trackpad.

We mailed off the Z580 for repairs 6/24 and it never came back.

5 weeks in we were MAD and one day Lenovo customer support called US. They offered to replace the PC. My son if he could get one (same model) with a better graphics card and they said “Sorry, it is out of stock, would you like a different model?”

Well my son is a GEEK. He knew Lenovo had just come out (2 weeks earlier) with a new gaming PC that cost $800 more than his old one cost NEW. He asked if he could possibly get it.

They said YES!!!!

Yesterday at 6:00 PM UPS delivered his brand new Lenovo y410p gaming laptop! Woo hoo — way to go Lenovo! Thanks to Debbie on the Lenovo CRM team!  THAT is customer relationship management — do you think we’d consider buying a different brand any time soon?

Why the Name Change?

hitchhikers_guide_to_galaxy_2005_teFor years the name of this blog has been “Making Money with Technology.”  It’s time for a change.  For some reason I hear the voice of the Doctor (from the TV show “Doctor Who“) saying “Change — and not a moment too soon”!

My most recent post, which was on the topic of using iPad apps in schools to replace books, made me realize that the title is not only too limiting, but also a bit outdated.  Technology is indeed a money making proposition, but somehow it has become far more than that.  Technology is no long “what we use” (for work or fun) or even what we sell — it has literally become part of who we are.

Can you imagine your day without your cell phone?  Voice mail?  Instant news via Twitter?  Apps?  Games?  Even your love life has most likely been touched by technology.   Statistic Brain  says that of the 54 million single adults in the United States 40 million of them have tried online dating!  20 million belong to eHarmony alone!

I’ll still post about Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and how to make money with technology — but the focus of the blog is much broader than that.    Technology touches every aspect of our lives in amazing and even somewhat scary ways (the pace of technological change seems to ever increase).

For example (and it will be the topic of my next post) technology is literally flipping (reversing) the way students are being taught in schools.    Our traditional method of a teacher giving a lecture with passive students taking notes is literally going out the window.   From the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to Common Core and Virtual Schools — the educational world is undergoing massive change.

Please feel free to email me or add your comments if there are specific subjects you’d like to see discussed.  As Bette Davis once said (in the movie  “All about Eve“) “Fasten your seat-belts. It’s going to be a bumpy night.”

When you have a kid. . .

I’ve been in high tech for more years than I care to state here.  Hell, I’m old enough to remember that a “minicomputer” was a device with 64KB of Ram or LESS.   Yes, I’m “that” old!

But I also have a teenage son.  My son is 14 and he informs me loudly and often that he knows more than me about technology.  As if.  But one has to remember that he is 14!

My son sure does know a lot!  Maybe it is genetics.  Maybe it is dumb luck.  My son is the one that children and adults turn to for help when they get a virus or even have a hardware problem.   For “fun” he has torn apart two old laptops.  He did this to see how they worked.   Yes, this is my lot in life — to have a kid outshining me.

How does all of this relate to making money with technology?   A lot.  Having a teen son makes me realize that technology is not just for business or “fun” any more.  Technology is literally a part of “who he is.”  It is as if he were born with ear buds firmly in place and a chip imbedded in his brain.     My son begins high school this fall and his new school requires that every kid have an iPad®.   No more school books for him!  He will be using an interactive Algebra app from Pearson with animations and videos.  Along with the book he has access to something called “MathXL” which will have him do his work online, check it for accuracy (no waiting for the teacher to grade it).  If he gets “stuck” the app will lead him step by step through the solution.  If he did need help then MathXL will present him with a new, similar problem, to see if he can do it “on his own.”

At this new school I can track my son’s grades daily, online.  If he is missing an assignment he has no excuse of “I forgot it at school” because all will be in the iCloud.

Needless to say, Apple and Pearson (and a few others) are all making money — mostly from a subscription SaaS (software as a service) model.   I must say I’m impressed with the concept.  Later I’ll tell you how well the reality stacks up to the hope / hype.  Still, the use of an iPad and Internet at a very mainstream school just goes to show that technology is (more than ever) part of our lives — who we ‘are’ not just ‘what we do.’

Transform your Marketing to Make Money with Technology

The world is certainly changing, and technology is ever more quickly transforming how sellers make money.  In the United States online retailers report sales are up 14% from 2011.    European online consumers this year will spend more than 305 billion euros, approximately $396.5 billion, up 20% from 254 billion euros ($330.2 billion) in 2011, according to a projection from Ecommerce Europe.   Tradition retail is flat. 

Trying to fight back, traditional “brick and mortar” retailers are using technology as well.  Email marketing, mobile shopping, and on-site promotions have all played an important role in traditional stores as they try to fight the online encroachment of their customers.

About 23% who took part in a Bizrate survey said that they used a smartphone or tablet to shop online during the much hyped “Black Friday” and “Cyber Monday” sales. Perhaps more impressive is that 70% of those surveyed said they went on to make purchases based on the online research / email that they had done.

The moral?  Customer market segmentation (good old CRM — customer relationship management) tools allow saavy traditional and online retailers to target customers most interested in their products.  Using a combination of business intelligence to identify who buys from you and then targeting them at the right time in the right way (less email, no calls please and yes send me a text when I’m in the store) results in higher sales at the register — whether it is the in store register or the e-shopping cart.



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