Friday, June 29, 2007

Glancing at an Evolving Media Market, and Niche Marketing

If you're interested in the Web as a new and evolving media market, you've probably already read Seeking common factors in the Web 2.0 bubble, by Guy Kewney in The Register®.

Kewney's piece is partly a digest of a disagreement conducted with bits and bytes between Andrew Keen, author of "The Cult of the Amateur" and blogger Robert Scoble. What's repeated in The Register® reminds me a bit of Twain's "The Literary Offenses of J. Fennimore Cooper."

Kewney also discusses his view of traditional media, what's on the Web, and mass vs niche marketing.

I'm still a fan of niche marketing, but now I'll have to think about it.

Kewney's piece is an interesting, and at a minimum thought-starting, look at this new field of opportunities. If you're still reading this, go back up to that link and follow it. I think you'll find it worthwhile.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Computers and Kids: Return of the Sequel

This continues the micro-saga of how my 11-year-old son's effect on a 3d render last Monday has helped me learn a few things about how to managing business and family under one roof.

The story to date is in Computers and Kids: the Sequel (June 26) and Computers and Kids: Home-Based Business vs Bionicles (June 25).

There were one or two moments earlier this week when I felt like restricting all access to the 'work' computer, except for vital, by-appointment-only tasks. That wouldn't have been reasonable, though, and would have violated my policy of letting the kids learn by doing. Hair-raising though that may be.

So, I sat down and thought of what was actually needed to maintain a safe working environment for me and the software. I came up with a five-point list, the third point of which was my responsibility to put a prominent written notice up whenever a critical software operation was running without supervision.

Having keyed my five points into a text file, I gathered the kids around the 'work' computer and discussed them. I learned about three sites for the 'white list' of acceptable game and/or video downloads. Looking up ownership of the sites, I decided they were okay, and added them.

The five-point reminder sheet is posted by the computer now, and I'm fairly confident that we've got something better than a temporary solution.

Another Screwball Lawsuit?

You just can't make this sort of thing up.

I ran into a discussion of another screwball lawsuit this morning. Here's a quote from an article about the affair: "Victoria McArthur, of Romero, Mich., is suing Starbursts' parent company, Mars Inc., for more than $25,000 for 'permanent personal injuries' she claims she sustained after biting into one of their yellow candy in 2005."

The discussion, produced by Fox News, included an apparently informed person who pointed out that the relatively small sum involved made the suit more reasonable than the recent case of the fifty-four-million-dollar pants.

Ms. McArthur's lawyer says that three chews of a Starburst® candy gave his client temporal mandibular joint dysfunction.

I hope that whoever hears this case isn't impressed by a medical term, with lots of big words.

Apparently, she wants warning labels on the Starburst® candies.

At this rate, it's only a matter of time before Chester Cheetah® has to stop saying "Dangerously Cheesy®" because the phrase will frighten young children and invalids.

As someone who is growing an online publishing company, maybe I should be taking this more seriously. Sooner or later, someone is going to realize that some company, preferably one with lots of money, can be sued because John Doe or Jane Roe got a headache while viewing that company's website. And, since that headache led to Dementia Paranoidies with Portal Hypertension

And win.

Or, maybe not. Recently, a court ruled in favor of the family enterprise that faced ruin over a $54 million dollar pair of pants. Good news for them, and for the rest of us.

And, a few other blogs on Judge Roy Pearon's vendetta against the Koreans:

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Computers and Kids: the Sequel

"What we've got here is failure to communicate," that sixties catchphrase from Cool Hand Luke (1967), seems to be at the root of yesterday's intersection of my kids and my work.

Tomorrow, I plan to have a short list of reminders posted (hardcopy) near the computer. we've got rules for its use, but it looks like it's easy to forget some of them.

One of the reminders is for me. Part of my responsibilities will be to put a note on or very near the computer when there's something running on it that mustn't be disturbed, and I'm away from the thing.

We'll see how well this works.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Computers and Kids: Home-Based Business vs Bionicles

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

I was waiting for a long render to end. A 3d landscape was giving me some trouble, and I wanted a closer look at what was happening. A cup of coffee wouldn't be enough this time. I needed to find something to do with the next hour or so, while the software did its work.

That's about as long as I usually spend at an exercise place in town, so I left instructions to leave the computer with one of the kids and left. (Clarification: I don't exercise for an hour. That's how long it takes me to drive there, change, exercise, shower, and return. Not bad, for a guy like me.)

When I got back, the computer was being re-booted.

My son had decided that his program wouldn't cause any problems. I suspect that it was one of those online Bionicle games, but I haven't confirmed that.

He's sharp, and computer-savvy. He's also eleven years old, which leaves him with something less than a mature storehouse of wisdom.

The software I was using seemed to have saved my landscape, which wasn't the option I'd have chosen. In addition to the original problem, it was now decidedly terraced.

I've dealt with the new and degraded landscape. At one point, I noticed that my method of smoothing out the terraces was making the landscape swallow some buildings.

On a positive note, I got a great deal of experience, using features of the 3d modeling software and another graphics program that I hadn't learned about before. At this point, about midnight, I'm waiting for the end of a rendering which will reveal how well my most recent efforts were at salvaging my project.

On the down side, I've got to decide what to do about what the kids can, and can't, do with the computer.

It isn't as easy as forbidding them from using the thing: tempting as that option is. I work at home, and don't have the budget to maintain two sets of hardware. One of the kids relies on word processing software for her writing, and even the mail service we use doesn't seem to work well on the older computer.

I'd like to have a neat solution ready to present at this point, perfectly balancing the needs of my evolving business with my responsibility to prepare our kids for life in the Information Age.

But this blog is a record of how my business develops: and at this point, I don't have the solution. Maybe tomorrow.

The rendering I was waiting for should be ready soon. I'd better see how it looks.

Privacy: Dealing with Quaint Local Beliefs

It doesn't matter what I think and feel, it's what others think and feel that matters: at least when in comes to getting along with customers.

I was reminded of that fact of life in a bit of informed opinion, titled "Behavioral Marketing and Behaviorally Targeted Advertising" by Nikole Gipps. Gipps's post said that this technology might not be a good idea for small businesses.

And said it in the lead paragraph.

That got my attention, since I expect technically sophisticated folks to be gung-ho over new sorts of gadgetry.

Gipps gave several good reasons, including high cost, the need to advertise on a large site or a network of smaller sites, and possible "privacy" worries on the part of visitors.

The only reason that I don't really understand, at least on an experiential level, is the concern over "privacy." Which brings me back to why I'm posting this thing.

Despite having lived in metropolitan areas, I'm basically a small-town guy. I expect people I see, or who see me, to know who I am, and remember when I was there before, and again when I return.

When I go into a store, I'm not surprised when someone recognizes me. It's not a shock when someone with the store remembers that I bought a particular item, looked at another, and asked about a third last week.

And I'm not offended when that person brings some product or service to my attention, based on my previous behavior.

In fact, I like it. At one time it would be called "customer service," not "invasion of privacy."

Why some folks get worried about that sort of information gathering, I don't know. And it doesn't matter.

Contemporary English-speaking cultures place great importance on the sort of anonymity they call "privacy," and anyone operating in such cultures had better pay attention to that concern.

Justice is Served (Medium-Well)

It looks like the owners of Custom Cleaners can stay in business, after all. Administrative law judge Roy L. Pearson wanted compensation for a pair of pants he claimed the cleaners had lost.

If Pearson had gotten what he wanted, Soo Chung, Jin Nam Chung and Ki Y. Chung would have had to pay $64 million dollars, although he was willing to settle for $54 million. This is more than most of us can afford, and the Chung family is no exception.

Even though he cried in the courtroom, another judge, Superior Court Judge Judith Bartnoff, didn't buy Pearson's claim. "A reasonable consumer would not interpret 'Satisfaction Guaranteed' to mean that a merchant is required to satisfy a customer's unreasonable demands" was the way she put it, according to a news report.

Judge Bartnoff also told Pearson to pay the court costs of defendants Soo Chung, Jin Nam Chung and Ki Y. Chung. That's a little over $1,000 for photocopying, filing and similar expenses, the Chungs' attorney said. The Chungs have spent tens of thousands of dollars in attorney fees, which may be reason for legal action later.

Court costs or legal fees, I'm not convinced that the Chungs will see their money. After the O. J. Simpson civil suit and other judicial debacles, I get the impression that these court-ordered payments depend largely on whether the guilty parties feel like paying.

The "Satisfaction Guaranteed" sign that Pearson saw when he started this exercise in madness isn't on display in Custom Cleaners any more.

I'm glad to see evidence that screwball lawsuits don't necessarily succeed.

On the other hand, it would have been nice if something as obviously lunatic as Pearson's tearful plea hadn't been allowed to get past the starting gate.

(Small business isn't the only sort of enterprise with this sort of trouble: see Another Screwball Lawsuit?.)

And, a few other blogs on Judge Roy Pearon's vendetta against the Koreans:

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Insomnia is Your Enemy

In my previous post, I recorded the creative breakthroughs I achieved in the early hours of this morning. Had it not been for a bout of insomnia, I wouldn't have awakened this morning with two 3d-design issues resolved.

Now, I'm not so sure that sleep-for-ideas was a good trade. I've been less than scintillating in conversations with family today. Several times I've stopped in mid-sentence, finally pulling one of my 'never mind' phrases out of storage: and *those* weren't easy to find.

It's just as well that I take a traditional approach to Sunday. This has not been a day for me to take on any very demanding task.

Getting back to what I accomplished in the small hours of this morning, only one of the developments might, by a big stretch of the imagination, be called a breakthrough. It's debatable, whether or not the idea of increasing the scale of everything in the 3d graphics software a hundred-fold would have occurred to me if I'd slept more last night.

I'd certainly have slogged my way to the other discovery - that was almost purely a matter of marching through alternative software settings.

Sleep-free nights weren't this much of an issue thirty years ago: although even during my first encounter with college it wasn't a good idea to skip my eight hours.

These days, I'll be doing well to have my abilities up to average by tomorrow morning.

Insomnia is Your Friend

Between slight gastrointestinal distress and flocks of swooping thoughts, midnight arrived last night while I was still awake. One of the winged ideas was that, although a slice of toast might not deflect dive-bombing concepts, it might alleviate what was going on south of my ribs.

With that thought in mind, and with a particularly persistent member of a thought-flock having found a perch between my ears, I went down to the kitchen.

Toast prepared and consumed, I discovered that the perching idea had laid an egg. Since I was already awake, letting it hatch seemed reasonable.

I've had it with that metaphor. To cut short story shorter, I booted my 'work' computer and tested my new idea.

Good news: I found a fairly simple solution to the problem of getting my 3d graphics software to mimic atmospheric perspective (the way that distant things look hazy and bluish).

As long as I was awake, and at the computer, I started playing with the software's methods of making landscapes.

More good news: Plausible (if not quite realistic) landscapes are easier to make than I thought they would be.

All this achieved, thanks to sleeplessness!

Imagine the problems I could solve, the creative works I could produce, if only I had insomnia more often!

Friday, June 22, 2007

Getting Good Advice Without Consultant Fees

Business decisions depend on facts, and this is one case where more actually is better.

Getting those facts can be expensive. Bringing in a consultant seems to be conventional wisdom, although I suspect that it makes more sense to start a consulting business than do business with a consultant.

Besides, it looks like there's been discussion of whether consultants really pay for themselves for quite a while. For example: "Lifting the lid on bad consultancy" (CNN, 2005), and a blog posted a few weeks ago about marketing consultants in the construction industry.

Even if I were convinced that consultants were, generally, worth what they cost, I don't have the budget to pay or the time to select a reliable consultant.

I do, however, have access to consultants who come free of charge: and are often worth more than they cost.

Many networks of bloggers and similar online communities exist. The most famous is probably MySpace, which in my opinion is a waste of time and bandwidth. (I do have a blog there, but only in order to stay in touch with a contractor I met while evaluating the service.)

I've found LiveJournal, an online social service that seems to cater to the creative crowd, and ArtZone, an online art community run by DAZ Productions, useful sources of opinion for the creative end of my business, as well as satisfactory opportunities for socializing.

Not all of the feedback I get is useful, of course, but the fools and knaves have been much less effective at disguising themselves than their for-profit counterparts.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Busisness Models for the Information Age

Business owners don't have to understand economic theory or business models. When I lived on the west coast, a co-worker told me, referring to the location and manager of a particular restaurant, "any idiot could make a good profit there: and that guy's proof."

For the rest of us, it's not a bad idea to have at least a tenuous hold on some of the basics of business theory. I'd launched my small business before started to hit the books (virtual and otherwise) on the theoretical side of running a digital applecart. It may not be as crazy a choice as it looks: I have a little informal background in economics, a sort of gargle at that particular font of knowledge.

Besides, doing business in the Information Age is such a new phenomenon that I doubt that there are established, reliable, authoritative business models and economic theory dealing with the exchange of information in the Internet.

There are some very interesting ideas emerging, though. How valid they are is something we'll lean in time.

A series of blogs by Mike Masnick at Techdirt discuss what he thinks scarcity and non-scarcity mean now. (Thanks to The Mandelbear for telling me about these).

One of the ideas Mr. Masnick presented in "Scarcity Isn't As Scarce As You Might Think", the most recent of these blogs that I've read, is that attaching scarce items to non-scarce items makes good business sense.

As examples, he cites

* Marcus Loew, the theater owner, who said: "We sell tickets to theaters, not movies." The point here is that Loew attached movies (a non-scarce item, according to Masnick) with theater seats (a scarce item)

* Google, which attaches its index of information (non-scarce) with the attention of the online community they've formed (scarce)

* The String Cheese Incident, a band that assumes that "The more people are exposed to the music, the better it is for the band." Their (non-scarce) music draws people to the band's (scarce) concerts. TSCI even has a travel agency which makes money by "saving people time (scarce good!) and helping them secure flights (scarce good) and lodging (scarce good), all in the pursuit of access to the band (scarce good)who they value so much because of the music (non-scarce good)."

I'm going to study this series of blogs, and would appreciate opinions on how much sense Mr. Masnick's ideas make.

Here's a list of the related blogs that I know of:

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Good Copywriting means Writing Good Copy

After running into a few appalling examples of written miscommunication, I decided that it was time for me to share a little of what I've learned as an English-teacher-turned-advertising-copywriter.

Then I found Nikole Gipps' "Copywriting - Tips, Suggestions, and What to Avoid." (Newbies: This post's title links to Gipps' monograph.)

Being a nitpicker, I noticed that Gipps' post started by using the word "Verbal" when the context made it plain that "Oral" was meant.

It's a good piece, though. Gipps' "Hallmarks of Good Copywriting" list at the end could be copied and taped to monitors as a sort of do/don't reminder.

So, I'll put off my 'u two shod rite good' piece until another day.

Or month.

Getting Attention

The best blog, or business, in the world won't get very far if nobody knows about it.

I wouldn't go as far as the performer who said, 'I don't care what you say: just spell my name right!' On the other hand, publicity is important.

For anything on the Web, that involves links, search engines, and communities. For this blog, I've already put links on web sites and other blogs that I control, and mentioned it on online communities that I've joined. Today, I'm creating a Technorati Profile. Someone with a longer history in the blogosphere would have been Technoratified long ago, but I'm new to blogging, with much more to learn.

I don't know that "Technoratified" was a word until I used it in the previous paragraph. Language is a wonderful thing, with new words appearing, old words getting new meanings, and and some words dropping out of use.

But that's a topic for another post.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

I'd Never Be That Stupid

During one of those dot-com fiascoes I read an article about a particularly impressive failure.

A band of highly talented, intelligent, and creative people made enormous sums of money. Not realizing how wildly income can fluctuate, they spent money as if their income spike was a plateau.

Their offices were a wonderland of huge ceiling-mounted television screens, with ergonomic executive chairs at every desk and workstation: apparently, all the creature comforts and technological toys they could find.

It could have been worse. If the optimistic greenhorns had blown their earnings on steak and champaign, their creditors would have been losers, too.

At the time, I smugly thought that I'd never make such a novice mistake.

Last year, I found a great deal of very spiffy software, and spent rather more money than I had, getting it.


I may be able to figure out a way to use all that stuff, or I may not. The sort of software it is, I can't re-sell it, or return it. I'm being vague, because the details aren't that important, except to me. Besides, this is embarrassing enough as it is.

I've stopped the hemorrhage of funds, but every cent that I spent back then is money I can't spend now.

I try to find a positive spin on everything, but the best I find here is that all that stuff may come in handy, someday.

The Principle of the Speckled Ax

Possibly because I was driving him to the ragged edge of insanity over some minor aspect of a project, my father once told me the story of the speckled ax.

As he told it, a father and a son were preparing to cut wood by sharpening the ax. This was back in the days when axes were most easily sharpened by holding them against a spinning grindstone. The grindstone was turned by a hand-crank or, sometimes a foot pedal or plate like a potter's wheel.

The son insisted that the ax had to be thoroughly polished, so that there would be no specks of rust left.

The father pointed out that, as long as the edge of the ax was sharp and clean, a few spots of rust elsewhere wouldn't matter.

The son kept insisting, though, and the father finally agreed: on the condition that the son turn the grindstone while the father held the ax.

And so the father held the ax against the grindstone as the son turned the crank. Time went on. The edge of the ax was sharp and clean, but some specks of rust remained on the sides. More time went on as the father methodically polished one speck after another from the blade.

Finally, drenched with sweat, the son said, "Dad, I think a speckled ax is okay."

The point of this is that "The best is the enemy of the good" (Voltaire, in the Dictionaire Philosophique, 1764). It's fine to want everything to be as good as it can be right away, but it's unrealistic to expect that to happen.

I had an opportunity to apply this philosophy today. My not-ready-for-prime-time website, Minnesota for Web-Wise Travelers, has cosmetic problems as well presenting a few technical and organizational challenges.

The page header just doesn't look right. Not by my standards, at least. I spent just over an hour on it today before deciding that getting the site up and running before summer is half-over was more important than aesthetic values.

So, it's goodbye to Brian the Art Director and hello to Mr. Gill the site architect.

Being able to distinguish between what would be nice to achieve and what is vital to a project can determine whether a project finishes on time and budget: and sometimes whether it gets finished at all.

I've worked for bosses who had a hard time distinguishing between the vital and the preferable. Now that I'm the boss, it's a little more apparent how easy it is to get distracted by a side issue.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Staying Healthy: Sleep

Re-reading my most recent post, I realize that I lost track of the 'organizing myself' theme I was going to write about.

More than once.

I definitely need more sleep.


Back to Work

As a rule, Monday hasn't been one of my most productive days. That's why I've used it for gathering statistics, doing errands, and other less-than-exciting, routine tasks.

It just occurred to me: maybe that's why Monday isn't a particularly productive day. Self-fulfilling prophecy. Positive feedback loop. The Incredible Shrinking Man.

No. That last one's a fifties movie about a guy who gets up close and personal with a spider.

I'd better reconsider the Monday routine, although those dreary tasks have to go somewhere.

The statistics were the dreariest of the lot today, in terms of tasks. Summer isn't the hottest time of year for my flagship site, Brendan's Island ( I suppose that's because it's the time of year in the English-speaking northern hemisphere when folks tend to get outside and enjoy the weather.

And sagging site statistics tend to drag my morale down.

A slight anodyne to that is a graph I set up in the Excel spreadsheet I use to track such things, showing current viewer stats in comparison with the same period a year ago. One page has been more-or-less consistently gaining ground for well over a year, and I hope that some of the losses on other pages are a sort of correction for some publicity I got about a year and two years back.

Back to reconsidering routines.

I didn't get my eight hours last night, due to a recurring failure to make a self-imposed deadline for updating a particular page on Brendan's Island. There was a time when I could get away with stunts like that, but my body seems to have gotten more assertive, and demands decent treatment.

Besides, it's bad form to delay tasks like that. Also just plain dumb.

On the up side, I found and entered information about a couple dozen more Minnesota destinations and diversions. They won't make it into the version of Minnesota for Web-Wise Travelers site ( that I'm cobbling together, but should make it into an update/upgrade I have tentatively slated for September of this year.

On another up side, I now have permission to re-publish the original version of a poem that was called "The Dean's Spell Checker" when I first ran into it.

And I'd better call it quits while I've got two "ups" to report.

North Light In My Eyes

Painters and other creative types are supposed to prefer working in studios with a north light. It makes sense: in the northern hemisphere, a window facing north gives the most consistent illumination.

My wife's north room project took my desk and moved it, computer and all, about two yards east. I now have a very nice view across the street.

I also have the main light source for this room shining straight into my eyes.

It's a great incentive for me to keep my trifocals streak-free.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Working at Home: The Information Age meets home renovation and the dust of decades

Working at home has obvious benefits: a commute measured in yards rather than miles, relaxed dress code, and flexible hours.

On the other hand, things happen at home that don't, generally, in a conventional office or plant.

At a "normal" workplace:

* Your kids won't come up to you with statements or questions about Bionicles, bicycles, and the nature of reality
* You won't have to fight the urge to take a break "for just a couple minutes" and watch TV
* The environment already looks like a business, so you don't have to either make part of the house a production-boosting environment, or develop the sort of self-control it takes to stay on-task in a residential setting

I could go on, but there have bushels of books written on the subject. Why duplicate the effort?

Then there are the sort of distractions that can happen in either.

Yesterday, my wife's north-room renovation project reached my desk. I held my position as she cut around the desk, and me. In her wake came my young son, pulling up the carpeting, the underlayment, and what seemed like several pints of dust.

I don't know what had accumulated down there over the last several decades, but it gave me the first headache I've had in a long while.

I quit early. Of course, that means that the boss (me) will insist on my getting back on task over the weekend. So, back to work.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Goofing Off When You're the Boss

One of the truly frustrating things about owning my own business is that I have to deal with the boss every time I goof off. And, since I'm the boss, I can't stay blissfully ignorant about what the staff is up to.

Take today, for example. I was up until about 2:00 last night, partly getting a website updated, partly staring blankly at the screen. My efficiency plummets as midnight approaches, but there was a deadline involved.

This morning was not one of my stellar days, in terms of mental clarity and efficiency.

Instead of following this week's schedule and getting the other 9/10 of Minnesota for Web-Wise Travelers™ organized and published, I picked up a back-burner project that depends more on a willingness to digitally doodle for hours than on a high capacity for linear thought.

I okayed the schedule change, as boss of the company. Then, as the creative staff of the company, I spent time doing makee-learnee on 3D graphics software while planning a setting that will get used later this year.

Problem is, while I was doing that, the boss (also me) had second thoughts. I noticed that the creative staff was having entirely too much fun, and didn't seem to be nearly as impaired as claimed in the morning.

So, I had a meeting with myself as creative staff and myself as boss. We decided that the creative work could continue, with the understanding that the administrative sort of work would be done, starting Friday morning.

The old saying, 'you've nobody to blame buy yourself' has a special meaning in situations like this.

Saturday, June 9, 2007


I'm trying a slight adjustment of this blog's settings. I'm new to this system, so I'm learning by trial-and-error. This should be interesting.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Distractions: Beware the Ducks!

There hasn't been anything particularly major going on this week, just a lot of minor things that took longer than I expected. The effect is not unlike having to walk through a waddling mob of ducks. One or two ducks have almost no effect on one's progress. When there are dozens of them, it's an entirely different matter. (From Sauk Centre Journal, my view of life in small town America.)

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Creative Impulses and Other Distractions

I've spent most of this morning on Loonfoot Falls, a project in process that should be ready to be unleashed later this summer. A mild outburst of insomnia last night resulted in some useful ideas floating up from my subconscious: rather in the manner of something appearing on the surface on a serene, algae-covered lagoon.

At least, they could be useful: I won't know until I've put them down in semi-permanent digital form, waited a while, and reviewed the things.

Meanwhile, the lists of links for "Minnesota for Web-Wise Travelers" aren't organizing themselves. The rest of today will be occupied with that task.

The Loonfoot lunacy is much more fun than getting those 800 or so URLs divided into useful chunks, but Minnesota for Web-Wise has greater urgency. We're already into the tourist season, and I can't start marketing my new site until it's all there.

So, it's farewell to graphics and text software, hello to spreadsheet.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Hiring Relatives and the Chinese Business Model

Even though I'm a Norwegian-Irish American, there isn't much about ethnicity in this post. There is, however, a bit about the up- and down-sides of working with close kin.

Westerners think of nepotism as a vice, east Asians purportedly regard hiring relatives as a virtue. There's this academic look at the topic, and many more, online: I've no idea how valid any of them are.

Living on the edge of "Chinatown" in San Francisco, and working in an ESL program, gave me an outsider's look at how folks in that part of the city ran their businesses. I was impressed at how efficiently and effectively my neighbors kept expenses down and productivity up by keeping jobs in the family.

Of course, that sort of system requires kids who give a rip about their parents, parents who are willing to sacrifice their own immediate impulses to what's good for the next generation, and a work ethic that hasn't been stylish in the more refined and cultured circles in the USA for decades. That last point might be changing.

My own enterprise has relied a great deal on the expertise in CSS that my oldest daughter developed, together with her artistic abilities. She and I have very similar personalities: neither one of which are particularly notable for diplomacy. That makes our cooperative venture exciting, as well as productive.

We make it work, thanks in large part to this family's tight bonds and our mutual willingness to to trade labor for benefits like reciprocal links and room and board.

The working relationship my oldest daughter and I have illustrates the advantages and one of the problems of working with family.

The advantages:

* Dealing with people you know: Communication is easier, and you have a clear idea of your colleague's skills and training

* Low- or no-cost labor: Many families can trade labor for food and housing, and the prospect of advancement in the enterprise

* High productivity and loyalty: Members of a close-knit family are highly motivated to make their business successful, for their own profit and the good of the family

The disadvantages:

* Dealing with people you know: Communication is complicated by years of close association, during which time both parties have had ample time to acquire peeves and grudges and mutually irritating habits

* Unsatisfactory compensation: Relatives may expect more money than you can offer, and take offense when you don't live up to their expectations

* Low productivity and loyalty: Family members don't necessarily have the best interests of your enterprise in mind, and may believe that they can loaf because you'd never fire a relative

Most how-to-run-your-business books say that hiring relatives is risky at best, and I'd say they're right. It's working in my case: but this is an unusual family.

Tales From the Geek Side: Son of The Return

Uff da.

A correspondent was kind enough to point out that I'd left out the "//" in yesterday's post's link.

I've fixed it, now.

And the moral of this story is: writing while tired, and then publishing what you wrote, isn't necessarily a good idea.

It's about as smart as proofing your own work: which I also did.

Uff da.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Tales From the Geek Side: The Return

Amazing. In fewer than ten hours, I've deleted a directory tree, with its contents, messed up quite a bit of perfectly simple CSS code, and scrambled the navigation system that I spent part of last Friday and Saturday assembling.

Not only that, but I completed a local newsletter, printing out a press-ready copy with an egregious error. No time to fix the error with software: I hastily inked in a corrected set of dates. My story is that I was trying to make the dates in question stand out: and I'm sticking with that.

I really should get some sort of award: the Spindled, Bent, and Mutilated Hollerith Card, perhaps? Or the Fried Flash Card? Try saying that last one fast, five times.

Happily, I was able to get back a critical part of what was in that deleted directory tree. And, my latest Web effort is close enough to being ready so that I'll risk posting a link to Minnesota for Web-Wise Travelers.

There are only two pages ready for viewing: the home page and one dealing with Minnesota's bluff region. My hope is that, most of the formatting issues being more-or-less resolved, pouring content into the rest of the pages will be fairly quick and straightforward.

Somehow, though, I don't think things will work out that way.

Later: up- and down-sides of working with close kin.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Sunday Afternoon

Whenever possible, I take Sunday off. Church, family, and grilling burgers are more as important as getting most business-related tasks done. "Nobody, on their deathbed, ever said, 'I wish I'd spent more time at the office.'" (Attributed to Senator Paul Tsongas, and, more plausibly, to Author Stephen Covey.)

But, Sunday is coming to an end. I've got an email to send, a little organization to do, and some writing and digital photo touch-up to get done before Monday morning: enough to guarantee that I won't be bored as the sun goes down.

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