Tuesday, February 28, 2012

OptOutPrescreen.com [PSA]

I learned about this Sunday night and thought I'd share it. Like most people, I regularly get credit card offers in the mail (No Capital One, I will not be taking advantage of your wonderful opportunity any time soon). It's not enough to really drive me nuts, but it is annoying (similar to my Google Voice experience).

But for the next 5 years, that annoyance should decrease significantly. I just went to optoutprescreen.com and signed up to remove my name from credit agency's customer lists. Personally, I think it's crazy that they're allowed to include customer's names on lists used by creditors and insurers to make offers, but at least there's a way out thanks to the Fair and Accurate Transactions Act of 2003.

All you do is visit their website, or call 1-888-567-6888 (5OPTOUT) and ask to opt out for either 5 years, or permanently.

I chose to do the 5 years because permanently opting out requires you to mail in information, whereas the 5 year option can be done in about 20 seconds online. Plus, I set up a task reminder repeating every 5 years to remind me to do it again, which I'll make permanent if it works. I'm still not sure how long it'll take to notice a drop since, presumably, companies who already have my name will keep it. But hopefully I can expect a decrease over time as new companies don't discover me.

Pretty cool, right? So check out the website and opt out.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Don't Want Your School Pestering You For Money? Use Google Voice

I have a Google voice number and I use the service for two very specific tasks. One of which has to do with forwarding numbers so I know who calls while I'm on the phone at work. The other is for something to post online and I give away when I want the option to block someone later. Up until two days ago, I never used the blocking feature.

You see, I kept getting a call from the Salem ,OR area about once a month. My phone would never actually ring though, Google Voice would just randomly send me an email saying I missed a call, but no voice message was left. No big deal. This has been going on for about a year.

Literally TWO days ago, the random email catches me at just the right moment, and I decide to go and block the number in Google Voice. Cool. No more random emails (again, the calls never came through and a message was never left).

Then TODAY. I get a call FROM THE EXACT SAME NUMBER. Wait. What?! This is notable for two reasons:
  1. I thought I blocked it.
  2. My phone is actually ringing (a new Legend of Zelda ringtone btw).
Plus, this time it leaves a message (no, I was not about to pick up a recently blocked number). At this point I'm totally expecting some sort of spammy message.


It's someone I know from Willamette University inviting me to a reception thingy with the new President.

Here's what I think happened:

When I graduated, I put my Google Voice number in the undergraduate alumni database/system. And about once a month, that system calls me to invite me to give money. However, that system freaks out when it comes up against my Google Voice number and hangs up. Cue random email.

Since my wife and I are paying hundreds of dollars each month in school loans... This is a good thing.

Then it just so happened that someone I know called me personally on my cell phone a couple days afterwards. Like many phone systems, her office number showed up as the same number.

Since I actually only want to get calls from people personally contacting me... This is also a good thing.

Thanks Google Voice!

[image: builderradio.com]

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Happy Birthday Vinnie!

Today is a special day for sure! Vinnie turned one!

I remember this time one year ago...I was searching high and low for cute little wienie dog puppies all over the nation! I was so excited to find a breeder in Portland who had just had a litter of smooth reds, just what I wanted. I remember the first time I saw a picture of Vinnie and all of his brothers and sisters, 10 in all! They were all so wrinkly and fuzzy. We visited the puppies two times and we must have stayed for hours playing and watching the puppies nap.

Vinnie was one of the first puppies we noticed. He was very playful and curious but he was also super cuddly. He was the first born of the litter and it totally shows. The thing he is best at is getting into trouble.

We picked him up on a Saturday afternoon in May. He was just around 13 weeks old and he was finally ready to come home! I still remember his sweet head laying down on his duckie toy on the way home. I was in love already.

Over the next few weeks James and I got to experience the joys and frustrations of adding a pup to our lives. Vinnie is very smart which was great for potty training and obedience school but not so great when he was escaping. We have learned so much from our little fur-baby and I will love him forever!

Some highlights from Vinnie's first year would have to be:

  • When we had to sleep on the floor with him the first few nights
  • Watching him loose his puppy teeth
  • Teaching him how to fetch and wait
  • Snuggling by the heater and under blankets
  • When he escaped from the kitchen
  • Measuring how long he was getting (34" from nose to tail!)
  • Trying to put his paw print on our Christmas letter and getting paint all over the house
  • When he got big enough to jump onto the bed :) So much for sleeping on the floor.
  • When he was so small he would get tired just walking down the block
  • When he ran around the house playing with his cape dressed up as super dog
  • Running until he fell over on every trip we took to the beach

There is at least one highlight from every single day that we have had Vinnie so far and I am looking forward to so many more days and years with this pup! He is one of the loves of my life.

Happy Birthday Vinnie, I love you little guy.

6 Ways To Improve Apple's New Messages App

Late last week Apple unveiled their next operating system: Mountain Lion. Basically, OS X gets a bunch of iOS functionality with it. One of those is Messages (called iMessage on the iPhone). Unlike the other new features, this one actually came out in beta for anyone to download and try. So, that's what I did.

After a few days of using it, I can clearly see a ton of potential from iCloud. However, still being in beta, there remains some unmet wants from Messages. Here's my short wish list:

  1. Sync all messages with iCloud. Currently, only new conversations I start on Messages show up. I'd like to be able to reference and search all of my old ones too.
  2. Improve network syncing. There are times when only my computer or phone will get the message. Then minutes later (which is forever in a conversation) the other device will start pinging like crazy as it catches up.
  3. Only ping the device I'm on. Apple runs the hardware and the software. Therefore, it should know if my iPhone is locked or open when I make a reply. At the very least, they should know which device I replied from. They should be able to set up rules to have all other devices silently update in the background if I receive a new message shortly after I sent one.
  4. Enable smiles on my iPhone. It's fun to select a yellow smiley on the computer and then have the recipient try to guess what it is, but that'll get old after a while. Since we're going for consistency...
  5. Enable IM on my iPhone. Let me hook up my Facebook, Google, AIM accounts on my phone so I can talk to them while on the go too. Or, you know, save all my settings in iCloud so it's all there when I pick up my device. Oh yeah, don't forget to sync all those conversations too.
  6. Enable SMS. Google Talk has that option, and it's pretty nice. This would complete the "keep everything in sync" circle. Though, I suppose I could put up with not having this in Messages if it speeds up the death of SMS.

That's not asking too much is it? If this level of integration is any indication of how the other apps/features are going to work, Mountain Lion is going to be awesome. The idea of iCloud being the main hub, keeping all your devices in sync is really appealing. It seems to me that this is what Apple wanted Lion to be originally, and now we're really starting to see that vision come into focus.

[image: apple.com]

Monday, February 20, 2012

Vinnie Verses the Turkey Avocado Bacon Burger

So, Vinnie wasn't feeling great last week. He had an upset stomach and was running outside to go to the bathroom every couple of hours. It wasn't pretty. After doing some online research we decided to give him a little Pepto-bismol and feed him small amounts of bland food (plain yogurt, water and small amounts of raw meat). After a couple days he was feeling much better.

Saturday was the first day he was back on his regular meal.

However, Vinnie had some make-up eating to do. Let me explain...

During church on Sunday we leave Vinnie in the Jeep. He loves it in there and naps in the back seat. Nothing out of the ordinary yet.

After church we went to a Mexico training meeting. However, when we returned this time there were two empty bags in the back seat.

You see, Vinnie managed to squeeze himself behind the back seat and found his doggie bag. Inside his bag was his dinner. Yum.

ALSO inside his bag were about 12 treats. Normally we give him 1 or 2 at a time as a reward for being a good dog. Well... Vinnie must think very highly of himself because he rewarded himself with ALL 12 TREATS!

That's like having 2+ full meals! With no water to wash it all down.

But don't feel bad for him yet.

After our Mexico meeting we had a couple hours before a finance class we're leading. So we went to Ruby Tuesday's since we have a gift card. Nice! Unfortunately, I spent the entire time talking and only ate my fries and took 2 bites of my turkey avocado bacon burger. I put it in a box for eating later (yeah, I bet you know where this is going...)

I put that box, you guessed it, behind the back seat. BUT I put it UNDER my gym bag thinking it would be safe.

Our finance class finishes and we let Vinnie out of the car. His belly is stuffed, which we attribute to his extra large dinner. But strangely, he is licking the ground trying to get something to drink. I grab my water bottle from behind the back seat... not noticing anything out of the ordinary.

Jessi literally pours water into my cupped hands so Vinnie can drink. He drinks all the water from my bottle (minus what falls on the ground). At this point we're laughing and feeling semi-bad for his dire state of thirst.

While driving home and talking about our long day, we decide to stop at Winco to pick up some ice cream as a reward for an awesome day. I decide to put a book behind the back seat to protect it from Vinnie.


The top is completely chewed off, and all that's left is some lettuce, onions and a little tomato. See the above picture.


Eating DOUBLE dinner was bad enough. But NO. Vinnie had to go and eat MY delicious TURKEY AVOCADO BACON BURGER!

And then I hand fed him water because he was thirsty.

What a little stinker!

Well... He WAS feeling better. We'll see how today goes...

Monday, February 13, 2012

Sunriver Mini-Vacation

Thanks to our good friend Lee, we had the opportunity to stay in Sunriver over the weekend. We didn't have any specific plans other than to relax a bunch. Check out the next picture to see what it looked like inside.

It's very much like a cabin inside. Except it has forced air heating and two gas fireplaces, so it was actually warmer than our place. The inside was really nice - the kitchen was huge and I like the open format. The sleeping area was below with plenty of space to sleep 6 people.

On Saturday we went a walk. It was chilly, but sunny. With plenty of pedestrian paths around we easily made our way around Sunriver. I love getting out and walking around for a couple of hours.

We even busted out our iPhones and did a little geocaching. Using an app appropriately named "Geocaching" we could instantly look up geocaches near by. There are a bunch in the area! The picture below is Jessi filling out one of the logs telling people we were there. That was a lot of fun and added a little adventure to our walk.

This was the view from the living room area. A peaceful backdrop. I guess it's part of a golf course, but clearly nobody was playing this time of year.

 Thanks Lee for this amazing present! It was great getting away, watching movies, playing board games, and having deep conversations. The people who rent it live in Corvallis, so if you'd like to stay a weekend, let me know and I'll share their contact information.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

First World iPad Problems [Twitter+Flicker Mash-up]

I thought I'd try my own little mash-up of Twitter updates and Flicker photos. Here's the first one.

The tweet is by @DomHarvey

The photo is called iPad reflections by Ed Bilodeau.

I did find a funny self-depricating tweet about loving pizza and therefore being single, but I couldn't find a photo I felt comfortable pairing with it.

We'll see what else I come up with.

Monday, February 06, 2012

How To Do a SWOT Analysis

I recently shared how to evaluate a business. It's pretty awesome and helpful. Not surprisingly though, there are MANY frameworks to use when evaluating a business. Today I'd like to review the most common/classic framework: a SWOT analysis. It's mostly used for evaluating your own business, but can also be used when looking at new companies.

There are 4 parts, 2 internal, 2 external. The diagram above spells out the relationships.

These are things (capabilities/resources/processes) the company is good at, and preferably better at than everyone else. Some examples...

  • Patents, like for a machine that makes gravity opposing magnets
  • A strong brand, like Matel
  • Cost advantages from proprietary know-how

The opposite of a strength. The company is worse at it. Some examples...

  • A poor/non-existent brand
  • A high cost structure, for making something like a sturdy plastic board

Something (the environment/industry/competition) that's missing. That's not currently being met in the market place. Some examples...

  • An unfilled customer need, like riding a skate board over gravel AND water
  • Some new technology that can be used, like new mini-multi-direction jet engines

The opposite of opportunities. Some examples...

  • Shifts in customer demand, like to riding bicycles instead of skateboards
  • New regulations, not allowing skateboarding at school

How To Get The Information
To create ideas for the SWOT, you need to do research. One lazy way to do it is sit around, staring at each other, and write ideas down on a white board. Here's a better way:

Do some primary research by seeking feedback from real customers and employees. Ask about the company's capabilities, about the resources (financial, human, capital, brand, etc), and how the company's processes work.

Do some secondary research on the environment, industry and competitors too. Ask similar types of questions.

Use this research for the basis of filling out each section of the SWOT.

What Does It All Mean? - Create Action Plans
The next step is to do something about this new-found information. As my diagram above brilliantly displays, you create plans based around what you found.

Capitalize Strengths
Are there opportunities that align with your strength? Are there creative ways to diminish a weakness? This is where value begins to be created.

Shore Up Weakness
Can a solution be found with the company? Does it make sense to buy something to over come this weakness? If this isn't solved, the ride to prosperity may not last very long, or ever get off the ground.

Invest in Opportunities
How can you use your strengths to meet the demand?

Identify Threats
Can you diminish this?

From some of the examples above, perhaps a company like Matol could make a board that hovers, but include those mini-jet engines so it can go over water. I don't know, perhaps something like this...

This gets really interesting when you look at the combinations. Consider the following diagram:

  • Focus on doing the actives in the green area as much as possible.
    • For example, Apple is excellent at making beautiful computers. They saw that smart phones where not living up to people's dreams. So they made a beautiful smart phone. Now 50% of their revenues come from the iPhone.
  • The red area should keep you up at night. This is a big area of concern. Figure out ways to reduce this as much as possible. The best way is to focus on shoring up those weaknesses.
    • For example, Google's Android phones were potentially in trouble because they were threatened by Apple lawsuits and Google had weak patent protections. One solution was to buy Motorola Mobility to shore up their patent protection. That might have been enough.
  • The orange areas require smart decisions. You need to invest in shoring up a weakness to take advantage of an opportunity. And, on the other square, figure out a way to have your strength be relevant again in the face of threats.

So, that's how to use a SWOT analysis. I now certify you knowledgable enough to really get into trouble with this framework.

[image: NerdApproved.com]

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Vinnie Loves Being Pet

What can I say? We have a cute dog and it's fun to share it. Here's a video of Jessi petting Vinnie. She found a spot just below his collar that, when petted, causes his leg to bounce uncontrollably. When you look at his face, you can tell he is loving every moment of it. So far, Jessi is the only one with the magic touch; I can't seem to get him to do it. Oh well. Enjoy! (BTW, I'm sitting next to a heater, which is the blowing sound in the background.)