Mac OS X Updates: Should You or Shouldn’t You?

One of the most common questions I get from users is “should I upgrade my Mac?” My first response is to note that “upgrade” is a marketing term, not a technical one, and then to clarify what exactly they mean by upgrade. Updates and upgrades are different things, and people often mean different things by both. The recent release of Windows 7 and “snow leopard” Mac OS 10.6 offers an excellent opportunity to discuss this.

Software, Hardware, Updates, Upgrades and Change

The term “upgrade” implies progress in a way that may or may always be relevant. Adding to this confusion is that most people are uncertain what the term means. It may be useful then to distinguish between and among the different things that people may refer to as upgrades, noting that not every change is an improvement.

Hardware Upgrades Involve Physical Parts

Hardware upgrades involve physical parts, and are the most obvious upgrade because they usually involve physically taking out a screwdriver and adding or changing something in the real world. Some people would consider adding a new peripheral an upgrade, but more common upgrades include replacing one part with another: replacing your 15″ CRT monitor with a 19″ LCD, for example. If you have a “tower-style” computer, it may involve adding a new PCI card for more peripheral ports, but the most common hardware upgrade by far is to replace one hard drive with a larger one, or to add more RAM.

A common question I am asked is whether or not it makes sense to upgrade to a larger hard drive or to add more RAM to a machine. In most cases, it does, and as RAM prices have dropped so radically over the past two years, I generally suggest that people who plan to keep a computer “max out” the RAM in their iMac, Mac Mini, MacBook or MacBook Pro. (Professionals who use towers for video, photo and print production may be wiser to add some RAM, then replace the machine every two or three years.) If your machine is slightly slow or running out of hard drive space, upgrading both of these will usually cost two hundred dollars or so, plus labor, if done at the same time. Adding RAM or a larger hard drive can especially help with a two or three-year-old “stock machine” that has never been upgraded, easily doubling or tripling its useful life by making it capable of running newer versions of the Mac OS.

Software Updates under Mac OS X

Since the introduction of Mac OS X, the upper-left “apple menu” has had a “Software Update…” option, which Apple uses to check periodically for minor upgrades and updates. Early on, these updates were a bit hit-and-miss, but are now generally reliable. If you hate the periodic nagging about updates, go into the System Preferences pane for Software Updates and set it to check monthly or manually as you prefer.

What the software update preference pane does is periodically log into Apple’s servers and check your Apple software against the current version at the mother ship in Cupertino. If the two don’t match, it politely tells you and invites you to download a free update. These updates are always free and are almost always “bug fixes” or minor improvements. Pretty much every time Apple introduces a new iPod or service at the iTunes store, there is an update for iTunes. If you have installed Final Cut, iWork or iLife, you will get periodic updates for those. If you are happy with their computer and how it is working, there is no need to download any of these, and indeed the software update window allows you to ignore an update by selecting it in the list and then choosing that from the “Update” menu.

Since so many updates are fairly large files, I generally recommend that people set their preferences to check for updates monthly, then actually install updates when they can be away from their machine, letting them download overnight.

Updates from the “software updates” preference pane or the apple menu are always free. Other programs and vendors, such as Adobe and Microsoft, have their own programs to periodically check for updates to their products and some programs (such as FireFox) have update-checking built in. Usually those programs have a preference to turn this “auto-update” check off if you prefer. Just be sure to check for updates every year or if you have problems.

Delta Updaters Versus “Combo” Updaters

Updaters are often classified as “delta” (small change) or “combo” updates. Delta updaters usually make small changes, such as from 10.5.7 to 10.5.8, and some programs can only be updated using a long series of combo updaters one at a time, in sequence. “Combo updaters,” by contrast, are like non-stop express buses, and can take one from 10.5.0 to 10.5.8 in a single bound. Combo updaters are usually much larger than their smaller counterparts, but more thorough and well-written. For any Mac OS X update, I always recommend taking the time to visit Apple’s web site directly and download the “combo updater,” even if it means waiting a few weeks for it to be released. Combo updaters have a long history of being both more reliable and stable than their quick-change delta counterparts.

Managing Software Updaters

A good general rule I suggest to all my clients is the creation of a special “Installer & Updater” folder somewhere on their computer, usually in the “Downloads” file or in a “Public” folder so that it is available other machines on the local network. By putting all shareware installers and updaters in one place, they are easy to find, and only need to be downloaded once. Most updaters take the form of a disk image “.dmg” file and can easily be burned to CD, DVD or even mounted across the network. By having a single place for all updates and installers, software management is much simpler. Folks with many programs or responsible for programs across many machines may also wish to create a text list or spreadsheet showing what versions of what programs are on which machines, along with installation codes. When printed, such a list is very handy to have in the file folder or box containing original CD or DVD installation discs.

Paid Software Upgrades

“Updates” to a program are generally minor, while upgrades bring larger, often major changes.

Updates to the same version of a program are always free, but “upgrades” that bring major changes are usually purchased. Sometimes a vendor such as Intuit or Adobe will offer a discount for folks making such an upgrade, but one must always pay something. The jump from Office 2001 to 2004 was such an upgrade, as was the upgrade from 2004 to 2008. Similarly for updates from Adobe CS2 to CS3 or from iWork ’08 to iWork ’09. Such paid upgrades almost always involve purchasing a physical box with installation CD or DVD’s, and it is important to save those physical parts, along with the installation codes that come with them.

Apple has always charged for full-version upgrades. In recent years, Mac OS X Jaguar 10.2 was replaced by Panther 10.3 for $129. Tiger 10.4 and Leopard 10.5 were both $129 (with a five home-computer “family pack” at $199), while 10.6 “Snow Leopard” was only thirty bucks. If you purchase a full-step upgrade as Mac OS X, it is important to save the install discs, because they are used to repair your OS or for other tasks, such as directory fixes or password recovery.

Most companies have a fairly predictable “product release cycle,” usually from 12-24 months. Both Microsoft and Adobe are expected to release new versions of their programs in 2010, and sometimes it makes sense to watch those schedules, either to purchase the new version or make sure that you can get a copy of an older version that runs on your hardware. Usually a software vendor will only support any given product one or two versions back, which can be an issue for some people when the product is marked for “end of life” or “obsolete.” Ouch!

How Long is Too Long? How Far Is Too Far?

So how long should you plan to keep your computer or a particular version of a program? That depends on what it is you do or want to do. Odds are good that your computer does everything now that it did the day you bought it, and if that is enough, great! Don’t buy a new car if a tank of gas will do. For clients who really love a particular machine (or have a machine that cannot be replaced for other reasons) I will often suggest they acquire a few “organ donors” or “parts cars” to keep in reserve for spare parts. For most folks, though, I offer the following guidelines to get the most possible life out of a given machine.

  1. Upgrade RAM to as much as the machine will hold
  2. Use external drives to move unneeded files off the boot drive
  3. Replace the boot drive to keep at least one third of it unused
  4. Add PCI cards and external drives to add functionality
  5. Upgrade the Mac OS no further than two versions from what shipped

If you purchased an iMac with Mac OS 10.2 Jaguar, for example, I would suggest maxing out the RAM and upgrading the hard drive, but not planning to upgrade beyond Mac OS 10.4 Tiger. Upgrading all those things will cost a small portion of the original purchase price, and probably extend the useful life of the machine two or three years. Fighting to improve its performance beyond that is simply not cost effective in most cases, as I once proved by putting $4000 worth of repairs into an $800 car.

Planning For Obsolescence and “Tech Refresh” Cycles

Modern electronics are largely designed to be disposable, which is deeply annoying. More relevant for computers, however, is the rapid expansion of technology and the increased things that we expect of our computers. Ten years ago, almost no one had high-speed Internet at home, if they had Internet at all. Today, people are watching movies on their computers and performing video chat across social networks. The performance of ten-year-old computers did not decrease, but our expectations of our computers increased appreciably.

My general suggestion for businesses is to plan to replace every new computer every five years or so. For my own business, where my laptop gets heavy use, I budget to replace equipment every three years, as the AppleCare extended warranty expires. Some low-demand servers may be five or even ten years old, but the general rule to budget a replacement every 3-5 years is a good one for almost every situation. Sometimes accountants will want to amortize machines for longer periods, but that is not realistic, and it is a nuisance to have to account for obsolete machines in a back room somewhere. You will be happier and more productive if you can budget to replace your computer at least every five years, and perhaps all software with it.

“Upgrade” Horror Stories

Buying something new is not always a good idea, and sales people may or may understand all the moving parts in any system. Mac users had some major issues with the transition from Mac OS 9 to OS X years ago, and Microsoft so badly bungled their transition from Windows XP to Vista that they effectively ended up “leapfrogging” their own major release to focus on “Windows 7” last month, with fingers crossed. Sometimes a planned “upgrade” can create a cascade of other problems, such as when people purchased Apple computers with Intel chips that could no longer run “Classic” programs or quickly went to Snow Leopard without checking for incompatible programs or plug-ins. There are a variety of web sites such as Macintouch or the Snow Leopard Compatibility Wiki, but I generally encourage folks to wait a few weeks after any new machine or program ships to let others find the tricks and traps of the bleeding-edge shake-out cruisers. Quality assurance testing has advanced appreciably in the last ten years, but no one can foresee all possibilities, and even monkeys fall from trees.

Useful Sites for SW Updates and Hardware Upgrades

First-Tier Software Update Sites

One-stop shopping sites for versions and updates

Major commercial update sites, by company

Online resources for hardware upgrades and repairs

Help with Computer and Technology Planning

If you would like help evaluating your current computers and technology, to come up with a better maintenance and upgrade plan, please consider phoning at (360) 666-7679.

We can help you make the most of what you have, eliminate redundant equipment and streamline operations to increase pleasure, decrease frustration and improve productivity. Whether that means an update, an upgrade or a redesign, this is what we have been doing since 1998.

Happy computing!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Approve Washington Referendum 71 by 3 Nov 2009

Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized

Upgrade Your Community at CREAM Vancouver

Habitat Re-Stores Divert Used Materials for Good

For those who are not familiar, Habitat for Humanity is a charity popularized by Jimmy Carter which helps build homes for low-income families to own. As part of this they have pioneered a series of recycling centers called Re-Stores, where usable building materials are donated and diverted from the waste stream. Rather than going into landfills, these valuable materials are resold at bargain prices, the profits from these sales going to help build more homes. It is a wonderful model, and one that Martin is adapting for computer equipment.

Clark County Diverts Computers, Provides Education

Originally a waste-diversion program in Clark County, the new Upgrade Your Community component at CREAM expands the program considerably. By creating a partnership between Waste Connections, Clark County, the CIty of Vancouver, Salvation Army, Clark College and Habitat for Humanity, the new store will divert electronics and computers from the waste-stream and use the profits to offer free computer classes and facilities to the community. Part of this is a series of classes, as listed on their web site, beginning in August of 2009. Classes at CREAM

A former public-school teacher, I have always been an advocate for community education, offering free and low-cost classes since 1998 through organizations such as the Portland Macintosh Users Group, the Senior Computer Learning Center, Vancouver Parks and Recreation, and more. The ability to do this on a regular basis in a dedicated facility is amazing, and I hope that many others join me in using this terrific resource. I myself plan to offer a few free classes each month, and to try and organize a “free clinic” for Mac users. As I offer more classes through this program, I shall use this page to post links to relevant files or handouts. I hope that I will see at Upgrade Your Community education center soon!

For Further Information

Upgrade Your Community Education Center

5000 East Fourth Plain Blvd, Suite E101
Vancouver, WA 98661
(360) 735-0888

Links to Files MacRory Class Files

A simple place to put links to resources I shall use in my classes at Upgrade Your Community.

Posted in Uncategorized

Social Networking for Business 2009

There has been a lot of buzz lately about “social media” and other “web 2.0” technologies that can supposedly “change the way we do business” and all that. A lot of it is hype and nonsense, of course, but there are still useful and serious ways that small businesses, groups and individuals can use services such as Linked In, Twitter, Facebook, blogs and media-sharing through Flickr or YouTube to improve their visibility and make themselves more accessible and useful to clients. The trick is in understanding what business purpose social media fulfills and not wasting time on things that don’t have a clear business purpose.
Sample Social Media Strategy

As a general rule, social media is most useful when it serves the same purpose as newsletters or small advertisements have done in conventional, brick-and-mortar business. Understand where you are saying something, to whom, and why.

Have a Purpose to Your Presence

In helping real-world businesses think about and deploy social media it is vital that one understand the business: what the product is, the market, how that market thinks and what message one wants to convey. In the mid 1990’s, for example, many people thought that they needed a web site, and hundreds of them spent thousands of dollars on nonsense to become “modern.” During this time I turned down a number of folks who wanted web sites because I did not think it made sense for them to have one when they could not answer two simple questions: (1) what business purpose does a web site serve and (2) what is the very next thing you want a client to do upon visiting your web site?

If one cannot answer these questions of market, business purpose and result, I recommend you not deploy any sort of social media.

Top of Mind, Easy to Find, Trusted Advisors

In general there are three things that almost every business wants from social media, all of which are related to accessibility and credibility. First is presence, to be “top of mind.” Coca-cola does not spend hundreds of millions each year because people have not heard of them, but because they want to be foremost in our thoughts. The first vendor one thinks of when a need comes up is at the top of the customer’s mind, making the customer more likely to initiate a transaction. Once the customer thinks of you, the second key thing is that you are “easy to find” with an Internet or local search. By listing oneself on a few social media sites (with a web site and phone number) one dramatically increases one’s chance of being found. Once they find you, though, why should they bother? The third key thing is to use social media over time to establish oneself as a “trusted advisor.” Through blog posts and occasional, carefully-considered updates, a business or individual can dramatically increase their credibility and usefulness in a way that draws clients and opportunities in the future by increasing the value of the Internet today.

Understanding the Tools of Social Networking

“Social media” is a sub-set of various “web 2.0” technologies which focus on creating connections between and amongst a variety of user-generated content. For a business, this makes it is easier to share information on the Internet without understanding the technical aspects of writing HTML or scripting, as well as to keep in touch with colleagues in a non-invasive way as time allows. Social networking tools include sites such as MySpace, Facebook, Twitter and Linked In, each of which has its own idiosyncracies and uses.

MySpace is for Teens, Bands & Comics

MySpace was an early break-out site which has always suffered from a variety of social and technical problems. The technical problems are not worth going into, but the site is mechanically unreliable and untrustworthy. Socially, MySpace is primarily used by bands, comedians and very young people who largely use it as a free and easy way to put up a web site to exchange notes with other MySpace friends. Unless you are a stand-up comedian, a band, or your business requires extensive connection to this demographic, I would never recommend MySpace. From 2007 on, the primary use of MySpace has been to establish one’s identity through a simple presence which points elsewhere. The less time one spends in creating a MySpace “profile” the better.

Facebook Business “Pages” (not Profiles) for Business

Facebook was originally more selective than MySpace and has always been more sophisticated and stable. Initially encouraging people to use their real names and building from a moderately elite group of college students and faculty, Facebook had more users, with better demographics and more stability. In many ways Facebook has been able to do what Friendster hoped to do, and has a logical business plan. I encourage business users who wish to establish a personal profile on Facebook to do so, for social contacts, but to create a separate Facebook “page” for their business, and to use that for business visibility.

Facebook “pages” and “groups” are very much *not* personal profiles, and can be used to broadcast information about one’s business to Facebook users (of which there are millions) or (in the case of organizations) to encourage interaction among Facebook users. Facebook profiles, groups and pages all allow the sharing of “notes,” “links,” “events,” pictures and videos. A Facebook page is like a web page, primarily for Facebook users, and businesses can easily use it as a way to broadcast information about business events such as presentations, new products or sales. Behind the scenes, it also provides demographic information on “fans” and allows demographically-targeted notices. Since Facebook users tend to be socially and geographically focused, a page where customers can become “fans” makes a lot of sense for local, service-oriented businesses. It tends to be less relevant for other businesses, but may be incorporated into a general marketing strategy.

Linked In as a Resumé Hub for Other Connections

Early on I referred to as “MySpace for grown-ups” and the primary use of Linked In is to post one’s resume and develop contacts to other professionals one knows “in real life.” One can ask for and give recommendations for others, much as one would leverage personal contacts for a job search or at a cocktail party. Linked In has superb penetration in search engine results, and is the single resource I suggest for job seekers and small business owners for whom name-recognition and “findability” is key. Unlike focused “job boards” such as Monster, Linked In has a variety of professional groups one can take part in as one chooses, and options to post links to other resources such as online “google doc” presentations or professional-presence pages such as professional blogs where one can provide short and relevant reviews or articles. Linked In “status updates” can be used to highlight professional events or tell others of relevant professional resources in a non-intrusive way that helps to increase professional credibility.

Twitter and the Proper Place of “Tweets”

As one of the newer technologies, micro-blogging tools such as Twitter are relatively new, but I suggest that most businesses use them as they might radio or print advertising: for occasional updates on special events. To think of Twitter as a very short newsletter is best for most businesses, in my judgement, and a Twitter feed should almost always be linked to Facebook status if there is a Facebook page, with Tweets providing links to other resources (such as an online calendar or blog article) if possible. The primary value of Twitter at the moment is (A) to remind people of one’s existence, (B) providing timely reminders of special events and (C) sending traffic to more substantive resources or updates. I absolutely discourage personal use of Twitter or direct messaging for most business users.

Industry-Specific Sites

There are some professions or professional organizations where common directories exist, and it is always a good idea to take advantage of those. Local Harvest is a free directory that showcases agricultural businesses, for example, while state bar associations also list lawyers. There may be other organizations you are part of and if these are real directories that you feel your colleaugues, clients or customers might actually use to look for you, take the time to create a basic profile there, especially if it can be used to point toward your main web presence. Generally I discourage people from taking part in “pay to play” directories, as these are mostly a waste of money, but you probably know your industry better than I.

Blog Technology

If there is an uglier word than “blog” in modern English, I don’t know it, and the associations that it brings are almost as ugly. When I use the term “blog” I am referring to the technology behind web pages that makes it possible for ordinary people to quickly create web content through a combination of SQL databases, scripting and CSS. For most people “blog” means a self-indulgent diary, and understanding the difference between these two things is crucial to using blogs intelligently for business purposes.

Although blog technology can be used for puerile narcissism on sites such as LiveJournal and DiaryLand, it is also used quite usefully by serious publications such as the New York Times, O’Reilly and CNET. For small groups, individuals and businesses, blog technology and sites such as Blogspot, WordPress and TypePad are far and away the simplest way to establish web pages, simply by removing obvious date references, and each technology has its advantages. Much of the content your business has already created can be productively repurposed for a blog.

Blogspot Is Simple, With Many Solid Widgets

Blogspot is owned by Google and makes it very easy for individuals to begin writing on any subject that interests them, while providing rich multimedia tie-ins to other sites such as Flickr or content hosted through Google Docs or YouTube. Blogspot does this through various code plug-ins it calls “widgets” and Blogspot is a very useful tool for business folks who wish to easily present a series of educational essays or pointers toward trends within an industry. The sorts of things one would publish in a newsletter lend themselves quite nicely to blog posts, and the ability to post pictures makes them an excellent way to publicize events or sales. Consultants and others who need to educate the public about a given topic, point out good articles or books that help people understand the value that they bring might also benefit greatly from blogspot’s technology. Blogs are a terrific way to repurpose a variety of content that one is already creating, and archive it in a place where it continues to build web hits and value, demonstrating one’s skill and abilities over time. The trick is to use the blog to store and promote material that is timely or has already been created, not to add one more task to an already-busy business day.

WordPress is Versatile, Static and Widely Deployed

WordPress is a widely-used platform for many bloggers, and can be installed on most web servers or hosted commercially through services such as Yahoo or GoDaddy. To help familiarize people with the technology WordPress also provides free accounts at, and web pages created with WordPress are all the web presence that many small businesesses need. WordPress is designed in a way that makes it very easy for web developers who understand CSS to change the “look and feel” of a WordPress site in a way that makes it difficult for non-technical people to even recognize where the pages come from.

Other Options such as TypePad and Movable Type Exist

TypePad is the commercially-hosted version of Movable Type, and a venerable choice for individuals such as authors or speakers. I am very fond of Movable Type as a back-end for business web pages and keep my own blog site with this technology, although WordPress is more popular.

Support Sites for Media Hosting

Most businesses won’t benefit from hosting large numbers of pictures or videos, but if your business might, sites such as Flickr and YouTube allow you to post and host these easily, whence they can be referenced or embedded in other web pages or blogs. Realtors, artists, instructors, hairdressers, landscapers and event planners are just a few of the professions that might.

In addition to posting albums that showcase your products or present terrific “before and after” examples, some professions (such as language, music or physical instruction) may benefit from an occasional video or audio podcast. If yours is one, GarageBand comes bundled with every new Mac and provides a simple way to create and share podcasts with the public. iMovie can also be used to create videos and presentations to share online, although other tools may be better for more static presentations.

Another simple way to use YouTube is simply as a pointer to content created by others. Even if your business only has a single, 45-second commercial to post to YouTube, you can still use other features such as YouTube “favorites” to provide links for your customers and clients to other, relevant and useful content.

Google Apps, Docs, Sites and Calendars

I have written of various “Google apps” before but it is worth mentioning both Google Docs and Google Calendars again. If your business or professional is such that a calendar of events or available times might be useful to embed on your web site, Google calendars provide an easy way to do so. If you find yourself creating presentations for clients or to showcase a particular project, process or property, “Google docs” and particularly the presentation module are a simple way to create an online presentation which can be embedded in a web page or used as a stand-alone. My own Linked In profile, for example, includes a basic Google presentation as well as links to my blog, which occasionally incorporates Google documents.

Use of gCals, gDocs and hosted media such as YouTube or Flickr is a simple and inexpensive way to leverage social media as multimedia, as are various aspects of Facebook for those with Facebook groups or pages.

Tying It All Together: Some Examples

However one chooses to deploy social media, it is important to have a schedule and a plan. I personally don’t recommend that any business owner spend more than thirty minutes per week on social media. Jobseekers and those who are actively recruiting for work may spend much more, but it is vital to not do things that may be seen as unprofessional or distract you from a clear business purpose. If you understand who you are and exactly why you are deploying social media, this discipline will be much simpler. Remember the two questions of (1) what business purpose does it serve and (2) what do you want people to do just after contact. Does what you are doing make you more visible and credible? If not, I would suggest you not do it as any part of your business’ social networking strategy.

What your social networking strategy looks like will vary dramatically depending on what sort of business you have, but generally I suggest physically diagramming whatever strategy you have and to understand (A) where you want to be, (B) where you want to send people, (C) why and (D) how. Toward this, I suggest that people identify one or two clear targets, deploying other sites as “feeders” for this site or as media support. Below are four examples of ways that I have advised clients to deploy social networking in support of their business.

Social Media for the Job Seeker

Someone who has recently been laid off or is otherwise looking for a job will use social media differently and I would usually suggest some combination of Linked In, Facebook and perhaps a blog. Facebook helps you connect with friends and schoolmates so that you can project a positive image and make people who care about you aware of your job search. That is all. Make sure that your Facebook profile is very positive, restricted or both, and if you are on Facebook at all, be certain that there are no pictures there you would not sitting out on your desk at work.

Linked In is a useful web site for job seekers because it was designed for professional networking. At its most basic level, a Linked In profile allows you to post a resume, but it can also be used to showcase other aspects of your professional life in a way that draws inquiries or interviews. Linked In encourages connections with past colleagues and makes it easy to give and receive recommendations. There are professional organizations where one can demonstrate one’s skill and knowledge, but don’t spend too much time there that could better be spent on work. Linked In also has the option to provide links to other web sites, blogs and even videos or Google doc presentations. How many of these are appropriate to you depends on many things, but a Linked In profile is a very simple way to brush up one’s resume and stay connected. Even if one is currently employed or not looking, a Linked In resume helps to begin accumulating connections and recommendations now, for established presence and more credibility later.

If one is a knowledge worker of some kind, a professional blog might also be worth establishing. A health worker, massage therapist or teacher may wish to post general wellness articles or book reviews, as a way to keep themselves in the public eye, providing extra value to established clients and giving them a simple way to refer others to them. Even if one only updates the blog a few times each year, it can become a helpful resource to others and something of an online portfolio.

Social Media for a Grocery Store or Cafe

A physical store without any substantive web presence should probably begin with a Facebook page or blog, depending on their clientele. If the clientele is already on Facebook, start there and begin to develop connections as your current customers become “fans.” Photos of sales and events can be shared, as well as store hours and events. A Twitter feed can be created to streamline “status updates” and the goal here is simply to become “top of mind” and part of folks’ cognitive landscape.

When someone searches for you or your business online, what do they find? Make sure that it includes your phone number, store address and hours. A basic blog may contain little more than directions and store hours and still be a valuable resource. Usually the sort of questions that people ask when they phone are good to answer online and taking the time to post those in one stable and good place is time well spent.

Social Media for Professional Trainers

For a company that does professional trainings to Fortune 500 corporations I recently suggested that they have staff remove most mentions of the company from Facebook pages and instead post substantive resumes and a company profile online, where it is easier to network professionally and they can begin to accumulate testimonials and recommendations. The reason for this was their audience. I also suggested a single company blog with multiple authors, which could be linked to various Linked In profiles. When the strength of your business case is the quality of your people and their resumes, put those all out there in a way that makes them easy to find and connect. Showcase them where clients are likely to look, and avoid primarily social sitses such as Facebook and deeply unprofessional sites such as MySpace.

Social Media for Mixed Martial Arts

In the case of a Mixed Martial Arts gym, my advice was exactly the opposite. After creating a basic web page I suggested that they put their class schedule onto a Google calendar where a link could be posted so that folks can always see what is going on. Since their demographic is largely young people, I suggested they configure a MySpace profile (a standard in their industry) and a FaceBook page where news of upcoming events (and photos of past ones) could easily be posted. Huge parts of the MMA experience are social, and young people tend to use their phones for all sorts of things. A Twitter feed can be used to announce changes in the schedule, which are automatically forwarded to the gym’s Facebook page, saving time all around.

Have A Plan

By considering the value and purpose of social networking tools, you can avoid wasting a huge amount of time, and deploy them in a way that helps your business. In summary I suggest that all business users consider a few basic questions.

  1. What business purpose does this technology serve?
  2. Who is our market or the audience for this content?
  3. What do we want them to do immediately upon receiving it?
  4. Is the content useful?
  5. Does the content make us easier to find?
  6. Does it make us more credible?
  7. Does the content remind them of us in a professional way?

If one doesn’t know or understand the answers to those questions, I would suggest a thoughtful pause.

A Super-Simplified Presentation to Share

Some Good Examples

What sort of ways can you use social networking and media to be more useful to current and future customers?

Social Networking Strategy and Deployment

If you would care to schedule an appointment to discuss the possibilities of social media and how it might be intelligently deployed in a logical way to help your business, please consider phoning MacRory for a consultation at (360) 666-7679.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Google Docs at PMUG General Meeting, 13 July 2009

One of the most interesting developments in software for small businesses over the past two years have been various “web 2.0” technologies such as blog software and “software as a service” options for collaboration such as Google Docs. These have the potential to change the way we work as much as local networks or the Internet did, and so I think it is important to help people learn about them, since these technologies offer amazing tools for students, educators, community groups and even people who don’t own their own computers.

As part of my goal to make folks more aware of these I plan to do several free presentations over the next few months. The first of these will be at the general meeting of the Portland Macintosh Users Group at 7pm on Monday, July 13, 2009. Please consider joining us at the Jean Vollum Natural Capital Center “Ecotrust Building” at 721 NW Ninth Avenue, Portland OR 97209.

Demonstration Documents for the Presentation

During the presentation I will make reference to a variety of links, which I’ll include below.

An Embedded Google Doc Presentation

Examples of Other Google Docs

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Connecting Wirelessly with Mac OS X

One of the more common questions I hear is how complicated it is to connect a computer wirelessly, but “connecting wirelessly” can mean a variety of different things. Most wireless technologies use radio waves of some sort, and almost all can be used with Mac OS X.
Wireless connections

Different Wireless Connections

Just as there are different kinds of cables and wired connections, so there are different kinds of wireless connections. Some are used to connect devices to your computer, and some can be used for Internet connectivity. None is as fast as the wired alternatives, and all are prone to security concerns, range problems or interference.

Infrared Connections

The earliest form of wireless connections for most Macs was infrared, and this is still used by the iPod-style Apple Remote, which can be used to control your Mac at a distance for viewing media through the Front Row application or to work with slide presentations in Keynote. Infrared is the same technology used by most television remote controls and connections are limited in range and line-of-sight. Before the introduction of Bluetooth, infrared was also used to “tether” some cellular telephones to laptops, allowing for mobile Internet, but this technique is rarely used today.

Short-Range Wireless before Bluetooth

Some wireless keyboards and mice will use a special “USB dongle” that communicates only with those devices.

Bluetooth “Personal Wireless Networks”

Bluetooth is an open standard intended primarily for peripherals and mobile devices within a “personal wireless network.” All current Macs ship with bluetooth built in and bluetooth is used for short-range wireless peripherals such as Apple’s wireless mice and keyboards. Bluetooth is also commonly used for headsets and telephones, and some new automobiles have bluetooth integration built in. Bluetooth is less commonly used to connect printers and PDA’s, with effective range for most bluetooth devices twenty feet or less.

For security and to avoid confusion and interference, many bluetooth devices must be “paired” with each other, and Mac OS X includes a “bluetooth setup assistant” which can be accessed through the system preferences for “network” and small local area networks can be configured for file sharing.

802.11 Airport or “Wi-Fi” Wireless Area Networks

For Internet connectivity, the most widely-used type of network is 802.11 “wi-fi,” referred to as Airport within the Apple brand. Wi-fi is commonly used in offices and public “hot spots” where the wi-fi “base station” or “wireless sharing hub” is connected to an existing high-speed Internet connection. Although early versions of the Airport base station included a modem port for connecting to an ISP, this is almost never used today. The analogy I usually make is to a wireless telephone, as compared to a cell phone. Just as a wireless telephone does no good without a telephone line to connect it to, so a wifi connection cannot be used without another ISP of some sort.

Every Mac for the past several years has shipped with Airport built-in, and so can be used to create an ad-hoc network or to share an Internet connection from one Mac to other computers through wi-fi. This feature is turned on or off in the Mac OS 10.5 preference pane for “sharing.”

Cellular Networks, Such as Edge or 3G

Since cellular phones are telephones, they have long been usable as telephone modems, although early cell-phone connections were so slow that this was often painful. Using a cell-phone as an Internet connection for the computer is commonly called “tethering” and can be done with a physical cable or over bluetooth, depending on the telephone. Other options include built-in Internet connections such as those on “smart phones” such as the Palm Pre, Blackberry or iPhone. The fastest among these is currently the third-generation “3G” networks for the latest iPhone, which in the Portland area are available through AT&T or T-Mobile’s Edge networks.

For those who wish to connect to cellular networks directly from their computers, AT&T and T-Mobile both offer small USB “dongles” which plug into the USB port on a computer, effectively functioning as USB modems. Usually these require a separate “data plan” with the mobile phone company, such plans usually starting at around $25 per month, and can be much more. High-speed connections are usually only available in urban areas, but slower connections are available in most areas where there is cell-phone coverage.

WiMax (sold as Clear in the Portland area)

“WiMax” is a microwave technology, heavily marketed in Portland under the brand-name “Clear.” One signs up for it as one would for cell-phone service, either using a fixed receiver or a portable USB dongle that plugs into one’s computer. WiMax speeds are comparable to DSL and prices start at around $35 per month.

First available in January of 2009, WiMax is sometimes called “4G” and is appreciably faster than 3G. USB dongles for the Mac became available in summer of 2009 for approximately $50 and Sprint has announced plans to tap into this network, which is only available within the core urban area.

Satellite Internet

The most expensive option for wireless Internet is satellite Internet, with much faster “download” than upload speeds, which begin at around $60 per month, primarily in rural areas or for recreational vehicles.

Posted in Uncategorized

Professional Ethics in Macintosh Consulting

I recently had the unfortunate experience of cleaning up after another “Macintosh consultant” who, by all evidence, seems to have misled and taken advantage of a client. Things were not set up according to standard practices, equipment was purchased but not delivered, passwords and configuration information was not documented, and the entire relationship seemed designed to keep the client dependent. This prompted me to think back on my own code of ethics, and appreciate the role ethics plays in all I do.

Codes of Ethics and Why They Matter

Most codes of ethics are developed and adopted by professional associations as a way to police themselves. Therapists and lawyers have codes of ethics, as do librarians, CPA’s and doctors. These are distinct from legal statute and regulation in that they function primarily as guidelines enforced by professional censure, not law. Since computer consultants have technical certifications but no special governmental licensing, it is something of a wild west. Anyone can call themselves a “computer consultant” and there is scant recourse for deceptive practices.

One of the great ironies of trustworthy people is that, for the most part, they don’t expect you to trust them. They welcome second opinions, questions and challenges, as a way to demonstrate their reasoning and competence. A good code of ethics and the “best practices” it encourages not only protect the client against incompetence and graft, but also provide a set of guidelines to encourage more professional practice. Almost every professional organization I have ever been part of has some code of ethics, as I do for myself in my business.

Key Aspects of Ethical Responsibility

Each organization phrases its code of ethics, generally, but some things are common to almost all code of ethics.

Duty of Competence

An ethical consultant is technically competent, and never misrepresents their skill or abilities. My own rule of thumb is that I try never to undertake any task that I don’t feel I have a two-thirds or better chance of completing sucessfully. If a task is outside my normal scope of practice or experience, I refer it to someone else or tell the client that it is a borderline case so that they can decide. The duty of competence also requires that the consultant stay abreast of developments and have a program for testing and improving their skills, through continuing education and periodic certification.

Duty of Honesty

Implicit in the duty of competence is the duty of honesty, of being forthright with the client as to the options available and our own best judgement as to the the likely success or utility of any option. Frequently I have counseled clients out of plans that would have been financially beneficial to me, but were not in the client’s long-term interest. If asked for my personal opinion, I will usually give it, but my professional duty is to honestly convey the technical issues as I understand them in a way the client can understand, and not to intimidate or bedazzle them with jargon. Clear and accurate communication is crucial.

Avoiding Conflicts of Interest

An ethical consultant understands exactly who they are working for, and clarifies that as necessary. Referral fees are a common thing in the computer industry, whereby someone pays a commission or kickback to another for recommending or delivering a customer. I tend not to take part in these at any level, or to disclose relationships when they exist. When recommending other vendors or options I usually try to provide at least three quality options, rather than substituting my preferences for the client’s best judgement.

A lot of retail stores have service departments whose primary job seems to be selling new boxes of equipment or software, or creating a dependency relationship where the client doesn’t really have an option to go elsewhere. This is one of the reasons I do not deal in hardware or software sales, although I am happy to recommend multiple vendors or to purchase things at reimbursement cost only.

If I get a kickback for selling Microsoft Office or am expected to sell a certain number of Mobile Me subscriptions, it is more difficult to be honest and “think outside the box” for the best long-term interests of the client.

Respect for Privacy and Duty of Confidentiality

Because I am often invited into people’s homes and necessarily come into contact with their private data, it is important for me to be circumspect in what I notice and absolutely discreet in what I say. It always delights me when two clients whom I know are acquainted find out (after several years) that they share me as a computer consultant. If I work for you, that is between you and I, and I do not share that fact with others. If the courts would like to subpoena my testimony, they are welcome to do so, but otherwise it is my professional duty to respect and protect your privacy, including business information and processes.

Legal Compliance

It may seem odd to have to say, but I try to obey the law. This means that I will not help you to pirate software or support illegal software. Although I am happy to help you monitor computer use for your minor children, in Oregon (where there are no community-property laws) I will not help you to spy on your spouse or break the encryption on a wireless network to get free Internet. There are often technical ways to accomplish what you want to do within the law, but please don’t expect me to help you break the law. Just because something is technically possible does not mean it is legal or ethical, and I am glad to explain what I will do, what I won’t do, and why.

There is a dramatically lower expectation of privacy in workplace situations, of course, but those are best addressed in advance through clear terms of use and consistently communicated standards. I don’t want to embarrass anyone and am happy, of course, to help you understand how better to protect your own privacy, both online and off.

Preserving Client’s Independence and Autonomy

Every technician or professional has ways that they prefer to do things, but there are also “standard practices” and ways of doing things that are generally accepted and understood. In performing work for a client, I have a responsibility to do so in a way that will be clear to other professionals and which does not make the client dependent on me or my special knowledge to access your own data. As much as possible, I do not not want to know your passwords and I want to leave documentation so that another technician who may come after me will understand what I have done. If someone else can do something less expensively or more competently than I can, I will refer you to them or at least make you aware of this. You may choose to go with me for various reasons, but it is crucial that you make an independent and informed choice. A client’s data is the client’s data, and the client should always have full access to their own data and an understanding of how it is stored.

Client hardware and property (including data) should never be taken off-site without the client’s knowledge and permission.

One Sample Code from 2001

Below is a code of ethics that I suggested to a local group of Macintosh consultants back in 2001. Modeled on the “Scout Law” of 1908, I think it covers all the basics.

  • TRUSTWORTHY: Macintosh Professionals preserve client confidentiality, observe the law, refuse bribes of any kind and disclose any possible conflicts of interest to their clients.
  • LOYAL: Macintosh Professionals place the client’s best interests first, undertaking projects only within their expertise and referring clients to other professionals or vendors when that best serves the client.
  • HELPFUL: Macintosh Professionals work with others and help others improve their skills and abilities in all areas, for the good of humanity, the community, the individual and the Macintosh platform.
  • COMPETENT: Macintosh Professionals work to keep their skills current, stay abreast of new technologies and promote competence in all areas, openly admitting when things are outside their expertise and never misrepresenting their understanding of a subject, situation or problem.
  • THRIFTY: Macintosh Professionals work to preserve value of old and new equipment, so even older technology remains in use to make a positive difference.
  • REVERENT: Macintosh Professionals respect all individuals and do not discriminate based on race, gender, disability, religion or other lifestyle choices. We respect civil liberties, individual privacy, conscience and free speech in all its forms.

Other Codes of Ethics

In the 1984 film Repo Man, the character named Amphetamine Bob conveys a simple code: “I shall not cause harm to any vehicle nor the personal contents thereof. Nor through inaction let that vehicle or the personal contents thereof come to harm,” saying “That’s what I call the Repo Code, kid. Don’t forget it: Etch it in your brain. Not many people got a code to live by anymore.” Below are a few of the other professional codes that inform my understanding of professional ethics.

Other Considerations

There are other considerations of course, but these are the major points, and areas where another “consultant” had let their client down. When engaging a consultant, please consider asking them about their affiliations and code of ethics if those matter to you. I am always prepared to discuss and explain mine at (360) 666-7679.

Posted in Uncategorized