Attitude Matters

Bad Attitude

Anybody who has ever looked at job requirements for technical staff has probably noticed the huge number of skills required. This may include programming languages, hardware platforms, frameworks, protocols, or countless other technical specifications. However, what you will see far less often is interpersonal skills or attitude. In reality, these soft skills are typically far more valuable.

This week, I overheard an aspiring programmer discuss how he found it “mentally draining pretending to care about business needs our values”. I immediately jumped in to try to correct his errant thinking. As the discussion continued, he made it abundantly clear that he only cared about money. In fact, the only reason he was going to school for technology was to make money.

While many people chose their profession based on financial factors, money should never be the primary motivation. Why? Because study after study has found that money is a poor motivator of behavior. Instead, people motivated by the intrinsic characteristics of a job are far more successful. For example, as a programmer, I’m motivated by helping business transform their operations through technology and by the challenge of the problem. While a large number of the applications are, in themself, boring; solving complex problems and helping businesses grow is always exciting.

For the individual trying to find a job, learn to be motivated by the job instead of the money. Not only will it help you perform better, it will help you develop a more positive attitude.

In the end, most business owners would rather have a less technically competent individual with a positive attitude than a more skilled individual with a poor attitude. For the business, they can train the desired skills, but fixing a poor attitude is far more difficult.

Backups Are Not Optional

Drives

Recently, I visited a customer site for what seemed like a simple request – to update their Windows computer. However, in the end, the machine had to be reformatted. The customer was very worried that they would lose critical data on their system. That didn’t happen, but I was concerned that the customer wasn’t performing backups on what he considered to be critical operational data.

Today, failure to backup important data is not excusable. With the advent of cloud services as well as cheap data storage, customers have countless options for ensuring their data is always available. Regardless of the operating system or situation, everyone should be performing regular backups of critical information.

Backup Options

For Mac users, Apple’s Time Machine is the way to go. The gold standard for computer backups, Time Machine automatically backups up your entire system whenever a configured hard drive is connected to the computer. Not only is it easy to configure and implement, backups couldn’t be easier. During setup of a new Mac computer, simply plug in the Time Machine drive and the OS will take care of moving everything to a new system. It could not possibly be easier. Additionally, Apple’s iCloud drive is an incredibly cheap cloud-based backup option. The free iCloud storage allows up to 5 gigs while paid solutions start at only .99 cents per month.

Unfortunately, Windows users don’t have anything as nice as Time Machine. However, Microsoft’s OneDrive allows free storage of 5 gigs (like iCloud) and up to 1 TB for only $6.99 per month. With automatic syncing to the cloud, OneDrive can quickly – and easily – protect mission critical data.

In addition to the above, countless other options exist. Google Drive, a service similar to OneDrive or iCloud, allows 15 gigs of free storage. For developers, both BitBucket and GitHub provide off-site storage of source code. For your cell phone, Google Photos can backup every selfie you take so you never have to worry about losing the pictures on your phone.

Conclusion

In the end, it doesn’t really matter what service you use or how you do your backups. What matters is that you’re doing them. For me, as a business owner, the loss of my business data would be catastrophic. So, I have implemented various backups to preserve critical files. If my computer blows up today, I’ve got nothing to fear – I’ll be back up and running tomorrow.

If you are concerned about what would happen to your business in the event of a computer crash or catastrophic event, contact someone in your IT department. If you don’t have an IT department feel free to contact Talixa Software for assistance.

Tech Tip: Google Alerts

Alert

Google is responsible for innumerable software tools and applications. Chrome, Android, the Pixel, GoogleFi, and Gmail are just a few. But there’s a particularly useful tool that few people seem to know much about – Google Alerts.

Google Alerts is a service where Google will email you with new results for a desired search string. This has a few particularly useful applications for business and security.

First, entering your name as well as any common variations (Tom vs Thomas) can be useful for identity monitoring. Every time something comes up with your name, you’ll be notified. Quoted in the paper? Named in a lawsuit? Listed as next of kin in an obituary? If your name is associated with new content, you’ll be notified.

Second, entering your company name is great way to keep track of anybody mentioning your business. Even better, enter the names of your competitors so that you can keep track of any news releases associated with them as well! Of course, you can also use Google Alerts to get new information on your favorite musician, actor, or any other subject of interest to you.

While not as exciting (or as well known) as many of Google’s products, Google Alerts is an excellent tool to keep track of your digital footprint, keep up to date on your competitors, or stay abreast of the things that matter most to you.

Remote Work? It’s Not All Good.

During the last few months, we’ve seen a huge shift by companies to encourage remote work. Indeed, for many organizations, this is they only option they have if they wish to stay in business. Many workers are very pleased with this, and some have even blasted companies who say they’ll end their remote plans when the coronavirus passes. However, as a business owner, I have a variety of issues with remote work.

Lack of Accountability

One of the biggest difficulties with remote work is the lack of accountability. Online, you’ll see all the people who support remote work argue that if you don’t trust someone, why are they working for you? But how can I possibly ever grow to trust someone I don’t have any interaction with? If the person works a remote-only job, and was hired remotely, I have no way to ever know the individual’s work ethic, whether he consistently shows up on time, or whether he plays games at the office all day. I’ve seen many people play Facebook games in their cubicles, I can only imagine what they would do if they were at home!

Difficulty in Mentoring

I currently have several interns (or, as I hear they’re called now, externs) working for me remotely. They need to complete an internship to finish the degree, and I offered to let them work for me. Unfortunately, I can’t watch what they do or easily mentor them. I don’t know when they’re stuck, and I have no way to really tell if they’re having difficulties or if they’re simply unproductive. I feel sorry for anyone working as an extern now, as I do not believe it’s possible to provide the same level of mentorship that’s possible when a team member is onsite.

Inability to Develop Social Connections

While many people may prefer to ignore it, social connections in the workplace are important. Developing relationships with a diverse pool of team members provides an employee the ability to learn from other team members, to share in the success and hardships of a project, and to engage in team-building that grows ever important as someone desires to climb the corporate ladder. Individuals who never work at the office will have a very difficult time developing the skills necessary to become the leaders of tomorrow.

Decreased Visibility

When it comes time to promote someone, do you chose the worker you’ve never met, or the individual who you see showing up early and staying late every day? The remote worker may put in just as many hours, but it will never been seen by management. Likewise, when it comes time to downsize, are you going to fire your friend or the worker three states away?

Minimized Importance of Client Interaction

Developing custom software for clients, I place a great deal of importance on relationships with my customers. I like to visit them whenever possible, see how things are going, and even socialize a bit. I view my customers as more than a source of revenue, but as the people who enable me to have a business. As such, I place a great deal of value on relationship building. With remote workers, the option for real meaningful client interaction is gone.

Why Not Outsource Everything?

If you disagree with all of the above, and you really think that remote-only is the future, then why not outsource everything to India, the Ukraine, or Latin America? If there truly is no value to being onsite, then there’s no value to me paying an American developer when I can outsource the work at a substantially reduced rate. By arguing that all jobs should be remote, you’re actually arguing that you’re way too expensive for the benefit you provide.

Conclusion

While I think remote work can be a great thing, I reject the notion that it is superior to working onsite. I look forward to returning to a normal business world where I can interact with my customers, meet for a burger with a new lead, and mentor my team in person. The remote-only world of today isn’t all it’s cracked up to be!

The NVIDIA Jetson Nano

During the last few weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to play around with the NVIDIA Jetson Nano. As an artificial intelligence enthusiast, I was very eager to see what the Jetson Nano could do, and I was not disappointed.

The Jetson Nano is a small AI computer, about the size of a Raspberry Pi. Just like the Pi, the Nano runs Linux and contains a 40-pin header for interfacing with other components. With 4 USB ports, ethernet, and HDMI, it’s a self-contained computer. What separates the Nano from the Pi, however, is the NVIDIA GPU. With 128 cores, the GPU is capable of performing floating point operations substantially faster than a typical machine. It’s those very floating point calculations that are the bulk of AI processing applications.

Taking the Nano for a spin, I downloaded their OS image and installed on an SD card. Visiting NVIDIA’s website, I found that they offered a free online course to learn the basics. Through their course, I was able to create simple AI to perform real-time image classification. Unlike a typical Haar filter generation, the Nano was able to create a classifier in minutes. And, even more exciting, the PyTorch framework they demonstrate contains pre-trained networks that allow for far fewer images than a typical Haar filter requires. Additional NVIDIA courses include video processing using C++, medical image processing, and countless other AI tasks.

What makes the Nano so exciting is just how fast it works. Having developed AI models in the past, I’m accustomed to lots of waiting. However, the Jetson Nano functions like a mini AI supercomputer. For beginners, this means you can easily generate your neural network model quickly and perform validation tests with substantially less effort than traditional computer architectures.

I highly recommend the Jetson Nano for anyone wanting to learn more about artificial intelligence or wishing to experiment with potential consumer or industrial applications with computer vision.

Master of Your Destiny

Workforce

As the economy begins to rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic, people are starting to go back to work. Unfortunately, it seems some sources are suggesting that companies have engaged in sexist behaviors by only bringing men back to work. Or have they? I asked both my wife and my daughter what they thought the reason for this apparent sexism may be and they both came to the same conclusion – women were likely staying at home to take care of their children. None of the articles I read came to this conclusion.

Shouldn’t we stomp out sexism whenever we find it? Absolutely. As my daughter enters the workforce with a STEM degree, I want her to have the same opportunities as men. As a business owner, I have a simple rule for the people I work with – they must be the most qualified people I can find. Note my lack of concern for race, gender, religious creed, etc.

Unfortunately, I see a bigger problem with the assumption that everyone is bigoted: it destroys the motivation of those who are the target of those prejudices. For instance, as women see articles about sexism in the workplace, they increasingly believe that everyone is out to get them. Likewise, the constant insistence of racism creates an environment where minorities believe they’re unable to get the job. This causes those individuals to put in less effort or even give up. After all, if the system is rigged against a person, why would they bother to try?

These notions of sexism and racism end up becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. People give up, we see a less diverse workforce, and then point out the racial/gender makeup of the workforce to prove our conclusion.

What Do I Tell My Daughter?

When I talk to my daughter about sexism, I tell her that she is in control of her own destiny and can accomplish anything she wants to do. I tell her to ignore the reports of widespread bias and instead work hard to achieve her goals. I tell her that when she falls for the narrative that women are at a disadvantage in the workplace, she becomes the victim and is unable to achieve her goals.

Conclusion

While I have witnessed sexism in the workplace, I reject the notion that women are systematically oppressed. I believe that women are just as capable as men, and that when they begin to see themself as the victim they kill their own upward mobility through the paralysis of fear. Most importantly, I reject the politics of division and believe we all end up better when we bring the best people together – regardless of race, gender, or any other meaningless classifier.

Business Continuity

The Road Ahead

During the last several months, we have seen unprecedented damage to businesses. Every single day, we see more reports of closures and bankruptcies. Yet, among all the carnage, we see some businesses that managed to thrive. What was it that allowed these businesses to perform so well during this time? Business Continuity Planning.

Of course, some businesses – like grocers and stores with other necessities – were less impacted by the virus. And others, such as hair stylists and nail salons, are utterly unable to perform their job without close contact. But in between those two lie a large number of businesses. In those businesses, the winners were those with business continuity plans that included technology.

As businesses closed down in Pennsylvania, one of the first stores inundated with business was BestBuy. Within short order, all of their computers and laptops were gone. Why? Because businesses were equipping their employees to work from home. Businesses with the ability to setup an online store quickly found they had to. But the biggest winners were those who already had the technology in place. Those businesses were already able to function remotely and their staff had done so before with work from home policies or as a necessary part of their business travel.

Recommendations

How can you be better prepared next time? Here are some technology recommendations for businesses to ensure they’re in a better position next time.

First, find a technology for remote communications. Zoom has been heavily mentioned during the past few months, but dozens of other options exist. As a software company, I like Slack. Others like Google Hangouts. Whatever your choice, make sure your staff is familiar with it.

Second, setup your office for remote access. This can be as simple as a service such as GoToMyPC.com or as detailed as a VPN setup. Whatever it is, make sure all your staff is able to access all necessary systems from outside the office.

Third, invest in cloud technologies. Whether they are off-the-shelf or custom solutions, get as much as you can outside your network so that those systems are easily accessible by your remote workforce.

Fourth, examine relative mobile technologies. Many cloud solutions have mobile apps, and many other work functions can be performed on tablets or phones. This will allow greater availability of your team regardless of where they are – at home or on the road.

Conclusion

Hopefully, this is a black swan event that does not occur again within our lifetime. But even if it doesn’t, you may be impacted by natural disaster, fire, or other extraordinary events that have the same impact – difficulty performing business function. Put the tools into place today so you are better able to handle the next disaster.

If your business needs help with custom cloud or mobile solutions, please reach out to us. We can create solutions for small business or large enterprise. Then, you can sleep easy knowing your business will continue regardless of what goes on around you!

Financial Planning

Money

The unprecedented impact of the Coronavirus will certainly be the subject of countless articles during the following decade. After all, there’s much to be learned from this event in a variety of fields. Economists, epidemiologists, lawyers, and business owners will all approach the subject from a different angle. Undoubtedly, many of those conversations will involve financial planning and economic impact.

As I look at the nation, after over a month of lockdown, the most obvious thing I see is the lack of sound financial planning. From the individual to the federal government, this event has exposed a gaping hole in our ability to plan for disasters. Of course, it’s easy to say that nobody could have predicted a pandemic – so how could we prepare? But countless disasters happen every single year. Earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, tornados, winter weather, and extreme cold are common events that could easily bring harm to a business or family.

Furthermore, sound financial planning has always said you should have six months cash on hand. That’s wise advice for individual, corporate, and government financial planning. Yet, within a week of the lockdowns, people were lining up at food banks across the nation. Surely businesses would be better prepared. Right? Sadly not. Within short order, the government opened loan programs to keep businesses from failing. Even worse, the government itself was unprepared and an extra 2 trillion dollars was added to an already unsustainable national debt to deal with the virus.

From one end of our nation to the other, nobody had any money in the bank to weather a week long storm – let alone a months long shutdown. And, sadly, I think we’ll see innumerable businesses lost in the fallout of this national disaster.

How can we – the business community better deal with these kinds of events in the future? First, we obviously need to ensure that we have adequate cash on hand to continue to meet our financial obligations even if we are unable to conduct business. Second, we need to find creative ways to operate our businesses using eCommerce, cloud systems, or other technologies that can operate even during a disaster. Third, we need to encourage everyone – at all levels – to put money back for a rainy day. We may not see another plague in our lifetime, but we will undoubtedly see other disasters.

Marketing 3.0

Marketing

In the early days of marketing, companies relied on print, and broadcast media. Newspapers, magazines, television, and radio provided advertising solutions for everyone. Then came the internet. During the last decade, we’ve seen marketing rapidly move to things like Google AdWords as well as social media. Today, people make heavy use of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to push their brand. Through both paid advertising as well as providing content, social media is now a major player in the marketing realm.

Unfortunately, however, this seems to be changing faster than many would like to admin. Facebook’s user base is dwindling, and Twitter is typically only used by people looking for information within a niche market – such as music or tech. Worse yet, LinkedIn – once a place for professional networks – is becoming the venue of choice for advertising. Initially, I embraced the use of LinkedIn to advertise my services to local businesses. Unfortunately, over the last year, I have been increasingly bombarded with connection requests from people who simply want to sell me products. Now, I am increasingly reluctant to connect with people I don’t know. I look for where the individual is located, and if it’s outside the US, I reject the connection. I’ve removed individuals who acted as spammers. None of this is new, of course, I’ve talked about it before (Social Media Etiquette and Sleazy LinkedIn Users).

Now, I am left to wonder where the next phase in advertising will take us. I assume others are having the same experiences, and are wondering the same thing. Mobile advertising seems to be good, but only if you’re selling games. Advertising on digital audio services such as Pandora or Spotify are great – if you’ve got the budget. I have to assume that other’s are having the same experiences I am, and so these methods are becoming less useful. I think we are on the brink of a massive shift in marketing, but I’m not sure what it will be. But whatever it is, I hope it’s less spammy than what people are doing now.

Simple Text Search

Search

I often need to search a directory of code for instances of a specific word. I like tools that I can use from the command line so that I can execute them from an SSH session across the network. Here’s how I do it.

#!/bin/bash

SAVEIFS=$IFS
IFS=$(echo -en "\n\b")

if [ $# -ne 1 ]
then
        echo Call is: `basename $0` string
else
        for file in `find . -type f | cut -c3-`
        do
                count=`cat "$file" | grep -i $1 | wc -l`
                if [ $count -gt 0 ]
                then
                        echo "******"$file"******"
                        cat "$file" | grep -i $1
                fi
        done
fi
IFS=$SAVEIFS