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By Lou Washington

Everyone is speculating on what Apple should or will do with the pile of cash it is currently sitting on. New leadership in Cupertino is already showing some willingness to do things a bit differently with their recent stock buy back and dividend declaration.

Last week Business Week ran a piece by Mathew Ingram that took on the suggestion that Apple might be wise to pick up Twitter in an acquisition move. The article makes a number of good points. The most powerful argument for the acquisition is centered around a perceived missing social media component within the overall Apple market strategy.

I think this is a weak argument for buying Twitter. In fact, I would suggest that buying any social media vehicle would be counter productive for any platform manufacturer. At the end of the day, Apple is a platform manufacturer. They make devices and operating systems. They also produce some very good proprietary software products that exploit the platform environments that they build.

Social media outlets such as Twitter and Facebook are different. They are not at all proprietary. They cross-platform lines, cultural lines, social stratification and segments, political orientations and every other human pigeon-hole you can think of. All are welcome in the very large social media tent.

But, once that tent takes on the aura of being proprietary or in any way oriented toward a specific group, it begins to feel a little bit exclusionary.

Consider this, what would happen to Twitter if one of the major political parties bought it. What would happen if a media company purchased Twitter? Would ownership of Twitter by the Republican Party or the Huffington Post increase or diminish the membership of active users?

Apple does not need to buy its way into this arena. Apple users will do that on their behalf. Apple users are not a shy lot, they are passionate about Apple technology and they won’t hesitate to build out a variety of social media based manifestations of that passion.

Apple needs to continue to facilitate the use of social media within the design and concept of the products they bring to market. They do a good enough job of this, but further commitment in this direction will deliver a far more effective social presence then simply buying one of the components.

A good social media strategy must cover multiple social media outlets. Attaining excellence within one, does not guarantee excellence in another. Certainly, one flavor may lend itself more naturally to the goals and tactical processes of any given company. But, this doesn’t mean the company should avoid the other outlets.

The ability to effectively exploit LinkedIn does not mean you should ignore Facebook. Apple surely understands this. Purchasing Twitter would doubtless make it very difficult to develop and maintain close collaboration with communities operating within the other.

There really is very little to be gained by this move. The further you stray from your core competency, the higher the risk of failure.

By Lou Washington

Okay, I’m not going to talk about guitars, iPads or any of the other things that spring to mind when talking technology. Today, I’m going to share my techno-adventure in the world of yard maintenance.

Like everybody else in North America I’m finding my June chores now being moved up to late March thanks to all the SUVs, Aerosols, Styrofoam and other sins of the 20th century that have conspired to rob us of Winter. I was excited to get started early this year on my own climate destruction project which involves mowing my lawn at high noon.

I had two radically different experiences today with, well, let’s call them lawn machines.

First up is my Homelite brand electric chainsaw. I’ve used this thing twice and I have to say, it’s really kind of joke. It’s all plastic and shiny. It really makes me think of something Mattel would make, like Bobby’s First Chainsaw!It’s just like Dad’s!

I wanted to cut down some tiny stumps left over from clearing out some brush about a year ago. I’m talking one to two inches in diameter here.

So there I am with my 50 foot extension cord climbing around in my back yard. I select my first stump, fire up the mighty Homelite, and start cutting. Everything goes just fine. Stump number two things are different. I get about half way thru the stump and everything just blows up. The chain flies off and the motor shuts down.

I figure I can fix this. So there I am with toy chainsaw parts all around trying to figure out how it all works. It’s amazing when you open a machine up. You instantly can tell if they used engineers to design the thing or if they just kind of winged it. My toy was in the latter category.

The whole thing was held together by a plastic cover that doubled as the guide for lining up the chain drive sprocket, the blade adjustment and tension controller. The vibrations of cutting for more than few seconds was all that was required to cause everything to loosen up, the chain to jump out of the track and shut down the machine.

I rebuilt the saw three-time this afternoon, then I threw it away.

Who are these people kidding? This saw is a piece of junk.

After giving up on the stumps it was time to mow the lawn. My lawn mower is a monument to the concept of durability. This thing sits outside all winter, is not even covered, has never been to a shop for “seasonal preparation” or winterizing. I put oil in it 10 years ago when I bought it. I think the new price for the mower was no more than $150.00.

The only thing I do to this mower that is remotely like maintenance is to pull the spark plug every time I use it. I emery board the spark gap, spray starter fluid on the plug and into the plug socket. I have washed the air filter twice.

The mower deck is rusted through in several places and the starter cord rotted two summers ago. None of the control cables work any more.

But this thing starts on three tries every spring. It may only run on one speed, and when it’s time to turn it off, you have to pluck the spark lead from the plug, but, it runs all summer long and starts first time every time during the mowing season.

It’s a Briggs and Stratton motor, but the mower itself is brand-less. What a joy it is to know that the machines you use for the chores you like the least are going to be dependable and get you done with the chore as quickly as possible.

So, here’s to Briggs and Stratton. You guys are great and your product rocks.

As for the chainsaw guys, you really need to re-think your mission statement or value prop or something. Maybe, just hire an engineer.

By Lou Washington

Today is the big day; the day that has been anticipated for months. Today is the day the iPad 3 finally hits the market. If you believe the various news outlets, people are in one of two camps on this. First is the panting, drooling, tail wagging group who is speechless with excitement. Or, second, you are in the wake me when it’s over group.

In reality, most people are somewhere in between.  I certainly am.

The 3rd iteration of the iPad is exciting. A greatly improved camera and an upgraded display will make for an improved product. But, I’m not ready to turn in my iPad 2. I have not actually seen the new improved display or used the upgraded camera, but, I just don’t see those features driving me to abandon the 2 just yet.

The iPad is revolutionary. It has changed lives. But, why is this true. What is there about this device that causes so much hoopla?  As a dedicated user, I’ll try to answer that.

First off, what makes any device a better alternative than not having the device?

1)      It must deliver a decided advantage to the user

2)      It must be convenient

3)      It must allow the user to do more by doing less

4)      It must be consistent

Okay, so the iPad bats 1000 on these four categories. But, the thing that makes it transcend the merely great and cross over into the territory of world-changing is the fact that it does all four of these things on multiple levels. It touches and benefits so many processes within our daily lives.

Here’s what I mean.

Let’s take the going to a presentation meeting experience.   In the pre iPad world you would go to the meeting with a pad and pen. Throughout the meeting you would jot down little notes and quotes that might be useful in the future. Finally, you go back to your office, lose your notes and that’s the end of things.

With the iPad you sit down at the meeting. You open a notes app and as the speaker talks you enter your notes into a named retrievable document. Perhaps the power-point presentation has some interesting graphics; you shoot a picture of the screen to capture the graphics. Perhaps, the presenter has a special verbal presentation that sums up his message. You can click on your recorder and capture the guy making the key points.

When you are done, you have an illustrated, multimedia presentation of the entire meeting. You can send it to others via email, you can store it, you can let it rest and review it later. That’s very powerful for people who attend trade shows or must sit through multiple meeting over the course of a day.

If someone would have built a little box that did all of that in 1995, and called it the Meeting Pro, that person would have appeared on the cover of Fortune Magazine by the end of the year.

So, how much greater is a device that also stores your music, facilitates access to the always open music store, movie store and book store and gives you access to these things anywhere you go?

How much greater is a device that replaces your telephone and email with VOIP and video phone functionality?

What would the worth be of a device that allowed you to carry around not only pictures of your family, but also all the pictures you’ve ever taken in your lifetime?

How about a device that does all of the above and also helps you tune your guitar and then record the latest song you’ve written playing your guitar?

Not musical, no problem, what about photo-shopping your pictures? Image editing software abounds for the iPad.

May be you want to try out a new route to your Aunt Zelda’s house. Fire up your iPad GPS system and you’re there in no time.

When you buy one of these things you have no idea how much it will impact your life. The more you use it, the more ways you find to use it.

So, pardon me if I’m not all over the iPad 3 just yet.  I’m still just blown away by my iPad 2.

By Lou Washington

Now we have BYOD to worry about. As a writer, BYOD is especially irritating because my spell checker keeps turning it into BOYD. I don’t know BOYD, don’t really care to know BOYD and I promise I won’t write about BOYD.

Bring Your Own Device seems to be a big area of concern. IT departments must now develop and publish BYOD policies and procedures. Companies must decide if they are going to be BYOD friendly. BYOD teams will need to be formed and BYOD vision statements will need to be crafted.

For something that didn’t even merit a Wikipedia page until January of 2012, BYOD seems to be gathering steam as the new goto issue for people who can’t find anything else to write about.

I don’t deny that user owned devices represent a challenge for IT directors everywhere. I don’t quite get the notion that this is suddenly a problem.

People are finding amazingly inventive ways to turn this into an issue. I read a Computer World piece about a week ago that suggested this was a kind of generational issue brought to us by millennials entering the workplace. What rot that is.

I’m not trying to take anything away from my millennial co-workers, but they are not the first generation of people to adopt technology more readily than their older cohorts. Happily our newest workers are tech savvy, are open to improving the status quo and are willing to invest in their own success by putting their own bucks into new technology that bridges home and work.

But the fact is that user owned technology entering the IT domain is nothing new at all. New tech has always been greeted by skepticism and mistrust. I knew a fellow that many years ago made his living selling early versions of electronic calculators. These were meant to replace the enormous mechanical calculators of the early twentieth century.

His biggest challenge was getting people to “trust’ the calculator. They simply could not grasp the concept of arithmetic functions executed at the speed of light. His demo would solve some huge multiplication or division problem and his prospect would want to know how they could be sure the answer was correct.

Being a creative sales type, his solution was to sell them a second machine to check the results of the first.

As prices came down, these devices made their way into homes and ultimately into common use in the workplace.

The Personal Computer went through a similar evolution. The big iron companies knew from the beginning that PCs had the potential of replacing the “mainframe in the basement” IT paradigm. They would demean PCs as being toys for geeky individuals to play with for hours on end in lieu of having a social life.

My first computer was a Commodore SX-64 which I purchased from a big box appliance store. Within a month or two I had picked-up a copy of Microsoft Multiplan (purchased from my local Children’s Palace) and I was doing implementation job estimates for my conversion operation at Tab Products Co.

The IT director at Tab would have never had the time or inclination to build an application for me to handle that kind of work.

Over the next few years PCs slowly made their way into the IT infrastructure of larger corporations. But, I would submit most of them, like mine, came from home first.

The internet itself had a similar history. Initially, anyone could and would build a website for their company or department. There was little coordination, no consistency, no corporate over-site.

But, once again, it was tech savvy end users who first brought it into the corporate world.

While BYOD does represent a challenge for IT directors and CIOs, I think that challenge is more related to budget and resources. I don’t see this issue being tied to some innate lack of technical prowess or willingness to change on the part of IT directors.

By Lou Washington

It hit me yesterday morning; out of the blue, no warning. If you play guitar, you know what I’m talking about. I had this need, this urge, to buy a new guitar. The only thing for this is a trip to the old guitar shop. I spent my lunch hour at Sam Ash and then, Guitar Center.

Where I live, these two competitors actually share a common wall. When I get the new guitar bug, I have to go to these stores and play a bunch of guitars that I can’t afford. This is supposed to make me believe that buying a guitar that I can afford will not make me feel better. It really doesn’t work. Much like giving salt water to a thirsty man, it just makes things worse.

Guitar people are like little old ladies and cats. One is too many, ten is not enough. You start off with something that was kind of practical, not expensive; maybe a nice acoustic model. Perhaps you take home a Yamaha or low-end Martin.

After a few days of practice, you think you sound pretty good. Things are coming along and if you could just get that one chord down, you’d have “Louie, Louie” nailed.

For some strange reason, your family tends to avoid you now. They seem to spend a lot more time away from home or, oddly enough they have started hanging out in the more remote areas of your house like the laundry room or the garage. One thing is certain; if they spend much time that far away they are going to miss out on a lot of great tunes.

That’s when you realize that maybe you should have bought an electric guitar with a nice big amplifier. After all, your art should be shared. You have a gift! It’s only right that everyone near you should experience your development into Guitar Man.

The more you think about it the more you realize that you need an electric model and about 100 watts worth of amplification. No reason to deny the neighbors the pleasure of hearing you wail.

So there you go, right back to the old big box guitar super store. Twenty minutes later, you are the proud owner of a new Stratocaster and an amp with enough wattage to light a used car lot in Las Vegas.

You see how the mind works with this little obsession? Everything makes perfect sense at the time. And, if you stopped at two guitars, it probably does make sense. But, that’s not how it works. Guitar fever is much more subtle than that.

Let’s say it’s early June and time for the family to pile into the Scenic Cruiser and head out across America for a little vacation. You’re excited, nothing beats a glorious vacation with the family. At some point you remember your guitar. You remember last year’s trek and the roof top cargo carrier that was required for all the stuff that goes with you and your family. Where will you put the guitar?

That’s when you find out about travel guitars. Back to the big box, back to the store where all the toys are. Soon your walking out with your brand new Martin Back Packer.

As time goes by more and more cues are established that unleash the urge to acquire more hardware.

I remember reading an article about Keith Richards and his love for his Fender Telecaster. Keith and I go way back. He was there for me in junior high, high school, college and beyond. Keith and Mick were part of my formative years. At least the stereophonic manifestations of  Keith and Mick were there for me.

Scary huh? A world view formed by Keith Richards.

It was certainly understandable that my next acquisition at that time was a beautiful sunburst Tele. It still is truly my favorite. There is just something kind of raw and basic about it. Come to think of it, it’s kind of like Keith.

A new guitar is like a little personal adventure to a place you’ve never been before. Playing an old favorite song on a new instrument is like hearing the song for the first time. All sorts of things you’ve never noticed or heard before are exposed.

Similarly, playing an old guitar that you’ve not picked up in a while is like hooking up with an old friend after a long absence.

So my latest round of guitar fever is pulling me in a direction that is kind of surprising. Even though I’ve always been a Fender guy (BTW, they announced an IPO today), I kind of feel some curiosity about Les Paul. I would probably go with one of the lower priced Epiphone models rather than paying for the Gibson name. I’m thinking the Standard model perhaps?

The nice thing about not being a great guitar player is the fact that you don’t have to pay for top end instruments. Although, somewhere out there in the future is a Martin D28 with my name on it. There is nothing like a Martin.

About two years into my guitar obsession, I heard someone comment that a Martin will make you sound about twice as good as you really are. I believe that.

When Barb heard me play my Martin DX-1 for the first time, she told me I didn’t sound half bad.

So, if you are new to the obsession or an old hand or even an accomplished professional, I wish you well and I hope that you have many happy trips to the music store.

By Lou Washington

Check out this list:

  • Watch a movie
  • Catch up with friends
  • Work from home
  • Post to this blog
  • Get a new recipe for Potatoes
  • Get a new book
  • Get some new tunes
  • Check in with my brother and his wife
  • Read my home town newspaper
  • Follow my beloved Mizzou basketball team

These are all things I can’t do when the #%$&@* internet is down. Actually the list is much longer, but space is limited and I think it gets the point across as is.

It seems like once or twice per year this happens. In the middle of an email or a Facebook session, you get that creepy sensation that you’re suddenly alone. It’s like being on the phone and just sensing that the guy is no longer on the other end of the line.

So,you try a few things like downloading a movie or just opening a website you know you don’t have cached. Then you know, there it is, you are cut off! You are off the grid. You are in the cyber penalty box watching the game and no longer participating.

What’s worse is the process required to get things right. You can’t just change the batteries or reboot. The system is way more complicated than that. There are so many points along the line where failure can kill the whole thing.

Our broadband service is via our phone company so the key issue in their mind is always figuring out why the fault is somewhere inside my house and not outside on their lines.

Even after I’ve “retrained” my modem, re-cycled my router and checked all my line connections I have to do all of that again for my friendly phone company help desk person. So we go through all that and the inevitable service visit is scheduled.

Within a few days and one or two service calls things are back to normal. No one is ever really sure why the thing broke to begin with, but it works now and all is well again.

But, back to the issue of what to do when you’re without service.

I’m still amazed at the level of trust we have in this whole internet thing. Further, I’m even more amazed at how dependent we’ve become on it.

I’m not a young pup, but I’m also not some luddite idiot who sits around yearning for the good old days. From what I remember, the old days pretty much sucked. But, I’ll get into that in my next post. The point I’m making is I can remember a pre-internet world and I can tell you things have changed a lot.

It has to be similar to the time when the world transitioned from horses to cars. People knew horses and they didn’t understand cars. They took it on faith, that the old Model T or whatever would start and get them to their destination. At some point they doubtless realized they were dependent on cars and their horses were now pretty much not an option.

So last week, we were limited to broadcast TV, playing with Chloe and PJ, eating a lot and for me, playing a lot of guitar.

When this happens at work, it’s even worse. People sort of stumble out of their cubicles, looking around at each other like they’ve never seen one other before. Slowly, it dawns on everyone that there is literally nothing to do.

So, my goal is now to put together a list of things I can do when the ‘net goes down. I’ll have a home list and work list. The next time the world goes dark, I’ll have the list handy. No more confused wandering around, no more watching re-runs of Petticoat Junction and Gomer Pyle.

Here’s my challenge to you, make a list for yourself. If you like, send your list to me and I’ll post the best ideas next week. This is your chance to help out your fellow Internauts, your cyber buds.

Let me hear from you, send your ideas via the comments option below.

March 2012
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