Looking For Website Design Firms

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Today I have the rare task of finding companies to build my company’s website. I can already hear you all laughing because that is the very thing I did for a number of years. But as you also all know, the thing that separates good websites from great ones is graphic design. I’m no artist and I don’t know any artists (except for Josh Yamamoto whom I can’t seem to find) so although my company’s website has all the functionality and content (copy) we want, it looks like crap.

So I’m forced to throw money at the problem and find a website design firm. I want a company that is local so I can meet with them in person and so they can come see our facilities–something I think is important to get the feel of the website to match the actual company. So where would I naturally turn to find website design companies along the Wasatch Front? I would Google for “website design salt lake.”

What did I get? Not much, that’s for sure. All I could find was a couple of mediocre companies. So where did I find the good design firms? The Yellow Pages.

Isn’t that ironic–to find a very Internet-centric company to supply an Internet-centric product I have to use a non-Internet method? When I spoke with the salesman at one of the companies he asked how I found him. When I replied that I found him in the Yellow Pages he said that almost ALL their customers come through the Yellow Pages. Ironic.

Free (and good) PHP4 Graphing Library

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Recently I had to find a PHP library that would generate graphs. After finding a bunch of commercial ones I did find a fairly decent free library called Chart.

Chart is available at:
http://quimby.gnus.org/circus/chart/chart-manual.php.

The best commercial package I found is called ChartDirector by ASE and is available here. They have a full compliment of graph types including the odometer (pronounced by Josh as Oh-Doh-meter) and the tachometer (pronounced by Josh as tack-oh-meter) and the speedometer (pronounced by Josh as speed-oh-meter). I’m not making fun of Josh because of how he pronounces these words as I have heard many of you screw it up as well (coughSeth) and executable which I can’t even write out phonetically.

Graph on!

Principles of Effective Communications

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I recently attended a meeting where the topic of discussion was communication. Specifically, how to communicate effectively. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the presenter’s name and the handout had no indication either. However, it was a very good presentation and I have transcribed the handout to present here. I would be happy to give credit where due if I only knew who the originator of the document was. If someone knows, please pass it along to me. In the mean time, here are the principles of effective communications:

General Principles

Whether planning your internal or external communications efforts, it helps a great deal to develop a communications plan, either informally or formally. For example, consider:

  • What key messages do you want to convey? Everyone on your team should be aware of these messages and be consistent in delivering the same messages.
  • To what key stakeholders do you want to convey the messages, i.e, all employees, department heads, senior managers, founders, etc.
  • What’s the best approach to reach each stakeholder, including who/how should the message be conveyed.
  • Anticipate tough questions and be prepared to answer them so that you appear confident and well-informed.
  • How will you know if you’re reaching these stakeholders — if you’ve achieved your communication goals?

Specific Principles

  • The first principle of effective communication is to first listen and understand. Don’t deliver a message until you know what your audience needs.
  • Once you understand what the audience needs, focus only on the messages that are relevant to them. Then, convey the messages with respect. do not be condescending or demanding. It will be counterproductive to your goals.
  • Keep communications as simple and concise as possible. Consider how you read and review e-mails or other communications.
  • Communicate on an ongoing basis and always provide useful information. Don’t just communicate when there is an emergency or when you need something.
  • Always be truthful and accurate. Never “spin” a communication because you think it suits your immediate purposes. It will always come back to bite you.
  • Discuss only what is in your area of expertise. Do not speculate.
  • Do not assume audience knowledge of your industry or discipline. Do not use industry jargon or words unique to your profession.
  • Do not answer hypothetical questions.
  • Avoid placing blame or disparaging others in the company. It makes you look extremely unprofessional and jeopardizes your leadership status.
  • If questions arise, be sure to be timely in answering them.

IT Guys Gone Wild

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Last Saturday I have the unique pleasure/displeasure of playing golf in a company tournament at The Ranches. I’ve been golfing a total of 3 times and this was my fourth. Our team was, to put it politely, crappy. We finished the game of 18 holes with a score of 92, some 30 strokes over par. Nevertheless, it was fun.

At one point Megan decided to shoot some videos of us playing. She made two that are noteworthy but only one of them I can advertise openly — the one about me.

Before I give a link to this video I must say that yesterday several people in my company e-mailed out the two videos to all their friends with a title of “IT Guys Gone Wild.” Personally, I don’t think the video is that funny but, it is about me so I have to keep that in mind.

You may save off a copy of this video and send it to whomever you like. Perhaps I’ll become the next Star Wars Kid.

Video: IT Guys Gone Wild

Archos Jukebox 6000 – Verdict: Old-school Awesome

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Archos JukeBox 6000I’m going come right out and say up-front that this is my favorite MP3 player. This little item was one of the very first hard drive-based MP3 player ever made – so it naturally follows that it’s big, slow and not that sexy. But what it lacks in sexiness it makes up for in reliability.

So here is some quick stats:
Weight: 1 pound
Battery: 4xAA rechargeable batteries
Screen: 2-line 15 character black-and-white display
Capacity: 6 GB
Interface: USB 1.0
MPEG: Supports MPEG 1 and MPEG 2 (but not 2.5)

It’s true, I have cassette-player walkmen that are smaller and lighter than this thing, and certainly better looking, but it’s not that bad. Maybe I’ve just gotten past it’s outer ugliness and I see the inner beauty.

This MP3 player is very hackable. As a simple hack, I’ve replaced the 1400 mAh standard batteries with 2300 mAh batteries which gives me about 10 hours of playback time per set of batteries. There are hacks to upgrade the amount of memory on board (thus requiring fewer disk spinups and increasing battery life). I’ve seen a hack to add bigger capacitors for better bass response. And I’ve seen hacks to change the display color.

Best of all, perhaps, it’s easy to replace the hard drive inside (as it is a standard notebook hard drive) to 20, 40, or even 80 GB.

One big improvement to the original unit was to replace the long-since-dead-developed firmware with RockBox, an open source firmware that adds a lot of features. You can even activate talking menus!

These units are still available, in good condition, on eBay for around $50.

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