Category Archives: Productivity Software

Using the Blog Platform for Writing a Book

A week or so ago I finished a complete non-fiction book draft using a password-protected blog as the writing platform. I used my TypePad account, but it could have just as easily been in WordPress. I don’t know the other platforms that well.

I’d cite the blog for you and reference it, but it’s password protected until the publisher, Entrepreneur Press, decides whether or not we should just open it up. That’s a marketing question, theirs to decide, not mine.

The draft is about 80,000 words for The Plan-As-You-Go Business Plan, to be published by Entrepreneur Press and due out next fall.

Why? What were the pros and cons? The draft is done now, so I’ve been coming back up for air, thinking about it.

  1. The major advantage was access to the draft, to read, revise, and write more, from any computer with a network connection. I’ve been doing a lot of traveling lately, so that was important.
  2. I didn’t have to keep track of which copy was the latest, going through the hassle of not overwriting my work as I transferred Word *.doc files from one computer to another. The latest was always posted there.
  3. I found a way to make the structure work. The book is divided into six sections, each of which has 5-15 chapters. I made sections and chapters categories in the blog. It was easy to move things from classification to classification, as I changed my mind. (I do write following an outline, but as I write, the outline changes.)
  4. It was easy to order the appearance of the chapters by managing the dates posted. TypePad gave me the option of having the oldest post appear first, and then the rest in date order from oldest to newest, which was easy to deal with. Between the posting date and the categories, structure was easy to see and manage. Of course you realize you don’t actually post in order or deal with real dates posted; you set the date, artificially, with each post.
  5. I was able to back up frequently during the process using TypePad’s export blog feature. I saved those exports just in case of disaster.
  6. I used’s S3 facility to save the illustrations in one place and refer to them uniformly as I did the draft.

The biggest disadvantage was having to get the whole thing into Microsoft Word, and printed up (the manuscript was 400 pages) to send to the publisher. I had somebody to help with that. It took her two full days of work.

Drawing an Audience, The Old-Fashioned Way

This was in our local paper, the Eugene Register Guard, "from news service reports:"

When Dan Roam wants to make a point in business meetings, he doesn’t use Excel or give PowerPoint presentations. He uses paper.

In his recently published book, "The Back of the Napkin," Roam gives tips on how to develop ideas and solve problems with pictures to captivate colleagues, as well as visually capturing those "Aha" moments through sketches. 

The Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures
by Dan Roam

Read more about this book…

"I started to notice in business meetings that when I would draw on a piece of paper or white board, people would pay an extraordinary amount of attention," said Roam, who owns a managing and consulting firm [sic]. "It would be like bringing magic into the room."

Roam said even the simplest illustrations — circles, boxes, stick figures — are great tools for developing concepts intuitively. "This is something everyone knows how to do, skills we developed in kindergarten, but nobody told us we could use in business," he said.

So I like that tip. By the way, if you have a tablet computer, you can have the best of both ways, with a PowerPoint presentation and the ability to draw live sketches as part of the presentation.

Making it With the Mac

So I posted Back to the Mac here in January when I put a gorgeous new 24" iMac on my main desk top at home, replacing my Windows XP Media machine that got sent upstairs to serve the television (which we haven’t used much since). The initial view was exciting, but I was missing a couple key items. 

I mean missing the things I’m used to, like Windows Live Writer, SnagIt screen capture, Roboform.

Six weeks later, I’m really happy with the switch. I don’t know how much of the screen capture you can see in the low blog resolution of 450 pixels, but the illustration here is my Mac working happily in Windows Live Writer composing this post. Live Writer is completely integrated through Parallels, in what they call coherence mode, so it’s just like another Mac application. I can copy easily from Firefox to Live Writer and back. Thanks to Noah Parsons for that. Noah also helped me get an additional two gigabytes of RAM and plug them into the bottom of the monitor (which is actually the computer) and that helped too. More memory made a big difference.

Business Plan Pro works beautifully in Parallels, just another window in Coherence mode. So does Microsoft Office. I’ve got Word, Excel, and PowerPoint installed in the Windows setup, and any of them are just another window. I could also use the new Mac Microsoft Office, but then I already had a license to the Windows Office 2007, and this was just as good.

Thanks to Brian Williams’ comment on that previous post, I’ve figured out passwords like Roboform, using the add-on he suggested (thanks Brian).

And then I did a quick google to discover that screen capture is built into the Mac. I know, it’s in Windows too, but this is a more powerful screen capture. I added Acorn to edit and manage them a bit, and solved that problem too.

Now my only problem is I’m starting to think about how nice it would be to have something like this on my main desk top at work. And I don’t really, strictly speaking, need it … but it is very tempting.

An Old New Channel for Software

When I was a market researcher think-tank person, in the early 1980s, I predicted that bookstores would be a natural channel for software. Twenty-some years later, I was wrong and I’ve been wrong for decades. I hate that. But here’s a new twist, which might make me right (although still wrong, because 25 years later doesn’t really count. That’s along the lines of the dead clock being right twice a day.).

Imagine you’re browsing at Borders, the bookstore, or one of the competitors. Do you look for software? Would you, if software were there? How about browsing for software when you’re stuck in a long-connection limbo at an airport?

Did you ever see a software kiosk? They had them in the 80s in some early computer stores, and they tried them again in the 1990s. Our software was in an experiment with Kiosks in CompUSA at one point.

The idea was about having a large selection without taking up shelf space and clogging inventory. But it didn’t work. I think the problem was that people liked to browse the shelves, and see the packages. Pick up the package, look at it, take it to the counter, pay, take it home, install. Or so it seemed to go.

So I was intrigued to see a new variation on this idea, one which combines the browsing function with the rapid-inventory convenience, coming up in London. during my visit earlier this month I met with Daniel Doll-Steinberg and others at Tribeka Ltd, which is the inventor of this new software channel. It’s already in Heathrow airport, and will be up soon in Borders.

The idea is that lots of titles are on display, for browsing, in their smaller dvd-case sized packaging. You go to the counter and as you pay for your selections, the system in the background creates the master install disk. So the store can carry a very large selection, you get to browse, and you still go home — or onto your plane — with the software package in hand.

So you get to preserve the benefit of browsing and packaging, while also having the efficiency of instant inventory on demand.

There’s a new test going up soon in the Oxford Street London store of Borders. This one will be like a store within a store, offering software to Borders browsers in one of its larger, more well-trafficked stores. The Borders test location will offer 1,500 titles.

I think this is a very interesting new old idea, and I hope it works. As a software buyer, and user, I like it. As an occasional Borders browser, and someone who spends too much time in airports, I like it. As a software publisher, I like it even more.

An ‘On the Other Hand’ List of Tech You Can’t Use

What a contrast! I was reading Seth Godin’s latest, Meatball Sundae, on the plane last night and then my email points me (thanks Caryn) to Gene Marks’ Tech ‘Solutions’ Your Small Biz Can’t Use, on the BusinessWeek site.

Gene Marks has a delightfully contrarian view of RSS and blogs and such for small business. I think I disagree with almost all of what he’s saying, but that’s okay, because his side of it needs airing too. Disagreeing is fun.

But seriously, Gene, dump spam filters? What a nightmare! And search engine optimization not important? What? Or how about this advice: dump the anti-virus protection. No, Gene, not good advice. He’s also against blogging, CRM software, online video, and … well, read it yourself.

What’s fun is how much these opinions can turn on their end because of the context. Who you are and what you do determines what you need. Note that I’m a software entrepreneur and Gene is an accountant, and maybe that’s why what works for him wouldn’t work for me. But I don’t think it will work for you either. Of course, that’s just my opinion.

Seth’s book is about how a new industrial revolution builds businesses around and for and because of the essential differences that make "remarkable" marketing valid. In other words, old style businesses don’t have as much to gain from new style marketing as new style businesses. Sort of. I mean it’s a great book, and I’m only halfway through it, so I apologize if I oversimplify.

The contrast here — between Seth talking about a fourth industrial revolution and Gene talking about "highfalutin software and gadgets … not suited for small business" is just plain interesting.

Also — re my last post — I’m only half here, I spent last night on a plane.

Does Web 2.0 Make us Dumber?

Paul Barth has a very interesting post tracking actual neurological research about problems related to multitasking.

Neuroscientists have shown in study after study, that multitasking isn’t helping us be more productive, but in fact, is making us dumber. Are some Web 2.0 tools, with their promise of instant connectivity, notification, and collaboration adding fuel to the fire?

He takes this quickly to the problem of the Blackberry (which in my case I suppose is my iPhone). And it reminds me of the cascading problems of trying to have a conversation with somebody despite the annoying assortment of dings and alerts and reminders and other media. When I sit in my office talking to you on the phone I should presumably be paying attention to you, but if I’m not careful I might also be dealing with instant message threads, looking at email, or the txt that suddenly showed up on my cellphone. It’s pretty obvious to me that this isn’t good, but Paul’s post gives me more evidence and detail:

The Atlantic, November 2007, features an article titled, "The Autumn of the Multitaskers". In the article, author Walter Kirn, discusses the stress we place on our minds and bodies when we attempt too much multi-tasking with Web 2.0 tools, Blackberry’s, IM and more.

For example, Kirn notes that through the use of functional magnetic resonance imaging, scientists have discovered:

“Multitasking messes with our brains in several ways. At the most basic level, the mental balancing acts that it requires—the constant switching and pivoting—energize regions of the brain that specialize in visual processing and physical coordination and simultaneously appear to shortchange some of the higher areas related to memory and learning.”

What really bothers me is that they can actually see it on the scans and in the chemicals.

Sometimes, this pursuit of an “always-on” world translates into ill effects for our bodies. The article continues;

“Certain studies find that multitasking boosts the level of stress related hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline and wears down our systems through biochemical friction—prematurely aging us. In the short term, the confusion, fatigue and chaos merely hamper our ability to focus and analyze, but in the long term they cause (our brain) to atrophy.”

Gulp. Does this sound familiar? And for that matter, congratulations, you managed to get to the end of this post without stopping because of Outlook alerts, IM, or telephone interruptions.

5 Things I Like About My Tablet Computer

(Note: this is cross-posted from Small Business Trends, where I posted it earlier today. Tim.)

I’m writing this on a crowded plane, New York to San Francisco, in middle December. I didn’t get the upgrade to business class. Every seat on the plane is taken. The guy in front of me has pushed his seat back so far I could be writing this in marker on his bald head, which feels like it’s in my lap (ugh — sorry for that image).

The good news is that this plane has plugs, meaning power, meaning my laptop would be able to last the whole six-hour flight. This is one of the United Air Lines planes running coast to coast with a lot of what they call "economy plus" seats. I think the plugs for power are new, at least my first time for that feature was last week on the flight out from the west coast.

And the even better news is that I can work, despite the lack of space, because I’m traveling with my tablet computer. It sits very comfortably in my lap like a spiral notebook, and, despite the lack of room for a keyboard, I get things done. I’ve done half a dozen blog posts, including this one, in handwriting in Microsoft OneNote, which works.

I love keyboards. My affair with the tablet is not about preferring handwriting to keyboarding, in case that’s what you’re thinking. I touch type well and fast. However, you can’t always use a keyboard, and the tablet gives me a comfortable note taking option, and still offers me a keyboard when I want one and have the space. The keyboard is separate but clicks in, and doubles as a traveling case. I even have an extra keyboard that folds up into a very small size, and connects via Bluetooth. Although lately I just take the latch-in keyboard case, so I don’t have to use handwriting to do my email in the hotel.

So I’ve been meaning to post about my feelings about the tablet computer for several months, and now is the time. This is my third tablet computer, the second one with this form factor. I liked that second one (an earlier model of Motion Computing’s slate tablet) so much that I bought six of them for other managers in the company.

My first was a convertible, with a keyboard always attached, that swung around to work like a tablet. It was too heavy, not practical, but it ended up useful because we left it in the conference room.

Which brings up a special tip — a tablet computer plugged into a projector, using blank pages in PowerPoint, is the same as an electronic white board. Run the meeting, keep the notes, save them, distribute them … remember when the latest and greatest in office technology was a savable white board? This is it, now.

Meanwhile, from what I read, the tablet computer hasn’t caught on well, which is one reason that I thought it might be useful to post my opinion about it. Contrarian opinions are more fun. And, finally, since lists are a popular format, here is a list of what I like about my tablet computer:

  1. As I said in the beginning of this post, it is very useful on planes, because of the tight spaces. The seat back in front of you is not going to smash your LCD. I mentioned handwriting and blog posts, and for that the handwriting is a compromise. But for working with PowerPoint, a medium in which you shouldn’t use a lot of words anyhow, it’s really good.
  2. It’s great in meetings. Maybe it’s old fashioned of me, but I don’t feel comfortable typing while people talk. And I do feel perfectly comfortable writing notes, as if it were into a spiral notebook.
  3. It’s excellent for presentations. Plug your tablet computer into the projector, and then you can write on your slides. You can take notes as people make comments, or compile lists, or highlight graphics.
  4. It’s good for off hours too. I’m an iTunes fan, and the tablet lets me hold it comfortably like a portable TV. So it works very well as a substitute media player with a pleasantly large screen.
  5. It’s great for eBooks. Now I have to admit I’ve ordered an Amazon Kindle, which relates to a post I did on another blog, but in truth while I travel with a tablet computer there is no good reason — except that I like gadgets, and sometimes I write about them — to have a Kindle.

My tablet is by Motion Computing, the LE1600. It’s two years old now. And, just in case you’re wondering, my company paid for it and also for the other six tablet computers I got for managers at Palo Alto Software.  This one lost a hard drive a few months ago and was in repair for a couple of weeks. Another one lost a drive and was scrapped, repair cost too much. And finally, just to keep us all honest, I think I like mine better than any of the other managers around who use them.

About Difficult Choices in Software Development

Cale Bruckner had an interesting post over the weekend, tracking an open discussion between Joel Spolsky, of Fog Creek, well-known blogger and software author, and the developers of BaseCamp. It is about software developers trying to figure out the future of software. These are tough choices.

I’m sure Joel – like a lot of software publishers is feeling vulnerable. Maybe that’s why he lashed out. Technical barriers to entry are coming down – it’s getting to the point where it’s pretty easy (and inexpensive) for a few kids and an iguana (Joel’s words) to reverse engineer a software application and drop it on a server somewhere. Fog Creek is better off if their customers think "installable" is a requirement – that’s harder to copy – there’s a barrier there. These days, it’s less about the software and more about marketing. That’s a hard thing for some software publishers, especially the veterans, to get their head around.