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Mary Biever | One Writing Mother | Tag Archive | Technology
Tag Archive - Technology

Don’t Settle for the Horse and Buggy

“When cars began to be sold, my grandmother refused to learn to drive. She said a horse and buggy was ‘good enough,'” a retired lady in a recent Facebook for beginners class told me.

“Cars helped people reach new places faster. Now Facebook helps people do the same. I am going to learn to use it and won’t be like my grandmother,” she continued.

As I teach/coach people to make better use of PC’s and software, I meet many people who have resisted technology and clung to the horse and buggy.

  • It could be someone who distrusts those Excel formulas and relies upon her adding machine tape instead.
  • Sometimes it’s someone who still uses a word processor like a glorified typewriter and doesn’t realize documents could be prepared in half the time and look twice as good with a few word processing basics. 
  • Maybe it’s a salesperson who hasn’t made the leap into social media and sees no value in building stronger relationships with clients and networks via social media.

Once upon a time, that horse and buggy was just fine to venture from one place to another. It still is if you’re Amish or Mennonite.

For the rest of us, choosing the old horse and buggy because it’s “good enough” is going to have one end result:

You’ll be left behind.

  • While you’re taking a few hours to reach the next town, I’m going to be skyping with a friend on the other side of the planet in less than 60 seconds.
  • The hours you spend manually calculating those books because you don’t have time to learn new technology are hours I’m going to spend enjoying time with my family.
  • While you scramble to stay current in your industry, I keep up with the latest changes with strategic targetting of industry thought leaders on Twitter in less than half the time. And I’m probably talking with them too, developing relationships that raise my bar of performance.

Personally, I prefer not to settle for yesterday’s “good enough” but choose to aspire towards tomorrow’s “what can we do better and how do we get there?”

Adapting new solutions to old problems is the real final frontier – where we venture where no one has gone before.

That frontier is open to all with an open heart and mind to learn new methods.

Why don’t we go together on this brave new adventure?

Hire or Train: What’s in the Budget?

This post is by Nick Carter, author of Unfunded: From Bootstrap to Blue Chip Without the Fuel of Round-A Capital. This is the story behind the story, untold tid-bits that didn’t make the book’s final cut.

Of all the unknowns in business, there are two things you can know for sure: your business needs technology, and technology costs money. It does. It costs a lot of money, in fact. I am learning more and more each day just how expensive technology can be. But it’s not the zeros and ones that cost money. It’s not the silicon chips, the powder-coated metal boxes, the buttons, the switches, or the plasma screen displays. It’s the knowledge that costs the most.

I learned early on that you cannot buy Photoshop and suddenly know how to design. In fact, I tell our customers all the time that just buying our CRM software doesn’t make you any better at selling. The real power in technology is in knowing how to use it. But that know-how comes at a cost. You can get training, and that costs money. You can forego training and just hire someone else to do it, and that costs money. Or you can buckle down, resolve not to spend a dime, and teach yourself how to do it. That, of course, costs time. You know what they say about time, don’t you. Time is money.

Actually, that last little maxim is a valuable tidbit when you’re considering whether to hire or train. There are two basic options for filling technology knowledge gaps on your staff: hire or train. And, at first glance, training seems cheaper. It seems so obvious, in fact, that a few hundred dollars on training is cheaper than hiring someone (either contract or full-time) that you may wonder what more I have to write about. Well, listen up.

Getting trained doesn’t just cost a few hundred dollars for a class. It also costs time. No, not just the time in the class either. If you become trained on a new technology then you become obligated to your business to enact that training. Training on a new process, a new program, a new platform, or any form of new technology means you are now the go-to person for that technology. Whatever it is this technology is expected to deliver for your business, you are now solely responsible to execute. So the question becomes: can you afford to be that person?

The simple fact is that technology never stops. If you’re learning a program’s current release today, you’ll be learning the next upgrade in a year or less. Learning never ends. Last August, I finally made the decision to hire an in-house technician. His job was not only to know how to do what I did not and to do it, but his job is also to continue knowing. He has the responsibility to continue learning, to stay abreast of new technologies, and to keep our company forging ahead. Can you do that job yourself? Maybe. But for how long, and at what cost?

To read more about Nick Carter’s framework for startups, visit www.gounfunded.com/unfunded-book/.

Shopping in a Mobile Age

Shopping’s changed from when we visited the Main Street stores on Friday night in Small Town America.  My phone is my  new road map for shopping success.

By Christmas this year, half of all Americans will own a SmartPhone or other mobile device. Smart shoppers will leverage their technology, and smart stores will profit. 


  • When car shopping, a teen lags behind her parents in the car lot, texting prices quoted to her parents so they can later compare with online prices and other lots.
  • A mom at a meeting, discussing the need to make costumes for an event, goes to the fabric store online from her Nook Color, finds a pattern that will work, shows it to all in the room and buys it immediately. Does your online store offers pictures and access to make this possible?
  • While shopping at the grocery store, an odd cut of meat is on sale. The shopper hasn’t seen it before and checks her recipe app on her phone to learn more about it. It includes recipes, nutrition info, and shopping lists.
  • The fine print on the back of the package at the store is too small to read, so the shopper starts the magnifying glass app on the phone and reads what it really says.
  • The bar code scanner shows me every comparable price online and in the area. I may still buy from you if you’re local and your price is a bit higher. But you’re going to have to have great customer service and give back to our local community.
  • Shoppers scan a QR code – whether on a sign in a store or the back of a cereal box – looking for more information or coupons. One Boston sushi restaurant prints QR codes in edible squid ink directly on plates so consumers can get dietary information about their dinner.
  • Location-based programs a la Facebook Places and FourSquare can offer me deals or can help me brand myself or promote important events to others.
  • If I get bad service and the store ignores my complaint, my next complaint goes on Facebook and Twitter. I could photo or video my problem and share that as well.

Let’s Make a Deal shows the audience making deals with the emcee. In our increasingly mobile world, it becomes: Let’s Make It Mobile.

How do you use mobile to enhance your shopping experience?

A 4-H Robotics Contest with a Twist

My kids have been involved in robotics contests the past 4 years.  They enjoy them, and I love the varied skills learned in a single contest.  First, there are the technical skills: a problem is presented, and a whole team has to work to solve it.  Physics, mechanics, engineering ingenuity, and computer programming are all key elements.  Second, there are team building skills: team members must learn to communicate and work together.

Besides being a parent, I’m a 4-H leader in Evansville, Indiana.  4-H has a major emphasis towards science, engineering, and technology and has a national goal of inspiring 1 million new scientists for our new century.  I began the process to have a robotics project in our county. 

A robotics project wasn’t enough, however.  We needed a club that focused on technology.  I didn’t want a robotics club; when Edison invented the light bulb, were there light bulb clubs? It’s more than robotics.  Our information revolution is the biggest transformer of world culture since the Industrial Revolution, and I wanted our kids to be ready to be the best riders in the world Technological Rodeo.

So we began a Technology Club.  (Actually, the kids in the club voted they didn’t like that name and renamed it Tech Club.)  At each monthly meeting, we have a different workshop topic in engineering, electrical science, aerospace, computers, and physics.  Each member tackles a 4-H project in one of those areas and gives a demonstration each year in one of those areas.

Our county sends several teen 4-H members every summer to participate in science and engineering workshops.  I hope, with our club, we raise the interest in those workshops and the knowledge base of those who participate.

We also organize our county’s robotics contest. The last 2 years, the contest has mirrored other contests in which my kids participate, with teams competing against one another.  Our contest is an impromptu design contest;  kids don’t know until they arrive what the challenge is and have limited time in which to complete it.

This year’s contest adds an element almost out of a reality show.  In addition to the team contest, we will have judges observing the competitors individually.  They will evaluate the competitors both in problem solving and team building skills.  And they will award an individual champion in each of 3 age divisions. I have not seen another robotics contest try this twist and am curious to see how the experiment works.

Problem Solving:

  1. Understands challenges presented and develops strategies to overcome them.
  2. Develops a good robotics design for the challenge.
  3. Assists in robotic programming to meet the challenge.
  4. Demonstrates strong troubleshooting skills.
  5. Is able to make needed adjustments to robotic design or problem solving.

 Team Building: 

  1. Participates on the team.
  2. Communicates constructively with other team members, actively listening to them.
  3. Encourages participation of all team members; pulls strengths from individuals to build a better team.
  4. Takes good care of robot and its parts.
  5. Treats everyone in the robotics contest in a respectful and supportive manner.

My goal is to teach the 4-H members to not only strive to win but to strive to win well.  We’ll know later tonight whether my experiment to mix up the contest is a success or an epic fail.

Either way, our leaders and our club will learn by doing.

Social Media Savvy = the New Survival Skill

“Kids have to have the skills for this century,” I told a mother about social media.

“Yes, I know. That’s why my kids study robotics,” was her answer.

Robotics has as much to do with social media as an electric weedeater does with cars. Operating one has nothing whatsoever to do with the other.

Sometimes parents tell me that letting their kids use social media is a privilege.  I’ll add to that: it’s a parent’s responsibility to ensure their teens know how to use social media. 

Not just to post

  • “I’m booooorreeed. Text me at xxxxx.” on FB. 
  • photos of girls gone wild on spring break on Myspace
  • videos of boys busting out all over on Youtube
  • status lines like “I hate my job cause my boss is stupid and our customers are a royal pain.”
  • joining groups celebrating flatulence with four letter words.

Parents must encourage their kids to add content and value to the social media conversation.  Teach by example is the best way.

This is a survival skill. Watch Socialnomics on Youtube.  Already more people search Facebook for info than Google.  Employers evaluate social media in their hiring decisions. Scholarship committees background check before giving money.

As parents, we pay for SAT/ACT prep classes.  We seek tutors, drive kids to sports, and work to help them get ready for college. Shouldn’t we also help them develop social media skills to distinguish themselves from the pack?

Legally, teens can begin to use most media outlets at age 13. Don’t start them early; not everything on social media is G rated. Do start them as a younger teen so you can observe their use of social media and they can learn to handle tough situations. This is like driving lessons – you want to coach your kids through their first experience driving on ice to help them learn to handle the slick spots.

Basic ways teens can use social media well and benchmarks they need:

  • Post information on Facebook. Know how to discern friends and how to post appropriately.
  • Discern who to add as friends and who to refuse. Understand privacy settings and how to adjust them.
  • Upload photos and videos directly to Facebook and have the wisdom to know the difference between a photo to post and 1 to delete.
  • Upload a video to Youtube by age 16.
  • Create and maintain a written blog by age 17. I use WordPress. Let your kids write their blog on their passion. When they write about what excites them, it will develop their knowledge base, their interest, and their writing skills.
  • Search Twitter by age 17 and set up a  Twitter account by age 18. (Under 18 Twitter account could be under a pseudonym with a non-face photo for security purposes.)
  • Use Twitter well by age 18 – to engage in conversations and real time chats. College textbooks are often dated as soon as they are printed. Twitter is the fastest way to keep up with tech changes and opportunities in every field and to meet the industry thought leaders.
  • Create a LinkedIn profile before leaving for college and begin to collect references and network contacts.
  • Know how to audit their social media footprint and make sure they are branding themselves well.

Bad things can happen when teens drive cars. So we teach them to drive well & pray they stay safe.

Ditto for social media.