Mark Shead Moved His Blog


Mark Shead has moved his blog to a slightly different url here. 

Evernote Essentials


A friend of mine wrote an ebook about Evernote that has done extremely well. He recently passed the 10,000 sales threshold and wrote a post about what worked well and what didn’t. Interestingly he found that his affiliate program was a much bigger driver than any other form of advertising.  He also has some thoughts on structuring a business and dealing with emails.  It is well worth a read if you ever plan to sell anything online.

Lessons Learned From Selling Evernote Essentials

Holiday Challenge Giveaway at Productivity501


American Express offered to sponsor a giveaway at Productivity501. To enter you add a tip for Christmas shopping. From a marketing perspective, it is interesting to see how large companies are starting to spread their ad budget around by working directly with individual bloggers instead of  just focusing on traditional advertising.

Grosgrain Ribbon and Rural Development


Fort Scott Kansas isn’t a hotbed of economic activity, but innovative people find ways to run successful businesses regardless of where they are located. Hairbow Center is an example of that type of innovation. The owners started out selling custom hairbow ribbon designs on eBay, but it didn’t take them long to find that getting good supplies was very difficult. After trying a number of suppliers they finally decided that there was a much bigger need for quality grosgrain ribbon and other bow making supplies. They located some quality overseas ribbon suppliers and then took a leap of faith by ordering enough to fill a shipping container.

It turned out to be a good investment as customers flocked to the website to buy grosgrain ribbons, bow making hardware, and bow making embellishments ranging from bottle caps to rhinestones. From the humble beginnings in the family basement, the enterprise has grown to a 6,500 sq foot warehouse full of ribbon, clips and other bow supplies. The website services around 100 customers per day and fulfilling the demand requires seven employees.

While quality grosgrain ribbon seems an unlikely business for Fort Scott Kansas, Hairbow center has been able to take advantage of the inexpensive land and labor of rural America to grow a thriving business meeting a significant need among bow makers. They aren’t standing still either. The Hairbow Center site now contains a number of exclusive custom designed print patterns and even some custom ribbon types manufactured exclusively for Hairbow Center.

Fort Scott, KS


Fort Scott is a small community about 1.5 hours South of Kansas City. The city itself has about 7,000 residence and it is the seat for Bourbon county so a good deal of the rural population relies on the town. It has been interesting to watch how a small town in rural America behaves and tries to get things done. Money of course is always in short supply so the basic method of funding projects is by raising taxes.  Unfortunately this has been going on for a long time and Fort Scott now has a sales tax that is as high or higher than Texas. Not that there is anything wrong with Texas, but down South they have decided to use sales tax instead of an income tax. Fort Scott has the high sales tax and a state income tax.  In Fort Scott’s defense, much of the sales tax problem comes from the state level and leaves the city and the county with very little room to work.

What is most disappointing is how much effort and money gets spent on maintaining the status quo instead of doing something new. If everyone were happy with the current status, then that would be one thing, but a lot of money goes into maintaining things that everyone agrees are broken to start with. Education in Fort Scott is a good example. Funding has been cut, but both the USD234 school system and the Fort Scott Community college aren’t making any fundamental changes to the way they handle education. Instead they are simply raising the taxes on the community.  As far as the property taxes go, I’m not too concerned about how high they are other than the fact that some people might not choose to live in Fort Scott because the higher the taxes the higher it costs to live here. I am concerned that the ability to just take more money from people in the community makes it a lot easier for Fort Scott educational institutions to simply preserve what they have been doing in the past instead of innovating and adapting to new levels of funding, new technologies and new student needs.

On of the bright spots in Fort Scott is the airport. It is small and progress is slow, but they have an incredible manager who is getting things done and bringing in grants, planes and people who will spend money in the city. Last summer he was able to get a formation clinic to use the airport for a week. The airport sold a lot of fuel. Hotels had a lot of rooms booked, restaurants sold a lot of meals and the city collected a lot of sales tax.

One thing that is going to increasingly become a problem in Fort Scott is the lack of affordable bandwidth. Right now the only way to really get bandwidth in Fort Scott is through AT&T and it is very expensive. There isn’t any real competition. There are several fiber runs from large providers, but they just go right through town without any type of connection point. Without inexpensive bandwidth, it is always going to be difficult to get reliable and affordable connections to homes and businesses. There is a group trying to increase broadband access, but at the last meeting they announced that they had decided to forgo any type of five year plan and instead just want to talk to a bunch of venders and get them to cooperate.

The problems in Fort Scott are probably the same issues that are hurting small towns across the US. I believe there are solutions and ways to make small communities grow and thrive, but the pace of change makes it very difficult to try new things on any type of time scale where it is possible to learn and adapt.

Alternatives to Powerpoint


About 10 years ago there was an online service called Wimpy Point. The idea was the Powerpoint was a bit overkill and people only really needed a “whimpy” version of presentation software. The idea was fairly unusual a decade ago, but now there are many different options for online presentation software. Guiding Tech has a list of 5 Online Powerpoint Alternatives that is worth taking a look at.

Here is the list from the post:

  • Prezi – This is what presentation software would look like if it wasn’t descended from slide shows.
  • Google Docs – I always thought that Google Docs was a stripped down version of Powerpoint, but checkout the writeup and video to see what it can do. The collaboration is also a great feature.
  • 280 Slides – This looks almost like Keynote on OS X.
  • Zoho Show – Part of Zoho office with some nifty remote presentations features.
  • Slide Rocket – Seems to be fairly well designed and brings analytics to presentation software which can be very helpful when you are sharing things online.
I often get discouraged by how slowly progress is being made in broadband adoption, but it is interesting to see how many high quality online presentation web apps there are compared to 10 years ago when it was an oddity. This is only possible because broadband is growing. In fact presentation software is one of tools that probably most indicates that broad band is becoming ubiquitous and reliable. If you can’t get to email without an Internet access it isn’t any big deal because you can’t send and retrieve messages anyway.  If you can’t do wordprocessing when you don’t have Internet, it is inconvenient, but not too bad.  However, presentation software is a bit different. If your connection isn’t there when you go to make an important presentation, it means you can’t present. And messing up your ability to give a presentation is something most people won’t tolerate.
So even if things aren’t moving as fast as I’d like, we’ve made it quite a ways in the last 10 years.

Lucene Example


I’ve been doing some work with Lucene to bring search capabilities to some web applications.  So far I’ve been pretty pleased. Lucene is very powerful and reasonable simple once you know how to make it work. I’ve published a Lucene example of the MoreLikeThis functionality.  MoreLikeThis is a great way to reduce the number of duplicate entries you get in your database. I’m using it for a quotation database. When a user tries to add a new entry, Lucene uses MoreLikeThis to see if there are any similar entries.  The Lucene example shows how these other quotations are retrieved.  They are then displayed to the user so they can see if what they are typing is already in the database.

A great quote about weddings…


Planning a wedding is a great way to practice disagreeing vehemently over the most unimportant things, realizing how silly this is, and making up.

From a post on the website of James Thorpe.

Some Interesting Posts from LifeRemixers


Nexus S 4G Review


I finally replaced my four year old Blackberry with an android based phone–the Nexus S 4G. I’ve written a detailed review of the Nexus S 4G over at Productivity501, but here are a few of the highlights.  It is quite a change. In particular the virtual keyboard is taking some time to get used to. I’ve been told it will take me 4 to 6 weeks to get to the point where I’m faster with the screen based keyboard on the Nexus than I was on my old device.  I hope that is the case, but we’ll see.

One thing I haven’t tried yet is linking my bluetooth keyboard to the Nexus S 4G to use it for input instead of the onscreen keyboard.  This might be a good way to write longer emails and compose documents when I don’t want to carry around a laptop.  Of course carrying around a keyboard and my Nexus S means there isn’t much benefit over just carrying my laptop.

The richer feature set is very nice. One of the biggest things I’ve been impressed with is the integration between the mobile and desktop versions of applications. Some of the apps I’m using include:

  • Evernote – The interface on the Nexus S is much better than what I was using on the Blackberry (Evernote Review)
  • LastPass – It is incredibly useful to have access to all my passwords on the mobile device.
  • Dropbox – This works, but seems to run into some problems with larger files.  The interface is very nice through. (Dropbox Review)
  • Google Reader – A lot of the benefits on the Nexus S is just having a larger screen, but the interface is much more polished than the mobile web interface I had been using.
  • Google Voice – With Sprint you can set Google Voice to use your cell phone’s number.  The Nexus provides a great interface for checking voicemail and text messages without losing the ability to use your full computer.
  • Gmail – Supports sending from secondary email addresses and shows tags.  Very handy and a big improvement.

One of thing unique things about the Nexus S 4G form factor is the curved screen.  Actually the Nexus screen is flat, but the glass over the top is concave on the user facing side and flat on the part that is up against the screen.  I’m not sure that this makes things all that much better, but I know it was a big deal when it was announced.  I think this falls more into the category of a marketing feature rather than an actual advantage of the Nexus S.

The Nexus S 4G also has NFC capabilities. I haven’t read any Nexus S reviews where they were actually using it for anything useful, but it sounds like Citibank is going to be releasing an app later this year that will let you use your phone to make payments instead of a credit card.  If done correctly this could actually be a bit more secure than using a credit card and would reduce the amount of things people have to carry. Imagine a day when your drivers license, credit card, and insurance cards are all kept in your cell phone.  You wouldn’t even need to carry a wallet.

See my detailed Nexus S 4G Review.

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