Big Screwup for Southwest

March 6th, 2008

Southwest actually flew customers around in a plane that federal investigators had deemed unsafe:

WASHINGTON (CNN) — — Discount air carrier Southwest Airlines flew thousands of passengers on aircraft that federal inspectors said were “unsafe” as recently as last March, according to detailed congressional documents obtained by CNN.

Documents submitted by FAA inspectors to congressional investigators allege the airline flew at least 117 of its planes in violation of mandatory safety checks. In some cases, the documents say, the planes flew for 30 months after government inspection deadlines had passed and should have been grounded until the inspections could be completed.

The planes were “not airworthy,” according to congressional air safety investigators.

Calling it “one of the worst safety violations” he has ever seen, Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minnesota, is expected to call a hearing as soon as possible to ask why the airline put its passengers in danger.

Southwest Airlines, which carried more passengers in the United States than any other airline last year, declined comment.

“We are not doing interviews. We are only preparing for the hearings at this time,” said Southwest Airlines spokeswoman Brandy King.

The documents obtained by CNN also allege that some management officials at the Federal Aviation Administration, the agency responsible for commercial air safety, knew the planes were flying “unsafely” and did nothing about it. Video CNN’s Drew Griffin uncovers ‘troubling information’ »

“The result of inspection failures, and enforcement failure, has meant that aircraft have flown unsafe, unairworthy, and at risk of lives,” Oberstar told CNN.

What a press nightmare for them.  Controlling this sort of information flow through the web is going to become even more important over time, I suspect.

As I was going through the college recruitment on-campus program this year for summer internships, there was one commonality amongst all the companies that recruited on campus and took kids away to 2nd round interviews in New York or Boston offices:  they all gave away seemingly nice, branded gifts that were meant to help build the company’s brand.  These promotional products, including everything from stress balls to t-shirts to toothbrushes all had the same goal:  bribe us into thinking their company was better than the one sitting at the next booth over at the career fair.  Basically, the further you got in the recruitment cycle for each company, the more promotional bags you were given as prizes.  When I stayed in a hotel for an overnight trip for which I had an interview the next day, I arrived and was given food, a duffel bag, mouse pad, water battle, blanket and more, all with the company’s name prominently displayed over all the items.  It seems like a huge expense for companies to pay for promotional products like these, but in the end, the greatest risk for these companies is failing to recruit the absolutely best, top-quality talent.  With this mindset, they are willing to spend millions a year on self promotion in order to ensure they don’t fall behind in the precious war for talent—we benefit!

One of my biggest regrets is that in 8th grade, when I was interested in the Internet at the very peak of its boom, reading Wired magazine and searching for information using Northern Light, I never actually took the plunge into learning web design, despite my interest.  I would be so much better off today if I’d just forced myself to learn website design at a young age instead of getting Interested in the Internet again only years later.  Can you imagine if you’d designed a simple website, even just a content based site, about a passion, say, soccer, in 2000?  You would probably have been bought by now but even if you still owned your site, you’d have made hundreds of thousands of dollars in online advertising and your site would be a total authority.  If you’d started a website design business in 2000, you’d be at the head of the field now.  However, at this point in time, web design is a pretty saturated industry.  Still, there’s a huge demand for successful and powerful web design and since many of the world’s people are still not online, the need for website design is very unlikely to diminish at any point in the future. 

Did you learn Powerpoint?

March 6th, 2008

Do you remember when you first learned how to use Powerpoint?  Ironically, I think I learned at too young an age to make good of my sweet new skills and now that I’m at an age where those same skills would be useful, I’m afraid I’m going to have to re-learn how to design in Powerpoint.  Can you believe, though, that there are people who are so good at Powerpoint that they offer Powerpoint designer services?  I know from looking into the kinds of jobs that recruit at Harvard that pretty much no matter which business industry you go into, whether finance, consulting or consumer products, by the end of your first year, you’ll be so good at Powerpoint and Excel that you’ll wish to never see these programs ever again.  However, at least in terms of design and making things look good, you can find some great free stuff online so that you’re not just poking around in the dark.  I’m a great writer but I’m not a designer, so finding free Powerpoint templates online is a huge plus for me because it allows me to focus on my best skills- getting the information out there in the best way possible without a concern for the aesthetic. 

I find this hilarious– Bush decided today to endorse McCain… is this really relevant?

WASHINGTON (CNN) — President Bush endorsed Sen. John McCain for president on Wednesday, saying the presumptive Republican nominee has the “character, courage and perseverance” to lead the country.

McCain thanked the president for his support and the work he has done in the Oval Office.

“I appreciate his endorsement, and I appreciate his service to our country,” said McCain, adding that he wanted Bush at his side as much as possible on the campaign trail.

“Whatever he wants me to do, I want him to win,” Bush said, who was challenged by McCain for the GOP nomination in 2000. But he said the 2008 run for the Oval Office was not his battle.

“It’s not about me. I’ve done my bit,” Bush said.

Addressing the calls for change in the presidential campaign, Bush said McCain would be steadfast to one of his administration’s policies.

“He’s not gonna change when it comes to taking on the enemy,” Bush said of the senator from Arizona.

Protecting the American people was the No. 1 job of a president and McCain understood that, Bush said.

“He’s gonna be a president who will bring determination to defeat an enemy,” Bush said.

McCain clinched the GOP presidential nomination with victories Tuesday in Ohio, Texas, Vermont and Rhode Island. Watch McCain say how he will prevail in the fall Video

Notice the ever-present, us versus the world rhetoric from Bush. “The enemy” is coming for us!

Mattress envy

March 6th, 2008

There are lots of aspects of being at college that can be uncomfortable, even at Harvard. Most specifically, the food and the beds suck. Desks, too. The problem is that everyone is provided the exact same iron bed with flimsy mattress and bad pillows, the exact same wooden desk, the exact same, uncomfortable rocking chair and of course, the exact same, boring food. A lot of people get over this problem by buying some really nice stuff and having it delivered to their dorm rooms. It’s really not a bad option at all, especially when you consider that most parents have a huge vested interest in making sure their children are comfortable (even at college age) and will most likely pay for special commodities like a memory foam mattress. This makes sense, even as an investment, especially given the fact that sleep is so important at Harvard because no one gets close to enough of it. Most kids probably don’t ask for this sort of help from their parents, but I’ve seen the beds of those who have, and I definitely recommend doing it if you’re not yet—your aching back and sore limbs probably deserve the slight comfort you can attain from upgrading your bad mattress to the best memory foam mattress. To your better sleep!

Your opinion matters

March 6th, 2008

If you’re a student or otherwise my age, I’ve found one really easy way to get money online.  Since thousands of online businesses need feedback on their product offerings and ideas, they pay survey companies to take surveys of people in various demographics in order to decide if consumers like their products best as a particular color or best offered as a certain design.  All you need to do is take a paid survey and you can make lots of easy money.  They often come in a large variety of industries and you can probably even take some that relate to the kinds of subject matters that you’re really interested in, say politics or shopping.  Free paid surveys are pretty good, especially compared to the low, minimum-wage style money you earn in college jobs otherwise.  Fortunately, the Internet is absolutely crawling with these things and I think you’ll find that if you do a basic search for them you’ll encounter more free paid surveys than you could hope to take in your lifetime.  Just remember that the information you give in these surveys is actually used and considered valuable—be honest!

A little knowledge

March 5th, 2008

As I discussed in the last post which was more theoretically focused, I don’t know anything about backgammon.  But after searching for a bit of information on the net, I’ve learned that I REALLY don’t know anything about backgammon and I decided to educate myself, just a tiny bit.  Maybe you don’t know anything about it either, so you can learn a little bit from my research.  Starting at the beginning, two people play backgammon at the same time, and the game operates dependent on the rolling of dice.  OK, nothing too new there.  What is unusual, though, and what sets backgammon apart from a variety of other board games and entertainments, is that backgammon actually comes from  a rather ancient background—it’s loosely based  on an ancient Egyptian game called “Senet” and another game called the “Royal Game of Ur.”  I never would have known this if not for the  help of Wikipedia, the ultimate knowledge source.  What’s the point of backgammon?  Your goal is to get all your pieces past those of your opponent and then get them taken off the board.  What’s fascinating to me, though, is that what was once an intimately physical game involving the rolling of physical device has moved online in a huge fashion.  Playing online backgammon has become a pastime all over the world, which makes a lot of sense, because it’s totally free (or at least has the potential to be supported by an advertising type of business model).  Thus, it costs nothing to learn because you don’t even need to buy a board, let alone connect with players in your local area—if you want,  you can take on someone from Egypt.  Be careful though, because their influence over the origins of the game may transfer into present skill!    

What was your favorite board game growing up?  I liked playing games like chess, checkers, Chinese checkers, Life, Chutes and Ladders so on and so forth.  But the thing I’m realizing from looking at what people tend to play online is that the games people play tend to reflect not only their age but also their culture and what games were popular when they were younger.  For example, I’ve really never focused much on the phenomenon of online backgammon.  Why?  I think it’s because when I was growing up I played other kinds of games and so my mind has been blind to advertisements for backgammon for my whole life.  Same with bridge and other games of cards—I’ve just never been interested so I’ve always assumed that nobody played them.  However, this is a ridiculously ethnocentric viewpoint—in other places of the world, in other age brackets, in other societies, backgammon must be just as popular as Texas Hold’em or Monopoly.  I think one thing that the Internet does a great job of making us realize is that the world is truly global.  You can see anything and everything online because if there’s a market for it, even if that market is spread over geographical locations from all over the world, it makes sense to put it online.  This goes for everything from gifts to games to literature and you can imagine how much innovation this creates, because now, no idea is too crazy—there are people from across the world who may identify with your unique hobby , even if it’s online backgammon.

There’s really one online field that still separates established, large online retail players from mom and pop offline stores that decide to move online and give it a shot.  The thing that small players on the Internet don’t understand, at least at first, is once they put up a website, how do they get people to come to it and buy products?  Some of these businesses think that offline advertising is the way to get people to their website.  Maybe they try dropping online coupons into their customers’ checkouts at their physical store.  However, what they don’t understand is that they’re passing up the best aspect of the Internet—the ability of marketing products to people at the exact moment that the people are searching to buy the product.  For this reason, mom and pop stores lack behind major ecommerce retailers until they realize or hear about a certain industry:  search engine optimization and search engine marketing.  These parallel services are ways of increasing the ROI of online investments by helping potential customers arrive at an online retailer’s website, ready to be sold on a product.  SEO management has become a popular service industry, because people who are good at it have a very specific competitive advantage over other retailers.  Hence, while it may be expensive to pay for such help from a consultancy, it often makes sense over the long term as an investment in your own business.  Similarly, PPC management looks after pay per click marketing in search engines and improves the ROI of online advertising campaigns.  Again, these are expenses that most offline companies have never had to deal with and may not understand at first, but they won’t make too much money without having these services performed, whether in house or through consultants. 

Clinton, comeback in Ohio?

March 4th, 2008

Seems unbelievable, given all the recent positive momentum for Obama, but CNN is predicting that Clinton will win Ohio:

 Sen. Hillary Clinton is projected to take Ohio, a state considered a must-win for her campaign.

Clinton earlier broke Obama’s 12-contest winning streak with her victory in Rhode Island.

Obama was projected to take Vermont, but the contest in Texas was too close to call.

Sen. John McCain swept all four Republican contests on Tuesday to become his party’s presumptive nominee. Read about McCain’s victory

McCain won primaries in Texas, Ohio, Vermont and Rhode Island, giving him more than the 1,191 delegates needed to clinch the GOP nomination.

“I am very, very grateful and pleased to note that tonight, my friends, we have won enough delegates to claim with confidence, humility and a great sense of responsibility, that I will be the Republican nominee for president of the United States,” McCain told supporters Tuesday night.

Mike Huckabee dropped out of the Republican race after the results came in.

“It’s now important that we turn our attention not to what could have been or what we wanted to have been, but now what must be — and that is a united party,” Huckabee told supporters in Dallas. Video Watch Huckabee bow out »

McCain is slated to go to the White House on Wednesday to receive the endorsement of President Bush, according to two Republican sources.

The Arizona senator’s campaign — his second run for the White House — was largely written off for dead last summer amid outspoken opposition from the party’s conservative base, a major staff shakeup and disappointing fundraising.

I’m ready for this to be over.

A typical worst-case scenario disaster for college students is the “OH my God, my computer just died and with it went my thesis!” debacle that more people than you would believe fall prey to every year.  I can understand the horror that must accompany this feeling because my girlfriend is currently writing a painstakingly difficult thesis and I know how terrible it would be for her to lose it at any moment.  It’s a truly disparaging moment when you see your computer refuse to boot up properly or the dreaded blue screen rears its ugly head.  However, thankfully, methods have been developed to aid in the amazing process of data recovery such that if your computer dies and has sensitive or otherwise important information still onboard, it is likely not lost forever.  Software continues to be developed that helps with the process of resuscitating your computer, such as raid recovery software, so that if (when) your computer dies, fixing it is far from impossible.  Rather, just like most problems can be solved on the Internet, you just need to point your browser to the appropriate service and you’ll likely be back on your feet in no time.  What would have once been a complete disaster is now a manageable annoyance- thanks to the Internet.

Do you know anyone who’s had all their hair removed?  At this age, no one I know has had it done and so I really have no reliable authorities on the subject, but I definitely hear people talk about getting it done at some point.  It seems like women especially like the idea of never needing to shave ever again.  I think this is because women who really care about their hygiene and work hard to keep themselves clean and put together actually wind up spending a phenomenal amount of time removing hair from their bodies.  In this case, I guess it makes sense to have it done.  However, I hear that the city where laser hair removal is actually the biggest deal is London.  I wouldn’t have known it except I read on a message board that laser hair removal London is actually a very popular, sought after service.  You know that cultural trends don’t always translate, so it’s not always possible to estimate how well something will do in America versus England.  However, laser hair removal is a massive industry in London, according to the Internet and some reliable sources.  As a result, laser hair removal prices in England are considerably less than they are here due to the price lowering factor of competition, making getting the procedure done in London an even better deal.  Just like South America, particularly Brazil, is known for extraordinary plastic surgeons, so is laser hair removal London becoming a much venerated public service.  Maybe I’ll recommend it to my girlfriend, who wants to have this done someday.

Unfortunately, with the United States economy on the fringe of a recession and continuing to experience a devastatingly powerful credit crunch, there has never been a more difficult time to be a young person just getting started in personal financial management.  There is so much to negotiate at this age in terms of financial services—trying to sort out who’s trying to rip you off and who’s trying to help you get a great record is nearly impossible.  Even worse, if you’re a college student and have already messed up your credit, it’s pretty likely that you’ll be paying exorbitant interest rates (that is, if you’re even able to get a mortgage, credit line, or student loan).  One of the benefits of using the Internet, though, is that you’re able to seek out services that can actually help you navigate this difficult task at a young age.  While I’m a bit skeptical, a student loans consolidation service may be just what a student with bad credit needs at this age.  It’s not easy at the moment to get student loans for people with bad credit because there is so little money left in the market due to the macroeconomic credit crunch.  Thus, if you want financing or work on reestablishing credit as a student, it’s not an easy time, but with the proper search, it’s possible.  One positive is that we’re no longer relegated to financial institutions in our immediate area because we can go online and seek out the best deal for us at the moment.  It’s possible—it just takes effort.     

There are three trends I’ve written about before that are beginning to converge:  the movement of offline services onto the Internet, the emergence of local search and the existence of websites in foreign languages which target only local or language based markets.  A great example of this is to take any given service, say, pest control, and see what sorts of results come up in foreign language sites in local markets.  Pest control fits our criteria because it’s an offline service being marketed online, it is relevant to local search because people want pest control in their own area and sites on pest control are often posted in foreign languages because they’re local sites that must be accessible to a native population.  If someone in Denmark needs to get rid of a wasp (in Danish:  hvepse) they’ll probably search in the local Google engine instead of Google.com.  This is because, quite naturally, having a household pest problem in Denmark necessitates finding someone to solve it for you that is in Denmark.  If you have ants (in Danish:  myrer) all over your kitchen, typing in “pest control” to Google.com probably won’t yield you a relevant result (though it will soon, because Google is expanding local search results).  However, you see the macro trend here:  as offline businesses move their advertising online, each service has a different reach depending on its local market.  Pest control companies in Denmark want business from their local Google, in Danish, while companies in the U.S. want business from Google.com, in English. 

What’s one of the most annoying things that can happen to you involving your cell phone on a daily basis? For me, it’s receiving a call from a number that I don’t recognize. It’s annoying because I typically choose not to pick up such calls because at the moment I’m not obligated to anyone (like a boss) and I prefer to wait and get back to people on my own time rather than hassle myself with picking up a random phone call while I’m eating or studying. However, often, people don’t leave messages and I’m left with a missed phone call from a number my phone has recorded but which has no name associated with it. Fortunately, I’ve stumbled upon some cool only services that allow me to solve just this problem. They’re called reverse telephone lookup sites and basically, they allow you to type in a phone number and get the name of the person whose phone number is. This is really helpful, because it lets you know if the call was important and if you need to call the person back. The ability to trace cell phone numbers free is something that was totally unavailable 10 years ago but now has the potential to make your daily life much, much easier. I’d definitely recommend checking something like this out the next time you need to find a phone number from a missed call you’ve missed.

People killed in Memphis

March 3rd, 2008

My positive psychology professor lectures that the reason people are negative and depressed is because we see the world in an artificially negative way because of the media.  Take, for example, the current head story on CNN.com:

Six people were killed, including two children, and another three children wounded in a shooting Monday in Memphis, Tennessee, authorities said.

Memphis Fire Department spokeswoman Melanie Young said firefighters responded to a 911 call at a home at 6:11 p.m. Monday when the bodies and wounded children were found.

The wounded children — a 7-year-old boy, a 10-month-old girl and a 4-year-old whose gender wasn’t immediately known — were transported to Le Bonheur Children’s Medical Center.

They were in the emergency room being treated for gunshot wounds, said hospital spokeswoman Jennilyn Utkov.

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The Commercial Appeal newspaper is reporting that police do not have a motive.

“We just don’t know the motive or cause of death, but we do have four adults and two children (dead),” Memphis police Lt. Jerry Guin said. “I’ve been on a scene where there were one or two or three (victims), but I don’t remember anything this large.”

 Is it any wonder we’re all sad?

Last year a ton of students from my house here at Harvard took off to Argentina for a semester.  I wasn’t really sure how much they got done down there but it sounded like the best time of their lives.  Argentina is supposed to be beautiful, elegant and sophisticated, and Buenos Aires, the Paris of South America.   Everyone I know who’s ever had a chance to travel there has thoroughly enjoyed themselves.  Now I’ve finally found a great excuse to go:  Spanish courses in Argentina.  Since I’ve taken Spanish since I was in middle school, I have a demonstrated interest in the subject and a genuine appreciation for the culture.  The one thing I’m lacking, honestly, is total immersion.  I think if I got to learn some Spanish from language schools in Buenos Aires, though, I’d be setup in an environment where it would be more or less sink or swim and it would really help push me that last bit of the way towards fluency.  See, I think it would be hard to convince my parents to just let me stay a semester in Argentina, but if I mixed in some educational opportunities, it would probably be entirely possible.  I really want to look more into this concept, figure out how much work it would take and what the living expenses would be like and then give it a shot.  After college, there won’t be too many other opportunities for such spontaneous travel. 

Now, I’ve heard of noni juice, but until I stumbled across a random website the other  day I’d never heard of such a thing as goji juice.  Turns out, goji juice is made from berries and supposedly has the potential of curing cancer and performing a variety of other  miraculous transformations on your body.  Specifically, Himalayan goji juice is argued as the real performer in this variety.  However, a number of health food and activist websites are trying to determine the real value of goji juice.  As the organic health food markets and nutritional supplements markets have exploded in the past 10 years, we’ve been given more and more reasons to be initially skeptical about any new product that is supposed to cure diseases, make us skinny or give us muscles.  One of the best things about the Internet is that lots of people have vested interests in understanding the idiosyncrasies of a variety of products, including goji juice.  When goji juice came out and advertised based on a variety of healthy causes, independent activist groups went about the difficult process of sorting out fact from fiction in the realm of goji juice secrets.  While they’re getting closer to understanding the true nutritional helpfulness of goji juice, nothing is set in stone yet and the clouds have not quite cleared.  Stay posted in case I hear any more news. 

I like it—one thing we’re seeing more and more of across the Internet is technology training coming in a variety of forms, whether it may be aimed at building business skills, educational skills or career advancement opportunities.  If you’ve ever been in a business or school environment that relies heavily on technology, you know that the person who’s in charge of IT is an incredibly important person but also relied upon to a ridiculous extent.  One thing I think we might see in the future is an increase in IT training amongst general employees of organizations through IT training centres.  Basically, IT training involves instruction in technology and help in increasing general familiarity with technological products, including computers and the Internet as learning mechanisms.  What’s more, nowadays it isn’t even necessary to go to a physical location to receive such information—it’s just as possible to get your IT training from online training centres that provide you with all the same skill sets as the physical centres but without the additional, unneeded travel expenses.  As e-learning continues to develop as a trend, I would expect to see more and more organizations training employees through online training centres. 

If you’ve spent a fair amount of time online in your life, you’ve no doubt noticed that advertisements for mortgages and credit cards are some of the most prevalent online advertisements.  What you should realize, though, is that they’re also big offline advertising markets, and for the same reason.  The reason is that when people sign up for credit cards or take out a mortgage, they become, in all likelihood, lifelong customers of the financial institution that they receive these goods from.  In this sense, the price for recruiting the customer (typically accomplished through advertising) is offset by the fact that this person is likely to be a customer for life.  If you get a credit card at age 22, for example, you might use the same one or at least the same brand for the next 20 or 40 years.  So, you’re a much more valuable customer than someone who buys a random commodity only once and then might buy a totally different brand the next time around.  For this reason, and because mortgages and credit cards both involve large sums of money, financial institutions spend a lot of money advertising for such products, especially at a young demographic.  A young demographic is worth more because they become customers for life, raising the per-customer potential revenues of the brand.  Hypothetically, a 22 year old customer should be worth more than a 60 year old one just because the 22 year old has more years left to rack up credit card fees.  You see this reflected heavily in online advertising. 

Today I want to talk about the unique sport of Pro Wrestling, specifically the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE). To those that haven’t taken the time to research this historic art form it goes far beyond the crazy soap opera storylines, men in spandex and blond ring babes. Once you strip away what is seen on TV, you’ll come across a complex business and an intriguing traveling stage show/circus/sport hybrid, that’ll leave you yearning for more information.

The truth about wrestling and its legitimacy was once a closely guarded secret, but with the growth of the internet you can now get all the wwe news and wwe rumors you want, at the click of a button.

You can find out the political reasons as to why you favorite wrestler is losing his matches or who exactly was involved in that “steroid scandal.” In the old days you truly believed the gimmicks wrestlers portrayed in the ring. Now within hours you can find out a wrestler’s real name, where they were trained and who they really want to punch in the face.

Gone are the days of wrestling hustles at carnivals. Pro Wrestling is exposed, but it is also a multi-million dollar entertainment juggernaut.

Wow, it’s so sad when stuff like this happens… CNN reports:

ALBA, Texas (AP) — A family’s opposition to a teenage daughter’s romance is suspected of leading to a fiery attack that left the girl’s mother and brothers dead and her father critically wounded, investigators said Sunday.

Four suspects, including the 16-year-old daughter, remained in custody on capital murder charges Sunday, a day after the pre-dawn attack on the rural East Texas home of Terry and Penny Caffey.

Terry Caffey, who was shot in the head, was able to crawl about 300 yards to a neighbor’s house to seek help, while flames consumed his home with his wife and two young sons inside, the Rains County Sheriff’s Department said.

Penny Caffey, 37; Tyler Caffey, 8; and Mathew Caffey, 13, had been shot and stabbed multiple times, according to the statement. The scene of the attack was about 20 acres of remote woodland on a narrow gravel road with just two other homes. The tract was between the small East Texas towns of Emory and Alba, which is about 60 miles northeast of Dallas.

Investigators later found the daughter hiding at the home of one of the suspects, according to the statement. It was not clear from the account which of the suspects she was dating. Sheriff’s deputies withheld her name because of her age.

“Early on in the investigation, it was revealed that the juvenile and one of the suspects were dating and made to break up,” according to the statement.

Charlie James Wilkinson, 19; Charles Allen Wade, 20; and Bobbi Gale Johnson, 18, all of Emory, are each charged with three counts each of capital murder, according to the sheriff’s department. All remained in Rains County Jail with bonds set at $1.5 million each.

Has a little bit of a Romeo and Juliet or Westside Story nuance to it.  Only in Texas…

One of my favorite aspects of the Internet is that companies compete on a global scale.  At the moment, a hosting company from Florida competes with one from California that’s already competing with one from Australia.  While this will certainly continue to be true, one trend we’re seeing is that local search is beginning to take off.  Since lots of search engines have extensions for each country, like Google, if you’re outside the U.S., it is certainly possible to rank much better in your country’s Google than the original Google.com.  As a result, you see lots of companies marketing to their native language market and not competing quite on a global scale.  Take a Brazilian web hosting company, for example, that sells hosting (Portuguese:  Hospedagem).  They market everything from hosting to registering a domain name (Registro de dominio), all in Portuguese, aiming primarily at a Brazilian market.  Now, they may never break into the U.S. market, but so what?  As more and more Brazilians use the Internet in the coming decade, this site is going to take off.  They’re ideally positioned for a booming Internet economy that none of the American hosting companies even really care about.  Offering web site hosting (Hospedagem de site) in Brazil is a much different market and better suited to a local or at least language-aligned company.  Even more, Google knows this and is increasing the value given to local search.   Odds are good that such “niche” companies will grow up to be very non-niche. 

One service I find particularly annoying, which shouldn’t be difficult to deal with anymore, is broadband Internet and telecom.  At home, away from Harvard, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched  my dad call the cable or DSL Internet company to come and check our routers, fix or wiring or otherwise remedy a faulty high speed Internet system.  One of the problems with the current system is that there are not sufficient options for broadband Internet and as a result, everyone just chooses the local provider for their area, sighs, and calls it quits.  When things start malfunctioning, there’s not much to be done about it because no one knows where else to find broadband access.  However, if you  check out a broadband checker online, you can get detailed reports on all the companies offering high speed broadband services in your area as well as prices and more detailed information.  As I’ve written about before, the ability to discover the reports of people who’ve tried particular services before you is one of the absolute most helpful aspects of the Internet.  For anything you need to buy, rent or eat, you can find reviews online that tell you how other people have found the products.  Broadband Internet is no different, and since people are constantly having problems with their providers, a broadband checker really seems like something more people should use before purchasing. 

This is just getting ridiculous– Bush still won’t give timing for troop withdrawals from Iraq– check out the CNN Report here:

CRAWFORD, Texas (AP) — President Bush declined Saturday to repeat promises made by others in his administration that more U.S. troops will return home from Iraq than scheduled before he leaves office.

Decisions about troop cuts beyond those now planned through July would be based on generals’ recommendations for what levels are necessary to ensure success in Iraq, the president said.

“There is going to be enormous speculation,” he said in a joint appearance at his ranch with Denmark’s prime minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen.

But, Bush said, “My sole criteria is that whatever we do, it ought to be in the context of success.”

He did suggest strongly that Iraq‘s provincial elections in October will require bringing more troops home to wait until after the voting.

“I think our generals ought to be concerned about making sure there’s enough of a presence so that the provincial elections can be carried out in such a way that democracy advances,” he said. “I’ll wait and hear what they have to say. But yes, that ought to be a factor in their recommendation to me.”

This has gone on forever.

One online trend that I view as a total positive, though it may be partially driven by profit potential, is the provision of online education.  It’s now possible to get a college degree online from an accredited school, take real classes, take real tests and get a real diploma.  Now, this sounds rather fanciful, but if you take into consideration everything else that we do online, it sortof makes sense.  We all send a thousand emails a day, we already read online all the time—why can’t we complete coursework and take tests just the same?  Especially with the spread of video streaming technology, which I’ve written about before, the existence of university degrees online shouldn’t prove to be such a big deal.  In fact, I personally think it’s a great thing.  One of the merits of online services is that they allow people from all over the world to access information that would have previously been inaccessible to them.  For example, now someone in Buenos Aires can use online language schools to learn English before moving to the United States, or Chinese before taking a trip to Beijing.  While these online colleges certainly make money, lots of services that are positive for society allow their owners to financially gain—in fact, the more helpful the service, the more the owners make.  This actually financially incentivizes business owners to provide great products online, thus improving the quality of online education. 

One consistent problem with buying software online that is actually a benefit in disguise is that there is just so much selection that it’s nearly impossible to know what’s good and what’s bad.  However, one way to get around this problem is that there are fortunately thousands of people who have needed the very software you’re looking for before you needed it.  Many of these people are apparently good willed enough to have left software reviews all over the Internet—all you need to do is seek them out.  A good way to go about doing this is by searching for reviews or best software types.  For instance, the other day I was looking to upgrade my antivirus software.  I got a nasty virus that Harvard Computer Services had to actually help me get rid of because my computer just couldn’t take it (fortunately, I didn’t have to reformat, just get rid of a few movies) and after going through the whole, difficult experience I decided that it was time to seek out the best antivirus softwares that  I could find.  Turns out, there are thousand of antivirus programs, but  if you spend a bit of time and really look for ones that people positively recommend, you  can narrow the list down pretty quick.  Anyway, the point is, when you’re looking for anything online, be sure to see the reactions of people who’ve looked for the same products before you.  This goes for software, restaurants, hotels, and schools, everything— the web is your friend.

One of the things I always have a lot of trouble accomplishing on my websites (and have been totally unable to accomplish on this blog) is the integration of media content, particularly videos.  It’s not too easy to embed videos in your website and without full control of the system behind this blog, for instance, it’s impossible.  Things have gotten easier with YouTube attempting to soften the load on publishers but it’s still not easy to add video to website.  As far as my search has gotten online, what I really need to discover is a program that would let me stream video content, hosted on other websites, onto my site or blog.  I don’t think that’s even possible on this blog but my other websites might benefit extensively from streaming video software.   Fortunately, there’s a fair amount of appropriate software on the market because lots of website owners and bloggers have this problem, but what I need to decide is which one to use.  Checking out a  couple software review websites might be in my future, as other people who’ve made this decision before me may be pretty helpful.

Hoping to get IT training

March 1st, 2008

As I obviously enjoy technology, I’ve recently been looking into getting trained more in the physical aspect of the industry, particularly IT.  The difference between IT and e-commerce, as I understand it, is that IT is more concerned with making sure technology is functioning correctly and e-commerce is more concerned with online business.  I’m sure that’s a huge generalization, but in any case, they obviously run together and it’s imperative to have both in any given organization.  For this reason, I think it would be a great idea to look into some training courses.  Information technology and the skills that are needed to be proficient in it are unlikely to decrease in value at any point in the future, at least in my opinion, and I would be surprised if their value didn’t increase rapidly in the coming decade.  For that reason, I’ve been seeking out an IT training course that I think might develop into a great hobby for me and might even help with my career someday.  It certainly doesn’t seem like it could hurt to be great with the physical aspects of technology, even in my own personal life.  I hate  it when technological products break and I don’t know how to fix them—being the go-to guy for anything tech would be a great feeling, though it might take up a lot of my time. 

 

 

OK, another post on traveling, this time on California.  I’ve only been to California once and it was just for a few days.  However, I’d love to go back.  As I’ve gotten older I’ve realized more and more that traveling to unfamiliar places is one of the most definitive character buildings experiences possible.  California is known for so many great things—and the kids I know at Harvard who are from the “Californian Republic” literally never shut up about it.  There must be some great things there.  However, I’m particularly interested in a couple of towns called Temecula and Murrieta.  When I travel I like to get to the places people don’t talk about quite as much, the more real places.  As with all things, I’ve started my research online and so far have found a few helpful resources, like Temecula & Murrieta local area guide maps.  It’s easy for local companies to advertise their goods online because services like Google make it pretty easy for business owners to search out advertising in Temecula & Murrieta, California.  All they need to do is search for the right information, put up a website and cater to the incoming tourist industry.  Anyway, enough business talk—the point is, I hope to make it out there someday, if only to quash all the great rumors I’ve heard in my time here in the cold Northeast. 

If you hadn’t heard, Prince Harry had been serving covertly in Afghanistan for the past 10 months.  Looks like they’ve decided to get him out, though:

Prince Harry has been withdrawn from Afghanistan because of the media’s disclosure of his deployment there, the British Ministry of Defense said Friday.

The prince had been deployed to Afghanistan since December. Major news outlets agreed to keep the information secret for security reasons, but a Web site broke the news blackout Thursday, prompting the British military to withdraw the prince for security reasons.

“This decision has been taken primarily on the basis that the worldwide media coverage of Prince Harry in Afghanistan could impact on the security of those who are deployed there, as well as the risks to him as an individual soldier,” the Ministry of Defense said in a statement issued Friday.

The ministry termed “regrettable” the decision of “elements of the foreign media” to reveal Prince Harry’s service in Afghanistan.

“Whilst it had been intended that Prince Harry should return in a matter of weeks with the remainder of the Household Cavalry Regiment Battlegroup,” the ministry said, “the situation has now clearly changed.”

The British Ministry of Defense confirmed to CNN that Harry was en route late Friday from Afghanistan to Great Britain.

Gen. Richard Dannatt, the chief of Britain’s General Staff, said in a statement released Thursday that he judged it safe to send the prince to Afghanistan — so long as the media didn’t reveal his location.

I still think it’s pretty cool that he did that and no one found out for months.

People really like to plan out vacations ahead of time and the Internet is a great way to do this.  Laying out the details of a vacation before it occurs allows you to make the most of your time when you actually arrive at your destination.  What I’ve noticed online is that you see people searching for not only hotels and airfare information but also for activities that they plan to look into in and around their vacation area.  For example, a mother planning a family trip to West Palm Beach probably looks on the Internet for spa West Palm Beach before even traveling to West Palm Beach in the first place.  I know my Dad always likes to plan everything out, and since the Internet is a great way to do this, search trends demonstrate that everyone looks for this sort of information ahead of time.  So, if you’re a small business owner near a vacation destination, you’re passing up increased revenues if you don’t own a website that promotes your business.  A salon in Wellington would be best off to give customers somewhere to look at their services when someone searches for spa Wellington.  If you don’t take this initiative as a small business owner, you’re really letting your money go straight to your competitors.  This doesn’t seem so smooth J  Make the most of your Internet or your competition will. 

Fountain of youth online?

February 29th, 2008

Everyone and their mother wishes they knew the secret to Ponce de Leon’s mythical fountain of youth.  Science actually believes we’ll eventually figure out how to live forever.  Apparently some pretty famous scientists have backed the idea, though it obviously seems a little crazy.  In the meantime, though, we don’t really get to do much in that realm.  That doesn’t stop companies from capitalizing on the desire to stay young, though.  Anti aging supplements abound, both offline in retail stores around the globe and online in specialty niche e-commerce storefronts.  Similarly, anti aging vitamins promise to keep your skin and vital functions working as well as possible for the years to come.   As you’ve probably read in magazines like Business Week, the aging of the baby boomer generation is actually making the market for senior-citizen products an ever-expanding and profitable one.  Of course, anti aging products don’t target the senior market exclusively but it can’t hurt that millions of extra people are getting older each and every year. 

One way to know that a business vertical has become unbelievably popular is to wait for it to splinter off into a thousand different niches based on peoples’ special desires and unique needs.  This is something that we’ve definitely seen happen in the online dating arena.  There are so many different things that people look for when searching for a partner online that it’s really difficult  for one site to offer everything that everyone wants.  Hence, you see people looking for what truly interests them:  someone might look for a black dating site if they’re interesting specifically in black dating.  If you’re a Christian and absolutely need to date another Christian, you’ll look for Christian dating websites instead of going to the biggest behemoth websites.  This really only makes sense, since smaller niche websites full of your types are more likely to provide you with the most immediate prospects that might actually appeal to you.  I would expect to see a similar trend in any huge online vertical but its effects have been truly felt across the dating field.  I’ve seen everything from Ivy League only dating to people who love pets dating websites in the past few months alone, and I doubt this will change any time soon. 

As CNN describes, Obama and Clinton are really going at it in the days before the Texan primary:

Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama battled for votes over the airwaves and on the ground in Texas on Friday, just days before primaries that could prove decisive in the Democratic presidential race.

The Obama campaign, as well as former President Bill Clinton, say the New York Democrat must do well in Texas and Ohio on March 4 if she is to continue to battle for the Democratic nomination.

Voters in Vermont and Rhode Island will also head to the polls next Tuesday.

The Clinton campaign Friday launched a new television ad in Texas that portrays its candidate as the best-prepared to take on foreign crises.

In the ad, a phone rings insistently over images of sleeping children.

“Your vote will decide who answers the call,” the ad’s narrator says. “Whether it’s someone who already knows the world’s leaders, knows the military. Someone tested and ready to lead in a dangerous world.”

It’s already over for Hillary, whether or not she knows it yet.

Web hosting for CMS

February 29th, 2008

If you know the Internet and web design at all, one thing you know is that it is near impossible to find a great web host that satisfies all your requirements.  While there are literally thousands and thousands of hosts available, different websites have a variety of different needs and so it’s rare that you happen to stumble upon exactly what you’re looking for on the Internet.  For instance, one person may need CMS web hosting while another might really want a WordPress-ready host.  One person may need a PHP capable host while another wants an ASP host.  It’s hard to predict.  So, when you go to search for  a host, you really have to do your own research and decide if the host you’re inspecting offers you what you need across a wide variety of spectrums.  Will it let you use SEO friendly CMS?  Or will it regulate you to less helpful design standards?  Will you be able to bring about your website’s full potential through this particular host?  Will they have great customer service and a nearly-perfect online record?  Finding all these qualities in one web host is difficult but if you keep at it long enough and read the right reviews of web hosting services, you’ll find the one that’s right for you.  It can be a frustrating process, though. 

Real estate part II

February 29th, 2008

I’ve discussed before how I was really interested in the real estate market when I was younger and considered going into it as a business.  You can read a ton on the Internet about the skills involved in buying and selling houses, apartment buildings and investment properties.  Home auctions are a really interesting way to get into real estate investment because they offer the possibility of getting an investment property at a great price.  What happens is, when homeowners fail to pay their mortgages, banks reclaim homes and occasionally put them up for auction.  These auctions are called foreclosure auctions, because the banks have “foreclosed” on the homes.   This is obviously very unfortunate for the people who used to occupy the house but it presents a real opportunity for investment property seekers t o get a home at a great value—homes being sold as foreclosures often sell below their premium price because banks are in a hurry to get rid of them as soon as possible.  For this reason, going to home auctions and bidding on foreclosed properties is a great strategy for anyone looking to get  involved  in real estate at a young age.

Real Estate part I

February 29th, 2008

When I was a bit younger, in my mid teens, I went through a period of time when I really wanted to get into real estate development.  I read all about how to flip houses for cash, how to buy and hold apartment buildings, how to cash in on investment opportunities or handyman specials.  Though it seems ridiculous, I knew what a hard money lender was at approximately age 16.  As I got older, I became less interested in real estate and more interested in my academics and technology, but I figure a little education in areas outside your field can’t hurt, right?  In any case, if I ever need any real estate private money loans, I’ll know the type people to find them from, because I looked at becoming involved in this business years ago.  The real estate investment industry is an interesting one because lots of people have been joining it in the past few years to invest savings into tangible properties that they can then rent or sell for a quick profit.  Not all of the people involved in the industry are well off enough to be capable of receiving bank financing, so what tends to happen is some investors loan money at high rates of interest to other investors, hence the term real estate private money.  This can be really helpful for, say, a single mother who knows she can make a quick 30% return on investment, even if she gets a loan at 15% interest. 

Up there with wedding invitations online are other services which are flourishing based on consumer trust, such as companies that offer to print special cards for you.  In this case, I’m referring to holiday cards such as Christmas Cards, which I noticed a few months ago during the rush of the holiday season.  You can actually buy your Christmas cards online, which significant reduces the stress of rushing around town to find a suitable merchant and a good deal.  The truth it, e-commerce has grown so far beyond selling books and t-shirts online; we now buy everything through the Internet and there  is absolutely no reason to believe it’s going to stop any time soon.  In the case of specialized cards, for instance, if your business sends holiday cards to its business partners or the families of top employees, you can buy business Christmas cards online and have them delivered straight to your business.  Services like these profit on the Internet because they are convenient, they give great customer service and they represent a solid value to the end consumer.  If you ever run an e-commerce business, it’s important to realize the various components of success so that you build a great business from the ground up.  If a site selling Christmas cards didn’t do an outstanding job, it would likely be out of business before too long.  However, with hard working employees and a great product strategy, the Internet is t he perfect market for a small business.