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Posts from Technology Leadership | 2010

The Winter Wasteland Opportunity

Posted 2:53 PM by

Winter Wasteland Opportunity to Improve SaasToday, I drove to my office, parked, took this picture, and then sat there for a few minutes to reflect. I couldn't help but think how great an opportunity this represents. It's not because I plan to buy a pickup truck with a plow and hit the roads. It's because when it is cold and snowy I always think of shutting myself up in a warm, comfortable room and knocking out some important tasks that don't always get noticed during the normal hustle and bustle.

I don't spend a lot of time out by this lake in the first place - most of my time is inside. Yet, with the possibility of doing anything outdoors cut off, I am forced to stay inside. In my mind, this is an opportunity to ignore the distractions the outside world offers and hunker down inside with a hot cup of coffee, a computer, and a list of things I want to get accomplished.

I realize this is mostly psychological. But what if I'm not alone. What if all our customers think the same way? What if the world slows down a bit for them too and gives them a clearer view of their goals - for example, working on new and enticing content for their website? So I did a test. I grouped the total number of users in the system each day (excluding weekends) and overlayed the amount of precipitation. I was curious to see if our users logged in more on rainy or snowy days than dry days. Here's the chart:

Marketpath user sessions - precipitation overlay
Total daily user sessions and precipitation (green is above normal, brown is below normal, blue line is total users).

As you can see, nothing. There doesn't seem to be any correlation to users of our system and the amount of precipitation. Completely random. It was a fun little test, though.

So perhaps others don't think quite like me. Or maybe they do but their first thought isn't to add new content to their website. I would be interested, however, to see if other systems do have a correlation - like Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, etc.

Well, now it's 11 AM and I haven't done anything but write this post. I guess the thought of hunkering down and getting a bunch done is more theory than practice. Time to catch up.

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A Tale of Three Hair Cuts - How Service Made the Difference

Posted 2:16 PM by

Customer service | Marketing | SalesCONFESSION #1: I have cut my own hair for the last ten years.
CONFESSION #2: In 2000, I spent $15 on a hair trimmer kit at WalMart.
CONFESSION #3: If fashion sense was worth a million bucks I would be in a great amount of debt.

And so begins my tale. I travelled to three different hair joints. I call them joints because I don't like admitting that I visited a salon and none of the places I visited are traditional barbers. So here are three joints that vary widely in the quality and level of service offered and the lessons I learned as a result.

Joint #1 - At Home


In a tiny bathroom in a sleepy little village named Broad Ripple the first hairs were cut with a new hair trimming kit from WalMart. A decade of solace had begun.

My hair was as easy as a hair cut could get, aside from just trimming it with a single cut length. I used a size 6 for the top and a size 3 for the sides. Then I trimmed the edges.

Time: about 15-30 minutes
Price: For all purposes - $0 per hair cut. I could factor in the $15 trimmers and divide by use but seriously? That' ridiculous.
Quality: Just ok. The tops and sides were fine but I was never satisfied with the back.
Service: Attention to detail was never an issue but the conversation was often very boring and trivial.

OverallExperienceMeter: 6 out of 10. The cost was right but the outcome was never great.

Joint #2 - Great Clips

http://www.greatclips.com/
This was my "dipping-the-toe"  into paid hair cuts. I set no expectations, other than a decent outcome. My stylist's name was Ebony, a very nice woman who made me feel welcome. We tried carrying conversation but I can only talk so much about the Kardashians and Jerseylicious (and that's very little). Not really my bag.

Time: 10 minutes (including wait)
Price: $18 = $13 cut + $5 tip
Quality: Good. Ebony cut my hair just like I asked and fixed the problem area I always had trouble with.
Service: Not bad. Just a normal hair cut. She threw on some talcum power without asking and then I smelled like that for the rest of the day. There was also very little cleanup so I had hair bits everywhere.

OverallExperienceMeeter: 5 out of 10. I'm giving this a lower grade for several reasons. I basically paid $18 for someone to fix the one area I couldn't do well myself. Ebony did a great job within her boundaries so this is not a knock against her at all.

Joint #3 - i.d.entity hair design

http://idhairdesign.com/

I was referred to i.d.entity by Adam Brand, our VP of Creative and Client Services. This is the place he goes. The only difference is that Adam has a lot of hair that you can do something with. I have pre-balding, "salvage what you can" hair. Nonetheless, I took him up on his referral and made an appointment with Laura.

I'll admit, I was a little nervous because I knew Laura was going to ask what I wanted. It's probably the same feeling I had when my wife drug me to Joann Fabrics and asked me what I thought about different fabrics. If there is a word for me it is "nonfashionable" or the phrase "unable to consider, qualify, create, analyze, comment, or otherwise provide any valuable input on anything related to fashion."

So, Laura asked, "What are you looking for?" Oh, boy. There it is. My response was simply, "This is what I've done for 10 years and I need you to tell me what to do to make it better." And then Laura took command. She explained a lot of different things to me that likely resulted in many blank stares. "Ok", I said.

Time: 45 minutes (including my 3.5 minute drive)
Price: $56 = $26 cut + $10 tip + $20 hair stuff (I guess she was a good salesperson)
Quality: Very good. Better hair style that resulted in at least a few comments of "That is much better"
Service: Excellent. It's hard to beat two shampoos, a scalp massage, and a straight razor shave. Plus she talked about baldness prevention (which in my family is a good thing). Great conversation and the fact she was able to quickly and easily take control and make recommendations was what I needed.

OverallExperienceMeter: 9 out of 10. I would give it a 10 but I'm still in shock on the price tag. Average cost going forward, though, will be about $36 (which includes free maintenance trims).

Insight Gained from Experiences

So, here's the lesson learned that you might be able to project into your own customer adventures. In my case, I already did an ok job with the hair cut myself. Great Clips was never going to win because I couldn't justify spending $18 on fixing only one problem area with a mediocre level of service. I was ok dealing with it for free. If I was going to make a change my experience had better improve dramatically. That is exactly what i.d.entity provided. I will adjust to the new budget over time and will probably grow accustomed to the service and not want to return to the days of do-it-yourself.

Solving big problems is easy but if you think about your own prospects and customers they might be in the same position as I was. They might have a few small problems and be doing something themselves that is good enough. Whatever service or product you are pitching to them must exceed their needs by not only solving the small problems but drastically improving their experience overall.

Convincing do-it-yourselfers to use your service or product requires a leap of faith. If you make the promise of exceptional quality and results you had better deliver.

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How Bootstrapping Teaches Lessons the Hard Way

Posted 6:16 PM by
If I were to go back nearly ten years and start this company all over I would take a much different path. But that's only if I had the knowledge and experience that I have now. Easy to say, obviously. It's scary, though, to think how much time I've wasted on different undertakings - everything from operational chores to sales to development to phone systems. If I could go back I would take the Chris Baggott approach. 

Chris has always been a mentor to me. I met him back in 2001 when I started my company and he started his, now a $100 million a year company named ExactTarget. Chris had a sales and marketing background and I had a technical background. I could build a killer application and Chris could sell a killer application (and he could probably sell rotten meat to a butcher). I could tweak and improve an app and Chris could direct other programmers to build what he needed. Chris spent his time selling and marketing and I spent my time building and not selling so much. Besides trades, the biggest difference is that my company is 100% bootstrapped (self-funded) and Chris has relied on outside investments.

So here are a few lessons that I've learned from Chris' success and from my own mistakes and missteps on a shoestring, bootstrapped budget:
  1. Once it is built, sell it. This is fairly obvious but there are some OCD aspects to me that lead me to improvement after improvement. The problem is, those minor improvements won't sell any better than the first revision. They may improve the user experience and keep them from calling all the time for support but there has to be a stopping point and that has to be early. Once you get a few new accounts then make your tweaks and sell some more. Once you get a few more accounts, make some more tweaks and then get back to selling. Wash, rinse, repeat.

    Don't make my mistakes of washing.... then washing again..... and, oh crap, there's a little dirt still there so wash again.... rinse a little... wash some more.... rinse a little bit more. You get the point. In late 2008, I presented to a group of investors and the number one comment was "I'm sure you can build great software but I just don't feel you have the sales and marketing leadership." Wash... then rinse.... rinse... rinse.... rinse....
     
  2. Don't reinvent the wheel. Several years back, rather than spending several hundred dollars per month on a CRM, we decided to build our own. Why not? We're fast, efficient developers and could build the core functionality within a week. The problem came once we started needing more. We got to a point where everyone hated the system and we were too busy to make necessary changes.We failed. I was told once by a man wiser than me that you shouldn't build an application or tool if one exists that is good enough. It doesn't have to be perfect. That advice made me ditch the tool and start using Salesforce.com.
  3. Hire a bookkeeper. I am guilty of this until today because until today I managed all receivables myself. I just couldn't separate with this because I didn't want to pay someone something that I feel needs intimate knowledge of our customers and processes. But then again, needing intimate knowledge of customers and processes isn't very scalable. We did use a firm for all of our accounts payable and balancing but that didn't happen until I was in business for 8 years. Think of all the time I could get back had I simply paid someone to do the bookkeeping. My sole number one job is to figure out how to feed the funnel - not so much how to sort it out once its in there. Feed that funnel!
  4. Always nurture your clients. This seems incredibly obvious - give your clients the love and attention they deserve. You'd be surprised, though, how quickly you can take this for granted. Clients can be demanding and you become less and less available (especially if you're doing your own books and building software that already exists). If you can't adequately give your clients the attention they need then you need to establish a system that helps accomplish that.

    As you grow your business, though, it will be impossible to be right there, a phone call away, for all their immediate needs. They will still expect that and will very likely complain a bit that you're not as available as you used to be. Don't fret, though. This is the time to have a quick conversation with them explaining how you desperately want to provide them the same level of personalized service - but because your business is growing and doing so well (much thanks to their early business) you have a slightly modified way of getting the immediate help they need. A simple phone call will help alleviate their frustration and establish a new acceptable path for them to get what they need.
  5. Bring on the right partners. This is interesting because tomorrow I'm attending an Executive Roundtable put on by Katz, Sappler & Miller titled "The Art of Convicing Brilliant People to Jump Off a Cliff." Building your company requires you to hire brilliant people - probably much smarter than yourself. In early 2006, I brought on two fantastic partners to help get Marketpath's CMS initiative off the ground. These two provided all the expertise and skill needed to build a killer application. The problems started happening later, though, when our own networks were exhausted of sales leads and business life became a bit stagnant.

    Our very first sale went something like this, "This is great! We'll take it for all of our websites and we'll need a 5 year contract term." We did the math and that would have been nearly $200,000 for our first sale ($40,000 per year)! We were on cloud nine. Unfortunately, it wasn't quite that simple. We did end up with about $20,000/yr for that first sale, though and they are still a great client.

    We kept it up after that for about 6 months. Then we began the downward trend. We still brought on new accounts but not a rate quick enough to cover all the time we spent developing the application. And we all spent way too much time developing and not enough time selling (notice the recurring theme?).

    The point is this. Partners come in all different flavors. I've had several and I'm still happy with my choices. You have to be prepared, though, for the time when those partners have exhausted their capabilities and you need new talent to bridge the gaps. When you bring on partners to help you build your company make sure they fit your needs now but can also grow into whatever future needs may arise. But they won't be a one size fits all and you shouldn't expect them to be.

I come from a somewhat blue collar background, didn't have the best financial education, got a C in Accounting 101, and dropped any future business classes. I have a bachelors degree from Indiana University in Computer Science and probably never should have gone into business for myself. But I love the art of building and growing a business, I enjoy difficult challenges, and I am a stubborn SOB - so I haven't backed down yet. What I have learned with my other business partners has been completely bootstrapped and self-funded and most often learned the hard way. Whether that is a benefit or a disadvantage we shall see. But I will say this, any lesson learned while burning through my own time, money, and resources is about as ingrained as a lesson can be.


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Hackers and Founders - A Home for the True Business Geek

Posted 3:13 AM by

Tonight I attended my first Hackers and Founders event that highlights Indy's best and brightest entrepreneurs, developers, and investors. Three companies presented great ideas that truly had some legs. It was great for me because I got to speak business with some and technology with others (It's really hard for me to shake this programmer side). Each company had 5 minutes to give their pitch. Here's a quick highlight of each:

 

  1. ModalLogix (http://modallogix.com/) - Angel Morales

    I remember Angel from his days at ExactTarget. I did some contract work and had a private office which the higher ups kicked me out of so Angel could have "thinking" space. Although I was a little disgruntled, and felt like Milton in Office Space, I believe it was well deserved - especially after seeing Angel's presentation tonight.  

    The presentation would have made an auctioneer proud but what he showed was simply amazing! His product, SmartRemarketer, tackles issues like cart abandonment by strategically placing content (whether by email or on the website itself) back into the shopper lifecycle (or in this case - abandonment lifecycle). That is just one small facet of his software but it seems to offer powerful behavioral targeting.
     
  2. EatDrink.it (http://eatdrink.it) - Jared Brown

    This is a very cool idea. Simply put, menu level restaurant ratings. Yelp and Urban Spoon provide reviews and restaurant selection but nobody really rates menu items.

    How many times have you gone to a restaurant, ordered something, and realized it wasn't good at all? $25 down the drain. EatDrink.it provides real user reviews of those items. You can see what others have to say and save yourself the agony of a wasted meal. Another advantage is saving your ratings from restaurants you've visited. I've done it before myself - ordered something on a menu that I had before and didn't like. Yeah I'm old. I forget things. 
     
  3. StatsSquared (http://statssquared.com/) - Brandon Corbin - Indy Startup Weekend winner!

    This is a Twitter analytics tool that helps you measure click-through-rates (CTR). How many people are clicking on your links or those of your competitor? This tool helps you find that out. During Brandon's presentation he used the example of Kim Kardashian and (I think) MSNBC. The sad finding was that tweets from Kim Kardashian had a huge click through rate compared to MSNBC. Sadly, my wife probably contributed to that.

    StatsSquared won Indy Startup Weekend this past weekend and is now poised against 15 other international startups for the Global Startup Battle. You have 45 minutes to vote for them...... go!  http://globalstartupbattle.com/voting/ 

 

I'm continuously intrigued by the level of talent in Indianapolis and can't wait to see what the next decade holds as technologies mature and entrepreneurs thrive. I love this city! 

Big thanks to Matt Hunckler who founded and organizes the Hackers and Founders meetups. Fantastic event!

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    Mystery Meat Navigation

    Posted 4:59 PM by

    Confusing road construction signs - poor usability

     

    Wait..... I don't get it.

    The sad thing is that this is more easily navigable than many websites I come across.

     - eloquently referred to as Mystery Meat Navigation.

     

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    Facebook falls down!

    Posted 12:57 PM by
    Now here's a image you don't see everyday.

    Facebook falls down


    What are 500 million people going to do now without Farmville and Mob Wars!? Is this sort of like that time in The Truman Show when Jim Carrey leaves for good and all his viewers are left standing clueless?

    Maybe I'll pick up the phone and call someone....

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    Twitter and Seth Godin

    Posted 3:42 AM by
    I'm a big follower of Seth Godin's ideas and work but I made a strange realization today when reading his post The forever recession. I'm subscribed to his email list and receive announcements of his daily blog posts. Most of them I don't read but I always scan the headlines and read the posts of interest.

    Seth Godin - twitter - followersI began following him on Twitter and realized that he is not following a single person! What?! Surely, the man who proclaims personal and relevant communications would be following somebody. Is there nothing left for Seth Godin to learn from those that follow him? Jesus doesn't follow anyone but I mean, come on, it's Jesus.

    So, why is it that this great marketer doesn't follow anyone? I had to do a little research and found the video below that I think helps explain it. The video is 1 1/2 years old but it contains some interesting clues about Seth's stance on Twitter and social media in general.

    At the time, he wasn't even on Twitter and the interviewer asks him why. He answers simply and plainly that he wants to be the best. He basically says, "I'm the best at being me.... and I have the the best marketing blog (for now) and if I start up on Twitter or Facebook I won't be the best because I don't have the time to dedicate to it."

    So what does that mean for me and you? Does it mean we need to be the best at Twitter? Not really. I'm no twitter expert, though. @Marketpath has a whopping 35 followers!

    For Seth, I do like the fact that he's following nobody as opposed to following only a handful of people with 46,162 followers.

    Jump ahead to 9:10 to find the spot where he's asked about Twitter.

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    Don't use "Click Here" in your links

    Posted 7:35 AM by
    I've seen this since the beginning of the web and most knowledgable web designers and developers now know to avoid using "click here" in there links. We're approaching 20 years of the Web and most active users have been online at least 8-10 years. They all know that if you mouse over a word or image and see the mouse arrow change to a pointing finger then it is clickable (unless built by an incompetent web developer).

    Don't use 'click here' in your link textThe problem with "click here" is that it doesn't convey any meaning other than an imperative - which doesn't work. It doesn't tell visitors why they should click here. Here's an example:

         BAD:
         Click here to download our white paper on multi-vitamins.

         BETTER:
         Read our white paper on multi-vitamins to learn why they are right for you.

    In addition to the usability of the two versions, the first does nothing for search engine optimization. "Click here" doesn't give search engines a relevant topic about the page being linked to. "Multi-vitamins" definitely does.

    Here are a few more resources on this topic:

        W3C Tips: Don't use "click here" as link text
        Addicott Web: 4 Reasons to Avoid Using 'Click Here' in Link Text
        Dawudmiracle.com: Using "Click Here" is Probably Hurting Your Site

    The moral of this blog post is: don't use "click here" when making links. It won't improve your visitor conversions or search engine optimization and all your friends will probably laugh at you.

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    Please send your unused minutes

    Posted 3:11 PM by
    Why is it that the only time I am truly inspired to write is when I have no time to write? I really enjoy it and find great freedom in writing. Perhaps Stephen Covey and Michael Gerber are punishing me for not becoming more interdependent and because I'm working "in my business" and not "on my business." 

    Gerber would say I'm being too much of the technician and Covey would say I'm spending too much time away from quadrant 2

    Efficient work with three monitors - technology leadership

    My Desk


    Let's look at it from the Gerber lens:
    The picture above is of my desk and my work day. The monitor on the left is me being the technician, helping to build better products (i.e. programming). The monitor in the middle is me being the manager - trying to keep my team efficient and productful (yes, I know that's not a real word). The monitor on the right is me being the entrepreneur - monitoring opportunity, correspondence, reading industry news, and inventing new ways for our products to always offer more.

    Shooting for quadrant 2 activities

    Covey's Four Quadrants


    Now through the Covey lens:
    My day is fraught with constant interruptions, emergencies, and other issues. In other words, I live in quadrants 1 and 3 (urgent and import | urgent and not import). Because I initially built much of our software, I still know it best. When problems arise, I can usually provide the quickest answer. But everything bubbles to the top and I am usually the source of last resort. I accept that but I know I need to aspire more towards the 4-Hour Workweek model. Perhaps one day.

    So there you have it. Balance your roles (technician, manager, and entrepreneur) and spend most of your time in quadrant 2. If you don't,  Stephen Covey and Michael Gerber will steal and eat your minutes. 
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    Checking Out "Checking In"

    Posted 8:01 AM by
    Facebook Places - social media - Marketpath CMSfoursquare - social media - Marketpath CMSI'll readily admit I'm just getting my feet wet with social media. I've had a twitter account for a year and a half but just started using it regularly a month ago. I definitely see some value but I also see a huge potential waste of time. Twitter has a lot of growing up to do. I'll post about that another time because this post is about foursquare and Facebook Places.

    I'm writing this at a Panera Bread. I checked in on both foursquare and Facebook Places. I'm not 100% sure why, though. I chose Panera because they have good coffee, free wifi, and no interruptions. So, why do I want people to know where I am right now? The fact is, I don't. I want to be left alone. Yet, I still told my 15 foursquare friends (I know - I'm famous) and a couple hundred Facebook fans that I'm here. Thankfully, they're not all rushing in to see me.

    Two weeks ago, I drove to Chicago with my family and I checked into the Fowler Ridge Wind Farm on the way there and the way back. I never stopped at the wind farm, I just though it would look cool on my check-in list. Before that I checked into someone's home titled "Our House" - I've never met them. I've also checked into a place called "The Dog House" and left the comment "I've been here a lot!" I have a friend who checks into multiple places daily just so he can be the Mayor of those places on foursquare. He'll also check into random places like Nancy's Bridal and now, with his jailbroken iPhone, can fake his GPS location and check into any place in the world, like the Pyramids of Giza.

    I do check into Scotty's Brewhouse so I can get 10% off my meal. I did the same for DMK Burger Bar while in Chicago because they offered a free side of fries (not just your regular old fries either). Because of this, I check most places for specials - but I only check after I arrive. The foursquare discounts don't drive me to go to these places, though, I just see how I can lower their profit margin after arrival.

    Here are my pros and cons of these social check-in services:

    Pros
    • Get discounts at participating locations (foursquare)
    • Get random visits (meetups) when your friends see where you are
    • Be a visitor when you see friends check into locations nearby
    • Great for businesses (foursquare only at this time)
      • See who's checking in
      • Offer in-store specials (upsells)
      • Friendly competitions for your patrons to work for mayorships
      • If users know you offer checkin specials, they will likely return
    Cons

    Again, I'll admit I'm just starting to figuring these tools out. And as I mentioned above for Twitter, they have a lot of growing up to do. My recommendation is to jump in and try them out. As our world becomes more and more connected we will certainly have some big social media failures. But we will learn from each of them and over time invent new and very ingenious ways to connect with one another - friends, family, friends of friends, colleagues, etc.

    Until then, be an early adopter and have some fun.

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    Sweet, Sweet Fortunate Revelation!

    Posted 8:50 PM by
    Today, I found out that Marketpath CMS works with Google Chrome. As a matter of fact, I'm writing this blog post using Chrome. This is important for three reasons I'm about to completely make up: 

    1. Google Chrome now commands 16.7% of all browser usage (see http://www.w3schools.com/browsers/browsers_stats.asp). That is approaching 1 of 5 people using Chrome. If you're not any good at math that's a lot of people. By comparison, only 1 of every 32 people follow Lady Gaga on Twitter and she is the most followed twitter user.

      This is important because we want to make sure we cover the major browsers. Sorry all you SeaMonkey people!  
    2. Google Chrome is making frequent version releases and holds up very well against the other browsers. It is fast, lean, standards compliant, and has simple usability. This means they are doing a lot to improve the quality of their browser and adding new features and improvements on a regular basis. Their old release schedule was quarterly and now they are trying to move it monthly or sooner - more of an Scrum development model. This is important because when it comes to new, highly interactive and robust websites speed is king. Whoever has the fastest browser and renders sites the most consistently will win the most users.  
    3. Marketpath CMS Treeview in Google ChromeThe best reason is that getting Chrome to work with Marketpath CMS didn't cost me a thing!

      Bravo to Google for fixing our issues with their browser! Our biggest issue was with our tree control (right). We discovered this as soon as Chrome was released. We slowly watched the usage numbers trickle up and were very close to adding the fix to our dev cycle. We planned to implement a new jQuery tree across the entire site but that would have been a huge undertaking and now we can delay it for a while to add more beneficial features.

      Thank you Google for picking up the tab!


    Now I can sleep like a baby because we work in Chrome. No more tossing and turning and no more late night munchies. Let's just hope this baby publishes.


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    Getting started.... again

    Posted 11:19 AM by

    I never liked the name of my other blog - Practical Internet Marketing Strategies. I get sleepy just reading it. I love all things technology and I truly enjoy leading my team. So here we go - a new blog about my strokes of genius, my screw-ups, my company, technology in general, and more. I'm leaving the mix of topics fairly open. My goal, at the very least, is to provide you with some useful (and sometimes entertaining) information.

    In the last nine and a half years of Marketpath there have been so many ups and downs and celebrations and scares that I could probably write a book - although I'm not sure I have the ability to focus that long. Instead, I'll send you tidbits here and there. Please feel free to always share your thoughts.

    I'll leave you with a technology quote from Elbert Hubbard:

    “One machine can do the work of fifty ordinary men.  No machine can do the work of one extraordinary man.”

              ~Elbert Hubbard, The Roycroft Dictionary and Book of Epigrams, 1923

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