Author Archive

“With Google I’m starting to burn out on knowing the answer to everything. People in the year 2020 are going to be nostalgic for the sensation of feeling clueless.”
~ Douglas Coupland

Go to your computer right now and Google “real estate.” Go ahead, I dare you. Care to guess how many results you’ll get? Well, I just tried it, and I got 1.1 billion results. That’s billion with a b. Talk about information overload!

You’re pretty sophisticated, though, so you know not to try that kind of a mushy search. And you already know that you can search specifically for images and videos. You also realize that Google is pretty good at guessing what you’re looking for, and it will usually put those results first. But not always: If you search for “bronco,” Google won’t know whether to give you information about cars, football, or rodeos.

Luckily, you can tweak your searches to be surprisingly precise, if you know how. Here are some tricks for searching on Google that I’ve found useful. I’m concentrating on Google because it’s so popular, but some of these will work in other search engines, too. Read More→

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Flyp My Phone

Posted on August 1, 2015 by

“The secret to multitasking is that it isn’t actually multitasking. It’s just extreme focus and organization.” ~ Joss Whedon

Have you ever watched a really good store manager while she works? It’s incredible! She can handle two or three customers at once, answer the phone three times while she’s at it, and approve a couple check transactions at the same time. And when you compliment her on her talent, she just shrugs and says, “I’m a multitasker.”

A few years ago, businesses were all about multitasking. Employers wanted people who could multitask. With life moving faster all the time, all of us have learned to do it to some extent. But experts now believe that multitasking isn’t really all that productive or efficient. For a lot of us, multitasking just means we do a bunch of things at once, but we don’t do any of them very well. I don’t know about you, but I’ll never be able to do what that store manager does.

So it turns out that it’s better to focus on one thing at a time. But this doesn’t fit too well with modern life. Between home, work, school, church, and hockey, it’s a wonder we ever get anything done at all.

Luckily, I don’t have to multitask anymore, because my cellphone does it for me. I can hardly remember anymore what life was like before I had an iPhone. I used to say that having a cellphone was a good idea, but not an absolute necessity. Well, it’s sure a necessity now. Read More→

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Too Many Loyalty Cards?

Posted on July 2, 2015 by

“I always say shopping is cheaper than a psychiatrist.” ~Tammy Faye Bakker

The other day I was in the grocery store picking up some milk. In the checkout line, the checker asked the guy ahead of me if he had one of those loyalty cards. Well, this guy took out a shoebox full of those cards – a shoebox! –and started searching through them. It took forever!

Okay, maybe I made that up. Actually, if anyone needs a shoebox for those cards, it’s probably me. And if I were to pull out that shoebox in the checkout line, I’ll bet no jury would convict the checkout lady if she shot me right then and there.

Now, just in case there’s anyone who still doesn’t know about loyalty cards, it’s time you did. They’re promotional wallet cards that big retailers and businesses give out, usually for free. When the checker scans the barcode on the back (or when you give the checker the phone number they have on file for you), you can get all kinds of deals that are only available for people who sign up. Read More→

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Scary Websites

Posted on May 29, 2015 by

“Currently computer graphics are used a great deal, but it can be excessive.”
~ Hayao Miyazaki

The other day, I was web-surfing while I waited for a program to download, and I came across a site that really caught my attention. In the upper right-hand corner, a big Jolly Roger pirate flag was waving. In the upper left-hand corner was a little animated dancing hamster. A tiny cartoon kitten ran across the bottom of the screen, and in the middle of the page fireworks burst out in an infinite loop. Then suddenly, my iPad started blasting “Whole Lotta Love” by Led Zeppelin. It was a full-blown spectacle!

I tried to scroll down the screen to find a “music off” button. But the screen went on and on… and on… and on. One very long screen with a black background and neon-colored type. No links, just text. And every few lines, new and even cheesier animation.

At this point, I was desperate to stop the music. So I backed out of the site so fast I still don’t know what it was advertising. A funeral home, I think. Or maybe socks. All I know is, I had to get out of there. Read More→

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See It and Believe It

Posted on April 30, 2015 by

“Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.” ~ Albert Einstein

About a year ago, British Airways created an amazing billboard and put it near an airport. When an airplane would take off at the airport, the billboard would detect it. On the billboard, a little kid would follow the plane, pointing at it, until he ran past the end of the screen. When the plane was gone, he would run back into view. The billboard actually interacted with the world outside.

How did they do that? I have no idea.

If you’ve seen that billboard video, you’ve seen an example of “augmented reality.” (If you haven’t seen the video, you can find it by Googling “British Airways interactive billboard.”). Essentially, augmented reality adds digital content to real-life objects. The object could be an ad in a magazine, or it could be a famous painting, or it could be a house you just passed on the road. The essence is this: Point your tablet at it, and stuff happens. That stuff could be a link to a phone number, a video or animation you can watch, or other statistics about the thing you’re looking at. In the case of a house, it could tell you the price, square footage, and comps for the area. It could even give you a tour of the inside of the house. Read More→

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From Paper to (Almost) Paperless

Posted on April 3, 2015 by

“Americans spend 3 billion hours per year filling out tax forms and keeping tax records.” ~ Jim Ramstad

There are two things I’ll never do again: first, teach one of my own kids how to drive; and second, help my Aunt May file her tax returns. I’m pretty sure you know Aunt May, or someone just like her. She’s a really sweet lady whose house looks spotlessly organized until you open a drawer or a closet. When she hints that she needs help with her taxes, you volunteer. I mean, she needs you, and she’s so nice! How hard could it be?

Anyway, that’s what I thought. But a day before taxes were due, Aunt May came over with six boxes full of paper. Six boxes! Each contained every manner of paper from receipts to bank statements to movie tickets to Christmas cards. Everything under the sun – except the things I needed. It took sixteen hours, eight aspirins, and three pots of coffee to figure out that she was getting a refund of $1.47. Nope. I adore my Aunt May, but I’m not going through that again.

I’ve never been quite as disorganized as Aunt May, but I’ve certainly had my moments. I discovered pretty quickly that I had better organize my business so I could find what I needed, when I needed it. When you’re trying to convince a potential seller that you run an organized, professional operation, it’s best if you can find the contract they signed. Read More→

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Are We There Yet?

Posted on February 27, 2015 by

If the person at the wheel refuses to ask for directions, it is time for a new driver. ~ Jennifer Granholm

You’ve heard that old stereotype, right? Men never ask for directions. Maybe that’s because it means we’re admitting defeat. I’m not sure it’s true, though. I suspect there are lots of women who won’t ask for directions, either.

If you’re one of those people who won’t ask for directions, you’re wasting time. A lot of time. That’s time you could be finding new properties, or meeting other investors, or reading to your kids. Trust me, your competitors are asking for directions, so you’d better know how to go places!

The fact is, asking for directions isn’t a mark of defeat at all. On the contrary: it’s an opportunity to show everybody how tech-savvy and clever you are.

I’m talking, of course, about online maps and GPS (Global Positioning System). You probably already have GPS on your phone, and chances are, you’ve already put it to good use. But these apps do some pretty neat things you might not know about. Read More→

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Not If, But When?

Posted on January 30, 2015 by

“One of the most feared expressions in modern times is ‘The computer is down.'”~ Norman Ralph Augustine

One night I got a panicky call from my cousin Marv. He was about to put the last, finishing touches on a presentation he had been working on for weeks. He powered up the computer, waiting for the usual stuff to flash across the screen. Something flashed, all right: a big, blue, blank screen. Everything was just gone. Marv told me he didn’t think it could happen to him. “I mean, I’m careful! I don’t open links on suspicious emails, and I don’t click on ads unless I’m sure of the source.”

“Well, that’s good,” I told him. “Give me your boot disk and I’ll see what I can do.”

“What?” The look on Cousin Marv’s face was as blank as that awful blue screen.

“Okay, how about backups?” I asked. Maybe we could at least get his presentation back.

Marv smiled. “Oh, I’ve got that! I always keep a spare copy of important documents. On my computer.” His face fell. “Oh.”

For a minute there, I felt a little superior. Really, no backup? But then I had to remind myself that I’ve been sloppy about backups, too, from time to time. I’ve lost documents. I’ve seen the dreaded Blue Screen of Death. What an awful feeling! Read More→

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Keeping It Oh So Simple

Posted on January 1, 2015 by

“Email, instant messaging, and cell phones give us fabulous communication ability, but . . . that communication is totally disorganized.” ~ Marilyn vos Savant

A couple months ago when I was getting coffee, I watched a guy – I’ll call him Otis – talking on the phone to his bank about a mortgage application. The bank wanted documents that he had already sent in twice. Boy, was that conversation painful to watch! Otis kept fiddling with his phone, signing in and out of different accounts and trying to find the emails and records he had sent to the bank. He was doing three things at once on his phone, and none of it was going well. It was clear he was getting frustrated, and with all that juggling he hung up on the bank manager three times. I’m pretty sure I saw smoke start to come out of his ears. The bank manager probably wasn’t having much fun, either.

Ah, technology!

In the olden days – you know, when your phone came in two heavy pieces and you had to plug it into the wall before it would work – using a telephone was a pretty simple matter. You dialed the number. It rang. Someone answered. You talked. Easy! And keeping track of appointments and contacts was easy, too. You just needed a pen, a calendar, and an address book. It wasn’t rocket science. The hardest part was keeping it from getting too messy to read.

Things sure have changed. Read More→

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Using Forms to Free Up More Time

Posted on November 28, 2014 by

“What the world really needs is more love and less paperwork.” ~ Pearl Bailey

Welcome to 2015 – I know it’s going to be a great year! And while the weather is cold, what a good time it is to review office procedures and forms to make sure the business is humming along as efficiently as possible. I guess you could call it a kind of pre-spring cleaning. I know, it’s not as good as sledding, but work with me, here.

If you’ve taken any of my courses, you know how much I like to automate. The fewer steps it takes to get something done, the better I like it. Creating a good system of business forms is a big part of automation, especially if I can get forms to share information with each other, or feed data into a spreadsheet. So part of my pre-spring cleaning is to review my forms every now and then to make sure they still make sense.

And let’s face it: There’s nothing more annoying than trying to work with a badly designed form. If you doubt that, get online right now and try applying for a job at some big company. It can be a real nightmare!

Forms, of course, have always been a pain in the neck. The military is famous for them. Heck, the Romans probably had rotten forms, too. Until just a few years ago, there was no relief from bad forms. You were stuck with whatever form somebody handed you. Read More→

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Nesting: Warmth for the Winter

Posted on October 31, 2014 by

“It doesn’t make a difference what temperature a room is, it’s always room temperature.” ~ Steven Wright

There are certain people who should never touch anything mechanical. My Aunt Effy is like that. She didn’t get her brakes fixed until one of the brake pads actually fell out of her car. She bought a sewing machine and ended up sewing her pants to the wall. And who knew you could do that much property damage with a weed whacker?

So you can imagine our reaction when Aunt Effy decided to buy a programmable thermostat for her home. Heck, we were all afraid she would melt the dog.

Luckily, she got some good advice at the mega-hardware store, and bought a “smart” thermostat called the Nest. Have you seen one of these things? I have, and now I’m a big fan.

Even though the Nest is a programmable thermostat, you don’t really have to program it. Instead, just adjust the temperature the way you like it. Make it warmer, make it cooler, keep yourself comfortable. Turn it down when you leave the house. The Nest will “learn” what you like, and pretty soon, it will adjust itself for you automatically. Nest’s website says this can save you 20% of your energy bill. And since it kind of runs itself, it’s easy enough even for my Aunt Effy. Read More→

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Places Count: Your Healthy Office

Posted on October 1, 2014 by

“If it weren’t for the fact that the TV set and the refrigerator are so far apart, some of us wouldn’t get any exercise at all.” ~ Joey Adams

As autumn arrives and the summer heat evaporates, it’s a great time to “reset” your fitness routine. Last month, I talked about the importance of taking care of yourself, and why you should do it now. I also told you about one of my favorite apps, MyFitnessPal.com, which is a great tool for building and executing your good-health plan.

But there’s a lot more to getting healthy than just downloading an app onto your smartphone. There’s eating right, and exercising, and yearly physicals, and – well, all the stuff your mother told you to do. And she was right!  

But I’m not your mother, so let’s just stick to the workplace. You probably spend more waking hours in your office than anywhere else. Hopefully, you’ve done your best to create an office that’s efficient and comfortable. You’ve got a desk and a comfortable modern chair. Maybe you have a couch. And while you might move around a little bit while you’re working, you probably spend most of the day sitting. For hours and hours at a time.

But hey, you go to the gym after work, so it’s okay, right? Read More→

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