Soundtrack

I'm off-grid at the Finger Lakes Wine Festival this weekend. Here are 10 songs with no particular reason other than I like them (just happens I must be in a male songwriter mood, I guess). Also, check out some of Mike Dobbs's favorites.

1. Tom Waits, "Step Right Up" (With tuning!)

2. Michael Franti & Spearhead, "What I Be"

3. Jackopierce, "Vineyard"

4. Spring Heeled Jack, "Jolene"

5. Seth Horan, "Something Pretty" (You won't see that hair at the CNY house concert!)

6. Cheb Tarik, "L'histoire"

7. James O'Brien, "After the Prom"

8. Hank Williams, "Honky Tonkin'"

9. Ellis Paul, "Take All The Sky You Need"

10. Leonard Cohen, "Hallelujah"

4 Pieces of Free Software That Help Me Do My Job

With the news of the launch of Google App Inventor this week, it appears that now you can do just about anything you would need to using free applications – and maybe without having very much in your skills toolbox.

As the name implies, App Inventor allows you to create an app for the Android platform without being a developer. You just need a cat, apparently.

While Google is definitely showing us what it looks like to be free, easy and cloud-based (you can use Picasa to edit and store your photos and Google Docs for your document needs – including live, shared, multi-user editing), you might not realize you can get full software suites for free. Here is what I use:

OpenOffice. The only thing missing from OpenOffice is the Track Changes function from Microsoft Word – and I'm sure someone will develop that soon, since it is an open system and all. OpenOffice is compatible with MS Office formats (.doc, .xls, .ppt, etc.), exports documents to PDF really easily, and in general I've been really impressed with it. I've now been using it exclusively for over two years. It will save you about $280 over MS Office.

The GIMP. The GNU Image Manipulation Program, or GIMP, is a photo manipulation program that isn't amazing, although it's getting better. If you're a hardcore designer, you still need Photoshop or something more powerful, but if you're just manipulating photos for the Web or for your own personal use, GIMP will save you $700 over Photoshop.

FileZilla. This is a basic FTP client that appears to have become something of a standard. It will save you $25-$60 over CuteFTP.

Notepad++. Essentially a built-out version of Microsoft's Notepad, Notepad++ extends from the plain text format by allowing you to save html, css, and other Web-friendly file formats, and it does some helpful formatting, like highlighting the opening and closing tags for you, so you can be sure where you're working. You lose the WYSIWYG editor, which is probably a good thing – you have to learn the HTML. You save either the $280 mentioned on MS Office or $400 over Dreamweaver.

So now you know my tricks. That's about $1,450 worth of software I just saved you. Now go out and be productive!

The Decision: Lebroncalypse, Dan Gilbert and Comic Sans

In case you've been living under a rock the past week, LeBron James announced during a televised press conference last week that he would be playing for the Miami Heat next season. In case you've been living under a rock for the past eight years, LeBron James was such a good basketball player in high school that ESPN televised his team's games. And then he was selected number one in the ensuing NBA Draft by the Cleveland Cavaliers, his hometown team.

For those of you who aren't NBA fans, which I know is most of the readers of this blog, the 2003 NBA Draft might very well be the best one ever. After James went first, Darko Milicic, who turned out to be a bust, was second, followed by Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, who are all household names by now. Four other all-stars were also picked in that draft. So to be the best player chosen in that draft seven years later is saying something.

The general consensus around the sports world, and I'm on the bandwagon, is that James made the right decision for him – playing with Bosh and Wade gives him a reasonable shot at winning a championship, plus he gets to live in Miami – but he could have done it in a much more classy way.

In fact, it would have been hard for him to do it in a less classy way. See, he had six teams courting him (Miami, Cleveland, the Clippers, Chicago, New York and New Jersey), and with the exception of Miami – whom he notified five minutes before announcing his choice publicly – everyone learned about his choice on national TV.

People started burning James's jersey in Cleveland, and a huge billboard of him came down pretty quickly as well. No, he didn't owe them signing a contract in a city where the team wasn't putting a championship-quality supporting cast around him, but maybe he owed the city a little class. Those other teams? Meh. But the city he grew up in and that made him famous? Maybe a little. But whatever. That's not the fun part of this story.

Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert rifled off an angry letter to Cavs fans. You might notice that, apart from promising a championship before James wins one (1. you don't promise a championship to your fans anyway, but 2. the Cavs have no championships in their 40 seasons; the Heat have one in their 22, and it was with Wade on the team), Gilbert wrote the letter in Comic Sans font.

This won him a fair bit of mocking. It's a fun, curved, spacious font that just doesn't get the angry vibe across, even in all caps. Once the letter came out, the font choice was trending higher on Twitter than James was.

I'm not going to hate on Comic Sans. After all, its creator, Vincent Connare, designed it from comic book lettering, figuring that it would appeal to kids.

It comes down to professionalism. Gilbert had the opportunity to take a more professional route than James did. He chose not too (and got slammed for $100,000 for it). And in making that choice, he opted for a, shall we say, less than appropriate design for his anger. James didn't sign his contract in crayon (I'm assuming). If you own a limo company aimed at corporate execs and formal occasions, you're probably not going with a pink-and-purple color scheme, dancing babies and curlique fonts for your website. If you're trying to get a C-level position at a Microsoft, your email address is probably not RainbowsNBunniesNDrugsOhMy@yahoo.com.

» For fun: Important U.S. documents in Comic Sans
» On James: Never Has Being a Sports Fan Felt So Stupid
» On Personal Branding: What do do when branded employees leave

Twitter comes through on customer service – again

One of the things I rarely think about when friends and family members ask me about why they should get on Twitter is customer service. Which is weird, because I tell it to businesses all the time. I mean, yeah, we all know the Comcast Cares stories, but Comcast doesn't service my area so they're kind of out-of-sight, out-of-mind for me.

I wrote &ndash about this time last year, actually – about my experience with the Red Cross. I was receiving a lot of phone calls and a fair bit of mail. I tweeted a complaint, and got a letter in the mail apologizing. I was told the phone calls would stop and the mail would get more targeted.

And they followed through.

I've had plenty of success with GoDaddy's customer service via Twitter.

And so when I tried to use Elance's support ticket service with some frustration, I sent essentially a yo, what's up with this? tweet their way. And it was public, so people could see I was frustrated. I even got an amen.

If you're not familiar with Elance, essentially they act as a conduit for freelancers and customers, facilitating the proposal process, handling mediation and setting project benchmarks. They also verify that payment is available before allowing a job to be posted, and their cut is less than I'd give you if you sent me business.

And bingo, they got back to me within a few hours. Someone took ownership of my issue, got customer service involved, and they gave me the VIP treatment getting my problem solved, throwing in some extras in hopes that I'll stick around (and I will).

So there's that.

Businesses: Be available on Twitter. Usually it's not going to be people's first stop to reach out to you (although they might complain about you there first), but if they're frustrated with you, Twitter gives them an outlet. And you have to give the person/people running your Twitter account access to the tools they need to solve problems. It's not just a one-way deal: don't expect to survive just by selling your products.

Individuals: You may not use Twitter all the time, but here's one more use for it.

Say Yes seeks volunteers

Cross-posted from 40 Below Civic Engagement.

Please help us celebrate; it's time to highlight the many positive ways young people are impacting our community!

Approximately 1800 "Say Yes to Education" summer camp students will demonstrate new skills they have learned, talents they have developed and creativity they have unleashed throughout their 2010 "Say Yes" summer camp experiences at the Say Yes Summer Festival Wednesday, July 28th at Thornden Park.

We have a tremendous need for many volunteers to ensure a fun, safe, and successful event for our campers and their families!

Whether it's set up or break down, assisting in the information tent, or helping with an activity, we could use whatever time and effort you have available. Set up will begin at 7 AM, event will run from 9-2 and break down of the event will promptly follow.

We are specifically looking for corporate, community based organizations and other not-for-profit volunteer teams!

For more information contact Monica Richardson of Prevention Network at 315-471-1359, or log onto www.sayyessyracuse.org and follow the Summer Festival Link.

Thank you in advance for your participation!

Backing up your WordPress blog

Yesterday I wrote about fixing a hacked WordPress blog. Here is how to grab a back-up.

1. Log into your FTP server and download all your theme files. It's all in wp-content, but you'd do well to download the admin stuff as well. Just grab the whole lot.

2. From your WordPress dashboard, under Tools, select "Export," create the file and download it.

Seriously, that's it. That's a full restore on your site if something ever goes wrong. Why wouldn't you do that?

Basic tips for dealing with a hacked WordPress blog

I got an email yesterday saying, essentially, "I got hacked! What do I do? Oh, and we should grab coffee sometime."

Fortunately, there was a relatively easy solution, once I figured out what happened. Here is how you can fix things should it happen to you – and how to take a few steps to make sure you catch it quickly.

First, what they did. They got into the WordPress administrator's account, and changed the password and email address associated with the account. Then they changed the home page (index file) to some hate speech or other.

Here are the steps I took; you'll need a fair bit of comfort with the back-end stuff, but a basic understanding of what you're looking at will get you through. Check first to see if it wasn't something very simple, like just replacing your index file or something.

1. Change the database password. This will cause your WordPress database to stop talking to the server until you fix it on the WordPress side. Now the hacked site (or the real site) won't appear until you do that.

2. Log into your phpMyAdmin account. Go to Databases, and select the WordPress database. Select the wp_users table.

3. Edit the admin user. In the user_pass field, change the Function to ASCII, then enter the new password (it will encrypt the new password). Change the user_email field as well.

4. Overwrite your theme's index.php file (this is likely what got changed) with the original.

5. In your wp-config.php file, change the database password.

A few things you can do:

» Change your password regularly (in this case it appears they got in on the password, so keep your passwords good; chances are if they figured it out for one place, you're probably using it somewhere else and you want to watch your other accounts).

» Look at your site frequently. The less frequently you update your site, the less likely you are to look at it. Which means it could have been hacked weeks ago and, well, that's embarrassing.

» Update WordPress. You don't need your developer to do this for you. A little box shows up at the top prompting you. And then it will do it automatically. Really simple.

Press Release: Brew & View presents ‘Survival of the Dead’ and ‘Rec 2’

BREW & VIEW 35mm Film Series, CLOUD CITY COMICS & SYR FILM present a one night only 35mm double feature screening of:
"SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD" - George Romero's latest Living Dead installment
"REC 2" - Highly anticipated Spanish Horror sequel of "REC" - (American Re-Make called QUARANTINE)

Both films are in very limited release through MAGNOLIA Pictures and Syracuse is one of a select few cities screening both of these movies as a double feature on 35mm film.

When:

Sunday August 1st 2010
Doors open @ 7pm
7:30pm - SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD
9:30pm - REC 2
35mm Double Feature only $10

Where:

The Palace Theater
2384 James Street
Syracuse, NY 13206
www.palaceonjames.com

Film Synopses:

SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD:

Immediately following the events of Diary of the Dead, SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD is the 6th film from George A. Romero to look at a world where humans are in the minority and the zombies rule.

Off the coast of Delaware sits the cozy Plum Island where two families are locked in a struggle for power, as it has been for generations. The O'Flynn's, headed by patriarch Patrick O'Flynn (Kenneth Welsh) approach the zombie plague with a shoot-to-kill attitude. The Muldoons, headed by Shamus Muldoon (Richard Fitzpatrick), feel that the zombies should be quarantined and kept 'alive,' in hopes that a solution will someday be found.

The O'Flynn's, who are clearly outnumbered, are forced to exile Patrick by boat to the mainland, where he meets up with a band of soldiers, headed by Guardsman Sarge (Alan Van Sprang). They join forces and return to the island, to find that the zombie plague has fully gripped the divided community.

As the battle between humans and zombies escalates, the master filmmaker continues to reinvent the modern horror genre with wicked humor and pointed social commentary.

REC 2:

The highly anticipated sequel to one of the scariest films of all time, [REC] 2 picks up 15 minutes from where we left off, taking us back into the quarantined apartment building where a terrifying virus has run rampant, turning the occupants into mindlessly violent, raging beasts. A heavily armed SWAT team and a mysterious government official are sent in to assess and attempt to neutralize the situation. What they find inside lies beyond the scope of medical science—a demonic nightmare of biblical proportions more terrifying than they could have possibly imagined. Above all it must be contained, before it escapes to wreak havoc on the unsuspecting world outside.

Book Review: The Mirror Test by Jeffrey W Hayzlett

You've heard of Jeffrey Hayzlett (Twitter). He's the Chief Marketing Officer of Kodak, he's owned a bunch of businesses, and he's been on Celebrity Apprentice (whatever that is).

I came into possession of his book The Mirror Test: Is Your Business Really Breathing? because when I was at the 140 Character Conference back in April, he gave a bunch away to people who came early the second day. He asked people to give to the American Heart Association in exchange. Awesome.

Hayzlett's book is a must-read if you're in business. He writes in plain English, pulls no punches, and has no problem telling his readers as much about his failures (like the pheasant farm he owned) as his successes (like the print shop he did well at).

As someone who recently started a business, there's some good stuff in here. For example, always ask for the sale. Don't imply that you're looking for business and you hope the person in front of you will buy. Ask for the sale.

I'm trying some highly customized direct mail marketing – not something I even would have thought of if I hadn't read this book. If people know you put the effort in to sell them a package customized to their actual needs – and to them as people – they're more likely to buy. Especially if they have a piece of paper in front of them. (I'll let you know how that goes.)

Another lesson Hayzlett learned along the way: don't give away the meat. You can be very involved in the community. You can be extremely generous. But if you make widgets, don't give away the widgets: people won't value them as much. Give away widget accessories, or donate money for an organization to buy your widgets, but don't give the widgets away. Period.

He also reminds business owners to ask themselves the tough questions and to really test their teams to make sure they have the right people on board to represent them.

If you're in business, or want to be, read this book. Definitely worth it.