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  • EntConnect 2010

    Posted on February 28th, 2010 Lee Devlin No comments
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    I posted over a short article on my consulting site about the upcoming EntConnect conference and I figured I’d make sure that anyone who checks in here gets the message too. The EntConnect conference that sprung out of Midnight Engineering magazine in the 1990s will take place in less than a month, March 25th-28th in downtown Denver. If you’re a tech entrepreneur, or would like to become one, you may want to join us. You’ll learn a lot and have some fun while you’re at it.

  • Barnstorming and other Adventures

    Posted on December 10th, 2009 Lee Devlin No comments
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    1929 Travel Air

    1929 Travel Air


    I once shared a hangar with this beautiful 1929 Travel Air. About 20 years ago I learned to fly at the New Garden Airport in southeastern PA. Shortly after getting my license, I purchased a 1961 Piper Colt. Not long after I purchased it, this amazing aircraft showed up in the adjacent hangar. The plane had been purchased by a young lady who quit a secure job and started a barnstorming business with a business partner giving rides in an open cockpit biplane. I was amazed to think that someone would leave a secure job and start a business like that. Later on when I was exposed to Richard Bach’s books I felt like his stories might have inspired the couple to throw caution to the wind and start that business.

     

    While reading the Slashdot feed yesterday I saw a reference to a site that was exposing the Internet get-rich-quick schemes that are so prevalent these days. The article referenced a website called undress4success.com. Despite the attention-getting title, I learned that it was dedicated to providing useful information to people who are working from home. It provides resources to help people who like the idea of a 2-second commute and the site’s owners regularly gave the low-down on scams that prey on those hoping to make a living working from home. The most recent article was related to the ‘Work for Google’ scams that are being actively pursued by Google’s legal team, since they are not endorsed or supported by Google. The scammers are just trying to profiteer from pretending to have an association with the Internet search giant.

    I like to expose scammers. Seeing unscrupulous charlatans abuse the goodwill and trust of others is just one of those behaviors that I can’t sit by and idly watch. Several of my most popular blog articles are related to exposing scams like the Amish Heat Surge miracle heater, the Arctic Cool Surge (yes, same company), and exposing the unworkable mathematics of all MLM schemes.

    biplane_ride_san_vicente

    I was reading through the website and I started to realize that the couple running it had a very familiar-sounding story. They mentioned that they had started a Barnstorming business in Pennsylvania in the early 1990′s, moved it to San Diego, and then grew it to 7 aircraft and 25 pilots before selling it and starting this new website and promoting their book entitled Undress for Success: The Naked Truth about Making Money at Home which is about how to work from home. It was Kate and Tom, the same couple I had met at New Garden Airport, all these years later! It’s certainly a very small world.

    I had been working on my own article about people who make money by selling others on the idea of how to make money on the Internet. The funny thing is that many of these sites are all writing about the same thing, which usually involves selling ‘secrets’ or starting an endless cycle of recruitment for information products. It sounds a lot like an abusive MLM business. The kingpins in the worst MLMs don’t actually make their money selling products, they make their money selling high-margin ‘educational materials’ and ‘tools’ to unsuspecting recruits month after month. This is precisely what these get rich quick membership sites (who generally want a direct line to make a monthly withdrawal from your bank account) are up to. When it’s all said and done, they sell you on a business that is nothing more than a recursive cycle for you to try to write and sell the same kind of information on the Internet. But who wants to buy from you when they can go right to the source, i.e., the guy holding up an image of his big earnings check on every one of his pages? They augment this income with a other questionable affiliates all who have something to sell you that sounds like it will teach you to get rich quick. Or, if not that, then information on how to get flat abs, or get ripped like Arnold Schwartzeneggar in 4 weeks.

    I just purchased the book based on the positive reviews I’ve read on Amazon. Websites that educate people on the perils of scams tend to restore my faith in humanity and I always feel good when I come across one.

    And if you can’t live without a ride in the vintage Travel Air, you can find it at Barnstorming Adventures (phone: 800-759-5667) located at Montgomery Field Airport in San Diego flying under the new ownership of another couple who no doubt purchased the business as an insurance policy… an insurance policy against a boring life. :-)

    Remember, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is, and on the Internet, that goes double.

  • EntConnect 2009

    Posted on February 20th, 2009 Lee Devlin No comments
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    Many years ago I came across an electronic hobbiest magazine called Radio and Electronics. I first recall subscribing to it in college and I continued on for many years and enjoyed until it went out of print. One of my favorite authors in the magazine was Don Lancaster. There was something about his writing style that just set him apart from everyone else. It was refreshingly honest, and just a little irreverent. I’ve found that it’s rare that someone gets to write that way because most people who write magazine articles usually have an ulterior motive. Most often it’s to sell you something, either a product, and idea, or a point of view. Sometimes people write simply just to keep their jobs. But when you don’t really have a job, and Don Lancaster never had a real ‘job’ as long as I’ve known about him, then you can write and say whatever you want. When you spend time in the company of people who can say whatever they think, things are very different.

    While reading Radio and Electronics I noticed that Don was making favorable comments about a new magazine called ‘Midnight Engineering’ which had been started by William E. Gates from Fort Collins, CO, not to be confused with the other Bill Gates of Redmond, WA. The concept of the magazine sounded intriguing to me. The magazine was all about entrepreneurial engineers who were working on their own companies. The thought of people who loved engineering so much that they could be found working on technical issues at all hours really appealed to me. If they were successful, perhaps they could even start their own companies and break free from the shackles of corporate servitude. Many of the people writing articles in ME were surviving on their wits, providing useful products and services without a large corporate safety net to protect them. Now that the corporate safety nets have been shredded, possessing the skills of an entrepreneurial engineer has taken on a whole new level of importance.

    Midnight Engineering magazine spawned an annual conference in Colorado called ME Ski and later renamed EntCon. It was billed as a ‘real time version of the magazine’. I was living in Pennsylvania at the time, but dreamed about coming to the conference to rub shoulders with this unusual breed of engineer, one who wasn’t afraid to strike out on his (or her) own and make things happen. I attended my first conference in 1996. You can imagine my trepidation, here I was a corporate guy, hanging out with real entrepreneurial engineers! It was both intimidating and inspiring. They took me in as one of their own. Many of them had been cubicle dwellers in a previous life and some still were, but were working toward their own escape from the corporate world so that they could pursue work that they truly loved. Some of them related amazing stories of making millions, and then losing it all, and then getting it back again! As a cubicle dweller, I could hardly believe some of the stories, but here they were, highly skilled engineers, daring to make a difference by striking out on their own and more than willing to share their stories and knowledge.

    Even though I fantasized about the life of an entrepreneurial engineer, I stayed with HP for another 10 years. Each time I would attend the conference, I’d be inspired by more entrepreneurial stories. As a result of hanging out with these folks, I got to learn a lot of things that I had no exposure to in the corporate world. Yet I wasn’t ready to be on my own yet. HP had made it difficult to leave. HP was an American icon, founded by Dave Packard and Bill Hewlett, the original entrepreneurial engineers and the company had a unique culture and was filled with talented people. But witnessing the fearlessness of other engineers at Entcon motivated me to take a lot more ‘interpreneurial’ chances. It helped me to decide that I wanted to work on cutting edge products. It’s largely why I went on to help create products like HP’s Digital Entertainment Center, the HP DVD Movie Writer, and HP Media Vault. These products were risky and ahead of their time, a combination that in corporate America will quickly get you a pink slip if you’re not successful. But I’d rather have suffered that fate than work on products that didn’t inspire me. Working on projects that are so exciting that you’d do it for free makes life worth living. And many entrepreneurs do sometimes work essentially for free for years before becoming proverbial ‘overnight successes’.

    The conference is taking place this year from March 26th through the 29th in Denver. It is not a large conference and generally attracts between 25 to 40 people that represent some very cool companies. Everyone has a chance to contribute. It’s hard to say how the economy will affect attendance this year but we’ve got people flying in from both coasts and there will be a lot of Colorado folks like myself, and we always have a great time. If you are interested in visiting Colorado and maybe even getting in a day of skiing or snowboarding and some other fun activities, why not join us? You can find the conference details at EntConnect.org. By signing up within the next week, you can still get the early bird pricing of only $149 which is half price for the conference. You’ll also have a chance at winning an HP Media Vault and some of you will also get your own Picture Keepers!

  • Introducing Picture Keeper

    Posted on November 4th, 2008 Lee Devlin No comments
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    My friend Matt, who found me through my various HP support sites that I set up for the products that I helped to design when I worked at HP, contacted me a few months ago and asked if I’d be interested in working with him on a new backup product that he had invented. He needed some help in getting the software developed as well as finding a hardware partner to help bring it to market. I thought I’d be able to provide some assistance and so I agreed to help him. The product that resulted from this effort is called Picture Keeper and it’s the simplest way I’ve found to safeguard your irreplaceable digital pictures.

    Matt does computer support as a sideline and he noticed that as people began replacing their film cameras with digital cameras they were not backing up their digital images. They’d download images from their digital camera to their PCs and then just let them sit on their hard drive without a backup. My own involvement with supporting the HP Media Vault also made me aware of a disturbing trend. Although we had designed the Media Vault as a backup device, customers were taking data from their PCs, moving it to the Media Vault and then deleting every other copy of it to ‘free up space’ on their PC’s hard drive. It’s hard to overemphasize how wrong that approach is, yet I periodically get panicked emails from people who moved all their data to a single hard drive and then need help to retrieve it after the hard drive crashed. Storing your data all in one location is dangerous even if it is on a RAID device, since if there’s some glitch on a drive that corrupts the data, the corruption could be copied to the redundant disk, which makes the data impossible to retrieve. You should always have two or more copies of your important data, preferably in separate locations.

    Of all the data you can lose from your hard drive, the most heart wrenching files to lose are your digital pictures. People will run from a burning house and forgo grabbing their valuables and take their photo collections instead. Virtually every other possession in a home is replaceable or insured, but photos are not.

    As good as the HP Media Vault is at protecting data, it’s not a panacea. For example, if your house is burglarized, your PC and Media Vault may get stolen. Also, if you have a fire or flood, a hard drive will be unlikely to survive. Quite simply, you need a device that stores the photos and can easily be taken off site or put in a location that is safeguarded from fire, theft, or flood.

    Of course, you can use optical media for this purpose, but it’s a pain to set up and run periodic backup jobs to optical media and so it doesn’t get done. It’s also impractical to make incremental backups on optical media and so people tend to just make periodic full backups which are time consuming and wasteful since you end up with old media that needs to be securely destroyed and replaced with a whole new set of optical media. That’s very wasteful and harmful to the environment. Writing to optical media generally also requires special software to be installed on each computer.

    Now that USB flash memory devices are becoming available in sizes that can hold a complete digital photo collection, they are a perfect solution for backing up digital pictures. Flash memory is very compact, has no moving parts, and doesn’t suffer from degradation like tape and optical media. It also can survive a run through the washer and dryer cycle, an experiment that both Matt and I have inadvertently run several times.

    I know that Internet ‘cloud storage’ is all the rage now but it requires a perpetual monthly fee. If it doesn’t require a monthly fee, then it’s probably not a viable long term business. If an on-line backup service shuts down or if you forget your user password, your data is gone forever. So there is a very good reason for storing your data on a small, secure, portable device that you control.

    No one is very excited about installing and learning yet another software product to make periodic backups. But with the Picture Keeper, that’s not a problem. The software to find all of your pictures and back them up is included on the device and requires absolutely no installation. It works both on Windows PCs (XP and Vista) and Macs (OS X). When you plug it in, a pop-up screen comes up and lets you launch the program directly from the device. It will scour your hard drive for your digital pictures and then safely store them on the device. If you add more digital pictures to the PC, you can just repeat the procedure and it won’t have to re-save previously backed-up files because it knows which ones are new, which ones have changed, and which ones have already been securely saved.

    Although it’s set up by default to safeguard your digital pictures, Picture Keeper has a lot of flexibility that allows you to customize the backup job so that it can look at alternate folders for your images, or even backup other file types besides jpeg (.jpg) images. You can use Picture Keeper on multiple computers and it will keep the photos in separate folders based on the computer they came from. That’s an important feature for those of us who tend to have photos spread across multiple computers.

    If this sounds like a product you need or perhaps know someone for whom it would make the perfect gift, head on over to Picture Keeper and use the code ‘lee10′ for a $10 discount.

    And please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions about it.

    Update: Jan-08-2009

    We’re getting some great reviews on this product:
    Qwowi

    “I could spend another 500 words trying to explain how simple the PictureKeeper is to use, but perhaps the best way to explain it is this: Simplified IT products has made the PictureKeeper so incredibly simple to use that my mother could use – and that’s no simple accomplishment.”

    Miserly Moms

    “All I had to do was say “go!” It stored everything in the same folders and categories that I had sorted them into on my hard drive. And all my pictures only took 15% of the available space! So it was the PERFECT tool for me! Each time I plug it in, it automatically searched for new pictures and copies them over. No more wondering if I already have copied this one or not. “

    Deal Seeking Mom Blog

    “…I was thrilled when Picture Keeper sent me their little gadget to try. It’s a fantastically simple way to safeguard irreplaceable digital photos. You just plug the little USB device into your computer, and it does all the work for you. It finds all of the pictures stored on your computer and saves them safely to the device. The next time you plug it in, it only pulls in new photos so you never had to worry about duplicates! You can even schedule back up reminders on their site, which this busy mom definitely needs.”

    Amazon.com

    “Just What I Needed – After both my wife and I lost digital images due to problems with our current backup system, I am delighted to find a device that automatically takes care of preserving our images. And it’s PC + Mac-friendly. Why didn’t someone think of this
    before?”