I hope that regular readers of my security column will forgive me, but today I’d like to get a few things off my chest.

With the holidays approaching, we’ll undoubtedly hear Canadian retailers whinging about how the Internet is costing them revenue and begging us to “shop local.”  They’ll tell us how Internet shopping hurts our community. Some will even go so far as to suggest that buying from abroad is unpatriotic.

My friend and colleague Darin Cowan has written about inflated Canadian prices for consumer medical equipment. I’ve seen it too – medically necessary items in the CDN $250 range on the local shelf and US $80 on the ‘net. But today I’ve got a tech example. 

I’m an avid photographer and I like to support our local photo stores.  Most of our independents have been consumed by the chains. Galaxy Camera remains the only Ottawa-owned store since The Focus Center was purchased by Toronto-based Henry’s and Ginn was swallowed up by Vistek.  However, they all have Ottawa stores and employ some knowledgeable professionals who can answer questions and give good advice. So when I went looking for a new SDHC memory card, of course I considered them first.

I’m particular about my digital camera memory. Lexar and Sandisk are the big names in the pro market and I was once a huge Lexar fan.  But one brand new Lexar CF card caused problems from the get-go and I returned it to the store, loosing some precious images along the way.  Another high speed professional Lexar CF card purchased a few years prior also failed and despite state-of-the-art forensic tools I couldn’t recover the images. It can’t be reformatted. The card has an ‘as long as you own it’ warrantee, yet it lies dead on my desk because I can’t find the original receipt. I leave it there as a reminder about customer service in general, and Lexar’s lack thereof in specific. Perhaps one day I’ll frame it with an appropriate caption.

So on Saturday evening, with the kids settled into their beds, I sat down to look at SDHC memory (for a different camera).  The Sandisk Extreme III 16 GB SDHC card caught my eye and I surfed around comparing prices:

  • Galaxy Camera – price not listed on web site.
  • Henrys CDN $219.99
  • Vistek CDN $229.95
  • Best Buy Canada CDN $219.99
  • Future Shop CDN $219.99

The going price in Ottawa is clearly CDN $219.99. (Those familiar with Vistek won’t be surprised that they were $10 higher than market.)

Next I checked B&H Photo Video in New York.  For those not familiar with B&H, they have a huge bricks-and-mortar store at 9th Ave and 34th Street in Manhattan and also do a brisk online business. I often use them as a comparison because they usually offer good prices, and when others whine about the lower overhead of “online” merchants I suggest they check out real estate prices in zip code 10001.

The price at B&H?  US $122 plus a $20 mail-in rebate for a total of US $102. You can see it for yourself here.

Shipping to Canada isn’t cheap — $26.10 for UPS, but as most Canadians have painfully discovered, UPS screws us with high brokerage fees at the border.  If you can wait a bit longer, it’s better to pay B&H $32.50 for shipment via US Mail, bringing the total to US $154.50. At Friday’s exchange rate, plus an additional 2% (credit cards almost always mark up the rate), that’s CDN $165.50. Add GST and PST plus the $5 the Canada Post fee, and we’re at CDN $192.02 to my door. That’s almost CDN $30 cheaper than walking in to the local store – more if you consider the gas and time required to go there.  And that’s before the US $20 rebate.

Of course there are less expensive ways to get the product to Canada such as combining orders with family and friends (buying two costs US $138.88 each including shipping) or shipping to a US address and picking it up.

There’s simply no excuse for the high prices charged by Ottawa retail stores. Ignoring the rebate, I can save CDN $30 purchasing one unit at retail with shipping across the border straight to my home. Canadian retailers can obviously do much better for their customers.

Perhaps Canadian retailers are right, the Internet is costing them revenue – because now we know when we’re being screwed.

(P.S. Live or work near B&H?  I’d love to hear from you!)

We often hear banks complaining loudly about the losses they suffer from payment card fraud.  Campaigns like “Protect your PIN” and humorous commercials with a miniature armoured truck following a customer down the street must cost tens of millions of dollars.

But then consumers still receive calls like I did on Saturday afternoon.  The bank – or someone claiming to be from the bank – called me, advised that they were recording the call, welcomed me as a new customer, and then asked me for my date of birth and postal code, “to confirm they were speaking to the right person.” 

I have a very simple rule: If I call you, it’s reasonable for you to ask me to prove I am who I say I am.  However, if you call me, you get to go first.  And unfortunately, while banks are somewhat good at authenticating their customers, they never seem to consider how customers should authenticate them.

When I declined to provide personal information to the caller, she politely replied that I could call the number on the back of my card if I had any questions and then she ended the call.

So I did just that, and asked about the call.  The CSR verified that the person who called me was indeed from the bank, and that they ask for a date of birth and postal code to make sure they’re speaking with the “right person”. But he didn’t have a solution to how I should authenticate future callers who claim they’re from the bank.

Banks should know better.  Telephoning customers and asking for personal information is irresponsible and contributes to the identity theft problem.  Banks should be telling their customers that they will never call them and ask for personal information – just as they currently do for PIN numbers.

There’s also an obvious solution: The bank could easily add one more field to their database, a password that they will use when they call me. In fact, next time they do call, I think I’ll ask them for their telephone password.

Perhaps the Bank’s security, fraud and marketing people need to have a chat.

Ars Technica has a great article this morning entitled 30 years of failure: the username/password combination.

One of the things that they didn’t discuss is why we continue to use passwords for authentication even though they’re known to be a serious weakness. The first reason is that, as long as we don’t include the cost of a security breach, passwords are free.  The second is that while better authentication technologies exist, nobody seems interested in allowing a single credential to be used across multiple systems on the Internet. I should be able to carry one authentication device and use it everywhere, but instead when we go that route we end up with a key-ring full of devices.

Perhaps it’s time for the open source community to step up to the plate?


New ideas are almost a dime a dozen. There’s an innovation on almost every street corner. What makes a new idea successful is a well thought out, well developed marketing plan that everyone in the organization can understand, believe in and follow.

Without a solid marketing plan it is too easy for an organization to be distracted by sales ideas that are not central to the firm’s long term goals and objectives. In addition, without a solid plan that everyone buys into, it is impossible to measure your success or determine when the time is right to move in new directions based on the changing marketplace.

Today’s marketplace is still exciting, vibrant and tolerant. Every day, across the country, designers, sales people and application specialist who have great market niche ideas step forward to start the next killer company. Unfortunately, these new companies are often like roving mobs, rather than armies planning to win on the battlefield.

Two years after their formation, fewer than five out of every 100-marketplace contenders will still be around. The dazed, battle-worn founders will walk the scarred landscape wondering what went wrong. As the industry continues to grow at a respectable annual rate, the defeated wonder how and why they not only lost the skirmish but the war.

Wrong Focus

 These people blow it because they don’t have “the right stuff.”

The founders assigned responsibilities and authority without considering true capabilities. Just because someone handles the checkbook at home is no reason to believe he or she can be the finance officer for the company. The best technical guru may not be the best to be VP of engineering or design. The person who had the idea may not be the best person to be president. The most outgoing individual, or the salesperson with a record of outstanding sales, is probably not the one to guide marketing and sales.

Being able to talk technically, or having a good sales sense, has nothing to do with being an outstanding marketing person. Outstanding salespeople generally think that good marketing is belly-to-belly selling or increasingly a solid Web presence. Their marketing plan is to double sales next year.

They fail to understand the total marketing concept. They believe that advertising, PR, selling and the other marketing activities are separate and independent functions.

Interrelation of Activities

There’s a strong interdependence among all the parts of the marketing activity: Pricing, packaging, positioning and service/support as well as advertising, public relations, selling, literature and promotion. The successful company doesn’t separate advertising plans from the other parts of their marketing activities. For example, public relations isn’t just another promotional tool, it’s an integral part of the company’s overall positioning and strategy.

The primary purpose of the marketing plan is to make certain that all relevant facts are known so you are aware of the obstacles that have to be overcome…and the opportunities that can be exploited. Once these are identified, you can establish a realistic set of objectives and plan your actions to achieve those objectives.

The plan of action uses all of the marketing tools–advertising, selling, sales and support literature, Web site, social network activities, email communications, direct mail, public relations, pricing, packaging, training, customer support and so forth.

Social network and Web 2.0 firms spend tens of millions to attract eyes and gather clicks to “build market share/market awareness” and prove value. But when you look at their model there appears to be little or no concern about making a profit…now or in the far distant future. In two to three years 70 percent of these firms will be skeletons along the Internet superhighway.

They lack a real marketing strategy, substance or value. They also are completely devoid of an explanation of the value they are delivering to our global community,

Marketing Plans are Battle Plans

Isolated battles don’t ensure total victory. The firm’s marketing plan is not an academic (or funding) exercise. The very act of putting the plan on paper requires a complete knowledge of the facts so that you will have a tighter, more foolproof plan. It will assist you in sizing up and structuring your market. It will also aid you in sizing up the market’s total business volume. Then, you can take your market’s breakdown of sales and compare them with the patterns of spending with other market area and industry averages.

Properly done, the marketing plan will allow you to evaluate alternative methods of meeting marketing problems and objectives. It also provides evidence upon which sound business models, programs and ideas should be considered.

More importantly, the marketing plan produces a unified, cohesive program, which everyone in the organization can understand, use and follow. It helps you change the product/service mix when necessary. It shows the need for pricing changes, customer and repeat customer models as well as what portion of the market or application area you are penetrating. The marketing plan can clearly show you who the prospective buyers are, where they are located, and what appeals are most likely to affect their purchasing decisions.

Plan’s Components

Your marketing plan should be composed of six elements:

1. Statement of Facts.

This is first and most important, because everything else depends upon a correct understanding of the facts surrounding the market segment, business, products and services. In general, the plan should include every fact that is of relevance to your marketing efforts.

This includes an objective appraisal of your product/service line, sales history of the products, services, competitive situation, pricing and expenditures in past marketing activities. It should also include details on who the purchasers are, what their wants and needs are, and an analysis of your trade/business relations.

2. Problems and Opportunities.

Many problems can be turned into opportunities. What are the problems? They may be a product line or its pricing. They may be unsatisfactory sales support materials. They may be mistargeted advertising.

There may be too little or no PR support to interpret the firm’s products and services to the marketplace. Regardless of the problem, recognition is the first step in creating an opportunity.

3. Identification of Objectives.

Objectives such as “increase sales,” “improve share of market,” “increase vendor support,” don’t define the target enough. Objectives must be stated in terms of end results. For example, increasing ad readership is a desirable intermediate objective. The important thing is to increase the number of specifiers or buyers who receive the message and are informed or persuaded.

There should be a clear distinction between objectives and budget forecasts. While objectives have to be realistically attainable, they should be sufficiently conservative so they can be realized. It is from these objectives that sales are projected, marketing expenditures determined and gross profits are established.

4. The Complete Marketing Plan.

If the statement of facts reveals that there are product, application support or service shortcomings that are interfering with the success of your operation, the plan should recommend the corrective steps to be taken.

The plan should suggest, consider and evaluate alternative marketing and promotional strategies. On the basis of that evaluation, it should include a recommendation of the particular strategy that appears most likely to succeed. Similarly, with respect to the execution of the promotional strategy. These alternatives should be presented fairly and objectively, with the pros and cons clearly spelled out. Only in this way is it possible to make sound business decisions.

5. The Recommended Marketing Appropriation.

The plan should include a recommendation for the total amount to be spent on marketing as well as the activities that will be funded. Dumping all marketing efforts online because that’s what is in vogue right now doesn’t fly. It should also include complete supporting rationale as to why these amounts are correct … based on the needs of the market you are targeting, the activities necessary to meet those needs, and the gross profit to be generated by the estimated sales volume.

6. Forecast of Volume and Profit.

Finally, the marketing plan should include a profit-and-loss projection based on a conservative estimate of the sales volumes to be attained, the gross profit to be realized at the proposed prices, and estimated costs. It should also include the deductions that must be made from that gross profit to arrive at a profit-before-tax figure.


The Business of the Business

A good marketing plan gives you a clear, comprehensive picture of the state of the business, its problems and its opportunities. It spells out the objectives that you consider essential, as well as the specific means by which they will be pursued.

It gives you the opportunity to judge the soundness of the strategic and tactical approach that will be taken. It puts everyone in the organization on record with marketing and sales objectives as well as expense and profit budgets. This should be your team’s commitment to deliver the performance spelled out in the plan. If the plan works–if it is right in its determination of marketing objectives and if events prove that satisfactory progress has been made toward those objectives–then we assume it was a good plan.

Unfortunately, many people fall into a trap. They assume that just because a plan worked in 2008 is going to work in 2010 and 2012. They forget, or lose sight of the fact, that the market, its wants and its needs isn’t stagnant from one quarter to the next, let alone from one year to the next.

Frequent Evaluation

Another problem is that too many neophyte marketers feel that, once they have successfully completed the annual marketing plan, they are free from the drudgery for another 12 months.



There are a lot of reasons for, and benefits to, a mid-year review. The obvious reason is that it helps in developing the next year’s plan. More importantly, it helps realign and modify the present year’s program, when necessary. Granted, re-evaluation requires a little time and effort, but only a total fool follows a battle plan that isn’t working. And business is war. Each of us had better be fighting to win.

I recently installed Windows 7 Ultimate (32 bit) on my brand new HP Mini 110 (it ships with XP). The Windows 7 distribution included all the drivers needed to get the system up and running, including the WiFi drivers, making it a very painless process.  Once running, it automatically downloaded the vendor-specific video driver, resulting in a fully operational system.  The only driver I had to manually install was for the touchpad. The Windows 7 driver worked fine, but I couldn’t use functions like vertical scrolling until I downloaded the software from Synaptics.

I’m a strong proponent of whole disk encryption, especially on portable computers.  The small size and weight of the HP Mini 110 make it an easier target for thieves. However, by default Windows 7 creates two hard drive partitions, a hidden one for boot and recovery, and a second main partition for the operating system. My favourite open source encryption software, TrueCrypt, won’t do whole hard drive encryption on Windows 7…at least not yet. So I decided to give Microsoft’s BitLocker a try.

BitLocker is designed to work on PCs that include a Trusted Platform Module (TPM) chip on their motherboard. BitLocker essentially stores the hard drive encryption key on the TPM and the system can be configured so that users must authenticate to the TPM using a pin in order to boot their computer.

While that’s a nice plan, it doesn’t help those of us who have purchased a computer that doesn’t include a TPM, and I was somewhat disappointed to learn that the HP Mini 110 falls into that category. But searching the web I quickly learned that BitLocker can be used without a TPM chip by making a group policy change. (Detailed information can be found here.) Once the feature is enabled, the BitLocker key can be stored on a USB flash drive.

This scenario is not ideal because the key is not protected – anyone who gets their hands on the USB key can duplicate the key and use either it or the duplicate to boot the computer.  However, it’s certainly better than the alternative, which is to not use hard drive encryption until third-party products catch up with Windows 7. If you protect your USB key like you protect your car keys, it does provide a practical defence against a thief accessing your data.

But if you’re like me, you probably keep your USB flash drive in your briefcase, making it vulnerable to theft along with your laptop.  It’s like leaving your car keys sitting on top of the hood. I mentioned this challenge to a few colleagues, and one of them introduced me to a very cool product from Verbatim, the TUFF-‘N’-TINY™ USB flash drive.


Image courtesy of Verbatim

In addition to having the smallest form factor I’ve seen in a USB flash drive, the Tuff-‘N’-Tiny is dust, water, and static discharge resistant.  It also includes a short key ring lanyard, which I highly recommend you use.

BitLocker only requires the USB key during the initial boot sequence, after which it tells you to remove the key, so the Tuff-‘N’-Tiny soon hung on my keychain as the “ignition key” for my HP Mini.

The Tuff-‘N’-Tiny also includes Verbatim’s V-Safe encryption software.  Unlike many USB devices that mount both a public (unencrypted) and secure (encrypted) partition, V-Safe switches the user between the unencrypted and encrypted partition on the same driver letter.  At first this seemed a bit unusual, but I quickly realized that, in addition to requiring only one drive letter for the device, this scheme also prevents the user from accidentally saving sensitive files to the unencrypted partition. Once you’ve entered your passphrase, only the encrypted partition is available.

Getting back to BitLocker, I think we’ll all agree that it is best used with a TPM chip.  However, while not perfect from a security perspective, it is possible to use Windows 7 BitLocker for pratical whole hard drive encryption without a TPM chip provided that you store the USB key separate from the computer. And so far, at least for me, attaching a small USB flash drive to my keychain appears to be the best option.

There’s a world of difference in the way “organizations” handle problems when they are caught with their hands in the cookie jar.

While usually relatively minor, from a national media standpoint, almost every organization encounters major or minor problems each year as they have “run-ins” with the media. This is especially true today where citizen journalists can blast camphone videos or 140 character Tweets around the globe in the bat of an eye.

When a company is just starting out, it will do “almost” anything to get press coverage. As the company matures, senior people are less available to, and have less time for, editors and reporters.

Without working too hard, management and its representatives can cultivate a cadre of enemies within the press – print, radio/TV, web, blog. However…in order to do the task really well, you should follow a set of simple guidelines that will ensure that you alienate many, or most, of the Fourth Estate.

Please be assured that this is not intended to be a definitive list. With a little imagination you can add your own guidelines.

1. Develop essential and non-essential media lists. In every industry there are target market, secondary and tertiary publications, websites, blogs, online pubs. Set up your list, work only with the target market editors/reporters. Ignore inquiries from anyone else. Just because they’re interested in your organization doesn’t mean that they can do you any good or that you should waste your time working with them.

2. Put up roadblocks. This is somewhat of an extension of guideline #1. Establish a priority list of editors/reporters that you will talk with and those that your PR person or clerk should handle. Or, if an editor or reporter has a frivolous inquiry, have someone else in your organization handle it for you. The key is to make certain that most of the requests or inquiries fall into the last category.

3. Return calls in due course. Regardless of whether the reporter is on deadline, make it obvious that their time and effort couldn’t possibly be as important as yours. Return calls for information or input when you get around to it. If it’s a daily, 6:00 p.m. is a good time. For weekly, Friday at 2:00 p.m. is ideal. For monthlies, five or six days after the initial inquiry should be sufficient. For the clincher, respond with a “no comment,” or tell them that you don’t have the requested information available. Tell them you’ll get back to them.

4. Scream when a story isn’t 100% positive. Regardless of whether you and your company are right or wrong, expect every article to be a glowing report of the company, its products and its people. If a reporter has the audacity to print something negative, call his or her boss and demand, at the very least, a retraction. Better yet, demand that the reporter be fired. Follow up with a letter to the publisher, the editor and the reporter.

5. Strike back. Another excellent reaction to the problem encountered in guideline #4 is to place an embargo on the guilty news outlet. This can be as simple as not responding to inquiries, or for greater impact, pull your advertising since they are no longer a “good” medium for you to use in reaching your prospective customers.

6. Use one-syllable words with reporters. Make certain that the reporters know that you know more about your subject than they do. Talk down to them. Explain each point at least three times. Regardless of the question, make certain that they know how dumb you think the question is. For added impact, let them know that your time is much more valuable than theirs.

7. Pick and choose your opportunities. If your organization is going to get some immediate coverage, it is perfectly acceptable to work with and cooperate with, the press. However, if there’s a possibility that your assistance will develop open lines of communications and a strong long-term relationship, forget it.

8. Insist that everything be cleared. About half-way through an interview, remind the editor, reporter or writer that, naturally, everything you’ve said will have to be cleared through public relations, or better yet, through your legal department, before it can be used. Oh yes, insist—nay, demand—that, once the article is written, you have the opportunity (right) to review it before it is printed. In some instances the copy may be submitted for technical accuracy. When this happens, edit the copy freely, and hold it until just prior to the publication date.

9. Have all queries and responses screened. You pay PR people good money to develop and protect your image, as well as to promote the company and its products. Get the most out of them by making certain that all questions and answers go only through them. In this way, they can coach your people on the proper answers, and they can clean up the responses so that they either show you in the best possible light or say absolutely nothing at all.

10. Give multiple exclusives. If you’ve got some really hot company or product announcement to make, negotiate with the best medium that you can think of in order to get the maximum editorial coverage and treatment possible. When you have firmly locked in, do the same thing with two or three other outlets. After all, your organization (and its announcements) is so important that each should be thankful that you gave them the “opportunity” to cover your announcement in such depth.

11. Torpedo the energetic reporter. There are times when you send out what seems to be a simple release, and for some reason, it strikes a responsive cord with a reporter. He or she wants to do something bigger than a three- or four-line piece in their medium, so they work with you on some major coverage. In reality, it’s a great idea. In fact, it’s too good of an idea for that reporter alone, so call some other journalists and give them the same information. Or, an unsolicited inquiry may develop into a major piece. Again, call a number of outlets to spread your wealth around.

12. Tie your weak stories to advertising. This is a variation of guideline #5. We all know that money talks. If the piece that you want to place is very weak or just a puff-piece on the company, make it known to the reporter that you’re a big advertiser with their medium and expect the item to get major and immediate treatment. In order to improve your chances of top-quality treatment, send the story, along with your advertising insertion order, to your media representative and have him or her do the legwork for you.

13. Make certain that they send you clippings. Every time you send a news release to an editor or reporter, remind him that you need clippings of the article or piece when it is finally printed. After all, unless they send you the printed piece, how can you make certain that they’re doing a good job?

This baker’s dozen of guidelines for alienating the press should be followed explicitly by the novice. As you become more experienced, you can add some of your own. Never, never violate these rules. You might end up helping someone in the media and perhaps win some allies. Or worse yet, friends.

A common complaint among computer owners is that, over time, their computer starts to run slower.  There are a number of causes including hard drive fragmentation, registry fragmentation, registry errors, malware, general clutter and unnecessary start-up programs.

Taken individually, most of these problems aren’t that serious. Windows is getting better at avoiding fragmentation, and the majority of registry errors (usually created when a program is removed but the associated registry entries aren’t) only result in marginally slower performance. However, malware can present serious security and privacy concerns, and these issues tend to be cumulative. Over time your fast new computer can become sluggish.

More technically inclined users have an edge because they have learned to fight these problems along the way, noticing unnecessary icons in the notification area and disabling them, and occasionally leaving their notebook running overnight to defragment. (While Windows will schedule updates and defragmentation for you, it’s not much help if the computer is turned off or suspended at the scheduled time). But issues like registry errors are difficult to fix without the right software.

When your computer performance begins to suffer (or preferably before it does), there are things you can do. You can begin by cleaning up your hard drive.  Double click on “My Computer”, right-click on your “C” drive, select “Properties”, and then “Disk Cleanup”.  Next, clean up your desktop.  As my friend Fred Ennis pointed out the other week, when windows starts it has to look at every file on your desktop and determine what icon to display – and that takes time.

While up-to-date antivirus software will significantly reduce the likelihood of a malware infection, some can occasionally go undetected. Malwarebytes’ Anti-Malware, while not perfect, will often detect and remove spyware, adware, Trojans, viruses and other malware that other products miss, making it a great option for disinfecting systems. They offer a paid version if you want real-time protection, but since I don’t want yet another program running all the time, I just periodically run the free version.

But to really tune up your PC, your best bet is software designed specifically for that purpose.  When I first heard of System Mechanic from iolo technologies I was skeptical, but after using it on three different computers I’ve become a huge fan.  System Mechanic simplifies tasks such as cleaning up your drive, defragmentation, disabling unnecessary start-up items and performing other system optimization tasks.

I tested System Mechanic on a three-year old notebook that had sluggish performance and I was pleasantly surprised by the number of issues it identified and the ease at which it resolved them. Performance definitely improved. I also tested it on my 64-bit Vista desktop and most recently on a test system running Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit. I was surprised how many registry issues were detected on the latter system given that it has only been running for a few weeks.

Technical users can view System Mechanic’s findings and choose what to do about them, while those who wish to do so can run it in automatic mode. I did notice that the program can be a bit overly aggressive when removing start-up programs.  For example, it wanted to remove the Adobe updater (that checks for new Adobe products at boot time) and Windows Live Messenger – both programs that I want to run at boot.  However, removing them from the boot sequence would make the system boot faster, and it is probably better to err on the side of removing them.  Since I reviewed the results, I chose to disable some of the unnecessary software while leaving the ones I wanted running.


My 3-week-old Windows 7 test machine.

I particularly like System Mechanic’s rapid system status assessment and the fact that it immediately offers a “Repair All” option (great for less technical users) and “View Problems” for the more technically inclined.  The latter option opens a dialog with categorized information and various options for each category in the form of a drop-down.  For example, users may wish to simply run recommended actions such as removing system clutter and backing up the registry, but manually view and choose which (if any) start-up items they wish to disable.


Clicking on View problems presents categorized issues.

In the screen shot above you’ll notice that System Mechanic reported not detecting antivirus software, but the system does have the free version of AVG antivirus running on the Windows 7 machine I’m testing it on. I’m sure that iolo will address this in a future update. I’d also like to see a way to tell System Mechanic that I want specific programs to run at system start up and to ignore them in future scans.

I prefer to manually run System Mechanic every week or so, but for those seeking automatic, proactive system tuning, System Mechanic’s Active Care can be configured to periodically perform a variety of tasks including deleting clutter, automatically repairing registry and hard drive problems, and even backing up the registry.  Each task can be selected or deselcted, making Active Care a useful option when installing System Mechanic on a family member’s computer or if we simply don’t remember to periodically run it ourself.

Overall, I highly recommend this product for tuning up Windows PCs. A one year subscription for use on up to three computers can be purchased directly from iolo’s web site for US $39.99.

A few weeks ago, Twitter was hacked. Facebook also had its woes. Recently Gmail went down. What’s a girl to do? If you were like me, it felt like my blood supply got cut off. It got me thinking. What do we do when technology isn’t available?

We are used to having technology relationships. But what about real life relationships? Maybe you are connected on Twitter, MySpace, Facebook, Digg, (yes even email). But when it fails, what will you do?

I encourage you to pick up the phone & call a friend…or two. Grab a pen & piece of paper and send a note. Go meet someone for lunch (not business!), dinner or brunch. Go workout with a friend (you knew I had to work that in somewhere).

Social media is more than just about having online friendships. Its about being sociable outside of the online world.

Twitter took blogging to microblogging.  Now sites like 12seconds.com and robo.to are introducing us to the concept of microvideo.

The New York Times ran a great introductory article yesterday.

What do you think? Will Microvideo become the new medium of choice, augment Twitter, or just fade away?

Last year I wrote about LoJack for Laptops, software that periodically checks in with a central server to help locate your laptop if it is stolen. One of the LoJack features that caught my attention is that, when installed on compatible computers, a bios agent is activated.  The bios agent is supposed to reinstall LoJack if the thief removes it by, for example, reformatting the hard drive and reinstalling the operating system.

Around the time I wrote last year’s article, Vancouver-based Absolute Software sent me a copy to try out.  I installed it on a HP Pavilion dv4 laptop, checked that it was working a few times, and promptly forgot about it.  A few weeks ago, my laptop required a warantee repair, and prior to sending it in, I used DBAN to thoroughly wipe the hard drive. When I got it back, HP had reinstalled the original operating system. So I deleted both partitions and did a fresh install.

Over the weekend I remembered about LoJack and I was curious.  I logged into their web site and was informed that my laptop had checked in earlier the same day! LoJack survived every bit on the hard drive being overwritten and two operating system installs.  Had a thief stolen my laptop and reinstalled the operating system, it would be checking in every time it was connected to the Internet. And we’d be tracking it down right now.

The most valuable asset any organization has today is not its facilities. It’s not the inventory in the warehouse or on the production line. It’s not healthy bottom line the company achieved last year (although right now that would be sweet!).

It’s people. This is especially true in the PC/CE/Communications marketing arena where quality and quantity are in such short supply.

It’s an asset that is difficult to find, difficult to retain and difficult to manage. But if you manage the asset properly it can produce exceptional results for your company…and for you.

Following are some simple guidelines you can follow to manage people more effectively, more easily and with better results.

Think of them as your 10 commandments to better management:

  • Don’t get into a rut thinking there’s only one right way to do a job.

Judge by results rather than how the task was accomplished

  • Don’t expect everyone to be the same. Don’t look for clones of yourself because it can only limit the organization’s — and your – growth potential.

Aggressively look for people who have the values you respect most but don’t expect them to be the same as yours. Surrounding you with people who think and perform like you may be a boost to the ego but diversity, and even chaos, can produce a more well rounded organization and a multi-dimensional, multi-facet firm people want to associate with…want to deal with.

  • Don’t give a lot of criticism.

Very few people take criticism well. If the only inputs they receive from you are critical they soon stop trying to excel. Expect people to do well. When they do praise them for their efforts and their performance. Soon you’ll have them producing results even beyond their own level of expectation.

  • Don’t isolate yourself.

You’re the manager. You can’t be effective at the job behind closed doors. You can’t do it by hiding behind voice mail, memos or email. Make yourself available to your people. Be accessible when they want your ideas, inputs, and thoughts.

  • Don’t wait until the project is completed to give your feedback.

It doesn’t mean you have to constantly look over the individual’s shoulder or check on what the team is doing but check in periodically. Get a snapshot update. Make certain the individual(s) is on the same wavelength as the company or organization and it’s goals/objectives.

  • Don’t expect your staff to perform poorly.

Expect people to be equal to the task. Expect them to perform in an outstanding manner and to produce the target results. You’ll be surprised what happens when you believe they are competent. Most of the time trusting in their ability to deliver will produce the desired results.

  • Don’t forget to tell staff members about your expectations, priorities and deadlines.

There are very few clairvoyants in the world. People don’t know if you don’t communicate. Spell out the entire task. Setting goals, priorities and deadlines in your mind is not the same as telling people.

  • Don’t do performance appraisals only once a year.

In most organizations an annual appraisal is required by the firm’s HR guidelines. Forget the guidelines. Evaluate performance informally on a regular basis. Talk to employees about what they’re doing, the problems they are experiencing, areas they need to focus on improving. Managing people is a lot like driving a car. You don’t back out of your garage and do nothing until you pull into your office parking lot. You get from point A to point B successfully and safely by making a continuing series of minor adjustments based on an evaluation of the situation at hand. The same is true of managing people.

  • Don’t be an autocratic leader.

In yesterday’s assembly lines performance was mediocre, at best, because people were told to punch in, do a specific job and punch out at the end of the day. Very quickly they settled into that mode producing very little value to the organization. When people were told to make the job their own, the change in attitude and results were spectacular. Ask employees for their inputs. Ask them for their suggestions. Find out their concerns and difficulties. You’ll be pleasantly surprised that most people want to do not just a good job but a great job.

  • Don’t push people to their limit. Don’t expect them to function well over a long period without ample resources.

People can give 150% when necessary and produce outstanding results. But even the best and the most dedicated individual — yourself included — can’t do it on a consistent day-in, day-out basis. After extended periods the mind shuts down…the body shuts down. People also don’t perform well in a vacuum. They need information and inputs. Sometimes they need extra hands and minds. Give them the extra time, extra information, extra people they need to do the job properly.

Today we’re operating in what the Federal government calls a dire employment mode. Generation Xers and Yers are encouraged to – and do – change jobs frequently. Frequent job changes are no longer a negative on a resume as long as they show a steady upward progression or show an expansion of the individual’s areas of expertise.

Following the 10 commandments of managing won’t ensure that you’ll get all the best people and retain them. It does mean though that you’ll have a better shot at developing a solid team of winners who will produce for your organization regardless of how long they stay with you.

TLP staff have all abandoned their homes and offices in celebration of the last summer long weekend of 2009. Have a good one!