Computers watching computers

Waves along the beach
Waves along the beach

With tropical storm Hannah perhaps becoming a hurricane before making landfall between Mytle beach and Wilmington, all eyes in Eastern North Carolina have been following the weather.

Those with access to a televsion have probably watched The Weather Channel.

Many people in offices must rely on their computers which are signed into a variety of sites from the Weatherunderground to Accuweather and Weather Channel website.

I kept checking the computer when I was at the office Friday morning.  We did have a few minutes of nasty rain before things cleared off early in the afternoon.

It was nice enough that securing our boat and outdoor furniture was a very pleasant job on Friday just hours before the Hanna landfall.

The brief bout of super humid air that passed through the area on Friday morning had disappeared.  At dusk we could only discern clouds to the west and south of our area.  There was no wind and no rain.

We decided to go over to the beach for dinner.  We noticed on the way over that Food Lion in Emerald Isle had closed.  In the restaurant we found out that the grocery store had closed at 3 pm. That was twelve hours before Hannah was scheduled to make landfall in South Carolina close to 100 miles away.

Perhaps they were worried about the wind becoming strong enough to close the bridge to the mainland, and employees being stranded on the island.  Anyway after dinner, I went back to checking the weather sites to see if I could find really detailed information.  It turned out that there was very little new information on the computer sites.  I resorted to calling a friend who lives on the SC/Ga. border.

According to him his area had also seen very little active wether so far.  I wished that I had kep the phone number of our friend near Myrtle Beach. In the end we went to bed not really knowing what to expect in the morning.

During the night we heard both wind and rain.  I got around 7:30 am only to find the power off.  It didn’t take long to figure out that the power had not been off for long since the coffee was still hot.

Not wanting to give up a good cup of coffee, I poured myself a cup and enjoyed that before venturing outside.  There I found a pretty good storm surge, but no worse than we had expected.  Our rain gauge only showed one half inch of rain.  That added to what we got Friday morning gave us a total of one inch of rain from Hanna.

There were a few pieces of pine limbs in the yard and my tomato plants seemed to have taken a beating, but we actually came through the storm in good shape.  By the time I went back inside the power came back on and things were back to normal.  Even the excess water behind the house disappeared quickly.

I guess in the end, the computers checking other computer sites were as effective as any other means in figuring out what might happen.  At least with computers, I could avoid most of the weather channel hype.

I was pleased when the power came back on that I could send pictures of the storm to my friends.

Certainly people responding to other people are the best way to figure out what is happening.  By the end of the day, I knew that the rain from Hanna didn’t make it past the Yadkin River, but that parts of the DC area got flooded while my friend in NJ got a good soaking from Hanna.  Tomorrow I should find out what Hanna has in store for Nova Scotia.

It is nice to be connected even if it is with computers.

Where technology seems to stop

View from my deck
View from my deck

I get a tremendous advantage from technology. I would not be able to share pictures without the technology revolution that we have had in the last fifteen years.

Getting documents to people is also much easier.  Finding additional information that people might need is also a piece of cake with Google and the Internet.

Yet there is one place that technology seems to fail.  Our digital identities are hard to verify and utilize.  I actually had someone pretend to be me on a forum.  People figured out that it wasn’t me, but it should not be so easy for someone to impersonate you.  We have the technology to prove who we are digitally. Unfortunately few sites utilize it.

In a regular day to day situation if the need to prove who I am arises, I can show my driver’s license, birth certificate, or passport.

I have digital credentials for my email, an OpenIID identity and actually a smart card for real estate which lets us enter homes. Yet very few people take advantage of digital ids.  It is almost as if people like the small degree of anonymity that comes from the digital world.

I have one friend with a digital id.  Most of our conversations are encrypted.

It seems funny to me that I send a PDF of a form to a client which is handled usually by printing, signing and faxing back to me.

Why can’t we take the next step and use a smart card digital id to let me send documents and let others to sign and return them.

I recently worked with a client who did not have a computer.  I actually had to print photos to send to them.  Any documents which needed reviewing had to be mailed.  The experience reminded me of how far we have come.

Yet we recently dealt with an individual several states away who needed to sign a title and get it back to us.

He missed the express shipping pickup, and we were delayed a day because of that.  It is too bad we don’t have electronic notaries who could validate that the right person is signing a document, then scan and forward a digital version to us that it could be printed as an original and recorded in the proper county.

I know we have the technology to do this.  I guess we would just rather keep doing it the hard way.

Technology needs common sense also

In a fog
In a fog

I found technology has enabled me to do many things in my life that I might never have done otherwise.

Sometimes technology gets in the way of doing things, but often people get in the way of technology.

it isn’t unusual for people to lose the advantage that technology can bring becuase they cannot break old habits or refuse to see how technology can help

This proper seems to span all ages.

I work in real estate, and we try to go on a weekly caravan to see the newly listed properties.

An email gets sent out the day before the caravan begging for all the new listings. Eventually we get a Word document with directions to all the places and the order in which we will visit them.

The next morning 15-20 of us meet at one of our offices and prepare to drive around the properties in three or four cars.

Almost always someone will add a property at the last minute or decide that we need to visit a particular house third instead of last.

Instead of taking two minutes to edit the document and reprint it for everyone, someone will announce the changes and hope that enough of the fifteen people and three to four drivers will catch the changes.

While everyone within ear shot tries to scribble down the changes, it is rare that we don’t have problems on the caravan.   It is ironic that the building where we meet before we get on the road probably has six or seven computers in it at all time, and at least as many printers.

I have made the suggestion a number of times that we print corrected sheets, but apparently folks would rather operate under false instructions instead of waiting a couple of minutes for a new document.

Every trip someone misses a house or gets them in the wrong order.

It’s almost like the document once it is sent out by email cannot be touched.

Today I decided to skip the chaos.  It is hard to watch group think make things more difficult.

Just a little common sense would dictate that we try to have the document we take with us in our autos be as accurate as possible.

One of our printers could spit that out in less than a minute, but we never take the time to do it.

There’s nothing like subscribing to a theory that makes things harder.

Technology cannot replace common sense

Raymond's Gut SunriseThe more I see the high tech generation of twenty year olds, the more I worry.

We were in the local Nissan dealer about a week ago.  A young mother in her twenties was there with baby.

As we came in I could see she had an Apple iPhone.

Eventually my wife and I started talking to her.  She and her Marine husband had just moved to the area from Las Vegas.

Somehow we got around to talking about tomatoes, local produce, and finally strawberries.

It seemed she had seen a few signs around in the last couple of months for U-Pick Strawberries and was thinking it would be nice to take the family berry picking later in the summer.

Somehow it did not dawn on her that strawberries might be seasonal.  We broke the news to her that because of the heat and early season, most area strawberry growers had bush hogged their plants the last of May.

She seemed taken back that the berries wouldn’t be there to pick when she wanted them.

As fewer and fewer of us have any experience on the farm or gardening, we are divorcing ourselves from some very basic skills that I don’t think should disappear.

I would like to see schools teaching gardening.  Everyone needs to know how to get their hands dirty and grow food.  It’s not complicated and does not cost a lot of money if you can find some good space.

I would much rather be a nation of small gardeners than a nation which is expert at all facets or the iPhone.

My generation was rescued from a similar fate by the back to the land movement of the seventies.

Many of us fell in love with growing things back then and have never given up on plants.  We also learned out to can and freeze food.

I wonder how many people who are twenty years old can make sauerkraut or plant a row of corn.

It’s worth more than knowing how to work an iPhone.

Beach shoe leather

beach shoe leatherThere was a time when sitting down on the beach would have been impossible for me.

I did not think that I had time to waste on a beach.

Today I believe that I am working harder than ever, yet I manage to take the time to relax by the water.

I think it has something to do with learning that how much you work has little to do with what you actually accomplish.

Relaxing by the water helps me clear my head these days.  I make time for it and for kayaking which works just as well.

In spite of all our technological advances most people have trouble figuring out what they need to do.

I recently got to watch an example. Someone made a mistake a few years ago that resulted in a problem recently.

Not surprisingly a lot of time was spent trying to figure out where to place the blame.

That is actually the most unproductive activity that you can have in a company.

What does it matter if everyone has Blackberry phones if they have a problem and spend four days assigning blame before it occurs to them to solve the problem?

Long ago I learned that mistakes happen. People rarely mean for them to happen. The best thing is to treat a mistake as a learning experience and immediately focus on solving the problem.

Because if you don’t solve the problem immediately, it will likely get worse.  By the time you turn your attention to it, the problem might not be fixable.

One of the main rules in our Apple federal group was that if you found a problem, what I expected was a solution not a post mortem on the situation.

All the technology in the world won’t replace common sense. And that is the way I see it from the beaches of North Carolina.

If a beach walk like this slide show can’t help you clear your head, then you are headed for trouble.

Using your internal expertise

Storm BrewingI have always been a big believer in utilizing your resources before hiring some outside experts to do the job.

Still that doesn’t mean that if a car breaks down in the organization that I believe someone should put their coveralls on and try to repair it.

However, if you are a successful sales and marketing organization, you probably should be able to do sales and marketing to your own customers without hiring “experts.”

The problem with some experts is that they are only experts in their own mind. They talk a good story, but you are often their practice case study. I have worked with external experts who can add value to an organization.

When I was director of federal sales for Apple Computer, we hired some experts who knew how to get appointments with high level federal people. The first thing they did was try to learn how we did our business.

They spent a lot of time learning how we sold our products before we ever got the first appointment. By the time we went on the sales call together, we were a team.

I have seen some some teams of experts swoop in and pretend to know what your customers are thinking. I have even had experts go out and quote material that I have written to teams thinking that “their research” won’t be recognized by others.

As is often the case in this world, if someone is promising you something that is too good to be true, it is likely just that, too good to be true. The shame is that management often falls for these easy solutions and spends a lot of money chasing a result that they could achieve on their own if they were just willing to give their own people the right support.

Some of the best organizations that I have ever been part of have come from sales and marketing teams which faced a crisis with innovation and hard work. Instead of expecting to be baled out of the crisis through the intervention of someone peddling miracles, they analyzed the situation and figured out how they could have the most impact as a team and went about fixing the problem.

In 1998 I was part of Apple team that looked across it territory and decided that customer seminars could have a huge impact. They went out and delivered nearly forty of those seminars and became an example for every other team in the company.

We didn’t hire an expensive firm to move our equipment around or a specialized marketing firm to bring people to the events. We had enough knowledge in the team to create a high quality event.

We had some events where over 300 people showed up. It made a true difference in our business. We mostly went after our own customers, but in doing the events we honed our skills and became experts in buying mailing lists, preparing brochures, and advertising.

I can still remember parts of the team utilizing those skills effectively six years later. It was good to proven to ourselves that we were the computer marketing experts, and that we could dig ourselves out of a hole by focusing on what we knew and using everyone’s skills.

We avoided one of the biggest mistakes made by managers because we effectively utilizied the skills of our own teams.

Is quick information good information?

Bogue Sound SunsetOne of the big things in real estate these days is instant availability to your clients. Many agents carry smart phones so they can always see their email.

We have been told that clients will move on and seek another agent unless they hear back within 15 minutes of sending an email.

This of course is just the logical extension of the Google search. If you do not find what you want in the first five search results, you move on.

I am a big fan of Google. I have written a couple of posts, Google’s clever daily intelligence and The glue for the modern world.

One of the post laughs a little about the kind of information that you can find with Google and the other talks seriously about how Google somehow replaces much of the information that used to be passed on by family and close neighbors.

While it might be nice to get a quick reply from a smart phone that I will get back to you shortly, I would certainly rather get a real contact from someone.

We have gotten to the point that people prefer quick over accurate, and anonymous over professional.

I have not decided why people have become so jaded that they are not interested in talking to professionals about a subject. Most people place the greatest importance on getting their information quickly. They seem relatively uninterested in making certain that they are getting good information.

As a Realtor®, I have gotten more training and access to useful information than I ever have previously in my sales career. Yet I get the feeling that most people are afraid of the information or power that Realtors® have. We seem to be only slightly above used car salesmen even though we go through a rigorous licensing procedure and take additional training each year.

People believed every word that I said as an Apple sales person. Unfortunately I knew almost nothing because of Apple’s North Korean style secrecy. Still people depended on my best guess as to whether or not to place million dollar computer orders.

My theory on sales does not have anything in it about magically tricking people into buying something that they do not want. Sales is all about finding out what someone wants and helping them find it.

When most people take the time to seek out a dedicated real estate professional, they add a local expert who can fill many of the cracks where the Internet just does not provide complete information.

I often get questions on online forums. I go to great pains to respond accurately to people’s questions. I do it not because people are likely to turn around and buy property from me but because by getting good information on the table, I can hopefully make people see that the quality of the information is more important than the speed of the answer.

We have become a society that does not want to wait. We would rather jump to whatever conclusion we can instead of taking the time to dig deeper and get real answers.

Google is part of my daily life, but I have no intention of trying to beat Google to the punch or supply Google type information. If you do a Google search for “Cape Carteret, NC,” you will come up with a Google map and lots of links.

You might be able to find what you want in those links. If you search for “Local expert Cape Carteret, NC,” I come up number six in the search. If you send me a note, I will likely be able to give you better information than you might get from a Google search. At the most you will wait a few hours.

Even Google has figured that out since they let us create more useful maps using their tools. You can compare my Cape Carteret map to the one you got in the Google search.

It depends on what you want with your Google search. If finding the right place to live the next twenty years is what you want, just maybe you should take the time to evaluate your sources instead of taking whatever Google throws at you.

If you are looking for the location of an ATM machine, Google is probably the right tool.

A friend and I are rolling out a local Internet resource which we expect will create another level of information at a more local level. We hope by involving lots of people we can get good information which is locally based and refreshed on a regular basis. We have the prototype up at CarteretNorthCarolina.us .

We will see whether it makes a difference in the long run.

False expertise from lack of experience

Sometimes I get into places on the Interet where I am not sure I know why that I am there. There is no map out there as to where you should focus your time. I like to try a lot of things since this is a very new world for almost everyone. New tools, sites, and ways of relating to each other pop up all the time.

Bogue Inlet Pier SunriseI do everything from share things on Google reader to trying new things like Squidoo and having a rarely visited spot on MySpace. I have several blogs and photos at Flickr and Picasa Web Albums.

I have accounts at Digg and del.icio.us. I even use Linkedin.

One thing that I am very passionate about is my photographs. I recently posted one on Spock. It got deleted.

I have tried to figure out how a sunrise of pier taken on the beach was offensive. Maybe I do not understand the whole concept of Spock. That is a distinct possibility.

My only other guess is that some expert decided the photo looked altered. That brings up an interesting point which has had some discussion on the Internet recently with the disclosure that someone using Photoshop placed a herd of antelope under a train bridge to make a point about the lack of environmental harm from a new rail line.

It is very easy to alter photos. The challenge is present photo which looks as close to the original scene as possible. That is the commitment that I make with every photo that I share, and I share a bunch including a number that have been on television recently. Sometimes you might make a mistake getting it exactly like your eyes saw it, but most people doing this try really hard to stick to the scene. Cameras are machines and aren’t perfect. Also my eyes might not see things exactly like your eyes.

I have taken literally thousands of sunrise and sunset pictures. I am sure the total is approaching 30,000. I have a site with ones I took over the years in Roanoke, Va. I have a few there where I played with some artistic results so I know the difference.

I am often shooting right into the sun. Sometimes I get some unbelievable results. I never do anything other than crop, straighten, and sometimes adjust the lighting on the color to the way my eyes captured the scene. I often have lots of photos to help me do that.

If you have done a lot of shooting directly into bright sunlight, you know that it is a challenge to capture a scene without optical artifacts that are not in the scene. They end up in the pictures that you take with the camera, but your eye does not see them.

Very often the camera darkens a scene in order to handle the sunlight.

The biggest thing that I do to capture amazing sunsets is to use the optical zoom on my cameras. Very often a scene can look very ordinary from a distance but will be spectacular close up.

The picture in this post is unaltered. It is right out of iPhoto and stuck on the web with no modifications or touch ups.

This is the same picture that has been inserted into a webpage by Photoshop. My eyes cannot tell much difference.

I have taken the unusual step of posting the over 110 photos that I took that morning of March 31, 2007 including the ones that washed out. I think it is useful for people to see how the light changes depending on the camera angle and the direction.

Somewhere in the process I come out with some very nice photos. Sometimes I will take a photo and make sure the blue in it matches the blue in one like the one at the top of the page. In my mind, I have declared that the true blue that my eyes saw that day.

Now there might be other reasons that someone removed my photo from Spock, but other than it was over 400K, I cannot think of one.

So I have to think that a person with a false sense of expertise or who has been too lazy to ever get up and watch a few thousand sunrises voted my picture off.

It is a real picture. Check out the two series of over 110 photos taken with my Nikon DSLR and my Panasonic Luminix cameras.

Nikon Bogue Inlet Sunrise

Panasonic Bogue Inlet Sunrise

They are amazing photos.

They are not amazing from being run through Photoshop.

They are great photos because I was in the right place at the right time with the right light.

That is the integrity that I bring to the process.

Catching what drifts by us

Oysters on the beachIt occurred to me this morning that can getting our news and information these days can be a little like being an oyster on the beach.

There is the overwhelming amount of information out there. It is almost a Tsunami of content.

Sometimes it means you get covered with green slime.

You can use something like Google reader and the shared items of friends.

Blogs offer another alternative. Unfortunately like mine, they are all over the place.

You can try to find websites that are about areas that interest you. You can look into forums where people are known by their handles and their online expertise, but they have their own set of problems.

My best advice is to make sure you temper what you read with some of your own research and thought.

The problem is that doing that is easier said than done. It is hard to detach yourself and your interests from the bigger picture.

Sometimes the information we are hearing from all the sources is so overwhelming that people end up paralyzed. That is close to what has happened to the real estate market today.

There is so much negative press and discussion out there, that people are afraid to act or think in their own best interest. I have more people looking for property than I have seen in a long time, but last month Carteret County, NC MLS had a record low number of transactions. This February may be worse.

People seem to be waiting for a signal. I am not sure what the signal is, but I doubt we will know until we are well past it, and prices have started to rise.

As I mentioned in a post on my Reston blog, the huge price gains of the last few years have disappeared. We have more affordable housing at the coast than many urban areas.

I remember when people first start buying computers, you often heard the idea that it was better to wait until prices quit going down. It would have been a long wait.

Of course I didn’t wait. I got my first Apple II+ in August 1982. I ended up working for Apple for nearly twenty years.

Had I waited, I might never have had that opportunity.

Another example is the purchase of coastal property that my wife and I in September 2006. We bought near Cape Carteret, NC at not far from the top of the real estate market. I knew it was close to the top of the market, but we had been looking for three years so we bought, and I even went a step further.

I ended up being so impressed with the real estate firm that I decided to become a Realtor®.

Eighteen months later I have just received a reward from my firm, Bluewater GMAC Real Estate, as the “Up and Coming Star” for 2007.

While real estate is a challenging profession right now, I think it will be a good fit for my third career.

On top of that I have looked at about 250 homes since we bought ours. I still have not found one that I like more or one with the same features at a better price than ours in Bluewater Cove.

If we had waited to buy, I might not be in real estate. I certainly would not be ready for the good times when they eventually get here. There probably won’t be enough real estate agents when the market turns because many are quitting now.

I would have also missed some the great weather and beach living here in Carteret County.

I feel fortunate to have not let myself get caught in the green slime that drifts by these days.

Sometimes you just have to find your own current instead of staying on the beach and taking what drifts by you.

The tenuous lines to civilization

Keagy VillageWe work hard at subduing mother nature. This new shopping center off Keagy Road in Roanoke, Va. is a good example of leveling off mountain tops and filling in valleys.

While we can make the landscape look like whatever we want, Sunday’s storms and wind whipped fires in the Roanoke area proved that we are still pretty insignificant in the grand scheme of things.

Today is Tuesday and some people in the Roanoke area will be without power until Friday because of what the high winds did to trees in the area.

It is interesting how as we crowd ourselves together in smaller and smaller spaces that we become more dependent on someone else.

When we lived in the wilds of New Brunswick, we heated with wood, grew our own food, had a spring for our water, and could actually have done okay without the power grid for a week or two since we also had a small generator.

During the wind storm on Sunday, our cable modem connection went down. It was almost as isolating as being in the middle of the Canadian wilderness.

When a blizzard would hit in Canada, we still managed to get around because we were prepared for it. In a worst case scenario, I could put my snowshoes on and go visiting.

There is nothing one individual can do to prevent infrastructure disaster in today’s world. It is a little unnerving to be so dependent on so many other people.

The other challenge is the anonymity of your problem in a large community. I can remember the power going out for a week during an early September snowstorm on the coast of Nova Scotia. We were in small community.  People quickly started figuring out how to help each other.  One neighbor modified a chain saw so it would run our water pumps.  Another put a generator on a trailer and went around running people’s freezers for an hour or two.

Small communities quickly turn to helping each other. I wonder how many people in Roanoke are without power and cold while their neighbors are warm in well electrified homes.

I may just have to head back down to the coast, at least it is a small neighborhood, and I like to believe it would be easier to pull together in a disaster. One of the mayors of the area runs a small farm not far from me.  Somehow that is comforting.

Still we are lucky on the Southern Outer Banks, the worst we have had to deal with is fog.   I hope it stays that way at least until warm weather.