Friday, December 25, 2009

Reaching out to others will help those depressed about missing family members cope with the holidays

     It's been 32 years since I first spent a Christmas away from home.  I was a young airman stationed in Guam, and I never forgot that my holiday weekend was filled with playing on the beach as well as spending some time with friends from the Catholic chapel community.
      Today, as I write this, I am in Miami with my wife and my son to visit my 84-year-old father-in-law, who is in a nursing home after a recent trip to the hospital for internal bleeding.  My oldest step daughter is in Utah and my youngest is in Wyoming.
      For many of us, the separation from our family is a difficult thing.   So, for those of you who are feeling a little depressed about missing family members this Christmas, I have a simple suggestion or two.
     First, if you are hosting a dinner or party today, reach out to those without family.  It could be the single mother next door with the two children or the office worker who has a family in Nebraska.   Having some extra people around to share in a holiday dinner will make you forget that your daughter is a time zone away.
     Second, volunteer to help those in need.   If you have a beautiful voice like my wife, you can visit a local nursing home to sing Christmas carols.  If your voice is not well suited for music, just taking the time to visit people is something that's appreciated.    Shelters and food kitchens can also use the help of volunteers, especially during the holidays.
      To me, Christmas is like that classic Crosby, Nash and Young song "Love the One You're With."  As the famed Woodstock crooners wrote:  "And if you can't be with the one you love...Love the one you're with...Love the one you're with..."   
      Here's hoping that everyone finds a little love and some family this holidays.

Spotted: random acts of holiday spirit at the Baytown Waffle House

Do you remember that scene in the movie "Elf," when Santa Claus can't get his sled off the ground because of the lack of holiday spirit? It wasn't until Will Ferrell and Zooey Deschanel started singing carols that Santa escaped the Central Park Park Police.

I was thinking about that holiday spirit when my family stopped in Baytown at a Waffle House to have breakfast yesterday. Two elderly woman, named Mary and Kathy gave home made angels to some of the staff and I overheard one of the waitresses say that their gift made their day.

It's these random acts of holiday spirit that make the holidays special. Yet, I am wondering why we have to stop afterwards. I would think that we south Texans would want to continue in the spirit of generosity through out the year.

Here's hoping that more of us can spend the holidays and the year in the joy of giving. I want to thank my new friends, Kathy and Mary for showing me that Christmas holiday spirit comes even at a Waffle House.

Yes, Virginia, you can learn a little geography while waiting in line at Walt Disney World....

Walt Disney makes a vacation seem like a dream trip, but what those ads with the princesses and Tinker Bell doesn't show you are those long lines for rides.

However, I have developed a new game to help keep children and others from getting bored while winding their way through long lines to spend 90 seconds on Space Mountain.

Several years ago, my wife and I invented a road game featuring unique car models and license plates. For example, if my daughter saw a Hummer and a Iowa license plate on a drive north to grandma's house, she would be given points for it.

So, in the midst of all those lines, I came up with a new game that combines geography and sports. It's a simple game. All you have to do is to observe those Red Sox and Yankee fans and write it down in a little notebook. And, of course there are rules that give extra points to those rare sightings of New Jersey Nets and LA Clipper hats.

While professional sports provide an obvious starting spot to the game, I think that a good game could also embrace colleges as well. For some reason, I saw a lot of Florida apparel and some Texas.

With some friends who develop I-phone apps, I am going to ask them to help me develop it. I believe like the license plate game, it will help parents teach their children about geography and economy.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Is a $75 security fee from my merchant processing service really needed?

Imagine my surprise when I got my latest statement from my merchant processing service with a $75 fee for security services. I am used to paying for monthly administrative fees and the two to three-percent for each transaction. But, the security fee was an unexpected cost.
After a phone call to my provider, I was told that the major credit card companies were updating their security features. They then required the merchant processing services to pay for it. Thus, the annual $75 fee in my last statement
Having done some recent marketing and public relations work for one merchant processing service company and reading the standard contract from them, I wondered how they could require me to pay for their upgrades. After reading the SEC 10-K filings for both VISA and MasterCard and noting their high amount of profitability, I am wondering how my credit card providers need my $75 to upgrade their security systems.
After this latest incident, I believe that it's time for the federal government to regulate the credit card processing industry. Yet, I also know that this would never happen either. With millions if not billions in profitability at stake, the credit card companies will do everything they can to not create change within their operations.
I know that some folks who read this will tell me that it's the cost of doing busine
ss. As I already pay monthly administrative fees and processing fees, I think I am doing more than enough to offset the major credit card companies' need to upgrade their security system. So, I am using this blog to open a dialog with other small business types who want to see some changes within their credit card processing.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Newspaper reports on Virginia Tech tragedy show a need for administrators to develop a better emergency response plan

If a crazed gunman was holding students hostage in a lecture hall, doesn't it make sense that university employees would try to reach their children who were students? And, certainly, I would make sure that garbage collectors would want to know now to come on campus to collect our trash.
Today's Express-News article on the Virginia Tech tragedy shows how most of us who are parents would react. Yet, it also shows that college administrators don't really think through their emergency communications programs here.
If I was a president of an educational institution who read the published report of this article, I would want to gather my security forces, my communications professionals and my public affairs team to have them create a way to communicate to students on an assortment of emergncies such as crazed gunmen or if there's a blizzard that could shut down the roads near college.
For those educational administrators who want some unsolicited advice, I would first ask my public affairs professionals to create a Twitter site that addresses emergency responses. For inspiration, I would look at the Center for Disease Control Emergnecy Twitter site as a source of inspiration.
I would also invest in a phone texting service that can also alert all students of pending emergencies. And, after both are in place, I would instruct professors and staff to make sure to spend a couple of minutes every semester to remind their students of all emergency communication methods.
After all of those tools are in place, I would gather my security chief, my head computer person in charge of computers and phones along with my public affairs team to hold emergency simulation exercises at least three to four times a year. As an Air Force professional who planned these training exercises, I can tell you that practice of these emergency principles helps an executive team improve their response if needed.

Technical haiku can help with password protection

       The other day, I was working with my client, Brian Guinn, the chief executive officer of Prism Technology, to respond to a query from a freelance writer concerning Internet security. From this writer's perspective, it seems a lot of women use something like "password" as their security log on. Others leave their children's full name as a password.
Bryan who helps a lot of his clients develop security practices, came up with some really good ideas for the article. For example, a password should not be a personal name or a state name.
Many years ago, when I was working for the folks at SecureInfo, Steve Spriester came to our company to do a story. With the cameras rolling, we challenged him that we could pick his one word password in under 60 seconds. Sure enough, we found that the KSAT reporter, now anchor, has selected "Nebraska" in honor of his alma mater.
Passwords today, work best with a combination of capital letters, numbers and symbols. Bryan had suggested in our response to the author that customers can take a common phrase like "Mary had a little lamb. Her fleece was white as snow" and convert it to "Mhall.hfwwas" To add a different character, Bryan suggested you would substitute the first L in the phrase to the number one to represent little.
This got me to thinking that computer users could have a little fun with their passwords, especially as they should change them at about the rate of 30 to 45 days or so. And somehow, it got me thinking to sixth grade English with Sister Mary Antonio and haiku. So, for those out there still using password or computer as security phrases, here's a few inspirational if not hilarious thoughts to make some needed changes in those passwords.
SCW%ndnarticoid.bphdylcf?: Sorry Charlie Weiss Notre Dame needs a real tuna in charge of its destiny. Bill Parcells how do you like college football? (Note: the "%" is a good way to put an emphasis in these password haikus.)
Wtmmwh?rtottsyiuud2: Want to make my wife happy. Remember to put the toilet seat up or is it down? (Note: instead of the question mark, I substituted a number for the question mark.)
Tymjc!ytfmwaetisa2: Thank you Mayor Julian Castro! You're the first mayor who actually embraces technology in San Antonio.
Iybiteb,ttfasc,tyrftcctwtwsty!: If you believe in the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus, then you root for the Chicago Cubs to win the World Series this year!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Dear Mr President, here's some advice on job stimulation

For President Barack Obama, job creation has became the major focus of his administration.
For now.
After reading the Express-News article on "Obama seeks advice on creation of jobs," I have some advice.
First, Mr. President, it's time to focus on programs that fast track those underemployed find new careers. The Rizer School of Technology
, one of my clients, has started a new program for biomedical equipment repair professionals. Bill Bassuk, who also is a chief technology officer for a hospital in east Texas, has built a program that reminds me of the Air Force training programs at Lowry AFB, Colo.
For six years, I worked as the base's media and community affairs manager. In those years, I became impressed with how the Air Force created competent technical professionals from munition loaders to precision measurement equipment lab technicians. Bassuk's program is built on the same principles. Unlike a two-year community college program, there aren't requirements for history, English or physical education. With a focus on the needed career skills to get a job in the industry, Rizer will soon place professionals within medical facilities.
Just as important, Mr. President is the need to help these graduates find a network of influencers who can help people with new skills find jobs., my client in Austin, has done a great job of helping unemployed people there build a base of industry professionals who can find those "hidden" opportunities within a specific industry.
Here, Mr. President, we need to encourage those who are successful in their specific industry reach out to those "newbs" who need advice and guidance on how to find a career that inspires them and helps them advance to higher paying positions. I am sure, Mr. President that you have a lot of talented people working with you on job creation, but please feel free to call me anytime on this issue.