protecting precious memories doesn't happen by accident. Losing them does.

Gregory Coleman atop Tahquitz rock- rock climber, teacher, classical guitarist and my dad - not long before we lost him in 2005. This is one of my most cherished pictures and memories of him, and I protect it along with all my family photos and videos.

Want to learn everything about your photos and videos, including how to protect them? Awesome. Because I'm starting a newsletter and a blog on the topic. Email me here if you're interested in learning anything about photos and videos

Around 2003 I really got into photos and videos.  First with my iPhone. Then I bought my first Canon DSLR (you know, the big camera with interchangeable lenses).  It was partially because my dad got really sick and I wanted all the memories I could possibly have of him with family. Then I had my first son in 2010. I don't regret for a moment the amount I've spent on digital cameras and iPhones, constantly upgrading for better pictures. I've probably taken about 200,000 photos in the past 10 years. Seriously. I'm not kidding.

Now every few months my wife comes to me with her iPhone and I get to do the ritualistic offloading of photos and videos- and even though she now has a 128GB iPhone 6 Plus, it keeps filling up. One day several months ago we were driving up to San Francisco and I was telling her about what I'm up to at TechRoom. Mostly stuff for small businesses, really. She looked at me and asked one question: James, where are all our photos?  That was it. Short and sweet.  Her point was: I want to start enjoying 100% of our family photos and videos, anywhere, anytime. You have the technology, you have the skill, and you're going to make it happen, Now, dammit.

I love taking pictures of food.  I took this in Japan about two weeks ago with family at a sushi bar in Kitashinchi, Osaka, Japan.

I got obsessed. Photography was a hobby already, and then I realized I could combine it with what I love about my work: Helping people learn and enjoy all their tech stuff.  I started exploring and teaching myself everything there was to know about storing, accessing, enjoying, and backing up photos and videos.  I've worked for a lot of fun customers who routinely travel the world and come back with thousands of photos per week. I help them get their workflows together and show them how to protect it all so they would never lose a single shot that mattered.  

How could I not help my family enjoy all our family memories?

I spent the last couple years nerding out on everything to do with digital photos and videos, and even music. I learned how to transform all my old boxes of slides, film and printed photos, and I learned how to deal with videos, including VHS and even older- getting them into iTunes. It is awesome to have a 1930s rip of my grandpa's guitar music when he was rocking out in high school, hand-pressed to vinyl in Los Angeles, now imported into iTunes. Even better, I can pull up pictures on my Mac of grandpa (Ervan "Bud" Coleman) in the white house with the Tijuana Brass entertaining Mr. President.

Analog to digital was just the start. Getting a few terabytes of home videos including all our TV recordings available to stream out of the house to anywhere we are in the world was next.  And I can do all of it without the bugs and other shenanigans, restrictions and various issues that can come with relying on Apple's iCloud.  Note: I do use iCloud, but I don't rely on it and I don't put all my stuff there- but that's for a future blog post.

My sweet setup.  A 27" Ultra-HD display powered by a Mac Mini (hidden in the drawer) and a Pegasus 2 RAID.  I saved money where it matters and invested where it counts. And my wife is beyond happy, which is what matters most.

So I started a web site dedicated to helping people get all their photos and videos under control: www.familyphotocare.com.  It's a site dedicated to sharing everything I've learned through a combination of free resources and also through books, videos and training. My goal is to help non-techies learn how to do it themselves.  I simply can't imagine sitting in a mall having people looking over my shoulder while some kid tries to teach me about an application while he simultaneously tells me that can't talk about other non-Apple products that I need to know about.  

I've been helping some of our customers at TechRoom build simple, awesome photo and video systems in their home that they can use to collect, organize, enjoy and protect all the family memories, photos and videos their care about. Now I'm going to take that to the next level with familyphotocare.com.

I'm starting a newsletter all about the topic of photos and videos.  If you want in on it, send me an email to jc+photos@techroom.com. Let me know what you want to learn!

Are you a Sheep or VIP? An important update from TechRoom

Are you a sheep or a VIP? Don't waste your time on trips to the mall when there is a better option: Tap the Concierge Bell.

Are you a sheep or a VIP? Don't waste your time on trips to the mall when there is a better option: Tap the Concierge Bell.

Hey, it’s James Coleman from TechRoom, and I’ve got an important update to share with you.

Five years ago a lot of us were OK standing in line at a Genius Bar for hours dealing with a computer issue. But it’s 2015. Schlepping your stuff through the mall isn’t cool and it’s not productive. 

Now we have other things to worry about, like the biggest companies on earth getting hacked while we keep putting more of our stuff - work documents and family photos, even our identities - on their systems. How do we enjoy everything technology offers and still protect ourselves? 

People really want to talk to someone at their level about their tech problems. So we’ve made some changes for you:

It’s 2015, and you need a tech sherpa to avoid 21st century disasters. I want to be your guide, and my team wants to help you, your family and your business avoid modern problems.

I would love to reconnect and keep in touch. Connect with me on LinkedIn, and definitely add yourself to my email list. I'm going to provide 100X more value to you with the emails and updates I share than any tech you've ever hired possibly could.

The watch conundrum

It's a full 5 days after the first Apple Watches started showing up.  I was in Japan traveling when the pre-orders started.  I remember right about midnight Pacific Time thinking 'I'm going to sit this one out'.

There are a lot of reasons I don't want the watch. 

  1. I spend a lot of mental energy trying to remain focused.  I have enough things distracting me, and enough self-help systems from my Mac and my iPhone 6 (plus).  I don't need more distractions.
  2. I love my Omega Seamaster.  I've owned it since 1999, and it powers itself, thanks to some 16th century monks' inventions. That's how Dad did it, that's how American does it, and it's worked out pretty well so far.
  3. The watch is ugly. I'm not the least sorry to say, it's not a good looking watch.  The Japanese called, and they want their 1980s calculator otaku wristwatch back.

Then my friend called me today from his watch.  Actually, he called me back just to show me how well it worked.  Thanks, David.  At that moment every mutant nerd chromosome in my body fired simultaneously.  I must have it

I continue to both love and hate the fact that Apple is nailing it.  And it's almost hilarious to me that the industry has been listening to really loud rumors for two years about the forthcoming Apple watch, and now it's like every predecessor doesn't even exist.  Apple is already a decade ahead of them, even with the bugs.

I admit it.  The watch is actually pretty cool.

Get rid of that old paper

After you pick up that new ScanSnap, you'll find yourself with lots of extra paper to get rid of, instead of letting it take over all your free space.  This weekend I found another paper-shredding company here in the OC: Shred-wise (links to site).  You can watch your paper being shredding on-the-spot, and they'll provide you a certificate of destruction.  And George (in the video) is a great guy.  They're open for drop-offs on the weekends, just be sure to call in advance and show up with plenty of time before they close.


A Brief Introduction From Your New IT Guy

Please start by calling me Your TechRoom Concierge I am at your service.

6075592-9067284.jpg

Let’s start with why I’m here. Management added new accountabilities and competencies to the job qualifications of IT guy beyond the basic technical skills like repair, updates and networking. Diplomacy, tact and credibility have been added to the job requirements, as have sincerity and kindness. My job is to manage and redesign the IT system into one that enables everyone in this company, in every role, to create the best customer experience possible, as much as possible, and this means never having to spend more than a minute of your week dealing with a technology issue.

IT is an investment in you. One of the prerequisite conditions I had in accepting this position is the latitude to deal with the habits, attitudes and beliefs of the prior IT resources head on. The management team invests in IT as a tool for you to be more effective, and my job is to ensure that you have the skills and experience needed to use it well.  Other IT departments count the number of service requests by the employees to justify jobs and IT budgets. Effective immediately we’re changing that. We’re going to look at service requests as either 1) a defect in the IT infrastructure we’re responsible for managing or 2) a training opportunity to improve your skills to use the system. 

Our jobs in IT will shift from 95% fixing problems to 95% problem-prevention, starting with training.  Proactively enabling you to be successful in your jobs by being more self-sufficient and more effective is our mission.

The new measure of IT performance. Net Promoter is used with our customers externally, and I see no reason why we shouldn’t use it internally as well.  Effective immediately, every service request will be followed up with a completely confidential two question survey that will bypass me and go straight to the CEO, who has committed to me that she will read every survey personally.  Question #1: On a scale of 1-10, how likely are you to recommend your IT department to a coworker or colleague?  Question #2: What would you change, if anything, that would improve the score?

There are no IT standards, there are only company standards.  Moving forward, all aspects of the IT system, including the appropriate use of controlled systems to the use and consumption of peripherals will tie directly to an employee and their manager’s performance, but not one in IT is a judge, jury or even police officer. 

Every “standard” associated with IT must be directly the result of a requirement by the CEO, CFO, or COO, including security standards like passwords and acceptable use polices.  All reporting regarding the appropriate or inappropriate use of IT will now automatically be provided to managers, and to their managers, all the way up to the CEO and executive management team. These reports will no longer be owned by IT.  Every standards that IT is responsible for implementing must tie directly back to our vision, mission and priorities as a company. That way both IT user and IT Concierge will be on the same page whenever we’re training on or supporting a system and the standards that it supports.  

And I heard about the password problems. I’ve already found a great solution that will satisfy the company’s security requirements and make it easier on you as well. While it won’t necessarily make everyone happy, it’s a solution that most everyone will be content with so we can move on to important things, like acquiring and satisfying more customers.

I heard about the contempt and cynicism many of you experienced with the last IT guy. Please realize that he’s out the door and the attitude along with him. I’m Your TechRoom Concierge and I’m at your service, and I look forward to meeting you.

What procrastination can cost you

Usually the nagging feeling you have about your tech service is right, and what you know is usually just the tip of the iceberg

Usually the nagging feeling you have about your tech service is right, and what you know is usually just the tip of the iceberg

I was recently referred into a law practice with about 20 employees by another attorney.  One of the managing partners expressed their frustration to the attorney that referred us.  Everyone in the firm was frustrated with issues that seemed to be occurring over and over again: Phones were regularly losing dial tone. Calls were even being cut off in the middle of conversations. Employees were unable to print regularly. Email and calendars were problematic.

Before my initial visit to the firm, the partners asked me to review the invoices they had paid to their IT vendor over the past year. I did, and during my visit with them they asked what I thought of the invoices.

My response was not what they expected; Instead of focusing on how much they were being charged, I responded with what I thought was far, far worse for the firm. I shared: "Over 90% of the work described on these invoices is to correct the same set of symptoms related to the phones, email and printing issues. There is no solution outlined or presented to you for review and consideration, and no project work to implement a solution to prevent the problems. The other 10% appears to be recurring charges for monitoring."

Why this was worse was what I explained next. "The cost to the firm associated with each of these events is roughly 15-20X the cost of each hour you've been invoiced for. Each one of the paralegals and office employees is supporting one or more attorneys. If they can't work, the attorneys become delayed and there's friction in the office.  Each person who's not an attorney is taking 2-3X longer to get things done, and days are constantly interrupted, with distraction costing about 50% of their day.  If things are taking that much longer with a 50% day, you're paying for 8 hours and probably getting at best 1-2 hours of utilization. And each attorney is losing at least two billable hours for every hour of disruption.  Multiply that times 6 attorneys and that one tech issue - it's costing you about $3000 per hour."  The looks on their faces was both knowing and at the same time shocked and disgusted.  They knew this was an issue, but rarely, especially when people are busy, do you stop to ask what it's really costing you.

It was about two months later after my proposal to replace their IT service that I received the call. The pain had finally become too great.  In my estimation, the additional two months probably cost them more in billable hours and FTE hours paid than the entire years' worth of invoices from their prior IT vendor.  Why did they wait?

For many business owners and managers, it's extremely hard to take action regarding a poorly performing resource. It's a natural problem that nearly all managers, owners and principals are confronted with their entire careers: The pain of letting go of someone seems higher than just putting it off a little longer.  "I'll deal with it later," that classic decree of procrastination, allows us to tuck the thought away so we can focus on things that appear more pressing.

Do you have a poorly performing resource? Ask yourself: Are you putting off the inevitable?

Next, ask yourself, what is the real cost of putting off the inevitable? What else is there that you don't know that's likely a problem too?  Often we're only aware of what we're feeling.  When it's time to inspect, the results always present what we already suspected. Ask yourself: What would you save by dealing with it now and righting the situation?

If you believe you may have an issue with an underperforming tech resource, whether it's an employee or a consultant or a company, that needs to be dealt with, please feel free to contact me for a confidential call to discuss the situation.  The benefit to you and your firm from taking action is worth your time.

 

Presentations

Most of my friends and customers don't know that I have an MBA from the Paul Merage School of Business at UC Irvine. I spent three very intense years studying entrepreneurship and service operations from some amazing minds UCI lured away from some pretty heavy-hitting business schools. One of my favorite activities in business school was presenting.  I had never used PowerPoint prior to b-school, but I immediately found that creating a story with visuals and cues to help an audience think differently, or achieve an "aha" moment, was something I was crazy passionate about.

So when Apple first came out with Keynote 1.0 in 2003, the year I graduated, I went completely nuts. It was awesome. In fact, if you do a search on my computer for presentations, you'll see everything prior to 2003 in PowerPoint, and everything moving forward over the next 11 years is in Keynote.  It's like a asteroid crashed into my Mac and all the PowerPoints ended up extinct, found only in the file-fossil record.

I also remember how absolutely awful all of the business school workshops on presenting were. MBA students almost seemed to compete for who could get the most words and bullet points on a presentation slide. Not much has changed in eleven years. Presentations in business and in business school are still generally awful. I believe employees and customer prospects alike are constantly tortured by their managers and salespeople as a result. This really needs to change.

Which brings me to David Sparks. David's a good friend and I'm a fan of his blog and his books.   And now he's written Presentations, a book that not only deserves the great reviews it's receiving in the iBooks store, but I believe it should be required reading for every new MBA candidate entering business school, not to mention every JD candidate heading into law school.  

David's done an amazing job covering the technologies and tools for presenting, from Keynote to PowerPoint, but he's also provided expert advice on how to pull a really effective presentation together, and how to pull yourself together the day of the presentation.  I've always found it rather sad to see anyone about to give a presentation looking hopeless when the equipment doesn't work, looking desperate for an IT guy.  I would recommend David's book to anyone who wants to become self-sufficient when it comes to setting up, and even a bit of a MacGyver when necessary.

You can read David's blog over at MacSparky and find more of this books there an on the iBooks store.  You can also buy the PDF version on his web site directly, which doesn't have a lot of the whizz-bang rich media, but is a great alternative if you're not an Apple iBooks user.

Thanks for such an awesome book David!

Box Sync for Mac Packages

When Box updated their sync app to work with Mac packages, it was like Christmas and Hanukkah and my birthday all rolled into one. DropBox is cute, but it has a poor track record for security and doesn't offer the fantastic business controls that Box offers.  

So what are packages?

Many apps on the Mac use packages.  Examples most people know are Pages, Keynote and Numbers.  But for power users there are a lot more: OmniGraffle and OmniOutliner files are packages, and even Scrivener documents.  Mac packages look like files, but they're not. They're actually folders filled with other files. When you control-click on a package file you can "open" it to see it's contents.   So what's the big deal about Box Sync working with Mac Packages?

Most people don't realize that switching computers, regardless of what technology you use to do it, doesn't and can't truly move your sync capability over intact.  What this means in plain English is that if you're using Box Sync and migrate over to a new or different Mac, Box Sync renames your Box Sync folder and creates a new one and has to re-sync everything, all over again.   I learned this the hard way when I went on vacation with a different Mac notebook and found out my Mac wanted to re-sync 95GB; Not a Good Thing over a slow hotel wireless connection.

Where things get ugly is if your Mac packages have not already been synced, throwing away that old Box Sync folder could result in losing hundreds, even thousands of hours of work.  We had one customer send us his MacBook Pro for data recovery because a technician at another company told him the best way to solve sync issues is to delete his Box Sync folder and simply re-download it from the cloud.  After hours of re-downloading, the customer noticed that all of his Keynote files were gone- every presentation he had ever made for his business.  All of the missing files were in directories he had put them in for months, but because they hadn't synced up to Box, there was nothing to sync down.   The good news is that we were able to recover about 95% of his documents.  But the situation still cost the customer enormous disruption.

Why does all this matter?  If you have a Mac, or if anyone uses a Mac in your business, there's now finally an effective solution for Cloud sync between Macs and PCs with a good workflow. Windows boxes still can't use Keynote or the killer apps from the OmniGroup, but as businesses start rolling more Macs into their offices and home offices, users connected via Box will be able to share files that much easier, even without a file server at all.

Now that Box Sync supports packages, we can finally have an Enterprise-grade business sync tool that keeps all our files synced and accessible on any of our devices, with the convenience of opening a new Finder window.  Neat.  Just remember that the devil is definitely in the detail when it comes to switching Macs with a Box Sync account.  If you're interested in Box Sync and how it works for business, I used OmniGraffle to create an example of Box used in business here (downloadable PDF... via Box of course).  If you like it, please let me know.

Mac OS X Server: The unbelievable IT budget

The Mac Mini Server with a Promise Pegasus storage array- A lot of power in a small package.

The Mac Mini Server with a Promise Pegasus storage array- A lot of power in a small package.

Update 2014 March 12: Just a quick disclaimer; I don't sell Apple equipment nor do I receive any kickbacks or commission on the sale of Apple product. In fact, I don't even own any Apple stock.

I am in the business of service, and helping business owners discover amazing options for their businesses that depend on Macs or PCs or a combination of the two is my specialty.  Ask most Mac techs what a Mac OS X Server costs to set up, and you'll likely get the same answer: "It depends."  That answer doesn't work, because you need to know installation costs are to help you make a purchasing decision.  But what exactly does installation include?  That question is exactly why most Mac techs get nervous about committing to a price.  It's a chicken-and-egg issue, even though it shouldn't be.

$500

Ask me how much does it cost to install a Mac OS X Server, and I'll give you a different answer: $500 (USD, to be precise). It's really simple: We created a service for business owners that includes preparing, configuring and installing a Mac OS X Server, that includes basic capabilities like file sharing, email, calendar and contacts, for $500.  Whether it's a Mac Mini or a Mac Pro, the server installation is $500.  

Here's what's included:

  • We ask questions up front to prevent issues and surprises. You will not have a tech asking you to call your Internet Service Provider for information on the day of service, because we'll already have the information we need.
  • We'll help you design a server setup that works for your business. This includes your file sharing structure - who has permission to which folder - up front.  You will not have someone asking you to make last-minute decision that could have been made early on.  And we will help you through the process of understanding how server works so you can make great decisions about the configuration, no matter how technical you are.
  • We'll configure everything on the server up before the installation. When we arrive we'll be ready to connect the server to your network and connect your users to the server.  With the basics already done, we can focus on training- and making sure you and your employees know how to access the server.
  • We'll teach you how to transfer your data to the server.  You won't have to pay to have a technician sit there at an hourly rate, unless you want to.
  • We'll provide documentation and training.
  • We'll tell you about all the options: Other cool stuff you can do with the server that are optional, like mobile device management, Virtual Private Network setup, Windows server running virtually on a Mac server, and more.

If you need a Mac OS X Server setup, feel free to contact me. We're happy to help and keep things simple so you can stay busy growing your business.

What right-sizing your technology actually looks like

An evil mess and a disaster waiting to happen. This reflects poorly on the IT guy, and ultimately on the business owner too.

An evil mess and a disaster waiting to happen. This reflects poorly on the IT guy, and ultimately on the business owner too.

I'll start with the worst IT closet I've ever seen;  Your IT should never look like this. When I walked into this small business, I told my technician that this must be what the inside of a Sandcrawler looks like. I was waiting to hear cries for help from a dismembered C-3PO.

There are a bunch of problems here:

  1. It's disorganized.
  2. It's dangerous.
  3. It's wasteful.

The end result is that you, the business owner, spend a ton of money on wasted time and other wasted resources.  And it's also a disaster waiting to happen that could take your business down at any time.

So what should your network closet look like?

It's actually more about what it can look like.  Everything's changed in the past few years.   I actually have the ability now to take the typical small business network closet and seriously shrink it.  Not just size, but also cost of hardware.   This is now possible because of a few really great technologies:

  1. Virtualization.  It's now possible to run a high-performance Windows server as a virtual machine.  This changes everything for any business that has PCs or Macs.
  2. The Mac Mini- as a PC or PC server replacement. I recently replaced a $7500 HP Proliant Server with a $1000 Mac Mini running all of my Windows Server and QuickBooks Enterprise software that was previously on the HP Proliant.  And it's about 10X faster.  My bookkeeper and CPA access QuickBooks daily via Windows.  They don't even know it, but they're connecting to a Windows Server running on a Mac Mini.  Need more horsepower? The new Mac Pro is about the same size and is insanely powerful.
  3. Attached storage.  Apple's new strategy for desktops is about attached storage.  And their integrating Thunderbolt 2 pushes 20Gb/s, over three times faster than a typical hard drive.  Need 5 servers?  They can all live on one box the size of a toaster.

An example of the "new" business IT system.  This 2.5' square cabinet contains almost everything a business of 20-50 people needs.

The picture to the right is of a wall-mounted, lockable cabinet that's roughly about 2.5' square.  And inside this little cube is more than enough power to run an entire business of 20-25 people, and possibly more.  There's a Mac Mini, an attached RAID (18TB of storage, in this case) and a some fantastic cloud-based networking equipment from Meraki.  The intelligent, power-conditioning backup battery on the left takes up almost half the rack, and safely shuts down everything in case of a power outage.  The rack in the image to the right has more capability than the horrid mess pictured at the top of this article.

It's clean, and it's secure.  In fact, it can be mounted in the kitchen right below the ceiling, or installed under a desk.  It's also safer from earthquakes because it's in an enclosure and the RAID (the box with the tall row of pretty blue LEDs) can't just fall over.

Who can benefit from this?

  • Interactive agencies, design firms, engineering firms, law firms, architects and more: You can run a Windows server at both a fraction of the cost, and with the freedom of switching hardware anytime without having to reinstall or reconfigure the server.  Less tech time, more uptime for your employees.
  • Companies that are depending on a Windows-only software application, but want to use Macs.  Some examples are Nextech and PatientNow, two medical practice management applications that are used by plastic surgeons.  Now you can use your iPad or Mac and just remote-desktop right into your Mac Mini server running Windows.  You don't need to run Windows on your Mac at all.
  • Any company that wants to have more Macs but doesn't want to screw up their existing Windows users.  There are currently (as of 10.9.1) issues with Windows file sharing via Mac OS X servers.  Business owners who need to keep supporting PCs in their office might ditch the Mac entirely, but now they don't have to.  You can have the best of both worlds.

Finally, it'll save you a ton of cash.  My current IT system costs 75% less than the previous system.  That money goes straight to the bottom line (profit).  

The next time you walk into wherever it is your server or network lives in your business, if you're even remotely upset or slightly embarrassed by what you see, give me a call.  I can fix it for you.