Category Archives: Financial

Webgrrls Empowers Women in Technology

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Webgrrls International is a forum to exchange job and business leads, network, form strategic alliances, mentor and teach, intern and learn the skills needed to succeed in an increasingly technical workplace and world. In this interview with Nelly Yusupova during BlogWorld, we discuss the challenges women face in business, and how Webgrrls helps women to get ahead in business through networking and technology.

Webgrrls helps women to leverage the power of technology and tools to empower themselves. Even if you’re not completely geeky, there are still many benefits to you. The organization has been in existence since 1995, and has members from every walk of life, age, race and technology background. The organizers and other members can help teach you the tech you need to know to succeed and reach your goals.

I was shocked and happy to see the number of women walking around the floors during BlogWorld. Nelly says that it’s almost a “non-question” these days. The tech sector is not just dedicated to men. More and more women are coming forward and proving that they are just as highly capable as their male counterparts. She’s quick to point out that women have a lot of potential power as developers, even, and need to stop being afraid to show it.

As the CTO of Webgrrls, Nelly says her biggest challenge is keeping up with everything and everyone. You need to have a strategy, and hold yourself back from jumping ahead too quickly. It’s better to do fewer things the right way than to try to go after too many things just to be on the “cutting edge.”

Blogging has transformed female-oriented communities and helped give them the power to step forward. Webgrrls has over 30,000 members and is rapidly expanding to include more females from around the world. There is strength in numbers – even when it comes to helping women connect and conquer the tech scene.

Jealousy Will Eat You Alive

No matter what line of work you choose, there will always be someone who does it better than you. You will find more prolific writers, smarter code monkeys and better designers. Finding someone to look up to is good, as is a little healthy competition. Jealousy, however, can eat you alive – even online – just as it did back in high school. That despicable green-eyed monster will do nothing more than bring you down and incapacitate you.

I don’t care how good you are, there are people out there who are better. It’s a fact of life. You’re never going to be “the” best, no matter how hard you try. You can – and should – strive to be the best you possible. Pushing yourself is a good thing. Trying to go beyond any limits you see yourself as having is fantastic. Striving to be exactly like the guy on the next blog – or better than him – is a complete waste of your time.

Who wants to read something that is already being done elsewhere? I know it’s insanely hard to find something unique and different to write, design or create every single day. Take something you find interesting and build on that. Add your own spin to it and do so in a way that brings it to life even more. Allow others to see your personal touch in everything you do, instead of thinking “oh, that’s exactly what I saw on Johnny’s site earlier.”

Being jealous of those who do things differently or better is plain ridiculous. What good will that do you? I see this happening constantly, even within our own community at times. So what if Sally writes better than you do? Are you putting forth your best effort? What more can you possibly ask of yourself?

The beautiful thing is that you don’t have to be Sally or Johnny. No one expects you to be the best, so you’re disappointing no one but you. We already know that there will always be more and “better,” so we don’t expect perfection everywhere we go. You’re the one putting that pressure on yoruself. It’s certainly not us.

The next time you feel yourself becoming jealous of what someone else does or has, remember that the only one who matters is you. When you look into the mirror at night, are you happy with what you see? If the answer is no, then reevaluate what YOU are doing, how you’re doing it and what you can do to make things better. Measuring yourself against everyone else isn’t going to cut it. You are the man (or woman!) in the mirror.

The Fight for Control of OMGFacts

A little over a year ago, I did an interview with the creator of the OMGFacts Twitter account, Adorian Deck. At the time, I was vastly impressed with what the young man had accomplished. He started the account for fun back in 2009, Tweeting interesting and amusing facts. Very quickly, he had amassed more than 300,000 followers. This growth spurt attracted the eye of 24-year-old Emerson Spartz. Spartz promised to help the account mature into a viable business in exchange for a piece of the pie. It’s starting to look as though he asked for a bit too much – or did he?

Mr. Spartz is definitely not new to the game. He has his ears tuned to what teens take viral – in more than one way. You’ll find him behind the popular GivesMeHope Twitter account and the go-to dating site for teens, Flirtlocker. The contract the pair signed indicated that Spartz would receive 100% of the rights to the OMGFacts brand and content.

Since that time, the Twitter account has grown to boast nearly two million followers. The pair have added a YouTube channel and a website. With all of this growth, you’d assume that the boys are making money hand over fist. It’s not clear how much money Mr. Spartz may be making, but young master Deck claims to have netted a mere one hundred dollars. He has now filed a lawsuit against his partner, claiming that the original contract was “predatory” in nature, created simply to wrest control of the account away from the creator.

While it’s easy to feel bad for Adorian, I’m not sure how he has a case. He willingly signed away all rights to the content AND the brand itself. To come back more than a year later and claim that the contract was designed to “wrest control” away from him seems to be rather redundant. Of course it was designed that way. It stated it outright in the papers both parties signed.

One has to wonder where Adorian’s parents or guardians were during this changing of the guard. Since Mr. Deck was under the legal age of consent at the time and could not legally sign a contract on his own volition, his guardians would have had to agree. I’d assume a lawyer was involved to advise them. Don’t you think that any one of those adults would have advised Deck not to give up complete control?

And, of course, if it turns out that no adults were involved and Deck simply signed the paperwork… then we have a whole new ballgame, y’all. I don’t know – what do you think? Do you feel there’s a bit more to this story than we’re being told thus far, or is it simply a sad case of a young man taken advantage of without a leg to stand on now?

Do You Have a Backup Plan?

We’ve discussed having a good backup plan for your computer many times in the past. I’ve given you tips and tricks and offered coupons to software that can keep your information safe. One thing I don’t think we’ve ever touched on is having a personal backup plan. Unfortunately, there is no software in this world that can restore you to a previous state should something unforeseeable happen. Have you ever even thought about what you will do if the worst befalls you, preventing you from doing whatever it is that you do?

It’s difficult enough to figure out what the hell we want to be and do when we grow up, isn’t it? How the heck are we supposed to come up with an alternative plan? This is one area I’m learning that seems to be ignored all too often. We plan for computer failure. We may even plan for financial disaster via investments and savings. Those things will only hold you over for so long, though. What will you do when that runs out?

Most people will choose a career path that interests and excites them. Still others pick something that will potentially earn them a lot of money. Let’s say you’re doing something that requires a lot of physical strength. What will you do if – God forbid – you are in an accident or sustain an injury that ruins any chances of ever returning to your profession?

I’m definitely not telling you to go out and get a second degree today. I’m not going to preach to you about knowing exactly what you will do should you suddenly find yourself needing to change your life’s direction. However, I do feel strongly that you need to think about the possibilities. Instead of coasting through life feeling invincible, what would it hurt to have a bit of a backup plan in mind? Instead of finding yourself in a huge mess, take some time to wrap your mind around things you could do if the situation someday calls for it.

There have to be better options out there than the one I came up with!

Five Ways to Make Money Being a Geek

Being a geek can be an expensive position to be in. You’ve got a nagging urge to buy the latest gadget, collectable, game or otherwise. How do you fund such an expensive lifestyle? Do you drain your paycheck and let your bills wait? Here are a few tips to help you make some extra cash doing things you probably already do.

Start a Blog
Starting a blog is extremely easy, and there are a lot of options out there for monetizing your written word. If you’re passionate about a certain subject, you may find it to be a perfect niche for your blog. Writing articles can be a tedious task and research will become a huge part of your daily routine. If you stick with it, and provide consistently good content on a regular basis, you may find an audience large enough to provide a reasonable second income. This won’t happen overnight, but it can happen if you work at it.

Create a Podcast
Do you like trying out new things and sharing your experiences? You could create a video podcast either using your screen as your camera (screencast) or put a camera on yourself and demonstrate the widget you’re reviewing. Screencasting has become an extremely popular method for creating videos in the tech space. This is especially true for video games where machinima is constantly dominating the top viewed slots on large video sites such as YouTube. You can compliment your video podcast with a blog that contains write-ups for various topics covered on the show. If your YouTube channel becomes popular enough, Google may select you as a partner. This allows you to earn money for videos you post.

Take on Paying Gigs
If you’re really in to computers and know enough to fix them reliably, consider offering your services to others for a fee. You’d be amazed how many people in your social circle know someone that needs their system restored, or more RAM installed and don’t want to pay hundreds of dollars for fifteen minutes of a professional’s time. After you’ve done this long enough, you might gain enough attention and recognition to start your own business on a more full-time basis.

Work for Free
This tip sounds off, but bare with me. If you really like to develop software but don’t feel that anyone would pay for your work based on being a small company with little to no reputation, you can always develop for the open source realm. By doing this, you can distribute your creations more freely and gain help from the community in development. Accepting donations is one way many small developers earn enough funds to grow.

Radio geeks that love to play music for others can find volunteer gigs on Internet radio stations fairly easily. If you’re good at it, they may offer you more air time which results in more experience. This kind of experience can eventually go directly on your portfolio which can help you land that dream job you’ve always wanted. The same would go for Photoshop and graphics design enthusiasts, or any other “geeky” hobby that parallels a commercial industry.

Join Competitions
This one is a bit out there, but if you’re the kind of geek that really gets in to video games, you might consider trying your had at a few ladders. You may discover a natural talent about yourself that can lead to a fun and profitable adventure doing what you love. While becoming a professional gamer is about as likely as becoming a professional football player, many cities host smaller competitions with excellent prizes. If you really like card games like Magic: The Gathering, you can ask your local hobby or comic store about any tournaments going on in your area or search online for nearby events.

Sony Knew Software Was Outdated Months Ago

During testimony at a Congressional hearing earlier today, Dr. Gene Spafford of Purdue University stated that Sony knew months ago that its software was outdated. Approximately three months before more than 100 million users had their information stolen by hackers, the company was informed by security experts that its version of Apache Web Server was seriously out of date. This version was unpatched and had no firewall protection of any kind.

Dr. Spafford spoke during a hearing with the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade. Sony was also invited to attend but declined. In a letter to the committee, the company stated that it has now added “automated software monitoring and enhanced data security and encryption to its systems in the wake of the recent security breaches.”

Excuse me for pointing out the obvious, but Sony made these moves just a smidgen too late, don’t you think? Had it been actively monitoring its software all along, these colossal data breaches may never have occurred, and more than 100 million people wouldn’t have their information at risk. Any company – especially one that deals with credit card numbers and identifying personal information – has a duty to its customers to protect them by making sure that its Web site and service is as secure as could possibly be.

I cannot help but be outraged by this. I was not (thank the Lord) a PlayStation Network member. However, it doesn’t take much to set me off when a company is so obviously negligent. Heck yes, it has taken steps to correct the problem. Too bad that it’s not nearly enough to make up for the lack of security to begin with.

It’s bad enough that Sony never knew its software was outdated – or chose to ignore the fact. It’s far worse that it was told in a public place on more than one occasion by educated consumers and continued to do nothing. Was the company hoping to save money by not purchasing new software? If so, I think it’s safe to say that particular choice just bit it in the butt in a very large way.

Are Flight Attendants Making Your Life Easier?

How many posts have you seen in recent months which discuss the exorbitant fees most airlines charge for pretty much everything? How often have you yourself ranted over the cost of checked baggage or a simple glass of wine in-flight? Unfortunately, many of you out there take your frustrations out on the wrong people – the flight attendants. These people are just doing their job, y’all. They don’t set the prices. They aren’t responsible for the raping of your credit card. They didn’t do it… but some of them are trying to help you out a little.

One frequent flier, CNBC’s John Carney, was pleasantly surprised during a recent trip. He ordered himself a ten-dollar chicken sandwich. The flight attendant serving him apologized for the outlandish price of the food and offered him a free beer to wash it down. The attendant later produced another complimentary brew. Keeping the airline’s identity a secret, he happily witnessed what he is calling a “quiet mutiny.”

Another passenger in the aisle ordered a bottle of wine. The attendant refused to take the woman’s money, claiming that the airline gives out free wine on birthdays – and proceeded to loudly say “Happy Birthday!” (It is unclear whether this woman was even celebrating a birthday that day.) Carney watched in awe as the attendants continued to give out free items to people all throughout the plane.

This was, of course, only one flight. One can’t help but wonder if this is happening on other trips, as well. Are attendants just as fed up as we are by the horrible pricing that these airlines are charging us in order to try and make some money? Are they perhaps – rightly so – sick of being the ones verbally abused for said pricing? Is this their way of giving back and attempting to make life a little easier for all of us?

If you’ve been on a flight recently and seen something similar to this, let us hear from you in the comments. Please do not post the name of the airline. We don’t want any of these wonderful flight attendants getting in trouble.

Rental Computers from Aaron’s are Spying on You

Renting furniture, home appliances and electronics is pretty easy these days, thanks to chain store Aaron’s Inc. With the economy forever tanking, people may not be able to afford to go out and buy something outright. Let’s say your stove bites the dust… heading to Aaron’s and making small(ish) monthly payments is preferable to shelling out several hundred bucks all at once for a lot of you. The same holds true with a computer or laptop. The company carries those, as well, but they aren’t exactly being honest with you when you rent one. It turns out that they are – quite literally – spying on you.

A couple in Wyoming signed an agreement with Aaron’s in early 2010 for the purchase of an Inspiron laptop. They paid the machine off in full a month prior to the end date, in October of that year. Two months later, the store manager showed up at their door and attempted to repossess the laptop, claiming it was never paid off. (Side note: Isn’t it funny that the company never contacted them between the payoff period and when the manager showed up?) While arguing over whether the company had the “right” to the Inspiron, the manager pulled out a photograph of Mr. Byrd using the computer… taken with the built-in webcam.

It turns out that Aaron’s routinely installs several layers of tracking software on every computer they lease. This is made by PC Rental Agent. Supposedly, the Agent is designed to keep track of machines so that no one can run off with them, and to lock customers out if they refuse to pay. However, no consumer is ever told of the presence of this evil little piece of software.

According to the lawsuit filed by the Byrds, law enforcement officials determined that there are tracking components soldered onto the motherboard itself. The laptop also has software installed on the hard drive which allows the chain store complete access via keylogging, screenshots and webcam access. Every single keystroke a customer makes is recorded… Every. Single. Keystroke. They’re also snapping photos of your family and guests to your home doing any number of things!

Hello?! This is likely the worst type of privacy invasion I have ever heard of. The potential for abuse of this software is mind-boggling. Any store employee who can use their end of this monitoring software can now access any sensitive and personal data on thousands of machines running around the United States and Canada. The couple and their lawyer are working to turn this into a class-action suit so that other people can come forward. In this case, I am all in favor of a huge lawsuit being slapped on a company by a heck of a lot of former customers.

What are your thoughts?

How to Help Your Company be Social

Companies everywhere are finally realizing that they need to be social to survive in today’s marketplace. They are scrambling to figure out how to use Twitter and Facebook in order to be where their customers are. Some of them are grasping the advantages of Foursquare. The problem is that many of these brands aren’t doing social the right way. Yes my friends – there is a right – and wrong – way to “do” social media. Big corporations hiring a person or outside company to talk AT consumers are doing it absolutely wrong. Those establishments who talk WITH their community are the ones who are owning the social space.

There are businesses all over my Twitter stream who just can’t seem to figure out the difference between talking at someone and talking with them. Sending out messages about your latest “deal” or sale isn’t enough. Shooting a link or two their way with the hope they will click and buy doesn’t cut it. I don’t care how good your product or service is these days. If you aren’t opening a real dialogue with your patrons, you’re missing the entire point.

It’s great to see corporations such as Comcast and TechSmith really connecting with people. They don’t take the conversation out of the public eye just to shut someone up… they honestly do it to HELP people. However, I feel there is still so much more they could be doing. Creating actual back-and-forth conversations – even on Twitter – is something that each and every one of you needs to be doing.

Ask questions. When you receive answers, don’t just ignore them and congratulate yourself for getting a reply. TALK WITH THEM. Don’t tell people what you’re going to give them or do for them – ask them what they want. Find out how you can make your service better. Discover what the consumers think would make your product stand out from the competitors. Figure out your customer’s lives… what will make things easier for them? What is it you can do to help make their day better? All of this can be done right on social networks, y’all.

Stop counting your numbers and measuring your damn metrics. Quit worrying about that stuff, because it honestly doesn’t matter nearly as much as you think it does. What matters is those people sitting behind their screen attempting to connect with you. Once you’ve established that, the metrics will fall into place all on their own.

Are the PlayStation Hackers Running up Debt?

This could very well be the first case of many we’ll see where the PlayStation hackers are using the credit card information they obtained. Rory Spreckley is one of more than 77 million people who had a credit card on file with Sony in order to access their PlayStation Network. He also is apparently now the victim of credit card fraud. The Adelaide man logged into his bank account earlier today only to find more than $2,000.00 worth of charges that he didn’t run up.

Sony claims that there is no solid evidence that any credit card information was stolen. The company firmly stated that this type of info is encrypted. We all know how fail-safe that is, right? At this point in time, the gaming giant isn’t even sure how many – and which – databases were accessed. Therefore, it cannot be sure. With the news of Mr. Spreckley’s unauthorized charges surfacing, I’d think it’s safe to say the hackers may just have gotten their hands on your financial stuff after all.

“There was a number of early transactions on the 23rd of amounts under $1, which they say is the usual kind of test run that fraudsters do and then there’s been a number of transactions of larger amounts, including domestic flights within Australia, bookings at Best Westerns [hotels] and what not,” the Australian man stated.

Most galling to me is that someone is telling these consumers NOT to cancel their credit cards. They should instead simply watch for unauthorized charges to their accounts. Uh… right. Who the hell thought this up? I’m sorry, but if my credit card information was taken by anyone other than myself, I would be on the phone to cancel it faster than you can blink your eyes. That’s absolutely ludicrous as far as I’m concerned.

Security experts agree that there needs to be MUCH more done on the part of the compromised companies. They agree that disclosure needs to be much sooner – even if all details aren’t clear. Customers deserve to be warned that something could be up, so that they can take proper precautions. These experts would even like to see a disclosure law in place: “It would require a company to contact and inform customers within one day or two days of the event occurring so that those customers can take action to cancel credit cards or change passwords or other private information and also to be aware that their information has actually been stolen,” said Mark Gregory of RMIT.

If you were a PlayStation Network subscriber, do yourself a favor: take action. Don’t sit around and wait to see if hackers will run up your accounts. Be proactive. Discuss with your bank or financial adviser the best steps to take in order to keep yourself – and your credit score – safe. Yes, you can get charges reversed if you have your cards stolen. But doing so can sometimes be a long and painful process.