Elisabeth Garbeil's blog

This is a particularly nasty phone scam

in

Basically, they call and try and get you to say "yes" so that they can use that as proof that you agree to buy goods or services you did not.  They will ask you any sort of question, such as "Can you hear me?"  "Are you the homeowner?"  etc.  

Conclusion - don't answer the phone unless you recognize the number. 

http://patch.com/michigan/birmingham/s/g0j4c/can-you-hear-me-whatever-yo...

We Will Not Sit Idly By

It's somehow very appropriate that today is the 50th anniversary of Kristallnacht.  Kristallnacht, the "Night of Broken Glass," was a wave of violent attacks against the Jews in 1938 Nazi Germany. "Close to 100 Jews were murdered and many more seriously injured. More than 7,000 Jewish businesses and hundreds of synagogues were destroyed. Jewish cemeteries were desecrated, Jewish schools were vandalized and 30,000 Jews were arrested and sent to concentration camps." (source: Anti-Defamation League).  It is something that I need to discuss with my son this weekend. 

I am copying this from my Facebook post because it is something I feel very strongly about.  It's easy to lose Facebook posts in a Timeline, so it will stay hear as inspiration for the coming year: 

I am going to be hopeful here. (Or pretend to be anyway.). There is a huge difference between here and Germany of the 1930's. I believe that Americans have the courage to stand up and fight for freedom, civil rights and democracy. I believe that we will not tolerate the spread of hatred, fascism and hate crimes. I believe that we will speak out, protest, take legal action and we will not stop. We will not sit idly by, because allowing hatred to go unchecked is just as much of an action as committing a hate crime.

And don't think just because you're not Muslim, African American or Hispanic, that they won't come for you too. Prejudice is a disease that spreads very easily. History has proven that over and over again.

So speak out, object, protest. Do not stand idly by.

If you're afraid to speak out now, remember that no one will speak out when they come for you.

This is no different than bullying. It's just an extreme form of it. I expect my son to speak out if he sees someone being bullied. I can do no less. 

 

The picture below will take you to a very good article on  Kristallnacht

 

Here is the original Facebook post:

 

 

Site with useful Drupal Tips

in

This site has some handy tips for Drupal web developers.  Some of them seem to be a bit outdated, such as the one for a WYSIWIG editor, since there are 2 standards for that (ckeditor/imce and one I can't remember.  We primarily use ckeditor for no particular reason.)  Others are primarily for speed management. 

Here's the site: http://mydrupal.com/30-extremely-useful-drupal-tips-and-tricks-you-proably-ignored

Why Raising the Minimum Wage Doesn't Work

Raising the minimum wage sounds good.  Sure, if a worker got paid more, he wouldn't be starving right?  It sounds so good that it's been tried over and over again.   But like so many other things, it may sound good in theory, but in practice (i.e. reality) raising the minimum wage doesn't help alleviate joblessness or eliminate poverty.  It actually makes things worse.

This came up because my husband and I disagree on this issue and a friend was arguing for raising the minimum wage on Facebook.  I decided it was time to go through the reasons why raising the minimum wage won't work and my blog is a much better place to do it than Facebook. 

So let's look at an example (the one my friend gave).  A person working 40 hours a week at $7.25 an hour is below the poverty line. (40*7.25*50 = $14,500 a year).  The poverty line for a family of two in the US (not including Alaska and Hawaii) is $15,730.  Raise that to $9.00 hour for the same 40 hours and he isn't, right?  (40*9.00*50= $18,000).  The math sounds good, which is why it makes a good selling point for a democratic politician.

In theory, if you tell companies they have to pay their workers a living wage, they'd just agree and comply, right.  Well, theory isn't reality. The companies that believe in paying their employees well, like Costco, already do and wouldn't be affected by a change in the minimum wage.  The companies that don't, like Walmart, aren't going to spend more money on workers.

The main problem with raising the minimum wage is that it doesn't mandate how much companies actually spend on workers as a whole, nor does it affect the economics that created the situation as a whole.  So let's go back to that example of the 40 hour worker.  Small companies simply don't have that much money and larger companies won't.

What would really happen to that person working 40 hours a week at minimum wage?

  • First of all, the example is way too simplistic.  Right off the bat, I can tell you that in order to work 40 hours a week at minimum wage, you 'd have to be working more than one job.  Existing laws already mandate that full-time workers (40 hours or more, varies by state.  Some states are 35, some are less, none are more than 40) must receive benefits.  Most, if not all, minimum wage workers do not receive benefits.  And the cost of working 2 or more jobs is higher than one because of the logistics involved.
  • Second, companies are not likely to increase their overall spending on labor (workers) just because the government mandated a wage increase.  From the standpoint of the company, this means an increase in costs leading to a decrease in company revenues.  That might risk the CEO's bonus.  So if you raise the wages, what do you have to cut in order to come out the same in overall labor costs?  That's right - hours. So the person working 40 hours a week could easily find their hours cut by approximately 8 per week (or more) so now they only work 32 hours a week. ( (40*9.00) - (40*7.25) )/9.00 = 7.77 (round to 8 hours)   40-8 = 32 hours per week.  So great, the person works less hours but  makes the same amount of money.   Now, companies might not cut everyone's hours.  They might just eliminate some people instead.  So a few workers are better off, but then others are out of a job.  That doesn't increase jobs.  Or perhaps they hire less people.  Both are common answers.  But, they still need workers you say.  Well, less and less people get to do more work.  The people who are still employed must work harder for the same pay.
  • Some companies might choose to pass the increase off by raising the price of their goods.  I.e. raise the price of each pizza by $.15 .   This is extremely unlikely.  Most companies that routinely employ minimum wage workers compete partially on the price of their goods, which means that any increase in the price of the goods means potential sales lost.  Again, not a strategy the company can pursue.
  • This is a global economy.  When the costs (this includes workers' wages) of producing goods increases, the company starts looking for a place where they can produce the same goods cheaper because they can't raise their prices and they are competing with companies in other countries whose costs are much lower. So then the jobs disappear entirely. This is what happened to the textile industry in the southern US states.
  • The person working that minimum wage job runs the risk of being replaced by a machine.  For example, the receptionist at a small company gets replaced by an automated phone system.  The company saves money but loses in customer service.   The company could easily decide that the savings from employing one less person more than makes up for the lack of customer service.

A few people would benefit, but not many and overall, the poverty rate would not improve. 

For more detail on the research behind raising the minimum wage, see the The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics - Minimum Wages by Linda Gorman.  It's a fairly good summary and the studies are detailed along with the history of the minimum wage.

Now I'm all for getting people above the poverty line.  I just don't think that raising the minimum wage is the right way to do it.   To post a comment, please email me to request a user ID.

Thoughts of the Day

My son's teacher just sent us a gorgeous picture of him playing Sorry at recess with a bunch of other kids.  It was a great reminder of what the important things in life are.  It's very easy to lose perspective and get buried in the day to day details of life, both at work and home.  Little reminders like that to take a peek at the forest are worth their weight in gold.  You need to look for them and take advantage of them when they come.  Look at where you are and where you want to be in 5 years. 

It was great to see my son being so successful and happy.  He's in a great school and doing really well.  Charles and I gave up a lot and did a lot of planning years ago to get to this place.   It was worth it.

Why Do Most Projects Fail?

At its heart, every project is about change.  It can be a small, simple change or a large change that will fundamentally change the way the organization functions.   The bigger the change, the bigger the risk of failure.

Why, do you ask?  Because change is inherently scary to most people.  What is known is safe. It may not be pleasant or it might even be downright awful, but it's still known.  You know how big that tiger is and how likely he is to want to eat you on any given day (or you think you do).  You don't know what lurks out in the unknown.  This trait probably kept humanity safe through most of its evolution.  After all, you don't have time to think about it and prepare logical arguments when the tiger (or even scarier unknown monster is about to eat you).  All you have time to do is decide to fight or run.   For most of history, change was not good (famine, plague, war, tigers, etc.), so this behavior is completely natural.

The fact that most projects don't involve monsters about to eat people doesn't matter.  The level at which humans react doesn't understand the difference between a real tiger/monster or a potential job change or loss.  To our subconscious it's all the same thing - survival.

What isn't logical is that most companies ignore the affect of change on people.  They think a better methodology will solve the problem.  They try to make projects better by imposing more process, more accountability and less humanity as a byproduct.  If you look at Communications Planning and Human Resources Planning in the PMBOK (Project Management Body of Knowledge), it talks about plans, resource management, etc. etc.   The PMBOK does mention the importance of good communications and resource management, but that's about all.  The rest of both knowledge areas are about planning and controlling.  Nothing about people, nor about the fact that you can't treat people like you do a machine.  Nothing about actually communicating, just how to plan it and document it.

None of which will keep a project from failing.  I have never seen a project saved because of a great communication plan.   A great communication plan will help you identify who you need to talk to, what information they need and how often.  What it won't tell you is how to talk to them - how to recognize and address their fears and concerns about the impending, how to get them excited and how to keep them motivated and involved.  That's what makes a project successful.  That's what communication needs to happen on a project.  And it isn't part of any methodology.
Agile Project Management at least recognizes this need and how important it is, but it still doesn't tell you how.  The PMBOK just recognizes communications as important - that's all. Then it proceeds to ignore how to communicate and manage people as people and proceeds to plan them the same way you would raw materials.

People react emotionally to change, not logically, and the emotion is usually fear.  Using logic to talk to someone's fears doesn't work.  You have to talk on the level of emotions, not facts.  Until you've addressed the emotions, the facts don't matter and won't be heard.  That's why most projects fail - they don't address people as people, who are emotional first and rational later (remember the tiger? ) and neither do the methodologies.
The key to good project management is being a very good listener and communicator, on both an emotional and rational level.  Especially on an emotional level - that's where change happens,

What is an "App"? What is an App not?

People get really excited when I say I do iPhone app development.  When I talk to them, it usually turns out that they are just talking about a mobile version of their site.   Then I have to explain that this is NOT what apps are for.  You can use an app to create a connector or wrapper for your site, but that doesn't make it a mobile version of your site.  You can create a mobile version of your site with an app, but it's not a good fit for a lot of businesses and then you have 2 sites to maintain.   And only a programmer can maintain the app version.   So don't do it!  I'll talk about what you should do in just a minute.  Let's talk just a bit more about apps first.

So what are apps good for?   First of all, 'app' is short for application.  Application is another word for program.  Programs are what makes computers do things.  They have been around as long as computers have been.  Your computer wouldn't work if it didn't have programs.  'Apps' usually refers to programs that run on the iPhone, iPad and Android and now to programs that run on the Mac.  Apple coined the term, so they get to use it however they want.  I expect to see the term 'apps' on Windows as of Windows 8 as well.     If you think of an app as something that does things, that's where they are really useful.  The parts of your website that are really interactive may make good apps.  For example, do you have a mortgage calculator or investment analysis?  That would make a great app.  Point of sale systems make great apps.   Take a look at the best apps on the Android and iPhone.  They are all really interactive.  My current favorite is Pinterest.  I actually like it a lot better than the website version.  My son's favorite is Waterslide.  It's a pretty cool game where you move the iPhone to move your character down a water slide. 

Take a look at what apps are already out there.  Your idea may make a great app or it might already have been done.  If you're interested in finding out more or you would like to talk to me about your idea, please feel free to give me a call at 810-560-7181.  There are lots of great resources out there.  I'll be happy to point you to the ones I know, and I would be glad to hear of ones you've found.  I've barely scratched the surface of app development so far.

Okay, I did say I'd get back to what you should do for your site if an app isn't the right solution.  Here's the answer:  your site should be designed in such a way that it adjusts how the site looks depending on what system is accessing the site.  Every website has the ability to tell what operating system is accessing it.  If your site sees that it's running on an iPhone, it should adjust the look and feel to match the dimensions and capabilities of the iPhone.  No java, for example.  Nothing annoys me more than a site that won't work on an iPhone.  The way to adapt your site to whatever device is accessing the site is called Responsive Web  Design.

The Drupal Content Management System has some very neat ways of doing Responsive Web Design.  I'll talk more about that in a later blog post.  

Mean while, here are just a couple of fun resources for Apps:

  • Appillionaires by Chris Stevens.  This probably my favorite.  It details the rise of some of the most succesful apps and also talks about the pitfalls of app development.
  • App Empire by Chad Mureta  - This is also good, but it feels like gold rush fever to me.  The vast majority of app developers don't make millions.

There are lots more good books out there.  If you find one, let me know too :-).

What to do If You are Victim of a "Windows" Phone Scam

The best solution to any scam of course, is not to fall victim to it in the first place.  Never give out any personal information to anyone who you have not cleared first.  It's okay to give your account number to the bank teller, but don't give it to anyone else. Try not to let your credit cards out of your sight and don't let anyone get access to your computer that you haven't paid to work on it already.  

 

I have a special hate for people who perpetrate this particular scam though, because they prey on people who are elderly and do not have any knowledge of computers.  I do remote technical support on contract and I've gotten several panicked calls from people who have been victimized by this scam.  In one case, the client was lucky because she didn't have any financial information on her computer at all (she did everything the old fashioned way) and she called my contractor right after it happened.   She was still out the $50 that the bank charged and days and days of inconvenience, but that was it.  Most people aren't nearly so lucky and can lose their savings, face immense charges that take months to straighten out and even potentially lose their social security. 

Once the scammer gets a hold of your financial information (social security number, bank account numbers, birth date, credit cards and so on - and they only need one or two pieces to pull the rest), they can open accounts, buy houses and other goods in your name, access your current accounts, rack up tons of charges online or in person, and so on.  They can even collect your social security.

Here is what the scam looks like:   Someone calls you on the phone claiming to be from "the Windows company" or Microsoft or Best Buy.  They tell you that your computer is infected with many many viruses, bugs, etc.  They then tell you that they need to clean your computer and it will cost $199.99.  They ask for your credit card number and then ask for access to your computer via remote control software.   Once they are in your computer, they can get access to everything you have if you keep any financial information on your computer at all.  This includes access to banking sites, online shopping sites like amazon, etc.   Most of these sites may encrypt passwords, but they still leave accessible files called cookies which the hacker can grab to gain access to those sites and accounts.  They can also install a keystroke logger to capture any passwords you may enter going forward.

As I said before, the best solution is not to fall for the scam in the first place.  Microsoft, Best Buy or any other computer company will not ever call you to tell you that you have an infected PC.   A general rule for any scam is never to give anyone financial information online or over the phone who you have not already verified.   You can expect amazon.com to be mindful of how they handle your credit card information, but Joe Schmoe is under no such obligation.

Barring that, if you or someone you know falls victim to a scam:

1) Immediately call the banks and credit companies to notify them that your account information has been stolen and that the card needs to be cancelled and all outstanding charges need to be reviewed.  They will close that account and give you a card with a different number.  Yes, it will be inconvenient but it's better than having to deal with fraudulent charges.

2)  Change every password to every financial institution and online store where you shop or do transactions.  Also talk to the banks and have them change the pin numbers on your debit cards, if they don't issue you a new card (see step 1). 

3)  Change your email passwords immediately and notifiy your provider that your account has been hacked.  If you have google or yahoo, they have special procedures to handle account hacking.  You may want to be sure you have copies of all your emails because they may have to shut your mail account down and create a new account for you.

4) If they got access to your computer and not just your credit card information, make sure you have the computer thoroughly checked over by a professional, if not wiped and re-installed.  Just running a virus scan yourself won't do it.  It's very easy to install malware or keystroke loggers that won't show up on most virus scanners.

5)  Contact the 3 major credit bureaus to notify them of the fraud and have them put a notice on your credit record.  That will put companies on alert to verify any unsual transactions and provide you with some legal recourse in the case of fraudulent accounts or charges.  Also get a copy of your credit report and verify that all the accounts that show up are valid.

6)  Call the Social Security Administration and make sure your social security account is secure.

7)  Call your local police and contact the FTC.  If you were victim of a phone scam, it is a crime and should be reported.  Your local police can also help you with further actions to take.  I realize that most phone scammers don't get caught, but there's more of a chance if it's reported.

There are a number of companies that offer identity theft services.  I have never used them so I can't advise on the best ones, but they will handle many of the actions you need to take in case of identity theft.  Some also insure you against more than X dollars in damage, so that is another advantage. 

Here are some additional resources to help in case of an online or phone scam.

1) The Federal Trade Commission for phone scams

2) US Government Internet Fraud Information

3)  Consumer Fraud Reporting  (non-government site)  I wouldn't report anything here, but they do have good information.

4) Internet Crime Complaint Center (joint FBI, FTC and Dept. of Justice site)

5) Your local police.  They often have a department that focuses on fraud and knows how to help.

Inventory Software Options for Small Business

Are you stil managing your inventory from a spreadsheet or on paper?  That's great when you have a really small business but it isn't really scalable.  At the same time, you aren't ready to jump into Sage or Great Plains or another 5-digit package yet either.   So where does that leave you?

There are loads of inventory packages available, with prices ranging from free to hundreds of thousands of dollars.  There are a fair amount even below $1000.  It can be really confusing to decide what package to choose. 

I went through and reviewed some of the inventory packages available below $1000.  Some of the things I looked at were:  

  1. How easy is the product to use?
  2. How well supported is it?
  3. What features does it have? 
  4. How easy is it to configure? 
  5. Can I test it out for free? (This is significant because you need to see the product in action.)

And yes, I did look at Quickbooks inventory, but it quickly came off the list because it is not easy to use and is not very rich in features.  Quickbooks manages inventory from an accounting viewpoint, so it is fairly limited.

Here is what I came up with:

  1.  inFlow Inventory System  - This package is clearly the best that I found for the price by far.  It has 2 price points ($299 and $499), a demo version that is very strong and the most features for the money.  It is also very well supported.   The Premium version even comes with phone support.  The only negatives for this program that I found are 1) it is Windows only and 2)  it does not print bar codes.  
  2. ABC Inventory Software - This product is pretty good, considering it's free.  It is difficult to set up, but it is fairly flexible and has a lot of features.  It has a very strong user forum for support and can print and scan bar codes, along with many other features.  It is Access-based and Windows Only
  3.  Inventoria Mac Inventory Management  -  This is the only product for the Mac that seems to be in the same classe as inFlow and ABC Inventory.  It doesn't provide as much functionality, but it is pretty close.  It isn't as easy to use as inFlow, but easier than ABC Inventory.  The demo is a 14-day trial, which isn't bad. Inventoria also offers a Windows-based version that is comparable.

There are lots of other inventory packages out there.  Many are industry-specific, which can come with some benefits and usually less setup time because it's already mostly configured to your business. 

Here are a couple more resources to help you on your search:

All giving, no getting. Are you getting frustrated with giving but never getting referrals?

Have you ever noticed that there are people in many of the networking groups that are very good about asking for referrals, but never give any out.  I'm pretty sure they're not even aware that they don't give referrals a lot of the time.  This is actually the norm.  Most people learn to ask, but not to give.  I think it starts in childhood. 

So what's a networker to do?   Give referrals and never get any in return?  I know sometimes it really feels like that,  doesn't it.

Here is how I deal with it:

1.  I give with the thought of helping someone else out, not getting in return.  For example, I just gave a referral this morning to someone looking for an accountant up in the thumb.  I happen to know a good CPA who maintains an office in Saginaw.  This is a natural fit.  I don't know if it will work out, and most likely, I will never find out.   For these kinds of referrals, I'll give the contact and just let it go. 

2.  I believe that the more you give, the more you get, but not from the same place - it will show up somewhere else entirely.  So giving out referrals is never a bad thing if you are comfortable that the person you're referring can do the job.

3.  Remember that your reputation rides on every referral you give.  Don't give a bad referral.  If you don't know the person you're referring, make that abundantly clear.  Also check in if you know both parties and see how it went.

4.  Certain groups don't pass referrals well.  If the reason you're going to the group is to get referrals or business, don't go.  Find another group that fits better.  I find this in a lot of the free networking groups where most of the members are small or at-home businesses.  A  lot of these people never learned how to refer or how to do business.  The higher-end groups that cost more generally don't have that problem, but they also have to be in a position to refer you.  Give it a couple of times and see how it goes.  Don't spend a lot of time with groups of people who will never buy from or refer you if you're there to do business. 

5.  Find a group of people that will be in a position to refer you.  For example, I'm a difficult person to refer if you are not in a position of trust with the business owner.  My best referral sources are the same as my best sources of clients - accountants and attorneys.

In my opinion, networking groups are also an overrated way to get business for many industries.  But that's a topic for another day.

 

 

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