Thoughts

The pain and importance of communication

During the past several months, I’ve had to work with people much more than before, and I learned a few things, one of which is the importance of communication.

Ligia and Raoul, talking

It’s one thing to sit in front of the computer all day and communicate via email and the occasional meeting, as it happens in IT work, and it’s quite another to only do it in person, face to face, explain concepts and ideas, try to get your vision across, then see how well others understood and delivered on the stuff you needed. More often than not, I’ve been disappointed, but I’m told that’s par for this course.

So where does communication help?

Where there’s tension, it helps deflate anger and potential conflict. I’ve been in situations where the tension had built up so much the hair stood up on my back and I was ready to punch someone, and yet if we were able to communicate rationally for a few minutes and hash out the various problems that we faced, all of that pent-up anger literally melted away. Of course, if the other person can’t communicate rationally, that’s another story altogether…

I can’t overemphasize the importance of communicating with each other as you work on a project with other people, particularly when it’s new territory for either one of you. Most people aren’t good communicators. They’d rather just do their work, but if they’re not taking the time to understand what it is you want them to do, being faced with an end result that differs from your expectations can lead to bad situations all around. So what I’ve had to do is to initiate communication most of the time, and to get these people to explain to me each stage of the work they were doing, several times a day, just to make sure they’re on the right track.

In the past, when I worked on IT projects, I had to do the same thing sometimes, but more often than not, I got too frustrated with the capabilities of others and brushed them aside, preferring to do the work myself, knowing I could do it faster and better. That wasn’t possible this time. I’ve been involved in construction/renovation work, and even though I could do the work myself, I couldn’t allow myself to do it because I needed to get results on a tight schedule. Doing things myself would have meant pushing deadlines into the future, and that wasn’t an option. The teams I worked with could deliver the stuff on time, but I had to make sure we were communicating properly. It was a real challenge, and I gained a new-found respect for general contractors and project managers. It’s very stressful and exhausting to work on construction projects and ensure everything gets done according to plan and to your vision when you’re dealing with people. Unfortunately, until we invent robots that can do all manner of construction work to spec — and I doubt that’ll ever happen — that’s what we have to work with.

In IT work, if something isn’t right, you can go back in and change things. You erase or modify the code, re-adjust the software options, etc. You’ve only wasted time, not materials. (Yes, you can also waste resources and others’ time, but let’s not bring that into the equation for this analogy.) In construction work, you not only waste time, you waste materials, and that can really add up. There’s also the painful cost of tearing down stuff that wasn’t built right and starting from scratch, and you pay for this in more stress.

So yeah, communication is vital, but there are some serious flip sides to it.

I’ve found out that you can still be misunderstood and judged even when you do your best to communicate as much as possible — and here I’m not talking about construction work, but life in general. Your every action can be perceived as the opposite of what you meant it to be. You’ll try to help someone else and they’ll think you’re trying to hurt them. You’ll do a good deed and it’ll get mocked or your kindness will be abused when others seek to take advantage of you. It is so painful to deal with this crap, and yet there’s no way around it unless you go live someplace away from everybody — and let me tell you I’m sorely tempted to do it.

There is so much potential in each of us to create, to do good things, lasting things, beautiful things, to achieve lofty goals working in harmony, but we’re stuck using language to communicate what’s inside us. There’s no better way to transfer information and ideas between us. Unfortunately, words can be sorely lacking in the power to transfer information and vision, in most situations where it’s really important for them to convey that. And yes, this is coming from a writer, someone who loves using words. It’d be so much easier if we could communicate what’s in our hearts, unequivocally, when we needed to do it, so there would be no doubt in the mind of the other person of what our true intentions really are. Of course my vision is somewhat utopic. After all, many people simply don’t aspire to do good things. Their goals stop at the ordinary or downright sordid aspects of life, and you can’t do much good with those people. You’re better off avoiding them, unless you welcome extra stress in your life.

I suppose one antidote for all this pain caused by living and working among people is to not care. By this I don’t mean we should be callous. I mean we shouldn’t care what others think of our actions or of us. We should stand rooted in our morality and do what we know is right, treat others the way we want to be treated, and let others think what they will of us. As long as we’re true to our own moral compasses, nothing else should matter. Right? But somehow it does, doesn’t it? And it’s so damned painful, too.

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Events

The Atlantic Cable – Eighth Wonder of the World

In July 1866, after the successful completion of the project which undertook to lay a single undersea cable through the North Atlantic, from Newfoundland to Ireland, this following commemorative print was created:

The Eighth Wonder of the World

The Atlantic Cable was the idea of the New York merchant and financier Cirus W. Field, who wanted to communicate with Europe in hours, not weeks, and in 1854, conducted the first trial of laying a 2,000 mile cable between the US and Europe. The first three attempts were not successful, but in 1866, his persistence paid off, and his cable worked. Needless to say, he was showered with due praise and honors for his efforts — one of them being this print.

When you look at Cirus W. Field, the man, he wasn’t that imposing. He seems to have been of average height and thinner build, and yet, this is the man that laid the foundation of long-distance communication. Isn’t it wonderful what one person can achieve if they set their mind to it?

Cyrus W. Field, as photographed by Mathew Brady in 1958

Just how did those trans-Atlantic telegraph cables look? You can see longitudinal and transverse sections of each size in this print:

Samples of the Atlantic cables used in the 1800s

The cables are quite complex, as you can see above. When you think that 2,000 miles of these cables had to be made, from scratch, in the mid 1800s, it’s no wonder they were at the time called the Eighth Wonder of the World.

The failures to lay working cables before 1866 attracted controversy. You see, Cyrus Field didn’t finance the matter himself. He’d have been bankrupted many times over. He used other people’s money by selling shares in the venture. Here’s one such stock certificate, sold to Lady Anne Isabella Noel Byron, Lord Byron’s widow. This certificate lost most of its value after the failure of the 1858 cable, then became worthless until the formation of the companies which handled the laying of the 1865 and 1866 cables.

Atlantic Cable Stock Certificate

The route of the 1858 cable can be seen in the map included here:

1858 Telegraph Cable Map

The routes of the cables available in 1870 can be seen on this map:

1870 Telegraph Cable Map

Pause here for a bit and think about this: in the late 1800s, these were all of the communication routes available in the entire world. That was it. There was no internet, no telephone, no TV, no radio, only written letters and telegraph. Oh yes, they also had Indian smoke signals, but they weren’t as widely used, and those communication lines aren’t marked on these maps as each transfer hub was assembled and disassembled on the fly.

It’s easy to complain about how much faster and more reliable our Internet access could be, but the fact of the matter is that we’ve made amazing strides in communication over the past century and a half. As I write this, I’m sitting at a desk in a village in rural Dobrogea, Romania, and am storing these letters or bits or whatever you want to call them on my server back in the United States, instantly, each and every time I press the “Save Draft” button in my WordPress Editor. That’s amazing, in and of itself.

Let’s fast forward and see how fast things progressed from that single cable laid in 1866. By 1880, there were four cables already.

1880 Telegraph Cable Map

By 1901, there were 14 cables. That’s right, fourteen, from four just 20 years earlier.

1901 Telegraph Cable Map

Although trans-Atlantic telegraph communications progressed quite fast, the first trans-atlantic telephone call did not occur until 1927. It was made from Columbia, Missouri, to London, lasted six minutes and cost $162, which was quite a large sum for that time.

The first trans-Atlantic telephone call, in 1927

Just think, now we can talk anywhere in the world for pennies a minute, or do audio or video chats with applications like Skype or iChat for free. We sure have come a long way!

Sources

Images used courtesy of the History of the Atlantic Cable & Undersea Communications and Missouri School of Journalism Archives.

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Reviews

Google launches video chat, ignores PowerPC Macs

A few days ago, Google launched something that a lot of people had wanted for some time: the ability to do a video chat, right from Gmail. Everyone got really excited, and for good reason. I was very happy too, until I discovered that PowerPC Macs were out of the picture. Why?

Here’s what I get when I access the Google Video Chat site from my Intel MBP:

And here’s what my wife gets when she accesses that very same site:

So while she gets to see this when I’m away from home:

I’ll still only get to see this, which makes me sad:

Why, Google, why?

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Thoughts

But what happens if you die?

Blood on the tracks

This is a bit of a rant, but a recent comment on one of my articles reminded of an argument I sometimes hear as a consultant. It goes something like this: “But what happens if you die?” I cringe when I hear it — not because I can’t defend it — because I find it silly.

Actually, it’s not really an argument or a question at all. It’s a symptom. It tells me that the person making it is feeling very insecure about the deal.

Here’s what I told a recent potential client when I was asked that question:

I understand the “drop dead” factor, and it’s something that my long-term clients and I talked about. The thing is, unless I drop dead while the project is in development, you’re fairly safe. Once the project is completed, another knowledgeable designer/developer can come in and pick up where I’ve left off. Even while the project is being developed, if I can’t continue for whatever reason, the work isn’t lost. It isn’t as if I write my code in some language that no one understands. A good coder should be able to understand what I’ve done and build on it.

And that’s the truth. I can’t see how that argument could possibly stand on its own feet. If you’re a good developer, are in communication with the client, you back up your work, and you have certain deliverables and a timeline tied to a project, how can the project just disappear if you should kick the bucket? Makes no sense to me. Even if I should die, my computer will still be there. My wife or my friends will be there. My source code should be there. Besides, if it’s a website, chances are I’m working on a server somewhere as well, not just in my home, so the files can be retrieved even if my computer were to crash or be locked down.

Isn’t it individuals that have driven innovation throughout the ages? It’s people doing the work and driving toward goals, people that could croak at any point, I suppose, not machines. If the same “what if” argument to them, where would we be today? If a company looking to hire someone stops to think, what if he or she dies tomorrow, where will they be? If you find a good product or a good man, do you wait a few years to see whether or not that product will disappear or that person will croak? You have to take some risk if you want to see results, and sometimes the opportunities are there only for short amounts of time.

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How To

Block anonymous calls with SkypeIn

You may or may not know that Skype offers a service called SkypeIn, which lets you get a local number that people can call to reach you anywhere in the world, provided you’re logged into Skype. I’ve had a SkypeIn number for the past couple of years, and I love it. Want the number? It’s +1 (301) 637-6885.

Do you know why I can give it out so freely? First, because all my calls go right to voicemail. I get that bundled with SkypeIn. I screen all my calls that way and delete all of the annoying telemarketing calls. Second, because of a great feature that I’ve discovered yesterday. It’s hidden away in the Advanced settings for Calls, and it blocks most telemarketing calls automatically.

Here’s how it works. Open Skype and go to Tools >> Options. Then click on the Calls icon, located in the sidebar of the Options dialog box. You’ll get the following screen:

Basic call settings in Skype

Now click on the “Show Advanced Options” button. You’ll get this screen:

Advanced call settings in Skype

Now look for the option that says “Allow SkypeIn calls from…” and select “anyone”, then make sure to check the option called “Block calls when number is hidden”.

Doing this will block most telemarketing calls, since they usually hide their numbers. Isn’t that beautiful?

If you want to make sure none of them get through to you, just go to the Voicemail section and look for the “Send calls to voicemail if…” option, then change the number of seconds to 1 or something really small. That way everything that makes it past the initial call filter goes right to voicemail. This allows you to listen to the messages later and hit delete without wasting your time. I have my threshold set to 10 seconds. If I’m logged into Skype, that usually gives me enough time to see who’s calling and decide if I want to take the call or not. If I’m not logged in, then all the calls go directly to voicemail anyway.

Voicemail settings in Skype

Hope this helps!

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Lists

Condensed knowledge for 2007-05-08

Here’s the good stuff:

  • XKCD put together a hilarious map of the online communities. 🙂
  • Steve Jobs published an open letter to Apple users outlining the progress Apple is making toward being a completely “green” company. From the looks of it, Apple is ahead of most other folks in the technology field. Then again, it could also seem this way because of his reality distortion field.
  • A man traveling on a plane from Vietnam to Australia vomited a small bag containing something that looked like drugs. The plane promptly turned back, and meanwhile, the man vomited up two more bags. Apparently, this is quite common, and these people are called “drug mules”. Doctors found 30 more bags containing drugs in his stomach.
  • A flavoring agent used in microwave popcorn, by the name diacetyl, is blamed for bronchiolitis obliterans, an obstructive lung disease that affects popcorn workers. It’s also called “popcorn workers’ lung”, and there is no cure. A transplant is the only solution. Something to think about the next time you eat popcorn…
  • Want to see living conditions for coal miners back in 1938?
  • A remote-controlled robot uses thermal imaging to locate and destroy termites.
  • ProBlogger’s put together a post called “9 attitudes of highly creative people“.
  • Packet Garden is a really cool application that constructs 3D maps of your internet traffic.
  • Mental Floss is running a feature called “8 smooches that shook the world“.
  • Who holds the record for being arrested the most times? It turns out to be a man named Henry Earl.
  • Back in 1946, Mike the Headless Chicken roamed the countryside. Looks like Mike was going to be dinner, but the farmer cut too high, and left just enough brain stem for the chicken to still be a chicken. Although it couldn’t feed, it could walk and “socialize” with the other chickens just fine, and even managed to earn the farmer the equivalent of current-day $50K/week.
  • A Japanese firm has developed special packaging that contains an exothermic agent. Pre-cooked rice placed inside can be warmed up simply by pouring cold water inside the packaging. The reaction with the agent creates steam that warms the rice and gets it ready to eat in about 15 minutes.
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Reviews

Giving thanks for innovative technology

This year, there were a handful of technology/software products that truly changed my life, and I wanted to take a little time to thank their makers publicly.

WordPressThe first, and most important, is WordPress. Without it, this site wouldn’t exist, because I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to combine the content from my various other sites into a single, easy to use collection. The WordPress motto — “a state of the art semantic personal publishing platform” — couldn’t be truer, and I’m here to attest to that. It was easy to combine content from my previous Blogger blog and two of my personal sites into what I now call ComeAcross, and it is easy, every day, to publish more content that may benefit others. That’s really the purpose of ComeAcross — sharing what I think is useful information with others — and WordPress made it possible.

Updated 1/1/08: I’ve since merged ComeAcross into Raoul Pop, which is the site you’re on right now.

GmailGmail has been another wonderful product. Although I started using it in 2005, it was this year that I really started to appreciate its features, ease of use, open standards and fantastic spam filter. The account size is more than generous, the ads are not intrusive, I love being able to label my messages, and the search feature is right on. On top of that, I can retrieve copies of my messages through the POP protocol (that’s Pop, as in my last name :-)), and make them searchable on my iMac through Spotlight.

LoudblogFinally, I’m grateful for Loudblog. It’s an open-source podcasting platform that’s fast, easy to install, and easy to use. I use it to publish my three podcasts: ComeAcross and Dignoscentia (in English and Romanian). I have to apologize because I haven’t had time to publish any podcasts recently, but that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate how easy Loudblog made the publishing of podcasts for me.

So there you have it, three products that have made it incredibly easier for me to publish content and communicate this year. I’m truly thankful for them, and who knows, maybe they’ll help you as well!

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Thoughts

Why you shouldn't "let go of difficult clients"

I recently read an article entitled “Letting Go of Difficult Clients“, written by Amy Berger and featured in the August 2006 issue of The Costco Connection. I do not agree with the views she expresses there.

While there are times when a relationship with a client has to be severed, none of the conditions presented by Ms. Berger in her article are truly qualified. What’s more, they encourage a sort of irresponsible attitude, where consultants who don’t comprehend the meaning of the client-consultant relationship and the level of trust that’s involved with it, fire clients on a whim, severely endangering the projects with which they’re involved.

Let me go through her article and explain what I mean:

  • “The client seems ambivalent.” This is perfectly normal. I don’t know of many people that can afford to spend thousands of dollars without carefully considering the options. I also don’t know of many people whose schedule allows them to do the things they’ve planned all the time. Unexpected circumstances always come up and delay things. If you fire a client based on a delay that couldn’t be helped, you’ll end up looking like a heel. If you hang in there, you not only get the contract, but also gain a deeper level of trust with the client.
  • “You can’t tell who’s boss.” Exactly how can you help someone’s immediate and unexpected transfer? Sure, if you want to lose your contract, go in there and blow off steam about how “disorganized” they are. But if you want to keep the contract, you go and meet with the new principals, and agree on how to move forward.
  • “Your communication styles don’t mesh.” Since when have two people’s communication styles meshed completely? Let’s get serious! There are husbands and wives who don’t manage their communication well, and they live together day in and day out. It’s your responsibility as a consultant to be flexible, and work with the client to ensure proper communication.
  • “The client is overinvolved.” Most people take some time to get sold on a new idea. The more different this new idea is from what they’re used to, the more time it takes for them to understand it, and it takes yet more time for them to trust it. If the client doesn’t get back to you immediately with feedback on what you present him or her with, wait, and occupy yourself with other projects in the meantime. Give them gentle reminders from time to time, and express your availability to discuss the project further if needed. Eventually, they’ll come around, or they’ll move on. But let that decision be theirs, not yours. Exactly what do you lose, as a consultant, if you spend a minute or two a week crafting a short message to remind the client of the project? You only stand to gain a contract, and your gentle persistence will help soothe the client’s fears.

Let me give an example to illustrate this last point. Two years ago, I started working on moving a client’s offline, paper-based business, to an online website that would automate the tasks she did by hand, saving her countless hours of drudgery. She was used to the paper process, understood it well, and knew it worked. But she also knew she needed to make a change, because managing it on paper took up too much of her time. When I put forward the idea of a website that could do all she did on paper and more, she was reluctant, but I gently persisted, and with the aid of mutual friends, she was finally persuaded to go forward with the project.

Within a year, she started to see the benefits, and got excited. But it took two years for her to realize the full potential of moving her business online, and now she finally admitted that I’ve changed the way she does business. She told me she now realizes how easy it is to run her business this way, and has started to look for a house in a different area, because she no longer has a need for a physical presence in the area that her business serves.

What’s the moral of this story? If you expect a client to change their views based on one presentation or a meeting, you’re kidding yourself. It takes time, months and even years, for people to make sense of something that’s completely new to them.

Now here are the circumstances when you can start thinking about firing the client:

  • He or she doesn’t pay the bills. I’m not talking about delays of weeks. That’s normal, and with big businesses, that’s even expected. Something tragic may have even happened that has severely limited their finances. But when they keep saying the check’s in the mail, and it never arrives, that’s when it’s time to get serious. Verifiable lying is always a good indicator of a client that needs to be fired. Besides, the problem of non-payment is easily solved by always asking for a percentage of the project upfront. That way you’re guaranteed at least a part of the payment, and if need be, you can get the other part with the aid of a mediator or a lawyer, although I’ve always tried to avoid those routes. Our society is litigious enough as it is.
  • He or she abuses your time. By this I mean several calls a day for weeks on end, that you know are unnecessary, and that review the same objectives, time and time again. There’s nothing wrong with checking on your progress, in particular if the deadline is looming or the project’s critical, but when you start to screen your phone calls because you fear he or she might be calling and they’re going to waste your time once again, that’s when it’s time to re-evaluate your relationship with the client. I’m not saying you should fire them right away, but you should try to set boundaries. They can be as simple as limiting the contact to 1-2 phone calls or emails a day, or more complicated, depending on your relationship. Only when that doesn’t work is it time to think about severing the relationship.
  • The language or behavior gets abusive. It’s normal for a client to get upset, or feel frustration. People have different temperaments, and some get upset more easily. Change is usually one of the most common reasons, because it prompts fear. People fear the unknown, and when they’re afraid, they get upset more easily. Technology is another frustration-inducer. It’s hard for an older individual to catch up with the younger folks who’ve grown up with technology and can speak its language. Don’t misjudge a client’s frustration for truly abusive behavior. Instead, look for a pattern. If the behavior is always angry and abusive, then this client’s not for you, and I daresay, not for anyone.

But if you messed up, and the client calls you, and he or she is angry or frustrated, whose fault do you think it is? Theirs or yours? Don’t try to escape providing good customer service by blaming the client! That’s my fear when I read Amy Berger’s article. On one level, she’s encouraging consultants to provide half-hearted service by bailing out when they feel like it, and that’s just not right. It pays to always examine thoroughly what’s going on before jumping the gun and firing the client. You’ll find your relationships with your clients get much more rewarding that way.

Oh, and if Amy or any of you still feel like firing your clients willy-nilly, send them my way. Tell them to go to Exprimare and to contact me. I’ll see if I can help them.

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Reviews

Nabaztag: the smart WiFi bunny from France

I’ve been playing with my Nabaztag bunny for the last few days, preparing to review it for the I Want That! Tech Toys show on HGTV, which launches this summer. It’s a very cute little bunny with ears that can move. It’s constantly connected to the Internet by WiFi, and you can program it to do various neat things for you.

It communicates with you by speaking, and by flashing lights of various colors in different sequences. The Nabaztag website explains very well what each of the flashing color sequences means, so you’ll quickly understand what it’s trying to tell you.

The Nabaztag is a cool little gadget that endeared itself to us in no time at all, and Ligia and I found ourselves wanting to hear its voice more often.

We chose to place it in our living room. The setup was really easy. I just plugged it into an electrical outlet, and it soon found my WiFi connection and it was ready to go. Violet, the maker of Nabaztag, did something very smart when they shipped the bunny. They included an adapter, with interchangeable prongs for Europe, the UK and the US. It’s reminiscent of the newer Apple laptop adapters, for which you can buy a set of adapters to make them work in multiple countries, except Nabaztag ships theirs for ready use with each bunny.

Once it was connected to the Internet, I went to Nabaztag.com and registered it, using its MAC Address, which is also its Serial Number. It’s conveniently listed on its bottom. Once I registered it, I got to pick a name, age and sex for it. We decided our Nabaztag was a boy, and called it Pugsley.

After we completed the account setup, Pugsley came to life and said hello. We used the Services section of the site to choose from among the free services available, and there are many:

  • Talking Clock: Pugsley says the time on the hour, every hour, unless he’s sleeping. See below for more info about sleeping.
  • Tai Chi lets him stretch his ears in the funniest ways. He also makes cute noises and flashes multi-colored lights.
  • Recap of the week gives Pugsley the chance to say how the week’s been, whether he liked it or not, or whether it was eventful or not.
  • Nabaztag News allows you to pick from the New York Times, BBC, Slashdot, Wall Street Journal and People. You can also set the time when your Nabaztag will read them to you. We programmed Pugsley to read all of them to us at certain times. Of course, he doesn’t read every article, only the headlines.
  • The Air Quality service allows you to choose your city and get the air quality delivered to you both as a little sound blurb, and with luminous language. Air quality info is only available for certain cities, and the website explains how to interpret the flashing lights. The lights are blue, and if three of them flash slowly and in unison, the air quality is good. If they flash faster and not in unison, it’s not so good.
  • The Alarm Clock allows you to program the Nabaztag to wake you up at a certain time every day by playing your favorite sound or song. You can choose from a pre-selected list on the site, or you can upload your own MP3’s and configure it to play them. I programmed Pugsley to sing “Cheek to Cheek”, a song composed by Irving Berlin and sung by Fred Astaire.
  • The Weather Forecast allows you to get the weather twice a day in audio blurbs, and throughout the day through its luminous language. You can set which times you get the audio blurbs, and the Nabaztag also flashes lights to let you know how things should go. It uses a combination of yellow and dark blue lights to do it. All yellow means it’ll be sunny. Rain is all blue, flashing intermittently. Smog is flashing blue in unison. Cloudy is blue on the sides and yellow in the middle. Snow is flashing blue once again, and thunderstorms are fast flashes of yellow and blue.
  • You can also keep an eye on the Stock Markets. For the States, your Nabaztag can tell you how the S&P/TSX, Dow Jones Industrial, Nasdaq Composite, Nasdaq Industrial and S&P 500 are doing. You can set a time for an audio flash, or you can look at the flashing yellow lights. If only the center light is flashing, the market’s stable. If the lights are flashing from left to right, the market’s going up. If the lights are flashing from right to left, the market’s going down. The speed of the flashes tells you how fast the market’s going up or down.
  • If you live in Paris, the Nabaztag also has the Paris Traffic conditions. I turned this service on just for kicks, and it’s pretty funny. You can choose your itinerary based on the different gates into Paris, then it can play an audio flash for you, and it’ll also use its lights to tell you how things are. If things are completely packed, it’ll flash two red lights, simulating the brake lights of a car in front of you. If things are picking up, it’ll flash the center button red, then the two side lights, also in red. The speed with which it flashes this sequence tells you the approximate speed of the traffic.
  • You can also program your Nabaztag to tell you its mood, and you choose how often you want him to do it: whenever, often, from time to time, or seldom. I have Pugsley set on whenever, and really, he doesn’t do it that often, only about once a day.
  • There’s a service called Ear Talk, which I think is the coolest by far, because it involves human interaction, through the bunny. You can pair up the smart bunny with another, then when you move its ear up or down, the ear of the other bunny moves as well. So if you’ve got a sweetheart, you can both get bunnies, and communicate with each other throughout the day this way, just to let the other know you’re thinking about them.
  • You can set your own Nabaztag to alert you every time you receive a new email, by voice and light flashes. It will flash three purple lights to let you know if you have three or more messages, two lights for two messages, and 1 light for one message. You can program it to check POP3 (the most common), IMAP (.Mac) and SSL accounts (Gmail).
  • You can also set the bunny to go to sleep and wake up at certain times. You can even choose different times during the weekend. This is useful because you don’t want to be startled in case you receive messages at night. You see, you can set a theme music for every bunny, and it gets played before and after every message that gets sent, to identify the sender. Some of the theme sounds are pretty strange, and would definitely ruin my sleep if I heard them.
  • You can choose from a growing directory of Nabcasts, which are little audio recordings (like podcasts, but for the bunnies) that people can subscribe to. They’re organized by categories, and the directory is fun to explore. You can listen to the last episode of a Nabcast right on the Nabaztag website, to decide whether you’d want to subscribe to it, and once you do, you’ll get it delivered to your bunny every time a new episode is published. Everyone can publish Nabcasts, but you have to subscribe to one of the paid plans first.

Now is a good time to talk about the various subscription plans for the Nabaztag. There are three:

  • Free Style Rabbit (FREE)
  • Full Rabbit (about $5/month)
  • Full Friend Rabbit (about $7.5/month)

As you can see from the list of services above, the Free plan is pretty generous. In addition to the list above, you can also send Little Words messages through the Free plan, and you also get a limited number of web and email messages. Just log onto the Nabaztag website, go to Messages, Send, and select the Little Words tab. Type in the name of the rabbit to whom you want to send a message, choose it from the list, and you’re done.

The difference is that with the Full Rabbit plan, you can also produce and publish Nabcasts, and you can get unlimited emails and messages to your rabbit, whereas you’re limited to Little Words messages with the Free plan. The difference between the Full Rabbit and Full Friend Rabbit plans is that your friends aren’t charged for messages they send to your rabbit by web and email. Both the Full Rabbit and Full Friend Rabbit include the Full Services in addition to the Free Services, and these include:

  • RSS Feeds: set your Nabaztag to read you feeds you’re interested in. May I recommend my feed?
  • Stock Portfolio: set the bunny to tell you how your favorite stocks are doing.
  • Google Talk Alerts: have the bunny tell you when one of your friends is online.
  • Personalized Email Alerts: your Nabaztag will be able to tell you who the email is from, by defining simple rules.

Now for the bugs… Yes, there are a few, but that’s to be expected. The Nabaztag is a new product, and it’s brand new here in the States. I have one of the first units that got shipped here. As with anything new, there are bugs to be worked out, and when you’re an early adopter, it’s part of the game. So, with that in mind, here they are:

  • Pugsley didn’t wake up from sleep for the first couple of days. I had to reboot him in order to wake him up. I contacted Support and was told they had some server issues, which were resolved by the third day, when Pugsley was indeed able to wake up on his own. This glitch is understable, they’re probably working on setting up different servers for the States.
  • Pugsley couldn’t connect to the Nabaztag servers this past weekend (Saturday and Sunday). I contacted Support and was told this was related to the server problem. They fixed the problem right away on Saturday, but on Sunday, when it resurfaced, they were off. That’s something you’ll have to keep in mind about the Nabaztag. It’s made in France, and the French way of life is different than ours. If you can’t get them during the weekend, that means they’re home, taking a break. Don’t freak out, just wait till the next business day, they’ll get back to you. First thing on Monday morning, the connectivity problem was resolved, and Pugsley was back in business, happy as ever.
  • The weather feed for Washington, DC gave the wrong info. I contacted Support, and they said they’ll fix it.
  • The email alerts won’t work correctly for Gmail. That’s not Nabaztag’s fault, it’s just a quirk in the Gmail servers. When you’re logged on through the web, the servers will correctly indicate which emails are read and which aren’t, but when you log on by SSL/POP3, every message in the Inbox will show up as new. Therefore, if you set your Nabaztag to check your Gmail account, unless you’ve deleted everything from the account, it’ll always tell you that you have more than three messages. But it should work correctly for traditional POP3 and IMAP accounts.
  • Because the Nabaztag service for the States is brand new, they won’t have air quality information available for many of our cities. Plus, the traffic info is only available for Paris at the moment. Perhaps they’ll make it available for other cities in the future as well.

Finally, you’ll find the following guides very useful as you begin to use your Nabaztag:

I found the Nabaztag Advanced Configuration guide particularly useful as I troubleshooted my Nabaztag’s connectivity issues. But, I do have to say this: for probably 95% of the users out there, you won’t have to worry about pulling out any guides. Just take your Nabaztag out of the box, plug it into an electrical outlet, and you’ll be good to go! In those cases when you have to contact Support, their response time is really good. They got back to me within 2 hours during normal business hours, which is great!

If you’d like to purchase a Nabaztag, here is a list of vendors. The shops that have stars next to their names can also sell additional ears for the bunny, in case you’d like to customize it.

I hope you enjoy your bunny, I know we love ours! If you want to message our bunny, feel free to do so. Send your messages to Pugsley at nabaztag.com.

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How To

Store ICE on your speed dial – in case of emergency

The National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians is getting the word out about ICE, an acronym which stands for In Case of Emergency. ICE entries in your phone’s addressbook can help paramedics decide who to call if you’re hurt. The advice given is to “type ICE into your phone’s directory and include a name and number under the heading.” Always include an area code. Should you need to include multiple entries, call them ICE1, ICE2, and so on. You can also designate your next of kin with ICEWife, ICEMom, ICEDad, etc.. Make sure your contact has your basic medical information: blood type, allergies, and medications you’re taking. Source: Summer 2006 edition of the USAA Magazine.

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