Monthly Archives: February 2007

The bug stops here

The other week I was at my brother-in-law’s house, looking at a problem with his computer. A fascinating thing about being an IT guy; it seems that I have a neon sign over my head that says “free support available to friends and family”. I suppose it’s the same for plumbers and doctors. Actually, my friend the neuro-surgeon probably doesn’t have to provide that much free service.

Anyway, back to the brother-in-law. The issue was with his CD drive, but as a matter of course I ran a quick check on the “health” of his computer.

Unsurprisingly, the antivirus software had expired about six weeks before and he hadn’t got around to updating it. “It’s not a problem, though — only six weeks?” he said.

Interesting question: how out-of-date is a problem?

Antivirus software stores patterns of all the viruses it recognises. Every day new viruses are “found in the wild” and their pattern and method of treatment is added to the file. Depending on your settings, you get the new pattern file every hour, day, week or whatever your preference setting says.

So what happens if you haven’t updated your virus pattern file for six weeks? I would say that you are massively more likely to catch a virus.

The logic works like this. Most people have antivirus software, some completely up-to-date, some not. Therefore old viruses are unlikely to travel very far because almost everyone’s antivirus software will stop them.

However, newer viruses have a better chance of avoiding detection and traveling further. Therefore a virus that appeared yesterday is much more likely to hit you than a virus that appeared a year ago.

So in many ways, your antivirus software benefits everyone on the internet, not just yourself. A kind of techo version of “think global, act local”.

But there is no excuse for not having up-to-date virus control software at home. I use the AntiVir PersonalEdition Classic software, which is available free to home users at www.free-av.com.

It works beautifully for Windows and Linux users (not Mac). The reason its writers give it away free is it gives them a foot in the door.

If you like it you may consider buying their upgraded version with a smart firewall, anti-spyware and other bits and pieces. They also have a corporate version that allows you to manage the “up-to-dateness” of everyone from a central location. I have been using Antivir for three years, never had to pay a cent and get an updated pattern file everyday. A virus has never caught me.

The brother-in-law downloaded AntiVir. Oh, the CD drive was buggered but a new one was only $50, and my installation service was like my antivirus software: free.

What price a domain name

Yesterday my friend Ray wanted to register a domain name (a com.au name) and asked me who we should do it with.

I looked up the auDa website to find out who the authorised resellers are and was surprised to find that the wholesale price for a com.au domain is published at $22.55 for two years, but the price it resold at varies dramatically, from $27.95 for two years to $301 for two years.

From what I could figure out from their websites, the following table seems to be all the prices you could be charged for two years’ registration with GST included.

IntaServe $27.95

Some outrageous differences, but it didn’t really answer the question though: who should Ray register with?

My thoughts were as follows. First, you want to register your domain name with a different organisation to the one that’s hosting the website or email. This stops technical staff at the hosting company holding you to ransom (like everyone else I have had my share of run-ins with the undead of the commercial world, technical staff at internet companies).

Second, you want to know whether you can ring someone on the weekends and get help. Nothing worse than finding your website doesn’t work on the weekend, or Outlook can’t find your mail server.

Third, you want to know what tools they offer you on their site to manage your domain name (having different logins for different domain names with the same provider is a major pain).

And finally, how much?

Of course, Ray said: “That’s great, but who do you use?”

Getting though to people, it’s a snap

I wish I had a better way of getting inspired. Mostly I just sit around and stare at objects until a good idea pops into my head. Sometimes I talk to things. I recently posed a question to my digital camera: “How can you increase sales?” For me, sales was the number of people buying tickets to a public event run by the Churchill Club (which I run on the side).

My camera is a couple of years old, it’s a two megapixel job, which I discovered gives me just enough resolution to read the name tags of people I take pictures of … if I squint.

Traditionally, I have taken a couple of happy snaps at events then posted the images on the website. If there was a caption, it would read something like: “See what you missed out on – lots of happy, important people networking.”

Then came the moment of inspiration. I knew that selling has a strong relationship with the number of times you touch a person. So I thought, wouldn’t it be clever, if not only did I take lots of photos of people chatting at an event, but emailed them the photos. An excuse to touch them again and get them thinking good thoughts about the Churchill Club.

So at my How to Build a Killer Board event I took photos of about 60 people. I couldn’t figure out who about 10 people were (and thus why the pixel resolution is actually important) and 10 were really bad photos, but I emailed out the other 40 with a “Hope you enjoyed the night” note.

Now here’s the interesting thing. Not only did I get a reply from every recipient, but they all added a personal note plus a whole heap of testimonials: “Loved the event”, “Thanks for having me”, “Thought the material was great”, “Keep me on your list”.

Then the bonus, of the 40 people I sent the pictures to, almost every single one has attended other events since. I love my camera.

Why Free CRM makes me happy

I got an email from FreeCRM today. Free means that it costs nothing (but if you want the really good bits you have to pay $US14.95 per month per user!).

CRM means customer relationship management or, in plain English, a database of customer details, records and contacts that does cool stuff such as remind you to call people back, or report on what your sales pipeline looks like.

It’s great for doing things such as sending out personalised emails to every sales manager you know that barracks for Collingwood but hasn’t been “boned”.

FreeCRM, as its name implies, provides a free CRM system on the internet. I think that a free CRM system is a pretty cool thing because my friend the business broker says lack of customer records is one of the main reasons a business might be unsellable (and no, the debtors ledger doesn’t count as customer records).

Anyway, in today’s email said: “FreeCRM.com has had 99.99% uptime in 2005, and will give you a rebate if we do not hit at least 99.9% uptime.”
Marketers for the IT industry decided that uptime was a fancy way of saying “it’s working”‘ — the converse of downtime, which means “it’s broken or I turned it off”.

So I wondered what the difference might be between 99%, 99.9% and 99.99% in practical terms. As the Americans say: I did the math. Using trusty Excel, I worked out there are about 31.5 million seconds in a year (31,536,000 in a usual 365-day non-leap year). Uptime of 99% implies downtime of 1%, or 87.6 hours per year — a bit over two weeks. Unacceptable. Uptime of 99.9% means 8.76 hours of downtime — a third of one day a year isn’t too bad. Crank that uptime up to 99.99% and it means just 52.56 minutes of downtime — less than a lunchbreak — in a whole year. Yahoo!

I must say I was quite astonished to think that the difference between 99% and 99.99% is effectively two weeks of work time. So I am pretty happy with FreeCRM’s performance. Mind you, a rebate of zero dollars is still zero dollars.