Category Archives: Business and technology

Google reviews MUST include text

I tell my SEO (Search Engine Optimization) clients that “Five-star Google reviews are like gold”. One client listened and encouraged customers to write reviews . . . which his customers did. Unfortunately, while they scored my client as a five-star vendor, their reviews included no text. None.

These five-star reviews with no text are, as far as I can tell, worthless. Google places them at the end of review lists, and seems to give them no value. They seem to provide no SEO benefit.

Moral: To receive SEO benefit, ensure that your customers include some text when they create a review of your business. A review of three or four sentences is fine.

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T-Mobile’s “Binge On”

With the recent introduction of its Binge On service, T-Mobile US is again mangling the English language. Binge On provides preferential treatment of packets  “from Netflix and Hulu (which are T-Mobile partners) but not YouTube (which isn’t) without having those streams count against their data plans.” (Wired article, T-Mobile Confirms It Slows Connections to Video Sites, 7 Jan 2016).  Dig a little deeper and you’ll discover that if you have the Binge On “service”, T-Mobile will throttle data from YouTube et al to 1.5 Mbps. Some “service”!

Surprise: Binge On is switched on by default

If, like me, you have a legacy “Simple Choice Plan: Unlimited Talk + Text”, you may be surprised to learn that by default your account now includes the Binge On “service”. (Thank you T-Mobile, I prefer that you not throttle my YouTube videos.)  As far as I can see, Binge On provides no advantage for users with truly unlimited data plans. In fact, it slows down their YouTube viewing. Here’s how to turn Binge On off:

  • Log in to your T-Mobile account
  • Click on Profile (upper right hand corner)
  • Click on Media Settings
  • Click on Binge On to turn it off (as illustrated below):

t-mobile binge on 1184w

I mistakenly thought that T-Mobile’s legacy plans were immune from encroachment by throttling. I was wrong. Apparently the FCC wishes to chat with T-Mobile about its latest twisting of words’ meanings: T-Mobile’s Binge On: When throttling may not break the rules, Arstechnica, 7 January 2016.

Is Binge On legal?  According to the EFF,

. . . throttling all traffic based on application type definitely violates the principles of net neutrality. It also obviously violates the FCC’s Open Internet Order, which says that ISPs

“…shall not impair or degrade lawful Internet traffic on the basis of Internet content, application, or service…subject to reasonable network management”

A tale of two e-commerce platforms

I’ve been developing a few websites with storefronts.  I used Nopcommerce three years ago, and it was impressive in many ways, but its poorly-defined technical support steered me elsewhere.

Two attractive e-commerce offerings with better-defined tech support are Volusion and SquareSpace.  Both offer mobile-responsive templates, and both products include hosting with tech support.

Volusion logoVolusion is more mature, potentially more flexible, and able to handle large volume needs. If you use it out of the box for online sales only, you may not need to write any code. If you need a physical store, you will need at least some HTML, CSS, and Javascript programming skills.  If your pages contain more than just simple paragraphs of text, you’ll need to write mobile-responsive code.  Volusion provides many options for every aspect of a business’s storefront, and its 24/7 telephone tech support is excellent.

Squarespace logoThe “drag and drop” SquareSpace templates allow a developer to quickly place a rudimentary SquareSpace site into production, but I don’t recommend it for sites of more than about twenty pages or a business with complex product inventory or special payment processing needs.  One could quickly roll-out a good-looking modest SquareSpace e-commerce site without writing one line of code.  Just don’t expect to easily expand this simple site into a large complex site, and your payment processing options are limited.  Unlike Volusion, SquareSpace does not seem to offer 24/7 tech support via telephone — only via email.

One beauty of both Volusion and SquareSpace is that you don’t need to host them.  Just pay a modest monthly hosting fee and let them keep your site on-line.  An attractive alternative to both is BigCommerce, but I have no personal experience with it.

Visit my website: http://russbellew.com
© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

Product documentation

I hadn’t thought about how poorly most consumer products are documented until last weekend’s experience with the Nextivity Cel-Fi “signal booster”. It’s a complex product, yet its documentation contains no technical detail. If I knew more about its inner workings and hidden mechanisms, I could more intelligently position its components.

Most consumer products lack real documentation

I’ve never worked for a consumer product manufacturer; I’ve worked only for manufacturers of military and commercial electronic equipment. The military requires explicit product documentation of almost every circuit element. Why? Because they usually provide their own product maintenance. Commercial customers may also demand explicit product documentation, but typically they’re content to rely upon third parties for product maintenance, so commercial customers demand less documentation.

There are exceptions to the consumer product scanty documentation rule: detailed shop manuals are available at a price from motor vehicle manufacturers. Also, a healthy aftermarket industry publishes repair manuals: Sams for consumer electronics; Chilton, Haynes, and others for motor vehicles.

Absent shop manuals, schematic diagrams, or printed theories of operation for most consumer products, we’ll just continue to fumble in the dark when they break or just need tweaking.

Visit my website: http://russbellew.com
© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

Volusion e-commerce platform

I’ve recently begun building a client’s e-commerce site using Volusion. It’s my first experience with Volusion. So far, I’m impressed. I’m using a free Volusion template, which I feared would be inflexible. In fact, Volusion provides the templates in editable HTML form, together with the site’s CSS (cascading style sheet), again in editable form. The code looks well-written, and even includes a few helpful comments. The tech support via an 800 phone number was excellent.

Volusion logoBy editing the template’s HTML and CSS code, within just a few hours, I was able to customize the site (originally designed strictly for online commerce) to also allow over-the-counter sales in a brick and mortar store.

Since Volusion uses ASP (active server page) files, I surmise that Volusion’s servers run on Microsoft Windows servers.

The next big step will be routinely populating the catalog with XML or CSV (comma separated variables) files from manufacturers and distributors. The import requirements of Volusion look pretty flexible. If the backend is as easy to work with as its front-end, we should be done much sooner than I expected.

As the jumper shouted as he fell past the fifth floor, “So far, so good!”

Update: I’m almost finished with adding mobile responsive code — a little JavaScript, CSS, and HTML. Have a look, from both your PC and your phone: http://lauderdalecyclery.com.

Visit my website: http://russbellew.com
© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

Is radio and TV broadcasting doomed?

The FCC plans to meet with broadcasters with a view to recovering some radio frequency (RF) spectrum from them. Recovered spectrum would be auctioned to cellular wireless broadband Internet service providers.

From a spectral efficiency viewpoint, this could make sense. Today’s modulation methods conserve spectrum (compared to traditional AM and FM broadcast signals) and the cellular model allows many geographically separated users to independently share one frequency. The packet model leaves each channel available for others whenever data isn’t flowing. From a consumer’s point of view, it allows program content on demand, rather than only when the broadcaster airs the content.

I wonder how much longer the RF broadcast model will make sense?

Visit my website: http://russbellew.com
© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

The Sony debacle

The pillaging of Sony Pictures Entertainment by someone has revealed shocking incompetence at the top of Sony’s organization chart. Aside from the childish banality of their email conversations, the poor security practices within Sony should require that its CEO, COO, and CIO be removed ASAP.

Sony Pictures Entertianment logoReportedly, close to 100 Terabytes(!) of data were downloaded from Sony Pictures Entertainment. Sony’s data security has been laughably bad for years. I heard about hassonybeenhackedthisweek.com in 2011.

Too many chiefs, not enough Indians

Sony Pictures Entertainment (SPE) reportedly has eleven people in its I.T. department. Eight are “managers”, leaving just three poor souls to actually work. You’d think that with all of those “managers”, their practices would be near perfect. You’d be wrong.

This catastrophy demonstrates a breach of fiduciary responsibility by top management. I’ll bet that the company could be bankrupted by years of resulting litigation. This Christmas, Sony’s insurers will be checking their policies twice to see who at Sony has been naughty and negligent.

Visit my website: http://russbellew.com
© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

Websites 101

When I’m asked about creating a website for a business, I recommend that the owner first “buy” (it’s actually a lease) a domain from a domain registrar such as Network Solutions or Godaddy.  If the domain name is longer than ten characters, buy an abbreviated domain name as well.  You can point it to the full length domain;  it will be easier for visitors to type.

Think of your website as the hub of a hub-and-spoke system for your business.  Links on the spokes should point inward to your website. The more spokes, the stronger your website’s web presence will be. These spokes are called backlinks.

Your website should describe what you do and provide a phone number and alternative ways of reaching you.  Each page should contain your phone number.

SEO: Search Engine MarketingUnlike the movies, if you build it they will not come.  You have to drive visitors to your website. Create a big footprint on the web by ensuring that each web document that you create contains an inbound link to your website.

Install Google Analytics or Statcounter on your website so that you can count visitors and analyze their on-site behavior.

Where can I create “footprint” documents with inbound links?

  • answers.yahoo.com
  • youtube.com
  • Discussion forums for your industry
  • Directories: local, generic, and industry-specific
  • Google Plus. It’s becoming more business oriented each week.
  • Social networking sites
  • Blogs. You can create a free blog on WordPress.com, blogger.com, blogspot.com, and other hosts. Your blog’s home page and its articles should contain links to your website.
  • Article publishers. I like ezinearticles.com.  Write articles about your industry and create a link to your website in each block of information about its author.
  • Press release publishers. Write press releases about your business.  Each should contain a link to your website.

This is just an outline.  If you become obsessed with any one task, step back and make sure that you’ve paid attention to all “spokes” of your hub-and-spoke system.  If so, then they will come.

Visit my website: http://russbellew.com
© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

MBAs are lousy CEOs

Fortune magazine, in its December 1st edition, has published an intriguing article titled Google’s Larry Page: The most ambitious CEO in the universe.  It quotes a Google manager who’s worked with both Apple’s Steve Jobs and Google’s Larry Page:

Fadell, who before founding Nest led the development of the iPod and iPhone at Apple, says Page and Jobs approached innovation in radically different ways. “Steve was a marketer who really loved product and got the user-experience details right,” Fadell says.  “Larry is a serious technologist and someone who is really steeped in science and in theory, and he has a real love of product.”

Larry Page and Jeff Bezos
Larry Page and Jeff Bezos
Non-MBAs

I relate to Page’s approach, but Jobs’ obsession with user interface certainly also led to revolutionary products. Note that neither leader was an MBA or lawyer.  Jeff Bezos, an ace programmer (not an MBA), is taking Amazon where no retailer has gone before.

Steve Ballmer and Randall Stephenson
Steve Ballmer and Randall Stephenson
MBAs

In contrast, Microsoft was led into near irrelevance by Steve Ballmer, a sales manager with an MBA.  The entity that calls itself AT&T is busy making enemies of its customers everyone under the leadership of MBA Randall Stephenson.  (This genius caused his employer to lose six billion dollars, yet took home 21 million dollars that year.) General Motors’ CEO Roger Smith (MBA) drove GM to produce millions of lemons which nobody wanted, leading to their chapter 11 bankruptcy.

For the moment, Google is in good hands. The jury’s still out (see Apple’s Software Quality Problems) on Apple’s Tim Cook (MBA). Even Microsoft may be headed in the right direction, now that Satya Nadella is CEO. True, he has an MBA degree, but he’s reputed to be a product guy — not a numbers guy.

Visit my website: http://russbellew.com
© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

How are modern integrated circuits manufactured?

I’ve worked with integrated circuits (I.C.s) since the 1960s, but haven’t been involved in their manufacture — only their application.

Haswell wafer
Intel Haswell wafer with a pin for scale
photo: Intel Free Press
Today’s integrated circuit manufacture is a high stakes capital intensive business whose players use trade secrets to maintain their market advantage. I’ve never been inside an I.C. “fab” (factory), so it was a treat to find an hour-long presentation by an industry manufacturing engineer on YouTube. The technologies used at nano dimensions are mind-boggling.

Here’s the excellent presentation, in full:

The speaker mentions that lithographic imaging of the mask is now being done at 193 nanometer (nm). As you can see, we’re well above visible light and on our way to x-rays(!). Here’s the electromagnetic spectrum in that region:

spectrum
Click for full-size
graphic by: Shigeru23

The presentation is aimed at the layperson and is filled with surprises. For instance, one gigabyte of semiconductor memory can be produced on a flat substrate within the diameter of a human hair. I give it two (gloved) thumbs up.

High speed crooks

Did you watch last Sunday’s 60 Minutes piece about the “front running” by miiliseconds of large stock market shares purchases? The New York Times published a detailed article based on Michael Lewis’ Flash Boys book. The book describes how differences in data transport times — measured in microseconds — to multiple exchanges were used to profit a small amount on every large buy and sell order placed by legitimate stock trading firms.

I wrote about high frequency trading (HFT) four years ago in You Thought that Day Trading Was Fast?. It seems that the ethics of banks and brokers have not improved since then.

Thanks to my sister for the NYT link. It’s a juicy article.


April 25, 2014 – Mr. Lewis has been making the rounds of radio and TV talk shows. I’ve enjoyed listening to several of his radio interviews. Apparently the CNBC TV roundtable was heated: the CEO of the BATS exchange lied about his firm’s operations, which drew the attention of state and federal investigators.

Visit my website: http://russbellew.com
© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

Cell providers’ fat profits

Colin Berkshire just published an excellent article about the fat profits that are enjoyed by U.S. cellular phone service providers. His cost estimates seem reasonable, yet they amount to only two percent of revenue. He asks, US Currency Federal Reserve

So where does all of the money go?

He replies,

The only answer I can come up with as I pour through their financials is that the cell phone business is so poorly managed that there may as well not be any management. Large bureaucracy, corporate palace headquarters buildings, lots and lots and lots of executives, and a broken business model are what you are really paying for.

Colin’s summary:

Because Verizon and AT&T are essentially an oligopoly (often matching each others’ prices and structures nearly perfectly) there is little competition, no need for efficiency, and no need to build lots of pesky towers.

Visit my website: http://russbellew.com
© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

PrioVR Virtual reality suit

I’ve never been interested in computer games. (I’d rather program computers than be played by them.) However, a new virtual reality body suit now being funded on Kickstarter is intriguing. Watch this YouTube video to see it in action.

priovrVirtual reality systems can train police, first responder, rescue, assault, and exploration personnel for high risk missions at low risk. Soon they can be trained at low cost, too. The PrioVR will start at less than 400 dollars.

Visit my website: http://russbellew.com
© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

Best Super Bowl ad

My vote for the all-time second-best Super Bowl ad is Audi’s Green Police, which aired in 2010.  It’s out of control environmentalism, with the emphasis on mental.


The all-time best, in my opinion, remains Apple’s 1984 Macintosh ad.

What do these two ads have in common? Each ad claims that their gadget allows its owners to break free of a dumb society.  Each paints an unflattering picture of the herd.  Each appeals to vanity and a desire to break away from that herd.


The Mac ad was directed by Ridley Scott (Bladerunner, Alien).  When previewed, Apple’s board of directors hated it and wanted to axe its airing during the Super Bowl.  Steves Woz and Jobs loved it and together with John Sculley they managed to get it aired during the Super Bowl.

Amazon as importer and distributor

Jeff Bezos’ Amazon continues to disrupt traditional commerce models.

Recently I was in the market for a bright LED (light emitting diode) bicycle headlight. Top shelf LED headlights by Niterider and Baja Designs with outputs in the 2000 lumens range sell for $300 to $450. I searched Amazon and found a much cheaper alternative.

SecurityIng® 4 Modes Waterproof 2800 Lumens Cree XM-L U2 LED Bicycle Light
Lamp diameter 0.5 inch
The headlight that I bought is made by China-based Securitying, a company that I’d never heard of. It claimed to produce 2800 lumens, its reviews were favorable, and Amazon sells it for a mere $40. It’s tiny, good and bright, but not perfect. It arrived with no instructions or o-ring mounts, and its low-medium-high-off pushbutton switch isn’t ideal for vehicles. Its output is probably closer to 1200 lumens — not the claimed 2800 lumens. Still, it’s very bright with a nice broad beam.

The interesting part of this is that the Chinese manufacturer seems to have no US-based presence. They’re using Amazon as their importer, American warehouse, distributor, and warranty claims center. I wonder how many other off-shore manufacturers are doing the same?

P.S. I’m so happy with this light that I bought two more: a second to use together with the first one, plus a spare.

Visit my website: http://russbellew.com
© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695