When the company I work for was owned by a private equity company, we would often have collaborative events with other companies within the portfolio in order to collaborate and share ideas. When we began sharing files and other tools, we were limited by the options of our non-integrated tools (like individual company exchange email servers and independent intranet sites). In looking for a better alternative, we came across and successfully used two tools: the previously reviewed Doodle and another enterprise tool called Huddle.

Huddle is a great alternative to SharePoint, as we were not on the same network, intranet, or VPN. Being cloud-based, it was also easy to access from home, remote, or office locations. We used Huddle in a similar manner to SharePoint (if you are familiar with that enterprise Microsoft product); it features document libraries, shared calendars, private wiki pages, etc. SharePoint often does/allows this in a single enterprise environment (like I have at the day job); however, when it is behind a firewall, you can only get to it if you have permissions within that network. Huddle allowed us to break free from that and “go cloud.”

The particular use we had for it is that we were all under a large private equity umbrella, yet we all were part of distinct organizations (i.e. we have our own corporate intranet sites) and we didn’t want to develop, pay for, administer, etc. a new site with permissions for each of us. Instead, we used Huddle to help provide a cloud alternative to SharePoint, with internet-based sign-on, permissions, etc. It solved the issue of not being able to share documents (instead of email or S/FTP), and collaborate on schedules, etc.

While we just scratched the surface before my company was sold, it was a great, scalable, and cloud-based alternative to SharePoint.

-- Ben Vaterlaus  

Free to try

Available from Huddle

Getting To Yes

I used to think that negotiation was about positioning, leveraging, and finally winning. This book by William Ury change my view completely. I no longer think of negotiation as a game. I see now it is about not getting into a fight in the first place. By resolving conflicts before they escalate, respecting mutual interests, and engaging others with compassion, you can achieve something far greater than victory: peace.

I love the wisdom in this best-selling book, which lays out a concise yet compassionate method for achieving desired outcomes in negotiations. The book’s principles align to an uncanny extent with my Chinese philosophy of being open to seeing the opposing view in life. It advocates principles such as “Listen with respect,” which is the same traditional concept in Chinese as “If you know yourself and know your opponent, you avoid war and both win.”

By using this understanding framework (the “Yes” in the title) I’ve been successful in business negotiations. If we get stuck –which happens frequently — I like to ask the other party “What are you most afraid of?” Once I understand their fears, I try to come up solutions that address them, and at the same time I am open to share my own fears. Turns out people want to be understood before they are open to understand you.

I also used this principle of “understanding and communication,” rather than “positioning, leveraging and winning” in my personal life, quickly coming to mutual agreement in situations like a divorce which are not usually quickly resolved.  The outcome of this compassionate framework may not be optimal based on the standard expectations, but it is the optimal outcome based on the real context of the two parties.

In short, the concepts in this book really work.

-- Ping Fu  

Getting to Yes
Roger Fisher
2012, 240 pp

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

1. Separate the people from the problem
2. Focus on interests rather than positions
3. Generate a variety of options before settling on an agreement
4. Insist that the agreement be based on objective criteria. 

Participants can avoid falling into a win-lose mentality by focusing on shared interests.

Power in a negotiation comes from the ability to walk away from negotiations.

Blaming is an easy mode to fall into, particularly when you feel that the other side is indeed responsible. But even if blaming is justified, it is usually counterproductive. Under attack, the other side will become defensive and will resist what you have to say. They will cease to listen, or they will strike back with an attack of their own. Assessing blame firmly entangles the people with the problem.   

Your position is something you have decided upon. Your interests are what caused you to so decide.

We often try to influence others by threats and warnings of what will happen if they do not decide as we would like. Offers are usually more effective
The listeners should give the speaker their full attention, occasionally summarizing the speaker’s points to confirm their understanding.

The more attention that is paid to positions, the less attention is devoted to meeting the underlying concerns of the parties.

The key to reconciling different interests is to look for items that are of low cost to you and high benefit to them, and vice versa.

The best way to respond to such tricky tactics is to explicitly raise the issue in negotiations, and to engage in principled negotiation to establish procedural ground rules for the negotiation.

Judgment hinders imagination.

Give them a stake in the outcome by making sure they participate in the process. If they are not involved in the process, they are unlikely to approve the product. It is that simple.

Look for opportunities to act inconsistently with their perceptions. Perhaps the best way to change someone’s perceptions is to send them a message different from what they expect.

Etymotic’s ETY•COM

I work in areas that are usually quite noisy, and using cell phones is inherent to getting things done. I’ve previously reported on the BluLink pilot’s grade Bluetooth headset – and it’s terrific.

But it’s also large and dang expensive. Other “noise managing” Bluetooth headsets have varying degrees of working, and none I’ve tried are close to satisfactory. Plus, they usually have inadequate batteries and die halfway through a work day.

Great alternative: The ETY•COM headset is wired (no batteries), small, light and inexpensive. And its “insert earphone” works well to block outside noise and its “close-talking directional microphone” limits noise too, especially with the foam windscreen on it.

I carry both the BluLink giant and the ETY•COM mini. They both work as intended (the big one’s the ultimate winner in audio quality), but the Etymotic model keeps almost $400 in your pocket – along with the headset – and gets things done almost as well.

It’s a good way to keep your sanity when using your cell in a noisy place.

-- Wayne Ruffner  

Etymotic Research ER22-A ETY-COM Noise-Isolating Mobile Phone Headset

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Etymotic

Lucy Phone

Lucy Phone is a tool that has helped me deal with one of the annoyances of modern life: waiting on hold. From LucyPhone’s website you can look up the company or toll-free number you want to dial. LucyPhone acts like a conference call: it calls your phone and connects you to the company you wanted to dial.

At any point in the call when you’re placed on hold, you tap ** (star star) and LucyPhone takes over. You can hang up, and LucyPhone will call you back once an operator has picked up on the other end.

From the call operator’s perspective, once they take your call, they are played a brief message from LucyPhone while your number is being called. As soon as you pick up, you are connected to the operator.

The recently reviewed now integrates LucyPhone into their site so that the process is truly seamless, and you don’t even have to initiate the call.

The service is free for consumers. The only drawback I’ve noticed is that it only works for toll-free numbers, so you still have to do things the old fashioned way with companies with local only numbers.

I find LucyPhone much less stressful and annoying than my previous technique of putting the held call on speakerphone and hoping I didn’t leave the room at just the moment I came out of the hold queue.

-- Nicholas Hanna  

Presentation Zen

By now there is a teachable logic to making a world-class presentation. Once you master the story-telling principles needed for a great slide show as taught in the previously reviewed Beyond Bullet Points, you can focus on perfecting the visual presentation of your ideas. This enhances the cinematic vs the script. Among the many guides offering design advice, this one is the best. Watch some of the most popular TED talks online (including mine) and you’ll see this advice in action. I can vouch that it will raise your impact.

-- KK  

Presentation Zen
Garr Reynolds
2011, 312 pages, 2nd Edition

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

What is my absolutely central point?

Or put it this way: If the audience could remember only one thing (and you’ll be lucky if they do), what do you want it to be?


A traditional slide which duplicates the presenter’s words. More of a reading test than a visual.

This slide serves to enhance the presenter’s spoken words much better. The photo has impact and the point is made clearly. Which slide is more memorable? And since people are not reading, they can actually listen to you. (Photo of shark from


The slide on the left has a busy template which makes the useful area of the slide about 1/3 smaller. The slide on the right uses the image to cover the entire slide. The text is clearly foreground and the image serves both as background and at time foreground, making the overall visual more dynamic and more unified with a cleaner, more dramatic look.


Empty space is not nothing; it is a powerful something. Learn to see and manipulate empty space to give your slide designs greater organization, clarity, and interest.

Use the principle of repetition to repeat selected elements throughout your slides. This can help give your slides unity and organization.

Grip Tape iPhone Backing

RF Laswerowrks.jpeg

I got my first grip tape backing for my iPhone from RF Laserworks in early 2011. I’d still be using that one if I hadn’t decided I wanted a new one with custom laser-cut text that featured my website name. Grip tape, if you’re not familiar, is the stuff skateboarders use to coat their boards so as to increase their traction. Each custom lasercut backing costs $8 while the uncut models sell for $5. Even though I’ve had to buy two, it’s still way less than any other case I’ve bought.

The big advantage of the grip tape backing is that it’s always with me, as opposed to something like the previously reviewed HandStands sticky pad. I can simply set my phone on my leg when driving and it’s not going anywhere. The tape is so non-slip I can even put it on my chest, near vertical, and it doesn’t fall off.

It’s got its downsides. I can’t use any case other than one of the bumpers; I like those better but not everyone does. It also means I can’t slide it into a form-fitting iPhone armband when I go to the gym. But that’s the same problem I’d have with any case, and I solved it by buying an armband for a larger droid-style phone.

To get custom text or graphics, all you need to do is send them a stencil and choose the location and they do the rest. I opted for red for maximum visibility.

-- Don Whiteside  

RFLaserworks Grip Tape Backing
$5, or $8 with custom lasercut text

Available from RFLaserworks


Chased By the Light

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Chased by the Light

This project is a zen masterpiece. It is also a behavior-modifiying challenge for all digital photographers: Look instead of click.

In the 1990s veteran magazine photographer Jim Brandenbrug gave himself an impossible assignment: “For 90 days between the autumn equinox and winter solstice I would make only one photograph a day. There would be no second exposure, no second chance.” A single exposure, a single click per day! He was using film, and he was photographing wildlife, including elusive animals in the north woods in upper Minnesota. Film is unforgiving. For amateur and professional alike getting even an acceptable photo in these conditions with one shot requires relying on the Force. Yet Brandenburg found, or made, one beauty after another. Most mortals would need a hundred shots to get one like these. The 90 images stand strong each on their own, but the complete symphony is one of the most impressive acts of mindfulness I’ve seen.

(The full set of images were also published in a smaller format in the November 1997 issue of National Geographic.)

Besides the book, there is now an iPad app.

— KK

Chased by the Light
Jim Brandenburg
1998, 104 pages

Available from Amazon

Screen Shot 2012 02 09 at 4 14 13 PM

App $10


Sample Excerpts:

Wolf chasing ravens by jimbrandenburg

I sensed there would be lessons learned. There were, but not always those I had imagined. Some were merely lessons remembered, recapturing things I had forgotten, such as remaining open to chance, and that, in nature, not all beauty is giant in scale. One such lesson occurred on October 15th, the twenty-third day. It was late and I despaired of capturing anything of value. The day was dark and gloomy; my mood reflected the weather. I wandered through the dripping forest all day long. Tired, hungry , and wet, I was near tears. I was mentally beating myself for having passed up several deer portraits and the chance to photograph a playful otter. None of those scenes spoke to me at the time.

But perhaps because I was patient, and perhaps because, as natives do on a vision quest, I had reached my physical limits, I became open to the possibility revealed by a single red maple leaf floating on a dark-water pond. My spirits rose the instant I saw it, and although the day was very late and what little light there had been was fleeing rapidly, I studied the scene from every angle. Finally, unsure of my choice, I made the shot anyway, thankful at least that the long day had ended. Once more I was surprised by the result. The image seems to have a lyrical quality, with a rhythm in the long grass.



Big Bandwidth

To get the most bandwidth these days use cable.

For my home/home office we switched from the fastest internet we could get over the telephone lines to best internet broadband we could afford on a cable modem. This was a big switch for us because we did not have cable. So we had cable hooked up to our house just for the internet. We signed up for Comcast’s “Extreme” level of broadband since there can be 5 – 9 people using the line at any one time. The improvement was dramatic.

We now get about 60 Mb/s download and 17 Mb/s upload. This gives me and my assistant in the office and my family of five, plus the relatives downstairs, plus the Netflix and X-Box live connections, plenty of bandwidth to share. We pay about $120 per month for the connection.

It’s been running at this level for about a year and we’ve had very little problems. Someone in the family can be streaming a movie on Netflix while my son plays Battlefield live on the XBox, while I download a software update, while my daughter watches YouTube — all at the same time with no noticeable delay.

Not having to wait for downloads and being able to zip around on even image-dense web pages is pure joy. Since I spend so much time online, the monthly fee is well-worth it to me, the family, and our little office.

To test the speed of your internet connect use this free website, Speedtest. Here is our snapshot today.

P txt


Obi100 VoIP Telephone Adapter


I was looking for a device that will enable to me receive telephone calls on my Google Voice number without having to forward it to another (fixed or cellular) voice line. I have found that the best solution for this is the Obi100 and Obi110 products from Obihai.

Obi110 is a VIP telephone adapter that supports dialing and receiving calls over a broadband Ethernet connection. This is a standalone voice bridge device that can be connected to a standard telephone and it does not require a PC. In addition to the broadband connection, Obi110 also supports connection to a regular phone line and it can route call types of your choice (e.g. 911 or local calls) to that line.

One of the best features of the Obi110 is that it can be configured to be used with Google Voice. You can both dial and receive calls on a telephone connected to the OBi device. It is very easy to setup and even easier to use. It does have many other interesting features and the ability to work with other VoIP services (including Obihai’s own Obitalk network) but my guess is that most people in US and Canada will be using it with Google Voice.

Obi100 is the smaller version of the same product without landline support.

-- Allen  

[Note: Check out this guide for more info on how to set up Google Voice with an Obi110 VoiP adapter.]

Obi110 Voice Service Bridge and VoIP Telephone Adapter

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by ObiHai

Wilson Electronics Cell Phone Signal Booster

Wilson Electronics 815226 Sleek Cell Phone Signal Cradle Booster for All Cell Phones with Mini Magnet Mount Antenna  - For Single User.jpeg

I have an online editing job, and like to travel by car when I can around North America. Over the last 12 years I’ve hit all but two or three of the continental U.S. states, and worked at least a bit (from my car) in most of them as I passed through. In 2000, Internet cafes were rare outside big cities; when I was on one of my drive-abouts and needed to get online, I’d rush to find a hotel with free local calls and dial-up my ISP. Things got easier with the advent of coffee shops adding WiFi as a perk. And even easier when I could buy cheap wireless online time at truckstop chains like Flying J. Now, in any major population center or along major highways, I can instead get 3G service via my MiFi at reasonable rates (faster than dialup, at least), but only when in the covered footprint. As any cellphone user knows, that footprint doesn’t always match the published, disclaimer-laden maps, and isn’t always consistent.

Enter the Wilson Sleek signal amplifier. I looked at many such extenders hoping they’d match my peripatetic lifestyle, but this model of Wilson (they make others, too, which I can’t vouch for) is the first one that rang all the right bells. It’s small, inexpensive, fairly unobtrusive, and sized for the devices I wanted it for (MiFi, smart phone). Importantly, it also comes with a 12v plug, rather than requiring a 120v outlet, as do some home-centric signal boosters. Note: this device is sized to amplify the signal to only one device at a time, but through creative rubber banding, I had no trouble attaching both of my MiFis, even though I was only using one at a time.

I have not done any formal signal-strength testing, but in the year I’ve had it, I’ve found the Wilson device works well. Just like the too-good-to-be-true testimonials I was skeptical of before buying it, I’ve seen one bar of reception go to four or five, and sometimes zero bars go to one or two. (Which is to say, a *true* lack of reception can’t be fixed by a fancy antenna, and this won’t fix problems that exist between the bigger Internet and the nearest cell tower, but if you’re simply on the iffy fringes, this can put you back in business.) Though I bought the device for the purpose of working while stopped, I anticipate that I’ll now use it as well with the Android tablet I recently bought, which uses Google Maps to navigate. Since those maps are online rather than off, this amplifier extends the tablet’s usefulness as a big-screen, always updated GPS.

When I spent a few months in Puerto Rico earlier this year, the marginal reception I experienced from the Virgin (Sprint) network via MiFi was made considerably more tolerable by this device, once I found a working place for the sold-separately suction cup antenna mount.

There are a few caveats I’d point out, too. First,the amplifier, being powered, steals either a DC outlet in the car or, in my case, an outlet on my invertor. You need to plan ahead, especially if you find (as I do) that it’s easy to grow a Rube Goldberg nest of electronics. Second, the tiny “feet” which hold in place the bottom edge of the device being held both broke for me in the first week of serious use. Yes, I dropped it — twice! — but from such a low height that I was actually amused that each fall broke a different foot. Wilson should make those feet from metal. No worries: a borrowed hairband, though ugly, works just as well.

-- Timothy Lord  

Wilson Sleek Cell Phone Signal Cradle Booster

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Wilson Electronics