Sunday, February 24, 2008

How do you map your life?

We face decisions every day which can impact both ourselves and others.

We live in an Internet world increasingly filled with content filtered by people who are not paid to do the job.

Not only are they not paid to do the job, they are often self declared experts. Unfortunately there is little or no supervision. Error checking is almost not existent.

The only check to the system is that if you don't like the rules you can set up shop yourself and create your own rules.

There are social sites with moderators. I have found it interesting how some people gravitate towards these sites to find information on critical decisions regarding their own lives.

I am actually a little baffled that people would go to people they have only met online and who are operating under assumed screen names for important information like where to move.

In a simpler time, people vacationed in an area. If they liked the area, they might get a second home or retire there. Now it seems they no longer have time to vacation and need someone else to tell them if the area is nice.

I wonder if we have become such a virtual world that people no longer want to trust their own judgment.

I have found that trusting yourself works really well unless you get in over your head. Finding someone who knows more than you can be a life saver.

I considered living in Newfoundland back in the early seventies.

I read some travel books and got in my Toyota Landcruiser with some maps and headed to Newfoundland.

At one point my wife and I flew in to the area in a small plane with floats and camped for three days. Hiking across the barrens is a little more personal way to experience Newfoundland than surfing on the Internet. I figured out living in Newfoundland might not be my cup of tea.

As I read posts of people asking where to find the cheapest beach property or the area with the best schools, I know in my heart that plenty of real information is online and available with minimal Google skills. I have been on forums, seen a question, done a Google search and responded. Have I helped or hurt the person who should have been able to do that on their own?

I also know that forums are full of experts who have driven through an area and some who live in an area but may experience it only through a forum. Forums also seem to have a bias against people who might make money if someone talked to them. It is as if money corrupts the information. I guess if we are on the Internet the information has to have no money attached to it.

The problem is that the best information often comes from people whose job depends on them knowing the right answers. If you want to know whether or not is possible to purchase a home for under $200K within seven miles of the beach, you are more likely to get a correct answer from a Realtor® who makes his or her living in that area.

I bet most people who go to a forum for advice have political opinions held so fiercely that a boat load of experts writing in whatever newspaper you choose cannot change them one iota.

Yet off they go eagerly seeking opinions from people who might never have seen an area.

Even those who have experienced an area have widely varying views. I can put two couples in my car, two beautiful days in a road, show them the same neighborhoods and get completely different opinions.

My kids can go to the same schools as yours, and we can totally disagree on the quality of the schools.

So why in the world do people let people they hardly know help them make like changing decisions.

I hate to say it, but I think people would rather live in these virtual worlds of what ifs than actually get out and do something about their life.

For every person who has the courage to make a change in their life, there are probably a dozen who spend days lost in the virtual world of forums discussing the possibility of moving.

The people who really want a change look for clues and then bravely head out on their own to do their own research without any filters. They end up being guided by someone like we were when we came looking for a property on the coast.

It is actually the only way to do it. You can head in a certain direction based on what you might have heard but we each need to make our own decision of which way to turn at the "T" in the road.

The direction you go should be based on what you feel, smell, taste, and think on your own, not on what someone who hides behind a handle on a forum tells you is best, or the content permitted by some unknown moderator operating under rules designed to make the forum money.

I love to empower people with information to help them make their own decisions. It is a whole lot easier to do that in person than on a forum.

Friday, February 15, 2008

The pleasure of having the last word

Often it is late in the evening when I have time to find some time to catch up on my writing.

I have a number of websites and blogs which demand constant feeding if I want to keep my readers interested.

Most of the time I am in the grove and really enjoy putting together a post. Sometimes I get a comment which tweaks my interest. I try to be fair when I reply to a reasonable comment.

Occasionally I get a comment which just begs for a response. Yet I know from past experience that the person making the comment will respond back with another comment that still misses misses the original point of my article.

I have learned over the years that you don't win those arguments. Some people have such a high opinion of their own opinions that no else can possibly be right.

Maybe I have some of that in me, but I have always worked at learning from others except when the other person is overly full of himself.

I don't like people who look down on others. I get irritated by those who expect everyone to fall over in awe when they grace us with their highly suspect thoughts.

Unfortunately I have just described the dyed the wool Apple believers that challenge me the most.

I am pretty good at a few things, and I have nearly twenty years of inside the spaceship views of Apple, the guys who decided to take computer out of their corporate name recently.

As an admitted sucker for Apple product, I know that it is awfully easy to rationalize spending a premium price on Apple hardware products.

I also know that you can make a Mac work almost anywhere even if you put yourself in a mostly Windows world. Sometimes a Mac in a foreign environment lets you thrive.

I have also been to the point of almost giving up on Apple because of problems with my MacBook.

Surprisingly I have become more satisfied with my Macs now that I have a Windows laptop which keeps me from having to force my rounded corner Mac into a square PC hole.

Still Apple is far from a perfect corporation, and most Apple users take whatever product Steve decides to sell them even if it is at a premium price for not so premium specs.

Apple users are perhaps the only consumers who will defend the higher prices they pay to the death.

It seems a little weird that someone buying a product wants to pay a higher price for that product. Yet that is often the inescapable conclusion when it comes to Apple products.

It is not like Apple is unprofitable or about to go out of business. Yet people will make the argument that Apple products are worth the price.

If you complain that Apple's prices are high, expect to be taken to task.

The same people would probably haul an Internet invoice in on a car and beat the dealership down to $50 over cost if that was possible. Yet they have no problem with Apple making hundreds of dollars profit on an under $2,000 laptop.

Perhaps it is because Apple was so in danger of disappearing that Mac users are so quick to come the company's defense.

If any of them had seen the inside of Apple and heard where customer opinions rank, they might have a different opinion but somehow I doubt that would even work.

I have seen Apple employees so in love with the technology that they would work for abusive bosses for years at a salary they could easily beat in another technology company.

Perhaps that's Steve's special power over the masses because no hardware or software is worth that kind of abuse.

But to get back to the point on having the last word. There is no rational argument with some Mac lovers. I have written about the Reptilian Apple Fans whom I just ignore.

However, there are some very smart Apple users out there who still can't see the forest for the trees. When I unfortunately get engaged in a discussion with one of them, I know they will not give up. There is no persuading them.

So the only solution is to have the last word and leave them dangling. I rarely even read their responses. It's not worth it.

In the end Apple users who pride themselves on being discriminating buyers because they have bought a Mac are only partially right.

They have gotten a great product, but it would be an even better product if they worked at getting Apple to listen to customer feedback.

I wonder how much customer feedback went into the MacBook Air. It pretty clear to me and to Businessweek, Building the Perfect Laptop, that Lenovo likely has a more competitive product at least in hardware. Of course OS X makes up for a lot of sins.

Lenovo refused to accept that style had to win over function. They managed to get a DVD in their machine and even Ethernet.

However, I am sure that I am about to hear from some Mac users who are convinced that the world no longer needs DVDs or Ethernet ports.

I would not expect anything less for the dedicated fans of Apple.

But I hope they remember that I do have the last word.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

At what cost development?

We have lived in Roanoke, Va. since 1989. Before that we lived in Columbia, Md. which is one of the more famous planned communities

Halifax, Nova Scotia was our home before Columbia. It was our first stop after we left cattle farm in central New Brunswick where we didn't even have to bother with fences at the back of the property.

Today we split our time between Roanoke and North Carolina's Southern Outer Banks where it seems much of the world including us is interested in living. Development is happening rapidly on the coast, but things like storm water management are rapidly becoming a serious challenge to developers.

The wonderful mix of mountains and scenery along the roads attracted us to Roanoke. I don't think we measured services too hard when coming to Roanoke. We wanted girls' soccer and boys' hockey but any shopping is more than you get on a farm twenty miles from town.

While Roanoke is in no danger of becoming Charlotte, NC which apparently has twenty five high rise cranes at the moment, there is some significant development in Roanoke like the Keagy Road site pictured above.

As usual there is even more significant debate on how to get Roanoke alive and if not thriving, at least growing reasonably.

There certainly is an effort to create trails along the Roanoke River which has seen a significant improvement in water quality. However, with a $70M flood control project by the Army Corps of Engineers well underway, I have to wonder if anyone is paying attention to the root cause of the flooding.

When you start stripping away huge areas of forest in the mountains, like in the picture of the development on Keagy road, someone had better start paying attention to storm water management.

It is a huge issue on the North Carolina coast. In our area of the Southern Outer Banks, it recently took several extra months to build a Walgreen's Drug Store because the store had to figure out how to retain up to eleven inches of rain before releasing water in the storm water drains.

I am pretty sure no one in Roanoke County has considered the storm water impact of the development at and around Keagy Village.

While the development in Roanoke rages over how to attract young professionals, it is pretty clear that if they don't start paying attention to storm water management, the Valley's crown jewel, the Roanoke River, will see more than one Corps of Engineers project as keeping flooding under control will become a hamster wheel.