Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Is the Venus Project just a whimsical idea or a real world possibility?

The Venus Project is an exciting and refreshing way to look at the theoretical possibilities for mankind if we can shed some of our primitive and limited thought processes which currently hold us back as a species, but how feasible is it?

I've been exploring this in great detail I find myself surprised at how possible the creation of a new social structure like the one outlined in the Venus Project may actually be.

The things that make this concept unrealistic are biproducts of our current culture, which would not exist in the society outlined in the Venus Project

Even if this is something we do not realize in or lifetime it is certainly interesting to consider and well worth our serious attention.

in reference to: (view on Google Sidewiki)

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Downfall of IBM - Lenovo is Killing Me

On May 1st of 2005 Chinese computer manufacturer Lenovo announced the acquisition of IBM's consumer PC branch has been officially completed.

Since then, there have been a lot of complaints about some of the things that have transpired, both on the manufacturing side, and the decision making side of this epic "partnership".

First let me give you a little background. I work for a company that services hundreds of IBM desktops and laptops. We still purchase nothing but IBM (now Lenovo) equipment for our users. Fortunately for Lenovo, it's not my decision to make. I have been working with this equipment for many years now, and have been familiar with IBM laptops since the Thinkpad A20 was released.

Here are a few of my biggest complaints with the "new" IBM that has slowly emerged since the acquisition:

1. Frequency of Hardware Issues and Bonehead mistakes. Without question the number of hardware related issues I encounter on a weekly basis have certainly increased by a substantial margin. There will always be hardware issues but this is just too much. This week I ordered 5 new desktops. 2 of them booted up normally, 3 didnt. Luckily it was a bios & partitioning problem and I was just imaging these drives anyway so I got through it.

2. Driver Updates! Lenovo has announced they are "changing the way" users obtain updates. What they mean to say is they have completely discontinued their software update service that would scan you pc and identify out of date drivers and provide the updates over the web. This was an excellent feature, and most of Lenovo's competitors have something similar in their arsenal of tools.

3. Warranty replacements. Lenovo has adjusted some of the warranty details making certain things less covered (batteries are only warrantied for 1 year even if you purchase a 3 year warranty on your laptop), or more difficult to replace. Before when there was an issue I could call support, tell them what was wrong. If they agreed with my troubleshooting steps and I could reproduce the issue they would accept the repair ticket and send a box and shipping label to return the equipment for repair. Now they make you just through lots of unnecessarry hoops in order to deter you from returning the broken peice of just they shipped you. I don't have time for this.

4. Replacement part price. To replace that battery that isn't covered for 3 years anymore, the cheapest you can find the replacement is about $120 + shipping. For a standard battery, seriously.

5. Preinstalled software SUCKS. This is more of a general complaint, not necessarrily Lenovo's fault since it has always sucked. The Access Connections (which is on by default) can cause conflicts with Win XP built in wireless managhement tools, even if you disable it! In order to resolve the issue, you must ininstall access connections. Also I have seen issues where Access connections drops the signal sporadicly. Also the nagging message center is useless. Way too much junk running needlessly in the background. Best bet is to wipe the machine and start with a fresh OS, and download the drivers (which of course you need to find and install manually now thanks to the geniuses at Lenovo).

6. US company offloading US jobs. It is my opinion that every time a big US company like IBM turns its back on the people who made it such a success, this country slips just a little bit more in the direction it's been going for some time now. Way to contribute IBM! Go China! (sarcasm)

Keep in mind I could easily provide many examples for each one of these issues listed, but this is what comes to mind immediately. Am I the only one wondering what the hell was going on?

FYI I don't care about the typos in this post, I'm taking a lesson from Lenovo on this one. Less is more.

UPDATE: Since originally writing this Lenovo seems to have wised up and has begun to support the System Update tool once again. Thank the lord. But on the flip side of the coin, they have also started delivering 3rd party ads through their message center that are full image based ads that pop up on top of whatever it is that you are working on. Now THAT'S a business strategy folks! Brilliant!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Touch Screen Macbooks in the works? (Rumor)

Taiwan based company Wintek is reporting that they are working on new touch screen display components for apple. The assumption is that Apple may be working on some touch screen versions of their Macbook line. If they can implement touch functionality as well as they did with the iPhone this is sure to be another great product evolution from the company.

Take this report for what it is, a rumor. The folks at digitimes have proven to be hit or miss in the past, especially when reporting on foreign companies. It does seem like a logical product evolution for Apple however.


It's official, the iPad has arrived. That's right a gigantic iPod touch. Nothing to see here folks, move along.

The Economic Meltdown is not over...

So anyone with a 401k account or a stock portfolio knows how bad this has been. Many people I work with have lost close to 70% of their total contributions into their retirement accounts!

How did we get here?
In a word, spending. Spending is ok, if you're spending within your means. We, however, are not. Anyone with any sense at all knows its a bad idea to max out your credit cards. It is even worse to continue to open new cards when you dont have the money to pay what you already owe. As far as the country is concerned, we have a running tab called the national debt. In the 2008 Fiscal Year, 9.2% ($261 billion) of the government's spending was allocated for Interest on the nation debt! This figure will be higher and higher every year if we cannot pay down our debt (which is impossible at our current rate). In addition to the budgeted spending in that fiscal year, the government also recorded a bloated $240 billion deficit (which gets tacked on to the national debt). Every time we pass an unbalanced budget or ask congress for more money for one thing or another (such as our efforts over seas) the money is essentially printed up and thrown on our tab.

Crouching tiger, hidden inflation...
The underlying plague to our governments financial system is very powerful, and very underestimated. Inflation is a perpetual drain on the income of everyone in our country (except the bankers and the government who get to use the newly printed money before it loses value). Inflation rises more rapidly than wage increases, and as a result, we're often losing money even if we're getting an annual raise!

The Federal Reserve often targets an annual inflation rate of somewhere near 1.5%, and their reports usually show them to be somewhat on the mark in most cases. the problem is, the calculations are questionable at best. They are essentially designed not to show high inflation rates! The lower they show inflation rates to be, the higher they anticipate consumer confidence in the markets. If they announced true inflation rates, it would draw attention to the mass printing of funny money and that the dollar is slowly but surely being diluted down to nothing.

Ways inflation numbers are "rigged":

1 - In the early 1990s, "hedonic quality adjustments" were introduced into inflation calculation which allowed a certain amount of subjectivity into determining the price increase of consumer goods. This gave the power to the Bureau of Labor Statistics to fudge the numbers a bit to make it seem as though prices were not increasing as quickly as they really were.

2 - Starting in 1983, the government began measuring the price of housing based on rental price, not actual cost. Since rental prices do not raise as quickly as home values this also helped to underestimate the rate of inflation. Now that housing prices have tanked, we'll see if they switch this back to the actual value to achieve even lower inflation rates.

3 - The government also began to assume consumers would make substitutions in the purchases when the prices increased. If the price of steak went up, they began to assume people would not buy as much steak and go for chicken or pork instead. The issue is, we're adding more subjectivity into the equation. They should be using the numbers as they are, not picking and choosing like this.

There are other tweaks and adjustments that have been made to the calculations over the years. The end result is that the real rate of inflation is much higher than the reported figures. In most cases it is estimated that the actual rate of inflation is as high as threee times what it is reported to be! We all know it to be true when we see the prices in the supermarket and take notice. You probably wouldnt even notice at all if the annual inflation rate was only 1 or 2 percent. You can tell the difference because it is actually much higher than that.

Bandaids for Cancer Patients
You dont give a cancer patient a bandaid, but somehow we see fit to give our dying economy the exact same treatment. Bailouts are bandaids. Stimulus packages are generally bandaids. Lying about the state of the economy to help "market confidence" is a bandaid. These things address the issues at hand

Why it's not going to stop

Both the Bush, and the Obama administration have vigorously attempted to spend our way out of this mess which was caused by spending too much money. Spending money we dont have dilutes the currency and causes inflation. Of course we hide the inflation figures so people are still nice and confident and continue spending money instead of eliminating their outstanding lines of credit and paying down their debt etc. Lack of savings makes it harder for individuals to recover from tough economic times which further contribute to the problem.

There are very few politicians that see the big picture. One of them is the famed Texas congressman Ron Paul. He has been avidly protesting the constant unbalanced budgets we pass as well as the ongoing costs over seas, the bailouts, the stimulus packages etc. etc. etc. He has been fighting this fight for decades and is finally starting to be respected as a result of this monumental crisis. Unfortunately, there are still many people at the top who are greatly benifited by our corrupt financial system.

How can we fix it?

We need to take this much more seriously.
1 - STOP spending money we dont have! If we have to stop fighting wars overseas and stop giving aid to countries who want our help then that's what we have to do to save our country. If we have to encourage non-profit groups to step up and assist with healthcare instead of giving more government handouts and welfare, then that's what we have to do to save our country. No more bailouts, no more stimulus packages, let the banks who mismanaged their money fail. Let the home owners who purchased beyong their means lose their homes. As terrible as all of this is, it will flush the bloated system
2 - Stop hiding the truth from the American people. Stop hiding inflation figures. Start reporting true money supply.
3 - Stop diluting our currency. The more money we print up, the more we dilute the USD. If we can get a grip on money supply and get some control over the Federal reserve, we might stand a chance.
4 - Follow the constitution. If we just stuck to the gameplan our founding forefathers put together, we would have avoided all of this. We gave the Federal Reserve (a private institution) authority to print money at will.
5 - Keep the internet open and free! We cannot allow a censored version of the interenet to emerge like in China. This will give the government the power to keep this type of information from reaching people, since the large media companies are owned by those who stand to gain from our corrupt and broken financial system. You may think this should not be a concern, but pay close attention to proposed legislation related to regulation of the internet and you will begin to see that this is in fact on the table, and it will take a constant fight to keep it off.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Ways to promote your website and GET MORE TRAFFIC!!

There are three major ways in my opinion to accomplish this and they all play hand in hand.

1 - Increase search engine rankings. This is probably the single most important thing you're going to want to do and it almost happens more as a side effect of everything else. Search engines are the world's portal to the world. You want to be somewhere on that portal obviously. The biggest advice I can give in terms of this goal is "Content is King". The more content you have (not just a bunch of crap) the better off you are. You need some meat for the search engines to grab ahold of. This will greatly increase your chances of getting those sweet "organic" hits.
Another key ingredient here is link popularity. You will need to gain recognition around the internet to build repore with the search engines. The next few items on our list will help with this. The only other important peice to this one is just make sure your website is of high quality. Nobody knows exactly how google gets the results it does as the search algorythms are secred, however we do know they they generally pull very good results. Make sure that your content is quality and relavent information, and keep search engines in mind when you're creating traffic. Dont forget to use google webmaster tools to add your site to google's index. While your at it using google analytics can also help identify what keywords are working well for your site so you can try to target those visitors more aggresively.

2 - Get listed on as many sites as possible. Depending on what type of website you have, there are bound to be plenty of directories, top sites, coupon websites where you can list your promo codes, shopping repositories like google products, etc. etc. etc. Find as many way to get your site included and listed on as many different services and websites as possible. This will also help your link popularity and get you more search engine traffic.

3 - Back on the 'content is king' kick, publish something regularly that can be indexed by search engines, but also followed via rss readers like good reader, or services like feedburner. A good example of this is keeping a regular blog. Make sure you post new articles at least twice a week and you will be surprised to see that people might just be interested in what you have to share. This can be a good way to promote your other website like I'm gonna do right now:!
See how that works?

4 - Paid traffic. Make sure you go with reputable sources, not some company thats going to throw you 10,000 impressions from popup advertisements generated from spyware! Go with targeted ads from services like google adwords. Another great one is facebook! You can really narrow down the potential viewers to exactly who you want to target, right down the their marital status. They can certainly work wonders and get you truly interested visitors.

Last but not least, if you do end up getting gobs of traffic, dont forget to send me some. I love traffic. =)

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Importance of Trend Watching

So we're still ironing out the minor details but mostly the plan is set for our first promotional event to start building some buzz about the new T-shirt company. We've also begun a small amount of online advertising to test the waters, as well as started a nice social networking campaign to get friends spreading the word to others.

All the marketing in the world wont save you if your products do not mesh with the times, unless you are only targeting a small niche market of course. Even then there are important things that you can learn from trend watching to make your business more successful.

I've started subscribing to some trend watching newsletters and the like, such as and

These sites can help you find emergind trends in markets that you can use to make your new products more appealing. Once simple example is the ongoing trend toward caring companies. With the big banks robbing us blink and then taking our tax money, people are hungry for an honest and caring company. Donate some of your proceeds to a charity and start to really care and you will see the results of your efforts coming to fruition much more quickly. This is just one example of how watching emerging trends can help your business.

Subscribe to as many trend watching sources as possible and keep up with the times. Use what you learn to shape your products and services and you will not be dissapointed.

If you know of any good sources for this type of info, post in the comments.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Beautiful day in south Florida

Ive been down here for almost 2 years already but I still cannot believe how beautiful it is in the winter. Friends back home are freezing their asses off and I'm sitting at the south port raw bar in fort lauderdale on my lunch break enjoying the beautiful weather and this incredible view. It will be a very hard decision to decide to move back home.

Using Drupal 6 and Ubercart to build a T-Shirt store

Hi my name is Luke and I'm a blogger...
*crowd murmers "hi Luke"*

So I've started diving into Drupal 6 as an e-commerce solution. Paired with Ubercart, it actually works very well to my surprise. I tried struggling with magento and just ran into so many problems. Not that it wasn't workable, nice looking, feature rich, and well developed... it was just daunting to get it up and running smoothly. It was too easy to break and not easy enough to fix. Also the admin interface just seemed like you needed to take lessons in order to wrap your head around it. Before I get flamed here, I'm sure it works great once you know your way around, but honestly I thought it should be more welcoming than it is.
I wanted to write a very quick and dirty starting guide for anyone just trying to get drupal and ubercart working for a t-shirt company. This post assumes you have a basic installation of drupal up and running - I'm using Drupal 6 or course. There are tons of tutorials out there on this so I'm not going to get into that, plus the installer works so well its almost a moot point altogether.

First off, here's the store for your viewing pleasure,

T-Shirt websites have some unique problems. Here's what I wanted to add out of the box:

1. Stock levels for t-shirts can be tricky. You have many attributes such as size, color, or style and all of them have different stock levels most of the time. Needed this to work.
2. You need the thumbnails to by crystal clear so your customers can see the design or lettering on the shirt.
3. I wanted to give out promotional codes to potential customers at events, or in the customers' packages when their shirt arrives.
4. I wanted seamless shipping integration to return live shipping prices to customers.
5. I needed my own customized theme.
6. I wanted to embedd youtube videos.
7. I wanted to make it easy to find products and give the users some options. I decided a taxonomy cloud for tagging would do nicely.

Modules Used
Ubercart 2.0 Beta 4
video filter
ubercart attribute stock filter
Ubercart Discount Coupons
Taxonomy Cloud

Modules required to work with Images:
CCK, FileField, ImageField, Image, Imagecache (turn on: Imagecache, Imagecache UI), Imageapi (turn on ImageAPI and ImageAPI GD2)

1. Stock Levels Based on Attributes
To achieve my goals for this I used a module called Attribute Stock Filter. Essentially this module will allow you to set individual stock levels for each attribute combination and hide any attribute combination that are not in stock. Here's how to get it working:
- Install the module by uploading the files to your modules directory.
- Go into Administration > Modules and activate the module.
- Go to a product and add some attributes (clieck edit on the product page, then click attributes, then add attributes).
- On the options tab, select which options will be available for this product.
- Now go to the adjustments tab, and give each product a unique SKU number. If they are not all unique, you will not see anything listed on the stock tab and you can't set the individual stock quantities.
- Now go to the stock tab and type in the quantities for each product variation, and check the activate box for each variation that you want to be available on the site.

2. Creating clear thumbnails
First, you will need to make sure all the standard image modules you will need are installed. Once you have them installed there are a couple configuration changes you'll need to make.
Next, make sure the ImageAPI module is configured and is able to find the binary needed for the Image API you're using like Imagemagic. I'm using the built in PHP GD2 support and it just worked for me out of the box, but you may have to change the path to the binary if you're receiving an error message when going to configure the ImageAPI module. The configuration for the Image API is found under Administer > Image API (Under Site configuration). If you do not know the path to the binary, you may need to ask your web hosting provider.

Then, add the Image field to the 'product' content type. To do this automatically, go to Administer > Store Administration and you will see a notification on the bottom of the screen saying the image field needs to be set up in CCK and click here to do this automatically. This will create a new field for the products content type and give it the correct name so Ubercart can find it etc. Now if all went well, when editing a product you will have an image field which will allow you to upload an Image file.

JPG thumbnails tend to get heavy artifacts on the default quality settings. This isnt a big problem if your selling lamps or computers, but T-Shirt need to be clearly legible. Here's how I worked around this issue:
- Use squares as your main image instead of displaying the design on a shirt. This will allow the design to appear larger, even compared to an image of the same width that is shown on a shirt as opposed to in a simple square.
- Create images in nice even numbers. I create all my large images on 600x600 squares. Then I set my product image to a nice even multiple of that, like 300x300 (exactly 50%). This greatly reduces the amount of jagged lines and artifacts that appear on the product image, and of course when you click for a full sized image, the original is nice and sharp. Thumbnails for the 'product list' page I have set to 200x200, again exactly 1/3rd of the original. You'll want to make the image sizes configured on your website to match the sizes you choose. Do this in Administer > Images (Under Site Building).

- Use lightbox2 for image display. Lightbox2 is a nice way to display images and it is very customizable through the admin interface. After installing lightbox 2 dont forget to go into Administration > Input formats, click configure next to filtered html, and check the lightbox filters to turn them on. This screen shows little example of how these filters can be used in your content to use the lightbox script.

You will also want to go to Administer > Store Administration > Configuration > Product Settings and turn the Product Image widget to Lightbox2

3. Creating Promotional Codes
At first I searched around for a promo code module and found uc_discounts. This works well for giving certain users or groups discounts in general but doesn't support promo codes.
Instead I used the uc_coupon module. This did exactly what I wanted. Simple install the module and creating promo codes is a synch. More documentation on that can be found here. At the time of writing this I am using the development snapshot 6.x-1.x-dev (2009-Feb-20).

4. Seamless Shipping Integration
At the time of writing this, the ubercart fedex module was in existance, but trouble and not supported for Drupal 6. Instead, I signed up for a UPS account, and configured the ups module. The hardest part about this is finding where to go on the UPS website to sign up and receive your API key! Here are some helpful links to get you moving in the right direction.
- First create a UPS account in general if you dont already have one (
- The register for a developers key here
- Then you need an XML Access Key which you can get here (youll need to have a developer key already)
Now just install the UPS module and fill in the ups account number, access key etc. into the confuration screen. Nice and easy.

5. Installing & Customizing a Theme
The honest truth here is, if you dont know CSS, XHTML and are handy with photoshop or something comparable, you're not going to want to dive into this. Your best option would be to either choose one of the free Drupal themes listed here, or purchase a professional drupal theme. Your best bet is to purchase a theme, or find a free one that is built with ubercart in mind. Many of the free themes are just for Drupal in general and do not take into consideration all of the extras that ubercart and its modules provide.

For free themes, check out's Drupal 6 Section to see the themes in action - again not all will be suitable for ubercart out of the box. You can also try Monster Templates as they have a Drupal section but again many of them will not take ecommerce into consideration.

One excellent resource for high quality themes at a reasonable price is Top Notch Themes. Many of these themes will take ubercart into consideration and will just work perfectly and even offer additional customization beyon what most other themes will provide. They even offer a couple free themes that work very well for ecommerce, my favorite being Acquia Marina which was used for the spread firefox website for quite a while.

I'm going to go into a little more detail soon on getting into the nuts and bolts of Drupal 6 theming, but I've still got quite a few things to work through myself before I'd be able to help someone else so stay tuned for that one.

6. Embedding Videos
I understand this may not be a typical request for a T-Shirt company but, I needed it so I'll tell you what I did. I installed the video filter module located here. Just install the module, turn it on in the admin > modules page and then go to administration > input formats (under site configuration). Click the configure button next to filtered html, and check the box that says video filter. After installing lightbox2, you can embed videos into the lightbox as well as long as you turn on that filter also (see #2 above).

7. Tags!
I then started hunting around for a solution to the categorization. I wanted to have a bunch of different categories, but didnt want a crowded catalog. For example a shirt that had a nice graphic design, but also a funny saying would belong in 2 categories, maybe even more. The best way to achieve this is with tagging. I installed tagadellic. It creates a nice tag block that will increase the font size of the tag diaplyed depending on how many product in your store carry that tag. This makes popular tags stand out, and fringe tags fade into the background instead of having equal prominance. Once installing the tagadellic module, you'll need to visit the blocks section (administration > site building > blocks) and select where you want the tagadellic block to be displayed. Now just visit each of your products and start tagging them. Note it takes a little while for the new tags to start showing in the tagadellic block.

In addition to this, I also used the Taxonomy Menu module to create my menu based on the tags I assigned my products. This makes managing the menus a lot easier. The only thing I really need to edit are the individual product pages and the menu pretty much takes care of itself.

Product Display Tips
Every time you create a product, you will have to go through the motions of setting up the different attributes. Adding all the different sizes and colors. This is all fine and good, but what if every product is always available in white and black and has small, medium and large sizes? Wouldnt it be nice to have these added by default? Enter product classes. I'm not going to do a whole tutorial on this, instead just look at Administer » Store administration » Products > Manage classes, and read about it in the Ubercart documentation here.

You may want to remove the post information from the 'product' content type so it doesnt show the 'posted by username on 01/01/2001' or whatever. To do this go to Administer > Themes > click configure next to the theme you are currently using > click global settings > and unclick 'product' under the "display post information on" menu.

Search Engine Optimization
By default, your urls of your products will use node numbers instead of names. This is not ideal for search engines to pick up what exactly each page is about. We can use the Pauthauto module to make this a bit better. There is an excellent article with some great tips on Drupal 6 search engine optimization here, including a walk-through on setting up and using pathauto.

All in all I have to say this is the most rewarding ecommerce system I have ever worked with. There is a lot of good info out there on the ubercart website, on the drupal website, in the module documentation, and even on youtube that its really easy comparatively to pick this up and run with it. Hopyfully this article helps someone someday. If it was helpful to you, let me know in the comments! Bloggers love comments I hear, and now I'm officially a blogger.