Archive for March, 2008

» One-Page Executive Presentations

The pursuit of simplicity is something I try to incorporate into all aspects of my life, especially in business. Here’s one of my favorite quotes on the topic:

“Insecure managers create complexity. Frightened, nervous managers use thick, convoluted planning books and busy slides filled with everything they’ve known since childhood. Real leaders don’t need clutter. People must have the self-confidence to be clear, precise, to be sure that every person in their organization – highest to lowest – understands what the business is trying to achieve. But it’s not easy. You can’t believe how hard it is for people to be simple, how much they fear being simple. They worry that if they’re simple, people will think they’re simple-minded. In reality, of course, it’s just the reverse. Clear, tough-minded people are the most simple.” — Jack Welch, interviewed by Harvard Business Journal

Throughout my business career, I’ve had numerous opportunities to present a deal summary or program update to a steering committee or executive sponsor. While most of my peers would present 20-40 PowerPoint slides with impressive graphics and loads of information, I set myself apart by bringing one sheet of paper in memo format. No graphics, no unnecessary information. Just the relevant information.

I was lucky enough to have a boss early in my career who said “first, don’t come into my office unless you can tell me 1) what are the facts, 2) what do they mean, and 3) what do we do. Second, if you can’t fit it on 1-2 pages, you haven’t thought about it enough.” I took this to heart and have applied it since.

Here’s what I have found. Initially, executives would challenge facts and assumptions on my one sheet of paper. I would always have additional information with me to back up my claims and recommendations. Over time, they realized I had my act together and stopped challenging the content and started focusing on the decision at hand and my recommendation. Additionally, executives don’t have time to read 20-40 page presentations. They want you to get to the point and keep the conversation focused on the important items to be discussed and decisions to be made. They will appreciate it when you value their time and focus the time on the high value topics.

If you haven’t taken this approach, give it a shot and see if you get similar results. If anything, it will set you apart from the crowd of paper-pushers.

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» Defenestrating my TV

512-front-row-leopard.pngSince I first found out I could hook up a computer to a TV, I’ve dabbled at setting up a mediacenter system, with varying results. My living room has hosted everything from servers over workstations to laptop pc’s. Finally, I’ve arrived at something I think is a good and viable solution. Using a Mac Mini as a mediacenter!

As much as I love macs, it does sometimes feel like you’re not really wanted, and that you can’t really do all that you want. Therefore I’ve assembled this little list of stuff I’ve come across, and how I’ve set up my system in general.

My criteria for a system like this, was the following:

  • It has to be silent. Not just quiet, but totally silent.
  • It has to look good.
  • It has to be as compact as possible.
  • Everyone should be able to use it.
  • It needs to handle all of my media seamlessly.

Hardware
I, of course, have a Mac Mini. I opted for the big one, because of the extra space, and the SuperDrive allowing me to burn DVD’s if need be.

Even with the extra space, the 110 GB is simply not enough for hosting all of your media, so I went out and bought two Western Digital Passport USB drives, of 320 GB each. One for movies, and one for TV shows. They are pretty cheap, and the advantage of this approach, is that they do not need their own power-supply, they make virtually no sound, and they can easily be disconnected, if you need to move some files around.

I use my good old iPod 60 GB for music. It’s hooked up in a dock, and contains all of my music, and iTunes is able to play the music directly from it. The bonus here, is that I can always just grab the iPod out of it’s dock, and put it in some portable speakers, for music everywhere.

Lastly, I use Apple’s wireless keyboard, Remote, MightyMouse and iPhone for control of the whole thing.

App’s
As I mentioned, when using Apple software, you sometimes feel a bit unwelcome. FrontRow only likes stuff from iTunes. iTunes only likes stuff from the iTunes Music Store, and so on. These are the app’s I’m currently using to keep everything running smoothly.

FrontRow – Apple’s take on a mediacenter interface, and basically all you’ll get, if you buy an AppleTV (don’t do that). It handles DVD’s, music, TV Shows, movies and podcast nicely. The interface is beautiful, and everyone can work it.

iTunes – When using Apple and especially FrontRow, iTunes is a necessary evil. It’s good for music, and it works OK for the rest of it.

Perian – By default, Quicktime and iTunes cannot play that many formats, and certainly not DivX, Xvid and such. Installing Perian will make QuickTime play nice with most formats, and since both iTunes and FrontRow uses Quicktime, that’s needed.

VideoDrive – Adding movies and TV shows to iTunes can be a bit of a hassle. VideoDrive will handle all of it for you. You basically just point it to your media folders and it will find all of your stuff, look it up online for covers and such, and add it to iTunes. Thereby making it appear in FrontRow. It’s a brilliant little app, and the guys behind it is very helpful, should you have any questions.

HandBrake – If you have DVD’s that you want to add to your digital collection, HandBrake will do it for you. It’s very very easy to use, and it will rip a DVD in about an hour.

Touchpad Pro – I’ve you own a jailbreaked iPhone, Touchpad Pro will allow you to use your iPhone as a touchpad for your mac. It can also mimic the remote of the mac, so you can control everything, even without line-of-sight.

VineVNC – Touchpad Pro runs on VNC but Apple’s built in VNC server is a bit buggy, and sometimes runs amok with your CPU cycles. Luckily there are alternatives. VineVNC is free, and it hasn’t failed me yet.

Simplify Media – I’ve written about this before, but it really kicks ass. It allows me to play the music from my mac at home, on my PC when I’m at work. You log in, and it creates shared libraries in iTunes, and you can play away. You are really struck by how simple something like this can actually be.

Shareipod – Because I have my music on my iPod, and iTunes doesn’t give the same options to music on an iPod as it does with music in it’s native library, you need to add the music on the iPod to the iTunes main library. This script will do that for you.

Here’s where it gets tricky. The following two app’s are in the shadowzone of legality, so you should of course only use them for stuff you legally can download. (There, I said it – let’s get on with it)

TV Shows – TV Shows is a little app that will search different networks for you, and automatically download the latest episode of any show, as soon as it becomes available. You simply select the show you want to follow, and it will magically appear in your incoming-folder as soon as it’s ready for download.

Transmission – Transmission is the goto app for downloading from BitTorrent networks. It’s clean and simple, and it always works.

Given all this, I am still not completely satisfied with the setup. The way FrontRow handles seasons in TV Shows is simply stupid, and it does not show subtitles from external files, but I have faith that it will get better in future releases of the software. I still need to add the possibility to record TV and timeshift it. I have seen examples of this done using Elgato, so that may be a topic of a future post. I will continue to update my system, and add experiences here as I go along.

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» Bücher, Spiele, Videos, DVDs

Was sich lohnt, stelle ich bei Amazon ein, sonst bei Tauschticket. Dort läuft es im Moment allerdings nicht so gut. Deshalb fange ich jetzt an, Kisten für Oxfam zu packen. Dann ist es wenigstens für einen guten Zweck. Schließlich will ich nicht den Rest meiner Tage damit verbringen, Krempel zu verwalten. Ich habe anderes vor ;-) aber dazu muss ich erst Ballast abwerfen. Herr April wartet sehnsüchtig darauf, zur Müllkippe fahren zu dürfen *g*.

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