Archive for Guest Column

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As an active HubPages author, I contributed this sabbatical planning advice article to HubPages on 9/9/09.

Begin Your Extended Vacation with a Plan

We all dream of taking an extended vacation or sabbatical, and doing absolutely nothing at all. If you’re able to save money to take time off from your career and make your dream happen, it’s so important not to waste that precious time.

Relax on your sabbatical, but don't waste too much time.

I know it sounds crazy, but to make the most of your extended sabbatical, you need to start with a plan before you actually tell the boss to stick it!

When we decided to take time off and hit the road in our RV, before we did, we held a mini-retreat. We bought a giant wall chart and jotted down all our ideas for what we wanted to do during this long vacation.

Here are some questions we asked ourselves:

  • What did we want to get out of our time off?
    We were sick of our business and wanted to do something completely different. So we figured our time off would be used to research new businesses for sale. We also wanted to explore personal interests, like gardening, animal rescue, fly fishing and knitting.
  • Where should we take our sabbatical?
    At the time, Our dog Jerry was sick with terminal cancer. We always wanted to do a road trip with him, so this was our chance to finally see America in an RV, before it was too late. If you dream of traveling, make a wish list of your ideal places to see during your break. But, remember, not everyone needs to travel to have a worthwhile sabbatical. Even staying at home during that time-off can help you feel invigorated (and you’ll save money too!)
  • How would we pay for our time off?
    Going on a road trip journey like this was going to be expensive. To finance our RV trip, we decided to sell everything we owned, including our house. We read a great book on how to finance our road trip too, and came up with a budget. Understand your finances before the clock starts ticking.
  • How much time should we take?
    When you’re a working stiff, even a month-long vacation seems like an eternity. The thought of taking even more time off just seemed mind-boggling to us. But believe it or not, even a month isn’t enough time to really recuperate from the daily grind. For a sabbatical to be really successful, and allow you to come back to work refreshed, or start a completely new career, you need at least six months.
Sabbatical success on our RV road trip

Make It Happen!

If you really want this time off, you can make it happen. Unless you’re loaded with cash, you’ll need to make some sacrifices, and lower your cost of living. But there are so many creative ways to finance a sabbatical without going into debt (I’ll explore that in another article), don’t let anyone tell you that it can’t be done, especially during a recession.

Never in a million years did we dream of taking a year off to travel, explore new businesses, pursue our hobbies, and be with our beloved dog until his death. But if we could do it, you can too!

We also never, ever thought that what we thought would be a one year sabbatical would turn into two and a half years of time off. And, after seeing what life can be like by living simply and not falling into the rat race trap again, we’ve vowed to continue this low-key, debt-free lifestyle as long as we can!

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The following technology-themed article appeared as part of my regular guest column contribution to the Eureka Times Standard Newspaper. In this 4/30/09 column, I discuss the trend of bandwidth limitations imposed upon users by broadband companies.

Coming soon: Pay-to-Play Internet Plans

It’s hard to believe we’ve been on the road for two years now. What started out as a one-year road trip has morphed into a lifestyle, mostly because of our ability to stay connected with the world through our satellite internet connection.

But it’s not perfect. We’ve had a few gripes, especially lately, when something on our network was calling out to the Internet, and we couldn’t diagnose the problem. We had a mystery virus eating up our bandwidth, and subjecting us to a “Fair Access Policy”, that our ISP, HugesNet, inflicts on subscribers.

For satellite users, the HughesNet Fair Access Policy (FAP) states that:

Hughes has established a download threshold for each of the HughesNet service plans that is well above the typical usage rates. Subscribers who exceed that threshold will experience reduced download speeds for approximately 24 hours.

In the satellite internet world, this situation is known as “getting FAPed.” Lots of things can set it off. Watch a movie online? FAP! Videoconference on Skype for too long? FAP! You don’t get charged a fee, but it’s a horribly painful affliction, giving you speeds akin to dial-up for 24 hours from the time you exceeded your limit.

Until now, FAP policies and bandwidth limitations like this have only been the problem of satellite users and others who rely on connectivity through wireless internet “air cards” provided by their cell phone company. But now, DSL and cable subscribers will start to feel the pain of “bandwidth caps” too.

The San Antonio Express-News reported on April 2, 2009, that Time Warner cable has tapped San Antonio (TX) as one of its first markets to charge varying rates depending on how much data you use, instead of a flat fee.

Time Warner claims that 5 percent of its customers use up to 50 percent of their total bandwidth. They claim they are looking out for the Honest Joes and Janes who don’t hog up the pipeline by frivolously using it for downloading movies or gaming. The company plans to implement this new pricing structure in Austin, Greensboro, North Carolina, and Rochester, New York.

AT&T isn’t far behind. Subscribers in Humboldt should also be on the lookout for the same kind of new pay-to-play system. Late last year, the company began testing bandwidth caps of 60 – 150 gigabytes per month in Reno, Nevada. Other providers following suit include Comcast and Charter Communications.

Users do get a warning if they approach their limit. But once they do, are charged anywhere from $1 per gigabyte over the cap, up to an extra $20 a month on their bills.

The implications of bandwidth caps are profound, and in this economic climate, will have far reaching consequences on businesses as well as individual users.

This pay-to-play scheme by communications giants is nothing new. Other providers have attempted policies like this before. Back in 1986, Ma Bell tried to get rid of its longstanding flat rate charge. They began charging users in Rochester, New York, fees based on how many phone calls they made or how far they were located from the exchange box.

But guess what? Consumers revolted, some even forming their own cooperatives to provide alternative services. Ma Bell eventually threw in the towel when enough of its users switched to the newly formed Rochester phone company.

Over 100 years later, it’s happening again, and we still can’t afford to let our access to the world be at the mercy of these companies. I encourage you to help the Humboldt tech community spread the word about this issue, by bringing it up for discussion with the Redwood Technology Consortium membership base. You can also read about the actions that consumers are taking, by visiting StopTheCap.com, or UsageCaps.com.

As for my satellite internet connection, next time we get FAPed, I guess that as long as we aren’t being charged extra, I won’t scream as loudly as I used to.

# # # #

Copyright 2009, Eureka Times Standard Newspaper.The print edition of this article first appeared in the 4/30/09 edition of the Times Standard.

This article appeared as part of my regular guest column contribution to the Eureka Times Standard Newspaper. In this 07/10/01 column, I discuss the variety of self-employed entrepreneurs in rural Northern California’s Humboldt County.

The Possibilities are Endless
in Free Agent Nation

California has more “Free Agent” independent workers and micro-business owners than any other state in the nation, according to Dan Pink, author of the fascinating new book “Free Agent Nation.”

According to Pink, two out of three Californians don’t hold a traditional job with a single employer. Our state’s free agents are breaking new ground and achieving a new type of  “job security” through diversification, and investing their human capital in several clients or projects, rather than devoting it all to a single company and living in the shadow of their next pink slip.

The Redwood Technology Consortium is Humboldt’s best vehicle to further diversify a free agent’s opportunities. Once a month, we all pry our hands away from our keyboards, and head out to the Eureka RREDC office to exchange business advice, learn how to participate in promoting clean industry locally, and simply network with other free agents, micro-enterprise and larger business owners. Between us, we demonstrate the possibilities available to anyone wanting to make the free agent leap, with as little as a phone line, fax and FedEx.

Here’s a few world class projects we are implementing from our spare bedrooms, garages, and sometimes while camped out at the local coffee house:

Ennis Web Design, run by Sean Ennis, specializes in ADA compliant web design, foreign language translation and digitally mastered audio for websites. In addition, if your ISP goes belly-up and you’re suddenly found without a web presence, Sean will help you move your site to a new host: something your old ISP won’t do.

www.YourEka.org is a Eureka citizen’s website created by Carl Birks, a College of the Redwoods Multimedia Student. Eurekans are encouraged to express their perspectives on our urban environment when visiting the site. By using written, visual, musical and other creative expressions, YourEka promotes innovation in urban planning and architecture for a more people-friendly, ever-improving, more livable Eureka.

Planwest Partners, owned by George Williamson, AICP, is a planning and environmental consulting firm. Planwest offers land use, resource, community, and environmental planning; feasibility studies; and grant-writing services. George has over twenty years of experience in both public agency and private sector planning, primarily in the West.

Gold Dog Design, developer of the acclaimed RTC website, specializes in the development and implementation of web-based intranets and extranets for the virtual office. Specializing in ColdFusion programming, Carter Fleming offers database integration and B2B solutions with integrated portal capabilities.

Peggy Martinez, an Assistive Technology Consultant and Trainer specializing in equipment for people with impaired sight. Peggy arranges everything from system installations with speech & Braille output, to awareness training, to accessible computer lab coordination for conventions and conferences.

Kevin Savetz is a freelance computer and technology writer specializing in the Internet. Kevin is a regular contributor to Computer Shopper, MacAddict, Byte.com’s WebTools, Sesame Street Parents, AuctionWatch.com, Access Magazine, and other publications.

www.BuyVeteran.com, is a nationwide directory of veteran owned businesses. Webmaster Doug Sapp is in the process of compiling information from around the country on veteran businesses in a variety of industry sectors, such as servicing, manufacturing, and construction.

Tina Nerat, a newly transplanted San Diegan, runs NERATech from her office in Eureka, which specializes in building systems infrastructure, such as networking, help desk, system administration, desktop support and LAN/WAN configurations. In addition, Tina works with businesses to assess their use of technology within their organization. Mike Nerat, her husband, is a prototype machinist and CNC programmer, and is currently seeking a high-end machine shop with appropriate tools and CAD/CAM software, to partner on various projects.

This is just a sampling of the creative endeavors underway in our region’s stealth tech industry, and proof that our livelihoods don’t have to be at the mercy of industry-wide economic downturns and structural reorganizations of large employers.

To get inspired or find out what others are doing to live the free agent lifestyle, join us at the next RTC meeting on Wednesday, July 11.

Rene Agredano sits on the RTC board of directors (www.redwoodtech.org) and is a principal of Agreda Communications, a full-service marketing communications firm.

This 03/27/01 column asks a business audience to consider the ramifications of having a face-to-face meeting without a specific purpose. The article appeared as part of my regular guest column contribution to the Eureka Times Standard Newspaper.

Prospering on Internet Time

Our company often completes major design projects with companies from Hong Kong to Aruba to San Jose, without ever meeting the clients, or even talking on the phone. To some, this is impossible to imagine. But to us, it’s a given. While it’s great to relax “on Humboldt Time,” we find that it’s most beneficial and cost-effective to do business on Internet Time.

Nobody likes to waste time when their businesses’ profitability is on the line. Yet, so often, we encounter professionals ranging from marketing directors of multi-national corporations to small business owners who can’t imagine working on a project without meeting many times to discuss minor details. And, while face time is vital for pitching to qualified sales prospects; for day-to-day projects, meetings can suck so much work time that any profitability is entirely lost.

The next time someone proposes a meeting to you, think about the time spent driving to and from a meeting, the resources spent making copies, typing agendas, and taking notes. Then analyze what your time is worth before you commit to a meeting. Multiply that by the number of people involved in your project, and the results are astounding.

With just a small learning curve and a new way of approaching the decision-making process, most projects can be successfully completed without ever having to meet face-to-face. Before agreeing to a meeting, the obvious question to ask is: Why? If you must meet, then ask: What’s the quickest and cheapest way to meet? Any meeting conducted via the Internet, software, or a specific device, is certain to be the least expensive and most timely way to meet.

Portable Document Format (PDF) files: Cross-platform documents can be created thanks to Adobe Acrobat, and emailed to anyone. From hundred-page reports, to packaging comps, to engineering drafts, these PDFs can be emailed to colleagues for review, and all they have to do is download the free Acrobat reader to view and print it. If someone wants a hard copy, they can kill some trees and print it out themselves. If they have tons of changes, they can do that within Acrobat, and email you back embedded comments instead of calling you and spending an hour on the phone, or wasting paper, ink, and fax toner. A PDF can be circulated to busy company staff around the world for comments and be back to you within hours for corrections, finalization and distribution. PDFs also serve as valuable visual aides when discussed over the phone during a conference call — another cheap, effective way to hold meetings with anyone, anywhere.

Web Conferencing: There are numerous Internet-Based meeting centers where you can host a “cyber conference” with nothing more than a web connection and some cheap software. You can also integrate your PowerPoint presentation, PDF, streaming audio and video, and live demonstrations of your product. WebEx.com, PlaceWare.com, and Evoke.com all offer relatively inexpensive web-conferencing services like this. They also enable you to instantly share work you have created in a certain software program which your clients may not have on their computer.
Email: Practically anything can be sent over email for review. And, corresponding back and forth via email – when messages are checked and replies sent diligently – can save time by allowing colleagues to “meet” on their own time. It also leaves an invaluable “paper” trail.

Online Collaboration: Utilizing an IntraNet or ExtraNet to facilitate online project collaboration with document sharing, and real-time chat/conferencing is an ever increasing way that smart businesses “meet”. Existing companies such as Visto.com offer such services. Even AOL and Yahoo offer similar capabilities. Or you could implement such Web infrastructure for your organization. Better yet, you can join a group like the Redwood Technology Consortium, which offers these benefits to members for free at www.redwoodtech.org.

Rene Agredano is co-founder of Agreda Communications, a global full-service marketing communications, print and publishing provider. She is also Treasurer of the Redwood Technology Consortium.

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