J2 News #4: Preachin’ What We Practice

A Promotion

Before I get to my announcements and tips, I want to tell everyone about some new promotions. We hope you’ll like these new, more affordable ways for you to get Chicken Soup for your Macs.

System Upgrades

At the end of 2008, I said I was going to make some improvements to our service. Today, I’m proud to formally announce our new web site at j2mac.com, a place for you to connect to us, and to get information that we hope you find helpful in your computing life.

First, right away, I’m excited to tell you about our new, incredibly handy Schedule page. There, you’ll find up-to-date calendars for me and Erick.

Whenever you want to schedule some time with J2, please call 210.787.2709, or email us at schedule@j2mac.com. You can pick an available time — a blank spot in one of our calendars — and call or email our new scheduling coordinator, Denise Rangel. When Denise books your appointment, we are able to see it immediately on our iPhones. Denise has freed up a great deal of time for us to concentrate on doing what we do best. Many thanks go to Lynn Gosnell for helping inaugurate this new system.

Jonathan conducting J2 Lab I
For me, the most fun and useful part of j2mac.com is the searchable blog, which lets us post commentary on the tech solutions and answers that we employ. Check it out when you have a chance; there are all kinds of tidbits for Mac and iPhone users, and lots to help any surfer get more out of the internet.

We have also begun to create histories of the work we do for you. We keep the documentation online, viewable to anyone in our organization; we also share your sheet with you (and only you), and you can call it up from a web browser any time. I’ll send you a link when we first create your doc.

I recently discovered another powerful online gizmo that I didn’t even know I had: Check out this Client Information Form that folks can fill out online, giving us basic contact information but lots of other things we need to know, such as your internet service provider, current models of computers, etc. We are also going to send out some polls and surveys — check the sidebar to the right of this page for the latest one!

That’s the stuff that you’ll see — what web site designers call the "front end." Behind the scenes, we are using some fantastic online devices that I’ll describe below. They have saved us time, sped up our process, and helped us kept each other informed and up-to-date.

All of these tools are readily available, and easy to set up. But here’s the amazing part: They are all free. 100% of zero dollars. Beyond what I was already paying for my web site hosting, I haven’t had to spend a dime making our working lives more productive and more efficient.

And now, I wanna tell you how.

Better, stronger, faster, and way cheaper

This is a promising time on the internet. As recently as 6 months ago, many of the wishes I have been expressing for years — for easy, affordable services that would let us get to our files and other stuff from any ‘net connection on earth — remained unanswered.

When the second iPhone came out, and Apple promised wireless syncing via the MobileMe service, I hoped that Mac users finally had an alternative to Microsoft’s expensive and complicated Exchange service, with its "push" email, and collaborative address book and calendars.

Email itself has always had drawbacks. It’s inefficient for quick dialogue, and it doesn’t let you involve a whole bunch of people in a town hall-like forum. But instant messaging, through AIM or iChat or what-have-you, feels invasive and annoying to many people.

Oddly, I think we have given up on easy collaboration and sharing of documents. I used to work for a newspaper, and it amazed me how unwieldy the process of editing an article was: getting a document attached to an email, saving it on a server, printing it out so others could read it, emailing the writer back an attachment… That was seven years ago, and most production environments are still doing things that way.

Well, I hate to be maudlin and melodramatic about this, but I’ve gotten my answer, and it is Google Apps.

With Google Apps, the members of my organization can see each other’s calendars, and schedule each other. The appointments show up immediately on our phones. We can email each other address book cards, or look up client contact information online. We can keep client histories as Google Docs, publish them for the appropriate client’s eyes only, and reference them on our phones when the need arises. We can publish spreadsheets so people can calculate, for example, the cost of setting up a small network in their home or office. And those forms I mentioned earlier? Incredibly easy to create in Google Docs, and when someone submits their reply, it automatically sends their answers to a spreadsheet that holds everyone else’s responses as well!

We can even video chat with each other, in a plain ol’ flippin’ web browser!

Google’s new service is either totally free — that’s the flavor we have chosen — or if you need the beefier version of it, with 24/7 tech support and greater storage per user, it costs an extremely reasonable $50/year. Their cost comparison with Microsoft Exchange is enlightening.

In addition, we are taking advantage of a more new-fangled service called Yammer, which enables the three of us to message each other in a running narrative that we can all see. Yammer is based on the idea of Twitter; both are geared toward short messages, and rely heavily on text messaging for posting and receiving updates. This is, for me, an important substitute for email, which is too cumbersome for quick updates while on the go. Yammer’s cost? You know it: $0.

I almost hesitate to mention the phone-number service I am using, because it’s now no longer accepting new sign-ups. I hope that Google re-opens GrandCentral to the public soon.

The new website itself is powered by WordPress, possibly the most accessible and versatile blogging and web publishing system available today. One can publish a WordPress blog for free, or as in our case, it’s a plug-in included with my $4/month GoDaddy web hosting package that I’ve had since the beginning. It took a few days to massage the design into a form I mostly liked, and I took a few months to sit on it, tweak it, and work out the kinks — and I finally feel like it’s a functional extension of this business.

I cannot overstate my gratitude to the guys at Swirl for helping me put a new face on our business — Carlos Zapata gave us a hip new logo, and Jason Risner’s photography makes us look way better than we deserve.

I have posted more information on these services and the way we use them on the blog, here and here. Again, this whole on-the-go, location-agnostic way of working was not possible two or three years ago, certainly not with the minimal effort and expenditure we have spent.


A little learning, a lot of savings

This last year has taught me so much about how to use these new services to communicate with my team, manage my tasks and priorities, stay in touch with my personal and professional relations, and save money in the process.

I know that so many of our clients are paying more than they need to for email and web site solutions that don’t even give them what they need. And I know that many people feel that they aren’t using the technlogy that they’ve invested in to its full advantage.

Let J2 help you, your business, and your household get more for less. Please call us at 210.787.2709 to schedule a consultation.


With gratitude and respect,


Author: jjmarcus

Apple Specialist, Mac Whisperer, Cloud Wrangler - Your Remote CTO

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