The iPhone camera comes of age

One of my first jobs was working as a professional photographer for the city of Albany documenting the city and its people. While that never morphed into a career, I have always had a love for photography. That is why I was intrigued when I heard that this month’s issue of Bon Appetit magazine comes with an interesting twist: all of its feature stories were shot with iPhone cameras by its professional food photographers.

The edict came from its editorial staff, and it was a smart move. For one thing, it shows just how far the iPhone camera has come: the latest models sport a 12 megapixel rear-facing camera, which is certainly closing in on what the best digital SLR cameras used by today’s pros normally tote around. (You can see below as one example.) And not to be outdone, but some of the Samsung Android phones have 16 megapixel cameras. One thing still lacking from the iPhone is having better control over depth of field, although there are rudimentary finger swipe gestures to help.

Cheese fries never looked as good. (from Bon Appetit)

But this isn’t just how many pixels you can put into a camera, but the fact that an iPhone camera is so ubiquitous that it can function for magazine work.

I started out in my teens with a Pentax SLR that used 35mm film and eventually graduated to first a 120-sized twin lens and then eventually to a 4×5 view camera. This latter beast required cut sheet film and a strong back to carry all the gear around, not to mention corresponding darkroom equipment that could handle the larger-sized film. I still have many of the negatives that I shot with this camera, but I haven’t had a darkroom for decades so I had to take some of them to the lab to get digital scans made.

The editors interview the photographers for the iPhone issue, who have some interesting things to say and recommIMG_1866endations for budding food photographers. First, shoot from above or the side but never at an angle. That makes for more dramatic photos and better compositions. Indeed, composition is key. I realize that many of my own food photos suffer from this issue, such as the one here taken at the Ikea cafeteria.

Second, the camera is just a tool. As one of the magazine’s photographers said,

In the past, the bigger and scarier-looking the camera you pulled out, the more intense and professional you looked. Now, you have to let go of the ego you attach to the tool, and the iPhone is the ultimate expression of that.

Understanding light and exposure helps to make for better pictures. Seems like a truism, but this becomes more important given the limited controls you have from the iPhone.

When in doubt, use a tripod. The pros came with adapters that could fit their phones accordingly, which is always a good idea to get just the shot you want.

Finally, that much-maligned selfie-stick can come in handy, especially for those overhead shots of what is served on the dinner table. One photographer didn’t come with one at their shoot, and had to go buy one to get the right shot. (For the rest of us, please put them away on the street!)

Network World: Netanyahu wants Israel to become a cyber power

It isn’t often that a speech from a head of state at a tech conference is relevant to IT security managers, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address at last week’s third annual CyberTech 2016 focused on where the Israeli government and its IT security industry are heading.

Netanyahu offered a plan for cross-country sharing of cybersecurity threats, demonstrated his knowledge of the tech industry, described the economic opportunities of cyber-tech and outlined policy changes that he wants to see to further strengthen Israel’s role in both overall technology and cybersecurity in particular. You can read more in my story on Israeli cybertech progress in today’s Network World.

Network World: Google’s Pixel C Android tablet is sexy but won’t replace your laptop

NexusRYUKey_O_SILVER_TQFPixel C is the first all-Google Android tablet. It has a 10.2 inch screen and is designed to be used with a companion keyboard that also doubles as a protective cover. The tablet isn’t quite a total replacement for your laptop but it could qualify as the sexiest Android tablet on the market. The Pixel C shouldn’t be confused with an earlier Pixel model, which is a fully decked out Chromebook laptop that costs twice as much.

In my review today for Network World, I talk about the pros and cons for this tablet, and the unique magnetic keyboard that is its most interesting feature.

Why referrals are the best customer acquisition channel

Last week I was giving a keynote speech at a tech conference in San Jose. I always enjoy public speaking — at least after the first two minutes that I am on the podium. One of the many things that I take away from these experiences is how smart everyone else in the room is. I got to meet some of the IT professionals that were in the audience and listen to their trials and tribulations about running their businesses. One of them shared a graphic with the audience that I thought was important.

pestechIt was a pie chart shown here with the cost per customer acquisition for various methods: Yellow Pages advertising, online, and word of mouth referrals from existing customers. It also showed the proportion of customers who came in through each channel. Not surprisingly, the Yellow Pages had the highest acquisition cost and delivered the fewest actual customers, and nearly half of his business was coming from online.

This is a small retail business, and what is important is that my friend actually collected this data. Too often many business owners don’t step back and do this kind of analysis — no matter what their size and market segment. Either they don’t keep track of the numbers, or don’t bother to ask their customers how they came to knock on their door. They have no way to effectively examine whether their ad programs are actually bringing in customers, or are just expensive window dressing or ego satisfaction.

What the pie chart immediately shows is why Yellow Pages advertising is going the way of the dodo: at least for this business, it costs the most and delivers the fewest customers. The best option is to get referrals, which is something that should be obvious but oftentimes isn’t.

Speaking of ego gratification, this reminds me when I travel how I always spot the tech companies that spend a lot of money with backlit displays in the airport concourses, usually featuring box shots of their products or head shots of their CEOs. Do you really think by putting a picture of your firewall or some other 19 inch hardware in an airport is going to generate business? Unlikely. Another take is what I saw when I was changing planes in the Phoenix airport last week: one tech vendor had hung banners across the concourses and set up special “charging stations” around.

My IT contact also mentioned about his referral fee policy that I found interesting. He offers a $20 rebate to any of his customers that refer business. The trouble he has is actually paying out this bounty. It isn’t for lack of trying, or because he is cheap. It turns out his customers are so happy doing business with him that they don’t want to take his money: they are just glad to spread the joy and to have their friends benefit from being a customer too. How often do you find that situation?

Certainly, providing great customer service is critical. No amount of data analysis is going to make up for poor service (just ask your local cable company — on second thought, you probably are going to spend too long on hold so you probably won’t be able to ask them). But if you do have a great service record, having a customer for life is priceless.
This makes me think about my auto mechanic that I have been using for many years. A few years ago, I took my car into his shop for a repair. He called me an hour or so later, which is usually a sign that he has found the source of my problem and wants me to approve spending a bunch of money to fix it. Au contraire. This time, he told me that my car was fixed and it took him so little time that he didn’t feel good about charing me anything for what he did. It was at that point that I became his customer for life. The few dollars that he might have received for my repair have been eclipsed by the many more times that I have brought my car in for subsequent service visits. And of course I have told my friends and neighbors about my mechanic so he has generated more business from that single repair. Referrals can really deliver.

A Shark Tank success story

Screen-Shot-2016-01-06-at-5.44.50-PM-300x397I am a big fan of the show “Shark Tank” and find it both entertaining and educational. It’s also the the one place on network TV celebrating entrepreneurs. Over the years, the show has funded many ventures some that have become quite successful. One venture I’ve followed even before it swam in the Tank is Myself Belts.I recently spoke to its founder for a story for EQ magazine on how the continuum of mentorship changes as the founder acquires new skills and new challenges. The choice of your mentoring team is important, but just as important is understanding when you have outgrown your mentors and when you must seek out new advisors.

PC Magazine: the evolution of spreadsheet analytics

Like some of you, I got my first introduction to the PC from the spreadsheet. It has been around for more than 35 years in one form or another, and most of us have at least a basic working knowledge of how to use it for rudimentary calculations. In my computing career I have seen numerous spreadsheet abuses – it is amazing what people can force a spreadsheet to do for them. I actually wrote about this in 2014 for Intuit’s blog here.

One of the reasons that Excel and other spreadsheets are so abused is that it can be a very addictive tool, and users are fearful of having to learn something else. Another reason is given by Ron Shaich, the CEO of Panera Bread who says that too often middle managers “manage from the spreadsheet, viewing it as an oracle.They make decisions believing the numbers of the past loaded into the spreadsheet foretell future outcomes.” Sadly, the future is never as certain as we might hope.

If you can break from its charms, you can make use of your computer for a lot more useful activities such as data collaboration and analysis. For the former, you often see the spreadsheet context as a way to share a simple database (not surprisingly, Intuit sells one of these tools) among a work team. For the latter, there is the category of what has been called self-service business intelligence tools. I looked at the best of these for a review I did for PC Magazine last month of ten different BI tools.

The hard part is that these collaboration and analysis tools often have steep learning curves and make it trying to understand their user interfaces. Some products are better at data exploration than data analysis and reporting, so keep that in mind as you look at them. Some tools also cost five or more figures and thus aren’t very appropriate for smaller businesses. Finally, these BI tools come in several different versions, including browser-based SaaS and desktop and server versions: keeping the features straight among them will require some careful study.

Still, spreadsheets are reaching the end of their utility as work teams spread out across the globe and as we want to build better and more useful data models to run our businesses. At their core, the spreadsheet is really a souped-up calculator, not a way to model and share data. Spreadsheets lose their potency when they grow to beyond a single screen to display your calculations or hold a sparse matrix that doesn’t neatly line up in rows and columns.

PowerBI field editorIf you are going to break free of the spreadsheet’s orbit, you probably want to start off with Microsoft’s PowerBI tool (the controls are shown in the screenshot at right). This is free and works both in conjunction and independently from Excel. For a free product, it is amazingly capable. For example, you can query Mailchimp email lists so you can monitor data and trends about your campaigns, reports and individual subscribers, and also query Quickbooks online data. There are both desktop and browser-based versions and a huge collection of learning resources to help you over the hump of getting started.

Besides Microsoft, there are more than several dozen different BI tools: I have looked at a total of ten for PC Magazine, and each has some advantage over a simple spreadsheet. Does this spell the end of the spreadsheet? Hardly. But it does show the beginning of a new market that is worth looking into. As Shaich says in his post, “A spreadsheet is merely a way to organize data. Its numbers generally capture trends of the past, but it is in no way predictive of what’s to come.”

SearchSecurity: Virtualization security tools defend across clouds

The days when IT managers used different security products to protect their on-premises and cloud infrastructures are happily coming to a close. There’s a growing awareness that migrating virtual workloads to new IT infrastructure requires different levels of protection with security mechanisms built-in.

In this story for TechTarget’s SearchSecurity, I talk more about this trend and some of the products (such as Catbird’s shown above) that can be used to protect your cloud-based resources.