Twitter Emergency Management

A huge winter storm moved across the Midwest this week, leaving areas from Dallas/Fort Worth to Chicago and over to the Northeast covered with ice and snow. With blizzard conditions reported in areas of Missouri, Oklahoma, and Illinois, driving conditions got worse and drivers found themselves stranded along major thoroughfares. Conditions were so bad that a number of interstates were closed from Oklahoma to Missouri to Kansas.

Tuesday night, the Department of Emergency Management in Oklahoma issued to Civil Emergency Message to stranded drivers along Oklahoma highways, advising motorists to stay warm, conserve fuel, and to dial 911 if they are stranded. I’ve seen these messages before but the message issued last night contained something new.

If you are on Twitter, you can tweet your information to @OKEM.

Twitter has increasingly become a form of media to express weather conditions or traffic. Follow any media personality from a local news station, emergency management location, or even a school district account and you’ll find that more of these are embracing Twitter as a means to get information out to the public. School closings, road conditions, and even National Weather Service warnings are becoming something that is seen often on various Twitter accounts.

This means that Twitter is being seen more and more as a legitimate means of communication and not just a way to update the world on what you’re reading or having for lunch. If the OKEM is accepting Twitter as a preferred means of communication – and I’m sure other agencies will follow. I thought of some ways we may see agencies using Twitter in the future.

Police & fire departments can send out Twitter updates for extreme situations – like hostage events or even terrorist threats or DM the police department with tips about unsolved crimes.

School districts can use twitter to update on a number of different issues. Since a lot of students are on Twitter, you can send @ replies to students or even DMs to notify students and parents about impending weather service warnings or any dangerous situations in the area that could affect your children.

National Weather Service could take advantage of Twitter’s growing popularity by actively finding users in locations that have imminent warnings. Imagine being at a movie with friends and getting a text notification that there is a tornado warning – instead of being completely unaware.

Twitter, long seen as just a marketing or “friending” trend, does have the potential to keep us up to date. While Twitter will never replace traditional 911 services how do you see other types of emergency management or alert systems being used to update citizens on potential problems?

How to Debate Effectively and Rationally

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Today is November 3, 2010, which means that the elections were held yesterday. Now, whether it was a good day or a bad day for you and your political ideals, the results are going to stick around for 2 years. “They” say you’re not supposed to talk about politics; it leaves open too much room for drama and disagreement. In watching the election coverage last night, I saw that a lot of the members of the panels on various news organizations couldn’t have a meaningful debate.

They were rude, inappropriate, and just downright mean to their fellow panelists. I’m a huge supporter of a healthy debate, civility in discussion, and above all, being passionate about what is being discussed. Ultimately, if you’re going to have a discussion, you should be passionate about it, otherwise, what are you talking about? We’re advised not to discuss politics and it’s because of this passion that these kinds of discussion can be dangerous firecrackers waiting to explode.

We proceed carefully on a conference call when discussing something that is controversial or will change the face of our company, like hiring and firing. We shy away from open discussion and the sharing of ideas. Why is that? We are adults and we should be able to have conversations.

The principals of debate are clear but somewhere along the lines we’ve forgotten what it was like to have a civil conversation with others about topics we might disagree with. Here are ten tips to consider before engaging in healthy debate.

  1. Be prepared. Don’t be surprised when the passion from both sides bleeds through.
  2. Let the other person finish. Interrupting the other person makes you look like a jerk.
  3. Be open to accepting another person’s point of view. In order to engage in debate, you must be willing to understand where someone is coming from, even if you disagree.
  4. Consider your response carefully. Think about what you are about to say before you just fire off at the mouth. You can’t take it back once you say it, so don’t say anything you’ll regret.
  5. Have Respect. Have respect for the other person’s opinion, but don’t concede your own.
  6. Listen intently. Healthy debate is not just about making you heard; it’s about hearing someone else.
  7. Try to see things from the other side. Before you respond, consider what the other person has said and what their motivations might be. You don’t have to agree, but everyone is capable of understanding the other perspective.
  8. It should be called conversation, not debate. It should be about discussing opposing points of view and learning from each other.
  9. Answer follow up questions. If the person you’re speaking with asks you a direct question, answer it. They are engaged in the conversation and want to know more about your feelings.
  10. Be passionate, but be polite. Name calling and generalizations only encourage people feel attacked. You can have passion about your point of view, but you should never revert to name calling. You’re not eight and this is not the playground.

Bonus Tip: Shake hands.At the end of every debate, shake hands and take a moment to converse about something that’s not debate related. These conversations usually come up with our inner circles, so once it’s all over, talk about something you both agree on.

Look, debating with a person who opposes your views and an opinion is hard, but when you’re a grown up, I like to think it’s possible to sit down and talk about things with others, no matter what their opinions. Some of the greatest ideas in the world have been born from healthy debate and there’s no reason why we should just not talk about something because we disagree.

The Patterns of Preparation

The Patterns of Preparation

I talk a lot about public speaking and how you can get yourself prepared as well as the approach you’re going to take. One of the things I am the most vocal about is how getting up “in front” of a crowd is no different than standing on the other side of a conference call. You’re still being heard by a large group of people and you’re still being listened to intently, with your audience members hoping that you will add some value to their current plans.

Being on a conference call doesn’t always take the pressure off – sometimes, it can put more pressure on. Gone are the non verbal cues you can give people to let them know that you’re enthused or excited and say goodbye to making eye contact with people in your audience to engage them in the conversation.

The way your audience processes your information is going to be different and the way you deliver the information has to adapt, but most of the time, the stages leading up to the presentation are always the same. I read this great post from Michael Hyatt called “The 10 Psychological Stages of Public Speaking” about how his brain processes the emotions leading up to a presentation.

Take a look at these, it’s pretty interesting and I very easily relate, especially to number 5. I feel a bit like everything is going to be horrible, like I’m going to get completely tongue tied or have one of my strange moments where my brain just completely stops working. (Usually, my main focus is to not do this horrible awkward laugh thing that I do.)

The point is that no matter what you’re about to do, most of us are naturally nervous when con something like public speaking, and there’s no major difference between planning for a live conference or for a conference call.. It’s not just you. Maybe the way Michael puts himself out there will be a way that can help you get over those jitters.

Thanks for the honesty Michael!

Kindle App Updates – and how we helped.

About six months ago, someone in our office sent an email to the Kindle/Amazon folks about a feature that would make their application even better on the iPad, specifically suggesting the ability to show books in two columns instead of one. The application team wrote back and said, “Thanks, we’ll look into it for you”. Today, on the new update for the Kindle application, guess what we have – two columns.

This is really cool to us, because while it may not have been solely our idea, they fixed our problem. Now, maybe there were a lot of people who were trying to decide between iBooks and Kindle for their ebooks, since both have a great reading experience. Maybe there were a number of people asking Kindle about this option. Personally, we like to think ‘you’re welcome’ when you open your update Kindle application.

Another update on the application is the integration of Shelfari.com into the books. This is really cool and finally there is an ebook app that integrates social interaction with other readers. There are several things that are shared within the app and it's just the beginning.

I think the folks over at Amazon are trying to beef up the social aspects of their e-reader application and give people the ability to share what they are reading. Not only is that good for them as a company (because many of us love to Tweet) but it’s great for authors. A very good friend of mine has his first novel available in the Amazon store and if someone new tweets about reading it, and that tweet encourages their followers to read his book, it helps him.

Since authors are, in essence, a brand, he could then find the people who are reading his book, see what they thought and engage in conversation with potential and current readers.

So check out the new Kindle update for the iPhone and iPad and when you’re enjoying the smooth and ease of that two column reading page… you’re welcome.

Blockbuster Files Bankruptcy

Blockbuster Files Bankruptcy

When I was little, the weekends that my mom did not have to work were the best weekends ever. She would cook a big meal and my dad, brother, and I would go to the local video store and pick out some movies for us to watch together. It was fun, getting to walk through these rows and rows of videos, picking out the VHS and then looking forward to fighting over the first movie to be watched.

It makes me sad to hear that Blockbuster filed for Chapter 11 today. It’s really upsetting to see that some companies that are burned into my memory aren’t making it through the tough economic times. Blockbuster reports more than $900 million dollars in debt and can no longer pay interest to their lenders, and while things seem bleak for them now, it wasn’t always this way.

Blockbuster had an opportunity to battle back when they started to offer their online services. You could pay a monthly fee with Blockbuster, have DVDs shipped to you in the mail, and exchange them in the store, with no waiting for new releases—something that Netflix can’t do. Since Blockbuster has exclusive rights with many of the movie production companies they get first pick at new releases, putting them on shelves nearly a month before the competition.

This had great potential to step into the market that Netflix has the hold on, and provide some legitimate competition. This could have been the move that saved Blockbuster; this could have been what brought them up to speed with what people want – no waiting.

Where Blockbuster went wrong is they realized the potential they had with their online/in store marriage, raised the monthly rate, and then kept raising it. They were in debt, struggling to stay afloat, closing down stores, and saw a way out. So they raised rates, again and again, driving people away and into the arms of their competition.

NetFlix doesn’t really have competition for this part of the rental market and anyone who can come in and do it better; they have a chance to give NetFlix a run for their money. Blockbuster had a chance, they knew it, they got greedy, and their customers left.

What do you think has been one of Blockbusters biggest failures? Did they drive away business with high rates for the DVD to mail service, or have they just become a dinosaur in the battle of the movie business?

What do you think drove people away from Blockbuster? What do they need to do during their restructure to bounce back?

Gender and Birthdate Now Needed to Fly

Gender and Birthdate Now Needed to Fly

Starting November 1st, commercial airline passengers will have another security step to take before they can get on a plane. At least 72 hours before boarding, passengers will have to provide their birthdate, gender, and full name that coincides with a government document or id. Information is not readily available on the TSA or Homeland Security websites for booking or purchasing last-minute or unplanned flights same day, or within the 72 hour window.

Once given, the “Secure Flight Passenger Data” is sent to the TSA for cross-checks against watch lists and no-fly lists. All flights from November 1st on have to have the information on all passengers, but tickets purchased earlier than this date are not affected. Some airlines are calling and emailing passengers anyway to request the information.

Flyers will have to do this whether they buy their tickets online, by agent, or at the airport. If someone does not wish to give the personal information to the airline, they will not be issued a ticket, and will be unable to fly.

Twitter and Microsoft Security Concerns

Twitter and Microsoft Security Concerns

It is a day of security warnings for computer users everywhere with both Twitter and Microsoft experiencing concerns after flaws were discovered in their programming.

Mashable reports that a Twitter bug was exposed last night, a security flaw that allows for an “onmouseover” attack. Basically, the security flaw will display third party websites and pop up ads, even if all you do it hover your mouse on the bad link. According to the Mashable reports, the flaw is mainly being used to launch pop ups and redirect users to inappropriate content.

Twitter announced that they have rolled out a patch to fix the problem, but the attack on the Twitter web interface is a reminder of security concerns. This is not the first time that Twitter has found itself vulnerable to the nefarious (if not ingenious) attacker; to the point that some of us have grown used to the “fail whale” that indicates internal problems with the Twitter servers.

Bigger problems seem to be going on with Microsoft who has warned of vulnerabilities in their .NET framework, affecting XP, Vista, and Windows 7. .NET is used to create websites and this vulnerability can be exploited to display encrypted text or even allow a savvy hacker to change the text. The official advisory from Microsoft addresses that they are researching the cause and how to address a fix, either rolling out a fix in their monthly updates, or with an “out of cycle” security update.

Microsoft is also warning that history has shown, once flaws are exposed publically there is a rise of attacks and assures consumers they are working as quickly as they can to resolve the problems. You can follow their security updates on Twitter to update as more information is uncovered and as they continue to work out a fix for the issue.

With all of the recent security concerns that seem to plague every corner of the internet, are you less likely to share any information? Do you think that these security concerns have always been this great of a concern or do these breeches just get more attention now thanks to sites like Mashable and the demand for social media responses from companies?

Leave the Boarding Pass Behind

We’ve gone from checking in at the airport desk to get a boarding pass, to printing out our own at home, and now soon we won’t need them at all. The TSA in conjunction with several airlines has been testing the use of smartphones to carry digital boarding passes. Passengers can receive their boarding pass as a digital barcode when they purchase a flight. At security they simply show an ID and have the barcode image on their smartphone scanned.

The first airport to use digital boarding passes was Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, Texas, December 2007. Continental Airlines first developed the encryption methods up to TSA standards, followed by five other US airlines. Currently there are 71 airports in the United States equipped for paperless boarding passes.

Since this method of boarding is still very new, there have been complications. Passengers going through security have discovered the battery on their smartphone is dead, the barcode unretrievable. Others have found security or gate checkpoints without a scanner, and had to wait while one was found.

Issues like these can be expected before a good, universal system is in place. But with current trends, the days of traveling paperless are just around the corner.

Fairness Bill for Cell Phones

Fairness Bill For Cell Phones

Opening up your mobile phone bill can sometimes cause hair loss – says a recent report. No, not really, but what can happen is that you see a new state excise or sales tax that wasn’t there the month before. No one really understands what these taxes are for, but there is currently a bill in Congress that could freeze new taxes for 4 years.

A letter written by the National Taxpayers Union claims that between 2003 and 2007 cell phone taxes have increased four times faster than another good and service. In the letter the group stated, “While family members are forced into paying more money, out of pocket, to communicate with one another, these predatory taxes are often squandered on projects that have little to do with improving the communications network.”

The bill is a bi-partisan effort that made it through the House Judiciary subcommittee and is called the Cell Tax Fairness Act of 2009, originally introduced by Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) and Trent Franks (R-AZ).

The hope of the bill it not to do away with current taxes, but to stabilize the taxation for a while, banning new taxes for four years, and only on the state level. The bill is not designed to take revenue that states are already collecting, simply to prevent further taxes from being put in place.

Much of the wireless community supports the new bill and urges Congress to pass it before they recess for elections, so that Congress can protect consumers from new burdens. The wireless industry also believes that this could encourage innovation in broadband networks.

Consumers hope that the bill will be passed in a prompt manner to prevent more taxes from appearing on their cell phone bills without knowing what they are helping to fund or where they came from, while hair restoration clinics everywhere are holding their breath.