The Rise of the Auto-Service Economy

The Rise of the Auto-Service Economy

The Auto-Service economy is coming. And as computers have increased in sophistication, as have other aspects of automation, it appears that the fundamental underpinnings of our lives are being altered.

The Twentieth Century

Consider how life was at the start of the twentieth century in the United States. Many people did not own a refrigerator. Automobiles barely existed. A trip in an airplane (excuse me, aeroplane), was an occasion for diary entries and letter-writing and was practically a media event unto itself. A lot of people lived and died within a small area.

The Rise of the Auto-Service Economy
English: The River Transformed Exhibit at the Wannalancit Mill. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The economy was mainly driven by the production of goods, and by farming. Jobs existed in service industries, of course, but a lot of folks made their livelihoods in factories, steel mills, coal mines, and the like, or they stayed down on the farm.

End of the Twentieth Century

As that century ended, however, the economy had changed to more of a service model. Factory and farming jobs went to machinery and, increasingly, to robotic workers. All of these people needed to have jobs and so they changed over to service industries. In particular, as the population aged and also became wealthier, many of those service jobs migrated to the medical and hospitality industries.

However, given the rise of the internet and customers’ familiarity with tablets (and their impatience with slow, inattentive, or error-prone servers), the service economy seems to be on the cusp of changing over to what I’ll call an auto-service economy.

Humans Replaced By Robots?

Instead of getting a human at the other end of the line when calling customer service, we’re lucky if there’s a phone number at all. As I have told numerous people complaining on Able2know – you’ll never talk to a human when seeking Facebook help. Unless, of course, someone could legitimately answer your call with, “How many I help you, Mr. McCartney?”

The Boston Globe published an article about how to handle this new paradigm shift. Because it happens as we move further and further away from human interaction. We move away from service, and help, and into the realm of mechanized assistance as the norm. In Use tech to your advantage when seeking customer support, perhaps the most helpful tip they provide: mention in a never-ending customer service phone call that you want to ‘escalate‘ the problem. Evidently that’s the magic word which gets you to a supervisor.

But if the supervisor is a robot, well, you’re on your own.

The Karmic Wheel Turns

Social Media Karma

What is the Karmic Wheel?

I was once contacted by a friend, Phil Butler, to write an article for the Examiner.

Representation of a soul undergoing punarjanma... Karmic Wheel
Representation of a soul undergoing punarjanma. Illustration from Hinduism Today, 2004 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now, Phil and I had known each other for a few years. We met through LinkedIn.

We have never actually seen each other, in person. He’s not even on the same continent as I am. Yet I wrote the article all the same. It’s on Food Addictions and Treatments.

Now, did I expect fame and fortune from all this?

Well, I’d be lying if I said it wouldn’t be nice. But do I honestly think that empires will rise and fall based upon my one little article?

Of course not.

Karmic Wheel Spinning

But I think it illustrates the point I have made about collaboration. That is, sometimes you just up and do something for someone. And you do it because you just, well, want to do something for someone.

So that ends up a reward unto itself, is it not?

And by the way, I hope you do read the article. Because I think it’s the kind of thing that’s got to be written about. And it continues to shock me that other writers wouldn’t touch the subject matter with a ten-foot pole, as if it would give them cooties to talk about addiction. As if being at all sympathetic with people who are ill would, somehow, mean they were condoning those lifestyle choices or admitting that they, too, were imperfect.

Hey, I will shout it from the rooftops – I’m imperfect!

And if I’m not mistaken, the sky did not just come crashing down.

Go forth, and I hope you’ll collaborate, and do things for others. And the karmic wheel will turn for you, too.

Writing

Writing

Writing rules.

Writing
The Nano Rhino says… (Photo credit: mpclemens)

The Before Time, Where There was Weeping and Wailing, and Gnashing of Teeth

One aspect of my career transition consists of writing a lot more.

And I found that I had truly missed it.

Sure, I had typed tons and tons of stuff before. But a lot of it covered such thrilling topics as documenting queries, or making lists of terms used by public service officers. It very rarely encompassed topics with wit, or style. And I certainly did not have permission to make up any of it.

NaNoWriMo, I Love You

I had known about NaNoWriMo for a while, but hadn’t thought I had anything to offer.

In 2013, I woke up with an idea during the last week of October. I created a wiki and an outline for it, and signed up.

And I wrote. And wrote. Writing

Then about halfway through the month, I had finished. By the end of the month, the story was edited.

Now the Real Fun Begins

Writing

Because, yes, it was published.

It was and is the right thing to do, and the right path.

In addition, it feels fun. And it feels exciting. It feels like it’s a fit.

Furthermore, it does not feel like something where I’m stretching to fit into someone else’s idea, or parallel someone else’s vision. And I certainly don’t feel like I was going through the motions. In addition, it does not feel like ho-hum, same old-same old.

Furthermore, it releases a pent-up inner artist who was shouted down by pretty much everyone I knew for way, way too long in my life. And that is exceptionally freeing.

It feels right. And it feels honest. So it feels free. It feels good.

And it feels like it’s about damned time already.

Podcasting for Fun and Possibly Some Profit

Podcasting

Podcasting can get you to a wider audience. It’s a different medium from what you might be used to. And it offers practice and the opportunity to polish some skills that you, the writer, might not have realized you needed, such as thinking on your feet and being an interview subject.

Getting Started

What do you need for podcasting? This image is a pretty good summary of what you need –

Podcasting
Podcast 1 (Image by user Tim Wilson on Wikimedia Commons). File is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

The good news is that you have most of this stuff already. In fact, you don’t even need everything that’s in the image.

Computers

It doesn’t seem to matter too much which type of computer you use. You really just need an Internet connection. You will need some speed, so dispense with dial up if you’re still using it (someone out there is, right?). I would, though, recommend using an actual computer as opposed to a phone for podcasting, as the resultant file is going to be huge.

Microphones

The image shows a studio-style mic, but the truth is, you don’t need to get quite so fancy. My own microphone is part of a headset from an outfit called Hama. I know I bought it a few years ago. It works just fine and most importantly, the mouthpiece is adjustable. You want adjustability because, inevitably, you’re going to sneeze or cough, or the phone will ring or whatever.

Software

To be able to talk to your fellow podcasters on your show, or to your guests, you’ll need some software. Essentially what you are looking for is chat. My team and I like to use TeamSpeak. I imagine you could do as well with Yahoo! or Facebook chat. Just make sure that whatever you are using is private. Oh, and turn any sound notifications off.

If you’re going to put your podcast on YouTube (I think this is generally a good idea), you’ll need software for that, too. I use software that comes from my school, Screencast-o-matic. The school also uses TechSmith Relay but I prefer Screencast-o-matic. Either way, you want software which allows you to record a fairly long video.

You may not think that you need any sort of visual art software, but I beg to differ. At minimum, your podcast needs a logo or at least a slide that you can slap onto the front of your YouTube video. Photoshop or Gimp is ideal, but Paint or even Microsoft PowerPoint can do in a pinch.

Image Permissions

If you are going to use an image that you didn’t make, check the license! I like to use Wikimedia Commons as a lot of their images have open licenses or they just require an attribution and nothing more. Remember – just because an image exists online and you can right-click and save it, does not mean that you have permission to use it! When in doubt, use one of your own images. I like to use scenery images if I don’t have a logo. Scenery can even be something really tiny, such as one flower bud.

For sound editing, the beauty of TeamSpeak is that it allows for sound recording. But you will still need to trim something or other. I have Audacity though I admit I don’t use it for much (I don’t do the sound editing for our podcast). But Audacity is otherwise useful.

Practice

You should practice before you try to go anywhere with podcasting. It doesn’t need to be long or involved. Get to know the software. For example, TeamSpeak allows for a push to talk feature. Use it! This will help a lot when you are recording, as you need to consciously press a button for any sound to come out. Practice using this until it’s second nature.

Use Audacity, and record yourself saying something simple and scripted. It can be a nursery rhyme or the like. You don’t want to be doing this for more than a minute or so.

The idea here is to listen to playback. Can you be understood? Are you too breathy? Does your accent push through a bit too much? Do you talk too fast? Every single one of these issues can be fixed, including the accent.

Fix Your Audio

Generally, you will need to slow down and enunciate. This doesn’t mean that you can’t have fun, but at least in the beginning you’ll want to talk more slowly, in particular if you have a thick accent. If you’re too breathy-sounding, try bringing the mic farther away from your mouth. As for outside noises, you’ll need to close windows and doors, put pets outside, and turn off fans and space heaters. Set your phone on mute.

When you work with co-hosts, practice with them at least once. Remember to not talk over them and, if you’re laughing at their jokes, you need assure that even your laughter is being recorded.

Hosts and Guests

Consider your subject and your potential audience. On the G & T Show, we talk about Star Trek and Star Trek Online. This includes the novels and cosplay. We will also branch out to talk about other gaming and other science fiction. Having this broad a topic but with its own limitations makes it fairly easy to come up with show ideas. As for guests, our hosts network at conventions, in the STO game, and on social media such as Facebook and Twitter.

Cohosts

A co-host is an extremely good idea, as otherwise you’re talking to yourself a lot. While you could carry a show by yourself, it’s a lot easier if you don’t have to. Three hosts tends to be a really good number, particularly if the third is not too active. You’ll quickly find your hosts unconsciously dividing into three groups:

  1. The talker – this person won’t necessarily stay on topic all the time, but they can fill dead air.
  2. The organizer – this person understands creating a theme and keeping the show on target. This person often remembers to thank the guests.
  3. The utility infielder – this person can chime in and also cover if either of the first two cannot podcast. Along with the organizer, this person often performs research and gathers potential podcast material in advance.

Guests

As for guests, consider your circle, both online and off. You can podcast without guests, and you will most likely need to get a few under your belt before anyone will want to visit.

However, when you do get guests, the usual details apply, e. g. be polite, give them ample time to plug whatever they want to plug, and prepare questions for them in advance. If your guest writes, for example, you might want to talk about the themes in their book, where they get their inspiration, how long they’ve been writing, and how they first became published. Think outside the box and consider guests a little removed from your basic subject. Hence if your subject is books and writing, why not have a cover artist on as a guest, or a professional editor? Maybe feature a literary agent or a representative from a publishing house.

Extras

At G & T we have a Streaming page and use a minicaster. This also includes a hosted chat room – the show broadcasts live and the audience can listen and follow along in the chat room. This is not necessary, but it’s fun.

Blogging

We also blog about the show, which means that we take notes (in our case, the utility infielder does this). The blog is a great place to get the URLs in that we may have talked about but our audience might not have gotten the first time we mentioned them. With the blog, we can just make clickable outbound links. We also make sure that a player is embedded into the blog, so that a reader can listen to the show if they would prefer that.

Distribution

We always upload our podcast to not only iTunes, but also MixCloud and YouTube. These spread our broadcast even further. We use a regular logo card as the image accompanying our YouTube videos. For special interviews, we make different images, usually with our guest’s provided headshot.

To introduce new segments, we use bumpers. These are just short (less than half a minute long) introductions to various segments (e. g. Star Trek News). Ours consist of our utility infielder’s niece giving the title of the segment and then some introductory music that we have permission to use (always get permission or make sure that music is public domain!). Bumpers help because they provide a smooth transition between segments and they can cover up any ragged transitions. We splice these into the completed file. Our announcer girl has also recorded our intro and our credits portion (with music we can use), so we added these as a part of post-production. Again, these provide recognizable transitions for our audience.

Promotions

We promote our show on social media, with mainly our YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter accounts. We also have Tumblr, Google+, and Pinterest accounts but use them less. Our main promotions come from YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter. We also promote at conventions, including a table at Star Trek Las Vegas for the past few years.

Why Not Podcast?

So what are you waiting for? Why not give podcasting a try?

Janet Gershen-Siegel is freelance social media marketer and a Master’s degree candidate (Interactive Media, ’16) at Quinnipiac University. Her novel, Untrustworthy, was published by Riverdale Avenue Books in 2015 and is available on Amazon in both Kindle and paperback editions.

Robot Building for Beginners by David Cook, a Book Review

Robot Building for Beginners by David Cook

Robot Building for Beginners by David Cook serves, as to be expected, as a beginner’s guide to building a small working robot. In this case, the robot’s body is mainly constructed from a sandwich container, so the robot is named Sandwich. Its intended usage is to follow a line. I purchased and read this book in an effort to understand more about my colleagues and work at my employer, Neuron Robotics. It did not disappoint.

Do It!

Robot Building
Neuron Robotics (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In order to construct Sandwich, Cook walks the reader through various aspects of not only robot building and design, but also basic electrical engineering concepts. While the book is certainly no substitute for even one semester of Electrical Engineering, it does help to bring some understanding to a layman like me. In the interests of full disclosure, I majored in Philosophy in college. However, my father and father-in-law are both engineers, and my husband works as an engineering draftsman. I have heard some of these terms before. Cook explains terms like multimeter, capacitance and resistance fairly well. This is in a lively and engaging style that never talks down to the reader.

Entertaining

Cook’s good humor extends to a section showcasing equipment that he’s fried by making various mistakes. He makes it clear. Be safety-conscious and budget-conscious (he provides specifics and current pricing for most of the items used and referred to). However recognize that, sometimes, stuff is just going to happen. You’ll break or burn things, or just not get them right the first time. Shrug it off and move on – it’s all a part of the learning experience.

The book is large and difficult to digest except in small bites. It is intended as a step by step guide to Sandwich’s construction, but I think a better usage – in particular for laymen reading the book but not actually building the ‘bot – comes as a reference and resource guide.

It almost makes me want to try soldering again – but I’ll have to fight my coworkers to get to the soldering station.

Rating

Review:3/5 stars.

Work at WebTekPro

Work at WebTekPro

I was hired by this Houston web design company in December of 2014.

The story of my being hired is a bit amusing.

Work at WebTekProFor the past few months, I have been performing various social media tasks for a Star Trek podcast called, ‘The G and T Show’. This entails things like live tweeting the Sunday shows, preparing interesting lists and notes for Facebook, optimizing blog posts, adding appropriate annotations to YouTube, crafting pins for Pinterest and posts for Tumblr, and growing all social media presences. It’s been challenging, fun, and rewarding.

Along the way, any number of Star Trek professionals are interviewed, including legend Larry Nemecek. Nemecek has been interviewed several times, but this time it was in conjunction with an effort called Enterprise in Space. It was a group interview, and that included Johnny Steverson, the Chief Development Officer. Steverson was impressed with the interview and with this small podcast’s social media presence. He asked the hosts, “Who does your social media?

We talked less than two weeks later, and I was hired. I’m an SEO (Search Engine Optimization) Specialist. I like the work.

They used to call me Robot Girl

They used to call me Robot Girl

I haven’t blogged for a while. Yeah, I know.

I was uninspired, and didn’t want to just subject all two of my readers to my ramblings. Plus, I was looking for an actual day job.

Well, I found one. It’s a temping gig for a large financial services company which shall remain nameless. I am a Financial Analyst, preparing and running database reports. The job is rather similar to several other gigs I’ve held. And then I will be back in Social Media full time.

In the meantime, the Bot Boys are not forgotten, and I actually blog more for them that I had been. The need for Social Media exposure does not diminish just because I’ve got a new gig.

But I wanted to reach out, on this blog, for the first time in quite a while, to offer up some of the things I’ve learned along the way. So gather ’round, and hopefully I can help someone else to navigate the wild world of startups.

  1. The best gift that anyone can offer startups is money. Advice and expertise are great, and they are helpful, but it all pales in the face of do-re-mi. And while startup competitions may not want (or, truly, be able) to part with too much of it, it is money that is most needed because, to truly succeed, someone has to quit their day job. You know, the thing I just got a few weeks ago? Yeah. Someone has to take a flying leap into outer space – but that person still needs to be able to afford ramen and a futon.
  2. Speaking of ramen and futons, the startup game is, often, played by the young. This is not to say that those of us who were born during the Kennedy Administration have naught to offer. Rather, it is that we have mortgages. We may have children. We have lives that often require more than minimal Connector-style health insurance. We may have aging parents, credit card debt or any number of things that make living off ramen, on a futon, nigh impossible.
  3. However, this does not mean that the not-so-young do not have a place in the land of startups. But that place is often a different one. The enthusiastic feel of Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney
    Cropped screenshot of Judy Garland and Mickey ...
    Cropped screenshot of Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney from the trailer for the film Love Finds Andy Hardy. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

    (now I’m really dating myself) yelling, “Hey, kids! Let’s put on a show! We can get the barn!” is replaced with “Let’s see if we can get this thing to work before defaulting on the mortgage/Junior needs braces/gall bladder surgery is required/etc.” Our needs are different, and we may be more patient with setbacks. This does not necessarily spell being less hungry but, perhaps, less able to truly go for broke. The not-so-young person’s role in a startup is often more advisory. We are the ones who can’t quit day jobs until the salaries are decent. And that day may never come.

  4. Startup events are best when they have a focus. Mass Innovation Nights, I feel, is something of a Gold Standard. There is a coherent beginning, middle and end to each event. It’s not just a lot of business card trading. The participants and the audience get good conversational hooks. Making contacts is vital – I hooked up with the Bot Boys at an event like that – but it can’t just be “Hey, let’s get a bunch of startups together, eat pizza and trade business cards!” The startups that are succeeding are too busy for such activities. And those that aren’t ….
  5. Cloud computing, apps and software companies are everywhere in the startup space. With the Bot Boys, we can stand out a bit as we are a hardware company. Having a product that people can see and feel is valuable amidst a sea of virtual stuff.
  6. The downside to that is that hardware companies have spinup problems that cloud computing companies just don’t have – app companies do not have to worry about shipping and packaging. They do not have to perform quality control checks on shipments. They do not have to work on product safety.
  7. No one wants to talk to the job seeker, but everyone wants to talk to the entrepreneur – and those are often the same person! Human nature is a bit odd in this area, but I have seen people who are barely past the “I’ve got this great idea I’ve sketched on the back of a napkin” stage where there is a flock of interested people swarming around, whereas a person honest about looking for work is often overlooked.
  8. Charisma counts. While one founder is going to be the inventor or the developer (the idea person), the other pretty much must be the socializer. Otherwise, even the best ideas are all too often buried. Someone must be willing and able to do public speaking, elevator pitching and sales. This need not be an experienced sales person, but that person has got to be a lot friendlier and a lot more fearless than most.
  9. Most startups and most entrepreneur groupings will fail, morph, coalesce or break apart before succeeding. And perhaps that is as it should be, for being nimble is one of the characteristics of a successful startup. If the product sells when it’s colored blue, but not when it’s colored green, dip it in dye, fer chrissakes!
  10. We all work for startups, or former startups. Even the large financial services firm was, once, a gleam in someone’s eye. Every invention started off as an idea. Even day jobs were, at one time, in places where the founders were living off that generation’s equivalent of ramen and sleeping in that era’s analogue to a futon. Yet somehow, against the odds, they made it.

And a lot of today’s startups can, too.

See you ’round the scene.

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Demand for Social Media Jobs is Rising ….

… but don’t go celebrating the end of the recession just yet.

US News and World Report states that there were about three times as many jobs with “social media” in their titles in November of 2010 than in the same time period in 2009 — at least on the Indeed job search aggregator site.

This trebling occurred over the course of all of 2010 — November is no fluke.

Um, okay. So, that’s one website and one kind of title. What about other kinds of job titles, such as “New Media Marketer”, “Community Manager” and “Facebook FanPage [sic] Marketer”? The US News study hardly seems comprehensive. A quick search just now, and just for Boston yields over 1200 jobs with the word “social media” somewhere in their descriptions. When the search is narrowed to just the job title, the number of job postings plummets to 57.

So are there more jobs out there, or fewer, or what?

More, maybe. A savvy job seeker should certainly conduct as thorough a search as possible. And, that same job seeker should load up his or her resume with as many key words as possible, in order to match as many openings as possible (this is what a job seeker should be doing, no matter what the sought job is). But it’s a bit tricky knowing what an employer wants, and is going to emphasize. Some want a community built from scratch. Others want to grow a Facebook page from a few dozen fans into the hundreds of thousands. Still others want a blog to take off, or for Twitter to be mastered and monitored. And a lot don’t know — they just know they have to get out there. Somehow.

Many of these openings seem, to me, to indicate that a lot of companies may have one very specific idea in mind. Perhaps they are looking to clone one beloved employee who is suddenly retiring or otherwise moving on, or maybe they are attempting to follow just one vision. And that vision might not be as broad as it should be. Social media is going to continue to be a source of employment openings. And some lucky few will get to fill these openings. My crystal ball continues to be cloudy but I strongly suspect that 2011 will see some tightening up of requirements and wish lists. I think that companies will look to places like HubSpot for more standardization and certification. I feel that it will continue to become less and less of a free for all. As always, your comments are welcome.

For more information, see the December 30, 2010 edition of Brain Track.

Maker Faire and Mass Innovation

Robot controlled by Twitter Commands
TwitterBot may make another appearance.

My company, Neuron Robotics, has two events coming up.

I am more or less in charge of events so I am hopping. I put together tweets, I have a boatload of work blog posts going out, I’m updating LinkedIN and Facebook and adding the events to those calendars, I’m adding the events to other calendars I know about, and I’m sending emails.

I’m a little tired.

Now, I don’t mind doing this. And the two events both make a lot of good sense for us. Maker Faire may have customers. And Mass Innovation will have people who will probably tweet about us.

My main source of anxiety right now is making sure that we get enough votes for Mass Innovation. See, we can come, and we’ll get a table. That part is no problem. But only the top four of the eleven nominees get to present. I know we can kill on a presentation. And I have plenty of confidence in the process. But it’s like your child running for Student Council President. You want it all to work out.

So, if you would, please, I hope you’ll Vote for Pedro. Er, Vote for Neuron Robotics.

Thank you.