Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Amazon Leverages Core Competency in Silk Browser Design

One of the most fascinating aspects of Amazon's Kindle Fire release today was its Silk browserGoogle Chrome has sold itself on its speed and Amazon is promising to take things a step further by harnessing the power of its servers.

This is a beautiful example of a company leveraging a core competency to try and revolutionize an already crowded space: the ubiquitous web browser.

While Amazon could have drawn on the many diverse browser offerings available, it chose to build its own browser and differentiate itself on speed. This can only benefit all of us web-browsers, as faster is always better in the case of loading web pages.

Silk reminds me most closely of Opera's mobile and mini browsers, which sell their ability to "Save money on data charges." Amazon does not mention saving money as a benefit and doesn't seem to depend on compression for any speed savings.

Instead, Amazon outlines the way "machine-learning" will improve the ability of Silk to predict what will be needed when, increasing the load speed of web pages. This predictive web page handling is intriguing and is based on algorithms Amazon uses to suggest items you might like when shopping. How many times have you been amazed at the quality of Amazon's suggestions? I know I have.

In fact, if Amazon begins suggesting what web page I might like to visit next, I won't have to think at all when I browse the web. It will be smooth as Silk.

Monday, June 20, 2011

You Can Read the Giving USA Free Executive Summary

You can now read the Giving USA 2011: The Annual Report on Philanthropy for the year 2010 executive summary.

Read the Giving USA Free Executive Summary

I attended a briefing today at the Cincinnati Museum Center in which Melissa S. Brown, former Managing Editor of Giving USA, gave a keynote presentation on the findings. There were two key points to come out of the presentation:

  1. Individual donors comprise the majority of giving to 501 (c)(3) s in the United States, somewhere close to 88% when you consider bequests and family foundations. Corporations only give around 5% and somewhere around half of this is in-kind donations.
  2. Life events often help define a person's giving. This can be an inheritance, a disease, a tragedy, or other situations. Not-for-profits need to be there for potential donors to help them determine the best use of their money.
Government Reduction in Dollars Toughest Issue Facing Not-for-Profits
The toughest issue both panelists and attendees saw in the current scene and in the future is the drop in the availability of government funds. Throughout the presentation, numerous people reiterated that they did not think any one area could make up for this loss. It will take increases in many areas to bring monetary support back to where organizations need them to be. The need to look at possible partnerships and mergers was stressed by Charlene Ventura, President and CEO of the YWCA of Greater Cincinnati.

Social Enterprise One Promising Area of Increased Revenue for Organizations
Lee Carter, a panelist during the presentation and current Vice-Chair of the 2012 World Choir Games, mentioned that he thought not-for-profits should explore more seriously opportunities to sell what they do best and create a revenue stream apart from giving. This piqued some curiosity and an audience member asked a further question about how to do this. Rick Hulefeld, Executive Director of Children Inc., described how his organization had developed a niche market for research-based children's music which helps them create patterns of positive self-talk to increase chances of success later in life. They sell this music around the world.
At the same time, Hulefeld still insisted that individual donors are the key to successful fundraising.

Trend of Individual Giving Known, but Not Always Easy to Act On
Though the trend of individual giving is known, the event helped attendees who need evidence like this to take back to board members and use in strategic planning. As one executive director mentioned after the event, boards can often focus too much on immediate returns and forget the essential component of cultivating relationships with donors, real people with real interests that organizations must know and care about.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Comparison of iPhone Survey or Poll Applications - Which is the best?

I wanted to create a survey to allow program participants to fill out an evaluation. I wanted this survey to be available for the iPod touch (and also iPhone or iPad) as that is what the students involved will be using. There are quite a few options out there so I wanted to know which survey application was the best.

I still haven't made up my mind, but I did create a very rough guide comparing some of the features of the survey apps I found.

You can view the whole survey comparison chart on this Google Spreadsheet.

The chart is also embedded below.

Please add your thoughts and experiences to the comments. Thanks!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

How Much Will Ohio Really Cut School Budgets?

I attended a fascinating talk today titled: Regional Forum on School Funding. David Varda, the Executive Director of the Ohio Association of School Business Officials and Andy Benson, the Executive Director of Ohio Education Matters, presented on topics related to Governor Kasich's recent proposed state budget.

The focus of Varda's presentation was on what some of the specific numbers might be attached to the cuts. Some of the highlights:

  • Funding for special education will not be increased for the next fiscal year.
  • Money from the stimulus package that the state was giving to school districts has expired and will not be replaced.
  • Career technical foundation funding will stay the same, as these programs have historically seen a spike in attendance during recessions.
  • Gifted education funding has been eliminated, but the dollars have been moved to the general education fund.
  • The Ohio Evidence Based Model will be repealed but had never received money for implementation anyway.
  • The pension system will potentially change, with the state and teachers each paying in 12%. Currently, teachers pay 10% while the state pays 14%.
  • Any citizens that financially qualifies will be able to obtain school vouchers.
Andy Benson spoke next and had some very interesting research about how to save schools money across the state. Specifics about saving schools money and dealing with the education budget cuts can be found on the Ohio Education Matters website.

Some of the highlights were:
  • The state of Ohio needs to provide for schools
    • Regional support systems
    • More flexibility and tools for change
    • Rewards for and encouragement for efficiency
Benson also suggested that the Ohio education budget cuts must come with more autonomy for the schools.

Better regional support is needed to help schools take advantages of key cost-saving measures. Some of the ideas for cutting costs were lowering health care costs by buying health coverage in ever larger pools and encouraging digital innovations to curb cutting classes like Advanced Placement or language classes that many times have low enrollment but high impact.

Benson also highlighted work in creating measures of efficiency for non-instructional activities like maintenance, transportation, and food services. Ohio Education Matters studies estimated that 35% of educational funds are spent on non-instructional activities and between 500 million and 1.3 billion dollars could be saved by increasing efficiency in these areas.

One of the most talked about ideas was shared services. These would be methods were neighboring school districts could create more efficient services by sharing. Some of the more obvious areas of collaboration were food services and transportation. But digital innovations could also be shared, as one district could offer a class to students from many districts. 

Shared services was also highlighted because it can take advantage of some of the benefits usually associated with consolidation while avoiding the negatives of closing schools or entire districts.

The general public can look for the Ohio budget language to come out as early as next Friday. At that point, a better idea of the impact of the Ohio education budget cuts will be available.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Music Teacher - Sample Template Welcome Letter for Your Music Students

Use this template welcome letter to welcome your music students to private music lessons. You can customize this letter for any student playing any instrument. It is provided for use by music teachers or music instructors. Copy and paste this letter into any word processor and customize.

Download the Template Music Student Welcome Letter


Dear StudentFirst StudentLast,

    I want to bring success to all students that I teach.  Part of the process of learning any instrument is to set goals of what you want to achieve. With that in mind, I would like you to write out one goal to accomplish over the next 6 weeks for playing the instrument (ex. Learn 5 chords, learn 5 melodies, etc.).

     It is also incredibly important to practice (not simply play) the instrument nearly every day.I suggest you start with 5 days a week, including your lesson day. Start at 10-15 minutes a day. Keep in mind your other commitments. If you know you have two different practices or regular appointments on Thursday, take that day off.  I highly suggest practicing the day after your lesson, as this will help enter what we do in lessons into your long-term memory. Keep your practice schedule; building good practice habits from the beginning ensures long-term success.
(ex. 7-7:30am)

    It is also important to find an accessible "practice spot". If you can leave your instrument out on a stand, with your music book out, you will be much more likely to practice than if you hide your away. Find a consistent spot to practice and you increase your chances for success!

Name your practice spot____________________________________________
     It is also important to keep a few key points in mind as you go home from lessons each week. Most importantly:
  • Start slowly
  • Break a song up into smaller pieces
  • Write down questions as you go
  • Start slowly

    As your teacher, I want you to know that I appreciate questions. You can call me at phone or email me atemail with any questions you may have during the week. You can also let me know this way if you will not be able to make a lesson.
Have fun and work hard!

Teacher Name
Teacher Title
Teacher Phone
Teacher Email

Monday, March 14, 2011

Group Collaboration Software: Issues for Semi-Virtual Teams of Colleagues


Apart from working with my co-workers in our physical office, I find that I am often working with teams of colleagues similar organizations. Most often we are members of an umbrella group representing a field of professionals. A few others teams are collaborative working groups among two to many organizations working on a common project. In all but one case, these are unpaid professional teams.
I call these teams semi-virtual because we may meet together anywhere from once a week to once every two years. At all other points during the year, we may be work together but only through phone calls, emails, IM, Facebook, LinkedIn, Ning networks, Remember the Milk, Doodle, Qlubb, Google Wave, Google Docs, Google Calendar, Yahoo Groups, wikis, blogs, and I’m sure many others. These are all tools that I have actually utilized over the past year to work with others virtually. I believe utilizing these tools to their fullest potential will help me be successful in my career.

Why Use Group Collaboration Software

These group collaboration tools are mainly used to facilitate communication between physical meeting times. These tools may be used to schedule up-coming meetings and agendas. They may be used to transmit information about upcoming events or relevant political issues(one-way communication).  These tools are often used to continue conversations that began during in-person meetings (two-way communication).
Frequently, semi-virtual teams also hope that their decision-making process will continue through these virtual platforms. Of all the purposes of group collaboration software, virtual decision-making is often the most difficult task. It is hard to judge people’s reactions through virtual channels and makes people hesitant to offer improvements or address concerns. Even if the group gets back together for a physical meeting, it is often too hard to bring back up issues that arose through virtual means.

Selection Criteria: Web-based, Email-based, and Free

Because my various semi-virtual team members work for other organizations, we usually lack a common software platform with which to communicate. Instead, web-based tools are the norm because all of us can access them from any computer with an Internet connection. These tools must also be free, as the work being done does not often directly benefit any single organization. Instead, the work is being done under an umbrella group that indirectly benefits each of the participant’s organization. I do work with one team virtually as a consultant. We support an umbrella organization directly as paid consultants and use a Ning network that is paid for by the umbrella organization.
Email is the lynch pin for group collaboration software, as people use it multiple times every day. There is not a competitor for most-used tool among all of the others listed in the introduction. No matter what general tools are chosen, they must fully integrate with email through list-serve type functions, email notifications, calendar email reminders, etc..

Important Decisions that Must Be Made When Using Group Collaboration Software

Designating a Driver

Deciding who will drive the group collaboration tools is one of the most important considerations for semi-virtual teams. Without someone to drive, tools are generally underutilized. To clarify, the person who drives the tools is the one who is responsible for keeping the tool in each member’s email inbox. The driver also ensures that the tools are used for the purposes intended by the group, which leads to the next point.

Answering, “What will be communicated?”

Semi-virtual teams must decide what will be communicated, especially with regards to change. Change will inevitably occur as tasks are carried out. This change must be communicated for semi-virtual teams to stay on the same page. Communicating the decision-making process and giving members a chance for input ensures that everyone feels included on important decisions. One great quote I took from a “lessons learned” presentation last year was this: “The rate of change outpaced the system to communicate changes” (Pickett Slater-Harrington, used with permission). This was said with regards to a project carried about by a semi-virtual team that met just once a week for a few hours. The rest of the project was carried out virtual. As the quote suggests, this team had trouble communicating changes throughout the week. This left their weekly physical meetings less productive than they could have been.

Deciding, “How often do we need to meet in person?”

Semi-virtual teams must also decide when physical meeting will take place. Some numeber of physical meetings are necessary to ensure the success of projects over the long term. These physical meetings can be used to facilitate deeper discussion, allow for more trust to be built, and be used to speed up some elements of the team’s work. Obviously, by the very nature of a semi-virtual team, a delicate balance must be struck between the necessity of a physical meeting and the practicality of a physical meeting.

Positives and Negatives of Group Collaboration Software

On the positive side of the discussion, many of the group collaboration tools are used because they are already integrated into a person’s personal online life. The consumer-grade nature of the tools often makes the learning curve very shallow. In addition, the cost of the tools is often zero to very minimal. Very often, the tools can be set up for use in a matter of hours and distributed to the team very quickly. Again, this is why the drive of the tools is so important.
On the negative side, consumer-grade tools may lack features that the team finds out later that it needs. I also find that the tools can give a false sense of control. What I mean by this is that the group believes the tool will make a good semi-virtual team, as opposed to focusing on what the team can do to build its trust and skills. Another negative is that the tools used can vary greatly across semi-virtual teams. This makes it hard for someone who is on many different teams to deal with the many different group collaboration tools.

Future Career Considerations

As I continue to work with semi-virtual teams, I believe that my most important considerations as a team-leader will be to define roles and to define and facilitate the decision-making processes.
Role-definition is essential when trying to communicate and complete tasks through the use of virtual tools. As I explained above, I believe the new role of driver will become essential as group collaboration software is used more and more often. This person will need to be excellent at communicating through various virtual channels of communication. This person will also need to be adept at learning new software collaboration tools and helping others to quickly assimilate the tools into their every day work flows.
In addition, I will need to facilitate good decision-making through virtual channels. It can be more difficult to gather honest feedback about potential decisions made through virtual channels. I will need to be conscious of the very different interpersonal dynamics of semi-virtual teams. I will also need to maintain a very high level of working knowledge of as many various group collaboration tools as possible to best manage the decision-making process.
Overall, semi-virtual teams are appealing because they allow team members from physically distant yet like-minded organizations to work together toward common goals. I expect to continue to be a member of many of these semi-virtual teams and will constantly strive toward being the best member and leader of these teams.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

How To Memorize Music - A Short Guide of Tips

1. Read the Music
  • Look at the key signature and time signature
  • Look for sections that repeat
2. Find patterns
  • Many phrases are often 4 bars
  • Can you find phrases that repeat?
3. Listen to the song, if possible
  • Read the music while you listen
4. Break the song into smaller parts(phrases)
  • Notice, you have not even played your instrument yet
5. Practice each phrase slowly and carefully
  • Striving towards perfect practice is good
  • Any mistakes made in the beginning will only have to be corrected later
6. Memorize each phrase
  • Use thoughtful, disciplined practice
  • Ask your self, “Where is this phrase going?”
7. Put the phrases all together
  • Do this one piece at a time
  • Sometimes it is helpful to move from the end back toward the beginning
8. Practice the song all together
  • Gradually increase the tempo
9. Pretend you are on stage and play your song
  • Where did you make mistakes?
  • Go back and work on these areas first
10. Perfect and play a real concert!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Comparing & Choosing a Music Student or Studio Management Software

Once you have more than two or three music students, it essential to develop a hassle-free system to track student schedules, invoices, payments, books you may lend out, emails you send. You can use something as simple as a spreadsheet, but the pay-off for using an online system made specifically for music teachers can be quite large.

Personalized Attention for Each Student

The biggest benefit to using a specialized system is the personal attention you can give to each student. The right system will allow you to keep notes on each student, send personalized reminders, send personalized invoices, etc.Some online music student management systems will even allow you to create profiles and accounts for your students and the parents of students. This can save you time as students are empowered to keep track of their own progress and their own schedules. You will also be seen as a very professional and classy music teacher. This will increase positive word-of-mouth recommendations.

Unique Challenges and Considerations when Selecting a Student Management System

I have spent many years developing registration systems for camps, clubs, field trip programs, libraries, and volunteer programs. All of these systems present unique but fun challenges that must be considered when using a scheduling or management system successfully.

Some essential features to look for in any music student management software

*Must be web-based
*Allow you to easily and students and student families
*Allow you to easily schedule and edit student lesson times
*Allow easy access to a scheduling calendar
*Integrate with online payment gateways like Paypal
*Create automatic lesson reminders through email
*Generate registration forms where new students can sign-up online

Some other points to consider when looking at a music lesson management tool

*How will the system integrate with your current website?
*If you don’t have a website, does the system allow you to create a simple website.
*Will the system easily handle billing for entire families?
*Will the system generate reports you need to track incoming money?
*Can the system easily handle make-up lessons?These are some of the most important points to consider when you begin to expand your music lesson business.

Next Steps

It is best to look for a system that you can try out for free and explore for 10 or 15 minutes. If you can easily find the important features mentioned above, you should sign-up and begin utilizing a great tool. You will be on your way to a better served collection of music students.

I recommend trying Music Teacher’s Helper for individual teachers


Good luck!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Manage your Music Studio Students Online

I came across two of the coolest music studio or teacher tools today. And I know there cool because I check, play with, and build registration systems as hobby.
The first tool is specifically for music teachers, called Music Teachers Helper.
It simplifies everything a music teacher would need to do. It is obviously built by a music teacher (it really is), because it is so easy to use. You can enter your students, list lessons, track attendance, send reminders, create invoices, collect payments online. You can event track student progress and send them notes and reminders. Not only that, but with one click you can create a website, made specifically for music teachers. This is awesome. You should check out Music Teachers Helper. 
You can try it for free and just play with it for a few minutes.

I also checked out Studio Helper. This is geared for a music store owner, dance studio owner, arts center manager or even a karate studio owner. It is a really amazing yet simple system.
This system allows the owner or manager to create teacher profiles (including times they can teach), enter students, allow teachers to manage their own students. Add events to a main calendar, schedule multiple rooms, create invoices, and way more.
What most impresses was the ease of use. I tested out the system for about five minutes and found everything I needed.
It has everything I listed for the Music Teachers Helper, and many, many more features for small business owners. You can allow teacher log-ins, student log-ins, track student performance, and track all payments.
This system is really a dream for owners or operators of music, dance, or arts studios. 
What I found most useful was that mass email feature. You can create templates, track emails, and send out to all students, all teachers, or both. You can also send emails only to certain segments, like just guitar students.
This email feature alone is worth its weight in gold. Communicating directly with your students will keep them at your studio and help them to truly feel valued.
Check out Studio Helper (for free) and tell us what you think in the comments.