Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Blogworld and Writing Software

As usual, 2014 will start off with a conference called the New Media Expo (NMX). This was formerly known as Blogworld and many people still refer to it as such. The conference lasts from January 4 to the 6th.

This is a conference in Vegas about social media, especially blogging, and its uses for businesses. There are panels from bloggers, photographers and basically anyone who’s involved in social media. There’s also panels from businesses who use social media. Sometimes the businesses do the keynote speeches too and those are more like case studies on how social media helped their business in advertising and/or connecting with customers. There’s also an Expo where the latest services and tools for and about social media are showcased.

Speaking about tools for social media, let’s take a look at some minimalist writing software.
If you’re like me and get distracted by the rest of your computer when you sit down to write something like a blog article, perhaps you should look into minimalist writing software. MS Word, Open Office and other various heavy duty word processing software is great, but sometimes you want a full screen window to type in. The software below is simple and functional, which makes it easy to get the job done.

  •          Ommwriter is one of the most popular minimalist writing programs out there. It’s for the Mac, PC and iPad. It offers a variety of backgrounds, music and typing sounds to help you focus on the words you’re trying to write. I, unfortunately, don’t have any experience with this program as it is a “pay however much you want software.” The website says they offer a basic version of Dana for free, but I can’t seem to find that version on their website.  Price determined by user
  •          Q10 is a program for windows only. It is a black fullscreen window with orange text. It comes with a spell checker and word count built it. It also allows you to do timed writing exercises, so if you want to set a mini deadline for yourself with how many words you’re going to finish and x amount time, it’s great. I’m using it right now and although I couldn’t get the installable version, the website has a portable version that I’m using. It’s also nice because the portable version comes with the spell check and I can stick it on a USB and take it with me where ever I go.  Free
  •          Writemonkey is also a windows only program. It also offers a fullscreen mode and it is also customizable. It may not be the best option for people like me who get distracted by customization capability. It offers CSS support and much more.  Free
  •          WriteRoom is a Mac only software. Like all of the other programs on this list, it’s fullscreen. However, unlike many of the other programs, it autosaves your work. WriteRoom also uses Dropbox to sync your work across all your Apple devices. Free
  •          Byword is a Mac only program. It offers many of the same features as WriteRoom. Free
  •          FocusWriter is available for all the major platforms. The program has a hidden interface that you access by moving your mouse to the edge of the screen. Kinda like if you select the “hide taskbar” option in Windows.  It’s been translated into 20 languages so far, so if English isn’t your native language or you’d prefer working in a different one, this may be a good program for you.  Free, but there is a tip with download option
  •          Writer is a browser based app that lets you write directly in your browser. No download necessary. It also has a fullscreen mode. It autosaves, but it uses cookies, so there is no sync feature available for the basic version. Free, Pro: $5 monthly, $45 yearly
  •          DarkRoom is a windows version of WriteRoom. It runs on the .NET framework. Free



Do you have any writing programs you want to add to the list? Which ones work the best for you? Which ones don’t? Let’s discuss in the comments below. J

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Netflix "Snailed" It With Exclusive Kids Series Turbo FAST Launch Yesterday ( 12/24/2013)


Spending Christmas morning and watching a show that could be universally enjoyed by all is very nice. For that honor we chose Netflix's new exclusive series "Turbo FAST" ( Fast Action Stunt Team vs. (spoiler alert) F.A.R.T - Fast Action Racing Team).

Netflix just released Season 1 with 5 episodes and will be releasing new ones every week.

Some of the firsts here : 
  • First episode is 22 minutes and others will be 11 minutes each convenient for kids to see on their home works break
  • First exclusive kids series launched on netflix
  • First time Dreamworks Animation Television has made an exclusive for Netflix
  • First series based on the Dreamworks Animation Studios Movie Turbo that was produced by 20th century FOX
I loved watching this series. Netflix has a good strategic vision for the future. As I dabble in several ways to consume media, the TV is still my favorite. With my Google Chromecast almost anything I can stream from my laptop, I can watch on the TV. Netflix is one of the apps on Chromecast so I can stream from my android phone as well.  As Netflix increases it's exclusive offerings I am sure Google Chromecast and Netflix will play a big role in my media watching habits.

How do you like Netflix originals? What is your favorite way of watching media and entertainment.




Tuesday, December 24, 2013

7 Simple Tips for Social Media Updates to Avoid Controversy You Don't Need

If you are working in the PR, Communication or crisis management space,your day is likely filled with stressful moments.When you take time to relax and start conversations in your personal Twitter or other social media you don't want to add to the stress. Here are some simple tips that I try to follow myself which were first published in my Social Media Marketing Column in the Examiner

The current storm over the tweet from Justine Sacco and the subsequent backlash spurs me to recap advice I give companies and organizations when speaking  about social media marketing  and online communication strategy.  I hope these simple check list will help all of us who work in the marketing and communications arena.

7 Tips to consider while using social media while working for a business

1)      Don’t be flippant: If you are a business or work for a business, humor is always good in your communications but it has to be something that everyone will find humorous. Avoid exclusionary humor or disrespectful tweets.

2)      Think before you tweet : As you are composing your tweet if for any reason you doubt the appropriateness of a tweet, don’t tweet it.

3)      Avoid being snarky: We love criticizing, but remember this is an open public media where the reach of your update could be huge. People follow you  for the value you offer in terms of topical knowledge, expertise or adventures. Snarkiness doesn't buy you good will and is usually not very useful either.

4)      Second Set of Eyes: Especially if you are working for a brand, always see if you can run something crucial by a colleague or team member. I have had friends give me opinions on tweet drafts especially when I felt I wanted to convey an accurate message. 140 characters are hardly enough to convey the spirit. Use a blog to explain issues.

5)      People in glass houses should not throw stones: If you are working for a brand I would caution against capitalizing on another brand’s misery. There may come a day when you may be in the same situation and what you said may come back to haunt you.

6)      Keep your work and personal tweets stream clean: Despite any disclaimers you have on your social media accounts it is always better to remember that your clients and employers may be reading your updates. If a client is in a controversy that is not even remotely connected with your business, I would be careful on approaching it. Do the same thing you would do if you were meeting the client face to face. How would you ask them or comment in real life about their controversy. Chances are you will empathize or ignore it totally and that should be applicable to your online conversations as well.

7)      Always be civil even in disagreement:  Recently the Head of the Montgomery County Schools Kenneth Starr called for online civility when some of the student tweets about school closing s were obscene and threatening. His advice is not just for kids but applies to all of us. There is no reason to be anything but civil or polite online as is expected offline. When there is a need to explain context use a medium like a blog post, email or phone to continue the conversation offline. 140 characters are not enough.

I try to practice a thought discipline not even to think thoughts that are anything but positive. This gives me confidence to say that I usually talk and write like I think. Despite our best intentions we are human after all and mistakes will be made. We should make every effort to avoid making mistakes and if we did then make every effort to correct it soon. With the real-time nature of social media, crisis guru Jim Lukaszewski says you need to react within 29 minutes and so specially be careful of what you tweet before you go on a long flight and cause a #HasJustineLandedYet.

It is always a good idea to keep your work profiles on a separate app from your personal profiles so that they never get mixed up by human error.Specifically it may be a good idea not to post anything that may draw a reaction on Friday evening or when you or your team is not going to be available.
What are your tips for avoiding communication faux pas?

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Startup Comedy - Amazon Studios Betas Review - Funny and Entertaining


Comedies with nerds, geeks, techies are among the top comedy entertainment shows these days. I loved Big Bang Theory and it was with that expectation that I binge watched the new series by Amazon Studios "Betas" that launched in November. 

It's very entertaining and hardly a boring moment. Having been part of the start-up and tech scene for a few years, it was nice to see a few realities mixed into the show. I loved it when they mentioned "Social Fresh" conference and they mention social apps like Hy.ly ( I think Highlight is more appropriate or I may have misheard).  A few of the characters seem so real life even though the roles they play in the story is definitely not true in real life.I love the way Maya Erskine helps breakup a party gone wild and using her connections to get BRB's CEO into a party ( SXSW came to mind) . I like the tole  Margo Harshman's plays as  a mentor/publicist in an incubator helping start-ups. How she makes a career choice to move to Seattle to run a team. The journalist role at Valley Smash is definitely exaggerated. As I watched the series I tried very hard to remember that this is a work of fiction  and I should not try to connect any of the characters to real life,

I did not like the abundant use of curse words and R- rated scenes related to nudity. I am not sure I have seen start up folks cuss so much in real life. I would have been more comfortable if I was able to watch Betas having kids around while watching the series. I was disappointed with depictions of drugs which I hope will change as the series progresses.

Definitely recommend watching. Special shout out to Karan Soni, Maya Erskine  and Jon Daly as Hobbes. Great acting guys!

BTW BRB exists in real life even though I doubt the creators of Betas knew this. Check out Social Radar. it's much more useful and possibly a future business networking tool.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Twitter is Great for a Common Cause - School Closings !

It used to be difficult to see if school was closed. A few years ago I subscribed to  a private service called Schools Out  which sent alerts when schools closed. I would then email friends and colleagues early in the morning to let them know that schools closed as well. Most local school districts in the area now have alerts that will email and text you about closings and emergencies. For Montgomery County Schools you can sign up on the MCPS website's emergency information page or follow @MCPS on Twitter.

Conversation on Twitter and Instagram surprised me as students schools and colleges in the area took to Twitter to talk about school closings. Here are  a few examples, very creative!:








One day maybe this will happen-
How do the school systems make a decision?
“Our Preference is Always to Have School”

Also see the Fox5 video clip on the same topic
DC News FOX 5 DC WTTG

Be careful to double check both Twitter and the websites because pranskters can create fake ids to give misinformation.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Visionary & Drones


It's tough being a visionary. Ridicule,  discouragement and barriers of lack of understanding make it difficult to keep to your vision. 
Successful entrepreneurs have had the courage of conviction to execute their plan and vision.
In a CBS 60 minute segment on Sunday, Amazon's Jeff Bezos talked about octocopters that can achieve a " Half hour delivery/and we can carry objects, we think, up to five pounds, which covers 86 percent of the items that we deliver." 
A very exciting idea and probably a few years away. Whether the idea is successful or not I am impressed with the fact that in :Amazon’s secret Lab 126 in California, designers and engineers are experimenting on next generation devices and what a great time to make this buzz worthy announcement.

What are the lessons for small business and entrepreneurs?

a) Always keep aside time for research and new ideas for your products.
b) Disruptions from other industries may change the way you do business. Embrace it and don't ignore it. Like how the internet disrupted our lives.
c) Don't ridicule new ideas,  think about how you may have to change if the ideas take off. Uber, AirBnB are examples.
Ready to build a Octocopter landing pad in your business?  Should the local library have this service?  How about Meals on Wheels for folks who cannot provide for themselves?
Since Jeff Bezos now owns the Washington Post, will Miguel my newspaper delivery person be replaced by a Octocopter? If that happens who do I send the holiday tip check to?
How do you deal with visionaries and long term vision?

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

First Hand look at Freedom at Work on the USS George H.W Bush - US Navy's Supercarrier Day 1 #Dvembark

Other than the brave folks who work in the Navy and allied services, not many people can say that they have completed a tail-hook landing and a catapult take off from a aircraft carrier. Nov 2013 was a special month as I crossed out a so far unattainable bucket list item - a visit to an aircraft carrier at sea. The Navy has a program called the Distinguished Visitor Embark, which takes civilians from all walks of life to visit a Navy ship and experience first hand the working of the Navy and meet the brave women and men who serve the country.  I was part of a Distinguished Visitor Embark group thanks to Patrick Foughty who works at the Media Operations, Digital Media  and thanks also to  George Wright,  office of Commander, Navy Installations Command and the Commander, Navy Installations Command.
This is going to be a blog post and will be worth reading. The experience started in Norfolk which has a large Navy presence and this is the view from the Renaissance Portsmouth. In the program you take care of all your arrangements to go to and fro from the Norfolk Naval Base.
Visit to the USS George H.W Bush - Nimitz Class Super carrier in the Atlantic Ocean #dvembark November 2013
We were met by April Brown and Jim Moir of the Public Affairs office of Commander, Navy Region Mid-Atlantic and we were taken to Chambers Field one of the largest Naval air stations in the world.

Visit to the USS George H.W Bush - Nimitz Class Super carrier in the Atlantic Ocean #dvembark November 2013 Visit to the USS George H.W Bush - Nimitz Class Super carrier in the Atlantic Ocean #dvembark November 2013

We got a briefing from Lt. Alex Judd pilot of the C-2 aircraft about our tail hook landing on board the USS George H.W Bush.
Getting geared up for #dvembark

We were given “cranials” a helmet and flight goggles to protect ourselves and a jacket to wear in case of a emergency water landing. The seats on the C2 face backwards away from the pilot , very different from commercial flying.

Seats are not airline quality but were not uncomfortable. The cabin is not complete with roof decor and you can see that all the space is used for storage. There was only one row with a window and I did not sit there.
After about a 45 minute to 1 hour flight the crew told us that they were about 10 minutes away from the tail hook landing on the USS George H.W Bush and then signaled with their hands “ Here We go, Here We Go” Seconds from landing. I cannot describe in words the feeling you get when the plane lands and decelerates from 105 mph to 0. Your heart goes thump and your body feels the excitement. Then the door opened and I thought I had landed on the Starship Enterprise.
We were lead across a active flight deck and the scenery is a little bit of a haze for me as we followed the safety officer in single file amidst Jets taking off and people signaling and tractors moving aircraft. We were lead to the Captains in-port Cabin where we were offered Chocolate cookies( these are a premium commodity on board the ship)  and coffee.
Visit to the USS George H.W Bush - Nimitz Class Super carrier in the Atlantic Ocean #dvembark November 2013
Visit to the USS George H.W Bush - Nimitz Class Super carrier in the Atlantic Ocean #dvembark November 2013
Captain Andrew Loiselle, Commanding Officer, USS George H W Bush (CVN 77) introduced us to his staff -Captain Matthew Paradise-XO, Master Chief David Carter-, Command Master Chief, Commander Charlie Drey -Public Affairs Officer and told us a very fascinating story of the ship and its launch and activity that was ahead for us and some of the artifacts on board the ship from the George H.W Bush Presidential Library.
Visit to the USS George H.W Bush - Nimitz Class Super carrier in the Atlantic Ocean #dvembark November 2013 Visit to the USS George H.W Bush - Nimitz Class Super carrier in the Atlantic Ocean #dvembark November 2013
We then spent time on the flight deck watching Flight Ops, seeing F/A-18 Hornets and Ea-18 Growlers. We got the privilege to visit the bridge and get a picture taken sitting in the Commander’s chair and watching the crew on the bridge at work.
Visit to the USS George H.W Bush - Nimitz Class Super carrier in the Atlantic Ocean #dvembark November 2013Visit to the USS George H.W Bush - Nimitz Class Super carrier in the Atlantic Ocean #dvembark November 2013
Watching the aircraft on deck was fascinating. Each squadron and aircraft have their names and squadron names on the aircraft and everyone working on the aircraft were very proud of their work. As a bystander I could see that this was hard work and needed to be orchestrated well. This is one of the largest aircraft carriers but with 60 to 75 aircraft on board, maneuvering them and launching and recovering the aircraft needs perfect coordination.


Visit to the USS George H.W Bush - Nimitz Class Super carrier in the Atlantic Ocean #dvembark November 2013
Visit to the USS George H.W Bush - Nimitz Class Super carrier in the Atlantic Ocean #dvembark November 2013Visit to the USS George H.W Bush - Nimitz Class Super carrier in the Atlantic Ocean #dvembark November 2013
Here is a photo of the f\A-18 Hornet and the Tail-hook Cable
Visit to the USS George H.W Bush - Nimitz Class Super carrier in the Atlantic Ocean #dvembark November 2013
After visiting different areas of the ship we sat and had dinner that was so well organized that they had a seating chart as well. For a ship I must say the food was excellent and that is reflected in my Yelp review of the ship. We thanked the crew who served us this amazing dinner somewhere away from land in the Atlantic.
Visit to the USS George H.W Bush - Nimitz Class Super carrier in the Atlantic Ocean #dvembark November 2013
Next to the Crew Galley I found a table dedicated to POW/MIA a single place setting to show ever lasting concern

We went to the library on board the USS George H.W Bush and Chaplain Peters, the fleet chaplain explained the media center and books. Several   members of the crew pursue higher studies, pray ( Services from many religions) and there is a area called United to Read where crew members can read and record stories for their children which is then sent to their families back home to keep the bond strong. The entire ship has 1500 terminals for a crew that is between 4500 and 6000 in number so time on the computer and internet is a premium. There is no cell signal or wi-fi on board the ship. very often to conduct exercises of measuring the electronic footprint of the ship the crew will be asked to turn off all cell-phones and gaming devices.
Visit to the USS George H.W Bush - Nimitz Class Super carrier in the Atlantic Ocean #dvembark November 2013
We visited the ship’s hospital and the ship’s doctor medical Office David Picken Slim told us about how the chip has a walking blood bank, crew members who sign up to donate blood in case of an emergency instead of storing blood aboard the ship. The ambulance on board is in the form of the backpacks( see photo below) and it is a challenge to carry patients through narrow stairways and the crew trains for these circumstances. It is a good thing if the beds are empty.

After this evening tour of the ship we went back to watch night flight ops. I cannot tell you how difficult it is to land on a ship that is moving during daytime and imagine doing this in the night as these brave pilots do every day. It was interesting to see the Helicopter blades folded for storage. Space is a premium and everything on board seems to fold specially aircraft wings.


We were given guest “suites” which were comfortable and since this was an active ship I am sure the crew has learnt to sleep through the announcements that take place even during the night for operations.

Visit to the USS George H.W Bush - Nimitz Class Super carrier in the Atlantic Ocean #dvembark November 2013
The ship has a Post Office and a convenience store called “ Big Texas” That resembles a convenience store on land and all the proceeds go to entertainment and welfare of the crew.

Visit to the USS George H.W Bush - Nimitz Class Super carrier in the Atlantic Ocean #dvembark November 2013Visit to the USS George H.W Bush - Nimitz Class Super carrier in the Atlantic Ocean #dvembark November 2013

Look there is a Starbucks in a area called the Lone Star Cafe and other stations like the ice cream bar.

Visit to the USS George H.W Bush - Nimitz Class Super carrier in the Atlantic Ocean #dvembark November 2013Visit to the USS George H.W Bush - Nimitz Class Super carrier in the Atlantic Ocean #dvembark November 2013
Space is a premium and they make use of every inch of the ship like placing this fitness equipment near the empty space of the stairways, walking is through narrow doorways.
Visit to the USS George H.W Bush - Nimitz Class Super carrier in the Atlantic Ocean #dvembark November 2013Visit to the USS George H.W Bush - Nimitz Class Super carrier in the Atlantic Ocean #dvembark November 2013

My blog posts will not be enough to describe the excitement and thankfulness we felt on this visit. This part one and the experience of the first day. More posts will follow. Watch this space.

Thanks again to the brave men and women of the Navy and the other services for their service to the country.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

My Small Business Marketing Makes it to the Popular List on SmallBizTrends.com

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

[VIDEO] Social Media Tips from Shashi Bellamkonda Part 1: How to Build Your Social Media profiles


Anjali Varma of The Modern Mompreneur interviewed me for her show on the subject "Social Media Tips" Go to her blog and let her know if you find this video useful. Expect more useful info from Anjali and subscribe to her

Monday, September 02, 2013

5 Observations from my Google Map Experience in India

On this recent trip (August 2013) to India my use of Google Maps was far more than any previous visits. In a funny quirky way I got into an auto-rickshaw and when I told the driver the destination, he turned to me and asked for directions. Apparently he was a migrant to the city and had not been driving the auto for long. Luckily I ad my smartphone with a local SIM and a data-plan and Google Maps. Subsequently I used Google Maps several times in India and here are my observations.

Local flavor of Google Map directions

  • The turn-by-turn directions are customized for the Indian roads where landmarks rather than road names are the most suitable. For example take a look at these directions from Ameerpet to Zonal Railway Institute in Maula Ali, Hyderabad. This mimics the real life directions you may receive from a passerby and Indian roads are not clearly labeled.
Best route calculation

  • Traffic is very bad during peak hours and Google's directions took me usually on roads with less traffic but I am not that familiar with the regular routes to say for sure that I saved time but it did feel like that.
Road conditions

  • I was a little disappointed by the Google Maps results for the journey from Bangalore to Kannur which gave me a travel time of about 6.5 hours. We made the journey in 12 hours. Even if you discount the fact that we made a lot of stopovers for food and rest room breaks, the roads are bad specially in the mountain sections on the journey and 6 hours is impossible to achieve. Google needs to somehow include the "Ghat" roads into the algorithm and calculate speed based on road conditions

Railroad Crossings
  • The same route from Ameerpet to Maula Ali in Hyderabad had two railroad crossings ( In India they are called "level crossings" which the directions did not tell me and we had to stop at one for a train to pass. I don't think this made a difference to the travel time  but would have loved to have a heads-up

Local Business
  • Google has competition from Just Dial, Ask Laila and others wh send you info on local business by SMS or you can call and ask a live perosn to help you find a business. These directories also come up high when you search for businesses. I did use Google Maps to search for restaurants, Shree Jewelers and a gift shop and was happy with the results. I hope to see more local business added when I visit India next.
have you used Google Maps in India ? What is your view?

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Washington DC to Dubai on Emirates Airlines

Starting from the Emirates gate at Washington Dulles (IAD) the experience of flying Emirates Airlines once again was thrilling. They have more than adequate staff making an attempt to answer passengers questions and assist travelers with kids and those needing assistance. The flight takes off at 10.55 a.m a odd time but also convenient since Dulles airport (IAD) is not too busy at this time and the flight reaches Dubai at a very convenient time of 8.30 a.m in the morning.

My kids love Emirates
Entertainment:
The flight is a 13 hour flight from Washington DC to Dubai. The aircraft is a Boeing 777 ER and economy is configured 3-4-3 seating. All the seats have a in-flight entertainment console. Soon after take off  kids get a special bag of goodies which includes amenities like their own toothpaste and coloring book. The ICE (Inflight Entertainment System) has a great choice of games and programs for kids.

The in-flight crew made the travel seem like you were in a hotel/ resort rather than on a plane. All passengers get a amenity kit consisting of a Tooth brush, toothpaste, travel eye mask, a small towel.napkin in a keepsake pouch that you can use for any music player.

The choice of entertainment is good and I managed to watch 3 movies while sleeping the rest of the time. You can also use the console to send email or SMS for a small fee but I did not use this feature. The remote also serves a game console.

The location map and the front and rear cameras were a nice touch. I loved watching the front camera during landing and take-off.

Food on Board:

If there is another reason you need to fly Emirates, it is the food which was excellent.



Just to give you an idea of the great attitude of the crew, if you ask for water , they give you the water and ask if you need anything else. I carried a steel water bottle with me so I was a regular visitor to the galley to get it filled up and that kept me hydrated throughout the flight. Since beer cans can get disturbed on the flight when the crew hands you the can they open the can just a little bit so the excess carbonation escapes.

There are 3 food  services  on this flight from Washington DC to Dubai :



  • Dinner/Lunch at take off
  • Snack Pizza midway
  • Breakfast before landing at Dubai

Comfort: The economy seats are standard with leg space similar to most airlines. I was in 19K and since I had not passenger beside me I was able to remove the arm rest and get a little extra space. On forums other passengers have reported that the seats at the back of the plane that are configured 2-3-3 have some extra space. I had to use my shoes as a foot rest as when tilting back your legs kind of dangle from the floor. Others have suggested taking a beach ball or using your handbag as afoot rest.
< It was nice to see plug points on every economy seat had compatible with both US and Asian plugs.Battery charging your phone for the win ;). The Emirates touch showed when the lights were switched off and the roof of the cabin resembled a starlit night.
The only improvement I would ask for on this flight is for the pillow covers to be of softer material. The disposable paper pillow covers are not soft on the skin. This is not just a Emirates issue but on other airlines as well. I wish the material was softer.

Dubai airport Terminal 3 was a great delight and I love the fact that they keep strollers ready plane side for passengers with kids who can use them in the airport and return them.

Once reaching Dubai many passengers head to their transfer gates for the next flight. My next flight was in 7.5 hours. If I was flying Emirates Business or First Class passengers with a stopover of over 6 hours get a special Dubai Connect- Emirates will provide accommodation, meals, ground transportation and visa costs.
I took the time to visit the city with a friend and get a picture taken at the Burj Khalifa and spent 7 delightful stopover hours in Dubai.I am looking forward to the return trip back to Washington DC from Hyderabad on Emirates.