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Business Owners: Meet Big Data


Big Data Isn’t Only for Big Companies

Business owners are busy people. You’re hiring staffers, balancing your business’ budget, developing new products and creating marketing campaigns. You’ve even the person responsible for setting your business’ hours and scouting out new locations for expansion.

So you’re probably not thrilled that business experts are now telling you that you have to study big data, too, to gain a competitive edge. You might not even know what big data is—most people don’t. But that doesn’t mean that it’s not important to the success of your small business.

Defining big data

What is big data? John Weathington, writing for TechRepublic, does a good job explaining: Big data, as the name suggests, are massive amounts of fast-moving information. This information is free, but it serves a valuable purpose in the marketplace. Big data, if properly mined and studied, can tell you what your target customers want, what they lack and how much they’ll be willing to pay to get it. In other words, big data can tell you how best to run your small business.

Big data examples

Big data gives businesses, even small ones, a competitive advantage. CIO Magazine provides three examples. The magazine cites a financial firm that uses large financial data sets and data analytics tools to help their clients decide how to best plan their retirements. This, of course, gives this financial firm an edge in attracting new clients.

Using big data in your business

CIO also points to a company called Exmobaby that sells baby pajamas that include built-in biosensors. These sensors send health data from babies to their parents. You can bet that this use of data sets—the health information from the babies themselves—attract parents who want the best for their infants.

Then there’s the start-up Parchment, which analyzes databases of student information—everything from grade point averages to SAT scores to college-acceptance data—to help their clients, students, choose and apply for colleges. The edge that this company provides? It helps students apply to those schools statistically most likely to accept them.

Big data, then, helps both businesses and consumers. It helps consumers make better choices, and it helps those businesses who provide this data gain new customers.

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Square and Your Business: Match Made in Heaven?

As a small business owner, you want to make it as easy as possible for your customers to pay for your products or services. Square, a credit-card processing service designed for iPhones, iPads and Android-powered devices can help you meet this goal.

But Square, developed by Square, Inc., isn’t free. It will cost you every time you swipe a customer’s credit card through the tiny card reader that attaches to your smartphone or tablet. The question, then, is a big one: Are the benefits of Square worth the extra price you’ll pay on transactions fueled by it?

How it works

The Square reader plugs into the audio port of your smartphone or tablet. When a customer wants to purchase a product or service with a credit card, you simply swipe the card through the reader. Or, you can manually enter the credit-card number on your own. The app that powers this, Square Register, is free. You can download it from the App Store or from the Google Play shop. Once you do, you’re set to start accepting credit-card payments.

The biggest positive of Square

Square is incredibly easy to use. That’s why it’s perfect for overworked small business owners. There is no lengthy instruction book to pore through. There are no complicated installations. This is why Square has become so popular among business owners. A recent story in USA Today reported that more than 800,000 customers are using Square today. The system is also easy for consumers. With it, even the smallest of business owners can accept credit-card transactions. You won’t have to send your customers to the corner ATM for quick cash.

The downside to Square

There are the fees, though. Every time customers swipe their credit cards through your Square Reader, you’ll have to pay 2.75 percent of the transaction cost. If you have to manually enter your customer’s credit-card number, you’ll have to pay Square, Inc. 3.5 percent of the transaction. Entrepreneur Magazine in a recent review of the product also said that human customer support is shaky at best for the product.

Still, even with these cons, it’s hard to deny that Square has the potential to dramatically boost the efficiency of small businesses.

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Not using LinkedIn to Market Your Business? You’re Missing Out

LinkedIn deserves to be ranked among the big three of social media sites, right alongside Facebook and Twitter. But LinkedIn is actually more important for your small business because unlike its rivals, this social-media site focuses specifically on business.

In other words, you won’t have people on LinkedIn posting about how good their oatmeal tasted this morning.

Stephanie Buck, a writer for Mashable.com, recently wrote an illuminating post about how important it is for businesses to turn to LinkedIn for marketing. Here are some of her key points.

Share your successes

As a small business owner you work hard. You have a right to share your success stories. Besides, promoting your company’s successes will also encourage others to look at your business as a successful, thriving company. That’s good marketing.

Buck recommends that small business owners post regularly about their new product lines, hires, and milestones on LinkedIn. She also recommends that owners include links in these posts to their external websites or to their YouTube channels.

Once business owners post these news bits, their updates will automatically show up on the activity feed on their company overview page and on the homepages of those LinkedIn members who follow them.

Find new workers

If your small business is growing, you’ll undoubtedly need to hire new employees. LinkedIn is a great place to find new workers.

When posting new job announcements on LinkedIn, not only will you be attracting the attention of an ever-growing network of business professionals, you’ll also be telling your fellow business pros that you are, indeed, growing. This, too, is positive marketing for your small business.

Expert advice

Buck also points out another benefit of posting regularly on LinkedIn: You can uncover great advice on both marketing and running a successful business from other pros who’ve already done this.

LinkedIn attracts some of the most successful owners of small businesses in the world, and many of these business pros are happy to share their advice and tips with others. Don’t be shy: Ask your fellow LinkedIn professionals for their tips on how to keep a small business bustling in today’s challenging economy.

Learn more at Mashable.

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Need Some Brain Food? Follow These People on Twitter

Admit it: Your Twitter friends just aren’t that engaging. They’re wasting your time tweeting about what they ate for breakfast or what happened to their favorite character on their favorite reality show.

You crave more from Twitter. You actually want to learn something.

You’re in luck. Mashable recently ran a list of 25 Twitter accounts that will make you smarter. Need some brain food? Then follow some of these mentally enriching Twitter accounts.

Trivia that matters

Mashable lists Mental Floss first in its list of 25 must-follow Twitter accounts. The @mental_floss account is actually an extension of Mental Floss magazine. The magazine publishes esoteric trivia on a wide range of topics. For instance, the Mental Floss Twitter example published by Mashable states that for several years fine-art competitions were part of the Olympics. Did you know that?

In the same vein is the @GoogleFacts Twitter account. Though this account isn’t actually affiliated with Google, it does provide plenty of offbeat facts to help make you at least seem smarter. Mashable’s example? “You can’t snore and dream at the same time.”

Some words from the experts

Of course, the best Twitter feeds are often from individuals. Fortunately, Mashable found plenty of smart people using Twitter to share their knowledge with the rest of us. One is Neil deGrasse Tyson. He’s an astrophysicist who answers some often strange questions. Again, Mashable provides a great example: Did you know that a fly adds weight to an airplane even if the fly never lands during the plane’s trip?

Elon Musk is plenty interesting, too. He’s the CEO of SpaceX and CEO of Tesla Motors. He usually tweets about science and statistics. For instance, Mashable points to a recent tweet in which Musk pokes fun at the tobacco industry for saying 30 years ago that scientists still disagree on whether smoking causes cancer even though 98 percent of those scientists said that it did.

The big brains

You can also find plenty of stimulating tweets from the biggest brains at the most important scientific and research organizations across the country. Mashable cited NASA as a prime example. NASA’s tweets were especially relevant during the Mars Curiosity rover landing. You might also be interested in following the Twitter account of DARPA, part of the U.S. Department of Defense responsible for developing new military technology.

Read more at Mashable.

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Facing an Emergency? Turn to These Apps

These are dangerous times. Mother Nature is unleashing droughts and record-setting high temperatures. It seems a new tornado is ripping through the Midwest every day. And those are just the big emergencies. What if you lock yourself out of your car when your toddler’s stuck inside it?

Fortunately, there’s a whole class of apps that can help you deal with emergencies big and small.

Here is a closer look at three of these apps that might be able to bail you out in case of an emergency.

AroundMe

AroundMe has been around for a while, but it remains a top locator app. With it, you can find everything from the nearest gas station to the nearest bank.

It’s easy, too, to see how AroundMe might help in case of an emergency.

Say your toddler is sick, you’re in a strange city, and you need to find a hospital as soon as possible. Just log onto the app, click the category that you need — in this case, “Hospital” — and find the nearest medical provider to you.

It’s little surprise that many consumers consider AroundMe to be a must-have app.

CPR & Choking

The name of this app says it all: CPR & Choking will give you tips and full-fledged lessons on how to deal with a person who is choking or who is not breathing. It can be especially handy if you’ve never taken CPR classes or have forgotten what you’ve learned.

This app, which is free, was developed by the University of Washington and King County EMS to save lives. It contains a variety of videos that tell you exactly what to do if someone you know is in the middle of a medical emergency or cardiac event.

There aren’t too many apps that can save a life. CPR & Choking is one of them.

Emergency Radio Free

What if there’s an armed criminal on the loose in your community? What if a tornado has been spotted?

You can stay informed with Emergency Radio Free, an app that lets you access hundreds of police, fire, weather, and other live emergency radio feeds from around the country.

It’s easy, too, to identify and tune into radio feeds in your specific community. You can also save radio feeds to a favorites area so that you can access them quickly should an emergency strike.

Of course, no app, no matter how impressive, will be able to protect you completely from harm should danger arise. These apps, though, will give you the chance to be better prepared should an emergency strike.

Read more at CNET.

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Getting The Most Out Of Windows 8

The new version of Microsoft Windows, the simply named Windows 8, hasn’t yet hit the market. But that doesn’t mean that the tech press hasn’t already combed through the software.

That’s good news for you: The editors at computing publications across the Internet have already given Windows 8 a test drive. And these editors are now publishing their findings online. It’s a great way for new users to learn the ins and outs of this new operating system.

For instance, InfoWorld writer J. Peter Bruzzese recently wrote about several nifty features of Windows 8. Here’s a quick look at some of what Bruzzese found:

The charms bar

Windows 8 comes with a side navigation bar called the charms bar. It becomes visible on the right side of the screen when users click or swipe there. Once it’s visible, the bar allows users to take advantage of a wide range of shortcuts.

As Bruzzese writes, users can click or tap the “Settings” option and then click on “Power” to put their computer to sleep. The charms bar has settings for searching, sharing, and switching to the Windows 7 desktop.

Retrieving lost files

What’s worse than losing a file? Not much when it comes to computing. Fortunately, Windows 8 can help.

The operating system comes with a new way of saving copies of files that lets users retrieve previous versions if their current file is lost or damaged. As Bruzzese says, this feature works in much the same way as does OS X’s Time Machine utility.

Windows on the go

Here’s a particularly nifty feature: With the Enterprise Edition of Windows 8, users can put their entire Windows environment on a USB drive and then take it with them. They can then pull it up on any PC that is compatible with Windows 7 or 8.

Windows Reader

Windows 8 also comes with the Windows Reader app. This app lets users open PDFs and highlight paragraphs or use the stylus on a tablet to make notes directly on the PDF.

Read more at InfoWorld: http://kbit.co/windows-8-tips

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Designing the Future of IT

Personal computing has changed dramatically in the last decade. We now watch movies on our phones. We carry out entire record collection in tiny iPods. And the tablet revolution is changing the way we consume our news, communicate with our friends, and watch out favorite television shows.

But what about business computing? The good news is that advancing technology is changing the way we use computers at work, too. In fact, changes in workplace computing are occurring nearly as fast as they are in the world of personal computing.

The editors at InfoWorld took a look at some of the technology that is exerting the biggest impact on business computing. Here are some of their finds:

HTML5

As InfoWorld says, HTML5 looks similar to traditional HTML. But HTML5 actually allows users to accomplish so many more tasks.

For instance, with HTML5 users can take advantage of video and local data storage capabilities. HTML5 also looks to be the go-to language for web developers as Adobe ends its development of mobile Flash.

Working together with continuous build tools

InfoWorld also points to the growing popularity of such continuous build tools as Jenkins and Hudson as dramatically changing the world of IT and business computing. Continuous build tools allow technicians to work together for the betterment of a company.

As InfoWorld writes, these tools put code through a continuous stream of tests and then send alerts to developers about any problems with this code. This keeps all developers working toward the same goal, InfoWorld says.

Beyond JavaScript

JavaScript is, as InfoWorld says, the most commonly used code in the computing world. However, today’s high-tech developers are looking for replacements. Many are even debating the merits of building entirely new languages, codes that fix all of the troubles that come with JavaScript.

Because of this, translated code has become popular in business computing. Many developers are turning, for instance, to CoffeeScript, which automatically inserts JavaScript’s punctuation into code.

Of course, this is just a small sample of how business computing will change in the coming years. It will be interesting, though, to watch exactly how quickly changes come to the important business-computing arena.

Read more at InfoWorld: http://kbit.co/future-of-IT

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Eliminate Online Distractions with these Chrome Extensions

We understand: You sit in front of your computer all day long, typing reports, answering email messages, and creating presentations. It’s difficult to resist the temptation to run over to TMZ.com to catch up on the latest celebrity gossip.

But all those side trips to the Internet’s guilty pleasures can add up to a lot of wasted time during the day. They can cut into your productivity, something your boss won’t appreciate.

Fortunately, if you use the Chrome web browser, you can add several extensions designed to keep the Internet’s distractions from cutting into your workday.

The Huffington Post recently took a look at the best distraction-blasting Chrome extensions. Use these and you just might be surprised at how productive you can be.

Stay Focused

The Post story rightly starts with Stay Focused. This add-on places a time limit on all those time-wasting websites that you like. Once the timer on each site runs out, it will remain blocked for the rest of the day, preventing from clicking on CNN or The Onion for an anti-productivity visit.

Cool Clock

If your lack of focus causes you to miss too many meetings or lunch dates, add Cool Clock to your Chrome browser. This add-on comes with a clock, calendar, alarm, timer and hourly desktop time notifications. As the Huffington Post says, it’s designed to make sure that you no longer miss any important appointments. You can also set Cool Clock so that it reminds you of the most important tasks you need to complete during the day.

Last Pass

How much time do you waste trying to remember your password to Gmail or to your online banking website? Last Pass, another nifty Chrome add-on, can change all this. This extension allows you to easily manage and monitor the many online passwords with which you have to contend. You’ll be surprised at how much more time you’ll have once you eliminate those pesky attempts to remember which passwords have numbers and which ones have capital letters.

Turn off the Lights

Sometimes we have to watch rather boring videos as part of our jobs. It can be hard to focus on those videos when there are so many distractions online and on your desktop. That’s where the Chrome extension Turn off the Lights comes in. As the Huffington Post says, this add-on keeps your media player bright but dims everything else on your screen. Use this extension, and you’ll have no excuse for drifting from that corporate video.

Read more at HuffPo: http://kbit.co/chrome-extensions-productivity

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Beyond Bombs: The Military’s Cool New Tech

The military is a major innovator when it comes to developing new technology.

Business Insider recently ran an intriguing feature story about the technology that the U.S. military is currently cooking up. Some of what they are working on might surprise you. In fact, the U.S. armed forces are creating some tech that just might change your life.

The laser gun

Science fiction fans have long wondered when we’d get those cool laser guns from Star Wars and Star Trek. Well, the military now has an operational laser gun, a device known as Excalibur.

As Business Insider writes, the Department of Defense has long worried about the damage that conventional weapons can create in urban warfare. That’s where laser guns come in. The Department of Defense’s DARPA unit is currently developing laser weapons that are 10 times lighter than existing combat lasers. The goal is to one day create 10-kilowatt devices that can be used in precision strikes against ground and air targets.

The doctor is in — your body

DARPA’s In Vivo Nanoplatforms program is developing nanoparticles that can sense and treat illness, disease, and infection all from inside the human body. Yes, that again sounds like the stuff of science fiction, but DARPA is actually moving along rather quickly on this project.

According to Business Insider, the nanoparticles sense specific molecules of biological interest. Researchers are currently working on a complete nanotech demonstration on a large animal, the website reported.

Thermal imaging on the cheap

The U.S. military has long relied on thermal imaging technology. But, as Business Insider points out, this technology is far from cheap. That’s why DARPA is now working on its Low Cost Thermal Imager manufacturing program.

This program, as its name suggests, is attempting to dramatically lower the cost of thermal imaging technology. DARPA would like to one day see thermal imaging machinery in cell phones, eyeglasses, drones, helmets, and rifle sights.

Read more at Business Insider: http://kbit.co/DARPA

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Why You Need to Protect Yourself with Two-Factor Authentication—ASAP!

Slate.com recently ran a frightening story focusing on the travails of Matt Honan, a writer at Wired Magazine. As Slate reports, in August 2012 a hacker broke into Honan’s Apple account, erased the data on Honan’s iPhone, iPad and Macbook, deleted his Google account, and took over his Twitter account. This latter attack was particularly upsetting; the hacker used Honan’s Twitter account to post racist and obscene comments.

As the Slate story says, the story proves that anyone can get hacked, even a journalist for a high-tech publication like Wired.

However, the story also provided some good news: There are steps that consumers can take to make it far less likely that they’ll suffer Honan’s fate. And it all starts with two-factor authentication.

Two-factor authentication

If you don’t know what two-factor authentication is, then you’re at risk of being hacked.

What happens when you want to access your online accounts? Usually, you just have to enter your email address and a password, right? That’s not good enough to deter skilled hackers today.

With two-factor authentication, you must also enter a code that is sent to you every time you try to log onto one of your online accounts. This extra log-in credential could be the one thing stopping a hacker from breaking into your accounts.

How it works

Google has now enabled two-factor authentication for its accounts. To see how this security system works, then, it’s helpful to study what Google is doing.

If you own a smartphone, you can install Google’s authenticator app on the device. Then when you log onto a Google account, you type in both your password and the code displayed on your smartphone, a code that only you, of course, should be seeing.

If you don’t own a smartphone, you can still use Google’s two-factor authentication system. You can simply wait for Google to send you a text or voicemail message containing the code you need to complete the login process.

Not widely used

Unfortunately, as the Slate story mentions, not many consumers are using two-factor authentication today. The reason? It’s a bit of a hassle. Most consumers want to access their accounts quickly and easily, and entering extra code, or waiting for a text, is not something they enjoy.

But as Honan’s story proves, any step that can slow hackers is one that you should consider. Yes, it might take you a few seconds longer to log onto your accounts, but isn’t the extra security that two-step authentication provides worth this bit of a hassle?

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