Monthly Archives: December 2016

How To Dispose of Old Gadgets


Q: What’s the best way to safely and securely dispose of my old tech devices?

A: Sounds like you recently found yourself staring in bewilderment at a closet full of discarded and useless computer towers, monitors, desktop printers, keyboards and other old electronic devices. According to Mark Bowles, founder and chief marketing officer of San Diego-based ecoATM, you’re not alone in confronting this digital disposal dilemma. The U.S. generated 2.4 million tons of e-waste in 2010, and GBI Research expects global e-waste recovery to be a $21 billion industry by 2020.

That’s great news for Bowles, whose company offers a self-serve kiosk that buys back used electronics (mostly mobile phones) directly from consumers. The e-waste is sold either to refurbishers, who resell the wares around the world, or to recyclers, who strip them down for the plastic and metals.

Bowles gave us his take on high-tech trash.

What’s the first step in discarding electronics?
Always erase your data before you sell or recycle your old devices. The easiest way is to run a Google search for the “factory reset” option for your device, then follow the instructions. This takes just a few keystrokes and usually does a good job. However, it won’t stop a data-recovery expert with sophisticated tools who’s motivated to recover your information. If you’re really concerned about your legacy data, remove the hard drive completely and either keep it or disable it–a drill press or hammer will do the job.

So hackers can gain access to the files on a recycled computer?
It’s rare. Most hackers looking for valuable data target specific people instead of mining through random devices in the recycling process. Reputable recycling firms strive to reach 100 percent erased on any used electronics they handle, because it can be a big liability. They want to protect your data as much as you do. Best insurance policy? Erase your data in advance and ask for a certificate of destruction by serial number from the recycler.

What should I look for in an e-waste recycler?
The electronic waste business has matured rapidly over the past several years with standards and certifications such as R2, e-Stewards and the Device Renewal Forum emerging. Look for companies that are certified in some or all of these standards, because they stick to best practices when handling personal data. These standards are relatively new but have already gained good traction with industry players that are serious about handling these issues properly.

Should You Know About Know About Your Tech Guy

You’d think by now, with “cloud” applications, everything being “hosted” and all software being delivered as a “service” that we wouldn’t have to deal with tech guys as much as we did in the past. But we still do. That’s because most of us still need PCs, laptops and tablets. We still have routers and cabling and switches in the office. We’re still saving some stuff locally on servers and many of us still have on-premises systems, like accounting and other databases that we rely on daily and will probably continue to rely on for the foreseeable future. And so all of this needs the tech guy. You know who this is, right?

He’s as old as your own kid. He’s a hipster. He last showered when Windows 7 was released. He has a goatee, and probably a pony tail. He’s rushed, frazzled and impatient. He fixes one thing and ten other things break. He drinks coffee or Red Bulls. He’s not unfriendly. But he’s definitely not a salesman. You pay him by the hour or maybe you have a monthly contract with him. You need him. He makes sure your systems keep running so your business can keep running.

There are at least three important things you need to know about this guy:

1. Not all tech guys were created equal. Most tech guys think their clients are idiots when it comes to tech. But rest assured, there are plenty of other tech guys who likely think the same about your tech guy. And they’re probably right. In the corporate world there are tech guys who deal with very complex security, data, application and connectivity issues. They come with respectable academic pedigrees and work for years in the bowels of giants like Oracle, SAP and Google.

Your tech guy is likely not one of these guys. Otherwise, he’d be working there. The barrier to enter the world if independent IT consulting is almost non-existent. Any clown who’s tinkered with a computer can do it. And maybe your tech guy did work at Oracle. But that may not qualify him to be a tech guy. Because tech, like any other industry, has many sub-specialties. I know plenty of competent C# programmers who know nothing about configuring a network. I know lots of SQL database experts who can’t even setup a printer. Make sure you understand your tech guy’s qualifications.

2. Don’t take their word for it. Lots of tech guys like to make their clients feel like nincompoops. They toss around unrecognizable words and give you withering looks when you ask simple questions. Men (most tech guys are men because it is one of the last places left in the world where we feel we can control things) like to pretend we know stuff when we really don’t. That’s why we hate to ask for directions and get help. Tech guys pretend they know the answers. But don’t believe every answer they give you. Trust your own common sense. Before spending a lot of money on a new project, get some other tech guys in to give you their second opinions. Don’t be afraid to question. You’re not as stupid as you’re being made to think. Technology is an art, not a science. If it were truly a science, most tech guys wouldn’t be smart enough to do it.

3. Get used to stuff breaking. Your tech guy is likely a Microsoft person. That means he’s used to stuff not working all the time and he accepts this. You should too — to a degree. Often tech guys throw out fixes like a baby throws  food — hoping it sticks to the wall. Don’t ask silly questions like “Why did this happen?” Instead ask “If it is God’s will that this problem occurs again, how do I reach you?”

This is not entirely the fault of the tech person. There is a part of technology that cannot be explained, perhaps for the same reason no one can explain why Duck Dynasty is such a popular show. It is like dark matter. So you let it go. Tech guys are used to dealing with an imperfect world. You will have to accept this. But don’t let that hold you back from asking the questions you need to get yourself comfortable. If the issue is important enough, don’t let him walk out the door until you get your questions satisfactorily answered. And make sure you know where to reach him when the problem inevitably re-occurs.

Just remember, your tech guy may be halfway decent at technology. But he’s not a great businessman. Treat him fairly, but be tough. And don’t let him off the hook. Some tech issues are not worth fighting. But others are important, so push for the answers you need. If a tech issue seems strange to you, that’s because it’s probably strange. You’re not stupid, so get your answers before he leaves. Otherwise you’ll quickly be out-of -ight and out-of-mind, and he’ll be on to disrupting the next small business owner.

Some Tech Tools to Better Automate Your Life

As a media company CTO, it’s my duty to be progressive when exploring new technologies. At the same time, I need to make sure I don’t become overwhelmed by the many options to manage my data consumption.

Everyone who works in the knowledge-based economy depends on email or office productivity software to get through their daily operations. In addition to email, my day-to-day revolves around creating, managing, and accessing files or documents. Any tool that improves my ability to do this has a major positive impact on my efficiency.

The projects and tasks that I am responsible for in a given day dictate the files I will need. Keeping close tabs on my daily tasks in a central, trusted system helps me manage my workflow. And, any tools or services that can ease the burden of information overload are hugely beneficial. Technology should be used to help eliminate distracting noise from dragging down your productivity.

Here are three tools I employ on a daily basis to help access documents, track what I’m doing, and automate my life:

1. Store documents with Google Drive, Dropbox, Skydrive and Box.
If you’re a technophile, hopefully these are obvious and you can skip this section. If not, and you haven’t started relying on these services as your file storage solution, this is absolutely critical for you. Stop storing your files on laptops, desktops, tablets, or mobile phones. The mantra that I live by — and consistently push in my role as CTO — is access to data from anywhere, at any time, using any device. If your files are stored on your laptop, which you left at home, you can’t do that.

Google Drive is my personal and professional data hub. Dropbox, Skydrive, and Box all provide the same functionality. I don’t store any data on my devices, thus eliminating the fear of losing the device, breaking the device, or leaving it at home when I need some files from it at work. The beauty of cloud-based data storage is that I always have access to it.

The argument that these services may go down or aren’t as secure are weak and myopic. We are talking about companies like Google and Microsoft who have thousands of the best engineers. They invest billions of dollars into their infrastructure. I’m pretty sure that your in-house system is far less secure — no offense to your IT team.

2. Track daily tasks with Todoist.
There are plenty of ways to keep track of your daily tasks, with the most tried and tested being the sticky note on your monitor. But, since you’re an entrepreneur and innovator, you need something digital that’s accessible from anywhere.

The solution I heavily rely on is Todoist. I don’t need anything fancy, I just need something simple, clean and functional. Todoist is a web service, accessible via any browser. The interface is simple, intuitive, and uniform across all devices. I can now create, check, and update my tasks on my Macbook, Chromebook, Android phone, iPad, and Nexus 7. The best part is email creation of tasks. I used to mark emails in my inbox with the label “to do” or “follow up.” Now I forward it to my Todoist email address and a task is created for me to track.

3. Automate your day-to-day with IFTTT.
IFTTT, whose name rhymes with “gift,”  is the unsung hero of my personal digital ecosystem. I only recently started using it and, in a short time, it has become indispensable. IFTTT is an acronym for “if this, then that” and the simple explanation is that it acts as your digital Swiss Army Knife. For example, when I update my Facebook profile photo, IFTTT will automatically change my Twitter profile picture to the same new photo. I can also set it up to automatically save every email attachment in Gmail to Dropbox. Or, how about receiving an email or text when the weather report says it’s going to rain. If I lose my phone in my house, I can send an email to IFTTT triggering a service to call my phone. You get the picture.

The power of this service is the extreme flexibility of creating and using any number of “recipes” to custom tailor solutions to your specific needs. There are currently over 70 “channels” to use, including Twitter, Facebook, email, phone, New York Times, SMS, and more. If you’re not using this service, you need to start today because it’s going to improve your digital life significantly.

The digital information weighing you down grows exponentially each year, but the tools and technologies to help you manage are also evolving at a rapid pace. Leveraging the right tools is critical to your success as an entrepreneur