Archive for June, 2010

Valencia Welding Repairs McDonalds’ Brass Statue

June 29, 2010

While Rick Montoya, president of Valencia Welding in Santa Clarita, California, receives jobs from phone calls or emails asking for his assistance, he sometimes gets a weld repair job by being at the right place at the right time.

One afternoon, when Rick brought his daughter to McDonald’s at the Pavilion Shopping Center for lunch, he glanced at a bronze statue of a child skiing downhill inside the restaurant.  The statue suffered some damage with part of one of the skis broken off.  Rick immediately contacted Mr. Schutz, owner of a number of McDonald’s franchises throughout the Santa Clarita Valley, including the aforementioned franchise.  Rick offered to repair the ski, and Mr. Schutz was more than happy to oblige.  Rick and Bobby Alatorre, one of Rick’s welding apprentices, brought the statue to Valencia Welding’s workshop and spent the next two days repairing the broken ski.  After they completed the weld repair, they brought back the statue to McDonald’s and returned it to its location inside the restaurant.

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Francis M. Unson

Tweetups: What They Are and How to Organize One

June 7, 2010

You maybe surprised to find out that the Oxford Dictionary has added “tweetup” to the English lexicon along with a number of neologisms that may sound familiar to you such as “unfriend“, hashtag” and, for us bloggers, “tag cloud“.  This shows us that social media has taken a firm grasp in our daily lives, enough so that a venerable institution such as the Oxford University Press would add the words to their dictionary.

"Tweetups" are a way of turning online connections into real-life contacts.  Engaging your audience would make the tweetup a true social networking event.  If you'd like to plan a tweetup, here are the do's and don'ts about tweetups, from the planning stages to the event itself.What exactly is a tweetup?  The portmanteau combines the words “tweet” and “meet up“.  In other words, tweetup is a gathering of a group of Twitter users (or “tweeps“) in real life.  The reasons for gathering tweeps together could be analogous to why people, in general, gather together.  Some examples, among many possibilities, include:

  • charity events
  • memorials of a fallen soldier
  • gathering tweeps with common interests, professions, or political interests
  • buzz-generating events to giveaway tickets or prizes (always in short supply during the event)
  • gathering tweeps for a larger event (e.g. a tweetup to gather tweeps for a “Flash Mob” event)
  • protests
  • concerts at the park
  • job or career fairs
  • store grand openings

Tweetups cover a wide spectrum – from spontaneous, quickly arranged acoustic concerts to highly organized, highly publicized protests.  You cannot gauge how many people will attend the event.  For example, you broadcast your tweetup to 20 of your followers.  Only nine of the 20 show up, but each brings along two friends.  The attendees of your tweetup, therefore, consists of nine people you contacted directly and 18 you don’t even know.  While attracting a large audience for your tweetup is nice, engaging your audience would make the tweetup a true social networking event.  Otherwise, you would have nine groups of three people each that silently keep to themselves.

If you’d like to plan your own tweetup, Mashable has compiled a list of things to consider.

Organizing the Tweetup

DO Make the most of your Twitter network. You may not need professional assistance for small gatherings.  However, if you are planning a large event, PR and marketing people on Twitter can help create buzz and support for your event.

DO Visit the venue in person.  Yes, I am serious. You do not want to organize a tweetup only to find out, along with the rest of the tweeps, that a venue has gone out of business or been torn down months ago.  Don’t trust an outdated photo from Street View on Google Maps.  Visiting the venue will also give you ample time to decide whether or not you need a larger one, which leads me to the point.

DO Plan for more people to show up than you think. Earlier, I mentioned the example of nine people bringing two of their friends each.  In the world of Twitter, people may tag along with a group because they happen to mention the tweetup and, before you know it, an entire bus, subway car or ferry full of people start making their way to the tweetup.  Expect the unexpected and embrace with open arms the non-tweeps who just so happened to show up.

DO Invite a well-known speaker or two. If you manage to get Guy Kawasaki (@GuyKawasaki), Tony Stevens (@tonystevens4), or Dave and Sarah Larson (the couple behind @TweetSmarter) as guest speakers, you may need a soccer field and the field next to it.

DO Use email. It stands for “electronic mail”, remember?  People still use email.  Just think of it as a way of writing seven DMs in a single message.  While you may meet thousands of tweeps and know them by their Twitter username, you may never learn any of their email addresses, yet still communicate to them on Twitter.  In addition, email would help you discern your pre-Twitter friends from your current followers.

DO Use event services to help you organize your guests, collect donations, and provide sharable content. Mashable provides a listing of services you can use.

DON’T Use a venue with limited Wi-Fi or cell phone reception or, worse, dead zones. The Twitter crowd is a technologically savvy one.  During a lull in activity at some point during the tweetup, hundreds of people may go online at the same time.  Make sure that the venue can handle the traffic.  As a rule of thumb, pretend that the total number of people you expect to show up at the tweetup has an iPhone, iPad, DROID, any of the two, or all three.

DON’T Have the event in a venue ill-suited for the tweetup. The name of the game at tweetups is communication.  Tweetups are social networking events.  Anything that impedes communication will cause the event to become memorable to the attendees for the lack thereof.

DON’T Treat the tweetup as a kickback. You may hang out with a group of friends every Saturday afternoon for five years in a row for no particular reason whatsoever, but the tweeps attending the tweetup are not that group of friends.  Make the purpose of the tweetup very clear so that people can get ready accordingly.  Is the tweetup a luau?  People need time to shop for a Hawaiian shirt if they don’t have one.

DON’T “Wing it”. You want people to remember you for the well-organized and purpose-driven tweetup you setup, rather than slapping together a “tweetup” last-second that leaves attendees wondering, “Why are we here again?”

During the Tweetup

DO Arrive at the event early. It’s common courtesy to arrive early, and it gives tweeps some relief that you, the tweetup organizer, would show up to your own event.  Just before you begin, you can pass out tweetup material such as schedules that list the day’s events.

DO Collect business cards. For whatever purpose you set out your tweetup to accomplish, networking with the attendees is the most important activity you do with them, and that begins with collecting their information.

DO Provide food. How many missed networking opportunities would take place if you didn’t provide food?  After all, networking takes place over as little as coffee.  After a couple of hours of workshops and guest speakers, provide food to the attendees so it gives them a chance to talk about the day’s events so far amongst each other.

DON’T Fade into the background. It’s your tweetup; you host it.  Besides, if you are hosting your first-ever tweetup, the attendees, more likely than not, do not know each other and are, therefore, strangers.  As host of the tweetup, you are there to greet arriving guests and answer peoples’ questions.  You can also engage in the first step of networking: providing new arrivals with nametags where they can write their first name and, just below, their Twitter username.  However, –

DON’T Use water-soluble markers or thin pens. You want the attendees to read each others’ names from afar, so use dark, permanent markers with thick ink tips.

DON’T Snub the guests. Treat @TeenW_Braces with the same respect as you would @CodesInBasic, @WearsIPadOnNeck, or @BlondeMensaGal.

DON’T Go open bar. I wasn’t expecting Mashable to include this in its list, but it makes perfect sense.  You do not want rowdy attendees that had no other purpose than to drink free alcohol.

Above all things, what do tweetups do?  They turn online interactions into real-life contacts.  In communities that hold regular tweetups, the line between online communities and real-life communities will become blurred.  Start planning a tweetup in your community.  You never know who may show up.

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Francis M. Unson

Buying the Right Health Coverage

June 2, 2010

If you are among the 59.3% of Americans who receive their health insurance coverage through an employer, you are in an ever-shrinking group.  Since 2001, premiums for family coverage have increased 78%, while wages have risen 19% and inflation has risen 17%, according to a 2007 study by the Kaiser Family Foundation.  If you have reached the point where shopping around for health insurance could prove more cost-effective, consider asking the following questions.

Dissatisfied with the health coverage your employer offers? Do you dislike the idea of network care? What are the differences between HMOs and PPOs? The blog discusses how to buy the right health coverage for you and your family.What are the least expensive health coverage options available?

People have two options for themselves and/or their families: Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs) and Preferred Provider Organizations (PPOs).  Let’s discuss HMOs first.

HMO plans used to offer individuals and families the most affordable coverage, providing medical care through networks of physicians.  People do not need to fill out forms per doctor visit, pay a nominal copay, and no deductible.  When people first consult their primary care physician, who is also known as the gatekeeper, about an illness, they may either treat the illness or, if necessary, refer them to a specialist in the network.  Women can visit a gynecologist without a gatekeeper referral.  HMOs do not cover out-of-network hospitals, doctors, or specialists.

PPO plans, presently less expensive than HMO plans, also provide medical care through a network of doctors.  However, people do not need to obtain a referral from their primary care physician in order to consult a specialist.  Copayments are comparable to HMO rates.  As with HMOs, out-of-network doctors and hospitals are not covered.

What are the monthly costs between HMOs and PPOs?

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the average annual cost of family HMO coverage was $13,122 in 2008, or $1,093 per month, while average family premium for a PPO was $13,937 during the same year, or $1,078 per month.

What if I don’t like network care?

If you don’t like the idea of network care, try applying for indemnity coverage through your work, since insurers that do sell indemnity plans adhere to strict underwriting standards, making it tough to qualify for them.  Furthermore, the freedom of using any doctor a person chooses is very expensive due to deductibles and a 100% reimbursement rate only after expenditures exceed $5,000.  Overall, a family of four would expect to pay over $1,100 a month.

Where can I find the best of both worlds – the flexibility of an indemnity plan with the cost savings of an HMO or PPO?

The Point-of-Service (POS) allows people to decide whether they would like to consult a network doctor or an out-of-network doctor every time they require medical care.  A visit to a network doctor would cost between $5-15.  However, visiting an out-of-network doctor would cost much more because insurers reimburse only 70-80% of the cost of the visit once the person meets the plan deductible.  A family of four would expect to pay about $1,028 per month for an HMO/POS plan and about $1,013 per month for a PPO/POS plan.

How do I find a HMO or PPO that suits my needs or the needs of my family?

People should consult a licensed insurance agent who can compare choices available in their area.  While low costs is the most common factor, more important factors would include evaluating the insurer’s quality and its network by contacting present and former policyholders, the Better Business Bureau, and the Department of Insurance in the person’s home state.  There are numerous websites devoted to discussing choosing the right health plan as well as forums where people can discuss their satisfaction or grievances with their current provider.

Shopping for a plan whose network physicians are located reasonably close to home and well-qualified to meet a person’s family needs saves time and money in the long run.  If a network proves too costly in the present time, people should sign up for the best plan that’s available for now and return to their insurance agent a few months later.  Better products may become available at a later time.

How can I determine if my employer does not provide enough insurance?

People who think they need more insurance should ask themselves: “Does my current policy provide just hospitalization coverage?”  If so, buying an HMO or PPO plan to cover other medical costs, sans the hospitalization feature, makes sense.

On the other hand, people maybe unhappy with the doctors in their network’s plan.  They may live in a state that has passed “any willing provider” laws, which require HMO and PPO networks to accept any willing provider who meets their licensing, training, and other standards.

I’m a retiree.  What are my health care options?

Supplementing Medicare coverage with an HMO or PPO plan does not make sense because Medicare already covers basic medical and hospital services.  Retirees, instead, need a different kind of supplementary insurance policy known as Medigap, which covers any remaining expenses that Medicare does not reimburse.  Recently, the federal government has started working with some HMO providers.  If retirees sign up for an HMO plan and commit themselves to visit just network physicians, they won’t need Medigap coverage.  The HMO will require a copayment of $10 per doctor’s visit and Medicare will reimburse other expenses.

Just because your employer provides health care does not necessarily mean you must sign up for the providers from their limited pool, especially if you have found their services unsatisfactory in the past.  We used to rely on HMOs as the most affordable health care solution, but rising costs over the years have caused them to exceed the cost of PPOs.  Look into indemnity coverage if you do not like network care.  If you want to save money in the long run, work with a licensed insurance agent.  Finally, if you are a retiree, find an HMO that works closely with the federal government so that Medicare covers the rest of the expenses that the HMO does not.

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Francis M. Unson