Wear Sunscreen

Make your home page readable in black-and-white printouts. Remember that marketing is a state of mind. And don’t believe everything you read on the Internet.

By Erik J. Heels

First published 9/1/1999; Law Practice Management magazine, “nothing.but.net” column; American Bar Association

Baz Luhrmann’s song “Everybody’s Free (to Wear Sunscreen)” was adapted from an article written by Mary Schmich for the Chicago Tribune. It was falsely reported on the Internet that the text was a commencement speech given by Kurt Vonnegut at MIT. The song is a series of snippets, advice designed to entertain and make you think. So, after clearing out my fodder file, I decided to take a “Sunscreen”-like shot at doing the same.

Software should be simple and intuitive. You should never have to read manuals. Most people never use 95 percent of the features of their word processor.

When you print your home page, it should be readable on an 8.5×11-inch piece of paper. If there are graphics, they should print normally and legibly in black and white.

I canceled my subscription to Wired years ago after it ceased being relevant. I continued to receive Internet World. Then in February 1998, Internet World regrouped and became a weekly, and Internet World subscribers started receiving Byte. I didn’t subscribe to Byte, never liked it. Then Byte went out of business, and its subscribers started receiving Wired. I’m back to throwing out Wired.

I think PriceLine.Com is a cool idea for buying airline tickets. But I’d never use it. If I travel on business, my company pays for it. If on pleasure, I’ll use frequent flyer miles. And if my family is going on vacation, cost is my least concern. Scheduling trips around the best times for my three kids to eat and sleep is the real challenge.

And I hate frequent flyer programs – hate them. You need a Ph.D. to understand all the junk they send you. I don’t ever want to think about it. I just want upgrades to happen, miles to rack up when I buy stuff and make calls, and free trips to happen when I want them. I know people who boondoggle just to get “premier” status to get automatic updates. I don’t even know what “premier” status is.

I am 50th percentile in height and weight. Which means airline seats, movie theatre seats and rental cars are all designed for me. Also means the stores are always out of my size. Always.

I surf the Web with Java off, JavaScript on.

Run MS Word (pre-Word 2000). Type “I’d like to see Bill Gates dead.” Highlight the text, and go to the thesaurus. This tip provided by InteractiveWeek, which I read cover-to- cover every week.

I don’t trust the Live Update feature (or bug, take your pick) in MS Windows. Many programs, such as Norton Utilities, allow you to download updates to your software automatically or semi-automatically. But what else is going on?

I still don’t use speed dial. I have many phone numbers memorized.

I write down all my passwords. And my phone numbers.

I have a 4-gigabyte hard disk, and only about 100 megabytes of free space. I have 32 megs of RAM. My first computer had 1 meg of RAM and a 20-meg hard disk. I have considered online backup. I also am considering getting a CD-ROM writer to just burn a hard disk.

MP3 and DVD do not interest me. I like to go to Blockbuster to rent movies. But Blockbuster continues to lose money. Pizza services should deliver movies.

I want all my photos to be digital.

I have online banking but can’t do wire transfers online.

I used TurboTax to do my taxes. I then printed them out and filed the papers.

On my last business trip, the plane we were supposed to use had hydraulic problems. Then they substituted another plane and made us wait 45 minute for a seat belt that was missing from the flight attendant’s jump seat. The plane was about one-third full; there were plenty of places the flight attendant could have sat. I was late for my meeting, but the airline said sorry. I’m thinking about disputing the charge on my credit card and telling the airline sorry my payment was late.

I use Netopia Timbuktu to remote-control my parents’ computer. I log in and can see their screen. They can see me move the mouse. All this is done over the Internet, so there are no long-distance charges. Timbuktu is one of the coolest pieces of software I have ever used. We each have one of those Logitech Quickcams, but we really need DSL so we can transfer decent video.

For my last birthday, I bought a new wallet. The last one was given to me by my brother Mark for my 16th birthday. He didn’t remember that, but I did. My brother, a high school teacher, has his own page on the Web http://www.haverhill.k12.nh.us/whs/teachers/Mr.%20Heels. My parents do not – yet.

My sons Sam, 5, and Ben, 3, know how to log on to the computer and play their educational CD-ROM games. Recently, one of the CD-ROMs stopped working. I was getting ready to return the product when I noticed all the fingerprints on the CD. I rinsed the CD clean in the kitchen sink, dried it off, stuck it back in, and it worked.

Ben and Sam know what a Web site is. Today, I was working from home, and while I was on a teleconference, Ben picked up the phone and joined the teleconference.

I get a lot of traffic to my law firm Web site (heels-dot-com) from visitors looking for something else.

I have started writing “website” as one word (although the editor doesn’t, yet). Will “phonenumber” be next?

When will every device in my house have an IP address?

In August 1998, I received my first Y2K warning from my bank.

I have another name for Web sites: “applications.” I have another name for word processors: “text browsers.”

Who decided search engines are “portals”?

Most television Web sites are not very good. CNN is an exception.

Every rule has an exception, including this one.

One of the things I learned at MIT is that you can prove something by assuming the opposite is true and disproving the assumption. For example, if you want to prove all numbers are interesting, first assume all numbers are not interesting. That means you can group all numbers into two groups: the interesting and the uninteresting. But one of the numbers in the uninteresting group is the largest, and that’s interesting. Therefore, all numbers are interesting. Actually, my friend Dave taught this one to me. And even though I got my diploma at graduation before he did (they are given out in alphabetical order), I waited to flip my tassel (and my ring, an MIT tradition) until he did.

Why is a mile 5,280 feet?

Portals are consolidating. Legal portals probably will, too. American Lawyer Media’s Counsel Connect and The New York Law Publishing Company’s Law Journal Extra are morphing into Law News Network (http://www.lawnewsnetwork.com/) as we speak. This market space is still wide open.

When I canceled one of my state bar association memberships, I received form letters (signed by the association’s treasurer!) that quoted bar association rules about dues payments. I did not receive any materials that tried to sell me on the benefits of continued voluntary membership. Can you imagine if AAA treated its members this way?

Marketing is not a separate function in any organization. It is a state of mind. The head of marketing should put himself or herself in the shoes of the customer and should shape all communications – from direct mail to bills to service notices – so that a clear, concise and consistent message is delivered. Every sound, piece of paper, Web site, e-mail message and fax is marketing.

There is little difference between engineering and practicing law. Particularly intellectual property law. Even more particularly copyright law. Each involves taking large, abstract problems and breaking them up into smaller problems you can solve.

There is little difference between practicing law and selling Internet services. The same skills are involved. It’s just a different target market (juries vs. businesses) and a different product (your client’s side of the story vs. Internet services).

Whatever happened to http://www.1800musicnow.com (an MCI venture)?

I can’t check my credit card balances online. But some law firms, like Hancock Rothert and Bunshoft LLP (http://www.hrblaw.com) allow their clients to check the status of cases online via an extranet.

You can buy stamps online at http://www.estamp.com, but I’ll probably never do it. I pay bills electronically and send e-mail to friends. I can handle going out for stamps once or twice per year. (A good reason to get out of the house.)

I buy all my stamps at Mail Boxes Etc. I pay more to avoid the lines at the post office.

Not ready for prime time: voice recognition, videoconferencing. Ready for prime time: JFax.

I have used http://www.sixdegrees.com, but it’s a bit spooky. Sometimes you don’t want to know just how close some people are to you.

The Web is growing, but search engines are not keeping up. Many don’t have “add URL” on their home pages anymore. AltaVista (http://www.altavista.com/) is still the most up to date. Keep publishing your lists of your favorite sites on your site, no matter what its size. Size isn’t everything.

I had trouble with my phone service when I moved. After several months of letters and faxes, things are now fixed. But I had to resend one fax because the phone company’s fax machine ran out of ink. This is why I use JFax.

Every lawyer should read How to Write Plain English (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0060112786).

If technology changes faster than you can get a patent, implement a good trade secret policy in your company.

I think XML will be important. So does FindLaw (http://www.lawxml.com/).

Don’t believe everything you read on the Internet.

Don’t believe everything you read anywhere on April 1.

But trust me on the sunscreen.

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