John Akerson's Thoughts

Business, technology and life

Calls to Action

SLOW… Calls to action!  B to B magazine published an interesting article  on calls to action. They pointed out that the average time that passes between someone sending an email, and someone reading it is 25.9 hrs.

There’s another detail. Emails are not necessarily instant-delivery. 3 times since Thanksgiving 2009 I’ve gotten blast-email from Dicks Sporting goods with details on time-limited sales. I was VERY interested in those sales, but in each case, I got the “24-hr sale” email after it had expired. I’m really connected, and check my email many times daily so missing those emails was troubling.calls to action via email

I checked the headers and saw that the emails were sent just a few hours before I got them, and in 2 of the 3 cases, I could confirm that the emails were SENT after the sale ended.

I attempted to contact Dick’s Sporting Goods marketing department to let them know there was a delivery issue with their marketing email system. I went so far as to track down likely people in their Corp HQ on LinkedIN. (I really was interested in a unique Ascender that they had on sale.) I could not ever connect to anyone who really knew what was going on. It was kind of ironic – like they had outsourced their interest in selling products.

I assume their email sales were seen internally as unsuccessful because of a lack of response – but given their time-limits and email performance, the email failures were essentially self-inflicted. The call to action was combined with a time limit that ended before the call to action was sent.

Given the 25.9hr email to read parameter listed in the B to B magazine, I would recommend that everyone sending timed-sale email blast campaigns should extend those sales to at least 72hrs or so.  It would probably also be good to track those emails by setting them up so that the marketing people responsible for the blasts receive the last email in each campaign – so they could monitor not only the success of the sale, but the success of the call to action for the sale.

What do you think? Has this ever happened to you?

January 28th, 2010 Posted by | Business, Competitive Advantage, Continuous Improvement | no comments

The Safe in My Basement

There’s an old Meilink Safe in my basement. It is a fire-resistant, high-security safe. It hasn’t been opened since sometime before 1992. I have no idea what is in it. It could have anything in it…  I’vemy safe tilted it from side to side, and heard something inside it that could be coins. I suspect there may be something of value in it, but I really don’t know.  My curiousity is lit.

There are two ways to get in a safe, destructive and non-destructive. The destructive method would probably involve contacting a local locksmith or safe technician to come by and drill a hole in it, insert a scope, and manually align the combination, and pop the safe open.  If I were to choose to do that, the safe might be repairable, but would no longer be very fire resistant. It would lose some of its value as a safe. I like the safe and I like the idea of having a safe in the basement. I would like to use the safe, as a safe.  I think it would be a shame to open it using destructive methods.  I’m not going to do it this way.

SO – the non-destructive way to open a safe like this involves manipulating the safe’s combination until it opens. I have three options: I could pay a local locksmith or safe technician to do it. I could contact Meilink provide proof of ownership, the serial number, and for a fee they would give me the original factory combination which may still work.  The third way is – I could do it myself.  I’ve decided to do it myself. I really like the idea of a challenge and I want to learn something new.  It isn’t going to be easy, but in addition to having the safe, and having access, I will get to learn something.

I’ve watched the Mythbusters attempt to pick the combination lock on a Meilink safe.  Within their artificial time limit, they could not open it non-destructively. They resorted to drilling the safe.     In that video, they were working on a time-schedule. I have more time to crack my safe.  I’ve read MANY books and papers on cracking safes – manipulating safes. I’ve read about lock construction – about how turning the dial turns the wheels, how the mechanisms are made, etc. My career, broadly speaking, is computers, and Matt Blaze’s “Safecracking for the computer scientist” could have been written for ME, personally.  Leonard Gallion’s “How Mechanical Safes Work” was useful too.    I’ve probably watched 50 videos on YouTube.  (As an unrelated side note, for someone visual like me, YouTube is a FANTASTIC way to learn almost anything.) And I registered on a lockpicking website.

So  – what have I learned?  Beyond the secrecy of the locksmith profession – a sort of extra layer of security through obscurity, I have learned that persisting with the “learn how to crack a safe” approach, is going to be EXTREMELY challenging. Why is that?

Ultimately, safes are designed to be … safe.   They are designed to keep people out. With a 100-number dial, there could be either 3 or 4 numbers.  Theoretically – if there are 3 numbers, that combinationmeans there are 1 million possible combinations.  4 numbers means there are something on the order of 100 million combinations.  I say theoretically, because in reality, there will be less, because some numbers cannot be used, and there may be some play, slush, or inexactness requirements of the combination numbers.  (In locksmith terms,  a dialing tolerance.)  Dialing tolerance is my GOOD FRIEND because a larger tolerance means there are fewer possible combinations.  Assuming a “1″  number of dialing tolerence, and a combination of 25-50-25-50, it is entirely possible that 24-49-24-49, 25-50-25-50, 26-51-26-51, or any combination of (24-26)(49-51)(24-26)(49-51) would open the safe.  It may not seem like much, but that sort of slush could reduce 1 million combinations to somewhere between 64,000 and 300,763. Some of the numbers on the wheel cannot be used – there are places that can ONLY be used for setting a new combination, and other places that can ONLY be used for opening the lock. If those places account for 20% of the wheel’s number, that lowers the total combination possibilities to something between 51,200 – 242,406. That’s better than 1 million, but still would be exhaustive to manually dial. It gets better than that because some lock makers don’t want safe owners to set “bad” combinations. They don’t want you to set your combination, for instance, to 2-4-6-8, or 50-49-48-47… To quote from Matt Blaze’s paper,

“A typical example is Sargent and Greenleaf[Cos01], which recommends for its three-number locks the combination as a whole not consist of a monotonically increasing or decreasing series, that adjacent numbers differ by at least ten graduations,and that 25% of the dial be avoided for the final number (although the mechanism itself on S&G locks requires avoiding only 6% of the dial). Acceptable combinations under these recommendations comprise less than 50% of the usable combination keyspace.”

This leaves only 22,330 combinations. That’s quite an improvement from 1 million, but I am not going to map out 22 thousand combinations and try them all. It is more valuable, I think, to understand the premise, than to do a brute-force type of attack.

I’ve learned that almost all Meilink safes of this vintage were made with either a Yale or a Sargent & Greenleaf lock. It would be great to know what TYPE of lock mechanism it has, – because knowing the model or type of lock would help me narrow whether it was a 3 or 4 number combination. Unfortunately, the combination lock mechanism doesn’t seem to be a Yale, and does not seem to be S&G either.

I’ve manipulated the lock  many dozens of times, spinning it slowly, rapidly, listening, feeling, and noting clicks, sticks, clanks, and all sorts of actual and false points at which it seems there may be something happening. There are about 20 of those.  I’ve recorded those numbers in spreadsheets, and developed a mathematical way to extrapolate all possible combinations from the group of numbers that seems to make noise or feeling differences in the turning of the dial.

Assuming I’ve felt and/or heard the right points – I have a list of numbers.  My quest has begun.

What kind of quests do you plan this year? How are you approaching your personal quest? Are you taking a destructive or a non-destructive path? Are you paying for results, or working for results, or some combination?  Do you have a safe in your basement? Do you have a potential treasure waiting to be unlocked and discovered? How are you gaining knowledge?

(Followup: it took me just over 2 months – checking through possible combinations, but I did get into the safe. It contained a few generic National Republican Medallions from President Reagan, one partial set of faux silver-plated silverware, and some worthless costume jewelry.)

January 13th, 2010 Posted by | Life, Security, Security | 12 comments

My 6 Targets in 2010

How do you succeed?  How do you define your success?  How do you measure it, track it, and control it?

I have a formula. At the beginning of each new year, I look at what I did during the past year. I look at the things that I was successful at, and what I have failed at. I try to learn from the failures and successes, so that I continually improve – shrink failures, and expand successes. I am targeting 6 things to succeed at, during this wonderful new year. I have 6 targets in 2010.  Those items target a variety of my needs and wants. They fall into these 6 categories:

  • Personal
  • Financial
  • Professional
  • Physical
  • Spiritual
  • Emotional

For me – when I find something I want to succeed at, it is essential that I make a list. I need to attach times, dates, and metrics that I can measure to the list.  I won’t explain all of my goals for this year, but here is a sample of my first 4:


1. Be a better husband.
2. Be a better father.
3. Be a better son.
4. Be a better brother.
5. Be a better friend.
6. Be a better time-manager.


1. Set and make targeted retirement contributions to 401k, Roth and IRA.
2. Update Will, Power of Atty, Estate and Medical legal papers.
3. Monitor and manage existing retirement and investment accounts.
4. Perfect and market the Personal Professional Competitive Advantage system.


1. Be published again.
2. Add another 500 followers on Twitter.
3. Write 36 high-quality blog entries during 2010.
4. Develop my business – adding at least 12 customers during 2010.
5. Develop my website – adding at least $1000/mo in revenue by December 2010.
6. Develop successful partnerships with other industry professionals.
7. Complete at least 4 ivy-league college courses.
8. Perfect and market the Personal Professional Competitive Advantage system.
9. Be a better time-manager.


1. Participate in more charity events.
2. Lower my weight by 25 lbs by the end of 2010. (12 lbs by June 30)
3. Lower my cholesterol – targeting sub-195 for total cholesterol.
For nearly all of these listed items, I have developed some targeted dates, goals, and in many cases, some sub-goals also.  This is what works for me.  In some of those cases, it is very difficult to quantify. How do I decide what it means to be a better husband? How do I measure that? Those things are incredibly complex and maybe nobody really understands them.  Yet, for me, putting them on the list, ordering them and thinking about them is sure to help me to address them. For other goals – they are not really within my control. How can I FORCE a company to publish what I write? How can I force readers to read it?  I really can’t. All I can do is to continue writing. I have to look on writing as a bit of a field of dreams. “If I build it, they will come.” (Perhaps another way of looking at it is like this: “If I build it really well, and advertise it, and market it, and have unique and high-quality content, and ask them to visit, I really hope they will come”) So – I will build it – and ADD IT TO MY LIST OF GOALS. I don’t think that adding it to my list will ensure it, but I think it makes a HUGE difference.

So – my personal questions for you are: How do you map out and plan your success? How do you break it down, monitor it, and manage your successes?
In 2010, how will you reach your goals?

January 4th, 2010 Posted by | Business, Competitive Advantage, Continuous Improvement, Life | no comments