In l989 computer engineer Tim Berners-Lee needed a new tool. The Internet was fine, as far as it went. But his fellow researchers at CERN, the European Particle Physics Laboratory in Geneva, Switzerland, required something that would provide a common viewing and presentation layer. So, based on some earlier work, this Oxford graduate whipped up a little invention he called the World Wide Web. Since then Berners-Lee has become Sir Berners-Lee, and every business across the globe has been scrambling to best employ his ever-evolving tool.

In the face of yet another search engine listing shift and many other changes, the Middlesex/Somerset chapter of the New Jersey Association of Women Business Owners offers the marketing roundtable "Internet Promotion" on Monday, August 15, at 8:15 a.m. at Arbor Glen in Bridgewater. Cost: $30. Call 732-873-5636. Suzanne Engels, founder of WebArtNTech (www.webartntech.com) speaks on web design and marketing options; Rosemarie Strawn, president of Positive Actions, talks on "Promoting Small Business to Big Business;" and Ellen Silverman of the ESA marketing firm takes up the intriguing subject of "Promoting Your Unique Youness."

Engels was raised in suburban Chicago and in Boston. She earned a BFA in bronze sculpture in 1976 from the University of Illinois. Balancing this artistic training, she then gained an associate degree in digital electronics and a master’s degree in computer science. "I remember my first computer encounter and exclaiming ‘Oh, cool.’" she says.

After a brief stint as a draftsperson, she was hired by Bell Labs to improve its websites. In l995 she joined the company’s elite design team to develop multinational portals across time and cultures. Then in 2002, after 21 years with Bell Labs, Engels formed her own company, WebArtNTech, which serves as an information architectural consultant for large and small website owners. She also teaches as an adjunct professor for the Rothman Institute of Entrepreneurial Studies at Fairleigh Dickinson University.

"Getting into the web world need not be an all-or-nothing decision for a small company," says Engles. "It is possible, and advisable, to take a partial plunge depending on your type of business." How deep and in what direction a company’s involvement might go depends on a host of factors, ranging from available cash to specific needs.

The bottom line. You can get your company website designed for $40. You can also get your wife’s portrait painted for $25. But in either case, do you want to risk it? On the other hand, you definitely don’t want to over-pay. So how much of the money spent on website design buys quality, and how much just purchases glitz.

The national average companies spend to launch a website is $2,500. Engels says that in our area this amount should purchase a mid-sized business a solid online presence on Google’s or Yahoo’s first page, along with nice graphics, good full-time support, and some minimal online sales capabilities. Another $900 to $1,200 annually can get the average firm a four-to-six page site, continually upgraded and supported, with first page presence. (WebArtNTech typically comes in at about $800 for this service.)

Competition has brought prices way down, and bargains are indeed out there. But expertise, knowledge of your business niche, and support reliability must also be factored in against eye-catching prices.

Engels’ partial-plunge plan not only graduates cost, but also helps custom-tailor your technology to your specific business needs. Companies with an existing sales system need not kick off a website with a shopping cart and full online sales capability. Rather, Engles advises, let that initial site serve as a simple marketing tool and promotion medium.

Establish the site for customers as a source of expertise – something that will guide them to your store or catalog. Then, using these customers as a base, perform market analysis. These numbers, along with the record of hits, will tell you when online sales should be added to the site, and what percentage of the total orders the site may be expected to bring in.

Goodbye Meta Tag. Until last autumn, Yahoo, Google, and most major search engines operated their search rankings based on their own ultra-secret Meta Tag codes. Depending on the engine, a key words list was set up that would link words typed in by the browser to certain buzz words in the first page and title of the website. Those sites with the most buzz words got the highest rankings.

Seems fair, but businesses began edging out the competition by larding their sites with key words, even when they did not apply to their products. A major clothing manufacturer would drag in unsuspecting browsers trying to get to health foods, for example. Google and Yahoo decided enough was enough and switched the key word identifiers to the title lines as they appear on the search page.

"Now putting in the company owner’s name will lead you to the site quicker more often than will typing in the name itself," says Engels. Typing in the kind of running shoes and your location, rather than the brand, will lead you to a blended search page of local stores, manufacturer outlets, and online catalogs.

This change actually narrows the marketing gap between the regional store and the giant chains. "Actually, getting more hits to your site need not be a competition," says Engels. "If the smaller company establishes itself as a niche, serving the interests of related and larger companies, everybody makes out." Linking strategies can easily result in 50 or more websites feeding your site. Beyond the obvious links with the main manufacturer, a little hunting can turn up user sites where you can swap links. Your hiking boots might be a good match with the local outdoors club, for example.

Pay-per-hit listings have expanded greatly with the advantage going to the smarter, not the richer, bidders. While the huge company pays $2.50 per hit on "hiking boots," the smaller firm can regionalize by listing under "Hiking boots – Mercer County." Selecting four counties and bidding at the minimum 10 cents per hit can get that product on the same engine’s first page with a more local – and more likely – customer base.

Tech match. It is vital, Engels says, to have the company image coordinated both online and off. If you have an existing logo, keep it the same for your website. Put a picture of your plant or store on the site, interior and exterior, to provide customers with an overall feel for what you offer (and proof that your business is a tangible entity).

Matching the appearance of coupons offered online with those in your newsletter and in print ads increases their effect through familiarity.

"This matching is the same with your sales system," says Engels. The goal is an integrated store, catalog, and online sales system, well coordinated with a solid stock flow process and fulfillment. "Just adding a shopping cart can overwhelm a company with both stock and orders," she adds.

While Berners-Lee’s invention at first sent a shiver through the business community, by now most are getting paid back in full for their investment. Now it is time for the next step. By making the web a seamless cog in sales and marketing machines, a firm can serve its clients from all angles and rake in new business – before tomorrow’s marketing tool is invented.

– Bart Jackson

Talking, Still Talking About The Weather

‘I’ll love you ’til old men stop talking about the weather," sang folk guitarist Gordon Lightfoot. He could not have chosen a more universal hyperbole for expressing the immortality of his passion. Even as we grow seemingly more removed from nature, our concerns with the elements appear to increase. We now want to know a lot more than if it going to rain tomorrow.

What can we do about the one-half of the global warming greenhouse gasses for which man is directly responsible? Should we let our government shut down the free flow of National Weather Service information, giving private firms like AccuWeather a monopoly? And can new technology extend the currently accurate five-day forecast to ten days within the next decade?

To help folks of all ages quell their weather anxieties, the PrincetonChamber of Commerce presents a lecture on "Being Right Even When You Are Wrong: The Art of the Forecast" on Wednesday, August 17, at 7:30a.m. at the Harrison Conference Center in Plainsboro. Cost: $25. Call 609-924-1776. Speaker Dick Wetherald, a research meteorologist and frequent spokesperson for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), speaks on how the Princeton-based Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory constructs long and short range prognostications.

Always a weather hound, Wetherald grew up in the mild climes of Fanwood and headed to Michigan University for his education and for more meteorological extremes. "I was actually disappointed in the state’s upper peninsula," he says. "I had expected huge amounts of snow, but all I got was cold and lots of ice."

Overcoming his disappointment, Wetherald stayed and in l963 earned a B.S. in civil engineering (the major that encompassed the school’s meteorology department). He then earned a master’s degree in meteorology. After graduation he joined Westinghouse Defense Inc., and helped design the then-novel parallel forecasting process.

Unfortunately, the system involved massive expenditures on primitive computers, of which Westinghouse’s senior management grew leery, finally closing the operation. Yet within months, NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, decided that the project was worthwhile, and hired Wetherald, who has worked for the agency ever since. Today, working at NOAA’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, Wetherald develops innovative models to project global climate changes into the future.

A quick glance at www.NOAA.gov/ shows that this vast service does more than satisfy the idle curiosity of Gordon Lightfoot’s old men. The Defense Department depends on NOAA’s Air Resource Laboratories in Boulder, Colorado, along with both the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean Institutes. The entire shipping industry, fishermen, and many coastal municipalities depend on the Hurricane Center in Miami and the Severe Storms Center in Normandy, Oklahoma. All environmental organizations are fed data from the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Lab. And, of course, NOAA’s National Weather Service provides at least a few minutes of objective reporting in countless TV news shows. (To check weather anywhere, visit www.NWS.NOAA.gov/.)

The stuff of forecasts. While not infallible, the National Weather Service’s five-day weather predictions are something you can take to bank with more trust than ever before. "Much of this improvement has come from the basic collection of data," says Wetherald. To make short range predictions, meteorologists need an accurate picture of initial conditions. This entails collecting areas of precipitation, air and surface temperatures, regional cloud types and humidity, low and upper wind speed and direction, and dozens of other variables.

In decades past such data collection depended on spotters, who would record conditions and phone them into a central station. While most of this human labor has now been ceded to satellites, radio sound balloons, and machines, an entire network of human spotters is still employed in cases of tornadoes and hurricanes.

Once the wind direction and other data is collected, it is fed into a mathematical model that extrapolates conditions for the next few days based on all atmospheric factors. "Here’s the tricky part," says Wetherald. "Short term weather forecasting uses four or five models. Experience has taught us that each is a little more or a little less accurate. So we average the five models, weighing each based on its accuracy."

Free weather speech. All of these results, and a great deal more, is published on the National Weather Services’ website, www.nws.noaa.gov/. Short and long-term regional forecasts, and even climate forecasts, are available. Weather from the past in any region, advisories for air, water, and land travel are exhaustively covered, and you can track Dennis or any weather condition on the site. Everything this government agency gathers, it makes immediately available to the public for free. But several corporations are seeking an end to the government’s exercise of such free speech.

Recently a group of weather-data repackaging companies sued the U.S. government to halt the National Weather Service’s free website. These companies, such as AccuWeather Inc., take this free weather information and repackage and customize it for specific users. Their clients include your nightly news stations, aviation centers, and marine areas.

"It’s the dumbest suit I’ve ever heard of," says Wetherald. "These already rich corporations want to stop the free dissemination of NWS (National Weather Service) information so they can have a monopoly on the weather."

Into the future. "We have now invented a way of reformulating the world into a mathematical model. And this is probably forecasting’s greatest advance," says Wetherald. These models are never 100 percent. As mentioned, each has its relative degree of accuracy, which in itself is carefully calculated. This has led to a very dependable five-day forecast, which in the last decade has turned the TV weatherman into a serious reporter.

The greatest obstacle to a totally accurate forecast lies in our limits of observation. "There is, for example, no way to measure vertical wind," says Wetherald, "and even if we could, nature is never quite kind enough to conform to our models." Such incalculables get mathematically balanced with relative surety into the equations. But Wetherald still predicts an accurate 10-day forecast by the next decade or so.

Changing climates. Determining the shape of the world for the next 200 years is the task of Wetherald and the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory. "Climate is nothing more than daily weather drawn out over a long period," he says. "If, for instance, we got serious about limiting the human amount of greenhouse gasses we put in the atmosphere, that climate could substantially change."

Wetherald and his team develop climatic models, which are similar to, but necessarily more complex than, the daily weather models. Most of us think of the atmosphere as uneven layers of air stacked up and floating around us. But this is only a two-dimensional view of our three-dimensional globe.

"Think of the earth as a core, surrounded by clusters of three-dimensional boxes shifting around it," says Wetherald. "Each box, not actually square, contains a weather situation – air of certain weight." Since temperature and humidity and other factors all make up an air box’s weight, this weight becomes the main factor to be calculated.

Thus a box may be valuated at a weight of 3X, floating at a height of 500 milibars (about 18,000 feet). One of the real problems with climatic modeling is that scientists never have the secure base of provable data that they have in short-range forecasts, Wetherald points out. "Even your initial conditions must be mathematically extrapolated. You are grounded in theory from the beginning."

Once these boxes of atmosphere are determined and lined up around the globe, the model gets employed to show how they will all move. Here lies another hurdle. The calculations are fed onto computer for modeling. "But computers can only add, subtract, multiply, and divide," says Wetherald. "They cannot determine differentials, cannot do slopes. They cannot do the calculating we need, so instead we must spoonfeed the computers math that they can handle."

So Wetherald and his team have invented what they term finite differences – mathematical language that the computer can comprehend and act upon. This struggle continues as long as new data appears for the model.

When mathematician Isaac Newton sat under the apple tree and the concept of gravity hit him on the head, he had to run home and invent differential calculus to explain why apples fell to earth. For the inquiring scientist, the concept alone is never enough. It must be measured, experienced, logged, then finally predicted. To sculpt all this data into fact, scientists have had to continually invent their own tools for the job. For Wetherald, today’s new tools are mathematical equations. Who can predict what tomorrow’s meteorological tools will be? It’s enough to keep old and young men talking about the weather.

– Bart Jackson

AmeriCorps Wants U

The New Jersey Community Development Corporation is recruiting recent college graduates from Mercer County to be part of Americorps, the "domestic Peace Corps." AmeriCorps prepares young men and women for careers in public service and in social services through rigorous community service assignments and an array of educational activities designed to develop leadership skills.

Individuals selected for the program are expected to work 40 hours a week with at-risk children and teens, and with homeless and impoverished families. Work assignments are throughout northern New Jersey. In exchange for a year of service, AmeriCorps members receive a living stipend, full health benefits, and an educational award of $4,725 to pay off student loans or for graduate school tuition.

The next class of the Community Leaders program starts in September,and runs through mid-August, 2006. Send a resume and cover letter to AmeriCorps, Box 6976, Paterson 07509. For more information, call Jennifer Shukaitis at 973-413-1623.

Backpacks Needed

It’s back-to-school time already, and some of our neighbors need a little help in making it through the first few days. To help homeless kids feel as confident as their classmates do – and as excited about the start of a new year – HomeFront is asking for donations of the basics.

It is asking for money for school field trips, new clothes, new sneakers, backpacks, and school supplies. Anyone who can help is encouraged to call 609-989-9417 and to ask for Michelle.

Find an Intern

Raritan Valley Community College is looking for a few good employers to take advantage of its talent pool. The school can provide interns who have up-to-date training and skills in a variety of areas, including accounting, biotechnology, computer programming, communications, public relations, computer networking, cyber security, criminal justice, graphic design, management, marketing, legal, PC hardware and software support, and web page development.

No fee is charged to the employer to post an internship opportunity with the college. The work assigned must be meaningful, challenging, and in the intern’s field of study. The workplace must be safe and the experience must include a learning/mentoring/supervising component.

For additional information, contact Linda Levitt, the school’s internship and placement coordinator, at 908-526-1200, ext. 8437.

Health Watch

Capital Health System’s Family Health Center started serving patients on August 1 in a new facility across the street from the hospital’s main campus in Trenton. The new center offers obstetric, pediatric, and adult healthcare services. The $2.5 million expansion enables the Family Health Center to increase from nine to 22 exams rooms allowing patients more privacy and confidentiality when meeting with their physicians. The new 14,000 square foot location is expected to reduce patient wait time and expedite the registration process.

The Family Health Center at CHS is slated is located at 433 Bellevue Avenue. Hours of operation are Monday through Friday, 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Appointments are required and can be made by calling 609-394-4296.

Previously, the Family Health Center was located in smaller quarters within the Mercer Campus. In 2004 an estimated 16,257 adult patient visits, 11,500 prenatal visits, and 1,166 pediatric visits were provided by the CHS Family Health Center’s medical team.

A wide range of specialty healthcare services will be available at the new Family Health Center, including cardiology, endocrinology, gynecology, neurology, ophthalmology, podiatry, and hematology/oncology.

Healthcare programs such as the Latino community outreach program, CUNA, HealthStart Prenatal Services, BraVa, and Mercer County Tuberculosis Services are located at the Family Health Center to ensure easy access for participants.

For more information on the Family Health Center at CHS, call 609-394-6091.

Corporate Angels

Yardville National Bancorp and its employees are donating money and food to ensure that people in the communities they serve have enough to eat this summer. The bank’s newly-established Summer Food Relief Program was created in response to the increasing demand for food in the summer months. This initiative will help the children who go hungry due to lack of meals when school is not in session.

YNB employees made both food and monetary contributions to the Emergency Services Community Food Pantry. In addition, the bank itself presented grants for food relief to Catholic Charities, Trenton Area Soup Kitchen, and Mercer Street Friends in the amount of $2,500 each.

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