Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Apple Watch this

The challenge for the Apple Watch is actually more than one.

Here’s what’s on my wrist right now:

It seems like it would be really easy to convince me to consolidate into an Apple Watch, but that’s actually not true.  

The Apple Watch doesn’t really remind me of a watch that I would wear.  I like Franck Muller-style blocky, rectangular watches, and I’m sure someone will come up with an Apple Watch theme that can make the face look like one, but I don’t wear a tank watch and it’s not what I think about when I think about owning and wearing something on a daily basis.  My vision of the watch that I wear is something classically round and refined and that’s not what the Apple Watch looks or feels like to me.

There are only 3 Apple Watches.  Sure, they can (and will) be customized with not only the straps made by Apple, but those that are made by other Apple accessory makers.  Frankly, I would imagine that there will be a market created to do cool things to the exterior of the watch casing — if you don’t believe me, just Google about Rolexes and PVD coating; the industry already exists, you just don’t know about it yet.  For that matter, take a look at all the companies that sell customized versions of high-end watches that have jewels embedded into the casing, etc.

The watch that you wear is and has been a badge.  I don’t need a watch that is submersible to 4,000ft below sea level with a helium release valve any more than anyone needs a Mont Blanc pen to sign documents.  In my opinion, at least until the point that this changes, the watch has been as much a piece of visible jewelry as it has been functional.  Watches are extremely visible badges and ways to allow people to label you and you to label yourself.  If you buy into the Apple Watch and try to fit it to that mold, the reality is that you will be badging yourself with one of only three (for now) models … no matter how much you sink into customizing it.  Consider the fact that there are 8.7 million results on Google when you input “unique engagement ring” — visible jewelry has always seemed to have a need to feel unique.

Luxury wristwatches are all about the story that you tell yourself when you buy and wear the watch.  The story I tell myself about my watch is that it is tough and timeless and recognizable and functional when a SCUBA dive.  Of course, I can SCUBA dive with a sub-$50 watch and achieve the same result, but it’s the rest of the story that makes me wear my watch and that made me invest in it to begin with.  From the time that I was in high school, my yardstick of success was getting to a point where I could afford my watch without it being a major budgetary issue.  I also tell myself that my watch is portable wealth: it’s immediately recognizable anywhere in the word and exchangeable for local currency and even if the value placed on it isn’t the same as the value I place on it, I know that I’ll be walking away with more than I would wearing a generic G-shock.

One thing about luxury wristwatches that people that don’t care about luxury wristwatches don’t know about is the mechanism.  For the most part, while you do have to get a nice watch serviced, you do not have to plug it in or get a battery replaced — the mechanism inside the watch stores energy when you wear it and basically will allow it to run perpetually (that’s the reason why luxury watch brands such as Rolex call their mechanisms “perpetual”).  Typically when I’ve worn watches that have required battery replacement, I basically throw them in a drawer when they stop working.  Having an everyday wear piece of jewelry that actually has to be plugged in an charged, no matter how cool the charging mechanism might be, it potentially problematic for how I envision my watch to work.

I did not start out with a Fitbit Flex, but now I wear it pretty religiously.  The funny part is that I have no issue wearing it on exactly the same wrist as my watch — I actually like the story that I tell when I have both on the same wrist because it’s an interesting juxtaposition of wearable fitness technology and classic design and function.  Also, I have the ability to detach one from the other: I can choose to not wear the watch, not wear the Fitbit or not wear either one or switch either one to an opposite wrist.  Note that I’ve definitely had issues keeping my Flex charged and remembering to put it back on my wrist when I take it off to charge it.

What Apple is going to have to do is make the Apple Watch something that I cannot live without.  Make the watch so much a part of the ecosystem that it becomes a tool that I absolutely have to use because it improves my workflow and becomes a part of my life.

PS — I’ve found the silent alarm feature of my Fitbit Flex to be hard to live without, especially when I’m on a tour bus or sharing a room with people on different schedules.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Tenley Project™ 2013

I'm a little bit behind here.  It's December 14 and we are racing to ramp up with the Tenley Project™ in 2013 we have in previous years.

Last year we donated 55 American Girl dolls and a matching $5,000 donation to the Children's Hospital in Denver, which is amazing.

But let me back up a little bit.

In 2010 we started this whole thing off with a holiday lesson for my 5-year-old daughter -- you can read the original story here.

Over the past several years, through the generosity of people around the world, Tenley has succeeded in donating hundreds of American Girl dolls (and other toys) to the Children's Hospital in Denver and through the generosity of and anonymous donor, thousands of dollars in cash donations to the hospital as well.

Just after Thanksgiving, Seth Godin posted about charitable giving (you can read the whole post if you would like) and here's a quote from it:
Why on earth would a rational person give money to charity--particularly a charity that supports strangers? What do they get? 
A story. 
In fact, every time someone donates to a good cause, they're buying a story, a story that's worth more than the amount they donated.
The success of the Tenley Project™ has been attributed largely to the transparency that we've shared with Tenley's story and the transparency of Tenley herself in telling people about her project.  We get accused, a lot, about turning this project into something more commercial than the original message, but I can personally assure that nothing could be further from the truth.  As with anything that grows beyond the original vision, some amount of structure has to be put in-place in order to ensure that the goal is achieved.

We have been lucky enough, over the past several years, to have the assistance of both friends and family in delivering all of the gifts to the hospital on Christmas day.  For the past several years, my parents have been in Colorado and been able to assist Tenley in delivering her gifts.  This project has been especially impactful on my mom who, as I was growing up, worked in a restaurant in California that donated its proceeds to Children's Hospital at Stanford and still works today with charitable organizations that fund the Children's Hospital at Stanford; for her, this is simply her granddaughter carrying on a tradition that has always been near to her heart.

As this project has progressed, we still take the time to reinforce with Tenley the original reason why she started this project, which go back to those original 3 reasons by Anthony Robbins:

  1. Give with no expectation of receiving anything in return; do it because it feels good.
  2. Give when its hardest for you to do so -- when it's hardest is the best time to give.
  3. Give away a percentage (10% is what he recommends) of your money to reset your brain that there is actually enough.
Tenley now spends her time during throughout the year saving up money to simply give away to her project -- I'm proud to say that she has learned these lessons well at a pretty young age and I hope that she embraces these lessons for the rest of her life.

Our promise remains the same as it has in past years: if you donate money to the Tenley Project™, 100% of the money goes directly to support it.  That means that we pay the tax effect, we ensure that everything gets delivered, etc. -- absolutely no part of the money donated is used for anything other than directly benefiting Children's Hospital.  As with the past couple of years, we again have a donor that will match donations up to $5,000.00, so every dollar donated actually provides the hospital with a cash donation of an additional dollar.

I am beyond proud of the fact that people that have donated in previous years have been querying us about the project -- some folks have even already donated for 2013 and we just received a doll in the mail the other day for Tenley to donate.  It seems as though Tenley's project has become part of a holiday tradition for people around the country, even when the support for on our side it is a little slow out of the gate, and I am overwhelmed by the generosity of people that we haven't even met.

We know that the economy is still tough this year and that you might not be in the position to be able to donate anything, but we would ask that you do us the favor of sharing the Tenley Project™ on Twitter, Facebook, and any other social media services -- the power of this project has and remains word-of-mouth on social media.

Enjoy the holiday season.

PS -- there are tons of charities out there with amazing stories that inspire the spirit of giving.  I hope that if you are able (or even if it seems really hard for you to do so), that you show some generosity towards the charity of your choice.  As with previous years, this is not some additional pitch to help out my daughter, rather it is an acknowledgement by me that participating in my daughter's project has greatly changed my outlook on giving and regardless of the charity you choose, I hope that you will experience the same results.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Tenley Project™ 2012

It's hard to believe that it's year 3 of the Tenley Project™.  What started as a simple lesson in 2010 has turned into nothing short of extraordinary because of the generosity of friends and strangers from around the globe -- you can read the original story of how this all got started here if you're interested.

This year I'm going to start at the end of last year.

Although pictures are worth a thousand words, I'm going to share with you the story behind this picture.

Thanks to the generosity of all of you, Tenley delivered over 50 American Girl dolls to Children's Hospital on Christmas morning last year.

On her way through the lobby of Children's Hospital while carrying bags of dolls to the volunteer office, Tenley noticed the little girl in this picture sitting with her family on one of the benches, enjoying the sunlight in the atrium.  Tenley asked if she could deliver this little girl a doll and we told her that she absolutely could.

Tenley went back into the volunteer office where all of the dolls where located and searched through the bags of dolls until she located one that she felt was perfect for this little girl.  She grabbed the bag and made her way across the lobby, heading straight for the girl without any hesitation, regardless of the fact that the girl was hooked up to a fairly significant amount of medical equipment that trailed behind her on a rolling rack.

When Tenley went to hand the doll to the girl and asked the parents permission to do so, she discovered that not a single person int he family, including the little girl, spoke English -- no one was able to answer her.  Undeterred, Tenley put down the bag, opened the American Girl box, removed the doll, and handed the doll directly to the little girl, taking care not to disturb any of the lines or tubes that attached her to the equipment.

The girl looked questioningly at Tenley for a moment, not entirely sure what to do with the unexpected gift and Tenley smiled at her and motioned with her hands that the doll was, in fact, a gift.  Disbelievingly, the little girl slowly wrapped her arms around the doll and lit up with a huge smile that was infectious to not only Tenley, but to the rest of the adults around observing, including the parents of the little girl.  Words, as they say, were not required.

This year in 2012, I'm proud to support my daughter's efforts to again bring happiness to children at Children's Hospital in Denver.  In sharing this story over the past year, we find ourselves again lucky enough to have an anonymous donor that is upping the level and will match dollar-for-dollar up to $10,000.00 in donations with the matching donation delivered as a cash donation to Children's Hospital -- for every dollar that is donated to purchase a doll, the hospital gets a dollar in cash.

I was recently involved in a charity event where the founder of the charity explained that in his studies, one of the biggest things that people complained about with charities was the fact that not 100% of the donation goes to the charity itself.  Rest assured that for the Tenley Project™, not only does 100% of the donation amount go to buy dolls, but I personally cover the sales tax and any gaps between the amounts donated and the actual purchase price of the doll; add in the anonymous matching cash donation, and it's safe to say that around 210% of the cash donations go to charity.

As with previous years: if you feel inspired to participate in giving something to someone to make their holiday season more enjoyable, I certainly hope that you do so.  If you find yourself inspired to donate my daughter's project, you can do so on the donation page of the Tenley Project™ website -- any amount is appreciated greatly (and don't forget that every single dollar donated for a doll is matched with a dollar cash donation that goes direct to the hospital).  I know the economy is tough and if you find yourself not in a position to be able to donate to this or any other charity this season, I would ask that you do me the great favor of sharing the Tenley Project™ on Twitter, Facebook, your own blog, or any other means at your disposal to spread the word.

Happy holidays.

PS -- This is one from me to you: giving really does reset your brain to realize that there is more than enough and that you have more than enough.  I've admitted before and will admit again that I have found tons of reasons in the past not to give, and I know that the economy is still really tough and that the path of least resistance is not to give at all.  Over the last 2 years of working on this project, I have been inspired by those that have given, even those that have only been able to contribute a little, which reinforces the simple fact that it is more important than ever to give when it is hardest to do so.  As always, this is just no-bullshit advice from me.  No strings attached and not any sort of pitch to get you to participate in my daughter's project.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Your car as another device on your data plan

There's really no reason this can't happen right now.

Take a look at the shared data plans currently being heavily promoted by both AT&T and Verizon pooled data plans that allow you to have up to 10 devices share the same pool of gigabytes of data; there's really no reason that a data pipe directly into your car couldn't simply be another device.

From the carrier perspective the value is an additional monthly access fee for the device and the consumer likely jumping into a higher data tier to accommodate the increased data consumption

On the consumer side, it makes it even easier to consume data and data-intensive services in the car without needing to pair your phone or even remember your phone in order to make use of them (note that if you're like me and you never remember to charge your phone in the car, it also means that you don't have to run all the battery-draining services to power the cool stuff in your car).

Also on the consumer side is a more seamless experience, especially for the non-prosumer: just turn on the car and fire up Pandora or let everyone in your SUV browse the internet, as opposed to having to pair with Bluetooth and turn on the hotspot mode on your phone.

This isn't the same argument of "I already have a cell phone, why do I need a car phone?", this is fundamentally more different based on how the carriers are now pricing data and devices and is due to the level of connectivity we expect in our vehicles.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

iPhone 4S un-cased

Today is the first time that I've had my iPhone 4S out of a case since the day I bought it.  This didn't happen by choice, it happened because my Mophie power charging case supply literally fell apart last night when I plugged it in.

Holding the iPhone with no case reminded me of why I bought it in the first place -- how amazing the design of the iPhone 4 series was and remains to be.  I had become so used to such a large case on the phone that I wasn't used to it easily slipping into a pocket; I wasn't used to how easy it is to type on the screen without a heavy plastic edge blocking the typing surface.

I have to be honest: it's hard to want to go back.  Yes, I had to already charge the phone once today as it drained down to 30% battery halfway through the day.  But it's still hard to feel like I should cover it back up again or make it any more bulky than it was originally designed to be.

So, for now the iPhone remains unprotected and without spare battery capacity, but man it's nice to look at and use it.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

You're a liar . . .

. . . and so am I.  More frequently than both of us probably suspect.

The question becomes: Do you focus on lie spotting or truth seeking?

Watch the video (click this link if the video doesn't work).

Lying is a cooperative act.

What is school for?

I strongly believe that it is time for schools to stop stealing dreams.

Seth Godin summarizes this very well in his ebook on the subject, appropriately titled: "Stop Stealing Dreams".  You can download it here for free.  Note that this is conveniently formatted as a PDF that you can easily send to your friends with kids and your teachers and the administrators at your school -- I strongly encourage you to do so.

I would also encourage you to watch the TEDx presentation that Seth Godin gave on Stop Stealing Dreams -- it's embedded below or you can click this link to get directly to it.

Here's my personal experience with this: my daughter is lucky enough to be in a charter school, which is basically a private school that is funded with state money.  The downside of the charter schools is that they are subject to the same testing routines as public schools in order to keep their funding, so they still have to teach to the test and are still restricted to the factory mentalities that are endemic in public schools.

At the beginning of this year my daughter tested well below her reading level.  The initial reaction to that, as a parent, is that you have somehow failed or that the test is wrong.  Instead, I told my daughter that she should quickly pass out of the tests required at the lower level and then read whatever she wanted for the rest of the time period without having to worry about being tested, but rather just reading whatever she wanted to as long as she enjoys what's she is reading.  Turns out that the 7-year-old decided to read Lemony Snickets and Nancy Drew and Roald Dahl -- this is a 2nd grader reading what are classed as grade 6-8 books.  Good for her.  I fully support it.  And I also fully support the fact that she told the teacher that she didn't have to read any more books she was tested on after she got an A+ on her tests; I have no apologies for the teacher that brought up my statement during parent-teacher conferences.  Nor will I apologize for telling the teacher to leave her at the lower reading level for the next time period (there's not another official test for the year) so that she can do the same thing again.

Bored in school and learning how to work in factories totally suck.  My daughter gets in trouble for doing her homework in class.  But she's bored in class and tells me that she's bored.  I've told her that if she gets in trouble, I will go in and talk to her principal -- the pressure from the teachers not to do it and to stay out of trouble is so intense, she hasn't taken me up on it yet, but she will and then she'll realize just how easy and fun it is to buck the system.

I never apologize to the administration that send notes about my daughter missing too much school -- she's away learning life through skiing and visiting different cities and countries.  Nor will I apologize to the other parents that cower in horror about the fact that I think nothing of pulling my daughter out of school for a week to go do something cool -- if you don't understand, go read the e-book; I'm happy to send you a copy.  I'll talk a good dose of street-smart mixed with book-smart anytime; book-smart only doesn't work anymore.

My daughter stands out and I'm proud of her for it.

Monday, October 08, 2012

Fan feedback

This tour is making me seem nicer ... and taller.

Insurance coverage limit winners

Recently in the entertainment industry it seems like the major entertainment companies are requiring excess insurance policies of $9mil on top of base policies of $2mil aggregate and $1mil per occurrence.  For those not intimately acquainted with how insurance works, essentially this means that the excess policy brings your aggregate limit to $11mil and your per occurrence limit to $10mil -- lots of coverage, to say the least.

To get an idea of why coverage limits are climbing, consider this example for a typical general liability policy with $2mil in aggregate and $1mil per occurrence:

  • The first day of coverage there is a claim for $1mil -- that burns up 50% of the aggregate coverage and maxes out the per occurrence limit.
  • The second day of coverage there is a claim for $1mil -- that burns up the remaining 50% of the aggregate and maxes out the per occurrence limit.
  • The third day of coverage you no longer have any insurance left, even though you can continue to issue certificates showing proof of the coverage that you purchased.

Previous to the 2012 season, it seemed as though most large entertainment companies that were requesting insurance from entertainment service providers were happy with $3mil in aggregate coverage and $2mil-$3mil per occurrence; some of the higher volume providers carried excess policies of $3mil-$5mil bringing total coverage limits to $5mil and $7mil respectively.  Doing the quick math: for those that carried $3mil in aggregate, it's an $8mil (267%) increase; for those that carried $5mil in aggregate, it's a $6mil (120%) increase; for those that carried $7mil in aggregate, it's a $4mil (57%) increase.

Any way that you look at it, in real aggregate dollars of coverage or percentage increases of coverage dollars, the numbers are staggeringly large -- as you might expect, the corresponding jumps in the prices of coverage are staggeringly large as well.

The end result of these kinds of enforced jumps in order to continue doing business mean, generally, that prices of the services have to go up.  If buying up the insurance coverage costs a provider an extra percentage per billable unit, say 10%, then, correspondingly, the provider rates are likely to go up by 10% or the provider makes a business decision to absorb some of the additional insurance costs itself to keep your rates competitive, meaning that the provider receives lower net profit from the same work, which is not an ideal situation unless the provider can make up for lost net by increasing volume to make up for it.  In event-based entertainment in particular, due to the fact that it may be a particular tour or event requesting highly elevated coverage levels, vendors may choose to charge the entire increase effect to the entity requesting it -- either the insurance underwriter will sell an event- or tour-specific policy (unlikely) or the underwriter requires the entire policy limit for the term to be increased (most common).  The challenge in the case of the policy limit being increased for the term is that, although it is only one entity requesting the increase, all entities benefit from the increased limits.

Consider this example: Big Promo asks a ABC Janitorial for increased limits for a festival, which costs ABC Janitorial an extra $10K per year.  ABC charges Big Promo $10K as part of its expenses, so there is no additional out-of-pocket expense to ABC, Big Promo has the coverage the want, and ABC maintains its margins without increasing service costs.  One month later, Little Promo hires ABC for a different festival and requests the same limits.  In a ethical and fair situation, ABC would charge Little Promo $5K for the insurance and refund $5K to Big Promo since the cost of the additional coverage is now split between two events that are requesting them.  If, however, ABC were to be very unethical, they may decide to charge Little Promo the same $10K and actually turn the requested additional coverage costs into a profit center, and because Big Promo and Little Promo don't talk to each other, there is no central informational clearinghouse for those two entities to know that both have been charged the entire premium for the same insurance.

In the case of the example above, it would actually be better for everyone to whom ABC is providing services to simply pay a higher rate across the board with the insurance cost being drilled down to the hour or day or whatever the costing mechanism might look like.  Unfortunately for ABC, in the absence of being able to explain why their rates took such a massive jump, they may price themselves out of the market based on the standard pricing unit -- for example, if the previous hourly rate was $13.00 for services and the insurance costs represent a 10% increase per hour, then the new hourly cost becomes $14.30, which appears to be a massive jump without the benefit of explanation.

What changed?  It's really hard to get a straight answer.  However, moving into 2013, it seems like the higher limits are being adopted by more and more entertainment companies, driving the larger coverage limits towards being industry-standard.  The people inside these entertainment organizations that are demanding these changes tend to be in the risk management and legal side of the business that seem to rarely interact with the front-line accounting and operational sides of the business that are tasked with controlling costs.

Unfortunately, the gaps in what is being mandated by risk management and legal, and what is being budgeted by accounting and operational sides of the business are getting very wide, causing problems for providers and problems for all of the people working for the same entertainment companies.

Although everyone in entertainment going into 2013 will figure out ways to work through these issues and likely new industry standards for pricing and/or paying for additional coverage will emerge, one thing is for certain: the big winners in all of this are the insurance companies.

Why Google TV?

Used to be a popular question considering how much the service underdelivered when it first rolled out.

However, today they announced that you can access Google Play content (music and movies) via your Google TV.

You may not think that this is a big deal, especially in the face of this functionality having been around for a while on the AppleTV, however, it's important to note that Google Play surpassed 25 billion app downloads in September, which is just 10 months after Play announced 10 billion downloads.  That's a hell of a lot of traffic and eyeballs on a store with a competing service to iTunes with a user base that grows worldwide every day.

Now, 25 billion app downloads does not equal the kind of volume that iTunes has done in music and movies, but getting that content onto the living room television certainly makes a lot of sense for consumers and a lot of sense for the Google TV brand.