Wednesday, March 31, 2004 Hack an April Fool's Joke!

See the post here for further information.
BlogRoll change

You may not have noticed, but to clean up the right side of the screen, I have simply added a link that allows you to see all of the blogs I monitor via BlogLines. Not only does this make the site a little more tight, but allows you to view all of the sources that I read every day; you can even export my list of blogs and import it into your own BlogLines account (yes, they are free) if you so choose.

I've been experimenting with different news aggregators, and I've found that BlogLines is the best free service right now, especially when I travel. Coming in at a close second was NewsGator which costs $15 and integrates with MS Outlook. What I didn't like about NewsGator was that it required Outlook to run -- I don't always have access to my computer running Outlook, but I can almost always find web access somewhere. hacked!

If you go to the normal location of Ensight where you would normally find Jeremy Wright's blog, you will find the following:

U h@Ve B33N HaCkEd!!!!!!

w3 rUlE yOuR pH4CE!!!!

Is this a random of act of hacking or something directed personally at Jeremy? I'm sure that Jeremy will let us know once his site's back up.

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Concept Apple products

Seth Godin pointed out this really cool concept Apple iPod speaker system, pointing out that "Apple is a fashion company Not a computer company. The Free Prize has nothing at all to do with how fast the Excel spreadsheet gets crunched or how bright the screen is."

I found a different version of the image Seth found on and have included it below:

See my earlier post today about Seth's upcoming book entitled "Free Prize Inside." Dreamers and visionaries like this person in Japan are the reason that Apple products wind up in art museums -- form, beauty, simplicity, and functionality (this carries through all the way to the design of the packaging). One of the greatest after-effects of awesome Apple design is that aftermarket vendors try so hard to emulate and flow with the product. Take a look at the accessories page on -- the designs there are another Free Prize (pay attention to the inMotion speakers and compare them to the picture above).
Free Prize Inside

That's the name of Seth Godin's forthcoming book. I would strongly suggest that you go to Amazon and pre-order. Now why would I say that without even having read the book myself?

Here are a few reasons:

1. Seth Godin consistently produces great marketing books.
2. Even if you're not in your company's "Marketing Department" (we're all in marketing in some way, aren't we?), I guarantee that this book will be useful to you as all of Seth's past books have been.
3. If you get in on the first production run, you will receive your book in some very cool packaging. The last book I ordered, Purple Cow came in a custom-made milk carton. I've still got the packaging sitting on the top of my bookshelf to encourage me to think outside the box.
4. It just sounds interesting and appropriate for marketing right now.
5. Seth (unlike other well-known business authors) actually responds to e-mails you send him (provded you are not contacting him with an ulterior motive).
6. And most importantly, you are dying to know what "edgecraft" means.

Here's an excerpt from the editorial review on

"It's a fun guide to doing innovative marketing that really works when the traditional approaches have all stopped working. Thirty years ago, the best way to sell something was to advertise it on television. But today's consumers are cynical, and your product or service had better be more than just hype and clever advertising. Even better, it ought to come with a market-changing innovation a free prize inside.

You don't have to spend a fortune to create something cool that virtually sells itself. Think of simple but powerful innovations like the Tupperware party, Flintstones vitamins, G.I. Joe (a doll just for boys), Lucille Roberts (a gym just for women), and frequent flier miles. Free Prize Inside will teach you how to create those kinds of blockbusters at your own company without a bunch of MBA-brainwashed marketers. You don't have to be a genius, you just need curiosity, initiative, and a strategy for overcoming resistance when you champion your idea.

We're all marketers now, no matter what our job titles. With Godin's help, we can find the free prize that will transform our companies."
So what is killing CD sales?

Amidst news reports like this one on that cites a study showing that file sharing has negligible or no effect on CD sales, people (especially record companies) have to wonder what it is that's killing CD sales.

From the article:
"Even in the most pessimistic version of their model, they found that it would take about 5,000 downloads to displace sales of just one physical CD, the authors wrote. Despite the huge scale of downloading worldwide, that would be only a tiny contribution to the overall slide in album sales over the past several years, they said."

If this study is correct, then what is the real reason that CD sales are slumping? Record companies would be quick to point at economic factors and increased competition for disposable income from video games and DVD's. Both arguments from the record companies are valid, but what if the real reason was just that the kids, the people that buy CD's, just don't like the new music?

Here's the headline from USA Today: Kids are listening to their parents Their parents' music, that is. What an interesting phenomenon. But if you think about it, buying a full CD used to get you several good songs along with the chart-topping radio hits. These days, consumers are lucky to find anything as good or better than any given bands' single on the CD, which, of course, leads to the consumer only wanting to own the single song rather than the whole album.

Don't believe it? Ok, let's look at who is touring and raking in the dough. A quick visit to Pollstar will give you schedules for all of the venues in your area. Chances are you will find some festivals with a lot of current bands (and when I say a lot, I mean a whole lot, like 15-30) and you will find a lot of names you may not expect. Some of the top-grossing tours over the past few years have not been new bands: Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, Aerosmith . . . Take a look at the summer schedule in your town and you will most likely see some of the bands I just mentioned along with Styx, REO Speedwagon, Jimmy Buffett, Poison . . . all names that you (depending on your age) or your parents listened to.

How convenient for record companies to be able to blame sliding CD sales on filesharing to mask the fact that they are not developing good new talent to replace classic artists as these artists get too old to tour.

Monday, March 29, 2004

All about Blogs and syndication

It's a little technical, but certainly worth the read:

The XML Files: All About Blogs and RSS
Lots of discussion regarding Microsoft and RSS

Ok, so I posted earlier today about Apple's Really Simple Syndication (RSS) feeds. Comparing Apple to Microsoft, Apple is really leading the way in providing information via RSS.

Robert Scoble's Blog brings in some interesting links to some other blog entries regarding MS and RSS feeds.

The simple end result of all these opinions seems to be that MS is behind the 8-ball in RSS.
Google's new look

I noticed doing my first search onGoogle today that they had changed the format and layout of the site. What does that mean? Does it mean that I use the site so extensively that I immediately pick up on subtle changes? Probably, and I didn't even really outwardly notice the changes, there was just some subtle wrongness to the feeling of my search result pages that I couldn't put my finger on. I finally got around to checking the main page and realized that there had been a change there as well (most of my searching is done through my Google Toolbar).

I did click on the "more" button on the main page to see what other services Google might have that I didn't know about. What did I find? Not too much new stuff. I did find that Google has a translation service, so I tried it and found that it works about as well as Atlavista's Babblefish, but the Altavista interface seems a bit more friendly to me.

I remember stories about people that used to count the number of words on the Google homepage and immediately e-mail the company if there was any deviation -- part of the Google main page's allure has been its elegant simplicity when compared with its competition.

The funny thing is that I cannot 100% tell you what the changes to the site are. I've noticed that sponsored links all seem to reside on the right-hand side of the page instead of having 1-3 sponsored links appear at the top of the results page, highlighted in different colors.

Quite frankly, I was hoping that Google would have introduced blog searching and indexing technology with this user interface overhaul . . . it's not as if they don't have the technology. That being said, I still don't mind being the first search result under "strategize".
Outsourcing to India driving Indian salaries up

According to this article on, demand for outsourcing to India is causing a 14% annual increase in Indian salaries. As is elementary to economics, as the demand increase and supply stays the same, the price goes up. What does this mean? In the short term, it still means that India is drastically cheaper than America. In the not-so-short term it means that companies may seek to find places where wages are cheaper.

From the article:
"Though it is too early to predict any sort of bubble on the horizon, the rise in India's salaries could prompt more U.S. companies to consider other parts of the world, where wages are far lower. Indeed, even some Indian companies have begun offshoring their own work to China."
Apple's RSS

You probably didn't know it, but Apple is providing RSS feeds for most of its important data here on the Apple RSS Information site. Any user can subscribe to or find RSS feeds for anything from the hottest downloads from the iTunes Music Store to Mac OS X downloads by category.

In terms of the iTunes Music Store information, Apple providing this information via RSS is very interesting and shows how the music industry is forever changed -- people in the music industry had to (and still have to) subscribe to the Soundscan service to get weekly totals of CD sales, while Apple freely provides to-the-second information. Even better, Apple provides the iTunes Music Store RSS Feed Generator that allows anyone to customize a RSS feed to include the information that they want to see (you can't do that with Soundscan).
Apple files patents on the iPod interface

In an attempt to ensure that history is not repeated, Apple has filed applications to patent the user interface for the iPod music player according to this story on As some may remember, Apple filed lawsuits against Microsoft when Windows was first released, claiming that MS had violated Apple copyrights -- Apple lost, so they have, this time, begun to seek protection under patent law. The timing of the application is certainly interesting -- the MS music store and associated hardware device(s) are supposed to go live in August.

Friday, March 26, 2004

Fast Company Online Insights

Fast Company has launched a new section called Online Insights.

This is a sneak peek of a new service, so I encourage you to check it out and if you have any comments about it leave them at the Fast Company blog.

Thursday, March 25, 2004


I keep waffling back and forth on getting a PDA/Phone device. My experience with the Nextel Blueberry was less than pleasurable -- it's a great device if your company uses Blackberry (which it does) and you like Nextel service (which I do), but the usability of the device itself is just plain horrible. The device was really only useful as a color Blackberry for e-mail and with an external headset as a phone. Holding the thing up to my head was very uncomfortable, and depending on how I maneuvered the earpiece, the volume was way too loud or impossible to hear.

The best PDA/phone combo on the market right now seems to be the Treo 600. Although it lacks compatibility with Blackberry, I look at the device and think that I really wouldn't need to carry my laptop with me on trips anymore, so I could use one of the many available desktop push solutions to make the Treo act like a Blackberry. Through my research, I've also been keeping my eye on the Motorola MPX device simply because it has a very cool design, a high resolution camera, and is a flip phone. Pricing for the Motorola PX has finally been released and can be found here on Suffice to say that I am not surprised that the MPX is expensive, but $1000?! It will certainly be interesting to see how the carriers subsidize the cost of the phone with multiple year contracts, but it's still a very expensive piece of hardware (and hopefully it's not based on the Nextel phone batteries or it's going to have horrible battery endurance).

In any event, I still go back and forth on what I want to do. If any of you have any opinions, I'd love to hear them.
The future of Apple's Music

Following news coverage of Real Networks CEO Rob Glaswer telling Apple that it should make its iPod compatible with other audio standards, there have been tons of articles on the subject. One particularly good commentary on the issue can be found at BusinessWeek Online. As an avid iPod user, I feel that I need to weigh in as well.

Regarding the opening of standards on the iPod: Sure, it's a good idea. The iTunes Music Store (iTMS) is probably the best interface for a music store and the best shopping experience. However, iTMS does not have every song, and most of the iTMS competitors serve up their music using the Windows Media Player (WMP) standard, meaning that I can't download from the competing sites unless I am willing to go through a fairly complicated procedure to turn the music from WMA into Advanced Audio Coding (AAC) (or MP3) format so that I can load it on my iPod. It is suspected that an opening of the hardware to other formats may be forthcoming because of the Apple deal with Hewlett Packard (HP) in which HP will sell HP-branded iPods to its customers.

Regarding the AAC standard: AAC is a Dolby compression scheme that is supposed to provide higher quality audio than the MP3 format. Apple combines support for MP3 and AAC tracks in its software and iPod devices, although the preferred format is AAC (all sings on iTMS are in AAC format). In conjunction with the AAC format, Apple uses a Digital Rights Management (DRM) tool called FairPlay. One of the reasons that WMP is so prolific is that Microsoft licenses their DRM schemes very openly, while Apple is yet to license the FairPlay technology. When I look at AAC and see the Dolby name attached to it, my first thought is the little Dolby symbols that you see on almost every audio device sold. If AAC and FairPlay were integrated into the Dolby chipsets that were installed in all audio components, it is quite possible that Apple would be able to blow the WMP standard out of the water. As it is, Microsoft is spending lots of time and money trying to get the WMP standard adopted by electronics manufacturers.

Regarding Apple's strategy: Right now Apple is at the top of the digital music world; they produce the best device and have the best software. However, this advantages is not sustainable in the long term unless Apple is willing to change its focus. Anyone else feel the deja vu here? Think back to 1984 when Apple was producing the best, most user-friendly hardware and software and suddenly just got take over by Microsoft Windows, which copied much of the same functionality that Apple was known for. Microsoft has indeed already announced its plans to open its own music store, and I have heard that it will go live in August or September of 2004. Unless Apple is willing to give away the FairPlay standard (they have the ability right now to really push FairPlay as the de facto standard), open up their devices to accept other formats (Steve Jobs has even admitted that iTMS is a loss-leader designed to sell more iPods) or at least provide codecs that allow other formats to seamlessly be converted on-the-fly into AAC, Apple may really take a beating within the next year. Unfortunately, Apple cannot base its technology on restrictive and proprietary standards, even if they are producing the coolest technology (thankfully, we have seen a shift towards less proprietary standards in the production of iTMS for Windows and in the new Macintosh OS that is based on Unix).
Cut-the-line pass for the airport?

According to Wired News, the Transportation Safety Administration is trying to work out the bugs in program that would allow passengers that are willing to give the TSA certain information about themselves access to an accelerated line. The important point here (although I wish it wasn't so) is that this is not a program that will allow you to skip security checkpoints altogether, but to get you into a separate (hopefully shorter) pre-registered line.

Many times when I fly Southwest airlines, I change my flight times -- Southwest makes it really easy to do so at no cost, so I take advantage of that. However, every time I change my ticket (especially really close to flight time), I always get flagged for secondary screening. Just for ease of travel, I would certainly be willing to give the TSA information that they were requesting to become a pre-screened traveler (and, as far as I know, I haven't done anything wrong that would make my name be flagged in any criminal databases).

Still theoretical, but encouraging.

From the article:

"The cards likely will include a biometric identifier, such as a fingerprint or iris scan. Participants also will have their backgrounds checked against commercial or government databases. However, the TSA has not yet decided which airports, vendors, databases or identifiers will be involved, Von Walter said."

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Robert Scoble's Corporate Blog Manifesto

The original post can be found here.

Robert Scoble, an employee of Microsoft, has been writing a blog about Microsoft for quite some time. Here are his 21 rules for writing a blog about your own company (visit his blog for the full explanation of each of these points, it's worth it):

1. Tell the truth
2. Post fast on good news or bad
3. Use a human voice
4. Make sure you support the latest software/web/human standards
5. Have thick skin
6. Don't ignore Slashdot
7. Talk to the grassroots first
8. If you screw up, acknowledge it
9. Underpromise and overdeliver
10. If Doc Searls says it or writes it, believe it
11. Know the information gatekeepers
12. Never change the URL of your weblog
13. If your life is in turmoil and/or you're unhappy, don't write
14. If you don't have the answers, say so
15. Never lie
16. Never hide information
17. If you have information that might get you in a lawsuit, see a lawyer before posting, but do it fast
18. Link to your competitors and say nice things about them
19. BOGU (I'm forcing you to go to the blog for the definition)
20. Be the authority on your product/company

Yes, there is a 21, but you are going to have to go to the blog to find it.

If I hadn't given these to you in context, what would you have thought they were for?
Video-to-video advertising

That's the term for TiVo's new advertising effort according to this article on

From the article:

"Known as Video-to-Video, the idea is to let viewers click a button on their remote control to immediately watch a 3-minute video describing products and services that might appeal to them. The marketing clips are promoted through small icons that appear on the TV screen as viewers fast-forward past regular ads."

"TiVo also gives advertisers a number of options to reach viewers who are inclined to fast-forward past ads, including offering screen space on its programming guide page and hard drive space for pre-recorded ads that offer sweepstakes and other incentives to entice viewers to watch them."

TiVo initially was a big seller because it let consumers opt-out of watching advertising. Now TiVo is changing the dynamic and letting consumers choose to opt-in to advertising for products they are interested in. This, of course, is a massive change in the normal advertising model of putting content out and hoping people will watch. And TiVo has the technology to track consumer behavior exactly, bringing a powerful toolkit to its opt-in advertisers. However, TiVo is going to have to quickly learn how to get consumers to really want to view these advertisements and the key part is that these ads take up room on the TiVo hard drive. Personally, if you give me the TiVo hardware, I would be willing to give up a percentage of my drive for these advertisements. But, if I pay top dollar for my TiVo box and then pay my monthly subscription fee, I don't really want you (TiVo) taking up the storage space on my equipment with ads I may not want to see.

Also coming soon to TiVo, according to the article, are upsell icons that appear during a show. For example, if the new Ford F150 appeared in a show, and icon would appear that would allow the consumer to click it and see a 3-minute video about the product while their show continued to record in the background. However, the downside to this program is that network TV may not agree to put in the "trigger codes" that prompt the TiVo units to display the icons.

It will be interesting to see how this process evolves.
You cannot lead if you cannot follow

More importantly, if you're not willing to work the front line, you are probably missing out on revenue (or expense reduction). has this article with learnings from Jet Blue. Jet Blue has always been at the forefront of providing things that customers want -- wifi at the gates, television service within the plane, competitively low prices. How do they stay ahead? Simple. According to the article, Dave Neeleman, CEO of Jet Blue spends one day a month as a flight attendant.

What a spectacular idea! The way to give customers what they want is to listen to what they have to say, and instead of listening to his people tell him what customers are saying, the CEO of the organization goes out and talks to the actual customers.

Can you see your CEO doing this? I hope that you could answer "yes" or even "maybe" (although I have the sickening feeling that most of you cannot).

Ok, so the CEO gets information direct from the people using his product -- very powerful stuff. What else does this accomplish? I never ask anyone to do something that I am unwilling to do. When running facilities, I will purposely pull dripping wet, disgusting trash bags out of trashcans in full view of all the employees and replace the liner. Why do I do this? Because I ask every single employee, regardless of their stated job title, to be willing to do exactly the same thing if they see a trashcan getting full. Believe me, from personal experience I can tell you that taking your own time to do some of the least glamorous work in front of your employees makes them respect you and makes them willing to do almost anything you ask . . . Because you wouldn't be asking unless you are willing to do it yourself.

Is your initial response to say that you don't have the time in your schedule to do something like this? If it is (and it probably is), then make time for it! This stuff is damn important! Justify it to yourself, your spouse/family, your boss as an opportunity to increase employee goodwill, directly interact with your customers, and effect the bottom line (you will, even though you may be able to quantify it initially). Should you be unable to convince your boss, find a new job. Should you be unable to convince your spouse, then look at your quality of life in general and figure out how to arrange your schedule to spend more time with your spouse/family and accomplish direct customer interaction. Should you not be able to sell it to yourself, you may want to re-evaluate why it is that you are in the business you are in.

Monday, March 22, 2004

Banish these words!

Lake Superior's Banished Words List for 2004 can be found here.

What's the point of this? From the site:

"Hardly looking 'metrosexual,' a 'shocked and awed' Lake Superior State University Word Banishment selection committee emerged from its spider hole with its annual List of Words Banished from the Queen's English for Mis-Use, Over-Use and General Uselessness."

Funny enough, my spell check won't work on some of the words in this very post, lending even more reason that they should be banished!
Seth Godin is looking for interns!

You can read the post and download the PDf. I'd like to intern for the guy, but alas I have a job and he is not allowing telecommuting and I have no way of justifying spending the summer outside New York.

If you found out about the internship here and you get it, let Seth know I was the one who referred you -- there is a "bounty" for referrals.
Do you know what a Porcher toilet is?

I didn't either until mine started running. Recently, I purchased a new house that had been completely remodeled by a developer. The developer had hired a designer from the Home Depot Expo Center and essentially given her a blank check. She did an amazing job and used very high-end products in all areas of the house, including Porcher bathroom fixtures. To me, the Porcher toilet looked exactly like any other toilet I had ever installed myself, although it did have a unique flush mechanism that used a push-button on the top rather than a handle.

When my toilet started running, I opened it to find one of the most foreign-looking flush mechanisms that I had ever seen. Here is a picture of it:

I was astounded at the inside of my toilet and did not even know where to start troubleshooting. Of course, I went to the Internet and searched for "Porcher toilet" on Google. I found that Porcher toilets are imported and sold by American Standard and that they are extremely high-end (read expensive). I also found that the official Porcher site had no toilet parts explosion nor did it have a listing of replacement parts (not that I would have known what I needed to replace).

Feeling frustrated, I Googled "Porcher replacement parts" and this A-Ball Plumbing site popped up, showing me a picture of the inside of my toilet and the two parts that commonly wear out. Armed with the knowledge of the part I needed, I attempted to find the part locally to no avail. I even called the Home Depot Expo Center since I knew the toilet had been purchased there, but the Expo Center does not stock repair parts for European toilets. Finally I broke down and called A-Ball Plumbing. Why did I call, you might ask? Because I was tired of turning on the water supply on every time I wanted to flush the toilet and off after flushing, and the A-Ball commerce site didn't let me select overnight shipping as an option.

When I talked with the gentleman at A-Ball and told him my toilet problem, he told me exactly which of the 2 common parts that wear out I needed. I related to him that I could not find the toilet parts anywhere in my area and he told me that he shipped these parts all over the country. Following that statement, I asked him why Next Day Shipping was not available as an option on his site; I pointed out that it was likely that most people looking for the part probably had an immediate problem and were not looking for preventative parts. He related that he had never thought of it that way.

End result: $25.00 for the part and $20 to ship it overnight, and one of the easiest toilet parts replacements I have ever completed.

1. Good European toilets, though expensive at the outset use very simplistic and easy to repair mechanisms. Given the choice, I would probably install one in the future.

2. Even 5 years ago I probably would not have been able to find parts for this toilet very easily. Why? Because the Internet was not as pervasive, and it was not cheap enough or easy enough for plumbing supply companies to list their products and allow them to be sold over the Internet.

3. Lots of commerce sites need to think more about the actual customer experience. In an industry like plumbing, an especially when supplying a very hard to locate part, companies need to understand that customers are not looking for these parts to store them in their cabinet -- make it easy to ship these items overnight. I seriously did not need to talk to the guy at the plumbing store; they had provided enough information for me to identify the malfunctioning part, but made it very hard for me to feel comfortable I would receive it the next day without talking to someone.

4. I should go into the business of importing these parts and selling them; I cannot believe how hard they are to find.
The new definition of "cable-ready" televisions

BusinessWeek Online has an article describing the new generation of "cable-ready" televisions. The terminology is interesting because I remember when televisions were advertised as "cable-ready" as set-top boxes were in their infancy and cable service was nowhere near as pervasive as it is now. In this case, however, "cable-ready" is being used to describe TV's that have cable tuners built into them that are activated with a card that is mailed to you by the cable company.

The advantage for the cable companies is obvious -- a card management system is much easier than trying to manage and stock set-top boxes. Additionally, according to the article, the loss rate (i.e., the number of set-top boxes not returned when subscription is terminated) runs about 30%.

Many of you that are like me and receive new DirecTV cards by mail 2-3 times per year are very familiar with this card process. Granted the cards are designed to be inserted into the DirecTV set-top boxes, but you could certainly envision the same process with the only difference being that you put the card into a slot on the side of your TV.

What does this mean for the set-top manufacturers? Well, this seems to be what Andrew Grove would refer to as a "strategic inflection point" for the industry. The article does say that there will probably be a market for the premium set-top boxes that provide TiVo-type service combines with HD decoders and other bells and whistles. However, set top manufacturing giant Motorola is already pushing into the consumer electronics market with home theatre equipment and is expected to provide its own line of "cable-ready TV's."

I would argue that this change from set-top boxes to card-based access is exactly the kind of change that will allow home media centers to firmly take hold in the home. Why use a premium set-top box with your TV when you could have a full-featured that can perform all of the premium set-top box functions plus give you all the computer functions that you want? LCD TV's increasingly include inputs for direct-from-PC cables, support picture-in-picture functions between TV and computer signals, and media center systems increasingly are manufactured and encased to resemble home theatre components. Consider also that next-generation video game systems are expected to be more of home media centers than strict video consoles -- rumors regarding the Playstation 3 and Xbox 2 seem to confirm that both devices will have the ability to act as home media centers and/or act as part of home media networks.

One of the interesting DirecTV problems with card-based access is that if you get DirecTV to waive your need for a land-based phone line (this has to be an increasingly bigger problem for DirecTV as more people choose cell phones as their only phones), you could theoretically take your activated card for, say, NHL Center Ice to your favorite bar, pop it into the bar's receiver, and everyone at the bar could watch the game. I wonder what kind of controls the cable companies are building in to prevent these types of actions?

Friday, March 19, 2004

Workplace discrimination

Where did you think I might be going with this topic title?



Nope. Let's talk a little about age discrimination. Pretty boring, huh? Not really. There is a class of overachievers or, as I like to put it, people that have lived too fast or too soon that hit absolutely concrete ceilings in the workplace regarding title, compensation, you name it. I've always lived sooner than everyone else in my age bracket -- I managed a retail store and instructed SCUBA diving from age 13-18, worked as a computer consultant from age 15-20, worked as an operations manager for a security firm during college, and interned as a consultant summers during college. I must say that I feel I've been pretty lucky having bosses that have been able to look beyond my actual age and instead evaluated my performance and maturity.

I saw this post over at Ensight, and was somewhat surprised to see that Jeremy Wright was having problems because of his age. At 24, Jeremy is married, has a family, and is the author of a very well-read business blog. More interesting than the post itself is to look at Jeremy's follow-on comments to his post. Specifically this portion:

"It's interesting. After several more emails back and forth, it seems like the Recruiter's feeling is that my age really is a huge determining factor, and that I should be looking more at mid-entry stuff.

Things that most college students would be applying for, or those who are 2 years out.

I can see his perspective, as it really is a valid concern.

I know I'll find the ideal job for me eventually. It's just sad that it sounds like it might not be until I'm 30 and have 13 years experience and have finished my Masters. And then people will be wondering what took me so long to "rise to my potential".

I'm not bitter though, it's just a cause of ongoing frustration when an employer or recruiter will admit I'm qualified, admit I'd be worth investing into and admit I would be worth hiring (I've often heard "no question, we'd hire you in an instant if only...")... Just that my age gets in the way."

I guess that I have the advantage of looking older than my actual age, and I certainly do not make a point of bringing up my young age, although it does always seem to come up. Do I get shafted because of my age? You bet. And it sucks.

I think one of the major reasons for the "discrimination" is the fact that the people that are hiring you, that you are working with, that you are working for did no grow up as fast as current generations. Certainly, folks that are in upper management at many companies now were not making the kinds of salaries that we overachievers are asking for (wouldn't it be cooler if I could use the word "commanding" in place of "asking for"?). You can see the gears going in these guy's heads: "I wasn't making $100,000 when I was 24." Ok, and I'm sure that you had to walk to school . . . uphill (both ways) . . . in the snow . . . in flip flops.

So my advice to employers: Become gatherers of talent. Be blind to age. Take a page out of the Dell playbook and realize that you can combine your years of knowledge with youthful exuberance and new ideas and that you will ultimately be better off for it. Yes, change is painful. No, there's nothing written that says you have to make more than the people you hire (although you want to because it makes you feel good), nor is there anything set in stone that says you have to cap the pay of a young person to what you made at that age (listen, it's been 15-20 years since you were that age -- things got more expensive).

My advice to all of you people that have lived too soon: One of the benefits of being young and mature (or wise beyond your years) is the ability to develop a breadth of experience. To absolutely be able to experience all kinds of things. EXPERIENCE AS MUCH AS YOU CAN! I went into college thinking I wanted to be a consultant, interned as a consultant, and realized, based on experiences, that I didn't want to be a consultant at all. You will be the most lucky if you can find a job doing what you love to do. Turn this age "discrimination" into a positive and absolutely blow away those that are evaluating you. I truly believe that if you are doing what you love to do, then opportunity will come your way. Finally, treat others the same way once you have risen to the point where you are able to make those kinds of decisions -- I give young people chances all the time because people gave them to me.
Does that allow you to blog?

Not a question that I would have asked even 9 months ago, but a question that I posed to an IT person showing me a demo of Microsoft's Sharepoint that they are looking to roll out. He didn't really answer my question, but rather proceeded to show me different features of the software. What I realized once I had left his office was that Sharepoint was in essence a blog (ok, it's a lot more than that and it's al ot more complicated than just blogging) -- it would allow me (provided I was given high enough permissions) to share information directly with other people on my teams and in my division. Even better, it allows the formation of discussion groups (a bit more robust than the "comments" function found on most public blogs) and allows me to share internal documents with full version control. My final words to the IT guy were that he should write a blog on how to use the software during roll-out.

FastCompany has an article from next month's magazine entitled "It's a Blog World After All." The article details several examples of how major corporations are using blogs both inside and outside their organizations.

From the article regarding how corporations are using blogs internally:

"Corporate America is jumping onto the blogwagon for many of the same reasons all those journalists, brooding teenagers, and presidential campaigners are already on board. Unlike email and instant messaging, blogs let employees post comments that can be seen by many and mined for information at a later date, and internal blogs aren't overwhelmed by spam. And unlike most corporate intranets, they're a bottoms-up approach to communication. "

"With blogs, you gain more, you hear more, you understand where things are going more," says Halley Suitt, who wrote a fictional case study on corporations and blogging for the Harvard Business Review . "Even better, you understand them faster."

I'll be real honest, I'm not entirely sure that people out in the field know what I do all day in the office. I certainly wouldn't have a problem blogging every morning just to let people know what I'm working on. Probably someone else is working on exactly the same thing, and we may actually be duplicating effort. Furthermore, I'd like to share information that I find that I think might be useful to the people in the organization, but I am cautious about sending too many e-mails to distribution lists -- I don't want to get a reputation as an internal spammer -- and a blog would give people the ability to opt-in to reading information I provide rather than having to opt-out by deleting my e-mails without reading them.

The key to selling this to your IT Department, from the article:

"So do blogs hold the key to seamless sharing of collective corporate intelligence, the holy grail of knowledge management? Web log software is cheaper to install and maintain than many knowledge-sharing programs, and it's extremely simple to use. Knowledge software often requires employees to take both an extra step and extra time to record what they know, and to fit their knowledge into a database of inflexible categories. Internal blogs are more integrated into a worker's regular daily communications."

The key part of the paragraph above being the word "cheaper," of course. Chances are there is enough space on a server that already exists to host basic blogging software. In fact, there is open source blogging software that your IT department probably already has the infrastructure to support.

So what's the problem with blogs? According to the article:

". . . that informal transparency is precisely why many companies' embrace of blogs is at best uneasy. Internally, blogs have the potential to let employees who wouldn't otherwise be seen as authorities have a voice with a lot of impact. "[Companies] are not going to be able to stuff it back into the box," says Greg Lloyd, CEO of Traction, a business-oriented blog software company."

I'm sorry, but are we really that scared of or do we really trust our employees so little? The paragraph above seems like an absolutely ridiculous argument. But consider that so many companies are so politically motivated and sensitive as to be almost unable to make decisions without including everyone for fear of offending someone or upsetting the political structure. When you consider that, you begin to at least see one side of the argument listed above. So here's the million-dollar question (or what should keep all of you who are scared to give your employees the power to vocalize internally for fear of them getting more power than you): What are you going to do when your employee uses a freely available service to achieve the seem effect, but does it so the whole world can see what he/she is writing?

From the article:

"Letting employees speak directly to customers requires a huge amount of trust. A loose cannon might reveal corporate secrets, give out the wrong message, or even open up the company to legal trouble."

Nothing seems to be stopping anyone that is producing these public business blogs from blogging. Although all of the blogs that I read seem to be very vague about the author's specific company and that person's specific feelings about their company, it's really just the author who is deciding to conduct themself that way, certainly nothing that the company is doing. I can understand companies being concerned about employees divulging trade secrets, intellectual property, violating NDA's, I really and truly can. But "give out the wrong message"? What is that supposed to mean? If I ran a company and a single employee with a blog was able to alter customers' perceptions about messaging, than the real issue is that the company is not managing their public messaging well, and certainly could be an indicator that said company is not taking care of its employees. Remember:

"That is -- and this, dear Watson, is elementary -- if you genuinely want to put customers first, you must put employees more first."
-- Tom Peters on CEO of Rosenbluth International, Hal RosenbluthÂ’s business policy (from: Tom Peters, The Pursuit of Wow)

Ok, so beyond the internal use of blogs, what else are they good for? For all of these publicly viewable blogs that attract eyeballs, the answer, of course, is advertising. People that read blogs, however, are not all that stupid. Instead of going to blog pages directly, many people read blogs using news aggregators that pull content feeds from the blogs and aggregate the information with the news aggregation program -- end result: banner ads, popups, any sort of visually-driven web advertising is ineffectual. So what's a marketer to do? Get the blog author and visitors to talk about a product, of course!

From the article regarding viral marketing through blogs:

"That's why some businesses are going straight to bloggers for buzz. Random House's Crown Publishing sends books to bloggers for review. Nokia sent a small group of bloggers its 3650 model camera phone to take for a whirl."

So outside of viral marketing, is there are real use for blogs in the corporate world? I scream out loud a resounding YES!

But for those of you that need further proof, from the article:

". . . 10e20, a Web design firm in Brooklyn, recently began requiring employees to post updates on their progress to a blog twice a day. Within the first six weeks, 10 projects were turned in early. Having a central repository for information helped--but so did the added scrutiny that came from letting everyone see how a project was progressing. Software maker Macromedia, one of the first companies to adopt blogs for customer service, saved tens of thousands of dollars in call-center support when it released a crop of new products for software developers in 2002. A trusted group of employees started blogs to answer users' questions, and the blogs have grown into online communities that give Macromedia valuable customer feedback."
A perfect example of manufacturing offshoring has an article on Apex. While you may not entirely know what they do (ok, obviously they manufacture something), you probably are thinking to yourself that the name sounds very familiar. It should sound familiar; it is the name of the manufacturer of the $49.99 DVD player you saw advertised in your Sunday paper.

From the article:

"'These guys came out of nowhere,' said Bob O'Donnell, research director for device technology at IDC. 'This is a classic case of leveraging the manufacturing infrastructure in China and Taiwan. They've brought a lot of technology down to consumer-level price points.' "

Thursday, March 18, 2004

Off-shoring protectionism bills proposed

InformationWeek has an article regarding some bills that seek to cause companies to prove that offshored coding is secure.

From the article:

"Figueroa, who authored California's medical-records privacy law, considered by many to be the strongest in the nation, also is sponsoring bills to require California employers to notify the state and employees if they plan to move 20 or more jobs overseas and to prohibit state contracts from being fulfilled offshore."

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., asked the U.S. Comptroller of the Currency earlier this month to investigate whether banks that process customers' financial data offshore have safeguards to protect that data from unauthorized use. In Arizona, proposed legislation would bar companies from shipping financial data outside the country without written permission from consumers. A proposal in South Carolina would prevent companies from giving "financial, credit, or identifying information" to a call-center representative abroad without the individual's written permission.

Some IT executives aren't convinced that privacy can be guaranteed in offshore settings. "It's a risk factor," says Tom Tabor, CIO at medical-insurance provider Highmark Inc. Tabor says that's one reason his company hasn't outsourced much of its business-process work, though he notes that privacy violations can happen "anywhere in the world, including the U.S."

One really good quote from the article is from Chris Larsen, CEO of E-Loan:

"The right balance is to let the consumer decide," says Chris Larsen, CEO of E-Loan Inc. The online lender is testing a program that lets customers choose to have their mortgage applications processed here or by a service provider in India, which cuts two days off the processing time. Since the test launched March 1, 85% of customers who've applied have chosen the offshore option. "People understand what they're doing and the consequences in terms of jobs," Larsen says

What would be interesting would be to see some the statistics on what the consumers are actually choosing to do in the E-Loan situation

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Business card = social networking?

Fast Company's blog references a company called EGO Cards -- the EGO stands for Everyone's Got One.

EGO produces unique business cards at the price of $1,100.00 per 1,000 (although it sounds like there might be price breaks if you were making bulk orders) that are designed to be used as marketing tools and differentiate your business card from the stack someone received at a trade convention or found in their wallet. The cards include links to the EGO site, where "members" can link up with and contact other "members" (i.e., socially network).

Asking yourself what the point of spending this amount of money on business cards is? Well, from the website, EGO has the answers:

How many business cards do you get that you throw away or lose? The fact is, the same thing happens to your cards. At least 80% of your cards get lost in the shuffle... your E.G.O. card won't!

A business card like this would be hard not to remember.

EXTRA MILEAGE! After someone receives an E.G.O. card they often get shown to other people.

Your company is only as good as your people... these cards market your people!

You are joining a network of people who share the vision that you don't have to be boring to do business.

There is a synergy developing among E.G.O. members because they are collecting each others cards.

Millions of dollars are spent on marketing that will never achieve results... results are immediate with E.G.O.

Fact #8 -- $1,100 is a really high cost of entry for a social networking site and a pretty high cost per card for 1,000 business cards, even with the design fees included.

Personally, I think the service would do better if they had a library of pre-designed templates and graphics that you could populate with information to print your own cards at home. Maybe they charge a monthly subscription rate plus a one-time deign fee to make the pricing more attractive, and offer custom design and printing services as premium products.

Just my $0.02
Patrick Lencioni's Death By Meeting

I just finished reading this book, and like all Lencioni books, the lessons to be learned about meetings are explained through the use of a story (or a fable). My experience with Lencioni's method of telling a story that many people can relate to to illustrate points, and then tying the points cohesively together at the end of the book makes these books very good for organizational training as opposed to strictly fact-based books or manuals.

The title of the book, "Death By Meeting," led me to believe that the book was about reducing the number of overall meetings within an organization to free people up to actually get their job done. The book, in actuality, deals with how to make meetings more effective and even proposes an increase in the number of meetings, but a decrease in the length of the meetings. Specifically, the book proposes daily 5 minute meetings, weekly 1 hour meetings, monthly 2 hour meetings, and quarterly off-site meetings. The end result, if implemented correctly, should be an overall reduction in the sheer volume of meetings that take up everyone's time.

Here are a few signs that your company may need to readjust its outlook on meetings:
1. You always have 500 e-mails in your inbox that you have not read (and your excuse is that you can't get through them because you are always in meetings). If you have a Blackberry or similar e-mail device and this is still the case, I suggest you go buy the book today.

2. You constantly stay at work 2 hours after everyone had gone home just to try to catch up on e-mails and voicemail.

3. Your hardcopy Inbox on your desk never drops below 1-2 feet high because you never have time to go through it. It's even worse if your assistant has a separate file that they have to put on your chair so that you know what you need to go through from your Inbox.

4. Your employees have to stay after for ridiculous amounts of time to get direction on their work and/or your input because you are in solid meetings for 8 hours per day.

5. You employ an assistant because you are in so many meetings, you never really make it to your desk for any significant amount of time. If you have requested an assistant for this reason, you have the chance to fix the process before adding headcount.

6. You have meetings about meetings.

There are people in many organizations whose sole job seems to be to attend meetings. Perhaps that's needed in some organizations, although I ran a search on Hotjobs and couldn't find a job for a professional meeting attendee (I could even find an internship for it). I have worked with and in many corporations that do not understand how meetings should work. A lot of it has to do with the internal politics of the organization -- individuals are unwilling to make decisions on their own and want multiple fingerprints on a decision, hence lots of meetings.

BusinessPundit references a good article that appears on Capital Magazine entitled "The Folly of Protectionism."

Key points from the article:

"Many think of free trade in terms of nations doing business. One hears that America has so many millions of dollars worth of trade with Taiwan, for example, and so many millions with Singapore. But actually the commerce is between companies, not countries.

Indeed, when protectionists seek to block imports-- often under the banner of "patriotism"-- what they're really blocking is the free exercise of property rights. And there's nothing American about that.

Protectionism is as wrong in practice as it is in theory. Just as you're better off "importing" goods into your house from stores rather than laboring to produce everything yourself within the borders of your home, so too is a nation better off observing that same principle.

Consider that if it were true that imports from other nations hurt America, that principle would also apply to goods imported into one state from another, and into one county, city or municipality from another county, city or municipality.

Bottom line: protectionism fully implemented across all industries would mean a lower standard of living, because it would result in capital and labor unnecessarily being diverted into the production of goods that could more economically be produced elsewhere."
The Forbes list of the Most Influential Businessmen of All Time

Can be found right here on
Google to offer local search services is reporting on Google adding local searching capabilities that is designed for, in the words of the article, ". . .helping Web surfers find cafes, parks or even Wi-Fi hot spots in their area."

The Internet search market is big business, especially these days as search giants like Yahoo and Google race to capture the highest amount of advertising dollars while simultaneously trying to be the preferred user portal for Internet searching. Many people are thinking that local searching is the next big area in online searching, and based on the current maneuvering of Google and Yahoo, it seems that they believe this as well. Will we see these search monsters gobbling up yellow page companies? Hard to tell at this point.

Of particular concern to Google and Yahoo has to be the threat of new competitors. Microsoft certainly sees the market for web searching and one of the biggest technologies integrated into its next-generation operating system is comprehensive searching technology. Another sleeping giant that has not yet officially entered the search market is Interestingly, on the local front, as I reported on earlier, is currently offering restaurant menus for select cities.

This is going to be an interesting race to watch. The nice part about it is that the end result will be more comprehensive and technically advanced "free" technologies for the end users . . . you and me.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

How open are you to your customer's input?

Fast Company's blog has a story about a few guys in Australia that wanted to start a pub with a microbrew. Instead of creating multiple microbrews that mirrored everything else in the market, they turned to the Internet and let potential customers tell them what they wanted in a beer.

From the post:

"What if customers got a chance to design a beer themselves? Within weeks of pitching the idea to 140 friends and associates, the friends' start-up, Brewtopia, had more than 10,000 people on a database. Through a website, these 'members' created a beer, voting on everything from its alcoholic content to the design of the bottles. In return, members received 'viral equity' that pays dividends depending on how well the beer sells."

One of the things that strikes me when I watch the Thirsty Traveler on Fine Living is how so many breweries are into their old ways and old recipes. Beyond moving from wooden casks to stainless steel and improvements in manufacturing, what have the real innovations in beer been?

Is it really any surprise that beer has fallen by the wayside in the face of malternative beverages like Smirnoff Ice? Michelob Ultra seems to be the only response to current market conditions and I would be willing to bet that it wasn't an easy sell inside the Anheuser Busch organization. First mover advantage -- Michelob Ultra is the low-carb beer and everyone else looks totally reactionary (by the way, Michelob Ultra is taking a chunk out of the premier AB brand, Bud Light) in their responses to it.

The idea presented in the Fast Company blog seems like something that these major breweries should be able to pull off. In fact, it may be something that they may not have a choice but to do in the coming years.
Ever been frustrated with Windows and PC configurations?

Miguel Liebermann was very frustrated with the performance of stock Windows software and stock PC's in a business that did not forgive mistakes. After barely completing a commercial for Coca Cola's Millennium TV spot, Miguel began working with suppliers and manufacturers to create the kind of PC's that performed how he envisioned they needed to perform. Enter the company called L.

L carries some of the highest end PC's, laptops, displays, and accessories for both consumers and professionals. Not only does L carry extremely high performance hardware, but L actually has made modifications to the core Windows XP operating system and core Internet Explorer software.

Check out the Grand Canyon display systems that use multiple LCD monitors to stretch from 72 to 96 inches.

Check out L's Windows XP modifications.

I wonder what would happen if more people decided to go out and change the products that they hated or weren't performing as they wanted. With the shrink of the global economy and the ability for anyone to offshore their manufacturing, the possibilities are endless.
Social networking?

Fast Company's blog has an excerpt of a speech from Jonathan Abrams, CEO of Friendster, one of the more "name brand" social networking companies, that describes very well what social networking is.

From the speech, and, no, the paragraphs are not as presented in the speech, rather just paragraphs I selected as important (read the full excerpt at Fast Company):

"The story of Friendster is that my girlfriend dumped me and I created the Web site to get laid. That's a good story, and I've seen it printed in various places. It helps for getting consumer press, but the unfortunate reality is that it's more boring than that. Running an Internet company with a bunch of dudes and spending your time in front of a computer isn't the best way to have a rich social life.

Because I've been using this stuff so long in my career, I didn't really want to start dating online. started in 1995, but in 2002 it really hit an inflection point. I didn't find those services at all. I found the idea of chatting with random, anonymous strangers really creepy. I'm also a big networker professionally, and I noticed that a friend had a lot of female friends he was hanging out with, and he wasn't sleeping with them, but he would hook up with their friends. I'm sure you know people like that.

What if there was a way to meet people online through your friends? This would be better for dating, but it would also be better for things that weren't dating. So I started thinking about a dating site that wasn't about dating. Buddy lists where you know everybody and online discussions where things are totally open have been basically how people interact. That's not how we interact in the real world. I wanted to build something in the middle.

A lot of people want to create a viral service. Friendster goes beyond this viral marketing that people talk about. It's something I call viral nagging. People get peer pressure from their friends to sign up, improve their profile, and change their photo. That's more powerful than anything I could do. Instead of a site like where you build a site and hope your friends find you, you build your site with them.

What is the real vision of Friendster? The idea is to experience the Internet, but to experience it with your friends. We are trying to improve on what people do on the Internet realizing that we are connected. In 2004, you'll see more applications added to the platform. There are some interesting implications to that. I'll meet someone at a party, and the next day I can see what they really look like -- or someone will send me a Friendster message. A universal yearbook is pretty interesting. Once upon a time people had to make plans. Now we have cell phones and we can call at the last minute. With Friendster, you can contact people without really knowing their contact information."
Update: Eighteen hard truths of off-shoring

In February,I posted Tom Peters' 16 Hard truths of Off-Shoring. Tom has updated the list to include 2 additional truths, so I am including the whole list again below:

1. "Off-shoring" will continue; the tide cannot be reversed.

2. Service jobs are a bigger issue than manufacturing jobs, by an order of magnitude.

3. The automation of business processes is as big a phenomenon in job shrinkage as off-shoring.

4. We are in the middle of a once every hundred years' (or so) productivity burst -- which is good for us ... in the long haul.

5. Job churn is normal and necessary: The more the better ... in the long haul.

6. Americans' "unearned wage advantage" (Born in the U.S.A.) could be erased ... Permanently.

7. The wholesale, increasingly upscale entry of 2.5 billion people (China, India) into the global economy at an accelerating rate is virtually unfathomable. Unfathomable = Unpredictable, exceptional challenges, amazing opportunities.

8. Free trade works. Period. It makes the world a safer place ... in the long haul. The process is not pretty at times. (Sometimes long times.) Those who dutifully followed yesterday's rules yet are displaced must be helped when the "rules change." Such help must not be in perpetuity -- it demands a sunset date.

9. Big Companies are off-shoring/automating almost exclusively in pursuit of efficiency and shareholder value enhancement. (This is not new or news.)

10. Big companies do not create jobs, and historically have not created jobs. Big companies are not "built to last;" they almost inexorably are "built to decline."

11. Job creation is entrepreneurially led, especially by the small fraction of "start-ups" that become growth companies (Microsoft, Amgen, FedEx et al.); hence entrepreneurial incentives including low capital-gains taxes and high R&D supports are a top priority.

12. Primary and secondary education must be reformed, in particular to underscore creativity and innovation -- the mainstays of high-value added products and services. Children should be nurtured on risk-taking, with a low expectation of corporate cosseting.

13. Future success rests upon ... Excellence in Innovation. Hence, among other things, research universities must be vigorously supported.

14. National/global protection of intellectual capital-property is imperative.

15. Broadband EVERYWHERE is a National Priority ... akin to the priority placed on combating Global Terrorism.

16. All economic progression is a matter of moving up the "value-added chain." (This is not "management speak": Think farm to factory to R&D lab.) The good news: Technology change is so vigorous for the foreseeable future that those who can "seize the moment" have lots of room to play.

17. Worker benefits (health care, re-training credits, pensions) should be portable, to induce rather than impede labor mobility.

18. Workers have the ultimate stake. And thus the ultimate personal responsibility. (Think: Emerson, self-reliance.) "Workers"/we/all must "re-imagine" ourselves -- take the initiative to create useful global skills, not imagine that large employers or powerful nations will protect us from the current (and future!) labor market upheavals.

Additionally, Tom has some quotes on his site regarding off-shoring, and I have included some of the quotes below:


"The world has arrived at a rare strategic inflection point where nearly half its population -- living in China, India, Russia -- have been integrated into the global market economy, many of them highly educated workers, who can do just about any job in the world. We're talking about three billion people." (Craig Barrett, CEO, Intel)

"The notion that God intended Americans to be permanently wealthier than the rest of the world, that gets less and less likely as time goes on." (Robert Solow, Nobel Laureate in Economics)

According to the recent issue of Tom Peters Times, many people are writing into Tom, not agreeing with him at all. That seems somewhat strange to me, but Tom is not always right (and for that matter, neither am I).
Shortening your URL

Wired News reports on a service called Tinyurl. Tiny URL allows you to shrink massive URL's down into more manageable (and more easily remembered or, more importantly, marketed) URL's.

From the article:

"The idea is indeed simple. Plug in a long URL, say the MapQuest page for the White House --
-- and you get something short and sweet --"

Best part of the service? It's free!
offsetting outsourcing

According to an an article on, Colin Powell has asked India to open its markets to US firms to help offset the economic "damage" that offshoring will create. However, in the article it says that India opening its markets will not be a "quid-pro-quo" for off-shoring.

India, of course, is very concerned about potential American protectionist laws. From the article:

"Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan said that . . .[protectionist]. . . laws could damage the U.S. economy instead of protect American workers."

From the article, Powell's views on outsourcing/offshoring:

"Powell said that outsourcing was an inevitable offshoot of capabilities that the Internet and broadband technologies have made available to companies."

"'That gives you the kind of outsourcing that we have seen here. We have also seen outsourcing of jobs in the U.S. to Mexico, China and to other parts of the world' as the global economy develops, Powell said. 'At the same time, we hope there will be trading opportunities in other parts of the world, so that the U.S. can offset the losses.'"

Monday, March 15, 2004

Off-shoring, yet again

Knowledge@Wharton has an article on off-shoring that presents some interesting points of view:

"There is operational risk the likelihood that a process will break down when you move it abroad. There is strategic risk when you transfer a process to a third party, it can behave in ways that are opportunistic. It might cut costs at your expense, for example. And then there is what I call composite risk if you outsource too many jobs, you erode the capabilities within your firm. For these reasons, Aron has found that companies typically will limit their outsourcing to about 8% to 10% of their total positions."

"Maybe what we are seeing is fundamental transformation, but so what? asks Paul Tiffany, a business historian and Wharton adjunct professor. In the late 19th century, we saw the same kind of change when the U.S. textile industry migrated from the Northeast to the South. Southern workers got lower wages and were non-union and that was perceived as more conducive to business."

I noted the same thing as Paul Tiffany back in January -- the offshoring process in inevitable. Andrew Grove might call this an overwhelmingly big inflection point for businesses in general.
Microsoft Techjobs Blog points to the Microsoft Technical Careers Blog. This is (but should it be?) a somewhat novel approach for attracting applicants and communicating to potential employees.

What is the point of the blog? They, of course, have an answer:

"Our intended audience is anyone interested in learning more about Microsoft technologies and career opportunities, but we are most focused on reaching out to those who are industry professionals and interested in pursuing technical/engineering roles at Microsoft. (We are not trying to exclude you college students, but we have a fabulous College Recruiting Team already doing a lot great work in this space.)

Our goal is to not only educate you on happenings, new technologies, and best practices at Microsoft but also put a “face” to Microsoft Recruiting. We promise we aren’t a black hole! You are encouraged to contact any of the recruiters you see profiled on this blog, and we promise to respect confidentiality and privacy."

Already there have been some interesting entries on the blog regarding tools that they use to locate talent (i.e., a talent locator search engine called Eliyon). Check out the site if you want a job with Microsoft or even if you don't (who knows, you might not know that you do). If for no other reason, check out how blogging is being leveraged by a HR department to attract talent.
How many germs are on your computer?

Gizmodo has a post that passes you through to this article on that states:

"According to the study, telephones harboured up to 25,127 germs per square inch, keyboards 3295 and computer mice 1676. The average office contains 20,961 germs per square inch."

Remember that when your tech support guy has a cold.

What other insights did the article have?

"Desks are really bacteria cafeterias," Mr Gerba said in a press release. "They are breakfast bars, lunch tables and everything else, as we spend more hours at the office.

"When someone is infected with a cold or flu bug, the surfaces they touch during the day become germ-transfer points because some cold and flu viruses can survive on surfaces for up to 72 hours," he added. "An office can become an incubator."

No more meetings in my office with sick people!

Finally, some advice from "US Health Officials":

Offiicials reminded Americans to cover their nose and mouth while sneezing, wash their hands regularly and use disinfectant swabs to clean their office desks.


Onfolio Publisher is a new piece of software that "bolts on" to Internet Explorer. It seems to be targeted towards people the do a fair amount of web research, but seems to have some very cool features.

The software essentially performs three activities:

1. Collect information while you are browsing. This information includes hyperlinks (ala your standard Favorites options), but also gives you the ability to store a copy of the web page directly to your hard drive. Furthermore, you can collect text snippets, screen shots, PDF's, pictures, etc.

2. Organize the data that you collect. Everything that you collect is categorized in cascading folders (i.e., major topic, sub topic, sub-sub topic, etc.)

3. Share the stuff you collect. This is the coolest part about the software. The software actually allows you to put together detailed reports, publish websites, or create RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feeds from the information you collect.

All in all this seems like a very useful product, but I haven't tested it for that long. I've yet to find any real bugs, and the user interface is very straightforward. I like the automated report building as it allows the sharing of information very easily, especially for projects within the organization (and the website function is as easy to use). For many users (especially those producing news, blogs, etc.), the RSS functionality is very cool. Price is about $30 and seems well worth it if it's something you actually would use.

California Attorney General to target P2P?

According to this article on Wired News, that's exactly what's going to happen. Interestingly, the article points out that text found in a MS Word document leaked from the Attorney General's office sounds very much like language used by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and metadata in the Word document shows that it may have been reviewed by someone at the MPAA.

From the article, text found in the leaked letter:

"As a P2P software developer and distributor, we believe you have the ability and responsibility to better educate consumers about these known risks, and to design your software in a manner that minimizes the risks. We view with grave concern reports that at least some P2P software developers may be adding features deliberately designed to hinder law enforcement in its prosecution of crimes using P2P software. Companies that engage in such conduct, and fail to meet the important responsibilities referenced above, harm the interests of consumers in our States.

It is widely recognized that P2P file-sharing software currently is used almost exclusively to disseminate pornography, and to illegally trade copyrighted music, movies, software and video games. File-sharing software also is increasingly becoming a means to disseminate computer worms and viruses. Nevertheless, your company still does little to warn consumers about the legal and personal risks they face when they use your software to 'share' copyrighted music, movies and computer software. A failure to prominently and adequately warn consumers, particularly when you advertise and sell paid versions of your software, could constitute, at the very least, a deceptive trade practice."

While movie trading hasn't reached near the fervor of music trading (nor has it received anywhere near the amount of media attention), it still goes on with fair amounts of frequency over P2P networks. Haven't we seen this strategy before? RIAA vs. Napster, Napster shut down, P2P starts, music industry is fundamentally changed (and fundamentally hated because of the previously-perceived price gauging and lawsuits specifically targeting individual users).

I've asked in some of my previous posts on these topics if the MPAA was listening. Apparently they are not.
More off-shoring

Another article on Businessweek, but this article has unique twist -- the person writing the article is off-shoring his movie. That's right, his movie. He will be filming at least half of his movie in Bollywood, India's Hollywood.

From the article:

"The point of all this is that the current view of outsourcing and resulting job loss is simplistic and binary. The economies of the world are now interlinked more tightly than ever before. Witness my film and my story. A child of India, immigrates to America from Australia, where he has been educated, starts a technology company and invests his own money to employ Americans. When I was growing up in Canberra, the Australian capital, such a trajectory would have been nearly unimaginable. Foreigners didn't start technology companies in the U.S. Today, it's an old story. In fact, the story today is that I am involved in making a movie in India. And the technology company that I started is now expanding rapidly and is looking for more employees in the US."

As I have stated before, off-shoring is inevitable, and it's really not all that new. I like the definition of the view on outsourcing/off-shoring being ". . .simplistic and binary . . ."
Q&A about off-shoring

Businessweek has and interesting Q&A with Kevin Wallace of upstart Atmoz regarding off-shoring (the article calls it "outsourcing," but the thrust of the article is about outsourcing overseas).

From Wallace in the article:

"It really gets down to collaboration. We can get all the people we need into one room. A lot of what we do is the user interface, and we like to have our engineers on the phone with customers so they know what customers want. If we had a team overseas, we'd probably end up with more headaches. "

There are some valid points in this article, and some points that are really more applicable to start-ups than to already established businesses. Certainly a worthwhile read.

Thursday, March 11, 2004

Yahoo! adds VOIP functionality to Yahoo! Messenger

Check it out here on the Motley Fool. Expect AOL IM and Windows Messenger to follow shortly.

Can you hear the cracks forming in the old telephone provider model?
Would you pay a hacker to add your name to a college list?

According to this article on, that's exactly what people are doing. Additionally, there are apparently websites that allow you to sign up with them and use that site's phone number on your resume to verify fictional past employment. Is it any wonder that employers are conducting more and more in-depth background checks.

By the way, according to the article, here are the penalties if you answered yes to my question:

"People could be charged with a felony for hacking into a university's database, according to criminal lawyers. And if a false degree leads to higher pay for a job candidate, he or she could be accused of criminal fraud by the employer."

FOLLOW-UP: Business 2.0 has an article on its site that tells you how to (legally) beat the machines and software that are currently in use at many corporations for sorting resumes. Unethical, perhaps, but not illegal.
Apparently it's against the law to use new technology

At least that seems to be the case in Seth's Godin's blog about his Prius. The Toyota Prius, a hybrid electric/gas vehicle uses a push-button starting mechanism that is part of what Toyota terms "Smart entry and start system" (yes, the system is listed as a "feature" of the vehicle on the Toyota website. From Seth's blog:

"When I get to the garage, I calmly invite the attendant to learn how to drive my car. With no exceptions, they refuse. They're offended. They are, after all, professionals.

So, yesterday, when I went to pick up my car, not one, not two, but three guys had to climb into my car and try to figure out how to start it, jabbing and pressing everything. My offers to teach them were rebuked."

Perhaps these guys aren't so professional after all. Or perhaps they have failed to re-invent themselves to the new way of entering and turning on cars. If this kind of entry system is standard equipment on a regular Toyota vehicle, do these valets think that they won't start seeing this kind of system (or, Gasp!, something even more technically advanced)? Get with the program!

Case-in-point: Lexus is the premium brand of Toyota, so, not surprisingly, they have what they call the SmartAccess system. Clicking through the Lexus site and looking at the LS430 demo, the SmartAccess system looks far more complex than the Prius system. And history has shown that if one luxury car company has a toy, all of the rest of the luxury car companies will have their own variant of that toy within one model year as well.

Maybe the system is too simple for the valet's to figure out -- there certainly appears to be big letters on the Prius button that clearly say "Start" (ok, I have to say it because you know you were thinking it -- maybe the valets can't read).
The magic obesity bullet?

Ok, maybe that's taking it too far. However, there's a story in Gizmodo about an article on The Guardian. The article talks about adapting some sort of device that allows you to draw power from your body to provide juice for your PDA, cell phone, etc. Gizmodo likens this to the basic idea of the body-in-a-tube concept in the Matrix.

From The Guardian article:

"Suppose you could wear some kind of patch that drew energy from your body and converted it into a useful form to power your laptop, cellphone, iPod, GPS, PDA, Bluetooth headset, torch and sonic screwdriver? In essence, your body would just be burning additional calories. This would have to rank as one of the greatest inventions in human history and its inventor would be rich beyond the dreams of avarice. As you talk on your phone, play Tetris on your laptop or groove away to your iPod ... you'll be getting thinner."

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Walmart's music store

Wired news has an interview with's executive Kevin Swint. For those of you that did not know, very quietly started its own music store with tracks priced at $0.88 as opposed to the "standard" price of $0.99 per track (iTunes and Napster). Unlike the other services, has not been trumpeted their volume successes nor have they disclosed the revenue-sharing model that they have with the record companies (you can bet that it's better than everyone else's based on Walmart's purchasing power).

As it says in the article, there are more restrictions on the Walmart downloads -- Digital Rights Management is a bit more strict than some of the other services, but perhaps that's the trade-off for the cheaper price. I must admit that the Walmart library is fairly expensive. I will wait to see if the standard Walmart model applies and tracks cost $0.86 next year. Can Walmart compete with the sexiness of Apple's iPod and iTunes? It's anyone's game at this point, although Apple is certainly leading the pack. The interesting time will be when Walmart releases a Walmart-branded or exclusive very low cost MP3 player and cross-advertises the store with the player -- there are certainly music consumer our there for whom price is most definitely a factor.
A network engineer's wet dream

Gizmodo is referring to the Possio PX30 Magic Box as a "babblefish" for networks. The source article for the information is on Linux Devices and details the specs of the Magic Box:

"The PX30 is delivered as a complete system, including a plastic enclosure, pre-configured Linux OS, and IBM Java virtual machine and OSGi Service Platform"

". . . the PX30 . . . can be configured as a router between Ethernet, WLAN, Bluetooth, and USB, supporting configurations that would otherwise require an unusual combination of technologies, protocols, and devices. An available option adds WAN connectivity through support for GPRS, UMTS/TDD, or UMTS/FDD"

What's all that mean? Remember the IBM commercials where they are proposing a universal business adapter? Well, this could seriously be the first universal network adapter.
House printer

Gizmodo reported on a machine that can actually "print" (read fabricate) a house from detailed drawings. According to the source article on New Scientist:

"It takes instructions directly from an architect's computerised drawings and then squirts successive layers of concrete on top of one other to build up vertical walls and domed roofs."

The machine has been tested with a cement mix, but the inventor thinks that the machine could work easily as well with a mud and straw mixture for consumers desiring a little more third-world construction material.

The coolest thing about the machines is that it can operate around-the-clock with very little supervision (and certainly no breaks, late starts, or early end times). The first prototype house is slated to be constructed in 2005, and designers, according to the article, think that there may be the potential to use this machine to make curved walls and other architectural marvels that are otherwise very difficult with conventional techniques.

Monday, March 08, 2004

Revisiting the subject of online music (aka "Free advice for the record companies")

Let's talk my opinions about online music, digital players, etc. No links to other sites, no links to other people's articles.

I am an avid early adopter of music devices, media, etc. My CD collection numbers into almost 2,000, most of which I bought at "bargain prices" at Tower Records or by joining BMG several different times.

When online file-sharing started in a big way, I was in the position of having an unlimited use Ethernet connection in my college dorm room. At that point, it would have been theoretically easier for me to download songs that I already had on CD rather than to take the time to rip them. Why? Because my Internet connection's throughput rate was actually faster than the speed of the CD-ROM drive in my computer.

Fast-forward to today and the world of iTunes, and I actually find myself paying for songs that I know that I own on CD, but do not yet have in MP3 (or AAC) format. Why? Well, it's actually easier to download them and pay $0.99 then to go through the hassle of flipping through all my CD binders to find one song. It goes back to the question: How much is your time worth?

I have heard about and researched the services that you can ship all of your CD's to, have them rip the tracks, and receive all of your music back on a hard drive. It's somewhat tempting because I could still make a fortune trading in all my CD's (they haven't become that irrelevant yet as to be worthless). However, I don't really want all of the music that I have on CD as MP3 files. If I liked 1 song by a group, I used to buy the whole CD. In the 90's, the one-hit-wonder years, there really were tons of CD's I bought where I only liked and still only like one song. So even if I got everything ripped to a drive by someone else, I'd still have to go through and get rid of all the songs I didn't want.

Many people ask me if I think that the downloading model is sustainable. My answer is always "no," which greatly confuses people. In these cases I like to remind people of the technology that got that company sued. When was one of the hot start-ups, they had a software application you could download that would allow you to "store" all your music on their site and listen to it from anywhere. Amazingly, after downloading this software, you could rip a CD to the site in mere seconds. How did they do it? The software simply read the information in the zero track of the CD (the same information that the CD Database reads) and gave you "credit" for owning the CD (or at least having a physical copy of the CD in your possession long enough to pop it into your machine) by adding the CD to your collection on their site. You could then take your "tracks" on the site and make playlists and all of the kinds of things you could do with MP3 players at the time. got in trouble because they had ripped a library of CD's on their servers, and when your played a track on their service, you were actually playing a MP3 off of their server, which is also why you were able to "rip" CD's so quickly with their software.

The thing that's sad to me about the demise of this service is that it had so much potential (by the way, the reason the service really could never succeed was because record companies had never put unique identifiers into the zero track of each CD, VIN's if you will, that would allow each CD to have a non-repeating code, thereby allowing services such as's to actively prevent copyright infringement). Try to imagine if the service still existed. You would have "ripped" all your CD's onto the service and made all the same playlists you have now, but you wouldn't have paid any more than the cost of the CD and you wouldn't' be at any risk of being sued by the RIAA. would probably be selling CD's or individual CD tracks online that would automatically appear in your library once the transaction was completed. No matter where you were, at home, at work, on a high-speed cell network, you would be able to access your music from any browser and listen to your music. CD sales might not have dropped so dramatically so quickly because that would still be the preferred method of getting your music into the service, and you would need something to listen to in your car.

Ok, time for my small diversion regarding high-speed car access: satellite radio is not the best idea in the world, but what it does do is provide an infrastructure for data access in a vehicle. Because Sirius and XM are aggressively working with manufacturers to get their equipment OEM'd into cars. If Sirius or XM were to cut the radio bandwidth and begin to provide relatively high-speed access to existing XM and Sirius subscribers, I doubt anyone would complain. Personally, I'd forgo all of the radio stations in return for being able to access my e-mail via voice command through my stereo system. Oh, and my stereo system would, of course, be configured to access my playlists and allow me to listen to them in my car.

There seems to be this overwhelming desire to own music, which I don't quite understand. I would be perfectly happy to pay subscription fees to companies like, my ISP, and maybe some few other people to access music. Not that I'm coming up with a revolutionary idea, there've been articles on Wired regarding people's ideas about music fees built into cable .

The music (and movie) companies are going to have to figure out some licensing because I am going to want to take my music (and movies) with me to places where I might not have Internet access. You will have to spend money figuring out how to license data to me for only 10 or 30 days that I can download to my personal player and take with me. "That's expensive," the music companies will say. My response is: "How much is it costing you to prosecute people because you didn't figure this out correctly in the first place? I'm sure it's not going to cost more than your attorney's fees." "People will hack it," the companies will say. And I would respond, "You are absolutely right. People hack everything. But trying making it harder to hack than just pressing 'shift' on my keyboard to get through the protection. Also, if the infrastructure doesn't make it convenient to hack it and the pricing doesn't make it worth it to hack it, then I probably won't hack it."

The downloading concept is cutting it for me now, but I truly don't believe it to be a good long-term strategy, for me as the user or for the companies as the purveyors. In fact, I know it's not working for you because after that brief blip in P2P usage during the first round of lawsuits, P2P is now stronger than ever and users can install cloaking software and sign up for cloaking services to make it harder for companies to prosecute them. CD's at their current price and how they currently work no longer cur it for me. And, to be quite frank about it, bundling a DVD with the CD and charging $20 for it isn't really my cup of tea either.

Change = pain, and no matter what the companies decide to do, it's going to be extremely painful. The problem is, in pursuit of profits, the companies lost sight of the fact that they make money when consumers work within the system, not against the system. The companies forgot that somewhere in the equation, there needs to be some degree of consumer satisfaction, which does not show up on a P&L statement and won't create a pretty chart for the board meeting. And the companies were so sure that music sharing was not going to be a threat to their business, that instead of being proactive early and embracing the new technology when it emerged, they are now playing a game of catch-up that they may never win. If the customer is once client of the companies, then the artists are the other clients who are losing out on this new world and beginning to use the very medium that is destroying the record companies to reach directly to their consumers and give the consumers the experience and music that they want in the format in which they want it.