Friday, January 30, 2004

Hotel Zaza

I recently had the opportunity to stay at Hotel Zaza in Dallas, Texas. These people know what to do to make a hotel really cool!! Normally, for me, a hotel is just a place you sleep, but Zaza turned being in a hotel into an experience.
NOTE: Zaza in Dallas now has a new website: Zaza Dallas
I arrived at the hotel in a cab and my door was opened by a large entleman wearing a black flight jacket that looked like a bouncer. As a matter of fact he was a bouncer, you see the bar/restaurant in the hotel is currently one of the hotspots in Dallas. To that end, when I checked in, I received my guest identification card that allowed me to cut the bar line if I was coming back to my room -- I was also told that I would probably need the card when I returned to my room on Friday night as the line is normally around the block to get into the bar.

The decor of the lobby and hallways can only be described as very cool. I walked past the Shag-a-delic suite on the way to my room -- visions of Austin Powers danced in my head (check out the Zaza site, they have tons of themed suites, and, yes, the Sahg-a-delic suite looks like it came off the set of Austin Powers). I opened the door to my room and there was one light on just barely and several candles had been lit to illuminate the room rather than my having to try and find the lightswitch for the closest flourescent overhead fixture (by the way, there were no flourescent lights anywhere in the hotel).

All of the furniture in the room was a cool black laquer finish and there was a work desk in the shape of a piano. Every detail had been thought out. I went to grab the iron and couldn't find the board, I looked at the cord of the iron and there was a tage telling me that they stored the ironing board under the bed (ok, so I looked for the ironing board for 20 minutes before I picked up the iron).

The minibar was perhaps the best-stocked I had ever seen. Aside from the normal complement of drinks and snacks, there was all kinds of stuff not in the fridge. From a large tray of assorted candy and dry snacks (including high-end candies and snacks) to a disposable camera to a baseball cap, they had truly thought of everything I might have needed. The general manager had graciously provided me with a bottle of wine, which I opened with the thoughtfully-provided wine opener (can't tell you how many times I've received a bottle of wine in a hotel only to find that there is no way to open it -- and room service is never any help).

Cool furniture and light fixtures were throughout the room and bathroom. The had invested the money in a cordless phone that interfaced with their system (i.e., there was not a corded phone to be found in the room) and in a high-end Philips CD-player alarm clock. There was high-speed Internet in the room (as expected), but they had provided a spare cable to connect my computer to the Internet jack (why haven't other hotels thought about that). I was able to locate this cable because of the small information ring they had put around one of the dresser's door handles that stated what was in the drawer.

Bathroom was cool with marble (as expected from a hotel of this type). The coolest bathroom feature was a frosted glass window-sill in the showerthat had quotes carved into it. The quotes in the frosted glass were visible from the living room and by turning on the bathroom light, the quotes glowed. One perhaps unexpected effect of putting the quotes in the shower was that from the shower side the quotes looked backwards, but when looking at the mirror over the sink, you could read the quotes in the reflection.

One last note about quotes (being the large fan and collector of quotes that I am): Every night when they turned down the bed and lit candles in the room, they left a card on the bed with a different famous or interesting quote. And instead of the standard chocolate mint on the pillow, the maid left a different candy -- the first night I got a ring-pop (didn't even know they still made those) and the second night I got a Tootsie Roll pop.

Other hotel chains . . . . . . . . . are you listening?
Offshore mania

I first read a cohesive article about the offshoring (like outsourcing, but doing it outisde your coutry) of American white collar jobs in Tom Peters' new book Re-imagine! (haven't read it, you should buy it, and read it, and then read it again). Tom makes what many may think are dire predictions about how many American white collar jobs are going to be outsourced to countries like India in the next 5 years. Is he being alarmist? Maybe, and then again, maybe he's not being alarmist enough.

Examine the following articles:

Fast Company | Offshore Storm: The Global Razor's Edge

Wired 12.02: The New Face of the Silicon Age

HP: Protectionism won't save Europe's jobs | CNET

BW Online | December 8, 2003 | The Rise Of India

Pay special attention to the Wired article above, it's very comprehensive.

What does all this mean? Ask Tom Peters and he will tell you that it is time to re-invent yourself. He's right. This has happened before, and you don't need to read the Wired article to figure it out, you already know it. Think about American history:

(1) Farming is the big major industry then industry begins. People move from farms to factories, but it takes awhile. Farms become more efficient with less and less people.
(2) Industry creates the need for office jobs.
(3) Industrial workers begin to move into offices, but it take awhile. Industry becomes more efficient with less and less people.
(4) Industrial (manufacturing) work begins to be farmed out to Asian countries. Japan becomes a massive force in the auto industry and electronics industries. Politicians campaign on platforms of protectionism. Buy American is a big deal.

Do you see the trend? Still a lot of cars and clothes and everything else are designed here in America, but built and assembled overseas. Should it really surprise any of us all that much that the act of writing computer code is really all that different from building a car? What fueled the consulting boom through the 1990's was really not strategy consulting per se, it was the act of dressing computer programmers in buttondowns and suits and calling them consultants. When I was a consultant I was paid a ridiculous amount of money as a base salary, overtime, and great beenfits and I did tech-strategy consulting that was then passed off to the other "consultants" (aka programmers) to code.

Let's do the simple math:

Average salary of a programmer in India -- $8,000
Average salary of a programmer in America (same skills) -- $30,000-$40,000

The math is really easy. In the immortal words of Doctor Demming, ". . .it ain't that hard folks."

Expect to see politicians soon (now?) standing on platforms of protectionism for the American programming jobs being shipped overseas. Simple fact of the matter is that this has happened many times before in our history and the end result has always been positive for us. Read the articles, the Indians don't want the job of developing and thinking up the software, they just want to build (code) it. Get it? This gives us more time to just, not to put too sharp a point on it, think shit up! That's what we do best. Read Tom's book. Pay attention to what's going on. Re-invent yourself to adapt to the new way of the world (damn right it's happening fast, that's what has you scared).
Video . . . games on demand?

Well that's the idea. And if you think about it, the biggest push for cable and satellite providers is video-on-demand. A company called Phantom Gaming Service is trying to deliver just that: video games on demand for customers that purchase its console, have a boradband Internet connection, and pay a monthly subscription fee. I had seen Phantom referred to earlier this month as some sort of massive stock scam, but an article today in Wired says something different. Apparently one of the initiators of the XBox project at Microsoft has joined Phantom as its President and CEO.

Listen, I'm not a big video game guy, but I have some firends that are big gamers. It seems to me that adventure games like Final Fantasy that take an average of 80-100 hours to beat are kind of a rip off. I mean once you've paid the $60 for the game, invested 80-100 hours in it, and beat it, there's really nothing left to do with the game. None of the people I know who are gamers want to beat it again. The same does not hold true for my friends' sports games, but a sports game, once purchased, is static until the next year's edition is produced. What would be cool (and would be a major strategic advantage) would be for Phantom to provide sports games that are constantly updated based on seasons in progress. For example, Player X plays for team Y. In the game on Sunday, he ran for 1000 yeards. You jack in to play a football game on your Phantom console on Monday, and your virtual team Y has a much stronger Player X than it had on Friday.
Here's another company you've never heard of . . .

. . . at least not yet. But you have heard of some of the people that work atSnocap. Snocap was founded by Shawn Fanning. Recognize the name? Ok, he wasn't that famous, but he was the founder of Napster. And I'm not talking about the legal version of Napster that exists now, I'm talking about the real start of P2P file-sharing that got Napster in serious trouble.

In any event Fanning and some of his Napster buddies have received funding from Ron Conway (he also initially funded Napster). Essentially Fanning is building a billing mechanism for the new P2P file-sharing services such as Kazaa and LimeWire. Provided the P2P software manufacturers are willing to participate with Snocap, Fanning is planning to be able to solve everyone's issues with P2P . . . or so it seems on the surface. What happens if P2P becomes regulated and billed? Users that demand free access to music, movies, software (by the way, although it's the RIAA that screaming the loudest, P2P affects the movie industry and the software industry as hard, and as personal video players -- imagine an IPod with a screen -- become more and more commonplace expect to hear more from the movie industry) will simply use software that allows private sharing forums. Software like Hotline allows anyone with a computer and an Internet connection to set up a by-invitation-only server.
Blackberry licensing

This isn't super-new news, but I figured that I'd touch on it breifly. RIM (they manufacture the Blackberry) or Blackberry, whatever you choose to call them, has opened up their software and allowed other manufacturers to license it. Why is this a big deal? Lots (a ridiculous amount) of corporations have invested a lot of money in the Blackberry software that sits on their e-mail servers. These corporations do not want to have to invest again in new software to keep up with the newest, coolest phones. Additionally, the devices manufactured by RIM aren't the prettiest things in the world (but currently they are the only devices that work with the expensive Blackberry software). The combination RIM Blackberry and phone devices are pretty akward, especially when compared to the Handspring/PalmOne Treo 600 device (by the way, PalmOne has signed a licensing deal for the Blackberry software, so we should see Treo's and other Plam devices capable of interfacing with Blackberry software by the end of clendar year 2004 at the latest).
TiVo gets better

There's been a lot of nes lately regarding TiVo's acquisition of a company called Om Malik has to say about TiVo using Strangeberry to turn the TiVo box into your digital entertainment hub.

After all, is it so weird that TiVo wants to be your home entertainment hub and integrator? Not really. This is very, very big business. The next generation XBox and PlayStation game consoles will have similar features built into them. The next big battle fought in the home theatre market will be the battle for the digital entertainment hub. Don't think so? I would point you to
Windows XP Media Center Edition, the Gateway Media Center that looks surprisingly like a high-end stereo component (but is, in fact, a fully featured Windows XP computer), features of the Sony PSX next generation Playstation that was released in Japan in time for last Christmas (by the way, by the time the pre-orders were filled for the PSX in Japan, there were hardly any left for consumers that had neglected to pre-order), the unauthorized XBox Media Center hack that allows you to turn your generation 1 XBox into a media center (by the way, this is open source).

I could go on and on with links to high-end stereo component manufacturers, companies that you've never heard of . . . but I think I made my point -- THIS IS A BIG DEAL!

Thursday, January 29, 2004

Foldable computer screens?

You bet! Philips plans to have a production line in place that can produce 1,000,000 units by 2005. Read more from Yahoo! here.

This is a very big deal. Imagine displays where you could never imagine them before. Imagine displays you can literally fold up and take with you (imagine carrying a screen in one of those pill fob containers).
Watching information

Here's a pretty in-depth review of the new Microsoft SPOT tecchnology from MobileWhack. I have only had a chance to briefly play with a SPOT (by the way, SPOT stands for Smart Personal Object Technology), but it doesn't seem that cool. Quite frankly, I just don't see a watch as an information device. I guess I have a different reaction when I see someone check a watch vs. pull out a cellphone, PDA, Blackberry, etc. to check information. Perhaps this goes back to my intolerance for people that wear expensive watches and can't stop looking at them: A Rolex tells time, same as the Casio G-Shock. Is a Rolex a lifestyle choice for others to notice? You bet. Is a SPOT watch a lifestyle choice? Personally, I don't think so.
More than you ever wanted to know about your cellphone

I don't care all that much about my cell phone. I like it's features, I like the service provider, and I like having the newest phone with all the bells and whistles.

I heard a rumor about a new Nextel phone coming out and went searching for information about it. In the course of my search I found discussion forums upon discussion forums focused just on talking about Nextel. It was astounding! One of the bigger forums I found that dealt with all different kinds of phones and carriers was HowardForums If you get a chance, check out what other people are saying about the phone you have and your service provider. Who knows, you may even find out something that makes using your cell phone a more enjoyable experience.

I love looking through the full store listing at You can do it yourself by going to the site and click the small link that says See All Stores (or be lazy and click the link I just provided to you).

I encourage you to check out all the stores that you didn't know that Amazon had.

While there, take alook in the right corner at "Services." You will notice that Amazon is now scanning and listing restaurant menus for restaurants in various cities (wasn't the first to notice it, I read about it first here in Seth Godin's blog). It's not clear to Seth why they're doing this. I would hazard to guess that it is a furthering of their "Search Inside This Book" technology. They're scanning in whole books and allowing you to search via keyword, why not return a menu in a city near you if you're searching under "Cheeseburger?" After all, if you've ever used Amazon and Amazon recognizes you when you come to the site, Amazon knows where your bills go to and where you ship to.
You've never heard of Andy Stern . . .

. . . and neither have I. However, I read and article about him in Business 2.0. Any Stern is the head of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). Many people think of Unions as dinosaurs that have not adapted to the current state of business . . . those many people may want to read what Stern says in the Business 2.0 article:

"I've said to our members, 'The world changed, and we didn't,'" Stern says. "I said, 'You can go on being comfortable losing the old way. You can blame the Democratic Party for not supporting unions sufficiently. You can blame our members for being apathetic. You can blame globalization for hurting our wages or blame immigrants for stealing our jobs. But I don't want to join that chorus.'"

For that matter, maybe there are some Unions and Union leaders that should take note of Stern's message. And really, businesses of all types, Union or not, should take heed of Stern's message.
More DVR advertising

Business Week Online is reporting about companies' reactions to personal video recorders (PVR). TiVo, of course, is the most well-known PVR service currently. I would argue that when TiVo hit 1,000,000 subscribers, they reached their tipping point and the number of TiVo (or at least PVR) subscribers should grow exponentially this year. To that end, DISH network is already offering free PVR equipment to its subscribers provided the subscribers agree to pay the monthly fee of about $5.

The Business Week article contains the following quote:

The future "is away from broadcast TV as the anchor medium," warned Coca-Cola Co. (KO ) President Steven J. Heyer last year.

Probably true. It will be interesting to see how advertisers deal with this.

For those of you that either were infected with the Mydoom worm or use a service like Postini (by the way, you should keep your eye on this company) and have been receiving an overwhelming number of blocked virus e-mails, you will be happy to know that Wired is reporting a new strain of the virus. Apparently Mydoom.B has been released and is also programmed to launch a denial of service attack against Microsoft and the SCO Group's site. Additionally, according to Wired, the virus will block access to 65 websites -- most of those websites belonging to antivirus software manufacturers.

As usual, this virus only affects systems running Microsoft operating systems.

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

IPOD's Dirty Little Secret

Yup, this story's a little old. In fact, you can see where I first told Seth Godin about this in November in his blog. Now Seth must have received a bunch of e-mail regardin this issue because he posted this update in his blog regarding where to find cheaper replacement IPOD batteries (the fact is that on the Apple support site they list the battery reapir at $99.00). Even more interesting is that Gizmodo recently reported that the British Parliament was looking at getting involved in Apple's replacement battery cost pricing (as you'll note when you link through, Apple is listing a replacement battery on their UK site for 79 pounds).

Here's the point: The original IPOD's Dirty Little Secret video made news everywhere on the web. Did it matter that either the guys were wrong or that Apple had since corrected the problem? NO! The point is in the viral transmission of the message. The guys have a relatively valid complaint about unacceptable performance -- the point is the transmission; I would argue that his Internet video was far more effective than spraypainting billboards (and not illegal).
Re-designing Dish Soap?

You bet. And there doing a great job with it. Of course, I had never seen the product before I read the article in Business 2.0. I did ask some people about the product after reading the article and some people told me that they already had the soap. "Why did you buy it?", I asked. "Because it looks cool" was the response . . . every single time. Then I showed a picture of the product to people that had no idea what I was talking about . . . they all wanted to buy it.

Ok, so when's the last time you bought (impulsively) dish soap?
It's Like, Oh My God, Totally Awesome Marketing

At least that's the name of the article that can be found at Business 2.0 here. The interesting thing is that the ideas in this article are not really new. It reminds me of a book that I read by Seth Godin called "Unleashing the Ideavirus."

I would be happy to share a copy of Ideavirus with you. In fact, I found a website that is hosting a copy to share with you right now, click here. Now why would the author of the book be willing to let me give you an electronic copy of the book for free? Great Question! Read the book and find out.
Interesting story about the new fad in Europe of people that are using Bluetooth technology to send what many may consider to be spam, which can be found here.

Many cell phones outside the U.S. come with Bluetooth built in, and many more of the new cell phones released in the U.S. in 2004 will also have Bluetooth included. Essentially a person who wants to Bluejack someone simply sets their phone to be discoverable and search for Bluetooth phones within your immediate area. Of course, the ability to block this kind of activity is built into Bluetooth devices.

This reminds me of a blend between the beginning of e-mail spam and the continuing problem of people not enabling the security on their home wireless networks.
The death of reality tv?

Here’s an interesting one from the “Jargon Watch” column by Gareth Branwyn in this month’s Wired Magazine:

The 10-FF40-10 Solution
Using a DVR to watch an hour-long reality show in less than 30 minutes. It's easy: Record the show, view the first 10 minutes (the setup), fast-forward through the middle 40 (zzzzz), then watch the last 10 (the reveal).

As if it wasn’t bad enough that consumers can use their DVR’s to skip commercials, now reality shows have to worry about people skipping product placements. I believe this method would also work for the 30 minute reality show – simply reduce your viewing times to 5 minutes on each end and fast-forward through the middle 20.
New Year's Resolution

Ok, so here's my blog resolution (actually there's more than one): I promise to update this thing more frequently and I promise to provide more interesting content (or at least links to more interesting content).

So, here goes . . .