Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Tipping satellite radio

What exactly will it take for satellite radio to tip over and become common use for the masses?  Certainly having Sirius and XM installed as OEM equipment in vehicles helps, but what more can be done?

According to this post on Engadget, Sirius Satellite Radio has struck a deal with Walmart to distribute their product.  Certainly there are no other retailers that could give Sirius the kind of boost in sales that Walmart can.

I was recently in a remote area of Washington where radio signals were few and far between, and the stations that did come in consisted of Hispanic-format broadcasting and country, neither of which would be my first choice in what to listen to.  Some of the people that I was with had satellite radios in their homes and cars; it was a necessity if you were looking for radio programming as opposed to CDs or an iPod.  What was the biggest store in the area?  Walmart, of course.  Everyone in this area of Washington shopped at Walmart, and there are lots of areas of the country where there is a similar situation to the one I described in Washington.

Lots of the people that I talked to in this area of Washington had a fried or friends with satellite radio, but had not yet purchased because it simply was not convenient; they had to drive 3 hours to Seattle to find a good deal.  With Walmart carrying the product, I would guess that a lot of people in this area of Washington would quickly snap up a satellite unit.

Personally, I'm very happy with normal radio and my iPod.  To be honest, I listen to my iPod 90% of the time.  However, if I did not live in a metropolitan area and wanted to listen to the radio the other 10% of the time, I'd probably pay $10 per month for satellite service.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Why people aren't buying Tablet PCs

This chart comes courtesy of this post on Engadget and is originally from Jupiter Research.

As a recent convert to Tablet PC, I am extremely happy with the operating system and the digital ink functionality.  It is surprising to me that there is still a slightly higher cost for Table PC functionality in the marketplace and that more laptops do not come with Tablet PC functionality built in; I would imagine that in the next few years, Tablet PC functionality will probably be a standard feature of middle- to high-end laptops and that only bargain laptops will not include it.

An interesting data point above is the 25% that are not knowledgeable of the Tablet PC architecture or that it even exists.  Microsoft has certainly put less marketing horsepower behind the Tablet PC OS than it has many of its other products, so that may be a contributing factor to a lower adoption rate.

I will simply say this:  The Tablet PC that I am using lives up to all of my expectations.  My only gripe thus far is the lack of battery life; I get about 3 hours with the brightness on the screen cranked up all the way when I use it outdoors.  It took almost no time at all for me to teach myself how to use the Tablet PC functionality and I have had no problems at all with the software recognizing my handwriting.  Maybe it's just everyone else's loss.

Do you have a photocopier connected to the Internet?

If so, according to this post on Lockergnome, people can use Google to search for and find online devices that allow them to see everything that is being photocopied on your machine.  From the article;

"You don't have to be a genius to do this," said Jason Hart, security director at Whitehat UK. "You can see what people are photocopying on your monitor. You just have to search for online devices on Google."

Follow the link on Lockergnome for the full article.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Confessions of a Car Salesman

What if you worked for Edmunds and your boss told you to go get a job at a car dealership and write a story about it?  You have no experience selling cars, but you will be getting paid and receiving benefits from Edmunds.  Would you do it?  Whether you would or wouldn't, I found a link to this article on Edmunds entitled "Confessions of a Car Salesman" via this post on  A note of warning before you read the article: It's fairly long and, like a good novel, it's hard to stop reading once you start.

Some excerpts from the article:

Commissions were based on the "payable gross" to the dealership and were applied in three tiers. If the payable gross was from $0 to $749, our commission was 20 percent of the profit, from $750 to $1249 the commission was 25 percent of the profit. Above $1250 the commission was 30 percent of the profit. In other words, the higher the profit for the dealership, the higher the commission I would earn. Obviously, this motivated salespeople to build profit into the deal so they could hit that magic mark and get into the 30 percent bracket.

. . . I found that I was, in fact, working on straight commission. If I sold cars I made money. If I didn't sell, I didn't make a penny. Maybe that's why there were so many salespeople working here (about 85 in new and used cars). It didn't cost the dealership extra to have a big staff.

For every $10,000 that is financed, the down payment they try to get is $3,000 and the monthly payment they try for is $250. In this way, a $20,000 family sedan would require about $6,000 down and a $500 a month payment. (These payments are based on very high interest rates calculated on five-year loans. These numbers are so inflated that a manager I later worked with laughingly called them, "stupid high numbers.")

During my short stint as a car salesman I saw this look of fear from customers many times. It ranged from a mild apprehension to abject terror. Sometimes customers would actually become hostile. I'd cheerfully say, "How can I help you?" And they would lash out with, "Can't you leave me alone for one second? I just want to look! On my own! OK? On my own!"

Just received my new tablet PC

I'm upgrading it to Windows XP SP2 (need that Tablet PC 2005 OS!) right now and have to transfer over my files to it today and tomorrow, so more on my experiences and favorite add-in applications once I have a chance to play with it.

Monday, September 20, 2004

Just received my new tablet PC

I'm upgrading it to Windows XP SP2 (need that Tablet PC 2005 OS!) right now and have to transfer over my files to it today and tomorrow, so more on my experiences and favorite add-in applications once I have a chance to play with it.

New network installed at the new house

What's it consist of?

  1. Comcast Cable Internet
  2. Vonage telephone box (they're running a $50 mail-in rebate special on the box at Circuit City, if you're in the market for Vonage services)
  3. Linksys basic 4-port router
  4. Apple AirPort Extreme (for wireless access)

Everything works great and I've got wireless excellent coverage throughout the house.  The biggest drawback to a wireless setup is the battery life on my wireless computers; can you be truly "wireless" if you have to plug in to charge your battery every few hours?

The Vonage service is awesome!  Took about 5 minutes to set up (ok, it took a little longer until I realized that the easiest way to install the Vonage box was outside of the router; I'm going to set up the static routes for Vonage traffic on my router this evening.  Basically, had I read the instructions, I would have had a much faster installation time.) and I had a dial tone.  I opted for the $15 per month plan that includes 500 minutes of calling, local and long distance.  This is the first time that I've had a home phone in the last year and a half, but I can't beat the monthly price, so now I have one.  Additionally, the Vonage box coupled with some wireless electrical system jacks will allow me to finally activate TiVo service.

Finally I can blog from home again, so expect the blog traffic to pick up a little bit.

Friday, September 10, 2004

Here's a business plan . . .

. . . do awesome work and spend less of your time marketing yourself.  From Seth Godin's post comes a link to Number Seventeen, one of the hottest design companies in New York that is actually turning away business.  Look at the site and notice that the only link is to their e-mail address . . . AND THEY ARE TURNING AWAY BUSINESS.  What if you fired your web staff and focused solely on your core product offering (doesn't make much sense for web design companies, but are you a web design company?)?

10 Ways to Save $ on Business Expenses

The Business Opportunities Weblog has a great post on 10 ways to save money on business expenses, which originally comes from this article on BusinessTown:

  1. Develop a budget for each department.
  2. Develop a list of what employees are allowed to purchase.
  3. Know how much cash you have in the bank every day.
  4. Read and approve each expense.
  5. Stay on top of and try to collect as quickly as possible your accounts receivable.
  6. Extend your accounts payable.
  7. Barter for services and products.
  8. Only buy things you absolutely need.
  9. Ask every vendor for advice on how to save money on products you purchase from them.
  10. Put out a bounty on internal savings by rewarding employees with 10 percent of whatever money they can save the company

This list is great and very useful, but let me make it more basic: Act as if.  Act as if it was your own money that you were spending.  Would you stay in a suite or in a basic room?  Would you drive the luxury car or the mid-grade?  Would you order the $150 bottle of wine or the $50 bottle of wine if you were out with your significant other?

I especially think that number 10 above is the most important: Inspire your employees by paying them for saving money.  Imagine if everyone in your company allowed people to stay in their spare bedroom.  The person who provided the free lodging should be paid a small fraction of the money saved on what a hotel room would have cost and, chances are, if you are staying with an employee, you are going to the same place and might not need a rental car.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

5 Industry Leaders (for now) has a story on 5 industry leaders that may be facing massive inflection points in their businesses.  Here they are with my comments:

  1. Netflix.  netflix offers a monthly service that allows to rent DVDs through an online interface, have them directly delivered to your home, mail them back after you are done viewing them, and receive more movies.  Big movers such as Walmart and Blockbuster are sure to continue to heavily compete, but Netflix is looking to redefine the movie rental industry again by partnering with TiVo to provide video on demand services to TiVo users.  Are there enough TiVo users or will the service be enough to cause people to want to sign up for TiVo?  Certainly TiVo has recently been pursuing an aggressive pricing scheme for their hardware, but long-time partner DirecTV and other cable providers are looking to provide their own TiVo-type services and presumably video on demand services.  From the article, Lynn Briton had this to say:  "Our service is innovative and intuitive in a way that we don't expect Blockbuster to be able to replicate," Brinton said. "More than 99 percent of our 25,000 titles have been rented and we're uniquely able to connect our customers to our catalog. We can introduce people to more movies they love."
  2. PalmSource.  PalmSource is the new organization formed through the fusion of Palm and Handspring.  Their biggest single contribution has most certainly been the Treo 600 telephone and data device, soon to be trumped with a new and improved Treo 650.  However, Microsoft is pushing hard into the smartphone market and Sony has recently announced that they will stop producing PDAs that run Palm software.  Additionally, forthcoming Microsoft-based smartphones such as the Motorola MPX220 and MPX will run Blackberry software, allowing corporate users whose companies have invested in the Blackberry server solution to receive the same Blackberry information the currently receive now on a single, elegant device; although there have been rumors about a Blackberry client, Palm has yet to release anything for Treo users.  However, Microsoft continues to provide better and better Outlook Web Access, IMAP, and POP access with their Microsoft Exchange servers, which leads to not only a potentially brighter future for non-Blackberry devices, but also to number 3 below.  From the article:  "We want to bring the same elegance that we brought to handhelds over to smart phones," said Gabi Schindler, senior vice president of worldwide marketing at PalmSource. "Microsoft cannot make an easy solution. They have proven they can't do it."
  3. Research In Motion (Blackberry).  RIM has set itself up as the de facto standard for push-based corporate e-mail, with very few competitors (Good Technology being a competitor).  Up until recently, RIM Blackberry software only worked with RIM-produced hardware devices.  As mentioned above, RIM has been licensing their Blackberry software to many phone manufacturers such as Motorola, Nokia, and Sony.  Many corporations have already invested serious dollars into the Blackberry Enterprise Server solution, so it is likely that as long as RIM continues to license their technology and move more from a hardware provider to a software and service provider that they may be able to maintain their edge.  However, as mentioned above, Microsoft is offering better security options and easier use of both open standards such as POP and IMAP and web-based access (Outlook Web Access) with their newer versions of Exchange Server.  Additionally, Microsoft, as their operating system continues to penetrate the smartphone market, is offering Mobile Information Server that not only provides e-mail, contacts, and calendar, but also allows mobile employees access to mission-critical information systems.  Chances are that Microsoft will offer major incentives to Blackberry Enterprise Server users whenever they decide to really push Mobile Information Server.  Until such time as Microsoft makes a big push, if they can even gain a toehold, RIM is dominating the market.  The big downside?  RIM is involved in a patent infringement case that is causing some delay in adoption of the Blackberry software by companies like Motorola and Nokia.  Case-in-point in relation to my comments above, from the article:  "(CEO) Todd Bradley at PalmOne said he d didn't want anything to do with RIM until the NTP case is settled, that's indicative of the sentiment in the industry," said Jason Tsai, an analyst with equity research firm ThinkEquity Partners.  However, analysts are saying that should the plaintiff in the case win, the overall effect of paying royalties for the patent in dispute will only have a 2% impact on revenues.
  4. TiVo.  TiVo provides a monthly service that allows consumers to record television directly to a hard drive with features such as commercial skipping and pausing live TV.  As mentioned in number 1, TiVo and NetFlix have partnered to provide video on demand services to TiVo network-connected boxes.  However, as also mentioned previously, there are many generic competitors started by cable and satellite providers that may threaten the hold TiVo has on the market.  Beyond its partnership with NetFlix, TiVo also acquired a company called Strangeberry that is owned by a genius software programmer that creates software which allows integration between various recording devices; imagine audio recorded on a TiVo box wirelessly updating to your next generation iPod, video wirelessly updating to your personal video recorder, and being able to access content between various TiVo boxes and other devices wirelessly throughout your home.  Details about Strangeberry are closely held, but could be the ace in the hole that causes TiVo to come out the clear winner.  All of that about Strangeberry being said, Microsoft is actively pursuing the TiVo market with its Windows Media Center software and there are rumors that the new XBox and the new Sony Playstation will contain media center hardware and software to act as a digital entertainment hub.  Although TiVo is projecting 3 million subscribers by January of 2005 (according to the article), it certainly has not won the hot (and getting hotter) digital media center market.
  5. Vonage.  Voice Over IP (VOIP) is the hot new topic in the telecomm industry and vonage is certainly the brand name for VOIP.  With Vonage, for about $15 a month, you can plug a black box into your high-speed connection, choose a number with an area code anywhere in the country (no matter where you live), and receive phone service on top of your high-speed connection for much cheaper than a traditional phone line.  All of the big telecomm providers, such as AT&T, are jumping on the bandwagon and another service called Skype is hot on the heels on Vonage.  Skype was developed by the developers of the original Napster P2P software and allows free VOIP calls to other Skype software users along with a service called Skype-out that allows calls outside the skype network for $12.95 a month; the Skype software is available as a free download.  Although the competition is starting and will get much worse, Vonage has formed partnerships with home network equipment makers Linksys and Netgear to provide support for Vonage service in their new routers.  Additionally, Vonage hardware and service is available for sale at Circuit City.  The biggest challenge for Vonage is the fact that they do not own the infrastructure for their service (like an AT&T does), so they have no control over outages, which have occurred several times in the past few months.  Investors seem to believe in Vonage, as they have recently, according to the article, received a $105 million infusion of capital.

All of the companies are currently in market leader positions, but in the technology field, market leaders can be replaced in relatively quickly periods of time.  From the article:

While every field faces its shakeouts . . . consolidation in the tech sector can be shockingly rapid, and even companies with the best of ideas and a decent head start can be swamped by imitators.

Apple Computer, for example, owned the PC market 20 or so years ago but market share for the Mac operating system is now below 5 percent. About 10 years ago, if you used a PC to write you probably used WordPerfect but today you use Microsoft's Word. And Netscape once held a similar lead in the Web browser market but has fallen by a similar degree.

Incredibly cool Outlook add-on

Michael Hyatt over at Working Smart has written ad add-on for Outlook that allows an assistant, receptionist, etc. to easily take a phone message and the software turns the phone message entry into an e-mail. A detailed description of the software and very detailed instruction on how to get the software working with Outlook can be found here. a few important things to note:

  • This software is considered "alpha" (i.e., it has not really even been beta tested.
  • This software was created for use with Windows XP and Outlook 2003 and has not been tested with earlier versions of Windows or Outlook.
  • The installation requires a fair amount of technical skill -- this is not an installation for the faint of heart.

Michael is looking for a VB6 programmer to help him turn this into an Outlook COM add-in. I look forward to watching how this software develops; hopefully it can be turned into a COM add-in and be tested for compatibility with earlier Windows and Office versions.

Quick screenshots:

The While You Were Out button on the Outlook toolbar:

The interface for someone filling out a message.

Follow this link to see how the form above looks when the "Send" button is pushed.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Mozilla doubles usership in 9 months

From this post on Slashdot:

"Thanks to the success of Firefox, Mozilla now appears to have 14.9% of the browser share, double that of 9 months ago. Let this be a lesson in complacency."

Enough said.