Wednesday, October 24, 2012

iPhone 4S un-cased

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 18, 2012

You're a liar . . .

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

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

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

Lying is a cooperative act.

What is school for?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 08, 2012

Fan feedback

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

Insurance coverage limit winners

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Google TV?

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Lives of quiet, screaming desperation ...

I like this TEDx presentation from Nigel Marsh regarding work/life balance -- I've also embedded it below.

Here's a direct quote from the presentation: "There are thousands and thousands of people out there leading lives of quiet, screaming desperation, where they work long, hard hours at jobs they hate to enable them to buy things they don’t need to impress people they don’t like."

Worth a watch and some hard thought.  Maybe even make that list of ideal work/life balance and see what it looks like and what it would take to realize it.

What does freedom mean to you?

Adam Baker suggests that if you sell off all your crap and pay off your debts, you can do what you love -- he shares his story here in this 20 minute TEDx presentation that I've also embedded below.

I find myself questioning more and more the same logic that Baker goes through myself.  Looking back at the education system, it's designed to train you to work in factories, to push you into a system that doesn't really seem to work anymore.  There is no secret commandment that says you have to go into debt for houses or cars or finance anything.  Certainly it's easier and made as easy as possible for you to finance things and go into debt, but that is very much the point.

There are lots of interesting stories about lifestyle creep (i.e., the more you make, the more you spend, and then you reset the minimum amount you have to make to "survive") and about the leveraged situations that people put themselves in (i.e., you have to make "x" amount of money to support all your debts and your lifestyle choices, so you trade happiness in what you do for a paycheck).

There's a problem, of course, with these lines of thinking and that is that the system is set up to "reward" those that play within the rules.  It's harder to drive the new, cool car if you don't lease it or finance it; it's harder to live in the cool house if you don't mortgage it.

I can tell you, however, from personal experience, that it's really not that hard if you put your mind to it.  And once you figure out how to work outside the typical system, you'll find that you're having more fun and you start to care less about the "things" that the system tells that you should have.  What you will realize is that you have significantly more flexibility, significantly more freedom of action.

What's funny is that I started in the same way that Adam suggests that everyone can: with the crap around the hours.  How much does the crap you have sitting around limit your freedom?

Grab a trash bag and make a start.  See where it takes you.

Friday, October 05, 2012

Entertainment tours in a tour bus

There are an awful lot of people in the music business that support the major acts and live performances that you see at arenas and stadiums and theatres by traveling via tour bus.

Some of the hardest working people in entertainment spend their nights sleeping in a small bunk space on a bus, leaving one city at night (or early in the morning) only to arrive in a new city when they wake up the next morning (or later the same morning) to do it all over again.

It's an interesting culture in America of the people that not only choose to live this lifestyle, but thrive on this lifestyle -- these are people that might not know what to do in a "normal" job.

Although many think I'm crazy, I have had and continue to engage in opportunities to be on tour myself.  My situation is atypical in that I am married and have kids, but I generally take part in tours with limited timespans that provide opportunities along the way for me to see my family.

I have to be honest and say that my first on-tour experience made my nervous and I don't necessarily get nervous about a lot of things.  A big part of the reason for that was the fact that I was transitioning from a lifestyle of always living in a house or apartment with all of the amenities typically taken for granted -- big bed, bathroom, washer and dryer, etc. and trading that for a small bunk space on a bus.

When people ask me in detail about life on tour, these are the things we generally talk about:

  • Sleeping arrangements.  Most tour buses provide you with a small bunk space, which is your only private space on tour.  Typically buses are configured to sleep 12 people in these bunk spaces, so you essentially have 6 bunks on the passenger side of the bus and 6 bunks on the driver side of the bus -- these are configured 3 high by 2 long.  I honestly haven't done enough tours to particularly care about what bunk I get, but people that do this for a living typically have an exact bunk location that they prefer on the bus and there is much trading of spaces and negotiating that goes on at the start of tour.  For those of you that are curious, I seem to have a found a comfortable place on the front, lower, driver side bunk (shit, I might be one of those guys that has a preferred place already).  Note that the sleeping areas have no outside windows and are dark 24/7 -- when you see a tour bus, the sleeping area is generally the center section that is all made of metal.
  • Privacy.  There really isn't any except for your bunk.  Each bunk has a curtain that can be pulled closed.  As I said before, the only personal space on a bus is your bunk and no one goes into anyone else's bunk when the curtain is closed.  Everywhere else on the bus is shared space.
  • Bathrooms.  Buses have bathrooms, however, they are liquid-only -- that drives the adage of "no pooping on the bus".  Basically if the bus is moving and you need to do something non-liquid, you have to ask the driver to stop or dispose of things into a bag (an action affectionately referred to as "hot bagging").  Generally the waste tank is emptied daily, but you have to make sure that you are aware if it is getting full so that things don't overflow.
  • Living space.  Generally the buses have a front lounge and a back lounge that is shared space.  Some buses have the back lounge set up to be able to be turned into a living suite and it largely depends on the tour and the bus that they have chosen as to how things are configured.  I've certainly been on buses where someone was living in the back space and it was their private area unless you were specifically invited in.  Nicer buses have a pop-out in the front that can be deployed once the bus is parked to allow for a larger front lounge.
  • Washing and showering and hygeine.  Some buses have showers and some do not.  For that ones that do, you take a very quick military-style shower where you quickly wet yourself, turn off the water, soap yourself, and then quickly rinse off; generally the holding tanks don't hold that much water, so you have to make sure that there is enough for all 12 people to be able to have a shower if needed.  It is important to note that many tours go to facilities that have showers available and there is not necessarily a need to shower on the bus.  Buses generally have sinks both in the bathroom and somewhere in the front lounge area -- the water that comes out of these faucets is fine for washing hands, but you want to use bottled water to brush your teeth and you don't want to drink the water coming out of the tap.
  • Storage.  For the most part, all of your stuff goes into the cargo bays underneath the bus.  Generally there are some storage drawers and compartments for things such as shoes and toilet kits.  All of the storage space is shared, so you cannot necessarily unpack, but there is usually room for a small amount of clothes, some equipment, some shoes, etc.  On buses with 12 bunks that do not have 12 people, empty bunks are turned into what are called "junk bunks" that are used for overflow shared storage areas -- if additional people hop on the bus for a limited time, the junk bunks have to be cleared off so that temporary people can sleep there.
  • Laundry.  There are no laundry facilities on buses, so either you send your laundry out to a laundry service or you do laundry in a hotel on your days off or utilize venue washing equipment if available and allowed while you are at the venue.
  • Days off.  Generally during days off tours provide you with shared day rooms if you are not spending the night somewhere or with overnight hotel rooms if you are spending the night -- depending on the tour, overnight hotel rooms are either shared or private.  Shared day rooms can be used for showers, naps, a place to store stuff that you want to launder, a place to watch tv, get work done, etc.; basically you just have to remember that it is "shared", so one person cannot monopolize the space by themselves.
  • Food.  Generally you are provided 3 meals per day at each event stop.  In addition, most tours provide a daily per diem of some amount that is paid every day you are on tour -- typically you are paid the entire per diem for a week in advance of the week so that you have 7 days worth of per diem in your pocket with every week start.  Typically per diems are spent on days off when catering is not provided.  Additionally, most tours provide some sort of budget for stocking items on to the tour bus and these might include things like cereal, peanut butter, jelly, bread, snacks, etc.  All of the bus stock is shared with everyone on the bus and stored in the common lounge areas; most buses have coffee machines and toasters for preparing things on-board.
  • Entertainment and internet.  Most tour buses have entertainment systems and televisions -- typically the buses have satellite television services.  Depending on the tour, the bus may provide internet service through Verizon or other wireless providers that you can connect to via wifi, however, this is not always guaranteed.  Outside of DirecTV, most buses have DVD players, some have game systems, and there are a variety of different configurations that allow video content to be played on different monitors; many buses have flip-down screens in the bunks that can display content as well.
  • Cleaning.  Generally everyone on the bus tries to keep the common areas as clean as possible; what you do in your bunk is up to you.  The drivers usually do a daily run through of sweeping the common areas and wiping things down.  Typically most buses have internal rules about leaving shoes, equipment, etc. in common areas that require everything to stowed away, but that varies by tour.  The bus companies provide bedding for the bunks and typically the driver will launder the bedding once per week during the tour -- they are not stripping or making your bed for you, but you give them dirty sheets and they return clean sheets.
  • Drivers.  The bus drivers drive and care for the bus.  Generally they are sleeping in hotel rooms provided by the tour during the day and they are driving the buses at night.  Essentially you're likely to see your driver before you go to bed and when you wake up, depending on your sleeping schedule.  You want to be nice to your driver and comply with any rules that they set out for the bus -- basically they are ultimately in control of your house.
  • Buses leaving venues.  Everyone seems to have heard stories about people being left behind, and it does happen.  Most tours post schedules all over the place, starting the night before, of the anticipated bus call time for each day.  Generally you want to try to be on the bus about 15 minutes prior to the bus call time because generally that time is the hard deadline as to when the bus starts driving.  Depending on who is in charge of the tour, there may not be a headcount taken before the bus starts rolling and if you're not on, you either have to try and hop on another bus leaving later or somehow figure out how to get to the next city on your own dime.
Certainly not any extensive listing, but a little peak behind the curtain.

Strategize and blogging: 9 years later

It's been some time since I've posted and quite some time since I posted with the frequency that I used to post before.

With that having been said, the blog continues to generate pageviews of over 400 per day with an active subscriber base of over a couple of thousand -- most of the daily traffic is driven by search engines due to my lack of posting.

When I first started blogging it was more for myself and the interactions and subscribers happened because I wasn't trying all that hard to garner traffic.  Then I experimented with things like book reviews and posting tips and tricks and it yielded more traffic to the point that I became obsessed with the metrics; for a while there I even tried advertising on the blog, which ultimately became a bad choice.

After having not blogged for a while, I've come to find that I miss doing it.  The more that I blog, the better my writing is and I enjoy the freedom of expression that it provides to me.

Following some careful thought, I gutted the old Blogger template and applied a new, optimized template today that gets rid of most of the color and makes the blog easier to read.  While I've kept the name "strategize",  I've changed the description of my blog to simply that of "The personal blog of Ross Hollman."  Not that I've restricted myself in the latitude of my posts before, but more as part of the general clean-up, I don't want to have a limited scope in the description that makes readers confused about what I'm posting about.

We'll see how it goes as far as posting.  If you're interested in what I'm up to, I typically will fire out bursts of Twitter updates and you can follow me on Twitter here if you are interested.

Lots of people are saying that blogging is dead and that there's now no real reason to start or re-engage.  I disagree, perhaps because my motivations are different than the average person trying to build a blog now from scratch and engage an audience for some sort of profit motivation.

I've also been reminded that I work in a cool business that some people would probably like some visibility on, so I'll try to sprinkle in some of that information as well.

Finally, I'm a lot older than I was when I started and I've developed my own opinions on things that I used to, in the past, agree with and re-post opinions from great guys like Tom Peters and Seth Godin; not that I don't still agree with guys like this, but I have enough experience now to throw those things out there without needing to start with words from someone else.

Enjoy -- at the very least I've got a daughter that can read this now, so, at the very least, I really can claim that this is for her.