Saturday, February 28, 2004

PC Game Review - Call of Duty

I don't have a lot of time (now) to play games, and since I only buy about one game a year, I usually wait until I hear about one game that is supposed to be really good and go out an get it. I just got Call of Duty, which is a "first person shooter" based on WWII. You go through different characters, starting out as an American D-Day paratrooper, move to being a British Special Forces unit (where I am now) and end up being a Soviet tank commander (the games says "Russian" instead of Soviet).

With the "briefings" before each mission, the game is actually educational about the strategy and tactics used during D-Day, for example, and I assume all the weapons used are historically accurate (and if true, the British weapons sucked - I keep having to use captured German guns instead of the British ones in my current levels).

If you like first person games and WWII just a little, I recommend getting this. If you like to try before you buy (and maybe worth it at $50), there is a free download available of one of the levels (start at the site linked above).

Unions Discourage Higher Education?

While reading an article on the ending of the grocery worker's strike over at Master of None, this quote by the union hit me in the head:
the markets were threatening to destroy one of the last U.S. jobs available that could provide middle-class comfort without requiring years of higher education.
I was raised by parents who both grew up in very poor families, but managed to go to college, becoming the first generation in both families to do so. And through this education, they escaped the poverty they grew up in.

What these two hammered into my brain is that if I didn't get good grades, get into, and finish college, I would be no better than a street beggar. Maybe with hard work and no education I could aspire to a trailer home in the bad part of town, so hard work by itself wasn't going to work. By the time I was ten, it was ingrained in me that education meant a better life.

So to see our unions bemoaning lack "middle class comfort" for the uneducated is just...ridiculous. OFCOURSE people without advanced education have a harder time working their way up the economic ladder. The job the unions should be doing is to get their members better education and training to work their way up the ladder, not trying to strong-arm companies into artificially paying their workers more than their worth to society.

As Michael says in his commentary, Welcome to the Real World. We are now living in a global economy, meaning Americans are now competing with a few billion more people. Americans can no longer enjoy being 5% of the planet's population while enjoying nearly half of it's economic wealth without being better educated, better trained and working harder to keep the lion's share of the planet's wealth.

Friday, February 20, 2004

Hitting the Slopes

I'm outta here until late next week. Snow has been dumping on Mammoth and I am going to check it out.

Thursday, February 19, 2004

Reader Questions - Cellphone Market Data

One of the services I am pleased to offer my readers is free consulting services (well, as long as it is an easy question or data I have ready access to, and doesn't create a conflict of interest with any of my current responsibilities). Long time reader David sends in the following question:

Where can I find data on what manufacturers own what % of the US handset market?

The underlying assumption I am making is what "free" data is available. There are a variety of market research companies such as Gartner, Instat and others that will provide you all sorts of data, but will charge thousands of dollars per report. There is nothing wrong with that - they have to make a living - but often marketing managers just need a few data points and not a whole report. In addition, many marketing managers have a problem getting funds from management for marketing reports ("Why do we need to buy this? This is your job!) and this is especially true in a start-up, which David happens to be in.

First, here is the most current data I have for handsets for the U.S. and WW market. The U.S. market is at the end of 1H03, so a little stale, but it probably hasn't changed more than a few percentage points, and I have provided a graph to show how the data changed from the end of 2002. The WW data is probably current. Quarterly numbers are usually released in the second month of the following quarter, so the 4Q03 numbers are either just released or coming out soon:





So, where do you find this (free) data?

1. Press Releases and Articles - The market research companies issue press releases and the like to generate interest in their reports (their form of marketing). Most of the tech journals and many of the business journals publish this data as a reader interest story ("Samsung Gains Ground on Nokia in U.S. Market"), so I found the U.S. market data in the Wall Street Journal and saved it. In addition, these press releases are also published on the research companies' web sites, which is where I found the WW market data and where I will likely get an update for the 4Q numbers.

2. Schmooze the Analyst - Another way to get the data: call up the analyst at the research company who specializes in the area you need, tell him who you are, and what specific data you need (if it is only a point or to). Usually in order to generate good will and cultivate a potential client, they will release a few small data points to whet your appetite. In addition, if you can provide him with some valuable market data that makes his job easier, they are often willing to do a data trade (I am currently working this angle with an analyst at a Japanese analyst company for data I need on that market). Of course, data acquired this way cannot be publicly disseminated like I have with the data above, which was released into the public domain by the research companies themselves. It is vitally important that if you create a relationship with an analyst that you keep his data - his livelihood - confidential.

3. Talk to the Vendors in This Market - If you go to Samsung's cellphone group, they will be proud to tell you what their market share is in the U.S. market, how they are gaining on Nokia, and will release all sorts of data on the market to the right people. Vendors use both internal data as well as data from the research companies, so it usually matches.

Monday, February 16, 2004

PMA: Not Much To Report

As noted below, I attended the Photo Marketing Association tradeshow last Friday. While the show was very worthwhile for me (5 meetings), it didn't seem that interesting for the average consumer unless you are really into digital or film photography.



The show still focuses on the film photography industry, so a majority of floor space is still dedicated to that segment: minilabs, paper, chemicals, stuff for studios, frames, you name it. Even those companies that have both film and digital cameras seem to focus more on their film cameras for this show (since CES is the highlight for tech, this is probably why). I would say that less than less than 10% of the floor space was for to digital cameras, printers, monitors and other high-tech tools for digital imaging. Photographyblog has a complete listing of all the announcements, mainly focusing on digital imaging.

That being said, here are a few things I noticed in the digital imaging realm:

Digital Photo Receiver - I still don't get these gadgets, but I guess I'm not the target audience. These are essentially little monitors that hook up the internet and upload digital pictures, i.e. a digital picture frame. The pitch is that you can change the picture every day!, but that isn't a value proposition for me, especially at $150. They said grandparents out of state are the big audience. These things hook up to the internet via a phone line. When asked if they had a WIFI version, their reply was "Grandparents don't know what WIFI is," but admitted they had one on the drawing board (my guess is that there is a cost problem).




Digital Video - The video camera market seems to be fragmenting into two areas:

1. Low End - Little cameras smaller than a typical MP3 player were in several booths, but most notably the Panasonic booth. These record low quality video onto a memory card and usually do several other functions as well (voice recording, MP3 playback, etc.).




Probably not something to take on vacation, but fun for kids and the like. This sort of gadget goes into the whole (CAUTION: Overused Word Warning) convergence thing that is going on with portable devices. We have cellphones with cameras, PDAs that play music, MP3 players that play video games, etc. The theory is that one day we have a portable gadget that does everything well. My guess is that we will wait a long time.

2. High End - "Normal" digital camcorders were still a big thing at the show. The trends in this segment haven't really changed: more resolution, smaller size, and recording directly onto DVD. I keep thinking a solid state camcorder will be announced (other than the low end ones above), but that doesn't seem to be happening. As HDTV takes off, expect direct to HDTV format camcorders in the near future.

Digital Still Cameras - I didn't spend a lot of time looking at this segment, but there were no big announcements that caught my eye. The digital SLRs at the high end keep getting more and more impressive and if you have a big budget, I would recommend looking at these before you buy your next high-end film SLR. The consumer DSCs are getting higher resolution with prices continuing to decline. No-name brands were in everywhere in this space and I think the Japanese are going to have to abandon this segment at mass retailers.


So overall, nothing really big to report to the average reader, but a worthwhile business trip for me personally.

Excellent

Let's hope this happens.

Government Considering Dismantling BBC

Saturday, February 14, 2004

80s Memories

For us children of the 80's, there is a site that lets you play classic video games. However, this doesn't need all the emulation software and downloads, but just pops up a browser window with the game and you're off. I tried out Pacman and although the controls are a little slow, it's the real thing.

Hat Tip: Outside the Beltway

Friday, February 13, 2004

Friday Happy Hour Review

Rorschach here with a Special Scotch Review:
You like a nice smooth blend? A Little Dewar’s and soda? Some Walker Red? This review is not for you. Disclaimer 1: I enjoy a nice blended scotch from time to time as well, I’m not some crotchety purist who demands only single malts or death. But for the case of this monograph, we will consider two very polarizing single malts from the Islay region, and two of my favorites. Expand your horizons, and you may find a friend for life. Disclaimer 2: very much like Cuban cigars, I would not choose to drink these kinds of scotch every day. They are to be savored and appreciated, special occasion and all that. There are two standout features for Islay region Scotch that I love (and some hate) : the flavors of Smoke and Peat. (And what is peat? the upper stratum of soil bound by grass and plant roots into a thick mat, That’s right: DIRT)


A great introduction to Islay malts is Lagavulin. (pronounced "Lagga-voolin") It is by no means smooth when compared to your Dad’s blended scotch. But it has a certain refinement for its appellation. Lagavulin is one of the oldest distilleries in Scotland, so these lads know what they’re doing. I am not a great poet of tasting notes, if you must read about whiffs of chocolate and clover, see here. I will say that the aroma of this Islay is subdued, and the peat flavor is not so strong.





But when you want to go Xtreme Islay (sigh), you must consider Laphroaig. (“La-froyg”) As my good friend at redleopard put it: “Man it’s like chewing on a bog.” And he meant that with love, truly. This is an intense PEAT experience. The aroma alone may put you off tasting, but I urge persistence. Like truffles, it can truly be rewarding. So pour a wee dram, get into a pensive mood and have a flavor explosion.




One last note: how do you take it? Some purists demand that the scotch be taken straight up, room temp (cool-ish). This can be the best way to enjoy the aroma and the flavors, but I have been known to throw a block of ice in my glass from time to time. Just don’t ruin these gems with any water or (gasp) mixer.

Thursday, February 12, 2004

Vegas? Again?

I will be attending my third trade show in four months tomorrow in Vegas. Not a big surprise since it is the city picked most often for trade shows, but it is getting OLD. I have been to Vegas dozens of times on business and pleasure and the city has just lost that magic it had when I first started going.

I have stayed on every major hotel on the Strip and Downtown. I have been to all the casinos, most of the shows and many of the better restaurants. While I enjoy gambling as a form of entertainment, it is something I am simply not interested in doing for hours on end, so, in short, Vegas gets boring for me in about a day. The grand hotels and glitz just seem like the tacky, Americanized bastardizations of the real places I have been to (Paris, Rome, Venice, etc.). It's "been there, done that".

Anyway, the trade shows are interesting, and that is why I am going. I will post a report on PMA/DIMA (Photo Marketing Association/Digital Imaging Marketing Association) by Monday. I hope to see some interesting products and trends for consumer imaging products, sort of a specialized case of what I reported from CES.

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Second & Third Day on Job - Win Over Sales

I have commented before about the epic battles between Sales and Marketing and how to avoid them. I am following my own advice and being very proactive about getting connected with the sales force and letting them know my strategy and plans, and getting their input and advice. This was very important to do immediately since I was already contacting potential customers I knew in this market and setting up meetings at an upcoming trade show. So here are the steps I took:

Step 1 - Contact VP Sales - I actually called him last week before I started, but he wasn't in, so I left a voice mail. I followed up with an email on Monday introducing myself and my desire to make sure we had "good sales/marketing coordination in this segment". I then listed the companies I was already in contact with about setting up meetings.

I received a "Welcome Aboard" email with the names of the salespeople for the accounts I named, and a thanks.

Step 2 - Contact Sales People - Dropping the name of the VP ("VP Sales gave me your name as the person to contact") I called and emailed the sales people, letting them know who I was, my position, and my desire to speak to them about their specific account. They all called back almost immediately and I had great conversations with all of them. They appreciated me getting their insight, account history, and their advice on how to move forward. In return I gave them my contact names and information, and my promise to keep them up to date on everything that happened at the trade show.

So now that I have included them in my strategy formulation and made them a part of the process from the beginning, sales and marketing can feel (and act like) we are on the same team.

Sunday, February 08, 2004

Why Kirk is Better than Picard

Like you need a list of examples, but here's 100 (no permalink for the listing, so just scroll down to find the entry). A few of my favorites:

90. Kirk would personally throw Wesley off his bridge.
86. Kirk would never sing to children in a crisis.
66. Kirk says "Shoot first and wait for retaliation."
45. If Kirk finds a strange spinning probe, he blows it up.
26. Kirk plays god with lesser cultures, and then exploits them for resources.
6. Three Words: Flying Leg Kick

Of course Picard is better than either Janeway or Archer. I would put Archer at the bottom, BUT Archer is doing better this season, at least within the Zindi story line. Anyone who puts someone in an airlock and starts decompressing it in order to get info gets a big star in my book (I don't know how many times I rolled my eyes at some wimpy decision by Janeway). I didn't watch DSN enough to judge Cisco Sisco, but he's disqualified anyway since he is a captain of a stationary barge instead of a star ship.

Hat Tip: Poliblogger

Wednesday, February 04, 2004

Tasks for Bringing on a New Hire

As I go through all the tasks for starting my new job next week, it is interesting to compare it to 15 years ago when I started my first professional job.

My first day at a "real" job was in 1989 at what was then - and is today - one of the largest semiconductor companies in the U.S. There were about a dozen of us young, fresh college grads that went through half a day of "orientation", which gave an overview of the company, it's history, a video tape message from the CEO, and an overview of benefits. Being 21 and immortal, I didn't pay much attention to the health plan details, the pension (yes, they had one at that time), or any of the other benefits they droned on about (I remember thinking they seemed targeted towards people with families and how unfair that was).

I then went over to my building, where I was shown my cubical. Already waiting for me were a package of business cards (my first business cards!), a *286* (wow!) desktop (there was no such thing as a "laptop" in 1989, although Compaq had introduced 20 lb. "portables"), and a standard office phone. The company then assigned a guy to sit next to me who had been there for two years be my "mentor" and show me the ropes of the internal msg system (external email didn't really exist then, but the company had a mainframe email system which drove the company) and other things I needed to learn for my job. As a new college grad unfamiliar with the semiconductor industry, I would honestly say that I was not really an asset to the company until at least half a year or more into the job.

Fifteen years later I am starting a new company and things have changed. There won't be any "orientation" for me. I already understand the benefits well since they were a major point of the negotiations before I started by job (I have 401K match in my old job, but won't in the new job for a year, so I used the loss of matching as an argument to raise my salary even more). Pension? Does anyone have that anymore? The health plan details were handed out to me during the interview and poured over with the spouse before I even accepted the job. Any other benefits that help people with families will be greedily exploited.

I am getting a top of the line notebook, BUT it won't be ready until a week AFTER I start. Since this company uses the dreaded Lotus Notes system, this means I won't have access to my new work email until I get my notebook, so I am dead in the water computer and email wise for my first week (time to hit the phones!).

Business cards were ordered by the HQ secretary today, but they won't come in time for a trade show I am going to next week, so I have had to print up some temporary cards for my first week.

My cellphone - which didn't exist 15 years ago - is already in-hand, but only because I was responsible for getting the phone and contract, which the company will reimburse me for and then pick up the monthly contract.

Orientation? Someone showing me the ropes? Not this time. I was hired for a specific knowledge, skill, and sales set and I am expected to hit the ground running with little to no oversight from HQ. In essence, I am supposed to show THEM how to work this particular market segment.

Overall, I would give the new company a "C" for bringing me on board, mainly due to the computer taking so long. I accepted over two weeks ago and the ball should have started rolling the day they got my signed acceptance letter. However, based on a few other companies I have worked for and other people's experience I have heard about, this is probably about average for the typical company.

Monday, February 02, 2004

You Sometimes Gotta Wonder About People in Business

Business Pundit has a link to the 2003 Awards for 101 Dumbest Decisions in Business. It takes a while to read through them, but all of them are the familiar stories from last year that made you go "What were they thinking?!?!" when you read them with your morning coffee.

It's stories like these that make you think that one has to be REALLY stupid to get to be a top decision maker in a U.S. company, or that perhaps a lot of people just lose touch with reality once they get the brass ring.