Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Dell Offering "Bounty" on iPods

File this under Acts of Desperation: Dell puts $100 bounty on iPods, where they are offering $100 rebates for people who trade in iPods for the Dell MP3 player.

My first thought was that a used iPod is worth more than that, and a quick look at eBay shows used iPod auctions at $100 and higher, so $100 seems to be the floor. This means that iPod users can probably get more by selling it to someone else, plus it means that people can't "game the system" and buy a used iPod for cheaper than $100 and get the trade-in (I assume the trade-in doesn't apply for broken units, although this isn't explicity stated in the article).

The article does predict that Dell is unlikely to get many takers.
The iPod is not just about the hardware, it's about the entire experience. Apple still offers the best integrated experience, from using the iTunes music store and application to the (iPod) hardware.
The article also points out that if an existing iPod user wanted to change to Dell, it would be no trivial task to transfer his library from the iPod format to the Dell.

Rorschach wrote a very favorable review here in November on the Dell MP3 player and I know others who like them, but I think getting existing iPod users to change will be an uphill battle. I know I'm not interested in trading in my iPod.

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Rock and Roll Station FM 95.5 KLOS Endorses Left-Wing Causes

Coming back to the office from lunch today I happen to have my radio on FM 95.5, which is your basic rock-and-roll station. Between songs the disk jockey, Cynthia Fox, starts in on a five minute endorsement of Michael Moore and his latest film, gushing with pleasure of how the film is "moving people" to "get involved" and encouraged everyone to see the film as well as some Moore interview that is on tonight. There was no mention of the film's lies and distortions, the wild-eye conspiracy theories it endorses, or the simple fact that lots of Americans - around half - just might happen to disagree with the film.

Ms. Fox is certainly entitled to her point of view, but this five minute love fest to Moore was more suitable for Air America than a music station, and it's disappointing that she had to stoop to this tactic to get her views across to the public. If I want to listen to a radio station promote left-wing causes, there are plenty of stations like Pacifica or NPR I can listen to (I assume Air America will be off the air shortly).

It isn't surprising that the station is owned by ABC Radio. Needless to say the station is no longer programmed into my radio.

Monday, June 28, 2004

I'm Not Dying to Retire

And I mean that literally. Most people suspected it, but today's WSJ "special report" on retirement (no direct link yet) discusses a scientific study showing that people who were working at age 70 were 2.5 times more likely to still be living at age 82 than those who weren't working:
It isn't clear from the data how long a person needs to continue working beyond the regular retirement age to reap the benefits to longevity, but it appears that the longer you continue working, the better:
The article also notes that "work" in these older years includes volunteering, while staying "active" and involved with family and friends doesn't cut it:
But for those workers who find themselves miserable in their jobs and can't wait to retire, the Israeli study did offer some hope. It appears that the same level of protection offered by paid work also can be obtained by doing unpaid work -- essentially, extensive volunteering that amounts to a regular job. The study found that busy volunteer workers were also more likely to be alive than their fully retired counterparts.
This study just solidifies my plans not to ever retire. I was "retired" when I was unemployed for half a year in 2002 and I hated it. And this was while I was in my mid 30s, in good health, and in fairly good financial shape. Simply stated, I was bored out of my mind, and I don't see that changing in 35 years.

So my plans are to keep "working" in some capacity until I drop. More than likely this will probably mean some sort of consulting once I am forced into retirement, but who knows what the labor landscape will look like in 30+ years. A different article in the same section noted that the ratio of workers to retirees will be down from today's 4-to-1 to 2-to-1, so with Social Security being insolvent by then, maybe the government will give companies special incentives to hire and retain older workers. If I'm lucky I'll have my own business and can run it as the old curmudgeon, but no matter what I do, I don't see myself stopping work.

In the mean time I know people who are literally counting down the days until their retirement. I just hope I can carve time out of my work schedule to go to their funerals.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

End of An Era

I remember when Comdex was THE tech show in North America. It was large, it was fun, it was business. Now it's dead, something I indicated might happen after my last visit: Comdex's Organizers Cancel This Year's Show

Reader Advice: Do You Volunteer Plans For a Year Out During a Job Interview?

Got the following email today from a reader (edited for content and length):
I had a part-time administrative job with no benefits for about 4 months. Two months ago, I got engaged and told everyone at work that I would very likely have to move when my fiancé graduated in about a year. At this point my plans were essentially public knowledge.

A month later my department created a full-time, full-benefit administrative position that I was highly qualified for. While not management level, it was better than the part-time position I had, and I was the best qualified in the department for the post.

I applied for the position and got it. During the interview, my boss never asked me about my plans to stay with the company, so I never brought it up. We discussed my interest in the job, my experience with the work, and some things we had in common.

After I got the job, a co-worker started asking me if I told my boss about my plans to move, and has been pressuring me to go back and warn my boss that I might not be there in a year. This co-worker is a good friend, and I honestly think she's been making this suggestion with my best interest at heart. She didn't apply for my job herself, and had told me she thought I was the best candidate. The problem is that she allows other people to talk to her and those people were trying to make a political issue where there was no need. If anything, her pressure was an attempt to diffuse gossip and back biting.

Was I under any obligation to bring this subject up? Does it really benefit anybody if I do so now?
You have two issues: one ethical, the other political. On the ethical side, you are okay since you were under no obligation to volunteer the fact that you might move for the following reasons:
"Maybe", "Perhaps", "Likely" - You state that it is very likely that I would have to move. This is not definite, and plans always change. I see no reason to put your career on hold and not take a job you are suited for since something "might" happen later on. (The company "might" shut down)

Time Frame - A year? If it were four weeks, then, yeah, sure, tell him during the interview. But a year is forever in business time. Can ANYONE in your company guarantee they will be there in a year? It's more likely that the company will change the department by then (laying you off, changing managers, etc.)

Being a Manager Means You Have To Manage - Your manager knew when he was interviewing you that you aren't going to spend 40 years in this position and then retire. Turnover is a fact of life and every time a manager puts someone in the position, there is the risk the person might leave for professional or personal reasons. It's part of the job, and he'll deal with you eventually leaving, no matter when it is.

Level Not High Enough - CEO position? VP position? I can see where someone in these positions might bring up potential plans a year from now, but at this non-managerial position you are talking about I don't see this as important. In addition, there is no "training period" before being up to speed in this position, so it's not like there is a huge corporate investment in the position before it's proficient (in which case, the interviewer would definitely have asked you about long-term plans).

At Will Employment - You don't give the company any guarantee that you will be there in a year, and the company doesn't guarantee you will have your job in a year. It's a two-way street, and unless this company can give you its employment picture for 12 months out (no way), I see nothing "unethical" about taking this particular job promotion with the possibility that you "might not" be around in 12 months.
So ethically, you are okay.

The second problem, the political one, is a little more difficult, but I don't think the problem is that your co-workers have a problem with the possibility of you leaving. The problem is that no matter who gets promoted, there are people who are always upset. If they didn't know you might leave in a year, they would find another reason, trust me (other favorites are "not here long enough", "not ready for promotion", and "he got the job because he's friends with the manager"). Inter-office rivalry and envy are going to exist and you are not going to change their minds.

There is also the possibility that one of these co-workers might let it "slip" to your manager that you got engaged and might be moving. You have to decide how you want to handle this situation: let him come to you and ask about it, or go to him and let him know.

I would really have to understand your relationship with your manager and any plans to stay in this particular industry, but based on the information I have, my advice is to do nothing. If he does approach you, let him know that you simply don't know what your plans are and for the time being you are staying here, but if your plans change, he will be the first to know. Of course if/when you do make a definite decision about leaving you have to decide when to let him know, but that's a question for another time.

In the mean time talk to your friend/co-worker and outline the reasons you are not going to talk to your boss - the basic one being that you really don't know what is going to happen a year out. You can't prevent her from talking to others in the group, but if she knows that your plans really aren't definite, it might help defuse the situation.

Anyone else have additional or contrary advice?

Friday, June 18, 2004

My Generation's Search for Meaning

We're the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War, no Great Depression. Our Great War is a spiritual war. Our Great Depression is our lives...and we are very, very pissed off.

- Brad Pitt as Tyler Durden in Fight Club

A great line from a clever movie, and one that really hit home when I watched it in 1999 (one of these days I'll read the book). This line still resonates, but I wonder if it would make it into a movie post 9-11-01.

Those of us in our 30s grew up in relative affluence and peace. Other than an occasional economic hiccup or a bomb being lobbed at Libya, those of my generation grew up not having to worry about the world at large. It was the "end of history" and we went out into the world to make a buck and figure out the meaning of life. In the movie, the angst-ridden protagonist was unable to find any meaning other than being a consumer, and he couldn't accept it:
You're not your job. You're not how much money you have in the bank. You're not the car you drive. You're not the contents of your wallet. You're not your fucking khakis. You're the all-singing, all-dancing crap of the world.
In today's world, five years later, I think our protagonist could find meaning, either as standard barer in the War on Terror, or perhaps as a member of the opposition. Either way you lean politically, 9-11 and the subsequent activity that followed it woke the country up from the inward-looking, angst-ridden search for meaning into a full-scale war against terrorism as well as ourselves.

This is why the political dialog has gotten so nasty. This is why students are getting more involved politically. This is why the number of blogs is exploding. It's our new meaning. It's our Great War.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

The Power of Capitalism Even Extends to Free Services

You've probably seen this since nearly everyone I know has at least one Yahoo email account:
Dear Yahoo! Mail User,

Thanks for using Yahoo! Mail. It's our goal to offer you an email experience that makes it easy and enjoyable to stay in touch. Periodically, we make service changes to enhance that experience for our users. As of June 15, 2004, you'll enjoy the following benefits:

Increased storage capacity – from your current level to 100MB (still a big difference from the free 1G on Google, but a big improvement)

Increase in total message size to 10MB (I think the old one was 2MB)

A streamlined interface that's even easier to use
As noted before, this is in direct response to Gmail, showing that the power of capitalism extends even to free services (if you call seeing ads while you read your email "free").

Update: I should note again that this is for the free level of service only. As Techdirt points out, there is even more storage - 2 Gigs! - for the paid level.

Monday, June 14, 2004

If You Thought People Talking on Cellphones While Driving Was Bad...

...wait until they can watch TV on their cellphone (link requires registration).
Samsung Develops TV-Over-Cellphone Chip - Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. has developed an integrated circuit that provides terrestrial digital multimedia broadcasting (DMB) services within mobile telephones, according to reports out of South Korea...DMB is a South Korean digital video standard similar to the Digital Video Broadcast (DVB) suite of standards in use in Europe for cable, satellite (DVB-S) and terrestrial broadcast (DVB-T).
Cellphones will soon do everything from taking pictures to transmitting TV. I just hope one of the phones of the future allows me to talk on the road between my home and my office without dropping the signal.

Friday, June 11, 2004

Why I Manage My Own Money

Money Manager Sought in L.A. Scam - The U.S. says Won Charlie Yi defrauded Korean immigrants of at least $36 million (link requires registration; remember to lie).
If you read the article, this crook's method is pretty standard: he promised investors ridiculously large returns with low risk because he had an "inside" deal on purchasing discounted stock. Once investors were in, he would send them statements showing huge growth in their accounts. As these things usually go, the thing fell apart when investors tried to cash in, at which point he promptly fled the country.

Now, for every crook stealing investors' money there are 1000 hard working professionals trying to make their clients a buck. I even have several relatives that work in professional money management, but the fact of the matter is that no one is going to treat your money like its their own unless they think it is their own. And since few of us can afford to lose our life savings and start over, I manage my own money.

I probably have an advantage over the average person on the street since, thanks to my MBA, I understand portfolio theory (CAPM), bond pricing (duration, etc.), options pricing (Black-Scholes), and other details of the capital markets.

But the truth is that the average investor has modest assets which aren't that hard to manage, and putting them to work doesn't require an MBA: put aside money each month, stay out of debt, balance your portfolio between cash, stocks and bonds. This isn't rocket science, so I am always surprised when I read articles like this where people hand over their life savings to someone they hardly know.

When Movies Ruin Great Music

I finally got around to purchasing Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez, and it's an absolutely beautiful piece of music, especially the second movement. The only problem is that it has been used as background music in Spaghetti Westerns (a genre I love) so it keeps bringing up pictures of Clint on a dusty street about to start a gunfight.

If you don't know what I'm talking about, listen to Amazon's excerpt (second track) here.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Where Are You Most Productive?

Mike at Techdirt links and comments on an study that was done on where workers are the most productive.

Turns out workers are more productive while flying business class and in hotel rooms. Mike questions the basis of the study, but it's absolutely true for me.

If I had to rate where I am the most productive, it's in a hotel room. Most of the time this is because I am overseas and awake in the middle of the night, and the only thing on TV is in Korean or Japanese. I bring movies with me these days when I travel (the magic of the PC DVD), but after a blog entry or two, I nearly always end up doing email, working on action items, doing my expense statement (can't get behind on that), and other tasks. The same is true of flying business class, but without an internet connection, I do usually end up watching movies.

That leaves office and home, and between the two I am definitely more productive at home. So if my employers want more work from me, they should send me home from the office, buy me a ticket in business class, and fly me to an overseas hotel room. In this situation I would be unstoppable.

This Calls for A Major Economic Policy

From today's WSJ (link requires subscription):
THE U.S. SAID that 4,633 workers lost their jobs to "offshoring" during the first quarter, in the government's first attempt to count the number of workers who get fired when their jobs are transferred overseas.
Out of a labor force of about 142,000,000 workers, that is .0032% of all workers. I'll even take a yearly number and say it's .013%.

Should the U.S. enact major economic policy changes for 0.013% of workers?

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

For Relaxing Times, Make It Suntory Time

The title of this post is from Bill Murray in Lost in Translation. I know I seem to be referring to this movie a lot, but Sofia Coppola did capture a lot of the strange things Americans notice while traveling in Asia.

The reason Murray's character is in Japan is to get paid a ridiculous amount of money to do a commercial - something most major movie actors wouldn't be caught doing stateside. The fact is, this really happens. I picked up this little flyer in the Seoul airport for Lancelot Scotch:



In fact, there is a dedicated web site that chronicles major American actors doing commercials in Japan which allows you to search by last name.

People who have never been to Asia might not get the fact that the reason Murray is in Japan is a part of the movie's humor.
 

Reagan Coin or Currency

As a currency collector, I was very interested when I heard about the proposals for putting Reagan on the $10.



(Photoshop courtesy of Outside the Beltway)

Putting him on the $10 makes sense (cents?) since most people have no idea who Hamilton was or why he was put on our currency in the first place (he was instrumental in setting up our modern banking system and was the first Secretary of Treasury). Personally, I think he was one of the more interesting Founding Fathers who lived a charmed life until he caught that bullet from Burr. But he was never a President. Calls for replacing Jackson on the $20 or Grant on the $50 miss the point that, no matter what people think about them today, they were Presidents of this great land while Hamilton was not (Franklin on the $100 was also not a president, but everyone would agree he was a greater Founding Father than Hamilton was).



Perhaps a better proposal would be to put Reagan on the $1 coin which has had the most turnover in portraits in the last 50 years having everyone from Anthony to Eisenhower. And to mollify the anti-Reagan crowd (of which there are many), it could be a commemorative issue, similar to what we do with State quarters today.

Apple Martini Recipe

After noticing that Jim Carson blogged on a banana bread recipe, I thought I would add my recipe knowledge to the blogosphere in a area I know well: martinis. I always get compliments on my apple martini recipe, so I thought it would be the best one to pass on. It may seem very simple, but it took me many, many trials and errors to come up with just the right ingredients and ratios, a search for martini perfection that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Ingredients - Kettle One Vodka, Dekuyper Apple Pucker (don't use other Apple mixer liquors - this is the best one. Vodka is a matter of taste, but I think Kettle One is a good premium vodka that isn't extremely expensive).

Optional Ingredients - Illicit Cuban cigar (pictured above), Apple Schnapps

Ingredients Not To Use - I tried many, many ways to make this and recommend not adding real apple juice, using gin instead of vodka, or using a low-end vodka.

Instructions - Mix two parts Apple Pucker with one part Vodka. Mix in martini shaker (I prefer mine shaken, not stirred, to the point where small ice chips appear on the top of the drink after pouring). For an extra kick add a small amount (like a cap-full) of apple schnapps before mixing. Enjoy your capitalistic decadence with a socialist Cuban cigar.