Tuesday, August 31, 2004

TSG Proves You Can Put Almost Anyone on a Stamp

As some readers may recall "Blogstamps" made the rounds after the U.S. postal service introduced, through stamps.com, a program to allow people to create personalized postage stamps, with some restrictions for "offensive or objectionable material".

Thanks to head's-up from Jim Carson, here's a link to the The Smoking Gun, who decided to see what images they could slip past the censors. They came up with some interesting, if not particularly funny, results. As a censor I would have caught most of them, although I have to admit that I would have missed Hoffa and Ceaucescu (Hoffa was before my time and I only saw a picture of Ceaucescu after we was rightfully lined up and shot). I think the younger pictures of Kaczynski are a cheap shot since the censors did bounce the mug-shot picture of him.

Monday, August 30, 2004

The Olympics are Over...

...so it's time for a jaundiced view from someone who saw it first-hand: My Big Fat Greek Olympics.

Hat Tip: Mrs. Director

Your Chance to Give Biz Advice

Got the following email question from long-time reader David, who is heading up marketing at a tech start-up:
I had a question about online marketing, perhaps you or your friends could chime in.

As you know, the only way to scale marketing and hit very ambitious revenue numbers is online marketing since there are only so many events you can attend, direct mailers to send, etc. To really bring in new prospects and build a big pipeline any company must leverage the web. Most big F500 have just begun to put more than 25-30% of their marketing budget into online strategy and this will probably grow in the future if they have sufficient ROI metrics to support.

What would you recommend to really take advantage of the internet and really bring in 500-1000 qualified "hot" leads a month? I am aware of SEO, online newsletters, weblinars, e-mail marketing but what other efforts can be made to really launch a successful web marketing campaign?
My first response would be: it depends on the product and the customer. If I remember correctly, your product is hardware sold to businesses rather than consumers (?), which is different if you were selling, say, software, in which case my answer would be different.

In my experience, for non-software sales to businesses, the web isn't really the main lead generator, it's the pull-through for your "real" lead generation activity. In other words, your leads go to the web to follow-up on something they heard about from your sales force, read in a magazine, or saw at a trade show. If they like what they see on your web site, the site then pulls them in as an active lead. I think this is especially true for business products as few engineers/purchasing agents today do their primary research and decision making based on web browsing (again, if you were in the software business, I think a web sales approach is much more doable and there are successful models for this).

In my three years at a hardware start-up during the peak of the tech boom, the "pure internet leads" were college students and garage tinkerers, not useful leads. That being said, you still have to have a web strategy to support your other sales activities, and that means putting useful information not only on your product, but also on your segment and industry, as well as making it easy to navigate and having it reflect your company.

My personal opinion is that you still need "people on the ground" to generate quality leads, so would recommend a rep/disty strategy, giving big percentages to these guys to generate leads, with the web acting as a support function, rather than a primary lead generator.

However, my scope in this area is limited, so I would welcome other comments or insights in the comment section.

Sunday, August 29, 2004

Last Week of Construction (Cross Fingers)

As some of you may have guessed after reading my Paleolithic regression over my new fire-toy, the Fabulous New Back YardTM is nearing completion. From a "macro" standpoint, the casual observer might think the only thing left is sod (and new patio furniture & bar stools, which are on order), although there are a lot of little things left to do in the background (or underground): plumbing the sink, putting in "light scaping", putting in new valves for the sprinkler system, etc.

This week all the plants (minus the sod) showed up, including 5 trees



When picking out my new trees, I used very scientific terms like "the one that blooms purple in the spring" (Jacaranda), "the pretty one that has white bark" (birch - two of these) and a red-purple flower tree that I had no input on, but which showed up anyway (and I still don't know what it is, but I got two of them). This is in addition to a plum, peach and citrus tree I already had, so I have good tree coverage, although the news one are sorta small so will take a while to really grow in.



In this pic you can also see the fountain, which is a really nice addition. For a sense of scale, the fence is just over six feet tall.

The components for the bar are all in, although the sink still needs to be hooked up:



The side of the house has been a nice surprise. If you look at the original diagram, this was not that well defined, but it has come together as a separate little patio area. I have been calling it the "secret garden", but the contractor calls it the BAC 0.2% area:



That's temporary patio furniture (some old stuff) in there, and we will replace this with a quaint little table and chair set for taking in morning coffee, or getting separated from the main party area to get that BAC up.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

I Survive Another CEO - for Now

Here is the real email that was waiting for me when I got back from lunch today. I did a double - or triple - take since I have seen this exact email several times before in my career:
(My Old CEO) has made the decision to leave (My Company) to pursue new career opportunities. (My Old CEO) was instrumental in building the product group organization within (My Company). Through his tenure with the company, he has worked diligently to increase our product and business base, rising to become our President and COO. We thank (My Old CEO) for his nearly (long time) years of dedicated service to (My Company) and wish him success in the future.

(My New CEO) has agreed to move into the position of CEO and is excited about the future of our company. His initial focus is articulating a clear direction...(yada, yada, yada)
Soon after this email went out, a new org chart went out shuffling some senior managers around. Right now I think things are okay with my group, but you never know when the new guy decides that Chainsaw Al was a paragon of corporate management.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Did Russian Passengers Prevent a 9-11?

By now you have read about the two Russian passenger jets that crashed. At the time of this post the news is that at least one of them sent a "hijack" signal.

The thought running through my head: were these airliners destined for landmarks like the Kremlin? Did the passengers and crew, knowing about 9-11, prevent it by sacrificing themselves?

Fortune 50 Companies Acting Like Impatient Children

My blogging pace has been off recently since my work load has increased dramatically. As a result of my trip to NY last week, I have a new customer. The bad news is that this multi-multi-multi billion dollar corporation acts like a whiny kid and wants almost hourly updates on their program.

This is in addition to another multi-national conglomerate who calls me almost hourly wondering if the schedule for their product has changed in the last 60 minutes. Add these two whiny children together ("Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Now, are we there?") and you can see why my blogging has suffered lately.

And the weekend, vacation days, and evenings are not an escape. I have gotten phone calls on all of these occasions, having to listen to guys (they're always guys) at the other end of the line wondering if they were there yet.

I am not complaining - these guys have the potential to drive lots and lots of business and it certainly beats the alternative of having no customers. I just forgot how needy giant corporations can be. And it requires a great amount of patience since you can't yell back at them - you have to patiently explain that the schedule hasn't changed in the last 60 minutes and invite them to call you again if they have any concerns.

Sunday, August 22, 2004

Golfing to the Sound of the Ocean

Pebble Beach gets the most press on sea-side golfing in California, but I golfed Pelican Hill this weekend and it is a fantastic, beautiful course, and unlike Pebble Beach, not crowded.

The best man from my (second) wedding came into town, so I used a gift certificate for two rounds that I got from my wonderful wife on my birthday to take the two of us out.

It is a fantastic course, and there was absolutely no one in front of us or behind us, so it was like we had the course to ourselves (we weren't even paired with anyone else). The drink girl who came around every so often said that F-Sun are pretty slow, maybe since the fees are hiked those days, but it was pretty busy M-Th when a lot of "business" is done.

I only had my crummy cellcam to take pictures, so instead of pictures which look like this (which it really looks like):



I got pictures that look like this (that's my friend John with the incomplete backswing):



The budget won't allow me to make this outing very often, so if I have someone else paying for a round of golf in SoCal, like a client or something, I'll make sure they take me here.

Monday, August 16, 2004

Why I Don't Have Earthquake Insurance

Look, if the earthquake is really small and only a little damage is done, then your policy is worthless. If the earthquake is really big, then the feds will come in handing out money to everyone in the area.
- Rorschach (the blogger, not the shrink)
The recent hurricane in Florida got me thinking about disasters that could hit me in my adopted state. As a native Texan I have first-hand experience of severe hurricane damage, but they aren't anything I have to worry about any more. Earthquakes are.

When I bought my house in 1999, one of the 50 pieces of paper that appeared in front of me for my signature was one asking if I wanted "Earthquake Insurance". Now, when I lived in Texas, there was no such thing as "Hurricane Insurance", but there was "Flood Insurance", which was in addition to homeowner's insurance and mandatory in many areas along the Gulf Coast when getting a mortgage. I knew this Earthquake Insurance wasn't mandatory, but I was throwing around so much cash at the time of closing that I thought "what the hell" and got the year-long policy thrown into the closing costs.

A year later my renewal notice came, which would take real money out of my pocket, so I sat down and a) really looked at the policy and b) thought about the consequences of having it versus not having it.

The first thing I noticed when reading the policy is that it was pretty worthless. It had huge deductibles and didn't cover much. Basically, it covered actual damage covered by "shaking". It did not cover the case of a gas main breaking, causing a fire that then burned down your home (in fact, fire was specifically precluded from the policy). From what I read, once you are outside the epicenter, most housing damage is from secondary effects of the earthquake (busted mains, gas lines, etc. that then cause property damage). The further I read the policy the less I liked it. So I thought, "what if I didn't get coverage?".

The quote at the top from Rorschach is what I came up with. Any major earthquake of consequence will have the feds giving money to all comers (I even know someone in LA that had minor chimney damage from the Northridge earthquake that got a government check and then didn't bother to get it repaired since it was so minor). But this is true of nearly all natural disasters: earthquakes, river flooding, hurricanes. If it causes any significant damage, the feds will come in with money, and this has set a precedent which has taught people, including myself, not to get extra insurance against natural disasters. Of course, additional coverage outside the homeowner's policy isn't available to many people in hurricane areas, so in these cases the government has to step in.

Saturday, August 14, 2004

The Olympics? Yeah, Whatever...

Outside the Beltway has a good roundup of blogger reactions to the Olympics, most of them underwhelming. He points out some really good things that have turned them into just another marketing event, including
o Having Olympics every two years instead of every four - Having an grand Olympiad that stretched across two seasons every four years made them pretty unique. Now that the winter and summer games are staggered every two years it seems to make them less of a big deal.

o Historical changes - Just saying "East German Women's Track and Field Team" used to bring up laughs and hinted at those evil commies that we somehow beat, even though they cheated. The changing of "amateur status" also goes into this category, as watching pros like Roddick compete in some of the events changes the whole nature of the games.

o Soap Opera Versus Sports - The last time I sat down and watched an Olympic event there was more "human interest" footage than the competition itself. The original intent was to get "women" more involved, but I know plenty of women who also find these segments annoying.

o You Call That a Sport? - The Olympics used to be a showcase of athletes who spent a lifetime of intense training to reach the pinnacle of their field. Now, I am sure there is a lot of effort to become an expert in the winter sport of curling, and I sure as hell can't tread water long enough to compete in synchronized swimming, but are these really Olympic sports? Come on. Adding these just cheapened the value of a "gold medal".
There are a few other really good points listed, so just go read the post.

There are certainly those that disagree with this assessment, but for me, if it weren't for the fact that my wife, like 95.8% of all other women, will intensely watch gymnastics, I probably wouldn't watch a minute of the Games this year.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Can Friendships Overcome Severe Political Differences?

In my 16 years of business, I have witnessed several instances where people have broken down to nearly crying after a meeting where a business "argument" ensued (it happens to men, but I mostly have witnessed it with women). Essentially there was a matter of opinion on what to do, how to budget, or why a schedule was missed, and the discussion became heated.

In my effort to make them feel better I tell them that the discussion was "business, not personal" al la Michael Corlione. I tell them that it wasn't worth getting upset over a difference of business opinion and to move along to other things that are more important, even if they are convinced they are right.

The same can't be said of politics. You never hear "it's politics, not personal". And because politics touches so many aspects of our lives, it is pretty much impossible to "move on to other things".

I have read on blogs about friendships becoming frayed over political discourse and I think I have lost one friend over an argument over F911. Political differences are seen as character flaws and unlike business discussions, it is nearly impossible to move along to other things once an argument has ensued. If there is no political common ground between two people, can a friendship really exist?

That's not to say that I don't have friends that I have political disagreements with, or even political arguments with other bloggers I like. For example I recently posted some differences of opinion on Jim Carson's Media Diversity Quiz. Jim and I have known each other 18 years and Jim drives straight down the center of the road and I am over on the right shoulder. We know we're are going to disagree on a lot of issues, but it doesn't change our long-standing friendship. But as I noted in the comment thread, we do agree on about two-thirds of the issues. Would the friendship be different if we agreed on 0%?

Even in marriages where there is one democrat and one republican, my experience is that both parties have to be fairly moderate if the marriage is going to work. Like the democrat VC (Ed: that's Venture Capitalist, not Viet Cong) I know who is married to a republican, the fact that she is a VC means she is pro-business, anti-regulation, and pro free-trade - not exactly left-wing positions. Essentially she is democrat due to a single issue, which is true of most democrats I know (the single issue might vary, but is seems the democratic party is largely a collection of single-issue voters).

This, of course, assumes that politics matters to both people. There are guys who only care about sports, romantic couples who are only interested in the physical, and people who are oblivious about politics in general, but assuming that both people hold deep political views, can they be friends if they are polar opposites? My experience says no. There has to be some common ground or there is no basis for the friendship.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

The EU's Repatriation Problem

According to the WSJ (no direct link), it looks like EU's has its own "repatriation" problem:
Immediately after World War II, nearly 40,000 square miles of eastern Germany were handed over to Poland. Polish authorities quickly ousted 10 million ethnic Germans, pushing them across the newly redrawn German-Polish border. New Polish settlers took their place.

When Polish communism collapsed in 1989, restitution or repurchase of lost lands became theoretically possible...Many people in Eastern Europe are shocked by the result: a wave of German lawsuits... Over the past few months, lawyers have filed 79 suits at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, with hundreds more being readied by plaintiff groups.
Check out where: "Strasbourg", France. Sounds like that city itself should be repatriated to Germany. Theoretically since it is now one big EU, this all shouldn't matter, but it does. And this is going to go on for some time
At the 1945 Potsdam conference, the U.S. and other victors in World War II agreed to shift Poland's borders more than 100 miles westward. In turn, land that had been eastern Poland was awarded to the Ukraine, then part of the Soviet Union. Some areas historically part of Germany -- notably East Prussia, Silesia and Pomerania -- were given to Poland or the Soviet Union. People in the affected areas were shunted across the new borders with no compensation for lost property.
Seems to me that Europe needs to concentrate on its own repatriation problem before whining about others.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Movie Bars I Wish I Could Go To

While Tivo surfing recently I have watched portions of movies that took place inside interesting restaurants or bars where I thought "I wish I could really go to that place." So I thought I would compile a quick list from the top of my head, ranked in order:
1. Jackrabbit Slims - This place from Pulp Fiction is what got me thinking about this topic in the first place. Any place where Buddy Holly takes your order and Ed Sullivan introduces the evening dance contest is just way cool. Having Uma Thurman as your date would just add to the evening. (Note: there is apparently a bar named this in NYC, but as far as I can tell it isn't like the one in the movie).

2. Rick's - If I were stuck in Casablanca, this is where I would want to hang, as long as it was before Rick sold it to Ferrari. Even though Rick never shares drinks with customers (or will he), he seems to run a classy joint. (Another Note: I remember reading somewhere that some enterprising Morroccans actually opened a bar of this name in that city to attract tourists.)

3. House of Games - The bar gave the movie its name, but you don't go there for the drinks, you go there for the poker game in the back (or is it a poker game?). If you don't want to play, one of the regulars will be happy to teach you the art of the con.

4. Mos Eisley Cantina - The only one on my list that couldn't really exist, this "wretched hive of scum and villainy" of the Star Wars universe seems like a fun place to go slumming. Just remember to leave your droids at home since their kind aren't allowed in.

5. Club 49 (I think that is the name) - I've mentioned the good, bad movie Blast from the Past before, and this swing club just seems like a fun place to check out. Maybe because it has Humphry Bogart acting as MC.
I'm sure I missed a few. What others should be on the list?

Monday, August 09, 2004

We All Rather Be Dead Than Wrong

The evolutionary history of this species has served to put a premium on the ability to make appropriate decisions...The decision is always reduced to its simplest level: Is this a threat to my survival? This has placed an incredible burden on the mind to be right. Because in the mind's view, the alternative to being right is being dead. The mind (thus) equates rightness with survival and wrongness with dying...We, as individuals, have to be right whatever we do.
- A Rage for Revenge
This book isn't the original source for this idea, I just happened to run into there since I read a lot more pulp SciFi novels than I do texts on sociological evolution. When I read it over a decade ago, this paragraph stuck in my mind for a long time and has recently come back into my thoughts since the blogosphere has proven the best medium to date to track predictions and opinions and point out where people were wrong.

While there are certainly people on both sides of the isle that have this problem (well, according to the theory, all humans have it), it does seem a lot more severe on the left (Ed: because they are wrong more often?). I don't mean matters of opinion where overwhelming facts still don't prove a point (i.e. you can still believe that the Bush tax cuts didn't help the economy) or on issues where the jury is going to be out for a long, long time (whether going into Iraq was the "right thing to do" will probably take over a decade to settle out). I mean things that have already come to pass where you can point out and say "you were wrong here"

The Iraq war didn't produce a refugee catastrophe. It also didn't produce tens of thousands of deaths for American troops. Invading Afghanistan didn't result in a quagmire. Iraq did try to by yellocake in Africa. Arnold won in a landslide. Has anyone who made a prediction or statement opposite one of these facts come out and said "I was really wrong about that."?

"Fisking" has been one method used to point out where others were wrong, using links to point out factual errors or even contradictions in people's opinions, but this has rarely resulted in people admitting they were wrong or issuing a mea culpa.

Maybe as the blogosphere matures we can look forward to the day that Kevin Drum admits to double standards or to The Daily Kos acknowledging distorting facts to support a point of view, but evolution says don't bet on it.

Friday, August 06, 2004

More Rumblings in the Semiconductor Sector

I posted a month ago about a tech sector slow down. This observation was based on early caution from analysts, quarerly statements from tech companies, and what I was seeing at my own company and customer base.

The analysts are now starting to be more pessimistic, (link requires registration) recognizing that the high growth in the first part of the year was based on over-forcasting:
Who is achieving the phenomenal sales growth in 2004 that is driving the 40.3 percent growth year-on-year for the second quarter of 2004? Intel's second quarter...was only up 18 percent.
...
We cannot expect to see even higher growth for the chip market in the third quarter. At some point the Asia-Pacific region, which is driving the overall market, has to cool. And the ordering of the numbers, with the general market ahead of the foundry market, suggests that the foundries are leading the market.
Exactly. The foundries had huge growth rates the first part of the year while the actual sellers of chips are seing moderate growth to even sharp declines. My own industry - semiconductor packaging - is caught in the middle with die being thrown at us by the fabs and the end customers cutting back on demand.

I don't think it is catostrophic at this point, and I think the inventory and supply chain problem will work itself out, but I think the back half of '04 is going to be tough for most of the tech sector.

Thursday, August 05, 2004

Where to Buy Shoulder Fired Rockets

The feds arrested two people in New York for trying to buy a shoulder-fired missile. Apparently they were tracking their purchases on Ebay


Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Why Build When You Can Landscape?

As noted before, I have been thinking about adding on to my house. I have a large back yard and plenty of room to expand (especially after getting rid of a large tree) . I worked on this project for a few weeks, but it turns out getting an architect and contractor was just impossible. With the boom in housing prices, everyone is expanding, booking everyone out for months and months. After a few weeks, the Mrs. and I sat down and thought about this project again.

The largest asset our home has is the back yard. It's huge by SoCal standards. But it really isn't anything more than a large swath of grass with a small patio. Here is a picture from the far corner of the yard looking at the back of the house:



We thought: what if we re-landscaped the back yard to make it nice for entertaining? Essentially making it an "outside room". We did some research and the comparison was pretty compelling:



And by cool, I mean a built-in island with a stainless gas grill, outdoor fridge, bar area for people to hang out, fountain trickling in the background, lots of landscaping, the works.

So over the past few weeks we have selected our contractor (a topic for another post) and have started on a preliminary plan, with "deconstruction" starting today:



(we are also doing a new back fence, so it's gone right now as well).

Here is the preliminary plan. It is only a rough draft and will change as we put the actual layout in the dirt with spray paint. We do want to make sure the new patio area isn't in the way if we (or another owner) decides to do the room addition later. For a sense of scale, the back fence (which doesn't quite fit into this scan) is just over 100 feet:



Our yard's shape is a little strange since we have the house at the very end of a culdesac, so it's a little "wedge" shaped, but it gives us a very large yard. Will keep posting as this progresses, then everyone will be invited over for a party.

Sunday, August 01, 2004

Existential HOV Questions

Outside the Beltway has a discussion on HOV (High-Occupancy Vehicle) lanes. For those of you outside the major U.S. metropolitan areas, these are lanes that only allow vehicles with certain numbers of passengers to enter (HOV 2 means two or more passengers, HOV 3 means 3 or more, etc.). Cars without the required number of occupants are fined large amounts if caught ($271 in California, which I know because it's posted everywhere along the California highway. Everyone here wonders where they got the oddball dumber "$271"? Why not $300 or even $275?)

I largely think HOV lanes are a waste of money, which is the point of the OTB posting, but what I think is fun about them are the philosophical debates they bring up . Keep in mind that the laws are written to say number of "persons" in the car, not "drivers":
- Is a lone pregnant woman in a car able to use an HOV 2 lane? (this one actually made it into the courts)

- If you say "no" to the above, keep in mind that one adult and infant ARE eligible for HOV 2 (two "persons"). How is this reducing traffic or smog since the infant obviously doesn't drive?

- Is a hearse with two drivers (and, er, a deceased) eligible for a HOV 3 lane?

- People have been caught using mannequins in the passenger seat in order to fool the cops, but usually get caught. If these people had incorporated the dummy, making them a "person" under corporate law, would they still be in violation?