Friday, December 31, 2004

Drive-Thru Starbucks

Running around Chicago's western suburbs today I came across my first drive-thru Starbucks. It's about the size of a large photo-mat and has absolutely no tables inside or out.

This makes a lot of sense to me for heavy traffic areas, and is a better idea than some of the stupid marketing tricks the company is trying, but this type of store does goes against the "experience thing" that Starbucks is trying to achieve.

This is the first and only one I have seen. Is this place unique or has anyone seen any more out there?

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Female-Male Translation: Getting Ready

As I enter the second half of my forth decade, I am finding that I am finally starting to understand female speech. It has taken years of hard work, and I have yet to find a "Rosetta Stone", but I am making slow and steady progress.

Here is what I have so far for "Getting Ready":
I'll be ready in an hour - Start a movie, preferably an epic like "Ben Hur" or "Gladiator". You got two hours, minimum, my friend.

I only have to do my hair and make-up - You have time for a major task. I prefer to take my car to a local Jiffy Lube for an oil change and brake check. I get back before she finishes her mascara.

I'm putting on my clothes now - This one is variable, depending on her closet size and number of accessories, as she will be trying on every piece of clothing she owns. Unfortunately you won't be able to do anything else since you will have to sit around dispensing advice (hint: answer "no" when asked "does this make me look fat?")

I'm ready! - You got 15 more minutes. I have yet to figure this one out. I will see a fully coiffed, made-up and clothed female and will go out and get the car started, and sit there 15 minutes before she exits the front door. This is one mystery I don't think I will figure out.

Monday, December 27, 2004

Poaching the Internet

My wife's grandmother doesn't have WIFI, but one of her neighbors apparently does. Does this constitute "stealing" internet? I do have some rules in this situation in that I won't do any major uploading or downloading, so no work email (I get lots of attachments that are many megabytes large). So this means I can do lite internet cruising at "home" and work email at Starbucks.

To whomever is granting me this free access: Thanks!

Friday, December 24, 2004

Working Over Christmas Vacation

I'm sneaking in a blog entry before the New Year even though I said I wouldn't.

I am on vacation for 11 days, but brought my computer with me and am sitting in a Starbucks doing email (and blogging) since business doesn't stop when I do. Part of this is because I deal a lot with Asian customers and factories which, while they might close on Christmas day, don't have the long shutdowns and vacations that are common in the U.S. (they do that during "holidays" like Buddha's Harvest Moon Festival). So I have received 60-70 emails every day this week - including today on Christmas eve - that demand my attention.

So yesterday I emailed everyone a schedule of my "working vacation" days and my "vacation vacation days", which delineates the days I am really on vacation versus vacation days when I will do email and phone calls (I had a 20 minute call with one of my engineers just yesterday).

Am I upset about working over my vacation? Not really. After spending a few hours with 40 relatives running around my wife's grandmother's house and other general holiday craziness, "I'm going to Starbucks to do email" is actually a good excuse to get out of the house and away from everyone for a little while.

The other issue is preventing email from stacking up - which Techdirt notes is another reason people do email over the holidays. If I get ~70 emails a day, two weeks of email stacking up makes for a big headache.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Merry Christmas to All...

Job, family and personal demands are all taking an enormous amount of my time, so I am signing off until probably New Years or so. So everyone have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

C2: Half the Carbs, None of the Taste

After my belt exam today, I grabbed a C2 Coke - the low-carb version - as a refreshment. It came out half a year ago, but I am just getting around to trying it.

It's terrible. Diet Coke tastes better and has fewer calories, although I am not a fan of it either. Looks like I will just stick to the fully leaded stuff.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Finding a Starbucks in Shinjuku

I have noted before that Japan is traditionally a tea culture. That is slowly changing, but the business hotels here can't brew a decent cup of coffee to save their life, although they try hard.

For this reason I have always looked for the closest Starbucks in the area for my morning fix. There was one near Shinjuku station that I have been going to for years, but to my shock and dismay I found that it was closed! I panicked, wondering if Starbucks pulled out of Japan, or at least Shinjuku, leaving me to fend with one of the other chains here:

Excelsior Coffee - This is a Starbucks wantabe, and where I ended up the first morning when I found my Starbucks missing. The coffee was pretty good, and definitely better than the hotel stuff, but not quite up to par. Their set-ups are nearly identical to Starbucks with comfy chairs and nice seating areas with nice music playing the background. If you can't find a Starbucks, this is a good back-up.

Doutor - These are low-end, "price cutting" coffee shops and all over the place. They are actually owned by the same company as Excelsior (they opened Excelsior as their high-end brand after Starbucks arrived). I haven't been to one and often wonder if they were meant to be named "Detour", which would be a good name for a coffee shop.

Peet's - I noticed a couple of these. It turns out these are a result of a licensing deal with a Japanese company. I have never been to one, although I know a lot of people in NoCal like them.

There were a few other stores here and there, but none that I was interested in - I wanted my Starbucks (or Diedrich, which isn't in Japan). So I did some research and found there were actually several close to my hotel - I just didn't know they were there. The Starbucks site lists them by address only, so I thought I would do everyone a favor and map the Starbucks which are in walking distance of Shinjuku station and the major business hotels in the area (note: there is apparently one IN Shinjuku station, but that place in a labyrinth and I haven't been able to find it):

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Don't Bring Fido with You to Korea

They eat dog in Korea. I've never had it (I'll stick to eating whale), but I have seen dog restaurants in Seoul (it is served in specialty places, sort of like KFC is for chicken, so it isn't found on the menu in other types of restaurants).

Over dinner last night (we were eating beef), my colleagues gave me a few interesting factoids on this subject:
o There are a large number of Koreans who won't touch it, and there are movements to curb the practice to bring it more in line with the West, but contrary to what Westerners might read and what I wrote in the above linked post, it is still a relatively popular dish.

o It's seasonal, eaten in the summer months. The belief is that it helps bring back nutrients lost through sweating in the hot, humid summer.

o It's recommended after surgery since it is believed to help the healing process of muscles more than other types of protein.

o The dish is also popular in ceratain regions of China, although that's no surprise considering what else you can find on the menus there.

o Like cattle, the ones they eat are specially bred for the purpose of eating - they don't go around and clean out the pounds. Dogs can be found as pets here (but are rare since so many Koreans live in small houses and apartments) so Koreans sort of think of two types of dogs: pet dogs and food dogs.
That being said, Korea has some outstanding dishes that I thoroughly enjoy, which I will make a topic of another post.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

What's on the Menu in Japan

This evening I wanted something filling, but not too heavy. But I didn't want sushi since I had that for lunch. Obviously I decided to eat at a tonkatsu joint.

It's funny, but six years ago I knew next to nothing about Japanese food, except for sushi. Ten years ago the thought of eating raw fish made me shudder. Today I am familiar with most major types of Japanese food and consider sushi one of my favorite foods in the world.

For those of you who don't know a lot about Japanese cuisine here are the major types of establishments I like to eat at while I am over here:

Sushi and Sashimi - I don't need to explain this one - it's everywhere in the U.S. I even saw a sushi place when I was passing through Abilene a decade ago. One thing I will say is that Japanese sushi is typically much better than its American counterpart. I don't know why - maybe because the fish is fresher? The best sushi I had ever was in Osaka.

Tempura - This is deep fried vegetables and seafood (usually shrimp) and sometimes even meat. This was actually invented by 16th century Portuguese missionaries who didn't like eating all that raw stuff the Japanese ate. Many people in the U.S. are familiar with it since it is usually offered on the menu at sushi places.

Teppanyaki - This is "BeniHana" style cooking of meat, seafood and vegetables over a hot table-top grill. It's probably less popular here than in the U.S.

Tonkatsu - This is a breaded pork cutlet, usually served with a side of shredded cabbage. Contrary to what you might think, it is not very heavy at all.

Shabu-Shabu - This is a form of cooking where water is boiled and thinly sliced meat and vegetables (and usually some other stuff like tofu) are thrown in to cook for a while before taken out and eaten, at which point more stuff thrown into the pot for the next round. Sort of similar to fondue, except water is used instead of oil.

Udon, Soba, Raman - These are each a different type of noodle. They are usually served in a bowl with broth, vegetables, and sometimes other stuff like meat, seafood, or tempura (soba is sometimes served alone and eaten cold). This is the Japanese form of fast food.

Yakitori - This is where meat and vegetables are put onto little skewers and grilled. One of my favorites for a light meal, Yakitori houses are usually little holes in the wall and hard to find.

Yakiniku - This is the Japanese form of Korean BBQ where you grill your own marinated meat over a grill at your table. The best Yakiniku place EVER was a place called Santoku in Tokyo but, sadly, it is no longer around. The second best place is in Newport Beach and called Anjin, where my family and friends go frequently.

Biru - Beer. On the menu wherever I go.

Happy Pearl Harbor Day from Japan

Funny, I haven't noticed any ceremonies or anyone commenting about Pearl Harbor Day over here. From the Japanese perspective Yamamoto did a great job of catching the U.S. with its pants down, and if a few things had gone Japan's way (if they had caught the carriers in port and had successfully bombed the oil storage depot), the result of the war wouldn't have changed, but it would have taken a whole lot longer (atom bombs aside).

So here I sit just 63 years later in the Japanese capital surrounded by friendly pro-American Japanese who love American icons (there's a Starbucks, McDonalds and Burger King within a block radius of my current office, although I had sushi for lunch). It's hard to believe we were fighting tooth and nail just two generations ago.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Most People Never Market a Blockbuster

One of the things that occurred to me on this trip is the fact that I have never marketed a "blockbuster". This isn't really a matter of my marketing abilities, just a matter of statistics.

A vast majority of products that are produced out in the world of business never make money. A large number of them muddle along, making a little money, but never quite hitting critical mass. A very small number are breakout successes creating vast sums of money for the corporation and kudos and promotions for those involved.

Business articles mainly concentrate on either the large successes (the Mustang, Viagra) or the huge failures (the Edsel, Vioxx). They don't mention the vast majority that are mediocre successes or silent failures. I find that most of the products that I have worked on fit in these categories:

TMS320C30 - This was one of the first 32-bit DSPs (Digital Signal Processor) on the market and the first product I ever marketed. It was actually successful in it's segment - floating point DSPs - but it sold in a year what 16-bit fixed point DSPs sold in a few weeks. Despite large profit margins, the revenue was so small that no one in corporate would pay much attention to it.

TMS320C40 - This was a "parallel processing" DSP, and more a science project than anything else. This product was created by the techies in design and thrown over the wall to marketing (me) to sell. It sold well in very high end, very low volume segments that already were using multiple DSPs per system, but the volume did nothing to raise my visibility at the company, especially as fixed point DSPs were skyrocketing thanks to a new-fangled device called a "cell phone". The product was eventually killed.

TMS320C67x - My company tried a floating point DSP one more time - this time with a VLIW (Very Long Instruction Word) architecture. By this time I was the "go to" guy in this product category, but I was tired of marketing products that, although I liked and thought were cool, didn't make much revenue and thus did nothing for my career. I stayed with the company through product introduction and then went off to do other things. The product still seems to be muddling along.

MFC1000/2000 - I joined another company and came into this project "in media res" (in the middle of things). The project was signed off by management a full year before I came on board, but it was still not on the market due to design delays. I did a marketing analysis and told management to kill the product - it was simply too late to market. Although I was potentially killing my own job with the proposal, I thought that this was a better alternative than spending more money to create a product that never made money. Management ignored my suggestion and brought the product to market. I did my best to sell it, and won a socket here and there, but the end result was what I predicted. I left this mess of a company for a start-up.

YM-3120, YM-i320 - These were great products being introduced just before the market was ready for them. Customers saw their potential and were interested in buying lots of them - in a year or two. Unfortunately by that time the start-up had become the victim of the tech meltdown and had run out of money. If the company had survived, these two would have been good - maybe even great - successes, but I will never really know.

Commodity Electronics - My next job was at a large multinational mega-corporation doing strategic marketing for commodity electronics products. How do you do strategic marketing for a commodity product? I didn't ask, I just took the job since I was unemployed after the tech bust. I did my best to create differentiation with brand identity and service. I never got any real feedback on my efforts since commodity products - by definition - are sold based on price. I left this job after the tech job market picked up and the minimum amount of time had passed to save face for both me and the company (one year).

Manufacturing Services - Today I am not selling products, I am selling manufacturing services. The service I am selling is a new one for my company, and I was brought on near the beginning of the program to make this segment successful.

After a year in my current position things are looking good, and the next six months will be make-or-break for my "product" (service). This time, I actually have a shot of marketing something that could be a large success, but there are plenty of things that could go wrong during that time. However, these things aren't marketing related - I already have lots customers signed up - they are execution and delivery oriented. This means that I am no longer "marketing" for the success of my product, but doing program management and factory oversight.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

What Makes a Movie "Christmassy"?

One of my favorite Christmas movies is Die Hard.

Stay with me here. It's a Christmas movie since it falls into the last of my four categories of Christmas movies:
1. Portrays the Birth of Christ - Sadly, the smallest category. The only one I can think of off the top of my head is Little Drummer Boy. At least A Charlie Brown Christmas has Linus reading from Luke 2:8-14.

2. Deals with Christmas Symbols - This is probably the largest category and includes any movie having to do with Santa, Rudolph, Frosty, and the like. Miracle on 34th Street is usually everyone's favorite in this category. In TV shows, I sort of like those stop-motion shows from childhood.

3. Deals with the Christmas Spirit - This is probably the second largest category since it can make everyone feel good without actually bringing religion or Christ into the equation. Movies like It's a Wonderful Life fall into this category, as do the dozens of adaptions of "A Christmas Carol".

4. Takes Place at Christmas Time - These are movies that take place at Christmas or use Christmas elements at plot drivers, putting Die Hard squarely in this category (the set-up takes place at a Christmas party).
So the last category is why someone can pick Gremlins as their favorite Christmas movie (they were bought as a Christmas present).