Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Iron Chef Jerusalem: Arab vs. Kosher

The first night in Israel I was taken out to an Arab restaurant called Pasha's. The second evening I went to a kosher restaurant called Canella. So we have a food fight between Arab and Jew. Whose food will reign supreme?!?
  • Ambiance:
    - Pasha - Exotic, Middle Eastern dive. I felt I was in the Middle East.
    - Canella - Trendy and upscale. I might as well have been in LA.

    Winner: Pasha. I felt I was in a foreign land here. Canella, while nice, was like any upscale place in the U.S.
  • Staff:
    - Pasha: Swarthy, Arab guys
    - Canella: Pretty, Jewish girls

    Winner: Pretty obvious here. Food always goes better with cleavage.
  • Drinks:
    - Pasha: Arab beer?!? It's true. I and my fellow Americans were amazed since we thought alcohol was frowned upon. It was pretty good.
    - Canella: Kosher Chardonnay from the Golan Heights. It was an EXCELLENT wine, and I am not a Chardonnay fan. No Manischewitz here.

    Winner: Canella. Our party of three went through two bottles. I hope to find a bottle to bring home to Mrs. Director.
  • Appetizer:
    - Pasha: Pita bread with lots and lots of little dipping dishes, like hummus and other things I couldn't identify. It was all very good and practically a meal in itself.
    - Canella: Sushi mixed with mango and other vegetables. Very good.

    Winner: Edge to Pasha for regional authenticity. Canella, while tasty, wasn't really of the area.
  • Main Course:
    - Pasha: Lamb Kabobs - Added to a pita and one of the sides, it made an awesome Middle Eastern Fajita.
    - Canella - Grilled Sea Bass with a side of baby vegetables

    Winner: Giving them a tie here. Both were very good and true to what each resteraunt was trying to be.
  • Dessert:
    - Pasha - Little dumpling things, like donut holes. (Sorry I can't retain the names of any of the local foods, so if you know the names, put in the comments section).
    - Canella - A chocolate mousse between two chocolate wafers. Heavenly.

    Winner: Huge win for Canella here. That chocolate like sex thing women talk about came true for me with this dessert.
  • Coffee:
    - Pasha - Turkish coffee, which was basically an espresso.
    - Canella - Espresso. Funny story here. One of my colleagues asked for a latte. The waitress looked at him funny and said: "This is a Kosher restaurant. WE DON'T SERVE MILK HERE!" We all had a laugh at that.

    Winner: They were pretty much the same.
  • After Dinner Smoke:
    - Pasha - This was way cool: They brought a three foot tall hookah to the table and put live coals on the top, which heated the TOBACCO in the carrier below. The smoke was drawn out through a water-cooled bowl below the carrier and out a long tube which I inhaled. The TOBACCO was aromatic and sweet, scented with apple and cinnamon. It was an incredibly smooth smoke and an excellent end to a heavy meal. (My colleague took a picture, but he can't email it to me until he gets back to the U.S., so I will post it here next week).

    - Canella - Not an option. In fact, I am not sure smoking was allowed.

    Winner: Huge win for Pasha.

So the winner is...a tie! How is that for diplomacy? I'll probably hit both places again on a future trip.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Nobody Thinks of It In Asia

This is Asia? I must have taken a wrong turn in Albuquerque. Either that or yarmulkes have become tres chic.

Actually, Israel is in on the western edge of Asia, but there aren’t a whole lot of what the U.S. PC Police would call “Asians” here. Those “Asians” are on the eastern part of the continent and make up my customer base. The technology I am peddling, however, was developed on the western end, which is why I am here: I need to give the R&D guys a list of what they need to invent next

This is my first trip here, and thankfully, not part of a circumnavigation. With customers in China and engineers in Israel, it sort of makes sense to start in one direction and visit both sets of people before returning home - without turning around. It looks like I will have plenty of those trips in the future, but this isn’t one of them.

The funny part about telling people you are going to Israel are the two, totally opposite reactions to your travel plans:
  1. Worry – For this group the mention of “Israel” on the itinerary creates a furrow of the brow as the listener tries to remember the date and death toll of the last bombing and the likelihood of another one happening during my visit. To ease their worry I usually remind them that the U.S. has 41 murders a day (15,000 a year based on the latest FBI data), but no one gets worried when I tell them I am heading to Seattle.

  2. Jealous – These are largely people interested in the country for archeological or religious reasons and respond “I wish I could go there!” Definitely the minority. I thought most of my Jewish friends would fall into this group, but most of them just told me “Don’t take public transportation.”, putting them in the first group.
For the Worriers I plan to buy souvenir t-shirts that read “My Friend Went to Israel and Didn’t Get Blown Up”. However, I will admit that the week is still young.
Note: The Pirate gets bragging rights for guessing correctly where I was going.

Not Quite There, But...

Did you know Continental Airlines sucks? You probably do. Don't forget it.

On the Road: Mystery Destination

Sitting in an LAX airport lounge, waiting for my flight get to guess.

Hint: It is in Asia, but very few people classified as "Asians" live there.

Family members and personal friends disqualified from participating. Void where prohibited. Must be 18 to play. Taxes and fees sole responsibility of participant. Game not legal in Utah, Alaska and Guam.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Send an Email to the Future You

Here's something sort of interesting. Yahoo and Forbes have set up an email time capsule where you can send an email to yourself in one, three, five, ten or twenty years.

This sounds fairly interesting, assuming you don't change your "permanent" email by that time. And assuming spam filters of the future won't block it out. And you're still alive. And email hasn't changed significantly. And...

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

The Ultimate iPod Accessory

It's larger than your typical accessory, and a tad more expensive as well:

But it interfaces with Mrs. Director's iPod quite well.

You plug in your iPod and put it in the glove box, and control it via the console OR buttons on the steering wheel. So cruising down the road and finding your favorite playlist is quite easy. It would be a tad cooler with my Nano, but Mrs. Director won't let me plug it in since it would somehow establish some sort of claim of ownership over HER car.

This is a quick entry since time is tight, but I'll write another entry later this weekend on the car shopping and negotiating experience, which is always a harrowing time.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Bluetooth: Not Ready for Prime Time

In addition to the new Mot V3 that I received from my new company, I also got a new IBM T43 laptop. I was pretty excited about this since they both have Bluetooth, so I could - theoretically - get the two synched, making my V3 more than just a cool fashion statement by giving it some PDA functions.

I did get the two talking to one another and have now synched my contacts and calendar, but it took - and I am not making this up - over four hours of screwing around with both the phone and the PC before I got the link-up to work. I put most of the blame on the PC side, especially the software people that Mot uses, BVRP, who, as a French company, should simply surrender the market to someone who knows what they are doing.

I won't go into the details, but I had to abandon the set-up software provided by the French and go into manually setting up the Bluetooth connection and then loading the proper phone drivers directly myself. The "ah-hah" point came when I turned off the firewall that Windows XP so thoughtfully provided to all the modems in my system - including the Bluetooth one - and I switched the BVRP software from the LAN setting to modem setting. Each of these were deep in the operating system and BVRP software, so would not be something a casual user would have figured out. And it took me many hours and some pointers from some internet chat boards to figure it out.

But I think this is not really so much an issue with Mot, IBM, or BVRP (although they are partly to blame), but I think more an issue with Bluetooth itself. The technology really isn't ready for the mass market, and just a casual look at the message boards and help sites I was reading while I went through my ordeal shows that there are many, many compatibility and software issues that still have to be worked out on this technology.

My nifty Bluetooth headset is due in on Monday, and I am hoping I have nothing near the problems I had with this.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Why is Buying a Car Harder Than Buying a House?

The next few entries will be about a car buying experience Mrs. Director and I are going through. The reason it isn't a single entry is because of the steps, length of time, anguish, waiting, negotiating, hair pulling and other hassles required to buy a car. How in the hell did something that should be fun and exciting become this hard?

This blog entry is focused on what we did with the car we already had. Or, more accurately, the car Mrs. Director had. You see, I get the new job with the big pay raise, but Mrs. Director is the one who gets a new car first. I don't know how this happened, but my dad warned about it long ago. It's just one of those things of marriage.

Anyway, I am too lazy to Google the statistics, but my gut says that most people just trade in their old car into the dealer, a smaller number sell it on the private market, and a very small percentage do something else like give it to a relative or charity. There is obviously an inverse relationship between what you get for the car and the amount of time and effort involved. For example, the most money you will get out of your old car is selling it to a private individual. But this will take the most time and effort to do. Trading it in is the easiest route, but you won't get much for it, plus the dealers use a bunch of well-worn maneuvers on your trade in vs. the price of the new car to stick it to you even harder than they normally would.

Mrs. Director had the idea to try a middle route: sell the car to a business that specializes in buying used cars: CarMax. Their promise is that they will appraise your car and offer you a non-negotiable offer. If you accept, they cut you a check. If not, you walk away. Mrs. Director and I assumed we would get less than a private sale, but more than a trade-in. Plus we would wouldn't have the trade-in hanging over us when we negotiated for the new car.

So I wandered over to CarMax with Mrs. Director's car and title and cooled my heals for an hour while they did the appraisal. Of course during that time they took me on a guided tour of their facility and showed me all the used cars they had for sale. I kicked a few tires while I killed time, but told them I just wanted to sell.

After an hour they came back and, according to the Blue Book figures I already had from the internet, they gave me...the trade-in value on the car. Bottom line: YOU WILL NOT GET MORE MONEY FOR YOUR CAR BY SELLING IT TO CARMAX. So if you want the most money for your car, and are willing to go through the hassle, stick an ad in the paper.

After talking it over with Mrs. Director on the cellphone, however, we decided to go ahead and accept the offer for the following reasons:
  • We didn't want to go through the hassle of a private sale. I am extremely busy with my new job, plus we wanted to close on Mrs. Director's new car before Thanksgiving, so there was a time constraint and hassle factor.
  • While we would have gotten the same amount on a trade in, there is the hassle of going through the appraisal process again.
  • As noted above, we didn't want the trade-in to cloud the negotiations on the new car purchase. We wanted to walk in and negotiate one item and one item only: the price. No trade-in. No financing. Price.

So I said okay and cooled my heals for another hour while they did the paperwork and drew my bank draft. All in, I was there about three hours.

Next Entry: Starting the search for the New Car

Thursday, November 17, 2005

For Self-Destructive Electronics?

Looks like Intel thinks there is a future in electronics that self-destruct: Intel Creates $50M Middle East Venture Fund

Intel Corp. said today it has established a $50 million venture capital fund to invest in technology companies developing innovative hardware, software and services in the region covering the Middle East.

In all seriousness, this is nice gesture by Intel. As I have said before about other technology investments in the Middle East, one way to help integrate that region into the world community is to provide investments and incentives to create businesses that take part in the world economy.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Deal Phrase of the Day

Fire and Forget - A type of transaction where the deal-makers involved close the deal and move on to the next one without following through on the transaction, integration issues, or other consequences of the deal. Also may refer to a type of deal-maker.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Waiting on Convergence

One of the nice things about starting a new full-time job is all the new gizmos that I get on the Company nickel. The latest is a new cellphone, which is a RAZR GSM (catalog photo):

I give it thumbs-up on design and sleekness, but the functionality is no different from other phones out there, which means it's okay, but not great. This device is more about fashion than function. The Bluetooth headset - which will make it a real fashion accessory - is due in next week, allowing me to join all those geeks in San Jose airport wearing what looks like an oversized, glowing earring.

So with this I am now carrying around three slim, cool electronics accessories with me whenever I travel:
  1. RAZR Cellphone - Necessary for business
  2. iPod nano - Necessary for the flight over
  3. Casio Exilim DSC 3 Megapixel - Necessary for any touring I get while on my trip
Each of these are quite slim and does its individual job very, very well, and while there are a few gizmos out there that will do all three functions, they all suck as multifunction products.

For example, the new iPod cellphone, the ROKR, is larger than simply duct-taping a RAZR to a nano, which would give you the same functionality. And, of course, the ROKR has a 100 song limit, greatly restricting its usefulness. Likewise, the RAZR actually has a built-in camera, but the image quality sucks, and VGA is not the resolution I want if I manage to get away for some touring.

So while I would like to combine all three devices into one to save size and weight in my computer bag, it looks like I will be carrying multiple devices for at least the next several years.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

You're Interested in Our Product? Tough!

Triage - A system used by medical or emergency personnel to ration limited medical resources when the number of injured needing care exceeds the resources available to perform care.

Triage isn't only used in the medical community. It is also used in business.

To give a little more background on my new job, the corporation that hired me just acquired a small, private company. So that was what I was working on during my six months of consulting: an acquisition. The deal I was offered was this: if the acquisition closed I would be brought on full time to run the "top line revenue" of the new division. This is a fancy way to say I am now responsible for sales of this new group that was just acquired.

Now this small, private company did a lot of what I would call "science projects". These were little R&D projects where they collected service fees, but barely enough to keep the lights on. They also spent a lot of time chasing illusive, pie-in-the sky deals from other start-ups who promised volume in the BILLIONS.

Now they are part of a bigger company and have a real revenue number to hit with limited resources to do it with. So I am going in with a big scythe and am cutting out customers that don't match the profile I need to hit my 2006 revenue number. I am kicking out three existing customers, cutting off one who was pretty far down the road on a new project, and ignored half a dozen companies that sent their information in at a recent trade show. The fact that there was a recent acquisition makes the "excuse" for dropping these guys pretty easy, and I get to play the heavy, but it is never fun to tell someone who is interested in your product or service to get lost. It goes against instinct.

The good news is that this leaves some large, resource-rich customers that I can now focus our resources on. And if all goes well, just a percentage of these closing will make the revenue number for the year.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Rooftops in Asia

1998 - Century Hyatt Skybar, Tokyo - My boss and I make a toast to a long and prosperous business and the many customers we will have in Asia. I leave the company less than 18 months later.

2000 - Kaio Plaza Skybar, Tokyo - Rorschach and I make a toast on our new start-up, and the long and prosperous business we will have, mostly from customers in Asia. The company was shut down less then two years later.

2003 - Grand Hyatt Skybar, Taipei - My boss and I make a toast to a long and prosperous business and the many customers we will have in Asia. I was laid off from the company about a year later.

2005 - My boss and I are scheduled to travel together to Asia in December. Along the way we will go to a hotel skybar and make a toast. How will it turn out?

Monday, November 07, 2005

The Joys of Work

Wow, after doing consulting for half a year, I forgot about the joys of a full-time job:
  • Emails - I got maybe 10 emails a day as a consultant. Today, my third day on the job, I probably had 50, and I am not even fully integrated into the company yet. I wrote no fewer than two dozen outgoing ones today, versus the handful of business ones I used to do a day. And it will probably go up from there.

  • Turf Battles - Some people just have a hard time letting go. The guy who sort of was involved with my customer base before I came on board doesn't want to let go and will be hard to shake lose. It doesn't help that the organizational structure is still "in flux".

  • Everyone Wants to be in Sales - I have nearly half a dozen requests from people to "go to the next customer meeting". These include engineers, program managers, and people who I think have no real job function.

But...I enjoy the job anyway.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Some Patents Aren't Meant to Be

For the bulk of my career I have marketing things, mainly semiconductors (aka "computer chips). More recently I have marketed services, specifically outsource manufacturing services.

Now I am marketing...knowledge. My new job title is Director of Business Development and Licensing. That last part of my title opens up a whole new area of knoweldge for me, so I will be spending a lot of time learning the intracacies of patents and licensing contracts - which means readers of this blog will do the same.

Right now I am reading up on patent law, which is pretty dry unless "real world" examples are used, in which case it becomes pretty interesting. For example, the process of invalidating or contesting a patent is a lot more interesting when it examines stupid patents that have been granted and overturned. For example :

  • System and method for providing reservations for restroom use
  • Repetitive strain injury assessment
  • Device for perfusing an animal head

The website where these were found has an issue with business-method patents, which I agree has some serious issues, but isn't what I am doing since I am licensing utility patents - i.e. valid methods of manufacturing. Utility patents are pretty straight forward in the U.S., but the area I have to watch out for - and that is most applicable to my job - is overseas patent enforcement, especially in China. So expect some blog entries in the future on this area of development.