Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Another Bull$*!t Poll

The Earth goes around the sun!
The Earth goes around the sun!
The Earth goes around, the Earth goes around,
the Earth goes around the sun!

- A song sung by 4-year-old daughter

Excuse me if I find the latest "poll" hard to believe:
One adult American in five thinks the Sun revolves around the Earth, an idea science had abandoned by the 17th century.

Sorry, I don't believe it.

I do believe that a large number of Americans are innumerate and have problems with scientific concepts. But I don't believe that one in five don't know this simple scientific fact that my own preschooler knows. I chalk this up to yet another poll that is trying to push an agenda. In this case, the agenda is that Americans are stupid and can't make decisions for themselves. The solution to this "problem" is to put specially selected smart people in places of power to make all the decisions for all the stupid people.

In other words, it's a Leftist position. So excuse me if I find this poll B.S.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Interesting Web Site for Frequent Fliers

Those of us who have logged a lot of air miles have idly wondered about stewardess uniforms. After all, they're hard not to notice as they hand you your ration of peanuts and pour your favorite beverage. I've wondered about who designed them, why everyone's are different, if the stewardesses themselves had any input on them, and what the goal of the designer was (Southwest's "shorts outfit" seems the most comfortable, Singapore Airline's the best for being eye candy for the traveling business executive).

While these questions aren't answered, there is a website dedicated to tracking down and cataloging the uniforms of every airline possible, including those no longer in business. It isn't 100% current (for example, the Southwest "shorts outfit" is not included), but it covers the vast majority of airlines that ever existed.

The only complaint I have about the site is that it uses mannequins instead of real models for the uniforms. Using real models could make it a really interesting site.

Hat Tip: Am I a Pundit Now?

Saturday, August 27, 2005

For the Christmas List: Civilization IV

Roommate Jim introduced me to Civilization back in the stone age of PCs in 1991 (it was a DOS game). A few years later in 1996 I upgraded to Civilization II, and lost countless hours playing that version - and I mean lots and lots of hours. It is generally regarded as the best PC strategy game of all time, and I agree with that assessment.

Civ II was around for half a decade before Civilization III was released in 2001. I tried it out and didn't like it. While the graphics were vastly improved, I felt the game play wasn't as good and had a lot of problems. So I went back to Civilization II with the better game play and crummy graphics.

This Christmas they are going to try again with Civilization IV, whose game designer recently had an interview with Gamespot. I'll go ahead and put it on the Christmas list, hoping that along with the pretty graphics that they'll actually improve game play this time around.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Do Crashes Come in Threes?

I was waiting for the third one:

Crash 1: Cypriot Crash Kills 115 - August 14
Crash 2: Venezuelan Crash Kills 160 - August 16
Crash 3: Peruvian Crash Kills 41 - August 24

Of course the fallacy with this superstition is that it doesn't give a period of time. Given enough time, you can find a grouping of three crashes.

But being logical doesn't mean that I won't breathe a little easier when I got on my weekly flight tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

When Business Travel Was Fun

Jim has a post that many of us professionals can relate to: how back in the salad days of our youth business travel was fun and exciting, but now that we are getting old and crotchety the object of business travel is to get it over as quickly as possible.

I saw this well known youth/travelphilia connection exploited by a senior manager when I was at TI. He would make sure to hire into his group every year at least one raw college grad (and TI hired a lot of them). Then when some trade show, customer visit, or other travel would come up, he would saunter over to me the new guy, and ask him if he would like to go to DFW, BOS, SJC, SLC, SEA, or anywhere in between, which the 22 year-old would pounce on like a dog on a bone. Afterwards the old guy would have a smirk on his face, mentally congratulating himself for suckering someone else to take his trip for him.

Not that the 22 year old ever minded. It meant a company paid trip to a new city, a chance to take in sites, visit some bars, maybe pick up some chicks away from home. It was exciting and glamorous.

I feel pretty much like the old TI manager these days when it comes to domestic travel - I have seen pretty much every city worth seeing in North America. But I still have a little of the 22 year old in me when it comes to international travel. Take Japan. Even after being there over two dozen times, I still find Japan cool. I go every chance I can. Taiwan I could do without, but it is the price I have to pay to go to Japan (most SE Asia trips require the full Japan-Korea-Taiwan triad to get as much done as possible while on that side of the Pacific). Korea really grew on me in the last couple of years, but not to the extent of Japan. China? Every time I go back it is a different experience since it changes so much. And I still haven't gotten to the major tourist sites there, except Hong Kong, which is just...incredible. I would go back to HK in a heartbeat.

And Europe? I actually like going there on business. The people there don't really work, so I don't either when I go. I do what my customers and clients do: I spend my time in coffee shops, beer gardens and fine restaurants eating and drinking. What's not to like about a trip like that? The one problem with European business trips is that if I don't manage to take Mrs. Director along with me there is hell to pay.

Which brings me to a possible overseas business trip for me in a region that is not Europe. Or southeast Asia. Or Australia. Or South America. And it is a trip I am not sure how I feel about - fun or...dangerous. More on this when it looks like I will go for sure.

Monday, August 22, 2005

American Jury Takes Future Drug Treatments Off the Market

The Merck lawsuit decision will end up doing nothing other than keeping future drugs from being developed and put on the market. As noted in today's WSJ (paid link):
The industry and the Food and Drug Administration have put renewed stress on caution, which probably will inhibit the arrival of new treatments to the market. Drug makers are rethinking what sorts of drugs to pursue and develop, based on their anticipation of potential safety and cost problems.
Companies aren't stupid. They aren't going to develop and market a drug that isn't profitable. And this lawsuit just added costs to all future drugs since all drugs have side effects. Even antibiotics kill scores of people each year. The reason they are still used is because their benefits outway the risks.

But this risk/reward ratio has now been skewed to the point that the benefits have to be huge and the risks approaching zero. What this means is that drugs for diseases and problems that looked "marginally" profitable will now be shoved into the "unprofitable" column and not be developed. Those that will be most affected will be those suffering from diseases and conditions with smaller numbers of people. These "orphan diseases" already had problems getting the attention of drug companies, but now the size and scope of the orphan disease list just got a lot larger.

So if you come down with a disease in the future, make sure that it is one that has lots of people suffering from it or has a treatment that has zero side effects. Otherwise you'll find that there won't be a treatment available for you thanks to an American jury.

On-line Banking? Not Me.

Just Procrastinating has an example of why I will never do on-line banking of any kind. Due to a mistake - maybe even his own - his $45 cellphone bill turned into a $4500 deduction from his account.

If he had written a check this wouldn't have happened. If he had used a credit card payment he could dispute the charge.

This is the reason I never, ever give vendors of any kind access to accounts with real money - even PayPal only has access to a credit card. A mistake of any kind results in the vendor having the money. And they return it to you at their leisure, if at all.

Someone else I know had their cable bill automatically deducted from their checking account. Someone managed to hack into my friend's cable account and get their cable charges deducted from his checking account as well. More than a year later my friend still doesn't have his money back.

So if I pay electronically at all, it is only with CREDIT cards (never debit), where I can dispute the charge. In fact, I don't carry a debit card at all since that is another way to give vendors access to my money. Credit card companies (at least mine) automatically reverse any charge I dispute for 30 days while it is worked out. So this policy gives me the power to tell vendors to screw themselves and is an extra level of protection against mistakes. Of course I pay off my cards each month, so I am not paying astronomical interest rates for the convenience.

But the vast majority of my banking is by check and stamp, and I will probably be one of the few people in 30 years still using the "old method".

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

A Better Source for Start-Up Data

A few days ago I posted a link to a site that listed semiconductor start-ups. However several people commented that they didn't find the list very helpful.

I concurred and I have offered the site author to update the list, which I am doing anyway for another consulting project. So I am taking what he has and making it a little more useful for me, and sending him my results (in return for some other info he is sending me).

However, I found out there is a much better source for this information: Venture One. Owned by Dow Jones, this has an extensive database on start-ups funded over the past 10 years and allows searches by segment, employee number, location, funding amount, rounds, you name it. The only problem is that it costs BIG. One of my clients has access and sent me material from it (which I cannot post for legal reasons), but it is pretty impressive. So if you are serious about needing data about start-ups, this is the place to go. If you are a hobbyist, a consultant, or poor, you will have to use the free lists that are out there or do the research yourself.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Work Should be Fun

I was having lunch with a prospective client, who brought up an idea for a consulting company with himself, me and a mutual friend. I thought a moment and replied, "Yeah, that sounds like fun."

He did a double take. It apparently was the last thing he thought I would say.

The bottom line is that work should be fun. It's what we spend our lives doing. And we shouldn't spend that time doing something we hate. Yes, we have to make money and support our families, but - if one can swing it - it should be fun.

And flexible.

And make you a lot of money.

And give you time for other things you enjoy.

Maybe I'm asking for too much, but it's something I have in common with the current wave of workers just now entering the labor force. From Just Procrastinating, who noted the following article about the newest kids graduating college:
Technology has allowed them to blend their schoolwork into their personal lives seamlessly and wirelessly, so they balk at the image of a rigid 8-to-5 office where everyone's tethered to a desk. Still, they seek a balance between work time and free time, so they inquire about vacation plans and lunch hours.

But based on the rest of the article, it looks like this is the only thing I have in common with 21 year olds.

Monday, August 15, 2005

When Bloggers Quit

I have run across a couple of blogs recently that either have taken a long hiatus or the blogger has decided to hang up their spurs. The latest is from Oxblog, where one of the three contributors has decided to call it quits:
I've also begun to feel that I have less to write about on a daily basis. And I'm less enthused about the kind of quick-reaction writing that blogging requires. I'm increasingly orienting my writing towards academic pieces--longer, slower, more methodical, and more measured than blogging. That style of writing is, of course, not for everyone. But it is for me.

Brand Mantra, who took a long hiatus off from blogging, notes that a pamphlet is out characterizing this "Blog Depression":
There is a growing epidemic in the cyberworld. A scourge which causes more suffering with each passing day. As blogging has exploded and, under the stewardship of the veterans, the form has matured more and more bloggers are finding themselves disillusioned, dissatisfied, taking long breaks, and in many cases simply closing up shop...We are speaking, of course, about blog depression.
She then notes that part of the frustration is coming up with something to blog about.

For this blog, that is rarely a problem partly because this is what I would call a "general" blog - I blog about whatever is on my mind. However, I have been trying to focus more on business and less on politics lately. There are not as many bloggers on the former subject and way too many on the latter, if you ask me.

But I don't find myself scouring magazines, newspapers and other blogs trying to find something, anything, to blog about. From the torrent of information that comes my way on a daily basis, something will come up that I want to comment on - and that ends up as a blog entry. It is not something I have to force, and for blogging, I left the following advice in the comment section at Brand Mantra:
For my posts, I sometimes have no idea what it will be on as I start my day, but end up with a post anyway. The trick is like trying to remember a name you can't quite remember - DON'T concentrate what to blog on, and then something will come to mind.
And if the day comes that I can't find anything to say on a topic? Then, maybe, I will quit, but I don't see that happening anytime in the near future.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

DARPA - A Great Organization with Great People

I attended the last day of DARPATech today, and I have to say that this is one hell of an organization. These people are working on truly incredible technology with one thing in mind: helping our soldiers. When one of the anti-war crowd says they want to "help our soldiers", that really isn't true. Warfare isn't going away. Withdrawing from the world isn't an option. The only way to "help our soldiers" is to give them better weapons, better training and better battlefield information and support. And that is what DARPA is trying to do. And it works with U.S. businesses to do it.

The best part of the conference today was the keynote speech from Marine Commandant Gen. Michael Hagee. This is one incredible guy. He just oozed leadership, charisma and knowledge. After the speech if he had asked me to pick up a rifle and follow him I would have complied.

I cannot find a transcript of his speech, but here are a few notes I jotted down:
- The "Nature of War" is not changing in that we have a thinking enemy that we must not underestimate. In Iraq it takes our enemy only 10 days to change their tactics once we develop a defense against what they are doing.

- Battlefields are still chaotic. There is no such thing as "perfect information" on the battlefield and our soldiers must be able to thrive in that environment.

- There are three areas where the U.S. has absolute supremacy which is not expected to change any time in the near future: Space, Air over 15,000 feet, and the oceans. We must work to improve our status in those areas we are not supreme: air below 15,000 feet, urban areas, and deep inside enemy territory where some of the best systems we have today cannot be brought in.

- The Marines are currently working in several areas of concentration to better engage in future conflicts: Sea Basing, Distributed Ops, and better Education and Training.

- The General's current short-term priorities for DARPA are as follows:
1. A way to counter Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). DARPA has done some work in this area already, having quickly developed and put into the field Gun Truck, which has already saved lives in Iraq. Additional measures are needed. He mentioned low-weight, bold-on, ceramic armor as one idea.

2. A soldier carries 65 lbs. of equipment today. Lower it!

3. Better batteries and alternative fuel cells. He said the original march into Baghdad was nearly halted due to a battery shortage.

4. The soldier's helmet really hasn't changed in 37 years. He would like to see a Head's Up Display (HUD) giving the soldier information, communication, etc. in the field

5. Currently soldiers carry two scopes for their rifle - one for day, one for night. How about one that can do both, giving them less to carry and worry about.

He said he had another few dozen, but those were the first five.

Even if I never directly participate or do any business with DARPA, going to the conference was worth it just for the information and educational aspects. They had on display some very incredible things in development including biomagnetics, thermal electric conversion, scramjets, and other things practically out of science fiction. Anyone who is interested should check out their website.

Semiconductor Start-Up List

Jeremey Donovan posts an annual list of semiconductor start-up companies. This is good for seeing where venture capital is flowing, what sorts of start-ups are out there, even job and client leads.

Since this is posted on the internet, I assume this is a public list, so I will post a link to it here.

Monday, August 08, 2005

For Those of You with Sushi Questions

A five part series on How to Eat Sushi (the link is to the fifth entry, which has links to the first four).

Even I, who consider sushi one of my favorite foods, learned a few things, although I won't follow them all (for example, I'll keep my gaijin custom of putting way too much soy sauce in my bowl. As a foreigner, they'll never think you're NOT a clod, so you might as well do what you like).

Hat Tip: Due Diligence

Nisco? Ciskia?

Two thoughts came to mind when one of my clients mentioned today the rumor that Cisco was looking to acquire Nokia:

1. That makes no sense at all!
2. What the hell would they call the new company!?

For these two reasons alone I think we can safely say this rumor has no merit.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Don't Make a Call, Still Pay Money

SBC is giving consumers another reason to hate land-line telephone companies.

They now charge a minimum fee per month on your phone bill for long distance service - even if you never make a single long distance call. This is probably a response to people using their cellphones and VOIP for long distance while keeping their land-line for local calls. Instead of offering better service or better pricing than either of their competitors, their response is to screw customers out of money, which will just drive more of them away.

This also goes into the face of flat-fee pricing for unlimited local and long distance calls that both VOIP and cellphones offer. As for me, both of these are still a little too unreliable to go "naked" without a local line, but once either of these become robust enough, I will be dropping the land line.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Sometimes Business is About Luck

Eighty percent of success is showing up. - Woody Allen

He should add "at the right place at the right time".

I pitched a consulting project to the CEO of a mid-size company back in May. I followed up two weeks later and then a month later and never got a response. I pinged the acting CFO - my advocate inside the company and a former colleague - a few more times, but had basically written off the opportunity.

Last week at the airport I saw the CEO waiting in line to board my flight. I walked over, said hello, and shook his hand - it took all of ten seconds. He nodded towards me as he boarded the plane and moved towards his seat. I thought that would be the end of the run-in, but later sent him a brief email saying it was good to see him again after our meeting three months ago.

He contacted me earlier this week and asked to speak with me at his office yesterday. Today he is signing my consulting contract before he leaves for vacation.

The interesting thing I am asking myself is this: would I have this company as a client if I hadn't accidently run into the CEO at the airport and refreshed his memory about me? It's hard to say. It certainly didn't hurt. But it is an indication of how much of business - and success - is just being at the right place at the right time.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Calvin and Hobbs Returns For a Limited Engagement

I stopped reading comics at the same time I stopped getting the local paper. I currently only get the WSJ, a couple of magazines, and get additional news on-line. It's been over a decade since I've had a subscription to a local paper and don't miss it at all. I'm just not interested in reading left-wing diatribes and in-depth articles on local murders.

One item I largely can't get on-line are comic strips. There are exceptions - Dilbert broke through, in part, due to being one of the first internet-distributed comics - but this has never bothered me since 95% of the comics out there just aren't interesting. Reading them is largely a waste of time.

But one of the more amusing ones - Calvin and Hobbs - is returning for a four week special engagement. However, true to form, it will be only in print. Big mistake if you ask me since the whole purpose of the limited run is to advertise a new book, but they didn't ask my opinion.

Hat Tip: voluntary Xchange

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

An Axis of Another Type of Evil

In discussions with a patent lawyer today, he let me in on the Axis of IP Evil (IP is short for Intellectual Property, meaning patent violations, trademark violation and the like):

1. China
2. Brazil
3. Argentina

Now, I am not knowledgeable enough to tell you why the two South American countries belong on the list, but this is an IP guy who does litigation, and is very, very good at what he does, so I will have to go with his word on those two (Brazil is probably related to their breaking patents on drugs, Argentina I have no idea).

China I am more familiar with, and tech companies for some time have known that there is no such thing as patent protection, trade secrets or any other protection from outright theft of intellectual property in that country. Things are supposedly getting better, and the larger Chinese companies by and large do comply with the rules. Anything exported is easy to clamp down on, but as their domestic market grows, companies will have to keep a close eye on domestically produced and distributed goods.

Surprisingly, Taiwan is not on the list, but I don't know if that is because things have improved there or if the other three are just so bad to knock it out of the top three rungs.

Just something to keep in mind as you run down to the patent office.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Going to Bat for Your People

One marking of a poor manager is the unwillingness or inability to "got to bat" for the people under them. I have seen time and again (and have worked under) managers that are unwilling to support, back-up, protect from senior management, or spend political capital for those that are supposedly "under their wing". Those types of managers are looking out for themselves, are unsure of their ability, and sway to whatever political wind is blowing. You want to avoid these sorts of managers whenever possible; they have no backbone.

For this reason I am giving kudos to President Bush for sticking by Bolton as ambassador to the UN. No matter what your politics, you have to admire Bush's commitment to stand by the person under him and not get swayed by the political winds - that would have been the easy thing to do. And this particular post is not important - ambassador to a failed, worthless organization - and has a job responsibility that basically consists of voting how the president tells them to vote. The president should put in that slot whomever he wants.

As a manager, it's easy to change your mind in the face of adversity. What's hard is sticking with your decisions - and your people - when the going gets tough.