Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The California Unemployment Act

So if California has a new emissions law, and Nevada doesn't, how many companies do you think move a few hundred miles across the border?

California would become the first state to impose a limit on all greenhouse gas emissions, including those from industrial plants,

This is a real simple cost-benefit analysis: Does complying with the law cost less than moving?

Yes -> Stay in California
No -> Move the hell out of the state

My guess is that the vast majority of small factories and businesses will be moving.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Cholesterol Level: Genes? Lifestyle? Alcohol?

I got my blood test back from my annual physical, and chances are that they are better than the vast majority of people reading this blog today (all comparison levels from the American Heart Association):

Cholesterol: 130 (less than 200 is "desirable")

HDL ("Good Cholesterol"): 58.3 (Above 50 is good)

LDL ("Bad Cholesterol"): 60 (Less than 100 "optimal")

Triglycerides: 57 (Less than 150 "normal", so I am probably abnormally low here)

A large part of this is probably due to my exercise and diet. But a big chunk of it is genes. My dad ate a steak every day of his life until he was 50 and as he closes in on 70 has a natural cholesterol level (no medications) that is exactly the same as mine.

I also partake in a wee dram on a regular basis, and regular, moderate alcohol intake is supposed to act like Drano to clear out the arteries as well as increase your good cholesterol.

It's probably a combination of nature/nurture, but whatever the case, statistically, my risk of heart disease and heart attack are about as low as they can get.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Air Travel Safety

I fly nearly every week of the year. Sometimes multiple locations in the same week. So I keep a close eye on air crashes and their causes, like the crash that happened this weekend out of Lexington (I have been on that flight before).

I know intellectually that my chances of dying in a car crash going to or from the airport are higher than being involved in a plane crash - several orders of magnitude higher when I am in a Shanghai taxi cab - but I keep a mental tab of crashes to see if I can find any trends. And based on my observations, I change my flying habits appropriately:

  • Make of Plane - this is the first thing I look at. I won't step foot on a MD "Multiple Defect" 80. And I am a little leery of Airbus 300s after the AA 587 crash out of New York a few years ago. The plane I am most comfortable in is the 747. This old workhorse has had the bugs and fixes ironed out thanks to crashes over the past three decades, like the JAL123 crash. Essentially other people's deaths have made this plane the safest ride in the industry.

  • Jets not Props - A corollary of the above. I had a manager at TI who refused to get on a prop plane. Ever. I was okay with them in the early 90s but got more and more leery of them as they seemed to fall out of the sky during icy weather. So now I am pretty much in the same boat as my ex-manager. This is largely irrelevant for domestic flying since the U.S. airlines have pretty much all upgraded to regional jets.

  • Weather - This is usually a mitigating factor in many crashes, if rarely the direct cause. Rain by itself doesn't bother me. The increased humidity makes the air denser, improving lift. But add other nasty stuff to it: thunder, ice, and hail, and you are talking potential problems. Think windshear, the cause of several crashes, which is one reason I won't get on a plane flying into of or out of thunder showers.

  • Airline - Over 90% of my travel is on U.S. flagged airlines, which have the best safety records in the world. Europeans are second, and, surprisingly to me, Japan is third (I would have guessed they were better than the Europeans). Unfortunately I sometimes have no choice but to get on a Chinese flagged airline, and I had to fly on ex-Aeroflot planes going into and around Ukraine. These are always white knuckle flights. I am having to fly Korean flagged planes a lot lately, which don't have the safest records on the planet. Savvy travelers know to never, ever get on an African flagged airline, since suicide is a cultural norm for both terrorists as well as pilots from there.

  • Pilots - Pilot error is the number one cause of accidents, so when I see the gray-haired, crew-cut, (and obvious) ex-Air Force captain board the plane, any concerns about safety go away. The highest chances of encountering these guys are on U.S. flagged international flights (they are the most senior, most prestigious and highest paying flights). The biggest worry? I am going to be pummeled on this, but when the pony-tailed, 26-year old woman who looks like she just got her Piper license gets into the cockpit of a regional jet and comes over the PA saying "I'll get y'all there in a jiffy!", the term "Final Approach" gets a new definition in my book.

Friday, August 25, 2006

In Memoriam: Norio Tsuruta

It was 1998, and my first trip to Japan as a marketing manager. The local sales guy, Tsuruta-san, was going to pick me up at the Century Hyatt. I had never met him in person, but on the phone he told me to "Look for the Japanese guy with the big, beautiful mustache!" I had no problem finding him in the crowded lobby, big mustache and all. Thus began what became a long professional and personal relationship.

Tsuruta-san was a salesman's salesman. He was what we in the industry call a "relationship manager" and he taught me much of what he knew. It didn't really matter what he sold - and much of the time he wasn't all that certain - but that wasn't important. What was important was finding and maintaining the personal relationship with the decision makers at the Japanese conglomerates, something that is much more important that having lower prices or better features.

Tsuruta-san was also my tutor into what I would call "modern Japanese culture": Karioke. Hostess clubs. And drinking. Lots and lots and lots of drinking. I don't know how many times I ended up giving customer presentations in Japan totally hung over. The good news is that most of the Japanese were hung over as well.

In karioke, Tsuruta had a velvet voice. He told me to learn one or two songs really, really well, and he took his own advice, allowing him to practice and perfect a handful of songs. I don't remember how many times I heard him sing "I Left My Heart in San Francisco". He also did a great "Love Me Tender", a song I stole from him due to its simple lyrics and limited range.

Hostess clubs were another Japanese institution Tsuruta-san introduced me to. For those of you not familiar with them, they are small bars or karioke establishments that have young girls who chat with you, pour your drink, maybe do some light flirting. It is essentially a big ego booster for the local salary man. I found myself looking forward to these little outings, not only for the light flirting, but also to watch Tsuruta-san hook up with his next "girlfriend". He was very Japanese in this regard, having both a family life and an "evening life". And although it didn't fit with my own personal mores, I didn't judge him for it. It was who he was and how he lived his life, and he lived it large.

So with his heavy drinking, smoking and womanizing, I didn't think twice that he seemed to be looking more and more haggard over the past few years. But, hey, the guy partied and he was over 50! And when we did get together in the U.S. or Japan, we went out as usual, even if the evenings were a little more subdued.

We last saw each other just a couple of months ago in Japan, and had a nice evening out. We tried to get together during my last trip just a few weeks ago, but he told me over the phone that he was going in the next day to have "hip surgery". I assumed he fell or something and was too embarrassed to talk about it, so I didn't press it. I told him to get better and that we would go out when I was back in Tokyo in September. I actually had a business lead for him that he seemed pretty excited about, and we promised to speak again soon. He sent me a follow-up email a week ago Monday saying he was looking forward to seeing me in September.

That dinner will never happen. It turns out the "hip surgery" was for pancreatic cancer. He passed away this past Wednesday. I and everyone who knew him will miss him dearly.

Update: Rorscach also has written a tribute.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Work Dream Interpretation

Two weeks ago I had a dream that one of the guys in my group was let go. In the dream I was shocked that it happened.

Last week it really happened. I wasn't shocked.

But I am not attributing the dream to prescience, ESP, or any hokey stuff like that. My subconscious mind was just picking up on the signals of someone's impending doom and using my dreams to communicate to my conscious mind what was going on.

Either that, or maybe I was helping the situation along, making sure that the decision making process of giving this guy the axe didn't slow.

I am not that much of a rat bastard, am I? Let's go with the subconscious theory. For now.

More later.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

"Play", "Rewind", "FF" Arrows

My five year old daughter asked me the other day why little arrows are used to designate play and other functions on the Tivo remote. Like many questions from my daughter, I knew the answer, but I couldn't tell her since she wouldn't understand it. So I used the fatherly "just because", which she accepted at face value.

But it did make me think about how these old technology designations are being used for new technology. Their original meaning is now obsolete, but the mental model they represent will now be with us forever.

The RWD, FF, PLAY arrows were originally used for reel-to-reel machines. The right facing play arrow designated the direction the tape was moving, the FF and RWD buttons originally double arrows designating that the direction the tape was moving was "fast".

So it was a pretty straight-forward concept that made a lot of sense. As technology developed to cassette tapes and VCRs, the concept still held. After all, the cassette was really a compact version of the reel-to-reel, so the arrows still represented the direction and speed that the tape was moving.

The model started breaking down with the advent of the digital age. CDs and then DVDs do spin, so one could argue that arrows still make a little sense, except that when you rewind a CD and DVD the direction of the spinning doesn't change. The buttons starting becoming conceptual.

Move forward to the next generation of all digital products - iPods, for example - that have absolutely no moving parts, and all of the sudden the arrows stop representing anything physical. They actually represent only a concept that is now ingrained in the consumer consciousness: right arrow means forward progress in the digital file, left arrow represents backward progress. This is just an arbitrary designation that everyone now accepts thanks to the original reel-to-reel technology.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Is This Paragraph Magic or Something?

IMPORTANT NOTICE: This email message, which includes any attachments, may contain confidential, proprietary and/or privileged information for the sole use of the intended recipient. Any unauthorized review, use, copying, disclosure or distribution is prohibited. If you are not the intended recipient, please immediately contact the sender by reply email and permanently destroy the original and any copies of this message. Thank you.

I am seeing this sort of blurb on the end of more and more business messages. So what good is it?

Let's say - just as a hypothetical example, totally make believe - that I get this at the bottom of a email from a customer who is reviewing a contract I sent them for review. And let's suppose - just as an example, mind you - that the email was supposed to be an internal communication from my contact to his executive management saying how he planned to handle the contract negotiation with me.

So, hypothetically, if I follow the directions and let him know "immediately" that I got his internal email by mistake, and then delete it from my system, then it's like I never got that email in the first place? This magic paragraph is like a "redo" and I can never use what I saw in the deleted email for my negotiation planning?

(In my best Dr. Evil Voice): Riiiiiiiiiiight.

This actually dovetails into a "serious" post I was planning on my licensing blog about residual clauses, but I haven't gotten around to writing it yet.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Internet Plane Service Unplugged

Services I don't use or want proliferate without abandon (IM, Social Networking Sites), while services I do want shut down:

In a widely anticipated move, Boeing has confirmed it would phase out its Connexion in-flight wireless (internet) service by the end of the year. The move marks the final blow for a much-hyped six-year program for Internet access on board airliners that was beleaguered from the start.

I hope an alternative technology comes over the horizon soon. The one time I tried this I really liked it. I can kill hours on the internet working, blogging, or browsing, making those ten and twelve hours stuck in a tube just fly by both literally and figuratively.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Reader Advice: Going to Bat for Your People

"Ted" sends in the following situation at work and asked me what I thought. It probably sounds familiar to many (edited for length):

Dear Director,

I want your advice on a situation I am dealing with that is touched upon in your post, Going to Bat for Your People. Here's the basic structure of my IT department:

Deputy VP - Hasn't gone to bat for anyone since Babe Ruth; Clueless and incompetent

Director - Can't Make any decisions without talking to her boss

My Boss - Great boss. Secure person. Understands my abilities and trusts me.

Me - Senior Engineer, Great Performer

I applied for a special type of vacation time so I could take a college class during working hours. This is in addition to the 12 hours I am taking at night, and this class is only offered during working hours.

After speaking with my manager and working out my schedule, we calculated I would only miss 3 hours of work PER WEEK for 16 weeks, and that my work would not be affected whatsoever. The forms were submitted to the Director and are supposed to be approved by the Director and forwarded to HR.

As usual, the Director would not sign them until after consulting with the Deputy-VP. The Deputy-VP would not sign them until HR was consulted. HR would not give an official answer or recommendation until the request was signed by the Director.

(DM: A typical bureaucratic Catch 22)

I am disgusted. I have worked my ass off in this organization and have seen the most incompetent people (e.g., Director and Deputy-VP) promoted solely because of past relationships and not because of competence. My manager (i.e., the one who MANAGES me) has full faith in my abilities and has no problems with the request, but the Director and Deputy-VP rarely - and only if absolutely necessary - sign anything unless it is to their benefit.

Do I cut my losses short, or do I do I push this to a higher pay-grade than the people who will not put their name to anything?

To summarize, you have a great boss who supports you, but he doesn't have the juice to push things through the upper ranks. And the upper ranks are too busy playing politics and CYA to do anything special for the rank-and-file beneath them.

I don't have to tell you that you're a pretty bad situation. If the senior managers are that political, it is likely the people above them are even more so. Remember that culture starts at the top. So I think trying to spring-board around them would be a waste of time. The upper echelon at this organization is not going to do any favors for someone at the bottom in unless you happen to have something on them (stock option backdating evidence, expense statement shenanigans, photos of them with barn animals, etc.).

In addition, it doesn't sound like your organization will do anything that is not in the employee handbook, no matter what a great worker you are and how much your immediate supervisor supports you.

The only solution is this: will your immediate boss provide cover for you for those three hours a week you're gone? It doesn't sounds like the senior managers exactly practice "management by walking around" and are safely enclosed in their office playing that all-time favorite game, Office Politics. So if you're gone, and your productivity is not reduced, who's to know? (unless you have one of those office sign-out things, radio tracking at work, etc.). This is asking a huge favor of your boss, so he would be carrying around a pretty big chip on you.

Otherwise, I think you are going to have to let this one go.

My long term advice: get out of there as soon as you can. This may mean hanging on while you finish your night classes, but this is definitely not an environment to develop a career in. It's great that your immediate boss goes to bat for you, but it sounds like he is very limited on what he can support you with on your career development, and no one above him is going to help.

Any other comments or views?

Friday, August 11, 2006

Traveling on This Side of the World

I was worried about lines and such traveling from Kansai to Incheon yesterday, but there were no problems. I checked my luggage thinking that screening may be tight, but the girl in front of me at screening sent bottles of green tea through screening, and I brought my Starbucks (they finally have one at KIX) on the plane with me without any problems. I went from the curb to the gate in less than twenty minutes.

So obviously the new rules do not apply to international flights on Asian-flagged airlines. They are, however, putting the no-liquid ban on flights heading to the U.S., so I will have to down that flask of martinis I travel with before I get on the plane.

Update: Going through Incheon for a U.S. bound flight was no big deal and security took no longer than usual.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Maybe There is Something to "Luck"

An old vignette:

Napoleon's aides came to him to recommend a man to promote to general. They went into detail extolling the man's virtues and why he would make an excellent addition to Napoleon's staff. Napoleon cut them off half way through their speech. "Yes, yes, I understand he's brave, he's smart, he knows tactics, he is loved by the men. But I only need to know one thing."

His aides nervously looked at each other. "Yes, Emperor?"

"Is he lucky?"

I always liked this story, which is why I remembered it when recently hearing about an acquaintance of mine.

This acquaintance just never seems to catch a break. She caught her first fiance in bed with her best friend. The man she ended up marrying left her, leaving her with a ton of debt. She sold her house to buy a smaller, cheaper one, but she keeps getting outbid so had to move in with her mother while she keeps unsuccessfully bidding on more houses. She has constant health problems. She was recently "t-boned" by a car that swerved out of its lane, totaling her car and giving her even more health problems. I mean it is just one thing after another. She's a nice person and everything, but she sort of reminds me of that old bit on "Hee Haw": If it weren't for bad luck, I'd have no luck at all.

On the other side of the coin, I know people that live what my wife calls "charmed lives". These are people that catch the lucky break at work, fall back-asswards into stock options, make millions, then invest it with a friend of theirs who IPOs, making them even more millions. The lines they get into at the grocery store move the fastest. They always find a parking spot closest to the door. They aren't smarter or harder working than my unlucky friend. Things just work out for them.

But most people I find are not permanently lucky or not lucky. I have noticed that luck seems to run in streaks. For example, one of Mrs. Director's friends had her dog die. Then her mother. Then her father. All within a couple of months. This person is otherwise successful, but just has an unlucky number of things happening all at the same time.

On the flip side of the coin I can point to a personal example of a good luck streak. I was out of work for six months (pretty damn unlucky). Then in a single day I got not one, but two job offers. That same day I opened up a Starbucks bottled Frappucino and won $20 in a promotional giveaway - the first time I ever won anything like that in my life.

Now I know all of this is just coincidence or the human mind's attempt to find patterns in everything. But it is also a matter of perspective. I don't consider myself terribly lucky, but when I zip along the back roads of China in an air conditioned chauffeured car, business suit and full stomach, I know the peasants looking up from the rice fields are thinking to themselves "Look at that lucky gweilo..."