Wednesday, June 27, 2007

On Vacation Through July 4

I'll see everyone after the hotdogs and fireworks.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Disposible Portable DVD Players

I just bought my third portable DVD player in six years. Luckily the price keeps coming down so that their being disposable isn't that big a deal, but it's still depressing that they break so fast. My daughter is the main user, so maybe it is the wear and tear of long car rides and plane trips that make them so unreliable:

2003 - Samsung - $554 - My first portable DVD player had great 9" screen quality. The super low-end players hadn't come out yet, and this one had a large screen and lots of bells and whistles. Unfortunately it was neither rugged nor reliable. The battery fell off the unit way too easily and started losing ability to hold a charge in less than a year. Then the AC adapter stopped working, and I figured out there was a short on the main board. I actually tried to fix it (remember I majored in electrical engineering), and got it working, but not reliably. I finally just junked the unit. I expected more out of a Samsung product, so was doubly disappointed.

2005 - Magnavox - ~$220 - I shopped less on brand and more on price this time, although I still have a hard time buying Chinese brands I never heard of (and I am more familiar with companies overseas than most people). The Magnavox had a 8.5" screen, but lousy resolution. But since my daughter really doesn't mind if Cinderella isn't in HDTV, this seemed like a good price point. Like the Samsung, the battery fell off way too easily, although it kept its charge. It just stopped working two years later, without a drop or anything obvious causing the failure.

2007 - Phillips - $180 - Knowing that I would get only two years out of the next unit, I looked for units around $200 since the ~$100 priced units are just too small. I found the Phillips DCP850 with an 8.5" screen AND a doc for a video iPod. This seemed like a great idea since I could have the option to port DVDs to the iPod and leave the big stack of DVDs at home. Plus I could use this on my own trips with my iPod if I ever got the opportunity.

I got this in a few days ago and am very pleased with the purchase. The screen quality is good, not great, but I wasn't expecting HDTV quality at less than $200. The iPod dock works great, and with a built-in battery, I don't have to worry about it falling off like I did my last two units.

In 2009 I will look forward to my next purchase.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Those Wacky MBA Interns

Apparently my company got a few MBA interns this summer. I got the memo, but I would have figured out on my own when I got this slide in an email:

This has "MBA Intern" written all over it.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Negotiating, Positioning, or Feeling Each Other Out?

The most dangerous negotiation is one you don't know you're in. - Jim Camp

So I am talking to this large Korean company. Huge. Like the largest in Korea.

I am selling my product, which, as illustration, I offered at $100.

Koreaco countered with $1.

I told them to perform an unnatural act on themselves (in a courteous, professional, friendly way) and went away.

So is this a real negotiation? Are they testing my limits, seeing what I will do? Or are they just gathering market intelligence and now that they got it gave be a blow-off?

What are the odds they will come back to the table now that I have walked away?

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Peach Cobbler Recipe

I make peach pie each year thanks to the peach tree I grew in my back yard, and the peaches go straight from the branch to the pie to my stomach in about three hours. I am getting tired of hunting down this recipe in my desk every year, so I am going to put it here where I can find it.

-> 3 Hrs

Crust - I can't roll the crust as thin as Emeril, so these measurements are double what he uses to make sure I have enough. No one ever complains!

3 cups all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 sticks cold butter, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
4 tablespoons solid vegetable shortening
3 to 4 tablespoons ice water

Sift the flour, sugar and salt into a large bowl. Using your fingers, work in the butter and shortening until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add ice water and work with your fingers until the water is incorporated and the dough comes together. Add more water as needed to make a smooth dough, being careful not to over-mix. Form the dough into a disk, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and let rest in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

Comments: This crust is outstanding, which isn't surprising with all that butter that's in there. With a double recipe, the mixing until "crumbs" part might take some time, but is rewarding at the end. I have never had extra dough using this double recipe.

Pie Filling
6 Cups Sliced Peaches
1-2 tablespoons granulated white sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
pinch nutmeg
pinch salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon Bourbon (for the pie, additional Bourbon for chef optional)

Slice the peaches into slices small enough to sort of fit into the measuring cup, and place 6 cups or a little more into a large bowl. Sprinkle white sugar over the peaches while mixing and let sit.

In a separate bowl combine brown sugar, flour, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. In a large saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the peaches and cook, stirring gently, for 1 minute. Add the sugar-flour mixture, and cook, stirring constantly until the mixture thickens and begins to bowl. Remove from heat and stir in Bourbon, being sure to add additional amounts to the chef. Let cool.

Putting It All Together

Pre-heat Oven to 350 degrees.

Divide the dough into 2, one portion slightly larger than the other. Roll out the larger portion on a lightly floured surface, large enough to cover the bottom of an 8" pie plate and sides with a small overhang.

(Comment: Working with this crust is a bitch since it falls apart so easily. I've had to "mold" separate pieces in the pie dish when I couldn't get a big enough disk transferred from the rolling board to the pie pan).

Pour in the peach filling, making it as level on top as possible.

Taking the remaining dough, cut into 1" strips and place horizontally then vertically over the top of the pie (Emeril says interweaving is optional, but I won't even try). Pinch the sides of the edges together, making sure to eat any extra dough that comes off during pinching.

Bake for about 40 minutes until golden brown.

Serve hot with vanilla ice cream.

Friday, June 15, 2007

I'd Prefer the Simple Agony of Defeat

After my last post I got a few requests for something less serious, so how about something that would make the average 12-year old laugh:

French tennis player Marc Gicquel lies down on the court after being hit in the testicles by the 208Km/hour serve of his opponent Benjamin Becker

For those of us in the U.S. that's 129 miles per hour. The good news is that he is okay and both he and his trainer realized the humor of the situation.

Existentialism and Ecclesiastes

The summer camp I attended as boy and counselor has invited me back to give a Sunday chapel talk. As I bounce ideas around in my head, I thought I would put them down in blog form and later turn the one(s) I like into a talk.

I saw a hole in Man, deep like a hunger he will never fill. It is what makes him sad and what makes him want.
- Apocolypto"Do you know mono no aware?"
"I think so. 'The pathos of things,' right?"

"That's the usual translation. I like 'the sadness of being human.'"

- Hard Rain

"Meaningless! Meaningless!" says the Teacher. "Everything is meaningless!"
- Ecclesiastes

The hunger that can't be sated. The hole that can't be filled. The want that can't be met. All of us have had or will feel this inexplicable yearning, bringing us grief and sadness. It's a human condition that can't be avoided.
At different times of our lives we try to fill it with work, passion, material objects or even drink. We busy our days and our lives with activities and plans, hoping to avoid or numb the yearning, thinking if we stay active enough that we won't notice it. But little of what we do to busy our days will matter in the long run. All of what we own will one day crumble. All of what we say will one day be forgotten. All of what we do will one day be irrelevant.
The Book of Ecclesiastes walks you through all of these depressing thoughts, helpfully reminding you that in a few generations you will be totally forgotten. Now Ecclesiastes is an interesting book to be in the Bible. It has no miracles. No visions. No commands or guidance from a Divine Being. It's some guy mulling life and its meaning, giving out advice in the process. It's the world's first blog.
It all starts out with him thinking that his life - one of a king - was a complete waste. Despite his great wealth and power and the ability to do literally whatever he wanted or desired under the sun, he never could fill that yearning we all have inside. Solomon's conclusion is that this yearning can't ever be filled with what Man has available to him, it can only be filled by God; that it is God that gives life its meaning. And he uses the same symbolism again and again to make his point:

Ecclesiastes 2:24 - A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work. This too, I see, is from the hand of God
Ecclesiastes 3:13 - That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil—this is the gift of God.
Ecclesiastes 5:18 - Then I realized that it is good and proper for a man to eat and drink, and to find satisfaction in his toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given him—for this is his lot.
Ecclesiastes 8:15 - So I commend the enjoyment of life, because nothing is better for a man under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany him in his work all the days of the life God has given him under the sun.
Ecclesiastes 9:7 - Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for it is now that God favors what you do.
Is it a coincidence that he keeps uses the physical sating of thirst and hunger every time he concludes that it is God that fills the spiritual hunger?

This all becomes explicit in the New Testament. The symbolism becomes metaphor, with God in Christ explicitly the way to satiate the yearning:
And Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst." (John 6:35)
It definitely isn't physical hunger or thirst He is talking about here. It's that hole, that yearning that He is offering to fill. And this gives all more meaning to the phrase in the Lord's Prayer:
Give us this day our daily bread... (Matthew 6:11)
This has double meaning. Yes, it is asking God to fill our material needs for the day, but it is also asking for that Bread of Life, the one that fills that spiritual hunger.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Licensing Tip of the Day

Don't use "best efforts" to bind a corporation in a contract. For example "Universal Widget will use best efforts to make an on-time delivery to SuperCo of the widgets in question".

The problem is that "best efforts" can become a slippery slope if the products don't ship on time. For example, did Universal shut down its other customers to try to make delivery of this product? Did it try to hire another 100 people to complete production? Could it have spent $20 million to expand its capacity? Would have buying a plane to transport the products made delivery faster? Any of these things could be the "best" they could do. The list is endless. So whatever it means will end up being interpreted by a court, and that could be anything short of bankrupting the company.

So in these cases you would at minimum put in some modification like "commercially reasonable best efforts", which will at least put some limits on what the court can interpret. You should use your best efforts to avoid the phrase altogether.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Do People Change?

In our nine years of marriage you haven’t changed at all! - Mrs. Director

I took this as a compliment but I am not sure it was meant as one. But this is true not just for me, but for everyone, because people don’t change. Not really.

That’s not to say that people won’t change their opinions, pick up new hobbies, improve themselves, or put their life on a different tact. These things happen every day. But the essence of who someone is doesn’t change. If anything it becomes more pronounced over time.

I noticed at my 20 year high school reunion that people seemed to be “more of who they were”. After not seeing them for two decades it was easy to see that Bill was “more” Bill. Tammy was “more” Tammy. It was like their personality became distilled over time, becoming more concentrated and potent.

Even people who have radical changes in beliefs don’t change their underlying personality. Saul was a persecutor of early Christians, working tirelessly to root them out and have them jailed or executed. When he converted and became St. Paul, his purpose in life changed, but not his zeal towards his religion. He changed from one belief system to another, requiring a big shift in how he viewed the world, but even seeing God didn’t fundamentally change his personality.

The business book “Now Discover Your Strengths” uses this principle as a guide. It posits that we become “hardwired” as we develop, creating deeper and deeper “paths” for how we think and operate, and that as we get older those paths become even more rooted. No matter what you do for a living, no matter what political or religious opinions you may hold or even change, your personality is going to be wired the same way and will never change. And while I wasn’t high on the book itself, I did agree with this fundamental underlying theme.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Winners & Losers

I lose money when I go to Vegas. I win a hand or two, but overall I don't expect to win big because I don't consider myself lucky when it comes to gambling.

My outlook on life, however, is different. Things just always seem to work out for me. My first instinct is to call it "luck", but then I think maybe it is just setting my expectations according to my abilities, and then using the talent I have to meet those expectations. So in hindsight my life seems to be "lucky" while it is really hard work and preparation.

The problem with the rational theory is that I know talented, brilliant, or privileged people who have catastrophe after catastrophe rain down on them. One bad thing after the other happens to them, seemingly without end. And just when they seem to pull the pieces back together, something else bad happens to them. In the mean time I watch my life sort itself out from its occasional stumbles (unemployment, for example), and go on better than before (a new job making 50% more with lots of perks) without that much effort on my part.

And while I am on the "good" side of things, there are those who are even luckier than me. The complete idiots, asshats and other assorted characters who get promotion after promotion, join the start-up at just the right time, make millions upon millions with no talent or effort on their own.

So is there luck in life? Are people inclined to be life's winners and losers no matter what their abilities and effort?

In the scifi novel "Ringword" aliens surreptitiously breed humans for luck. They then pick out the luckiest ones to take with them on long journeys. They figure if the lucky humans are on their spacecraft, then nothing bad will happen to them while out in the reaches of space.

So maybe life is like that. Maybe you don't have to be lucky yourself but just hang out with lucky people?

Friday, June 08, 2007

When "Chinglish" Becomes Standard English

One of the humorous phrases I hear a lot in Taiwan, China, and even Japan now is the phrase "cost down" used as a verb: "You must cost down this product every six months!", "We are working to cost down the end product!", and so on. The meaning is clear enough, it's just that Miss Sumrow would have failed me in sixth grade English if I had used it in a sentence.

But these days I sit in meetings between native American English speakers who are using it sentences. It is pretty much a standard English phrase in Silicon Valley these days. I wonder how long until it hits other industries and eventually Websters.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

When to Get an MBA

From the mailbag:

A question sparked from your recent say getting an MBA should be done earlier rather than later. How much do you think your MBA school matters? For example, if your MBA was from Harvard rather than Rice, how much different do you think your career would've been?

I actually have addressed this from time to time in the past. Here is an old post where I was giving advice that sort of answers the question:

With your background and inclination for entrepreneurship, I am not sure that you really need or would benefit from B-school, except for the possibility of networking. Even then, there are other ways to get the same level of contacts, so I am not sure taking a couple of years off and spending lots of money for a degree is needed in your case. I do believe b-school is helpful for things like finance, accounting and the drier parts of business that are harder to "pick up from experience", so just make sure you are eyeing business school for the right reasons.

In other words, whether an MBA is for you depends on your circumstances. Here is what I see are the things to look at:

1. Early Experience - As I recently wrote, I see an MBA as a way to get experience in your 20s that you might not get until you are well into your 30s. So the younger you are, the better. And if you are 40 or older, I say skip it.

2. Networking - Probably the second best reason to attend business school is for networking. And the better the school, the better the networking. But networking in itself it is not the reason to go, so if the other reasons fit, see this as a "benny".

3. Pedigree - Note that some companies only consider MBAs for open positions, so obviously not having one will hurt you in these circumstances. And some employers put a premium on having an MBA from a more prestigious school. However, this is usually in the case of someone earlier in their career. If you have a resume with 20 years of experience, that will (or should) stand out more than just an MBA from a top-notch business school. And if it doesn't, do you really want to work for a company that puts the pedigree higher than the person and his experience?

4. Technical Expertise - Accounting. Information systems management. Obscure financial theory. If you are interested in one of these areas, then getting a specialized-area MBA makes sense since you are not going to pick these things up on your own. But that is a pretty small percentage of people who go to business school (although I am not in finance I actually rather enjoyed finance theory - the engineer in me finding expression in business school).

5. Starting Your Own Business - If this is of interest then I say DON'T go to business school. Business school is not about entrepreneurship, it is about becoming a professional worker. If you want to start a business, go out and start one. Chances are you will fail, but that experience will be worth far more than an MBA. And the sooner you go out and fail in your first business, the sooner you can start the successful one. Also note that most of the most successful entrepreneurs didn't go to business school (Dell, Gates and the usual suspects all come to mind).

Monday, June 04, 2007

Sopranos Countdown

I don't have time to do a full post on last night's next-to-the-last Sopranos episode, so I recommend checking out the commentary at Captain's Quarters (warning: full post contains spoilers). I generally agree with his analysis, although I am betting that Tony lives through the final episode.