Monthly Archives: July 2004

SeatGuru – Airplane seat analysis

My brother came across this site and it’s pretty amazing – pick your airline and type of plane and it analyzes all the different seat options in terms of leg room, neck comfort, etc. Being 6′ 4″, 200 lbs, I’m almost always squeezed. An exit row seat has always been my strategy but this site provides some useful tips to try to maneuver your way to comfort in other parts of the plane too.

A bit later I’ll post more about business travel…I’ve always had an interest here and love the NYTimes business travel column.

Gardner on Self-Renewal

I got to Self Renewal: The Individual and the Innovative Society after seeing it on Jim Collins’ reading list. I liked the book and would recommend it to anyone interested in the social sciences and who are stimulated by issues around the staying power of people and societies and what makes some organizations “self-renew” to remain vibrant over the long term. Gardner touches on a wide variety of truisms. But the book mostly focuses on “growth, decay, and renewal” of societies. He discusses the relationship between the individual and society, generalization and specialization, happiness, and the like. Chapter 10 on “Commitment and Meaning” explains the “juvenile interpretation of the ‘pursuit of happiness'” saying: “Storybook happiness involves a bland idleness; the truer conception involves seeking and purposeful effort. Storybook happiness involves every form of pleasant thumb-twiddling; true happiness involves the full use of one’s powers and talents. Both conceptions of happiness involve love, but the storybook version puts greater emphasis on being loved, the truer version more emphasis on the capacity to give love.”

Teens Take Over Convention…and Other Amazing Young People

You probably have heard about the 12 year old girl from Oakland who spoke at the Dems convention. She started “Kids for Kerry.” You also probably heard about the 16-year-old blogger from New Jersey who has turned heads with his nuanced political analysis on a blog and is an official blogger at the convention.

In addition to finding out about these two amazing young people, I have met over the past six months some very smart college entrepreneurs, high school age journalists breaking investigative stories, and other teens setting the world on fire. The universe of these young people doing incredible things is small. But they are names you will be reading on the front pages in a few years. I wonder if there’s a way to bring together all this talent, all this energy, all these minds, and produce some sort greater whole…I’m not sure if it’s in book form, or some sort of organization, or web site, or something, but it seems like there is small universe of incredible people and it would be great to bring everyone together in some way. My thoughts on this are opaque at best; I’d love to hear yours.

Day 1, Month 2 on the Blogesphere

My blog is one month old. My 30-day trial at TypePad is up, so this is where the rubber hits the road. Do I forgo a monthly hot-chocolate at Tully’s and invest that into my blog? The intense thrill, the rush of blood that I get when I get an email saying “new comment” on my blog supercedes the yummy milk-chocolate that Tully’s produces down the street. So, in case any of you were holding your breath, I’ll be back.

The reasons I listed in my I’m live, welcome world post haven’t changed much. My blog has introduced me to people who I otherwise wouldn’t have met; offered me new ideas; and changed my opinion as a result of comments. I will continue to blog to further these good things. The only thing that would stop me is lack of time, but that shouldn’t be an issue.

I will take this opportunity to comment on the blogesphere:

1. I have had a hard time enlisting regular readers who do not have aggregators because they do not read enough blogs to invest the effort. This has resulted in mostly other bloggers being my primary readers. In other words, this isn’t mainstream. Duh.

2. There seems to be a “I’ll rub your back if you rub mine” tendency when it comes to cross-linking among blogs.

3. The newspaper is not dead nor will blogs destroy traditional media. Traditional media will adapt. Blogs will adapt. But they will not become an indistinguishable one.

4. Are bloggers going to be content when they find out they only have a few regular readers? Will a shakeout occur at which point a couple hundred popular bloggers emerge as the authorities and the rest fall off the radar screen completely?

5. When will tight integration between a social networking service and a blogging service come about? I don’t think Always-On is there yet.

Writing Standard in Valley at Low Level

In my post how to pass as a 30-something when you’re really not I list "write good" as one criteria. Yes, my tongue is stuck in my cheek on this as grammatically the right phrase is "write well." But I’m trying to make a point, a point that has grown in importance as I’ve spent more and more time dealing with college-educated professionals. I’ve been lucky and fortunate to have spent as much time as I have interacting with very very smart, savvy, and successful business people. When you see some of these people think through complex issues, you just want to pick at their brain to steal some of their intellect. Why is it, then, that the writing skills of these same entrepreneurs are below average to the point of plain unprofessionalism?

Since the "market" allows it. No one raises an eyebrow when smart CEOs write "Lets go see people that are cool. None of these are adequate." Come on, let’s not be so uptight, so there’s a small error, no big deal. Right? Wrong. I used to think that but when I started seeing what I would consider embarrassing grammar and writing errors time and time again, I thought less and less of the person. If one can’t communicate what one’s saying in a professional and correct way then that person’s stock drops big time in my books. In some cases, mixing up grammar or spelling changes the meaning of the sentence in a meaningful way. (Complimentary versus complementary is a recent example I’ve had of that.)

How do poor writers still make it up the totem poll? Someone else writes for them and they edit. They only write in PowerPoint presentations to avoid full paragraphs. It’s easy to tell in the first few communications with someone whether or not this is person who takes his/her writing seriously. Do you they write in bullet points primarily? Sentences that end with "…" all the time? Excessive use of hyphens so as to avoid thinking about where commas should go? I’m not saying people need to write like Toni Morrison all the time – the simpler the better. But I do believe PowerPoint has sucked all the motivation out of stringing together several sentences to achieve an effect on a reader that will be influential.

I’m probably a bit harsh or over the top. After all, I have to slave my way through grammar quizzes and have been lucky enough to have been issued by my school The Little English Handbook. Nonetheless, the writing level amongst successful, thriving, entrepreneurs and businesspeople is surprising. It is my sincere hope that the market will demand more careful, professional writing habits to make everyone’s job at discerning meaning from emails, memos, and letters a wee-bit easier.

Software-as-Service Brainstorming at salesforce.com

I was invited to attend a brainstorming session amongst executives of companies delivering software as service. Salesforce.com and the SIIA hosted the group. Folks from salesforce, Oracle, Salesnet, Intuit, and several other companies were there. While I didn’t say much, the 2.5 hour discussion was quite interesting. Our informal conversation ranged from topics like defining “ASP,” “software-as-service,” “host” etc. in order to clear up confusion that exists among customers, to establishing standards when it comes to contracts, service level agreements, business continuity plans, and the like.

A hot topic was the financial reporting of revenue – some of us will sign a $200k one year deal and get cash up front, in other cases it will be paid monthly but almost surely last for three years, in other cases the booking of the revenue gets even more complex. There was common frustration among companies that Wall Street doesn’t have its arms around analyzing the financials of a subscription-based software company. One company at the table today transforms its financial into a model that would fit the typical perpetual license spreadsheets so investors can understand the true results. Salesforce.com uses its status as “pure play” to its advantage; companies that have both hosted and traditional licensed software have financial complications.

The three key issues/questions from customers software-as-service (SaS) companies face, it was determined, are: 1) Viability of company (since it’s hosted…this can also be a competitive advantage). 2) Security standards. 3) Extensibility – XML interfaces allowing the software to be highly configurable. On issue #1, viability, many customer still request for the code to be put in escrow even though, in the event a SaS going out of business, having the code would be pretty much worthless (need data center, support, etc). More sophisticated companies are requesting detailed business continuity plans which addresses how the product can still be delivered if company X goes under.

The other point raised that was interesting is the necessity for the support team at a SaS company to be in the sales and marketing unit. Each month you need to re-sign up the customer to get the renewal. As such, at each support opportunity the customer support reps need to be thinking “sell” in addition to “serve.”

There were several buzzwords used that I don’t know much about: GLB regulations, SafeHarbor, HIPPA compliance, White Label Terms of Service, SAS 70 compliant, BSBC, and others. Time to Google them.

If you believe in a future of computing in which everything will be rented as a service – your computer, printer, all desktop software, etc. then following the emerging standards of the software-as-service industry is a must.

Agile Summit at PARC

This morning I went to the Agile Summit at the Palo Alto Research Center. It was a five hour seminar with two keynotes and two panels that was all about agile software development. The timing was perfect because a couple days ago I spoke with the President of Rally Dev, a firm that delivers a tool to manage and facilitate agile software development. Prior to speaking with him, I knew nothing about the agile school of thought. I still have a lot to learn about this field, but in a word I would say agile development is all about iterations. The first speaker today was Ken Schwaber, the chairman of the Agile Alliance and author of popular books on this topic. His talk was by far the best. Highlights from his talk:

  • The “old” method of development is called waterfall process – where does that come from? This is all about defined dependencies, timelines, works when everything is known. Aka Ford product line when first built.
  • Agile development is about an empirical process – can’t depend on start and finish, count on changes, know the vision and work on it piece by piece, adapt after each step.
  • There are two disciplines within Agile: SCRUM and XP
  • If you develop thinking about what you’re going to develop over the next 2-4 weeks, changes in requirements and plans become much easier.
  • Over 60% of what is developed is never used; hence, if you could stop after you have developed that 40%, there’s a savings!
  • Offshoring is a cheap way to fail – question: why can’t you both offshore and use agile techniques?
  • Agile development is not a prescriptive process, it emphasizes common sense.
  • Agile is not a silver bullet; it is very hard work.
  • For business managers, deploying agile means less control and hands-on micromanagement of the engineering team. Fixed prices are shunned. The upside to this is that business people can always see iterative results and can stop the project, change directions, etc. at any time.
  • Product development is a big big category – of which software development and agile is just a small piece. Things like documentation, marketing requirements docs, etc are all part of product dev.
  • Agile tools like Rally are not a silver bullet. People can solve process problems, processes cannot solve people problems. And software development is ultimately about people!
  • Agile development involve forecasts whereas the old school of thought involved plans.

I invite thoughts and feedback and best practices; I’m still researching and learning more about this space to see if it is something my company should implement.

Book: Public Intellectuals by Posner

Public Intellectuals: A Study of Decline

The first part of this 400 page book is convincing and well written. I would breeze through the second half, in which Posner goes off on tangents like the Clinton impeachment. The number of public intellectuals who can comment accurately on broad societal issues is declining, and the number of “celebrity” public intellectuals who jump outside their realm of expertise and often offer false predictions and nutty anecdotes with no formal challenges or record to account for is increasing. This book sheds light on this interesting and not-often-talked-about issue.

You Are What You Read…Also Blogging Books

I like reading (non-fiction, that is). I like reading book reviews (though usually after reading the book to gain additional perspective, never to help me determine to read a book). And I finally like reading periodicals as listed in “Print I Read” on the left bar. Hence, the emphasis the bloggers I read place on books is especially interesting and enjoyable. I have some observations on the notion “you are what you read” and then on how bloggers approach this from my viewpoint:

1. People who read a lot of books, newspapers, and magazines are usually more interesting than those who do not. If you read my post/article books make you a boring person then you know about the horrible quicksand many avid readers fall in to – becoming intellectually lazy by regurgitating facts and not critically analyzing what they read. This is especially true I think when I see, say, a strong anti-Bush person read Michael Moore books and the other 100 books out there to reinforce his/her own views. That person would be so much more interesting if s/he could suck it up and read Bush Country, a pro-Bush book. Then one could say “Well Bush’s supporters say X, Y, Z with these reasons but I don’t agree with that because of A, B, C….” Right now it’s usually “Bush sucks because of A, B, C.” The former is much stronger argument, only done through sitting through 300 pages of the opposite side.

2. People who rely on few media sources for daily news fit in the “boring” category. Why? An example. At a dinner party a couple weeks ago with primarily adults, politics inevitably came up. Everyone went around the table and said their one stock line (almost always a headline from that day’s NY Times) or their one Bush joke. Most busy people will read one national paper (NY Times or WSJ) and their local paper. I know people who have been reading the Times for 40 years regularly. It’s amazing to think that their entire thinking and window through which they see the world has been determined for the most part by a group of editors at one paper. I try to overcome this by reading both the liberal and conservative editorial pages of the Times and WSJ. Harpers and the Atlantic. 24 blogs daily. Etc. Also important to read about the credibility in journalism and the stories behind the stories of each of these publications.

3. Bloggers who list what they are reading (as I do) seem to plow through their books in an amazingly short amount of time. Maybe because it’s summer. But I ask this question: how much can you remember or take away from each book? There have been studies that people often buy lots of books and put them on their shelves and then they feel good. They sometimes never get read, or when they do, very lightly. In the past I’ve been steadfast on keeping my books clean, without underlining or other marks. But now I’m going to be marking up my books start to finish so I can go back and reference information as well as keep my mind focused on what the take-aways are from the book (assuming non-fiction).

4. Negative book reviews on blogs don’t make sense to me – why would I care why it’s bad. If it’s bad, don’t write a review saying it is bad. If it’s good, tell me why, so I can see about getting a copy.

Those are my thoughts on this topic for the moment. I’d love to hear yours.

Where Blatant Rudeness Is Fully Accepted

In an airplane, of course. Every time I’m flying somewhere (yesterday no exception) and the attendants gently say “May I have your attention please so we can review the safety procedures” not one person listens. On Southwest, three flight attendants position themselves in the plane so everyone can see them demonstrate how to put on the oxygen mask, seat-belt, etc. Look, I’ve flown so many times that I could say the safety stuff in my sleep. But isn’t it a little strange that on every flight I’ve ever been on, during the 2 minute safety overview not one person listens?

I would have thought in a post 9/11 flight world people wouldn’t mind spending a minute thinking about where the exits are, what happens if cabin pressure drops, and the like. Instead, people seem to go out of their way to bury themselves in a newspaper and talk with their neighbors. On Southwest, it is particularly surprising because real humans are the ones asking for attention and real humans are standing right next to someone while that person pays absolutely no attention. On United, on the other hand, it’s a TV which tells you this so it’s easier to tune out.

I have two questions: 1) Why don’t flight attendants strongly say on the microphone “Everyone, yes that means you, pay attention, listen up, this is important. I’m going to wait till it’s quiet.” 2) Can anyone else think of where blatant rudeness is so practiced in America?