Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Visiting the Dark Side Of The Moon

My wife is a big fan of France, she speaks the language and wants to go back as often as she can. I've visited France for work and while it was fun, it's not on my list for a return visit.

Until now.

Roger Waters with Nick Mason to play Dark Side Of The Moon in France July 14th!

Now comes the planning for how to get over there to see this amazing show.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Bird Flu and the Potential Impact on the Internet

For those who know me, I read lots of books on random topics. One book had to do with the flu pandemic of 1918.

There are many experts writing on what could happen if the current bird flu, H5N1 took on the ability to infect like the normal flu. Our government seems to think that containment (read: quarantine) will work once it breaks out. I beg to differ; we have such a highly mobile society this will spread quickly. Think of all the business travelers, any who are out on assignment will want to get home as quickly as possible. Skirting around the quarantine and making it back with the flu.

What I’ve been trying to wrap my head around is what the affects will be on the Internet.

1. News sites will see a spike in volume that will far exceed September 11th. For those in the advertising business it will cause your performance to drop due to increased frequency and more than likely news sites pulling ads and graphical content to keep up with the increased usage.

2. Increased usage of grocery delivery – people will not want to be out in areas where people congregate. The motto will be leave it around back and get back in your truck. Person-to-person contact will be reduced as much as possible.

3. Proliferation of companies offering masks, sterilization chemicals, etc. online. They will be there to soak of unsold inventory as well as all over Google Adsense.

4. Increase in on-demand and mail order DVD rentals – People will start to nest and stay close to home for safety. Leading to avoidance of video rental stores and movie theaters.

5. E-commerce will spike as people do anything to avoid going to stores. Everything will be bought online. This will (as well as points 2-4) require delivery people to show up for work.

6. Increased usage of online education – to avoid classrooms people will turn to online education as a safe alternative.

7. Increased usage of remote workers – companies will tell employees to stay home and work remotely. Companies VPN capacity will be maxed out.

8. Increased use of video chat – friends and families will want to see each other because it might be the last time they do.

If you look at the 1918 pandemic it was around for months. I’m looking forward to hearing from you as to what impacts I may have missed or called the wrong way.

Help Southwest Set Love Field Free

As I've written before, I'm a big fan of Southwest. Big fan of their frequent flyer program.

Whenever I need to fly to Dallas, I'm forced to fly somebody else. I collect FF miles that I'll never use.

The Wright Amendment is keeping Southwest from offering more service to Dallas. Let's fix this! Click here or enter your zip code on the banner to the right and write your Congressmen to fix this problem. It takes less than 1 minute.

Coming soon will be my thoughts on the bird flu.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Another Potential Virus-Disease Link

In a previous posting, I cited a article I read about a possible link between schizophrenia and a organism. I am waiting anxiously for more discoveries to occur regarding links between bacteria and viruses and various human ailments. This latest article mentions that a certain mouse virus is found in some men with prostate cancer. Since I know a few people who have had prostate cancer it would be amazing if in the future it's as simple as getting a shot to protect yourself against it. Similar relationships are HPV and cervical cancer as well as bacteria and stomach ulcers.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Grand Brands Closes $2.5 Million in Funding

I am glad to see one of my investments, Grand Brands, close on their next round of funding. They currently produce two great products, True Lime and True Lemon. I'm particular to the True Lime, I'm a big fan of Cuba Libra thus I like limes. The company founded by two brothers, both friends of the brothers who founded Ad.com.

I'm hoping they are as successful as Scott and John, then I can retire.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Great Energy Post

Check out this great post on what we can do regard our oil dependence.

Thoughts on the Middle East

After reading Andy’s excellent post on Muslims and Middle East, I have a few general thoughts.

First, I’ll make a clear disclaimer that I haven’t kept up on the subject as well as I wish I have. So what I’ll write next is based on a limited data set.

My general thoughts regarding why the Middle East is seeing a rise in fundamentalism is strongly related to the economies. From what I gather Palestine has tremendous unemployment ~30%. I can only imagine what is possible with these down and out youth with no real prospect of a future. This comment is not to justify any of their actions, but merely to illustrate how easy it must be for a fanatic to recruit them to do evil.

There is a tit-for-tat cycle that keeps occurring which will make it very hard for peace to occur between Israel and Palestine. It truly is a prisoner’s dilemma for the politicians on both sides.

My relatively uneducated suggestion for breaking this cycle would be for massive investment in Palestine to help get people working and educated. If people have hope and a future, they can raise a family; they want their kids to have a future. All of this will start to stabilize the area.

I’m not sure why this hasn’t happened, but my guess is that the rest of the Arab world doesn’t want it to happen. It’s much easier to keep this conflict around because if they did make the investments and empower people they would soon find their monarchies challenged by a growing middle class.

Maybe if people had a better life today, they would start to think twice about blowing themselves up.

My Second Valentine

Note: this posting was conceived and written while driving back to Baltimore. As I drove my Element on the Belt Parkway I remembered the excitement and joy driving in New York brings. For some reason I just don’t get the same pleasure driving in Baltimore. I drove into the city on Friday and the Westside Drive was exhilarating as well as navigating the city streets. It makes you feel like you’re a NASCAR driver. My Element held its own against the taxis; I think my recently keyed car intimidated them.

With Valentine’s Day passing recently, I realized I have a second Valentine. Sure my wife will always be my first and most important one. My second is my Valentine One, my radar detector. For those who drive a lot, the radar detector is a necessary accessory for your vehicle.

I lost my first Valentine One about four years ago, it was stolen out of my Jetta while I was at a yoga class. The junkie hit about six cars in the yoga studio’s parking lot on a nice Sunday afternoon. At that point I wasn’t driving up to New York much so I never replaced it. They are expensive, ~$400, and probably not needed if you are just driving around in Baltimore.

With my marriage to my New York wife, we are now driving much more frequently and I needed to replace my Valentine One. What I learned from my first loss was never leave it in my car. I purchased the detector and a slick carrying case.

It’s well known that variability of speed causes accidents, not speed alone. I use mine to ensure that I keep the same speed as the traffic and avoid a ticket if they happen to be exceeding the speed limit.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

New managers and their fulcrum

Continuing on my e-slope post, I’ll touch on some of the challenges for new managers.

Individual contributors that become managers for the first time face that challenge of what to do next. What are your new priorities as a manager?

Assuming you are in a properly functioning company, goals should flow down to each individual thus each individual’s efforts add up to reach the goal.

As a manager you own a bigger goal than an individual. Your number is the culmination of all your reports. The key thing about your new goal is that it’s more than a single individual can achieve alone. That’s why you’re a manager.

The normal tendency of a new manager is to focus on performing the tasks of their prior role. Previously that’s how they were measured and rewarded. Now they are responsible for others and their productivity. The key focus instead needs to be on leading and managing.

For example, if you have 4 direct reports, you have the potential to have a 4x impact on your company. You must decide whether your operational leverage is positive or negative.

If you focus on your individual contributions, you’ll have a negative impact amplified by your direct reports. If you focus on managing and leading then you can amplify the impact of your experience. You’ve probably been promoted because of your potential to lead as well as your experience in the job. Your goal is to focus on the activities that will turn the 4x lift on four people to 8x and then to16x on those same four people.

You’ll need to learn to teach someone else to apply what you know. That’s very different from doing it yourself. Exceptional people will rise to the challenge. Focus on leveraging good people.

Bringing this back around to the title of the post – your people are your lever. You control where your fulcrum sits. Place it wisely and your team will have breakthrough performance.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

My Art of Shaving

I’m always searching for a better way to get a closer shave. I have sensitive skin, too close a shave and my face is done.

Every once in a while I forget this and I pay dearly. The last time I forgot, was in Vegas this December. There’s a store called the Art of Shaving located in the shops between the Luxor and Mandalay Bay. It’s a straight razor shave. The hot towels, the works.

I go for my appointment, and it was great. I don’t think my face has ever had that close a shave. Since I got the shave the morning of our last day, we flew home that day returning to work the next day.

Next day back in Baltimore, my face still has no stubble. Amazing. Next thing I know halfway through the work day my face lights on fire. Every whisker growing back was like its own torture device.

It took a week for my face to get back to normal. I’ll never do that again, although I did like the hot towels. If your face is tough try it out, if not spend your money on a blackjack table.

Back to the main point of this post - the art of shaving for me. A neighbor of my parents has started a business manufacturing and selling 100% pure olive oil soap. It’s fragrance free and has no additives. The product literature mentions that it’s great for shaving. Well what the heck, I use a Gillette Mach 3 with their shaving gel, time for a test. I thought this combination was great until I tried Elan De Provence instead. The Gillette gel definitely dries your face out; the olive oil soap lubricates and helps the razor glide for a close shave but doesn’t strip out your natural oils.

I gave a bar to my contractor who was having skin problems. It cured whatever it was. Next thing I know I’m ordering him a case of this stuff.

It’s amazing how many new and improved products are pushed on the public. Something a simple as pure olive oil soap can beat a product engineered by a major Fortune 500 corporation. The only thing they need to work on is the name. It may not scream out to men looking for a closer shave.

UmbriaListens Pays Me a Second Visit

Today is the second time Umbrialistens showed up on my logs. I wonder what brand name they were searching for? Maybe Southwest? Or USAirways?


Monday, February 13, 2006

Do we always outsource?

I'm not sure if this is a national trend, but here in Baltimore we are actually insourcing school teachers. Apparently it has been extremely difficult to find qualified teachers for some of the worst schools. The only way to qualify for the No Child Left Behind Act is for "highly qualified" teachers to be placed in the schools.

Where are we finding these "highly qualified" teachers? The Philippines.

This is a great thing. We helping clear the education market. Apparently there are too many teachers in the Philippines and too few here. Simple supply and demand.

Click here for the article.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

What's your e-slope?

Recently I’ve been giving a lot of thought to my career and what has gotten me to where I am at today. I have been blessed with incredible luck in finding Advertising.com and the different roles I’ve had there. Over the last 2 ½ years I also attended to my MBA part-time at the Robert H. Smith School at University of Maryland.

I’ve coined a term called the “experiential slope” which in plain terms is how much you learn over a fixed amount of time at a given point in your career. It’s steep at Ad.com, especially the last two years with b-school piled on as well.

Simple algebra, rise over run. Experiential slope – e-slope

Obviously everyone with career aspirations will focus on the steepest slope job possible, the problem is that most companies won’t or can’t put you on a steep slope. Why? One of two reasons.

One – They can’t because the business is failing or the politics or the organizational structure isn’t setup to challenge someone. They only offer flat slope lines.

Two – They aren’t willing to throw that much responsibility onto someone right upon hiring them. It could lead to complete failure. That’s why most people can increase their slope after they’ve initially proven themselves.

A steep “experiential slope” is to an employer’s advantage because it allows them to gain the maximum effort from an employee while more than likely not having to keep their compensation up with market trends or their value. Depending on your scenario you have different choices to make.

Under compensated with a steep slope – This is a tough position because you’re learning a lot quickly, but paid less than what you’re worth. In this position you need to evaluate whether the experience outweighs the opportunity cost of sticking with your current job. Although at the new job you may not be able to get back on that steep slope quickly. They are probably hiring you for your current experience and will want to maximize your ROI to the firm.

Fairly compensated with a steep slope – This is a great position to be in. You’re learning a ton and getting paid for it. Just keep an eye on the compensation piece. At some point you’ll either be under or overpaid.

Over compensated with a steep slope – Congratulations, you have the best of both worlds. Focus on making your slope steeper, otherwise you might find yourself out of a job.

What happens if your slope isn’t steep or just plain flat? Excel in your current role to the point that you can take on more responsibility. If you continue to excel you might just get your slope increased. Good companies will want to increase your slope, it’s in their best interests. If you can’t you need to find a new job, just remember to take your red Swingline with you.

What’s your slope?

Opting out Diana

As I had posted previously, Diana needed to get opted-out from the consumer credit database. I called on her behalf last weekend and the confirmation came on Thursday. The process is very slick, you call and voice recognition tries to match your address by your phone number. Mine was wrong which then required you to speak your address.

The only catch is for a lifetime opt-out she'll need to send the form in with her signature.

TiVo's Best Banner Ad - So Far

As I've posted before I am a big TiVo fan. Owning my box for over 5 years. What has always bugged me was their marketing. It never seemed to really give people a clear reason to buy it.

Today I was on Foxnews.com and saw the best TiVo banner ever.

Simply put, it was an interactive 300x250 in which I controlled a little TiVo figure to catch dropping TV shows. It seems they have taken the data they collect from existing TiVo users to pick what shows to have on this banner. Very smart, similar to the Amazon strategy of others who purchased this book, purchased these as well. Maybe the TiVo owners and non-TiVo owners (but would buy one if your message was relevant) have similar viewing tastes.

Read my earlier post and you'll see the viewing tastes of the general public are not similar.

Well since I've been a fanatic, I can tell you I've been trying to pitch them ideas forever through my employer's sales force. No success there, no fault of our sales force, I don't think the client was interested.

Imagine this, banners that every hour of the day have the most popular show of that hour. Imagine people at work who can't be at home watching the soaps, etc. What about demographic targeting to the audience of a particular show and then messaging the benefits around that show?

While I don't have TiVo-To-Go, this would be perfect to target to business travelers. How would you do this? I'd go to the job sites (Monster, HotJobs) and buy the behaviors of the people who mark off that they are willing to travel 20% or greater and have a certain salary requirement. Another option would be to buy behaviors of bookers from travel sites or airlines.

I am really rooting for TiVo, it has dramatically changed my viewing habits and allowed me to actually keep up with shows while working at a hard charging Internet startup.

Buy a TiVo today.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Yellowman at the Talkhouse

Had the urge today to check out the Talkhouse website and see if they had any of the summer acts posted yet. To my utmost pleasure Yellowman is playing June 2nd.

The Talkhouse is my favorite live music venue, it's small so you can really get close to the music. Yellowman comes on and jams the entire time. I'll try to get some pictures this time around.

Last summer, Diana and I had in a few friends for the weekend to enjoy the show. We'll be doing the same again this year.

Business Travel?

Yesterday it was absolutely critical that myself and our CEO attended a midday client meeting. We booked a ticket with US Airways going there, Southwest the return leg. Neither of us was given a seat assignment, which I inquired about upon checking in - sure enough the plane was not full they just “needed to balance the load.”

Off we go to the gate, sorry you need to get a seat assignment. It was at that point that we were told we have to wait and see if the loadmaster would give us the green light to fly. During the wait I could only think of Ghostbusters and the Keymaster.

Not to shock anyone, they won’t let us on the plane. They were happy to rebook us on a flight touching down at 4pm, which would get us in after our meeting was over. I ask for a refund, sorry there are no refunds. Let’s think about this one a little more, I book a specific time to arrive, the plane isn’t full and now you won’t refund my ticket? I’m a business traveler, I’m willing to pay more to get where I need to go on time. Nice.

I immediately called Southwest and booked another flight (definitely cutting it close, it got in later than the previous meeting) and as soon as I hung up I hopped on my blackberry to check in. We both ended up with B boarding passes.

I continue to be impressed by how well Southwest is run as well as their constant innovation.

US Airways has lost my business, sure there will be sometimes when I can only fly them, any other time – it’ll be anyone else – hopefully Southwest.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Jihad Coyote

Just got back from seeing Jerry Seinfeld at the Meyerhof in Baltimore. The funniest thing he had to say was regarding the suicide bombers who blow themselves up before reaching their targets. Hence - the Jihad Coyote. They strap on the ACME rocket and blow themselves up.

Time for bed - long day tomorrow.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Schizophrenia - A possible cause?

A couple years ago a read a book called, Parasite Rex by Carl Zimmer. It was an excellent book on parasites and how they affect the human body. Living in America we tend to forget all those nasty critters in some areas of the world.

Some how I came across his blog and found a fascinating post about how scientists had found that a single cell parasite that lives in cats was able to change the normal fear reaction of rats. What was more interesting was that by administering schizophrenia drugs to these rats their fear came back regarding cats. I've clearly oversimplified this post, but to read more click here for his Return of the Puppet Masters.

Think about it - how many diseases are there that are caused by viruses or bacteria? Stomach ulcers and cervical cancer are two examples.

Replacing my rowhouse staircase (4 of X) -The Final Steps

I finally finished the staircase. Well almost, I still have to replace the railing and the top stringers. The steps are completely usable now.

These final treads were a bit more complicated than the others since there were angles involved and I had to glue together two treads to get them big enough. To help the process along I ended up using 1/2 plywood for a template in order to ensure the first cut was the last cut. Following the age old rule, "Measure twice, cut once."

sanding staircase tread with dustless sanderThree of the treads were glued together which required extensive sanding because the joints weren't exactly flat. Normally I would have sanded these outside, but since it was raining I had to stay inside.

To get around the dust issue, I removed the dust bag from my Porter Cable handheld sander and attached my ShopVac to the dust port. Turned on the vacuum and sanded away. Minimal dust is generated and both the oak and myself stays dry.

As you can see below the all the treads are in place. Next steps are the banister, railing, and stringers. I'll post these as well.
finished staircase

Saturday, February 04, 2006

The Pleasures of Traveling on Amtrak

I had the pleasure of riding Amtrak to New York City this week. A colleague and I after boarding in Baltimore headed straight for the café car. They usually have tables that are infinitely easier to use a laptop with. We walk into the car and notice every table has someone sitting at them except for one that has luggage on the seats. We assume that people are in the bathroom, etc. and we sit down sharing a table with another person. After a while my colleague asks someone nearby, “Is anyone sitting there?” Well he comes to find out two other wonderful people at another table decided to use the table for their personal luggage storage. He kindly asked them to move the bags and they did.

What I can’t seem to fathom is that why anyone would be such an A$$ as to take up a table with luggage when the train is clearly very full. They saw us trying to get a table and yet they don’t offer to move their bags.

Now for the return trip from NY. The train was completely sold out as well as having door problems that prevented it from leaving on time. Again we sat in the café car. This time we couldn’t get a table to ourselves, so I ended up sitting with an older lady who looked like someone on a trip to NYC, not on a business trip. More on her later…

There are now multiple announcements about making sure you clear your stuff off every empty seat because the train is full. Sure enough behind me is another table with stuff on it. So two guys move the stuff after asking if it belongs to anyone. Sure enough in comes the conductor who proceeds to yell at them for moving his stuff.

Isn’t the conductor supposed to be working?

If they run out of seats on the train then shouldn’t the conductor give up his TWO seats?

Now back to the older lady…

Somehow we started chatting and she started telling me about all these problems she has with Verizon, the cable company, various product manufacturers. Apparently when she doesn’t get any satisfaction from customer service she finds a VP level person on the website and finds out their home phone number and calls them at home. She said that it is an effective technique. I then asked, “How do you find these numbers?”

“Oh, I’m a private investigator.”

Hmm, interesting. Then she informed me she was also a lawyer. Apparently another effective technique to get companies to pay up is to file in small claims court. She was able to get a $1,000 credit from Verizon this way.

Then the stories came out about different cases she worked on. One was a man who she staked out in the office because the company suspected him of dealing drugs. She was setup as a temp in his department and then had many different people available to tail him as he went out at various times during the day. Sure enough he was dealing pot out of the back of his car. When she informed the company she did ask if he had to be fired because he seemed to be a very diligent worker. Always coming to work very early and staying late and worked very hard except for his little dealing breaks. Apparently he was eventually fired.
Fascinating who you can meet on the train.