Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Box for sale: $200 (cardboard included!)

A buyer recently paid more than 200 clams for an empty Sony PlayStation Portable PSP box on eBay (shipping was a relative bargain at $6).

[Click here to see the winning bid.]

The first line of the auction description reads as follows: “This auction is for an awesome condition box, complete with cardboard inside that is used to hold the PSP." I wonder...has our TV and gaming culture made us so scattered that we cannot concentrate long enough to read the first line of an ad? The seller didn't stop with one warning. He continues by stating: "Again, yes, as was said in the previous above description, this is just for the BOX, no PSP system. Just making that clear."

Apparently there's clear and then there's clear. (What's even more amazing this that there were 40 bids on this empty box--by 14 different potential buyers.)

Not surprisingly, the "winning" bidder did not pay for the purchase and ended up receiving negative feedback from the seller.

What's the lesson here? If you want to get the product you are looking for--and maintain a good feedback rating on eBay--try to concentrate long enough to read at least the first sentence of an auction description.

Checking the winning bidder's other feedback, I see (s)he later did manage to purchase a complete PSP system--with box, no less--on eBay for $209.

I suppose some people just need to endure a $200 mistake in order to fully focus their attention on something. I'm just happy to report it wasn't me...this time.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Microsoft Vista product offering

In spite of Microsoft's typical tight-lipped stance on future releases, there have been some great rumors floating around on Vista, Microsoft’s next version of Windows. In one recent online article, the author speculated that Microsoft will offer seven Vista "products" (Source: Chris Lanier's writeup on Microsoft Vista). If he's right, here's what's on the Vista horizon:
  • Windows Vista Starter Edition: Aimed at beginner computer users in emerging markets who can only afford a low-cost PC. As with the XP version, Windows Vista Starter Edition is a subset of Home Edition, and will ship in a 32-bit version only (no 64-bit x64 version). Starter Edition will allow only three applications (and/or three windows) to run simultaneously, will provide Internet connectivity but not incoming network communications, and will not provide for logon passwords or Fast User Switching (FUS). Windows Vista Starter Edition is analogous to XP Starter Edition. This version will only be sold in emerging markets.
  • Windows Vista Home Basic Edition: A simple version of Windows Vista that is aimed at single PC homes. Windows Vista Home Basic is the baseline version of Windows Vista, and the version that all other product editions will build from. It will include features such as Windows Firewall, Windows Security Center, secure wireless networking, parental controls, anti-spam/anti-virus/anti-spyware functionality, network map, Windows Search, the Aero user interface, Movie Maker, Photo Library, Windows Media Player, Outlook Express with RSS support, P2P Messenger, and more. Windows Vista Home Basic Edition is roughly analogous to Windows XP Home Edition. This version is aimed at general consumers, Windows 9x/XP Starter Edition upgraders, and price sensitive/first-time buyers.
  • Windows Vista Home Premium Edition: Whole home entertainment and personal productivity throughout the home and on the go. As a true superset of Home Basic, Windows Vista Home Premium Edition will include everything from Home Basic, as well as Media Center and Media Center Extender functionality (including Cable Card support), DVD video authoring and HDTV support, DVD ripping support (yes, you read that right), Tablet PC functionality, Mobility Center and other mobility and presentation features, auxiliary display support, P2P ad-hoc meeting capabilities, Wi-Fi auto-config and roaming, unified parental controls that work over multiple PCs, backup to network functionality, Internet File Sharing, Offline Folders, PC-to-PC sync, Sync Manager, and support for Quattro Home Server. Windows Vista Premium Edition is similar to XP Media Center Edition, except that it adds numerous other features and functionality, including Tablet PC support. My guess is that this will be the volume consumer offering in the Windows Vista timeframe (today, XP Pro is the dominant seller). This version is aimed at PC enthusiasts, multiple-PC homes, homes with kids, and notebook users.
  • Windows Vista Professional Edition: A powerful, reliable and secure OS for businesses of all sizes. Windows Vista Pro Edition will include domain join and management functionality, compatibility with non-Microsoft networking protocols (Netware, SNMP, etc.), Remote Desktop, IIS Web server, and Encrypted File System (EFS). Additionally, Pro Standard will include Tablet PC functionality. Windows Vista Pro is roughly analogous to XP Pro today. This version is aimed at business decision makers and IT managers and generalists.
  • Windows Vista Small Business Edition: Designed for small businesses without IT staff. Small Business Edition is a superset of Vista Pro Standard Edition, and includes the following unique features: Backup and Shadow Copy support, Castle and server-join networking, and PC fax and scanning utility. Additionally, Microsoft is looking at including a number of other features, many of which might be cut: These include Small Business Edition guided tour, pre-paid access to the Windows Live! Small Business or Microsoft Office Live! subscription services, Multi-PC Health (a managed version of Microsoft One Care Live), and membership in the Microsoft Small Business Club online service. Microsoft will offer a Step-Up program for Small Business Edition that will allow customers to upgrade to Windows Vista Enterprise Edition (see below) or Windows Vista Ultimate Edition (see below) at a reduced cost. This SKU is new to Windows Vista; there is no XP Small Business Edition. This version is aimed at small business owners and managers.
  • Windows Vista Enterprise Edition: Optimized for the enterprise, this version will be a true superset of Windows Vista Pro Edition. It will also include unique features such as Virtual PC, the multi-language user interface (MUI), and the Secure Startup/full volume encryption security technologies ("Cornerstone"). There is no analogous XP version for this product. This version is aimed at business decision makers, IT managers and decision makers, and information workers/general business users.
  • Windows Vista Ultimate Edition: The best operating system ever offered for a personal PC, optimized for the individual. Windows Vista Ultimate Edition is a superset of both Vista Home Premium and Vista Pro Edition, so it includes all of the features of both of those product versions, plus adds Game Performance Tweaker with integrated gaming experiences, a Podcast creation utility (under consideration, may be cut from product), and online "Club" services (exclusive access to music, movies, services and preferred customer care) and other offerings (also under consideration, may be cut from product). Microsoft is still investigating how to position its most impressive Windows release yet, and is looking into offering Ultimate Edition owners such services as extended A1 subscriptions, free music downloads, free movie downloads, Online Spotlight and entertainment software, preferred product support, and custom themes. There is nothing like Vista Ultimate Edition today. This version is aimed at high-end PC users and technology influencers, gamers, digital media enthusiasts, and students.

All righty, then. I like flexibility...but with seven offerings of the Vista product, I think Microsoft has gone too far. Just give me the Uber Version (Ultimate Edition) for $19.95 and I will be set. Wonder how this will work with the current license model?

We will soon find out.

Jboss and Microsoft – Oil and water or a powerful combination?

Microsoft and JBoss recently signed an agreement to make their software work better together.

This marks a big change for Microsoft and its stand on open source. In the past, Steve Ballmer, Microsoft’s CEO, has referred to the open source movement "a cancer" to the industry. Ballmer recently softened this hostile tone to say that Microsoft competes with products and not movements. I'm not sure that's the equivalent of a hug from Microsoft--consider the source--but it is something of a concession, anyway.

Anyhow, the partnership should be good news for developers and the IT industry as a whole. We want vendors to work together through partnerships and integration. We do not need them to all become one big happy company--thanks to a monopoly of one sort or another.

Does size really matter?

Among search engines, size definitely matters--at least when comparing the the number of pages indexed.

Yesterday Google boasted "searching 8,168,684,336 Web pages," on their website. This will be the last time we will have the pleasure of seeing this dubious claim on the Google homepage – it will be removed shortly.

Google's chief executive, Eric Schmidt, said the company is going to remove the search statistic from its home page because of controversy over the way these services count pages. (Last month, for instance, Yahoo! claimed that it was indexing a whopping 19.2 billion pages--three times as many as Google). In response, Schmidt says Google is way ahead of Yahoo! when it comes to unduplicated pages searched. And so on and so forth--blah, blah, blah.

Yahoo! and Google, here's my message to you: I could not care less about the size of your search index--just give me the result set! More power to Google if they can give me the right information in 3x less index size than Yahoo!

Index size does not matter, the pleasure I get from the result set does.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Windows in your Palm(Treo)

Today at a press event in San Francisco, Palm CEO Ed Colligan, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates, and Verizon Wireless CEO, announced a partnership between the three companies to bring Windows to a Treo device.

The news here is that Palm worked with Microsoft and Verizon to make this reality. Microsoft and Palm have competed fiercely in the past and now are teaming up to perhaps capture the market and gain more customers than they could working apart. It appears Palm is moving away from providing a mobile operating system to continue focus building mobile devices and applications. Microsoft is looking to capture more of the platform to increase sales of its server products.

Are we, the customers, better off as a result of this partnership? Only time will tell but, as always, I think competition provides better products for users in the long run.

More free time – or time to do more work

Think about how much time the world has wasted waited for computers to startup and shut down. Depending on hardware and how much stuff you have on your computer, this process can take several minutes from pushing "on" to ready to work--and then you get to wait some more watching your PC turn itself off.

Microsoft promises to resolve this issue in their upcoming release of Windows Vista. On the official site they tell us, "a Windows Vista computer starts and shuts down as quickly and reliably as a television, typically within 2 to 3 seconds." (Click here to read the story.)

Think how much time Windows users will save after upgrading to Vista. It sounds like you could justify the price tag with this feature alone! (Now if they could get compile time down to 2 to 3 seconds, we could give our development staff a day off a week – or offer them another project to work on.)

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Meditations from church: when clean is dirty

Sitting in church earlier today, I was super frustrated with the pen I brought with me to write the check for our church offering. The pen did not work very well, but after a sermon's worth of wrestling with the darned thing I was finally able to write the check and get it in the offering plate.

After catching my breath, I started thinking (half-thinking that is--I was in church and carefully listening to the service, mind you) about a presentation I heard earlier in the year at the MBA (Mortgage Bankers Association) conference.

The presentation was the keynote done by Frank W. Abagnale, author and subject of the movie “Catch Me If You Can." Mr. Abagnale has been "associated" with the FBI for over 25 years. He lectures extensively at the FBI Academy and for the field offices for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Mr. Abegnale discussed many interesting topics and one of them was “Check washing."

Check washing is when mail snatchers erase the ink on a check with chemicals found in common household cleaning products and then rewrite the checks to themselves, increasing the amount payable by hundreds and even thousands of dollars. Check washing takes place to the tune of $815 million every year in the U.S. and it is increasing at an fast pace.

There are some things we can do to protect ourselves; watermarks, copy void pantographs, chemical voids, high-resolution micro printing and so on. These are all expensive solutions, but there is one solution the will only cost you $1.83--and that is the purchase of a Uniball 207. Based on ink security studies, it highly recommend that security conscious churchgoers and other checkwriters use a gel pen. Devices like the Uniball 207 use gel ink that contains tiny particles of color that are trapped into the paper, making check washing a lot more difficult.

Protect yourself from check washing by investing a couple of bucks in a Uniball 207!

As they say in church, it's a dirty world out there. Don't let bad people wash you out.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Searching for news -- High hits on Google

I love spending time in bookstores and today I dropped into Borders to browse. Looking through a copy of PC Magazine, I came across a list of the top search engines and, as expected, Google was number one. Here is PC Magazine's list of the top search engines:
  1. Google -- 59.99%
  2. -- 28.32%
  3. -- 5.47%
  4. -- 3.3%
  5. SEACH.AOL.COM -- .92%
  6. ALTAVISTA -- .85%
  7. SEACH.LYCOS.COM. -- .38%
  8. WWW.ALLTHEWEB.COM -- .29%
  9. WWW.MAMMA.COM -- .18%

The list did not surprise me at all...other than the huge gap between Google and the rest. Google definitely has captured the market, and in upcoming blogs I will offer some of my views about the future of Google.

Consider yourselves warned: I'm getting ready to Podcast!

Today I decided to do my own Podcast. First, I need to get a microphone to work with my computer.

After some research, I decided to buy Samson's well reviewed C01U USB microphone, a C01U Shock Mount (quite necessary accessory to ensure good recordings), and a LZ50 50' Microphone Cable so I can pace while I record (it's a European thing--don't ask).

From what I've read, this should be all I need to get started. The microphone is very popular among podcasters and was difficult to find anywhere in stock (Amazon does not ship for two to three months so that was not an option for me). I found the Microphone at Andy’ s music online--and their promise of quick shipping sold me.

I will do a review of the product and post what I think as soon I receive it. Looking forward to podcasting -- this sounds like a lot of fun. Maybe soon you can hear me on your iPod in addition to reading my blog.

Friday, September 23, 2005

From Norway with love -- Podcast-Legal Music

If you woke up last night in a cold sweat from guilt screaming, “Sony, I am soooooo sorry you are not getting more money because of my illegal mp3 music,” I am here to tell you there is hope for you.

The news is coming tonight from the deep valleys of Norway., a music site, has added an index of podcast-legal music.

"The list of podsafe music is very recent," notes webmaster Øystein Holmen, "but we expect it to grow." The site is in Norwegian only with very limited selection, but with categories like Funk, Pop and Death Metal, it's easy enough for non-Norwegians to browse.

I think the concept is great and sites and offerings like this will no doubt be growing in the future. To attract serious traffic it needs to be offered in other languages and with a deeper selection of tunes. I will be check back on in the future, but for now I will stick with my own music collection.

The reason people leave jobs

In an earlier post, I talked about how the IT market is heating up and creating opportunities. Today, I want to take look at the reason people might leave their jobs.

The primary reason for flight is because issues with a manager, supervisor or team leader. This is both the good and the bad news. The good news is that, as leaders, we control our destiny. The bad news is maybe that we have to take a long and hard look at ourselves – approach, values, behaviors, and people skills.

What is it about this workplace relationship that makes it the number one reason so many people leave their jobs? Well, here are some issues I've experienced with my managers over the years:
  • a lack of trust
  • a lack of communication (see earlier post)
  • a lack of relevant and timely feedback
  • a lack of appreciation
  • a lack of respect for your the person in the management position
  • a lack of fair treatment and information

Most of the time the “lack offs” are generated by poor management and with people in the wrong jobs. We have to remember that management is a people job and people are the key enabler for us to reach success. If we never worry about why people leave, what it costs us, and what we can do about it, we will need not only an endless supply of new workers but also new customers and a lot of spare cash.

Given all of this – would you ever start a new job without knowing who your manager would be? Amazingly, people do this all the time. More coming.

Microsoft Reorganization: Windows chief Jim Allchin retires

It must be the season for reorganization, and our friends at Microsoft are in the midst of it.

Earlier in the week, Microsoft announced a major reorganization of the company. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, said, "Our goal in making these changes is to enable Microsoft to achieve greater agility."

The reorganization divides the company into three major divisions:
  • Business -- Microsoft's Information Worker group (which includes its Office product line), and the Business Solutions packaged applications group. Jeff Raikes will head the division up.
  • Platform Products and Services – This encapsulates Windows Client, Server and Tools and MSN. Kevin Johnson and Jim Alchin will be co-presidents for now. After the release of Vista, Jim Allchin will retire leaving the division head job to Kevin Johnson. Johnson has spent most of his 13 years at Microsoft rising through the company's sales and marketing ranks. He landed the top sales post two years ago and has since helped Microsoft keep up its double-digit growth, an impressive feat for such a large company. The creation of this division, bringing MSN and the platform group together, is a clear signal that Microsoft is reacting to Google's dominance on the Web and will use this new group to compete in the realm of on-demand software.
  • Entertainment and Devices – This will bring games and mobile device into one division. Robbie Bach will be president and maybe we will see the features of XBox 360 on a mobile device.

Goodbye, Jim Alchin.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Down a black hole it went

I finally have confirmation of where some of my things went.

Recently, a massive black hole was discovered simmering at the center of the Andromeda galaxy. It has a tonnage of 140,000,000 suns and is accompanied by a great many blue stars.

This monstrosity was discovered when an astrophysicist spotted a single blue dot and a few pixels where they weren't supposed to be--through the Hubble Space Telescope, of course.

After reading this exciting news, I started making a list of things I have lost recently in hope that some future explorer might be able to retrieve this stuff and return it to me. NASA, here's my list of lost stuff:
  • Stock options from my last company
  • Many stock picks done in the late 99 and early 2000s.
  • A few of my college nights (mostly Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays)
  • Personnel requisitions (this is ongoing)
  • A lot of single socks (red, blue and black and one paisley--from 1984)
  • A few expense reports
  • My good looks
  • Some of my blond hair
  • Things I am telling my kids
  • and many more things that I do not remember – I think my memory went down the hole with all the rest.

Hope this will shed some light on the "mystery pixels" in this black hole for our fellow astronomers.

Will the "Sun" shine on Scott McNealy?

I do not think so! The same could be said for angry shareholders who are questioning the $$$ McNealy is reaping while his company continues to underperform in the market. McNealy receives a base salary of $121,789, up 21 percent from last year, as well as a $1.1 million cash bonus--even though he missed performance targets.

I think this describes a big problem in corporate America. Why should shareholders and lower-level employees suffer during bad times, all the while watching top executives continue to receive bonuses and salary increases?

As leaders, we should have the decency to say “no thank you” if we play a part in sending our companies into a downward spiral. Performance and leadership go hand in hand--and so should performance and personal earnings.

I also think having the CEO serve as the chairman of the board is a serious conflict of interest. By doing this, business is allowing a CEO to approve his or her own compensation. I have seen this happen in places I have worked and, unfortunately, I think it will take laws and regulations to change this. I wish integrity and personal pride would help keep this from happening, greed always seems to win out.

Step up to the plate, Mr. McNealy and give the $$$ back to the stockholders.

Remember--they believe in you and all you stand for...or at least they used to.

Larry Ellison: "I am done with mergers...well, after Siebel, that is."

Today, Larry Ellison spoke at the Oracle OpenWorld in San Francisco and told the audience that Oracle "doesn't have any other large acquisitions in mind [after the Siebel acquisition]." Instead, the company will concentrate on its middleware products and hosted services. There has been concern that after the PeopleSoft and JD Edwards merger, Oracle will force users to move to the Oracle platform. During his presentation, Ellison tried to calm users by telling them that this would not be the case. Only time will tell.

Ellison cited his competition/players as Microsoft and on-demand software providers such as, NetSuite, and large system integrators like Infosys and ADP.

I think Oracle’s grab for market share and acquisitions is appropriate. An obvious concern is Oracle’s ability to maintain the customer base and, at the same time, enhance their technology. With lots of technologies to manage, this will be a big challenge.

Oracle acquisitions 2005
January -- PeopleSoft (and J.D. Edwards)
March -- Oblix
April -- Retek
June -- TimesTen and assets of TripleHop Technologies
July -- ProfitLogic and ContextMedia
August -- I-flex Solutions
September -- Sibel Systems

If I were a Gartner analyst, I would give this one a .7 probability of success.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

What is the "outlook" for Hotmail?

In a recent post, I talked about the features of the next generation of Hotmail. Let's also talk about the project itself. The Hotmail development project is not done in a traditional waterfall method--as Microsoft tends to do--but in an agile and iterative way using XP/SCRUM methods. The application is released to the user every seven weeks. (If you follow my blog, you know I love this.)

I think the benefits of this approach are significant--and so does the Hotmail team. From what I understand, there is an agile guru within the Expert engineering team named Bernie. I need to get ahold of him!

The project has reached Milestone 3 (M3), which means they have turned the code over to beta testers (M3 is an Microsoft-specific milestone). Currently they are operating with a limited set of users, somewhere around 4k. This is a very small set of users when you consider the current Hotmail user base to be >200 million active users.

The team has completely turned their product direction over to the user base--which is driving the features and what the team is working on. The team says it is not in control of Hotmail's destiny--the users are!

This is the way it should be. We should all learn from this and loosen the reins and let the customer dictate the features of any application development project. We should listen to the users (customers) to ensure that we meet their needs, hit the target, and beat expectations. In the four weeks that the application has been in beta, the users have found 270 unique bugs.

The Microsoft Hotmail development team is developing different experiences for different groups of users, and they are using the feedback from each of these groups to drive the UI design. This is something I have never done, but think it is an excellent idea (the sound of scribbling you hear is me taking notes). Also, they are testing the application in Microsoft's usability lab (I have toured the lab and it is impressive – maybe something I'll cover in an upcoming post).

As far as the technology being used on the project, the team moved from C and CPP to C# and .net. They started from scratch and were able to move from the current UNIX platform to an Intel platform (yes, you did read that correctly).

I am going to keep my eye on this one! I am wonder if they will try to market some of this as an enterprise solution. The M3 is faster than Outlook Web Access (OWA) and looks to provide more features. Hmmm, what is the “Outlook” for Hotmail?

The big Kahuna is coming!

Over the years, I have been a dedicated user of Microsoft Hotmail. I think the product is great, but it is in need of a major update. Microsoft is completely in line with my assessment and is currently working on the next version, codenamed “Kahuna." The product is focused on three areas: Safer, Simpler and Faster. Let’s take a quick look at the some of the promises:


  • A more powerful spam filter
  • Detects phishing! (not fishing for a team--see earlier post)
  • Detects unwanted "mailing list" e-mails and automatically sends unsubscribe messages.
  • Child e-mail protection--a parent can specify from whom the child can get mail (this feature is not currently in the beta, but it will be there in the final release).


  • The UI has auto complete populated from your contacts
  • Right click to get a menu to mark messages
  • Full search on the server with the result stored in a folder (like GMail)
  • Drag and drop functionality
  • Dr. Watson reports sent to Microsoft. (not sure that this belongs under simpler--in my opinion, there should never be a Dr. Watson...but that's another post)
  • Reading pane, like Outlook.
  • Reduction in the number of steps to do things
  • Downloading attachments is easier (plus thumbnails of the attachments, to speed the process)


  • A new “Bootstrap” function makes the whole experience faster by downloading things on to your laptop as soon as you hit the site. The current Hotmail environment is a post back application and this very different concept, providing a hybrid approach (chunky client).
  • Uploading happens in the background
  • Save every sent mail automatically


  • API
  • Offline storage
  • RSS capabilities
  • Persistent search

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Oracle to buy Siebel for $5.85 Billion

Here we go again.

Oracle is buying rival Siebel Systems in a deal worth $5.85 billion in cash and stock. Siebel is a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) software provider. This is a continuation of the acquisition spree by Larry Ellison. Last December, Oracle purchased Peoplesoft for $10 billion in a deal that still leaves people shaking their heads.

"In a single step, Oracle becomes the number one CRM applications company in the world," said Oracle chief executive Larry Ellison. "Siebel's 4,000 applications customers and 3.4 million CRM users strengthen our number one position in applications in North America and move us closer to the number one position in applications globally."

The deal is approved by the Oracle board and is expected to be completed in 2006. This will be an interesting acquisition with you have two CEO’s with big egos. I used to work for a company competing in the CRM space and at one point Tom Siebel was looking to buy our company. Fortunately or unfortunately, it did not pan out.

Let’s take a look at the two leaders in the Oracle/Siebel deal:

Larry Ellison
Age: 59
Best Asset: big market share of hard-to-replace databases
Worst Liability: himself
Quote: "I don't like Tom."

Tom Siebel
Age: 52
Best Asset: pioneer in sales force automation software; famously hard-charging salespeople keep Siebel front and center
Worst Liability: perceived as slow in embracing the Internet and new technologies; loads of new and potential competitors
Quote: "Ellison is agitated that we exist."

Over the last few years, Ellison has been determined to dominate the CRM space. He has spent a ton on internal development to come up with a good CRM product, but has not been able to. He is now on a acquisition kick to try to compete with SAP. Frankly, I am putting my dollars on SAP. I think Ellison is going to drive customers to SAP.

And you can quote me on that.

Friday, September 16, 2005

$2.6 Billion “Snipe” for Skype?

Ebay has agreed to pay a stunning $2.6 billion for Skype Technologies. Ebay will pay half of the amount in cash and the other half in stock. The goal of the purchase--according to Ebay, anyway--is to "create an unparalleled e-commerce and communications engine." My reaction is similar to many in the industry: we'll see.

Skype is a VoIP company from Europe. Their software lets PC users talk to each other for free and make cut-price calls to mobile phones and landlines (VoIP = voice over IP). Skype grew to its present size under the direction of the two principals behind the KaZaA file-sharing network. Founders Zennstrom and Friis call Skype a third-generation peer-to-peer network. I'm not exactly sure what that means, but it must have sounded pretty good to Ebay.

Ebay’s vision for the merger is to have its customer talk directly to each other via the computer to speed up the transactions. In other words, if you're a bidder, you can "dial up" the seller and ask questions about the item being auctioned (in my case, it might be something like "whjy is your price so high?!"

If Ebay customers like the idea, then acquisitions like Skype and PayPal will keep the competition at bay.

Give me an apple!

As I posted earlier in the week, I went to the local apple store to pick up my iPod Nano as soon as it came out. I have never been an “owner and operator” of the Apple computer products--other than the iPod, that is. Walking through the Apple store, I have to say there are no other computer products with sex appeal like theirs. The store and the products are downright sexy!

Rumor has it Apple is about to announce another big product, within days or weeks. In today’s top story on Think Secret, they discuss the Power Mac G5 revision (coming within six months of the last major upgrade).

Maybe this is the time for me to take a big bite of the Apple and add the G5+ to my network.

To the Moon we go!

One thing the IT world has in common with the real world is that our projects fail, too. The art is to learn from the failing projects, get back in the rocket, so to speak, and head for space again. So it was great to get the news from Washington that NASA is planning to put people back on the moon. It'll cost $100 billion, but the effort will return us to the moon by 2018.

Sounds like a big project with plenty of opportunities for failure.

As a taxpayer, I am happy to see my tax dollars spent on exploring space and expanding our opportunities for the future. Go NASA! I am looking forward to reading “An Astronaut’s Blog from the Moon” in 2018.

For more information read this article from MSN.

Train Wrecks - Part II

Previously, I discussed organizational "train wrecks" and how to see them coming. But what happens when, in spite of your forward vision, you still find yourself caught up in a wreck? The best way to survive a train wreck is to avoid it:
  • Be aware of common kinds of failures
  • Be able to compare to previous experiences
  • Provide the motivation and time to look for early symptoms
  • Enhibit a culture that listens to “whistleblowers”

If you are faced with a project that is already a train wreck, you have to:

  • Change the train’s direction
  • Slow the train
  • Stop the train crash, and admit failure (learn)
  • Crash, and pretend you meant to crash

The only things we can do when we are in a train wreck is to:

  • Add resources
  • Cut something
  • Change something
  • When you are in the middle of the train wreck you should not focus on the "lost" cost (what we have already spent and what has happened), but work with what is in the present.

Bottom line? Some people think you can avoid a train wreck by simply not riding the train, but that's the easy way out. Look at the picture...and remember the people passing by on the street are also impacted by the wreck (maybe more so than the people on the train). Projects that do have no risk also offer little or no upside opportunity for the people on the project. The art is to manage risk and to ensure that risk doesn't become wreck.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Organizational change - communicate and succeed!

Every successfuly organization will change in order to respond to market and customer needs, and ours is no different.

Since I tend to have a developer's outlook on things, I also see organizations are being no different than software. That is to say that at times, you need to update the organization with a “point release” and, at other times, you have to do “maintenance releases” to the organization. As a result, our organization has to act like a perpetually upgradable entity; we have to be prepared to do small and big organizational changes on a regular basis.

Here are some things to keep in mind as you introduce change to your organization (note: some of this information is from an article on organizational change by Susan M. Heathfield):
  • First things first: develop a written communication plan. Change is pointless if nobody knows what you are doing or why you are doing it.
  • Communicate consistently, frequently, and through multiple channels, including speaking, writing, video, training, focus groups, bulletin boards, intranets, etc.
  • Communicate all that is known about the changes, as quickly as the information is available. If you do not do this, you may get the information “leaking” to the impacted staff.
  • Be available for questions.
  • Recognize that true communication is a “conversation.” It is two-way and real discussion must result. It cannot be just a presentation.
  • Provide answers to questions only if you know the answer. Leaders destroy their credibility when they provide incorrect information or appear to stumble or back-peddle, when providing an answer.
  • Leaders need to listen, just listen. Avoid defensiveness, excuse-making, and answers that are too quickly given.
  • Hold interactive workshops and forums in which all employees can explore the changes together, while learning more.
  • Publicly review the measurements that are in place to chart progress in the change efforts.
  • Publicize rewards and recognition for positive approaches and accomplishments.
  • Help people to understand how these changes will affect them personally. (If you don’t help with this process, people will make up their own stories, usually more negative than the actual truth.)

Change is inevitable, and it is our responsibility as leaders to ensure that the organizational changes address are implemented the right way.

Train Wrecks - Part I

Bad projects. Who among us has not been involved in at least one? I know I have been involved in a few...and survived!

Today, I spent some time with a group of people who are living with the results of a train wreck that is paralyzing their company’s ability to execute on opportunities (thankfully, this train wreck is not affecting my company).

Tonight I started thinking about what to do--and do differently--to avoid having projects turn into train wrecks. During my search I came across a presentation given by Scott Berkun to the BayCHI in May of 2005 entitled, “What to do when things go wrong.” First, Berkun's definition of a train wreck:

  • We know we cannot meet the goal
  • No one is happy, everyone is frustrated
  • Things keep changing, but little progress made
  • We do not know if we are able to solve the problem
  • We do not agree on the existence of problems
  • We do not know who’s job it is to fix them

After the train is off the tracks, the problems tend to multiply:

  • Disconnect between...
    – customers and team
    – business / engineering / design organizations
    – management and team
    – the team and reality
  • Confused and confusing requirements
  • Poor architecture decisions
  • Poor UI design decisions
  • Management is ineffective at leading team

It almost goes without saying that train wrecks are frequent, and sometimes you can't avoid being in one. Still, there are things you can do to stay out of danger and, when you find yourself headed toward disaster, get yourself out of the wreckage. I'll offer my thoughts on avoidance and escape in a future Train Wreck post.

The photo: Famous photograph of a famous train wreck in Paris where the train failed to stop at the back of the station...exactly like some projects I've been involved with.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Apple's Nano: On being first in line @ Apple Store

Today I rushed to the Apple store to get my hands on one of the first Nanos this morning. The Nano is Apple’s replacement for the iPod mini. To replace the #1 mp3 player in the world is a bold move.

This is not my first iPod. No, my first is a great 60Gb photo (see picture). What attracted me to the Nano, other than the "shiny new gadget" factor, were the impressive product specs:

  • 2Gb or 4Gb (1,000 songs / 25,000 photos for the 4Gb and 500 songs / 12,500 photos for the 2Gb). This is amazing for the size. Sometimes great things come in small packages.
  • It is available with either a white or black case. I got the white, as no 4Gb available in black at this time.
  • A color display
  • The same click wheel we have grown to love.
  • Thinner than a #2 Pencil
  • 1.5 ounces (42 grams – information for my friends outside the US)
  • USB 2 – As fast as you would expect
  • Impressive 14 hour battery life

Compare this to other mp3 players (data comes from the unveiling in San Francisco by Apple CEO Steve Jobs):

  • Original iPod – 80% smaller, 1/5th the size
  • iPod mini – 62% smaller, 1/3 the size
  • iRiver – 68% smaller
  • Creative Zen – 69% smaller, 1/3 the size
  • Zen Neon – 58% smaller, less than ½ the size
  • 1/3 size of the smallest phone on the market

Now let’s talk features:

  • 30 pin dock connector – Plugs in to the universe of accessories. I am now listening to it while it is docked in my Bose SoundDock. Sounds great!
  • It has a all the same features as my iPod Photo and more. Among the new features are a flexible clock (have as many clocks as you want) with the ability to turn dark indicating night, stopwatch and lap timer, and cool screen lock set with the wheel.

Bottom-line price? $249 for the 4Gb, $199 for the 2Gb. Some may think this is steep, but I think you get a lot for your $$$ with this product. Look for accessories coming in the next 2 to 4 weeks.

May I be the first to say, "wow!" This is a fantastic device. It has all the elements that I like so much about the iPod Photo, yet it improves upon them by making the form factor smaller and better looking. The price is reasonable, as is the storage capacity. Nano is a cool name, too.

A couple of things I think you should know:

  • The headset plug-in is located on the bottom of the device. I do not know why they did this. If you have it docked--through the 30-pin dock connector--you cannot plug in a headset to the unit. Hmm…
  • My iPod Photo sounds better than the nano. Maybe this is expected.

I love this device--it is small, sounds great, and is very cool! Way to go Steve Jobs – with this new product, you launch a serious attack the 20% of the MP3 player market you do not already own.

(And no, I have not hacked it. That's next on my list. More to come in upcoming posts.)

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Better times ahead for IT!

A study just released from Robert Half Technology shows that 16% of IT executives are planning to hire IT staff in fourth quarter of 2005, and only 4% are planning on staff reduction. This according to a story released on Cnet today (Study: CIOs to increase hiring). We are entering a period when IT hiring is expected to reach its highest levels since 2002.

What does this mean to us as IT leaders?
  1. We have to make sure we understand who our top performers are. Our top 20% (eagles) need to be challenged, rewarded, and taken good care of. Programs need to be put in place to ensure this. Remember, your competition loves to get their hands on your eagles.
  2. Identify the bottom 10% of your performers. Put programs in place to ensure that you guide them to new opportunities.
  3. Work with the middle 70% to move them up to the top 20%.
  4. Partner with your HR department to ensure that you find good candidates, hire the best, and manage everybody effectively and efficiently. HR is your friend.
  5. When you are looking for people, be responsive and flexible. Great people have many opportunities and closing the deal quickly is the only way get these people on board.
  6. Set clear expectations for your staff. Provide clear vision, mission, strategies, processes, roles and responsibilities. This is more important than ever. People want to know what is expected of them and everybody needs to understand where you want to take your organization.
  7. Provide leadership. When people leave their jobs, it is often due to a bad relationship with, and a lack of confidence in, their manager.
  8. Communicate, communicate, communicate.
  9. Celebrate success!

1..3 – Inspired by Jack Welsh “Straight from Jack”; I like his bell curve identifying top 20% of talents for grooming and ask 10% underperformers to go for alternative careers to achieve efficiency in managing people. I would implement this different than GE, but like the concept.

These all are important points in good and bad times. As we are entering better times, competition will explore any weakness in you ability to manage staff.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Fishing for a team

In an earlier post, “Group or Team?”, I mentioned that our management team was heading off to go fishing. And so we did.

I didn't know what to expect. Was this going to be a offsite meeting to talk about strategy and planning or just a pleasure trip with a little team building thrown in?

To prepare for the former, my team and I developed several UML diagrams and processes to bring clarity to what we do and how we fit in the organization. My hope was that I would bring back a complete picture of our responsibilities, our relationships with other groups, and an overview of how we fit in the overall organization. We also created a list of perceptions our staff and my management team had of the senior IT management team (this was a very interesting, eye-opening list with candid feedback and detailed information).

With all this in hand, I headed for Wisconsin with the rest of the management team to fish and talk. The fishing trip would begin a full six-hour drive from Minneapolis. We drove in three cars and I spent the first six hours riding with a colleague. During the ride, we had a great conversation about life and technology. At one point, I did pull out my diagrams and started to go over them with this fellow. He was trying to follow along with my conversation, and agreed with me at a high level, but I completely lost him as I was explaining the UML diagrams. It is difficult to talk about UML diagrams while driving!

When we got to our destination, we started with a great dinner at a local restaurant followed by a few drinks, cigars, and tech talk around the campfire. Over the next two days, we went fishing for salmon on Lake Michigan and had great luck. Everyone got at least one fish ranging from 11lbs to 16lbs, but for the most part we enjoyed the host's 36-foot Silverton boat as we drifted across Lake Michigan.

The trip was more of a team-building event than a strategy or planning session. We had fun and got to know each other much better and, as a result I think we are one-step closer to becoming a team.

Here are some of the areas I think have been strengthened due to the trip:

  • Mutual Trust—We did gain understanding and respect for each other during this trip. I think this is the first step towards trust.
  • Mutual Support—I think support will be easier as we have greater appreciation for and understanding of each other.
  • Communication—This definitely is something we need to work a lot on, but the trip is the foundation for better one-on-one conversations and communication in the future.
  • Conflict Resolution—After this trip it will be easier for all of us to pick up the phone and share challenges and issues with each other.
  • Organizational Environment—Respecting individual differences starts with understanding where we all come from and what we stand for. The trip definitely helped drive this to the forefront and as a result I think we will have an easier time supporting each other.
  • Have Fun—We sure had a lot of this!

I want to extend my thanks to the host for putting on this event. This sort of team-building event would not have worked if it had been planned and executed by an outside company. And I would recommend to you, my readers, that you should follow my host's lead and develop your own team building exercises whenever possible. No outside consulting company knows your people or your company culture as well as you do, and you can work wonders in making an event like this more personable and fun than the typical "Outward Bound" team building exercise.

Live TV -- Weatherman upset

Check this out. A CNN weatherman looses his cool during a report on Hurricane Katrina. You just never know what happens when you are on live TV and working with someone you just do not like. Hope you are working with a team that is getting along better than these two.

Thursday, September 01, 2005


Where I grew up, the sea was a source of food, adventure, recreation, and, on occasion, trouble. When you grow up near the sea, you come to expect the bad with the good, but nothing in my experience compares to what's happening along the Gulf Coast.

I am among those who all too frequently take my safety and well being for granted. But nobody who is watching the news or reading the reports coming from this area should fail to reassess his or her own situation--and better appreciate the incredible security we all assume as part of our daily lives.

To make a donation to the victims of this disaster, visit the Red Cross web site, or use Amazon's One-Click donation form.

Here are some ways IT professionals can offer help.

Why IT people make the world a better place: Part 17

Did you see the news that Mazda is thinking about using a USB flash drive as a "key" to unlock their new Sassou cars? I think this is a great idea--especially since the flash drive can also contain GPS map info, music files, and other media which can make your motoring experience all the more enjoyable. Before you start your trip you can use your home computer to download directions and tones to your “key” before you start your trip. If anybody doubts whether IT people make the world a better place, think again. (Hope Mazda is building in additional security so people cannot just copy your USB “key” from one device to another. It would be cool if they allow you to set operating time duration for the key. If you want your kids back by 11:00 pm you could “expire” the usage of the key after the curfew time. Hmm – would this be a good thing or not?)