Monday, December 31, 2007
Friday, December 28, 2007
I work for a very large, very distributed company. For the first time in my career, I find that most of my meeting time is spent in teleconferences, rather than in-person meetings. Although I miss the face-to-face contact, I do think it is clear that teleconferencing will only become more prevalent, driven by various developments: distributed workforces, off-shoring and out-sourcing, and telecommuting.
Considering how critical teleconferencing is to getting work done for the contemporary knowledge-worker, I am rather shocked by the deep mediocrity of the technology. My employer uses AT&T Teleconference Services, which I have used for years at other companies, and it really hasn't improved AT ALL over time. Same old problems: everybody has to introduce themselves, and then hear a repetition of all the other people on the call; if someone puts you on hold, the rest of the conference gets serenaded with their PBX's muzak (I know there is an advanced feature that prevents this--nobody ever uses it); security problems if you have back-to-back calls on the same number, when the early joiners for the next meeting unintentionally "barge" into the meeting that hasn't yet ended. The fact that these old, well-known problems continue to be tolerated--never mind the failure to introduce cool new features--shows me a product category ripe for innovation.
What is needed--beyond a teleconferencing provider who cares enough about their product to continually improve it--is convergence between teleconferencing and web conferencing. In the admittedly limited sample of big companies I have experience with, web conferencing really has not taken off as one would expect. We probably have 10 teleconferences for every 1 web conference. Granted, there may be some discussions that simply do not benefit from any visuals, but as often than not, I find that there is inevitably a point in the teleconference where it would be very convenient to display something.(Maybe I shouldn't complain though--I have a long commute, and when possible, try to combine it with conference calls) In fact, we frequently wind up quickly emailing documents for the participants to review.
There are probably a few reasons for the under-use of web conferencing, but I think one big one is the tedium of scheduling them. I have used both LiveMeeting and Webex, and they both require meetings to be set up in advance, and the meeting URLs have to be distributed to all the participants. Ironically, ease of initiation is the one area where teleconferencing really shines, since there is no setup whatsoever required--just dial in to a well-known, persistent number and access code (unfortunately, there are some security problems associated with that, which we will get to shortly).
If teleconferencing and web conferencing could be tightly integrated, I think all the existing problems of both could be solved, and valuable new features added. An inventory of the improvements I envision is listed below:
Web conferencing is initiated automatically with the teleconference, and vice-versa
Just as employees receive their own, individual access code to the master teleconference number, so would they receive a standing URL for web conferencing.
As a bonus, teleconference/web conference addresses would be discoverable, for authorized individuals (see Security section for more discussion).
See who is currently connected, along with who was invited
Instead of taking an oral roll call, you can see who is connected. I bet introductions and roll-call takes a 5% productivity toll on teleconferencing time. So as mundane as this problem is, solving it would have a big payoff. Bonus feature--you automatically get a log of who was on the call, and even when they were on.
"Ping" invitees who have not signed on (via IM or phone call or email)
Another big time-waster is the need to "ping" the people who were invited but still haven't joined in 5 minutes after the start of call. Integration wouldn't completely make this go away, but it could make it easier--instead of manually adding their names to an IM or email, you could just click-select and invoke the "are you joining us" message. Bonus--an option for pinging could be a phone call with a pre-recorded message.
Display who is currently speaking
This feature would be very nice, though admittedly it would take some real technology, not just more integration. Still, it's value would not be insignificant--it can be very,very challenging in a large conference call to track the identity of the speaker.
Another thing that surprises me about all the corporations I have been at that use teleconferencing is the obliviousness to the gaping security hole. Since access codes NEVER change, anyone who gets one can join any call at any time. And given the lack of functionality, it can be very difficult to count and track all the beeps (not to mention, with quick-start calls, if the lurker is the first person in, they will be even harder to detect).
I would envision a layered security approach. There would be an option to provide a one-time URL for a given meeting. There would also be integration with network-based identity-management capability.
Bonus feature: for those occasions where the teleconference host won't be able to attend, instead of having to hand out one's standard host access code to a delegate, the ability to generate a one-time access code.
Conference Initiated But On Hold
I have worked in many different companies, and they all suffer, in varying degrees, from the problem of arriving late to meetings. To address this problem, the software needs to allow the conference to be initiatied but placed on hold (this enhances personal productivity, since participants won't feel obliged to engage in small talk while inevitably waiting 5 minutes beyond the appointed meeting time to have a quorum of participants available). The way this differs from current technology is that the leader, and even the participants, will have visibility to who has called in. That way, the leader can determine when a quorum has been reached, and at that point can take everybody off hold and into conference.
As a bonus, participants have the option to "break hold", if they want to talk as a subset. The key point is that everybody knows who is on the call, even if they haven't broken in to introduce themselves, as would be necessary with the current technology.
Auto disconnect web conferencing when doneA security problem I have noticed with web conferencing is that it is easy to forget to disconnect. Integrated software could have pop-up reminders, initiated when the participant terminates the call, if they are still logged in as a presenter on the web conference.
Icing On the CakeOf course, a modern, integrated conferencing system would not have stupid anti-features, such as:
- Inadvertently and embarassingly subjecting the rest of the teleconference to music when you put them on hold to take another incoming call.
- Hanging up when you mean to take yourself off mute (inadvertent hang-up being an anti-feature of almost all current telephones)
Farther Into the Future
- Development of an applet for mobile phones that provides most or all of the above features.
- The development of full "telepresence".
The current state of teleconferencing reminds me of the state of web search or webmail before Google jumped in: minimally adequate, but long neglected, ripe for innovation and integration. In the short-term, it seems like some of the features I envision would require a highly integrated corporate PBX. In the long term, I hope they could be achieved via off-the-shelf handsets, or at a minimum, via standard cell phones.
Thursday, December 27, 2007
Wednesday, December 26, 2007
Anyway, it would be nice if there were a website "Truth-squadding the movies".
Movies that I am thinking of:
- Charlie Wilson's war (I haven't fully researched this one yet)
- The Greatest Game Every Played
- Glory Road
- Amazing Grace
- The Natural (haven't researched in detail)
- and a bunch of others I can't recall at the moment.
Friday, December 21, 2007
Thursday, December 13, 2007
Not hard to see why a lot of people think Facebook is going to eat LinkedIn's lunch.
Monday, December 10, 2007
Then as I thought about it over the next day or so, I began to smell a rat. PV = nRT, the ideal gas law, hasn't been repealed, right? So I did a little quick web research. I found a couple of sites that tried to explain it was due to the larger size of the nitrogen molecules. But that, too, was quickly debunked. Basically, for applications other than race cars, the effect is undetectable.
As a postscipt, it occurred to me that this question could be a great, shorthand ethcial litmus test for assessing a candidate service station. Ask them "do you recommend filling tires with nitrogen"? If they respond "yes", cross them off your list.
Sunday, December 09, 2007
At least we might get in some cross-country skiing.
Friday, December 07, 2007
Friday, November 30, 2007
2. It is almost never too hot (since you generate a 15-20 mph wind, even on still days).
3. You can do it on a full stomach (unlike running, where you have to wait at least 90 minutes after eating, and then not too big a meal).
Monday, November 26, 2007
I eventually found one, in St. Paul. It was inconvenient, but worth the drive. Then he closed. But we had fairly new cars by then, so the question became less important. But recently our minivan needed a bunch of work, some minor, some of unknown magnitude. This time I thought to consult my network. It wasn't actually Facebook or LinkedIn, per se, but rather a mailing list of my biking buddies. Sure enough, I got 2 good suggestions out of that, and was very happy with the one I took.
So it was sort of like my personal Angie's List. Also, I think a Facebook-style inquiry would be more efficient than email. The people who care to follow the discussion can follow it, those who don't, don't get subjected to Reply All's, or conversely, overlooked by private replies.
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
Monday, November 19, 2007
Not surprising. Seems like I've heard this before. $399 is WAY too expensive, and even if it were free, who wants another big device to lug around? I applaud the idea of best-sellers for $9.99--finally , content delivery that recognizes that the cost-savings for non-physical content should be shared with consumers, making it considerably cheaper than traditional, corporeal formats.
But the device makes no sense to me. Much better to incorporate with existing hardware--from laptops to cell phones. If they had to do something, partner with a notebook manufacturer to make a form-factor that is considered perfect for eBooks, and provide a bundling deal.
That is kind of scary. I don't tend to register for sweepstakes, but you never know. Plus, there is the old "inside job" possibility, that a company employee will steal and sell your data. Because I DO register for a lot of eCommerce sites. I know, the first line of defense is to use a special password for financial accounts.
Wouldn't a well-established, highly-trusted third-party password custodian be the solution? Kind of like how it works with the certificate authorities in PKI? So you register your User ID for each site, along with a master password (you get to have more than 1 master password, if you want), and then that site generates a strong password for you, which you don't even need to know, and performs the actual login, using that password. I remember reading, several years ago, about a hardware device that did this.
Also, a nice enhancement, to defeat keystroke-loggers, would be to present a bitmap of the alphabet, to allow graphical log-in.
Friday, November 16, 2007
I'm pretty sure that all these functions are measured on time-to-close tickets, and since we all know, in mangement, that you get what you measure, what you get is tickets closed on the flimsiest of pretexts.
Thursday, November 15, 2007
Monday, November 05, 2007
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
Monday, October 15, 2007
This problem gets me surprisingly often. I notice it most when searching my own Gmail, because in those cases, I KNOW the item is there to be found, and that prompts me to pay attention and refine my search till I get it right.
An unusal miss for Google.
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
Example: we've spent the last 3 days preparing for the deep dive the CIO asked for on our budget overruns.
Assessment: an unobjectionable and grammatically inoffensive employment of a reasonable metaphor.
Tuesday, October 09, 2007
How did Polycom ever get its iPod-like mindshare monopoly on business-quality conference room speakerphones? I mean, they work well, and get extra points for design coolness, but why are they worth $300 per unit?!
Thursday, September 27, 2007
The conference call covered a lot of ground, but we had trouble determining what was the ask from the client.
Friday, September 21, 2007
This is an inverse value to scale question. Think about your Rolodex. A thousand contacts, maybe 150 people you can call friends, 30 people you can call close friends, two or three people you'd donate a kidney to. The value is inverse to the size of the group. And you have to find some way to protect the group within the context of those effects...
This hits home for me. The internet offers scale in certain ways, and those things can be useful, but as human beings, we are evolved or created (I don't think it matters which you believe) for human-scale interactions. Last night we had our bi-weekly small-group meeting for our new church. Small groups is a key technique large churches are using to make people feel connected and known. Then today I was taking super-dull, mandatory corporate CBTs. These kinds of training are terrifically boring under the best of circumstances, but if you take them with real, live other people, the tedium can be offset by the chance to meet other people and have real discussion (like rolling your eyes in boredom, for example!). Then on my drive home today, I was discussing with my friend Ted how un-fulfilling teleconferences and work-from-home can be, in terms of meeting the human desire for interpersonal contact.
Thursday, September 20, 2007
What if there were an accepted industry standard disclaimer? Instead of every email spelling out the claimed rights, couldn't it just reference the standard? Just as copyright notices don't try to summarize copyright law (okay, maybe some do). Instead, you could have a much briefer notice like "This email protected under ISO Disclosure Standard 10,000.17."
Monday, September 17, 2007
The major use of it seems to be to multi-task during conference calls. That has its place occasionally, of course ("I know u r on a call, but get off and meet me in the war room, we've got a production outage!"). But maybe I'm just a dummy, but as soon as I get sucked into an IM exchange, I tune out of the conference call. If the call is a waste of my time, that could be good, but if it isn't, I may wind up wasting everybody else's time asking for repeats. Conference calls are painful and inefficient enough, without IM making them worse.
A frequent secondary usage of IM'ing is within a conference call. This I find more useful. Typical case is a boss to employee: "I know you are right, but they're not getting it. Try explaining more slowly."
A tertiary usage that I find especially convenient is posting one's status and contact info. I typically work from home 2 days/week, so I update my IM status line to say "TUE: Work from home. Home office 999-999-9999."
Sunday, September 02, 2007
Friday, August 31, 2007
- Fly 24 x 7. I have no idea why this hasn't caught on. Airports and airplanes are simply too expensive to leave unused 1/3 of the time.
- To combat bunching of flights during congested times of day, we need peak-based pricing, but it needs to be much more transparent. Maybe a surcharge from the airport, passed on to the ticket price.
- Assess charges for small aircraft more appropriately (they account for 16% of the system's operating cost, while only paying 3%).
Friday, August 24, 2007
Thursday, August 23, 2007
Monday, August 20, 2007
Sunday, August 19, 2007
What they don't have is the button that, for me and I suspect for most people, would be far more useful than any of those: the Add to Queue button! People re-watch movies all the time, right? I personally don't, but in my case, I often find that I don't get around to watching the movies that come in the mail. If I'm lucky, it gets returned mid-week in order to pop something else from the queue for the kids. If I'm less lucky, I wind up driving to the local Blockbuster store with the kids, to exchange my un-viewed movie for one they want now to view at the evening's sleepover.
Friday, August 17, 2007
Assessment: a nice expression, a variant and subtly different from existing American English ones such as "no problem". Approved.
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
Sorry, I'm throwing the BS flag on that one. The 90% number simply is not plausible. An egregious mistake for an article concerned with truth, accuracy and misperception.
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
I think the quite below captures how I hear it being used:
The phrase continues to be reflexively used in the rap world, and it has now been adopted ironically by upper-middle-class white people, in whose parlance "It's all good" is usually a way of preëmptively closing a conversation--a discussion of the final episode of "The Sopranos," for example--and segueing to the next topic: where to find the best sushi in the East Village. But the most widespread use of "It's all good" seems to be among people who have recently discovered yoga and meditation. For this demographic, "It's all good" has become a kind of New Age, neo-Buddhist mantra, one with a peculiarly American flavor of optimism.
Assessment: very unfavorable, no good usage.
Sunday, August 12, 2007
The recycling issue is probably a much bigger example in the same category. There have been a lot of studies that suggest recycling, particularly curbside recycling, uses more energy than it saves. However, we still do it. Why? Because about 20 years ago, the fiction began to spread that we were running out of landfill space.
What really happened is that local landfills were filling up, and in NIMBY fashion, localities didn't want to create new ones. So yes, we were running out of landfill space, but only from a political, not a physical, perspective. However, a confluence of interests blew this up into a bona-fide artifact of conventional wisdom.
For waste-disposal companies that both delivered services and owned existing landfills, this could be a bonanza. It will be much easier to raise prices if consumers are well aware of an underlying cause for higher prices and are actually primed to expect price rises. That's pretty much what happened with waste-disposal costs, since we were, after all, running out of landfill space.
For well-meaning but under-informed environmentalists, this was a clear, visible, tangible easy cause.
For consumers, same thing--tangible way to do environmental good without much pain or need to adapt habits.
I believe there is a small, fourth category of environmental-movement types, who must have been well-informed enough to speak to the limitations of the benefits to be derived from recycling. However, from a strategic perspective, anything that raises awareness and makes it less convenient to consume should be a good thing. So I hypothesize that these "smarter" enviros would also have had this reason of their own to also jump on the recycling bandwagon.
There are two major flaws in that line of reasoning, though. One, I think people have a rather natural weakness to be drawn to "cheap grace". This means that successfully making the first, easy step of recycling would be more likely to motivate them to "quit while they are ahead", than it would encourage them to delve deeper into examining how they might further modify their behavior to benefit the environment. Two, even well-meaning people will have a very limited attention span for evaluating any given topic that they don't find intrinsically interesting; for better or worse, for most people, any topic that includes lots of details, the need to develop and maintain a complex mental model, and the need for sustained, subtle analytical thinking fits that category of "not interesting". So if you are going to try to get people's attention and ask them to make a change, you may want to spend your "attention capital" wisely--ask right away for a material change that will make a difference, not a relatively meaningless, confidence-building step.
So, to summarize, the focus on recycling let individuals feel good that they were "doing their part to save the earth", when they really weren't doing anything helpful, and furthermore, it foreclosed any subsequent claim on getting their attention to consider more meaningful changes.
Next in Part III: my best idea for a tactic that could maybe ultimately drive some significant behavior change.
Personally, I have always been anti-bottled water because I think it is a teriffic waste of money. The idea of paying (retail) for drinking water galls me. What's next, air?
I am also sympathetic to the environmentally-based anti-bottled water objections. We do have both global warming and energy depletion to consider. A logical first step in addressing these problems is to just stop wasting, and that's what the bottled water issue seems like to me.
Relatively minor issues like this carry a strategic risk for the environmental movemement(1), in my opinion. One school of thought would say that, by focusing on a something relatively easy and simple, the environmental movement can "bring people along". People get involved, ditching bottled water today, setting house temperatures more reasonably tomorrow, the week after that they start changing their driving habits, and maybe in a few years, they become a card-carrying member of the movement.
I don't think it works that way. The limits on how much energy [pun intended] people have to expend on abstract, optional issues, plus the natural tendency to avoid unwelcome change, conspire to subvert this kind of implicit, baby-steps strategy. Here's what actually happens.
Some people who drink bottled water quit or decrease their usage. Since water is generally available for free, that's a pretty easy thing to do, once you pass over the "energy hump" of deciding to do it. Those people now get to feel mildly virtuous. And they are done. They have expended all the time and devotion they have for the environment, for this year, on this one little issue.
And the people who never consumed bottled water in the first place? They go along for the ride--they get to feel even more virtuous, never having even taken up the "nasty" habit. Likewise, they, too, are done thinking about any environmentally-friendly changes they might make in the near future, having so recently conquered the bottled-water bogeyman.
Conclusion: the bottled-water issue is a reprise of the recycling issue. Part II examines the "motivation" for putting so much energy into these false paths.
(1) Of course there is nothing like a central or coordinated environmental movement setting strategy, that is a conceptual construct. Which is why it can't have anything like an effective, cohesive, prioritized, single-minded strategy.
Friday, August 10, 2007
POSTSCRIPT (2008-05-13) It essentially does. It turns out you can continue to indefinitely re-use an expired meeting. This is very non-intuitive, I remember I was dumbfounded when someone told me that was their practice.
Thursday, August 09, 2007
We also had quarterly "Town Halls", where all of a large functional area, or even all of the Minneapolis-based employees, would attend in person. The socializing was as important as the presentation.
Then in the last 6 months, we merged with a similar-sized company in Philly. Every meeting was scheduled with a conference call. For a while, it was usually conference room calling conference room, but over time, it became less common to gather on location--easier just to call in from your desk. It even got to the point where the occasional all-Minneapolis meeting was nevertheless held via conf call.
This is very much the norm in my new company. My second day, I had 5 meetings--only 1 in-person. In the 5 days since, that is still the only in-person meeting I've attended!
Thursday, August 02, 2007
I figured something like this was coming. In the course of changing jobs, I was considering going out as an independent contractor, and I applied for individual health insurance. I knew COBRA coverage for my family would have been about $1000, and I figured individually purchased would cost about the same. Not the case, though. Individually purchased insurance, as opposed to group insurance through the employer, is medically-underwritten, so that the 20% of applications that seem a bad risk are turned down.
I've wondered, over the years, that employers, at least the ones I have experience with, do not seem to make any effort or evaluation, when interviewing candidates, to avoid those that might be prone to have high medical expenses, for whatever reason (yes, I know, many of those reasons would be legally protected, but not all). That obviously creates something of an arbitrage situation. The Clarian proposal is really just a baby step--the next step after charging smokers more. However, if the Bush proposal to let individuals deduct their health insurance premiums were to pass (I believe that is now considered unlikely), I think that would open the door for a new strategy for employers.
Instead of providing the insurance themselves, they could just pay more in salary, and develop a relationship with insurers, to accomplish expedited underwriting. That way, an employee could accept a job offer contingent on being approved for insurance. The benefit to the employee would be potentially higher salary, plus insurance portability--it is their policy, guaranteed renewable, to take with them wherever they go.
If this practice were to spread, at some point it would hit "critical mass"--the employers that practiced this would have a cost advantage over those that went the traditional group route. Of course, it would put the squeeze on those with health problems/risks and pre-existing conditions, and would further highlight the problem of insurance affordability and medical inflation.
(Just to be clear, this post is not advocacy, pro or con, merely an exploration of a logical path of development.)
Wednesday, August 01, 2007
Thursday, July 19, 2007
That was over a decade ago. The sad part is that the case in question (I'm too lazy to find and reference it) involved a deliberately defamatory reference. A good former employee, a spiteful former supervisor, lies and a lawsuit. There is little to no case law, AFAIK, for a good-faith reference causing a lawsuit. Nevertheless, the No References practice has become common policy.
It does seem like the actual observance has been weakening in recent years. People have figured out that former colleagues and even supervisors will typically give positive references, and may even give some degree of negative reference, perhaps in "code". I see LinkedIn accelerating this work-around, since it makes it SOOO much easier to find "backdoor references".
Friday, July 13, 2007
Thursday, July 12, 2007
Tuesday, July 10, 2007
Maybe the is a server-side performance benefit is also keeping this alive?
Anyway, it was drizzling as we parked, so the family and I were huddled under umbrellas as I essayed my transaction. I swiped my credit card, the display blinked briefly, but nothing else happened. No selection menu, no confirmation screen, no ticket spitting out of a slot in front of me. Thinking it had been a mis-read, I swiped it again. Still nothing other than a transitory flash of the display. So then I tried a different card, same result. Finally, I closely read the instructions. They said something about "open the door and remove your pass from the drawer at bottom". So I slid open the door, and of course I found three passes. So I had effectively triple-charged myself for (3) $10 parking fees (adding insult to injury, about the same time, my kids spotted another lot, slightly closer to the event, charging $5!).
I will cop to a bit of "dumb user" error, but only a bit. Every other self-service machine I have ever used has some kind of intervening event between swiping your card, and completing the transaction. At a minimum, there is an "Are you sure? Press YES, and your card will be instantly debited for $10". Or they push out a ticket--in front of you, not behind a window, where you can't possibly miss it. For extra points, they don't permit a new transaction till the ticket has been removed.
(Postscript, not relevant to the main useability lesson: Anyway, I scoured the website if IM-Park, and utterly failed to find a number for reaching a human, so I resorted to calling their corporate switchboard, and two calls later, was able to leave a message, which actually was returned fairly promptly, with another message to me, instructing me to fax in the copies of the tickets; so I am guardedly optimistic that I will get a refund without further ado.)
Friday, July 06, 2007
Think about anywhere you see a graphical user interface that isn't attached to a PC -- kiosks, high-end TV remote controls, touchscreens, ATMs, cell phones, digital cameras, VCRs, DVRs, GPS systems, set-top boxes, computer monitors, televisions, elevators, the Toyota Prius, medical equipment, Point of Sale systems, the "cash registers" at McDonalds -- everywhere, really.
In each case, the user interface was probably developed by a specialized team for specific hardware. The team may have limited training in GUI design or usability, the interface may not be portable across new device models, and the development tools may not be very evolved, which would slow the GUI creation process.
Flash potentially solves all those problems AND creates new opportunities.
Flash is well understood, and the development environment is highly evolved and therefore efficient. There are many experienced Flash designers, so the pool of available talent is potentially much larger. GUI design can be done by people who don't require intimately specialized knowledge of the underlying hardware. GUI elements would be portable across device models and even device categories. Think how the right-facing triangle of the "Play" button started on tape recorders, moved to VCRs, and is now on CD players, DVD players, DVRs, iPods, and any hardware or software that records or plays back content.
GUIs would evolve much more quickly and cost less to create. There could be standard interface libraries for all types of uses, and the similar GUIs would lower the learning curve for users. Talented interface designers would be in demand. User interfaces would be potentially upgradeable. More interesting, GUIs could be user-specific: the same cell phone might have a "Grandma interface" for one user, but a very different GUI for teens. And there's no reason why that should stop with cell phones.
Yes, I could just leave them there, but that's messy, or I could delete them, but that seems like a violation of the core philosophy underpinning Gmail (never delete information). After all, 3 months down the road, I will find myself thinking "I swear I sent that email saying I didn't want to be chairman of the golf fund-raiser next year". Instead of searching for it and failing to find it, it would be nicer if I could search, and find it in an un-sent state, thus explaining why my memory was deceiving me.
Thursday, July 05, 2007
The most recent example I stumbled on myself is the no-heat dry option in the dishwasher. I'm not sure, but I think only more recent dishwashers even have this option. Anyway, I have been using it, and it works very well. Glass and ceramics dry almost instantly. Plastics are slightly slower to dry, but only slightly. I would say that no-heat dry works 95% as well as heated drying. Ergo, the wastefulness of heated drying seems about as extraordinarily wasteful as "warming up" a car to run the defroster in order to get rid of some slight condensation!
Tuesday, July 03, 2007
This is a great observation. I think an area where this principle exerts a bad effect is electricity--there is such a disconnection between consumption and billing that many people just don't internalize the value of turning off lights, let along replacing incandescent with CF, or easing up on the A/C.
A few months ago we upgraded our phone service not so much because we wanted voice mail, or digital phone, or anything else, but because it was part of Comcast's three-fer $99 deal. So we got voice mail, but I immediately disabled it, prefering to stick with the answering machine.
Then the answering machine died (possibly due to that cat kicking it off the table), and in the interim, I decided to activate voice mail. I don't like it much, for three reasons. One, it is not as obvious as the flashing light on the answering machine (probably solveable with a more expensive, integrated handset). Two, it is much less convenient to access, compared to the "one-click" access for the answering machine. Three, we only get 1 mailbox, AFAIK, versus the 4 on the answering machine. Seeing as Beth gets 10x the messages I do, once we moved to the multi-mailbox answering machine, there was no going back to a shared mailbox for me.
All these objections are solveable, and probably have been solved in some implementations, but until they are there for me, ready for the taking, I'm sticking to the digital answering machine.
Monday, July 02, 2007
Yet, AFAIK, this feature is pretty much unknown in homes. Perhaps many systems have some way to do it, but if so, the infrequency of use suggest there must be a learnability/useability bug with it. It needs to be very easy and very obvious to do.
Wednesday, June 27, 2007
The funds typically get 20% of profits in an up year, in addition to a (relatively) small "keep the lights on" management fee. In a down year, they collect the managmenet fee, but if there are no profits, they get no returns. However, I don't think there is typically a "carry forward of the losses". So in the world of private equity management, it is better to go 30, -40, 25 (average return to investors of roughly 5%, but fees of 11%), than to go 10, 10, 10 (average return to investors of 10% but fees of 6%). It's a bit like bookmaking, where the tie goes to the house.
So the motivation is to have some REALLY BIG years, even if that also means having some REALLY BAD years. It reminds me a bit of the pattern for the federally insured S&Ls that crashed 2 decades ago. If your worst-case is to lose nothing (because your government-sponsored insurance will cover any losses), then you almost, almost have a fiduciary responsibility to your investors to take huge risks, if they have a greater expected return than safer alternatives (and it is axiomatic that they should).
Thursday, June 14, 2007
The solution I envision would be a pivoting lever, attached to the bottom of the bread carraige, that could be pressed on to push up the slice higher.
Tuesday, June 05, 2007
I took it to the Sprint store. The salesperson first tried to tell me it was included, pointing at various line-item adjustments, where the discounts plausiblly could have been hiding, but weren't. I politely schooled him as to the incorrectness of his assertions, and he was persuaded. It was another 10 minutes to get a manager to figure it out, then 10 more minutes to get the right "codes" in the system.
As if that experience weren't bad enough, 3 months later, my bill reverted to the no-discounts version. I called Sprint and read them the riot act. After some research, and the usual opening bid of "your bill looks right to us", they again fixed the problem, but could provide no reasonable explanation as to how the codes got dropped.
I can't help thinking that we consumers lose a not insignificant amount of money to bogus charges like this. A few days before our trip last weekend, we decided to change motels. Beth canceled the original reservation well in advance, no problem. But when she checked our Visa statement after we returned, lo, there was a one-night charge for the rooms, corresponding to the advertised cancellation penalty. She called, and they removed the charge without a protest. But even if only 3% of people fail to call on such bogus charges, that represents a pretty significant net profit for the motel chain.
So anyway, my idea would be for Money Magazine, or maybe even better, Consumer Reports, to do a fairly comprehensive study to estimate the overall impact of such bogus charges. (Just to be clear, I am talking about totally bogus charges, as distinguished from "unfair" ones, like late fees, that do in fact meet the letter of the contract.)
Friday, May 04, 2007
Mortimer Zuckerman has an op-ed piece on this in US News. The compromise, involving a sequence of regional primaries, taking turns in going early, seems like a hope to salvage something. Not as interesting, quirky or raw as the traditional system, but better than nothing.
But how to keep one's network from getting diluted? It is sort of hard to turn down requests to link, that could be viewed as rather unfriendly, the last thing one wants to get from a social-networking site.
My partial solution would be for LinkedIn to provide a checkbox for you to indicate "solid contact"--close enough to ask for a favor with a reasonable expectation it would be acted on--versus "casual acquaintance". Then, when searching, you could select to search only your "solid contacts".
I say "partial" solution, because I see a couple of flaws on the downstream side of the search. One, people might not like it if others could infer, based on search results, who they do and don't consider a solid contact. And even if that weren't problematic, it would rely on other people being diligent in using the checkbox.
Still, even if the feature were implemented on the front-end only, it would be a case of "half a loaf, better than none".
The other thing that would help is if LinkedIn would make it much easier/quicker to see the path of linking.
Oh, and forget about 3rd degree contacts--those seem totally useless.
Sunday, April 29, 2007
(The work-around is to create a custom script frame, and then embed the code snippet that Google Calendar provides for embedding.)
Thursday, April 26, 2007
From a strategic-HR perspective, I have thought that it would be really smart to be open to non-degreed people. You would of course have to have a good, rigorous hiring process, rather than relying on the crutch of assessing their degree and grades, but if done right, you would be able to exploit a niche and attract good people for, say, the lower half of the market rate. And they would also be much more likely to stick around, since you would be one of few employers who would give them a shot even though they lack that precious college degree.
Saturday, April 21, 2007
What really annoys me is the price of biking clothes. A pair of padded shorts, a synthetic t-shirt with a zippered neck and pocket in the rear, those articles cost $60 each (or more)?! I could never bring myself to pay that much, I get them off-season or on-line for more like $30, but that is as cheap as it gets.
It's another example of the "if you can't buy it at Wal-Mart/Sam's, you are paying too much" syndrome. I have to think that if Wal-Mart sold them, they'd by like $19.99. Or Sam's might have a 3-pack of assorted colors for something like $41.99.
The next thing I am worried about is ARM adjustments. Not just for the crazy subprime PoAs with ridiculous teaser rates, but for conforming mortgages on a 5/1 or 7/1 schedule. 2-3 years ago, those were being offered at rates of 4% or even a bit less, fixed for 5-7 years, then variable according to an index. No gimmicks there, just a reflection of the historically low rates at the time. But the fully-indexed rate on those could easily be 6.5% today, and possibly more in a couple of years (or less, we really don't know). It seems to me that there have to be more than a few A-credit homeowners who will feel the sting if their rate goes from 4% to 7+% (I know there are caps, it probably takes 2 years to get there).
Friday, April 20, 2007
To be clear, I take a pretty dim view of some of the practices that became popular in the last few years. Regarding the "liar loans", whereby borrowers mere state their income, without providing any proof (W-2 or Income Tax filing)--well, I have been bugging my more knowledgeable colleagues for years to provide me with a coherent and internally consistent explanation of their purpose. I never received one.
Regarding the practice of negative amortization loans (PoAs, for example) and qualifying borrowers based on the teaser rate of 1.5-2.5%, rather than the fully-indexed rate of 7% or so, well, it seems very clear to me that that is crazy stuff.
So we definitely have some bad practices that probably are never really in the consumer's interest, if we adopt a paternalistic viewpoint. However, that is not what is normally meant by predatory lending. That term refers to loans which contain excessive fees. Because mortgages are complicated, having many different factors and variants, and because they have so many related fees, it can potentially be difficult for a less incisive borrower to see that they are getting ripped off. So there are various state regulations against predatory lending.
The things we are talking about are a little bit different from classic predatory lending. The borrowers were not necessarily getting a bad deal--the fees and rates may have been in line with competitive benchmarks. What they were getting was a deal that they clearly couldn't afford. The mortgage originator wasn't necessarily receiving outrageous (aka, predatory) profits on the deal. No, the point of all the features that let the originator "bend the rules" was just to be able to make the deal happen, to qualify a borrower who would not otherwise be qualified.
Maybe this all seems like a difference without a distinction, but there is an important consideration. In the case of predatory lending, a fair and just resolution may be some kind of workout where the excessive fees are reimbursed. In such cases, it is reasonably to expect that the borrower can stay in their house. In cases where borrowers were qualified based on a very low teaser rate, or because they lied about their income (possibly with the encouragement of a mortgage broker), it is quite possibly or even probably unreasonable to think they can stay in the home. What is the workout--that they get to keep a 1.5% interest rate for 30 years?!
No, sadly, in those cases the best option is a sale. A smooth, well-planned sale that nets the best possible price, as opposed to a forced liquidation via foreclosure. They can't afford the house, they need to sell it. Unfortunately, the fly in that ointment is the fact that housing markets are softening, and the price the homeowner is likely to get may very well be less than they paid a year or two ago. Of course, many of those homeowners put very little down, so their economic downside (as opposed to the personal pain of selling and relocating and perhaps losing their dream of home ownership) is also limited.
Wednesday, April 11, 2007
The key--as with so many things in life--is convenience. Getting air at the gas station is often not so convenient. First, you have to find a station with free air that is on your commute. Then when you stop, you have to hope nobody else is using it, or not using it but parked in front of it (common at convenience stores). Then, you can assume it will not have a built-in pressure gauge, so you have to have yours with you. Then it is often cold and windy (here in MN).
My solution is just to use my hand pump, the same one I use for bike tires and the kids' balls. It typically takes about 8 pumps per psi, so not an undue amount of exertion. All in all, it is quicker than stopping at the gas station.
Tuesday, April 10, 2007
If Yahoo can't trap a simple, very predictable user "error" like that, they are simply not paying enough attention to detail.
Sunday, April 08, 2007
I print a lot of stuff of the web, for off-line convenience reading. Just black plain text, so any printer has more than enough quality. All I care about is cost and speed. So I buy the laser printer with the cheapest possible consumables. Usually that means generic substitute cartridges. Brother is typically the best bet here, HP the worst.
I will grant that he has one idea I like: getting web formats that don't have an "impedance mismatch" with printing. THat would be most welcome. A fair amount of the stuff I print requires me to do a Select-All, copy to clipboard, then paste into Word for readable printing.
Saturday, April 07, 2007
The whole topic is interesting enough, and really doesn't seem so surprising when you think about it. The aspect I would like to see discussed more is the moral/ethical counter-balance that perhaps was sometimes more present pre-modernity. I am thinking of concepts such noblesse oblige, or Christian humility, which, when operative, could give rise to a strong, deeply felt internal check on such overprivileged behavior.
Thursday, April 05, 2007
Wednesday, April 04, 2007
It has always been obvious to me that there is no such thing as widespread employment age-discrimination, per se. The problem, so to speak, is the strong tendency for employees to get annual raises more or less automatically, without a clear link to their productivity. Like interest, this effect compounds quite significantly over time, to the point where a cold, analytical eye scanning a list of employees sorted by salary readily picks out some expensive outliers. They just happen to be older, because getting older is how you get more time-served (aka, experience).
None of this is to say that the pill is any less bitter for the experienced employee who gets laid off, with little prospect of being able to match their former salary. It is a painful break with expectations, with a perceived social contract. But it is not age discrimination.
Monday, March 26, 2007
Another area I have always thought this approach would be useful is in "VIP" flagging of customer accounts. For instance, my wife worked in healthcare claims years ago, and they definitely flagged the claims of the customer's senior mangement for special-handling. If I were the customer, I would forbid this. Not so much out of egalitarian notions, but rather because if VIPs are getting special treatment, the very people who are the decision-makers regarding the insurance service provider are going to be screened from getting an accurate read on the quality of claims-payment performance.
Same thing for your local help desk--absolutely no VIP handling, until and unless a VIP demands it.
Friday, March 23, 2007
I know, there is probably a setting in SharePoint administration not do that, but it's a bit like systems security—however it is set out-of-box is what matters, not how it can be set if you have the mental model and motivation to do so.
Sunday, March 18, 2007
Well, I was just wandering around Office Depot, idly checking out the laptops, and out of 14, not a one had the trackpoint. Ouch!
Thursday, March 15, 2007
Wednesday, March 14, 2007
- Don't assume the doctor is infallible.
- Definitely don't assume tests are infallible (he quotes an error rate of 30% on radiology!). Even if the test is theoretically perfect, there is always the possibility of human error resulting in you being given another person's results.
- The simple practice of asking "what else could it be?" is cited as a way to move pysicians off their bias (common to humans in general) for latching onto the idea introduced initially.
Monday, March 12, 2007
Likewise for airplanes and airports. Given all the problems with airport congestion, why are there no flights between 10 PM and 6 AM??
Despite having worked in the industry (more accurately, on the IT periphery) for the past 5 years, and having inquired of several people what the logic for those loans is, I have never received a really satisfactory answer. Supposedly it started as something for self-employed. Okay, I understand, if you are self-employed, you haven't got a W2; but you certainly should be able to produce a tax return.
Anyway, from that original purpose, the loans migrated to wage earners (i.e., non-self-employed) and worse, subprime. So any shred of rationale for the program was lost. Oh, I would hear justifications like "it's for people who are willing to pay a premium for the convenience of not having to go through the paperwork". Gimme a break! How much work is it to produce a pay stub and copy of your tax return? If someone is lazy enough to pay 0.25% more on their mortgage to skip that step, they are too lazy to pay their loan!
No, given the classic information asymmetry involved, the vast majority of people taking these loans must be lying. And in fact, the most recent article I read said that, in an audit-style study, 90% of people did exaggerate their income, and 60% of them by more than half!
The other thing that is SOOO different is the role of the mortgage broker. When I needed a mortgage, I checked a few newspapers ads, called a couple of banks, picked the one that seemed to have the best rate, and made an appoinment with a loan officer. They asked some questions, and then told me how big a 30-year fixed loan I qualified for.
Nowadays, many people have "their" mortgage broker like they "their" insurance agent. The industry has gone this way for various reasons, but the relationship with the broker had been heightened by the prolonged period of declining interest rates, during which many, many people (wisely) re-financed 2 and even 3 times over the course of a half-decade or less.
Nothing against mortgage brokers, there are plenty of good and ethcial ones. But--there are some who aren't. And they are pushing mortgages at people. They even adopt the lingo of a used car sales salesperson: "I can put you into X house for X payment".
I know, I know, nobody held a gun to the homebuyer's head. But I do believe that some substantial number of people were, to some extent, enticed into mortgages--albeit of their own freewill--that they would not have walked into in the old model. I'm not saying "there oughta be a law"; it is just an observation on the state of affairs.
Sunday, March 11, 2007
MS has included very nice, intelligent copy commands, so it isn't too much trouble to do this. But a 1-click command, PlaceDirectionsIntoTextboxOnMap, would be--as my kids say--sweeeet. Odds are that it would have to be hand-tweaked after placement, but automating the copy-insert textbox-paste would provide very nice start. And it would lead less sophisticated users to the technique, which they might otherwise never discover.
Saturday, March 10, 2007
So they are much closer to pure in terms of being a reliable taste-maker, instead of just another purveyor of unwanted commercial messages. Very effective strategy.
In Silicon Valley, a region known for some of the worst traffic in the nation, Google, the Internet search engine giant and online advertising behemoth, has turned itself into Google, the mass transit operator. Its aim is to make commuting painless for its pampered workers — and keep attracting new recruits in a notoriously competitive market for top engineering talent.And Google can get a couple of extra hours of work out of employees who would otherwise be behind the wheel of a car.The company now ferries about 1,200 employees to and from Google daily — nearly one-fourth of its local work force — aboard 32 shuttle buses equipped with comfortable leather seats and wireless Internet access.
As much as it is a generous fringe benefit or an environmental gesture, the shuttle program is a competitive weapon in Silicon Valley’s recruiting wars.
Tuesday, March 06, 2007
Monday, March 05, 2007
I did manage to stifle my internal pedagogue.
Sunday, March 04, 2007
Another important design consideration is the "find, don't file" metaphor Gmail uses. So no need to specify where to file.
Of course, this feature would be a slam-dunk for Google...
Postscript--just tried Google Docs and it essentally has the feature, of course--including the no-file-folder option.
Saturday, March 03, 2007
The snow, along with the 2+ weeks of frigid temps, almost makes it like one of the winters of yore.