Saturday May 07, 2005

Budget Rent-A-Scam

Be very careful with Budget Rent-A-Car (although possibly other rental companies are as bad). Last week I rented a car from Budget's Newport News airport counter for a three day customer visit. I added a day to my trip to visit a client in DC, about 200 miles away. As instructed by my travel agent, I called Budget and left a message letting them know I'd be dropping off the car in DC. I expected there might be a small drop-off fee. What I got, when I checked the car into Reagan International, was a $625.00 drop-off fee! That's a significant percentage of the value of the cheap little compact car I rented.

Turns out that some Rental Car facilities are franchise locations. They own their own cars. And if you drop it somewhere else, they charge $3.00/mile + $25.00. Ouch.

Lesson learned: Don't rent from a franchise location if there is any chance you'll need to alter your travel  itinerary in-flight (which is always a possibility, especially \*if\* you rent from a franchise location :-).

Personally, if I were in charge of our Corproate travel policy, I would blacklist franchise rental car locations if an alternate preferred vendor (eg: Avis, Hertz, etc) has a non-franchise counter at that same location.

Friday Apr 01, 2005

MiniDisk -vs- MP3

A recent Sun blog extolled the praise of the Sony MiniDisk. However, in my opinion, the MiniDisk is no longer a viable technology. I'll explain my thinking and offer reasons why you should consider an alternative - the MP3 player/recorder.

Note that I desire a portable device that can also record. I record some meetings, presentations, and voice dictation/reminders. But I also have the desire to record live concerts and gig band rehearsals in higher-quality stereo (I play the sax). I also like to jog listening to MP3s and/or the FM radio.

The $80.00 Sony ECM-MS907 is a perfect stereo mic for field/live recordings of meetings/presentations/concerts, etc. I've heard the $450.00 Rode NT4 is even better, but that's just too much for my taste.

Given that, here are my thoughts on portable MiniDisk -vs- MP3 devices:

  1. The MiniDisk will not upload any live recorded content to a PC. You have to capture the analog output of the headphone jack at real-time speeds (a 3 hour recording takes 3 hours)! A tiny MP3 player/recorder can record high-quality content (adjustable up to 256Kbps) and upload it digitally (no loss or added noise) at high-speeds using USB2.
  2. The MiniDisk has a motor and makes noise that a mic picks up (a low hum) when recording live (unless you can distance the mic from the unit)! An MP3 player is dead silent with no moving parts.
  3. The MiniDisk has moving parts: a motor, a rotating platter and moving read/write head. It is much more susceptible to wear and breakage and I/O errors than a solid state MP3 player. Think: jogging.
  4. The MiniDisk is larger and heavier which makes is less attractive for recording a meeting (sitting on the table) or concert (sitting in your pocket), or jogging (arm band).
  5. The MiniDisk has poorer battery life due to it having to drive a motor. Flash-based MP3 player/recorders last forever.
  6. The MiniDisk does not have a built-in FM radio. Many gyms offer TV broadcasts on FM frequencies. And MP3 devices have TiVO like features to auto record FM broadcasts.
  7. The MiniDisk is more expensive and MP3 player/recorders.
  8. The MiniDisk uses a non-standard audio compression format. An MP3 player/recorder will record in MP3 at up to 256Kbps - extremely high quality. While you might consider the audio quality pretty much equal, a standard format (MP3) is nice for broadcasting / sharing your live MP3 recordings.
  9. The MiniDisk just came out with 1GB media platters. However, many MP3 players support removable SD cards (at capacities up to 2GB and increasing). Plus, you can share your SD card between your MP3 player, Treo 650 phone, digital camera, etc.
  10. Lots of audio content is available on the Net in MP3 format, which makes it VERY easy to load and listen on the road (eg: in an airplane, on a treadmill, etc).

Friday Mar 18, 2005

IDC / Statistics / Lies

I once heard that there are three kinds of lies: Black Lies, Little White Lies, & Sermon Illustrations  :-)

I'd like to add one to the list... "Precision Statistical Estimators".

In a recent edition of Information Week (Jan 31st, 2005, page 22), Paul McDougall quotes an IDC study that suggests that "software-on-demand" sales from full service IT vendors (like IBM, Sun, etc) will grow at a compound annual rate of 40.6% through 2008.

Cool! However, this rant is not about Information Week, or about Paul, or about IT Vendors, or about "software-on-demand". It is about the absurdity of high-precision swags. Projecting a new and speculative market tend to decimal point accuracy? Come on IDC, get real!!

We do need smart analysts to look at all the driving factors and give us reasonable estimates for various market shifts and opportunities. However, it would be much more credible, and useful, if they would say something like:

We project (with 90% confidence) that market demand for XYZ will exhibit a compound annual growth rate of 35-45% through 2008.

Sure, I might just plug 40% into my model. Or, I might have a more sophisticated model that looks at what-if scenarios at both boundary conditions (35% and 45%). But if you tell me that 40.6% is the answer, I'll tell you that you don't understand the question.

Last night on the news, the father of a missing child was asked if he considered asking a psychic to help find his daughter. He said that if that technique really worked, there would never be any missing children and everyone would win the lottery! I appreciate his rationality, and pray for his situation.

But, apparently, IDC thinks they can predict with stunning precision. Hey IDC - got any lottery numbers for me???

Monday Mar 14, 2005

Architects & MyersBriggs [INTP]

If you have 5 minutes, you can get a reasonable idea about your personality type here:

I'm a strong INTP. Each of the four categories have two choices, so there are 2\^4 = 16 different profiles or personality types (see graphic below). You'll fall into one of those sixteen and will pretty much be that for the rest of your life - that is who you are. While it can be useful to know your own type, it is probably more valuable to know that of your teammates and companions - and use it to leverage the strengths that each brings to the table.

Since each of the four categories defines a "preference", you'll probably find that you have some tendencies described by both choices. However, if you really think seriously and honestly thru the questions, you'll find one more strongly defines your comfort zone and/or typical mode of operation when given a choice and the freedom do as you please. Note that you might associate negative meaning to the descriptors: "introvert" and "judger". They don't mean shy and critical/mean in this context, so focus on the introspective questions in each category, rather than the one word descriptors.

For me, the E/I category was more of a toss up. But I'm a strong NTP. Scott McNealy and Albert Einstein are/were INTPs too. It turns out that most Architects fall into this profile type as well.. That's good, I guess, because I'm an IT Architect. The role and personality seem to match and I love what I do. But as I suggest below, diversity is healthy.

As an INTP, I tend to listen more than I talk, and then think before talking. I tend to look at the possibilities and big picture, and  then figure out how to get there in interesting and creative ways. I am fact/truth based and am concerned with efficiency and forward progress more so than sensitivity or political correctness. I enjoy coming up with creative solutions and starting the process (architecting) more than I enjoy closure (implementing). And along the way, the "NT" in me enjoys a good debate about the best approaches and the logic that supports the decisions.

However, one of the benefits of knowing your own "type" is to explore possible challenges and how others might help complete the team. An INTP often spends too much time talking/thinking about what can be, and can be light on filling in enough of the details. We tend to over think and analyze.. always considering new options and optimizations, sometimes not executing promptly against the time line as desired by an "SJ" type (eg: a Project Manager). A "P" types get their max adrenaline rush and surge of productivity when the drop dead time is at hand.... whereas the "J" type maps out a step-by-step plan and manages to that (fixed) schedule.

Clearly, there is an advantage to a team that consists of a diversity of types.

I just completed the first 1.5 hours of the Facilitated Mentoring program that initiates a mentor/mentee relationship at Sun. I'm the mentor. My mentee is an ISFJ - almost my polar opposite. This should be a rich/rewarding experience for both of us. I highly recommend it.

Thursday Mar 10, 2005

SunLibrary & My Blog

Now here is an interesting request.... a library seeking source information from a blogger. Cool! My colleagues at SunLibrary are doing a great job of adapting their services to continue to be relevant and valuable in a world that has new primary channels to satisfy information discovery and access.

Scott - regarding your request (below) - I'm happy to help. Gartner published this information in the following Research Note:
IT Process Maturity, Research Note DF-08-6312, July 22, 1999.

The graphic can also be found on p.18 of Sun's Blueprint on "Operations Management Capabilities Model". Your client might want to review this excellent paper, as it also discusses related maturity studies. They can find it here:

Hi Dave--

My name is Scott Brown. I am an Information Specialist and Researcher with SunLibrary.

In looking at your blog entry:

I was wondering if you knew the source for the Gartner table you have there - I have a requester who's interested in finding the source of that information. Can you please let me know?

Thank you in advance for your help,


Tuesday Dec 28, 2004

Scott & The CEO

A couple years ago, a senior field systems engineer wrote to me said, in part:

I recently had lunch with Scott McNealy and the CEO of one of our largest customers. Scott launched into his BFWTS pitch and I watched the CEO play with his pasta salad. When Scott switched topics to talk about what we can do together to increase the CEO's competitive situation, the CEO paid close attention, and offered to pay for lunch!

I still find this interesting and enlightening. Too often, I think, we (Sun's field) focus on the wrong value proposition when we talk to business execs. Scott can teach us an important lesson.

We know how to talk to IT execs....

There are those who need to solve a specific point problem. We seek to understand their challenges and show how our (and our partners') products and technologies and services can be tied together to provide a complete solution to that problem. We make sure the customer appreciates why Sun's solution is superior to what our competitors might be proposing. We can also describe a collection of proof points related to our vision and experience and market share and investments and quality initiatives and technologies, etc, that paints a picture of a full solution provider that "gets it".

There are those IT customers who are focused on big picture. We describe how we can work together to create a more efficient IT organization that is more tightly bound to the business. We give examples of what we've accomplished with others, and explain how our partnership and initiatives will create a more robust and adaptable infrastructure with reduced IT cost, freeing up cash to fund incremental innovation and progress. We can provide ideas about initiatives they might like to investigate, and offer to develop a Proof of Concept around some of them.

But, outside of IT, how do you help a CEO/COO/CFO increase their success on \*their\* competitive battleground? Discussing the latest in dual-core superscalar CPU designs or OS partition strategies probably isn't the right approach :-)

A good start may be to help the business exec understand how others are effectively using IT as a competitive weapon, rather than just a captive overhead cost-center. We need to offer C-level ideas about how IT can be retooled to make their company's core value proposition more attractive and/or accessible in the marketplace. Ultimately this is what IT can do to increase their competitive situation. IT can help generate wealth. In addition, we can also show how IT can drive cost out of operations. New services that streamline or provide new B2C and B2B opportunities.

While Sun is a powerful crucible of IT innovation, we (each one of us, talking to our customers) need to spend more time demonstrating how our technology has transformed businesses into leaders in their market segment. And how we can do the same for the customers with whom we are interacting. Technology discussions and sales (the cart) will follow the value proposition (the horse).

Friday Dec 24, 2004

/kevin: A BSC Giant

Kevin (BSC's /kevin) helped me figure out how to customize my Weblog files and the look of my Blog page. Thanks a lot Kevin! It's easy, once you get pointed in the right direction.

I find that to be the case in many of life's challenges. Just dive in, and don't be afraid to ask a few questions of those who have gone before. And then be willing to help others who will follow, expecting/hoping that many will exceed even your own contributions.

One of my faviorite expressions came from a letter Sir Isaac Newton wrote to his friend and colleague Robert Hooke in 1676:

"If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants"

I like to think that, combined, we all make up the shoulders on which each one of us stands!

Wednesday Sep 22, 2004

Monday Sep 20, 2004

Ready, Set, GO...

This is my first, obligatory, "Hello World" post to my BLOG. I didn't even know what it meant to "blog" until recently. I'll probably remove this post following the test of my new account. If this works as advertised, I hope to update this now and then with insights and incites. Cheers!



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