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Archive for January, 2011

I’ve made clear my belief that we’re in the midst of a massive global reinvention. Not just a shift from analog to digital, but a shift from centralized control to distributed systems. From isolated single user experiences to a global social fabric. These mobile devices are the of Gutenberg presses of our generation. This is not a bubble, this is a revolution.

-Bryce T. Roberts from Bryce Dot VC

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“People buy lottery tickets despite the staggering odds against them. As an investment on the risk-reward spectrum, it makes no sense. But on the brightening-my-dismal-week-with-the-faint-hope-of-escaping-the-rat-hole-that-is-my-life spectrum, it makes perfect sense.”

-Philip Delves Broughton from Ahead of the Curve

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As I’m sure everyone on the planet now knows, Verizon will soon be getting the iPhone. It’s been a long time coming and I’m glad we can finally close the rumor mill. Verizon IS getting the iPhone and it IS happening this quarter. But here’s the thing for me – this is 4-6 months too late. Verizon and Apple should have made this announcement before they rolled out LTE on Verizon. I’m about done with my current contract and would eligible to upgrade to the iPhone for very little money, but I won’t. Not yet at least.

Why would I trade in my current phone – which, while objectively not as good as the iPhone, is a pretty decent substitute – and lock myself into another 2 year contract to get a phone that is utterly incompatible with the latest in network technology. If I changed the day the iPhone becomes available, it will be 2013 before I can take advantage of LTE/4G networks. By that time we could be talking about 5G or 6G or 10G. 2 years is a terribly long time to lock-up when we’re at cross-roads in mobile technology.

What I don’t understand is why these two companies waited. Perhaps Verizon is hoping for people like me who will not switch and thus keep from overloading their 3G network and facing the same problems AT&T has. But I don’t quite buy that. I don’t really see my data consumption increasing because I switch from Android to iPhone. I’m still going to be a heavy user of data. The platform is almost irrelevant. But even worse, is from Apple’s point of view. If I were Steve Jobs I’d be pretty pissed that Verizon announced LTE before we had a chance to launch the Verizon iPhone.

Unless he’s planning to roll out an LTE iPhone this summer… let the rumor mills re-open.

Good Talk,
Tom

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Two things in the past couple of days reminded me how important it is to set expectations when undertaking any kind of task. First, yesterday the heat in my condo went out. I called the furnace guy that I use (yes, I have a furnace guy…) and asked him to come take a look. He said it was probably not a big deal and I shouldn’t worry. 2 hours and $350 later I realized he was wrong.  I do not think he ripped me off, in fact, I’m sure I got a very reasonable price for the work that he did (the other estimate I got was $75 per half hour, plus parts and materials – so labor alone would have been $300).  I’m confident that he fixed the problem, he showed up quickly, worked diligently and minimized the disruption in my life. However, at the end of the whole thing I was left pretty annoyed. I’ve realized that it’s all because I was expecting minimal work and minimal cost. “Probably not a big deal”. Those 5 words set incorrect expectations and led me to be dissatisfied at the end of the transaction.Had he omitted those 5 words the entire outcome would have been different.

The second thing that made me think of the importance of setting expectations was a meeting I had with my manager today. We finally found time to go over my goals and expectations for my current project (I’ve been at this client for about 6 weeks now). My manager put together a list of expectations from me and we both discussed how to achieve my goals and have the biggest impact on the client and my career. Seeing the expectations laid out on paper ( a simple word document) really crystallized the areas on which I need to focus. My entire perception of my work weeks and how I’ll structure my time has changed because of this 30 minute meeting. It turns out that I’ve been doing everything that my manager expected of me, but his method of laying out (and the patterns he pointed out) completely changed the way I thought about (and thus the method I’ll employ to complete the required tasks). My life just got a whole lot clearer (not necessarily simpler, but the fog has been lifted). I wonder how much smoother the last 6 weeks would have gone had we had this conversation on day 1 or day 2.

Neither of these examples is particularly earth shattering. I’m sure everyone has been in situations where there was a disconnect / misunderstanding in expectations. I just found it interesting how two simple events in two days could drive home for the importance of setting reasonable expectations. Fortunately for me, I’d been meeting most, if not all, of the goals my manager expected, so there were no terrible repercussions. And fortunately for my furnace guy, I’ve known him long enough, and have a strong enough relationship with him, that I’ll still call him the next time something breaks. But this could have turned out badly for both him and me.

It’s always a good reminder that no matter what you’re doing you should set clear expectations for all stake holders. Let your employees know what is expected of them (“The path to success” as one of my bosses called it). Don’t guess at the cause of a problem – and thus the time and money required to fix it – before you have all the facts. Make sure your customers are given timely and accurate information. Let your girlfriend know that your new assignment is going to require longer hours. There’s myriad examples where clear expectations result in better outcomes and stronger, longer lasting relationships. And yet sometimes we fail to have that conversation that explains our expectations. Maybe we get to busy, maybe we forget, maybe we decide it’s too awkward, or maybe we decide that we don’t really need that conversation. But my advice, always level set. It doesn’t take long and the benefits can be substantial.

Good Talk,
Tom

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While the title is certainly humorous, the book bearing it is much, much more.  More Sex Is Safer Sex: The Unconvential Wisdom of Economics, the latest book by University of Rochester economist Steven Landsburg, sets out to explain why common sense and conventional wisdom don’t always lead us to the “correct” conclusion (when the author says correct he means economically correct, which is to say that we choose the option with the greatest cost-benefit trade off. He also generally speaks about the economy or society as a whole, not necessarily what is best for the individual actor).

The examples that Landsburg cites are alternatively hilarious and thought provoking. There are times I found myself nodding along and other times I found myself saying “what kind of whack job is this guy”. Since I’m certainly not a well-trained economist I can appreciate the concise, jargon-free, logical way that Landsburg presents his arguments. His analysis is consistent and rigorous and he freely admits when he makes assumptions not supported by data that might affect the conclusions he offers.

For example:
We could reform politics by giving every voter two votes for congressional elections. One would be cast as it is now, for a candidate in your district.  The second vote could be cast in any district in the country. This would allow voters to vote for their own congressman (or at least the person they would like to be their congressman), while also keeping other congressmen honest. In our current system a congressman answers only to his constituents and is thus incentivized to grab as much pork for his district as possible. The cost of this pork (think the bridge to nowhere) is shared by all tax payers, including those who do not benefit from the pork. If everyone had a second vote they could “punish” those congressmen who waste taxpayer money.

Additionally, parents of girls are more likely to divorce than are parents of boys. Landsburg argues, and supports with econometrics, that parents prefer male children (and, no, this study was not conducted in China – it is a US based study).  The study accounts for all sorts of variables and seems to prove that parents prefer boys.

When normally chaste people have more casual sex they may actually be making the world safer. See his argument summed up in a NY Times article here (http://www.nytimes.com/2007/07/08/books/chapters/0708-1st-land.html).

We should fine juries who arrive at the wrong outcome for a trial. Since society bears the cost of freed murderers (by becoming more likely to be murdered – even minimally more likely) and bear a cost if we imprison innocent people (because a system that imprisons innocent people is more likely to imprison you) it is in our best interest to provide an incentive for juries to arrive at the right conclusion by fining them for being wrong and rewarding them for being right). We could police this by holding trials for criminals who have already confessed and comparing the jury’s outcome to the confession.

Miserliness is equivalent to charity in that they both leave more resources for others to consumer. And thus, Scrooge is actually generous by being such a miser. “What could be more generous than keeping your lamps unlit and your plate unfilled, leaving more fuel for others to burn and more food for others to eat” (Page 43).

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The ideas are mostly impractical when it comes to actually implementing them in a political democracy (and the morality of many of them is certainly suspect), but as an intellectual exercise it was a lot fun. I highly recommend buying a copy and seeing for yourself why conventional wisdom is not always right.

Good Talk,
Tom

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I know it’s probably a shame, but I lived in DC/NoVa for 7 years and never once visited the building (in fact, and perhaps even more sad, I didn’t realize the Gallery Place/Chinatown metro stop was so named because of the Portrait Gallery). Anyway, my crappiness as a DC Urbanite aside, the gallery itself was really pretty exceptional.

First of all, the building itself is something to see. Outside it looks like most any other DC building. Which is not to speak poorly of the architecture; it is beautiful. It’s just that DC is chock full of gorgeous buildings and this is but one among many. I could not, however, have been more stunned at the beauty of building from the inside. The winding stairs, the narrow hallways opening into small, intimate gallery rooms, the bright, cavernous space that makes up the modern art wing. It was absolutely breathtaking. I’d imagine the building would be worth a visit even if they removed all the art.

But of course, they haven’t done that. I only spent a couple hours and I’m sure there was plenty I missed (like this, which I never saw). What I did see though was mind blowing. The exhibit on Elvis, called Elvis at 21, was a really cool look at the early life of the rock icon. It documents a single year in Elvis’s life when he rose from a relative unknown to a global sensation.  I really enjoyed the photography, but more than the composition or shutter speed or lens selection (of which very little was said) I enjoyed the look at Elvis before he really became Elvis. I’m certainly not the world’s biggest Elvis fan, I’d be hard pressed to name more than a handful of his hits, but he is definitely an American Icon and one whom it was fun to learn more about. In fact, the descriptions of the various portraits say as much about life in 1956 as they do about rock and roll or Elvis Presley.

Image of the Exhibit "Elvis at 21"

All Rights Remain Those of the Artist

The other exhibit that I really liked was called Americans Now. It’s a collection of portraits (shocking, right) of contemporary American celebrities, artists and news makers from various artists. Most are traditional photographs, but some are a lot more interesting (“The Late Night Triad” features a trio of incredibly blurry pictures of Leno, Letterman and Conan O’Brien that is somehow still compelling). I also really enjoyed the collection of Wall St. Journal “dot portraits” (not the real name, but I don’t know what the real name is).

I’m clearly not doing justice to this great museum, but I had an awesome time. I’m not an artist, art historian, or someone with even a hint of artistic ability, but I really enjoyed the few hours I spent walking around this place. Go take a look if you get the chance.

Good Talk,
Tom

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