Brains - Processors, Not Hard Drives

I have a problem:  data cannot be dumped into my brain as fast as I need it to be.  The 4 main inputs, my 2 eyes and 2 ears, are limited by my speed of reading and the speed of speech and audio comprehension.  At those limited rates, I will never, ever take in everything on my ever-growing list of things to know.

This technical limitation occasionally leads to wishes of a direct-to-brain interface of visual and audio media, skipping the actual joy of experiencing the accumulation of it and arriving at a state of fully informed bliss.  Today, however, I took that thought process a little further, and realized that maybe, just maybe, there's a reason for the information transfer speed limit:  the world has produced so much data, so much information, that if one attempted to transfer all of it (or even a small percentage of it) to one's brain, there might be an issue.  I envision something akin to filling up a hard drive and getting an "out of disk space" error, which not only interrupts the data transfer process, but also results in major performance issues for the entire system.  If we did contain the sum total of the world's data output inside of our brains, could our brain actually wade through all of it in its role as information processor, which is one of its other central functions (along with serving as information storage facility and director of the central nervous system)?  I doubt it.

The brain is wondrous in its role as cpu, but sorely lacks in terms of storage capacity and data input, in my view.  The solution would be something along the lines of "hot pluggable" information modules, comparable to loading a different dvd for each region of the country into your GPS nav unit, or a new movie into your dvd player.  The information modules would contain every scrap of data ever produced for a given subject matter, instantly accessible for an individual human being to jack into and make of it what he or she will.  I think Google is on that path with its project to digitize books, as is Project Gutenberg.  These efforts address only books, and just a relative few of them at that, but it's easy to see where this could eventually lead.

Which brings us back to my original desire, which is a direct-to-brain interface for the data.  The longing to know all that has been or can be known is both a blessing and a curse, but for me, mostly a blessing.

Congress Agrees With Me About Yahoo!

This post from me back on November 2 questioned Yahoo!'s dealings in handing over information to Chinese officials that resulted in the imprisonment of at least one 37-year old journalist (Shi Tao, as well as another case involving a Wang Xiaoning) for online writings.  Apparently the U.S. Congress hasn't taken too kindly to Yahoo!'s recent admissions, either, as an excerpt from this CNET post by Anne Broache reveals:

"Members of Congress on Tuesday showed almost no mercy for top Yahoo executives attempting to smooth over accusations about the company's role in the imprisonment of Chinese dissident journalists.

Yahoo Chief Executive Jerry Yang and General Counsel Michael Callahan endured nearly four hours of tongue-lashing from Democrats and Republicans alike on the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee."

The lashing included the following commentary:

"'Look into your own soul, and see the damage you have done to an innocent human being and his family,' Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), the panel's chairman, told them at the hearing's close. 'It will make no difference to the committee what you do, but it will make you better human beings, if you recognize your own responsibility for the enormous damage your policies have created.'"

And I thought I was harsh and came down too hard on people sometimes!

If Only Yahoo! Shared Google's Mission to Not "Do Evil"

Google's corporate site has a list of 10 Things about their philosophy.  No. 6 is "you can make money without doing evil."  If a Chinese citizen had avoided Yahoo! and instead stuck with Google for his internet dealings, he might not be in prison now.  The saga of Yahoo! handing over information to the Chinese government which ultimately led to the arrest and imprisonment of a man for his political views and writings on the internet has been unfolding for a few years now, but today's Financial Times has an update to the story including an apology from a top Yahoo! executive for not divulging to U.S. authorities everything they knew about the case:

"Michael Callahan, Yahoo’s executive vice president and general counsel, said in a statement ahead of a congressional hearing next week that he 'realised' that Yahoo had additional information about the nature of the probe into one of its users, Shi Tao, a journalist now serving a 10-year prison sentence in China, months after he testified that Yahoo had 'no information' about the investigation.
Yahoo has faced intense criticism for its involvement in the case because, according to US lawmakers, police in Beijing only found Mr Shi after Yahoo provided them with his e-mail account, IP address log-on history, and the contents of his e-mails."

Would things have turned out differently if the Chinese journalist had not used any Yahoo! properties?  Or would Google have also caved in to Chinese pressure?  Keep in mind that it's not merely the size of the Chinese market that drives these collusions with authoritarian regimes; these are actual people making decisions on behalf of their personal security and well-being.  "When in China, do as the Chinese police tell you to do" would be a wisely self-preserving policy, and I wonder who would actually be able to stand up to the Chinese authorities when faced with such a dilemma themselves?

Simple Plan for Microsoft Search Ads to Compete with Google Search

Network Effects 101:  people like to go where the other people are when it comes to buying, selling, or communicating.  Right now, that place is Google search.  When you've got something to sell, and you need to set up search advertising, you will reach the most people by setting up shop with Google.  Most people stop there, because even though they know Google isn't the only game in town, they don't want the hassle of setting up shop with the other guys because they figure they'll be found by "most" or "enough" people with their Google search ads.

I think the only way to get these people on board (alongside of, rather than instead of, Google) is to go beyond discounting and even beyond free:  you could actually do it for them.  This would probably be a labor-intensive effort, but if you really wanted to grow your search ad business (and MSFT just spent a quarter of a billion $ to very loudly proclaim that yes, they really want to), you could click on people's Google search ads, land wherever it takes you, send that business an email that says "hey, I've just cost you $.50 by clicking on your add, and to make it up to you, I'd like to build you the exact same ad on OUR search ad network [MSN, Live, Yahoo, whatever] and spot you your 1st $5 worth of search ads on us.  We'll even shoot you an email when the $5 is used up to let you know how many people landed at your destination courtesy of our efforts and expense.  No contract or anything; if you do nothing, your ads on our network will simply stop running at no cost to you [and the people who find you on our network will no longer find you]."

Is there ANY way this tactic would NOT result in a significant increase in customers, since you would have overcome all barriers to their entry into your network with absolutely no cost or labor from them whatsoever?  I can't think of any.

Quants: Goths of the Financial World

A great 2-part article about the math freaks behind much of Wall Street's automated trading (and the summer meltdown they caused) can be found in MIT's Technology Review magazine (Part I, Part II).  The feature is called The Blow-Up, and I hope the links from TR's email newsletter work here.  Some of the smartest math minds in the world have been analyzing the mathematics and patterns behind financial markets, attempting to crack their codes and exploit them for maximum gain.  No news there, and nothing wrong with that - well, almost nothing.  The thing is, the systems that they are creating are so complex and far-reaching, resulting in unforeseen and unintended "linkages" and consequences on a scale beyond any of their comprehension, that I am reminded of Rome's employment of various barbarian tribes for the purposes of dealing with situations that they themselves were no longer capable of dealing with, while using methods and techniques that the Romans themselves didn't fully grasp or comprehend.  The mentality was "as long as the job's getting done, we don't care how, and we really don't mind all that much if we don't understand exactly how the job is accomplished."
As we all know, this ended...badly, shall we say, for the Romans.  Events continued to spiral out of their control, and eventually out of the control of the very barbarians who were entrusted with the security of the empire.  They had created a monster in pursuit of more, more, and still more, and the monster devoured them.  As far as I can tell, Wall Street has been doing the same thing for a couple of decades now.  Computers were enlisted to get a handle on things, along with computer programmers; then, some real wizards were brought in to get an edge, touching off an arms race; then everyone had armies of wizards, and they started going for even more fantastic minds and ideas (or schemes, if you will), and now, when asked about their techniques of using math and only math to evaluate investment decisions for hedge funds, these wizards are saying things like "If you think you can find out what you need to know by going to see the management of a company, then I have nothing to say to you."
Here's the bottom line.  Only the smartest of the smart can figure out what these quants have figured out.  And they are likely to only understand what they have personally figured out, rather than being able to understand what every other smart person has modeled and programmed.  They are using math and only math to base their investing decisions on, so business management and product design and other non-numerical data factors are not brought into consideration, apart from how they impact financial operating results (which is, admittedly, very relevant to why they look at the numbers they look at).  And let's not forget about the mind-boggling leverage that they are employing through derivative creation and manipulation.  This results in higher than expected returns when they get it right; it also results in larger and faster than expected tumbles in the markets when "outliers" inevitably manifest themselves.
The largest, ugliest, most damaging and even dangerous market calamities over the past 20 years have been caused and/or exacerbated by automated computer trading, and on that point there can be no disagreement.  All in the name of bigger and faster returns, nothing more.  This fact needs to be recognized and dealt with, taking measures such as increasing margin requirements for computer-based trading (or eliminating margin trading altogether for these billion-dollar systems), before the Goths known as "quants" ravage the empire beyond all repair, largely to satisfy intellectual arrogance evidenced by their failure to acknowledge that they do not and cannot know all of the implications and ramifications of the all-powerful trading systems that they construct and unleash up the financial world on a daily basis.  Their very invention and use of the word "outlier" implies their true feelings, which are that it's the fault of something that "shouldn't happen," or a "hundred year event," or systemic problems being termed "cascading failures" when out-of-control chain reactions like those feared by the first nuclear physicists take place- all to give the impression that they know exactly what should and will happen at all times and in all scenarios, when in fact, what they SHOULD be saying is "we have no idea about what this might affect, how catastrophic the results will be, or how soon they will occur; all we know for sure is that this isn't the first screw up nor the last, it's bad but it can be much worse, and if you give us enough time and resources, eventually we'll blow this whole thing up beyond anyone's recognition.  But hey, we'll sure be living the life until that nasty day, won't we?"

GOOG Options and the FCC

Back in my crazy financial gunslinger days, I lived for days like today where a big decision or announcement was due that could have a big impact on a stock. I'd bet a pasture, if not the farm, on whether or not the news would be in line with what people thought it would be.  If I thought it'd be in line with expectations or even slightly exceed them, I wouldn't touch it, because then even when you're right you lose (buy the rumor, sell the news).  If I thought a surprise altogether would happen, I'd go with the short term puts or calls, depending on where the potential surprise may have lodged itself.  That made me a few overnight killings percentage-wise, but these weren't large sums being thrown around.

Back to today. I actually looked at Google's stock price this morning with the excitement of the big FCC 700 mhz auction decision due out.  It was around $516, with a recent low of around $508 and high of $558.  GOOG is obviously the ultimate long-term play, but I was whisked back to my "what's the impact on it TODAY?" mentality for a few exhilarating moments.  But then I was stumped:  in my mind, the market expectation was that 0-2 of Google's 4 "demands" for the upcoming auction would be met by the FCC's decision, so my choices would have been:  0,1, or 2 demands met would be par; 3 or 4 would be unexpected upside, and might have had calls purchased accordingly in the good ol' days (not today though, with speculation on both sides running so rampant as to make either side unattractive in the short term as far as I'm concerned). But here's what stumped me:  would it really have been a good thing for GOOG if all 4 conditions had been met?  If that would have come to pass (it didn't; 2 of the 4 were met, and GOOG closed at $510, which I think was it's low for the day, and was still at $510 in the after hours), then of course Google would be obliged to not only bid in the upcoming auction, but to knock it out of the park and win the nationwide footprint, which in my mind is going to go for upwards of $12-15B.

I've seen estimates as high as $10B for the rights to the nationwide footprint of spectrum, and the supposed minimum for just a slice is $4.6B, but Google would have demolished all estimates in order to become a nationwide wireless service provider overnight if all 4 of their conditions had been met.  And I don't know that that would have been an enticing short-term development for near-term calls. It can kind of go back to an old post of mine that discussed the definition of "winning" in military terms, with many instances of the side that loses far more people actually "winning" the war because they have gained their sought-after objective(s).   In business though, where $ stand in for soldiers, the cost in $ in the achievement of stated objectives can indeed be too high and thereby negate the apparent victory in reaching those goals.  I'm wondering if this FCC decision may have served to save Google from itself, with its recent larger and more aggressive appetite for growth and technological progress through very expensive acquisitions potentially slipping all the way into a full-blown stupid financial move, just because they could or because they felt like they had to.

Today's "People's Car"

How times have changed for the U.S. auto consumer! Seems like only yesterday that Hitler killed himself, the Russian tanks rolled into Berlin, we dropped a couple of atomic bombs on a highly-populated Pacific archipelago and completely incinerated and/or irradiated 100,000 civilians going about their daily lives, and then promptly turned around and funded the rebuilding of the German and Japanese economies.  With funding and no defense expenditures or military development needs to distract them, both economies roared past those of just about every other nation except America.  Germany soon dominated the low end of the U.S. car market with their "people's car", or Volkswagen (Wired's writeup on a Beetle anniversary spurred my thoughts for this post), only to be replaced in the 1970's by entrants from Japan (particularly Honda and Toyota).

Then, both the German and Japaneses auto manufacturers gained a toehold on U.S. soil by being cheap and simple, with the added benefits of reliability and fuel efficiency offered by the Japanese.  Today, German autos are known for their performance, expensiveness, and UNreliability, while the Japanese are known for their comfort, unmatched reliability (still), and fuel efficiency.  Neither country continues to be known for the affordability of their vehicles, however.  So who's it going to be?  America is actually building pretty cheap cars these days in terms of cost and quality, but consumers have ruled in favor of reliability and performance, leaving American car makers without a meaningful slice of hearts and minds to dominate.

35 years ago, a Japan barely 30 years removed from the smoking ruins of their country and their industrial economy managed to come up with something that, even when faced with high import tariffs from the U.S., managed to dominate an important (and previously unknown) segment of the American auto market.  Can American automakers come up with a similar feat, or better yet, create their own previously unknown yet import segment to dominate?  Or will they continue to be pushed to the fringes, such as full-size pickup trucks and throwback nostalgic car designs that are designed to appeal to the good ol' day longings of a population demographic that is getting older and older?  Come to think of it, Toyota is even beating them to the creation of THAT market segment (aging baby boomers) with their Scion xB, a boxy contraption initially designed to appeal to youngsters, but that has such incredibly low ground clearance that it's actually also very appealing to elderly folks who appreciate not having to step up into their vehicle, while also giving the vehicle much more interior vertical space!  Could we be looking at the evolution of the next "People's Car" right before our very eyes (the xB has a low price tag to boot, though not the absolute rock-bottom bare-bones pricing that previous P.C. incarnations boasted)?  Only time will tell.

Can You Do What You're Doing When You're 70?

A lunch companion asked if I still "follow the market" (apparently someone had informed him of my jaded view of publicly traded stocks since my own blowup a few years back, which altered my perspective on stocks and economic activities, to say the least). I replied the usual, along the lines of "well, not really; I keep up with headlines, read some economics and finance blogs, analyze an earnings release and a few financial statements every now and then for fun," with my usual open-ended follow-up of "why do you ask?" He's wondering what to do with his investments, of course, so after a quick appraisal of the current environment (Dow 1000-point plateaus being reached too quickly, private equity firms cashing out of their holdings by going public themselves, etc. - you can see where my sentiment lies), I offered the following advice:

1. you will not get rich from stock investing
2. you will not retire "early" due to your stock market holdings
3. you will pay taxes to the government and thereby not get to keep all of what you earn every time you are lucky enough to GUESS correctly, and you will not be reimbursed by the government for any of the times you get it wrong
4. find something, preferably TODAY, that you could do and get paid for and enjoy, or at least not despise, doing until you are 70 years old, since that's how old most of us will have to work until in order to pay for our longevity, our lack of adequate health care, our debt, and our materialistic motivations
5. once the thing has been identified, take your 1st step towards it today, if you have time; if not, then tomorrow, 1st thing when you wake up, after setting the alarm clock for a little earlier than normal, if necessary.

This is not as pessimistic as it might sound. Who doesn't want a good reason to stop doing what makes them miserable on a daily basis, 10 hours a day, 5 days a week (or more)? And short of that, short of stopping the thing the makes one miserable, the very next best thing one can do is to engage in what brings him or her joy or at least hope for the future, so that the next stage in life can be commenced as soon as possible. The knowledge and act of preparation even makes the daily drudgery of present economic existence not only less miserable, but actually downright bearable!

If you have always wanted a degree, or a more advanced degree, or even a PhD, or you have wanted to learn electrical wiring, or if you have wanted to become an expert in anything at all, you can get there in 10 years.  This is what psychological studies of human performance and "expertness" tell us. Of course, you have to work hard at it for 10 years, and you have to work at it every single day of the week (no Sabbath for you!), but not all day every day.  Just like practicing piano scales.  If you do that, you will very likely be considered an expert in the field after 10 years or possibly even sooner, depending on your current background in the field.

So if you are 50 and want that Geology or Psychology or Accounting or Engineering knowledge that your heart has always longed for, get going today, and by the time you are 60 you will be an acknowledged expert in the subject (probably much sooner than that though until you are serviceable and employable and revenue-generating). You can then ply your craft for a good 10-15 years before retiring, but then, since you love it so, you will probably be one of those who never truly retires and stays current in the field until the day you die. How's that for a happy ending?

Google, Please Save Us From AT&T

After reading AT&T's response on Friday that implored Google to just enter the new wireless spectrum bidding under the current rules and let the consumer decide who has the best service/offering under those telco-stacked constraints, I can unequivocally state without even seeing Google's offering that it will be far superior to anything the telcos have. What do I base this on?  Google's entire history of putting the user 1st, and every telco's entire history of putting the customer last. I've worked at telecom companies since 1992, companies engaged in everything from payphone billing to cellular service to wireless equipment manufacturing, for several of the largest companies in the industry. Customers aren't customers, they're "subs"; billing mistakes are not corrected unless they have to be; quality of service is not as good as it can be - it's only as good as it has to be. And the only thing that keeps them from charging more is a competitor or competitors that prevent them from doing so. Google? Free. They don't ever offer anything until they figure out a way to offer it for free, except for advertising, in which case you pay no more than the minimum going rate as set by the market, not by a "board" or "regulators" or long-term contract with penalties. When you set your bid for pay per click,  it's the amount you would pay no more than, but if it's higher than the present rate, your bid will automatically be reduced to charge you as little as possible. Would that ever happen with telcos? Ever? Imagine saying "I'll pay $45 per month for wireless service, but if other people are only paying $41, I'd like to only be charged $41." You can't imagine that, because it's simply unimaginable. Can you see Google offering that? Of course you can, because it's what they already do for almost all of their revenue. Which is why, depending on how hard Eric Schmidt at Google wants to push this and how deep in the back pocket of the telcos the FCC board really is, we could be staring at nothing less than the beginning of the end of customer exploitation by wireless carriers as we know it.

Right Again - This Time, It's Branding Strategy

CNET had an info-jammed story yesterday about Microsoft's product naming strategy. A sample:

"When Microsoft showed off Silverlight at an April conference, it generated near-instant buzz.


Interestingly, though, it was not the first time Microsoft had talked about the technology. But when the company had done so a year earlier, it was under the name 'Windows Presentation Foundation/Everywhere,' which just didn't excite people the way  Silverlight did."

From May 9, with rumors of MSFT purchasing YHOO swirling, here is a sampling of my thoughts of that being a bad idea for MSFT, as posted here at worthreading:

"The solution is simple, really:  just make up a creative-sounding word that in no way implies any association whatsoever with Microsoft, and then take a small percentage of the billions that would be used to buy a Yahoo and instead start building the new brand."

I've learned over the past 5 months of blogging that most people don't bother to click on outgoing links to full stories, which is why I'll occasionally quote some of them directly in posts along with pasting the link. That said, if you have any interest whatsoever in how branding works (and doesn't work), head over to the CNET article and learn something useful.

Fuel Prices, Dallas vs. London

A famous soccer player is making his debut in the States this month, I believe "Beckham" is the name, and in the spirit of welcoming him to the Dallas-Fort Worth area when his L.A. visits our neck of the woods (the huge highway billboards with his face plastered on them have been up for a few months now in Dallas, trumpeting his team's upcoming game with FC Dallas), I thought I'd compare gas prices (or, as you Londoners say, "petrol") between Mr. Beckham's former and current countries.

In Arlington, half way between Dallas and Fort Worth and the site of the partially-constructed new $1B Dallas Cowboys stadium, the Texas Rangers baseball team, and Six Flags Over Texas, I paid $2.77/gallon last night.  Checking petrol prices in London online, it appears that it goes for something on the order of 95 pence per litre, whatever that is.  Cutting to the chase, when the pence/dollar/pound conversion wizardry is performed, as well as the gallons to litres math, we come to a price of around $7.22/gallon in London.  And Americans are screaming bloody murder every time the price creeps up towards $3!  I honestly don't know how they get by over there with costs as high as that, so I asked a friend who's been there a few times but lives here.  He says it's simple:  people don't drive, and if they do, they have little cars.  I think I would enjoy that state of affairs, personally, but being in Texas as I am, I am instead relegated to my 3/4 ton Chevy Silverado HD (stands for "Heavy Duty"), full 4-door crew cab, 13.5 miles per gallon behemoth that requires me to "dock" in remote areas rather than to park up close in crowded lots.

Forgive my wandering though:  for all the talk of "gas simply can't get more expensive than $3-4/gallon - the public won't stand for it!", I would merely point eastward across the pond and ask what, exactly, is the public going to do to stop it?  Finally, yet another digression:  in frequent travels along the highways south of DFW, there is a site to behold on a more and more regular basis.  18-wheelers, but with enormously long flat-beds (I'd say roughly double the size of a normal 40-53 foot trailer) and what looks to be a single gigantic propeller blade strapped down to it.  I've seen this site rolling down the highway sporadically over the past few years, with noticeably increasing frequency as of late.  Back in April I finally found out what they are:  blades for wind turbines, heading out to the windy, elevated bluffs of West Texas to take their place in wind farms cropping up there and into New Mexico.  Texas:  horses and cattle in the 1800's, oil and gas in the 1900's, and wind in the 2000's.  It's good to be blessed with natural resources!

Innovation - Exception to the Rule

Innovation is not the same thing as new technology.  Examples of innovation, which to me is the simple act of applying new OR existing technology in a novel way, abound in our everyday lives.  For instance, sitting in a new Honda family transporter (i.e. a Pilot or an Odyssey), specifically in an EX trim line, you will see a mirror mounted above the rear view mirror - you're familiar with the rear view mirror, right?  That piece of technology that's supposed to allow one to check behind them for other cars without having to turn their heads but which is actually more frequently used by parents checking on their kids in the backseat?  Well, Honda has figured out that the rear view mirror isn't ideally suited for that parental task, since you have to move it around with your hand to see the entire aft area of the vehicle, so they have mounted a wide angle bubble-shaped mirror directly above the rear view mirror, which allows the driver to see the entire rear interior of the vehicle at once.  No adjusting, just a quick peek up and there it all is!

Honda is, in my opinion, a rare exception to the rule that innovation bubbles up from the bottom, from niche players, from the anonymous masses, since leaders don't HAVE to innovate.  And even when "innovative" leaders do try to innovate, they almost always find it difficult to relive their original successes (Sony's a good example of this, as is Yahoo).  Honda, along with Apple, are the extremely rare cases of companies that were founded on an innovative offering (ultra-cheap, fuel efficient, reliable transportation; a computer for people's homes) and have continued to innovate decade in, decade out, in a hyper-successful manner.  Sometimes with entirely new technology, but usually with applying existing tech in new, novel ways (Apple including Firewire connectivity with every computer from the get-go, which made them the de facto video editing platform for the masses with DV cams, while other PC makers made it an add-on that cost extra; Honda with the interior wide angle mirror), these companies never let their adoring customers for life down.  Which creates a trusting bond that, even when broken, is forgiven as the rare slip up that it actually is.  Conversely, when the masses of "loser" companies do happen to occasionally and unwittingly stumble upon a truly inspiring innovation of their own, the public also recognizes THAT for what it is and, for the most part, intelligently bides its time for the innovation to make its way into a more reliable and trustworthy company's offerings.  This is as it should be, and will continue to be.

Let's Not Overreact, People!

Paul Krugman in today's New York Times:  "If Rupert Murdoch does acquire The Wall Street Journal, it will be a dark day for America’s news media — and American democracy."

Really?  Isn't that giving just a TAD too much credit to a newspaper and not enough to a 230-year old democracy that has withstood all trials and tribulations thus far thrust upon it?  Come now; I realize the man has money, influence, business acumen, ruthless flare, media reach, and most damning of all, a conservative outlook on politics, but the reality is that it's just a newspaper that covers American business.  And if it turns into something as one-sided and unfair and unbalanced as Fox News (not that there's anything wrong with that), it will lose its influence entirely, so not to worry.  The Journal has fought hard to win and hold its well-deserved reputation, but the moment it stops representing itself and all it stands for, it will lose its power.  Plain and simple.  And I prefer the Financial Times anyway, with family and co-worker continually asking me about "that pink newspaper" [always quickly corrected by me as salmon, not pink], its shorter stories and fewer pages, and the exposure it gives me to things in places other than the U.S., places like Denmark, Dubai, and India.  Great stuff, and it makes you SO much more interesting in conversation!

Now, isn't there a real crisis to be dealt with out there somewhere today, like how the very God-given free will of man will rue the day the iPhone was launched, or something to that effect?

Be Confident, Stay Detached

Historical spiritual leaders/guides have some things in common.  Most of them project an aura of self-assuredness (confident), come across as somehow not of this world (detached), and have some type of attraction to them that cannot be pinned down exactly, but is definitely present.  That attraction is likely due to the first two qualities mentioned:  who isn't curious, or somewhat attracted to, the person who's not from around here and seems to know something we don't?  We want to know, too!  So we hang out with them, cut them some slack for their unorthodox methods, give them credit for things that may or may not be of their doing, all the while attributing it to the guru's superior being-ness.

Here's something else you may not know:  this is directly applicable to business, interpersonal, or other non-spiritual types of interaction.  Stand apprised, however, that people have an internal b.s. detector that is acutely sensitive, which means that there does need to be a basis for your confidence and detachment.  So here it is:  don't give a damn about your job.  DO your job to the best of your ability, but don't care about it.  Care about the subject of your effort, but not about your "job", i.e., your present employment status/details.  If you remain unconcerned with whether or not your employer keeps you, terminates you, promotes you, or recognizes you, and instead focus on the task or subject at hand, then you will literally be in control of your destiny.  You will be recognized, or promoted, or left alone, or fired, but in any case, you will be equipped to move on to the next challenge and embrace it and be a better human being for it.  If, on the other hand, you find yourself continually consumed by worries about what the future holds for you and your present job, you will be fighting with one hand perpetually tied behind your back, and you will not be someone that others will enjoy being associated with.  If you're not doing your best work and no one wants to be associated with you, what is very likely to occur?  That's right.

Do yourself a favor:  don't give a damn for a few weeks (that's really all it takes to see a difference) and take note of what happens to your own state of mind, happiness, and those around you.  You'll be in for a very beneficial and long overdue awakening!

iPhone and World Peace

Word is that Kim Jong Il is shutting down his nuclear reactor in Yongbyon.  Officially, the reason being given is that $25M is being unfrozen and made available to him; I suspect he got his own demo version of an iPhone, engraved with a personalized message from Steve J., to cement the deal.  Also heard on a radio talk show a few months back that Kim Jong Il is just his rap name, but you'll need to contact Gordon Keith at KTCK in Dallas to confirm that development.

Also, as I just got around to watching the 2 hour finale of Lost last night, it should be pointed out that I correctly predicted the Russian one-eyed guy who took a harpoon to the heart at nearly point blank range would not stay dead until the end of the episode.

Finally, the deadly nano swarm predicted by a co-founder Sun Micro a few years ago still hasn't arrived, nor have the killer bees or ants that will end civilization as we know it gotten their respective acts together yet.  Looks like homo sapiens will continue their dominant run for the foreseeable future, or until we decide to retire and try minor league baseball.

Bad Idea vs. Bad Implementation

The Financial Times has an article by Clive Crook today (no link, since it requires a subscription) that delves into whether President Bush is villified for his bad decisions or for the bad outcomes of his decisions, which may have actually been good ideas at the time.  It has obvious relevance across all spheres:  politics, business, sports, you name it.  I'll go the sports route with my potentially relevant example.  Another professional American football league is being explored (seems a new one is tried every 10 years or so).  On the surface, this may seem a bad idea, given the history of failure since the lone successful attempt at competing with the NFL ended with the AFL-NFL merger around 1970.  But those failures were due to poor implementation, rather than lack of merit in the idea.  As Mark Cuban, a force behind the latest potential competitor, astutely points out, there is obviously more demand than supply when it comes to pro football.  The reason I give his idea a chance of working is solely based on him personally:  he is an extremely successful pro sports franchise and facility owner, and more importantly, he owns his own broadcast distribution network.  Other leagues may have been doomed from the start by a lack of exposure to their products, which could be enforced by the NFL employing strongarm tactics in prohibiting partner networks from helping the other fledgling leagues.  They also may have had ownership groups that had no idea of what goes into successful sports leagues.  Cuban single-handedly takes care of both of these issues, and in an age of quality, household name players finding themselves out of work due to "cap constraints", this environment, coupled with Mark Cuban's unique position, experience, and resources, may be the ideal combination to give an alternative pro football league its best shot since the 1960's when the NFL and television itself was still in its adolescence.
In the broader scheme of things, see if you can think of some great "idea men/women" who were labeled failures as a result of their inability to execute or implement, in spite of the brilliance of their ideas.  You may actually find some ideas worth a second (or, as in this case, a third or fourth) look, with the only thing missing being the right person or team to pull them off.

Corporate "Seasons"

A corporation has a kind of ongoing scoreboard for its efforts, although it's largely keeping score of itself vs. prior and future efforts.  There is also comparison between its score and the scores of its competitors, though they don't really compete against each other directly, but rather they observe a set of rules and vie for recognition of who can do the best under those rules.  For the most part it's more like golf than, say, football, since you're competitor isn't standing on the field defending against or attacking you directly (I take that back - there actually are plenty of ways to attack or defend against your business competitors, but the ultimate objective is for your business to do well more so than it is for other businesses to do poorly), but is instead trying to do its best to generate a better score than you.  This scoreboard is the combination of financial statements and operational metrics that companies report on and attempt to improve upon.
It would make working life more interesting if there were seasons and off-seasons in these corporate competitions, as in sporting events or even education.  Then, at the end of the 9 or 10 month season, winners and losers would be recognized, contracts would be signed or re-structured for the next season, employees could be let go or signed away by the competition, etc.  Much the same as it is now in the working world with employees coming and going to and from the competition or other fields entirely, with the exception that your roster would largely be set for an entire season and almost all movement would take place during the off-season.  The off-season would also be the time for employees to clear their heads, take a couple of months off, refocus, look at other options, etc.  But once they signed for the upcoming season they would be committed to that company for better or worse, as would the company be to them.
I could go on with the analogy, but you get the point.  One reason why this wouldn't work:  business doesn't stop and take time off.  Ever.  But there could be staggered seasons throughout the year, all say 9 months long, but with a new one starting every quarter so that a 1000 employee company would actually have 1250 people working for it in a given year but have 250 of them going through a set 3-month off-season at any given time.  I think this would keep it more interesting for employees (and employers), allow them to recharge and assess their lives more often than they currently can/do (for employees and employers), keep them more motivated since they'd be trying to make themselves more valuable since they'd perpetually be faced with an upcoming off-season that would require finding another contract (even if multi-year deals were signed with some really great employees, they would know that nothing is permanent, a fact that is already in place but not actually considered by the vast majority of corporate employees).  Every benefit to this scenario would work both ways, for the employee and the employer.  This actually does sort of exist in some fields such as investment banking, public accounting, law, medical doctors, etc., at least at the level where they recruit from schools at certain times of the year and then evaluate progress at set times/points along clearly laid out career paths - perhaps not coincidentally, these are some of the highest-performance educational and professional groups that exist today.  What about everybody else?

Solution to MSFT's Search Problem

It's all about the name.  When you search for something, and you decide to go to a search site rather than use your browser's search that's built into the toolbar, you type in a url.  Typing or feels "cooler" than typing in - first, because they're creative words that you really weren't using in your everyday vocabulary until those companies came along; second, because they're not initials; and third, because there's no direct connotation of Microsoft and all of the evil empire/Darth Vader imagery that the name is associated with for so many people.
The solution is simple, really:  just make up a creative-sounding word that in no way implies any association whatsoever with Microsoft, and then take a small percentage of the billions that would be used to buy a Yahoo and instead start building the new brand.  Building brands can be done in the blink of an eye and with virtually no resources compared to how long it used to take (just ask Youtube, MySpace, Digg, Technorati, ...), although Microsoft isn't in the position of having to worry about resources.  It is, however, up against it in terms of getting this new brand built quickly, with every passing day seeing Google expand its already gargantuan lead.  And if you've looked at Google's balance sheet and income statement lately, you'll notice that it's no longer the under-resourced,try harder scrapper that it once was in comparison to big bad Darth.  In fact, it has quickly become an empire in its own right, with the jury still out on the question of whether it is becoming or has already become evil.  Microsoft's could have the best search technology in the universe (it doesn't, but it could), and people wouldn't use it because of the name.  That's a situation that can and should be rectified in short order if Microsoft is serious about how important search and ad revenue is to its future.

Microsoft Shouldn't Buy Yahoo, But They Might Anyway

I don't know if Barry Ritholtz thinks Microsoft should buy Yahoo this time around, but he's becoming more convinced that they will (here's a link to his post).  I agree that they will hammer something out and not take no for an answer this time, for the same reason that I believe they should not.  Psychology:  the same psychology that goes into paid search buys themselves.  When a person or business needs to give the growth/eyeball acquisition engine a nudge, they go out to a paid search provider (o.k., they go to Google).  They plunk down their cash, generate the growth in audience (not necessarily customers though), and from there they hopefully have a compelling enough destination for these eyeballs to generate some benefit from the additional site traffic.  It frequently doesn't work though, and what they find themselves with are more eyeballs, less money in the coffers, and no additional benefit to their business, since they have a destination worth paying people to visit.
The same scenario can be in play with the big boys, with MSFT looking to grow their ad search business through the acquisition of YHOO and then be able to more effectively compete with GOOG.  Unfortunately though, they still won't have the thing that gets people to choose Google's offering over either Microsoft's or Yahoo's - whatever that "thing" may be.  So they will find themselves with lots more paid search customers for the time being, lots less money in the coffers, and still no compelling reason for Google customers or future customers to choose them over Google (if customers are not choosing either Yahoo's or Microsoft's offering now, why would choose a combined offering?  More combined eyeballs?  No - clicks are priced per click, so customers could just do Microsoft and Yahoo separately now if that's what they wanted).  Like a company putting a lot of money into a paid search campaign, MicroHoo will see a short-lived burst of additional activity generated by interest and publicity from the deal, followed by resumption of their (now combined) slow fade into irrelevance, obscurity, and oblivion.
In the meantime, 3 guys in an apartment are putting their hearts, souls, family's money, and spare time into building something that will make the web a little more entertaining and easier to work with than it currently is, and once they get something working, word of their new "thing" will virally spread over a few weeks to garner 10 million users, and will be purchased by Google for a billion dollars - only this time, Google will only wait 6-9 months before purchasing, unlike the year they waited with YouTube, by which time YahSoft's MBAs and acquisitions group will have just completed their analysis.

Companies as Houses

A short and sweet blog post over at Infectious Greed got me thinking.  Paul mentions that while his engineer buddies at Google are realizing that they work for a growing bureaucracy, new MBAs are listing it as the company where they'd most like to work.  So here is my comparison of companies to houses:  the company starts with someone who wants to build it, just as a home does.  This process needs a visionary/architect, financing, equipment/materials, engineers/construction workers.  With these, the company/house gets planned, financed, and built.  But then what happens to the company/home?  The MBAs/housekeepers & lawn help come in to maintain things.  And they are quite happy to do so, because they've got a nice place to work for a fair wage and they know how to do their jobs.  Sure, they get to express some "creativity" now and again (make new charts and spreadsheets out of basically the same data/cut new designs into the yard or arrange the pillows on the bed in different ways), but it's pretty much the same company/house being maintained on an ongoing basis.  And the engineers/construction workers?  Well, they can either be authorized and set forth on building on to the company/house through new service offerings/additional rooms or even a deck or swimming pool, or they can move on to the next company/home to be built from the ground up, totally different than this one.  But there's really no point in sticking around the company/home once it's been built if you're a TRUE engineer/construction worker, unless there is REAL WORK to be done on it in terms of additions and expansions.
So, the question to those Google engineers who are increasingly existing with larger and less-fun bureaucratic machinations:  is the work that remains to be done engaging enough to justify dealing with it, or have those options vested or come out of lockup so that you can move on to the next company (maybe even your own!) to build and this time, do it even better?
And for you MBAs:  I've seen some nice homes in my day, but the one that those engineers built over in Mountain View takes the cake.  I'd say get over there as fast as you can and start maintaining, if you're lucky enough to be invited!