Archive for April 2010

Wither now telcos (and cable companies)?

April 6, 2010

The one true measure all of us have of how smart is someone else is…how much they agree with you.

To that end, Danny Briere, in his column today on Connected Planet (formerly TelephonyOnline), showed himself to be brilliant.

I have been arguing for more than five years that the future of the telcos (and cable companies) is limited to being big, fat, pipe providers.  Their current business model simply cannot be sustained.  They are not fast enough, agile enough, or imaginative enough.  Their core business and competency (providing reliable connections 7/24 without fail) prevents them from becoming so.

Trust me, you do NOT want a network provider to move fast, change directions, and/or offerings in rapid, unexpected ways!  You want three things from a bandwidth provider:  lots of mbps; very little down time; and a cheap price.

Would you want the freeway designers & construction companies to change designs, methods, and materials as fast as car companies change models?  Probably not.  When it comes to freeways, we want them designed consistently, built reliably, and as cheaply as possible.

The telcos and cable companies keep thinking that they can create “stickiness” with their customers by becoming some kind of all in one shop.  In the mid-nineties, it was combining your phone, cable, and cell phone bills into a single bill.  How many of us have that now?  If you do, how much lower would a competitor’s single offering have to be to entice you away from the joys of “one bill”.

In the late 90’s, the idea was to be the customer’s portal to the new and confusing world of the internet.  Of course you would trust your phone/cable company to provide you with the “home page” that would guide you through the internet.  How many of us now use our ISPs portal as our home page?  As our email ID domain?

Now, the new siren call is Unified Communications….which Google is already doing and most of us can cobble together ourselves with things such as Call Forwarding, Smart Phones, and cutting loose of the land-line.

Don’t get me wrong.  There is money to be made in being a fat pipe provider.  But it will not be a low-cost, high-margin business.  Think of it more like the cargo shipping lines.  They make a “boatload” of money too, but it’s all low-margin business.

Briere, in his column gets it right when he says they will still make a ton of money.  But the money will be made by the ones who figure out how to become McDonalds, not Ruth’s Chris.


Complexity: Businesses, Bureaucracies, and People

April 5, 2010

If you listen to the pundits and want-to-be pundits (especially conservative ones), the word “bureaucracy” means “government bureaucracy” and nothing else.

But having worked in both the public and private sectors, I have experienced what most of us know:  Bureaucracies are in any and EVERY organization larger than 12 people (and in some smaller).

It does not matter if it is government, private-publicly held, private-closely held, or private non-profit, each of these types of organizations MUST create bureaucracies in order to monitor/influence the actions of its employees or agents.

In fact, the most ridiculous red-tape I ever had to deal with was with a major, private-closely-held major construction company.

A number of years ago, when I was starting out in IT, I worked for this company at a nuclear power plant they were constructing.  Among my other duties, I also was in charge of office supplies for my group.  If I wanted to order a box of #2 yellow pencils, I had to get the signatures of my group boss, his boss, and HIS boss!  The whole process could take a week just for the signatures, and the final signature was one rung below the Project Manager for the entire site!

One of the reasons my boss liked me was that I figured out a way to short cut that process.

< No, I am not going to tell how I did it.  Certain people trusted me, and even if the statute of limitations has run out, I may need to use that method again!  >

When I was working on my MBA, one of the things that surprised me was that the major focus of a company’s accounting department was not taxes or mundane things, such as profit and loss, but rather on how to measure what people were really doing, comparing it to what you wanted them to do, and figuring out how best to encourage them to work on what the CEO really wanted done.

Having grown up with the traditional American disrespect for “red-tape”, my business career has taught me that it is neither inherently good or bad.  What is good or bad is either an excess or a shortage of it!

The example I cited above is one of too much, but I can also cite examples where there was too little.  A medium-sized company I consulted with was bankrupted because the person who was responsible for balancing the company’s accounts could also write checks….

I think a good analogy for organizations and bureaucracy is that of the oil system of a car.  It keeps things cool, lubricated, and running.  Using too much oil is the sign of a problem.  Having too little oil causes problems.

This gets me to a link I came across today, courtesy of The Big Picture and Barry Ritholtz:  The Collapse of Complex Business Models by Clay Shirky.   When combined with a Rolling Stone article also referenced by today by TBP, it makes for very disturbing but needful pondering.

When does complexity cross over from helping to hindering?  How can you tell?  How can you stop it?  Can it be reversed short of collapse?

In my MBA program we had to read a lot of books on how to build a business.  Maybe we now need a slew of books on how to simplify a business.

Science and Morality: Can Science determine what is moral?

April 5, 2010

Sam Harris, an advocate of scientific skepticism and founder of the 501(c)(3) organization Project Reason, talked this concept at the February 2010 TED conference (see his talk below).

He also continued his discussion of this idea in a posting on his organization’s website…

The historian in me can cite precedents for his argument.  Much of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, people referred to the fact they were living in “enlightened times” and were not surprised to see old and traditional concepts of morality, punishment, and social obligations under go strong changes.

In the last 30 years, we have had something of a political/religious backlash to this, but science has continued to press on, expanding our understanding of human behavior, needs, motivation, and capacity for self-delusion.  It has done this because, in no small way, science never assumes it already knows the answers openly subjects itself to examination, criticism, and modification.  It’s benchmarks are how close it’s prediction it’s predictions to observed phenomena can come.  It will modify theory to fit facts, not the other way around.

To my mind,  many people who profess religious “fundamental” religious faiths or political ideologies are far too likely to alter, disregard, or even counterfeit facts to meet their beliefs (or prejudices).

But science still marches on…

Thank God!

A few days late, but….

April 4, 2010

I didn’t come across this until today, but this is a GREAT April Fools joke on conservatives, libertarians, and other worshipers of Ayn Rand.

Attention Star Trek, Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, Space 1999, and War of the Worlds fans!

April 4, 2010

Can’t get enough of your favorite Sci-Fi? Want to incorporate more of that motif into your daily computing?  Then check out How-To-Geek’s Sci-Fi Icon page.  There you can find a collection of icons, plus instructions on how to use them for your folders and shortcuts.  Here is a sample of what they have:

Using these icons on your computer could have additional functions.  They can confuse a snooper who doesn’t know Star Fleet’s color code for Engineering (red) or Command (green).  Likewise, it can serve to identify you brother/sister believers who are operating covertly in your part of cube land….

Live Long and Prosper!

The Titanic, the Lusitania, and the Tea Partiers: What are they really trying to do?

April 3, 2010

In Science News last week, there was a fascinating article, Titanic Study: It Takes Time To Do The Right Thing, that compared the behaviour of people who were on two passenger ships: the Titanic and the Lusitania.

These two ships both sank in the northern Atlantic, the Titanic in 1912, the Lusitania in 1915.  In the case of the Titanic, “women and children first” principle was observed fairly well.  In the case of the Lusitania, it was not.

Researchers determined that the key difference was how fast the ships sank.  The Titanic took more than two hours.  The Lusitania, less than 20 minutes.

“Under extreme time pressures, it’s everybody for themselves. Coordinating and respecting norms takes time,”

“When people have time to deliberate, you see pro-social behavior.”

(behavioral economist Colin Camerer of Caltech University)

Which brings us the Tea Partiers, and other right-wing groups/people who are trying to whip up hysteria about Healthcare Reform, Financial Regulations, et al.

I think we have all had times when we are scared.  What I noticed a number of years ago was that the only time my fear or panic actually was beneficial was when there was imminent physical danger.  When the perceived threat was social, emotional, or financial, I almost never made a good decision while actively scared.  From this I concluded that being actively scared limits my ability to think well.

Lately, I realized that there are people and organizations that deliberately use this to try to control other people.

Historically, fear of the foreigner, the stranger, the person or people who are “different” has been a favorite tool of certain political/social groups.  While the Nazi focus on European Jewry is the best known example, in the U.S., we have own history of fear-whipped actions against the “Yellow Peril” (anti-Chinese/Japanese), “dirty Irishmen”, “Papists” (anti-Catholic), and so on.  We continue to have certain people who wants us to fear African-Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, and “Socialists”.  Recently, we have added “Radical Muslims.”

Now, a group of people are basically trying to make us afraid of everyone who is not one of them.  And they are trying to do this by trying to frighten us.

“Beware,” they say, “of the Socialist Nazi Communists who are trying to impose radical tyranny on us.  They are lead by a secret muslim who wasn’t even born here.  They want to impose death panels, tax only whites, round us up into concentration camps, cripple our businesses, and destroy America!”


When you sit down and examine their rhetoric (after you either finishing laughing, crying, or shaking your head at the non-sequiturs) you realize what they are really trying to do: Scare us silly.

In short, they want to stop us from thinking and so stop us from acting in a socially-responsible, moral manner.

Another time, I will look at why I think they want this.  For now, here is the Lesson:

If someone is trying to get you to very scared, he or she is really trying to get you to stop acting rationally!

So don’t get scared…get smart instead, and THINK!

So…what do you make?

April 3, 2010

Here is what teachers really make: