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Entries in General (20)

Thursday
Aug212003

Ownership Has its Benefits & Demands

Was just thinking the other day about the benefits to owning things, when I was reminded that along with the "benefits" of owning things there are also "demands" which things place on their owners. Of course this is true with most anything, and for each thing we own we must find the balance between its benefits and demands.

I was thinking more about ownership benefits/demands in terms of technology, but I think this idea applies to anything that can be owned. For instance, owning a handheld is a great thing: I can track my time, read e-books, play games and many other wonderful things which can truly enrich my life. On the other hand, a handheld is a time drain that "demands" my time, energy, memory, or what I call "care and feeding".

For instance, I have to remember to carry my Clie along when I go out so I have my phone numbers or can check dates or setup spur-of-the-moment appointments. I'm required to drop my handheld in the cradle every now and then to top up the battery or it might just up and die on me. I have to sync it with my Mac weekly (if not daily), to keep my work time recording up to date. And of course I should back up regularly or I might risk spending more time, energy and memory cells rebuilding the Clie from older backups.

That doesn't even take into account time spent finding, installing and learning to use third party software, or troubleshooting problems and errors, both of which are time energy demands. After a while all of these "care and feeding" issues start adding up.

On the monetary side of things, you might want to buy accessories, like a protective case, a travel sync cable, memory card(s), a nice stylus, third party software and so on. Pretty soon even the most basic handheld can begin to get pricey if you don't watch it.

Now don't get me wrong -- I love my handheld and think it's a wonderful addition to my life. I keep much better track of my time, I have immediate access to all of my contacts when I'm on the go and can read e-books anywhere.

What I'm trying to point out is this: anything you own (which in this example case happens to be a handheld) will place demands on your time and energy. Because we all live in an ownership-oriented, materialistic and advertising-driven culture, we often fail to take this "demands" aspect of material things into account, because we are often more focused on the "benefits" an object may offer.

When I weigh the "care and feeding" demands of a handheld against its benefits, I think it's a pretty decent trade-off, but maybe something else isn't a good trade off -- I want to be more aware of that. I'm happy to find I am starting to do this kind of weigh-off more and more. I believe it's just a habit you need to be foster in yourself, if you feel knowing the "total cost of ownership" of an object is valuable to your decision making.

Anyway, just something to consider... :-)

Wednesday
May212003

Would You Go Back in Time?

This morning I was listening to a radio talk show, where the following question was posed:

If you could go back in time to your twenties, would you do it?

Of course the question was clearly aimed at those not in their twenties. In fact, the show is probably aimed at 30 and 40 year olds, a group of which I'm a member. I pondered the question for a little while and came to the conclusion that no, I wouldn't want to go back to those years again. Here's why:

I generally enjoyed my life in my twenties, so that's not really the reason. I enjoyed the freedom of being single, my life heading off in the horizon before me. However, I do think that as we grow older our memory of the past changes. I think we as humans have a tendency to romanticize the past -- recalling all of the great times and memories we had, while filtering out most of the bad times, lonely times and the boring times.

As an example: I can recall many fond memories of the past almost immediately, but if I stop and dwell on the past, I begin to recall the not-so-memorable moments. Like Friday nights spent at home watching bad made-for-TV movies. Or long nights at the office crunching for a deadline. And a particular favorite: cold winter evenings waiting for busses. And, I mustn't forget all of the lonely times that I wished for a girlfriend or wife to call my very own. While life was generally pretty good, it certainly wasn't fun 24/7. :-)

But the larger reason I wouldn't want to go back to my twenties is, I'd miss my wife and new son Nathan terribly. It's amazing how difficult it is to imagine how much a wife and children will one day mean to you when you're a single guy. Only now, as a husband and father, do I understand just know how valuable my family is to me. I think that's a very good reason to stay right here.

At face value, going back in time twenty years sounds like loads of fun, but after a little introspection, I'll pass. Even though my life now certainly isn't perfect, I like where I am. Someone else can step in to the time machine.

The next question is -- would you go back?

Wednesday
Apr092003

Lifetime Guarantee Equals Great Customer Service

Craftsman ForeverOne of my favorite stories I like to tell when i want to demonstrate good customer service, is about a good German friend of mine who stayed and worked in the US for half a year. He was in the States several years ago on a practical term, where he worked for a local engineering company as part of his technical college education. He was a mechanical engineering student, so as you can imagine, he was very keen on buying some good quality American-made hand tools (wrenches, screwdrivers, etc.).

I suggested he pay a visit to the local Sears department store, to buy some well-made Craftsman hand tools, which happen to have a no-questions asked, lifetime replacement guarantee. My friend asked me exactly what this "lifetime guarantee" included and what it was about, so I told him. I went something like this:

Friend: So, what exactly does this "Lifetime Guarantee" cover Mike?

Me: Everything. If you bend a hand tool, or break a hand tool, Sears will replace it, no questions asked and for no fee. Even hand tools you've bought years before are covered -- all the way back to the very first Craftsman tools from the late 20s.

Friend: You're kidding right? You mean if I break the tool, even an old tool, Sears will replace it with not a single question and no fee? Must I bring a receipt as a proof of purchase?

Me: Yes, exactly. It's a no questions asked lifetime guarantee. I and my dad have both brought back bent and broken tools several times and they have always taken them back, no questions asked and provided new tools in exchange. No receipt is needed since they're clearly stamped as Craftsman tools.

Friend: So, let me get this straight... a tool that I break or bend will be replaced by Sears with a new one with no questions whatsoever? Are you really serious Mike?

Me: Yes, completely serious. Sears has excellent tools and stands behind them to the point that if one bends or breaks, they will replace it. They figure this kind of confidence and backup of their hand tools will give them a great reputation with their customers. It's also a way of providing great customer service which in turn drives more sales of their tools.

Friend: Wow! You would never find any such provision in Germany. I can't wait to buy some Craftsman tools!

In the end my friend bought a pretty big collection of Craftsman tools from Sears which he brought back to Germany at the end of his practical term in the US. He was very impressed with their quality. But he frequently mentioned how pleased he was with their lifetime guarantee and as far as I know, has never needed to return any tools for exchange. :-)

My point in mentioning this story is simply to show what great customer service should look like. Sears believes so firmly in the quality of their product they're willing to back it up with an incredible guarantee. I praise companies like Sears who offer these kinds of guarantees to their customers and I encourage more companies to adopt similar approaches.

Monday
Mar102003

The Silicon Boys

The Silicon Valley BoysWhile I and the family were at the library this weekend, I picked up a book called The Silicon Boys and Their Valley of Dreams, by David A. Kaplan of Newsweek. I wondered if the book had dropped out of a timewarp, as it was written way back in 1998, published in 1999 but was listed as a 'New Non-Fiction Book'. I can understand books taking while to get through the system, but 4 years? Whatever the case, The Silicon Valley Boys has turned out to be a great read and I've not even reached the 100th page yet [1].

The book is the story of Silicon Valley, its history and events surrounding its movers and shakers like Jerry Yang (Yahoo!), John Doerr (Venture Capitalist), Gordon Moore (Intel), Marc Andreessen (Netscape), Bill Gates (Microsoft) and Steve Jobs (Apple) to name but a few.

Before Kaplan gets into the story itself, he offers a glimpse of Silicon Valley culture in the prologue, which reads like a journal of the rich, famous, and the geeky weird! Money flows in Woodside, the residence of most Silicon Valley CEOs, and so does quirky behavior and arrogance. Of course this was written in the midst of the Internet bubble, so things may have changed. Kaplan offers a short epilogue on post-bubble life on Silicon Valley (I peeked) so it should be interesting to compare this section to the prologue.

The story then moves to a historical overview of Silicon Valley starting with Sutter's Mill and the gold rush of 1848-49, Stanford's beginnings, Lee de Forest and the invention of the vacuum tube amplifier, the invention of transitors, Hewlett-Packard's garage startup and the advent of personal computers. I can imagine the story continues on to the exapnsion of the Internet, IPOs and excesses of the late '90s. I found this historical view very intriguing -- I'd not connected the links between what made the area flourish and the hi-tech revolution that began there. Of course I've only read about and visited the area a few times, so this is all news to me, a Midwestern boy.

I'm currently on page 84 of 331, in the middle of the Steve Wozniak story, so I still have a bit of reading, but so far I really like the story's flow. Kaplan has a great dry sense of humor and pays attention to historical details and their relationships. Based on what I've read so far, I can already highly recoomend this book if you're curious about the history of Silicon Valley. I'll report back here once I've completed the book with a final update.

[1] My 100 page rule states that if a book cannot draw me in by the first 100 pages, it's more than likely not worth completing.

Thursday
Feb272003

We've Lost Mr. Rogers

Ah, some sad news came to me today... we've lost Mr. Rogers. He passed away today of cancer at age 74. He will be greatly missed.

I'll always remember Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood for the joy it brought me as a child; the encouragement to spend time in "make believe" as well as practical things learned from Mr. Rogers.

I do hope reruns of his shows continue to air, as I want to share Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood with my son Nathan when he's old enough to understand. It will be a tradition I'll be proud to pass on to him.

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