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Lou Jesse HallBy Lou Washington

We took in the movie “Jobs” this afternoon, the bio of Apple founder and industry visionary Steve Jobs. Despite the crummy reviews and relatively low-level of hype surrounding the movie, Barb and I decided that it beat the uninspired collection of cinematic dross playing on the other 15 screens.

Before I get into a review of the movie, let me just say I never knew Steve Jobs personally nor have I read any of the biographies about him. I will say that Barb and I lived for a couple of years in Cupertino and we both worked in Palo Alto so I had some early experience with Apple as a company.

We lived and worked in the Valley during the mid to late ’80s. I had occasion to know some folks who worked for Apple during those years and I was indeed struck by the passion they felt for the company and its products. They were almost religious in their devotion.

During those years it was not uncommon the have people working beside you that were just putting some bread in the fridge while they looked for a real job. The company I worked for had numerous refugees from Atari who had recently laid off a huge number of folks. It wasn’t unusual to have several HP folks show up, maybe some IBMers or Sun employees hitting your HR office as a group following a round of downsizing or reorganization or de-funding of some project or another.

I don’t ever remember working with someone who used to work for Apple. I don’t know if they didn’t have lay offs or if people just stop working after leaving Apple.

The movie does not paint Steve Jobs as a very likable fellow. I can’t really venture an opinion about Jobs in terms of his personal warmth or fuzziness rating. It does give him passion, creativity, vision and drive. I have to assume he possessed these traits because they would be necessary to accomplish what he did.

For me, the best aspect of this movie was the realistic portrayal of the ongoing tension that exists between Finance, Marketing and Engineering. In that regard, I think this movie did a superb job of showing just exactly how difficult it is to convert a dream into a product concept and then turn that concept into a market changing (I will not use the word disruptive) product and then selling that product as a profitable business.

During my career, I have had the privilege of working in marketing with some very smart folks, I’ve also worked with some superb financial guys and I would have to say the engineers I’ve been around were some of the best in the business. Getting these three elements in sync and making a buck at the same time is supremely difficult.

So, in that regard, if Steve Jobs lost his temper, lashed out at someone or fired people, I’d have to say so what? Those things happen all the time. Business requires us to occasionally be overt, curt and a bit dispassionate.

During the movie, Jobs mentions the concept of making the PC work like an appliance. He talks about removing it from the box, plugging it in and then, “it just works” was how he put it. That kind of simplicity is almost always impossible to attain.  Almost anything you buy requires tweaking, set up or at least a protracted amount of time reading a manual.

About three years ago, I decided to do something radical. My home PC died. We took it down into the basement where we have a family crypt for our deceased PCs. After placing my PC in its niche of eternal rest, I headed out to Best Buy to replace it.

For some reason or another, I decided that this time I was going to go with a Mac. I picked out the model I wanted and waited for the stock person to bring all the boxes and stuff up to the cash register for me.

They rang up my purchase and then handed me a single brief case sized box with a suitcase type handle. I laughed and told them that I had purchased a desk top machine, not a laptop. They assured me that my entire Mac was indeed in the box.

Once I was home, I opened the box and found the monitor and integrated CPU, the keyboard, a mouse, the stand and a power cord. There was also one very slender, very small booklet.

I put the monitor on the stand and plugged the thing in. A message popped up telling me that a wi-fi signal was detected and it asked if I wanted to connect. I tried the mouse and clicked on the “yes” icon. That was it. My Mac was up and running.

No cables, no manuals, no software loads, no CD-ROM, no download this or that, no learning curve. Nothing. It just worked.

So, thank you Mr. Jobs for understanding the beauty of simplicity but also understanding that the best simplicity allows us to exploit astounding complexity.

Go see the movie.

Lou Jesse HallBy Lou Washington

Growing up in a small city which sat astride two US Highways and a transcontinental Interstate you can imagine that automobiles were a big part of daily life. We had no need to pile buildings on top of one another because land was cheap. That meant everything was going to be on the first floor including the acres of asphalt required for parking.

Because of our horizontal approach to city planning, things were spread out. If you needed to go next door for a cup of sugar, you hopped in your car and went. We drove everywhere. School, grocery store, barber, movies, you name it, we took the car. I knew folks that drove to the mailbox in their front yard to pick up their mail.

Parking lots were ubiquitous. We had vast open plains of asphalt and concrete. There was always a place to leave your car while you did whatever it was that you were doing.

The car was as embedded in our culture as was the horse in the culture of the Old West.

The first true rite of passage for kids of my era was the driving test. This was what we waited for year after year, long after we had outgrown the pedal cars we used as four-year olds. Until we reached that magic birthday we contented ourselves with bicycles. Of course, we pretended our bicycles were cars.

In Missouri, the driving age was 16. That meant your first beer, your first real kiss and your first encounter with law enforcement was also at age 16. It was thrilling to be 16. Going out was an adventure!

My dad taught me drive on lazy Sunday afternoons in the parking lot of the Shelter Insurance Company headquarters building in my home town. It is one of the most precious memories I have of my father. His quiet, patient manner made him the ideal teacher for this type lesson.

Naturally, most of my friends were all roughly the same age as I, so driving and cars was the primary conversational topic in those days. We dreamed about hot rods, read books and magazines about cars and street racing and in general lived in a culture with the automobile positioned precisely at center stage.

For us, New Years Day has nothing to do with January first. For us, New years was sometime in early fall when the new models were introduced. During the lead up, we would argue about whether Ford would finally abandon dinner plate tail lights, if Chevy would stack headlights or stick with a side by side configuration. Styles changed radically over a very few model years. Fins went away, fastback designs leant cars with a sleek aerodynamic look which likely had little to do with physics.

Marketing folks understood how important cars were. I believe it was no accident that new television shows debuted in the Fall simultaneously with the annual introduction of the new car models. The linkage between visual media and automotive design became firmly entrenched in this era.

I remember the season premier of Bonanza running without commercial interruption so America could spend twenty uninterrupted minutes at the end of the show to see the new Chevys introduced in their TV debut for the coming year. The next day at school, no one talked about Ben, Hoss or Little Joe, the conversation was all about the new Malibu or ‘Vette.

The End of the Era

As with many cultural shifts multiple factors contribute to changing styles, interests and norms. During the late ’60s and early ’70s there was a definite move away from the material orientation that drove our obsession with fins, chrome and high output V8 engines. The ’74 oil shortages did not help matters any.

We still worship cars, but our tastes and approaches to automobiles has greatly changed. We are more utilitarian, more focused on efficiency and mission in our selection processes.

Today, it seems like kids don’t really care much about driving. I’m not saying they are misguided, I just find it amazing that some kids don’t feel any urgency with regard to getting a driver’s license. The prospect of driving a car does not equate to freedom and adventure in the same way it did for my contemporaries.

In fact, the position of the automobile and the importance of driving seem to be diminishing rapidly in this post millennial age. Most recently, the notion of self-driving or autonomous vehicles are becoming real possibilities in the not too distant future.

Horrifying!

I can’t imagine a more depressing development than a car that drives itself. Before you start yelling “Luddite Philistine” at me, consider a few things about autonomous vehicles. These are just a few of the problems I see with this technology.

Designated Driver – Who needs them? No one is going to drive because the car knows the way home. Does this mean we all get to drink all night kong? Someone has to remain sober or no one will remember all the embarrassing stuff that happened.

Parking – I don’t mean parking at the mall, I mean parking after the movie on Saturday night. This is a very subtle art that young guys learn and pass along to other young guys. There are techniques and skills that require practice and honing. There is much more to it than “ . . . . Oh look, we’re out of gas on this deserted country road . . . . What will we do now?” I can’t imagine trusting some software developer at Subaru to get this right.

Drag Racing – Mano-a-Mano, A veritable ocean of testosterone powers the need to dominate the car next to you at a stop light. The revving engines, screeching tires and fishtailing acceleration at the green light. Every high school in America has one kid who has the baddest, meanest drag machine on the street. The cops know him and everybody wants to be him. Unless he’s a complete pizza face, he has pretty good luck in the romance department as well.

Jonesing your Neighbors – Part of the fun of buying a new car is sticking it to your neighbor. They are stuck driving a four-year old Junker while you a cruising around in luxury. How will you brag about a car you don’t even drive? Why would you envy your neighbor when the egg parked in his driveway is suddenly blue instead of green.

The Culture of Yawn

Then there is the other issue. The problem for which there is no solution. An American institution that has its beginnings in that most noble of enterprises, Moonshine distribution. This AV technology threatens a tradition that has grown over the years to become one the greatest spectacles in sport. Of course, I’m talking NASCAR!

Can you imagine the shame we will all feel watching a track with thirty or so driverless cars endlessly circulating around, never bumping, never squeezing or cutting off other cars. They will of course be unable to achieve speeds in excess of fifty-five miles per hour. Their sophisticated anti-collision and safety systems will over ride any attempt to break away from the pack.

What about the drivers? There won’t be any!

No angry young ego maniacs running around in ridiculous jumpsuits. No more rivals to bad mouth each other between races. No more post race fist fights. No poofy haired retired driver TV announcers explaining the action to us in their phony, exaggerated southern drawl voices.

All of this will be replaced by thirty jelly bean shaped vehicles putting around a vast race track forever locked into the formation and order in which they started.

I know autonomous vehicles are likely inevitable. I know they will save lives and probably save us countless hours of commuting time. I know they will save dollars in terms of gasoline or energy costs.

It’s just that they are so damn boring.

Lou Jesse HallBy Lou Washington

Class reunions are events unlike any other in our life experience. What I mean by that is they offer us a chance to measure or at least notice specific net changes in our cultural milieu. Since they occur at regular ten-year intervals and because you typically only see the folks in your class during the once per decade event, they make it easy to see how much life has changed since the last get together.

For instance, if you attended your reunion in 1980, you probably didn’t see a single cell phone or video cam. That’s because 1980 was still the era of land-lines and Kodak Instamatics.

By 1990, there were likely a number of cell phones and a few video cameras. We would laugh at these people today because the cell phones would look like World War Two era Army field phones and the Video cameras would make you look like the crew backing up Mike Wallace on 60 Minutes. How could we think THAT was cool?

I went to a reunion in 1999 and I was amazed at the number of video recorders. They were starting to get pretty small by then. I remember looking across the banquet room and seeing about fifty of these things just rolling, taking in the ambiance of the Great American High School Reunion. Our reunion featured plentiful amounts of free booze so I’m sure the antics of my classmates, and me for that matter, were recorded for future use as blackmail fodder.

Now, we are about to enter another one of those technologically significant, yet potentially embarrassing eras.  Google Glass will soon become as ubiquitous as the video cam and the smart phone. Will it be the tech equivalent of the duck-tail or mullet? Or, will it be world changing?

Personally, I’m skeptical. Imagine walking into the ball room to register. The person behind the table is smiling sweetly and looks vaguely familiar. Before she can say, “Hi, I’m  ….” you are mumbling to your eyepiece to activate your facial recognition software. Glass quickly whispers her name into your ear “Betty Jo Belitnikoff”.

Why Betty Jo! You haven’t changed a bit. I love the blue rinse and those sensible shoes . . . very cool!”

That happens to be the last thing you say directly to any of your classmates that night. The rest of the evening, you are conversing with the Glass friend dangling in front of your eyeball. Everyone else is doing the same thing.

All you hear is low murmuring of Glass commands – Identify Face, . . .record, . . . retrieve email,  . . .open Facebook, . . . open LinkedIn. . . . message to Frank.

And so it goes all night long. Everyone is prowling around identifying faces and pulling up cyber versions of each other. No direct conversation is required.  Everyone who wants to interact can simply message via Glass.  An eerie silence hovers over the entire room. It’s like a zombie convention.

There are undeniably definite advantages. You get to avoid answering the unpleasant questions and you don’t have to listen to boring stories about kids and pets. You are in control; you can ignore or dig as deeply into the life of each classmate as you might care too. If it gets too bad, you’ll likely have the option to pull up something to stream from Netflix.

This is when you realize that the real world and the cyber or virtual worlds have partially merged. It is so disorienting, you are suddenly not sure what has happened or where you are.

Are you a warm blooded human visiting a virtual class reunion? Have you somehow been sucked into the virtual world where you can only interact via the technology you bring with you.

Or, has the virtual world expanded into the three dimensional universe, blurring the once distinct boundaries into a sort of cyber no man’s land? Has your Second Life merged with your real life?

You will ponder this as you move about the ball room, but you will come up with more questions than answers. A whiff of familiar perfume will pull you in one direction while a Facebook posting will jerk you back into reality, or was reality found only in a perfume scented distant memory?

Which is real; the warm and funny close friend of forty years ago or the bitter, angry guy spewing venomous political pabulum on Facebook?

The great television writer, Rod Serling would have recognized this dilemma right away. He would tell you without hesitation, you have indeed entered, The Twilight Zone.

By Lou Washington

Yesterday Delta Airlines announced that Comair, one of Delta’s regional feeder subsidiary airlines would cease operations on 29 September of this year.

Here in Cincinnati, Comair is something of a legend. When I moved to Cincinnati in the very early 1980’s, Comair was comprised of a handful of small twin engine prop aircraft. They flew to Cleveland and other nearby cities. Locally, those of us who flew frequently out of CVG knew that flying on Comair was not going to be like taking a wide-body to Hawaii. Flying Comair was for business folks who were getting business done here in the midwest.

Locally the primary carrier was Delta. Both airlines experienced great growth during the 80’s, both airlines upgraded their fleets and expanded their routes. Delta spent tons of money expanding their facilities here in Cincinnati and eventually made this one of their hubs with a wide array of international flights to Europe.

Comair built a new headquarters building and at a point was by some measures one of the largest airlines in the country. They partnered with Delta and began aligning their route structure with Delta to facilitate the classic hub and spoke operation that serves airlines today.

At a point, Delta purchased Comair and for many, I think this was indeed the beginning of the end for the airline.

This story has been repeated with slight variations now for decades.

TWA purchased Ozark Airlines to gain control of one of their primary feeders in St Louis. Soon after that occurred, the level of service extended to smaller markets well served by Ozark for many years began to deteriorate.

My own hometown of Columbia Missouri was a primary example. Ozark provided non-stop DC-9 (Boeing 717) service to St Louis, Denver, Kansas City and one stop service to Chicago, Washington DC and other destinations. After Ozark was swallowed up, local service to Columbia MO was reduced to a couple of daily flights to St Louis using De Havilland Twin Otter aircraft.

It did not take long for TWA to disappear from the scene with rapacious American Airlines gobbling them up a few years later. The details of that horrendous acquisition make for their own story.

50 Seat CRJ200

In the Delta announcement, the reason for the shut down was based on Comair’s use of 50 seat regional jets. Delta suggested these could not be operated profitably. Delta went on to explain that ridding themselves of Comair would allow them to concentrate on their major route structure served by their larger aircraft.

I’m sure TWA and later American had similar feelings about abandoning the small markets served by Ozark.

Some would say this is the fruit of deregulation. I’m not sure it’s that simple.

I do know this. Comair and Ozark operated profitably on their own, they served thousands of passengers in many smaller markets. They employed hundreds of pilots, mechanics, flight attendants, ticketing agents baggage handlers and others. In other words they did know what they were doing, they knew how to operate in an environment their larger siblings chose to ignore or avoid.

Then, they were bought up, integrated into the operations of much larger, more complex and diverse enterprises. When the management of those enterprises decided that flying into smaller markets was not profitable, they abandoned them.

They bought businesses they did not understand and after failing to learn from those businesses they listened to their finance guys and bailed.

Some will call this the free market at work. If that is true, then the free market is not working very well.

By Lou Washington

The Farnborough air show closed recently and we were once again treated to a daily box score of Boeing orders versus Airbus orders.  This year Boeing seemed to emerge as the overall winner.

I believe this ongoing competition is really of more interest to the media than it is to the trade professionals and industry analysts active in the aerospace arena. I think that portion of the plane riding public that actually cares about the kind of airplane they are riding on, tends to select aircraft equipment based on specific models more than the name of the manufacturer.

It is an interesting business study to watch how these two companies behave. There are few industries where there are only two dominant, worldwide vendors that square off against each other over virtually every selling opportunity that arises. As the light or regional jet market shows continued growth and an increasing number of players, the heavyweight division remains the undisputed territory of these two giants.

The flying public is doubtless better off with both of these guys operating in a perpetual dead heat. There is little doubt in my mind that Boeing is a better company because Airbus has forced them to be better via the marketplace.  On the other hand, Airbus has benefited from Boeing breaking ground and setting the bar in commercial aviation over the last 75 years or so. Competition is a beautiful thing when it works.

Consider the more recent past ten years. At the beginning of the century, both companies were considering potential new programs. Both had some form of fuel-efficient new design under consideration. Boeing also had the near mach Sonic Cruiser project. Airbus had the gargantuan A380 model under consideration.

It had to be a tough decision. It had to be a “bet the company” type decision that would doubtless be revisited many, many times over the initial years of development.

In the end, Boeing chose the Dreamliner fuel miser program and Airbus moved ahead with the A380. For consumers it was the best of all possible outcomes. For the two companies, I believe the selection was best of all as well.

Boeing opted for a completely new airplane, built-in a wholly new manner utilizing techniques never before used. Boeing developed a worldwide supply chain and outsourcing process that was far removed from anything they had done prior to the 787 program.

Airbus learned to build the biggest passenger transport aircraft ever flown.

Both companies took up a challenge that would at least teach them how to do something they didn’t already know how to do. This means they made an investment that would pay dividends well beyond the life of the program itself. Even if the programs were not successful, each would come out with a level of expertise in an area previously unknown by them.

For all the publicity about how much of a problem Boeing had with their world-wide supply chain and component manufacturing outsourced to companies half a world away, Boeing now has people successfully working on the 787 in countries all over the planet. All of those countries have national flag carriers and they all buy airplanes.

Additionally, Boeing has learned how to build with rivet-less composites.  This is a radical departure from the construction of traditional aluminum and titanium skinned airframes.  Doubtless the whole area of lightweight, high strength materials will be important to aerospace manufacturers for a long time.

When you look at the A380, you have to be impressed with the sheer size of the thing. I’ve seen the A380 here in Cincinnati. Airbus arranged a fly over at the GE Aircraft Engine plant a couple of years ago during a promotional tour of the new plane. Seeing it during the low-level fly by really gave you some perspective. This airplane is just huge.

Time will tell if Airbus made a smart decision in terms of the market for this plane, but meanwhile, the plane is doing a great job linking up Asia with Europe and North America. So we, the flying public, win because we have two ground breaking aircraft that are there to take us where we want to go.

By Lou Washington

About 15 years ago I was listening to a fellow on the radio spouting off about the end of knowledge; more accurately, the end of new knowledge. He was predicting a new “Dark Age” and he was placing the blame for this pending catastrophe squarely on the internet.

His prediction was that the volume of information made readily available to the masses worldwide would somehow extinguish the level of original research conducted. The suggestion was that the internet would provide enough answers to enough questions that ongoing research would no longer be necessary. He suggested that the line between real research and search engine based internet queries was becoming blurred and people were often confusing one for the other.

This opinion was offered in the wake of journalist Pierre Salinger’s assertion that he had obtained “hard evidence” related to the downing of TWA Flight 800 off Long Island. Salinger had conducted some research on the issue and had come upon an internet based document that seemingly fixed blame for the crash on a friendly fire shoot down accident on the part of the U.S. Navy.

The document was soon determined to be bogus. Salinger, a veteran journalist and Washington DC insider had been taken in. It is interesting to note, that searching on this subject will still yield an incredible amount of grist for the conspiracy crowd.

I can remember using our family copy of the World Book Encyclopedia when I was growing up. I was struck by the fact that the book listed Dwight Eisenhower as the current president of the United States. I knew that was not correct and it made me wonder, what else in the encyclopedia was no longer valid.

The internet is in many ways like an aging encyclopedia. Documents, once published are difficult or impossible to entirely suppress. So, even truthful documents that have aged themselves into obsolescence are still there right alongside the current documents containing the current data. The researcher has to figure this out and learn to find what is new versus old, what is genuine versus counterfeit and what is truthful.

More recently, I was listening to a radio interview with a fellow who was writing about the Watergate investigation. This guy made the assertion that today this investigation would have never gotten off the ground. His suggestion was that the techniques used by Woodward and Bernstein to gather the incriminating evidence are no longer used by reporters.

Today, reporters rely on internet based information sources. The shoe leather journalism of reporters from the seventies and earlier is truly a thing of the past. I’m not making this assertion; this is what the interviewee was saying.

The Watergate fellow seemed to almost fulfill the prediction made by my radio friend of fifteen years past. Could it be? Are we really entering in the age of information stasis?

In short, the answer is, no! Maybe even, Hell No!

Consider the following quote taken from the IBM web site on Big Data:

“Every day, we create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data — so much that 90% of the data in the world today has been created in the last two years alone. This data comes from everywhere: sensors used to gather climate information, posts to social media sites, digital pictures and videos, purchase transaction records, and cell phone GPS signals to name a few. This data is big data.”

That is an amazing statistic. 90% of the world’s data has been created in the past 24 months.

If anything, it would seem that our ability to massage, extract, organize, store and use data is woefully inadequate. One would think that Moore’s law would prevent us from ever catching up.  Instead of looking at price performance ratios in data storage and maintenance as being exemplary, we should be wringing our hands and pleading for more capacity, more speed, more access, more organization, more security, more everything.

What this means is there will be a need for radically new thinking in terms of how we store, index and retrieve data. How we synthesize information from the data we maintain. Additionally, we need something to measure the validity of the data we query.

I find myself going to the snopes.com site on a regular basis. Snopes is fine for the occasional rumor or wild stories that pop up now and then. But what about the rest of the stuff we wade through online?

For many people, a search engine and an internet connection are simply not enough. Businesses certainly need to be sure they are informed with accurate data from reliable sources.

We talk about business intelligence as a strategic necessity in the world of corporate data. The volume of data created today, drives that same level of urgency in other disciplines as well, even in journalism.

But still, I think Woodward and Bernstein would do just fine today. Rather than knocking on the doors of DC town houses, they would be browsing around in Face book. Rather than running down to Miami to speak with a witness, they would locate the guy in LinkedIn.  Perhaps they would have simply checked out the presidents Google+ circles, “. . . look Bob, Gordon Liddy and Howard Hunt are both in Bob Haldeman’s Plumber’s Circle!”

Almost certainly, the manual search through the thousands of circulation records would not have happened.  Today, they could easily see anyone’s favorite books by reviewing their Amazon Reading List. Certainly, the LOC could have simply supplied them with access to online circulation records.

It really is still a matter of not believing everything you read. It doesn’t matter if it came from a newspaper, an encyclopedia or a Google search. The reader must beware; they must be skeptical and seek confirmation of validity.

“. . . and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free”

By Lou Washington

Last week, on April 8, 2012 Jack Tramiel died. His passing generated only modest notice on the part of the industry media. His death wasn’t ignored, but it just didn’t create the kind of buzz one associates with the death of a luminary in the IT industry.

Jack was the founder of Commodore International, the folks that brought the Commodore 64 to the world. He was also the top man at Atari when it was spun off from Warner International in 1984. He took on Atari after leaving Commodore.

The world of IT was a much different place in those days. The idea of personal computers was very new and in many quarters thought to be a waste of time. There were just a few fledgling companies trying to make money selling computers to everyday people. PCs were largely seen as toys for the hobbyist.

In the early 1980s, everyone knew the field of the future, the field to get into was information technology. But, the avenues of entry were limited. If you were interested in getting into the business of computing, you had several choices.

First, you could sell business or scientific computers for one of the companies actively addressing those markets. Second, you could major in computer science and learn the business from the more technical programming and systems architecture end. You could also go to a trade school and learn the mind numbing skill of keypunch. Finally, you could get into the business from a ground up type job such as a Tape Librarian, Computer Operator or similar titles used for entry-level hires in IT shops.

None of these options offered anything related to personal computers. They really didn’t exist, certainly not in the world of business. I saw the advent of the personal computer as way for me to expand my information system knowledge from a Records Management focus to include something with a bit of a technical edge. It would be a way for me to “get into computers” without having to back track in life and go back to school or take an entry-level job.

At that point, there were very few options. Tandy had their TRS systems, Osbourne and Sinclair had offerings. Apple was just rolling out their Apple 2 and IBM laughed at all of them by entering their “toy” computer into the mix. They called it The Peanut.

IBM just wasn’t seeing the vision. The vision they did see was the end of centralized, corporate computing being fostered by the PC on every desktop.

But, for me, all of those options were way beyond my price range. There really were no serious choices in the sub one thousand dollar range.

For the Masses not for the Classes

That’s where Jack Tramiel came into the market. Commodore offered up the Vic–20 for about fifty bucks and later the Commodore 64 for well under a couple of hundred. Jack was quoted making the statement that Commodore will be making computers for the masses not for the classes. He meant this as a double entendre, Apple was well on their way establishing their presence in academia with special programs for schools and colleges.

Jack wanted to sell to everyone. He almost did sell to everyone. The Commodore 64 set records for the largest number of installed systems. The record may still stand.

commodore sx-64

My SX-64

I owe Jack Tramiel a huge thank you for bringing the PC into my price range. I bought the VIC and almost immediately after, the Commodore 64. It did not take long for me to see the potential for these devices as personal tools. I was building spreadsheets and doing job estimates, tracking job expenses and all sorts of things that were manual process in my working environment.

Then Commodore did a most remarkable thing, they entered the world of Mobile technology. They introduced and I immediately bought the Commodore SX-64. An integrated 64 system with built-in color monitor and a 5.25 inch disk drive.

I used this system until the late 1980s when I succumbed and finally bought a real PC with a MS-DOS operating system.

I’m sure my story is not at all unique. This whole industry is populated with people who went through similar development in terms of acquiring their skills by investing in the technology that interested them.

This has become something of a tradition in our space. The whole notion of BYOD is based on the fact that people want to make their lives better by learning to use new tools. We can’t wait until someone hands us an iPad, we go out and buy one. No one thinks twice about acquiring their own smart phone, they just do it.

Jack Tramiel saw this vision and turned it into a reality. If the desk top revolution needed heroes, Jack Tramiel would surely be one of the greats.

By Lou Washington

During my last year of college I roomed with my best friend in his town house. He managed to graduate a couple of years earlier than I did. Once he had his degree in hand he went straight to IBM and started a lifelong career selling computers in what was then called the General Systems Division.

He was a consummate sales person. He had all the God-given tools of looks and personality but he also had the passion to work hard and to learn from every single thing to which he was exposed. He would literally rather be selling then doing anything else.

I used to kid him about being a huckster, a drummer and all the other semi-derogatory terms professional sales folks live with. He shut me up one day by pointing out one very important fact.

We were driving around one afternoon when a truck passed us. It had a bumper sticker displayed on the trailer; if you Bought it, a Truck Brought it!

Laughing, he turned to me and said that it should read; if you Bought it, a Salesman Sold it!

He was right of course. Every single thing we have, we acquire or are given was sold to us or to someone along the way. Products cannot get beyond the manufacturer until someone buys them. Many times they are sold multiple times before finding their way into the hands of the end-user.

We literally are dealing with sales people all day long.

Which brings up the question; what do you want from a sales rep? What makes a good sales person in your eyes? Why are you happy with some buying experiences and exhausted by others? What are the show stopper sales behaviors which kill the deal in your world?

For me, selling is all about knowledge transfer. I want to be equipped to make an informed buying decision. Here are my requirements for a sales person when it comes to technology purchases:

  • Knows the product inside and out
  • Ability to articulate and communicate their knowledge effectively
  • Empowered – (I know it’s an over-used word) Sales folks need to be able to quote or negotiate prices and special requirements
  • Empathetic in terms of seeing “my use” of the product and what that means in terms of requirements for a successful transaction
  • Curious and imaginative – The unasked question is sometimes more important than the unanswered question.

With technology products, sales is less about intrusive, aggressive and persistent touching and more about making it easier for the buyer to buy. After all, how often do you really find yourself being convinced to purchase something you didn’t already want? What you want is help. What you want is someone who can remove the obstacles to getting your pain mitigated or your need satisfied.

Technology purchases are frequently complex in nature; complex products, complex specifications, complex pricing and frequently complex buying requirements. Somebody has to be the expert in such an environment. Most often, we require the sales person to take on this role.

Sales people can’t be just lead generators, order takers, entertainers or hand-holders. They have to have the skills and tools necessary to serve the customer.

This means the ability to configure complex products and provide on the fly price quotes. It also means they are knowledgeable enough about their customers business to make intelligent suggestions and understand the issues that challenges the customer on a day-to-day basis. They should be able to make recommendations based on what is really best for the customer in any particular situation.

CRM systems, product configuration technology and pricing application are great places to start. But, mobilizing these technologies is just as essential. The knowledge needs to be where the transaction takes place. Usually, that will be in the customer’s office.

Selling will always be required at some level. Selling is what makes the whole thing work. One company buys and another company sells. Selling smart is just as important as buying smart. After all, business ultimately has only these two functions; buying things and selling things. Why not do them equally well?

By Lou Washington

Today is the big day; the day that has been anticipated for months. Today is the day the iPad 3 finally hits the market. If you believe the various news outlets, people are in one of two camps on this. First is the panting, drooling, tail wagging group who is speechless with excitement. Or, second, you are in the wake me when it’s over group.

In reality, most people are somewhere in between.  I certainly am.

The 3rd iteration of the iPad is exciting. A greatly improved camera and an upgraded display will make for an improved product. But, I’m not ready to turn in my iPad 2. I have not actually seen the new improved display or used the upgraded camera, but, I just don’t see those features driving me to abandon the 2 just yet.

The iPad is revolutionary. It has changed lives. But, why is this true. What is there about this device that causes so much hoopla?  As a dedicated user, I’ll try to answer that.

First off, what makes any device a better alternative than not having the device?

1)      It must deliver a decided advantage to the user

2)      It must be convenient

3)      It must allow the user to do more by doing less

4)      It must be consistent

Okay, so the iPad bats 1000 on these four categories. But, the thing that makes it transcend the merely great and cross over into the territory of world-changing is the fact that it does all four of these things on multiple levels. It touches and benefits so many processes within our daily lives.

Here’s what I mean.

Let’s take the going to a presentation meeting experience.   In the pre iPad world you would go to the meeting with a pad and pen. Throughout the meeting you would jot down little notes and quotes that might be useful in the future. Finally, you go back to your office, lose your notes and that’s the end of things.

With the iPad you sit down at the meeting. You open a notes app and as the speaker talks you enter your notes into a named retrievable document. Perhaps the power-point presentation has some interesting graphics; you shoot a picture of the screen to capture the graphics. Perhaps, the presenter has a special verbal presentation that sums up his message. You can click on your recorder and capture the guy making the key points.

When you are done, you have an illustrated, multimedia presentation of the entire meeting. You can send it to others via email, you can store it, you can let it rest and review it later. That’s very powerful for people who attend trade shows or must sit through multiple meeting over the course of a day.

If someone would have built a little box that did all of that in 1995, and called it the Meeting Pro, that person would have appeared on the cover of Fortune Magazine by the end of the year.

So, how much greater is a device that also stores your music, facilitates access to the always open music store, movie store and book store and gives you access to these things anywhere you go?

How much greater is a device that replaces your telephone and email with VOIP and video phone functionality?

What would the worth be of a device that allowed you to carry around not only pictures of your family, but also all the pictures you’ve ever taken in your lifetime?

How about a device that does all of the above and also helps you tune your guitar and then record the latest song you’ve written playing your guitar?

Not musical, no problem, what about photo-shopping your pictures? Image editing software abounds for the iPad.

May be you want to try out a new route to your Aunt Zelda’s house. Fire up your iPad GPS system and you’re there in no time.

When you buy one of these things you have no idea how much it will impact your life. The more you use it, the more ways you find to use it.

So, pardon me if I’m not all over the iPad 3 just yet.  I’m still just blown away by my iPad 2.

By Lou Washington

Check out this list:

  • Watch a movie
  • Catch up with friends
  • Work from home
  • Post to this blog
  • Get a new recipe for Potatoes
  • Get a new book
  • Get some new tunes
  • Check in with my brother and his wife
  • Read my home town newspaper
  • Follow my beloved Mizzou basketball team

These are all things I can’t do when the #%$&@* internet is down. Actually the list is much longer, but space is limited and I think it gets the point across as is.

It seems like once or twice per year this happens. In the middle of an email or a Facebook session, you get that creepy sensation that you’re suddenly alone. It’s like being on the phone and just sensing that the guy is no longer on the other end of the line.

So,you try a few things like downloading a movie or just opening a website you know you don’t have cached. Then you know, there it is, you are cut off! You are off the grid. You are in the cyber penalty box watching the game and no longer participating.

What’s worse is the process required to get things right. You can’t just change the batteries or reboot. The system is way more complicated than that. There are so many points along the line where failure can kill the whole thing.

Our broadband service is via our phone company so the key issue in their mind is always figuring out why the fault is somewhere inside my house and not outside on their lines.

Even after I’ve “retrained” my modem, re-cycled my router and checked all my line connections I have to do all of that again for my friendly phone company help desk person. So we go through all that and the inevitable service visit is scheduled.

Within a few days and one or two service calls things are back to normal. No one is ever really sure why the thing broke to begin with, but it works now and all is well again.

But, back to the issue of what to do when you’re without service.

I’m still amazed at the level of trust we have in this whole internet thing. Further, I’m even more amazed at how dependent we’ve become on it.

I’m not a young pup, but I’m also not some luddite idiot who sits around yearning for the good old days. From what I remember, the old days pretty much sucked. But, I’ll get into that in my next post. The point I’m making is I can remember a pre-internet world and I can tell you things have changed a lot.

It has to be similar to the time when the world transitioned from horses to cars. People knew horses and they didn’t understand cars. They took it on faith, that the old Model T or whatever would start and get them to their destination. At some point they doubtless realized they were dependent on cars and their horses were now pretty much not an option.

So last week, we were limited to broadcast TV, playing with Chloe and PJ, eating a lot and for me, playing a lot of guitar.

When this happens at work, it’s even worse. People sort of stumble out of their cubicles, looking around at each other like they’ve never seen one other before. Slowly, it dawns on everyone that there is literally nothing to do.

So, my goal is now to put together a list of things I can do when the ‘net goes down. I’ll have a home list and work list. The next time the world goes dark, I’ll have the list handy. No more confused wandering around, no more watching re-runs of Petticoat Junction and Gomer Pyle.

Here’s my challenge to you, make a list for yourself. If you like, send your list to me and I’ll post the best ideas next week. This is your chance to help out your fellow Internauts, your cyber buds.

Let me hear from you, send your ideas via the comments option below.

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