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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

The recent crash on landing of Asiana Flight 214 at San Francisco brought back a memory from my flying days back in the ‘80s.

Airframe manufacturers are obviously building safer products than in past years. More and more people seem to be walking away from downed airplanes than ever before.  So, I certainly tip my hat to those guys for doing their part in making flying an even safer alternative than in past years.

There is one thing that still disturbs me greatly. Let me briefly tell my story and then you can draw your own conclusions.

One evening back in 1987 I was returning home to the Bay Area after a business trip. I was changing planes in Denver to pick up a flight into San Jose.  Everything went smoothly; I made the connection on time and was seated toward the back of the coach cabin on a DC-8 stretch.

The DC-8 was a single aisle four engine aircraft. It was, even in the mid ‘80s, kind of “long in the tooth” for commercial service by a tier one airline. But, many had been retrofitted with the new generation of jet engines so you saw 8’s with some frequency in those days.

The plane was full that evening and people boarding were bringing with them the usual assortment of carry on stuff.  Laptops were just becoming common but people also still carried boxes of slide carousels and presentation transparencies.  Then there was the usual collection of shopping bags, overnight garment bags and brief cases.

Everyone was seated, the door had been closed and the jet-way had just been pulled back.  I was sitting in a port side window seat, so I could see the ground crew clearly. Inside, I noticed the AC outlets above the overhead compartments were venting something. Anyone who has flown on a humid day has probably seen this and it is invariably condensate, water vapor, cast off by cooling hot humid air.

On that particular evening, it wasn’t condensate, it was smoke.

Within a couple of seconds there were shouts of, “smoke!” and “something’s burning”. The cabin filled with a smell of burning oil.

The DC-8 cabin was a long narrow tube with frequent bulkheads to separate it into a series of smaller cabins. This meant that you could not see the front of the cabin from the rear of the airplane. You could see maybe ten rows before your vision was interrupted by a bulkhead.

The people sitting on the aisles almost immediately were on their feet, flooding the aisle and essentially blocking any view the seated passengers had beyond their immediate vicinity in the cabin. A little bit of panic began to grip the crowed plane as passengers exhorted those seated over the wings to open the emergency exits. Behind me, two flight attendants watched and said nothing.

After the fact, I found out that the DC-8 did not have any communication links from the flight deck or other flight attendant stations  to the aft end of the plane. In other words our flight attendants knew as much about what was happening as I did.

The aft emergency door was opened and by now escape shoots were deployed from the over wing exits and from the doors at the back.

People began to exit the airplane. From my seat (I couldn’t go anywhere because the aisle was filled with people) I could see a man walking along the wing with a garment bag over his shoulder. I remember thinking that he looked remarkably calm.

Almost every person in the aisle was digging through the stuff in the overhead bins trying to retrieve their belongings. Think about that and think about the time it takes to empty an airplane upon arrival at a gate.  We had every reason to believe that the plane was on fire and these guys were worried about their carry-on junk!

My only thought that evening was that I was going to burn to death because some jackass couldn’t get their carry-on bags out of an overhead bin.  That thought made me furious.

This morning, as I watched video shot in the aftermath of the Asiana crash I saw evidence of the same thing had happened there. People were walking around on the ground with their carry on bags! How selfish can people be? Is some souvenir from Korea more important than someone else’s life? Is that really how we think?

I know plenty of folks will hate this, but, the only way to fix this is to ban carry-on items on commercial flights. If all luggage was checked there would be no reason to stop for anything. When an airplane is on fire, time is of the essence. People have to move quickly and not be encumbered by bags, laptops, camera cases etc.

I could be persuaded to allow purses and briefcase size items. But I would remove the overhead bins altogether. Beyond those two items, I would ban it all.

I know people are clutching their chests at the prospect of having to go to baggage claim, but I just don’t see a better alternative.

With Asiana flight 214, we got lucky. We usually don’t get lucky in the world of airplane crashes.

Lou Jesse HallBy Lou Washington

When I was about six years old my dad bought a power lawn mower. I thought it was the coolest thing in the world. My dad explained to me that one day, I would be able to use the lawn mower and that mowing the lawn would become my responsibility. I was so excited!

Until then, I had to wait. I was given the not so glamorous job of “picking up sticks” as a sort of apprentice level job. Picking up sticks pretty much sucks compared to walking around behind the bright red Toro as it growled and spit out grass clippings on the circuits around the grounds of our palatial estate.

Finally, at some point, I would guess maybe I was ten or eleven, dad told me I was at last big enough to handle the big, now not so shiny, Toro.

I think the feeling of excitement about actually handling the big red machine by myself lasted about twenty minutes. By the second or third time I mowed the lawn, I realized that the thing was a big con job. Mowing the lawn wasn’t fun or cool, it was work. I had been lured into taking a job by promises of glory and wealth and found only boredom and frustration.

The reality of lawn mowing was hard to start machinery, cleaning air filters, adding oil, adding gasoline and pushing the contraption around the yard as the hot sun beat down on my poor little spoiled self. I remember one time attempting to start the machine 104 times before my dad relented and took it in for service.

But, being good son, I did my chores like countless other kids. I grumbled, but mowed.

The worst time in my lawn mowing experience came one summer when I took a job mowing lawns for the Columbia Public School System. Most of my crew was made up of kids I went to high school with or my then current classmates at Mizzou. By the end of the summer, our lawn crew had accomplished the following:

  • wrecked two ½ ton pick trucks
  • destroyed one riding lawn mower (somehow it ran through the front doors of Frederick Douglas School)
  • decapitated one push mower with an out of control riding lawnmower
  • Destroyed too many flower beds and other ornamental plants to recall

For the of rest my life, I have hated the notion of “mowing the lawn” and all its associated activities. I have nightmares and flashbacks from that summer. I’m sure I could benefit from counseling.

Now, decades later, I find I might, at last be able to enjoy mowing the lawn again.

Last weekend, during a brief hiatus from the two month-long drizzle season we call Spring here in Northern Kentucky, my fifteen year old rusted out, broken down, piece of junk lawn mower finally died. The pull-cord snapped one final time; there was simply not enough cord left for yet another square knot to reconnect the cord to the lawn mower.

Reluctantly, I began looking online at lawnmowers at Lowe’s and Home Depot. It was all very depressing. I hate spending money on things that aren’t fun. Then, I saw something intriguing; electric lawnmowers.

All the electric lawn mowers I’d seen in the past were useless. Their fifty foot cords and underpowered motors were a certain recipe for frustration and aggravation. Plus, they just weren’t manly! People would make fun of me I was sure. The only people who used these things were nerds with yards smaller than the average welcome mat.

But, looking online I found something new and different. Electric lawn mowers that were cordless. Lawn mowers that used batteries.

Wow! That’s what I call liberating! No trips to the gas station, so filing the spark plug, no squirting starter fluid into the cylinder, no more cleaning air filters and no more guessing if the damn thing needed oil or not.

But, I was skeptical. How long would the thing run between charges? How much power did it have? Could it handle the jungle of broadleaf weeds that passes for a lawn at my home?

I decided I had nothing to lose, pick one, read the reviews and if no one is hating on that model, buy it.

I selected a model from Greenworks. This mower has a 19” cutting swath and it is powered by a 40 volt Lithium-Ion battery. (Just like the 787!) This particular model comes with two separate battery packs and a charging station. This is important because you can store the lawn mower any where you want and keep the batteries and charging station inside your home.

Greenworks Electric Lawn Mower

Greenworks Cordless Electric Lawn Mower

My lawn mower was delivered on Sunday by Lowe’s and unfortunately the drizzle had started again, so mowing was not going to happen that weekend. I opened up the box and assembled the mower per the instructions included in the box. This took no more than twenty minutes tops.

Next, I set up the charger and placed one of the two included battery packs in the charging cradle. Within one hour, the battery pack was ready to go.

Monday was a total wash out, so I came home from work and watched the grass grow even higher.

Tuesday brought a partly cloudy afternoon, so by the time I got home, the grass was still pretty damp, but I figured if I didn’t mow now, I would need a tractor and Bush-hog.

I rolled the mower out the front door, inserted the battery pack, inserted the safety key and turned the big bright green machine on. What a wonderful surprise, the mower powered right up and I started mowing. After about thirty minutes, I was done.

Greenworks 40V 19" Mower

Greenworks 40V 19″ Mower

The lawnmower was fantastic! It effortlessly handled the 10” tall grass and clover. It was every bit as good as any gasoline powered mower. The first battery pack was still going strong when I finished. So my fear of not being able to complete the job without a re-charge was totally unjustified.

As a push around mower the Greenworks has the added advantage of being on the light weight side compared to gasoline powered machines. But, I would add that the mower is heavy enough to not bounce over rough ground. It keeps the mower at the proper mowing height. But, it is also light weight enough to push and pull with one hand.

The height adjustment is very easy to use. A single lever adjusts the height of the whole mower. You do not have to mess with raising a lowering each wheel be itself.

Electrics are not for everyone. If you have a huge yard, the technology may not be ready for you. But, I did actually see a cordless, battery powered riding mower, so you may want to give the technology a look anyhow.

Greenworks 40V Lithium-Ion Battery Pak

Greenworks 40V Lithium-Ion Battery Pak

Count me as one satisfied customer. I would recommend this product to anyone looking for an alternative to smelly, expensive, time consumptive gasoline powered mowers.

Lawn mowing may be fun again after all! Without a doubt it is less of a hassle.

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

In my real job I work with our sales and marketing folks in our enterprise system group. We’ve been selling software for as long as anyone on the planet and after nearly 40 years of selling ERP software, you might be wondering why I would be asking this question at all.

I assure you, I am quite serious about this question. Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) is an umbrella term covering a wide variety of software solutions that facilitate the management of a given enterprise. As the words imply, the idea is that resources must be carefully managed to maximize the efficient and profitable use of those resources to achieve the goals of the enterprise.

There was a time when there were maybe 20 vendors in total selling ERP solutions. These companies addressed a market that was made up of 1) giant multi-billion dollar companies with worldwide coverage, 2) medium size companies that were less than a billion dollars in sales but more than 100 million and 3) the rest of the companies making up the lower end of the market with sales under the 100 million dollar threshold.

These companies typically had one thing in common, they made things. They were manufacturers. They maintained plants that transformed raw material or parts into products.

Each year, corporate planners would ask (or tell) the sales group what they were going to sell during the coming year and how much of it they would sell. The answers to these questions drove the purchasing decisions as far as what the company would need to buy in order to fulfill the orders planned by sales.

ERP systems developed to facilitate the efficient management of this deceptively simple process. The systems reinforced the decision-making processes associated with purchasing supplies, scheduling delivery of supplies, production scheduling, staffing and finished goods delivery scheduling. That is essentially how I see ERP in my manufacturing centric view.

ERP beyond Manufacturing

What about other types of businesses? What about retailers, wholesale or distribution businesses? How about services like accounting firms, maintenance providers, transportation services or insurance companies? The more I read about these businesses the more I would see references to their use of ERP. Even churches and governments seem to be in this arena.

Luckily, LinkedIn has a large collection of member communities associated with various aspects of ERP. I find that posing a question in the right LinkedIn Group will usually result in a series of responses and counter responses that offer great insight into how others see things.

So, I put some of my questions to my online friends in one of the LinkedIn ERP groups.

As I suspected, there really is no hard definition of ERP. It means different things to different people. While many of the responses were manufacturing centric, a large number were not. People had no trouble expounding on the benefits of ERP in a pure distribution environment. Services oriented advocates were just as convincing.

But this has negative implications for marketing folks. We spend huge amounts of time trying to establish the identity of our buyers. We look at the market in terms of who influences buying decisions, who chooses and who uses our products. We agonize over the types of businesses, what vertical markets they address, what types of products they make or sell.

When you market a product that “does everything for everybody” it may be a sales persons dream, but, it’s a marketing nightmare.  You can’t focus your message, you can’t isolate a specific group and establish their pain points to address with your strengths and you can’t afford to talk to everybody. Believe me, it’s a challenge.

What you used to be is Important

One of the folks I talked to put me onto a great concept. The vast majority of ERP systems on the market today, started out as something else.

The original product may have been a set of financial reporting tools, perhaps a warehouse management system or a system for handling human resources. Vendors love to build up product features. How many times have you bought something because it “now includes . . . .” whatever?

As the enterprises became more complex, more geographically wide-spread, more diverse in products offered, they drove their suppliers to add functionality to help take them wherever it was they wanted to go. Software vendors responded by pushing out their comfort zones and adding functionality which in turn expanded their own market reach.

Now, here we are with literally hundreds, if not thousands, of software products under the very diverse and increasingly generic ERP banner.

Most of these products were not built from scratch. What was finance/accounting software is now an ERP system. What was a human resources system is now ERP. A product that was formerly used to control inventory in a warehouse setting as evolved into ERP.

Oddly, many of these systems are rather weak in the traditional home of ERP; manufacturing. ERP was born of MRP or Manufacturing Requirements Planning. Software that scheduled production runs, supply of work stations and handled the acquisition of parts and raw material.

So the main message of this piece is to be careful if you are evaluating ERP systems, give strong consideration to what that system evolved from.  Be cognizant of what you really need. In some cases you may not need full-blown ERP, you may need accounting software.

But, if you are a manufacturer and you are looking for real ERP, make sure that is where your vendor came from. Make sure your buying a manufacturing centric system.

By Lou Washington

Recently I received a message from LinkedIn about the image I use for my profile picture within the LinkedIn application. They told me they had removed the image because it violated their standards for personal images.

Ouch! No one has ever accused me of being a shimmering paragon of human beauty, but I never dreamt I was actually violating standards. I’m glad I didn’t know this in high school, I would have never developed any self-confidence. I would have dutifully worn my paper bag to assure people didn’t have to experience the pain of looking at me.

Actually until then, I had used a cartoon drawn by my friend Tom Hortel. Tom is a super creative fellow who runs an innovation company, called Zenovate, They serve business people looking for someone with a real imagination. I was very fond of my avatar image and it was with great regret that I submitted to the demands of Linked In and replaced it with a regular photograph.

This was just a few days before Linked In announced their new iPad app. If you have an iPad, you know there are two kinds of apps available. First are those written to exploit the iPad and take advantage of the many wonderful features that make it such a useful tool. The second type is apps written for the iPhone or iPod Touch then ported to conform to the minimal compatibility requirements of the Pad.

Apps written for iPhone that also run on iPad are typically not as striking visually. Blowing up the standard size iPhone image with the “x2” button usually results in a fuzzy, grainy image. Forget about rotating the image to landscape orientation, the screen will stubbornly remain in portrait mode.

You can understand why I was a bit skeptical when I read that they were finally going to finally have an iPad only version of their app. Since these guys don’t like cartoons, I figured they probably were not going to please me with their revamped interface.

Before I go further with this, let me say, I’m a huge Linked In fan. It was really my first use of social media. I could see the utility of Linked In almost immediately. I’m not talking about the self promotion aspect of the product in a job seeking context, although I understand why that is important.

I like the idea of being able to talk to people knowledgeable in almost any given area or discipline by simply running a search or looking for a group. For someone involved in market analysis or industry trends, (like me) this is an invaluable tool.

Of all the social tools available, Linked In is the one I would be least likely to give up if I had to make a choice.

I’m happy to find that Linked In got it right. The new iPad app is a vast improvement. I might even say that I like it better than the desk top version.

The Updates page is fantastic. It is served up in a beautiful framed eMagazine type format with sections listing real-time updated data such as markets and weather. Personal events are maintained and displayed in a “day at a time”calendar like format that allows the user to scroll forward and back to see past and future events.

News of interest is also displayed via attractive graphics and headlines.  The other stuff, whose viewed your profile, co-worker activities and connection updates are all listed with those now required photos. So maybe a cartoon wasn’t such a great idea after all?

Navigation is now horizontal, using swiping page turns instead of scrolling up and down.

Moving over to the profile page, your profile is presented initially in a clean resume type format. Swiping to the next page reveals your connections, recent viewers, people you may know and your own update activity.This is navigated via up and down scrolling.

The inbox section is set up very much like an Outlook mailbox.. The highlighted piece is displayed on the right side of the screen, the assorted messages are listed in date order on the left. Again, picture images are included with each message.

Throughout the app, the ribbon like tool bar extends across the top of the screen. You can easily jump back and forth between the primary functions by simply touching the IN logo on upper left side of the screen.

If you are an iPad user and you haven’t made the jump to the new version I think you will be pleasantly surprised. If you have an iPad and haven’t added the Linked In app, you are missing out. Take the plunge, I think you will be pleased.

Good job Linked In!!

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

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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