All posts by David Ellis

Forgetting to Grow – The Recession Paradigm

wallstreetI’m one of those weird individuals that enjoys earning season – especially in the first quarter – because its where companies share their strategy and goals for the year. For the last 4 weeks I’ve listened in on 5-6 calls and I’ve noticed a recurring theme. In fact, the calls are so similar I can pretty much sum it up with the following bulleted list:

  • Keep our existing customers happy
  • Reduce costs of delivery, reorganize the service delivery and support to do more with less
  • Protect our cash reserves – defer expenses, defer compensation, push out our account payables to their full contract length, accelerate our account receivables collections process.

What most companies have forgotten is that a recession is the perfect time to grow – provided you have the long term vision and capital. During a recession talented labor is less expensive, capital goods and property are less expensive, taxes are typically less, and most growth activities have government incentives. Consider that most of the worlds multi-nationals have grown during past recessions and downturns.

A recession doesn’t mean “no sales” – it means “different sales”. You can’t sell the high end stuff unless it has a killer value proposition – but the low stuff is easier to sell. Cartier watch sales dry up – Seiko watch sales go up.

So to the leadership of Corporations of the World – do not fear – focus on what you can produce and sell – focus on where you can grow – and be prepared to shrink where you can’t sell it. Don’t just assume the safe thing to do is to stop growing entirely – or you will be roadkill.

Todays Geeky Gadget – Elgato Turbo .264

elgatoAs most avid readers know – I’m a geeky gadget collector. Heaven for me is trolling the Electronics shops looking for a deal that makes my life easier. Today I present to you the Elgato Turbo .264 USB Media Encoder Hardware. I picked this gadget up last week from the local Apple store for 99$ CDN (about 80$ USD).

What does it do? This USB key plugs into your Mac and enables encoding of video content in MPEG 4 with better speeds and lower processor utilization. The included software is easy to use, and works as advertised.

As a Intel Mac Owner with a large video collection, I’ve always been able to encode videos to MPEG4 using Quicktime Pro – unfortunately my CPU utilization would peg out at 100% making the MAC unusable for anything else till I was done. This device let me do the same encoding (for my iPhone or TV) but with 20% CPU utilization and no sacrifice in performance or quality.

If you have a Camcorder, Home Videos, or a large collection of Digital Video movies I highly recommend this device  –  take the plunge – you won’t be disappointed.

Buy American – a Capitalist Alternative

usflagI’ve been reading the ongoing debate on the inclusion of mandatory “Buy American” provisions in the stimulus bill. This sort of discussion always brings out the hard hit manufacturing states, and the usual choir of ‘Manufacturing in America is Dying’. Its annoying and disturbing – the arguments never change – and nothing is done to solve the underlying problem.

The reality is manufacturing in the US has been slowly dwindling for decades – primarily because the US became a victim of its own success. The standard of living in the US grew far faster than the rest of the world. While 60% of the world has never seen an electric bulb – Americans were buying their second and third televisions. Combine a large inexpensive global work force with a domestic work force with a increasing standard of living and you have a recipe for manufacturing decline.

How do you reverse it? You don’t mandate it – “You Mr. American must buy American!” will never work. Instead you market your goods as higher quality, you market as a “premium” good, and you market as a Domestic good. Where is the “Made in America” section in Walmart? How about Costco? or Sacks? This points to a lack of product placement, and a absence of a established brand.

Americans make great products, products that are in demand the world over – from Fine Wine, to Fine Furniture or fashionable clothes. The problem is for a good to be successfully made in the USA – it must garnish a premium – and the only way to get the premium is to market it correctly. Why aren’t goods branded as “Made in America” why aren’t there commercials pointing out the superiority of the goods? Until the manufacturers get there heads out of the sand – and make a superior product (with a superior marketing plan) – they will continue to decline.

Here are some things a manufacturer can do to keep their plant alive.

  • Above all else make a superior product. Quality, Finish and design MUST be superb.
  • Team up with other factory owners, Co-Brand as “Made in America”. Put a flag on your packaging, complete with a trademarked slogan or name. Something like “Quality made by your neighbor”.
  • Combine your advertising dollars and market the hell out of the “Made In America Brand”. Show smiling kids playing baseball with their employee fathers, pull out the sappy music.
  • Finally use your newfound unity to pressure Walmart, Costco and the other National Retailers to carry your quality goods under the “Made In America” brand.
  • Finally work with the media – do interviews about how you hired 100’s of Americans to make your goods.

This is how capitalism works. Centralized mandates aren’t.

How to Successfully Work-From-Home

 

officeThose of you that have known me for a while (either in person, in Instant Messenger or thru work) know that I am a full time work-at-home employee of an American Company. I made the transition to work-at-home about 5 years ago, and during that time have enjoyed a modestly successful career. Many of my friends have asked me about how I made the transition, and have asked after my tips-and-tricks for successfully working-from-home.

I thought today would be a good day to address this point.

First off, working-from-home is not for everyone. It introduces new stresses into the workplace (I’ll get to that in a minute), and requires a very structured and rigorous mindset.

Stresses

Working-from-home is in some ways less stressful than in the office, their are typically less distractions to accomplishing your tasks, but there is also less positive reenforcement for a job well done. The challenge many folks have when they first make the transition is one of insecurity – when your accustomed to continuous feedback on your progress or performance – the work-at-home disconnect with your team or managers can be very disconcerting.

Fear – The Gossip Factor

When your not in the office and don’t have the advantage of the water cooler or lunch time gossip, its very easy to become the target of malicious gossip. “Well Peter isn’t in the office, does anyone know what he’s working on?“ Its very important that your manager and colleagues be up-to-speed on any bottlenecks you encounter in your projects. If a deliverable is delayed (it happens), make certain you’ve communicated that – this serves as a buffer against the ”gossip factor“. If you’ve completed a task your particularly proud of, or you think is cool – share it – demonstrate it – explain why its so cool.

Communication

The biggest single challenge work-at-home employees have is how to effectively communicate with team mates and managers. I find that while phone communications are useful in certain circumstances, they tend to be far more formal than what you would experience face-to-face. The most effective communications medium I’ve found for remote employees is Instant Messaging. Make a point to chat with your co-workers – just as you would if you were in the office. Ask about the challenges they face, offer suggestions and just generally try to be helpful. If you are facing a particular challenge, don’t be afraid to ask for advice or help. Instant Messaging serves as an effective replacement for the in-office experience.

The Importance of Status Meetings

When working remotely, Status Meetings with your Manager or staff take on a special importance. They show that you are actively engaged in your projects, and help your team or manager understand what was accomplished, and what accomplishments are planned. I can’t stress this enough, to be effective, remote employee’s must have at least weekly status meetings.

Conclusion

Working from a home can be a very rewarding lifestyle, avoiding the stresses of a daily commute, and the petty annoyances of daily office life (has anybody seen my red stapler?) can be a great relief. Its not without peril however. To succeed, you need to establish a routine that includes quality communication with those in the office, and a work style that is very goal oriented. You must also be confident enough to realize that even without the daily ”at-a-boy“ your work is valued and respected.If you want more info please go to webtrafficgeeks.com

Cocoa Is Actually Pretty Cool

osxFor those that have known me for a while, you know I’ve always saved most of my vacation for the holiday season. I do this for a few reasons, as a project manager I try to avoid key deliverables during the month of the December as I know staff are light on the ground, and as a old timer in business that vacation time serves as a severance buffer should I be terminated earlier in the year.

The upshot of this strategy is the month of December is always my opportunity to learn new technology or brush up on old skills.

This month I’ve been focusing on Cocoa, and so far I can say its pretty cool. I’ve developed GUI applications in a number of languages and frameworks. Java AWT, Java Swing, Microsoft’s Visual Basic, Microsoft’s Foundation Classes, Borland’s OWL, I’ve done em all. My biggest complaint with most frameworks has always been the challenge of laying out a GUI, and binding that GUI to data.

I must say that once you get over the shock of Objective C (come on Apple, C++ has been around for over a decade – catch up), its a pretty elegant framework. The binding is the simplest I’ve encountered to date, simpler even than Visual Basic (an ugly language – but great layout and binding). Right now I’m in tinker mode – writing applications that leverage my large existing C/C++ code base to do cool things (FTP Clients, IRC Clients, Mail Clients, etc.), but I’m hoping to reach high competency shortly. Once I pass that hurdle I’ll be jumping back into iPhone development.

US Bailout package – the Hidden Cost

wallstreetI’ve seen differing reports on the total cost of the bailout package for the banking system in the United States. The total amounts are reported between 3.5 and 5 Trillion dollars, even worse, a lot of the cost is hidden and undocumented in things like poorly documented tax law changes to support acquisitions. There is no transparency, no oversight, and even worse no accountability.

To put this monstrous amount of money in perspective, consider the following:

  • Universal Health care is estimated to cost 110 Billion per year, the bailout would’ve paid for health care for 45 years.
  • The US trade deficit with China is 500 Billion.
  • Revenue for the US government in 2007 was 2.5 Trillion Dollars. This is the revenue collected in income taxes (both personal and corporate), user fee’s, gas taxes, federal tolls on roads, everything. The amount spent on the bailout would’ve given US Citizens and businesses a 2 year tax holiday – now THAT is a stimulus package.

Right now there is a lot of rationalization going on in Washington, they honestly expect to make most of this money back as loans are repaid (with interest), or the equity stakes are sold.

The question is will history mark this as a positive action or a negative action? I sincerely hope for the worlds sake that this move works out, but the amounts of money involved are truly scary.

Yahoo Finance Article
Forbes Article

Todays Geeky Gadget – GE Cell Fusion

gecell.jpegSometimes I see or acquire a geeky gadget or piece of software that is just so cool, I have to share. Today I acquired what I consider my Geeky Gadget of the month: The GE DECT 6.0 Cell Fusion cordless phone.

We’ve all had Cordless phones for years – what makes this one so special? This cordless uses bluetooth to leverage your cell phone as a second phone line. So when I bring my iPhone home after a long day on the road I can place and answer cell phone calls using my cordless phone at home.

For the work@home guy (like me) this is immeasurably useful, it means I can leave my iPhone in its charging cradle, but not miss incoming calls. The bluetooth connection is seamless and doesn’t require user confirmation – in short – if its in range – it just works.

After years of hearing about convergence (and bluetooth), I finally have a working use case at home that is easy and convenient to use. The best part? The price, this GE cordless phone with 2 handsets was 99$ Canadian (~80$ USD) at my local “Telephone Booth“ store. If your in the US Circuit City carries this phone for 71.99$ USD.

A New President Now What?

obamaOn November 4th, 2008 the United States of America elected their first Black President – and entered into a new era of political inclusion. After the hang overs have passed, and the pundits have danced many Americans are probably wondering “What Now?”.

The reality is the US is in serious trouble, they’ve had a decade of spending without the necessary increase in revenue. They’ve opened unpopular wars on two fronts, and doomed their economy by not regulating the banks that serve as its engine.

President Obama has a lot to fix and not much time. Here is the short list of things I hope Obama makes a priority:

  1. Improve the image of the US Abroad by closing Guantanamo Bay, ending the war in Iraq, and restoring the Civil Liberties that were eroded under George Bush.
  2. Implement regulation for Banks, Trade Unions, and Investment Banks for Credit Default Swaps and any instrument used for money creation.
  3. Implement an economic stimulus package for the Middle and Low class. 700 billion for Wall Street is crazy, zero dollars for main street is criminal.
  4. While health care is important, don’t let it blind you to the underlying problems in the US economy.

I wish Obama well, and offer my sincere congratulations on his great accomplishment. Obama – the world is watching – don’t let us down.

A Letter to Barack Obama

On the eve of the election I decided to write letters to both candidates as a means of expressing my concerns and hopes for each presidential candidate. Regardless of who wins, this election is a historical tipping point. The oval office will either see its first African American or its first Woman. The new president will face a unique challenging environment with the United States confronting economic challenges, an expensive and drawn out war, and a crisis in health care.

So as I promised last night, here is my letter to Senator Barack Obama.

obamaDear Senator Obama,

Let me begin by saying thank you – in reviewing your career as both a Senator and a community organizer I believe you to be a genuinely caring man who honestly wants to help his fellow Americans. I also believe you to be an excellent role model for the youth of America at a time when quality role models are a scarce commodity.

Senator Obama, you have shown yourself to be intelligent, level headed and concerned, but as you potentially embark on a new career as the President of the United States, I wanted to ask you to consider the following:

  1. You are a natural consensus builder (a trait I admire and respect), but do not let the process of building consensus slow the important decisions. Some decisions result in a lost opportunity when delayed – do not be afraid to be decisive when called for.
  2. Do not be afraid to be yourself, you are no longer the geeky kid in the corner with a strange name, your the president of the United States. You have a lot to be proud of, open up and connect to your constituents. It will help them accept the hardships they will face in the coming years to know and respect their president.
  3. Lastly, never forget that the money you spend has to come from somewhere. If you spend a dollar, you must raise two (one to spend, one to pay down the debt). Despite what Cheney says debts do matter.

Thank you for reading this brief letter senator and good luck today.

Regards,

David A. Ellis

A Letter to John McCain

On the eve before the US election, I came to the realization that life tomorrow changes – for good or bad the driver of the United States will change.

To that end, and for my own therapy, I thought I’d write an open letter to each candidate expressing my hopes and concerns with their respective candidacy.

My first letter is to Senator John McCain, I’ll write Senator Obama tomorrow.

mccainSenator McCain,

Let me first say that I honor and respect your sacrifices for the great nation of America. I believe you to be a fundamentally good man that honestly respects and wants to help his fellow citizens.

 
If you win the election tomorrow, I’d ask several things of you.

  1. Always remember that there are people that better understand technical or other policy issues. Do not be afraid to look for folks more knowledgeable on a topic than you. Seek their advice, their council, and do not be afraid to think thru a problem before taking action to fix it.
  2. Remember that should anything happen to you, Sarah will be taking over your responsibilities. Never believe your own press, she’s not ready – yet – but with your help she may be. Teach her, guide her, and help her to become a leader capable of leading your great nation.
  3. Your temper is your worst enemy, remember – if you get mad – you’ve already lost. As president you must always be in control of your emotions. As a senator you haven’t always been successful in fighting your darker nature. As president you must make a greater effort.
  4. You’ve been accused of giving up your principles to advance your career. You’ve followed in the steps of Karl Rove and run an extremely negative campaign. While running on a campaign of not being the other guy may get you elected – do not for a second believe that sort of fear mongering is any way to run a country. Do not select a unpopular group or race as your national scape goat – instead focus the attention of the nation on its problems and issues.

Senator, I wish you the best on your presidency – and remember this isn’t just your legacy – its the future of the US and its trading partners.

Highest Regards,

David A. Ellis