How we screwed (almost) the whole Apple community [not really. more like amused]

Day4 – How we screwed (almost) the whole Apple community:

It is somewhat disturbing at times when the bandwagon takes of and speeds up, without people being critical. People stand up for situations that may never have happened, and spin on it which ultimately results in that it will be trated as facts, or a faktoid.

We wanted to test this, how easy is it to spread disinformation?

Apple is the world’s largest company, so they can take a few knocks. The community around Apple is often very active, especially before an upcoming Keynote where it is expected that the company will introduce new products. In September is one, and everyone expects the iPhone 5 to be announced. Rumors are flowing about the phone, its appearance, its features, its materials and so on. We found this was a fitting goal for our test.

One afternoon we sketched out a screw in our 3D program, a very strange screw where the head was neither a star, tracks, pentalobe or whatever, but a unique form, also very impractical. We rendered the image, put it in an email, sent it to ourselves, took a picture of the screen with the mail and anonymously uploaded the image to the forum Reddit with the text ”A friend took a photo a while ago at that fruit company, they are obviously even creating their own screws ”.

Then we waited …

Nice hack. I admit I looked at the screw, decided it was probably a plant, and sat back to watch the show. I wasn’t disappointed. (why did I think it was a plant? The screwhead seemed both too complex and at the same time easily circumventable. It’d take the folks who build the tools for the self-fixers almost no time to work around the hack, but the screw itself would be both expensive to manufacture and not reliable in the real world. IMHO)

Not the first time this has happened. Won’t be the last. a lot of the sites who depend on page views to drive ad revenue frankly do not care if it’s accurate or not; they just like having stuff out there they can stuff ads on. Their fan base breaks down into two groups: the folks who don’t take this crap very seriously, and the folks who take it all way too seriously. Either way, accuracy isn’t high on the list of values people demand of the sites. A few of the sites are actually pretty good, but many are simply in it for the page views and don’t care. 

Back when I was with Mama Fruit, they took the rumor sites a lot more seriously than they do now. I think Apple’s come to terms with the reality that this stuff is to some degree or another going to leak, and trying to suppress it only spreads it further, so for the most part I think they try to ignore most of it and not encourage people to pay attention, which is a strategy I always suggested back in the day. Takedown notices merely focussed attention on rumors and gave them free publicity. 

I also used to suggest that a way to counteract the rumor sites was through an active disinformation campaign; hit the rumor sites where it could potentially hurt with the audience you’re trying to convince to stop paying attention to them by giving the rumor sites information proven to be wrong enough that their audience writes them off. A campaigned of designed but incorrect rumors laid down on the rumor sites could create enough havoc that even the rumor sites wouldn’t know which leaks and leakers to pay attention to. At the very least, you could make their lives a bit of hell for a while and sit back and enjoy watching them twitch… 

No, I never got Apple to take that idea seriously. There have been times in the last few years where I’ve wondered if they finally picked up on this idea (I still wonder about the “Apple is building their own TVs” rumor setup, since it’s a perfect thing to catch people’s attention and get them arguing over while Apple goes off and does something completely different — and notice how the rumors in this space have now shifted away from the TV back to set top boxes and content? Hmm.)

I probably shouldn’t admit this, but what the heck. Once I tweaked a couple of web pages I managed. Nothing major, just a couple of “inadvertent” links to pages that didn’t exist that were commented out. Very ambiguous stuff, just to see what happened. And like these folks, then I sat back and watched the show. 

See, even then I knew there were rumor sites scraping as much of Apple as they could looking for changed pages and mistakes like this. It didn’t take long, and it hit some of the rumor sites. We got told to fix the pages, the links got pulled, and things settled down again, although every so often for a few months after that, some site or another would speculate on what those links were for. (hint: they were for making you wonder what they were for!). 

And yeah, I got yelled at for doing it…. But it was more than worth it, just to watch people hyperventilate over it. Sometimes, it’s worth a kick in the pants to see the show…. 

(and I can still say that I know the truth about, and you don’t… neener. And no, don’t bother asking…).


Posted in Computers and Technology, Silicon Valley and the San Francisco Bay Area

If you’re at work and you’re reading the site at 10:35 am then I question your busy

Rands In Repose: One Job:

I want to be busy. Not “I’ve got a bunch of stuff to do” busy, but “The weight of the important work I need to do is literally crushing me” busy. This state is not for everyone and while I’m extremely appreciative of the fact you’re reading this site, if you’re at work and you’re reading the site at 10:35 am then I question your busy.

I used to be like that. Then this happened. There were a number of reasons for it, but the issue that put me over the edge and off the cliff was the reality that when you burn the candle from both ends, and then blowtorch the middle because you need to squeeze a bit more out of your schedule, eventually you run out of candle.

It’s nice to say you don’t feel busy unless your work is crushing you. I’d suggest, though, stepping back and asking yourself whether that’s the way you want your life to be ten years from now, and if not, how you plan on on transitioning away from those work habits. Once you set those expectations with your bosses, customers and co-workers, it can be tough to change them later.

Then stop and ask yourself what you’ll do if something wanders in and forces you to make those changes in a timeframe not under your control.

More and more studies are showing that this geek “work harder” mentality is wrong-thinking, that your effectiveness goes down, that the quality of your work suffers. I’ve learned — the hard way — that slowing down a bit, taking some breaks while you think things through, getting away from a problem while you consider options.

I’ve you’ve so loaded your work schedule that you’re too busy to slow and and think through your problem, or you think you’re too busy to step back and take a break? Then I question your busy, too, because now I have to wonder how you’ll handle your deadlines when you see that cliff looming in your path, or worse, not notice it until you run off it.

Posted in About Chuq, Silicon Valley and the San Francisco Bay Area

Speaking of the CBA and the upcoming NHL lockout….

Okay, well in my case, trying desperately to not speak of the CBA, the on-going negotiations, and the upcoming lockout…

I’ve consciously avoided digging in to the CBA and negotiations so far because there really hasn’t been a lot to talk about. We’ve heard the NHL position, which is that the universe will fall into a black hole and we’ll all die unless the NHLPA gives back even more money. In fact, the NHLPA needs to start paying the owners for the privilege of playing, because otherwise, the game is doomed. 

Something like that. The Owners want more restrictive free agency, reduced salaries, shorter contracts, and a pony. 

The player’s response has been pending, but at least some of the details are now starting to hit public view. They’re calling for the removal of the salary cap and replacing it with a luxury tax. That luxury tax will fund revenue sharing from the higher-revenue teams who are willing to spend money to the lower revenue teams that are struggling to meet the current salary floor. The players also want a partridge in a  pear tree.

Typically when I start talking about sports labor negotiations I tell people two things: first, ignore everything both sides say in public, because they are lying, and second, nothing will happen to solve the problem until the last possible second, if then. In this case, surprisingly, both sides have been surprisingly honest in their comments (for a labor negotiation) and beyond that, the discussions are unusually amicable. There are definitely strong disagreements about what the new CBA needs for approval — but at least both sides are acting professionally and seem committed to finding that middle ground. 

That is encouraging to me. That might be surprising to some given the players hired Donald Fehr, but remember, in professional baseball, the owners were so anti-union for so many years that they were found guilty of collusion (to the tunes of hundreds of millions of dollars) multiple times. Not only were the baseball owners willing to break the law to break the union, they did it again and again after getting caught. No wonder the baseball player’s association didn’t exactly cut them any slack… Fehr and Bettman, at least, seem to be keeping this civil and businesslike, and that, at least, is a good starting point.

It should also be noted that even though the new CBA is an agreement between two groups, the players and the owners, there are actually three groups at the negotiating table: the players, the rich owners, and the poor owners. 

Gary Bettman’s role in this is to figure out a way to steer the rich and poor owners to a consensus both sides can live with that the players will agree to. My honest opinion: fans don’t appreciate just how hard his job is and what he does to keep the owners from screwing this sport up massively. Also, whatever the owners pay him, he’s underpaid given the crap they put him through. 

Donald Fehr has a lesser problem: the wishes of the rich players vs. the needs of the journeymen. Hockey, fortunately, has players with a strong sense of working for the greater good of the game, as opposed to a sport like basketball where the rich player’s view of the depth guys is “hey, there are lots just like you in europe waiting, so shut up”. In the case of basketball, there’s some validity to that, too, where in hockey, it really is more of a team game, and the player’s union attitudes match that.

Fehr’s bigger problem is that his negotiating stance isn’t really about what the players want, it’s about presenting a set of demands that force the two owner factions to come to that compromise position. In some ways, his job is help Bettman beat sense into the owners in a way that the players get a deal they like. Or will tolerate.

Donald Fehr’s negotiating position is intended to push the owners to revenue sharing: his view is there’s lots of money in the game, and that the rich owners need to help out the less rich owners. The rich owner’s position is that the less rich owners can suck on it and that the proper way to solve this problem is to take more money out of the players, which will make the less rich owners richer, and the rich owners even more richer. 

That is the core issue in this CBA negotiation: the owners want the players to make them richer. The players want the rich owners to help out the less rich owners. The less rich owners generally don’t get to air their opinions in public, but I think it’s safe to say they want some kind of improved revenue sharing, but they don’t have a big enough faction to make that happen on their own. Bettman and Fehr will use all of the other issues on the board (the ones highlighted so far are free agency, contract length, the salary cap, the luxury tax, length of contracts and various player discipline issues) as chess pieces on a complex board where the rules are, at best, fluid. 

My prediction for most fans: try not to pay attention to this, especially early in the game. Definitely pay little or no attention to sports pundits writing about it. Most don’t put in the time needed to study the issues and take over-simplistic positions without really understanding what’s going on. Most of the rest are mouthpieces for one faction or another and are pushing some aspect of some agenda. I would put myself in the “don’t pay attention” pool as well, and I hope to not feel the need to talk about this much. 

My next prediction: the league will miss opening night. The owners will lock the players out when the current CBA expires in September. The player’s offer to continue playing under the existing CBA isn’t really acceptable, because all that does is transfer the timing of the work stoppage into the hands of the players. Of course the players want to play in October, even under the old deal. The old deal wasn’t bad for the players, and that gives them the ability to call a strike when it hurts the owners most. The owners won’t allow that to happen, so they’ll force the issue at the start of the season when incoming revenue is weakest and it hurts the owners less. 

I don’t expect this negotiation to drag on too long, though. I believe there will be hockey by November 1. There are significant issues to solve, but I don’t see this as a serious war. It’s hard negotiation and it’s a very solvable situation. For all the owners quiet pretensions of impending disaster, it’s not in their best interest to let this drag on, the amount of money involved isn’t worth it. 

Yes, this is millionaires arguing with billionaires over how to carve up a pretty big pie. That’s life in professional sports. Fans, get used to it. That’s how it is.

In a perfect world, I’d like to see the teams split gate revenue 60-40; the home team keeps 60%, the away team gets 40%. Over the length of a season, a team with weaker home revenues would see it balanced out by stronger revenues from away games in strong cities, but a home team with really good revenues still gets an advantage so there’s motivation for all teams to push for their own revenues to thrive (my goal: all teams get enough of a safety net to be viable, but not so much revenue parity they can be lazy or incompetent and still be profitable. That’s been a problem in the NFL over the years where so much revenue is shared). 

In the Rich owners perfect world, they would keep 100% of gate (and all other) revenues, and pay the Washington Generals a flat fee to come in and lose home games on a regular basis. that may sound like Hyperbole, but I do believe there’s a core group of owners that would love a ten team league, if they could only avoid the repercussions of doing away with the rest of the league from the fans, press, politicians and the player’s union. And, of course, they could keep all of the revenues for themselves. and hopefully stop paying the players… 

What do I think will happen? 

Nothing, until the owners agree to some modification of the revenue sharing rules to balance out revenues across teams in some way. Fehr’s luxury tax is probably dead on arrival, at least in this initial form, but in baseball, seems to help some of the lesser teams without slowing down teams like the Yankees that are willing to spend the money and pay the tax. It’s not a bad starting point (but it’s not really an optimal financing form; it is, however, a lever that can be used against the rich owners towards other revenue share options). 

The owners demands are simply to push hard against the player’s position from the start, and try to make the negotiation a case of the player’s limiting their losses. Fehr’s response seems oriented more towards ignoring that and pushing the owners off in a different direction. How well that’ll work I don’t know yet, but it makes sense. To respond directly to the owners would be to agree that some set of take-backs are going to happen. Fehr’s goal is to reshape how revenues move between owners. He’ll be happy if nothing really changes in player compensation.

The other big issue seems to be player discipline, and the union clearly wants more say in how players are disciplined, especially suspensions and appeals. I don’t expect the owners are at all interested in allowing the union any new powers here. I would not be surprised if this is the big wedge that halts negotiations from finishing and that the players ultimately give it back to the owners when the owners make enough concessions elsewhere. It seems a perfect issue for the players to refuse to compromise on until they get what they want elsewhere. 

Ultimately, the owners really do need more rational revenue sharing. This isn’t a “greedy player” problem, it’s a revenue disparity problem between the richer teams and the less rich teams. Player compensation isn’t unreasonable when you compare it with other major sports leagues, and the NHL isn’t exactly revenue poor. There are definitely issues with the current CBA — I think free agency was made too liberal, leading to salary escalation too early in a player’s career, and contract length has extended way too long, and there have been too many abuses of contract length to circumvent the salary cap. I don’t think the luxury tax is a bad idea, personally, but Id’ rather see a more honest revenue share setup in place. 

I would like to see most contracts capped at 3-5 years, with some exception for franchise players. I agree with the owners that salary arbitration is inflationary to salaries, but I haven’t seen them put out an alternative to solve the problem (“let’s kill salary arbitration and restrict free agency even further” is not a rational alternative). There needs to be some way to let player’s salaries grow as they prove themselves in the league without the current massive bumps after the initial three year entry deal, but I haven’t seen a good proposal how to fix it. 

One way I’ve considered to deal with the franchise player contract length is to cap how many years of contracts you can have with a franchise at any time. If you have (say) 25 players under 1-way contracts and the average contract length is capped at 3 years, that means you can only have 75 years worth of contracts signed. If you choose to sign your star goalie for 15 years, that means the other 24 players have to have contracts totaling 60 years or less. That gives teams some flexibility as to how to structure deals, and new and interesting ways to screw themselves over with stupid contracts. I see that as a feature. It also gives a team an opportunity to bring in another longer-term contract player — as long as they stay under the team cap. (I admit to liking team caps more than individual player caps for a lot of things because it gives a smart team opportunities to be inventive, and incompetent teams opportunities to shoot themselves in the foot). Having to wedge contract length into a cap along with salary caps will give capologists (pro and amateur) even more reasons to grab the Maalox; also a feature in my eye.

I think the league needs to move to longer restricted free agency; players are going unrestricted too young, given top players now routinely play into their late 30′s and 40′s. Some of the existing rules were framed when players careers were ending at 32 or 33. Now it’s more likely to be 35 or 37. 

So my plan? something like this:

  • Owners share revenue more equitably. If they can’t work it out, then some kind of luxury tax for the Rangers and Leafs to complain about. I won’t get 60-40, but the richer teams need to get over it and help out the less rich teams more. (they will be allowed to whine and pout about it, though). 
  • Players accept four year rookie deals instead of three.
  • Longer terms for restricted free agency, and push unrestricted free agency for most players out two years. 
  • Teams can not exceed a total of three years of contract per player, capped on a team-wide basis. (with lots of details to work out about how to handle injuries and etc). 
  • Player discipline and suspension unchanged. That system isn’t broken, so ultimately, let the owners have it back in favor of other concessions on revenues.

And lets see if they can get it done by October 20th. 

At least, one can hope…






Posted in Sports - Hockey

Canon 70 – 200 IS or no IS? Is it worth the difference in price?

Ask Me Anything About Photography • Canon 70 – 200 IS or no IS? Is it worth the difference in price?:

Canon 70 – 200 IS or no IS? Is it worth the difference in price? If I was a full time wedding shooter then I think the IS would be worth the difference simply for the ceremony shots in bad light where the 200 is an important focal length for those conditions. You can live without it though. I have the non-IS version to save the money. I barely use it. Been thinking of selling it.

Going to add another question to this to make it one post… Anonymous asked…

Are there times when you do not use the image stabilizer function on image stabilized lenses?

I only have one IS lens and that’s mainly bolted onto a 5d2 on a product set. I take it out on occasion and have yet to get used to the IS function. I feel the lens vibrating and my image in my viewfinder is moving around and it’s, initially, a pain. I don’t like it because it feels different.

I think the rule of thumb on IS lenses is to not use them when you have the camera on a tripod. When I have used this IS lens I’ve turned it off because I wasn’t shooting at shutter speeds where I needed it. I guess it would be helpful around the 30th of a second mark or below. I don’t know.

As you can see… IS (or VR for Nikon heads) isn’t that big of a deal for me.

Been really enjoying Zack’s tumblr blog as he does a Q&A with the greater world around him.

I did want to take on this question for him from the view of someone who’s both a nature photographer and an owner of various IS lenses.

Whether it makes sense to buy an IS lens or not depends on what you’re doing. To the degree that you’re in control of the shot and the environment the shot is being taken in, you’ll find IS doesn’t matter much, and I’d spend my money elsewhere. A simplistic way to think about it is this: the more your shooting is:

  • In a Studio
  • Surrounded by lighting gear
  • On a tripod

The less you need IS. If you’re building the light for the shot with gear, then IS will rarely make a difference for you.

Where IS shines is where you’re reacting to a situation and making a shot rather than creating a situation for the shot to be made. To that degree, the more you are

  • Outside
  • Hand-holding your gear
  • Dealing with whatever light life brings you
  • Not in control of your models (or your models are actively running/flying away from you)

you want IS if it’s available. A bird that is flying between sun and shade and back to sun — as the sun goes down — and refuses to stand still or let you get close enough for that 85mm lens to be useful; those are the times you’ll appreciate having IS, because it can mean the difference between getting the shot and showing off pictures of fuzzy blurs. There is a very fine line between this:

8328471859 f86043ab5f Canon 70   200 IS or no IS? Is it worth the difference in price?

and this:

8333216468 11c5aa5bb7 Canon 70   200 IS or no IS? Is it worth the difference in price?

So there are times where every edge comes in handy.

Nine months ago I did a significant upgrade to my lenses, going to the 24-105f4IS and the 70-200f2.8IS, along with my trusty 300F4IS. I upgraded from a Tamron super zoom (nice, but effectively a kit lens quality) and the 100-400F5.6IS. (Look here if you want to understand why I made these choices. )

Having lived with these lenses for the better part of a year, you’ll tear the 24-105 out of my cold, dead hands. I fell in love with that lens quickly, it’s got a look that I think is awesome, and it’s just a great lens. My 300F4 (usually paired with a 1.4x tele as a very cost effective birding/wildlife lens) continues to create really nice, sharp images, even if there are days when I want more reach (but price out that combo and then a 500mm lens…. yeah…)

The 70-200F2.8IS? It’s a great lens, but honestly I still struggle to take advantage of it. In practice, I can only think of two outings where the combination of it being F2.8 fast and the IS made a significant difference in my getting some shots or not. The IS is not a huge benefit for me right now, and honestly, neither is the speed of it being F2.8. And it’s big, it’s hefty, and you notice it when you carry it around. It saves me neither size nor weight off my former friend, the 100-400.

So if I had to do this again, I would EITHER upgrade to the 70-200F2.8ISII (IS II vs. IS), which would have cost me another thousand dollars or so, or I’d have gone with the 70-200F4IS, which would have saved me a few hundred dollars, but it’s a lot smaller, a lot lighter, and the quality of the glass is right up there. The primary reason for considering the shift from the IS to the IS II is that it would allow me to use a 2x tele on the lens (the Art Morris birding combo), allowing me to sell the 300F4 and take that weight out of the camera bag. The thought of carrying two hefty lenses and two teles instead of three hefty lenses and one tele makes me smile. I may still do that one of these days.

But for most people who aren’t chasing small flying things through cold damp marshes? I think the 70-200F4 is an awesome choice. Think long and hard whether you need the cost (and weight) of F2.8. You probably don’t.

Heck, I have — I’m not joking — seriously considered buying the 70-200F4 non IS ($700 at amazon Canon 70   200 IS or no IS? Is it worth the difference in price?) just to have the option of leaving the heavy artillery at home. At that price, it can almost make sense to own both for the situations they work best for.

So really, this is two questions if you’re looking to buy the 70-200 for a Canon: F2.8 or F4? and IS or non-IS? Canon has made variations for all comers, just to make life a bit more complicated for us all. And my answer is: for most people, the F4 should be fine. Given what I shoot, I will typically buy the IS version. If you’re someone working under lights or in a controlled environment? don’t bother. Can you put the camera on a tripod? don’t bother with IS: spend the money (about $600 difference between the IS and non-IS lenses) on a better tripod.

Words like street? hand-held? walking around? dark shadows? Wildlife? late-night paparazzi? Then IS is probably a good investment.

Otherwise? I’d recommend spending your money elsewhere.



Posted in Photography Tagged , |

Why i love prototypes….

I sort of apologize for the relative quiet on the blog the last week or so. I’ve been off geeking my way through a project, and it’s borrowed most of my free time attention.

What I’ve been working on is a way to organize the data stored within my blog’s “For your Consideration” areas — lots of reviews and recommendations, but it’s a blob of data that really isn’t very useful once the initial “post to blog so the readers see it” time passes. I’ve felt for a while that better organization to make that material browsable would give it more visibility, and since it ties into amazon’s affiliate marketing, might generate some incremental revenue for the site.

(quick digression: I’ve done some minor testing over the years, and my audience seems best oriented towards Amazon or similar type advertising; I have always kept it low-key and intend to continue that, but it’d be nice if this site ultimately paid for itself, which it currently doesn’t. that’s my problem to solve, not yours. But, it goes without saying, if you like the kind of stuff I write here, and wish I’d write more, then go down to the footer and go buy yourself something on Amazon through the link. It costs you nothing, and amazon chips a few bucks into the pot for me).

I love all aspects of building sites, but if I could only do one aspect, the structure and organization the most. Figuring out how to tie everything into a usable format is both non-trivial and a lot of fun. That’s probably why I enjoyed DBA work so much, back in the day. I’ve found working out these kind of structural issues is a natural for early and quick prototyping — you have some idea how it should look, then you take your data and start pulling it together, or at least a subset of it. As you do, problems in your approach show up early (and usually, often), and you can solve it as you go along, until you either find it working, or it collapses in a heap and you tear it all apart and go back to the drawing board.

My ultimate goal is to turn “For your Consideration” into its own site. It was obvious early on that the best solution would to to use a database back end and spit the site out on demand, but I wanted to avoid building that until I knew it was worth the investment. Because of that, I’ve been exploring whether I could build it as a static site in a way I liked enough I could push public and explore how people reacted to it (or whether they ignored it, or laughed at it). 

What the last few days of exploring the manual prototype has confirmed is that doing this manually doesn’t scale, even to a small scale experiment. I’m not disappointed; I had a feeling that might be the case going in. I could mitigate that somewhat with templates, but even so, I don’t see a “simple” (i.e. manual) solution working beyond 15-25 records. So if I’m going to move this forward, it’s by writing a real backend system, or coming up with another approach. 

That’s the fun of doing this early prototyping; I spent a week or so of evenings exploring this. It taught me a lot about what worked with this data set as well as what didn’t, and very little real time doing the tests. It would have really sucked if I’d spent a month or so on wireframes and page design and chrome and the look and feel, only to get a week into actual implementation and hitting that “oops, we have a problem” point. 

So now this one goes back on the back burner while I decide what my next steps are, or until I decide I want to go ahead and build the back end. It’s actually a fun project, but I’m not yet convinced I want to invest the time — because remember, it’s not just writing the code, it’s administering and maintaining the thing once it launches, too. Is it worth it? 

Probably. But I have to think that one threw a bit… 

Posted in Computers and Technology, Working on Web Sites

Fiction River

Fiction River: Kris and I Are Returning To Editing |:

That’s right. Hugo Award winning editor Kristine Kathryn Rusch and I are coming back to editing with a project called Fiction River.

Fiction River will be a bimonthly anthology series starting in April next year. Each anthology will be theme-focused and cross-genre containing all original fiction written by some of the top writers in fiction, including big names and names you might have never heard of.

Each anthology will be published in an electronic edition, a trade paper edition, and a very limited and numbered and signed hardback edition. (Signed by all authors and editors.) Readers will be able to buy each anthology individually or subscribe to the anthology series like a magazine.

Cool project. Supporting this one on Kickstarter is a no-brainer. 

Posted in For Your Consideration Tagged , , , |

Amazon CFO ‘doesn’t see a way to do same-day delivery’

Amazon CFO ‘doesn’t see a way to do same-day delivery’ | The Verge:

When asked directly about the possibility of offering same-day delivery, Szkutak hedged a bit, saying that “we’re always trying to get closer to customers… That’s not new, it’s been something we’ve been doing for years.” However, he then freely offered that “we don’t see a way to do same-day delivery on a broad scale economically.” That’s as close to a flat-out “no” on same-day delivery as we’ve ever seen from Amazon, so we’re not going to be holding our breath for that to change anytime soon

My reaction is different. I think there’s a lot of wiggle room in that statement. Define “broad scale”.

I agree with him, it’s probably not economic to do same-day delivery in, say, Billings Montana. What if Amazon decides to take, for instance, the top ten metro areas and build a service for them? That’s not “broad scale” in that geographically, it’s only covering a small percentage of the US — but it touches a non-trivial number of potential users. Could you build a service for, say, New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Silicon Valley, Seattle, Chicago, Atlanta — pick some big, fairly dense populations and think it through.

Anyone who remembers Webvan here in the Bay Area knows it’s possible, if you don’t mess up your logistics chain as totally as Webvan did. Consider this….

There have been reports on and off for about a year about a huge distribution center being built in Patterson California for some mystery company. Everyone “knew” that company was amazon, but it’s only recently that’s been admitted formally. So Amazon is going to have one million square feet of automated warehouse coming to the greater Bay Area. it’s due to open soon after the sales tax change occurs; Amazon couldn’t put a business presence inside the state borders without triggering that. Now that they’ve agreed to do it anyway, they don’t have to stick their warehouse out in Nevada.

(interesting side question: is Amazon taking advantage of ‘losing’ the sales tax war by moving distribution to Patterson? Or did Amazon strategically give up that fight so they could start implementing a business model that takes advantage of big distribution centers within the state of California? interesting question…)

A quick look at driving times from Patterson: San Francisco, San Jose and Sacramento are all almost exactly 90 minutes away. Fresno is two hours. So in theory, if you wanted to order something that lived in that warehouse, and you were willing to pay for expedited delivery, it wouldn’t be too hard for Amazon to promise same day delivery. Order by 10AM, on your porch by 6PM. What price? Good question. But where I doubt you’d pay $20 to get toothpaste delivered this evening, what about a flat screen TV?

Webvan did this a decade ago; Webvan died because they did it BADLY, not because it was a bad model. What Webvan needed was solid distribution and warehouse logistics. Guess what Amazon has?

So think about a service with significant limitations: I’d target the top 10 population markets in the country, say, and limit delivery to 90 minutes driving from the distribution center. you limit the items to a subset of inventory that is (a) in reasonably high demand, (b) in that warehouse, and [c] shippable without a lot of hassle. These same-day priority items get picked and shipped out from the main distribution center 3-4 times a day on big trucks to smaller redistribution centers. You could cover the majority of the Bay Area eligible for these deliveries with three: South San Francisco, Milpitas or Fremont, and near Sacramento (say, Elk Grove). Big trucks pile in, and incoming orders get pulled off and stuffed onto delivery vans that run out and do a round of deliveries, then circle back and grab the next load. These models are also proven, it’s a combination of what UPS does today with what Pizza Hut does. So none of this is inventing new models, it’s scale and execution.

Take it a step further: you now have buildings handling sub-regions where you are packing up for final delivery. What if you shifted some of your inventory here? What if you stocked your 5,000 most in demand (for same day) items in those regional hubs? Those hubs could take those items and have them on your porch in four hours. For the right price, of course. This is the Pizza Hut model, but for WIFI routers and hard drives instead of pepperoni.

So without a lot of innovation (instead, it’s all about capital, ability to scale and knowing how to execute logistics — all of which Amazon has), Amazon could put a key subset of product items four hours away from a lot of people, and a much larger inventory within same-say delivery capability.

they may only be able to offer it to 30% of the population (which I think excuses them from “broad scale”), but that’s still a lot of people, and a lot of revenue opportunity. And over time you expand to new metro areas and refine the model and the product mix.

Will they do this? I dunno. But it sure seems like the kind of thing Amazon CAN do, and that almost nobody but Amazon could do. And the business and logistics models it’s based on are all known and proven (including how NOT to do it like Webvan did it).

Could you build a price point that’d make this pay? I think so, but I haven’t done the math. But it seems to me there’d be enough demand that $20-25 for a small box delivery, $45 for a large box and a discount for 2nd-etc boxes in the same delivery could be made to work — and that enough people would go for it to pay for it.

And then, of course, I think to myself: what if one of the ways Amazon builds out this infrastructure is to buy UPS? If they did that, a big chunk of what they would need is already in place….

So when I hear Amazon saying “no, we don’t see why we’d do that”, I just think about how many times Steve Jobs said something like that. And with Amazon, like Apple, I always hear “… until we’re ready to.” at the end of those sentences…


Posted in Computers and Technology, Silicon Valley and the San Francisco Bay Area Tagged |

Chick-fil-A Finds Politics Can Be Bad For Its Business

Chick-fil-A Finds Politics Can Be Bad For Its Business | News – Advertising Age:

Fast-growing chicken chain Chick-fil-A has long been known for sticking to its conservative roots. In a 2010 interview with Ad Age, an exec said the restaurant would sell hamburgers before it would consider opening on a Sunday. But what was once seen as an almost charming quirk of a Southern restaurant is increasingly coming under fire as the franchise funnels money into political causes that are seen as retrograde by large numbers of consumers once willing to give it a pass.

Things came to a head last week when an interview that Chick-fil-A President-Chief Operating Officer Dan Cathy did with the Baptist Press hit the internet. In short, Mr. Cathy, son of founder S. Truett Cathy, affirmed the company’s support of what he considers traditional marriage. “Guilty as charged,” Mr. Cathy told the magazine. “We are very much supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives.”

Unlike a lot of people, I’m going to congratulate the Chick-fil-A company for standing up for its values here, and defend their right to do so. If that’s an important core value to the company, they should.

Don’t mistake defending their decision with supporting it. I don’t. Nor do I plan on visiting one of their establishments any time soon. But at least they took an position. How many big companies do that? 

But if you want the casebook reason why so many big companies and professional athletes master the skill of “cliche 101″ and never utter anything remotely non-generic, just look at the outfall from this. Chick-fil-A is a company that’s been in expansion mode, moving into new markets, working to take the company and brand nationwide with some success. And this is the sort of hard lesson you learn when you go from “what works in my home town” to “what works everywhere”.

The reason big companies go bland is because bland is what’s palatable everywhere. It’s a difficult thing to try to speak to a nationwide or global audience and not get tripped up here. Remember back in 2003 when Apple introduced iTunes for Windows and proclaimed that Hell had Frozen over with Apple shipping windows software? No, you probably don’t, actually. But it was a big deal — and the state of Virginia threatened to cancel all of its Apple educational contracts because, well, Steve Jobs used a cuss word. Apple changed the ad campaign, and it all mellowed out again. 

I use that example because there’s been some complaining by the conservative groups the we shouldn’t be picking on Chick-fil-A for their beliefs. Well, heck, why not? This is a common pressure tactic, and effective. It’s just this time it’s being aimed in the other direction. 

The fact is, if you want to influence others with your position, you have my blessing. Please do. But realize that the flip side of that is that people will react to you and your position, and not all of them will be positive. And what may work in your home town or with your core group may not work so well in other regions, or in groups you’re hoping to attract to your brand. 

THAT is why big companies go bland and cliche-ridden. And that’s a lesson Chick-fil-A is now learning. And they’re going to have to make a decision, do they want to hold to their values and promote them, and be willing to take the hit in lost customers or sales it might create? Or are you really interested in becoming a national brand and grow in the market? 

Most companies choose growth. Honestly, there’s rarely a lot of upside to pushing your agenda. A better strategy is to shut up, take the money you make, and quietly funnel it to support the causes you believe in. That tends to be a lot less controversial; take a look at Curves as an example the Chick-fil-A management can emulate. Don’t think choosing to isolate yourself from the company management will completely protect you, though. Just ask the GoDaddy folks. 

This would have likely been a quick and soon forgotten kerfluffle, if it weren’t for the Muppet toy crisis, and here’s where I think Chick-fil-A screwed up. One side effect of this was that the Muppets cancelled their relationship with the company, and that ended a promotion of a toy giveaway. Chick-fil-A announced this as a safety recall, which only gave fresh ammunition to those looking for reasons to criticize them. 

For all I know, the claim is true, too. Whether it is or not is irrelevant. The perception here is that they’re covering this up, and no matter how Chick-fil-A tries, the critics will jump on them for this. And it frankly looks bad because they seem to be trying to blame the Muppets for this. If they had simply put up signs saying “because of circumstances beyond our control, we’ve had to cancel this promotion”, nobody would be posting photos of the signs to Facebook and beating them up for this.

To me, it looks like a sour grapes reaction, no matter what the truth is. And by doing it, they give their critics fresh ammunition to sustain the criticism. If they’d used a simpler response that avoided naming the Muppets, they wouldn’t have rebooted this controversy. Unfortunately, they did, and gave it a second wind. Someone in their marketing or PR group should have caught this and short-circuited those signs to something safer.

In the grand scheme of things, this is minor — assuming they don’t pour more gasoline on the fire. It’s a good time to be quiet and let things fade. It’s a good opportunity for a learning opportunity on when to keep your mouth shut, too, especially you’re a small company learning a lesson about what happens when you become a big one…

Posted in Community Management