Road Trip II

Movies always make the prospect of a road trip sound romantic. Sure, there’s excitement of traveling new places, hours of uninterrupted good tunes, and the prospect of too much food that’s too bad for you to consider while you’re on the road. But when you get down to it, road trips are about one thing: driving. A lot of it. And I hate driving.

Our move to California was no different – fourteen hours of driving over two days. My ass still hurts, which is saying something given that I’m back-filling my blog from a month in the future (cue Futurama reference: “Welcome…to the future! WoOoOooo!”). That’s not to say there weren’t a few poetic moments, beyond the occasional image of me massaging my ass at an interstate rest stop. But enough about my ass.

Synergy. Synergy? SYNERGY!How’s this for a poetic moment? Somewhere in Oregon, speeding away as fast as possible from my MBA, we were overtaken by a car with a vanity license plate reading “SYNRGY”.


Yes, synergy.

Synergy is an inside joke among graduates of my MBA program. When we’re asked informally about what we learned in our MBA, our answer is simple: synergy. Not as a business concept. Not as a desirable outcome of a acquisition or merger. Just the word. “Synergy” is a part of any answer to any question a professor poses. “Synergy” is the equivalent of “uhm”, a placeholder for your mouth while your mental tape recorder pauses to auto-reverse.

It’s somehow appropriate that the one-word summary of my MBA would choose to pull up stakes, don an Oregon license plate, and make for Silicon Valley. Just like me.

New Year, New Job

After a hectic (well, not really; rather relaxing, now that I think about it) Christmas holiday, the New Year is here. And with it, my new job as a Product Manager at PGP Corporation in sunny California! I’ll be starting in mid-January, which means Ashley and I are on a hectic schedule to move down to California in the next two weeks – cue the craziness. Yes, I know, how ironic that I become yet another casualty of the brain drain, neglecting to pay the toll along the way.

It’s with some sadness that we’ll say goodbye. It’s been over three years since we returned to Vancouver, glad to escape Ireland. No sooner than we returned to Vancouver than one of its native authors, Douglas Coupland, published “City of Glass” and reminded us of all the things we love about Vancouver. With that in mind, we spent the day around Stanley Park snapping pictures of the mountains.

The North Shore Mountains

I knew that once I completed my MBA, it would probably be time to go walkabout again. Though we love Vancouver, the opportunities are pretty limited in the city at this time – so it only makes sense to see how things are in other parts of the world. Especially while we have the freedom afforded by no mortgage and no children. We will return, of course. The mountains surrounding Vancouver will always be waiting to welcome us home.

The End of Economics?

I re-read Cory Doctorow‘s first novel, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, recently as a nice way to ease into the lazy days of Christmas. The book is set in the not-too-distant future, where the end of scarcity and death has transformed society into an esteem-based economy. Your basics are free, but your perks require you to build credibility capital.

It’s a neat concept, especially Doctorow’s main character’s contention that it more accurately reflects the nature of money – for example, in the present, a “rich” man that people don’t respect will not be able to buy anything with his riches, while a “poor” man that has much respect in the community will be able to make out all right with the help of his friends. The whole idea dovetailed nicely with a conversation I had later with my father-in-law on a familiar topic: “meaningful” work.

My father-in-law’s opinion of the nature of “meaningful” work is pretty straightforward, and parallels my earlier thoughts on Adam Smith: if people buy it, it must be useful. He pointed out that without this principle, forty percent of the population would be unemployed – could I imagine what forty percent unemployment would look like? Certainly not. But it begged the question: have we already reached the point where not everybody needs to work?

Considering only a miniscule percentage of the workforce is responsible for agriculture, arguably the main requirement for life, what are the other ninety-seven percent of us doing with our time? Are we only engaging in busywork because we haven’t been clever enough to reform our system of economics to free people to pursue work that they really consider meaningful, rather than scraping out a living working on things other people consider meaningful?

Springfield, Springfield!

Well, not quite – I’m actually in New York, New York. Actually, Bayhead, New Jersey. But what’s a state line to stand between me and a good Simpson’s analogy? Exactly – nothing!

We arrived in Newark on Tuesday morning, and I hopped on the train to Boston so I could interview in person with Peppercoin. While I could make some glib remark about taking a 6-hour plane ride across the continent just to take a 7-hour train ride up the eastern seaboard, I won’t, out of sheer respect for the train. It had legroom. And power outlets for my laptop. And a real reclining seat, permitting actual sleep. Heck, if they threw in wireless access, I would have chosen to take the train all the way from Vancouver.

I arrived in Boston in time to check out the local Company of Friends cell’s holiday party. Wow. Though they only had roughly double the number of participants at their meeting as compared to the Vancouver cell, it sounded like they seriously have their excrement together! The number and caliber of the events, discussion topics, and speakers they had during the year was quite impressive. Of course, this observation must be tempered with the knowledge that their cell has been able to piggyback on the magazine, which, until this year, was located in Boston. Thus, they could easily gain access to some premium speakers and other resources to which other cells wouldn’t normally have access. With the recent departure of the magazine to New York, it’ll be interesting to hear how they fare this year.

As for my interview, it went pretty well. Though I’m still pretty skeptical about the micro-payments space, given its turbulent history, they seem to have a capable and experienced management team in place. That, coupled with the growing need for micro-payments in light of the market opened by Apple’s iTunes service, suggests they might just be adequately positioned to make it work. I guess we’ll see what happens.

So now, to relaxation! Already I’ve seen the final installment of the Lord of the Rings trilogy (spectacular, of course), as well as “Henry IV” at the Lincoln Center (starring Kevin Kline and Ethan Hawke). Funny story about the play: I ran into Steve Martin. Not literally, of course, though that would have made it an even funnier experience. And what’s reality to stand between me and a good anecdote? Exactly – nothing!

Bay Area Road Trip

A weeklong gap in my blog usually means I’m either temporarily dead, or I’ve been busy. In this case, I’ve been very busy on a road trip to the sunny Bay Area near San Francisco, colloquially known as Silicon Valley. Ashley and I drove down to Palo Alto last weekend, taking two days to enjoy to trip, so I could check out the region, see a few companies, and get a general idea of what the area had to offer a newly-minted MBA.

First, let me just apologize to freeways. You see, I had always felt freeways were a Bad Thing, an opinion mirrored by the City of Vancouver in deciding to design the city without them. Let me just say, after driving around the Bay area, covering much ground with minimal effort, I have to say that freeways are definitely a Good Thing. In the time it took me to drive to Coquitlam the previous week, I drove five times the distance in the Bay Area without so much as taking the Lord’s name in vain. A significant feat for me, especially given my dislike of driving.

So, what did I do while I was down there? Well, let’s see. I had an interview with PGP Corporation, which went pretty well. The company, reformed from the intellectual property divested by Network Associates, is humming along nicely, complete with revenue, customers and experienced management. Looks really good, so hopefully I get an offer.

I also got a chance to visit with team at Project JXTA at Sun. It was nice to finally meet the team, see what was going on. I was also given the opportunity to dub the next release of the JXTA reference implementation – it seems that the team is naming releases after exotic dishes. Not to be outdone, I chose “Klauh Kalesh”, in reference to the episode of ‘The Simpsons’ where Homer visits New York. Ironically, “Klauh Kalesh” is a real food, not just a Simpson’s gag, though it sounds very unappealing.

I also managed to visit the Haas School of Business in Berkeley to access their Career Center, which operated in a league of its own compared to UBC. But I digress. Berkeley seemed pretty cool, if a little bit like a Phish concert that had been going for thirty-five years, before which it had been a Grateful Dead concert. Many, many flower power casualties wandering the streets there.

Best of all, I managed to attend a morning event presented by Carr & Ferrell, a local law firm. They were hosting a seminar/workshop on “Pitching to Win” – complete with Jerry Weissman, the legendary pitchman who has helped numerous CEOs tune their IPO roadshows, giving tips from his new book, “Presenting to Win“. Cool!

All in all, the Bay area seems very active, has lots to do. Not a bad place to live at all, should I get the chance.

What Is This Shiznit?

Somewhere in the past month, hip-hop/urban vocabulary became the new thing for companies, news anchors, and any other person who desperately wants to demonstrate that they’re “hip” with the teenagers. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for the continued development of the English language, but this is a load of shiznit that the vernacular could do without.

This stuff sounds like some kind of pig-latin for morons. Just look at the words: Shiznit. Hizzouse. Nizzle. Heck, some of the words don’t even have a real definition, just look at dizzle.

Now, I’m all for expanding the use of the letter “z” in the English language, if for no other reason than additional legitimate uses of “z” could boost my Scrabble score, should I ever actually choose to play the game. But if there’s one thing the black community doesn’t need, it’s yet another white boy or company ripping off black culture in a vain attempt to look cool, make money or get laid.

On the other hand, I might have just passed the point where youth culture, and companies’ desperate desire to profit from it, no longer makes sense to me. Oh God, at twenty-eight I can no longer relate to teenagers! Yes! I’m old!

MBA? Check.

And so it begins: the post-MBA era. I completed my final obligation to the MBA last Wednesday evening, capping the 15-month experience with a presentation on Managing Change. It’s quite a fitting way to end the program, now that I think about it. After all, there’s no bigger change that needs to be managed than the transition from school back into the work force.

So, what did I learn in the MBA? To be honest, I’m not really sure. It doesn’t seem that I learned anything that I didn’t already know. Oh sure, things got a bit more formalized, what with all the two-by-two matrices favoured by business folks, and the dull edges of thoughts I’d had in the past were somewhat sharpened. But nothing genuinely new, per se.

On second thought, that’s not exactly true. I did learn one valuable thing: other people aren’t like me. They’re bad with computers. They’re disorganized. They’re bad at spelling and grammar. I didn’t think that was such a big deal before, but now I realize how much those differences play a part in creating all of the other problems encountered in both business and the world at large.

While that lesson certainly wasn’t what I anticipated learning when I entered the program, I guess it’ll have to suffice. I always seem to expect more from education, a more direct lesson that can be delivered in a distilled, encapsulated form. But growing big, fluffy dendrites is hard work – and maybe the important stuff you learn comes in more intangible packaging.

Maybe true learning really is about the journey, rather than the destination.

Craptacular, Craptacular!

The wicked witch of Halloween’s corpse had hardly shed a degree of body temperature before stores started hawking Christmas goodies this year, much to my chagrin. I know Christmas is the season where retailers really make their money for the year, but the way things are going these days, I’m expecting next year’s Christmas hysteria will start in June. What’s worse, consumer product manufacturers are really struggling to identify new markets for consumers and coming up with some truly crap gift ideas.

For example, consider this value proposition: it’s Christmas and you’re away from home, working hard at a customer site. Why not bring a little Christmas cheer into your life with a USB LED Christmas light? Are they insane? I swear, it’s like consumers are desperate to burn their money: “Sure, yearly savings as a percentage of post-tax earnings are in negative territory in the US, but I gots ta get me a glowing fake Christmas tree to plug into my computer!”

Even worse are the gifts people buy other people. I swear, a significant portion of Earth’s natural resources are sitting in a closet somewhere just because someone felt they needed to buy a Remington Shaver for that hairy relative they don’t really like. At the bottom of the barrel-of-consumer-shame is those products that aren’t actually designed to be used. You know the gifts I’m talking about, those gag gifts where the majority of the product’s value is the gag of giving them to someone.

Example: Does anyone really need a Dead Bug Funeral Kit? How about a Hipster Handbook? I mean, if the bug is dead, a dignified burial isn’t going to change anything; and if you’re a hipster, why would you need a manual? Unless, of course, you’re actually trying to be a hipster, in which case you need more than a book to help you.

The moral of this Christmas story is simple: stop shopping big and start thinking big.

iTunes’ Music Madness

It’s been a bit hectic, what with the final two weeks of the MBA approaching, but somewhere in there I managed to download iTunes for Windows. A millionth of a second after launching the newly-installed application, I proceeded to uninstall WinAmp, saying my goodbye quickly so as not to betray my lack of emotion at its departure from my hard-drive. You know Apple is onto something when not only am I deleting the first application I’ve installed on any new machine for the past five years, but even my mother-in-law is looking at buying an iPod.

Now, I’m not one to advocate or admit to mass copyright piracy via a public medium, so let’s just say that I have a sizable digital music collection and leave it at that. But, needless to say, iTunes makes my music addiction a bit more manageable. I can sort! I can shuffle! I can even track which songs I really like, in case I get smacked in the head and forget! It’s lovely. Other people apparently think so too. While pretending to get some work done in the university library, I fired up iTunes only to be surprised by the number of other computers sharing out their music using the application’s built-in streaming capabilities. As Inspector Gadget said to Penny: Yowza!

The most interesting part about trawling through other people’s iTunes libraries is observing the variety of music to which people listen: Mozart, Pink, AC/DC, Britney Spears, Oscar Peterson, and so on. And that’s on one machine. People are shamelessly mixing and matching musical genres in their playlists with wild abandon – crazy! It’s refreshing to see so much variety in people’s musical tastes, even if some of the combinations are liable to make them as sick as a drink made from Scotch, Vodka, and Gin and served from an unclean toilet bowl. To those musical pioneers who are about to mix Joni Mitchell with a side of AC/DC and some Pavarotti: I salute you!

Apparently, my acceptance for this musical cross-breeding is not shared by all, and the latest Apple-inspired revolution has an ugly name: playlistism. That’s right, we’ve reached the level of social sophistication where judging a person on the basis of race, gender, religion, nationality, and political affiliation is not enough. We’ve pushed the boundary: now we can judge you by your previously-secret addiction to kitschy show tunes! Point and laugh everybody!

Syndicate the Wagons

As part of my continuing job search, I’ve been trying to keep an eye on developments in the Vancouver technology community. This is a time-intensive process to say the least, what with all the individual sources of news on the Vancouver technology scene and business environment that are available.

One of the common complaints I’ve heard about the Vancouver business community is that the community is extremely fragmented – everyone seems to be running around, doing their own thing. As a result, the impact of any single effort is greatly reduced due to the duplication of work and the lack of critical mass required to garner attention from stakeholders within the community. Furthermore, even trying to figure out what’s going on in the community is even more difficult, given the number of groups providing information, publishing reports, and organizing events.

What the Vancouver technology business community needs is one group to take the reins, to use its partnerships and technology savvy to pull together these disparate sources of information and provide them en-masse to the community.

In an ideal world, this would not be a difficult task – after all, the technology to accomplish this consolidation of information has already been created using XML: RSS/RDF syndication. Ideally all major local business organizations and associations would syndicate their news, their event calendar, and even their job postings, enabling individuals to aggregate these feeds to suit their individual tastes. Unfortunately, none of the organizations syndicate their content, and mentioning RSS to these organizations might elicit some rather weird responses (“RSS? Oh yeah, I love him. Especially that song he did with Eminem.”)

That presents the opportunity for some capable party within the local community to step up and either enable organizations to syndicate their content, or do it on their behalf in a manner that adds to the value of that party’s own offerings. There’s one party in particular that I think is well-positioned and capable of performing this task, while improving their own performance: T-Net, the maintainers of the site. Not only would this provide a valuable service to the business community, but it would also provide T-Net with additional readership that it could parlay into additional revenue streams for its job posting and advertising businesses.

To gather these scattered information sources, T-Net could employ some rudimentary screen-scraping (ugh, I know, but there’s no choice in a world without RSS/RDF) technology to extract excerpts of news postings and link to the original item, thus presenting readers with a “complete” picture of what’s going on in BC business. If it was really smart, it would even allow readers to customize their interface to include only those sources in which they are interested – thus allowing them to extract even more valuable demographic information to drive its existing product sales or develop new products. In the long run, it would help organizations in the business community adopt the technology required to make spreading their message even easier, thus cementing T-Net role as the one-stop source of information on the BC technology scene.