Friday, May 19, 2006

Subtle Changes

So, you may have noticed that some things have changed a little.

First, the blog's name has changed slightly, as you can see above. As well as Phischkneght has served our group, I've set sights on bigger things. Bigger things means more people, and lots of people are intimidated by words they can't pronounce. Thus, the change to FishNet Tech. The URL to the blog will remain the same for now.

Also, we're limited as to what we can do with this web page. I'd like to have the ability to make commerce happen here, and as long as we're hosted by Google as a blog, that won't happen. And so, looking forward, I've bought Nothing is there yet, so don't bother clicking.

I have a grand vision for FishNet Tech, but not all the blanks are filled in yet, and it's too complex to state here anyway. Many of the chief players in this vision have already been spoken to, but if you feel you should be part of the vision, pull me aside and we'll talk.

Please note that none of this will happen overnight. You're not going to come to read a post next week and see a whole different page. And it's important to me that we maintain the same community attitude that we've fostered all along. So, please keep posting, keep commenting, and most of all, keep reading and referring your friends.

Last week I started running Google AdWords in the top bar on the blog. I got to choose the colors, and I tried to choose a color palette that wouldn't be annoying.

But I had a good laugh when I spotted this ad, right above my post bashing SCO:

So if you're having problems with SCO Unix, you poor sap, there's your ad.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

ROCI #5: Corporate Make-Believe (SCO Group, Outback Steakhouse)

Oh, speaking of Utah Mormons in business who make their colleagues look bad...ever heard of a guy named Darl McBride?

This particular tale of woe involves calling your core demographic thieves and then demanding money from them. Sort of sounds like RIAA, doesn't it?

I'm going to summarize SCO's (or rather Darl's) Big Idea here. I'm NOT going to get into proving claims right or wrong, or the specifics of code, or anything technical at all. This is a business strategy post, not a technical one. But, for more information about the nuts and bolts of SCO's gambit, you can check out Groklaw, and their extensive coverage of it. I would start here.

Once upon a time there was a company called Caldera. Caldera was one of the rights-holders on UNIX source code, along with Novell and The Open Group.

Caldera had a CEO (and founder) with a funny name, Ransom Love. In 2002, Caldera got a new CEO, again with a funny name. This was Darl McBride. Darl changed the company's name to SCO Group (stands for Santa Cruz Operation, for where the company was founded).

Darl had a big idea, which I was going to refer to as “Darl’s Big Idea That Will Either Make Oodles Of Money Or Kill SCO,” but the acronym DBITWEMOOMOKSCO is just too unwieldy.

So, Darl's Plan goes like this: "We’ve got UNIX, and our own flavor of Linux, but instead of buying our Linux or Unix OSes, people are using free distros (Linux distributions). How can we get people to start paying us for Linux instead of getting and using it for free? What if," Darl continues, "we claimed that the guys who wrote the core of the Linux OS stole some of our code? Then we could insist that every copy of Linux in use in the world has our intellectual property in it! And then we can demand money from everyone in the world who uses Linux!"

And so The Plan was born. SCO’s first task was to find someone to sue with really deep pockets so that a win in court would bring in a lot of cash and tell the world that SCO means business.

  • On March 6, 2003, SCO filed a lawsuit against IBM for $1 Billion.
  • On January 20, 2004, SCO filed a lawsuit against Novell for Novell to surrender all claims on UNIX.
  • On March 3, 2004, SCO filed a lawsuit against AutoZone for breach of contract with unknown punitive damages.
  • On March 3, 2004 (yes, the same date), SCO filed a lawsuit against Daimler Chrysler for breach of contract with unknown punitive damages.

These suits have uniformly not gone well for SCO, and the reason is very simple. SCO’s claims were complete fabrications, and the judges involved with these cases each has an entire cerebral cortex at his disposal.

Now SCO is a curse and a joke among techies worldwide. The SCO brand, once relatively unknown, is permanently damaged among those in the very industry SCO claims to serve. Now that’s a tough crowd.

And it’s because someone got a brilliant idea that should never have left the boardroom. And I mean this: There are great ideas, even terrific ones, which must die on your desk if you want to stay in business.

And on top of that last thought, make-believe is a dangerous game in business. Its consequences can be catastrophic, as seen above, but they can also be miraculous. As is the case with Outback Steakhouse.

You fall into one of two categories. You’ve either eaten at Outback or you haven’t. And if you haven’t, you probably think that going to Outback for a meal will be an Australian experience. This Australian experience has been brilliantly marketed, using tools like radio ads with actors sporting an Aussie accent, logos with kangaroos, and…well, that’s about it.

So that’s all it takes. An accent and a kangaroo, and you’re convinced that this place is Australian. That’s what I thought the first time I went to Outback. I sat at the table, and looked at the walls, decorated with boomerangs and pictures of Paul Hogan. And the menu was littered with Australian place names and “Throw that chook on the barbie 'cause it’s good tucker, mate, and watch your step about the wallaby.”

So, I’d seen it. No reason to go back, because that was Outback’s version of Australia and I had experienced it. Done. And then my meal arrived, and it was delicious.

My meal arrived, and it was delicious. And now when I think of Outback, I don’t think of Australia. The Australia schtick worked exactly as many times as it needed to: Once. Now I go because I like the way they cook steak, and cheese fries, and ribs, and whatever else I order there. And I’ve been there a lot.

The Australian-ness of Outback is all a fantasy. It’s not real. It’s not meant to last. Outback’s management understands that it won’t. You’ll only go once for the ambiance, and if you go back at all, it’s because of great service and great food. But without Australia, Outback is just another steak house. And it makes all the difference to them.

Rule Of Customer Interaction #5: When I was a kid, my dad would sometimes say; "Make your words soft and sweet, for you may soon have to eat them." And corporate make-believe really only comes in two flavors: 1.) Fantasy, and 2.) Deception.
If you deceive your customers, they'll do anything in their power to stop giving you money. But if you give them the right fantasy, and then chase that with something real that's even better than the fantasy (like excellent food, service, dependability, etc...), they'll look for opportunities to let you serve them.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Link Roundup #2

I really liked the last one. So here we go again!

TOWEL DAY IS NEXT WEEK. This May 25th is the five year anniversary if his death, so plan accordingly. I'll be getting my internets installed that day, so I'll likely have a bit of an audience for the affair, comprised of the Comcast installers and my in-laws.

This guy does Tesla Coils. Really, really big Tesla Coils. Lots of purple plasma ahead. My dad helped me build a Tesla Coil when I was in junior high. I think we should build another.

Are you confused about Net Neutrality? ASK A NINJA. Come on, like you know better than a ninja. I mean, he's a ninja, man.

And finally, a funny dance video. No, you'll like this. Really.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Don't Ya Just Love a Good Sandwich?

Hi, I'm Julianne. I'm new. For those of you who may not know me or how I came to be a member of Phischkneght, I'm Krys' wife and Jake's little sister.

When Jake started the ROCI I really took an added interest in what was going on. I like when companys are good to me. All it takes is one bad experience to lose a customer for life.

I asked Jake if I could post so that I could talk about one of my favorite places to eat: Great Harvest Bread Company. I love the place. The Great Harvest on Harrison Blvd. is my favorite. Its conveniently located just half a block from Jamba Juice. What more could you ask for than a fruity pick-me-up and a warm slab of nice, fresh, hot-from-oven-bread?

Their customer service is fabulous. They're always glad to see me, even if its at 7:30 in the morning. The bread is always fantastic. (Krys goes in every Wednesday for the pumpkin bread with chocolate chips. I go on Fridays for the nine-grain.) Get this: they started making sandwiches.

I wasn't feeling well the other day and I sent Krys out for food. He came back with the most amazing roastbeef on wheat sandwich I have ever had. It was perfect. It was exactly the sort of sandwich I would make for myself if I had the stuff. The beef was tender, savory, and plentiful. The lettuce was crisp and fresh. The tomatos were just ripe enough, and they put on avacado spread. Yum. I felt a lot better after that sandwich.

We went back again not long after. We got soup. I love this about this company, if you get some of their very tasty soup, they'll give you a slab of fresh-baked bread to dip into your bowl.

The best thing about it? The cost. It only costs about $6 for the whole shebang. Trust me, its well worth it.

Friday, May 12, 2006

ROCI #4: Corporate Suicide (Totally Awesome Computers)

At first glance, it's hard to know where to begin with TAC. But when I think about it a little more, it's immediately clear: Dell Schanze.

There's been a fair amount of TAC, and more specifically, Schanze bashing on this blog, but I really believe we can take some even-handed lessons from the demise of TAC, and I intend to glean them herewith.

First, this: What do TAC and Enron have in common? Denial. Great big, heaping servings of it. Both of these companies had people at the very top telling their subordinates, "Calm down, everything's fine." Enron and TAC each hid money problems and tried to save the farm by ripping off customers. And Ken Lay and Dell Schanze both insist to this day that they've done nothing wrong, in spite of mountains of evidence to the contrary.

The difference between Ken Lay and Dell Schanze? Shareholders. If Schanze had brought TAC crumbling down with thousands of shareholders to face after doing so, then Dell's claimed need to carry a gun might not be the simple self-delusion that it is.

And before we go on, I'd like to make this clear: I am not anti-gun. I'm anti-stupid.

Dell cares more about guns than he ever cared about TAC. Lay cares more about money than he ever cared about Enron.

And that's sad, and it's a bad sign for a business. A CEO or President position in a company is a commitment that you'll live and have priorities in accordance with the best interests of the business. I shouldn't be CEO of Apple Computer, because I like Windows, and recommend it to my friends. Maybe it's ok for a data-entry drone to go in every day, do his job, and hate the company all the while. But the guy at the top must care.

And even more importantly, he has to have a clue. Ken Lay was approached by his staff within Enron who had concerns about accounting practices. They were dismissed.

I know former members of Dell's inner circle. They told him to stop talking about guns. Stop carrying a gun. Stop putting gun stickers on your trailers. Stop being so crazy in front of media types. Stop buying time on late night TV to talk about religion. Stop comparing yourself to Joseph Smith and Jesus Christ in public. But as you can see below, Dell just doesn't get it.

And so, Jake's Rule of Customer Interaction #4 is a Special Dell Schanze Edition.

ROCI #4: If your staff are telling you something is wrong with the way you're running the company, SOMETHING IS WRONG. You've probably made smart hiring decisions, and if you haven't, then none of this matters anyway. You must listen to the people who have concerns. That's your job. In other words: Don't let your company die because you can't listen or change. If necessary, step down and let someone better suited to the job run the company.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Just What is "Critical" Anyway?

I don’t do Windows Updates as often as I should, but I did so today. I was a bit surprised at one of the critical updates that it wanted to install on my machine. It was Windows Genuine Advantage Notification (KB905474). The description says, “The Windows Genuine Advantage Notification tool notifies you if your copy of Windows is not genuine. If your system is found to be a non-genuine, the tool will help you obtain a licensed copy of Windows.”

What I don’t get is why this is a critical update. Sure, Microsoft would like me to have it, but what’s in it for me? My definition of a critical update is one that improves the security of my machine. There is no compelling reason given for me to download this tool and let Microsoft decide whether the version of Windows that I own really belongs to me. If they are going to cut off updates after determining that I have an invalid copy of Windows, then they should tell me at update time, rather than have me download something that will annoy me to no end if it fails to work properly.

So, until it really becomes critical, it doesn’t get downloaded.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

A Consumer's Perspective: The Hungry Bear

When I first started my job, I would often go to lunch with my father at The Hungry Bear, a pizza buffet place in Layton. The pizza wasn’t great, but for the price (and that it was an all-you-can-eat buffet) it was very good. The store is decorated with bear-related items like a large wooden bear, large stuffed bear hides, and a large diorama of a den. Clearly they have had a lot of fun with the theme, and the place has generally had a friendly, welcoming atmosphere.

But business hasn’t seemed to go well for them. They have a large store, but it isn’t ever full, and usually is nearly empty (at least at lunch time; dinner may be busier). Over the course of several visits, we noticed a steep decline in quality and the service. Instead of having several pizzas up at a time, you’d be waiting in line for pizzas that would disappear in moments. The ingredients seemed to be of lower quality, and they were cutting back on cheese (one of the fundamental ways of detecting a cheap pizza is to look for lots of places without any cheese cover). It didn’t take long before we stopped coming.

Today, we decided to give them another shot. It’s been about a year since we had last eaten there, and there was some hope that things had turned around. The parking lot had only a few cars in it, which doesn’t bode well, but when we got inside, we found nearly the same store that we had enjoyed (prior to the decline). The owner and at least one regular employee were both there, and there was enough pizza for the dozen or so people there. I noted a few changes from the earlier days:

First, instead of plastic plates that had to be washed, they had paper plates. These are the thin, cheap ones, and not the classy Chinet variety. They aren’t as good, and certainly not as solid. Greasy pizza and breadsticks quickly soak through, but if it is keeping them solvent, then it’s probably a good place to cut back without skimping on the important stuff (cheese).

Second, they always had at least one whole pizza up, but each pizza they made had about four varieties on it. They were part cheese, part pepperoni, part meat lover’s, and part supreme. Every time a new pizza came up, you knew that there would be something you liked, and typically there would be something for you whenever you went back to the buffet. Granted, this is a step back from when they would ask you what kind of pizza you wanted as you came in (so they could be making the kinds the customers liked), but it accomplishes the same effect, and in a way that keeps things flowing better.

Third, the bathroom wasn’t so vile. In the past, I couldn’t stand to be in there, but now I just feel a general sense of being in a place where people sometimes don’t wash their hands.

I know that this all sounds like back-handed compliments, but basically this is a nice, economy pizza place, and I commend them for doing what they can to make it work without selling cardboard pizzas. I have always liked the people there, and I hope that they succeed.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Phischkneght's 200th Post! YAY!

Pleasure first, then business. Tonight's post? A LINK ROUNDUP! YEE-HAW!

This Russian page with examples of cloned Disney animation cels left me flabbergasted. The one at the bottom, involving Robin Hood and Snow White is amazing.

I humbly ask that you consider doing your part to Fire Orrin Hatch. He's not technology friendly, and he's got a competitor for Senate this year who I think will do great things if he wins: Pete Ashdown. Please take a look.

I lifted the above photo from a post over at Creating Passionate Users. If learning how to market is at all interesting to you (Crystal, I'm looking in your direction), then have a glance at this.

What do you know? There is intelligent life in the music industry. Just not in the RIAA. Musical artist Jane Siberry has decided to let customers pay what they feel her music is worth to them, and then download that music in non DRM encumbered MP3 format. And the kicker is that she's written a letter to her fans saying that if they don't want to pay, they can just accept the music as a gift from her. And then she gives payment statistics right on the site. I think I'll scrounge up a little cash and buy this album.

Here's an excellent article by the authors of Freakonomics about a highly-paid statistician who quit to sell bagels on the honor system in corporate offices. He never gives up his statistics work, even in bagel mongering, and learns a lot about people, and businesses, and honesty in general. Highly recommended.

Finally, if you'd like to see Phischkneght get burned all to hell by Martians, click here.


I never said that all posts from here on out would be ROCI's.

And Leon, Eric, Krys...have you all forgotten how to write? Eric does have an excuse: His own blog. But still, that's not a very good excuse. I hope you guys don't feel that I've hijacked this blog and that it's all mine now. "Forum" is still in the name, and I hope that it can remain so.

CORRECTION: Subway's free stuff now costs roughly twice as much as before, not more than twice as much as before. They changed the point structure so that 75 points now buys you a 12" sandwich, instead of 90 points. I've got about two free ones left.

I've heard nothing at all from Tasty's, which makes me wonder if Lane ever got my business card to the upper management-types at Tasty's. I'll have to go back soon and inquire.

And last of all, this really and truly is Phischkneght's 200th post. This is a thought that simply tickles me. Maybe I'll do a podcast or something in celebration. Maybe.

Monday, May 08, 2006

ROCI #3: Tiered Excellence (Leatherman)

I used to be a Swiss Army man. I didn't go anywhere without my Swiss Army knife in my pocket.

As a scout camp staffer, this served me relatively well, except for two things: 1) I always ended up losing my knife, and 2) pliers were always a problem.

I lost two nice Victorinox knives on my mission, and shortly after I came home, I found myself looking for something better. I still remember standing at Gart's Sports poring over all the potential knife selections.

I finally found a Leatherman that I liked. The price was close to what I would have paid for a new Victorinox (the finer Swiss Army brand, in my opinion), the tool seemed well-milled, and I felt that it would end up more useful than my previous choices had.

Since then, I've bought four or five new Leatherman tools. I like them. I use them hard. I wear mine everywhere but church and bed. I currently carry Leatherman's premium offering, a Leatherman Charge XTi. I won't go into the features here, but I think it suffices to say; this tool does more than grab stuff and cut stuff.

What I really want to talk about here is Leatherman's use of tiering. All of Leatherman's tools are made of basically the same stuff. Sure, some titanium handles here and some really hard steel there make for small differences, but by and large, it's all just plain old stamped steel.

When I bought my Charge XTi, I gave my Leatherman Wave, their former premium product, to my Dad. I love my Dad, and I was proud to give him such a fine tool.

The Leatherman Charge and the Leatherman Wave are almost exactly the same tool. The main difference between them is that the Charge has about 1.5 ounces of titanium that makes up the handles instead of the standard steel that they normally use. I just checked, and titanium runs about $11.00 a pound, which translates to about $1.03 for 1.5 ounces. The blades and bit options are a little fancier on the Charge, and I'm guessing that the extra fanciness raises production costs by $5 or so, at the maximum, per tool.

So, at the outside, we're talking a $6 difference in actual cost between these two tools. Take a moment to guess the price difference between them on Amazon. Go ahead; you'll probably be pretty close!

It's about $25. I was willing to pay the extra $25 (actually more because the tool was new at the time) for the updated premium product because of fancier blades, titanium handles, and gee whiz factor.

Now, please observe the humble Leatherman Kick . It has the same Leatherman plier jaws as almost every other Leatherman model. It's made of the same steel. The knife blade is every bit as sharp as the factory-new edge on a Wave or Charge. And yet, it only costs $30.

It costs $70 less than my current Leatherman, and I'm confident that the company still makes a pretty generous margin on this item. And the Charge can't possibly cost $70 more to produce.

Likewise, the Leatherman Micra (pictured below), Pulse, and Core lines provide different features, price points, and similar build materials and quality.

You see, Leatherman wants you for a customer no matter how much you want to spend. If I only want to blow $25 on a knife that will jet around on my keychain, Leatherman has me covered. If I just want to buy someone a functional gift for under $50 that won't get scoffed at, Leatherman has a place for me. If you happen to be a MythBuster, you tote a Leatherman Wave. If you're an alpha geek and you pack a Leatherman Charge XTi, you paid $100 or more for your you-can't-get-this-at-Wal*Mart grin.

And tiered products are everywhere:
  • Dell wants you to spend money with them whether you're looking for an entry-level laptop for $450 or a fully-loaded XPS gaming laptop for $4832. (I pulled this price directly off of just now.)
  • The movie theater charges you for a tiered experience. Want to see the movie on opening day rather than in a dollar theater? Want popcorn? Soda? Video games? These are all experiential add-ons that the theater knows some people are willing to pay for and some aren't.
  • Why do some MagLights take six "C" cell batteries while others only need two of them? Product tiering.
  • Why does Sony offer me 150 TV models between the 1.5" portable LCD TV for $75 and the 52" DLP High-Def set for $7500?
  • Why are there so many different Nintendo GameBoy models?
  • Why are there about 8 different kinds of Coke at the supermarket?
  • Why is there a big Wal*Mart in my city that's a couple of miles away and a little Wal*Mart that's only two blocks from my house? (Hint: Prices are not always the same at these two Wal*Marts.)
  • Why do private schools exist at all? (Sometimes a whole business is a single tier.)
What I left out above about Leatherman is that I have used their warranty. Did you know that Leatherman's standard warranty is 25 years? 25 YEARS! If my son breaks my Charge in 15 years when he's 19 years old, Leatherman will replace it for free.

Again, if the kind of business insight you need is "Offer an excellent product and give really good warranty service," then this is not the place for you. Clearly, running a market-leading business must involve the concepts embodied above. But to really kick some proverbial ass in the marketplace, it will sure help to have a firm grasp on this:

Jake's third rule of customer interaction:

Tier your product in such a way that you will serve budget, mainstream, and premium users. This will keep customers on the premium end from going to a competitor for features and quality, and it will keep customers on the budget end from looking to competitors for a better deal. It will also establish brand loyalty because it encourages customers to buy more products for different locations and tasks, complete collections, and transition to different product tiers.