What I’m reading: Social Network Stocks Meltdown; Will Facebook Feel the Heat? An Alliance With Cable Is Exactly What Netflix Needs To Survive, How Lobbyists Run Washington, Business intelligence industry trends, Kick Windows Installers to the Curb; Go Portable for a Considerably More Awesome Windows Experience

Image1. Social Network Stocks Meltdown; Will Facebook Feel the Heat? If the recent market volatility has you Jonesing to pick up a few shares of downtrodden social media stocks like Yelp, please take 5 minutes to watch this analysis from my favorite trader. Bonus: Barry breaks down Facebook’s dilemma on the timing of their IPO (hint: The exclusive insider shareholders are looking to cash out ASAP )

2. An Alliance With Cable Is Exactly What Netflix Needs To Survive – An interesting take on a note I hit earlier with my prediction (hope?) that Apple’s imminent television product revolution would kill cable. I think I have too much emotion in this fight–so it’s hard for me to be neutral. It will be very interesting to see how this plays out. I still think that cable will end up as “dumb pipes” as media [read: product] innovation’s rate of change stymies infrastructure players because “the next thing” doesn’t have that pesky need to support legacy systems and services.

Image3. How Lobbyists Run Washington – Informative, maddening and cheeky. The addition of a rage comic meme was a touch of genius. Hat tip: Barry Ritholtz again; he sifts through the crap to share the best infographics.

 

4. Business intelligence industry trends – The Gartner magic quadrant for BI was recently updated. Monash Research dives deeper to highlight some important clarifications about Garner’s methodology. TL;DR – Mobile is overrated (for now), enterprise BI is nice but the leaders still fall short for data discovery, hence the scrappy UI-focused entrants.

5. Kick Windows Installers to the Curb; Go Portable for a Considerably More Awesome Windows Experience – From Lifehacker. Ever since I saw my first Chromebook I was thinking about building a portable Windows netbook. Here’s how to have a perpetually “fresh” machine. The obligatory Apple comment would be “take a smaller  Macbook Air + App Store (iOS?) = profit…?”

What I’m Reading: Apple TV DREAM REVEALED, Reddit on Oil Speculation, Put a Fork in ERP, Mish catches the POTUS Manipulating Data, Berkshire Hathaway Could Surge 70% in 12 Months

1. Apple TV DREAM REVEALED: It’s not about the TV (it looks awesome). It’s about content. A super smart engineer-turned-product guru taught me that. And if half of what Henry Blodget speculates is true, Apple will basically slaughter the Big Cable and perhaps even a network or three with one product. Think about what iTunes did to the music industry’s gambit of selling you a whole album when all you wanted was that one song. . .

Apple Television . . . maybe...?

2. A great thread on Reddit that is chock full of thoughtful commentary on an energy speculation conspiracy:

The Commodity Futures Trading Commission charged one trading house and two individuals for illegally manipulating oil prices during the price spike of 2008, when oil reached $147 a barrel, by creating the appearance of a shortage to drive up the benchmark for crude. While the action covers oil trading in 2008, the connection to today, where speculation is seen as a primary cause for higher gas prices, is unmistakable.

I have no idea how close (or far) this is to the mark, but I appreciate people’s thought processes as they turn an issue over, citing sources I never would have found on my own. A great example of alternative crowd-sourced rabble rousing journalism.

3. Great Acquisitions! Now Put a Fork in ERP is a follow up read to a better article from Forbes that a colleague linked to a while back. I think the Techcrunch article ignores one of the reasons that the “Big Iron” didn’t innovate. The ERP licenses (and epic service contracts for implementation) are the definition of gravy-train. It’s Part II of the Kodak’s story: It’s not like they didn’t know the golden goose was going to be killed, but its difficult to time the execution. Lots of Monday-morning quarterbacking going on with Kodak, but returning to ERP, consider these articles the pre-game show with the retired coaches making their picks.

4. Mike (Mish) Shedlock Catches the POTUS Manipulating Data. The real title of Mish’s blog post is a little less respectful of the Executive Office of the President but his findings are sound. Why is it that the mainstream media can’t take 5 minutes to analyze the official stats that our congress, lobbyists and now President crow as fact? TL;DR – Petroleum distillates demand is down; Obama’s chart actually illustrates contribution of imported oil is actually higher than before. Oops.

5. Berkshire Hathaway Could Surge 70% in 12 Months. One sentence take: This is great news for all of you who have at least $117,000 lying around just to enter a Buy order for 1 share of a stock.

What I’m Reading: What is a product person? Non Bounce in Consumer Credit, Products becoming software, The Next Great Internet Disruption

  1. What is a Product Person? – Howard Ogawa answers the question as a thoughtful practitioner guru: With meaningful insight gleaned from years of practical experience. Want an unvarnished take on technology and design matters? Give the rest of his blog a read, as his blunt style caused me to nod my head several times in affirmation.
  2. Consumer Credit “Demolishes Expectations” Really? No Not Really! The “Non-Bounce” in Non-Revolving Credit – Perennial permabear Mike “Mish” Shedlock obliterates a breathlessly misleading (read: perma bull) post from Business Insider’s Joe Weisenthal regarding a “HUGE number on consumer credit.” I like this post because far too often I find myself muttering at Business Insider entries (mostly Joe) as superficial. Mish helps us understand the macro economic context behind the headlines. A great blog!
  3. MicroStrategy World 2012: MicroStrategy CEO Michael Saylor Keynote – Mike posits 2012 marks the acceleration of a major transformational era in which products and services are becoming software [emphasis mine]. Mike can always be counted on to summarize his thoughts with brash, bold statements. Some people are put off by it, I eat it up: Choice quote at about 27:30 “Software is Changing from Solid to Vapor Form and is Spreading Like an Airbone Virus”
  4. Labor Efficiency: The Next Great Internet Disruption – One of the concepts I enjoyed the most in my economic courses was that of efficiency changes on labor systems. It appears that we’re on the cusp of another wave. Will the global wage arbitrage turn into something a little more beneficial to all participants? Time will tell…
  5. Blogosphere, We Get It – This is a funny summary of the points of view of some of my favorite econ/financial blogs. Won’t mean much to you unless you read them. I suggest you check some of them out.

Tell me a story! (Visualizations)

I really admire and respect people who can quickly and succinctly tell a story with a visualization of data. These folks are able to deliver something that has a good “signal to noise ratio.” Here’s a short post describing 3 visualizations that I think are really effective. One of them you’ll recognize as a classic if you read Tufte, and the last one might surprise you…

1. French Invasion of Russia

Alright, this is the grand-father of visualizations (Fig.1). Having studied Model United Nations goofed off in high school instead of studying European History, I walked through life with terrible knowledge gaps pre-Wikipedia but I understand the campaign was a failure.

This visualization really tells the story. Once you understand the legend, it tells an effective narrative about just how terrible was the campaign, the aftermath of major battles and the brutal winter. Perhaps the best illustration I’ve seen of the terrible cost of war by attrition (Side note: Do never invade Russia).

Fig.1) Charles Minard's information graphic of Napoleon's march. Hover over it to read the translated Legend text

2. Japan Earthquakes leading up to 11-Mar 2011

The format of my next example  (Fig. 2) is video. I like this presentation because it communicates effectively the concept that seismic activity is dynamic; over time, in physical space, duration, intensity and frequency. All of these are displayed brilliantly in a time-lapse depiction of the Japanese part of the Pacific tectonic plate. The opening “key” or legend is useful, though very Japanese in its spurious accuracy. If you have a short attention span, skip to 01:52 to see the actual earthquake(s) and turn up the sound because it uses sound to measure intensity as well. Brilliant!

Fig.2) Japan earthquakes 2011 Visualization map (2012-01-01)

3. The Vietnam War Memorial (Washington, D.C.)

Fig.3) Vietnam War Memorial original design submission by Maya Lin

The format of this last example (Fig. 3) is a stone memorial. But static it ain’t. It’s actually dynamic when you account for foot traffic.

Read on:

I was awestruck when I first visited this on a school trip to D.C.  At first the concept seems really simple: It’s an angled series of granite slabs, engraved with names. About 58,000  of them. What a powerful message delivered with beautiful simplicity. I think I heard someone else discuss the design of the memorial this way, so I am plagar-phrasing but I do not remember whom to give credit. I’ll use this quote thingy instead:

The memorial is experienced up close. You arrive at one of the ends, and the names start appearing at your feet. You descend slowly into a recessed area and the wall grows in height. Soon you are literally in over your head and the names keep flowing as you walk by. You reach the apex (trough?) and as you walk out, the wall’s height gradually diminishes — exactly how the US entered and exited the conflict (Fig. 4)

 

Holy cow! Just writing that elicits an echo of the emotion I felt when I visited: It’s visceral. Amazing. And so very simple in its execution.

Fig. 4) The Memorial design maps to the rate of US casualties over time

TL;DL War is hell. Japan should move. Steppe to Russia and they will knock you out.

Supply Chain Porn!

From Wikipedia:

Logistics is the management of the flow of goods between the point of origin and the point of destination to meet the requirements of customers or corporations.

Logistics involves the integration of information, transportation, inventory, warehousing, material handling, and packaging, and often security. Today the complexity of production logistics can be modeled, analyzed, visualized and optimized by plant simulation software, but is constantly changing. This can involve anything from consumer goods such as food, to IT materials, to aerospace and defense equipment.

I love logistics. I love thinking about how stuff is moved from A to B to … Q and all the major steps in between. This week my thoughts were dominated by the topic.

I also like talking about it but I never had the ability to engage anybody on the subject. It turns out not that many of my friends care how stuff goes from a web shopping cart to their front door. But I try anyway. You clicked, but probably because you were looking for the porn: It’s a great TEDxBoston video a few paragraphs down.

Logistics should be easy to discuss: During the rise of e-commerce I paid particular attention to Amazon, sometimes trying to configure a shipment that would force them to combine packages from all over the place into a distribution center (DC) just to see how quickly they could do it.* My sister did a college paper on WebVan.

In what feels like a lifetime ago in the Pacific Northwest, I was lucky to work with some amazing folks on a supply chain Data Warehouse project at Starbucks Coffee Company. Starting as a contractor, they seated me next to a grizzled veteran of the trade, a no-nonsense woman who barked advice to persons working in the DCs about how to “pick, pack” and eventually “ship confirm” stuff using the new system under testing. I eventually converted to a FTE “Partner” and Starbucks was a really cool company to learn about supply chain operations because from “bean to cup,” the entire business is vertically integrated. The only way to extend the integration would be to actually own the coffee plantations. Eventually, the company grew so fast that their supply chain needed an overhaul. I would like to think that some of the BI tools we worked on were useful for this exercise.

Earlier this week a colleague shared a link to a TEDxBoston presentation titled ‘The Hidden World of Box-Packing’ (Fig. 1)

Fig. 1) Wow! A logistics presentation explained in an easily digestible way complete with videos of a series of robots and predictive analytics. Sweet jeebus, this is supply chain porn!

And to top it all off, later this week I was playing Legos with my first-born, and he combined his love of trucks and stories to build a re-enactment of a classic Curious George tale with a distribution center and an earth-mover (fig. 2). How great was that? My excited and enthusiastic reaction surprised him.

But if you read this entire post, surprised I garner you are not.

Fig. 2) My son's first DC, with awaiting transportation

Fig. 2) My son's first DC, with awaiting transportation

*Environment be damned: I think I might have been the inspiration for their ‘Group My Items Into As Few Shipments As Possible’ feature

Study: Workers Spend $1,000 Yearly on Coffee

A recent headline caught my eye today, which led me to a report published by Accounting Principals (the new name of AccountTemps, if you’ve driven by a billboard lately).

The report summarizes employee coffee expenditures thusly:

Americans love their coffee.

  • Half (50%) of the American workforce buys coffee regularly at work, spending more than $20 a week on coffee, an average of about $1000 a year.
  • Better coffee in the office might help cut back this expense. Nearly one-quarter (22%) of American workers wish their company would invest in better coffee in the office.
  • Younger professionals (18-34) spend almost twice as much on coffee during the week than those aged 45+ ($24.74 vs. $14.15, respectively).

I agree with the first sentence. I love coffee. Adore it. Not sure what I would do without it I once gave it up for Lent (and it was the only successful 40 days I ever accomplished).

I thought about the headline and the 2nd bullet and my OCD kicked in: I have transaction history of my Starbucks Card reloads. So I plotted my expenditures in EXCEL to see what I would get.

Did I spend $1,000/ year like the article suggests? Let’s see what the data says (fig.1):

Cumulative spend at Starbucks vs. Coffee Satisfaction

Fig. 1) This is what happens when you cross auto-reload with OCD

Conclusions:

  • I spend far less per year on coffee than the “average” persons cited in the study. I consider myself above average in many ways, but this time I think I’m correctly deficient this time for once. Woo Hoo!
  • I agree with the sentiment of the respondents: if office managers spent a little more on coffee the world would be a better place. In 2011 I worked at an office that enjoys good java (thanks, Kate!) and I curtailed my Starbucks visits altogether. The data displays a nice plateau when I was cheerfully pouring cup after cup of Peets into my mug.

Observations on “the $1,000-ers”

  • I drink drip coffee. No cream, no sugar. A “grande drip” is less than two bucks.
  • I’ve noticed the majority of people who share the queue with me order lattes or specialty drinks (easily >$3) and sometimes even a pastry or sandwich to go. Average tickets are probably well into the 4-5 dollar range at the Starbucks in my neighborhood. That’ll get you to $1,000/year pretty quickly.

How much do you spend on coffee a year?

Bonus: What data of your own could you obsessively plot on EXCEL if prompted?

Remember the needs of others

Recently we re-introduced the “naked burrito” into rotation at Casa de Reynolds. One of my favorite ingredients is Cilantro (fig.1) . Fresh, delicious Cilantro–which apparently some people cannot tolerate at all–is featured prominently at breakfast lunch and dinner in our household.

Per the NY Times article, it seems some people are genetically predisposed to dislike cilantro.

Cilantro bunch on a cutting board

Fig. 1) The polarizing herb

And as I chopped the bunch into smaller and smaller bits, I thought “and thank goodness nobody in this house hates it–I’d be tempted to cook with it anyway.”

That would be a jerky thing to do. But as I thought about an imminent deployment of a BI tool to hundreds of users, I remembered some of the complaints I heard about the UI. While some change management issues are easily dismissed as “I’m the chef. They’ll eat it and they’ll like it,” it’s important to understand where some people are coming from.

With the managing change part of Product Management, it’s certainly tempting to take that position. But what if some of the users’ needs are like a dinner guest’s non-trivial dislike of a herb that you prefer to cook with?

It’s important to surface these users’ needs well before engineering is cooking in the kitchen.

Otherwise, you’d better have a plan B.