Thursday, 26 July 2012



Meet Mary---A professional counselor who'se work takes her region wide---into homes in far flung places---serving people in various states of  need.  She became a treasured friend---helping us navigate cross-cultural  situations:  Accompaning us to an Indian Revival---leading us in a drumming circle--inviting us to her home.  Here she plays the flute in her backyard. (And what a backyard view she has)
Indian families live all along that ridge back there) 

On Mark's birthday she brought gifts for all of us---here presenting me with a native art hiking stick.

Giving lovely jewelry to Laurie, Ginger (and Mark)

On another day, the ladies move through the campground ----rounding up "Kindred Spirits" for an impromptu get together.

Reaching out to our animal friends, Mark and I try to make friends with these wild horses.  The Stallion positioned himself to defend his harem.  We learned that anyone desiring a horse---is welcome to catch one of these and call it his own.  Few bother---because upkeep on a horse is considerable.

Laurie is our boldest "outreacher" ---writing a song for the locals---then performing a concert for them.
Often, I get to hear her creations first.
See her rig--hear her sing--here:
One day we hiked the canyon--all the way to the dam.  See the gushing water--it services downstream farmers in Bluewater village----onetime CARROT CAPITOL of the US-----till Uranium was discovered herebouts.
I engaged this guy in Grants, NM---hoping for a story.  Sure enough he lives in his car since he lost his electricans job.
Showed me how he stretches out catycornered to sleep. (His accomodations would be much roomier if he would stash that seat somewhere)  --He said yes---he'd thought of that.   Was a bit dispirited---I got my maps out and showed him places to camp--escaping summer heat--and winter's chill.  He seemed appreciative---taking notes.

RANDY PHILOSOPHIZES:  I'M CONVINCED THE GOOD LIFE INVOLVES "KNOTTING UP" AS WELL AS SPREADING OUT.  Our group has now moved on from Bluewater--to Albuquerque--to Santa Fe and are now "knotted up" at Lake Heron, NM.  Will update on those two places in my next blog entry.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Quick Takes: RIM's Marketing, Microsoft Takes Even More Risks, and A Lesson from Digg

Short thoughts on recent tech news...

How not to turn around a company, part 1

Some day, my friend, you might become the CEO of a major technology company.  (Heck, maybe you're one right now.)  When you are a CEO, you sometimes have to deliver bad news to the public.  Maybe it'll be a poor quarter, or a product that doesn't work as advertised.  Or maybe you'll be in charge of a major corporate turnaround, in which case you'll have to deliver a lot of bad news.

There are some very specific rules for how you deliver that news.  You can't sound like you're in denial, but at the same time you can't surrender to the gloom that will flow like a river from the press and analysts you talk to.  It's their job to make the case for what's wrong; it's your job to make the case for how you will fix it. 

One of the rules of this process is that you can't adopt the language of the people criticizing your company.  If you do, they'll play back that language at you. 

For example, say someone asks "did your company deliberately steal millions of dollars from your customers?"  There are several good ways to respond.  You can go for incredulity:  "Anyone who says that is completely out of touch with reality."  You can accuse the reporter of naivete:  "You've been spending too much time on the bulletin boards.  I talk with our customers every day, and they are very happy with their relationship with us."   Or you can just change the subject:  "Let me explain what we're doing."

What you must not do is repeat the hostile wording in the question ("no, we did not steal millions of dollars").  That's a trap, because you legitimize the accusation by repeating it.  The headline the next day will be "CEO denies stealing millions of dollars," something so inflammatory that a reporter on his or her own could never get it into a headline.

RIM CEO Thorsten Heins fell into this trap in an interview he did with CBC in early July.  It's a good interview; I encourage you to listen to it here.

The interviewer, Matt Galloway, is politely professional but relentless.  The interview reminds me of what can happen sometimes with British journalists when they see themselves as proxies for the audience, exposing the misdeeds of the rich and powerful.

Galloway uses death imagery throughout the interview:  "seems to be if not at death's door, it's in the vicinity"..."another nail in the coffin"..."the company may not be around by the time this thing comes out."  So it's a tough interview.

Heins handles most of it fairly well.  He sounds beleaguered at times, and he allows the interviewer to drive the subjects, instead of taking over the flow of the interview.  But he generally sticks to his message.  Until the last question.  Galloway asks:
"The public perception now is that it's a company in a death spiral, on death's door, and about to become irrelevant.  How do you turn that public perception around and make people believe that you can create devices that people will want?"

This is actually the only creampuff question in the interview.  Heins is being invited to talk about the new RIM handsets coming out now, and what's to come next year.  Or he could brag about sales in markets where RIM is doing well.  Journalists, especially on TV and radio, will often give you an easy question at the end so the segment will have an upbeat ending (and so they won't look like total attack dogs).  Unfortunately, Heins chooses this moment to go defensive and start playing back the interviewer's language:

"This company is not ignoring the world out there, nor is it in a death spiral."

So the interview ends on a sour note, and guess what the headlines say the next day:

The only words all of the headlines share are "RIM" and "death spiral."  What do you think people are going to remember?

The problem with doing a turnaround like RIM's is not that the task is impossible, but that it requires incredibly good execution.  You have to get a long list of things just right.  That's hard in any firm, but in a company that's laying off people and shuffling its management, it becomes even more difficult.  So far I don't see the necessary attention to detail from RIM.

How not to turn around a company, part 2

As long as we're picking on RIM, one of the other principles of a turnaround is to underpromise and overdeliver.  Make the situation seem as bleak as possible at the start, so you can surprise people with good news later.  If you think a product will be done in June of this year, promise it by December.  If you expect that the next couple of quarters may be bad, declare that the entire year will be a disaster.  Especially when you're a new CEO, no one's going to fire you for being gloomy in your first couple of weeks, and you will buy time for the turnaround to start working.

And don't worry about the stock price.  Trash it now so you'll look like a hero when it rises later (and so there will be no basis for a shareholder lawsuit).

Thorsten Heins did the exact opposite when he took over RIM.  He reinforced his predecessors' promise that the BlackBerry 10 OS would be out this year, and he made some very upbeat statements when he took over the job.  Galloway even played back a recording of one of them in the CBC interview.  Heins said in January:  "I don't think that times are that's an exciting time to take over.  RIM is not a turnaround company.  RIM is a financially healthy and sound company."

Six months later, the OS schedule has slipped, and obviously RIM is in a turnaround.  Instead of looking like the solution, Heins comes across like he's part of the problem.

The consistent theme here is self-inflicted wounds caused by bad marketing and PR.

Surface: Another Microsoft gamble

I continue to be fascinated by the moves Microsoft is making around Windows 8.  The OS has a radically new UI, and violates some of the most basic rules on how to do a platform transition.  I don't know whether to admire Microsoft's courage, or to be appalled at the unnecessary risks the company is taking.

I got the same feeling when I saw the previews of Microsoft's new tablet/PC devices, called Surface.  The pictures of them look swoopy, and I really like the idea of the flexible keyboard/cover that lets you use the tablet (sort of) like a notebook computer.  I'm also extremely intrigued by the model with a stylus (could this, at last, be the foundation for an info pad?)  Surface is giving me a serious case of technolust.

Unfortunately, we don't yet know many of the most important facts about Surface, such as what it'll cost, where it will be sold, and what it's like in long-term use.  If the answers are bad, Surface could become a curiosity on the order of the Palm Foleo (or maybe Microsoft's own Zune).  On the other hand, if everything is right, Surface could be a milestone product that helps reshape personal computing.

The one thing that's certain is that Surface is a high-risk business move for Microsoft.  For its entire history, Microsoft has avoided competing directly with its hardware licensees.  It certainly manipulated and sometimes exploited them, but it did not sell PCs against them.  Surface breaks that taboo.  It has to be putting a chill through Microsoft's licensees.  You want to share your hardware road map with your OS company, to make sure your products are coordinated with the OS.  But who's ever going to share their hardware plans with Microsoft when you know those ideas could sneak into a Microsoft device?  The licensees won't dump Windows, but they could easily reduce their investment in it.  And they might be scared away from the market for Windows tablets, the place where Microsoft is most anxious to grow.

Depending on Microsoft's manufacturing and sales plans, there's a danger that Surface could be just successful enough to damage the market for Windows 8 products without having enough impact to change the competitive situation versus iPad, Android, and Mac.  We don't know how many Surface devices Microsoft is making, or how they will be distributed.  The hints I've seen so far are that Surface will be available in Microsoft stores and online, but no place else.  If Surface is a hit, what happens to the rest of the PC retail channel?  Do Best Buy and its peers around the world just step aside?  And will they invest in promoting Windows 8 computers if the most popular Windows 8 device is not available to them?

Has Microsoft ordered enough Surface devices to fill the demand if it's popular?  If Microsoft has ordered a lot, maybe it'll have extra units for the Best Buys of the world.  But the more Microsoft invests in inventory, the greater the financial risk if Surface doesn't sell well.  Microsoft could be stuck with a huge inventory writedown, or might be forced to sell Surface at a very low price, spoiling the market for other Windows licensees.

I guess (and it's just a guess) that Microsoft will put the price of Surface a bit on the high side, with a fairly low sales forecast.  That would reduce the impact on licensees, and make it easier to manage inventory.  In that case, Surface becomes something like a concept car, not affordable to the average customer but encouraging licensees to do something similar (see here and here). 

Ashlee Vance at BusinessWeek pointed out that it's Microsoft's own fault that it needs a concept car (link):

"Microsoft, in many ways, helped create this mess... Along with Intel, it sucked all the profits out of the PC industry, leaving HP and Dell to rely on manufacturing companies in Taiwan for their innovative twists. The result has been the Great Stagnation."

The rumor mill says the low-end Surface device will be in the $600 range, and the high-end one around $800 (link).  That's concept car territory, in my opinion.

But even the concept car approach has risks.  If Surface doesn't sell well, will the licensees bother to copy it?  They usually want to copy best-sellers.  On the other hand, if Surface is viewed as a lustworthy product, will PC buyers delay purchases of other Windows 8 devices to wait for Surface clones?

The usual rule is never to give hardware customers a reason to wait, and Surface could do just that.

If I were a PC licensee, I'd be thinking very seriously about investing more in Android tablets.  Except that Google, to compete with its rogue licensee Amazon, just announced its own Google-branded tablet at $200.  That pricing isn't a concept car; it's more like a knife to the heart of other Android tablet makers.

Maybe that's why Microsoft feels it can get away with doing Surface; the licensees really have no place else to go.

So I end up back where I started, admiring Microsoft's courage but wondering about its strategy.  From a tech industry standpoint, it's nice to see a big company like Microsoft stirring the pot.  We need more of that.  And I admire Microsoft's willingness to change radically rather than waiting for something bad to happen to it, a la RIM.  But Microsoft is taking a huge number of risks all at once, and some of its plans feel like they were not deeply thought through.  If Microsoft screws up, it could severely wound itself in short order.

It all reminds me of something an Apple exec once told me.  He was a former Sun manager, and liked to quote the often profane strategy pronouncements of Sun executives.  One of his favorites (and forgive me if I offend) was "no brass balls, no blue chips."  In other words, if you don't have the courage to take big risks, you won't win the big payoffs.

I get the feeling that Microsoft these days is operating on the same principle.  It sounds like great advice, until you think where Sun ended up.


There's been a lot written online about the fate of Digg, one of the original "Web 2.0" poster children.  I don't have much to add regarding its current situation, but I think back to a conference I attended in 2006 called "The Future of Web Apps."  It included many of the most prominent Web 2.0 CEOs, including Kevin Rose of Digg.  Michael Arrington spoke there as well.

Rose talked about evolving Digg into a social network in which people would be connected by shared interests rather than whether they have hot photos (this was back when Facebook was just a college socialization site).  Rose's idea for Digg sounds interesting; you wonder what happened to it.

Rose also said Digg was on the road to profitability based on advertising and traffic growth.  Oh well.

But the most interesting tidbit I remember from the conference was Michael Arrington saying that Web 2.0 companies don't need a perfect revenue model.  The general attitude of everyone at the conference (not just Arrington, and I am not trying to single him out) was that if you attract an audience, you will find some way to monetize it.

In the tech industry, one of the most common mistakes is to look at a trend today and assume that it'll continue in the future.  The reality is that basic economics usually reasserts itself at some point.  For businesses, that means you need to provide real value to real customers, with a realistic way to monetize it.  And you need to figure that out pretty early in the process, or you're taking a huge risk that you'll never get the answer.

It's something to keep in mind for the hundreds of thousands of companies creating mobile apps today because it's the hot thing to do.

Thursday, 12 July 2012



Boonie suggested a back road from Quemado, NM to Grants,NM(hwy36/117) so two of us took it.  Wow! I declare it one of the great roads of NM.

En route to Bluewater State Park, NM where we all converge---each getting a lakefront view.

Ginger let's her computer acquaint us with a radical new Philosophy.
On another day our group blends with another group.  

On still another day---a new friend Mary introduces us to drumming as a kind of harmonizing meditation.
And yeah, I got into it.

While collectively adventuring one day we drove across a bumpy field to investigate this tent.  Turns out to be an Indian Revival tent----we wangled an invitation---resolved to return that night for the service.
And we did----arriving early to see the preparations---band warms up---members pray for a successful service.

The crowd throngs in---music is lively---we find ourselves abandoning spectatorism---begin to clap, wave, sing, shout with the crowd---we caught the spirit---had a great time---AND THEN---AND THEN.

One of our number (who else but Laurie) felt moved to testify (the theme of the service).  She walked up on the stage---whispered to a guitarist---who surrendered his guitar to her---then stepped to the microphone and testified.  ( something about God's blessings).  Our jaws were still agape when she began to play and sing.
A great song (from her latest album).  The crowd joined in the chorus. Photography, I suspected was not welcome ---but how many moments are there like this.

Here is a very strange hobby caught on film.  Ginger---for many years---has been photographing roadside shoes----is composing a coffee-table book.  I'm told she will never pass a shoe without stopping to record it.
And if Laurie hadn't amazed us enough---one day she went into a small store---saw a guitar she liked---negotiated to own it by giving a concert on a Sunday morning at the local Diner.  Of course she dazzled us all---then persuaded me to do two of my poems--"The dance of Testosterone" and "The dance of estrogen"
Recognize this? It is a classic RV fron the 50's era---An Ultravan.  This one freshly rescued from mouldy Oregon---is scheduled for complete renovation. Mark and I stop to appreciate it.

RANDY PHILOSOPHIZES:  A tribe can sweep its members along--FOR GOOD AND ILL. I think you get the drift of this story---proof that my friends expand my world.  Each of us has a different set of fascinations and when we "knot up" (connect with the intent to enrich) we introduce each other to new experiences and ideas.  AND MORE---we embolden each other.  I count myself very lucky for my set of friends---individuals extraordinaire. 

Sunday, 1 July 2012


OR CONNECTED??---WITH ONE OTHER??---WITH SEVERAL OTHERS??---TEMPORARILY?---PERMANENTLY??  -------We are experimenting to find the best blend of options.  Here's  a look at some highlights of our recent stops---to illustrate how connection---of some kind---can enrich.

One member of our tribe knew where the free/beautiful/cool was----Boonie----and he led us to the mountains---at 9,200 ft elevation---Here's what happens to frito bags at that altitude.

Then other members drifted in.  Here's Laurie driving in from some distant solitary adventure.
And from Yuma/flagstaff--this whopper of a rig rolls in. It's Mark and Ginger in their classic BLUEBIRD.

One of our traditions is a 6 o'clock walk together.

And tea time together--afterwards. Wanna see inside the Bluebird?
Begowned and booted ladies-----preparing---

This!! Life is good.

One day Mark shares his electricity so I can cut my hair with my FLOW BEE.
(you know---that device advertised on TV.  Sucks your hair up into a precisely calibrated cutter)
Another day Boonie and Lyn invent a brand-new table. (She had no decent place to work or eat)
Here it is completed---they let me try it out---it's perfect--good job guys!
On another day I need medical attention---need the stitches removed from my recent surgery---(these were the permanent kind) --certainly not willing to drive back to Mexico.  Peg handles the job like an expert. 
On still another day Laurie while wandering alone in the woods---finds this local historian ---and brings him back to us---he has stories----we draw up our chairs and listen.
On still another day Ginger plays for us a philosophical/metaphysical CD---as a springboard to discussion.

I remind myself that (almost) the entire animal world clusters temporarily together for the assortment of benefits it provides. 

Are you beginning to get the drift of this entry?  Life can be infinitely richer when we connect in a meaningful way. And speaking of which---here is a brand-new connection initiated by Boonie---the beginning perhaps of a new tribe--- focused on adventurous exercise. I'm delighted that so soon--we have our first spin off tribe. If our vision holds true---then many other special interest groups will "spin off." My ultimate hope is that our modest project will prove so satisfying that it will go viral--and evolve. For more info on Boonie's idea:

RANDY PHILOSOPHIZES:  I believe that we all want to belong to some sort of tribe.  That a mobile/frugal/free/smart/temporary/caring/evolving one can deliver ENORMOUS benefits to its members as I hope I have illustrated above.  Our "people" wander off on solitary journeys and rejoin us at will.  I remind my readers that you are welcome to connect with us wherever we are and to consider joining us.  We are now at Bluewater Lake State Park, NM

P.S. Thanks to Wayne Wirs: for helpful insights: