Thursday, November 20, 2008

A Billion For Your Thoughts

I'm so damn sick of the auto makers begging Congress for a $25 billion freebie - that I actually threw up a little in my mouth when I saw GM's ads on Yahoo Finance this morning.

Here's a couple of screen shots:

Now THAT'S an absolutely brilliant way to spend whatever's left of the money you threaten will "run out by the end of the year." Talk about holding a gun to America's head - that's one of the most outrageous, fear-mongering pieces of bulls**t I've ever seen.

Correction: that's the second biggest piece of crap I've seen - THIS GM site takes the cake.

GM (and Chrysler and Ford for that matter) deserve to go out of business. That's the way business works. Here's some business 101 tips for car company executives:
  • Don't build shitty cars
  • Don't stop building fuel-efficient cars because gas prices are low
  • Don't go to Congress to beg for more money in your private jets (this REALLY happened!)
  • Try not to lose $6.9 BILLION per quarter
  • If you DO lose $6.9 BILLION - try to cut costs and come up with a plan to NOT lose $6.9 BILLION the following quarter that doesn't include getting free money from the American taxpayer
  • Do not try to get free money from the American taxpayers using scare tactics
  • Stop kissing the ass of the UAW (United Autoworker's Union) - and fire them all and hire non-union folks (like Toyota and BMW have)
  • The corporation is not your personal piggy bank
  • Try some humility - admit your mistakes and tell people exactly how you would spend the money rather than just ("Re-tool for more fuel-efficient cars")
  • A "hybrid" Escalade - yeah, great idea!
I mean, really, if you're blowing through $6.9 billion per quarter - the $25 billion will just barely fund the golden parachutes of the top executives of the 3 companies. It will not be enough money or enough time to completely re-tool companies that should have had their heads out of their collective asses for the past 5 years.

According to - GM has a market cap less than toy maker Mattel - and there are rumors floating around that the Chinese government may be interested in buying GM - AND Chrysler. And, in my personal opinion, they should. GM should be treated fairly like every other business in the world - if you fail, your assets get broken up and sold off.


No hand-outs. No bail outs. No loans that don't need to be repaid. Not now - not ever.

The government SHOULD help the displaced workers and maybe tie it into the conditions of the bailout of the financial industry (give those laid off people a break on their mortgage payments for 6-9 months).

Spend the money re-training life-long assembly line workers for new tasks. Stimulate local economies by suspending state and federal taxes for 6 months. Create business incubators that give workers the chance to start their own business.

What about all the suppliers and the "trickle-down" theory? Yeah, sure, there will be single-source suppliers that go belly-up (especially given the tight credit market). But, they can also start supplying whatever they supply to OTHER car makers here in the US. They can look to similar industries or - hey - I know - find out what people ARE buying that they can manufacture - and sell THAT.

This is not something that has taken place in the last quarter, the last year, the last 3 years - or even the last 5 years. It's been 50 years in the making. Remember the 1970's when gas got "expensive" and people stopped buying gas-guzzling cars and bought smaller, more fuel-efficient cars? That's how Honda got started in the car business.

Did they really think that things would change? How short-sighted do you have to be? Really. I mean you're running a multi-billion dollar, worldwide conglomerate. You're not Joe The Plumber. Did you ever once get out of your "fat cat" mentality and take a look even 2 years down the line and think to yourselves "Hmmmm... customer tastes seem to be changing. Let's really get behind good-looking, high-quality, affordable products that are also fuel-efficient?"

Of course not! You just assumed that everything would be status quo, and as long as the gasoline was flowing (regardless of the price) - what could happen?

Short answer: THIS.

So long GM (and Chrysler and Ford) - I wish you wouldn't have totally screwed the pooch and destroyed companies that have survived for 100+ years... but, "Oh well." My new car is a Toyota anyway...

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Downturn Déjà vu

I came across some tidbits from a study by former Gartner analyst Theresa Lanowitz that talks about the need for us all to remember the lessons learned during the last economic downturn: Resist the urge to slash IT.

I couldn't find any more than some dribs and drabs - and I haven't yet signed up for a free membership to read the entire study - but there were some interesting tidbits that are as full of wisdom today as they were in the last financial meltdown in 2000:
  • Outsourcing to cut cost: Outsourcing was viewed as a panacea, however, many IT organizations spent more money because of poorly planned and implemented outsourcing schemes.

  • Lack of innovation on the vendor side: This led to lack of innovation and education on the IT side. IT organizations were in turmoil because spending was dramatically reduced, and software vendors stalled new products and focused only on necessary items. IT did not have the leverage with either the line of business or vendors to demand new technology to support very real issues.

  • Poor quality: The reduction of IT spending saw the demise or vast reductions in QA organizations. Many IT managers and even consulting organizations viewed “quality” as extraneous and something anyone could do.

  • CFOs made business and technology decisions: Technology decisions were simply made on the basis of initial purchase prices with no regard to how the decision would ultimately affect the business. The CFO-led purchasing power elevated a person in the organization who had no technology awareness to a level of ultimate and final decision maker. The impact from CFO-led purchasing decisions was far reaching and long lasting.
Well, I'm old enough to vividly remember the last downturn, and I'd be a crack-smoking idiot if I thought that IT should be immune from cuts - BUT you don't need to just throw out the people that are making a huge difference in your IT organization, just because their salary level is higher than the repetitive-stress injury-just-got-out-of-college-and-was-hired-because-my-dad-works-here junior staffer.

The phrase "software runs the business" has never been more true. The "downturn" will turn into an "upturn" at some point in time - so don't be so short-sighted that you lose the people that will be instrumental in your future growth, and who are likely the ones that will help sustain your operations during the downturn as well.

Lanowitz is a way better writer than I am - and she put it very succinctly:
All too often in a time of economic downturn, people are seen as disposable, and most often, the more expensive a head is, the easier the justification for reduction. For businesses to remain competitive and grow during this economic downturn, retain key people. DO NOT just keep the less expensive heads… The IT organization of the future is less about those who can perform repetitive, manual tasks than it is about those who have skills to manage projects, act as a conduit of information, and view IT as a strategic enabler to the line of business.
Amen to that, sister!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Twitter Phishing

There's nothing that people love to do more than know where they stand in society. Don't believe me? What brand of jeans to you wear? What kind of car do you drive? How many iPhones/iPods do you own? What kind of mobile phone?

It's like we're all just walking around proving our rank to each other - even in the world of social media. How many friends do you have on Facebook? How many followers do you have on Twitter? How many contacts in Linkedin?

Come on, admit it. When you add someone to your social network - the first thing you look at is how they compare to you. "Oh, I see they only have 84 friends on Facebook... well, I hate to brag, but I have 142..."

And so on and so on.

It appears as if some enterprising person decided to tap into our collective egos and one-upsmanship and created a site called "Twitterrank". It's a very straightforward premise: "True to its namesake, it uses 'back references' of sorts to determine how worthy of a person you are in Twitterverse"

Oooooh - something shiny! Must... enter... my... secret... details... must... enter... my... secret... details...

There's a big disclaimer on the site that says:

I'm not out to steal ur twitterz. Frankly, I wish I didn't have to ask for your account info, but Twitter doesn't offer APIs using any other authentication mechanism (according to the docs). Read more about what I will and won't do with your account info/data in the FAQ.

I will not store your password. I will only use it once to calculate your Twitterank.

No, really, he won't. There's no "pinky swear" there - but it's implied. In researching a bit further, I came across a blog entry by Oliver Marks from ZDnet. In there, he points to a link with a screenshot of the source code of the application.

Well, if you look at the source code now - you'll see that those sort of offending remarks have been removed, and it appears as if Mr. Chijiiwa, the site's creator - decided it was best to take the criticisms of the social media community to heart - and has posted his site link and his resume.

Turns out he's a Google Engineer! Huh. Well, there's NO WAY that someone could put up a fake site or fake resume on the Internet... everyone knows that!

In the meantime, send ME your Twitter username and password - I won't store it either (wink, wink) and don't worry there's no way I would write an automated solution that would create 30 tweets an hour from your account that would point people to porn sites and scammer sites... I pinky swear!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Just Back It Up. Really.

Hey kids - I'm baaaaaack. I've been working on a project (still in "stealth" mode for a couple of weeks) all of my waking (and non-waking) hours - so I've been remiss in my blogging duties. But now, I'm back.

Now that I'm finally plugged back into the "real" world - and have caught up on some of the headlines I've missed while I was away - one of them really stuck out to me. There is (was) a site for professional photographers called Digital Railroad that just literally folded up shop with 24 hours notice to its subscribers.

Yep, 24 hours!

The page that's up there now states that they are in talks with another company who is interested in buying their assets (including the servers where all the user's goodies are stored) - so maybe, hopefully, probably sometime in the "near future" you MIGHT be able to get access to all the stuff you've uploaded.

The first message they put up was on October 15 stating the company had "reported a staff reduction and an aggressive attempt to secure additional financing and/or a strategic partner, but was unable to stay afloat." Then they just came out with the "The archive may only be accessible for the next 24 hours" line.

Needless to say - the people who subscribed to the service were a little pissed. So they moved the deadline to 48 hours rather than 24 hours. Still, after October 31st - it was all "Have a nice day."

That brings up the important point: if you use online SaaS (Software as a Service) applications (and who doesn't) - it's a good idea to have a local backup of your data. Just in case.

Hard drives are cheap - you can get 500GB for about $200-$300 with 1 terabyte (1000 GB) at less than $500. Make sure that you periodically drag all your pictures, downloaded music, important spreadsheets, etc to a local drive (not just your own hard drive) or just burn a quick CD.

It doesn't take that long - and you don't necessarily have to do it every single day. It just depends on how valuable your data is - and how "replaceable" it is. If it's pictures of Johnny's first steps - or your wedding photos - just back the damn things up. Even if you use an online photo site, etc.

So, does this mean that all SaaS applications and companies are doomed? Should we go back to the stone age of simply installing everything locally and resort to our own backup schemes, etc.? Well, of course not! Let's not throw the baby out with the bath water here - and let's not panic.

However, if your data is important to you (and I would assume it is), then just be smart about it and take some reasonable precautions to back the stuff up. Even if you hosted everything yourself on your own servers - it's a good idea to have a remote backup anyway. So, in the case of SaaS - your own local datastore is your offsite backup.

And, if you're like some people I know - who upload media to their favorite site - and then delete the originals from their hard drives - you better block out some time over the holiday weekend and start re-downloading your stuff so you can back it up.

If Google or Facebook or Fickr or Snapfish, etc. actually go under - chances are very good that they will be bought by someone else and things will continue as "normal." However - at the end of the day - it's YOUR content so take steps to protect it.
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