Thursday, November 30, 2006

Today the buzz is about the weather! An unlikely high of mid-60s is expected today, and I find it interesting that the overwhelming attitude is: "This just ain't right." Normally a balmy day in November would we welcomed with fanfare, confetti, and maybe a parade. But after a persistently warm month, today (and tomorrow's) mild temps are greeted more warily. Everybody thinks it's either an "Inconvient Truth" of Global Warming coming home to roost, or a harbinger of a whopper winter full of snow and nor'easters and other unpleasantries. (Hmmm... I wonder what the Old Farmer's Almanac has to say on the subject of "climate change.")

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

I see in the new NH Business Review (Nov 24-Dec 7) that old friend Katie Paine will keynote the inaugural Breakfast Table event of the Women's Business Center. I've long been a fan of the WBC and their work; my ex-wife even launched a business with their help back in the day. Katie's presentation will be called "Got Blog?" Cost is 37 bucks -- a bargain at twice the price -- and will be held at that new monstrosity downtown they call the Hilton Garden Inn. (Nice to see it's getting used.)

From the opposite page, I see congratulations are in order to state democratic mover/shaker Mike Vlacich on his appointment to director of the state's Economic Development Commission. In fact, Mike, drop me a note sometime, I've got some ideas I want to run by you!

Hmmm... While I agree with Mr. Paul Willax's treatise (page 36) on the sorry state of customer service nowadays, I take exception to his attitude that it's largely a training issue. Give me a break Paul. These "vital front-line employees" of which you speak make barely over minimum wage. They are treated with a modicum of respect at best, or more likely, fungible replacement parts. (I've worked retail; believe me, I know from whence I speak. I like to say I'm "recovering retail" -- it's a 12-step program on rebuilding your self-respect.) Retail clerks have almost no incentive to do anything for the customer beyond give the correct change. Mr. Willax admits "creative compensation" is a necessity, but that's not even enough. The minimum wage needs to be raised -- it hasn't budged since gas was like 99 cents a gallon! Then employeers who want more than fungible parts behind the registers will pay a near-living wage, and the employees will repay them with the customer service we all long for and so seldom receive. Oh, and happy holiday shopping everyone! ;-)

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Sitting here at VIP AutoParts on Lafayette Rd. -- the passenger-side rear tire on my VW persistently goes flat, and nobody has free air anymore -- and happened to spot a Wi-Fi Zone sticker in the window! Aside from the 20 bucks gone for the flat-fix, how happy am I?! I wouldn't have even thought to check for wi-fi here. Very impressed! So impressed that I'll give them a shout-out and a link, here. Of course I tried first; was my second guess. Interesting that the site still uses frames, which is terrible for search engines and bad for some browsers, and it doesn't seem to mention having free wi-fi at their stores anywhere on their site.

And as I sit here, I see on the waiting room TV (tuned into CNBC) that GOOG has topped 500 bucks a share. FIVE HUNDRED. Wow. (Damn, I wish my fantasy portfolio wasn't a fantasy, because I was in on GOOG at 187.) :-p I remember when Google first came out, and I thought to myself, why do we need another search engine when we've got Yahoo? Certainly if Google had failed, the "experts" would have said the same thing in their post-mortems. Entering a market that is already covered and dominated by another is never a great business strategy, but Google didn't listen to conventional wisdom and has now exceeded even their own wild expecations. The elegant simplicity of their site design and their deep-digging search algorithms really set them apart -- it really was a better mouse trap. When you think about it, Google's success follows Apple's in that they both take complex technologies and present the user with the easiest use of those technologies. The click-wheel is to the iPod what the search box is to Google's home page -- plain white and intuitive as all get out.

Speaking of my other favorite stock, AAPL is hitting highs this morning on news that they are working on an "iPhone." Is there any doubt that if anybody can integrate a cell phone with a digital music player, it's Apple?

Friday, November 17, 2006

Thanks to Michael Gurau of CEI Community Ventures in Portland for quoting me in his regular column in Interface Tech News. His piece, "Worth the Investment: PR should be part of every budget," makes a compelling argument for the value of PR to start-ups vs. advertising and other marketing tools. CEI Community Ventures itself is a very interesting organization, a $10m venture capital company targeting small, early-stage businesses in the "under-served" areas of rural New England. Very cool.

Monday, November 06, 2006

This is the time of year that the buzz around town becomes political. Candidates run ads on TV and on the radio, and most of them are obnoxious in their zeal to appeal. But especially in a midterm election, most candidates are relatively unknown; it's an exercise in... let's call it "lightning branding." They're trying to both get name recognition and associate themselves with moms, baseball, apple pies, or some other universally attractive issue. And they've got like, a few weeks, maybe a month, where people are paying attention.

Since politics is the birthplace of "spin," I always find it interesting to see how the candidates position themselves, what they choose to highlight, whether they go negative on the other candidate, etc. I even think it's fascinating to see which colors they use on their signs. Red, white, and blue are obvious; I tend to respect those candidates who use other color combinations or are otherwise graphically creative. In NH, I like the guy who had his name printed on billboards that look like big license plates. And on Rt. 236 in Maine, a local candidate's name is so long, it's impossible to fit it on a billboard. So they broke up the name into like 5 signs, each with 3 letters of the name, then placed the signs along the road in succession at 10 foot intervals. Very clever!

The most obnoxious TV ads seem to be in Massachusetts, where the Deval Patrick candidacy has polarized the constituency. Patrick reminds me of Howard Dean a little -- he's the "different" candidate everyone seems to be buzzing about, one way or the other. He has a very good chance to be the Bay State's first black governor, but does his voice sound like cartoon character, or is it just me? One pro-democrat ad (probably by teacher's lobby?) I thought was particularly effective explained that apparently the commonwealth is now 41st in the country in school spending, behind (gulp) Alabama and (double gulp) Mississippi?! Yow. For all you Mass voters who thought they could safely elect "moderate" republican governors and expect to keep your core democratic values in tact, this is your wake-up call.

Speaking of schools, my daughter is in 4th grade and her teacher is big on civics and government, so they held mock elections the other day in school. Unfortunately, she said she wanted to vote but didn't know any of the candidates. Isn't this what almost everybody says when they don't vote? Isn't there some way around this, like, maybe at the polls there could be a standardized one-page sheet with their positions listed out? Or how about an independent consultant who sits there and asks you questions to determine who you probably should be supporting? I mean, for regular people, i.e., non-policitical-junkies, working a job or two, raising kids, doing laundry, raking leaves, it isn't hard to see how they don't have the time or inclination to learn about the candidates before election day. Then the day comes, and they know they SHOULD vote, but they don't know much if anything about the candidates. It's like sending them into Sears to buy a new fridge -- but there's no salespeople to help, there's no pricing, no features listed anywhere, they're all white and square -- then cricitizing them for not buying one! There's gotta be another way.

In any event, Tuesday could be a very big day. I am VERY excited about the potential for a referendum on the failures of Bush and the corruption of his cronies in congress. I'm heartily endorsing a straight democratic ticket here in NH, and not just for the sake of change -- I've had the pleasure of meeting people like Carol Shea Porter, Jackie Cilley, John Lynch, and I am as impressed with their character as I am confident in their abilities. Please join me in voting a straight ticket on Nov. 7.