Sept. 27, 2009

In the wake of the dot-com crash earlier this decade, I had hoped that we would learn (and remember) that it’s incredibly stupid to place a sky-high value on a company that, despite its online popularity, doesn’t make money.

But it appears that we haven’t learned a damn thing.

Last week, Twitter was valued at $1 billion “even though it has yet to generate any meaningful revenue, let alone profits,” according to an AP story. One investment banker applauded Twitter’s attempt to remain independent while it collects millions in venture capital, noting that “it buys them more time to capitalize on their momentum and come up with a business plan.”

You read that correctly. Despite their impressive audience of 54 million users, Twitter has no business plan (three years after its founding!), no sources of income, and is nowhere close to breaking even. And yet, some analysts still believe that Twitter could be worth one thousand million dollars.

In response, I’ve decided to start a similarly unprofitable, irresponsible small business called Smoke & Mirrors LLC. I wonder how much virtual value I’ll be able to generate.

[ No. 546 ]

Sept. 23, 2009

When my car needs routine service every three months or so, I drop it off at the local dealership on a weekday before 8 a.m., ride a shuttle back to my house, and work from home for the entire day (which is an enviable perk). And when my car is ready by late afternoon, the shuttle returns to my house to pick me up, and I ride back to the dealership to retrieve my newly serviced car.

This ritual is certainly preferable to skimming through People magazine in a crowded waiting room on a Saturday morning. But yesterday, the courtesy shuttle service wasn’t particularly courteous.

Well after 5 p.m., I looked out the window of my home office and spotted an idling, unmarked red minivan. The shuttle driver on duty usually calls when he’s en route or already at my house, so I couldn’t tell whether the vehicle was from the dealership. After a few minutes, I walked outside and discovered that it was, in fact, the shuttle that I’d been waiting for.

I went back to lock my front door, then returned to the minivan. As I climbed into the front passenger seat, the young driver mumbled, “I usually call, but I’ve had, like, the worst day ever.” Odd excuse, I thought, but at least we were on our way. As we left my neighborhood, I noticed the dot-matrix, LCD dashboard between us, which read, DISTANCE TO EMPTY: 15 MILES — a notoriously unreliable statistic in my own car, and one that I never gamble with. As I silently prayed that we wouldn’t run out of gas during rush hour, I quickly learned that my young chauffeur was in a very bad mood.

Frowning, slumped in his seat, and oblivious to his unfastened seat belt, he informed me that he was a senior in high school (!), and spent the remainder of our 15-minute trip complaining like only a teenager can. He explained how much he hated his after-school job, primarily because they hadn’t paid him since he started work a month ago. That’s a valid complaint, of course, but not one that a customer like me really needs to know about.

For my part, I tried to commiserate with the kid, reminding him that most people have to put up with a lot of infuriating stuff at their jobs. But upon our arrival at the dealership, I was very relieved — we didn’t run out of gas after all, and more importantly, I could finally escape the shuttle driver’s whining.

Oh, the incessant whining.

[ No. 545 ]

Sept. 19, 2009

Yeah, I know, it’s been quiet around here lately. I’ve been preoccupied with starting some freelance projects, and to be honest, posting Facebook updates has become a dangerously efficient alternative to blogging.

So, anyway, what’s been going on?

After 6½ years of using Lotus Notes for e-mail at work, I’ve been “migrated” to Outlook 2007. It will take some time to get completely comfortable with it, which is quite different from the older version of Outlook that I’d used at a previous employer years ago. But so far, it’s been intuitive to use, and thankfully, all of my old e-mails and calendar items appear to be intact. However, my colleagues and I have been blissfully immune to Outlook viruses while we were using Notes, so I hope that won’t become a major headache.

Outside of work, I’ve finally made a few long-overdue technological upgrades as well. Earlier this month, I visited a crowded Comcast office in Downingtown and exchanged my Comcast cable box for a new DVR. Recording shows is so much easier than scrolling through the on-screen menus on my ancient VCR, and the ability to rewind live TV shows to see an instant replay on anything is nothing short of amazing.

Also, my previously reliable two-year-old LG cell phone recently showed some troubling signs of wear. In the past, each time I shopped for a new phone under the “New Every Two” program from Verizon Wireless, I’ve settled for a relatively simple, compact model. But this time around, I decided to make the leap to a smartphone and bought a new BlackBerry Tour.

For several years, I used a cell phone and a Palm PDA, so I’m looking forward to using the best features of both in one device (without switching to AT&T in order to join the iPhone masses). The BlackBerry’s Web browser works quite well, the mobile versions of Yahoo! Mail and Facebook are user-friendly, and the interface is sleek and crystal-clear. I’m definitely glad that I made the move, and even though the data plan will run an extra $30 per month, I have a feeling that I’ll get my money’s worth out of my newest gadget.

[ No. 544 ]

Sept. 11–13, 2009

Highlights from my friends’ annual pilgrimage to Penn State:

  1. By now, I could probably complete the three-hour drive to State College in my sleep, but a heavy rainfall caused a few white-kunckle moments on the Pennsylvania Turnpike on Friday afternoon.
  2. During our traditional dinner at the Tavern, we were joined by Brian’s cousin, who happens to be a freshman at PSU this year. We were amused that most of his observations about the college experience were related to food.
  3. I would assume that the owners of retail shops in State College eagerly look forward to the high-traffic football weekends each fall. So why would the huge, well-known Student Book Store close at 9 p.m. on the night before a home game? As we left, we watched a few groups of people walk up to the brightly lit corner store and frown in confusion at the locked front door.
  4. For a few hours before the scheduled noon kickoff on Saturday, we took cover from light rain under a blue tent for our pre-game tailgate. (Mmmm, apple strudel!) Fortunately, the skies brightened throughout the morning and we walked into Beaver Stadium under merely cloudy skies.
  5. The game itself was fairly underwhelming. Penn State played excellent defense and quarterback Daryll Clark passed for 240 yards and three touchdowns, but the inexperienced offensive line made PSU’s running game look very ordinary. I’ll certainly take the 28–7 win over Syracuse, but my alma mater did not look like a top-10 team, and I genuinely worry about the Lions’ chances against tougher teams later in the season.
  6. Marc, Sarah, and I sat to the left of a large section of Syracuse fans, who blew up orange balloons and batted them into the home crowd during most of the game. Not surprisingly, many of the nearby PSU fans promptly popped the orange party favors; we tend to be partial to blue and white, folks.
  7. We grilled some burgers and hot dogs during a post-game tailgate as the late-afternoon weather continued to improve. Here’s Steve, me, Brian, and Marc with Mount Nittany in the background, just before we called it a day: The tailgating gang in front of Mount Nittany
  8. Later, we headed to Damon’s to watch some of the later games over some appetizers. I quickly assumed my “Angry Mike” persona after watching Michigan pull off a last-minute win over Notre Dame. And later that evening, Ohio State didn’t do the Big Ten any favors by running out of gas in a frustrating three-point loss to USC.
  9. As usual, we closed out the weekend with a large, satisfying brunch at the Perkins near our hotel. But unlike last year, I enjoyed a sunny and completely traffic-free return trip, arriving home in just over 2½ hours.

[ No. 543 ]