Observations on the Trip so Far

Observations on Chicago: Cold, cold, cold. It was -19 degrees centigrade yesterday evening. Fortunately the only time I had to step ‘outside’ was on the jetway. Today, the police are recommending that people in the area don’t leave their houses. It’s nice and sunny in California.

Observations on Hertz #1 Club Gold: So cool. Just turn up (2 hours late but it didn’t seem to matter), get in the car, show your license, and drive off. This is the way things should be.

Observations on American Driving: Automatic transmission: simple, just don’t forget it moves when you take your foot off the brake. Driving on the right-hand-side of the road: easier than expected. Following the instructions Neverlost gives me: harder than expected. Getting your key out of the ignition without calling the Hertz helpline: apparently impossible.

But driving here is incredibly lazy. After experimenting this afternoon with the cruise control, I know this is the way it ought to be: big roads, no lack of power, no worrying about gearchanges, no worrying about navigation, a soft and comfortable ride. I took a trip down to Santa Cruz - a lovely little town - and thoroughly enjoyed the drive in the sun.

plv has convinced me to try and use Flickr again - for highlighting my best photos. I’ve uploaded some today from the trip to Santa Cruz (and one from yesterday showing the ice across the Midwest). I expect I’ll continue to use my gallery, but probably won’t upload to it whilst I’m in the US.

Broken Blogging

I’m heading off to San José this weekend to take part in an IBM Redbook Residency. I’ve never contributed to a Redbook before, and by all accounts it’s an intense experience. I’m hoping to take some time out to see the Bay Area, but I probably won’t be writing here very frequently - I’ll be using this mainly to chronicle tales of the California sunshine. I hope to get back to writing for real when I return in mid-March.

If you’re trying to get in touch with me, my usual email addresses and mobile phone number should work just fine.

Phwoar, Get a Load of those Sales Figures!

The political arguments around government and business are well understood. At one extreme are people who despise profit-making businesses, considering them a necessary evil at best, and who’d prefer to see governments take more action to protect their and society’s interests. At the other are those who’d prefer to see governments scaled down significantly and businesses given more freedom.

People with my political opinions often make arguments for the latter based on either practical or moral arguments. Richard and I had a online discussion about this recently. But maybe there’s another, more silly, question that’s missing: which is sexier: business or government? A quick look at the primary US government portal compared to Wal-Mart’s homepage leaves me in no doubt who hired the better web designer, at any rate (and Wal-Mart is hardly an example of glamour). Which corporate body makes you want to interact with them? Anybody who’s spent any time at a UK local council, with their cuppa-and-rich-tea-biscuit image, will know what I mean (that’s an example of non-sexiness, if it’s not clear: not that I have anything against rich tea).

I’m semi-serious, actually - this does matter - it’s an issue of marketing. Clearly a company cannot actually be sexy - only people can be that. But the Virgin family of companies gets pretty close - and not just because of the suggestive naming. It’s an image that has been carefully cultivated by the folk at Virgin. Virgin is a company that you want to like (well, I do, anyway), irrespective of the fact that their trains don’t run on time.

I think the reasoning behind this is simple. Companies have to be sexy - or at least, they have to project an image which is aligned with values their customers want them to have. Sometimes this is sexiness - and Virgin is a prime example of a brand that’s attacked several markets with that technique and won some new custom. Sometimes, to be fair, there’s another image to be conveyed (UPS brown vans and brown uniforms are not alluring; but they do project an image of reliability). Conversely, government has no such motivation to project an image of anything - or at least the vast majority of unelected officials don’t. There’s no requirement to improve, no motivation to act like a marketer, because there’s no competition. Thus, government will always continue to project an image of dull and incompetent, whether that be the case or not. As Seth says, ‘[people] lose their jobs because of boring marketing’ - except in government they don’t, because they rarely lose them at all.

It’s probably not the most pressing problem the world faces right now, but wouldn’t it be nice to stop worrying about global warming for five minutes and think about how to make the institutions we deal with on a daily basis more appealing?

Milton Friedman Day

Today is Milton Friedman day. Friedman is a personal hero of mine, an economist who worked hard to publicise the concepts of freedom and liberty, and who sadly passed away last November. His clarity and forthrightness in explaining his beliefs to the layman won him praise, and deservedly so:

The most important single central fact about a free market is that no exchange takes place unless both parties benefit.

Milton’s son David is also an economist, and continues to promote his ideas on this blog. The Economist has also drawn up an interesting selection of quotes discussing Friedman.

Note: Milton Friedman is unrelated to Thomas Friedman, author of The World is Flat, a book which Roo Reynolds wrote a partial review of recently.

Drop Your Laptop or: How to Live a Happy and Fulfilling Life by Keeping Your Data on the Network

I managed to drop my IBM-owned Thinkpad fairly violently last weekend and the hard disk crashed. Thinkpads are worth the money, folks, they really are the most reliable laptops going (honest - IBM has sold the brand to Lenovo now, anyway). Unfortunately even it couldn’t withstand my abuse.

I’m currently in the process of getting it fixed, but it was impressive how little disruption it has so far caused. I was both concerned and embarrassed when it first happened: partly because I really need a laptop to take away with me to San José, and partly because, well, it’s embarrassing to break other people’s stuff (even if that person is a virtual entity employing a few hundred thousand people).

Nevertheless, I began to realise just how much data that was important to me, both personally and professionally, was out there on the network, and thus still seamlessly accessible from the remaining PCs I have at home and in the office. My email is all web accessible (save from my business mail, which sadly is not - not without some fuss anyway). My bookmarks are all on delicious, and contain pointers to many things I read regularly. Some of my data (presentations, documents, etc.) is on internal IBM network storage - the rest I’ll be moving onto there in short order from backups. I use Google Reader as an RSS reader, so that wasn’t disturbed. I’m currently evaluating which of the remaining applications I use I should try to find online equivalents for.

I’ve always been paranoid about backups, and that’s one of the reasons why I held off using online applications for such a long time - I worried about control over my data. David convinced me to chill out about this, and I started using delicious (although I still run an automated backup of my bookmarks from it). It was so useful that I started to move more data off my machine. As well as illustrating to me how unimportant the operating system I use really is (I’ve been without a Windows system for a week, and it hasn’t mattered at all), I now really love the compelling value of network-based data, and this event has demonstrated the value of that to me clearly.

Go network!

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