Media, Sports

The Greatest Ever

07.31.09 | Permalink | 2 Comments
Tiger Woods, greatest ever? Too soon to tell, so why say it?

Maybe I’m just getting older and crankier, but I simply cannot stand the hyperbole of “such and such is the greatest player ever” or “it was the greatest game ever” or “the greatest company ever.” Particularly *before* the event has been played or while the player is still playing the game.

Obviously this “greatest ever” mantra is being used to get people excited and engaged about the target in question as a media hook. But it’s used so often now and so inappropriately that it’s meaningless.

Before we hang the tag “greatest ever” on something, I think a couple of decades should pass to see if the target stands the test of time. For instance, saying Babe Ruth was the greatest baseball player ever is an interesting assertion, he stands the test of time.

Saying some present player in some present sport, oh, say a Tiger Woods, is hyperbole. I don’t dispute Woods is a fantastic player and may someday reach the point of earning such praise. He’s getting the attention now based upon his youth and performance to date, but he’s not the “greatest ever” now and really shouldn’t even be in the conversation at this point. What happens if he has a career ending injury? Would his performance to date leave him as “greatest ever?” Probably not. In 30 years, let’s take a look at his career and see. (BTW, I’m not a golf fan, I could care less, but Tiger seemed like a good example.)

So, can we just dispense with this “greatest ever” line? It’s tired, it’s not accurate, and it makes me grumpy!

Business, Innovation

Look Out ATT…

07.26.09 | Permalink | 3 Comments

The natives are restless – poor service coupled with running a hot network is causing people to want to free the iPhone from your clutches. Last weekend, I wanted to upgrade to the 3GS model and went to a local ATT Wireless Store thinking a complex upgrade was best handled there. First, they didn’t have sufficient staff to deal with the crowd and secondly, they didn’t have the phone!

I drove to an Apple store (which was absolutely mobbed) and picked up the phone with the complex upgrade and was finished in less than 30 minutes. This does not bode well for ATT……

Here is an excellent, short video set to Squirrel Nut Zippers music that is advocating the masses should pressure Apple for a change. Pat Lee did a great job with this.


Camp Quest: A New Hope

07.26.09 | Permalink | Comments Off on Camp Quest: A New Hope
Kids having fun at Camp Quest in Clarksville, Ohio

For all of you Star Wars geeks thinking this was related, sorry….A friend passed this Economist article along to me last week (thanks Bruce) and I found it interesting and hopeful. If such a camp can exist and survive in Ohio – a state steeped in old time religion – then perhaps there is hope for human kind to shake of the religious yoke of oppression and rise above cheap myths designed to control and demean masses of people.

Read the article and leave a comment on your view.

Jul 16th 2009
From The Economist print edition

Reflections on a summer camp for the children of atheists

AS PART of a travelling Christian drama group, Don Sutterfield used to perform short plays. In one, a young man gives his girlfriend a rose and tries to persuade her to have premarital sex. The couple walk off, leaving the rose behind. Jesus picks it up and starts plucking the petals. “They love me, they love me not…”

Pious audiences loved it, says Mr Sutterfield. He and his chums would stand at the altar of a Pentecostal church, speaking in tongues, laying on hands and praying for members of the congregation to be delivered from sin, sickness and sexual perversion. Occasionally, they would attempt to drive out evil spirits. It was incredibly dramatic, says Mr Sutterfield: like the movie “The Exorcist”, only with lots of exorcists. At the time, Mr Sutterfield was “immeasurably proud” of his work. But with hindsight, he thinks it was a load of mumbo-jumbo. He is now a militant atheist. He organises secular groups at universities and, this summer, volunteered at Camp Quest, a network of summer camps for secular kids. Lexington visited one in Clarksville, Ohio.

In most ways, it is like other summer camps. Kids aged 8 to 17 share cabins in the woods. During the day, they paddle canoes, shoot arrows, go swimming and explore nature. At night, they chat beneath the stars. Like other summer camps, Camp Quest satisfies a demand that springs from America’s combination of very long holidays for children and very short ones for their parents. Unlike other camps, it is staffed entirely by humanists.

They are not pushy or preachy, but scepticism flavours nearly everything they do. Lunch comes with a five-minute talk about a famous freethinker. Campers are told that invisible unicorns inhabit the forest, and offered a prize if they can prove that the unicorns do not exist. The older kids learn something about the difficulty of proving a negative. The younger ones grow giggly at the prospect of stepping in invisible unicorn poop. There’s a prize for the tidiest cabin, too, because “cleanliness is next to godlessness”, jokes Amanda Metskas, the director.

Campers are not told that there is no God; only that they should weigh the evidence. They learn about the scientific method. An amateur biologist invites them to gather creepy-crawlies from a nearby pond. They are told how sensitive each species is to pollution, and asked to work out from this how polluted the pond is. They find several critters that can survive only in clean water, and conclude that the pond is in good shape. The kids are encouraged to explore ethical questions, too. The more argumentative ones sit in a clearing and debate the nature of justice.

The kind of people who send their kids to Bible camp are appalled. Answers in Genesis, a Christian fundamentalist group, berates Camp Quest for drumming a “hopeless” world view into young minds. But a humanist camp is less about indoctrination than reassurance that it is all right not to be religious; that it is possible to be moral without believing in the supernatural. Nearly all the kids at Camp Quest say they find it comforting to be surrounded by others who share their lack of belief. Many attend schools where Christianity is taken for granted. Many keep quiet about their atheism. Those who don’t are sometimes taunted or told they will burn in hell.

Atheists are broadly disliked in America. Only 5% of Americans admit that they would not vote for an otherwise qualified black presidential candidate, but 53% say they would shun an atheist. That makes the godless less popular than Muslims, Mormons or gays. Granted, the proportion of Americans who say they might vote for an atheist has doubled in the past half-century, and the polls are muddied by those who do not know what an atheist is.

Only one congressman—Pete Stark of California—openly admits to non-belief. When Barack Obama was inaugurated as president, he described America inclusively, as “a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and non-believers.” But since then he has publicly invoked Jesus more frequently than George Bush junior did, according to Politico, a political newspaper. “I was surprised. I thought he’d be different,” says Valerie, a 12-year-old at Camp Quest.

The lonely 1 in 12
Although America’s atheists are not loved, they are not persecuted. Hate crimes against them are almost non-existent. In 2007 only six were reported to the FBI, and that included minor offences such as vandalism. (By way of comparison, there were 969 anti-Jewish hate crimes.) Of course, the fact that atheists are practically invisible makes them less vulnerable. A neo-Nazi can easily identify a synagogue or the Holocaust museum in Washington. But how do you spot an atheist? The guy you see walking a dog on Sunday morning could be planning to go to evensong.

Many atheists opt to remain in the closet, except perhaps with their closest friends. It is the path of least resistance. Deny the existence of God and you may be challenging your neighbours’ most deeply held beliefs. That could get you ostracised, so why risk it? Yet living in the closet has costs. Christians have their beliefs constantly reinforced by neighbours who proudly and openly share them. Atheists often wrestle with their consciences alone, even though they are perhaps 8% of the population. Christopher Hitchens, the author of an antireligious polemic in 2007, observed that half the people who came to his book-promoting speeches had thought they were the only atheists in town.

Isolation matters especially when it comes to bringing up children, a tough task at the best of times. Christian parents can call on a vast support network of churches, Sunday schools, Bible camps and incidentally religious organisations such as the Boy Scouts. Atheists have precious little to compare with this. Small wonder the kids at Camp Quest seem so cheerful.

Business, Politics

Pay Now or Pay Later

07.22.09 | Permalink | 3 Comments

Pay Now or Pay Later, but PAY you will.

That is the single most important aspect of this healthcare debate that is presently going on. It’s much, much simpler than we’re making this set of issues. Today, there are nearly 50 million Americans without adequate health care – that’s 1 in 6 of us. Despite the debates going on right now, this really shouldn’t be about the 5 people who do have coverage, it should be about what we do about the 1 person who doesn’t have coverage.

What happens today is that this 1 person (representing 50M others) doesn’t perform routine preventative maintenance which helps to improve overall health resulting in far lower costs. This is the alternative to waiting until problems are acute and treating them after the fact in emergency rooms. There are dozens of studies that empirically demonstrate the health and fiscal benefits of routine, preventative maintenance. Since we don’t have such a system in place, we are all paying a “tax” now to healthcare providers to cover the costs of this uninsured base of people.

Thus the answer to this dilemma is simple. Establish a basic healthcare plan that provides for preventative, routine services and catastrophic services for those who have no other option. Have a plan you like now? You have coverage? Great, stick with it. This isn’t about you, it’s about the other 50M Americans who don’t have an option.

As a further twist, this plan should be the default Federal plan that the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches use along with the rest of the Federal employees (including the military.) Private companies should have an opportunity to bid for this business since they are the ones nervous about it taking away business from them (though they really should jump for joy at being able to increase profits without the uninsured and lower premiums for everyone else.)

From a funding perspective, increase the FICA contribution limit from the current $90,000 per year to $150,000 per year and use those funds to offset the cost. Meanwhile, the smart insurance companies will move to reduce their rates (perhaps giving 50% of the benefits back to subscribers? Is that too much to ask?) to offset the increase in FICA.

The net is, this is a much simpler and easier problem to tackle if we take the right approach. It’s about the uninsured, it’s about improving health in that segment, and it’s about reducing costs through routine, preventative services. Now that we have the answer, let’s pull our thumbs out and get on with it….

Business, Technology & Science

The Sun Sets

07.17.09 | Permalink | 2 Comments
Sun Sets below the Pacific Horizon

Yesterday was the close to a very sad chapter in technology history with the shareholder vote of Sun Microsystems to be acquired by Oracle. From a shareholder perspective, this is perhaps the best outcome that was possible (the alternative being the Silicon Graphics descent into permanent penny-stock land shrinking each subsequent year.) For Sun customers, it’s probably neutral since most ran Oracle databases anyway and are already Oracle customers. For IBM and SAP, this is likely bad news since Oracle now controls Java and MySQL.

For those of you who do not know, I worked at Sun twice for a span of 9 years in total. In a very real way, I came of age inside the company and gained many of the skills that have become central and vital to my approach to business and track record of results. Sun was a very special place with great people, a winning attitude, can do spirit, and fantastic innovation. But in the end, the market shift from symmetrical multi-processor machines to cheap, commodity machines running Linux was too much for the company to overcome.

Unfortunately, many of the more recent lessons I take from Sun are negative lessons about what not to do in particular situations. I’ve also really taken a close look at the difference between activity and results. Something Sun, at least as recently as 2006, didn’t have a good handle on. And the relative value of vision, innovation, strategy, and execution. Sun never lacked the former three, but had difficulty on the later topic from about the year 2000 onward.

Here are a few of the lessons I truly value that I learned at Sun:

  • Act Now – Once you know something is right/wrong, act now, there is no reason good enough to hesitate (though you may be provided with 1,000 good reasons from others.)
  • Execution trumps Strategy – Given a choice between a killer strategy and a killer execution capability, take the ability to get things done. You may get the wrong things done from time to time, but at least there is a foundation to work from. Ideally, you have a mix between good strategy and execution, but I don’t see that terribly often.
  • All the Wood Behind One Arrowhead – This was a common McNealy-ism, but it’s really true and vital. You can’t have people pulling and different ways and expect a coherent and good outcome. What’s the prize? Define it and get everyone to go after it. In the early days of Sun, the company and it’s people excelled at this practice.
  • Be hard on the issue, be easy on the people – It’s all too easy to just be an asshole in the corporate world. It’s not necessary. Yes, we have to get business done, but that’s really the set of issues that we’re working on. The people, generally, are all trying to do the “right” thing. Coach, consult, help, but don’t kill the people. Resolve the issue. There is a difference and it really is the only thing that distinguishes smart people from one another, their ability to build and maintain sustainable productive relationships while handling horrible issues.

There are many more, but these are the lessons that come to mind. In the meantime, let’s have a moment of silence for Sun. It was a good ride, and now it’s over. I hope for a smooth transition into Oracle, that many get a chance to show their worth in the new world vs. simply join the ranks of the unemployed, and that some of the great ideas and technologies gain a second lease on life.

Meanwhile, it’s good to take the time to reflect and say thank you. Sun as a company was very good to me, provided fantastic opportunities for learning and growth, and recognized and rewarded my performance during my tenure there. More to the point, there were some really great people that I had the honor and privilege to work for and with, and I’m very grateful to that community for the way it embraced me and allowing me to participate and contribute. While I’m saddened by the passing of that era, I will always hold the company, community, and people in the highest esteem.

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