Popular Culture

Product Managers on the Road, Capitol Edition

One of our largest customers, a group of agricultural research centers, held the annual meeting of their IT Managers in early May, in Washington, DC.  I was invited to attend so that I could provide an update on a pilot Active Directory project we were conducting, and to give a talk on Microsoft's direction with respect to cloud computing.  Naturally, this meant an opportunity for another "Product Managers on the Road" edition!

Travel Day.  Flight leaves at 6 AM... yeesh. At least I have a car taking me to the airport.  Brian's with me, since he came out to make a surprise visit to Sean during Sean's chemotherapy treatment.

After saying goodbye to Brian (he's on a different flight back to DC) I head to the gate.  Okay... it's a 737 with only paid amenities.  Time to stock up on some nuts and dried fruit for the flight. I send a couple of text messages to Sean to see how he's feeling.

It's a full flight, and naturally everyone is attempting to carry their life's possessions onto the flight.  They were taking volunteers to gate-check bags; a great way to check your bags for free.

On the plane. The passenger ahead of me is falling asleep, and keeps snapping her neck as her head drops forward.  Reminds me of me at the opera.

Good news: there's a monitor in the seat back.  Bad news: I can't turn it off.  Welcome to six hours of the same Lincoln car commercial.  Or I could pay to watch network TV shows, with commercials. Wait, what?

Dante, who's traveling with me, finds the oldest Peruvian restaurant in DC.  I get to experience aji, a kind of all-purpose hot sauce.  I stupidly ask Dante if he's ever had Peruvian food, forgetting that Dante is from Peru


Niner fans--you never know where they'll turn up. 

Meeting Day One.  At the IT Managers meeting.  I learn a new term when one of the IT Managers says he is going to “throw a spanner in the works.”

Many of the IT Managers here are European.  Maybe that's why they commented that today's hot meal is "a real lunch" compared with yesterday's cold sandwiches.  I also notice a reluctance to eat in the meeting room, even though there are more places to sit there.  This is certainly different than a startup!  There's also a bit of the "Microsoft as Evil Empire" feeling in the room.  How long until Google attains that status?

Good news: the Golden State Warriors' playoff game is on TNT! Bad news: there's no sound.  I get to watch the entire game, including two overtimes, on forced mute.  Steph Curry's face at the end of the game says, "can we just get this over?"

Meeting Day Two.  During one of the smoking breaks (!) I observe the commotion as a group of people are trying to feed/protect a duck they find nesting in the flowers.  The contrast in attention paid to the duck vs. the homeless guy panhandlng nearby is perfect.


Yes, that's a duck nesting in the planter outside the building I was visiting.

Dante and I get to leave the meeting early.  So I take Dante to see the Capitol Building.  We're walking, and when I feel the first couple of raindrops we head for shelter.  Good thing--the skies open up for 10 minutes or more.  We end up taking a taxi the rest of the way to the Capitol building.  Of course, the rain stops as soon as we arrive.


This is outside the World Bank, one of our customers.  But I took the photo because the logo reminded me of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Huh?

Looking for a cab after out Capitol visit.  Thanks to a kind taxi driver, I learn where to stand (and where not to stand) if you're looking for a cab, in the rain, at 5:00 PM.

Evening off.  Brian and I had planned to go see the Washington Nationals play, but I already have one experience getting rained on while watching them, so we change plans.  We end up getting some great seafood, including, oysters we've never heard of before, at Hank's Oyster Bar in Georgetown.  Then it's over to a 60s style bar for a drink.  I feel like I'm in some sort of James Bond movie.

Day Three.  Visiting another customer, have some time before my appointment.  The weather's cleared up a bit, so I take a stroll near the White House and then back to where I had been staying.  I decide I'd better eat now, since I may use up all my lunch time walking back to my hotel.  I grab a hot dog and find a bench to sit and eat.


I can only imagine the advice McKinsey gave this vendor: "diversify!"

Now back to the hotel, to check out and go to my next appointment. 


I found the food trucks.  Too bad I already ate lunch!

A great meeting with my customer, now on to the airport and back home... As Brian had told me, Thursday afternoon is the worst time to fly out of Dulles; all the Congress-people are headed back home for the weekend.  So everything takes longer, and my plan to change into casual clothes before the flight is for naught.  I have just enough time to get to the gate and hand them my ticket.  And who do I run into (almost literally) at the gate? Jackie Speier.  Brian interned for Jackie when he first went to Washington, so it was great to catch up with her and let her know what Brian is doing these days.

Late-night arrival in SFO.  Fortunately, I have a car taking me home so I can doze off.  Great trip, great fun with Brian and co, great customer interactions!







Hello, You Must Be Going

Time for our annual snarkiness over words, phrases, people, ideas… whose time has come and--hopefully--gone.

You will be missed
Really? Really
The new normal
Double down
All in
I have no words
Wow just wow
Word especially when used by white people
True that
Anything nation
Hipster hats
Boom! That just happened!
Call Me Maybe (except in spin class)
Gotye; Now You're Just Somebody that I Used to Know
Honey Boo Boo
Can I get (fill in the number) likes
Aqui-hire or aquhire
Gangnam style
Anything Kardashian
Big Data
Fiscal cliff
the Tea Party
Idealogues of all stripes
Any you'd like to add?

Discussing Newtown

My first indication was from my friend Rob LaRiviere, via Facebook. He mentioned Newton, not Newtown, which caught my eye since I had lived next to Newton, Massachusetts when I was going to MIT. Rob's post mentioned shootings and children. That was as much as I needed to know. I chose to avoid finding out the details; the outline of the story was enough. More than wanting to forget the details, it would be easier if I simply never knew them in the first place.

But, try as I might, I've had to let at least some of the story seep in. Even just the outlines are bad enough: kid shoots his mother, goes to school, wipes out her class, kills several teachers/school staff along the way, kills himself. My one public reaction was a tweet: "Who kills children? Who does that?"

I don't have any connection to the victims and families in Newtown, don't know anyone who lives there, don't have kids in Kindergarten or first grade. So I'm not confronted with this tragedy except through my own actions to follow the story.

And while I'm not materially connected to the story, I can certainly relate. My kids are grown now, but I still remember the realization that I loved them like crazy and I couldn't imagine how I would go on if anything ever happened to them. And my kids have each had their share of scary moments in school, nothing so serious as a gunman in the classroom, but enough to make you realize that safety is an ephemeral thing. What's more, there are many teachers in my extended family; what if something like this happened to them?

But after a period of trying to look the other way, I've decided that I have to open the conversation. Because that's what 's called for. Superstorm Sandy, Hurricane Katrina, Deepwater Horizon… a tragic event occurs, we as a society step back, assess what happened, and figure out how to improve things so that the event is less likely to happen or at least less likely to have as grave a consequence.

Except when it comes to guns, kids and schools. You can tick off the tragedies as well as I: Virginia Tech, Columbine, Aurora, and now Sandy Hook. And those are just the most recent events; you may recall that the song "I Don't Like Mondays" was written about the person that shot up a school near San Diego (read more here).

In the time since we learned of this mass murder, there have been reactions aplenty.

  • Sympathy for those who died.
  • Cries of "how could this happen?"
  • Calls for increased gun control
  • Calls for greater mental illness funding
  • Suggestions that the media are to blame
  • Suggestions that violent video games are part of the problem

Probably my favorite response, from @TimthePM, was to promise to unfriend/unfollow/unlink with anyone who started calling for more gun control, or less gun control, or any other "solution" in the immediate aftermath of the shootings.

Why? First, we need to grieve. Those (like me) who are bystanders with no emotional investment in these events, other than as members of some larger community, would love to move to the "solve it!" part of the discussion. I want to put this thing behind me—I've got Christmas to think about.  But for those that are in the middle of this emotional superstorm, we have to give them their time.

Second, we need to get the facts. I have tried to avoid knowing anything about this massacre except the broad outlines: young man gets one or more guns, goes to school, starts shooting. Why? What led up to this? Was there some event that set him off? What kind of gun or guns did he use? Did he have mental health issues? I don't know the answers to these questions; maybe they've all been reported already.

But I remember in the days after Columbine, how there was an accepted notion that the killers were responding to being bullied. And then, not too long ago, I read an article in Time or Newsweek by the mother of one of the shooters. She described the mental issues her son had faced. It made me go back and ask, how much of the conversation after Columbine was about mental health? And yet, this story says that much of what we thought we knew about the killers' motivations has turned out to be wrong.

I guess that's my main point. When something is painful, you do everything you can to make the pain go away. And when it comes to the awful reality of the killings at Sandy Hook, we want to proclaim a solution to a problem we've implied and then move on.

But these aren't simple problems, and they aren't fixed by one-dimensional solutions. I don't know what the answer is, but I know that it's a combination of things. So let's talk about it. Let's start with common ground—we don't want our kids at risk of being killed while in school—and go from there. Let's acknowledge the hurt, support one another, have our say. And then let's get something done.

Social Media: DVR Killer?

I remember (from my visits using The Wayback Machine) when certain hit shows like MASH and Friends had their final episode, and people would gather at someone's house to watch together.

Then along came the DVR—Digital Video Recorder, the collective noun version of TiVO—and forevermore we were "time shifting"… recording shows and watching them whenever we wanted, as opposed to when the networks wanted. Media people wrung their hands and worried that this was the end of television advertising, since viewers now had the opportunity to fast-forward past the commercials.

Fast forward to the world of social media. People at an event are "live-tweeting", meaning you're getting a stream of messages that are directly or indirectly telling you what's happening at the event. So for instance, you didn't have to be watching or listening to know how the Stanford-Oklahoma State football game was going… Cheer, groan, cheer, etc.

And if they're not tweeting, they're using Facebook. Or texting. Or using any of a number of other commenting and sharing services. What's happening here is that the community that at one time would have gathered in someone's house, or a bar, or at the event itself, is now gathering in a virtual way. We're all watching, and social media gives us a way of staying connected and sharing the experience.

And here's where the traditional media people should pay attention. The trick is, you can only connect and share as the event is happening. If you recorded the Stanford-Oklahoma State game for later viewing, all this sharing is going to ruin the ending. And if you want to connect and share, you have to do it live. Which means you have to watch the commercials.

So if the traditional media people are on their game, they'll be creating all kinds of opportunities to share their shows, games, tournaments and so on as events.

Fast-forward that.

Free at Last

Go to the Lincolm Memorial.
Walk to the top of the steps.
Turn around and look out across the reflecting pond.
Imagine seeing nothing but humanity, for as far as you can see.
Now imagine yourself as a young, black preacher about to make a speech that will change the world forever.

If that doesn't send chills up your spine, go to the ER and have them check to see if you're still alive.

When Bobby Kennedy was assasinated, I knew who he was, and what that meant.  No one had to tell me what that event was about.

When Dr. King was assasinated, I didn't know who he was.  All I knew was that Bennie Taylor, having heard that we would be getting the day off to pay respects to Dr. King, was running around the school yard shouting "free at last, free at last".

Over time I realized that those memories told me everything I needed to know about racial equality in America.

Bowl Mania

This just in from the We Couldn't Make This Up If We Tried department…

Remember when the Orange Bowl was called the Orange Bowl? And not the Tostito's Meineke Chick-fil-A GoDaddy.com Orange Bowl presented by Hardy's? Yeah, me neither. But just for fun, here's a listing of this season's bowl games, deconstructed. I've separated the bowl sponsor name from the bowl name (many no longer have a distinct name) and scrambled the order. So see if you can correctly match them up! Or just click the "I Don't Care" button and have another glass of champagne. Be careful, there are some ringers in each column!


Bowl Name

Auto Zone


Meineke Care Care












Capital One








BBVA Compass


Kraft Fight Hunger


Beef 'O' Brady


New Mexico


Champs Sports

Las Vegas



Little Caesar's

Music City

AdvoCare V100

Armed Forces





Bell Helicopter


New Era

New Orleans



Franklin American Mortgage

St. Petersburg

Bridgepoint Education


R&L Carriers

BCS National Championship Game

Northrup Grumman


Welcome to Spirit Airlines, Brought to You By…

You've probably heard of Spirit Airlines. These are the people that want to charge you for bringing luggage onboard (in addition to the current practice of charging for luggage you check). I've written previously about why charging for bringing a bag on to the plane makes more sense than charging for a bag you check. But Spirit seems to have missed that point; they are apparently out to squeeze a few bucks out of their passengers any way they can, including a proposal to force passengers to watch 30-second spots while flying.

C'mon folks! You're missing the big picture here. I'm a big fan of looking to other industries for examples of how I can address challenges in my own field of battle. And in this case, the preeminent example of advertiser tie-in's is right in front of our collective face: televised sports. Think about it for thirty seconds and you'll come up with all sorts of examples: everything from "the Dutch Boy 'points in the paint'" in basketball, to baseball's "when it's time for a change, think Speedy Oil Change…" as part of announcing a pitching change. There's not a moment that occurs in a sporting event that hasn't been considered for some kind of sponsorship. I mean, when the legal disclaimer at the beginning of a sports broadcast "this broadcast is for the sole use…" is brought to you by some law firm, you know you've traveled down the tail of the frequency distribution on what can be offered to a sponsor.

So let's imagine a flight on Spirit Airlines, as crafted by the ad folks from NBA, MLB, and NFL…


Good morning passengers. My name is Mary. I'm your Head Flight Attendant. Welcome to Spirit Airlines Flight 885, bound for Orlando Florida. Today's flight is brought to you by Sea World. Shamu on down and check out the show!

The Captain Morgan captain for today's flight is Captain Everett, he's accompanied by First Officer Woodward. Cindy, Duane and I will be your cabin crew.

Now, would you please direct your attention to the monitors for a brief safety message, brought to you by Brinks Security. When you want to feel safe, get Brinks for your home!

This is your captain, from the flight deck. We're currently 5th in line for takeoff on runway 29R. We'll be taking off to the North, then vectoring toward Indianapolis. From there we'll climb to 30,000 feet and head toward Roanoke, Virginia, then on down to Orlando. Weather in Orlando is brought to you by the Weather Channel: when disaster strikes, find out afterwards on the Weather Channel! I anticipate a smooth flight today, but it's always a good idea to keep your seat belt fastened when seated; that's what we do here in the cockpit. And when we're in the market for new belts, we go to Bernie's Belt Emporium, located off of East 55 just outside Akron. Now sit back, relax, and enjoy the flight to Orlando.

Beverage Service

Ladies and gentleman, we'll be starting our Michelob Light beverage service in just a moment. We have tap water and weak coffee available with our compliments. Beer and wine are available for an extra charge, but you can avoid paying this charge by watching a series of video advertisements on your personal video monitor. Today's beverage service is brought to you by Gatorade and its "G" line of performance products.

Final Approach

Ladies and gentlemen, this is Captain Everett. Please direct your attention to the monitors for our T-Mobile Friends and Family "final approach" message. We're about 100 miles out from Orlando now. The weather in Orlando is hot and muggy; puts me in the mood for a McDonald's latte! I'll be turning on the "fasten seat belts" sign in just a few minutes, so this would be a good time to take a stroll to the restroom. Remember, if you "like" Spirit Airlines on Facebook, there's no charge for admission!

Approaching the Gate

Ladies and gentlemen, this is Head Flight Attendant Mary. Please remain in your seats until the Captain has parked the plane at the gate and turned off the "fasten seat belts" sign. This will be your indication that it is safe to move about the cabin. Remember Volvo, when safety in movement is your priority! Have a wonderful day in Orlando, or wherever your final destination may be.

See, lots of possibilities!  So if you see any of these innovations on your next flight, remember--you read about it here first!

Product Managers on the Road—Vegas Edition

OK, so this is my first business trip in a while: headed to Las Vegas for Light Fair International, a big trade show for the lighting industry.

Operated By

Readers of some of my other travel posts will recall the confusion I had regarding United Airlines/Air Canada and travel to Toronto; it seemed like I always picked the wrong carrier and therefore the wrong terminal to check in. So as I try to check in with US Airways, I realize I've done it again. The flight is "operated by" United (technically, by SkyWest pretending to be United). That, and the constant change in what airlines are at what terminals as they renovate San Jose airport, means another trip to the curb to take the shuttle over to Terminal A.

Upgrade Me

OK, all ready to check in. I've decided I'm carrying my stuff on, and have ditched anything in a tube/bottle greater than three ounces. Since I'm now at United's "Unwashed Masses" frequent flyer level, I get to check in at the kiosk with everyone else. As part of my check-in process I'm offered the following upgrades (all for a nominal fee):

  • More legroom
  • Business class/first class (on a regional jet? Are you kidding me?)
  • More miles

Then I wait while my tickets print out. One. At. A. Time. Very. Very. Sloooowly. Good thing I got here early!

And while we're talking upgrades, when I check in at Harrah's, I'm offered:

  • A nicer room
  • The all-day, multi-hotel, all-you-can-eat buffet pass. Isn't this why we're so obese in this country?

Harrah's Moments

She: OK sir, you're all set with your room. With the Senior Discount, the rate is…

Me: (thinking) can you keep it down a bit?

She: Will anyone be joining you in your room tonight?

Me: (jaw dropping momentarily; then pointing to the young ladies being trained for front desk work) Ah, ah, ah! Don't say it! I know what you're thinking!

On a separate note, did I mention that the carpet color scheme is exactly that same as in South Lake Tahoe? And BTW, did I miss the "welcome smokers" sign at the casino entrance?

Speak So Your Customer Can Understand

He: So how does your device communicate? Is it RF?

Me: Yes, we use ZigBee protocol, you know, 802.15.4…

He: Whoa, whoa, whoa! I don't understand all this wireless stuff!

Me: OK, no problem. It's like the Wi-Fi in your house, but lower-power.

He: OK, I get that. So what's the distance you can cover between two devices?

Me: About a hundred meters, point to point, but with mesh…

He: Meters? Yeah, everyone keeps talking about meters at this show. So if a meter is about a yard…

Me: (Thinking: how did you get out of Junior High?) That's right, so a hundred meters is like a hundred yards… you know, like the length of a football field.

He: Ah, OK, now I get it!

Notes from the Strip

  • You know the people handing out cards for (ahem) escort services? Well now they have a uniform: some kind of day-glo T-shirt with a toll-free number listed. It's interesting that they don't actually talk to you, they just make a sound like the shuffling of a deck of cards and then thrust one in your direction. It was also interesting to note that they stood exactly on the line where the sidewalk ended and the hotel property began.
  • Dear Jimmy Buffett: I appreciate your attempt to create the mood, but making Margaritaville more like Florida by spraying the fake coconut scent from Banana Boat sunscreen isn't really making it.
  • Did you know the Las Vegas police have bicycles? With lights? Neither did the guy who ran the stoplight.
  • So Cher is performing live, as well as via the "legends" stage show. Is it easy to tell the difference between live and made-up? Which would I prefer at this point?

This Just In from the Middle Seat

  • Note to airport designers: making your terminal like a giant + sign might be great for airplanes, but it's not so good for passengers. If you have to go from one spoke to another, it's a long run.
  • All that time riding shopping carts through store parking lots came in handy during my six-minute run to make my PHX-SJC connection.
  • Note to guy in 4C: peppermint doesn't work to cover up the smell of too many Bud Lights; unless that's peppermint schnapps you're hitting in the bathroom. Thanks for bringing back memories of rock concerts with high school friends!
  • To the passengers in 5A/B/C: your life stories do not get more interesting when told at higher decibel levels.

And Finally

Mineta San Jose International Airport, aka SJC: congratulations on growing up! You're hemmed in by two freeways (which made it interesting when some of the jumbo jets took off—they had to take off with less than full fuel, then land in Oakland and refuel before heading to Asia) so expansion is not really possible. But the new International terminal looks pretty cool, the parking garage art is nice, and thank goodness you've fixed the security setup. Yes, I get nostalgic for the days of showing up 20 minutes before the flight, parking in the lot across from the terminal, and running on the flight to LA… but I'll get over it. Until then, I'll appreciate being able to walk down the stairs onto the actual tarmac while I can.  And keep the Espressamente Illy cafe open!

So Long, Farewell, Aufiderzein, Adieu

Let's all hope these words and phrases from 2009 recede into our distant memory...

  • Toxic assets
  • TARP (when it's not something you buy at a hardware store) 
  • Stress test (the financial kind)
  • "Clinically proven" 
  • Stay-cation 
  • Too big to fail 
  • Manny being Manny 
  • Friend me 
  • Fail 
  • meh
  • "Backdoor" as a verb
  • Stimulus
  • Death panels
  • Loan modification
  • Tiger (off the golf course)
  • Surge
  • Birthers
  • Balloon Boy
  • Jon and Kate
  • Cash for Clunkers
  • Windows Vista
  • Octo-Mom
  • The Governator and pretty much everyone in California state politics
  • Beer summit
  • "Talk with your doctor"
  • Nuclear enrichment
  • Pirates (other than the Pittsburgh and Johnny Depp varieties)
  • Revenue enhancement
  • Narco-terrorists
  • Check scams
  • Carbon offsets
  • Ponzi scheme

And some words and phrases we hope to hear more in 2010:

  • "You're hired!"
  • Bipartisanship
  • Organic
  • Friends and Family (not the Verizon kind)
  • Thank You
  • You're Welcome
  • "Next up on the tee..."
  • Happy New Year!