Archive for September, 2011
I hesitate at holding one school class or activity up over another, as I see all of the classes I took in school as important to a holistic understanding of the world and for developing skills for life. (Yes, that includes those English classes in Upper School where my grades (in order) were C+, C+, U, C, D, C-, C, D+, C, U, U, D+. (Wow, I just realized I never got above a C+ in English, this shouldn’t surprise me, however it mildly does.))
So, what did I learn in Art and Music? Yes, I learned those “hard” things such as music notation, color theory, vocal techniques, how to “throw” a pot on wheel, and how to understand complex rhythms. I even learned some of those “softer” things, such a teamwork and performance etiquette. But, thats not what this blog entry is about.
Music and art classes most importantly taught me how to implement a vision. In music class, and really more specifically in the performing groups I was a part of, I participated in implementing a vision. At least twice a year, Mrs. Butke would present us with several new pieces of music, and we’d begin working on them to turn them into gems. Mrs. Butke had developed the ability to look at the dots, lines, and text we call music, and envision them in her mind’s ear, and guide us students toward meeting that end goal.
In art classes, we were encouraged to figure out our own ideas and vision for our art pieces, and bring them into a physical reality. Yes, sometimes we’d be given a general medium to work in or a general form to work toward. But, if an art teacher says “make a pot”, the art student is left with many different ways to achieve this, stacking little coils of clay around and around to create a pot, flattening out pieces of clay and building up walls of the pot, or taking a ball clay, putting it on a spinning disc, and guiding it into a pot. But in all of those cases, you have to have some idea of what it should look like when you’re finished, it may not end up looking anything like that initial vision, but you must have a vision to get started.
I’ve enjoyed reading Jason W. Krug’s blog The Creative. I’ve found his writing inspirational and enlightening, especially as I careen down the gauntlet of staring a company. The blog has its own guidance, but it also connects me to those lessons I learned back in school.
So, a few of you are probably wondering what exactly all this talk about creativity has to do with starting a company. You’re thinking starting a business is well, business class stuff and music and art are about creating music and art.
Jason put this in clarity in his recent entry, In Praise of Hard Work:
The funny thing about composing, though — the income I get this year is a direct result of my hard work from the past 12-36 months or so. I could start today and work my tail off for a solid month, and I wouldn’t see the fruits of that labor for probably at least a year and a quarter, possibly longer. Such is the nature of the beast.
Starting a business from scratch fits right into the first paragraph. Writing a business plan doesn’t pay. Its much like composing. You’ve gotta pretty much write the whole thing, then go shopping it around to investors, who might provide you with funding. Its the same process of writing music and sending it out to see if you can get a publisher to pick it up.
So why did I never get above a C+ in English class? First, I went to a tough college preparatory school. (Also, those last two U’s and D+ were given to me by a teacher who takes a huge amount of pride in being as difficult a grader as he can be.) Second, for many reasons I struggled with going from “write a 2-3 page paper on this book” to having the 2-3 page paper written.
Those Cs in English were happening at the same time I was getting As (and the occasional B) in Art and Music classes. At the time I saw English classes not a a joy within themselves, but as a means to an end. A way to get into college, to get a job, to live life. That end desire was eight to twelve years in front of me in upper school, which is an eternity for a teenager. Music and art were their own joy right now, perhaps not immediately, but in a couple of months.
Starting this business is one of those things were success is at best twelve months in the future. (If the company was fully funded at this moment, it’d take twelve months at a normal pace to deliver the product.) But, more realistically its somewhere in the 16-24 month range. Which brings me to the second quote:
I think of two of the most successful composers I know … don’t work hard because of their success; they have their success because they work hard.
I’ve learned many times that hard work creates success, but I still need the reminders, especially when it comes to implementing my own vision. The vision my company’s product first entered my heading the hallway between the art room and the music room.
If like Zeus, I could’ve created in whole from my head, I would have. But, I am neither Zeus, nor is my vision Athena.
Its gonna take some hard work, and music and art classes gave me the fortitude to do this, not some business class, not math class, not english class, music and art taught me how to bring my visions into the world.
I’m on my way home from a quick trip to Portland, so its time to talk about the transportation.
First lets talk about how I got to Portland. I chose to take the train. If you’re just comparing block times it makes taking the train look like it takes an eternity over flying, and its even longer than the three hour or so drive. Alaska Airlines runs a flight between the two that blocks at just about 50 minutes. But comparing a 50 minute to plane ride to a 50 minute train ride is a grossly inaccurate comparison.
I arrived to both train stations 15 minutes before departure time. Thats not arriving at the gate, thats walking in the front door of the station. For the plane, Alaska suggests that you arrive 90 minutes in advance, if you don’t have bags or two hours if you do. These are aggressively padded times, so lets figure half of that is really what you need. I’ve found that works just fine. So you’ve gotta arrive 45 minutes in advance. So we’re upto an hour and a half for the plane, and the train? Its 3 hours and 45 minutes.
But if I’m flying out of Seattle I need to actually get to the airport, so thats another 45 minutes by light rail, 20 minutes if I’m taking a car, and 10 more minutes if I’m needing to park at the airport. The walk for me to the light rail station is virtually the same as it is to the Amtrak station, so I’m counting it as taking no time. The scorecard? Plane: 2 hours 15 minutes Train: 3 hours 45 minutes.
Then when I get there I’ve gotta leave the vicinity of the airport. In Portland getting to my first destination would take another 24 minutes driving or an hour on public transit. On the train? Walking its 15 minutes and public transit is about the same. Score: Plane: 2 hours 45 minutes Train: 4 hours.
So the train takes an hour and 15 minutes more. However, taking the train means you don’t have to deal with the TSA, nor do you have any times where you’re restricted from doing things. I’ve had my tray table down on the train since I sat down before leaving either eating or using the laptop. Plus you can make phone calls just about the whole way on Amtrak, thats not quite the case flying.
Finally, price comes in. I paid $55.80 for the train trip with only a single discount, a similar plane ticket two months out would be $161.40, so that hour and 15 minutes longer on the train? It saves just over $40 per hour. That is without even attempting to calculate the productivity increase while traveling.
So to go to Portland the train wins hands down as far as I’m concerned with the exception of frequency. Alaska runs a shit ton of flights between Portland and Seattle; Amtrak runs five trains each way.
Oh, there is one other thing about Portland. I’ve heard people crow and extoll virtues of Portland’s Streetcar. Yes, its good, but as far as I’m concerned it isn’t reasonable to compare Portland’s Streetcar to Seattle’s bus system.
Geographically they’re hugely different places. Portland has a large street gridded area completely unimpeded by natural barriers. Seattle on the other hand built its downtown on a fucking hill. Not one of those pansy gently rolling hills. In downtown there is a change of 190 feet over half a mile or a 7.2% grade; if it were an interstate it’d get one of those signs telling truckers to stay in a lower gear.
Yes, Seattle needs more trains and streetcars, but comparing getting around in Seattle and Portland isn’t really fair.
The trip? It was great!
So Netflix announced yesterday that they were splitting their DVD business off into Qwikster.
The internets have been up in arms about the split of the DVD business, and in particular about though about the websites being completely separate. Many people have made a huge deal about this comment:
Is Netflix making this transition in a perfect way? Nope. But I’d argue there is no perfect way to make this transition. As they say in their blog entry, they’d rather make the change earlier rather than later. I’d wouldn’t be surprised if Netflix offers an option on Netflix where they’d link to the video if it is available on Qwikster if it isn’t on Netflix, and vice versa.
But where is this a winner? Branding. Instead of trying to sell Netflix as both streaming and DVDs in the US. Netflix is now only streaming. Qwikster is only discs by mail. The Netflix folks want the Netflix name associated with streaming, not discs by mail. Instead of waiting until its too late to separate the brands, they’re doing it now. The strong example they use for this is AOL. People associate AOL with dialup internet, not with the content provider that they are now. (This is why AOL’s content sites aren’t branded with AOL.)
Netflix splitting DVD rental off into its own site as taking care of what is likely one of the biggest disconnects that they have on their service, which is what videos are available in what format.
I ran into this myself back on June 25th. I had recently gone to streaming only after having been a DVD or DVD and streaming customer for somewhere around ten years. I ran across The Adjustment Bureau and I wanted to add it to my Netflix queue. I found the movie on Netflix and I couldn’t add it to my queue because it was only available on DVD. I was furious, I thought to myself, “WHY THE HELL CAN’T I ADD THIS TO MY DVD QUEUE??” As all irate customers are supposed to do, I picked up the phone and vented to a poor customer service representative. She managed to bring me around to being understanding while enlightening me about the background for the changes. I learned that:
- My DVD queue still existed, I just couldn’t access or add anything new to it, since they wouldn’t be sending me any DVDs. She explained that this was because they didn’t want to set an expectation for customers who had streaming only plans that Netflix would be able to stream this movie to them. She stated that they’d had this problem before with other customers.
- I inquired why I couldn’t add it to my instant queue. She said that you could add a movie to the instant queue if it was available for streaming or if they knew it was going to be available for streaming. In this case they did not have an agreement to stream it with Universal Pictures. Again, this is a matter of properly setting expectations with customers. There is no point to be able to allow folks to add a movie to their instant queue if they’re not going to be able to stream it in the foreseeable future.
- They had removed the ability to manage the DVD queue from other devices such as the iOS app, PlayStation, XBox for the same reason, that it set poor expectations for their customers that they could stream the movie on to the device.
At this point the technology and media aware crowd is of course is saying:
“Really? People were getting confused over this?”
Yup. They were, and Netflix wants to have a good customer experience, the most important part of which is being able to set and meet your customer’s expectations.
Netflix is willing to make a radical change that doesn’t seem to make sense from the outside. For instance, they stopped offering email support back in 2007. When Netflix did this, Michael Osier, Netflix’s vice president for information technology operations and customer service at the time said to the New York Times,
My assessment was that a world-class e-mail program was still going to be consistently lower in quality and effectiveness than a phone program.
As someone who has been on the receiving side of customers’ emails I understand that providing quality customer service via email is difficult. Sure it is fine if you’ve got a knowledgable IT professional asking you to do something fairly transactional such as adding reverse-DNS. However, when you get a average customer opening a ticket because their internet connection is down, we just went to the point of “please call us” because we couldn’t troubleshoot via email, because internet connectivity troubleshooting requires too much coordination between both sides. Most customers don’t know how to use email appropriately, asking them to call in when they’ve indicated that they’d like to complete a request via email is a way to completely miss an expectation.
Instead Netflix allows most routine requests to be entered in a structured manner, so customers know exactly what they’re requesting, and Netflix doesn’t have to have someone handle an email.
One other reason I see them doing this is to be able to minimize comments such as these from Dexter:
- Please put dexter season 3 and 4 on the instant queue me and my friend fell in love with the first two seasons and we really want to continue watching dexter.thank you
- Please put Dexter Season Three on Instant. You guys are already losing business because of the hike in prices. Do us a favor please!
- Dexter seasons 3 and 4 need to be available on streaming internet!!!! please make this happen!!! i love this site but the options of things to watch are getting slim.
- Why did they take away dexter season 1 and 2 off of streaming?! UGH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
If Dexter isn’t available on a streaming only Netflix there won’t be a page for people to comment on. Also, since Qwikster won’t offer streaming customers there have no expectation that the’ll be getting streaming video.
Netflix is managing their customer’s expectations, which is one of the most important parts of any business. I learned back in the days I managed fast food, it didn’t matter if you were great or if you sucked, people just wanted to know what they were going to get.
Managing and meeting expectations is key to keeping customers happy.
I live in downtown Seattle, I spend many of my days either there or in Seattle’s Capital Hill neighborhood. Seattle’s inner neighborhoods are part of my daily existence.
I know where many of the homeless shelters, feeding programs, and other support that we Seattlites provide for homeless people are: They’re all within a few blocks of my home. Seeing homeless people is part of my daily existence.
I’ll admit that I’m a bit desensitized to seeing homeless people as I come and go, but I also refuse to treat homeless people as if they don’t exist, if they ask me something I do my best to respond, even if I usually have to say no. Brief conversations with homeless people is part of my daily existence.
I see homeless people with their standard issue blankets around Seattle. I wonder where the blankets come from, as they don’t look really comfortable, but I surmise they’ve been chosen based on their ability to retain heat while resisting water and being cheap to procure, so that our social service organizations can make their budgets go that much further. Seeing those blankets is part of my daily existence.
I see the homeless people with their signs written on cardboard. Most of the time I glance at them. The signs run together in my head more than I’d like to admit. There must be an example sign that homeless people receive which guides them on how to put together their signs. Occasionally the signs are funny, sometimes they’re moving, frequently they’ll sometimes mention how someone has served their country usually in the military in general, or the sign will refer to a specific war. Sometimes people will mention their ailments, such as cancer, mental illnesses, or another affliction. There are also creative geniuses amongst homeless people, with some people choosing to play on humor to solicit donations. Often times this involves referencing beer or weed. Reading the signs that homeless people write and hold is part of my daily existence.
There is only so much I can do to ameliorate the suffering of homeless people. I myself am not rich. I live comfortably through managing a reasonable amount of debt prudently. However, I also recognize that I too should help out in mitigating the social inequities that are part of our country’s existence. I pay my taxes, which in Seattle is mostly sales and property taxes. I’ll admit to purchasing items from out of state merchants to bypass the sales tax, but that is our current national past time. I donate more than is comfortable to my church, understanding that a reasonable amount, but not enough goes toward social justice issues. Doing what little I can to relieve suffering is part of my daily existence.
I was walking out of the drugstore next to my gym earlier today, and there was a gentleman probably in his mid-50s, with a muddled sign that read said “Homeless” and “Mentally Ill”. His face was crystal clear in communicating, the pain, anguish, embarrassment, and frustration within his soul. I didn’t gaze for long, I simply could not stand the compressed emotional intimacy in fleeting blunt gaze that we shared. I crossed the street to my destination as quickly as possible. Running away from a stranger because I couldn’t stand being in the mist of their pain and suffering is not part of my daily existence.
I had just read earlier today about Representative John Fleming who stated that he’s spending $200,000 just to “feed my family” and then he complained about the $400,000 in take home pay that he is left with. The cognitive dissonance of the vulnerable in our society just trying to get by and the well in our society thinking they’re just barely getting by fills me with disgust and anger.
I challenge anyone to look into a the eyes of a homeless person as I did today, then in the same moment say that we should cut funding for the social safety net that attempts to provide some modicum of decency and humanity to that person. I doubt that you can. However, if you can I’ll still respect your inherent humanity, even if I don’t respect you.
There are days I’m ashamed to be an American. Today is one of them.
However, I know America is and can be greater than this. I will do my part to manifest this vision to bring us to greatness. I owe myself and my fellow countrymen and countrywomen nothing less.