Banana Stew

Monday, December 21, 2009

XChange Blog #2

It was mangled a bit in editing (although the "mbps" instead of "megabytes" error is my own), and it's about 2 months late in being published (which makes the "last week at Cable-Tec" line a bit stale), but my latest XChange Blog entry is now published for my reader(s)'s pleasure.

Enjoy, comment, and disparage as you see fit.

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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Professional Blogging

Yep. I am now publishing on the XChange blog occasionally. Honestly, I hadn't heard from them in a while and thought the whole thing was off. Then someone pointed out to me that an article of mine was there.

And here it is, for your reading pleasure.

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Monday, June 29, 2009

How to Treat Your Network Providers (A Guide for Vendors)

(Way back in 2004, I ambitiously started a blog called Telecommedy with the intention of writing on it every day. I stopped writing there in 2005. C'est la guerre. In the interest of posterity and hubris, I am slowly moving those posts over here so that all of this inanity can be concentrated in a single forum and not pollute the internets any more than necessary.)

Due to the overwhelming response of our last publication (How to Treat Your Vendors), we here at Telecommedy are proud to present a follow-up from the other side of the equation. You, Mr. Vendor, have obligations to your Network Provider as well. And we're not just talking free golf and lunches here, we're talking the basics. The kinds of things that should be obvious, but increasingly are not - at least based on the complaints that we hear from our Network Provider colleagues. So, sit back in your overstuffed chair, pull up a nice Chianti, and browse through our helpfully provided and somewhat random set of rules.

Rule #1: Don't Overwhelm

This is the first rule, because it is the most often broken rule. Don't show up at a meeting with more than two of you for every one of them. In fact, a one-to-one ratio is usually too high. Seriously consider how much value every person that you're bringing will add to the discussion. Do you really need the sales director, sales VP, and SVP of marketing and sales to all show up at the same meeting?

One Network Provider contact of ours has come up with a creative way of dealing with a certain rather large vendor that is well known in the industry for bringing crowds to every meeting. For every meeting with this particular vendor, they book the smallest conference room in the building - the one with about 5 chairs - and they invite three of their colleagues. If the vendor shows up with a crowd, most of them are forced to stand outside of the room and peek in through the door. One meeting where a VP of anything is forced to stand outside and make small talk with the administrative assistant for an hour, and you can guarantee that VP won't attend the next meeting.

Less is more. Especially if Les knows all that there is to know about your product.

Rule #2: Use your executives wisely

Meetings with vendors, except in rare cases, are not photo ops. They are business meetings that take time away from your customers' busy schedules. Don't just bring an executive to set up some future relationship unless that executive can answer questions on the spot. Save your executives for the meetings that matter - signing the contract, meeting with the Network Provider executive of the same level, fixing some major screwup perpetrated by lower level executives - things like that. Remember, if your executive screws up even inadvertently in front of a customer, there is no one higher up for the Network Provider to appeal to. No one to call the Network Provider with word that the lower level miscreant has been chastised and assigned to a Siberian mining camp. If an executive screws up, the Network Provider will likely see that as an indictment of the entire company, so use them sparingly.

Also, if you show up with an executive, the Network Provider might just expect that executive to make real decisions. If the CTO or VP of Engineering can't answer a technical question or give a solid schedule when asked, the entire company loses credibility. Think about that before putting your executive in front of the Network Provider.

In the most heinous example that we have been party to, a vendor showed up with a cast of thousands, including the head of development and the head of manufacturing as well as the head of US operations. The Network Provider countered with the C-something-O and a couple of really smart SVP types. The Network Provider had been having trouble with the vendor's widgets not doing what they were supposed to - something about losing customer data on occasion and without warning, a problem that customers typically do not put up with for very long until they switch to another Network Provider. The C-something-O asked for a cause of the problem and a date for a fix. The vendor cabal was unable to answer anything more than "We'll look into it." The C-something-O asked again, several times, with increasing volume. The answer never changed. The meeting ended with the C-something-O telling his lieutenants to pull all of the vendor's equipment from the network and look for an alternative, then storming out of the room never to re-enter. Meetings between lions and Christians in ancient Rome ended better.

Rule #3: Don't lie

Why, oh why do we have to state this. OK, they expect you to embellish a bit - maybe shave something off of the release date or pick the most optimal numbers. But the closer you get to the truth, the better the feedback from your Network Provider.

In one case that we were involved in, development on the widget that the vendor was proposing was scheduled to be discontinued in favor of a new, improved widget with shinier bells and sharper whistles. The official announcement was scheduled for the week after a meeting with a mammoth Network Provider, responsible for nearly all of the vendor's widget sales. At the meeting, the VP in charge decided not to inform the Network Provider about the change. One week later, the Network Provider called the VP, his SVP, and the CEO of the vendor company with a series of escalatingly profane missives expressing his opinion of the now public widget modification plan. The relationship never truly recovered, and those widgets are no longer deployed by the Network Provider.

The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth shall set you free. Or something like that. We read it in a fortune cookie and have forgotten the details.

Rule #4: Be flexible

So you're only on slide 2 and they're already asking about slide 25. Go with the flow. If you can push off the questions until later, do it. If the Network Provider insists, answer the question. Do not be a slave to the Power Point slide.

Perhaps the person asking the question has to leave early or had one too many coffees this morning before the meeting. Or maybe he's just a jerk who has to be the smartest geek in the room. It doesn't matter. Being able to roll with the punches impresses the Network Providers and makes for a much better outcome in the end.

Rule #5: Learn the phrase "I don't know"

It brings a tear to our collective eye to think of the Vendor-Network Provider relationships that we have personally seen destroyed by failure to comply with this simple rule. If you don't know the answer, don't make something up. Say you don't know and move on. If you lose credibility in one area, you lose it in every area. So the Network Provider wants to know how much your widgets weigh when wet? If you don't know, say so. Don't worry about being seen as an idiot - most Network Provider types like to be smarter than their vendors occasionally. It strokes their egos and - even better - sets you up to come back to another meeting and present the results of your investigation. Win-win all around.

Of course, don't take this one too far. If you don't know anything at all about the product you're presenting, you will indeed look like an idiot and that follow-up meeting may get scheduled for sometime between winter in hell and the next time the Atlanta Braves win the World Series (hint: never).

Rule #6: Be concise, but thorough

Practice your presentation before the meeting. Is it taking just a bit too long? Shave it off now, before you get in front of your Network Provider. Spending ten minutes on your company background when talking to an operations gnome who couldn't care less and just wants to know if you'll solve his deployment problem? Not a recommended strategy, as gnomes get bored easily and develop long-term grudges.

I know it's your baby and you love talking about it, but leave something for the next meeting or for the detailed discussions that come at contract negotiations. A happy gnome is more likely to lead you to his pot of gold. Or something like that - whatever gnomes hide in their gnome holes.

Rule #7: Be consistent

One Network Provider representative that meets tens of new vendors every year is known to keep a separate notebook for each vendor. That way, during a meeting he can point out specific discrepancies from previous statements made by the vendor. It makes for an uncomfortable meeting. So try to be consistent.

Check what you said last time. Compare it to reality. If something has changed - and it usually has - point that out up front. Don't let the Network Provider discover it and bring it to your attention. That's a sure way to get smacked, publicly and soundly.

In the most amusing case that we have been involved with, a startup company visited a friendly Network Provider early in the concept stage and presented their plan for a $25 widget (most widets cost nearly $100, as I'm sure you are aware). Two years later, when the widgets were finally ready for production, the cost of the widget had proven to be a bit higher - on the order of $75 each. Still not a bad cost savings, but the Network Provider pulled out a copy of the original presentation and demanded an explanation of the discrepancy. The real reason was that the original presentation had been built from calculations off of the back of a cocktail napkin. I don't believe that was the excuse given, however. Instead, something was mumbled on the lines of additional features and rising cost of widget components or some such. Very uncomfortable and quite amusing for those not directly involved.

And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make

Seven simple rules to developing a happy and healthy relationship with your Network Provider. Truly, they will appreciate the effort that you put forth in complying to these requests.

And the occasional complimentary bottle of wine and golf outing won't hurt, either.

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Monday, June 22, 2009

Intermission: Cell Phones, Radio, and Theatre. Two of the three are telecomm, right?

(Way back in 2004, I ambitiously started a blog called Telecommedy with the intention of writing on it every day. I stopped writing there in 2005. C'est la guerre. In the interest of posterity and hubris, I am slowly moving those posts over here so that all of this inanity can be concentrated in a single forum and not pollute the internets any more than necessary.)

We pause from our regularly scheduled program to bring you this interesting and somewhat telecomm-related announcement.

While listening to the radio yesterday, we were mildly entertained by this segment on NPR's All Things Considered about cell phones in the theatre.

While we at Telecommedy encourage cell phone use (as well as normal phone use, long distance use, internet porn use, or anything else that keeps us in the business), we can understand the need to occasionally be out of touch with the outside world (kids, parents, spouses, boy/girlfriends, co-workers, or all of the above). We can also understand and have experienced the annoying spectable of a ringing cell phone with a volume level set to "seismic shock" going off during the climactic scene where the chainsaw maniac hiding in the retirement home is about to pounce on the nubile young heroine.

While the radio program had a few good examples of creative announcements that would encourage theatergoers to turn off their cell phones, our creative juices got flowing and (after using a mop to clean up a bit), we developed the following announcements in the same vein. Enjoy, plagiarize, or ignore - it's our free gift to you, our loyal reader(s).

Announcement #1

Announcer: [enters stage left] Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the East Bandera Public Theatre and Cattle Works. Before the show starts, I would like to make a few announcements. First, ...

[loud cell phone ringing interrupts announcer]

Theatregoer: [speaking in stage whisper into cell phone] Hey. [pause] No, I'm at the theatre, I can't talk. [pause] Nah, I'll probably leave at intermission or something.

Announcer: Excuse me sir. Is that your cell phone?

Theatregoer: Why yes. It is.

[Announcer pull gun from pocket and shoots theatregoer, who collapses. Stagehands enter and remove theatregoer.]

Announcer: Ladies and gentlemen, please turn off your cell phones and pagers now. Thank you.

[Announcer exits]

Announcement #2

Announcer: Ladies and gentlemen, before the show begins tonight, we'd like to you all to participate in an exciting contest where you could win a valuable prize. First, I'd like you all to get out your cell phones and pagers. [pause] Everyone have theirs out now? Come on - it only works if everyone participates. [pause] OK, got them out? Good. Now, would you please hold up your cell phones and pagers as high as you can - high enough for us to see them from the stage. [pause] Great. That's perfect.

[Bright flash of light from the area of the stage]

Announcer: Ladies and gentlemen, we now have you on film, and we know what seat you are sitting in. If a cell phone or pager goes off during this evening's performance, we will have no choice but to match the picture to a name and hunt you down. [pause for nervous laughter] So, while you have them out already, please turn off all cell phones and pagers. Thank you.

And now, on with the show

There are more to be written, but the telecomm business beckons and we have miles to write before we sleep or otherwise entertain ourselves horizontally (lying on a couch watching Spongebob, shame on your dirty mind). So until next time, keep those letters and emails coming.

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Monday, June 15, 2009

How to Treat your Vendors (A Guide for Network Providers)

(Way back in 2004, I ambitiously started a blog called Telecommedy with the intention of writing on it every day. I stopped writing there in 2005. C'est la guerre. In the interest of posterity and hubris, I am slowly moving those posts over here so that all of this inanity can be concentrated in a single forum and not pollute the intenets any more than necessary.)

First of all, welcome back. All of us in telecomm hope that you spent your holidays calling relatives (long distance), emailing lots of photos, and generally using up a lot of bandwidth. We appreciate it very much. You've allowed us to remain employed for a few more months, and for that we are eternally grateful - or at least a few more months grateful. And now, on to this month's much-anticipated topic ....

Vendors are People ... Usually

Every network provider has to put up with the necessary (and occasionally entertaining) scourge of vendor meetings. Vendors want to talk to you all of the time about nearly any topic and won't stop calling until you give them something - anything - to report as progress to their upper management. But it is important to remember that vendors are people too. Slightly more neurotic and desperate people with limited conversational capabilities in many cases, but still people.

Therefore, for anyone new to the business or anyone who just doesn't have a clue, this handy guide is provided to help you treat your vendors with the dignity that they deserve. Or at least to avoid making them angry enough to put hidden programs into your equipment that divert your holiday bonus to the "close relative of a Nigerian general in charge of oil revenues under the last dictator." After all, vendors have the same goal as you - to make money by providing the best possible service to your end customers. Really. Stop laughing. There's milk coming out of your nose, now stop it.

The following rules are in no particular order, unless you consider the random order that thoughts enter the brain to be a "particular" order.

Rule 1: Show some respect

The vendor that you are meeting with is typically a hard-working telecomm geek similar in genetic makeup to you, and is truly interested in showing off his latest gizmo and hearing your opinion about it. Don't treat him like an errand-boy, caterer, concierge, or circus freak. Behavior that we have observed that should be avoided includes:

* Interrupting the meeting for trivial other tasks - such as watering the plants or gladhanding a passing colleague that you see every day. The vendor took time from their day and maybe even paid for a hotel to see you. Give them your attention in return. Otherwise, they may just urinate in your plants when you aren't looking (only applies to router vendors).
* Making statements like, "It's OK. You can interrupt. They're only vendors." And you're only a jerk with a very small ... frontal lobe.
* Only scheduling meetings during lunch and then suggesting the most expensive restaurant around with the expectation that the vendor will pay (also known as "vendor vittles"). You think money grows on trees? No! It grows in the bank accounts of venture capitalists.
* Spending the entire meeting talking about your luncheon last week with some minor celebrity or industry figure rather than listening to the vendor. In the words of the piano man, "we were all impressed with your Halston dress and the people that you knew at Elaine's." He didn't mean it as a compliment.
* Flip through the entire presentation in the first 2 minutes, interrupt the vendor's presentation, and announce to all present that you've heard it all before and it's all crap. Here's an idea - actually listen to the idea before crushing it mercilessly, you pompous apparachnik.

Rule 2: They don't like you for your sense of style

One of the saddest days in the life of a network provider peon is the day that he leaves the comfort of the network provider home and attempts to live in the world of the vendors only to discover that his net worth in their eyes dropped about 139% they day he resigned. Sure, your vendor likes you. He may even share the same interests with you, and he may respect your capabilities and your knowledge of obscure movie trivia. But your relationship is a business one, not a personal one, and there is no guarantee that he's not just sucking up because your are a valuable source of revenue. We're not suggesting that you stop acting friendly, just that you not abuse the relationship.

In one of the more humbling examples of this error, the C-something-O of a major carrier left his position during the boom years to make his fortune with a small startup company. He firmly believed that he could introduce that small startup company to his contacts in the major vendor community, resulting in a near instantaneous merger with plenty of wealth to pass around (or perhaps keep for himself, one never knows). What he discovered upon joining the small startup was that the vendor community in general despised him and gleefully rejected his every appeal for an audience. Vendors who used to open their doors at the drop of his hat or whim of his fancy (and he had some fancy hats) suddenly had no time. And what was worse, others within the network provider community resented his leaving as well as his newfound compensation package, and orders for equipment dried up at the small startup company. The small startup company eventually died, but that may have just been a coincidence. There was a lot of that going around at the time.

The basic bottom line here is that some vendors can truly be friends with network providers. But if you're not following Rule 1, don't expect a gold watch from them when you retire.

Rule 3: Be on time

Your vendor has set up a meeting with you and you have agreed. Your vendor probably flew or drove a long way, endured a low-budget hotel, and has eaten poorly prepared beef-based products for the last day just to be in your presence. Try to be on time. Perhaps you could even let them in a bit early to set up their laptops and projectors. They appreciate the little things - there are so few given out these days.

Rule 4: Be honest

Perhaps the most important and least implemented rule of vendor relations. Vendors really do want to hear your honest opinions. Tell the truth. This goes two ways - don't overstate requirements and problems and don't understate your opinions of the products.

Rule 4a: Don't overstate

Hitting the first one first (just because it's the closest), some network providers have a tendency to put outrageous requirements in their official communications. And vendors, especially new vendors with little experience in customer requirements interpretation, typically do their best to meet those requirements. Those vendors are then summarily crushed when the actual purchase order goes to an incumbent vendor that didn't even come close to meeting the stated requirements. Did the network provider lie to the poor vendor? We'll never say that in any media that can be mass reproduced. Let's just say that the vendor didn't talk to enough people in the network provider's organization to truly understand what was needed to meet current networking goals. (Define networking however you feel it is appropriate.)

In one particularly egregious example from the mid-1990s, a major telecommunications company which changes its name more often than Cher changes costumes put out the call for a certain type of technology in their newest high-speed fiber optic equipment. Several busy little vendors scurried off to work on the problem, and at least one abandoned their current technology completely to be the first and best to come up with the newly required technology. The excited little vendors even got to place their equipment in the highly coveted network provider laboratory, where network provider gnomes poked and prodded at it occasionally for many months. The gnomes gave helpful feedback on the technology, and all seemed to be going well for the busy vendors until the actual purchase requirements came out. Lo and behold, the requirements did not include the new technology, but instead only included the technology offered by the incumbent vendor - who had not spent one single Canadian nickel on the new technology. Apparently the lab gnomes were overridden in the decision-making process by the actual deployment trolls, who were much larger and had real experience with a real network deployment and had no use for the gnomes' fantasies. As you may imagine, this little tale did not end well for the scrappy little vendors who followed the gnomes' advice, some of whom are no longer in the telecomm business. The incumbent vendor did very well, though, so at least someone was happy.

The moral of this story is tell the truth on requirements. Don't just go fishing for the coolest new thing because you read something about it in an obscure magazine. Perhaps your vendor has even thought of that new technology and rejected it for a valid reason. Ask them their opinion. They will be glad to give it back, with interest. Leading them on and then dropping them may be fun in the short term, but long term it reduces their confidence in you and your opinions.

Rule 4b: Don't understate

Just as important as not overstating is avoiding understating. So many very nice people who work in network provider organizations don't want to offend their vendors by pointing out the holes in their product lines. Really, that's all very nice and not terribly useful to the vendor. Vendors tend to come out of meetings with nice people thinking that they have exactly the right solution and that orders for a million units are on the horizon. They get very depressed when the orders don't appear, and depressed vendors are not a pretty sight (visualize lots of soggy power ties and empty martini glasses at airport lounges). Really, vendors want to hear the truth.

If your vendor is proposing a new widget that is brown and you require your equipment to be blue, tell them! If your vendor believes that your network should be based on semaphore and you think otherwise, tell them! Better that they hear it now, before they have completed development of that multi-million dollar brown semaphore system. We're not suggesting that you be rude, but even rude is preferable to Pollyanna.

Thank you for your attention

These rules aren't all that difficult, and they should be obvious - but they aren't. Print out a copy and paste it to your wall to remind yourself of the inherent humanity of the lowly vendor. Perhaps read "Death of a Salesman" again. Aloud. In front of your staff. Before long, you will have a healthy and happy vendor. And if they don't respond in kind, screw 'em.

Coming next .... How to Treat your Network Providers (A Guide for Vendors)

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Monday, June 08, 2009

Recommending a High Fiber Diet

(Way back in 2004, I ambitiously started a blog called Telecommedy with the intention of writing on it every day. I stopped writing there in 2005. C'est la guerre. In the interest of posterity and hubris, I am slowly moving those posts over here so that all of this inanity can be concentrated in a single forum and not pollute the intenets any more than necessary.)

Fiber to the Everywhere

The latest craze in the telecomm world is fiber to the [geographical noun], or FTTX, a nifty brand new technology invented only a few decades ago that promises to make it possible for most human beings to never leave their homes again by deploying fiber optic cable directly to the couch. And, as most anyone not on the Atkins starve-until-your-body-starts-to-eat-itself diet is well aware, adding more fiber to your diet is recommended by most medical doctors whose degrees were not obtained via an email solicitation.

Fiber ubiquity is a lofty goal, especially in America where we're mostly still using copper lines that were actually installed by Alexander Graham Bell himself (he was a very busy man who lived to be nearly 175 years old). In countries like Japan, nearly everyone has or can get fiber all the way to their home. But to be fair Japan had the unfair advantage of having their infrastructure bombed into atoms merely 50-odd years ago. It's hard to compete against that kind of prescient urban planning.

What's in it for Me?

Unlike most of the recent fads in telecom that were pants-wetting exciting to the bearded few and of less interest than a C-SPAN marathon to the average human being, ubiquitous fiber actually impacts normal people in a tangible and marvelous way. Not only will most of us get to experience underground boring machines tearing through our sewer lines on Friday afternoon ("Someone will be out to look at that on Monday between 6am and 7pm, m'am"), but we're also promised nifty new ways to experience the most important and cental feature of American life - television. And we'll get some fast internet stuff, too.

It is no secret to anyone (except those still paying for AT&T long distance and AOL users) that telecomm companies are losing customers. How many people do you know who order a second line for their home anymore? I'll tell you how many you know - you don't know any. They get cell phones or the put in the fancy-schmancy VoIP boxes that they can't stop bragging about despite the fact that every time the kids plug in their X-Box the phone line goes dead. And some people even have the audacity to get rid of their regular phone line altogether! The nerve! Choosing a less expensive and more convenient option over the embedded monopoly! That's ... why that's ... capitalistic!

So, what is a lonely telecomm company to do when it's friends (who pay it money on a regular basis) start leaving it for a more attractive communications company with better hair? Well, the less attractive, "big-boned" companies have looked deep into their customers' souls and discovered that while most people can live without a phone, they will give up food for the children to avoid missing the latest Oprah episode (the one with the girl who has the thing and Oprah makes the audience cry then gives them all gift certificates). Enter fiber ubiquity, which will allow fabulous video services to be provided to every customer in America who lives within a very specific trial area and has purchased a house within the last 2-3 weeks and does not currently have a phone installed. And you'll get some fast internet stuff, too.

The actual way that the television signal will get into your home depends on who brings it to you. There are several options, none of which really matter to you right now. The important thing is that you'll get over 100 channels of high-quality video including pay-per-view, which you will be pressured to purchase in quantity to help defray the cost of repairing the sewer in your front yard.

And Some Fast Internet Stuff, Too

Here in the US, cable companies and telcos nearly pull their arms out of the sockets patting themselves on the back for providing their customers with up to 3million bits per second of internet download speed. Really, they claim, why would you want any more? In Asia, customers are getting speeds up to 30 times faster for about the same price per month. And they are using all of the bandwidth that their providers can give them. Which begs the question, what are they doing with all of that bandwidth?

Quite simply, the main applications are the same as in the US. Namely, downloading porn. Sure, there's some other stuff, too - like streaming video, file transfers, photograph sharing, and strictly legal music downloads. But, as with everything internet related, it eventually comes down to high-quality, full-length videos where the primary color on-screen is flesh and the dialog uses significantly more vowel sounds than consonants. With fiber ubiquity, couch potatos will be able to simultaneously download a movie while watching it on high definition pay-per-view television (except in most of Utah and parts of Washington, DC). And that, loyal readers, is a lofty goal for the USA.

Some Acronyms with your Fiber, Sir?

The advent and popularity of ubiquitous fiber has led to a bumper crop of confusing and contradictory acronyms. To impress your less regular friends with your healthy fiber knowledge, merely memorize and occasionally excrete the following set compiled for your benefit.
  • FTTP: Fiber to the Premise. This is an all-encompassing acronym covering just about anything. Due to the new-found popularity of ubiquitous fiber, nearly every company will find a way to squeeze this one into their press releases. See, for example, the newest "FTTP Burger" from McDonald's.

  • FTTH: Fiber to the Home. What the industry is convinced that you, the homeowner, cannot live without. This marvelous technology would deliver television, telephone, and internet directly to your home! OK, so maybe you think that you already have that. Trust us, this is better. It's fiber!

  • FTTC: Fiber to the Curb: A weasely cop-out by companies that want to run fiber right up near yout home, but not actually into it. Sort of like selling you a house right on the water, but requiring you to walk through a glass-filled abandoned lot to actually get there. It's nice, and you're not going to turn it down, but really - why not go ahead and put in the boardwalk?

  • FTTN: Fiber to the Node. SBC made this one up as a part of their public announcements. After hours of analysis by the best brains in the business, most people have concluded that FTTN is the same thing as FTTC, but with the added benefit of creating a new acronym that only applies to the West Coast and parts of Texas.

  • FTTB: Fiber to the Business. Providing your employees with sufficient fiber to surf the web up to 25% more often, ensuring America's further dominance of the technology fields.

  • FTTX: Fiber to the [geographical location]. A cheap cop-out meaning "all of the above", this one is only used by vendors who are afraid to offend SBC ("FTTN is different, dammit!") and by hack writers with little-seen blogs.

No More Regularity Comments

Yes, gentle readers (note: gentle readers is a copyright of Miss Manners, who will bust a cap in you if you don't mention her when you use it), ubiquitous fiber offers the promise of a beautiful future for telecomm equipment vendors and discredited telecomm executives all over the US and parts of Canada. Unlike the telecom frenzies of the past, calm and rational minds are fully in control of this latest frenzy, ensuring successful deployment and bounteous riches for everyone involved.

And in the spirit of completely rational exuberance, you may now refer to me as as the FTTFTTXB (Fiber to the Fiber to the [geographical location] blogger.

Thank you for your valuable and unrecoverable time.

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Monday, June 01, 2009

Top Inventions that Have Not Yet Been Invented

(Way back in 2004, I ambitiously started a blog called Telecommedy with the intention of writing on it every day. I stopped writing there in 2005. C'est la guerre. In the interest of posterity and hubris, I am slowly moving those posts over here so that all of this inanity can be concentrated in a single forum and not pollute the intenets any more than necessary.)

Due to the overwhelming response to the previous post, we here at Telecommedy would like to take a moment to present a few inventions that have not yet been invented but really, really should be. We think that each and every one is a viable product that would change the world as we know it for the better. (How it affects the way that everyone else knows the world is really not up to us and, frankly, only rarely concerns us at all.)

So, with no further ado (and no previous ado either), we present the top 10 or so inventions that have not yet been invented.

1. Resonant Frequency Explosives Detonator

OK, this one really isn't that humorous, and it's not really a telecom product, but it's a great product waiting to be invented. The idea is to invent a resonator that works at the resonant frequency of most known explosives. Turning on the resonator would cause any explosives in the area to detonate automatically. Think of all of the uses for such a powerful product. We'll call it the FRED, because that's easier to pronounce than RFED and sounds less like something that your dog did on the floor after eating a spider.

First, we'd set up a FRED about 1 mile outside of every airport in the world. No more getting bombs, guns, or those apparently super-hazardous Bic lighters near a plane again. Of course, there's the little matter of making sure that it doesn't affect jet fuel, and we probably need to come up with a way to let security guards keep their weaponry, but I'm sure those little minor details can be worked out.

Second, we'd set up a helicopter with a FRED device and fly it over, say, Fallujah or the wilds of Afghanistan. Depends on your political bent, I suppose. Some would want to fly it over New York, probably, and some would want it constantly flying over any territory within driving distance of an NRA convention. Can you imagine what would it would look like if one of these devices were flown over a Hamas suicide-bomber recruiting station? Something like popcorn, I suppose, although a bit more violent and much more satisfying in the long run.

Finally, we'd set up FRED devices on border crossings. Trying to bring explosives into the US via Canada? Think again, little popcorn kernel. Trying to sneak terrorist weaponry into Israel or Iraq? Pop goes the weasel. Plus, no more need for a complex and costly missile defense system. Just aim a few FREDs at the sky and watch for the fireworks.

We think it's a great idea, and we'd appreciate it if whomever eventually invents it would send us a small percentage of their resulting fortune.

2. Noise-seeking missiles

Think small, strategic missiles about the size of a pencil (a pencil is something people used to use to write with before computers and Bic pens). Not big missiles that create large craters. And they wouldn't have to explode even. They'd just have to be able to damage stereo speakers. Something like a Taser should work, I would think.

How many times has your reverie been disturbed by an annoyingly loud stereo system blasting music that is not to your personal taste? And, as we all know well, disturbed reveries have led to ear cancer in laboratory rats, so this is not some idle speculation. Time to bring out the noise-seeking missile (NoiSeM).

When you're stuck in traffic, and someone behind you has that extra-loud Barry Manilow music thumping so loud that your heart starts beating in rhythm with the Copa (Copa Cabana - the hottest spot north of Havana), you could legally launch a NoiSeM and gleefully watch as their speakers crumble into dust.

When you are resting on the beach and some teenager with a perfect little body as yet unravaged by years of sitting in front of a computer terminal turns on their extra-loud Gilbert and Sullivan tape, and the irony of pirates singing "No sound at all ... a fly's footfall could be distinctly heard!" is no longer mildly amusing, pull out your pocket-launched NoiSeM and watch them tear up as their boom box goes boom one last time.

Personally, I'd use one every time the guy in the cubicle next door listens to voice mail on the speaker phone, but that's just me.

3. The Fiber Mole

As this "publication" is nominally about the Telecomm industry, we thought we should throw in at least one Telecomm-related invention that hasn't been invented yet. The winner, by far, is the Fiber Mole.

The Fiber Mole is a handy little critter than can intelligently bury fiber cable with little or no intervention from large, well-paid, union-membership-sporting, business-case-killing human beings. The fiber mole is slightly larger than your average fiber cable or flexible ductwork. It can be put into the ground at the entrance to a subdivision and left alone overnight. In the morning, the aforementioned human beings can return to find that the entire subdivision has been successfully wired with fiber to every home or other designate location.

Fiber to the Home is a big topic in Telecomm these days. Just look at some of the other, lesser, Telecomm sites and view all of the postings by their, lesser, trained monkeys. Fiber to the Home offers the promise of crystal-clear 100+ television channels, internet access up to 100 times faster than your current cable modem/DSL/carrier pigeon service, and telephones that are ... well, just like they are now. The biggest barrier to Fiber to the Home is the cost of putting the fiber in the ground. Hence, the Fiber Mole.

The world is primed and ready for the invention of the Fiber Mole. And, no, just superglueing a camera to the back of an organic mole is not acceptable.

5. The Sleep Battery

Wouldn't it be nice to be able to sleep when you have the time and stay wide awake when you don't? For example, your friends invite you out for a night on the town (OK, if you're reading this, that may be a stretch, but work with me here.) It would be nice to stay wide awake the entire evening and make up for sleep later when you're doing something less important - sitting in class, attending a meeting, monitoring the nuclear reactor, etc.

Enter the Sleep Battery. It attaches to your brain and stores up sleep so that you can stay awake when you want to and sleep when nothing good is on TV. Turn it to "Charge" mode and sleep away a whole day before the weekend! You won't miss an exciting moment at that Star Trek convention, even during the wild, post-midnight Klingon bash.

Even better, the Sleep Battery would ensure that you are your best when being creative; allowing you to, for example, come up with more than five top inventions that have not yet been invented.

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Monday, May 25, 2009

Patently Obvious

(Way back in 2004, I ambitiously started a blog called Telecommedy with the intention of writing on it every day. I stopped writing there in 2005. C'est la guerre. In the interest of posterity and hubris, I am slowly moving those posts over here so that all of this inanity can be concentrated in a single forum and not pollute the intenets any more than necessary.)

The Patent Portfolio is held in awe by the telecom world. When a telecom junkie says "mine is bigger than yours", he is typically referring to his list of patents. OK, not usually, but often enough to be disturbing.

Parakeet Poop

For those of you who did not pay attention in your civics class and/or are suffering from a debilitating mind disease that enables you to read postings on the computer but otherwise not function as a literate member of society, patents are granted by the government to say that you've done something unique and anyone else who does it has to pay you for the privilege. For example, the light bulb was patented by it's inventor (General [H. J.] Electric), who needed a way to illuminate late-night baseball games. Also patented was the parakeet diaper - by someone else - for a reason that no one truly understands.

The number of patents that a company is able to acquire can determine its worth in the beady little eyes of investors and/or venture capitalists. Smaller, private companies especially pursue patent portfolios to prove their worth to their overlords. The net result is approximately 10,251 companies each with a patent portfolio of a dozen or more patents granted by the US government. So you can probably guess where most of these patents fall on the light bulb to parakeet diaper continuum.

Our personal favorite patent granted to a telcom company during the tech boom was a patent on a cup holder on the door of the equipment. Yep, while most of us were pursuing patents with names like "The Use of Phosphoglobulins in Fiber Splicing", there was someone out there who actually spent the big bucks to patent a device that enabled a technician to put his morning pick-me-up down without having to - oh, I don't know - put it on a table or something. Pure parakeet poop, no?

Telecomm Poop

Having had the good fortune to receive paychecks from a multitude of companies over the last decade or so, the enormous staff here at Telecommedy headquarters have been party to numerous patent submissions. No matter how much parakeet poop they hold, those with their names on the patents will have them bronzed and hung in their offices. It can indeed be impressive to walk into the office of a CTO and see a wall covered with bronzed patents. Impressive enough to suck money directly from the bank accounts of non-technical investors (usually a redundancy).

Even the big telecomm companies are not immune. However, with their much larger staffs, they are spared the ignominy of actually talking about the details of their patent portfolios. They can just come out with the numbers. For example, one very large dinosaur left over from the days when Collosus strode over the telecom Rhodes quite often published the number of patents granted to their staff while their stock and number of employees enjoyed a faster plunge than Jean-Claude Killy (or the Lipton Iced-Tea girl, for those of you searching for a less obscure reference).

Government Parakeets at Work

All of the patent nonsense is controlled by the Patent Office in the Federal Mental Asylum known as Washington, D.C. (Don't Call). The underpaid, understaffed, and WAY under-informed staff of the Patent Office is understandably eager to get those patent applications out of the way so that they can eventually manage to burrow their way through the stacks of paper and back into the sunlight. Many Patent Office workers have not seen sunlight since the Carter administration and have turned the lovely shade of wallpaper paste. So, one must understand if occasionally a parakeet diaper makes it through.

However, it is more difficult to understand patents granted for "inventions" so obvious that the applicants should be fined for conspicuous audacity. For example, there have been patents granted for "a way of making a swing go from side to side by alternate pulling on ropes" - a maneuver that has been practiced by kids since the Earl of Swing first invented the "Swing-Set" in 1604. One large British company even tried to patent the hyperlink - that underlined blue text on web pages that you click on to access another web page or photograph of Brittany Spears's navel or something.

There have been equally obvious patents in Telecomm, but they would only be obvious to those of us who live in the industry. Things like patents on passing through some wavelengths while dropping other wavelengths in the same device. Trust me - that one's obvious. The point is that the Patent Office is so overwhelmed that really silly things are getting through. In fact, Mrs. Elizabeth Hornwinkel from Ottumwa, Iowa recently received a patent on the 1040-EZ form after a mix-up over addresses with her husband (inventor of the Wash-o-Matic automatic cat bathing device), who sent her income tax form to the wrong governmental agency. The IRS is, of course, fighting the patent. In the meantime, Mrs. Hornwinkel has collected over $4.3 million in patent licensing fees.

In Conclusion

In conclusion, and after much thought on the matter, it occurs to us now that the Lipton Iced-Tea plunge may also be too obscure for the younger audience. For those of you in that group, I offer the following substitute analogy: a faster plunge than Brittany Spear's moral standing after Justin revealed that she was - in fact - not quite a pure as originally marketed.

You are welcome.

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Monday, May 18, 2009

Missing the Crash

(Way back in 2004, I ambitiously started a blog called Telecommedy with the intention of writing on it every day. I stopped writing there in 2005. C'est la guerre. In the interest of posterity and hubris, I am slowly moving those posts over here so that all of this inanity can be concentrated in a single forum and not pollute the intenets any more than necessary.)

Isn't it always the way? [start strained Olympic analogy] Just as one gets used to life moseying along a certain way, life goes and enters the 200 meter dash. [end Olympic analogy]

I was just starting to enjoy the post-bubble workload. Schlumping into the office around 9am. Reading a variety of "news" websites until lunch. A leisurely lunch at the local food emporium. Then a few hours of answering email from other, similarly uninspired co-workers and, perhaps, a modicum of what could perhaps be called useful endeavors. Then out the door at around 5pm, depending on who happens to be looking. The post-bubble workload may not pay as well, but it's definitely much lower on the Stress-o-Meter (TM - Sycamore Networks).

Then, wouldn't you know it, the darn economy starts back moving and, even though telecom has a long road back, the workload starts to pick up. And just as I was starting on my lucrative writing career. So, I apologize to you, my loyal reader(s), for the long absense.

If, in the future, I should again fail to post for any length of time, I suggest the following activity.
  1. Rent a copy of A Beautiful Mind

  2. Study carefully the part where Russell Crowe, the most buff (buffest?) mathematician you will ever see, tries to find patterns in magazines

  3. Print out all of the previous posts to this blog as well as any article on Michael Jackson that runs on the AP Wire

  4. Find the hidden messages. I promise that they exist. Feel free to ask the dog for help.

Hopefully, that will keep you well entertained until I return. Or, you could just watch the weekly Scooby Doo marathon on the Cartoon Network. That Shaggy just cracks me up.

I'm sure that you have all been asking yourself, "How did Geeknik turn out? Was the attendence high? Were the attendees high? Were there any booth babes in the Movaz booth?" Well, loyal reader(s), I can barely remember myself, but I seem to recall that it went well.

Geeknik Update

Geeknik 2004 was a blast. As much of a blast as can be expected in a location approximately 200 miles from all but one hotel, where the "shuttles" apparently consisted of one guy in his mom's minivan, and the cabs were in such high demand that John Chambers was seen carjacking a passing SUV. (Just kidding, John. Don't kill me. My name is Bob and I work for Nortel, in case you're looking.) Once inside the facility, the show actually seemed in higher spirits than last year, but I've been to funerals that were in higher spirits than last year, so that's not much of a statement.

There were a lot of people in attendance. That guy with the hair - you know, the one who did that thing last year - he was there. The other guy with the thing on his face, he was there, too. But the other guy - the one with the beard and bad social skills - I didn't see him anywhere. In fact, although the attendance was up there was still a remarkable lack of true technical talent, as evinced by the striking lack of beards. Apparently the company travel budgets have opened up just enough to allow marketing and sales weasels out of their cages, but haven't opened up enough to allow anyone other than college students to attend the "technical" sessions. Still, a fun crowd with no need for the nervous stomach awaiting the hard questions occasionally asked by our bearded brethren.

Yes, there were booth babes. A surprising amount, actually, considering the somber mood of the industry lately. One group, I kid you not, actually had T-shirts with the words "racked and stacked" printed on them. Really. (Sidebar for those not in telecom - the rest of you can fast forward through this part. The term "racked and stacked" is used in telecom by hands-on geek types to describe placing equipment into large metal "racks" that hold it in place. Since equipment is placed on top of other equipment, it "stacks" - which rhymes with "rack". Hence, the cute little term "rack and stack". It's geek pithiness.) In any case, the best I can say about the "racked and stacked" girls is a comment from a co-worker, who memorably stated ...

"Looks like false advertising to me."

Which only goes to prove that I can't make up the best stuff. It just falls into my lap or, if male, nearby so that I can pick it up in a macho fashion and with much grunting.

As for the parties and galas and soirees with impressive guests, I wasn't invited. I heard that some famous performers performed for the usual companies who haven't yet figured out that the bubble has burst and still spend ungodly amounts to entertain primarily their own employees and uninterested low-level flunkies who work for their customers. But I wasn't invited. I imagine that there were some pretty amazing blues shows in the Chicago area. But I wasn't invited. That's ok. No sour grapes. You will all pray at my altar when I have taken over the world and turned you into puppets to dance for my amusement. Dance! Dance!

But really, Geeknik was nice this year. And the new workload has not in any way influenced my sleeping habits, sense of humor, or sanity.

(In case you'd like to prepare, I prefer a nice polka.)

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Monday, May 11, 2009


(Way back in 2004, I ambitiously started a blog called Telecommedy with the intention of writing on it every day. I stopped writing there in 2005. C'est la guerre. In the interest of posterity and hubris, I am slowly moving those posts over here so that all of this inanity can be concentrated in a single forum and not pollute the intenets any more than necessary.)

Late at night, sitting in the system test lab, the conversations reach a philosophical level rarely seen since the days of the Algonquin round table. Hour upon hour spent contemplating red and green LEDs and flickering computer monitors (hey, adjust that refresh rate, you goober!) can lead to some of the deepest, most introspective exchanges that seem to make enormous sense at the time but are usually best left alone by the light of day.

We take you back to another time and place, where three lowly technicians are sitting in a dimly lit lab somewhere in Silicon Valley while the all-important Release 1.0 hardware and software are being put through a series of tests to ensure that they will not burst into flames after a few hours of continuous operation. We will call our laborators A.J., G., and Johnny. Those aren't their real names, of course. The names are changed to protect the innocent (currently typing these words) from the surly.

A.J.: Dude, are you sure you've got that set up right.

G.: Yea, I'm sure. I followed the directions exactly. See - the lights are all green.

A.J.: OK. Just checking. Hey, you guys seen "28 Days Later" yet?

Johnny: Yea, right. I have kids. The last movie I saw was "Finding Nemo".

G.: I hear ya. I don't even see TV anymore unless it's animated. We're into "Caillou" now.

Johnny: Oh yeah. We've got the Caillou thing going, too. Plus "Thomas" and "Jay Jay".

A.J.: OK, what are Thomas and Jay Jay. Sounds like Swedish porn.

*silence. count to three.*

Johnny: Thomas and his friends are trains with faces that have inane little stories with morals. The faces don't move, except for the eyes. And sometimes they clip different faces onto the trains to make them change expression. Happy face, sad face, excited face. Like that. The kids really love it.

G.: And there's about a million little toys that you have to buy to go along with it. Little trains and tracks...

Johnny: You have the Thomas Table yet?

G.: Yea, we got that one last birthday. It's covered in broken track right now. I found my wallet buried under it last week.

A.J.: Dudes, you guys are scaring me.

Johnny: Now for really scary, you have to see "Jay Jay the Jet Plane". It's the same idea as Thomas, but with airplanes. And it's animated so the faces move. Computer animation, so it looks 3D. The planes are just freaky.

G.: Not as many toys, though.

Johnny: Sometimes when I watch the airplanes with the kids, I start imagining alternate endings. Like, you know the one with the butterfly that's Jay Jay's friend?

A.J.: No.
G.: Yeah

Johnny: Have you ever wondered why the butterfly doesn't get sucked into the jet engines?

*silence. count to four*

Johnny: Seriously, even if the one butterfly doesn't get sucked in, the plane ends up following him to the hideout where thousands of butterflies live. There's no way he could take off without incinerating a few hundred. At the very least, I wanted to see him get back home with a few squished bugs stuck on the windshield.

A.J.: Dude, you need to get out more.

G.: Well, I have wondered if Savannah and Big Jake ever get it on.

A.J.: OK, now it's definitely porn. What are Savannah and Big Jake?

Johnny: Savannah's a fast plane with a bad southern accent. Big Jake's a big cargo plane. And no, that's one I hadn't thought of now. But thank you so much for the mental image. I'll be sharing that one with a therapist next week.

G.: Seriously. There are kid planes and adult planes. Obviously the kid planes have to grow up sometime. And they have to some from somewhere. Even planes have needs.

A.J.: Your brain is really starting to go there, G-Man. Planes have needs?

G.: You gotta make the shows interesting somehow. Like imagining hunters bagging Barney in the middle of a show and stuffing him and putting him in a museum next to the other dinosaurs. Stuff like that.

A.J.: Your wife know you've got this defect, man?

G.: Yeah, like I'm dumb enough to tell her about that.

Johnny: We need to come up with something like those shows. You know, the woman that's running the "Thomas" gravy train is a multi-millionaire? There's gotta be another one of those out there just waiting to be thought up. Like something in telecom. Talking telephones or something.

A.J.: Dude, even people in this business don't think it's that interesting. How about talking race cars? Kids love race cars, right? Or power tools. Or maybe rodents. You know, families of squirrels looking for nuts. You could sell stuffed squirrels and bags of nuts.

G.: I think those are all covered already. How about talking computers? It would be educational - teach the kids how to use a computer and stuff. Plus there'd be a family of peripherals.

Johnny: Like Mickey, the Mouse.

G.: Exactly! No wait ... very funny.

Johnny: They've gotta have wheels or something. Kids want to move them around. I like the race cars.

A.J.: Yea, there's hundreds of different car types. They could sit in the garage and talk. And there could be a mechanic that takes care of them and teaches them stuff like that Brenda Blue chick.

*pause for effect*

Johnny: Um, A.J., how do you know about Brenda Blue.

A.J.: Ah, you talked about her. With the airplanes.

G.: No, we didn't. We didn't mention her at all.

Johnny: You watch kids shows! What else? Sesame Street?! Oh, this is going to be fun for a long time in so many ways.

A.J.: No .. but .. I .... OK, maybe I watched it once ...

Johnny: Hey, G. Aren't we supposed to be recording this test?

G.: Yea, why?

Johnny: Isn't that computer supposed to be on or something.

*silence. count to ten.*

G.: Crap.

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Thursday, May 07, 2009

What is Facebook trying to tell me?

Well, I would like to think so, but she may be too smart for me ...

Plus, she appears to have a thing for guns that I never knew about.

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Monday, May 04, 2009


(Way back in 2004, I ambitiously started a blog called Telecommedy with the intention of writing on it every day. I stopped writing there in 2005. C'est la guerre. In the interest of posterity and hubris, I am slowly moving those posts over here so that all of this inanity can be concentrated in a single forum and not pollute the intenets any more than necessary.)

The one group most responsible for the bubble and its subsequent messy explosion is not, as you may have heard, the executives at Worldcom (although they certainly can be assigned some of the blame). It was a group of shadowy figures known as VCs. VCs are typically very wealthy individuals (and getting more wealthy every day - more on that later) who control the purse strings of huge funds put together by people who don't want to have to deal directly with those strange engineering types who are always coming up with the good ideas. Every VC truly believes that they are the smartest person in the world at investing money, and every one believes that they independently come up with the best places to put other people's hard-earned cash. This is much like, I imagine, every lemming in the herd thoroughly believing that they have made a conscious decision to run over the cliff independently of any other lemming that may happen to be running in the same direction.

Disclaimer:We here at Telecommedy are fully aware that lemmings don't really run off of cliffs and that it was all a hoax set up by some malicious documentary directors, probably employed by Disney. Or something like that. We have trouble caring, and are not in the least interested in learning more on the subject, so please refrain from the long scathing emails and solicitations to join PETA.

In the late 90s, the VC lemmings decided en masse that Telecomm was the place to put money. Telecomm was being touted by analysts on Wall Street. (Actually, the analysts were typically inside the buildings around Wall Street. The only people who regularly "tout" on Wall Street are generally living in abandoned buildings and cardboard boxes and are ignored by even the slowest of the lemmings.) Suddenly anyone who could make PowerPoint slides was getting investment dollars. New VC funds sprung up all over, but the most insidious by far originated on an otherwise unremarkable road in the middle of nowhere, California known as "Sand Hill Road". These funds poured money into companies like tequila into college students.

Feeding Frenzy
Before long, the big telephone companies got caught up in the frenzy. They started talking to - and believing - the lemmings. Some key employees even left the telephone companies to join the lemmings (no conflict of interest there - it's all in your head, and you wouldn't understand the subtleties even if we explained it to you with two by fours to the head). The stock options started flying like seal blubber in a feeding frenzy. Telephone companies started forming their own groups of lemmings to get in on the frenzy. Some just skipped any appearance of propriety and let the executives invest directly into companies whose equipment they were evaluating. (Don't make me get out the 2x4 again. It's perfectly legal and explainably ethical after a few martinis and a soulectomy.)

Before long, there were more lemmings than food. The law of supply and demand started driving up the costs of investing and, consequently, the perceived value of the companies looking for money. True story: at a major Geeknik show, my company had a lemming come by our booth and actually break down in tears when he heard that we had already closed our last round of funding and were not accepting new investors. Real tears! And this was for a company with a very shaky business plan and a lemming who knew little to nothing at all about us. If your humble scribe been thinking fast enough, we would have whipped out a PowerPoint slide or two and started our own company right then while his defenses were down. Something like "". Our research makes us relatively certain that it would have been wildly successful.

Lemmings are Smarter then You Are
As the downturn started and the bubble began to burst, the lemmings predictably changed course. Within a matter of months, they went from blindly pursuing anything telecomm related to blindly divesting of anything that smelled like telecomm. Sure, there were a lot of just awful companies that were killed off (Did you invest in SilkRoad? Do you admit it in public? If you've never heard of SilkRoad, just count you blessings, kiss your children/pets/computer, and keep reading in the serenity that comes from ignorance), but in their blindness the lemmings killed off some good companies as well. A lot of quite interesting innovations are gone forever as a result, and the telecomm industry is the worst for it. What's important for this discussion, however, is that the lemmings still believe that they are smarter and better at this whole investing game than you, the lowly ordinary human, could ever hope to be.

We here at Telecommedy have had the good fortune to actually sit in on a few VC meetings where they explain to companies why the plug is being pulled. This was "good fortune" as it provided many hilarious comments and time-consuming stories that can be repeated in bars to obtain free beverages. One of our personal favorites was a meeting where the head lemming explained to the CEO of one of his subservient companies why the lemmings were leaving the telecomm business. His quote was, "You may know your business, but we're the smart ones here when it comes to investing money." This from a lemming who had lost millions of his investors' dollars on telecomm companies that crashed and burned spectacularly. However, since he had made money on a few early investments (nearly all lemmings made money in the early days just by spreading cash around and waiting for desperate large companies to buy out interesting small ones), he believed that his success was a product of his own intellect. But it's the follow-on quote that had us snickering in our sneakers "You can try another VC firm. We're all pretty independent and they may have a different idea." Sure they would.

So, to paraphrase, all of the lemmings running headlong in the same direction means that each of them has made an individual and rational choice that this is the best direction to run. And the looming cliff up ahead definitely wasn't there when they started and must have been caused by some less intelligent non-lemmings who just don't understand the lemming way of thinking. Really, the comedy in telecomm just writes itself sometimes.

Cream skimming
So, you might ask, now that the bubble has burst, surely the lemmings have learned their lessons. Well, not exactly. Most of them hit the bottom of the cliff, bounced off of the crushed bodies of the smaller lemmings, and kept running. This time in perhaps a different direction (watch out biotechnology - they're headed your direction), but still in a happy little group of independent-thinking furry bodies.

And the best part of all of this is that the lemmings are still paid wildly out of step with the humans whom they have left behind. Most lemmings are paid a percentage of the total value of their investment fund, whether or not their decisions are working out in the end. For example, a lemming fund of 1 billion dollars might pay each partner lemming over 10 million dollars a year. But they deserve it, don't they? After all, they are so much smarter than you are and they have made such rational decisions, haven't they.

Just to clarify. We here at Telecommedy are not bitter. We are jealous. If you would like to invest in the Telecommedy Venture Fund, please send personal checks and money orders to Nothing less than $10,000 please, we have standards.

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Monday, April 27, 2009

Pop! Goes the Bubble

(Way back in 2004, I ambitiously started a blog called Telecommedy with the intention of writing on it every day. I stopped writing there in 2005. C'est la guerre. In the interest of posterity and hubris, I am slowly moving those posts over here so that all of this inanity can be concentrated in a single forum and not pollute the intenets any more than necessary.)

I know you've heard of the bubble. It's the mysterious force that appeared around 2001 and shrank your 401(k), took your job, and ogled your wife when you weren't looking. For those of us who lived in the bubble, it was a beautiful place, filled with happy people, optimism, milk, and honey (the milk and honey were usually added to lattes). Now that it is gone, some of us still like to gather in the local watering hole and reminisce about days gone by.

How much do you want?
In the heyday of the bubble, good employees (and many mediocre employees) received recruiter calls on a daily basis. These grew increasingly ridiculous as the frenzy exploded, moving from calls gauging interest to calls offering outrageous employment packages (moving expenses! stock options! company car! supermodel!). It made everyone feel wanted, and allowed employees a chance to take some risks. The most popular sentiment, one that was heard in nearly every startup company, was "If they fail, I'll just get another job at another company making more money." And it was true - working at a company that failed was not seen as a blot on your record, but instead as valuable startup experience, especially if you were an officer (CEO, CTO, VP of Anything) in the failed company. And no, that has nothing to do with why so many companies failed in the end. Really.

Most of the startup companies of the bubble era were located in California, although a significant number sprung up in the Dallas and Boston areas. When the boom was really ... um, "booming", there were startups in every corner of the globe. However, there was no reason to despair if you didn't live near a startup, as most of them had nearly unlimited travel budgets and would let you live just about anywhere that you wanted to. Relocation packages were incredibly generous and teleworking was popular for just about everyone except hardware engineers (no, even in those heady days you couldn't get a company to build a lab in your basement for you). Even in California, employees would commute long distances by living in the Hills and working in the Valley. (Ok, that sounds like something out of a revisionist Civil War drama starring Australian actors, but it's not. Ask a Californian for details. Most are more than willing to explain this issue to you ad nauseum.) Since people were working very long hours, they just crashed at work or in a company-rented apartment nearby. True story: it was possible during the boom to pull into the parking lot of a seedy condominium complex in San Jose and park next to a dozen cards that each cost more than the condos. They pay was great, the lifestyle not so much.

Optional reading
One of the more coveted items of the telecomm bubble era was the stock option. Nearly everyone has heard the phrase, but very few really understand the concept. Basically, the company gives an employee, investor, friend of the officer, ex-wife of the officer, or customer the right to purchase stock in the company at a certain price. That price is ludicrously low - usually pennies - but it's still a lot more than the startup company is worth at the time that the options are granted. The employee then works like a dog for years in the hopes that someday, somehow, the company will go public ("IPO") or get sold ("cash in") and the options will be worth something more than the option price ("strike price"), at which time the IRS ("insert profanity here") will take away most of the gains to pay for important government expenses ("Congressional swimming pool").

Unbeknownst to many people, but knownst to option-holding telecommies, there is an insidious law in the US called the AMT (Alternative Minimum Tax, or Aggravating Money Transfer) that appears to be specifically designed to attack innocent, hard-working, loyal, puppy-petting, kitten-loving, baby-kissing telecomm workers. Here's how it works. You, Mr. Employee are granted a small bucketfull of stock options at 10 cents apiece. You don't actually pay money for them, you can't sell them to anyone, and you don't actually own all of them until you labor here for the next four years, but they are yours nonetheless. At the end of your four-year incarceration, your company is one of the lucky few to go public. The stock is now trading at 10 dollars, and you have started pricing out a Porsche turbo that costs more than your college tuition. But, of course, you can't sell them yet. Employees are "locked in" and can only watch as investors (who never worked for the company and can't even spell "SONET") trade the stock for enormous returns. Six months later, the lockup ends and you decide to actually pay for your options so that you can sell them at your leisure. You write a check to the company for 10 cents per share AND THEN PAY TAXES ON A GAIN OF $9.90 PER SHARE. That's right, even without ever selling the stock and without ever realizing a penny in gain, you owe a HUGE amount to the US government. Sounds fair, no?

But wait, it gets better. Suppose you believe in your company and are convinced that it will be the one to weather the coming storm. You don't sell your stock and eventually it drops to 10 cents a share. No harm, no foul - right? You took a risk, but at least you didn't lose money. WRONG! Your friendly neighborhood IRS agent still wants that AMT. Yep, you can actually lose money on the stock and still have to pay AMT on the initial purchase. There are hundreds of people who bought their stock options and didn't make enough to pay the taxes in the end. There are even some who took out loans from the company to exercise their options early (a way to avoid AMT - you're buying when they're only worth 10 cents). These people actually OWE money to their company for something that they never owned. Imagine how fun that scenario is - you get laid off and get a bill for your options at the same time. It's like having your girlfriend break up with you and stealing your car, too, although with less chance of a good-bye snuggle.

The few, the proud, the lucky bastards
Yes, there are some people who made money during the bubble, and more power to them. Anyone who worked long, hard hours for little pay deserves to make a few bucks in the end. Many people who made money on their initial stock options put the money into other telecomm stocks and lost their shirts in a more complex process than simply failing and having the IRS take their house. However, a lucky few took their money out of telecom at just the right time. Maybe they were smart, maybe they were lucky. Personally, I consider them smart when I need a loan and lucky when they refuse to see the merits of my request, but you can judge them in whichever way your personal religion allows.

The bubble was fun. Geekniks were huge parties, nearly everyone was in a good mood, obscure relatives thought you were smart, and high-school reunions were an opportunity to gloat. Now that the bubble has popped, most telecommies are back to working at a normal pace - some with a little more debt, some with a turbo Porsche parked in the garage. And nearly everyone is just waiting for the next bubble to come along so that THIS time they can do it right. Because surely we won't make the same mistakes this time - plus we still have 28 payments left on the Porsche.

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Thursday, April 23, 2009

Would you rather die quickly or linger?

This week, the world lost two brilliant people. Both were colleagues and friends. Derek Cunnold, a friend through our church, died unexpectedly of a heart attack while playing tennis. Michael Strugatsky, a work colleague, died after a 2 year battle with cancer. I could write pages on the merits of both extraordinary men: one an immigrant from the UK who came to the US as a welcome addition to the academic community, the other an immigrant from the former Soviet Union who came to the US as a persecuted minority. However, rather than spend time memorializing these men that most of you never had the opportunity to know, I have a question.

Which would you rather experience, a sudden and unexpected death or a lingering death over many months? Which would you rather your loved ones experience?

I used to think that this was an easy question to answer. Who would ever want to linger and suffer when the alternative is quick and so seemingly simple? The answer gets more complicated as you get older and start a family.

Michael's family had to watch him suffer and waste away to a shadow of his former self. Every day was a reminder of the disease that was killing him. It was in the room with the family, a pall over each interaction. But Michael's family got to say goodbye. They were able to prepare for the inevitable. Everything was put in order, so that by the time the end came, it was merely a matter of putting the plan into motion. The funeral was terribly sad, but not shocking.

Derek was alive, well, and healthy one moment and gone the next with absolutely no warning. His family could not be found, so others knew of his passing hours before his wife knew. His family members will spend the next weeks remembering last words, regretting things not said, constantly reminded of the vibrant life that was suddenly removed from their world. The funeral will be numbing.

Friends who have lost loved ones to debilitating diseases almost universally say that they wish that the end could have come faster. Today, I am not so sure. I desperately want to see my kids grow up. I am terrified of leaving my family unprepared. Although you hear the phrase "live each day as if it were your last," the reality is that no one truly lives that way. It would be too crushing emotionally if every parting from your loved ones was treated like the last.

While I would never want to see anyone in my family suffer, I would be angry beyond measure if I did not have a chance to make my peace with them before they are taken away forever. I hope that there is an afterlife where I can see them all again, but I'm human enough to worry and be terribly frightened that there isn't. So I want to be sure to get everything said in this world.

Then again, I don't want to make my family destitute or ruin their ability to get on with their lives. I don't want them to be tied to a withering body and all that entails.

So that's my question. I don't know the answer. I would appreciate your opinions, whatever they may be.



Monday, April 20, 2009

Piled Higher and Deeper

(Way back in 2004, I ambitiously started a blog called Telecommedy with the intention of writing on it every day. I stopped writing there in 2005. C'est la guerre. In the interest of posterity and hubris, I am slowly moving those posts over here so that all of this inanity can be concentrated in a single forum and not pollute the intenets any more than necessary.)

The most cherished acronym in the life of many Telecomm employees is PhD. Telecomm is crawling with PhDs. Some are obvious in their dress, their manner, or their insistence on being called "Doctor". Others are more subtle and can only be seen at night on certain days of the month. Overall, though, PhDs are an interesting sub-species in Telecomm, and one that is worth some study if you don't have something more interesting to do (movie, television, book, root canal, ...).

PhDs generally come in two types. The first type is the one that usually shows up in the mass media - the geeky type with little to no social skills that is more often than not shown as a bumbling idiot and held up to ridicule by people with very, very tiny IQs. In the real world, this sub-species deserves respect, as its members are responsible for many of the greatest advances of the human race (as well as many rather less interesting advances in obscure topics that are of little benefit to any other varieties of human beings).

Care and Feeding of your Type 1 PhD
Type 1 PhDs are very rarely seen by the public, as they prefer to dwell alone in dark caves and work 18 hours a day on their pet projects. A large percentage dwell in University laboratories, although a significant number also reside in private industry. Type 1s generally are not interested in communicating with others, although they will publish occasionally as a way of ensuring food supply. If you are lucky enough to own a Type 1 PhD, be happy and treat them well. They require very little care and can be enormously useful in solving problems or just keeping the computer network alive.

If left alone, the Type 1 will labor happily and bring success to those who feed him. They are, in general, very gentle although easily spooked. Try to avoid speaking to your Type 1 about activities that are not directly related to his work (sports, movies, music, hygiene, etc.), as this can create confusion. The occasional Type 1 has crossed the blurry line between genius and madness (it can be fun to hop back and forth, just remember to leave breadcrumbs so that you don't get stuck on the wrong side), but even then it almost never happens that a Type 1 will go on a killing spree with a plasma rifle that they have been secretly developing on the side using old microwave television parts. So, don't worry about that.

Type 1s do require some guidance. If left entirely on their own, they have a tendency to drift off into strange and useless research topics of little interest to any other humans. While this may be acceptable for University PhDs, in general it is not a good use of funds if you actually want results that are of value to others. Usually, a few simple questions are enough to guide your Type 1 in the right direction. Examples such as "Is it possible to build equipment that runs entirely on old beer cans and discarded gum wrappers" should keep them pleasantly docile and productive for years.

The Type 2 PhD
The Type 2 PhD is harder to pin down. This type of PhD generally has a personality that allows it to interact with others, which makes it a much less predictable sub-species. Type 2s can be aggressive - not necessarily a bad thing if managed - as well as vain, annoying, and/or pompous.

If you are lucky enough to get a Type 2 with a good personality, it can be a nice addition to your family. Unfortunately, Types 2s with good personalities are rarely working in their selected field of study, and are usually no longer able to contribute technically. However, they can still be of enormous value as translators, as the PhD attached to their name often enables them to communicate with other PhDs. Type 2s with good personalities often get shunted into areas where they can cause the least amount of damage while remaining visible to the outside world. Therefore, typical telecom titles for Type 2s with good personalities include Director of Business Development, VP of Marketing, or CEO.

The far more prevalent Type 2 PhD is the type with a bad personality. These are the ones that require that everyone call them "Doctor", contribute very little other than noise to their owners, and have an extremely inflated version of their own importance to the ecosystem. Type 2s are often reluctant to reveal their actual PhD Thesis Topic, as it rarely has any relevance to the work that they are now performing. The work is either ridiculously out of date ("Vaccum Tube Use in the Apollo Moon Landings") or obscure ("Pattern Recognition in the Decimals of Pi"). In Universities, Type 2s almost always have tenure. In private industry, they almost always work in the Engineering department. If you are unlucky enough to have a Type 2 with a bad personality, don't panic. They can be controlled by massive numbers of committee meetings and ISO9000 process management.

Enjoy your PhDs
In general, the PhD is a rare sub-species and one that should bring you hours of enjoyment. Regardless of the type that you own, most PhDs will provide hours of entertainment and value to your life. And if you happen to encounter one in the wild, be sure to treat it with respect - from a distance.

Disclaimer: The above descriptions and instructions do not apply to liberal arts PhDs. Please consult your non-Telecomm field manual for information on other PhD types.

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Monday, April 13, 2009


(Way back in 2004, I ambitiously started a blog called Telecommedy with the intention of writing on it every day. I stopped writing there in 2005. C'est la guerre. In the interest of posterity and hubris, I am slowly moving those posts over here so that all of this inanity can be concentrated in a single forum and not pollute the intenets any more than necessary.)

Once in a while the telecomm gophers come out of their holes and gather for a huge shindig in some dingy convention center, typically near some sort of entertainment venue like Disney World, Buckhead, Bourbon Street, or ... something in Chicago (I'm sure it's a lovely place to spend a weekend - perhaps at the old slaughter pens). It's very similar to a major salmon migration with very little opportunity for spawning. One of the largest of these conventions - Supercomm - was for many years held in Atlanta, often at the same time as a huge influx of black college students for a Spring Break party known as Freaknik. Both groups were generaly very friendly to each other, and the interaction between the two groups was often quite amusing (imagine portly, bearded engineers getting down to the latest hip-hop rhythms, if you have a vivid enough imagination and strong enough stomach). The Atlanta media created the name Geeknik for Supercomm as a counterweight for Freaknik, and it has stuck - at least with my lovely wife who still likes to bring it up once or twice a day. Therefore, all telecomm tradeshows have now been christened "Geeknik" by those in the know (about three of us now, I believe, although I think the dog is catching on).

Geekniks are the only reason for the existence of many telecomm employees, especially the more attractive ones. Months before each show are spent working on overwrought graphics, cheesy give-aways, invitations to customers who aren't planning to attend anyway, and demonstrations of equipment that's not quite ready for the light of day yet. The week before the show is a frenzy of activity akin to cutting the heads from a flock of chickens right after feeding them all a cocktail of methamphetamine and Starbucks' cappuccinos. Nothing pertaining to the peripheral business of selling and installing products gets done during this time, and many spouses begin to re-consider their decision to marry into the industry. Then the show happens, and for that week or so, the only business to be done is shmoozing and building on the expense account. And, of course, the months following are filled with the usual returning to normalcy, evaluations of performance, planning for improvements, and forestalling divorce proceedings. That comes to at least one full-time job in a small company and an entire department's worth of full-time jobs at less organized companies (not that I'm going to mention any names like Lucent, as that would be patently wrong of me).

Vendor Vittles
At most shows, the network owners and operators are treated as walking gods by the equipment and service vendors. True story - one network provider does not allow their employees to expense ANY meals during Geeknik. They are expected to find a vendor to pay for every one. The policy is called "Vendor Vittles". Truly, I am not erudite enough to make this stuff up. At some of the really big shows, content providers (companies like ESPN, ABC, HBO, FOX, and *ahem* Hustler) lavish the network guys with even more elaborate giveaways. It is not surprising to see low-level employees from a telephone or cable company walking around with two or three duffel bags stuffed with give-aways like cups, hats, T-shirts, stuffed animals, videos, children's toys, CDs, pens, electronic gizmos, oddly-shaped chocolates, bottles of liquid, shiny objects, bouncy balls, phone numbers, hotel keys, and much, much more. At some of the smaller Geekniks, the local mom-and-pop network operators show up with their families. The families don't even make a pretense of asking about the products for sale. Like a shark on the prowl for baby seals, they stalk the floor collecting junk that will become Christmas and Hannukah/Channuhak/Chewbakkah gifts for obscure relatives for the entire next year.

Exhibiting companies, of course, are glad to support the habits of the network operators, and compete to see who can get the largest number to actually enter their booth. In the heady days of the telecomm bubble, when money was freely available to anyone who understood how to draw colorful pictures in PowerPoint, the hustles were impressively audacious. The minimum requirement was to staff the booth with "booth babes" - typically young, attractive women that may or may not actually know anything about the products in the booth. (As an aside, I am not referring to anyone at Movaz Networks as a booth babe, so no suing me for my accumulated wealth.) For more flashy companies with less actual information available to attract customers, more impressive techniques were used to attract "customers". These schemes included raffles of large electronics (TVs, Bose radios, CD players, lightsabres, etc.), performances by dancing girls in company-colored outfits slightly larger than handkerchiefs, games and activities (golf, video games, skeet shooting, etc.), and the super grande indulgence of the time - performances by major musicians, comics, and aquatic mammals. In a single day, Geeknik attendees could go to a free performance by Ray Charles, Martin Short, and Shamu the Killer Whale. Not all at the same time, although I'd certainly pay to see Ray play the piano while Shamu eats Martin. Of course, these expenses had absolutely nothing to do with the money that you lost in your 401k, so don't even try to follow that bouncing ball.

Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain
Geekniks can be a powerful incentive to get products working on a strict deadline. Alternatively, they inspire great creativity among those whose equipment does not cooperate within the strict deadline. Non-working equipment is sometimes hollowed out and 9-volt batteries attached to LEDs to make the equipment appear functional. Demonstrations that purport to show signals traveling through a compex array of equipment are actually bypassed by a single wire and some duct tape. True story: one of the more obnoxious employees of an potential purchaser of telecomm equipment was known for walking up to equipment during the show and kicking it to see if it was actually working (after which the delicately balanced equipment often stopped working - you're really not supposed to kick these things). Equipment vendors put up with him since he was viewed as a player at a potential customer. Now that the bubble has burst, he is rumored to be driving a cab and receiving very small tips when he carries vendors to and from the convention centers during Geekniks.

If a company dares to show "static" displays of products not actually working at a Geeknik, they are ridiculed as either incompetent or unimaginative. This can lead to crying and slap-fights, so smaller companies that are worried about being humiliated on the playground often use the "private suite" strategy. That's when a company rents out a suite at a nearby hotel and sets up a grand display, then sends out "private invitations" to their best friends in the industry. Since the whole point of putting a lot of product vendors in the same convention center is to allow customers to quickly get from one to another, it can be very tough to convince a customer to leave the confines of the center and venture into the unknowns of a hotel room. (Coincidentally, that is also one reason that there is very little "spawning" at Geeknik. The other reasons are that men outnumber women by about 1489 to 1 and the attractiveness quotient of nearly all attendees doesn't register on most accepted scales.) In order to convince a customer to come to a private suite, therefore, companies must offer enticements, usually catering and sometimes an open bar (there can be nothing more entertaining than drunken engineers out on the town). Not coincidentally, customers often schedule visits to private suites around meals. I've personally watched customers walk into a private suite, snub the provided food, and ask the company representative to order them a sandwich. The private suite is alive and well since the bubble burst, as it allows companies to spend less money and still justify a trip to someplace far away where entertainment is cheap and the giveaways are plentiful.

The most hideous incarnation of the private suite is the private suite in the booth. Usually there are rules in place to force anyone who puts up an exhibition to make the exhibit open to the public. At least a significant portion of the booth should be viewable by anyone who shows interest. In some cases, it is understandable to put some of the latest secrets in a special section available only to VIPs (Violet, Interesting Penguins), but the occasional company takes this idea to the far extreme. Companies have been known to build walls completely around their booth and put a bouncer at the only door. When trade show operators objected and changed the rules so that over 50% of the booth area had to be publicly accessible, they bought a bigger booth space and built their walls in the center. The outside part, with absolutely nothing in it, was publicly accessible. I believe that most people wandering by used it as a convenient garbage disposal area in recognition of the ingenuity of the booth designer.

The Big Show
Supercomm, one of the biggest of the Geekniks, is scheduled for June 2004 in Chicago. For the last 5 years it's been in Atlanta, and finally the powers that be are going to allow the telecomm world out of the Southeast to inflict their particular brand of mayhem on the Midwest. People of Chicago, board up your doors and lock the livestock in the barns. (Not that Geeknik will impact you personally, it's just that we've started to notice the holes in your homes and the cow keeps getting into our vegetable patch, so we'd appreciate more diligence on your part.) All over the telecomm world, people are getting ready for the big show. Shoes are being polished, hideous "trade show shirts" are being handed out, equipment is being whacked with hammers in frustration, and the local bars are stocking up on cheap domestic beers.

Let the games begin, and have a great show everyone! I'll be the one hiding under the table in the corner, taking notes, and trying to avoid the cows.

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