June 24th, 2007 §
My girlfriend likes to work hard. She starts at her office between eight and eight-thirty in the morning and works until seven or eight in the evening. I like to work hard as well. But still our schedules didn’t coalesce.
For awhile, I tried getting up at seven-thirty just after her (she would want an extra half hour with the mirror) and walking her to work.
That was the best part of my day. Getting up together, having a cup of tea and walking Eliska to work was a joy.
But when I cam back to my desk, my mind drifted for a good three hours or so while I tried to take advantage of those splendid morning hours.
Unfortunately I have a biological clock inherited from Joseph Stalin – Stalin regularly kept the Kremlin running until 5 in the morning.
So what would happen is the morning hours were at about 25% productivity. Around eleven or twelve I would switch into high gear again and get lots done until about three, but then I would fade. After some afternoon sport, returning to work in the evening I couldn’t get anything done.
Eliska would be back at seven thirty, say, again – and the day would be over. No question of going back to work after a nice dinner with her – I didn’t have the strength.
Left to my own devices a work day looks more like getting up at anytime between eight and nine am. When I wake up my mind is supercharged and just raring to get back to last night’s wars or start in on new big jobs. The employees roll in to the office at about ten but I’m already going at 100% so I don’t have much time for meetings with them and just tell them to get to work. Sometime around eleven or twelve I come out of the jetstream to check in on how they are doing.
Now it’s time for email and mundane activities. Later in the afternoon, it would be sports time again – a time I would use to refresh the mental batteries, to solve problems on my bike, or when on the water – when I came back in the evening, my mind would be at full speed. My body would be eager to get some sustenance (preferably high protein and bio quality raw vegetables) and get back to work.
Between eight pm and one am are golden hours in which any problem could be solved, any paradox resolved.
Paul Graham in his essay on “How to Start a Startup” describes the golden hours thus:
The key to productivity is for people to come back to work after dinner. Those hours after the phone stops ringing are by far the best for getting work done. Great things happen when a group of employees go out to dinner together, talk over ideas, and then come back to their offices to implement them. So you want to be in a place where there are a lot of restaurants around, not some dreary office park that’s a wasteland after 6:00 PM.
To return to the girlfriend problem – she is none too happy to have her man wolf down some dinner, talk with her in a fairly detached way and race into the office rooms (our place is huge). Now would be the time for some real talk, some drawn out lovemaking, watching a film together (she is a cinema buff) – or in the worst case if it’s towards the end of the week and we want to get out or seem other people, walking out to meet some friends for a drink.
More Smiles Like This Please, Dear Eliska
This way of working clearly doesn’t fit into her world. The solution would be to cut back on the days we see one another – but make them real dates, for which I have to be prepared. As scores of the most delightful women from most of Europe can attest, when my head is in the game, I am one of the best dates around. I listen attentively, am genuinely interested in the deeper side of the other person, have an active sense of humour, am just provocative enough, have boundless energy.
Unfortunately, I like to work a lot. So the girl who is there every day gets the short end of the stick. Not because I like or love her any less – au contraire I adore her – but because I have to get back to work. I also fancy myself building our future, so I have some trouble grasping her impatience. But putting it out on paper like this, it’s pretty clear why.
Anyway getting back to a positive solution, the idea is to cut back the number of days we see one another. So the one or two weeknights are like the most fabulous dates she’s ever been on. Ballet, delightful restaurants, walks under the stars, kissing at the bank of the Danube, impromptu Cuban dancing.
When she’s not here, normally Eliska likes to talk to me on the telephone between 10 or 11pm while she is getting ready for bed. Usually that’s my worst time for a telephone conversation. There are two versions possible here:
- Work is going really well and I just don’t want to be distracted. The conversation inevitably does distract me if it goes beyond five minutes. So either I’m curt – a royal piss-off for any woman – or I do get distracted, which in turns either irritates me or sends the work right off the rails. In which case we would have been better to just spend the night together.
- Work is going really badly and I am going at it hard trying to get something positive out of what seems a lost day. The telephone call would be a welcome interruption but poor Eliska will get more grief than anyone would ever want as he or she crawls between the sheets.
I tried to solve this problem by forbidding her to call me before she went to bed. She was not happy about this strategy at all. She needed this bedtime talk.
It’s not that I refuse to talk to her at work. Anytime in the afternoon – the noon to three space – is conventional work, the kind done by producers (I used to be one), executives, and master salespeople and managers every day. Talk to this person, explain this problem, make that call. It’s all good. But that evening time is sacred. It’s the second work day which allows me to run two companies. Even when we get bigger and there are more shoulders to carry the workload, those golden hours in the evening will still be precious.
One way I solved this while Eliska was here almost every night was that I would have dinner with her at eight or nine and spend the time with her up until around twelve. After she started to fall asleep I would get back up and work until about three or three thirty. There were three problems with this:
- Eliska was none too happy to have me gone. Usually she would get up at two thirty in the morning to tell me time for bed on her way back from the loo.
- The quality of the work time was pretty lousy. The golden hours are eight-nine until one a.m. By starting back in at midnight (eleven-thirty to twelve-thirty), there is not enough physical resources most nights to hit a big problem. So I’d be reduced to running through emails and patchwork fixes, rather than targetting anything big.
- The physical toll was very high on me. Heading to bed at about two or three leaves me rested like an angel for the next day. When I am playing catch-up until three-thirty or four, even for me that’s not enough sleep. So I’d be a little bit slower the next day.
The two advantages to this system are not small ones. First, our sex life was quite good and frequent. Second, most people sleep much better after a rending fulfilment.
But the winning formula here would be those two date nights per week. For the evening telephone calls, we’d just agree to keep them short and that it would be Eliska’s turn to talk to me and not for me to talk to her. When you are concentrated on something else, it’s much easier and less disruptive to listen than to articulate your own inner state. She says I talk too much anyway and she’s probably right.
How does that scale to living together – the natural and short-term goal – and later having a family?
Part two of that question – having a family – is a bit tricky and I’ll have to wait on an answer to it, I just don’t have enough experience. I have a feeling that it partly involves large houses and live-in nannies. It also involves some compromise on work hours.
But for living together, the solution would be to keep the date nights. On a non-date night, we might just eat together briefly and do our separate things. There would be no disappointment on her end. She’d know that it wasn’t a date night – and she’d know that tomorrow is. On my end, I would also know that – and would be inspired to redouble my efforts to be able to go on the date with a light heart. I’d also know that I was expected to show her a good time and eager to do so. There is nothing more wonderful in this world than making the woman you love happy.
More Candlelit Dinners Then, Dear Alec
On the work nights, if Eliska sees her friends, she sees her friends. If she wants to go to the movies with her friends, she goes. If she wants to have the friends visit, no problem. They can do whatever they want in the rest of the apartment. When I have a free moment, I’ll come out to play for a few minutes but otherwise it would be do not disturb.
Of course, it would be great if Eliska could get a job which would let her start at nine am. At that point, I could certainly just twist my biorhythm to getting up together and kissing the morning together.
Apparently I’m not the only one having trouble balancing work and love in the start-up phase of a company. Paul Graham writes about his experience:
During this time you’ll do little but work, because when you’re not working, your competitors will be. My only leisure activities were running, which I needed to do to keep working anyway, and about fifteen minutes of reading a night. I had a girlfriend for a total of two months during that three year period.
I hope to do a better job managing a girlfriend during the startup phase, than Paul did. I better. Despite my love of hard work, I’ve never been cut out for the monastic life.
When I’ve had startup level projects in the past (making a film isn’t much different), I’ve generally worked together with the girlfriend. Or sometimes the woman I was working with became my girlfriend (can happen in either order). In this case, you are both thinking and talking about the shared project. People tend to get more excited about making films than building companies and/or SEO – so this is not so easily applied here.
Eliska for awhile was really implicated in the company. But given that she was sixty hours/week at her day job, it was a bit much for her. I can’t blame her. What she needs is not more work, but more romance.
May 12th, 2007 §
IBM just keeps hiring and hiring in Slovakia. I’ve ended up in bidding wars with them and the other big multinationals for a couple of people.
Due to inexperience, I’ve lost those bidding wars to date but will win the next rounds.
I keep wondering where on earth are all these jobs coming from?
The normally annoying Robert Cringely has the answer.
LEAN is about offshoring and outsourcing at a rate never seen before at IBM. For two years Big Blue has been ramping up its operations in India and China with what I have been told is the ultimate goal of laying off at least one American worker for every overseas hire. The BIG PLAN is to continue until at least half of Global Services, or about 150,000 workers, have been cut from the U.S. division. Last week’s LEAN meetings were quite specifically to find and identify common and repetitive work now being done that could be automated or moved offshore, and to find work Global Services is doing that it should not be doing at all. This latter part is with the idea that once extraneous work is eliminated, it will be easier to move the rest offshore.
All this is supposed to happen by the end of 2007, by the way, at which point IBM will also freeze its U.S. pension plan.
The point of this has nothing to do with the work itself and everything to do with the price of IBM shares. Remove at least 100,000 heads, eliminate the long-term drag of a defined-benefit pension plan, and the price of IBM shares will soar. This is exactly the kind of story Wall Street loves to hear. Palmisano and his lieutenants will retire rich. And not long after that IBM’s business will crash for reasons I explain below.
Last time I posted about IBM pensions a current employee stepped in with some interesting commentary in defense of IBM. I hope KC stops by again to give us his input on the current offshoring project.
April 17th, 2007 §
I am always lecturing my friends and girlfriends to not spend so much time talking on their mobile phones. I often hang up on them after a few minutes as I get a headache from speaking on the mobile phone. It all goes back to when I had to supervise a set of television commercials in the Moscow countryside but had to prep an expensive hair commercial with the London office of Grey Advertising at the same time. Only a very powerful telephone would hold the signal. A model from Siemens was found. It worked and I was able to talk for half an hour at a time if necessary. Signal clear as day. I was delirious and spaced out afterwards. To my everlasting good fortune that telephone was subsequently lost in the back of a black cab (and no the cabby didn’t return it) while on a junket to London related to said hair commercial.
Curiously cellphone studies with negative results – cancer, loss of brain capacity – for the industry lead to research funding removal and persecution. At the same time the big cellphone and mobile network providers are taking out huge liability insurance contracts. I don’t have the time now to document the above but at one point I did do the research and will stand by those statements.
Sticking a mini-microwave beside your head is not going to improve your health or mind. End of story.
It turns out that cellphones are not only harmful to people but absolutely fatal to bees.
Radiation from mobile phones interferes with bees’ navigation systems, preventing the famously homeloving species from finding their way back to their hives. Improbable as it may seem, there is now evidence to back this up.
Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) occurs when a hive’s inhabitants suddenly disappear, leaving only queens, eggs and a few immature workers, like so many apian Mary Celestes. The vanished bees are never found, but thought to die singly far from home. The parasites, wildlife and other bees that normally raid the honey and pollen left behind when a colony dies, refuse to go anywhere near the abandoned hives.
The alarm was first sounded last autumn, but has now hit half of all American states. The West Coast is thought to have lost 60 per cent of its commercial bee population, with 70 per cent missing on the East Coast.
CCD has since spread to Germany, Switzerland, Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece. And last week John Chapple, one of London’s biggest bee-keepers, announced that 23 of his 40 hives have been abruptly abandoned….
The implications of the spread are alarming. Most of the world’s crops depend on pollination by bees. Albert Einstein once said that if the bees disappeared, “man would have only four years of life left”….
German research has long shown that bees’ behaviour changes near power lines.
Now a limited study at Landau University has found that bees refuse to return to their hives when mobile phones are placed nearby. Dr Jochen Kuhn, who carried it out, said this could provide a “hint” to a possible cause.
Birds and the bees sounds better.
The spread of the problem sounds likely to me. Blanket coverage by cell phone base antennas came first in the United States.
I imagine that the base antenna has to be quite close to the hive (or on the route to food) to cause this problem.
Countries with limited cellphone converage will be fruitful.
Perhaps mankind will eventually learn not to believe big industries claims for healthiness.
Cigarette manufacturers claimed for decades that smoking was good for your health, before finally admitting that it was neither bad nor good. Only after decades of lawsuits did they concede the obvious which is that smoking is bad for your health.
My mother told me this story from her childhood in Vancouver.
They used to go to Woodwards to do their shopping. In the shoe department, there was a very neat machine that the kids liked to play with. Put your foot under a panel and then pulled a lever. On a screen in front of your eyes, you could see the bones of your feet.
You could use it as often and long as you liked. The machine was there to help the shoe saleman scientifically find you the right pair of shoes.
If you haven’t guessed already, the machine was an xray machine. And children were spending whole minutes radiating themselves with no lead protection.
It was only a few years later that Woodwards removed the xray machine. I hope not too many of those children have bone or blood cancer now.
Later in the same article some other cellphone studies are cited:
Blue-chip Swedish research revealed that radiation from mobile phones killed off brain cells, suggesting that today’s teenagers could go senile in the prime of their lives.
If you value the long term health of your brain, don’t use your cellphone for more than a minute or two at a time!
While you are at it, stop believing the claims of major companies that their products are good for you or your dog. They just want your money. As long as your dog doesn’t up and outright die, they don’t mind how sick the pooch might get eating their manufactured poison. But that’s a story for another day.
April 8th, 2007 §
I’ve been doing some domain research lately for Foliovision.com. One of the great sources of information for the domain industry is an online publication called DNJournal which does a weekly roundup of the top domains sales.
Very useful information. DNJournal also publish a number of interviews with top domainers (people whose primary economic activity is buying and selling domain names).
Reality call to DNJournal.com: What's with the puff piece on Future Media Architects? Continues »
April 5th, 2007 §
Have you ever wondered how life insurance companies make so much money when the payouts are so high?
Check out this info about the demutualization of Sun Life-Clarica and missing policy holder claims:
LIfe Insurance Profits: One Third of All LIfe Insurance Policies Go Unpaid Continues »
April 4th, 2007 §
Dan Heller doesn’t seem to think that any company can dominate the stock photo market. Getty Images is making a play now by entering the low end in force (they have the middle and middle-high end under control).
Getty’s objective is less about controlling the images as it is about controlling the places that sell them. And while they may achieve a short-term monopoly on certain distribution outlets, which may result in higher prices for some small specialty markets, that short honeymoon period for Getty will end once photo-sharing sites become new outlets for photographers where the open market can decide their rates. A photographer that may be working exclusively with an agency now will eventually find those greener pastures. Entities that currently have “exclusive” arrangements with agencies may also find those relationships aren’t as valuable.
He has a point. A lot of people find my images on Google. Some people have licensed them. It just takes a single person or company to come up with a good photo catalogue and sales system and search itself can control sales.
Google Images, Getty and the Stock Photography Business Continues »
March 22nd, 2007 §
A BBC reporter went undercover into the Barclays Bank as a sales representative. She found a series of unbelievable – but true practices.
As my trainer Simon Pickergill said: “I hate it when they say the customer is always right. It’s just ridiculous. Someone was stoned when they made up that policy.”
Remember this isn’t just anyone, this is a man who Barclays had chosen to teach us, the bank’s new staff, how to behave.
Strangely, the bank made record profits of 7 billion pounds last year.
A great read.
Watch your bank and telephone statements closely, that’s all I have to say.
November 26th, 2006 §
Where are my dance projects?
I make three times as much money but previously – in my opinion – I contributed far more to the world. Truth, beauty, justice, compassion.
How upside down society’s values. Like my lead charachter in Lapinthrope, I am broken, the joyful madness and the natural spontaneity gone from my eyes. I sit at a desk and move the wheels of commerce. What is the alternative?
To end up face down in a city part somewhere in France or Canada, my spine broken by a police boot but my soul intact, the light extinguishing altogether.
Some would argue that there are successful directors who live from their art. To be honsest, for most well off directors make their money and spend their energy on television commercials, banal television or empty commercial film.
Most of the best filmmakers I’ve met live very poorly.
My pledge is to reinvest myself in society and art when the occasion returns.
In the meantime, dance reviews and the occasional dance photo shoot will have to stand for me.
I’m delighted to announce four dance articles (three reviews and a theory article) over the weekend.
October 28th, 2006 §
The elephant in the room about which people are reluctant to talk is the effect of age group on calibre of candidates. Eighty per cent of the employees at IBM Slovakia are under 25. Similar numbers apply to Dell (I was at their autumn party at the Design Factory in Bratislava and saw the phenomenon with my own eyes). I don’t have the Siemens numbers.
In my own recruitment project, I had a mixed group of resumés for what ended up being two positions. CV’s for the most part came with date of birth. The best candidates were almost invariably younger. I had no bias against hiring someone a little older.
My inclination for a more mature candidate went against the recommendation of my recruitment manager. He recommended hiring young and training up. But I was specifically seeking someone around 30 with good experience who would be ready to work. I’d rather not lose my time in training and we could afford to pay well for someone who can do the work properly straight away.
Amazingly enough the older candidates for the most part were unexceptional. The work they had done in the past was not great. Their salary demands were excessive in line with their talents. They had a bunch of skills next to useless to Foliovision (.net, ASP, Flash, java: what we needed was CSS, PHP, Rails if you’re interested).
For the most part, their demo sites were atrocious flash messes. In the best case some horrible CMS with some very basic graphics slapped on top of its out of the box layout.
One older candidate (thirty-four) who I interviewed turned out to be a catastrophe with made up stories of employment and perennial conflicts with his boss. A slightly older candidate (just over thirty) whom we took on a short trial didn’t turn out well either: competent but very inflexible in her way of doing things with no inclination to learn new things.
In the social scene, I’ve noticed similar traits as well in the different age groups. The people who are inclined to work hard and learn here are the young. These findings are only in Bratislava. I have not yet been to East or South Slovakia.
So despite my best intentions of hiring older and more experienced workers, I had to follow George’s advice and take on younger individuals. For instance, our new junior programmer is just twenty-one. While he is somewhat less reliable than an older person (he sometimes forgets appointments both in and out of work), he does some very good work and learns very quickly.
October 28th, 2006 §
Today when out on a beautiful autumn afternoon walk near the castle in Bratislava, I ran into someone else working in the IT sector.
We fell to speaking about international companies coming into Bratislava in the IT sector. IBM has moved 1800 jobs to Slovakia in fulfillment and logistics.
Apparently, IBM employees are free to use IM (instant messenger) as well as personal email during work hours. They are judged on performance. Over at AT&T Slovakia, the network administrators band IM clients full stop period, while using personal email is a punishable offense.
Siemens in Slovakia has something like 7000 employees doing varied things, but also including a customer service section.
IBM pay starts around 30,000 Sk/month (about 810 euros). Siemens pay starts around 18,000 (about 480 euros).
I have a pretty idea of which company is going to get the better talent. I have a pretty idea of which company will provide better service.
Curiously enough my acquaintance at IBM is a graduate of the top commerce university in Slovakia, with a year of study in an international business school in Western Europe.
My acquaintance at Siemens is a trained teacher, with a degree in Geology.
I respect and admire teachers but one has to believe that IBM has set the bar higher here.
This was very useful knowledge. At my company, we want to attract personnel as good or better as those going to work in the major international companies. To do that, we have to provide a congenial work environment. We also have to provide better opportunities and better salaries. From what I can see, we are on track to do so.
But with IBM hiring thousands at a time, the battle for talent will be fierce. We are not really competing for the same personnel as Siemens, so they are less of a factor.
We also talked about motivation for bringing the jobs to Slovakia and Bratislava. The savings in salary for the international company in comparison to personnel costs in Vienna. I imagine people of the same caliber as the IBM crowd would cost about 2000 to 2500 euros per month. The big savings is as much on the social charges as on the salary. The employer in Slovakia will pay about 400 euros in social charges on the Slovakian salary. The employer in Austria will pay 2000 euros in social charges on the Austrian salary.
End cost to IBM of high calibre junior personnel in Slovakia = 1200 euros/month
End cost to IBM of high calibre junior personnel in Austria = 4000 euros/month