January 20, 2006

Weather Windfall 

In late December, I considered getting two items of clothing: a wool sweater and a heavy parka, both for those unusually cold days with highs in the teens and lows near zero. But I decided to wait. The long range predictions of the ECMWF and GFS computer models both showed mild temperatures. I decided that I wouldn't get anything until these models suggested at least a chance of an Arctic intrusion sometime in the medium range period.

Now it's January 20th and it's been mild ever since. Both models continue to show a relatively flat or zonal flow, meaning mild temperatures (30s and 40s) without anything frigid. In the meantime, the price of the North Face jacket I've had my eye on has fallen by 20%. I may be able to make it through the winter without a wool sweater. I generally try to avoid wool, because Manhattan interior spaces can get hot.

There's no way to tell if the rest of the winter will be this mild. It's rare to get an entire winter without an extended Arctic outbreak. My guess would be that February just has to be colder than January has been. But we'll see.

January 16, 2006

Making It Easy 

Airlines are getting a bad rap these days, but it's always nice to find a story of customer service done right.

For a trip in May, my original plan was to fly Continental by buying a regular seat and then upgrading. However, when I called to ask about availability, they said that the cheapest ticket eligible for an upgrade would be more than double the price of the one I planned on getting. (They do get credit for volunteering this in advance.)

So I went to American, where I have mountains of miles available. This is largely because I have a credit card tied to the account and I fly them often, but hardly ever go anywhere worth using the miles for. (I'm not going to use miles to avoid a $130 fare to Fort Lauderdale.)

With American, the low fare I booked online would indeed be eligible for an upgrade. And when I called back to upgrade, the overall wait time was around 15 seconds. So (and unexpectedly) easy.

I asked a knowledgeable friend of mine about this, and he said that eligibility for an upgrade is beyond any reason or logic. It depends on the day, even within airlines. But for now, while Continental has a great ad campaign, it was American that made things easy. I'm glad most of my miles are with them.

January 13, 2006

From Nix to Knicks 

Back in December, I was watching a basketball game on TV and sportscaster Bill Walton said, "Just watch. By the end of January, the Knicks will be right back in it."

All of a sudden, the Knicks have a five game winning streak.

There are reasons to believe this isn't just luck. Stephon Marbury seems finally to have reached an agreement with Larry Brown on his proper role. (It's amazing how much easier these adjustments come when you win.) And they're beating good teams, like in this week's overtime win against the Dallas Mavericks.

I also think Bill Walton knows what he's talking about. As a former player and critical intellectual, he has a good sense of the underlying dynamics that would make a team win. Hopefully he's right. Of course, I'm a huge Bill Walton fan. No one is capable of dishing out the opinions quite like he does. ("What a terrrr-ible pass!")

Not one, but two exciting teams at Madison Square Garden? It's been so long. Maybe this is the year.

January 12, 2006

Branching Out 

Until around two years ago, there were two kinds of snack bars. You had traditional candy bars, such as Hershey's and Snickers. Then you had energy bars, like Clif Bar, Luna and Balance. These were mostly made of wholesome ingredients like oats and grains instead of chocolate and nougat.

Then something odd happened. The candy bar manufacturers branched out into energy bars, and the energy bar people tried making wholesome candy bars. You can now get a chocolate fudge and peanut butter Balance bar. Why settle for oatmeal or granola?

The result: go to your corner deli and try selecting one of these bars. You may need to bring a compass, because by the time you're done, the world will be spinning. More importantly, if everyone had stuck to what they were good at all along, I think each product would be better.

Now there are reports that Apple's trademark registration of "Mobile Me" suggests it may try to make the iPod into a phone and resell cell phone service. Of course, if anyone can pull off this design feat, it's Apple. But if they go this one-stop-shop route, I hope they do it in a way that is minimally distracting to its core business. I've always thought that while Apple's hardware is superbly designed, its software is less so. I'm hoping that packing everything into the iPod will not lead it further astray with declining expertise.


Update from yesterday: I think I've decided to go with the Blackberry 7250. Verizon Wireless has confirmed numerous online forum reports that EVDO will be avaliable for this model. (According to these reports, the timing is in the next 1-3 months.) Upgrading will require a simple visit to a store to update the software. I had been under the impression that the 7250 was not capable of high speeds, but this is a software, not hardware, function.

It's true, as one person pointed out, that more third party enhancements will be available for the Treo since that runs Windows. But I think the Blackberry's better screen offsets that concern. I am getting this primarily as a mobile data device and a clear screen is high priority.

January 11, 2006

Tech Front 

As part of a migration to an "information anywhere" system, I've been checking out handheld mobile devices. For now, it looks like the best plan may be to wait and see.

The Treo 700W looks cool and runs on Verizon Wireless's "Broadband Access" (EVDO) network. This new network allows you to get near-DSL-equivalent speeds. The Treo has a nice keyboard and display and is a good size also. However, it is the first union of Windows and Palm, and I tend to be reluctant to buy any hardware, software or operating system (much less merger of two) as soon as it is released.

I would slightly prefer to use a Blackberry because I think Blackberries are just cooler (notwithstanding the threat of a Blackberry network shutdown due to patent dispute). There is an EVDO-compatible Blackberry model, the 7130e. However, this model features an odd keyboard that is a compromise between a phone keypad and regular keyboard. The result is that two letters share most keys.

I can deal with multiple letters per key for txt messages on my cell phone because those tend to be short. However, if I were to use this for business correspondence, this would have the potential to be very annoying.

Then there's the Blackberry 7250, which has a full size keyboard but runs on the slower Verizon Wireless "National Access" network. The full QWERTY keyboard is a big plus. I'm not convinced the slower speed would make that much of a difference. I'm not often in situations where I would need to surf Web sites from a mobile device, and the speed for email is fine. On the other hand, it seems silly to invest in old technology.

I think the plan is to wait a bit for other guinea pigs to test the Treo 700W and then probably get that. The only problem is that I have jury duty starting on the 23rd and I was hoping to have something by then. We'll see. I thought technology was supposed to make things simpler?

January 3, 2006

txt and transit 

I thought I would be hip this year by sending text messages to my friends when midnight struck on New Year's Eve. Unfortunately, technology didn't cooperate.

Usually, text messages take between 10 and 60 seconds to reach the recipient. This time, however, apparently due to severe congestion on cell phone networks, they took much longer. One message to a friend on Verizon Wireless took 36 minutes. Another took almost 7 hours. Messages to friends on Cingular took 6 hours in one case and 10 in another. Messages to T-Mobile were simply rejected.

On another note, I've been enjoying my inclement weather alternative of the 80th Street NYSC. It's further away than 73rd Street, but the key is that it's right off a subway stop just two stops away. The layout is less convenient than that of 73rd Street--everything is spread out among 4 floors--but it's fine and a refreshing change. You have to love that the scent of H&H Bagels (located below) rises right into the corner of the 2nd floor cardio area.

January 1, 2006

Happy New Year 

New Year's was great, but the timing feels odd. I think it's all because of a deadline next week relating to a major work project. There really hasn't been much of a break for the holidays, and momentum seems still to be building. So it doesn't feel like the page has turned during the usual lull in activity.

That being said, 2005 was a year when things generally became, well, marvelous. It's not to say that every day was ideal, but I have a somewhat counterintuitive notion about success. I think that the more you want things to improve, the more frustration and disappointment are necessary along the way. So, in all things work and non-work, there were certainly ups and downs. But overall, while I woke up on January 1, 2005 with a list of things to fix, I am now looking at 2006 anticipating an even more rewarding year.

On the work front, a couple of key principles regarding my vision of management consulting really came to affirm themselves, but I need to think about how to present this in a way that does not sound like consulting-ese and does not compromise confidential information. Good stuff, though--stay tuned.

As the consulting hit its stride, so did a number of other things. I met some incredibly bright and interesting people both in NYC and in travels to Provincetown, Fort Lauderdale and Puerto Vallarta. My apartment feels more like a home than it ever has (significantly due to large photographs of my niece and nephew). I discovered some great new music, learned a lot about remixes and what separates the winners from the losers, and learned how to play a number of cool songs on my keyboard. (Ten-year projects to figure out two of my all-time favorite pop songs also finally ended.) And all of this happened while relying on the continued seamless excellence of the Verizon Wireless CDMA network.

No specific resolutions for this year, but one thing that stands out on a wish list: I would like, finally, to connect my digital piano keyboard to my computer and dive into the exciting world of scoring and arranging music. Now that my friends include talented professionals who can offer advice here and there, this shouldn't be that hard. (I tried this in 1995, but reading the manual for Opcode software was like deciphering a physics textbook.) We'll see what happens. I'm also lucky to have neighbors that don't complain about my playing.

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