The efficiency of trains

Hello again friends!  I’m back stateside, and wanted to follow up on this note from a couple of months ago.  At the time I talked about how I took the train from Boston, Massachusetts to Syracuse, New York.  The train ride was about 10 hours, about 5.5 hours longer than the equivalent car ride.  As I reflect back on the experience, I can’t help but admire how efficient a mode of travel the train is.  Below I try to articulate this.

Taking the train is more expensive than driving or flying, but

The simple cost equation:

Travel by car: My car needs premium gas, and it takes about a full tank to make a one way trip.  The total cost of that (in November 2011) would be about $55.00 for one way, $110.00 for the round trip

Travel by train: Amtrak’s tickets were about $80.00 for one way, or about $160.00 for a round trip.

So far, taking the train is costing me more by $50.00

However the benefit of the train is that I could work during part or most of the ride.  What does that math look like…

Assuming that I was able to work seamlessly for 75% of the time, and that had I taken the car, I would have been able to work for those extra hours that I would have been in Syracuse instead of the train.  So basically it comes down to how many hours in between the two.  Let’s say I was productive for 7.5 hours out of those ten, and had made it to Syracuse I would’ve worked for about 5 of those hours (assuming a small break).  So basically we are talking about a difference in productivity of 2.5 hours, and assuming.  Assuming an hourly rate of anything above $20 per hour, then it’s worth taking the train.

I can report that my hourly rate is greater than $20.00 therefore it makes a lot of sense for me to take the train.

It doesn’t stop there…

The reality is that after driving 4.5 hours (especially during the holiday season).  It is virtually impossible to work for 5 hours.  In addition, the stiffness and stress that you develop from driving, I find, only tires you more, and makes you stiff for a couple of days.

Finally, one of the most amazing parts of taking the train (well from Boston) is that it literally took me 30 minutes to get from my house to the train using the MBTA.  So effectively I was able to pack my bags, head out, and arrive at the train station 20 minutes before the train left the station, and thus was able to hop on board immediately and continue working (no stowing of electronic devices as we taxi and take-off).

Overall, the train is a fantastic means of transport, something that I look forward to doing more.  From Boston there are a number of cities around that I could easily visit, and am hoping to experiment with this more of transportation more.

Moving towards a sustainable life!  What do you think?

Gimmickry…

Hello again, Friends!

I recently came across an eweek.com piece on what’s expected from the iPad 3.  I’ve made a habit not to talk about this kind of stuff, but feel significantly compelled to opine on this particular subject, not because of the topic (the new – rumored iPad 3), but because of the tone of piece, and the nearly juvenile and indecipherable difference between gimmickry and significance to stay relevant.

The piece can be found here:

http://www.eweek.com/c/a/Enterprise-Networking/Apple-iPad-3-10-HighPriority-Features-We-Want-in-the-New-Tablet-739540/?kc=EWKNLEDP01252012A

Below I articulate my point of view on each of the items, and why they are irrelevant:

  1. This is effectively a no brainer.  Apple has made strides in creating a more integrated ecosystem, and therefore we’re likely to see this.
  2. This is not really a must have, and is just an attempt to articulate that for the iPad to remain relevant, it needs to have multiple screen size.  Should Apple introduce new (presumably smaller) sizes of the iPad, it will create lesser and lesser differentiation between the platforms, and effectively cannibalizing sales across the platform.  The iPad/iPhone/iPod Touch line, I believe, would overall not be affected as you’ll see a switching from one platform to the next by consumers
  3. 3D, IMHO, is a gimmick (for now).  A gimmick created by the TV set manufacturers to create more relevance for their increasingly irrelevant products.  It’s simply a way for them to boost sales during the recession.
  4. This I agree with.
  5. This is borderline gimmickry.  There’s no real issue with device, and because you can, doesn’t mean you should.
  6. I’ll agree with this.
  7. Nice to have – not must have to remain relevant.  Are there problems with the iPad’s existing glass (in terms of break-ability)?
  8. While I would want that, I would still think it may be on the nice-to-have bordering on the must-have.  The only real benefits would be for high-res screen capture (for documents), or for movies.  A lot of app developers would need to redesign their interface to get to it, but that has not prevented Apple before.
  9. Gimmickry.  Basically a claim to turn an iPad into XBOX controller.
  10. NFC.  Yes that would be a good idea, not sure it’s critical.  I also believe that NFC may become obsolete (IMHO) as geofencing, and companies like LevelUp (thelevelup.com) continue to enter the marketplace of mobile payment.

Reviewing these results, I would argue that 1 is almost obvious, 4 and 6 are must have to remain a relevant product, and 8, and 10 are nice to have.  The rest… not sure…

This is not the first thing of the sort that I see on eweek.com, and frankly have found the writing to get less and less compelling (on par for a lot of ZD publications, IMHO).  This particularly piece reads as a child like wish list, not the product of a professional publication.

Western Massachusetts – Birthplace of Horror Movies?

Hello again friends! A very quick update as I am traveling for work.

I recently (Thanksgiving 2011) had the opportunity to take the Amtrak Lakeshore Limited from Boston to up-state New York.  As we left Boston, we went through the suburban landscape of Eastern Massachusetts.  This landscape is quite nondescript and similar to what you would see in around many of the East Coast cities.  Town after town of mills mixed in with borderline nondescript retail chains. Were it not for the over-index of Dunkin’ Donut stores, you would not be able to tell that you are in Massachusetts.  So far, nothing out of the ordinary.

About an hour or so after Springfield, as the sun started to set, the landscape started changing quite dramatically.  To contextualize ourselves in time, remember that this is a few weeks after the major Halloween snow storm that rendered a lot of Western Massachusetts power less, and a few months since Hurricane Irene (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hurricane_Irene) devastated many areas along the Hudson Valley, and the Connecticut rival valley.

As we progressed along the corridor that leads us to Albany, Utica, Syracuse and Rochester, the train entered an area of Western Massachusetts littered with broken trees, abandoned mills and buildings, and general destruction and abandonment.  It seemed like the perfect place to film a horror movie.  In addition, some areas were still covered in snow, and the warmer weather made it even more dreary, and foggy.  Adding a new layer of mystery to the area.  What a contrast from the suburban landscapes we had just seen…  It felt like I suddenly landed on the set of Evil Dead (the original).

What do you think?  Other areas we could characterize as the birthplace of horror movies?

Academic & Business Research – A definition

Hello again my friends, it’s been a while since I last wrote, but alas… here’s another update.

Introduction:

In my “day job”, I’m often in place where I have to define what “research” means, especially in the context of differentiating between business research and academic research.  I always find it hard to define without accidentally introducing biases, and often, as I describe it, my own biases come through.  In the following entry, I try to provide a short introduction to how I think the two are different.  My hope is to build up on this as I get more ideas/feedback from others.

An Overview of Academic and Business Research:

Academic research is often seen as the “ivory tower” research or described as “research for the sake of research”.  While there may be some truth to that, often this type of research is actually what leads to further research and further applications of that research.  Even some of the research with less apparent practical or business application can help us understand the how, what and why we are here, and help teach us about how to solve for problems today.  For example, I recently watched an interesting documentary covering the history of Absinth.  The documentary featured many academic researchers who could speak to local histories, historical perspective on local culture across Europe as well as historical scientist who could provide insights on the intersection of science, history, and sociology.  On the surface, this can come across as having very little practical applications.  However as the documentary unfolded you could tell a narrative that was extremely palpable, and extremely relevant to some of the political discourse around local geography today in Europe.  Specifically, one of the example used was the defiance of small communities to broader anti-absinthe laws that were written, as well as the evolution and popularization of absinthe throughout Europe.  The latter provides a lot of interesting parallels to modern day product adoption (who groups of people start to adopt products), and how the laws of product development apply.

Business research is often seen as the ruthlessly pragmatic research that “cuts corners”, or is “unobjective in nature”.  While there may be some truth to that as well, often this research is the research that brings theory into reality and drives some of the application of academic research, but also develops new research.  To give you an example, I recently worked on several projects that had a common theme (i.e. multiple projects that essentially were trying to answer the same question). Our team developed a preliminary methodology for the first project and were able to refine that methodology over the next several projects.  We ultimately were able to define an approach for future questions in this space, and new knowledge for us, and our clients on how to think about this problem.  We know that the methodology is getting better as we continue to test it with clients and continually find ways to improve it.  This type of research helps both develop our knowledge, but also helps solve real life problems.

In short, what we are seeing here, is that it’s less about one form of research being better than the other, but more that Academic and Business research are two parts of broader research that allows for the ongoing development of knowledge.  The challenge becomes for those in academic researcher to understand a) how to work with business research and b) contribute to business research; and for business researchers to understand how to leverage Academic research, and understand how to contribute back to it.

Some Structured Way to Think about the Differences:

Below is a simple framing that I’ve started to develop to understand the differences.  Please note that I don’t expect this to be 100% accurate across all types of research as I recognize that there many different types of research that exist out there and this is just a small but broad generalization of the two types of research.

Academic Research can:

  • Facilitate “open” & “sharing” of data
  • Sometimes can be hard to showcase applicability
  • Designed to open minds
  • Very innovative
  • Drivers are innovation, rentability

Business Research can:

  • Be time-pressured
  • 80/20 (focus on what’s important)
  • Relies a lot on repetability of process and reusability
  • Cost is a factor
  • Impact is a factor
  • Tied to financial bottom line pretty closely

Please Contribute:

Seeking input from people – please give me information on how you experience this in your environment.

University Donations

Hello again my friends… I guess this should get filled on miscellaneous and maybe “times they are a changin'”

Introduction:

I recently made very meager donations to my high-school, undergraduate university, and graduate university. The response that I got from each of the universities was quite disproportionate with the what I would expect which made me think

Really meager…:

I cannot over emphasis the meagerness of those donations. These are all institutions with endowments that start in the millions of dollars, and all receive many gifts, grants, and donations in the millions of dollars. My gifts, at best, represent less than 1/1000 of a percent (yeah, that’s like 0.001% or 0.00001 of what they received). They are the types of gifts that normally either don’t even make it to the annual report or get lumped into the “Other donors”.

Over the top University reactions:

A few days after sending my gifts, I began receiving acknowledgement emails. These automated or semi automated messages were quickly replaced by very personalized messages, almost as though it came from a long lost friend or relative. “How is it going in Boston?”, “Are you working on interesting projects?”. Amusing enough, I chalked it up to a low cost / low effort attempt to gain more of a contact with donors (even cheapskates like me). A few weeks later, the emails were replaced with notes and cards thanking me for the donation. Not only were they cards, they were cards with personal notes handwritten on them. I was floored.

What does it all mean:

In my true nature, I began wondering about what it all meant. Were these schools so desperate for funds that they needed to thank everyone and anyone? Even someone like me who has never donated and isn’t sure about doing it again? Or were my gifts so low that they became a laughable matter. I can see them thinking “Yeah, obviously you’re not working on any interesting projects because you can’t even afford to send us something that won’t cost us more to process than it’s worth.” I do not know what it all means, just that the intensity of response was way over the top of the gift, and it made me a bit uncomfortable. Don’t get me wrong. I’m a firm believer that every little step counts, and that a lot of these small gifts will become something. It’s just that it feels funny when the level of gratitude you get for a gesture is out of whack with gesture itself.

Parting Thought:

Here’s an idea… if you ever feel down on yourself and want to have a nearly unsolicited letter of gratitude and adoration that is sure to boost your ego, make a little donation to your alma mater… you’ll get that boost within 3-5 days.

Update… 6 months on… The attention continues

Geographic Musings