Entrepreneurial Leadership and Management . . . and Other Stuff

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Nov
23

OK, Matt Cassel IS an NFL Quarterback

A few weeks ago, I questioned Bill Belichick‘s decision to keep Matt Cassel as quarterback of the New England Patriots.  As if there needs to be any proof that Bill Belichick knows way more about football than me, I was clearly wrong.  Cassel has shown himself to be more than ready to lead an NFL team.  Cassel is improving each week and he’s probably already better than half the other quarterbacks in the NFL.

In today’s game against the Miami Dolphins, the Patriots had over 500 yards of total offense – the most for any one game in the team’s history.  400 of those yards were from passing – all by Mr. Cassel.  That would be something all on its own.  The fact that this is the second straight week that Cassel has thrown for 400+ yards, however, is what really points out his abilities and success.  By the way, Tom Brady has never had back-to-back 400+ yard passing games (which baffles me given how much offense the Patriots had last season).

It’s a team effort and Cassel isn’t doing it all by himself, of course.  The offensive coaching has been superb, working the Patriot’s scheme into Cassel’s strengths.  That doesn’t diminish Cassel’s success at all.  He’s doing a great job.  Period.

Now, Coach Belichick.  Let me tell you what you need to do with your defensive backfield.

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 November 23rd, 2008  
 Will  
 Patriots  
   
 4 Comments
Nov
19

Time to Buy a Car?

1119-biz-webPORTSsubWhat little I know about economics tells me that when supply exceeds demand, prices fall, right?  If that still holds true in today’s whacked out economy, the information in this article in the New York Times today tells me that if one is in the market for a new vehicle and can find some way of borrowing money for it, there will be bargains – big bargains – to be had.

According to the article, there is “a sea of Corollas, Camrys and RAV4s” at the 150 acre Long Beach port where the cars enter the U.S.  And, lest one concludes that it’s just low-end cars piling up, there is also a huge number of Mercedes consuming real estate there.  Perhaps even more telling, the tractor trailers that transport the cars to dealerships are also on the lot, sitting idle.  Dealers are refusing cars because their lots are similarly full.

Several auto manufacturers are leasing space at the terminal because they don’t know what to do about the cars.  Yikes!

Considering I’m not in the market for a car, would it be cruel just to drop by a car dealer and try to negotiate a great deal just for sport?  Yeah, that might even be evil.

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 November 19th, 2008  
 Will  
 Economy, Stuff with a Motor  
   
 12 Comments
Nov
18

Microsoft Live Labs Seadragon

In an obvious move to get more of the technologies being worked on inside Microsoft into our grubby little hands as fast as possible (think Google’s success with it’s perpetual beta solutions), Microsoft has released a couple of new tools/technologies for us to try.

One of these is StickySorter and another is Seadragon.  StickySorter is used for affinity diagramming and Seadragon is used for infinite web-based zooming.  Check it out below.

It’s incredibly easy to use and you can download a program to build what you need or do it online.  Keep up the good work, lab guys.

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 November 18th, 2008  
 Will  
 Photography  
   
 1 Comment
Nov
18

What’s With All The GM Bashing?

General Motors Corporation

Image via Wikipedia

Let me put all my cards on the table.  Like my friend Shawn, I want GM and, in fact, all three American car manufacturers to make it through this current mess and to be hugely successful.  I can’t understand why anyone wouldn’t want this.  Aren’t more choices a good thing?  Isn’t competition good?  Any thoughts about punishing them for poor execution are just stupid.  The only punishment a company should get is what it receives in the marketplace.  Plain and simple.  Yeah, it’s more complex than that because it’s not a globally consistent playing field (do we think that French and Italian manufacturers aren’t routinely helped out by their governments?  Aren’t labor laws significantly different from country to country?).  GM, Ford and Chrysler have all received their fair share of well-deserved market punishment.  Is that reason enough for us to want them to fail?

In the last month I’ve run across many people caught up in the whole bailout question, not only accepting, but encouraging the demise of the American car companies, especially General Motors.  I’ve been surprised to hear things like, “they deserve to fail,” “they haven’t listened to the marketplace or their customers,” “they don’t innovate," “their cars are draining the planet of its natural resources” and “their cars are garbage.”  Geez, that’s harsh.

For sure, all three manufacturers have been slow to respond to changing wants and needs.  They all have often been guided by the classically American corporate need for instant returns and a fast buck.  This has left some truly great cars on the drawing boards.  Is there any doubt that American engineering is as good or better than Japanese or German engineering?  Corporate decisions on what makes it into consumer’s hands is what the problem is.

But I digress . . . let’s get back to the bashing which is coming from people who only have a passing concept of the relationship between an accelerator pedal and an engine and true autophiles, alike.  Before we decide that GM sucks and should be taken out back and shot, let’s look at the facts.

First, on not following the market or listening to customers.  Does anyone think that prior to gas prices skyrocketing people weren’t clamoring for SUVs and pickup trucks?  Take off the blinders folks.  That huge sucking noise you heard over the last decade was people pulling cash out of their wallets fast to buy bigger vehicles.  While Americans seem to love to blast their home town manufacturers for delivering big-ass cars that their customers actually wanted to buy, they don’t seem to want to acknowledge that during the same period, Toyota introduced loads-o-SUVs, made their Land Cruiser bigger and less fuel efficient, grew the Sequoia to the size of an oil tanker (necessary to carry all the fuel it needs) and introduced the huge Tundra pickup to compete with big American trucks.  If GM was missing the boat, wasn’t Toyota too?  GM listened and delivered.  As did every other car manufacturer in the world.  Big is what the buying public wanted and all manufacturers delivered.  Taking GM to task for this sounds like a double-standard to me.

This stands true on the other end of the spectrum, in the small car world, as well.  For sure, GM has not been great in the small car market, but did it deliver what it’s customers wanted?  The answer is yes.  The fact is that the group of car buyers looking for small cars were more often driven to that decision because of the purchase price of the car than they were because of how miserly it sipped fuel.  As such, GM offered several inexpensive cars to meet this demand.  In general, we equate small cars and fuel efficiency, assuming that people who buy them are looking to drive further on a tank of gas.  The data shows, however, that at best, fuel efficiency was a secondary concern and that low cost of entry is what the consumer was really looking for.  Again, there is no indication that GM ignored the market or its customers.

Secondly, on innovation.  I totally agree that GM looks like a company that didn’t innovate much over the last 20 years.  As a customer of a couple of companies that I ran over that period, I can tell you that they always had loads of cool products and technologies being worked on.  The fact is, corporate decisions kept most of these from reaching the consumer.  So, it’s easy to see why people don’t equate GM and innovation, but that is not the fact.  Google “GM and hydrogen fuel cells,” “GM and hybrids” or “GM and engines” and check out the cool stuff that’s gotten past GM’s PR blockade.

Thirdly, on quality.  GM and it’s American brethren have a lot of making up to do in this category after producing some seriously crappy cars for a lot of years.  But it’s not like they have to get around to producing higher quality cars, they have been doing it for many years now and continue to do it.

According to the JD Power study on initial quality for midsize cars (the competitive segment that the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord are in), the three cars ranked in the top category (the best cars) are the Chevrolet Malibu, Mitsubishi Galant and Ford Fusion.  The Toyota Camry is ranked one step lower, in the “Better than most” category and the Honda Accord is ranked two steps lower than the cars in the “Above average” category.  Let’s see, that’s two out of the three top slots taken by American car companies, one by GM.  Hmmm.

In the ultra-hot Compact Multi Activity Vehicle segment, the Ford Escape and the Chrysler PT Cruiser are ranked in the same category as the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V – all are “Among the best.”

Even in the Midsize Multi Activity Vehicle segment, the Chevrolet Trailblazer and Dodge Durango are ranked “Among the best” along with the Toyota Highlander and Hyundai Santa Fe in initial quality.

There are, sadly, few American entries in the Compact Car segment, and those don’t fair well.  Funny enough, like with compacts and premium vehicles (dominated by the Germans) the American companies also show poor results in Large Cars.  Large Multi Activity Vehicles (SUVs) and Large Premium Multi Activity Vehicles (high end SUVs) have several entries with American Cars being “Among the best.”

In terms of JD Power’s dependability rankings, the rankings of how well cars that are a few years old are holding up . . . in midsize cars, the sole leader is the Buick Century, the famed Toyota Camry is in the next category, “Better than most” along with the Mercury Sable, Buick LaCrosse and Ford Taurus.

In most other categories, American cars don’t do quite as well, although many are in the “Better than most” category.  This is because building a wide variety of quality vehicles is still rather new to American car companies and dependability ratings are based on the performance of older cars.

Finally, on fuel economy.  According to fueleconomy.gov, of the top 10 highest mileage family sedans (4-door, any number of cylinders, any fuel type, automatic transmission) sold in America, four are American (2 are Toyotas, including the Prius; 2 are Nissans; one is a Kia and one is a Hyundai).  Of the four American cars, all are made by General Motors.

If you look at SUVs (any size, any number of cylinders, any fuel type, automatic transmission, 2 and 4 wheel drive), American cars, occupy 9 of the top 10 slots, including the first 8.  Before you say, of course, that’s obvious, consider that there are loads of foreign cars in this segment and that the the best American car in  the segment, the Ford Escape Hybrid with Front wheel drive gets 34 mpg in the city and 31 on the highway.  The vaunted Toyota RAV4 is 16th on the list with 22 mpg city and 28 highway.  Keep that in mind next time you chuckle about the how poor the mileage is in the huge Cadillac Escalade Hybrid at 20 mpg city and 21 highway.  In fact, here’s an interesting comparison.

Car

City MPG

Highway MPG

Cadillac Escalade Hybrid 20 21
Toyota Sequoia 14 19
Toyota Land Cruiser 13 18

Whoa!  You say.  That’s not fair, you’re comparing a hybrid with non-hybrids.  True, but the Toyotas don’t come as hybrids.  If you take the stance that GM isn’t innovative, you can’t play it both ways.  In fact, the hybrid in the Escalade is extraordinarily innovative with the electric motor inside the transmission.

Even better, the Escalade hybrid gets 20 mpg combined (city and highway) and the Toyota Camry (6-cylinder) gets 23 mpg combined.  When I hear how crappy the Escalade’s mileage is from people, I have to wonder, compared to what?  Sure, a Prius gets better mileage, but you can park two of them in an Escalade.  Comparing apples-to-apples, it’s hard to knock what GM is doing with respect to fuel efficiency.

Look, I’m no shill for the American auto industry or GM.  I own one American car and it’s made by The General.  I also own several German and Japanese cars.  I think they’re all great.  All I’d like to communicate here is that GM and the other American car manufacturers deserve more recognition than they are being given by the buying public.  Of course, that’s not the consumer’s problem, The Big Three have augured themselves into a hole.  I just think it would be great if we gave them greater consideration when looking for a new vehicle.  They’ve actually already earned it.  We just don’t know about it yet.

It took the Japanese about 25 years to go from having the reputation of selling “cheap Japanese shit” to selling “the highest quality cars on the planet.”  The Germans similarly took decades to earn the position they have now in the consumer’s mind.  GM stockholders don’t have the kind of patience and GM certainly doesn’t have the money to make that work.  Having more car companies is a good thing and having American car companies is a good thing.   If we simply are willing to give them a try before their reputation rebounds, we might be able to cut their return to success by ten years.  In the end, we’re not giving anything to them.  They still have to earn it which, in my opinion, they greatly already have.  It’s just a secret.

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 November 18th, 2008  
 Will  
 Stuff with a Motor  
   
 36 Comments
Nov
13

Separated at Birth?

MDX 4
2008 Acura MDX
 
 Predator 5
Predator

 

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 November 13th, 2008  
 Will  
 Stuff with a Motor  
   
 Comments Off on Separated at Birth?
Nov
12

Track Day with the CTS-V

This past weekend, my buddy Shawn and I attended an intro for the new Cadillac CTS-V, Caddy’s high-performance, mid-size sedan.  The event took place at the incredible Monticello Motor Club in New York, a members-only race track – sorta like a golf club for people with high octane fuel in their veins.

The CTS-V is General Motor’s attempt at building a vehicle that outperforms BMW’s legendary M5 sedan in every way.  The first generation CTS fell short.  This new vehicle, however, is the fastest sedan to ever lap Germany’s famous Nurburgring – a twisty racetrack which is used to benchmark all of the world’s fastest cars.  Doing well on this track is indicative of a well-rounded sports car, not just a car that goes fast in a straight line.

The weather was sucky – cold and wet – but it did give us a chance to see how well the CTS-V stuck to the pavement.  The car did great.  Better than its driver, in my case.  Although, unlike another guy the day before, I didn’t run my car into a guardrail.  

The CTS-V’s 6.2L supercharged engine has 556 HP and 551 lb-ft of torque.  It accelerates its host chassis to 60 MPH in just 3.9 seconds.  The manual shifter and short-throw, light-as-a-feather clutch were a pleasure, as long as you remembered to shift.  There’s so much torque, I slammed the engine against the rev-limiter twice.  The second time at 105 MPH in third gear.

Is the car better than an M5?  Well, we didn’t drive ‘em back-to-back, but the CTS-V is certainly very nice.  Road and Track magazine did a comparison and gives the nod to the CTS-V.  The M5 is a few years older and BMW will certainly come out with something amazing in its next rev.  But for now, it looks like Caddy has delivered on its promise.  Oh, by the way, the Caddy, similarly equipped, costs about $30,000 less.   Hmm, let me think . . .

All you General Motors bashing, BMW fanboys will have a million excuses why Cadillac cannot possibly dethrone a German autobahn cruiser.  I, for one, am rooting for the home team.  Competition is great and I’d love for the General to be a real player.

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 November 12th, 2008  
 Will  
 Stuff with a Motor  
   
 10 Comments
Nov
12

Praise the Lord! Tom Brady is Back in Training

Apparently, Tommy is back in Foxboro rehabbing his mutilated knee and working out with his teammates.

 image

It’s been hard to figure out exactly what has been going on with Brady since the hit that took out his knee at about 5 milliseconds into the football season this year.  Surgery for the damage, of course, but then rumors of infection, poor grafting and surgical errors were everywhere.  Bill Belichick’s cone of silence over the entire situation didn’t help any either.

In any case, the fact that he’s back with his team is great and, hopefully, means that any problems he had, pre or post surgery are not catastrophic.  I haven’t punted on this season, but it’s great to know that Tom will most likely be ready to call the plays in 2009.

ESPN Story here.

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 November 12th, 2008  
 Will  
 Patriots  
   
 1 Comment
Nov
04

Intelsat’s Marisat-F2 Decommissioned after 32 Years – How Long will Your Engineering Project Hold Up?

On October 29th, Intelsat Ltd. announced that their Marisat-F2 satellite, designed to provide communication for ships at sea and scientists on the South Pole, was finally dying after 32 years of service.  That’s pretty impressive.  What makes it even more impressive, though, is that it was originally only designed for five years of service and in recent years has been used to provide internet connectivity (my guess is that wasn’t in the original early-1970s design specs) because it did it better than newer satellites.

Marisat-F2 was originally built by Hughes Aircraft in 1976.  I’ve been fortunate enough to meet several 70s-era Hughes Aircraft folks – all seriously studly engineers.  Like the Voyager probes and, more recently, the Mars Opportunity Rover, Marisat-F2 is an engineering marvel.  Not only has it lasted well outside its original service envelope, but it’s been repurposed along the way.  I have no idea if the engineers on these projects ever even considered this long a lifetime for their creations, but they are a testament to what can happen when things are designed and built well.

The decommissioning is happening because some of the satellite’s support systems are finally “nearing the end of operating life.”  To prevent it from colliding with the still functioning stuff orbiting the planet, like death lasers and nuclear weapon nets, Intelsat decided to use its remaining fuel to raise it about 125 miles to “disposal altitude.”  Think Spock being ejected from a photon torpedo tube.

RIP Marisat.  I hope your creators are now educating young minds everywhere about how to build good stuff.

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 November 4th, 2008  
 Will  
 Misc Thoughts  
   
 4 Comments
Nov
02

James Bond in HD

Comcast is currently running an ad stating that they are offering up all 21 James Bond films in HD On Demand through November 30.  To entice you and me (yeah, like I need to be enticed to watch a James Bond film), they have made said advertisement totally gadget and “Q”-esque.  A must see even if you decide not to re-watch the movies which you’ve already seen a dozen times each.

 November 2nd, 2008  
 Will  
 Misc Thoughts  
   
 1 Comment
Nov
02

Reaching the 3,000 Mile Penultimate Summit

Early in the year, I had set a soft goal for myself of cycling about 4,000 miles in 2008.  It was a soft goal because I had never kept complete records on previous years’ rides and didn’t know where 4,000 miles fit into what I had done earlier.  Would it be too much or too little?

In August, having recorded detailed info on all the rides I had made to that point, I realized that 4,000 might be a tad ambitious and lowered my goal to 3,500.  3,000 of which needed to be completed before November 1st when the days started getting short and uncomfortably cold.

With this backdrop, I found myself out on Friday, October 31 – a cloudless, mid-50 degree day with the bright leaves of New England trees past their prime, but still beautiful.  It was a perfect day to knock off the last 30 miles needed to reach my goal.  It was a terrific ride, although I miscalculated sunset and found myself riding when it was a bit too dark as I wrapped up the ride.

This morning, I downloaded the last week of ride data from my trusty Garmin 705 and found that my total miles ridden through October 31, was 3,002.0.  Certainly not world class, but not too bad for a 49 year old guy living in a region of the world that has inclement whether a good percentage of the year.

I did some rough calculations on the ride data so far.  I don’t know what any of it means, but the numbers are interesting . . .

Total Miles

3,002

Hours Ridden

168

Avg. Speed (MPH)

17.8

Calories Burned*

101,020

*Based on 600 calories/hour

Most of the next 500 miles needed to achieve the 3,500 mile goal for the full year will be on stationary cycles indoors.  Mind-numbingly boring at times, but actually much more time-efficient than riding on the road – no coasting and it’s easy to simulate hills and do interval training.

Being the anal-retentive data junkie that I am, I’m also going to do a lot more analysis on the data I have collected.  So, in the off-chance that you’re actually interested in learning more about this, I’ll post the data when I have it.

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 November 2nd, 2008  
 Will  
 Cycling  
   
 7 Comments