Jeff the Great Applauds UPS

So last Christmas I had a horrible experience with UPS. So bad that the local NBC news affiliate interviewed me for their evening news! I couldn't have been more disappointed with the lack of customer service and general business smarts from this massive company.

This year it is only fair that I tell the world how they redeemed themselves with me and went above and beyond to save Christmas (okay, maybe thats an overstatement)!

As I had done last year, I ordered a Christmas gift from Amazon.com. Due to a longstanding issue with the Post Office, we have a PO Box and I requested that the gift be shipped there (as I ALWAYS do when ordering via Amazon). Turns out that I was actually ordering from a separate company than Amazon, while still on the Amazon site. No biggie, I do that all the time.

Well, the company shipped my order via UPS to a US Postal Service PO Box. Newsflash, UPS doesn't deliver to their competitor and I don't blame them! I emailed the retailer and they swore that UPS would deliver to my PO Box. Nope, sorry....they don't.

Well, 2 mornings ago I recieved a phone call from UPS. They had my package in the local distribution facility but needed a different address. They said if I called back they could take care of it without having to send it back to the retailer (worst case) or have me drive 20 miles to pick it up from their warehouse (best case). I called back, Mike at the Tualatin UPS facility was awesome, and my package was delivered to my house in time for Christmas.

That was exactly the type of simple customer service that makes people so happy. Good work UPS, my faith in you is restored. Thanks for making my business important to you. Merry Christmas to all.


Jeff the Great Mandates Performance Pay for Teachers

There are a few hot topics in America today. Healthcare is of course the big one but shortly behind it you'll hear about taxes and education funding. It would be hard to find a person that doesn't agree with the idea that our schools are underperforming and something needs to change. From there however, you'll find two camps. One that thinks we need to spend more money on education and another that believes we spend enough but it just isn't spent wisely. I'm in the second camp.

One thing that continuously frustrates me is that we pay teachers based on seniority, not by performance. A teacher with 10 years of experience is paid more than a teacher with 9 years experience, regardless of how effective they are or aren't in the classroom. And trust me, they aren't all effective. Ask any teacher if they know of another teacher in their school that isn't putting their all into the job. Ask them if there are any teachers that don't perform as well as they do. I guarantee you'll get two "yes" answers EVERY time you ask a teacher that question.

So if some teachers are better than others, why don't we recognize this by paying the better ones more? Teachers and their unions answer that question by saying that it isn't fair to pay teachers based on student test scores and as part of that, it isn't fair to pay teachers based on things that are out of their control. I call bull shit on both of these answers and below is why.

First, by making the test score argument, teachers and the unions want us to think that test scores are the only option for identifying the good from the bad and that it isn't a fair measure. Not sure about you, dear reader, but the customers of my employers are not tested, yet my bosses have always been able to grade my work performance. So lets get this idea of test scores out of the way and open our minds a bit.

Performance can be measured in so many ways. In fact, the same methods to rate my performance in the private sector can easily be used to rate the performance of a teacher. For starters, principals have a very good understanding of who's good and who's not...just like the manager of a Starbucks can tell you who's good and who's not. In addition to the principal, why not ask the teachers themselves to rate their peers? My last two companies utilized this method with great success, why can't schools? Simply ask: "how do you like working with teacher X? Do they improve or degrade the working environment? Is teacher X a team player? etc, etc."

What about the opinion of parents? Anyone reading who has (or had) school aged children can tell you they like some and don’t like others. Would you be willing to anonymously give feedback to the school at year’s end? After all, the parents are the customer, right? It’s their taxes paying for the schools. Shouldn’t their feedback be important?

Furthermore, was a teacher late to work too many times last year? Did they have a large number of suspicious sick days? Did they half ass a report requested by their boss? Do some teachers put in extra hours, even working on weekends? Do any teachers extend their office hours to help students or go above and beyond when communicating with parents? Did someone offer to share their successful curriculum with other teachers or take a new teacher under their wing? Did a teacher seek out additional training or education during the year, beyond what is required?

Shall I keep going here?

All of these ideas are used every day in the private sector and they work well. Not one of the above suggestions touches test scores. We need to stop looking at schools as special work places and start thinking of them like any other business. Performance can be measured.

Back to test scores. Until recently I agreed with teachers and their unions about test scores being an unfair way to measure performance. After all, a teacher has no control over the education received before a child does not make it to their class, nor do they have control over the amount of support they get at home. However, I've changed my position.

We need to stop thinking of success on an A, B, C, D, or F grade scale. Why can't we call a teacher successful if they improve their class test score average but 10 points from the start of the year to the finish, even if the students still have just a C average?

I recently read that a study of student test scores and graduation rates was able to easily identify the good verse the bad teachers, particularly in grades 1 through 3. The data clearly showed that students in certain teacher’s classrooms early in life were more likely to graduate high school and perform well on tests. These teachers were doing something that other teachers weren't (to find out what, you'll have to read What the Dog Saw by Malcolm Gladwell, my favorite author). Why shouldn't these teachers be compensated for doing their job better than other teachers. Twenty years of data backs up their success...it’s no fluke!

When I mentioned over on Facebook that I was going to write this blog post, I received a lot of feedback from friends. Actually 20+ comments, some in support of the concept of performance pay and some against. One commenter said that teachers shouldn't be paid for things out of their control. To that, I ask this: if you have no control over the education of our children, couldn't we replace you with any goober off of the street get the same results? Of course not! This commenter is probably a much better teacher than I could dream of being. She plays an important role in the lives of children. And if that is the case, isn't it likely that she is also better than many of her fellow teachers? And if so, shouldn't she be paid more? Don’t sell yourselves short, teachers. You play a very important role in the development of our children and you do something that most of us could not.

Another commenter said that she didn't want to be paid on performance unless her district gave her all the resources necessary to be the best teacher she can be. Newsflash ma'am, just about every employee at nearly every company wants more resources from the top. Of course we could all do better with more! That just isn't reality. As long as one teacher gets no more resources than another, you can still measure performance.

Finally, many teachers and other opponents of performance based equate the concept to lower pay. That just isn't true and is not my stance. In fact, I'd love to see teachers get paid much, much more than they do now. I just want the best teachers to get the most. But assume that the total salary paid by a district stays the same under a performance based system. If teachers are graded on a perfect curve and compensation distributed on that curve, exactly 50% of teachers would get more and 50% would get less.

Are you one of the better teachers in your district or one of the worst? I'll bet on your success, but will you?


Jeff the Great Innovates

While walking home from my morning coffee I was thinking some random thoughts about technology...specifically computers. Figured I'd write them down for future reflection.

I was recently reading an article in Fortune magazine about Steve Jobs and came across an interesting story about Henry Ford. He apparently said something like 'if I had asked my customers what they wanted, they would have told me they wanted a faster horse.' In other words, we tend to think in the confines of what is in our world. So what if we were to eliminate the limitations of our technology?

Here is what I've been contemplating lately:
  • Why are silicon wafers still round? I mean, I know why they are round, but why can't we change that? There is a lot of waste when producing computer chips. Look at all the wasted space on solar panels. Couldn't all sorts of waste and inefficiency be eliminated with square shaped wafers?
  • Why are the pathways on computer chips linear and with 90 degree angles? Do straight lines always use space more efficiently than curved lines? Maybe they do, I don't know.
  • Why can't I carry extra processing power in my pocket, to be plugged into my computer when I am doing processor intensive computing? If I can buy an Intel processor for under $75, why can't someone put that in a pocket size 'drive' and add some software to make this new external unit into auxiliary processing power? I sometimes do such intense Excel work that my entire computer freezes for 5+ minutes while Excel commands 100% of my processing power. Sure would be nice to plug something in to give my laptop a little bit of help.
  • Speaking of utilizing computer processors, lets talk about all the other gadgets I own that run on a processor. Wouldn't it be great if I could 'lend' the processing power of my Blackberry, Playstation or your iPhone to help my desktop do some work? I mean, all those devices have powerful computer chips just sitting in them, unused most of the time. Lets put them to work!
  • And finally, why isn't every TV also a computer monitor and every computer monitor a TV? I mean really, they are the same thing. And for that matter, why doesn't every set top box plug right into my home internet network? Is there any reason that my cell phone can connect to the internet but my cable box cannot?

So, who is gonna go out there and solve these problems? and don't bother leaving comments as to why all these things are the way they are, I really don't care. Let's start innovating and doing things differently.


Jeff the Great Witnesses the Death of the Newspaper

I was at my favorite locally owned coffee shop today and something interesting happened. The was a small stack of Oregonian newspapers at the cash register counter. I paid for a copy because I wanted to see one of my projects mentioned on page A6. The price these days is $1. First paper I had bought in a few months.

Later as I was reading in the coffee shop, two women came in and ordered coffee. A minute or two later, one of the women walked back to the counter, grabbed one of the Oregonian newspapers that was for sale, walked back to a table and proceeded to take it apart to read. She didn't pay for it.

It dawned on me that this was a living example of how consumers no longer expect to pay for news. This woman was probably 20 years old or so. Odds are she has never paid for a newspaper in her life! She apparently assumed that the newspaper at the register was free!

Guess I was pretty dumb for actually paying $1 for something that so many others get for free.

Jeff the Great Writes Letter to the Editor

I recently read an article in Fortune Magazine about Sequoia Capital, one of the worlds top 3 great venture firms (in my opinion at least). The story was mostly on Sequoia's bumpy entry in asset management but the author also profiled their core venture business, calling it' successes "a mixed bag."

I disagree, I think Sequoia has been stellar in recent years and I anticipate their investors are very happy. So I wrote a letter to the editor which I have copied below:

To the Editor-

In the Nov 9th issue, you published a great story by Adam Lashinsky about Sequoia Capital (published online 10-23-09). In addition to profiling Sequoia's struggling new business, Mr Lashinsky also commented on their core business, calling it's performance a mixed bag. Not only do I disagree with this assessment, a lot has happened in the weeks since the story was first published.

In venture capital, it frequently only takes 1 strong exit for fund to be a success. Your article mentions successful exits from Sequoia companies such as Zappos, Pure Digital and A123 Systems. I am not familiar with exactly which funds the investments in these companies came from, but even if they came from three different Sequoia funds, I'd say these are enough to consider Sequoia a huge success. They alone account for over $3BB in exits. (Another exit you didn't mention is the IPO of Peak Sport in Hong Kong, that's another few billion)

Since the story was published, two more exits are in the works as of the time I write to you. Google has announced an agreement to acquire AdMob for $750 million and just today MySpace is said to have purchased the assets of iMeem...both are Sequoia investments mentioned in your article.

The article also mentions companies such as LinkedIn (with its $1BB valuation) that have yet to exit. Another company worth mentioning is Portland, Ore based Jive Software. Sequoia is the only investor in this profitable and fast growing company. The cconsensus in the industry is that Jive is only a year or two away from a strong exit. LinkedIn and Jive are almost sure bets to produce another few billion.

So even though Sequoia's asset management group has struggled, their core business performance is far from a mixed bag.

Jeff the Great


Jeff the Great Demands your Philanthropy

This is a post specifically for my friends and readers in Eugene, OR. My sister and brother-in-law live in Eugene and are volunteers through a great organization called the Eugene Active 20-30 Club (the local affiliate of an international organization).

The club is dedicated to serving children in their local community. One of the annual events they put together is called Kid Spree. Before school starts up again in the fall, they take less fortunate kids shopping for clothes and school necessities. Each child gets a $100 gift card is is accompanied on their shopping trip with a Eugene Active 20-30 volunteer and a member of the Eugene Em's baseball team!

In past years they have supported 25 kids. This year their efforts have raised enough money so far to support 17 children.

Would you or your business be interested in supporting a child in your community? If you are interested, drop an email to kidspree@eugene2030.org and/or visit the club's web site at http://www.eugene2030.org.


Jeff the Great Declares: "I'll be Back"

No, the title has nothing to do with my blogging. This is my review of the new movie Terminator Salvation. It has been out for a month now so I guess it's not all that new, but I just went to see it today. For those of you with a short attention span, i thought it was good.

If you are still with me you have obviously not been corrupted by our short attention span digital culture....yet! Before saying more about the movie I must tell you some background. I love the Terminator franchise. It's like my Star Wars. I wait eagerly, for years at a time, for a new installment. My love for Terminator started back in 1990 when I was able to watch a few days of the filming of Terminator 2. Specifically I watched crews shoot the scene where the "bad" terminator drives out of the mall parking garage in a large semi-truck rig, chasing after John Conner who is on a modified dirt bike. Of course, "The" Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) was close behind on a Harley of some sort. I was hooked ever since then and even had to go back and watch the first Terminator after I watched Terminator 2 in the theater (I was too young for the original Terminator when it first came out).

So back to present time, sort of. When Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines came out, I rushed to the theater to see it and I LOVED IT. I was in the minority though...reviews were so/so and it didn't set any impressive boxoffice records. At the end of Terminator 3 you just knew that there will be a 4th instalment of the franchise and I've been amped ever since. I waited a few years and read rumors all along the way until Terminator: Salvation came out this year.

I have to admit that my expectations were low. I was still excited about the movie but I had learned that it was going to be a completely different take on the story. For one, it is set in 2018...almost 15 years after the 3rd movie left off. Then, appropriately, it is a war movie. The others were action packed but they did not center around war.

Then came the 'meh' reviews. So called experts and regular folk alike said it wasn't so good. I even read tweets that said things like "that's 2 hours of my life I'll never get back." So I went into the theater today with low expectations.

In the end, it slightly exceeded those low expectations. It was good but not great. As a huge Terminator fan, I was interested in some of the deeper storylines that others may not pick up on. I was constantly rehashing the first 3 movies in my mind and making connections with what I was seeing in this one. I was entertained.

The graphics were great and the action was even better. Lots of larger than life battle scenes with some crazy robots and even few fist fight scenes that didn't dissapoint. Like every other Terminator movie, it ended with a victory for the good guys but also an opening for the next instalment of the franchise.

I do hear that the next film, effectively Terminator 5, will be set in 2011. That makes Terminator Salvation a sequel and a prequel all at the same time. Not sure if the rumors are true, but I like to believe it! I haven't heard anything credible on what the full title will be.

So if you are a Terminator fan, go see it and I think you'll enjoy it. Just don't set your expecations too high and be prepared for a movie done in a totally different style than the first 3.

Happy movie going!

-Jeff the Great

Jeff the Great Names State Run Media

Jeremiah and I have launched our latest project....its called ThePortlander. The idea is to be a news web site for Portland, by Portlanders. We don't claim to be journalists or professionals, and that's the point. Just simple accounts of the news you care about. No Masters degree's, no overpaid editors. Just user generated news.

We invite anyone to contribute and you can do so in two ways. First option is to submit the news to us and we'll put it into a story and publish it ASAP. The other option is to join us as a regular contributing team member. We'll give you a username/password and you can write stories whenever you'd like. To support the second opportunity, we'll be rolling out a revenue sharing program that will pay you a substantial share of the money earned from ads on your stories.

Come check us out and add the site or certain sections to your RSS reader. The site is also iPhone friendly (including the "submit the news" form). We look forward to seeing you at ThePortlander!

-Jeff the Great

P.S. you can also follow ThePortlander on Facebook and CitySpeek


Jeff the Great Cuts Your Pay

I know the economy is bad and unemployment is higher than its been in decades. Is it so bad though that companies think they can pay half of what people are worth? I mean, don't you still have to pay to get and retain talent?

Case in point: some recent job listings I came across today (no, I'm not looking). The first is a "Financial Modeling/Excel Wizard" at an self proclaimed professional business planning firm. They essentially need someone to build Excel proforma financial statements to help clients raise capital. They'd prefer a CPA or an MBA that had a finance focus.

The pay you ask? Try $30,000 a year. Don't fret, after 90 days they will bless you with a 5% raise if you deserve it! Once last thing, they make it very clear that they will not pay for your parking!

The second job I stumbled upon is a Project Manager for an "established website design" firm. They want you to have strong communication skills, have great organizational skills and to be familiar with internet technologies. Your job will be to make sure that they stay on task, on time and on budget.

They key to this job is that they specifically say "Project management experience is not required" but a 4-year college degree would be nice. I'm serious folks, you can't make this stuff up!

The pay on this one? A whopping $26,000 a year folks.

Do these companies really think they can hire good people for this type of pay? Do they understand that people go to school for an MBA so that they can make more than they did without the degree? Thirty thousand dollars a year is $15 an hour. I've known 18 year old's that make $15 an hour.

Here are the direct links if you'd like to check out the jobs on your own (note, the content probably wont be on Craig's List for long so don't be surprised if the links don't work a week after I write this):

Financial Modeling/Excel Wizard- $30,000/yr
Project Manager- $26,000/yr

Happy job hunting!

-Jeff the Great


Jeff the Great says "Good Riddance" to Newspapers

As you have probably heard, today was the last day for a print edition of the Seattle P.I. newspaper. Less than a month ago, the Denver Rocky Mountain News shut down for good. With Seattle and Denver being major US cities, I'd say we are entering a new age of news and media.

What I don't get though is the sadness surrounding these shutdowns. I've read story after story that says we should be sad and unhappy about these changes. That the economy we are facing is to blame and if not that, it must be the owners that are to blame....awful people that don't care about you and me! The Rocky Mountain News even produced a (great) video that I can only presume was meant to make us feel bad for the employees of the now defunct paper.

The reality is that it's not an economic issue or an ownership issue. The real issue is a failure to adapt. The failure to adapt is a failure of the leadership. Traditional newspapers that don't adapt are being slaughtered both on and off the web. People are not reading less news. People are not caring less. There is no lack of news, there is no lack of interesting stories. Companies still advertise, people still want to sell their stuff.

So why should I feel bad because these companies had poor leadership that made poor business decisions? Should I feel sorry for an industry that fought long and hard to ignore new technology and hold onto the past?

In the case of the Seattle P.I., they are going to an online only model. If I were them, instead of saying "woa is me, we have to go to online only, isn't that sad" I'd proclaim that the paper is a leader in the industry. That the paper should be looked at as an example of how to adapt, how to be on the cutting edge.

But no....woa is them.

-Jeff the Great


Jeff the Great Not Impressed by Cinetopia

The Portland metro area has a new movie theater concept that offers what they call a luxury movie experience. The place is called Cinetopia and I've been wanting to check it out since it opened a few years ago. Finally last week, my wife and I decided to make the trek up to Vancouver to give Cinetopia a go. In a few words, we were not impressed.

Cinetopia is essentially a small theater plus a restaurant and wine bar. They offer 8 screens total, in two different types of theaters: grand and living room. Grand theaters are fairly traditional while living room theaters are meant to be a bit more cozy. Those seats that look to be more spaced out from each other plus a carpeted area up near the screen with large throw pillows. The concession stand is similar to what you would expect with the exception of having a gourmet butter bar for your popcorn.

The restaurant is billed as a 4 star joint that features a rather large northwest style menu and white table cloth tables. The wine bar is unique with its high tech, self serve wine dispensing machines. I think they take a special card and works on a 'credit' system for samples or full glasses.

What Jeff the Great liked: The best part of Cinetopia is their movie technology. All movies are shown in digital format and they can support up to 2048p resolution (your HD TV at home is probably 1080). There really is a big difference between a film showing verse digital. The picture was great and there were no flaws. Also, I am no audiophile but I noticed a distinctly better sound experience. The surround seemed so natural and was incredibly crisp and clear.

What Jeff the Great didn't like: Just about everything else. Other than the fine video/audio quality, the place just wasn't done right, in my opinion. Here are my observations and a few suggestions.

A 4 star restaurant in a movie theater, in Vancouver just doesn't make sense. On Thursday night, my wife and I were one of only two parties in the dining room. There is something about an empty restaurant at dinner time that makes you want to go somewhere else. One thing that struck us is that after buying our movie tickets and while making our way into the restaurant, we were stopped by an employee and told that dinner at Cinetopia takes at least and hour and that we shouldn't have dinner if our movie started soon. Umm, what's the point of having a restaurant at a move theater then? Most items on the menu didn't seem to be the kind you could easily take with you into the theater and share. Not to mention the prices! Just about every item was priced $2-$3 more than what I would expect. Their wine menu offered a selection for $12.50 where my wife's restaurant sells the same vintage for under $10.

If I were doing Cinetopia, I'd create a more casual dining experience that allowed customers to get in out and in 20 minutes, if need be. I'd have burgers, sandwiches, salads and sharable appetizers...not much more. Then, a selection of mostly local beer and win; no glass of wine over $10. Essentially, be more like McMenamins...but a bit nicer.

Next is the theater mix. Of their 8 theaters, 5 are 'grand' theaters that really don't offer much beyond a standard cinema. The grand theaters don't allow alcohol, presumably to be family friendly (and in accordance with state law?). According to their web site as of this writing, only 1 flick is being shown in the 3 living room style theaters where beer and wine is allowed. Slumdog Millionaire is being shown in a family friendly grand theater.

If I were Cinetopia, I'd have 5 living room theaters and 3 grand theaters. Then, I'd make the grand theaters 21 & over after a certain time of the night on week days. I'd have wait-staff come in and take beer/wine orders throughout the movie. Even in the living room theaters, I understand that they stop wait-service 10 minutes before the show starts. So after that, you have to walk out to the bar, missing some of the movie. Finally, fit the seats in all theaters with a tray table of some sort. Think school desk or something like that. Make me want to buy food, make it easy!

There were a couple other things, like a terribly inattentive wait staff in the restaurant (yes, even with only 4 customers) and even higher than normal popcorn/soda prices. The men's restroom was pretty grimie and I noticed urinal falling apart. I also found that noise from the grand theaters was filtering into the hallways.

Cinetopia confirmed to me that they are still building their Beaverton location and should open just slightly behind schedule, in early 2010. I can 0nly hope that they read this blog post and take my advice for that one. Otherwise I don't see it being successful. We have too many other entertainment options in the SW suburbs of Portland.

Take my opinion for what its worth (everything),

-Jeff the Great


Jeff the Great Petitions Amazon.com

I was pretty excited to read Amazon.com's announcement the other day that they are soon releasing the Kindle2, the second version of their popular e-book reader. I do not own the original Kindle but have been a big fan of the device since I first laid eyes on it. I have wanted one very bad but have not yet made the purchase for two reasons: cost of the reader and the effect it would have on my library.

Now, I am not an early adopter but I am also not a technophobe. I love my Blackberry, I am typing this blog post on one of 3 computers in the house while I watch HD TV that is provided to me through ultra high-tech Verizon FiOS. I want to read books on an e-reader, I really do!

In the few years that I have been an avid reader I have become very proud of the library I am building. I enjoy owning books and hard-covers are my preference. I even have three books signed by their authors and I look forward to acquiring more signatures! But When I finally do get myself a Kindle, what will happen to my library? Will I still need to own print books? What will my favorite authors sign when they come to town on a book tour?

I want to own print books and I also want to read on a Kindle! However, I refuse to buy two versions of every book. That's why many months ago I came up with a perfect solution for me and Amazon.com.

I ask that for every 'dead tree' book purchased from Amazon.com, they provide Kindle owners a free e-version of that same book if available.

Its a simple solution that will encourage me and many others to finally buy a Kindle Not only that but it will likely increase sales of books at Amazon.com in general. In the event that anyone else feels the same way as I do, I have setup an online petition via Google Doc's to collect names. When the petition reaches critical mass, I will package and send to Amazon.com.

The petition can be found online here and I have also embedded it below.

Thanks for your support!

-Jeff the Great


Jeff the Great's Frustration with Starbucks Continues

Its no surprise that I have a love/hate relationship with Starbucks. I love most of their drip coffee but hate what has become of their customer service. Not to mention I hate the new "Pikes Place" blend, its worse than truck stop coffee!

This morning I showed up at Starbucks and ordered a venti coffee like I always do. I asked for the alternate blend (because Pikes is the default blen now at all stores) and as per usual, they didn't have any of the alternate blend brewed at the moment...it was a 5 minute wait. They seem to NEVER have the alternate brew ready.

Then this evening I was driving home from my sisters house that is about 100 miles away, so I went to a Starbucks drive-thru and ordered a venti half decaf coffee. When I pulled up to the window to pay I was told that per a new Starbucks policy, after 5pm each day they only brew decaf on demand. It would be a few minute wait if I wanted half decaf.

There are a few problems here:
  1. Its not really on demand if I have to wait for it!
  2. The idea of not having decaf available after 5pm makes no sense. The only time most people I know drink decaf is at night!
So I was told that if I didn't want to wait, they would give me a half decaf Americano for the price of a regular coffee. After agreeing to the offer, I commented that I should be charged less since an Americano isn't what I wanted. The barista was confused and said "I am charging you less, an Americano is more!" I explained that I know how much an Americano is but my point is that when someone wants a coffee, anything else is infirior. An Americano provides less value to me than a coffee does, dispite what the menu prices are.

She didn't get it. So I took my half decaf venti Americano, paid her for a venti coffee and drove off knowing that she is going to have a tough time in life.

Jeff the Great


Jeff the Great Does the GPIE, Again!

If you follow my blog you'll remember that I am participating in the Great Portland Interview Experiment, brought to PDX by Chris O'Rourke. The idea is that someone interviews me, post it on their blog, and I interview someone else, post it on my blog, rinse, repeat. I was interviewed by my now good online friend Ramona White and I just finished my interview of Cameron Adamez. Check out my interview of Cameron below and use the above link to learn more about GPIE!

1. I see that your blog started as a travelogue. Tell us about the travels that inspired your writings?

I met my birth father in August 2005 when he was living in San Francisco. Later that year I was accepted into the Washington Semester program at American University in DC, so I stayed with my father in December and started my 3rd year of college in DC. After that, I went to LA where my dad lived briefly, and then went back to school outside of Dallas, Texas. It was a fun journey and a great way to keep in touch with family and friends. It also sparked my enjoyment of blogging.

2. It Looks like you have lived in Texas and Oregon. Are there any other places to add to that list? Which have you enjoyed the most and why?

I keep ending up in California, and I lived in Hyattsville, Maryland for part of my DC stay. Despite living in a formerly condemned house, I liked the town. Incidentally Jim Henson lived in Hyattsville as well. I also liked Santa Barbara, California. Another nice town. Honestly speaking, I would rather live in a beach town.

3. You are an anthropologist by training. How does anthropology come into play during your daily life?

I use it to understand interactions of people within groups to further my social skills. My high school teacher told me, "If you can't make it, fake it," and anthropology has helped me be able to talk to non-tech people. Thanks, anthropology!

4. I read that you are training as a Librarian. What drew you to that and how does it compare to other work you have done, specifically on the web?

Sorting books according to any of the library organizational systems is much easier than classifying music. I was an intern at the Smithsonian, where I saw the Folkways category database firsthand. Most focused collections are organized based on outliers than on systems that already exist, because every collection has a different emphasis. Smithsonian Global Sound was meant as a way to share the Folkways collection with people who may not know about it otherwise, but it is based on a purchase model. The Q Center library is more of a distribution of knowledge without profit, which appeals to me.

5. Like many Portland tech types, you use Twitter. What first draw you to this new communication tool and what makes you stay?

I had a pact with a curmudgeon friend of mine to shun Web 2.0 as much as possible. When I moved to Portland, people kept telling me to get a Twitter account, but I didn't register for one until I was asked by Anselm Hook to start working on Citybot and join Makerlab. I didn't bother with it much until my curmudgeon friend told me he already had a Twitter account, and so I started using it more often to spite him.

Now I use it because no one seems to know how to operate the phone anymore. It's also useful for finding out news that isn't handled by mainstream media.

6. Who's the favorite person you follow on Twitter?

I don't have a favorite person per-se because Twitter's ridiculous character limit makes it hard to make meaningful conversation, but it helped me to get to know Bram (@brampitoyo) and Aaron (@jarvitron). Cool dudes indeed!

7. MySpace or Facebook?

Both. MySpace is great for finding bands or getting involved with anarchists, and Facebook is... uh... less annoying.

8. Bacon or Facon (in other words, meat or no meat)?

Avocado, though Red & Black Cafe makes a good BLT using tempeh bacon. I don't understand bacon, actually. I know that its appeal comes from the fat and salt content, plus it's savory, but it's a horrible cut of meat (if we're talking about the meat-ness of it). Plus most meat isn't worth eating if it comes from a CAFO, hurting the poor pigs. Not that I am high and mighty on the subject either - most fruit and vegetables are picked by migrants who are overworked and live in difficult conditions. The only true solution is to go as local and as humane as possible.

9. If we conduct this interview again in 5 years, what types of questions might I be asking you then?

Let me fire up my time machine. It runs on absurdity and popcorn.

10. Is there anything you wish I would have asked you about?

Things like that assume that I am self-involved enough to ask you to ask me something so I can go on about it. Pfft, that's silly! I can go on about lots of things without being prompted. See? Now I have a diatribe about nothing!

Make sure to visit Cameron's blog or twitter stream to learn more! Thanks for reading.

-Jeff the Great

Jeff the Great Needs Computer Support

I am turning the the billions of people on the web for computer help, for the first time. My Dell Dimension 4600 (running XP, P4 processor, 1gig memory) is in critical condition and because its just a box I use a few hours a week when I am not on my work machine, I'd rather not buy a new desktop.

So, here is my problem. I'll tell you from the start that its NOT a bad hard drive:
  • I tried to install more memory than the computer could recognize
  • I was never able to get the computer fully booted after that (I got to the setup screen to verify the new amount of memory, but that's it)
  • I now get an error on a black screen that says "Disk Read Error. Press Ctrl+Alt+Del to restart"
  • A restart by pressing Ctrl+Alt+Del takes me to the same screen every time
Here are the things I have already tried:
  • Checked all the cables and connections inside the computer
  • Pulled the motherboard battery
  • Hit F2 (or was it F12) to select where to boot from, tried all options
  • Booted to the utility partition and scanned all hardware, everything checked out
  • On either the F2 or F12 screen, typed Fn+F to reset BIOS defaults
  • Researched the problem on the web and learned that it is likely a BIOS error
I cannot find my Dell disks anywhere so I can't run the Windows repair utility. I don't have a windows boot disk of any kind.

Help! If you can get my computer fixed, I'll promote you and/or your business on my blog, Twitter, CitySpeek and anywhere else. Thank you!

UPDATE 1/25/09: I have downloaded BartXP and burned it onto a CD, no luck...same outcome. I just learned that maybe its BartPE that I should be using. Sounds like I need to download and run it on a working machine, then burn it that way before trying to run it on my broken machine (opposed to just burning the bartpe.exe file to a CD).

-Jeff the Great


Jeff the Great Rounds Up CitySpeek

Things have been crazy good for CitySpeek the last few days. I wanted to share some of the great write-ups and features about us from around the web:

Girl in Your Shirt: http://girl.inyourshirt.tv/cityspeek/

KillerStartups.com: http://www.killerstartups.com/Blogging-Widgets/cityspeek-com-move-over-twitter

Silicon Florist: http://siliconflorist.com/2009/01/05/cityspeek-looks-to-cram-more-content-into-140-characters/

Thanks for your support!

-Jeff the Great

Jeff the Great Gets More Famous

I received a pleasant surprise yesterday when someone emailed to notify me that I was quoted in something they wrote.

North Venture Partners out of the Bay Area wrote a white paper about early stage venture capital and published it online this week. I've embedded it below...I am on page 21.

-Jeff the Great


Jeff the Great In Your Shirt

My web site, CitySpeek.com, was featured on the new internet tv channel called Girl In Your Shirt. The creator wears the t-shirt of a new web startup each days and records a video telling her thousands of fans about the site. Check it out below:

-Jeff the Great


Jeff the Great's Updated Reading List

I've finished up a few books recently and just started another. In addition to the below, I've also updated my reading list over here: http://twurl.cc/byl

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell (my favorite author but this isn't his best work).
The Ultimate Gift by Jim Stovall (interesting but way to far fetched).Crucial Confrontations by Patterson, Grenny, McMillan and Switzler (my current read, a follow-up to Crucial Conversations, one of the best books ever).


-Jeff the Great


Jeff the Great Wonders about Amazon.com

I absolutely love Amazon.com, I try to buy as much from them as possible. I buy books, music, electronics and so much more.

One of the things that Amazon.com is known for is their recommendation engine. They look at your past purchases, items you've recently browsed, items you've reviewed and so much more to recommend other purchases to you. This concept really works in the favor of both the consumer and Amazon.com. They get more sales and we get products that make sense for us. Win, win.

I noticed today when visiting Amazon.com that they had some new suggested items for me. I viewed a gyroscopic air mouse the other day and this is what they are now telling me:

I looked at a $150 mouse for my computer and I should now look at a case of PowerBar's and an electric razor? Come on Amazon.com, it wouldn't be that hard to limit this type of recommendation to at least the same general category!

I have a bunch of other ideas on how Amazon.com can further improve their recommendation engine but I'll save them for another blog post (or for when they hire me).

-Jeff the Great