Searching for the Moon

Shannon Clark's rambles and conversations on food, geeks, San Francisco and occasionally economics

Archive for June, 2004

Hope Street Blog: Identity and Opportunity, or what Reality TV can tell us about

Posted by shannonclark on June 29, 2004

Hope Street Blog: Identity and Opportunity, or what Reality TV can tell us about

My newest post to the Hope Street Group blog – on Identity, Opportunity and reality TV.

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On the bidding of conventions

Posted by shannonclark on June 24, 2004

or I volunteer for something more…a worldcon bid

So at Wiscon this year I talked with Dina Krause who was there promoting the Chicon 2006 Worldcon Bid. We got to talking and she asked if might be willing to help out with the website for the bid.

This afternoon I met with her and have agreed to help with the website for the Chicago 2008 bid which appears to have added me to the bid committee as well.

My plan is to shift the website to an easy to manage system, probably Moveable Type but I will be looking at other logical options as well, the goal being to create a bid website that will easily morph into the convention website at the appropriate time – and help drive interest and traffic over time.

I expect that in upcoming months and years I will be talking with many who might read this about the conference and about what they would like to see from a convention website. Since I will, it appears, be involved with the conference in some capacity, I suspect as well that I may play a role with the technology aspects of the WorldCon as well. Though exactly what those will be four years from now is an interesting question as well.

If you have suggestions for technologies I may want to look at, or other thoughts on what a good bid website should (and should not) contain, please comment here or contact me privately.

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I’m 30 today

Posted by shannonclark on June 18, 2004

or on the passing of my 20’s

Today is my 30th birthday. As I take stock of the end of my 20’s and the beginning of my 30’s, I am struck by how much I am not who I would have imagined I might be, but yet I do have much for which to be grateful.

I have a wonderful girlfriend, live in a great city, have a family I am close to, and good friends. Professionally I am making my way on my own terms, running a software & consulting business and starting a conference on Networks. In the upcoming year I will need to redouble my efforts on both ventures to pull them off with success, but I look forward to that.

Entering my 20’s I assumed I was just a year or so away from a college degree, and that a PhD (of some form) would quickly follow. After which, I assumed I would enter some form of career, exactly what was not certain, though technology was certainly a strong possibility. Having done some writing, I expected to continue writing and probably finish a book (or two), probably more in the upcoming decade.

At age 19 I had yet to have a significent relationship, really to date at all in fact. A couple of not very successful dates in my senior year of high school, a few friends on whom I had crushes, and a few unrequited crushes in my first years of college, but nothing romantic. At age 20 I would have my first real relationship, but entering my 20’s that was yet ahead of me.

In my early 20’s a very good friend offered me some advice. “Shannon”, he said, “you are the type of man that woman in their 20’s do not look for, but when you are in your 30’s, you will be quite the catch.” He went on, both to explain and offer some practical advice (which I mostly ignored to my detriment) – namely that while in my 20’s I probably should date older woman who would be more interested in a man such as I. Now as I enter my 30’s I do hope that in essense he was right, that my 30’s will be a happier decade for me than my 20’s were, they are certainly starting out on the right note. By happier, I mean not just not being single (as I was for the vast majority of my 20’s) but also confident and comfortable with who I am, what I am doing, and where I am going.

Throughout my 20’s I have had a number of careers, tried many different things. A few I was relatively successful at, most I left behind for the next challenge. In my 30’s I hope to build on the diversity of my past and shape myself and my careers in the direction I want to go (and into one that provides me with the resources to make changes onto the world).

In my 20’s I traveled – I drove around most of the western parts of the US in a 7 week summer trip, I took many business trips to London and NYC, I worked for 7 weeks one summer on an archaeological dig in Israel. I made a few trips to Paris, on my own without company, one trip with company to Toronto. Within the US I traveled to Washington DC, Boston, NYC, LA, Santa Barbara, San Francisco, Hilton Head, Detroit, Madison. In my 30’s I expect to return to Israel and to finally visit India.

When my business ventures are successful and allow me the freedom, and when my girlfriend has the time, I hope to take her to many parts of the globe. To a peaceful beach someplace warm, with just enough of civilization to avoid bugs and diseases, but quiet and solitude – to stay there for weeks at a time reading, exploring, and relaxing. To Paris, to walk with her across the Seine, to show her my favorite ice cream place in the world, to hold hands as we pause somewhere and catch a private moment and quickly kiss. To the south of France, where I have never been, but where food we both love comes from and where together we might wander markets, eat food fresh from the ground, and rent a small place with a kitchen to prepare our finds.

This decade, too, I want to go to Turkey to see the places I spent my college years studying about. To Asia, especially Japan and Hong Kong, to experience first hand places I have been reading about for more then a decade. To Thailand to taste food I have been enjoying many times a week since college. To Australia (and perhaps New Zealand) for months (most likely) of exploring a world of vast open spaces.

While I think we’ll stay here in Chicago for much of this decade, I hope, by the end of my 30’s to have lived in at least one other city, ideally to have lived in a few other countries as well as other cities – to remain tied to Chicago, but to have established ourselves in other places as well.

Early in my 30’s I will witness the marriages of two of my closest friends throughout my 20’s. I suspect that later on in my 30’s these friends, and others, will have (and continue to in some case) children. I expect that by the end of my own 30’s, I too will be a father. That will change me I am sure, but ground me as well.

As I sit here on the first day of my 30’s, I make myself a few promises. One, I will end my 30’s with my degree (at least one) – this means that at some point, I will have to give myself the time to finish. Two, I will finish a book – probably a novel, but it is certainly possible that I will write a few non-fiction books as well. Three, that beyond coming up with ideas and theorums, I will strive to share them – to take them from glimmers of concepts in my mind to works that can be published, shared, and implemented. Four, I will continue to be interested in politics, but most likely will get more so and more active – more engaged with effecting real change and growing opportunity for all in America (and around the world).

Now, on a more practical front, I have to celebrate my birthday by working. Tonight we, my family, my girlfriend and I will gather for a great meal. During the day, besides working and writing and reading, I plan on giving myself a treat or two, but not in excess.

What will the next decade of your life bring you?

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The power of names – and other shortcuts

Posted by shannonclark on June 17, 2004

or how Branding and Networks interact

This afternoon, while walking along Milwaukee Ave to the North Ave bus home, I stopped at a store I had walked past for years, but had never entered. The store, Aldi is unassuming, a large store with a parking lot but little signage, advertising, or even much activity. Entering there is a flyer advertising specials with the first hint that something unusual is going on, none of the brands or products being advertised are recognizeable.

Inside the layout is beyond simple, 4 large open aisles with products stacked inside of the boxes they were shipped in, and small, simple signage with the prices – which are uniformly low. Mostly foods, generally in large portions. In the back are refrigerators and freezers, a small selection of fresh foods and some products and a very small selection of pharmacy products. In front there are a few cashier stations, but only one cashier and one security guard. If you want bags, you have purchase them, $0.05 for a paper bag, $0.10 for a plastic, $0.50 for an insulated bag.

On their website, they describe themselves as:

Aldi is an international retailer specializing in a limited assortment of private label, high-quality products at the lowest possible prices. Our unique way of operating makes it almost impossible for competitors to match our combination of price and quality. This means ALDI can offer Incredible Value Every Day.

So, what does my shopping this afternoon for a few bargains have to do with networks?

I have been thinking about Networks a lot of late, about how I might sell myself (and my company JigZaw’s consulting services). I realized that though we have a name that is fairly unique and memorable, a potential brand, we do not have name recognition – at least not with those people who have budgets and funding to hire services that I can offer (“smokejumping” troubled application projects, software design, technology needs anlysis, due diligence, contract software development). Just the other night I commented that I need to do something to get name recognition – work for a firm with a known brand, write a book, get some press, something.

Thus, today, as I walked through Aldi I was thinking not so much about groceries but about branding and identity, about how we pick and find those things that interest us. Of late I have been doing a lot of reading about economics, mostly from critics of mainstream economics. A critique that does not get enough attention is that mainstream ecomonics assumes that the actors in a marketplace have complete information about their options (and the impact of choices) prior to making those choices.

Consider, for a moment, the choice of buying groceries. Mostly, people buy them based on a combination of brand and price, but we all first make choices that restrict us without us knowing – starting with where we live, but continueing to where we choose to shop (and when we shop). All these factors constrict the universe of possible choices even before we are confronted with our options in the store. Once in the store we have both the usual choice between brands, and the other choice between paths to the same end – i.e. chicken or pork etc.

Likewise, in business, when looking at how to proceed a company has many options – continue with existing partners and staff, ask current partners for suggestions, approach new vendors directly, ask others for advice etc. At times the choice is defined in a limited way – “do we buy an Oracle database or SQL Server” but the best businesses first explore “What are we trying to accomplish?” then they explore “How can we do that?”.

But how do businesses pick the partners and products they work with? At times they take a seemingly rational approach of a formal evaluation of the options, frequently done in partnership with a research firm, but more often they work with firms or products they have heard of, the famous “you don’t get fired for picking IBM” phenomenon.

To tie this to networks, we learn of our options in an economic context by the networks to which we belong. Importantly, this is also true at a macro as well as micro level – in the case of what we personally buy at the grocery store and in the case of what we buy in our roles as businesspeople.

Frequently discusions of networks talk about growing networks, talk about navigating networks, perhaps talk about the large scale structure of the network, but rarely are practical implications of Networks and our particular position within discussed. For almost everything in business (and personally) there are a multitude of options for how to resolve a particular challenge, rarely can we test and evaluate each option, instead, we typically look to a limited set of options and make a decision. Mostly, these are options from people (or firms) close to us in our network, occasionally we’ll reach out to a more distant node – via learning of them somehow, via a chain of relationships something.

So, I think if I were to map out the “network” involved in selling my consulting services it would show the larger competitors for consulting services – firms with national/international brands, it would show a few smaller firms that I am personally aware of, it might include a large number of unknown competitors that I am not aware of. Also on the “network map” would be the possible clients. Many would already have relationships with some of my competitors. Specifically, as well, corporations are made up of individuals – so my network map should also track relationships between firms, but also relationships between people.

Then, in looking at my own personal network, I can start to look at where there might be opportunities for me to explore. One set would be possible clients where I have strong relationships and my compititors have weak links only – I’m currently pursuing one such client a large city agency which has few vendors at present, where I have strong ties, and where their needs and my services match up quite well.

I can also look at and evaluate potential opportunities in this manner – by considering which partnerships (or even employee/sub-contractor agreements) might help me land the type of deals I am inerested in working on.

More on this in upcoming posts – as always, feel free to leave comments here, or contact me privately to discuss further.

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Boing Boing: Conference schwag goldmine

Posted by shannonclark on June 10, 2004

Boing Boing: Conference schwag goldmine

BoingBoing links to a photo gallery of shwag from the BIO conference. Nice stuff, but no match (at all) to what the MetaMorphosis conference offered up last month.

Short list:

– Radio controlled miniture car (three models from Siemans – not as prize, just for anyone who asked)

– Juggling balls – set of three

– CD Case, USB powered light, AND USB 4 port spilter – in one box, for the asking from Peoplesoft

– LED light from Niku, but they were also giving out small bags/backpacks

– Very nice baseball caps

– Polo golf shirt for all conference attendees

– Multiple t-shirts, including a really cool one from SMART (more on this in a later post, they deserve a little link love)

– Blackberry gave out multiple colors of soft cloths for cleaning electronic screen surfaces – very useful, grabbed one for me and one for my girlfriend

– A wide variety of extremely nice pens

– Perhaps the best item of all, a three button, wheeled, PORTABLE mouse (either USB or mouse port), with a mouse cord on a retractable holder.

As well, a couple of calculators and a CLOCK RADIO.

Get the picture…. all amazing, cool stuff – and these weren’t the prizes for contests, they were the Shwag.

Contest prizes at booths you ask?

– Leather jackets from Harley Davidson (a customer of nVisia who was exhibiting)

– a deluxe gas grill with all the trimmings (from MetaGroup), also had other very nice smaller prizes

– multiple iPods, including one booth that a few times a day randomly gave out iPods to someone walking by wearing a pin they were handing out earlier.

All in all probably the best, highest end “shwag” I’ve ever personally seen. There were also various notepads, umbrellas (full golf-sized umbrellas from Novell), portfolios etc, the list is really amazingly large.

Still doesn’t top, however, the shwag I once got from Oracle for attending a small meeting – that was a leather bound notebook which I still to this day use – exactly the right size and shape to carry around and use on a regular basis (though the refills are about $12 each)

I have also heard of shows with even better shwag. A conference a friend recently attended gave a brand new iPaq (a model not yet released no less) to EVERY attendee, pre-loaded with the conference schedule and all attendee bios (nothing was printed out, but a $600+ iPaq at a conference that cost $1700 isn’t anything to complain about.

I personally think it is a sign that the economy is starting to pick up and that carefully qualified conferences are beginning to be seen as valuable again. Lessons I will keep in mind when working with sponsors about MeshForum this Oct 10-13th

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Tom Peters relaunches website as blog

Posted by shannonclark on June 8, 2004

Tom Peters has relaunched his website in a blog format.

This is an important development, I think, as it shows just how pervasive and important the blog format has become when leading thinkers are redesigning how they interact with the public to reflect the influence of blogs.

Tom Peters has a monthly newsletter to which I subscribe, in the most recent one much of the content is dedicated to discussing blogs and the redesign.

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An offer I am considering making

Posted by shannonclark on June 4, 2004

If you read this and are interested in taking me up on this offer, please email me at shannon at jigzaw.com.

My company, JigZaw Inc wrote a software product, Decisa: Contract Compliance software a few years ago. Based on a product that a client of ours wanted, it offers an easy way to manage via a web browser, a portfolio of legal contracts. Within Decisa it is easy to view the individual clauses of a complex contract and view it in relationship to other contracts within Decisa – either other vendors or a company reference/standard contract.

While I am very active in organizing MeshForum at the moment, I am also still working on selling Decisa and my other consulting services.

So, with that in mind I have decided to make an offer, first here on my blog, but I will also make it on the JigZaw website, via email and one local business networking websites and mailing list.

I would like to work with local businesses to enter contracts into Decisa and to then analyze these contracts, as well as the company’s financial transactions related to those contracts, for opportunities via enforcing the terms of the contracts to find immediate revenue enhancements or direct savings. As well via this process in many cases (dependant on the types of contracts being managed) Decisa will help identify risks.

The process for a company deploying Decisa in partnership with me would be:

– identify and locate a set of contracts to manage, in some cases this may require pulling paper files from many offices and departments (or at times requesting copies from lawyers or vendors)

– enter the contracts, managing the specific relevant clauses (customized for each firm)

– analyzing the contracts in relationship with the transactions around the contracts – this phase will require working very closely with the client, ideally in a consultative role, though if required I will find contract accountants (in both sense of that phrase) and bring them in to the project.

Our regular pricing for the consulting services and software would be in the range of $35,000-100,000 (depending on the number of contracts to be managed and the number of hours of consulting services needed).

Instead I will offer this for $20,000 for up to 2 months of time as well as the software service (on a hosted service, on a installed server would add $5,000 to the costs).

Further, if after 2 months we have not already identified at least $25,000 in savings, I will refund $10,000, provide the data to the company and destroy all copies on JigZaw servers (if being used).

All work would be done under strict NDA.

If you are interested in learning more about this offer or discussing specifics (or making a counter proposal to me, I am open to alternative suggestions), please contact me as soon as possible.

I am confident that most companies with a set of similar, complex, long duration contracts are currently missing many opportunities due to the processes and complexity of providing knowledge about the specifics of each contract to the managers manging the relationship with each party. As well, while in a 2 month period many opportunities for cost savings may not be present (due ot the nature of the contracts or opportunities that only occur on contract renewal) for any given firm there will be more than, I fully expect, $25,000 in savings to be found.

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Hope Street Blog: Businessweek article on opportunity in America

Posted by shannonclark on June 3, 2004

Hope Street Blog: Businessweek article on opportunity in America

My post to the Hope Street Group Blog. I will be posting there about once a week, generally around Friday, on subjects related to Opportunity Economics, often with a technology or Internet spin.

If you are a reader here, take a look over at Hope Street Group as well, there are a great group of people who are participating in Hope Street Group and the cause is a great one – a non-partisan group working to get the concept of “Opportunity Economics” into the mainstream political debate – so far, HSG has met with a great deal of success, with results from both Democrats and Republicans who have been engaged by the HSG ideas and policy papers.

If you are interested in working with the HSG, sign up for the Meetup in your city and feel free to contact me for additional information.

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