The American History of Frank Buckles

200807062125.jpg This is a great story for Independence Day. Frank Buckles is the last surviving American veteran of WWI, having been born in 1901 and enlisted in the Army at the age of 17. Stationed first in England and then in France, Buckles had many roles including serving as a diver on the ship that a few years earlier had rescued the survivors of the Titanic shipwreck and as an ambulance driver, later repurposed from duty as battlefield casualty transport to POW transport back to Germany following the Armistice.

Were Buckles story to end there is would have been honorable and otherwise uneventful but Buckles returned to Europe following the war to reside in Germany in the 1930s, leaving in 1938 after witnessing the beginning of the Holocaust. Moving on to the Philippines as an employee of an American shipping company, Buckles was captured and detained on December 8, 1941 by the Japanese for 3 1/2 years in conditions that are now known to be horrendous.

In 1945 the camp that Buckles was interned in, Los Baños, was liberated by a daring raid by the 11th Airborne Division. Over 2,100 prisoners were liberated, including Buckles. Following his return to the U.S., Buckles met a woman and got married, moving to a farm in West Virginia where he still lives today.

Here’s the part of the story that really grabbed me, Buckles’ great grandfather was a soldier in the Revolutionary War. In this one man we see the living embodiment of the entire spectrum of U.S. history, participant and bearing witness to the defining events of the 20th century.

Differentiating Through Superior Service

Ross makes a couple of interesting observations about the value of end user support for complex products. As this relates to Apple, Ross’ inspiration for the post, they really nail it when it comes to customer experience. First they create products that minimize the need for support and then they couple that to a retail strategy to emphasizes an anti-sales strategy that builds in “white space” in their retail square footage and encourages lounging in addition to shopping.

I’ve bought more stuff at Apple stores just because I dropped in to use their network to work, get help or ask a few questions. I buy Apple products because they work and because there is a company that I know will stand behind them. Not everything Apple is great, but they are consistently better than the competition.

Ross makes a good point about support being a cost center as opposed to a revenue driver and for most companies this is true and it’s also why they underinvest in support and compensate by over-investing in sales. Yeah that sounds funny to suggest but if companies looked at support as a revenue creator they would re-proportion how they invest in it.

When Sony started opening retail outlets this attitude was front and center. Their retail spaces were crowded and cluttered, the store personnel were behind counters and usually adjacent to a cash register, and no where was hanging out or learning about how you use the products you already own apparent. They have bombed in comparison to Apple and it’s no surprise to me, and I’d be willing to bet that Sony relied on retail sales people to build their retail strategy.

For enterprise software companies end user support is not likely something companies will differentiate themselves with, but it’s certainly something they can hurt themselves with by not investing sufficiently in. Simplifying products to minimize multi-vendor support is an obvious opportunity but probably not too likely given that enterprise software in inherently complex, at the moment at least.

Lastly, it’s easy to talk a good game when it comes to customer and community support, in reality it’s really hard and very few companies do it well. While we can all learn from Apple on this point, just being like Apple isn’t really a strategy either.

So I wonder if Apple’s vertical integration strategy is what makes this possible. Is the 50% rule only a rule if you tackle the multi-vendor support problem? Alignment or integration between Marketing and Support plays a role and some organizations put the same person in charge of Product Quality and Support. But this opportunity space inherently requires rethinking not just organizational boundaries, but the firm itself.

[From Ross Mayfield’s Weblog: Service and the Fifty Percent Rule]

Artist Profile – John Eric Byers

This latest post in my continuing series of profiles about artists I like features John Eric Byers, who combines two of my favorite artistic niches, woodworking (carving) and textured finishes.

Byers range of work is pretty narrow but it reflects a highly skilled achievement in a specialty field of woodworking that is very difficult, carving. The finishes that Byers applies to his carvings are intricate and highly developed with multiple layers and just the right amount of technique to expose the finish without overwhelming it.

What’s interesting about Byers’ work is that it compels you to touch it. I like that as well as the fact that this isn’t delicate stuff intended for display cases behind closed glass, not only do you want to touch it but you actually can.

I’ve highlighted a few of his pieces, the first image features some neat stools that are functional as well as pleasing to look at and the next two images are of pieces that we have in our home, a carved wall panel and two spheres out of a set of 4 (spheres are actually surprisingly complex to make). I’d really like to get a set of the stools next, or perhaps a bench.

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Crack Dealers vs. Potholes

San Francisco spends $2.3 million to coddle convicted crack dealers, meanwhile the potholes only get worse. If there is a better metaphor for everything that is wrong with SF’s city government I can’t think of it, and Newsom wants to be governor for the entire state.

The potholes are so bad in SF that I don’t drive there anymore, opting to instead take my truck when I can’t go on BART. The last time I drove my car in SF I ended up bending 2 of my wheels, incurring a cost of $800 to get them repaired. Drivers in SF should start filing lawsuits against the city for negligence and reckless endangerment.

Real street wonks can break this down for you by a street’s PCI. That’s pavement condition index. Reiskin said that in 1988 San Francisco’s streets had a PCI of 78. (Anything below 70 is considered in need of resurfacing.) Two years ago, that number had fallen to 64, and the only good news is that DPW has managed to keep that number from dropping any more.

[From S.F.’s bumper crop of potholes to get repairs]

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