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Is government getting bigger?

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The talk of the day seems to be about the latest jobs report from the Government Bureau of Labor Statistics that shows a worrying employment situation in the US. In short, though total employment grew by 18000 jobs, that’s nowhere near enough to keep up with population growth and the net result was a rise in overall unemployment. The political classes are going to spin this as is their custom. But this caught my eye:

I’d actually argue that creating jobs – at least in the short term – is almost by definition one thing that big government is good at. The Republican charge of “big government” liberalism is as old as Republicanism itself of course, but is it true in the current situation? This is an answerable question. The BLS allows you pull the stats for government employment over time. And here’s a chart from that data:
A chart of government employment since 2001
In short – government is getting smaller under Obama, not larger. At least as measured in terms of employment.

Written by mdoel

July 8, 2011 at 3:30 pm

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A New Chapter

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Throughout the course of a life and career, everyone goes through many phases. Sometimes, the transitions can only be recognized with the benefit of hindsight – like the growing realization that the first 35 years of your life spent without the benefit of hot sauce was a missed opportunity. In other cases, you realize what’s going on as it’s happening. Such is true with me now.

For the last few years, I’ve worked full time trying to build Resort Gems into a growth site. Although that work is not completely done, the “combat operations” portion is drawing to a close for me. But, starting on August 15, I’ll be moving on and going to work for Edgecase.

I have long admired Edgecase as a company. I became aware of the company in late 2007 while still working at AOL. A small group of artisans working in Columbus on the hottest new subfield of web application development – Ruby on Rails. For the last few years, it’s been a joy to work alongside them – first in a client/vendor relationship and later as people sharing the same office (our company has sublet space from them at the coolest office building in Columbus). Now it will be my supreme pleasure to join them and work alongside a world class team a colleagues.

I have been absolutely blessed in my career to have several great jobs – all of which I have loved (with the possible exception of my newspaper route when I was 14). My time with VacationView will remain among the best professional experiences I could possibly hope for. But, for now, it’s time to move on to the next chapter.

Written by mdoel

July 1, 2011 at 8:14 pm

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On charging for conference videos

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There’s been an interesting discussion on the Columbus Ruby Brigade mailing list the last few days regarding the decision by the organizers of the Red Dirt Ruby Conference to make the session videos available for sale.  Some were upset with the way the announcement itself was made (by not making clear that a cost was involved) while most seen to agree that this type of offer is a nice technique to help cover the costs of the conference.   I tweeted that I thought this was a smart move.  Nonetheless I’ve decided that I won’t be purchasing the videos given the current terms and figured I’d explain why just in case any of the conference organizers care to receive the feedback.

The offer essentially boils down to:

  • $99 price tag
  • streaming only
  • limited time access (only until June 2012)
  • high-quality videos
  • access to all videos for this year and last year

While the final two points are positive, the first three are problematic from my perspective.  Let’s start with the price which seems awfully high to me.  I’m not afraid to pay for content in general or even videos in particular.  In fact, this is one of my favorite ways to learn.  I’m a paid subscriber to both Screencasts Online and Gary Bernhardt’s excellent Destroy All Software services.  And over the last several years, I’ve bought 24 different Peepcode episodes.  As I said, I like this stuff.  But $99 is very expensive for what you get.  I suspect the conference organizers may have arrived at the price by trying to think what would be fair for the advertised 30 hours of video.  And if people were to in fact watch all 30 hours, then the price seems eminently fair.  But that doesn’t seem very realistic to me.  Who has that kind of time?  There are about 4-5 sessions in the group that I’d absolutely love to see, and another 3-4 that look interesting enough from the title that I’d at least give them a try.  All told, I’m guessing that’s somewhere in the neighborhood of 6 hours of content that has me excited enough to pay for access to.  I suspect I’m not atypical in this regard.  But that works out to about $16/hour.

Consider that price compared to the market price.  Geoffrey recently(?) raised Peepcode prices from $9/episode to $12/episode.  And each episode is typically 70-80 minutes in length.  Gary puts out 4 new Destroy All Software shows which total about 80 minutes for $9/month.  Don McAllister charges $19/month initially and then lowers the price dramatically to $25 for 6 months.  Don provides about 3 hours per month for that.  Confreaks provides conference videos for free (to viewers).  When compared to this, my anticipated utility from the Red Dirt videos seems very pricy.  There are many different ways to decide how to price your product, but at a minimum, you must not exceed the price that people are willing to pay.  But unfortunately, that’s the case here – at least for me.

Finally, unlike all of the other competitors I’ve mentioned here, only Red Dirt Ruby conference limits my access to the videos – making them less useful.  You can’t watch them on a plane.  You can’t watch them 15 months from now.  All of these are potentially justifiable business decisions on their part (i.e. to cut down on piracy), but they need to recognize that these choices make the videos less convenient than what is standard, not more (as their website seems to imply).  This reduction in value should be accompanied by a comparatively lower price, but we’ve already seen that this is not the case.

As I mentioned earlier, I do believe that the organizers for the conference are on the right track here.  It’s impractical for me to attend many conferences.  And while the best part of attending a conference comes from what happens outside the sessions, it’s nice to be able to learn from experts.  I wish them well and hope that the lessons learned from this and similar efforts make conference video access a regular option (but for a reasonable price).

Written by mdoel

June 13, 2011 at 1:07 am

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The Tressel Mess

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It pains me to say this, because I really do like Jim Tressel, but I think last night went very poorly for OSU and it will wear even worse with the passage of time. To wit:

  • the crack by Gordon Gee that he was happy Tressel didn’t fire him was absolutely bone-headed. I hope he regretted it the moment he said it because the last thing we needed was the president of the university reinforcing the idea that the head football coach runs the place. It was especially egregious, given that last night was supposed to be some kind of public reprimand.
  • the self-imposed punishment feels entirely inadequate to me. At a minimum, the optics of him serving 2 games while his players serve 5 is awful. Yes, the violations are different and potentially warrant different sanctions, but (a) Tressel should be held to a higher standard and (b) Tressel’s crimes are worse than the players IMO. I personally think the floor for the punishment should have been 5 games plus vacating all 2010 wins (with the possible exception of the Sugar Bowl).
  • part of the sanctions were a public apology from Tressel. I thought he was short on contrition last night. The opening stuff about contrasting the emails he got this time with the ones he gets for hospital visits and the like felt very self-serving to me. He didn’t use the word “sorry” or “apologize” in his remarks (he might have in response to a question) and the closest he came to actually apologizing came late with this bit:

I’m disappointed that this happened at all. I take my responsibility
for what we do at Ohio State seriously. And for the game of football.
And I plan to grow form this, and I’m sincerely saddened by the fact
that I let some people down and didn’t do things as well as I could
possibly do. I am pleased that the young people involved are safe.
They’re not involved in any criminal activity. They’re all in college
and they’re all going to graduate from Ohio State. To me thats what it’s
all about.

This should have come at the opening and should have been stronger.

The decision to allow the players involved to play in the Sugar Bowl was probably justified, but to many people it gave the impression that OSU was willing to trade ethics for victories. The knowledge of how Tressel acted at the time reinforces that impression. And my sense is that how the press conference itself played out is unfortunately more of the same.

Written by mdoel

March 9, 2011 at 9:19 am

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ResortGems – Give Us a Shot

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The last year and a half has been quite a whirlwind for us. Prussian Field Marshall Helmuth Carl Bernard von Moltke famously said

No battle plan ever survives contact with the enemy

Had he been talking about being an entrepreneur, he might have instead said

No business plan ever survives contact with the market

And so it has been with us. Initially formed as a site to allow timeshare owners to trade with each other, we’ve since renamed the site (twice) and flipped the model completely to reflect the feedback from customers and friends who have used it. Now, resortgems.com is a site with a much broader appeal than the one we started out with. It offers benefits to timeshare owners (looking to earn rental income from their unit) and travelers (looking to get the best value for their vacation dollar) alike.

Some of the initial feedback given to us was that we didn’t have enough inventory. Although we have more than ten thousand timeshare listings from owners (we call these “gems”), that wasn’t enough to provide the breadth and depth of coverage that people need. To help solve this problem, we’ve now added the capability to book a room at over 25000 hotels in the United States (more locations coming soon).

This is the time of year when you’re no doubt planning lots of upcoming travel. Whether it’s for spring break or summer vacation, there’s a good chance that you’ll soon find yourself needing to make arrangements for a place to stay. My request is to give us a shot to serve your needs in this. We work very hard for all of our customers to find them the best deal we can and have put a ton of effort into making the site attractive and useful.

As always, I’d love any feedback you have – especially if you look us over and find us lacking in some respect.

Written by mdoel

January 27, 2011 at 11:21 am

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RRBO – Prepping the Store

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One of the great challenges of being an entrepreneur is trying to make sure you have the right product in the market. For our site (www.rrbo.com), this is especially important given how much competition there is. And the critical time is upon us. Most people get serious about travel (spring break and summer vacation) right after the end of year holidays. Needless to say, we want to make sure we’re optimized to meet customer’s needs when that hits.

So, I have a favor to ask of those of you who read this. Pretend you don’t know me and that you stumble upon www.rrbo.com while planning your next vacation. If for whatever reason you think you wouldn’t use our site to book where you’re going to stay, send me an email at mike _at_ mikedoel _dot_ com with the top one or two reasons that would make you hesitate. Don’t worry about hurt feelings – I’d much rather get brutally honest feedback that we can address than have you hold back.

Thanks in advance.

Written by mdoel

October 14, 2010 at 10:28 am

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Miss Ya Pops

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I got the call from my sister just after 1:30am that my dad, Keith Veale, had died in what sounds like a pretty peaceful fashion. It was a call I had been bracing for for quite some time due to his combination of age (81) and history of heart disease. But it’s still not an easy call to take.

Like a lot of folks, I am a child that has been profoundly shaped by divorce and remarriage. For some, this can be a traumatic experience that makes you cynical about love and marriage. But this has not been my experience. My mom was remarried when I was still quite young (7) and for me, “normal” was having two dads who both loved me and taught me what it means to be a man.

My dad was one of the truly nicest people you’d ever want to meet. He was the kind of guy who was up without an alarm way before the sun came up so that he could be down at the local coffee shop when it opened at 5:30am. Yes he loved coffee, but more than that, he loved talking with the people in the shop.

He was an active golfer – still playing once or twice a week into his eighties though it had started to get difficult to walk the course for him. My love of golf comes from him. He bought me my first set of clubs and showed me how to play. And not just how to chip and putt (which I do very badly indeed), but more importantly, how to conduct yourself on the course and to how to carry that through to everyday life.

After moving to California with my mom (within days of his first heart attack) in the summer of 1988, my dad sold timeshares for a number of years. He had been a salesman for most of his adult life and really enjoyed it. I know that timeshare salesmen have a generally poor reputation. Too bad most of them weren’t like my dad or the industry would be viewed far better than it is. In the last couple of years, as I’ve been working on a startup in the timeshare industry, he was thrilled to offer advice and coaching. Recently, he was excited that the advice and coaching could go both ways as he volunteered to build a website for the Model A Restorer’s Club meetup coming to San Diego in 2011. He loved tinkering with his computer and for years he taught many other senior citizens how to use theirs.

More than anything, my dad was a true role model as a husband and father. He loved my mom with a selflessness that is hard to describe – in sickness and in health. He sacrificed to try and make her dreams come true, even to the point of extreme financial hardship. And when she was dying of cancer, he cared for her with a tenderness and tirelessness that revealed a depth of character I can only dream of.

In short, my dad was a great man and will be truly missed. I love you pops.

Keith Veale
December 1, 1928 – April 21, 2010

Written by mdoel

April 22, 2010 at 9:02 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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