TBSI Business Blog
Business related articles by the principals and staff of True Blade Systems, Inc.
Sep 10, 2012
An almost 5 hour, 5 set match resulted in victory for Andy Murray of Great Britain.
September 10, 2012, Flushing, New York
The early fall weather was nearly perfect for the Men's Singles Final:
Brilliantly clear New York skies, 68F/20C, low humidity
The matchup at Arthur Ashe Stadium:
Andy Murray of Great Britain vs. Novak Djokovic of Serbia
It was your author's first time attending the US Open so I was lucky to see such a great match and to enjoy the venue, so close to home. The match started at 4pm with many empty seats that later filled to capacity by about 5:15pm.
Novak Djokovic of Serbia - takes home US$950,000 as runner-up
Djokovic's consistent play and lack of mistakes made it all the more difficult for Murray to eke out a win. Djokovic's concession speech at the end showed tremendous grace and respect for the winner of Men's Singles, Andy Murray of Great Britain (below). Murray, age 25, takes home US$1,900,000 as winner.
Jul 06, 2011
Another example of the perils of entrusting others with our most critical and sensitive personal data.
Data on the lost CD ROMs "includes clients’ names, addresses, account and tax identification numbers, the income earned on the investments in 2010, and—for some clients—Social Security numbers."
The CD ROMs "were password-protected but not encrypted." That means that the data on the CD ROMs could probably be extracted, saved, and distributed. That's a big loss of privacy for the trusting clients.
Apparently the data on the CD ROMs was part of a compliance filing with the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance. No doubt more appropriate safeguards will be put in place in the future. And it goes without saying that the costs for remedying this situation will be high, whereas the cost of properly implementing procedures that would have safeguarded the data would have been much less.
As investors, we must trust a variety of vendors with our personal data. It's worth asking the vendor exactly how they handle our data, and to carefully read copies of the vendor's written procedures for security of our data.
Investors can no longer afford to blindly trust vendors with our personal data. We advise always being cautious in releasing your personal data, and having close communication with financial vendors about how they protect and share our most private information.
Aug 07, 2010
Craigslist.org has proven to be an excellent resource for True Blade when we needed to find well-qualified professionals. This article will teach you how to successfully use Craigslist.org to find the people you need.
Although there are many websites which can assist you when you need to find a person or small business with a skill set you do not currently have, Craigslist.org has consistently proven to be the most useful for us. We have wasted time on other websites trying to find people but we always come back to Craigslist. You can find full-time employees, part-time employees, or people for a specific project, task, or gig.
You should plan to do plenty of up-front work to be clear about what you need and what you're looking for. This insures that people who read your posting will know what you want, and you will receive qualified responses, saving your time. Few unqualified people will respond.
So plan to put in some preparation time up-front, putting yourself in the mindset of someone who might read your ad, and use language that will connect with their interest.
Here are a couple of tips that helped us:
- More work on your part up-front, writing a great ad, yields improved results. The people who contact you will be more clear about what you want and better able to identify whether they are a good match.
- Include links to your company's website or other relevant webpages so that the reader will be able to research who you are and what you want.
- In your posting include your full name, your company's name, and your phone number, but omit your email address in your posting. Some people may call you - but more importantly it establishes your authenticity, and this is a good thing for attracting better people. Don't include your email address because Craigslist handles this automatically for you, preventing your email address from getting harvested and going into Spam lists.
- Prepare to analyze many résumés and respond to each applicant. You can also set up an email autoresponder so that each person who responds will know you have received their email.
- If you are know how to create webpages on your company's website, consider creating a multi-step series of pages, to increase the amount of information a person has to read before they apply for the position.
- If possible, capture the applicant's information directly into your company's database, via online html forms.
Jul 07, 2010
Shanghai hotels have gone up in price over the last few years, and with Expo 2010 Shanghai, competition for affordable hotel rooms is fierce. Accordingly, when I was in Shanghai in May, 2010 I gave up on finding a cheap hotel and opted instead for a great, luxurious hotel: The Marriott Renaissance Shanghai Yu Garden. Address: 159 South He Nan Road, Huangpu District, Shanghai.
It's not often that I'm willing to pay US$300 for a hotel room for a single night.
But my Marriott Rewards Points were sufficient to pay for a free night, so I redeemed the points in the morning and was checked into my room by the afternoon. The room was fabulous, modern, 5 stars by any measure, with great service and amenities.
Club-level rooms grant you access to a superb 24 hour private club, with floor-to-ceiling windows displaying a view similar to what you see above, as well as newspapers, TV, Internet, and all the food and drink you need. The roof has a spa, balcony, exercise room, and a glass-walled swimming pool. Even though the hotel was mostly full, I had the pool entirely to myself.
Staff were courteous throughout, and I explained to a few younger staff about Marriott's origins in the Washington, DC area, and present-day headquarters in my hometown: Bethesda, Maryland. I told them they had a terrific employer and to stick with the company.
Jun 22, 2010
After years of using our own portrait photographs on our website, in April, 2010 we decided to hire a professional photographer, Scott Robinson of Chevy Chase, Maryland, aka: The Picture Coach.
Apr 22, 2010
A reference copy of the "Ladder of Accountability", as described in a video produced by True Blade Systems.
The Ladder of Accountability video is available in 1080p on YouTube.com.
||Fix the Problem
||Own the Problem
||Wait and Hope
Special thanks to all my colleagues and associates who consistently strive to be accountable. A graphical version of the Ladder of Accountability is shown below.
Oct 25, 2009
Last Friday there was a big storm in New York City with pouring rain and high winds. This morning one of our clients lost two of their analog phone lies, as well as their Fax line, which carries their DSL. Repairs will take at least 24 hours, meaning the client will be without Internet for at least 24 hours. This is not the first time this has happened to this client. If you're in Manhattan and have analog phone lines or DSL, read on.
In Manhattan, many analog phone lines are still carried over copper wire pairs owned and managed by Verizon.
Many DSL circuits are carried over the same copper wire pairs. This is generally true regardless of who your DSL provider is. The copper wire pairs from the phone company's facility (Central Office = CO) to your premises may be old and their protective insulation may be faulty, leading to problems during or after adverse weather. In some cases the wiring may be 50 years old or more. I've seen the wires; they're ugly and need to be entirely replaced.
Reality Check: These are the same wires that your business may be depending on for your phone lines and Internet. I find this unacceptable, so it's important to take steps to mitigate the risk to your business.
What can you do?
First, you need to assume that your phone lines and DSL might go down at any time, without advance warning or notification. Given this, what might you do during an outage? Cell phones come in handy as a telephone substitute, but many businesses don't have an Internet backup or substitute. As the Internet becomes a more critical part of your business, it's important to understand that you may have this vulnerability. Our client's last DSL outage, in September, lasted almost 2 weeks. Their DSL vendor is Covad, and Covad uses Verizon to manage the wiring from the CO to the client's facility. It's not a smooth process to get problems resolved and the diagnostic phone calls with Covad invariably take 30 minutes or more, just to get to a diagnosis. Repairs can take longer. I've experienced Verizon residential DSL outages of similar duration.
If you'd like more information about creating more reliable Internet connectivity for your office or home, contact us and we'll tell you what to do.
Oct 14, 2009
While glancing at my phone and riding an up escalator from the #7 subway train at Grand Central today, I heard screams. I looked up and a lady was falling down the steps toward me.
I would guess that this woman had already fallen about 5 steps as her falling body nearly knocked me over. Fortunately the screams woke me from my unfocused state and I was able to quickly grab this woman and lift her back to upright. Someone behind me picked up and returned this woman's purse.
I know we're all busy and need to glance at our cell phones all the time, but here's a warning that your quick glance and lack of proper attention to your surroundings could be fatal to you or someone else. It only takes a moment for very bad things to happen.
Safety first, always.
Sep 14, 2009
A recent DSL outage that lasted almost two weeks taught us a few worthwhile lessons.
One of our clients uses a Business DSL connection sold and serviced by Covad.
Covad in turn relies on Verizon to manage portions of the infrastructure associated with the DSL connection, including the cabling in the street that leads to the client's facility. Here in New York City, much of the cabling in the streets and in older buildings is subpar, an accident waiting to happen. When trouble occurs, it can take a week or more to restore service.
This time, the client's Internet outage took two weeks for Verizon to diagnose and repair. That's much too long. So below are some of our thoughts on why the situation exists and how a business can mitigate the adverse effects of an Internet outage.
We've been installing and servicing Internet connections since ~1993.
During that time there has really only been one Internet Service Provider (ISP) we've ever found (Cogent Communications) who performed at the level of service that we believe is reasonable to expect, but unfortunately Cogent is unable to service every client facility, and the cost is ~$800 monthly. All other Internet service providers provide service that is unacceptable at some point.
What I like to say is that any of the vendors can be good or
bad, and the service generally works until it doesn't. Then when the
service doesn't work, ~50% of the time the service is restored in a
reasonable time period, say 1-2 days. Then once every few years, there
is an outage that lasts a week or more, as our client recently experienced.
To mitigate against the poor service, we came up with a dual-ISP scheme a few years ago when dual-ISP routers became available at a reasonable cost. That takes the pressure off when the primary ISP is unable to fix the problem promptly.
Another way to look at it is that the ISPs are undercharging us for their true support costs. The vendor whose service is acceptable charges ~$800 a month. So if you double a business' monthly Internet cost to ~$250, you're still well below the number that our experience has taught us is the lowest price we can pay and get acceptable service.
In the future we believe most businesses intend to do more with the Internet, not less. So, the need for absolutely reliable Internet at most businesses will increase, not diminish. Plan and act accordingly.
Email should be used to add value, not to express your personality
While working at a large client, I received an email from the client's IT outsourcing vendor. The vendor is a Fortune 20 company, and this type of outsourcing is an important component of their business. The email was about a failed disaster recovery test, and it contained important, time sensitive information.
But here's the thing: I could hardly read the email because someone on the vendor's technical staff decided to use the Windows Papyrus font (and in purple, no less). And this isn't just for the signature, it was for the entire body of the email, which included hostnames, IP addresses, time windows, and other detailed technical information.
Not only is Papyrus considered a joke among font enthusiasts, but among its other faults, you can't easily distinguish the sequence "O_" (capital-O, underscore) from "Q" (capital-Q). And this email had many capital-Q's in it, and a capital-O underscore.
The only purpose of emails between this vendor and our client is to convey technical information. And their employee's use of Papyrus served only to diminish the value of that information. I ended up taking a few minutes to copy this text into a text editor just so I could change the font and understand what the vendor was trying to say.
Please, don't let this happen to you. Don't be cute at the expense of being professional. Every communication from you should have the goal of succinctly conveying business information and value.
Aug 13, 2009
Did you know that many household power cords contain lead (Pb), a highly poisonous substance? I was recently surprised to read the warning label on an extension cord I purchased.
Click the image to see it full-size and note the warning regarding the power cord's lead content.
The warning label says:
"WARNING: The power cord on this product contains lead, a chemical known to the State of California to cause birth defects or other reproductive harm. Wash hands after handling."
Sadly, many power cords still contain lead. If you use a power cord that contains lead with your vacuum cleaner, you're potentially brushing the cord over your carpet where your children and pets play. Keep reading - there's a way around this.
How dangerous is lead? You might want to read this excerpt from Wikipedia or this Wikipedia article about Lead Poisoning. There's also a group, the Coalition to End Childhood Lead Poisoning with useful information on their website.
Help is On The Way to Remove Lead from Your Life
There is a formal initiative to stop the use of hazardous materials in electrical devices. It's called the Reduction of Hazardous Substances Directive, or RoHS. The goal is to remove hazardous substances like lead from electrical devices. RoHS took effect in 2006 in the European Union, via EU Directive 2002/95/EC. RoHS compliance is not mandatory in the USA, but manufacturers can voluntarily comply with the RoHS directive at their discretion - and help is on the way.
Not every power cable or surge protector contains lead.
I recently purchased a Tripp Lite Surge Protector, model: TLP602, because the packaging had an RoHS Compliant logo. I subsequently called Tripp Lite to ask them about their RoHS policy and was directed to their website, where I found:
- A Series of Tripp Lite Press Releases announcing RoHS Compliant Products and Policy
- Tripp Lite's formal declaration that if they use the RoHS logo on a product, the product will in fact be compliant with EU Directive 2002/95/EC (RoHS)
True Blade will be doing additional research into the use of lead in electrical devices with the goal of helping offices and families stay safe, healthy, and lead-free.
Register your contact information with us if you would like to receive more information in the future regarding our findings.
Aug 11, 2009
I received an unsolicited email this morning, promoting a low-cost stock. Interestingly, this solicitation had a disclaimer at the end, telling me: "We want you to know that while our ad says buy we are selling".
The email is promoting the stock of a company whose revenue for the period ending March 31, 2009 was $0. I researched the company's SEC filings and found that the company's total assets as of March 31, 2009 are $57.
What I found insightful about this promotion was the disclaimer at the bottom of the email; the highlighting is mine.
CYA: This is an
ad. We were paid get this message to you. We
take on projects we feel have upside and that are willing to pay us. We
never tell people to sell. The info in this piece is based on what the
Company told us. What we believe MAY happen in the future may not come to
pass this is a risky business. We don't hold any licenses and this has
not been reviewed and signed off on by anyone. Do not get this or any
other pick unless you are able to pay the band and handle a complete loss
We were paid 20k for this report. Do your homework and
research any pick before putting your hard earned cash in it and talk to
your own experts. Basically if you decide to buy in it's your decision
and you are on your own. We want you to know that while our ad says buy
we are selling so you can factor it in to your decision and we don't get in
Needless to say, ignore this and similar stock promotions. If you receive an inappropriate solicitation, you may want to file a complaint with the SEC.
Jul 22, 2009
With the U.S. Federal Deficit at all-time record high levels, and many U.S. State budgets deeply in the red, the time is right for a broad push to deploy and use open-source software at all levels of government. Technology entrepreneur Tim O'Reilly recently founded an organization to bolster this effort: Open Source for America (OSA).
There aren't many valid reasons to exclude open-source software within government, other than it removes opportunity for certain software vendors.
There is no licensing fee to evaluate and use open-source software. Open-source software can usually be adapted to the specialized needs of the entity using the software. The talent pool of open-source developers is broad.
Certainly if we're going to try to reform the health care system in the U.S., open-source software should play an important role. This article makes a good case for open-source software in health care.
The government software I would like to see as open-source software is voting software. Make the USA's voting software open-source, allow everyone to review the code, and let it be managed in a responsible way. It's amazing that we had such big problems in the 2000 elections and yet even in 2009 we're basically using the same software systems, while a developing country like Brazil uses open-source voting software.
True Blade publishes this Business Blog and a Technology Blog. We assume the readers of our Technology Blog are familiar with and use open-source software, but from our interactions with the business community, there is a need to provide more information and education regarding the benefits of open-source software.
Read more about Open Source for America at:
Jul 21, 2009
NYC is increasing the sales and use tax rate from 8.375% to 8.875% on August 1, 2009. Read below for an explanation and links to more information.
That's an increase of almost 6% from the prior rate of 8.375%.
The 8.375% rate is the sum of 3 different taxes:
|NY State Tax
Transportation District (MCTD*) Tax**
|New York City Local Tax
Total Sales and Use Tax in NYC:
According to the postcard, sales of clothing and footwear costing less than $110 are fully exempt from taxes. It's impressive in an anti-societal way that in 2009 the clothing manufacturers and resellers have sufficiently strong political connections to keep this exemption. There is no similar sales tax exemption for computer services such as Internet domain registrations or email service from a commercial vendor.
Click here for a larger version of the postcard scan.
* The MCTD consists of the five boroughs of New York City and the counties of Dutchess, Nassau, Orange, Putnam, Rockland, Suffolk, and Westchester.
** Earlier this year we received notice of a new, related tax, the:
Metropolitan Commuter Transportation Mobility Tax
This tax is an additional 0.34% of payroll expense for employers to pay for employees employed within the MCTD, once payroll expense exceeds $2,500 in any calendar quarter, effective March 1, 2009. It also applies to self-employment earnings of $10,000 or more for the tax year.
From the notice: "The Metropolitan Commuter Transportation Mobility Tax is a new tax imposed on certain employers and self-employed individuals engaging in business within the Metropolitan Commuter Transportation District (MCTD)".
New York City and State are a seriously large bureaucracy that finds ever new ways to tax, without any consideration for responsible fiscal planning. Thinking people should reflect on how this can be gradually turned around, one step at a time, so that the system stops working against our collective interests.
Jun 26, 2009
A recent Chase Credit Card mailing informs the reader that Chase is more than doubling the minimum monthly payment on credit card balances, from 2% to 5%, effective August, 2009. This will create hardship for many Chase customers who are unable to come up with additional money to make the higher payments. Chase's notice is dated June, 2009 and is labeled "ADV5679".
This is not a defensive move by Chase done out of need.
Chase is well capitalized.
So, why do this now?
Doesn't JP Morgan Chase & Company have a good deal as a national banking institution? Let's see:
- Deemed too large to fail, Chase received (and repaid) $25 billion in TARP money from the Federal Government. The change in minimum monthly payments was announced after repayment of the TARP money.
- Chase received and continues to enjoy being able to offer enhanced FDIC guarantees on bank deposits made by their customers.
- Chase enjoys essentially unlimited borrowing privileges, at interest rates of 0.25% or less, a benefit unavailable to you or me or any industrial business in the United States.
The above benefits increase the value of Chase's banking franchise. And the benefits are only possible due to tax revenue and a regulatory structure whose costs are borne by taxpayers.
The USA and the rest of the world are in recession. Many people are out of work and money is more scarce than when credit card minimum payments were 2%. Credit card minimum payments have been low for as long as I can remember.
This is a strong, giant industry. Read more info on the credit card industry and how large it is.
So, is this a good time for a National bank to pull in money from its customers, when our country's national bank, the Federal Reserve, is making money available to Chase in unlimited amounts at interest rates of 0.25% or less?
I called Chase on June 24, 2009 and asked them, why do this now?
The agent's response was that it was intended to make new borrowers become more responsible about borrowing. OK, fine, good idea.
But what about all those people with big outstanding balances? Read the comments of a few of them. Those people are going down, down, into bankruptcy, and maybe worse.
The Obama Administration recently encouraged Congress to pass legislation to improve the rights of credit card customers. The legislation, the "Credit CARD Act of 2009" was passed over strident objections. Consumers Union, the non-profit publisher of Consumer Reports, deemed the legislation "Victory", and by reading their summary, you will see that it's mostly favorable for consumers. Favorable for consumers likely means "mostly unfavorable" for credit card issuers.
So perhaps in raising monthly minimum payments Chase is sincere in merely wanting new borrowers to be more responsible.
Or, may I suggest a counter-idea:
Marginal borrowers won't be able to pay 2.5 times as much as they're paying now, pushing these people into default, enabling the credit card companies to quickly raise the borrower's interest rate.
Other borrowers have low interest rates on their outstanding balances, due to "teaser" offers from the credit card companies that encouraged borrowing at attractive interest rates.
These borrowers faithfully make their minimum monthly payments, stretching out the repayment term as long as possible - making for a not-so-profitable customer for Chase. Who knows, maybe with the increased monthly payments some of these borrowers won't be able to afford the increased payment, their low teaser rate will vanish, and the borrower will be thrust into a high interest rate due to late or missed payments.
I posit that Chase already has calculations and estimates of exactly how many of these borrowers will be forced into default, and that Chase has already run a full profit and loss simulation of what will happen.
This is the United States of America. If you want to know why this country is compounding itself at a negative rate, pushing itself further and further into the abyss, it's hard to think of a better example than letting national banks, subject to Federal Regulation, and receiving abundant benefits available to no other sector of the U.S. economy, unilaterally take actions that will push potentially millions of new people into financial ruin.
Write to the authorities if this bothers you or to state your thoughts. Per Chase's mailing, which doesn't contain a copyright notice, the relevant Federal Regulatory Entity to write to is:
Office of the Comptroller of the Currency
Customer Assistance Group
1301 McKinney Street, Suite 3450
Houston, TX 77010-9050
The address to send written correspondence to Chase Credit Cards is:
PO Box 15098
Wilmington, DE 19850-5098
Or you can write to Chase's CEO:
Jamie Dimon, CEO
JPMorgan Chase & Co.
270 Park Avenue
New York, NY 10017
Jun 22, 2009
Suggestion to Time Warner Cable TV: Please don't ask your customers to call you back when you make an error. Own the error, be accountable, and create delighted customers.
I had an installation window for Cable TV service in my NYC apartment scheduled for 4pm-6pm today. At 5:55pm nobody had called or come by.
So I called in to Time Warner Cable customer service on (718) 358-0900.
The first rep I spoke with (Vincent) said nothing could be done and I should call back in 30 minutes. Since I had I spent 15 minutes on hold to receive this advice I was less than delighted. I politely asked the rep to let me speak with a supervisor. I was then placed on hold.
At 32 minutes into the call, a supervisor picked up. After another 6 minutes, I was promised a call back within 30 minutes. Lo and behold, the technician called and said he was running late and would be here in 15 minutes.
Lesson: Do not tell your customers to call back when you make a mistake. Take accountability and own the problem. The onsite technician did this, the supervisor did this, but the inital rep did not. And yet the initial rep is always our first point of contact as customers or potential customers.
Question: Why does it take a 38 minute phone call to reach an accountable person?
Update: While setting up the Internet connection, the technician asked to use my laptop. He didn't have his own.
Question: Time Warner Cable, why do you not provide your installation technicians with a laptop?
Well, it turns out the installer is a contractor, and neither his company nor Time Warner Cable provide him with a laptop to check the installation.
Cable TV Internet has been around for at least 10 years, this is New York City, and the installation technician doesn't have a company-provided laptop? Sigh.