Friday, March 30, 2007

Stale Choices and Lousy Service

They don't do no good
They never be workin'
When they oughta should
They waste your time
They're wastin' mine
California's got the most of them
Boy, they got a host of them
--- Frank Zappa (Flakes from Sheik Yerbouti, 1979)
Shopping isn't easy. I'm looking for a new computer and am having trouble deciding. Last time, I opted for portability with a 4 pound notebook with a 12" screen. This time, I'm looking for a desktop replacement. That means a larger screen and a powerful video card. There's only so much you can research online. So I visited retailers.

Office Depot
There were several choices. I quickly saw that HP has notebooks that look sleek and slim in black. I couldn't figure out the prices, though. The tags above and below didn't match the machines. Also, the equipment was months old and relatively slow. There was no one there to answer questions, which was fine because I didn't have any.

Dell Kiosk
This is where I got my last notebook. While waiting for one of the two sales reps to become free, I looked at the machines. I was surprised. The 17" unit looked bulky and had been discontinued months ago. Only one notebook had the new Windows Vista, which Dell recommends. I got tired of waiting and left.

Best Buy
There were so many choices here. Maybe two dozen. Two reps were standing around but couldn't be bothered to help. So I went to one and said I was interested in a 15"-17" notebook with a discrete video card. He said there were only two, showed me --- both were off --- and left! Just as well. He was clueless. Most notebooks costing $1,500 or more have the video performance I wanted. I saw several computers there that fit my criteria. Again, these machines were relatively expensive for what they offered. I left.

Future Shop
There weren't many choices, which made looking easier. No one was available to help either. The white Sony notebook looked cheap and had a soft scratch prone cover. Toshiba was decent, but they took shortcuts by making their keyboards bilingual. Having red French lettering added clutter. Manufacturers usually make language-specific computers. So does Toshiba with their pricey Qosimo and business lines.

Onward to the last stop.

The reps at Staples are usually responsive but the three I saw were more interested in talking to one another than helping customers. It didn't matter. The selection was limited and stale.

I've had good service at most of these stores before. But not this time. There are challenges in providing a consistent high quality experience

As far as a notebook, HP looks nicest and Dell offer the most performance. I couldn't decide on style vs substance. Intel is launching the new Centrino Pro, possibly in early May. Maybe that's why most of the computers on display look old. I guess I'll wait and make another round of visits :(

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Comparing Factory Tours for GM, Ford and Toyota

The machine of a dream
Such a clean machine
With the pistons a pumpin'
And the hub caps all gleam
--- Queen (A Night At The Opera, 1975)
Vehicle factory tours make an interesting outing. We've visited:
  • Bowling Green, Kentucky: Chevrolet Corvette
  • Dearborn, Michigan: Ford F-Series trucks
  • Cambridge, Ontario: Toyota Corolla, Matrix and Lexus RX350
The Corvette Tour [July 2003]
Isn't the Corvette America's sports car? They are made exclusively here. The Corvette tour is the most interactive, emotional and personal. Aficionados connect with a Corvette in a way that a Corolla can't inspire. Some visitors arrived in Corvettes and most probably wanted one.

Corvette uses the fewest robots, which means you get to see humans at work. One car takes 35-40 hours to make. That's about 35,000 cars per year.

Unfortunately, quality suffers. About 5% of the vehicles have defects. We saw a car into which water leaked during the "car wash". Since each vehicle is made for a specific customer, this is especially disappointing. At Toyota, there are virtually no defects.

The tour guides were volunteers. The highlight is when the fiberglass body is attached to the rest of the vehicle. Workers smile and wave. Two lucky children were able to sit in a nearly finished Corvette. We were given key rings as souvenirs.

Our trip ended up in a hospital getting treated for food poisoning by a doctor wearing sandals. That's a tale for another time.

The F-150 Tour [Mar 2006]
In the US, trucks rules. The F-Series has been the best selling vehicle in the US for the last 24 years. In 2006, sales were 796,039 compared 448, 445 for the best selling car, the Camry. Dearborn is where the F-Series is made. This is Ford's largest, employing 100,000 in the 1930s, down to 6,000 now.

This tour is at your own pace. You watch from a floor above the factory floor. You're limited in what you see. Only 30% of the visitors parked near us drove Fords, and very few had pickup trucks.

The Toyota Tour [Mar 2007]
Toyota Motor Manufacturing Canada (TMMC) makes the Corolla, Matrix and Lexus RX350 in Cambridge, an hour west of Toronto. The Woodstock plant opening in 2008 will be called TMMC West and make the RAV4.

Previously, the Toyota tour was restricted to groups. Now families can attend. Only 30% of visitors arrived in Toyotas.

What can you say about Toyota?
  • the pioneers in Just In Time manufacturing
  • believers in continuous improvement ("kaizen")? Last year, factory workers (called "Team Members") made 10,000 suggestions and 95% were implemented.
  • workers can --- and are expected to --- stop the line is any defects are found
The plant covers 3 million square feet and cost $3 billion. There's considerable automation. Robots make about 83% of a Corolla (best selling car of all time) or Matrix, and about 94% of a RX350. There's still plenty for humans to do. There are usually 4,200 - 4,400 workers but there are currently 5,000 because of training for the upcoming Woodstock plant. Over 300,000 vehicles are made here each year --- 1,100 - 1,400 per day (including 300 Lexuses). One vehicle takes 18-21 hours to make. That's about twice as fast as a Corvette. One vehicle comes off the assembly line each minute.

In comparison, this factory showed the best teamwork and won the most awards. Maybe that's why this is the only Lexus plant outside of Japan.

See For Yourself
If you take a factory tour, please share your experiences.


Saturday, March 10, 2007

The Fall of the Internet

Passing through a computer section at a big box retailer, I overheard a startling conversation. Apparently there's a closely guarded secret about the Internet. There are only 8 web servers in the world and that hackers are close to bringing them down. The result would be world chaos!

I'm glad if a sales associate knows the difference between WXGA screen resolution and WXGA+. Here, the fellow knew secrets that could affect the whole world and was taking company time to warn customers.

Thought you should know, constant readers :)
Conspiracy Theories
Just because you're not paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you.
How do you prove a misguided belief wrong? Any facts you present will be derided as false. I walked away.

There probably are some vulnerabilities. For example, it takes 24 hours for a new domain name to start working. If that process were disrupted, then there could be problems. But there must be backups. Right?

Maybe the information came from the most credible source like a blog. Maybe it's true.

Regardless, I thought it best to post. While I still can :)

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Fighting Lame Cover Letters

Peter McGarvey blogs about the lameness of his cover letters. And he's a communication expert. Here's my perspective...

Do resumes and cover letters stand out anymore? Perhaps there is a way to create something different. How about a website with examples of your work? More detail would be a click away. You could show the URL in your emails etc.

To start, you can register your name as a domain name. I'm working along these lines. I just registered for $4.95 US at For .ca, consider ($12.95). I've used both. While it's easy to get a .ca (if you're Canadian), you'll spend more and lose out on the cachet of a .com.

For a twist, you could link an attribute to your name (eg, I was considering but decided to follow the convention.

The next step is to create a website. Because of my interest in "open source communication", I'm using a free wiki at I'll have links to my blogs, relevant websites, samples of my work, and even a photo or two. I can add more over time. The site could become a book length biography, over the years. That could be interesting (at least to me)

While I'm not looking for a job, I do want to give the people I meet (consumers, financial advisors) an option to find out more about me. Like you, I don't like tooting my horn, but if you don't promote yourself, who will? So why not offer one place in the world that's all about you?

You could even sell t-shirts!