Tuesday, October 30, 2007

A fish rots from the head?

    Note from Brent Noorda, Founder, President, and CEO of BNB, Inc.: Today's blog post has been cancelled, which is unfortunate because it was extremely funny. It was a hilarious chronic-(what)-cle of my 3.5 years at Openwave—an insider's view of how management's absurdist antics killed a promising technology company. If you like the Three Stooges, you would have loved the cancelled blog post. One of my favorite bits was when the board was looking for a new CEO to head their leading-edge technology company: First, they found a clown who had a history of taking companies with leading technology and squandering that lead until they were almost worthless; and then (get this, because it is oh so funny) they hired him. I don’t know if the board was too hands-off, idiotic, immoral, or just felt bad for the guy and wanted to give him one more chance, but their choice to hire that clown at that time sure tickles the funny bone (remember that comedy is all in the timing). The CEO/clown then proceeded to follow his usual M.O., which was always to forfeit long-term viability and growth in exchange for short-term boosts in "this quarter's" numbers. His shtick was to halt nearly all development of future products, "reduce" those people working on anything in the pipeline, cut costs at all costs (occasionally new product work began, but only if another company had already proven the concept, and even then the me-too "next generation" projects were laughably understaffed and under funded), condense long-term contracts into short-term one-off deals to make a few end-of-quarters look good, milk the old technology lead (cutting edge circa 2002) for all it was worth and more, and report pretend deals to phantom customers made up on-the-spot during analyst reports (comedy improv is hard, but this clown could really think on his feet). His catch phrase was "we're following best practices"—that got a laugh every time. To spice up the act, he replaced any talented senior management with Larry, Moe, Curly, and even Shemp, all of whom spent most of their time poking each other in the eye, hitting each other on the head with cast-iron skillets, jockeying with each other for position and titles, throwing custard pies, and other such stoogey pratfalls.

    From inside Openwave we could see the clownishness work it’s way down, like a flesh eating bacteria (not the gross kind, but the funny clown kind) from the board and CEO, to Executive Staff, then to all levels of VP, Directors, and so on. But from outside the company it took longer for the world to get the joke. At first the stock did go up, peaking when Ringmaster Cramer at Mad Money Circus bellowed “buy buy buy” over his own laugh track. But eventually the same old shtick got old (hey, Scrubs isn’t as funny as it used to be, either), the market figured out that Openwave had nothing in the pipeline, and the stock made its way from over $23 to under $4, where it belongs.

    The cancelled blog was really really funny stuff, probably good enough to make you laugh and spit milk out your nose even if you weren’t drinking milk. The BNB writing staff spent weeks putting it together. The BNB fact-checking team understandably went over it with a fine-tooth comb, approving every accusatory punch line. But in the end we could not get approval from the BNB legal department. The lawyers said there was enough libel and slander in the post to sue all of BNB, anyone on staff, our advertisers, our investors, and possibly even our readers (all fourteen of you). The BNB fact-checking team went over it again, using a comb with even finer teeth; they found a few lice and a couple of extra commas, but no factual errors. Still, the BNB legal department said NO. They said the only way we could get away with publishing such accusations was to pretend that I was not me, to use cute nicknames for all of the principle characters, and to call everything a something-tard (e.g., “This is Fake Brent Noorda whining about the OpenTard BoardTards who hired JesterTard from Top Gun to crash their own company. What tards! Nanu nanu.”). But that is below my journalistic dignity.

    We can’t just cancel a blog post and do nothing. We at BNB have a business to run. We have deadlines to meet. Bills to pay. The ad space has already been sold. The show must go on! Fortunately, Intern Billy has come up with an alternative post that is completely safe because it has nothing to do with Openwave. Nothing, I swear! Billy, you’re up.
Hi. This is Intern Billy. At the start of my summer internship Mr. Noorda bought me a fish at the supermarket and gave me these instructions: "Take a picture of it every day. Learn how fish rot, educate and entertain the BNB audience, and answer this question: Is the old saying true that a fish rots from the head down? For bonus points, tell us what this fish taught you about business. But, whatever you do, don’t eat the fish." So that’s what I did. The pictures are here [link to Rotting Fish Pictures].

A time-lapse movie of the rotting fish is here:

On day 34 the fish was gone. I swear I didn’t eat it. As an intern I don’t get paid anything and I need all the free food I can get, but I’m not that desperate.

The fish did not rot in the way I expected. In the first few days the ants were all over it, but then they lost all interest. I expected there to eventually be cool maggots crawling all over, but again I was disappointed. After the first week it didn’t even smell bad. For most of the five weeks it just seemed to oh-so-slowly dry up. It was almost imperceptible. Watching this fish was, in a word, boring. I was honestly very happy the day I went out to discover that some animal had taken the fish away.

Did the fish rot from the head? Not that I could tell. In the first couple of days the eyeballs vanished, but other than that the head seemed to oh-so-slowly dry up just like the rest of the fish.

What can this fish teach us about business? That may not be a fair question because by the time Mr. Noorda gave it to me the guts had already been removed. I'm just an intern, but I don't imagine a business without guts deserves to be called a business at all. If I’m forced to draw a parallel to business from this fish, it’s this: First it loses its guts; then it loses its vision; then it slowly desiccates and rots from inside, becoming a shell of itself with anyone hardly noticing; until one night an opportunist comes along and steals it away to the relief of everyone.

On a personal note, I’d like to thank Mr. Noorda and everyone else at BNB for being so nice to me these past months, and for the honor of penning this entire blog all by myself. With this experience on my resume I’ve had lots of job offers coming my way: First from The Stinkymeat Project and Glorious Stench, both of which need people experienced in filming meat rotting, but I turned down both of those offers in favor of Cheddar Vision TV, where I will be in charge of round-the-clock filming of a block of cheese as it matures in a cave over the course of a year. I may have to kill myself.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Eyes Don’t Have It

Next weekend will be Amy’s birthday. She’ll be 33 or 36 or 30-something. Amy is just about the greatest wife in the world, and she deserves the best gift that money can buy (as long is it’s not expensive), but I had no idea what to get her. So I rode to the mall and trekked from store to store asking saleswomen for advice (they ought to know, right?), and every saleswoman said exactly the same thing: “Excuse me. My eyes are up here.”

What is it with women and their eyes? I mean, really, it’s like an obsession or something, and it’s not healthy. Recent lack of research shows that last year American women spent about 80 trillion dollars striving for some unrealistic ideal of eye beauty: 80 trillion on a wide range of cosmetics, elective lid-lifts, botox, bag-bleach, crows feet de-clawing, contacts, glass eyeballs, and superglue. I hate to throw big words around just to sound smart, but it’s called Occuloclusive Dysmorphia and it’s a real problem.

Women of the world, it's not what's outside that's important. What really matters is what’s inside. Inside your blouse. Ha ha ha ha ha ha.

No no no. That was a cheap joke and I apologize, because in resorting to such crudity I’ve weakened what is otherwise an important point: Women’s objectification of women’s eyes is just plain wrong. Get over it, ladies. Really, when you think about it, they’re just a pair of round, smooth, firm, glistening orbs.

Well, anyway, I didn't leave the mall empty-handed. Amy will love her new mascara.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

All work and no pay make Jack a poor boy.

The greatest thing happened today. I was the 15th caller into a radio-station contest and won the chance to talk via IM with Jack Whyte, who is about 40% of the hit musical group The Whyte Strypes.
    JW: Hello? Hello? Is this thing on?
    BN: Mr. Whyte? Is that really you?
    JW: Please, call me Jack.
    BN: Hi Jack. Call me Brent.
    JW: Hi Brent.
    BN: Hi.
    JW: Hi.
    BN: Hi.
    JW: Very well then. Will that be all?
    BN: No no. I'm so excited to be able to chat with you. I'm like your #1 fan. (I can hardly believe I've got Jack Whyte on IM.) My 20 other friends I'm chatting with now can hardly believe it.
    JW: This is the first time I've used IM actually. Excuse my ignorance. What do you want to talk... er, "chat" about?
    BN: I dunno. Um. Oh, I know. How's your sister Meg?
    JW: She's recovering. Thanks for asking. Actually, she's not my sister. That's a common misconception because we're both named Whyte. Truth is, we used to be married.
    BN: You're kidding, right? In an IM, when you're kidding you should add a little smiley emoticon, like this :)
    JW: No, I'm not kidding. Meg and I used to be married.
    BN: You married your sister?!! That is so... you artists really do live by a different set of rules. Right on, Mr. artist!
    JW: You misunderstand. I didn't have sex with my sister.
    BN: You didn't have sex with your sister/wife. Yeah, right ;)
    JW: Right.
    BN: Right ;) ;) ;) ;)
    JW: Huh? What's with all the weird punctuation?
    BN: It's an emoticon, like I was telling you about earlier. ;) is a winking face. I was winking when I said that thing about sex with Meg, your wife/sister. Truth be told, Meg is hot!!! If Meg Whyte were my sister, I'd have sex with her too.
    JW: Let's get off Meg!
    BN: Do you mean "let's get off Meg ;) " ?
    JW: Talk, I mean chat, about something else for fuckallsakes.
    BN: OK. Um... How about this topic: Jack, I'm a big fan of yours. I think you were great in "School of Rock" and "King Kong." :)
    JW: You're thinking of Jack Black... Oh, I get it. Another smiley. It was a joke.
    BN: Exactly.
    JW: Let me try one: I chat, therefore IM :)
    BN: Well done. Bravo!
    JW: So are you really a Whyte Strypes fan, or was that a joke too?
    BN: I'm a ginormous fan. I've downloaded all your albums from fan sites. All of them. I especially like "Take me from behind, Satan," and the follow-on "Sticky Rump," but the old stuff is good too, especially some of the studio out-takes. And the live MP3s like the 2002 show from Stuttgart, Germany: smokin' hot "My Balls and Biscuit" on that one!
    JW: Downloaded from fan sites? What are you talking about?
    BN: Fan sites. You know, like Pirate Bay, BitTorrent Trackers, Grabb.it. Places like that where the real fans are.
    JW: You mean you have all my music and you never paid?
    BN: Of course I never pay. I'm a fan. I'm in it for the music; for you, Jack. Not for the labels. For the music. Besides, I did pay once, when I was in a hurry, I did buy one of your albums from allofmp3 for a dollar or so. And I bet you didn't see a bit of that dollar, did you?
    JW: You're right. I got none of the money you paid to allofmp3.
    BN: See? That's just what I told you. Those fucking labels!
    JW: You never pay The Whyte Strypes any money, you steal all our music, and you call yourself our biggest fan?
    BN: Don't say "steal." Say "share." Stealing is bad. Sharing is warm and fuzzy and good. And I don't share all your music. I don't have anything from that other band you're in.
    JW: You mean The Entrepreneurs?
    BN: Yes. The Enter.. Entrep... uh... that one. That word is way too hard to spell in the file sharing programs. If you want more fans you need band names that are easier to spell.
    JW: By "fans" you mean people like you, who don't pay. How am I supposed to make a living if nobody pays?
    BN: Wow, Mr. Whyte, for such an excellent musician, you sure don't know much about music, do you?
    JW: Uh. I don't know how to respond to that. Please educate me.
    BN: I'm no expert. You should read people like Cory Doctorow, who tells us that sharing is good, promotes free speech, helps artists, is inevitable anyway, and prevents the tyranny of artists profiting from their creations. Or read this Michael Arrington guy who has fancy economics talk to prove that music has to be free.
    JW: Are these guys musicians?
    BN: No, but they both have very succesful blogs: boing boing and TechCrunch.
    JW: Let me guess. They copyright these blogs to prevent unlawful copying and commercial sharing :)
    BN: Yes. Nice try with the emoticon... but I don't see your point. You're getting off-topic. I'm trying to help you here.
    JW: OK. Help me. How am I supposed to make money if people won't pay for my records?
    BN: It's in that last blog. I'll cut and paste it here: artists need to "stop thinking of digital music as a source of revenue and start thinking about it as a way to market their real products."
    JW: I can't believe you wrote that without using one of your smiley emoticons.
    BN: Those are only used after silly, funny, or ironical statements?
    JW: Ironical?
    BN: I don't know what it means either. Ask Alannis.
    JW: What are these "real products" I'm supposed to be marketing.
    BN: You're a creative guy. Surely you can come up with a creative new business model now that your old model is dead. I hear there's a lot of money in T-shirts. Or car commercials--get your song on a car commercial and you'll make a bundle. Maybe you could start a blog?
    JW: How about concerts?
    BN: I wasn't going to bring up concerts. First because I know that's a sore point since Meg had her little breakdown. But also because I've become enlightened to the fact that paying money for concert tickets is just as bad as paying for recordings. It's just another way to give money to the wrong people (labels, concert promoters, parking lot attendants, ticket-takers, beer-sellers) instead of to the real artists.
    JW: So now you're going to tell me, without a smiley, that concert tickets should be free too?
    BN: Yes. That's why I've started TicketShare Bay, where a true fan can send in a ticket and we quickly reproduce that ticket to share with tons of other fans. I don't mind telling you, I'm making a bundle of money. I love live music.
    JW: Is there an emoticon that represents slowly squishing someone's genitalia in a table vice?
    BN: No. Why do you ask? Is that going to be your next album cover?
    JW: Did you hear the real story behind Meg's emotional concert trauma, and why we stopped touring?
    BN: No. BTW, I lost a bundle at TicketShare Bay when you cancelled the rest of your tour. But, hey, I'm not mad. That's just business, right? Go ahead with your story.
    JW: We were going to do a little show in Dubuque. A small theater seating only 200, real intimate. By the time of the concert we'd only sold 3 tickets. Three! We say "OK, the show must go on," get into the hall, and it's a mad house. 3000 people show up with tickets!
    BN: My records show it was more like 2,787, but sorry to interrupt. Please continue.
    JW: The hall is overflowing onto the stage. I'm stepping across bodies. Someone pulls Meg down by the hair. The fire marshal comes in with his horn blaring, people think there's a fire, they panic. We barely got out alive! Oh my god! Oh my god!!!
    BN: Here's a little IM tip, buddy. Use OMG! OMG!!! It's a lot faster.
    BN: Hello? Hey, Jack. You still there? Hello?
    BN: Hello?
    BN: Hello?
    JW: Hello.
    BN: Hey, Jack. You've been gone a long time. What's up?
    JW: This isn't Jack, it's Meg. Jack won't be back for a while. He wasn't feeling so good and needs to rest.
    BN: That's terrible. What happened?
    JW: I don't know. Something got him really upset. He talked to our mom and dad for a while, but that didn't help.
    BN: Sorry to hear that.
    JW: Yeah. So I did what I could to make Jack feel better. Now he won't be back online to talk to you for a while, because he always takes a long nap after we make love. Goodbye.
Artists. They have sex with their siblings. They think we should pay for their creations. Artists truly do have different moral values than the rest of us.