Saturday, May 31, 2008

Amazon's Price Guarantee

Amazon LogoI decided to pull the trigger on the Panasonic 50PZ800u and have discovered one of the better under-publicized features of Amazon, their 30 day price guarantee. One of the anxieties of buying any big ticket electronic is that prices are always dropping and you just know it is going to drop the minute after you make your purchase. There wasn't a more perfect example of this than this. More on that in a minute.

On Friday, Amazon showed that it had my TV in stock. Funny enough, they delayed the "In Stock" date yet again the day after my original post about Amazon teasing me. So I had to wait another day before I felt comfortable ordering it. I got in on Friday morning to see that they were showing the item in stock, so I decided to go through with the purchase and just order it. I wanted to get the TV as soon as possible since the NBA finals will be starting on Thursday, and the Lakers are in it. It is going to be a classic match up between Los Angeles and Boston so I wanted to catch as much of it as I could on the new TV.

I ordered the TV at about 10:00 a.m. PST. The price of the TV when I ordered it was $2368.86. I felt fairly comfortable with the price and truth be told I would have been happy to pay that amount. But wouldn't you know it. I obsessively checked the status of my order at noon and noticed that the price had dropped more than $50 to $2313.96. I could only laugh as I found the whole thing pretty amusing. You expect the price to drop sometime after you buy it, and that's just life. There is no point in always holding out for a lower price because you will never get what you want. But dropping by $50 just two hours after you have bought it? Now that's just irony.

Now I have read that Amazon has some pretty sophisticated albeit strange pricing algorithms. It could very well be that my purchasing of the TV actually caused the price of the item to go down. As the margins on these TVs are pretty good, and I'm sure they don't sell them in as much quantity as say a DVD, it is very likely that my actions had an affect on the price, and therefore the price dropped. Of course this would fly in the face of traditional supply-and-demand principles, but who am I to tell them not to give consumers a better deal?

However, Amazon has a 30 day price guarantee that is good until 30 days after the item is shipped (my item hasn't even shipped yet so I think I'm getting an even longer window). All you have to do is go to the customer service screen which should list all your recent orders. You should be able to click on a button to e-mail customer service. If you e-mail them with the price that you saw listed on Amazon, they will refund you the difference with a credit to your credit card.

But it gets better. You can do this as often as you like in your 30 day window. Quite literally, another 3 hours later, the price dropped yet again to $2286.86, a total of $82 less than my original purchase price. I e-mailed them again to get the new price difference and yet again they credited me the money.

Wait, it still gets better. There is absolutely no hassle about it. It really couldn't be any easier or faster. Each time I got a pretty standard response saying they looked at it, and they agreed they had it at a lower price, and they would credit my credit card the amount. And they did this all within a few hours after my inquiry (even though today is a Saturday).

So far, so good. Now all I need is for the TV to show up ...

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Amazon Teasing Me

I'm pretty much decided on the TV I want. I'm going to get the 50" Panasonic. Now if I could only order the stupid thing.

I want to order from Amazon for numerous reasons. First off, they offer the TV at a great price. Second, I don't have to pay tax or shipping. Finally, they have a pretty liberal return policy if for some reason I don't like the TV. So that being said, I've waited patiently for them to have the TV in stock. They recently put up an "in stock" date of May 28. Well staring two days ago, they have moved the date one day later each of the last two days.

It reminds me of a problem I'm dealing with at work. We for some reason have an issue with hitting dates. We will set a date for some deliverable, not meet that date, set the date again, and still not hit that date. That is a big problem (and one I'm working to address). Here is the thing. When it comes to deadlines, if you have to slip, you slip only once. The next time you set a date, you better be damn sure you can hit the date or don't provide a date at all.

So here I am, sitting and waiting for them to get the TV in stock. The current release date is "May 30" but I know tomorrow they are going to move it to "May 31".

Monday, May 26, 2008

New Boss, Same Job

I got a new boss a few weeks ago.  It has been something that has been in the making for a while but it became official in the last couple of weeks.  I'm working in a completely different organization, and it looks at first glance like the scope of my job has greatly increased, but in reality I don't see it that way.

It's true, that my scope went from my particular division to company-wide.  My boss, who is the CTO, is much higher on the org chart than my previous boss.  But in reality, I don't see much of a difference.  Sure, my co-workers probably do.   It certainly seems like I have more influence and scope, but that is mostly perception.  Here is the thing.  I just do my job.  I'm not overly concerned who my boss is and what my reporting structure looks like.  I'm here to do what is best for the company not necessarily what is best for my team or division.  This is especially true when you have a job as ambiguous as mine is, Program Management.  My main responsibility is to make sure we ship the right thing in the right time, and it doesn't really matter who I report to because that function doesn't change.

To be fair, my personal situation has gotten better.  I think my new boss understands my role better than my old one and is giving me more support.  But that is not to say that I'm going to do anything differently than I was before.  Having the interest of the company above and beyond most other things has always served me well.  It has kept be focus on the bottom line and had made sure that I make the right trade offs.   Not sure why I would do anything different just because the person I do my 1 on 1 with every week has changed.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Buying Quality

Ethan Allen Media Cabinet

I used to buy cheap furniture. I was young, and didn't have much money, and didn't really think nice furniture was all that important. However, I recently turned the corner. Not sure if it has more to do with age or with my income. Probably both.

I bought a media console pictured similar to above. I bought it to match the TV that I will eventually get. In times past, I would have just found a nice cheap piece of furniture that would have sufficed to do its job of holding my TV. However, I figured I was about to spend a fair amount of money on my TV and figured it needed an equally nice stand. It's made of real wood, a far cry from the Ikea furniture I'm used to.
The odd thing is that I have always believed in buying quality items. Growing up, my family bought the best we could afford despite the fact we didn't have much money. My mother would always tell me that in the long run, buying something of quality would save you money because you wouldn't have to replace it.

I've done the same strategy with stocks. I've only bought a few dozen stocks in my life. For the most part, I've bought companies which are considered high quality, companies with long histories of strong earnings. Since they are of higher quality, I don't replace them often. Almost all the stocks in my current portfolio I have owned for over two years. It is especially good in times like this when the markets are shaky.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

LCD or Plasma

Samsung LCD

I've debated a long time over what type of TV to get. As I said in an earlier post about my which HDTV I want to get, I've gone back and forth. For a long time, I was sold on a Sony SXRD television. It has great picture quality and is more affordable than the flat panels at the very large screen sizes. As I never plan on hanging my TV, it was a logical choice.

But because Sony decided to move away from that technology I looked elsewhere. The obvious choice was LCD. LCDs are much more popular than Plasma TVs. I'll be the first to say the probably look better in the store because they are much brighter than your general plasmas and thus a person's eye is drawn to them. They also tend to be lighter (and thus easier to hang) and use less energy. But I tend to think those are secondary considerations for most people. For a long time, they were the only choice under 42". Most people would buy those as most people are not in the market for a TV bigger than that.

For me, it came down to a few things. The most important thing by far was how good the picture looked to me. Like most, I was drawn to those big bright screens at my local Best Buy. But after watching a few LCDs in dark rooms, I realized there is such a thing as too bright. So I went back to try and understand what makes a good picture. I like deep saturated colors and great detail. In my opinion, LCDs win in the sharpness department, but Plasmas win in the color and detail department. In the end it came down to two things for me.

  • Black Levels - By the very nature of LCD technology, they can't get as deep a black as Plasmas. This is by far the most important thing when it comes to picture quality. Think of it as the canvas by which all other colors must be painted. You want to have as clean of a canvas as you possibly can get. Most LCDs are a dark gray when the screen is completely black and it really bothers me. New LCDs are getting very close, and it is one reason I have seriously considered getting one, but they still don't beat the best of the plasmas.

  • Motion - This one too is getting close, but its not quite close enough. The main thing I watch is sports and I can see the motion blur that is inherent in LCD technology. Not everyone is sensitive to it, but I am, and it distracts me when I'm trying to watch the Lakers.

There were some other things that favored one over the other. Price was somewhat of a consideration, but only a small one. LCDs are slightly more expensive at this size. But I'm considering two TVs, the Panasonic 50PZ800U I discussed before and the Samsung LN52A650. The price is a wash between the two TVs so it doesn't really factor.

I still haven't bought the TV yet, so it isn't certain that I will go with the plasma. However, I did finally see the Panasonic 50PZ800U first hand in the store today. More on that later ...

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Exploring Lunch Options

Microsoft CafeteriaI went to lunch today with a few coworkers.  I have to admit, I'm generally not a big adventurer when it comes to trying new places.   It is especially bad that there is a food court underneath my building because I'm generally pretty lazy when it comes to leaving the building for lunch.

Today, my coworkers were headed over to a different building, so I decided to tag along.  It was a bright and sunny California day so I figured it was a good time to get out of the building.  I also feel a little guilty about not being more adventurous because I work in Downtown L.A. where there are a lot of options around.

We ended up going to the cafeteria of another building.  It was odd.  First off, we had to pass through a security gate of the building.  It is one of those systems where you have to have a keycard to pass through the turnstile.  The thing was, we don't work in the building, however the security guard let all eight of us pass through.  We just had to say we were going to the cafeteria.  What's the point of that?  Why have a security turnstile if you are just going to let everyone through anyway?

It made me think a little bit about Microsoft.  Microsoft has cafeterias all over the Redmond campus.  There is nothing stopping outsiders from coming in and eating at the cafeterias other than needing a keycard to enter the building.  However, this is easily overcome by just waiting for someone else to enter the building as most people won't stop someone from following them in.  The thing is, I know for a fact that there are lots of conversations going around in the lunch area which probably shouldn't be heard by non-MS employees.  So I wonder, do non-Microsoft employees eat in the cafeterias?  If so, I wonder how often they overhear something they shouldn't.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

My TV Obsession


I am obsessed with my imminent HDTV purchase. I find myself constantly looking for information on the TV I think I will buy, the new Panasonic 50PZ800U. It's been a long road. I've been thinking about getting an HDTV for over five years, and it has never happened.

But now I'm pretty certain. The big problem is that there were just too many choices. Normally, choice is a good thing. But most people only want the illusion of choice. They really want three or four choices, anything more than that and people face decision paralysis.

So how did I come to the decision on the TV I want to buy? Here was my thought process

DLP, LCD, or Plasma? - I originally was going to buy the 60" Sony SXRD but Sony decided to stop making them, so I started looking around for another solution. So the choice came down to an LCD or Plasma. I could go on, and I think I will in another post, about why I chose Plasma. But in the end I thought it was the best choice for me given the type of watching I do which is mainly sports.

Which brand to Buy? - There are so many to choose from. Vizio, Samsung, Panasonic, and Pioneer to name a few. Pioneer supposedly has amazing TVs in their Kuro line, but they are just too expensive for too small of a difference. Vizio is too low on the other side of the scale. So it comes down to Samsung or Panasonic. Panasonic is a little bit better reputation wise, but the Samsung Plasmas, PN50A550 and PN50A650, look to be strong competition. I may eventually swing over to the Samsung side before I buy.

How Much to Spend? - I'll be honest, this wasn't that important. I just wanted the best TV for the best value. I wanted something I would be happy with for ten years. Whatever price point that was was going to be how much I spent.

Which Model to Buy ? - A couple of problems here. Panasonic was coming out with new 2008 models as I was making my decision. Did I wait or buy the older models which were going on sale. In the end, I decided to wait. Might as well get the latest and greatest technology considering my criteria for keeping it for ten years. Next, I had to choose between the 85 model and the 800. I'm still out on this one. The 800 supposedly is a better picture, better sound, but I'm not so sure it is worth the extra $500. I've been waiting to see, but haven't been able to find one yet.

So I find myself constantly looking for information about this set and trying to find places which have a good deal. In the end, I'm sure it won't make that much of a difference, but just given my personality, I just want to make sure I'm very happy with my choice.

How about you? Do you have an HDTV? If so what type and you happy with it? Any advice for a first time buyer?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Prospective Employee Doesn't Fully Disclose - Duh!

dantoni-reinsdorf.pngToday, former Phoenix Sun's coach Mike D'antoni was announced as the new coach for the New York Knicks.  It had been rumored for several days that he was the front runner both for the Knick's job, as well as the Chicago Bulls vacant coaching position.  The owner of the Bulls, Jerry Reinsdorf is quoted as saying,  "I'm disappointed in him. I don't know what else we could've done. He chose to go to New York knowing there was a good chance we would make him an offer. If he had really wanted to be in Chicago, he would've waited. Instead, he misled us. It's not the end of the world, but it is somewhat rude."

Not sure what type of people Jerry Reinsdorf is use to hiring, but they can't be very good.  As an employer, you have to expect that people are not showing you all their cards.  Good people have options.  That's a fact.  For some reason Jerry Reinsdof thinks that good people will just sit around and let him take his time to make a decision.  That's just not how the world works.  You have to EXPECT that people are going to look elsewhere.  You have to EXPECT that they are going to listen to other offers.

Here is the thing that is the most hypocritical.   What was Reinsdorf waiting on?  By all accounts, he had a meeting to discuss the job with D'antoni.  If he was so certain he wanted D'antoni, why didn't he make an offer right then and there?  He clearly didn't make one because he said himself, "there was a good chance we would make him an offer", not "we made him an offer".   Clearly he wasn't sure.  In all likelihood, he probably wanted to interview a few other candidates himself.  So he is upset because D'antoni looked around for other opportunities but he himself was going to do the same thing.

Here is a news flash to employers, don't expect prospective employees to tell you all their options.   If you really want them, then make it a good offer and make it quick.  Good people don't stay unemployed for very long.  Just look at my situation.  I WANTED to stay unemployed for a little longer, and it was all to easy to find a job.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

I Never Saw it Coming ...

Someone asked me the other day why I don't own a house. Considering my age and income, its a pretty good question.

There are lots of reasons I haven't bought a house yet. Some of it just goes to my lifestyle. I want it to be as flexible as possible because I really don't know where life is going to take me. Three years ago, you could have never made me believe that I would move to Seattle. Just a year ago, I was prepared to stay in Washington a few more years. Each time an opportunity came, I grabbed it because there was nothing like a house holding me back.

But that's not the real reason, or at least not the whole reason. It's much more a convenient story I tell to people so they just leave me alone. I'm a traditionalist when it comes to buying a house. I want it to put down 20%, a 30 year fixed mortgage, and I want to only spend about 33% of my gross income a month. When I finally got to the point I could put 20% down on a place, the places I could afford just didn't seem worth the money. I couldn't understand how someone like me, who earns well above the average, couldn't afford a decent place.

So I waited while the prices kept going up. I knew they would eventually come down because I just looked at my own situation. If someone like me, who saves like crazy, earns lots of money, and lives a understated lifestyle couldn't afford something, how could everyone else. So I waited while all my friends told me I was being stupid. It was hard, believe me. Logic seemed to be flying out the window because prices kept going up and up. But I knew things would eventually come back to a sane level. They had to.

That's why when I read articles about the problems in California housing prices, I just laugh. Just read the subtitle, "People in L.A. are coping in ways they never imagined with a crisis they never saw coming."  How did people not see this coming?  I saw it coming five years ago when I refused to buy a house here.  I saw it three years ago as I left the state.  I saw it two years ago as the peak was finally hit and prices topped out.

However "mean" it sounds, I just don't feel sorry for any of these people.  I really don't.   People bought something they could never afford.   Now that sanity is returning to the world, people are looking for others to pay for their mistakes.  The sad part is, it will happen.  The government will step in and help.  That's just how things seem to work around here these days.  Not sure what that does to moral hazard or how people like myself, people who don't get into these types of problems, will react.  What are your thoughts?  Did you see it coming?

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Why I Left Microsoft


I wrote this post a while ago and never posted it.  However now is as good as ever, especially given my distance to the situation.

  1. I didn't want to be in Seattle - This was a relatively minor reason but a reason nonetheless.  I am at the point in my career that I was seriously thinking about what to do the next five years.  Being in Seattle wasn't really on the list of things.

  2. Broken promises - I came to Microsoft with certain expectations and certain things were told to me would happen.  They didn't happen.  I'll leave it at that.

  3. I just didn't enjoy work - I know it is work, and that you shouldn't expect it to be a party all the time, but I'm the type of person who wants to really enjoy my work.  Give that I am the type of person who works long hours and spends most of my time at work, it is important that I enjoy what I do.

  4. The wrong things are rewarded - I saw a few instances of people being recognized for things and behaviors which I just didn't think were appropriate.  It honestly seemed to me that it paid off to be a jerk.

  5. It was too hard to get things done -This was a combination of things.  Part of it is just being at a big company with large interest to protect.  Part of it was people trying to do other people's job for the sake of increasing their scope.  Part of it was just being a very small fish in a huge Windows/Office Ocean.

  6. Slow Career Growth - Probably the biggest reason I left.  I thought about where I wanted to be and how long it would take me to get there.  Today's Microsoft is not the Microsoft of old.  Microsoft is top heavy with people with long tenure.   Microsoft's employee base was doubling every few years.  You could advance simply because of the rising tide.   That's not the case anymore.  It would have taken me twenty years to get where I wanted to be.  No way I could see myself working there for the next twenty years.

I could probably go on, but this outlines the biggest reasons.   Don't get me wrong, there were plenty of reasons Microsoft can be a great place to work. The resources are fantastic, the benefits outstanding, and the quality of people who work there is generally pretty high.

It wasn't an easy decision to come to, even though I knew it was the right decision.  Looking back, I absolutely made the right choice. I can say that even though I have issues with my current job.  The problems I was encountering were deal breakers.  I could have stuck around and just "floated" along.  It would have been easy not do much work and just get by.  But it just wasn't me.  Besides, the opportunity cost was too high.  Every day I stayed at Microsoft was a day I wasn't doing something else.  I just couldn't have that.

I want to say thanks to my friend Rick who provided me with a fantastic piece of software, Paint.NET.  It's what I used to crop the above picture.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

A Quick Tax Lesson

gaspump.jpgI keep hearing ideas about a gas tax holiday. Every time I hear it, it makes me shake my head at the idiots we have to choose for our politicians. Simply put, this will never work.

First off, let's talk about the size of the break. For those that don't know. The federal gas tax is $0.18. With gas at $4.00 a gallon (and rising) this amount to about 4.5% break. Not shabby but not great. Most time lines call for a three month hiatus. Now I'm a pretty typical driver and I drive a typical car. I fill up on gas about once a week. Maybe 5 times a month. When I fill up, I put about 14 gallons of gas in my car. Doing the math

(14 Gallons*$0.18/gallon) * 5 * 3 months = $37.80

So this "big break" saves me a total of about $38. With gas at $4.00/gallon this saves me a little over a half a tank of gas over 3 months. Great!

But that isn't why this is stupid. Simply put, there is no way that the end user will ever see the full benefit of this holiday. Econ 101 tells you that the incidence of the tax IS NOT the same as who pays the tax. Simply put, just because you pay the tax doesn't mean you are the one who is really bearing the burden. Let's say the repeal the tax. Should you expect an immediate $0.18 drop in gas prices? A "yes" answer assumes that the consumer bears all the burden of the tax, but that is rarely if ever true. Most likely, the gas station owners also bear a burden of the tax. In which case, the price of gas will fall even less. It may very well be the case that gas station owners bear ALL of the burden of the tax, in which case, gas prices won't fall at all and only station owners will actually profit.

I literally learned this in my Econ 101 class so I'm not sure why our highest politicians don't quite get this.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Out Before It's Too Late

I have a co-worker who has decided to leave my company after only about two months on the job.  I can actually empathize a lot because there were times I wanted to leave in the past few months due to mounting frustrations with a few things at my company.

It raises an interesting question, should you leave a job early on if you feel unhappy in the first few weeks or months.  There are two sides of this argument.

On the one hand, you don't want to make a premature decision.  A new job can be difficult and deciding to leave a job too soon may be a rash decision.  Normally, there is an adjustment period, and you should allow yourself to figure out how to work in the new environment.

On the other hand, the first few weeks you should be the most excited about your job.  You are learning new things and you hopefully escaped the reasons that may have caused you to leave your last job.  If you are miserable the first few weeks on the job, is there really hope things will get better when normally they just get worse?

I obviously made the decision to stay, and for me I think it was the right decision.  I definitely hit some friction, but I gave it some time and now I am starting to hit my stride.  No doubt, many of the problems I faced are still there.  I ironically have the exact opposite of what I had at Microsoft and what caused me to leave there.  The grass isn't always greener on the other side though and I have found that extremes are bad no matter how you slice it.

However, I can't blame my co-worker for leaving.  After all, the "penalty" you pay for leaving a job you just started is probably pretty low. Chances are you haven't even adjusted your lifestyle to match your new job.  You probably haven't moved if your job was relatively close by or you haven't made a switch like your spouse getting a new job.  You don't even have to put this short stint on your resume so the "gap" in your resume will likely be non-existent.