Here's a critical piece from The Chronicle of Higher Education on Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson, the President of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute ("Behind RPI's Highly Paid Chief, Tales of an Imperial Air and Cowed Staff").

In case you are wondering, here are the major reasons I have consistently backed Dr. Jackson as an alumnus:

  1. She was the person most responsible for defeating an NCAA Division III Legislative Proposal that would have banned the granting of scholarships by Division III institutions that "play up" to Division I in one sport.

    This would have stopped RPI from granting hockey scholarships, along with Clarkson, St. Lawrence, and Colorado College in Ice Hockey, Hartwick in Water Polo, Johns Hopkins in Lacrosse, and Rutgers-Newark in Men's Volleyball.  If RPI had lost scholarships for men's and women's hockey, it would have fundamentally changed our ability to compete in Division I ice hockey.

  2. Dr. Jackson's administration has invested a big chunk of institute resources in athletics at all levels as a key component of student life. By this I mean moves like the hiring of Colonel James A. Knowlton as RPI Athletic Director in 2008 and the construction of the East Campus Athletic Village which began opening in 2009.

    The development of ECAV has allowed RPI to attract student-athletes in sports like soccer and football who are capable of attracting national recognition. Athletes like Andrew Franks who was a 2014 National Pre-Season All American Kicker for Division III.

  3. The construction of major campus facilities such as EMPAC and the Center for Biotechnology (CBIS).  All of them are world-class, and take Rensselaer in directions that it has never gone before.

  4. The hiring of high-achieving faculty such as Robert Linhardt and James Hendler has changed the strategic direction of RPI faculty research.  They fact that they have stayed 8 to 10 years is an indication that Rensselaer is retaining world-renowned people who are doing cutting edge work in fields in which RPI is not traditionally strong.

I'm sure that Dr. Jackson is a hard person for which to work.  She was hired at Rensselaer because we had lost our way institutionally after President George Low was taken from us.  How she presides over the Institute has always been controversial with some faculty and administrators.  Most of those people are now either retired or at other institutions achieving great things in a different setting.

Managing a small, world-class institution like RPI is difficult when many of its competitors have access to the public purse or have much greater endowments or patent libraries than RPI did when Dr. Jackson took office.  But Rensselaer is a great institution that can be world-class if it focuses on the right things.

I think Dr. Jackson and her team are doing that, and the results are still emerging.

Our son Jimmy was chosen to be the Weather Kid on The Doc and Andie Show on 92.5 WXTU in Philadelphia this morning.  He had a lot of fun and did a great job.

Jimmy had to get up at 6:30 in order to talk to Doc and Andie during one of the breaks when they were not on the air.  During that time, they asked him about Goodnoe Elementary School, who his favorite guitar player was, and whether he wanted to play for the Flyers some day.  Doc and Andie's producer, Crockett, recorded his answers and his weather report during that call, and they used portions of it at the scheduled times for the weather report.

He had a great time listening to himself on the radio.  A lot of people emailed, texted, and connected with us on Facebook and Twitter, saying that they heard Jimmy and thought he sounded great.  I'll bet a lot of the kids at Goodnoe will want to be the Weather Kid on XTU now that Jimmy has done it.

I recorded Jimmy's appearance on 92.5 at 8:40am, and created a sound clip that's embedded in this post.  I hope you'll take a moment and listen to it.

If you like what you hear, send me an email, tweet to me @daveaiello or post a comment on my Facebook Wall.

Explosion of Antares Rocket at T+6 Seconds

I came home early from work to meet my sons and their sitter, so we could watch the Antares launch.  I got home about seven minutes before the launch, put NASA TV on via AirPlay to the Apple TV in my living room, and sat down to watch.

Jimmy and Peter were excited to see this launch and to see the rocket in the sky, in part because they saw Reid Wiseman appear via teleconference from the International Space Station to the RPI Reunion on October 10, they knew that Antares was a supply mission going to ISS, and that Reid would play a big role in making sure Antares docked correctly.

The plan was to watch the launch, then go out 90 seconds to two minutes later, and look for the rocket and its bright tail flying off to the southeast, over the Atlantic and into space.

The countdown hit zero, the rocket lifted off and cleared the tower.  It looked good.

My sons Jimmy and Peter ran out the front door to see if they could see the Antares.  Peter is five years old, and he has no concept of how long 90 seconds is.  Our sitter Joan and I were watching still watching the rocket trying to climb out from the launch pad.

The next thing we knew, there was a bright flash from the first stage of the rocket, the rocket stalled in its climb, and started falling almost straight back down but tailing slightly off to the north.  Seconds later a big explosion happened, although the explosion wasn't obvious right away due to the camera angle that NASA chose for that part of the ascent.

I ended up calling Jimmy and Peter back in from the driveway, saying, "There was a problem."

I was glad that NASA TV didn't show the explosion over and over, like the networks did 10 minutes later.

I was also glad that the fire, which NASA did show, was minimized in size by the lack of reference points in the camera shot.  That would have indicated how huge it was.  The video that CNN showed later that was taken from across the bay did a much better job of illustrating how large the explosion had been.

Why I Went Back to Running

Baker Rink, Princeton University, post-game, September 13, 2014.

A lot of friends have seen the posts on Facebook that I created over the past six months related to running.

The goal here was not to run a half-marathon or a marathon, although I might do that some time; It was to get back to a point where I am able to skate for 2 1/2 hours in a college hockey game, and be as strong at the end of the game as at the beginning.

Tonight I refereed an ACHA Division II men's game between Princeton and Army. This is club hockey.  The game was certainly slower than a men's varsity game, but was still a good pace.

The key was that I skated end-to-end for 2 hours and 15 minutes, because I was the referee in the 1 referee-2 linesman system.  This is more skating than I do in a game where I am a linesman in a Division III varsity game.

Running is different from cycling or in-line skating, because when you run, there's no way to coast. I'm convinced at this point that I can bike or skate and become reasonably fit, but greater fitness requires a significant dose of the intensity of running-- or perhaps something like swimming-- activities where there is a lot more resistance for me to fight against.

It was amazing how much better I felt tonight than I did at the end of last season.  Mission accomplished.

Reflecting on 9/11

Jack Eichler Inscription on Memorial Plaque

Every year since September 11, 2001 I've mentioned the following people who were victims of the terrorist attacks, in the hope that some of my friends will remember them:

World Trade Center:

  • Vito DeLeo, mechanic at World Trade Center, USA Hockey official
  • John Eichler, retired executive at Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft, brother of Joan Aiello
  • John Pocher, bond trader at Cantor Fitzgerald, alumnus of Essex County Chiefs youth hockey program
  • Kalyan Sarkar, Port Authority seismic engineer, father of Kishan Sarkar-- a Rensselaer alumnus

American Airlines Flight 11:

In addition, please remember the 343 members of the Fire Department of New York (FDNY), the 23 members of the New York Police Department (NYPD), and the 37 member of the Port Authority Police Department (PAPD) who made the ultimate sacrifice on that day.

Congratulations Peter on your graduation from Wrightstown Friends Nursery School!

Peter graduated from pre-school today-- Wrightstown Friends Nursery School. This is a great school for young kids that is about all of the things that our sons needed: some independence, some play, some socialization, some learning, and less about drills and skills.

One of the things I'll always remember about this place is the end-of-year picnic with the piñata. A great tradition.

If there had been a piñata at the end of each year of school, maybe I would have stayed on into grad school....

Thirty Years of Macintosh

IMG_9738

On the 30th anniversary of the launch of Macintosh, I'd like to share a couple of memories with my friends.

The first people I knew who had a Mac in their house were Rob Nardone, Andy Nardone, and their parents. In 1984, the three of us used that Mac to create some primitive graphics that appeared in various places in and around Chatham Township High School.

When I went to RPI, the Mac community was very small and only people who had a bit of a counter-cultural streak had Macs. I convinced the RPI Hockey Team to buy one, with a LaserWriter, for communications purposes.  I spent some time teaching the late Nancy McGrath how to use it.

Martin O'Donnell, the best man at our wedding, had a Macintosh II at RPI when I first met him in about 1988.  I think this was the first Mac with a horizontal desktop case. He has been at least a small part of every one of my business ventures since then.

Guy Kawasaki gave me a huge break and helped me get into Macintosh database consulting in 1989. He gave me some frequent flyer miles so I could afford to come to MacWorld when I was still an RPI student.  At MacWorld I met the other members of the 4th Dimension developer community. I think my RPI classmate Russ Woodbridge was out there with me.

Peter Plaut and his father David are also pretty aware of what I was trying to do back then, at the time that I founded my first company. David's company GCF has been a customer of my companies for about 25 years.

The first Macintosh that I considered truly mine was a Macintosh IIci that my first company CTDATA bought after we got angel funding in 1989.  I later purchased a classic Mac, probably a Macintosh SE, which I still have in an original Mac carrying case in the basement of my house.

Peter Frank, my friend who passed away in 2003, was the person who epitomized bleeding six colors. He was the only person I ever knew well who bought a 20th Anniversary Macintosh.  That was an incredible machine and he deserved it.  (BTW, It's called a 20th Anniversary Macintosh because it was created for the 20th anniversary of Apple, not the 20th anniversary of the Macintosh itself.)

My wife Kathleen and I met when we both worked at J.P. Morgan in 1994.  We were both working for the Emerging Markets business unit, which was the only part of Morgan that used Macs as desktop computers and as part of bond and derivative traders' workstations.

In the past 10 years, Kathleen and I have acquired six Macintosh computers, three iPads, and seven different iPhones.  I don't think our sons Jimmy and Peter have used any other brand of computer, mobile phone, or tablet.

A friend of mine told me this story about a local bike store in Eastern Pennsylvania that we both frequent as customers.

He walked into the store the other day while the owner of the store was discussing the upkeep of his website with the consultant who was maintaining his site.  He could not help but overhear final discussion of aspects of the site that were about to be published.

The consultant and the owner finished their conversation, and the consultant left.  My friend approached the owner and was going to ask about his new bike which is on order.  But before he did, he told the owner that he was curious about how much the website for this high-end bicycle store cost to develop (in round numbers)?

The owner was very forthcoming, "About $1200.00."

This revelation is incredible to me, because the store sells adult-sized road bikes that cost between $1,000 and $8,000.  In other words, the owner of this very successful and profitable store invested less than the average retail cost of one bicycle on his store's web presence.

Doesn't this owner believe that his website can drive sales for him?

Doesn't he see his the appearance and functionality of his site as a reflection on the in-store experience?

Doesn't he know that a site for a successful, high-end bicycle store should contain professional photography, features like dynamic selection of featured items based on season, weather conditions, and temperature?

My company, After6 Services, builds website that are much more expensive than the website we are discussing.  But we deliver value far in excess of what we charge.  The features of our typical customer sites and the stability of our designs are way beyond what passes for a basic site for small and mid-sized businesses.  But we sometimes have a hard time convincing potential customers to establish a reasonable site development and maintenance budget.

The purchase decision made by this successful small businessman show that not everyone shares our view of the value of a small business website.

In Memory of Peter Andreas Frank

Peter Andreas Frank (1967-2003)

August 7, 2013 is the 10th anniversary of death of my friend Peter Andreas Frank.  Here's what I wrote on CTDATA.com, a few days after he passed away:

Last Thursday, Peter Andreas Frank died as a result of a brain tumor. I have known Peter for 15 years, and he is one of my best friends. We went to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute together.

Peter was in the Krankenhaus Nordwest in Frankfurt, Germany for the last two and one-half months of his life. He was often visited there by his family and friends that live in the Frankfurt region.

Peter's original brain tumor was discovered back in 1993. He outlived everyone's expectations, including the expectations of all of the doctors that consulted on his case. I went to visit him for the last time in May when he was still living in Zurich, Switzerland with his wife, Ramona Morel. At that time, most people familiar with his case thought he would die in late May or early June.

A couple of my more well known friends in social media (especially David Jacobs) are surprised that there haven't been more negative or questioning comments about Jeff Bezos purchase of The Washington Post from The Washington Post Company.  I don't think I am influential enough to get much attention for my views, but I'll state them in case anybody wants to comment.

Perhaps Bezos Shouldn't Be Allowed to Purchase A Media Outlet of Record in This Fashion

It stretches the bounds of credibility to say "Seattle-based Amazon will have no role in the purchase; Bezos himself will buy the news organization and become its sole owner when the sale is completed, probably within 60 days" because content distribution policies can be engineered to favor Amazon.com's business model.

If this did not happen, I would be shocked.

Contrast this turn of events with what the Department of Justice wants to do to alter Apple's iTunes business as a result of the Government's victory in a recent anti-trust case.

The Government's interpretation of Apple's business dealings with book publishers turns decades of anti-trust policy on its head.  Rather than promote competition or investigate the possibility that Amazon is guilty of predatory pricing, the Government chose to focus mainly on the consumer benefit of the low prices that Amazon.com is currently offering for e-books and how Apple's deals with publishers gave the publishers some pricing power.

A return to Amazon's previous e-book pricing strategy will perpetuate Amazon's dominant position in the e-book distribution business and disadvantage everyone on the content creation side of the market, including publishers, authors, and service providers to them.

If the value of some of those disadvantaged businesses fall far enough then Bezos can swoop in as he did with The Washington Post, purchase the business at a discount (to the value it might have if it had retained some pricing power), and re-engineer the business model to feed the technically un-afilliated business Amazon.com that Bezos also controls.

It's not hard not to conclude that the Government is picking winners, even if the Department of Justice had no knowledge of Bezos' interest in purchasing the Post.

Update on August 7: Bloomberg points out another possible conflict with public interest that I hadn't even considered.  Amazon.com ranks among the biggest spenders among high-technology companies seeking to influence the work of the federal government.

This Purchase Avoids Hard Choices for The Washington Post that Could Have Benefitted American Society

The Washington Post is one of the most prestigious media outlets using the business model that most traditional newspapers adopted on the Internet.  That business model failed to check the revenue losses associated with the progressive switch from physical to electronic distribution of news.

At this point newspapers need to re-evaluate their entire business, including seemingly unrelated issues such as editorial policy.