Category: Biz

Even though I haven’t lived in the Wilkes Barre area for almost a decade, I still keep a close eye on news and developments in the area. My first real “computer job” was working for an ISP startup exactly a decade ago this month. I enjoy keeping tabs on the various tech businesses in the area. There are a lot more around today then a decade ago.

iGourmet

iGourmet is a firm that was based in NY State, and moved to Pittston, PA because of the area’s cost and warehousing advantages. Its a one-stop shopping site for high end foods and gifts. Think corporate gift baskets. I actually managed to try some cheeses from iGourmet over Christmas, and I can definitely vouch for their quality.

The website of iGourmet is done in the standard amazon.com clone style, which is a good choice. Its a style that most users already associate with safe online transactions.

Pepperjam

Pepperjam is a search engine “optimization” company. You can pay a company like Pepperjam to increase your company’s stature in search engines. SEO’s have a lot of dubious practices in general, but I can’t comment specifically on Pepperjam. Pepperjam has a few other ventures as well, including affiliate marketing and a poorly done comparison shopping site, which doesn’t appear to be online at this time.

The Pepperjam website is a textbook example of bad design, beginning with the focus on the CEO of Pepperjam. The CEO is plastered all over the website in both image and video. The website reminds me of the personal injury lawyer billboards plastered all over the Wyoming Valley with closeups on the Lawyer’s ugly mugs.

Not only do we get a huge banner of the CEO, but we also get a really annoying video too. It simply boggles my mind how a company can think that having their CEO plastered all over the main page of their website is going to lead to success. I can’t think of one major tech company where their CEO or founder is prominently displayed on the front page.
sergey brin
“Hi this is Google.com, I’m Sergey Brin.” “Thank you for visiting google.com” “Google.com is the #1 place to search the Internet.”

Solid Cactus


Solid Cactus is a company that does custom e-commerce storefronts. Thankfully, they don’t have any of their management team plastered on the main page.

Solid Cactus appears to growing like mad, doubling from 32 -> 75 employees over the past year. While I don’t know what their sustainable competitive advantage is over other storefront providers, they are certainly in a growing market. Solid Cactus has a new product called “Feed Perfect” for submitting items to comparison shopping websites.

The Solid Cactus website isn’t too bad. I would definitely remove the senseless use of flash, take another look at other color possibilities. The solid cactus website also has an employee mugshot page, but it is not placed in the main page, and its done in a tasteful and equitable manner.

Burst.net


Burst.net is a colocation provider located in Scranton Pennsylvania, that has been around for a few years now. As a customer, I can’t say I’ve been very pleased with the design of their data center. I’ve had major power and network outages. On the plus side, there hasn’t been a major incident in a few months. (fingers crossed.)

Burst.net’s website is typical for a colo of its size, and it could definitely use a face lift. Burst.net, along with Pepperjam, prominently highlight their listing in the INC 500. No offense to either organization, but the INC 500 is a joke.

Here is an interesting article on the downsides of restricting Internet access at work.

“Bill Gates said years ago that if you worry about Internet productivity, you’re worrying about people stealing pens from your stationery cupboard… there are bigger things to worry about.

I totally agree with BillG. Employee Internet usage should be monitored, but people should feel free to visit any particular site. Companies that block or restrict employee Internet access, are reducing productivity and creating a no-trust enviroment.

In an employee-employer relationship, a lack of trust, or perceived lack of trust, is only going to lead to resentment and productivity loss..

One of the more flawed concepts practiced in corportate america and beyond, is the employee evaluation process. Typically, its a 1-way mechanism where managers rate subordinates. A growing trend is 360 degree feedback systems, which allow employees to “rate their manager.” Most of these “360 systems” are completely flawed, because the feedback is typically readable only by the manger’s superior and that manager.

CNN has an article about an Indian company that is putting a new spin on 360 feedback systems.

Every employee rates their boss, their boss’ boss, and any three other company managers they choose, on 18 questions using a 1-5 scale. Such 360-degree evaluations are not uncommon, but at HCL all results are posted online for every employee to see.

Now that is a useful feedback system. It makes 360 degree evaluations stick and it makes employees think twice about writing something that is untrue, because the whole organization will see it.

For the past ten years or so, a lot of “big thinkers” have been talking about the upcoming science crisis in the US. The idea that and scientific and engineering brain drain could drastically effect our economy is real. Other countries such as India, China, and South Korea are producing a large amount of scientists and engineers, while US k-12 and universities are lagging as far as percentages of sci/eng students.

There have been a lot of proposed solutions to the problem, including importing more engineers from other countries, offering various scholarships, and emphasizing science and engineering disciplines in k-12 education. Unfortunately, any of the proposed solutions I’ve seen do not attempt to get to the root of the problem.

So why is the US producing so few scientists? Are today’s students just not interested in science? Is MTV having devolutionary effect? Looking at how US youth culture portrays intellectuals or scientists in general, its a wonder that we have the amount of scientists that we do. The typical US public school culture looks down upon people who focus on school, let alone some nerdy discipline like math or chemistry. The schools and parents themselves don’t help by emphasizing athletics rather than academic pursuits.

The majority of parents I’ve ever met cheered a lot more for little Billy to kick the soccer ball in the goal, rather than getting straight A’s. Parents may try to act like they really emphasize academics, but looking at actual time spent, most parents probably spend a lot more time carting kids to sporting events, practices, or the mall, than compared to the time spent on their children’s studies.

Even in cases where there is a parental emphasis on academics, why would parents want to encourage kids to be scientists? So their child can work as a graduate slave for years while pursuing an advanced degree so they can do research for a corporation and receive very little in the way of royalties from the innovations they help create?

A hundred years ago, great scientists and engineers became famous and wealthy from their inventions. Scientists, inventors, and innovators were well known to the public. Unfortunately, the modern corporate structure does not encourage the pursuit of science. Because of the sheer complexity and start up costs of today’s innovations, very few garage-based scientists/inventors are making it big on their innovations.

In most cases, you never hear about people who are actually making technological innovations. Why is that? Because they are probably some mid-low level researcher working for a large conglomerate. Researchers whose innovations make hundreds of millions, receive very little compensation from their work compared to the profits for their employers.

So why would perspective student want to pursue an advanced degree in a scientific field just to have a 100k+ in college loans, and a job where they will be paid much less than their managers and executives who did less school work? What are the factors by which a student may pursue a degree? Here is a quick guess:

  1. Personal interest
  2. Money
  3. Status
  4. Degree of difficulty

I’m sure I’m missing something, but those are the four main factors I can think of off the top of my head. Now lets apply this to science and engineering degrees. Scientific and engineering degrees are likely to be :

  • Higher pay initially, but lower pay in the long run when compared to many other degrees.
  • Lower status, the general public isn’t crazy about science. You never hear the ladies perk up when a man says he is a programmer.
  • Harder work: Sci/Eng programs are much harder that liberal arts/biz

Most of the people who pursue science and engineering degrees have a personal interest in their major of choice. One way to encourage the growth of science is to inspire personal interest, which seems to be the solution of the day. While that’s a great idea, another way to create more scientists is to cover the other pay and status aspects. Only a few people are going to have enough personal interest to work harder for less money and less status in society.

If you want to have more engineers, how about paying them more money? “If you pay them they will come!” I love it when I hear organizations talking about how they can’t find qualified people to fill a position. What they really mean is, “We can’t find someone qualified to fill this position at this payrate.” Look at what high salaries in IT did to schools in the mid- late 90’s. Entire departments in major universities were created as a result of demand for IT education. A key component of compensation is to not only give them a good salary, but to provide royalties and bonuses for the innovations they create. (Performance Incentives)

The second aspect of the problem is status. Most companies stick to the “hide the techies in the closet” mentality. If someone is actually taking credit for a product, chances are, that person didn’t really participate in the actual development. Its a fact of life thats common in both corporate and academic sectors.