Monthly Archive: June 2010

tips for Capstone

In my recent review of Michael Fern, my professor in the final course in the MBA program (known as Capstone), I mentioned a few tips on surviving the class.  I thought they might merit a post on their own.  So here they are…

6 person teams – The most important part of the entire class, IMO, is finding the right team.  Find the right people, the right mix of skills, and the right set of personalities to be as productive as you can be.  If that’s 4 people, great.

Having said that, you’ll want to try to get to 6 people if you can find the right ones.  Just think about the roles that are needed and/or the sections to be covered:

  1. Integrator (and make sure you have 1-2 others that will look over things at the end, too)
  2. External Analysis (this might be 2 people easily)
  3. Financial Analysis (need a 2nd set of eyes here, too)
  4. Corporate Strategy (linked to Business Level)
  5. Business Level Strategy (linked to Corporate)
  6. Exhibits (collecting, making them look consistent, etc, which requires a single person at the end)

So I indicate 6 people there, but note that some areas will need more people and help.  Imagine doing all of that with fewer than 6.  Also, this doesn’t even consider the Intro section, the Synthesis or Recommendations.  The last part really needs to be done as a team, then written up by 1 person.

Collaboration tools – One of the biggest issues I’ve had with the Leavey School of Business over the last 3 years is that the school doesn’t really provide anything that aids collaboration.

During Capstone, you will be going through financial statements and making exhibits(documents), articles (often web pages), and communicating every which way (e-mail, phone, real-time screen-sharing).  You’ll want ways of keeping all files in one location, being able to have multiple people edit a single file, communicate with the group, and probably doing a kind of real-time, video/phone conference session with shared documents.

We utilized the following:

  1. Mailing list – we used google, but whatever will work.  This was used just for e-mails.
  2. – We kept all of our relatively static documents here.  Financial statements and various other electronic sources, plus our drafts of each section.  The 2GB you get here and unlimited file size were the key factors here (Google Lists’ files section has a file size and capacity limit).
  3. Google Docs – for the few documents that we wanted to truly quickly collaborate on.  The best example is the Bibliography, which we just kept adding to as we found and entered citations.
  4. – This was the best free tool we found where we could all talk together (they offer a conference call number for free), look at documents simultaneously, and mark them up as needed.  For instance, if we felt that an exhibit posted should look differently, then any one of us could use the pen tool and just draw on it.  The person in charge of that area could then make the real changes, share them again, etc.

Ground Rules – Set these early.  Good ones are:

  1. Citation style – MLA is probably the easiest.  Don’t let anyone cite anything without using the style, or it’ll likely slip by in the final edit.
  2. Receptivity to changes – you can discuss changes that the integrator made to a section, but you can’t be arguing about it and no one can go about feeling hurt because a paragraph was edited out or whatever.
  3. When and how often you’ll be meeting – we agreed early on that we would meet “as often as we needed, for as long as we needed” and acknowledged that during the quarter we would meet more often and for longer periods of time.
  4. What you will do in case of writer’s block, lack of data, help needed on something, etc.  How will you respond, as a team, to obstacles?

where is Apple going?

Companies compete on the basis of cost or value advantage over other products.  Either they make a product at a lower cost than competitors (often at the expense of value), or they offer more value (which is measurable to an extent, but is more than just the difference in willingness to pay or WTP).  A very few companies are able to compete on both – having a dual advantage over competitors.

For Apple, I truly wonder where they are in terms of strategy.  As far as computers, margins are so ridiculously low that they can’t possibly be competing on cost.  Every single bit of a computer is a commodity now – even the coolest part of any computer, whatever you may think it to be, is just a common item as far as accessibility and availability are concerned.  Apple does have a value advantage, and they utilize this by getting away with charging more than competitors for similar products.  Even so, the value difference is not enough to really make computers a meaningful source of revenue over time.

Speaking of revenue – the iPhone makes up 40% of Apple’s revenues.  That’s almost unbelievable.  And it is also a key component of Apple’s strategy over the past few years.


see what has become of Bill Jobs. I mean Steve Gates. I mean…

Maybe a week ago, the market capitalization of Apple exceeded that of Microsoft for the first time in history, dislodging the latter from the lofty perch that it has held for years and years.

To me, the significance of this is more about a “popularity bubble” that I think Apple is experiencing.  There are a lot of intangibles for Apple, and one could argue that it is in fact more valuable than Microsoft in the long run.  I think the value of intellectual property might be pretty close between the two, in reality, but Apple has begun moving into some markets (um…with the iPad) that are still growth markets.

The question, to me, is whether this potential for growth is worth as much as investors think it is.  I’m really not sure.  First, let’s acknowledge that the market for computers is flat and margins are basically zero.  There is no growth in the personal computer market, no matter how many Macbooks and iMacs are sold.  They just don’t make enough money off of each one.  And, while Apple’s ability to adopt technology just before competitors (USB, WiFi, among others) is at times uncanny (and its marketing teams’ ability to hype the bejesus out of those advantages is just remarkable), it is probably also more expensive for them to be introducing those features before others.

So computers are a dead end.  Portable music players are beginning to plateau, I wager (I haven’t looked at the numbers in a while), and IMO the inclusion of a video camera on the 5th Generation iPod Nano is a sign that designers are beginning to grasp at straws.

Portable media via innovative mobile devices…that’s where the iPod Touch, iPhone, and iPad come in.  And it’s also why Steve Jobs is turning into Bill Gates.


Review: Michael Fern, Management, Santa Clara University Leavey School of Business

Management 619:  Something or Other but known as:  CAPSTONE
At a glance

  • 3 unit course offered every quarter but summer
  • Workload:  Ridiculously Heavy
  • Teaching Style:  Discussion, case-based
  • Interest in students: Very High
  • Relevance to outside world: Ridiculously High

Overall Professor Rating: 4.5

Overall Course Rating: 5

Note:  Since this is the last required course in the entire program, it is one heckuva class.  It beats you down, it brings you together, it pulls you apart.  But you learn a tremendous amount from it.

About Me

I haven’t done one of these reviews in a while.  The truth is that 1) I have gotten worn down a bit by the program so I have been less motivated to write about my courses and 2) I have a bit of senioritis.  I actually am going to be walking in my commencement this Friday, so I’m easily distracted, I guess.

I started the program almost 3 years ago – March of 2007.  During the past years, I have had trouble finding good, expansive reviews of faculty and/or courses.  So I started writing these.   There are lots of sites out there that provide feedback and rates – ratemyprofessor is the most notable. The SantaClaraMBA Yahoo group also has a big database of comments and lots of additional information in its message archive. That database can be a bit hard to wade through, and the comments are short and often just link to other threads, which are themselves pretty short and superficial. Only here can I write as much as I want  🙂

I review professors from a variety of perspectives.  First, I explain the context(s) under which I took the class.  Time of year, time of day, etc.  Then I talk about the quality of the class and the professor, and finally about the professor as a person.  After all, we are trying to learn about our interactions with people, so knowing that side of a teacher is critical, too.  So these would be interactions outside the classroom, etc.  I also just write whatever it is that I think is relevant or will be helpful to others.  That is my overall goal.

The facts

I took MGMT 619 in Winter 2010, in the 7:20 section.  This was the best quarter for me, as it interfered the least with any other event at my work.  Capstone is not a class with which to be trifled, and I wanted to make sure I planned it correctly.  This is also the only course about which I warned my manager that I would “check out” at some point from my job responsibilities.  This is important – be careful about when you take Capstone.

Selecting a team is critically important for Capstone.  Unlike some other final courses for MBA programs, this is all about teamwork, rather than an individual thesis.  I received emails throughout the summer if I was available to be on a team in the Fall, and then again for the Winter.

I was lucky in that many of my classmates from my very first class – MGMT 501 – whom I knew well, considered friends, and had worked with in the past, were all taking the course at the same time.  It is true that one never knows what will happen with any team, even one composed of people whom you know.  But at the very least, this is a case of the “devil you know” being better than the devil you don’t.  And trust me – at some point, during all the stress of Capstone the devil does make an appearance.

Fern is one of 3-4 faculty in the management department that teach Capstone.  The number of sections offered depends on how many petition to take the course by a certain deadline.  For instance, there were 3 sections in the Fall, 2 in the Winter, and I think 4 in the Spring.  Some of the other faculty that teach the course include Madsen, Levehagen, and Chandy.


BP Increased Oil-Capture Rate to 10,500 Barrels a Day Update3 – BusinessWeek

BP Increased Oil-Capture Rate to 10,500 Barrels a Day Update3 – BusinessWeek.

About 1/2 way into this article, the COO of Exploration and Production at BP says that they hope to capture “90-plus percent of this flow.”

I realize that by now they must know to be a bit safer in their estimates, but in this case they are still saying that their “hope” (not goal or anything more concrete) is to let “only” 5-10% of the oil to keep leaking straight into the Gulf.


I will admit that this is one of those disasters that is so terrible that sometimes I can’t watch.

Higher Ed Tech Talk: OMG the OS is the Internet

[link removed because 1) it was a while ago and 2) don’t want to piss off the original poster….]

A short time after the iPad came out, someone at another university (a CIO, I think) posted that “OMG, the Internet is the OS!”  The gist is that he had a revelation that with such a device, it wasn’t about the operating system anymore.  It was about applications that ran on the internet, like Google Docs.  One didn’t need an OS anymore to run local apps.

I had two problems with this.  First, the iPad does run an OS, and Apple is in the business of operating systems.  Yes, any tablet or slate will have some kind of OS on it (even the JooJoo Pad, which is about as basic and internet-oriented as it gets, runs a small linux kernel).  But a lot of applications on the iPad that are so heavily touted – the media player, the book reader, the music player – run on the installed operating system.  These are not cloud-based applications that are accessed via the internet.

Second, I found the revelatory nature of the post rather surprising.  It’s not like internet-based applications are new, nor are other cloud-based service such as storage (enterprise level like Amazon’s S3 or Rackspace or personal solutions such as Dropbox), applications (aforementioned Google docs, as well as a few others).  Software as a Service (SaaS) has been around for a while, too, where one can run traditionally local solutions (like MS Exchange, powering an Outlook-based e-mail and calendar system) in a hosted environment – essentially outsourcing but to the internet.  There is even a Microsoft Office solution for sharing documents via cloud storage, kind of like Google Docs but with a monster of a local application (the Office suite) doing the heavy lifting.

So why would it be so stunning that applications are migrating towards online?

the Groupwise to Google experiment (part 2)

So back in part 1 of this experiment, which was quite a while ago, my goal was to see whether I could effectively use Google mail, calendar and contacts as a direct replacement for Novell Groupwise, which we use at Santa Clara.  “Effectively” doesn’t mean that all of a sudden all of my e-mails come from  After all, if I work for SCU, and I intend to represent myself as an employee of SCU, I need to have an address.

Fortunately, Google mail has the ability to send e-mails as if it were a different address (not just reply-to, but actually with the header and “from” of  Now, you may say “but Allan, that’s basically spoofing or faking someone else’s e-mail address.  Won’t that get caught in spam filters?”

If all Google offered was the ability to change the “from” field then most likely yes, it would get filtered like crazy.  All of my e-mails ending up in spam filters would not be an effectively switch to a different service.  However, I am able to use SCU’s outgoing mail server for the messages.  So Google mail is doing the composition, but once it tries to send, it’s actually talking to and sending from the mail server.  Which means it now looks like and comes from the same place.  Not sure if that makes sense, but the bottom line is that spam filters will leave me alone.

Many of my colleagues use Google mail because, in all honesty, they don’t like Groupwise.  However, since I am a Blackberry user and the university has set up a Blackberry Enterprise Server that talks back and forth with the Groupwise servers, I actually didn’t mind at all.  My mobile device and desktop clients all talked to each other very efficiently.

That all changes if I stop using a blackberry unit.  As good as they are, and as good as the current version of the Blackberry OS is (which is a lot better and prettier than the one on my 2.5 year old unit, btw), I have found myself wanting many of the features that are offered by various other smartphones, such as an iPhone or an Android phone.

For instance – I have an HTC Incredible from Verizon as my personal phone.  The other day, while trying to finish off the little details of our inventory, I was walking around, viewing our inventory spreadsheet on the nice big, bright screen on my phone, which has retrieved that spreadsheet via its Dropbox application.  This was so much more efficient than anything I could do on the smaller screen of my Blackberry.

Thus…I have ordered the new EVO 4G from Sprint (SCU has a contract with them).  This means that if I want to use the new, Android phone for my mail, calendar, etc, I need to get everything moved over from Groupwise.  So it’s not about dislike for Groupwise so much as a need for something that will work with the new phone.

Anyway – I have most things set up.

  • Setup a Groupwise rule that will simply forward all incoming mail to a Google mail account
  • Have already worked with the labels in Google to see how well I can manage such e-mail all flying in (since Google mail doesn’t have folders, this is an important step).
  • Using Companionlink, running on my home computer (which stays on most of the time), to synchronize my calendar, tasks, and contacts with Google
  • Verified that meetings proposed by Groupwise to me and ones that I propose from Google work (way to go, iCal standard)

Once the phone arrives, I just log into the created Google account and I should be set.

This should be interesting.  Though I figure this post is pretty boring…