10.25.2009

Professional communications

I had a job. And, even as the United States, which looks more like a bankrupt banana republic with each passing day, remains mired in a tepid and largely jobless recovery, I quit. Actually, what I did was to return to my old job, a rather risky proposition, given the state of things.

Why did I quit (resign)? Without retelling the whole sorry story , it came down to differences in communications style and expectations. Which is a very sanitized way of saying, that I was subjected to a barrage of criticism about my ability to express myself with the written word. Some of the criticism had some validity, some less so... it was not a pleasant situation.

But it don't intend to write about this here -- though I could easily point out some examples of incoherent writing published online by my former employer.

Instead, I would point out (celebrate?) the fact that I did work on a website for a local small business this past summer, and my client was very happy with the outcome.

The client's old website was old-fashioned, unattractive and invisible to search engines - inexplicably, the whole site consisted of image files, not text.

Acting as project manager, I selected a vendor for coding and site design work, and was very pleased with how the relationship played out. The new website is much more modern, easier to navigate and search engine friendly. Joomla is used as the CMS, so making edits and additions is relatively straightforward.

I also wrote some copy and worked closely with the business owner to ensure that the site conveys an effective, consistent marketing message.

Finally, some of the photography used on the new site is my work, and I also recycled and reprocessed some images from the old site.

After my recent abortive and unhappy job experience, I admit, it's somewhat gratifying to be able to point to a project like this, and to know that my client was happy, and I was paid for my work -- pretty much the definition of 'professional' -- unlike amateur efforts like this mostly unread blog.

10.18.2009

Choke on this fiber: Further observations on the Burlington Telecom debacle

When I wear this Burlington Telecom T-shirt... I can literally drape myself in irony!

Burlington Telecom (henceforth referred to as 'BT') has been prominent in the news lately. Its business model has failed, and without additional financing it cannot continue as an ongoing 'entity' - as a weird amalgamation of public and private assets, BT cannot really be characterized as a business. BT required a $17 million cash infusion from the City of Burlington to stay afloat and the underhanded nature of this transaction is causing controversy.

Now, it's a cold gray autumn Sunday, and I could spend hours writing a trenchant analysis of this situation, but that would be not a good use of my time. So I will attempt to be concise.*

In May of 2008, some news reports surfaced about BT's deteriorating finances, and I wrote a blog post entitled Failed socialist daydeams by the lake that offered my perspective on the situation. That post concluded:

I just cannot see how an organization with 30+ employees working in a small and tightly defined market, saddled with $33M in debt will ever break even... and I do have a slightly informed opinion.

Contrast the harsh unvarnished realism of my post with this glib and pollyanna-ish recent statement from BT's current General Manager:

We are extremely pleased with our success to date despite the worst crisis in the national and international economy since the depression....Burlington’s customers and citizens can be confident that our finances are sound and Burlington Telecom is a viable business.

Here's why I think BT is a doomed business venture:
  • The basic premise behind BT was fatally flawed and required too much capital. Having a state of the art municipal telecom network is nice but building it is expensive. Estimates of BT's current debt load remain in the mid-$30 million range. [Correction: It's probably in the area of $5o million when the $17 million from Burlington is added in.]
  • BT has never been a lean, mean entrepreneurial organization. It operates as a regulated utility and as a quasi-municipal department. Such organizations are rarely small and nimble, and lots of employees equals high operating expenses. It's unlikely that current revenues cover existing operating expenses, let alone debt service. (I'm not a financial analyst, but I can play one on this blog.) Burlington City Government does not have the intellectual and managerial resources to adequately oversee this slow motion train wreck, and the recent controversy arises from inadequate financial controls.
  • Failed marketing. BT has less than 5000 residential customers. I think the citizens of Burlington made an impulse purchase when the decision to build the network was made. Voters were upset with the then-incumbent cable company, so they decided to approve building a state-of-the-art municipal fiber optic network. It appears that these same voters then neglected to sign up for BT's services. And I think even if BT had a high market penetration in Burlington it would still have a crippling debt burden. Finally, I don't believe that the current Great Recession is responsible for BT's lack of subscribers - though it probably does constrain their ability to borrow more money from newly-skittish banks.
To conclude: It's been said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Having a state of the art municipal communications network is nice. Paying for it is not so nice, especially when the business case for building the network was far too optimistic, and accountability is in short supply.

There is a decidedly utopian, socialist, not-grounded-in-reality streak to Burlington (and Vermont) politics and now the bills are coming due, and the outcome of the BT project is likely to be unpleasant and markedly non-utopian. Taxpayers - who, after all, did vote for this project, albeit with imperfect understanding - beware...

*Recently, my ability to write concisely and to a point has been harshly questioned, with this blog held up as a example of poor written communication.

10.10.2009

Vermont fall foliage: Looking up, down, and sideways

Columbus Day weekend is traditionally the peak of Vermont's fall foliage. This year didn't disappoint, the colors seem brighter and more vibrant than I recall from recent autumns.

After a damp drizzly morning the weather cleared in the afternoon.

Sun and shadow on the forest floor.

It looks quiet and bucolic but in reality there was near-gridlock on local roads and the Ben & Jerry's Factory (Vermont's #1 tourist attraction, and located about 1/2 mile from where I live) had to hire a sheriff for traffic control on Rt 100. This was not a good day to be running around doing errands in a car.

9 more images from today here (photobucket album).

10.09.2009

Why it's hard to post much here anymore, continued

And oftentimes excusing of a fault
doth make the fault the worse by th'excuse
. Shakespeare*

Another excuse: Once I manage to get to work, it's my job to string words together. Now, there are some topics I will not blog about (first and foremost being work and personal relationships) but suffice it to say that I would describe my main task at my job as "writing compelling copy about [insert appropriate adjective here] subjects."

Blank screens are how I usually start my day (thanks to blogging, I'm quite attuned to writing in the morning) but stringing words together is proving to be a struggle, regardless of the time of day.

So the last thing I want to deal with when I get home is another blank screen, waiting to be filled with more words.

*Quoting Shakespeare is deliberate. Work is a struggle partly because too much time online has rewired my brain in new and flighty ways. It's rare for me to sit down and read in depth anymore. So I think spending less time online and more time reading would be a good thing.

And, perhaps the quote itself, found online with a quick Google search is more symptomatic rather than illustrative.