Monthly Archives: September 2007

Visiting the Apple store

My new laptop has a sticky mouse button, so I went to the Apple Store at Ridgedale for repairs. A few thoughts:

  • The window display is a pair of mock iPhones made of of HDTVs on their side, which gives the impression of an impossibly high resolution display. If only real iPhones had that many pixels. Then again, it makes me wonder how they came up with the demo; the easy thing to do if you’re an Apple developer is to use a development version of the OS which supports that resolution. Then again, the marketing department might not be able to do that. But this is Apple, so you never know; The Steve might have personally commissioned the demo.
  • Tech support is at the so-called Genius Bar, with a young, hip employee who looks different from the other employees because his T-shirt says “genius” on it.
  • They had a 2-hour wait to get to the Genius Bar, but you can’t tell, because you sign up online. This was on a random Tuesday at a small Apple Store in a modest suburban mall.
  • It didn’t pay to show up a few minutes early for my appointment.
  • It does pay to wait in “standby,” especially if you have a quick question. Two people without reservations managed to squeeze in front of me, even though they were running late.
  • To verify that my mouse clicks smoothly, they needed a username and password, which is printed on your reciept and stored in their database. Fortunately, they were willing to take my guest account, even though the reciept says “admin.”

Taking back corporate America

There was a time when companies were owned by people, and they existed not just to make money but to represent the values of their owners. Today, companies are still owned by people, but with so much indirection that they end up being faceless profit-making machines.

Most corporations are owned largely by mutual funds, which in turn are owned by most Americans as part of their retirement funds. Although these individuals have strong opinions about corporate America, this indirection causes these opinions to be summarized as “make as much money as possible.” Especially with index funds, which are managed essentially by an algorithm, there is no mechanism to get the real opinions of the shareholders to the corporations.

If you own stocks individually, on the other hand, you can get the attention of corporate management through shareholder proposals which are voted on at the company’s annual meeting. (By and large, they are non-binding. But electing a board of directors is binding, so the Board ignores these proposals at their peril.)

If you can’t attend the annual meeting in person, you send in a proxy vote. That is, an absentee ballot. It is called a proxy vote, because the ballot is given to a person, a proxy for you, who is instructed to vote with your shares according to your preferences. (I’m not sure that it actually works this way in this age of computer tallies, but that’s the theory.)

Here’s my idea: everyone who buys a mutual fund should be allowed to designate a proxy. Since the fund may include hundreds or thousands of companies, it would be unwieldy to actually fill out all those ballots for your proxy (much less read about what you’re voting for and try to understand all the issues.) However, if you tend to agree with Warren Buffett, or your union, or GreenPeace, or Bill O’Reilly, and if they agreed to vote your shares for lots of companies, it would be better that they get the vote than the mutual fund manager.

More specifically, people or organizations could register as designated proxy voters and list the companies they plan to vote for. You could then supply your mutual fund with the list of designated proxy voters. This is the sort of thing which was unweildy before computers, but should be easy these days.

The reason the proxy voters should be registered is both to make it easy for computers to track which votes go where, and so that the regulators and companies would know in advance if, for example, the ACLU has enough votes to stage a coup.

Ian’s walking

Ian is now walking more than he crawls. The switch from last night to tonight is dramatic. I’ve only seen him crawl a few times this evening. That’s three weeks since his first steps.

Back from Unistar

The family’s back from a vacation at Camp Unistar, thus ending a busy month. I also went to Opus for the last time (I’ll be too old next year), which I left early so I could be home for Ian’s first birthday. (We had a small celebration, no guests. He wouldn’t appreciate a big party.) The following Monday morning at 3:30 I went to the airport to get to SpeechTEK, a conference where I was on booth duty for my company. I got back to town on Thursday (on an equally early flight) and was off on Saturday to Unistar. It seems I did nearly all my travel for the year in a single month.

While I was away at Opus, my father-in-law (one of the many Davids related to Jordan) came to visit and ended up landscaping the back yard. That plus a new fence makes a huge improvement to the yard– if you ignore the huge areas where the new grass hasn’t grown yet.

This coming month looks to be really busy too. Home life is always busy when you’ve got two kids, but work is starting to heat up. I’ve had it easy since Ian was born, but now there are three potential clients which have expressed interest in big projects, all of which would require custom (i.e. written by me) features. One of which might get kicked off this week. And there are a few more big projects coming down the pike that aren’t quite as urgent, as they don’t have paying customers behind them.

Ian got a lot of practice walking at Unistar. He’s now walking about a quarter of the time, and for as far as 10-20 feet.