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Digital Everything

October 28, 2006

Filed under: CAD/CAM/CAE,future,Internet — Terry Wohlers @ 12:32

In March, Google announced that it had acquired @Last Software, the makers of the popular SketchUp software. At the time, many people—including me—wondered why the search giant bought this small Colorado-based company. As I learned more about the strategy at Google, it began to make sense.

Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful. With Google Earth, the company expects to play a dominant role in making companies, sports stadiums, shopping mails, airports—you name it—available on the Internet in 3D graphical form. For instance, suppose you are interested in attending a professional football game in Denver, Colorado. Google Earth would take you to the USA, then to Colorado, and to Invesco Field at Mile High. You could then explore restaurants, retail stores, and so on, and review the products and services at each the businesses in the stadium. Much of it would appear graphically.

Describing the content of the earth is a big job, even for Google. Therefore, the company has decided to solicit the help of others. Anyone with an Internet connection can download the SketchUp software to “sketch up” the structure of a business in 3D. I downloaded the free version a few weeks ago and created basic but interesting 3D buildings within about three minutes. No joke. They could not have made it easier to use. Google hopes that if you want to be found within Google Earth, you will submit a SketchUp model of your business for inclusion.

InformationWeek and CADWire.com published details on the acquisition of @Last Software in March. Both articles provide insight into the business deal between the two companies. If you’re interested in giving SketchUp a try, go to the Google page that permits you to download it. If you’re like me, you’ll find SketchUp impressive and easy to use. Within minutes, you too will be a candidate to help Google fulfill its mission. 

Escape the Ford Escape

October 14, 2006

Filed under: life,review — Terry Wohlers @ 07:22

We purchased a new 2003 Ford Escape exactly four years ago. I can never remember owning an automobile with so many problems. And Ford wonders why it’s in trouble. We’ve purchased two Japanese cars in the past and had fewer problems in more than 10 years of driving them. One of the reasons for purchasing the Escape was to buy an American-made automobile. Despite the relatively poor fuel economy, an SUV works well to taxi our daughter and her teammates to/from soccer practice. Also, we take it to the mountains, especially in the winter for snow skiing. The vehicle does exceptionally well on snow and ice. 

We have had the Escape in for repair 12 times in four years. Just got it back (again) yesterday. It’s the third time the dealership has attempted to fix a nagging squeak in the steering wheel. They’ve pulled the steering column twice. The other current problem is the air bag indicator light. It remains on at all times, which means both front airbags are disabled. Not good. The service technician explained that Ford issued a technical service bulletin on the problem, so finding the resolution was relatively quick. The work will involve the removal of the two front seats and replacing electrical connectors that are located under them. The job will take about 2.5 hours and cost $315. Time ran out yesterday, so it will go to the shop again next week. The warranty expired a year ago, so that’s money out of our pocket. 

Other problems: a powertrain control module, replacement of rack and pinion parts, replacement of the assembly that holds the driver’s seat, a sticky accelerator pedal, squeaks in the brake peddle and rear door latch, and disc brakes that became out of round after about a year. We got off to a bad start from day one when we discovered a deep scratch in the rear window after bringing the Escape home. When replacing the glass at the dealership, the repair technician dropped the glass against the quarter panel, which produced a dent that had to be repaired. It didn’t have 50 miles on it at the time. We’ve since driven it 52,000 miles. 

Dealing with all the service problems is a headache and a drain on one’s time. Getting the car to and from the garage is never fun. Fortunately, the dealership has been willing to pick it up and drop it off the last three times they worked on it. They must be feeling sorry for us. 

Ford is not going to solve its financial problems until it produces a product that is on par with the quality that you get from foreign auto manufacturers. Until then, the company will continue to suffer.

Small Giants

October 1, 2006

Filed under: life,review — Terry Wohlers @ 18:27

Dr. Ping Fu, Inc. magazine’s 2005 Entrepreneur of the Year, recommended that I consider reading Small Giants, so I did. The book is about companies that choose to be great instead of big. Bo Burlington, Inc. magazine’s editor at large, wrote the book. Burlington identified 14 companies to use as examples of small giants. Among them were Anchor Brewing of San Francisco, Hammerhead Productions of Studio City, California, Righteous Babe Records of Buffalo, New York, and Union Square Hospitality Group of New York City.

Having been a part of a small company for 20 years, I could appreciate what was discussed in the book. (From the beginning, I made the decision for Wohlers Associates to remain small and resisted the temptation repeatedly to expand with more employees and office space.) I was especially pleased with Burlington’s discussion of what makes a company “successful.” It’s not necessarily size or producing staggering amounts of money. It’s treating employees, customers, and suppliers with respect, supporting communities and charities, and having the integrity to do what’s right. The small giants discussed in the book place importance on family, lifestyle, and a range of values that are often not recognized in the corporate world.

From reading Small Giants, you will discover that there is no magic recipe for success in small business. Each of the 14 companies took different paths. Each operated from a custom crafted set of principles, coupled with endless passion and a hands-on approach that helped them to be the very best at what they do. If you are an owner or manager of a small company, I highly recommend this book.