Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Hard Knocks Odds 2015

Last year - I went through an exercise of predicting which NFL team would be HBO's participant for the upcoming season of Hard Knocks.

And then the Atlanta Falcons blew it all up by volunteering for the job.

So, proving that I don't learn lessons well - I'm going back to the well to go on record before its officially decided.

The NFL must like Hard Knocks, but NFL coaches and management staff do NOT like Hard Knocks. Whether it's about revealing trade secrets or just trying to avoid looking like a doofus, teams don't exactly line up to go under a microscope (Atlanta being a recent exception).

But the NFL can compel teams to participate, except for a few conditions which if they apply, allows a team to remove themselves from consideration:

1. If the team has made the playoffs in either of the prior two years
2. If the team has hired a new head coach
3. If the team has appeared on Hard Knocks in any of the last ten years

ProFootballTalk identified the teams that do not meet any of these criteria: the Browns, Texans, Titans, Jaguars, Washington, Giants, Vikings, Buccaneers, and Rams.

Recently rumors swirled that the Browns were the front-runners, but today they've made it known that they do not want the 'honor'

Of course, the NFL can force them to participate, but let's assume for a minute that the NFL doesn't want to force the show on Cleveland (too bad, it would be interesting). Among the eight remaining teams, who would be most likely?

8. Washington - With all the issues around their team name, their ownership, and their QB-coach potential feud - I'm going to go ahead and assume the NFL doesn't want these guys front and center

7. Minnesota Vikings - Adrian Peterson child abuse/suspension means these guys are also EXTREMELY unlikely. Although the team is actually pretty interesting and has some compelling talent, I don't think you get past the elephant in the room

6. NY Giants - I suspect Tom Coughlin would rather slit his wrists, and the Mara family is pretty tight with the commissioner, so I doubt it.

5. St. Louis Rams - The owner seems to want to get the hell out of St. Louis, creating a lot of drama and uncertainty over the team's future. I don't know if that's the type of thing that would make their participation less likely (why would the NFL provoke them) or more likely (as a 'punishment' for maverick behavior). I'm assuming the NFL would avoid it altogether and just not enlist the Rams.

3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers/Tennessee Titans: I think these guys are tied. They have the top 2 picks in this years' draft, which makes for a pre-made storyline. But both teams haven't been competitive in a while, and I think that hurts them here. They aren't really major forces in the NFL's public consciousness. And when's the last time a team with such a bad record was on Hard Knocks?

2. Jacksonville Jaguars - What was that I said about not being a part of the NFL's public consciousness? Jacksonville is pretty much as minimal an impact as you can get. But I still think they're an intriguing option because I think their ownership might actually be interested. The NFL's foremost ambassador to London is obviously willing to do favors for the league (or take money to do it, whatever). They have to be considered a strong contender.

1. Houston Texans - These guys would be pretty close to perfect across all the candidates we have to choose from. Start with the most obvious - JJ Watt. Not only is he a huge star - but he's also actually got a personality and seems genuinely funny. He doesn't need any more publicity, but the show would be his star vehicle and lay the groundwork for his eventual transition to studio show personality. He'd be amazing to watch. You also have a good injury redemption storyline in Clowney, a coach in Bill O'Brien who's very comfortable in a media swirl (see Penn State), and other interesting personalities like Arian Foster.

Of all the teams to choose from, the Texans would be my pick - and in my estimation, they should be considered front-runners until evidence suggests otherwise.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Nintendo Games for Smartphones!

If you follow me on Twitter - you'd know that every now and again I wonder why Nintendo refuses to port their games for iPhone and release them to generations of now-adults who played them as kids.

Every few months I would think about a fun Nintendo game I used to be obsessed with and wonder why I couldn't buy it for my phone.

It was never the technology - I'm pretty sure smartphones have way more sophisticated hardware than my old 8-bit NES system.

And it was never willingness to pay - I have at least a little discretionary income

And it was never because there were better options out there - Most of the super addictive iPhone games out there still can't hold a candle to the greatness of some of the best NES games.

But every time I would wonder, then I would look it up, and would read another recent statement from a Nintendo executive about how they refuse to release their games on smartphones.

The execs would invariably toe the same party line - moving to a smartphone platform would damage them in unspeakable and unrecoverable ways. Nintendo is a console company after all.

I would read those statement, pretty dumbfounded. It was like the entire organization put its collective head up its collective ass.

But finally, it appears, some semblance of logic and rationality has prevailed:

"Until now, Nintendo had refused to bring its games to platforms outside its own consoles. On Tuesday, it announced a partnership with a Japanese mobile gaming company called DeNA to start developing new smartphone and tablet games featuring Nintendo characters."

Finally, they're at least acknowledging that there may be a future in these smart-phone things.

I get that Nintendo wants to keep its core business focused around building/selling new consoles and games for those consoles. I get it, that's their history. But unfortunately for Nintendo traditionalists, that's not what their customers want.

Nintendo has never been great at making the most hardcore gaming systems out there - the ones that allow for hyper-realistic action sequences and zombie head-busting gore. Nintendo has been great at making games that are approachable and enjoyable (i.e., your mom and your kids can play).

Well - to me the future of those games is NOT married to a console, it's on a tablet or a phone. And that should be pretty obvious to anyone with a mom or with kids.

But Nintendo resisted that vision and held fast to an outdated view of what their business could be. This also leaves out the huge potential revenue stream of their back catalog. Nintendo released tons of great games in the 80's (just as my mom, they're all in the attic), but no one is buying new NES consoles or cartridges these days. And refusing to put them on smartphones is equivalent of the Beatles not allowing digital album sales because their music was meant to be heard on a record player.

However, as I said, logic has finally prevailed...and what was the response from the investment community?

A 30% increase in the stock price.

It's amazing, I'm hard-pressed to think of another corporation who has committed such malpractice by NOT pursuing such a no-brainer business line (the one exception is probably Chick-Fil-A and the whole Sunday thing, but at least theirs has some more reasonable logic). I feel like if Nintendo had been American, they'd have been under siege by activists for the way they've been behaving.

But at least they're making progress, and although technically the announcement states they'll only make NEW games with their characters (not re-release old ones), once the flood gates have opened, I have to imagine they'll choose to accept my (and millions of others) money.

Friday, March 6, 2015

History of Spreadsheets

I came across a fantastic article today - detailing the backstory and history of the spreadsheet.

It's an article from an 1984 issue of Harper's and was reprinted on Medium - and it's ridiculously interesting on a couple different levels.

1 - It's completely insane to imagine a world without spreadsheets. From my first internship (which I got because I told my future boss that I knew all about VLOOKUPs, although I'd never heard of them), to the slightly more complex models I built as a consultant - the spreadsheet is literally the most significant file format from my entire career (some consultants might argue for PowerPoint - but let's be honest, all the real work gets done in spreadsheets).

It's hard to imagine doing any of my jobs without spreadsheets, and even when my Dad would tell me about the days before the spreadsheet program, I couldn't believe him. He told me they did all these sheets BY HAND!!! And other much more experienced consultants used to tell me about the days of model building sessions that would take place on enormous sheets of paper.

The concept is so alien to me that even now it's hard to process. But the article really gives a great sense for not only what that was like but also how mind-blowing it was for the people actually impacted by the new tools (VisiCale, Lotus - which itself is amazing, this is all PRE-Excel).

"In the first days of electronic spreadsheets — that is, two or three years ago — those who used them got things done so quickly that, despite the evidence of finished reports, bosses and co-workers often had trouble believing the tasks had been completed. Gottheil told me of an accountant who got “a rush task, sat down with his micro and his spreadsheet, finished it in an hour or two, and left it on his desk for two days. Then he Fed Ex-ed it to the client and got all sorts of accolades for working overtime.”

What a complete mindblowing experience this must have been. And one that, were you in management, you'd have been completely unprepared for. I'm trying to think of a reasonable comparison in today's world that would be such an impact to my professional life and I can't really think of one (maybe if google's search engine could somehow become self-aware and anticipate what I would search for...shortly before it destroys all humans).

2 - What wasn't completely insane at all, what made a lot of sense actually, was the talk of people who become attached to their models. The real spreadsheet geeks.

Spreadsheet models have become a form of expression, and the very act of creating them seem to yield a pleasure unrelated to their utility. Unusual models are duplicated and passed around; these templates are sometimes used by other modelers and sometimes only admired for their elegance.


3 - The last element I thought was very interesting was how the author noted that spreadsheets allow you to model all kinds of permutations - but that they can also disconnect you from the real tangible business you're evaluating or working with. It seems a bit quaint to think of people feeling that way in the 1980's - because it's become increasingly turbo-charged.

And so it is that spreadsheets help in the drive for paper profits, and are a prime tool of takeover architects. An executive in a acquisition-hungry company might spend his time spreadsheeting in order to find a company ripe for takeover. If his spreadsheet projections were to produce a likely candidate- if the numbers looked good- he would naturally recommend making a takeover bid. Even a hostile takeover seems cut and dried, perfectly logical, in the world of spreadsheets.

Compare that to a hedge fund using derivatives or algorithmic trading - it's detachment on steroids relative to just some spreadsheets. It's particularly interesting to think about in the context of an offhand thought from the author:

The flexibility of spreadsheets can encourage other heartless moves from headquarters. It is no great drain on an executive’s time to experiment with all sorts of odd, even insidious. He might ask “What if we dropped our pension plan?” Then he might run his idea through a spreadsheet and find a huge gain in capital- and there would be an unthinkable, in hard figures.

You think any corporation views that as unthinkable in this day and age? What's telling about our business environment is that what the author refers to as 'unthinkable', now seems almost automatic.