Monday, May 30, 2005

Basketball as a Team Sports: Forget the Superstars.

Blogger's Note: No Michael Jordan. No Shaq. No Kobe. No superstars. That is how Detroit Pistons is being described of late. Basketball is a team sport and Detroit is reminding us that fact.

Pistons thrive as one, big, happy family Detroit's success comes from ‘college atmosphere’
By Amy Shipley
The Washington Post
Updated: 12:24 p.m. ET May 29, 2005

One or two at a time, they ambled in, looking for the pool tables. They were casually dressed and very friendly, an observer recalled, no different than most weeknight patrons at Jillian's in downtown Indianapolis -- other than none being shorter than about 6 feet 5.

On two nights before Eastern Conference semifinals against the Indiana Pacers, a handful of Detroit Pistons showed up unannounced at the local recreation joint just down the street from Canseco Fieldhouse, Jillian's assistant general manager Anthony Deardorff said.
They headed straight to the second floor billiard hall -- which management decided to close off to other patrons -- where they played pool and watched the large-screen televisions until around 11 p.m. Deardorff believes he recognized Rasheed Wallace, Ben Wallace and Richard Hamilton, but he's no basketball expert, so he can't be sure.

While their appearance surprised the Jillian's staff, which is accustomed to catering to NBA crowds rather than players, for the Pistons, who will take on the Miami Heat in Detroit today in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals, it was just another outing in another city. One week, they might play pool. Another, they might go bowling. A bunch of players saw "The Amityville Horror" together recently, Ben Wallace said. They also attend birthday parties for each others' kids.

"It's like a college atmosphere," Hamilton said during an interview in Miami last week. "You don't get that in the NBA, with all of the money, all of the egos, everything like that. But with us, we put everything aside."

Indeed, they have become famous for playing a team-oriented game that makes it virtually
impossible to pick a leading star, or even a star duo, from their starting five -- a characteristic that is exceedingly unusual for an NBA champion team, which the Pistons were last year. Scan the list of NBA Finals most valuable players since the award was created in 1969. It doesn't contain merely stars, it is littered with legends: Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Moses Malone, Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon, Shaquille O'Neal, Tim Duncan.

Yet the Pistons don't even summon on one or two players for the majority of their offensive plays. Everybody, they say, gets those calls.

Consider that in Wednesday's Game 2 loss to Miami, which evened the series: Each of the Pistons starters had scored less than seven minutes into the game -- 13 points split among five players. No starter is averaging even 20 points in the playoffs, and none is averaging less than 10. Hamilton's 19.7 points ranks only 19th among the playoff scoring leaders. Chauncey Billups (18.3), Rasheed Wallace (15.3), Tayshaun Prince (14.8) and Ben Wallace (10.8) aren't too far behind.

"It's the most unselfish team I've ever played on," said Antonio McDyess, who has played nine NBA seasons with four organizations. "We don't care who scores at any time."

But when they are tallying points at a local bowling alley or pool hall, egos are out in full force and money is on the table, players say, allowing for the type of high-emotion competition that empties some pockets, generates plenty of mouthing off and, perhaps most significantly, builds the friendships that keep jealousy off the court.

"It helps when you're not just coming out as a team, but you're coming out as friends," Ben Wallace said. "It allows guys to relax a little more, knowing the guys beside him . . . are on the same page."

Rasheed Wallace said the closeness helps particularly on defense.

"Tayshaun knows I have his back when he's guarding [Dwyane] Wade," he said. "Ben knew I had his back guarding Shaq, and vice versa. . . . We ain't got no egos on this team. That's why we're so successful."

This feel-the-love attitude seems in great contrast to the Bad Boy image Detroit projects with its castoffs and characters and bone-crushing defense. Every member of the starting lineup Detroit President Joe Dumars assembled has been considered expendable in other circumstances (three of the starting five, in fact, cycled through Washington).

Rasheed Wallace, who in his early years in the NBA earned a reputation as an ultimate bad guy, has been traded three times, including by Washington in a deal for Rod Strickland in 1996. The Wizards sent Ben Wallace, who has been traded twice, to Orlando in a deal for Ike Austin in 1999, and they sent Hamilton to the Pistons in 2002 as part of the Jerry Stackhouse trade. Billups never passed through the District, but he has been dealt three times.

Prince, selected in the first round of the 2002 draft by the Pistons, was passed over by 22 teams.

"We can go farther as a team than individually," Rasheed Wallace said. "It's in everyone's blood, in everyone's head on the team. Nobody has said, 'I'm the man on this team.' That's just the mentality of us."

© 2005 The Washington Post Company

Monday, May 16, 2005

The Beauty of the Philippines: Its Biodiversity

Blogger's Note: An article by the former DENR Secretary showing the richness of species diversity of our country.

The Philippines & its rich biodiversity
by Angel C. Alcala, Siliman University, 15 May 2005. Manila Bulletin

THE term biodiversity, coined by Walter Rozen of the United States Academy of Science in 1986, was first used by E.O. Wilson, the famous Harvard biologist, in 1988. Since that time, it has become increasingly popular among biologists, and is now entrenched in the scientific literature. The term encompasses the total richness and variety of life on earth. Biodiversity studies are directed at five levels of biological organization: Gene, species, population, community, and ecosystem. This paper will focus on Philippine biodiversity at the species level.

The Philippines, with a land area of 300,000 square kilometers, is one of the countries in the world with a very rich diversity of species. It has an estimated 13,500 species of terrestrial plants, 8,000 of which belong to the flowering group. About 40 percent of these flowering plants are endemic. Of economic and scientific interest are 39 species of trees in the Family Dipterocarpaceae, the source of Philippine mahogany.

Its biodiversity in vertebrate animals compares favorably with that of Brazil and Madagascar, two countries known for their outstanding biodiversity — Brazil, which is 28 times larger than the Philippines, and Madagascar, which is two times larger than the archipelago. The country is home to about 911 species of resident and breeding terrestrial vertebrate animals. These compose approximately 100 amphibians (80 percent endemic), 240 reptiles (70 percent endemic), 396 birds (44 percent endemic), and 175 mammals (64 percent endemic). We have about 529 endemic species as compared to Brazil’s 725 endemic species, considering that Brazil is 28 times larger than the Philippines. Madagascar, which is twice larger than the Philippines, has only 90 unique mammals vis-à-vis our 111 unique mammals.

While the country possesses no extensive freshwater habitats, Lake Lanao was reported to harbor about a dozen endemic species in three or four genera of true freshwater fish of the Family Cyprinidae. The species richness of corals, shells and fish is very high in the fertile triangle formed by the Philippines, New Guinea and the Malay Archipelago. Some 400-500 species in 90 genera of hermatypic (reef-forming) corals and 4,000 species of marine fishes are believed to have existed in this area. The 900,000-square-kilometer Sulu-Sulawesi Sea (part of this fertile triangle) is home to 2,500 species of fish including a species of coelacanth, five species of marine turtles, and 22 species of marine mammals. However, small reef systems harbor much fewer fish species. For example, 200 species have been observed on two reefs in the Central Visayas over a period of 30 years. Pristine reefs in the country such as Tubbataha Marine Park should have more than this number.

For the Philippines, the factors that are responsible for the high species richness in old-growth tropical rainforests are: (1) geologic age (main land masses more than 50 million years old), (2) tropical location providing equable climatic conditions, (3) environmental heterogeneity as shown by diversification and complexity of microhabitats, (4) insular (island) condition, and (5) contiguity to a large land mass (Asia) and islands in the south and southeast serving as source of immigrants. The first four factors have favored the development of new species (speciation) through evolutionary processes operating on biological and genetic materials of immigrants. Movements and distribution of terrestrial species are limited by natural barriers that influence speciation processes such as bodies of water, high mountain peaks, and in modern times by cultivated areas.

In contrast, oceans and seas tend to be connected to each other. Oceanographic processes, including water mass movements, ocean currents, etc., provide the mechanisms to transport marine propagules and to connect distantly located marine areas. For example, the Pacific Ocean connects to the Sulu Sea through ocean currents in the Bohol (Mindanao) Sea moving southwestward, and the South China Sea connects to the Sulu Sea through the Mindoro and Balabac Straits. Because of this connectivity, mixing of genes in the population of marine species occurs, and endemism is lower in marine organisms than in terrestrial ones. This is illustrated by the similarity and the low endemism of corals and reef fishes of the Philippines. Because of the wide distribution of marine propagules over large areas of oceans, the incidence of species extinction among marine species is also low. The differences between terrestrial and marine environments imply that approaches to biodiversity conservation would also differ between terrestrial and marine species.

As widely known, Philippine biodiversity has been affected not only by natural events but also by human-induced factors especially during the past 50-60 years. The effects of man’s activities on Philippine biodiversity may be assessed in a general way in terms of two measures, species richness and abundance using groups of terrestrial organisms (rainforest trees and land vertebrates), and marine organisms (corals and reef fishes), for which there are some data.

The Family Dipterocarpaceae, comprising 39 species in the Philippines, is now represented by only 14 species in several limestone forest fragments with a total area of ca 300 hectares in southwestern Negros Island. The number of species that may have gone extinct during the past years is not known. However, there is little doubt that the abundance of this tree family has been reduced because of forest degradation. The various vertebrate groups in these forest fragments have shown variable responses to human impacts. The amphibians and reptiles have lost more than 20 percent of the species occurring there 50 years ago. The birds appear to have lost a few endemic species. The mammals, especially the volant species’ (fruit bats), have not lost any species during the past 50 years, but a couple of species have become rarer and are on the verge of extinction. The population of large herbivores has also been reduced.

The degradation of Philippine coral reefs has been sufficiently documented. Only about 5 percent of coral reef sites explored have at least 75 percent live coral cover, and 70 percent of the surveyed sites have only 25 percent cover or less. Majority of coral reefs have much reduced numbers of carnivorous fishes (fish eaters or top carnivores) and some have virtually none of these fishes anymore. However, no coral or top carnivores have been shown to be extinct. Density of reef fishes in general is low (< 200/500 square meters) on heavily exploited reefs. Target (or food) fish biomass on such reefs is usually less than 10 kilograms per 1,000 square meters, in contrast to more than 100 kilograms per 1,000 square meters in more pristine or protected reefs.

The loss or decline of species richness and abundance of terrestrial and marine species in the Philippines has serious negative effects on the social and economic well-being of our people. Hence, efforts to protect what remain of our biodiversity are urgently needed.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Intuit Software: I survived Microsoft!

Blogger's Note: Intuit Software and its tax software were one of the survivors of the Microsoft onslaught before the Internet days. Read their success story.

For Intuit, 'unanswered prayers' spell success
By Charles Cooper Story last modified Tue May 03 04:00:00 PDT 2005

Sometimes the best outcomes are the ones you don't want.

In 1994, Intuit co-founder Scott Cook figured that he could secure his company's future but turning it into a division of Microsoft. The U.S. Department of Justice thought otherwise, putting an end to that grand merger idea.

But being forced back to the drawing board was the best thing that could have happened to Intuit because it prompted Cook to lay the groundwork for one of the more remarkable corporate second acts. The company has since established itself as the clear market leader in tax preparation software, leaving Bill Gates to wonder what might have been.

Intuit recently hiked revenue and earnings estimates for its current quarter and fiscal 2005--even before the quarter's official finish. Just after that announcement, CNET caught up with Cook, these days holding down the title of chairman of Intuit's board executive committee.

Q: In 1997, you predicted that the companies that would get hurt by the Internet are the ones that "aren't very bright." Lots of companies did get hurt, but what does it say about the survivors' ability to make it in the future?
Cook: I can't predict the future, but let's look at the past. We certainly can't credit luck for the survivors. This was a downdraft of tsunami proportions: Investment funds dried up, marketing channels dried up, employees left town, stock options became underwater and worthless. So those companies who survived had something going--and a few actually had a lot going.

Customers did not change. They still had important problems that needed to be solved, so the demand was still there. You had a lot of riff-raff competitors who may not have had a good business but might have been able to throw money from investors at it. Those have been cleaned out. So in my view, the last few years have been a great time to invent and to put in the foundations for great growth.

Do you think the motivation is the same? Once, there was a feeling that Silicon Valley was invented to change the world. Has the emphasis shifted?
Cook: I think it's pretty much the same. They don't really change from year to year. The best people have real talents, and they want to use those talents to do something truly noble and change the world for the better. That was true in the '60s, and it's true today. The best people want more than a paycheck. Those things pretty much remain constant.

What about from the point of view of chief executive? Is it more difficult to be a CEO in these times than it was when you were starting out?
Cook: I think if you're a crooked CEO, yes--and that's a good thing. Crooked CEOs should go to jail and wear striped suits. Not pinstripe suits, but striped suits.

Do you think there are still many of those types running around the technology business?
Cook: I don't know about them being in the technology business, but I find it so disheartening hat every month or two, there is yet another revelation of some skullduggery or just plain moral malfeasance--or worse. CEOs hold a sacred trust, and not just to their employees who believe in the person leading the company and setting the tone. They hold a trust to society.

There is no way that some drug dealer in the street should go to jail and that big-time CEO crooks should not go. Hopefully, justice will be done, and that will serve as a lesson to everyone in the business--that we should live up to the highest moral code.

What about Sarbanes-Oxley? Does the law make it more difficult for CEOs to go about their duties when you know there's a potential penalty if you trip up?
Cook: I think some of the elements of SOX are extremely well-intended, and some of them are quite wise. But there are some parts that are excessive, wrongheaded and a pure waste of money.

But let's recognize why SOX passed. Does it restrict CEOs from doing the right thing? No. The big things that CEOs do are inspiring generations of people to create solutions to problems. Or to improve people's lives and delight customers and make the world better-off. None of that has been changed by SOX. All those things remain.

Do you think the government has found the proper balances for intervention versus nonintervention when it comes to technology? This dialogue between Washington and the Valley has been going on for some time now.
Cook: And it will continue. All kinds of younger growth industries, even older industries, go through the same dialogue. I think that technology companies have generally enjoyed a better regulatory environment than many other industries, thanks to decisions made during the Clinton administration. Of course, there are exceptions, and certain things don't always turn out like you want. But I think that for CEOs looking for growth opportunities, the government is not standing in the way.

You came up through Bain and Procter & Gamble. Do you think that training prepared you for what turned out to be some pretty tough times in the business?
Cook: I think so. We did have a very tough time in the beginning. We got no attention from the press, and most people believed what we were doing was wrong.

I came out of a consumer products background where things sell, on average, for 2 bucks.

I think the reason we succeeded is exactly what you described--that there was a certain culture that I and some of the other people in the company brought with us from a place like Procter & Gamble. That allowed us to understand consumers and high-volume technology products in a way that was different than most in the industry.

How so?
Cook: I came out of a consumer products background, in which things sell, on average, for two bucks. And so you have to understand customers in a fundamentally different way. You have to understand economics and pricing so you can make money at very low prices, and understand how to deal with millions of consumers. That's a different art than what is typically taught at an Oracle, for instance.

Speaking of Oracle, Larry Ellison talks about the inevitable consolidation of the enterprise software business. How do you see the pieces falling into place over the next three to five years? Will the big companies just continue to get bigger and swallow up or push aside the small fry that can't match that kind of scale?
Cook: No, I don't think that either history or the future will match that description exactly. It's more subtle because there are two trends happening at once. On one hand, you've had for 20 years a consolidation of some established software categories. How many operating systems are there today for PCs? How many word processor companies are in the game? How many big database companies? How many game software companies?

You can count them on one hand.
Cook: Yeah. There are a lot fewer than there used to be, and you see the same thing happening in Internet shopping. There used to be a ton of Internet malls. Now you've got Amazon and eBay.

I think that when you are watching a customer work, that's where the learning comes in.
There is a natural process in industries that have high fixed costs to reward the high-share players with substantial profitability. That makes it hard for low-share players because they have to amortize all those development costs over a small base of buyers. So this is not new. It has been going on for 20 years.

You've talked about that eureka moment, when you came up with the idea for Intuit. But that's not something you can really teach people. You can't say, "Go ahead now and be creative."
Cook: I think you can teach people, actually. We now put a great focus on that inside the company. People are inherently creative. They just don't know, inherently, how to go about thinking about inventing new businesses.

In other words, you're talking about teaching them to be more entrepreneurial?
Cook: Basically, that's right--to teach them not to be more entrepreneurial, but to be successfully entrepreneurial.

Are there lessons you've learned about how to compete and beat Microsoft at its own game? Cook: Well, it's not its own game, first of all. There's no divine right to any part of this software infrastructure. They only win when you make mistakes. Lotus and WordPerfect didn't even put a team on the field. After years of trying to get Lotus and WordPerfect to write for Windows--and they refused--Microsoft launched Windows 3 with Office on Windows, and Lotus and WordPerfect didn't even have a product. They gave Microsoft a monopoly in their core business. D-u-m-b! That wasn't a Microsoft victory. That was Lotus and WordPerfect leaving the battle.

Excuse me for interjecting, but Microsoft does have a track record, in which it they usually gets things right by the third or fourth iteration.
Cook: And it shouldn't be easy for Microsoft to be coming to market with a merely acceptable product. So just stay focused on the customer. The best defense is a great offense. When Microsoft entered the tax software market, our business grew faster that year than it did the prior year. By being more focused on the customer, delivering breakthrough superior solutions, you can beat any merely acceptable competitor, particularly if you're already established as a company.

At one time you would send folks into retail stores, watching people as they bought the product, and then ask to let them go home and watch how they install the product?
Cook: It's great for dating. [Laughs.] Actually, we still do that. We had 65 employees from our TurboTax division watch over 100 customers do their taxes a year ago. From that came immense insights and immense mind-set changes on the part of our people. They could see things they had never imagined. That led to the process changes that produced the new TurboTax.

How do you convince customers to allow perfect strangers into their homes?
Cook: You don't get a 100 percent saying yes. Half the people say no.

Still, that's quite a high percentage.
Cook: But when they know you are from Intuit, there's a matter of trust there. I think that when you are watching a customer work, that's where the learning comes in.

And how long does it take to incorporate that data into some central repository and turn that into actionable items to fix the process?
Cook: As short as a day because it's not data in a repository. It's the effect on people's minds. You want the engineers, you want the product managers, the people whose hands craft the product watching the customers. Then it happens in a day. They come back to the office, they sit and say, "The key is based on what we just saw. We've got to do this; let's try that; let's do it this way"--and then we'll take it out for another round of user testing.

That's that cultural aspect that allows people to tap into their creativity, then take some directions to produce entrepreneurial success. We want to produce entrepreneurs inside the company--successful entrepreneurs. We can really help them improve their batting average.

They can feel their own skills growing: "I know how to do things now that I didn't know how to do six months earlier. You're making me a better engineer. You're making me a better programmer, making me a better architect, making me a better project manager." Those are the people who are inventing, the team behind QuickBooks Simple Start.

We now have the best-selling point-of-sale system in the country for small retailers. That all came out of the small-team junior product manager, who discovered things about customers that were totally against what we had been thinking.

Were there any steps along the way where you thought you would have been better-off had you chosen path B rather than path A?
Cook: Oh, there are lots of mistakes I've made. There are lots of things I regret doing or not doing. Do you have another hour or two or three to hear them all?
Mmm, I'd love to, but no time.

So the takeaway question: Do you think Intuit would have been better-off, had the government allowed Microsoft to buy you?
Cook: You can't know what the other path would have led to. Initially, I was disappointed when the deal didn't go through. But then I was reminded of the lyrics from a Garth Brooks song. He sings a ballad about running into a girl at an alumni gathering from his high school and how he remembers back then praying, "Oh dear God! Let her fall in love with me, and I'll be happy ever after." Well, it didn't happen, and he realizes now, having seen her, what a mistake that would have been as he looks at his wife and his kids. And the refrain in the song is, "Thank God for unanswered prayers."
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