One bad law

The pending extension to Daylight Savings Time in Congress is a sad example of government doing the wrong thing for the right cause. Energy conservation comes from tightened fuel economy, recycling, and emissions regulations, not by clinging to the afternoon sun.

Extending DST won’t “save energy” just by keeping the sun up later. Lights will still need to run overnight on highways, city streets, and 24-hour facilities, and most stores won’t change their operating hours. Try as they may, Congress can’t mandate a shorter nightfall.

More importantly, solving one problem (people like when it’s light out later) simply creates another. The shift to a longer DST period means that the sun will rise at extremely uncomfortable hours. For example, under the proposed change, sun-up won’t happen in New York until 7:55 a.m. the night before DST ends, compared with 7:23 a.m. in the existing schedule. In fact, the entire four-week fall extension will put sunrise past 7:30 a.m. I used to get to high school by 7:40—how will students feel when they spend weeks or months in homeroom while the sun is still down?

Representatives Ed Markey (D., Mass.) and Fred Upton (R., Mich.) must be proud of the energy-conscious labels they can wear in their next election cycles, but this is terrible policy. I suppose it’s par for the course in government, though; whatever sounds good on the TV news can get approved. Heck, with all this grandstanding in Washington, perhaps the 28-hour day can get an endorsement someday.

Apple’s next step

Great news from Apple this week regarding iPod sales. Following the note on Daring Fireball that Apple is making its money on the unit and not the songs within the iTunes Music Store, I’m offering to Jobs and Co. their next smart move:

Let iTMS buyers select high-bitrate downloads at additional cost.

Think about it: to many people, 128Kbps AAC files sound “fine.” But they don’t sound good. Many people, particularly a subset of devoted music fans, would rather listen to a circa-1985 boombox than suffer the ignominy of lossy 128-bit encoding. I, for example, rip CDs at 192K or better, and I’m debating a switch to Apple Lossless encoding, even though I’ll be able to cart less music around.

Loyalty to quality audio has mostly kept me out of shopping in iTunes. My wife has bought a few albums, mostly pop, where sonic quality matters less; my purchases have largely been dance tunes and single-song impulse buys. I’d rather spend $13.99 on a better-sounding audio CD than $11.99 within iTMS, convenience be damned. (I also retain an affinity for tangible ownership, but that’s another issue entirely.)

Imagine, then, if iTunes offered me two choices: the usual 128-bit download for 99 cents and, say, a 256-bit “high quality” version for $1.49 instead. The cost difference would be minor enough to encourage select consumers to “upgrade”; full albums would still clock in at around $14.99—the same as a disc at retail—with similar audio performance. And the price differential would likely offset any increased server and bandwidth requirements on Apple’s part.

With such an option, I’d be shopping iTMS a lot more often, and Apple could conceivably make even more money while increasing my purchasing loyalty.

Project management lessons learned

My apartment building is currently up in arms about a redesign of the lobby space that isn’t going very well. I’ve been reading the mailing list chatter for the past few weeks, and the overall complaint arc unveils some great basic project-management pointers.

My apartment building is currently up in arms about a redesign of the lobby space that isn’t going very well. I’ve been reading the mailing list chatter for the past few weeks, and the overall complaint arc unveils some great project-management pointers.

Don’t work halfway. The revamp of my lobbies is only touching half the decor: new tiles replacing hardwood, new ceiling paint and lighting, and new furniture. The designer did not touch the walls, columns, or border tiles. This has created a nifty mismatch, as well-marbled and worn tile abuts shiny new tiles without much marbling. Residents hate the look, as do I, but there’s a lesson in here: why rip up half a floor, or change the ceiling without updating the walls? If an effort doesn’t seem to be creating an optimal output, it’s probably better to wait until the project has the funding and momentum to do all of it, rather than retrofitting items that are hard to match to the existing ones.

Keep the communication lines open. A few years ago, when the building redid its residence hallways, the board made several mockup units to display the proposed designs. Some of this process was disastrous; unsurprisingly, no one could come to an agreement on what designs worked, and the board ultimately had to push through the least-controversial design. For the lobbies, the board, figuring no good could come of it, decided not to post a design for comment, which has added fuel to the fire. At least if residents had seen the designs before construction began, they’d know what to expect, and any disappointment would be somewhat mitigated.

Don’t grant and then remove access. As noted above, the board lessened its transparency from the last project to the current one. This is a bad move: no one happily endures a power shift from democracy to oligarchy. People used to being in-the-know expect, rightfully, to stay that way. The building also went from great explanatory signage, updated weekly, to three weeks without notices. The longer the community goes without information, the more unrest generates.

Open forums solve nothing. The only thing that has come out of the mailing list posts has been aggravation. An organized dialogue, with questions sent to and answered by the board, would serve a far better purpose than the virtual graffiti that we’re currently enduring.

Imagine if the board president had done the following instead:

1. Announce that a renovation design has been tentatively approved.

2. Post the design and solicit feedback.

3. Create a revised design and present it back to the community as “finalized using your input.”

4. Give a weekly status report, including any bad news with explanations.

5. Midway through the project, hold an open-forum meeting with all interested residents.

With a little project management, my lobbies would have a cleaner, more universally accepted design and a lot less bickering. (Simply put, any side griping could have been politely deferred with, “I wish you had come to the meeting,” “Did you see the initial design?” etc.) Instead, my in-box is like a soap opera: entertaining but tiresome with no end in sight.