Sturgeon’s Law


I had a Skype call a few months back with one of my all-time favourite wireless boys. I love this guy because, kind of like me, he has a bit of a filter problem and will generally say what he thinks, and what he thinks is generally pretty incisive, realistic, and disruptive.

He was one of the first speakers I’d ever heard at my first WBA event in San Francisco and I was blown away. Caused a bit of a ruckus (pun intended) and I just knew that I had to talk to him. Little did I know that one of the first guys I met in the industry would wind up being one that I still respect the most to this day.

Anyway he’s now busy taking over the wireless backhaul world and when we were having one of our infrequent catchups he mentioned something called Sturgeon’s Law.

90% of everything is crap.

I LOVED IT. Because it’s true.

Try to think of a broad category where this is not true. One of the great things about the modern world is that so many industries have such low barriers to entry that any idiot can start up a software or services company. Or a restaurant. Or whatever.

Most of them suck. I see this all day long in my space, there are literally hundreds of software companies that are in the broad space of ‘Wi-Fi value added services’ and even more when you start to add in all the people that have built ‘me too’ location-triggered ‘loyalty’ apps for retail and hospitality.

What I have to say over and over to anyone who will listen is that what is hard is NOT to deliver a function. It’s not hard to know that someone’s smartphone has walked into a mall or a restaurant and deliver it a message. What is hard is getting the message right, and getting the ROI right of selling the solution.

I don't love for this ... but it does amuse me!

I don’t love for this … but it does amuse me!

Why I bring this all up is that South Africa basically takes a giant holiday from the end of November to the end of January. During this holiday, for much of December I rested, and when I returned to work in January there was no one around to sell to or explore partnerships with, and we had a lot of work to do in our company to find the 10% of good stuff in a mountain of crap.

I’ve spoken before about being a horizontal operator, and one of the other reasons most stuff is crap is that it’s designed to be sold separately. Every software vendor wants to push their own software. Every hardware vendor the same. If you want any sort of scale or things to work together then you have a massive integration engineering challenge at hand.

And this is where we are at the moment: chefs evaluating ingredients with a few to the sorts of solutions we actually want to be delivering. It is tremendously fun but also slightly overwhelming because of the sheer plethora of technologies. How long is a piece of string indeed.

Well, at least I’m not bored. Because boredom is my worst.

I stumbled on this article recently, which talks about how getting different perspectives from wildly different groups and experiences is the number one predictor of career success. I have seen evidence of this in my own career; what I was talking about the last time of seeing connections others miss is probably a direct result of this. If you start spending enough time in, say, marketing and coding, or hospitality and telecoms, it’s perhaps almost inevitable that you will see connections and opportunities that other people will not see.

Also, you don’t ever see what you don’t notice. Sometimes the most beautiful still lives or vignettes are the ones we walk right past. Would that I took time to smell the roses more.

Speaking of ... I had quite the giggle at this

Speaking of … I had quite the giggle at this

I managed not to get on a plane for about a month, from 21 December to 22 January. During this time, Johannesburg is very quiet, but I really didn’t get out much. I was happy at home, in my little cottage, sitting under the lapa in the garden, cooking, eating, drinking coffee in the morning and water in the afternoon, and enjoying my second Southern Hemisphere holiday season.

I am not sure I will ever get used to a hot Christmas or having midnight arrive on New Years Eve without the ball dropping. Living in California it was weird to watch on tape delay, but if it’s not January 1st in New York City has it really happened yet? Strange problems of an east coast native; you can take the girl out of America but you can never take America out of the girl. Some parts of it at least.

I also took advantage of the quiet and the ability to time-shift to spend a ton of time in the gym. Jason, one of the guys who runs the gym, and who also happens to be one of the top CrossFit athletes in Africa, basically yelled at me one day for not getting my shoulder fixed and he was absolutely right. So he ordered me to go see a guy called Wayne and I am cautiously optimistic. I even did one muscle up although it sure as hell wasn’t pretty.

But I guess you go through waves of motivation with everything: work, training, hobbies, relationships. Sometimes you feel like spending more time on one thing or another, based on where your interest and attention lies. I notice this in myself – normally I want to work first, train second, interact with people third. In the holiday period this was kind of reversed.

Aside from not having enough discipline to get myself to bed early enough, the eating properly and training hard has been suiting me as I’ve really been loving it. At least after about 10 days back in Johannesburg when I finally got rid of my Cape Town lungs … annoying not to be able to run around the building without getting out of breath!!

I also watched a lot of American football. And by a lot, I mean every single playoff game. My favourite weekend of the year when I lived in the States was always Wild Card weekend … I would always stay home and watch 12 hours of football and my friends thought I was nuts. But I just love the game, and the Wild Card teams are fun, and for each team you watch their whole season comes down to this game so how can it be anything but entertaining?

Quite a few of my evenings resembled this...

Quite a few of my evenings resembled this…

Watching games in South Africa takes on a bit of a different twist because of the time zones. Watching games when they are not live is nowhere near as fun, but when they are broadcast at absurd start times like 11pm or 1:40am it really does test your desire to watch live.

Some of the games were broadcast on DSTV, which, you may recall, is something that I have in my apartment that I never watch, but until I get some form of LTE watching a broadcast will be better quality than my NFL Gamepass. The DSTV mysteriously stopped working after World Cup and, I never bothered to troubleshoot because I never watch TV. In a moment I’m sure I will probably never hear the end of, it turns out that a simple change to the AV setting on the TV was all that was required to fix it. Yes, I can configure my own wireless router inclusive of NATting but to get my TV to work requires male assistance. I really can be lazy sometimes!

So my team, the New England Patriots, were one of the preseason favourites to do well in the playoffs. They normally have a pretty decent team and this year was no exception (that Kansas City game aside, but we don’t talk about that). They get a first round bye and in their first playoff game they play the Baltimore Ravens. The same Baltimore Ravens that I promise you I thought were going to wreck their undefeated season in 2007 (before the New York Giants ruined it in the Super Bowl that is).

This game was between around 11pm – 2am my time and I’m not even kidding that it was one of the most emotional experiences I’ve had in the last year. The Pats fell behind by 14 points not once but TWICE and still managed to come back, and win, inclusive of a lateral to Julian Edelman for a 51-yard TD pass. Stuff like that, like Flutie’s drop kick, just doesn’t happen that often and it’s cool to watch.

In the meantime it generated Tweets like this (and no I wasn't drinking!)

In the meantime it generated Tweets like this (and no I wasn’t drinking!)

The whole NFL playoff experience was made even more fun because I now have someone in this country to watch games with. In a manner of speaking at least, because we don’t live in the same town. But there is something about a shared experience no matter how tenuous (or seemingly tenuous) the sharing that can’t be beat. It has been a very VERY long time since I’ve watched a football game I cared about with someone else that really understood the game.

It has actually made me reflect a bit just how much I really do love American football. You don’t so much think about how much you miss certain elements of home. I know I’ve thought about this before, of the many things about South Africa I’d miss if I were not living here what would be the few? For Boston it’s the Pats games, the sharp orange of a maple contrast against a grey overcast autumn sky, sitting inside watching the snow come down in a snowstorm, the crocuses, daffodils, tulips, and peonies bursting out of spring, apple picking, and driving down Storrow Drive. For California, it’s the smell of the eucalyptus and the hot air on wooden decks, the views over the Bay, the restaurant scene, the fog mixed with the muted pastels of the buildings in the city (that would be San Francisco), and the energy of The Valley.

I'll also miss the heck out this garden when I do eventually move!

I’ll miss the heck out this garden when I do eventually move!

I am not sure it’s possible to miss something while you’re still in it, but I guess I would miss the beaches of Cape Town & Strand, the Cape Dutch architecture, the unique retro style that characterises almost every Cape Town shop & restaurant, the sunset on the mountains, biltong and boerewors, proteas in the wild, the jacarandas, all the native flowers that I adore, the absurdity of everything about the phrase “TIA,” and the sense that anything but anything is possible in the wild, wild west of Johannesburg. Even the walls and the security focus for all that it represents, is a reminder that you bury your head in the sand at your peril.

So Sturgeon’s Law: 90% of software is crap, of companies are crap, of CrossFit gyms are crap, of TV shows are crap. You know … give or take. It was an interesting few weeks in Joburg of quiet.

The calm before the storm, characterised by long hours in the garden, lots of thinking and writing, talking to friends, chatting on Facebook, and the amusement of the Vodacom-Neotel hearings at ICASA which also served as a mini telecoms reunion. But wow that was fine theatre.

Oh and a little last minute TV appearance. Why not?

eNCA Moneyline set

eNCA Moneyline set

I did have a bad scare with my cat, who ate either duck from the trash or snail poison (or both) and I wasn’t at all sure what was going to happen because she’s old and frail. Probably one of the biggest reliefs of the last few months when the vet called right as I was about to go into makeup to say she’d be fine but they wanted to keep her overnight.

Makes you realise how much you really appreciate something only when you realise you can lose it.

Rest and focus has certainly brought some clarity. With the clarity, an even greater sense of urgency. The proliferation of crap bothers me, and there’s not a lot of time.

  • “We do not live in anything that resembles a fairy tale. We live in Gauteng.” – editor of JHB Live
  • “Why waste time mistaking appearance for substance?” – Mom
  • “Do you want to be more fit than this?” – the JMPD cop that pulled me over on my way to the gym (random license check)
  • “She wears all kinds of shirts. Except ones that say Kyalami on them!” – Jason
  • “I’m not afraid of clowns I just don’t think they’re funny and so they’re irrelevant.” – Simon
  • “There’s no reason to be up at 3 o’clock in the morning. Unless you’re watching football.” – Ellie
  • “I wouldn’t gloat … that much.” – Richard
  • “But they have no skin in the game.” – Ellie
  • “Unless we fall down vomiting we must just keep going.” – Conrad
  • “By eight o’clock in the morning I’ve had four meals.” – Jason
  • “Just maybe drink a few whiskeys before you see him.” – Jason
  • “Try not to hate me after the workout.” – Jason
  • “Whatever it is they’re doing. I don’t want to do it.” “This is recovery.” “That doesn’t *look* like recovery.” – Ellie & Coach Andrew
  • “You hit the nail on the head there.” – Neelay
  • “A spade by any other name is still a spade.” – Neelay
  • “He’s not the brains behind it.” “No, because he has no brains.” (the telecoms snark begins early)
  • “I thought I’d have a little coffee before the torture.” “No, you need tequila before torture.” “Jason said whiskey.” – Ellie & Wayne
  • “I even overthink overthinking!” – Nicol (so true)
  • “Why are you looking at me like I’m a puppy dog?” – Matt
  • “You’re a female. Let me take you straight to makeup.” – Sipho
  • “If you’d been here a little bit sooner we would have offered you tequila.” – Gareth
  • “Time is not on our side.” – my strategic soulmate
  • “Yeah those Christmas trees were the worst thing ever for the fibre industry.” – Ellie
  • “Are you calling me a spin doctor now? Cuz I think you just did!” “No, I’m just saying that you write things in a nice positive way.” – Ellie & Jens (takes one to know one!)
  • “This is not an airplane, this is not a widget. This is spectrum.” – one of the presenters at ICASA
  • “Are you suggesting I give up CrossFit and take up heroin?” “Well it was just a suggestion!” – Ellie & Richard
  • “It was a good thing he wasn’t in Johannesburg, or I probably would have thrown something at him.” – Ellie (life is back to normal)
  • “They’d be a great company to work with.” “Well except that they’re evil and kill people.” “Yeah. True.” – Ellie & Duncan

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