The Impact of Bad Pricing 

I am traveling home form Orlando where I presented at Microsoft’s Worldwide Partner Conference. It was great fun and I learned a lot from our partners. Since over 4,000 people from the Seattle area are here I had to change my travel routine. In this case that means traveling on American Airlines to get home.

American Airlines has an interesting checked baggage pricing structure that I listed below:

  • One bag is $25. That is standard.
  • Two bags are $60. Ok, this is reasonable to charge more for the second bag.
  • Three bags are $210. Really going to charge that much for 3 bags.

Orlando is the home of Disney World so there are a lot of families meaning lots of bags. So of course a lot of people try to put huge bags in the overhead bin. This causes so many delays and frustration for the people waiting.

Hopefully American Airlines could adopt more reasonable price discrimination so they discourage a lot bags without creating problems for the travelers.

On the runway,


Deleting Documents from Solr

Often when using Solr, I forget what the command is to delete documents so I’m just keeping it here. This command will both delete the documents matched by the query and commit the deletion.


Query is format field:value. To delete all of your documents enter *:*

BTW – if you do this from a browser make sure that you close the browser window when you are finished.  I once had Firefox crash and then when it came up I opted to recover the closed windows.  This instantly executed this command and deleted all of my documents.  it was not a good feeling.

Talk to you soon,

Orville | Twitter: @orville_m

Compilers and Civics

Like many others in technology, I have always loved that I can impact the world by the products that we make.  I currently work on Visual Studio and I enjoy being able to meet our customers in different parts of the world.  However, even as we think globally the greatest impacts on our lives are local decisions.  What does the future of your city look like?  How safe is your neighborhood?  Can you easily travel around?  Is there a sense of community?  These are just a few of the questions that many of us ponder as we consider where to live (especially when there is a family involved).

For these reasons and many more I applied to be a member of my city’s planning commission and thankfully I was accepted.  The city council from the mayor on down have a great history with the city and are looking to make the city an even better place than it is now.  As this is my first time being involved in local government I am really looking forward to working with the smart people on the commission and learning a lot in the process.

If you ever thought about getting involved in your community my advice would be to just go and do it.  Think globally, act locally.

Talk to you soon,

Orville | Twitter: @orville_m

Creating and Sustaining Profitable Growth

Clayton Christensen always has interesting strategy papers.  I came across this presentation that has some useful information for those who are focused on bringing disruptive technologies to market.  Some items might be considered contrarian.  For example, when searching for the right business model “good money is impatient for profit, but patient for growth.” (Slide 26)

Talk to you soon,

Orville | Twitter: @orville_m

Visual Studio 2012 Launch

I’ve been really bad about blogging lately because I was focused on the Visual Studio 2012 launch.  In my opinion it is the best development tool but I’m biased. :)  This was originally going to be a blog post about the great features in Visual Studio 2012 but since I took too long to post, several great posts have already been written.  So here are a few tidbits from the march to launch.

Discussing Visual Studio 11 (beta)

Tim and I were having too much fun talking about development and the evolution of Visual Studio.  Notice that product was still under its codename.

Bytes By MSDN – Orville McDonald and Tim Huckaby

Note: I would have preferred to embed video but basic WordPress is not a fan of that. :(

TechEd Europe 2012

In Amsterdam giving a tour of the product.  Must say this is the hardest presentation to give because the product is so broad and the time is so short.  Just not enough time to discuss everyone’s favorite feature in any level of depth.

What’s New In Visual Studio 2012

Visual Studio 2012 Launch Keynote

Here I am on stage during Jason Zander’s keynote.  It was a fun time as you can see from my smile below.  You can actually watch the video at the launch site.


Talk to you soon,

Orville | Twitter: @orville_m

Experiencing the Future of Education

Once someone starts working it is hard to find the time to go back to school.  As someone who recently finished a part-time MBA program I can vouch for the time juggling required to do it successfully.  Yet I always find some time to tinker which is great but there are benefits to having some structure to guide the learning.  So when I learned about an online search engine development class early this year from a startup called Udacity I figured I would see what online courses are about.  At the time I was doubtful I was going to do more than half of a session.  What a surprise it turned out to be.


If you have never heard of Udacity, it is a company that uses the internet to make computer science classes accessible to a broader range of students.  My class was taught by Sebastian Thrun and David Evans who are professors at Stanford and University of Virginia respectively.

After trying out a class session I left it alone and was going to forget about it.  Then I received a reminder email from Udacity and the next session sounded interesting so I decided to check it out.  With the light reminder emails, quizzes, and homework assignments I slowly got more engaged and invested time in the class. Before I even realized it I was going through the sessions (and sometimes the homework) each week.  This class format worked for me for a few reasons.

  1. Since the lectures were online I was able to watch them whenever I had time.  This could be during a break in the day or late at night.  Since each session is broken into 2-4 minute nuggets it was easy to weave in and out throughout the day.
  2. Short quizzes tested my knowledge along the way.  Sometimes I wouldn’t bother with the quizzes but if I felt that I wasn’t paying close enough attention I might try the quizzes to find out if I actually learned something or if I had the illusion of understanding.
  3. The course was pure fun.  I enjoy pure learning so grades didn’t matter to me outside of making sure I was not suffering from an illusion of learning.  Without the concerns of my transcript I could horse around and work at my own pace instead of sticking to the schedule.

Discussions around online learning have been primarily focused on accessibility for people who are far away from a university or cannot afford how much it costs nowadays.  I would also add that it is great for people who cannot afford the time that it takes to go back to school.

I even got a certificate for my time. :)



Talk to you soon,

Orville | Twitter: @orville_m

Discussion with Tony James of Blackstone

Today I had the opportunity to meet Tony James who is the President and Chief Operating Officer of Blackstone.  He is definitely a master of the universe and he spent an hour taking questions from a small group of people at the Foster School of Business.  During the conversation he touched on a range of topics of which I will touch on a few of them here.

Managing Blackstone

I asked about the work he did to create a more disciplined investment process at Blackstone when he arrived. Amongst the many things that he did, I liked hearing about the investment funneling process. Each person who has an investment idea drafts a memo that is vetted before a lot of resources are committed. This enables ideas that make it through the funnel to get the right level of attention and have a higher chance of making it to an actual investment.

Previously when people worked in a silo there was often duplication of research with people not knowing what others were doing. By bringing all of the investment ideas to a central committee it gave Blackstone’s leaders a better perspective of what was going on while reducing wasted effort. This reminds me of the Bill Gates reviews where he was able to know everything that was going on at Microsoft and gave him a comprehensive view of what was going on in technology.

Investment firms all tend to focus on the same things (e.g. sourcing, valuations, investments, etc.) but what sets firms apart is culture. It is the only long-term competitive advantage that firms have. Culture is often seen as a “fuzzy” thing but when you look at what it has done for Blackstone it is truly effective.

Private Equity

Although Blackstone is known for Private Equity it is not the largest business that the firm has.  Looking forward there has been a lot of talk of winnowing the number of firms that will exist in the future.  He has been hearing this for a long time and doesn’t feel it will be as bad as people think but he did mention some challenges moving forward.  The items that stuck with the most are:

  • Acquiring a public company often takes a 40% premium to take it private and then when it IPOs there is often a 20% discount.  So there is a 60% enterprise value hurdle that needs to be overcome to just breakeven.
  • Buyouts are an operational business.  The economics of the business requires operational changes to make a profit.  If the operational changes can’t be made it is not worth doing.  This is contrary to the popular opinion that private equity is only about financial engineering.
  • Deep domain expertise are needed to create the operational improvements.
  • Firms with a diverse range of strategies and track records in different markets will do better than specialty firms.


With Mr. James’ broad view of the markets he had several interesting facts and tidbits of which I will only touch on a few.

  • $1 – 1.5 trillion has been spent on private equity acquisitions in recent years (I missed the exact time period).  Equities were propped up as a result.  With a holding period of approximately 5 years, there could be downward pressure on equities when these companies get ready to IPO.
  • When buying companies in foreign markets it is important to have native investors who are steep in the culture and also have a geo-political hedge.
  • Bad industries are ones where the risk associated with the investment is unknown.  Especially with those that have lots of risks but no real upside.  Pricing risk is an important part of the investment decision.
  • Frequently reviewing investment opportunities creates investment acumen.  There is no substitute.


He is definitely a personable guy and answered all of our questions until he had to leave for the Costco board meeting.  Thank you Paula Rosput Reynolds and the Foster School of Business for setting this up.

Talk to you soon,

Orville | Twitter: @orville_m