July 03, 2005

Back To The 90s Again

I graduated from Berkeley and went to work in the software industry in 1997 — looking back, the sweet spot of the go-go-1990s. Venture capitalists and starstruck investors were shovelling buckets of cash into dubious Internet-related enterprises; even at long-established companies like my employer, the perks were free-flowing, since they had to keep up with the siren song of the startups burning through all of that VC cash.

The first few years of my employment were a never-ending stream of company-logoed tchotchkes: I got to choose between a shoulder bag or a sweater just for showing up to work on a Saturday. We got corporate-emblazoned light-up yoyos to celebrate the company's fifteenth anniversary (this gift was a divider, not a uniter: those employees old enough to be alive when yoyos were cool were walkin' the dog and looping cat's cradles behind their back, while us twentysomethings were just trying not to hit each other in the head). There were picture frames. Garment bags. Gym bags. Messenger bags. Beer mugs. Shotglasses. Combination desk clock/calculators. Sunglasses. Waterbottles. A model BMX bike on a keychain (from a brief and ill-advised foray into making ourselves "rad" with a younger demographic by sponsoring the "X Games" . . . do they still exist?) Not only did we have stuff from our company, we also had a boatload of swag from other companies as well: Stress balls. Slinkies. Balsa-wood airplanes. Fanny packs. Lots and lots and lots of pens.

And then the Internet bubble popped, and the never-ending stream of swag dried up. We still got stuff from time to time, but now it was usually something useful and understated: a jacket or a T-shirt here and there.

Until . . . now! As some of you may know, my company recently shipped a major suite of products, and the thousand or so of us who were involved in those products' creation received as our official corporate thank-you gift . . . the MusiCooler™!

It's not just a personal cooler that can hold nine cans of your favorite beverage, or perhaps just a few cans of that beverage and a delicious lunch -- it's also a comprehensive personal entertainment solution! Relax and enjoy your food as you listen to your favorite AM-FM radio broadcasts through the MusiCooler™'s built-in radio and speaker! Make the fun last even longer by attaching your CD or MP3 player to the MusiCooler™ through its attached auxiliary cable!

It's been years since I've been given something this frivolous. I'm taking it as an irrefutable sign that the software business must be picking up again.

Had the MusiCooler™ been our only thank-you gift, I'd just go away bemused. But to further bolster my hypothesis, our group thank-you gift came earlier this week -- a 60GB iPod Photo with dock! Eek! Woohoo!

Brief iPod review: This thing is awesome! I'm not completely sure it's something that I'd spend my own money on (even though Apple shuffled around its iPod product line and announced big price cuts on the day I got my gift iPod, the 60GB model still costs a fair chunk of change), but I'm enjoying the free one that's been dropped in my lap. I'd have killed for something like the iPod back when I worked at camp (where I had to struggle to fit an entire summer's worth of CDs into an already-overstuffed trunk), or back in college (where I repeatedly carried stacks of CDs off to random computer labs for late-night hacking sessions).

The dock has a line-out connector that makes a synced-up iPod easy to connect to our living-room stereo (thereby forestalling the purchase of something like the Slim Devices Squeezebox2 or the Roku Labs Soundbridge, an idea that had been kicking around in my head for a while). Now I just need to buy an RF adapter, so that we can use the iPod on those long car rides. (Unfortunately, my car stereo just has a CD player; Shelby's Miata has a CD player and a cassette deck, so she can use the better-sounding cassette adapter.) And if we take another trip that's long enough that I'll take enough pictures to fill up all of my CF cards (as happened during our trip through the Netherlands), the iPod camera connector looks good too.

But what really endears the iPod to me is the fact that my favorite Apple II game, "Sabotage!", has been resurrected as the iPod's built-in "Parachute" game.
Posted by Kevin at July 3, 2005 02:14 PM

As someone who lived in Hamburg last year and has now moved to California, I can totally relate to your comments about the differences between the German and the Californian health systems. We applied for insurance ourselves, as none is provided by either my start-up company, my wife's contract work, or my wife's part time job. The policy paid nothing unless our bills exceeded $7,500 for the year, so was affordable. Now, however, the insurance company has cancelled our insurance. They claim that as we had been trying to get pregnant for 9 months prior to our move to California, we had a non-disclosed, pre-existing condition of infertility. Never mind that we had recieved no infertility treatment and no one had ever suggested that we were infertile. Nor were we asking them to pay for fertility treatment. Nonetheless, we are now among the uninsured. If anything serious happens, we will have to go back to Europe for health care.

I do think you miss one major point, though. Germany, unlike the UK, does not have a true national health system, but, as you noted, the prices are very reasonable. The true problem in America is the malpractice lawyers. I was rooting for Hillary's plan, but she was beholden to the lawyers so was doomed to fail from the start. As long as the Democratic party relies on the malpractice lawyers for the party's funding, Americans can forget affordable healthcare like the Europeans have.

Posted by: Nigel at August 10, 2005 09:20 PM
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