Sunday, August 20, 2006

More Screen Space = More Productivity

Two years ago, I got myself a dual-monitor setup and have been preaching its benefits ever since. However, I was never able to back up my claim of huge productivity gains with scientific data. There have been some articles on this: But these pieces never elaborated on how they came up with the numbers. A fun example is this report, which apparently bases a 42% productivity gain estimate on polls, not measurements: "Sir, how much did the second screen improve your productivity?", "Ehm, I don't know, I had one before and now I have two, so I guess it doubled!"


That's why I was happy to come across this Pfeiffer Report (long version) which measures the productivity of using a 17-inch LCD vs. the 30-inch Apple Cinema Display. Sure, the report was paid for by Apple, but the results are pretty clear. For their experiments, they clearly defined tasks such as "Moving Files Between Folders" and "Full-Page Editing (InDesign)" - identical step sequences, executed three times each by trained professionals. They found productivity gains between 39 and 73%.

Finally, some hard numbers from systematic measurements. I hope one of the LCD manufacturers will soon get the idea to repeat this study for single-screen vs. dual-screen.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

New York and Boston

Earlier this week, I took a short trip to the east coast. After some drama in New York, things turned out really well. Meetings, meetings, meetings.


In New York, I talked to Aaron Harnly of Columbia University who also works in the email field. Great guy with great ideas. Also met with Fabrice Grinda, a bright entrepreneur who has started companies in both Europe and the US. Check out this Venture Voice podcast to get a sense of how energetic he is.


After a longish trip on the Chinatown Bus, I arrived in Boston, where I met with Xobni. I was impressed – these guys are very smart and are determined to revolutionize the email space.

These days seem like a blur. Six more weeks to go for my thesis.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

A Review of Zurich

After having lived in my beloved Zurich for 5 years, I have considered leaving several times this year, for different destinations. I'm still thinking about it. With August 1 being Swiss National Day, today offers a great opportunity to review this tiny metropolis near the alps.

A warning: This will probably sound much like a travel guide, not the highly opinionated tech-related blog entry that you may be used to!

Things I Like

Cosmopolitanism

Of the Beta world cities, Zurich is probably the smallest. It has fairly diverse demographics – there are people from all over Europe, Asia, Africa, and a large expat community from the States. But it's hard to beat London or Paris.

The financial industry, ETH Zurich, the University of Zurich, and a number of international organizations such as FIFA attract great people from all over the world. In contrast to Germany, Switzerland has simpler immigration laws.

Socially Liberal, Fiscally Conservative

With few exceptions, politics here seem to be taken from the Economist's playbook.

Great Quality of Living

Zurich is scenic: There is Lake Zurich and pretty mountain views. Unlike cities in Germany, Zurich didn't suffer in world wars, so all the little houses and churches are authentic. There are no huge skyscrapers. You can walk from one end of the city to the other in half a day. Zurich is a human-scale metropolis.

The consulting firm Mercer places Zurich first in its world-wide quality of living survey.

Efficient Bureaucracy

So far, I've dealt with the bureaucracies of Hungary, Germany, the United States, and Switzerland. Switzerland has been the most pleasant and most effective. Usually, bureaucracies are unpleasant because of insufficient capacity, overregulation, or the public servant personalities.

In Swiss government offices, there always seem to be a sufficient number of public servants. I've never waited in line endlessly in Switzerland, but I have done so at the DMV in Santa Clara. Don't even get me started about Munich or Budapest. You always pay about 50 to 100 CHF afterwards: Since they get paid per transaction, they can scale capacities accordingly.

Americans often joke about Switzerland having a rule for everything, but it's not like the U.S. has a lower regulation density. Gabor's "law of regulation complexity" states: "Overregulation in a country is approximately proportional to the number of people governing it." It's fairly obvious that the legislative bodies of the federal, state, and local governments of the US or Germany are much larger than that of Switzerland. This country doesn't really suffer from overregulation; It's just that the rules seem to be followed here more than elsewhere.

Switzerland has the friendliest and most effective public servants I've dealt with.

Transportation

I'm writing these words on a tram. Zurich has one of the densest and punctual public transportation networks in the world. This also extends to the train network: Whenever I take train trips with guests from abroad, I always hope for a delay because they're easily impressed by the huge "we're so sorry" speech they hold when the train is late by just 4 minutes. So far, this has only happened once.

In the summer, I can take my bike anywhere! It's a yellow mountain bike, has a cool-looking frame, and is otherwise completely unpractical. The city government dislikes cars and has installed a lot of speed radars. Also, it seems like they've been reducing parking and driving space for cars downtown. Still, I wish there were more bike lanes.

Things I Dislike

Store Hours

Most grocery stores are open from 8 am to 8 pm, with one exception: At the main train station, shops are open until 9 pm. But even this is completely ridiculous! Back in Mountain View, the closest grocery store was the Safeway at 570 N Shoreline. I cannot remember a single instance of visiting it before 9 pm on a weekday.

Fall

You haven't seen fog if you haven't been to Zurich in November.

Smoking

About a one-third of the Swiss population smokes. The amount of self-deception necessary to make that seem bearable is comparable to making yourself believe that global warming does not exist. Some restaurants in Zurich still don't have a non-smoking section! That should be fixed. Hope is on the horizon: It seems like smoking has decreased significantly when the SBB, the Swiss national railways, abolished smoking sections in trains.

Attitude towards Risk

The Swiss are famously risk-averse. The majority of ETH and university graduates seem to believe that the best way to become rich is to join the Graduate Training Program of UBS right after school, at the tender age of 25. (Dear UBS, I'm sorry that you're always the target of my mockery, but you make it so easy!) At this age, your living costs are low and to conform to the Swiss average, wife and kids are at least five years off. It's okay to take on risks when you still can.

Border Controls and Import Taxes

I dislike being stopped at the border to Germany to get my passport checked. It's even worse when they pull you over for a quick search, but I probably look a bit too harmless for that. Inside the EU, you can roam free. Having signed the EU's Schengen accord, passport checks on the Swiss border will be abolished, but there will still be import taxes. For Swiss companies, the import / export tariff regime represents a huge burden, as they have to go through many forms to export products to neighboring countries.

One more thing: People moving here from other parts of continental Europe often complain about the high prices. Compared to Germany, this is true. But living here is less expensive than Silicon Valley or London, while income levels are about the same. The Big Mac Index, which everyone seems to quote, misstates things because meat is relatively expensive here, increasing the price of the burger.

The Verdict

Zurich is great, but not impossible to leave.