Real Web Service

The Pollster Speaks

Guns on Learning

High Tech for 2000

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These articles by Peter J. Mladineo and Barbara Fox were published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on October 7, 1998. All rights reserved.

For First-Timers: Credit, Credit, Credit

With low interest rates it's a great time to buy a house, but first-time home buyers shouldn't underestimate the value of a good credit report and of financial planning, reports James J. McKeever, executive director of the New Jersey chapter of Accountants for the Public Interest. API-NJ gives its "Financial Planning for Home Ownership" seminar on Saturday, October 17, at 8:45 a.m. at the Merrill Lynch campus at 800 Scudders Mill Road. Call 732-249-7565 for more information.

The free workshop for first-time home owners touches on consumer credit, affordable housing, and budgeting. Participants are then called back for individual sessions on Saturday, November 14. "It gives them time to get back their credit report," says McKeever.

The seminar covers all the basics -- credit reports, credit repair, mortgages, affordable housing networks, budgeting, and financial preparation. "There are so many different factors involved with buying a house and unfortunately there are so many people who don't have a grasp on basic budgeting and their credit that they get behind the eight ball before they start," McKeever reports. "A lot of that is the worry of the unknown."

Home buyers can attend another seminar, by Coldwell Banker. This features advice from Gloria Hutchinson, a sales associate at Coldwell Banker; Robert Rothenberg, a real estate attorney with Rothenberg & Rubenstein; and Lucia Dougan-Kelly, an account manager with Cendant Mortgage. Call 609-799-9665 for more information.

This seminar will also deal with selling homes. Says Hutchinson, "Right now is the perfect time to consider selling your home. There are many serious buyers in the marketplace and interest rates are very attractive for buyers."

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Real Web Service

<B>Bill Gates does real estate too, and his effort, Microsoft HomeAdvisor, could be a way to liposuck a layer of brokers out of the picture.

The site, http://www.homeadvisor.com, enables home buyers to browse pictures of homes for sale and see if they would qualify for a mortgage on that particular home. It's somewhat slow, but the amount of information available at the site is impressive, and it's user-friendly to first-time home buyers. And it's free, supported by banner advertising.

The first step is to choose the neighborhood. Each neighborhood is identified by zip code and is described in terms of demographics, primary employment characteristics, schools, and crime. For instance, Princeton 08540 consists of professional, "elite exurban families," with a median income of $68,818, average household size of 2.35, a median age of 37, and a minimal crime scene.

Once you know your preferred neighborhood, Home Finder allows users to sort through price, type, size and features (for instance, central air, RV parking, carport, swimming pool, or room for horses) of the target house. Bear in mind that the site considers Ewing, South Brunswick, Plainsboro, the Windsors, and other outlying areas as Princeton. All home listings also come with a map, zoomable down to the street level. Some listings come with a picture.

Financing information abounds here as well. The site lets users calculate how expensive a home they can afford, according to income. It also has a mortgage worksheet to calculate the monthly payment, and a loan finder feature so users can shop around.

Perhaps best of all, it gives contact information for the listing agent: phone, fax, and E-mail. That means a prospective buyer can hone in on a house and deal directly with the listing agent -- cutting in half the number of agents looking for commissions.

And Home Advisor has a free push technology service, Home Tracker, which E-mails a user information about new houses -- with pictures and specs -- as they become available. Users can select how often updates are E-mailed as well, from daily to monthly.

The site would work best for those with an aversion to have someone else do the looking for them, or for someone relocating to another part of the country. It's similar to Microsoft's Expedia service, which finds travel fares and has a corresponding push component.

-- Peter J. Mladineo

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The Pollster Speaks

To future historians 1998 might be viewed as the year of the public opinion poll. Indeed, this year could be a golden age in opinion research -- from the way President Clinton has notoriously kept one eye glued to his approval rating to the way Congress seems to be tempering its public evisceration of the president in line with the changes in the polls.

To Frank Newport, this is as it should be. "In a democracy it really should be the people who guide of the ship of state," says Newport. "Otherwise you are left with lobbyists and demagogues saying, `This is what the public wants.'"

Newport is editor-and-chief of the Gallup Poll and a vice president of its mother company, the Gallup Organization, based at 47 Hulfish Street. "I think the public opinion poll this year has come more into its own than the past," he says. "This year with the Clinton scandal we have seen more reliance on the public opinion poll. The media and Congress have looked to the polls for understanding."

Expect more on this vein when Newport addresses the American Association for Public Opinion Research on Thursday, October 8, at 5:30 p.m. at the Nassau Inn. The program, "The Polls and the President: the impact of the special prosecutor's report on presidential polling and public opinion measurement," will be given with Lydia Saad, managing director of the Gallup Poll. Call 609-936-2781 for more information.

And while the proliferation of new media outlets -- and reams of politicized scuttlebutt -- add to the general health of the opinion research industry, the Gallup Organization gets only a portion of its business from its public opinion polls. "The Gallup Poll is a small part of our company but a very important one," says Newport. "It's our publicly released assessment of the attitudes in America, conducted without interruption since the 1930s. It's the oldest instrument of public opinion in the world. The largest percentage of our business is providing feedback from employees and from customers to the management of business and industry to help them make better decisions. That's what we do for a living."

Founded in 1935 by George Gallup in Princeton, the Gallup Poll is indisputably the mother of all polls. It created the presidential approval rating during FDR's tenure, and for decades enjoyed a syndicated near-monopoly on the industry. Now the Gallup Poll is syndicated by the Los Angeles Times Syndicate and has a partnership with CNN and USA. It also publishes the Gallup Poll Monthly magazine, a popular library reference journal.

Newport has been editor-and-chief at the Gallup Poll since 1990 and came here from an opinion research post at a Gallup affiliate in Texas. "My whole career has been based in one way or another on trying to understand humans," he says. From Fort Worth, Newport has an undergraduate degree from Baylor University in Waco, Texas, and a Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Michigan.

But now for the juice: What does the editor-in-chief of the Gallup Poll really think about the president? "It's a complex picture," Newport says. "The public feeds back to us and gives a clear sense that they are aware of what he's done, yet at the same time his job rating has remained at 60 percent. It's very interesting; the public's evaluation of Bill Clinton is highly dependent on which aspect of him you're asking it to rate. He gets high marks for a job-related question, for questions about his character or moral leadership he gets low marks."

The key poll question, Newport says, is whether the public thinks Clinton should be impeached or should resign. "Those are key questions because then we're asking the public to take all this information and summarize it," he says. "Sixty-six percent of Americans think he committed perjury. The numbers have gone up in the last month, but we're still at roughly in the 30-to-40-percent range, in terms of whether he should be impeached. So if you flip that around that says that a significant percentage of Americans think he should not be impeached or resign. At least now we have a majority that says no. That can change as new information comes out."

And like most executives in Princeton's Opinion Alley, Newport is critical, to say the least, of online polling. "Online polls are not polls at all," he says. "They don't even follow the basic precepts of methodology. Any polls that just allow people to decide on their own if they want to vote are useless.

"You've got employ scientific random sampling features in order to ensure that a survey is projectable. We'll interview 1,000 people and we'll say that these are the same results we would have gotten had we interviewed every single American."

While the benefits of random sampling are obvious to the political landscape, the benefits to business can be appealing. "It's classic market research," he says. "Just like advertising is a component of most companies' budgets, employee and customer research should also be a component of most companies' budgets, where they systemically find ways to stay in touch with the attitudes of their employees and customers. These large companies don't spend large amounts of money frivolously."

And the fun isn't limited to industry behemoths either. While most businesses may not have the large staff size or revenues to warrant random sampling, Newport is enamored of using less-scientific means -- like customer surveys -- to measure opinions of the business. "Small companies have to be kind of creative and figure out how to do it," he says.

-- Peter J. Mladineo

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Guns on Learning

Years ago Bob Guns became enamored of a philosophy: For a company to gain a strategic advantage, it had to learn faster than its competitors. He was so sure of this concept's brilliance that he scoured the shelves at bookstores to find titles espousing it. When he found none, he wrote one himself: "The Faster Learning Organization" was published by the San Francisco-based publisher Jossey-Bass in 1996 and is now in paperback.

"If in fact the strategic notion is true, than how do you implement it? I lay out the foundations, strategies, tactics, and skills to make it happen," says Guns, who reveals his method at Quality New Jersey on Tuesday, October 13, at 8:30 a.m. at the Engelhard Corporation in Iselin. Also speaking is Larry Dight, of the Engelhard petroleum catalyst group. To register, call Kathy DeBow at 609-497-1992.

Guns, a fulltime consultant with Price WaterhouseCoopers' knowledge management practice, was called in by Engelhard to help its petroleum catalyst group use accelerated learning to achieve a breakthrough product line. From Vancouver, he has a degree from the University of British Columbia and a Ph.D. in organizational development from University of Oregon. Before Price WaterhouseCoopers, he had his own practice, Probe Consulting. The 19-year-old firm is still in operation in Summit, run by his wife.

To aid learning in an organization, Guns maintains that a company must achieve these three things first:

Have an atmosphere of openness to learning. This is the most basic foundation of achieving the goal, Guns maintains. "There's a major issue out there in the workforce," he says.

Openness to learning occurs on two levels, personal and organizational. A person must not only be confident about learning, but must feel eager to embrace the learning opportunity in front of them. Companies that are closed to learning usually suffer from one of two syndromes, ignorance and ego. "Ignorance usually comes from people who have never been asked to use their brains before at work, usually people who have used their hands and bodies. It's a very difficult transformation," he says.

"The other side of being closed to learning relates to arrogance and is far more difficult. It generally relates to managerial and professional ranks. It is endemic. It's based on, `If I have this particular job that's a high level I'm supposed to be an expert and I'm supposed to know it all.' It breeds an insular view of the world and very protective view of the world."

Meet the challenge of change. This aspect drives the speed of learning, Guns reports. "The higher the degree of challenge, the faster we'll learn," he says. "As we move into a much more competitive arena that's when the learning really starts to accelerate."

Ensure stimulating leadership. This is characterized by two corresponding attributes, high challenge and high support. "The idea is that a leader's major role is to create a climate for faster learning," he says. "Leaders do that by challenging their people so that they are stimulated to meet that challenge at the same time they are being supported by the leader. High challenge on one side, high support on the other side. That is a very rare trait in a corporate leader. The issue of strategy and leadership is so critical in all of this, management has to start thinking about learning leaders."

The best example of a faster learning organization was NASA during the 1960s. "That had all the characteristics of the faster learning organization, and I think they're regaining some of that," he says. "My one definition of learning in an organization is the process of figuring out what works or what works better. The only way to figure it out is to try it out."

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High Tech for 2000

Everyone always wants to know how much digital TV will cost, says James Carnes, president and CEO of the Sarnoff Corporation. When you see astronomical price tags on the first models of high definition television sets, remember you can keep their "old" sets and just purchase a set-top conversion box. "Panasonic has one for $1,700, and Philips announced something in the $500 range."

Carnes will talk about this and other high-tech news when he addresses the Princeton Chamber on Thursday, October 8, at 11:45 a.m. at the Forrestal Hotel. His subject: "How Princeton-Based Technology Businesses See the Future as We Head Toward the Millennium." For $28 reservations call 609-520-1776.

Just one week later, on Thursday, October 15, at 11 a.m., William M. Freeman, president and CEO of Bell Atlantic New Jersey, will tackle a similar subject for the Mercer Chamber at the Trenton Country Club. Freeman's topic: "Technology and New Jersey: Looking Toward the Future." For $30 reservations, call 609-393-4143.

Carnes has been president at Sarnoff for eight years. An engineering major at Penn State with a PhD in electrical engineering from Princeton, he has written more than 100 papers and has been issued nine United States patents. He is an authority in the area of charge-coupled devices and has played a leading role in the development of high definition television (HDTV).

Sarnoff works in such areas as solid state lasers, integrated circuits, flat panel displays, computer vision, drug discovery tools, drug delivery systems, and, of course, digital high definition television. Carnes will discuss three of the technologies in which Sarnoff is involved.

HDTV and digital TV present new business opportunities, but the really interesting ones, he believes, "won't be well defined for awhile." Look for home television sets to broadcast data related to the program you are watching. For example, you could ask for background information on an item being advertised. Or for extra information on a quiz show question. When watching the World Series, you could instantly call up the score, whether or not the producer has it on the screen at that moment. You could also get statistics on the next batter in the lineup, or on how many career errors the shortstop has made.

Video on demand is making a comeback, says Carnes, thanks to an improved economic picture. Several years ago Sarnoff was in the news for this idea, which would allow you to select from a wide variety of movies and start them at any point in time. "Basically the problem was economics," he says. "It was being pushed by the telephone companies big time. But they really don't have big enough pipes, and no one had quite figured out how to make servers that were low enough in cost. So all the systems being talked about cost too much money per subscriber to be a business.

Advances in cable and new designs for server technology, some developed by Sarnoff, promise to bring video on demand to the market. "We kept working," says Carnes, "thinking it was eventually going to be viable."

The Internet is a phenomenal opportunity for business. "The issue with the Internet now is the bandwidth to the home," says Carnes. "Some people say WWW stands for `world wide wait'." Fatter pipes will get into the home, again via cable. Developers need to realize that when the pipes get bigger, businesses need to be ready to take advantage of that.

Does that mean Internet pages will get visually more entertaining? "As people switch over to higher bit rates, clearly things are going to jazz up," says Carnes, "but I still don't see the internet as the source of entertainment television. HDTV and digital TV over cable will run ahead of the Internet in delivering entertainment video."

"But clearly the graphics will improve when there is more memory and bit rate capacity. People always figure out how to use that. The more memory you get the more storage the programs will need." One application that he is excited about is "being able to sit and listen to thousands of different radio broadcasts that you can't get normally."

About that high definition television set you are hankering to buy. "As manufacturers learn to make these sets and get lower cost guts in them, they want to make as much money as they can from the people who will buy anything. They will be able to sell as many as they make at the $5,000 to $7,000 level for a while, and then somebody will step up and lower the price," says Carnes. "They have a lot of investment to make up here. Hopefully they can make that money up before it gets so competitive that they start losing money on each set and try to make it up in volume."

Carnes's advice: "If you want to be the first person on the block to get one, go ahead. If not, this is probably the worst time to buy it."


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