Saturday, November 21, 2009

Putting all your eggs in one basket

Here's a phrase I'd love Fred Shapiro of Freakonomics to parse, "putting all your eggs in one basket". I've used it to describe my decision to put my calendar all in one place - first on my Palm, and later my Blackberry. Not that the phrase is the best choice when you think about it.

I imagine the smart farmer's daughter would not want to risk transport of her entire investment in one basket. Better to split up her product in to smaller bundles, in the hope that most would make it to market in one piece.
But when it comes to calendars, I love my big basket. On my e-calendar, I can put in re-occurring events like birthdays without fear of skipping a year. When work life and home life complexified ten years ago, and I was living off my Outlook calendar and my Day Timer, I was missing personal appointments during work hours, and skipping work assignments during home hours. I could no longer operate off two books. Kind of like my financially challenged friend who tried to take charge of her finances by purchasing not one, but two beautifully bound cheque registers. You can imagine what happened next.

(Picture of the Saskatchewan Palm Pilot, borrowed from Ollie's London Pub Choice,
When I got my first Palm, it was the new thing on the block. People wanted to know why I bothered switching. I would use the phrase, "put all my eggs in one basket", to describe that glorious master calendar that watched over all the events of my life.

"What happens if you lose your Palm?"

"No problem," I replied, "because of sycing, all I need to do is buy a new Palm, and may calendar is downloaded again." We'll cast a blind eye for a moment to the heartbreaking loss of an attractive asset, and the lurking fear that my password would be breached.

So perhaps one basket is not the best way to describe the joy of the mobile electronic calendar, because in the electronic world, there never is just one copy. There's my PDA, of course, and the mainframe for backup. The mainframe in turn is backed up regularly. Backups upon backups protecting my eggs.

I see the attractiveness of one basket in other places. My IT buddies tell me the mainframe is coming back (one big basket). Personal PC's become dumb terminals, or thin clients, logging up to one big beast. From a maintenance point of view, the IT guy's job just got a lot easier. Put everything in to his big basket, and watch that basket.

It happens in the world of bulk purchasing, too. The idea is that the corporation offers an exclusive contract. It is expected that vendors will be motivated to offer the best price in exchange for the big score. My dad offered this cautionary tale from the seventies. His company (Bell Canada) accepted an exclusive bid from a hotel for all their conferences in Montreal. They received a very competitive rate. Dad says the outcome was horrible. Having snagged exclusivity, the hotel was no longer interested in providing quality service. After all, they had captive customers. Besides, the hotel wasn't making that much on each individual sale.

So are we better off putting consolidating all our valuables? In the e-world at least, the risk is low. There are copies upon copies of our basket squirreled away in those mysterious places that backups go. For things like eggs and hotel rooms, though big, exculsive contracts might just get us egg on our face.