TT with HD: Bill Merrill
BM: I think this is pretty good ...
HD: I'll scoot back just a little bit. I don't want to go off the end.
BM: I can come forward more, too. That's much easier and safer. Does that feel better, as a teetering professional?
HD: You know, I haven't done this in over a year.
BM: I noticed that! I had a look at the site.
HD: It was getting to the point where I was thinking, wow, if ... if I go the entire calendar year of 2012 without doing a single ride, I think I will have to concede that I have stopped doing this.
BM: I hear that.
HD: So, if nothing else this ride will keep this thing going another calendar year ...
BM: ... either make you happy or drag it forward into your life.
HD: Well, I figure if I can get through 10 years than I can say that was 10 years of teeter tottering. Let's pause right now and I will take your photograph. [Ed. note: photography ensues; BM takes a shot with his own smartphone.] Turnabout is fair play.
BM: I think so.
HD: Is that the same phone that I borrowed once? At the Workantile?
BM: Probably. It was shiny new than, or no Ð when was that, do you remember?
HD: Three years ago I think.
BM: It's hard to say. I think it might have been my previous phone.
HD: So you have upgraded since then?
BM: In my head this is actually related to one of your other teacher alums Ð Devon. I have been putting off upgrading to the 4 because I was like, I don't need it, this works fine. And I had gone to go get something out of Devon's storage locker for her Ð she realized she needed her WiFi router in Seattle. So I went to go get it and I was like, I'm already driving, and there is a mall, so let's go get a phone! So I think it was definitely the previous phone.
HD: So Seattle is where you are headed most immediately from here?
HD: But not long term necessarily?
BM: The quick story of this is that two years ago I went to Seattle to visit Devon and Brian and people. That was the first time that I had gone to a big city and said: Woaaaa Ð this is a big city that's beautiful and I could live here and maybe I should think about moving! And then last year I went for two weeks to San Francisco. I just lived there I didn't get all touristy. It was nice. And I thought, Well, maybe I could live here. I realized I don't know where I want to go, but I have the ability right now just to take off and be mobile. I'm going to go live in places where my friends are and see what they are like and see if I get tired of living out of a couple of bags. I imagine eventually I will settle down somewhere. So my plan right now is in Seattle, then San Francisco, then I don't know what is next.
HD: So your work is such that it allows you to have this flexibility?
BM: Yeah, so, Zattoo is based in Switzerland and we've got an office here. But they were very understanding when I said, It's time to leave Ann Arbor, but I really like the company so I'd like to stay with you. They said, Sure.
HD: So you can do your work remotely.
BM: Exactly. That is the thing I missed from being self-employed. As a software contractor I do that a lot Ð just work from wherever. So I'm bringing that back while I am still an employee.
HD: And Zattoo is television everywhere.
BM: Exactly! [laugh] We are a virtual cable operator.
HD: But in Europe mostly, yes?
HD: So not here, yet.
BM: Not here. It would be great to have a thing that I can show off to my friends, but the laws are very different. It's unlikely that we would exist in the same fashion here.
HD: I logged on this morning and was able to watch German television! It was Germans sitting around talking about religious freedom.
BM: Okay! [laugh]
HD: And I watched the advertisements that are running. They have this guy who sitting on the toilet, and he's watching a soccer game, and when they scored he stands up to cheer Ð and that is the joke!
BM: Yes, that is the joke.
HD: So you make all that happen, or you help make all that happen?
BM: I do. There is a team. I don't remember exactly, but there's an engineering team, call it 10 people. We've got, mmm, five people here in Ann Arbor and then more people in Europe. Most of the business team is there. As far as Zattoo, when I joined, I just saw this opportunity Ð nobody likes advertising. And especially developers don't like advertising, because it's just not a really exciting thing. But I decided it's an important thing, and I decided I would jump on that. So it's been interesting to spend the last year and a half learning about online advertising and video advertising.
HD: So that's the main thing you work on, advertising?
BM: Yeah, integrating the ad server, working with our ads operations team, and general web work. And our Android application, I work on that to.
HD: I don't watch television anymore at all, on a television. And the only reason I might have to watch a television set is to watch the local community television network, but now they stream live and they've got the archives online. So my experience with television now is through my computer screen with Hulu. are you familiar with their approach to advertising?
BM: Oh yeah, they infuriate me! [laugh]
HD: [laugh] I refuse to respond to any of their attempts to get to choose my ad experience. I don't want to give them any information about what I might prefer or what might be most relevant, and I will not answer quizzes in order to see the program uninterrupted.
BM: They will do that? I hadn't seen that.
HD: They offer you some sort of survey type instrument that if you completed it, your reward is that you get to watch the program uninterrupted. To me, watching television inherently is about every 12 minutes having a break. I mean, I'm not in a watch the ad, that's just my cue to get up and do something. And with Hulu, the magic and the beauty of it to me Ð unlike with conventional television, where your advertising break when you get up and do whatever it is you've got to do, like make yourself an additional snack, use the bathroom, check your e-mail, if you miss it and you don't time it perfectly and the program starts, or if you just forget that you are even watching television Ð you can go back and recover the part that you missed. I'm glad that advertisers see value in paying for their ads, but it's not working on me Ð I don't think.
BM: The reason I say Hulu infuriates me is, the way we do it at Zattoo I like a lot. You can pay for your experience by watching advertising, or you can pay for your experience by giving us money. So if you give us the money, we turn off the ads. So with Hulu, I tried their pay service, and they still showed me ads. So their value proposition is that I think they show you more shows that are available in the archive or something like that?
HD: Or you get faster access? I know there's the Hulu premium or some such thing. Build: Yeah, I haven't had cable since I moved to Ann Arbor pretty much, so 1998. I have always watched TV in chunks. I do it with Netflix. I like to consume series. I'll just sit down and watch .
HD: Like you just sit watch all of Deadwood, say?
BM: Right so for the next three weeks I will just watch all of Deadwood. That's the way I tend to watch television.
HD: A couple minutes ago you said something along the lines of "It's time to leave Ann Arbor." So are you breaking up with us?
BM: No. I'm not breaking up. The way I kind of think about it, it's work anywhere to maintain your life, and make friends, and do things. I have been running the Ann Arbor game for a long time Ð which is meeting the new cool people who come to town, becoming friends with them, and then saying goodbye when they shoot out the other end to wherever they're going. And every year you have a couple of really good friends who take off, and it hurts. And so I just want to try a different game. I also want to try living in a big city. Secondarily, I'm excited to try living without a car.
HD: So did you have a car you had to get rid of along with your house?
BM: Yeah, I still have the Suburban, common nickname the Zip Code, and I have some friends lined up who want to buy it. And I'm excited because it's a group of friends and they are going to buy it as a shared utility vehicle.
HD: So it will stay here in Ann Arbor?
BM: I can even visit it!
HD: Because it has its own zip code! So it's not like there's anything we could have done to keep you here? And there's some things that I think I could point to as "things we have done" Ð like your house was on Pauline right across from home and Allmendinger Park. And we installed a new piece of public art there ...
BM: ... oh yeah, the mural there ...
HD: ... that's right, just for you.
BM: And it's really nice, too! I did fail to point it out to the new owners, though. Maybe they will discover it. They seem to be pretty excited all on their own.
HD: So you didn't need to point to that [mural] as a value-add in order to make the sale?
BM: No. They are from "the rest of Michigan" out in the country. They are looking forward to, just like me, a more cultural experience Ð like a more dense place with more things going on. Ann Arbor is their upgrade and Seattle, San Francisco is my upgrade. We are both seeking more out of life! Ann Arbor could have more, but it would take a long time ...
HD:... that's the 30-year plan. [laugh]
BM: [laugh] You know this is the hardest thing, this transition. This trip is the hardest thing I've done in a while, because it is not externally motivated. There's nobody telling me, well I've got to be in Seattle by the end of the month. I have to force myself to get my house on the market. I have to force myself to show it to people. I have to force myself to winnow through all my stuff. There's a good chance that if you went and bought something randomly at Kiwanis right now, you might get something of mine! I made so many trips there.
HD: Is any of it labeled?
BM: I don't think so.
HD: So the folks at who are buying your house, they're from Michigan so they're staying in Michigan, but you are leaving. So you're a poster child for Michigan brain drain, right?
BM: I guess so, yeah.
HD: You are the talent that we are trying to retain! And we have failed!
BM: Yeah, I guess so. They should have the train to Detroit Ð that would have made me pretty happy. Date: So the east-west train?
BM: Exactly. I'm excited that the bus to the airport is running now.
HD: Are you going to take that on your flight out, have you reserved a spot?
BM: No, the people who are buying my truck are giving me a ride. Saying goodbye at the airport, tears and hugs and that sort of thing. But I have taken it in the past. The bummer about it before was I would get back from the flight and I would end up at Four Points Sheraton at 11:30 at night on a Sunday. But there's always a solution Ð and there's NightRide and I would take that. And it works.
HD: So what do you went to Four Points Sheraton??
BM: This was before AATA hooked up with them and it was just the Michigan Flyer. But now that they stop downtown I can just walk. But yeah, the train to Detroit would have made me pretty happy, and along those lines, being able to take a bicycle on the train to Chicago would have been excellent. I don't think either of those things would have made me stay here, but man, that would have been good.
HD: Well now those two items are documented, and anybody who is doing an Internet search on Michigan brain drain and how do we retain talent will find this and perhaps make a note of that
BM: Take transit, I think I may be a little bit more focused on it then other people, but I think it would be nice to be able to get more places by train. I love cars and driving, but I also love not driving.
HD: Two weeks ago we [Mr. and Mrs. HD] took the train to Detroit ...
BM:... like a day trip?
HD: Yeah. And it's possible but, god it's a project. Getting from here to the Ann Arbor and the Amtrak station by cab is straightforward, but that's just one leg. And you know I timed it, and it's something like 10-15 minutes on the train from Ann Arbor station to Ypsilanti Ð and I was thinking, you know, we are all happy about the improvements in the frequency on Route 4, and I think they're doing maybe 35-40 minutes trip time now...
BM: That's pretty good I've been taking it since it was about an hour and change.
HD: But by train it's 10-15 minutes, and Ann Arbor to Ypsilanti is a different proposition from the Detroit-to-Chicago trip, but boy, the idea of 400 people at a time getting from Ann Arbor to Ypsilanti in 10 minutes is pretty attractive.
BM: That'd be great. It's like back when I was in grad school, engineering I don't know if they do anymore but they always had a joke about having a monorail from north campus to central campus. Because it feels like a giant pain in the butt to get from north campus to central campus. I like to think about the topography of Ann Arbor Ð partially because riding bikes around you always find the hills ...
HD: ... I think you do notice on a bike that Ann Arbor is really quite undulating, whereas if you're driving a car all the time you don't really appreciate how really ...
BM: ... we've got some decent hills. At that one spot on the inflection point on Division where it turns into Plymouth where it goes over the river, that's just like some magical point, where even though it's right next to downtown it becomes a different world, when they're trying to figure out where they're going in Ann Arbor. Zattoo's office is over there in the Tech Brewery. I try to convince my coworkers that we could just walk downtown for lunch and they're like "Aaah ... that seems too far!"
HD: But it's actually what is it maybe a 10-minute walk?
BM: It would probably be about 15 minutes, it's about a mile.
HD: But if you have like a regular little circulator public transit ...
BM: ... I think it's Route #3 that comes down Plymouth Ð during the busy times when it gets to that point it's completely full. Everybody's trying to get from the north campus area down into town.
HD: Well, listen anything you want to make sure gets said before you dismount?
BM: Let me think for a second. No, I don't think so. It's not you, it's me.
HD: Thanks for coming over.