February 2006
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Month February 2006

Peak Oil?

Robert Hirsch:

Peak oil is real, but there are strategies available to mitigate its effect, IF we start in time. Dr. Hirsch is the Senior Energy Program Advisor for SAIC and past chairman of the Board on Energy and Environmental Systems at the National Academies.

Do Americans Support a Gas Tax?

Barry Ritholtz:

“A significant number would go along with an increase if it reduced global warming or made the United States less dependent on foreign oil, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.

The nationwide telephone poll, conducted Wednesday through Sunday, suggested that a gasoline tax increase that brought measurable results would be acceptable to a majority of Americans.

Neither the Bush administration nor Democratic Party leaders make that distinction. Both are opposed to increasing the gasoline tax as a means of discouraging consumption, although President Bush, in recent speeches, has called for the development of alternative energy to reduce dependence on foreign oil.”

DSG: Death of the Stick Shift?

Robert Farago:

OK rivet counters: Audi didn’t invent the double clutch. Citroen offered something similar over 70 years ago, and Porsche’s formidable 962 racer also gave it a go. But Audi has just about perfected the DSG. (The only drawbacks are a certain sluggishness when gently tipping-in and a slight hesitation when paddling down more than one gear, as the DSG shuffles through the intervening ratios.) Even with its quirks, the DSG rules– to the point where the clutch pedal and traditional manual gearbox is a mechanical redundancy, a dead device shifting. In fact, any car manufacturer who doesn’t have a DSG or something similar installed in their performance-oriented products will soon be at a tremendous disadvantage.

Requiem for Don Knotts

donknottsrip.jpg
Scott Collins:

Knotts first rose to prominence in the late 1950s, joining Louis Nye and other comedy players on “The Steve Allen Show.” In 1961, United Artists Records released a comedy album titled “Don Knotts: An Evening with Me,” which featured various takeoffs on the “nervous man” routine the comic had made famous on Allen’s show. One of the bits, “The Weatherman,” concerned a TV forecaster forced to wing it after the meteorology report fails to make it to the studio by air time.

During the mid- to late 1960s, in a largely unsuccessful bid for major film stardom, Knotts made a series of family films that many connoisseurs now say were critically underappreciated at the time. These include “The Incredible Mr. Limpet” (1964), “The Ghost and Mr. Chicken” (1966) and “The Reluctant Astronaut” (1967). The latter two were made as part of a five-picture deal with Universal Pictures.

Much more on Don Knotts.

The Birth of the Toyota Prius

Alex Taylor III:

New York (FORTUNE Magazine) � In late 1995, six months after Toyota decided to move forward with its revolutionary hybrid, the Prius, and two years before the car was supposed to go into production in Japan, the engineers working on the project had a problem. A big problem.

The first prototypes wouldn’t start. “On the computer the hybrid power system worked very well,” says Satoshi Ogiso, the team’s chief power train engineer. “But simulation is different from seeing if the actual part can work.” It took Ogiso and his team more than a month to fix the software and electrical problems that kept the Prius stationary. Then, when they finally got it started, the car motored only a few hundred yards down the test track before coming to a stop.

It’s hard to imagine Toyota (Research), with its aura of invincibility, running into such trouble. But the story of how it brought the Prius to market — a tale of technological potholes, impossible demands, and multiple miscalculations — reveals how a great company can overcome huge obstacles to make the improbable seem inevitable. The gas-electric auto represents only a tiny fraction of the nine million cars and trucks the Japanese company will produce this year. But it is the first vehicle to provide a serious alternative to the internal combustion engine since the Stanley Steamer ran out of steam in 1924. It has become an automotive landmark: a car for the future, designed for a world of scarce oil and surplus greenhouse gases.

Tauke but no Action on Network Neutrality

David Isenberg:

The principle seems to be, “If it helps the Bells, leave it in. If it hurts them, take it out.”

Plus Shipping and Handling……, Making Money on eBay

Alex Tabarrok:

Would you rather pay $10 and have free shipping or pay $5 and pay $6 for shipping?  Answer: you prefer the latter.  Well, at least if you are like most bidders on eBay. 

Morgan and co-author Tanjim Hossain, an assistant professor at Hong
Kong University of Science and Technology, held 80 auctions of new
music CDs and Xbox video games to test how consumers respond to
different price schemes. In the eBay study, they varied the opening bid
price and shipping charges on identical CDs, ranging from Britney
Spears to Nirvana, and video games, including Halo and NBA 2K2.

…A
perfectly informed and fully rational consumer will merely add together
the two parts of a price to obtain the total out-of-pocket price for an
item and then decide whether to buy and how much to bid based on this
total price.

But that’s not what happened
in their eBay auctions. Instead, they found that lowering the opening
bid price while raising shipping charges attracts earlier and more
bidders and ultimately leads to higher revenues compared with doing the
reverse. Those findings suggest consumers pay less attention or even
completely overlook shipping costs when making bids…

The quote is from a writeup, the full paper is
…Plus Shipping and Handling: Revenue (Non) Equivalence in Field Experiments on eBay (subs required).

Also check out the interesting data on online pricing at Nash-equilibrium.com.

More on General Motors

Robert Farago takes a look at GM’s supplier situation in his latest “Deathwatch” editorial:

A couple of days ago, I was talking to an auto industry analyst about the world’s largest automaker. We were discussing the cracks in GM’s hull, trying to figure out which of The General’s compartments were already breached, which are filling with water and which remain viable. A wistful tone in the analyst’s voice indicated head-shaking dismay. “I’m no longer hearing anything positive about GM,” he revealed. “The conversations range from how bad it is, to how bad it’s going to get.” I didn’t want to sound like a paranoid fantasist to a new source, so I tried not to out-pessimist the doomsayers. But it wasn’t easy.

GM operates a large SUV assembly plant in nearby Janesville, WI

Popup Stores

Influxinsights:

Much has been written about pop-up stores and they are usually placed in the context of being something of a fad or fashion in retail. However, even if it is hidden, there is a powerful idea behind most of these initiatives and that’s to provide “brand refreshment” and “brand excitement”.

The temporary and unique nature of these stores gives people a reason to visit and take note. Influx believes the idea inherent in the pop-up is one of temporary surprise (great in an A.D.D. world) and that can be very impactful as a communication tool, especially as it’s a three-dimensional experience.

An Interview with Errol Morris

Megan Cunningham interviews UW Grad and noted film and advertising impresario Errol Morris [pdf]:

Within the entertainment industry, Errol Morris holds a chameleon position. To the commercial production world, he’s established as a highly successful director, both innovative and intelligent. (He’s one of the only, if not the only, director of TV commercials who has written an opinion-page article published in The New York Times.) Within talent and advertising agencies, he is known for his exceptional off-kilter vision, and honored in ways usually reserved for noncommercial artists. (In November 1999, his work received a full retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art. In 2002, the organizers of the Academy Awards asked him to direct the short film that introduced the annual Oscars ceremony; it featured a series of real-life characters—some well-known, some everyday citizens—describing their passion for
movies.) In a 2004 Adweek article honoring Morris’s contributions as someone who “rises above the fray to create work that resonates and inspires,”

Errol Morris