June 25, 2011

How to survive the age of distraction

Johann Hari:

Read a book with your laptop thrumming. It can feel like trying to read in the middle of a party where everyone is shouting

In the 20th century, all the nightmare-novels of the future imagined that books would be burnt. In the 21st century, our dystopias imagine a world where books are forgotten. To pluck just one, Gary Steynghart's novel Super Sad True Love Story describes a world where everybody is obsessed with their electronic Apparat - an even more omnivorous i-Phone with a flickering stream of shopping and reality shows and porn - and have somehow come to believe that the few remaining unread paper books let off a rank smell. The book on the book, it suggests, is closing.

I have been thinking about this because I recently moved flat, which for me meant boxing and heaving several Everests of books, accumulated obsessively since I was a kid. Ask me to throw away a book, and I begin shaking like Meryl Streep in Sophie's Choice and insist that I just couldn't bear to part company with it, no matter how unlikely it is I will ever read (say) a 1,000-page biography of little-known Portuguese dictator Antonio Salazar. As I stacked my books high, and watched my friends get buried in landslides of novels or avalanches of polemics, it struck me that this scene might be incomprehensible a generation from now. Yes, a few specialists still haul their vinyl collections from house to house, but the rest of us have migrated happily to MP3s, and regard such people as slightly odd. Does it matter? What was really lost?

Posted by jimz at 6:05 PM

June 22, 2011

Iraq 2011: Jet skiing the Triangle of Death, listening to Bee Gee songs--and pondering what comes next

Emma Sky

The taxi driver to Beirut airport tells me that yom al-qiyama (the day of judgment) is approaching. There will be a big explosion soon -- a very big explosion. The revolutions sweeping the Arab World are not good. Islamic parties will come to power everywhere. There will be no more Christians left in the Middle East. Believe me, believe me, he insists. In anticipation, he will make the Hajj to Mecca this year, inshallah. I tell him that I am traveling to Iraq as a tourist. The look he gives me in the rear view mirror says it all: He thinks I am crazy.

I am heading back to Iraq nine months after I left my job as Political Advisor to the Commanding General of U.S. Forces Iraq. Earlier this year, a Sheikh emailed me from his iPad, "Miss Emma we miss you. You must come visit us as a guest. You will stay with me. And you will have no power!" I am excited and nervous. The plane is about a third full. I am the only foreigner. I look around at my fellow passengers. I wonder who they are and whether they bear a grudge for something we might have done.

The flight is one and a half hours long. I read and doze. As we approach Iraq, I look out of the window. The sky is full of sand and visibility is poor. But I can make out the Euphrates below. Land of the two rivers, I am coming back.

I do not have an Iraqi visa. Visas issued in Iraqi Embassies abroad are not recognized by Baghdad airport. I have a letter from an Iraqi General in the Ministry of Interior, complete with a signature and stamp. In the airport, I present my passport and letter, fill out a form, pay $80, and receive a visa within 15 minutes. I collect my bag. I am through. I want to reach down and touch the ground, this land that has soaked up so much blood over the years -- ours and theirs.

Posted by jez at 5:25 AM

June 21, 2011

US doctors braced for deep cuts in spending

Matt Kennard:

Doctors treating the poor in the US are braced for significant reductions to their services amid increased pressure from both the Obama administration and Republicans for deep cuts in health spending.

Twenty-nine Republican governors have called for greater flexibility in how states administer Medicaid programmes for the poor, a move which coincides with the Obama administration's withdrawal of stimulus funds used to pay for treatment.

Nearly 49m people in the US, or one in six Americans, were covered by Medicaid in 2009. The figure is thought to be higher today.

The federal government increased its subsidies to the states under the stimulus programme, spending $2.68 for every dollar a state spent on Medicaid, nearly twice as much as before the stimulus.

Posted by jez at 9:20 PM

June 16, 2011

Life on the open road

The Economist:

My Cool Campervan. By Jane Field-Lewis and Chris Haddon with photography by Tina Hiller. Pavilion; 160 pages; £14.99.

THE classic VW camper van is a venerable vehicle on which rides--usually rather slowly--a carefree image of life on the open road. They can often be found in the narrow British lanes leading to the surfing beaches in Cornwall in the summertime. But as old ones in good nick can cost £20,000 ($33,000) or more, many of their owners are more likely to be trying to recapture their lost youth than hanging ten.

There are many variations of the VW camper van, not least because until 2005 Volkswagen never made a camper itself, but produced vans for transporting people and goods which others converted with the addition of caravan-style living accommodation. And it was not just VWs which received such attention, as "My Cool Campervan" shows in a collection of photo essays.

Posted by jez at 10:04 PM

June 13, 2011

Monday Evening Scene

Posted by jez at 9:38 PM

June 11, 2011

Visualizing Historical Data, And The Rise Of "Digital Humanities"

David Zax

All historians encounter them, at some point in their careers: Vast troves of data that are undeniably useful to history--but too complex to make narratively interesting. For Stanford's Richard White, an American historian, these were railroad freight tables. The reams of paper held a story about America, he knew. It just seemed impossible to tell it.

Impossible to tell in a traditional way, that is. White is the director of the Stanford University Spatial History Project, an interdisciplinary lab at the university that produces "creative visual analysis to further research in the field of history." (The images in this post are taken from the project's many visualizations.) Recent announcements on the project site announce "source data now available" (openness is one of the project's tenets) on such topics as "Mapping Rio," "Land Speculation in Fresno County: 1860-1891," and "When the Loss of a Finger is Considered a 'Minor' Injury."

Posted by jez at 4:52 PM

Invasion of the body hackers

April Dembosky:

Michael Galpert rolls over in bed in his New York apartment, the alarm clock still chiming. The 28-year-old internet entrepreneur slips off the headband that's been recording his brainwaves all night and studies the bar graph of his deep sleep, light sleep and REM. He strides to the bathroom and steps on his digital scale, the one that shoots his weight and body mass to an online data file. Before he eats his scrambled egg whites with spinach, he takes a picture of his plate with his mobile phone, which then logs the calories. He sets his mileage tracker before he hops on his bike and rides to the office, where a different set of data spreadsheets awaits.

"Running a start-up, I'm always looking at numbers, always tracking how business is going," he says. Page views, clicks and downloads, he tallies it all. "That's under-the-hood information that you can only garner from analysing different data points. So I started doing that with myself."

His weight, exercise habits, caloric intake, sleep patterns - they're all quantified and graphed like a quarterly revenue statement. And just as a business trims costs when profits dip, Galpert makes decisions about his day based on his personal analytics: too many calories coming from carbs? Say no to rice and bread at lunchtime. Not enough REM sleep? Reschedule that important business meeting for tomorrow.

The founder of his own online company, Galpert is one of a growing number of "self-quantifiers". Moving in the technology circles of New York and Silicon Valley, engineers and entrepreneurs have begun applying a tenet of the computer business to their personal health: "One cannot change or control that which one cannot measure."

Posted by jez at 4:46 PM

June 5, 2011


Posted by jez at 4:10 PM

June 4, 2011

The Dilemma

Ed Wallace:

If there is one most frightening thing that war always exposes, even if one is on the winning side, it's weakness in the supply logistics. While most never consider it, official policy often changes during a war because supplies that are critical to the war effort seem in danger of being disrupted. Such jeopardy, moreover, forces the accountants, economists and politicians waging the conflict to start thinking about how the world will be changed once the fighting has ended.

Few today appreciate the fact that our foreign policy, particularly as it is tied to the Middle East, came about because of just such concerns in the first years of the Second World War. As one might expect, that official policy was based on real fears that America would one day run out of oil.

"The European War"
It was the summer of 1941 and the State Department had requested that the White House include Saudi Arabia in our Lend Lease program. It wasn't because the Saudis were going to become a direct ally against the European Axis Powers, but because we were about to embargo U.S. oil shipments to Japan. Many believed - correctly, as it turned out - that this would probably lead to hostilities with Japan that would draw us into the war.

Standard Oil of California, which had been drilling for oil in Bahrain for over a decade, now had oil concessions granted by King ibn Saudi. The first six wells Standard drilled into the Arabian desert were nothing to write home about, but when Well No. 7 came in on March 4, 1938, the engineers and wildcatters all knew that Saudi Arabia was going to be an oil bonanza.

Yet on July 18, 1941, Roosevelt refused the request for Lend Lease for Saudi Arabia. He saw no immediate benefit to diverting U.S. dollars overseas simply because Standard had oil concessions there. In any case, the outbreak of the European War in 1939 had reduced oil production in the Kingdom to an insignificant volume -- a trickle, considering that American oil amounted to 60 percent of the world's crude at the time. Instead Roosevelt asked Federal Loan Administrator Jesse Jones to look into the possibility of having England deal with the Saudi King's pressing needs.

Posted by jez at 8:04 PM

May 28, 2011

The places in between

Paul Theroux:

There are those who believe that technology has hijacked the whole of the visitable earth, snatched it away, miniaturised and simplified it, making travel so accessible on a flickering computer screen that there is no need to go anywhere except to your room. In a related way, the travel book is believed to have been not just diminished but made irrelevant by the same technology. Since we know everything - the information is easily dialled up - and the world has been so thoroughly winnowed by travellers, what is the use of a travel book? Where on earth would you go to remark each anxious toil, each eager strife, or watch the busy scenes of crowded life? Surely it has all been written.

This isn't a new conjecture. In 1972, in a blasé magazine piece of postmodernism, entitled "Project for a Trip to China", the American writer Susan Sontag sat in her New York apartment ruminating on China. Sontag was that singular pedant, a theorist of travel rather than a traveller. She concluded her piece: "Perhaps I will write the book about my trip to China before I go."

To such complacent and lazy minds, here is a suggestion. Try Mecca. After prudently having himself circumcised, learning to speak fluent Arabic, dressing as an Afghan dervish and calling himself Mirza Abdullah, the British explorer Sir Richard Burton travelled to the holy city of Mecca, a deeply curious unbeliever among devout pilgrims. This was in 1853. He published his account of this trip in three volumes several years later, his Personal Narrative of a Pilgrimage to Al-Madinah and Meccah. The last non-Muslim to do this and to write about it was Arthur John Wavell, of the distinguished British military family. An army veteran, and farmer in Mombasa, Kenya, Wavell developed an interest in Islam. In order to know more, he disguised himself as a Swahili-speaking Zanzibari, made the pilgrimage and wrote about it in A Modern Pilgrim in Mecca (1912). Wavell took the trip in the winter of 1908-1909, more than a century ago. No unbeliever has done it since. Now there's a challenge for a technology-smug couch potato who prates that the travel book is over. Of course, this daring trip is not easy. It is, perhaps, not a journey for a gap-year student wishing to make his or her mark as a travel writer but it is a book I would want to read.

Posted by jez at 9:41 PM

May 23, 2011

Lessons from war's factory floor

Tim Harford:

The lowest point of the US occupation of Iraq was about five years ago. American forces had no effective strategy in the face of a street-level civil war and a particularly vicious insurgent group, al-Qaeda in Iraq. At Haditha, frightened and frustrated marines had killed 24 civilians. At Samarra, the Golden Dome mosque had been destroyed - a potent symbol of conflict between Shia and Sunni Muslims. Donald Rumsfeld, then defence secretary, appeared to be in an advanced state of denial, breezily waving away good advice, and in a notorious press conference shortly after the atrocity at Haditha, refusing to use the word "insurgent", or to let the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff use it either. The US strategy was failing and its leadership was determined not to change direction. It was a case study in organisational dysfunction.

Yet by 2008, the situation in Iraq had improved radically. Al-Qaeda in Iraq was in retreat, and the number of attacks, American and Iraqi deaths had fallen dramatically. Although the success remains fragile and there were other factors involved, a complete transformation of US military strategy deserves much credit.

How did it happen and what are the lessons for other organisations that need to turn around? The easy answer is that the solution was a change of leadership. Thanks to behind-the-scenes campaigning and a drubbing in the midterm elections for President George W. Bush, Mr Rumsfeld was replaced, and General David Petraeus was put in charge of the war in Iraq.

Posted by jez at 8:07 PM

May 21, 2011

Henry Kissinger talks to Simon Schama

Simon Schama:

Not so much, though, as to get in the way of treating China as an indispensable element in any stabilisation of perilous situations in Korea and Afghanistan. Without China's active participation, any attempts to immunise Afghanistan against terrorism would be futile. This may be a tall order, since the Russians and the Chinese are getting a "free ride" on US engagement, which contains the jihadism which in central Asia and Xinjiang threatens their own security. So was it, in retrospect, a good idea for Barack Obama to have announced that this coming July will see the beginning of a military drawdown? The question triggers a Vietnam flashback. "I know from personal experience that once you start a drawdown, the road from there is inexorable. I never found an answer when Le Duc Tho was taunting me in the negotiations that if you could not handle Vietnam with half-a-million people, what makes you think you can end it with progressively fewer? We found ourselves in a position where to maintain ... a free choice for the population in South Vietnam ... we had to keep withdrawing troops, thereby reducing the incentive for the very negotiations in which I was engaged. We will find the same challenge in Afghanistan. I wrote a memorandum to Nixon which said that in the beginning of the withdrawal it will be like salted peanuts; the more you eat, the more you want."

Posted by jez at 9:07 PM

Investing, Risk, Politics & Taxes: Global Central Bank Leverage

Source: Grant's Interest Rate Observer, 5/20/2011 edition. Worth considering for financial & risk planning.

Related: Britannica: Central Banks and currency.

Basell III details: Clusty.com and Blekko.

Posted by jez at 7:31 PM

May 19, 2011

In-N-Out vs. Five Guys vs. Shake Shack: The First Bi-Coastal Side-By-Side Taste Test

J. Kenji Lopez-Alt:

Anyone who moves around in burgercentric circles knows of the battle that's been brewing for the last few years between the three major heavyweights of the high-quality fast-food burger* world. Of the three, In-N-Out Burger, founded in Baldwin Park, California, in 1948 has the longest history and certainly the most cult-like and devout following. On the other hand, Virginia's Five Guys--which has been around since 1986--has seen crazy expansion in the last few years, now boasting over 750 locations on both coast and a rabid following that is fast catching up on In-N-Out's heels. The underdog in the fight is New York's Shake Shack. Only seven years old, it's still a baby in the field, but if we're to believe the news, they're poised to expand, and in a big way (they just opened their latest location in Washington, D.C. yesterday).
But who really makes the best burger? It's a question that's debated far and wide on the internet and beyond, so we here at A Hamburger Today decided to take it upon ourselves to find the answer and declare an official King of the High Quality Fast Food Burger.

Posted by jez at 8:30 PM

May 17, 2011

An Interview with Platon

The Economist:

FEW photographers find themselves grasping Mahmoud Ahmadinejad by the hand, facing down Robert Mugabe or eliciting a grin from Binyamin Netanyahu--all within a 72-hour period, no less. Platon, a London-raised and New York-based photographer, is the keen eye behind "Power: Portraits of World Leaders" (Chronicle Books), a book of 150 photographs of world leaders, all of them taken at the United Nations.

This collection is full of surprises and affirmations alike: Hugo Chávez has all the penetrability of an Easter Island statue; Victor Yushchenko could be a friendly school principal; and Muammar Qaddafi is a villain straight out of "Star Wars". Securing the portraits required tenacity, quick reflexes and the wiles of a fixer. More Intelligent Life spoke with Platon, a staff photographer at the New Yorker, about his adventures in assembling his portraits.

Posted by jez at 8:20 AM

May 13, 2011

The Mini

Ed Wallace:

Every generation seems to produce some high-profile individual who mourns to the masses that there was once a simpler and better time in America. You know the drill: People knew their neighbors, morality reigned and most everyone knew right from wrong. These elegies always end with the premise that somehow we as a nation have lost our way. Of course the simpler times that everyone seems to think we've gotten away from are nothing more than our childhood memories. As children, we perceived and remembered everything far more simplistically - without the freight of context surrounding situations we encounter as adults.

Still, it's those wistful thoughts of innocent bygone days that drive the automotive styling designs we know today as retro-cars. The BMW-designed and British-built Mini is a perfect example. This modern automobile seems made to bring back fond memories of the British Invasion and the Swinging 60s. It seems to exemplify the days when Carnaby Street, the Stones, Donovan, the Beatles, Twiggy, white plastic go-go boots and all other things British were new and groovy.

Of course the original Mini was far more and much less than that. Introduced in 1959, the Mini was the British Motor Corporation's answer to the long and successful sales career of the Volkswagen Beetle.

What is less well remembered is that the Mini's creation in the late 50s was a direct response to a major oil crisis for the Brits. What caused it? England's foolish war against Egypt's Gamal Nasser, in which England tried and failed to regain control of the Suez Canal.

Posted by jez at 8:58 PM

May 10, 2011

A Wonderful Vietnamese Lunch

Delicious and $6.00. The bowl contained, from the bottom up: lettuce, cucumbers, rice noodles, carrots, nuts and grilled shrimp.

Posted by jez at 10:02 PM

May 9, 2011

Liveable v lovable

Edwin Heathcote:

Vancouver is Hollywood's urban body double. It is famously the stand-in for New York, LA, Seattle and Chicago, employed when those cities just get too tough, too traffic-clogged, too murderous or too bureaucratic to film in. It is almost never filmed as itself. That is because, lovely as it is, it is also, well ... a little dull. Who would want to watch a film set in Vancouver? To see its skyscrapers destroyed by aliens or tidal waves, its streets populated by cops and junkies, its public buildings hosting romantic reunions? Yet Vancouver (original name, Gastown) has also spent more than a decade at the very top of the charts of the best city to live in the world. Can that really be right?

No. Not at all. In fact, Vancouver's boringly consistent topping of the polls underlines the fundamental fault that lies at the heart of the idea of measuring cities by their "liveability". The most recent surveys, from Monocle magazine, Forbes, Mercer and The Economist, concur: Vancouver, Vienna, Zurich, Geneva, Copenhagen and Munich dominate the top. What, you might ask, no New York? No London? No LA or HK? None of the cities that people seem to actually want to emigrate to, to set up businesses in? To be in? None of the wealthiest, flashiest, fastest or most beautiful cities? Nope. Americans in particular seem to get wound up by the lack of US cities in the top tier. The one that does make it is Pittsburgh. Which winds them up even more.

The big cities it seems, the established megacities of the US, Europe and Asia are just too big, too dangerous, too inefficient. So what do these top cities have in common? How exactly do you measure "liveability"?

All the surveys use an index. But what is on it? "There's always proximity to nature," says Tyler Brûlé (editor of Monocle and patron saint of liveable cities and airport lounges, whose column appears weekly in the FT's Life & Arts section). "Global connectivity is important, education and we've recently added chain store metrics - is there a Starbucks or a Zara?" he says.

Posted by jez at 9:34 PM

May 2, 2011

Wikileaks Founder: Facebook is the most appalling spy machine that has ever been invented

Matt Brian:

Despite awaiting extradition to Sweden on sexual assault charges, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is still the subject of much media interest.

Russia Today (RT) interviewed Assange, getting his viewpoint on political unrest in Egypt and Libya, particularly probing what the Wikileaks founder makes of social media's roles in the recent revolutions in both countries. In his interview, Assange focuses particularly on Facebook calling it the "most appalling spy machine that has ever been invented".

Posted by jez at 8:35 PM

April 28, 2011

Seven tricky questions for Mr Buffett

Andrew Hill:

Until this week, only one topic was off-limits for questions to Warren Buffett at Saturday's annual gathering of Berkshire Hathaway shareholders in Omaha: how serious is the Dave Sokol affair?

On Wednesday, however, the company issued an 18-page report from its audit committee about the former star executive's trading in shares in Lubrizol, a chemicals group later bought by Berkshire, and declared open season for all questions to Mr Buffett.

Here are my seven:

1. How serious is the Dave Sokol affair?

You are the world's most famous long-term investor. Recently, Berkshire's shares have lagged behind the S&P 500, but your record of outperformance over more than four decades speaks for itself. Even big, conservative bets, such as the 2009 investment in Burlington Northern Santa Fe railway, have been well timed. But Mr Sokol was a frontrunner to succeed you as chief executive. You lauded him regularly in your annual letter to shareholders. His abrupt resignation and the circumstances surrounding it seem to suggest that this is more than just a blip.

2. Do you love some of your managers too much?

Posted by jez at 10:17 PM

Obituary: The man who gave the world CDs

Michiyo Nakamoto:

Norio Ohga, who was instrumental in bringing the world the compact disc and the PlayStation and is credited with building Sony into a global electronics and entertainment group, has died of organ failure aged 81.

"It is no exaggeration to attribute Sony's evolution beyond audio and video products into music, movies and games, and subsequent transformation into a global entertainment leader to Ohga-san's foresight and vision," Howard Stringer, Sony's chairman and chief executive, said in a statement.

"By redefining Sony as a company encompassing both hardware and software, Ohga-san succeeded where other Japanese companies failed," Mr Stringer said.

A musician by training, who was a close friend of Austrian conductor, Herbert von Karayan, Mr Ohga led Sony during perhaps its most successful years, as president from 1982 until 1995, when the Japanese electronics maker became one of the most admired companies in the world.

It was under Mr Ohga that the name Sony came to symbolise Japanese manufacturing excellence and to define what was "cool" in the world of electronics - an image encapsulated in the catchphrase, "It's a Sony."

Posted by jez at 1:18 AM

April 26, 2011

Lonely Planet's Ambassador

Amy Yee:

Tony Wheeler, co-founder of Lonely Planet, sits in the lobby of an austere five-star hotel here. Soft-spoken and down-to-earth, the 64-year-old wears a gray dress shirt with dark-blue trousers. He has trimmed gray hair and silver glasses, but his amiable face still hints of the youthful, long-haired traveler featured in photos from the 1970s.

Mr. Wheeler doesn't need to stay in budget hostels anymore. When traveling to big cities, he checks into luxury hotels. And why not? He founded Lonely Planet travel guides with his wife, Maureen, nearly four decades ago. Since its launch in 1973, Lonely Planet has sold more than 100 million guidebooks to far-off lands, from Antarctica to Zambia and everywhere in between. And this past February the Wheelers sold their remaining 25% stake in the company to BBC Worldwide for £42.1 million (about $69.5 million) after selling 75% in 2007 to the same buyer for £88.1 million. The Wheelers don't have official roles in the company but will continue as de facto ambassadors for Lonely Planet.

Posted by jez at 7:45 AM

April 18, 2011

Is Facebook geared to dullards?

Nicholas Carr:

Are you ashamed that you find Facebook boring? Are you angst-ridden by your weak social-networking skills? Do you look with envy on those whose friend-count dwarfs your own? Buck up, my friend. The traits you consider signs of failure may actually be marks of intellectual vigor, according to a new study appearing in the May issue of Computers in Human Behavior.

The study, by Bu Zhong and Marie Hardin at Penn State and Tao Sun at the University of Vermont, is one of the first to examine the personalities of social networkers. The researchers looked in particular at connections between social-network use and the personality trait that psychologists refer to as "need for cognition," or NFC. NFC, as Professor Zhong explained in an email to me, "is a recognized indicator for deep or shallow thinking." People who like to challenge their minds have high NFC, while those who avoid deep thinking have low NFC. Whereas, according to the authors, "high NFC individuals possess an intrinsic motivation to think, having a natural motivation to seek knowledge," those with low NFC don't like to grapple with complexity and tend to content themselves with superficial assessments, particularly when faced with difficult intellectual challenges.

The researchers surveyed 436 college students during 2010. Each participant completed a standard psychological assessment measuring NFC as well as a questionnaire measuring social network use. (Given what we know about college students' social networking in 2010, it can be assumed that the bulk of the activity consisted of Facebook use.) The study revealed a significant negative correlation between social network site (SNS) activity and NFC scores. "The key finding," the authors write, "is that NFC played an important role in SNS use. Specifically, high NFC individuals tended to use SNS less often than low NFC people, suggesting that effortful thinking may be associated with less social networking among young people." Moreover, "high NFC participants were significantly less likely to add new friends to their SNS accounts than low or medium NFC individuals."

To put it in layman's terms, the study suggests that if you want to be a big success on Facebook, it helps to be a dullard.

Posted by jez at 8:08 PM

Al Jazeera's Social Media Experiment "The Stream" Launches Online Today

Gregory Ferenstein:

Al Jazeera's aggressive expansion into cyberspace hopes to empower a new generation of newsmakers, impact the American news market, and capture the attention of young cable cutters.

Fresh off the wild success of Internet-fueled Middle-East revolution stories, Al Jazeera English today is launching the online component to its forthcoming social media-centered news program, The Stream. It's the most aggressive integration of social media into a live news program to date. And Al Jazeera says it wants to capture a new generation of cable "cord cutters," push the limits of so-called "citizen journalism," and inch into American media territory.

A social storytelling service powers the editorially curated content, which is complimented by community commenting before, during, and after the anchored news show. It's scheduled to start airing May 2nd.

Posted by jez at 8:07 PM

The 30-Cent Tax Premium: Tax compliance employs more workers than Wal-Mart, UPS, McDonald's, IBM and Citigroup combined.

There is a lot more to taxes than simply paying the bill. Taxpayers must spend significantly more than $1 in order to provide $1 of income-tax revenue to the federal government.

To start with, individuals and businesses must pay the government the $1 in revenue plus the costs of their own time spent filing and complying with the tax code; plus the tax collection costs of the IRS; plus the tax compliance outlays that individuals and businesses pay to help them file their taxes.

In a study published last week by the Laffer Center, my colleagues Wayne Winegarden, John Childs and I estimate that these costs alone are a staggering $431 billion annually. This is a cost markup of 30 cents on every dollar paid in taxes. And this is not even a complete accounting of the costs of tax complexity.

Like taxes themselves, tax-compliance costs change people's behavior. Taxpayers, whether individuals or businesses, respond to taxes and tax-compliance costs by changing the composition of their income, the location of their income, the timing of their income, and the volume of their income. So long as the cost of changing one's income is lower than the taxes saved, the taxpayer will engage in these types of tax-avoidance activities.

Posted by jez at 4:10 AM

April 15, 2011

The Real Housewives of Wall Street: Why is the Federal Reserve forking over $220 million in bailout money to the wives of two Morgan Stanley bigwigs?

America has two national budgets, one official, one unofficial. The official budget is public record and hotly debated: Money comes in as taxes and goes out as jet fighters, DEA agents, wheat subsidies and Medicare, plus pensions and bennies for that great untamed socialist menace called a unionized public-sector workforce that Republicans are always complaining about. According to popular legend, we're broke and in so much debt that 40 years from now our granddaughters will still be hooking on weekends to pay the medical bills of this year's retirees from the IRS, the SEC and the Department of Energy.

Why Isn't Wall Street in Jail?

Most Americans know about that budget. What they don't know is that there is another budget of roughly equal heft, traditionally maintained in complete secrecy. After the financial crash of 2008, it grew to monstrous dimensions, as the government attempted to unfreeze the credit markets by handing out trillions to banks and hedge funds. And thanks to a whole galaxy of obscure, acronym-laden bailout programs, it eventually rivaled the "official" budget in size -- a huge roaring river of cash flowing out of the Federal Reserve to destinations neither chosen by the president nor reviewed by Congress, but instead handed out by fiat by unelected Fed officials using a seemingly nonsensical and apparently unknowable methodology.

Now, following an act of Congress that has forced the Fed to open its books from the bailout era, this unofficial budget is for the first time becoming at least partially a matter of public record. Staffers in the Senate and the House, whose queries about Fed spending have been rebuffed for nearly a century, are now poring over 21,000 transactions and discovering a host of outrages and lunacies in the "other" budget. It is as though someone sat down and made a list of every individual on earth who actually did not need emergency financial assistance from the United States government, and then handed them the keys to the public treasure. The Fed sent billions in bailout aid to banks in places like Mexico, Bahrain and Bavaria, billions more to a spate of Japanese car companies, more than $2 trillion in loans each to Citigroup and Morgan Stanley, and billions more to a string of lesser millionaires and billionaires with Cayman Islands addresses. "Our jaws are literally dropping as we're reading this," says Warren Gunnels, an aide to Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont. "Every one of these transactions is outrageous."

Posted by jez at 9:35 AM

April 8, 2011

Reforming the Banks

Michael Pettis:

just got back from a very interesting but hectic week in New York and Washington, followed by two days at a conference in Hangzhou. During my meetings I noticed that much of the discussion, and many of the questions I was asked by both government officials and investors, focused on debt levels and reforms in the Chinese financial system. I have written a lot about rising debt in China and am glad that analysts and policymakers seem to be spending a lot more time thinking about balance sheet issues. Every case of rapid, investment-driven growth in the past century, as far as I can make out, has at some point reached a stage in which debt levels rose to unsustainable levels and precipitated either a debt crisis or a long grinding adjustment period.

The reason debt levels always seem to grow unsustainably, I suspect, is that in the initial stages of the growth model much if not all of the investment is economically viable as it pours into building necessary infrastructure whose profits and externalities exceed the cost of the investment. The result is real growth. At some point, however, the combination of subsidies, distorted incentives (in which investment benefits accrue to those making the investment while costs are shared broadly through the banking system), and very cheap financing costs leads inexorably to wasted investment and debt rising faster than asset values. This is when the debt burden begins to rise in an unsustainable way.

Posted by jez at 9:27 AM

April 2, 2011

Tiësto: Electronic Music's Superstar

If we needed evidence that electronic dance music is a force in pop culture, last weekend's Ultra Music Festival held downtown here provided it. Some 150,000 tickets were sold to the three-day event--about equal to the total for last year's Coachella Music & Arts Festival in the desert town of Indio, Calif., and about twice the number for June's Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival in Manchester, Tenn.

Whereas Coachella 2011, next month, will feature Arcade Fire, Kanye West, Kings of Leon and the Strokes as its rock and pop headliners, and Bonnaroo will offer Eminem, Robert Plant & Band of Joy and a reunited Buffalo Springfield (as well as Arcade Fire and the Strokes), the biggest name at Ultra Music--at least to a mainstream audience--was Duran Duran, which was here to promote its new album. But traditional measurements for rock-and-pop success are irrelevant in the electronic-dance culture. Witness Tiësto, the stage name of the Dutch disc jockey, producer and composer Tijs Michiel Verwest, the headliner on Friday, Ultra's opening night. Though he's never had a crossover radio hit and his solo albums sell modestly, Tiësto is a major international star, as confirmed by one familiar evaluation: His annual income apparently exceeds $20 million.

Posted by jez at 6:46 PM

March 30, 2011

Social Media Marketing: The Fickle Value of Friendship

Tim Bradshaw

In a glass box in the middle of a PepsiCo marketing department, five people are staring at a huge bank of screens showing a constantly updated river of tweets, "likes", praise and damnation from consumers of Gatorade, the company's sports drink.

"Doing it in a glass room means every single person in the marketing organisation is seeing the insights brought to life in real time. It reminds them how important it is to know the heartbeat of the consumer," says Bonin Bough, global director of digital and social media at PepsiCo. "I really feel like it is the future of marketing."

A similar scenario is playing out in marketing departments around the world. A survey of members of the World Federation of Advertisers, a grouping of multinational brands, by Millward Brown found that 96 per cent were spending more of their budgets managing Facebook pages, Twitter accounts and other social media, racing to accrue fans, retweets and that elusive but ubiquitous quality: engagement.

However, the research also found that few knew why they were doing it - half were "unsure" of the returns they were getting from their efforts, while more than a quarter found the payback was "just average or poor".

Posted by jez at 4:06 PM

March 27, 2011

Frank Jacobs: Publisher of Strange Maps

As told to Sarah Duguid:

always thought that mapophilia was a lonely affliction until I started my blog, Strange Maps, in 2006. I remember the first map I posted - it was a map of the location of asylums for the insane in Pennsylvania. It provided a bizarre geography of insanity, and it interested me because it was not the kind of map that would have a place in mainstream cartography. Equally, the map didn't tell us much about mental health. I loved it because it was such an interesting juxtaposition of a condition that is so difficult to define with something as cool, rational and delineated as cartography.

I'd find strange maps online - I don't draw my own - and then categorise them, describe them and link them to other maps. I have more obvious categories such as history, science and tech, and politics, as well as unusual ones: love, sex and happiness, life and death, truth and justice. One type is the allegorical map. In the 19th century, symbolic maps were very popular, especially during prohibition in America. Prohibitionists would draw moral maps. They'd describe the country of drunkenness and how to travel from it to the continent of sobriety. The road to success was drawn across chasms of despondency and mountains of procrastination.

Posted by jez at 9:56 PM

March 15, 2011

Video from Japan's Tsunami Zone

Matt Allard & Dan Chung

Both Matt and myself have been covering the tragic events surrounding the Tsunami in Japan. I have left Japan now but Matt is still there and headed back into the disaster zone to do more reports. I'm sure both of us will talk more about what it was like later on, but for now the story is the priority.

Posted by jez at 10:26 PM



Posted by jez at 10:16 PM

March 13, 2011

How we lost our voice

Harry Eyres:

Like everyone, I have been gripped and stirred by the events unfolding in the Maghreb and Middle East. Unlike some admirable and astute commentators, I didn't feel primarily moved to try to "make sense" of what was happening in Tahrir Square, or to speculate on what the millions of Egyptians not in the square were thinking. Such speculation seemed and still seems to me beside the point and actually rather odd. I didn't hear a comparable call at the time of the demise of Salazar and Franco and the Greek colonels, or the fall of communism and the dismantling of the Berlin Wall, to try to "make sense" of those events, or to wonder what all those not celebrating and tearing down chunks of concrete were up to.

People, not everyone to be sure, but an overwhelming mass including the bravest and best and most articulate spirits, no longer wanted to live in police states or kleptocracies. They no longer wanted to be tortured or murdered by goons or spied on by spooks and kept under surveillance by their neighbours. They wanted free and transparent elections. They wanted the greater measure of control over their lives that they imagined to be a function of democratic government. No doubt they also wanted a better chance of prosperity. None of this, as we watched it unfolding in Tunisia and Egypt and Libya and other places, seemed to me to need to be teased out by some subtle process of reasoning. The primary sense of it was overwhelmingly clear.

Posted by jez at 9:46 PM

The "Foundation That Southern Nevada is Built On"

Posted by jez at 8:03 PM

Bond king's Lear-like Treasuries renunciation

Michael Mackenzie

At the end of June, the Federal Reserve will no longer be the biggest buyer of US Treasuries. But one notable investor has already said Hasta la vista.

Pimco's flagship $237bn total return fund, managed by Bill Gross, whose status as bond king has been synonymous with the 25-year bull market in Treasury debt, pulled the plug on holding US government related securities in February, it emerged this week. Last month his fund eschewed holding US government related debt, having had 12 per cent of the fund's portfolio in Treasuries in January.

Given the record of Mr Gross, one cannot ignore the decision. Since the total return fund began in 1987, it has generated an average annual return of 8.42 per cent versus the 7.27 per cent gain in its benchmark, the Barclays Capital US Aggregate index.

The move is a bold one. Given that the Barclays Aggregate has a Treasury weighting of 40 per cent, the decision by Mr Gross to exclude government holdings means he is seriously underweight his benchmark, or "bogey".

Posted by jez at 9:01 AM

Modern muckraking does free speech a disservice

Christopher Caldwell:

James O'Keefe is either the sleaziest kind of journalist or the most respectable kind of con artist. His Project Veritas group uses lies, scams and hidden cameras to entrap his political adversaries. This week, Project Veritas released a video of its latest victim: Ron Schiller, a fundraising executive for National Public Radio. Mr Schiller and a colleague were lured to a Washington restaurant with promises of $5m in donations from the "Muslim Education Action Center". Meac, supposedly set up by the Muslim Brotherhood to "spread the acceptance of sharia", does not actually exist. It was an invention of Project Veritas. But Mr Schiller was voluble in assuring its leaders of his contempt for the kind of middle-class Americans who voted for the Tea Party last autumn. "They believe in white, middle America, gun-toting ... it's scary," he said. "They're seriously racist, racist people." Of course, they also happen to elect the congressional majority that controls the fate of $450m in public broadcasting funding. Mr Schiller has resigned from NPR, as has its chief executive, Vivian Schiller (no relation).

Political pranksterism is all the rage. Sacha Baron Cohen practised a form of it in Borat and, more recently, the editor of the Buffalo Beast news website phoned Scott Walker, the embattled Wisconsin governor, passing himself off as the Republican donor David Koch.

Posted by jez at 1:49 AM

March 8, 2011

A sugared pill

Andrew Jack:

When Daniel Carlat, a psychiatrist in Massachusetts, was flown to New York with his wife by Wyeth, the "training" weekend he attended in a luxury hotel was topped off with a Broadway show. It was early 2001 and he had just agreed to the US pharmaceuticals company's proposal that he give talks to doctors about its antidepressant Effexor.

During the following year, he was regularly paid fees of $750 a time to drive to "lunch and learn" sessions where he would speak for 10 minutes to emphasise the drug's advantages to fellow doctors, using slides prepared by the company. "It seemed like a win-win," he recalls. "I was prescribing it, educating doctors and making some money."

But within a few months, he became disillusioned with his co-option as a marketing representative. He was selectively presenting clinical data that put the drug in a positive light to physicians who had been targeted by the company through "data mining" techniques that identified their individual prescription patterns.

Posted by jez at 6:06 PM

February 21, 2011

Why Isn't Wall Street in Jail?

Matt Tabi:

Over drinks at a bar on a dreary, snowy night in Washington this past month, a former Senate investigator laughed as he polished off his beer.

"Everything's _______ up, and nobody goes to jail," he said. "That's your whole story right there. Hell, you don't even have to write the rest of it. Just write that."

I put down my notebook. "Just that?"

"That's right," he said, signaling to the waitress for the check. "Everything's ______ up, and nobody goes to jail. You can end the piece right there."

Nobody goes to jail. This is the mantra of the financial-crisis era, one that saw virtually every major bank and financial company on Wall Street embroiled in obscene criminal scandals that impoverished millions and collectively destroyed hundreds of billions, in fact, trillions of dollars of the world's wealth -- and nobody went to jail. Nobody, that is, except Bernie Madoff, a flamboyant and pathological celebrity con artist, whose victims happened to be other rich and famous people.

Posted by jez at 9:27 PM

February 20, 2011

Saturday Afternoon Ice Fishing Panorama: Madison

Panoramas and photos from Saturday's Pro-union & Tea Party rallies at the Capitol can be seen here.

Posted by jez at 8:21 PM

February 18, 2011

Outdoor Art

Posted by jez at 9:49 PM

Packer Fans

Posted by jez at 9:39 PM

February 12, 2011

The "National Insecurity" of Imported Oil

Ed Wallace:

Getting America off imported oil is always urged in the context of national security. No matter how often that refrain is repeated, however, it always points toward how much imported oil American motorists use.

It's never about the amount of oil imported into the United States, refined into numerous products and shipped back out of the country. Nor are people arguing that we need to quit using imported oil for manufacturing concerns - like making fertilizers to grow corn, to make into ethanol to put into our gas, so we can quit importing oil. (That's the most comical circular argument currently making the rounds.) But we also use oil for things like asphalt for our roads, and in the plastics industry, and even the most ardent "get America off imported oil" advocates don't talk about constraining those industries.
In reality, the country from which we import the most oil is Canada. And I'm fairly certain that we aren't too worried about the national security aspect of bringing that oil into America, now or in the future. Yet we're still hearing the constant mantra that this is a national security issue, and that's what troubles me most. And, if you own one of the nation's 240 million vehicles, the "national insecurity of imported oil" refrain should trouble you, too.

Posted by jez at 4:18 PM

February 10, 2011

How the crisis catapulted us into the future

Martin Wolf:

Did the financial crisis change very much? That was my question as I went to the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos last week. The answer is: yes. Above all, it has accelerated the arrival of our future. Even for the winners, this is quite a shock.

It is three and a half years since the financial crisis began and a little more than two years since it reached its worst. Bob Diamond, chief executive of Barclays, gave the financial sector's thanks to governments for the rescue. Now the mood is one of wary optimism. According to the International Monetary Fund's World Economic Outlook update, global output grew in 2010 by 5 per cent, at purchasing power parity, and 3.9 per cent, at market exchange rates. This contrasts with declines of 0.6 per cent and 2.1 per cent, respectively, in 2009. The IMF expects growth to slow only slightly to 4.4 per cent at PPP and 3.5 per cent at market exchange rates, in 2011. Optimism continues to reign.

With the crisis fading into memory, how will historians assess its legacy? Journalists do not have the luxury of distance. So here are my guesses. I will start with possible turnrounds.

The crisis was neither the beginning of a depression nor the end of capitalism. But it has caused a tightening of financial regulation, particularly of banks, though this has occurred within the pre-existing intellectual and institutional framework. After three decades of deregulation, movement is in the opposite direction, though not without resistance.

Posted by jez at 9:23 PM

February 9, 2011

Angela in Wunderland: What Germany's got right, and what it hasn't

The Economist:

THE West has rightly marvelled at China's economic miracle. Less noticed is a minor miracle in its own midst. It is time to pay attention to Germany's new Wirtschaftswunder.

Germany had a savage recession as manufacturing orders dried up, but its economy has since bounced back strongly, expanding by 3.6% last year, far faster than most other rich economies. For sure, this was partly a "bungee effect" after a particularly deep downturn, but it is no one-year wonder. By several measures, including keeping unemployment down (it is at its lowest since 1992) and the prosperity reflected in the growth of GDP per head, Germany was the star performer among the rich G7 countries over the past ten years (see article). Germans entered 2011 in their most optimistic mood since 2000, according to Allensbach's polls. Business confidence is at its highest since the Ifo institute began tracking it 20 years ago.

What's Germany's secret? It helps that the country did not experience a property or credit bubble, and that it has kept its public finances admirably under control. But above all Germany's success has been export-driven: unlike most other big rich economies it has maintained its share of world exports over the past decade, even as China has risen.

Posted by jez at 10:01 PM

January 30, 2011


A "shocking" hotel scene.

Posted by jez at 3:36 PM

January 25, 2011

Three faces of India (and two faces of Tata)

The Economist:

I STARTED the day on Tuesday by visiting Tata's steelworks in Jamshedpur. I found it awe-inspiring. The scale is mind-blowing: 2.5 hectares of industrial muscle. Even more mind-blowing is the steelmaking process itself: the giant cauldrons of molten steel, the huge trains shifting raw materials about, the fashioning of the molten steel into iron sheets. Three things struck me in particular. First, the relatively small number of people involved. Though based in a relatively poor company, this is a high-tech, high-skill, highly mechanised process. Second, the intelligence and enthusiasm of the people I talked to. These people love to talk about steel! And they love to recite war stories from their visits to other steel mills! (I apologise if I lost the plot every now and again). And third, the smoothness of the organisation. Every process seemed to be perfectly choreographed, and everybody seemed to know their role. Tata Steel has reduced its workforce from 78,000 in the mid-1990s to 35,000 today, while quadrupling the amount of steel it produces. We need a similar revolution in the public sector.

Posted by jez at 8:34 PM

January 24, 2011

Antitrust bulldog Gary Reback pushes Google probe

James Temple:

In the 1990s, attorney Gary Reback helped goad the Department of Justice into launching the landmark antitrust lawsuit against Microsoft Corp. by hauling willing witnesses and damning information before any government body that would listen.

Reback, of Menlo Park law firm Carr & Ferrell LLP, is now waging a similarly relentless campaign against a technology giant of this era, Google Inc.

In an extensive interview with The Chronicle, he argued the Mountain View search company is engaging in a host of anti-competitive behaviors that are no less egregious than the earlier actions of Microsoft.

He also claims the Federal Trade Commission recently backed off an inquiry into certain of Google's practices at the behest of the DOJ. It's known to be conducting a separate investigation into, and possibly preparing to block, the company's proposed acquisition of travel data company ITA Software. (Read on for his take on what that means.)

Posted by jez at 10:08 PM

The Grounds of Courage: Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Alan Wolfe:

Early in January 1939, the precocious German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, age thirty-two, learned that all males in his age cohort had been ordered to register with the military. A dedicated opponent of the Nazi regime, he might have responded by declaring himself a conscientious objector, but there were two problems with such a course of action. The first was that Bonhoeffer, although pacifist by inclination, was not opposed to violence under all conditions; and he would later play an active role in the conspiracy led by German generals to assassinate Hitler. The second was that his fame in the Confessing Church (more on this below) might encourage other religious leaders critical of the regime to do the same, thereby bringing them under greater suspicion and undermining their efforts to prove that Nazi policies, and especially their rapidly intensifying Jew-hatred, were contrary to the teachings of Jesus Christ.

The solution was provided by America's most illustrious theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr. Nine years earlier, Bonhoeffer had spent a year in the United States as a free-floating exchange student at Union Theological Seminary, arriving not long after Niebuhr had moved there from Detroit. He had made such a positive impression on Union's faculty that Niebuhr jumped at the opportunity to bring him back. If we fail to offer him a job, he told Union's president, Henry Sloane Coffin, Bonhoeffer will wind up in a concentration camp. This was not the stuff of run-of-the-mill letters of recommendation. Union extended the offer. Grateful to have a way out of his dilemma, Bonhoeffer booked passage, and in June 1939 found himself safe in America.

Posted by jez at 9:44 PM

David Hockney's friends in art: the iPad and iPhone

Barbara Isenberg:

David Hockney may be pretty isolated here in Yorkshire, some four hours by train from London, but that's the way he likes it. Ensconced near the quiet rural landscape he's immortalized in paintings and watercolors, he has more time not only to draw but to experiment with new ways of making art.

"We think we're way ahead here," he confides. "We need this little remote place to be observant about the medium."

The art-making medium he's using most often these days is the iPad, brother to the iPhone, which he took up earlier. Whether he's lying in bed or driving through snow-covered woods, his ever-ready iPhone and iPad are instant drawing pads, always by his side. The electronic duo keeps him in touch with not only his craft but a small group of friends and colleagues who regularly receive his colorful missives of landscapes, flowers, cap or ashtray.

Posted by jez at 9:18 PM

Where have all the thinkers gone?

Gideon Rachman:

A few weeks ago I was sitting in my office, reading Foreign Policy magazine, when I made a striking discovery. Sitting next door to me, separated only by a narrow partition, is one of the world's leading thinkers. Every year, Foreign Policy lists the people it regards as the "Top 100 Global Thinkers". And there, at number 37, was Martin Wolf.

I popped next door to congratulate my colleague. Under such circumstances, it is compulsory for any English person to make a self-deprecating remark and Martin did not fail me. The list of intellectuals from 2010, he suggested, looked pretty feeble compared with a similar list that could have been drawn up in the mid 19th century.

This was more than mere modesty. He has a point. Once you start the list-making exercise, it is difficult to avoid the impression that we are living in a trivial age.

The Foreign Policy list for 2010, it has to be said, is slightly odd since the magazine's top 10 thinkers are all more famous as doers. In joint first place come Bill Gates and Warren Buffett for their philanthropic efforts. Then come the likes of Barack Obama (at number three), Celso Amorim, the Brazilian foreign minister (sixth), and David Petraeus, the American general and also, apparently, the world's eighth most significant thinker. It is not until you get down to number 12 on the list that you find somebody who is more famous for thinking than doing - Nouriel Roubini, the economist.

Posted by jez at 2:22 AM

January 19, 2011

Value of being 'Made in Italy'

Rachel Sanderson:

In Palazzo Strozzi, a Renaissance palace overlooking Florence's Arno River, Ferruccio Ferragamo, scion of luxury shoe brand Salvatore Ferragamo, is explaining why his shoes are "Made in Italy".

Mr Ferruccio's father, Salvatore, put handmade shoes on the feet of Marilyn Monroe and Sophia Loren, Lauren Bacall and Judy Garland. But his son is supposed to be living in different times, where rising Chinese and Indian manufacturing power has put Italians out of business.

When Mr Ferruccio meets the Financial Times in December, he has another problem on his mind. He is having to ask Ferragamo's workers, dotted in villages and factories around Florence, to keep working right up until Christmas day, almost a week longer than usual.

"We cannot make enough to keep up with the demand from the Chinese. They want their shoes not just made in Italy, but often made in Florence," he says.

A decade ago, many economists and industrialists, in Italy and outside, were convinced that the myriad small and medium-sized businesses that make up the backbone of the country's economy were in terminal decline. The Italians could not compete with rival manufacturing bases in Asia. Their productivity was too low and too costly. They did not have the infrastructure or heft to export their goods in the volumes necessary to ensure their survival.

Posted by jez at 9:59 PM

January 16, 2011

Christmas in the Terminal

Posted by jez at 3:01 PM

Burger Joint

Posted by jez at 2:02 AM

January 15, 2011

Panorama: Lingotto Pinacoteca Giovanni e Marella Agnelli @ Turin

Pinacoteca Giovanni e Marella Agnelli:

In a fascinating space designed by the architect Renzo Piano inside the historic industrial complex of the Lingotto in Turin, the Pinacoteca Giovanni e Marella Agnelli permanently houses 25 masterpieces from Giovanni and Marella Agnelli private collection.

Opened on September 20th, 2002, the gallery marks the final step in the twenty-year-long restructuring process of the whole Lingotto site.

The structure that today hosts the picture gallery of the Giovanni and Marella Agnelli Foundation in the "Scrigno" (literally, jewel box or treasure chest, an extraordinary container that dominates the roof-top test track), is the result of a long historical and architectural process of development that begins at the turn of the twentieth century. After this huge conversion process, the 90 years old building maintains the architectural power and freshness of the car factory designed by Giacomo Mattè Trucco, and wends its way effortlessly to the Lingotto designed by Renzo Piano.

A stunning place, particularly the roof top race track on the old Fiat factory.

View the full screen panorama here.

Posted by jez at 8:10 PM

When China Ruled the World Or why the "China Century" will be the shortest on record

Thomas P.M. Barnett:

I'm here to tell you that America plunged its fingertips into the Middle Kingdom's body politic across the 1970s, beginning with Nixon going to China in 1972 and culminating with Jimmy Carter's normalization of relations in 1979. The first embrace allowed aged Mao Tse-tung to extinguish his nonstop internal purge known as the Cultural Revolution by firewalling his fears of Soviet antagonism. The second cemented China's wary-but-increasingly-warm relationship with the United States and allowed Deng Xiaoping, who narrowly survived Mao's insanities, to dismantle the dead emperor's dysfunctional socialist model, quietly burying Marx with the most revolutionary of eulogies -- to get rich is glorious!

Deng chose wisely: Reversing Mikhail Gorbachev's subsequent logic, he focused on the economics while putting off the politics. This decision later earned him the sobriquet "the butcher of Tiananmen" when, in 1989, the political expectations of students quickly outpaced the Party's willingness for self-examination. But it likewise locked China onto a historical pathway from which it cannot escape, or what I call the five D's of the dragon's decline from world-beater to world-benefactor: demographics, decrepitude, dependency, defensiveness, and -- most disabling of all -- democratization.

Let us begin this journey right where Deng did, with a focus on the family.

Posted by jez at 1:53 AM

January 14, 2011

Shopping with the Dog - Turin

Posted by jez at 9:16 PM

January 13, 2011

The Hardy 2009-2010 Annual Report Photo

350K PDF. My dusk Hardy photo appears on the cover of their annual report. It was a beautiful evening. Much more on the Hardy Gallery, here.

Posted by jez at 10:32 AM

Goldman's pieties go too far

Sebastian Mallaby:

For sheer, toe-curling embarrassment, it's hard to choose between last year's populist attack on Goldman Sachs by the US Securities and Exchange Commission and this week's cringe-worthy response from the investment bank.

Last April, when the SEC filed suit against Goldman, the bank could have fought back. The suit complained it had sold fancy mortgage securities without disclosing that a hedge-fund manager, John Paulson, was betting that those same securities would blow up. To which Goldman could have answered: so what? Any time an investment bank sells any derivative, it should be obvious to the buyer that somebody somewhere must be taking the other side. The SEC's assertion that Goldman had misled customers about the nature of Paulson's involvement was potentially more damaging, except that the SEC produced no evidence to make this charge stick.

It was surely not beyond the wit of Goldman's publicists to communicate these simple points. Banks cannot be held responsible for the profits or losses of their clients, since middle-men necessarily have customers who lose as others win. But after one vain attempt to explain market making at a belligerent Senate hearing, Goldman's boss, Lloyd Blankfein, gave up. He settled with the SEC, even though most lawyers think he could have beaten the charges. Then he ordered up an elaborate cleansing ritual to relaunch the firm of Goldman Sachs.

Several months later, the fruits of Goldman's sun salutations are out. A 67-page manifesto of self-purification proclaims that "our clients' interests always come first," and that "if we serve our clients, our own success will follow." But these pieties misrepresent the true nature of an investment bank just as surely as the SEC did.

Posted by jez at 8:01 AM

January 8, 2011

Lyonnaise Salad

Lyonnaise salad recipe.

Posted by jez at 9:41 PM

Joy to the World: Christmas, 2010

Joy To the World from Jim Zellmer

Recorded Christmas Day, 2010 in Parma, Italy

Posted by jez at 5:56 PM

Christmas: Lyon - Turin - Parma - Florence - Bologna - Venice; a Few Recommendations

Lodging recommendations & comments:

  • Lyon, France: Artelit. A superb location with a fabulous proprietor. Frederic Jean's friendship and professionalism was a joy to experience, particularly when facing a very difficult parking situation! Highly recommended.
  • Turin: Best Western Hotel Piemontese. A surprisingly spacious facility, conveniently located near the rail station, bus stops and a number of Turin destinations. Great service and a surprisingly extensive breakfast.
  • Parma: A number of hotels were closed over Christmas. We stayed here: Vittorio Dalla Rosa Prati. Friendly service and a fabulous location adjacent to the Baptistry. Rooms include a refrigerator, sink and range so one can shop at the nearby markets and prepare meals.
  • Florence: Relais Uffizi. A charming, small find next to the Uffizi Gallery. Close to everything with very helpful staff.
  • Bologna: Albergo Centrale. Tremendous location in a fascinating city. Don't forget the gelato, which was poetic.
  • Venice: Hotel Antico Doge. Very helpful staff with superb restaurant recommendations. Well located, but smoke seemed to be present in the room, unfortunately.

I am very thankful to have "met" Madeline Jhawar, who suggested the stops in Turin, Parma and Bologna. I am grateful for her assistance and intelligence. I also took a look at Lonely Planet's suggestions, the New York Times travel section and Karen Brown.

We rented a car from Europcar, flew via Lufthansa (insufferable coach seats in my experience but very friendly staff) and used buses, trams, water buses, gondolas and most of all our feet.

Posted by jez at 4:59 PM

Politics & The Internet

The Economist:

FOR wizened cyberpunks, it is a seemingly timeless debate: does the internet inherently promote openness and democracy, or can it just as easily strengthen the hand of authoritarian regimes? A decade ago Andrew Shapiro's book "The Control Revolution" argued the former, while Shanthi Kalathil's and Taylor Boas's tome "Open Networks, Closed Regimes" dissented. This week sees the publication of "The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom" by Evgeny Morozov, which sides with the pessimists.

The argument usually ends in a stalemate of competing anecdotes. Street protests organised by mobile text messages successfully oust Philippine President Joseph Estrada in 2001; Iran's supposedly Twitter-powered Green Movement gets quashed in 2009. And so on. Clay Shirky, one of the preeminent public intellectuals of the internet, who has previously sided with cyber-utopian optimists, has now elegantly squared the circle by establishing an intellectual framework to consider the topic in "The Political Power of Social Media", an article in the current Foreign Affairs. (Users must register to access the complete essay, but it is free.) Mr Shirky's essay makes three principal contributions to the debate.

Posted by jez at 2:58 PM

January 4, 2011

The AI Revolution Is On

Stephen Levy:

Diapers.com warehouses are a bit of a jumble. Boxes of pacifiers sit above crates of onesies, which rest next to cartons of baby food. In a seeming abdication of logic, similar items are placed across the room from one another. A person trying to figure out how the products were shelved could well conclude that no form of intelligence--except maybe a random number generator--had a hand in determining what went where.

But the warehouses aren't meant to be understood by humans; they were built for bots. Every day, hundreds of robots course nimbly through the aisles, instantly identifying items and delivering them to flesh-and-blood packers on the periphery. Instead of organizing the warehouse as a human might--by placing like products next to one another, for instance--Diapers.com's robots stick the items in various aisles throughout the facility. Then, to fill an order, the first available robot simply finds the closest requested item. The storeroom is an ever-shifting mass that adjusts to constantly changing data, like the size and popularity of merchandise, the geography of the warehouse, and the location of each robot. Set up by Kiva Systems, which has outfitted similar facilities for Gap, Staples, and Office Depot, the system can deliver items to packers at the rate of one every six seconds.

Posted by jez at 8:08 AM

The lounge suit, battledress of the world's businessmen, is 150 years old - possibly

The Economist:

BUSINESS and politics are full of surprises--and a near certainty. Whether they are politicians, bankers or trade-union leaders, men nearly always meet other men in suits. The uniform of capitalism has conquered more of the globe than capitalism itself. When Barack Obama first visited Hu Jintao, paramount leader of the People's Republic of China, the men were clad in near-identical dark blue suits, white shirts and red spotted ties.

It has become a symbol of conformity. "Suit" was the chosen insult of hippies to describe a dull establishment man. The garment has been ostentatiously rejected by Silicon Valley titans like Steve Jobs of Apple, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and Sergey Brin of Google. Yet the business suit has an exciting and mysterious history that should give wearers a tingle of pleasure every time they put one on. It is a garment born out of revolution, warfare and pestilence. The suit still bears the marks of this turbulent past as well as the influence of Enlightenment thinking, sporting pursuits and a Regency dandy. In the year that may well mark the 150th anniversary of the suit it seems a shame that no celebrations were held in its honour.

Posted by jez at 7:47 AM

E-book pioneer sees future of reading as a shared activity

In 1992, virtual eons before the Kindle and the iPad, Bob Stein created software that let a reader flip through an electronic book on a laptop computer.

To demonstrate the program at conferences, Stein would lie down on stage as if reading in bed.

"Publishers would see this and they would think it was cute, but they didn't think it had anything to do with them," he recalls.

Now that the revolution is here, Stein says publishers should embrace what he sees as the inevitable result: the evolution of reading from a solitary pursuit into a communal, electronically networked activity - something he calls social reading and writing.

Posted by jez at 7:43 AM

December 29, 2010

Social Media, Part 1: The Internet and the Auto Industry

Ed Wallace:

Twenty-two years ago, during a slow period at a dealership where I worked, I found an old Apple II computer. It had been set up to calculate leases, but I quickly discovered that it could do all sorts of things. It wasn't like I hadn't used a computer before; in 1985, using my Compaq portable as a letter-writing machine had led to my biggest sales year ever in the auto industry. But only three years later, my appreciation for the coming Information Age was to change dramatically.

One of the first things I did on this old Apple machine was hook it up online. Subscribing to the original StarText news wire that the Star-Telegram was then selling, I saw from this quaint beginning that the Information Age was starting to broaden. It wasn't long before I subscribed to CompuServe. That's when I realized I would need not just a more powerful computer, but also one capable of showing graphics to take advantage of what was coming our way.

Shortly thereafter I had discovered that others were working on creating what would be called the Internet, connecting everybody in the world to one another.

Change is hard....

Posted by jez at 3:43 PM

In the life of the Foxconn young workers

Jordan Pouille:

Under the Christmas tree, some of us will hopefully find a great Iphone 4 32G, an amazing 9.7 inch Ipad 3G, a Dell netbook, a Sony PSP® or a Nokia N8 smartphone. On the user manual, it shall be written how to handle it but certainly not how it has been made. Today, La Vie French magazine publishes a long story (including side boxes here and here) about life at Foxconn, main Apple's supplier. Sorry, it's only in French but let me propose you my comment in English.

Despite tragic suicides (14 officially - one last November, yet much lower than in others fims like France Telecom but when it comes to very young people in such a guarded area, it raises questions) and several promises for pay rises, Foxconn is still compared by Hong-kong ngo Sacom, as a "labour camp". How come?

So I went there in May and then back again lately, to check what really changed during this 6 months period of time. Salary is now high, better than any other factory around, but happiness is still not here, whatever swimming pool or tennis court you might have seen on tv, owing to Foxconn p.r. Is it due to Foxconn's military discipline (typically taiwanese, i have been told) ? to a rather hostile environnement (huge dorms, huge factory) that doesn't match with young workers expectations?

Posted by jez at 1:30 AM

December 28, 2010

Accessing the e-book revolution

Steven Johnson:

In 1467, Peter Schöffer and Johann Fust published a translation of St Augustine's The Art Of Preaching. They were old colleagues of Johannes Gutenberg, the pioneer of modern printing. But their true claim to fame is that they were the first commercially successful printers, and this success stemmed in part from their relentless innovation with the world's newest communications technology: the book.

One such innovation appeared in the 1467 edition, which was the first printed book to include an alphabetical index. Schöffer and Fust were not only competing by releasing new titles. They were changing what it meant to use and read a book.

Some of the first book advertisements - and indeed some of the first modern adverts anywhere - talked up their "better arranged indexes" as a selling point. The publishers of the The Art of Preaching claimed that their indexes, along with other new cross-referencing features, were "alone worth the whole price, because they make it much easier to use".

The phrase sounds like it could be from an advert for some 21st-century gadget: "Our books aren't just informative. They're also user-friendly!" The echo of today's marketing language is no accident. Thanks to a series of interrelated technologies - but especially the web, the Kindle and the iPad - we are living through a radical reinvention of the tools and techniques of reading.

Posted by jez at 4:11 PM

December 27, 2010

Lessons in Scroogenomics

Martin Wolf:

Ebenezer Scrooge came into the room slowly. He was, to my surprise, much as Charles Dickens had described him. How, I wondered, could he have changed so little over 170 years? It must be the benefit of being a literary character, I decided.

"Good morning, Mr Scrooge," I remarked politely. "I have come to interview you about your best-selling new book Scroogenomics - or How to Do Well out of Doing Good."

Scrooge smiled. "Yes," he responded, "I had to show that Joel Waldfogel's Scroogenomics, cleverly reviewed by your John Kay, merely portrayed my unenlightened self. But Dickens, albeit a talented writer, was just a sentimental fool. He never understood what my change over that Christmas was about. I learnt, above all, to appear benevolent. That, with my business acumen, turned Marley & Scrooge into a global enterprise. Fortunately, that philanthropy has become less painful, since my charities are tax deductible. What can be less painful for a miser than state-subsidised charity?"

I was shocked by his candour. He must have drunk too much at the book party earlier. After the abstinence described by Dickens, one drink would have a big effect.

Posted by jez at 4:06 PM

December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!

The 1949 Vermont Register:

When Saul of Tarsus set out on his journey to Damascus the whole of the known world lay in bondage. There was one state, and it was Rome. There was one master for it all, and he was Tiberius Caesar.

Everywhere there was civil order, for the arm of the Roman law was long. Everywhere there was stability, in government and in society, for the centurions saw that it was so.

But everywhere there was something else, too. There was oppression--for those who were not the friends of Tiberius Caesar. There was the tax gatherer to take the grain from the fields and the flax from the spindle to feed the legions or to fill the hungry treasury from which divine Caesar gave largess to the people. There was the impressor to find recruits for the circuses. There were executioners to quiet those whom the Emperor proscribed. What was a man for but to serve Caesar?

There was the persecution of men who dared think differently, who heard strange voices or read strange manuscripts. There was enslavement of men whose tribes came not from Rome, disdain for those who did not have the familiar visage. And most of all, there was everywhere a contempt for human life. What, to the strong, was one man more or less in a crowded world?

Posted by jez at 3:55 PM

December 24, 2010

Fred Hargesheimer, World War 2 pilot who repaid his rescuers, dies age 94

The Telegraph:

Fred Hargesheimer, a World War II Army pilot whose rescue by Pacific islanders led to a life of giving back as a builder of schools and teacher of children, died on Thursday morning. He was 94.

Richard Hargesheimer said his father had been in poor health and passed away in Lincoln, Nebraska.

On June 5, 1943, Hargesheimer, a P-38 pilot with the 8th Photographic Reconnaissance Squadron, was shot down by a Japanese fighter while on a mission over the Japanese-held island of New Britain in the southwest Pacific. He parachuted into the trackless jungle, where he barely survived for 31 days until found by local hunters.

They took him to their coastal village and for seven months hid him from Japanese patrols, fed him and nursed him back to health from two illnesses. In February 1944, with the help of Australian commandos working behind Japanese lines, he was picked up by a U.S. submarine off a New Britain beach.

With Christmas upon us, I've been reflecting on two things Jesus said here:
"'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.'[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'[b] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."
I have been frequently amazed at people who exhibit such selflessness, as exhibited by Fred Hargesheimer.

Posted by jez at 2:55 PM

When Analysts Look Over Their Shoulders

Brian Deagan:

Scott Cleland is one tough Google (GOOG) critic.

From his office in McLean, Va., as founder and president of research firm Precursor, Cleland routinely fires off pages of analysis whenever news on Google's market dominance hits the media.

Cleland's words have irked Google, which is engaging in an unusual behind-the-scenes effort to counter Cleland's views. The case is spotlighting the issue of how companies should deal with critics on the public stage.

Posted by jez at 11:02 AM

December 23, 2010

2011: And Still No Energy Policy

Ed Wallace:

"First generation [corn] ethanol I think was a mistake. The energy conversion ratios are at best very small."

- Al Gore, speaking at a Green Energy Conference on November 22, 2010

"Ethanol is not an ideal transportation fuel. The future of transportation fuels shouldn't involve ethanol."

- Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, November 29, 2010

No one knows what brought on the blast of political honesty in the last eight days of November. Having been a rabid ethanol booster for most of his political career, there was former Vice President Al Gore reversing course and apologizing for supporting ethanol. Of course Gore's reason for taking that position was perfectly understandable -- for a politician. As he told the Athens energy conference attendees, "One of the reasons I made that mistake is that I paid particular attention to the farmers in my home state of Tennessee, and I had a certain fondness for the farmers of Iowa because I was about to run for President."

Translated from politics-speak into English, pandering to farmers gets votes. But if your claimed position is to plan some sort of energy policy for everyone else, then getting farmers' votes shouldn't determine what's the right thing to do for the nation's fuel supplies.

Posted by jez at 5:55 AM

December 19, 2010

Doyen of Type Design: The most-read man in the world

The Economist:

MATTHEW CARTER, a type designer and the recipient of a MacArthur genius grant, was recently approached in the street near his home in Cambridge, Massachusetts. A woman greeted him by name. "Have we met?" Mr Carter asked. No, she said, her daughter had pointed him out when they were driving down the street a few days before. "Is your daughter a graphic designer?" he inquired. "She's in sixth grade," came the reply.

Mr Carter sits near the pinnacle of an elite profession. No more than several thousand type designers ply the trade worldwide, only a few hundred earn their keep by it, and only several dozens--most of them dead--have their names on the lips of discerning aficionados. Then, there is Mr Carter. He has never sought recognition, but it found him, and his underappreciated craft, in part thanks to a "New Yorker" profile in 2005. Now, even schoolchildren (albeit discerning ones) seem to know who he is and what he does. However, the reason is probably not so much the beauty and utility of his faces, both of which are almost universally acknowledged. Rather, it is Georgia and Verdana. Mr Carter conjured up both fonts in the 1990s for Microsoft, which released them with its Internet Explorer in the late 1990s and bundled them into Windows, before disseminating them as a free download.

Posted by jez at 2:34 PM

December 17, 2010

Phone-Wielding Shoppers Strike Fear Into Retailers

Miguel Bustillo & Ann Zimmerman

Tri Tang, a 25-year-old marketer, walked into a Best Buy Co. store in Sunnyvale, Calif., this past weekend and spotted the perfect gift for his girlfriend.

Last year, he might have just dropped the $184.85 Garmin global positioning system into his cart. This time, he took out his Android phone and typed the model number into an app that instantly compared the Best Buy price to those of other retailers. He found that he could get the same item on Amazon.com Inc.'s website for only $106.75, no shipping, no tax.

Mr. Tang bought the Garmin from Amazon right on the spot.

Posted by jez at 6:41 PM

December 16, 2010

On Sugar Plums

Joe McNally:

The world of dance is very much about the unrelenting and occasionally cruel quest for perfection. I've worked with many dancers, and have made what I naively thought to be a worthwhile or even beautiful photograph, only to have the perfectionist inside the dancer rise up and shred it. "Ooh, no. You can't use that, look at the position of my ring finger on my left hand!" I am only being midly facetious here. Ballet demands perfection, which of course is unattainable. Any dancer who sticks with it has heard the call to be perfect, in their head, and perhaps in their dreams. I would speculate many a little girl, as they take their first stumbles in toe shoes, has drifted to sleep with visions of being lifted into the lights before adoring thousands, and then drowning delightfully in a sea of tossed roses from a rapturously applauding audience.

More often, though, the call to perfection is more of a bark, harsh and unforgiving, from a dance master or mistress, or a choreographer, who, understandably driven by their own sense of discipline and vision, pushes the dancer to that point where the laws of gravity simply fall away. As Balanchine once said, "Dance is music made visible." That's hard to do. I was blessed to work briefly for ABT and made this picture of the magnificent Marcelo Gomes and Julie Kent, who together and apart, are the epitome of grace and elegant lines. As they took this position, I was stupefied at the exacting nature of the choreographer, and the giving nature of the dancers, striving to bend their bodies to his will.

Posted by jez at 9:44 AM

December 10, 2010

Incredible journeys

Financial Times Summary

William Dalrymple

Herat, Afghanistan

Herat, in western Afghanistan, is one destination in that tragic country that is still safe, or relatively so. It is one of the most spectacular cities in the entire region and, for a brief period after the death of Timur in 1405, was the capital of the Timurid empire. Here Bihzad illuminated his miniatures; Babur wrote some of the most telling passages in his memoirs; and the Timurid princess Gohar Shad built one of the great colleges of the world. Today there are occasional reports of kidnappings and hold-ups between the airport and the town. But inside the city, there is no sense of tension or danger, and no one looks at you askance as you wander through the mosques, the ruins and the fabulous covered bazaars.

Instead, it feels welcoming, gently prosperous and, by Central Asian standards, surprisingly middle class. On the outskirts, on the hillside of Takht Safar, where the bright young things of Herat gather to watch the sun going down, to picnic, sip tea and listen to music under groves of cedars, mulberries and umbrella pines, you can grasp what Afghanistan would be like if peace were miraculously to break out: it feels not dissimilar, and no more threatening, than inland Turkey. In some ways, Herat feels as if it is high on the Anatolian plateau not far from Ankara; but here, you have the place, and the ruins, to yourself. There is not another traveller to be seen.

When Robert Byron was here in the 1930s he loved not just the grand ruins but also the eccentricity of Herat, and much of that still survives. When our plane touched down on the tarmac, the passengers were not taken into the old 1950s terminal, as the man who had the key had gone off for noon prayers. So, instead, our luggage was delivered by tractor, and dumped on the edge of the apron. It seemed an unsurprising fate for bags carried by an airline, Pamir Air, which at check-in had given me a boarding pass marked "Kabul-Riyadh" and when I pointed out that I was going to Herat, replied that it didn't matter: "They'll let you on the plane anyway."

Posted by jez at 10:32 PM

December 8, 2010

Bond deal puts San Francisco's Asian Art Museum on brink

Richard Waters

The great and the good who sit on the board of San Francisco's prestigious Asian Art Museum are grappling with problems that run deeper than reviving recession-hit visitor numbers or repairing a dented endowment fund.

A financial derivative gone bad is threatening to become the last straw that tips the museum into bankruptcy - unless a stand-off involving the city and two prominent US financial institutions can be resolved within the next two weeks.

The museum's problems have touched off a war of words in recent days. Dennis Herrera, San Francisco's city attorney, fired off letters last week to JPMorgan Chase and bond insurer MBIA, accusing them of taking millions of dollars in fees from the city while washing their hands of the problems to which they have contributed.

"The city's involvement is not just for the city attorney to write a letter and say it's everyone else's problem," retorted Mitchell Sonkin, chief portfolio officer at MBIA. The city itself had short-changed the museum in recent years, forcing it to draw more heavily on its endowment, and should take part in a rescue.

Posted by jez at 10:20 AM

December 3, 2010

Some Data-Miners Ready to Reveal What They Know

Emily Steel

Seeking to head off escalating scrutiny over Internet privacy, a group of online tracking rivals are building a service that lets consumers see what information those companies know about them.

The project is the first of its kind in the fast-growing business of tracking Internet users and selling personal details about their lives. Called the Open Data Partnership, it will allow consumers to edit the interests, demographics and other profile information collected about them. It also will allow people to choose to not be tracked at all.
When the service launches in January, users will be able to see information about them from eight data and tracking firms, including BlueKai Inc., Lotame Solutions Inc. and eXelate Inc.

Additional tracking firms are expected to join once the system is live, but more than a hundred tracking firms and big Internet companies including Google Inc. and Yahoo Inc. are not involved.

Posted by jez at 9:47 PM

December 2, 2010

Wall Street owes its survival to the Fed

Sebastian Mallaby

For a brief, surreal moment, the prevailing narrative in Washington was that the 2008-09 bail-outs were not really so bad. In September, Treasury secretary Tim Geithner called the government's troubled asset relief programme "one of the most effective emergency programmes in financial history", claiming that the final cost to taxpayers would be less than $50bn.

Steven Rattner, the Wall Street banker who oversaw the Obama administration's rescue of the auto sector, wrote in the Financial Times in October that "without exaggeration, this legislation [establishing Tarp] did more to keep America's financial system - and therefore its economy - functioning than any passed since the 1930s".

But Wednesday's document dump from the Federal Reserve - a congressionally ordered "WikiLeak moment" - puts this bargain-bail-out patter in a new perspective. The post-Lehman rescues were far broader than Tarp, and far riskier for taxpayers, even if the alternative of a systemic meltdown would have been worse.

Posted by jez at 7:47 PM

December 1, 2010

Why the iPad should rival the web

John Gapper

Richard Branson and Rupert Murdoch are entrepreneurs with an admirable record of ignoring conventional wisdom, so it is worth watching when they do the same thing at once.

In this case, they are launching iPad-only publications. Sir Richard bowled into New York on Tuesday to unveil a £1.79 or $2.99 monthly magazine called Project, while Mr Murdoch is about to launch a "newspaper" called The Daily, for which he hopes 800,000 people will pay $1 a week. Both will charge readers in an era when most internet publications are free.

The fact that Mr Murdoch will separate his new daily publication from "the open web" by publishing on the iPad has provoked scepticism and hostility in digital media circles. "Murdoch keeps fighting the internet and the internet keeps on winning," wrote Mathew Ingram, of the GigaOm technology blog.

This fits into a bigger debate about whether companies are balkanising the web to gain economic leverage. Tim Berners-Lee, the British scientist who invented the World Wide Web, complained in Scientific American about Facebook's private accumulation of data, and of print publishers' "disturbing" wish to create closed worlds.

Posted by jez at 10:21 PM

In search of a lightning bolt of rational thought.

Peter M. De Lorenzo

In the midst of the biggest green car push in automotive history - what with Chevrolet touting its extended-range electric Volt as the greatest thing since sliced bread while crossing green swords with Nissan, which is shouting similar missives from the rooftops about its all-electric Leaf - it has become readily apparent that the vast majority of the American consumer public couldn't be bothered. As in they couldn't care less. That is unless someone - i.e., Washington - is throwing money at them to care.

Hybrid sales in this market are going to finish the year down again, which will mark three straight years of decline, and this includes the $4.00+ per gallon spike in the late spring-summer of 2008, when fuel economy hysteria took hold in the U.S. for four solid months. It seems that the Shiny Happy Green Sensibilities Act - or whatever you want to call the ongoing "shove-it-down-the-American-consumer-public's-throats-and-they-will-learn-to-lilke-it" mentality that pollutes the political brainiacs/stumblebums in Washington and Northern California - is going nowhere.

As a matter of fact our illustrious leaders in Washington used a considerable chunk of money from the 2009 economic stimulus package to buy up hybrids from various auto manufacturers to prop-up hybrid vehicle sales, couching it as a noble attempt at improving the overall fuel-efficiency of the government fleet, when in fact the real reason was to not only - hopefully - jump-start American consumer thinking into accepting these vehicles as being mainstream choices, but to help the vehicle manufacturers who were battered and bullied to build the vehicles in the first place to keep the production lines going.

But alas, this is the pattern we find ourselves in as a nation at the moment. A minority of the citizenry in an absolute lather about climate change - aided and abetted by maliciously clueless politicos with an axe to grind and an agenda that has more to do with their personal ambitions than it does with such quaint ideas as "being good for the country" - dictating to the majority of the American public how it's going to be.

Posted by jez at 8:29 AM

November 28, 2010

Southwest's Great Culture

We are fortunate to have Southwest serving Milwaukee. Madison service would be that much better, of course.

Posted by jez at 2:14 PM

November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

Posted by jez at 9:47 PM

November 23, 2010

Congressional Members' Personal Wealth Expands Despite Sour National Economy


Despite a stubbornly sour national economy congressional members' personal wealth collectively increased by more than 16 percent between 2008 and 2009, according to a new study by the Center for Responsive Politics of federal financial disclosures released earlier this year.

And while some members' financial portfolios lost value, no need to bemoan most lawmakers' financial lot: Nearly half of them -- 261 -- are millionaires, a slight increase from the previous year, the Center's study finds. That compares to about 1 percent of Americans who lay claim to the same lofty fiscal status.

And of these congressional millionaires, 55 have an average calculated wealth in 2009 of $10 million or more, with eight in the $100 million-plus range.

Posted by jez at 10:01 AM

Disney Animation is closing the book on fairy tales

Dawn C. Chmielewski and Claudia Eller,

Once upon a time, there was a studio in Burbank that spun classic fairy tales into silver-screen gold.

But now the curtain is falling on "princess movies," which have been a part of Disney Animation's heritage since the 1937 debut of its first feature film, "Snow White." The studio's Wednesday release of "Tangled," a contemporary retelling of the Rapunzel story, will be the last fairy tale produced by Disney's animation group for the foreseeable future.

"Films and genres do run a course," said Pixar Animation Studios chief Ed Catmull, who along with director John Lasseter oversees Disney Animation. "They may come back later because someone has a fresh take on it ... but we don't have any other musicals or fairy tales lined up." Indeed, Catmull and Lasseter killed two other fairy tale movies that had been in development, "The Snow Queen" and "Jack and the Beanstalk."

To appreciate what a sea change this is for the company, consider that a fairy tale castle is a landmark at Disney theme parks around the world and is embedded in the Walt Disney Pictures logo. Fairy tale characters from Disney's movies populate the parks, drive sales of merchandise and serve as the inspiration for Broadway musicals.

Alas, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Ariel, Jasmine and the other Disney royals were all born in the 20th century. Now, different kinds of Disney characters are elbowing their way into the megaplexes and toy aisles, including Pixar's "Toy Story" buddies Buzz Lightyear and Woody, Capt. Jack Sparrow from "Pirates of the Caribbean" and a platoon of superheroes from the recent acquisition of Marvel Entertainment.

Posted by jez at 9:59 AM

November 17, 2010

Carl Bloch Paintings Panorama

Hans Nyberg

The Brigham Young University's Museum of Art in Utah US opens on November 12 an exhibition with paintings by the 19th century Danish painter Carl Heinrich Bloch. The exhibition will run until May 7

Carl Bloch became famous as religous painter after he was commisioned to paint 23 new paintings from the bible in the Kings Oratory (Kongens Bedekammer) at Frederiksborg Castle. The original paintings had been destroyed in the big fire in1859 which destroyed large areas of the castle.

I was commissioned by the Brigham Young museum to photograph panoramas from all the Danish and Swedish churches where Carl Bloch's altar paintings are found.

Some of these original paintings have been lend to the exhibition in US.

However the most important panorama was the panorama from the Kings Oratory. These paintings are his main religous work which his church altar paintings are based on.

Posted by jez at 11:03 AM

November 7, 2010

Wisconsin Evokes Democrats' Dilemma

Douglas Belkin & Neil King, Jr.

Last week's election rout did more than put Republicans in charge of the U.S. House of Representatives. It upended the electoral map that propelled President Barack Obama to the White House.

Mr. Obama bagged traditionally liberal Wisconsin and its ten electoral votes two years ago, part of a sweep that also included states that hadn't tilted Democratic for decades. That went into reverse Tuesday. The party suffered heavy losses in Ohio and Pennsylvania, two big states that had backed Mr. Obama in 2008, as independent voters swung to the right. Other presidential territory--Virginia, Indiana and North Carolina--swung back to the GOP.

The depth of the party's losses outside Washington, in state-level-contests, can be seen in this working-class city. The president won handily here in 2008 along with surrounding Brown County. Last week, Republicans carried all 18 races on the county's ballots, right down to the clerk of the court. The GOP took control of the governor's office, the state assembly and the state senate--the first time the state has reverted so abruptly to one side since 1938.

Posted by jez at 9:16 PM

November 6, 2010

The Interesting Marketing Phenomena of Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer Manifested by a Billboard on Regent Street

The resurgence of interest in Pabst Blue Ribbon beer is somewhat astonishing. Left for dead in the 1980's, Pabst has been resurrected with clever marketing, as illustrated by this billboard on Madison's Regent Street. It appears to be an "impressionistic" approach to their identity. Much more on Pabst here (Blekko). Note that I have no idea if the beer is actually any good......

Finally, while attending a few recent events, I noticed that "tall 16oz" cans of beer are making a comeback. As always everything old is new again.

Posted by jez at 11:38 AM

November 1, 2010

Lands' End President discusses going the extra mile for the customer

Kathy Mance

From its beginning as a sailboat equipment company to its success in capturing the admiration and loyalty of legions of landlubbers, Lands' End has stayed true to its famous mantra, "Guaranteed.Period.®" In addition to the company's focus on quality, they have kept their eyes on their customer. In 2008 they were named to the NRFF-AMEX Top Ten for consistent excellence in customer service and retained that standing in 2009. To find out how this predominately catalog and Internet retailer continues to win accolades from consumers the world over, we caught up with Nick Coe, President of Lands' End. You'll find "quality" resonates through the answers of this top exec, who fell in love with retailing when he was intrigued by quality in "great tailoring or a perfect pair of jeans" - products he couldn't afford.

In the five years NRF Foundation and American Express have conducted the Customers' Choice survey, Lands' End has consistently been ranked in the top ten. How do you continue to delight your customers year after year?

Posted by jez at 9:29 PM

October 28, 2010

Beautiful Fall Colors

Posted by jez at 10:16 PM

October 25, 2010

On China's Renminbi

Michael Pettis
As my reference to the Japanese yen might suggest, I am pretty skeptical about the likelihood of this happening, at least with some of the more excited predictions. So, by the way, is the ADB, whose recent report (“The Future Global Reserve System — An Asian Perspective”), suggests that by 2035, the RMB may comprise about 3 to 12 per cent of international reserves. This is a pretty reasonable prediction, in my opinion, and far from the more feverish claims we see reported almost daily.

If the renminbi ever becomes a major trading or reserve currency, it is going to take a long time for this to happen and will require a radical transformation of the Chinese economy and the role of the government. This may seem like a surprising statement. After all nearly every week we see reports about a new breakthrough for the renminbi, and almost every day someone important somewhere speculates publicly about what the world will be like when (never if) the renminbi displaces the dollar.

But away from all “qualitative” arguments about why this is unlikely, and there are many, I think there is a problem with the arithmetic of reserve currency accumulation. If the rest of the world is going to use the renminbi as a reserve or trading currency, clearly it needs a mechanism by which to accumulate renminbi. This is something on which a surprisingly large share of people who talk about the future of reserve currencies don’t seem to focus.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:54 PM

October 17, 2010

Big City Sunset

Posted by James Zellmer at 7:11 PM

October 16, 2010

Another Gorgeous Madison Weekend!

Posted by James Zellmer at 9:43 PM

October 15, 2010

Future Shock at 40: What the Tofflers Got Right (and Wrong)

Greg Lindsay:
They predicted the “electronic frontier” of the Internet, Prozac, YouTube, cloning, home-schooling, the self-induced paralysis of too many choices, instant celebrities, and the end of blue-collar manufacturing. Not bad for 1970.

In the opening minutes of Future Shock, a 1972 documentary based on the book of the same name, a bearded, cigar-puffing, world-weary Orson Welles staggers down an airport’s moving walkway, treating the camera like a confidante. “In the course of my work, which has taken me to just about every corner of the globe, I see many aspects of a phenomenon which I’m just beginning to understand,” he says. “Our modern technologies have changed the degree of sophistication beyond our wildest dreams. But this technology has exacted a pretty heavy price. We live in an age of anxiety and time of stress. And with all our sophistication, we are in fact the victims of our own technological strengths –- we are the victims of shock… a future shock.”
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:17 PM

October 10, 2010

Lunch with Phoebe Philo

Vanessa Friedman
Phoebe Philo, the 37-year-old creative director of Céline, is surprisingly frail for someone who a year ago accomplished the Herculean feat of turning the river of trend and washing fashion’s Augean stables clean of decorative bling. A 2010 nominee as British Designer of the Year, she was also behind one of the most heralded collections at last week’s women’s wear shows in Paris.

Medium height, with wispy brown hair and prominent cheekbones, her thin frame swamped by a black leather jacket and a long, man’s shirt over slouchy black trousers, she can seem almost fragile. On the other hand, she has chosen St John, a restaurant in Clerkenwell, London, known for its “nose to tail” menu of offal and other meaty innards, so clearly she has a carnivorous, protein-packing side.

“Well, it’s run by a friend,” she says when she arrives in the stripped-down white space and sits at the paper-covered table. “And it has a straightforwardness that I quite like. It’s very to-the-point.”

To wit: there are “peas in the pod” on the menu. Literally. Undressed, unshelled, peas in the pod, like the kind you get in the market. Or, as Philo says, like the kind that might have “come right from the garden”. She orders some of those with fresh lemonade – the kind they make in America, with just lemon juice, water, and sugar – plus a green salad, some cured mackerel and a roast beef sandwich, because she “rather fancies some white bread”. I opt for lemonade, some cauliflower and lentils, a green salad and a cheese plate. Philo looks at me appraisingly.
Posted by James Zellmer at 4:29 PM

October 8, 2010

Teddy, J.P. and Henry

Ed Wallace
The last seven years have had much in common with the period of 1893 to 1900. But the turmoil this country experienced during the first few years of the 20th century also seems to be mirrored in the events of today.

Certainly the nation once witnessed the rise of the more radical elements, whether they were far-left anarchist movements or center-left progressives. Those movements attested to a very real battle being waged for the heart and soul of what the American Century would become. Its apex was marked by one president's assassination and by the dreams of an inventor who wanted to revolutionize our mobility.

Given what has transpired over the last two years, it is haunting to read Teddy Roosevelt's letter to Congress and his personal thoughts on companies whose sole reason for existence is to make their owners wealthy without regard to the damage they were doing to society. One wonders what would have happened if today's Wall Street Masters of the Universe had been confronted in a White House with the same resolve that Roosevelt showed to J.P. Morgan.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:15 PM

October 7, 2010

Currency Wars

Alan Beattie:
If the world is on the brink of an out-and-out currency war, a variety of battalions has been out on manoeuvres in the past few weeks. The Bank of Japan, after six years off the battlefield, has launched a fusillade of intervention to hold down the yen in foreign exchange markets. Brazil used the guerrilla tactic of doubling taxes on capital inflows to stop the real surging. India and Thailand warned that they too might bring heavy ordnance into play.

The main combatants, the US and China, continued to exchange rhetorical salvos. Washington (and Brussels) identified undervalued currencies such as the renminbi as a prime cause of global macroeconomic imbalances. Beijing retorted that such aggression risked bringing mutual destruction upon the great economic powers.

On Monday Dominique Strauss-Kahn, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, voiced his concern. “There is clearly the idea beginning to circulate that currencies can be used as a policy weapon,” he said. “Translated into action, such an idea would represent a very serious risk to the global recovery.”
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:57 PM

October 5, 2010

Condoleezza Rice on German Reunification

In a SPIEGEL interview, former United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice discusses America's fight for German reunification, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's woes at the time, Chancellor Helmut Kohl's merits and the later mistakes of his successor, Gerhard Schröder.

SPIEGEL: Madame Secretary, when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, European nations like Great Britain and France were very worried about the prospect of German unification. America was the only country that didn't appear to be concerned. Why not?

Condoleezza Rice: The United States -- and President George H.W. Bush -- recognized that Germany had gone through a long democratic transition. It had been a good friend, it was a member of NATO. Any issues that had existed in 1945, it seemed perfectly reasonable to lay them to rest. For us, the question wasn't should Germany unify? It was how and under what circumstances? We had no concern about a resurgent Germany, unlike the British or French.

SPIEGEL: Because a unified German was in America's strategic interest?

Rice: If you were going to have a Europe that was whole and free, you couldn't have a Germany that was divided. So, with the possibility that Soviet power was going to be receding from Europe, it made perfectly good sense to try to achieve reunification on terms that nobody would have thought thinkable, even four or five years before.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:30 PM

October 2, 2010

Rise of the Online Autocrats

Evgeny Morozov
The tweets started arriving in August, and they did not mince words. One of the first accused the South Korean government of being "a prostitute of the United States." The Twitter account, under the name "uriminzok," or "our nation," seemed to be part of a sprawling North Korean digital operation that included a Facebook account (registered as a man interested in "meeting other men," but solely for "networking purposes") and a series of YouTube videos meant to celebrate the might of the North Korean military.

A spokesman for the North Korean government quickly denied any involvement with the Facebook and Twitter accounts, but he acknowledged that they were the work of government supporters living in China and Japan. The owner of the Facebook page (which the Palo Alto, Calif., company eventually deleted, citing violation of its terms of service) told a South Korean news agency that it was run by a Pyongyang-based publishing outlet affiliated with the government. Apparently, even the notoriously isolated rulers of North Korea know how to practice what the U.S. State Department calls "21st-century statecraft."
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:45 AM

October 1, 2010

Trains in America, and Elsewhere

The Economist
Fundamentally, without major government commitments to high-speed rail, America simply will not have a high-speed passenger rail network. This should probably be discomfiting, since every other economic superpower (the EU, Japan and China) does have a high-speed rail network. That makes America look a bit backward. The time horizon for building such a network is several decades, and it's interesting to think about what will happen in the middle decades of this century if air transport becomes unaffordable due to high fuel costs and America doesn't have an electric alternative for high-speed intercity transit.

Politically, I would describe what's going on here as a loss of confidence in the principle of government investment and planning, in the face of the demonstrated incapacity of the contemporary American government to do an adequate job of investment and planning. That incapacity is largely due to conservative political opposition to government intervention in the economy, either for ideological reasons or because it entails higher taxes or because it treads on the toes of vested business interests. But the fact that the American government can't get its act together to create a decent modern passenger rail network doesn't mean that governments in general are incapable of doing so, or that it isn't a good idea. Europe, Japan, and China seem perfectly capable of doing this job. A more narrow response to the rail problem, specifically, would be to encourage a BOT deal in which the government uses eminent domain to create the rail corridor and turns to the private sector to raise the capital, build it and perhaps run it. But, again, this doesn't question the need for the government to plan national infrastructure, which seems to me to be pretty hard to gainsay.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:44 AM

September 26, 2010

The Rural South

Elisabeth Biondi
For one weekend every year since 2003, tiny Concord, Georgia, population 336, becomes a photography mecca. “Slow Exposures” lures photographers, curators, and editors to look at pictures from the South, to discuss and debate them, and to exchange experiences, all thanks to the wonderful Chris Curry and Nancy McCrary, with the help of a staff of cheerful volunteers. Southern conviviality and hospitality create an ambiance that is most of all creative and communicative. Chris and Nancy created the festival as a photographic center representing the rural South. It is a non-profit organization, with proceeds going toward the preservation and restoration of historic buildings and land in Pike County, and attracts devotees and newcomers for a full slate of photographic events: a juried photography show, an all-day portfolio review, and exhibitions, all in beautifully restored local buildings. This year, John Bennette, a curator, collector, and champion of artists, conceived the wonderful exhibition “Southern Memories: Part I” for the festival, on view in the restored Whiskey Bonding Bar, in Molena. The show is John’s subjective vision of the South, shaped by his memories—he grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, and now lives in New York. Asking himself what is important in the South, he came up with four categories: the land, God, school, and Southern history; he believes that history—i.e., the Civil War—still drives Southern culture today. His show avoids the extremes of rich and poor and stays away from clichés. Many of the artists he included were discovered in earlier “Slow Exposure” shows, and were surprises to me.
Posted by James Zellmer at 7:44 PM

What was the last great football team that played the sport for love and camaraderie, not money or fame?…

John Michaud
It's late afternoon on a football Sunday in the Northeast, circa 1976. Outside, the sun is setting. Soon your mother will call you up for dinner. But, before then, you want more football. You flip over to NBC and there, in West Coast sunshine, is a team wearing silver and black, playing with a kind of controlled recklessness. Their logo features a pair of crossed swords and a man with an eyepatch; their coach is a shambling, wild-haired guy; their quarterback is nicknamed Snake; and their owner looks like he carries a stiletto in his jacket. You watch them play and before you know it, you've fallen in love with this team. Before you know it, you've abandoned your Redskins or Eagles or Jets. You're now an Oakland Raiders fan. If any of the above resonates for you, then you will want to read Peter Richmond's new book, “Badasses: The Legend of Snake, Foo, Dr. Death, and John Madden's Oakland Raiders,” which has just been published by Harper. Richmond, who is the author of numerous books on sports (as well as a Shouts & Murmurs piece about Ken Griffey, Jr. published in The New Yorker), kindly agreed to answer a few questions by e-mail.
Posted by James Zellmer at 7:40 PM

September 24, 2010

What Did We Do Pre-iPhone, Part III?

Brian S Hall certainly tells us about the post iPhone world.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:58 PM

Street Art

Posted by James Zellmer at 9:45 PM

A Beautiful Airport Sunset

Posted by James Zellmer at 9:36 PM

September 20, 2010


Posted by James Zellmer at 10:03 PM

Saturday Night: Madison

Posted by James Zellmer at 9:19 PM

Saturday Morning; State Street - Madison

Posted by James Zellmer at 8:03 PM

September 11, 2010

Football Saturday Style

Posted by James Zellmer at 9:16 PM

September 9, 2010

What Did We Do, Pre iPhone; Part II

I talked with an iPhone owner during a recent conference. While she was tapping away on email and a variety of apps, she mentioned "I don't know what I did before....".

Changing everything, including education.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:25 PM

US Tax Reform: How about this for a tax plan: cut most people’s taxes by half, eliminate the need to file returns, and provide the Treasury with a better way to reduce the deficit. Sound impossible? It’s not. Here’s how to get it done.

Keith Libbey & Evan Thomas:
Most Americans spend dozens, if not hundreds, of hours attempting, not always successfully, to do their tax returns. We spend almost $30 billion paying accountants to fill out the complicated forms, and by some estimates we devote $110 billion of our own labor just keeping track of all the necessary records and paperwork. Americans pay about 85 percent of the taxes they owe, better than in most countries, but the shortfall is still a drain on the Treasury (and the rich seem to find a way to avoid taxes legally). Is this costly, demoralizing struggle between the IRS and the rest of us really necessary?

The short answer is no. There is a way to relieve almost all Americans of the annual April 15 nightmare. What’s more, it’s a necessary first step toward a plan to cut the looming federal deficit. The time is right for thoroughgoing tax reform—a true clean slate—that will bring in more revenue while giving the public a greater sense of fairness. The reforms we propose will even allow most people to take home more pay than they do now.

The place to start is to cut almost everyone’s payroll and income taxes by half. Yes, you read that right. Cut most tax rates, which now run from 10 to 39 percent, by half. All individual taxes would be collected through company withholding taxes on compensation (salary, bonus, deferred payments, etc.) and investment income (dividends, interest, capital gains, rents) to individuals. The very rich—those making more than $2 million a year—would still pay a top tax rate of 30 percent on earned income. The rate on investment income would be 15 percent. The result: individuals would not have to file tax returns, most Americans would take home more pay than they do now, the tax base would be broadened, and the AMT—the alternative minimum tax, which sweeps up more taxpayers every year—would be eliminated.

Too good to be true? There’s no free lunch. The revenue lost to the government—roughly half of all personal federal taxes—has to come from someplace else. The best fix is to eliminate all deductions and exemptions for individual taxpayers—all those tax breaks that were intended to promote economic activity or serve worthy social goals but have ended up creating myriad unfair outcomes. It’s true that the wealthiest 1 percent currently pays about 18 percent of all taxes. Still, thanks to clever tax dodges, the top 400 income earners pay an average tax rate of 16.6 percent; megabillionaire Warren Buffett notes that his secretary pays a higher tax rate than he does.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:58 AM

September 8, 2010

Digital Maoism

The Economist:
The Economist:
FROM “Wikinomics” to “Cognitive Surplus” to “Crowdsourcing”, there is no shortage of books lauding the “Web 2.0” era and celebrating the online collaboration, interaction and sharing that it makes possible. Today anyone can publish a blog or put a video on YouTube, and thousands of online volunteers can collectively produce an operating system like Linux or an encyclopedia like Wikipedia. Isn’t that great?

No, says Jaron Lanier, a technologist, musician and polymath who is best known for his pioneering work in the field of virtual reality. His book, “You Are Not A Gadget: A Manifesto”, published earlier this year, is a provocative attack on many of the internet’s sacred cows. Mr Lanier lays into the Web 2.0 culture, arguing that what passes for creativity today is really just endlessly rehashed content and that the “fake friendship” of social networks “is just bait laid by the lords of the clouds to lure hypothetical advertisers”. For Mr Lanier there is no wisdom of crowds, only a cruel mob. “Anonymous blog comments, vapid video pranks and lightweight mash-ups may seem trivial and harmless,” he writes, “but as a whole, this widespread practice of fragmentary, impersonal communication has demeaned personal interaction.”

If this criticism of Google, Facebook, Twitter and Wikipedia had come from an outsider—a dyed-in-the-wool technophobe—then nobody would have paid much attention. But Mr Lanier’s denunciation of internet groupthink as “digital Maoism” carries more weight because of his career at technology’s cutting edge.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:07 AM

September 3, 2010

The enduring solitude of combat vets

Retired Army Special Forces Sgt. Maj. Alan Farrell
Retired Army Special Forces Sgt. Maj. Alan Farrell is one of the more interesting people in this country nowadays, a decorated veteran of the Vietnam War who teaches French at VMI, reviews films and writes poetry. Just your typical sergeant major/brigadier general with a Ph.D. in French and a fistful of other degrees.

This is a speech that he gave to vets at the Harvard Business School last Veterans' Day. I know it is long but a lot of you can't go outside anyway because of the hurricane:


"Ladies and Gentlemens:

Kurt Vonnegut -- Corporal Vonnegut -- famously told an assembly like this one that his wife had begged him to "bring light into their tunnels" that night. "Can't do that," said Vonnegut, since, according to him, the audience would at once sense his duplicity, his mendacity, his insincerity... and have yet another reason for despair. I'll not likely have much light to bring into any tunnels this night, either.

The remarks I'm about to make to you I've made before... in essence at least. I dare to make them again because other veterans seem to approve. I speak mostly to veterans. I don't have much to say to them, the others, civilians, real people. These remarks, I offer you for the reaction I got from one of them, though, a prison shrink. I speak in prisons a lot. Because some of our buddies wind up in there. Because their service was a Golden Moment in a life gone sour. Because... because no one else will.
Posted by James Zellmer at 3:35 PM

September 1, 2010

Sebastiaan de Rode Aeolus Cello Quartet 21 August 2010

Sebastiaan de Rode Aeolus Cello Quartet 21 August 2010 from Kate Zellmer.

Posted by James Zellmer at 10:07 PM

August 31, 2010

Relocated Designer Labels

Henny Sender and Vanessa Friedman

Just weeks after Mr Obama was inaugurated wearing a Hickey Freeman suit, HMX, the Chicago-based owner of that brand as well as Hart Schaffner Marx among others, filed for bankruptcy protection. After an auction in August last year, Mumbai-based SKNL became the latest Asian group to buy a collection of premier western fashion brands.

In doing so, it joined Megha Mittal, of the Indian Mittal steel dynasty, who last year bought the German luxury brand Escada; Li & Fung of Hong Kong, which two years ago snapped up Hardy Amies, couturier to Britain's royal family; and Hong Kong-based S.C. Fang & Sons, which bought Pringle of Scotland in 2000.

From individual consumers of luxury goods, the Chinese and Indians have become consumers of luxury companies, in a shift that has far-reaching implications for the $80bn (€63bn, £52bn) a year industry. Many of the recent acquisitions have been driven by a wish to raise production standards in Asia and, in the long term, change a tenet of the luxury industry: the importance of production in "country of origin". The notion that to merit its price tag, a luxury item must be made in the country where it is designed and where its label was born is on the wane.

Posted by jimz at 10:08 PM

A Conversation with Jay Rosen on "The Problem With News Media in America Today"

The Economist
What is the biggest problem with the news media in America today?

Mr Rosen: The cost of changing settled routines seems too high, but the cost of not changing is, in the long term, even higher. A good example is the predicament of the newspaper press: the print edition provides most of the revenues, but it cannot provide a future. I know of no evidence to show that young people are picking up the print habit. So if the cost of abandoning print is too high, the cost of sticking with it may be even higher, though slower to reveal itself. That's a problem.

Another example is the decline of trust. In the mid-1970s over 70% of Americans told Gallup they had a great deal or fair amount of confidence in the press. Today: 47%. Clearly, something isn't working. But revisions to the code of conduct that has led to this decline would be seen by most journalists as increasing the risk of mistrust. I've tried to argue that the View from Nowhere—also called objectivity—should be replaced by "here's where we're coming from." That strikes most people in the American press as dangerous and unworkable. But the current course is unsustainable: trust continues to decline, with a big acceleration after 2003. When I mention this to journalists, they say: "Trust in all big institutions has declined, Jay." Which is true (except for the military). But is that really an answer? You're supposed to be the watchdogs over dubious actors. Why aren't you an exception?

I could go on, but I think you see the pattern. Change is too expensive; the status quo is unsustainable.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:08 AM

August 29, 2010

A Tale of Two Cities

Ed Wallace
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness ..."
-- Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities, 1859

For the past 120 days I have pored over economic reports, commerce data, home sales across America, stats on inflationary trends and sales tax reports by state (when they can be found). I've sorted the data by date published, then prioritized it by importance to the economy, and looked for correlations positive or negative. But no matter how many times I read over the data, I can come to only one solid conclusion: We have now finished changing into a two-tiered economy.

This change didn't start with the downturn of the past two and a half years; instead, the completion of our segregation into two financial classes is what directly caused the downturn. No longer is the belief that "there's the 20 percent of the population that live in poverty and then there's the rest" a comfortably distant concept.

The discomfort line now divides those who "feel afraid" that they live in poverty-like circumstances, or soon will - even if they are gainfully employed - from "the rest." And instead of a 20/80 split, have-nots to haves, today it may well be 60/40.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:53 AM

A Four Wheeled Xanax....

Dan Neil
The 2011 Nissan Leaf is the world's first mass-market all-electric automobile, to be built in the hundreds of thousands globally/annually by Nissan beginning this winter. And may I say, thank God and Carlos Ghosn, chief executive of Nissan. Not so much a game changer as a game starter, the Leaf is a five-seat, five-door passenger EV sedan sold from California to Maine, with a nice, round 100-mile estimated range; 0-60 mph acceleration of around 10 seconds; and a top speed of 90 mph. The U.S. price is $32,780 (not counting the $7,500 federal tax credit for EVs) and includes a host of value-added, segment-competitive features, such as Bluetooth, navigation, 16-inch alloy wheels. Such a car would have been science fiction five years ago.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:51 AM

August 24, 2010

A Bit of Humanity on the Tarmac

Air travel is no picnic, though it is possible to see humanity every now and then.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:13 PM

What Did We Do Pre-iPhone?

Posted by James Zellmer at 9:10 PM

Lucky Boy Burgers: A Step Back in Time....

I enjoyed a decent veggie burger at Lucky Boy, a vintage stop in Pasadena, CA.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:59 PM

August 23, 2010

Cold War History

The Nuclear Museum.

Posted by James Zellmer at 8:55 PM

Changing Times, From this.....

to this....

Posted by James Zellmer at 8:46 PM

Airplane at 30! The ride of their lives Is Airplane! the funniest film ever? John Patterson talks to the three nobodies from Milwaukee whose movie sparked a comedy

John Patterson:
When David Zucker was a schoolkid in Milwaukee in the 1960s, one of his teachers made a prediction. "She said to me once, when I was fooling around in class, 'Zucker, I know one day I'll be paying good money to see you make me laugh, but right now, get your ass back in that chair and crack that book!'"

She was right. This badly behaved schoolkid would go on to reinvent US screen comedy with a movie called Airplane!, which he co-directed and co-wrote. Today, speaking in Manhattan, David is feeling a little rough. He was out the night before, it turns out, celebrating the film's 30th anniversary with the movie's co-creators, his younger brother Jerry and their lifelong friend Jim Abrahams. "I just couldn't get out of bed this morning," he says.

Well may they celebrate. Airplane! made $83m on its first release in 1980 (on an outlay of a mere $3.5m), and launched an entire comedy franchise, from the Police Squad TV shows to the Naked Gun movies they grew into – reconfiguring, in the process, one-time 1950s romantic lead Leslie Nielsen into a comic hero. Somewhere along the way, Zucker, Abrahams and Zucker (ZAZ for short) also inspired Saturday Night Live, launched another comedy titan of the 1980s, John Landis, and even gave the Farrelly brothers their big writing break.
Posted by James Zellmer at 1:29 PM

August 20, 2010

Predatory Habits How Wall Street Transformed Work in America

Etay Zwick
More than a century ago, Thorstein Veblen—American economist, sociologist and social critic—warned that the United States had developed a bizarre and debilitating network of social habits and economic institutions. Ascendant financial practices benefited a limited group at the expense of the greater society; yet paradoxically Americans deemed these practices necessary, even commendable. Far from lambasting the financiers plundering the nation’s resources, we lauded them as the finest members of society. Their instincts, wisdom and savoir faire were idealized, their avarice and chicanery promoted under the banners of patriotism and virtue.

Veblen, an inveterate reader of ethnographies, noticed a historical pattern that could illuminate America’s peculiar relationship with its economic institutions. Societies everywhere fall between two extremes. First, there are societies in which every person works, and no one is demeaned by his or her toil. In these societies, individuals pride themselves on their workmanship, and they exhibit a natural concern for the welfare of their entire community. As examples of such “productive” societies, Veblen mentions Native Americans, the Ainus of Japan, the Todas of the Nilgiri hills and the bushmen of Australia. Second, there are “barbarian” societies, in which a single dominant class (usually of warriors) seizes the wealth and produce of others through force or fraud—think ancient Vikings, Japanese shoguns and Polynesian tribesmen. Farmers labor for their livelihood and warriors expropriate the fruits of that labor. Exploitative elites take no part in the actual production of wealth; they live off the toil of others. Yet far from being judged criminal or indolent, they are revered by the rest of the community. In barbarian societies, nothing is as manly, as venerated, as envied, as the lives of warriors. Their every trait—their predatory practices, their dress, their sport, their gait, their speech—is held in high esteem by all. Our world falls into the latter form. There remains a class that pillages, seizes and exploits in broad daylight—and with our envious approval. Who are the barbarian warriors today? According to Veblen, the modern barbarians live on Wall Street. They are the financiers summarily praised for their versatility, intelligence and courage in the face of an increasingly mysterious economy. Today a growing number of Americans feel at risk of economic despair; in a world of unsatisfying professional options and constant financial insecurity, the image of Wall Street life offers a sort of relief. It symbolizes the success possible in the modern world.
Posted by James Zellmer at 7:34 PM

Truth and An Open Society

Ed Wallace
In order to be for a democracy, or in our case, a functioning Federal Republic, one has to have an informed electorate. Of course, that is infinitely more difficult than one might think. For even when the raw truth of a story comes to light from unimpeachable sources, it is frightening how the vested interests today will immediately attack the information and the source involved - in order to lessen the impact of the truth on the public at large - with frightening speed.

As mentioned in this column, I seem to spend an inordinate amount of time refuting e-mails in which there is no truth to the claim being made, whether it's about the Auto Task Force, why the financial system melted down or any other major hot-button issue. On the other hand, I get such e-mailings far more often than I do links to a legitimate news story. Moreover, all too often the e-mail's forwarder, who believes completely in the e-mail no matter how outrageous the claims made in it, often point out to me that they no longer read newspapers because of "known" bias.

That is scary. People will trust an unknown and angry blogger - whose bias screams through his or her words, and who knowingly and intentionally misleads the reader - before they'll trust verifiable facts in the media.
Posted by James Zellmer at 5:17 PM

August 15, 2010

The Hardy Gallery

The Hardy Gallery
Posted by James Zellmer at 4:43 PM

Door County Barn

Posted by James Zellmer at 4:40 PM

Google On the Future. Will It All Be Good In the Googlesphere?

Professor Sabena
The nice people of Rupert's world sat down with Google head man - Eric Schmidt. The Wall Street Journal team peppered Eric with lots of interesting questions. Some of his answers would make the usual PRHHM (Public Relations hacks handlers and minders) squirm.

In the Googlesphere it has become clear that all information should be held sacred as long as Google has a copy and is in charge of what gets shown and not shown. As Schmidt noted in the Techonomy conference on August 4, 2010 , all information should be subject to "much greater transparency and no anonymity." ... because he assumes that (Google) technology is ultimately good (as opposed to evil). I think that makes me very nervous. And thank you, I vote for my Government which I think is called a democracy. Going back to the WSJ article, Schmidt continues - "Most people..... They want Google to tell them what they should be doing next."

In general I believe that personalization is part of the mix. My view is that 'context' is better term than 'personalization'. I don't think that everything needs to be/should be uniquely or personalized. That is not how we are in our work and personal lives. To assume that this is the case is blatantly arrogant in my view. What happens if you get this wrong? And yes people who should know better do get these sort of things wrong - frequently. Just look at credit reports. But Google doesn't seem to want to think about that because.... Mr. Schmidt is a believer in targeted advertising because, simply, he's a believer in targeted everything: "The power of individual targeting—the technology will be so good it will be very hard for people to watch or consume something that has not in some sense been tailored for them." ....This is a direct quote from the WSJ. Too bad that Big Brother Google will be the arbiter or this and thence directly or indirectly control and influence our tastes.
Posted by James Zellmer at 4:04 PM

My death is so full of life that we’re having scheduling problems

Chris Gulker:

So we’re at that stage of life that many would, and have, described as “dying.” True enough, we’re noticing some of the icky stuff – creeping paralysis and numbness on the left side, and the weakness and reduced mobility that go with it. We have less stamina, particularly late in the day and there’s creeping fatigue – I’m napping and sleeping more. Things I used to do relatively easily are getting harder – dressing, getting in and out of cars, walking, especially late in the day.

That I’m able to do these things at all at this point in the progression of my disease has a lot to do with my “Heidi muscles,” the legacy of three years with trainer and rehab specialist Heidi Engel. She’ll be the topic of a post in the very near future, complete with her exercise regimen for dying people (yes, it makes sense!).

Posted by jimz at 9:21 AM

August 8, 2010

Community Yoga

Posted by James Zellmer at 5:10 PM

The End of the Guidebook

Tom Robbins:
I am in Tate Modern with no Baedeker. Nor Lonely Planet, Rough Guide, Time Out or any other type of guidebook. For Lucy Honeychurch, heroine of EM Forster’s Room with a View, this would be a desperate situation. Without a guidebook in Florence’s Santa Croce, she is bereft, close to tears, unsure what she should be looking at, unable to recall any of the building’s history and upset at having no one to tell her which of the sculptures and frescoes is most beautiful.

I, however, am supremely confident. I may not have a guidebook but I am equipped with “Google Goggles”, and thus have at my fingertips more information than exists in any guidebook ever written – perhaps more even than the combined wisdom of all guidebooks ever written.

Disappointingly, Google Goggles are not physical goggles, or glasses of any kind, but an app that will soon become available for iPhones and already works with Android smartphones. Put simply, whereas Google lets you search the internet using keywords, this allows you to search with an image. You use the phone’s camera to take a photo of something – a church, a monument, a painting or a sculpture – then wait a few seconds for the image-recognition software to scan it, before being offered a full range of information about it. The implications for travel are huge.
Posted by James Zellmer at 5:02 PM

August 5, 2010

Portland Cello Project

The fabulous Portland Cello Project performed in Madison for the first time this week at the High Noon Saloon. More photos, here.

A great evening at a bargain price, $10 per ticket. A brief iPhone 4 video is here.

Posted by James Zellmer at 8:30 AM

July 30, 2010

The GM $50,000,000,000 Taxpayer Bailout and The $41,000 Volt

Edward Niedermeyer:
By taking a loss on the first several years of Prius production, Toyota was able to hold its price steady, and then sell the gas-sippers in huge numbers when oil prices soared. Today a Prius costs roughly the same in inflation-adjusted dollars as those 1997 models did, and it has become the best-selling Toyota in the United States after the evergreen Camry and Corolla.

Instead of following Toyota’s model, G.M. decided to make the Volt more affordable by offering a $350-a-month lease over 36 months. But that offer allows only 12,000 miles per year, or about 33 miles per day. Assuming you charged your Volt every evening, giving you 40 miles of battery power, and wanted to keep below the mileage limit, you would rarely use its expensive range-extending gas engine. No wonder the Volt’s main competition, the Nissan Leaf, forgoes the additional combustion engine — and ends up costing $8,000 less as a result.

In the industry, some suspect that G.M. and the Obama administration decided against selling the Volt at a loss because they want the company to appear profitable before its long-awaited initial stock offering, which is likely to take place next month. For taxpayers, that approach might have made sense if the government planned on selling its entire 61 percent stake in G.M. But the administration has said it will sell only enough equity in the public offering to relinquish its controlling stake in G.M. Thus the government will remain exposed to the company’s (and the Volt’s) long-term fate.
Posted by James Zellmer at 11:59 AM

July 28, 2010

On Blog Comments

A More Intelligent Life:

A colleague over at Democracy in America (DiA), The Economist's blog about American politics, has written a very interesting post on the nature of online commenters. While the formality of composing a letter to the editor continues to generate considered and often polite prose by even the most aggrieved readers, the immediacy and anonymity of online commenting seems to encourage a tendency to insult and attack. "Faceless communication leads to disinhibition, whether it's online, in a car or on the phone with a customer-service representative... Psychologists even have a name for the online phenomenon: 'online disinhibition effect'."

Publishers keen on a solution to nasty commenters will follow what happens at the Buffalo News. The paper has just proposed requiring readers to supply accurate identification if they want to weigh in, which is promising. (As one of the 65 commenters on the DiA post wrote, "I used to think anonymity was a good thing... However, over time my view has changed to the opposite. For every unique voice, there are thousands of mindless, thuggish screams.")

Posted by James Zellmer at 8:08 AM

July 27, 2010

What should medicine do when it can’t save your life?

Atul Gawande:
Modern medicine is good at staving off death with aggressive interventions—and bad at knowing when to focus, instead, on improving the days that terminal patients have left.

Sara Thomas Monopoli was pregnant with her first child when her doctors learned that she was going to die. It started with a cough and a pain in her back. Then a chest X-ray showed that her left lung had collapsed, and her chest was filled with fluid. A sample of the fluid was drawn off with a long needle and sent for testing. Instead of an infection, as everyone had expected, it was lung cancer, and it had already spread to the lining of her chest. Her pregnancy was thirty-nine weeks along, and the obstetrician who had ordered the test broke the news to her as she sat with her husband and her parents. The obstetrician didn’t get into the prognosis—she would bring in an oncologist for that—but Sara was stunned. Her mother, who had lost her best friend to lung cancer, began crying.

The doctors wanted to start treatment right away, and that meant inducing labor to get the baby out. For the moment, though, Sara and her husband, Rich, sat by themselves on a quiet terrace off the labor floor. It was a warm Monday in June, 2007. She took Rich’s hands, and they tried to absorb what they had heard. Monopoli was thirty-four. She had never smoked, or lived with anyone who had. She exercised. She ate well. The diagnosis was bewildering. “This is going to be O.K.,” Rich told her. “We’re going to work through this. It’s going to be hard, yes. But we’ll figure it out. We can find the right treatment.” For the moment, though, they had a baby to think about.
Posted by James Zellmer at 11:07 AM

July 26, 2010

A Few More Weekend Photos

Posted by James Zellmer at 7:43 PM

Himal Chuli Dinner - The "Combination Plate"

Very good and a great value. Isthmus on Himal Chuli.
Posted by James Zellmer at 7:37 PM

July 11, 2010

A Few Photos

I believe this is a rather rare Shelby Cobra.

A sign of the times: "We will be glad to serve you when you are off your cell phone".


A squirrel seeking dinner

Malt O-Meal

Cooling off...

Dinner at Sea Salt Minneapolis

Art Fair on the Square Madison

Posted by James Zellmer at 8:39 PM

July 4, 2010

The Energy Future

Ed Wallace:
The winter of 1979 in southern California reminded people why they had migrated to LA over the decades. The daytime temperatures were in the mid-70s, and the LA basin's summer smog had disappeared, revealing the snowcapped San Gabriel Mountains.

At Neonex Leisure that day, we were brainstorming the recreational vehicle of the future. At the time we built America's largest RV, the Arctic Sun, a combination van/pickup truck pulling a 55-foot-long 5th-wheel trailer. Now Neonex Canada had put our California division in charge of designing the company's next Class A Motorhome.

Each of the other five U.S. managers gave their impressions of the future of the recreational vehicle, disclosing visions of startling grandeur. I was more flippant: "I bet it's a Honda with a Coleman tent." Three months later the Second Energy Crisis hit. We shut down our RV plant in two days flat, and I was back in Texas in five.

My point is that, if you had asked every energy or automotive issues guru what the future would hold for automobiles just before the winter of 1978 - 79, the answer would have been completely different if you'd asked them the same thing just 12 months later. That's what an energy crisis can do.

My joke about a Honda with a Coleman tent was weirdly prophetic. But my fellow managers' visions of million-dollar motorhomes would also turn out to be spot on -- 20 years later.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:47 PM

Michael Hastings of Rolling Stone on the Story that Brought Down Gen. McChrystal and Exposed Widening Disputes Behind the U.S. Debacle in Afghanistan

Democracy Now:
In a rare extended interview, we speak to Michael Hastings, whose article in Rolling Stone magazine led to the firing of General Stanley McChrystal. Hastings’ piece quoted McChrystal and his aides making disparaging remarks about top administration officials, and exposed long-standing disagreements between civilian and military officials over the conduct of the war. The Senate confirmed General David Petraues as McChrystal’s replacement on Wednesday, one day after McChrystal announced his retirement from the military on Tuesday after a 34-year career.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:18 PM

Lunch with Luca Cordero di Montezemolo

Richard Milne:
Screaming down the home straight of Ferrari’s test track at 200kmph an hour in a classic red 458 Italia, I suddenly don’t feel like lunch. The Fiorano track near Bologna in central Italy is, at 3km, not long. But, partly in an attempt to impress the test driver next to me with some fast cornering, I feel as if I have left part of my stomach on one of its hairpin bends. Matters fail to improve as, in heavy fog untypical of early summer, I take the car off the track and, rather more slowly, on to the winding roads of the Apennines, heading for Ferrari HQ in nearby Maranello.

I am still spinning slightly when we pull into the car park just before the company’s elegant and aristocratic chairman, Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, who somewhat incongruously arrives in a small Fiat. He explains that his journey from Rome has been a nightmare as fog diverted his helicopter and forced him to take trains and cars – hence the Fiat. Nevertheless he appears in characteristically enthusiastic mood. “I’ve just been to a conference at the Vatican [on the financial crisis]. Fantastic,” he explains. “Fantastic” is a word Montezemolo uses a lot. Ferrari is “fantastic”, Italian food is “fantastic”, his new high-speed train company, NTV, is “fantastic”, as is the 458 Italia I have been driving.

On my way out he hands me a white postcard. “This is what I give to all new employees at Ferrari,” he says. Looking at it in a Ferrari 599 on the way back to Milan, it looks to me like the perfect credo for Montezemolo. It starts: “The real secret of success is enthusiasm. You can do anything if you have enthusiasm ... With it there is accomplishment. Without it there are only alibis.”
Clusty Search: Luca Cordero di Montezemolo
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:28 AM

July 3, 2010

A Beautiful Saturday

Posted by James Zellmer at 8:28 PM

June 28, 2010

Three privacy initiatives from the Office of Management and Budget The U.S. government has a new take on federated identity, storage and social networks.

Andy Oram:
Last Friday was a scramble for government security personnel and independent privacy advocates, and should also have stood out to anyone concerned with the growth of online commerce, civic action, and social networking. The U.S. government's Office of Management and Budget, which is the locus of President Obama's drive toward transparency and open government, popped out three major initiatives that combine to potentially change the landscape for online identity and privacy, not only within government but across the Internet.

In this blog I'll summarize the impacts of all three documents, as well as the next steps that I see necessary in these areas. The documents (all distributed as PDFs, which is not the easiest format to draw commentary) are:
  • A discussion draft of the National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace. Comments can be viewed and entered on a feedback site.
  • An OMB Memorandum on Guidance for Online Use of Web Measurement and Customization Technologies.
  • An OMB Memorandum on Guidance for Agency Use of Third-Party Websites and Applications.
These documents are not long, but the complexity of the policy areas they address ensure that no blog could cover everything of importance, nor could a single commentator like me provide a well-rounded view. I'll focus on the changes they make to policies that are known to require change, with a "job well done" pat on the back. In highlighting gaps and omissions, I'll deliberately swim around the shoals that others have loudly pointed to already, focusing instead on problems that I believe deserve more attention.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:43 PM

Vintage Trek Bike

Posted by James Zellmer at 10:39 PM

June 26, 2010

Madison Saturday Zeitgeist....

Posted by James Zellmer at 9:54 PM

"Forgotten Places" - Native American Mounds at Madison's Elmside Park

iPhone / iPad and iPod users click here.

Worldwide Panorama is collecting panoramic scenes with the theme "Forgotten Places". Nancy suggested Madison's Elmside Park. Here it is.

From Native American Mounds in Madison and Dane County (A Madison Heritage Publication):
At the corner of Lakeland Avenue and Maple Avenue overlooking Lake Monona are two well-preserved Late Woodland animal effigies now referred to as a lynx and a bear. These mounds were originally part of a dense and extensive cluster of mounds that extended along the north shore of Lake Monona. Once part of the Simeon Mills farm, this site was still a favored Winnebago campground as late as the late 19th century. Most of the mound cluster, which included a bird effigy with a reported wingspan of 568 feet, was destroyed by turn-of-the-century residential development. Nearby, the beautiful sculpture, entitled "Let the Great Spirits Soar," was carved by Harry Whitehorse, a Winnebago whose ancestors have lived in the Four Lakes area for hundreds of years. The sculpture was carved from a storm-damaged hackberry tree and honors his Indian ancestors and the effigy mound builders.
Posted by James Zellmer at 5:42 PM

June 22, 2010

"The Time We Have is Growing Short"

Paul Volcker:
If we need any further illustration of the potential threats to our own economy from uncontrolled borrowing, we have only to look to the struggle to maintain the common European currency, to rebalance the European economy, and to sustain the political cohesion of Europe. Amounts approaching a trillion dollars have been marshaled from national and international resources to deal with those challenges. Financing can buy time, but not indefinite time. The underlying hard fiscal and economic adjustments are necessary.

As we look to that European experience, let’s consider our own situation. We are not a small country highly vulnerable to speculative attack. In an uncertain world, our currency and credit are well established. But there are serious questions, most immediately about the sustainability of our commitment to growing entitlement programs. Looking only a little further ahead, there are even larger questions of critical importance for those of less advanced age than I. The need to achieve a consensus for effective action against global warming, for energy independence, and for protecting the environment is not going to go away. Are we really prepared to meet those problems, and the related fiscal implications? If not, today’s concerns may soon become tomorrow’s existential crises.

I referred at the start of these remarks to my sense five years ago of intractable problems, resisting solutions. Little has happened to allay my concerns. But, of course, it is not true that our economic problems are intractable beyond our ability to react, to make the necessary adjustments to more fully realize the enormous potential for improving our well-being. Permit me a note of optimism.

A few days ago, I spent a little time in Ireland. It’s a small country, with few resources and, to put it mildly, a troubled history. In the last twenty years, it took a great leap forward, escaping from its economic lethargy and its internal conflicts. Responding to the potential of free and open markets and the stable European currency, standards of living have bounded higher, close to the general European level. Instead of emigration, there has been an influx of workers from abroad.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:49 AM

June 19, 2010

Madison Farmer's Market Bounty

A beautiful day after a rainy/stormy week. Much to be thankful for.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:46 PM

Incapable of Rational Thought

Ed Wallace:
It started with an email sent to the Chevrolet employees at their Detroit headquarters and warned them not to use the word Chevy in lieu of the far more formal Chevrolet. GM PR people added that there was a plastic jar put into the hallway there so that each time someone heard another use the now "forbidden" word, they would deposit money as a personal penance. This decision, they said, was simply protecting the brand image of Chevrolet, much the way Coke or Apple protected its image. The memo was signed by the President of Chevrolet and GM's Vice President for Marketing.

Apparently at Ed Whitacre's new GM, morons have retaken the institution.

Are they not aware that "Chevy" has been an affectionate nickname for Chevrolet for at least 80 years and is not likely to go away? Did these executives not know that "Coke" is to "Coca-Cola" what "Chevy" is to "Chevrolet"?

People don't call their computers "Apple" -- "Mac" being to "Macintosh" what "Chevy" is to "Chevrolet" -- and certainly nobody calls anything "my Apple iPod."
Posted by James Zellmer at 3:27 PM

June 14, 2010

America’s Car-Mart: Bentonville’s Secret Sauce Makers

The Financial Investigator: Most every day at 802 Southeast Plaza Avenue in Bentonville, Arkansas appears to be a pretty good one.

That’s because that address houses the headquarters of Americas Car-Mart, an auto retailer that has found the sweet spot, the intersection where a corporation’s business model meets consumer demand and the net income flows like cool, clear water.

Focusing exclusively on the sub-prime auto-buyer, their clean and efficiently-organized used-car lots throughout the south-central and southwest regions offer a stark contrast to the traditionally dodgy experience of buying a used-car; no one at any Americas Car-Mart locale is likely to be mistaken for the Kurt Russell character in Used Cars. The staff is friendly and well-turned out, there is a wide variety of cars, trucks and vans to choose from, the business offices are clean and air-conditioned and, perhaps best of all, the word “no” just doesn’t appear to be used all that often.

From an analytical standpoint, the business model appears to be simplicity itself.
Posted by James Zellmer at 1:01 PM

June 6, 2010

Wall Street's War

Matt Taibbi:
Congress looked serious about finance reform – until America's biggest banks unleashed an army of 2,000 paid lobbyists.

t's early May in Washington, and something very weird is in the air. As Chris Dodd, Harry Reid and the rest of the compulsive dealmakers in the Senate barrel toward the finish line of the Restoring American Financial Stability Act – the massive, year-in-the-making effort to clean up the Wall Street crime swamp – word starts to spread on Capitol Hill that somebody forgot to kill the important reforms in the bill. As of the first week in May, the legislation still contains aggressive measures that could cost once- indomitable behemoths like Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan Chase tens of billions of dollars. Somehow, the bill has escaped the usual Senate-whorehouse orgy of mutual back-scratching, fine-print compromises and freeway-wide loopholes that screw any chance of meaningful change.

The real shocker is a thing known among Senate insiders as "716." This section of an amendment would force America's banking giants to either forgo their access to the public teat they receive through the Federal Reserve's discount window, or give up the insanely risky, casino-style bets they've been making on derivatives. That means no more pawning off predatory interest-rate swaps on suckers in Greece, no more gathering balls of subprime shit into incomprehensible debt deals, no more getting idiot bookies like AIG to wrap the crappy mortgages in phony insurance. In short, 716 would take a chain saw to one of Wall Street's most lucrative profit centers: Five of America's biggest banks (Goldman, JP Morgan, Bank of America, Morgan Stanley and Citigroup) raked in some $30 billion in over-the-counter derivatives last year. By some estimates, more than half of JP Morgan's trading revenue between 2006 and 2008 came from such derivatives. If 716 goes through, it would be a veritable Hiroshima to the era of greed.
Posted by James Zellmer at 3:16 PM

Vintage VW Bus Signage

Delicious Industries:

Posted by James Zellmer at 3:14 PM

Group cites study in push for Google antitrust case

Consumer Watchdog continues to push its case that Google Inc.'s behavior necessitates antitrust scrutiny, releasing a report that alleges that the company is abusing its dominance in online search to direct users to its own services.

The study cites online traffic data that the Santa Monica group claims show the Mountain View Internet giant seized large portions of market share in areas like online maps, video and comparison shopping after its search engine began highlighting links to its products in results.

Google called the report's methodology and premise flawed and said its practices are designed to benefit users.
Posted by James Zellmer at 3:10 PM

Ukraine Agriculture: Investment climate will determine yield

Amid all the doom and gloom, one sector in the country’s economy has a bright future and promises high yields.

Despite a deep recession that sent gross domestic product plunging 15 per cent last year, some budding domestic agribusinesses reported double-digit growth.

Agriculture was one of the few economic sectors to grow, albeit a small 0.2 per cent rise.

But to see the real potential, one must look further ahead. Global demand for food is expected to surge in coming decades. And Ukraine is well positioned to benefit.

With its rich black soil, favourable climate and proximity to markets, experts say the country could go far beyond regaining its position as the breadbasket of Europe.

“Ukraine is already among the top five grain exporters in the world,” says Andriy Yarmak, an agribusiness expert. “With investment, it could double its recent annual harvests and “become one of the top exporters of meat in about 10-15 years”.
Posted by James Zellmer at 2:51 PM

May 31, 2010

The Juice Queue

Posted by James Zellmer at 7:15 PM

Google has mapped every WiFi network in Britain

Duncan Gardham:
Google has mapped every wireless network in Britain in order to use the information for commercial purposes, it has emerged.

Every WiFi wireless router – the device that links most computer owners to the internet - in every home has been entered into a Google database.

The information was collected by radio aerials on their Street View cars, which have now photographed almost every home in the country.

The data is then used on Google's Maps for Mobile application to locate mobile phones such as iPhones in order for users to access information relevant to the area such as restaurants, cinemas, theatres, shops and hotels.

The project had remained secret until an inquiry in Germany earlier this month in which Google was forced to admit that it “mistakenly” downloaded emails and other data from unsecured wireless networks where they we
Posted by James Zellmer at 6:40 PM

May 29, 2010

Feingold for Senate Campaign @ the Madison Farmer's Market

I've appreciated a number of Russ's votes, but found his recent vote to kill the Washington, DC voucher program unpalatable. No K-12 program is perfect, but given the very challenging District K-12 climate, it is difficult to see the status quo improving on its own.

Russ Feingold will likely face Republican Ron Johnson this fall.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:18 PM

A "Kodak Moment" at the Madison Farmer's Market

Posted by James Zellmer at 9:12 PM

Madison Farmers Market Crowd on a Beautiful Saturday

Posted by James Zellmer at 8:37 PM

May 28, 2010

The Tragic Race to be First to the South Pole

Betsy Mason:
In 1910, two men set out to be the first to reach the South Pole in a race that would be both heroic and tragic. The men had different reasons for their journeys, took different routes and made different decisions that would ultimately seal their respective fates, and those of their teams.

The American Museum of Natural History delves into this storied event to bring visitors as close as possible to this historic event and the people involved in their new exhibit, “Race to the End of the Earth,” starting May 29. Artifacts, photographs, replicas and models give life to the two rivals and their treacherous 1,800-mile marches to the center of Antarctica.

Robert Falcon Scott set off from Wales on July 15, 1910 on what was originally intended to be a primarily scientific expedition, but which quickly morphed into a quest to make history on behalf of the British Empire.

Meanwhile, Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, whose plan to reach the North Pole first had been thwarted by both Frederik Cook and Robert Peary, had secretly turned his sights on the South Pole. He left Oslo in June 3, 1910 with the intent of beating Scott to his goal.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:35 PM

May 25, 2010

"Stinky Cheese" New York City

Posted by James Zellmer at 8:44 PM

May 19, 2010

The fate of a generation of workers: Foxconn undercover fully translated

Richard Lai: I know of two groups of young people.

One group consists of university students like myself, who live in ivory towers and kept company by libraries and lake views. The other group works alongside steel machineries and large containers, all inside a factory of high-precision manufacturing environment. These guys always address their seniors as "laoban" (boss), and call their own colleagues -- regardless of familiarity -- the rude "diaomao" (pubic hair) in loud.

After going undercover in Foxconn for 28 days, I came back out. I've been trying to tie the two pictures together. But it's very difficult. Even with people living in these two places sharing the same age, the same youth dream.

My undercover was part of Southern Weekend's investigation on the then six Foxconn suicides. We soon found out that most of Southern Weekend's reporters were rejected due to age -- Foxconn only recruits people around the age of 20. In comparison, being just under 23 years old, I was quickly brought into Foxconn.

The 28-day undercover work made a strong impact on me. It wasn't about finding out what they died for, but rather to learn how they lived.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:09 PM

May 12, 2010

Murder City: Ciudad Juarez and the Global Economy's New Killing Fields

Oscar Villalon:
It's hard to wrap your brain around the numbers, to make sense of what they portend. Mexico, home to the world's richest man, has had more than 10,000 people killed -- often horrifically -- since January 2007, just a month after President Felipe Calderon declared a literal war on drugs in his country.

Calderon has flooded the country with nearly 50,000 soldiers and federal police to combat the various regional cartels -- Juarez, Sinaloa, Gulf and Zetas -- mostly in the northern and northwest parts of Mexico. The United States, through the Merida Initiative, has committed $1.4 billion to fund the effort. The results have been less than stellar.

According to the Los Angeles Times (the only major U.S. newspaper that has been extensively covering this political and social calamity), not only has the military racked up more than 3,400 alleged violations with Mexico's human rights commission, but in Juarez, the bloodiest of this war's battlefields -- if you can call a city of about 1.2 million people a battlefield -- the army's presence coincided with an increase in slayings. Since 2008, more than 4,000 people have been killed there, though Juarez was being patrolled by about 10,000 troops and federal police. In 2007, there were about 2,300 drug-related killings -- in the entire country.
I visited Juarez 26 years ago.... during a trip into Mexico. The people were wonderful to a stranger.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:44 AM

May 10, 2010

Tai Chi New York

Posted by James Zellmer at 8:54 PM

April 25, 2010

Ullrich Hall: University of Wisconsin-Platteville

Clusty Search: Ullrich Hall. National Register of Historic Places.
Posted by James Zellmer at 6:56 PM

April 23, 2010

A Manhattan Evening Walk

Posted by James Zellmer at 8:33 AM

April 21, 2010

The decline of the Great Writ: The sad history of habeas corpus

The Economist:
Habeas Corpus: From England to Empire. By Paul Halliday. Harvard University Press; 502 pages; $39.95 and £29.95. Buy from Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk

WHEN discussing habeas corpus or the “Great Writ of Liberty”, as the most revered legal device of the Anglophone world is often known, jurists and civil libertarians tend to become misty-eyed. In 1777 Charles James Fox, a radical British politician, described habeas corpus during a parliamentary debate on its suspension as “the great palladium of the liberties of the subject” and deplored the “insolence and temerity” of those “who could thus dare to snatch it from the people”.

Nearly 230 years later, in an impassioned attack from the Senate floor on the Bush administration’s bill to suspend habeas corpus for anyone determined to be an “unlawful enemy combatant”, Barack Obama declared: “I do not want to hear that this is a new kind of world in which we face a new kind of enemy.” Another senator, Arlen Specter, roared: “The right of habeas corpus was established in the Magna Carta in 1215…what the bill seeks to do is set back basic rights by some 900 years.” In Britain, Lord Hoffmann, a law lord reviewing government “control orders” to detain terrorist suspects in 2007, thundered: “Such is the revulsion against detention without charge or trial, such is this country’s attachment to habeas corpus, that the right to liberty ordinarily trumps even the interests of national security.”
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:06 AM

April 16, 2010

The Two Stall Park Trick

Often seen with Porsche, Mercedes, Audi or BMW drivers. The first "Smart Car" driver I've seen using this technique. Perhaps dark humor?
Posted by James Zellmer at 11:08 AM

April 11, 2010

Prayers for Poland, Again

Poland's Embassy in Prague; June, 2009. The banner celebrates the 20th anniversary of the Wall coming down.

Many links on the tragic plane crash in Smolensk. Clusty Search: Katyn film and Solidarity Poland.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:47 PM

A Madison Walk

A Madison Walk from Jim Zellmer.

Posted by James Zellmer at 4:05 PM

April 10, 2010

Energy Secretary Chu provides an optimistic view of our energy future at EIA conference

Gail The Actuary:
Energy Secretary Chu gave a talk at the EIA/SAIS Energy Conference on April 6-7. I want to share a few highlights of it, and give my impression. Both the Powerpoint slides and audio can be accessed at this link.

My general view of the talk is that Chu is extremely optimistic, in terms of what he thinks can be done. He also fails to tell listeners what our real problems are.

Wow! Slide 2 indicates that Chu thinks America has the opportunity to lead the world in a new industrial revolution. How does he think that is going to be done?

The first industrial revolution was during a time of increasingly available energy, because of the new use of coal. That is very unlikely in the future, both because of peak oil, and because of hoped-for constraints on fossil fuel use because of climate change issues. Net energy available to society is likely to be going down, not up! It is hard to understand an industrial revolution under those circumstances, unless it is a retooling to a much lower level--but later slides make it clear that is not what he is thinking of.
Posted by James Zellmer at 4:03 PM

April 7, 2010

The Europe roundup: Iceland, from the financial crisis to open data

Antonella Napolitino:
Iceland | From the financial crisis to open data
In 2008 in Iceland the financial system imploded. "Not surprisingly, this has led to a demand for more transparency, more access to public data and more effective communication by the government. All of a sudden Open Data is seen as a high priority among various lobby groups, branches of government and in restoration planning" says Hjalmar Gislason, an open data activist and member of the Open Knowledge Foundation’s Working Group on EU Open Data. In a long and detailed post, Gislason explains how this is not just part of the "momentum" open data is gaining in Europe, but a further step in a path that started in late '90s.
The Icelandic Modern Media Initiative and the presence of Wikileaks surely have a positive impact on the whole scenario and there is no doubt they will help boosting any future open data bill. The effects will be seen soon: "In December a rare cross-party parliamentary proposal (the first step in passing new legislation) was made, proposing a “default open” strategy for any public sector data. The Prime Minister’s Office has formed a committee that is to propose changes and improvements in legislation and suggest how to define the boundaries between data that is to be open and data that shall remain closed."
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:06 AM

April 5, 2010

German Government Minister's Letter to Facebook

German Consumer Protection Minister Ilse Aigner:
Dear Mr. Zuckerberg,

I was astonished to discover that, despite the concerns of users and severe criticism from consumer activists, "Facebook" would like to relax data protection regulations on the network even further. Your current privacy policy states that in future user data is to be automatically passed on to third parties. These parties are supposed to comprise previously vetted operators of websites and applications. Anyone who does not want this to happen must take action themselves and use the opt-out function. I use the Internet every day, both professionally and privately, and am a member of several social networks, including Facebook. Social networks are an enrichment and it is difficult to imagine our lives without them. Networks such as Facebook link millions of people across national boundaries, and it is for this very reason that particular importance must be attached to protecting privacy. As you know, I, in my capacity as Federal Minister of Consumer Protection, am striving to ensure that personal data on the Internet is protected. Private information must remain private - I think that I speak for many Internet users in this respect. Unfortunately, Facebook does not respect this wish, a fact that was confirmed in the most recent study by the German consumer organisation "Stiftung Warentest". Facebook fares badly in this study. Facebook was graded as "poor" in respect of user-data policy and user rights. Facebook also refused to provide information on data security - it was awarded a "5" (= poor) in this category as well.

It is therefore all the more astounding that Facebook is not willing to eliminate the existing shortcomings regarding data protection, but is instead going even further. Decisions such as this will not engender trust in an enterprise in the long term.
Posted by James Zellmer at 3:05 PM

March 26, 2010

Hiroshima, Nagasaki: You Are There. A talk by Seymour Abrahamson

Seymour Abrahamson spoke at a recent meeting of the Madison Literary Club.

17.9MB PDF Handout
Posted by James Zellmer at 4:06 PM

March 23, 2010

"One Google, One World; One China, No Google"

Rebecca MacKinnon:
China's insomniac twitterati were on fire this afternoon U.S. time, powered no doubt by much caffeine and sugar in the the wee hours of the morning in China. Half an hour before Google's David Drummond posted his announcement that Google.cn is now effectively operating from Google.com.hk, Guangzhou-based open source programmer @LEMONed broke the news that google.cn was being redirected to the Hong Kong service. Reacting to the news, @wentommy quipped: "One Google, One World; One China, No Google."

As of now (still early morning in Beijing), Google.com.hk is accessible from mainland China although specific search results for sensitive terms result in a browser error - or in other words, are blocked. Same as it's always been for sensitive searches on Google.com from inside mainland China. This is network filtering and would happen automatically as part of the "great firewall" Internet filtering system.

The ball is now in the Chinese government's court in two ways:

1) Whether they will block all of google.com.hk, which until now has not been blocked. If they are smart they will just leave the situation as is and stop drawing media attention to their censorship practices. The longer this high profile fracas goes on, the greater Chinese Internet users awareness will be about the lengths to which their government goes to blinker their knowledge of the world. That may inspire more people to start learning how to use circumvention tools for getting around the censorship. Chinese censorship is only effective if a large percentage of the population isn't very conscious of what they're missing. As I like to explain it: if you're born with tunnel vision you assume it's normal until somehow you're made aware that life without tunnel vision is both possible and much better. The longer this story remains in the headlines, the more people will become conscious of their tunnel vision and think about ways to eliminate it.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:33 PM

March 22, 2010

Old-school architect creates an iOpener

Inga Saffon:
A taxi pulled up to Apple's Fifth Avenue store one recent morning, and while the meter was running a pair of tourists dashed out to have their photos taken near the entrance, a glass cube of such incorporeal lightness that it seems in danger of floating away.

Had those architectural pilgrims arrived a minute later, they might have noticed a 70-ish man in a rumpled blue blazer struggling to balance an overpacked briefcase on a rolling suitcase. He was hatless, coatless, and tieless, and his shirt pocket was weighed down by a fistful of fine Japanese pencils.

It was the prizewinning Pennsylvania architect Peter Bohlin, stopping by to kick the tires on his little creation, which he first sketched for Apple chairman Steve Jobs using one of his ever-present Itoya pencils. Told that tourists had photographed it with their iPhones, Bohlin chuckled and said, "I hear that happens a lot."

Barely four years after Apple opened the store in the basement of the General Motors tower, Bohlin's ethereal one-story structure - a glorified vestibule, really - has become a must-see attraction as well as Apple's highest-grossing location. According to Cornell University scientists who analyzed 35 million Flickr images, the Cube is the fifth-most-photographed building in New York, the 28th worldwide.
Posted by James Zellmer at 7:39 PM

March 21, 2010

Making Sense of Privacy and Publicity

Danah Boyd:
Let me begin by saying that I'm tremendously honored to be here doing the welcoming keynote at SXSW. I have a huge feeling of warmth whenever I think about SXSW. Part of this is deeply personal - I met my soulmate here. I have met countless friends here. And made more professional connections than I can possibly enumerate. Walking down Red River fills me with a flash of fun memories.

What’s powerful about SXSW is first and foremost the people. From there, the content spills out beautifully. But as we think of the power of this conference to bring people together, I want to expressly call out the amazing work of Hugh Forrest, your fearless organizer. Hugh has done a phenomenal job of bringing diverse groups here to Austin to engage with one another. And for that, I’m eternally grateful.

For those of you who are old-timers, you know how special this conference is. For those of you who are new here, you're going to have a fantastic time! Just one bit of advice: beware of the tequila and, especially, of any future colleagues who may offer you tequila.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:39 PM

March 14, 2010

Las Vegas Sunrise Scenes

A beautiful sunrise. A recent evening panoramic scene of "The Strip" can be seen here.
Posted by James Zellmer at 7:56 PM

Panorama: Austin-Bergstrom International Airport

Austin-Bergstrom International Airport website. Just in time for South by Southwest 2010.

Click to view the full screen panorama.
Posted by James Zellmer at 7:14 PM

February 26, 2010

Honolulu's Kapiolani Farmers' Market

Click to view the photos.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:44 PM

February 25, 2010

Fabulous: Health Care Video Stream with Campaign Contributions...

The Sunlight Foundation provides a great service here.
Posted by James Zellmer at 1:42 PM

February 19, 2010

If Our Grandparents Could See Us Now

Ed Wallace:
"The OECD rates Canada's banks as the safest in the world - the United States comes in fortieth, two places behind Botswana."

-- From I.O.U., by John Lanchester

There's always a pile of new books near my desk; currently, most of them deal with the history of the financial crisis. When time allows I open a couple more, read them and mark key points with highlighters for easier reference. It's always gratifying to find a passage in which a well-regarded economics writer makes the same points I have in my work, but I like books even better when they teach me things I did not already know.

An example: Barry Rithholtz, a market commentator, put the total cost of the current bailout in terms that most anyone can understand. It is now more than the nation spent for "The Marshall Plan, the Louisiana Purchase, the Apollo moon landings (and all costs of NASA's space flights), the Korean War, the Vietnam War, FDR's New Deal, the Invasion of Iraq and the 1980s Savings and Loan Scandal, combined and adjusted for inflation."

That statement alone should have the public up in arms, demanding smart actions that will make sure it never happens again.

The books I've been reading lately also cover the fundamental economic theories of both John Maynard Keynes and Milton Friedman. Keynes is known for promoting government deficit spending in hard times, while Friedman believes in deregulating and privatizing everything. What I now find interesting is that nobody carrying the banner of either of these two economic giants seems to get Keynes' or Friedman's fundamental economic viewpoints entirely right.
Posted by James Zellmer at 5:08 PM

February 17, 2010


LeMonde's iPhone app has an interesting daily photo selection.
Posted by James Zellmer at 5:00 PM

Why the Technology Sector Should Care About Google Books

Gary Reback @ TechCrunch:
Antitrust lawyer and Open Book Alliance leader Gary Reback has been called the “antitrust champion” and the “protector of the marketplace” by the National Law Journal, and has been at the forefront of many of the most important antitrust cases of the last three decades. He is one of the most vocal opponents of the Google Books settlement. I interviewed Reback a few months ago, and Google Books was one of the topics we discussed. In the column below, Reback discusses Google Books and its ties to Google search.

This Thursday leaders of the international publishing industry will watch with bated breath as a federal judge in New York hears arguments over whether to approve the Google Book Settlement.

More a complicated joint venture among Google and five big New York publishers than the resolution of pending litigation, the proposed settlement once promised unprecedented access to millions of out-of-print books through digital sales to consumers and online research subscriptions for libraries. But with the passage of time and the ability to examine the deal more closely, the promises proved illusory. The big publishers, as it turns out, have reserved the right to negotiate secret deals with Google for the books they claim through the settlement (pdf).

Meanwhile, torrents of outrage rained down on the New York court – from authors whose ownership rights will be appropriated through the settlement’s procedures, from librarians fearful of price exploitation by Google, from privacy advocates worried that Google will monitor the reading habits of library patrons, from libertarians incensed over the use of a legal procedure to effect the widespread appropriation of property, from digital booksellers concerned about Google’s unfair advantage in the marketplace.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:24 AM

February 14, 2010

Cham Ruins: My Son Panorama - Another View

This Cham Ruins panorama (click to view) was captured in My Son, Vietnam during the month of April, 2007 by Jim Zellmer

Another panoramic scene.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:42 PM

Hanoi Panorama: Temple of Literature, Another View

Click to view the panoramic image. Enjoy a full screen view by clicking the panorama icon in the lower right. Clusty Search: Temple of Literature.

Another Temple of Literature panorama can be seen here.
Posted by James Zellmer at 7:47 PM

February 12, 2010

Iceland aims to become an offshore haven for journalists and leakers

Jonathan Stray:
On Tuesday, the Icelandic parliament is expected to introduce a measure aimed at making the country an international center for investigative journalism publishing, by passing the strongest combination of source protection, freedom of speech, and libel-tourism prevention laws in the world.

Supporters of the proposal say the move would make Iceland an “offshore publishing center” for free speech, analogous to the offshore financial havens that allow corporations to hide capital from authorities. Could global news organizations with a home office in Reykjavík soon be as common as Delaware corporations or Cayman Islands assets?

“This is a legislative package to create a haven for freedom of expression,” Icelandic member of parliament Birgitta Jónsdóttir confirmed to me, saying that a proposal for comprehensive media law reform will be filed in parliament on Tuesday, and that whistle-blowing specialists Wikileaks has been involved in drafting it. There have been persistent hints of an Icelandic media move in recent weeks, including tweets from Wikileaks and a cryptic message from the newly created @icelandmedia Twitter account.

The text of the proposal, called the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative, is not yet public, but the most detailed evidence comes from a video of a talk by Julian Assange and Daniel Schmitt of Wikileaks, given at the Chaos Communications Congress hacker conference in Berlin on Dec. 27:
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:00 PM

The Legacy of Billy Tauzin: The White House-PhRMA Deal

Paul Blumenthal:
More than a million spectators gathered before the Capitol on a frosty January afternoon to witness the inauguration of Barack Obama, who promised in his campaign to change Washington’s mercenary culture of lobbyists, special interest influence and backroom deals. But within a few months of being sworn in, the President and his top aides were sitting down with leaders from the pharmaceutical industry to hash out a deal that they thought would make health care reform possible.

Over the following months, pharmaceutical industry lobbyists and executives met with top White House aides dozens of times to hammer out a deal that would secure industry support for the administration’s health care reform agenda in exchange for the White House abandoning key elements of the president’s promises to reform the pharmaceutical industry. They flooded Congress with campaign contributions, and hired dozens of former Capitol Hill insiders to push their case. How they did it—pieced together from news accounts, disclosure forms including lobbying reports and Federal Election Commission records, White House visitor logs and the schedule Sen. Max Baucus releases voluntarily—is a testament to how ingrained the grip of special interests remains in Washington.
Posted by James Zellmer at 3:30 PM

February 11, 2010

Panorama - Cham Ruins: My Son, Vietnam

This Cham Ruins panorama (click to view) was captured in My Son, Vietnam during the month of April, 2007 by Jim Zellmer

Another panoramic scene.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:58 PM

February 8, 2010

Temple of Literature Panorama: Hanoi, Vietnam

Click to view the panoramic image. Enjoy a full screen view by clicking the panorama icon in the lower right. Clusty Search: Temple of Literature.

Another Temple of Literature panorama can bee seen here.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:49 PM

February 7, 2010

Trouble Down South for US Republicans

Ryan Bowman and Andrew K. Woods:
At first glance, McLeod’s Tyre Shop in Lucedale, Mississippi, seems an unlikely venue for a political salon. It is a large, spare room, its contents pushed to the corners as if by an invisible centrifugal force, or maybe the weak wind of the ceiling fan. To the right of the entrance, four tyres stand on tiny podiums like sculptures in an art gallery. In the far right-hand corner of the room, a large 1920s stove slumbers beneath a Mississippi State football flag, which Doug McLeod hung to taunt his rivals from Ole Miss – the University of Mississippi. And in the far left-hand corner, a long counter is crowded with well-thumbed copies of every newspaper (local, state and national) from the past two weeks – kindling for starting and settling scores.

“A Mississippi lady once asked me where I went to church. I told her Sacred Heart and she said, ‘Well, we all have to worship somewhere, don’t we?’”

We walk in at the tail end of an argument between four men, just in time for McLeod to jam his finger into one of the newspapers and say, with an air of finality, “And that’s why they should raise interest rates.” McLeod has owned this tyre shop for more than 30 years, and in that time he has established himself as a local character and the shop as a destination: a place where he and others can hold forth. The scene is both chaotic and relaxed, with high-energy McLeod spinning like a top while visitors sit or lean, idling on about all subjects but their tyres.

The men assembled here, in one of the most Republican counties in the American deep south, are conservative. In fact, the latest demographics say they – southern, white males aged over 35 – are the Republican party. Despite differences on many subjects – football, Ford trucks, fiscal policy – they all agree that their interests are not represented in Washington, not by Barack Obama and the Democrats and not even by their own party.
Posted by James Zellmer at 3:50 PM

February 4, 2010

Google to enlist NSA to help it ward off cyberattacks

Ellen Nakashima:
The world's largest Internet search company and the world's most powerful electronic surveillance organization are teaming up in the name of cybersecurity. Under an agreement that is still being finalized, the National Security Agency would help Google analyze a major corporate espionage attack that the firm said originated in China and targeted its computer networks, according to cybersecurity experts familiar with the matter. The objective is to better defend Google -- and its users -- from future attack.

Google and the NSA declined to comment on the partnership. But sources with knowledge of the arrangement, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the alliance is being designed to allow the two organizations to share critical information without violating Google's policies or laws that protect the privacy of Americans' online communications. The sources said the deal does not mean the NSA will be viewing users' searches or e-mail accounts or that Google will be sharing proprietary data.

The partnership strikes at the core of one of the most sensitive issues for the government and private industry in the evolving world of cybersecurity: how to balance privacy and national security interests. On Tuesday, Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair called the Google attacks, which the company acknowledged in January, a "wake-up call." Cyberspace cannot be protected, he said, without a "collaborative effort that incorporates both the U.S. private sector and our international partners."
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:21 AM

February 2, 2010

In the Next Industrial Revolution, Atoms Are the New Bits

Chris Anderson:
The door of a dry-cleaner-size storefront in an industrial park in Wareham, Massachusetts, an hour south of Boston, might not look like a portal to the future of American manufacturing, but it is. This is the headquarters of Local Motors, the first open source car company to reach production. Step inside and the office reveals itself as a mind-blowing example of the power of micro-factories.

In June, Local Motors will officially release the Rally Fighter, a $50,000 off-road (but street-legal) racer. The design was crowdsourced, as was the selection of mostly off-the-shelf components, and the final assembly will be done by the customers themselves in local assembly centers as part of a “build experience.” Several more designs are in the pipeline, and the company says it can take a new vehicle from sketch to market in 18 months, about the time it takes Detroit to change the specs on some door trim. Each design is released under a share-friendly Creative Commons license, and customers are encouraged to enhance the designs and produce their own components that they can sell to their peers.

The Rally Fighter was prototyped in the workshop at the back of the Wareham office, but manufacturing muscle also came from Factory Five Racing, a kit-car company and Local Motors investor located just down the road. Of course, the kit-car business has been around for decades, standing as a proof of concept for how small manufacturing can work in the car industry. Kit cars combine hand-welded steel tube chassis and fiberglass bodies with stock engines and accessories. Amateurs assemble the cars at their homes, which exempts the vehicles from many regulatory restrictions (similar to home-built experimental aircraft). Factory Five has sold about 8,000 kits to date.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:18 AM

Microsoft's Police State Vision?

Lauren Weinstein:
Greetings. About a week ago, in Google and the Battle for the Soul of the Internet, I noted that:
Even here in the U.S., one of the most common Internet-related questions that I receive is also one of the most deeply disturbing: Why can't the U.S. require an Internet "driver's license" so that there would be no way (ostensibly) to do anything anonymously on the Net?

After I patiently explain why that would be a horrendous idea, based on basic principles of free speech as applied to the reality of the Internet -- most people who approached me with the "driver's license" concept seem satisfied with my take on the topic, but the fact that the question keeps coming up so frequently shows the depth of misplaced fears driven, ironically, by disinformation and the lack of accurate information.

So when someone who really should know better starts to push this sort of incredibly dangerous concept, it's time to bump up to orange alert at a minimum, and the trigger is no less than Craig Mundie, chief research and strategy officer for Microsoft.

At the World Economic Forum in Davos two days ago, Mundie explicitly called for an "Internet Driver's License": "If you want to drive a car you have to have a license to say that you are capable of driving a car, the car has to pass a test to say it is fit to drive and you have to have insurance."
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:15 AM

January 22, 2010

Time Lapse Power Plant Video

Jeff Crewe:
"I am not making a political statement with this video,” writes the photographer Grewe, a tree-climbing arborist by day. “My intentions are purely artistic. The imagery is intense and I found audio to compliment it.”
Posted by James Zellmer at 12:54 PM

January 10, 2010

The Checklist Manifesto

Atul Gawande:
We live in a world of great and increasing complexity, where even the most expert professionals struggle to master the tasks they face. Longer training, ever more advanced technologies—neither seems to prevent grievous errors. But in a hopeful turn, acclaimed surgeon and writer Atul Gawande finds a remedy in the humblest and simplest of techniques: the checklist. First introduced decades ago by the U.S. Air Force, checklists have enabled pilots to fly aircraft of mind-boggling sophistication. Now innovative checklists are being adopted in hospitals around the world, helping doctors and nurses respond to everything from flu epidemics to avalanches. Even in the immensely complex world of surgery, a simple ninety-second variant has cut the rate of fatalities by more than a third.

In riveting stories, Gawande takes us from Austria, where an emergency checklist saved a drowning victim who had spent half an hour underwater, to Michigan, where a cleanliness checklist in intensive care units virtually eliminated a type of deadly hospital infection. He explains how checklists actually work to prompt striking and immediate improvements. And he follows the checklist revolution into fields well beyond medicine, from disaster response to investment banking, skyscraper construction, and businesses of all kinds.

An intellectual adventure in which lives are lost and saved and one simple idea makes a tremendous difference, The Checklist Manifesto is essential reading for anyone working to get things right.
Looks like a must read.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:41 PM

January 1, 2010

Double Bubble & Built on Sand

The Financial Times - Cartoon.
Posted by James Zellmer at 11:05 AM

Banking after the kindness of strangers

Francesco Guerrera:
”Whoever you are, I have always depended on the kindness of strangers”. The last line of Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire – uttered by its desperate heroine to the doctor taking her to a mental asylum – is an apt summary of the US financial sector in 2009.

As the crisis abated, banks took maximum advantage of the kindness of taxpayers and regulators to return to their core business: making money for shareholders and employees.

Ultra-low interest rates, dwindling competition and pent-up demand for their services sparked a renaissance in profits and share prices of the financial institutions that emerged from the turmoil in reasonable shape.

The question is whether history will repeat itself, or even just rhyme, this year. Here are my ten, utterly personal and non-exhaustive, predictions for the year ahead in US finance.

1) Strangers will be a lot less kind. With banks boasting about their new-found health, regulators will pull the plug on most of the measures they introduced to drag the financial industry back from the brink. A host of acronyms (Tarp, Talf, PPIP, TLGP) will be forgotten but not missed.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:56 AM

December 29, 2009

15 "Huge" Ideas that Flopped This Decade

Joe Weisenthal:
Nothing makes a person sound smarter than articulating some huge idea about how the world is going to change, or how they can change it, over the coming years.

A big idea can lead to countless books, TV appearances, and a nice stream of speaking fees at conferences across the country.

Big ideas -- the likes of which you might hear from Malcolm Gladwell or the Freaknomics authors -- make for excellent food for thought and intellectually stimulating discussion.
Posted by James Zellmer at 1:29 AM

Neda Soltan: Person of the Year

Times of London:
Every few years a man, or a woman, whose name is often familiar to few beyond the circle of their family and friends, is ambling through a more or less anonymous life when they find themselves ambushed by history. For many of these people, their life changes forever. Frequently, tragically, it ends; leaving behind an image that haunts the world long after they themselves have gone.

Neda Soltan was such a person, a young beautiful woman who had studied philosophy, was now an aspiring singer, who found herself abruptly catapulted from the crowds of Tehran to become the face of protest against Iran’s repressive rulers; a symbol of rebellion against the fraudulent election that had just returned Mahmoud Ahmedinejad to power.

Like the nameless student who taunted that tank in Tiananmen Square, like Jan Palach, the Czech student who died after setting himself alight in Wenceslas Square in January 1969 to protest against the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia, Neda Soltan became the icon for the mutiny against Iran’s brutish regime as images of her face, and amateur footage of her murder by a sniper from the pro-government Basij militia, sprinted around the world. Like the photograph taken in South Vietnam of a bewildered young girl, the victim of a napalm attack, running naked down a road; and like the images of those skin-and-bones internees, standing semi-naked in the prison camp run by Bosnian Serb forces in Omarska in 1992, their ribs as prominent as xylophone keys, the image of Neda Soltan lying bleeding on a Tehran street has become the shorthand for the horrors of a conflict. With their beseeching eyes such images become, as the war photographer Don McCullin has pointed out, our modern versions of religious icons.
Certainly a superior choice to the Political Class bank's CEO: Goldman's Lloyd Blankein.
Posted by James Zellmer at 1:15 AM

December 28, 2009

"Person of the Year" - Goldman Sachs' Lloyd Blankfein: "Doing God's Work"

John Gapper:
Under other circumstances, this would have been a year to savour in the long, rapid ascent of Lloyd Blankfein. Goldman Sachs, the investment bank he has led for three years, not only navigated the 2008 global financial crisis better than others on Wall Street but is set to make record profits, and pay up to $23bn (€16bn, £14bn) in bonuses to its 31,700 staff.

For Mr Blankfein, a scholarship boy from the Bronx whose first financial job at Goldman was selling gold coins in its commodities trading arm, has prospered to an extent that was implausible even 10 years ago, when it became a public company. Its influence has spread throughout the world, from New York and London to Shanghai and São Paulo.

A good slice of its success is attributable to Mr Blankfein, a tough, bright, funny (everyone remarks upon his unpretentious, wisecracking manner) financier who reoriented Goldman. Under his leadership, trading and risk-taking have pushed to the fore, reducing the influence of its investment banking advisers.

In 2009, however, Wall Street faced a wave of public anger at how banks that survived only with the assistance of taxpayers seemed unchanged and unrepentant. Goldman’s profitability, and suspicions that its deep links with governments around the world give it unfair advantages, made it a symbol of Wall Street greed and excess. It was described by the Rolling Stone writer Matt Taibbi as “a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity”.
Posted by James Zellmer at 1:25 AM

December 17, 2009

Global Supply Chain for Boeing's New 787: The DreamLifter in Action

With the recent first flight of Boeing's new 787, I thought it timely to post a photo from it's supply chain: a converted 747 freighter known as the "Dreamlifter" that flies parts from around the globe to Everett, Washington for final assembly.
Posted by James Zellmer at 12:20 PM

December 16, 2009

Crunks 2009: The Year in Media Errors and Corrections

Craig Silverman:
Perhaps that’s not the most polite way of putting it, but fact checking continues to emerge as a favorite practice of the public and certain elements of the press. (Though most of us in the press spend more time calling bullshit on each other than checking our own work.) In a recent column for Columbia Journalism Review, I stated that fact checking “is becoming one of the great American pastimes of the Internet age.”

Everybody loves to call bullshit. Thanks to the Internet, it’s easier than ever before.

The irony is that this trend emerges at a time when professional fact checkers, who traditionally worked at magazines, are being laid off. As a result, it appears as though the future of fact checking is in open, public and participatory systems and organizations, rather than the closed, professional systems traditionally used by large magazines. The Internet has made this shift possible.

Here’s a selection of fact checking-related news from the past year:
Posted by James Zellmer at 4:42 PM

December 14, 2009

Berlin's Class War

Feargus O'Sullivan:
Twenty years after it was toppled, the area around the Berlin Wall is becoming a battle­ground again. In the streets neighbouring Berlin’s Todesstreifen – the once heavily guarded “death strip” on the east side – a new conflict is brewing. This time, it is between wealthy newcomers to the German capital’s regenerated core, and less monied residents, who fear being displaced.

Silvia Kollitz, an anti-development activist, is a resident of Prenzlauer Berg, a once dilapidated but now chic district of east Berlin. She feels her local area, with its pretty, tree-lined streets and sleek cafés, is being turned into a refuge for the rich. “The new buildings being put up are just for people with lots of money – who don’t use state schools and look at the rest of us as ‘local colour’ from behind their locked gates and high walls,” she says.

While Kollitz and fellow activists are seeking to halt these changes, they are fighting a strong tide. For the first time since the second world war, Berlin is attracting the international wealthy. Shaking off its gloomy cold war past, the city’s rebuilt centre is now packed with designer emporia, five-star hotels – Berlin has more than New York – and restaurants, sandwiched between Prussian palaces and new ministry buildings.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:46 AM

December 6, 2009

Will Big Business Save the Earth?

Jared Diamond:
THERE is a widespread view, particularly among environmentalists and liberals, that big businesses are environmentally destructive, greedy, evil and driven by short-term profits. I know — because I used to share that view.

But today I have more nuanced feelings. Over the years I’ve joined the boards of two environmental groups, the World Wildlife Fund and Conservation International, serving alongside many business executives.

As part of my board work, I have been asked to assess the environments in oil fields, and have had frank discussions with oil company employees at all levels. I’ve also worked with executives of mining, retail, logging and financial services companies. I’ve discovered that while some businesses are indeed as destructive as many suspect, others are among the world’s strongest positive forces for environmental sustainability.

The embrace of environmental concerns by chief executives has accelerated recently for several reasons. Lower consumption of environmental resources saves money in the short run. Maintaining sustainable resource levels and not polluting saves money in the long run. And a clean image — one attained by, say, avoiding oil spills and other environmental disasters — reduces criticism from employees, consumers and government.
Much more on Jared Diamond here.
Posted by James Zellmer at 6:02 PM

November 29, 2009

St. Stephen's Cathedral Panorama - Budapest

Wikipedia entry on St. Stephen's, or Szent István Bazilika in Hungarian.

Our trip was made possible through the incredible generosity of my parents. We are truly blessed!
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:43 PM

November 27, 2009

Dubai's Debt Default

James Mackintosh:

Asking to delay repayment on your debt - or defaulting, as the world’s press is carefully not calling it - has turned out not to be a good way for Dubai’s Sheikh Makhtoum to win friends and influence lenders to Nakheel, the property arm of the state-owned conglomerate Dubai World. Markets have tumbled worldwide; investors, reminded that governments can be subprime too, have dumped the debt of other dodgy-looking economies (including Greece); and in Dubai… everyone is on holiday.

What is surprising here is not that Dubai is on the verge of default. It is that anyone was willing to lend them ludicrous sums of money in the first place. Calculated Risk points out that Sir Win Bischoff, then at the (US) state-controlled Citi and now, appropriately enough, at the (British) state-controlled Lloyds Banking Group, was raving about raising $8bn of loans for Dubai last year and as recently as December chose to go public with a “positive outlook on Dubai”. Another non-surprise: state-controlled Royal Bank of Scotland was Dubai World’s biggest loan arranger. In the UK, Dubai World has been buying up a long list of property, according to Anita Likus at The Source; the assumption is it will shortly be selling.

More here.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:21 AM

The Berlin Wall: 20 Years Gone

The Big Picture:
Twenty years ago, on the night of November 9, 1989, following weeks of pro-democracy protests, East German authorities suddenly opened their border to West Germany. After 28 years as prisoners of their own country, euphoric East Germans streamed to checkpoints and rushed past bewildered guards, many falling tearfully into the arms of West Germans welcoming them on the other side. Thousands of Germans and world leaders gathered in Berlin yesterday to celebrate the "Mauerfall" - the dismantling of the Berlin Wall and German reunification - and to remember the approximately 100-200 who died attempting to cross the border over the years. Collected here are photographs both historic and recent, from the fall of the Berlin Wall. Be sure to pause on photos 12 - 15, and click them to see a fade effect from before to after. (38 photos total)
Posted by James Zellmer at 7:25 AM

November 26, 2009

Asia Trip Financial News

David Kotok:
Now to the regional takeaway from our trip

We believe that few trust the United States. This is obvious in private conversation. And it is clear to all that confidence in the dollar is low. This is mostly mentioned only in private.

In public there is quiet response when the Treasury Secretary of the United States utters words about a strong dollar. Asians have heard that for years and with the many different accents of the various Treasury Secretaries. Geithner would serve the country better by ceasing to mouth the same words that his predecessor Snow and others used. He is not believed. Frankly, in some circles he is actually seen as an incompetent political hack. He is blamed by some for the insufficiency of the New York Fed under his presidency to supervise the primary dealers that failed – Countrywide, Bear Stearns, and Lehman. And the ethics issues surrounding the NY Fed under his tenure are viewed as appalling; this continues to surface in private conversations. Some folks are puzzled about why Obama maintains his support for Geithner. Some just attribute it to the President’s inexperience as a leader.

My takeaway is that our present Secretary of the Treasury is seriously and sustainably injuring the image of the United States. He has lost credibility. His actions are real and they impact markets. My conversations with those who are attempting to market GSE securities to Asians and getting rebuffed are validation enough for me on this point. When the Fed stops buying GSE mortgage backed securities, this reality will hit the markets in a re-pricing of that asset class. Spreads are going to widen.

The American federal budget deficits are worrisome everywhere. Policy promises from Washington to reduce them are greeted with great skepticism. Often they are privately described as American arrogance. Publicly, Asians are very polite and do not often subject their guests to embarrassing criticism. Privately they are quite candid. In my view they are correct: America is arrogant and seems to pretend that it is still the best and most trustworthy financial and capital market in the world. There is no basis for the US to have such a view of itself. We have squandered our reputational capital as a financial center leader.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:11 PM

November 25, 2009

Presidential Cabinet Appointments: Private Sector Experience 1900-2009

Nick Schultz:
A friend sends along the following chart. It examines the prior private sector experience of the cabinet officials since 1900 that one might expect a president to turn to in seeking advice about helping the economy. It includes Secretaries of State; Commerce; Treasury; Agriculture; Interior; Labor; Transportation; Energy; and Housing & Urban Development and excludes Postmaster General; Navy; War; Health, Education & Welfare; Veterans Affairs; and Homeland Security — 432 cabinet members in all.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:37 AM

Investigating The Card Game: Consumer Lending

As credit card companies face rising public anger, new regulation from Washington and staggering new rates of default and bankruptcy, FRONTLINE correspondent Lowell Bergman investigates the future of the massive consumer loan industry and its impact on a fragile national economy.

In The Card Game, a follow-up to the Secret History of the Credit Card and a joint project with The New York Times, Bergman and the Times talk to industry insiders, lobbyists, politicians and consumer advocates as they square off over attempts to reform the way the industry has done business for decades.

"The card issuers could do anything they want," Robert McKinley, CEO of CardWeb.com, tells FRONTLINE of the industry's unchecked power over consumers. "They could change your interest rate. They could impose an annual fee. They could close your account." High interest rates along with more and more penalty fees drove up profits for the industry, Bergman finds, as the banks followed the lead of an aggressive upstart: Providian Bank. In an exclusive interview with FRONTLINE, former Providian CEO Shailesh Mehta tells Bergman how his company successfully targeted vulnerable low-income customers whom Providian called "the unbanked."

"They're lower-income people-bad credits, bankrupts, young credits, no credits," Mehta says. Providian also innovated by offering "free" credit cards that carried heavy hidden fees. "I used to use the word 'penalty pricing' or 'stealth pricing,'" Mehta tells FRONTLINE. "When people make the buying decision, they don't look at the penalty fees because they never believe they'll be late. They never believe they'll be over limit, right? ... Our business took off. ... We were making a billion dollars a year."
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:12 AM

French Chef Puts Spin On Thanksgiving Dinner

Steve Inskeep:
Chef Dominique Crenn was raised in Versailles, France. She now makes an incredible Thanksgiving dinner, but when she first came to the U.S., the entire holiday threw her off.

She sat down with NPR's Steve Inskeep to discuss how she cooks for Thanksgiving.

"I was a little bit lost when I came here," she told Inskeep. "I had no idea what Thanksgiving was about."

In France, turkey is eaten at Christmas. So the American phenomenon of Thanksgiving turkey and dressing mystified her.

"Oh, a month before Christmas, we're gonna eat Turkey?"

But now, she's hooked. Crenn has been celebrating Thanksgiving for about 20 years. "This is a pretty cool holiday," she said.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:09 AM

November 17, 2009

Goldman apologises for role in crisis

Francesco Guerrera, Justin Baer and Tom Braithwaite :
Goldman Sachs apologised for its role in the financial crisis on Tuesday and pledged $500m over five years – or about 2.3 per cent of its estimated bonus and salary pool for 2009 – to help 10,000 US small businesses recover from the ­recession. The moves come as the bank tries to defuse a political and public backlash over its plans to share billions of dollars among top dealmakers after rebounding sharply from the turmoil and earning record profits in the first nine months of the year.

Lloyd Blankfein, Goldman’s chief executive, told a corporate conference in New York that the bank regretted taking part in the cheap credit boom that had fuelled the pre-crisis bubble. “We participated in things that were clearly wrong and have reason to regret,” said Mr Blankfein. “We apologise.”

Mr Blankfein also told the conference he wished he had not told the UK’s Sunday Times newspaper that Goldman did “God’s work” – a remark that was seized upon by the bank’s critics – and said it had been meant as a joke.

Mr Blankfein spoke hours before Goldman revealed plans to invest $500m over five years in business education, technical assistance and venture capital to help 10,000 small businesses across the US. The yearly amount of about $100m to be spent on the initiative – which will be overseen by a panel co-chaired by Warren Buffett, a Goldman investor – is equivalent to a good trading day at Goldman. In the third quarter, the bank had 36 days in which traders made more than $100m.

Mr Buffett told the Financial Times that the small business programme was not a response by the bank to recent criticism. “This is a big initiative,” he said. “This is not a one-day or one-year wonder. It’s a continuous programme.”
Posted by James Zellmer at 7:57 PM

November 15, 2009

GE Pursues "Stimulus Pot of Gold"

Elizabeth Williamson & Paul Glader:
The financial crisis hasn't been kind to General Electric Co. Its stock has lost almost half its value, the government has stepped in to prop up its enormous financial arm, and sales have slumped in core industrial businesses.

But Chief Executive Jeffrey Immelt now has his eye on a huge new pool of potential revenue: Uncle Sam's stimulus dollars. Mr. Immelt, a registered Republican, quips about the shift in thinking in the nation's corner offices: "We're all Democrats now."

GE has high hopes for the strategy. It says that over the next three years or so it could bring in as much as $192 billion from projects funded by governments around the globe, such as electric-grid modernization, renewable-energy generation and health-care technology upgrades.

The company is just starting to see a payoff. Last month, for example, President Barack Obama announced $3.4 billion in government-stimulus grants for power-grid projects. About one-third of the recipients are GE customers. GE expects them to use a good chunk of that money to buy its equipment.

The government has taken on a giant role in the U.S. economy over the past year, penetrating further into the private sector than anytime since the 1930s. Some companies are treating the government's growing reach -- and ample purse -- as a giant opportunity, and are tailoring their strategies accordingly. For GE, once a symbol of boom-time capitalism, the changed landscape has left it trawling for government dollars on four continents.
Posted by James Zellmer at 7:48 PM

November 11, 2009

Madison's Overture Center & MMOCA - A Panoramic View

Posted by James Zellmer at 7:55 AM

October 31, 2009

'Puzzlers' reassemble shredded Stasi files, bit by bit

Kate Connolly:

East German documents provide a crucial piece of history, supporters of the project say, but putting them back together could take hundreds of years. A computerized system would help, but it's costly.

Reporting from Berlin and Zirndorf, Germany, - Martina Metzler peers at the piles of paper strips spread across four desks in her office. Seeing two jagged edges that match, her eyes light up and she tapes them together.

"Another join, another small success," she says with a wry smile -- even though at least two-thirds of the sheet is still missing.

Metzler, 45, is a "puzzler," one of a team of eight government workers that has attempted for the last 14 years to manually restore documents hurriedly shredded by East Germany's secret police, or Stasi, in the dying days of one of the Soviet bloc's most repressive regimes.

Two decades after the heady days when crowds danced atop the Berlin Wall, Germany has reunited and many of its people have moved on. But historians say it is important to establish the truth of the Communist era, and the work of the puzzlers has unmasked prominent figures in the former East Germany as Stasi agents. In addition, about 100,000 people annually apply to see their own files.

Posted by jimz at 10:39 PM

October 27, 2009

The Inside Story of Wal-Mart's Hacker Attack

Kim Zetter:
Wal-Mart was the victim of a serious security breach in 2005 and 2006 in which hackers targeted the development team in charge of the chain’s point-of-sale system and siphoned source code and other sensitive data to a computer in Eastern Europe, Wired.com has learned.

Internal documents reveal for the first time that the nation’s largest retailer was among the earliest targets of a wave of cyberattacks that went after the bank-card processing systems of brick-and-mortar stores around the United States beginning in 2005. The details of the breach, and the company’s challenges in reconstructing what happened, shed new light on the vulnerable state of retail security at the time, despite card-processing security standards that had been in place since 2001.

In response to inquiries from Wired.com, the company acknowledged the hack attack, which it calls an “internal issue.” Because no sensitive customer data was stolen, Wal-Mart had no obligation to disclose the breach publicly.

Wal-Mart had a number of security vulnerabilities at the time of the attack, according to internal security assessments seen by Wired.com, and acknowledged as genuine by Wal-Mart. For example, at least four years’ worth of customer purchasing data, including names, card numbers and expiration dates, were housed on company networks in unencrypted form. Wal-Mart says it was in the process of dramatically improving the security of its transaction data, and in 2006 began encrypting the credit card numbers and other customer information, and making other important security changes.

“Wal-Mart … really made every effort to segregate the data, to make separate networks, to encrypt it fully from start to finish through the transmission, ” says Wal-Mart’s Chief Privacy Officer Zoe Strickland. “And not just in one area but across the different uses of credit card systems.”

Wal-Mart uncovered the breach in November 2006, after a fortuitous server crash led administrators to a password-cracking tool that had been surreptitiously installed on one of its servers. Wal-Mart’s initial probe traced the intrusion to a compromised VPN account, and from there to a computer in Minsk, Belarus.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:52 AM

The Best Summary (to date) of Taxpayer Funded Events that Lead to Goldman Sachs' Survival and Recent Large Payouts

Joe Nocera:
A few weeks ago, shortly after Goldman Sachs reported its latest blowout quarter, the firm’s chief executive, Lloyd Blankfein, spoke at a Fortune magazine breakfast.

In normal times, Mr. Blankfein might have been forgiven for bragging a bit about the just-reported quarter — over $3 billion in profit on $12 billion in revenue. It had generated some $6 billion just in one division: fixed income. It had more than $160 billion in cash or cash equivalents on its balance sheet. And of course it had long since repaid, with interest, the $10 billion it had accepted from the Treasury Department during the darkest days of the crisis.

But of course those weren’t the numbers the media and the public had focused on in the wake of Goldman’s earnings. Instead, people were fixated on the $5.3 billion the firm had set aside for its executives’ year-end bonuses. Added to first and second quarter set-asides of $4.6 billion and $6.6 billion, the firm had put aside $16 billion so far this year for employee bonuses. Nearly 50 percent of the firm’s revenue was going toward compensation. And there was still one more quarter to go!

Was it fair, commentators kept asking, that barely a year after the taxpayers had essentially saved the financial system, this firm that took government capital should now be paying multimillion-dollar bonuses? Was it right? Which, not surprisingly, is what Fortune’s managing editor, Andrew Serwer, asked Mr. Blankfein within minutes of taking the stage.

In private, Goldman executives are scornful of the sentiment behind this question. Their view, in essence, is that they should be applauded for being able to pay such big bonuses, because it means their business is successful. People who want them to pay less, they believe, want them to fail.

But Mr. Blankfein, a charming, funny man who has been Goldman’s boss since 2006, is far too smart to say that out loud. Nonetheless, what he did say was revealing. Treasury’s original decision to use the Troubled Asset Relief Program to shore up the banks’ capital, Mr. Blankfein said, “was a sensible thing to do at the time.”
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:45 AM

October 16, 2009

Brought to Book

Ben Fenton and Salamander Davoudi:
The new way of reading books arrived hesitantly. It exploited a novel technology, reflected changing public habits of consumption and radically altered the distribution and economics of the traditional publishing industry.

The paperback represented an intimidating revolution to the 1930s book industry. It took high literature to a far wider audience. But established publishers disdained it, fearing it would cheapen the industry and drive down profits. It might not have been – as its ancestor the pamphlet novel was in the 1840s – assailed as a threat to the “eyesight of a rising generation”, yet the reaction had much else in common with how the emergence of the electronic book is now being regarded.

At the Frankfurt Book Fair this week, the talk has been all about the impact of the e-book, with scores of sessions and seminars devoted to discussing the implications of devices such as Amazon’s Kindle and the Sony Reader. Another hot topic is Google’s digitisation of, so far, 10m books including about 9m still protected by copyright.
Posted by James Zellmer at 5:08 PM

October 14, 2009

A credibility problem for Goldman

John Gapper:
It will be business as usual for Goldman Sachs this morning. The bank will annoy a lot of people.

Goldman, the institution that came through last year’s financial crisis best – arguably the only pure investment bank left standing – will say how much money it made in the third quarter (a lot) and how many billions it has stored for bonuses (about $5.5bn towards a likely 2009 bonus pool of $23bn).

For believers in Goldman’s ethical standards and way of doing business, these are difficult times. Although it avoided the mistakes that brought down Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers, forced Merrill Lynch into Bank of America’s arms, and prodded Morgan Stanley further into lower-risk retail broking, Goldman has become a whipping boy.

There is outrage that, having taken government money to survive the crash, Goldman is in such rude health that it will hand out billions in bonuses. Matt Taibbi, a Rolling Stone writer, caught the mood memorably by describing Goldman as “a giant vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity”.

Such is Goldman’s importance to Wall Street and regulation that I am devoting a pair of columns to it. Today, I will discuss the Goldman problem (different and less egregious to what Mr Taibbi believes, but still a problem). Next week, I will suggest what should be done about it by regulators and the bank itself.

Goldman executives were wounded by how seriously Mr Taibbi’s piece was taken despite their riposte that vampire squids are small creatures that present no danger to humanity. He accused it of profiting from bubbles such as the US internet and housing booms, and of repeatedly “selling investments they know are crap” to retail investors.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:35 PM

October 10, 2009

How banks will get customers to cover a round of big losses

John Dizard:
This, they toss off with the certainty of wine-fuelled genius, also explains the rise in the gold price.

Actually, I do not think that is how the bank risk paradox will play out.

There are going to be much larger write-offs and reserves taken at all the big banks, with the peak in reported bad news probably coming next year. However, the taxpayer will not be asked for more capital, and the Federal Reserve and Treasury will gradually dismantle the temporary support structures, just as they say.

How is this possible? Because the public will pay through usury, not taxation. There is a big difference, of course. Usury is less visible, and you cannot effectively vote against it.

Blood will flow, but it will do so not as a catastrophic bath for the banks, but as a gradual transfusion to them from their customers.

There will be headline risk for the banks' management and public securities, which is why I think that their CDS protection is too cheap at the moment.

One source of headline risk is the spectre of Federal Government reform of the financial system. God knows there is a good case to be made for de-cartelising the industry, but that is not going to happen.
Bank spreads are at record levels. Their cost of funds is nearly 0, while they lend it out at 4.99% or (much) greater. Plus, the fees.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:09 PM

October 3, 2009

One Year Later, Little Has Changed

Ed Wallace:
"By buying U.S. Treasuries and mortgages to increase the monetary base by $1 trillion, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke didn’t put money directly into the stock market, but he didn’t have to. With nowhere else to go, except maybe commodities, inflows into the stock market have been on a tear. The dollars he cranked out didn’t go into the hard economy, but instead into tradable assets."

— "The Bernanke Market," Wall Street Journal, July 15, 2009

"In the last week alone, the European Central Bank allocated the record sum of $619 billion to 1,1,00 financial institutions – at a paltry 1 percent interest rate. And yet the money is not going where the central banks want it to go, namely into the pockets of businesses and consumers – at least not at reasonable interest rates."

— "How German Banks are Cashing In on the Financial Crisis," Der Spiegel, July 1, 2009

Two weeks ago, in meetings with their North Texas dealers, both Toyota and Honda voiced concern about how the economic recovery was going to hold up over the next few quarters. It wasn’t public news yet in the States, but Japanese executives already knew that their imports and exports had fallen sharply through the summer. And, while our business media were cheerleading because the Dow Jones was once again flirting with 10,000, in Japan their exports had just fallen 36 percent; metal shipments to the U.S. were down by more than 80 percent, automobile shipments by 50 percent. This was a problem here, too: In August America’s dealers seriously needed Japanese vehicles to restock their depleted inventories.

Toyota and Honda took different tacks for the fourth quarter. Toyota said it will spend $1 billion in advertising to move the retail market. Honda, always more cautious in difficult times, said it would spend nothing during the same period. Honda added that it will keep dealer inventories at a 30-day supply of unsold vehicles, half the inventory considered normal.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:50 PM

September 27, 2009

The Truth About the TATA Nano

Sajeev Mehta:
hy is a soon-to-be success story gathering dust at TATA dealers across India? Much like the initial growing pains of the Ford Model T, the $2000 Nano currently lies on waiting list. Given the lopsided supply/demand and construction conflagrations with the government, I reckon enterprising Indians are flipping the Nanos living in parking lot limbo for profit. Still, my precious few moments sitting in somebody’s dusty Nano left me impressed. Not because it was a perfect machine: I saw automotive history in the making.

Rarely in America is a car designed around a vision: witness the overweight performance icons clawing for yesteryear’s glory, car based trucks and globally designed, badge engineered atrocities. Not with the TATA Nano: behold the homegrown hero.

The Nano is born from an undying need for affordable transportation in a country with a growing but repressed middle class. This group needs a family vehicle superior to tube frame rickshaws and 150cc motorcycles carrying four or more people. Yes, really: I saw a family of four riding a motorcycle through the congested, fast paced, life threatening streets of Bangalore. Make no mistake: a car at this price and size is the automotive embodiment of “If you Build It, They Will Come.”

It’s all about the lakhs; the Nano is designed around a price befitting the Indian working class. One look around the beast shows the good, bad and ugly of the situation.

Exterior fit and finish is respectable, until you spot the unfinished rear hatchback seams, hurriedly painted over. That stylish rear hatch is glued shut, so cargo is only accessible from the rear seat. And the list of price-conscious ideas doesn’t stop: three-lug wheels, single arm wiper blade and an adorable looking center exit exhaust.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:39 PM

September 24, 2009

The Grillwalker Takes Berlin: Portable Restaurant...

NY Times.
Posted by James Zellmer at 7:05 AM

September 20, 2009

Andrew Bird Concert @ Overture Center Madison Photos

Click on the image above to view a panoramic scene. A few still photos can be seen here.

Bird appeared in Madison as part of the 2009 Forward Music Festival.
Posted by James Zellmer at 7:35 PM

Curb Litter: Pacifier, Cigarette Butts and Fall Leaves

This photo was taken in downtown Madison.
Posted by James Zellmer at 4:53 PM

Resurrecting the Paris of the Orient

Heba Saleh:
Look past the grime and the disrepair and it is possible to see beautiful buildings in Cairo. But resurrecting the spirit of the city that used to be called the “Paris of the Orient,” is a daunting challenge.
Posted by James Zellmer at 1:57 PM

September 17, 2009

Cropping Photos......

David Hulme Kennedy:
The Sept. 14th Newsweek cover line — “Is Your Baby Racist?” — should have included a sub-head, “Is Dick Cheney a Butcher?”

Featured inside the magazine was a full-page, stand-alone picture of former Vice President Dick Cheney, knife in hand, leaning over a bloody carving board. Newsweek used it to illustrate a quote that he made about C.I.A. interrogators. By linking that photo with Mr. Cheney’s comment and giving it such prominence, they implied something sinister, macabre, or even evil was going on there.

I took that photograph at his daughter Liz’s home during a two-day assignment, and was shocked by its usage. The meat on the cutting board wasn’t the only thing butchered. In fact, Newsweek chose to crop out two-thirds of the original photograph, which showed Mrs. Cheney, both of their daughters, and one of their grandchildren, who were also in the kitchen, getting ready for a simple family dinner.

However, Newsweek’s objective in running the cropped version was to illustrate its editorial point of view, which could only have been done by shifting the content of the image so that readers just saw what the editors wanted them to see. This radical alteration is photo fakery. Newsweek’s choice to run my picture as a political cartoon not only embarrassed and humiliated me and ridiculed the subject of the picture, but it ultimately denigrated my profession.
Posted by James Zellmer at 6:05 AM

September 9, 2009


Which brings up an interesting, and not trivial question: why is the U.S. , home of no anti-trust enforcement during the last eight years, home of raw capitalism, supposed home of competition, about to be without a single decent source of unbiased news? And why is Britain, socialist leader among English-speaking peoples, suddenly the Keeper of the Realm when it comes to objective news reporting? Who wouldn’t take the BBC over the U.S.’ National Public Radio? Who wouldn’t take the Financial Times over the WSJ? Or the Guardian over the NYT?

The British have not lost the ability to be “fair and balanced,” the self-mocking theme of Fox TV, although Rupert has certainly taken out a lot of the competition.

Why is it, for instance, that the best programs on U.S. politics, the Kennedy assassination, global warming, and even Israel – South African nuclear cooperation, have all come out of Britain? Why can they tell our news stories better than we can? Mostly, I think, they are just neutral. There is something strong in the British psyche that still believes in telling the truth, that still sees the news as news, and not as advertising conveyor belt. The U.S. has totally lost this view, with the exceptions noted above, and in some small papers, although many of those have gone their own sad, ad-driven route.

Indeed, in a time when owners are pointing to a lack of ads to support their product, I think they are missing the whole point: they are losing subscribers, and the ads are following.

Today, I read the FT religiously, the NYT increasingly, and the WSJ almost not at all. I’m not alone; several friends have recently canceled their WSJ subscriptions, so fed up are they with Murdoch’s machinations. I don’t see how the WSJ can survive, being a Murdoch bauble, even if he sees it as the crown jewel. What he thinks doeesn’t matter, or worse, matteres and is morally wrong, as advertisers on Fox have proven lately by dropping the Beck show like a stone.
The Financial Times is an excellent read (their iPhone app is better than either the Wall Street Journal's or the NY Times). I think the Wall Street Journal and New York Times have interesting articles from time to time. Kudos to the Financial Times for sticking to their knitting, as it were.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:15 AM

September 6, 2009

Medical Tourism Takes Flight

Leslie Norton:
A growing number of U.S. insurers are paying for patients to have medical procedures performed more cheaply overseas. And that's raising the profile of a few companies you've probably never heard of. Video: Bangkok Bypass Surgery

IN THE PAST THREE MONTHS, THE CREAKY Barron's staff has replaced a hip, two knees and undergone various nips and tucks. Based on average prices, these cost a total of at least $100,000. But abroad, say in Singapore, the tab would have been about $50,000, including stays in a private room, airfare and a vacation for the patients and their companions. Elsewhere in Asia, medical care is even cheaper. That's why more U.S. insurers are considering financing treatment for Americans willing to travel abroad. In fact, "medical tourism" could help rein in the health-care costs that devour 16% of America's gross domestic product.

That possibility is raising the profile of a few publicly traded companies you've probably never heard of: Thailand's Bumrungrad Hospital (ticker: BH.Thailand) and Bangkok Dusit Medical Services (BGH.Thailand), Singapore's Parkway Holdings (PWAY.Singapore) and Raffles Medical (RFMD.Singapore), and India's Apollo Hospitals (APHS.India). Says Prathap Reddy, the U.S.-trained cardiologist who founded Apollo in 1983 and is its chairman: "We bring excellent care at a cost benefit. If the U.S. were to cover all its people, there would be a demand/supply gap. India can step in with equivalent care at one-fifth the cost."
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:27 PM

September 3, 2009

Paranoid Survivor: Andrew Grove

The Economist:
EARLIER this year Andrew Grove taught a class at Stanford Business School. As a living legend in Silicon Valley and a former boss of Intel, the world’s leading chipmaker, Dr Grove could have simply used the opportunity to blow his own trumpet. Instead he started by displaying a headline from the Wall Street Journal heralding the recent takeover of General Motors by the American government as the start of “a new era”. He gave a potted history of his own industry’s spectacular rise, pointing out that plenty of venerable firms—with names like Digital, Wang and IBM—were nearly or completely wiped out along the way.

Then, to put a sting in his Schumpeterian tale, he displayed a fabricated headline from that same newspaper, this one supposedly drawn from a couple of decades ago: “Presidential Action Saves Computer Industry”. A fake article beneath it describes government intervention to prop up the ailing mainframe industry. It sounds ridiculous, of course. Computer firms come and go all the time, such is the pace of innovation in the industry. Yet for some reason this healthy attitude towards creative destruction is not shared by other industries. This is just one of the ways in which Dr Grove believes that his business can teach other industries a thing or two. He thinks fields such as energy and health care could be transformed if they were run more like the computer industry—and made greater use of its products.

Dr Grove may be 73 and coping with Parkinson’s disease, but his wit is still barbed and his desire to provoke remains as strong as ever. Rather than slipping off to a gilded retirement of golf or gallivanting, as many other accomplished men of his age do, he is still spoiling for a fight.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:09 PM

Documenting the decline of two US industries

Claire Holland:
Eirik Johnson’s quietly theatrical photographs carry the sense of a way of life and work that is on the cusp of slipping away. For four years, Seattle-born Johnson travelled through Oregon, Washington and northern California, around the former boomtowns that were built on the now-declining salmon and timber industries.

He describes the resulting series, published as Sawdust Mountain, as “a melancholy love letter of sorts, my own personal ramblings”. Many of Johnson’s works are informed by the epic, picturesque 19th-century landscapes of Carleton Watkins, who took some of the earliest known images of the region. In others, his use of space and colour pays homage to several living photographers.

Johnson’s images are rendered all the more intense by his palette, through which he uses the region’s faded light to emphasise the down-at-heel tones of the man-made environment. His muted colours are a counterpoint to William Eggleston’s photographs of the American south, whose “harsh bright light and colours … seemed like the mirror opposite of what I saw present in the northwest,” says Johnson.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:02 PM

August 31, 2009

The Iraqi who saved Norway from oil

Martin Sandbu:
When he boarded his flight from London to Oslo, Farouk al-Kasim, a young Iraqi geologist, knew his life would never again be the same. Norway was a country about as different as it was possible to imagine from his home, the Iraqi port city of Basra. He had no job to go to, and no idea of how he would make a living in the far north. It was May 1968 and al-Kasim had just resigned from his post at the Iraq Petroleum Company. To do so, he had had to come to the UK, where the consortium of western companies that still controlled most of his country’s oil production had its headquarters.

For all its uncertainties, al-Kasim’s journey to Norway had a clear purpose: he and his Norwegian wife, Solfrid, had decided that their youngest son, born with cerebral palsy, could only receive the care he needed there. But it meant turning their backs on a world of comforts. Al-Kasim’s successful career had afforded them the prosperous lifestyle of Basra’s upper-middle class. Now they would live with Solfrid’s family until he could find work, though he had little hope of finding a job as rewarding as the one he had left behind. He was not aware that oil exploration was under way on the Norwegian continental shelf, and even if he had known, it wouldn’t have been much cause for hope: after five years of searching, still no oil had been found.

But al-Kasim’s most immediate problem on arriving in Oslo that morning was how to fill the day: his train to Solfrid’s home town did not depart until 6.30pm. “I thought what I am going to do in these hours?” he says. “So I decided to go to the Ministry of Industry and ask them if they knew of any oil companies coming to Norway.”
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:35 AM

August 22, 2009

Sunrise: Fitchburg's New Pedestrian & Bicycle Bridge

Posted by James Zellmer at 3:34 PM

August 21, 2009

Britain's National Medical Records Project - "No money spent on training"...

Nicholas Timmins:
“If you live in Birmingham,” declared Tony Blair when he was UK prime minister, “and you have an accident while you are, for example, in Bradford, it should be possible for your records to be instantly available to the doctors treating you.”

Not any more. Or not, at least, if the Conservatives win the next general election. For the Tories have pledged to scrap the country-wide version of the National Health Service’s electronic patient record.

Back in 2002, the idea of a full patient record, available anywhere in an emergency, was the principal political selling point for what was billed as “the biggest civilian computer project in the world”: the drive to give all 50m or so patients in England (the rest of the UK has its own arrangements) an all-singing, all-dancing electronic record. Roll-out was meant to start in 2005 and be completed by 2010.

Under a Conservative government, development of the local record – exchangeable between primary care physicians and their local hospitals – would continue. Nationally, clinicians would still be able to seek access to it when needed from the doctors who would hold it locally. But the idea of a national database of patients’ records, instantly available in an emergency from anywhere in the country, would disappear.

This may or may not matter, depending on your point of view. For many clinicians, the idea of an instantly available national record was always something of a diversion. It is access to a comprehensive record locally that is crucial for day-to-day care.

Nonetheless, the Conservatives’ decision to scrap the central database is a symbolic moment for a £12bn ($20bn, €14bn) programme that has struggled to deliver from day one. It is currently running at least four years late – and there looks to be no chance in the foreseeable future of its delivering quite what was promised.


On top of that, while there was a £6bn budget for the 10-year central contracts, no money was earmarked for training, in spite of the lesson, from the relatively few successful installations of electronic records in US hospitals, that at least as much has to be spent on changing the way staff work as is spent on the systems themselves.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:33 AM

Flickr vs. Free Speech

Mike Arrington:
One thing I’ve learned over the years is this - screwing over your users while yelling “the lawyers made me do it!” rarely ends well. Particularly when the lawyers are just being lazy, and free speech rights are at stake.

Flickr really stepped in it this time. And they’ve sparked a free speech and copyright fascism debate that is unlikely to cool down any time soon.

Sometime last week they took down a photoshopped image of President Obama that makes him look like the Heath Ledger (Joker) character from The Dark Knight. The image was created and uploaded to Flickr by 20 year old college student Firas Alkhateeb while “bored over winter school break.” It was also later altered yet again by someone else and used to create anti-obama posters that went up in Los Angeles.

Thomas Hawk has a good overview of some of the other details, but the short version is the image was removed by Flickr sometime last week due to “due to copyright-infringement concerns.”

People are angry over the takedown. There are lots of pictures mocking President Bush on a Time Magazine cover on Flickr that haven’t been removed. And of the Heath Ledger Joker character.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:23 AM

August 14, 2009

On Locational Privacy, and How to Avoid Losing it Forever

Over the next decade, systems which create and store digital records of people's movements through public space will be woven inextricably into the fabric of everyday life. We are already starting to see such systems now, and there will be many more in the near future.

Here are some examples you might already have used or read about:
  • Monthly transit swipe-cards
  • Electronic tolling devices (FastTrak, EZpass, congestion pricing)
  • Cellphones
  • Services telling you when your friends are nearby
  • Searches on your PDA for services and businesses near your current location
  • Free Wi-Fi with ads for businesses near the network access point you're using
  • Electronic swipe cards for doors
  • Parking meters you can call to add money to, and which send you a text message when your time is running out
These systems are marvellously innovative, and they promise benefits ranging from increased convenience to transformative new kinds of social interaction.

Unfortunately, these systems pose a dramatic threat to locational privacy.
Posted by James Zellmer at 2:47 PM

July 28, 2009

Airbus A380 in Oshkosh!

Dave Demerjian:
Of all the planes to touch down in Oshkosh this week, one towers above all others. That’s the Airbus A380.

We’ve written about the 380 before, and it’s tough to call a plane that’s already in service at three different airlines experimental, but today Airbus gave us – and the rest of the crowd here – something much cooler than your typical commercial jet landing. Flying in from Toulouse (via Milwaukee) under the command of test pilot Terry Lutz, the 380 did multiple flybys over the airfield, showing off for the thousands of assembled plane watchers before touching down at 3:15 local time.

As the plane rolled to a stop, it’s four engines still roaring, we couldn’t help but be awed all over again by its sheer size: 239 feet long, 79 feet high, with a wingspan of almost 80 269 feet and weighing in at 610,000 pounds. Seeing the plane in the company of so many other things with wings (some of them not so small themselves) puts those numbers in perspective. And while it might seem silly to call an aircraft the size of the A380 graceful, there’s no other way to describe the way it gently turned and banked as it circled the airfield before making its final approach. We’ve made it clear from the start that we love this plane, and today in Oshkosh we found a reason to love it a little bit more.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:19 PM

July 19, 2009

The Devil is in The Retail

Edwin Heathcote:
The only way these big developments have been able to get planning permission is for a local authority to parcel together a big tract of land (usually formerly industrial or railway land, often formerly publicly owned) and to give over the whole thing to a developer who is charged with driving the “regeneration” that the public sector has largely lost the ability to conceive. Consequently, rather than the network of public streets interspersed with public spaces, private blocks and semi-private but accessible courtyards that forms the fabric of the traditionally complex city centre, we get the pseudo-civic space of the mall without walls. Protest in these spaces is banned, as is public gathering, distribution of leaflets, drinking, sleeping and, of course, photography. Yet there has been no outcry.

Particularly in the UK, we have become so inured to the smooth transition of public assets into private ownership that even the loss of our public spaces seems to us quite natural. I have been asked to stop taking photos of new office buildings from the public street outside, I have been stopped in malls, in piazzas and by canals. I have even been asked to stop taking notes. What Debord was calling for was a city in which what was important was not the way it looked or how many new shops it had but the multiplicity of ways in which it could be used. His way of subverting the structure of a Paris that had been conceived by Baron Haussmann, with wide avenues to enable an army swiftly to quell a revolution, was to walk across it on an aimless walk – the famous dérive – in which the flâneur concentrates on the mundane and the banal and does not allow his gaze to be directed to the formal or the ceremonial.

. . .

The Guatamalan architect Teddy Cruz, who works in the strange hinterlands between the wealth of San Diego and the poverty of Tijuana just across the border in Mexico, has called for a new system of measuring the success of a city – one based not on density of population or on the value of turnover and rent but on the frequency of social transactions. It represents a radical departure. The idea of regeneration that has emerged over the past couple of decades has been based solely on the generation of money. Big, retail-led and commercial schemes are encouraged, even subsidised, planning controls are loosened to accommodate them and civic democracy and local objections are overridden as the objectives of rising property prices, increased local taxes and the presence of “flagship” and “anchor” stores and brands becomes a planning Xanadu.
Posted by James Zellmer at 1:41 PM

July 12, 2009

A New News Media Emerges for Our New World

Fabius Maximums:
Summary: One indicator of the massive changes sweeping America is the destruction of longtime solid business models. This post discussed colleges; today we look at the news media. Tons of ink have been spilled on this, but IMO ignoring some likely outcomes.

The major news media are on a treadmill. Loss of credibility shrinks their audience, hence less revenue, hence reduced funding. Which reduces the quality of their product, hence even less audience. Worse is the loss of advertisers to new media (e.g., Craigslist and Google), which means less revenue, less funding for news collection, and smaller audiences.

This posts speculates about the future, what new models might emerge from this turmoil. Here are some guesses.
Posted by James Zellmer at 6:00 PM

July 6, 2009

Change You Won't Believe

Ed Wallace:
I don’t mean to slight Michael Jackson’s once-formidable talent, nor do I dismiss his troubled personal life. But have we become so frivolous as a nation that any entertainer’s tragic and untimely death warranted more news coverage — day after day after day — than the real issues that will confront each of us now and in the all-too-near future? Apparently so. Most of us know more about the last two days of Jackson’s life than we know about the negotiations in which Washington forced GM and Chrysler into bankruptcy. You certainly know more about Jackson’s death that the names on the list of the 25 individuals who destroyed the world’s financial system. Of course, none of the 25 has died; they still work at the same jobs.

Let Them Eat Cowboys?

Not to be overly dramatic, but this should remind any thinking person of the declining days of the Roman Empire. Its citizens refused to deal with the decay and legitimate problems of their cities and empire, instead demanding more and more coliseums be built for their personal entertainment.

Well, we do have a new billion-dollar stadium for the Cowboys. And it has certainly received far more press coverage than the recently passed House Bill that proponents claim will save the planet from global warming. Yes, forces are gathering to reverse our 100-year history of citizens’ free travel to work and for leisure – and of that freedom’s benefits to our economy.
Posted by James Zellmer at 2:14 PM

The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford's Forgotten Jungle City By Greg Grandin

Brian Ladd:
We revere Henry Ford: the inventor of modern mass production; the man who put Americans on wheels; the stolid Midwesterner whose ingenuity, common sense and hard work built an empire. Yet this same man was a bundle of contradictions: a pacifist who built tanks and warplanes, and who unleashed frightful brutality against his own striking workers; a hardheaded tycoon who strove to restore a sentimental vision of small-town life. He was, in short, the quintessential American: a hero and a fool.

"Fordism" also became a beacon for the world. Lenin's Russia, Hitler's Germany and many poor countries looked to the magic of mass production - and the magic of automobiles - to catapult their way to prosperity. Still, it's a little surprising that Greg Grandin wants to explain Henry Ford's America by taking us up the Amazon, where an old-fashioned water tower rises out of the jungle, hinting at a lost utopia.

Grandin, author of "Ford-landia," has rediscovered one of Ford's most ambitious but least known ventures. In 1927, Ford obtained a Connecticut-size chunk of the Brazilian jungle. His immediate goal was to establish a rubber plantation to supply his factories' insatiable demand for tires and gaskets, but he also saw an opportunity to bring Brazil the same blessings that he prided himself on bringing to his Michigan workers: good wages, plus the standards of middle-class propriety that spelled the difference between civilization and chaos.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:53 AM

July 4, 2009

Independence Day USA

I had the opportunity to recently visit Budapest's House of Terror Museum. The museum is housed in a former security services building and provides a powerful reminder of the forces of tyranny. This photo features victim images above a Soviet era tank.

An appropriate reminder of the price of freedom, today, the Fourth of July, 2009.

An a more pleasant note, Jeff Sullivan posted a gorgeous Yosemite image set here.

It is hard to go wrong at stunning Yosemite! God Bless America.
Posted by James Zellmer at 11:23 AM

July 2, 2009

Washington Post Sells Access to Lobbyists

For $25,000 to $250,000, The Washington Post is offering lobbyists and association executives off-the-record, nonconfrontational access to "those powerful few" — Obama administration officials, members of Congress, and the paper’s own reporters and editors.

The astonishing offer is detailed in a flier circulated Wednesday to a health care lobbyist, who provided it to a reporter because the lobbyist said he feels it’s a conflict for the paper to charge for access to, as the flier says, its “health care reporting and editorial staff."

The offer — which essentially turns a news organization into a facilitator for private lobbyist-official encounters — is a new sign of the lengths to which news organizations will go to find revenue at a time when most newspapers are struggling for survival.

And it's a turn of the times that a lobbyist is scolding The Washington Post for its ethical practices.

"Underwriting Opportunity: An evening with the right people can alter the debate," says the one-page flier. "Underwrite and participate in this intimate and exclusive Washington Post Salon, an off-the-record dinner and discussion at the home of CEO and Publisher Katharine Weymouth. ... Bring your organization’s CEO or executive director literally to the table. Interact with key Obama administration and congressional leaders …

“Spirited? Yes. Confrontational? No. The relaxed setting in the home of Katharine Weymouth assures it. What is guaranteed is a collegial evening, with Obama administration officials, Congress members, business leaders, advocacy leaders and other select minds typically on the guest list of 20 or less. …

Read more: http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0709/24441.html#ixzz0K6yNKyHp&C
Related: Helen Thomas.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:16 AM

June 30, 2009

US vs. Japan: Residential Internet Service Pricing

Chiehyu Li:
The following chart lists the price, download and upload speeds of residential Internet services in the U.S. and Japan.
NTT (Nippon Telegraph and Telephone) is the major incumbent telephone operator in Japan. NTT has focused on fiber-optic business while Yahoo! BB (a subsidiary of SoftBank Telecom Corp.) has had first-mover advantage for DSL Internet. Due to unbundling requirements, Yahoo! BB and @nifty provide DSL service by renting NTT’s telephone lines at low prices.

Cable/DSL service In the U.S., the price for cable or DSL (1Mbps-7 Mbps) ranges from roughly $20-45/month. Comcast has higher speed Internet, 15Mbps-50Mbps, and costs $43-$140 per month.
In Japan, the typical Internet speed is higher than the U.S. (8Mbps-50Mbps), and costs $30-60 per month. J:COM, a large cable Internet provider, has cable Internet up to 160Mbps, costs $63 ($0.4 per megabit).
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:29 AM

June 21, 2009

The City of Your Dreams

Tyler Brule:
“Could you live here?” and “would you live here?” are two of the most common questions colleagues ask each other at the end of a business trip. Responses rarely take the form of a shrugged “I don’t know” or a half-hearted “I guess so”. Rather, they typically come in vehement declarations suggesting that considerable thought has gone into the topic already. Here are a few I’ve heard over the years:

On the train to Chicago’s O’Hare: “No way. It’s neither one thing nor the other and just look at this sad excuse of a train to the airport.”

In a cab to Vancouver International Airport: “Definitely not for me – seems a bit sleepy and limp.”

In a big Mercedes en route to Hong Kong’s Chek Lap Kok: “I could do it for a short stint but it wouldn’t be for the quality of life.”

Hitching a ride with an associate to Geneva’s Cointrin: “If I could get a great flat close to the lake and move my five closest friends, then it would be amazing.”

Being taxied to Fukuoka airport: “If I wanted the best of Japan but also great connections to the rest of Asia then it would be my first choice.”

Assessing quality of life is a difficult business and, as a result, surveys on the subject throw up different results.

The Economist Intelligence Unit’s liveability ranking, released this past Monday, put Vancouver, Canada, in the top spot out of 140 world cities, followed by Vienna.

Canada, Australia and Switzerland dominated the rest of the top 10, with Melbourne in third place, Toronto in fourth, Calgary and Perth tied for fifth/sixth, Geneva in eighth and Zürich and Sydney tied for ninth/10th. Helsinki was seventh, while London was 51st, behind Manchester at 46th. Asia’s best city was Osaka, Japan, at 13th, while the top US spot was Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania at 29th.

Mercer’s quality of living survey, released in April and covering 215 cities, was led by Vienna, followed by Zürich, Geneva, Vancouver and Auckland. Singapore was the most liveable Asian locale in 26th place, Honolulu was best in the US at 29th and London was the highest UK scorer at 38th.

There are similarities between these lists and Monocle’s and the reason is simple. According to Jon Copestake, editor of the EIU report, cities that score best tend to be mid-sized, in developed countries, offering culture and recreation but without the crime or infrastructure problems seen in places with larger populations.

Most of us tend to play some version of the game every time we travel and, while some quickly conclude they wouldn’t trade their current set-up for anywhere else in the world, I’d argue there are considerably more who are tempted to give up their current address for a place that promises better housing, worklife, transport, schools, restaurants, weather, shopping and weekend pursuits.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:01 PM

June 20, 2009

The Author as Performer

James Harkin:
Late last year, for one night only, fans of the musical The Lion King were turned away from the Lyceum theatre in London’s West End. If they had been able to peer inside at the stage they would have witnessed not Simba, dancers in multicoloured costumes and “The Circle of Life” but a solitary, slender 45-year-old Canadian with bouffant hair standing behind a lectern. There were no props, apart from the video screen relaying his image around the huge auditorium, but this didn’t bother the youngish crowd who had bought 4,000 tickets at around £20 a piece to listen to one of two consecutive performances.

The speaker was the influential journalist, author and ideas entrepreneur Malcolm Gladwell, in town to promote his latest book, Outliers: The Story of Success. But this wasn’t a book reading or a Q&A session of the kind authors traditionally submit to. Neither was it a slide show, as you might expect to find at a lecture. Instead, the author recounted a single vignette from the book – the tale of why a plane ended up crashing, from the perspective of the pilots and those in the control tower – and burnished it into a narrative with all the chill and pace of a traditional ghost story. Even the lighting was kept deliberately low to create the right atmosphere. The performance lasted precisely an hour and five minutes, and no questions were invited after Gladwell had finished speaking. Rather than a talk about a book, it looked more like a carefully choreographed stage show.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:30 PM

Lunch with the FT: Sir Simon Rattle

Andrew Clark:
attle found the criticism painful. Popping another tomato in his mouth, he lets slip that the reason Lunch with the FT took so long to arrange – more than a year – was that he was stung by what I had written. “That’s why I avoided speaking to you.”

. . .

But last year his Berlin contract was extended to 2018 – an impressive vote of confidence from an orchestra that, unusually, is entirely self-governing while receiving most of its funds from the state. And a visit to the London Proms revealed a man who had matured and mellowed. He had finally begun to learn German. He still struggles to speak it (“anyone less linguistically gifted than me is hard to imagine”, he confesses), but by attempting to do so he had broken an important psychological barrier. His podium gestures were as jubilant as ever, but his Brahms had acquired unmistakable depth.

Sitting across the lunch table, I begin to understand why. Rattle is settling into comfortable middle age. The blue T-shirt may advertise a man still young at heart but the curls are white and thinning. Yesterday’s boy wonder is now older than most of his orchestra. He has begun to slow down, to be slightly less sensitive to criticism.

But there’s another factor at work. Rattle has made his home in Berlin, something not even Herbert von Karajan, his most illustrious predecessor, had done. He lives in one of the city’s leafy quarters and is often seen doing the family shopping in its open-air markets. It’s as if he has gone native. So what has he learned about the Germans?

“People are more subtle and complicated than they are made out to be,” he answers, pouring some of the red wine he has brought outside. Does this mean Germans are not the humourless caricature peddled by England’s tabloid newspapers? Rattle sighs. It wasn’t until his late twenties, he says, after discussing the horrors of the Nazi era with Viennese conductor Rudolf Schwarz, a Belsen survivor who resumed his career in Birmingham after the war, that he became aware of the complexities of national identity.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:26 PM

June 16, 2009

Peter Bernstein's Lasting Lessons

Julia Kirby:
The news came to us at HBR just after our newest issue went to the printer; that issue contains, sadly, the last article he wrote for our pages. Because it is the July-August issue, and will arrive on newsstands two weeks hence, it will seem strange to many readers that the byline makes no note of his passing -- and worse, that the editor's letter is mute on the many accomplishments of his rich and long life. Such are the perils of print publishing, and for that we apologize.

But here let it be said that, when work began last January on envisioning the July-August issue -- a special, double-sized issue devoted wholly to exploring how the business landscape would be transformed by the financial crisis and recession -- Peter Bernstein's voice was the first we sought to include. He was the master at explaining issues of financial risk, and there has scarcely been a time when the world needed his kind of clear analysis more.

In response to a vaguely worded invitation from us (deliberately so, in the interests of giving Peter full license to address what he felt needed to be addressed), he came back with a tightly crafted essay called "The Moral Hazard Economy."
Posted by James Zellmer at 4:42 PM

June 12, 2009

Thinking for the Driver: The New Mercedes E250CDI

Dan Neil:
If the car senses erratic steering and rapid corrections, the telltales of fatigue, the Attention Assist will advise you to get some rest as it displays a big coffee cup icon in the instrument panel (this is my favorite ISO 9000 icon, by the way). Attention Assist is just one of a dozen or more marquee safety systems Mercedes has piled onto the E-class for 2010, and it's clear at the outset that Mercedes is returning to safety as a transcendent brand value after years of marketing itself as the spoils of well-paying bad behavior, the glittery metal floss under Britney Spears' untrussed derriere.

Suddenly, the E-class is, again, the car for grown-ups.

I won't parrot the company line about the E-class being the heart and soul of the brand, except that it is. The E-class is a "business saloon," the standard-issue Mercedes -- stout, reliable, comfortable and enduring. This is the stainless-steel Rolex of cars, steadily elegant and appropriate for any occasion, and you have to admire the alacrity with which the E-class can go from being a tan airport taxi drone in Berlin to being a valet-park star in Beverly Hills.

To save you the suspense, I'll tell you now: The new E-class is a fantastic car but for one huge, agonizing, inexcusable error that baffles me like a Rubik's Cube the size of the Seagrams Building. More on that in a moment. For now, consider a short list of some of the more fun safety systems available on the E-class as standard or options.
Posted by James Zellmer at 3:32 PM

May 26, 2009

On Manufacturing in China

The Economist:
HE recent scandals about poisoned baby milk, contaminated pet food and dangerous toys from China have raised questions about manufacturing standards in the country that has become factory to the world. In China’s defence, it was probably inevitable that as production grew so would the problems associated with it, at least in the short term. Similarly, it could be argued that China is going through the same quality cycle that occurred during Japan’s post-war development or America’s manufacturing boom in the late 19th century—but in an environment with infinitely more scrutiny.

A response to both these observations can be found in “Poorly Made in China” by Paul Midler, a fluent Chinese speaker who in 2001 moved to China to work as a consultant to the growing numbers of Western companies now replacing factories in Europe and America with subcontracting relationships in the emerging industrial zone surrounding Guangzhou. It was the perfect period to arrive. The normal problems of starting a business, such as getting clients or providing a value proposition, do not hinder Mr Midler, who had the benefit of being in the right place at the right time.
Posted by James Zellmer at 4:26 PM

May 22, 2009

An Interview with George Roberts & Henry Kravis

Henny Sender interviews KKR founders George Roberts & Henry Kravis on the economy, buying "defensive" companies and government intervention.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:56 AM

May 13, 2009

America's Triple A Credit Rating at Risk

David Walker:
Long before the current financial crisis, nearly two years ago, a little-noticed cloud darkened the horizon for the US government. It was ignored. But now that shadow, in the form of a warning from a top credit rating agency that the nation risked losing its triple A rating if it did not start putting its finances in order, is coming back to haunt us.

That warning from Moody’s focused on the exploding healthcare and Social Security costs that threaten to engulf the federal government in debt over coming decades. The facts show we’re in even worse shape now, and there are signs that confidence in America’s ability to control its finances is eroding.

Prices have risen on credit default insurance on US government bonds, meaning it costs investors more to protect their investment in Treasury bonds against default than before the crisis hit. It even, briefly, cost more to buy protection on US government debt than on debt issued by McDonald’s. Another warning sign has come from across the Pacific, where the Chinese premier and the head of the People’s Bank of China have expressed concern about America’s longer-term credit worthiness and the value of the dollar.

The US, despite the downturn, has the resources, expertise and resilience to restore its economy and meet its obligations. Moreover, many of the trillions of dollars recently funnelled into the financial system will hopefully rescue it and stimulate our economy.
Posted by James Zellmer at 3:43 PM

May 12, 2009

How David Beats Goliath

Malcolm Gladwell:
When Vivek Ranadivé decided to coach his daughter Anjali's basketball team, he settled on two principles. The first was that he would never raise his voice. This was National Junior Basketball—the Little League of basketball. The team was made up mostly of twelve-year-olds, and twelve-year-olds, he knew from experience, did not respond well to shouting. He would conduct business on the basketball court, he decided, the same way he conducted business at his software firm. He would speak calmly and softly, and convince the girls of the wisdom of his approach with appeals to reason and common sense.

The second principle was more important. Ranadivé was puzzled by the way Americans played basketball. He is from Mumbai. He grew up with cricket and soccer. He would never forget the first time he saw a basketball game. He thought it was mindless. Team A would score and then immediately retreat to its own end of the court. Team B would inbound the ball and dribble it into Team A's end, where Team A was patiently waiting. Then the process would reverse itself. A basketball court was ninety-four feet long. But most of the time a team defended only about twenty-four feet of that, conceding the other seventy feet. Occasionally, teams would play a full-court press—that is, they would contest their opponent's attempt to advance the ball up the court. But they would do it for only a few minutes at a time. It was as if there were a kind of conspiracy in the basketball world about the way the game ought to be played, and Ranadivé thought that that conspiracy had the effect of widening the gap between good teams and weak teams. Good teams, after all, had players who were tall and could dribble and shoot well; they could crisply execute their carefully prepared plays in their opponent's end. Why, then, did weak teams play in a way that made it easy for good teams to do the very things that made them so good?
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:38 AM

May 10, 2009

Amon Carter Museum

Amon Carter Museum.
Posted by James Zellmer at 7:33 PM

May 7, 2009

The Americans in Pyongyang

Isaac Stone Fish:
The first thing our guide Mr. Li said to the people whom he knew had inflicted untold suffering onto his country was “Welcome. I hope you had a good flight.” Then he paused. "We call you the U.S. Imperialists, since you came in and divided our homeland. When some Korean calls you U.S. Bastards or U.S. Imperialists, I will just translate that. I hope that’s okay, I’m just doing my job.”

a Mr. Li was one of the guides on a tour of Pyongyang in October of 2008, the last month that American tourists were allowed access to the city. I visited as part of a group of 25 Americans, mostly young professionals and students; many said they wanted to see the country before it collapsed under the weight of its own obsolescence. We knew beforehand that our movements would be strictly controlled throughout the tour, and that we were not allowed to wander freely. Our guides showed us the parts of Pyongyang that we were supposed to see. Their filtering the trip was a very valuable way to process information in a place so radically different from anything resembling our definition of normality.
Posted by James Zellmer at 11:09 PM

May 2, 2009

Flawed Credit Ratings Reap Profits as Regulators Fail and a Wachovia Photo

David Evans & Caroline Salas:
Ron Grassi says he thought he had retired five years ago after a 35-year career as a trial lawyer.

Now Grassi, 68, has set up a war room in his Tahoe City, California, home to single-handedly take on Standard & Poor’s, Moody’s Investors Service and Fitch Ratings. He’s sued the three credit rating firms for negligence, fraud and deceit.

Grassi says the companies’ faulty debt analyses have been at the core of the global financial meltdown and the firms should be held accountable. Exhibit One is his own investment. He and his wife, Sally, held $40,000 in Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. bonds because all three credit raters gave them at least an A rating -- meaning they were a safe investment -- right until Sept. 15, the day Lehman filed for bankruptcy.

“They’re supposed to spot time bombs,” Grassi says. “The bombs exploded before the credit companies acted.”

As the U.S. and other economic powers devise ways to overhaul financial regulations, they have yet to come up with plans to address one issue at the heart of the crisis: the role of the rating firms.
I noticed this Wachovia building recently and thought the sunset scene was, perhaps appropriate.
Posted by James Zellmer at 2:19 PM

May 1, 2009

The Political Elite.....

Woody Hochswender:
That is why it was all the more bewildering to have Sen. Dodd come to the gymnasium of the Cornwall Consolidated School on a beautiful spring afternoon for two hours and somehow manage not to utter a single word about the controversies surrounding his role as chairman of the Senate Banking Committee.

These are not exactly state secrets. There was the widely reported sweetheart or VIP mortgage loan from Countrywide Financial to the senator as well as the six-figure campaign contributions from the American Insurance Group whose executives, according to language Sen. Dodd wrote into a bailout bill, were entitled to large bonuses paid for with our tax dollars.

The organizer and moderator of Saturday's forum, Harriet Dorsen, a member of the local Democratic Party committee, told the Lakeville Journal newspaper last week, "I think there are going to be a lot of tough questions."

There weren't. They were all softballs. Instead of the usual give and take, with citizens speaking their minds, all the questions had to be written out in advance on index cards and then submitted to the moderators. A contingent from the Lakeville Journal (including my wife, Cynthia, who is the newspaper's executive editor) was on hand, armed with probing questions.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:48 AM

April 30, 2009

Scenes: "Read a Paper" - and Turn off the TV

A useful idea, from a bookstore south of the Mason Dixon line. I'd substitute "book, or perhaps ebook" for "paper".
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:35 AM

April 26, 2009

VR Scene: Jepson Center for the Arts Savannah

Click for a full screen VR scene. Jepson website.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:46 PM

On China's Flying Culture

PT Black via Jim Fallows:
My trip was significantly less copacetic - due to "fog" (read: noxious pollution) at Pudong no planes were landing. Our evening flight was cancelled, and the the next day's flight delayed three or four hours. We ended up circling in Shanghai, landing in Hangzhou first, deplaning, and only later flying back to Shanghai. Total trip time: 23 hours.

I observed in my flight mates a similar kind of resignation that you saw - but I don't think it is due to any sort of calmness. Instead I saw a powerlessness in front of authority. Again and again people on the plane turned to me and asked me to call my embassy - saying "they will pay attention to you. But they don't care about us Chinese". One passenger (shanghainese) demanded that they hurry us to Shanghai because we had so many foreigners on the plane, and it was a major loss of face for China. The awareness and sensitivity to the poor treatment of local travelers reached a fever pitch when the biscuits and water came to us as we cooled our heels in Hangzhou. One passenger erupted in fury "Where did that Japanese tour group go? Have you given them better food? Have you given them *noodles*? How dare you!"

(The gate attendant's response is a topic for a whole other post. She, a young and pretty woman with trendy heavy glasses and a bejeweled mobile phone, turned to the angry passenger and said "of course we haven't given the Japanese noodles! We will never forget the Nanjing Massacre!"....)
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:09 AM

April 20, 2009

Indian Mother in Record Chilli Attempt

An Indian mother is set for an entry into the Guinness World Records after eating 51 of the world's hottest chilli in two minutes.

Anandita Dutta Tamuly, 26, gobbled up the "ghost chillis" in front of visiting British chef Gordon Ramsay in the north-eastern state of Assam.

Ms Tamuly told Associated Press she "felt terrible" - because she had managed 60 in an earlier local event.

Mr Ramsay tried a chilli but said "it's too much" and pleaded for water. He is in Assam for a television shoot of a global food series.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:51 AM

April 19, 2009

Swamp Art

Posted by James Zellmer at 9:57 PM

Why Sourdough is the Best Bread

Mark Vanhoenacker:
San Francisco's food scene is probably the most vibrant in the Americas. Whether they're starting trends or perfecting them, Bay Area chefs have long been among the world's most creative. But amidst all the innovation, there has been one faithful and beloved constant on the city's many tables: sourdough bread.

It's hard to find someone who doesn't like sourdough, but even rarer are people who know what makes it so distinctive. It's often thought to be a flavouring, or perhaps a baking technique, something pioneered in Gold Rush-era San Francisco. In fact, sourdough is simply bread in which the rise comes not from a package of shop-bought yeast, but from wild yeast that is in the air everywhere.

As the original leavened bread – all bread was "sourdough" until Louis Pasteur's germ theory led to packaged yeast – sourdough has a long and storied past. But as a let-them-eat-cake epoch gives way to home pleasures and the local food movement, sourdough is equally suited to our own times. Classic, inexpensive and uniquely local, sourdough is as fascinating to kids and novices as it is to practiced bakers and mad scientists of all ages.

Sourdough is an ancient art, but with just two ingredients its simplicity is as remarkable as its heritage. Flour and water are mixed and left to stand on a windowsill or kitchen counter. In a matter of days wild yeast take over and the mixture begins to froth and bubble with life. If you've ever wondered at the origins of this or that cooking method – "who on Earth thought to try this?" – sourdough is that rare thing, a miraculous culinary phenomenon that won't give you that feeling. With yeast naturally in the air, it's easy to imagine how an afternoon's forgetfulness in ancient Egypt led to the invention of leavened bread.
Posted by James Zellmer at 11:05 AM

April 11, 2009

McCain in Hong Kong & Vietnam

Greg Torode:
His performance in Vietnam was particularly intriguing. He knows the country well and is treated almost as a celebrity - a reflection of both the quirks of history, and his moral and political courage, qualities that helped propel his White House run.

Senator McCain spent five years as a prisoner of war in Hanoi at the height of the Vietnam conflict, having been shot down and crashing his jet fighter into a lake on the edge of the capital. His vivid descriptions of being tortured - he refused offers of early release as the son of a leading admiral - did not stop his efforts years later. He not only returned to enemy territory but, as a prominent and hawkish Republican, played a key role through the late 1980s and 1990s in America's long delayed reconciliation and normalisation with its victorious opponent.

In his political twilight, Senator McCain could be forgiven for resting easy during his first return to the Vietnamese capital in five years. Despite political and social differences, the two countries are open to trade and investment, and have taken the first steps to a military relationship - a pipe dream just a decade ago.

He remains restless, however. In a speech to the country's diplomatic academy, he passionately urged both nations to get even closer. "Today, the hardest work of normalisation is behind us. The time has come, I believe, for us to move from the normalisation of our ties commensurate with Vietnam's rising status in the region and the world. We should not simply rest on our laurels and allow the relationship to plateau. It is time to take the next step."
Posted by James Zellmer at 6:40 AM

April 10, 2009

Good Friday Links

Wikipedia and Clusty.

Posted by jez at 6:22 AM

April 9, 2009

Pirates and the CIA: What would Thomas Jefferson have done?

Ken Silverstein:
“It was the sixth such attack this week and one of 66 this year by Somali pirates, a collection of shrewd businessmen and daring opportunists who have pulled off a series of spectacular seizures using high- and low-tech gear, from satellite phones and rocket-propelled grenades to battered wooden skiffs and rickety ladders,” the Washington Post reported today about the attack on a U.S.-operated container ship. “In the past year, their booty has included the MV Faina, a Ukrainian ship loaded with tanks and antiaircraft guns, and the MV Sirius Star, a 300,000-ton, 1,000-foot-long Saudi oil tanker that is the largest ship to be seized in history.”

For months, a former senior CIA officer has been telling me that pirate activity off Somalia was a problem that needed to be aggressively dealt with. By chance, I had a meeting with him yesterday as the Maersk Alabama hijacking was unfolding. Here’s what he had to say (he updated his remarks today):

The American response to date has been incredibly naïve and woefully ineffective. Now, predictably, you have an American taken hostage. All of which should have been prevented. You’ve got a failed state in Somalia and pirates operating in an area of ocean that is larger than the state of Texas but we’ve been trying to deal with this from the ocean side, by sending the navy and with a limited application of technology, such as satellites and drones. We can’t afford to patrol that big a piece of the ocean; it’s too expensive to leave a naval task force out there.
Posted by James Zellmer at 11:31 PM

April 3, 2009

April Fools Jokes - a few days later.....

Holiday Lettings:
This stunning accommodation offers deluxe living in the heart of England's capital city. A gated property with secure parking and armed guards, this is the perfect property to relax in complete luxury. Exquisitely furnished with many priceless antiques, royal collections and rare artefacts. 400 people work at the Palace to cater to your every need, including domestic servants, chefs, footmen, cleaners, plumbers, gardeners, chauffeurs, electricians, and two people who look after the 300 clocks.

The palace consists of 19 state rooms, 600 bedrooms and 78 bathrooms. There is an adequate sized banquet hall to entertain your guests in the evening and a throne room which is an unusual but popular additional feature.

The owners do reside in the property but are discreet and are available should you require any assistance. They also own other properties throughout the United Kingdom. Please contact them for further details.
More: The 10 Best April Fools' Jokes and Econoland.
Posted by James Zellmer at 7:25 AM

March 31, 2009

How Bailouts Can Butcher Capitlism

Rick Newman:
One unhappy hallmark of the Great Recession is a dramatic spike in financial distress. Moody's predicts that the default rate on corporate debt--which helps foretell bankruptcies--will be three times higher this year than in 2008. Home foreclosures are already at record highs, and going higher. Defaults on credit cards and other consumer debt will crest right behind mortgages.

The Obama administration is on the case, bailing out banks and homeowners and aiding dozens of industries either directly, through a financial-rescue scheme that could top $2 trillion, or indirectly, through the $787 billion stimulus bill. Automakers, furniture companies, real estate developers, and even porn magnates have their hands out.

[See a tally of the bailout efforts so far.]

Those efforts ought to help soften a sharp recession. But the unprecedented aid to the private sector may also unleash new problems, the way antibiotics have generated stronger strains of bacteria. "There's something fundamental about the need for failure," says Syd Finkelstein, a professor at Dartmouth's Tuck School of Business and author of Think Again: Why Good Leaders Make Bad Decisions and How to Keep It From Happening to You. "We're tinkering with the genetic DNA of a capitalist society."
Posted by James Zellmer at 11:31 AM

March 27, 2009

The Quiet Coup

Simon Johnson:
The crash has laid bare many unpleasant truths about the United States. One of the most alarming, says a former chief economist of the International Monetary Fund, is that the finance industry has effectively captured our government—a state of affairs that more typically describes emerging markets, and is at the center of many emerging-market crises. If the IMF's staff could speak freely about the U.S., it would tell us what it tells all countries in this situation: recovery will fail unless we break the financial oligarchy that is blocking essential reform. And if we are to prevent a true depression, we're running out of time.
Posted by James Zellmer at 7:32 AM

March 24, 2009

Fed & Treasury: Putting off Hard Choices with Easy Money (and Probable Chaos)

John Hussman:
Brief remark - from early reports regarding the toxic assets plan, it appears that the Treasury envisions allowing private investors to bid for toxic mortgage securities, but only to put up about 7% of the purchase price, with the TARP matching that amount - the remainder being "non-recourse" financing from the Fed and FDIC. This essentially implies that the government would grant bidders a put option against 86% of whatever price is bid. This is not only an invitation for rampant moral hazard, as it would allow the financing of largely speculative and inefficently priced bids with the public bearing the cost of losses, but of much greater concern, it is a likely recipe for the insolvency of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, and represents a major end-run around Congress by unelected bureaucrats.


Last week, the Federal Reserve announced its intention to purchase a trillion dollars worth of Treasury debt by creating the little pieces of paper in your pocket that have “Federal Reserve Note” inscribed at the top. In effect, the Fed intends to monetize the Treasury debt in an amount that exceeds the entire pre-2008 monetary base of the United States.

Apparently, the Fed believes that absorbing part of the massively expanding government debt and maybe lowering long-term rates by a fraction of a percentage point will increase the capacity and incentive of the markets to purchase risky and toxic debt. Bernanke evidently believes that the choice between a default-free investment and one that is entirely open to principal loss comes down to a few basis points in interest. Even now, the expansion of federal spending as a fraction of GDP has clear inflationary implications looking a few years out, so any expectation that long-term Treasury yields will fall in response to the Fed's buying must be coupled with the belief that investors will ignore those inflation risks.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:56 AM

March 18, 2009

How Rich Countries Die

Philip Greenspun:
This is a book report on The Rise and Decline of Nations: Economic Growth, Stagflation, and Social Rigidities, by Mancur Olson. There isn’t a whole lot about how nations pulled themselves out of their medieval stagnation (see A Farewell to Alms for that), so a better title for this still-in-print book from 1982 would be “How Rich Countries Die.”

Table 1.1 shows annual rates of growth in per-capita GDP for each of three decades, the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, in a range of rich countries. Contrary to our perception of the U.S. as a growth dynamo and the Europeans as sclerotic, France and Germany tremendously outperformed the U.S., as did most of the other countries. If we have grown larger it is because our population has expanded much faster than the European countries.

Chapter 2 summarizes Olson’s groundbreaking work on how interest groups work to reduce a society’s efficiency and GDP. Some of this work seems obvious in retrospect and indeed Adam Smith noted that businessmen rarely met without conspiring against the public interest. There are a handful of automobile producers and millions of automobile consumers. It makes sense for an automobile company, acting individually, to lobby Congress for tariffs. The company will reap 20-40 percent of the benefits of the tariff. It doesn’t make sense for an individual consumer, however, to lobby Congress. It will cost him millions of dollars to lobby against Congress and preventing the tariff will save him only a few thousand dollars on his next car purchase. The economy suffers because some resources that would have been put to productive use are instead hanging around Washington and because cars are more expensive than they should be.
Posted by James Zellmer at 2:27 PM

Slaughtering sacred cows: it's the turn of the unsecured creditors now

Willem Buiter:
Why are the unsecured creditors of banks and quasi-banks like AIG deemed too precious to take a hit or a haircut since Lehman Brothers went down? From the point of view of fairness they ought to have their heads on the block. It was they who funded the excessive leverage and risk-taking of banks and shadow banks. From the point of view of minimizing moral hazard - incentives for future excessive risk taking - it is essential that they pay the price for their past bad lending and investment decisions. We are playing a repeated game. Reputation matters.

Three arguments for saving the unworthy hides of the unsecured creditors are commonly presented:
Posted by James Zellmer at 2:18 PM

March 15, 2009

The Shaming of John Thain

Greg Farrell & Henny Sender:
John Thain is giving us a tour of what is soon to become America’s most infamous office, with its $87,000 rug, $68,000 sideboard, $28,000 curtains – all part of a $1.2m redecoration scheme. This was early December, a little under two months before Thain would be fired in the same room by his new boss, Ken Lewis, chief executive of Bank of America.

For now, before a price tag had been placed on every item in his office, the 53-year-old chief executive of Merrill Lynch was in high spirits. The worst year on Wall Street in nearly a century was coming to an end, and Thain could rightfully claim to have saved his bank from ruin. Over a weekend in mid-September, as Lehman Brothers collapsed into bankruptcy, Thain pulled off a coup: he persuaded BofA, one of the few financial giants in the US that didn’t need government money to survive, to pay $29 per share for his own firm, even though Merrill was days away from following Lehman into bankruptcy.

Thain had taken over as Merrill chief executive nine months before that weekend deal. Now, he appeared to be one of the few Wall Street leaders who grasped the enormity of the credit crisis. Thanks to his analytical approach to the marketplace, it seemed, Merrill shareholders could look forward to a stake in Bank of America. “I have received thousands of e-mails saying, ‘Thank you for saving our company’,” Thain told us that day. And yet he admitted that the decision to sell Merrill Lynch – a 94-year-old institution that was always “bullish on America” – had been painful. “This was a great job. This was a great franchise. Emotionally, it was a huge responsibility.”
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:08 PM

A Gorgeous Bird Video Short

from the Phillipines.
Posted by James Zellmer at 6:02 PM

March 9, 2009

SNL on Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner

Posted by James Zellmer at 7:55 AM

March 7, 2009

The Fed's moral hazard maximising strategy

Willem Buiter:
The reports on the evidence given by the Vice Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, Don Kohn, to the Senate Banking Committee about the Fed's role in the government's rescue of AIG, have left me speechless and weak with rage. AIG wrote CDS, that is, it sold credit default swaps that provided the buyer of the CDS (including some of the world's largest banks) with insurance against default on bonds and other credit instruments they held. Of course the insurance was only as good as the creditworthiness of the party writing the CDS. When it was uncovered during the late summer of 2008, that AIG had nurtured a little rogue, unregulated investment banking unit in its bosom, and that the level of the credit risk it had insured was well beyond its means, the AIG counterparties, that is, the buyers of the CDS, were caught with their pants down.

Instead of saying, "how sad, too bad" to these counterparties, the Fed decided (in the words of the Wall Street Journal), to unwind ".. some AIG contracts that were weighing down the insurance giant by paying off the trading partners at the full value they expected to realize in the long term, even though short-term values had tumbled."

An LSE colleague has shown me an earlier report in the Wall Street Journal (in December 2008), citing a confidential document and people familiar with the matter, which estimated that about $19 billion of the payouts went to two dozen counterparties between the government bailout of AIG in mid-September and early November 2008. According to this Wall Street Journal report, nearly three-quarters was reported to have gone to a group of banks, including Société Générale SA ($4.8 billion), Goldman Sachs Group ($2.9 billion), Deutsche Bank AG ($2.9 billion), Credit Agricole SA's Calyon investment-banking unit ($1.8 billion), and Merrill Lynch & Co. ($1.3 billion). With the US government (Fed, FDIC and Treasury) now at risk for about $160 bn in AIG, a mere $19 bn may seem like small beer. But it is outrageous. It is unfair, deeply distortionary and unnecessary for the maintenance of financial stability.

Don Kohn ackowledged that the aid contributed to "moral hazard" - incentives for future reckless lending by AIG's counterparties - it "will reduce their incentive to be careful in the future." But, here as in all instances were the weak-kneed guardians of the common wealth (or what's left of it) cave in to the special pleadings of the captains of finance, this bail-out of the undeserving was painted as the unavoidable price of maintaining, defending or restoring financial stability. What would have happened if the Fed had decided to leave the AIG counterparties with their near-worthless CDS protection?

The organised lobbying bulldozer of Wall Street sweeps the floor with the US tax payer anytime. The modalities of the bailout by the Fed of the AIG counterparties is a textbook example of the logic of collective action at work. It is scandalous: unfair, inefficient, expensive and unnecessary.
Posted by James Zellmer at 6:33 PM

March 4, 2009

Wall Street on the Tundra

Michael Lewis:
celand’s de facto bankruptcy—its currency (the krona) is kaput, its debt is 850 percent of G.D.P., its people are hoarding food and cash and blowing up their new Range Rovers for the insurance—resulted from a stunning collective madness. What led a tiny fishing nation, population 300,000, to decide, around 2003, to re-invent itself as a global financial power? In Reykjavík, where men are men, and the women seem to have completely given up on them, the author follows the peculiarly Icelandic logic behind the meltdown. by MICHAEL LEWIS April 2009

Just after October 6, 2008, when Iceland effectively went bust, I spoke to a man at the International Monetary Fund who had been flown in to Reykjavík to determine if money might responsibly be lent to such a spectacularly bankrupt nation. He’d never been to Iceland, knew nothing about the place, and said he needed a map to find it. He has spent his life dealing with famously distressed countries, usually in Africa, perpetually in one kind of financial trouble or another. Iceland was entirely new to his experience: a nation of extremely well-to-do (No. 1 in the United Nations’ 2008 Human Development Index), well-educated, historically rational human beings who had organized themselves to commit one of the single greatest acts of madness in financial history. “You have to understand,” he told me, “Iceland is no longer a country. It is a hedge fund.”
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:12 AM

Selling Your Car

It's interesting to see how sellers position their cars for public sale. Every now and then, I'll notice a car with a for sale sign parked on a high traffic street. This example, a late model BMW 750i, has been parked near a local coffee shop for several weeks.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:35 AM

March 3, 2009

Uwe Reinhardt on the health of the economy and the economics of health

Willem Buiter:
My friend professor Uwe E. Reinhardt of Princeton University presented ECONOMIC TRENDS IN U.S HEALTH CARE: Implications for Investors, at J.P. Morgan's annual healthcare conference on Tuesday, January 13 2009. The first half of the presentation (46 slides!) deals with macroeconomic and financial issues in Uwe's inimitable style - equal portions of wit and insight. The second half deals with the embarrassing mess known as health care in the US.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:27 PM

February 28, 2009

More Evidence on the Power of Gratitude

Bob Sutton:
I wrote a few months back about some intriguing research on the power of gratitude, showing that people who kept "gratitude journals," (keeping track of the good things that happen to them and things that they appreciate in life) not only reported better physical and mental health, their partners also noticed it as well (including reports that they slept better). A new study shows that the positive effect of gratitude on signs of well-being such as mastery, relationships with others, and self-acceptance happen over and above personality factors. Similar to the study of gratitude journals, this study by Alex Wood and his colleagues suggests, that regardless of one's personality, taking time to notice and appreciate the good things in life can help all of us. This strikes as me as an especially important finding given the difficult times.

Here is the source and the abstract for those of you who want to know more:
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:36 PM

February 26, 2009

Obama Speech TV Audience Lags Clinton (1993) and Bush (2001)

Andrew Malcolm:
For his maiden congressional address, Obama cleaned President Bush's clock in terms of TV viewers willing to watch him speak to a bunch of stuffed congressional suits in the House chamber. Which isn't saying much. But it is something for a new president to cling to, especially when you're otherwise up against the sleuths of "NCIS."

Obama got 52.4 million viewers last night (rounded off for those visiting the bathroom) in 37.2 million homes for a 49 share and 32.5 rating. In his last joint address in 2008 GWB got 37.5 million in 27.7 million homes for a 38 share and 24.7 rating. Bush did top Obama in 2003 with 62 million and a 56 share and we didn't even have the Iraq reality show going then. (But it was coming.)

Bush's first joint session appearance drew nearly 39.8 million and a 42 share.

However, Obama still lags the audience-drawing power of one President Bill Clinton. Sixteen years ago this week, when there were millions fewer Americans, Big Bill drew nearly 15 million more viewers -- 66.9 million for his first congressional speech in 44.2 million homes for a 44.3 rating.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:35 AM

Dakar Rally 2009 Photos

Posted by James Zellmer at 8:07 AM

February 25, 2009

An Email to Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin and Senators Russ Feingold and Herb Kohl

Dear [ ]: I hope this message finds you well.

I am writing to express my great concern over this information. Please investigate and determine if it is true.

DoD Officials Vow Secrecy on Budget


If so, this is very disappointing and wrong.

I also would like you to investigate the amount of private jet use by elected officials (both government aircraft and those provided by campaigns and lobbyists). Dilbert has it right:


Website and contact information: Tammy Baldwin, Russ Feingold and Herb Kohl.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:23 AM

February 24, 2009

A Scion Drives Toyota Back to Basics

Norihiko Shirouzu & John Murphy:
Toyota Motor Corp.'s incoming president, Akio Toyoda, has a sobering message for the giant company founded by his grandfather: It has gotten too fancy for its own good.

On Monday, three top executives who helped lead Toyota the past four years -- including Mitsuo Kinoshita, one of the primary architects of the company's global expansion -- announced their retirement. The departures clear the way for Mr. Toyoda's planned makeover of the world's biggest auto maker.

He is expected to focus, most of all, on abandoning kakushin, or "revolutionary change," current president Katsuaki Watanabe's term for changing the way Toyota designed its cars and factories. It spawned technological advances, but led to cars that were often costlier to produce.

The 52-year-old Mr. Toyoda is also working to fix a pricing strategy that put the company at odds with some U.S. dealers, who felt its cars were getting too expensive, according to people familiar with the situation.
Posted by James Zellmer at 5:57 PM

February 13, 2009

BMW Art Cars on Parade

Mark Vaughn:
They won't be racing but BMW's famous Art Cars will be back on display. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art will feature four of BMW's 16 art cars until Feb. 24.

Among the four are some of our favorites:

-- Roy Lichtenstein's 1977 Group 5 320i with its wild wing and body work.

-- Frank Stella's graph-paper 3.0 CSL.

-- The 1979 Group 4 M1 that Andy Warhol painted with a brush.

All three cars raced at Le Mans with their new paint jobs.

Robert Rauschenberg's 1986 6-series was not a race car and, with its more conventional bodywork, seems far more restrained than the rest.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:01 PM

February 11, 2009

Returning Home From a Disney Birthday

I snapped this photo while sitting near a mother and son flying home from a Disneyland birthday trip.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:25 AM

February 7, 2009

Chuck Taylor

Joanne Von Alroth:
Charles Hollis "Chuck" Taylor looked down at his shoes and saw opportunity.

His Spaulding basketball sneakers were killing his feet.

Tired of the pain, the player hobbled into Converse Rubber Co. in 1921 and told owner Marquis Converse what he wanted — a sneaker with a higher ankle and a patch for better support, and a rubber sole with treads that made for a better grip for faster running and breaks.

Converse agreed to cobble one together. The upgraded All-Star shoe was born.

Over the next half-century, Taylor almost single-handedly established the Converse All-Star as the most popular athletic shoe ever.

Known as Chucks in tribute to Taylor, the shoes sold 750 million pairs before Converse was bought by Nike in 2003.

Taylor didn't just build a brand. He also changed the face of basketball through integration, boosted the careers of some of the game's most legendary coaches and helped make roundball one of the most popular sports in the world, notes Abraham Aamidor, author of "Chuck Taylor: Converse All Star."
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:26 AM

February 6, 2009

A Drive in the Tesla Roadster

Dan Neill:
What transpires in the next 2 seconds is the heart and soul, the essence and spirit, of the Roadster. This is the trick this one-trick pony does better than perhaps any sports car on Earth. We in the business call it "rolling acceleration."

At about 20 mph I nail the go pedal, and the power electronics module summons a ferocious torrent of amps, energizing the windings of the 375-volt AC-induction motor. Instantly -- I mean right now, like, what the heck hit me? -- the motor's 276 pound-feet of torque is converted to dumbfounding acceleration. Total number of moving parts: one.

Street lights streak past me like tracer bullets. My little mental circuits go snap-pop with the thrust. God has grabbed me by the jockstrap and fired me off his thumb, rubber band-style. Wow.

Meanwhile, over in the Porsche, 19th-century mechanical forces are taking their own sweet time. The driver has to clutch, shift to a lower gear, and de-clutch -- a regime that takes about half a second if he's talented. When he pushes on the accelerator pedal, the throttles in the Porsche's throat open, the fuel injectors start hosing down the cylinders with high-test, and the variable-angle cams rotate to maximize intake-valve duration. The flashing fire in the cylinders can now apply its maximum force to the pistons.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:36 PM

February 3, 2009

On the Bund - New Shanghai

Dan Chung's latest, from Shanghai.

Posted by James Zellmer at 10:12 PM

Bangle Bids Adieu

Robert Farago:
When it comes time to chart designer Chris Bangle's contribution to the BMW brand's aesthetic, few pundits will praise his pulchritudinous perversion of pistonhead passion, or thank him for the aesthetic affectations for which BMW is now known. In other words, the "Bangle Butt" will be Chris' lasting legacy. Of course, this is also the man who removed the words "flame surfacing" from art school and placed them on the tip of his detractors' tongues. That and Axis of White Power. (Oh! How we laughed!) Equally improbably, the Buckeye State native helped the expression "Dame Edna glasses" cross into the automotive lexicon. Yup. It's been a wild ride. Literally.
BMW design boss Chris Bangle is to leave the car industry, it was announced today. In a statement, BMW said Bangle was quitting 'to pursue his own design-related endeavors beyond the auto industry.'

Bangle, 52, was the architect of the often controversial flame surfacing look that transformed BMW design from the Russian doll mentality of the 1990s to the edgy – some would say radical and divisive – styling of today.

The cars Bangle spannered

The outgoing design chief has overseen the launch of the current 1-, 3-, 5- and 7-series saloons and hatchbacks, as well as the raft of niche models that have seen BMW's model range explode in recent years: the Z3, Z4, Z8, X3, X5, X6 and 6-series were all conceived on his watch.
Bangle grew up in Wausau, WI.

I give him a great deal of credit for dramatically changing what is often a very conservative business: car design.

Dan Neil has more.

Gavin Green has more.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:18 PM

February 1, 2009

A Guide To Bailout Transparency Sites

Elinore Longobardi:
It is no secret that bailout transparency is a problem.

Now that taxpayers have become financiers, we have a right to know where the money is going. In search of organizations with the curiosity and resources to help figure that out, we trolled the Internet for good, easily available bailout information and came up with several sites worth looking at.

You can get charts describing the allocation of bailout money from a variety of sources. Some are easier to find than others, and we’ll leave it up to the reader to figure out what it means that the WSJ has a quick link for the Super Bowl but not the bailout.

But even after you find them, charts will only get you so far.

If you are looking to understand the big picture, you should go first to organizations that focus specifically on tracking the bailout. Not only do they piece together information from a variety of sources, saving you the trouble, but a few also do their own snooping around.

A good place to start is Open the Government, an organization devoted to greater government transparency in general, and with a specific page on the bailout. The page is a good launching pad because it compiles a lot of information—from government organizations, news outlets and watchdogs—as well as providing a calendar of relevant dates. In the spirit of common cause, Open the Government also links to other bailout watchdog groups.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:40 PM

January 28, 2009

Iron Curtain Memories: Budapest

The Economist:
But few of the former Soviet bloc countries had better jokes than the Hungarians. After all, several of their national characteristics—quick intelligence, mordant wit and an eye for the main chance—are summarised in the now legendary humorous definition of a Hungarian: “Someone who enters a revolving door behind you but comes out in front”.

My two favourites are set in the time immediately after the 1956 revolution:

In the first, Comrade teacher announces the day’s lesson in School Number One, Budapest: Marxist criticism and self-criticism.

“Istvan, please stand up and tell us what Marxist criticism and self-criticism means,” she instructs.

The little boy stands up. “Comrade teacher, Marxist criticism is how we must view my parents, who joined the reactionary counter-revolutionary forces who sought to destroy our heroic workers’ and peasants’ state, and then fled to the imperialist, capitalist west, to continue their intrigues against the Socialist regime.”

“Excellent, Istvan. And what is your Marxist self-criticism?”

“I didn’t go with them.”
Posted by James Zellmer at 2:37 PM

January 25, 2009

When the News Was New

Edward Rothstein:
Look carefully, and it is really the birth of the modern West that we see taking place here: snippets of news and sensation helped define a shared experience of the past and present, as political debates laid the foundations of democratic culture. If the Reformation is often credited with having turned the West toward the Enlightenment, another such force must be the growing taste for news and its multiple retellings. While other cultures were arguing over the interpretations of sacred texts, England’s was arguing over the nature of government in print. We are the beneficiaries.

The exhibition itself could have been much more clear in its chronological and thematic organization, particularly because the knotty politics of 17th-century England — centering on its civil wars — are treated as if they were far more familiar than is the case, but these documents repay the patience of careful reading.

When Sir Walter Raleigh was convicted of treason and executed in 1618, his eloquent speech on the scaffold was reported not by newspapers — which had not yet evolved — but in private written accounts. The real revolution came in the 1620s under the influence of “corantos” imported from Amsterdam, which provided the main news of the week. The corantos (which are still recalled in the names of newspapers, like The Hartford Courant) also inspired opposition from the government over their reports of troop movements during the Thirty Years’ War, leading to censorship and even imprisonment.

But the demand for news — and opinion — increased. Press censorship collapsed with the beginning of the civil wars of the 1640s, but the debates of this era were so intense and so much a part of public consciousness that news publications became instruments in the political battles between monarchists and parliamentarians. Newspapers were counterfeited, imitated, mocked and attacked. Parliament tried to reimpose censorship in 1643, and the poet John Milton wrote his famous speech demanding “Liberty of Unlicenc’d Printing.” But newspapers, complained Sir Roger L’Estrange, an ardent monarchist, make “the multitude too familiar with the actions and counsels of their superiors.” He created The Observator, shown at the Folger — the “pre-eminent Tory journal of its day.”
Posted by James Zellmer at 5:48 PM

January 24, 2009

I Am Here: One Man's Experiment With the Location-Aware Lifestyle

MAthew Honan:
I'm baffled by WhosHere. And I'm no newbie. I built my first Web page in 1994, wrote my first blog entry in 1999, and sent my first tweet in October 2006. My user number on Yahoo's event site, Upcoming.org: 14. I love tinkering with new gadgets and diving into new applications. But WhosHere had me stumped. It's an iPhone app that knows where you are, shows you other users nearby, and lets you chat with them. Once it was installed and running, I drew a blank. What was I going to do with this thing?

So I asked for some help. I started messaging random people within a mile of my location (37.781641 °N, 122.393835 °W), asking what they used WhosHere for.
Posted by James Zellmer at 2:50 PM

January 22, 2009

"Government Checks for Consumer Spending?"

Philip Geier's 232K PDF advertisement in today's fishwrap edition of the New York Times. Use the grandkids credit cards to spend now.....
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:51 PM

January 20, 2009

600 Private Jets Expected for the Obama Nomination; 2X the 2004 Number

Robert Frank:
For the wealthy, Tuesday's inauguration is the dream party: a chance to rub elbows with the similarly rich and powerful, to become part of a historic moment, and (most importantly), to get access to the man of the moment.

It also is a chance to drown their financial sorrows in an emotional wave of optimism.

Yet it may come as a surprise that at a time of financial crisis and Green correctness, many of the wealthy are choosing to arrive by private jet.

According to an article in Bloomberg, as many as 600 private jets were expected to touch down in D.C. for the inauguration. The runway at Washington Dulles was closed Saturday to allow as many as 100 small planes to park. And the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority said it expected a total of 500 small jets to land from Jan. 16 through Jan 21.

"That would set a record, topping the 300 the airport accommodated for President George W. Bush's 2004 inaugural," an Airports Authority says in the article.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:15 AM

A Crackdown on Vietnam's Press

The Economist:
LIKE their counterparts in China, Vietnam's ruling Communists seem even more than usually sensitive to criticism. This month two leading reformist newspaper editors, Nguyen Cong Khe, of Thanh Nien (Young People), and Le Hoang, of Tuoi Tre (Youth Daily), were both told that their contracts would not be renewed, apparently because they were too good at their jobs. Their papers have assiduously uncovered official corruption, most notably with a joint exposé in 2006 about a crooked transport-ministry road-building unit. The journalists behind that story were punished by a Hanoi court last October for "abusing democratic freedoms". Now it looks as if their editors, too, have been culled. A spate of other arrests last year suggests a wider clampdown. AFP Read all about it (or not)

Ever since the start of doi moi (renewal) reforms in 1986, economic liberalisation has been accompanied by a gradual political loosening. There are around 700 newspapers in circulation. All are government controlled, but some are relatively outspoken. Meanwhile, a young, tech-savvy population has taken to reading opinion on the internet, in blogs penned by pseudonymous authors. These commentators are questioning government policy with increasing zeal. A day after the two journalists were arrested last year, their newspapers openly attacked the government's actions, hitting a few raw nerves. The government now also wants to curb the pesky bloggers, announcing rules in December restricting politically sensitive content on the internet.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:41 AM

January 16, 2009

Faces (and hats) in the Crowd

A prominent Gopher basketball fan at last night's Wisconsin-Minnesota basketball game, which turned into a tough, overtime loss. [Buy this print]

Marcus Landry blocks Ralph Sampson III's shot (Sampson is a 6'11" freshman while Landry is a 6'7" Senior). [Buy this print]

Marcus Landry defending an inbound pass during the waning moments of overtime.

Bo Ryan working the referees [Buy this print]. More photos to come.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:55 AM

January 13, 2009

The Case for Overhauling a U.S. Tax System Even Congress Doesn't Understand

Sam Dealey:
"The monopoly on good ideas does not belong to a single party," President-elect Obama reportedly told congressional leaders Monday during a private meeting about an economic stimulus package. "If it's a good idea, we will consider it."

When it comes to taxpayer money—raising, spending, and occasionally deigning to return it—neither party in Congress has demonstrated particularly good ideas lately. The majority of lawmakers seem to believe that stimulating the economy means expanding recurring welfare programs, plowing money into pet projects of only limited or short-term use, and bestowing inadequate, selective tax cuts.

But if Obama is looking for ideas, he might consult with Nina Olson, the national taxpayer advocate at the IRS. In her annual report to Congress, released yesterday, Olson makes a persuasive case for overhauling the U.S. tax system.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:43 AM

January 12, 2009

"Counter Blog"

Noah Shachtman:
Bloggers: If you suddenly find Air Force officers leaving barbed comments after one of your posts, don't be surprised. They're just following the service's new "counter-blogging" flow chart. In a twelve-point plan, put together by the emerging technology division of the Air Force's public affairs arm, airmen are given guidance on how to handle "trolls," "ragers" -- and even well-informed online writers, too. It's all part of an Air Force push to "counter the people out there in the blogosphere who have negative opinions about the U.S. government and the Air Force," Captain David Faggard says.

Over the last couple of years, the armed forces have tried, in fits and starts, to connect more with bloggers. The Army and the Office of the Secretary of Defense now hold regular "bloggers' roundatbles" with generals, colonels, and key civilian leaders. The Navy invited a group of bloggers to embed with them on a humanitarian mission to Central and South America, last summer. Military blogger Michael Yon recently traveled to Afghanistan with Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

In contrast, the Air Force has largely kept the blogosphere at arms' length. Most of the sites are banned from Air Force networks. And the service has mostly stayed away from the Pentagon's blog outreach efforts. Captain Faggard, who's become the Air Force Public Affairs Agency's designated social media guru, has made strides in shifting that attitude. The air service now has a Twitter feed, a blog of its own -- and marching orders, for how to comment on other sites. "We're trying to get people to understand that they can do this," he tells Danger Room.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:45 AM

January 11, 2009

Doctor Side Pay from Drug Companies

John Fauber:
Barry Fox is in big demand. The UW infectious disease specialist had lucrative side jobs working for seven different drug companies in just one year, including one that paid an undisclosed sum of $20,000 or more, records show.

Fox is one of dozens of University of Wisconsin-Madison physicians who also work for drug companies. Some sit on advisory boards; others do promotional or educational work. Fox, for example, did promotional work involving an antibiotic for one company in 2007, working five days for what appears to be at least $2,000 a day, his disclosure form says.

Doctors' moonlighting for drug companies - though legal - is coming under increased scrutiny, both at UW and across the country. This month, the trade group Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America enacted a voluntary ban on company gifts of branded pens, sticky notes and other items and dinners for doctors. Also of special concern are university physicians who are sought by drug companies because of the influence and respect they wield with colleagues practicing in communities.

Most patients have no knowledge of the side work. Even the university is not aware of exactly how much its doctors earn from drug and medical device companies; they are required to disclose only ranges of income received, and no range beyond $20,000.

More than 30 UW physicians exceeded the $20,000 threshold in 2006 and 2007, records show. At least one of those doctors made at least 20 times that amount in previous years - more than $400,000, paid by a maker of orthopedic implants. But that became known in 2006 only because of records filed in a lawsuit.

Last week, for the first time, signs went up in a handful of UW Health clinics alerting patients about doctors' drug company ties. In addition, the dean of the medical school said the university's policies need to be shored up. Among other things, the medical school might begin requiring doctors to specify how much they are paid, said Robert Golden, head of the UW School of Medicine and Public Health.

Further, U.S. Sens. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) have introduced a bill that would require drug and medical device companies to disclose payments made to physicians. Kohl said it would be best to ban the practice, noting that the medical industry spends $20 billion a year in payments and gifts to doctors.

"The relationship between the doctor and patient is frayed," Kohl said.
Posted by James Zellmer at 1:32 PM

January 5, 2009

Can the US economy afford a Keynesian stimulus?

Willem Buiter:
Economic policy is based on a collection of half-truths. The nature of these half-truths changes occasionally. Economics as a scholarly discipline consists in the periodic rediscovery and refinement of old half-truths. Little progress has been made in the past century or so towards understanding how economic policy, rules, legislation and regulation influence economic fluctuations, financial stability, growth, poverty or inequality. We know that a few extreme approaches that have been tried yield lousy results - central planning, self-regulating financial markets - but we don't know much that is constructive beyond that.

The main uses of economics as a scholarly discipline are therefore negative or destructive - pointing out that certain things don't make sense and won't deliver the promised results. This blog post falls into that category.

Much bad policy advice derives from a misunderstanding of the short-run and long-run impacts of events and policies. Too often for comfort I hear variations on the following statements: "The long run is just a sequence of short runs, so if we make sure things always make sense in the short run, the long run will take care of itself." This fallacy, which I shall, unfairly, label the Keynesian fallacy, compounds three errors.
Via Yves Smith.
Posted by James Zellmer at 11:34 AM

January 4, 2009

Samuel Huntington Obituary

The Economist:
IN THE early 1990s America’s opinion-makers competed to outdo each other in triumphalism. Economists argued that the “Washington consensus” would spread peace and prosperity around the world. Politicians debated whether the “peace dividend” should be used to create universal health care or be allowed to fructify in the pockets of the people or quite possibly both. Francis Fukuyama took the optimists’ garland by declaring, in 1992, “the end of history” and the universal triumph of Western liberalism.

Samuel Huntington thought that all this was bunk. In “The Clash of Civilisations?” he presented a darker view. He argued that the old ideological divisions of the Cold War would be replaced not by universal harmony but by even older cultural divisions. The world was deeply divided between different civilisations. And far from being drawn together by globalisation, these different cultures were being drawn into conflict.

Huntington added another barb to his argument by suggesting that Western civilisation was in relative decline: the American power-mongers who thought that they were the architects of a new world order were more likely to find themselves the victims of cultural forces that they did not even know existed. The future was being forged in the mosques of Tehran and the planning commissions of Beijing rather than the cafés of Harvard Square. His original 1993 article, in Foreign Affairs, was translated into 26 languages and expanded into a best-selling book.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:42 PM

December 30, 2008

A Short Video: Wisconsin Men's Hockey vs. Lake Superior State

Wisconsin Men's Hockey vs Lake Superior State from Jim Zellmer. Sunday evening's Badger Hockey Showdown championship between the Wisconsin Men's hockey team and the Lake Superior State Lakers produced an interesting outcome: a shootout after an inconclusive overtime.
Posted by James Zellmer at 3:25 PM

December 26, 2008

Milwaukee's Eisner Museum of Advertising & Design


Current exhibits include: "Ads from the past: Coca Cola". This fascinating museum is a gem in Milwaukee's Third Ward, and at $5.00 a bargain as well.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:06 PM

December 23, 2008

Year in Pictures: 2008

Posted by James Zellmer at 9:34 AM

December 22, 2008

On the Fed Printing Money

James Grant:
It is a sorry place at which we Americans find ourselves this none-too-festive holiday season. The biggest names on Wall Street have gone to their rewards or into partnership with the U.S. Treasury. Foreigners stare wide-eyed from across the waters. A $50 billion Ponzi scheme (baited with, of all things in this age of excess, the promise of low, spuriously predictable returns)? Interest rates over which tiny Japanese rates fairly tower? Regulatory policy seemingly set by a weather vane? A Federal Reserve that can't make up its mind: Is it in the business of central banking or of central planning? And to think -- our disappointed foreign friends mutter -- all of these enormities taking place under a Republican administration.

Trust itself entered a bear market in 2008, complementing and perhaps surpassing the selloffs in stocks, mortgages and commodities. Never to be confused with angels, we humans seem to outdo ourselves when money is on the line. So it is that Bernard Madoff, supposed pillar of the community, stands accused of perpetrating one of the greatest hoaxes since John Law discovered the inflationary possibilities of paper money in the early 18th cent
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:29 PM

December 20, 2008

Snowmen Watching Over Madison's Monroe Street

Monroe Street shopping
Posted by James Zellmer at 3:16 PM

December 19, 2008

Christmas Lights in the Big Apple

Photo taken from the back seat of a cab on a recent New York City evening.
Posted by James Zellmer at 2:38 PM

The Year in Business: 2008

The Economist:
Party of the year: The $86,000 partridge-hunting trip funded by AIG, a government-rescued insurance firm, for some top clients. They had fun, but the public outcry was such that lots of other firms cancelled their holiday parties lest they be accused of wasting money in tough times. Cheers!

Badly-timed nickname: Awarded jointly to Whole Foods Market and Starbucks. Being known, respectively, as Whole Paycheck and Fourbucks is fine when the going is good, but not when consumers are obsessed with value for money. Both of these pricey retailers have had a miserable year. Whole Foods’ shares are down by 75% so far in 2008, and shares in Starbucks are down by over half.

In memoriam: A posthumous award for this year’s notable departures. Contenders include Alan Greenspan’s reputation as a great central banker; investment banks; the newspaper industry; sport-utility vehicles; fiscal prudence; the inexorable rise of BRIC economies and the theory that BRICs had “decoupled” from rich world economies; pay increases; and capitalism. But the winner is economic growth—gone, though one hopes not forever.
Posted by James Zellmer at 7:25 AM

iPod Breathalyzer

Dawn Chmielewski:
Now the iPod can answer the question: Am iDrunk?

A new product called the iBreath turns Apple Inc.'s iPod into an alcohol breathalyzer.

The $79 accessory plugs into the base of the iPod and functions like a field sobriety test. The person using the iBreath exhales into a retractable "blow wand" and the internal sensor measures the blood-alcohol content. Within two seconds, it displays the results on an LED screen. A reading of 0.08 or above sets off an alarm, signaling a blood-alcohol level above the legal limit in all 50 states.

"We are absolutely not advocating drinking and driving, but we know that people just don't observe that," said Don Bassler, chief executive and founder of David Steele Enterprises Inc. in Newport Beach, an online retailer and creator of the iBreath. "We don't want people to think that this makes it all OK, but it's a safety device that we hope people will use, and it may save lives."

The iBreath is among a growing number of products for the iPod and iPhone designed to combat excessive holiday reveling. Last Call, a new application for the iPhone, provides a tool for estimating blood-alcohol content (as well as a list of attorneys who specialize in DUI arrests).
Posted by James Zellmer at 7:16 AM

December 12, 2008

Delight Your Customers

Perhaps it is a sign of the times. Air travel, but for private jets that the very rich and our politicians use, rarely involves "delighting customers". Happily, I can report an exception to this "rule". While on travel recently, I visited the tourist class lavatory, only to find this flower gracing the cammode. Props to the United Airlines employee who took the time to add a smile to my face on that journey. More, please!
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:17 PM

December 1, 2008

Jason Bentley Takes over Morning Becomes Eclectic

One of the biggest issues on listeners' minds is the direction you'll take KCRW. They wonder how much like Nic Hartcourt you'll be and how your electronic influences will affect the morning slot. What say you? My responsibility in this position is to integrate the influences of all the Music Directors before me, and take it to another place altogether--which means all genres of music from all over the world.

Besides a reverence of Joe Strummer and The Clash and a good ear for underground bands that could appeal to a wider audience, I don't have that much in common with Nic musically. Nic's been great at the helm of MBE, but I'm going to bring my own music experience to the program with an appreciation of where it's been. Yes, that does mean an affinity for Electronic music and global club culture, but that's not all and I certainly will consider what works best during the morning hours.

Will you start focusing locally?

I feel like I do already to a great extent. I've been producing events locally for nearly two decades. I'm very involved in the LA scene, and KCRW is totally invested in local music, while at the same time actively making connections abroad. Personally, Silversun Pickups and Morgan Page are among my favorite local artists.

What considerations and thoughts will go into who you choose to play in studio?

Mostly looking to mix it up - everything from Afrobeat to Neo Soul and quirky Folk.
Posted by James Zellmer at 4:50 PM

November 25, 2008

Protesters Force Bangkok's Airport to Suspend Takeoffs

Anti-government demonstrators swarmed Bangkok's international airport late Tuesday -- halting departing flights -- as opponents and supporters of Thailand's government fought running battles in the streets of the city.

Minutes after outbound flights at Suvarnabhumi International Airport were suspended, hundreds of demonstrators -- some masked and armed with metal rods -- broke through police lines and spilled into the passenger terminal.

The road to Suvarnabhumi.

Thomas Fuller has more.

Posted by James Zellmer at 10:53 AM

America’s Debt to Income Ratio as Compared with Other Countries

Credit Loan Blog:
Seven of the top ten debtor nations are included in the world’s top ten economies. Not surprising. This is largely a result of widespread availability of affordable credit, and relatively large middle classes in these countries, and consequently a large ratio of home/property owners. Most popular rhetoric on the topic would claim that wealthy countries have grown accustomed to being wealthy and they are enthralled by consumerism – it could be argued that this high level of debt could be a result of a culture that is used to and willing to buy now, and pay later…even if it means with interest.

According to our data, Japan has the highest positive income (in gross terms) at US $2,892 Billion. Similarly, the US economy is $1,594 Billion. At the other side of the spectrum, Great Britain’s income to debt ratio is a US -$7,677 Billion, and that of France is -$1,890 Billion. But what do these statistics mean on an individual level? Well, if you were to boil down what each person in this country contributed to the nation’s income vs. debt ratio, the results would be startling. We would have to take into consideration the nation’s population to better understand this. And some may be surprised to see that the US does not fare quite as bad as imagined, comparatively:
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:39 AM

November 11, 2008

Veteran's Day: The Allied Advance, 1916

The Economist:
WHEN the Germans launched, five months ago, that terrific onslaught on Verdun, which has been sustained by the French with such incomparable heroism, the enemy's offensive was welcomed by our Press, as certain to cost him sacrifices in men greater than his gain in territory. Nevertheless, the same newspapers which have called for, and now enthusiastically welcome, the Franco-British offensive, seem hardly to have realised what that advance has already meant to thousands of their readers and to many more thousands of stricken heroes in terms of human suffering. Let us neither minimise nor exaggerate the success so far gained. Everyone is discussing it, now that a halt is called. Intense pride we must all feel in the superb courage shown by our officers and men under this ordeal; but that pride should not blind us to the cost. We do not know what are the casualties incurred in the week's fighting that started last Saturday morning; but we do know that heavy sacrifices of life and limb must be made at every "push," and that a town must be depopulated of its young men for every village gained. That is the experience of this war; for every previous attempt at an advance, whether on our own part or on that of the Germans, during the general deadlock of the last 18 months, has only served to prove, the truth of the contention of M. de Bloch, set out in the Economist of January 1st. The Polish writer foretold what trench warfare would mean between conscript armies. “Battles,” he says, “will last for days, and at the end it is very doubtful whether any decisive victory can be gained.” The decision, he predicted, supposing diplomacy to be excluded, would come through famine, not through fighting.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:13 AM

November 9, 2008

EBay Cars under $10,000

Dan Neil:
Nissan’s announcement last week that it would offer a stripped-down version of its Versa model for under $10,000 -– a Sub-Versa, if you will -– occasioned a lot of media attention and interest, as if there was something to celebrate. To me it sounds like 1.6 liters of boredom, a mouthful of sand to thirsty car-buyers. Please. Ten grand? I can put you in automotive paradise for $10,000. Walk this way.

Go to www.motors.ebay.com and follow the link to “Cars & Trucks.” Don’t specify a make or model but simply order the 50,000 or so listings by price, and use the advanced search function to specify items with a “Buy It Now” price. What you’ll discover is an Elysian field of depreciation as the awesome rides of yesteryear -– in some cases cars that dominated automotive buff book covers just a couple of years ago –- are dispensed with for a fraction of their original sticker. With the recent spike in gas prices and the downturn in the economy, people are eating their cars -– “literally!” as Joe Biden would say.

Yes, these cars are a little older, but if you were to compare, wheel-to-wheel, the new Versa with, say, a 1991 BMW 850i –- a 12-cylinder supercoupe on 18-inch Hamann wheels and with only 47,120 miles on the clock –- well, your head would explode. The Bimmer has more technology in its ashtray.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:21 PM

The Crisis Last Time

Richard Parker:
For writers who seek to influence public affairs, timing plays a paramount role. And few writers have had better timing than Adolf Augustus Berle.

In the summer of 1932, with America trapped in the greatest financial crisis in its history, Berle published “The Modern Corporation and Private Property,” a scholarly yet readable analysis of America’s largest companies and their managers. Berle is largely forgotten today, yet with that book he succeeded in persuading Americans to see their economic system in a new way — and helped set the stage for the most fundamental realignment of power since abolition.

The stock market had plunged vertiginously three years earlier, and by 1932 Americans were desperate to reverse the much wider collapse that had ensued — and to make sure it wouldn’t happen again. The New Republic was soon hailing “The Modern Corporation” as the book of the year, while The New York Herald Tribune pronounced it “the most important work bearing on American statecraft” since the Federalist Papers. Louis Brandeis would cite its arguments in a major Supreme Court ruling on corporate power. Running for president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt recruited Berle — a Republican Wall Street lawyer who had supported Hoover — to join his “brain trust,” and that fall entrusted him with drafting what became the most important speech of the campaign. After the election, Berle remained in New York, yet his connection to the president he audaciously addressed as “Dear Caesar” was such that Time would characterize “The Modern Corporation” as “the economic bible of the Roosevelt administration.”
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:02 PM

November 7, 2008


Johann Johannsson:
The album has a theme, although it's more loose and open to interpretation than on my last album, IBM 1401, a User's Manual.

One of the two main threads running through it is this idea of failed utopia, as represented by the "Fordlândia" title - the story of the rubber plantation Henry Ford established in the Amazon in the 1920’s, and his dreams of creating an idealized American town in the middle of the jungle complete with white picket fences, hamburgers and alcohol prohibition. The project – started because of the high price Ford had to pay for the rubber necessary for his cars’ tyres – failed, of course, as the indigenous workers soon rioted against the alien conditions. It reminded me of Werner Herzog's Fitzcarraldo, this doomed attempt at taming the heart of darkness. The remains of the town are still there today. The image of the Amazon forest slowly and surely reclaiming the ruins of Fordlândia is the one that gave spark to this album. For the structure and themes of the album I was influenced by the films of Alejandro Jodorowsky, Herzog and Kenneth Anger. I was interested in a kind of poetic juxtaposition and an alchemical fusion of themes and ideas, which I feel is similar to the way Anger uses montage as an alchemical technique - as a way of casting a spell. During the making of the album, I also had in mind the Andre Breton quote about convulsive beauty, which he saw in the image of "an abandoned locomotive overgrown by luxurious vegetation". There is a strong connection to the IBM 1401 album in terms of both thematic and musical ideas and I see the two albums as belonging to a series of works.
Fascinating and quite pleasant. Clusty Search: Fordlandia.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:28 AM

The Manufacturing Spectrum: Ariens & BMW

Two interesting articles today reflect polar opposites in the manufacturing world, first up - Wisconsin's Ariens: Timothy Aeppel:
Daniel Ariens's biggest concern right now isn't the financial crisis. It's getting his hands on snowblower engines.

The chief executive of Ariens Co., a maker of mowers and snowblowers, got a curt email last month from the company that for decades supplied engines for his line of snow machines, telling him they're halting production in 60 days -- essentially cutting off motors at the peak of his season. A host of problems hobbled that supplier, including the loss of a huge customer and problems obtaining crucial parts, such as starters, from the engine maker's own supply base.

"I'm quite sure we have other suppliers that won't make it through this cycle," says the 50-year-old Mr. Ariens.

This highlights a grim reality now dawning across the U.S. economy. Deep problems existed long before the meltdown on Wall Street and won't be fixed by the government's injection of taxpayer money into the nation's banks. Even if the credit crunch eases, as now appears to be happening, companies such as Ariens are bracing for a painful recession and taking steps to survive it.

Car sales and industrial production have plunged, consumer confidence has wilted, and companies have accelerated layoffs. Manufacturing, particularly autos and machinery, is leading the way down. Exports can't be expected to cushion the impact because the slowdown is global.
Dan Neil channels Karl Marx & Leon Trotsky while tooling around in the latest BMW 750Li near Chemnitz:
My driving partner and I were in the vicinity of Chemnitz, a somewhat dire little city in the former East Germany known for its alcoholism and an enormous monument to Karl Marx. Naturally, we had to see it.

"Bitte, kennen Sie, wo ist der grossen Kopf vom Karl Marx?" we asked passersby.

The former East Germans, standing in chilly drizzle, were delighted to help the capitalist running dogs in their gigantic limousine, a 2009 BMW 750Li. They pointed us down one of the main streets -- Lumpenprolitariatstrasse, maybe? -- and there it was: A huge, glowering stone bust of the German political philosopher, about the size of a FEMA trailer. Now there, there's a redistributionist.
I have an Ariens snowblower.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:25 AM

November 5, 2008

Destroying Oil as a Strategic Commodity

Joe Francica:
A Summary of Remarks by Former CIA Director Jim Woolsey at the GEOINT Symposium

At the GEOINT Symposium in Nashville, Tennessee, former director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Jim Woolsey gave a chilling account of the implications for national security related to the United States' dependence on foreign oil. He described the vulnerabilities of a resource located far from our shores, highlighting how consumer habits could have dramatic geopolitical consequences. He then offered a solution to the crisis by suggesting a way to remove oil as a strategic commodity.

Woolsey's assessment of the problem is similar to what we have heard from T. Boone Pickens, the oil businessman-turned wind power advocate. We spend in the range of $350 - $700 billion per year for oil, depending on the price per barrel. The reality is that the U.S. and other oil importers like China and India are engaging in the biggest transfer of wealth in history. The result is that the U.S. is either directly or indirectly providing funds to support countries that may not have our best interests at heart. "Oil tends to be produced by countries that are either run by autocrats or dictators. (One exception: Norway). So, one of the things we are doing with this money is contributing to the support of dictators. Putin [Russia] and Chavez [Venezuela] are a bit quieter with oil at $65 per barrel," said Woolsey. "[However], a national energy policy that depends on oil is probably one of the stupider policies ever done. Even at $65 per barrel, we still have one of the biggest transfers of wealth the world has ever seen."
Posted by James Zellmer at 1:52 PM

November 4, 2008

Does Google Know Too Much?

Julia Bonstein:
Google gathers so much detailed information about its users that one critic says some state intelligence bureaus look "like child protection services" in comparison. A few German government bodies have mounted a resistance.

The little town of Molfsee, near Kiel in northern Germany, has three lakes, an idyllic open-air museum and a population just under 5,000. It’s not the likeliest place to declare war against a global power. Yet Molfsee has won the first round of a battle against a powerful digital age opponent.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:15 PM

6:45a.m. Election Queue - Madison

Posted by James Zellmer at 8:57 AM

November 3, 2008


Wisconsin polling locations can be found here.

Posted by jez at 1:33 AM

November 1, 2008

Quintessential Madison: Halloween 2008

An in-costume cyclist early Saturday morning. Madison, WI.

Another very Madison Halloween image, this time, an older couple:
Posted by James Zellmer at 5:31 PM

Obama's Secret Weapons: Internet, Databases and Psychology

Sarah Lai Stirland:
During a sweltering Friday evening rush hour in early October, Jeanette Scanlon spent two-and-a-half hours with 20 other people waving a homemade Barack Obama sign at the cars flowing through a busy intersection in Plant City, Florida.

"I got shot the bird one time," laughs the easy-natured Scanlon, a 43-year-old single mother of three and a Tampa psychiatrist's billing manager. "That wasn't the thumbs up I was looking for."

Scanlon is one of an estimated 230,000 volunteers who are powering Obama's get-out-the-vote campaign in the swing state of Florida. And while sign-waving is a decidedly low-tech appeal to voters' hearts and minds, make no mistake: The Obama campaign's technology is represented here. Scanlon organized the gathering — and 24 others since September — through Obama's social networking site, my.BarackObama.com. Similarly, she used the site's Neighbor-to-Neighbor tool in September to find registered voters in her own neighborhood, so she could canvass them for Obama. And this weekend, Scanlon and another 75 or so Plant City volunteers will be phoning thousands of Floridians to urge them to vote, using a sophisticated database provided by the Obama campaign to ensure they don't call McCain supporters by mistake.

The Obama campaign has been building, tweaking and tinkering with its technology and organizational infrastructure since it kicked off in February 2007, and today has most sophisticated organizing apparatus of any presidential campaign in history. Previous political campaigns have tapped the internet in innovative ways — Howard Dean's 2004 presidential run, and Ron Paul's bid for this year's Republican nomination, to name two. But Obama is the first to successfully integrate technology with a revamped model of political organization that stresses volunteer participation and feedback on a massive scale, erecting a vast, intricate machine set to fuel an unprecedented get-out-the-vote drive in the final days before Tuesday's election.
A friend recently mentioned that one of the canvasers asked if they could leave an orange dot on their mailbox, notifying other workers that they have already voted! I wonder how long it will be until citizens push back on the extensive personal data mining.
Posted by James Zellmer at 3:57 PM

Faces in the Crowd: Halloween 2008

Posted by James Zellmer at 8:33 AM

October 26, 2008

Wisconsin vs. Illinois: A Working Face in the Crowd

The Badgers topped Illinois 27-17.

Posted by jez at 8:14 AM

October 21, 2008

Classic Car & Campaign Poster

A Madison street scene: "Obamanos 2008" in a classic Mercedes 280SE.
Posted by James Zellmer at 4:12 PM

October 13, 2008

Photo Moment: Wisconsin vs. Penn State

Smiles could only be found on Penn State fans' faces during Saturday evening's 48-7 victory over Wisconsin at Camp Randall.

A fan was tasered nearby.

Posted by jez at 11:38 AM

October 5, 2008

Bill Perkins Bailout Cartoon

Appeared recently in the New York Times print edition. More here.

Declan McCullagh notes the large amount of pork in the bill that passed Friday.

Posted by jez at 12:30 PM

September 19, 2008

Justice Wheels in Madison


Posted by jez at 8:42 PM

September 18, 2008

Ken Burns' Latest: National Parks

Christopher Reynolds:

It's too early for civilians. As dawn's first light falls on the jagged peaks, creeps down the dwindling glaciers and glides across glass-faced Swiftcurrent Lake, most of the tourists in the Many Glacier Hotel are still snoozing.

But down at water's edge, three early risers huddle around a camera. One of the guys, leaning on a tripod and waiting for the clouds to arrange themselves over the jagged peaks, has a Beatles haircut, the build of a shortstop and a face you've seen before somewhere.

Perhaps during pledge week.

"I want more of the color," he says, peering through a viewfinder. "OK, I'm doing it." And the film rolls.

Yes, it's Ken Burns, solemn PBS documentarian of the Civil War, jazz, baseball, Frank Lloyd Wright, Mark Twain, Congress, the Brooklyn Bridge, and more than a few other American characters and institutions. Beside him stand cinematographer Buddy Squires and writer Dayton Duncan. Upstairs in the hotel, Burns' wife and 3-year-old are sleeping.

Related: Yellowstone Sunrise VR Scene and Waterton Lakes National Park

Posted by jez at 7:58 AM

September 15, 2008

Personality Variation by USA Region

US personalities vary by region, say researchers. It's pretty thin on the details, but luckily the original paper can be found online in full, A Theory of the Emergence, Persistence, and Expression of Geographic Variation in Psychological Characteristics. I haven't read the whole thing, nor do I know much about personality, so I have put the maps which illustrate regional variation in traits below the fold. But I do want to note the correlations between Openness and the following metrics on the state level:

Posted by jez at 7:14 PM

September 14, 2008

Bumper Sticker Fun

Shot in Madison's Whole Foods parking lot.

Posted by jez at 10:59 AM

September 7, 2008

KAL Illustrations at the Republican Convention

The Economist. Democrat convention illustrations can be found here.

Great stuff.

Posted by jez at 5:57 PM

September 6, 2008

Obama 12 Sighting

Driving the speed limit early this morning, a dark blue car with flags zoomed past. A blur on my left. The nearby stop light provided an opportunity to take this photo.

Obama 12? Does it imply there are numbers 1 to 11 driving around? Or, is it a play on Adam 12? One needs to be of a certain age to recall the TV series Adam 12.

Finally, the car is a new Chevy Malibu. It's interesting that there is no mention of Joe Biden on the flags, stickers or plate, which is perhaps, for the best.

Posted by jez at 5:50 PM

September 4, 2008

Privatizing What the Public Paid For

Ed Wallace:

"Right. It takes unconventional and courageous thinking to come up with a plan that clears a highway lane for the well off, while the middle class and working poor are left to inhale each other's $5-a-gallon exhaust fumes. The worst thing about this ill-conceived decision ... is it allocates freedom of movement according to income."

-- From "Diamond Lanes for the Rich," by Tim Rutten (Los Angeles Times, April 26, 2008)

Few think of it this way, but America already has a major flat tax that we all pay equally: the 18.4-cent federal tax that is applied to each and every gallon of gasoline we purchase, or the 24.4 cents on every gallon of diesel. Say a young person, who just lost his job at McDonald's, buys a gallon of gas to get to an interview at Burger King at the same time Warren Buffet buys a gallon of gas to get to the airport in Omaha to board his personal jet: Both the unemployed, below-minimum-wage worker and America's richest billionaire contribute the exact same amount toward the nation's highway system on that day.

Now, however, we are being told - to an increasingly urgent drumbeat - that America can no longer afford the luxury of building new infrastructure or even maintaining our current road system, because there's just no funding for these programs. It's here that the complete absence of critical thinking about America's future should astonish and dismay anyone who looks at the facts even casually.

Posted by jez at 10:46 PM

August 28, 2008

Vintage, Classic Cadillac


Posted by jez at 10:45 AM

Political Cartoonist KAL at the Democratic Convention

The Economist:

Every day this week, our cartoonist is sending his sketches from the Democratic convention in Denver, Colorado. Sketches from previous days can be found here. You can find up-to-the-minute coverage on our American politics blog.

Posted by jez at 10:36 AM

August 26, 2008

Beijing's Ghost Town

Zach Honig:

About ten hours after the end of last night's closing ceremony, I headed to the Olympic Green, completely unsure of what I'd find when I got there. I hadn't heard much about when the Green will open to the ticketless public, or if it would stay open until the Paralympics -- so I knew it would either be packed to the brim, or completely deserted. I arrived to find the latter.

When I approached the Olympic subway line, the streets packed with tourists and scalpers just yesterday were now empty, and only one of dozens of security checkpoints to access the subway was open -- and there wasn't even anyone in line. Unsure if my accreditation card would still be valid, I approached the checkpoint to find a guard waving me through. Two of the guards were even taking a nap -- it was obvious that I was their first customer for quite some time.

Posted by jez at 8:46 AM

A narrated slide show on the latest Texas Monthly Cover


Posted by jez at 8:44 AM

August 22, 2008

Dangerously in Debt
Former U.S. Comptroller General David Walker speaks out on the perils of the rising federal deficit in the new film "I.O.U.S.A.

Anthony Kaufman:

If "An Inconvenient Truth" sounded the alarm on global warming, "I.O.U.S.A.," a new documentary opening in theaters Friday, hopes to do the same for the rising federal deficit.

Backed by Blackstone Group Chairman Peter Peterson, "I.O.U.S.A." follows former U.S. Comptroller General David Walker and the Concord Coalition's Robert Bixby on a "fiscal wake-up tour" across America. In the movie, which is co-written by "Empire of Debt" co-author Addison Wiggin and directed by "Wordplay" filmmaker Patrick Creadon, Messrs. Walker and Bixby argue that unless the government alters its policies and spending habits, the U.S. will be in for a serious financial meltdown.

Mr. Walker, who headed the Government Accountability Office from 1998-2008, exited his official U.S. post five years early in order to head the Peter G. Peterson Foundation and dedicate himself fulltime to fiscal education before, as he says, "we face a real economic crisis." Mr. Walker spoke with The Wall Street Journal about the dangers of the debt and what needs to be done to prevent what he foresees to be an economic catastrophe.>

Posted by jez at 9:32 PM

August 19, 2008

Big Box Retail 2008: Costco Arrives in (Madison) Middleton

Costco held a very well attended party this evening celebrating the opening of their new Middleton warehouse club [Map].

I did not see a stand to purchase law degrees.

Middleton provided a TIF (Tax Incremental Financing) agreement to the site developer. A related Isthmus article can be found here.

A few additional photos:

Clusty search: Costco.

Posted by jez at 8:58 PM

August 6, 2008

Air Travel: 2008 - A Time When Standing Still Dominates

This is one of those moments when a camera in hand meets a scene waiting to be photographed: a beleaguered traveller resorting to solitaire on his PC while waiting for the promised next flight. The blue sky ignores the chaos below. Air travel is certainly, as a fellow passenger lamented, "not what it once was".

Posted by jez at 9:17 PM

July 21, 2008

Minimalist traveling a matter of mind-set and tactics

John Flinn:

Packing light is as much about philosophy as tactics. It's about adopting a minimalist ethos that a few, well-chosen possessions will serve you better than a steamer trunk full of impedimenta. Your stuff, after all, is supposed to help you see the world, not burden you.

In one sense, you have a choice to make: Is it more important to see or to be seen? If it's the former, a carry-on filled with just the essentials will allow you to cover a lot of ground unencumbered; if it's the latter, indulge yourself with multiple wardrobe options for every occasion and just go ahead and pay those extra luggage fees.

For those making the switch to packing light, a few random tips:

-- As you're packing, make two piles: one for items you absolutely, positively need, the other for stuff that would be nice to have. Put the first pile in your suitcase and the second back in your closet.

-- That said, allow yourself a tiny luxury or two. For me, it's a lightweight cotton kimono-style bathrobe, plus an iPod and speakers. Filled with my calendar and contacts, my iPod doubles as my PDA.

Posted by jez at 1:50 PM

July 18, 2008

Sunrise VR Scene with the BBC at Old Faithful

While capturing this sunrise scene at Old Faithful recently, I learned that the BBC is shooting a 3 part series on Yellowstone. Their videographers, equipped with some very nice equipment, spent the past two mornings waiting for the "perfect" sunrise behind Old Faithful. This scene, on their third day, was best, according to their National Park Service Ranger minder. The program will evidently air in the UK this fall and here sometime in 2009.

Location: 44.460174 -110.829563

The kind ranger also mentioned that she is often asked "where they put the animals at night?"

Full screen vr scene.

Posted by jez at 4:11 PM

June 29, 2008

"Catch the Spirit Block Party"

I have no idea what these "mimes" were publicizing at the corner of Oakland Avenue and Monroe on a Sunday evening.

Posted by jez at 8:37 PM

June 27, 2008

Cisco TelePresence Coming to a Living Room Near You

Jennifer Hagendorf:

co Systems (NSDQ:CSCO) is set to deliver its TelePresence high-definition videoconferencing technology to the home market within the next 12 months, said the company's top executive this week.
The technology will be available via the channel, including via retailers the likes of Best Buy (NYSE:BBY) and Wal-Mart and service providers such as AT&T (NYSE:T), said Cisco Chairman and CEO John Chambers at the Cisco Live conference in Orlando, Fla.

"It will probably evolve. At first we'll do it ... where we're very careful on how the channel sells TelePresence and very careful that the rooms are set up right and the cameras are set up right," Chambers said. "Having said that, I think that you will see a combination of distribution points."

Chambers expects pricing of Cisco's home-use TelePresence units to come in below $10,000 depending on what functionality the user wants.

Promising, particularly as the air travel experience continues to deteriorate.

Posted by jez at 8:38 AM

June 26, 2008

A Look Back at The Bill Gates' Era; and a few lessons

The Economist:

Mr Gates also realised that making hardware and writing software could be stronger as separate businesses. Even as firms like Apple clung on to both the computer operating system and the hardware—just as mainframe companies had—Microsoft and Intel, which designed the PC’s microprocessors, blew computing’s business model apart. Hardware and software companies innovated in an ecosystem that the Wintel duopoly tightly controlled and—in spite of the bugs and crashes—used to reap vast economies of scale and profits. When mighty IBM unwittingly granted Microsoft the right to sell its PC operating system to other hardware firms, it did not see that it was creating legions of rivals for itself. Mr Gates did.


And look at what happened when Mr Gates’s pragmatism failed him. Within Microsoft, they feared Bill for his relentless intellect, his grasp of detail and his brutal intolerance of anyone whom he thought “dumb”. But the legal system doesn’t do fear, and in a filmed deposition, when Microsoft was had up for being anti-competitive, the hectoring, irascible Mr Gates, rocking slightly in his chair, came across as spoilt and arrogant. It was a rare public airing of the sense of brainy entitlement that emboldened Mr Gates to get the world to yield to his will. On those rare occasions when Microsoft’s fortunes depended upon Mr Gates yielding to the world instead, the pragmatic circuit-breaker would kick in. In the antitrust case it did not, and, as this newspaper argued at the time, he was lucky that it did not lead to the break-up of his company.

Posted by jez at 6:05 AM

June 23, 2008

Chicago White Sox vs the Cubs: Capturing the "Spirit of the Weekend"

Walking around Chicago this weekend, I observed no shortage of White Sox and Cubs paraphernalia (the two teams played one another at Wrigley Field). This couple certainly expressed the spirit of the weekend.

Posted by jez at 8:59 AM

June 17, 2008

May 29, 2008

Propaganda Is Now Officially Hip

Virginia Postrel:

"An interesting Metafilter discussion on Obama campaign graphics." (Via Design Observer.)

I'll note, however, that propaganda has been hip for at least 40 years. All you have to do is check out a book like War Posters: Weapons of Mass Communications and you'll fine that through WWII, most of the graphic propaganda is put out by governments and their supporters and is mostly patriotic and pro-military (whichever country or military that might be).

Posted by jez at 8:10 AM

May 28, 2008

2008 Bratfest VR Scene

View Larger Map

Posted by jez at 2:51 PM

A Tear: Vietnam Approves a $4.5 Billion Dollar Coastal Casino Project. Atlantic City on the South China Sea?

Bruce Stanley:

Communist Vietnam is set to become the latest country in Asia to embrace Las Vegas-style casinos, with a Canadian property developer planning to break ground Saturday on the first phase of a $4.5 billion casino-resort project on the nation's southern coast.

The project, called Ho Tram, will be the biggest foreign investment to date in Vietnam, said Michael Aymong, chairman of Toronto-based Asian Coast Development Ltd., the project's lead investor, with a 30% stake. Its main partner in the project is New York hedge fund Harbinger Capital LLC, which has a 25% share.

The initial phase will cost $1.3 billion and consist of two five-star hotels with a combined 2,300 rooms and a casino with approximately 90 gambling tables, 500 slot machines and an area for VIP customers. When completed in 2015, the resort will comprise five hotels with 9,000 rooms and a second casino, Mr. Aymong said.

Ho Tram also will target vacationing families, with features including an 18-hole golf course designed by Greg Norman, a Cirque du Soleil theater, and a site for guests to swim with dolphins.

"It's a needed project in Vietnam" that, in spite of the country's poor infrastructure, will be able to "effectively compete" with integrated resorts in neighboring China, Malaysia and Singapore, Mr. Aymong said

Susan Spano offers another perspective after a recent visit.

The photo was taken on Highway 1 several hundred kilometers northeast of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon).

Posted by jez at 8:30 AM

May 21, 2008

A Scooter Rant

Peter DeLorenzo:

But I reserve particular ire for the burgeoning scooter movement that’s being written about on an alarmingly frequent basis in the media with every new report of another record price for a barrel of oil. Now, don’t get me wrong, because I have nothing against scooters. I like them, as a matter of fact. They can be fun, efficient and even cool in the right circumstances. But presenting scooters as a viable transportation option for the masses in this country is flat-out irresponsible.

Let me backup here for a second and repeat that sentence: “...can be fun, efficient and even cool in the right circumstances.” Guess what, folks - riding your Vespa down Woodward Avenue, Michigan Avenue or Fifth Avenue does not constitute “the right circumstances.” Americans clearly watched too many Italian movies from the 60s and became enamored with the whole "sweater tied around the neck/sunglasses on top of your head/voluptuous girl hanging on the back of the scooter" thing, and this latest gas frenzy has started to warp their thinking, big time.

Posted by jez at 8:57 PM

May 8, 2008

"Crisis of Confidence in Dane County and Madison Leadership"

Jason Shepard, speaking on UW-Madison graduate Greta Van Susteren's program mentioned that a "crisis of confidence exists in Dane County and Madison Leadership". Jason discussed the growing controversy over murder victim Brittanny Zimmerman's botched 911 call.

Fox News link (will disappear at some point)

40MB MPEG4 download for ipod/iphone/playstion and others. CTRL Click here.

Posted by jez at 9:36 AM

Flight Delay: A look at the Details

pilot.pdf. The world as it is. Via Addison.

Posted by jez at 1:28 AM

May 1, 2008

A Tip of the Hat to Jason Shepard

Grad student and former NYC teacher Jason Shepard has set the standard for investigative reporting over the past few years. His Isthmus expose of the 911 problems in Zimmerman's recent murder is just the latest in a string of substantive works on the local scene.

Shepard has done an exemplary job diving deep into a number of subjects, particularly our $367,806,712 school district.

A link to many of Jason's articles.

Posted by jez at 9:59 PM

April 28, 2008

Last Breakfast in Cambodia

Sichan Siv:

CAMBODIANS and other Theravada Buddhists celebrate their New Year in mid-April. They were not always able to do so. Under Khmer Rouge and Vietnamese rule, those ancient traditions were forbidden, impossible. But now Cambodia is free again and the festivities are in the open. As I wander the country of my youth, I see people spending the long holiday praying at temples and visiting relatives.

And I remember. My family used to hold a reunion on April 13 to mark both the New Year and my mother’s birthday. In 1975, we had no idea that it would be our last. We were all apprehensive about the future, and my mother was distraught because I had missed the American evacuation.

The day before, an officer of the United States Agency for International Development had told me that I had to be at the embassy within an hour if I wanted to be airlifted out of Cambodia. (I was a manager for the American relief agency CARE and had been selected for the evacuation.) Instead, I went to a meeting to find a way to help 3,000 families stranded in an isolated province.

Posted by jez at 7:47 PM

April 25, 2008

VIDEO: Brazilian priest takes a ride with helium balloons and goes missing

Flight Global:

The Roman Catholic priest who took flight by tying himself to a chair with hundreds of helium balloons has gone missing off the coast of Brazil.

He was trying to to break a 19-hour balloon flying record to raise money for a spiritual rest stop for truckers in Paranagua according to a news report.

Posted by jez at 8:24 AM

April 22, 2008

McCain's Font

Steven Heller:

Can a typeface truly represent a presidential candidate? It depends on the typeface and the candidate. John McCain’s printed material relies on Optima, a modernistic sans serif designed by the German type designer Hermann Zapf in 1958 that was popular among book and magazine designers during the 1970s.

While it is not the most robust sans serif ever designed, it is not entirely neutral either. It embodies and signifies a certain spirit and attitude. And if a typeface is not just an empty vessel for meaning, but a signifier that underscores personality, then it is useful in understanding what the candidates’ respective typefaces are saying about them and their campaigns.

So, I asked various designers, design curators and critics, who get rather heated when it comes to analyzing type design, to weigh in on two questions regarding Senator McCain’s campaign logo set in a bold version of Optima: What does Optima say about John McCain? And should this, or any, candidate be judged by a typeface?

Posted by jez at 2:22 PM

Another Round for the Guild

Private Equity Hub:

The Guild Inc., a Madison, Wis.-based online art retailer, has raised $2.5 million in Series C funding, according to a regulatory filing. Shareholders include Dolphin Equity Partners
The Guild, a company with many lives, must be north of $50,000,000 (!) in funds raised over the years.

Related: A Pravda View of Guild and 1/11/2006: Guild Raises another $6M.


Posted by jez at 8:35 AM

April 18, 2008

Dodge County Sunset

Posted by jez at 4:05 PM

The "Rebirth of the Rust Belt"

CNBC video of Matthew Simmons on the "end of the Starbucks' economy". Bottom line, from Simmons: good for the midwest.

Posted by jez at 11:01 AM

April 16, 2008

VR Scene: Toronto's Bata Shoe Museum

Click to view the full screen vr scene. Place your mouse inside the photo, click and pan left, right, up or down..

Bata Shoe Museum website:

Sonja Bata was born in Switzerland, where she studied architecture. In 1946 she married Thomas J. Bata, the son of a well-known Czechoslovakian shoe manufacturer who had emigrated to Canada at the beginning of World War II. His family enterprise in Czechoslovakia had been nationalized under the Communist occupation. From the beginning, Sonja Bata shared her husbandfs determination to rebuild the organization and took an active interest in what was to become a global footwear business.

Over the years, she grew increasingly fascinated by shoes, their history and the reasons why specific shapes and decorative treatments had developed in different cultures. During her travels, she realized that some traditional forms were being replaced with western shoes, reflecting changing lifestyles to some extent influenced by the production of the spreading Bata factories serving local markets.

Since the 1940s, Sonja Bata has scoured the world for footwear of every description, from the most ordinary to the most extraordinary. Her combined interest in design and shoes has led to a very personal collection, with examples from many cultures and historic periods.

This hand held vr scene was taken a few months ago while "stuck" in Toronto during a snowstorm.

Posted by jez at 3:46 PM

Innovation lessons from Pixar: An interview with Oscar-winning director Brad Bird

Hayagreeva Rao, Robert Sutton, and Allen P. Webb:

If there’s one thing successful innovators have shown over the years, it’s that great ideas come from unexpected places. Who could have predicted that bicycle mechanics would develop the airplane or that the US Department of Defense would give rise to a freewheeling communications platform like the Internet?

Senior executives looking for ideas about how to make their companies more innovative can also seek inspiration in surprising sources. Exhibit One: Brad Bird, Pixar’s two-time Oscar-winning director. Bird’s hands-on approach to fostering creativity among animators holds powerful lessons for any executive hoping to nurture innovation in teams and organizations.

Bird joined Pixar in 2000, when the company was riding high following its release of the world’s first computer-animated feature film, Toy Story, and the subsequent hits A Bug’s Life and Toy Story 2. Concerned about complacency, senior executives Steve Jobs, Ed Catmull, and John Lasseter asked Bird, whose body of work included The Iron Giant and The Simpsons, to join the company and shake things up. The veteran of Walt Disney, Warner Brothers, and FOX delivered—winning Academy Awards (best animated feature) for two groundbreaking movies, The Incredibles and Ratatouille.

Ten days before Ratatouille won its Oscar, we sat down with Bird at the Emeryville, California, campus of Pixar, which is now a subsidiary of Disney.1 Bird discussed the importance, in his work, of pushing teams beyond their comfort zones, encouraging dissent, and building morale. He also explained the value of “black sheep”—restless contributors with unconventional ideas. Although stimulating the creativity of animators might seem very different from developing new product ideas or technology breakthroughs, Bird’s anecdotes should stir the imagination of innovation-minded executives in any industry.

Posted by jez at 1:24 PM

April 14, 2008

On Energy: "Some home truths about tomorrow"

Ed Wallace:

It’s about 179 miles from Fort Worth to the campus of Texas A&M in College Station, and I drove there to speak at the Student Conference On National Affairs on Thursday, February 21. It was not lost on me that making the round trip between the Metroplex and A&M’s Memorial Student Center meant that I would use the equivalent of one barrel of oil to discuss the fallacy of America’s quest for energy independence.
My slight amusement continued when one of the first students I met had arrived late from Chicago because his luggage had been misrouted and lost by the airline. I doubted that he got the irony of how much fuel it took to bring him the 1,100 miles from Chicago to Texas to attend SCONA 53, which was titled "Creating A Sustainable Global Energy Policy."

Simply Selfish: Ethanol or Food

My talk came after an address by the Ambassador of Azerbaijan and before talks by Mark Albers, a senior vice president of Exxon, and by Virginia Governor George Allen. I had been asked to speak that afternoon about the magic of alternative fuels’ saving the day and alleviating the current energy crisis – assuming that high price is the sole determining factor in today’s energy debate. I felt the best way to do that was to discuss the beginnings of the automotive age in both America and the world, to relate to the students and professionals attending how, in the 1920s, these exact same circumstances led to a campaign to wean the American public off of oil – and why today the debate is back, but the end results will be the same.

I usually find it best to use 4th-grade math to show the fallacy of the again-current line of thinking about alternative fuels such as ethanol. After all, most people seem shocked to learn the fact that a new 2008 Suburban, designed to run on E85 ethanol and in which the owner uses only E85 as fuel, requires four acres of farmland be dedicated to corn production to keep that one vehicle running. But it’s true: That Suburban owner may live in a beautiful home on a quarter acre in the Metroplex, but somewhere in America four acres of corn must be set aside to provide fuel for just that one SUV.

Posted by jez at 9:07 AM

April 13, 2008

News Musuem VR Gallery

Washington Post.

Posted by jez at 1:39 PM

April 8, 2008

French Theory in America

Stanley Fish:

It was in sometime in the ’80s when I heard someone on the radio talking about Clint Eastwood’s 1980 movie “Bronco Billy.” It is, he said, a “nice little film in which Eastwood deconstructs his ‘Dirty Harry’ image.”

That was probably not the first time the verb “deconstruct” was used casually to describe a piece of pop culture, but it was the first time I had encountered it, and I remember thinking that the age of theory was surely over now that one of its key terms had been appropriated, domesticated and commodified. It had also been used with some precision. What the radio critic meant was that the flinty masculine realism of the “Dirty Harry” movies — it’s a hard world and it takes a hard man to deal with its evils — is affectionately parodied in the story of a former New Jersey shoe salesman who dresses and talks like a tough cowboy, but is the good-hearted proprietor of a traveling Wild West show aimed at little children. It’s all an act , a confected fable, but so is Dirty Harry; so is everything. If deconstruction was something that an American male icon performed, there was no reason to fear it; truth, reason and the American way were safe.

It turned out, of course, that my conclusion was hasty and premature, for it was in the early ’90s that the culture wars went into high gear and the chief target of the neo-conservative side was this theory that I thought had run its course. It became clear that it had a second life, or a second run, as the villain of a cultural melodrama produced and starred in by Alan Bloom, Dinesh D’Souza, Roger Kimble and other denizens of the right, even as its influence was declining in the academic precincts this crew relentlessly attacked.

Posted by jez at 9:55 AM

April 1, 2008

"The Best in April Foolery Around the Web"

Tom Weber:

OK, so maybe you’re working today instead of surfing around the Web for April Fool’s jokes. Fear not: Buzzwatch is here to help with a roundup of April Foolery online.

At Google, where April 1 is celebrated annually with jokes throughout the company’s sites, the main offering this year is a chance to join “Project Virgle” and become a Mars colonist.

Google’s Gmail has its own prank. Users today are informed of a new “Custom Time” feature that promises to predate emails so they appear to have been sent in the past. “Worry less,” Gmail says. “Forget your finance reports. Forget your anniversary. We’ll make it look like you remembered.”

If you’re looking to stage your own joke on a coworker today, Lifehacker has an excellent list of suggestions. One example: replace someone’s Windows desktop with an image of the desktop and watch the victim try to click on the unclickable icons. Ah, sometimes it’s the simple things.

Even NASA can’t resist joining the foolery. From the space agency’s popular Astronomy Picture of the Day site comes news that the new space station robot is demanding that humans call it by the name “Dextre the Magnificent.”

Posted by jez at 8:11 PM

March 31, 2008

"Quote du jour"

Brad Templeton:

Cable is not a monopoly. You can choose from any cable company you want in America, just by moving your house.
@ Freedom to Connect.

Posted by jez at 9:06 AM

Press Coverage & Political Accountability

James Snyder & David Stromberg:

In this paper we estimate the impact of press coverage on citizen knowledge, politicians' actions, and policy. We find that a poor fit between newspaper markets and political districts reduces press coverage of politics. We use variation in this fit due to redistricting to identify the effects of reduced coverage. Exploring the links in the causal chain of media effects -- voter information, politicians' actions and policy -- we find statistically significant and substantively important effects. Voters living in areas with less coverage of their U.S. House representative are less likely to recall their representative's name, and less able to describe and rate them. Congressmen who are less covered by the local press work less for their constituencies: they are less likely to stand witness before congressional hearings, to serve on constituency-oriented committees (perhaps), and to vote against the party line. Finally, this congressional behavior affects policy. Federal spending is lower in areas where there is less press coverage of the local members of congress.
This is an interesting subject. Locally, I've seen very little traditional media coverage of our elected officials actual voting record. Via Tyler Cowen.

Posted by jez at 8:33 AM

How to Disagree: An Attempt at a "Disagreement Hierarchy"

Paul Graham:

The web is turning writing into a conversation. Twenty years ago, writers wrote and readers read. The web lets readers respond, and increasingly they do—in comment threads, on forums, and in their own blog posts.

Many who respond to something disagree with it. That's to be expected. Agreeing tends to motivate people less than disagreeing. And when you agree there's less to say. You could expand on something the author said, but he has probably already explored the most interesting implications. When you disagree you're entering territory he may not have explored.

The result is there's a lot more disagreeing going on, especially measured by the word. That doesn't mean people are getting angrier. The structural change in the way we communicate is enough to account for it. But though it's not anger that's driving the increase in disagreement, there's a danger that the increase in disagreement will make people angrier. Particularly online, where it's easy to say things you'd never say face to face.

If we're all going to be disagreeing more, we should be careful to do it well. What does it mean to disagree well? Most readers can tell the difference between mere name-calling and a carefully reasoned refutation, but I think it would help to put names on the intermediate stages. So here's an attempt at a disagreement hierarchy:

Posted by jez at 7:59 AM

MAD Magazine's Fold-in Illustrator

Neil Genzlinger:

THIS was going to be a simple artist-at-work article about Al Jaffee, a man who could lay claim to being the world’s oldest adolescent and who just now is enjoying a fresh burst of public and professional recognition. The idea was to look in on him as he created the latest installment of a feature he has been drawing for Mad magazine since, incredibly, 1964.

But because that feature is the Mad Fold-In, which embeds a hidden joke within a seemingly straightforward illustration, it should come as no surprise that the simple article ended up being not so simple after all. There were times when Mr. Jaffee, who faced a serious health scare over the last few weeks, thought it might be something closer to a eulogy.

If you were young at any time in the last 44 years, you know the fold-in: the feature on the inside of Mad’s back cover that poses a question whose answer is found by folding the page in thirds. September 1978: “What colorful fantastic creature is still being exploited even after it has wiggled and died?” A picture of a garish butterfly, folded, becomes an equally garish Elvis.

Posted by jez at 3:11 AM

March 27, 2008


Bob Lefsetz:

Having become accustomed to the smell, my nose drawn to the flame, after multiple visits I inspected the jars, and that’s when I learned the candles were replicating apple pie, it said so right on them. And for Valentine’s Day, Felice set out to buy me my own apple pie candle, so I could relive the Two Elk experience right here at sea level.

So she called.

That wouldn’t even occur to me. That here in Los Angeles you could pick up the phone and make contact with someone at Two Elk, who ultimately told Felice that they’d purchased the apple pie candles at Wal-Mart.

That’s what led Felice to the two story edifice in Panorama City, a desire to elate me on Valentine’s Day. But while there, she decided to also pick up a PlayStation, and that’s how we ultimately got hooked on Rock Band. But the geek at the counter, outfitting her with all the necessary accoutrements, sold her an HDMI cable, so we could see the Rock Band images in all their Hi-Def glory.

But Felice’s HDTV is from the generation before HDMI. We had to use a component hook-up, which turns out to be quite good. And were left with one HDMI cable, which has a value of approximately $100 if you’re out of the loop. Finally, on Saturday, before going downtown to see Margaret Cho at the Orpheum, we journeyed into the heart of darkness, to Wal-Mart, to return the cable.

Remember that old TV show, "Big Valley"? Well, it is. Took us about twenty minutes to drive to Panorama City. And after passing Galpin Ford and its satellite dealerships, and burned out buildings, we found ourselves at Wal-Mart.

Let’s start with the abandoned buildings. If this is how the richest nation in the world looks, what’s it like in the third world? Is it tents with holes? Or does our media just refuse to expose how bad it is across so much of the U.S. landscape, how much our rich have ignored our poor?

More on Lefsetz here.

Posted by jez at 4:03 PM

Addressing: The Revenge of Geography

Timothy Grayson:

Pondering a future for location intelligence is a speculative journey through geographic permanence and human transience that ends with proving location intelligence to be evermore crucial to businesses and governments.

The Canadian postal context
The post office has a natural connection to location and an unbeatable advantage over geo-matics, spatial mapping and so on: postal carriers go regularly to all locations.

Opened in 1755, the first Canadian post office facilitated commerce and nation-building at a time when locating people and places among the buffalo and beaver was a real challenge. By 2005, Canada Post was delivering 11.1-billion letters and packages - about 37-million pieces every day - to over 31-million individual Canadians plus over 1-million businesses and institutions at some 14-million points-of-call.

Canada Post has established an electronic pedigree as well. epostTM serves about 4-million subscribed Canadians, delivering electronic bills for over 90-percent of Canadian large volume mailers. Canada Post also provides both an electronic courier service to securely transmit large electronic documents and an Electronic PostMark.

Posted by jez at 2:10 PM

March 25, 2008

Out of East Germany via Bulgaria

Nicholas Kulish:

Two dangling strands of barbed wire have haunted Olaf Hetze for over a quarter century, since his failed attempt to escape from the Communist bloc, not by going over the Berlin Wall but around it by a little-known route through Bulgaria.

Mr. Hetze still believes that he and his girlfriend, Barbara Hille, might have made it if he had managed to cover their tracks better, trimming the loose ends after cutting the top wire of a border fence. If he had, Mr. Hetze said in an interview at his home in Munich earlier this year, he might never have seen the shooting stars of tracer bullets arcing across the night sky, or had to watch his girlfriend twist in the air and fall to the ground, blood rushing out of a life-threatening wound to her shoulder.

But the dangling wire was far from the only reason they failed.

Thanks to the work of a dedicated German researcher, the full extent of the escape attempts through Bulgaria, and the danger, is just now coming to light. At least 4,500 people tried to escape over the Bulgarian border during the cold war, estimated the researcher, Stefan Appelius, a professor of political science at Oldenburg University. Of those, he believes that at least 100 were killed, but no official investigation has ever been undertaken.

Posted by jez at 8:59 PM

The death and life of the American newspaper

Eric Alterman:

The American newspaper has been around for approximately three hundred years. Benjamin Harris’s spirited Publick Occurrences, Both Forreign and Domestick managed just one issue, in 1690, before the Massachusetts authorities closed it down. Harris had suggested a politically incorrect hard line on Indian removal and shocked local sensibilities by reporting that the King of France had been taking liberties with the Prince’s wife.

It really was not until 1721, when the printer James Franklin launched the New England Courant, that any of Britain’s North American colonies saw what we might recognize today as a real newspaper. Franklin, Benjamin’s older brother, refused to adhere to customary licensing arrangements and constantly attacked the ruling powers of New England, thereby achieving both editorial independence and commercial success. He filled his paper with crusades (on everything from pirates to the power of Cotton and Increase Mather), literary essays by Addison and Steele, character sketches, and assorted philosophical ruminations.

Posted by jez at 12:55 PM

March 23, 2008

My Trust in My Lord

Anne Rice:

Look: I believe in Him. It’s that simple and that complex. I believe in Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, the God Man who came to earth, born as a tiny baby and then lived over thirty years in our midst. I believe in what we celebrate this week: the scandal of the cross and the miracle of the Resurrection. My belief is total. And I know that I cannot convince anyone of it by reason, anymore than an atheist can convince me, by reason, that there is no God.

A long life of historical study and biblical research led me to my belief, and when faith returned to me, the return was total. It transformed my existence completely; it changed the direction of the journey I was traveling through the world. Within a few years of my return to Christ, I dedicated my work to Him, vowing to write for Him and Him alone. My study of Scripture deepened; my study of New Testament scholarship became a daily commitment. My prayers and my meditation were centered on Christ.

And my writing for Him became a vocation that eclipsed my profession as a writer that had existed before.

Why did faith come back to me? I don’t claim to know the answer. But what I want to talk about right now is trust. Faith for me was intimately involved with love for God and trust in Him, and that trust in Him was as transformative as the love.

Clusty Search: Anne Rice.

Posted by jez at 12:00 AM

March 21, 2008


Ho Chunk Honeys?

Posted by jez at 10:33 AM

March 10, 2008

NSA's Domestic Spying Grows As Agency Sweeps Up Data

Siobhan Gorman:

Five years ago, Congress killed an experimental Pentagon antiterrorism program meant to vacuum up electronic data about people in the U.S. to search for suspicious patterns. Opponents called it too broad an intrusion on Americans' privacy, even after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

But the data-sifting effort didn't disappear. The National Security Agency, once confined to foreign surveillance, has been building essentially the same system.

The central role the NSA has come to occupy in domestic intelligence gathering has never been publicly disclosed. But an inquiry reveals that its efforts have evolved to reach more broadly into data about people's communications, travel and finances in the U.S. than the domestic surveillance programs brought to light since the 2001 terrorist attacks.

Posted by jez at 11:05 AM

The "500 True Believers"

Tom Peters:

The deal is, we've been told, that CEO pay is so high because demand for the 9-sigma talent of these Water Walking Wonders, so very beyond your and my shriveled imaginations, wildly exceeds supply when it comes to the 500 jobs as Fortune 500 CEOs. I contend that there are exactly 500 Guys (almost all guys, hence I can safely use the term) who believe that line of reasoning—namely the 500 CEOs of the F500 companies. (I guess I could also throw in the heads of the biggest search firms, who unearthed many of these so-far-beyond-the-pale dudes, which perhaps puts the total at 505 True Believers.)

The Inspiring Invincibles! Chuck Prince (Citigroup, formerly head of)! Stan O'Neal (Merrill Lynch, formerly head of)! Angelo Mozilo (Countrywide, formerly head of)! Tough cookies, each one. And yet, somehow, on their watches, The Three Geniuses allowed their firms, through grotesque negligence—maybe silliness or Theaters of the Absurd would be better words if the stakes weren't so high—to get into positions in which tens upon tens of BILLIONS of greenbacks had to be written off from their books of account. Dodger, my 5-year-old Aussie, could have done a better job. (He could have bitten anybody who tried to make a $500K loan to someone who had never had a job or paid a bill and signed his name with an "X"; and peed on the pants of any 22-year-old University of Chicago PhD who said, "With my clever algorithm I've designed what's called a 'derivative'—it'll make risk a thing of the past." Yes, had Dodger bitten and peed on schedule, the likes of Citigroup would be ten or twenty billion ahead of their current position.) But, since the demand is so strong for the 500 different-from-mere-vice-presidents-Monumental-Management-Marvels, and the supply is so short, The Three Geniuses, on the basis of "Upside Potential," were able to chalk up about a half BILLION buckaroos on their pay stubs over the last five years, while busily installing the tools necessary for Global Economic Meltdown. Well, I guess that means they're "excellent" at something. Isn't there some line about wool & eyes & pulling? (In most cases, their pay deals, especially the parts about "if you turn out to be an idiot, we'll pay you a king's ransom to clean out your desk," were effectively set before they set foot in the executive suite. Wow, I wanna piece of that action!)

Posted by jez at 10:22 AM

February 22, 2008

A Font We Can Believe in

Gary @ Helvetica, The Film:

Unless you’ve been avoiding television, newspapers, and all other forms of mass media for the past few months, you’ve probably seen Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama’s “Change We Can Believe In” and “Stand for Change” banners. The typophiles among you have realized that the “change” font Obama’s campaign uses is Gotham, designed by Hoefler & Frere-Jones, originally as a commission for GQ Magazine.
The film Helvetica is well worth watching.

Posted by jez at 3:11 PM

February 17, 2008

"Google's Addiction to Cheap Electricity"

Ginger Strand:

"Don't be evil", the motto of Google, is tailored to the popular image of the company--and the information economy itself--as a clean, green twenty-first century antidote to the toxic excesses of the past century's industries. The firm's plan to develop a gigawatt of new renewable energy recently caused a blip in its stock price and was greeted by the press as a curious act of benevolence. But the move is part of a campaign to compensate for the company's own excesses, which can be observed on the bansk of the Columbia River, where Google and its rivals are raising server farms to tap into some of the cheapest electricity in North America. The blueprints depicting Google's data center at The Dalles, Oregon are proof that the Web is no ethereal store of ideas, shimmering over our heads like the aurora borealis. It is a new heavy industry, an energy glutton that is only growing hungrier.
I wonder how the economics and energy consumption details compare between growing web applications and legacy paper based products?

Posted by jez at 8:24 AM

February 12, 2008

Barack Obama in Madison

A few photos from a late arriving visitor to the University of Wisconsin's Kohl Center.madisonobamazmetro22008.jpg
While I did not arrive early enough to catch the speech inside the Kohl Center, I always find it interesting to note the political opportunism during these events. Governor Doyle, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and local Mayor Dave Cieslewicz all rated a nod from Obama. John Kerry's 2004 appearance with Bruce Springsteen included a number of local politicians, including Elizabeth Burmaster, Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction Superintendent (a nonpartisan position).

Finally, a few Ron Paul supporters promoted their candidate in front of the proceedings.

Posted by jez at 8:52 PM

February 5, 2008

Riding That Train, A Long Commute

Sam Whiting:

At 6 on a Wednesday morning, Jim Bourgart is already 15 minutes into a 175-minute commute by foot, bus, train and foot again. From downtown San Francisco he'll catch an Amtrak motor coach to the Emeryville station, where he'll sit 20 minutes on a hard plastic bench waiting for the 6:40 to Sacramento.

He doesn't mind as long as he is moving. It is the lost sleep time in the waiting room that hurts. Since the Capitol Corridor runs both the bus and the train, you'd think it could tighten the time-cushion allowed for traffic that never appears on the eastbound bridge.

"I could use those extra 20 minutes, or even 10 or 5," says Bourgart, who starts his day with a 12-minute walk in the dark from his SoMa condo to the bus stop at the Market Street entrance to Bloomingdale's. "Every minute counts, especially in the morning."

The Capitol Corridor is a line made possible by the voters, who in 1990 approved Prop. 116 to provide state funding for intercity passenger rail service. Until 1998, there were only four trains each direction per day and the morning commute was essentially westbound only. Now there are 16 roundtrips. The State of California owns the rolling stock, Union Pacific owns the tracks, BART supplies administration, Amtrak staffs the trains and stations and a joint powers authority oversees it. The Capitol Corridor is like Caltrain with more layers of agencies.

Posted by jez at 12:00 AM

February 2, 2008

Why Not?

whynotzmetrodotcom.jpgClassic Old Style beer sign with an appropriate tavern name.

Posted by jez at 12:01 AM

February 1, 2008

Thinking of Summer: Aix-en-Provence

aixzmetro082007.jpgThoughts of summer as Winter continues in Madison. Note the fashionable sushi delivery vehicle, a Smart Car and the smartly dressed pedestrian. Summer in Provence. Much more on Aix-en-Provence here [map]

Posted by jez at 10:01 AM

January 31, 2008

Technology's Unintended Consequences

Nick Carr:

As GPS transceivers become common accessories in cars, the benefits have been manifold. Millions of us have been relieved of the nuisance of getting lost or, even worse, the shame of having to ask a passerby for directions.

But, as with all popular technologies, those dashboard maps are having some unintended consequences. In many cases, the shortest route between two points turns out to run through once-quiet neighborhoods and formerly out-of-the-way hamlets.

Scores of villages have been overrun by cars and lorries whose drivers robotically follow the instructions dispensed by their satellite navigation systems. The International Herald Tribune reports that the parish council of Barrow Gurney has even requested, fruitlessly, that the town be erased from the maps used by the makers of navigation devices.

A research group in the Netherlands last month issued a study documenting the phenomenon and the resulting risk of accidents. It went so far as to say that GPS systems can turn drivers into “kid killers.”

Carr makes an excellent point. One has to add some common sense to navigation systems. I used a TomTom in Europe last year. I found it very helpful - mostly, however, when we decided to wander around. The navigation system would then provide a route back to the hotel (which I had added as a predefined point prior to our departure).

Posted by jez at 8:46 AM

January 27, 2008

33 Things That Make Us Crazy

Wired on air travel, and 32 other modern annoyance:

Ticket Counter: Expensive? If anything, flying doesn't cost enough: The average domestic fare in spring 2007 was $326. That's $50 less than a decade ago, after adjusting for inflation. During the same period, fuel costs nearly tripled. To stay in business, major carriers have aped the strategies of budget operators like Southwest. Largely gone are the free meals, blankets, and pillows. The savings have been passed along as lower ticket prices — at the price of your comfort.

Posted by jez at 4:57 PM

January 23, 2008

Repress U


Free-speech zones. Taser guns. Hidden cameras. Data mining. A new security curriculum. Private security contractors. Welcome to the homeland security campus.

From Harvard to UCLA, the ivory tower is fast becoming the latest watchtower in Fortress America. The terror warriors, having turned their attention to "violent radicalization and homegrown terrorism prevention"--as it was recently dubbed in a House of Representatives bill of the same name--have set out to reconquer that traditional hotbed of radicalization, the university.

Building a homeland security campus and bringing the university to heel is a seven-step mission:

1. Target dissidents. As the warfare state has triggered dissent, the campus has attracted increasing scrutiny--with student protesters in the cross hairs. The government's number-one target? Peace and justice organizations.

From 2003 to 2007 an unknown number of them made it into the Pentagon's Threat and Local Observation Notice system (TALON), a secretive domestic spying program ostensibly designed to track direct "potential terrorist threats" to the Defense Department itself. In 2006 the ACLU uncovered, via Freedom of Information Act requests, at least 186 specific TALON reports on "anti-military protests" in the United States--some listed as "credible threats"--from student groups at the University of California, Santa Cruz; State University of New York, Albany; Georgia State University; and New Mexico State University, among other campuses.

At more than a dozen universities and colleges, police officers now double as full-time FBI agents, and according to the Campus Law Enforcement Journal, they serve on many of the nation's 100 Joint Terrorism Task Forces. These dual-purpose officer-agents have knocked on student activists' doors from North Carolina State to the University of Colorado and, in one case, interrogated an Iraqi-born professor at the University of Massachusetts about his antiwar views.

Posted by jez at 10:33 AM

January 22, 2008

For Champions of Haggling, No Price Tag Is Sacred

Alina Tugend:

MY husband and I hate haggling. In markets in Istanbul or Jerusalem or Florence, where arguing over price is a high art — and after we have given it our best shot — we always feel we have walked away paying twice as much as the seller expected.

And that they are secretly, or not so secretly, laughing at us.

In this country where you are expected to negotiate over cars and houses, we manage quite well, but do not find it fun or exciting. We just want it to be over.

But I have friends who always seem able to strike a great deal in unexpected areas. My friend Lou negotiates a lower price on the oil delivered to his house. On his credit card rates. On hotel rooms. At the gym.

“People are afraid to ask, afraid they’ll be embarrassed or afraid they won’t get the right answer,” he said. “Seventy-five percent of the time, I get the right answer.”

Lou and other successful hagglers are not worried about appearing cheap, as I am, or being turned down, because they start with a different attitude.

Posted by jez at 1:00 AM

January 20, 2008

Ubiquitous Packer Paraphernalia

This photo was snapped at an early morning swim meet this weekend.

Posted by James Zellmer at 4:13 PM

January 19, 2008

All Roads Still Lead to Lombardi

Dave Anderson:

All you need to know about Green Bay is that Lambeau Field is on Lombardi Avenue.

Even the numerals in the Packers’ address, 1265 Lombardi Avenue, are significant — 12 for the franchise’s record number of N.F.L. championships, 6 when Curly Lambeau was the coach, 5 when Vince Lombardi was the coach. The 1996 team won the other title in Super Bowl XXXI with Mike Holmgren as the coach (he later defected to Seattle) and Brett Favre at quarterback (he is still the face of the franchise). But Lambeau and Lombardi remain its cornerstones.

Lambeau, a star tailback at Green Bay East High School who left Notre Dame after a year, organized the original Packers team at a meeting in the dingy Press-Gazette newspaper offices in 1919 when a local meatpacking company put up $500 for uniforms and pro football was a small-town sport.

Lombardi, a New Yorker originally out of Sheepshead Bay, St. Francis Prep and Fordham before coaching at St. Cecilia’s in Englewood, N.J., at Army under Red Blaik and the Giants’ offense for five seasons (including the 1956 championship team), gilded Green Bay with a major league mystique.

Posted by James Zellmer at 6:47 PM

January 17, 2008

Free LAX Shuttle to In-N-Out Burgers

Neil Woodburn:

Stuck at LAX for a few hours on a layover and hankering for one of the best burgers in all of California? Well, you're in luck.

There's an In-N-Out Burger just around the corner from the airport, and Gadling knows a little trick to get you there for free.

An In-N-Out is located on nearby Sepulveda Boulevard right next to the Parking Spot--a parking structure that conveniently provides free shuttle service. All you have to do is wait under the red "Hotel and Courtesy Shuttle" sign outside of any airport terminal, and when the yellow and black polka-dotted Parking Spot shuttle swings by, jump on board. It will take you literally next door to In-N-Out. Follow your nose through the back door, across the parking lot, and right inside where you need to order a double-double and fries to enjoy the best layover of your life.

There are a few things to be very careful about, however.

In-n-out is, in some ways, the Culvers of California.

Posted by James Zellmer at 9:51 AM

January 16, 2008

Credit Squeeze: The Press Meets the Wrench

Suddent Debt:

The NY Times today has an excellent article that starts: Ben Bernanke, meet Gary Crittenden. While you're easing credit, he is tightening it." In two brief sentences the writer (Floyd Norris) speaks volumes: Gary Crittenden is Citigroup's CFO, who just told analysts the largest bank in the US is reducing consumer lending and raising interest rates. Asked whether credit card lending was an area where Citi might want to “pull back or increase pricing,” he responded, “All of the above.” Mortgage lending is also being cut.

That's what a credit crunch looks like, in the ground: lenders working to repair damaged balance sheets end up throwing monkey wrenches into the Fed's "printing press". And that's also how economies slide to the bottom of a liquidity trap, staring in frustration at a useless ZIRP .

Posted by James Zellmer at 10:05 AM

The Dealer Made Me Do It

Steve Finlay:

First off, I’m not excusing auto dealers. Or lenders.

They have a moral and business responsibility to try to stop their customers from doing something stupid, such as buying a vehicle with a sticker price that will stick them with an oppressive debt.

But customers have responsibilities, too. It is their purchase, their money and their car payments. It is up to them, more than anyone else, to know their financial limitations and not cross them.

Yet, so many consumers today buy too much vehicle. Then, when the financial squeeze becomes eye-popping, they look for someone to blame. The dealership and lender make nice targets. Seldom do the debt-ridden blame themselves.

I pondered that while reading a Los Angeles Times article headlined, “New Cars That Are Fully Loaded – With Debt.”

The story tells how some Americans of average means roll over an existing loan on an expensive vehicle in order to get another expensive vehicle. They end up with two loans in one, when they couldn’t afford one.

From the LA Times article:
Americans haven't just been taking out risky mortgages for homes in the last few years; they've also been signing larger automobile loans for significantly longer terms than they used to.

As a result, people are slipping into a perpetual cycle of automobile debt that experts think could lead to a new credit crunch extending from dealerships to driveways and all the way to Wall Street.

Posted by James Zellmer at 9:44 AM

GPS Liability?

Adena Schutzberg:

In early January accident, a California computer technician turned his rental car onto some train tracks in New York per the directions of his sat nav system. The car became stuck and he had to abandon it before an oncoming train hit it. There were no injuries, but there were significant delays in travel. "The rental car driver was issued a summons and is being held liable for the damage to the train and track."

That leads a real live lawyer, Eric J. Sinrod, writing at c|net to examine the potential of a driver to point to the GPS manufacturer as being at fault. The article points out:

Posted by James Zellmer at 9:35 AM

January 15, 2008

On Sears & Lands End: Retailer's Profit Warning Signals a Persistent Slide

Gary McWilliams:

Sears Holdings Corp., the storied retailer that helped civilize the American frontier with its catalog sales and later defined the modern department store, is searching for a new compass.

The retailer yesterday warned results for its fiscal fourth quarter and year would fall well below its expectations, continuing a sharp slide in sales and profit. Even during the best two months of the year, sales at stores open at least a year fell 3.5% compared with a year ago, the company said. Shares tumbled 5% to a more than two-year low, down $4.79 to $91.38 on the Nasdaq. The stock is off 49% in the past year.

But its record in acquisitions has been dismal. In 2002, it paid $3 billion for mail-order firm Lands' End, a business that has declined since the deal.

Lands End is based in nearby Dodgeville. The post Sears acquisition of Lands End is a story waiting to be told.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:00 AM

January 11, 2008

The Airport Security Follies

Patrick Smith:

Six years after the terrorist attacks of 2001, airport security remains a theater of the absurd. The changes put in place following the September 11th catastrophe have been drastic, and largely of two kinds: those practical and effective, and those irrational, wasteful and pointless.

The first variety have taken place almost entirely behind the scenes. Explosives scanning for checked luggage, for instance, was long overdue and is perhaps the most welcome addition. Unfortunately, at concourse checkpoints all across America, the madness of passenger screening continues in plain view. It began with pat-downs and the senseless confiscation of pointy objects. Then came the mandatory shoe removal, followed in the summer of 2006 by the prohibition of liquids and gels. We can only imagine what is next.

To understand what makes these measures so absurd, we first need to revisit the morning of September 11th, and grasp exactly what it was the 19 hijackers so easily took advantage of. Conventional wisdom says the terrorists exploited a weakness in airport security by smuggling aboard box-cutters. What they actually exploited was a weakness in our mindset — a set of presumptions based on the decades-long track record of hijackings.

In years past, a takeover meant hostage negotiations and standoffs; crews were trained in the concept of “passive resistance.” All of that changed forever the instant American Airlines Flight 11 collided with the north tower. What weapons the 19 men possessed mattered little; the success of their plan relied fundamentally on the element of surprise. And in this respect, their scheme was all but guaranteed not to fail.

Posted by James Zellmer at 2:55 PM

January 8, 2008

Can Burt’s Bees Turn Clorox Green?

Louise Story:

IN the summer of 1984, Burt Shavitz, a beekeeper in Maine, picked up Roxanne Quimby, a 33-year-old single mother down on her luck, as she hitchhiked to the post office in Dexter, Me. More than a dozen years Ms. Quimby’s senior, the guy locals called “the bee-man” sold honey in pickle jars from the back of his pickup truck. To Ms. Quimby, he seemed to be living an idyllic life in the wilderness (including making his home inside a small turkey coop).

She offered to help Mr. Shavitz tend to his beehives. The two became lovers and eventually birthed Burt’s Bees, a niche company famous for beeswax lip balm, lotions, soaps and shampoos, as well as for its homespun packaging and feel-good, eco-friendly marketing. The bearded man whose image is used to peddle the products is modeled after Mr. Shavitz.

Today, the couple’s quirky enterprise is owned by the Clorox Company, a consumer products giant best known for making bleach, which bought it for $913 million in November. Clorox plans to turn Burt’s Bees into a mainstream American brand sold in big-box stores like Wal-Mart. Along the way, Clorox executives say, they plan to learn from unusual business practices at Burt’s Bees — many centered on environmental sustainability. Clorox, the company promises, is going green.

A classic American story.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:00 AM

January 3, 2008

What I learned about network television at Dateline NBC.

John Hockenberry:

The most memorable reporting I've encountered on the conflict in Iraq was delivered in the form of confetti exploding out of a cardboard tube. I had just begun working at the MIT Media Lab in March 2006 when Alyssa Wright, a lab student, got me to participate in a project called "Cherry Blossoms." I strapped on a backpack with a pair of vertical tubes sticking out of the top; they were connected to a detonation device linked to a Global Positioning System receiver. A microprocessor in the backpack contained a program that mapped the coördinates of the city of Baghdad onto those for the city of Cambridge; it also held a database of the locations of all the civilian deaths of 2005. If I went into a part of Cambridge that corresponded to a place in Iraq where civilians had died in a bombing, the detonator was triggered.

When the backpack exploded on a clear, crisp afternoon at the Media Lab, handfuls of confetti shot out of the cardboard tubes into the air, then fell slowly to earth. On each streamer of paper was written the name of an Iraqi civilian casualty. I had reported on the war (although not from Baghdad) since 2003 and was aware of persistent controversy over the numbers of Iraqi civilian dead as reported by the U.S. government and by other sources. But it wasn't until the moment of this fake explosion that the scale and horrible suddenness of the slaughter in Baghdad became vivid and tangible to me. Alyssa described her project as an upgrade to traditional journalism. "The upgrade is empathy," she said, with the severe humility that comes when you suspect you are on to something but are still uncertain you aren't being ridiculous in some way.

Posted by James Zellmer at 1:08 PM

December 31, 2007

Innovative Minds Don't Think Alike

Janet Rae-Dupree:

IT’S a pickle of a paradox: As our knowledge and expertise increase, our creativity and ability to innovate tend to taper off. Why? Because the walls of the proverbial box in which we think are thickening along with our experience.

Andrew S. Grove, the co-founder of Intel, put it well in 2005 when he told an interviewer from Fortune, “When everybody knows that something is so, it means that nobody knows nothin’.” In other words, it becomes nearly impossible to look beyond what you know and think outside the box you’ve built around yourself.

This so-called curse of knowledge, a phrase used in a 1989 paper in The Journal of Political Economy, means that once you’ve become an expert in a particular subject, it’s hard to imagine not knowing what you do. Your conversations with others in the field are peppered with catch phrases and jargon that are foreign to the uninitiated. When it’s time to accomplish a task — open a store, build a house, buy new cash registers, sell insurance — those in the know get it done the way it has always been done, stifling innovation as they barrel along the well-worn path.

Elizabeth Newton, a psychologist, conducted an experiment on the curse of knowledge while working on her doctorate at Stanford in 1990. She gave one set of people, called “tappers,” a list of commonly known songs from which to choose. Their task was to rap their knuckles on a tabletop to the rhythm of the chosen tune as they thought about it in their heads. A second set of people, called “listeners,” were asked to name the songs.

Before the experiment began, the tappers were asked how often they believed that the listeners would name the songs correctly. On average, tappers expected listeners to get it right about half the time. In the end, however, listeners guessed only 3 of 120 songs tapped out, or 2.5 percent.

Posted by James Zellmer at 5:30 PM

December 18, 2007

Why aren't We all Good Samaratins?

TED Talks:

Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence, asks why we aren’t more compassionate more of the time. Through psychological experiments and a story of the Santa Cruz Strangler, he shows how we are all born with the capacity for empathy -- but we sometimes choose to ignore it. (Recorded March 2007 in Monterey, California. Duration: 13:13.)

Posted by James Zellmer at 1:44 PM

December 17, 2007

Venti Capitalists

PJ O'Rourke:
Taylor Clark ought to know how Starbucks got its roc-like wingspan. That’s the tale by which we want to be spellbound. Clark quotes a 1997 Larry King interview with Howard Schultz, the company’s chairman, where Schultz outlines what should have been the plot of Clark’s book:

“People weren’t drinking coffee. ... So the question is, How could a company create retail stores where coffee was not previously sold, ... charge three times more for it than the local doughnut shop, put Italian names on it that no one can pronounce, and then have six million customers a week coming through the stores?”
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:15 PM

December 14, 2007

Pre Steroid Era Brewer Logo?


I saw a young man wearing a classic Brewers baseball cap earlier today. It occurred to me that this is the "pre steriod era" logo.

Posted by James Zellmer at 8:59 PM

December 10, 2007

Requiem for a Station Wagon

Andrew Dederer:

One of the rare examples of altruism in pistonheads concerns the (nearly extinct) American station wagon. They passionately defend the one automotive genre that the vast majority of American consumers wouldn’t be caught dead in (excepting a hearse). Why so much love for a car shape that’s been fading from the American scene for the best part of 25 years? The passion comes from recognition. The reality we’ll have to blame on Darwin and his stupid birds.

Wagons increase a car’s cargo space without altering the donor car’s fundament shape. They’re a bit heavier and generally a little shakier than their sedan sibling, but still offer car-like driving dynamics. This is important to enthusiasts, who value driving dynamics sur tout. Ironically, pistonheads hate compromises; generally speaking, they don’t buy wagons. But they recommend them to others– especially SUV owners– based on the combination of handling and hauling.

Posted by James Zellmer at 9:03 AM

December 9, 2007

If robotics technology now stands where computing did in the '70s, what can we expect in the future?

Tom Abate:

Fremont resident Rakesh Guliani likes to say that a Roomba robotic vacuum cleaner saved his marriage.

Messy floors had been causing friction, says the 41-year-old Guliani (pronounced Goo-liani). His wife, Kavita, 35, was particularly annoyed by the footprints he and their daughters, Ashna, 10, and Rhea, 6, tended to track through the house.
"I am soccer coach to both of them, and when we come in with our dirty cleats, I am more tolerant of that because I am tracking dirt, too," says Guliani, vice president of the job-placement firm Park Computer Systems. He vacuumed several times a week but it never seemed enough to satisfy his wife, a technical writer for Google.

"I was sucking the thread out of the carpet," says Guliani, who bought a Roomba last fall and programmed it to scour the carpets for dust, dirt and grime. Regular cleanings by the Roomba restored household harmony. "It never gets bored and it never complains," he says.

The Guliani family is at the cutting edge of what may be the next technological revolution - the emergence of software and hardware capable of performing tasks once reserved for that race of toolmakers called Homo sapiens.
"Sometime in the next 30, 40, 50 years we will have human-level machine intelligence," predicts Marshall Brain, a computer science teacher turned author and technology forecaster.

Posted by James Zellmer at 2:04 PM

December 8, 2007

Everyone's Poop

Nate Blakeslee:

“Down the drain, off the brain” is how most people think about it, but human waste—or effluent, as the professionals call it—has a lot to tell us about how we live, what we eat, and who we are.

They say that shit runs downhill. This is commonly understood to mean that the world is an unfair place, except among those few people who actually work with the substance, for whom it is considered something of an article of faith. This is because municipal sewerage systems are powered almost entirely by gravity, which means that when working properly, they move millions of gallons of sewage a day across considerable distances with only a minimum expenditure of energy, a feat of efficiency virtually unparalleled in the annals of engineering. When sewage stops running downhill, as it inevitably does from time to time, very bad things indeed can happen, as they did on Pecan Springs Road, in the Austin neighborhood known as Windsor Park, one morning last September.

I was spending the day with an Austin Water Utility emergency-response crew when dispatch got a call from a woman reporting that two rooms of her house were flooded with sewage. Our crew consisted of a TV truck, piloted by a twenty-year line-maintenance veteran named David Eller, and a flusher truck, driven by another longtime utility employee, named Dale Crocker. At the house, Eller, who wears wraparound sunglasses and looks a little like the country singer Dwight Yoakam, unspooled a thick red cable from the back of his truck. On the end of the cable was a camera about the size of a roll of quarters, which Crocker shoved down into a PVC clean-out pipe near the curb in the front yard. The woman leaned on a walker in her driveway, looking worried.

Excellent Article.

Posted by James Zellmer at 9:35 PM

December 4, 2007

Great Web 2.0 Video

Posted by James Zellmer at 10:41 AM

December 3, 2007

An Extraordinary VR Journey - The Latest VRMAG


Editorial Director Marco Trezzini, via email:

Since I believe we have created the best issue of VRMAG ever, I'm writing you with the hope you will accept to dedicate 5 minutes of your time to explore our online magazine dedicated to photographic virtual reality exploration of people, places and events around the world. Almost forgot to mention, VRMAG is a no profit publication, with no ads.

This issue features the closed zone of Chernobyl, Wired NextFest in Los Angeles, Cuba's capital city La Habana, Red square in Moscow, the Palaces where European Royalties lives, New York's Tribute in light, the island of Cyprus's Aphrodite beach, Valentino's exhibit Ara Pacis museum in Rome, the Mayan ruins Chinkultic and Tenam Puente in Mexico, Vienna, the Copenhagen Opera House, Seattle, RedBull AirRace Abu Dhabi ....

For VRMAG showing panoramas of the physical world is not enough,
so we'll take you to Second Life in order to visit Anshe Chung's Picture Gallery Dresden, and to DanCoyote's Full Immersion Hyperformalism and get behind the scenes on the creation of next generation interactive screenshots for the gaming industry, take a visit to an "wellenkreis" an art installation of an endless sine curve in real space ...

You will experience the view a sleeping pill has from it's medicine bottle,
watch the world as a coca cola would do, transport you into a washing machine and feel like your sock. Be a fish and be intrigued by a guy ironing underwater,
enter the head of Hermann's sculpture, chat with Jonathan livingston, experience a bubble party, feel the thrill of extreme canyoning, and much more ...

Visit www.vrmag.org now.

Posted by James Zellmer at 10:29 AM

December 2, 2007

Snowblower Zeitgeist, or the Best Urban Snowblower


I've manually moved snow for the past 14 years - my entire post UW time in Madison. Always thinking that the act was a bit of exercise until a neighbor mentioned his back difficulties and said "it's not worth it".

Last spring's deluge, a particularly wet and heavy snowstorm, was the impetus to turn over the shovel, fire up my browser and shop for a snowblower.

My first stop was Ariens' website. Ariens is a classic family owned Wisconsin based firm that manufactures snowblowers and lawn mowers.

Most serious snowblowers, defined as two stage models from the likes of Ariens, John Deere, Honda and Toro among many others are at least 24" wide (Toro has a 22" model). That width is a problem for small garages like mine.

Ariens offered a useful 20" model that featured a multiple speed transmission - perfect for a variety of snow conditions and available at a reasonable price. Conveniently, their website offers online ordering which made it simple for me to enter a bit of information and a few days later the snowblower arrived at my home. Ariens customer service was great, as was their local dealer - Middleton Power Center.

About the snowblower zeitgeist. The owner of a working, somewhat powerful snowblower on a day like today (crunchy, heavy snow) quickly has the opportunity to converse with the neighbors. Typical conversations include:

  • "Can I pay you to clear my driveway (no, if I have enough gas and time, I'll be happy to)
  • "My snowblower won't start."
  • "I attempted to purchase a snowblower yesterday, but just before I said that I'll take the last one, someone else grabbed it."
  • or, Chaplin moments when a neighbor is somberly pondering the large, heavy pile of snow recently deposited by the City plow in his driveway as I'm clearing another neighbor's walks and driveway.
There you have it. Living in a cold climate subject to snow, we should never turn away from neighborhood social opportunities. Buy a (two-stage) snowblower.

I would be remiss if I did not point out the powerful prose at work marketing such machines. Arien's description of their model 624E:

624E Compact

After 9 months of hibernation, this compact monster, has an appetite for the cold and crystallized.

When the white and fluffy flakes begin to fall; the corners of the 24” clearing width begin to salivate. The 120 volt electric start quickly awakens the 6HP Snow King® OHV Engine. You fear nothing! Snow fears this trusted Sno-Thro® midsized monster. Keep the snow afraid and out of your way.

Posted by James Zellmer at 4:19 PM

December 1, 2007

A Glimpse of Pottersville

Daniel Munson:

THE 1946 MOVIE IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE has become a holiday favorite for many Americans. The heart-rending story of George Bailey (played by Jimmy Stewart), who in his hour of despair is vouchsafed a glimpse of what the world would be like if he'd never been born, holds great meaning for many Americans. So does the drama played out between George and his father, Peter, and their professional nemesis, rich old banker Henry Potter (Lionel Barrymore), which provides a vivid look at the dramatic changes that had taken place in American finance in the years leading up to the time the movie was made.

The recent problems in the mortgage market bring the story and its characters to life once again. The Baileys and Old Man Potter disagreed about a number of things, but principally about the credit-worthiness of what Potter calls "the riff-raff," the average citizens in their home town of Bedford Falls. The Baileys believe they are credit-worthy, and Potter generally does not.

Potter remembers the recent past, when lenders made the rules, insisting on repayment in gold coin or its equivalent, on big down payments and short terms. Most important for middle-class folks, Potter sees residential real estate as illiquid, mediocre collateral. George and Peter Bailey and their Building & Loan envision a future of suburban development, of small down payments and decades to pay. When George looks at the world had he never been born -- and sees a vacant field instead of the Bailey Park housing development financed by the Bailey Building & Loan -- he is looking at what would have been Pottersville.

Posted by James Zellmer at 8:50 PM

November 28, 2007

"The" way vs "a" way (Japan v China dept)

James Fallows offers up an interesting contrast between Japan and China.

Posted by James Zellmer at 11:02 AM

Doonesbury on Celine

Stuck listening to Celine Dion over and over and over on a long roadtrip, I understand this Doonesbury strip.

Posted by James Zellmer at 8:40 AM

November 23, 2007

Thanksgiving and Common Cause Unite Diverse Forces

CH Chivers:

FORWARD OPERATING BASE AIRBORNE, Afghanistan, Nov. 22 — The soldiers filed into the dining tent in the soft light before evening, carrying heaps of food for a Thanksgiving gathering as polyglot as anywhere.

At one plywood table was a Special Forces staff sergeant who was born in Turkey. “No names, please,” he said. At another was Capt. Walter P. De La Vega of the Army, who trains and supervises the Afghan security forces in Wardak Province. He was born in Peru and reared in New Jersey.

Sgt. Kevin J. Quinones, an acoustic guitar player in camouflage, was born in Ponce, Puerto Rico. When he strummed and sang “America the Beautiful,” the soldiers set aside their food and stood.

A cook who prepared the turkey, Specialist Yevgeny Goussev, was born in Moscow and received a work visa to the United States in 2002. He was a reserve artillery lieutenant in the Russian Army, although he said his commission was probably voided when he enlisted in the United States Army last year.

Specialist Goussev became a United States citizen this month. He said he understood what this American holiday meant. “Thanksgiving is to share with other people, and not expecting anything in return,” he said.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:00 AM

November 18, 2007

Sarkozy's Speech to Congress

French President Nicholas Sarkozy [8.5MB mp3 Audio File]:

From the very beginning, the American dream meant proving to all mankind that freedom, justice, human rights and democracy were no utopia but were rather the most realistic policy there is and the most likely to improve the fate of each and every person.

America did not tell the millions of men and women who came from every country in the world and who--with their hands, their intelligence and their heart--built the greatest nation in the world: "Come, and everything will be given to you." She said: "Come, and the only limits to what you'll be able to achieve will be your own courage and your own talent." America embodies this extraordinary ability to grant each and every person a second chance.

Here, both the humblest and most illustrious citizens alike know that nothing is owed to them and that everything has to be earned. That's what constitutes the moral value of America. America did not teach men the idea of freedom; she taught them how to practice it. And she fought for this freedom whenever she felt it to be threatened somewhere in the world. It was by watching America grow that men and women understood that freedom was possible.

What made America great was her ability to transform her own dream into hope for all mankind.

C-SPAN Video.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:10 AM

November 17, 2007

Leslie Feist Concert Rocks Madison (Video Slide Show)

Leslie Feist rocked Madison Friday evening, 16 November 2007. Despite her severe ankle sprain (evidently while running in Omaha, NE the prior day), Feist and her band entertained the sold out Orpheum Theatre with ouststanding vocals, delightful instruments and an elegant video art show. Check out the playlist here.

More, please.

Watch an MPEG-4 Video Slideshow:

Links: Ask Clusty Search | Google News | Live | Yahoo.

Rob Thomas attended the concert and wrote this.

Posted by James Zellmer at 4:20 PM

November 16, 2007

The Weird World of Indecency


So as readers of this site know, I represent Robert Greenwald (pro bono) in a some fair use matters. My first work was on his film Outfoxed. Robert has been continuing the campaign against Fox. His latest is a very clever set of attacks on the "indecency" of Fox News. (The purpose is to push the FCC to unbundle cable channels). Watch the video below and you'll see the point.

Posted by James Zellmer at 10:31 AM

November 14, 2007

NY Taxis and GPS Receivers

Interesting video clip on GPS receivers and New York City Taxis. The conversations were fascinating. The TomTom 910 GPS receiver was quite useful this summer (just replaced by the 920). The iPHone

Posted by James Zellmer at 7:07 PM

November 10, 2007

Pomp, Circumstance & Hockey: Wisconsin Badgers vs. North Dakota Fighting Sioux



uwhockey110907zmetroc.jpgDetails of the Badgers 4-0 win available here. North Dakota had an amazing 43 shots on goal, including 25 in the third period. A tremendous, fast paced game. One of the best I've seen.

Posted by James Zellmer at 1:51 PM

November 8, 2007

A Provocative Photo

Gorbachev, The Berlin Wall and Louis Vuitton.

More here.

Posted by James Zellmer at 6:45 PM

November 5, 2007

Built Flint Tough


Much more on Flint, MI here.

Chevy Blazer.

Posted by James Zellmer at 8:13 PM

November 4, 2007

Foreigners & Their Exotic Tongues

James Fallows offers a few amusing notes on the challenges a traveller faces overseas.

I, too have had some of these experiences, though my luck in France was better than the sax player Fallows mentions.

A young Vietnamese shopkeeper greeted me in German one morning. There was no shortage of German, French and Australian visitors in this area.

Posted by James Zellmer at 9:12 AM

November 2, 2007

Illustrations with bite

John Nack:

I've been running across examples of illustration designed to shake things up & reflect on the world, for better & for worse:
  • [Note: Not for those offended by profanity] Paul Krassner's 1963 "F Communism" bumper sticker is a an incredibly efficient little satire of politics and obscenity. Check out Kurt Vonnegut's commentary on the work for historical context.
  • On war & walls:
    The NYT features a piece on Baghdad muralists hired to beautify, or at least adorn, the city's grim anti-suicide-bomber blast walls. "With few opportunities for work, [the artists] are delighted with the money, but are also uncomfortably aware that all they can do is paint the symptoms of a conflict that has mired their city in death squads..."
    Elsewhere in the region, elusive British street artist Banksy has decorated Israeli's security wall.
  • Back in this part of the world, online company Brickfish kicked off a contest to "Design your own border fence" for the US-Mexico frontier.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:08 PM

October 18, 2007

The Subprime Collapse Didn't Start Bothering the Bush Administration until Wall Street Bankers Started Whimpering

Daniel Gross:

When individual borrowers began to suffer, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson didn't seem overly concerned. The market would clear out the problem through the foreclosure process. Loans would get written off; properties would change hands and be resold. When upstart subprime mortgage lenders ran into trouble, Bernanke and Paulson shrugged again. The market would clear out the problem through the bankruptcy process. Subprime companies like New Century Financial filed for Chapter 11, others liquidated or restructured, and loans made to the lenders were written down. Meanwhile, Paulson and Bernanke assured us that the subprime mess was contained.

But as the summer turned to fall, and the next several shoes dropped, their attitude changed. And that is because the next group of unfortunates to fall victim to subprime woes were massive banks. In recent years, banks in New York, London, and other financial capitals set up off-balance-sheet funding vehicles called SIVs, or conduits. The entities borrow money at low interest rates for short periods, say 30 to 90 days, and use the funds to buy longer-term debt that pays higher interest rates. To stay in business, the conduits must continually roll over the short-term debt. But as they searched for higher yields, some conduits stuffed themselves with subprime-mortgage-backed securities. And when lenders became alarmed at the declining value of those holdings, they were reluctant to roll over the debt. Banks thus faced a choice. They could either raise cash by dumping the already-depressed subprime junk onto the market, or bring the conduits onto their balance sheets and assure short-term lenders they'd get paid back.

Related: Credit Risk is Rising Again.

Posted by James Zellmer at 8:17 AM

October 17, 2007

Morning Workout Zeitgeist, or "Let's turn the Capitol into a Casino/Waterpark"

Props to the early morning workout group for this inspiration.

Posted by James Zellmer at 9:38 AM

October 14, 2007

On Political Correctness

Nobel Prize Winner Doris Lessing:

WHILE we have seen the apparent death of Communism, ways of thinking that were either born under Communism or strengthened by Communism still govern our lives. Not all of them are as immediately evident as a legacy of Communism as political correctness.

The first point: language. It is not a new thought that Communism debased language and, with language, thought. There is a Communist jargon recognizable after a single sentence. Few people in Europe have not joked in their time about “concrete steps,” “contradictions,” “the interpenetration of opposites,” and the rest.

The first time I saw that mind-deadening slogans had the power to take wing and fly far from their origins was in the 1950s when I read an article in The Times of London and saw them in use. “The demo last Saturday was irrefutable proof that the concrete situation...” Words confined to the left as corralled animals had passed into general use and, with them, ideas. One might read whole articles in the conservative and liberal press that were Marxist, but the writers did not know it. But there is an aspect of this heritage that is much harder to see.

Even five, six years ago, Izvestia, Pravda and a thousand other Communist papers were written in a language that seemed designed to fill up as much space as possible without actually saying anything. Because, of course, it was dangerous to take up positions that might have to be defended. Now all these newspapers have rediscovered the use of language. But the heritage of dead and empty language these days is to be found in academia, and particularly in some areas of sociology and psychology.

Posted by James Zellmer at 2:17 PM

October 12, 2007

Photo Detective

Alexandra Alter:

Maureen Taylor has dated a photograph to 1913 by studying the size and shape of a Lion touring car's headlamps. Armed with her collection of 19th-century fashion magazines, she can pinpoint the brief period when Victorian women wore their bangs in tight curls rather than swept back. Using a technique borrowed from the CIA, she identified a photo of Jesse James by examining the shape of his right ear.

With millions of Americans obsessively tracing their roots, Ms. Taylor has emerged as the nation's foremost historical photo detective. During a recent meeting of the Maine Genealogical Society, attendees lined up a dozen deep as she handled their images with a cotton glove and peered at the details through a photographer's loupe. One man offered a portrait photo and asked if it could be of his great grandmother, who died in 1890. "It's not," Ms. Taylor said after about 15 seconds; she'd dated the hairstyle and billowy blouse to the early 20th century. When another attendee asked why her great-great-grandfather was wearing small hoops in his ears in a portrait, Ms. Taylor explained, "He was in the maritime trade."

Posted by James Zellmer at 8:44 AM

October 4, 2007

The Inevitable March of Recorded Music Towards Free

Mike Arrington:

The DRM walls are crumbling. Music CD sales continue to plummet rather alarmingly. Artists like Prince and Nine Inch Nails are flouting their labels and either giving music away or telling their fans to steal it. Another blow earlier this week: Radiohead, which is no longer controlled by their label, Capitol Records, put their new digital album on sale on the Internet for whatever price people want to pay for it.

The economics of recorded music are fairly simple. Marginal production costs are zero: Like software, it doesn’t cost anything to produce another digital copy that is just as good as the original as soon as the first copy exists, and anyone can create those copies. Unless effective legal (copyright), technical (DRM) or other artificial impediments to production can be created, simple economic theory dictates that the price of music, like its marginal cost, must also fall to zero. The evidence is unmistakable already. In April 2007 the benchmark price for a DRM-free song was $1.29. Today it is $0.89, a drop of 31% in just six months.

Posted by James Zellmer at 8:31 AM

October 1, 2007

The Need for New Maps


If it were not for Rand McNally, I wouldn’t know I was in Europe, separated by an ocean from my family and friends. As far as I’m concerned, the urban culture of Berlin is closer to the culture of New York City than it is to, say, the German hinterland, to say nothing of the American hinterland. It is only through a certain way of looking at the world — from the privileged view of the orbiting satellite, in this case — that it appears the way it does. Our traditional maps, from the rough sketches of the Middle Ages to the latest map/satellite hybrids of Google, place geographic proximity above all other considerations in terms of importance.

But what about cultural proximity? Lifestyle proximity? “Energetic” proximity? What about the fact that I can take a direct flight (more or less) to any world capital, but to get to a mid-sized city in the States, I have to take two or three? It costs more money and takes more time to get from Denver to Upstate New York than it does from Denver to Amsterdam, Paris, or Milan — wouldn’t that make Denver CLOSER to the European capitals than it is to small cities in its own nation? That is my contention.

Posted by James Zellmer at 10:05 AM

September 30, 2007

Prosecutor Over-Reaching

Dee Hall covers an issue vital to our democracy - over zealous prosecutors:

A Wisconsin State Journal investigation, however, found instances in which court records and transcripts back up his critics' claims that he has crossed ethical lines. Stretching back to the early 1990s, Humphrey has been the subject of criticism accusing him of ethical lapses, poor judgment and unreasonably aggressive tactics. Critics have included defendants, defense attorneys, judges and three of the four district attorneys who've supervised him.

The State Journal examined more than 2,000 pages of documents, including records from Humphrey's office files obtained under the open-records law. The newspaper also interviewed more than two dozen attorneys, judges, defendants, legal experts and law-enforcement officials.

The newspaper's investigation found that the veteran prosecutor:

— Wrongfully kept a young man in the Dane County Jail for a month, even after he was repeatedly notified of the error.

— Made false or misleading statements in affidavits, in correspondence and in court hearings to advance his case or to cover up mistakes.

— Charged two witnesses and had a third arrested for failing to show up for trials that had been cancelled — a tactic his boss had warned him was "an abuse of your authority."

— Aggressively pursued seven felony charges against a bankrupt father who was $2,846 behind in child support — a prosecution the judge said should "make one wonder about the integrity of (the) justice system."

— Twice pursued vehicular-homicide charges using speed estimates his own experts told him were inflated.

One of those cases was Humphrey's failed prosecution of Adam Raisbeck, a 17-year-old from Marshall. Humphrey's actions in the case prompted a blunt reprimand from his boss, and the misconduct findings that are headed to the Supreme Court.

US District Judge Lewis Kaplan recently expressed concern over "prosecutor's expansive power".

Posted by James Zellmer at 6:15 PM

September 26, 2007

NetJets Gulfstream Fleet: #1 Route?

Joe Nocera:

n a recent interview, Mr. Santulli of NetJets marveled at the vast wealth driving this growth. He also said that not all of the big long-range luxury jets, like Gulfstreams, are ferrying teams of executives across the seas.

“Take a wild guess. What do you think the most common city pair for our Gulfstream fleet is?” he asked.

“New York to L.A.?” I replied.

“Not even close. It’s New York to Washington, D.C.,” he said.


Posted by James Zellmer at 10:02 PM

September 25, 2007

Opus on Air Travel

Classic Opus Cartoon.

Posted by James Zellmer at 9:29 AM

September 22, 2007

Moonrise over Camp Randall: Wisconsin Badgers 17, Iowa Hawkeyes 13

Posted by James Zellmer at 11:24 PM

September 21, 2007

Top 10 Car Ads


It's a collection of some of the best, funniest and cheesiest UK car adverts out there. However, it is by no means a definitive list - and this is where you come in. We want to hear about your favourite and we'll update the list below accordingly.

Posted by James Zellmer at 4:48 PM

September 17, 2007

The truth, the whole truth, about lying in court

Edward Walsh:

It was a rare and startling moment in any courtroom. The judge was sentencing a defendant, but directed some of his harshest comments at three witnesses who had helped prosecutors obtain the conviction.

One of the witnesses "flat-out lied. He should be charged with perjury," said Multnomah County Circuit Judge Michael McShane.

The judge's outburst was unusual, but it also raised a fundamental question about the justice system: How much lying occurs in courtrooms by people who have sworn to tell the truth?

Posted by James Zellmer at 8:21 AM

September 16, 2007

Vino Volo

Vino Volo:

Home » About Vino Volo

About Vino Volo

At Vino Volo, our goal is to bring the world of wine tasting and retail wine sales to where it is most convenient for air travelers. Our innovative wine tasting restaurant and retail stores are specifically designed for passengers and our website is available to continue serving them even after they leave the airport.

Vino Volo (derived from Italian for "wine flight") combines a boutique retail store with a stylish tasting lounge and bar, allowing guests to taste wines in a comfortable setting. Vino Volo serves great wines from across the globe by the glass or in tasting flights. All wines poured are also available for purchase by the bottle, allowing travelers to purchase wines to take with them or have shipped to their home (subject to state law).
Our Stores

Warm wood tones and comfortable leather lounge chairs welcome travelers into a sophisticated yet approachable post-security retreat in the airport terminal. Every Vino Volo location has an integrated retail area showcasing the wines being poured and offers elegant small plates to pair with the wines. Customers enjoy items such as locally-produced artisan cheeses, dry cured meats, and smoked salmon rolls wrapped around crab meat with crème fraiche. All of Vino Volo's dishes are available for customers to enjoy in the store or packaged to carry with them onto their flight.

7-10 new stores are planned for airports in 2007. We encourage you to check our website periodically for updates on new locations.
About Taste, Inc.

Vino Volo is owned and operated by Taste, Inc., founded in 2004 and backed by industry leaders in wine, retail, and the hospitality industries. Vino Volo plans to open several dozen stores in airports across the country in the next five years. Taste, Inc. is headquartered in San Francisco, California.

Taste, Inc. is led by executives with deep industry expertise. Doug Tomlinson, Taste's CEO, has over 16 years of career success in launching and spinning off new businesses. Doug has helped several Fortune 500 clients start new businesses or divisions and has been featured as a cover author in Harvard Business Review. Ellen Bozzo, Director of Finance and Administration, has over 20 years of experience in multi-unit retail finance, including the role of Controller for Peet's Coffee & Tea. Joe LaPanna, Regional General Manager, has over 19 years of experience in high-end restaurant and wine retail management as well as managed the expansion of two major restaurant concepts. Carla Wytmar, Director of Development & Marketing, is a 20-year veteran in the food & wine industry, having worked with Hyatt Hotels Corporation, The Walt Disney World Company and as a consultant to top chefs and wine companies across the country.

Standing behind the Vino Volo team is a group of highly-credentialed investors and advisors with over a century of combined experience in retail, hospitality and wine that include the founder of Ravenswood Winery, the founder of Scharffen Berger Chocolate Maker, and the CEO of Jamba Juice, among others. Each member of this group sits on a formal Advisory Board and actively consults to Vino Volo on its development and execution. "Taste, Inc. DBA Vino Volo" is the California-based legal entity behind all Vino Volo operations.
About our Team

Vino Volo prides itself on building teams dedicated to customer service and with deep expertise in wine tasting and retail. Customer service is a cornerstone of Vino Volo's strategy, and Vino Volo invests heavily in training its talented staff to make wine approachable. A highly trained team of Wine Associates helps customers explore and enjoy Vino Volo's wines. The company also has a patented tasting framework to ease customers through the wine discovery process. Vino Volo is redefining service in airports, recently ranking #1 in customer service among over 900 airport stores mystery shopped, and is the recipient of the Airport Revenue News 2007 Award for Highest Regard for Customer Service.

Vino Volo offers some of the best opportunities in the wine industry, including:

* Intensive training program on service and wine
* Opportunity to continuously taste and learn about wine
* Annual retreat to a wine region of the world
* Full benefits package to full-time employees
* Competitive compensation package

For More Information

Visit our stores or Contact Us. We look forward to hearing from you!
Anything that can make airline travel more enjoyable is a welcome development, so beleaguered travelers take heart: Vino Volo…the leader of upscale wine bars at airports. – Wine Enthusiast

Posted by James Zellmer at 2:50 PM

September 5, 2007

The Flop Heard Round the World

Peter Carlson:

Fifty years ago today, Don Mazzella skipped out of school to see the hot new car that everybody was talking about, the hot new car that almost nobody had actually seen.

Ford Motor Co. had proclaimed it "E-Day," and Mazzella and two buddies sneaked out of East Side High School in Newark, N.J., and hiked 13 blocks to Foley Ford so they could cast their gaze upon the much-ballyhooed new car that had been kept secret from the American public until its release that day.

It was called the Edsel.

"The line was around the block," recalls Mazzella, now 66 and an executive in a New Jersey consulting firm. "People were coming from all over to see this car. You couldn't see it from the street. The only way you could see it was to walk into the showroom and look behind a curtain."

Mazzella and his truant friends waited their turn, thrilled to be there. "Back then for teenagers, cars were the be-all and end-all," he explains. They'd read countless articles about the Edsel and seen countless ads that touted it as the car of the future. But they hadn't seen the car. Ford kept it secret, building excitement by coyly withholding it from sight, like a strip-tease dancer.

Posted by James Zellmer at 9:05 AM

August 31, 2007

Merci Pour Les Roses :)

One of my favorite recent photos, taken in the 5th - Paris.

Posted by James Zellmer at 10:10 PM

August 24, 2007

An Evening with the Green Bay Packers and Jacksonville Jaguars at Lambeau Field

A few observations after my first Packer game in 24 years:

  • Lambeau Field, like all modern sports facilities is designed to extract the maximum amount of cash from visitors. $8.50 burgers and $5.50 pizza slices.
  • Bottled water ($3) is delivered with the caps removed because "people are throwing them on the field".
  • The game was fun to watch, despite the outcome.
  • People watching was nearly as interesting as the game.
Many photos, here.

Posted by James Zellmer at 8:31 PM

August 12, 2007

A Bit of Wall Street Humor

Barry Ritholtz:

This bit of humor has been circulating around Wall Street the past few days:
Investment Dealers are excited to announce the newest structured finance product - Constant Obligation Leveraged Originated Structured Oscillating Money Bridged Asset Guarantees, or COLOSTOMY BAGS.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:00 AM

August 11, 2007

"Where iPhones are Made"

A Wall Street Journal Video: An interesting look at Foxconn.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:50 AM

August 9, 2007

Google News Hypocrisy: Walled Off Content

Mike Arrington:

TechMeme founder Gabe Rivera makes an interesting observation on the Google News story all over the blogosphere today.
One thing that bugs me: they’re now hosting original news content, yet they prohibit other aggregators from crawling it (per robots.txt restrictions and TOS). Of course Google News relies on the openness of other organizations with original news content.

Posted by James Zellmer at 9:21 AM

August 7, 2007

Q & A With William Gibson

Steve Ranger:

Science fiction novelist William Gibson has been exploring the relationship between technology and society ever since he burst on to the literary scene with his cyberpunk classic Neuromancer in 1984. He invented the word 'cyberspace' and his influential works predicted many of the changes technology has brought about. silicon.com's Steve Ranger caught up with him in the run up to the launch of his latest novel, Spook Country.

silicon.com: You've written much about the way people react to technology. What's your own attitude towards technology?
Gibson: I'm not an early adopter at all. I'm always quite behind the curve but I think that's actually necessary - by not taking that role as a consumer I can be a little more dispassionate about it.

Most societal change now is technologically driven, so there's no way to look at where the human universe is going without looking at the effect of emergent technology. There's not really anything else driving change in the world, I believe.

Posted by James Zellmer at 8:41 PM

August 3, 2007

Wisconsin Congressional Earmarks: Spending our Children's Money via a Bloated Defense Bill

Taxpayers for Common Sense posted a very useful and in some ways surprising look at $3,000,000,000 in Congressional Earmarks attached to a $459,600,000,000 defense appropriation bill (not the entire defense budget). This amount is $40,000,000,000 more than last year's authorization (nice). Wisconsin congressional earmarks are lead by long time incumbent David Obey with $42,000,000, who also conveniently serves as Chair of the House Appropriations Committee. Obey's earmark methods have been criticized recently: John Solomon & Jeffrey Birnbaum writing in the Washington Post:

Democrats had complained bitterly in recent years that Republicans routinely slipped multimillion-dollar pet projects into spending bills at the end of the legislative process, preventing any chance for serious public scrutiny. Now Democrats are poised to do the same.

"I don't give a damn if people criticize me or not," Obey said.

Obey's spokeswoman, Kirstin Brost, said his intention is not to keep the projects secret. Rather, she said, so many requests for spending were made to the appropriations panel -- more than 30,000 this year -- that its staff has been unable to study them and decide their validity.

Here's a list of all earmarks (.xls file) attached to this defense bill. Wisconsin delegation earmarks:
  1. David Obey 42,000,000 (Unique ID Column 837, 854, 874, 921, 947, 1053, 1093, 1165)
  2. Tammy Baldwin $7,500,000 (Unique Id Column 56, 740, 1334)
  3. Steve Kagen $5,000,000 (Unique ID 496, 561, 562)
  4. Ron Kind $4,000,000 (Unique Id 1033 and 1083)
  5. Tom Petri $4,000,000 (Unique Id 782)
  6. Gwen Moore $2,000,000 (Unique Id 575, 898, 978 and 1151)
  7. Paul Ryan $0.00
  8. Jim Sensenbrenner $0.00 (shocking)
HouseDefenseEarmarks.xls. Congress's approval ratings (3%) are far below the President's (24%), which isn't saying much (Zogby Poll)

Much more on local earmarks, here [RSS Feed on earmarks]

Posted by James Zellmer at 11:00 PM

July 13, 2007

Unconventional Wisdom About Management

An interview with Jeffrey Pfeffer, author of What Were They Thinking?: Unconventional Wisdom About Management:

Question: What do companies do stupid things?
Answer: First, they ignore feedback effects. There has recently been a lot of interest, and apparent surprise, that programmers in India now cost a lot and their wages have been rising rapidly. Did people forget supply and demand? If everyone moves work to India, what did companies think would happen? Or, to take another example, when companies cut their retirement benefits, and people can not afford to retire, guess what, they won’t.

Second, companies often ignore the interdependence or connections between actions in one part and those in another. So, even as some departments are trying to cut the costs of benefits, others are worried about recruiting and retaining enough qualified people. Maybe the parts should work together.

Third, many companies presume that incentives are the answer to everything, and have a very mechanistic model of human behavior. That is also incorrect.

Posted by James Zellmer at 7:31 AM

July 10, 2007

The Cheapest Days to Buy Certain Items

Kelli Grant:

ANOTHER DAY, another deal.

Thanks to online coupons, price-comparison search engines and reward memberships, savvy shoppers can pay less than full price on any day that ends in "y." But depending on what you're planning to buy, some days of the week may yield better bargains than others.

We talked to the experts, and narrowed down the best days of the week to buy certain items

Posted by James Zellmer at 9:36 PM

July 7, 2007

Siphoning Fuel Continues to be Relevant

James Fallows:

This is why, after one crack at it, I won't be doing a lot of small-airplane flying in China any more. Here is how a Cirrus SR-22 got fueled up at the main airport in Changsha, capital of Hunan province. (Man in the truck is Peter Claeys, intrepid Cirrus salesman for China. Other men, including the luckless one working the siphon, are involved in local aviation.)
More on "free flight", here.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:45 PM

June 13, 2007

Jack LaLanne Interview

An interesting video chat with the "godfather of fitness".
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:12 PM

May 30, 2007

An Interesting Look at Wal-Mart

Michael Barbaro:

A confidential report prepared for senior executives at Wal-Mart Stores concludes, in stark terms, that the chain’s traditional strengths — its reputation for discounts, its all-in-one shopping format and its enormous selection — “work against us” as it tries to move upscale.

As a result, the report says, the chain “is not seen as a smart choice” for clothing, home décor, electronics, prescriptions and groceries, categories the retailer has identified as priorities as it tries to turn around its slipping store sales, a decline likely to be emphasized Friday during Wal-Mart’s shareholder meeting.

“The Wal-Mart brand,” the report says, “was not built to inspire people while they shop, hold their hand while they make a high-risk decision or show them how to pull things together.”

Posted by James Zellmer at 9:45 PM

May 28, 2007

A Fascinating Look at the Sugar Water Business

Andrew Martin:

Coke is also encountering a seismic shift in consumer preferences — of the sort that is challenging the newspaper business and hamstringing automakers. Worried about their health and lured by new drinks, Americans are reaching for bottled water, sports drinks, green teas and juice instead of soda. The decline in soft-drink sales isn’t just for full-calorie sodas like Coca-Cola Classic, with about 10 teaspoons of sugar per 12-ounce can. Sales of diet soda are declining too, in part because artificial sweeteners make some consumers nervous.

The problem is so serious that Coke executives no longer refer to soda as just plain “soda.” “Soft drink,” “pop” and “carbonated beverage,” are also verboten. Instead, the favored term in Atlanta these days is “sparkling beverage.”

Posted by James Zellmer at 10:24 PM

May 24, 2007

China vs. US Press

James Fallows:

Today’s front-page English-language headlines, from the (state-controlled) China Daily and Shanghai Daily:

Why we love them:

1) Harmony of emphasis between the two papers. (Harmony as well with online version of China Daily, which leads with “Wu Yi: Strategic talks are a complete success.”)

2) Removal of doubt and worry from readers’ minds — in this case, foreign readers in China.

Posted by James Zellmer at 8:44 AM

May 13, 2007

I-80: Inverse Traffic Therapy

I read with interest two recent posts regarding Madison's traffic congestion. I, too have a fleeting moment or two when I consider Madison's growing traffic congestion. It is difficult to use the words "Madison" together with "traffic congestion" after one has experienced the real, big city version. The photo above was taken recently while stuck in traffic on I-80. We're a long way from that. Regional growth certainly makes our transportation system a rather useful topic for discussion and action. My dream? TGV type train service connecting Chicago, Madison, Milwaukee and Minneapolis.

Posted by James Zellmer at 10:44 AM

May 6, 2007

Famous Opinions

Summarized by Barry Ritholtz:

"Man will never reach the moon regardless of all future scientific advances."
-Dr. Lee DeForest, "Father of Radio & Grandfather of Television."

"The Atomic bomb will never go off. I speak as an expert in explosives."
-Admiral William Leahy, US Atomic Bomb Project

"There is no likelihood man can ever tap the power of the atom."
-Robert Millikan, Nobel Prize in Physics, 1923

"Computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons."
-Popular Mechanics, forecasting the relentless march of science, 1949

"I think there is a world market for maybe five computers ."
-Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943

"I have traveled the length and breadth of this country and talked with the best people, and I can assure you that data processing is a fad that won't last out the year."
-The editor in charge of business books for Prentice Hall, 1957

Posted by James Zellmer at 7:44 AM

April 30, 2007

Shattering the Bell Cure: The Power Law Rules

David Shaywitz:
Life isn't fair. Many of the most coveted spoils--wealth, fame, links on the Web--are concentrated among the few. If such a distribution doesn't sound like the familiar bell-shaped curve, you're right.

Along the hilly slopes of the bell curve, most values--the data points that track whatever is being measured--are clustered around the middle. The average value is also the most common value. The points along the far extremes of the curve contribute very little statistically. If 100 random people gather in a room and the world's tallest man walks in, the average height doesn't change much. But if Bill Gates walks in, the average net worth rises dramatically. Height follows the bell curve in its distribution. Wealth does not: It follows an asymmetric, L-shaped pattern known as a "power law," where most values are below average and a few far above. In the realm of the power law, rare and extreme events dominate the action.

For Nassim Taleb, irrepressible quant-jock and the author of "Fooled by Randomness" (2001), the contrast between the two distributions is not an amusing statistical exercise but something more profound: It highlights the fundamental difference between life as we imagine it and life as it really is. In "The Black Swan"--a kind of cri de coeur--Mr. Taleb struggles to free us from our misguided allegiance to the bell-curve mindset and awaken us to the dominance of the power law.
Posted by James Zellmer at 5:06 PM

April 28, 2007

Farmers Market on a Beautiful Saturday Morning

The Dane County Farmer's Market is gathering steam this spring. Loads of spinach, some asparagus, boxes of tomatoes and many flowers were on offer early this morning.

Many more Farmer's Market photos can be found here.

From the other side of the world, Hoi An market.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:41 AM

April 26, 2007

Madison 2007

The scene: 6:00a.m., Dane County Regional Airport. Bleary eyed traveller is amazed that Madison now has a fashionable Range Rover SUV on display (floor advertising via Fields Auto) at the airport. We've crossed some sort of threshold, not sure what to call it.... It seems a long way from the Mayor's trolleys, however.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:41 PM

April 17, 2007

Comical Cingular (AT&T)

Where to begin?

Prior to a recent Asia trip, I needed to obtain a SIM Card for my old Cingular (AT&T) phone that would work while on travel. (I now use a Verizon phone due to our experience with Cingular's poor network coverage - dropped calls on John Nolen Drive, for example).

I called Cingular and explained my requirements: a prepaid SIM Card that would work for 30 days while on travel overseas. The telesales representative explained their different services, including data, worldwide calling and various monthly minute plans.

I provided my credit to close the transaction and a few days later, the Cingular SIM card arrived. I also requested the codes to "unlock" my old phone. Unfortunately, despite our prior long term Cingular arrangement, they insisted that I had to use the phone for 90 days before they would provide the unlock keys. This would prove to be a problem when I found that the SIM card Cingular sold me did not, in fact, work internationally.

Fortunately, a friend let me use an old phone, which would accept any SIM Card - easily purchased in most countries.

I called Cingular upon my return to express my disappointment. Farrah in Halifax was as helpful as could be expected, given their organization. She phoned their "sales" department to see if I could obtain a refund. The "sales" person told her that they "don't sell SIM Cards"! I mentioned that while I'm unhappy with Cingular, I'm glad she had that experience with sales, particularly while I was on the line.

Bottom line: If you are looking for a world phone, look elsewhere. I've heard good things about T-mobile, though your mileage may vary.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:07 AM

April 14, 2007

Hanoi Scene - March 2007

Posted by James Zellmer at 3:16 PM

April 12, 2007

Kurt Vonnegut Dead at 84

Dinitia Smith


Vonnegut's website.
Posted by James Zellmer at 4:54 AM

April 10, 2007

Pearls Before Breakfast

Gene Weingarten:
Each passerby had a quick choice to make, one familiar to commuters in any urban area where the occasional street performer is part of the cityscape: Do you stop and listen? Do you hurry past with a blend of guilt and irritation, aware of your cupidity but annoyed by the unbidden demand on your time and your wallet? Do you throw in a buck, just to be polite? Does your decision change if he's really bad? What if he's really good? Do you have time for beauty? Shouldn't you? What's the moral mathematics of the moment?

On that Friday in January, those private questions would be answered in an unusually public way. No one knew it, but the fiddler standing against a bare wall outside the Metro in an indoor arcade at the top of the escalators was one of the finest classical musicians in the world, playing some of the most elegant music ever written on one of the most valuable violins ever made. His performance was arranged by The Washington Post as an experiment in context, perception and priorities -- as well as an unblinking assessment of public taste: In a banal setting at an inconvenient time, would beauty transcend?

The musician did not play popular tunes whose familiarity alone might have drawn interest. That was not the test. These were masterpieces that have endured for centuries on their brilliance alone, soaring music befitting the grandeur of cathedrals and concert halls.
Posted by James Zellmer at 7:06 PM

March 23, 2007

Finger Lickin Funny

Rich Markey writing in the UW-Madison Alumni Magazine [pdf]:
Kentucky Fried Theater took root on campus in the early seventies, and then went on to produce hit movies such as Airplane! and The Naked Gun series. Who could have predicted that this zany Wisconsin brand of humor would have a major influence on comedy ranging from Saturday Night Live to South Park and Dumb and Dumber?
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:49 PM

"My National Security Letter Gag Order"

Via the Washington Post:
The Justice Department's inspector general revealed on March 9 that the FBI has been systematically abusing one of the most controversial provisions of the USA Patriot Act: the expanded power to issue "national security letters." It no doubt surprised most Americans to learn that between 2003 and 2005 the FBI issued more than 140,000 specific demands under this provision -- demands issued without a showing of probable cause or prior judicial approval -- to obtain potentially sensitive information about U.S. citizens and residents. It did not, however, come as any surprise to me.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:56 AM

March 21, 2007

Madison's Overture Center: 1999 and 2006

Compare a 1999 view with a fall, 2006 scene of Madison's Overture Center:



Virtual Properties.
Posted by James Zellmer at 3:06 PM

March 20, 2007

Meet The New Boss, Same as the Old Boss....

Jeff Birnbaum:
KAI RYSSDAL: There'll be an all-star cast tomorrow night at a Democratic fundraiser outside Washington. Speaker Nancy Pelosi and chairmen of the ten most powerful committees in the House of Representatives are scheduled to headline the event. And even though the presidential election's still 18 months away, corporate America is already placing its bets with well-timed donations. Commentator Jeff Birnbaum points out it's the same story as before...just a different cast of characters.

JEFF BIRNBAUM: The asking price for access to Nancy Pelosi and all her colleagues is $28,500 a couple. That's one of the steepest prices ever charged since new campaign finance limits were imposed five years ago.

It wasn't supposed to be this way. Remember Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean railing against Republicans last year for selling access to their chairmen? The "intimate briefings" they gave to big donors was part of what Democrats derided as the GOP's "culture of corruption." If the Democrats ever took charge, they promised, all that would change.

Well, it hasn't changed. Actually, it's gotten worse. Democratic campaign committees are systematically showcasing a whole series of Democratic chairmen at fundraising receptions as a way to lure lobbyists' money. That's right, lobbyists are being asked to donate to the lawmakers who are in charge of the legislation that their clients care most about.
Posted by James Zellmer at 6:11 PM

March 18, 2007

Airlines Learn to Fly on a Wing and an Apology

Jeff Bailey:
Airlines are getting serious about saying they’re sorry.

After a spate of nightmarish service disruptions, American Airlines, JetBlue Airways and others are sending out more apologies, hoping to head off customer complaints and quell talk of new consumer-protection regulations from Congress.

But no airline accepts blame quite like Southwest Airlines, which employs Fred Taylor Jr. in a job that could be called chief apology officer.

His formal title is senior manager of proactive customer communications. But Mr. Taylor — 37, rail thin and mildly compulsive, by his own admission — spends his 12-hour work days finding out how Southwest disappointed its customers and then firing off homespun letters of apology.
Fascinating look at Southwest Airlines' culture. I hope they fly into Madison soon.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:28 PM

March 8, 2007

2 States Opt out of Real Id; Where's Wisconsin?

Jay Stanley:
Idaho opted out of Real ID today, becoming the second state to say "no thanks," along with Maine. And there are a lot of other states moving in the same direction (we have a map that tracks them online at http://www.realnightmare.org/news/105/).
Senator's Russ Feingold and Herb Kohl supported the National ID (Real ID) legislation. Related: Nathan Cochrane on becoming an unperson. Bruce Schneier has more.
Posted by James Zellmer at 3:32 PM

Big Profits in Small Newspapers

Frank Ahrens:
If there's any good news about the businesses of newspapering these days, it can be found at the industry's littlest papers, which are doing well even as their bigger brothers founder.

Lee Enterprises, based in Davenport, Iowa, for example, owns 56 daily papers and more than 300 small weeklies and other publications. Three of its papers have a circulation of more than 100,000 -- including the St. Louis Post-Dispatch -- but the rest of its dailies are much smaller, averaging about 26,000 each.

Over the past five years, the circulation gains at Lee papers have outpaced the industry average; some of the gains came from acquisitions, but much came from the growth of the group's existing papers. Over the past two decades, the company's stock price has likewise gone in the opposite direction of large-newspaper stock, climbing steadily from less than $10 a share in 1988 to more than $30 a share today.

"We're largely in markets . . . that have pretty good local economies, a strong sense of place and strong newspaper readership," said Mary E. Junck, Lee's chairman and chief executive. Another advantage: "Many of our markets are pretty homogenous and tightknit," she said, making it easier to pin down and target readership.
Posted by James Zellmer at 2:46 PM

Chinese Dissident's Wife to Sue Yahoo

Richard Komen:
Speaking with VOA's Mandarin Service Wednesday after arriving in Washington, Yu Ling said Chinese police arrested her husband, Wang Xiaoning, partly because Yahoo's Hong Kong office gave Chinese authorities information about his e-mail accounts.

Yu Ling said she has come to the United States to sue the company for damages and to demand an apology.

Last year, Yahoo provided the Chinese with information about Shi Tao, a journalist who emailed to Western news outlets details of China's plans to handle the 15th anniversary of Tiananmen Square.
Posted by James Zellmer at 12:33 PM

March 7, 2007

We Can't Tell You, It's a Secret"

Joe Francica:
At GITA, Dr. Bill Gail of Microsoft's Virtual Earth team addressed a question as to working with highly sensititve imagery of perhaps a national security concern and whether they might be asked to black out areas on Virtual Earth. Google had been asked to do this previously for certain areas and Microsoft wanted to preempt such situations. Gail said that Microsoft has sat down with various government agencies to ask them about these potential conflict areas that they thought might be blacked out if asked to do so. Their answer was, "it's a secret, we can't tell you."
Posted by James Zellmer at 5:36 PM

March 1, 2007

Wonderful Snow Art

Posted by James Zellmer at 9:29 AM

February 27, 2007

Garlic Does Not Lower Cholesterol in Study

Carl Hall:
Garlic may be good for a lot of things -- spicing up your diet, for sure -- but it seems to be no good at all at lowering your cholesterol.

After conducting one of the most elaborate studies yet on garlic's effect on cardiovascular health, scientists at the Stanford University School of Medicine said Monday that they could find no benefit in terms of reduced levels of LDL cholesterol, the "bad" form linked to heart disease.

Christopher Gardner, a Stanford assistant research professor and lead author of the six-month study, said he was disappointed by the results, describing himself as a garlic lover whose office is an hour's drive from Gilroy, the generally acknowledged "garlic capital of the world."

"We really thought this was going to work," he said. "I was going to get the key to the city of Gilroy. I was going to get 'Dr. Garlic' license plates."
Another balloon pops. Perhaps the garlic farmers will need a subsidy of some sort to recover?
Posted by James Zellmer at 4:45 PM

Johnny Cash

I find it interesting the frequency with which the alt music radio stations around the country play Johnny Cash. Locally, our excellent wsum spins him up now and then, including a tune from his At San Quentin live recording.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:10 AM

February 23, 2007

Zatar Restaurant

"Eclectic Mediterranean Cuisine".

Well worth stopping. Reminds me, in some ways of Madison's excellent Himul Chuli, with a Berkeley twist or two. Zatar's website. KQED has a review [video]. Click for larger photos. Kelly's salad was superb.
Posted by James Zellmer at 4:58 PM

February 18, 2007

From 0 to 60 to World Domination

Jon Gertner:
When he started, the Big Three completely controlled car sales in the United States. The only foreign company of any prominence was Volkswagen, and as Press recalled, Toyota’s modest sales were lumped with various tiny carmakers as “Other.” Still, soon after he arrived, Press realized he liked the company’s intimacy: he could meet face to face with top managers and exert some influence over marketing decisions. And he liked Toyota’s obsession with customer satisfaction. When he told me about his first trip to Japan, he seemed to be recounting a religious experience. “As a young person, you are searching for this level of comfort, you don’t know what it is, but you’re sort of uncomfortable,” he said. In Japan, as he put it, he found a home, a place where everything from the politeness of the people to the organization of the factories made sense. On that first trip, at a restaurant one evening, he tried a rich corn soup and asked the waitress for the recipe. She checked with the chef, who explained that there was no recipe; it had been handed down from his mother. The next morning, the waitress came to Press’s hotel room: she had found a cookbook with a recipe for the soup. Press, apparently, was still her customer. “That blew me away,” he said.

It can be simplistic, and often a distortion, to accept a corporate executive as the personification of a corporation, especially one as large and varied as Toyota. Yet Press serves as an apt representative, and not merely because his career arc mirrors the company’s ascendancy. Like Toyota, he expresses himself in private with modesty and care, yet in public his speeches are bold, declarative and effervescent. In his office, he has an informal, relaxed presence and exhibits just a hint of an avuncular stoop; yet he loves to race cars and sometimes swims 5,000 meters a day. Press also has a fluency in the company’s arcane systems and history. Toyota is as much a philosophy as a business, a patchwork of traditions, apothegms and precepts that don’t translate easily into the American vernacular. Some have proved incisive (“Build quality into processes”) and some opaque (“Open the window. It’s a big world out there!”). Toyota’s overarching principle, Press told me, is “to enrich society through the building of cars and trucks.” This phrase should be cause for skepticism, especially coming from a company so adept at marketing and public relations. I lost count of how many times Toyota executives, during the course of my reporting, repeated it and how often I had to keep from recoiling at its hollow peculiarity. And yet, the catch phrase — to enrich and serve society — was not intended, at least originally, to function as a P.R. motto. Historically the idea has meant offering car customers reliability and mobility while investing profits in new plants, technologies and employees. It has also captured an obsessive obligation to build better cars, which reflects the Toyota belief in kaizen, or continuous improvement. Finally, the phrase carries with it the responsibility to plan for the long term — financially, technically, imaginatively. “The company thinks in years and decades,” Michael Robinet, a vice president at CSM Worldwide, a consulting firm that focuses on the global auto industry, told me. “They don’t think in months or quarters.”
Fascinating and timely.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:56 PM

February 17, 2007

Declining Demand for Luxury Sports Suites?

Russell Adams:
It was like watching an era of sports history being erased. In early December, construction workers sawed through the multiple layers of drywall and metal studs separating a row of skyboxes at the Seattle Mariners' Safeco Field. They tore up the suites' beech-hardwood floors and carted away their oriental rugs and leather furniture. By the end of the week, the eight skyboxes were gone.

In a reversal that strikes at a cornerstone of pro-sports finances -- and of the way corporate America entertains -- teams around the country are ripping out luxury suites. These perches have been used to justify billions of dollars in stadium construction over the past two decades. But in many cities, they are losing luster with surprising speed, partly the result of factors that couldn't have predicted five or 10 years ago, from changes in tax laws to scandal-driven reforms on corporate entertaining.

"At GM, you can't even buy them a cup of coffee anymore," says Lin Cummins, the marketing chief at automotive supplier Arvin Meritor in Troy, Mich, which has let the leases expire for its suites in four different sports.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:37 AM

February 16, 2007

Iowa's AllFreeCalls Shut Down

Michael Arrington:
In a blog post today founder Pat Phelan says “Our allfreecalls provider in Iowa today took flight due to increasing pressure from a large USA based carrier. We are working on getting a new number up. We expect to be back in business on Monday afternoon.”
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:42 PM

February 13, 2007

Startups & VC Investment Risk

Mike Arrington:
When I added FilmLoop to the TechCrunch DeadPool last month based on rumors of mass layoffs, it was clear there was more to the story. The thirty person company had raised $11.5 million in capital and by any calculation should have still had at least $3 - $5 million left in the bank. They were trailing Slide, RockYou and Photobucket in their market, but had just launched a completely new platform that was getting good reviews. FilmLoop wasn’t dominating the market, but they were not on the ropes, either.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:02 AM

February 11, 2007

Permanent Value: The Teachings of Warren Buffett

Warren Buffett:
Well in 1962 I learned from Ben Graham how to assess businesses. He also had the cigar butt analogy for buying businesses...you can usually get one good puff out of it and it’s free. Berkshire made a lot of money after WWII (more than Pfizer and Merck) and then it steadily went downhill. Between 1955 and 1965 Berkshire went from 12 mills to 2 mills and they bought their own stock as mills closed. We bought 100,000 shares out of 1 million in 1962 at $7 3/8 and the company had $10-11/share in working capital...I knew I wouldn’t lose money because of the working capital. It was losing money but it was also liquefying assets by closing mills. Seabury Stanton was running Berkshire at the time and I went to go visit him. We had an agreement that Berkshire would tender $11-1/2 for my shares of the company. At this point, I could not buy any stock as I had inside information. A few weeks later I received a letter from Old Colony Trust containing a tender offer of $11-3/8. Early the following week, Seabury tendered the stock at 11 3/8. As result, I began buying more Berkshire. Other family members of Seabury Stanton sold their shares to me and I gained controlling interest in the company. The family members weren’t very happy with Seabury either really. We ran the mills until 1985. .
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:46 PM

February 9, 2007

GPS Spying Case

Tom Foremski:
The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last week that police can place a GPS tracking unit on a suspect's car without obtaining a search warrant. In US v Garcia (2007 U.S. App. LEXIS 2272), decided Feb. 2, Judge Richard Posner found that such a device was a mere "augmentation" of police officers' natural ability to follow a car.

In the Garcia case, an information alerted police that Garcia used meth with her, said he intended to resume producing meth, and was taped on a security camera buying chemicals to make meth. The police found his car and attached a GPS tracking device. When they retrieved the device, they discovered that he had visited a large tract of land. They obtained consent from the owner to search the land and found a meth lab. As they were searching, Garcia drove up. They searched his car and found additional evidence against him.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:52 PM

February 6, 2007

Advocating DRM-Less Music

Steve Jobs:
With this background, let’s now explore three different alternatives for the future.

The first alternative is to continue on the current course, with each manufacturer competing freely with their own “top to bottom” proprietary systems for selling, playing and protecting music. It is a very competitive market, with major global companies making large investments to develop new music players and online music stores. Apple, Microsoft and Sony all compete with proprietary systems. Music purchased from Microsoft’s Zune store will only play on Zune players; music purchased from Sony’s Connect store will only play on Sony’s players; and music purchased from Apple’s iTunes store will only play on iPods. This is the current state of affairs in the industry, and customers are being well served with a continuing stream of innovative products and a wide variety of choices.

Some have argued that once a consumer purchases a body of music from one of the proprietary music stores, they are forever locked into only using music players from that one company. Or, if they buy a specific player, they are locked into buying music only from that company’s music store. Is this true? Let’s look at the data for iPods and the iTunes store - they are the industry’s most popular products and we have accurate data for them. Through the end of 2006, customers purchased a total of 90 million iPods and 2 billion songs from the iTunes store. On average, that’s 22 songs purchased from the iTunes store for each iPod ever sold.
I hope the Hollywood types listen. Music should be very inexpensive ($0.05/track) and widely, widely used.
Posted by James Zellmer at 3:27 PM

February 4, 2007

TIVO Selling User Data

David Lazarus:
TiVo revealed the other day that it's offering TV networks and ad agencies a chance to receive second-by- second data about which programs the company's 4.5 million subscribers are watching and, more importantly, which commercials people are skipping.

This raises a pair of troubling questions: Is TiVo, which revolutionized TV viewing with its digital video recording technology, now watching what people watch? And is it selling that sensitive info to advertisers and others?

The answers, apparently, are no and no.

"I promise with my hand on a Bible that your data is not being archived and sold," said Todd Juenger, TiVo's vice president and general manager of audience research and measurement.
Posted by James Zellmer at 4:59 PM

The Age of Perpetual Conflict

Gabriel Kolko:
Blind men and women have been the motor of modern history and the source of endless misery and destruction. Aspiring leaders of great powers can neither understand nor admit the fact that their strategies are extremely dangerous because statecraft by its very nature always calculates the ability of a nation's military and economic resources to overcome whatever challenges it confronts. To reject such traditional reasoning, and to question the value of conventional wisdom and react to international crises realistically on the basis of past failures would make them unsuited to command. The result is that politicians succeed in terms of their personal careers, states make monumental errors, and people suffer. The great nations of Europe and Japan put such illusions into practice repeatedly before 1945.

At the beginning of the 21st century only the U.S. has the will to maintain a global foreign policy and to intervene everywhere it believes necessary. Today and in the near future, America will make the decisions that will lead to war or peace, and the fate of much of the world is largely in its hands. It thinks it possesses the arms and a spectrum of military strategies all predicated on a triumphant activist role for itself. It believes that its economy can afford interventionism, and that the American public will support whatever actions necessary to set the affairs of some country or region on the political path it deems essential. This grandiose ambition is bipartisan and, details notwithstanding, both parties have always shared a consensus on it.
Posted by James Zellmer at 12:59 PM

February 1, 2007

Anna Christie

The Madison Rep:
Following the success of 2005’s A Moon for the Misbegotten, Artistic Director Richard Corley returns to America’s greatest playwright. Winner of the 1922 Pulitzer Prize, Anna Christie is the tale of a mid-western girl who loses and finds her way amid New York’s waterfront bars and barges, and the two men who fight for her body and soul. One of the finest female roles ever written, Anna Christie has been played by actresses as diverse as Greta Garbo, Natasha Richardson, Liv Ullman, and Celeste Holm.
We enjoyed the Rep's production of Annie Christie. I'm always amazed at how well the actors adopt their character's language, in this case Swedish and Irish influenced English. Carrie Coon, Lea Coco and Craig Spidle were great. Go.
Posted by James Zellmer at 11:22 PM

Gasoline and the American People

Cambridge Energy Research Associates:
America's "love affair with the automobile" is being transformed -- but not broken up -- by forces that are redrawing the global gasoline and oil market, including higher gasoline prices, tightening environmental requirements, changing demographics, growing world oil demand and expanding fuel options, according to the new 2007 edition of Gasoline and the American People, by Cambridge Energy Research Associates (CERA).

Americans have been driving further -- 40% more than 25 years ago -- and using more gasoline in bigger, more powerful cars and other light duty vehicles. But higher gasoline prices have had a significant impact. The rate of growth in gasoline demand slowed sharply from its 1.6% per year pace (1990-2004) to 0.3% in 2005, and continued to grow slowly in 2006, at 1.0%. And for the first time in 25 years, motorists' average mileage went down. Overall, though, according to the CERA report, improved automotive efficiencies and one of the lowest fuel tax rates among Western countries have kept gasoline and oil's share of average U.S. household budgets at 3.8% in 2006, slightly above the 1960s' 3.4% to 3.6% level despite rising world oil prices.
Media coverage.

Ed Wallace has more.
Posted by James Zellmer at 11:12 AM

January 28, 2007

Give Away the Music and Sell the Show

Chris Anderson:
The major labels are freaked out: CD sales are continuing their inexorable decline and iTunes sales aren't making up the difference. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of artists are giving away their music for free on MySpace, their own websites and independent MP3 blogs. This puzzles the labels. Don't these bands want to make money from their art?

Many do, but they're just smarter than most music industry execs. They understand the difference between abundance and scarcity economics. Music as a digital product enjoys near-zero costs of production and distribution--classic abundance economics. When costs are near zero, you might as well make the price zero, too, something thousands of bands have figured out.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:31 PM

Lucinda Williams' Playlist

Winter Miller:
IMAGINE a time before alternative country. Before Americana and roots rock. Picture a corner office, sometime in the early ’80s, with record executives scratching their heads over how to market a talented singer, songwriter and guitarist from Louisiana named Lucinda Williams. Was she country? Folk? Blues? The answer of course was (and is) all of the above. A three-time Grammy winner, Ms. Williams will release “West,” her eighth studio album, on Feb. 13. A tour is scheduled to begin soon after, including a stop at Radio City Music Hall on March 23. Ms. Williams, 54, shows no signs of getting any less sexy with her lyrics or her taste in music. She recently spoke by phone with Winter Miller about what she’s listening to now.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:43 PM

Michael Lewis on the Hidden Economics of Baseball and Football

Russ Roberts:
Michael Lewis talks about the economics of sports--the financial and decision-making side of baseball and football--using the insights from his bestselling books on baseball and football: Moneyball and The Blind Side. Along the way he discusses the implications of Moneyball for the movie business and other industries, the peculiar ways that Moneyball influenced the strategies of baseball teams, the corruption of college football, and the challenge and tragedy of kids who live on the streets with little education or prospects for success.
Posted by James Zellmer at 2:23 PM

January 27, 2007

The Sarajevo Moment

The Economist:
A PROPOS the Sarajevo moment, which might bring to an end this latest of age of globalisation.

It wouldn't be a political killing, I imagine, since there is no one figure whose death at the hands of a deranged assassin would turn the great powers against one another. But a terrorist strike against a cluster of essential Saudi oil installations might have the necessary economic and geopolitical repercussions.

Whatever the Sarajevo moment might be, everyone seems to be talking about it. As if we know in our hearts that these asset prices are too good.
Posted by James Zellmer at 6:47 AM

January 24, 2007


I use and link to Wikipedia from time to time. Dave notes some ongoing controversy regarding the creation and maintenance of Wikipedia data, including Microsoft's offer to pay an Australian blogger to edit pages for them.
Posted by James Zellmer at 11:09 AM

January 21, 2007

The Etiquette of Bribery

The Economist:
GIVE people power and discretion, and whether they are grand viziers or border guards, some will use their position to enrich themselves. The problem can be big enough to hold back a country's development. One study has shown that bribes account for 8% of the total cost of running a business in Uganda. Another found that corruption boosted the price of hospital supplies in Buenos Aires by 15%. Paul Wolfowitz, the head of the World Bank, is devoting special efforts during his presidency there to a drive against corruption.

For most people in the world, though, the worry is not that corruption may slow down their country's GDP growth. It is that their daily lives are pervaded by endless hassles, big and small. And for all the evidence that some cultures suffer endemic corruption while others are relatively clean, attitudes towards corruption, and even the language describing bribery, is remarkably similar around the world.

Rich Westerners may not think of their societies as plagued by corruption. But the definition of bribery clearly differs from person to person. A New Yorker might pity the third-world businessman who must pay bribes just to keep his shop open. But the same New Yorker would not think twice about slipping the maître d' $50 to sneak into a nice restaurant without a reservation. Poor people the world over are most infuriated by the casual corruption of the elites rather than by the underpaid, “tip”-seeking soldier or functionary.

Indeed, in the world's richest economy, what many see as simple bribery is an integral part of lawmaking. In Washington, DC, it is accepted that a lobbyist's generous campaign contribution to a crucial congressman may help to steer some spending to the lobbyist's client.
And... earmarks?
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:49 PM

January 20, 2007

"Use the Web, Luke" - Presidential Candidates Embrace the Web

Peter Gosselin:
In choosing the Internet to announce she intends to run for the presidency in 2008, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton bowed to the burgeoning political power of the medium and offered a preview of how she hopes to harness it to her purposes.

In declaring "I'm in" the White House race in a video clip on her new campaign website, HillaryClinton.com, the New York Democrat did considerably more than simply appear before the cameras; she invited supporters to join an almost Oprah Winfrey-like session of give and take.

"Let's talk. Let's chat. Let's start a dialogue about your ideas and mine.... " she told viewers."With a little help from modern technology, I'll be holding live online video chats ... starting Monday."

By doing this, Clinton signaled her intention of using the Internet to shore up one of her chief political weak points, what independent analyst Charlie Cook called the caricature of her as "this shrill, raving, partisan, liberal lunatic."
Hilary's video is here. Take a look through the window - I wonder when it was shot? Sam Brownback announced on the web as well.

Charles Franklin looks at the polls.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:33 PM

January 16, 2007

Buckley on Iraq

William F. Buckley, Jr.:
You are a Republican legislator, retiring after this, your fifth term. Last night, into midnight hours, you composed a questionnaire for yourself. You vowed to submit to it before your committee speech. You'd flower up the language a bit — but not the thought. You wake up this morning and turn to last night's self-quiz.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:20 PM

January 14, 2007

An Interesting Chat with David Byrne

Will Hermes:
Another sign of Mr. Byrne’s constant forward motion is his voracious appetite for new music. He’s a regular visitor to the annual South by Southwest music festival Austin, Tex., where he will be a featured speaker in March. And any concertgoer in New York City is apt to spot him regularly, hanging out near the back of a room, generally without an entourage, his shock of near-white hair adding a few inches to his already impressive height. Last year he could be spotted sipping white wine in the lobby of Town Hall before a Cat Power performance, applauding the debut of Gnarls Barkley at Webster Hall and cheering the Brazilian funk artist Otto (who appears on a forthcoming Luaka Bop compilation) at Joe’s Pub.

“He really keeps his finger on the pulse,” said Ms. Diaz-Tutaan, whom Mr. Byrne became interested in after hearing the CD her band, Apsci, recorded for the tiny progressive hip-hop label Quannum. “That’s really inspiring to me — that this guy who has been around for such a long time and has been one of my musical influences is keeping up with things on a more underground level. He’ll just ride his bike to a venue, go in, check out the band and ride home.”

Mr. Byrne doesn’t seem to think there’s anything particularly remarkable about it. “Sure, I go out a lot,” he said. “I’m in New York, and I’m a music fan. But sometimes I go out to these shows and I go ‘Where are my peers?,’ you know? Where are the musicians from my generation, or the generation after mine? Don’t they go out to hear music? Do they just stay home? Are they doing drugs? What’s going on?”

He laughed and shook his head. “Or maybe they’re just not interested anymore. They’re watching ‘Desperate Housewives.’ ”
Byrne's blog.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:40 PM

SNL does iPhone

Saturday Night Live video.
Posted by James Zellmer at 12:01 PM

January 13, 2007

The Case for Artisan Meats

The Economist:
The artisans themselves also continue to use the same methods they have always used. At some point after the second world war, as food production across Europe became industrialised, making hams in the traditional labour-intensive manner ceased to be a necessary way of life and became a wonderfully tasty two-finger salute to all the boiled, pink, anaemic, mealy, tasteless hams sitting on supermarket shelves and in refrigerated cabinets.

Curing meat celebrates heterogeneity like no other culinary process. McDonald's manages to make hamburgers that taste the same from Cape Town to Novosibirsk; cured meats, with almost identical ingredients from region to region, taste wildly different. Italy produces six denominazione di origine controllata varieties of prosciutto, all of which are made from the whole leg of a pig, salt and perhaps a bit of sugar or spice. But by virtue of the airborne yeasts and moulds native to the particular region, variations in humidity, temperature and air quality, the diet and care of the pigs and the storage of the resulting hams, each of them tastes and feels quite different from the rest. The only other product for human consumption that varies so greatly from one area to another is whisky, which also relies on tradition, fanatical attention to detail and environmental alchemy. Just as Suntory can buy all the disused stills it wants, mimic the chemical and mineral composition of Scottish water and still produce something completely different from a Highland single malt, so a prosciutto from Parma will be softer, pinker and milder than a prosciutto from Modena, and a Lyonnais saucisson will have a tang that a salame Piacentino lacks.
Related: Fra'Mani:
Our mission is crafting salumi in the finest Italian pastoral traditions, using the highest-quality, all-natural pork.

Our pork comes from family farmers committed to the well-being of their animals and their land. The hogs are never given antibiotics, artificial growth hormones, growth-promoting agents or meat by-products. They eat only the finest grains and natural feed. This old-fashioned way to raise hogs produces pork of outstanding quality, which is the essential ingredient in all Fra' Mani salumi.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:07 PM

The Art of Conversation

An excellent article from the Economist:
The Brown and Levinson model says, roughly speaking, that Person A probably does not want to be rude to Person B, but in the way of things, life may sometimes require Person A to contradict or intrude on Person B, and when that happens, Person A has a range of “politeness strategies” to draw on. There are four main possibilities, given in ascending order of politeness. The first is a “bald, on-record” approach: “I'm going to shut the window.” The second is positive politeness, or a show of respect: “I'm going to shut the window, is that OK?” The third is negative politeness, which presumes that the request will be an intrusion or an inconvenience: “I'm sorry to disturb you, but I want to shut the window.” The fourth is an indirect strategy which does not insist on a course of action at all: “Gosh, it's cold in here.”
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:01 PM

January 12, 2007

American Samoa Exempt from Minimum Wage Hike?

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

Charles Hurt:
House Republicans yesterday declared "something fishy" about the major tuna company in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's San Francisco district being exempted from the minimum-wage increase that Democrats approved this week.

"I am shocked," said Rep. Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican and his party's chief deputy whip, noting that Mrs. Pelosi campaigned heavily on promises of honest government. "Now we find out that she is exempting hometown companies from minimum wage. This is exactly the hypocrisy and double talk that we have come to expect from the Democrats."

On Wednesday, the House voted to raise the minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.25 per hour.

The bill also extends for the first time the federal minimum wage to the U.S. territory of the Northern Mariana Islands. However, it exempts American Samoa, another Pacific island territory that would become the only U.S. territory not subject to federal minimum-wage laws.
Meanwhile, some Senators are attempting to water down any sort of earmark reform. A cynical observer might wonder if those in the House knew this would happen in the Senate...
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:20 AM

January 8, 2007

The Death of General Interest Magazines?

David Carr:
Of course, there are those who would argue that in a society that seems to have no general interest (other than, say, Paris Hilton and the Super Bowl) there is no room or need for a general interest magazine. But Mr. Stengel said he will not be imprisoned by the tyranny of big numbers in making changes at Time.

“I think it is a false choice to say that something that is mass has to be dumbed-down.” he said. “We want to be accessible, but we want our readers to know that we understand they are smart.”
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:06 PM

January 3, 2007

A Semi Self Defense of Enron

Malcolm Gladwell:
I also have a minor challenge for aficionados of the Enron case.

Years ago, when I was at the Washington Post, one of my colleagues on the science desk—Bill Booth—called up a dozen or so Nobel Laureates in physics and asked them to explain, in plain language, the nature and significance of the Higgs Boson atomic particle. None of them could. This was at a time, mind you, when the physics community was arguing passionately for the construction of a multi-billion dollar particle accelerator to look for things like the Higgs Boson. So it wasn’t for lack of interest. They were gung-ho for nailing the Higgs Boson. They just couldn’t explain the Higgs Boson.

Can anyone explain—in plain language—what it is Jeff Skilling and Co. did wrong?
Posted by James Zellmer at 5:23 PM

December 31, 2006

On Earmarks & Lobbyists

Doonesbury. Much more on earmarks, including local activity, here.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:03 AM

December 30, 2006

The Creation of American Girl's 2007 Girl of the Year - Nikki

Christina Binkley visits Middleton's American Girl (a unit of Mattel):
A little more than a year ago, executives at the dollmaker American Girl sat down to undertake a high-stakes marketing mission: cramming everything the company deems uplifting and authentic about American girls into a single plastic and cloth figure. The goal: to create a character so compelling that parents will pay $86 for an 18-inch doll and a paperback book.

Working with a trove of customer feedback culled from its magazine, Web and book-publishing empire, the company determined that the typical girl these days is dependable, athletic and loves animals. She is also completely overscheduled and stressed out. She skis like a demon, rides horses, trains guide dogs, plans school parties, washes the dishes, battles popularity crises and helps her little brother with his math homework.

The improbable result is Nicki Fleming, the company's 2007 Girl of the Year -- an annual event in which the Mattel Inc. unit releases, on Jan. 1, a new doll meant to capture the current state of girlhood. Nicki's dog Sprocket, together with training treats, a collar and leash, sells for $24. Her horse Jackson with Western saddle costs $62; his tack box, curry brush and carrots are $34.
Mattel's (Jill Barrad was CEO at the time) acquisition of Pleasant Rowland's American Girl for some $700M lead the way to the creation of Madison's Overture Center. Former Oscar Meyer CEO Bob Eckert currently runs Mattel.
Posted by James Zellmer at 6:23 AM

December 28, 2006

Guns to Caviar Index

Daniel Gross:
Reading the news, it's easy to get the sense that the world is at war: strife in Afghanistan, chaos in Iraq, genocide in Darfur, upheaval in Lebanon, and a variety of insurgencies and border squabbles around the globe. Reading the news, it's also easy to get the sense that the world is in the midst of a golden age of peaceful prosperity. Each year, tens of millions of Indians and Chinese join the middle class. Latin America and South America, previously dominated by authoritarian regimes and civil wars, are now generally democratic and enjoying steady growth.

So, which is it? Is the world more peaceful or more warlike? Since Americans are doing the lion's share of the fighting and military policing, it's difficult for us to answer the question objectively. Fortunately, there is an unbiased global economic indicator that sheds some light on the question: the Guns-to-Caviar Index.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:20 PM

December 26, 2006

2006 Foot in Mouth Awards

Tony Long:
Welcome to Wired News' 2006 Foot-in-Mouth Awards program. You, the readers, have sent us your picks for the lamest quotes from or about the world of technology during this eventful year. We have selected the "best" of those and present them to you now.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:12 PM

December 24, 2006

Surfer Survives Two Shark Attacks

Jim Doyle:
Royce Fraley has surfed the unforgiving, storm-swelled waves of Northern California for three decades, and also -- by chance -- explored the hunting habits and appetites of great white sharks.

But this holiday season he's spending time ashore in Guerneville with his wife and their two young children. He hasn't been surfing since his latest brush with fate. Two weeks ago, he became one of the world's few surfers to have survived two separate shark attacks -- the latest incident involving a shark that pulled him at least 15 feet below the surface.

"I'm not chomping at the bit to get back into the water," Fraley, 43, told The Chronicle. "I had an offer to go surfing with a buddy last Sunday, and I declined. I'm definitely taking a break and enjoying my family. ... If my feet were dangling down, I might not even have a leg or be here today. It's made me more respectful of my life and my family."
Posted by James Zellmer at 11:52 AM

December 15, 2006

B-Side Records Best of the year 2006

Kristian Knutsen:
While recently entering my favorite five new albums released in 2006 for the KEXP Top 90.3 countdown, I realized that the B-Side Records annual four-page best-of list extravaganza was likely out and on the shop's counter. Indeed, Madison's most jam-packed end-of-the-year list -- its sixteenth edition -- was ready for reading.

The State Street record store's formula is relatively simple; every current employee and as many past employees as possible are solicited to submit their best-of-2006 list. There are no constricting guidelines, as the lists can be as short as nine albums to nearly as long as one hundred, not counting the supplementary songs and live shows that can listed as well. Then there’s always a guest, one person who is invited by B-Side to submit their favorites too. In the end, everything gets tallied up, and the four-page thicket of lists is condensed to their collected "favorite things," with any album receiving three or more picks featured and framed.
Posted by James Zellmer at 11:15 AM

December 14, 2006

Mobile Mansions Book

Douglas Kiester takes a fabulous look at Legacy RV's.
Posted by James Zellmer at 5:12 PM

December 12, 2006

Silicon Valley Math: Interesting Look at Yahoo's Potential Deal with Facebook

Michael Arrington:
Rumors about the possible acquisition of Facebook, usually with Yahoo as buyer, have been around for most of this year. Not that Yahoo or Facebook have asked for this attention, but the media is getting antsy. Robert Young put it best last week when he asked - Yahoo & Facebook: Deal or No Deal?. That is certainly the question of the fiscal quarter.

We know that Facebook has been pursued almost since the beginning of its existence. They narrowly avoided a $10 million acquisition by Friendster in mid 2004, just months before they took their first round of financing from Accel Partners. Former Friendster execs say that the deal was close to closing, but last minute negoations over control ultimately disrupted the deal. Since then, Facebook has certainly been approached by every major Internet company.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:38 PM

Gibson on Writing a Book

William Gibson:
I think it may actually get worse, each time! But I also suspect that that may be a paradoxical indicator of relative emotional health. If you've ever met anyone who's writing a book that he or she is convinced is *very* good indeed, you'll know what I mean. (Swift reading to his servants may be the perfect case in point.)

By the time I'm three-quarters through the writing of a novel, I've necessarily lost anything like perspective, and must rely on feedback from trusted daily readers to know whether or not I've completely driven the thing off the road. I suspect that the biggest part of the labor of writing, for me, has always consisted of bludgeoning the editorial super-ego into relative passivity, though no matter how thoroughly I've managed to stun it, it still manages to send messages to the effect that the work is really deeply pathetic, hideously flawed, and should be abandoned immediately. I tend to imagine that this is what writer's block is really about, though in my case it's remained only partionally symptomatic. I manage to ignore those messages, as painful as I still find them.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:44 AM

Congressional Staff Size & Salary Database

Posted by James Zellmer at 9:21 AM

December 10, 2006

Imogen Heap's Playlist Suggestions

Winter Miller:
THE British synth-pop singer-songwriter Imogen Heap is a devotee of found sounds. Her do-it-yourself music uses the noises of trains, thumping metal gates and cardboard carpet tubes as well as orchestral spirals of harps and trumpets. Though a pianist at heart, she embraces the blips of electronica and computer-programmed, multitracked vocals. Ms. Heap, who contributed silky, metallic vocals when she was part of the alt-pop duo Frou Frou, has done well with her second solo album, “Speak for Yourself” (Megaphonic/RCA Victor), which appeared last year. Songs from it continue to pop up on film and television soundtracks (most recently “The Last Kiss,” “The O.C.,” “The Chronicles of Narnia,” “CSI” and “Six Feet Under”). Ms. Heap, 29, is touring the United States through December. She recently spoke by telephone with Winter Miller about what she’s listening to now.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:15 PM

December 9, 2006

Wal-Mart Culture/Marketing Clash

Two interesting articles on the identity conflict underway (perhaps being resolved?) at Wal-Mart:
  • Michael Barbaro & Stuart Elliott:
    Yesterday, in a surprising rebuke, Wal-Mart overturned Ms. Roehm’s choice to replace the company’s longtime advertising agencies — a decision that puts $580 million worth of marketing up for grabs again, two months after the original search process ended.

    Her departure has roiled Madison Avenue and sent several major agencies scrambling to dust off their marketing plans for the nation’s largest retailer.

    At the heart of the controversy, everyone agreed, is a culture clash. Ms. Roehm, a 35-year-old rising star who won acclaim in advertising circles for her work in the automobile industry, was never at home within the painstakingly modest by-the-books culture of Wal-Mart.
  • Michael Barbaro & Stuart Elliott:
    t was the kind of bold advertising campaign that Wal-Mart executives agreed was needed to attract style-hungry consumers: a series of commercials featuring two sisters — one a regular Wal-Mart shopper, the other not — trying to redecorate their homes.

    In commercials set to run throughout this holiday season, the sisters were to discover that Wal-Mart offers a lot more than low prices.

    But in July, as gasoline prices spiked, senior executives abruptly scrapped plans for the so-called sisters campaign, sending a marketing team led by Julie Roehm scrambling to create a replacement, according to people involved in the process. The reason was that the ads did not focus enough on low prices.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:18 PM

December 3, 2006

A New Goofy Short: "How to Install Your Home Theater"

Charles Solomon:
It is not surprising that Mr. Lasseter is using short films to train and test the artists: he and his fellow Pixar animators spent almost 10 years making shorts, learning how to use computer graphics effectively before they made “Toy Story” and the string of hits that followed. Pixar continues to produce a cartoon short every year, and has won Oscars for the shorts “Tin Toy,” “Geri’s Game” and “For the Birds.”

Four new shorts are in development at Disney: “The Ballad of Nessie,” a stylized account of the origin of the Loch Ness monster; “Golgo’s Guest,” about a meeting between a Russian frontier guard and an extraterrestrial; “Prep and Landing,” in which two inept elves ready a house for Santa’s visit; and “How to Install Your Home Theater,” the return of Goofy’s popular “How to” shorts of the ’40s and ’50s, in which a deadpan narrator explains how to play a sport or execute a task, while Goofy attempts to demonstrate — with disastrous results. The new Goofy short is slated to go into production early next year.
I've long enjoyed short films. Clusty has more.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:35 PM

December 2, 2006

Udell Chat with U of Michigan's Wilkin regarding the Google Scanning Deal

Jon Udell:
My guest for this week's podcast is John Wilkin. He's the director of the University of Michigan Library's technology department, and coordinator of the library's joint digitization project with Google. It's been two years since Google began partnering with the University of Michigan and with other libraries, including Harvard and the New York Public Library. In this conversation we talk about the UM's earlier (and still-ongoing) efforts to digitize its 7-million-volume library, about how the partnership with Google has radically accelerated that process, and about what this is all going to mean for libraries, for publishers, for Google, and for all of us. ...
The Google Library deals have been controversial (rightly so). The UW-Madison also has a deal with Google.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:06 PM

December 1, 2006

Top 10 2006 Books via the NYT Book Review

NY Times:
Fiction & Non-Fiction. The list includes Rory Stewart's excellent: The Places in Between:
You are the first tourist in Afghanistan," Stewart, a young Scotsman, was warned by an Afghan official before commencing the journey recounted in this splendid book. "It is mid-winter - there are three meters of snow on the high passes, there are wolves, and this is a war. You will die, I can guarantee." Stewart, thankfully, did not die, and his report on his adventures - walking across Afghanistan in January of 2002, shortly after the fall of the Taliban - belongs with the masterpieces of the travel genre. Stewart may be foolhardy, but on the page he is a terrific companion: smart, compassionate and human. His book cracks open a fascinating, blasted world miles away from the newspaper headlines.
Posted by James Zellmer at 5:26 PM

November 28, 2006

Tesla Road Test

Dan Neil:
But I can tell you, even from my brief spin in this dog-eared prototype, the Tesla Roadster delivers on its promise, which might be summarized as "stupid fun for smart people." I think the Latin translation of same should appear on the company crest.

It takes a slight leg hoist and wriggle to get into the car and strap yourself into the thin carbon shell of a seat — a holdover from the Lotus Elise on which the car is based. The seat will change in the production car since its narrow width doesn't exactly accommodate "American butts," according Mike Harrigan, Tesla vice president of marketing.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:29 PM

Revive Care Packages?

I may spend too much time thinking about this, but how is it one reverses the hatred of a people after war? WWII was no doubt very different. But interestingly, Germans talk about this a lot — about the brilliance in the American strategy after the war to rebuild (what we weirdly call) “friendship” between the German and American people.

That strategy had a government component (2% of the GDP spent on the Marshall Plan) and a private component. The private component came largely through the delivery of “CARE Packages.” As described on CARE’s website, these packages were originally surplus food packs initially prepared to support a US invasion of Japan. Americans were invited to send these packages to victims of the War. Eventually, over 100,000,000 packages were sent by Americans over the next two decades, first in Europe, then throughout the world.

A German friend this afternoon was recounting this story to me — he too is obsessed with how to reduce Iraqi anger. But the part he emphasized that I had missed originally was how significant it was to Germans to know that these packages were sent by ordinary Americans. It wasn’t the government sending government aid; it was American volunteers taking time to personalize an act of giving.
A good idea.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:04 AM

The End of Risk Pooling

John Robb:
Another sign that we are increasingly on our own. The insurance industry is rapidly (and inexorably) eliminating the idea of risk pooling:

As insurers use the new techniques to get ever-more-refined estimates of what individual policyholders are likely to cost in the future, they may be tempted to charge people closer and closer to full freight for treating an illness or rebuilding a fire-damaged home. Then even those who benefited from the end of cross-subsidies could see their rates go up as they effectively are asked to pay their own way, rather than share the cost by pooling with others.
The Economist has more.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:50 AM

November 26, 2006

A Few Words With Jerry Brown

Deborah Solomon:
Then how would you describe yourself politically?

I’m very independent. There’s a great line from Friedrich Nietzsche: A thinking man can never be a party man.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:58 PM

As goes Peoria (Plano?)....

Virginia Postrel:
Plano does represent the New Economy, built on skilled, creative people. But it fits neither Brooks’s emphasis on bohemianism among the professional classes nor Richard Florida’s new industrial policy prescribing groovy uptowns with lots of gays. As Harvard economist Edward Glaeser wrote in a review of Florida’s The Rise of the Creative Class: “I’ve studied a lot of creative people. Most of them like what most well-off people like—big suburban lots with easy commutes by automobile and safe streets and good schools and low taxes. . . . Plano, Texas was the most successful skilled city in the 1990s (measured by population growth)—it’s not exactly a Bohemian paradise.”

In fact, Plano boomed because it’s cheap—the Stein Mart of towns. It allows residents to live a scaled-up, globalized version of the family-centered life of the postwar suburbs, a twenty-first-century Wonder Years. While you can find a $7 million estate in Plano, you can also buy a perfectly reasonable vintage ranch house, possibly with a pool, for less than $200,000. From that address, you can send your kids to excellent public schools. By contrast, on Kaus’s modest street in Venice, a tiny two-bedroom, one-bath bungalow was recently on the market for $754,000, making it one of the cheapest houses in the area (and the schools are lousy).
Plano is the home of Frito-Lay, EDS, JC Penney, Cadbury Schweppes, Ericsson, among others.
Posted by James Zellmer at 1:33 PM

Polar opposite districts top nation in turnout

Craig Gilbert:
Jim Sensenbrenner's (5th) constituents would seem to have little in common with Tammy Baldwin's (3rd) constituents.

Sensenbrenner's heavily suburban U.S. House district is the state's most conservative. Baldwin's, anchored in Madison, may be its most liberal.

But voters in both places have come to share a striking distinction: They flock to the polls in greater numbers than voters almost anywhere else in the country.

More than 314,000 people voted in the Republican Sensenbrenner's 5th District on Nov. 7, and more than 304,000 voted in the Democrat Baldwin's 2nd District.

Only two congressional districts in the nation produced more votes, and both are at-large, statewide seats (Montana and South Dakota) that have a lot more people than other districts.
Posted by James Zellmer at 1:25 PM

November 25, 2006

Extraordinary Service in an Era of Low Expectations

My cell phone rang, displaying an unknown number while driving home from a Thanksgiving trip via the airport. Shannon from Milwaukee's fine airline - Midwest - called to say that one of her coworkers found homework in the seatback of the plane we just vacated. She thought it important and wanted to know if we had a FedEx number so she could send us the missing homework via an overnight package.

Let's just ponder this customer service outlier, or "black swan [more]" for a moment. We live in an era of low expectations:
  • Politics: Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss:
    But Ms. Pelosi’s damage to herself was already done. The well-known shortcomings of Mr. Murtha were broadcast for all to see — from his quid-pro-quo addiction to moneyed lobbyists to the grainy government tape of his involvement in the Abscam scandal a generation ago. The resurrected tape — feasted upon by Pelosi enemies — shows how Mr. Murtha narrowly survived as an unindicted co-conspirator, admittedly tempted but finally rebuffing a bribe offer: “I’m not interested — at this point.
  • Black Friday retail tactics:
    In Lewis Center, Ohio, near Columbus, Cindy Milsap, 43, and her daughter, Ashley, 20, woke up before dawn to drive to the nearby Wal-Mart Supercenter, which advertised a 52-inch high-definition television for $474. “We don’t really need a new TV, Ms. Milsap said. “But at that price? C’mon.”

    But the bargain eluded them. The “limited quantity” in the ad, she said, was three TVs — all sold by the time the pair arrived.

    Those customers left in peace.
  • The oxymoron that is "airline service":
    With overcrowded airplanes, little civility in dress or demeanor of passengers, few meals, fewer amenities, industrywide salary cuts of epic proportions, and (the worst sin of all) airlines canceling pension plans because they've robbed the fund of hundreds of millions, far too many of America's airline employees are shell shocked, depressed, disillusioned and resentful. In effect, we're now an industry full of employees going through post-traumatic stress and wondering why we ever thought it was fun.

    And that, in a nutshell, equates to bad and inattentive service with a "who cares" attitude. Morale, in other words, is the key, and it's in precious short supply today.
  • 2006 Airline Quality Rating website.

I remain astonished that a Midwest employee cleaning the plane found said homework, took the time to give it to someone who could find the owner, lookup their contact information, make a call, obtain the shipping information, place the papers in a FedEx package and send it our way. Everyone involved must actually care about the customer. What a concept. I hope that these words, in some small way encourage others to fly Midwest. There is indeed, no better care in the air.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:41 PM

November 24, 2006

Detroit Thanksgiving Day Parade Panorama

Mark Houston
Posted by James Zellmer at 2:44 PM

November 21, 2006

Verizon's Blog

Interesting to see the Big Telco jousting with their competitors. Unfortunately, we Madisonians are a long way away from fiber to the home, something Verizon is installing in many markets.
Posted by James Zellmer at 7:17 PM

November 15, 2006

"Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss"

Ed Cone:
WSJ: "After more than a decade of Republican rule in Washington, Democratic lobbyists have a lot to celebrate. Just a week after Election Day, they are getting promotions and signing up new clients."

NYT: "Democratic lobbyists are fielding calls from pharmaceutical companies, the oil and gas industry and military companies, all of which had grown accustomed to patronizing Republicans, as the environment in Washington abruptly shifts."
Posted by James Zellmer at 2:48 PM

More Controversy Over Web Tracking Cookies

Catherine Holahan:
Specifically, the groups want the FTC to require advertisers to alert consumers when tracking cookies and other such files are present on sites, and then let consumers choose whether they are willing to be monitored. "Most consumers have no idea of the extensive system of online data collection and targeted marketing that has evolved," says Chester. "They need to know that data is being collected about their viewing, that data is being sent back to a computer based on their tastes…there needs to be an opt in." Some companies that specialize in behavioral advertising are already getting the message.

The complaint says Microsoft (MSFT) and TACODA, the largest behavioral targeting ad network, are among companies that use behavioral targeting without sufficiently alerting Web surfers. A Microsoft representative didn’t return a call seeking comment. TACODA says it plans to be more upfront about targeting practices.
Posted by James Zellmer at 12:06 PM

November 13, 2006

Madison #5 in US in % of "Exurban" Population!


Alan Berube, Audrey Singer, Jill H. Wilson, and William H. Frey of [1.5MB PDF] The Brookings Institution:
  • Madison 2000 Census Population: 501,774
  • Total Exurban Population: 110,127
  • Percentage Exurban: 21.9%
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:09 AM

November 10, 2006

Cold Temperatures and the Onset of Winter

Talking with a Texan friend this morning and bemoaning the chilly temperatures on the way he used a great colloquial expression:
"Jim, we don't have to shovel sunshine here."
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:04 AM

November 9, 2006

Politics & Philly Cheese Steaks

The Economist:
The Philly cheese steak is serious business. Ordering etiquette must be adhered to. Customers must state their preferred type of cheese and whether onions will or will not (“wit” or “witout”) be added. John Kerry, when campaigning for president in 2004 in Philadelphia, botched it badly, asking for Swiss cheese instead of the more traditional Cheez Whiz, a processed cheese spread. Even provolone or American cheese would have been better. George Bush ordered “Whiz wit” like a local.
Posted by James Zellmer at 2:04 PM

Great Example of "Citizen Journalism"

Amazon Patent Reform Timeline and Jeff Bezo's interaction with Tim O'Reilly.
Posted by James Zellmer at 11:44 AM

November 5, 2006

The Prince

Reviewed by David Ignatius:
When historians search for a paradigmatic figure who embodied America's old, pre-9/11 relationship with the Arab world, an obvious candidate will be Saudi Arabia's swaggering ambassador to Washington from 1983 to 2005, Prince Bandar bin Sultan. He was the Gatsby of foreign affairs: entertaining Washington's elite at his mansion overlooking the Potomac; exchanging secret favors with a string of presidents from Ronald Reagan to George W. Bush; lobbying for Saudi weapons purchases so effectively that he trounced even AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobby group; operating as a deniable arm of the CIA in covert operations around the world.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:24 AM

November 4, 2006

"The Only Thing"

The Madison Rep's New Play Festival: The Only Thing by Eric Simonson, based on David Maraniss' excellent "When Pride Still Mattered".

Simonson's approach to Lombardi is clever and interesting. There's another reading Saturday evening, 11/11/2006 @ 7:00p.m. GO!
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:18 PM

November 3, 2006

Interesting MetaData: Madison Air Travel Searches

Kayak's 25 Most searched destinations from MSN are based on 1,235,978 total searches on Kayak over the past 2 days. All prices are per-person for round-trip tickets.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:04 AM

October 31, 2006

NCAA: Rein in Sports Spending

Howard Fendrich:
In a task-force report released Monday by NCAA president Myles Brand, Division I schools were encouraged to rein in spending on sports - but there aren't any requirements everyone must adhere to or punishments if they don't.

"In the case of academic reform, we had a hammer - namely, by teams not conforming, we could take away scholarships and, if that failed, we could keep them out of the Final Four and postseason. That's heavy duty. That's a sledgehammer," Brand said after speaking at the National Press Club. "The fact is, we don't have that for fiscal responsibility in intercollegiate athletics."

The task force of about 50 school presidents and chancellors was formed in January 2005, and the report's release comes as the NCAA is preparing its response to an Oct. 3 letter from Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Calif., chairman of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee. Thomas asked the NCAA to justify its tax-exempt status and sought a reply by the end of October; the NCAA received a two-week extension.
I've gone to a variety of sporting events around the country over the past 25 years. It is interesting to observe the explosion in sponsorships, luxury boxes and facilities around college athletics.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:35 AM

KCRW's Active Internet Audience

Sarah McBride:
KCRW is a leading example of how public radio stations are aggressively pushing high-definition radio, live streaming of programs, podcasting and other technology-driven improvements -- and in the process demonstrating the potential the Internet may hold for all radio stations, public or commercial.

Such moves have helped public stations expand their audience at a time when commercial broadcasters are seeing the listener base shrink. But while the initiatives have helped public radio stations expand their reach, the bar for success is also lower. Public stations rely on sponsorship and listener donations and are under less pressure to make money on their audience-growing online initiatives, such as selling ads on their podcasts.

"They have less to lose," says David Bank, an analyst at RBC Capital Markets. "They're all about delivering their content to the audience, without worrying about how [new technologies] might displace the audience and the advertiser." Now, he says, commercial radio is wishing it had moved faster and earlier in this area, although it has a big effort to catch up in the past year or two. Many big radio companies now sell advertising for their streams separately to their broadcast advertising, and start most podcasts with an ad. Industry-wide, online revenue now runs well north of $100 million annually.
KCRW's music programs are, in my view, the best around and a refreshing change from the usual commercial practice of playing the same old songs over and over and over and over.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:03 AM

October 28, 2006

Live Blogging Halloween 2006

Kristian Knutsen:
Tonight's the big night. The Saturday before Halloween. Freakfest on State Street. Riot gear and pepper spray four years running. What's going to happen this year? That's the question on everybody's minds, from city leadership down to every last costumed reveler on State Street.

The Daily Page is collaborating with The Daily Cardinal to provide continuous live coverage about the State Street parties, along with comments from elected officials, city staff, police spokespersons, and other participants and observers in the 2006 edition of Halloween in Madison.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:37 PM

October 27, 2006

Schwarzenegger's campaign Combines Shopping & Voting Databases

Gin or vodka? Ford or BMW? Perrier or Fiji water? Does the car you buy or what's in your fridge say anything about how you'll vote?

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's campaign thinks so.

Employing technology honed in President Bush's 2004 victory, the Republican governor's re-election team has created a vast computer storehouse of data on personal buying habits and voter records to identify likely supporters. Campaign officials say the operation is the largest of its kind in any state, at any time.

Some strategists believe consumer information can reveal a voter's politics even better than a party label can.

"It's not where they live, it's how they live," said Josh Ginsberg, the Schwarzenegger campaign's deputy political director.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:21 PM

October 23, 2006

Unlocking the iPod - Great Fair Use Article

Robert Levine:
Sometimes, however, the things Johansen tries to improve were made a certain way for a reason. When he was 15, Johansen got frustrated when his DVDs didn't work the way he wanted them to. "I was fed up with not being able to play a movie the way I wanted to play it," that is, on a PC that ran Linux.

To fix the problem, he and two hackers he met online wrote a program called DeCSS, which removed the encryption that limits what devices can play the discs. That meant the movies could be played on any machine, but also that they could be copied. After the program was posted online, Johansen received an award from the Electronic Frontier Foundation - and a visit from Norwegian police.

Johansen, now 22 and widely known as "DVD Jon" for his exploits, has also figured out how Apple's iPod-iTunes system works. And he's using that knowledge to start a business that is going to drive Steve Jobs crazy.

A disruptor If you want to be specific - and for legal reasons, he does - Johansen has reverse-engineered FairPlay, the encryption technology Apple (Charts) uses to make the iPod a closed system. Right now, thanks to FairPlay, the songs Apple sells at its iTunes store cannot easily be played on other devices, and copy-protected songs purchased from other sites will not play on the iPod. (The iPod will play MP3 files, which do not have any copy protection, but major labels don't sell music in that format.)
Posted by James Zellmer at 3:28 PM

October 22, 2006

Doonesbury's War

Gene Weingarten:
It's hard to know what to say to a grievously injured person, and it's easy to be wrong . You could do what I did, for example. Scrounging for the positive, I cheerfully informed a young man who had lost both legs and his left forearm that at least he's lucky he's a righty. Then he wordlessly showed me his right hand, which is missing fingertips and has limited motion -- an articulated claw. That shut things right up, for both of us, and it would have stayed that way, except the cartoonist showed up.

Garry Trudeau, the creator of "Doonesbury," hunkered right down in front of the soldier, eye to eye, introduced himself and proceeded to ignore every single diplomatic nicety.

"So, when were you hit?" he asked.

"October 23."

Trudeau pivoted his body. "So you took the blast on, what . . . this side?"
Posted by James Zellmer at 11:51 PM

Steadman's "The Joke's Over"

Christopher Hitchens:
Perhaps you can picture the work of Roald Dahl without the illustrations of Quentin Blake, or of Charles Dickens without the cartoons of Phiz. In a part of my mind, when reading Anthony Powell, I retain the images of the characters furnished by the imperishable Mark Boxer. Would we really have appreciated Alice in Wonderland without the drawings of Tenniel? However these questions may be decided, it is a certainty that the noir contribution of Ralph Steadman (who also produced a brilliantly illustrated Alice Through the Looking Glass) is as inseparable from the output of Hunter S Thompson as Marks from Spencer, or Engels from Marx.

This is not to say that the two men were exactly made for each other. Starting with their first joint assignment, which was to lampoon the Kentucky Derby for Scanlan’s magazine in 1970, Steadman was made to appreciate that he was yoked to a volatile and often dangerous manic-depressive. To describe the subsequent partnership as addictive would be disconcertingly accurate, although “disconcerting” would be the weakest way of expressing Steadman’s alarm at the properties of a small yellow pill that his friend so thoughtfully gave him on a later bad trip — if you will excuse the expression — to the America’s Cup in Rhode Island. The ensuing near-death experience is described without either rancour or self-pity, and, indeed, Steadman cannot claim not to have been warned.
Tattered Cover link.
Posted by James Zellmer at 1:51 PM

October 17, 2006

Leisure Suits on the Way Back?

The Sartorialist:
Well worth reading.
Posted by James Zellmer at 11:29 AM

October 14, 2006


Ed Lowe:
State Rep. Steve Wieckert says he will push to rewrite state laws to enable visiting National Football League teams to continue their pre-game stays in Appleton.

First, however, Wieckert, R-Appleton, said he will request a state attorney general's opinion on whether existing statutes allow police to restrict traffic while ushering visiting-team caravans from Appleton to Lambeau Field.

A legal opinion offered by Nancy Peterson-Bekx, a former prosecutor and current criminal justice instructor at Fox Valley Technical College, has thrown into question police escort practices in place since NFL teams began staying in downtown Appleton in the early 1980s.

Peterson-Bekx said state police agencies cannot disregard traffic laws except when responding to emergencies, or during specifically exempted duties.
Posted by James Zellmer at 3:32 PM

British Gentry, Fiddling While the Abyss Looms

Charles Isherwood:
The time will soon be ripe for fresh political leadership. With a presidential election just a couple of years away, we need to start looking for viable new candidates, fellows with those outside-the-Beltway views voters are said to cherish.

I’d like to suggest the American electorate consider the merits of Captain Shotover, the straight-talking old salt currently and eternally presiding over “Heartbreak House,” George Bernard Shaw’s comedy about British gentry waltzing toward the apocalypse.

Qualifications? He has military experience and fresh ideas. And he’s not beholden to big business types, whom he colorfully refers to as “those hogs to whom the universe is nothing but a machine for greasing their bristles and filling their snouts.” Which reminds me: He already has a crack speechwriter on staff.

True, the candidate has a few glaring liabilities. The rumors about his alcohol consumption are well founded. But there’s always rehab. The attention span is a little short, but is that such a problem in politics these days? Of course he’s a fictional character too. Considered from all angles, though, that may not be a drawback. Imaginary people can’t send instant messages.
A timely, well done presentation of George Bernard Shaw's Heartbreak House. Free ebook. Now playing at New York's Roundabout Theatre. Thanks to the Rep's Rick Corley for suggesting this play.
Posted by James Zellmer at 3:04 PM

October 13, 2006

Philanthropy from the Heart of America

David Leonhardt:
In the last five years, though, something utterly unexpected has happened. The decline has stopped. More people are moving to Ord, the county seat, than leaving, and the county’s population is likely to show its first increase this decade since the 1920’s.

The economics of rural America have not really changed. If anything, the advantages that Chicago, Dallas, New York and other big cities have over Nebraska have only continued to grow. But Ord has finally figured out how to fight back.

It has hired a “business coach” to help teach local stores how to sell their goods over the Internet and to match up retiring shop owners with aspiring ones. Schoolchildren learn how to start their own little businesses — like the sixth-grade girl who made a video of the town’s history and sells it at school reunions — so they will not grow up to think the only job opportunities are at big companies in Omaha or St. Louis. Graduates of Ord High School who have moved elsewhere receive mailings telling them about job opportunities back in town.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:56 AM


Tyler Cowen.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:31 AM

October 12, 2006

Markets in Everything: 7:11

Tyler Cowen:
the Chicago White Sox] have just announced that for the next three seasons, their evening home games will begin at 7:11 p.m. instead of the customary 7:05 p.m. or 7:35 p.m. Why? Because 7-Eleven, the convenience store chain, is paying them $500,000 to do so.
Posted by James Zellmer at 4:47 PM

October 8, 2006

Recent Rental Cars - Hot American Iron: Hertz Ford Mustang Shelby GT-H

Preparing for some travel recently, I recalled reading a snippet of information somewhere that Hertz was bringing back their famed Mustang Shelby GT-H (called the Mustang GT350H in the 1960's). Carrol Shelby's Shelby Automobiles modified 500 Ford Mustangs [Shelby GT-H] and shipped them off to Hertz where they can be rented through the end of the year.

Following are photos and notes from a recent rental:

The journey began at the Hertz rental center where a "manager" must review the car and complete an extensive checklist with the prospective renter. The vehicle check includes the engine seal, placed to make sure that there are no repeats of the 1960's practice of renting a GT350H and swapping engines (removing the powerful Shelby engine and replacing it with a lesser standard Ford motor). A nearby young father with babies in tow genuflected repeatedly as the manager checked over the 350 GT-H for me.

That the 'stang is shipped with no transmission options [a slushbox (5 speed automatic transmission) is standard] is perhaps one of it's only failures.

Checking out of my hotel one morning, I walked over to the GT-H and observed another person genuflecting. This time, the enthusiast was a man in his late 50's. Interestingly, this guy mentioned what great values the Shelby Mustangs are as he had just purchased a BMW Z4 M coupe - car that I'm sure is no slouch.

The GT-H attracted attention everywhere. Nancy wondered what was wrong with Ford that they could not capitalize on this type of devotion.

The attention was amplified when a red late model Mustang GT followed us around for a few miles. The driver caught up during a stop and asked to look over the Shelby. He had just purchased this late model red GT and wanted for a bit of engine action ("ear candy"?). After the Shelby sprung to life, he revved the GT's V8 and moved down the road.

Fellow drivers and walkers pointed at the GT-H frequently as we enjoyed the fall aspen foliage. These images provide a brief photo summary of our route:

Two Fords: the Shelby GT-H and a propane powered Ford Pickup.

God's glorious canvas provided a great backdrop for the journey.

Independence Pass

Hoosier Pass
The Hertz Shelby GT-H, a rather enjoyable break from the usual rental car. Hertz will apparently auction their fleet in early 2007 - though autoblog says that they will be sent to "select dealers" for sale (one was sold at auction during the 2006 EAA Airventure for $250K).

I was pleasantly surprised by the fuel efficiency - mid 20's. I have to agree with Nancy, who wonders what Ford is missing by not leveraging the popularity of these cars. The number of decelerating Porsche drivers, pausing to take a look (C2, C4 and Turbo) was certainly illuminating.

Bob Elton might provide a bit of information with respect to Ford's lack of Mustang brand identity leverage.

Posted by James Zellmer at 7:12 PM


Donald B. Kraybill:
The blood was hardly dry on the bare, board floor of the West Nickel Mines School when Amish parents sent words of forgiveness to the family of the killer who had executed their children.

Forgiveness? So quickly, and for such a heinous crime? Out of the hundreds of media queries I've received in the last week, the forgiveness question rose to the top. Why and how could they do such a thing so quickly? Was it a genuine gesture or just an Amish gimmick?

The world was outraged by the senseless assault on 10 Amish girls in the one-room West Nickel Mines School. Why would a killer turn his gun on the most innocent of the innocent? Questions first focused on the killer's motivations: Why did he unleash his anger on the Amish? Then questions shifted to the Amish: How would they cope with such an unprecedented tragedy?
Via Gulker.
Posted by James Zellmer at 2:58 PM

October 7, 2006

Wisconsin Badgers vs Northwestern Wildcats Football Photos

Luke Swan makes a great catch for an early touchdown [this photo shows Swan hauling the pigskin in].

The Wisconsin Northwestern Football series has been interesting over the years, with some rough losses mixed in with a few blowouts. Today, however, the Badgers had their way, despite a fumble or two; 41-9.

Many more photos here.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:55 PM

October 5, 2006

The Daily Show is as Substantive as the "real" news

Eric Bangeman:
The Daily Show is much funnier than traditional newscasts, but a new study from Indiana University says it has the same amount of meat on its bones when it comes to coverage of the news. The brand of news coverage Jon Stewart and the rest of The Daily Show's staff brings to the airwaves is just as substantive as traditional news programs like World News Tonight and the CBS Evening News, according to the study conducted by IU assistant professor of telecommunications Julia R. Fox and a couple of graduate students.

The researchers looked at coverage of the 2004 Democratic and Republican national conventions and the first presidential debate of the fall campaign, all of which were covered by the mainstream broadcast news outlets and The Daily Show. Individual broadcasts of the nightly news and corresponding episodes of The Daily Show were analyzed by the researchers, who found that the "average amounts of video and audio substance in the broadcast network news stories" were no different from The Daily Show. Perhaps more telling, The Daily Show delivered longer stories on the topic.
Posted by James Zellmer at 7:59 AM

October 4, 2006


“Life consists with wildness....The most alive is the wildest...In Wildness is the preservation of the World." Henry David Thoreau

“There are certain things that cannot be enjoyed by everybody. If everybody tries to enjoy them, nobody gets any pleasure out of them.” Robert Marshall

“Hunting partakes directly in Nature’s sacrament --- transcending a vacuous voyeur to a guiding guardian.” James A. Schneider

“Everybody knows, for example, that the autumn landscape in the north woods is the land, plus a red maple, plus a ruffed grouse. In terms of conventional physics, the grouse represents only a millionth of either the mass or the energy of an acre. Yet subtract the grouse and the whole thing is dead. An enormous amount of some kind of motive power has been lost.” Aldo Leopold

“The sweetest hunts are stolen. To steal a hunt, either go far into the wilderness where no one has been, or else find some undiscovered place under everybody’s nose.” A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold

“Remember that with large corporations and rich individuals gobbling up property to keep everyone out and conservancies, big government and its agencies devouring land through purchase and eminent domain condemnations to let everyone or no one in, there must be places preserved for "everyman/everywoman" plus one human companion to use unbothered by his/her brethren.” James A. Schneider

“Perhaps the hunter is the greatest friend of animals hunted, not excepting the Humane Society.” Henry David Thoreau
Jim Schneider, a UW Grad and Drexel Burnham Lambert alum is behind MaHunt intellectually and financially.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:06 AM

October 1, 2006

Satellite Radio Answers the Question

i've not thought much about satellite radio (XM, Sirius) until a recent lengthy drive around central Colorado. Prior to satellite radio, if you wanted music while driving, the choices were:
  • an iPod with an fm adaptor, or a cable plugged into the rental car's radio, or
  • Local radio
Hertz, perhaps via a Sirius promotion, included their service in my rental car. I was pleasantly surprised with the depth and breadth of music available (though Lefsetz says that XM is superior in this respect - and in reception quality).

Several of Sirius's songs were a pleasant surprise: Elton John's classic "Funeral for a Friend" and Willie Nelson's acoustic "Crazy", among others.

There were some disappointments, including replays (Coldplay) and the odd playing of the "Fray" in Sirius's "Coffeehouse" program. I have to assume that they are paid to plug the Fray.

I was pleasantly surprised with the Sirius reception while driving in Canyons. The only places we lost reception were I-70's Eisenhower Tunnel and in some deep canyons.

The satellite choices certainly are compelling, particularly given the same old, same old, played over and over on traditional stations.

Finally, I continue to be amazed at the quantity of 30 and 40 year old music played in restaurants, cafe's and bars. Lunching on trout tacos one day, we heard Joan Baez, Steve Miller, The Who, the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin among many others. Is there nothing interesting from the 21st Century?
Posted by James Zellmer at 12:04 PM

September 30, 2006

Milwaukee Passenger Detained over "idiot" barb

A Wisconsin man who wrote "Kip Hawley is an Idiot" on a plastic bag containing toiletries said he was detained at an airport security checkpoint for about 25 minutes before authorities concluded the statement was not a threat.

Ryan Bird, 31, said he wrote the comment about Hawley -- head of the Transportation Security Administration -- as a political statement. He said he feels the TSA is imposing unreasonable rules on passengers while ignoring bigger threats.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:16 PM

September 28, 2006

Nice Article on Barneveld's Botham Winery

Doris Hajewski:
When Peter and Sarah Botham recently installed a new 3,200-gallon tank at their rural winery, they stepped back, looked at it and realized that it holds more wine than was made in the first year of the business.

"It's hard to keep up," said Peter, as he forked grapes into a device that separates the fruit from the vines. "I'm really thrilled about the potential, but it's a little scary."

He was talking about a new agreement the couple signed with Badger Liquor Co., a large distributor that will put Botham wines into stores around the state soon, including the Copps and Pick 'n Save supermarkets."It's hard to keep up," said Peter, as he forked grapes into a device that separates the fruit from the vines. "I'm really thrilled about the potential, but it's a little scary."

He was talking about a new agreement the couple signed with Badger Liquor Co., a large distributor that will put Botham wines into stores around the state soon, including the Copps and Pick 'n Save supermarkets.
Posted by James Zellmer at 5:42 AM

September 25, 2006

How Useful Are Oil Projections?

Edward Tufte:
n 1974 the Federal Energy Administration asked 4 statisticians to provide independent estimates of the amount of oil still underground. The four groups worked completely independently; I found out the names of the other three groups long after the reports were filed. The results, as I recall, were one very low forecast, one very high forecast, and two skeptical reports (including mine) in effect saying the error bound around the forecasts covered all reasonable policy alternatives. Thus the collective result confirmed the views of the two skeptical reports!

Here is my analysis. Perhaps this should have appeared as a short case study in Beautiful Evidence, but the idea never occurred to me.

What about now, 31 years later? My skepticism about resource forecasts might be confirmed or might not by a fresh analysis, which would reveal what a fresh analysis of the evidence would reveal. In policy relevant studies of evidence, there is too often a rage to conclude.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:15 PM

September 24, 2006

Life as Art Practices

Each moment of the everyday, every action of living, poses the question: how it might be lived differently, more truthfully and respectfully. Through the conscious experiment and artful intervention Momentarium inspires creative techniques to address the challenges of our times.
Lates video clips.
Posted by James Zellmer at 11:09 PM

Alt Badger Broadcast

"Bielema is the only undeafeated Big 10 coach in conference play" is the sort of useful commentary one will hear listening to the Badger football squad on WSUM (Student radio) rather than the commercial options. Obviously, Michigan took care of that distinction handily Saturday.
Posted by James Zellmer at 7:25 PM

Techniques of Environmental Action in Small Towns

Edward Tufte:
For many years, I've been occasionally involved in local political action to maintain and extend open space land in Connecticut. Here are a few things I've learned. 1. In land development, money doesn't talk, it screams. There is enormous money to be made in building and land development; developers are focused, persistent, experienced, and well-financed. In the long run, the best way to save open space is to buy the land and turn it over to the Town or perhaps a land trust (with extremely detailed and thorough legal restrictions on permitted activities). It is possible to tie projects up with legalities, hearings, and politics--but even if you win one year, there might well be some other developer with a bright idea for the land next year. Thus try to start an open-space acquisition program by the town; in my experience, voters tend to favor funding for open-space acquisition (often exceeding approval rates for school budgets, roads, sewers,and narrow interest-group proposals such as skateparks, tax benefits for malls and sports teams, etc.).

2. Many towns (that is, their taxpayers) provide substantial subsidies, direct and indirect, for land development by funding the necessary infrastructure (water, roads, sewers, loans, tax subsidies). Pro-development politicians can it "investment;" others might call it "welfare socialism for rich developers." At any rate, it is funded by taxpayers. Priorities can be challenged, and development subsidies can be diverted to open space acquisition. It may well be that the local politicians are pro-development but often the voters are less so; thus try to move decisions about priorities to the electorate (and the taxpayers). In general, the broader the decision-making arena, the more likely pro-environmental campaigns will succeed. A slogan for open-space acquisition might be "They're not making any more land; let's save it now." Why not use tax dollars for open space rather than taxpayer-subsidized real estate development? Should all those tax dollars help out needy developers?
Interesting read.
Posted by James Zellmer at 2:51 PM

September 21, 2006

Pelli's $200M Orange County Work

Overture's architect, Cesar Pelli recently completed the $200M Renee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall. Christopher Hawthorne:
At age 79, the Argentine-born, Connecticut-based architect Cesar Pelli is inevitably described in newspaper and magazine profiles these days as diplomatic and genteel. In his design for the $200-million Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa, which opens Friday night, he and his firm have produced a building that brings the very same adjectives to mind. In other words, if you are optimistic enough to believe that classical music — or architecture, for that matter — is an evolving art form with the capacity to provoke as well as merely soothe, you will likely find it enormously disappointing.

The 250,000-square-foot building, which work crews have been racing to prepare for Friday night's performance by the Pacific Symphony, resembles a high-end hotel lobby or a luxury-car showroom, spaces in which every visible surface is used to promote a buttery handsomeness. Its undulating glass façade wraps gently around a foyer lined with white Spanish granite floors and rich yellow-beige carpeting, and topped with a glimmering silver-leaf ceiling. Beyond that is the auditorium, a stately, old-world and surprisingly tall room with 2,000 seats upholstered in deep red velvet.
Lots of similarities to our State Street building. More photos here.
Posted by James Zellmer at 11:06 PM

September 20, 2006

Go, Fish! Muskie Love, New Wisconsin-Set Musical, Begins Sept. 20 in Madison

Kenneth Jones:
In Wisconsin, where audiences like their new musicals quirky and with lots of local color, Madison Repertory Theatre opens its season Sept. 20 with Muskie Love — a rare musical named after a freshwater game fish.

Don't discount the show. After all, this is the same state where the ice-fishing comedy Guys on Ice and the great-outdoors comedy Lumberjacks in Love were smasheroos.

Muskie Love opens Sept. 22. Performances continue to Oct. 15, in The Playhouse at the Overture Center for the Arts.

Loosely based on Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing "is a home grown Wisconsin delight" by the winners of the Richard Rodgers Award, Dave Hudson and Paul Libman, featuring Doug Mancheski and Lee Becker from Madison Repertory Theatre's earlier Guys on Ice (which was also a hit at Milwaukee Repertory Theatre).
The Rep has a great deal for first time subscribers.
Posted by James Zellmer at 11:13 AM

September 15, 2006

Dancing on the Packers Grave

Queueing up for a flight through Chicago recently, I stood behind three well dressed Bear fans. It was a rather long queue - about 30 minutes. The fans reveled in last Sunday's shutout and hatched plans to obtain tickets, flights and lodging for February 4, 2007 in Miami - site of the 2007 Super Bowl.


Perhaps premature..... They also mentioned that the Bears were the last team to shut out the Packers in 1991....

For many, Sundays are now wide open. One wonders if the Pack will fall to the depths of the Bart Starr and Forrest Gregg era?
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:32 AM

September 13, 2006

Broadcast Flag & Indy Media

Kevin Marks raises some great issues in his review of Apple's iTV announcement:
Reading Paul Boutin's coverage of Apple's video announcements today, There are several questions that come to mind (and I know Jobs prefers not to answer questions).


In other words, will it play HD content made by independents cleanly, or will it require broadcast flag handshakes?
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:53 AM

Facebook & Privacy

Danah Boyd:
Facebook implemented a new feature called "News Feeds" that displays every action you take on the site to your friends. You see who added who, who commented where, who removed their relationship status, who joined what group, etc. This is on your front page when you login to Facebook. This upset many Facebook members who responded with outrage. Groups emerged out of protest. Students Against Facebook News Feeds is the largest with over 700,000 members. Facebook issued various press statements that nothing was going to change. On September 5, Mark Zuckerberg (the founder) told everyone to calm down. They didn't. On September 8, he apologized and offered privacy options as an olive branch. Zuckerberg invited everyone to join him live on the Free Flow of Information on the Internet group where hundreds of messages wizzed by in the hour making it hard to follow any thread; the goal was for Facebook to explain its decision. In short, they explained that this is to help people keep tabs on their friends but only their friends and all of this information is public anyhow.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:42 AM

My Day at the Polls - Maryland Primary '06

Avi Rubin:
I don't know where to start. This primary today is the third election that I have worked as an election judge. The last two elections were in 2004, and I was in a small precinct in Timonium, MD. This time, I was in my home precinct about 1/2 a mile from my house. We had 12 machines, over 1,000 voters and 16 judges. I woke up at 5:30 in the morning and was at the precinct before 6:00. It is now 10:18 pm, and I just got home a few minutes ago. As I have made it my custom, I sat down right away to write about my experience while everything was still fresh. In anticipation of this, I took some careful notes throughout the day.

The biggest change over the 2004 election was the introduction of electronic poll books that we used to check in voters. I was introduced to these in election judge training a few weeks ago. These are basically little touchscreen computers that are connected to an Ethernet hub. They each contain a full database of the registered voters in the county, and information about whether or not each voter has already voted, in addition to all of the voter registration information. The system is designed so that the machines constantly sync with each other so that if a voter signs in on one of them and then goes to another one, that voter will already be flagged as having voted. That was the theory anyway. These poll books turned out to be a disaster, but more on that later.
Madison could use more poll workers. Contact the City Clerk for more information.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:33 AM

WSUM Continues to Impress

I listen to 91.7 (www.wsum.org streaming online) periodically, including yesterday - catching a pleasant Massive Attack piece.. Their musical depth and breadth continues to impress - in what is largely a sea of sameness, playing the Police and others over and over and over.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:21 AM

September 12, 2006

Incisive Questions

Three recent and often rare examples of reporters asking incisive questions:
  • Cliff Christl:
    What happens if Koren Robinson kills somebody in Wisconsin driving drunk or fleeing the police?

    Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson wore a smile late Monday afternoon as he prepared to meet the media in the Lambeau Field atrium to announce the signing of wide receiver and kick returner Koren Robinson. When that was the first question fired at Thompson following his brief introductory remarks, he turned ashen and somber as he tried to collect himself and provide an answer.

    "Oh, I can't answer anything like that," Thompson said after a two-second pause. "There's issues in his past that obviously he's made some mistakes, but most of those issues are covered under the confidentiality of the NFL and the NFLPA. There's programs set up and that sort of thing, and that's where that lies."
    More on Robinson
  • Bill Lueders:
    I only asked because no one else did. When Kathleen Falk announced her candidacy for attorney general against fellow Democrat Peg Lautenschlager at the City-County Building on Monday, I thought it would be one of first things that came up. But while several reporters quizzed Falk about Lautenschlager's 2004 arrest for drunk driving (Falk deftly evaded the question, saying voters would have to reach their own conclusions), none asked her directly about her own record in this area. And so I raised my hand, waited until Falk called on me, and popped the question.

    Whether or not Falk choose to make an issue of it, I prefaced, the key reason Lautenschlager was seen as vulnerable was this drunk driving arrest, even though this is conduct that most people in Wisconsin have engaged in. And so I asked Falk point-blank: "Can you say whether you have ever in your life gotten behind the wheel of an automobile after consuming alcohol? Have you never done that yourself?"
  • Jason Shephard:
    The State Journal points to studies that suggest its readership is at sky-high levels. “The numbers for Capital Newspapers are absolutely stellar,” boasts an internal memo from the company’s marketing director, Jon Friesch. “In Dane County, 83% of adults read the Sunday Wisconsin State Journal, and 79% read the daily or Saturday edition of The Capital Times or Wisconsin State Journal.”

    But while these numbers come from an independent company, Scarborough Research, they may be misleading, since they include even casual readers. The 83% number, clarifies Friesch, measures respondents who have read the Sunday paper “in the last month”; the 79% number is respondents who have read either of the two dailies “in the past five days.”
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:23 PM

A Discussion of Madison & Milwaukee

Marc Eisen:
adison and Milwaukee are two distinct cities with radically different histories. Yet there are telltale signs that the same trends -- economic, social, political and educational -- that have rocked and weakened Milwaukee over the past 50 years are beginning to show themselves in Madison.

That's the topic of discussion at the Isthmus "Pint and Policy" Forum scheduled for Thursday evening, Sept. 14, at the Club Majestic: Can Madison Avoid Milwaukee's Problems?
Posted by James Zellmer at 11:47 AM

September 11, 2006

Diffusion of Innovations

Seth Godin:
31.4% of Americans don't have internet access.

90% of the people in France have not created a blog.

88% of all users have never heard of RSS.

59% of American households have zero iPods in them.

30% of internet users in the US use a modem.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:07 AM

9/11 Legacy: Five Years, still Fears?

Flight International:
Almost five years after the World's single most bloody act of terrorism - when hijacked aircraft were flown into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon building - aviation was again last month at the centre of another terrorism scare.

This time, UK security services foiled an alleged plot to bomb transatlantic airliners. 9/11 changed history, prompting the invasion of Afghanistan and the continuing US 'War on Terror' that led to the ousting of Iraq's Saddam Hussain.

But what has the lasting legacy of the 2001 attacks been on aviation? The industry has recovered strongly after a two-year nadir, but US airlines are still feeling the effects. And what of aviation security? Are we ever going to be able to terror-proof air travel?
Mike Boyd has more:
This, we would submit is only the tip of a very obvious and well-known corrupt iceberg. Five years after 9/11, there are more holes in aviation security than an Arkansas stop sign during hunting season.

Truth Doesn't Really Matter, Apparently. We covered it in detail last week (go there), so there's no point in trying to review the range of really stupid news stories we'll see today - the ones generally with the headlines that imply, "Security Much Improved Since 9/11" or "Passengers Adjusting To New Security Measures" or a range of other examples of slapdash journalism.

As you're regaled today by push-piece media stories, outlining the great "improvements" in aviation security, just ask yourself the following:
as does IAG along with Jeevan Vasagar.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:53 AM

September 9, 2006

2006 Badger Attire

This gentleman mentioned that he was married at Camp Randall 15 years ago today (Saturday). The shoes were "custom made" by Port Washington's Allen Edmonds (via John Stollenwerk). Quite a change from my red and white bib overalls of some years ago.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:58 PM

September 6, 2006

On Ford

Ed Wallace:
"The production of the new Ford tractor would not involve stockholders, directors, absentee owners or parasites.” — Henry Ford, quoted by the Dearborn Independent, 1915
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:44 PM

Ethanol, Ethanol Everywhere, Time to Stop and Think

Elon Musk:
Ethanol (a.k.a. alcohol) will certainly grow as a business and serve as a partial solution to our energy problem, particularly given that it is now taking the place of the gasoline additive MTBE. However, even if large-scale cellulosic ethanol technology is perfected, I don’t believe it can become the primary solution to the world’s energy needs.

The often-used example of Brazil does not apply to most parts of the world and may not even apply to Brazil if they see high economic growth with its attendant energy demands. Brazil is in the tropics with an all year round growing season and an enormous amount of arable land relative to its population food requirements and the number of cars on the road.

In contrast, domestic ethanol as the primary solution will definitely not work for the world’s most populous countries, such as Japan, China, India, Pakistan, Indonesia, etc. Those countries are either breaking even on domestic food production or are net importers. If you argue that ethanol is to be grown elsewhere and shipped, where are the vast tracts of unused arable land? And, bear in mind, the calories burned by two ton cars are much greater than those burned by 170 pound humans.
Posted by James Zellmer at 7:53 PM

September 3, 2006

Who Knew? Third Coast Surfing in Sheboygan

Sheboygan is the Capital of Freshwater Surfing because the county juts out 10 kilometres into Lake Michigan, meaning winds from most directions cause water to swell and form waves. It doesn't hurt that the Williams brothers constantly hype their Malibu of the Midwest.

"Lake Michigan is an inland ocean, it can create waves in excess of 24 feet (7.3 metres), two and a half stories, several times a year," said Larry Williams, pointing just down the 10-kilometre stretch of coastline. "North Point is now considered the Mount Everest of freshwater surfing. We had top California surfers come in here and they were backing off on a lot of waves.

"We get more waves than anybody else (on the Great Lakes), more quality waves, bigger waves, because where we're sitting, from North Point to North Pier, about a mile, it's really a deep bay and the waves sweep in."
Surfer Movie Endless Summer II visited Sheboygan some years ago.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:48 AM

August 30, 2006

Dependency Ratios

Malcolm Gladwell:
This relation between the number of people who aren’t of working age and the number of people who are is captured in the dependency ratio. In Ireland during the sixties, when contraception was illegal, there were ten people who were too old or too young to work for every fourteen people in a position to earn a paycheck. That meant that the country was spending a large percentage of its resources on caring for the young and the old. Last year, Ireland’s dependency ratio hit an all-time low: for every ten dependents, it had twenty-two people of working age. That change coincides precisely with the country’s extraordinary economic surge.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:29 AM

August 27, 2006

8 Cylinder Teenage Mating Dance

The Revenge of the F-150; Alex Williams:
Moments later, the sources of the screech — a couple of burly, whiskered country boys in their mid-20’s, one with a Confederate battle flag tattoo on his bulging bicep — had chugged off in the opposite direction down Patton Avenue in a mud-spattered white pickup. They were swallowed into a seemingly endless queue of gurgling Camaros, fume-spewing 70’s muscle cars and tidy Japanese econoboxes (some likely borrowed from mom), cruising along this wide suburban boulevard.

“Those are ‘high school hangouts,’ ” Will Thompson, 17, said dismissively about the older guys, as his own black Chevrolet pickup crept in the opposite direction. “They graduated from high school like five years ago,” explained Will, who wore a “Sanford and Son” T-shirt and a camouflage hunting cap. “It’s like, ‘You graduated, come on!’
Posted by James Zellmer at 7:10 PM

August 24, 2006

Electric Cars & Monterey

Martin Eberhard:
We were originally invited to participate in the McCall Motorsports Customer Appreciation Night at the Monterey Airport on Wednesday. But at the last minute a large Japanese luxury automaker, who happened to be a sponsor of the event, had a hissy fit about our being there. So we were disinvited. How can they be scared of little Tesla Motors? Oh well. We made the best of the day giving rides to press and prospective customers.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:21 PM

August 20, 2006

The New Turbo, actually TURBO

Dan Neil takes spin a or three:
IT'S taken me this long to recognize what I love about a Porsche 911 Turbo. And no, it's not the internal-combustion volcanism — now up to 480 hp in the 2007 model — or the claws-in-the-carpet grip, the carbide-steel stiffness, the perfect steering or land-anchor ceramic brakes.

It's this: The 911 Turbo is the only ultra-performance sports car that's in good taste.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:11 PM

Target's "Popup" LA Store

Virginia Postrel:
Target is, of course, well known for persuading designers to turn their skills--and publicity-generating ability--to its mass market. The latest twist, as explained in this report is to open full-blown, but temporary, boutiques like this "pop up" Paul & Joe store on Melrose Place in L.A. My niece Rachel and I hit it on July 29, the day Moore's story ran, and it was packed with women eager to buy discount-priced clothes in a non-discount environment.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:36 PM

August 17, 2006

Spreading the Love (Pork): Local Federal Earmark Map - Our Politician's Deficit Spending (and Payback?)

Sunlight Labs:
There are over 1,800 earmarks in the upcoming Labor HHS Bill, and we don't know where they came from. Help figure it out, by researching and posting in the comment section on this blog post.

1) Who secured the earmark? What district is it in? Call the office of the congressperson you think might have secured the earmark and ask them if they are indeed responsible for it. Record whatever answer they give.
Check out Wisconsin's earmarks from this single congressional bill here. (Enter Wisconsin in the search field and click go). St. Mary's Hospital will receive $350,000 for "facilities and equipment" while Baraboo's St. Claire Health Care Foundation will also receive $350,000.00 for "facilities and equipment". The Boscobel Area Health Center will receive $455,000.00 for facilities and equipment. The Beloit Regional Hospice will receive $100,000 for computerization of medical records while the UW-Whitewater will receive $150,000 for "equipment and technology" for its Living and Learning Center. David Obey's Wausau area Aspirus Wausau Hospital gets $1.2M for for facilities and equipment.

There are many more. Tammy Baldwin represents the Madison area. Earmarks are a heck of a way to increase deficit spending. I hope we see more "sunlight" on this matter. Sunlight's National Director is Zephyr Teachout - who directed online organizing for Howard Dean in 2004. Judy Sarasohn has more.

It would be interesting to compare earmarks over time with contributions. Finally, I sent an email to Tammy Baldwin and Dave Magnum seeking comments on earmarks generally and these items specifically.

UPDATE: Michael Byrne (Research Director - Magnum for Congress) responded:
Our view here exactly. Especially things tacked on in the shadows which is why we liked Paul Ryan's efforts to force this stuff out in the open. Dave will be speaking about pork through the coming days and will be referencing the record of his opponent who has quite a string of earmarks she's walked through Congress. Some were completely unnecessary and certainly not well publicized. Others were just vote trolling things that won't help our district keep itself competitive economically... Thanks for checking in and keep coming back. Mike ============= Michael E. Byrne Research Director, Magnum for Congress www.davemagnum.com email: byrnex4 _at_ tds.net Cell: 608.712.5340 FAX: 608.767.2187e On Aug 17, 2006, at 9:22 AM, Jim Zellmer wrote: I'm surprised and disappointed in the number and amount of earmarks: http://www.zmetro.com/archives/005931.php The projects may or may not have merit, but earmarks are clearly an abuse of the system and simply add to the debt we burden our children with.... Any comments? I've sent the same email to Tammy Baldwin Best wishes, Jim
I'll post Tammy's response as soon as I receive it.

Marketplace (now wonderfully available on Wisconsin Public Radio - Finally!) has more.

Keep in mind this is "one" bill!
Posted by James Zellmer at 7:00 AM

August 13, 2006

Changing the Air Travel Story

Seth Godin:

Over the last five years, security measures have gradually eroded the way people feel about commercial air travel. Today's events (“imminent” mid-air bomb plot disrupted) and the government's reaction to them will, in my opinion, mark the tipping point for an enormous amount of business travel by commercial air.

I'm delighted that the talented and brave investigators foiled this plot, and I'm saddened that we live in a world where something like this could even happen... the fact remains, though, that a key element of our lives has been changed, perhaps forever.

Posted by James Zellmer at 10:56 AM

August 10, 2006

Sharecropping at the Washington Post

Denise Howell has a great post about the Washington Post’s plan to run a mash-up. According to the terms and conditions, as a condition of participating, the artists must agree to “grant and assign all right, title and interest in the Recording to” the Washington Post.
Youtube and other sites have similar "sharecropping terms.
Posted by James Zellmer at 11:27 AM

August 9, 2006

"The Penalty of Leadership"

Peter DeLorenzo noted that Cadillac is resurrecting a classic ad campaign: "The Penalty of Leadership":
Speaking of Liz's Boyz, prominently displayed in their new "Life. Liberty. And the pursuit." ad campaign for Cadillac is the famous, "The Penalty of Leadership" ad written by Theodore MacManus, which was done for Cadillac back in 1915. Gee, we wonder where they got the idea to use that?
Posted by James Zellmer at 12:01 PM

August 8, 2006

Sharing Resources Worldwide

It is our mission to make surplus and recycled medical supplies, durable medical equipment and related items/activities available to needy populations around the world in order to improve the health and quality of life of the recipients and to empower the recipients to live with increased dignity, independence, and hope.

This is how we Recycle Resources and Restore Hope... Around the world.....
Great local group.
Posted by James Zellmer at 3:43 PM

Interesting Discussion of Traditional Magazine Advertising & Web Publications

Frank Williams:
Car and Driver, Road & Track, Automobile, Motor Trend and the rest of the magazines further down the car mag food chain are all supported by advertising. Unless a magazine is subsidized by a non-profit organization (e.g. Consumer Reports) or charges an exorbitant price per issue, it can’t survive without advertising. Few readers have problems with ads per se; they consider them literally wallpaper. But when the ads outweigh the content, questions begin to arise about who’s calling the editorial shots. Put a one or two-page ad for a new car in the middle of a glowing review of the same and those suspicions can easily turn to full-scale paranoia. Sneak in a multi-page "special advertising section" formatted to look and read like the rest of the magazine and credibility stretches to breaking point.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:17 AM

The Case for Geothermal

Malcolm Gladwell:
Geothermal heating and cooling is based on one simple fact: that 6 feet down in the ground the temperature is the same—between 50˚F and 60˚F- the whole year round. This means that it is relatively cool in the summer, and relatively warm in the winter. Geothermal heating is thus quite different from solar heating: solar heating works worst when you most need it--in the cold, cloudy, snowy conditions of winter; the source for geothermal heating and cooling is not affected by the weather.

For geothermal cooling, all one needs to do is to circulate water in a pipe through the ground to cool it, and use this cool water to cool the air pumped through the house in the heating ducts.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:41 AM

August 5, 2006

Starwood Enters the Virtual Hotel Business

Mark Wallace:
Steve Rubel jumped the gun on this news so I’ll feel free to blog it too: Starwood Hotels is building out a version of their new Aloft hotel brand in the virtual world of Second Life as a way to attract future customers and presumably get some feedback about the brand’s features before it hits the physical world. (It is not meant to be a functional hotel in SL, I’m told.) The SL project is being constructed by the Electric Sheep Company (sponsors of this blog), who are also blogging the process along with Aloft execs.

I like the idea of virtual hotel rooms being on view in SL. (How great would it be to be able to check out a bunch of rooms in your destination city before you booked a trip?) I’m more excited, though, about the fact that Aloft and the Sheep are blogging the process of building the project. This is something I wanted to do a while back at the Second Life Herald, but found it hard to find a builder who’d put up with being annoyed by my questions while building. The Sheep’s solution is great: get a talented builder who is also an articulate speaker and writer to do the job. Fortunately, they have SL resident Cory Edo (the real world’s Sara Van Gorden), who is both. The SecondCast crew interviewed Cory recently, which is how I know she’s articulate. Her builds speak for themselves.
Posted by James Zellmer at 12:38 PM

August 3, 2006

The Herd Changes Course and Runs Away From SUV's

Robert Frank:
THE herd instinct is as powerful in humans as in other animal species.

Anyone who doubts it should rent “What Do You Say to a Naked Lady?”, the 1970 film by Allen Funt, the creator of “Candid Camera.” The money scene portrays a man responding to a help-wanted ad. He is directed to a waiting room occupied by men who appear to be other job seekers but are actually Mr. Funt’s confederates. At no apparent signal, these men stand and begin to disrobe. The hapless job seeker’s dismay is evident. Yet, after a few moments, he, too, stands and disrobes. At scene’s end, the men are standing naked, apparently waiting for whatever comes next.

Clearly, the herd instinct can lead us astray. For the most part, however, the impulse to emulate others serves us well. After all, without drawing on the wisdom and experience of others, it would be almost impossible to cope with the stream of complex decisions we confront.
Frank believes that the SUV craze started when Robert Altman's "The Player" was released in 1992 (Great Movie). "The film’s lead character, the studio executive Griffin Mill (played by Tim Robbins), could have bought any vehicle he pleased. His choice? A Range Rover with a fax machine in the dashboard."

Check out Tesla - an electric car startup.
Posted by James Zellmer at 3:30 PM

August 1, 2006

Fixed Gear Bikes Illegal in Portland

Cory Doctorow:
An Oregon judge has ruled that fixed-gear bicycles -- which use the rider's leg-power to brake them -- are illegal, and must be outfitted with traditional lever/caliper brakes. The cyclist who was ticketed for the offense fought it in traffic court, and was represented by a pretty sharp attorney, judging from the partial transcript here. It seems obvious that "fixies" should be lawful, since they can satisfy the statutory requirement that bikes be "equipped with a brake that enables the operator to make the braked wheels skid on dry, level, clean pavement. strong enough to skid tire." Nevertheless, the judge ruled against the cyclist -- I hope she appeals.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:17 AM


Kottke on Gopher:
Gopher, developed in 1991 at the University of Minnesota, is a text-only, hierarchical document search and retrieval protocol that was supplanted by the more flexible WWW in the mid-1990s. Some servers running this old protocol are still alive, however. The WELL, an online discussion board and community that started back in 1985, is still running a Gopher server. If you've got a recent version of Firefox, you can check it out in its original Gopher-y state at gopher://gopher.well.com/ or with any web browser at http://gopher.well.com:70/.
I remember using Gopher (and being quite impressed by it) in the early 1990's via a UW supplied dialup internet account.

This was before the growth of local ISP's (Internet Service Providers). The UW told non faculty/students/staff to move on once the internet started to take off (1994?).
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:14 AM

July 31, 2006

The Hard Disk That Changed the World

Steven Levy:
The RAMAC, designed in Big Blue's San Jose, Calif., research center, is the ultimate ancestor of that 1.8-inch drive that holds 7,500 songs inside your pocket-size $299 iPod. Of course, the RAMAC would have made a lousy music player. The drive weighed a full ton, and to lease it you'd pay about $250,000 a year in today's dollars. Since it required a separate air compressor to protect the two moving "heads" that read and wrote information, it was noisy. The total amount of information stored on its 50 spinning iron-oxide-coated disks—each of them a pizza-size 24 inches—was 5 megabytes. That's not quite enough to hold two MP3 copies of Elvis Presley's "Hound Dog."

Yet those who beheld the RAMAC were astonished. "It was about the size of two large refrigerators, about as tall as a person stands, and though it used vacuum tubes, it was always running," recalls Jim Porter, who worked at Crown Zellerbach in San Francisco in the mid-'50s and would proudly take people to the basement to see what he claims was the very first unit delivered by IBM. "It really turned the tide [in the Information Age]," he says. "It was the first to offer random access, whereas before you would have to wind a tape from one end to the other to access data."
Posted by James Zellmer at 3:18 PM

July 30, 2006

UW Football PR heats up

Interesting: Both the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel and the Wisconsin State Journal ran features today on new UW Football coach Bret Bielema.

I recently saw well tanned UW Athletic Director Barry Alvarez and Bret (also well tanned) riding around in Barry's two seat convertible on a gorgeous Madison evening. Would have been a great photograph - had I been carrying a camera....
Posted by James Zellmer at 11:37 AM

July 24, 2006

Luck & Business Strategy

James Surowiecki:
Because we underestimate how much variation can be caused simply by luck, we see patterns where none exist. It’s no wonder that management theory is dominated by fads: every few years, new companies succeed, and they are scrutinized for the underlying truths that they might reveal. But often there is no underlying truth; the companies just happened to be in the right place at the right time. In 1999, after all, it was hard to find a business book that didn’t hold up Enron as the embodiment of one important principle or other. Of course, some strategies and structures work better than others, but real meaning emerges only over the long term.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:23 AM

July 19, 2006

Air Sickness Bag Advertising

John Moore:
But US Airways must be kidding when a company spokesperson says, "The airsick bag is not used like it was in the past -- primarily with turbo-prop aircraft and cabins that weren't pressurized -- so the negative connotation of the sick sack has gone away." Now that line makes this marketer wanna reach for a barf bag.
Posted by James Zellmer at 5:21 PM

July 18, 2006

A Look at the UW's "Broad" Stem Cell Patents

Antonio Regalado & David Hamilton:
The broadly worded patents, which cover nearly any use of human embryonic stem cells, are held by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, a nonprofit group that handles the school's intellectual-property estate, managing a $1.5 billion endowment amassed during 80 years of marketing inventions.

John Simpson, an official at the foundation bringing the challenge, says WARF's efforts to enforce its patents are "damaging, impeding the free flow of ideas and creating a problem." Mr. Simpson's group got involved in the dispute earlier this year after Wisconsin officials said they would demand a share of state revenue from California's voter-approved stem-cell initiative.

WARF doesn't charge academics to study stem cells, but it does ask commercial users to pay fees ranging from $75,000 to more than $250,000, plus annual payments and royalties. So far, 12 companies have licensed rights from WARF to use the cells, and more than 300 academic laboratories have agreements to use the technology without charge. WARF spokesman Andy Cohn declined to say how much the organization has earned from the patents so far but says it is less than what it has spent funding stem-cell research and paying legal costs.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:32 AM

July 15, 2006

Land Yachts: Classic 1970's Cadillac Eldorado Convertible

I walked past this classic, 1970's Eldorado on my way to the Farmer's Market this morning:

More on the Eldorado.
Posted by James Zellmer at 2:20 PM

July 5, 2006

Vilas Park

Vilas Park.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:02 PM

Wednesday Evening Concerts on the Square Scenes

This week's concerts on the square featured a beautiful evening for the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra - somewhat of a contrast to last week's threatening skies.

Posted by James Zellmer at 9:57 PM

July 4, 2006

Mute 19 Years, He Helps Reveal Brain's Mysteries

Benedict Carey:
Mr. Wallis, 42, wears an open, curious expression and speaks in a slurred but coherent voice. He volleys a visitor's pleased-to-meet-you with, "Glad to be met," and can speak haltingly of his family's plans to light fireworks at his brother's house nearby.

For his family, each word is a miracle. For 19 years — until June 11, 2003 — Mr. Wallis lay mute and virtually unresponsive in a state of minimal consciousness, the result of a head injury suffered in a traffic accident. Since his abrupt recovery — his first word was "Mom," uttered at the sight of his mother — he has continued to improve, speaking more, remembering more.

But Mr. Wallis' return to the world, and the progress he has made, have also been a kind of miracle for scientists: an unprecedented opportunity to study, using advanced scanning technology, how the human brain can suddenly recover from such severe, long-lasting injury.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:24 PM

A Few July 4, 2006 Madison Photographs

Posted by James Zellmer at 5:59 PM

Music Sales: Fewer Big Hits, Many More Sales at the Tail....

Chris Anderson:
Larry Lessig pointed me to an interesting bit of research on filesharing and the decline of music sales in Denmark, which shows that the fall in sales has been felt far more in the hits than in the niches. The work, by Claus Pedersen, uses data from the Nordic Copyright Bureau. That means the data are not just estimates of sales declines, but actual sales. I've charted one aspect of the research, which looks at the change in sales in four sales categories, from bestsellers to the long tail:
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:15 AM

July 3, 2006

Freedom to Farm: Program Pays $1.3B to People Who Don't Farm

Dan Morgan, Gilbert Gaul and Sarah Cohen:
Even though Donald R. Matthews put his sprawling new residence in the heart of rice country, he is no farmer. He is a 67-year-old asphalt contractor who wanted to build a dream house for his wife of 40 years.

Yet under a federal agriculture program approved by Congress, his 18-acre suburban lot receives about $1,300 in annual "direct payments," because years ago the land was used to grow rice.

Matthews is not alone. Nationwide, the federal government has paid at least $1.3 billion in subsidies for rice and other crops since 2000 to individuals who do no farming at all, according to an analysis of government records by The Washington Post.

Some of them collect hundreds of thousands of dollars without planting a seed. Mary Anna Hudson, 87, from the River Oaks neighborhood in Houston, has received $191,000 over the past decade. For Houston surgeon Jimmy Frank Howell, the total was $490,709.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:27 AM

July 2, 2006

Dinner Potatoes: Fresh from Eau Claire via the Farmer's Market

Dashing around the Farmer's Market early Saturday morning, I picked up 5lbs of potatoes. The (late teen/early 20's?) daughters were moving a bit slow as they organized the vegetables and filled my bag with red potatoes. I inquired about this and one mentioned that they "got in late", then had to get up at 2 for the drive to Madison. I asked where their early morning journey began? Eau Claire - 178 miles.
Posted by James Zellmer at 3:16 PM

June 27, 2006

Judge Rules That Prosecutors Violated the rights of 16 KPMG Partners

Peter Lattman:
Those who commit crimes - regardless of whether they wear white or blue collars - must be brought to justice. The government, however, has let its zeal get in the way of its judgment. It has violated the Constitution it is sworn to defend.

That’s the money quote in Judge Kaplan’s stunning 88-page opinion, in which he found that prosecutors violated the constitutional rights of a group of former KPMG partners by pressuring the firm not to pay their legal bills. We’re going to take the liberty of reprinting the opinion’s entire preamble, which contains remarkably clear, riveting writing:
More here, here and here.

Lattman further posts his views on the winners and losers via this ruling along with a roundup of other commentary.

Law Professor Linda Beale has a few words as well.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:46 AM

June 26, 2006

Pelli's Minneapolis Public Library

Photo by Sopheava

Overture Center Architect Cesar Pelli's Minneapolis Public Library recently opened. Check out the Flickr photo set for a number of perspectives. More on the Library:
The new Central Library features 25 community meeting and study rooms, a state-of-the-art auditorium, an updated children's library, a center for new Americans, a space especially for teens, and 353,000 square feet of additional access to knowledge-enhancing resources.

With one-of-a-kind architecture, design and resources, the new Central Library is a destination spot for residents, the downtown workforce and visitors interested in experiencing the library's extensive collection; attending special events, performances and author readings; or simply relaxing with a cup of coffee in a warm, welcoming place.
Well worth checking out as Madison considers a new downtown library (please keep Kenton Peter's metallic designs away...)
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:15 AM

June 23, 2006


The Economist:
Happy 20th birthday to our Big Mac index.

WHEN our economics editor invented the Big Mac index in 1986 as a light-hearted introduction to exchange-rate theory, little did she think that 20 years later she would still be munching her way, a little less sylph-like, around the world. As burgernomics enters its third decade, the Big Mac index is widely used and abused around the globe. It is time to take stock of what burgers do and do not tell you about exchange rates.

The Economist's Big Mac index is based on one of the oldest concepts in international economics: the theory of purchasing-power parity (PPP), which argues that in the long run, exchange rates should move towards levels that would equalise the prices of an identical basket of goods and services in any two countries. Our “basket” is a McDonald's Big Mac, produced in around 120 countries. The Big Mac PPP is the exchange rate that would leave burgers costing the same in America as elsewhere. Thus a Big Mac in China costs 10.5 yuan, against an average price in four American cities of $3.10 (see the first column of the table). To make the two prices equal would require an exchange rate of 3.39 yuan to the dollar, compared with a market rate of 8.03. In other words, the yuan is 58% “undervalued” against the dollar. To put it another way, converted into dollars at market rates the Chinese burger is the cheapest in the table.
Posted by James Zellmer at 1:48 PM

June 22, 2006

Buy American & Build in Mexico - Ford's Mark Fields

Frank Williams:
So a Mexican-built car is Ford’s hedge in the American market against Japanese-branded cars built on US soil. This is getting more and more confusing. But wait – there’s more.

Fields bragged that Ford’s new hybrids are “posting record sales of late” and their “innovations led to more than 130 patents,” with more pending. The Ford exec conveniently omitted the fact that Ford’s hybrid technology depends on technology licensed from Toyota. Nor did he mention the Japanese-made transaxles and battery packs and German-built regenerative braking systems which make Ford’s hybrids possible.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:22 AM

June 20, 2006

Why Offer Employee Benefits?

McKinsey Quarterly:
The vast majority of US executives see employee benefits as important to their company's competitiveness, according to the latest McKinsey Quarterly survey.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:21 PM

June 13, 2006

FBI's Preliminary 2005 US "Uniform Crime Report"

The FBI: PDF File. Madison's results:

Violent Crime, 2004: 841 2005: 839

Murder, 2004: 2 2005: 2

Forcible Rape, 2004: 94 2005: 80

Robbery, 2004: 292 2005: 329

Aggravated Assault, 2004: 453 2005: 428

Property Crime, 2004: 7,279 2005: 7,739

Burglary, 2004: 1450 2005: 1449

Larceny-theft, 2004: 5268 2005: 5682

Motor Vehicle theft, 2004: 561 2005: 606

Arson, 2004: 83 2005: 65

I had the opportunity to speak with Madison Police Lt. Joe Balles a month or so ago regarding local crime data. He mentioned that the City of Madison Police department responds to 157,000 calls annually and that 1 out of every 3 has additional data ("crime"). The data is generally stored and reported following the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting standards.

Joe mentioned that the community does not report simple theft to them as they did in the past; bike thefts are an example of this. Finally, Joe noted that the FBI's data model does not include some types, such as ID or credit card data theft.
Posted by James Zellmer at 1:29 PM

June 12, 2006

Inside Apple's iPod Factories

Apple's iPods are made by mainly female workers who earn as little as £27 per month, according to a report in the Mail on Sunday yesterday.

The report, 'iPod City', isn't available online. It offers photographs taken from inside the factories that make Apple music players, situated in China and owned by Foxconn.

The Mail visited some of these factories and spoke with staff there. It reports that Foxconn's Longhua plant houses 200,000 workers, remarking: "This iPod City has a population bigger than Newcastle's."
Posted by James Zellmer at 2:30 PM

June 11, 2006

Microsoft Blogger Departure is Page 1 News at the WSJ

The Wall Street Journal placed news of Robert Scoble's departure from Microsoft on "Page 1" this evening. Interesting.

Posted by James Zellmer at 9:05 PM

June 6, 2006


Diana Walsh:
The temperature outside on the night of Dec. 30, 1987, was 45 and dropping. Cold for most anyone, but perilous for a newborn baby girl wrapped in a towel and stuffed in a brown paper bag like trash.

She probably wasn't meant to be found alive.

When Steve Gibbons, a California Highway Patrol officer, pulled off Interstate 280 to stop and stretch his legs, she was just hours old. Her temperature had plummeted to a dangerous 90 degrees. If she had been there much longer, she would have died near the intersection of Cañada and Edgewood roads in Redwood City.

But Gibbons heard the baby's cry.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:28 PM

May 27, 2006

The First Action Hero

Bryan Myrkle:
I once read that a person with experience caring for horses knows more about what it meant to be a human in the last thousand years than anyone without. Similarly, anyone who’s driven a Model T knows more about what it felt like to be an American in the first half of the 20th Century than anyone who hasn’t. History records the Model T as a two-fold blessing: it created the American working class and it put them behind the wheel. Again, the map is not the territory. To fully appreciate the Model T’s impact on American psychology, you have to get behind the wheel.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:27 AM

May 24, 2006

Life in the Fast Food Lane: Rockwall Texas Culvers

Frank Bruni:
Flame, or at least a suggestion of grilling or broiling, matters. That's a principal reason a Whopper bested a Big Mac, cooked on a griddle. It's why the new roster of one-third-pound charbroiled Thickburgers at Hardee's tasted better than the steamed slivers at Krystal, a White Castle analogue in the South.

Buns matter. The large, doughy one on the classic Whataburger created ample space for three slices of tomato and a sense of heft that felt good in the hands, good in the mouth. The generously buttered, crisply toasted ones on Culver's burgers, called butterburgers in honor of those buns, exalted whatever they encased, which included seared, loosely packed patties with more charred edges and, as a result, more flavor.
Bruni last covered the 2004 Bush campaign. Perhaps there's a lesson in this.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:55 AM

May 22, 2006

Is There an End Game Plan?

Ed Wallace:
“During the run-up to the 2004 presidential election, much was made of the fact that 2.4 million new jobs had been created that year. Omitted was the fact that close to 800,000 of those jobs went to Hispanics who had been here less than a year.”

We live in a world of obfuscation.

Yes, there are problems presented to our nation each and every day, but no real answers are provided and every interested party is blaming the other for what is wrong at the moment.

So, instead of offering another in-depth news story on Britney Spears’ latest pregnancy or Michael Jackson’s Bahrain hideaway, it might be more valuable to focus on the many issues that have not been resolved, the kind that impact and worry the average American.
Posted by James Zellmer at 7:58 PM

May 19, 2006

$2,489 vs $971 Revenue Per Square Foot

photo by ifoapplestore.

Steve Lohr takes an interesting look at Apple's retail store initiatives (high end, expensive locations, large open spaces and lots of space to play with the goodies), their inspiration and performance:
"We had to design an experience that was as big as the space," said Mr. Johnson, 47, who is senior vice president in charge of the stores. "When your product line is the size of a conference table, that is a real risk."

Taking that risk has paid off handsomely so far. Since it opened its first two stores five years ago today, the Apple chain has become a retailing phenomenon. Necessity and inspiration led Apple to toss out the conventional textbook on computer stores and to ignore the rules of location, design, staffing and services provided.

Revenue for each square foot at Apple stores last year was $2,489, compared with $971 at Best Buy, the big computer and electronics retailer, according to Forrester Research, a market research firm.

This evening, Apple is opening a showcase store in Manhattan that will burnish the company's reputation for clever design. The entrance to the store, on Fifth Avenue between 58th and 59th Streets, is a glass cube, 32 feet on each side, with a suspended Apple logo inside. Customers walk down a circular staircase — or take a cylindrical glass elevator — to the 10,000-square-foot store below. The store will be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week — a first for Apple and an acknowledgment of New York's status as a round-the-clock city.
Posted by James Zellmer at 4:35 PM

May 18, 2006

A Speedy Visit to the "Honda Powered" Indy 500

I recently had an opportunity to briefly visit the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (home of the Memorial Day weekend Indy 500 [satellite view]) while the teams were practicing. A surprisingly large crowd was on hand to watch the drivers, mechanics and managers test their vehicles, systems and methods. Many, but not all teams had quite a number of computer operators keeping an eye on all aspects of their cars.

There's not much of that at the Speedway, but when it does occur - only a split second - it is jarring.

Danica Patrick easily grabbed most of the crowd's attention. A group of fans and photographers never left her team's side. More photos here.

You did read that right. Honda powers all of the cars in this year's race. Evidently Honda has dominated recently and the teams coalesced on their engine this year.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:21 PM

May 16, 2006

La Femme: French Politics = Madison's Political Climate?

James Traub:
There's a reason that the leaders of France's Socialist Party are called "elephants": They live forever. Among the elephants now vying to become the party's candidate for president in next year's election are Laurent Fabius, who served as prime minister 22 years ago, and Lionel Jospin, who served as Socialist Party leader a quarter-century ago and suffered a defeat in the last presidential election so devastating, both for himself and for the party, that you would have thought prudence alone would dictate political retirement. But in France, politics is a profession; once you arrive, you stay.

No one has thought to call Ségolène Royal an elephant. For one thing, it would be unbecoming, since she is a woman — and a woman who, when she works her smile up into her eyes, bears a passing resemblance to Audrey Hepburn. Royal is, remarkably enough, the first truly présidentiable woman in French history. But what is most striking about her candidacy, which so far consists of a highly orchestrated media seduction, is not the fact that she is a woman but rather that she has positioned herself as a nonelephant, indeed, almost an antielephant. She is, in effect, running against France's political culture, which is to say against remoteness and abstraction, ideological entrenchment and male domination itself. And that culture, which is embodied by her own party, has struck back, ridiculing her as a soap bubble borne aloft by a momentary gust of public infatuation.
I was struck by the similarities between the French "Establishment" and the local political establishment vis a vis newcomers/challengers.
Posted by James Zellmer at 12:17 PM

May 15, 2006

The Race to Catalog Sears Homes

Sara Schaefer Munoz:
Marilyn Raschka spends many of her weekends driving around unfamiliar neighborhoods, knocking on doors and talking her way into strangers' basements. Once downstairs, she breaks out her flashlight and shines it along exposed beams, hunting for a letter and some numbers that are each no bigger than a thumbprint.

The 61-year-old resident of Hartford, Wis., is part of a small cadre of historians and passionate amateurs on a mission to identify and protect homes made by Sears, Roebuck and Co. About 70,000 to 100,000 of them were sold through Sears catalogs from 1908 to 1940. Distressed that the houses are falling victim to the recent boom in teardowns and renovations, their fans are scouring neighborhoods across the country, snapping pictures and sometimes braving snakes and poison ivy to poke around basements and attics for the telltale stamps that mark the lumber in most of the catalog homes. Because people can be shy about the state of their basements, Ms. Raschka brings along photos of her own messy cellar to persuade them to let her in.
There are some Sears homes around Madison.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:28 AM

May 14, 2006

Colbert's White House Correspondent's Speech

An excerpt from the annual White House Correspondents Association dinner. Comedian Stephen Colbert made humorous ... all » remarks about various current events and the relationship between the press and the White House. He also presented a video of a mock press conference which ended in a chase scene featuring long-time correspondent Helen Thomas.
More on Colbert.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:43 AM

May 12, 2006

Wal-Mart's Site Selection Process & Distribution Economics

Tyler Cowen:
The placement of Wal-Mart stores has followed a spatial diffusion model. K-Mart, in contrast, scattered its stores across the country. Here is more. Here is a video showing the spread of Wal-Mart, well worth watching and short. It is the best single lesson in economic geography you will receive. Thanks to http://kottke.org for the pointer.
Posted by James Zellmer at 7:52 AM

May 3, 2006

Vail at the Crossroads

Nancy and I skied Vail years ago. It is a great mountain, but the term "village" really doesn't apply any longer. Jared Jacang Maher asks if they must tear down a local landmark to save it. There's been no shortage of controversy, including the defeat of two council members:
Crossroads not only stands at one of the town's most prominent intersections, it's a convergence point for wealth, power and mountain-sized egos, for small-town politics with big-city politicking. The official arguments may focus on topics like height and zoning, but citizens on both sides of the debate see the struggle as more epic, as a fight between Vail's old-time founders and its younger newcomers for what the town is and what it should become. Emotions are high, and the stakes are huge. Because despite its theme-park attributes, Vail is a real place, with real residents who live and work here, who are born and die here, and who love and hate each others' guts -- all within town limits.

Like the facades of many of Vail's early buildings, Crossroads is faded and cracked after decades of exposure to sunlight and snow. Built in 1969 on the East Meadow Drive corridor, the 60,000-square-foot, horseshoe-shaped complex wraps around a parking lot with three stories of condos sitting above a ground floor of retail. The two biggest tenants -- Clark's Market and the Crossroads Cinema -- both pulled out last month, citing slow business and deteriorating facilities.
Reminds me a bit of the local Whole Foods / Hilldale / Sentry Foods battle.
Posted by James Zellmer at 11:03 PM

May 1, 2006

Organic Goes Mainstream

Carol Ness:
Thirteen-and-a-half million servings of organic romaine, radicchio and baby greens. That's how much Earthbound Farm, the biggest organic produce company in the country, sends across America from its gigantic San Juan Bautista processing plant every single week.

That's one big bowl of salad -- way bigger than when Myra and Drew Goodman started Earthbound Farm in their Carmel Valley living room in 1984. They now farm 26,000 organic acres.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:19 AM

April 28, 2006

Madison Miscellany Keeps Getting Better

Jason, Kristian, Bill and others have done an excellent job with their daily Madison link roundup. Hands down, the best look at what's happening locally. Well done!
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:54 AM

April 10, 2006

Pens as Style Statements

Virginia Postrel, writing in Southwest Airlines' Spirit Magazine [pdf].
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:21 PM

April 5, 2006

Dealer Activism for GM's Embattled Chairman

Lee Hawkins, Jr., Monica Langley and Joe White:
Besides Mr. Fisher's statement, Mr. Wagoner recently has won the backing of two prominent GM dealers. John Bergstrom, chairman of Wisconsin-based GM dealership chain Bergstrom Automotive, sent a letter to the board late last week to "share with you my total support and respect for Rick Wagoner...who has earned the respect of all of us in the retail network."

Another dealer, Carl Sewell, who has 15 GM franchises in the Dallas area, recently began talking to other dealers to say, "We need to come to our company's and Rick's defense." GM is providing his dealerships with "the best product we've ever had," he said, adding that Mr. Wagoner is "a wonderful human being of intellect and integrity."
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:45 AM

March 29, 2006

Google's $2Billion Stock Sale

It must want to buy something. No other conceivable explanation jumps to mind for why a cash-gushing monster with an $8 billion war chest would toss away another 5 million shares in tonight's shelf filing.

Scheduled 2006 big ticket items are $1 billion to AOL for the search deal, $1 billion (rumored) to Dell for the Google Pack deal, and $1-$2 billion for capex, all offset by an estimated $2-$3 billion of positive cash flow. Add that together and you get a net 2006 cash outflow of maybe $1 billion, leaving $7 billion on the balance sheet--more than enough to compete with anyone except...
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:57 PM

March 21, 2006

Ligeti and a Madison Speeding Ticket

Chan Stroman:
Flashing lights from an unmarked black sedan; sudden short blare of a siren out of nowhere. I pull over, but the police car doesn't move on. Those lights, for me? For me?

I'd been tooling along John Nolen Drive, lost in Ligeti's propulsive first Étude. Is that what it was about the throbbing blue Beetle, swimming along in a sea of cars going just as fast, that asked for special attention?
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:38 PM

March 20, 2006

What's the Biggest Change Facing Business in the Next 10 Years?

Fast Company:
In Fast Company's first decade, we introduced readers to a lot of amazingly smart people. To launch our second, we asked 10 of our favorite brains what's next--and how to get ready for it.
I think Malcolm Gladwell nails it, business will become much more active in political issues:
"Business has to find its national voice. It has to be engaged in the politics of this country in a way it's not accustomed to. Right now, executives are very good at saying, 'Cut our taxes, cut our regulations.' And they're really terrible at making far more important and substantive arguments about social policy. It's time they stopped banging this one-note drum and started saying that a lot of the things that have been relegated to ideology are, in fact, matters of fundamental international competitiveness for this country.

Take, for example, health care. We are ceding manufacturing jobs to the rest of the world because we can't get around to providing some kind of basic, uniform health insurance. Because of our strange ideological problem with nationalized health insurance, we're basically driving Detroit out of business--which strikes me as a very counterintuitive, nonsensical policy. The simple fact is that GM and Ford and Chrysler cannot compete in the world market if they're asked to bear the pension and health-care costs of their retirees. Can't be done. It's that simple.
Posted by James Zellmer at 12:57 PM

March 17, 2006

Why Don't More Businesses Use Prediction Markets?

Tyler Cowen:
Last week in The New York Times (TimesSelect), Joseph Nocera quoted Robin Hanson as saying private businesses had not made a breakthrough with the use of idea futures. It seems natural to let your employees bet on future business conditions, the success of product lines, or broader questions of corporate strategy. Microsoft and Google and a few other companies have played with the idea, but it does not (yet?) seem to be taking off. Why not?
  • Prediction markets threaten the hierarchical control of top managers. It would become too obvious that most managers are idiots, unable to predict the future.
  • Prediction markets make a big chunk of the bettors into "losers." Yet within a company morale is all-important. Businesses proceed by soliciting feedback, and by reshaping their plans to pretend that everyone is on board and has an ego stake in the final outcome. Prediction markets make this coordination more difficult. Once people make bets, they start rooting for their bet to win and for the other bet to lose. They move away from maximizing the value of the firm and develop an oppositional mentality vis-a-vis other employees. Furthermore it is disruptive to have a running tally on who are the winners and losers each day.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:23 PM

March 4, 2006

Gladwell: Lazy Centers

Malcolm Gladwell:
David Sally, a behavioral economist at Dartmouth, responds to the discussion I had with Bill Simmons yesterday on the tendency of NBA players to so dramatically over-perform in the last year of their contract:

With regard to the contract year phenomenon, we can go a little further--we can predict that the likelihood of the post-contract dip is positively correlated with the height of the player. Why is that? Again, the answer lies in the environment-individual link. The seven foot guy has heard that he should be a basketball player since he was eight years old or even younger. He's been pushed his whole career onto the grade school team, onto the varsity, into Division I, and then the NBA draft. He is much less likely than the six foot guy to ever have made a committed choice. He may never had to exert anything approaching his maximum effort level until his contract year. As a result, he has either no idea how to persevere or no intrinsic motivation. So, Simmons' rule is actually too blunt: it seems he should be able to draft contract-signing point guards and two guards for his fantasy team, but never centers or fours. Small forwards--we'd have to do the empirical study.
Posted by James Zellmer at 7:14 PM

March 2, 2006

Apathy, The Downside of Everything

Ed Wallace:
No, instead I’m concerned about our country’s lack of vision for the future and the can-do attitude that we seem somehow to have lost — at least, it’s missing from most discussions on issues facing us today. In a nutshell, I’m lamenting the apparent mortal illness of optimism and ingenuity — the kind of spirit and drive that ignores all the negative issues in the news, the naysayers and the partisans and simply presses forward, driving toward solutions that benefit all of society.

I know we had that once, because the car industry as we know it today was not the invention of large and well-funded corporations. It was created and delivered by men who, though they often worked against the most incredible odds, never lost sight of their dreams and visions. With that focus — which often earned them scorn and insults — they changed the world for the better in a way that centuries of innovation hadn’t. And they did it in mere decades.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:47 PM

February 26, 2006

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.
Posted by James Zellmer at 1:32 PM

Requiem for Don Knotts

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.
Posted by James Zellmer at 1:21 PM

February 25, 2006

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.

Posted by James Zellmer at 11:44 AM

February 24, 2006

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.

Posted by James Zellmer at 8:42 AM

February 23, 2006

Popup Stores

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.
Posted by James Zellmer at 5:20 PM

February 22, 2006

Local Primary & The Tunnel

Wow, what a disturbingly sad turnout. This is what democracy looks like?
Meanwhile, I watched "The Tunnel" last night, which is must see for anyone living in a free society. Well done, with a few Hollywood additions apparently.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:31 AM

February 20, 2006

Milwaukee Ranked #7 in Overextended Sports Markets

The Business Journal:
The study by American City Business Journals, parent of the The Business Journal Serving Greater Milwaukee, looked at 179 U.S. markets and analyzed the amount of personal income each region generates, among other factors, to measure the region's adequacy for its current professional teams and any possible new ones in baseball, football, basketball, hockey and soccer.

Milwaukee's total personal income of $75.7 billion, according to the report, is insufficient to support the addition of any more professional teams.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:20 PM

Powerbook Tattoos

Too Funny.... Laser Powerbook Tattoos. via Virginia Postrel
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:51 PM

February 18, 2006

BMW Audio Books

Put on your seatbelt and prepare for highs, lows and plenty of twists and turns. BMW, in conjunction with Random House, brings you BMW Audio Books, a unique series of specially-commissioned short stories showcasing the work of some of the finest contemporary writing talent. Each gripping tale is yours to download for free and a new book will be available to download every two weeks. Listen to them on your MP3 player, your laptop or ideally, in the car. So sit back, hit play and enjoy the ride.
Posted by James Zellmer at 4:02 PM

February 15, 2006

Ford Selling the Fusion via Mockumentary

Jean Halliday:
To promote its new Fusion sedan, Ford is airing a "mockumentary" online film series about a band of Norwegian performance artists who would give the Maytag repairman fits. The rock group Hurra Torpedo cranks out cacophonous tunes by smashing clothes dryers, kitchen ranges and what looks like an outboard motor.

By linking with the group, Ford hopes to attract consumers between the ages of 25 and 35 to the Fusion. Ford is sponsoring the three-man band's U.S. tour. The promotion includes an online sweepstakes that will give away the red Fusion SEL the band is driving on the road.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:28 PM

February 13, 2006

Bill Graham's Rock Archives Stream Online

Some of rock's most intriguing content is now in cyberspace via the Wolfgang's Vault Web site. The memorabilia seller offers treasures from the stash of promoter Bill Graham, programmer of San Francisco's legendary Fillmore, who died in 1991.

A 75-song playlist culled from 7,000 to 8,000 vintage audio and video concert recordings made between 1966 and 1999 began streaming on the Wolfgang's Vault Web site Feb. 8, at no cost to consumers. The owner of the Graham archive is optimistic that some of the seminal performances will make it to retailers' shelves as CDs and DVDs by year's end.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:52 PM

February 10, 2006

The Economics of Mulch

Tyler Cowen:
ST. FRANCIS: You'd better sit down, Lord. The Suburbanites have drawn a new circle, As soon as the leaves fall, they rake them into great piles and pay to have them hauled away.

GOD: No. What do they do to protect the shrub and tree roots in the winter and to keep the soil moist and loose?

ST. FRANCIS: After throwing away the leaves, they go out and buy something which they call mulch. They haul it home and spread it around in place of the leaves.

ST. FRANCIS They cut down trees and grind them up to make the mulch.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:04 AM

February 7, 2006

Death of Blockbuster, Part IV

Chris Anderson pens and charts his way to the conclusion that:
Bottom line: even in Hollywood, the home of the blockbuster, hits are losing their power. It's not nearly as dire as in music, but it's trending in the same direction. Does this mean the end of movies? Not at all--there have never been more films made, just as there has never been more music available than today, despite the fact that the bestsellers sell less.

It's not that people aren't watching films and listening to music, it's that they're watching different films and different music--we're just not following the herd to the same hits the way we used to. I'd guess that most of the decline in box office is due to the rise of the DVD, not a loss of interest in movies.
Posted by James Zellmer at 2:35 PM

February 6, 2006

The Gladwell Effect

Rachel Donadio:
"PEOPLE are experience rich and theory poor," the writer Malcolm Gladwell said recently. "People who are busy doing things — as opposed to people who are busy sitting around, like me, reading and having coffee in coffee shops — don't have opportunities to kind of collect and organize their experiences and make sense of them."
[mp3 audio]
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:58 AM

February 5, 2006

The $33K 2007 Toyota Camry Hybrid

Dan Nell takes a drive in the new Toyota Camry Hybrid:
Like a Trojan horse, Camry sneaks gas-saving radicalism into a trusted American staple.

By certain lights, the 2007 Camry Hybrid is not particularly revolutionary. Here we have a nicely equipped, 3,637-pound, five-passenger sedan with 192 horsepower, costing about $30,000 (final pricing has yet to be confirmed). Styling reminds me of the old Merle Travis song: So round, so firm, so fully packed. The ride and handling are straight-up Pink Floyd: comfortably numb.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:50 AM

February 3, 2006

The Last Telegram

For more than 150 years, messages of joy, sorrow and success came in signature yellow envelopes hand delivered by a courier. Now the Western Union telegram is officially a thing of the past.
Posted by James Zellmer at 7:53 PM

January 31, 2006

Podcasts, blogs and Dave Barry

C.W. Nevius:
"Newspapers," he said right off the bat, "are dead."

Uh, to be honest, I was hoping for something a little funnier. But, the more he talked about it, the clearer it became that it is a worthwhile topic for discussion. And Barry may even be right.

Everyone has heard about cutbacks in the newspaper business, from the big names on the East Coast to the papers in your driveway. And if there is anyone who typifies the rapid pace of change in the business and its effect on how you get your news, it is Barry.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:22 PM

Shopping in 1975

Alex Tabarrok via a Sears Catalog:
Sears’ lowest-priced 10-inch table saw: 52.35 hours of work required in 1975; 7.34 hours of work required in 2006.

Sears’ lowest-priced gasoline-powered lawn mower: 13.14 hours of work required in 1975 (to buy a lawn-mower that cuts a 20-inch swathe); 8.56 hours of work required in 2006 (to buy a lawn-mower that cuts a 22-inch swathe. Sears no longer sells a power mower that cuts a swathe smaller than 22 inches.)
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:40 AM

January 30, 2006

The Chocolate Bomber

John Tagliabue:
Every three weeks, a FedEx flight departs Zaventem Airport on the edge of Brussels carrying Michel Boey's products to the United States. Call it the chocolate bomber.

"It is exactly as in wine," he said, receiving a visitor amid heavy aromas of dark chocolate. "Once, wine was wine. Now we appreciate smaller quantities, but the quality is better."
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:22 PM

January 23, 2006

Democracy in America, Then and Now, a Struggle Against Majority Tyranny

Adam Cohen:
During the War of 1812, an angry mob smashed the printing presses of a Baltimore newspaper that dared to come out against the war. When the mob surrounded the paper's editors, and the state militia refused to protect them, the journalists were taken to prison for their own protection. That night, the mob broke into the prison, killed one journalist and left the others for dead. When the mob leaders were brought before a jury, they were acquitted. Alexis de Tocqueville tells this chilling story in "Democracy in America," and warns that the greatest threat the United States faces is the tyranny of the majority, a phrase he is credited with coining.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:57 PM

January 19, 2006

Fascinating Charts

Fascinating charts by Karl Hartig.
Posted by James Zellmer at 4:40 PM

January 17, 2006

Roof Ads

Boing Boing:
Some commercial outfits are painting giant ads on their roofs for the benefit of the aerial/satellite photos used by services like Google Earth/Google Maps.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:10 AM

January 16, 2006

"I have a Dream"

MP3 and Text of Martin Luther King's Speech.
Posted by James Zellmer at 11:19 AM

January 14, 2006

World Snowmobile Racing Championships - Eagle River

Joe Drape:
But the wintertime blues disappeared Friday night, Day 2 of the 43rd annual World Championship Snowmobile Derby, which residents herald as the Indianapolis 500 of snowmobile racing.

Jimmy Blaze followed a fireworks display, which opened Friday Night Thunder, by defying physics and doing a back flip on a snowmobile to the whoops and mitten-muffled applause of the 10,000 people who crammed on a snow-covered hill at Eagle River Derby Track. The temperature had dropped to 25; the wind chill made it feel like 11 and a steady snow fell.

Hundreds of the young men and women in parkas bearing the logos of their favorite sled manufacturers, like Polaris and Arctic Cat, arrived by snowmobile. Families, too, planted camping chairs in the white bowl, but while mothers and fathers watched the racers hit 100 miles an hour on the track's icy oval, their snowsuit-bundled children found a steeper hill for body-sledding.
Posted by James Zellmer at 7:24 PM

January 9, 2006

Detroit International Auto Show Coverage

There's an extraordinary amount of coverage online. I find the styling exercises interesting - sort of a look into the soul of these companies, or, at the very least their views on what the public wants:Joe White looks at the challenges facing Ford and GM. Interestingly, Ford is showing a very large truck concept, the Super Chief that can run on traditional gas, ethanol or hydrogen.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:51 AM

December 25, 2005

The Lives We Live

Changing planes at O'hare recently, I stood next to an early 20's woman trying to fly standby to Dayton, Ohio. I discovered that she structured work to support her travel wants.

My fellow traveller said that she joined the Air Force out of High School to "see the world". The Air Force promptly sent her to Dayton, Ohio for the length of her tour. Now in the AF reserves, she works part time for United Airlines loading bags at the Dayton Airport and for the local Marriott hotel (also part time). These jobs provide incredible travel benefits - unless one cannot obtain a timely seat.

The recent fruits of her work?
  • 7 Days skiing in Switzerland while staying at a local Marriott.
  • A few days on Oahu, again at a Marriott
  • Hong Kong, checking out that city's Marriott
I assume these benefits make up for the cold nights loading bags on to 737's at DAY.

Merry Christmas!

Barry Ritholtz says stuff doesn't make us happy.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:23 AM

December 24, 2005

Boomers Impact on Car Design

Chris Paukert:
But to the rapidly aging Baby Boomer population, a plunging windowline and promises of 120hp/liter aren’t what matters: strong door hinges and louder warning chimes are. So says Automotive Body Repair News (ABRN), which examines (and predicts) the effect of a growing senior populace on the face of car design. Advances in active and passive safety top the list of retiree-friendly developments, along with primary and secondary controls that are easier to operate for those with decreasing motor and visual skills. Among the ideas already gaining traction are:
Posted by James Zellmer at 2:22 PM

10+100 Creative Commons Christmas Songs (MP3's!!)

Uwe Hermann:
So, it's Christmas today (or it will be tomorrow, depending on where you live). Wouldn't it be nice if you had a bunch of freely and legally available Christmas songs you could listen to all day? Burn on CDs and hand over to your relatives? Share with your friends without the fear of being sued to death by big record labels? Well, here's a list of 110 111 songs which are all explicitly released under a Creative Commons license (no, I did not consider songs which are merely "podsafe"!) and thus can be shared, listened to, and sometimes even modified freely. There's a great variety in style, mood, and genre of the songs: some traditional, some contemporary, some happy, some sad, and some just plain funny
Posted by James Zellmer at 2:02 PM

An Exotic Holiday Feast

All Things Considered:
In The New American Cooking, cookbook author Joan Nathan showcases some of the more unusual items that are turning up on America's tables -- plantains, pomegranates and other once-obscure ingredients.
Posted by James Zellmer at 1:08 PM

December 21, 2005

NY City Transit Strike Links

Posted by James Zellmer at 7:38 AM

December 18, 2005

Outdoor Christmas Lights!

Click to view larger versions.

Driving around on these cold December evenings provides one aesthetic benefit: Madison's prolific Christmas lights. Here are a few scenes I've snapped recently.
Posted by James Zellmer at 7:20 PM

December 11, 2005

The Year in Ideas - 2005

NYT Magazine:

These are the ideas that, for better and worse, helped make 2005 what it was. You'll find entries that address momentous developments in Iraq ("The Totally Religious, Absolutely Democratic Constitution") as well as less conspicuous, more ghoulish occurrences in Pittsburgh ("Zombie Dogs"). There are ideas that may inspire ("The Laptop That Will Save the World"), that may turn your stomach ("In Vitro Meat"), that may arouse partisan passions ("Republican Elitism") and that may solve age-old mysteries ("Why Popcorn Doesn't Pop"). Some mysteries, of course, still remain. For instance, we do not yet have an entirely satisfying explanation for how Mark Cuban, the outspoken Internet mogul and N.B.A. owner, came to be connected with three of the year's most notable ideas ("Collapsing the Distribution Window," "Scientific Free-Throw Distraction" and "Splogs"). That was just one surprising discovery we made in the course of assembling the issue. In the pages that follow, we're sure you'll make your own. Go to the Issue

Posted by James Zellmer at 9:59 PM

November 29, 2005

The Power of the Purse


Fara Warner is author of "the Power of the Purse." She says companies have learned that there's more to marketing to women than just adding pink.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:05 AM

November 20, 2005

The Wedding EULA

David Weinberger:
Christina Aguilera required the 150 guests at her wedding to sign a three-page confidentiality agreement before they were allowed into the event. "Banned subjects included the cake, the rings, entertainment, speeches, food, the venue and other guests."

I wonder if her pre-nup has a non-compete?
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:17 AM

November 13, 2005

Seniors Embrace Blogs

There's Dad's Tomato Garden Journal, Dogwalk Musings, and, of course, the Oldest Living Blogger.

"It's too easy to sit in your own cave and let the world go by, eh?" said Ray Sutton, the 73-year-old Oldest Living Blogger and a retired electrician who lives in Vancouver, British Columbia. "It keeps the old head working a little bit so you're not just sitting there gawking at TV."
Posted by James Zellmer at 6:00 PM

November 9, 2005

Flexible Working: Half of All Women Want to Pack it All in For An Easier Life

More than half of female workers have already left or are seriously considering escaping conventional nine-to-five working in a bid to invent their own working patterns, according to a new report.

The survey by recruitment and HR consultancy Hudson of more than 1,000 UK employees and 500 employers has found the majority (84 per cent) of professional women believe the nine-to-five routine is being spurned by their gender.

They are instead preferring to follow a career path offering flexibility and professional autonomy rather than fit in with the demands of the corporate world
Posted by James Zellmer at 6:36 AM

November 2, 2005

Madison Should Embrace Halloween

Marc Eisen:
Her return home, besides occasioning a visit to her favorite Japanese restaurant on State Street, sparked a radical thought on my part: Why doesn't Madison embrace Halloween? Turn a perceived sow's ear into a silk purse? I mean, why doesn't Madison throw a Halloween festival to end all festivals?
I agree.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:42 AM

October 30, 2005

Knutsen's State Street Pepper Spray Halloween Video Clips

Kristian Knutsen, perched at the WSUM studio's, posts video clips of the pepper spray crowd clearing operation. Dane101 has more, along with Channel3000 and the State Journal.
Posted by James Zellmer at 7:51 AM

October 29, 2005

The Dilbert Blog

Scott Adams has started a Dilbert Blog.
Posted by James Zellmer at 4:04 PM

Friday Night Hockey and Halloween

Walking toward the Kohl Center Friday evening (Hockey: UW defeated Alaska-Anchorage 6-1), I chanced across a number of costumed students, out of state cars dropping off students armed with sleeping bags and several parties well underway. I mentioned to one of the students that I recall that the Halloween party was historically Saturday night. The response was simply a roll of the eyes and "it starts now...". Jesse posted some photos from Friday evening's crowd.

One little known benefit of Friday's UW win: Culvers offers free ice cream with your tickets when the Badgers score 5 or more goals. We swapped four tickets for four cups of ice cream later that evening.

Kristian Knutsen is also covering these events
Posted by James Zellmer at 3:55 PM

October 23, 2005

Silicon Valley, Where Brains Meet Bucks

A recent visit and discussions with a mentor friend of mine reinforce Alan T. Saracevic's article: Silicon Valley, Where Brains Meet Bucks. My friend mentioned two ventures where he stuck with ideas through two bankruptcies until they were successful. That type of risk taking and stick to it attitude is generally not seen (there are exceptions) here.
What do you get when you mix two parts money, a healthy dose of brains and another three parts money? Why, Silicon Valley, of course. The most opportunistic place in the world.
The Madison area has plenty of cash. We simply must be willing to use it. Judy Newman notes that Wisconsin lags in high-tech jobs.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:54 AM

October 16, 2005

Another View of Madison: Barbara Golden's Blog

Local Activist and all around great person Barbara Golden is starting to rock and roll with her blog. RSS Feed here.

Posted by James Zellmer at 7:26 PM

October 10, 2005

Wading Toward Home

Michael Lewis (with his better half, Tabitha Soren riding shotgun taking pictures) visits post flood New Orleans:
Immediately he had a problem: a small generator that powered one tiny window air-conditioning unit. It cooled just one small room, his office. But the thing made such a racket that, as he put it, "they could have busted down the front door and be storming inside and I wouldn't have heard them. There could have been 20 natives outside screaming, 'I'm gonna burn your house down,' and I'd a never heard it." Fearing he might nod off and be taken in his sleep, he jammed a rack filled with insurance-industry magazines against the door. (Haywood sells life insurance.) In his little office, he sat all night - as far as he knew, the last white person left in New Orleans. He tried to sleep, he said, but "I kept dreaming all night long someone was coming through the door." He didn't leave his air-conditioned office until first light, when he crept out and squinted through his mail slot. In that moment, he was what Uptown New Orleans had become, even before the storm: a white man, alone, peering out through a slot in search of what might kill him. All he needed was the answer.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:41 AM

Long Now Foundation Seminars - Online

Fascinating stuff.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:03 AM

October 2, 2005

Anthropologists Help Explain Consumer Behavior


Instead of poking around tribal villages in Papua New Guinea or Amazonian rain forests, cultural anthropologists are invading suburbs and cities to find out how people use products while eating meals, working in the office, and even while driving. "We live in a culture where knowing your customers one by one as individuals is more important than ever before," said Ross Goldstein, a researcher with the BRS Group. "Large mass demographic trends are no longer as predictive as they once were because the marketplace is too diversified."

Posted by James Zellmer at 2:26 PM

October 1, 2005

Connected, Constantly

Walking a bit on campus and State Street this evening, I was struck by the extent to which we're connected all the time. These photos are a small snapshot of the scene, which included cell phone use everywhere, ipods and wifi computers.
Posted by James Zellmer at 12:01 AM

September 19, 2005

Vikings to Announce a New Stadium Deal

Brandt Williams:
On Tuesday officials from the Minnesota Vikings and Anoka County will formally announce that they have reached an agreement for a new football stadium. The $675 million, retractable-roof stadium would be built on a 700-acre site in Blaine. The total cost of the project, with roads and other infrastructure, could be as much as $790 million. The Vikings are expected to contribute up to $280 million with the rest of the funding to come from Anoka County and state taxpayers.
I wonder if any NFC North team actually needs a new stadium, given the dreadful outlook this fall. Perhaps they will all finish 3-13? Beyond that, I'm sure we can use this money in much better ways, than by subsidizing the rich.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:15 PM

August 23, 2005

Gladwell on our Healthcare System

Malcolm Gladwell:
One of the great mysteries of political life i the United States is why Americans are s devoted to their health-care system. Six times i the past century—during the First World War during the Depression, during the Truman an Johnson Administrations, in the Senate in th nineteen-seventies, and during the Clinton years—efforts have been made to introduce som kind of universal health insurance, and eac time the efforts have been rejected. Instead, th United States has opted for a makeshift syste of increasing complexity and dysfunction Americans spend $5,267 per capita on healt care every year, almost two and half times th industrialized world’s median of $2,193; th extra spending comes to hundreds of billions o dollars a year.
Tyler Cowen offers a number of counterpoints, links really, to Gladwell's words.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:04 AM

August 16, 2005

Favre Yearns for Quiet

Larry Weisman:
He recently had the windows of his truck tinted a dark shade to secure perhaps a little anonymity on the roads in this football-mad city of 100,000. Any Packers player is recognizable here. Favre? Anywhere, anytime.

"When I stop at a light, I don't stop beside a car in the next lane," he says. "If there's two cars, I'll pull up between them. I notice where I'm going to park. I envision what's going to happen if I park there or here. People say, 'It's terrible you have to live like that.' But it's not. I love playing football. Some people live for being known, for sitting and being seen, but I always joke that I'm going to be like Don Meredith and suddenly be gone."
Posted by James Zellmer at 7:50 AM

August 11, 2005

Lind: Return of the Militia?

William Lind:

This column continues #128, on the results of Colonel Mike Wyly’s Modern War Symposium, and specifically the discussion of what a state armed service designed for Fourth Generation war might look like. Since our number one goal should be to prevent 4GW attacks on American soil, our working group at the Symposium concluded such a service should be a militia.

The militia would be organized into three levels of types of companies. The first would be deployable world-wide, when our country had to respond to some event overseas. We anticipate that many of its members would be cops, as is true now of some Reserve and National Guard units, which means it would have a natural inclination toward de-escalating situations. This is what the FMFM 1-A, Fourth Generation War, suggests is the key to success in many 4GW situations.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:00 AM

August 10, 2005

Stock Options: Do They Make Bosses Cheat?

My sister, Mary forwarded this interesting, brief summary of research (PDF) on the shareholder effects of large option grants to the chief executive.
QUESTION for shareholders: If the company's directors give lots of options to the chief executive, should you be happy or nervous?

The traditional answer from academia was that big options grants were good. They aligned the interests of executives with shareholders, and they helped to offset the tendency of executives to avoid risky but potentially profitable investments.

But it turns out that the conclusions were based more on optimistic theories than data. Now, with option grants having become the largest portion of chief executive compensation - worth more than either salary or bonus for the average boss - analysis of data on corporate performance provides some disturbing results.

It appears that really big options grants make it more likely that companies will fudge their numbers and that companies with such grants are more likely to go broke.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:37 AM

Crime, Punishment and Sports

Frank Deford:
Baseball star Rafael Palmiero Thursday wraps up his 10-day suspension for steroids. Athletes in other sports -- also charged with doping -- such as cyclist Tyler Hamilton and 10th-ranked tennis player Guillermo Canas are facing suspensions in increments of years, not days
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:12 AM

August 9, 2005

Thinking Different: GM $5,000 Chinese Minivan

Keith Bradsher, former NY Times Detroit bureau chief and author of the SUV craze critique: High and Mighty writes about the maverick executive behind GM's successful $5,000 Chinese minivan. The executive, Philip F. Murtaugh, is of course, no longer with GM.
Their development was led by an American, Philip F. Murtaugh, a native of Ohio and a maverick executive who was willing to zig while the rest of G.M. was zagging. Mr. Murtaugh was able to create in China the kind of innovative environment that G.M. has struggled for decades to achieve in its American operations. But whether G.M. can duplicate elsewhere its achievements in China or even keep its pace here is unclear.

In what may be a telling sign of the corporate culture at G.M., Mr. Murtaugh's success in China led not to promotion but to his departure from the company. G.M. declined to discuss personnel matters, but both it and Mr. Murtaugh said he resigned and was not dismissed.

A soft-spoken man in a company known for autocratic leaders, Mr. Murtaugh ran the China operations for more than nine years from his base in Shanghai, repeatedly making some of the best calls in the industry. Now he finds himself unemployed and living in a small community in rural Kentucky.
Bradsher's tenure covering the auto industry was rather controversial. More on Bradsher.
Posted by James Zellmer at 7:45 AM

August 2, 2005

Atkins Goes Belly-Up

Michael Noer:
Atkins Nutritionals, the New York company founded in 1989 by the late Dr. Robert Atkins to cash in on his low-carb diet, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection yesterday. The company cited weakening demand for its products. Ironically, the Atkins diet–affectionately known by some as the “cheeseburger-hold-the-bun” diet–had been blamed in recent years for earnings shortfalls in companies ranging from Krispy Kreme Doughnuts (nyse: KKD - news - people ) to Kraft Foods (nyse: KFT - news - people ) to Interstate Bakeries (the maker of Wonder Bread and Twinkies).
Posted by James Zellmer at 6:57 AM

July 24, 2005

Requiem for a Fictional Scotsman

Kevin Barkes:
Other kids worshipped baseball players. My hero was a fictional Scottish engineer from the 23rd century.

Before the terms geek and nerd entered the vernacular, we were called brains, or, more cruelly, weirdos. We built Heathkits, disassembled televisions and tape recorders, and bribed the librarian to give us first crack at the new issues of Popular Science and Popular Electronics, usually by changing the ribbon or switching the golf balls on her newfangled IBM Selectric.
Posted by James Zellmer at 11:15 AM

July 14, 2005

A Good Idea: In Case of Emergency Contact Information on Your Cellphone

Andy Duff:
This seems like a pretty sensible thing that's come out of last week's bombings here in London - simple way to help the emergency services in case of a recurrence, by entering your next of kin under "I C E" in your mobil.
Posted by James Zellmer at 2:19 PM

June 30, 2005

Eva Zeisel Makes Beautiful Things at 98

Linda Matchan:
A few months ago, designer Eva Zeisel was contacted by Swarovski, the Austrian cut-crystal manufacturer. They asked her to submit ideas for designs and said they'd send her a contract so she could get started.

"I hope it arrives soon," Zeisel, who is 98, told her daughter matter-of- factly. "I am unemployed!"

She exaggerates. The irrepressible Zeisel -- one of the 20th century's first industrial designers, and a leading force, still, in American design -- is, at nearly 100, busier, more productive and more celebrated than ever.
Posted by James Zellmer at 7:26 AM

June 28, 2005

Doonesbury on Malibu Beach Access

Gary Trudeau is in the middle of a great series on David "Lord" Geffen's attempt to keep the public off of the "public" beach in front of his Malibu estate. This time, he points out the beachfront homeowner's use of public sand to build a berm:
"One day a tsunami will come and there will be a great reckoning! Mansions will crumble! Only the surfer will prosper"....

Posted by James Zellmer at 7:35 AM

June 19, 2005

Practically Perfect Father's Day

White Asparagus
Salad & Beets

Best wishes!
Posted by James Zellmer at 2:54 PM

Lost & Found at Disneyland

Anthony Breznican:
"At the end of the day, this dumb woman was so glad to see her little canary she took it out of the cage, and it went right into the trees of the Jungle Cruise,” McFaul says. “I didn't tell them that hidden in the bushes — and definitely in the Jungle Cruise — are the most beastly cats. I thought, ‘That poor little bird lasted that long,' ” she says, holding her fingers an inch apart.

Gonzales says his department used a name and number on an expensive camera to contact a family in San Diego about the item. But they had reported the camera stolen three years earlier. “The thief brought it to Disneyland, and we reclaimed it for them,” Gonzales says.

The white-haired McFaul says her matronly appearance allowed her to get away with giving a scolding to some visitors when she returned their valuables.
Via Cory Doctorow
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:21 AM

June 15, 2005

We're so back in the 70's...

I'm old enough to see the color & design schemes go round and round. Boeing's latest, the 777-200LR is undergoing flight testing. The Worldliner's blog includes several interior photos that feature the aircraft's brown/tan hues.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:00 AM

June 14, 2005

Steve Jobs Odyssey

A transcript of Steve Jobs' Stanford Commencement Speech, given this past weekend.
Posted by James Zellmer at 1:26 PM

Microsoft Censoring Chinese Blogs

Weblog entries on some parts of Microsoft's MSN site in China using words such as "freedom", "democracy" and "demonstration" are being blocked. Chinese bloggers already face strict controls and must register their online journal with Chinese authorities. Microsoft said the company abided by the laws, regulations and norms of each country in which it operates.
Rebecca MacKinnon has more
Posted by James Zellmer at 11:07 AM

June 13, 2005

Hunter S. Thompson Tribute Beer

"Colorado's Flying Dog Ales is making a tribute beer to Hunter S. Thompson. Ralph Steadman, who did the artwork for Hunter's books, is designing a unique four pack case for this limited edition brew. They are also going to donate some of the profits towards the giant Gonzo fist to be built in Aspen." via Cory Doctorow

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:00 AM

June 10, 2005

Baby Name Wizard - "The Ultimate Field Guide to Names"

Explore the sea of names, letter by letter...watch trends rise and fall, and dive in deeper to see your favorite name's place in the historical tides.
Posted by James Zellmer at 12:30 PM

June 9, 2005

Too Much Choice?

Virginia Postrel, writing in Reason:

When customers enter the Ralphs supermarket near UCLA, they see a sign announcing how many different fruits and vegetables the produce department has on hand: "724 produce varieties available today," it says, including 93 organic selections.
Sixty dozen varieties is a mind-boggling number. And that’s just in the produce department. Over in the cheese section, this pretty run-of-the-mill supermarket offers 14 types of feta alone. Not so long ago, finding feta of any type required a trip to a specialty shop.

During the last couple of decades, the American economy has undergone a variety revolution. Instead of simply offering mass-market goods, businesses of all sorts increasingly compete to give consumers more personalized products, more varied experiences, and more choice.

Average Americans order nonfat decaf iced vanilla lattes at Starbucks and choose from 1,500 drawer pulls at The Great Indoors. Amazon gives every town a bookstore with 2 million titles, while Netflix promises 35,000 different movies on DVD. Choice is everywhere, liberating to some but to others a new source of stress. "Stand in the corner of the toothpaste aisle with your eyes wide open and--I swear--it will make you dizzy," writes design critic Karrie Jacobs. Maybe the sign in Ralphs is not an enticement but a warning.

Posted by James Zellmer at 7:31 AM

June 7, 2005

Swim Finder

Bob Tedeschi:

Lands' End introduced its Swim Finder feature this spring. The online service lets a user view different versions of swimsuits on a three-dimensional body likeness.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:00 AM

June 6, 2005

Lessons in Gratitude @ the Kitchen Sink

Ben Stein:

AS I told them, we could do without Hollywood for a century. We could not do without them and their sacrifice for a week. Gratitude. As my pal Phil DeMuth says, it's the only totally reliable get-rich-quick scheme. Gratitude. Losing the luxury of feeling aggrieved when, if you look closely, you have an opportunity. My father washed dishes at the Sigma Psi house so that he could build an education and a life for the family he did not even have yet.

At my house, I always insist on doing the dishes, and I feel a thrill of gratitude for what washing a dish can do with every swipe of the sponge. Wiping away the selfishness of the moment, building a life for my son. The zen of dishwashing. The zen of gratitude. The zen of riches. Thanks, Pop.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:00 AM

May 31, 2005

Great Doonesbury

Check it out.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:01 AM

May 27, 2005

Lessig: The Choirboy

An amazing New York Metro article on child abuse at the Boychoir School. Prominent Stanford IP Lawyer Larry Lessig acknowledges the abuse he suffered at the School while taking a case to the New Jersey Supreme Court for another child abuse victim. Powerful stuff. Julie Leung has more.
Posted by James Zellmer at 7:56 PM

May 26, 2005

Washington Flees from a Flea - Lind

William S. Lind
Two weeks ago, a small, single-engine plane inadvertently strayed into the closed air space above Washington. The result was panic. Both the White House and the Capitol were evacuated, with police shouting “Run! Run!” at fleeing staffers and visitors. Senators and Congressmen abandoned in haste the floors of their respective Houses. Various RIPs (Really Important People) were escorted to their Fuehrerbunkers. F-16s came close to shooting the Cessna down.
Posted by James Zellmer at 6:52 AM

Garrison Keillor's Madison Visit Now Online

Garrison Keillor's Prairie Home Companion appeared at the Overture Center this past Saturday. Tune in to the whole show here.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:00 AM

May 22, 2005

Hormel Back on the Spam Offensive

After an xapparent setback in litigation, Hormel Foods is again pursuing actions against entities and organizations over the 'spam' trademark. According to the web site of DSPAM, an open-source statistical anti-spam filter, "Anti-spam software manufacturers may be in for a rude awakening."
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:58 AM

May 21, 2005

Pepsi's Interesting Mea Culpa

The company that Don Kendall built and Roger Enrico grew has an interesting PR problem.
Pepsico President Indra Nooyi delivered a controversial commencement speech at Columbia Business School. Pepsi has been backtracking ever since on their corporate website.

I wonder what would have happened to a local truck driver who might have given a similar speech to a High School's graduating class, or perhaps a mid level manager speaking at a regional business conference? Somehow, I think they would be looking for something else to do. Background on her speech via google. BusinessWeek posted Nooyi's remarks. Diane Brady refers to Nooyi's inept analogy.

Sugar Water....
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:25 AM

May 13, 2005

UW - Madison & The Peace Corps

Samuel G. Freedman:

For each of the last 10 years, Wisconsin has supplied the most entrants of any college or university, roughly 130 annually, some of whom will be graduating this weekend and decamping for Ghana or Turkmenistan soon thereafter.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:00 AM

May 8, 2005

Happy Mother's Day

Jon Carroll on "Our Mothers, Ourselves":
She learned to scuba dive. She was active in the League of Women Voters. When I was 28, she and my stepfather moved to Ethiopia. She worked for the World Health Organization, preparing educational materials that said, in essence, "Please do not defecate in the river."
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:12 AM

May 6, 2005

Hackworth is Dead

Col. David H. Hackworth, a legendary US Army Guerrilla Fighter & Champion of the Ordinary Soldier is dead. NY Times Obiturary. Hackworth.com.

Hackworth wrote several books, including About Face, which is a must.

Follow the conversation via technorati.
Posted by James Zellmer at 11:38 AM

May 4, 2005

LA Freeways

Verlyn Klinkenborg has also been driving LA's freeways recently. He disects the psychology of the recent shootings. I posted some photos and notes from my recent drive on those same freeways.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:03 AM

May 2, 2005

Winer turns 50

UW Grad and father of blogging Dave Winer turns 50 today. Happy Birthday from Madison :)

Dave's 2002 piece on "Monoculture, an Artifact of the 20th Century?" is well worth reading today.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:00 AM

May 1, 2005

My Drive from Los Angeles to LAX

My recent LA visit included the drive from downtown LA to LAX. I captured what I think is LA's essence in this photo essay: The 110 to the 105 to LAX. Screen saver or desktop background version of this photo (900K).
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:59 AM

April 28, 2005

Newspapers & The Tipping Point: Memories of My Paper Route Days

I remember the first day of my Milwaukee Sentinel paper route. It was March, 5:00A.M. The 32 papers were dropped on a corner near my home. I drove my bike, picked up and counted the papers, placed them in my paper "bag" and slid up the hill while it was snowing that cold morning years ago.

I delivered them, biked home and enjoyed a warm breakfast.

I also remember my dad driving me around once each week (early!) with the extra large Sunday edition packed high in our station wagon's back seat. 132 copies on Sunday.

I also learned about selling newspaper subscriptions and collecting money. The subscription game was, in hindsight rather classic. Give some young kids a prize ("whomever sells the most at tonight's sales rally, gets a football"). The memory of that evening is clear. I won the football. I had to sell rather hard to get that last sale - the local sales manager drove me to a friend of my grandparents to make that last sale. It's interesting to think about these things today, 30 years later, in 2005, the internet era.

At the time, I did not grasp the far reaching implications of that last minute sale that gave me a football. Paid circulation was everything. The football was a cheap bonus to motivate the kids in the field. Today, the newspapers offer deals via direct mail, if at all. They've lost the family ties (I don't know how to get it back and I don't think it's coming back).

Years later, it seems that few young kids are delivering papers any longer. That income earning opportunity may have left years ago, gone to those old enough to drive cars (and cover a larger area faster than a kid on a bike). I wonder if this loss of a classic early job with its family/community ties (Sunday's heavy paper required a parent's support via a car) was one of the many 1000 cuts that is laying the newspaper gently down to die, as Jay Rosen says.
Paper Route links at clusty. Paper Boy Blues The Tipping Point

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:01 AM

April 24, 2005

More than 90% of Corporate Spreadsheets Have Material Errors in Them

Philip Howard:
At the highest level (at least), spreadsheets should be treated as a corporate resource. For example, if you use spreadsheets for planning then you need to do everything you can to eliminate the possibility of error. And what do you do with corporate resources? You give them to the IT department which can implement proper testing and control procedures.

The real problem, of course, is that business managers don't know that there is a problem (actually, lots of problems) with spreadsheets, while IT regards spreadsheets as falling outside its jurisdiction. So spreadsheet management falls down a hole in the middle.
Posted by James Zellmer at 7:03 PM

April 23, 2005

New Local Site: www.urbanmadison.org

This is the Urban Madison web site. It is a home for informations and discussions about preserving the unique urban environment that we have in Madison.

It is for people that live in, work in, shop in, or do just about anything in urban Madison.

Our efforts to Save the Woman's Building is what brought us together to discuss issues like this. We look forward to your participation in our neighborhoods and discussions.
Posted by James Zellmer at 11:07 AM

Losing Patience, Not Weight

Great article by Bruce Weber on the President of the Cooper Institute, a non-profit organization in Dallas dedicated to research on the relationship between living habits and health:
"I'm a short, fat guy who runs every day," Dr. Blair said in a recent phone interview. "I've run tens of thousands of miles over the past 40 years, and in that time I've gained 30 pounds."

This doesn't exactly please Dr. Blair. (People who are skinny and never exercise "are going straight to hell," he said, "because they're living in paradise now.") But he was using himself, he said, to illustrate why the federal government's new physical activity recommendations, which are clearly aimed at the alarming rise in obesity in America, are misleading. Even though he has been doing what the guidelines advise for decades, it hasn't controlled his weight.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:35 AM

April 20, 2005

John Muir's Letters Online

The Wisconsin Historical Society has posted 100 original letters written by John Muir on their website. Via Ryan Foley.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:30 AM

April 18, 2005

McDonald's Turns 50

Weekend Edition:

The fast-food franchise has now been around for half a century, and has 30,000 outlets. The original store in Illinois sold burgers for 15 cents. The company says it now serves 50 million people a day.
One must also listen to Marc Knopfler's "Boom Like That", which quotes McDonald's founder Ray Kroc extensively. And, read - Fast Food Nation.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:03 AM

April 14, 2005

Tractor Pulling: John Oncken Takes a Local Look

John Oncken:
A little background on tractor Pulls. They began with farmers gathering on Sundays to see who had the best tractor. Farmers took turns pulling a flat stoneboat or sled onto which men jumped as it was pulled down a dirt track. When the weight was too much and the tractor stopped, the distance was measured. Tractor pulls took off as a sport with the advent of the modern "sled," which gradually adds downforce weight.

The Wileman brothers started a small tractor pull in Edgerton in 1995, Kraig says. "Kurt and I built the track and ran it for a few years."

When the 140-cow dairy herd of Crazy Acres was sold in 1998, the Wileman brothers got serious about tractor pulling.

A year later the boys were competing in local and statewide events with the Badger State Tractor Pullers Association. Their big boost came when they began using better engines.
Posted by James Zellmer at 1:08 PM

April 12, 2005

People Who Make Our World Work

Flying around these days can be a real hassle. Periodically, though, one has the opportunity to choose the road not taken. In this case, rather than using a rental car, I chose a 4:15a.m. shuttle from Santa Fe to the Albuquerque Sunport.

These conversations make up for all the hassles.
The tale begins in 1881, when a Barcelona native stopped in Santa Fe on his way to settle in Colorado's San Juan Valley. Locals told him about something called a homestead opportunity. Finding the scenery and people of Santa Fe agreeable, he never completed the journey north to Colorado.

"Very smart, but not educated", the immigrant settled and built a business in his garden. Growing and selling jalapenos, carrots ("this big!"), corn, peppers and more, he married and raised five sons. The boys carried water to the garden from a nearby river seven (7!) times per day. Buyers quickly snapped up his two annual vegetable crops.

One of his sons (the shuttle driver) served our country in the marines from 1949 to 1969, starting at Camp Pendleton, moving to El Toro, Korea, Vietnam and Okinawa, becoming a DI (Sargeant). He served in Korea in 1950 and Vietnam from 1960 to 1965. It was "hell". "I have nine lives". A traveller asked what was the favorite part of his military service, "there must be one": "Furlough - getting out of hell, I could see my family".

Today, this 75 year old veteran spends his time driving a few shuttles each day from Santa Fe to Albquerque's Sunport, fly fishing (catch & release) near Taos, making an annual visit to relatives in Spain and checking up on his daughter and grandchildren.

As I left the early morning shuttle, he proudly mentioned that he starts the day with 100 pushups and shows off to younger guys by doing 25 one arm pullups.
Posted by James Zellmer at 12:00 AM

April 11, 2005

Gladwell: The Ketchup Conundrum

Malcolm Gladwell:
Many years ago, one mustard dominated the supermarket shelves: French's. It came in a plastic bottle. People used it on hot dogs and bologna. It was a yellow mustard, made from ground white mustard seed with turmeric and vinegar, which gave it a mild, slightly metallic taste. If you looked hard in the grocery store, you might find something in the specialty-foods section called Grey Poupon, which was Dijon mustard, made from the more pungent brown mustard seed. In the early seventies, Grey Poupon was no more than a hundred-thousand-dollar-a-year business. Few people knew what it was or how it tasted, or had any particular desire for an alternative to French's or the runner-up, Gulden's. Then one day the Heublein Company, which owned Grey Poupon, discovered something remarkable: if you gave people a mustard taste test, a significant number had only to try Grey Poupon once to switch from yellow mustard. In the food world that almost never happens; even among the most successful food brands, only about one in a hundred have that kind of conversion rate. Grey Poupon was magic.
Posted by James Zellmer at 7:56 AM

April 2, 2005

1000 Yard Stare

David Hackworth:

Guess what, folks? As you were checking out the Easter bonnets, our warriors were still paying the ultimate price in Iraq. Yes, America, the war in Iraq is still on the boil. We�re approaching 1,600 dead plus approximately 15,000 battle-wounded, along with thousands upon thousands of nonbattle casualties � a deeply guarded Pentagon secret � from accidents, sickness or stress disorders.

Lest we forget the sacrifices young men and women are making daily on our nation�s behalf, here's one e-mail from the barrage we and Soldiers for the Truth (SFTT.org) receive weekly, a father sharing a letter from his son �who is helping run the port in Kuwait where young heroes arrive in the war zone and depart from months later.� As Dad puts it, �If this doesn't bring a tear to your eye, nothing will.�

So haul out your hankies and read on for some serious �ber-reality:

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:02 AM

March 31, 2005

FYI - 1927 Film: AT&T How to use the Dial Phone

Classic, via Cory Doctorow.
Posted by James Zellmer at 3:49 PM

Free Speech & Blogs Cause Flap in Tennessee

The fast growing internet writer (and free speech) world is making some waves. Bill Hobbs relates the story of the Tennessee House Speaker killing a representative's bill because he "had the nerve" to start writing about the "goings-on" in the legislature. More here and here. Civil, respectful discourse can only benefit our society. Internet writers are simply stepping into the void created by a changing media landscape.

I think Therese Berceau would be an excellent legislative blogger.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:08 AM

March 30, 2005

HDTV & Your Mac

Erica Sadun posts a useful discussion of the different broadcast standards and your Mac (along with some PC tips as well).

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:00 AM

March 27, 2005

From High Society to Higher Calling

Adair Lara:
Then she threw herself a going-away bash at the Hilton hotel. "The first two-thirds of my life were devoted to the world," she told 800 friends as they enjoyed music from two orchestras and tucked into caviar, coquille of seafood and fine wines. "The last third will be devoted to my soul." It was Oct. 30, 1989, her 60th birthday.
Posted by James Zellmer at 7:34 AM

Leung: Why High School Never Ends

Julie Leung makes some useful points. Doc Searls adds a few more.
Posted by James Zellmer at 7:24 AM

March 25, 2005

Wet, Wild..... Wisconsin? - The Dells as a Major Destination

Neal Karlen:
The lobby of the Kalahari Waterpark in the Wisconsin Dells at check-in time on a recent Saturday afternoon was equal parts Marx Brothers anarchy, Andy Hardy freckles and "Dude, Where's My Car?" goofiness. Just as the line to the front desk began moving, five revelers barely into their teens hijacked an empty luggage rack, and with one pushing and four aboard, raced, shrieking, around the lobby, which seemed roughly the size of a par-three nine-hole golf course.

I quickly cruised the lobby in search of my friend Julia, a fine-arts administrator who did not want her last name used because she was embarrassed even to be seen in the Dells. Not finding her, I went back outside and ran into a traffic jam. The gridlock consisted mostly of two types of vehicles trying to get near this hostelry, which has a 125,000-square-foot indoor water park, the largest in the country. On the one hand were the monster-size recreational vehicles, which disgorged the incoming families. Going up against them were teenagers revving the engines of a score of pizza-delivery cars, lined up like impatient taxi drivers at the airport as they waited to drop off their wares and rush back for more.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:14 PM

Good Friday

Wikipedia: Good Friday Google Images
Posted by James Zellmer at 6:36 AM

March 24, 2005

Jerry Brown on the Schiavo Case: Florida vs Texas

Jerry Brown:
The death of Sun Hudson - a 6-month-old with a fatal genetic disorder who was taken off life support against his mother's wishes in a Texas hospital last week - adds some depth to the emotional debate over the fate of Terri Schiavo. The MSM are hanging on every twist and turn in the Schiavo case, and protesters have descended on Florida to denounce what they call "murder."
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:45 AM

March 20, 2005

Literary Collaboration: The King James Bible

A Palm Sunday Link: Dan Gillmor notes that David Bollier draws a parallel between today's internet collaboration & the King James Bible.
We high-tech moderns like to think we have little connection to the past, but as I pondered the new online collaborations, I couldn’t help thinking that we could benefit from considering one of the greatest literary collaborations in history, the King James Bible.
Posted by James Zellmer at 1:53 PM

The Singles Scene at Home Depot

Scott Simon takes a fascinating look at the singles scene at Home Depot. Evidently, some of these stores have hosted weddings...

Posted by James Zellmer at 6:56 AM

March 13, 2005

Culture Crash

Jerry Brown on Oakland's Sideshows (a new term for me). Brown also posts a useful quote from Clint Eastwood. (read the comments)
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:24 AM

March 11, 2005

More on the changing advertising landscape

Several recent articles on the changing advertising landscape (struggling to keep up with our changing habits):
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:51 AM

Malcolm Gladwell at the UW on Blink

New Yorker writer Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point and more recently, Blink, spoke a the UW Wednesday evening. Here's an excerpt of his talk [Quicktime video | mp3] This was an interesting evening.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:01 AM

March 9, 2005

Business Schools Redefine Hacking

Greenspun on the recent Harvard "admissions hacking" controversy. He makes some very useful points.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:02 AM

March 7, 2005

What's Missing from News is News

Frank Rich nails it:

What's missing from News is the news. On ABC, Peter Jennings devotes two hours of prime time to playing peek-a-boo with U.F.O. fanatics, a whorish stunt crafted to deliver ratings, not information. On NBC, Brian Williams is busy as all get-out, as every promo reminds us, "Reporting America's Story." That story just happens to be the relentless branding of Brian Williams as America's anchorman - a guy just too in love with Folks Like Us to waste his time looking closely at, say, anything happening in Washington.
Even NPR. I woke up the other morning at 6 and Morning Edition's lead story was Martha Stewart (not Sudan, Lebanon, Iraq, the dollar's ongoing meltdown, or any of a number of domestic issues).

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:00 AM

March 4, 2005

People are Talking...

Quite a bit of conversation over at www.schoolinfosystem.org Johnny Winston, Jr. adds some interesting notes on Eugene Parks.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:00 AM

March 3, 2005

How Marketing Drives Pharmaceutical Sales

I've always wondered about the utility of drug advertising. Every now and then, I'll drive by a billboard that says "Ask your doctor about Bextra". Having no idea what Bextra (insert name of drug here) is, I'm amazed that these efforts pay off at all. Bernadette Tansey digs into the drug industry's marketing practices. Jim
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:51 AM

Huge Selection of New & Used CEO's

Computer generated advertising is.... funny. Here's a screen shot of a Google Adsense series of advertisements, including an Ebay offer: Chief Executive Officers: Huge Selection of New & Used on one of my blog entries. Maybe this is the right approach to the problem of severely overpaid CEO's, auction them off on ebay....

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:02 AM

March 2, 2005

Ward Churchill's UW Whitewater Visit

Links to coverage of Churchill's talk last night
Posted by James Zellmer at 7:37 AM

February 28, 2005

What are Podcasts?

Several articles this morning on podcasts, tools that Dave Winer and Adam Curry launched some time ago. Benny Evangelista (more) and Scott Kirsner dig in. We may see some podcasts (easy to use mp3 audio files, suitable for iPod type devices) from Wisconsin Public Radio...
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:23 AM

February 25, 2005

KCRW (Public Radio) starts Podcasting

Setting a great example for all other public radio stations, Santa Monica College's KCRW will launch Podcasts of their programs (mp3 files easily passed around, linked to and played back by the millions of mp3/iPod type players in use today). KCRW is an excellent source for interesting music and programs, via mp3 internet streams.

I've seen no change in Wisconsin Public Radio's audio content. They would be much better off, as would the listeners and contributors if they provided all local content in easy to use mp3 files (they currently have real audio streams which require the listener to be connected to the internet while listening).

Rebecca Ryan is speaking Tuesday night (3/1) at the Overture Center on whether Madison has what it takes to play in the New Economy (Two bad signs: no public radio podcasts and no wi-fi at the airport, actually, there's a 3rd, we continue to let Kenton Peters inflict his metal buildings on us....). While these two issues require attention, the larger problem we have is a low business risk culture. Sort of strange, given that the Wisconsin economy was grown by many, many entrepreneurs who built agricultural and manufacturing businesses 50, 70 and 100 years ago.

What are podcasts? Click here to find out.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:02 AM

February 22, 2005

Classic Product Line Extensions: Diet Coke & Tide

Bruce Mohl on the ongoing effort to trade on well known brand names:
Two huge consumer brands have been busy cloning themselves.

Procter & Gamble Co. rolled out a cold-water version of its blockbuster Tide laundry detergent earlier this month. Coca-Cola Co., meanwhile, unveiled plans to start selling a seventh version of Diet Coke, this time sweetened with Splenda instead of aspartame
Posted by James Zellmer at 7:35 AM

February 21, 2005

Hunter S. Thompson

Hunter S. Thompson Obits.
Posted by James Zellmer at 7:43 AM

February 20, 2005

City Dwellers Plow Money into Farmland

Stephanie Simon takes a look at the city "slickers"/dwellers who are buying up farmland as an investment and renting it back to traditional farmers:
Seeking steady, secure investments to round out their portfolios, big-city investors are increasingly buying Midwest farmland, spending $100,000 to $500,000 per field.

Many hire professional farm managers to maximize their profits. The managers, in turn, hire farmers like Wyant — sometimes offering them a stake in the crop but often paying them by the hour (or the acre), like a hired hand.
Posted by James Zellmer at 12:55 PM

Mall of America: VR Scene of an Underwater Wedding

Words fail me in this one; just have a look at this interesting underwater wedding scene at the Mall of America.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:48 AM

February 19, 2005

Hunter Thompson & Bill Murray on Shotgun Golf

Hunter S. Thompson:
The game consists of one golfer, one shooter and a field judge. The purpose of the game is to shoot your opponent's high-flying golf ball out of the air with a finely-tuned 12-gauge shotgun, thus preventing him (your opponent) from lofting a 9-iron approach shot onto a distant "green" and making a "hole in one." Points are scored by blasting your opponent's shiny new Titleist out of the air and causing his shot to fail miserably. That earns you two points.
Posted by James Zellmer at 6:38 AM

February 17, 2005

HR 310 - Broadcast Indecency Act: Baldwin votes Yes

Interesting vote by Representative Tammy Baldwin on HR 310, the Broadcast Indecency Act. She voted Yes.

The quality of TV in general has certainly not gone up. Advertising is also, to some extent keeping pace (Mike Ditka throwing a football through a flaming tire for a viagra type product is just one example).
Posted by James Zellmer at 7:23 AM

February 13, 2005

Valentines Day: Orchids or Chocolate?

The benefits of Madison's (Winter) Farmer's Market: Cross Country Orchids [map | phone] offered some gorgeous orchids Saturday Morning. Click here to download a 1024 x 768 desktop picture version for your mac or pc.

Another great option is Candinas [map | www site]

Based on web traffic, I think Candinas is having a big year. I've only seen one other firm pay as much attention to packaging and branding (wrapped around a superior product) as Markus - that would be Steve Jobs Apple Computer's iPod packaging.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:01 AM

February 9, 2005

All is well in the Green Bay Packer Nation :)

One of my coworkers predicts a Packer Super Bowl victory this year, while today's Doonesbury features a quote from current President, Bob Harlan:

"Just another typical diehard cheesehead. I hear from them all the time." -- Green Bay Packers president Bob Harlan, on 8-year-old David Witthoft, who's worn his Brett Favre jersey for over 400 days straight

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:00 AM

February 8, 2005

Internet Evangelism: The Interview with God

Gorgeous photography & an interesting approach, by La Jolla, CA based Get Inspired Now.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:15 PM

February 6, 2005

GM Auto Marketing: Find Your Style (Wife, Girlfriend, Mistress)

Driving back to SFO recently, I noticed this GM (General Motors) billboard. In essence, the message to Northern California drivers bound either for SFO or their jobs on the Peninsula or in Silicon Valley was: Advertising is often a useful way to peer into the soul of a company, or in other words, think about their dna and how the firm views its interaction with the outside world.

This campaign smells desperate to me. I'm reminded of Sun Microsystems co-founder Bill Joy's spot on statement regarding software: "The quality of a company's software has an inverse relationship to the amount spent on marketing."

I must admit that this ad campaign doesn't click at all for me, from any angle. The whole pitch, including the website, seems like a lot of fluff. I visited the site and it promptly crashed my computer (PC, in this case). I tried again and it worked, although it later crashed just my browser.

Perhaps this all makes sense for some car buyers.....

I think GM would be much better off seeding cars to bloggers and schools for long term reviews (with the agreement that they write about their year or two with a sedan, minivan, SUV or sports car). This will take some doing, but I think it would be money well spent. Essentially, they need to route around the legacy media (see Bob Lutz's notes on this).
Posted by James Zellmer at 1:45 PM

January 31, 2005

Mining Music Industrials from the 50's & 60's

A humorous way to start the week: John Kalish on industrials, those broadway tunes that promoted shop grease, tractors and other industrial products:
From the 1950s through the 1970s, large companies regularly commissioned original musicals for their annual conventions and sales meetings. Some employed reknowned Broadway composers for these shows.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:11 AM

January 27, 2005

"Category Killers"

Brand Autopsy has an interesting discussion on category killers:
Costco has a very loyal clientele (who pay a membership fee). Costco understands the taste level of this group and caters to their wants and needs--for wine, apparel, technology, jewelry, etc. Costco communicates with those customers through an excellent monthly magazine, the Costco Connection. Because many of Costco's customers are small business owners, the magazine (and, of course, the stores) cater to their needs and interests.

Now, Costco's customers are also attracted by the deals. There is an implicit understanding that Costco is offering the best possible price on that particular product on that particular day. The product may not be offered tomorrow. So, if you want it, you better buy it today.
Posted by James Zellmer at 12:00 AM

Artichoke Thieves

Robert Siegel checks out the artichoke theft problem in California (I believe the same problem exists in the garlic fields)
Posted by James Zellmer at 12:00 AM

January 26, 2005


David Schroeder's ipodmyphoto has become an interesting internet success story, largely due to word of mouth - online via blogs.
Posted by James Zellmer at 5:19 PM

January 25, 2005

Steve Coll: Afghanistan's Poetry

Ghost Wars (excellent) author Steve Coll discusses Masood Khalili, an Afghan Poet today, on NPR.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:01 AM

January 20, 2005

Coaching in Wisconsin - Worth it?

Coaching in Wisconsin - Worth it?
Pearly Kiley - wishoops.net [PDF Version 103K]
"With all this talent, why aren�t we winning more games?"

"My kid averaged 20 points in summer league, why isn�t he playing more?"

"Why are we walking the ball up the floor all the time?"

"I wish we had the old coach back."

These unfounded sentiments were also a major reason why over 80 coaches
chose to resign, were relieved of duty or retired since last season.

There are coaches who point to AAU basketball and all its dramatically improving impact. Some blame school administrators for showing more allegiance to parents than them in disputes over individual roles and playing time. Still others say it takes too much time � and impossible patience � to deal with the increasingly overzealous parent.

�At the high school level, the rewards aren�t tangible,� said former Waupaca coach Tim Locum, who resigned after last season and is currently an assistant coach at UW-Oshkosh.

�There is no shoe deal, radio show, big contract, national TV exposure or endorsements. What keeps a coach going is the joy of watching young men mature, the pat on the back from an AD, a thank you from a parent. Instances such as those have continued to slowly dwindle, if not disappear altogether. And what is left is over 80 Wisconsin Boys Varsity positions turning over in one year � almost 20% of the schools!�

Are parents and fans simply out of control?

I point to my hometown of Cuba City as an example, where longtime coach Jerry Petitgoue has won 654 games and is the all-time leader in coaching wins in Wisconsin history.

If two weeks from now they held a referendum on the boy�s basketball job, and whether he should keep his job or be fired, I believe that vote would actually be very close. What does this say about the state of high school athletics in Wisconsin?

(I�m not sure it�s an altogether new thing, though. Hollywood captured the idea perfectly in Hoosiers; George, Milan High�s interim coach before coach Norman Dale, summed it up perfectly:

"Look mister, there's two kinds of dumb ... the guy that gets naked and runs out in the snow and barks at the moon, and the guy who does the same thing in my living room. The first one don't matter, and the second one you're kinda forced to deal with."

How much money do we think George would be spending on his kid to play AAU basketball nowadays? How crazy would he have gotten when, after spending all this money, his kid wasn�t playing significant minutes or getting scholarship offers? The issue today is that parents handle the problems much more subtly � and administrations aren�t near as loyal as principal Cletus.

In the 1950s parents simply bought a basketball, in some cases a hoop, and kids became great players the old fashioned way, by working on their fundamentals and developing a jump shot -- yes, a jump shot (Jimmy Chitwood made 98% of his shots!). The point is, too many parents are spending too much money nowadays, and when results don�t materialize, they cast their blame on the easiest and most visible target.

�It�s human nature for parents to see the best in their own kids, said Cuba City coach and Executive Director of the WBCA Jerry Petitgoue.

�Kids are starting to play competitively in third and fourth grade nowadays and most of the time it�s parents that are coaching. With this, parents start thinking they know the game as well as the high school coach and therein lies the problem.�

All you have to do is sit in the crowd at any basketball game and you�re guaranteed to learn more about the game from some parents and fans than you�d learn if you were listening to John Wooden himself.

Don�t think so? Just go to your local pub and they�ll tell �ya.

Wisconsin Rapids coach Dan Witter was forewarned well before he got into coaching.

�An administrator who was also a former coach warned me that most of my friends that have kids will likely stop talking to me if I don�t play, or cut, their kid, and as a coach you have to go into it knowing your not going to be friends with everyone and your going to upset some people.�

Sound fun yet?

The Time Issue

In many castes, coaches have families of their own. How can they be expected to do all the work that goes into coaching in today�s climate?

�As a head coach,� Locum said, taking a deep breath, �you are expected to know the game, teach it to your players, relate to their adolescent minds and emotions, scout and break down your opponents, come early, stay late, watch film, track your players academic and behavioral progress, fund raise to get the �extras� everyone else has, help and inspire your youth coaches and programs, make sure the high school assistants are prepared, and oh yeah�.win most if not all of your games."

Despite all these factors, most coaches truly enjoy their job, work hard, and want the best for the kids they coach. Problems arise when you factor in everything coaches simply don�t have enough time to do, while still doing the job the way they think it should be done.

�"With the changing role of today's family, it is not uncommon for both spouses to work,� WIAA Associate Director Deb Hauser said. �Thus, the pressures and expectations at home require both parents to provide time for household duties. Many young coaches will try coaching for a short time, feel the pressures from parents and fans, and opt to spend more time with their own families instead.

�We all know that anyone who coaches at the high school doesn't do it for the money but rather for the love of the game. Thus, the transition back to spending time with one's own family has become the more popular choice."

Choosing between your children and spouse and dealing with what some of these coaches do is simple, isn�t it?

What�s easy is criticizing an overworked and underpaid coach, getting pleasure from Monday morning quarterbacking every move he or she makes. This is becoming the reality for more and more coaches, who rarely get the great gratitude and respect from their communities that they deserve.

New game, new era

Then again, how can we expect kids to listen to a coach trying to teach them fundamentals of the game? Consider the influences on today�s players: Michael Jordan and the glorification of the slam dunk, AAU�s run-and-gun style, ESPN SportsCenter, and the And 1 Tour.

�Kids are no longer dedicated and willing to sacrifice to be the best they can be,� said Oshkosh North coach Frank Schade. �They simply have too many other outside influences and interests.�

A daily look at WisHoops offers confirmation. Threads on how to jump higher, the state�s best dunker, people�s favorite player on the AND 1 Tour. These posts are fun, but they are also strong statement about this generation of basketball players.

I�m still waiting for someone to ask how to shoot better, the best way to work on your ball skills, or how to best position yourself to become a better rebounder.

A big problem is that kids are playing over 50 games in the spring and summer nowadays and think that�s good enough. Many are becoming more interested in playing during the summer with their AAU team and less in playing with their high school team during the school year, posing several problems for high school coaches.

What�s a high school coach to do when they rightfully bench a kid for lack of hustle or insubordination, only to have an AAU coach swoop in after the game, consoling and assuring the player that things will be different when summer rolls around.

While most AAU coaches support their high school counterparts 100 percent, there are some out there who undermine the authority of the high school coach. Worse, yet, they can potentially damage the attitude and work ethic of the player, which hurts them greatly if they continue to play at college level where things don�t come so easily.

The bottom line is that while some parents and AAU coaches are busy enabling kids that aren�t working as hard as they should be, the people getting hurt ever more are the varsity coaches.

Where�s the support from the top?

If you hire a coach that wins games, treats all kids equally, and has respect from fellow coaches, that�s all you ask for. Isn�t it?

You would certainly think so, but what happened at Cedarburg High School this offseason tells a different story.

A few months after the season ended, Cedarburg coach Ben Siebert received a letter from school board President Jack Dobson. The letter indicated that the school was seeking a new coach but gave no reason as to why, saying only that the move wasn�t inspired by the team�s prior performance.

The letter asked Siebert to attend a school board meeting, where they would vote on whether or not to retain him as the head coach. The meeting took place behind closed doors, despite requests by Coach Siebert and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel to open it to the public.

Coach Siebert read a prepared statement, which received not a single word response from anyone on the board. Three and a half hours later, Siebert was told he would not be returning.

The shadowy decision left him piecing together a complex puzzle without a picture.

The school board�s position was that it retained the right to look for a new coach if it was an attempt to improve the high quality of service the district provided to its students.

Which begs the question: what, exactly, was it about Siebert�s performance what wasn�t high quality?

Siebert had a zero tolerance policy when it came to violating the rules, and when three of his players admitted their involvement in conduct against the athletic code they were dismissed from the team. The violations took place when the team and coaches stayed at the home of one of Siebert�s relative in Sheboygan while participating in a Christmas tournament in 2003.

Two families filed a lawsuit against the school following Siebert�s decision, citing their sons� emotional distress that came from being thrown off the team. The parents alleged a lack of supervision on the part of the coaches, but Siebert and others have refuted that claim.

Keep in mind, though, that both sets of parents signed contracts before the season agreeing to the zero tolerance policy. In addition, the school has since adopted a new policy that it sees as much stricter than the one formerly in place.

One can only assume that Cedarburg�s new coach will think twice before enforcing these new rules, lest he face a similar fate as Siebert.

"What he brings to high school basketball is great respect," fellow North Shore Conference coach Paul Hepp told the Journal Sentinel in June about Siebert. "His players are always very respectful, and they play the game the way that it's supposed to be played. I think he's a great all-around coach and gets the most out of them and their potential, year in and year out."

Oh, and then there�s Siebert�s performance on the court: he coached his players to a 56-33 record in a tough North Shore conference before being dismissed.

Schools boards and administrators are asking for a revolving door of coaches if they continue this process. Precedents are being set for how to easily remove coaches, and this trend will only continue to hurt the game.

What can coaches do?

There are no definite answers to these problems. That said, here are a few words of caution and advice to anyone considering a high school coaching position.

Get support before taking job

Potential coaches need to demand backing from the administration when interviewing for jobs. Otherwise, they should simply walk away and say no thank you. Without the full support of Superintendent, Principal, and School Board, you simply won�t survive in today�s climate in most cities.

Have thicker skin and ignore the criticism.

If you work hard and can hit the pillow each night knowing you did your best, nothing any parent or fan should get under your skin. As one coach once said, �If I stay out of the bars I never hear a negative word about me.�

Pretty good advice I think.

Communicate and have a dialogue with parents.

If you�re truthful with parents before the season starts and let them know what you want from their son/daughter, I think it can help alleviate potential problems. If you appear to care and show them you want the best for their child, I think they will show you respect you deserve. The worst thing you can do is give them more ammo to use by ignoring them and showing them disrespect; after all, you are coaching their child and you have to expect them to see things differently and be blinded by emotion sometimes.

Have fun coaching.

Some coaches never seem to be enjoying themselves, and I think that translates to kids not having fun playing the game. Basketball is a great game and should be played and coached with enthusiasm. Sixteen- and 17-year-old kids don�t like it when everything is negative and often take that negativity home with them, opening up the potential for parents to blame the coach.

Continue your hard work and you�ll be successful.