June 11, 2011

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

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 4, 2011

US set to regain industrial crown

Peter Marsh:

The era of widespread offshoring of manufacturing from the US to China is coming to an end, according to a study that forecasts a renaissance for American production industries over the next five years.

The report by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) forecasts that, by 2015 - on the back of good productivity growth and relatively low wages - the US is likely to be slightly ahead of China as a base for making many of the goods destined for sale in North America.

Posted by jez at 10:03 PM

April 28, 2011

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 22, 2011

The secret life of the start-up

Gillian Tett

IPlease respect FT.com's ts&cs and copyright policy which allow you to: share links; copy content for personal use; & redistribute limited extracts. Email ftsales.support@ft.com to buy additional rights or use this link to reference the article - http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/2fb4e250-6bc8-11e0-93f8-00144feab49a.html#ixzz1KJNrz2L0

f you were going to spend $2bn to improve the world, where would you put it? Forty-odd years ago, Ewing Marion Kauffman, a self-made billionaire from Missouri, was faced with just that choice. He took a rather unusual decision. Instead of using his self-made billions to battle homelessness or help the poor, he decided to chase the Great American dream. More specifically, he founded an institute, which takes his name, in Kansas City, to promote entrepreneurs and the entrepreneurial ideal. These days the Kauffman Foundation is one of the largest private foundations in America, topped only by groups such as the Ford Foundation or the giant Bill and Melinda Gates charity.

When I first encountered the Kauffman Foundation - which is barely known outside the US - I must admit I found the whole endeavour a little odd, if not ironic. After all, the usual image of entrepreneurs is that they go forth and boldly strike out on their own, without any paternalistic aid. And America, perhaps more than anywhere else, is supposed to epitomise the entrepreneurial dream; indeed, it is one thing that makes it so attractive.

Posted by jez at 10:01 PM

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

April 12, 2011

Enterprise remains rooted in the land

Luke Johnson:

Farmers were the first entrepreneurs. About 10,000 years ago, in Phoenicia and Mesopotamia, humankind started to cultivate crops and converted from hunter-gatherers to settlers. This initiative enabled cities and, indeed, civilisation to flourish.

Since then, agriculture has developed into a modern industry. But it remains dominated by family concerns, headed by rural entrepreneurs focused on the same core issues as their ancient predecessors: land, water, weather, disease, soil and yields.

Traditionally, farms were passed down the generations, offering modest but volatile cash returns and the possibility of long-term capital appreciation - at least, for those who were not tenant farmers. But while more than 90 per cent of farms in countries such as Britain and the US remain privately held, big business has become seriously interested in the sector.

The soft commodities boom of recent years means that many institutions now see farmland as an attractive asset class and an offset against inflation. Hedge funds, private equity, pension and insurance groups are all investing in land in places such as Brazil, Ukraine and Africa. This weight of capital, as well as better farm incomes, has helped drive farmland prices up. Meanwhile, demand among these investors for agricultural opportunities in mature economies such as the US, Australia and Canada has also increased.

Posted by jez at 2:38 AM

April 5, 2011

To Cut Smog, Navistar Blazes Risky Path of Its Own

Tom Zeller & Norman Mayersohn:

In a testing cell tucked deep in the bowels of Navistar's engine plant and technical center here, a hulking prototype of a truck engine sits behind a large glass window like a patient on an operating table. A snarl of sensors and wires is attached to nearly every part of the humming engine, feeding reams of data to a battery of computers and watchful engineers in the adjacent control room.

One measurement -- for nitrogen oxide emissions, or NOx -- is of particular concern to Navistar. From 2010 onward, all new truck engines must achieve tough, near-zero limits for NOx, a chief ingredient of smog. Virtually every truck maker besides Navistar chose to use an add-on system to their existing engines that uses a fluid cocktail to help neutralize the pollutant as it makes its way out of the exhaust.

Navistar went a different route, deciding to invest hundreds of millions of dollars to refine an engine that produces minimal NOx in the first place. At the same time, the company attacked the competing systems, suing federal air quality regulators and claiming that the add-on technology was so flawed that it failed to meet the clean-air requirements.

Posted by jez at 8:54 PM

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

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 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

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 13, 2011

Study: We've Got Plenty of Land for Biofuels

Chuck Squatriglia:

One of the great arguments against biofuels is the wisdom, if not the morality, of using land to produce fuel instead of food. But research out of Illinois suggests it doesn't have to be an either-or proposition.

Researchers at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign have found that biofuel crops cultivated on land unsuitable for food crops could produce as much as half the world's current fuel consumption without adverse impact on food crops or pastureland.

The study, published in Environmental Science and Technology, identifies land around the world that is unsuitable for food production but could be used to raise biofuel feedstocks like switchgrass.

According to the researchers, many studies examining biofuel crop viability focus on yield -- how productive the crop can be. They wanted to examine land availability to determine whether it is possible to produce sufficient biofuel to meet demand without sacrificing food production.

Posted by jez at 7:53 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

December 23, 2010

New Interest in Turning Gas to Diesel

Matthew Wald:

Diesel and jet fuel are usually made from crude oil. But with oil prices rising even as a glut of natural gas keeps prices for that fuel extraordinarily cheap, a bit of expensive alchemy is suddenly starting to look financially appealing: turning natural gas into liquid fuels.

A South African firm, Sasol, announced Monday that it would spend just over 1 billion Canadian dollars to buy a half-interest in a Canadian shale gas field, so it can explore turning natural gas into diesel and other liquids. Sasol's proprietary conversion technology was developed decades ago to help the apartheid government of South Africa survive an international oil embargo, and it is a refinement of the ones used by the Germans to make fuel for the Wehrmacht during World War II.

The technology takes "a lot of money and a lot of effort," said Michael E. Webber, associate director of the Center for International Energy Environmental Policy at the University of Texas, Austin. "You wouldn't do this if you could find easy oil," he said.

Posted by jez at 2:50 PM

December 14, 2010

P2P car sharing

Chris Nuttall:

Google is investing in a start-up that hopes to shake up the vehicle rental industry and change the way people view their cars.

RelayRides.com, which launches in San Francisco on Tuesday after a successful pilot programme in Boston, says it is the world's first operational peer-to-peer car-sharing service.

The Series A round announced with Google Ventures and Valley VC firm August Capital on Tuesday is expected to help it to $5m in total funding to date.

Great idea.

Posted by jez at 10:11 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

November 23, 2010

Rupert Murdoch Does Another Daily

Some of us count sheep, but Rupert Murdoch spends his sleepless nights dreaming up media properties.

It was late May, around 2 a.m., and Murdoch was in his New York penthouse on Fifth Avenue having a tough time falling asleep when a vision came to him: publishing a daily news report that would be exclusively made for the iPad and other tablet devices. There would be no print product.

Murdoch had done his homework, so he already knew that readers spend more time fully immersed with the iPad than they do with the Web. He believes that within a few years, tablet devices will be like cell phones or laptops -- consumers will go into Wal-Mart and buy the things at reasonably cheap prices (far more diminished than the $499 for an iPad now). In his mind, in the not-too-distant future, every member of the family will have one.

Makes perfect sense. Horace Dediu has more.

Posted by jez at 10:03 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

The global power of Brazilian agribusiness

The Economist Intelligence Unit

razil is world's fifth-largest country by geographical area and the largest in terms of arable land. Although only a fraction of its land is exploited, the country produces a highly diverse array of agricultural goods. This puts Brazil in a unique position to lead the global agricultural sector in the medium to long term. With an abundant supply of natural resources--water, land and a favourable climate--it has the opportunity to be the largest agribusiness superpower, supplying the world market while also providing affordable food for its own population.

The country already ranks as the top global supplier of products as diverse as beef, orange juice and ethanol, and is expected to continue to expand its exports in other areas as well, such as cotton, soybean oil and cellulose. Its markets are also diverse: China is now the largest market for Brazilian agribusiness products, and sales to Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Africa are also growing rapidly.

To maintain this trajectory, Brazil must build on the significant improvements in productivity that underpin its current success and overcome the barriers to full realisation of its potential. Obstacles range from scarcity of credit to logistical logjams, from protectionist measures in key markets to environmental concerns.

Frontier regions are a testament to what is right, and wrong, with Brazil's agribusiness sector. The rich harvests from the country's vast hinterland have more than paid back public and private investment in research to create new plant varieties adapted to the region's soil and climate. Large-scale production and professional management have helped to offset the high costs and tight margins of farming such areas. Attracted by the promise of growth, investors have both financed agriculture's expansion and provided technological know-how. Yet agricultural endeavours in these regions are burdened by inadequate transport and insufficient storage capacity. Productivity in such segments as beef production and corn remains low. Margins remain tight.

Posted by jez at 9:38 AM

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

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

September 13, 2010

Foxconn: The Man Who Makes Your iPhone

Frederik Balfour & Tim Culpan:
The interview took place at Longhua, the entrance to which looks like a border crossing, with seven toll-booth-like lanes and uniformed guards. Although drab and utilitarian, the campus is a fully functioning city, with fast-food joints, ATMs, Olympic-size swimming pools, huge LED screens that flash public-service announcements and cartoons, and a bookstore that sells, among other things, the Chinese-language translation of the Harvard Business Review. Prominent on display are biographies of Gou, one of which collects his many aphorisms, including "work itself is a type of joy," "a harsh environment is a good thing," "hungry people have especially clear minds," and "an army of one thousand is easy to get, one general is tough to find."

Foxconn is now the biggest exporter out of China, and its general is the richest man in Taiwan, estimated by Forbes to have a personal fortune of $5.9 billion. He says he cannot confirm that figure, however, as he does not keep track. "I have one guy in charge," Gou says in heavily accented English that he picked up while touring the U.S. in the 1980s. "Every year he gives me a piece of paper and says, 'Hey, this is how much.' I think for me, I am not interested in knowing how much I have. I don't care. I am working not for money at this moment, I am working for society, I am working for my employees."

The colossus that Gou (pronounced "Gwo") runs today started with a $7,500 loan from his mother. His first world headquarters was a shed he rented in 1974 in a gritty Taipei suburb called Tucheng, which means Dirt City in Mandarin. Gou, then 23, had done three years of vocational training and served in the military. He then worked for two years as a shipping clerk, where he got a firsthand view of Taiwan's booming export economy and figured he ought to stop pushing paper and get into the game. With the cash from his mother, he bought a couple of plastic molding machines and started making channel-changing knobs for black-and-white televisions. His first customer was Chicago-based Admiral TV, and he soon got deals to supply RCA, Zenith, and Philips (PHG).

Imagining his future success, he practiced signing his name in English over and over until he had perfected it. He remains proud of it today, walking over to a whiteboard during the interview and signing with a schoolboy flourish. It looked like the perfect cursive script from the credits of I Love Lucy.
Posted by James Zellmer at 7:36 PM

August 31, 2010

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 23, 2010

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 15, 2010

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 10, 2010

Matt Simmons, Author of "Twilight in the Desert" and Peak Oil Speaker, Dies at Age 67

Gail the Actuary:
In his view (and in ours, too), way too many people hear about the huge reported reserves of Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries, and assume that this oil is really available for extraction. Matt makes the point that these reserves, and many others around the world, have not been audited. In fact, they seem to be political numbers, so we cannot depend on them. He also points out that we also do not have detail data with respect to historical oil extraction from individual fields in the Middle East, so we really do not know how close to decline Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries really are.

In 2005, Matt Simmons wrote a book called Twilight in the Desert. In it, he summarized what he learned about Saudi Arabian oil production by reading 200 academic papers. He concluded from his analysis that the oil extraction techniques being used there were techniques that one might use if the fields were quite depleted. Because of this, he doubted that we should believe stories that Saudi oil production can be greatly expanded. Instead, he raised the possibility that in the not too distant future, Saudi oil production will suddenly decline. Matt's research underlying the book was no doubt behind his concern that oil reserves and oil production rates are not audited.

Another thing Matt is known for is his educational graphics about "what is really going on" with respect to oil extraction. For example, in his talk at the 2009 ASPO--USA conference, he shows this graphic of the amount of conventional oil discovered by decade.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:06 AM

August 8, 2010

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 7, 2010

The Style of an Elegant Bookstore

Posted by James Zellmer at 9:47 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 4, 2010

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

June 18, 2010


Atul Gawande:
Half a century ago, medicine was neither costly nor effective. Since then, however, science has combatted our ignorance. It has enumerated and identified, according to the international disease-classification system, more than 13,600 diagnoses—13,600 different ways our bodies can fail. And for each one we’ve discovered beneficial remedies—remedies that can reduce suffering, extend lives, and sometimes stop a disease altogether. But those remedies now include more than six thousand drugs and four thousand medical and surgical procedures. Our job in medicine is to make sure that all of this capability is deployed, town by town, in the right way at the right time, without harm or waste of resources, for every person alive. And we’re struggling. There is no industry in the world with 13,600 different service lines to deliver.

It should be no wonder that you have not mastered the understanding of them all. No one ever will. That’s why we as doctors and scientists have become ever more finely specialized. If I can’t handle 13,600 diagnoses, well, maybe there are fifty that I can handle—or just one that I might focus on in my research. The result, however, is that we find ourselves to be specialists, worried almost exclusively about our particular niche, and not the larger question of whether we as a group are making the whole system of care better for people. I think we were fooled by penicillin. When penicillin was discovered, in 1929, it suggested that treatment of disease could be simple—an injection that could miraculously cure a breathtaking range of infectious diseases. Maybe there’d be an injection for cancer and another one for heart disease. It made us believe that discovery was the only hard part. Execution would be easy.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:45 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

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 10, 2010

Interview: Jung Garden Center's Dick Zondag

Patricia Olsen:
MY grandfather started our mail-order company 100 years ago. In the early 1950s, customers were driving to Randolph, northeast of Madison, to see what they were purchasing by mail from us, and my dad saw an opportunity to start a local garden center.

One of my first jobs was to take the orders for shrubs from the garden center to a storage area and to take the shrubs to the customer. I was 11. I also hoed the weeds and detassled corn.

In the 1990s, the two branches of our family split the business. The Jungs received Jung Seed Genetics, which sells agronomic seeds to farmers, and the Zondags got the catalog division and the garden centers.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:50 PM

April 25, 2010

A worm farm rewrites the start-up rules

Henry Hamman:
The drive up to Coalmont, Grundy County, Tennessee, winds through beautiful countryside – hardwood forests, open meadows, meandering creeks. The land also bears the scars of decades of poverty – collapsed chicken houses, signs advertising “wood for sale”, a faded placard taped to a mailbox printed with the words “Indoor yard sale”. The roadsides are littered with posters for forthcoming local elections; around here, a $50,000 salary as county clerk makes a person part of the economic elite.

This is hardly Silicon Valley or Wall Street, but I am in Coalmont to interview a captain of industry, one of the county’s biggest employers, someone you might even call a visionary – the owner of what must be the world’s only vertically integrated worm factory. Silver Bait LLC produces fishing worms by the millions. But that’s only the beginning of what it produces. The walls of the 170,000sq ft worm factory are made of giant concrete blocks that the company produces onsite. Likewise, the pre-stressed concrete columns and beams in the building. Silver Bait also produces its own corrugated metal roofing on a machine the company’s founder, Bruno Durant, designed and built.

French-born, 50-year-old Durant grows 300 acres of corn here, to feed his worms, and he harvests it with second-hand machinery he renovated in his onsite equipment- maintenance building. He invented his own machinery to harvest the worms and he is about to complete work on a device that will mechanise most of the rest of the worm-­culture process.

He’s also about to put in place a full-scale packing line (designed by himself and built in his onsite machine shop). The worms are dispatched for sale in small plastic containers made in his onsite injection-moulding machine and are delivered to his customers – bait wholesalers across the eastern US – in his company’s refrigerated trucks. He does purchase peat from Canada as the growing medium for his worms. But that’s about all he buys in.
Posted by James Zellmer at 1:40 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

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

February 17, 2010

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 4, 2010

A fight over freedom at Apple’s core

Jonathan Zittrain:
In 1977, a 21-year-old Steve Jobs unveiled something the world had never seen before: a ready-to-program personal computer. After powering the machine up, proud Apple II owners were confronted with a cryptic blinking cursor, awaiting instructions.

The Apple II was a clean slate, a device built – boldly – with no specific tasks in mind. Yet, despite the cursor, you did not have to know how to write programs. Instead, with a few keystrokes you could run software acquired from anyone, anywhere. The Apple II was generative. After the launch, Apple had no clue what would happen next, which meant that what happened was not limited by Mr Jobs’ hunches. Within two years, Dan Bricklin and Bob Frankston had released VisiCalc, the first digital spreadsheet, which ran on the Apple II. Suddenly businesses around the world craved machines previously marketed only to hobbyists. Apple IIs flew off the shelves. The company had to conduct research to figure out why.

Thirty years later Apple gave us the iPhone. It was easy to use, elegant and cool – and had lots of applications right out of the box. But the company quietly dropped a fundamental feature, one signalled by the dropping of “Computer” from Apple Computer’s name: the iPhone could not be programmed by outsiders. “We define everything that is on the phone,” said Mr Jobs. “You don’t want your phone to be like a PC. The last thing you want is to have loaded three apps on your phone and then you go to make a call and it doesn’t work any more.”

The openness on which Apple had built its original empire had been completely reversed – but the spirit was still there among users. Hackers vied to “jailbreak” the iPhone, running new apps on it despite Apple’s desire to keep it closed. Apple threatened to disable any phone that had been jailbroken, but then appeared to relent: a year after the iPhone’s introduction, it launched the App Store. Now outsiders could write software for the iPhone, setting the stage for a new round of revolutionary VisiCalcs – not to mention tens of thousands of simple apps such as iPhone Harmonica or the short-lived I Am Rich, which for $999.99 displayed a picture of a gem, just to show that the iPhone owner could afford the software.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:06 AM

February 3, 2010

A Roving Ambassador For Cheese

Peter Marsh:
Sometimes, doing a headstand works wonders, says Glyn Woolley. That is exactly what he did when tempers were running so high over a pay deal at the London milk depot where he was working in the 1970s that the delivery men threatened to strike. "I said: 'If I stand on my head on the table, will you go back to work?'" He promptly upended himself and the milkmen were, it seems, impressed. "They went back to their milk rounds and came back the next day for a proper discussion in a much calmer atmosphere," says Mr Woolley.

Today, in a cramped office in an industrial estate in Corsham, Wiltshire, Mr Woolley laughs as he recalls those events. During a lifetime in the dairy industry, he has had to be resourceful to become the owner-manager of Coombe Castle, a leading exporter of specialist UK cheeses , that sends products with names such as Stinking Bishop and Lord of the Hundreds as far afield as the US and Japan.

"I am a fighter and I don't like to give up on anything even if it means a huge amount of effort," he says. During the 2002 foot and mouth outbreak in the UK, for instance, that meant "days spent pestering" government officials, and getting the local MP to intervene so the company could sell cheeses from regions not affected by the disease.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:19 PM

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

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

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

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 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 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 9, 2009

Fond farewell to a brilliant thinker

Stefan Stern:
The scene is Detroit, a training room at the headquarters of one of the three great US car companies. A group of corporate vice-presidents is attending a course being given by a distinguished management thinker.

“What you are telling us is great,” the VPs say, “but you are talking to the wrong level. You should be speaking to the next tier up.” The next week, working with more senior managers, he hears the same thing. “This is great, but you are talking to the wrong level. You should be speaking with the chief executive.”

The week after that, our thinker finally gets in to see the boss. “This is great,” the CEO says, “but you should be speaking with my subordinates – I’d need their support in order to do it.”

This is a true story, as told by Russ Ackoff, the management thinker in question, who died a few days ago, aged 90. Two key Ackoffian ideas emerge from this tale. First, do not wait for others in the business to start changing things. Go and do it yourself. But second, and more important: never forget that everyone in the business is interconnected, that they are all operating as part of a system, that tinkering with one part of the company is never really enough, and may even make things worse. You need to see the business as a whole, as a complete system, if you want to make lasting improvements to it.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:13 PM

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 4, 2009

An Interview with Ted Turner on the Changing Role of the Media

Chrystia Freeland - video.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:19 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

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

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

July 25, 2009

2009 Wisconsin Farm Technology Days VR Panorama Scenes

View five vr scenes from "Tent City": Scene 1 / Scene 2 / Scene 3 / Scene 4 / Scene 5. After clicking, place your mouse in the image and pan in any direction.

View a still image library here.

More photos and vr scenes from the Craves Brothers farm, taken last fall.

Crave Brothers website and the Wisconsin Farm Technology Days website.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:01 PM

July 22, 2009

2009 Wisconsin Farm Technology Days - Photos

Website and directions. Many more photos here.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:47 AM

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

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

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

May 28, 2009

Organic Dairies Watch the Good Times Turn Bad

Kate Zezima:
When Ken Preston went organic on his dairy farm here in 2005, he figured that doing so would guarantee him what had long been elusive: a stable, high price for the milk from his cows.

Sure enough, his income soared 20 percent, and he could finally afford a Chevy Silverado pickup to help out. The dairy conglomerate that distributed his milk wanted everything Mr. Preston could supply. Supermarket orders were skyrocketing.

But soon the price of organic feed shot up. Then the recession hit, and families looking to save on groceries found organic milk easy to do without. Ultimately the conglomerate, with a glut of product, said it would not renew his contract next month, leaving him with nowhere to sell his milk, a victim of trends that are crippling many organic dairy farmers from coast to coast.

For those farmers, the promises of going organic — a steady paycheck and salvation for small family farms — have collapsed in the last six months. As the trend toward organic food consumption slows after years of explosive growth, no sector is in direr shape than the $1.3 billion organic milk industry. Farmers nationwide have been told to cut milk production by as much as 20 percent, and many are talking of shutting down.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:31 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 9, 2009

Khosla on Renewable Energy

Robert Rapier:
EC (13:40): In the past 90 days we have seen something like a billion dollars being put into solar investments - whether in the form of equity or debt. Is that stupid money?

VK: The people who are putting in gobs of money, behind people chasing First Solar at billion dollar valuations - I won't say it's stupid but it's not something I would do with my money. (EC: That pretty much counts as stupid). A diversity of opinion is good. I am often wrong. (EC: Sometimes you are). You only need to be correct once in a while because in our business you only lose one time your money but you can make 100 times quite easily. I don't have to be very right.

(RR: I would like to hear that during his next congressional testimony where he is trying to drive the direction of energy policy: "I am often wrong." But this also gets to the heart of why I often object to what he is saying. If he uses his high level of influence to help put us down the wrong path on energy policy, then what are the consequences of being wrong? They could be severe.)

EC (14:38): How many companies do you currently have in your portfolio?

VK: Our clean tech portfolio has probably about 50 companies.

EC (15:48): Which was the biggest disappointment?

VK: We have not had any large cut-offs - I am trying to think - in our clean tech portfolio. When we have invested a lot of money, there's one or two places - well one we wrote off; one called Altra. (RR: Altra is a corn ethanol producer that is on the ropes). There's one place we actually decided to change the plan - Cilion - and made it capital neutral, so they don't need a lot of cash. Got rid of the debt; the company is going fine, but sort of on the slow boat.
Posted by James Zellmer at 7:00 AM

April 19, 2009

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

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

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 22, 2009

An Interview with FedEx CEO Fred Smith

SF Chronicle:
Frederick W. Smith, the founder, president, chairman and CEO of FedEx, built the first overnight express delivery company in the world, starting in 1971. Today, FedEx, based in Memphis, has service in more than 220 countries and territories.

Like most other businesses, FedEx is encountering economic turmoil and is operating by Smith's belt-tightening orders. He cut his own salary by 20 percent.

Legend has it that Smith, 64, outlined his concept for FedEx in a paper in an economics class at Yale University for which he earned a C. (He corrects the record in this interview.) At Yale, he was a friend and fraternity brother of former President George W. Bush, to whom he believes history ultimately will be more kind.

In the Marine Corps in Vietnam, Smith received the Silver Star, the Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts as a platoon leader and forward air controller. It was there that he observed military procurement and delivery procedures and thought he could improve on them.

Smith is unwavering in his belief that U.S. corporate tax policy must change, but practical enough to know that the new administration and Congress will not go along with the idea. He still believes one aspect could be enacted - accelerating the expensing of capital investment that would put money into corporate hands sooner.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:21 PM

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

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

January 12, 2009

Failure: The Secret to Success

A useful video from Honda:

Posted by James Zellmer at 4:40 PM

December 5, 2008

The Checklist

Atul Gawande:
he damage that the human body can survive these days is as awesome as it is horrible: crushing, burning, bombing, a burst blood vessel in the brain, a ruptured colon, a massive heart attack, rampaging infection. These conditions had once been uniformly fatal. Now survival is commonplace, and a large part of the credit goes to the irreplaceable component of medicine known as intensive care. It’s an opaque term. Specialists in the field prefer to call what they do “critical care,” but that doesn’t exactly clarify matters. The non-medical term “life support” gets us closer. Intensive-care units take artificial control of failing bodies.

Typically, this involves a panoply of technology—a mechanical ventilator and perhaps a tracheostomy tube if the lungs have failed, an aortic balloon pump if the heart has given out, a dialysis machine if the kidneys don’t work. When you are unconscious and can’t eat, silicone tubing can be surgically inserted into the stomach or intestines for formula feeding. If the intestines are too damaged, solutions of amino acids, fatty acids, and glucose can be infused directly into the bloodstream.

The difficulties of life support are considerable. Reviving a drowning victim, for example, is rarely as easy as it looks on television, where a few chest compressions and some mouth-to-mouth resuscitation always seem to bring someone with waterlogged lungs and a stilled heart coughing and sputtering back to life. Consider a case report in The Annals of Thoracic Surgery of a three-year-old girl who fell into an icy fishpond in a small Austrian town in the Alps. She was lost beneath the surface for thirty minutes before her parents found her on the pond bottom and pulled her up. Following instructions from an emergency physician on the phone, they began cardiopulmonary resuscitation. A rescue team arrived eight minutes later. The girl had a body temperature of sixty-six degrees, and no pulse. Her pupils were dilated and did not react to light, indicating that her brain was no longer working.
Posted by James Zellmer at 1:19 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 23, 2008

Oregon Gears Up For Chinese Auto Imports

Bertel Schmitt:
Last week, Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski clinched a deal to bring Nissan’s pure-electric cars to his state. Then, he went on to Shenzen, China. “At BYD Auto Co., China’s fast-growing automotive star, a plug-in electric hybrid sedan is just weeks from meeting millions of Chinese consumers” writes the Oregonian. “The F3DM, which runs up to 80 miles on a single charge and packs a 7-gallon tank, will probably launch in the United States by 2010.” The Governor wants it to be built in Oregon. On Friday, he met with BYD President Wang Chuanfu. On a 10-day business trip through Asia, Kulongoski had laid out his vision to automakers in Japan and China: Electric charging stations every 60 miles along interstates. Tax incentives for Oregonians to buy electric cars. Tax bonuses for drivers to build car chargers in their garages. And, unspoken, but you can bet on it: generous incentives for those who bring their factories to Oregon. Then, Kulongoski has guanxi, connections, indispensable for a successful Chinese deal…
Posted by James Zellmer at 1:46 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

September 23, 2008

The Power of One

A few years ago, I had an opportunity to hear "her deepness" Sylvia Earle speak. She included this short video in her presentation - "the Power of One".

Earle emphasized the opportunities we all have to change the world. I recalled her talk while visiting with Hal Herron recently. Herron, of Riverton, Wyoming has been adding outdoor art to his home town in an interesting way.

Museums often create large banners to promote an exhibit. Herron sought out these banners after a showing is complete. He pays for shipping to Riverton and places them around the community for all to enjoy. Fascinating. He forwarded two photos, seen below:

Bill Perkin's full page New York Times ad in today's paper is another illustration of the "Power of One".

Perkins approach requires a certain size checkbook, of course :)

All of which reminds me of the "two greatest commandments".

Posted by jez at 8:38 AM

September 22, 2008

"The Era of Leverage is Over"

Gillian Tett:

A few years ago, senior officials at the Bank for International Settlements started ringing alarm bells about the scale of leverage that was quietly building up in the financial system. Back then, though, it was fantastically hard to get American policymakers - let alone bankers - to listen.

In the go-go days of the credit bubble, Washington policymakers blithely assumed that the Western financial system had plenty of capital to cope with any potential risks. Consequently, as one former BIS official admits: "Worrying about leverage wasn't fashionable at all - no one wanted to hear."

Fast-forward a couple of years and, my, how those Western financiers are having to eat humble pie (even to the point of accepting a helping hand from the once-ailing Japanese). After all, the events of the past year have now made it patently - horrifically - obvious that the Western banking system has become dangerously undercapitalised in recent years, to the point where even the Federal Reserve is having to shore up its defences.

Moreover, it is now also clear that Western policymakers are belatedly trying to correct this state of affairs. The days when high leverage, mega bonuses and wacky instruments were equated with financial virility have gone; instead a more humble, back-to-basics and slim-line approach is what investors are demanding. Thus, deleveraging is now all the rage - in whatever form it might take.

Posted by jez at 6:13 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 3, 2008

Open Records Guerrilla

Nathan Halverson:

But if you want to download and save those laws to your computer, forget it.

The state claims copyright to those laws. It dictates how you can access and distribute them -- and therefore how much you'll have to pay for print or digital copies.

It forbids people from storing or distributing its laws without consent.

That doesn't sit well with Carl Malamud, a Sebastopol resident with an impressive track record of pushing for digital access to public information. He wants California -- and every other federal, state and local agency -- to drop their copyright claims on law, contending it will pave the way for innovators to create new ways of searching and presenting laws.

"When it comes to the law, the courts have always said there can be no copyright because people are obligated to know what it says," Malamud said. "Ignorance of the law is no excuse in court."

Malamud is spoiling for a major legal fight.

Posted by jez at 8:15 PM

September 2, 2008

Former housemates John Mackey and Kip Tindell talk about poker, retailing, and the limitations of shareholder capitalism

Justin Fox:

My column in this week's Time is about John Mackey, the CEO and co-founder of Whole Foods Market, and Kip Tindell, the CEO and co-founder of the Container Store, and their shared belief that corporations perform a lot better over time if their executives focus more on employees and customers than on shareholders.

Mackey and Tindell go way back--they shared a house in Austin with three friends one year in the mid-1970s as they worked their way through the University of Texas on the eight-year plan. They've recently begun hanging out together a bit, and when I met Tindell at a National Retail Federation event in New York late last year, he invited me to come down to Texas to talk to the two of them. So I did. We met at Whole Foods' headquarters in Austin, which is perched atop the chain's flagship store, and we talked, and talked. Tindell is stereotypical laid-back, slow-talking Texan. Mackey is a not so stereotypical hyper, fast-talking Texan. But they seemed to get along pretty well. As for me, I mostly just stayed out of the way.

What follows is an edited transcript of the conversation. I cut some stuff out, moved a few passages around, and removed a lot of "uhs" and "you knows" (mine as well as theirs). Beyond that it's a pretty faithful representation of what was said. It's pretty long, too. But most educational.

Posted by jez at 4:07 PM

August 26, 2008

A narrated slide show on the latest Texas Monthly Cover


Posted by jez at 8:44 AM

August 18, 2008

The Coming Boom in Medical Travel

The Economist:

HEALTH care has long seemed one of the most local of all industries. Yet beneath the bandages, globalisation is thriving. The outsourcing of record keeping and the reading of X-rays is already a multi-billion-dollar business. The recruitment of doctors and nurses from the developing world by rich countries is also common, if controversial. The next growth area for the industry is the flow of patients in the other direction--known as "medical tourism"--which is on the threshold of a dramatic boom.

Tens of millions of middle-class Americans are uninsured or underinsured and soaring health costs are pushing them and cost-conscious employers and insurers to look abroad for savings (see article). At the same time the best hospitals in Asia and Latin America now rival or surpass many hospitals in the rich world for safety and quality. On one estimate, Americans can save 85% by shopping around and the number who will travel for care is due to rocket from under 1m last year to 10m by 2012--by which time it will deprive American hospitals of some $160 billion of annual business.

Posted by jez at 10:36 AM

August 5, 2008

An Update on Eclipse Aviation

James Wallace:

'As a self-described "aviation nut," Vern Raburn – the former software executive and one of the early employees of Microsoft who remains a close friend of Bill Gates – was well aware of a famous saying in the aviation industry: The way to make a small fortune is to start with a big fortune.

The charismatic, high-tech whiz raised at least a billion dollars from investors, including Gates, who were willing to hitch a ride on his dream that Eclipse Aviation, the company Raburn founded in 1998, could produce light and inexpensive six-seat jets (a pilot and five passengers) that would become an air-taxi service for the masses.

But last week, while Raburn was at the famed Oshkosh air show, where his friend and actor John Travolta was promoting prompting Eclipse Aviation, Raburn was ousted by his board, leaving questions about not only the future of the company but about the legacy of a computer industry pioneer who believed he could draw on software development background to transform general aviation.

Posted by jez at 9:07 PM

August 4, 2008

Nassim Nicholas Taleb: the prophet of boom and doom

Bryan Appleyard:

"You have to worry about things you can do something about. I worry about people not being there and I want to make them aware." We should be mistrustful of knowledge. It is bad for us. Give a bookie 10 pieces of information about a race and he’ll pick his horses. Give him 50 and his picks will be no better, but he will, fatally, be more confident.

We should be ecologically conservative – global warming may or may not be happening but why pollute the planet? – and probablistically conservative. The latter, however, has its limits. Nobody, not even Taleb, can live the sceptical life all the time – “It’s an art, it’s hard work.” So he doesn’t worry about crossing the road and doesn’t lock his front door – “I can’t start getting paranoid about that stuff.” His wife locks it, however.

He believes in aristocratic – though not, he insists, elitist – values: elegance of manner and mind, grace under pressure, which is why you must shave before being executed. He believes in the Mediterranean way of talking and listening. One piece of advice he gives everybody is: go to lots of parties and listen, you might learn something by exposing yourself to black swans.

I ask him what he thinks are the primary human virtues, and eventually he comes up with magnanimity – punish your enemies but don’t bear grudges; compassion – fairness always trumps efficiency; courage – very few people have this; and tenacity – tinker until it works for you.

Posted by jez at 5:33 AM

August 3, 2008

George Eastman House

Website, Location. George Eastman via Britannica and Clusty.

Posted by jez at 7:21 PM

July 18, 2008

21 Great Technologies That Failed

Jeremy A. Kaplan and Sascha Segan:

The most innovative tech doesn't always succeed. Here we present 10 great technologies each from Apple and Microsoft that were simply too far ahead of their time.

Mention technology that failed and people instantly think of Microsoft Bob, the IBM PCjr, and worse. But those weren't necessarily great products—heck, Bob wasn't a good idea at all. The ideas and innovations that succeed aren't necessarily the best either; they just happened to be in the right place at the right time.

Posted by jez at 9:10 AM

July 1, 2008

Southwest Flies Past High Oil Prices


BOB MOON: We're seeing the results of all this financial turbulence in the not-so-friendly skies lately. Both American and United have announced they're cutting flights domestically and internationally.

Across the industry, companies are trying to nickel and dime their way to profitability, hitting consumers with fuel surcharges or extra fees for baggage, but one carrier has managed to navigate a relatively smooth flight path.

Marketplace's Jeff Tyler looks at how Southwest has steered clear of trouble.

Perhaps one day, Madison will be fortunate to enjoy Southwest service.

Posted by jez at 4:33 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

May 29, 2008

Why Rivals Don't Copy Southwest's Hedging

George Anders:

David Carter, an associate professor of finance at Oklahoma State, has an interesting perspective on why rivals haven't caught up to Southwest. Prof. Carter helped write a 2004 case study on Southwest's hedging that is taught in business schools. Although the study details how Southwest uses home-heating-oil futures and other instruments to make its hedges work, Prof. Carter says he has heard from only one other airline that seemed interested in putting that knowledge to work: the German carrier Lufthansa.

Other carriers may have opted for caution because it is psychologically hard to switch strategies when prices are moving against you, Prof. Carter says. Airlines that didn't hedge much when oil was at $25 or $40 a barrel might have felt uncomfortable launching a big hedging program when oil got above $60.

Frequent management shuffles at many airlines also might have made it harder for carriers other than Southwest to jump into hedging in a big way, Prof. Carter adds. A hedging blunder early in a CEO's tenure might overshadow whatever else that boss might be accomplishing.

Southwest's treasurer, Scott Topping, offers another possible explanation of why his airline has stayed ahead of the pack so long: Since the late 1990s, Southwest's hedging strategy has been set by two or three people, rather than by committee, making it easier to act decisively.

Posted by jez at 9:01 AM

May 16, 2008

Pleasant Rowland Lists Homes in Aurora, NY

Sara Lin:

Pleasant Rowland, the founder of doll company American Girl who spent six years and millions of dollars restoring much of Aurora, N.Y., has put both of her houses there on the market.

From 2001 to 2006, Ms. Rowland renovated town buildings owned by Wells College, her alma mater. Some townspeople criticized the renovations as too extensive. "I just simply saved a town that was crumbling," Ms. Rowland says now. "My work there is completed." She says the dispute isn't her reason for leaving town.

One of the houses in Aurora, which is 46 miles southwest of Syracuse, is a 10,000-square-foot Queen Anne lakefront mansion built about 1902 with six bedrooms. It could use some interior renovation, Ms. Rowland says, and comes with 200 feet of frontage on Cayuga Lake, a dock and a boathouse. The two-acre property is listed for $2.2 million. The other house, an 1830 Federal-style home of 4,000 square feet with three bedrooms, is restored, Ms. Rowland says. The four-acre property is listed for $2 million.

In 1985, Ms. Rowland founded American Girl, which Mattel bought for $700 million in 1998. These homes represent the last of Ms. Rowland's recent ties to Aurora. Last week, she sold Aurora-based MacKenzie-Childs, a decorative-tableware and home-furnishings company. She's based in Madison, Wis. Paddington Zwigard of Brown Harris Stevens has both home listings.

It must be noted that former Mattel CEO Jill Barad signed the $700M check.

Posted by jez at 8:21 AM

April 22, 2008

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

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

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 12, 2008

Taxis in the Sky

Jim Fallows:

True, a cover story I wrote for this magazine seven years ago, contending that the era of tiny, convenient, and relatively affordable jet airplanes was at hand, won an Article of the Year award from an aviation lobbying group. But it would be fair to describe the broader reaction as: Oh, sure! (“Freedom of the Skies,” June 2001, was excerpted from my book Free Flight.) New and more fuel-efficient jet engines; new, quieter, and more comfortable small airplanes; new and more-automated ways of routing aircraft around bad weather and away from congested areas—these and other innovations, I wrote, might make a new kind of air travel more practical for more people. This wouldn’t mean personal aviation in the Jetsons sense—a plane in every garage, people zooming around at will. But it might provide business travelers with something that until then only the truly rich had enjoyed: a fast and personalized alternative to the ever less delightful experience of travel on commercial airlines.

Most readers thought that personal airplanes, like personal yachts, would always be the playthings of the very rich. The familiar (and aptly named) Airbus or Boeing aircraft would have to do, as would impenetrable modern fare structures and the grind of big-airport congestion. It obviously didn’t help that three months later, the use of passenger airplanes as terrorist tools put aviation in general under new limits and scrutiny. Allow new routes and possibilities for air travel? Ha! Everything air-related was destined to be more controlled.

Posted by jez at 8:41 PM

April 11, 2008

Waterloo's Crave Brothers Featured on NBC Nightly News

Roger O'Neill video takes a look at the Crave Brothers use of methane - from their cow poop - to power the farm and 120 neighboring homes. The farm includes a cheese factory.

Posted by jez at 6:46 PM

March 30, 2008

Creativity Step by Step: A Conversation with Choreographer Twyla Tharp

Diane Coutu:

The notion that some people are simply born artistic—and that there is a profile that can help organizations identify them—is quite firmly entrenched. All the talk of genetic determination nowadays undoubtedly has a lot to do with that. But the idea that creativity is a predetermined personality trait probably appeals at a psychological level because it gives people an excuse for not innovating or initiating change themselves, reducing the problem of creativity to a recruitment challenge.

Significantly, the people least likely to buy into the idea that creativity is preordained are the creative geniuses themselves. Choreographer Twyla Tharp, for one, doesn’t subscribe to any notion of effortless artistry. As someone who has changed the face of dance, she’s certainly qualified to have an opinion. The winner of a MacArthur fellowship (popularly called “the genius grant”), two Emmy awards, and a Tony award, she has written and directed television programs, created Broadway productions, and choreographed dances for the movies Hair, Ragtime, and Amadeus. Tharp, now 66, did all this while creating more than 130 dances—many of which have become classics—for her own company, the Joffrey Ballet, the New York City Ballet, the Paris Opera Ballet, London’s Royal Ballet, and American Ballet Theatre. The author of two books, she is now in the process of simultaneously developing new ballets for the Miami City Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, and Pacific Northwest Ballet.

At her Manhattan home, Tharp met with HBR senior editor Diane Coutu to discuss what it takes to be a choreographer. In these pages, she shares what she has learned about fostering creativity, initiating change, and firing even top-notch performers when push comes to shove. In her suffer-no-fools way, she talks about her “monomaniacal absorption” with her work and the need to be tough, even ruthless, when that work is at stake. What follows is an edited version of their conversation.

Posted by jez at 8:12 AM

March 20, 2008

A Superb Easter Ham

Milwaukee's European Homemade Sausage.

Posted by jez at 9:28 PM

March 15, 2008

Let's Talk About Your Big But But

Paul Orfalea:

My December 31, 2007, blog entry was called What Do You Listen For? I wrote that if you listen for errors and offense, you will find them, but if you listen for truth and meaning, you will find them instead.

How can you tell when someone is not listening for truth and meaning? One sign is the word, “but,” which suggests one has listened only for something to contradict. The Entrepreneurial Investor co-author Dean Zatkowsky calls the expression “yeah, but…” a “reflexive rebuttal,” a knee-jerk need to trump another’s point with one of your own.

Posted by jez at 4:33 AM

February 12, 2008

The List: The World’s Best Places to Be an Immigrant

Foreign Policy:

Throughout the developed world, countries are tightening up border security, building fences, and raising citizenship requirements. But there are still a few places left that are willing to say: “Give us your huddled masses.”

Posted by jez at 9:27 AM

February 9, 2008

Wisconsin's Chocolate Delta

Kit Kiefer:

OAKS Candy Corner in Oshkosh is a chocolate mirage.

Its gingerbread exterior yields to an interior that in winter is as sugary warm as the inside of a circus peanut and in summer is as refreshing as a wax Coke bottle. It smells like caramel corn and cocoa butter rubbed into the floorboards with a pair of Red Wing boots. It’s the shop just around the corner in an unremittingly blue-collar part of an unremittingly blue-collar town. It shouldn’t still be there, but there it is.

If Oaks Candy is a mirage, then the Hughes Homaid Chocolate Shop, less than half a mile away, is a figment of Wisconsin’s imagination. An 80-year-old bungalow two blocks from Lake Winnebago, it has only a small neon sign to state its trade and a full-blown candy-making operation in its basement.

But Oshkosh isn’t the only caretaker of these unlikely sweet dreams. There’s Beerntsen’s in Manitowoc, with its plate lunches and ice cream sodas; Wilmar Chocolates in Appleton, with its old-time awnings and row of state-fair prizes on the south wall; Kaap’s in Green Bay, with its jar of jawbreakers on the counter; Seroogy’s in De Pere, with its magical whipped-chocolate-filled “meltaways”; and more, much more.

Posted by jez at 12:53 PM

February 3, 2008

Eureka! It Really Takes Years of Hard Work

Janet Rae-Dupree:

WE’VE all heard the tales of the apple falling on Newton’s head and Archimedes leaping naked from his bath shrieking “Eureka!” Many of us have even heard that eBay was created by a guy who realized that he could help his fiancée sell Pez dispensers online.

The fact that all three of these epiphany stories are pure fiction stops us short. As humans, we want to believe that creativity and innovation come in flashes of pure brilliance, with great thunderclaps and echoing ahas. Innovators and other creative types, we believe, stand apart from the crowd, wielding secrets and magical talents beyond the rest of us.

Balderdash. Epiphany has little to do with either creativity or innovation. Instead, innovation is a slow process of accretion, building small insight upon interesting fact upon tried-and-true process. Just as an oyster wraps layer upon layer of nacre atop an offending piece of sand, ultimately yielding a pearl, innovation percolates within hard work over time.

“The most useful way to think of epiphany is as an occasional bonus of working on tough problems,” explains Scott Berkun in his 2007 book, “The Myths of Innovation.” “Most innovations come without epiphanies, and when powerful moments do happen, little knowledge is granted for how to find the next one. To focus on the magic moments is to miss the point. The goal isn’t the magic moment: it’s the end result of a useful innovation.”

Posted by jez at 2:24 PM

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


Robb Coppinger:

Virgin Galactic has unveiled a SpaceShipTwo (SS2) design, created by Scaled Composites, that harks back to the NASA/USAF Boeing X-20 Dyna-Soar glider of the 1960s, while Scaled's carrier aircraft, White Knight II (WK2) has been given a twin-fuselage configuration.

To be launched on a Lockheed Martin Titan III rocket, Dyna-Soar was for hypersonic flight research but the programme was cancelled before the first vehicle was completed. Some of its subsystems were used in later X-15 flight research and Dyna-Soar became a testbed for advanced technologies that contributed to projects, including the Space Shuttle.

Posted by jez at 12:08 PM

January 19, 2008

How Brazil outfarmed the American farmer

Susanna Hecht & Charles Mann:

Phil Corzine is not abandoning Illinois. A longtime soybean farmer in Assumption, a small town east of Springfield, he is firmly loyal to his state - he once ran the Illinois Soybean Checkoff Board, a program in which Illinois farmers promote Illinois soybeans. But the 1,300 acres Corzine planted in 2007 are not in Illinois, or even in the Midwest. They're in central Brazil, in the state of Tocantins, part of a big swath of soy-producing lands that stretch between the Andes and the Atlantic forest and from northern Argentina to the southern flanks of the Amazon basin. Soylandia, as this immense region might be called, is almost entirely unknown to Americans. But it may well be the future of one of the world's most important industries: grain agriculture.

Mainly out of curiosity, Corzine visited Brazil in 1998. Like most U.S. soy producers, he'd noted Brazil's rapid rise in the trade - from amateur to global power in the space of a couple of decades. Its scale of operations, however, stunned him. A big farm in Illinois may cover 3,000 acres; spreads in Soylandia are routinely ten times bigger. Conditions there were primitive, Corzine thought, but Soylandia was going to expand in a way that was no longer possible in the U.S. With three partners he raised $1.3 million from more than 90 investors, mostly Midwestern farmers. In Illinois, he says, that kind of money "can't even buy the equipment, let alone the land." In Brazil it was enough for Corzine's group to acquire 3,500 acres in 2004. Since then, the land has almost doubled in value as other American investors clamored to get into Brazilian soy. This year Corzine, now 49, raised another $400,000. "We feel like what's going on is long-term positive," he says with Midwestern understatement.

Posted by James Zellmer at 10:15 AM

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

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 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

November 30, 2007

A Company is the Sum of its People

Miss Rogue:

Compound this with a very astute tweet by my friend Chris Heuer (another budding author) a couple of weeks back:

Companies don’t really have conversations with customers, their employees do. People talking to people is real, beyond marketing and spin... 10:56 AM November 01, 2007

Posted by James Zellmer at 4:58 PM

November 26, 2007

An Interview with Sam Zell

Connie Bruck:

In April, 2005, Sam Zell travelled to Abu Dhabi to meet Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan. Zell is best known as a real-estate magnate, whose reputation has been enhanced by the sale, last February, for thirty-nine billion dollars, of Equity Office Properties Trust, the largest collection of office buildings in the country. Zell, who is sixty-six, delights in claiming that at the time the sale—to Blackstone, the private-equity firm—was “the largest single transaction that has ever been done.” But for decades his appetite for economic opportunity has lured him beyond real estate into investments in oil and gas, barges, insurance, wineries, cruise ships, department stores, waste-to-energy power projects, and radio stations. In April, he signed an $8.2-billion deal that would effectively give him control of Tribune Company, the giant media conglomerate, whose assets include the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times. For about a dozen years, he has also invested aggressively abroad, most recently in the Middle East. He spends about twelve hundred hours a year on his plane—the equivalent of flying from New York to London every few days. “I want to see everybody in their habitat,” he told me, in a low, rasping voice. “When these people see me come halfway around the world to meet them and spend time with them, it creates a level of confidence that translates into other things”—by which he means, he says, “successful business.”

Zell has made much of his fortune by identifying opportunity where others see only trouble. He says that he is constantly trying to “shut out the noise” of conventional wisdom, because, although it may not always be wrong, it is rarely profitable. In the mid-seventies, he bought about three billion dollars’ worth of distressed real estate in cities across the country for “a dollar down and a hope certificate.” He made hundreds of millions of dollars. In 1978, he published an article about his exploits in Real Estate Review, which he titled “The Grave Dancer” (“I was dancing on the skeletons of other people’s mistakes”), and this became his nickname. If Zell gains control of Tribune Company—the deal is expected to close before the end of the year, though obstacles remain—it will be the biggest distressed entity that he has ever acquired. In addition to the Chicago and Los Angeles daily newspapers, the company owns Newsday, six other dailies, and twenty-three television stations, as well as the Chicago Cubs. In part because of rapidly declining profits in the newspaper industry, Tribune’s revenues have been dropping for years. When Tribune’s directors put the company up for sale, in September, 2006, a number of prospective buyers examined its assets and walked away. By the time Zell made his offer, last March, his only competition was a less fully formed bid from the Los Angeles businessmen Ronald Burkle and Eli Broad.

Posted by James Zellmer at 7:36 PM

November 24, 2007

Top 12 Areas for Technology Innovation through 2025

Social Technologies:

What will likely be the most important scientific and technological breakthroughs with significant commercial value and impacts on the lives of consumers out to 2025?

To begin to answer that question, S)T's Technology Foresight program conducted a virtual, global focus group of experts in technology, innovation, and business strategy. The group included experts from the Association of Professional Futurists, Tekes, Duke University, Hasbro, Worldwatch, General Motors, Shell, Johnson Controls, and Oxford University, among others.

After consolidating input from the expert panel and analysis by Social Technologies' futurists, what emerged was our list of top 12 areas for tech innovation through 2025:

Personalized medicine—With the initial mapping of the human genome, scientists are moving rapidly toward the following likely breakthroughs for gene-based products and services:

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:00 AM

November 22, 2007

My Hero, Benjamin Grossbaum (Graham)

James Grant:

It is a pleasure to be here this evening. I am under strict instructions from the rector of Grace Church, Brooklyn, not to let down the Episcopal side. Uphold the highest standards of the Episcopalian intellectual tradition, he told me. What that tradition might be, he couldn't say, and neither can I. But I'll do my level best.

My subject is Benjamin Graham: his life, his investment philosophy, his writings and his Jewishness. About his love life, I will say little, as my time this evening is limited—just three hours, I believe. Some years ago, Fortune Magazine, in a squib it published on the occasion of Graham's induction into the U.S. Business Hall of Fame, said that the thrice-married father of value investing "leaped from blonde to blonde like an Alpine goat springing from peak to peak."

I am a frankly worshipful admirer of Graham's. I love him for his heart as much as for his head. Between 1929 and 1932, his investment partnership lost 70% of its value. Not until 1936 did it recoup all it relinquished since the Crash. Yet Graham persevered and, along with his partner, Jerry Newman, went on to achieve a brilliant long-term investment record—not excluding those three disastrous years. We have all heard the platitude, "The first rule of investing is not to lose money and the second rule is not to forget the first." Very helpful. Well, Graham shows that a debilitating loss is no reason to give up. . . . Never quit.

Posted by James Zellmer at 8:58 AM

November 19, 2007

Intuitive Decision Making

Kurt Matzler, Franz Bailom and Todd A. Mooradian:

Should executives make decisions based on what their “gut” tells them? Lately that idea has lost some favor, as technology’s ability to accumulate and analyze data has rapidly increased — supplanting, according to some accounts, the high-level manager’s need to draw heavily on intuition. But intuition needs some rescuing from its detractors, and the place to start is by clarifying what it really is, and how it should be developed.

Intuition is not a magical sixth sense or a paranormal process; nor does it signify the opposite of reason or random and whimsical decision making. Rather, intuition is a highly complex and highly developed form of reasoning that is based on years of experience and learning, and on facts, patterns, concepts, procedures and abstractions stored in one’s head.

In this article, the authors draw on examples from the worlds of chess, neuroscience and business — especially Austria’s KTM Sportmotorcycle AG — to show that intuitive decision making should not be prematurely buried. They point out that although the study of intuition has not been extensively explored as a part of management science, studies reveal that several ingredients are critical to intuition’s development: years of domain-specific experience; the cultivation of personal and professional networks; the development of emotional intelligence; a tolerance for mistakes; a healthy sense of curiosity; and a sense of intuition’s limits.

Posted by James Zellmer at 11:06 AM

November 11, 2007

Putting the Past to Work

Jack Falvey:

IN AN AGE OF INFORMATION OVERLOAD, identifying the most useful information in a timely fashion isn't easy -- and it may be some comfort to know it never was. Yet by studying the adaptive skills of earlier captains of commerce, entrepreneurs in even the most cutthroat businesses can learn how to smack down the competition.

The key: Embrace invention -- even that of your competitors -- and use it better and faster than they do.

In the 1870s, John D. Rockefeller had a telegraph line run to his Euclid Avenue home in Cleveland. When he came home for lunch, he could stay in touch with his Oil City, Pa., contacts for updates on gushers and dry holes. He could then telegraph his brother in New York to adjust the price of kerosene for the European market, and his brother could pass the price on to Europe by trans-Atlantic cable.

Although Standard Oil employed telegraphers, John D. Rockefeller sent and received his own "e-mails." Sending and receiving Morse code at commercial speeds were not easy skills to master, but Rockefeller was "computer-literate." He had to be skilled in the current technology to have the best information and act on it.

The oil business of that day was not a fuel business. Standard Oil sold illumination. Tallow and whale-oil concerns were its competitors. Kerosene lamps, especially with mantles that burned white-hot, were a great advance in technology. Standard Oil produced a lamp-fuel kerosene of such purity that explosions were greatly reduced. Its five-gallon branded blue tins became known around the world. (Meanwhile, the byproduct of kerosene distillation, gasoline, was discarded as a nuisance.)

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:00 AM

November 6, 2007

Georgia Plant is First for Making Ethanol from Waste

Kathleen Schalch:

for curbing greenhouse gas emissions and pursuing energy independence lies in cellulosic ethanol. That's ethanol that could be brewed from things like corn stalks, straw, wood chips — things we normally throw away.

Companies have been racing to find cost-effective ways to make this form of ethanol. A company called Range Fuels in Georgia is scheduled to break ground Tuesday on the world's first plant for making cellulosic ethanol.


Range Fuels website.

Posted by James Zellmer at 1:17 PM

November 1, 2007

Giving Stuff Away on the Internet

Scott Adams:

As with most of my life decisions, my impulse to blog was a puzzling little soup of miscellaneous causes that bubbled and simmered until one day I noticed I was doing something. I figured I needed a rationalization in case anyone asked. My rationalization for blogging was especially hard to concoct. I was giving away my product for free and hoping something good came of it.

I did have a few "artist" reasons for blogging. After 18 years of writing "Dilbert" comics, I was itching to slip the leash and just once write "turd" without getting an email from my editor. It might not seem like a big deal to you, but when you aren't allowed to write in the way you talk, it's like using the wrong end of the shovel to pick up, for example, a turd.

Over time, I noticed something unexpected and wonderful was happening with the blog. I had an army of volunteer editors, and they never slept. The readers were changing the course of my writing in real time. I would post my thoughts on a topic, and the masses told me what they thought of the day's offering without holding anything back. Often they'd correct my grammar or facts and I'd fix it in minutes. They were in turns brutal and encouraging. They wanted more posts on some topics and less of others. It was like the old marketing saying, "Your customers tell you what business you're in."

Posted by James Zellmer at 9:13 AM

October 24, 2007

Condemning Themselves to More Mediocrity

Seth Godin:

Most industries innovate from both ends:
  • The outsiders go first because they have nothing to lose.
  • The winners go next because they can afford to and they want to stay winners.
  • It's the mediocre middle that sits and waits and watches.
The mediocre record companies, mediocre A&R guys and the mediocre acts are struggling to stay in place. They're nervous that it all might fall apart. So they wait. They wait for 'proof' that this new idea is going to work, or at least won't prove fatal. (It's the impulse to wait that made them mediocre in the first place, of course).

So, in every industry, the middle waits. And watches. And then, once they realize they can survive the switch (or once they're persuaded that their current model is truly fading away), they jump in.

The irony, of course, is that by jumping in last, they're condemning themselves to more mediocrity.

Posted by James Zellmer at 10:30 AM

October 19, 2007

A profession is born to help people navigate the health care maze

Victoria Colliver:

Margalit Mathan and Peter August found themselves caught in a maze of medical appointments and conflicting professional opinions when their 7-year-old daughter developed serious eye problems related to her juvenile rheumatoid arthritis.

The Berkeley family decided to consult yet another professional. They turned to a health care advocate, an adviser who specializes in helping patients and their families cut through the health care bureaucracy to find the help they need.

"It's been this huge roller coaster with the medical system and negotiating her different needs and the different information we're getting from different doctors," said Mathan, a high school psychologist. Her daughter, Siona, was diagnosed two years ago with arthritis, a condition that can cause eye inflammation and, in Siona's case, led to glaucoma.

Private health care advocacy is a new and growing field emerging at a time when an increasing number of Americans find themselves dealing with a chronic disease, aging family members or the bureaucracy of health insurance.

A professional advocate might have some background in health care, such as nursing or medical social work. But the business of health advocacy is unregulated, and people who call themselves a health advocate might have no training other than helping a family member through a difficult illness.

Posted by James Zellmer at 1:25 PM

October 15, 2007

The Billionaire Who Wasnt: How Chuck Feeney Made and Gave Away a Fortune Without Anyone Knowing

The Billionaire Who Wasnt: How Chuck Feeney Made and Gave Away a Fortune Without Anyone Knowing by Conor O'Clery:

In 1988 Forbes Magazine hailed Chuck Feeney as the twenty-third richest American alive. Born in Elizabeth, New Jersey to a blue-collar Irish-American family during the Depression, a veteran of the Korean War, he had made a fortune as founder of Duty Free Shoppers, the world's largest duty-free retail chain. But secretly, Feeney had already transferred all his wealth to his foundation, Atlantic Philanthropies. Only in 1997, when he sold his duty free interests, was he "outed" as one of the greatest and most mysterious American philanthropists in modern times. A frugal man who travels economy class and does not own a house or a car, Feeney then went "underground" again, until he decided in 2005 to cooperate in a biography to promote giving-while-living. Now in his mid-seventies, he is determined his foundation should spend the remaining $4 billion in his lifetime. The Billionaire Who Wasn't is a tale of one of the greatest untold retail triumphs of the twentieth century, and of what happens to a unique man and his family when confronted with wealth beyond imagining.
The Economist:
Tax avoidance is the flip side to Mr Feeney's philanthropic coin. He is addicted to it. “Chuck hates taxes. He believes people can do more with money than governments can,” says a friend. In 1964 a young New York lawyer, Harvey Dale, told Mr Feeney that changes in the tax laws threatened his business, which was running risks that could put the founders in jail. On his advice, Mr Feeney and his co-founder, Robert Miller, transferred ownership to their foreign-born wives, from France and Ecuador, respectively.

In 1974, through a deal with the American government, the firm turned the Pacific island of Saipan into a tax haven. Then, in 1978, Mr Feeney grouped his various investments, including his shares of DFS, in a holding company, General Atlantic Group Limited, in tax-free Bermuda. To escape the American taxman, everything was still registered in his wife's name.

Mr Feeney carefully shunned all outward evidence of wealth. But as soon as DFS became reliably profitable, he started the practice of giving 5% of his pre-tax profits to good causes. In 1982 he created a foundation, the Atlantic Philanthropies, based in Bermuda. Two years later he signed over his fortune to the foundation, except for sums set aside for his wife and children. His net worth fell below $5m. When he broke the news to his children, he gave them each a copy of Andrew Carnegie's essay on wealth, written in 188

More here.

Posted by James Zellmer at 10:42 AM

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

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 15, 2007

A conversation with Ed Iacobucci about the reinvention of air travel

Jon Udell:

In Free Flight, the seminal book on the forthcoming reinvention of air travel, James Fallows tells a story about Bruce Holmes, who was then the manager of NASA’s general aviation program office. For years Holmes clocked his door-to-door travel times for commercial flights, and he found that for trips shorter than 500 miles, flying was no faster than driving. The hub-and-spoke air travel system is the root of the problem, and there’s no incremental fix. The solution is to augment it with a radically new system that works more like a peer-to-peer network.

Today Bruce Holmes works for DayJet, one of the companies at the forefront of a movement to invent and deliver that radically new system. Ed Iacobucci is DayJet’s co-founder, president, and CEO, and I’m delighted to have him join me for this week’s episode of Interviews with Innovators.

I first met Ed way back in 1991 when he came to BYTE to show us the first version of Citrix, which was the product he left IBM and founded his first company to create. As we discuss in this interview, the trip he made then — from Boca Raton, Florida to Peterborough, New Hampshire — was a typically grueling experience, and it would be no different today. A long car trip to a hub airport, a multi-hop flight, another long car trip from hub airport to destination.

Posted by James Zellmer at 7:03 PM

September 14, 2007

Jolly green heretic

The Economist:

Stewart Brand, a pioneer of both environmentalism and online communities, has not lost his willingness to rock the boat.

IN SOME respects Stewart Brand's green credentials are impeccable. His mentor was Paul Ehrlich, an environmental thinker at Stanford university and author of “The Population Bomb”, published in 1968. That book, and the related Club of Rome movement of the 1970s, famously predicted that overpopulation would soon result in the world running out of food, oil and other resources. Though it proved spectacularly wrong, its warning served as a clarion call for the modern environmental movement.

Mr Brand made his name with a publication of his own, which also appeared in 1968, called “The Whole Earth Catalogue”. It was a path-breaking manual crammed with examples of small-scale technologies to enable individuals to reduce their environmental impact, and is best known for its cover, which featured a picture of the Earth from space (which Mr Brand helped to persuade America's space agency, NASA, to release). The book became a bestseller in anti-corporate and environmental circles. In 1985 Mr Brand co-founded the WELL, a pioneering online community that was a precursor of today's social-networking websites such as MySpace and Facebook.

Mr Brand still has a following among the Birkenstock set, and even lives on a tugboat near San Francisco. But meet him in person and it becomes clear he is not exactly your typical crunchy-granola green. Sitting down to lunch at a posh beach resort on Coronado Island, off San Diego, he does not order a vegan special but a hearty Angus burger with bacon, cheese and French fries, and a side-order of lobster bisque. “I'm genetically a contrarian,” he says with a broad smile.

Posted by James Zellmer at 7:01 PM

September 6, 2007

First Look at Branson / Rutan's Space Terminal

Bruno Giussani:

Making private space travel possible and accessible to everyone has been a recurring topic at recent TED conferences, discussed by speakers such as Burt Rutan at TED 2006 (watch his speech), Peter Diamandis at TEDGLOBAL 2005, Richard Branson at TED 2007 and others. This week the first images of the central terminal and hangar facility at New Mexico's future private spaceport have been released.

Posted by James Zellmer at 8:22 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 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 6, 2007

Waiting for My Air Taxi

Jon Udell:

One powerful force that’s dispersing economic opportunity is of course the Interent. A decade ago there were a few lucky souls who could pull an income through a modem. Today there are lots more, and we’ve yet to see what may happen once high-bandwidth telepresence finally gets going.

But a second force for dispersion has yet to kick in at all. It is the Internetization of transportation — and specifically, of air travel. That’s where Esther Dyson comes in. She’s investing in several of the companies that are aiming to reinvent air travel in the ways described by James Fallows in his seminal book on this topic, Free Flight. In that vision of a possible future, a fleet of air taxis takes small groups of passengers directly from point to point, bypassing the dozen or so congested hubs and reactivating the thousands of small airports — some near big cities, many elsewhere.

There are two key technological enablers. First a new fleet of small planes that are lighter, faster, smarter, safer, and more fuel-efficient than the current fleet of general aviation craft with their decades-old designs.

The second enabler is the Internet’s ability to make demand visible, and to aggregate that demand. So, for example, I’m traveling today from Keene, NH to Aspen, CO. If there are a handful of fellow travelers wanting to go between those two endpoints — or between, say, 40-mile-radius circles surrounding them, which circles might contain several small airports — we’d use the Internet to rendezvous with one another and with an air taxi.

Posted by James Zellmer at 1:31 PM

August 1, 2007

"The Plan is to have no Plan"

Tom Peters:

The deal is this—and I am drawn to it because it mirrors exactly my own half-century journey and rant: Namely "planners," especially "master planners," more or less believe that the plan is the thing—and that the messy process of implementation on the ground will take care of itself if The Plan is "right." (Reminiscent of Iraq, eh?) In The White Man's Burden, Easterly describes "planners" and "searchers." While planners treat the plan as holy writ, searchers live by rapid trial and error and learn through constant experimentation and adjustment. To wit:

"In foreign aid, Planners announce good intentions but don't motivate anyone to carry them out; Searchers find things that work and get some reward. Planners raise expectations but take no responsibility for meeting them; Searchers accept responsibility for their actions. Planners determine what to supply; Searchers find out what is in demand. Planners apply global blueprints; Searchers adapt to local conditions. Planners at the top lack knowledge of the bottom; Searchers find out what the reality is at the bottom. ... A Planner thinks he already knows the answers; he thinks of poverty as a technical engineering problem that his answers will solve. A Searcher admits he doesn't know the answers in advance; he believes that poverty is a complicated tangle of political, social, historical, institutional and technological factors; a Searcher hopes to find answers to individual problems only by trial and error experimentation. A Planner believes outsiders know enough to impose solutions; a Searcher believes only insiders have enough knowledge to find solutions, and that most solutions must be homegrown."

Posted by James Zellmer at 8:35 PM

June 28, 2007

Interesting Look at How Easy it is to say "No", rather than take a risk

Seth Godin:

Given the mass hysteria, it's probably not so good to be Denny Strigl this week. He's the COO at Verizon quoted with pride about turning down the iPhone deal (Verizon turned down iPhone's advances.)

The reason you need to care about this: Almost everyone is like Denny.

Most innovative business people who dream of bizdev imagine that they can be just like Steve Jobs. Come up with a super idea, a useful service, a great gizmo and go to an industry leader. Sign lots of NDAs and go to lots of meetings. Demand that they change their ways in order to make your wonderful innovation a game changer, something that will fix their broken industry and make you both a lot of money.

Posted by James Zellmer at 7:02 PM

June 26, 2007

iPhone: Game Changer

Apple's iPhone has received no shortage of hype since it was announced earlier this year. From a technology perspective, I find the multi-touch interface most interesting. It cleanly addresses many small screen issues, including navigation and zoom in/out.

Having said that, I believe the real paradigm shift is the activation process. Years ago, while replacing a dead phone, I stood at the usual cell phone counter for quite some time while the customer in front of me went through a long activation process with Verizon's representative. What a waste of time.

Apple has dramatically simplified (assuming it works) the activation process by baking it into iTunes. Buy the phone via bricks and mortar or online, sync and activate with your mac or pc and get on with it.

In many ways, Apple has pulled an identity-ectomy (identiectomy?) on AT&T. They are selling phones via AT&T's channels, but the user experience (and therefore brand and stock price leverage) is all Apple. AT&T will get the fumes, but this is Apple's win. I'm no fan of AT&T [rss].

Finally, two years ago, while on travel, I spoke with someone who should/would know. This person told me that the iPhone was due later that summer (2005). I wonder if Apple scrapped an early version and decided to wait for the right time and place in terms of technology and software? If so, that takes guts, particularly given the pieces that need to be in place for a launch.

Posted by James Zellmer at 9:01 PM

June 23, 2007

Interesting Look at Sam Zell's Tax Advantaged Structure of the Chicago Tribune Acquisition

Joe Nocera:

As Zell deals go, this hardly ranks among his biggest; he’s putting up a “mere” $250 million to gain control of a company with $5.5 billion in revenue last year. But what it lacks in economic heft, it more than makes up for in complexity. When the deal closes, probably at the end of the year, the Tribune Company will go from being a public company to a private S corporation, meaning it will pay no corporate taxes. Its sole owner will be an employee stock ownership plan, which is essentially a fund, owned by employees, which owns the company’s stock. ESOPs also pay no taxes, meaning that both the company and its owner will no longer be taxpayers. Mr. Zell, who will become chairman of the company, will immediately recoup his $250 million and then reinvest an additional $315 million (don’t ask). He’ll have an option to buy 40% of the company for another $500 million to $600 million. (If he does so, he will become the one taxpayer in the deal.)

The Tribune Company will be laden with debt, $13 billion in all, which it plans to pay down in part with the extra cash flow that is generated from not having to pay taxes. If the company does well — or even just decently — everyone will make out, starting with the employees whose stock in the ESOP will be worth a lot more than $28 a share, the discounted price the ESOP paid for it. But if it continues to sink — and just this week, the Tribune Company announced that May revenue fell 11.1% — then the company could wind up in default, which would hurt everyone, starting, again, with the employees, who would lose the value of their ESOP shares. ...

What most seemed to excite him was the ESOP itself. And why not? As the Lehman Brothers tax expert Robert Willens said, “He is using it in a way that no one has ever done before.” Mostly, ESOPs are set up when family owners want to cash out of privately held companies and turn them over to their employees. Mr. Zell, by contrast, is using it to buy out the shareholders of a large public corporation —and turn it into a tax-free private company.

Posted by James Zellmer at 9:37 PM

June 12, 2007

On Creativity

John Wesley:

The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources. -Einstein

The biggest misconception about creativity is that it involves a moment of magical creation when the incredible appears out of thin air. The truth is less romantic. Everything comes from somewhere. All ideas have been thought before and all artists, especially the most brilliant, have their sources of inspiration. I’m going to break Einstein’s famous rule by revealing some of my sources and explaining how I use the genius of others to further my own ambitions.

Posted by James Zellmer at 9:58 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 12, 2007

Kurt Vonnegut Dead at 84

Dinitia Smith


Vonnegut's website.
Posted by James Zellmer at 4:54 AM

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

March 20, 2007

Fortran Developer Dies

Steve Lohr:
John W. Backus, who assembled and led the I.B.M. team that created Fortran, the first widely used programming language, which helped open the door to modern computing, died on Saturday at his home in Ashland, Ore. He was 82.

Fortran, released in 1957, was “the turning point” in computer software, much as the microprocessor was a giant step forward in hardware, according to J.A.N. Lee, a leading computer historian.

Fortran changed the terms of communication between humans and computers, moving up a level to a language that was more comprehensible by humans. So Fortran, in computing vernacular, is considered the first successful higher-level language.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:55 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 7, 2007

Founders Words

Guy Kawasaki rounds up some useful quotes from tech founders.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:02 PM

Publicly owned networks are the key to universal access and healthy competition

Becca Vargo Daggett:
Local governments have taken the lead in U.S. broadband policy. Hundreds of communities of all sizes are making decisions about how to best deliver universal, affordable access to high-speed information networks. Many are offered seemingly attractive arrangements with no upfront cost to the city. They do themselves and their households and businesses a disservice if they do not seriously explore the costs and benefits of a publicly owned network.

In this report, we highlight five arguments for public ownership.

1. High-speed information networks are essential public infrastructure.

Just as high quality road systems are needed to transport people and goods, high quality wired and wireless networks are needed to transport information. Public ownership of the physical network does not necessarily mean the city either manages the network or provides services. Cities own roads, but they do not operate freight companies or deliver pizzas.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:29 PM

March 1, 2007

2006 Letter to Shareholders

Warren Buffett [pdf]:
Our gain in net worth during 2006 was $16.9 billion, which increased the per-share book value of both our Class A and Class B stock by 18.4%. Over the last 42 years (that is, since present management took over) book value has grown from $19 to $70,281, a rate of 21.4% compounded annually.*

We believe that $16.9 billion is a record for a one-year gain in net worth – more than has ever been booked by any American business, leaving aside boosts that have occurred because of mergers (e.g., AOL’s purchase of Time Warner). Of course, Exxon Mobil and other companies earn far more than Berkshire, but their earnings largely go to dividends and/or repurchases, rather than to building net worth.

All that said, a confession about our 2006 gain is in order. Our most important business, insurance, benefited from a large dose of luck: Mother Nature, bless her heart, went on vacation. After hammering us with hurricanes in 2004 and 2005 – storms that caused us to lose a bundle on super-cat insurance – she just vanished. Last year, the red ink from this activity turned black – very black.

In addition, the great majority of our 73 businesses did outstandingly well in 2006. Let me focus for a moment on one of our largest operations, GEICO. What management accomplished there was simply extraordinary.
Posted by James Zellmer at 5:30 PM

February 19, 2007

Competition is the Mother of Innovation

Virginia Postrel:
The LAT's David Colker tells the story of how the last soap factory in town has managed to survive despite low-cost competition from China. It's clear that soap-making doesn't have a big future in Los Angeles, but the story also a tribute to the ingenuity that has allowed the company to find new markets and new operating methods.

Hoping to trim one of his biggest remaining expenses, electricity, he contacted the Department of Water and Power. "They told me if I could shut down by 1 p.m., they could give me a much better rate," Shugar said. He moved the plant's starting time back to 5 a.m. to meet the cutoff time, resulting in 40% savings.

One of his most valuable assets was his mechanical engineer, Cheng Lim, who came to Shugar from Jergens when that company closed its Burbank plant in 1992. Lim could have stayed with the giant company, based in Cincinnati, but "my wife did not want to go," he said. "Too cold there."

Lim adapted the Shugar production line for use by fewer employees.
Posted by James Zellmer at 5:01 PM

Anderson on "We Media"

Chris Anderson correctly analyzes the "we media" bubble. Change is certainly underway in the media world, but it will not, clearly be linear:
First, let's agree that "media" is anything that people want to read, watch or listen to, amateur or professional. The difference between the "old" media and the "new" is that old media packages content and new media atomizes it. Old media is all about building businesses around content. New media is about the content, period. Old media is about platforms. New media is about individual people. (Note: "old" does not mean bad and "new" good--I do, after all, run a very nicely growing magazine/old media business.)

The problem with most of the companies Skrenta lists is that they were/are trying to be a "news aggregators". Just as one size of news doesn't fit all, one size of news aggregator doesn't either.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:08 AM

February 17, 2007

The DNA of Wal-Mart

John Moore:
I’ve already gushed about Bill Marquard’s business strategy book, WAL-SMART. In the book, this former Wal-Mart executive explains because of Wal-Mart’s unbridled success, this mega-retailer has forever changed the game of business from sourcing to distribution to pricing to inventory methods to merchandising. It’s now up to companies today (and tomorrow) to deal with doing business in the world that Wal-Mart has created and redefined.

Since Marquard spent time at Wal-Mart in the late 90s responsible for developing the company’s strategic planning processes, he has a very unique understanding of the company’s DNA. In the book, Marquard shares five key cultural underpinnings that make Wal-Mart the company it is. (Good stuff!)
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:59 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 10, 2007

Cheeseheads' Taste of Chester

Frank Fitzpatrick pens a Philly view of UW basketball coach Bo Ryan (Ryan is from Philadelphia):
Ryan peddled the cards until he got the camera. Forty-nine years later, the big picture hasn't changed much. He's still fighting and selling relentlessly.

"You've got to sell," he said, "because a lot of times you're a perfect stranger trying to convince somebody to do something they might not want to do. If I wasn't a coach, I'd probably be a salesman. I've got to have that competition."

Now Ryan sells Badger basketball - to recruits, to his players, to boosters, to the media, to the nation. With that slick exterior abetted by street smarts, he has transformed Wisconsin, once an off-the-rack program, into one of the hottest items on college basketball's shelf.
Posted by James Zellmer at 7:10 PM

January 17, 2007

Apple iPhone UI Notes

Bruce Tognazzini:
I could go down through the other “innovations” in iPhone and slowly knock them off. Yes, it’s the first cell phone with a visual display of voicemail messages, so you can randomly move among voicemails, etc., etc. However, such lists have been displayed, in an identical fashion, on enterprise-level voicemail systems and, of course, such lists have been a standard feature in email for decades.

The origins of these bits and pieces, however, is not what’s important about the iPhone. What’s important is that, for the first time, so many great ideas and processes have been assembled in one device, iterated until they squeak, and made accessible to normal human beings. That’s the genius of Steve Jobs; that’s the genius of Apple.

It’s also speaks to the limited vision of the cell phone industry. Exactly why have we never had random-access voicemail on cell phones? We’re talking about hand-held devices with more computer power than the Apollo spacecraft that took us to the moon. We’re talking about devices with screens of more than sufficient resolution. Could nobody think of displaying the messages?
A good friend often reminds me that ideas are easy, it's execution that matters. iPhone is a game changer.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:11 PM

January 14, 2007

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

A Chronicle of Allen-Edmonds Sale

Avrum Lank:
Stollenwerk and some partners bought Allen-Edmonds in 1980 from descendents of the founders. Later on, Stollenwerk bought out his partners and built the brand into one recognized around the world.

Unlike his competitors in the footwear industry, Stollenwerk has kept production in the U.S. Allen-Edmonds employs about 550 people in Wisconsin and Maine and makes more than 500,000 pairs of men's shoes a year. Thanks to the introduction of lean manufacturing and cell concepts, the company can make a pair in seven hours. Shoes are made to order, with the inventory of finished products kept very low.

The shoes are handcrafted from imported leather and can sell for more than $300 a pair. During his tenure, Stollenwerk has seen a decline in the number of independent shoe stores interested in carrying the line, and his distribution channels have become limited. As a result, the company has opened a chain of retail stores that carry not only shoes but also upscale accessories. Sales are about $100 million annually.

As he reached his mid-60s, Stollenwerk knew the company would need to invest in even more stores - at about $1 million each - to continue to grow. That meant "I would have to go to a bank and borrow a considerable amount of money," he said.

He had done that in the past, and the idea of managing it in the future did not appeal to him. He has children, but none is interested in taking over the company, so his mind turned to other options.
Posted by James Zellmer at 7:58 PM

December 26, 2006

Frank Stanton Obituary

Holcomb Noble:
ith the 1960 Presidential election approaching, Dr. Stanton persuaded Congress to suspend the “equal time” provision in the Federal Communications Act. That made it possible for the networks to televise debates between the Democratic nominee, Sen. John F. Kennedy, and his Republican rival, Vice President Richard M. Nixon, without including candidates of smaller parties. The debates signaled the arrival of television as a dominant force in presidential politics.

Dr. Stanton bore much of the criticism when Washington objected to CBS News’s coverage of the war in Vietnam, though he denied a frequently told tale that President Johnson had telephoned him at home to curse him for broadcasting a report by Morley Safer showing Marines burning down peasant huts in Cam Ne.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:36 AM

December 24, 2006

A New Search Engine

Jimmy Wales will launch Wikia early next year. Promising.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:02 PM

December 23, 2006

A Relatively Dark Chat with Frank Gehry

Akhil Sharma:
Describing what it takes for him to accept a commission, Mr. Gehry says, "The determining factor is: Can I get it done while I am still alive?" Explaining why he doesn't build houses any more, Mr. Gehry says, "They involve a lot of personal hand holding. I guess at my age I don't have the patience."

Probably more than most architects, one sees Mr. Gehry's buildings--buildings that have been described as resembling ruffling sails or looking like they are melting--and has a sense that there is a single personality behind them.

"I don't know why people hire architects and then tell them what to do," Mr. Gehry says. "Architects have to become parental. They have to learn to be parental." By this he means that an architect has to listen to his client but also remain firm about what the architect knows best, the aesthetics of a building. This, Mr. Gehry says, is what makes an architect relevant in the process that leads to a completed building. "I think a lot of my colleagues lose it, lose that relevance in the spirit of serving their client, so that no matter what, they are serving the client. Even if the building they produce, that they think serves the client, doesn't really serve the client because it's not very good."
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:14 AM

An Interesting Look at Xerox Management's Missed Market Opportunities (PC's, the GUI, Networking)

Stephen Miller:
Peter McColough never powered up a personal computer, but he helped unleash the digital revolution.

Many of the technologies at the center of today's computerized offices and homes -- the mouse, the laser printer, the local area network -- were first developed in the 1970s at a Silicon Valley skunk works he chartered at Xerox Corp.

But Xerox never reached Mr. McColough's goal of being at the forefront of what he called "the architecture of information." The company still best known for copiers pioneered in the 1950s and '60s failed to develop many of the technologies into marketable products. Instead, a herd of start-ups, often headed by the very workers at Xerox's Palo Alto Research Campus who had invented them, rumbled in and created industries in personal computers, networking, office software and others.

"If Xerox had known what it had and had taken advantage of its real opportunities, it could have been as big as IBM plus Microsoft plus Xerox combined -- and the largest high-technology company in the world," Apple Computer Inc. co-founder Steve Jobs is quoted as saying in "Joe Wilson and the Creation of Xerox," a book by Charles Ellis about the company and its early chief executive.

The reasons for Xerox's inability to take advantage of its own inventions are debated in business schools to this day. Jacob Goldman, Xerox's chief scientist at the time who founded PARC, blames short-sighted managers unwilling to take chances on small-scale, unproven technologies. "They managed the company quarter to quarter and looked at the bottom line," Mr. Goldman says. "They weren't thinking about the future really."
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:10 AM

December 13, 2006

20 Business Ideas & The VC's with Cash

Michael Copeland & Susanna Hamner:
The result is this list of 20 tantalizing business ideas, ranging from a host of new websites and applications to next-generation power sources and a luxury housing development. This isn't small-time thinking, either: These investors -which include some of Silicon Valley's most successful VCs as well as serial entrepreneurs like Steve Case and Howard Schultz are backing their ideas with a collective $100 million in funding to the entrepreneurs who can get them off the ground.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:49 AM

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

December 6, 2006

Web Investment Bubble: 61 Video Hosting Companies

Phil Harvey:
I'm pleased to offer this latest revision of the Web Video Cheat Sheet, a quick and dirty guide to sharing videos online. I'm in the process of compiling another report that examines a specific facet of the video sharing experience (more on that later). Meanwhile, I couldn't wait to get this 61-site overview out there so folks can figure out the best place to host their most memorable (drunken) holiday moments.
Posted by James Zellmer at 5:16 PM

December 2, 2006

Baseball & Innovation

Bob Sutton:
Jeff Angus over at Management by Baseball sent me an intriguing update about Billy Bean's approach to Moneyball. Bean is famous in the baseball world for developing quantitative techniques to help identify players that are underpaid by market standards and for developing a system that enables such "bargain" players to contribute to overall team performance. There are many signs that the system works, for example, Oakland's cost per win in 2005 was $450,000 in salary, while the New York Yankees paid 1.4 million. The 2006 payrolls (when Oakland had a better season than the Yankees) were about 60 million for the A's and about 200 million for the Yankees. Bean and his staff do impressive analysis to make decisions that gain them cost advantages and increase their odds of success. For example, they stay away for star players that are coming out of high school and prefer college graduates because only 5% of baseball players drafted straight out of high school are in the major leagues in three years, while 17% of college graduates that are drafted make it to the majors.
Beane watching is worthwhile...
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:10 PM

November 28, 2006

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

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

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 15, 2006

Wisconsin 27th in "Entrepreneur Friendliness"

Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council [PDF]:
The Small Business Survival Index ranks the 50 states and District of Columbia according to some of the major government-imposed or government-related costs affecting investment, entrepreneurship, and business.

This eleventh annual Small Business Survival Index ties together 29 major government-imposed or government-related costs impacting small businesses and entrepreneurs across a broad spectrum of industries and types of businesses:
  • Personal Income Tax. State personal income tax rates affect individual economic decision-making in important ways. A high personal income tax rate raises the costs of working, saving, investing, and risk taking. Personal income tax rates vary among states, therefore impacting crucial economic decisions and activities. In fact, the personal income tax impacts business far more than generally assumed because roughly 90 percent of businesses file taxes as individuals (e.g., sole proprietorship, partnerships and S-Corps.), and therefore pay personal income taxes rather than corporate income taxes. Measurement in the Small Business Survival Index: state’s top personal income tax rate.1
  • Capital Gains Tax. One of the biggest obstacles that start-ups or expanding businesses face is access to capital. State capital gains taxes, therefore, affect the economy by directly impacting the rate of return on investment and entrepreneurship. Indeed, capital gains taxes are direct levies on risk taking, or the sources of growth in the economy. High capital gains taxes restrict access to capital, and help to restrain or redirect risk taking. Measurement in the Small Business Survival Index: state’s top capital gains tax rate on individuals.2
Posted by James Zellmer at 7:03 AM

November 5, 2006

A Chat with JetBlue's David Neelman

Judith Dobrzynski:
With Washington often, umm, unable to focus--"It took 10 years to get an energy bill passed that has had little effect," Mr. Neeleman interjects--he sought counsel on the capital's ways. As a result, he got professional help on the bill's language and learned about the legislative process. "The advice I got was to go get RAND and other thinkers to write about it--those are the guys that they listen to," Mr. Neeleman says. He has spoken with RAND about doing an economic impact study, but has not commissioned one. And, as he put it, "I got a couple professors"--names of people he might enlist in the cause. Who?--I ask. "From the American Enterprise Institute and Brookings Institution," is his reply.

Mr. Neeleman has also visited the White House seeking support. "They're looking at it," he says, but were noncommittal. He believes "it should sail through Congress," and would be happy to "testify for my country and for our industry." This earnestness, along with his resolve, is obvious throughout the interview. As I'm leaving, Mr. Neeleman stops me to point out--no, to declaim--a framed quote on the wall outside his office. It's from Teddy Roosevelt, and reads, in part: It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena . . . who--at the worst--if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:50 AM

November 1, 2006

The Next Capitalism

Robert Samuelson:
When he died in 1848, John Jacob Astor was America's richest man, leaving a fortune of $20 million that had been earned mainly from real estate and fur trading. Despite his riches, Astor's business was mainly a one-man show. He employed only a handful of workers, most of them clerks. This was typical of his time, when the farmer, the craftsman, the small partnership and the independent merchant ruled the economy. Only 50 years later, almost everything had changed. Giant industrial enterprises -- making steel, producing oil, refining sugar and much more -- had come to dominate.

The rise of big business is one of the seminal events in American history, and if you want to think about it intelligently, you consult historian Alfred D. Chandler Jr., its pre-eminent chronicler. At 88, Chandler has retired from the Harvard Business School but is still churning out books and articles. It is an apt moment to revisit his ideas because the present upheavals in business are second only to those of a century ago.

Until Chandler, the emergence of big business was all about titans. The Rockefellers, Carnegies and Fords were either "robber barons'' whose greed and ruthlessness allowed them to smother competitors and establish monopolistic empires. Or they were "captains of industry'' whose genius and ambition laid the industrial foundations for modern prosperity. But when Chandler meticulously examined business records, he uncovered a more subtle story. New technologies (the railroad, telegraph and steam power) favored the creation of massive businesses that needed -- and, in turn, gave rise to -- superstructures of professional managers: engineers, accountants and supervisors.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:22 PM

October 31, 2006

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 25, 2006

The Next Capitalism

Robert Samuelson:
When he died in 1848, John Jacob Astor was America's richest man, leaving a fortune of $20 million that had been earned mainly from real estate and fur trading. Despite his riches, Astor's business was mainly a one-man show. He employed only a handful of workers, most of them clerks. This was typical of his time, when the farmer, the craftsman, the small partnership and the independent merchant ruled the economy. Only 50 years later, almost everything had changed. Giant industrial enterprises -- making steel, producing oil, refining sugar and much more -- had come to dominate.

The rise of big business is one of the seminal events in American history, and if you want to think about it intelligently, you consult historian Alfred D. Chandler Jr., its pre-eminent chronicler. At 88, Chandler has retired from the Harvard Business School but is still churning out books and articles. It is an apt moment to revisit his ideas because the present upheavals in business are second only to those of a century ago.

Until Chandler, the emergence of big business was all about titans. The Rockefellers, Carnegies and Fords were either "robber barons'' whose greed and ruthlessness allowed them to smother competitors and establish monopolistic empires. Or they were "captains of industry'' whose genius and ambition laid the industrial foundations for modern prosperity. But when Chandler meticulously examined business records, he uncovered a more subtle story. New technologies (the railroad, telegraph and steam power) favored the creation of massive businesses that needed -- and, in turn, gave rise to -- superstructures of professional managers: engineers, accountants and supervisors.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:12 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

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

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

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 20, 2006

Noting Sarah Ruhl's MacArthur Fellowship

Madison Rep Artistic Director Rick Corley:
Dear Folks: It was a delight to awaken this morning to the news that Sarah Ruhl was awarded a MacArthur "Genius" Fellowship. These awards are in the amount of $500,000 - one hundred thousand for each year of five years. Sarah is the only playwright to receive the award this year. For new staff and board members, we at Madison Repertory Theatre can take pride in giving Sarah her very first professional production when we produced EURYDICE four years ago. Since then Sarah's plays have gone on to major productions in Seattle, Atlanta, Berkeley, Chicago, New Haven, and many, many other cities.

This fall her Pulitzer-finalist play, THE CLEAN HOUSE, will have its New York premiere at Lincoln Center Theatre, and there is talk of EURYDICE appearing in New York as well. Bravo, Sarah! And congratulations to all of you who support the Madison New Play Festival and the development of new work. Sarah's success is a tribute to you.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:48 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

September 11, 2006

WSJ: 2006 Tech Innovation Winners

Wall Street Journal:
Computer systems are notoriously finicky. They'll hum along just fine and then unaccountably slow down, freeze up or stop working altogether. Finding the cause of some unexplained problem is difficult and time-consuming, especially with complicated systems in real-life settings.

Bryan Cantrill and a team of engineers at Sun Microsystems Inc. have devised a way to diagnose misbehaving software quickly and while it's still doing its work. While traditional trouble-shooting programs can take several days of testing to locate a problem, the new technology, called DTrace, is able to track down problems quickly and relatively easily, even if the cause is buried deep in a complex computer system.

The DTrace trouble-shooting software from Sun was chosen as the Gold winner in The Wall Street Journal's 2006 Technology Innovation Awards contest, the second time in three years that a Sun entry has won the top award. The panel of judges, representing industry as well as research and academic institutions, selected Gold, Silver and Bronze award winners and cited one technology for an Honorable Mention.

For the awards, now in their sixth year, judges considered novel technologies from around the world in several categories: medicine and medical devices, wireless, security, consumer electronics, semiconductors and others.
PDF summary of all the winners.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:49 AM

September 9, 2006

2006 Young Innovators Under 35

Technology Review:
Since 1999, the editors of Technology Review have honored the young innovators whose inventions and research we find most exciting; today that collection is the TR35, a list of technologists and scientists, all under the age of 35. Their work--spanning medicine, computing, communications, electronics, nanotechnology, and more--is changing our world.
Posted by James Zellmer at 6:57 AM

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

September 3, 2006

UW's Charles Franklin Launches Pollster.com

Pollster.com is the new home of Mystery Pollster, the blog that has labored to demystify the art and science of political polling for the last two years, but it is also much more. Our Polls feature will take you to pages with complete listings of all the public polls available for the most competitive races for Senate and Governor with an important bonus: Interactive charts that show you how the poll results compare to each other as well as trends over time.

Before you dive into the data pages, let me tell you about the incredible team behind Pollster.com. Regular MP readers will notice a similarity between our charts and the stellar graphics produced by our friend Charles Franklin, professor of Political Science at the University of Wisconsin and creator of the blog PoliticalArithmetik. Franklin is a central part of the Pollster team and will also provide frequent commentary here on the Pollster blog as well as lead in the development of new ways to visualize results graphically.

By the way, today also marks the debut of our strategic partnership with Slate Magazine. We have worked with Slate to create an Election Scorecard that will track the daily trends in the race to control the U.S. Senate, the House of Representatives and key Governorships in 2006. With the help of Charles Franklin, I will write a daily update for Slate through Election Day on where those races stand. Links to that update will also appear here daily.
RSS Feed.

More about Franklin:
Charles Franklin is the co-developer of Pollster.com. He will provide frequent commentary and lead in the development of new ways to visualze polling results graphically. Franklin is the creator of PoliticalArithmetik ("Where numbers and politics meet") and a professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He specializes in the statistical analysis of polling and election results.
Posted by James Zellmer at 3:17 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 22, 2006

Tufte on "Beautiful Evidence"

Jeffrey Freymann-Weyr:
Edward Tufte has been described by The New York Times as "The Leonardo da Vinci of Data." Since 1993, thousands have attended his day-long seminars on Information Design. That might sound like a dry subject, but with Tufte, information becomes art.

Tufte's most recent book, Beautiful Evidence, is filled with hundreds of illustrations from the worlds of art and science. It contains historical maps and diagrams as well as contemporary charts and graphs. In one chapter alone, there's an 18th-century depiction of how to do a cross-section drawing of how a bird's wing works and photos from a 1940s instruction book for skiing.
Posted by James Zellmer at 3:38 PM

August 20, 2006

Rethinking Moneyball

Jeff Passan:
Another Jason Giambi.

Mark Teahen was called that once. During the preparation for the 2002 draft, the Oakland Athletics' scouting director, Eric Kubota, said if there were someone in the class who could develop like Giambi – from a big, strong singles hitter into a powerful corner infielder – it was Teahen. And this is public knowledge only because the A’s opened their doors that year to author Michael Lewis, who chronicled Oakland’s methods in the seminal book “Moneyball.”

“I’d like to say I’m past all of it,” Teahen said, “but it’s always going to be with me. It’s always going to be with all of us.”
Posted by James Zellmer at 1:27 PM

August 10, 2006

Venturesome Consumption

Fascinating article in a recent Economist:
In a marvellously contrarian new paper*, Amar Bhidé, of Columbia University's business school, argues that these supposed remedies, and the worries that lie behind them, are based on a misconception of how innovation works and of how it contributes to economic growth. Mr Bhidé finds plenty of nice things to say about many of the things that most trouble critics of the American economy: consumption as opposed to thrift; a plentiful supply of consumer credit; Wal-Mart; even the marketing arms of drug companies. He thinks that good managers may be at least as valuable as science and engineering graduates (though given where he works, perhaps he is talking his own book). But he has nothing nice to say about the prophets of technological doom.
* “Venturesome Consumption, Innovation and Globalisation”, presented in Venice at the CESifo and Centre on Capitalism and Society conference, July 21st-22nd.
Posted by James Zellmer at 1:21 PM

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

June 17, 2006


Local firm Fiskars runs a blog for its Fiskateers program; "amabassdors for crafting". Via John Moore.
Posted by James Zellmer at 6:24 AM

June 8, 2006

Greenleaf: A Local Food Exchange

Rick Barrett:
When a farmer walked into Whole Foods wanting to sell a huge sack of morels, store employee Heather Hilleren watched a futile effort unfold.

The farmer didn't have vendor credentials, and it would have taken two weeks to get them. By then, the freshly picked morels would have spoiled.

Posted by James Zellmer at 9:18 AM

June 2, 2006

The Key Ingredients for a "Great City"

Paul Graham ruminates on the essence of a technology hub:
I think you only need two kinds of people to create a technology hub: rich people and nerds. They're the limiting reagents in the reaction that produces startups, because they're the only ones present when startups get started. Everyone else will move.

Do you really need the rich people? Wouldn't it work to have the government invest in the nerds? No, it would not. Startup investors are a distinct type of rich people. They tend to have a lot of experience themselves in the technology business. This (a) helps them pick the right startups, and (b) means they can supply advice and connections as well as money. And the fact that they have a personal stake in the outcome makes them really pay attention.

Bureaucrats by their nature are the exact opposite sort of people from startup investors. The idea of them making startup investments is comic. It would be like mathematicians running Vogue-- or perhaps more accurately, Vogue editors running a math journal.
Grahams words are a must read for local politicians. Madison's (Wisconsin) biggest challenge with respect to new business development is it's parochialism. Living in San Francisco years ago, I was impressed by the general willingness to try new things and take risks. We have a world class University, lots of bright citizens but not so many people willing to take financial and career risks.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:35 AM

May 30, 2006

Don't Stop....Start

Doug Sundheim:
If you want to change something in your life, it's common to try to stop the behaviors you don't like. While this certainly seems logical, it seldom works. The reason is simple - it unintentionally creates a vacuum where the old behaviors used to be. And since nature hates a vacuum it will fill it with anything it can find - usually the very behaviors you're trying to stop since they're so familiar. Instead of stopping certain behaviors, try focusing on what you want to create - and the new behaviors you need to get there. Eventually, with practice, new behaviors will develop enough muscle to naturally replace the old ones.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:48 PM

State Business Filing Data

Larry Ribstein has posted some fascinating state-by-state business filing data from the International Association of Commercial Administrators. Of the 35 states with filing data for the past four years, 32 reported increases in LLC filings and 21 reported decreases in corporation filings. In the six largest states. the growth in LLC filings from 2002 to 2005 ranged from 60.3% to 237.9%, while three of the states experienced declines in the number of corporate filings ranging from (11.4%) to (27.3%) and the three states with growth in the number of corporate filings ranged from 4.6% to 23.7%:
Wisconsin's data:
  • Business & Professional Corporations: 12/31/2004: 5,571 ($1,8M); 12/31/2005: 5,104
  • Nonprofits: 12/31/2004: 1,927 ($73K)
  • Limited Liability Copmanies (LLC): 12/31/2004: 25,268 ($3,484,515); 12/31/2005: 26,653
  • Limited Partnerships: 12/31/2004: 203 ($20K); 12/31/2005: 203
Minnesota had more than twice as many corporate filings and about 1/3 less LLC formations than Wisconsin. Illinois has a significantly larger annual number of corporate filings than Minnesota or Wisconsin.

It would be interesting to see what the numbers look like over time, attrition rates and the correlation to taxes and jobs.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:54 AM

May 14, 2006

Khosla on Biofuels

Vinod Khosla video presentation on biofuels.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:58 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 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 30, 2006

1500 Square Mile Silicon Valley Wireless RFP

802.11b Networking News:
The Joint Venture Silicon Valley public/private partnership has issued its RFP: The group of cities, counties, governmental bodies, and corporations want a wireless network of some kind--technology isn't decided and could be a broad mix--that would cover Silicon Valley. Winning vendor(s) will be selected from the respondents to their RFP by September, and recommended to the 16 cities, San Mateo County, and 16 other jurisdictions that have signed on. I wrote in January about the scope and nature of this 1,500-square-mile potential project....
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:19 PM

April 24, 2006

Microjets: Eclipse 500 Certification

Joseph Anselmo:
an a former copy machine repairman who happens to be friends with Bill Gates reinvigorate the general aviation industry by adopting the low-cost, mass production model used for personal computers? The world is about to find out.

Not long ago, it appeared the answer was a resounding "no." Eclipse Aviation founder Vern Raburn gathered his team on a dismal Saturday morning in November 2002 to figure out whether the company had a future. Raburn, a pioneer in the personal computer revolution, was aiming to develop a six-seat jet that would sell for less than $1 million, bringing jet ownership within reach of thousands of new customers. But his penchant for risk had put Eclipse in big trouble.

The Albuquerque company, with funding support from NASA, had bet big on the development of an advanced, radically cheaper turbine engine. The technology wasn't panning out in time, however, and there was no Plan B. Investors, lured by Raburn's earlier successes at Microsoft, Lotus and Symantec, were running out of patience. Eclipse had two options: stick with the balky engine and pray for a miracle, or delay launch of the aircraft by several years and try to hang on while it found a new engine.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:21 AM

April 21, 2006

10 Best Jobs

Money Magazine:
MONEY Magazine and Salary.com researched hundreds of jobs, considering their growth, pay, stress-levels and other factors. These careers ranked highest
Posted by James Zellmer at 5:40 PM

How Successful People Remain Successful

Knowledge @ Wharton:
When James C. Collins and Jerry I. Porras wrote their hugely popular 1994 book, Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, they began by stating clearly that they did not mean to write about visionary leaders. Their goal was to find visionary companies -- the crown jewels of their industries -- and discover what made them extraordinary. Then questions arose about the extent to which the principles of Built to Last might apply to individuals. That sparked another investigation that has now led to a follow-up book, Success Built to Last, which will be published by Wharton School Publishing later this year.
Posted by James Zellmer at 11:58 AM

April 19, 2006

Corporate "Risk Taking" and the Ford Mustang

Bob Elton:
So what happened to Theodore? Promoted, given new projects, made a product spokesman like GM's Bob Lutz? Theodore was, as they say, “eased out." Making great cars, even making great cars that make money, are not qualifications for longevity in Ford's corporate community. Break the rules and you're out the door.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:07 PM

Chihuly Victimized by His Own Success

Regina Hackett:
But at age 64, he's where he never wanted to be, in court. He's suing two glass blowers for copyright infringement, contending they're imitating his work. They're threatening to sue him back, questioning whether Chihuly is the creative intelligence behind the art bearing his signature. And a former dealer is attacking him with a gusto rare in the art world. If that's not enough, his feet hurt.

Emotionally, he has been through the wringer.

Since 2001, a significant number of the people closest to him have died, some without warning. Partially because both his brother and father died in quick succession in his teens, he tends to experience each death as a blow to the body.

Last year he sank into a depression from which he is now recovering. Friends who haven't seen him in many months are being invited over for dinner.
Chihuly's work lights up the Kohl Center's entrance - adding color to an emotionless sea of grey.
Posted by James Zellmer at 7:36 AM

April 11, 2006

More B-Schools Add Sales Courses

Ronald Alsop:
A company's sales force is its lifeblood. But you'd never know it by looking at the typical M.B.A. curriculum.

Because they're lighter on theory and research than other academic subjects, sales courses are surprisingly scarce in M.B.A. programs. "It's sad that something as important to the economy as sales shows up as a footnote in the principles of marketing course at most graduate business schools," says Andy Zoltners, a professor at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, which has long offered a sales-force management class.

But the sales function seems to be slowly gaining more respect as a few other major schools, including Stanford University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of North Carolina, create M.B.A.-level sales courses. Harvard Business School has taught sales management for many years, but lately it has been focusing more on the selling process itself, with lessons on making sales presentations to corporate customers, influencing people and closing the deal.

"Many people view selling as tactical and haven't taken the broader view that you will need sales skills even if you aren't managing a sales force," says David Godes, an associate professor at Harvard. "If you're going into banking or consulting, how do you get clients and how do you raise money?"
It's about time. Superior salespeople are always in short supply. They succeed based on solid, long term relationships.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:19 AM

April 8, 2006

Godin on Financing Your Startup

Seth Godin:
I'm frequently asked (by friends, and sometimes, aggressive strangers) to help them find someone to fund their company. Often, but not always, these people are happy to hear the following answer.

1. If you fund your company, even a little, you've just sold it. Maybe not today, or tomorrow, but one day. That's because rational investors are funding your company in the expectation that you are going to sell it and make them a profit. (sure there are exceptions, but not many). So, if you don't expect that your company will be easy to sell for a big profit, or you don't ever want to sell your company, it's not a smart idea to raise money for it.
Posted by James Zellmer at 6:29 PM

March 28, 2006

Making a Market in Talent

Lowell L. Bryan, Claudia I. Joyce, and Leigh M. Weiss:
Savvy companies understand the competitive value of talented people and spend considerable time identifying and recruiting high-caliber individuals wherever they can be found. The trouble is that too many companies pay too little attention to allocating their internal talent resources effectively. Few companies use talented people in a competitively advantageous way—by maximizing their visibility and mobility and creating work experiences that help them feed and develop their expertise. Many a frustrated manager has searched in vain for the right person for a particular job, knowing that he or she works somewhere in the company. And many talented people have had the experience of getting stuck in a dead-end corner of a company, never finding the right experiences and challenges to grow, and, finally, bailing out
Posted by James Zellmer at 12:48 PM

March 7, 2006

How Wisconsin Lost Its Big Advantage in the Ginseng Game

Jane Zhang:
In a cramped shop filled with stale aromas of Chinese herbs, Keary Drath, a stout Wisconsin farmer and self-appointed ginseng sleuth, picked up a dry, wrinkly ginseng root, broke it in half and chewed it.

Clerks and customers of Ginseng City Trading Inc., stopped haggling in their rapid-fire Mandarin and stared. "From China," he declared. "Not Wisconsin."

"What's the difference?" asked a shocked customer, Max Chen, who has used ginseng for 20 years. "They all say it is Wisconsin ginseng. I know Wisconsin's is superior."

Mr. Drath, 42 years old, wishes he had an easy way for Mr. Chen and millions of other ginseng buyers in Asia and in Chinatowns all over the world to make the distinction. The future of Wisconsin's century-old ginseng farming business, now under attack by global rivals, depends on it.

The root has been worshiped as an energy-balancing folk medicine for 5,000 years. Ginseng -- or Ren Shen, meaning "Man Root," in Chinese -- has two types. American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) has a cooling effect. Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng) provides a hot rush of energy.

With its rich loam, sunlight and cool summers, Wisconsin -- especially Marathon County in the central part of the state -- produces premium American ginseng. It is more potent and more bitter than American ginseng grown elsewhere.

To an untrained eye, dried Wisconsin roots look the same as those produced in great quantity in Canada and China. Mislabeling and product mixing abound.

And that is threatening the livelihood of Wisconsin's ginseng farmers, whose roots trace back to the early 1900s when the four Fromm brothers began cultivating ginseng in Marathon County. Ginseng isn't easy to cultivate: It takes four to five years to grow ginseng under wood or fabric canopies.

"Kids are easier to raise than ginseng," says Stephen Kaiser, 59, of Rozellville, Wis., who has been grown ginseng since 1977. "Kids only get colds, flu or pneumonia, but ginseng, it tends to die very easily."
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:47 PM

March 5, 2006

Warren Buffett's Annual Shareholder Letter

Is now online - pdf.
Charlie and I are extraordinarily lucky. We were born in America; had terrific parents who saw that we got good educations; have enjoyed wonderful families and great health; and came equipped with a “business” gene that allows us to prosper in a manner hugely disproportionate to other people who contribute as much or more to our society’s well-being. Moreover, we have long had jobs that we love, in which we are helped every day in countless ways by talented and cheerful associates. No wonder we tap dance to work. But nothing is more fun for us than getting together with our shareholder-partners at Berkshire’s annual meeting. So join us on May 6th at the Qwest for our annual Woodstock for Capitalists. We’ll see you there.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:13 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 22, 2006

An Interview with Errol Morris

Megan Cunningham interviews UW Grad and noted film and advertising impresario Errol Morris [pdf]:
Within the entertainment industry, Errol Morris holds a chameleon position. To the commercial production world, he’s established as a highly successful director, both innovative and intelligent. (He’s one of the only, if not the only, director of TV commercials who has written an opinion-page article published in The New York Times.) Within talent and advertising agencies, he is known for his exceptional off-kilter vision, and honored in ways usually reserved for noncommercial artists. (In November 1999, his work received a full retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art. In 2002, the organizers of the Academy Awards asked him to direct the short film that introduced the annual Oscars ceremony; it featured a series of real-life characters—some well-known, some everyday citizens—describing their passion for movies.) In a 2004 Adweek article honoring Morris’s contributions as someone who “rises above the fray to create work that resonates and inspires,”
Errol Morris
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:51 AM

February 20, 2006

Wisconsin VC Investment

Wisconsin's Venture Capital investments increased from $38M in 2003 to 68M in 2005, roughly 1/4 that of Minnesota and Illinois.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:41 PM

February 16, 2006

Blodget on Amazon's Music Strategy

Henry Blodget:
The WSJ reported Amazon's plans to offer an Amazon-branded iPod competitor and digital music download store. I haven't done much work in this area yet, so please weigh in, but this strikes me as a startlingly bad move.

First, Amazon's entry into this business is shockingly and annoyingly late. As with the Netflix DVD business, Amazon could have owned this category, but in the name of moving deliberately (or of trying to become all things to all people), it allowed other competitors to build a dominant market position. No matter what the company says, winning significant market share in digital music is going to be much harder now than it would have been three years ago.
Posted by James Zellmer at 11:09 AM

February 8, 2006

Fossett Flying Farther

Steve Fossett is aloft, again in the Global Flyer. This time, flying farther. Follow the flight here.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:54 PM

February 2, 2006

Small Dairyman Shakes Up Milk Industry

Ilan Brat:
The milk fight, which is being watched in the industry from coast to coast, started because Mr. Hettinga runs a rare hybrid operation. Most dairy businesses either only produce milk, or only process it. He does both. As a result, he falls into a protected class that isn't bound by an arcane system of Depression-era federal rules. Under it, milk processors selling into specific geographical areas, which cover most of the country, must all pay into that area's pool for subsidizing milk prices. But so-called producer-distributors have always been exempt.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:18 PM

January 27, 2006

Reshaping Broadcast TV Revenue

Diane Mermigas:
JPMorgan Chase analyst Spencer Wang says the earliest signs of this fundamental value shift is the sharp contrast between the languishing stock price of traditional media companies (representing an estimated loss of $31 billion in collective market capitalization) and the meteoric rise of so-called new-media stocks (reflecting an aggregate $69 billion gain in market cap).

More directly, evolving new business models are gradually redefining the value of content in the digital age: what distributors and consumers are willing to pay, what it costs to produce and how much revenue and profit is generated as compared to traditional ways of doing business.
Posted by James Zellmer at 1:05 PM

January 26, 2006

Man Behind the 747 Tells His Story

James Wallace:
Sutter, white-haired and soon to be 85 but still razor-sharp, has finally told his life's story, and that of the 747, in a book with aviation writer Jay Spenser.

"747: Creating the World's First Jumbo Jet and Other Adventures from a Life in Aviation," won't hit book stores until May. But last week I received an advance copy from the publisher, Smithsonian Books.
via enplaned.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:06 AM

January 25, 2006

The World's Oldest CEO?

Management Issues:
Jack Weil, founder and CEO of Denver-based Rockmount Ranch Wear, turns up for work every morning just as he has done since 1946. At 104 years old, he's not planning to go anywhere else because "what else am I supposed to do all day?".
Posted by James Zellmer at 1:01 PM

January 24, 2006

Convert Customers into Evangelists

Michael Krauss:
Marketing is not a do-it-to-the-customer, one-way process. The highest aim of marketing is to create products and stories about them that empower customers to sell for you. Don’t simply create loyal customers. Create customers who are enraptured with your product and sell for you. Turn customers on so they will turn others into customers.

Think of eBay conclaves where loyal users tell eBay CEO Meg Whitman how to run the company and what acquisitions to make. Hark back to 1984 and the launch of Apple’s Macintosh computer. Think of all those Mac users who tried to convert you to their form of technology.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:13 PM

Marketing Tips for New Entrepreneurs

Sara Needlemen:
Today you absolutely need a quality presence on the Internet, and that needs to be crisp, clean and informative. Consumers need answers to questions quickly, and, online, it's just like the telephone. People have the same high expectations in dealing with your business. They need to get answers to their questions quickly. They need to know what products or services you offer, how to find them and what differentiates you from your competition.
Posted by James Zellmer at 11:07 AM

January 23, 2006

The Fall of the Traditional Wedding Album

Ben McConnell:
Here's an indicator of when a product crosses the rubicon of word-of-mouth phenomenon to mass-market adoption: the iPod as an accessory in the $80 billion wedding industry.
Posted by James Zellmer at 7:41 AM

January 16, 2006

Constant Innovation

Geoffrey A. Moore:
The book's central question is: How can companies innovate continuously? He writes: "Evolution requires us to continually refresh our competitive advantage, sometimes in dribs and drabs, sometimes in major cataclysms, but always with some part of our business portfolio at risk and in play. To innovate forever, in other words, is not an aspiration; it is a design specification. It is not a strategy; it is a requirement."
Dealing with Darwin: How Great Companies Innovate at Every Phase of Their Evolution Author Geoffrey A. Moore
Posted by James Zellmer at 11:25 AM

January 15, 2006

Thinking Different - US Foreign Investment More Productive?

Tyler Cowen:
Dan Drezner writes:

Given the fact that foreigners currently have a net claim on $2.5 trillion in U.S. assets, one would expect the U.S. to be paying out a lot more in interest, dividends, and profits to foreigners than Americans would receive from their investments.

The weird thing is that, so far, this hasn't been true. Last year the U.S. earned $36 billion more on their foreign investments than foreigners earned in the United States. The question is, why?

It turns out Americans both (seem to) make riskier investments and earn a higher return on investment. One extreme view (not Dan's) suggests the following:
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:47 PM

January 14, 2006

Blodget: The Bear Case for Google

Henry Blodget:
No one else is writing this piece, so it will have to be me. I should say upfront that I'm not predicting that this will happen (yet), and I'm certainly not making a recommendation. I'm just laying out a scenario that could kneecap Google and take its stock back to, say, $100 a share.

Google's major weakness is that it is almost entirely dependent on one, high-margin revenue stream. The company has dozens of cool products, but with the exception of AdWords, none of them generate meaningful revenue. From an intermediate-term financial perspective, therefore, they are irrelevant.

So, the question is, what could happen to AdWords, and what will happen to the company (and stock) if it does?
Rather ironic - and refreshing, coming from Blodget.
Posted by James Zellmer at 6:44 AM

January 12, 2006

It's Not The Technology That Raises Productivity, But How it's Used

Hal R. Varian:
Just dropping a bunch of new personal computers on workers' desks is unlikely to contribute to productivity. A company has to rethink how business processes are handled to get significant cost savings.

As the Stanford economic historian Paul A. David has pointed out, the productivity effects from the electric motor did not really show up until Henry Ford and other industrialists figured out how to use it effectively to create the assembly line. The same is true for computers: just as the early industrialists had to learn how to use manufacturing technology to optimize the flow of materials on the factory floor, companies today must learn how to use information technology to optimize the flow of information in their organizations.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:22 PM

January 11, 2006

TomoTherapy Raiss $14M in Late December

Madison based TomoTherapy recently raised $14M in Venture Capital.

Posted by James Zellmer at 5:19 PM

Local "Arful Home" Site Guild.com Raises $7M

Judy Newman reports that Guild has raised another $7M. I am impressed that founder Toni Sikes has created an organization with so many lives - not an easy task. During the dot-com era, Guild raised several million in local funds along with over $30M in Venture Money. Those early investors lost their position when assets were purchased from Ashford (Newman briefly touches on this in her article, but doesn't mention the amounts).

Several years ago, NBC 15 ran a story on Guild. They, too made no mention of the firm's dot com fund raising and sale. I phoned the reporter (whose name escapes me) and asked why she did not describe the firms early investment rounds? She replied that "those people got to keep their (worthless) stock".

In some respects, it is a sign of progress that a firm can have more than one life in Madison.

This type of incomplete cheerleading, unfortunately simply makes it more difficult for other entrepreneurs to startup and raise capital. People within the investment community are well aware of these matters.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:41 AM

January 8, 2006

Genetic Testing for the Rest of Us - over the Internet

Katherine Seligman:
DNA Direct offers genetics tests that can reveal a predisposition to a half dozen diseases or conditions, among them breast and ovarian cancer, cystic fibrosis, clotting disorders and infertility. Phelan obtained her chromosomal analysis the same way any client could. She spoke with the company's genetic counselor and then went for a blood test. The counselor reviewed the findings to help her interpret what they meant. In Phelan's case, the results provided a surprise -- what looked like partial Turner's syndrome. It was a possible clue to her past struggle with infertility, although she's never had any other symptoms.

"When I realized this I was thrilled," she said. "There may have been an underlying genetic factor. ... I thought, wow, women could go through this and have this help. It can work backward and help diagnose the past."
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:35 AM

January 1, 2006

Interesting Collaboration Software Approach - P2P

James Fallows:
The Berklee College of Music, in Boston, already supplies NoteTaker software to all 3,850 of its students and plans to issue NoteShare to them, too. David Mash, its vice president for information technology, wrote that because "notebooks are immediately available without servers," students can "collaborate on projects as the ideas hit them." For instance, they could "drag their music into a notebook, add some comments and ask for criticism" from friends and teachers on the network.
The interesting aspect of this software is that it does not require any expensive/time consuming server tools. NoteShare FAQ.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:09 PM

December 30, 2005


Two timely and useful essays:

  • Paul Graham: Good and Bad Procrastination:
    The most dangerous form of procrastination is unacknowledged type-B procrastination, because it doesn't feel like procrastination. You're "getting things done." Just the wrong things.

    Any advice about procrastination that concentrates on crossing things off your to-do list is not only incomplete, but positively misleading, if it doesn't consider the possibility that the to-do list is itself a form of type-B procrastination. In fact, possibility is too weak a word. Nearly everyone's is. Unless you're working on the biggest things you could be working on, you're type-B procrastinating, no matter how much you're getting done.

  • Richard Hamming: You and Your Research:
    1. What are the most important problems in your field?
    2. Are you working on one of them?
    3. Why not?

Posted by James Zellmer at 8:48 AM

December 28, 2005

Fascinating: John Diebold Obituary

Jennifer Bayot:

Mr. Diebold (pronounced DEE-bold) made a career of recognizing relevant advances in technology and explaining them to the likes of A.T. & T., Boeing, Xerox and I.B.M. Through books, speeches and his international consulting firm, Mr. Diebold persuaded major corporations to automate their assembly lines, store their records electronically and install interoffice computer networks.

In 1961 he and his firm, the Diebold Group, designed an electronic network to link account records at the Bowery Savings Bank in New York. Rather than being updated after hours, the records immediately reflected both deposits and withdrawals and were available to any teller. Customers could then bank at any branch and at any window.

Another data network eliminated much of Baylor University Hospital's paperwork in departments like accounting, inventory, payroll and purchasing. More important to Mr. Diebold, the system made medical records and statistics available to researchers in electronic form, permitting studies that were otherwise too daunting. The American Hospital Association embraced the project, and hundreds of other institutions created data systems modeled on it.

Posted by James Zellmer at 9:47 PM

December 24, 2005

Leadership/Decision Making: Coach Leach Goes Deep, Very Deep

Michael Lewis:
The 49ers had not bothered to interview college coaches for the head-coaching job in part because its front-office analysis found that most of the college coaches hired in the past 20 years to run N.F.L. teams had failed. But in Schwartz's view, college coaches tended to fail in the N.F.L. mainly because the pros hired the famous coaches from the old-money schools, on the premise that those who won the most games were the best coaches. But was this smart? Notre Dame might have a good football team, but how much of its success came from the desire of every Catholic in the country to play for Notre Dame?

Looking for fresh coaching talent, Schwartz analyzed the offensive and defensive statistics of what he called the "midlevel schools" in search of any that had enjoyed success out of proportion to their stature. On offense, Texas Tech's numbers leapt out as positively freakish: a midlevel school, playing against the toughest football schools in the country, with the nation's highest scoring offense. Mike Leach had become the Texas Tech head coach before the 2000 season, and from that moment its quarterbacks were transformed into superstars. In Leach's first three seasons, he played a quarterback, Kliff Kingsbury, who wound up passing for more yards than all but three quarterbacks in the history of major college football. When Kingsbury graduated (he is now with the New York Jets), he was replaced by a fifth-year senior named B.J. Symons, who threw 52 touchdown passes and set a single-season college record for passing yards (5,833). The next year, Symons graduated and was succeeded by another senior - like Symons, a fifth-year senior, meaning he had sat out a season. The new quarterback, who had seldom played at Tech before then, was Sonny Cumbie, and Cumbie's 4,742 passing yards in 2004 was the sixth-best year in N.C.A.A. history.
Posted by James Zellmer at 4:04 PM

San Francisco WiFi RFP

802.11b Networking News:
San Francisco's request for proposal for its citywide network is out: The city published a PDF of the RFP today; responses are due Feb. 21, 2006....
Posted by James Zellmer at 2:11 PM

December 23, 2005

Rules for Forecasting - Paul Saffo

Jim McGee:
"Never mistake a clear view for a short distance" - Paul Saffo
  • Know when not to make a forecast.
  • Overnight successes come out of twenty years of failure.
  • Look back twice as far as forward.
  • Be indifferent
  • Tell a story or, better, draw a map.
  • Prove yourself wrong
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:36 AM

December 20, 2005

Long Now Foundation Podcasts

Long Now Foundation:

The Long Now Foundation was established in 01996* to develop the Clock and Library projects, as well as to become the seed of a very lon g term cultural institution. The Long Now Foundation hopes to provide counterpoint to today's "faster/cheaper" mind set and promote "slower/bet ter" thinking. We hope to creatively foster responsibility in the framework of the next 10,000 years.
Podcasts of many seminars are available on the Long Now Foundation's website.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:01 AM

December 19, 2005

Venture Capital Investment Trends


If you want to find out what’s hot for the enterprise, follow the money: the venture capital money, that is. Interest in old-school business models and applications has waned, but startups that offer enterprises innovative, secure solutions at low cost are attracting big money.

Posted by James Zellmer at 11:04 AM

December 13, 2005

Newspapers as Mainframes

Jeff Jarvis and others have been discussing the analogy of newspapers as mainframe computers. In essence, they are analagous: mainframes represented centralized processing, distribution and control. PC's came along and blew that up. Mainframes still exist, but are being replaced by clusters of smaller, generally clustered linux computers. The migration continues to ever smaller network devices.

There is another analogy: Newspapers as legacy media. I recall discussing this last fall with Jay Rosen at Bloggercon. The software business uses the term legacy to describe mothballed code, or something that is no longer updated. Generally, this term is used when a customer is moving from software product/platform a to product/platform b (DOS to Windows, Unix to Linux, terminals to client/server to web services).

There will always be journalism, some great, some not so great. It will simply be delivered many different ways.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:38 AM

December 12, 2005

VC's Survey Opportunities

Julie Hanna:
What about future trends, asked Sahlman. Many venture capitalists made money in enterprise software, until the space was saturated. Will venture capitalists have an impact in fields relating to healthcare, education, and the environment—all areas that show a great demand for new solutions?

"Clean energy is big on the West Coast," said Reiss. "Venture capitalists haven't traditionally invested in those areas that you mentioned . . . but given the amount of money that's in the business, somebody is going to try, and somebody will be right."
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:43 AM

December 8, 2005

Signs of A Bubble?

Tristan Louis:
As we near the end of the year, I realized that it's been about half a decade since the bubble burst on the dotcom world. At the same time, it seems that a number of similar bubble signs may be showing up again. Based on my personal experience, I'd like to present what I consider the top five signs of a bubble being in place. Some may overlap but I've tried to define some generic rules that can be applied to all bubbles, not just the ones in technology
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:09 AM

November 25, 2005

The Demise of IP

Melanie Wyne:

More than two years ago, Massachusetts embarked on an "open standards, open source" policy, ostensibly working to guide its executive agencies toward a more citizen-accessible, cost-effective management of state IT assets. The state finally settled on the mandated use of OASIS' OpenDocument Format, plus Adobe's PDF schema, for its executive agencies' office suites by January 2007. This policy has pitted those in favor of government mandates to meet "larger considerations" against others in the industry who favor a more market-oriented approach.

One editorial labeled Massachusetts' OpenDocument Format plan as the "domino" that will cause other governments and private parties to follow suit, fostering more choice. Others believe that it represents a mandate for a single type of software model, one purposely imposed to limit competition, not strengthen it.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:01 AM

November 15, 2005

The Evangelist of Entrepreneurship

The Economist:
“FORGET space aliens and race cars—here's a game that gives kids skills they can use for the rest of their lives.” So says the blurb for Hot Shot Business, an online game (www.hotshotbusiness.com) played each year by millions of “budding entrepreneurs” who get the chance to open their own pet spa, skateboard factory, landscape-gardening business or comic shop in Opportunity City. Players start marketing campaigns; change products, services and prices; and respond to demanding customers and big news events. And, “as a self-funded entrepreneur, you'll keep all the profits. But if anything goes wrong, well, you're on your own.”
Posted by James Zellmer at 12:54 PM

November 13, 2005

Google: What Lurks In It's Soul?

George Dyson:
My visit to Google? Despite the whimsical furniture and other toys, I felt I was entering a 14th-century cathedral — not in the 14th century but in the 12th century, while it was being built. Everyone was busy carving one stone here and another stone there, with some invisible architect getting everything to fit. The mood was playful, yet there was a palpable reverence in the air. "We are not scanning all those books to be read by people," explained one of my hosts after my talk. "We are scanning them to be read by an AI."

When I returned to highway 101, I found myself recollecting the words of Alan Turing, in his seminal paper Computing Machinery and Intelligence, a founding document in the quest for true AI. "In attempting to construct such machines we should not be irreverently usurping His power of creating souls, any more than we are in the procreation of children," Turing had advised. "Rather we are, in either case, instruments of His will providing mansions for the souls that He creates."

Google is Turing's cathedral, awaiting its soul. We hope. In the words of an unusually perceptive friend: "When I was there, just before the IPO, I thought the coziness to be almost overwhelming. Happy Golden Retrievers running in slow motion through water sprinklers on the lawn. People waving and smiling, toys everywhere. I immediately suspected that unimaginable evil was happening somewhere in the dark corners. If the devil would come to earth, what place would be better to hide?"
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:55 AM

November 9, 2005

Learning From Failure

Tom Still:
Embracing failure as a teacher in the school of hard knocks was the theme of last week’s “Ideas to Profits” conference at UW-Whitewater, where the Wisconsin Innovation Service Center marked its 25th year of helping entrepreneurs grow their businesses.

Three successful Wisconsin entrepreneurs told their stories to conference participants during a panel discussion that illustrated how most – if not all – innovators have overcome obstacles along the road to growing profitable businesses. About 200 people attended the two-day conference organized by Dr. Deb Malewicki, UW-Whitewater’s director of business outreach services.
Posted by James Zellmer at 6:45 AM

November 3, 2005

Many Internet Startups Are Flying Without Venture Capital

Rebecca Buckman:

Many Internet companies attending a Web-business conference here earlier this month described venture money as "almost superfluous," says Jason Pressman, a principal at Shasta Ventures in Menlo Park, Calif. Venture capitalists generally say their money and expertise are still needed to build large-scale businesses, and they don't mind investing a little bit less in companies that have built businesses on the cheap but still want some venture money.

But some entrepreneurs believe the balance of power in Silicon Valley is shifting for at least a subset of Internet-focused start-ups. "There is magic in independence," says Chris MacAskill, co-founder of online-photo site Smugmug Inc., which has no venture funding -- and, according to Mr. MacAskill, doesn't want any.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:06 AM

November 2, 2005

Dave Says Clone the Google API - I Agree

Dave Winer: "Let's make the Google API an open standard". I agree. Several months ago, I emailed the requisite Google email address seeking commercial use of their API. The following thread illustrates my unsuccessful petition:

## I never heard back from the Google API folks after this email:


So, what's the point of the api's then?

Perhaps a middle road here is to require adsense on the pages that include commercial api use? I think that would be a useful requirement in this case.

Google is certainly a commercial enterprise.

Let me know and best wishes,


On Aug 4, 2005, at 5:56 PM, api-support@google.com wrote:

Hi Jim,

Thank you for your reply. Unfortunately, we were unable to grant
commercial use permission for your project. You can continue to use the
Web APIs as long as you use them for non-commercial projects.

The Google Team

Original Message Follows:
From: Jim Zellmer
Subject: Re: [#30549190] Google API Commercial Use
Date: Mon, 1 Aug 2005 20:09:10 -0500 (CDT)


OK - just to clarify, commercial use is OK as long as we stay below 1,000
queries per day?

Thanks much,


Hi Jim,

Thank you for your reply. Unfortunately, the Google Web APIs program is


limited beta service, and we cannot accommodate all the requests we
receive for commercial license keys. You can continue to use the service
up to 1,000 queries per day, provided that your application abides by


Google APIs Terms and Conditions.

The Google Team

Original Message Follows:
From: Jim Zellmer
Subject: Re: [#30549190] Google API Commercial Use
Date: Mon, 25 Jul 2005 14:54:32 -0500

Hi again:

We can probably, if it is important, change our rendering scheme to
reduce the daily query volume. However, it would be nice to have the

Thanks again -


On Jul 25, 2005, at 2:45 PM, api-support@google.com wrote:

Thank you for your note. We appreciate your interest in the Google Web
APIs. Since this is a beta service, we can't guarantee we will
respond to
every message, but we've included answers to some of our most frequent
questions below. Please scroll all the way down to see if your
question is
answered. You may also want to look for answers on our FAQ at


Occasionally, the Google Web APIs servers are taken down
temporarily for
maintenance purposes. If you see a server error, please wait a few
and try your query or your license key request again.


If you didn't receive your license key, it's likely that the email
containing the key was caught by a spam or bulk mail filter in your
system. You may want to check your account's filter to see if the
email is

If you can't find your key, you can have it re-sent. Please note
that your
browser must accept cookies for this process to work. First, visit
http://www.google.com/apis/ and click on 'Create Account.' Select
Here' at the very bottom of the page. Enter your email address and
password, and Google will re-send your key.

If you still do not receive your key, a network or other filter may be
deleting it before it ever reaches your inbox. You may want to contact
your system administrator. You are also welcome to create a new Google
Account and license key using a different email address.


As you may know, we currently approve requests for additional queries
and/or permission to create products for commercial purposes on a
case-by-case basis. To submit a request, please reply to this email
the following information:

1. What is the purpose of your project? If your project is
commercial, who
do you expect your clients to be? The more details you can provide,

2. How many queries do you estimate you'll need each day? NOTE: we
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Posted by James Zellmer at 4:32 PM

November 1, 2005

Altavista, Google and MSN Search

Don Dodge, former Director of Engineering at Altavista, once king of the hill in the internet search game, sheds some light on what went wrong in the 1990's:

The AltaVista experience is sad to remember. We should have been the "Google" of today. We were pure search, no frills, no consumer portal crap. DEC is guilty of neglect in its handling of AltaVista. Compaq put a bunch of PC guys in charge who relied on McKinsey consultants and copied AOL, Excite, Yahoo and Lycos into the consumer portal game. It should have been clear that being the 5th or 6th player in the consumer portal business wouldn't work. AltaVista spent hundreds of millions on acquisitions that never worked, and spent $100M on a brand advertising campaign. They spent NOTHING to improve core search. That was the undoing of AltaVista.

You need to remember the context of the time. It seemed like every week AOL was announcing a $50M deal to sell traffic. Yahoo was doing it too. The game was build traffic with search, keep them on your site with content, and sell traffic and "screen real estate" to sponsors for $20-$40M a pop up front. There was no proven search business model other than annoying banner ads that were not really contextual.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:04 AM

October 28, 2005

7 Principles of Leadership

Management Issues:
rganisations also need to select managers with the potential to become good leaders and fulfil the leadership skills required.

They need to give them the right training to help managers to gain skills and become good leaders.

There needs to be a clear career development policy in place, as leadership requirements will vary depending on the task and role.

Leadership development should be integrated closely with career development, it added.
Posted by James Zellmer at 1:35 PM

October 25, 2005

The Next Battery?

David Baker:
The battery of the future, if a Berkeley startup gets its way, looks something like a fat stick of butter with metal grills stuck on the sides.

And it isn't a battery, not technically at least. It's a 4-inch-high fuel cell that should last 10 times longer than the batteries it was designed to replace.

Its inventors, founders of a firm called H2Volt, have joined the hunt for one of the technology industry's Holy Grails -- a new power source capable of running the portable electronics products that grow more complex every year
Posted by James Zellmer at 6:41 AM

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 17, 2005

Part-Time Entrepreneurs: www.cmbsweets.com

Stephen Grocer:
Carolina Braunschweig, 28, worked as a reporter covering the venture-capital industry for Thomson Corp. in San Francisco. During that period, she also began contemplating the direction of her career and considering ways to supplement her modest reporter salary.

Ms. Braunschweig launched cmbsweets in June 2004, selling jams over the Internet at cmbsweets.com. Today her product line, which includes strawberry, boysenberry and olallieberry jams and apple-honey butter, is also sold in stores in New York, Chicago and the San Francisco Bay Area.
Posted by James Zellmer at 7:22 AM

October 14, 2005

Bob Iger and Apple Save Network TV?

Mark Cuban:
On the ITunes Store, you can buy the latest episode to Lost and some other shows the day after they air on Network TV. in this case ABC, for $1.99. Sounds simple and reasonable. Not anything earth shattering right ?
I think this is correct - but - I'm not sure about the pricing. Some of it is not worth much, while other shows/documentaries (PBS?) are quite well done.
Posted by James Zellmer at 5:51 AM

October 13, 2005

25 Ways to Distinguish Yourself

Rajesh Setty:
PDF, Very useful.
Posted by James Zellmer at 7:55 AM

Yin and Yang: Gates & Jobs

While Bill Gates visited the UW Wednesday (more from the Badger Herald), Steve Jobs introduced new imacs, ipods (with video playback) and the ability to buy and download video online, via the iTunes music store (lookout Netflix). John Markoff and Laura Holson have more on Jobs introductions:

But Mr. Jobs, Apple Computer's co-founder and chief executive, concluded a 90-minute presentation at a theater here by framing his plans in the broadest possible terms. "I think this is the start of something really big," he said. "Sometimes the first step is the hardest one, and we've just taken it."

Apple is not the first company to enter the market for digital video. A range of efforts are under way by consumer electronics companies and studios looking for ways to make high-quality digital video available on computers and hand-held players.

View the presentation here (Wynton Marsalis plays toward the end, which is simply wonderful).

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:02 AM

October 11, 2005

Entrepreneurs: Austin's Soup Peddler

John Moore:

Yes … that’s David Ansel, the Soup Peddler, in a lengthy spread from November’s issue of FOOD AND WINE magazine. (Nice to see the Law of Remarkability in action.)

This autumn we find the Soup Peddler in the beginning throes of his fifth soup season. But this year, many things have changed for Brand Autopsy’s favorite jumboSHRIMP Marketing business. Gone is the infamous delivery bike in favor of deliveries by refrigerated trucks. And gone is the single-minded soup menu. In its place is an expanded menu including entrees because as David said in an email to his Soupies,

Posted by James Zellmer at 9:44 AM

October 2, 2005

Healthia: Comparison Shopping, Online, for Health Insurance

This looks like a useful idea. California only, for now.

At Healthia, we are tremendous believers in the consumer driven healthcare movement sweeping America. Our goal is to provide America's first comparison shopping and research portal for consumer driven healthcare, enabling businesses and their employees to choose health plans and ancillary health benefits objectively and transparently.

At our beta launch today (2005-Aug-11), we serve the California market with a strong emphasis on HSA compatible plans. We also enable any user across the nation to compare over 50 leading HSA products.

David Cowan has a useful summary of the movement behind this: "Consumer Directed Healthcare" or CDH. Cowan also references this CDH study.

Posted by James Zellmer at 7:32 AM

September 25, 2005

Country Collectors

John Flinn:
The fact that news of this probably has never reached you attests to what an impossibly distant and godforsaken place Bouvet Island is. Only a few dozen humans have ever left their footprints on it, and it's a safe bet most of them would happily have passed on the honor.

But there is a small and obsessive group of people scheming, plotting, cajoling and ultimately trying to buy their way there. They are known as country collectors, and they spend their lifetimes journeying to the farthest and most obscure reaches of the globe, from Abkhazia to Umm Al Qaiwain, filling their passports with rare and exotic stamps. Bouvet Island is to them what Everest is to peak baggers, what the British Guiana 1c magenta is to philatelists, what the Apple Tree Girl 141X is to collectors of Hummel figurines.

Only a tiny handful of country collectors -- precisely eight by one estimate, "not quite 20" by another -- have ever managed to cross Bouvet off their lists. The most recent is a 40-year-old dot-com millionaire from San Francisco, Charles Veley, and he believes this, along with all his other peregrinations, qualifies him as the most well-traveled person in the history of the world.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:35 AM

The Art of Selling

Ben Stein writes well about the Art of Selling, and a good salesperson truly practices art:

In other words, align your interests with those of the buyer. Don't try to shove something down his throat. Don't try to hoodwink him. Just listen to what he needs and wants, see if you have the good or service he needs and wants and then arrange to make it easy to buy. Make sure that the buyer is a real buyer with a real need, a real timetable to buy and the real means to buy. Then satisfy that need.

It is also important to be a friend to your buyer. In fact, I observe that almost all success in life comes down to being a friend to someone: a friend to the voter, a friend to the judge, a friend to your spouse, a friend to the client, a friend to your parents. As Miller said so aptly, you have to not just be liked, but "well liked."

Posted by James Zellmer at 9:23 AM

September 24, 2005

Skysails: Great Shipping Energy Saving Idea

skysails.jpgGreat application of a mix of old an new technologies in a way that makes sense. Kudos to the SkySails folks for bringing this to market. The Economist has more:

But the SkySails approach does away with masts and is much cheaper. The firm says it can outfit a ship with a kite system for between €400,000 and €2.5m, depending on the vessel's size. Stephan Wrage, the boss of SkySails, says fuel savings will recoup these costs in just four or five years, assuming oil prices of $50 a barrel. Jesper Kanstrup, a senior naval architect at Knud E. Hansen, says the idea of pulling a ship with an inexpensive kite—attached to the structurally solid bow like a tugboat—had never occurred to him. “It's a good idea,” he says.
Skysails reveals the essence of any successful (We'll see) idea: economics, application, timing and luck!

Posted by James Zellmer at 11:02 AM

September 23, 2005

Midwesterners are Less Entrepreneurial

Kauffman Foundation [PDF]:

Two especially surprising findings from the study are: (a) that the Latino rate of entrepreneurship increased from 0.38 percent in 1996 to 0.48 percent in 2004, which was higher than the white, non-Latino rate of 0.39 percent; and (b) that immigrants have substantially higher rates of entrepreneurship than native-born individuals. The average rate of entrepreneurship for immigrants was 0.46 percent compared to 0.35 percent for the native-born.

New entrepreneurship activity is highest in the West. Other regions have similar rates of entrepreneurship.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:01 AM

September 9, 2005

Bud Selig Interview

Tim Gutowski:
What were the disappointments? Some controversies that I found disappointing in terms of human behavior. They tried to put a jail next to the ballpark ... putting a jail next to a ballpark isn't exactly an entertainment complex. And then the whole stadium controversy. And, look, I understand taxation. But here we are trying to keep baseball in Milwaukee ... and it happens in a lot of places, this is not the only place it happens, but the Machiavellian behavior was just sad. And someday when I write a book I'll describe it as it's never been described. The personal abuse that the ownership took, I took, my daughter took, the organization took, baseball took -- was inexcusable. And today, well how bad is it? Milwaukee has a Major League team for the next two generations. ... It's a great tribute to a lot of people. ... Will Milwaukee in the future be a better place for your children and grandchildren? You bet it will.
I appreciate Bud's gumption in making baseball happen. BUT, I think the location (should have been downtown - see Denver and San Francisco) and process that lead to Miller Park was a big mistake.
Posted by James Zellmer at 3:17 PM

August 2, 2005

A New Kind of Middleman

Roark Johnson:
But Noone’s outlook couldn’t be more global. He spends a typical weekend watching Chinese-language movies and listening to Chinese-language tapes. At least once a week he makes sure to eat with chopsticks. “You’ve got to show people you’re interested in their culture,” he says.

Noone is interested, all right. The 54-year-old entrepreneur is founder and CEO of Capacitor Industries, which imports low-cost electronic components from China and sells them to motor makers and other manufacturers in the U.S. and, increasingly, abroad. His stock-in-trade is capacitors: tiny devices that store charges, maintain electrical currents, keep motors running, and protect computers and communications equipment from surges. Every motor manufacturer needs a steady supply of them, which has helped send Noone’s annual sales to $5 million.
Posted by James Zellmer at 6:47 AM

July 31, 2005

Innovation, Burt Rutan and EAA's Airventure: "We bought the engines on ebay"

20MB Quicktime Video
SpaceshipOne/White Knight, making it's way east to the Smithsonian, flew during Saturday's EAA Airventure Air Show. I captured a 20MB video clip of several passes along with SpaceshipOne's landing. You'll hear designer Burt Rutan address the crowd during the aircraft's flight, using "Military Power". Enjoy! Rutan also mentioned that the aircraft would make one more stop at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio before reaching it's final destination; the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. the video is a bit jerky at the beginning, but my handheld technique improves after a few seconds :)
Earlier this week, Rutan and Richard Branson announced a joint venture to form a new aerospace production company to build a fleet of commercial sub-orbital spaceships and launch aircraft.

I'll post more photos and videos over the next few days.
John Robb has been pushing for the government to support, in a big way, competitive private space initiatives ala the X-Prize rather than spending $3.2B annually on 1970's technology - the shuttle. Robb also mentions how "big buck programs are a source of power in the Pentagon". Robb has more ideas on the Government's role in all of this and makes a rather startling but true statement:
Unfortunately, it is only a matter of time (short) before the shuttle program is done in due to a failure (hopefully, not on this mission's recovery). After that happens, this is all we have.
More Videos: Marine AV8-B Harrier VSTOL | B-17 Takeoff. My father took a number of photos earlier this week.

More photos here (click to view larger versions):
Posted by James Zellmer at 12:01 AM

July 23, 2005

Entrepreneurs: Competing with the Big Firms

Tom Peters offers up several useful tips on competing with big organizations:
Can the small player compete in a world of Citigroups and Bank of Americas? I said it was a lark. And I more or less meant it. That is, among other things, giants— "new tech," CRM, etc notwithstanding— will always be clumsy and impersonal relative to an "intimate local" who is really out to make a dramatic difference.
Posted by James Zellmer at 6:28 PM

Entrepreneurs: An Interview with Wil Shipley

Drunkenblog interviews Wil Shipley, one of the creators of the quite successful Delicious Monster: "The greatest media cataloging software in the world". Well worth reading. Via Brent.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:01 AM

July 18, 2005

Fossett Crosses the Atlantic in a Vickers Vimy

Financier and adventurer Steve Fossett flew a replica of the first airplane to travel nonstop across the Atlantic recently. Aviation Week:
Pilot Steve Fossett and navigator Mark Rebholz took off from St. John's, Newfoundland, on July 2 at about 7 p.m. in fog, heavy cloud cover and strong winds. They had a good tailwind until midway and made most of the trip under cloud cover, not seeing the Sun until about the last 5 hr.

Fossett and Rebholz expected the crossing to be completed by 4-5 p.m. the next day and, in fact, landed at 5:05 p.m. Irish time, setting down safely at the eighth hole of Connemara golf course. That was a slightly better result than the original June 14-15, 1919, crossing by Royal Flying Corps pilot Capt. John Alcock and navigator Lt. Arthur Whitten Brown. They ended up nose-down on soft ground after a 16-hr. crossing that included an ice storm.
More on Fossett
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:16 AM

July 16, 2005

Organic Farming 101

Deborah K. Rich:
Apprentices leave the program at the end of their six-month term proficient at pest control, propagation, irrigation and maintaining soil fertility with organic matter. They also leave with a network of instructors, farmers and former apprentices to turn to when questions arise, and they often leave with a job offer in hand from a contact made at the apprenticeship. Most importantly, they leave firmly committed to practicing and promoting agricultural systems that work within the limitations imposed by natural resource cycles.

UC Santa Cruz's Apprenticeship in Environmental Horticulture evolved from student interest in the 3-acre garden installed on campus by Alan Chadwick in the late 1960s. Using only hand tools and organic soil amendments, Chadwick molded a steep hillside near what was then the center of campus into a highly productive vegetable, fruit and flower garden.
Posted by James Zellmer at 7:15 PM

Bold Air: Wisonsin Air Taxi Service

Kathleen Gallagher:

Radlinger's vision is that business travelers would be able to pull up 15 minutes before departure at a smaller airport such as Timmerman Field, West Bend or Waukesha's Crites Field, hop aboard a plane aRadlinger's vision is that business travelers would be able to pull up 15 minutes before departure at a smaller airport such as Timmerman Field, West Bend or Waukesha's Crites Field, hop aboard a plane and take off, making their total trip not much longer than the actual flying time.

"People are tired of the inefficient, cattle-call mentality of commercial and low-cost carriers, the lack of service and the inability to fly direct to a destination," said Radlinger, executive vice president of Bold Air, which has headquarters in downtown Milwaukee. "If they can get where they're going faster and in comfort, at a price competitive with what they're currently paying, that's a no-brainer."

Bold Air would likely charge about the same or slightly more than the commercial fare on a route, Radlinger said. He hopes to begin offering flights by the second quarter of 2006.nd take off, making their total trip not much longer than the actual flying time.

"People are tired of the inefficient, cattle-call mentality of commercial and low-cost carriers, the lack of service and the inability to fly direct to a destination," said Radlinger, executive vice president of Bold Air, which has headquarters in downtown Milwaukee. "If they can get where they're going faster and in comfort, at a price competitive with what they're currently paying, that's a no-brainer."

Bold Air would likely charge about the same or slightly more than the commercial fare on a route, Radlinger said. He hopes to begin offering flights by the second quarter of 2006.

Bold Air, with it's non aircraft ownership approach is slightly different than the emerging "microjet" initiatives underway, including Dayjet as well as Pogo, among others.

Posted by James Zellmer at 6:09 AM

July 15, 2005

The Knowledge Worker Gap

John Robb:

Fortune has an interesting article on the competition between the US and China. This, in particular, caught my attention:
China will produce about 3.3 million college graduates this year, India 3.1 million (all of them English-speaking), the U.S. just 1.3 million.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:00 AM

July 12, 2005

Whole Foods Marketing Strategy

Renuka Rayasam:

But Whole Foods Market Inc. doesn't pay for product placements or mentions on television shows. It has managed to make its brand name synonymous with healthy living, and grow its sales at a double-digit clip, while spending little on traditional advertising and marketing.

Consumers don't see Whole Foods ads in their local papers, during daytime television shows or even in magazines.

While other food retailers spend heavily to draw shoppers, Whole Foods counts on its brand, its reputation and targeted community efforts to bring in customers.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:02 AM

July 11, 2005

Nanotechnology & Solar Power

Paul Carlstrom:
Investors along Sand Hill Road in Menlo Park [CA] are pouring money into solar nanotech startups, hoping that thinking small will translate into big profits.

Both inventors and investors are betting that flexible sheets of tiny solar cells used to harness the sun's strength will ultimately provide a cheaper, more efficient source of energy than the current smorgasbord of alternative and fossil fuels.

Nanosys and Nanosolar in Palo Alto -- along with Konarka in Lowell, Mass. -- say their research will result in thin rolls of highly efficient light-collecting plastics spread across rooftops or built into building materials.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:52 AM

July 10, 2005

Biotech Continues to Grow in San Francisco

Steve Bergsman:
EARLIER THIS YEAR, SIRNA THERAPEUTICS ANNOUNCED it was moving its corporate headquarters from Boulder, Colo., to San Francisco -- one more in the long line of biotechnology firms to put down roots in the region. From a real-estate perspective, homegrown and transplanted companies together have transformed the fabled Bay area into the largest biotech community in the country, occupying 16 million square feet. And demand for laboratory space, from San Francisco to Palo Alto, shows no sign of slowing, as the proximity of Genentech and first-rate universities beckons other research firms.
Posted by James Zellmer at 4:31 PM

Venture Capital in Wisconsin/Milwaukee

John Schmid takes a look at a proposed Venture Capital Fund for inner city Milwaukee.
Venture capitalists, a clique of financiers obsessed with risk and exponential growth, incubated the Internet, seeded the bioengineering boom and propelled the likes of Google, eBay, Microsoft, FedEx and Starbucks out of their infancy. Now, for the first time, they intend to apply the same approach to Milwaukee's inner city.
VC in Wisconsin is very much a chicken and egg problem. My view is that Wisconsin lacks a risk taking, entrepreneurial environment, which is ironic because it used to exist here, in the days when manufacturing was the rage. We see evidence of this everywhere, from The Madison School District's annual "same service" approach to budgeting in an era of constant change to our very slow adoption of the critical assets for the next generation of entrepreneurs: broadband (wifi and fiber networks to the home). Wisconsin is not a player politically in these initiatives, unlike other areas.

The truth, in my view, is that there's plenty of money in Wisconsin. We're simply lacking the will, and perhaps people - though I wonder about this, to apply it to new businesses.

Finally, any VC discussion must include internet entrepreneur Paul Graham's essay: A Unified Theory of VC Suckage. (I know some venture capitalists and believe they can play an important role. The idea and execution, however are critical).

Finally, why not look at results? Madison's fast growing (now - started in 1978) Epic Systems never took venture capital, while Berbee did (started in 1994). Judy Faulkner has run Epic from the beginning while Berbee founder Jim Berbee hasn't run the company for years, and recently left. Foodusa, hypercosm, guild.com (apparently 40+M, including over 2m of local funds) and sonic foundry all took venture capital. A number of local biotech firms are also vc financed.
Posted by James Zellmer at 7:34 AM

July 1, 2005

Opportunities for Small Banks

Eve Tahmincioglu:
Aside from roadside deposits, Western National offers a courier service to pick up deposits from small-business customers and gives out toy safes for the children of the personal account holders.

It is touches like those that Mr. Hinz says will snare customers frustrated with the impersonal faces of the giants. Customers, he says, want to be greeted by name and treated as though their $2,000 savings accounts or $50,000 small-business loans really matter to Western National.

"We found that especially with small-business lending and banking, being able to know your customer is critical," he said. "Being part of the community in which they work is critical. The big bank networks aren't really built to take care of smaller loans."
Sort of business 101...
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:39 AM

June 27, 2005

Milwaukee's Mason Wells Venture Capital Activity

Kathleen Gallagher writes a positive article on Trevor D'Souza and Dan Broderick, Managing Directors of Mason Wells' first venture capital fund, Biomedical Fund 1. MW has invested in two Madison firms: NameProtect and Opgen among other midwest startups.

VC's certainly play a useful role in the business growth process. That role is not always decisive. Interestingly, many of them do NOT fund startups. They'd rather let someone else (angel investors) take that risk. Anyone interested in this area should read another perspective: internet entrepreneur Paul Graham's essay: The Unified Theory of VC Suckage.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:05 AM

June 26, 2005

Do you have the right stuff to become an entrepreneur?


The Essential Traits:
  • You can delegate
  • You are a teacher
  • You are self motivated
  • You can work with numbers
  • You don't mind making mistakes
  • You like to work
  • You don't mind selling
  • You don't quit easily
Very useful. We need more of this in Madison.

Posted by James Zellmer at 11:17 AM

June 10, 2005

Silicon Valley Solar Startup VC Funding

Energy startups are certainly an area worth watching. I hope we have some more activity here. Dan Gillmor points to Matt Marshall's take on Nanosolar ($20M round) and Miasole ($16M round).
Posted by James Zellmer at 12:46 PM

May 10, 2005

Inc's Best Cities to do Business

Madison is 38, while Green Bay is #4 in Inc's latest list of the best cities to do business in.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:00 AM

May 1, 2005

The Wired 40

Duff McDonald:

They're masters of technology and innovation. They're global thinkers driven by strategic vision. They're nimbler than Martha Stewart's PR team. They're The Wired 40.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:00 AM

April 30, 2005

Madison Area Income Growth

Lynn Welch on Madison's 3.9% per capita personal income growth (2002 to 2003), which ranks it 30th among the 360 metropolitan areas measured by the US Bureau of Economic Analysis. (interestingly, Appleton's personal income growth rate was 4.1%) Here's the BEA's data (.xls file - 4.27.2005 BEA news release)

Welch credits the high tech economy for these results - perhaps so. Epic Systems has grown substantially as has Promega (mentioned in the article). Of course, Epic is moving to Verona and Promega is in Fitchburg.


Wisconsin ranks 12th in per capita tax collections, according to the US Census Bureau. More on state tax comparisons from Kathleen Murphy.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:59 AM

April 29, 2005

Flight of Fancy - Dayjet

Robert X Cringely:
The idea behind DayJet is a lot simpler than the technology it takes to make it happen. Many regional travelers are spending whole days going to airports, sitting in airports, flying to hubs, changing planes, and sitting in more airports that they could almost drive faster to their final destination. By going point-to-point when the passenger wants to fly, DayJet replicates that driving experience, but with a chauffer and at over 400 mph.

The difference between DayJet and a traditional aircraft charter is that all you'll be chartering is the seat you are sitting in. That means if you take a friend it costs twice as much, but it doesn't mean that you are paying for seats you don't use. And unlike a charter, DayJet won't charge for sending the plane to pick you up -- only for when you are actually in that seat.

Only time will tell if this concept is successful. I'm for it. Imagine skipping security lines and regional hubs and going right where you want to go.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:28 AM

April 23, 2005

Fetal Cell Therapy for Humans

University of Wisconsin-Madison researcher said he would ask federal regulators Friday to approve the first clinical trial injecting special stem cells into the spinal cords of people with the degenerative nerve ailment called Lou Gehrig's disease.

The trial would test whether a technique anatomy professor Clive Svendsen has pioneered on rats afflicted with the disease is safe to use on people. If successful, Svendsen said a much larger clinical trial aimed at treating the disease could be under way in two or three years. ..... The research does not involve human embryonic stem cells, the blank-slate cells derived from human embryos that can be molded into any type of tissue cell in the body.
Posted by James Zellmer at 7:21 PM

April 22, 2005

Jack's Shoes

Jack's Shoes on Madison's State Street

Jack's always has interesting shoes.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:02 AM

April 20, 2005

Minneapolis named top "Technopolis"

Some interesting tidbits on Minneapolis in the latest eprairie newsletter, including Popular Science's proclamation as the top "Technopolis".

UW-Whitewater's Literate Cities Study ranked Minneapolis #1... (Madison was #4). Take a look at their data sources, here. (I wonder what the yellow pages tells them, exactly. I never use it, frankly. The web is much faster).

I also have my doubts on the value of newspaper circulation data, now.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:22 AM

April 10, 2005

INC: 26 Entrepreneurs We Love

Great stuff, from Inc.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:03 AM

April 5, 2005

IT Outsourcing Sprouts Up in Rural America

Julia King:

Aelera Corp. CEO Dustin Crane traveled to China, India and Armenia in a quest to buy or start up an offshore IT services company. After six months of searching, he returned to the U.S. and set up operations in the coastal city of Savannah and the smaller town of Fitzgerald, Ga., population 8,758.

McKesson Corp. CIO Cheryl T. Smith estimates that the $8 billion pharmaceutical distributor is saving $10 million annually in salary costsa percentage of which is reinvested in IT innovationafter relocating its primary data center and about 75 IT jobs from San Francisco to Dubuque, Iowa.

Two fantastic examples of what's possible. Unfortunatetly, it seems Wisconsin's political leaders aren't interested in laying the groundwork for the true high speed networks necessary for these type of opportunities to land here.....

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:00 AM

April 3, 2005

Orion Energy Systems

Thomas Content:

Lights made by Orion generate less heat and consume 50% less power than standard industrial lighting. Even more significant: Orion lights require fewer fixtures, and while factories and warehouses that use them are brighter, they use less electricity. That's a big deal for manufacturers always looking to cut costs to stay competitive.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:00 AM

March 20, 2005

Organize your Brain

James Fallows discusses several software tools that help organize thoughts, ideas and projects. Well worth reading. I use a couple of these tools: Aquamind's NoteTaker as well as Omni Group's Graffle & Outliner. ConceptDraw's Project is another similar product.
Posted by James Zellmer at 12:40 PM

March 17, 2005

Venture Capital & How to Start a Startup

Paul Graham offers up two very useful articles:
  • How to Start a Startup:
    You need three things to create a successful startup: to start with good people, to make something customers actually want, and to spend as little money as possible. Most startups that fail do it because they fail at one of these. A startup that does all three will probably succeed.
  • A Unified Theory of VC Suckage:
    But lately I've been learning more about how the VC world works, and a few days ago it hit me that there's a reason VCs are the way they are. It's not so much that the business attracts jerks, or even that the power they wield corrupts them. The real problem is the way they're paid.

    The problem with VC funds is that they're funds. Like the managers of mutual funds or hedge funds, VCs get paid a percentage of the money they manage. Usually about 2% a year. So they want the fund to be huge: hundreds of millions of dollars, if possible. But that means each partner ends up being responsible for investing a lot of money. And since one person can only manage so many deals, each deal has to be for multiple millions of dollars.
Posted by James Zellmer at 2:41 PM

How to Cut Your Losses

Roger McNamee offers up some useful advice on knowing when to fold & move on.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:01 AM

March 13, 2005

Tim Draper on Skype, Telco's and the VC Business

Draper is acknowledged as the inspiration behind the term "viral marketing" via his hotmail investment. Interesting interview.
We often list all the problems in society, and the politicians would make you believe that they're going to solve all those problems.

Generally, I'd say it goes the other way. Businesses solve a lot of the world's problems. The next big energy breakthrough will happen through a business.

The next big environmental breakthrough similarly could happen through a business. Medicine has been advanced through business. It turns out that it's the businesspeople that tend to be the ones who solve all this stuff.
Posted by James Zellmer at 7:56 AM

March 5, 2005

Fossett lands in Salinas

Millionaire adventurer Steve Fossett on Thursday became the first person to fly around the world solo without stopping or refueling 67 hours and 23,000 miles after taking off in his spindly-looking, experimental jet.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:01 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 26, 2005

Strategic Failure: HP & AT&T

It is interesting to note that groups of technologists within AT&T were accurately forecasting the future. A few groups formed to deal with new developments and even attempted to influence the decision makers. Probably the most interesting was ODD *- I wasn't directly associated with it, but know most of its former members.

A friend who happens to be one of the ODDsters, Amy Muller, co-authored a brief history on the group and AT&T's strategic failure. (pdf) read it
Interesting Reading... Via Lessig
Posted by James Zellmer at 12:03 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 23, 2005

Security - By HST

Hunter S. Thompson on Security (1955) - via Bruce Schneier. Well worth reading.
Posted by James Zellmer at 12:00 AM

February 16, 2005

Horace & Selling Out

Dave published an essay today, let's call it an essay "mini" in keeping with the times, on product development & selling out. Well worth reading.

Dave's words remind me of past experiences in the large, corporate world. Product A is created or acquired. Over time, the things that made Product A useful, interesting and marketable are slowly taken away (juice content (Pepsi Slice), flavors, quantity) while prices go up. We might refer to this as an MBA approach to product development, though that is too harsh. Perhaps it is more of a corporate vs entrepreneur approach.

In any event, it happens all too often.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:20 AM

February 6, 2005

Madison Small Business Series: Mike McMahon & Pinnacle Health & Fitness

Mike McMahon
CEO, Pinnacle Health & Fitness
On starting and growing a business

I visited with Mike recently and talked about:
  • The experience necessary to successfully start a business, and avoid losing your relatives money.
  • Hiring the right people
  • Customer Service
  • Competition
  • Career Advice
Check out this 7 minute mp3 audio file or a 7 minute Quicktime Video.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:14 AM

January 30, 2005

Tool for Thought

Steven Berlin Johnson discusses the software he uses to organize his research, Devonthink.
This week's edition of the Times Book Review features an essay that I wrote about the research system I've used for the past few years: a tool for exploring the couple thousand notes and quotations that I've assembled over the past decade -- along with the text of finished essays and books. I suspect there will be a number of you curious about the technical details, so I've put together a little overview here, along with some specific observations. For starters, though, go read the essay and then come back once you've got an overview.
Posted by James Zellmer at 7:37 AM

January 23, 2005

Does Not Compute: Technology Implementations....

Nicholas G. Carr continues his analysis of failed software projects. Carr wonders if we should scale back our technology expectations:
Equally important, they stopped trying to be creative. Rather than try to customize their software, they began looking for cheaper, off-the-shelf programs that would get the job done with a minimum of fuss. When necessary, they changed their own procedures to fit the available software. Old, generic technology may not be glamorous, but it has an important advantage: it works. It may well turn out that the F.B.I.'s biggest problem was its desire to be innovative - to build a new wheel rather than use an old one within easy reach. When it comes to developing software today, innovation should be a last resort, not a first instinct.
Carr is mistaken in telling technology drivers to slow down with respect to innovation. The real question is whether or not top management has made the commitment to align their business processes with the technology (and provide leadership when tough decisions must be made). Carr, of course does not mention the many successful technology innovations we take for granted today, such as
  • Cell Phones
  • The Internet
  • Fast payment processing (credit cards)
  • Travel reservation systems
We take these innovations for granted, but each one required risk, leadership, mistakes and a willingness to make it work. There are no shortcuts. More on Nicholas G. Carr.

AT&T's CTO recognizes what is required to succeed:
"The biggest challenge is not the technology," he said, "but being able to change the culture."
Posted by James Zellmer at 12:00 AM

January 11, 2005

Weak on Entrepreneurial Energy

Starting a Business is Not a Top Down Process

Rick Romell's summary of CFED's Development Report Cards for the States does not shed a whole lot of new thinking on Wisconsin's entrepreneurial dilemna:

  • Wisconsin placed 47th in the number of new companies formed per 1,000 workers in the state

  • Venture Capital is a problem here

  • Wisconsin's Brain Drain - new grads often leave the Badger State.

Yet, Wisconsin continues to try government driven, top down programs, such as the Wisconsin Angel Network, among others.

Candinas Chocolatier is the type of business we should seek to emulate. Markus started the company in 1994, after completing an apprenticeship in Switzerland. Today, over 10 years later, he is still in business and clearly enjoys what he's doing. The attention to detail illustrated in the product photos above demonstrates the devotion required to succeed. Let's call it passion. Another interesting local firm, Planet Propaganda created his packaging.

Candinas' products are certainly not inexpensive, nor are they run of the mill. Rather, Markus has taken a quality position in the market and continued to improve his chocolates. This is a very long term approach to business. I need say no more on this subject as Consumer Reports discovered:

The best chocolates came from lesser-known makers, the magazine pronounced in its February issue. Lesser-known as in Candinas Chocolates, of Verona, Wisconsin (www.candinas.com). Candinas was one of only three chocolate makers nationwide to achieve the rating of excellent, ranking behind Martines Chocolates and La Maison du Chocolat in that category.

The winning assortment was the Candinas 36-piece box (price: $41). Ultra-smooth dark and milk chocolates with especially good hazelnut, caramel, and liqueur-flavored centers, praises the magazine, accentuating the fresh cream and butter notes.

Fine chocolates from Wisconsin may boggle the mind, but consider: chocolatier Markus Candinas, 32, has Swiss parents and trained as a confectioner in their homeland.

Great chocolate makes perfect sense - we have fantastic dairy products. Perhaps we'd be better off further leveraging our dairy business (designer milks and more cheese varieties?).

Entrepreneurs are born, not trained. We simply, as Romell's article notes, need to find more people willing to give it a try.

A useful book, sort of related is Mintzburg's Managers Not MBA's.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:01 AM

December 23, 2004

Burt Rutan Inteview

SpaceShipOne designer Burt Rutan is interviewed by George Nemiroff:

Question: Considering your motivation to innovate and design futuristic air/spacecraft, are you attracted to the Centennial Prizes offered by NASA to develop new craft designs?

Answer: Oh no, I dont believe NASA can properly put out a (developmental) prize like the Orteg Prize or the Kramer Prize, or either the X Prize. NASA has a real habit of trying to help sub-contractors and contractors by monitoring risks that NASA wouldnt take themselves. What NASA needs to do is to put out a very difficult goal to achieve and then not monitor it at all and let those that go after it take their own risks. I dont see NASA doing that. Possibly they will. Maybe they will put someone in charge that knows the benefits of running a prize properly. I havent seen that yet.

Slashdot Discussion

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:00 AM

December 21, 2004

This is funny

Speaking of the passion in running a small business... This is great!

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:01 AM

December 19, 2004

The Art of Running A Small Business: Big Island Eco-Tours

This work marks the beginning of a periodic series this site will publish on interesting small business owners. Small business, as many know, are the engines behind real job growth. Put simply, we need more people to get creative, chase their dreams and start a business (triple this need in the rust belt where traditional manufacturing jobs are going away).

Today's 3 degree (did it get that warm?) Madison weather means it's time to visit Kona, Hawaii and take a look at Dan McSweeney's: Captain Dan's Eco-Tours. Or, perhaps more appropriately, the art and study of whale watching. Dan has taken his passion - marine biology - and made a life's work out of it along with a real business. He also brings a certain art, or style to the whale watch process.

Read on.....

Posted by James Zellmer at 7:24 PM

October 10, 2004

A Pravda View of Guild.com

Jason Stein points to Madison's Guild.com as an example of how "critical that [venture capital] funding can be":

In the late 1990s, Sikes dreamed of turning her Madison art catalog and publishing business into an Internet site that could sell pieces of art directly to the public. With millions in venture money to strengthen it, Guild.com survived the dot.com bust and now has 35 employees.

"Venture capital helped build this company to what it is today," Sikes said. "The reason most start-up businesses fail is because they're undercapitalized. There is an enormous need in Wisconsin for more venture capital."

Fred Schwarzer, managing director of Charter Life Sciences in Palo Alto, Calif., said most venture capitalists stay relatively close to their East and West Coast offices and don't get a chance to discover Madison companies like Guild.com.

Rather than drinking the kool aid and simply printing Guild CEO Toni Sike's statements, Stein should have dug in a bit and run a quick Google search and found that:
  • Local investors lost millions during Guild's chase for west coast VC money

  • Guild was bought back from Ashford for less than pennies on the dollar
Holding up guild.com as a local vc success story would be like the folks in Silicon Valley point to their substantial VC investments in massive failure webvan as an example of why they need more venture funding. Local NBC affiliate channel 15 (now a friend of Capital Newspapers madison.com site (!)) ran a brief story on Guild a few years ago. No mention was made of their financial history. I phoned the reporter after the segment aired and asked why this was omitted. She said: "well, the local investors got to keep their [worthless] stock".

I'm not sure we can point to any successful VC backed firm here. Rather, we can look to those firms that have built businesses brick by brick, such as Epic systems. This lack of big numbers points to the real problem, too few folks are willing to take risks.... (Sikes took some, for sure, but let's tell the whole story).

Unfortunately, this type of hype is quickly dismissed by anyone doing their homework, which the serious VC's will do.

Posted by James Zellmer at 8:38 AM