Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Apple vs Amazon

A technology disruptor is about to hit the publishing business. A few pundits thought the Kindle was the disruptor, but it wasn't. The Kindle 2 is, along with what I think Apple will be coming out with by the end of the year: a 7" or 9" tablet that uses the Touch interface.

Bezos knows the Kindle must be priced below $200 to reach critical mass, and it will be there before this Christmas. Apple understands that content is king, and by adding book, newspaper and magazine publishers to iTunes they will reap billions. (It's possible to read books on the Kindle iPhone app, but it's not very pleasant. That's why there will be a small tablet.) Both Amazon and Apple will be complete hardware/content providers, with seamless interfaces that lock their customers in.

Both of these companies are making a huge leap from their historic business models and will be competing head-to-head. Their former competitors will be left standing behind in the dust wondering what the hell happened.

To those of you in the traditional publishing business who fear change: I recommend that you embrace the new reality. You won't win by putting up roadblocks. Figure out ways to cash in on the future of publishing instead of wasting your time trying to fight it.

The worst decade ever

A buddy of mine posted to his Facebook page that the past decade has been the worst ever. Lots of people are feeling down right now, and I understand why. But we all need some perspective. Here is what I wrote back:
You have your health. You have a great family. You have a house and amenities that few people could have imagined 50 years ago. We are living longer, retire earlier, and suffer less pain throughout our lives. Education is available to all. The masses enjoy unheard of luxuries, like overseas travel. The majority of backbreaking work is now performed by machines. We have endless cheap or free entertainment. The variety of food available to every one of us is astounding, and it is cheap and plentiful. Our children are alive and well despite suffering from an illness or two that would have killed them if they had been around in 1900.

The past 10 years have been great for humans compared to any prior period I can think of and things will get even better during the next 10 years.
I think I am right about this. The present issues are simply roadblocks that we will push out of the way.

Monday, March 30, 2009

The US Manufacturing Rescue Act of 2009

Events are proceeding quickly now, don't you think? The Federal government has seized GM and Chrysler. The Feds have effectively bought the automotive supply chain. Coming next: Complete government reorganization of the entire U.S. automobile sector, but with a slight twist. This is when full-scale nationalization of the U.S. medical system occurs. All part of a massive bill that I think is being quickly formulated behind closed doors. Call it the US Manufacturing Rescue Act of 2009.

This can't continue. So what better time? People are frightened. We are shell shocked and facing the ultimate economic disaster, so now is the time to act.

GM and Chrysler are seized, management is canned, bankruptcy follows. Labor contracts are torn up, pensions are revoked all up and down the supply chain. In exchange for massive wage and pension cuts, labor gets taxpayer-funded medical insurance and part of their pensions via government programs.

As an aside, people don't get why Fiat would want Chrysler. Maybe the existing dealer network and manufacturing plants that will give them the chance to compete in the largest automobile market in the world? With much lower labor costs and no medical insurance or pensions to pay for, it could very well be a lucrative move.

Update: Looks like Ford will have no choice but to ask for bailout money.

(Thanks, Glenn. And cool, a Wizbank link.)

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Earth Hour 2009

To celebrate Earth Hour, from 8:30-9:30 pm tonight I will join Bob Gerenser and turn on all of the lights in the house, plus the exterior floodlights. This way if anything "out there" is watching us they'll see signs of an intelligent species that has triumphed over the elements.

Thursday, March 26, 2009


Got it bad right now. Fever, vomiting, aches, dizziness. Despite getting a flu shot a few months ago. Looks like the flu vaccine manufacturers missed this particular strain.

Update: I haven't felt this bad since I saw that Cher video.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

At least one major hurricane will strike the Texas Gulf Coast in 2009

My annual hurricane forecast, as it has been every year since 2005, is based upon the exact opposite of what Accuweather's chief guesscaster Joe Bastardi says. As I pointed out last July, Joe didn't see much of a threat to the Texas Gulf Coast in 2008, then we got wacked by Ike. For 2009, Joe is forecasting "probably" less activity in the Gulf than last year. Just as in 2008, this is bad news for us.

So finish your roof repairs. Prune those trees. Stock up on the plywood. You fellow Houstonians know what to do. For us, 2009 will be another wild year.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Hearst drops the F-Bomb

The Houston Chronicle had a big layoff today. Scanning through some of the comments I saw a reference to 29-95.com. Huh? I don't get it. Is it because I am too old? What do the numbers 29 and 95 have to do with Houston? Very little content there, but the F-Bomb stands out. I was curious and Googled the site. I found this.
Not only does Hearst's new 'hip' website 'promise not to f*ck with you' but they probably won't be read by you much either. Judging by the early content that is.... On the 'bars' tab you have your choice of "Non-douchey sports bars" or "finding strong drinks in Houston." Outstanding. Apparently Hearst's market researchers have decided that today's 'hip, young 20-somethings' all have an aversion to doucheyness and appreciate questionable grammar.
I can't help but think of Leon Hale, sitting on his porch in Winedale, pondering what has happened to the newspaper that he has been employed by for decades.

Unhappy Americans promise to flee

We had 8 years of morons promising to flee to Canada and New Zealand because of GeorgeMcBushChimpyHalliburton. Now that we have a new idiot in charge, a different group of people want to haul ass.

Give it a rest, people. Leave already, or fight for what you believe in. I can't stand your whining.

(Update 1: I get home from work and find an Instalanche. Cool! Thanks, Glenn. Update 2: This made my day. My comment was picked up by National Review, a publication I greatly enjoy. I miss Bill Buckley, a very sharp man who was devastating in picking apart leftist beliefs but did so with a friendly glint in his eyes. His civility needs to be brought back into the political debate on both sides.)

Monday, March 23, 2009

Paranoia in Big Bend

I spent a lot of time talking with the residents of the Big Bend area. I dearly love the place. Unfortunately, it's taken a turn for the worse, although no fault of the locals.

I met Sr. Victor Valdez of Boquillas, Mexico, who I've written about before. He sang Cielito Lindo for me and my son. The winds were howling down through the entrance to Boquillas Canyon.

Sr. Valdez is evidently a threat. When he sees hikers walk down the bluff towards the canyon he wades (or crosses on his rowboat, depending upon the river) to the US side and sings traditional Mexican songs. Sr. Valdez has lived in Boquillas for almost all of his 55+ years and his English is impeccable, but his livelihood was cut off by faceless DHS bureaucrats who only think of the US/Mexico border as a dangerous place, akin to Juarez and Tijuana. Big Bend is a dangerous place, full of rattlesnakes and extraordinary heat, but the people on either side of the border there aren't dangerous. The residents of Boquillas have worked for American mining companies and served American tourists for more than 100 years, then the door was abruptly shut on them in 2002. This is a frontier more than a dangerous border.

For those who want the entire US/Mexico border militarized, it is becoming that way. The U.S. Border Patrol has ramped up dramatically since 2005 when I was out there last. Drive between Uvalde down to Del Rio and west towards Dryden and you will see dozens of white U.S. Border Patrol trucks dragging tires along a rugged dirt track running directly parallel to U.S. 90. Which is pointless because these tracks consist of large pieces of gravel and little sand. Not only is it remote on the US side of the border, it is even more remote on the Mexican side of the border. It would require at least 100+ miles of hiking across harsh desert scrub and canyons to evade the checkpoints. Anyone who attempts to cross here to bypass these checkpoints will likely die.

The US Border Patrol has created a great deal of anxiety for Americans who live in the region, not to mention the increased anxiety amongst visitors. Traveling U.S. 90 to Big Bend now requires three separate U.S. Border Patrol checkpoints: one eastbound between Del Rio and Uvalde, one northbound between Big Bend National Park and Marathon, and one west of Del Rio. These checkpoints are manned by burly guys in their 20s, heavily armed and with K9 units. I very much resent being forced to play 20 Questions when I am 50 miles from the border and have no plans to travel to Mexico.

This is almost verbatim, greatly shortened, west of Del Rio on my way to Big Bend. Anglo border patrol agent, a husky, handsome young guy who sounds like he's from someplace like Minnesota, who had a fake grin plastered on his face.
Border Patrol agent, with his hand resting on his holster: "Good morning. Where are you going?
Me: "My son and I are going to Big Bend."
Border Patrol agent: "Where are you from?"
Me: "Katy, Texas."
Border Patrol agent: "Never heard of it. (The agent is full of crap, he's seen many people from Katy come through to Big Bend.)
Me: "It's a suburb of Houston."
Border Patrol agent: "Is that a hybrid?"
Me: "Yes, it's a Toyota Prius."
Border Patrol agent: "Please state your citizenship."
Me: "U.S."
Border Patrol agent: "What are you planning to do in Big Bend?" (He can see the camping gear as he's peering through the window.)
Me: "My son and I are going camping and horseback riding."
Border Patrol agent: "Are there any other people in your car besides you and your son?"
Me: (choking back disbelief that I could hide someone else in a Prius) "No."
Border Patrol agent: "Where are you from?"
Me: "Katy, Texas."
Border Patrol agent: "Thank you, drive safely."
This is the third time I've been forced to play 20 Questions at this particular checkpoint. The other two checkpoints are also staffed by intimidating Border Patrol officers, but they are much more succinct and realistic as they peer inside the car. "Good afternoon, please state your citizenship. (U.S.) Have you been to Mexico? (No) Thank you, have a safe trip."

These checkpoints, many miles inside the US border, are creating anxiety in travelers and have turned a lot of people off. A number of business owners in the Big Bend region told me that the Border Patrol has damaged tourism, and I can see why. The other day I told myself I'll never come back as long as I have to justify my vacation plans even though I am in my own damn country. Then I met Mr. Ring Huggins.
Ring runs a curio shop called Many Stones in Study Butte, immediately west of the park. I stopped in to buy some souvenirs and got to talking with him about my experiences with the recent regulations, warning notices about dangerous Mexicans selling trinkets, and the increased border security. Ring, like every other businessperson I spoke with in the Big Bend region, says that business has suffered since Washington officials noticed this quiet spot on the border.

To my fellow Texans who love Big Bend as much as I do: Keep going out there and drop a wad of cash on the local businesses, and write to your elected officials and demand that they adopt a realistic approach to border security in this part of the country. I'd hate to see Hot Springs sealed off behind a wall because it is 20 feet from Mexico.

Rob Dawg goes undercover

Hey Rob, what's up? I hope you're not having a melt down like I did last year.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Scenes along U.S. 90

I've never spent the time to look at the ruins along U.S. 90 while driving to Big Bend. When you have been driving a car for 8 hours you start to get a lead foot as you approach within 200 miles of your destination.

I decided this time that I'd take it slow. It added an hour to the trip out there, but I enjoyed it.

With a Canon point-and-shoot, you don't get a good microphone. It is always windy in south Texas to Big Bend, and the tin roofs continue to scrape and squeak as they have for years.

I also drove to Pumpville, an old railroad town that lost its reason to be with the advent of diesel locomotives. I have driven past the sign many times and was curious to see it. It's still there, 3 miles north of U.S. 90. I don't think anyone is still living there, but it had a distinct Mansonesque vibe and I was eager to leave.

Flickr set here.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

What is it? (Part III)

(Part II here.)
I-10 westbound, right at Highway 6. This was not junk scrap. These were all brand new jet-black widgets. I think they were steel, and seemed to be connected via a heavy-gauge rubberized material. Perhaps headed to the BAE Systems (formerly Stewart and Stevenson) plant out in Sealy, where they produce specialized tactical trucks for the US Army?

About those $1000 houses in Detroit

This is what you'd be buying. It's heartbreaking what happened to this neighborhood in two years.

Detroit is in its final death throes, and the few remaining businesses are facing virtual anarchy.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

New Jersey Politicians Support Bush

I am not kidding.
TRENTON, NJ - Things could get hairy in New Jersey this summer for women who sport revealing bikinis or a little bit less.

The painful Brazilian wax and its intimate derivatives are in danger of being stripped from salon and spa menus if a recent proposal to ban genital waxing is passed by the state's Board of Cosmetology and Hairstyling.

Jeff Lamm, a spokesman for New Jersey's Division of Consumer Affairs, said that the proposal would specifically ban genital waxing, and was prompted by complaints to the board from two women who were injured and hospitalized. One of them sued. Lamm said that the state only investigates infractions if consumers complain.

Government hard at work. (h/t Instaguy.)

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Edmond Wollman

An abundance of Ed for some old spinic friends! (See a younger Ed here.)

Why trade publications are dying

I subscribe to Chip Scale Review, a very specialized trade publication. I mostly read it for the ads.

I was amazed when I opened the January issue. Two years ago Chip Scale Review was relatively flush with ads and content. Now it's a 30 page pamphlet. I am not kidding. 30 pages!

The publisher, Dick Cowan, is an old timer in the publishing business and wrote a piece about the collapse in the industry. He followed up the piece with a scolding:
And people who think that switching from print advertising to build and improve their web sites, are also kidding themselves. It's the print advertising that lures buyers to the advertisers' URLs. If you think I am kidding about this, keep reducing those print ad budgets and you might see the demise of more highly valuable publications that have served the industry well. And a magazine that has disappeared, wont be around when you need news or product information.
Dick was addressing this to people like me. I am appreciative of these trade publications, which have been invaluable in the past. But I use that in past tense.

I cannot justify spending $10,000 for an ad, nor can I justify signing a 1-year contract to get reduced rates. Despite "studies" from the business, it remains exceedingly difficult for me (or any other advertiser) to track inquiries from trade publications, so I still cannot tell how much bang I am getting for my buck. Nor can I be certain that the engineers who are my target audience are actually reading the magazine. I know that the engineers at my company have a stack of trade publications that they never pick up.

So we don't do print ads. We also stay away from trade shows. I got a phone call last year from Germany pleading with us to come back to CeBIT. I was honest: As a small company we cannot justify spending a minimum of $25,000 to attend a trade show with no guarantee of ROI. Last time we did CeBIT was 2002, and all we got for our efforts was a stack of card-swipe inquiries.

Now our advertising budget is almost non-existent. If there are key words we don't rank highly on we'll buy Google Ads, but that's it. Everything else is PR and SEO. We also encourage customers to spread the word and we get a lot of referrals. There are many excellent publications on the web with rich content and massive readership. And unlike print, this is all trackable.

I notice that Chip Scale Review is not available as a web-based product. Mr. Cowan is making a big mistake by fighting the reality of the marketplace. Sticking a searchable PDF file online a month after the magazine is published is not conducive to readership.

PC Magazine gets it. Many old-time publishers still don't, so these magazines will continue to die.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Michael O'Leary is a marketing genius

Ryanair is a popular ultra-cheap airline in Europe. Its CEO is Michael O'Leary, who is infamous for saying and doing outrageous things.

O'Leary made the news again last week.
He suggested that his airline start to charge people for going to the lavatory during flights. He argued that it has long been the practice for railway stations to charge for access to public conveniences. That was how "spend a penny" (a British euphemism for having a pee) came into existence in an earlier century. At today's railway stations the "going rate," if we can call it that, is 30 pence. Garrulous O'Leary argued that air travel was much the same as the railway business. So it might be time to start charging.
Forbes fell for it, Glenn Reynolds fell for it, a whole bunch of people who should know better fell for it. There won't be a charge for taking a leak or dropping the kids off at the pool. O'Leary is a master at getting free publicity, and he got his airline millions in free publicity over the past few days just by uttering some words.

You say it's bad publicity? Hogwash. The people who fly Ryanair know what to expect, and budget travelers who haven't flown Ryanair yet won't spend more money to fly on another airline just because of O'Leary.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Black swan

I know that it's a grossly overused metaphor. But after reading about China harassing a US Navy ship in international waters, I was struck by some serious déjà vu. Let's see... a brand-new US president who inherited a recession, a collapsing stock market, China harassing unarmed US Navy craft... what was that guy's name again? Oh yeah. The guy who went the Wong Wei. Then shortly thereafter, a black swan swam into view.

Would California defaulting on its debts qualify? Probably not. Many of us already see that coming. Maybe China invading Taiwan now that they are confident the new US administration won't do anything and the rest of the world is preoccupied by economic matters? Perhaps.

What about something far more grave from our standpoint: I clearly remember the talking heads discussing why Al-Qaeda targeted the WTC on 9/11. Their modus operandi is to always finish the job, which they failed to complete in 1993. Yet there were other targets on 9/11. The remnants of Al-Qaeda have unfinished business. (FWIW, I think bin Laden was atomized years ago.)

We have become conditioned over the past year to expect the worst from the economy, so I don't think the black swan will appear in that form. But nothing more than my gut instinct tells me the black swan will make an appearance soon.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Current position of the global economic shitstorm

My forecast last September was clearly wrong. The global economic shitstorm was still offshore at the time I was forecasting landfall. So where is it now? Are we just now emerging into the eyewall, or are we still in a feeder band?

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Adios, my friend.

Best memorial service ever.

Microsoft's vision of the future

<a href="http://video.msn.com/?mkt=en-GB&playlist=videoByUuids:uuids:a517b260-bb6b-48b9-87ac-8e2743a28ec5&showPlaylist=true&from=shared" target="_new" title="Future Vision Montage">Video: Future Vision Montage</a>

I think it's great. Unfortunately they'll probably resurrect Clippy and have him follow you around as a virtual annoyance.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Get off your ass.

Sunday, a very dear friend of almost 30 years commented on one of my Facebook photos. I checked his page the next day to send a reply and he wrote that he was tired and going back to bed... at 9:30 on a Monday morning. The night before he had been complaining about a bad headache to his wife. His wife called to check up on him and things weren't going well so they rushed him to the hospital in Sugar Land and he died soon thereafter.

The folks who come by here to read my blog are roughly my age, give or take 5 years. Solid middle-age. My friend wasn't even remotely obese and didn't smoke. But he refused to have an annual physical.

Would you do me a favor? Would you get off your lazy ass and make an appointment to get a physical exam? The finger thing isn't that big a deal if that's your hang up.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Cheer up!

We happen to be alive during the most prosperous (yes, that's right), care-free, illness-free, pain-free period of time in human history. 100 years ago many of us would be dead by now (raises hand), while those of us still living would have been riddled with pain, rotten teeth, and many of us would be addicted to opiates. Oh yeah, we would have lost half of our kids to stuff like polio and scarlet fever. You have a roof over your head, a fully belly and a variety of entertainment that our ancestors could not have imagined.

So cheer up and listen to Annie!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

The tallest woman I have ever seen

I'm perusing Likeks and I see this.
This 60's babe TOWERS over the buffet. Are women in Minnesota 9 feet tall? Does she get on her knees to change out the buffet trays? I am amazed that James Lileks missed the fact that GIGANTIC SWEDISH BABES serve food in his state.