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  • Archive for the 'Business' Category

    Retail Therapy ‘n’ Woes

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 20th October 2014 (All posts by )

    With so many other bad and dangerous things hanging over us like a Damocles sword – an Ebola epidemic in the US, ISIS setting up a new and brutal caliphate in the middle east, the final two lame duck years of the Obama administration, and the anointing of a minimally-talented yet well-connected legacy child like Lena Dunham as the media voice of a generation – and the upcoming marathon of holiday markets and book events in front of me like so many hurdles to be gotten over in a frantic two-month-long dash – where was I?
    Oh, yes – amidst all the impending gloom, doom, and Bakersfield (that’s a California joke, son) my daughter and I are coping with the rather minor tragedy of a friend of ours loosing her job. Minor to us, of course – but not to our friend, a vivaciously charming English lady of certain years whom I shall call Kay, whom we met when she managed a thrift shop to benefit a certain well-established local charity, in a preposterously wealthy outlaying town within driving distance from San Antonio.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Business, Customer Service, Diversions, Personal Narrative, USA | 2 Comments »

    25 Stories About Work – “Don’t Hang Up” and the Recruiter from Detroit

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 19th October 2014 (All posts by )

    I was recently on a plane doodling and thought of some funny / interesting stories from 25+ years of working and traveling. So I decided to write them up as short, random chapters of a non-book with the title of this post. Hope you enjoy them and / or find them interesting. Certainly the value will be at least equal to the marginal cost of the book (zero)…

    Champaign, early 1990s

    As I graduated from college in the early 1990s, I went through the interview process on campus. About half the companies really liked me and about half the companies hated me. I guess I was a polarizing interviewee but who knows I had little idea about what to expect in an interview or how to behave. I do remember buying a suit with my mother for about $400 which seemed like an astonishing amount of money at the time.

    In addition to the on campus recruiters, I also fielded some phone calls. Looking back before the age of cell phones it is amazing that anyone ever got in touch with anyone else – they must have called me in my dingy hellhole of an apartment in the 5 minutes that I happened to be there in between class, prepping for the CPA exam, and going out drinking. I guess we had an answering machine but I’m not even sure about that and my roommates at the time weren’t exactly the most reliable.

    I was enamored with the idea of work and getting the heck out of Champaign so I was like a happy puppy when anyone called. The joke is that I would select the last recruiter to call.

    One day I did receive a call: Hello. I’d like to talk to you about a job opportunity in the transportation industry, he said. I was interested. I was always interested. Then he said something I’ll never forget.

    The job is in Detroit. Don’t hang up!

    The recruiter combined both sentences into almost a single thought, with urgency, because he apparently was used to people instantly hanging up as soon as they heard the job opportunity was in Detroit.

    I didn’t hang up. But I surely did not pursue that opportunity. Because it was in Detroit, of course. No wonder that city went down the drain…

    Cross posted at LITGM

    Posted in Business, Personal Narrative | 6 Comments »

    A Cool Startup Story, Revisited

    Posted by David Foster on 18th October 2014 (All posts by )

    In 2005, I posted about a company called Theranos, as part of the “cool startup story” series at Photon Courier.  The company was founded by Elizabeth Holmes, who left Stanford at age 19 in order to pursue her idea for a quantum improvement in blood testing.  The original focus was on the detection of adverse drug reactions and the analysis of drug effectiveness on a more-individualized basis.

    My, how this little company has grown up.  Theranos now has 500 employees and a valuation of about $9 billion.  They can currently perform 200 of the most commonly-ordered blood diagnostic tests, and can do it without a syringe–only a few drops of blood are necessary, and these are obtained from a finger prick using “a patented method that minimizes even the minor discomfort involved with that procedure.” (The Fortune writer tried it, and said “to me, it felt more like a tap than a puncture.”)  Theranos now has a deal with Walgreens, initially making its service available in stores in California and Arizona and with plans to roll the service out to all 8200 Walgreens stores nationwide.

    Holmes:

    There are a billion tests done every year in the United States, but too many of them are done in the emergency room. If you were able to do some of those tests before a person gets checked into the ER, you’d start to see problems earlier; you’d have time to intervene before a patient needed to go to the hospital. If you remove the biggest barriers to these tests, you’ll see them used in smarter ways.

    and

    Phlebotomy is such a huge inhibitor to people getting tested. Some studies say that a substantive percentage of patients who get a lab requisition don’t follow through, because they’re scared of needles or they’re afraid of worrying, waiting to hear that something is wrong. We wanted to make this service convenient, to bring it to places close to people’s homes, and to offer rapid results.

    From a 2005 Daily Duck post about Theranos:

    …in how many nations of the world could A TEENAGE GIRL get a serious audience, and then MILLIONS OF DOLLARS in VC funding, to develop her idea ?!?

    There are many unpleasant consequences to American society being perpetually adolescent, a bit shallow and thrill-seeking, with an attention deficit and a naive optimism born of ignorance about the odds, but this type of thing is one of the UPSIDES of being that way.

    In America, if you can do, the odds are pretty good that you’ll be allowed to do, regardless of your shortcomings and quirks. We’re flexible and goal-driven, not so much wedded to process.

    Posted in Business, Entrepreneurship, Health Care, Tech, USA | 15 Comments »

    25 Stories About Work – Office Hoteling and the Elusive Consultant Desk

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 16th October 2014 (All posts by )

    I was recently on a plane doodling and thought of some funny / interesting stories from 25+ years of working and traveling. So I decided to write them up as short, random chapters of a non-book with the title of this post. Hope you enjoy them and / or find them interesting. Certainly the value will be at least equal to the marginal cost of the book (zero)…

    Chicago, the ’90s…

    When I first started out as an auditor I had a tiny cube that consisted of just a desk and a chair with a big phone in a giant warren full of other cubes. There was a big bay window that let in the sun and lights far overhead. I didn’t know anything and was happy just to have a place to call my own.

    How accounting worked at the time was that you were assigned to clients and were “on the road”. If you were in the office you charged a code for down-time and struggled for something to do. You could take a training class, do research in the library, or more often than not you’d be assigned some sort of drudgery administrative work. Most of the time I ended up photocopying our audit files when clients transitioned to new auditors, which is much more work than it sounds because you had to dis-assemble the work papers, copy them, and then re-assemble the files again. The copier tended to regularly jam and you soon learned how to take that copy machine apart, as well. Not a good use of a master’s degree…

    After a while the managers learned who was good and who wasn’t and I was constantly busy as a result. We worked and traveled all the time and often I had overlapping clients, meaning that tasks I couldn’t complete onsite piled up for me at the little cube while I was at a different client. This was before any concept of telecommuting and we didn’t even have our own laptops. The only way to get work done was to show up at the office (on Saturday or Sunday, since I traveled all week) and do the remaining tasks.

    One time our office engaged in some sort of ISO process and they decided that having a “clean desk” was mandatory. So the (usually worst) staff that were in the office packed up everyone’s desk and sent it off site so that when the office tour occurred, my little rat cube was completely clear. Thus when I showed up on a Sunday a couple of weeks later to follow up on some annoying task from a parallel client, all of my papers were gone and that was an entirely wasted day. The fact that I still remember this over 20 years later shows how angry I was at this bureaucratic stupidity.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Business, Chicagoania, Personal Narrative | 6 Comments »

    25 Stories About Work – New Mexico Is Part of the United States

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 11th October 2014 (All posts by )

    I was recently on a plane doodling and thought of some funny / interesting stories from 25+ years of working and traveling. So I decided to write them up as short, random chapters of a non-book with the title of this post. Hope you enjoy them and / or find them interesting. Certainly the value will be at least equal to the marginal cost of the book (zero)…

    El Paso Texas, the ’90s…

    I supported a financial analytics system for a utility based in El Paso, Texas. Before I visited El Paso for work I knew virtually nothing about the area, the economy, or the people. One of the most interesting and unexpected benefits of my career was the opportunity to extensively work in areas of the USA that I never would have visited otherwise.

    One thing I did know is that 1) Texas has its own electricity grid that ‘walls it off’ from the rest of the USA called ERCOT 2) the El Paso area was “outside” of that grid. Thus while Texas may be its own separate country in their mind, El Paso was something else entirely.

    Another realization when you are working in El Paso is just how damn big Texas is. It can take longer to drive from El Paso on the western side of Texas to Houston on the eastern side of Texas than to drive from El Paso to Los Angeles. It was also extremely hot and the sun was blazing; some of the women brought umbrellas to shield themselves from the noon-day sun.

    The managers I met in El Paso said it would likely make more sense for El Paso to be part of New Mexico, rather than Texas. Many of the managers lived in New Mexico. A funny story they told was how many Americans believed that New Mexico was NOT part of the United States, and stories like this were collected in the back page of a local magazine and they were often hilarious.

    While flying to New Mexico one day I sat next to a gentleman that was frequently in El Paso for business. At the time, Ford Expedition SUVs were all the rage. He said that the last three times he visited El Paso, he selected an Expedition from the local rental car affiliate, and the car was stolen (and likely driven over the border into Mexico). I didn’t ask him why he was so stubborn and kept renting them.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Business, Personal Narrative | 5 Comments »

    Gypsy Retail in the Autumn

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 6th October 2014 (All posts by )

    My daughter and I spent almost all of last Saturday at our booth in the parking lot of a local Beall’s, in the heart of what would pass as the new downtown of Bulverde, Texas – if Bulverde could be said to have a downtown of any sort. There is a sort of Old Downtown Bulverde, at the crossroads of Bulverde Hills Drive and Bulverde Road, where the post office is (in a teeny Victorian cottage covered with white-painted gingerbread trim) and around the corner from one of the original settler’s farmsteads, complete with an original stone house and barn – now repurposed into an event venue. There is a small airfield nearby, and astonishingly enough, Googlemaps show a polo ground. But the landscape all around is that of the lowland Hill Country – low rolling, patched scrubby cedar, and occasional stands of live oaks. Everything – including a perfectly astounding number of single family housing developments are scattered unobtrusively here and there among the hills, the cedar and the oaks.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Business, Customer Service, Diversions, Entrepreneurship, Personal Narrative | 9 Comments »

    25 Stories About Work – Brooklyn Before Gentrification

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 4th October 2014 (All posts by )

    I was recently on a plane doodling and thought of some funny / interesting stories from 25+ years of working and traveling. So I decided to write them up as short, random chapters of a non-book with the title of this post. Hope you enjoy them and / or find them interesting. Certainly the value will be at least equal to the marginal cost of the book (zero)…

    Brooklyn, New York City, the ’90s…

    I was assigned to do a regulatory audit of a large utility in Brooklyn, New York, in the 1990s. At the time Brooklyn was nothing like it is today. When I got off the plane at LaGuardia and hailed a cab…

    Me to the Driver – I want to go to Brooklyn. The Driver – Hell no, I’m not driving to Brooklyn

    After I finally convinced a cab driver to take me to Brooklyn (with much New York style yelling), when he dropped me off in front of the office building, he would whip the wheel around as fast as he could and do a U-turn right in front of the facility and high-tail it off to the highway to get out of Brooklyn. They couldn’t get out of the neighborhood fast enough.

    The utility was based at what appeared to be the only newer office-type building in Brooklyn. There were NO hotels that you could stay in Brooklyn at the time. We stayed in Manhattan and took the subway to work every day. We seemed to be the only boring white accountant-type people in suits going TO Brooklyn in the morning and we were the same distinct minority returning to our hotel every evening. Our partner onsite was kind of distracted so we had to stay on him to get out of work at 5pm so we weren’t taking the subway at night because that seemed to be a dicey proposition.

    Whenever there is a strike at a utility the union guys who read meters and make service calls walk off the line and management comes out to do essential tasks (along with other people that they hire). Thus the management people that we spoke with had harrowing tales of visiting completely dilapidated and burned out homes throughout the borough while they were on strike duty. Management seemed to live everywhere except Brooklyn and it made sense why – there were even a few who lived in Pennsylvania and made epic commutes to and from work daily.

    One manager talked about a scam where people wrote checks to the utility to pay bills and often they used a 3 digit acronym rather than spelling the whole utility. He said one of the customer service agents took those first three digits and added a last name and opened a bank account themselves under that combined name and took the checks and deposited them, running off with the money. We laughed a lot because that seemed like a scam that was doomed to fail after a while but a bit clever.

    There were no cabs in Brooklyn. You had to hire a “car service” which was usually a completely beat up Chevy Impala or the like driven by someone who spoke zero English. They usually had no idea how to get to the airport so I had to give them directions. A few times I was very scared that the car would literally fall to pieces while we were driving; they were probably old taxis that had given up the ghost and given a second, desperate life through this method

    One Monday morning when I was flying in I felt dizzy and ill and when I got onsite in Brooklyn at the only standing office building I came down with the flu very badly. I kept throwing up in the stall and getting progressively weaker. I was the only person onsite from my company and didn’t know the client people well enough to count on them to take care of me so in the few minutes between throwing up I somehow got back to Manhattan (probably via the subway, I don’t remember) and arrived at my hotel early. For some reason I remember this clearly – the band Rancid was pulling up and their hair was spiked up and they had real “rock chicks” with them in miniskirts and fishnets and covered with tattoos right when I arrived. They said my room wasn’t ready yet so I told the clerk “that’s fine, I will just projectile vomit onto you” and amazingly they got me a room right away. I just sat in there and was sick for a few days and then flew back to Chicago. That was not a productive week at all, obviously.

    Today Brooklyn has changed immensely and seems to be almost completely gentrified. I even have friends that I visit there and it is quite charming. It is amazing to think of all these changes that have occurred since I first went there in the early 1990s.

    Cross posted at LITGM

    Posted in Business, Personal Narrative | 4 Comments »

    25 Stories About Work – Industrial Decay

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 3rd October 2014 (All posts by )

    I was recently on a plane doodling and thought of some funny / interesting stories from 25+ years of working and traveling. So I decided to write them up as short, random chapters of a non-book with the title of this post. Hope you enjoy them and / or find them interesting. Certainly the value will be at least equal to the marginal cost of the book (zero)…

    Somewhere in a Northwest Indiana formerly industrial city, the ’90s…

    We had a utility client in Northwest Indiana. The city used to be a large industrial town but had been hit hard by various plant closings and also the rout of the US steel industry in the ’70s and the ’80s. A friend of mine joked that you wouldn’t be surprised to see a dinosaur walking around the abandoned ruins of the nearby towns and city. For some reason I thought that was really funny after working there for a while.

    At our client they had multiple buildings that were connected by walk ways that were sometimes rounded or with all around glass. We called them the “habitrail” just like the hamster homes you could buy for your pets.

    The work onsite at the client was grim. I was given the least exciting areas to audit, the balance sheet and plant accounting. The balance sheet had assets that were not documented that were stagnant for years. At that point in auditing all you did was to re-word the notes from the prior year accounts and then put them back in this year’s file. After just a few hours as a novice auditor I pointed out that the notes didn’t make sense and started to do a bunch of new analytics when they told me to stop and just gave me something else to do. This is where you get the joke

    Why did the accountant cross the road? Because they did it last year.

    If you tell that joke to an accountant I am telling you they will laugh their heads off. It isn’t really funny to anyone else but it sums up the drudgery of what auditing used to be.

    One day the partner came out. Now we were all packed in a grimy little room. These were also the days when you could smoke like a chimney in the office and we all wore wool suits so I might as well have smoked 3 packs a day too. I stunk. It was after noon and I was hungry and I broke the silence by asking if we were going out to lunch. The whole room swiveled their heads at me and I got a tongue lashing later from the manager. I wasn’t supposed to talk or ask any questions while the partner was on site. Live and learn.

    Driving to Indiana from downtown Chicago was a long effort. The air conditioning in my car wasn’t great so I’d usually just drive in a T shirt and change when I got near the facility. One time I was pumping gas in a gas station nearby when the auto shut off didn’t work and I got gasoline all over my suit. That did not make for a pleasant afternoon of work.

    Another time when I was pumping gas a deranged, toothless local came up to me with his arms waving.

    Don’t sign the deed! he screamed. Don’t sign the deed!

    I didn’t.

    Cross posted at LITGM

    Posted in Business, Personal Narrative | 13 Comments »

    Worthwhile Reading & Viewing

    Posted by David Foster on 2nd October 2014 (All posts by )

    The festival of lights in Thailand

    Three Irish girls win the Google Science Fair with an approach to bacteria-enhanced crop growth

    Two versions of “Oklahoma” at Bookworm, with discussion

    10 Disney cartoons from the 1930s, with link to an article on the evolution of Disney’s cartoons over several decades

    The lost art of political persuasion.  This piece at Ricochet argues that politicians are now less about converting the opposition and persuading the undecided, and more about activating those who are already members of their choir.

    Bill Whittle thinks it’s time to talk about some good news (video)

    A recent study suggests that empathy can lead to scapegoating

    Book giveaways during WWII contributed greatly to the popularization of reading and the subsequent growth of the publishing industry.

    This article by a Wharton professor argues that “emotional intelligence is overrated” and, specifically, that it is overrated in sales.  He cites a study in which hundreds of sales people were tested both for emotional intelligence and cognitive ability, and their sales performance subsequently tracked…with the conclusion that cognitive ability was more than 5X as powerful as emotional intelligence in predicting sales performance.  (Actually, I’m pretty sure that the importance of cognitive ability and the importance of emotional intelligence both vary greatly depending on what you’re selling and who you’re selling it to, and also on what kind of resources the salesman needs to leverage within his own organization.)

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Business, Education, Elections, Film, History, Human Behavior, Management, Photos, Politics, Science, USA | 2 Comments »

    25 Stories About Work – Plains Blizzard

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 2nd October 2014 (All posts by )

    I was recently on a plane doodling and thought of some funny / interesting stories from 25+ years of working and traveling. So I decided to write them up as short, random chapters of a non-book with the title of this post. Hope you enjoy them and / or find them interesting. Certainly the value will be at least equal to the marginal cost of the book (zero)…

    Somewhere in Iowa, the ’90s…

    I was an auditor for a long since merged together utility. We used to fly in and out every week, leaving Sunday night (in your suit, in case your luggage was lost by the airlines) and leaving the office at 5pm Friday and driving to an airport 3 hours away to arrive home about 10pm Friday. We did this every week for the “busy season” which lasted about 3 months or so.

    For Thanksgiving weekend one time we left on a Wednesday. A giant storm was coming up over the plains as we drove across Iowa into Nebraska where the airport was for flights into Chicago. At the time we didn’t really have cold weather gear, we just had long wool coats and leather gloves to go over our suits. We didn’t even have boots, just work shoes.

    We stopped at a gas station and the wind was really whipping across the plains. When I got out to pump gas I was almost knocked flat on my back. While shivering in the car after pumping gas I told them we ought to turn back and just give up for the night and stay in Iowa.

    I was the lowest ranking guy so I was overruled. There were obvious reasons why everyone wanted to get home for Thanksgiving and away from work in Iowa.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Business, Personal Narrative | 10 Comments »

    The Restaurant and Bar Business

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 27th September 2014 (All posts by )

    I am far from an expert on the Restaurant and Bar Business segments but as a long time resident of Chicago in various areas packed with these establishments from Wrigleyville to Bucktown to River North I am at least a frequent regular qualified to throw my 2 cents in. I hadn’t thought too much about the economics of this until I talked to a friend who recently opened two great pizza places where he is the owner about what you get when you buy a used restaurant.

    You get nothing… you have to re-model and start over the food concept. And when you sell, the next guy does the same.

    What makes a good restaurant as a business? There are a lot of variables and I am only speculating, but certainly timing and location are key elements. For instance you have the Twisted Spoke, a bar on Grand Avenue in what used to be a pretty sketchy part of town that is rapidly gentrifying, and they have the iconic “skeleton on a motorcycle” on permanent rotation in front. This bar has survived for a long time with a mix of hipster / biker cool, an astoundingly good drink / beer mix, and surprisingly good food and interesting / witty / iconic employees. I’d bet that back in the day this place was actually full of bikers but nowadays the crowd looked like the usual hipsters in plaid shirts. And don’t forget the enormous benefit of a rooftop – it astounds me how many bars / restaurants ignore the fact that Chicago people LOVE to sit outside during the few nice days that we receive every year and they drink like fish and eat until they can’t even move.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Business, Chicagoania | 35 Comments »

    Peter Thiel and George Gilder debate on “The Prospects for Technology and Economic Growth”

    Posted by Lexington Green on 26th September 2014 (All posts by )

    This is an excellent dialogue between George Gilder and Peter Thiel, from 2012, regarding two different versions of what the future will look like.

    It is a little over an hour, and I highly recommend you listen to it.

    Gilder is a thorough-going optimist. He sees a world where everything is good and getting better, and critiques of technological change are generally wrong-headed. That is a brutal over-simplification, of course. Gilder is a seasoned speaker, debater and writer. He makes a decent case, better than I am suggesting here.

    Theil makes a more subtle case. He says that technology, other than the technology has stalled for decades. He says that the fields of engineering that deal with “stuff” have been — and this is a strong word — “outlawed.” As a result, the only areas where technological change is happening are in finance and computing. Nuclear engineering, for example, would have been a suicidal career choice if you made it a generation ago.

    So, Theil is one hand a pessimist. He sees a decay in the rate of technological development, a decay in standards of living and real wages, a decline in optimism and expectations for a better future.

    However, he does not conclude, “so, we are doomed.”

    What he says instead is that we cannot pretend that technological progress grows on trees. He says that we need to address the obstacles to technological change which are thwarting the potential for a better future.

    All of that seems correct.

    The vision Jim Bennett and I depict in America 3.0 is one in which the excessive regulatory obstacles to technological progress, capital formation, and new business formation have been greatly reduced. Under that scenario, much of the halted progress in the world of “stuff” should resume. This is particularly the case because, as Gilder correctly notes, the extraordinary advances in computing power will enhance the potential of all of these areas. The potential for rapid development, leading to rapid economic growth and rising living standards, is within our reach. It is being held back by political and regulatory obstacles, not technical or scientific ones.

    That has to change. But, it might not. Nothing is inevitable.

    It is up to us to make it happen.

    I have not yet read Thiel’s new book Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future. It is en route from Amazon as I type this, however. Here is the web page for the book.

    Posted in America 3.0, Book Notes, Business, Tech | 8 Comments »

    “Culture Mapping” Essay by Jonathan Fletcher Applies Emmanuel Todd’s Analysis, Reaches Conclusions Consistent with America 3.0

    Posted by Lexington Green on 22nd September 2014 (All posts by )

    Jonathan Fletcher

    I strongly recommend that you read the excellent essay Culture-mapping: A framework for understanding international B2b decision-making, by Jonathan Fletcher who is the Group Managing Director of Illuminas. Mr. Fletcher’s expertise lies in part in “analysing and interpreting market research data.”

    In his paper Mr. Fletcher presents “a framework for understanding decision-making in different business cultures that will enable B2b researchers confronted with a new market to ask the right questions quickly and not waste time and money looking in the wrong places for the wrong things.” Mr. Fletcher finds that culture is “the hidden dimension” which has a “significant influence on economic and industrial behaviour and performance, but a large part of culture is implicit, unconscious and hidden from direct view.”

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in America 3.0, Anglosphere, Arts & Letters, Book Notes, Business, History, Society, USA | 4 Comments »

    Worthwhile Reading & Viewing

    Posted by David Foster on 21st September 2014 (All posts by )

    Some great spiderweb pictures

    Glacier National Park pictures from D L Sly, who writes at Villainous Company

    High school principal bans Chik-fil-A at Booster Club events.  She justifies her decision on grounds of “inclusivity and diversity.”  Well, I guess that could be one translation of the German term Gleichschaltung.

    SWAT team raid on barbershop rebuked by appeals court

    Wishful science:  ”if there’s little incentive to publish negative results, whatever reigning paradigm is operating in a given field will be very resistant to change”

    Years ago, Arthur Koestler asserted that human beings are basically crazy and that maybe it would be possible to develop a sanity-improving drug and put it in everyone’s drinking water.  I was reminded of Koestler’s suggestion by this:  Should we all take a bit of lithium?

    Avoiding managerial groupthink with the right kind of diversity

    People succeed where systems fail

    Arguing with Leftists:  How narratives trump everything

    Making subway cars in Yonkers:  a photo essay

    Posted in Business, Civil Liberties, Education, Human Behavior, Law Enforcement, Leftism, Management, Photos | 6 Comments »

    Sign of a New Peak for Stocks?

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 20th September 2014 (All posts by )

    Back in the woeful years of the dot.com boom and bust I worked for a company with a dubious distinction. The value of that company in the stock market was less than the value of the cash we had on our books. What the market was essentially saying is that the sum total of all our efforts as employees was NEGATIVE – we would be worth more if we just shut down immediately and gave back the cash to investors. The fate of that company, of course, was to go bankrupt.

    Today there are some other major signs of froth in the market. Yahoo is a classic web / advertising / technology stock with a solid market capitalization of $40 billion. Yahoo’s CEO, Marissa Mayer, was a Google alumna and has been receiving a lot of press for her intelligence and drive to change the company, as well as her good looks.

    Screen Shot 2014-09-20 at 8.43.59 AM

    However, all is not as it seems.  The primary value for Yahoo isn’t its online advertising, email, or users – it is the stakes that they amassed in the hot Chinese e commerce company Alibaba (NYSE: BABA) and also Yahoo Japan.  In fact, the value of Yahoo is less than the value of these stakes, which are approximately $45B, partially due to the reason listed in this Bloomberg article:

    While the market value is large for Yahoo’s Asian assets, that doesn’t necessarily reflect the value available to investors and the company because of taxes, said Ben Schachter, an analyst at Macquarie Securities USA Inc. Yahoo, which would have made $8.3 billion by selling Alibaba shares at the IPO, only reaped around $5.1 billion after taxes.

    Taxes are ‘‘one of the big issues,” Schachter said.

    While it is true that $45B in investment value isn’t worth $45B because of the after-tax implications, it certainly implies that the market isn’t valuing Yahoo at very much at all.  It is also possible that the market thinks that Alibaba is over-valued at its current price of near $100 (after a huge run-up from its IPO price of $68, another huge sign of froth in the market) but the two stocks will generally track closely together now.  Yahoo is sort of a broken “tracking stock” for this value.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Business, Economics & Finance | 7 Comments »

    GE has sold its Appliance business

    Posted by David Foster on 9th September 2014 (All posts by )

    …to Electrolux, for $3.3 billion.

    Today’s WSJ story on the sale began with the words “General Electric, which commercialized the electric toaster and self-cleaning oven”…sounds sort of trivial  Actually, household appliances have been an important factor in the liberation of human energies and in social change.

    Owen Young, who was GE’s chairman from 1922-1939, grew up as a farm boy.  To his biographer Ida Tarbell, he described what life had been like on each Monday–wash day:

    He drew from his memory a vivid picture of its miseries: the milk coming into the house from the barn; the skimming to be done; the pans and buckets to be washed; the churn waiting attention; the wash boiler on the stove while the wash tub and its back-breaking device, the washboard, stood by; the kitchen full of steam; hungry men at the door anxious to get at the day’s work and one pale, tired, and discouraged woman in the midst of this confusion.

    Posted in Business, History, Society, Tech | 16 Comments »

    Massive Disruption to the Cable Industry Coming – Part II

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 9th September 2014 (All posts by )

    Recently I wrote about the impact to the cable industry that is coming in the form of Microwave Fixed Wireless here.

    While on vacation in Door County I noticed a small store front office in Bailey’s Harbor for Door County Broadband. The first thing I thought of is how would a company like this operate out of a small storefront with just one truck (parked outside)? Then I realized that this firm is the local upstart providing Microwave Fixed Wireless against the incumbent phone / cable company in that region, Frontier. Unlike the local phone / cable company (who really are one and the same nowadays), you can run a microwave fixed wireless broadband company with few employees because you don’t have to pay for all the same physical infrastructure (telecom poles, physical connections) when you are doing a wireless model; you just need to 1) get the physical infrastructure (towers) in place and then 2) hook up the dish in the homes and point it at the tower. This model needs far fewer “boots on the ground” than the traditional model.

    While researching this further, I came across this document called

    America’s Broadband Heroes:
    Fixed Wireless Broadband Providers
    Delivering Broadband to Unserved and Underserved Americans

    This document is clearly biased in favor of the upstart fixed wireless providers, but has many interesting and sourced facts about the industry and is highly recommended reading.

    While wireline and mobile wireless carriers focus on regulatory gaming and manipulation of the Universal Service Fund to benefit their bottom lines, many Americans are left without access to broadband services because they reside in places that are deemed to be unprofitable by traditional carriers. Even more Americans have substandard or overpriced broadband access and no alternatives for obtaining better service because of the lack of competition in the broadband market. It is clear that the current system is broken, and the absence of competition, abuse of USF and the lack of access to critical network facilities for competitive entrants puts our nation into a position of disadvantage compared to other OECD countries.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Big Government, Business, Economics & Finance | 10 Comments »

    Symbol, Toy, Brand

    Posted by David Foster on 6th September 2014 (All posts by )

    In World War I and especially in World War II, the phrase “GI Joe” became a generic term for US soldiers.  In the early 1960s, GI Joe also became a toy (“action figure”) sold by Hasbro, and was later licensed to Paramount for film production.

    This article tells the story of Mitchell Paige, a real US Marine whose face became the model for that of the GI Joe action figure.  It also tells us that in a new movie, Paramount plans to make a change in GI Joe’s identity…specifically, he will be turned into an acronym.  ”GI Joe” will now stand for “Global Integrated Joint Operating Entity,” a multinational force based in Brussels.  The marketing geniuses at Paramount apparently believe it necessary to “eliminate Joe’s connection to the US military”  for the film to succeed big time with international audiences.

    Barack Obama and the Democrats have been quick to denounce as “unpatriotic” those American companies which modify their organization structures to take advantage of lower non-US tax rates.  Do you think maybe they will denounce Paramount as unpatriotic for this genericization of an American symbol?

    (Link via our friend Bill Brandt at  The Lexicans)

    Posted in Business, History, Media, USA, War and Peace | 11 Comments »

    Massive Disruption To The Cable Industry Coming

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 28th August 2014 (All posts by )

    Things that are often obvious in hindsight don’t seem so clear at the time. For instance I didn’t understand why anyone would want to send around a PDF file when you had Microsoft Word. And it wasn’t obvious to me that mobile phones would completely displace land lines.

    We are about to see something similar happen to the cable industry, which is at its oligopolist apex right now.  I don’t know when or how long it will take to have an effect, but in the end I believe that the outcome will be significant.

    MICROWAVE FIXED WIRELESS

    For large condominium buildings in Chicago, it is now the norm, not the exception, to go with Microwave Fixed Wireless for internet in the building, rather than fiber. Here is one company (I just found them on the internet, don’t know anything about them) that attempts to describe the benefits:

    Telephone and cable companies have been positioning fiber optics as the ultimate internet technology for some time, but the truth is that fiber has some inherent disadvantages that have been addressed by wireless microwave-based internet solutions. Experts across the globe are starting to acknowledge what the engineers at JAB Broadband have long been touting: microwave is a faster, lower latency, lower cost alternative to fiber and you don’t have to wait until someone decides to light up your building.

    Not to be confused with the appliance you use for heating your leftovers, microwave wireless networks transmit and receive radio signals through the air enabling high-speed data transmission with very limited latency. Benefits include:

    Limited infrastructure required on site
    Faster speeds because data travels over a direct path (point-to-point)
    Low logistical and operation costs
    Expanded availability
    Low latency

    There are many companies in Chicago that provide this service for condominium buildings and businesses. You need to have a rooftop with line of sight access to a provider and you put a dish on the roof. This dish connects to the main network of the building and is distributed just like internet service that you’d receive from a standard fiber optics provider (such as a cable company). The traditional downside of microwave transmission was unreliability – if the line of sight was obscured by heavy rain, for instance, then you don’t receive any signal. This happens today with DirectTV if the weather is bad – you receive the “all or part of this program did not record” message when you pull it up on your DVR (or it is jumpy and impossible to watch if you are looking at “live” programming). Note that DirectTV has a much more complex problem to fix with its satellites than a condo building does in Chicago because their satellites are in orbit rather than nearby with simple line of sight needs, so these problems are conceptually similar but actually very different in terms of difficulty to solve.

    The reliability issue has mostly been solved and barring catastrophic weather, your point to point wireless internet is as reliable as fiber brought into your building. Don’t forget that fiber, too, can be cut by local construction crews and other means and is also susceptible to failures of various sorts.

    Once you cut over to Fixed Wireless (microwave transmission), you have effectively moved out of the cable orbit as far as internet service.  Many facilities offer 10 meg, 50 meg, and even 100 meg connections for each condo unit, which means that the provider needs to bring that speed times the number of units with some overall reduction since everyone won’t be using the full internet all the time.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Business, Chicagoania | 10 Comments »

    Miami Condo Boom

    Posted by Jonathan on 15th August 2014 (All posts by )

    Funny how this kind of thing sneaks up on you.

    Prepare to be overwhelmed with the most comprehensive bus tour of the nearly 60 new condo towers proposed for Greater Downtown Miami.
     
    Miami condo expert Peter Zalewski – who has been cited more than 1,000 times by local, state, national and international news outlets – is scheduled to narrate the 10 AM morning tour of the Greater Downtown Miami preconstruction condo market where more than 17,300 new units are proposed. The 2 PM afternoon tour of Greater Downtown Miami is narrated in Spanish by licensed Florida real estate broker Jenny Huertas. Zalewski will ride on the afternoon tour to answer any questions.

    17,000 new units. Of course it’s unlikely that all of them will be built, but still. And this time around the developers aren’t borrowing so much, and many of the buyers are paying cash, but still. Wasn’t it just last week that we were in the midst of an endless economic stagnation? Or maybe it was a bubble. It’s easy to lose track.

    It looks like there’s a lot more US dollars in Latin America than anyone thought. Or could it be inflation? Nah. If there were inflation we’d see crazy stuff like the Dow at 17k and $12 hamburgers. . .

    I’m sure it will all end well.

    Posted in Business, Economics & Finance, Human Behavior, Markets and Trading | 8 Comments »

    Book Review: Nice Work, by David Lodge

    Posted by David Foster on 12th August 2014 (All posts by )

    Nice Work by David Lodge

    —-

    What happens when an expert on 19th-century British industrial novels—who is a professor, a feminist, and a deconstructionist–finds herself in an actual factory?

    This not being a time-travel novel, the factory is a contemporary one for the book’s setting in mid-1980s Britain.  It is a metalworking plant called Pringle’s, run by managing director Vic Wilcox.  Vic is not thrilled when his boss  (Pringle’s is owned by a conglomerate) suggests that he participate in something called the “shadow” program, designed to make academics and businesspeople better-acquainted with one another, but he goes along with the request.

    Robyn Penrose, literature professor at a nearby university, is also not thrilled about her nomination to participate in the program, but she is concerned about her job in an era of reduced university funding, and also thinks she had better do as asked.  The way the program works is that Robyn will be Vic’s “shadow,”  joining him at the plant every Wednesday, sitting in on his regular activities, and learning just a bit about what is involved in managing a business.

    Vic is a self-made man, not well-educated and with few interests outside work.  He is acutely aware of the danger that faces Pringle’s under the current economic climate, and is resolved that his factory will not join the long list of those that have been tossed on the scrapheap.

    There is nothing quite so forlorn as a closed factory–Vic Wilcox knows, having supervised a shutdown himself in his time.  A factory is sustained by the energy of its own functioning, the throb and whine of machinery, the unceasing motion of assembly lines, the ebb and flow of workers changing shifts, the hiss of airbrakes and the growl of diesel engines from wagons delivering raw materials at one gate, taking away finished goods at the other.  When you put a stop to all that, when the place is silent and empty, all that is left is a large, ramshackle shed–cold, filthy and depressing.  Well, that won’t happen at Pringle’s, hopefully, as they say.  Hopefully.

    Robyn and Vic dislike each other on first meeting:  Vic sees Robyn’s profession as useless, which Robyn sees Vic’s managerial role as brutal and greedy.  She is appalled by what she sees in her first tour of the factory..especially the foundry:

    They crossed another yard, where hulks of obsolete machinery crouched, bleeding rust into their blankets of snow, and entered a large building with a high vaulted roof hidden in gloom.  This space rang with the most barbaric noise Robyn had ever experienced…The floor was covered with a black substance that looked like soot, but grated under the soles of her boots like sand.  The air reeked with a sulphurous, resinous smell, and a fine drizzle of black dust fell on their heads from the roof.  Here and there the open doors of furnaces glowed a dangerous red, and in the far corner of the building what looked like a stream of molten lave trickled down a curved channel from roof to floor…It was the most terrible place she had ever been in her life.  To say that to herself restored the original meaning of the word “terrible”:  it provoked terror, even a kind of awe.  To think of being that man, wrestling with the heavy awkward lumps of metal in that maelstrom of heat, dust and stench, deafened by the unspeakable noise of the vibrating grid, working like that for hour after hour, day after day….That he was black seemed the final indignity:  her heart swelled with the recognition of the spectacle’s powerful symbolism.

    But still:

    The situation was so bizarre, so totally unlike her usual environment, that there was a kind of exhilaration to be found in it…She thought of what her colleagues and students might be doing this Wednesday morning–earnestly discussing the poetry of John Donne or the novels of Jane usten or the nature of modernism, in centrally heated, carpeted rooms…Penny Black would be feeding more statistics on wife-beating in the West Midlands into her data-based, and Robyn’s mother would be giving a coffee morning for some charitable cause…What would they all think if they could see her now?

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Book Notes, Britain, Business, Human Behavior, Management | 12 Comments »

    Worthwhile Reading & Viewing

    Posted by David Foster on 7th August 2014 (All posts by )

    Knitted footwear…may have significant implications for the global shoe industry

    US Civil Rights commissioner uses “science” to argue for restricting the free speech rights of college students.  (Is anyone surprised that he was formerly an aide to Nancy Pelosi?)

    College professor accuses program about gardening of being “racist”

    Functional geniuses and business idiots

    Fuel cells as a major energy source:  for real this time?

    Sea and sand from the sky.  More here.

    The Social Pathologist is back!

    Posted in Academia, Business, Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Energy & Power Generation, Management, Photos | 13 Comments »

    Investing Related Items

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 3rd August 2014 (All posts by )

    Over at Trust Funds for Kids I’ve been updating the portfolios and researching relevant topics for detailed analysis.

    One interesting item to me is ADR’s or American Depository Receipts, which represent foreign stocks trading in US markets. “Sponsored” ADR’s trade on NYSE and NASDAQ and “unsponsored” ones trade on the OTC or “pink sheet” markets. Recently one of my stocks (Siemens) went from a sponsored to non-sponsored ADR status and I started researching it here.

    I also researched the impact of currency moves on a portfolio, focusing on the Australian dollar vs. the US dollar and its effect on a particular Australian Bank Westpac. It is interesting to view the two elements in an intertwined fashion, since the US dollar was a poor performer over the last 5 years relative to many other currencies.

    Finally I look a bit at performance over the last year and marvel about how easy it is to assess performance these days with free graphing and overlay tools, compared to the manual effort in past years’. It still is difficult to always properly factor in dividends and the timing of cash flows (investments), but that’s a different story.

    Cross posted at LITGM

    Posted in Business, Investment Journal | 5 Comments »

    Cool Video of a CNC Machine Tool at Work

    Posted by David Foster on 23rd July 2014 (All posts by )

    Here’s a motorcycle helmet of fairly complex design being fabricated out of a single block of aluminum by a computer-numerically-controlled machine tool:

    LINK

    There’s been a lot of excitement lately about 3-D printing, and rightly so, but the hype level in some quarters may be getting a little extreme.  I think a lot of journalists lack an appropriate context into which to put this emerging technology, and, in particular, fail to understand just how much flexibility and universality is already provided by the numerically-controlled machine tools which have been in common use for the last several decades.

    See also my post on 3-D printing from 2013.

    Posted in Business, Tech | 5 Comments »

    Words and Phrases I Dislike: “Middle-Skilled Jobs”

    Posted by David Foster on 20th July 2014 (All posts by )

    WSJ has a good article about three people who have put themselves on good career trajectories without benefit of 4-year college degrees.  One is a welder, one is a nurse, and one is an owner of franchised fast-food restaurants.  Unfortunately, however, the article uncritically uses the term “middle-skilled jobs,” which is seen increasingly in articles about the job market.  These jobs are said to be those which require more than high school and less than four years of college, and typically involve some sort of technical or practical training.

    “Middle-skilled”….really?  Is the job of a toolmaker in a factory really less-skilled than the entry-level job likely to be obtained by someone with an undergraduate Sociology degree?  Is a nurse’s job less-skilled than the work likely to be assigned to someone hired on the basis of his English degree?  Does owning and operating a food truck really require less skill than the kind of tasks typically assigned to an undergraduate Business major?  Is the work of an air traffic controller less-skilled than the kind of a job likely to result from a major in Victim Studies?

    It is good that there is increasing recognition of good career paths not requiring college degrees; however, the term “Middle-Skilled Jobs” is misleading and contributes to the continuation of credential-worship.

    Posted in Academia, Business, Economics & Finance, Education, Media, Tech | 17 Comments »