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  • Archive for the 'Business' Category

    Trains are Indefensible

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 17th May 2015 (All posts by )

    I remember as a kid watching “Lawrence of Arabia” where he led Arab raiding parties against the Turkish train lines in WW1.  Per this PBS article about Lawrence:

    With the Ottoman army spread thinly across the empty vastness of the Arabian Peninsula, the Hejaz Arabs found it relatively easy to strike and sabotage Turkish lines of communication and supply. With the Red Sea firmly in British hands, the Turks had no option but to use the Hejaz railway to move their men, supplies and munitions.  

    Lawrence and the Arabs spent much of their two years on the road to Damascus destroying sections of the railway. Small units of men laid charges on the track. Then as the Turks defended the track, Lawrence’s men formed large moving columns capable of rapid hit-and-run operations. 

    In the recent train crash in the East Coast there are discussions of a “projectile” hitting the train and distracting the conductor.  While this hasn’t been confirmed, it is relevant to consider how difficult it would be to secure train lines from attack or sabotage.

    This discussion is much more relevant in the context of “high speed trains”.  There is a broad theme among many that the US is behind because we have not invested large sums of public money in high speed trains, that we are “falling behind”.  Per wikipedia the Japanese high speed trains (similar to the Chinese high speed trains) typically have more than 1000 passengers on each of their trains.

    The USA has far larger distances than the Japanese trains.  If you built a train from Chicago to New York, for example, it would be almost 800 miles long.  This is for a single rail line.  Obviously to connect the major cities of the USA you’d have thousands of miles of train lines.

    How would these train lines be defended?  It would be easy for a terrorist to just cut through the fence somewhere and park a cement truck on the tracks, for instance.  The ensuing carnage would easily accomplish what 5-10 hijackings could accomplish.

    If you think that the Homeland Security plans are over-reaching, just wait to see what it would take to defend hundreds or thousands of miles of track.  Instead of having a bottleneck at the airport, the entire line would be a potential point of attack.  Even if defenses were erected, they would only have to overwhelm them at a single weak link in order to assault the train.

    No one is incorporating this into their cost estimates for high speed trains; they likely have fences and barriers but are not contemplating stopping a determined, armed attack by terrorists.  They should, because after one such attack a giant post-haste effort would emerge kind of like our early days of the TSA.  They should contemplate and include a giant, armed, unionized Federal bureaucracy in their midst and add this into their cost estimates and see how it compares against highways and aircraft.  The numbers, already dubious, would then be far, far in the red.

    Cross posted at LITGM

    Posted in Big Government, Business, Economics & Finance, Terrorism, Transportation | 25 Comments »

    Obamacare = Medicaid

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 8th May 2015 (All posts by )

    emergency

    I have been interested in health care reform for some time and have proposed a plan for reform. It is now too late for such a reform as Obamacare has engaged the political apparatus and sides have been taken. The Obamacare rollout was worse than anticipated and it was hoped that the Supreme Court would have mercy on the country, but that didn’t happen and it has been the law for two years.

    What has it accomplished ? Well, the forecast drop in ER visits hasn’t happened. It also didn’t happen in Massachusetts when that plan took effect.

    Wasn’t Obamacare supposed to solve the problem of people going to the ER for routine medical problems? We were told that if everyone had “healthcare” — either through the ACA exchanges or through Medicaid expansion — people would be able to go to their family doctors for routine care and emergency rooms would no longer be overrun by individuals who aren’t actually experiencing emergencies.

    As it turns out, Medicaid patients can’t get appointments with physicians.

    “America has severe primary care physician shortages, and many physicians will not accept Medicaid patients because Medicaid pays so inadequately,” said Michael Gerardi, MD, FAAP, FACEP, president of the ACEP.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Business, Health Care, Law Enforcement, Leftism, Medicine, Obama, Politics | 7 Comments »

    “McDonald’s was there for me when no one else was”

    Posted by Jonathan on 7th May 2015 (All posts by )

    This is a nice story that illustrates some important features of free markets:

    -Buyers of last resort, in this case buyers of labor, perform an important role that is not always appreciated by moralists who themselves have better options. To put it differently, McDonald’s is a vulture capitalist that lowballs labor markets and exploits vulnerable low-wage workers who lack better alternatives, and that’s a good thing. Those workers are better off employed at modest wages than unemployed at higher wages, as many of them will soon find out if McDonald’s is forced to raise its entry-level wages to accommodate proposed increases in legal minimums. The author of this piece deserves credit for his insight.

    -There is always a big market for inexpensive products of adequate quality that are made to high standards of consistency. If you are on the road or in a hurry or in an airport, a standardized McDonald’s burger for a buck or two can look pretty good as compared to no food or to an overpriced bagel or sandwich of unknown quality and freshness.

    -Tastes differ. The people who criticize McDonald’s for the quality of its food may not consider that many people actually like McDonald’s food.

    (Via Instapundit.)

    Posted in Business, Economics & Finance | 4 Comments »

    “Report: Federal Oil and Gas Production Down Significantly Under Obama”

    Posted by Jonathan on 5th May 2015 (All posts by )

    Lachlan Markay in the Washington Free Beacon:

    Oil and gas production on federal land continues to decline even as the United States experiences unprecedented growth in overall fossil fuel extraction, according to a federal report released on Monday.
     
    The Congressional Research Service found that oil production on federal land declined by 10 percent from 2010 to 2014 while production on private land increased by nearly 90 percent.
     
    Gas production on federal land decreased by 31 percent during the same period, while production on private land increased by 21 percent.

    (Via the API SmartBrief)

    Posted in Business, Energy & Power Generation, Obama, Politics | 9 Comments »

    The Gypsy Marketplace

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 3rd May 2015 (All posts by )

    Over the last year or so, my daughter and I have moved deeper into the world of the gypsy entrepreneur market. Of course, I’ve been dabbling around the edges for a while, as an independent author, once I realized that there was more to be made – and a lot less ego-death involved – by taking a table at a local craft fair, especially those which occur around the end of the year, deliberately planned to enable the amicable separation of their money from someone shopping for suitable seasonal gifts. The first of these that I participated in – strictly book events, like the West Texas Book and Music Festival in Abilene – involved only a table and a chair. It was incumbent on the authors, though, to bring some signage, informational flyers, postcards and business cards, and perhaps eye-catching to adorn the table. But a couple of years ago, my daughter started a little business making various origami ornaments, flowers and jewelry, and last year we decided to partner together at the community market events within driving distance, and within our ability to play three-dimensional Tetris in fitting everything into the back of the Montero. It helps to have two people doing this kind of event, by the way – you can spell each other, make jaunts to other venders, go to the bathroom – and setting up and breaking down is much, much easier.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Business, Conservatism, Markets and Trading, Personal Finance, Personal Narrative, USA | 7 Comments »

    Worthwhile Reading & Viewing

    Posted by David Foster on 13th April 2015 (All posts by )

    Peter Thiel is interviewed by Tyler Cowen, in a conversation that ranges from why there is stagnation “in the world of atoms and not of bits” to the dangers of conformity to what he looks for when choosing people to why company names matter.

    Evaporative cooling of group beliefs.  Why a group’s beliefs tend to become stronger rather than weaker when strong evidence against those beliefs makes its appearance.

    More academic insanity:  the language police at the University of Michigan.

    Why Sam Sinai became a computer scientist instead of a doctor

    A National Archives official, in an e-mail comment that the people were not supposed to see:   “We live in constant fear of upsetting the White House”

    Why a pact with Iran throws Arab liberals under the bus  (“liberals” used here in the archaic and largely obsolete sense of “people who believe in liberty”)

    Garry Trudeau  (he wrote a cartoon called Doonesbury–is it really still being published?) gives his thoughts on the Charlie Hebdo murders perpetrated in the name of Islam–by accusing the cartoonists of “hate speech” and denouncing “free speech absolutism.”

    The secret Republicans of Silicon Valley

    Baseball, the stock market, and the dangers of following the herd

    Antoine de St-Exupery’s original watercolors  for The Little Prince

    Posted in Academia, Arts & Letters, Business, Civil Liberties, Human Behavior, Islam, Markets and Trading, Society, Sports, Tech, USA | 12 Comments »

    25 Stories About Work – When It All Goes Wrong

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 4th April 2015 (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)…

    The USA, early 1990s to early 2000s

    During the course of my career I have been involved in many cases of companies dying, bankruptcy, and other negative corporate events. At times I was there until the bitter end; often I left before the final events occurred but could see evidence of encroaching doom. When you are first starting off as an employee with little experience these signs are harder to understand; as a veteran I can now unfortunately pick them up right away.

    One of my first memories as a public accountant was the day that they fired all the administrative assistants. Not the ones for the executives – the ones that helped the new staff get orientated. These women (they were all women it was the early 1990s) ran each of the floors and it was the first time I’d seen anyone get fired en masse. This was before email I think they left us all some sort of strange voice mail or something (voice mail was big back then). It seemed very sad at the time.

    In the early 1990s there was a lot of tension in the public accounting firms between audit / tax vs. the consulting side. I was a staff person and was invited to one of the partner meetings (because I played bass guitar but that is a different story) and I could see the vitriol between the two groups. When the audit partners’ asked “how could they help” the consultants the answer was to “get out of our way”. This was not the happy story that I was being fed as a staff person, for certain.

    Later that accounting firm went belly up but I was long gone by then. We started up a small consulting firm and it was fantastic for a while. However, it all started to fall apart as key founding members left after a dispute with the main owners over compensation and eventually I was one of those that departed. The departure was even more difficult since many of my friends and family members were also involved with that firm. Unlike most of the other companies in this piece, however, that firm thrives until this day. So we can conclude that I was not indispensable…

    At various points during my career I had a “choice” between two firms. Often I chose the wrong one. At the time I didn’t realize that right before you go public, you shave out all of your costs for a quarter or two and you accelerate all the revenue into the current period (to the extent that this is possible and legal, of course) in order to make your company look great for the IPO process. Living in a company that is doing this is very painful and I left but that was before the company became one of the first successful IPOs of the era (a completely unexpected and unprecedented outcome) and I missed out on an opportunity for those founder stock options.

    As the dot.com era came to a close there was a giant shake-out in the Internet and Consulting sector. I worked with three companies in succession that eventually went bankrupt. The first of them had an IPO (in the era of voice mail plus a bit of email) and I noted that it was odd that most of the IPO funds raised went to pay out one of the primary investors (they took the cash, we retained the stock). In hindsight of course this was another ominous sign.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in 25 Stories About Work, Business, Chicagoania | 2 Comments »

    “The unbundling of commercial banks”

    Posted by Jonathan on 3rd April 2015 (All posts by )

    Via Lex, an interesting post about financial disintermediation:

    In a post on the state of consumer fintech, I took a look at how retail banks are beginning to “unbundle” as tech tries to reinvent finance. I now look at how the same is beginning to happen for commercial banks.
     
    Like it did for retail banking, I think technology is impacting commercial banking in three main ways:
     
    1. Increasing access to information thereby allowing businesses (businesses here refers broadly to small, medium and large businesses which would be the clients of commercial banks) to make better decisions
     
    2. Reducing the friction/offering better experiences for businesses in conducting common activities
     
    3. Lowering the fees on transactions for businesses by serving as a cheaper middle man

    None of this is a surprise. Banks tend to be inefficient and generally mediocre. The incentive structure for bank employees encourages the most productive people to look elsewhere (for example, the best traders and programmers tend not to work for banks). Incessant Obama-era financial regulation makes the situation worse by killing off smaller banks that would have increased competition. There is thus a lot of low-hanging fruit for creative non-bank providers of services that banks have typically provided.

    Posted in Business, Economics & Finance | 3 Comments »

    When H8trs H8

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 2nd April 2015 (All posts by )

    Crysta-OConnor-Memories-Pizza

    The new war on religious people (of whom I not one) takes on a new urgency as Huffington Post detects a new threat to the republic.

    Pence and his state have faced significant national backlash since he signed RFRA last week. The governors of Connecticut and Washington have imposed bans on state-funded travel to Indiana, and several events scheduled to be held in the state have been canceled. Organizers of Gen Con, which has been called the largest gaming convention in the country, are considering moving the gathering from Indiana as well.

    Nearby cities like Chicago are capitalizing on the controversy, with Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D) trying to lure Indiana-based businesses into his city.

    UPDATE: 1:52 p.m. — White House press secretary Josh Earnest responded to Pence’s comments Tuesday, saying the Indiana law has backfired because it goes against most people’s values.

    No, it is against the left’s values. The institutional left. The hysteria extends beyond the usual left and may involve a few weak willed Republicans like those who pressured Arizona governor Jan Brewer to veto a similar bill a year or so ago. Fortunately, Arizona has a new and presumably more firm governor.

    Narrowly speaking, that is, the left’s hatred of RFRA is about preserving the authority of the cake police—government agencies determined to coerce bakeries, photo studios, florists and other small businesses to participate in same-sex weddings even if the owners have eccentric conscientious objections.

    Whether Indiana’s RFRA would protect such objectors is an open question: The law only sets forth the standard by which state judges would adjudicate their claims. Further, as the Human Rights Campaign, a gay-rights group, notes, the Hoosier State has no state laws prohibiting private entities from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation. (It does have same-sex marriage, pursuant to a federal court ruling.) There are also no such antidiscrimination laws at the federal level. Thus under current law, only certain cities and counties in Indiana even have a cake police.

    The “cake police” are, of course a term of art from James Taranto to describe the opportunistic left who enforce the gay rights agenda on unsuspecting Christians.

    “As Michael Paulson noted in a recent story in The Times, judges have been hearing complaints about a florist or baker or photographer refusing to serve customers having same-sex weddings. They’ve been siding so far with the gay couples.” That is, the judges have been rejecting small-business men’s conscientious objections and compelling them to do business with gay-wedding planners. Bruni approves.

    Without harboring animus toward gays or sharing the eccentric baker’s social and religious views, one may reasonably ask: If a baker is uncomfortable baking a cake for you, why call the cake police? Why not just find another baker who’s happy to have your business?

    This, of course, is far too simple.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Big Government, Blegs, Business, Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Elections, Internet, Leftism, Media, Morality and Philosphy, Political Philosophy, Religion | 23 Comments »

    When It Goes Too Far …

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 2nd April 2015 (All posts by )

    You know, it’s a bit of a toss-up for me over which is the worst element of the Memories Pizza/RFRA/Gay Marriage debacle. Yes, this is what TV reporters do, when they start putting together a story, especially when fishing for comments from real people to punch up a story that doubtless was already written even before the reporter hit the road. Yes, you pretty much already have the story written in your head; the quotes from the person-in-the-street are the pretty and eye-catching frosting on top of the already baked cake, and usually a small portion of what was actually shot. That’s how it works, people, and don’t anyone try to tell me there’s a difference between a teeny military TV station in some overseas locale and the national save scale, the number of staff members, and the cost of the gear.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Blogging, Business, Civil Society, Conservatism, Human Behavior, Leftism, Media, The Press, USA | 8 Comments »

    25 Stories About Work – Days Gone By

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 31st March 2015 (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)…

    The USA, early 1990s to early 2000s

    For over ten years I traveled mostly five days a week.  Back then we flew out on Sunday night so that we could be on site Monday morning at 8am, and we left the job site on Friday after 5pm which meant that typically I’d get home in the wee hours of the morning on Friday, since often we had to drive for hours to get to the airport before we could even fly home.

    Those years are a blur.  I joined the work force during a recession in 1990 and everyone was happy to have a job; no one was complaining.  Right as the dot-com boom ended in about 2001 we had changed our ways and most of the team was flying out Monday morning and leaving on Thursday and “worked from home” on Fridays.  This was viewed as “the good life”.

    However, for most of those years, life was a blur of travel, packing, unpacking, and working.  It would likely be impossible to motivate staff to work and travel like that nowadays; back then no one thought anything of it and we really didn’t even complain as people got divorced and their personal lives crumbled into dust.

    Going into the workplace in 1990 there were three things that you could count on:

    1. You were going to work all the time, very hard
    2. You were likely going to work for a bad boss who would drive you with a whip
    3. Often times everyone would go out and have some drinks and a good time
    With these expectations, it was hard to be disappointed.  We worked all the time and then we went out for dinner and drinks and then got up the next day and did it over and over again.  From our perspective, this was the way it always had been and the way that it always would be.  These sorts of expectations are built into the name of our blog “Life in the Great Midwest” and it sums up the world view and baseline of our careers.

    Certainly people washed out from this insane grind.  It was mostly a male-dominated profession, although there were a few women consultants and auditors who mostly found roles where they were able to minimize their travel.  This was a zero sum game, however – since they took the roles that didn’t involve much traveling, often you had to travel that much more.  Someone had to service all of the clients and many of them were located in cities with few local staff, and those local staff often didn’t have the skills that the client needed.  Thus the same road warriors showed up and did the work, and every year a few more of them fell off the team due to family reasons (or they just “wised up”) but were always replaced by new fresh faced kids eager to earn what seemed to be top dollar or a wizened ex-corporate type needing to make more money.  The kids often worked out but the older ones didn’t; it was difficult to adjust to a life of heavy travel midway through your career.

    The consulting firms went public – the biggest one was Accenture, but all the big names (with a few exceptions like McKinsey and BCG) eventually monetized and to some extent it was like the Silicon Valley of that era.  Many got rich and I had the opportunity to participate in a couple of the smaller ones but ended up taking the choice that didn’t lead to my own riches; but that’s my own (bad) luck.

    Consulting and auditing pale in comparison to investment banking; I never have seen people that put in more hours than investment bankers.  I have no idea how they do it; a couple of years ago I went out for dinner and a couple drinks with a good friend of mine who is an investment banker in his 40s, and afterwards he went back to his hotel room and worked for a few more hours on a “pitch deck” for a client meeting the next day.  Whether it is practical work or not isn’t for me to judge; but as a long term “road warrior” I can tip my hat to them as being completely off their rocker in terms of how much time they are willing to invest in a client.

    Perhaps the new “road warriors” are the Silicon Valley start up people.  I have been at a few of their companies and I can see the drive and stamina oozing from their pores as they stare at their computer screens, working to make their riches.  They are a bunch of young men as I was once right out of college as an auditor and they are hurling themselves into their careers and trying to make the immense riches of stock options and to be part of something great.  I’m sure that there are many women in there but the vast majority of the staff are men and they are attacking these opportunities like we used to as consultants.

    Cross posted at LITGM

    Posted in 25 Stories About Work, Business | 12 Comments »

    Technology and Mass Transit

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 29th March 2015 (All posts by )

    I have not seen a formal study of the impact of technology on mass transit but I believe that it has made it profoundly more valuable and useful. And I accidentally participated in an experiment that partially proved this statement in the inverse.

    In Chicago they have a CTA “bus tracker” that tells you when a particular bus will arrive at your stop. Or you can program it so that you can see all the buses from various routes that are coming past your stop (this is useful because in Chicago you can often take many different routes that go to the same place over shorter distances). It works on your phone and many of the newer stops have the bus tracker programmed into the canopy so you don’t even need to look it up on your phone.

    Sadly enough most days rather than looking up the street for buses I check the bus tracker. I can usually get from my condo down the elevator and past the lobby in 2-3 minutes so 4 minutes is the cut off time. One morning I looked and I thought I had missed the bus entirely because the next one was ten minutes away on my phone. However, instead of just trudging off, I looked up, and a bus was right there!

    I got on the bus and it was completely empty! Not a soul was on the bus. While it was a nice day, usually this bus line was crowded during rush hour, often so crowded that I don’t even bother getting on because I have to stand right in the front past the yellow line where you aren’t supposed to stand and then get on and off with every stop (to let people on and off) until the crowd thins out.

    The driver was totally bewildered too. I sat with her up front and I guess they had changed the bus she was driving to this route (from another route) and they hadn’t updated bus tracker. I said that because she didn’t show up on my bus tracker. Thus no one was on the bus – because if it wasn’t on bus tracker, it didn’t exist.

    I am sure that the River North area is one of the most technologically sophisticated areas of the city and probably in other parts of town people just wait at the bus stop for the bus to show up. But in River North – everyone has been trained to use bus tracker and rely on it and they wouldn’t contemplate a bus existing that wasn’t on bus tracker.

    For me, the bus tracker has made the Chicago bus go from something marginally useful to a highly useful way to get around town. When I lived in Bucktown we used to wait for the #50 Damen bus and 3 of 4 times we’d give up and grab a cab after waiting 15-20 minutes and the 4th time 2-3 buses would show up in a big bunch full of angry riders. If you took the bus you weren’t happy about it; it was an unreliable and slow way to get around.

    However, bus tracker is very reliable and now you have visibility of what is coming and you can plan ahead so that you are whiling away your day standing outside in the rain or snow waiting in vain for a bus that seems like it will never come. I don’t have statistics but I would bet that bus tracker increases utilization of assets for the CTA and has become a known and reliable method of transportation for those that give it a chance.

    Cross posted at LITGM

    Posted in Business, Chicagoania, Customer Service, Tech, Transportation | 24 Comments »

    Book Review: God is an Englishman

    Posted by David Foster on 27th March 2015 (All posts by )

    The Swann family saga, by R F Delderfield:

    God Is an Englishman

    Theirs Was the Kingdom

    Give Us This Day

    In 1850, Adam Swann returned from India to his native England, having decided that a career in military service (especially in what he now viewed as basically a mercenary force, the East India Company’s army) was not for him.  He had in his possession a valuable cache of jewelry which he had acquired on a battlefield and (probably illegally) kept for himself.  While in India he had kept abreast of events in England by reading several-month-old newspapers, and was intrigued with the possibilities unleashed by industrial expansion. His original intention was to sell the jewelry and invest the proceeds in railway stock or in actually building a railroad branch line somewhere–but was dissuaded by a chance meeting with a railroad official, who advised him that railway building was in a bubble and that most of the lines now being constructed would prove uneconomic.  The official had, however, an alternative suggestion: put the money on the horses.  But not in the usual way.

    There’s more future in horse-transport than the Cleverdicks would have you believe.  The railroads can solve all the big problems but none of the small ones…If I were you, Mr Swann–and I wish to God I were and starting all over again–I would spend the next week studying the blank areas of that map there.  Then travel about and take a look at the goods yards of the most successful companies, and see merchandise piled in the rain on all their loading bays for want of a good dispersal system.

    Swann takes the man’s advice and sets off on a cross-country ride to evaluate the prospects for a new horse-drawn freight transportation business.  On the way, he meets Henrietta, who is fleeing a prospective marriage arranged by her father, a coarse and greedy mill owner.  It is Henrietta who proposes for the projected transport company the name Swann-on-Wheels and the wheeled-swan logo that will soon adorn the sides of hundreds of wagons rolling throughout Britain.

    The series is the story of Swann-on-Wheels, of Adam and Henrietta’s marriage and family, and of British society in the time period 1850-1914.  Unlike most historical novels covering this period, the aristocracy plays a very minor part, to the point of being almost completely irrelevant to the story, other than as a source of status markers:

    In the England into which he had been born, blood and breeding were still paramount and continued to call the national tune. Ancient wealth was still the legislator and determiner of the national destiny.  But all this had changed when he was still a lad.  By then the man of brass and the man of iron had come into their own, elbowing their way forward and demanding, at the top of their voices to be heard and heeded…Adam, who sometimes conjured with these abstracts, saw the process as a second Reformation, a phase of history repeating itself, with inventors, engineers, and their sponsors matching the hard-faced adventurers of Tudor times…For his part, he welcomed the transformation.  To him it was a cleansing tide, notwithstanding the mountains of muck and rubble it left behind…(but) it seemed to him that the wives and daughters of the men of brass took no pride in their menfolk’s astounding victory.  All they wanted, it appeared, was to replace their former masters without deviation by so much as a single inch from their ways of life, or discarding a single one of their prejudices.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Book Notes, Britain, Business, History, Management, Tech | 6 Comments »

    Tacos? May I Present …

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 23rd March 2015 (All posts by )

    For your dining pleasure, the three-star winner (South Texas Division) of the Chicagoboyz World Heritage Taqueria Guide – Erick’s Tacos, on Nacogdoches road.

    Behold the simple splendor of their open-air dining facility!
    Ericks - simple splendor
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Business, Diversions, Entrepreneurship, Photos, USA | 7 Comments »

    “Drugs, Inc.” – the Most Important Show on Television

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 21st March 2015 (All posts by )

    “Drugs, Inc.” is a television show on the National Geographic Channel that focuses on the business of drugs, from producers to traffickers to users to police. I can’t recommend this show enough and I watch every episode that comes up on my DVR.

    Welcome to the $300 billion industry of Drugs, Inc., where traffickers pocket huge profits, addicts become chained in a vicious cycle and law enforces wage war across diverse battlefields – farmers’ fields, shady labs, urban street corners and suburban schools. How does this business work? Can it be stopped or should it be regulated? What impact does it have on those it touches?

    Drugs Inc somehow gets interviews with drug dealers and drug traffickers. They are always wearing a mask of some sort and often their voices are garbled electronically. It isn’t clear to me why they agree to be on TV or why the authorities don’t follow up on the leads from the program or subpoena their records. I can’t comment on the authenticity but it certainly seems real, especially the interviews with the users or “fiends” as they are described by the dealers on the series.

    The first thing that the show will do for you is change how you look at homeless people. All of the users on the show are either 1) drug dealers themselves likely far down the chain in order to support their habit 2) panhandlers or some sort of schemer / prostitute. There occasionally are recreational users or those with jobs but since they typically interview hard-core drug users many of those individuals can’t do a regular 9 to 5 job.

    The panhandlers are a relentless lot. They wake up in various places, sometimes in their cars, sometimes in a tent, sometimes in an abandoned building, or elsewhere. When they get up, it is time to make some money in order to buy some drugs. They always know exactly what they are doing and have a target amount of money to “earn” in order to score what they need to stave off dope sickness.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Business, Chicagoania, Economics & Finance, Film, The Press | 19 Comments »

    History Friday – The 19th Century Internet

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 6th March 2015 (All posts by )

    Work continues – at a rather slow pace, admittedly – on the two books I have currently under construction, while I do research reading for them (in a small way) and work on projects to do with the Tiny Publishing Bidness. Which has just had two old corporate clients appear out of the woodwork; I don’t know how much we can do for the second, as the electronic files for their project are nonexistent, as their corporate history was produced and printed in about 1990. Thus technology marches on. I am wracking my memory, to see if I can come up with my own estimation as to when electronically-composed documents became the norm. I would guess around that time. I used to go back and generate training documents and various reports on a computer which also ran the automated music channel at EBS-Zaragoza in the late 1980s. This usually involved two large floppy disks (one for the operating system, one for my document archive) and a tiny screen of brilliant green letters on a black background. This writing process usually had me seeing white objects in shades of pink for at least an hour afterwards.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Americas, Business, History, Tech | 17 Comments »

    Good Business

    Posted by Jonathan on 22nd February 2015 (All posts by )

    Knaus Berry Farm

    I visited this place with a friend over the weekend. They sell baked goods, fresh fruits and vegetables, preserves and milk shakes. The parking lot was jammed and we had to wait in line to buy cinnamon buns. We also bought tomatoes, strawberries and some other vegetables.

    It is a simple business, selling simple products. It is located in a semi-rural agricultural area that is probably a bit out of the way for most customers. The prices are not cheap and they take cash only. They are closed on Sundays. Yet on Saturdays there is always a wait to buy sticky buns, and they seem to sell plenty of fruit, vegetables and milk shakes.

    What distinguishes this place is the quality of its products. The buns are excellent. The strawberries we bought were perfectly ripe and sweet, and the grape tomatoes were the best I’ve had in as long as I can remember; I ate them like candy.

    I have no idea about their bottom line, but they have been in business for a long time so I guess they do OK. It seems from this example that the only thing you need to do to prosper in business is offer first-rate products. But, of course, that is also one of the hardest things.

    We may need to go back there and do more research.

    Posted in Business | 11 Comments »

    History Weekend – Tales of a 19th Century Road Warrior, Continued

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 14th February 2015 (All posts by )

    (Part one is here.)
    All righty – everyone still interested? This is the rest of the story, of Fred Harvey and his hospitality empire, which not only is given popular credit for ‘civilizing’ the Wild West, but also for supplying that stretch of the Southwest between the Mississippi-Missouri and the Sacramento with excellent food and drink, splendid service, and a constant stream of wives – for many of the women recruited as waitresses in the track-side station restaurants married right and left; to railroad men, co-workers in the Harvey establishments, and to customers they met in the course of their duties. A comparison between Harvey Girls and stewardesses in the glamorous days of commercial flight has been made now and again; both groups were composed of relatively young, independent and adventurous women, carefully selected and trained, and working in a setting where their attractive qualities were shown at an advantage.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Business, Diversions, Entrepreneurship, History | 6 Comments »

    Fishing Only in the Heavily-Fished Pools

    Posted by David Foster on 8th February 2015 (All posts by )

    …probably won’t lead to great results.

    Virginia Postrel  notes that “elite investment banks, law firms and management consulting firms often hire almost exclusively from a handful of schools,” citing  research by sociologist Lauren Rivera:  “So-called ‘public Ivies’ such as University of Michigan and Berkeley were not considered elite or even prestigious.”

    Virginia argues that “If everyone you interview comes from the same few schools, the same social networks, the same previous employers or the same geographic regions, you aren’t really fighting for talent.”

    What she is saying here is similar to my point in the recent post  “Top-tier university graduates only.”

    Of course, for the industries Virginia mentions–law, investment banking, management consulting–people are being hired not only for their ability to do the job, but also for the advertising value of their credentials in attracting potential business.

    Posted in Academia, Business, Management, Society | 2 Comments »

    Could This Company Have Been Saved?

    Posted by David Foster on 7th February 2015 (All posts by )

    If you had been elected as CEO of Radio Shack, let’s say 5 years ago, what would you have done?  Was there a viable strategy for a long-term future for this company, or would it have been best to wind it up in an orderly manner?

    Posted in Business, Management, Tech | 35 Comments »

    “Top-Tier University Graduates Only”

    Posted by David Foster on 28th January 2015 (All posts by )

    Here’s a LinkedIn post from a young woman who doesn’t like the way certain companies are specifying “degree from a top-tier university required” in certain of their job postings. I think she makes some good points.

    From the standpoint of the individual company or other organization, absolutely requiring a degree from a “top-tier university” (whatever the individual’s other experience and capabilities) reduces the size of the talent pool and quite likely increases costs without commensurate benefit. From the standpoint of the overall society, this practice wastes human resources and creates damaging inhibitors to social mobility. (And in most cases, “top-tier university” is defined based only on the perception of that university’s “brand”…very few HR organizations or hiring managers conduct serious research on the actual quality of different universities from an educational perspective…and the perceived quality may be years or even decades out of date.)

    I think we as a society have delegated far too much influence to the admissions officers of various Ivy League universities, and also to whoever constructs the metrics for the US News & World Report college ratings. When discussing “inequality” and declining social mobility..and less-than-stellar economic growth…the role of credentialism in all these things needs to be seriously considered.

    Related: the five-pound butterfly revisited

    Posted in Academia, Business, Education, Human Behavior, Management | 30 Comments »

    History Weekend: Tales of a 19th Century Road Warrior

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 25th January 2015 (All posts by )

    He was the entrepeneur who came up with the bright idea to bring fine cooking and peerless customer service to the rowdy far West, and do so on a grand scale … and as a sidebar to that feat, also supplied thousands of wives to settlers in an otherwise female-deficient part of the country. He was a Scots-English immigrant from Liverpool named Fred Harvey. He arrived in New York at the age of 17, early in the 1850s. He took up employment washing pots and dishes at a popular restaurant of the day, and within a short time had worked up the kitchen ranks to waiter and then line cook. He only remained there for a year and a half – but in those months he had learned the restaurant business very, very well. He gravitated west, but only as far as St. Louis, where he managed a retail store, married and survived a bout of yellow fever. The restaurant business called to him, though. On the eve of the Civil War, he and a business partner opened a café. Which was successful, right up until the minute that his business partner, whose sympathies were with the Confederacy, took all the profits from the café and went South. Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Anglosphere, Business, Diversions, Entrepreneurship, History | 9 Comments »

    Is American Entrepreneurship in Decline?

    Posted by David Foster on 19th January 2015 (All posts by )

    Jim Clifton, who is Chairman & CEO of Gallup, presents data showing that creation of new businesses has fallen considerably over a long-term trend running from 1977 to the present, and that for the last several years, the number of firms created has actually fallen below the number of firms closing.

    LINK

    And furthermore:

    The U.S. now ranks not first, not second, not third, but 12th among developed nations in terms of business startup activity. Countries such as Hungary, Denmark, Finland, New Zealand, Sweden, Israel and Italy all have higher startup rates than America does.

    Read the whole thing.

    These numbers and trends seem somewhat counterintuitive to me. I see a lot of startups looking for angel funding, and quite a few of them getting it. There is a lot of public interest in entrepreneurship, as evidenced by the success of TV programs such as “Shark Tank”, and even universities are attempting to capitalize on the interest in entrepreneurship by offering courses and programs on the topic.

    I suspect that much of the decline in business creation is among people who don’t have a lot of formal education–many of them immigrants–and who in former years would have started businesses but are now inhibited by inability to navigate the dense thicket of regulations and pay the substantial costs involved in doing so. OTOH, I also suspect that quite a few of these people have actually created businesses, in fields such as home maintenance or home day-care, and are doing so off-the-books in ways that don’t get counted in the formal statistics.

    Among those who do have college degrees–and especially among those who have spent six, eight, or more years in college classrooms–student loan debt, much of it incurred on behalf of degrees having little or no economic or serious intellectual value, surely also acts as an inhibitor to business creation.

    Posted in Academia, Business, Economics & Finance, Education, Entrepreneurship, USA | 5 Comments »

    Book Reviews – 2014 Summary

    Posted by David Foster on 12th January 2015 (All posts by )

    Last year I reviewed quite a few books, including several that IMO are extremely important and well-written.  Here’s the list:

    The Caine Mutiny.  The movie, which just about everyone has seen, is very good.  The book is even better.  I cited the 1952 Commentary review, which has interesting thoughts on intellectuals and the responsibilities of power.

    To the Last Salute.  Captain von Trapp, best known as the father in “The Sound of Music,” wrote this memoir of his service as an Austrian submarine commander in the First World War–Austria of course being one of the Central Powers and hence an enemy to Britain, France, and the United States.  An interesting and pretty well-written book, and a useful reminder that there are enemies, and then there are enemies.

    That Hideous Strength.  An important and intriguing novel by C S Lewis. As I said in the review, there is something in this book to offend almost everybody.  So, by the standards now becoming current in most American universities, the book–and even my review of it–should by read by no one at all.

    The Cruel Coast.  A German submarine, damaged after an encounter with a British destroyer, puts in at a remote Irish island for repairs.  Most of the islanders, with inherited anti-British attitudes, tend toward sympathy with the German:  one woman, though, has a clearer understanding of the real issues in the war.

    Nice Work.  At Chicago Boyz, we’ve often discussed the shortage of novels that deal realistically with work.  This is such a novel: an expert in 19th-century British industrial novels–who is a professor, a feminist, and a deconstructionist–finds herself in an actual factory.  Very well done.

    Menace in Europe.  Now more than ever, Claire Berlinski’s analysis of the problems in today’s Europe needs to be widely read.

    A Time of Gifts.  In late 1933, Patrick Fermor–then 18 years old–undertook to travel from the Holland to Istanbul, on foot. The story of his journey is told in three books, of which this is the first.  This is not just travel writing, it is the record of what was still to a considerable extent the Old Europe–with horsedrawn wagons, woodcutters, barons and castles, Gypsies and Jews in considerable numbers–shortly before it was to largely disappear.

    The Year of the French.  The writer, commentator, and former soldier Ralph Peters calls this book “the finest historical novel written in English, at least in the twentieth century.”

    Posted in Academia, Biography, Book Notes, Britain, Business, Christianity, Deep Thoughts, Europe, Germany, Ireland, Islam, Management, Morality and Philosphy, Philosophy, Terrorism | 7 Comments »

    Some Key Technologies for 2015 and Beyond

    Posted by David Foster on 5th January 2015 (All posts by )

    …as viewed by General Electric

    Posted in Business, Tech | 7 Comments »