Tag: Business

Notes & Quotes from the Climate Change Scene April 27, 2015

A GROUP OF SCIENTISTS spearheaded by a British fellow named Lord Lawson is launching another analysis to determine whether climate data — more specifically temperatures — have been adjusted to prove the theory of global climate change. According to an article in the UK Independent, Lawson, founder of the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) and a noted climate change denier, the study will “review the technical challenges in accurately measuring surface temperature, and will assess the extent of adjustments to the data, their integrity and whether they tend to increase or decrease the warming trend”. We’ve been down this road before, notably by the Berkeley Earth project (http://berkeleyearth.org/ ), but it apparently came to the wrong conclusion for this team. You might, however, find the conversation taking place in the messages following the article to be enlightening. (I’ve added my own two cents to the conversation this afternoon.)


BUSINESS LEADERS SUPPORT CLIMATE CHANGE POLICIES. In a largely unpublicized meeting last week, 450 representatives of hundreds of international businesses came up with a set of targets and goals to be presented at the forthcoming major meeting on climate change in Paris. According to an eyewitness report, those in attendance agreed to propose some benchmarks that went even farther than what is needed to meet the worldwide goal of keeping the temperature rise under 2C over the next 35 years. “At least in Europe, it seems that business is coming around to see that they must be part of the solution to climate change. It seems they accept the science and also see the business opportunities from acting on climate change. And they also know that they can’t wait for governments to act,” the article reported. This participation by companies who are often painted as selfish and unmotivated to help solve a problem to which they are major contributors is welcome!


A “TEMPORARY” LULL IN WARMING will not have measurable effect on long-term global climate change trends. The much-ballyhooed (by the Right) slowdown in the pace of temperature increases in the air has provided deniers a lot of largely useless ammunition in their effort to play ostrich. But a new study compares climate models that include the current slowdown to those which don’t include it and the outcomes are so similar as to be essentially the same. That’s according to a press release from the Australian ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science. “This much hyped global warming slowdown is just a distraction to the task at hand,” said lead author and Chief Investigator Prof Matthew England. “This shows that the slowdown in global warming has no bearing on long-term projections – it is simply due to decadal variability. Greenhouse gases will eventually overwhelm this natural fluctuation.”



The Cost of Poverty and the Minimum Wage

workingpoorIn the raging national debate over President Obama’s plan to raise the national minimum wage to $9 over the next several years, one factor seems to have been consistently overlooked. Being poor takes huge gobs of time and creates huge amounts of stress. Employers whose workers are at or below poverty lines pay a significant amount of money in lost productivity and time as a result. Give these workers a decent living wage (and minimum wage, even if and when it reaches $9/hr. won’t come close to that), and watch productivity and profits go up.

I know first-hand how much time it takes for people who are dependent, in whole or in part, on the government for part of their bare subsistence to comply with regulations, file reports, appear for inconveniently scheduled appointments, and deal with health crises. I’ve had to do that twice in my life. Two members of my family are currently below poverty line thanks to unemployment.

If your daughter needs to see a doctor and the doctor is assigned by the government, you take her when she can get an appointment, whether or not it’s convenient for you or your employer. When your case worker decides that the rules mandate an in-person meeting to review your situation, he or she doesn’t generally have the luxury of worrying about whether you’re scheduled to work at your (probably part-time) job at the time of the appointment.

And if you don’t have enough money to pay your bills, you have to spend inordinate amounts of time on the telephone with creditors explaining that, while you’d really love to be able to make this month’s phone or utility bill payment, your son broke his arm and the ER costs (you don’t have a doctor, let alone one on call) ate up your entire paycheck. For three weeks.

In agreeing to pay people well enough to keep them out of poverty, employers would reap significant savings that are probably invisible at the moment.

Add that to the dozens of other sound economic reasons for increasing the minimum wage and I have a difficult time understanding what real concern motivates its opponents.

LinkedIn’s New Content Strategy is Very Smart

LinkedIn has recently unveiled a new content strategy that I think shows someone at that social networking company is thinking.

It started a few weeks ago when I began noticing a new type of email showing up in my InBox from the folks at LinkedIn. These were news teasers pointing me to informative posts made by people on the site to whom I was not necessarily yet linked. Thought leaders, they are called. I didn’t see any major press about the new feature (though I could well have simply missed it) but I was intrigued enough to open and read the email. Then I started clicking on the links in some of the emails. Now I’ve come to believe that LinkedIn may have hit a real sweet spot here.

Their news updates combine two things: commentary on topics of current interest or import (most of the time) and at least seemingly authoritative writers. This is quite intriguing to me because it is an attempt, at one level, to bridge the gap between information overload and insufficient use of credibility or reputation to filter the news flow. I’m monitoring carefully.

But I am concerned about one prospect I read. It seems LinkedIn sees this use of thought leaders (chosen by what means is not clear to me) as a sort of pilot project. They plan to open it up to more people and, according to at least one account, all LinkedIn users at some point. I hope they don’t do that, at least not without some way to separate wheat from chaff, or they will have usurped one of this new idea’s primary uses for me: filtering out the BS.

Microsoft’s Lost Decade and Apple’s Coming Days in the Desert

My buddy George Sidman shared this lengthy article on the decline and fall of Microsoft with me this morning. It’s a great read, if a bit wordy, and though it takes a while to get to the real point, it is nonetheless a very insightful bit of thinking.

Here’s what I wrote in response, edited to remove personal material.

I see this as a continuation or fulfillment of my long-held Saturation Theory. When a company that holds a dominant share of a market reaches the point where there are few if any new outlets for its products, it hunkers down and becomes an uninspired and uninspiring plodder more interested in managing its treasury and avoiding mistakes than in leading a charge that could cost it existing customers. What was the last innovative product Microsoft ever made? (For that matter, what was the first, but I digress.)
Apple is beginning to show the very first signs of this calcification. As it morphs from being a computer company to being a technology company to being a consumer electronics company, it begins to horde and defend. iPhone 5 and iOS6 are the first symptoms of this disease. Incremental improvements (200 of them but none of them world-changing) and poorly executed innovation (which way did they go?) combine to create a head-scratcher for which the Not-Steve rightfully and smartly apologizes. I fully expect to see the day — within five years tops — when Apple will sell its computer line to a company like a Lenovo that is great at commoditizing and carving pennies of profits out of tiny changes.
With Linux floundering on the shoals of Android’s fragmented universe, the most important technology question of the next few years is whether the Web (which is merely a loose collection of protocols) can grow up and become the new OS or whether something radically rethought will emerge and rock the industry the way IBM, Microsoft, Apple and Linux did in their now-fading days.

I’m Sick of Printer Ripoff, Are You?


I don't know about you but I'm sick and tired of being ripped off by Epson, HP and Lexmark. They have figured out that if they essentially give us the razors (printers) we'll buy their proprietary razor blades (ink cartridges) no matter how badly they rip us off.

In the past few weeks of investigating and experiencing this outrage, I've discovered that:
  1. Ink cartridges have built-in expiration periods so that they appear to your computer to be empty well before they are, based only on the passage of a specific number of hours of life from cartridge "initialization".
  2. Ink cartridges' ink level sensors are either frequently defective or intentionally misprogrammed so that they show empty when the cartridge is not in fact empty.
  3. Printers are designed so that if any one cartridge goes dry (or appears to) the printer becomes non-functional. This means that even if you only *ever* print black ink, you must keep replenishing color cartridges that expire despite not being used. I'm not sure but this may constitute a form of bundling that violates federal law.
Don't believe me? Check out this photo of the huge reservoir of ink remaining in a cartridge that my Epson printer reported as empty. 

The fact that all printer manufacturers engage in these deceptive and fraudulent practices leads me to smell a conspiracy. I'm writing my Congressman about this today and asking him to call for an investigation into the matter.

The Right of a Free Press and the Crisis of Free News

I spent much of my career as a newspaper reporter and editor. In one of my assignments, I was the editor of a small upstate Michigan weekly. The owner/publisher was a grizzled old print shop veteran whose newspaper had never earned a profit. I took over the editorial operation and oversaw a major expansion that brought profit for the first time in more than 100 years of business.

One day he and I had a blowup over a news story I wanted to print that made a local city councilman look pretty bad.  The guy had showed up drunk at a council meeting and made a complete ass of himself. The publisher killed the story. I threatened to quit. He laughed. When I raised the right of a free press, he said, "Son, the first right of a free press is the right to remain solvent." See, that councilman also owned the grocery store that was our biggest single advertiser by far.

I left that job shortly after the incident. But I never forgot his caution. And while I don't like it and it chafes at me to think it, that doesn't make it less true.

Which is a roundabout way of saying that one of the big problems we have with journalism today, online, broadcast and print alike, is that there's way too much garbage out there because nobody cares about keeping the outlets solvent. We demand free information, free news, free access even to considered opinion. But of course we also don't want to see ads or be emailed offers or to have text messages disrupting our smartphones. All of that is bad enough in terms of trying to figure out how to keep decent news reporting around. But the bigger problem is that it drives the free content to the foreground, resulting in garbage passing for news. This in turn leads to a misinformed electorate which then makes uninformed decisions which in turn leads to the political chaos and confrontation we have today.

If there's no money for reporting, if there's no money for editing, if there's no money or time for fact-checking, any idiot with an Internet connection can masquerade as a journalist. The ideals of journalism — fair reporting that refuses to pander to stupidity among its news sources, a concern with factual accuracy, and intelligent selection of what's news and therefore important — are being washed away in a sea of "he said, she said and even though he's an idiot I have to present his view so I seem fair and balanced," and "of course it's newsworthy who was kicked off the island on a 'reality' TV show whose outcome means not a thing to anyone in the real world".

We get what we refuse to pay for. Ultimately, this will be the death knell of democracy.

Money, Ads are the Big Draws for FB in Opera Plan

Ars Technica's Matthew Braga today speculates that the primary reasons Facebook is rumored to be interested in buying commercial browser maker Opera Software are not the browser technology itself, but rather money and ads.

However, there is another more important part of Facebook's post-IPO plans that an Opera acquisition could solve—monetization and mobile ads.

Braga points out that Facebook users prefer mobile to desktop access but a comfortable margin but that the company has as yet been unable to monetize those tiny-screen eyeballs. Opera, meanwhile, has been generating serious revenue from its mobile MiniBrowser for some time. In addition, it has acquired two medium-sized but technologically savvy ad outfits as well.

Some 330 million mobile users are reachable with Opera's browser software, the company says. That compares to Facebook's figures that show 425 million of their users are accessing the service on the go.

Given the largely negative assessment provided so far by analysts for the possible acquisition, it's nice to hear someone with some tech chops talk abut why such a deal might make sense.

The real question might be, "What's in it for Opera?"

Five Google Mantras That May Not Work For You

USA Today re-posted a guest blog from CNBC.com in which a former Google exec talks about the five mantras of Google culture and suggests that any small business could benefit by adopting them.

Julie Clow, who worked for five years helping Google create a corporate culture, says the five mantras are:
  1. Launch and iterate.
  2. Fail fast.
  3. Focus on the user.
  4. Ask forgiveness, not permission.
  5. If you see a void, fill it.
These are really good mantras. In the several companies I owned over the years in high-tech, I tried to implement them or some variation or sub-set of them whenever I could; they're not new with Google.

But when Clow says, "These mantras are at the core of innovation for Google, but translate readily to any business to create agility, employee engagement, and ultimately, stronger business results," she's just wrong.

To be able to afford these policies — which she says "cost no money" — requires that a company's resources be sufficiently deep that allowing employees to speculate on new projects with little or no supervision doesn't fatally disrupt product plans already being implemented, customer support, and other ongoing activities of the organization. And that, despite Ms. Clow's enthusiasm for her work at Google and its obvious results, does cost money.

Contained within these mantras are great ideas for even smallish companies and adopting them certainly creates a culture of innovation. To the extent that you can implement them without disruption of your core business, you should try. But to let yourself be distracted from your primary focus — what your customers want and need from you now — risks the business for the sake of pure innovation. My experience over 40+ years in high-tech entrepreneurship says that seldom pays dividends in small companies.

Facebook IPO Price Was Exactly Right. For the Company

There's been so much "analysis" in the popular press over the meager 23-cent uptick in the price of Facebook's initial stock offering that it seems like someone has forgotten Business 101.

The company that went public here obviously did so precisely correctly. By pricing its initial stock at $38, the company hit exactly what the market agreed it was worth. That is rare. And it means, among other things, that Facebook didn't leave a lot of money on the table. 

See, if they offered shares at, say, $33 and the price jumps to $38, a bunch of investors are delighted. But the company only sees the proceeds of the initial sale, not the subsequent re-sales between investors. So if the stock is priced so low it makes these investors happy, it means the company didn't take in as much as it could — and should — have.

As it is, the company realized nearly as much from the IPO as the market felt it was worth. Brilliant job by the investment bankers who priced the offering. The purpose of the market is to enable companies to raise funds for expansion and operation, not to make a bunch of individuals whose only claim to fame for the most part is being in the right place at the right time wealthy.

Could I Have a Little Assault With My Eggs Please?

While having brunch in one of my favorite local spots with two of my favorite local friends the other day, I became aware of the degree to which this place (I won't name it for several reasons, not the least of which is you don't really care!) has become a culinary billboard.

Hanging on two walls, above eye level, are HD displays rotating menu item photos, the specials of the day, cute pictures of the staff and their kids, and literally dozens of ads for local businesses.

The tabletops, which used to be quaintly coffee-stained and chipped, are now clear-lacquered over a veritable plethora of ads for local businesses, churches and organizations. Barely a bare spot on the surface.

This has been going on for some time but for some reason it just got my dander up. (There, now you probably know more about my age than you did a second ago, eh?)

i understand the need to increase revenues in these times. I really do. But frankly I'd rather pay 10% or even 15% more for my food in this place than to have my senses assaulted at every turn by more "opportunities" to spend money. I'm not yet boycotting the place, but I plan to leave a note on the comment card when I'm there this week to let them know how I feel.

Have you noticed any other upticks in the blasting of ads at your senses at every ridiculous opportunity?