Monthly Archives: March 2009

The Industry that was Eaten by the Internet

Web-guru, Clay Shirky, has provided in his essay, Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable, a brief history of the relationship between the Internet and traditional newspapers. In the spirit of full disclosure, my wife and I still subscribe to the print version of our local newspaper. Each month when we pay, and at those times when it’s necessary to recycle the newsprint, we ask ourselves “Why are we doing this, exactly?” We haven’t come up with a satisfactory answer, but neither have we been moved to stop subscribing. I think you could say we are late “un-adopters”.

Shirky claims that the newspaper industry in the early 1990’s saw the Internet coming, and they developed several plans to respond to the challenge. Shirky quotes a friend who ran the Internet services for the New York Times who was commenting on the investigation into the pirating of Dave Berry’s popular column. It had been discovered that an active participant in this piracy was a 14 year old boy from the Midwest, who had sent the column to alt.fan.dave_barry on usenet. The teenager was illegally distributing the column because he loved Dave Barry, and thought all should read him. Shirky’s New York Times friend said: “When a 14 year old kid can blow up your business in his spare time, not because he hates you, but because he loves you, then you got a problem.”

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Further ramblings from a (surfin’) SoCal mind.

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If one were to take any two of the nuns that taught me during grade school in the fifties, turn them loose on the marine base at Camp Pendleton, there wouldn’t be a sideburn left on any marine. Let loose all the nuns at St Marks school on the Taliban and Al Quida in Afghanistan, and we would have had Osama under wraps within one week. Such was the nature of my teachers during my early years: they were some bad ass nuns. I think they were called ‘The Sisters of the Holy Order of we’ll rip your lungs out.”

You can imagine how, after the daily ritual of learning under the umbrella of the nuns, us kids had to find some way to let off steam. Thus was born skate boarding. I think every kid, at one time or another, during the early fifties, took apart his old skates, and fitted the skate wheels to a board, nailed a handle to the board, and rode it down the street. The skate wheels back then were all metal, with ball bearings. The metal wheels had a nasty habit of suddenly stopping if they came in contact with anything remotely resembling a crack in the concrete sidewalks or asphalt streets. It is my firm belief they would stop if they contacted a piece of puffed rice.

What we found out was, by taking the handle off, and riding just the board, the adrenaline rush increased by leaps and bounds. We figured if your going to break a bunch of bones, you might as well get a rush out of it. Thus was born our first drug addiction. This lasted until we reached high school, where riding a board, with skate wheels nailed to it, failed to impress girls, which we had discovered frowned on seeing a dude wrapped in a cast. Oh, they loved to autograph it, but what’s a guy to do when he can’t move? Talk about a whore-moaned fueled frustrated teen.

That was about the time the surf board made its debut in SoCal. The boards at that time were about ten feet long and weighed as much as a small car. If you went to the beach, saw some guy lift one under his arm, and walk with it into the surf, you didn’t mess with him.

I had three other buddies I hung with then, Jim, Tom and Bob. One of them came up with a surf board, so we took it to the ocean and thought about trying it out. When we got there, there was a group pf people surrounding some dude laying on the sand. Seems his board caught him in the face when he fell off, and laid his nose over on his cheek. Needless to say, we kinda thought we’d think about this sport a bit more.

We spent about two weeks practicing laying done and paddling, kneeling and paddling, then standing up. Finally, we took the board and actually got in the ocean with it. Things never quite go as planned, as we found out. The laying down and kneeling went okay; it was the standing up part that took us to task. Imagine four high school freshmen, trying to look cool, falling off a board big enough to build a barn door out of.

Anyway, we got semi-proficient at it, and headed up to Malibu. Yep, that Malibu, with it’s hot babes and football/movie star dudes. We attempted to fit in, but after watching some kid, around eight or nine, looking like he was on a two pound suger high, jam past us on a wave, hanging twenty, we decided watching the girls was a much better pasttime. I knew a family that lived in one of the beach houses, and after seeing our attempts at surfing, told me never to see them again. Well, at least as long as we had a board in our hands.

To make a long story short, we pretty much sucked at surfing, and eventually gave it up for bowling. I do have one thing to admit, though: when I was stationed at Lowery AFB in Denver in ’65, the drinking age was eighteen at the 3.2 clubs, the girls there were more than happy to listen to my surfing exploits, them being dry-landers and all. I mean it’s nothing any other red blooded horny American GI wouldn’t do . . . right . . . right?

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More Economic Bad News

Likely many already know this, but Cessna is informing employees of yet more layoffs. This will, I believe, make Cessna’s layoff numbers over 4300.

Given the dependency of the local economy on aircraft manufacturing, this just adds to the problems currently faced in Wichita. I’m not as cheery as others concerning this; I don’t think that “come the recovery”, all will be well in Wichita with reference to the aircraft makers. There are other concerns that will impact Wichita’s traditional industrial base, not the least of which is the expected rise in the cost of petroleum products.

An interesting sidelight: Bombardier announced the sale of 20 aircraft this morning. These aircraft, however, as I recall will be totally built in Canada, so no joy in Wichita.

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03/31/09 Public Square

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What are you kind of absolutely, positively sure of, at least right now in this moment? Share, but only if you really want to. 😉

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Retirement Blues

So by now, most of the news hounds here have already heard this, but my heart just dropped when I read this from the AP.

“WASHINGTON – Just months before the start of last year’s stock market collapse, the federal agency that insures the retirement funds of 44 million Americans departed from its conservative investment strategy and decided to put much of its $64 billion insurance fund into stocks.

Switching from a heavy reliance on bonds, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation decided to pour billions of dollars into speculative investments such as stocks in emerging foreign markets, real estate, and private equity funds.

The agency refused to say how much of the new investment strategy has been implemented or how the fund has fared during the downturn. The agency would only say that its fund was down 6.5 percent – and all of its stock-related investments were down 23 percent – as of last Sept. 30, the end of its fiscal year. But that was before most of the recent stock market decline and just before the investment switch was scheduled to begin in earnest.

No statistics on the fund’s subsequent performance were released.”

WTF?

As if it wasnt bad enough that upper end baby boomers are losing lots of equity in our homes and other real estate investments, our 401(k)’s have sunk low enough to walk under a closed door with a top hat on, and the future of Social Security is still a big question mark… the folks who have guaranteed pensions are facing this?

Oy.

I think this is a perfect example of what six asked today when he queried “who’s watching the watchers?”  Where was the congressional oversight on this subject? Where were the regulations governing how this money could be invested?  Unfettered free market capitalism strikes again.

Someone who’s as paranoid as I might wonder if this is a continuance of the jihad on unions and the working class. Or if it’s another case of incompetence? Investments Gone Wild? Peer pressure to perform amazing financial feats without a net?

I’m betting the latter.  People who make investments for a living are incredibly competitive. It’s part of what makes them good at what they do. And I’m sure there was pressure during the greed boom about “why arent OUR investments getting that rate of return?”  They couldnt stand it and jumped in, only to find the water over their heads.

It doesnt look good for those of us facing retirement in ten years or less.  If I were a betting person, I’d be putting my money in cat food stock. Because without real estate equity, 401(k)s, guaranteed pensions, and Social Security, there’s going to be a bunch of us gray hairs fighting the cats for their cheap tuna.

What the hell should we be doing to plan for retirement? Brushing up our resume’s?

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On College Basketball and Recruiting

This morning, I was listening to the sports talk show on KFH; the one with Bruce Haertel and Bob Lutz hosting. A topic that was discussed was the current situation involving UConn and possible NCAA rules violations committed by the mens basketball program.

There is no doubt that college sports has become big business, which increases the temptation to bend or break the rules. One of the hosts mentioned the discomfort that many coaches have with the AAU summer basketball programs, as evidenced (apparently by Rick Pitino) by comments made at a post-game media conference. There are some “shady” characters out there involved with these programs, and many wonder whose wallets are being fattened due to their involvement.

I’ve a simple solution. If a player has participated in AAU summer basketball programs, that player is automatically ineligible for an athletic scholarship to any NCAA member institution. I know that this would not happen, as the business of college basketball is too big, and the AAU programs have been the source of players to the big programs.

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Outliers: Malcom Gladwell’s book

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