Technology, Art, Entrepreneurship, Bailout

Irony Alert: Google just bought a paper processing plant in Finland, so that they could repurpose the building into a data center.

Technology: Kevin Kelly has written a great (and long) post about the Amish and technology.  To go back to my software days, the Amish are not in the Early Adopter portion of consumerdom, but surprisingly to many of us, they are a part of the technology buying spectrum.

Fun: Ever had a photo that you wanted to see reimaged as a charcoal sketch? You don’t have to break out the Photoshop. I have used the service at Dumpr in the past and been very happy with the results. Dumpr has some very interesting options, including celebrity pics.  There is a new site, BeFunky that offers a number of other transformations, including cartoon, stencil, sunburst and inkify.

Behind the Scenes: I admit it.  I love knowing what is going on behind the scenes.  Have you ever wondered what goes on when your television news team goes to commercial? Check this out.

Entrepreneurship: John Patterson writes A Counter-Intuitive Lesson in Clarity (grammar alert).  In it he talks about what makes entrepreneurs tick and why they need to surround themselves with people who have different worldviews. This is a key point in the growth of an entrepreneur… The ability to accept that you are a vision person and work with others who can help you refine your grand scheme into a viable moneymaking business opportunity.

Financial: Steven Pearlstein, writing in the Washington Post, today talks about Citizens South, a small bank in North Carolina. Citizens South is a well managed bank. They didn’t make risky loans and stayed conservative. Impressive among banks, they even turned a profit last year.  Their president, Kim Price, applied for TARP bailout funds and received $20.5 million.  Citizens South had no plans for the money until Price came up with a plan to offer, in conjunction with builders, low rate mortgages and no closing costs.  Now mortgages are available to people who otherwise wouldn’t buy a house in this economic climate.  A feel good story for sure.
However, I wonder about why a profitable bank that didn’t make bad loans is making the financial decision to take taxpayer money.  Apparently, the bailout funds don’t come with a strong enough deterrent to focus their use for the most heavily impacted banks. While I am excited that this bank thought outside the box enough to expand home ownership to their customer base, why is the American taxpayer paying for this and what have the big guys (Citi, Bank of America, Chase) done with their bailout funds?

Philanthropy, Brand Execution, Security and Distributed Systems

Philanthropy: writes about Generation G, the generation not of Greed (see Gordon Gekko of Wall Street fame), but of Giving.  In these troubled economic times, it is interesting to see that the generation coming of age now seems to be more interested in the G for giving.
Just this week, a group I am affiliated with held a fundraising breakfast.  This year’s total amount pledged was 40% more than last year and the official I spoke with said that she is seeing this trend at many of the breakfasts she hosts.
Lastly, my favorite Generation G story relates to Adam Carter. Adam is the son of a good friend of mine.  Adam spends about 7 months each year providing funds and manual labor on humanitarian missions in Latin America, the Middle East, Africa and Southeast Asia as a part of a group called 100 Friends.  The other 5 months of the year, Adam earns his traveling money as a beer vendor at Wrigley Field and US Cellular Field.  He maintains a blog with his current exploits (including a video about his visit to Senegal).

Marketing: Brand Execution. I have a friend who likes to say “It’s all about me.” In her case, it usually is :). But when it comes to your business, it can’t be all about you.  It has to be about the business.  Jeff Leitner has brought this point together with a short riff on American Idol.

I don’t know if you watch American Idol, but every now and then the judges ask the kids why they chose to sing a particular song.
And the kids ALWAYS say it’s because the song means a lot to them.
And, of course, that’s the wrong move.
Sing a song that best shows off your vocals – whether you’ve got a big voice, small voice, high range, low range, big range, whether you can do runs or are particularly good or bad at expressing the lyrics.
I see the same dynamic in business all the time.
Business owners choose locations, hire people, design logos and launch products because they like those locations, people, logos and products. That’s fine that they have taste, but they should leave the taste at home. Choose locations, people, logos and products that will make you successful in your business.

If you have thought through your business and made the vision tight, you can’t afford to bring in extraneous items just because you like them.  If your concept is a classic French bistro, you can’t hang Chicago Cubs paraphernalia from the walls, just because you are a die-hard Cubs fan. You can bleed Cubbie blue in the comfort of your home.  But unless you are opening a sports bar in Wrigleyville, the Cubs stuff needs to stay at home.   Utrillo prints, maybe. In a dark corner.

Entrepreneurship: On Tuesday, I posted about the Open Source Challenge that Mark Cuban had started. Today, Seth Godin talked about it and helps provide future entrepreneurs with some ideas to get started.

Security: Bruce Schneier pointed me to this article on Facebook security. Note than on that page, there is a link to a free Facebook security e-book to pass along to others.

Big Picture: In a post earlier this week, I pointed to a discussion with Amory Lovins where he posited that electric generators will soon be microsized and distributed into a giant web. Kevin Kelly has also broached the same general topic in his article “The Surest Way to Smartness is through Massive Dumbness”.
The future of business is distributed systems. Look at Google. Google could not serve its customers with mainframe systems; they use an extraordinary number of cheap, custom processors. Kevin Kelly’s article highlighted a most basic industry – cement delivery – and how distributed systems (computers, GPS, authority) created a competitive advantage for one company. How can you take advantage of this trend in your business?


n,v: a public promotion of some good or service

This time of year, we are all forced to pay more attention to advertising.  The nation’s attention to the Super Bowl (excuse me, The Big Game) is half about the game and half about the commercials that are presented.  After the game, the media spends more time going over the picks and pans than the picks and points. This year, for some reason, lots of people enjoyed seeing a glass paperweight hit a man in the groin.  Others went for more prosaic fare like the love story between a Clydesdale horse and a circus horse.

I understand that there are a lot of reasons for advertising.  Brand awareness, new product announcement, to create industry buzz and to help employee morale are just some.  What I don’t get, is annoying a potential customer to get attention. I guess part of it is that advertising execs are being pushed ever harder to come up with creative campaigns.

There is one commercial running in the Chicago radio markets that just makes me crazy.  Mark my words, I will never buy a Sunsetter Retractable Awning.  If I even hear the beginning 5 seconds of the ad, I will change the station.  The pitch is that there is a reasonable guy telling the audience about the benefits of the aforementioned awning system.  Every 10 seconds, a woman’s screeching voice comes on and orders “Harry, tell them about the discount”.  Finally, at the end, the man gives in and tells us all about the discount. Perhaps the ad exec in charge of this account is a henpecked guy who is just expressing his life story.  Perhaps the company thinks that the discount is so critical that they can devalue the experience of listening to the whole case for an awning system.

On one hand, the company has won.  I certainly know the company and the ad, and can put them together.  But I can guarantee that if I ever have the opportunity to purchase an awning system, I will find another solution.  In fact, if I am ever in a conversation with anybody about remodeling, I might just go out of my way to help them find another solution.

What are the ads that make you crazy enough to boycott the product?

Strategy, Fun, Entrepreneurship, Politics and Talent

Strategy: Andy Sernovitz talks about why things are going to be better. And I think I agree with him. (hat tip: JL)

Fun: The first harbinger of spring is about to arrive.  Not the robins.  Not the daffodils.  But the call for “Pitchers and Catchers Report to spring training.”  The Cubs are scheduled to start on Friday, February 13 and the White Sox are scheduled to start on Sunday, February 15.

Entrepreneurship: Andrew Anker introduces the term “flashlight” as it relates to corporate leadership.  Flashlights are “people who shine brightly in one direction, but don’t let off too much light otherwise“. He manages to compare the New York Yankees and Apple Computer into this discussion.

Politics: One of the things that I actually enjoyed about this past presidential election was the website that was created by Nate Silver.  Nate, who in his day job develops statistical models for Baseball Prospectus, took that same talent and used it to very accurately predict the outcome of the presidential and congressional races. He continues to write about current political issues with a statistician’s flair.  Mental Floss took a look at Nate’s work in this article.

Talent: I am currently reading Geoff Colvin‘s latest book, Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else.  I also have Malcolm Gladwell‘s book Outliers: The Story of Success on reserve at the library.  Each book uses examples of extraordinary achievers to show that there is no such thing as talent.  Each author uses the work of Anders Ericsson, professor of psychology at Florida State University, as a basis for debunking the talent myth.  The Australian does a nice profile on Ericsson.

Energy, Economics, Politics, Technology and an Award

Business: Did you ever wonder what happens to all of the sports memorabilia that gets manufactured in advance of a big event with the name and logo of the losing team?  Good news, it gets donated.

Energy: I have been interested in the path of energy use in this country, ever since I took a Senior Seminar on Energy in college.  At that time, Amory Lovins was a leading voice of the doom and gloom prognosticators.  In this easy to read  article, he talks about the future of energy distribution.  This reminds  me of the change from central phone switching systems to cellular towers everywhere.
In other news, Google has started a pilot program that will develop energy solutions, starting with providing energy usage breakdowns for your house.  If you knew the cost of using specific items, you would have an idea as to where to start conservation efforts, right?

Business: Jim Jacoby wrote a thoughtful piece comparing the macro economy to the community within a company or project team.

Entrepreneurship: OK folks, those of you with a great idea, step right on up.  Mark Cuban is proposing his own stimulus plan called Open Source Funding.  He will be reviewing business plans and looking to fund the most impressive.  There are some ground rules, though.  You must post your business plan for all to review.  You will be funded month to month.  You need to be cash flow positive in 60 days and profitable in 90 days. No advertising income.   Still an interesting idea, if you have the business plan and the moxie to publish it.

Politics: Bob Woodward has some advice for President Barack Obama based on lessons learned during President George W. Bush‘s presidency.

Technology: Have a need to generate an org chart or flowchart but don’t want to shell out the big bucks for Visio?  Check out an easy to use, free, web based alternative that is fun to play with called Lovely Charts.

Economy: Today’s “Wow, didn’t see that one coming award”. The CEO of Netflix, Reed Hastings, published an open letter to President Obama in the New York Times recently asking that his taxes be raised.

Strategy, Business and Legos

Big Picture: Paul Graham is a very strategic thinker.  In his essay, “Keep Your Identity Small“, he compares religious and political arguments to most others.  The key, he opines, is that you don’t have to be an expert to argue about either topic.  In most other areas, one doesn’t usually participate in an discussion unless she has a minimum level of expertise.  In religion and politics, anything goes.  Paul advises us to keep our Identity small, so that we can be more tolerant of other’s positions.

Consulting: Ian Ayres talked about relational versus non-relational arrangements with large consulting companies.  Pretty dull stuff, until Ian related these to Charlie Sheen‘s trial for using prostitutes and his quote “I don’t pay them for sex.  I pay them to leave.”

Chicago: What if Oprah bought the Chicago Sun-Times?,  Phil Rosenthal muses.

Business: Time Magazine discusses how this recession compares with others regarding job losses.  It is scary out there folks.

Art: Something about the economy must be helping the Lego folks.  There was a creative look at New York via Lego.  And then this story about an artist who uses Lego bricks in his creations. And the inauguration in Lego.

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GMail, The Bailout and Bill Gates

Today seems like a slow link day, but we will persevere.
Technology: One of the reasons I like Gmail is that Google is committed to bringing us optionally installable changes quickly through their labs program.  Today they brought out Multiple Inboxes.  It is a misnomer in that you still only have one inbox. But it will allow you to have multiple windows into your (single) inbox open on the same screen. You control the content via search strings; it is Google after all.  For those who use labels or who manage everything from their inbox, this could be a truly helpful new option.

Video: One of the places that I like to go to when I have 15 or 20 minutes to spare is the TED Conference. TED 2009 is going on now and there was a lot of talk about Bill Gates’ presentation yesterday on malaria. The video shows a new side to Bill Gates and bugs.  A couple of other TED talks from past years that are exceptional are Jill Bolte-Taylor, Al Gore and Hans Rosling.

Bailout: The first simple explanation of the implosion of AIG. And a simpler Calvin & Hobbes version.

Technology: This cartoon of how the Google Chrome logo was born made me giggle.

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Marketing, Food, Politics, Video, IQ, Credit, Project Management, Job Search

Marketing: I am not a big fan of Hugh Macleod‘s (Updated 2/6/09 since I found this one) cartoons, but he has an interesting post today on futility marketing.  The point here is that some of the world’s most interesting successes (not just business) were started as futile projects.  Everything from the British defeating the Nazi menace with Spitfires (WWII) to getting people to buy software apart from hardware (Microsoft).

Food: Count me in on those who think that barbeque should be a separate food group.  A competitive BBQ team in Kansas City has created an Internet sensation with the Bacon Explosion.  Please note that friends who keep kosher or are vegetarians need not flock to this link.

Politics: An angel in Washington?

Video: Stop action videography is not dead.  Check out this music video by Oren Lavie for a fantastic journey.

Intelligence: Ever wonder about those IQ tests?  Here is a short description of what the IQ Test really tests.

Credit: Did you know that FICO is changing the way they calculate your scores today?

Project Management: Is running a project anything like rowing?  My friend, David Kelly, seems to think so.

Marketing: I have been thinking about this one all day.  Could you define yourself with 5 brands?  Right now, I am leaning towards Blackberry, Famous Dave’s, Lands’ End, Google and Lexus.

Job Search: As the economic conditions worsen, many more of my friends are looking for new places to call work.  Here is a consise list of top web based job sites. While this is interesting information, my advice is to not waste too much time on the web, but keep your networks alive via personal contact.  A personal reference from someone who knows you well will push your application to the top of the pile, in many cases.

The Ethics of Opting In

Today, Ian Ayres on the Freakonomics blog talked about a serious topic, opting in or out of options on an e-commerce site.  There were two cases discussed in the blog post.  The first was about  Orbitz adding a check box that was prechecked for the purchase of  travel insurance through a third party insurance company.  Unwitting consumers have had charges of over $100 added to their bill.  The second case revolved around a user design issue where an unnamed airline’s check-in kiosk made it too easy for a harried traveler to inadvertently choose an option for a $75 “more legroom” seat.

There was a healthy discussion on the comments page with passionate voices on both sides.  On one side, there were those who said “Caveat Emptor“; people need to read the fine print and be sure that they are aware of what they are buying. The other side was concerned about the ethics of companies that intentionally mislead their customers.

I fall squarely on the second side of this question.  Yes, we need to understand what we agree to, but businesses need to take a lead on ethical behavior in our world.  There is absolutely no reason for companies to engage in deceitful behavior in order to make a couple of extra bucks.  Straighten up, folks.

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Customer Service 101

I have had so many times when I received bad customer service, that I have to mention a totally unexpected gem.

Last night, I bought this domain, at A good friend had recommended them and so I bought a domain and hosted it there. I figured that it was about time for me to own myself (cloud-wise).

So, today, I got a call from a woman at GoDaddy. I figured that they were going to try to upsell me to something more.  The first words out of her mouth were “Hi, I am calling from GoDaddy and I want to thank you for your business.” I sure wasn’t ready for that.  Then she asked what I was planning to do with the website.  Ah ha, now it comes… I said “Just a personal blog with WordPress.” “Oh” she said, “Have you used WordPress before?”  I told her no.  She said “go to for all kinds of free education and know that we are here 24/7 with technical support.  Have a great day”.

I guess that it says something about our current world of commerce, when a simple thank you phone call is worthy of a 200 word write up on a personal blog.

Illuminating the Path to Enlightenment