Friday, July 30, 2004

One American Europe Does Like

Austria just put a Aunuld stamp up for sale, and it looks very cool, very American. However, I should note that this Austrian-produced stamp is obviously for the American market since (Mrs. Director, correct me if I am wrong), "governor" in German is regler and Austrians call their country Österreich, and both of these are on the stamp in English.

If this were meant for Austrians, wouldn't the stamp be in German?

Hat Tip: Mark the Pundit (who has a much larger picture of the stamp posted)

Thursday, July 29, 2004

The Studios Must Be Having Conniptions

TIVO's with Integrated DVD Recorders Due out this Summer
The San Jose, Calif.-based company will unveil a Series2 recorder with a new look in mid-August, and licensing partners Toshiba and Humax are expected to release DVRs with DVD-burning capabilities...The combination DVR and DVD boxes will allow consumers to record television programming and then burn it to DVD-R or DVD-RW discs
This is great for consumers since it makes downloading and recording movies and shows from cable and satellite incredibly easy. The studios, on the other hand, must be incredibly pissed since this makes distribution of digital video that much easier (if anyone wants DVDs of Barnie or Caillou for their kids, instead of spending $10 at Wallmart they just give their friend with one of these gizmos a $2 disk to record it for them).

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Japan Outsources to U.S.

Outsourcing seems to have diminished as an election year issue, but here's an example of outsourcing politicians of both stripes can support
Sony to Set Up Next Generation DVD Pilot Plant in U.S.
Sony is going to set up a pilot plant for manufacturing the Blu-ray Disc, a next generation DVD format promoted by Sony, in the U.S., Nihon Keizai Shimbun reported on July 14, 2004. Sony wants to partner with the U.S. movie industry, which will be the primary customers for the new DVD standard. Taking input from the movie companies and incorporating the information into the disc production process and specifications, Sony hopes that Blu-ray Disc will be adopted as media for movie storage.

Sony will install manufacturing lines for producing 25GB one-sided discs and 50GB double-sided discs in its DVD manufacturing facility in Indiana. The 50GB disc has more than 10 times the capacity of an existing DVD disc. It can store about four and half hours of high definition video or over 30 two-hour long movies recorded in normal mode.

Source: Portelligent (no direct link to article)

Sunday, July 25, 2004

Being Bourne Rules

Saw Bourne Supremacy this afternoon, and it's just a great action-adventure flick. I would even put it a tad above the first Bourne Identity since I think the acting was better this time around. I'm not going to give an in-depth review or spoilers, but if you like action movies, just go see it.

As a side note, the trailer for National Treasure looked interesting: Nicolas Cage as an Indiana Jones type character hunting down lost treasures. It comes out this Thanksgiving and - from the trailer at least - looks pretty good.

Friday, July 23, 2004

This Seems True to Me - Especially for Transactions Under $2

One of my pet peeves are people who make micro-transactions using plastic - like $2 at Starbucks or $4 for milk (in the cash-only line). These people always seem to do this when there is a long line behind them, and they pull out their credit card after they have been rung up - and they were already standing in line for 5 minutes. My main beef is that these people are totally oblivious of the time they are taking up of those around them - these small transactions take several minutes to swipe the plastic, get the receipt, sign, get their copy of the receipt, and put it in their wallet (these people rarely get out of the way while they stand there putting up their receipt). Forking over a $5 and getting $3 change takes a few seconds. As I sit there and wait, I always want to shout, "You don't have TWO DOLLARS on you?!?"

I understand everyone runs out of cash from time to time, so I would understand this happening every once in a while. But it seems to happen all the time: a whole line of people using plastic for $3 lattes. Turns out this hasn't been my imagination: Card Transactions Hold Majority in U.S.(no direct link to article)
For the first time, Americans used cards -- credit, debit and others -- to buy retail goods and services more often than they used cash or check in 2003.
The article does point out that some fast-food outlets, like McDonalds, have waived the signature requirement, speeding up the transaction, but it is still much slower than cash. The coming use of cellphones for an electronic purchase, however, does seem be the right model since in this case the transaction would be more immediate and take the same time as a cash purchase.

I'm one of those people who usually has a ready supply of cash on me for my day-to-day purchases, but I am definitely becoming a minority.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

A Good Canadian Beer Plus a Watery American Beer Equals???

Sort of interesting for us beer drinkers: Coors and Molson to Merge in $6B Deal

It's no secret that I am not a fan of the "Big 3" American beers - Bud, Miller, Coors - but of the three, I do consider Coors the least watery. My regular beer is American - Sam Adams - but I do enjoy Molson when I want a pilsner. This deal is not likely to bring any new products to the market, so this is just an interesting move as the alcoholic beverage market continues consolidation.

The article notes that this is a "merger of equals", a phrase I always find interesting. If business history teaches us anything about mergers, it's that one company will always gain supremacy in a "merger of equals". Eventually one side's management team will gain all the top spots, putting their company's managers in the primo positions while forcing the other side's managers into crummy spots or out of the company.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Geeks:1, Pencil Necks:0

Hey, congress actually gets something right: House Votes to Block Stock Option Mandate
Here's why:
1. The only result of this rule would be to stop stock options to rank-and-file workers.  Corporations have already demonstrated that they are willing to put up with expenses connected to pay at the upper ranks, so all this would do would be to take away a benefit that the lower ranks actually enjoy.
2. Options are the life-blood of small companies, especially in tech.  Having to expense options would make the statement of companies about to go public look horrendous (what do you think Google's books would look like if they had to expense their options?).
3. The data is already out there.  Anyone who is interested can calculate the result of options on the bottom line, assuming they knew how to do the expensing, which brings me to the next point. 
4. How are options valued and expensed against earnings?  The options I received when I started my present job are WAY under water, with the good chance they will remain worthless until the time they expire.  If my options expire worthless, what expense did my company incur and how did it effect its bottom line?
As the article states, this overturn actually has bipartisan support in Congress, most likely due to the left-wing techies in NoCal, who are liberal as long as they can keep stuffing their own pockets.

It's a Phone...No, A Camera...Wait, I Mean a TV...And it Plays Music

A slew of 3 megapixel camera phones are being introduced overseas as camera phone image quality slowly but surely catches up to that of stand-alone digital still cameras. The latest one has everything but the kitchen sink. Check out the antenna:

Pantech & Curitel releases PH-S5000V and PH-K1000V, 3.1-megapixel camera phones equipped with an external TV receiver and a mechanical shutter. The two models adopt the company’s world first 3-mega CMOS camera module and receive TV and FM radio signals, the company added.

Users can also download up to 20 music files from their computers by using the built-in MP3 player. The camcorder allows up to 160 minute continuous recording of moving images.
This is in addition to two other 3 megapixel camera phones that were introduced this month: the Samsung SPH-S2300 and the Lucky Goldstar SD350/3500, both of which use CCD instead of CMOS imagers.

These will take time to reach stateside due to our older, slower wireless system, which takes a lot longer to transmit a 3 meg picture than the systems in Korea and Japan.

Saturday, July 17, 2004

If You're Looking for Gandalf...

Just follow the signs to Middle Earth.

Friday, July 16, 2004

Ronco's Gut-B-Gone Now Covered by Medicare

Great.  Like the program isn't insolvant enough: Medicare redefines obesity as medical condition:
In a major decision that turns obesity from a personal failure to a medical problem, Medicare announced Thursday that it would remove barriers to covering anti-obesity treatments after 40 years of saying fat was not an illness and not covered.
Now slobs who can't control their eating or won't get off the couch can now stick it to the taxpayers.  I'd be in favor of it if there would no longer be people next to me on airplanes with guts spilling over into my seat, but my bet is that this move will do absolutely nothing to stop obesity.

Update: On a somewhat related write-up, Jim Carson has a very good article on why it's so difficult to lose weight.  The bottom line: it takes time and dedication, something Americans accustomed to instant gratification simply won' t do.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

That'll Teach Those Hosers, Eh?

You do NOT want to get on the bad side of those Canadians:
Canada pulled its ambassador from Iran, which refuses to admit observers to the trial of a policeman over a Canadian journalist's fatal beating
If Iran doesn't relent, I understand Canada is going to disinvite them from the next keg party.

Cinematic Guilty Pleasures

While watching Independence Day this month (it now runs every year on, well, July 4), Mrs. Director referred to it as a guilty pleasure. Normally a guilty pleasure is something bad for you that you enjoy doing anyway, like eating lots of chocolate, maybe smoking. For a cinematic guilty pleasure, it means a movie that deep down inside you know is bad, but you enjoy watching anyway. I thought I would list a few movies that fall under that category (for me, anyway) and why:
Independence Day - Like the wife, I somehow like this stupid, sappy, hackneyed story of an alien invasion. I think it has to do with the strange combo of Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum, which works in this movie.

The Quick and The Dead - Gene Hackman is obviously relishing his over-the-top performance, which takes it from a bad western to an enjoyable experience.

Clueless - A teen movie? A chick flick? Normally this sort of movie would drive me into the next room, but I always end up enjoying the movie's humor and sweetness. Plus watching Alicia Silverstone in designer mini-skirts for 90 minutes is never a bad thing.

Blast from the Past - Yes, another Alicia Silverstone movie, so that's one plus. It has a stupid, unbelievable plot line, but somehow the movie manages to pull it off because of Brandon Fraser. I especially enjoy the dance scene. If you've never seen it, it's on TBS every other week or so.

Armageddon - Predictable plot line and lots of bad acting, but this one just makes the list. I think what does it is the ensemble team that is going on the drill - Rockhound, Dunkan and those guys - and the various things they go through before, during, and after the event.

Deep Blue Sea - Mutant sharks versus Samuel L. Jackson. What more do I need to say?

Star Trek: Nemesis - Maybe not so much a guilty pleasure as just going against the tide on this one. It got bad reviews, poor word of mouth, and it flopped at the box office. I rented it expecting not to like it, but finished it thinking "I sort of liked it". I thought of it more as a long episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation rather than a movie, so my standards might have been lower.
Those are just off the top of my head, and if I sat down and thought about it I could probably add half dozen more, but have other things to do. Does anyone have any they would like to add?

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Tech Sector Slowdown?

A couple of recent articles regarding the tech industry point towards a slowdown in a sector that has been red-hot since late last year:
Merrill, Goldman downgrade chip sector on oversupply risk

Analysts, Industry Executives Spar Over Outlook (link requires free subscription)
I'm with the analysts on this one.

From my perch in the tech market, I see it as a sector that is growing, but the level of growth has slowed. This lower growth has taken a lot of companies by surprise, who were planning for >10% growth when it's going to be more like 4-5%. This has created an over-inventory situation that is now working its way through the tech supply chain.

Now 4-5% growth isn't bad . It's when you have capital expenditures and inventory building assuming twice that amount that leads to all sorts of problems, so the downgrades in tech shares, in my opinion, are warranted for the time being.

Why, oh why, can't this industry do decent forecasts? In the 15 years I've worked it tech I have yet to see this industry do it right.

Monday, July 12, 2004

Low-Carb Diets: Trend or Fad?

There has been an ongoing dialog at Business Pundit in the comments sections of several postings about whether the low-carb diet craze is a new trend in the American diet or a short-term fad. This is more than just an academic argument since business ranging from food processors to franchises are going to invest one way or the other, and a wrong bet could mean a devastating loss for the business.

The WSJ today weighs in today on the side of fad. They make it hard to link to it on their paid site, but here are some of points from the article Some Food Makers Trim Low-Carb Plans as Trend Slows:
o Surveys state that the number of Americans who say they are on a low-cab diet peaked in February at 9% and is now down to 6-7%.

o Food makers are still cranking out low-carb foods and their sales are still climbing, but growth is slowing and they are starting to cut back on plans. Besides the drop-off of demand, the food industry's has been unable to charge a premium for low-cab fare, making new investments in the segment doubtful.

o Specialty products and stores like Castus Low-Carb Superstores and Accu-Carb, a low carb bread company, are seeing sales down by as much as 50% this year as the number of suppliers entering the market is swamping the overall demand.
Overall, I am on the "hype" side. I have no doubt that people lose weight on this diet, but I think the low-carb trend will be like other popular diets: a large portion of the population will try it at one point, but long term there will only be a small segment of the population that permanently changes their eating habits. The segment will probably be a large enough to support a few businesses and product lines, but there isn't going to be a mass change in the American diet. Companies should provide a product for this segment if it makes sense (by using the usual cost/risk analysis, ROI, and other tools we marketing managers have at our disposal), but companies shouldn't jump blindly into what is really a short-term fad.

Friday, July 09, 2004

The "Doom" Building

I had lunch today with a friend of mine at Oakley Sunglasses (yes, she gets me employee discounts and samples) and I am always amazed by their building. It's like the architect took something straight out of the game "Doom" (or similar game) and just threw it onto the blueprint.

They're hard to see, but in the second picture those are metal cones protruding out from the side of the building.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Donate to My Alma Mater? Hah!

Jim Carson has a post on why he won't donate to his Alma Mater and relates some pretty heavy horror stories as to why. Jim and I are on the same page for this for our undergrad degree, but I found I sort of had to donate to my MBA school.

Like Jim I had a bad experience with the financial aid office during my undergrad education (but not as bad as his). I was going to school during the oil bust of the mid 80s (anyone remember that?) when Dad's small engineering services company went from over 50 people to two, bringing his income to essentially zero. My parents had me go apply for financial aid but I was denied since last year's income was just fine, we don't care what you will make this year. That was strike one. Strike two was that the school raised the tuition every single year I was there. I vowed at the time that I would take those tuition increases out of any money I decided to donate later on in life. Since I still haven't decided to donate, they still have thousands of dollars to work off. The third strike is that the president of this fine institution makes a hell of a lot more than I make today. In fact, he makes more than my wife and I put together. More than the President of the U.S. If they can afford to pay some schmuck nearly half a million dollars a year to run an institution with about 2,000 undergraduates, they obviously aren't in need of any funds. Strike three.

This doesn't count the fact that the last alumni magazine I received before I got my name removed from the mailing list not so subtlely endorsed various left-wing political causes. It's like this place tried to go out its way to piss off half their alumni. So no money for them. Ever.

My business school is a different story. My MBA was largely funded by my employer at the time, so I had no bad experiences with my parents mortgaging their house to make a tuition payment. The main reason I donated, however, is that I am still networked to a lot of my fellow alums, some who serve on the alumni board. So when my buddy whom I have drinks with when we are in the same city calls up and does a pitch for a small donation, I sort of feel compelled to send him some small amount, like what I spend in a week at Starbucks. At least it's tax deductible.

Friday, July 02, 2004

I Might Get LASIK, But Not at Saddleback

I've been getting annoyed with my contacts and glasses, and after years of watching improvements in laser eye surgery thought I would look seriously into LASIK. After hearing Saddleback Eye Center advertise on the radio and getting a recommendation from someone who went there, I thought I would give them a shot.

I got an "pre-screen" appointment easy enough and went there this morning. My first impulse when walking in was to walk right out since I thought I was at the DMV.

The place was packed. There were enough people milling around in the waiting room to fill a good-sized plane. "Of course", I thought, "this is a mass-market place that advertises on the radio." I had already made the appointment, however, and decided to wait it out to see if I was any more impressed with the staff. I never got the chance to find out.

I got called in 10 minutes - a good sign - for a quick eye screen, then was told to go back out into the waiting room. And there I waited. And waited. And waited.

They had a "Classic Johnny Carson" video running while I read the paper. It ran out after an hour. When it ended, the TV reverted to some cable channel where some evangelical preacher was screaming at the top of his lungs. I thought the staff would go put another video in. After 5 minutes of listening to his screaming - it was impossible to read the paper and ignore - I was going to say something to the staff, but decided to leave instead. I had enough. The rest of the cattle waiting for their appointments were still sitting there watching it when I left. Maybe they were enjoying it.

If I am going to spend $2,000+ on elective surgery, I want a personalized approach instead of an assembly line surgery-house for the masses. I still might get eye surgery, but it sure as hell won't be there.

This Reminds Me of the Voyager Mission

I remember as a kid watching the Voyager 2 pictures coming back to earth. Carl Sagan, made popular from his Cosmos series ("billions and billions"), got me interested in astronomy and I watched TV with keen interest as the pictures poured in back then.

My interest in astronomy didn't stick, but I think the pictures coming back from Cassini are still way cool. Click the pic for a link to the site.

Are July 4ths Are More Memorable Than Chrismases?

Don't get me wrong. Christmas is a more special holiday for me, bringing me close to family and loved ones, plus having an obvious religious significance. I look forward to each Christmas season while July 4th just sort of happens.

The thing is, looking back at Christmases - and Thanksgivings - they all sort of run together and get difficult to distinguish. Except for one here or there, my Christmases - and Thanksgivings - were largely spent with the same people, at the same locations, eating the same meals. Even when I started spending holidays with in-laws, after a few years they are hard to tell apart (which Christmas was it that I was snowed in at Chicago? Or was that a Thanksgiving?).

July 4ths, on the other hand, are easier to tell apart because they have been more unique, spent in different locations with different people. I spent one watching fireworks on the D.C. mall (the most spectacular fireworks I have ever seen), another from a rooftop in Austin, another at Disneyland. I spent one running from summer camp counselors who were trying to chase down the campers who snuck out of their cabin to shoot off illegal fireworks (they never caught us). And so on.

So looking back, July 4ths are more unique, making them more memorable. However, I think going forward that is changing due to having a daughter. I think the rolls may start getting reversed as I start experiencing Christmas through her eyes and I become more limited to where I can go party every July 4th.