Tuesday, January 30, 2007
88 PERCENT OF WHAT?
The outplacement firm Challenger Gray & Christmas reported that the media industry cut 17809 jobs last year, compared with 9453 cuts in 2005. This is an increase of 88.3%.
In its story on this release, UPI used the headline:
U.S. media jobs slashed 88 percent
..and this headline was used by numerous media outlets that ran the story.
An 88% increase in the number of job losses is not, of course, the same thing as a 88% reduction in the number of jobs. (It would be mathematically possible for both things to be simultaneously true--an 88% increase in the number of job losses and an 88% reduction in the number of jobs--but I don't think it's very likely in this case. It would imply that the number of media jobs was so small that a job loss of 17089 would represent 88% of them, and would also imply that only about 1 out of 10 media people retained their jobs from last year to this year. Neither of which passes the sanity test.)
UPI has now corrected the headline, here. The original version may be found here and at many media sites on the web.
This inability to accurately present simple numerical information exemplifies the shallowness in so much traditional media work which is leading many to turn away from the old media--and leading, in turn, to all those job losses.
Monday, January 29, 2007
CARNIVAL OF THE CAPITALISTS
...is up at Long or Short Capital.
Saturday, January 27, 2007
JAPANESE, LEARNING FROM BRAZILIANS, LEARNING FROM JAPANESE
Once upon a time, there was a very small automobile factory--a factory so small that it could afford only one forging press. Yet the cars being built required more than 60 different forgings.
An interesting case study in the development and diffusion of innovations, here.
If you're wondering about the term gemba, it's a Japanese word meaning "the place where truth can be found." In police work, gemba refers to a crime scene. In manufacturing, the gemba is the factory floor.
Thursday, January 25, 2007
A very interesting post at ChicagoBoyz...like many ChicagoBoyz posts, it's hard to concisely summarize just what it's about. Everything from the trajectory of bullets to Hammurabi's Code to the Veil of Ignorance as postulated by John Rawls. Definitely worth reading.
STORING LIGHTNING IN A JAR--UPDATE
Last year, I wrote about ultracapacitors as an alternative to batteries for automotive propulsion and other applications. While ultracaps are similar to batteries in that they store electricity, they operate on completely different principles. Conceptually, they are similar to the Leyden Jar used by Ben Franklin in his lightning experiments.
EEStor Inc, a secretive company based in Texas, recently announced that during 2007 it will begin shipping its 15KWH Electrical Energy Storage Units, which are ultracap-based, for use in an electric vehicle to be made made by Zenn Motor Company.
The EESU is projected to store 1.5-2.5 times as much energy as a lithium ion battery, while costing only 12-25% as much.
More here. EESTOR's system claims an energy storage capacity of 280 watt-hours per kilogram: this compares with 120 for lithium-ion and only 32 for lead-acid gel batteries. It is, however, still far below the energy storage per kilogram achieved by gasoline, even when the poor conversion efficiency of the engine is taken into account. Still, if these numbers--cost as well as energy density--can really be achieved, then the implications for transportation and for other energy-related fields could be pretty profound.
Based on blog comments, there seem to be a lot of people who are dubious about EESTOR's claims. This is probably due in part to the extremely secretive behavior of this company (which is backed by the VC firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, as well as by former Dell chairman Morton Topfer) up till now. Jim Miller, an ultracap expert and VP of advanced transportation technologies at Maxwell Technologies (itself an ultracap manufacturer) is skeptical, based on concerns about leakage (which would cause the device to gradually discharge and waste the electricity stored therein) and ability to deal with thermal stresses. (From above Technology Review link.)
For anyone interested in the automotive and energy fields, this technology certainly bears close watching.
As always, nothing on this weblog should be considered as investment advice.
Wednesday, January 24, 2007
Nick Cohen was raised by liberal and very political parents, and never met a conservative until he was 13. In this post, he writes about the evolution of his thinking and about leftist attitudes toward Iraq.
Cohen’s book, What’s Left: How Liberals Lost Their Way will be published in February.
(Also posted at ChicagoBoyz, where a discussion seems to be developing)
Tuesday, January 23, 2007
A BOYCOTT THAT FIZZLED
Last year, the Socialist Left Party in Norway called for a complete boycott of Israeli goods. It didn't work. Imports from Israel have increased by 15%, the strongest increase in several years.
Which speaks well for the continued existence of good sense among the Norwegian population.
Note that the sponsor of this boycott is the Socialist Left Party (a major force in Norwegian politics, not some small and marginal group.) It should be clear to everyone by now: throughout the western world, the Left is the major source of anti-Israel attitudes.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad feels secure against a U.S. strike because of "wise people in America" who will not let this happen.
The U.S. administration, while hoping to resolve the Iranian nuclear issue by negotiation, has not ruled out a military strike if diplomacy fail--and a second aircraft carrier group has been sent to the Gulf, certainly at least in part as a warning to the Iranian regime.
"They are not in a position to carry out that measure although they may like to ... because there are many wise people in America who will not let this happen," Ahmadinejad said in an interview on Iranian television
Any tough measures by the administration--like sending carrier groups--are being substantially negated by the messages from the Democratic leadership, which Ahmadinejad has clearly heard very well.
There is a chilling historical precedent. In January 1950, U.S. Secretary of State Dean Acheson delivered a speech in which he said South Korea and Taiwan were not part of the American "defensive perimeter." This statement encouraged the Communist leadership to launch the invasion of South Korea, in the belief that the U.S. and its allies would not respond.
See also this editorial regarding Democratic irresponsibility on Iran.
Monday, January 22, 2007
CARNIVAL OF THE CAPITALISTS
..is here, at David Maister's blog.
DOES ANYTHING EVER REALLY CHANGE?
Francis Bacon pointed out four hundred years ago that one reason for sedition and mutiny in any polity was "breeding more scholars than preferment can take off"...
(Honor: A History, by James Bowman)
A modern translation of "breeding more scholars than preferment can take off" might be "graduating more PhDs than have any hope of getting tenure."
Sunday, January 21, 2007
A NEW YEAR'S PRESENT:
FROM DEMOCRATS TO AHMADINEJAD
Headline: Democrats warn Bush not to attack Iran
This must be a great comfort to the Iranian regime, assuring them that they can continue to pursue the acquisition of nuclear weapons, threaten Israel with genocide, and help kill American troops in Iraq--all without fear of American retaliation.
The AP article linked above began with this sentence: "Democratic leaders in Congress lobbed a warning shot Friday at the White House not to launch an attack against Iran without first seeking approval from lawmakers." A responsible Democratic party would have been more inclined to "lob a warning shot" at the Iranian regime than at our own President--for example, in the form of a Congressional resolution informing Iran that Americans are united against their nuclear program and will take effective action to stop it.
But a responsible Democratic party is precisely what we don't have, and I'm afraid the irresponsible posturing of today's Democratic leadership is going to get a lot of people killed.
(Yahoo links aren't always very long-lasting: summary of the article also here)
See also my post Messages to Ahmadinejad
The R-Squared Energy Blog posts a nice summary of energy alternatives, with a particular focus on energy sources for transportation.
Saturday, January 20, 2007
TONIGHT ON TELEVISION
Smokescreen: Hezbollah Inside America, a documentary, is on tonight at 8PM, on Fox News Channel.
Friday, January 19, 2007
THE AWFULNESS OF JIMMY CARTER
Even worse than you thought. A detailed analysis by Joshua Muravchik.
Thursday, January 18, 2007
READIN', WRITIN', AND THE BUSINESS SHTICK
As part of his interviews with M.B.A. students, Darren Whissen, a financial-services recruiter in California, provides an executive summary of a fictitious company and asks them to write about 500 words recommending whether to invest in the business. At worst, he receives "sub-seventh-grade-level" responses with spelling and grammar errors. "More often than not," he says, "I find M.B.A. writing samples have a casual tone lacking the professionalism necessary to communicate with sophisticated investors. I have found that many seemingly qualified candidates are unable to write even the simplest of arguments. No matter how strong one's financial model is, if one cannot write a logical, compelling story, then investors are going to look elsewhere. And in my business, that means death.
The above is from an article on WSJ CareerJournal.com, which also says: "Of all the complaints recruiters register about M.B.A. students in The Wall Street Journal/Harris Interactive survey, inferior communication skills top the list. Close behind are criticisms of leadership ability."
I've also seen other recent articles in the business media complaining about the lack of articulateness of college graduates, including MBAs. It's been suggested that MBA programs need to pay more attention to teaching effective writing.
Seems to me that an MBA program is way too late to be worrying about teaching effective writing, which should be learned at the undergraduate level if not in high school. So should at least the basics of effective presentation. How about making sure that these attributes are present to a reasonable degree before someone is admitted to an MBA program?
Wise companies will protect themselves from inarticulate new hires: Whirlpool, for example, is requiring MBA job candidates to deliver a 10-minute oral presentation of their resume. (Good, but still subject to gaming if the candidate knows this policy and can prepare intensively before the interview. Should be supplemented with a 10-minute oral presentation on a subject not announced in advance, with 1 hour of preparation time.)
The financial recruiter quoted above said "No matter how strong one's financial model is, if one cannot write a logical, compelling story, then investors are going to look elsewhere." I would go further. If an individual can't write a reasonable clear explanation of an investment opportunity, then I question whether he is likely to be able to develop a meaningful financial model of that opportunity. Writing and thought are definitely connected. (Allowances must be made, of course, for those who are not native speakers of English.)
The CareerJournal writer and the University Relations guy at Whirlpool blame the prevalence of inarticulateness on the rise of e-mail and instant messaging. I disagree. I think it's mostly caused by the abandonment by universities and K-12 schools of their liberal arts mission in exchange for stew of random and/or trendy courses--if the Internet had never been invented, things on the articulateness front would be just about as bad.
This situation lends additional credence to Michael Hammer's thoughts on the role of the liberal arts in business education.
THE SPEECH PRESIDENT BUSH SHOULD GIVE
John Krenson tries his hand as a speechwriter.
Monday, January 15, 2007
THE AMERICAN DEPRESSION, IN COLOR
We've all seen the black-and-white photos of American during the Depression era: indeed, it's hard not to believe, at some subliminal level, that this era actually happened in black and white. It didn't, of course.
In 1978, a historian found 700 color photos taken in the late 1930s and early 1940s by the Farm Security Administration and the Office of War Information. A selection of these is now available for on-line viewing at the Bound for Glory exhibition of the Library of Congress. (The exhibition contains only a small portion of the photos; follow the link at "Exhibition Overview" for more.)
Thanks to Gongol.com for surfacing this.
Color photography goes back farther than is generally recognized: see also this remarkable collection of color photos from Czarist Russia, 1907-1911.
UPDATE: Here's a color-corrected version of the depression-era photos. Jason Kottke observes that "most these photos have a low contrast, muddy quality to them" and continues "To bring these photos more firmly into the modern era, I color corrected a few of them with Photoshop. My goal was not to blow out the contrast or unnecessarily accentuate colors, but attempt to duplicate what these photos would look like had they been taken with a contemporary camera and processed using contemporary techniques and materials."
Thanks to Kaedrin for finding this.
Sunday, January 14, 2007
Barry Ritholtz has thoughts on when to do it and how to do it. Some good stuff in the comments, too.
UPDATE: See also this interesting research paper: Contrarian or Conformist? Lots of thoughts and data about things like the Fear-Greed Index and the Sheep Index.
Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but also the parent of all the others.
--Cicero (quoted in IBD 1/10)
Previous Worth Pondering
Thursday, January 11, 2007
BOOK REVIEW: Becoming Charlemagne
Rating: 4 Stars -- Recommended
The reign of Charlemagne is remembered as a brief flash of light in the midst of the Dark Ages: a time of revived respect for learning, of physical improvements, codification of laws, and relatively-enlightened and centralized administration. In this book, Jeff Sypeck tries to get beyond a thousand years of myths and portray the reality of the man and his time.
His real name wasn't Charlemagne, of course: he was Karl, son of a Frankish king. Charlemagne--Karolus Magnus, Charles the Great, is an appellation bestowed upon him by scholars and keepers of legends.
Historical characters who appear in the book, in addition to Karl himself, include:
*Alcuin, the leading court intellectual, a theologian and poet. Also Theodulf, less well-known than Alcuin but an intriguing figure with a rather snarky sense of humor. At Karl's direction, Alcuin and Theodulf undertook the preservation of old manuscripts, the recording of oral legends, and the creation of a Frankish grammar. Karl himself seems to have had intellectual interests considerably stronger than those of the typical warrior king of the time, although owing to a late start he himself was unable to learn to write. This did not keep him from objecting to poorly-phrased letters from others:
Letters have often been sent to us in these last years from certain monastaries, in which was set out what the brothers there were striving to do for us in their holy and pious prayers; and we found that in most of these writings their sentiment was sound but their speech uncouth.
One accomplishment of Karl's scribes was to create a new and more legible form of handwriting, known as Carolingian minuscule. It so impressed the first European printers, 700 years later, that they assumed it must have come from the romans and named it accordingly.
*Harun al-Rashid, Caliph of Baghdad, with whom Karl conducted long-distance diplomacy--Sypeck observes that Karl played on a "much larger game board" than is generally recognized. There is a vivid description of Baghdad by a contemporary writer;
In the entire world there has not been a city which could compare with Baghdad in size and splendor, or in the number of scholars and great personalities...Consider the numerous roads, thoroughfares, and localities, the markets and streets, the lanes, mosques, and bathhouses, and the high roads and shops--all of these distinguish this city from all others, as does the pure air, the sweet water, and the cool shade.
Wednesday, January 10, 2007
VOICES FROM THE PAST
Here is a wonderful collection of audio files taken from phonograph records made between 1888 and 1929. The recordings were done by Thomas Edison and his associates. Some highlights include:
*Speeches by William Jennings Bryan and William Howard Taft (1908)and Theodore Roosevelt (1912)
*Handel's "Israel in Egypt" (1888)
*Popular music, including "Alexander's Ragtime Band (1911), "Moonlight Bay (1915), and some sadly forgotten works such as "Which switch is the switch, Miss, for Ipswitch?" (1915), and "Who threw the overalls is Mrs Murphy's chowder?" (1901)
*Trumpeter Langfrey, who served with the Light Brigade in the Crimean war (1854), plays the notes that were used to launch the Charge (1890)
*Thomas Edison himself (1888)
Tuesday, January 09, 2007
ARMY OF SHADOWS: FOLLOW-UP
Last week, I posted here and at ChicagoBoyz to ask if anyone has seen this movie--a French film about the Resistance, made in 1969 but never previously released in the U.S. On Thursday night, I went to see it, which involved a very long drive.
The film is extremely gripping and emotionally intense. If it's showing anywhere near you, then you should definitely see it. Here are reviews by Roger Ebert, and Anthony Lane of The New Yorker; there are lots more reviews at the Rialto link, above.
The film is in NYC thru Jan 11 and again on the 21st and 28th. See the complete schedule here.
This really should not be missed.
Monday, January 08, 2007
TONIGHT ON TELEVISION
Anti-Semitism in the 20th Century: The Resurgence is on PBS tonight; 10 PM on the East Coast. (via Meryl)
Sunday, January 07, 2007
A SYNERGY IS CAPTURED:
Can Loch Ness Monster Be Far Behind?
Many businesspeople have long believed in the existence of creatures called "synergies." These have often been sighted at long range, usually by riders on the hunt for acquisitions, but have proved impossible to capture. Indeed, many scholars have come to believe that synergies are mythical beasts, like unicorns and the Loch Ness monster.
Now, however, it appears than an actual synergy has been caught. Warner Brothers Entertainment and AOL--both part of Time Warner--have collaborated to produce a new process for the restoration and improvement of old Technicolor films. The basic idea came from an executive at Warner, and the actual algorithms were developed by two R&D execs at AOL.
The creature captured appears to be not just a synergy, but a revenue synergy. Even those experts who have maintained their belief in the synergy species have viewed revenue synergies as especially rare, believing cost synergies to be much more common examples of the breed.
As the Yahoo News story puts it, "The restoration process got a helping hand from the otherwise disastrous 2001 takeover of the studio's Time Warner parent by America Online." I bet that in the 30 kazillion PowerPoint slides that were used to justify the TWX/AOL merger, many synergies were identified. And I'll also bet that this one wasn't among them.
So it's not just a synergy, but a serendipitious synergy.
OLD MOVIES, NEWER THAN NEW
Via Sheila, here's an interesting item about a new technology for the restoration of old movies:
When watching the DVD re-release of "Gone With the Wind," what once appeared as simply a green cloth shawl worn by Vivien Leigh is revealed as a garment of dark emerald velvet so rich it beckons touching...while Leigh's Scarlett O'Hara rambles on about the tedium of war, the white bodice of her dress now displays precise lace patterns and threads. Likewise, when Errol Flynn rides horseback into Sherwood Forest in 1938's "The Adventures of Robin Hood," the detailed pattern embedded on his and other soldiers' armor is so vivid that the number of small metal rings can be counted.
The technology, known as Ultra Resolution, was developed by Warner Bros. in collaboration with AOL, and involves digitally realigning and sharpening the older film negatives of movies shot in Technicolor. With the Technicolor process, scenes were simultaneously recorded on three different strips of film, one for each primary color. After developing, the images from the strips were then combined onto a single print strip.
Chris Cookson, the Chief Technology Officer of Warner Brothers Entertainment, came up with the basic idea behind Ultra Resolution--he noticed a frame that was five pixels out of alignment of while watching a screening of GWTW, and observed that it might be possible to digitally realign the edges. The actual algorithms for the process were developed by two sisters who serve as R&D executives at AOL, Keren and Sharon Perlmutter. Apparently, Ultra Resolution can result in new pictures that are better than the original releases.
The process is by no means totally automated, requiring considerable human intervention to steer the software in order to obtain the best look.
More on Ultra Resolution here and here.
HOUSING STATISTICS: USER BEWARE
Suppose someone signs a contract to buy a new house. A month or so later, he changes his mind, cancels the purchase, and walks away from the deposit. What should be the net effect of these transactions on the new-home sales statistics?
Obviously, zero. But that is apparently not the way the Census Bureau calculates the indicator. The original sale is counted (based on sampling), but the cancellation is never backed out of the numbers. According to market watchers quoted in this article, the result may be an overstatement of new-home sales, under current conditions, by as much as twenty percent.
NYT writer Daniel Gross deserves congratulations for this piece. Far too often, journalists--even business journalists--quote various indicators without digging into what these indicators really mean.
For discussion of another economic indicator, see The Weirdness of the CPI.
There is a real need for some business publication--or blogger--to produce a user-friendly summary of major economic indicators, discussing the way in which these indicators are calculated and the strengths and weaknesses of each in reflecting the underlying economic reality.
A very useful blog for those interested in the real estate market is MaxedOutMama, who writes frequently about housing and banking matters, as well as more general political and philosophical topics.
As always, nothing on this blog should be considered as investment advice.
Friday, January 05, 2007
Please welcome these blogs to the left sidebar: Tinkerty Tonk, Meryl Yourish, Kesher Talk, and the Assistant Village Idiot.
Also Evolving Excellence, an outspoken--even passionate--blog about the practice of manufacturing. See also the companion website, Superfactory--don't miss the virtual factory tours.
Thursday, January 04, 2007
Amherst, Massachussetts, is known for its high concentration of liberals, leftists, and academics. Back in November, this town passed a formal resolution calling on the United States to refrain from any military action against Iran. (The resolution also called upon Iran to behave nicely.) Copies of the resolution were sent to Iranian officials and to UN Security Council members, as well as the President Bush. The town has now received a thank-you letter from Mostafa Rahmani, director of the Interests Section of the Islamic Republic of Iran, to wit:
We would like to express our appreciation for the courageous stance of the participants of the Amherst Town Meeting in urging diplomacy with Iran and expressing opposition to any U-S military action against our country.
The Iranian regime, of course, will construe Amherst's resolution as one more signal that the United States will not take effective action against their depradations--that they can develop and deploy nuclear weapons, support the terrorists in Iraq, threaten genocide against Israel, and of course continue their oppression of their own population--without serious threat of a U.S. military response. While the Amherst resolution by itself doesn't mean much, the continuous transmission of signals like this--the dismissal of John Bolton being another key example--is certainly factored by the Iranian regime into its decision-making process.
Amherst's resolution brings to mind, of course, the famous resolution "This House would under no circumstances fight for its King and country," passed by the Oxford (debate) Union in 1933. The Oxford resolution, along with many other signals, helped to confirm Hitler in his belief that Britain would do nothing effective to oppose him.
But as far as I'm aware, the Oxford Union didn't go so far as to send a copy of their resolution directly to the Nazi officials.
(A first-hand impression of German reactions to the Oxford resolution here. Thanks to Bitter for flagging the Amherst asininity.)
Wednesday, January 03, 2007
INTERESTING COMMENT ON WRITING FICTION
Author Elmore Leonard, on the importance of giving characters the right names:
In my novel, 'Bandits,' which is set in New Orleans, I originally named the main character Frank Matisse. I thought Matisse sounded like a New Orleans name, but he wouldn't talk. He wouldn't open his mouth.
And he acted too old. So I changed his name to Jack Delaney and then he wouldn't shut up.
--Washington Times Book Review Section (12/31)
Tuesday, January 02, 2007
THE WEIRDNESS OF THE CPI
Suppose that a Wal-Mart or a Costco moves into your area. Groceries are now available for prices that may be 10-20% lower than the equivalent items at traditional grocery stores. How is this reflected in the Consumer Price Index?
Most thoughtful people would probably approach the problem using a weighted average of prices, based on how many people choose to buy which items at which stores. That's not, however, how the Bureau of Labor Statistics apparently chose to do it. According to this analysis, the BLS calculates the CPI in a manner resulting in an impact of zero for the shift to superdiscount retailers. Thus, the author suggests, the official inflation estimates for food may be overstated--ie, actual prices paid by real people may be increasing less rapidly than the CPI would lead one to believe.
Most criticism of the CPI, of course, has been in the opposite direction--that it tends to understate the real impact of inflation. (The housing price component, because of the way it is calculated based on "equivalent rents," may well have understated the true inflation situation in that area during the housing boom--and now be overstating it--more here.)
I would love to see some BLS economists explain and justify their treatment of the superdiscounter effect in food retailing. It would also be great if some financial journalists would spend more effort on explaining how various economic indicators are calculated, and getting into the strengths and weaknesses of these methodologies, instead of just passing along the numbers as if they were Platonic Forms of some kind.
(link via Big Picture)
ARMY OF SHADOWS
Has anyone seen this movie? Comment at ChicagoBoyz.
Monday, January 01, 2007
HAPPY NEW YEAR!
Have a great 2007.
UPDATE: Here's a great New Year's card at Andrea's new blog.