Redefining Recession

There just isn’t enough 40-hours a week work to go around.

The Wall Street Journal quoted the Fed Chairman today:

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said Tuesday that the recession was “very likely over,” as consumers showed some of the first tangible signs of spending again.

Ben–not here. Not that I can see.

There is a great disconnect between the conventional standards for judging economic conditions and our current economic condition. What Bernanke said might be true, but it’s meaningless. We need to change what we measure. GDP misses today’s America.

We also need to come to grips with the new reality–in many cases machines are cheaper than and better able to perform jobs than people. It’s happening in my business. We’re not alone.

There are jobs people did when I was growing up that just don’t exist anymore, or don’t exist at the same level of pay.

Sadly, the benefits of labor saving devices have mainly been reaped by business owners who happily do more with less. Maybe it’s time to redefine our thoughts on what a full work week is and re-align our tax structure to discourage businesses that produce profit without producing a product.

Wikipedia: The eight-hour day movement or 40-hour week movement, also known as the short-time movement, had its origins in the Industrial Revolution in Britain, where industrial production in large factories transformed working life and imposed long hours and poor working conditions. With working conditions unregulated, the health, welfare and morale of working people suffered. The use of child labour was common. The working day could range from 10 to 16 hours for six days a week.

Here in the U.S. the 40-hour week didn’t gain any traction until the mid-1800s. Then, as now, more modern processes and tools had greatly increased productivity. It happened before. It can happen again.

There just isn’t enough 40-hours a week work to go around. I can’t see how there ever will be again.

If The Democrats No Longer Need Lieberman

So, what happens if the Democrats sweep the House, Senate and elect a president? It’s certainly not out of the question. I think the loser is Lieberman and by proxy, Connecticut.

I suspect we’re about to face an interesting political dilemma in Connecticut.

Right now, the Democrats control both branches of Congress. The majority in the Senate is razor thin. Democrats control by two, but only if you include Senate independents, Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

Though he ran against, and beat, the endorsed Democratic candidate in the last election, Lieberman enjoys the benefits of the Democratic majority. From his own website:

In 2006, Senator Lieberman was elected to a fourth term as an Independent, because of the strength of his record and his accomplishments for the state. He won the general election by more than 100,000 votes. He remains committed to caucusing with Senate Democrats, but will be identified as an Independent Democrat (ID-CT).

That last sentence was written before Senator Lieberman endorsed Republican Senator John McCain’s Republican bid for president. That followed two years where Lieberman sided with the president (and against the Democrats) on many issues, including Iraq and National intelligence.

So, what happens if the Democrats sweep the House, Senate and elect a president? It’s certainly not out of the question. I think the loser is Lieberman and by proxy, Connecticut.

Why would the Democrats keep Lieberman in a position of power while their own loyal members wait? I don’t think they will.

  • Chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee
  • Member of the Armed Services Committee
  • Member of the Environment and Public Works Committee
  • Member of the Senate Small Business & Entrepreneurship Committee

This is really all academic. Whatever happens will play out behind closed doors and without consulting the people of Connecticut. We’ll only feel its effect in Lieberman’s reduced power… though it’s tough to quantify that power right now.

This is one of those unintended consequences no one anticipates.

Don’t Get My Hopes Up

One of the reasons I hadn’t bought a satellite radio yet had to do with the conflict between Major League Baseball on XM and NFL on Sirius (and, of course, my friend Rick on Sirius).

With the proposal of a merger, that seemed to no longer be a concern. After all, as Mel Karmazin said in Congressional testimony prices would not be raised and that listeners would benefit enormously by getting the best programming from both companies.

Wow – win, win!

This morning, in a count-your-fingers moment, the deal didn’t look as sweet. Here’s what the NY Times had to say, quoting FCC Chairman Kevin Martin:

But in separate conversations with two people after Mr. Karmazin

JetBlue’s Problems

jetBlue is in the midst of a meltdown. They’ve scrubbed a boatload of flights tomorrow, the fifth consecutive day of cancellations following a Northeast ice storm. Passengers are up in arms.

There was a call for congressional hearings after a recent debacle by American Airlines in Austin, TX. Whether hearings accomplish anything or not, I see them as certain now.

I don’t know much about the airline business, but I can tell you why jetBlue is having the problems they’re having. To a large extent, it’s because there is no jetBlue!

I look upon jetBlue as a virtual company. It doesn’t own its planes. It doesn’t do most of its maintenance (much of which is performed in El Salvador). Its telephone reservation system is based in Salt Lake City and mostly staffed by women working from home.

Is jetBlue the top priority of any of their contractors?

jetBlue is perfectly staffed… as long as nothing goes wrong. In real life, things go wrong.

Unfortunately, what has happened to jetBlue will happen in more and more places with more and more companies. Since passengers won’t be locked in place for ten or twelve hours we won’t hear as much about them.

Companies are cutting away as much cost as they can and that certainly extends to any protection against unusual failure. There is no profit in standby contingencies.

You see this all the time in stores, with fewer staff members or less competent staff. Here’s what Floyd Norris of the Times said in his blog about the former chairman of Home Depot, Bob Nardelli.

He was a man who thought he was worth unlimited amounts, and yet messed up the company by a desire to slash compensation expenses. He pushed out experienced store workers, figuring part-timers were cheaper, and did not realize in time that those knowledgeable workers were critical to the willingness of amateurs to shop there&#185

In some ways, we bring this on ourselves. We’re willing to shop entirely on price. I’m guilty myself, even though it’s often bad in the long run.

Years ago, when most stores were closed on Sunday’s, my father used to say, “If you don’t want to work Sunday, don’t shop Sunday.” The same applies today. If you don’t want to suffer bad service, don’t shop where service is not a priority.

Easier said than done, I’m sure.

&#185 – When he was drummed out, Nardelli received a king’s ransom in severance. Norris added, “Perhaps Lowe

JDRF Walk To Cure Diabetes

There are 1,100 parking spaces at Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield in North Haven. They were all full for today’s “Walk To Cure Diabetes.” A back of the envelope estimate says 3-4,000 people showed up!

That’s pretty good, considering the weather was awful. There were showers before, during and after the event. From time-to-time there were even downpours.

I love going to this event because I get to meet the people I’m trying to help.

Though there was a research setback reported last week, I still think juvenile diabetes can be eliminated, as polio and smallpox have been eliminated.

Here’s the article. Read past the headline, the bad news is in the last two paragraphs. The good news that led the article had been out for a while.

I am the celebrity chairman of this walk. I don’t know exactly what that means, except I give away my bosses airtime promoting the event, say hello to a lot of people during the event and shake a lot of hands.

The photo attached to this entry is a typical shot and I took a few dozen today. I don’t know the name of the totally soaked guy I’m with, but I was pointing to his tattoo in a bit of good natured fun and he was pleased I was.

This year’s walk was special in another way. Helaine came with me. As much as I enjoy the spotlight, Helaine avoids it.

I am very lucky to be able to help JDRF in a quantifiable way. No one at work tells me or even asks me to do this. I just know it’s right, and it makes me feel good. It couldn’t be any simpler.

Waking up early (for me) on a Sunday morning to stand out in the rain has never been more rewarding.

Continue reading “JDRF Walk To Cure Diabetes”

Looking At Video On The Web

I will sit online and watch twenty minutes of a Photoshop tutorial or other narrowcast that interests me. I won’t sit for twenty minutes of a compilation of stories – some of which, by definition, appeal to me less than others.

As I wrote yesterday, with a house full of Helaine’s friends visiting, I spent a lot of looking at online video. It quickly became obvious there’s a lot right and a lot wrong as far as video goes.

I’m not talking about content. There will always be good and bad content. This is about structure, access and indexing.

While mulling over what I would write in this entry, I had breakfast and browsed the Sunday Times.

THE NEWS Yahoo said it was backing off from a plan to bring television-style programming like situation comedies and talk shows to the Internet.

BEHIND THE NEWS As advertising grows on the Internet, there is a market for content as well. But the content that seems to be working best is created by individual users and takes the form of short videos, shared photos, blogs and other small-scale efforts. The Hollywood approach, epitomized by Yahoo’s hiring of Lloyd Braun, the former chairman of ABC Entertainment, in 2004, is no longer in favor. There had been speculation that the shift in strategy would result in Mr. Braun’s leaving the company, but he vowed last week that he would stay.

Yahoo!’s&#185 corporate wisdom seems to be right on. Internet video is not watched the same way as mainstream over-the-air video.

As far as I can tell, that point is lost on the news divisions of the major broadcast networks. NBC and ABC both present ‘conventional’ newscasts online. I’m glad they do, as opposed to posting nothing, but they have extremely limited utility.

Internet video done right is sharply focused – one subject. For news, that means offering stories one-by-one.

I will sit online and watch twenty minutes of a Photoshop tutorial or other narrowcast that interests me. I won’t sit for twenty minutes of a compilation of stories – some of which, by definition, appeal to me less than others.

Technology does exist to make a newscast random access, so I can pick and choose what I want to see. I don’t see that technology widely used.

In the pre-remote era there were ‘specials’ and ‘variety shows’ on TV. They’re gone, victims of cost and easy viewer choice. I think the same fate awaits conventional TV newcasts re-purposed for the Internet (or web only newscasts presented in virtually the same format as their on-the-air siblibgs) .

It’s a new age, and content must adapt.

What seems to be in its infancy is a way to find what you’re looking for and a standardization of format. Why must we fight between Windows Media, Real, Quicktime and Flash. Isn’t there already one or two that are actually superior to the others?

That was painfully obvious when I followed a link for a Simpsons video that went to youtube.com. After I watched, and was on the youtube.com site, I couldn’t do much but randomly traipse around.

Yes, there were categories to click, but it was non-intuitive and a hodge podge. I ended up going to pages that I hadn’t intended to visit.

The same goes for Itunes. It looks organized (and Itunes, after all, is an adjunct to the Ipod, with the world’s best designed user interface), but I had trouble finding what I wanted, or even knowing whether what I was clicking was audio or video! And why is it necessary for Itunes to run in its own application and not my browser?

There is not yet a ‘Google’ for video – and that includes Google’s video search though this ad implies they understand there’s a problem). We desperately need one. We’re early in the game. Someone will figure it out before long.

Addendum – As I finished writing this, I came across a link for the Natalie Portman video from last night’s Saturday Night Live. Though NBC will surely end up objecting to and stopping this improper use of their content by youtube.com, isn’t this the way SNL should be presented on the Internet – a piece at a time?

&#185 – Am I writing that correctly? The corporate name ends with an exclamation point. It just doesn’t look right set in type.

Akron’s Fine For Speeding

It looks like Akron, Ohio has put in automated speed enforcement equipment. Hey, this stuff works like crazy!

Here’s part of what Akron and the vendor said as the program began:

William B. Danzell, Chairman of Nestor traffic systems, stated, “We are excited to partner with the City of Akron on such an important safety initiative. We believe that the unique ability of PoliscanSpeed to capture violations on limited sight roads makes it the most effective system for Akron’s automated enforcement program. This technology, coupled with our turnkey processing services will allow the City to provide consistent enforcement without burdening City resources.”

Strongly supporting Akron’s implementation of the Automated Mobile Speed Enforcement System, Mayor Donald Plusquellic quoted, “Nestor’s PoliscanSpeed System is another tool that we can use to let our community know that speed limits will be enforced and that we are serious about ensuring safety in our neighborhoods.”

And here’s the proof in the numbers from the Akron Beacon Journal:

Here’s a look at the first 19 days of work, all weekdays, for the automated speeding ticket machines:

Total drivers fined: 2,676

Amount of fines: $451,500

Amount vendor to receive ($19 each): $50,844

Remainder to city: $400,656

The worst offender was going 29 mph over the limit (54 in a 25 mph zone).

Forty percent of those fined $150 were going 10 mph or less over the posted limit.

More than half of the violations were in 25 mph zones, with the average violator going 37 mph.

The Copley Road area near Erie Island Elementary School yielded the most fines, followed by the 400 block of Darrow Road near Betty Jane Elementary School.

In many cases, the cameras wrote more than a ticket a minute. On Nov. 7 at Copley Road, a camera ticketed five people at 3:16 p.m., then caught seven more at 3:51 p.m.

It’s no secret, if you scrupulously enforce traffic laws, you will find violators. There’s one highway I take home from work every night where I’ve exceeded the speed limit by a factor or two or more! I’m sure I’m above the limit more than I’m below it. Who isn’t?

Maybe I’m going too fast, by a little. Definitely, the posted limits are too low by a lot.

I’ve never quite understood how speed limits are derived, but they’ve never made sense. As I exit a two lane divided highway with broad shoulders, its speed limit is lower than the city street with no shoulders I’m entering.

Is speed enforcement a matter of safety or income? I would hope it’s the former. It’s extremely tempting to make it the latter. Look at the incentive for Akron. Look at the incentive for the vendor.

Of course a speeding ticket (or any moving violation) has secondary implications. Your insurance company knows and you’re likely to see them extract an additional premium on your policy.

If we’re going to have this more stringent enforcement policy, isn’t it time to revisit the speed limits themselves? If they are too low or unrealistic, do they become a form of entrapment – enticing me to break the law?

Barry Diller And Michael Eisner

I’m watching Michael Eisner, former Disney CEO, interview Barry Diller. This is one of those things you stumble on with digital cable. It’s on a channel high enough (106) that oxygen masks should pop out of the overhead.

When I originally posted this I went on without explaining who Diller is. I have second thoughts about his notoriety outside ‘the business.’

From Wikipedia: Barry Diller was raised in Beverly Hills and began his career in the mailroom of the William Morris Agency. He was hired by ABC in 1966 and was soon placed in charge of negotiating broadcast rights to feature films. He was promoted to vice president in charge of feature films and program development in 1969. In this position, Diller created the ABC Movie of the Week, pioneering the concept of the made-for-television movie through a regular series of 90-minute films produced exclusively for television.

Diller served for ten years as the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Paramount Pictures Corporation starting in 1972. With Diller at the helm, the studio produced hit television programs such as Laverne & Shirley (1976), Taxi (1978), and Cheers (1982) and films ranging from Saturday Night Fever (1977), and Grease (1978) to Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) and its sequel Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) to Terms of Endearment (1983) and Beverly Hills Cop (1984).

From October 1984 to April 1992, he held the positions of Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Fox, Inc, parent company of Fox Broadcasting Company and 20th Century Fox. Diller quit 20th Century-Fox in 1992 and purchased a $25 million stake in QVC teleshopping network. Diller resigned from QVC in 1995.

Diller is currently the Chairman of Expedia and the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of IAC/InterActiveCorp, an interactive commerce conglomerate and the parent of companies including Home Shopping Network, Ticketmaster, Match.com and Citysearch. In 2005, IAC/InterActiveCorp acquired Ask Jeeves, marking a strategic move into the Internet search category.

In 2001, Diller married fashion designer and longtime friend Diane von Furstenberg

Eisner is subbing for Charley Rose. This rerun of a rerun is on Connecticut Public Television’s tertiary channel!

Diller is a guy I had only heard about (and, years ago when we bought stock in QVC) invested in. He’s not just a genius, he’s an amazing genius… though from what I’d always heard, maybe ‘evil genius’ is a better characterization.

Look at him and you see the physical polish that comes with money. His suit, tie and watch are impeccably stylish and reek of money. When you listen to him, you hear words from a man much younger than he.

It is obvious, when it comes to technology and where the mass dissemination of programming is going, Diller gets it. He is about 63. The promise of technology’s future has moved beyond all but a few 63 year olds.

It is a shame for Eisner, who is undoubtedly bright, that he’s sharing a stage with Diller. Anyone would seem dimmer in comparison.

If you see this interview coming in yet another rerun of a rerun of a rerun, make sure you catch it, if only to further scope out Barry Diller. This is another of those moments when, after the fact, I realize how little I know and how much more I have to learn.

A Sunday Well Spent

Yesterday I wrote I’d be going to bed late Saturday night. Who predicts me better than me? I was up until 4:00 AM.

That made the sound of the alarm clock at 8:00 AM very unwelcome. It didn’t make much difference. There was no doubt I’d be getting out of bed. Today was the annual Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation “Walk To Cure.”

The official line was 4,000 attending and $900,000 raised. Those are estimates, but they’re pretty close.

Someone I met asked how long I’d been doing this? I have no clue, so I asked, and was told I’ve been involved with JDRF for 12 years.

JDRF thinks I’ve been good to them. Shhh – don’t tell. It’s really the other way around.

I am their “Celebrity Chairman.” I don’t know what that means. There are probably four or five days a year when I appear on JDRF’s behalf. I speak to corporate sponsors at breakfast and lunches, helping to motivate them. I appear at the walk itself and do a lot of handshaking and picture taking.

What I do that JDRF never expected when I signed on is promote the living daylights out of the walk during the final week. I’d like to think that brings more walkers, which means more money. I really don’t know.

Over the years my bosses have never objected to me giving away their television station in this way. It certainly brings added notoriety to the event, which, even if it doesn’t help this year, helps going forward.

Here’s the big secret. You know the scene in Jerry McGuire where Renee Zellweger says, “You had me at hello?” JDRF had me early too. It might have been the first time I heard a story about a child with diabetes and how that child’s family originally discovered it.

The discovery, unfortunately, is often made in the middle of the night, in a hospital emergency room, by parents who are worried about a mysteriously ill child they fear will die. Hearing it’s diabetes doesn’t make that night any better. It’s a life sentence.

If you’ve got diabetes, your life will be cut short – period. How’s that for motivation?

So, if I can help (and I think I do)… and if the money we raise brings research a little closer… how can I not? There are few things I do where I am absolutely guaranteed to come home feeling good about myself. This is one.

Roger Ailes And Fox

Roger Ailes, the Svengali of Fox News Channel, is taking on additional roles.

New York Times:

Roger E. Ailes, the media adviser to three Republican presidents who has been chairman of Fox News Channel since its inception nine years ago, was given an additional title yesterday: chairman of Fox Television Stations.

The appointment, which was announced by Fox’s parent, the News Corporation, gives Mr. Ailes oversight of Fox’s 35 broadcast television stations and a production studio, Twentieth Television.

Though Fox News has refers to itself as “Fair and Balanced,” common wisdom says it represents ‘right of center’ politics. And so, you may think Ailes will steer the Fox Network in that direction.

I don’t think so.

Seeing Fox News solely as an ideological brand is missing the point. Fox News has turned attitude and personality into high television art forms. There is nothing on the channel restrained or subdued. There are more well known people on Fox than CNN and MSNBC combined!

My guess (and it’s only a guess) that’s the biggest change Ailes will bring the the Fox stations.

Look for promotions to become bigger and bolder and more over-the-top than they are now. Look for more people driven, rather than concept driven programming.

It probably doesn’t make sense to politicize the Fox local stations, and I don’t expect to see that. I think Ailes job is to advance revenue, not advocate partisan politics.

Wait a year. We’ll see how insightful I am… or am not.