Oh What A Bad Feeling – Toyota

The public trust is not easily obtained nor should it be taken lightly. Toyota has been behind on this story at every step. It’s not going away.

toyota-logo.jpgOh Toyota. You are this close to becoming a business school teaching lesson. You are this close to becoming Bon Vivant Vichyssoise! Never heard of Bon Vivant? Read on.

Back in the early seventies there was a food company named Bon Vivant. They made high end canned soups under their own name and for others. I’ll let the NY Times pick up the story:

On an early July day in 1971 when it was too hot to cook, a couple in Westchester County, N.Y., sat down to a meal of Bon Vivant vichyssoise, a soup often served chilled (and in this case, straight from the can). The soup tasted funny, so they didn’t finish it; within hours he was dead and she was paralyzed from botulism poisoning. F.D.A. investigators found five other cans of vichyssoise from the same batch of 6,444 that were also tainted with botulism, and spot checks of other products raised questions about the company’s processing practices, so the agency shut down the plant and told the company to recall all its soups.

Bon Vivant tried to fight the recall, calling it an overreaction to a highly isolated problem, but it soon became obvious that few consumers would touch anything with Bon Vivant on the label. And because it was known that the company manufactured store brands as well as its own, people started to be suspicious of every kind of canned soup on the shelf. Bon Vivant filed for bankruptcy within a month.

Instead of getting ahead of the story Bon Vivant pushed back. They put their profits and priorities before their customer’s. We tend not to like that from those who feed us and from whom we expect scrupulous attention to safety.

Nearly seventy years of soup making and Bon Vivant was gone within a month! They became the poster child for what not to do in a crisis.

Fast forward to 1982. Someone injected cyanide into Tylenol capsules after they were already on the store shelf. What did Johnson and Johnson do? They took responsibility and bore the immediate cost though the sabotage happened out of their reach.

Although Johnson & Johnson knew they were not responsible for the tampering of the product, they assumed responsibility by ensuring public safety first and recalled all of their capsules from the market. In fact, in February of 1986, when a woman was reported dead from cyanide poisoning in Tylenol capsules, Johnson & Johnson permanently removed all of the capsules from the market.

You don’t think twice about taking Tylenol today, do you?

I am a Toyota guy. My first new car was a 1970 Toyota Corona. I or my family have had one for most of the time since then. Helaine and Stef both drive Toyotas today.

I have no animus toward Toyota. But seriously, it seems they are following the lead of Bon Vivant and not Johnson and Johnson.

The public trust is not easily obtained nor should it be taken lightly. Toyota has been behind on this story at every step. It’s not going away.

I just watched CNN’s Jessica Yellin play a phone conversation with Toyota about her own Prius. Damning.

I know GM and Ford are licking their chops hoping for Toyota’s downfall. I’m not sure that would be as good for all of us as it is for them. I am not rooting for Toyota’s failure. Their prior attention to quality has forced the US auto industry to step-it-up over the last few decades.

Right now more than Toyota’s cars are speeding down the road out-of-control.

More Doubt In The Stolen Climate Change Data

I always felt the climate change chorus were honorable people who just drew different conclusions than mine. Maybe not.

A few days ago the Climate Research Unit in England, a major source of global warming info, had its computer system hacked! I wrote then about the unearthing of some inconvenient truths.

It looks like some well publicized global warming evidence is the product of the books being cooked! It’s possible the loudest voices in this fight have been playing fast-and-loose with the truth when it doesn’t serve their purpose.

There’s been pushback from the CRU, but it seems thin. Scientists are parsing what they wrote, trying to sound less nefarious. I’m not buying.

I always felt the climate change chorus were honorable people who just drew different conclusions than mine. Maybe not.

Today WattsUpWithThat.com has published some annotated computer code-the equations which produced the data which led to the theories (and solutions) espoused.

Like the emails published late last week this annotated code is embedded with strange comments you’d never expect to see. They make it seem like data that doesn’t fit the orthodoxy is being purged from the output and replaced with artificially ‘massaged’ data!

Uses “corrected” MXD – but shouldn’t usually plot past 1960 because these will be artificially adjusted to look closer to the real temperatures.

“[A]rtificially adjusted to look closer to the real temperatures.” Seriously, that’s not how science is supposed to be played.

In the real world complex data seldom fits theoretical expectations precisely. Unfortunately, human induced global warming is being sold hard as an irrefutable conclusion. There’s no room for natural noise in the data which might provide an out for doubters.

This story was on the front page of the NY Times over the weekend but it’s only smoldering now. Expect it to flare up in the next few days. There are too many deeply entrenched partisans for this to blow over.

It’s worth following.

Will You Pay For Info? Confusion Reigns

An eyeball viewing content on the net isn’t worth as much as that same eyeball watching a TV commercial.

ny-times-technology-page.pngAt the TV station my bosses have a quandary. They know many of you are changing your habits and getting your info on the Internet. Should we follow you?

Don’t answer yet because the problem is complex and confusing.

An eyeball viewing content on the net isn’t worth as much as that same eyeball watching a TV commercial. We move you to the net at our own peril. Of course if we could charge viewers to subscribe to our product, as cable TV and satellite radio already do, we could supplement income from commercials and continue to pay the mortgage.

So far getting consumers to pay for web content isn’t very successful. At one time the NY Times had a partial paywall behind which its columnists and some other premium content lived. No more. The Wall Street Journal is currently somewhat successful in charging for much of its content. There aren’t many other examples.

Entire lines of business are dependent on getting the correct answer to this question which is why the Technology page on the NY Times website is so frustrating. Co-existing on one page are the following headlines:

  • 80% of US Consumers Won’t Pay For Content
  • About Half in US Would Pay For Online News, Study Finds.

Is there an editor in the house? Aren’t these mutually exclusive?

If the answer was easy we’d all be doing the right thing today instead of being petrified what we’ll do is wrong.

Blogger’s note: For clarity I used Photoshop to make the capture of the Times Technology page fit on your screen. Nothing germane to my point was removed.

Tonight’s Debate

This will be the most viewed debate of all time, though possibly not the highest rated. The debate will be the most viewed TV show of the year.

On Twitter, Brian Stelter of the NY Times asks: “How high do you think the ratings will be?”

I’ll answer his universal question. This will be the most viewed debate of all time, though possibly not the highest rated. The debate will be the most viewed TV show of the year.

Today at Dunkin’ Donuts a construction worker type asked me what time the debate started. That is an unusual question from an unusual source, but it speaks to the interest this election has created.

Tech In The Times – From 1968

Because the school was one of New York City’s academically elite, with admission limited by an entrance exam, we had an overabundance of wimps and nerds. Most of our teams were awful.

dungareesI was just looking at some old articles in the NY Times archive (free and worth perusing). I entered the name of my high school, isolated my four years and began to scan.

Most of the stories were about our sports teams. Brooklyn Technical High School (aka Brooklyn Tech) was an all boys school with a 6,000 student enrollment. We fielded teams in every sport.

Because the school was one of New York City’s academically elite, with admission limited by an entrance exam, we had an overabundance of wimps and nerds. Most of our teams were awful.

Almost immediately, one story jumped out at me. It is attached to this entry.

The answer to your first question is, yes, I was there. Yes, I participated, even though my mom had to buy me a pair of dungarees to do so! This was the late 60s, and protesting by students was gaining steam, especially as it related to the war in Vietnam.

Oh, yeah, we really did call them dungarees. At that time, they were totally removed from the realm of fashion.

It seemed like a big social issue back then and a way of pushing back against what seemed like irrational rules.

It is a reflection of that more innocent time that this protest caused such angst to the administration of an academically elite high school. The principal was pissed we had defied him.

Until now, I had no idea the New York Times had covered it. They did in 87 words, buried on page 28 of the Saturday, March 23, 1968 edition.

As I remember (not well – I might be wrong), by the end of the school year, jeans were permitted in class.

Placing Blame

Whose fault is it when heavy rains come and the New York City Subways flood out? You might be thinking, as I was, the subway system should have the capability to remove water quickly.

The NY Times reports:

Free At Last

The NY Post is announcing the NY Times soon will be giving away web content they’d been charging for. This is the “Times Select” program. As a print subscriber, I’m already getting this material. I’m glad you’ll have access too. There’s some really good stuff there.

Some of the Times columnists have complained their columns were less available than those of contemporaries at less widely read papers elsewhere. That’s sad.

Meanwhile, this is just another sign that web content cannot (right now) sustain a subscription model, as cable TV or satellite radio do.

Last night, as I was going through my printed edition of the Times for the fourth or fifth time, I thought about how lucky we are to live in an era when information is so freely available. No society has ever had virtual libraries delivered to the home – until now.

I’m not just talking about hard news. I am constantly digging deep to find stories that broaden my knowledge base. Sure, I might never need to refer to a recent article about train travel within sub-Saharan Africa, but I’m glad I read it.

There is always something new to learn, and learning in the abstract is good.

It will be nice to have the Times op-ed writers see the light of day again. Now, it’s up to you to read them.

A Couple Of Guys Go To Broadway

Helaine and Stef left Saturday morning. The ‘Stalker Tour’ is on the move with Rick Springfield concerts in Boston and Laconia, NH. They’ve taken “Clicky,” my Canon Digital Rebel camera, with them.

That left Saturday as a pretty hollow day for me. Luckily, I knew someone else who was being ‘abandoned.’ Matt Scott’s wife and daughter were leaving town for Mississippi.

He and I decided to head to New York City and see a show.

If you carry a fishing pole, people just assume you’re a fisherman. If you go to a Broadway show… a Broadway musical… a Sondhein musical… they assume you’re gay! I know this because virtually everyone who heard we were going either commented or asked.

All I could think of was the time I went to the theater and stood in line behind a guy wearing a t-shirt which said, “I can’t even think straight!”

Just as there are black Republicans, there are straight guys who enjoy the theater.

Since Matt was dropping his wife and daughter at LaGuardia Airport, I took the train to the city. I would walk crosstown and we’d meet outside the theater.

Taking the train from New Haven is very easy. Unfortunately, it’s also quite a long trip. Union Station to Grand Central Terminal is around 1:45&#185. I brought the NY Times, a photo magazine and my $30 camcorder.

I didn’t have “Clicky,” but I did want to try and make a short video essay. It was supposed to be about the day in general. Unfortunately, I didn’t budget properly and my video ran out as I approached the theater!

My New York City travelogue video is at the bottom of this entry. It was entirely shot on the $30 camcorder and edited using Windows Movie Maker (included on every Windows XP or Vista computer). The music is “Look Busy” by Kevin MacLeod.

Yesterday’s show was Steven Sondheim’s Company. This is a revival of the 1970 musical about Bobby (Ra&#250l Esperza), a bachelor, the three single women in his life and his five married couple friends.

What made this musical more interesting was how it was cast. There was no orchestra pit because the actors were also playing instruments on-stage!

This must have been a casting nightmare. Finding good actors is one thing. Finding good musicians is another. But finding people who can sing, dance and act (often simultaneously) really limits your choices. I, for instance, would be 0 for 3!

With all this going, the cast was dynamite. I especially enjoyed Ra&#250l Esperza, (Bobby) who reminds me of Bradley Whitford (Studio 60, West Wing) and Angel Desai (Marta).

The show is funny, but often poignant and sad, as it traces Bobby’s life from his 35th to 36 th birthday. Being a grown-up bachelor has its good and bad points. Being single doesn’t remove you from emotional tumult.

I’d recommend going to see it, but as I type this, they are nearly an hour into Company’s last Broadway performance. Luckily, yesterday’s matin

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:

iPhone Arrives

OK – Let’s get this out of the way first – I want one.

If there’s been a product launch more hyped than today’s, I can’t remember it. Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone and the world went nuts.

Everywhere I’ve looked, there have been stories. Jobs was on CNBC this afternoon and Nightline this evening. David Pogue, writing in the NY Times, bragged of spending an hour with him, though mostly ignoring Jobs to play with an iPhone.

When I first saw it, I said, “too big.” Maybe clunky is a better description. On the other hand, it’s quite slender. Jobs said it was thinner than the Motorola Q.

Will it fit in my pocket or will I have to wear a cellphone holster?

What makes Apple so special… what made the iPod such an amazing breakthrough product, is their understanding of the user interface. The iPod has the best user interface of any electronics device ever made – period.

If you don’t have one, ask anyone who does how long it took them to learn how to use it? Zero. An iPod’s operation is obvious the moment it’s in your hand. The word is, “intuitive.”

Attention to the man-machine interface is what Jobs promised, and then demonstrated.

There is one physical button on the iPhone. Everything else is done from the 3.5″ high resolution touch screen. Menus change as needed. The interface adapts.

There’s a 2 megapixel camera onboard, but no video. It’s Apple. Aren’t they the computer company known for video? That’s a glaring omission.

I watched 31:05 of Steve Jobs’ keynote speech&#185 from Mac World before hitting pause. I am not a Mac guy. Jobs isn’t my savior. I thought his first 20 minutes were top notch. Then, his presentation began to bore me.

I’m not 100% sure why I want one. The iPod music portion is wasted on me, though I’d enjoy the ability to watch podcasts. It’s something I already do on the computer.

I am attracted by the ‘smart’ phone and the ability to carry email and web browsing in my pocket.

I don’t see a computer as a burden, but a tool to help me leverage life. Currently, that tool is only available to me at home and work. There are lots of new uses I can see and probably more I can’t.

Did I mention it’s a fun toy?

&#185 – Around 3:00 AM I watched the remainder. He’s a great pitchman, but sometimes runs out of steam or gets overly “Silicon Valley geeky.” Even I can’t take that.

I Read A Lot

I read a lot. I don’t read many books – maybe one or two a year. I read non-fiction primarily and primarily my reading is done online.

In the past I’ve written about my online poker playing. During a tournament lasting a few hours, most of my time will be spent reading, only minding the poker table when it’s time to act.

There is a group of websites I frequent. I go to Drudge and Huffington, the New York Times, Digg, Slashdot, TVNewser… there are dozens more. It’s a long list.

Like everyone else, where I go at any given moment is pretty much a matter of luck.

With all those sites, it’s easy to loose track. It seemed like the right time to organize, so I’m trying out the Google Reader.

Most sites, even this site, publish feeds. Every time a news story is published, a new link is added to the feed. In a perfect world, the feed has enough of a summary to allow you to make an intelligent choice whether you wish to read it or not.

Google takes those feeds and integrates them into the reader. Now I have one page which shows me what’s new from dozens of sites. Even sites with sporadic new content can be included – sites you might not normally check on a regular basis.

Even on heavily traveled sites, finding new stuff isn’t aways easy. With a blog, this site as an example, everything is vertical with the newest entries on top – no sweat. On a site like Drudge or the NY Times, things are going in and out from the middle of the page. That’s a significantly larger challenge.

I figured, as long as I was doing this, I’d include all the topics I normally scour for. So, with news and technology pages are photography and graphics sites and lots of places that provide tutorials.

This morning when I turned on the computer, I took a look and found “100+” topics. Had I bitten off more than I could chew?

It took less time to scan them than I anticipated. In the end, I clicked on a half dozen entries that seemed interesting.

Over the next few days or weeks, I will discover which is the ‘better’ way to surf. Is it best to let your fingers carry you from site-to-site haphazardly? Maybe it’s better to have these summaries presented to you?

Google’s site is inviting, spiffed up with ‘Web 2.0″ features that allow the web page to be update with new data without being reloaded.

In any case, this is an interesting concept, though not a new one. My friend Mike (and I’m sure other friends) have been looking at feeds for a long time… well… long in Internet years.

I’ll try and report back if this is a worthwhile idea.

Hooked On Reality – Finally

I have missed the entire reality programming genre. None of it has interested me… and trust me, plenty of it has played on our TV, especially when Steffie’s been around. In fact, if you don’t watch VH-1, MTV and E!, you probably have no idea how much ‘reality’ is on every day.

While thumbing through the NY Times tonight&#185, I came across Alessandra Stanley’s review of Tabloid Wars. This reality show tracks what’s going on at the NY Daily News.

Computer as a Video Workstation

One of the promises of PCs is that they can be used as video processing units. Shoot a videotape&#185 then dump the finished video into your computer where you can edit it and then burn it to a DVD or even stream it on the Internet.

This PC was actually built with all that in mind. It is a few years old – ancient in computer time, but still up to the job. The problem is, this is a job that is only performed grudgingly by a computer. I can safely say this right now, because I’m in the midst of taking a videotape and converting it into both web and DVD video.

What a royal pain.

Each program (and no one program does more than a small fraction of the full job) is slow and kludgey and requires arcane knowledge in esoteric subjects.

Do you know which codec to use and when? Do you even know what a codec is? I’m not asking to embarrass, but to point out the low level of sophistication in what should be a mature process.

My own confidence is so low that when I encoded some video to send to a colleague, I first called a friend to spot check it on his computer. It is easy to think you’re confirming what you did only to be playing back video from your hard drive and not a website. Been there, done that.

So far, I’ve been working over two hours. I’m not quite done. My finished product will be three – two minute clips on the web and a DVD with all three in a higher quality format. We’re talking less than six minutes of video total.

I consider myself a sophisticated user, knowledgeable in digital video and this is still a pain in the butt! How is someone with a new camcorder and no savvy going to do this the first time? The simple answer is, they won’t.

Video in your computer and on the Internet is an amazingly powerful tool. It should be well within the reach of anyone who uses a PC. It still isn’t and I see no sign that it will be any time soon. It’s a shame.

&#185 – An article in the NY Times last week reviewed two new home camcorders which record on microdrives or compact flash memory cards. Maybe tape’s days are numbered.

It’s Officially Election Day

In a few hours the polls will open. It used to be once election day got here, the candidates would no longer advertise. I wonder if that will be the case today? I doubt it.

This continues to be a fascinating election. The polls could not be any tighter. In fact, I have just taken screen captures of three websites, all with predictions on the election. Here’s why:

The NY Times predicts John Kerry wins the electoral college.

RealPolitics.com predicts George Bush wins the electoral college.

Slate.com calls it a dead even split at 269 each (meaning Congress would settle it, and therefore President Bush would be re-elected).

Click on any of the links to see an image of the actual page taken late Monday night just before midnight,

This does seem to be an election that has brought up strong feelings on both sides. I can’t remember an election this polarized since 1972 (Nixon-McGovern). The big difference is, it really wasn’t a race in 1972 with Nixon easily winning the popular and electoral votes.

I am willing to take either man being elected – like I have a choice. What I don’t want to see is an election decided on legal challenges and court battles. I’m hopeful that one slate will win enough of a majority that kvetching after the fact will be a moot point, and so they won’t.

It will also be interesting to look back after the election and see if young, African American, cell phone only and newly registered voters were a wild card or were properly weighted in the polling.

I will be glad to see the political ads off TV.