business

Edward R. Murrow on the business of news

From Edward R. Murrow’s 15 October 1958 speech to the Radio-Television News Directors Association:

One of the basic troubles with radio and television news is that both instruments have grown up as an incompatible combination of show business, advertising and news. Each of the three is a rather bizarre and demanding profession. And when you get all three under one roof, the dust never settles. The top management of the networks with a few notable exceptions, has been trained in advertising, research, sales or show business. But by the nature of the coporate structure, they also make the final and crucial decisions having to do with news and public affairs. Frequently they have neither the time nor the competence to do this. It is not easy for the same small group of men to decide whether to buy a new station for millions of dollars, build a new building, alter the rate card, buy a new Western, sell a soap opera, decide what defensive line to take in connection with the latest Congressional inquiry, how much money to spend on promoting a new program, what additions or deletions should be made in the existing covey or clutch of vice-presidents, and at the same time– frequently on the same long day–to give mature, thoughtful consideration to the manifold problems that confront those who are charged with the responsibility for news and public affairs.

MTBU: Maximum Time to Belly Up

From The Register’s “How ATM fraud nearly brought down British banking“:

And there wasn’t time for the banks to fix the problem if anyone went public with it. Their MTBU was too short. MTBU? That’s “Maximum Time to Belly Up”, as coined by the majestic Donn Parker of Stanford Research Institute. He found that businesses that relied on computers for the control of their cash flow fell into catastrophic collapse if those computers were unavailable or unusable for a period of time. How long? By the late 1980s it had fallen from a month to a few days. That’s not a good thing; it meant that a collapse of the computers that any UK clearing bank relied on would destroy it in less than a week.

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Knoppix is one of the great innovations in open source software in the last few years. Everyone that sees it wants to use it, since it is that rarest of software tools: the true Swiss Army Knife, capable of use by unsophisticated, experienced, and wizardly users, able to perform any of several hundred (if not thousand) tasks in an efficient and powerful way. Best of all, it’s super easy to employ, ultra-portable, and platform- and hardware-agnostic.

Knoppix camps on your system without canceling out your regular installation or messing with your files. And it’s really fun to play with. Hacking Knoppix provides all kinds of ways to customize Knoppix for your particular needs, plus the scoop on various Knoppix distros. Learn to build a Knoppix first-aid kit for repairing cranky Windows and rescuing precious data, or create your own Live CD. In short, Hacking Knoppix will transform your ordinary powerless Knoppix-curious individual into a fearsome Knoppix ninja, able to right wrongs, recover data, and vanquish the forces of ignorance and Windows usage once and for all.

Our approach in Hacking Knoppix is smart, detailed, and fun. We know our stuff, and we want our readers to understand and enjoy all the outrageously cool things that Knoppix makes possible. If a topic is kind of hard to understand, we’ll explain it so that lesser experienced readers get it and more experienced readers still learn something new; if a point needs in-depth explanation, we’ll give it in an interesting fashion; and if it needs a splash of humor to relieve the tedium, we’ll slip in something humorous, like a banana peel in front of Bill Gates.

  • Knoppix is an innovative Linux distribution that does not require installation, making it ideal to use for a rescue system, demonstration purposes, or many other applications
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  • Readers will learn to create two different Knoppix-based live CDs, one for children and one for Windows recovery
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Read sample excerpts, including Unraveling the Knoppix Toolkit Maze (1.7 MB PDF), the complete Table of Contents (135 kb PDF) & the Index (254 kb PDF).

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kanso and shizen and presentations

From Garr Reynolds’ “Gates, Jobs, & the Zen aesthetic“:

A key tenet of the Zen aesthetic is kanso or simplicity. In the kanso concept beauty, grace, and visual elegance are achieved by elimination and omission. Says artist, designer and architect, Dr. Koichi Kawana, “Simplicity means the achievement of maximum effect with minimum means.” …

The aesthetic concept of naturalness or shizen “prohibits the use of elaborate designs and over refinement” according to Kawana. Restraint, then, is a beautiful thing. … Restraint is hard. Complication and elaboration are easy…and are common. …

The Zen aesthetic values include (but are not limited to):

  • Simplicity
  • Subtlety
  • Elegance
  • Suggestive rather than the descriptive or obvious
  • Naturalness (i.e., nothing artificial or forced)
  • Empty space (or negative space)
  • Stillness, Tranquility
  • Eliminating the non-essential

More validation of the Long Tail

Don’t know what the Long Tail is? Check out the seminal Wired article, or read the blog.

From The New York Times‘ “The Net Is a Boon for Indie Labels“:

CD and digital album sales so far this year are down 8 percent compared with the same period a year ago, according to Nielsen SoundScan data. And while sales of digital tracks through services like iTunes have risen 150 percent, to well over 320 million songs this year, that rise is not enough to offset the plunge in album sales. Overall sales are down less than 5 percent if the digital singles are bundled into units of 10 and counted as albums, according to estimates by Billboard magazine.

Still, despite the slide, dozens of independent labels are faring well with steady-selling releases by, among others, the Miami rapper Pitbull and the indie bands Hawthorne Heights, Bright Eyes, Interpol and the Arcade Fire. Independent labels account for more than 18 percent of album sales this year – their biggest share of the market in at least five years, according to Nielsen SoundScan data. (If several big independent companies whose music is marketed by the major music labels distribution units are included, the figure exceeds 27 percent.) …

In a world of broadband connections, 60-gigabyte MP3 players and custom playlists, consumers have perhaps more power than ever to indulge their curiosities beyond the music that is presented through the industry’s established outlets, primarily radio stations and MTV.

“Fans are dictating,” said John Janick, co-founder of Fueled by Ramen, the independent label in Tampa, Fla., whose roster includes underground acts like Panic! At the Disco and Cute Is What We Aim For. “It’s not as easy to shove something down people’s throats anymore and make them buy it. It’s not even that they are smarter; they just have everything at their fingertips. They can go find something that’s cool and different. They go tell people about it and it just starts spreading.”

There are several signs that as more consumers develop the habit of exploring music online they are drawn to other musical choices besides hitmakers at the top of the Billboard chart – a trend that suggests more of the independent labels’ repertory will find an audience.

On the Rhapsody subscription music service, for example, the 100 most popular artists account for only about 24 percent of the music that consumers chose to play from its catalog last month, said Tim Quirk, Rhapsody’s executive editor. In the brick-and-mortar world, he estimates, the 100 most popular acts might account for more than 48 percent of a mass retailer’s sales.

“It’s no longer about a big behemoth beaming something at a mass audience,” Mr. Quirk said. “It’s about a mass of niche audiences picking and selecting what they want at any given time.”

Cybercrime more profitable than drug trafficing

From Reuters’ “Cybercrime yields more cash than drugs: expert“:

Global cybercrime generated a higher turnover than drug trafficking in 2004 and is set to grow even further with the wider use of technology in developing countries, a top expert said on Monday.

No country is immune from cybercrime, which includes corporate espionage, child pornography, stock manipulation, extortion and piracy, said Valerie McNiven, who advises the U.S. Treasury on cybercrime.

“Last year was the first year that proceeds from cybercrime were greater than proceeds from the sale of illegal drugs, and that was, I believe, over $105 billion,” McNiven told Reuters.

“Cybercrime is moving at such a high speed that law enforcement cannot catch up with it.”

For example, Web sites used by fraudsters for “phishing” — the practice of tricking computer users into revealing their bank details and other personal data — only stayed on the Internet for a maximum of 48 hours, she said. …

Developing countries which lack the virtual financial systems available elsewhere are easier prey for cybercrime perpetrators, who are often idle youths looking for quick gain.

“When you have identity thefts or corruption and manipulation of information there (developing countries), it becomes almost more important because … their systems start getting compromised from the get-go,” she said.

The inevitability of taxation

From Giampaolo Garzarelli’s Open Source Software and the Economics of Organization:

Whenever organizational forms present rapid change because of their strong ties to technology, public policy issues are always thornier than usual. Indeed, historically, it seems that every time that there’s the development of a new technology or production process, the government has to intervene in some fashion to regulate it or to extract rents from it. This point is well- encapsulated in the well-known catch-phrase attributed to Faraday. After Faraday was asked by a politician the purpose of his recently discovered principle of magnetic induction in 1831, he replied: “Sir, I do not know what it is good for. However, of one thing I am quite certain, some day you will tax it”.

Professions and clubs

From Giampaolo Garzarelli’s Open Source Software and the Economics of Organization:

Deborah Savage, in an innovative piece, proposes the following economic definition of a profession: a ‘profession is a network of strategic alliances across ownership boundaries among practitioners who share a core competence’ [Savage, D. A. (1994) “The Professions in theory and history: the case of pharmacy”, Business and Economic History 23 (2): 129-60.] …

In sum, the general organizational implications of Savage’s theory of professions are considerable. The most germane implications for our purposes seem to be the following.

  • The theory allows to narrowly define the area of operation of a profession because of its emphasis on core competencies – for example, pharmaceuticals, software, semiconductors, etc. – around which other capabilities and routines evolve and revolve.
  • It allows to distinguish professions from other forms of organization, such as firms, because integration of ownership is not a condicio sine qua non.
  • Professionals are autonomous and authoritative in their fields for their competencies allow them, on the one hand, ‘to solve routine problems easily and non-routine problems routinely’ (Savage 1994: 140) and, on the other, enable them to evaluate, and only be challenged by, other professionals. More concretely, they are independent yet interact in a coordinated and fertile fashion.
  • Professions are decentralized networks in that there’s not a central authority in command. The ‘organization’ of a profession is guaranteed by the exchange of knowledge that reduces uncertainty and stimulates trust amongst members. Professions are thus self-organizing.
  • Relatedly, there’s the role played by reputation as a signalling of quality, viz., reputation is a positive externality. Thus, professions can be interpreted as self-regulating organizations …

In a seminal article published in 1965, ‘An economic theory of clubs’, Buchanan described and formalized the institutional properties of a new category of good (or product) lying between the public and private polar extremes, conventionally called shared good. The good is usually enjoyed only by members participating in a voluntary association – i.e., a club – whose membership may be regulated by some dues. The theory of clubs, in a nutshell, studies the different institutional arrangements governing the supply and demand of the shared good. [Buchanan, J. M. (1965) “An economic theory of clubs”, Economica, N.S., 32 (125): 1-14.] …

The late great Hungry Buddha

This was written 15 January 2002, & the Hungry Buddha is gone now, but this is still an interesting description.

The late great Hungry BuddhaJust got back from lunch at the Hungry Buddha. Man, that was good. It’s a small place on Washington Street in downtown St. Louis. There are signs all along the walls: “Buddha would bus his own table”. “Buddha would tip”. “Overfilling your bowl is bad karma”. A stereo played a mix of tunes, everything from Smashing Pumpkins to other stuff — and at a reasonable volume that made conversation easy.

The food was really great. Basically, you grab a bowl and go through a vegetable buffet — probably the best vegetable buffet I’ve ever seen, with peppers, sprouts, carrots, celery, shitake mushrooms (!), and more! — filling your bowl, then go to the counter and answer a few questions:

“Rice, noodles, or broth?”
“One bowl or all you can eat?”
“Tofu?”
“Water, tea, or soda?”
“What kind of sauce?”

They take your bowl into the kitchen and cook it up to your specifications. 10 minutes later, a hot, steaming bowl of yummy goodness is delivered to your table. Cost? $6.50 for a bowl, or $7.50 for all you can eat.

I got the Sichuan sauce with rice & tofu the first time, and then I went back for Black Bean Garlic sauce with rice & tofu. Both were excellent. However, next time I go, I think I’ll just get one bowl — I ate both, but I think I accumulated some gluttony points with the hereafter.

If you’re downtown and feeling hungry, check out the Hungry Buddha — you won’t be disappointed!

Nothing fails like excess

From The New York Times:

Perhaps it was the bottle of 1947 Château Pétrus for £12,300 ($17,500). Or maybe it was the 1945 vintage from the same vineyard for £11,600 ($16,500). During dinner at a fashionable restaurant here, six investment bankers lapped up £44,000 ($62,700) in fine wines, and now they are suffering from a huge hangover.

Their employer, Barclays Capital, has fired all but one of the bankers since the dinner last July at Pétrus, a restaurant in London … when some of the bankers secretly tried to pass off their part of the bill as client expenses, Barclays began firing them one by one.

Gourmets willing to spend £50 for three courses can tuck into the cooking of Marcus Wareing, including sautéed medallion of stuffed confit pig trotter or roast breast of Anjou pigeon on a parsnip galette.

But the food was very much a sideshow to this particular dinner, which also included a third Château Pétrus, this one a 1946 vintage for £9,400. Then there was a 1984 Montrachet for £1,400, two bottles of Kronenbourg beer at £3.50 each, six glasses of Champagne for £9.50 each, one juice at £3, 10 bottles of water totaling £35, a pack of cigarettes for £5 and, to wash it all down, a bottle of 100-year-old Château d’Yquem dessert wine for £9,200.

Cave or community

From Sandeep Krishnamurthy’s Cave or Community?: An Empirical Examination of 100 Mature Open Source Projects:

I systematically look at the actual number of developers involved in the production of one hundred mature OSS products. What I found is more consistent with the lone developer (or cave) model of production rather than a community model (with a few glaring exceptions, of course). …

… My contention is only that communities do things other than produce the actual product- e.g. provide feature suggestions, try products out as lead users, answer questions etc. …

To be more specific the top 100 most active projects (based on Sourceforge’s activity percentile) in the mature class were chosen for this study. …

Finding 1: The vast majority of mature OSS programs are developed by a small number of individuals. …

Moreover, as shown in Table 2, only 29% of all projects had more than 5 developers while 51% of projects had 1 project administrator. Only 19 out of 100 projects had more than 10 developers. On the other extreme, 22% of projects had only one developer associated with them. …

Finding 2: Very few OSS products generate a lot of discussion. Most products do not generate too much discussion. …

Finding 3: Products with more developers tend to be viewed and downloaded more often. …

Finding 4: The number of developers working on a OSS program was unrelated to the release date.

It could be argued that older projects may have more developers associated with them. However, we found no relationship between the release date and the number of developers associated with a program. …

Even though the discussion here may seem like an example of extreme free- riding, the reader needs to know that all free-riding is not necessarily “bad”. For instance, consider public radio stations in the United States. Even the most successful stations have about a 10% contribution rate or a 90% free-ridership rate. But, they are still able to meet their goals! Similarly, the literature on lurking in e-mail lists has suggested that if everyone in a community contributes it may actually be counter-productive.

Similarly, a recent survey of participants in open-source projects conducted by the Boston Consulting Group and MIT provides more insight. The top five motivations of open-source participants were

1. To take part in an intellectually stimulating project.
2. To improve their skill.
3. To take the opportunity to work with open-source code.
4. Non-work functionality.
5. Work-related functionality.

The Forbes Fictional Fifteen

If fiction can be regarded as a culture’s subconscious, then it’s clear that we are a nation obsessed with the very rich. From avaricious caricatures like The Simpsons’ Montgomery Burns to literary character studies like F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Jay Gatsby, our culture — both high and low — is littered with images of billionaires and tycoons.

Rank Name $Net Worth
1. Santa Claus $∞
2. Richie Rich $24.7 billion
3. Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks $10 billion
4. Scrooge McDuck $8.2 billion
5. Thurston Howell III $8 billion
6. Willie Wonka $8 billion
7. Bruce Wayne $6.3 billion
8. Lex Luthor $4.7 billion
9. J.R. Ewing $2.8 billion
10. Auric Goldfinger $1.2 billion
11. C. Montgomery Burns $1 billion
12. Charles Foster Kane $1 billion
13. Cruella De Vil $875 millon
14. Gordon Gekko $650 millon
15. Jay Gatsby $600 millon” [Forbes]

Man, I lived a lot of this

Ode to the 90s
Found on FuckedCompany.com
I part-time telecommuted
as a Webmaster
for a dot com
in Y2K consulting.
They said it was
temp-to-perm.
it didn't pay
but there were options.
I swung by the office to make trades.
(Not that there's anything
wrong with that.)
cause we had a T1 Line
and there was a bull market
with a strong,
virile President.
and you never knew
when it could
crash.
I was a millionaire at 27
for thirty seconds.
I dug grunge.
then eighties.
Tony Bennet.
then Chumbawumba.
how bizzare.
how bizzare.
smoked Cohibas.
(Not that there's anything
wrong with that.)
but I didn't inhale.
Alrighty, then...
I learned HTML
and swing dancing.
moved to Seattle
but I was back on the redeye.
why did I eat
those krispy kremes?
it all seemed like a good idea
at the time.
I had a Pentium III
yeah
baby
yeah
with 9 gigs and a DVD.
It can do anythingh
even play movies.
I fell in love
in a chatroom
with a .BMP
I got the .JPEG
I wasn't so sure.....
I got emails,
but I couldn't Reply
my server was down
and our IT can't handle the MIS.
And my email didn't allow enclosures...
her ICQ was in my PDA
but I upgraded and
the memory's gone.

[Boing Boing Blog]

DRM ratchets up, but never quite works

From Edward Felten’s "DRM and the Regulatory Ratchet":

Regular readers know that one of my running themes is the harm caused when policy makers don’t engage with technical realities. One of the most striking examples of this has to do with DRM (or copy-restriction) technologies. Independent technical experts agree almost universally that DRM is utterly unable to prevent the leakage of copyrighted material onto file sharing networks. And yet many policy-makers act as if DRM is the solution to the file-sharing problem.

The result is a kind of regulatory ratchet effect. When DRM seems not to be working, perhaps it can be rescued by imposing a few regulations on technology (think: DMCA). When somehow, despite the new regulations, DRM still isn’t working, perhaps what is needed is a few more regulations to backstop it further (think: broadcast flag). When even these expanded regulations prove insufficient, the answer is yet another layer of regulations (think: consensus watermark). The level of regulation ratchets up higher and higher – but DRM still doesn’t work.

The advocates of regulation argue at each point that just one more level of regulation will solve the problem. In a rational world, the fact that they were wrong last time would be reason to doubt them this time. But if you simply take on faith that DRM can prevent infringement, the failure of each step becomes, perversely, evidence that the next step is needed. And so the ratchet clicks along, restricting technical progress more and more, while copyright infringement goes on unabated.

Black Friday, now Cyber Monday

From "Ready, Aim, Shop" in The New York Times:

Though it sounds like slick marketing, Cyber Monday, it turns out, is a legitimate trend. According to Shop.org, a trade group, 77 percent of online retailers reported a substantial sales increase on the Monday after Thanksgiving last year. “Not good for employers,” observed Ed Bussey, senior vice president of marketing at the online lingerie retailer Figleaves.com.

Figleaves.com said sales on Cyber Monday last year were twice those of Black Friday. And that number is likely to jump this year when it offers the online equivalent of a doorbuster – 20 percent off all items.

Some numbers about General Motors

From "For a G.M. Family, the American Dream Vanishes" in The New York Times:

G.M.’s problem, at least in terms of its costs, is the enormous price of health care benefits for hundreds of thousands of retirees. G.M. is the largest private provider of health care, covering more than a million Americans. …

G.M. plans to cut its blue-collar work force even further, though, to 86,000 Americans nationwide by the end of 2008, about the same number of people it once employed in Flint alone in the 1970’s. At its peak, G.M. employed more than 600,000 Americans.

“Frankly in our business, the progress in improving productivity has been dramatic,” Mr. Wagoner said. “Over a 10-year period, we have gone from a ballpark of 40-plus hours a vehicle in assembly to 20-plus hours a vehicle.”

Benefits are another matter. G.M. pays about $1,500 per car assembled in the United States for health care, more than it spends on steel.

Famous domain name sales

From Michael Tchong’s “GreatDomains.com” in ICONOCAST (24 February 2000):

In 1997, idNames.com sold “business.com” for $150,000 … That same domain recently sold for $7.5 million. Here are some of the more notable domain-name sales:

+------+---------------------+------------+
|  Rnk | Domain              | Sale Price |
+------+---------------------+------------+
|   1. | Business.com        |   $7.5M    |
|   2. | AltaVista.com       |    3.3     |
|   3. | Loans.com           |    3.0     |
|   4. | Autos.com           |    2.2     |
|   5. | Express.com         |    2.0     |
|   6. | Fly.com             |    1.5     |
|   7. | Bingo.com           |    1.1     |
|   8. | WallStreet.com      |    1.0     |
|   9. | ForSalebyOwner.com  |    0.8     |
|  10. | Drugs.com           |    0.8     |
+------+---------------------+------------+

CNN’s innovations & insights

From Joel Kurtzman, Interview with Gary Hamel, Strategy & Business (4th Qtr 1997):

One of the most interesting cases of all is CNN, which “saw at least three things that had already changed in our world that others had not yet put together”: technology changes produced small satellite uplinks that made it possible to report from virtually anywhere; lifestyle changes meant we don’t all get home in time for the six o’clock network news; and regulatory changes allowed cable operators to undermine the monopoly of regional broadcasters.