mm459: Blast from the Past! No. 39

August 5, 2008

MUDGE’S Musings

So, back into the archives yet again, (once again, a picnic summer concert with friends) but this time, you really get a treat, as this is one of my all time favorites, not by any statistical measure, just by my own subjective evaluation.

I console myself by guessing that most of you weren’t here nine months ago. As one of my favorite paper publications used to say: “If you haven’t read it yet, it’s new for you!”

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Blast from the Past!

A post we really, really loved to write, and read, and re-read…

From last fall, and always in season, originally posted October 12, 2007, and originally titled “mm168: We’re fighting more than one pointless war.”

MUDGE‘s Musings

The U.S. has always been this very strange dichotomy: a Puritanical streak a mile wide, uneasily coexisting with gaudy decadence.

We prohibited alcohol consumption by Constitutional amendment in 1920. The result: organized crime in this country became an ingrained institution, and every solid citizen knew a bootlegger. The Great Experiment ended with repeal of prohibition in 1933.

Oddly, organized crime is still with us, having survived to evolve toward other more lucrative (i.e., still illegal) venues. Such as gambling, sex, even tobacco.

And drugs.

Gambling had always been an underground phenomenon, save for a couple of pockets (Nevada and Atlantic City). Then, 35 years ago, state sponsored lotteries began to appear on the scene, leading to the next step, the oddly constrained riverboat and tribal casinos that now populate so many parts of the nation.

Gambling, always a pernicious and destructive habit, is now state sanctioned, making it possible for working stiffs and stiffettes who couldn’t raise busfare to an Indian casino to blow half their weekly pay on a one in 12million shot at obscene wealth at their corner mini-mart.

Commercial sex, fully consummated in the form of legal brothels only in several counties of Nevada, has long been available in teaser form (”look but don’t touch — and would you like to buy a ‘private dance’ in the back?”) in nearly every city, of whatever size.

Many of these strip clubs, “gentlemen’s clubs” and the like are run by, you guessed it, organized crime, also still a force in the pornography field, although the liberating effect of the Internet has democratized both supply and demand of that particular form of entertainment.

Tobacco is a late addition to the list of proscribed vices, as more municipalities and states (who have long since attempted to control tobacco sales to minors with spotty success) have begun to restrict the ability of citizens to indulge in smoking in public spaces, and have often raised taxes on cigarette purchases so outlandishly that organized crime has been pleased to step into tobacco sales, providing low-priced supplies using stolen or imported stock.

So the U.S. goes both ways: Puritanical (sex, tobacco) and decadence (alcohol, gambling).

And then there are drugs. The Puritans have a firm grasp on this issue, and the law and order establishment has made the enforcement of drug prohibition a very big business indeed.

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mm457: From the guys who helped put China in business

August 3, 2008

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© John Leaver | Dreamstime.com

MUDGE’s Musings

Used to be, if you were annoyed by the antics of big business, you’d pick on General Motors, world’s biggest, most arrogant, automobile manufacturer.

Difficult to be anything but sorry for GM these days, as they Hummer their way into business oblivion.

No, these days if you want to vent your spleen regarding unpleasant aspects of big business, Wal-Mart is your most appropriate target.

After all, these are the guys who have rolled back prices so relentlessly that they’ve rolled up entire industries and sent the jobs and our treasure to China, at the expense of zillions of decent paying blue collar jobs in the U.S.

And, as an employer, they are infamous for poor pay, are niggardly with benefits, and have fought an equally relentless battle against unionization, lest their workers have any real means of changing their working conditions.

Those friendly greeters? Just minimum wage retirees who are really posted at the door not to smile weakly at you, but rather to make sure that shoplifters exiting the store are caught.

Just to be certain that their own underpaid and cowed staff stays that way, they have begun a campaign, documented by the Wall Street Journal, no less, to warn their managers and supervisors that a prospective Democratic presidential administration endangers Wal-Mart’s non-union status.

wallstreetjournal

Wal-Mart Warns of Democratic Win

By ANN ZIMMERMAN and KRIS MAHER | August 1, 2008; Page A1

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is mobilizing its store managers and department supervisors around the country to warn that if Democrats win power in November, they’ll likely change federal law to make it easier for workers to unionize companies — including Wal-Mart.

In recent weeks, thousands of Wal-Mart store managers and department heads have been summoned to mandatory meetings at which the retailer stresses the downside for workers if stores were to be unionized.

According to about a dozen Wal-Mart employees who attended such meetings in seven states, Wal-Mart executives claim that employees at unionized stores would have to pay hefty union dues while getting nothing in return, and may have to go on strike without compensation. Also, unionization could mean fewer jobs as labor costs rise.

Wal-Mart is far from the only employer that opposes the Employee Free Choice Act (co-sponsored, by the way, by a certain junior senator from Illinois), but as the largest private employer in the U.S. they certainly have the most to lose, and that largest body of private employees in the U.S. has the most to gain.

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mm453: Go with the wind

July 30, 2008

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© David Davis | Dreamstime.com

MUDGE’s Musings

Electricity generated by windmills, sponsored by one of the last of the iconoclastic oilmen.

Electric powered automobiles that actually have a driving radius between recharges of more than an hour or two.

We’ve looked at wind power several times [mm294: Making the world unsafe for bats and birds; mm220: It’s all about power; mm204: Wind power – Ugly, noisy, destructive! Who knew?] in this nanocorner of the ‘Sphere© as an idea whose time has arrived.

And we caught the first inklings of Shai Agassi’s ambitious electric dream earlier this year [mm271: The automobile post – diesel / electric].

Leave it to Tom Friedman of the NYTimes, global strategic thinker that he is, to make the connection.

nytimes

Texas to Tel Aviv

Op-Ed Columnist | By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN | Published: July 27, 2008

What would happen if you cross-bred J. R. Ewing of “Dallas” and Carl Pope, the head of the Sierra Club? You’d get T. Boone Pickens. What would happen if you cross-bred Henry Ford and Yitzhak Rabin? You’d get Shai Agassi. And what would happen if you put together T. Boone Pickens, the green billionaire Texas oilman now obsessed with wind power, and Shai Agassi, the Jewish Henry Ford now obsessed with making Israel the world’s leader in electric cars?

You’d have the start of an energy revolution.

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mm452: Well, it’s been a long day

July 29, 2008

MUDGE’s Musings

Well, it’s been a long, been a long, been a long, been a long day.

Moderated a meeting on location first thing this morning, which was routine except for the web conference participation: Ireland, Argentina, Japan, the Netherlands, and most places between. Oh, yes, and one of the speakers was connecting from just outside Rome.

Sometimes I really, really like my job.

This afternoon, performed another one of MUDGE’s rare personal appearances: a training class on-site, rather than behind the protection of a telephone call and a web conference. Fortunately, it was an easy audience, and turned out to be quite well received.

Then, after the usual hour-long commute, broken up today by a succession of phone calls (hands-free, of course), arrived home to make silly faces at the neighbor’s toddler grandson, passing by in this generation’s version of a “Daddy Blue Car.”

And then, after a quick change to leisure clothes, off to the lakefront, for a picnic with close friends, and a free evening concert by the lagoon.

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WcW014: It’s not all bright lights and glamour

July 23, 2008

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© Ron Chapple Studios | Dreamstime.com

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Web Conferencing Week

So, if this were really a weekly feature, we’d be on number 052 or something, and this is only number 14. Thus, why not two in a row?

The poor sap fallen asleep over his laptop in front of his desktop PC in the illustration doesn’t resemble yr (justifiably) humble svt in the slightest, but it’s what I’ll look like in a few hours.

No, I won’t suddenly get 35 years younger, grow back a lot of very dark hair and become vaguely Asian.

But, I’m working very late tonight, and very early in the morning. Sigh.

As I’ve often noted in this space, I support the enterprise web conferencing application from an end-user perspective. A vendor once described me most flatteringly as the manager of the end user experience for my technology.

So, in addition to working with the other, more technical, members of the team (server administrators and system architects); developing curriculum and reference materials; teaching nearly 4,000 fellow employees in the past six years to use web conferences  by attending my training web conferences; besides all that, I’m the guy who gets the call when users have critical conferences that require my professional expertise.

Got the call a few weeks ago: we’re doing an important meeting three times, because the sun never sets on our global enterprise: once for the Asia-Pacific region, once for Europe and once for the Western Hemisphere. 8amCEST, 1pmCEST, 6pmCEST. We’ve had trouble with the web conferencing tool in the past, please help.

I endeavor to honor requests like this. But, of course, I’m sitting in the U.S. Central time zone.

8amCEST (Central European Summer Time) in, yes, central Europe, the origin of the meetings, translates to 1amCDT (U.S. Central Daylight Time).

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WcW013: Telepresence hits the mainstream

July 22, 2008
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Peter Wynn Thompson for The New York Times

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Web Conferencing Week

Telepresence is the most exciting luxury class concept since the Learjet.

Telepresence is the advanced version of videoconferencing first exposed in this nanocorner of the ‘Sphere© last 01-August-2007 in WcW004, and then updated in WcW010 24-October-2007.

It’s videoconferences gone ultra high definition, and it just made its way out of the trade press ghetto, into the mainstream in today’s New York Times.

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As Travel Costs Rise, More Meetings Go Virtual

By STEVE LOHR | Published: July 22, 2008

Jill Smart, an Accenture executive, was skeptical the first time she stepped into her firm’s new videoconferencing room in Chicago for a meeting with a group of colleagues in London. But the videoconferencing technology, known as telepresence, delivered an experience so lifelike, Ms. Smart recalled, that “10 minutes into it, you forget you are not in the room with them.”

Accenture, a technology consulting firm, has installed 13 of the videoconferencing rooms at its offices around the world and plans to have an additional 22 operating before the end of the year.

Accenture figures its consultants used virtual meetings to avoid 240 international trips and 120 domestic flights in May alone, for an annual saving of millions of dollars and countless hours of wearying travel for its workers.

As travel costs rise and airlines cut service, companies large and small are rethinking the face-to-face meeting — and business travel as well. At the same time, the technology has matured to the point where it is often practical, affordable and more productive to move digital bits instead of bodies.

These telepresence studios are not cheap (as much as $350,000 at each end!) compared to the standard issue videoconference suite; just as that first Learjet wasn’t as cheap as a first class airline ticket, until the green eyeshade folks got a look at the productivity gains and the outright savings.

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WcW012: A rare public appearance

June 24, 2008

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Web Conferencing Week

Once again, this occasional series has failed in its nominal attempt to appear on any kind of regular basis. Not so much a lack of enthusiasm as simply a lack of news.

I’ve been working with the team that is preparing to roll out the latest and greatest version of our software, IBM Lotus Sametime, testing, preparing the teaching curriculum, and generally filling the gaps in a very extensive task list. The effort has been lengthy, not least because of its magnitude, especially when measured against the minute size of the team. Really, there are just two people in the enterprise with full time responsibilities for the Sametime collaboration tools; thankfully the other is a tremendously gifted, spirited and hard-working technical architect who works out of his home office in Colorado.

Finally, the light at the end of the tunnel has resolved itself: it’s NOT an oncoming train, and we believe we’re mere weeks away from D-Day.

It’s been a time.

Meanwhile, I’ve suspended my classes in preparation for an entirely new approach to the educational process; after more than 650 of them in the past 5-1/2 years, for nearly 4,000 students, management has decided to turn over training responsibilities to our division’s Learning & Development group. I have mixed feelings about this, as I’ve grown rather fond of the process of teaching (NOT fond enough to follow the curriculum to that particular group!); 650 one-to-two-hour classes is probably more than enough for a while.

You may recall that this teaching is all conducted on-line, using Sametime web conference technology, together with a telephone conference call. Such remote teaching has its own challenges; there is much reduced feedback available, since there are no faces nor body language to read.

But, this has worked for me, since, as anyone can tell from the likeness published at the top of this nanocorner of the ‘Sphere©, I’ve a great face for radio. So, a form of radio such teaching is. And, without a live audience (the great old radio series seem to have had live audiences), without that rich feedback, it’s quite hard work.

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mm418: Blast from the Past! No. 29

June 22, 2008

It’s the first official weekend of summer, 2008, in the northern hemisphere, and we’re off to the movies! Silly, right? Warm, beautiful day outside. Cold, dark theatre inside. But since I don’t recreate too well (Achilles tendinosis still an issue), we take our entertainment where we can. It’s just deplorable when real life gets in the way of my blogging addiction. But, perhaps you’ll indulge me… it’s summertime, after all.

There’s most read, and then there’s favorite. This is a post which yr (justifiably) humble svt is, regrettably, but not regretfully, not at all humble about.

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Blast from the Past!

A post we really, really loved to write, and read, and re-read…

From last summer, originally posted September 16, 2007, and originally titled “mm143: Arctic Ice Melt Opens Northwest Passage.”

MUDGE’S Musings

In cataclysmic global warming news, the Panama Canal became obsolete (at least during the summer months) today.

This story has been developing all season, and, for once, the term “geopolitics” is not idly invoked.

nytimes

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Published: September 16, 2007 – Filed at 4:39 a.m. ET

PARIS (AP) — Arctic ice has shrunk to the lowest level on record, new satellite images show, raising the possibility that the Northwest Passage that eluded famous explorers will become an open shipping lane.

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mm414: McCain vs. Obama takes to the skies

June 18, 2008

MUDGE’s Musings

The Government Accountability Office has tossed the Northrop Grumman/EADS refueling tankers contract back to the Air Force. This is a big relief to Boeing, which was stunned in March when they lost out in a competition that could be worth as much as $40 billion.

Boeing filed a protest after the consortium of Northrop Grumman/EADS, EADS being the European aerospace giant that has been competing savagely, and successfully, with Boeing for the world’s commercial airline business for more than 30 years, was chosen by the Air Force to provide 179 KC-45A aerial refueling tankers. The KC-45A is based on the popular Airbus A330 twin engine widebodied airliner. Boeing’s submission was based on the Boeing 767, a similar aircraft, but a decade older design.

If you took the trouble, faithful reader, to refresh your memory regarding the March award by clicking on the link above, then you know that this story is a true Washington lobbyist soap opera.

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GAO Agrees with Boeing in Air Force Tanker Contract

By Dana Hedgpeth | Washington Post Staff Writer  | Wednesday, June 18, 2008; 2:04 PM

The Government Accountability Office has sustained a protest from Boeing on a $40 billion contract awarded to rival Northrop Grumman to build new aerial refueling tankers for the Air Force, saying “a number of significant errors” had been made in the evaluations of the heated competition.

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mm409: Blast from the Past! No. 27

June 13, 2008

MUDGE’s Musings

What a great day to post this! I’m headed home from Boston, and sincerely hoping that I need not loathe nor fear any of the experience.

There’s most read, and then there’s favorite. This is a post which yr (justifiably) humble svt is, regrettably, but not regretfully, not at all humble about.

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Blast from the Past!

A post we really, really loved to write, and read, and re-read…

From last summer, originally posted September 12, 2007 and originally titled “Fear and loathing at the airport.”

MUDGE’S Musings

We’ve tackled the unpleasant topic of air travel a couple of times this summer.

As a subject of interest, it won’t go away.

A couple of recent cases in point, about a week old, but worthy of attention nonetheless.

We begin with Business Week, recently demoted from its 35-year reign as MUDGE‘s #1 absolute all time favorite business magazine by the new (160-year old!) #1, The Economist, the best magazine on the planet. But, BW is always a fine read, and this was the cover story for the Sept. 10 issue:

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Long lines, late flights, near collisions—everyone is unhappy with the state of the U.S. air travel system. Unfortunately, no one, especially not the FAA, seems able to do anything about it

When Marion C. Blakey took over at the Federal Aviation Administration in 2002, she was determined to fix an air travel system battered by terrorism, antiquated technology, and the ever-turbulent finances of the airline industry. Five years later, as she prepares to step down on Sept. 13, it’s clear she failed. Almost everything about flying is worse than when she arrived. Greater are the risks, the passenger headaches, and the costs in lost productivity. Almost everyone has a horror story about missed connections, lost baggage, and wasted hours on the tarmac.. More than 909,000 flights were late through June of this year, twice the level of 2002.

And if you think the Summer from Hell is over, fasten your seat belt. The FAA predicts 1 billion passengers a year will take to the skies by 2015, a 36% increase from the current level. FAA officials say this year’s Labor Day crunch could become an everyday flying fiasco within eight years, costing America’s economy $22 billion annually.

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