Can the UAW Be Owner and Representative?

Interesting times we live in… the UAW is finding itself increasingly at odds with it’s members over the negotiated but not yet approved Ford labor agreement.  

On Sunday, 92 percent of workers at Ford’s Kansas City Assembly Plant voted against proposed contract changes. The vote there came after a stormy meeting at nearby Winnetonka High School where UAW Vice President Bob King, head of the union’s national Ford section, made an appeal to workers to support the agreement, which was negotiated by the UAW and Ford earlier this month.

[From Ford workers in Sterling Heights reject concessions | detnews.com | The Detroit News]

The main issue that workers are objecting to is the no strike clause in the proposed agreement. This same clause was instrumental in securing the Chrysler takeover by Fiat, which the UAW now owns 55% of, and ensures that Fiat will not face union work stoppages until at least 2015.

This brings about an interesting question, can the UAW be both an owner of car companies and a representative of the employees at the same time? The entire UAW strategy to date has been to establish a common labor agreement across all U.S. car companies (no foreign company has a UAW plant except for the joint venture between GM and Toyota in Fremont, Nummi, and that is going to shut down, according to Toyota).

With the UAW ownership stakes in GM and Chrysler, the pattern agreement strategy appears to be thrown under the bus and if so would the labor agreements with GM and Chrysler put Ford, with no UAW ownership, at a competitive disadvantage? It’s not like this administration is going to do anything under the guise of antitrust given their complicity in the current state of affairs, but one has to wonder if this is ultimately an anticompetitive scheme set up by the UAW and government that will be applied against Ford in the name of leveling the field.

Life After Hard Drives

What comes after hard drives? Good question and one that is critical to our future computing ambitions.

According to a new study, if HDDs continue to progress at their current pace, then in 2020 a two-disk, 2.5-inch disk drive will be capable of storing more than 14 TB and will cost about $40 (today, a typical 500 GB hard drive costs about $100). Although flash memories have also become popular – with advantages such as lower power consumption, faster read access time, and better mechanical reliability than HDDs – the cost per GB for flash memories is nearly 10 times that of HDDs. In addition, flash memory technology will reach technical limits that will prevent its continued scaling before 2020, keeping them from replacing HDDs.

[From What Comes After Hard Drives?]

As we look to a future with smart grids/cities, digital medical records, lifestreaming, and things we haven’t even thought of yet, the one constant is that we are overrunning our capability to store all the data that is being generated. I am not talking about the physical requirements for storage because we can simply keep building bigger storage arrays that constantly catchup to what our requirements are, but the problem that remains is overcoming the mechanical limitations of a hard drive in order to serve up the piece of data that is required when it’s required.

So there is a physical performance issue and most likely a schematic issue as we come to terms with the limitations of data storage models for accommodating 10, 50, 100x the amount of data that we deal with today. Just building cheaper bigger hard drives is not the solution, it helps but it’s not the primary problem that requires solving… data storage models, the digital detritus problem, and data performance are the problems I foresee.

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Internet Regulations Coming

One sobering thought to think about while you are celebrating the FCC’s decision to move forward with net neutrality regulations is that for the first time the FCC is asserting itself as the authority to regulate how the web is governed.

With Thursday’s vote, the five-member panel began the process to move forward with the regulations announced last month by the agency’s chairman, Juilus Genachowski. His proposal would formally codify the FCC’s four existing principles, intended to prevent Internet service providers from giving preferential treatment to certain content and services. He also proposed two additional principles: one to ensure providers do not discriminate between applications; and another to require Internet companies to disclose their network management practices to consumers.

[From On 5-0 vote, agency moves ahead in push to regulate Internet – TheHill.com]

If I am incorrect I would appreciate hearing about it, but to my knowledge all regulatory action to date involving the internet has been specifically targeted at commerce activities that are potentially fraudulent, data privacy (or lack thereof it would seem at times), technical aspects, and specific speech, such as SEC regulations on company disclosure. VoIP has been another focus of regulation but that would appear to be an extension of their traditional focus on telecommunications more so than Internet regulation.

I am a proponent of net neutrality but in the pit of my stomach I have a strong fear that now that the FCC has determined they can broadly regulate the relationship between internet technical service providers and content providers that they will have a reflexive desire to overreach much like the FTC did with their much maligned “guidelines” for bloggers and advertisers. There is one absolute truth about Washington D.C. and that is the desire for turf knows no bounds and once authority has been established it is fully exercised and rarely relinquished.

I simply hope that now that we have achieved what has long been desired with net neutrality that we won’t ultimately regret it.

Newsday.com Destined for Failure with Pay Wall

Cablevision must have gotten punch drunk with all of the talk coming out of newspapers about going to a subscription model for their online services, because they are going big, really big, with a $260 a year pricing plan for Newsday.com

Those who are not customers of Optimum Online or the newspaper – both owned by Bethpage-based Cablevision Systems Corp. – will have to pay a $5 weekly fee. However, nonpaying customers will have access to some of newsday.com’s information, including the home page, school closings, weather, obituaries, classified and entertainment listings. There also will be some limited access to Newsday stories.

[From Newsday.com moves to subscriber model]

In reality this is a lot of talk about something that will actually have very little impact on revenue because if you are a Newsday subscribers or a Cablevision cable customer you will have access to the Newsday.com site for no extra charge. Given that Newsday is concentrated on Long Island and Cablevision has a virtual lock on that region, what the online pricing plan is doing is not increasing revenue but defending revenue that is under assault by adding the online service as something extra subscribers get.

In the final analysis, this is exactly why it will fail. By creating a pricing plan that defends rather than attacks a market the company is conceding defeat in print and this strategy will have the effect of slowing audience growth online in the one segment that the paper requires, young people. I am willing to give Newsday and Cablevision some credit for being creative with a multichannel strategy that covers TV, print and online, but this pricing plan is a throwback to a subscription model that simply doesn’t work anymore.

Pay Per Performance Advertising Goes Hyperlocal

I used a new app from mobiQpons yesterday and color me impressed.

The way it works is you install their iPhone, Android or Blackberry app (no signup required, just load the app) and when location services on the device is turned on you will get notifications of merchants offering coupons or promotions in your area. Merchants have to be signed up for the service in order for their promotions to run through the network but that’s not surprising.

From what I can gather the only time that mobiQpons gets paid is when a coupon is redeemed by a customer. This is good because it’s true performance based advertising but it has a potential downside if the merchant in question already has a pretty good online promotion capability, in which case advertising that would normally reach the customer through free channels, like email, will be shifted to the mobiQpons service in which case the merchant is paying not just for the value of the coupon but the fee to the network as well.

It is still a great convenience and I love the fact that the geolocation capabilities filters out the offers that are available to me based on my physical location. Despite the strength of the product and service offering, the key execution variable for mobiQpons will be their ability to promote their merchant partners and for their merchants to promote their mobiQpons offerings… I found out about the service not from a tech blog, press release or the tech press but because Sigonas Market emailed me about it as part of their normal customer outreach. I probably would not have taken the time to download and try out this app were it not for a merchant I already rely upon endorsing it.

Opinion vs. Expertise

It’s not often that I disagree with Mike and I am not ready to fully do that here but he is not fully centered on the core issue either.

Kimball is correct that he should be better defining his brand and proving his worth — that’s what we’ve been saying all along. But you can do that without insulting the riff raff, as well. You can do that while embracing the “bottom up” process. You can do that without being a total snob that has no time for the people who actually pay your salary.

[From Cook’s Illustrated Editor: I Wish All Those Amateurs Out There Would Just Shut Up | Techdirt]

The underlying issue that Kimball is pointing out is that the internet has become one great big !%$@$^ book club… everyone has to have an opinion about everything (don’t think I don’t realize the irony of ME writing THAT sentence). Kimball’s point is that real expertise is acquired through great effort, not just through the ability to peck away on the keyboard and hit publish, and that authority directly correlates to the relationship you can expect with your audience.

The second point that Kimball is right to make is that advertising has been the seed of destruction for magazines in the food space, but more broadly I would say across the board. Taken online the display advertising model deployed by the vast majority of publications is simply unsustainable and in the process they are destroying the delicate balance between content and advertising.

Case in point is the restyled Bon Appetit magazine, which has gotten really light on content and really heavy on advertising in all forms; if it takes you more than 15 minutes to read the last issue I would be very surprised, and color me shocked when advertiser products are rated “top 5″ out of, say, 7 tested products. It’s almost as bad as automotive magazines where no product is ever rated “don’t buy this piece of shit” because every possible product is being advertised in the magazine.

The fascination with lifestyle has also distorted Bon Appetit and alienated their core audience… who I cannot imagine are really that interested in celebrity chef interviews. The remake process for Bon Appetit probably resulted in a more intense discussion of what type of typefaces they would use than what type of content they would be providing their subscribers.

Cooks Illustrated goes into excruciating detail about food and how the process of preparing is affected by the chemistry of food. I have subscribed to this magazine for years and marvel at the lengths to which they will go to find the ideal process, ingredients, and tools, all the while challenging the conventional wisdom about what is the proper method. When it comes to presenting food expertise it is without question that serious foodies, professional and amateur alike, will agree that Kimball has earned his stripes in the expertise department.

Secondly, Cooks Illustrated does not have any advertising, it’s entirely content driven, and what that means is that Kimball’s interests are completely aligned with that of his readers. His is the only publication that I know of that actually has a “not recommended” category for product reviews, and they don’t hesitate on recommending products that are cheap grocery store staples if in fact they are the best ingredients based on taste.

Mike is right to point out that Kimball comes across as a petulant snob with nothing but disdain for food blogs and websites, but Mike fails to acknowledge the broader point that Kimball is making, which isn’t just about defining your brand, that the internet has devalued authority. This is a point I think we can all agree is an issue to be resolved (the measurement of authority).

Where we end up is at an interesting intersection triangulated at by both pieces, which is that the internet has not destroyed traditional publishing but rather exposes the vacuous nature of many established publishing brands. This leveling of the playing field has followed the path that many technology dependent industries have followed, which is that distribution and gatekeeping is increasingly not the dynamic that your business relies on but rather the ability to engage and sustain a valuable audience. Given Kimball’s resume and actual experience in building Cook’s Illustrated, I think he is exceptionally well qualified to opine on the state of affairs but like Mike I would appreciate a little more humility in the process.

Lastly, this is a very interesting discussion because with newspapers dead set on charging for online content we are going to see in realtime what the relationship between newspapers and readers really is.

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Artists I Like: William Hunter

I have often featured artists who work with wood, people who know me understand my appreciation for this. The ability to work in 3 dimensions with a material that can’t be stretched, smudged, or repaired easily is a skill that few people truly excel at and wood is a marvelous material that never ceases to amaze me with it’s figure, depth of color, translucence, and array of visible textures. Wood, along with snowflakes, is the original “no two are alike” material.

There is also something primordial about art that centers on the vessel form. The earliest human artifacts found to date are vessels, often featuring decorations of some form and I never grow weary of vessels, whether pottery, wood, or glass. Though the days of relying on them for function is long past, I can still admire these pieces for the effort required to create them.

William Hunter is a Palos Verdes based artist who is exceptional in skill, a resume stretching back 25 years featuring numerous gallery and museum exhibitions.

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The Things You Learn About People

Every friday I ride my motorcycle over to the coast, stopping in at a local bar for much needed refreshments along the way. Over the years I have gotten to know the locals and have bonded with one fellow in particular.

I knew that my friend is a veteran and yesterday he revealed that he was in the Marine Corps for 5 years. Here’s how that conversation went:

Me: “so where were you based?”

Him: “I did basic in San Diego and moved around, eventually spending 2 years in Washington D.C.”

Me: “DC huh, what did you do there?”

Him: “I was attached to the White House detail.”

Me: “Really… that’s pretty damn interesting. So you were one of the Marines in full dress blues standing guard at the White House and at Marine One and Air Force One?”

Him: “yeah, pretty much… it’s surprising how well you get to know the President when you do that for a couple of years.”

Over the course of our conversation I learned that he lives in a large yurt on 40 acres of land and has camels, alpacas, goats (miniature fainting goats no less), sheep, about 40 chickens and a contingent of very large turkeys.

For the rest of my ride I could not help but be reminded that you can learn fascinating details about people when you simply talk to them. For all of the technical gizmos that our industry takes great pride in, nothing can replace the texture of real face to face interactions, what Stowe Boyd aptly calls the meatspace.

Darth Vader spoke volumes when he opineddon’t be too proud of this technological terror you’ve constructed; the ability to destroy a planet is insignificant next to the power of the Force.

If SAP Built an Electric Car

You gotta admire people who have a sense of humor about what their company does:

  • You need to buy a minimum of 5 cars in licence
  • You need at least 1/2 year to adapt your street, garage and parking space to use your SAP ECar
  • But you can run it on bicycle tires, train tracks and hula hoop-rings
  • The door handles are on the underside of the car
  • The steering wheel makes 20 clicking sounds when you turn it, because all 4 tires – including the spare tire – send back multiple messages
  • You can see your whole driving record, but not the current street that you drive, because of missing authorizations
  • The repair contract was just incrased from 17% to 22% fee, though simple repairs take 2 weeks; but they are available 24/7
  • The driver’s seat has 250 switches and controls, but because of a bug that will be fixed with SP7 (release date still unknown), the back of the seat is stuck in complete forward position
  • The gauge is configurable in km/h, miles/h, steps per seconds, wing bats per millisecond and WARP
  • The exchange of the battery can only be done with external consultants, but they are already fully booked for the next 12 months. As workaround you receive a 10 miles long power cord
  • The engine is scaled for a Jumbo and has only two settings: Off and Full Throttle
  • The brakes react only after 7 seconds because of authorization checks
  • But you can scale passengers indefinitely by clustering multiple cars
  • The speed is displayed as ABAP-report
  • The manual comes as a Powerpoint slide deck

H/T to Jim Fisher at Gaspar Partners for sending me the link… he found it on Marc Benioff’s Facebook profile.

Shrooms

Check out this really cool looking mushroom that I discovered growing in my garden today. Can anyone offer some guidance on what kind of mushroom it is?

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