Monday, March 30, 2009

Out Rage of the Day IV

Over the weekend the news exploded that Rick Wagoner "resigned" from his job as the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) at General Motors (GM). The "resignation" was clearly forced by the Obama administration. I am quite supportive of this action. Needless to say the forced resignation of the head of a major private corporation has led to a plethora of articles and posts concerning its appropriateness.

Larry Kudlow had a spirited discussion on this issues. Essentially the discussion can be divided into three themes: 1) Keep the government out of private enterprise, 2) Force the companies into a structured bankruptcy, and 3) Let the government take action to clean-up private enterprise. See Larry's article: "A ‘Truly Breathtaking’ Departure". (March 30, 2009)

When the news broke, my reaction was, its about time!!!! As I read on, I noticed that many comments were simply along the line of we have to keep the government out of private industry. I was aghast at the lack of logic behind these comments. If our corporate leaders are incapable of running their organizations they should either resign or be fired. The board of directors (who have a fiduciary responsibility to review the performance of the CEO and to act on behalf of the shareholders) appear to be out to lunch. To make matters worse, management frustrates the attempts of shareholders who question the actions of management to take measures against management. Private enterprise is about responsible and accountable corporate management not pillaging the company.

My conclusion, if corporate leaders run a corporation as their own private fiefdom and thumb their nose at the public and the shareholders; the government has a right to step in and remove them. We still have several hundred more CEOs to go, like those of GE and Pfizer.

Though Kudkow clearly views the removal of Wagoner as ushering in a new era of government controlled business, his show was quite gratifying at looking at the "firing" from a wide variety of perspectives. As an excellent comprise offered by Kudlow, which I did not think of, was using the bankruptcy process to clean-up these corporations. One way or another, corporate executives who fail to perform, need to be removed for the free market to survive and thrive.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Proprietary Hell

Actually this is a story about plumbing and more aptly this is a story concerning uniform product standards. Today, I had one of those 15 minute plumbing jobs that took all day to complete. It took all day, because the maker of the faucet, I was attempting to fix, did not use standard parts that allowed interchangeability. After numerous mind numbing trips to the local hardware store and big box supply store looking vainly for parts, I ended up ripping the whole unit out including some ancillary parts. So I assembled my new updated PVC based system. With pride, I turned on the water. Wouldn't you know it, a pin hole leak manifested itself in an old part that connected to the new faucet. So back to the mind numbing cycle of visiting the various hardware stores, discussing options, and buying parts. None of parts worked, so in a fit of desperation, I cut a portion of the pipe going through the compression joint, which removed the leaking component, and cramming the remaining portion of the old fitting into the new PVC line connecting to the faucet with lots and lots of plumber's putty. So far so good.

So what does this story mean in terms of propriety, computer products, and digital rights management (DRM)? The use on non-standard products lacking interoperability results in significant costs in terms of dollars, time, and mental anguish to the consumer. It is also an untold economic cost to society. Think of the time and money that consumers who invested in losing technologies such as Betamax and HD-DVD lost. There is also the issue of mental distress resulting from having invested in these "abandoned" technologies where there is virtually no hope of obtaining a return on your investment. Also, what about all the cell phones that ended up in your local landfill because they could not be unlocked?

Private industry asserts that it is the most effective way to allocate resources. While it does do a reasonable good job, there are situations where people on an individual basis and a society as a whole endure enormous costs in terms of time and money trying to replace proprietary products. If private industry truly wants the efficient allocation of resources and true interoperability; use standard products. Compete on the quality of the product, price, and customer satisfaction.

PS: To be fair, products overtime do evolve. Sometime "old" products will not work with "new" products because of evolutionary changes in technologies, materials, and standards.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Civil War Sites and GPS

Recently we bought a Garmin Nuvi 650. Since buying it we have learned that you can create a "Point of Interest File" (POI). Since January 2009 we have been collecting North Carolian GPS data locations for various Civil War historical markers, museums, whatever. Starting from Morehead City, we have been slowly spiralling our way outwards. The data is based on the maps produced by to assist people who wish to visit these sites. The hardcopy maps, while helpful are no where near as accurate as a GPS unit. The North Carolina maps are located here: Front of Map Back of Map.

While visiting New Bern, we recorded the location of the Attmore-Oliver House. After getting home I typed the coordinates into Google maps and I was pleasantly surprised by a street view image that showed the house and historical marker.
Here are the coordinates: 35.10716 -77.0425

The GPS data collected so far as a POI file is stored here: North Carolina Civil War Trails. The file is free for the taking. I am hoping that this will become a community activity. If you are in North Carolina, have a GPS, and visit any of these sites, I hope that you would be able to email the coordinates. My email address is linked to my user ID on the download page.

Actually, the submitted Civil War data doesn't have to be limited to North Carolina. But for now, it makes more sense to focus on North Carolina. But, I will take all.

This is a personal project, I am not affiliated with

Monday, March 2, 2009

Outrage of the Day III

The news concerning General Electric continues to be negative and to grow in intensity. Today, the New York Times reports "Baked-In Losses Weigh on G.E". Fox News repeatedly runs negative commentary, especially Bill O'Reilly. With this avalanche of negative news, I have begun to wonder: Why isn't there a public relations campaign by GE to refute these charges?

Simple logic dictates that you must initiate a public relations campaign to refute these attacks, whether true or not. If you don't refute the attacks they become "truth" in the public eye. So why isn't GE management doing something?

The management of GE is responsible for running the company. To become a manager in a large corporation you must be politically savvy and recognize the need for effective public relations. After all Immelt was able to get himself appointed to Obema's Economic Recovery Advisory Board. From the way GE's stock has decline in value and Immelts absence from the public arena, it would appear that Immelt is more concerned about being on a presidential committee than saving the company he is being paid to manage. (The irony of course is that he is on a committee to provide economic recovery advice to the President and Immelt is failing as the head of a major US corporation.)

This leads me to the issue of leadership. If Immelt were a good leader, he would be leading a public relations charge to refute or explain the negative news. Instead, of being visible and publicly discussing the bad news, Immelt apparently let the news out of the dividend cut at GE in the form of a "leak". As a leader, Immelt should have had had a press conference where he personally discussed the dividend cut and why it was necessary. It is possible, since I don't see all the news, that such a news conference happened, but I have not heard of any. Since, Immelt seems to be "absent" from the public forum, I assume he must be cowering in a bunker somewhere. I wonder if he is busy strapping on his golden parachute?

I have written several emails, over the course of the past several months to GE. None have been answered. Not even the empty automated response of "thank-you" Even though, I have not received a response, maybe a flood of responses, might finally evoke a reaction from GE. If you own stock in GE here is the email address: I hope that the GE stockholders can get organized to take back control of GE.

Update 3/3/2008: Of course, the next morning I learn that GE has issued its 2008 Annual Report. Here is the link to the Letter to Shareowners. Immelt's Letter to Shareholders contains some suprisngly candid admissions: "In the past, investors asked me what was our target percentage for earnings contribution from financial services and I said below 50%. Going forward we expect 30% of our earnings to come from financial services. I never envisioned getting to our target in this fashion, but nevertheless we now have a more heavily weighted industrial portfolio."

Nevertheless, Immelt, in his letter has not mentioned the dividend cut nor the sweetheart deal given Buffet. Immelt also wrote: "In this very tough environment, GE earned $18 billion, our third highest year in history." If earnings were the third largest in history for GE, there is a credibility concern since the facts don't seem to correlate; the stock has declined from nearly $40 per share to $7 per share and the dividend has been cut. Clearly Immelt has not disclosed all.

Immelt wrote: "Despite our efforts, the GE stock got hammered. Companies with a presence in financial services, like GE, are simply out of favor. I can tell you that no one is more disappointed than I am with the performance of our stock in this tough environment. I assure you that we will work hard to restore your trust, and we will continue to work hard to build GE for the long term." I hope he means what he says and that this is not empty rhetoric.

New York Times on Copyright

The New York Times has once again published a biased article, "Copyright Challenge for Sites That Excerpt" that uses FUD to assert that Fair Use is somehow "dangerous". I won't go into the whole story, since there is nothing particularly unique about this article's biased attack on Fair Use.

What is troubling with the article, is that Comment #12 was found by the New York Times Editorial staff to be an "Editor's Selection". As an "Editor's Selection" I would have expected it to contain some insightful analysis. All that Comment #12 offered in the way of careful insightful analysis was: "Excerpting can be dangerous if the quote is taken out of context or modified in any way." - which simply boils down to FUD. Getting out of bed in the morning can be "dangerous" too, so maybe getting out of bed should be prohibited in the spirit of protecting us from the evils of living in the world.

Comment #12 also ignores a very important aspect concerning original content. What happens if the original content itself is "dangerous". For example, the plans to build a nuclear device. Well, if commenting on content should somehow be prohibited because it could be considered "dangerous", then we had better do away with all writing since all writing could be "dangerous". If all writing is prohibited, then we won't have to worry about copyright infringement. The Times would be pleased.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Science Fiction Book Database

I developed a database to track my books, so that I would not end-up buying duplicate books. Eventually, I expanded it to list all books/stories/magazines that an author appeared in my database. Currently the database has just over 600 entries in it.

This is one of those perpetual projects that you dabble in every once in a while. Given the emergence of the Internet and reference sites such as Wikipedia , The Internet Speculative Fiction Database, and SCIFIPEDIA there is nothing magical about the database other than as a continued Access learning experience. As time permits, I will continue to dabble with it.

Below is the opening screen. (Click on the image, you will get a better quality image.)
Below is the screen shot for all the stories appearing in "Space Opera".

Below is a screen shot of the June 1953 edition of Astounding.

Here is the screen shot of the "secret ingredient", a display of all stories/books that the author appears in. Actually just the stories entered into the database since not all stories have been entered. Here you can see that Bertram Chandler appeared in November 1978 issue of "Amazing" and the August 1975 issue of "Galaxy". This is a feature that does not seem to exist in other databases, which I find quite surprising. I also have found this to be frustrating in terms of being able to locate stories when visiting bookstores.

For the the technological groupies - below is the SQL code that makes the screen shot above possible to display all the books/stories/magazines that an author appears in. I hope that others can use this as a means of expanding the capabilities of any existing database. The lack of this capability is a major shortcoming. This is what computers and databases are supposed to do!!!



If anyone is interested in receiving a copy, you can let me know by sending your mailing address to The database runs under Microsoft Access 2000. It is also too big to fit on a CD so it has to be sent on a DVD. The database currently contains just over 600 books. Its free and if there are not too many requests (such as less than 10) I wouldn't mind footing the bill for sending it out in the US. Of course, I would encourage a postage paid return envelope that is padded and can hold a DVD.

Now for the disclaimer, it ain't perfect! If you don't know Access, you may have some problems. I've tried to make it idiot proof, but as one saying goes idiots are very ingenious.

As a closing note, the ability to integrate books and magazines in a manner that allows one to see all entries for an author would be a major accomplishment. It would be interesting to pursue such a project and to have it posted on the web.

Dilbert On a Roll

Scott Adams, the creator of the Dilbert cartoon strip has been exceptionally good. As the old saying goes a picture is worth a thousand words. (Click on the image to get a better view.) Enjoy!

The Dilbert cartoon above gets into a topic that I have not talked about much. Marketing has become a new "drug". In our consumerist society, it appears that marketers do not understand that customers may become desensitized to the marketing message. Like the story of the boy who cried wolf, after repeating a message over and over again, the message ends up getting ignored. Like drug addicts, once the message (rush) gets ignored due to desensitization, the dogmatic solution of the marketers is to further accost the consumer with ever more marketing.

On the lack of ethics today, the cartoons below speaks volumes concerning the lack of ethics by our corporate and elected leaders.

Finally, good old corporate double speak.