Friday, May 30, 2003

My New Friends: I have been admitted to the "sinister cabal of superior bloggers on music, books, film, popular culture, and technology" known as I am honored, although I'm not entirely sure of the requirements for membership other than being a blogger and being critical. And being superior - let's not forget superior.

Seriously, is well renowned and widely read. This is very cool.

I posted a quick rant on Divas, which will surprise none of you, but I'm looking forward to having a second home to express my nasty self in the future.
Future of the Past: My interest in intriguing graphic art is never ending, and recently I stumbled on the works of A.C. Radebaugh, currently on exhibit in Philadelphia. This is amazing stuff of the 1930-Art-Deco-In-The-Future-Cars-Will-Fly genre. Check out this one for a quick taste (may take a few seconds to download). Is this one not perfect?
Tigers by the Tail: The woeful state of the Detroit Tigers is perfectly described in this terrific article by ESPN Page 2's Eric Neel.

...they sit dead last in all of baseball in team batting average (.214, and nobody on the squad is hitting as high as .300), on-base percentage (.285 -- every other team in the majors over .300), and slugging percentage (.324), and next-to-last in home runs (37 -- less than half the 80 put up by the Braves so far).

They got it bad and it ain't good.

For those of you who like your coffee black, your whiskey straight and your stories told in cold, hard facts, let's put it like this: The three pitchers receiving the worst run-support in the bigs right now are Tigers Jeremy Bonderman (2.22 runs/game), Adam Bernero (2.26) and Mike Maroth (2.97). For those of you who think more poetically and metaphorically, let's say it like this: The Tigers score runs the way governors grant clemency and pretty girls hand out their phone numbers -- rarely, and only after great pleading and prayer.

Eric was assigned to watch the Tigers for a week and to his credit, he worked hard to find some sort of positive angle. He ended up with something along the lines of "just ignore how bad they are and appreciate that you are watching baseball." Nice try, Eric.

What's happened to the Tigers is a shame. Certainly the owner, Mike Ilitch, is not sleepwalking through his tenure. The guy also owns the Red Wings who have dominated the NHL for the past few years. The President and CEO, Dave Dombrowski, has built winners elsewhere and has a rep for being as sharp as they come. Last year, Dombrowski made noises about needing room under the salary cap and not having any tradable players. Maybe he's just cleaned house this year so he can start rebuilding with some wiggle room.

That's probably the best scenario, and it wouldn't surprise me if the Tigers are contending again in a three or four years.

Bully, but what about in ten years when they are bad again. A winning team will fill seats and make everyone money, but it seems to me that baseball owners would want to think about what they have to do to make money when the team is in the midst of a few losing seasons, which will be about 50% of the time.

Maybe they don't care; maybe they plan on building a winner and selling at a profit. Or maybe they don't think it through. A few years ago, Ilitch committed to a new stadium, Comerica Park, in downtown Detroit - a 40 minute inconvenient drive from primary audience, which is out in the suburbs. I have expressed my misgivings about Detroit before so I won't rehash them. The fact is, yes, people will make the trek into Detroit for a winner, but not for a loser. Wouldn't it be better to make going to the game an event beyond the result of the game? How about locating the stadium 40 minutes the other way - west - towards Ann Arbor, which has the infrastructure to handle 100,000 Michigan football fans on Saturdays in the fall. It also has little problems with crime, great restaurants for post-game and, in the outskirts, plenty of room to build. You could leave work a little early, pick up the kids at school around four, hit Ann Arbor by 5-ish and have some fun hangin' around town or in the multitude of parks before the game. Instead, you get to pack up the kids, fight traffic and horrendous streets, hop back in the car as soon as the game is over to get the kids to safety, and stop at Chuck E. Cheese in Dearborn on the way home. Are you going to be keen on doing that for a no-name loser? Didn't think so.

Sunday, May 25, 2003

Memorial Day Links: Since you probably spent half the day in traffic just so you could get to an overcrowded park where you discovered you're not so good at Frisbee, ants are a superior species, and that splinter in your arm from the picnic table feels like it's turning gangrenous, why not distract yourself with some these random links I've collected.
  • In contrast to your basic tabloid psychic, the folks over at Long Bets are making 'educated' guesses about the future. And some are putting their money where their mouths are. Now we just need Vegas to set odds for the rest of us to join in.

  • Remember that game Mousetrap, where you design a Rube Goldberg style contraption to drop cage over a mouse? Well, if you have a little bandwidth (4 Meg) to spare check out this Honda commercial from the UK. Amazing. For more background read this.

  • Since I've taken up climbing at my local climbing gym, I've been looking for something like this to improve my technique. Now if I could just get some super strong web silk to spray out of my wrist I'd be upside down kissing Kirsten Dunst in no time.

  • For my Ann Arbor homies, the Top of the Park schedule is out. That makes it officially summer.

  • For further reading, go ahead and check out the nominees for this year's Webby Awards. (Unjustly, a dam site is not included.) The selections are on the conventional side, but there are certain to be gems among them.

Tuesday, May 20, 2003

Moose Sighting: Even if you've only been paying passing attention to the news lately, you know the saga of Jayson Blair, who completely fabricated or plagiarized all sorts of stories for the New York Times and still managed to have a stellar career either because the NYT management was desperate to promote and encourage a black reporter or because they were completely clueless and grotesquely incompetent.

It really doesn't matter to me. It's not like I would read or believe the NYT any more than any other paper. Besides, journalism is easy - comedy is difficult. That's why this report from the competing New York Daily News caught my eye.

In a surreal moment that reminded one staffer of Shari Lewis' old TV show, [publisher Arthur "Pinch"] Sulzberger produced a stuffed toy moose that he sometimes trots out as a symbol of open communication.

Its use struck some in the audience as a tone-deaf and patronizing gesture.

Sulzberger handed the moose to Raines, who laid it aside.

No, not Shari Lewis - South Park, with Pinch Sulzberger and the Moose as Mr. Garrison and Mr. Hat. We're I in that room, the only thing that would be going through my mind is: Oh. My. God. Time to update my resume.

Here is a man who has considerable influence over one of the most respected journalistic outlets in the world, not to mention the careers and livelihood of countless NYT staff. His company is mired in an embarrassing, debilitating scandal. It is a time of grave crisis, and he is trying to make a point with a TOY MOOSE. If I worked diligently for my entire life, I could not come up with more venomous satire.

This moose business - often referred to as the "moose on the table" or the "moose in the room" - comes from a favored metaphor of overpaid management consultants and other people looking to sound thoughtful and knowledgeable. A sample can be read in this otherwise dry article from the American Institute of Architects (but don't read the article, just follow this excerpt):

When a group of people get together to discuss an issue, to solve a problem, to vision for the future, sometimes there is a moose in the room. But no one wants to acknowledge its presence. The moose walks around, sits down, at times crosses its legs and is totally ignored by people in the room. Why is that? Well, it may be uncomfortable for some to talk about the moose; discussion about the moose could open up a whole new can of worms that some people are not prepared to handle. Some are in total denial of its existence even when the moose stops and stares them in the face. It could be just plain scary and awkward to discuss the moose, but, in order to have a truly meaningful, in-depth discussion on any issue, we need to overcome our denial and put on the table those aspects of the issue that may be difficult, scary and awkward to discuss. If we don't, we limit our chances for success. The likely outcome will fall far short of our hopes because, no matter how much we would rather not deal with it, the moose will not be ignored. In short, we need to throw the moose on the table.

Or this entire book, titled Put the Moose on the Table:

Like a moose in the living room, some problems are hard to ignore. Randall Tobias says that whether these problems are in business or in life, it is best to confront them openly and honestly.

Now, I'm all for dealing with things honestly and courageously, but if you treat me like a child I am going to immediately write you off and dismiss everything you say. Memo to all managers: If you find yourself in a situation where people don't think it is in their best interest to be honest and open with you, it is because you have not given them any reason to think they can. Who knows, maybe they're afraid they'll find themselves in conflict with the latest management fad and thereby fall into your bad graces. Or maybe they just don't get paid enough to stomach another metaphor. Whatever the case, unleashing the Moose is going to make things worse. If you can't deal with a problem without resorting to cliched leadership seminar doublespeak or silly attention grabbing displays, why should I think you can handle the truth (apologies to Jack Nicholson)?

You know, in Vietnam, when soldiers were in life-threatening situations and the officer was going to make things worse by leading them based on high-sounding procedures from some army manual, they just shot the officer and blamed it on the enemy. Those were more civilized times.

I'm put in mind of the show Northern Exposure. The doctor from New York finds himself having to practice medicine amongst the goofy and eccentric residents of a small town in Alaska. Occasionally, a moose would amble through the middle of town. The goofy residents paid no attention, but for the doctor from NY, it symbolized how far he had come from conventional reality - he was really out there.

Well that's the New York Times these days - really out there. They have transcended journalism and achieved comedy. Bravo.
Keeping it All Hush Hush: The NYT has a feature on how bloggers are getting in trouble in some cases for posting about their personal lives and or careers under the assumption that other concerned parties won't read them. Case in point.

Heather Armstrong, a 27-year-old Web designer from Utah whose blog is at, might be the ultimate example of blogging gone awry. Her parents are devout Mormons, she said, but because they are also technophobes, she felt perfectly comfortable publishing an entry on her site in which she harshly criticized her Mormon upbringing.

Unfortunately for Ms. Armstrong, her brother in Seattle stumbled across her Web site that very day and alerted her parents to the entry. After that, Ms. Armstrong said, "all hell broke loose." "Next to my parents getting divorced 20 years ago," Ms. Armstrong said, "it was the worst thing that ever happened to my family. It was shocking for everyone."

Ms. Armstrong's run-in with the perils of self-publishing did not end there. She also wrote about her job and her co-workers in her blog, often hyperbolically.

When her bosses were alerted that Ms. Armstrong was writing about her office life, they fired her, she said. She is now much more careful about what she publishes in her blog, and she had a word of caution for bloggers who write furtively about others. "If you're publishing under your own name, they'll find out," she said. "I was extremely naive."

This is like putting slanderous flyers up all over your street and feeling safe because the person you want to insult lives two streets over. It's not called the World Wide Web for nothing.

It highlights a fundamental problem with vanity blogging. If you are writing primarily about yourself, you are either going to have to cover the various personal relationships you have, or you are going to end up documenting what color socks you wore or what you had for lunch everyday. You may occasionally have a brilliant insight you can expound on, but life is mostly made up of the mundane.

Keeping a blog relevant is a surprisingly difficult task. That's why the most successful blogs are themed around a single topic, or at least they go light on personal details of the author's life and heavy on smart-arsed commentary (like the one you're reading now).

For the record: I NEVER write about work. I NEVER write about my personal relationships (not much of a problem for me). When I write about my friends I always use first name only or a pseudonym. And if I publish an email from you I will hide the full address - unless it's terribly insulting or threatening and I want to reveal you for the cretinous dolt that you are.

Friday, May 16, 2003

I Got Nothin': So when I got nothin', is it better to post to tell you I got nothin', or just not post?

OK, I have a little more than nothing. For Miss Kate, the coaster queen, I have a blow-by-blow account of a ride on Cedar Point's Top Thrill Dragster. You have yourself a good time. I'll be in the bar.

And, since every other weblog in the universe seems to be linking to this story, I suppose I had better let you in on it. It seems a woman with the pseudonym Isabella is telling a story of fleeing her home country and going into hiding to avoid an arranged marriage. This article in Wired gives you a good summary and all the links you need if you want to follow the soap opera along. I'm inclined to think it's a hoax, but a harmless and entertaining one, I suppose.

Who am I to gripe, at least she has something to post.

Saturday, May 10, 2003

Business As Usual: If you've been following the overly melodramatic saga of the title of my next book, you know it's gone from Hijinks Ensue, an unknown phrase to an alarming number of people, to A Pleasure Doing Business With You which is fun, but a bit unwieldy. The latest entry is Business as Usual which I kind of like. It's flippant, yet terse - just like me. We'll see. Opinions are welcome.
A Man Out Of Time: The good folks over at Boing Boing gave my Casino Royale Review a nice plug. The associated comments contain one of the best quotes ever.

I wish I could go back to that time sometimes, when people smoked and drank constantly, over dressed, and were blatantly mysoginist racists. The closest thing I've experienced is the Kentucky Derby.

Quality Is Job 1: The latest J.D. Power survey of initial quality is out and here are the results in complaints per 100 cars:

76 Lexus
103 Cadillac
110 Infiniti
111 Acura
112 Buick
113 Mercury
117 Porsche
118 BMW
121 Toyota
122 Jaguar
128 Honda
128 Volvo
130 Chevrolet
132 Audi
132 Mercedes-Benz
133 Industry Average
134 Oldsmobile
136 Chrysler
136 Ford
137 Dodge
139 Lincoln
139 Nissan
142 Pontiac
143 Hyundai
143 Volkswagen
144 GMC
144 Suzuki
146 Jeep
148 Mazda
148 Mitsubishi
158 Saturn
160 Saab
166 Mini
168 Kia
190 Land Rover
225 Hummer

Many things jump out. First, Lexus is head and shoulders above anyone else - by a lot. Second, Hummer is almost as outstandingly bad as Lexus is good. Third, some rebadged models have very different ratings. For example, Fords and Mercurys share many models, as do Buick and Olds and Pontiac, but the ratings vary widely. Fourth, who did Cadillac have to get drunk and take to whorehouse to get that high rating?

There are a number caveats to this whole process. First, there could be wide variations between models within the marque. Second, this is initial quality, it may have no bearing on durability. Third it is a measure of complaints, not defects. For example, 22 of the complaints about the Hummer were over poor gas mileage. It's a two and half ton truck, you were expecting 40 mpg? 12 more Hummer complaints were for wind noise. Yah, it's as aerodynamic as a brick. You knew this going in - quit yer whinin'.

I continue to think a better, but still flawed, measure of quality are the surveys done my Consumer Reports. You know the ones, where they track repairs and recalls over multiple product years and have the black dots for bad and red for good. It's subscriber only so I can't link up the site, but you can get a copy in your local bookstore. One thing Consumer Reports does provide on the web is recommendations on used cars. Here's their latest.

Good Bets

These are the best of both worlds: models that have performed well in Consumer Reports tests over the years and have had better-than-average overall reliability. Models are listed alphabetically.

Acura Integra
Acura RL
Acura TL
Ford Escort
Geo/Chevrolet Prizm
Honda Accord
Honda Civic
Honda CR-V
Honda Odyssey
Infiniti G20
Infiniti I30
Isuzu Oasis
Lexus ES300
Lexus GS300/GS400, GS430
Lexus LS400, LS430
Lexus RX300
Mazda Millenia
Mazda MX-5 Miata
Mazda Protegé
Mercury Tracer
Nissan Altima
Nissan Maxima
Nissan Pathfinder
Saab 9-5
Subaru Forester
Subaru Impreza
Subaru Legacy/Outback
Toyota 4Runner
Toyota Avalon
Toyota Camry
Toyota Camry Solara
Toyota Celica
Toyota Corolla
Toyota Echo
Toyota RAV4
Toyota Sienna
Toyota Tacoma
Toyota Tundra

Reliability risks

These cars have shown several years of much-worse-than-average overall reliability.

Cadillac Catera
Cadillac Seville
Chevrolet Astro
Chevrolet Blazer
Chrysler New Yorker, LHS
Chrysler Town & Country (AWD)
Dodge Caravan (4-cyl.)
Dodge Dakota (4WD)
Dodge Durango
Dodge Grand Caravan (AWD)
Dodge Neon
Ford Focus
Ford Windstar
GMC Jimmy
GMC Safari
Jeep Grand Cherokee
Lincoln LS
Mercedes-Benz M-Class
Oldsmobile Alero
Oldsmobile Bravada
Oldsmobile Cutlass
Plymouth Grand Voyager
Plymouth Neon
Plymouth/Chrysler Voyager (4-cyl.)
Pontiac Grand Am
Volkswagen Jetta
Volkswagen New Beetle
Volvo S80

This makes a little more sense to me. Either Saab and Mazda have gone down the toilet, and Caddy, Volvo, Mercedes have cleaned up their act, or durability is not highly correlated with initial complaints.

Thursday, May 08, 2003

Ping Pong Back: I spent the last three days in Indianapolis; a sweet little city - an active downtown area, clean and freindly, decent restaurants, but smallish. How they manage to deal with a half million people who descend on them every Memorial Day weekend for the Indy 500, and similar numbers later for the Brickyard 400 (Nascar) and the U.S. F1 Grand Prix, I can't fathom. I stayed at what must be the only Hyatt in the world that doesn't have in-room internet access. They have a business center with two PCs for web access, but one was in the shop. So, once again, I spent a little time every day at Kinkos. It's a little over four hours from Dexter, MI so I chose to drive -an uneventful pilgramage through the storied Indiana farmland. I actually like roadside America in the heartland. No I don't want to drive across country, but a drive through the country of five hours or less is probably preferrable to a short flight - which would constitute an hour in the air and about three hours scurrying about dealing with the peripheral transportation and the associated asshats employed to make your experience more excruciating. Much nicer to set the cruise control in the Camry, put on a favorite CD, and stop whenever I want at one of the 9,317 McDonald's along the way.

Anyway, more material this weekend.

Friday, May 02, 2003

Lingering in Bermuda: I started to write about my recent trip to Bermuda, but it turned into a quasi-travel guide. Feel free to invite me along for advice when you go. Enjoy.
Links of Extra-ordinary Magnitude: Web pages to distract you from what you should be doing.