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October 2007
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January 2008

The Company Store stinks, and so does BackToBasicToys

Ken Jennings writes about his horrible experience with BackToBasicToys. I won't be shopping there!

Here's another: The Company Store. Never shop with them, unless you are the gambling type who likes to order stuff and then just sort of hope it comes up.


Here's what The Company Store did to us: My wife thought it would be a nice gift for our family and another family we will be visiting to have matching pajamas. She ordered them, but with no notification at all The Company Store sent just one of the PJs to each of the two families. When Kathy called they told her the all the others had been cancelled. No, they won't refund the money, no they won't send a different style.

So, now Kathy has to decide how she's going to explain to her longtime friend why she's sending PJs to her friend's husband, and nothing for her or their child.

Do not shop The Company Store!

Google like the National Enquirer?


I'm guessing I'm the only guy weird enough to make this connection between these two big stories in the news: Google starting a wikipedia competitor and supermarket tabloid claims that John Edwards knocked up a woman (not his wife.)

The connection is money.

The big difference between Google's new thing called "knol" and wikipedia is money, Google will allow the authors of knol pages to share in some of the ad money that comes in to that page. The basic theory is the same as if you run a site that gets lots of clicks on ads, i.e.: if you do something that creates value, you should share in that value. It makes sense. In general wikipedia is terrific, but there are some weird and rotten bits that get in there all the time.

Because nobody's making any money at helping keep the content on wikipedia good, it relies on volunteers to do a good job maintaining it. What is the motivation of people to get information out there when they won't be paid? I'm sure there are lots of answers, but it's a valid question.


I once saw the editor of the National Enquirer speak on a panel. Everybody else on the panel criticized the idea of "checkbook" journalism, saying it corrupted the whole august tradition of journalism. This editor very responded by saying, essentially, "The thing about paying for information is that I know exactly what the motivation is of the people who give me information; they want money. When someone tells me some information that has value in the marketplace, and they want to give it to me and not take money, well, then I really question what their motives are."

I'm not saying Edwards did get that blond knocked up. (I'm not linking to that story. Ewww. But the graphic here really did come from the NE site.) And I'm not saying checkbook journalism is better than the Wall Street Journal or whatever, but I do know that the National Enquirer has to live under the same libel and slander laws as all the other papers.

I'm also not exactly equating Knol to the National Enquirer, but I have to say that I will feel better knowing exactly why someone wrote a Knol page (money) rather than trying to guess why someone might have written a wikipedia page.

OK, two posts in a row about Google, one comparing Google to Stalin, the other to the National Enquirer. The funny thing is, I like Google.

Quantity has a quality all like Google?

I love Google, I use it all day every day. And that's what's starting to worry me.

There's a great quote from Stalin that a friend told me: "Quantity has a quality all it's own."

People make a great deal about how smart the gang at Google is, and I'm not taking anything away from that, but it's becoming clear that it's the quantity of users they have that are contributing to the quality of the product. That is, if it wasn't for all the people using it, we wouldn't have search results that are as good as they are.

Here's Google's Marissa Mayer, the legendary head of user experience in an interview with Infoworld:

You may have heard about our [directory assistance] 1-800-GOOG-411 service. Whether or not free-411 is a profitable business unto itself is yet to be seen. I myself am somewhat skeptical. The reason we really did it is because we need to build a great speech-to-text model ... that we can use for all kinds of different things, including video search.

The speech recognition experts that we have say: If you want us to build a really robust speech model, we need a lot of phonemes, which is a syllable as spoken by a particular voice with a particular intonation. So we need a lot of people talking, saying things so that we can ultimately train off of that. ... So 1-800-GOOG-411 is about that: Getting a bunch of different speech samples so that when you call up or we're trying to get the voice out of video, we can do it with high accuracy.

She goes on to say essentially the same thing about search results, and about much of what Google does.

It's great that Google is learning from all the activity they have, it really is. But here I am watching Google expanding in to one new area after another -- the latest being a version of Wikipedia that has a real and I think admirable business plan behind it.

It all has me starting to wonder if there will be more and more quotes from Stalin that apply to Google.

Bridge to the 21st Century?

Is Barack Obama the future?

Presidential elections are about so much more than just a candidate's position on education, or whatever. The virulent hatred of President Bush, I think, is related more to his inability to speak forcefully, or even coherently. It's nice that he can tease himself about people misunderestimating him, but it's not enough.

So, whom should be next? Andrew Sullivan has made an interesting case for Barack Obama. Now, Sullivan is British and gay, NTTIAWWT. I mention these things only because there are a few lines in Sullivan's piece where I get the feeling that he would just like watching Barack on the "tele" for the next eight years.

"What does he offer? First and foremost: his face."

But Sullivan's main thesis is that all the other candidates, but especially Hillary, are essentially still stuck in the Baby Boomer mentality. He blames the vitriol we see from Ann Coulter to Michael Moore, the battles over abortion, health care and the rest squarely on the Baby Boomers.

Barack is the one guy, under this theory, that can just move past that, internationally and domestically.

It's an interesting theory, and the piece is well worth reading, but I think perhaps he overstates the case a bit and offer just one bit of evidence why: Barack is against funding space exploration, and says he wants to spend the money on education.

That just sounds like the old-school sort of Baby Boomer debate to me.

This is probably just my bias. I have a son who wants to be an astronaut. But spending time on NASA's page, and at the museum, and even playing around with rockets around the house, I've come to realized that space exploration is about education.

The next president will have a choice to give more money to the education industry, and/or give more money to the explorers. Learning about space is educating all of humanity about ourselves, and our place in the universe.

So, c'mon, Barack. There's only one true final frontier. Education is important, but it's time to start finding out some new stuff to teach.

Solving yesterday's problems

I don't want to underestimate the severity of the Mitchell Report, or the problems with steroid use in Baseball. I've read a lot of the huge raft of coverage. While there's been a lot, I think most of it has been more or less appropriate.

The one little bit I might add is this: Looking at the list of players, I'm not really shocked. Clemens has crafted such a great image, but I always thought it was a bit odd that he could do so well for so long without really seeming to try that hard. Randy Johnson is older but most stories about him contain a phrase something like "legendary work ethic" and they never really said that about Clemens. Johnson is also one of those guys who is so tough, I think he just eats nails for breakfast.

The thing I loved seeing is how clean the NL Champion Colorado Rockies were; one pitcher was named from the pennant-winning staff of -- I dunno, about a hundred pitchers.

The great young guys, Tulo and the rest of them, all came up in an era when college and low minor leagues tested for steroids all the time, and the educational effort about the dangers seems to have worked. These were great young players who knew they'd just have to make it on skill and work, and so they worked really hard and made it. The D-backs have a bunch of similar players, and a few other teams.

I was also happy to see Todd Helton's name NOT on the list. There were some crappy phony allegations against him a couple years ago, and with this it should be clear that nothing but hard work and natural ability has gotten Helton to where he is.

Another team with a lot of great young (clean) players, it pains me to say, the Red Sox. Sure, their great starting pitching was mostly poached from the NL, it was the young hitters who won the playoffs for the Red Sox. The most notable player on the list from the Red Sox is Eric Gagne, who gagged so badly during the regular season that he was a nonfactor in the playoffs.

So, while I think the Mitchell report is important, I also think that it's looking at yesterday's problems. The named players are all fading away, finally, and the game is getting better. The 2007 season, I think, showed that skill, hard work, good leadership and luck make for winning baseball and great entertainment. The whole Bonds/McGwire era is over. It was such a freakshow anyway.

How many days until Spring Training?

Dyslexic Entrepreneurs

I'm not dyslexic, but I'm not opposed to the idea...

Some new research coming out confirms that about a third of the entrepreneurs in the US are dyslexic. The researchers point out some of the reasons you might expect, being willing to delegate to people "smarter" than they are is a key one.

The money quote for me is this one: "A child who chronically fails standardized tests must become comfortable with failure."

MyTrafficNews "failed" at least a couple of times, but somehow I was always able to nurse it back to life until finally it sold to

People who are really successful, the saying goes, are different because they've failed more often, and learned from those failures. Because I'm not dyslexic, I guess I need a few more failures before I can really make it.

I have nothing bad to say...

Ahhh. Bill Clinton. Like moths to the flame we are all drawn to him.

I couldn't help myself from reading about his chat with Charlie Rose. In it he says Barack lacks experience compared to his wife. "It's not even close." He says that even though Barack is about the age Clinton was when he ran without ever serving in Washington, Barack would only be a symbol for change, not someone who would really change things.

Bill Clinton also said that Barack hasn't been fully "vetted."

(Hillary Clinton fired a volunteer for saying negative things about Barack, but I doubt Bill will get the hook because they can just redefine "negative.")

So, Barack is unexperienced, only a symbolic leader, and hasn't been fully investigated, says Bill Clinton, but then he says that he likes Barack, and all the other candidates. "I like all these people. I have nothing bad to say about him or anyone else."

I hope he never has anything bad to say about me!


Two interesting posts from two kings of blogging that are only related in my mind around the theme of learning.

First is Fred Wilson, a VC writing about "scar tissue." He read about Hillary talking about her scar tissue from all the battles she's lost, and he relates that to the world of investing, saying essentially that he prefers investing in people who have failed at some venture in the past -- as long as they learned the lessons they needed to learn from the experience.

And then Mike Arrington wrote an amazingly thoughtful post about companies that failed in the last bubble. I will not do the post justice by trying to summarize, but essentially Arrington points out a fascinating dichotomy. On the one hand those who learned lessons in the last bubble may be too timid to try really new things now. On the other side is that people may make easily avoidable mistakes by not learning from what happened. Great innovation, however, only comes from bold actions.

Clearly there's no perfect answer.

One thing is clear, though: None of us can change who we are and where we have been. If you lived through the last crash, or if you didn't, you still need to do something every day.

It's possible to learn from the mistakes of others, and it's also possible to have made mistakes and not learn anything and go forward making them over and over.

I recently read something that's just stuck with me: Really successful people are different in that they've failed more because they've tried so many more things.


Here are a couple of pictures from James Fallows' excellent blog:

Japanese way to fuel an airplane

Chinese way to fuel an airplane width=

Fallows is generous about the Chinese way. "At the moment, I am feeling positive toward both approaches," Fallows writes.

Not me. Airplanes, children's toys, freedom of expression -- these are all things that I think should be approached properly. Just "getting it done" is not OK with me.


OK, the conversion of the old, static page is now underway. For now it will be this blog.

Some of that stuff on the old was kind of cool, so I wanted to put it here, starting with this video: