Friday, January 1, 2010

I've Moved!

The new blog is on my new website. If you've been following me here, please switch over there. I think you'll find it much improved.

Friday, September 25, 2009

On the Future of Cars

Like most of the people reading this, I grew up imagining the future would be filled with flying cars. I imagined that by the time I was a grown up I'd be dropping off my wife Jane and daughter Judy at the mall and school respectively in my nifty little flying car. While that dream is not a reality, there's good news: better dreams will probably come true soon.

I see two keys to the future of automobiles. The first is the one everyone is talking about right now, the propulsion system. Gas power (though I love the feel of a good race car under my foot) will be extinct in 50 years. The only question is what will replace it. Some say ethanol, some say fuel cells, I say that there's a reason forward thinking investment firms keep dumping money in Tesla Motors. The key to Tesla's success (assuming it does not drop the ball) will be that it is an electric car rather then an alternative fuel car. Why solve the fossil fuel problem twice (once for powering our homes/offices and once for powering our cars)? Since battery cars are capable of so much (The Tesla Roadster beats my 350Z to 60, soundly), why not figure out how to make nuclear fission, hydro, solar, clean coal or whatever clean power a success and then stick that clean energy in my car? If ethanol is so great, let's build ethanol power plants.

The second key to the future of automobiles is the way they are operated. If 10 people get on the highway to drive to Pittsburgh from Charlotte (a trip I'm making this evening), why on earth should they each be responsible for navigating themselves? From a conceptual, utilitarian perspective it makes NO sense. What we need is a smart highway. What if the highway knew where I was going? What if it could put me in a group of cars headed to a similar place, lock me at the same pace as those cars (only inches from them) and have us all slam the pedal to the medal? This would let me take a little nap (which I desperately need) and wake me up when we're in the Fort Pitt Tunnels so I can take it the rest of the way. This change in the way we drive is coming from closer then you might think, CMU is working on exactly such a system.

Just something to think about this Friday evening. Get out, enjoy your favorite protest. Virginia (how wierd is it to type PittGirl's name out?) already highlighted my favorite (see point 2)

On Dan Brown and his Dramatics at the Beginning of the Lost Symbol

In 1991, a document was locked in the safe of the director of the CIA. The document is still there today. Its cryptic text includes references to an ancient portal and an unknown location underground. The document also contains the phrase “It’s buried out there somewhere.

All organizations in this novel exist, including the Freemasons, the Invisible College, the Office of Security, the SMSC, and the Institute of Noetic Sciences.
All rituals, science, artwork, and monuments in this novel are real.

I started The Lost Symbol last week and while I am finding it entertaining so far, I'm also finding more then enough that can be cut out to make it in to a 2 hour (perhaps much less) movie. My content cuts would start with the cryptic introduction he provides at the very beginning (quoted above). I find that comment to be almost irresponsible. The Freemasons and Institute of Noetic sciences do exist but their prestige (and certainly their historical significance) are WAY overstated in the book. Why did the CIA director lock such a scary document in his safe? Because an artist gave it to him with a sculpture. The document is the answer to the riddle posed by the sculpture. It's a game ladies and gentlemen, speculation is that "It's buried out there somewhere" refers to a piece of the sculpture buried on CIA's campus somewhere.

I enjoy Brown's books as much as the next guy (well unless the next guy is one of those fanatics), but I wish he'd stop pretending fantasy is historical (or at least historically based) fiction. It sparks irresponsible public debate. If I had a nickel for every stupid conversation I've had because of a Dan Brown book, my Starbucks tomorrow would be free.

P.S. Yes, I'm aware that the G20 is going on. I'll talk about it at somepoint.

Monday, September 21, 2009

On JimTracy, Miracle Man

If anything could ever prove that a baseball manager is worth a maximum of 5 games plus or minus impact on a team's win total (out of 162) it's Jim Tracy. He was 68-94 in 2007 with the Pirates and he is 85-65 with the Colorado Rockies this year. Throw in a mediocre stint with the Dodgers in the early 90s and its pretty easy to figure out that baseball manager is all credit/blame and little impact. However, that doesn't stop the media from talking about managers, as you can see by ESPN's front page story on Tracy entitled, "Miracle Man." Seriously? Miracle Man? I think I get dumber every time I open a news (or sports news) site.

On CitySourced Again

The post I made a few days ago on Citysourced went uncommented on and unlinked to. I'm actually pretty disappointed, I thought it was a good intersection of IT and Pittsburgh and was hopeful yinz would like it. In case you did and just didn't comment, Fred Wilson at A VC made a post about other innovations that are helping cities including a portfolio company of Union Square Ventures (his VC), Four Square. It will be interesting to see if Four Square ever expands to take on Pittsburgh. Maybe we'd be a logical choice after the model is proven in NYC?

Take a look at Four Square and let me know what you think. I'm going to try to continue to find other tools that might be good fits for Pittsburgh. Hopefully they will be a recurring theme on this blog.

Sour Kraut

Yes, the sweet cabbage is back. Originally, the plan had been not to bring it back with this latest incarnation of the blog, but there were just too many things that I wanted to share. I've decided to break it down in to Techy Kraut and Sourburgh since the blog has a bit of a duality going now.

Today, I only have Sourburgh. I'll make a tech post tomorrow.
  • This Wall Street Journal article pissed me off. I had about a page long post on why, but then decided I would put you all to sleep if I published it. I think it's pretty clear (as Chris pointed out) that this guy hasn't lived in Pittsburgh in a while.
  • There was a scattered but great post on Burgh Diaspora the other day. It weaved and winded through three interesting concepts. The first was Mayor Murphy's legacy (an interesting side bar to the G-20 since he was largely responsible for the initially unpopular convention center). The second was an off hand arguement that Pittsburgh may be fairing better then more western and northern rust belt cities because of our proximity to DC. The last is how Dan Rooney's roll in the Irish Diaspora might mimic what we would hope to setup with Pittsburgh.
  • The Economist covered Pittsburgh for the G20. They gave a mostly rosey view that is the kind of press we were hoping to receive from international papers.
  • Pedro Alvarez hit 3 Home Runs for the USA in a game against Chinese Taipei. Hang in their folks, it will get better.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

On IT Consulting's Future

I'm a good Information Technology consultant and I make a good living at it. The two are not necessarily related. There are tens of thousands (probably hundreds of thousands) of IT consultants who get paid hundreds of dollars an hour in spite of a remarkable lack of skills, training and talent. Why does this happen? Because many of the world's executives don't know anything about computers. They don't know the potential return on investment they could get from installing the new wiz bang thing. They don't know how to hire people to implement it if they do decide it's worth the money. Most egregiously, they don't know how much the equipment and software that they do have should cost them each year. This is dangerous for the executives to which I refer, so they hire consultants. They hire consultants with the same inability to tell how many they might need or how long their task should take. In IT consulting, it's what we call job security.

The problem is that the information age that IT helps foster, doesn't appear to be giving CIOs what they need. This will change. Standardization, outsourcing, ITIL, virtualization, commoditization of Storage and most of all CIOs and CEOs who were raised with computers will change it. In 20 years there will be 10% as many IT consultants.

Looking for a reference case, think of how long it took us from the time we had planes that could support a FedEx or UPS model until we had overnight shipping. Once a game changing technology (and for now I will lump the advances of Information Technology from say 1990 to 2002 as one game changing technology*) has widespread adoption, as IT now does, it takes years for the follow on advances to drive maximum value and simplicity out of that technology.

I'm not sure why exactly I wrote this post, this is just an observation that keeps occuring to me. I can say it's one of the reasons I'm persuing my MBA. While IT is maturing, it's going to be willing to pay for consultants (and executives, depending on what I end up doing in the long run) who understand not only the technology but its implications on business. I intend to be one of those consultants or executives.

*I could discuss why I am, for this discussion, lumping them as one technology and I might in another post.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

On 311, YinzCam and CitySourced

The subtitle of this post would have to be: Is going local going to cost the city of Pittsburgh?

One of the highlights so far of TechCrunch 50 (one of the leading conferences on technology start-ups) is a company call CitySourced. CitySourced has posted the admin demo for their product on their website and it is VERY impressive. I highly recommend if you have an interest in city government or software that you go take a look. If you ignored my advice, the summary (in CitySourced words) is this:
CitySourced is a real time mobile civic engagement tool. CitySourced provides a free, simple, and intuitive tool empowering citizens to identify civil issues (potholes, graffiti, trash, snow removal, etc.) and report them to city hall for quick resolution; an opportunity for government to use technology to save money and improve accountability to those they govern; and a positive, collaborative platform for real action. Our platform is called CitySourced, as it empowers everyday citizens to use their smart phones to make their cities a better place. CitySourced is powered by FreedomSpeaks, the leader in interactive civic engagement.
Sounds pretty nifty right? So why isn't Pittsburgh doing anything with it? To be fair, one of the reasons Pittsburgh hasn't jumped on this is that even CitySourced will admit that its not quite ready yet (they only have an iPhone App and they're still proving out their pilot with San Jose). This reason doesn't scare me at all, in fact I applaud Howard Stern (Pittsburgh's CIO), the administration and Bill Peduto (a self proclaimed evangalist for Pittsburgh and technology) for avoiding jumping too fast. I've worked in technology long enough to know that the first guy to take the plunge is often the guy who finds out the pool is pretty shallow.

It's the other reason that Pittsburgh isn't (and might not) dive in that concerns me. That's that Pittsburgh is already partnered with a CMU project called YinzCam to perform a similar function. The problem is, this takes a LOT of modification of YinzCam to make it suit this purpose (YinzCam is a very innovative tool that's primary purpose is a sort of "journalism by mob" approach to sports replays). Here's hoping that the City of Pittsburgh isn't so married to the concept of a local approach that they miss an opportunity with CitySourced. Some times the right answers are at CMU and lets hope Californians come here when they are. Some times the answers are in California, and lets go there when they are. That's how we become a technology leader.

Related Information:

Monday, September 14, 2009

On Today's Life Lesson

Today's life lesson: never use email where a phone call will do. It's a tough life lesson to learn. Email has become SO easy these days (and yes, I'm including facebook and linkedin messages as email).

More specifically then the general rule, decide whether you want your message to be remembered or never be forgotten. If you want your message remembered, pick up the telephone. You're mentor, perspective employer, customer, etc... will remember the gesture months from now when you run in to him/her again. If you need your message never to be forgotten (e.g. you may later need to prove you wrote it), then (and only then) should you send an email where a phone call will do. Even then a follow up phone call is not a bad idea if you want your message remembered as well.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

On Nationalized Healthcare

I'm an opinionated guy, VERY opinionated, and I have to say, when it comes to whether nationalized health care is a good idea, I don't have the foggiest idea. Yes, the current system is terribly inefficient and horribly unjust. Yes, it is hard to imagine a government run system doing any better. I think it is impossible for someone without a Phd, MBA AND Political Science degree to possibly understand the ramifications of nationalized health care. I, therefore, believe its irresponsible to yell your opinion at the top of your lungs. Think of the old adage, "better to keep your mouth shut and let people think you're an idiot then to open your mouth and confirm it."

What I do have an opinion on is the context of the argument. The debate at the water cooler IS about how health care should look tomorrow. It SHOULD be about how health care should look in 20 years. The fact is that the current health care system does a pretty decent job, today and it will continue to do so tomorrow. Of course it's not perfect, but it's not bad. The rich get GREAT health care, and hospitals don't turn away emergencies even for the uninsured (most of which enjoy welfare or CHIPs opportunities). The problem is the current system is built for health care costs that represent about 16% to 18% of GDP. That's not as bad as it sounds, and it's downright cheap when you look in to a crystal ball. The congressional budget office projects health care costs will be 25% of GDP in 2025, 37% in 2050 and 49% in 2075. If that sounds like a long way off, recognize that if it's not still in your lifetime, it's likely still in your child's lifetime. If/when healthcare is 25%+ of GDP more pension funds will go bankrupt more employers will stop offering insurance and more unions will be disolved. The current system will go from 10% uninsured to much much much higher.

Why are healthcare costs headed so high? To be blunt here, healthcare costs become 49% of GDP because people don't die. Things that used to kill people instead are treated by expensive medicines, prolonging their life so that they can need to be treated for something else. If that sounds harsh, it's because it is. I'm harsh because I don't believe this country has time to talk about this issue in "nice" terms. It's people being queasy about the real issue here (what health care will look like in 20 years), that is destroying the water cooler debate in this country.

So what are our options for healthcare 20 years from now? I think there are two of them, and I will outline them below. What you can't look for from me is advice on which one is best. They both suck, but part of the price for living longer then mother nature intended, is being stuck with tough decisions.
  1. We institute a socialized health system. The system controls drug and treatment prices and options. This stifles innovation in the medical community because would be innovators aren't inclined to produce medical advances that the government won't pay for. The rate of increase of spending relative to GDP levels off. Everyone has good healthcare, given current technologies, but the life expectancy stops increasing. By 2100 the average life expectancy of a rich person is 110 years and for a poor person it is 100.
  2. We keep healthcare private. As lifetime costs of healthcare skyrocket for those who have elite medical insurance, less and less people have access to top-of-the-line service. Those who don't have access to the higher plans either have lesser plans or are uninsured. With pension funds and companies going bankrupt under promised health care that exceeds the costs anyone could have projected, more and more people become uninsured. This increases the cost of insurance, and the cycle repeats. By 2075 only a handful of people have access to health coverage that covers all life sustaining procedures. Those handful though, have access to the medicine of science fiction novels. By 2075 the average life expectancy of a rich person is a remarkable 150 years but for a person in remains largely unchanged from 2009 at around 85.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

On the Richard Seymor Trade and the Pittsburgh Pirates

The New England Patriots recently traded away one of their more talented players, Richard Seymor to the struggling Oakland Raiders for a first round pick in 2011. Jason Lisk provides an interesting review of the trade at Pro Football Reference. The summary though, is this. If we assume that the Patriots sign their 2011 pick to a 5 year contract, they have made their team more competitive through 2016 and only sacrificed a small loss in performance at defensive end for the rest of the year. The Patriots have two talented DE in Warren and Green who will miss having Seymor around, but not in a way that is likely to impact the outcome of any football games.

This trade has to be the model for the Pittsburgh Pirates after they become competitive. There have been far too many columns in local papers over the last month that say that the test of ownership will be "whether the Pirates resign their players when they're playing well." This statement is far too generic. The Pirates should only keep talent when it is the best cost/benefit solution at a position. To remain competitive (once we achieve competitiveness in the first place of course) the Pirates must constantly be open to accepting deals that will help the team in the long run without cripling it in the short term. The best example I can give of this Richard Seymor like trade is the Nate McLouth trade. If the Pirates were competing, I would still expect that trade to be made. McCutchen was ready in the minors and the Braves were offering more then they should.

This philosophy won't be popular with the unenlightened fans, but these trades have to be part of the Pirates long-term future, especially if Baseball's economics remain as they are.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

On the Trains in the Southside

Why did Mike Madison write in his Revitalization of Pittsburgh Part III that, "Major railroad rights of way still impede public access, especially across much of the South Side."

I live on the South Side, and the only reason they bother me is that they keep people who stay at my house awake at night. I'm sure he had a reason, I just don't know what it is. What access does it impede?

P.S. Is the Maglev project seriously still alive? Somehow it's still alive, but no closer to being finished, "The grant is the largest federal commitment to the project so far, but construction would still be well into the future."

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Of Champions and Pirates

I won't be in Pittsburgh on Thursday, and that's probably a good thing. While I enjoy the start of the NFL season as much as the next guy, it will also be the first (and far from last day) where the Pirates game summary won't show up until page C-3 in the Post-Gazette. That won't be because Dejan is any less eloquent than he normally is, it will be because the Pirates have already accomplished what they were expected to this season and secured their place in history. Not the one above the '27 Yankees, the one below the '33 - '48 Phillies. The symmetry in doing this just a couple days before the Steelers begin their title defense would be poetic if it weren't tragic.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

A Sad Day

That picture really sums it up, the face of an organization is now a face in another. I think it will be exciting to watch McCutchen play, and for that reason I am excited about today's game. The problem is that I wanted to be excited about McCutchen's promotion and Doumit's return because they might, just might be the missing links on a team 4 games below .500. An outfield of McCutchen McLouth and Morgan would be defensively sublime and more then adequate offensively. Unfortunately, we'll never get to see it.

There is no joy in Pittsburgh, mighty Nate is a Brave.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

This is a BIG Deal

The G20 meeting here is a big deal. Not because you should believe all the nice things that will be said about our city in the next 6 months, but because others will.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Post-Gazette Lashes Out

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette this morning lashed out against two campaigns for indirectly claiming that they received the paper's endorsement when they did not.
  1. Luke Ravenstahl prominently displayed the headline "City Weathering Financial Storm" from the post-gazette. Choosing that headline over "Dowd for Mayor: The Councilman has the Drive to Make the City Work." The funny part to me about the article Ravenstahl did cite is that in his only quote in the article, Ravenstahl points to the fact that the cuts were made because of the state oversight board. Also the article, despite its rosy title peels back the onion far enough to expose that "the pension fund is the hidden cancer" and that Ravenstahl cut the planned excess payment to the fund by almost $5 Million.
  2. The other accused candidate, Theresa Smith, was first brought to my attention by Bram and is guilty of a FLAGRANT case of political gamesmanship.
It's days like today that remind me how important it is to get to know your candidates EARLY in the political season, while they're still talking about issues. The gamesmanship is truly one of the, no I would venture to say THE, biggest embarrassments of this proud region.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Sour Kraut

Been a while since I did a Sour Kraut post, but I had two things to comment on and neither comment required a full post. So, it seemed like a good time to drag back out the German delicacy.
  • Mike Woycheck closed down his blog. He may end up best remembered for being Pittgirl's butler but that would be unfair. Woy was one of the godfathers of Pittsburgh blogging and deserves a proper send off.
  • The second comment is a quote from the ESPN article on Pittsburgh's win last night. It contained something that no self-respecting city should ever have allowed to be printed about a hockey game, and I quote, "Thanks to back-to-back games caused by a YANNI concert in Pittsburgh, the young Capitals came home with little time to regroup." Seriously Pittsburgh, someone needed to take Yanni out so that that never had to be printed.


This is the 300th post to the Blog of Burgher Jon. A couple accompanying statistics:
  • This is one of the slowest trecks to 300 ever (due to several periods of blog neglect, including my current one). The blog originally began 7/29/2007, it suffered a period of dormancy almost immediately and started back up again 3/21/2008. So take your pick as to which date should be considered the start.
  • 3,311 people have visited the site visiting 4,524 pages. I know this is small time stuff for most blogs, but it's been a pleasure to me to share even with a small group.

Monday, May 4, 2009


For those of you who are not plugged in to Jane Pitt or Pittsburgh Magazine on twitter. Something interesting may be happening.