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.

http://www.postgazette.com/pg/09148/973412-82.stm

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.

300!


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

Interesting....


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

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Politicians Being Politicians [How dodgy is Luke Ravenstahl?]

I have no idea if anyone still reads this blog, but on the off chance that someone hasn't thrown out the link...

It is sometimes necessary for a politician to be a politician. Politics is about more than leading effectively, it's also about convincing your constituents that you are leading effectively. Part of this is not being caught up in every little issue that comes up. People ask about a lot of things that aren't relevant to what a politician is doing or could spark a fire storm, and consequently you have to dodge the answer. I've been thinking about this, so allow me to demonstrate some questions I would dodge if I was mayor:
  • Have you ever had pre-marital sex?
  • What's the most alcohol you have ever consumed in a day?
  • Do republicans or democrats tend to be more racist?
  • Do you think that some politicians fabricate their faith for election day?
  • Do you think that homosexuals should be ordained ministers in your church?
In every case, I have an answer to the question. Not just that, but I have an answer to the question that I am 100% comfortable with. I also have no desire to touch off the media firestorm that would ensue by answering each. It would do nothing but distract from the issues at hand as none of these would in anyway determine my fitness for being mayor.

Now, we get to Ravenstahl specifically. "I did a good job of not answering that, didn't I?"

That sounds like he enjoys dodging these questions and THAT is not good. The politicians that are good for their constituents are leaders first and politicians second. Sure they sometimes have to get a little sleezy and dodge a question, but they do it because they believe they can make their constituents' lives better. What scares me about Luke (and to a lesser extent Dowd) is that he appears to enjoy being a politician more then he enjoys being a leader.

At this point, I think you probably can tell I'm speaking about Bob Mayo and Luke Ravenstahl. However, before we get to that I want to drive home my point.

Monday, March 30, 2009

A Difference

The following pairs of items are different things:
  • Apple, Orange
  • Public Servants, Politicians
I don't need to illustrate the first difference, but the second can be demonstrated by successive tweets I received from DUQ:
Ladies and Gentlemen, we have a politician and not a public servant as mayor of the city. Perhaps it is time to reconsider.

Also, DUQ has good tweets, you might consider them.

Amusing

These two stories appeared right next to one another on CNN this morning (3rd and 4th from the bottom):
  • Six die in California shooting
  • Guy rows solo 2,950 miles, is exhausted
All I can say is that my expectations of CNN have gotten so low that I was frankly a bit surprised the order wasn't reversed.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Frustrated


The picture above is from Busman's Holiday. I'm not as anti-Luke as most of the blogging community, but to claim that the Ravenstahl/Onorato plan is good enough is just silly. I give Luke NO credit for it, it barely does anything except allow him to say "I pushed for campaign finance reform."

How Far can Pedro Alvarez Hit the Ball?


Pedro Alvarez, the Pirates #1 pick in last July's draft has had an exciting spring. Reaching base in half of his appearances and clubbing three homeruns. What's really exciting is just how far he can hit the ball though, we're talking Stargel far here. Rumor has it that he hit batting practice OVER the pond outside field 1 at Pirate City. I was curious, so I grabbed a google shot of Pirate City and another one from PNC Park. I made a line that represented a homerun right down the line, over the pond. I then made a hash mark at first base (click the picture to blow it up, look close). Copied the line, pasted it on to PNC Park and resized it so the hash mark touches first base. By this (admittedly crude) estimation I have him knocking the ball not just in to the Allegheny, but in to the DEEP waters, over the kayakers for sure.

Originally Posted for The Pittsburgh Mens Blogging Society

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Won't You Be My Neighbor

Watch the clip, Wear a Sweater.



Of note is the fact that I'll be looking ridiculous wearing my sweater around in 70 degree weather in charlotte. Do you think I could pull off sweater and shorts? I mean if I'm going to go ridiculous, I might as well do it right.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Mike Madison on CNN

That's the word. He mentions it here and here.

Anderson Cooper tonight. Apparently a flattering story about how Pittsburgh stands out among rust belt cities.

Strawberry on her way

It's unfortunate, but another great blog is gone from the burghosphere.

I Luv Luke is dead.

The archives haven't been removed, if you're new to the burghosphere (which a refreshing number of people appear to be) you may want to read through and enjoy a few chuckles.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

WHAT?

Police kill driver after chaotic South Side chase

Police shot and killed an unidentified 32-year-old man after a chaotic chase on Pittsburgh's South Side early this morning.

A city of Pittsburgh police office and a state trooper working together in the same unmarked vehicle on a DUI roving patrol chased an SUV for several blocks until it crashed once, officers fired shots at the driverd, and the driver fled in the vehicle until he crashed into a pole at 22nd and Sarah streets.

The driver, whose vehicle had an Ohio license plate, was pronounced dead at 2:07 a.m. at UMPC Mercy. His name hasn't been released pending notification of family.

A news release from city police said the incident began when officers sitting in traffic at 13th and East Carson streets saw the SUV on 13th Street aproaching the intersection driving in the wrong lane with no headlights on. When the SUV got to Carson, the release said, it lurched several times and nearly hit the police vehicle.

Officers activated their emergency lights, causing the SUV driver to put his vehicle in reverse and drive backwards at a high rate of speed . Police chased the SUV until it crashed into a parked vehicle at Wharton and 22nd streets.

The news release said uniformed officers approached the vehicle and ordered the driver to show his hands, but the driver instead put his vehicle in reverse and struck the unmarked police vehicle. Officers fired several shots into the vehicle but the driver backed up and pulled away again as officers fired additional shots.

The SUV crashed again into a pole at Sarah and 22nd Street.

Diane Richard, a city police spokeswoman, said the city police officer involved has been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation, normal procedure following an incident when a police officer fires a gun.

Ms. Richard said the cause of death will be determined by the Allegheny County medcal examiner later today.

Holy crap, that's 2 blocks from my house! Why do we even let people with Ohio License Plates in to the city?

Our Advice Is, Put Away Your Electronic Devices



This caught my eye at CNN.  From a regular traveler, I appreciate the creativity that SWA and a handful of flight attendants from other airlines have started to show.  It does bring a smile to my face when it's done right and help brighten up a noisy, poorly lit, poorly temperature controlled, germ infested 2 foot by 4 foot world that is often quite miserable. 


However, the most important thing is to GET THE MESSAGE ACROSS.   As they pointed out here, this guy actually appears to cover all the important stuff, but I have been on flights where the flight attendants tried to liven things up but ended up failing to get to the key points.  I made him try again.  If my flight ever lands in the Hudson everyone else on board better know to secure their own oxygen mask before attending to others.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Broker Bouncing.... A game of "Put Another Way..."

I'm not going to say this outloud because I don't want to jinx it, but I was in grade school the first time we hit 7000.

Put Another Way...

Mayor Bloomberg actually kicked off the pothole revolution last week, by fixing the one on the corner of Wall and Broad.

Put Another Way...

The cash shredder has morphed, it looks like a stock exchange now.

Put Another Way...

Can Irrational Exuberence happen in 1 week incriments?

Put Another Way...


Wednesday, March 11, 2009

There's a "Buzz" around Pirate Training Camp

From Today's P-G:
"Dude, there's a buzz here."
"I don't know. There just is, I'm telling you. It's a positive buzz."
"To be totally honest, this is the most fun I've ever had in a spring training,"
"
I've never felt it like this ... this atmosphere."
"
Guys have been getting at it, they've been focused"
"you're seeing the pitchers really focus on what Joe tells them because they're seeing it click."
"We're building on the energy, passion that the staff brings,"
"We're winning because we're doing things the right way,"

I know Dejan (the Pirate Reporter at the P-G) has to write something, but do people actually read this and go, "This year will be different!"?

A quick Google Search led to this article about the 2001 Bucs

"[The New Stadium] can provide much-needed energy for this team"
"people yelling for you, it can go a long way"
"The whole atmosphere's going to be awesome"
"There should be a much more positive attitude on this team."
"Everybody else has done their part in getting this stadium built, now we've got to do our part."

They of course did not do their part and lost over 100 games that year. I'm just saying, don't write me a puff piece. Tell me how one of the prospects is doing in his first taste of big-league (even if it's spring training) play. Tell me how the injured guys are doing. Print me the box score. Don't tell me who smiled.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Tweet

I'm on Twitter now. As I have less and less time to do real blog postings (though I still intend to drop them in from time to time), I thought I would integrate Twitter. It will give me a chance to keep a voice out there, using my phone.

Don't have twitter? That's ok, my latest tweets will be posted on the right side of this screen (assuming you're reading on my blog, and not an RSS reader)

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Just Crazy Enough to Work?


Here's my thought this morning, the Pirates should sign Manny Ramierez to a 3 year 55 million dollar deal.

Stop laughing, get control of yourself.

The Dodgers don't want to sign him for more then two. Which has the price range high (even for the best slugger in baseball). Rumor is that they're close to a 43 million dollar two year deal. The Pirates (or any other team) could probably step in with 55 million over 3 years and get him. A three year contract would likely have an unusual structure, say 10 million the first year 20 the second and 25 in the third.

Ok, the numbers have you not laughing anymore and now you're just confused why the buccos would do such a thing. Here's my thinking, you shouldn't have to be a big market team to rent a player. I would have every intention of trading Ramierez in July to a contender. You see, no one wants to sign Manny now, but in July some almost-a-contender team with too much money will start to get desperate looking for that fabled "missing piece" (think Marian Hossa last year for the Pens). If all went really well I'd see it working out like this:

We hire manny on the 10, 20, 25 contract I outlined before. Ticket sales in Pittsburgh spike. We end up just over .500 heading in to the July trading deadline. That should be good enough to convince our trading partners that we just might be crazy enough to keep Ramierez. Consequently, teams sweeten up their deals. We trade Ramierez to LA or Boston or Philly or Somebody for a few mid-level prospects and manage not to fall under .500 the rest of the way. We end up paying Ramierez about 7 million to be with us for a little more then half a season. Most of that money will be recouped in ticket and jersey sales (especially if the last few weaks of the season people are coming out to see us hit .500), the rest can be justified by the new prospects.

I know it's unconventional, but hey, we're not going to win the series with a 50 million dollar payroll unless we think outside the box.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

PSU 38 - Illonois 33

Providence lost to 7th seed Louisville last night in college hoops. The loss comes in spite of scoring 76 points (Louisville scored 94). As a consolation for Providence, they could have beaten both Penn State AND Illonois whose game finished 38-33. The ridiculously low scoring game featured Penn State scoring the exact same number of points the football team scored in their game against Illonois (winning 38-24 in the late september matchup). It's not suprising that 38 wins you a football game, a little rarer in basketball.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Market Square



I'm a huge fan of the plan for Market Square (WTAE has the best story).

I'm a big fan of walking over to PNC Park from the southside and stopping off on the way back at Primanti's in market square. I've frequently joked with my friends in other cities about getting a 23 oz beer for 2.25 in the middle of downtown after watching a baseball game in scalped primo seats for $10. However, Market Square is a little dark and shady when the games go in to the night (particularly ones with 8pm starts). That's why I'm a huge fan of a brighter, more pedestrian friendly Market Square. What do you like about the plans? Objections?

Also, for the record, Mayor Ravenstahl made the announcement but none of the money is coming from the city. I don't know just how much credit he deserves for having pulled this one together. This has PDP written all over it.

McLouth Signs Long-Term Deal

Nate McLouth signed a long-term deal (through all three arbitration years) with a club option for his first year of free agency. Also, Charlie at Bucs Dugout points out that maybe, just maybe even if the Pirates haven't greatly improved, everyone around them has gone down a notch.

I'm a hopeless optimist so I'm going to take the bait and bask in the thought that all seems right with the world. That is until position players hit the field in bradenton for their first practice. Then we get reminded how woefully outmatched we will be in nearly every game this year.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Religious Extremists Attempt to Capture Part of USA

A group of Religious extremists who believe many American politicians and servicemen will face the ultimate punishment for their evil doing wants part of this country turned over to religious law. In this society they will not have to follow any laws that disagree with what they believe are the teachings of their god.

Fire up the CIA drones, and send some missles at this guy.

I was reminded of this by the fact that the right is so concerned that a little portion of Pakistan will be allowed to not follow any law that doesn't match with islamic law. (Conservative Perspective and NYT Article)

Campbell Brown

Yes she's better looking then Rush Limbaugh, but she's equally intolerable. Allow me to break down EXACTLY why. She speaks here from a template normally reserved for talk radio:



So let's take this blow by blow (Cambell's words in red, mine in black):
  1. Imagine if we gave up any part of this country, any part at all, to terrorists. I think I'll pass Campbell, I appreciate the imagative excercise, but you're here to tell me the news not set the mood. I have barry white for that.
  2. That appears to be happening in Pakistan, where the government has cut a deal with the Taliban allowing Islamic law, or Sharia law, to be enforced in the northern part of the country near the Afghan border. Really? It "appears" that that's what's happening? Why don't you get on your plane and go find out. Actually, don't bother, real news people are already there. They (in this case the NYT) interviewed the information minister of the region in Pakistan. He was able to clarify what will happen under the peace treaty, "“After successful negotiations, all un-Islamic laws related to the judicial system, those against the Koran and the Sunnah, would be subject to cancellation and considered null and void." Doesn't sound so bad to me, maybe not too democratic, but not too bad. It also doesn't say, "Terrorists are now welcome." Killing is a crime, even in islamic law.
  3. This after Taliban militants led a grizzly campaign of attacks, including beheadings, kidnappings and the destruction of dozens of girls' schools. This is the hard part, that statement is by enlarge true, generously stated, but still true. What she leaves out is Pakistan's situation. According to one expert, being interviewed by Bloomberg, "is not really equipped to fight a domestic insurgency." Pakistan's PM was on 60 minutes last weekend explaining just how big of a threat the Taliban is to his government and the stability of the whole country. I'm not an expert in the matter, but at some point a compromise must be drawn, even with terrorists. For reference one might look to some of the isreali/palastinean accords. Additionally, even after non-islamic rules are implemented people will be able to leave the area and go to other places within pakistan. Also, the pakistani officials insisted on appeals process, which will be part of the new rules.
  4. They're the same people who helped provide a safe haven for al Qaeda leading up to 9/11 and have now scored a victory against Pakistan, and given new reason for the United States to worry, after we gave Pakistan $10 billion, in large part to try and reduce the threat from terror. While it is true that the Taliban was the ruling party in Afganistan while the Taliban trained there. It is not true that this agreement allows terrorists to train in Pakistan. In fact she fails to mention that just yesterday the US used a drone to kill insurgents in the SAME area that negotiators agreed to strike all non-islamic laws. Funny how Campbell forgot to mention it when the Washington Post and NYT both found the space for it.
  5. How much harder will the fight become for our troops now that the Taliban control yet another piece of territory? That's pretty simple. We were using drones to kill terrorists in that part of Pakistan before and now we're using drones to kill terrorists in that part of Pakistan.
  6. The logic of Pakistani leaders is simple -- merely wanting to seek peace. We wonder if the entire region, and the United States, will pay dearly for that concession. It's ok to wonder, but next time you might want to read the left half of the paper, not just the right.

Just How Good is Obama at the Basketball?

Interesting video from CNN, great idea Anderson.  Magic Johnson tries to draw about 4 too many analogies between basketball and the presedency but everyone else provides some interesting thoughts on Obama's game.  I haven't played basketball since 4th grade, but it seems to me he really is not bad.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Here's a Thought

Dowd picked the right horse in the Presidential Race.  He was an early and faithful backer of Barack Obama.  Right now, that's hurting him.  If Obama had lost to McCain, maybe he would have dropped by and did a fund raiser for Dowd the way Clinton (Bill) did for Ravenstahl.  At this point one wonders if Ravenstahl didn't just pick Clinton for the politics of it.

So, if I'm Dowd here's what I do (and it might be he has already tried this), I call up every single person I ever knew and worked with in the Obama campaign.  Let's be honest it's not that many, Dowd isn't exactly a superdelegate, but there's got to be a few.  I ask them, beg them or bribe them to get a personal letter of thanks, an audio clip, a picture, ANYTHING that links me to Obama.  I also ask them to send a couple people to speak at fund raisers (probably some campaign staffers who can tell grand stories of the underdog story in action).  Towards the end of the campaign, I'd love to get one of the leaders of the Obama campaign to speak at a big rally, but I'm not sure if that's too much to ask.  

I remind Obama (or well, at least a staffer), how much a Ravenstahl/Onorato/Rendell endorsement meant in the Burgh and promise him more responsible endorsements going forward.

I'm not saying this would work, Obama is  working on bigger things* and may not make anyone available, but Dowd's not going to win on conventional politics.  He needs to do enough conventional politics to remain relevant and spend the rest of his time focusing on how to pull a rabit out of his hat.  He says he has a great campaign manager?  She should be in magic classes right now.

*for some perspective ONE of the things Obama is working on is the stimulus bill, a bill that would cover the pension fund obligations for almost 10,000 years (787 Billion divided by 6.7 million / month).

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

You Know It, I Know It, How'd We Forget it?

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl is going to be Mayor Luke Ravenstahl in 2010. We may not like his little snafus*, but the bottom line is this: he hasn't screwed up enough to lose the primary. Ravenstahl has lost some of his political capital, sure but he still has more then enough to win this election. It doesn't matter who he runs against, the quality of his opponent only effects his margin of victory. We've known this for 6 months, which is why I don't understand why Doug Shields dropping out is such a big deal. Maybe with a tough campaign this time and another 4 years of silly mistakes Ravenstahl will be vulnerable in 2013. But I know he's not, you know he's not and Doug Shields knows he's not.

*I like using antiquated words, it means screw-ups. It's more commonly spoken then written.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Monday, January 19, 2009

One of my Hobby Interests


This CNN Piece covers the remarkable story of Porsche's thriving business in this economic turmoil. I know it's not at all Pittsburgh related, but I thought some of you that read my blog for some of the economic discussion might find it interesting.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Investing Pittsburgh: Ouch, was that the sky falling? Part II

I missed the whole, bottom falling out of the metals market prediction. Though I think a recovery will be in order before too long. In fact I'm inches from buying more US Steel.

The good news is, I did foresee the falling of the market as a whole and we had a VERY small portfolio so all this bad news hasn't hit us too hard. Tomorrow we may have to buy some of our positions back. I'll keep you posted.

By the way, I'm looking in to other stocks we might purchase since I'm kind of bored with the same 6 stocks.

Investing Pittsburgh is a regular part of this blog. It details the ins and outs of a mock portfolio of Pittsburgh Stocks invested and managed by me. For a list of all of the previous "Investing Pittsburgh" posts, click here.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Now That's a Newspaper

Well there's some interesting stuff going on in the Burgh:
  • Patrick Dowd may run for mayor. I bet there are a bunch of people wishing they had more firmly backed Barack Obama right now. A little endorsement or even the right to say "I was for change nationally, and I'm for change locally" would go a long way right now.
  • Mayor Ravenstahl and Dan Onorato Embrace Limits on Campaign Financing. I was as shocked as you guys, they both have more then a little lead in HUGE campaign donations. I am anxious to see what Bram and others who follow these things closer have to say about this. It sounds like a good law to me, limiting campaign contributions to roughly federal levels and prohibiting encumbants from using funds leftover from before the law. The individual limits seem high at $4,600, but it's still a great step I think.
  • Fiscal Responsibility in Mt. Lebanon. AWESOME. I thought for sure they were going to end up with a school they didn't need at a price the community could not afford. FYI, my mother is a Mt. Lebanon tax payer and home owner.
  • Onorato to Host Cyber Town Hall. Got to give the guy props for trying to bring the oldest county outside of Florida in to the 21st century. Though things like this are kind of unfair, since it uses county resources and doesn't offer a rebuttal.

Monday, January 12, 2009

It's Amazing What a Good Running Game Can Do

Pittsburgh in the NYT

I'm certainly not the first to cover Pittsburgh's big break in the Economy section of the NYT (in fact I might be the last). That's ok though, because my reflection is going to be a little bit different. I thought the piece was great publicity for Pittsburgh, but only fluff as far as an "economics" piece goes. Maybe I've just spent too much time researching the Burgh, but summarizing the Pittsburgh Renaissance as a, "development plan begun in the 1980s [that] successfully used the local universities to pour state funds into technology research" seems a little short of reality, there was a lot more to it. Then sumarizing its results as "Entrepreneurship bloomed in computer software and biotechnology" is definitely a bit much. I seem to recall some recent criticism of the entrepreneurship scene and has anyone else noticed that Pittsburgh's own Meakem Becker doesn't have a single Pittsburgh company in its portfolio? A more realistic picture of the economic resurgance likely is that we bottomed out a couple years back and now have nowhere to go but up. That doesn't paint the picture of a quaint midwestern town (which, don't kid yourself, is how New Yorkers see us) that sells newspapers.

What's more interesting has been the fallout. Several interesting little tidbits have fallen out of the NYT's recent interest in Pittsburgh.
  • First, is the Freakenomics blog post by Stephen Dubner himself (who claims to be a Steeler fan!) about the unusual fact that the Steeler's aren't mentioned in the article. Dubner points out that writing an article about Pittsburgh without mentioning the Steelers is tricky, especially given that the 15 highest rated shows in the Pittsburgh area, have all been Steeler games.
  • Second, is another NYT article about the most creative leader in all of Pittsburgh. No, not Luke Ravenstahl. No, not Dan Onorato. No, not even Mike Tomlin. Dick LeBeau. The article is really a charming piece about one of the more interesting Burghers. Its well researched, with a lot of insight from previous teamates and colleagues. While there is some "aren't Pittsburghers such a cute midwestern novelty" attitude, it's more forgivable then the aforementioned "economics" article.
  • Third, is a Pop City article about the author of the LeBeau piece. While it is not a NYT piece, it is nice to know that Pittsburghers (who live in the city of Pittsburgh) are getting published in the New York Times. Even nicer to know that they're brining their NY salaries to Pittsburgh to spend. Check out the building that she is working on, absolutely amazing.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Kraut so Sour it Stings

No hot dog or kielbasa nonsense, straight to the bullets... mmmmm:
  • It appears Penn State might have a basketball team after all. Interesting, I'll keep you posted as news develops.
  • Kevin McClatchy's ownership stake in the Pirates = 0%, it's about time! Now we'll need 10 years of "rebuilding" before I can stop wearing this shirt.
  • Fast Food pulls a Fast One - McDonald's is replacing the Double Cheeseburger with the McDouble on the dollar menu. The difference? One slice of cheese instead of two. The double cheeseburger is still available, for $1.19.

Note: you can't get sour kraut at McDonald's.

Pittsburgh Entrepreneurs

THE most important thing for mobilizing the Pittsburgh base and improving our beloved Burgh, is a solid base of entrepreneurs. After a good idea, the first thing an entrepreneur needs is venture capital, that's why I'm so happy that Pittsburgh has Meakem Becker. Furthermore, it's why I'm happy to pass on this bit of news about one of Meakem Becker's investments, Webcarzz (summary from Alan Veeck himself).

Steeler Nation: Future Burghers?

Jim Russell, a self-proclaimed (but easily backed-up) Pittsburgh Diaspora Evangelist, is a guy and a blogger that I haven't talked enough about recently. Jim is a prolific blogger, and you may not find something interesting in every post he makes, but there are some REALLY good things in there. While most of us spend a lot of time thinking about how we can attract people physically to the Burgh, attract businesses to the burgh and improve Pittsburgh for the Burghers here (through better laws and such). Essentially, our fundamental question is "How do we get people to move to Pittsburgh?" Jim thinks outside the box, to me asking a more fundamental question, "How do we get people who love Pittsburgh to help Pittsburgh?" He throws out the assumption that to be a "Pittsburgher" you have to live in Pittsburgh. As he puts it, his primary goal is, "Turn[ing] the problem of mobile human capital in to an asset."

Jim had a post a couple days ago that could have served as an answer to my blog post that challenged Burghers to use the Internet to do more for Pittsburgh then just providing information. He left me a challenge to find people who have migrated home to Pittsburgh and "get some success stories on the web." If any of you are one of those people, please let me know and I will be happy to post your story here. If you know anyone who has returned home to the Burgh, tell them to drop me an email: BurgherJon@gmail.com. I know a couple and I will work to get their stories out here, but would love to have some more.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Investing Pittsburgh: My 5 Favorite Stocks

A friend of mine asked me to put together a list of my five favorite stocks. I thought since I put in the work, that I'd go ahead and share it not just with him, but with my e-friends as well!

In general I follow three rules (in order of importance) for stock picking.
  1. Must be a good value
  2. Must pay a dividend with a decent yield. I have found that if you can find a value stock with a decent dividend that there’s no hurry for the stock price to recover because you can cash dividend checks while you wait for the market to correct.
  3. Preferably a contrarian play. With the rise of the online discount broker, there are more silly plays being made in the market than ever before. I’m happy to take advantage of them. I also think that many new age stocks are overhyped. Though I make my living in technology, I can sympathize with Buffet’s argument about the over-valuation of the tech sector as a whole.
With that in mind here are 5 picks I like and any reasons I have for them outside of what’s mentioned above:
  1. PNC – It’s my favorite right now, and the heftiest percentage of my portfolio. In addition to being a good value (with quite a bit of growth potential to boot), I bought in with a 6% yield! You can still get pretty close to that, around 5.5 at the moment. People are apprehensive about the merger with National City, but the government gave NCC to PNC for a wink and a smile and they didn’t do it so PNC would fail.
  2. X – US Steel is by far my second favorite. Since I bought it in early December I’m up close to 40% and I still think it’s a bargain, a steal if you’ll forgive the pun. In addition to being a solid match for my three factors, it has the potential to benefit fantastically from any major infrastructure project Obama embarks on.
  3. HNZ – There’s a big drop off for me between second place and third. In fact at the moment my portfolio is 70% cash with the rest in PNC and X. That being said, we had to pick 5 companies and I don’t think HNZ is a bad place to be. 4.5% yield from a solid value stock.
  4. PPG – See the note about Heinz, I’m not sure the money isn’t better off in cash for the next month or two, but I think it is a good buy at this price and would help any portfolio in the long run. Its yield is almost 5% and its business is pretty diverse. People have overestimated its dependency on the Big 3. Many of the vehicle related products that PPG produces will be used by foreign vehicle companies with plants in the US and Mexico even if the Big 3 were to be allowed to fail (which I doubt).
  5. AEO – Don’t buy this yet unless you don’t mind holding it for a while, but it is still a good deal at a 7.8 P/E. The yield is below 4, which isn’t particularly good for the current deflated share price, but I think it has more growth potential then most of the other stocks I’ve named.
Investing Pittsburgh is a regular part of this blog. It details the ins and outs of a mock portfolio of Pittsburgh Stocks invested and managed by me. For a list of all of the previous "Investing Pittsburgh" posts, click here.

Investing Pittsburgh: Being Smart is the Only Way to Make Money Investing

The best way to be smart? Get educated.

Chris Briem has posted a link to the Economics Club Forecast Luncheon. Unfortunately, I will be out of town and unable to attend. However, anyone who reads this blog, especially if its for the business angle should DEFINITELY try to attend. The chief economists from both PNC and Mellon will be speaking.

If anyone does attend and wants to write up a little summary of their thoughts, I'd be happy to post it here. I'll also be looking for write-ups in the MSM and other blogs.

Investing Pittsburgh is a regular part of this blog. It details the ins and outs of a mock portfolio of Pittsburgh Stocks invested and managed by me. For a list of all of the previous "Investing Pittsburgh" posts, click here.

Investing Pittsburgh: Ouch, was that the sky falling?

Early weather reports this morning call for falling prices with a hint of panic. I could say I told you so, but instead I'll offer the following morning numbers to help you choke down your lunch:
  • US Steel down 4%
  • Alcoa down 8%
  • PPG down 2.5%
Fortunately, if you've been following along our portfolio is down to only two stocks for the short term:
  • PNC which is UP 1.4%
  • Heinz which is down less then a percent.
Looks like we may have gotten it right. Though I guess we'll see. I'm not sure how much farther PPG and US Steel have to fall before they become a steal (pun intended).

Investing Pittsburgh is a regular part of this blog. It details the ins and outs of a mock portfolio of Pittsburgh Stocks invested and managed by me. For a list of all of the previous "Investing Pittsburgh" posts, click here.

Carbolic Smoke Ball Hits Another One Out of the Park

Copied from CSB, if you're somehow a regular reader of my blog and NOT reading theirs, wake up. Go over there and read their entire blog, I'll wait.


Obama to Name Fonzarelli Secretary of Cool

fonzieWASHINGTON - President-elect Barack Obama will hold a news conference this morning to announce that he is naming Arthur Fonzarelli as his Secretary of Cool.

Mr. Fonzarelli, or “the Fonz,” as he is known to his colleagues in the greater Milwaukee motorcross/juvenile delinquent communities, is the final appointee to the Obama cabinet.

Attempts to reach Mr. Fonzarelli for comment at his upper-garage apartment or at his office in the men’s room of a popular teenage soda shop were unsuccessful.

It is believed that he spent the weekend at Inspiration Point with the Hooper triplets preparing for his new job.

As head of the Department of Cool, Secretary Fonzarelli will be in charge of implementing President Obama’s oft-stated campaign pledge to restore America’s cool in the world.

According to Obama spokesman Bill Burton, the new Secretary knows just how to get the job done.

“Secretary Fonzarelli has instructed me to release the following statement: ’All nerds in the department are to clean out their desks and be off department property by five o’clock eastern standard time. The purging of nerds will hasten the return of our cool. Aayyyyy.’”

Monday, January 5, 2009

Free Labor , Stipends and the Burghosphere

What did you pay to read my blog today? I have been sitting here in a noodles-to-go for the last hour or so reviewing news stories that might be interesting to my adoring fans, and why? Certainly not for the money. I haven't made a cent from this blog, I probably never will. I blog because I want to make Pittsburgh better, and I think I have a voice worth hearing on the subject. There are a lot of people on the internet who blog or write or draw or program for the pure enjoyment of it. They enjoy being an expert in their field, "mini-Oprahs" as this Business Week article calls them.

The Business Week article explores the start-up ThisNext. ThisNext relies on hundreds of "experts" to search the web, find new trends and post them. ThisNext then sells advertising and makes a small fortune. It'd be a tough sell as a business model because experts are expensive, that is, they are expensive when they don't donate their time. That works out well for ThisNext because they've never paid them a dime. A similar story that I have followed is that of Mahalo. Mahalo pays a whoping $10 per "Search Engine Response" that users generate. It has to take at least 3 or 4 hours to make such a page, and that's if you are skilled at researching and writing. Clearly a bargain for Mahalo.

I believe all of the sites that rely on this "free" help have a few things in common:
  1. An initial hook that gets the site started. For ThisNext, the founders interviewed experts and prepopulated hundreds of pages before day 1. For Mahalo it was a combination of the $10 hook and some prepopulation.
  2. A way to seperate the good from the bad. Some sites rely on a democratic system (Yahoo Answers or Digg for example). Some sites rely on paid reviewers, like Mahalo. Some rely on some combination of the two (wikipedia). However it is done, the review cycle must be quick and complete enough to leave an impression of reliability.
  3. Something New and Interesting. All of these sites enjoy a cult following. This is a bit of a chicken and an egg situation. They are reliable because of their cult following and they have a cult following beacuse they are reliable. Just how to attract this following remains a bit mysterious, but I think the key is a subject matter that is new and mysterious. A new wikipedia won't take off, it's got to be new. It also has to be something that's interesting to everyone in addition to a few core enthusiasts. For example, a site about exotic cars is going to have a larger following then a site about honda accords. Yes, more people own Accords then own exotic cars, but people who don't have a vested interest are more likely to read up on the exotics.
Homework Assignment: Besides a vibrant Burghosphere how can the web be a catalyst to the Pittsburgh community?

Chris Briem Spotted at Pittsblog

Chris Briem snuck over to Pittsblog. That puts two of (if not the) most talented bloggers in the Burghosphere in the same place. Could it be the dream team has a gold medal in mind? I'm staying posted.

If It Looks Like a Duck and Quacks Like a Duck...

...We have to at least consider it is deliberate classism. Yes, I'm talking about the bus thing. For those of you who haven't seen this. Chris Young at City Paper wrote an article about Century III, South Hills Village and Ross Park's reluctance to allow PAT buses to use their roadways. They have claimed that this is because the busways need to be repaired and PAT doesn't want to pay.

My Thoughts:
  • Think about the relative surface area of a busway and a parking lot. You don't hear them complaining about resurfacing the parking lot.
  • Is it even legal to make a shopping mall, allow general traffic, and disallow buses? If it is, it damn well shouldn't be.
  • Would a boycott of Simon Malls (all of the mentioned malls are Simon) be able to get any ground over this? (probably not, but worth asking)
  • What about saying, "the health inspector takes the bus to do food court inspections, no bus stop, no legal food court."

Blogroll Changes

As most of my readers know, I like to keep the blogroll (to your right, if you're on the site) up to date. With this in mind, here are the latest additions and subtractions (update your Readers accordingly):
  • Add Pittsblog (if you deleted it) - That's right Big Mike Maddison is back on the scene, with some aggressive plans.
  • Add Pittsburgh Hoagie - Matt Hogue has redoubled his efforts in the last couple months and seems to be making every effort to fill the gaping hole left by the Burgh Report (read on).
  • Remove The Burgh Report - Widely acknowledged as the best political blog in Pittsburgh, the Burgh Report has joined the growing trash heap of great blogs.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Investing Pittsburgh: I'll Stay

That's "stay" as opposed to "hit." The market is going to move one way or another this week, and probably pretty big. I'm worried it'll be down. Consequently, I'm selling some of our positions before the week gets going, I want to take some of the profit out. Since I'm running this fund with no commissions or short-term gain taxes, I might as well take some money out. We can always buy back in later in the week. I'm selling all of our PPG at 43.55 and all of our HNZ at 38.93.

Note: If you're following along at home and do have to worry about commissions and taxes, don't worry about staying in PPG and HNZ. They're both solid dividend stocks at a pretty cheap price, they'll be fine in the long run. In fact I'm maintaining both positions in my personal account.

Investing Pittsburgh: Week in Review (Double Wide) 12/22 - 1/2

I have combined the week of Christmas and week of New Years for review. Partly because I didn't have any time last weekend, partly because there have only been 7.5 trading days and partly because these are low volume days that are VERY difficult to read. If you had a strategy you liked that didn't fair well the last two weeks, don't despair they were weird weeks.

Since we didn't make any sales or acquisitions, let's see how the ride we were along for went. Looking at the numbers, here are my observations:
  • My critics will be quick to point out that Alcoa is over 12 and up about 25% in the last two weeks. I will remind them that we sold at 10.7 (far above where Alcoa started its recent run). I will also say, that I've shorted Alcoa at its present price in my personal account, the business is just bound to struggle for a little while and I'm still afraid they'll soon announce they are cutting the dividend.
  • PNC is up almost 10%, I still think its a bargain. I'm looking to expand our position, but I think it will drop off a bit in the short term and give us a chance to get a bargain.
  • We were behind the market overall (DJI was up 5.31%, we were up 3.35%), however the stocks we owned outperformed the market (money invested was up 6.17%). We only trailed the market because of our large cash position, which I still contend you'll thank me for later this month.
That, friends, is your weekly wrap-up. I'm looking for a rocky week this week, so hold on to your seats.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

WE ARE.....

I'll Be Back

Mike Maddison will be making a return to blogging (or at least the burghosphere in one way or another). Following up his shady post on Blog Lebo, Mike made it official that he is up to something on Pittsblog. I've traded a couple emails with Mike and I am quite excited. Nice to be announcing the RETURN of a great blogger instead of another big exit.