Archive for December 2007

New Address For This Blog

12-30-07

Dolan Media is now hosting From 50,000 Feet: The Blog About Business internally, which means I have a new URL:

http://from50000feet.dolanmedia.com/

…and a new feed address for subscribers:

http://from50000feet.dolanmedia.com/feed/

I’ve also changed the layout to a wider format, which should make this blog a little easier to read.

Thanks for your visits, and I hope they continue at my new address.

-John

Dolan Media Pre-Christmas Rush

12-17-07

Before you break out your favorite Christmas movies, here’s a delectable selection of news morsels from around Dolan Media….

green-river-formation.jpgShell Oil Company wants to extract oil from the Green River Formation, which contains one of the largest oil shale deposits in the world. According to the Colorado Springs Business Journal’s Amy Gillentine, the government’s permitting process runs on a different track than Shell’s research on how to squeeze the goo from the rocks.

Shell submitted the application a year ago, but withdrew it when the company realized that research was going to lead in another direction, said Tracy Boyd, spokesman for the Mahogany Project, the name for the oil shale research work being conducted on 17 acres in the Colorado back country near Rifle.

“But that doesn’t mean that we’ve stopped anything,” he said. “It’s a delay, but other things are going on at the site. We’ve finished building the freeze wall test and it’s 100 percent online now. They’re working on heating tests elsewhere on the site.”

The next step, which requires combining both the freezing and heating elements into one big test to see if Shell can really wring oil from the rocks, is causing the delay.

“It takes about a year to process the application, and things in this research are changing so fast that knowing exactly what you want to do in a year is difficult,” Boyd said. “We’re learning a lot more all the time. We’ll resubmit the application a year or so down the road when we have better information to know exactly what kind of integrated test we want to do.”

Shell, which has secured 200 patents for oil-shale extraction technology, is the only oil firm working this problem on such a massive scale. As one might expect, the whole shale-oil enterprise has its critics and skeptics. (more…)

Bad Technology

12-13-07

Popular Mechanics has released its 10 Worst Gadgets of 2007. I don’t think everything on the list belongs there (like, why is everybody picking on Pleo, that cute lil’ robot dinosaur?), but some of them make you wonder — who is running these companies?

nabaztag-470-1207.jpgTake, for example, #6, the Violet Nabaztag:

Meet Nabaztag, perhaps the world’s first toy that purports to be a Wi-Fi-enabled rabbit that beeps, moves its ears, reads your e-mails, says snarky stuff and responds to voice commands. Of course, when we say “rabbit,” we mean a white plastic cone with plastic oblong ears that tend to fall off a lot. So if your idea of what a hare should look like comes from watching animals in the park, or even watching old Bugs Bunny cartoons, you will be sorely disappointed. Also, it often ignores your requests and kind of doesn’t work.

Nabaztag is essentially France’s answer to Japan’s alchemical ability to turn cute into cash. It costs $165, and getting it to actually read our e-mails was more harrowing than setting up a wireless network (our old Teddy Ruckspin could have done a better job). We’re honestly stumped why anybody would ever want a device like this to read their e-mail out loud. Most of our messages are along the lines of “Vi@Gra 4 Cheap!” and “Sounds good, see you at 7”—not exactly the kind of thing that needs to be spoken aloud by a frightening doll.

Or how ’bout Microsoft’s new version of the Zune music player, which comes in at #8: (more…)

“Copyfraud” Steals From the Public Domain

12-13-07

Here’s something I didn’t know:

Copyfraud is everywhere. False copyright notices appear on modern reprints of Shakespeare’s plays, Beethoven’s piano scores, greeting card versions of Monet’s Water Lilies, and even the U.S. Constitution. Archives claim blanket copyright in everything in their collections. Vendors of microfilmed versions of historical newspapers assert copyright ownership. These false copyright claims, which are often accompanied by threatened litigation for reproducing a work without the owner’s permission, result in users seeking licenses and paying fees to reproduce works that are free for everyone to use.

Copyright law itself creates strong incentives for copyfraud. The Copyright Act provides for no civil penalty for falsely claiming ownership of public domain materials. There is also no remedy under the Act for individuals who wrongly refrain from legal copying or who make payment for permission to copy something they are in fact entitled to use for free. While falsely claiming copyright is technically a criminal offense under the Act, prosecutions are extremely rare. These circumstances have produced fraud on an untold scale, with millions of works in the public domain deemed copyrighted, and countless dollars paid out every year in licensing fees to make copies that could be made for free. Copyfraud stifles valid forms of reproduction and undermines free speech.

This is from a paper by Assistant Professor Jason Mazzone of the Brooklyn Law School, which was linked by the popular site Boing Boing. The full paper can be downloaded from here.

In the paper, he cites a warning notice placed on an edition of the U.S. Constitution that many law students use: “No part of this may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means…without permission from the publisher.”  The Constitution! (more…)

Add Oklahoma Ice Storm: Impressive Video (Fixed)

12-13-07

There’s the ice storm, and then there’s what happens when the ice starts to melt and gravity takes over. Here’s amateur video of huge spears of ice falling from a 1600-foot tall TV tower in Oklahoma:

And, after the jump, check out a brief, eerie video from Tulsa: A strange light seems to flash from the earth, probably caused by a branch hitting a power line. (more…)

Oklahoma on Ice — The Aftermath

12-12-07

iced-flag-zoom.jpg

Things are looking up in frozen Oklahoma — if you’re in the tree removal and replacement business, according to Kirby Lee Davis in The Journal Record.

“If you’re in the tree removal business you’re going to have a bonanza,” added Gary Trennepohl, a professor of finance and the president of Oklahoma State University’s Tulsa campus. “In our campus I bet we’re going to lose 90 percent of our trees. To me that’s the most devastating financial impact.”

Those comments reflect the aesthetics of the storm, the most visible area of damage. And it points to a huge, often overlooked sector.

Trennepohl estimated just replacing the trees at the OSU-Tulsa campus will cost hundreds and thousands of dollars. Multiply that by the thousands of square miles seeing similar wreckage, from Yukon and Norman to Grove and Claremore, and economists might start shaking their heads at the enormity of the issue.

icy.jpg

Those businesses, however, might be affected by a labor shortage brought about by the state and federal crackdown on illegal immigrant labor.

Lee interviews University of Oklahoma economist Robert Dauffenbach and OSU-Tulsa’s President Gary Trennepohl (also a professor of business) on the broader economic effects of the still-ongoing blackout affecting hundreds of thousands of the state’s homes and businesses. (more…)

Cheaper to Keep Her? If She’s a Military Base, Maybe.

12-12-07

On the Record‘s Jackie Sauter rounds up coverage of the $10 billion overrun the Defense Department has incurred in its base-closure process.

Although these base closures have been painful for the communities affected, it always stood to reason that consolidating military facilities would represent a win for taxpayers. In the long run it will, but as John Maynard Keynes said about the long run…