Oklahoma on Ice

Posted 12-11-07 by John Stodder
Categories: Dolan Media, Energy, weather

Tags: , , , ,

t_labskd_tulsaice9rip.jpgNo, it’s not a new version of the old Broadway musical. It’s what’s happening right now as a major storm has frozen parts of Missouri, Kansas and especially Oklahoma under an inch-thick coating of ice, leading to power outages affecting millions of homes and businesses and transportation nightmares.

The Journal-Record’s Kirby Lee Davis today describes the scene in Tulsa.

(A) disquieting eeriness pervaded every shadow, which spread into an omnipresent foreboding as twilight drained to a cold, misty dark Stephen King would have loved.

That’s when a dense shroud of gloom crept into these hilly streets, mile after mile lit only by fog-dimmed headlights. Dusk transformed much of Tulsa into a bleak ghost town, one where the cold and hungry flocked like moths to most any flicker of electronic light – like the McDonald’s at 15th and Peoria, a beacon of civilization in the deserted blackness of a normally robust Cherry Street.

Amazingly, downtown Tulsa seemed graced with power – almost the exact opposite of two years ago, when a frozen water main flooded an underground Public Service Company of Oklahoma station and knocked out much of the high-rise district. But the prevailing void Monday night caught up with those who sought refuge at the Spaghetti Warehouse and other Brady District venues by 6:50 p.m., plunging them into darkness in the twinkling of an eye.

Ted Strueli blogs about the storm’s impact. Read the rest of this post »

Brad Pitt, Nanotechnology, and an Attorney Playing Himself on TV — Just Another Week on Dolan Media

Posted 12-10-07 by John Stodder
Categories: Dolan Media, Housing, Technology

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

First of all, there’s a new home for On the Record, the blog for Maryland’s Daily Record. Click here to read it and then click on the feed for your reader. It’s a widescreen blog with a great masthead and some useful new features….

To celebrate the new look, they’ve posted some good stuff lately. Like this post about a flamboyant Baltimore attorney who gets to play “essentially, himself” in the final season of HBO’s “The Wire.” And this one, about Baltimore being “the 46th safest drunken city” in a Men’s Health survey. There are a couple of excellent photos on this post about last week’s Pearl Harbor commemoration….

pitts-bourg.jpgNew Orleans City Business’ Ariella Cohen covers the Brad Pitt “Make It Right” plan to redevelop the Katrina’d Ninth Ward.

Rebuilding homes is Pitt’s top priority but replacing stores, banks and offices could be next, according to “Make it Right” Director Tom Darden.

“We went to members of the community and asked what they needed. They said, ‘We desperately need housing.’ But all of us here recognize the need for other development, too.”

Any commercial building would require funding and development partners, he said.

Homebuilding paves the way for retail development, experts often say.

“Retail follows rooftops,” said Rich Stone, vice president of the commercial real estate division of Latter & Blum Inc.

But in the low-income Lower Ninth Ward, even a relatively dense pre-storm population of 14,008 did not attract a full-service grocer. Instead, people relied on convenience stores, small, locally owned markets and gas stations. Shopping trips were done largely at Winn-Dixie or Wal-Mart in Chalmette.

(Photo by Frank Aymami, New Orleans City Business)

VLW, the blog of Virginia Lawyers’ Weekly, reports alumni are disappointed in the “hopeless” new College of William and Mary logo. Feathers were removed to terminate insensitive Native American associations, but the result is being compared to the logo for the trash conglomerate Waste Management

In an economic development move reported by The Journal Record, Oklahoma State University and OK state government have teamed to form the Oklahoma Nanotechnology Education Initiative to ensure the state will have enough trained nanotechnology technicians — people who can work with items fabricated on a molecular scale.

“First, we have to develop awareness and excitement among middle school and high school students about the enormous career opportunities this field will offer,” said (OSU-Okmulgee President Bob) Klabenes. “Then, we have to have sophisticated teaching facilities and labs so that students can have hands-on learning experiences with extremely complex equipment.”

Nanotechnology laboratories and classrooms will be in a new building on the OSU-Okmulgee campus. The facility will include atomic force microscopes, including specialized software for analyzing nanomaterials data, a scanning tunneling microscope and a fiber-optic spectrophotometer system.

So if your kid comes home from school one day and announces, “When I grow up, I want to be a nanotechnology technician!” remember you read it here first….

“Off The Cuff” Internet Winners

Posted 12-08-07 by John Stodder
Categories: Career, Internet, Marketing

Tags: , ,

You’ve got a room full of venture capitalists in Half Moon Bay, Ca., not too far from Silicon Valley.  What do you do?  Guy Kawasaki, tech marketer and a VC fund CEO himself, decided to torture them with the personal testimony of four hugely successful web entrepreneurs who did it all without any VC money! From Dean Takahashi’s blog on the San Jose Mercury News’ site:

The highlight of the AlwaysOn Venture Capital Summit was Guy Kawasaki’s panel, “Why Take Venture Capital At All.” It was hilarious from the get go as venture capitalists watched the young entrepreneurs on the panel inside the swanky Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay resort. Kawasaki rounded up four people who were at the right place with the right idea at the right time. By making money with virtually solo operations, they are the lucky ones who make it look so easy. So much so that they didn’t really need much funding at all. In other words, it’s the people everybody loves to hate because they make the rest of us look so bad and unlucky.

Kawasaki asked everyone at the outset how much traffic each of the young entreprenuers were getting. Drew Curtis, the founder of Fark.com, said he has managed to get 52 million page views a month from four million unique visitors. I enjoy Fark myself. It’s basically news of the weird that makes you laugh. People submit ideas for funny stories to him and he and his crew put the best ones on the site. Curtis lives in Kentucky, drinks beer, and plays a lot of soccer so that he counteracts the effects of the beer.

He got the idea for Fark.com as a “complete accident” back in 1999. “I did it because I was annoying the people I was sending the stories to,” he said. Curtis said the site is just a single page that you click on to go to the stories. Once it gathered momentum, the bottom had fallen out of the dot-com market so Curtis didn’t raise any money.

“Still, it was basically my own personal web site,” he said. “It’s almost on auto pilot.”

They get about 2,000 stories a day and then sort through them. He notes that every single late-night talk show and comedy show uses stuff from Fark.com but they don’t credit it. He reads through them from 7 am until 5 pm, when his soccer game starts. He says he is usually so drunk at night that he signs off early, he said.

“I’m having trouble feeling sorry for you, hanging out in Kentucky,” Kawasaki said.

Curtis said that four friends help him do the sorting because they have the same kind of sense of humor that he has. Sometimes he disappears and no one notices. Acting the social critic, Kawasaki asked, “What does it mean that a lot of people get their news through Fark? It’s not exactly NPR.”

“It comes down to the way the younger generation reads the news,” he said. “Most males 18 to 35 get their TV news from the Daily Show. It’s a different filter.” He is worried that Fark has been around nine years and it will be “screwed” if the younger readers don’t adopt it. But he said the younger readers are still coming.

Read the rest of this post »

Bush Administration Subprime Mortgage Freeze — A Virtual Symposium

Posted 12-06-07 by John Stodder
Categories: Economics, Finance, Housing

Tags: , , , , ,

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson’s idea for rescuing subprime borrowers from foreclosure was announced in a speech today:

The freeze would apply to adjustable-rate mortgages originated between Jan. 1, 2005, and July 31, 2007, which would reset between Jan. 1, 2008, and July 31, 2010. The program is designed to help those with two-year or three-year low teaser rates on their mortgages.

It would only affect borrowers living in their homes, not those who purchased housing for investment purposes. According to the source briefed on the plan, those who have a 3 percent equity stake or more in their property also would not be eligible for the freeze.

Under the reasoning of federal officials, those who currently have financial wherewithal to make their payments but would struggle to pay a higher reset rate could qualify for refinancing.

The Bush administration is expected to seek authority to enable state and local governments to use tax-exempt bonds to fund these refinancings, an idea floated by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson in a speech on Monday.

So what did everybody think? Read the rest of this post »

Monday Morning Dolan News Fix

Posted 12-03-07 by John Stodder
Categories: Dolan Media, Energy, Environment, Fiscal Policy, Health Care, Housing, Insurance

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Sorry to have been such a quiet poster the past few days…been under the weather.

Here are a few stories from Dolan Media I wanted to get out of bed for.

The state-run Healthcare Group Arizona was supposed to be a self-sufficient health insurance plan for small businesses. Instead, “it’s in financial meltdown,” according to a state rep quoted in Arizona Capitol Times.

And the Department of Insurance seems to agree with(Rep. Kirk) Adams’ assessment. Preliminary results from a report that will be finalized in February show Healthcare Group does not collect the data needed to predict health care trends and adjust its premiums accordingly, said Director Christina Urias.

If Healthcare Group was a private insurer, she told the panel Nov. 27, her department would have shut it down.

“In my view, this is a situation…very, very similar to an insolvent insurer operation because it’s relying on subsidies from the Legislature to keep itself going,” Urias said.

Even Kevin Nolan, deputy director of Healthcare Group, told the committee the program may be entering the beginning stages of what is known in the insurance world as a “death spiral,” in which recently increased premium costs drive healthy people from the system, leaving only those with serious illnesses.

Another state Rep. thinks the situation is salvageable — that restrictions on eligibility and on marketing the service could get the program “back on good footing.” The full story is available to subscribers….

If you’re on top of the global warming issue, you’ve doubtless heard the litany of environmentally-friendly sustainable sources of energy: Solar power, wind energy, geothermal…and now “wave parks.” The Daily Journal of Commerce in Portland surveys the seascape, and reports that Oregon’s bid to be the world’s leader in commercializing the technology faces a surge in competition from Nova Scotia, British Columbia and neighboring Washington state.

Oregon… is working to expand Oregon State University’s wave research to a national in-water wave energy research center where companies around the world can bring their technologies for testing. And the state already has two test devices in the water – Canada-based Finavera Renewables’ Aquabuoy and OSU’s wave energy buoy – with six more permit applications on file at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Finavera suffered a setback last month, however, when the Aquabuoy off the coast of Newport began leaking and sank to the ocean floor. And public perception of wave energy parks as threats to ocean life and fishers could set back the state, energy consultant Justin Klure said.

“Oregon needs to accelerate our efforts for community outreach and education,” Klure said, “so wave energy projects are seen as positive instead of a threat.”

Also on the water… If you’re in Baltimore today or tomorrow, you can catch a glimpse of a very cool-looking high-speed Navy ship, on display in the Inner Harbor as part of the Army-Navy game festivities.  Go to On the Record to see it….

Slow home sales in New Orleans have some owners resorting to auctions, writes Deon Roberts in New Orleans City Business. But it seems like the auctions are serving to illustrate that sellers and buyers remain far apart on what they think properties are worth.

(David) Gilmore, president of Sperry Van Ness/Gilmore Auction, said New Orleans-area home auctions are attracting fewer buyers than for commercial properties or lots. Also, many sellers have not been satisfied with residential auction bids, he said.

“There are still buyers in the market,” Gilmore said. “We had bidders at every one of our auctions for 12 different sales three weeks ago. But I’ll tell you, on the residential homes, there was a price differential between which the sellers were wiling to accept and the buyers are willing to give, and that tells you we have market issues.”

Of the 12 properties Gilmore’s firm featured three weeks ago, three homes did not sell because the sellers rejected the offers, he said. There was a 30 percent average difference in what the sellers wanted and the buyers offered.

What one word comes to mind when you think of New York? Did you say “politeness?”  Me too!  But apparently the Long Island Railroad has concerns about its passengers hogging seats with their bags and gabbing on the cell phone, so they’ve launched an anti-rudeness campaign, according to LI BizBlog….

Three thousand gallons of chicken fat from a Perdue poultry plant. An unlatched tanker. Twenty miles of Virginia highway. Yuk.  And a few auto accidents, according to the VLW Blog…. Talk about rude….

MSN Bets on Laziness

Posted 11-29-07 by John Stodder
Categories: Internet, Marketing, Trends

Tags: , , , , ,

At the Consumer Technology Innovations conference in San Francisco yesterday, Joanne Bradford, Corporate Vice President & Chief Media Officer of Microsoft’s MSN, said the popularity of Facebook, MySpace and YouTube proves that web portals continue to be viable, despite the trend toward extreme individualism encapsulated in the expression “long tail.”

From CNET’s post about the conference:

For Bradford, who was interviewed on-stage at the conference by Wall Street Journal reporter Kevin Delaney, we’re in a new era where Web users want data and information filtered for them.

“People want you to do it for them,” she said. “They’re lazy. It’s a society of convenience.”

Fortunately, she suggested, MSN is here to help.

And in doing so, Bradford seemed to suggest, MSN is helping to create a dynamic where the most important and relevant information is presented to users, rather than relying on the long-tail to satisfy large numbers of users who want less popular information.

And by presenting the most important information in a way that is accessible and relevant, MSN is hoping it can benefit by similarly attracting top advertisers.

“The growth is still there,” she said. “Advertisers want the head. Advertisers will still pay 10x for the head instead of the tail.”

And from internetnews.com:

Asked if portals were “dying a slow death,” Bradford said quite the opposite. “Everything is looking more like a portal these days if you look at Facebook, MySpace and YouTube. I think there’s a reverse portal phenomenon going on where you stuff the tail back in the head and make it mean something.”

In other words, while a lot of social networking sites carry more personalized, user-generated and long tail content (referring to the theory of niche sites creating their own markets), they’re all trying to organize content like a portal does.

“People want things filtered for them and put together in a way that’s meaningful to their life, whether that’s around friends or items you want to buy,” said Bradford. “We really think people want you to do it [organize content] for them.” Bradford further claimed that most consumers don’t want to set up home pages, such as iGoogle, myYahoo or even feeds on Facebook. “There’s a great unanswered consumer need there,” she said, to automate the process of giving users the content they’re looking for.

To which I observe: Boy, that Microsoft culture sticks to its people like lint! Bradford’s head shot makes her look young and perky, but she already talks like an old-timer.

People are lazy?

People want things filtered for them?

MSN knows what’s “meaningful to (my) life?”

Really? Read the rest of this post »

Verizon’s “Berlin Wall Moment”

Posted 11-28-07 by John Stodder
Categories: Telecommunications, Trends

Tags: , , , , , , ,

In what was regarded as a surprise move, Verizon announced Tuesday it would give consumers more choice in what phones they can use on its network, perhaps hastening the day when Americans can buy the mobile device they want, then choose a carrier instead of having it chosen for them.

In its press release, Verizon said the “new choice” would not be available until the end of 2008, and described the process between now and then:

In early 2008, the company will publish the technical standards the development community will need to design products to interface with the Verizon Wireless network. Any device that meets the minimum technical standard will be activated on the network. Devices will be tested and approved in a $20 million state-of-the-art testing lab which received an additional investment this year to gear up for the anticipated new demand. Any application the customer chooses will be allowed on these devices.

The news has got everyone thinking about two companies not mentioned in the press release, Apple and Google. Apple, because the iPhone is such a sexy product but its appeal is weighed down by the required two-year AT&T/Cingular contract that comes with it; and Google because of its recent announcement of plans to create an open platform for a Linux phone that can run Google applications.

The commentary on Verizon’s move comes in two flavors: Laudatory, and intrigued conjecture. If anyone really doesn’t like it, they’re keeping it to themselves. Here are lots of samples:

“We’re seeing a sea change here. If you go back a year ago, there was absolutely no sign anyone was interested in pushing opening wireless networks,” said Harold Feld, senior vice president of the Media Access Project, a nonprofit telecommunications law firm. “This is like a Berlin Wall moment, where the pressure is too much for these guys.” (SF Chronicle)

Atlantic Monthly blogger Megan McArdle, a libertarian-leaning economist, agrees: Read the rest of this post »