Monday, March 31, 2008
Could this $300 million be spent more intelligently elsewhere? Say something often enough and it must be true...
Gore Crusade Gets a Second Wind
New Ad Campaign Enlists Celebrities to Urge Action on Climate Change
By Ira Teinowitz Published: March 28, 2008
WASHINGTON (AdAge.com) -- Can a $100 million-a-year marketing effort prod Americans into getting more involved in solving the climate crisis?
Vice President Al Gore and his Alliance for Climate Protection are about to find out as they roll out a three-year campaign partially bankrolled through Mr. Gore's Nobel Peace Prize winnings and proceeds from Mr. Gore's Oscar-winning documentary "An Inconvenient Truth."
Big names on board
The ad campaign from Interpublic Group of Cos.' Martin Agency, Richmond, Va., due to break April 2, doesn't suggest specific behavior Americans should change, but instead uses celebrities from the Dixie Chicks to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich to urge business and government leaders to focus on developing environmental policies and solutions that will bring change.
"From the very beginning, we felt there was a gap in the marketplace in that there wasn't a massive national effort to communicate about the urgency and solvability of the climate crisis," said Brian Hardwick, communications director for the Alliance.
"We want to inspire people to help, hoping that if enough of us raise our voices we can come together to demand more from our leaders." Besides Mr. Gingrich and the Dixie Chicks, the ads feature the Rev. Al Sharpton and the Rev. Pat Robertson, Toby Keith and current House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The Alliance was holding off announcing most details of the ads until this week, but did say they would urge "solutions."
No avoiding it
The Alliance is touting the campaign as an "unprecedented effort," and said that the messages will run in TV, print, the internet and a wide variety of venues. The initial TV buy is broad, including the broadcast networks, cable including MTV and news networks. How much of the effort will to toward advertising remains to be seen. The Alliance is hoping marketers will help spread the message by tying in through their own packaging ads and websites.
Mr. Gore, in an interview with CBS's "60 Minutes" to be broadcast March 30, suggests that few thinking people still believe that global warming isn't a reality. "You're talking about Dick Cheney.
I think that those people are in such a tiny, tiny minority now with their point of view, they're almost like the ones who still believe that the moon landing was staged in a movie lot in Arizona and those who believe the world is flat," Mr. Gore told the network. "That demeans them a little bit, but it's not that far off."
Saturday, March 29, 2008
Friday, March 28, 2008
The 10-second clip of a woman singing "Au Clair de la Lune," taken from a so-called phonautogram, was recently discovered by audio historian David Giovannoni. The recording predates Thomas Edison's "Mary Had a Little Lamb" -- previously credited as the oldest recorded voice -- by 17 years.
Thursday, March 27, 2008
WASHINGTON (AP) - The low-power television industry is facing a "death sentence" because of a flaw in the government's plan to force broadcasters to shift to digital broadcasting and has asked a federal judge for a reprieve.
The Community Broadcasters Association, which represents owners of small television stations, wants the Federal Communications Commission to ban all digital set top converter boxes that are not equipped to receive an analog signal, a request that has the potential to derail the biggest broadcasting transition since color television.
As of Feb. 18, 2009, all full-power television stations in the U.S. are required to stop broadcasting an analog signal. Anyone who gets programming through an antenna and does not have a newer-model digital TV set will need to buy a box that converts the digital signal to analog. The government is providing two $40 coupons per household that can be used to buy these boxes.
The problem facing the 2,600 low-power television stations represented by the association is that they are not subject to the deadline. Most of the converter boxes now on sale will actually block the low-power analog signal from those stations, while the full-power digital signal will display normally.
The association, in a petition filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on Wednesday, asked the FCC to "prevent the marketing and distribution" of the boxes.
The association cited a 1962 law called the All Channel Receiver Act which was adopted during the early years of UHF broadcasting. The law requires that devices that receive television signals be capable of picking up "all frequencies allocated by the commission to television broadcasting."
It is not certain how many viewers may be affected. The association characterizes its viewers as rural, underserved urban, elderly and non-English speaking.
In addition to low-power stations, about 4,300 translator stations, which boost signals from full-power stations and relay them to rural areas, also are exempt from the 2009 deadline.
Nothing in the law prevents low-power stations from converting to digital, but for most stations, the cost is prohibitive, according to the association.
Ronald Bruno, president of the association, said converter boxes currently for sale will decrease viewership for low-power stations.
"Every time a person gets a coupon, buys a converter box and plugs it in, we lose that viewer," he said.
The petition asks the court to order the FCC to act immediately to ban the boxes and says a delay would be disastrous.
"The dire consequences for such stations - effectively a death sentence - will be irreparable through any available administrative or judicial remedy," it reads.
The FCC had no comment on the court action.
The converter box program is overseen by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. Agency spokesman Bart Forbes said the law ordering the transition says boxes can "only receive digital signals" and the NTIA specifications on box design are consistent with the law.
Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association, accused the broadcast association of "trying an 11th-hour litigation strategy to freeze the entire nation in analog."
As of March 25, the NTIA reported it has received requests for 8.5 million coupons from 4.5 million households.
Six of the converter boxes that have been approved for sale by the NTIA allow for an analog "pass-through" feature. According to the NTIA, they are the Philco TB150HH9, the Philco TB100HH9, the ECHOSTAR TR-40, the Magnavox TB-100MG9, the Digital Stream DX8700 and the Digital Stream DSP7700T.
Such a feature would allow televisions to receive an analog signal, but Bruno says such boxes "do not create an acceptable solution for the over-the-air viewer." To watch analog channels, viewers would have to turn off the digital converter box and use a separate remote control.
Content.org Thursday, March 27, 2008; 1:52 AM
Adobe (NSDQ: ADBE) is taking a note from startups nipping at the edges of its core products, and has now launched a free version of its Photoshop picture editing software. Called Photoshop Express, the service is available directly through any browser though it will only work on Flash 9, so you may have to upgrade. Users have to register for the account, and get 2GB of free storage. Also, it also has ties to social networking sites like Facebook and other image-sharing sites, reports News.com (I am still waiting for the verification e-mail from the service to try it out).
Adobe intends to offer more premium features down the line, which include a printing service, more storage, support for audio and other media, and the ability to read additional image file types (the service works with .JPGs now.). It also plans to build an offline client, which will surely cut into its Photoshop revenues, but better to undercut itself than let others do. Some pics of the software are here.
This of course will be bad news for the likes of Picnik (a service we have used regularly here before) and others in the startup space.
Carl Icahn's looking for another quick buck; thousands will undoubted get canned as a result of this action so he can strip off company assets.
To review, Icahn was once characterized during the TWA disembowelment as one of two businessmen who "intentionally bankrupted successful companies for their own personal gain".
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
Maybe it's time AT&T finds it hard to find U.S. customers too for awhile. They've spent the last ten years consolidating their market power at the expense of their employees and service offerings. AT&T's wireless internet service is two generations behind Japan: 17 Mbps versus AT&T's 220-320 Kbps.
AT&T CEO says hard to find skilled U.S. workers
SAN ANTONIO, Texas (Reuters) - The head of the top U.S. phone company AT&T Inc (T.N) said on Wednesday it was having trouble finding enough skilled workers to fill all the 5,000 customer service jobs it promised to return to the United States from India.
"We're having trouble finding the numbers that we need with the skills that are required to do these jobs," AT&T Chief Executive Randall Stephenson told a business group in San Antonio, where the company's headquarters is located.
So far, only around 1,400 jobs have been returned to the United States of 5,000, a target it set in 2006, the company said, adding that it maintains the target.
Stephenson said he is especially distressed that in some U.S. communities and among certain groups, the high school dropout rate is as high as 50 percent.
"If I had a business that half the product we turned out was defective or you couldn't put into the marketplace, I would shut that business down," he said.
Gone are the days when AT&T and other U.S. companies had to hire locally, he said.
"We're able to do new product engineering in Bangalore as easily as we're able to do it in Austin, Texas," he said, referring to the Indian city where many international companies have "outsourced" technical and customer support workers.
"I know you don't like hearing that, but that's the way it is," he said.
Stephenson said neither he nor most Americans liked the situation, and the solution was a stronger U.S. focus on education and keeping jobs. Business needed to help, such as AT&T's repatriation of service positions and education grants, he added.
Tuesday, March 25, 2008
Luxury exhib chain plans $35 film tickets
By MARC GRASER Variety
A recession may be looming, but a group of investors thinks Americans are ready to pony up $35 for a movie ticket.
Village Roadshow Ltd., Act III, Lambert Entertainment and the Retirement Systems of Alabama pension fund have partnered to bring the luxury cinema circuit Village Roadshow Gold Class Cinemas to the U.S.
The partners will spend $200 million to build 50 theaters nationwide over the next five years, with the first two venues set to open in South Barrington, a suburb of Chicago, and the Seattle suburb of Redmond in October. Others are planned for Fairview, Texas, near Dallas-Fort Worth, and Scottsdale, Ariz.
Each complex will sport theaters featuring 40 reclining armchair seats with footrests, digital projection and the capability to screen 2-D and 3-D movies, as well as a lounge and bar serving cocktails and appetizers, a concierge service and valet parking.
But the circuit will especially push its culinary offerings -- made-to-order meals like sushi and other theater-friendly foods from on-site chefs (a service button at each seat calls a waiter).
Moviegoers will have to pay extra for any food they order, however.
The Burbank-based company's hoping to attract 10 million "upscale and affluent" consumers per year to its theaters that will be housed in high-end shopping centers and malls. Each complex will typically house eight screens.
"It's a new way to go to the movies," said Graham Burke, managing director and CEO of Village Roadshow Ltd. "It's like what Mercedes is to a Toyota or like flying first class in an airplane."
Village Roadshow founded the Gold Class Cinemas chain in Australia in 1997. It has since expanded to other countries, including Singapore and Greece.
Company execs said bringing the chain to the U.S. is a "natural extension" of the brand.
The demand for luxury moviegoing in the U.S. is very strong, and by working with our partners, we are delivering on that demand in a way never before experienced by the American consumer," said Kirk Senior, CEO of Village Roadshow Gold Class Cinemas.
In addition to its initial complexes in Illinois, Washington, Texas and Arizona, company also plans to build in California, Florida, Nevada, Pennsylvania and New York.
Gold Class Cinemas won't be the first luxury theater circuit in the U.S. Regal Entertainment, Cinemark, National Amusements and Sundance Cinemas offer similar services, including high-end food and concierges, at much cheaper prices of around $12-$18 per ticket.
Idea is that plushing up the current moviegoing experience will encourage auds that typically stay home to watch movies via their pricey home theaters to venture out again. But it's also a way for exhibs to make more money: Concession sales are kept by theater chains, while a little more than half of each ticket sold is split with the studios. Selling sushi and a glass of wine will command higher prices than popcorn and soda.
There are an estimated 300 high-end multiplexes operating in the U.S.
If the recession is stressing out some businesses, exhibitors aren't sweating just yet. Entertainment has long been shown to be recession-proof. And that's exactly the attitude Village Roadshow is taking.
"This is a top-end experience," Burke said. "People want to get away from their blues. I don't think the recession will affect it one iota."
Monday, March 24, 2008
Monday March 24, 5:00 pm ET
By Peter Kaplan and Randall Mikkelsen
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Sirius Satellite Radio's $4.59 billion purchase of rival XM Satellite Radio was given antitrust clearance on Monday as the Justice Department concluded consumers have many alternatives, including mobile phones and personal audio players.
Great article on the NY Times today on the root cause of the current financial mess. Excessive and unregulated speculation by some Wall Street Insiders is the root cause. $45 TRILLION dollars! That's 2.5x the combined value of every company traded in the New York Stock Exchange.
Essential reading for all.
Friday, March 21, 2008
China Evolves From Manufacturer To Designer
By D'Arcy Doran, Associated Press
WriterManufacturing.Net - March 21, 2008
LONDON (AP) -- ''Made in China'' appears on everything from iPods to refrigerators but if the country's stunning economic growth is to continue, the next step is for shoes, laptops and mobile phones to start bearing the label ''Designed in China.''
An exhibition at London's Victoria and Albert Museum appraises for the first time how close China is to making the jump from running the world's factory floor to taking control of the drawing boards.
Timed to coincide with the run-up to the Beijing Olympics, ''China Design Now'' reveals that although the country may not yet be ready to dominate the catwalks or consumer electronics shows, an exciting entrepreneurial design culture is stirring.
''I feel that we're on the cusp of that shift actually and what I hope is that a lot of people's expectations will be confounded,'' said Lauren Parker, the exhibition's co-curator.
The exhibit takes visitors on a journey starting in China's southern frontier in Shenzhen, which transformed from a group of fishing villages into the world's largest manufacturing center after being made China's first free trade zone 30 years ago.
The exhibit traces the birth of China's graphic design culture to the arrival of young designers who gave up secure state jobs to move to Shenzhen for access to the latest technology and ideas from neighboring Hong Kong, which was then in British hands.
Unlike their western counterparts, the Chinese designers had no advertising industry to provide training and jobs.
Examples show artists playing off of traditional calligraphy, altering Chinese characters to reveal deeper meanings, before moving on to modern urban designs for toys, sneakers and skateboards.
The exhibit examines fashion and the rise of the middle class in the 1990s and its pursuit of the ''Four Great Things'': a car, a house, a computer and a mobile phone. Clothes on display draw inspiration from the 1920-30s when glamorous Shanghai was the ''Paris of the Orient.''
Consumer items on display include a mobile phone designed by Lenovo, which bought IBM Corp.'s personal computer unit in 2004, in the black and red colors of lacquerware in a cradle inspired by a Chinese hot-pot plate.
China's regard for the importance of design is most obvious in Beijing, where billions of dollars are being spent on daring architecture that embodies China's economic transformation and its global ambitions.
A computer animated film allows visitors to feel like they are soaring over the city's shimmering new landmarks, from the dragonlike airport extension by Britain's Foster + Partners to the ''bird's nest'' Olympic stadium by Switzerland's Herzog and de Meuron to the China Central Television's Z-shaped headquarters by Rotterdam, Netherlands, architects Rem Koolhaas and Ole Scheeren.
''Ambitious and significant buildings are going up in the city in an amount and scale that no other city has ever produced simultaneously,'' Scheeren said, standing in front of a model of his leaning towers.
Chinese architects are learning through working with foreign celebrity architects as well as striking out on their own trying to develop continually evolving new styles, Scheeren said.
''There's an enormous emergence of ability and ambition,'' he said. ''But I think it will also take the country a number of years to really figure out where they want to go.''
In 2006, the Chinese government said the future of the economy depended on becoming innovation-driven. In the three preceding years, China invested 1.5 percent of its gross domestic product into research and development, representing the largest increase of any country, according to a British government study.
An estimated 500 schools offering design courses have sprung up across China, but there is a shortage of qualified teachers, the curators said.
Chinese manufacturers have yet to give designers the freedom to move -- from a cosmetic role to rethinking products the way products work.
''At the moment, in our view, creativity is there, and is expressed very vividly, but in terms of its connection to business and to manufacturing it's quite weak,'' said Zhang Hongxing, the exhibit's other co-curator. ''But right now is a really exciting moment and we have to document it.''
The exhibit runs until July 13.
Retail Bankruptcies Could Be Worse Than 1991
By Tom Ryan
While still healthy overall, mall centers are being roiled by massive store closings among a variety of formats. Unless the economy dramatically improves, retail bankruptcies this year could reach the highest level since the 1991 recession, Dan Ansell who heads up real estate for the law firm Greenberg Traurig LLP, told the Associated Press.
Wilsons Leather, KB Toys, Ann Taylor, American Eagle, Talbots, Pacific Sunwear and Zale have already closed hundreds of stores this year. Sharper Image and Lilian Vernon have filed for bankruptcy, and analysts are waiting to see if store closing announcements are coming from Circuit City and Sears Holdings.
According to data from NAI Global, a commercial real estate services firm, average retail vacancy rates have climbed to between 7 percent and 8 percent from 5 percent over the last six months.
David Solomon, president and CEO of ReStore, NAI Global's retail division, told the AP that vacancy rates could hit 10 percent by the end of the year. Suzanne Mulvee, senior economist at Property & Portfolio Research, predicts vacancies could rise as high as 12.5 percent this year. Her figure includes retail spaces where tenants have defaulted on their rents.
Part of the problem, according to Ms. Mulvee, is that another 130 million square feet of retail space will become available this year, she predicts, on top of last year's 143 million. That is well above the average 100 million square feet added per year earlier in the decade.
Still, Mr. Solomon doesn't think the situation will be as dire as in 1991, when the savings and loan crisis hurt the entire country. At the time, it was the department stores that felt the major shakeup as leveraged buyouts and fierce competition led to the demise of names like Carter Hawley Hale Stores and Woodward & Lothrop. Major bankruptcies around that time included Allied Stores, Federated Department Stores, Macy's, Ames, Best Products, McCrory's, Hills Department Stores, Zale's and Hechingers. Experts also said merchants this time are weathering downturns better because of new systems to control inventory and costs.
Mall operators claim their top anchors -- the department stores and other big chains -- are in sound financial shape. Bill Taubman, chief operating officer of Taubman Centers, predicts more store closings and bankruptcies than last year, but doesn't think they will reach historic highs.
Thursday, March 20, 2008
By COREY BOLES
March 20, 2008 4:04 p.m.
Verizon Wireless was the biggest winner of communications spectrum in the Federal Communications Commission's recently concluded auction, the agency's chairman said Thursday.
The company, which is jointly owned by Verizon Communications Inc. and Vodafone Group Plc, won six large licenses that effectively will give it a national license to provide next-generation wireless broadband service in the so-called C-Block of the spectrum being sold.
In addition, it was the largest winner of licenses in the A-block, which are medium-sized licenses, and won 77 more in the B-Block, the smallest licenses that were being auctioned off. According to analysts at Stifel Nicolaus, Verizon Wireless spent $9.63 billion in the auction.
Google Inc., a potential newcomer, didn't win any licenses, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin said at a press conference at the agency's headquarters.
Another newcomer, Echostar Communications Inc., the satellite television provider, won significant numbers of licenses, enough to provide the company with a nearly nationwide license.
Echostar, through a vehicle it created called Frontier Wireless, won several licenses in the A- and E-Blocks. There had been the suggestion by some analysts that this spectrum was ideally suited to providing wireless broadband service.
An FCC official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that this wasn't necessarily true. He said that, as technology improved, this spectrum could be used to provide wireless broadband, but stressed he didn't know what Echostar's plans for the airwaves were.
Echostar spent $711 million in the auction, Stifel Nicolaus said.
AT&T Inc. won 227 of the smallest licenses being sold, but didn't pick up any in the larger blocks being auctioned off. Stifel Nicolaus said AT&T spent $6.64 billion.
AT&T hadn't been expected to be an aggressive bidder for some of the larger chunks of spectrum being sold, having completed a large acquisition for airwaves from a private seller shortly before the auction began.
Chip maker Qualcomm Inc. was the third largest spender in the auction, said Stifel Nicolaus, spending $1 billion on new licenses.
The auction closed earlier this week, with $19.6 billion being raised by bidders for the airwaves. This was the highest amount by some margin ever raised in the 15-year history of FCC spectrum auctions.
Mr. Martin confirmed that he had asked the commission's inspector general to investigate what happened over the D-Block, the one section of spectrum which didn't meet its minimum price.
He said the move followed requests made by several public interest groups, which had alleged improprieties on the part of a party representing public safety in negotiations with potential bidders.
There was only one bid for the D-Block, and that came in the first round for the smallest amount available. Mr. Martin said Thursday that bidder was Qualcomm.
If there were to have been a winner of the D-Block, it would have been obliged to work with public safety to build a national wireless broadband network for primary use by the country's first responders. Any spare capacity on that network could then be sold off to the commercial wireless industry.
Mr. Martin said Thursday that he still hoped to make the public-private partnership model envisaged by the D-Block rules work as it was the best available solution to the public safety community's inability to communicate effectively.
Congress has announced plans to hold a hearing into what went wrong with the D-block's auction, too. Mr. Martin said his hope was that the issue would be resolved before the end of the year.
The spectrum auction was widely seen as being the last best chance for a new player to make a foray into the provision of wireless broadband services. The airwaves are coming available to the commercial wireless industry due to a move by television broadcasters to a digital signal, which requires far less spectrum.
Winners must pay for the airwaves by the end of June and they will take possession of it in February 2009, after the broadcast industry makes its transition to digital television.
Borders Retains Bankers To Explore Possible Sale
By KEVIN KINGSBURY
March 20, 2008 11:56 a.m.
Shares of Borders Group Inc. slumped after it became the latest retailer to signal distress, saying it has suspended its dividend and hired help to explore the bookseller's options as the credit crunch has all but cut off avenues to raise capital.
Toshiba conceded the market to Blu-Ray and announced they were stopping production on HD-DVD players.
The products had to be purchased at one of the company's stores prior to Feb. 23. Best Buy said it will give a $50 gift card for each item, which will likely lead to the distribution of more than $10 million in U.S. gift cards.
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
"In fact, 80 percent to 90 percent of global warming involves heating up ocean waters. They hold much more heat than the atmosphere can. So Willis has been studying the ocean with a fleet of robotic instruments called the Argo system. The buoys can dive 3,000 feet down and measure ocean temperature. Since the system was fully deployed in 2003, it has recorded no warming of the global oceans.
"There has been a very slight cooling, but not anything really significant," Willis says. So the buildup of heat on Earth may be on a brief hiatus. "Global warming doesn't mean every year will be warmer than the last. And it may be that we are in a period of less rapid warming.""
Final Disneyland condo plan pulled
By JACOB ADELMAN
A developer has withdrawn its proposal for a condo-hotel complex close to Disneyland, effectively ending a long-running political battle over whether homes should be built in the theme park area, an Anaheim city official said Monday.
Newport Beach-based Renaissance Pacific Properties LLC last week pulled its plan to build 191 condominiums and a 102-room hotel on a 4.8-acre site by a road leading to the theme park complex, planning director Sheri Vander Dussen said.
"We believe the project would have been a positive addition to the Anaheim resort, but timing issues do not allow us to move forward at this time," Steve Sheldon, a consultant for the developer, told the Orange County Register.
The company might consider another plan for the property, Sheldon said.
A message left Monday for Renaissance principal Michael Capaldi by the Associated Press was not immediately returned.
Renaissance was the last of three developers that had planned to build residential units within the city's 2.2-square mile resort district. Walt Disney Co. officials opposed the move, arguing that housing would interfere with the area's lucrative focus on tourism.
Earlier this month, developer Urban West Strategies dropped its plans to build a mixed-use project with 449 condos earlier this month, De Vander Dussen said.
Another developer, SunCal Cos., abandoned its plans to build about 1,500 homes in the area last year, citing a conflict with the family that owned the land, she said.
Starting in June, voters will have to approve all housing proposals in the resort area thanks to an initiative championed by Disney and adopted by the city council.
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
Dallas' red light cameras may face changes as revenue estimate drops
Dallas' system works too well, eating into revenues, fueling possible changes
12:00 AM CDT on Saturday, March 15, 2008
By DAVE LEVINTHAL / The Dallas Morning News
Dallas City Hall has idled more than one-fourth of the 62 cameras that monitor busy intersections because many of them are failing to generate enough red-light-running fines to justify their operational costs, according to city documents.
Initial gross revenue estimates for the red light camera system during Dallas' 2007-08 fiscal year were $14.8 million, according to city records. The latest estimate? About $6.2 million. City Manager Mary Suhm on Friday estimated net revenue will fall $4.1 million under initial estimates.
That leaves Dallas government with a conundrum. Its red-light camera system has been an effective deterrent to motorists running red lights – some monitored intersections have experienced a more than 50 percent reduction. But decreased revenue from red light-running violations means significantly less revenue to maintain the camera program and otherwise fuel the city's general fund.
Exacerbating the drain is a new state law requiring that municipalities send half of their net red-light-running camera revenue to Austin and post signs alerting drivers of upcoming camera installations. Also, city records indicate Dallas has lengthened yellow-light intervals on 12 of its 62 monitored traffic signals, giving motorists more time to beat a red light.
City transportation officials say they're brainstorming potential changes to the red-light camera program, which is financed by the general fund, before a planned update to the City Council next month on the program's status.
"We did not anticipate having such success so early with the number of people not running red lights," said Zaida Basora, Dallas' assistant director of public works and transportation. "If you have success in safety, you don't have a lot of success in revenue. The other side is the people will go back to what they were doing before without the cameras."
Ms. Basora says one likely recommendation to the council is scaling back Dallas' plans to expand the red-light system to 100 cameras.
The council in September voted to expand its camera vendor contract with Dallas-based Affiliated Computer Services, from five years and $13.3 million to seven years and $29.1 million, in order to install the additional cameras.
Initial plans envisioned most of the additional cameras operating by spring. Ms. Basora said installing fewer cameras would probably be more cost-effective.
Another idea staff may recommend to council members is idling cameras on a rotating basis, which the city already has begun doing, or operating them at different intersections where red-light running is more habitual.
In the first case, cameras will remain perched above the intersections they monitor but won't snap pictures of red-light runners, and therefore, won't generate $75 civil citations, which the city mails to the offending vehicles' owners.
Ms. Basora noted, however, that most motorists won't realize this and behave as if the cameras are operational.
Dallas pays ACS a guaranteed $3,799 per month for each operational camera, and just a fraction of that to maintain inoperative cameras.
Safety vs. money
The results of Dallas' 2-year-old red-light camera system are mixed blessings for City Hall, Mayor Tom Leppert said.
"The good news is it's having the effect everyone in this community wants: fewer red lights being run. The goal was not to make money on this," Mr. Leppert said. "But these are numbers and realities we'll have to deal with."
The mayor added that under no circumstances does he expect a decrease in red-light camera revenue to affect the city's public safety budget, although the overall budget may not enjoy as much revenue, perhaps resulting in the city streamlining other items.
Council member Angela Hunt, long skeptical of the reasoning behind such camera systems, says she's not surprised Dallas is faced with altering its efforts to reduce red-light running.
"The idea of the red-light cameras is that they'll be used as a revenue generator instead of being implemented for public safety purposes. It's imperative that the council review this program, especially when the results don't align with the initial performance projections," Ms. Hunt said.
She cited national statistics suggesting that the cameras increase rear-end collisions.
Dallas officials haven't yet determined if such crashes, or crashes in general, have increased or decreased significantly because of red-light cameras.
But in Lubbock, the City Council voted 4-3 last month to terminate its red-light camera system, in part because of an increase in rear-end crashes.
Meanwhile, state Rep. Carl Isett, R-Lubbock, plans to introduce legislation next session banning red-light cameras statewide – a measure that failed last session.
Finding right number
Jim Baxter, president of the National Motorists Association, which opposes red-light camera systems, says he suspects Dallas' system will either meet its demise, or be noticeably scaled back.
"They're in between a rock and a hard place, and when the money goes away, the cameras go away," Mr. Baxter said. "Probably the only way they can sustain it is to raise the violation rates, despite all the protestation that this is about safety and not about revenue."
Dallas' red-light camera system will still generate revenue, Ms. Basora said, "but it won't be considerable."
Mayor Pro Tem Elba Garcia said Dallas' red-light cameras should remain because they're a proven tool in reducing red-light running. That's reason enough to keep them, she said.
"The golden question is how many cameras do we need? We'll have to look at the numbers carefully," Dr. Garcia said. "But for me, this has always been about safety, has always been about awareness. We did not do this for the money."
The Dutch Tulip Bubble of 1637
Written by Cynthia Wood on March 16th, 2006 at 3:16 pm
The later part of the 20th century saw its share of odd financial bubbles. There was the real-estate bubble, the stock market bubbles, and the dot com bubble, just to name a few. In each instance of price inflation people paid exorbitant amounts for things that shouldn't have been worth anything like the going price. And each time people stood around afterwards and said “What were we thinking?”
One has to believe that the same thought occurred to the Dutch in the 17th century when they settled down after their bout with tulipomania, wherein the humble tulip bulb began to sell for prices to make New York Realtors blanch.
As much as the tulip is associated with Holland, it is not native there. Rather it was introduced in 1593 by a botanist named Carolus Clusius, who brought it from Constantinople. He planted a small garden, intending to research the plant for medicinal purposes. Had Clusius's neighbors been morally upright, the tulip might still be a rare exotic in the gardening world. Instead they broke into his garden and stole some of his bulbs in order to make some quick money, and in the process started the Dutch bulb trade.
Over the next several decades tulips became a fad among the rich of Holland, and prices began to mount. Soon even ordinary bulbs were selling for extraordinary prices, and the actually rare bulbs were astronomical. A single Viceroy tulip bulb would sell for 2500 florins a value roughly equivalent to $1,250 in current American dollars, while a rarer Semper Augustus bulb could easily go for twice that. One particularly amusing exchange showed the goods traded for one bulb – the lengthy list includes among other things: a bed, a complete suit of clothes, and a thousand pounds of cheese. At the height of the mania, in what seems a complete loss of sanity, the bulbs were deemed too valuable to risk planting by their (formerly) wealthy purchasers, and it became popular to display the plain ungrown bulbs. In at least one instance the plan for safety backfired when a visiting sailor mistook a tulip bulb for an onion, and proceeded to eat it for breakfast.
The height of the bubble was reached in the winter of 1636-37. Tulip traders were making (and losing) fortunes regularly. A good trader could earn up to 60,000 florins in a month– approximately $61,710 adjusted to current U.S. dollars. With profits like those to be had, nothing local governments could do stopped the frenzy of trading. Then one day in Haarlem a buyer failed to show up and pay for his bulb purchase. The ensuing panic spread across Holland, and within days tulip bulbs were worth only a hundredth of their former prices. The tulip bubble had burst.
Looking back through time it’s easy to laugh at the foolish Dutch, paying such prices for simple tulip bulbs, but an economic bubble was nothing new even then. We’re still doing the same sorts of things today. Human beings have always been prone to want things that are difficult to get, especially if everyone else seems to be doing it. Nutty behavior becomes commonplace when enough people are following along. It’s only afterwards that we stand back and shake our heads and wonder what came over us.
Monday, March 17, 2008
Friday, March 14, 2008
Just received my March LSI and of course turned first to page 30 to read your article. Immediately the large photo of what appears to be a large scale model of the starboard amidships section of either the IJN Yamato or IJN Musashi captured my attention. (Based on the observation that the AA platforms forward and aft of the aft gun director tower appear to be on the same level I'd say it's most likely the Musashi).
I was shocked (Shocked I tell you!) to discover that the article discussed the battle of Jutland, an event that occurred 25 years before either the Yamato or Musashi were commissioned!
What is this world coming to!
Thursday, March 13, 2008
The Channel Wire
March 13, 2008
Windows to Get Blu-ray, Not Xbox
Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer last week confirmed that Microsoft Windows will support Blu-ray, but the same can't be said of Xbox.
Microsoft is not in talks with Sony or the Blu-ray Association to bring the high-definition DVD technology to the Xbox 360 game console, Aaron Greenberg, group product manager for Xbox 360, told Reuters Wednesday, scuttling rumors that Microsoft was already in discussions to license Blu-ray for Xbox.
Gamers have been on pins and needles waiting to see whether Microsoft would shift allegiances to Blu-ray after revealing at the end of February that it will no longer make high-def players based on Blu-ray's rival, HD DVD. Blu-ray won the high-def crown after Toshiba, the main backer of HD DVD, admitted defeat in the format war.
Ballmer at Microsoft's MIX08 last week confirmed that Microsoft will support Blu-ray, at least on Windows. "I want to make sure there's the right support. We've already been working on, for example, in Windows device driver support for Blu-ray drives and the like," Ballmer said.
Ballmer also said that, while it might be important for Xbox 360 to have a DVD player today, more HD content could eventually be pushed over the Internet rather than delivered in a physical format.
"Today, I think it is actually pretty important to have some kind of drive. Five years from now, it may not make a bit of difference," Ballmer said.
According to Greenberg, that's the direction Microsoft is leaning by continuing to invest in its Xbox Live online content service, which already allows users to rent high-def movies.
"We're the only console offering digital distribution of entertainment content," Greenberg said.
Yair Landau helped build visual effects and animation businesses.
By Dawn C. Chmielewski, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
March 13, 2008
Yair Landau, the temperamental executive credited with leading Sony Pictures into the digital age, is leaving the studio after nearly two decades.
Landau, who helped build Sony's profitable visual effects business and launch an animation endeavor, said he was leaving his post as president of Sony Pictures Digital in April to start his own games and animation venture.
"I've been here a long time, I've built a lot of good things and they're in very good shape," Landau said. Sony is expected to name a successor shortly. Sony Pictures Chairman and Chief Executive Michael Lynton said Landau approached him and Co-Chairwoman Amy Pascal a few months ago to discuss leaving to start a new media business."We tried to convince him otherwise," Lynton said. "
And he was steadfast."Landau is best-known for securing the rights to the popular Marvel Comics superhero "Spider-Man," which became a lucrative franchise that has generated an estimated $800 million to $900 million in profit for Sony. Under Landau and President Tim Sarnoff, Sony Pictures Imageworks became a thriving digital animation and visual effects company. It has won numerous awards, including the Academy Award for best animated short film in 2003, and the visual effects Oscar in 2005 for its work on "Spider-Man 2."
Landau also established Sony Pictures Animation in 2002, recruiting animation veterans Penney Finkelman Cox and Sandra Rabins to assemble the team. Its first film, "Open Season," became modestly profitable and its 2007 release, "Surf's Up," received an Academy Award nomination for best animated film but is said by Sony insiders to have lost tens of millions of dollars.
Landau also oversaw the growth of Sony Online Entertainment, a San Diego-based maker of online games such as "Everquest" and "Star Wars Galaxies." He advocated using the team's talent to design the online component of the Sony PlayStation 3 game console.
He could be such a passionate advocate for his ideas that some found him arrogant. One former Sony executive recounted how that could result in uncomfortable confrontations with top management in Tokyo that was contrary to the company's consensus-building culture.
Landau joined Sony Pictures in 1991 from the investment banking world, and served as executive vice president of corporate development. He was named to his current post in 1999.Landau helped spur some of the studio's earliest ventures on the Internet, including Screenblast, a user-generated video site, and Movielink, one of the first online movie ventures to use the Internet to legitimately download films. It was sold to Blockbuster Inc."
He brought Sony into the digital age," Lynton said.
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Walt Disney Co. expects to collect $1 billion in revenue from online content this fiscal year, a significant rise from estimates for fiscal 2007, CEO Robert Iger said Monday.
Monday, March 10, 2008
Japan's Fastest Wireless Network
Chana R. Schoenberger 03.24.08, 12:00 AM ET
A Japanese telecom legend is making the biggest bet of his long career.
Sachio Semmoto is on his fifth entrepreneurial venture, which, in Japan, is five more than the usual. Twenty years ago Semmoto founded KDDI, Japan's number two phone company, and then expanded it into wireless. Mobile phone deregulation hit Japan in 1988; the cost of a wireless call has declined 95% since then.
At 65 Semmoto is betting his hard-earned reputation, and $3 billion in investors' money, on building the world's fastest wireless data service, called Emobile. Since its launch a year ago Emobile has gained 200,000 subscribers, who get 7.2 megabits a second, 100 times as much as Verizon (nyse: VZ - news - people )'s fastest wireless service in the U.S., for the same price. The company is signing up 13,000 subscribers each week.
But the growth is costing him. The spending to roll out Emobile has caused its publicly traded parent Eaccess to slump from a $41 million profit on $543 million in 2006 to a loss of $10 million on revenue of $545 million last year. Eaccess is the number three DSL service provider in Japan, after NTT and Masayoshi Son's Yahoo (nasdaq: YHOO - news - people ) BB.
Semmoto knows his new company is feeding off his old: "The mobile broadband era will come after fixed broadband," he says. "Emobile is a very important strategic group company for Eaccess."
Semmoto has made a career out of attacking big telecom companies ever since he left the national monopoly, NTT. Semmoto started there in 1966 and might have stayed had he not used a Fulbright scholarship to get his engineering Ph.D. at the University of Florida in Gainesville.
When Semmoto announced his excitement about going back to his NTT post, his roommate in a fraternity house, also a southern pastor's son, told him that his job was crap. Semmoto still wears his Gator tiepin in appreciation.
Semmoto didn't get up the nerve to leave NTT until 1983 when, with the backing of Kyocera and Sony (nyse: SNE - news - people ), he started a wireline rival to NTT. This eventually became KDDI. Profitable within three years, KDDI spawned a wireless carrier, now called AU, and the Willcom wireless data service.
In the last decade Semmoto (along with Masayoshi Son, whom he dubs a "good and worthy rival") has been attacking Japan's slow, expensive Internet access market. With the help of partner Eric Gan, a former Goldman Sachs (nyse: GS - news - people ) research analyst,
Semmoto raised $180 million to start Eaccess in 1999. Charging $25 a month for digital subscriber line service running at 1.5 megabits, Eaccess became profitable after its first year. It sold 20% of the company for $74 million in a 2003 initial offering.
But with the DSL market slowing, Semmoto and Gan decided it was time to go mobile. The ease with which they raised the necessary capital--$1.3 billion in equity and another $2 billion in debt--drew gasps in Asia.
Emobile has a leg up in the race to deliver high-speed (3G) wireless to Japan because, unlike its larger rivals, it started fresh. Its base-station equipment is smaller and easier to install. Docomo spent ten times Semmoto's $3 billion to deploy its 3G network, says Makio Inui, an analyst with UBS.
The company has no plans to expand into the U.S., but Semmoto reassures Americans that a faster mobile network surely will soon be theirs. "It is just a matter of time," he says. "The trend toward wireless broadband is global."
Written by John Mayberry
Working for a new magazine is a bit like buying a new coffee pot and watching it percolate for the first time. You’re compelled to plug it in, watch it boil, take a deep breath, and taste the final product- preferably alone so you can concentrate on the whole process. Once you’re assured it works as intended, it becomes more of a routine, just like commissioning an audio system.
My latest pet peeve involves our customers. Our industry has spent years trying to sort out our processes, like packing a stadium’s worth of audio equipment into half a semi, charging a third of what we did thirty years ago, and making good sound in abominable spaces twenty minutes after arriving.
We’ve yet to any similar improvement on the customer’s side of the fence at all during this time.
A colleague recently emailed, “I’d like to rant about ignorant customers that couldn’t project manage themselves out of a paper bag, employ idiots that cannot be bothered to be at the right place at crucial times (like when a system gets installed), don’t keep other parties on the same schedule they set for us, do diddly squat to make sure that the infrastructure on site was even NEAR to ready, stopped us from having direct contact with anyone on site before we got there, didn’t have anyone with any inkling of project management on site during our install, and 8 weeks after we install a system, during which time they changed from one media provider (that we knew would never be able to make the media work) to another lot that appears to be more knowledgeable try to give me 30 minutes notice for a “mandatory teleconference”, expect me to send a crew to site with 36 hours notice the last working day before the Xmas break (because they might just be at a point where they could conceivably actually SHOW something on the screens we hung up for them), and bitch that we don’t seem to be overly committed to getting the project closed out…. Could I just rant about that for a bit? Coz if I don’t do it now, it’s going to happen when they call me a little later for another unscheduled, mandatory conference call with 3 minutes notice. Actually, scrap that last bit – it doesn’t matter much if I rant about it now, because I am most certainly going to rant about it AGAIN later on.”
Other than spell check the word diddly (curiously omitted from my computer’s list of words) I think he pretty much got it spot on.
There’s always a whiff of Master and Slave in any contractual relationship; he who has the gold has always made the rules and always will. And true, the shorter the relationship the more pronounced the illness in many cases. Yet we aren’t living in the age of green Altec amplifiers and white lab coats anymore; many of our industry’s greatest challenges are on the client’s side of the equation now. All of this got me to thinking. Every time we receive a contract it delineates the client’s expectations, but nowhere does it list of the OUR needs. Where better than in this forum to list them?What We Want in a Contract
Provide a signed contract prior to starting the work on a timely basis. This should have a detailed list of deliverables, quality expectations, and a realistic and achievable schedule. Every contract must include a payment schedule, with no lame “pay if paid” clauses, no temporary work authorizations, no signature delay excuses, no last minute legal/insurance flatus, and no ridiculous contractual “death clauses” buried in the fine print.
Don’t take 3 months to sign a bit of paper all the while eating into a 5 month project schedule. The more time you give us, the more likely you are to get a well designed, tested, burned-in, and ready to install solution.
If you want Errors & Omissions insurance, pay for it.
Consider giving your vendor a small percentage “up front” payment. They can then buy the tools needed for your project rather than stretch the worn out one’s from the last project. In the long run it won’t cost you anything, and you’ll end up with a better product.
Provide an project manager who is scrupulous about keeping track of all the many different threads of a project, keeps track of timing and has good scheduling abilities; has a capacity for learning; a capability for listening; a good dose of general knowledge and experience; understanding of human nature. A willingness to make statements that might not be popular and an understanding of the disciplines involved are just some of the things that might make for a good project manager. Some experience in the field might prove useful as well, remembering that common sense and a willingness to understand and learn goes a long way.
Don’t always go with the lowest bid. Trust me on this one; it’s the same logic as warning a friend not to bottom feed at the local pickup bar. There will be ramifications; maybe as soon as tomorrow morning. Cheapest rarely means best; hire someone you’d be proud to introduce to your mother.
Consider spending 15% more on that you accounted for in your original lowball estimate rather than 10% less. Electronics give you the best bang for the buck of anything in your facility.
If something goes wrong on your project, don’t try and squeeze your vendors to make up for it. Hold the responsible person accountable, even if it’s you.
It’s OK to be well mannered and polite. Remember roles reverse pretty quickly in this business. It may be you on the other side of the table next year.
Projects end, and so should paperwork. Provide an acceptance letter stating, “They have finished, and I am satisfied”. You can even add the phrase “and they did a good job” even if your lawyers nix the idea.
If you want maintenance on an installed system, agree to it up front. That will allow your vendor to build hooks into your system for remote access and take a more personalized responsibility for its long term success.
Some projects get badly screwed up through no fault of your audio vendor. We will try to help you get back on schedule, but don’t ask us to compress a month’s worth of work into an afternoon. We will all regret it eventually.
Finally, pay your bills on time. Signing a contract does not automatically entitle you to interest free access to your audio vendor’s credit line for six months. Doing all of these will result in higher quality workmanship give you the attention you undoubtedly deserve.
Sunday, March 9, 2008
Thursday, March 6, 2008
Wednesday, March 5, 2008
Tuesday, March 4, 2008
Pioneer May Pull Plug On Plasma
Vivian Wai-yin Kwok, 03.04.08, 1:52 AM ET
HONG KONG -
Pioneer is reportedly planning to hit the off button on its money-losing plasma panel business, and investors are happy at the prospect of a change in programming.
Shares of the Japanese home and car electronics producer soared 11.7%, or 122 yen ($1.18), to close at 1,165 yen ($11.25) on Tuesday in Tokyo.
Pioneer is finalizing plans to stop production as early as this year and begin purchasing plasma panels from the world's No. 1 producer, Matsushita Electric Industrial (nyse: MC - news - people ), the business daily Nikkei said Tuesday. Kyodo News also reported Pioneer would source display panels from others to reduce cost.
Pioneer spokesperson Ema Suzuki confirmed the company is reviewing its plasma display business due to sluggish sales, but stressed that no decision had been reached as of Tuesday.
Pioneer will unveil its latest business plans at a press conference this Friday.
Pioneer has cut its forecast on plasma panel shipments to 480,000 units for the fiscal year ending this March, sharply lower than its initial estimate of 720,000 sets. The manufacturer is expected to report a loss of more than 10 billion yen ($96 million) on the plasma TV division, according to Nikkei.
Pioneer was ranked No. 5 with 7.3% market share in the global plasma TV in 2007. The Tokyo-based company currently manufactures panels for 42-, 50- and 60-inch plasma TVs at plants in Kagoshima, Yamanashi and Shizuoka prefectures. The site in Kagoshima will be shut down and the remaining two will be shifted to focus on assembling televisions, Nikkei said.
Pioneer's exit would leave only Matsushita and Hitachi (nyse: HIT - news - people ) producing plasma display panels in Japan.
Amid severe competition from Taiwanese manufacturers, Japanese TV makers have gone through a series of shake ups, moving away from a vertical integration model, in which they made everything, to outsourcing parts production to enhance efficiency.
Sony (nyse: SNE - news - people ) announced last month that it would invest in a Sharp plant for making liquid crystal displays. Before that, Matsushita, Hitachi and Canon (nyse: CAJ - news - people ) announced a tie-up in their LCD businesses.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.
Monday, March 3, 2008
Had it really been 25 years!? On Saturday a celebration dinner honoring the design staff of EPCOT Center and Tokyo Disneyland was held at the Equestrian Center in Burbank, California.
With over 200 attendees, lots of photos and videos, and more than a little reminincing the evening went by very quickly. Those two projects trained an entire generation of themed entertainment designers who dispersed throughout the world after the projects opened. It's almost impossible to find a themed entertainment project anywhere in the world they haven't had a hand in somehow.
It was an interesting era, one where by just walking down th hallways of WED you would be passing some of the "best of the best" in a wide variety of disciplines. A truly amazing group of individuals. One wonders what that team could have done had Disney kept the team together...