January 31, 2012

RIM Follow-up

A following up on a post from last week.

Steve Kovach, writing for Silicon Alley Insider:

“Remember when RIM said its strategy is to focus on marketing its decaying line of BlackBerry devices for most of 2012 while we sit and wait for those shiny new phones it keeps promising us?

This is what RIM came up with:

Four noseless super heroes based on some junk BlackBerry owners tweeted about a month ago.”

I guess this is what marketing expenditures pay for when your company is out of ideas.

January 30, 2012

Do You Have the Paperback or the Hardcover?

Marco Arment:

“Many people romanticize the experience of reading a printed book, but I just don’t get it.”

Me, either. I recall this sort of ado being made when CDs began replacing vinyl recordings. At least in the case of reading materials there’s no degradation of content.

Switching from paper books to a tablet seems a no-brainer for me. There’s less bulk and waste, and my library goes with me without a moving truck.

There’s no shortage of people who favor the old over the new. For some it’s a simple affection for the codex form. Ink, paper and binding have a certain appeal lost in digital forms. Paper book fans should recognize affection as a creation of the mind, unconnected to the author’s work.

For others it’s a contrarian attitude to modern living that eschews digital forms for analog. There’s no small degree of resistance to change in this. Even those who embrace modern technology need occasional refuge from it, and reading materials are a neat place to draw the line. We should recognize the act of resistance to the form as just that, rather than invent secondary effects of the form.

The theater of the mind knows no difference between digital and analog delivery, any more than the clothes you’re wearing moderate the enjoyment of prose while you read. The delivery vehicle makes no difference to how you perceive the writer’s world.

January 27, 2012

New jcp: Good From the Start

The new JC Penney catalog arrived today. They’ve apparently hired a designer or two. It’ll make you want to shop with them, or at least look through their wares. The catalog is beautiful.

Ron Johnson begins work at Penney February 1. His touch is already apparent. Keep in mind his pedigree: he was the guy behind Apple’s retail stores.


Remembering Dick Tufeld, Voice of the Lost In Space Robot

Adi Robertson, writing for The Verge:

“The man responsible for voicing such iconic phrases as “Danger, Will Robinson!” and “That does not compute” has passed away at age 85. Dick Tufeld gave voice to the Class M-3 Model B9 General Utility Non-Theorizing Environmental Control Robot, better known as The Robot, on 1960s TV show Lost in Space, warning the Robinson clan, particularly the youngest Robinson child Will, of threats from aliens or the villainous Dr. Smith.”

Lost In Space was my favorite TV show in third grade. That would have been around 1974. I’ll bet I saw every episode twice in syndication, some more than that. My infatuation with it waned after a year or so, probably during the summer between third and fourth grade. By the following year I was onto other things. My Star Trek days were still ahead of me.

The show’s characters and situations stuck with me, though, as they’ve apparently stuck with many people. I even enjoyed the widely panned Lost In Space feature film, especially Gary Oldman’s turn as the iconic Doctor Smith. The film robot didn’t hold a candle to the TV version, though Dick Tufeld was the voice of it, as well.

Interestingly, Lost In Space was the last acting job for Guy Williams, who played the part of John Robinson. He retired to Argentina when the show was cancelled. He passed away in 1989.

"My Favorite Museum Exhibit": Two nuclear bombs, slightly dented

Nuclear bomgs

Maggie Koerth-Baker, writing for Boing Boing:

“Mike Anderson sent in this photo from the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History in Albuquerque, NM. The museum is home to two (now de-weaponized) nuclear bombs. In 1966—back when these bombs were actually capable of exploding—the United States Air Force accidentally dropped them on Spain.”

Click through for the brief write-up and further links.

Now on my want-to-visit list: National Museum of Nuclear Science and History

Jamie Dimon: impact on U.S. banks of a Greek default is “almost zero”

(via The Big Picture.)

So we can assume that, if and when domestic investment banks are required to make good on credit default swaps they’ve no doubt sold against Greek debt, Dimon’s JP Morgan Chase won’t come calling on the US government for a bailout.

January 26, 2012

Republican Humor

Guy Endore-Kaiser:

“Gingrich claims we'll have a moon base by his 2nd term. Do you know how hard it is to craft a sentence where moon base isn't the crazy part?”

January 25, 2012

20 Airbus A380s Inspected for Cracks


”We [Airbus] pushed the boundaries on this aircraft with the carbon fiber rib skin, an innovative design to increase fuel efficiency,” Williams told reporters. “These cracks are a result of a combination of factors during the design and manufacturing process.”

Airbus says they have a “repair scheme” for airlines to follow. I’d add, “keep looking.”

Prevent Google From Storing Your Search History

Google announced yesterday that they’ll link user databases from across all of their properties next month. That means the data they’ve collected from you for their numerous services will be aggregated. If you’re uncomfortable with the detailed picture of your online activities that could paint, and you have a Google id, you can disable retention of your search history and delete what data Google has.

Go here (you'll have to sign in with your Google id) to “pause” your Google search history. From that point forward, none of your Google search terms will be retained. You may also remove what Google has already retained of your search history, or all of what Google has of your web activities, from that page.

∴ Despicable Me

I thought I did something mildly despicable yesterday. It won’t send me to hell, at least not immediately, but it got me thinking more about storefront business in the age of Amazon.

I was killing a little time browsing the computer programming section at the Barnes & Noble in Charlottesville. Having recently begun an iOS programming course through iTunes U I wanted a good reference book for the Objective-C language.

There, in front of me, was exactly what I was looking for, written by a well-regarded author. It was even marked 20%-off.

I hadn’t planned to buy anything; I was browsing for ideas. Of course my mind went to Amazon. Having a handy little Internet-connected computer in my pocket all the time, I learned that the world’s largest book seller had what was in my hands for about half the discounted storefront price.

But wait, I have an iPad, too, and I use it to read books. Of course there’s a Kindle version of the programming book, and it sells for about a third of the full in-store price.

And then I did the mildly despicable thing by tapping the one-click purchase button. In a blink the book was mine, while I stood in a physical book store whose industry is seeing significant contraction, using the book store’s free WiFi to transact the sale. Ah, well.

I felt a little guilty about the purchase, co-owning a small business as I do. The more I thought about it, though, the more I saw it less as cheating a storefront out of my business and more as the evolution of the book selling industry.

When it’s assumed that consumers have a net-connected device in their pocket all the time, online shops become a direct competitor to storefronts. Storefronts have to find a way to compete on something other than price. Maybe I’m justifying my purchase as a way to assuage my guilt over it, but my realization is valid.

A businessman who competes item-for-item while carrying greater overhead has only customer service and location to set himself apart from online retailers, because he must charge a higher price to make his necessary profit margin. If the customer wants a widget, cheap, and doesn’t require a smile to go with it, then the only defense left to the local businessman is to carry what the online seller does not, or cannot.

It’s really the same thing small businesses learned when Walmart first came to their towns. Going head-to-head against the big boxer lead to ruin. The little guys survived by differentiating on product in addition to customer service.

That doesn’t help Barnes & Noble. They’re selling the exact same items as Amazon, and books no longer require a storefront for browsing. Customer service doesn’t enter into book sales all that much when you can find what you want on your own. Location isn’t an issue if the customer has a tablet device. That leaves price.

B&N also sells an ebook version of the programming book, not that I checked at the time. That version sells for about 50% more than the Kindle edition. Apples to apples, B&N would have lost my sale anyway.

Not Class Warfare

Barack Obama:

“We don’t begrudge financial success in this country. We admire it. When Americans talk about folks like me paying my fair share of taxes, it’s not because they envy the rich. It’s because they understand that when I get tax breaks I don’t need and the country can’t afford, it either adds to the deficit, or somebody else has to make up the difference – like a senior on a fixed income; or a student trying to get through school; or a family trying to make ends meet. That’s not right. Americans know it’s not right.”


January 24, 2012

Insanely Great Quarter for Apple

Apple killed it again. Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, writing for Silicon Alley Insider:

Apple’s earnings were a huge blowout. Here’s a rundown of the numbers from SAI’s Jay Yarow and Piper Jaffray’s Gene Munster:
  • Revenue: $46.33 Billion versus $38.76 billion expected
  • EPS: $13.87 versus $10.07 expected
  • iPhone units: 37.04 million versus 30.2 million expected (34 million whisper number)
  • iPad units: 15.4 million 13.2 million expected (13 million whisper number)
  • Mac units: 5.2 million versus 5 million expected (4.8 million whisper number)
  • iPod: 15.4 million versus 13.9 million expected, according to Bloomberg
  • Gross Margin: 44.7% versus 41.8% expected
  • March quarter revenue: $32.5 billion versus $31.9 billion expected
  • March quarter EPS: $8.50 versus $8.00 expected
  • Apple now has $97 billion in cash, short term, and long term securities
  • The iPhone’s average selling price is up to $660


  • Android/Kindle et al aren’t denting Apple’s growth, for a variety of reasons. And it will probably stay that way.
  • We’re in a post-PC era, and Apple embodies that.


The numbers are surprisingly huge, but the import isn’t: Apple is reaping the rewards of designing and building the most nearly perfect devices that meet a need most people didn’t realize they had.

Just consider that the switch to mobile computing is still in its infancy. The potential for further great devices, services, and profits is seemingly unlimited.

January 23, 2012

RIM's New CEO Appears Delusional

Jay Yarow, writing for Silicon Alley Insider:

Thorsten Heins run as CEO of RIM is off to a bad start.

RIM’s stock is down 6.7% this morning after Heins introduced himself to the world.

[Heins: -ed.]

  • “We have taken this to totally new heights and that journey isn’t over yet.”
  • “If we continue doing well what we’re doing, I see no problems with us being in the top three players worldwide in the next years in wireless.”
  • “At the very core of RIM is the innovation. We always think ahead. We always think forward. We sometimes think the unthinkable. And that is fantastic.”
  • “We are a great innovative company, but sometimes we innovate too much while we’re building a product.”
  • “What we need to get a bit better at here is to have a little bit more of an ear toward the consumer. I want the strengthen this by bringing really good marketing expertise in.”“

(bullet quotes via Engadget.)

The new CEO’s words don’t bode well for RIM. All five of the above points reveal an executive unwilling to admit how poorly his company has performed and in what regard it has failed in the market, and unable to identify what the company needs to do in order to survive. RIM has squandered more market share than any mobile company other than Nokia.

The only thing keeping RIM afloat is legacy customers, and those are dwindling. They won’t stem their losses if Heins’ words are any indication.

Heins sees RIM reaching great heights, but that hasn’t been the case since June 20, 2008. He sees blue skies for even higher performance, yet RIM has already indicated that their next generation products won’t come to market until late this year, well after the next iPhone, iPad and several new Android devices. He says they’re actually too detail-oriented while innovating in the mobile device space, yet they haven’t delivered innovative improvements to their core product line in years. Worst of all, he claims that all they need to change is to listen to their customers ”a bit more” and hire better marketers. Holy crap.

None of his first four claims are true. The last claim advocates a desperate act to sell out-of-date technology to new customers until the company can get new phones into the market. It will be too late by then. It’s too late right now.

January 22, 2012

What You (Really) Need to Know

Lawrence H. Summers:

“Suppose the educational system is drastically altered to reflect the structure of society and what we now understand about how people learn. How will what universities teach be different? Here are some guesses and hopes.”

(Via @FareedZakaria.)

Summers, one-time president of Harvard University and US secretary of the Treasury, lays out six ideas for higher education in the 21st century. They're an intriguing, radical departure from the passive style used over the past two centuries.

Great, thought-provoking read. Almost makes me want to relive my college years.

How Mrs. Grady Transformed Olly Neal

Nicholas Kristof, writing for The New York Times:

“IF you want to understand how great teachers transform lives, listen to the story of Olly Neal.”

(Via @Ihnatko.)

Mind bogglingly inspirational story about one teacher's long-term effect on a student.

Oh Dear, Greece Yet Again

Kiron Sarkar, writing for The Big Picture:

“Last week, reports from official sources and bondholders suggested that a deal had been agreed – the situation has changed over the weekend. Negotiators from the IIF (who represent the majority of the private bondholders) have left Athens.”

Greece has been jerking around the EU’s northern tier states, and the banks that hold Greek debt, for a couple of years. Citizens haven’t paid their taxes, the government hasn’t enforced its tax laws, and negotiators have strung along debt holders while the inevitable default draws closer.

Greek bondholders already suffered a 50% reduction in the value of their investment last year. They want greater interest in exchange for the elevated risk they take in rolling remaining Greek debt into new bonds. Who can blame them?

January 21, 2012

Maryland Senator Proposing Registry of Pet Abusers

WTOP Local Stories:

“The owner of a golden retriever puppy shot and killed this month in Middletown traveled to Annapolis on Thursday to support a bill that would require convicted animal abusers to enter their names in a publicly accessible registry.

State Sen. Ron Young, who represents Frederick County, is drafting the bill, which he hopes will help pets find loving homes and will identify troubling behavior before it escalates into violence against people.”

The registry is modeled along the lines of a sexual predator list, and those convicted would remain on the list for ten years provided they don't re-offend. They'd pay an annual fee for management of the registry, too.

It'd be doubly useful if pet breeders and sellers were required to consult such a registry before adopting out a pet. It might help reduce animal abuse.

∴ Repairing the Global Plumbing

Mohamed El-Erian is the chief executive of PIMCO, the world’s largest bond investment company, and an author. He’s well-regarded in economic and investment communities.

He’s penned an outline for political action to improve the world’s economies, in sum:

“Rather than just pumping liquidity into clogged pipes, countries can and should do more to build a more effective network of compensating conduits.”

(Via Global Public Square.)

El-Erian is saying that we should be doing more than simply providing cheap money with a low Fed Funds rate and correspondingly lower loan interest rates.

Here’s how his outline pertains to the US:

  • Countries such as Spain and the US need to be more forceful in unblocking the housing sector by making overdue decisions on burden sharing, refinancing, and conversion of idle and foreclosed housing stock. While many homeowners are stuck with their existing mortgage due to owing more than their property is worth, many owners in the black are likewise unable to refinance due to sharply reduced property values. Doing so would evaporate most or all of their equity. Yet refinancing out of five- or ten-year old mortgages into loans at today’s historically low rates would free up hundreds of dollars per month for most homeowners. There’s an opportunity here for the US government to back “no cash out” refinancing of existing mortgages at existing valuations solely for the purpose of lowering homeowner monthly outlays. Homeowners could then use their improved cash flow for purchases or other debt reduction.
  • Countries with excessive debt, such as Greece and Portugal, need to impose sizeable “haircuts” on creditors. There’s a somewhat hidden danger to the US economy in Greece’s looming debt disaster. Our risk is not only the interconnected nature of international economies, but also the huge liability among US investment banks that have traded in credit default swaps. A form of insurance by another name, these instruments put the seller on the hook for losses in the event of default on counterparty debt investments. In other words, CDS sellers (our investment banks) will be liable for losses on Greek debt unless the holders of that debt (Euro Zone banks, mostly) agree to voluntary losses, i.e. a “haircut.” Such liability will trigger another credit crisis, similar but worse than that of 2008. Voluntary write-offs, however, won’t trigger payout on CDSs. Euro Zone leaders have already negotiated one such haircut for 50%. Some estimate the final haircut will reach 100%. The sooner the better.
  • In several Western countries, public-private partnerships should be formed to finance urgently needed infrastructure investment. This one’s easy. Expire the Bush tax cuts and use the additional tax revenue to fund a WPA-style facility for repairing and upgrading our infrastructure. Road, bridge, utility, and other projects long in need of attention will be a source of employment and economic stimulus. Rather than directly employing people to accomplish these tasks, the additional tax revenue should be used to employ private-sector firms, which in turn will hire from the pool of unemployed workers.
  • Finally, governments should inform their electorates explicitly and comprehensively that a few contracts written during the inadvisable “great age” of leverage, debt, and credit entitlements cannot be met. In short, we can’t afford Social Security and Medicare as currently configured. There are too many beneficiaries in the pipeline vs. the number of workers paying in, and those beneficiaries have a habit of living longer than was assumed when the programs were designed. Something’s got to give. We need to address that fact now. Higher FICA and Medicare tax rates, higher retirement eligibility age, lower payout rates are among the choices. A mix of all of the above is more palatable than a single solution.

It’s worth noting, too, that our economy, and those of the rest of the world, is slowly recovering. We’re not suffering through a routine business cycle recovery-after-recession, which would be moving back to the black much quicker. We’re in a deleveraging, or balance sheet recession recovery.

Simply put, as a friend likes to say, our economic activity was unsustainable, coming on the strength of borrowing for so long. First we maxed out the credit cards, then our home equity credit, and then it all went boom. So we’re paying the piper.

Consumers will increase consumption again when personal debt has subsided to a supportable level. In the mean time we need to clear roadblocks to the already weak recovery.

January 19, 2012

Rick Perry Ends White House Bid and Backs Newt Gingrich

It’s not so much Rick Perry’s news, which seemed inevitable even a month ago, as it is the breaking news about to whom he’s throwing his support.

BBC News:

“The Republican presidential race has been shaken up after Texas Governor Rick Perry quit and endorsed former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

But the potential boost to the Gingrich campaign was countered by his ex-wife’s claims that he wanted an open marriage.”

One must savor the fruits of life where and when one finds them.

That one’s a doozy.

Airbus Finds More Cracks In Plane Wings But Assures Travelers Theyre Safe To Fly

Mary Beth Quirk, writing for Consumerist:

“”Airbus confirms that some additional cracks have been found on a limited number of non-critical brackets … inside the wings of some A380s,” the planemaker said in a statement to Reuters. “Airbus emphasizes that these cracks do not affect the safe operation of the aircraft.”“

It’s safe to assume that Airbus, before anyone else, would know what constitutes a “non-critical bracket.” They designed and built the aircraft, right?

Still, I get the feeling that this is only the opening round of concern and investigation. Metal fatigue is normal in high-use aircraft, and factors into the design lifespan of an airframe as set by the manufacturer. In that light, four years is a very short span in which to find fatigue on an aircraft.

Feel better now?

Apple Announces Free iBooks Author OS X App

Dana Wollman, writing for Engadget:

“We’re here at Apple’s education-themed event at the Guggenheim museum in New York City, and the company’s just followed up its long-awaited textbook announcement with something unexpected: iBooks Author, a free OS X program for creating books.”

The greater story here is the disintermediation of publishing companies. Just as musicians can easily reach fans by self-publishing music through iTunes, now, too, authors can reach readers by publishing their work by self-editing and publishing in the new iBooks Author.

Perhaps the next great employment opportunity is for the freelance editor, who hires herself out to self-publishing authors to tweak-up a title before publication.

January 13, 2012

Paula Deen, Meet Diabetes?

Cara Kelly, writing for All We Can Eat:

Paula Deen is expected to make a big announcement, or rather issue a revelation, that she has been living with Type 2 Diabetes. The Daily is reporting the Southern cook-restaurateur has been trying to keep the condition under wraps, but recently has been working on a multimillion-dollar deal with a pharmaceutical company to promote the medication she has been taking for the disease.
Read full article >>

Universe to Paula: time to wake the f* up!

There’s not a little bit of hypocrisy in Deen’s alleged deal to hawk diabetes meds. Her own cooking, so well produced for cable TV and no doubt delicious, has endangered her life and now she’ll make money peddling therapy.

Snapshot of the Computer Market, With and Without iPad

Philip Elmer-DeWitt, writing for CNN Money:

“Deutsche Bank’s Chris Whitmore came away from this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas unimpressed with what Apple’s (AAPL) rivals had to offer in the way of tablet computers”

(Via DF.)

Two thoughts on this:

First, click through for Chris's analysis. In sum: he sees a slow rise for Windows tablets at the expense of Android devices, giving Apple another moment in the sun with their forthcoming iPad 3.

'Cause you know there's gonna be an iPad 3. Oh, yeah.

My hope is that Microsoft does their Metro UI-based tablet OS right, and we're back to the good ol' days of Microsoft v. Apple.

I genuinely hope Microsoft successfully engineers a pivot to mobile. Their Windows 8 demo was intriguing.

Second, did anything interesting come out of this year's CES? It seems everyone has angst to spare. (Loved Mat's piece, BTW.)

January 11, 2012

CES 'Til the End

Mat Honan, writing for Gizmodo:

“Electronics are our talismans that ward off the spiritual vacuum of modernity; gilt in Gorilla Glass and cadmium. And in them we find entertainment in lieu of happiness, and exchanges in lieu of actual connections.”

(Via DF.)

The apocalypse will come from within. And we will not care.

Why You Can Ignore CES: The Great Tablet Hype

Alexis Madrigal, writing for The Atlantic:

“We broke down the trajectories of 17 tablets from CES 2011. In the final tally, I think you could say one is a qualified success (the Asus Eee Pad Transformer), one did OK (the Motorola XOOM), and several flopped (Dell Streak, RIM Playbook) or made no impact (Coby Kyrus, Cydle M7 Multipad, Naxa NID-7001). Nine never were heard from again.

This is why it’s OK to ignore CES. Most of the product announcements (the majority in this case) lead nowhere, and if some product is really important, you’ll hear about it via some other avenue.”

(Via The Loop.)

I’ve had a sneaking suspicion along these lines all week long. Good to have a few numbers telling me I’m not a pessimist crank.

CES is anticipated this time every year. After the holiday hoopla has faded and winter’s depressingly bleak dreariness is upon us, the prospect of fresh gadget news is a welcome one.

This year, though, I haven’t seen anything in the tech press to turn my head. Not that there’s any lack of reporting. The tech blogs are spilling over with show floor reports and rehashed press releases. There’s just not anything interesting going on.

James Bond Blu-ray Collection Available This Fall

Rik Henderson, writing for Pocket-lint:

“MGM and Twentieth Century Fox are releasing the entire collection of 22 James Bond movies in one box-set, titled Bond 50, which will be available from 1 October.”

Very cool. I have the cocktail shaker and glasses. Now all I need is a Blu-ray player.

Schottenheimer out as Jets O-coordinator

Rich Cimini, writing for ESPN.com:

“The New York Jets have announced that offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer will not return to the team.”

Another disappointing season for Jets fans ends this way. How much longer before the Jets’ front office realizes that head coach Rex Ryan’s mouth has been writing checks that his team cannot cash, and sends him on his way as well?

According to ESPN, Brian’s dad Marty interviewed for the top coaching job with Tampa Bay this week. I wonder if he’ll hire his son, Brian, as his offensive coordinator if he gets that job, as he did when he coached the Washington Redskins.

January 9, 2012

How Doctors Die

Ken Murray, with a thought-provoking understanding of the end of life:

”As for me, my physician has my choices. They were easy to make, as they are for most physicians. There will be no heroics, and I will go gentle into that good night. Like my mentor Charlie. Like my cousin Torch. Like my fellow doctors.”

(Via @neilhimself.)

Ten minute read, multi-day think.

Tim Cook's 2011: Almost $400 Million

Jay Yarrow, writing for Business Insider:

“2011 was a very good year for Apple CEO Tim Cook. According to the company’s proxy statement, he got $378 million in total compensation.”

(Via parislemon.)

Most of that compensation is in the form of stock, with about $900k in cash. Looks like Apple really wants to keep Cook around.

Funny, Bob Cringely doesn't seem to think so.

My money's on Cook sticking around.

Germans and Aliens

Paul Krugman puts the lie to Germany’s call for broad economic austerity:

“But the Germans believe that their own experience shows that austerity works: they went through some tough times a decade ago, but they tightened their belts, and all was well in the end.

Not that it will do any good, but it’s worth pointing out that Germany’s experience can only be generalized if we find some space aliens to trade with, fast.”

John Mauldin details why:

“Not Everyone Can Run a Surplus

The desire of every country is to somehow grow its way out of the current mess. And indeed that is the time-honored way for a country to heal itself. But let’s look at yet another equation to show why that might not be possible this time. It is yet another case of people wanting to believe six impossible things before breakfast.

Let’s divide a country’s economy into three sections: private, government, and exports. If you play with the variables a little bit you find that you get the following equation. Keep in mind that this is an accounting identity, not a theory. If it is wrong, then five centuries of double-entry bookkeeping must also be wrong.

Domestic Private Sector Financial Balance + Governmental Fiscal Balance - the Current Account Balance (or Trade Deficit/Surplus) = 0

By Domestic Private Sector Financial Balance we mean the net balance of businesses and consumers. Are they borrowing money or paying down debt? Government Fiscal Balance is the same: is the government borrowing or paying down debt? And the Current Account Balance is the trade deficit or surplus.

The implications are simple. The three items have to add up to zero. That means you cannot have surpluses in both the private and government sectors and run a trade deficit. You have to have a trade surplus.

[emphasis mine.]

The currently struggling European periphery (Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Italy) are currently running huge trade deficits, to Germany, mainly. They’re also deeply in debt.

Germany calls on the periphery to run surpluses in their public and private financial balances by practicing austerity, but as Mauldin points out that can only happen if those countries can also run a trade surplus (as Germany did). Trouble is, there are no other countries with which to run such a surplus.

Every seller needs a buyer in order to make a sale, and therefore create a surplus. As Krugman notes, Germany’s push for austerity will also require new counter-parties in order to work. There are none of those left on Earth today.

You can see the economic disaster that is southern Europe coming a mile away.

CES 2012: First Looks

Belkin Thunderbolt Dock

Christian Zibreg, writing for 9 to 5 Mac, previews a slick docking solution for newer, Thunderbolt-equipped Mac portables:

If CES announcements are an indication, 2012 will be the year Thunderbolt technology picks up significant steam as 2011 saw a limited uptake stemming from exclusive industry support by early adopter Apple, which rolled out Thunderbolt across its MacBook Air, iMac and Mac mini range.

First up, Belkin is out with a Thunderbolt-enabled dock that allows your Macbook Air to connect to a wide range of peripherals using just one Thunderbolt cable. Akin to its IDF prototype device, the Belkin Thunderbolt Express Dock provides a selection of ports that mirror the new 27-inch Apple Thunderbolt Display.

According to Belkin, which previewed the device at CES 2012 yesterday, it will feature a Gigabit Ethernet port, a FireWire 800 port, one HDMI port, 3.5mm audio port, three USB 2.0 ports and two Thunderbolt ports, one upstream and one downstream. If it only came with USB3.0, it would be a must-have. The Belkin Thunderbolt Express Dock will be available in September 2012 for $299.

Pricey, but intriguing. Plug all your peripherals into this Apple-like brushed aluminum dock, then connect a single Thunderbolt cable to your laptop when you desire desktop use. Your desk remains clutter-free.

Instant Joy • wake up coffee

Wake-up coffe mug

Instant Joy:

(Via @deruiter.)

January 8, 2012

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Hybrid Preview

Joanna Stern documents a quick hands-on with the new Lenovo X1 Hybrid for The Verge. She's mildly perplexed by Lenovo's new Instant Media Mode:

“So, how is the hand-off between the two operating systems? Extremely seamless. As you will see in the video, you don’t have to wait more than two seconds to get into the Instant Media Mode. Similarly, when going back to Windows it takes less than two seconds. But the question remains: why would you want to do that? Lenovo has done little to nothing on top of Android 2.3. Sure, there is a large widget to Video, Email, Web and Music but those just launch stock Android applications, which didn’t seem to work very well with touchpad navigation. I had problems even getting down the bottom of regular websites. Of course, you will get double the battery life in this mode, since Windows goes to sleep, but it almost seems like you’d be half as productive in the Android OS, so I’m not sure what you really gain.”

Joanna's question echoes my own. What's the market for Instant Media Mode? This second operational mode hosts an Android OS, memory and access to networking. It's basically a lightweight tool for use when you don't need the full Windows experience.

The kicker is, though, that if you're switching to lightweight mode, you already have Windows up and running, with your browser and other software tools at the ready.


January 6, 2012

Drum: In Praise of Soulless Chain Bookstores

Kevin Drum, writing for Mother Jones:

“Big cities have either (a) big neighborhood bookstores or (b) lots of little bookstores. That can be pretty nice, and I understand the attraction. But suburbia never had that. For us, Barnes & Noble has been great. If it dies, it’s not going to be because of nostalgia for small bookstores, it’s going to be because too many people prefer Amazon.com.”

Drum makes a solid point here, one that's often ignored. Big-box and chain stores provide something that smaller shops, whether they're selling books or hardware, simply cannot: selection. Unless they're in a niche business, smaller shops can't often touch the breadth of products found at big box stores. Suburbanites have come to enjoy the experience of seeing a galaxy of products under one roof. That's their comfort zone.

Another point that affects the big boxers as much as smaller retailers is that Amazon has altered consumer behavior by providing a smorgasbord of selection without a showroom. Consumers window-shop at local stores then beat feet home to order their products from Amazon, or even do their ordering by smartphone from right in the local store.

Many small shops close not because Wal-Mart or Home Depot come to town, but rather because everything they offer is available from Amazon (or other large online outlet).

Small retailers can compete against big box stores on customer service and customer relationship, but they have a hard time of it when the customer shops Amazon where there is no expectation of a relationship at all.

January 5, 2012

Barnes & Noble Eyeing the Idea of Breaking Up With Nook

Mary Beth Quirk, writing for Consumerist:

“Even though the Nook has held its own against Amazon’s Kindle devices and the iPad, it takes a big financial investment in a product to continually update the devices and stay in that competition.”

B&N CEO William Lynch says he’s investigating “unlocking the value” the company has built with their Nook reader. That’s something we might expect to see after several years of development and retail sales. The Nook has only been on the market a little over two years, though.

What began as a competitive effort against Amazon and their Kindle device turns out to be a whole other industry (surprise!). Maybe B&N weren’t prepared for the enormity of enhancing and maintaining a hardware platform.

It'd be a shame if this were true. E-books, and the readers that can purchase and display them, are a logical step forward for traditional book stores, and a defensive position against Amazon. That Borders failed to embrace that truth is doubtless one aspect of their recent demise. Perhaps B&N will continue marketing e-books for the Nook, regardless.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Hybrid

Paul Lamkin, writing for Pocket-lint:

“The Hybrid X1 packs either an Intel i3, i5 or 17 Core chip along with a 13.1-inch Gorilla Glass display. But it’s the Hybrid part of the new X1 that intrigues us most. You see, it’s not just an Intel chip packed inside but a Qualcomm dual-core one too. The idea being that you can fire up a Linux OS using this for easy access web browsing.”

Is there any demand for such capability, at all? I can't imagine an instance where I'd want to use an ultra-light laptop, yet not have access to my files and other applications. What benefit is gained by having a second CPU, incapable of running the main operating system?

You'd think a major manufacturer like Lenovo would know that Linux on the desktop isn't so much dead as never having had a life to begin with. That they designed and built an ultra-light laptop that enshrines use of it, when they could have gone lighter, thinner and less expensive by leaving out Qualcomm's chip is a puzzler.

Broadcom Announces First 802.11ac Chips

David Pierce, writing for The Verge:

“Plans for the next generation of WiFi have been discussed in recent weeks, but this morning Broadcom made it official: the company announced its first family of chips for the new 802.11ac Wi-Fi it calls “5G Wi-Fi” (not to be confused with the 3G and 4G from your cell phone).”

802.11ac can transmit and receive over one, two or three separate streams, allowing for a top-end bandwidth of 1.3Gbps, and a single-device maximum of 500 Mbps. Great for cable-less video streaming all over the house!

January 3, 2012

Rumor, Apple and Digitimes

Andrew Wray, writing for TiPb:

“Hit or miss rumor site Digitimes has reported that”

No need to go any further. Consider this a public service announcement: do not believe anything "reported" by Digitimes.

Digitimes is "reporting" that Apple will produce a budget iPad this year. Apple has never, ever, produced a budget device. It's not what they do.

They've built a highly successful business selling well-designed, well-engineered devices that run well-designed, well-engineered software. The combination has made Apple the top computer and device maker and one of the world's most valuable companies. That's what they do.

Is there any reason to believe they'd change their formula now?

Crackpots Do Not Make Good Messengers

Kevin Drum, writing for Mother Jones:

“Bottom line: Ron Paul is not merely a “flawed messenger” for these views. He’s an absolutely toxic, far-right, crackpot messenger for these views.”

Drum documents the many crackpot ideas of Ron Paul, quadrennial candidate for president.

I can’t fathom why the legion of Paul supporters do so. Either they’re not closely listening to his policy positions, or (shudder) they actually agree with his strange ideas. I mean, really, the fence at the US-Mexico border is being built to keep Americans in?

Paul will hang in for much of the GOP primary process, despite low results at the polls. That’s what cranks do. It’s what he did last time, hanging in through June, 2008 despite John McCain’s securing of enough delegate pledges in March.

Ron Paul: election theater.

The Cotton Candy Rally

Barry Ritholtz, writing for The Big Picture:

“The bottom line is this: These rallies are for traders, not longer term investors. We remain mired in a long term secular bear market — and that means preserving capital and managing risk. Yes, you can be opportunistic, but that is a secondary, not primary objective.”

Some say free advice is worth what you pay for it. If that were true, evening cable news channels would only show video of the sunset. It's all food for thought.

I've benefited from a handful of free investing and economic columns, among them this one by Barry Ritholtz. Barry has a clear, understandable manner to his writing, making it accessible to the little guy (me). His thoughts have panned out over the long term.

I'm watching the morning chat on CNBC as I write this, where they're kicking around prospects for 2012. Interest rates, corporate profits, the European debt crisis are all in the mix. This is the time when I ponder what to do with our retirement investments in the coming year.

I've noticed a mild uptick in (some) equity investments over the past month or so, as well as a surge in our small business's top line income. A mild recovery appears to be at work in the US. I wonder if perhaps I should move a fraction of our balance back into stocks.

And then I read Barry's thoughts. I'm a long-term investor, not a trader. So I'll be staying out of equities for a while yet. Debt investment did very well for us in 2011. Thanks, Barry.

January 2, 2012

Apple Will Stop Being Cool in 2012, IBD Says

One more reason not to get your tech news from Investor's Business Daily.

Boy Genius Report:

“As each year draws to a close, we can always count on a flurry of predictions for the tech industry over the coming 12 months. Our favorite soothsaying for 2012 came on Friday from Investor’s Business Daily, and it included a number of gems such as the fall of Apple. So why, exactly, is Apple set to falter in 2012? According to IBD, it’s because “the iPhone is boxy, flat and feeling stale,” while Samsung’s Galaxy line of smartphones “seems cooler.” “

I wonder how cool it'll feel trying to sit down with a 4.5-inch smartphone wedged in a front pocket?

January 1, 2012

National Debt, Simply

Paul Krugman:

“Deficit-worriers portray a future in which we’re impoverished by the need to pay back money we’ve been borrowing. They see America as being like a family that took out too large a mortgage, and will have a hard time making the monthly payments.

This is, however, a really bad analogy in at least two ways.”

Krugman's column from today's New York Times is the simplest five-minute explanation of the US debt I've seen. His Nobel Prize was in economics, but his skill is in explaining the complex in everyday terms.