Monthly Archives: January 2011

Fellows in Time

Machine of the Year

Machine of the Year

Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook was inducted into perhaps the most exclusive club in the world, thanks to Time Magazine. This group includes present day political biggies Obama and Putin, both Bushes and Clinton. But also the list has the Pope and the Queen, FDR and JFK, Hitler and Stalin, Churchill and Gandhi. 

It’s an interesting historic arc, from the aviation pioneer Charles ‘Lucky’ Lindberg, who in 1927 was the first, and at 25 still the youngest person selected by Time, to the awkward billionaire Zuckerberg, picked in 2010 at 26 years of age. What does that say about what we value and who we admire?

Another arc leading to Facebook started in 1982, when Time picked The Computer for the annual distinction, followed by Andy Grove of Intel in 1997 and Jeff Bezos of Amazon in 1999. Apple marketing magician Steve Jobs did not make The List, though he was on the cover of Time a bunch of times, first in 1982 and most recently in April 2010. Microsoft’s chief nerd Bill Gates only squeezed in through his charitable work, in 2005, together with wife Melinda and singer Bono.

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi

Zuck made it.  We have still have ways to go.


Don’t Read Marx

Karl Heinrich Marx

Karl Heinrich Marx

It’s easier to have polarized opinions derived from pop-culture cliches about writers one hasn’t actually read. Niccolo Machiavelli was a philosopher and fought for the republic in Florence, for which he was jailed and tortured by the Medici. His Prince, first published in 1532, five years after his death, gives clear political advice and is not cynical or ‘machiavellian.’ De Sade denounces in Justine many ‘sadistic’ abuses that befall the heroine and he sounds apologetic for his proclivities. Freud is not all about sex and excrement.

I am rather attached to my biased opinions and to the ignorant comfort of negative labels that permits the simplicity of hate. I will not read Mein Kampf or Das Kapital, lest there is in them any material making sense or even appealing. I will not give people I despise an opportunity to say things that I cannot argue with or just ignore.

Niccolo Machiavelli

Niccolo Machiavelli

What’s In Your Ear?

Bluetooth Headset

Bluetooth Headset

Middle-aged guy walking down the street, his eyes are remote and downcast and he is mumbling to himself. I appraise the distance between us – Is this nutcase dangerous? But his clothes are decent, if unseasonably warm, hair had been combed at some point today. Is he talking on the phone?

He passes me and I see a shiny blinky gadget around his ear. Is it at all surprising that a hearing aid, a symbol of old age and infirmity, is made so tiny as to fit inside the ear canal, its beige plastic blending with the skin tones? Meanwhile, the Bluetooth* headset is black with silver accents and a blue light, a modern toy of the well-connected**.

King Harald

King Harald

* Bluetooth radio technology was named by its inventor Ericsson of Sweden after Harald “Bluetooth” Gormsson, 10th century King, who united and christened Denmark and Norway. Don’t know what happened to his teeth.

**For my nerd friends concerned with radio wave power levels – Bluetooth operational transmit power is 1-2mW, which is perhaps 2-3% of cell phone’s typical output.  But few people are walking around for hours on end with a cell phone strapped to their head.

Nerd of the Year

Mark Zuckerberg

Mark Zuckerberg

Zuck, a quintessential nerd, was named 2010 Time Magazine Person of the Year.  He beat out some cool cats, like Afghanistan’s Hamid Karzai, a dude who’s bipolar, two-faced, and can look more stylish wearing a hat made of lamb fur (Karakul) than Brezhnev ever did.

Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg edged out WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange, more hated in Washington than Osama and Kim Jong-il combined, while being wanted in Sweden for sex crimes. Too sexy for Sweden, wow!

However, I want to clarify that Zuck is a nerd, not a geek.  To me the distinction is clear – geeks crave to show off their prowess with gadgets while nerds need to know how those are put together. A geek can hold an iPhone 4 just right to avoid the antenna issue and without touching Home and Sleep causing Soft Reset. A nerd may not know which button adjusts iPhone volume, but can tell you that it sports an ARM Cortex-A8 processor manufactured by Samsung in 45mn, even though the nerd carries a Google Android G2 phone running Linux, in case he needs to fire-up LAMP stack while waiting for a bus.

Say a geek reaches for a razor-sharp Japanese katana sword. With exaggerated reverence he takes it by the long handle, careful not to leave unsightly fingerprints. The sword is raised high over his head, the swing starts with a deep guttural cry that peaks, as the blade slices off his toes.

Katana Sword

Katana Sword

A nerd grabs the sword by the blade, eager to examine the Tsuka handle for maker’s mark, and leaves bloody prints of fingers nicked to the bone. Easy to tell the two apart, though neither is Ninja material.

Still not clear? A nerd digs Star Trek, while a geek adores Star Wars.

Hate Your Maytag?

Maytag Man

Sleepy Maytag Man

I do not have a Maytag washer any longer. We bought one fifteen years ago, after our first child was born.  Not the very top of the line but what seemed pretty upscale then. You’ve seen those commercials about reliable washers and lonely repairmen

But the clothes were coming out looking dingy and our Maytag repairman was not lonely after all, visiting regularly and looking hurried, as he fiddled with the machine and made useful suggestions, like trying several brands of  detergent to see if any of them worked better. In the end the Maytag washer was replaced by a front loading GE, that’s been working like a champ since. Bloggers have been complaining about Maytag for years.

It’s not even surprising, as “Consumer Reports reliability survey found Maytag to be among the most repair-prone models.” A popular blogger, known by a pen name dooce and famous for her big mouth, started an online war with Maytag. She whipped the company into shape and got her problem fixed. But she has over a million followers.

Maytag Logo

Maytag, Begone

My point is that we seemingly never learn. A couple of years after replacing the washer, during a kitchen remodel we put in a nice-looking new gas range top. Black and shiny it was and the Maytag label may have been easy to miss. It is serviceable, even if one of the knobs is sticking, but difficult to clean, the way it’s designed around the burners. But why did I think that Maytag was a good brand for a range if it wasn’t one for a washer?

Kremlin Owns Facebook

Kremlim Facebook

Kremlim Facebook

Not exactly Kremlin, but some smart guys from Russia.  Not exactly own Facebook, but have a 10% stake in it.

Even my mom heard on the news two weeks ago that Goldman Sachs piled almost half a billion into Facebook and in the process made the Social Network company worth $50 billion.  Not as prominent was the Russian angle.  Turns out that DST (Digital Sky Technologies), an investment company with heavy roots in the land of borscht and honey, had been all over Facebook for a couple of years now. It also has its fingers in all the darlings of the current ‘social networking’ version of the .com bubble: Groupon, Zinga, and now trying for Twitter.

Russians were getting a better deal for their money in 2009, having paid in a couple of installments roughly as much as Goldman Sachs just did, but ending-up with ten times the shares.  The deal for Goldman sucks, and to make it seem better, DST kicked-in another $50 million, at this crazy new valuation.

Digital Sky Technologies

Digital Sky Technologies

My apologies to non-MBA readers. Financial types say that Facebook has a ‘valuation’ of $50 billion because Goldman Sachs paid $500 million and got 1% of the shares.

Life After Wal-Mart


Wal-Mart via Wikipedia

A Wal-Mart store moves into a small Texas town and local retailers are devastated, a well documented phenomena.  But which businesses remain and thrive along the Main Street?

Several law offices around the corner from the courthouse and a solitary insurance agent. A bail bondsman further down the street and a pawn shop in an alley leading to a bus station.  An auto parts store next to a glass shop, another block away.  And a barber shop.

Barber Pole © Creighton Matthews

Barber Pole © Creighton Matthews

Not one of those beauty salons where ladies have their hair done. The salons moved to the mall by the interstate, between a pizza chain and a cineplex. This is a proper barber shop with a striped red, white and blue pole outside, a place where guys go to get a cut.

The fellows seated inside looked like they were connected or belonged to a fraternal organization or simply prone to hoarding automatic weapons. This was one business not going to be outsourced to Shanghai. I walked away in a hurry.

Wal-Mart is easy to hate. It’s certainly big enough, employing two million people and with sales of over a hundred billion a quarter, bigger than the economy of Venezuela.  Thank goodness for Trader Joe’s.

BTW, check out Creighton’s beautiful photos.

Feed Me, Feed Me

Little Shop of Horrors

Little Shop of Horrors via Wikipedia

My dear readers, I need your feedback. I know you are there, a couple here, a small flurry there. I need to hear from you, find out if any of this strikes a chord, piques your curiosity or entertains. Leave comments or ratings, send me a Facebook message or an email.

Thumper told Bambi, “If you cannot say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” Don’t worry about it, say something, anything. I’ll forgive you in the end.

Panhandler’s Concept Ad


Begging via Wikipedia

Last week I saw a nicely tanned fellow, walking on a raised median along a row of cars stopped at a street light and holding a cardboard sign.  He was peering into each windshield, extorting a donation, waiting for a window to slide down and reveal a fluttering dollar bill.  The guy was younger than me, so he was preteen when Nixon ended the war in 1973. But his sign said “Help Vietnam Veteran buy a bus ticket home.” 

Several opinions exist regarding the origin of the term ‘panhandling.’  Most likely it refers to a beggar holding out a kitchen pan for small coins, an image from another century.  Some allege that a hand and an arm, extended for begging, resemble a protruding body of land, also called ‘panhandle.’



 Books about the Great Depression describe unemployed people holding out a hand in the street for a few cents, money for a meal.  Does ‘panhandling’ sound somehow romantic, is that why the term still exists? There are no pans to be seen anywhere. People’s sensibilities have changed and we now respond to slogans and to ideas they evoke rather than the sight of an open hand.

I Hate Los Angeles

405 to San Diego

405 to San Diego

 I don’t like Los Angeles, I struggle with it.

It’s a Monday morning and people are crowding freeways, prickly people. Self-absorbed and self-conscious unhappy pricks. It’s not yet nine in the morning and they already burnt all the air.  Swallowed it up and farted it out of an imported tail pipe.

Breathing in through the nose or through the mouth, I’m nauseated either way.  Eyes itch, from invisible soot or from glare of dirty light reflected from car windows. I don’t want to see anyway, but to close my eyes and remember that I get to go back home to San Diego tonight.

Downtown San Diego

Downtown San Diego via Wikipedia

That was two years ago.  Anger issues had subsided since.

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