Dec 3, 2008


This is not a political forum, but things out here in Minnesota are reaching such an absolute low in common sense that this seems to bear comment.

Al Franken and Norm Coleman are in a fight to the death. We’re 92% of the way through a vote recount. The difference of a few hundred votes is separating the two men from claiming a Senate seat, and each is contesting votes at a ridiculous pace in our ongoing recount.

Minnesota Public Radio recently posted some of the contested ballots online and asked visitors to vote on which way the ballot should go. It’s an interesting exercise because, universally, it seems that common sense prevails in the survey results. Take the test, you’ll see what I mean.

As I’ve said, it’s a fight to the death. But it’s also a collosal waste of time when two grown men, two aspiring senators, are in a whiny, childish catfight like this. I suppose it’s only what you could expect after the filthy campaign the two men ran leading up to the November 4 election.

Surely there’s a superior way to exercise our right to vote?

Norm Coleman challenged this ballot claiming that the ballot design caused confusion.

Norm Coleman challenged this ballot because, he claims, the design confused the voter's intent.

Batman Ballot

Al Franken challenged this ballot because, he claims, the extraneous "batman" wings were identifying marks.

May 5, 2008

PR Nightmare

The last thing horse racing needed was this weekend's Kentucky Derby tragedy. The glamor of the event, the great Southern tradition of the Run for the Roses, the hushed but excited talk of Derby Winner Big Brown's potential for a Triple Crown. All overshadowed, if not eclipsed, by the tragic injury and immediate on-track euthanization of Eight Belles right after her second-place win.

While animal activists will undoubtedly use this example as fuel for their fires, horse racing needs to use it as well—as an opportunity to improve, demonstrate its commitment to these animals, and to make changes. Unfortunately, the spin doctors are already hard at work, trying to bury the incident. Nobody likes to change.

Eight Belles

P.S. Dont' miss Frank DeFord's viewpoint on the incident, including America's hunger for speed, inbreeding, and the search for villains

Feb 13, 2008

I Would Work 4 U

Ours is a creative profession, but when you're applying for a job–regardless of the field–proper grammar and spelling still rule the day. How am I to take this guy seriously? Leave this kind of junk for chat rooms and Prince.

I would die 4 U

Feb 5, 2008

Super Tuesday

Big day here in California and around the nation. Head out to your polling place, ink your ballot, get a sticker for your shirt, and take part in the political process.

In the Golden State, we've reverted to paper-and-ink ballots (again), because the electronic voting machines have (again) been deemed unreliable. How is it that we can make ATM machines that accurately dispense cash, take in deposits (and even scan and clear checks on the spot), tell you your account balance, transfer funds, and pay bills — all in the language of your choice — and yet we can't make a voting machine that works satisfactorily? Is it a government vs. private industry question, or something more sinister? Personally, I'd be quicker to drain a bank  than to rig an election, if I had the wherewithal and cunning.

Irony is, Diebold makes both ATMs and voting machines. We'll trust them with our paycheck, but not with our vote. Maybe it's good that we value our vote more than we value our money, even if we don't consciously acknowledge it.

Get out and vote! 

Jan 15, 2008

Remove the Barriers

Given the wealth of programming brains out on the open market, and given the insanely smart programming that's

going into good sites anymore, there's no excuse for an error message like this, ever:

Phone Number Error

Whatever happened to the utopian machines that do at least some of the thinking for us? How hard to write a script to fill in the dashes for me? How many people quit the signup

process at even the slightest sign of hassle?

Remove the barriers, increase throughput: my mantra for 2008.

Nov 2, 2007

Cut Corners or Cut Back?

NPR reported recently about emerging evidence that generic drugs have increasing rates of serious side effects over their name-brand equivalents.

Sam’s Club shoppers were recently shocked to learn that a brand of inexpensive frozen beef patties were tainted with e-coli.

American parents have been repeatedly outraged when lead paint is discovered in cheap toys from China. (More on this here.)

When will we get the message? You get what you pay for. Driving prices down with generic drugs, discount club stores, and imports from countries with questionable environmental and human rights practices simply amounts to cutting corners.

It's incredibly expensive to develop safe, effective drugs. Making intricate toys is time consuming and complex. Processing beef is, well, I wouldn’t want to do it. So where do we come off demanding that these—and so many other things—should be cheap? Maybe it's not always an option, but perhaps instead of cutting corners to get it cheap, we should simply cut back our consumption?

Nov 1, 2007

Get the Lead Out

The ongoing Chinese debacle over lead paint in toys has prompted efforts by the makers of Thomas the Tank to mitigate negative fallout. Shortly after news broke this summer, Thomas sent a free toy to Toys R Us customers who had previously bought the product.

Unfortunately, instead of addressing the problem and facing up to the issue, the toy just showed up—marked "Made in China"—with no explanation. Do you think parents delighted in handling the free toy over to their children? Not my friends who told me about this marketing screw-up. They suspected more lead paint and threw it away. 

Face up to the problem, admit the fault, then work to make it up to your customers. Skipping over the first two steps doesn't fix anything. 

Sep 11, 2007

Let’s See if the World has Fallen Apart

The day four planes went off course on the Eastern Seaboard, my business partner (who also lived next door at the time) woke me from a dead sleep. We’d been up nearly all night the night before preparing a presentation I was to fly to London and deliver, and I’d had maybe two hours of shuteye when he came pounding on my door.

While 9/11 changed America in many ways, it only recently occurred to me how it’s affected me on a daily basis.

Every morning when I wake up, the first thing I do is turn on my clock radio with a vague sense of dread about what might be being reported on NPR. When I hear the calm tones of Steve Inskeep and Renee Montagne covering last night’s political debate or the collapse of honeybee populations, I know the day has started with relative normalcy. I can get out of bed.

It’s annoying because it means they (the terrorists, the enemies of freedom, etc.) won the battle, if not the war. I’m not the only person whose daily behavior was changed, if only in a small and relatively insignificant way. Shifting our mindset, after all, was more or less the goal of the hijackers.

Building awareness, creating doubt, changing behavior. It was a brutal but piercingly effective advertising campaign.

Jul 26, 2007


Choice. Prime. Select. Do you know the difference in quality between your USDA grades of beef? They all sound pretty good to me.

How about the LA Times restaurant reviews: "Good," "Very Good," "Excellent," and "Outstanding on Every Level."

There's a growing lack of average, small, and normal in product descriptions. Nobody wants to buy an average steak. A small drink is hard to find. But in our mindset of excellence, special, and high-end, the high end of the scale has become top heavy and is at risk of becoming the norm. Then what?

Maybe we're too far gone: the mindset has shifted, we're accustomed to everything being special, and we won't accept anything that isn't. But I really wish that grading scales—like Choice, Prime, and Select—were understandable without a guidebook.

Jun 2, 2007


Over the past Memorial Day weekend, like every good, red-blooded American, I made a trip (or two) to my local home improvement store. Paint, sprinkler heads, light bulbs, garden hose, the like. You know the kind of trip. One or two specific projects in mind (maybe, even, with a parts list!), combined with a couple of spontaneous, “Oh, yeah, I should pick one of those up while I’m here.”

These kind of trips have resulted in quite a few things in our garage. Chrome hinges for the bathroom door (still on my workbench). A drip-system converter for my sprinklers (still on a shelf). You get the idea. 

The point is, ambition wins in a home improvement store, almost every time. I’d be curious to know how much of Home Depot’s profit margin is based on the blind ambition of its customers who buy things that don’t get used. It’s similar to a fitness club: people sign up, pay the monthly dues, but never use the gym. Same with (certain) magazine subscriptions. Same with airline miles. You get the idea.

What a great business model. It’s not like selling people things they don’t want or need. Quite the opposite: it’s selling people things that they DO want and need, but their ambition outruns their available time and they wind up not following through.

If every homeowner stopped going to the hardware store and instead finished all the projects in his or her garage, if every gym member started actually going as often as they’re paying for, if every frequent flyer cashed in all their points. The ramifications for each of those businesses would be catastrophic!