Killing Barbie.

Is it the end of the line for Barbie dolls?

Today, a radical idea is being proposed: Kill her. Dead. End of brand. Los Angeles Times columnist Pat Morrison is writing Barbie’s obit.

"So let’s all have a go at Barbie," Morrison wrote. "Give up on the re-re-reinvention. Take out Barbie at the top of her game. With a big, dramatic exit, Mattel could actually make a killing out of killing Barbie."


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Meaningful incentive.

From today’s New York Times:

Legg Mason, the money manager in Baltimore, gave its chief, Raymond A. Mason, 70, a pay package worth more than $35 million for the fiscal year that ended March 31. Mr. Mason, who has run Legg for 25 years, received $14.5 million in cash, and options that the company valued at $21.2 million.

Legg’s board granted the options "to provide a meaningful incentive for Mr. Mason to remain fully engaged and focused on the success of the company," according to Legg’s proxy statement. To collect them, he must stay on until July 19, 2007.

Imagine $35 million to provide the incentive to work for a single year. Yet there are so many people who manage to find the incentive to remain engaged, for a lot less.

Do you really want someone who can’t find a "meaningful incentive" to "remain fully engaged and focused on the success of the company" unless you pay them an exhorbitant salary?


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Hating Americans.

I had an infuriating discussion tonight with someone who was impressed that a group of "freedom fighters" were able to use American planes to attack the United States, the country with the biggest weapons, on 9/11. They also felt that in choosing to have Canada stay in Afghanistan, Prime Minister Harper was just doing as he was told to by George Bush.

I’m just not sure that people who intentionally attack about 3000 civilianswith the intention of killing them should be referred to as freedom fighters. And I’m not sure how continuing military action started by the previous government, no friends of the U.S., is suddenly doing what President Bush wants.

And then I read this (via smalldeadanimals):

From the point of view of the left, (union hacks, Euro-elite, mini-Moore extremists, MSM elitists, socialist utopians, KOS kids, and progressives) Iraq MUST FAIL. In order to be proven correct, in order to save their ideology, in order to put America in her place, Iraq as a country must not succeed, and terrorism must win in Iraq. If terrorism wanes and falls to a background threat, then the neo-cons, and the pragmatic leaders like prime ministers Blair and Howard, and G. W. Bush, and the coalition partners, will have been proven right. And, the doomsday preachings of the left will have been all for naught, not to mention that the religion of the United Nations will have taken a hit.

I guess that there are some people who can apologize for anything done by terrorists, as long as it has the added benefit of hurting the U.S. I am reminded of a line by Annette Bening from the movie The American President:

How do you deal with someone who claims to love America, while clearly hating Americans?


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Net Neutrality can kill you.

Thomas Greeme at The Register has finally realized the truth about Net Neutrality:

I had thought the reason we don’t get HD movies on the internet had something to do with greedy control freaks within the entertainment cartels who have yet to figure out how to charge us for online content according to a pay-per-use scheme. But apparently, it’s because there isn’t a special pipe carrying movies, for which we can pay extra. Apparently, the movies will begin to flow as soon as the pipe is laid and the valve opened.

And he has this animated cartoon to thank, provided by an astroturf a grassroots organization called Hands Off The Internet, that wants you to know the dangers of Net Neutrality. And they are worried that Net Neutrality may kill you:

It won’t be long before high bandwidth consuming video spam will be competing for available network capacity with mission-critical or life-saving data. For example, doctors are experimenting with using remote video feeds and robotic surgical tools to operate at a distance – why prohibit telemedicine application providers from purchasing priority in the network over the latest annoying antihistamine ad?

To our knowledge this is the first time someone has pointed out just how exceedingly dangerous these misguided so-called Net neutrality proposals would be. Having seen what havoc Mother Nature can wreak, we would be foolish to do anything that hinders our responses.

Yes if we allow Net Neutrality to happen doctors won’t be able to save our lives, and we won’t be able to respond to natural disasters. And we know that telecom companies would never try to take advantage of a bad situation like that.

If only we could find some way to help these poor telecom companies to provide the kinds of service that they want to, to keep us out of danger. Perhaps a special "Save Your Local Carrier" fund – $200 billion or so ought to do it.

Your very life may depend on it. Once the carriers have set aside 80% of their bandwidth for their own use, they’ll need every penny to make sure that the last 80% is available to the highest bidder for emergencies.


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Information is power.

I had a property assessment hearing this week, and it brought home the truism that information is power.

I moved to Canada about four years ago, and every year the market value of my house is assessed by the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation, a provincial body who essentially have a monopoly on the business. More on that later.

The first year I was assessed it was actually more than I paid for the house. When I filed a complaint the assessor called and explained that the entire street was over assessed. The average assessment for the street had increased by roughly 10%; with the correction my assessment had only increased by about 5%.

My next assessment showed a 17% increase, again with a average of 10% for street. I filed a complaint again. Same assessor, same story, so he lowered it to a mere 11% increase.

This year my assessment jumped 14.5%, this time with a street average of 9%.

Starting to see a pattern?

It sure seems that I am being punished for proving thatmy assessment was too high. I should note that even though the street assessment was too high, no assessments are ever corrected downward. And this time, a different assessor. A new assessor. She comes to my house a mere three weeks before my hearing, looks at it, and tells me she can’t understand why it would increase so much higher than every other house, so they will likely lower it.

One week before the hearing she calls and tells me that there is no way she can lower it; it is assessed just fine thank you very much, and I just don’t understand the assessment process.

One day before my hearing another person calls to ask me if I need any more information. I’m allowed to have some "comparables". He also explains that I just don’t understand how assessment works.

So I get to my hearing, and I realize exactly how assessment works. I am forced to defend myself and my point of view against an organization that has controls all of the information about all of the houses in my area, what they sold for, and what they are assessed for. All of that information, paid for with my tax dollars. They are even paid to be there while I am not. I am allowed to have a little bit of their information, if I know what to ask for.

I have one piece of useful information – the price of a house that sold a few months ago for much less than the assessed value, just across the street from me. This is market value after all. They tell me that one house proves nothing about the market, but then they starquizzing me about houses listed for sale. What does "asking price" for houses that have not yet sold have to do with anything?

Given my limited information I believe I made a compelling argument, but we’ll have to wait and see.

Imagine trying to win an argument when you have none of the information, but the other side has it all. And you paid for them to have it. Unlike the U.S., where information paid for with public money is… well, public, here in Canada that information belongs to a company that holds a monopoly lock on the business.

And there’s more. A company called Teranet, through an agreement with the province of Ontario, controls land registry and real estate information, also paid for by my tax dollars.

Information, and control of it, should be free to the public that paid for it. It shouldn’t be generating revenue for a select few that have been generously granted to it. And it certainly shouldn’t be used with impunity against those same citizens that paid for it.

A country is only as free as its public information.


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It’s all about control.

Mark Evans loves Slingbox, and thinks that it would be a great addition to any home:

I used to think the Slingbox was a no-brainer for road warriors and people able to watch TV at work but the more I see it used, the more I think it’s a relatively inexpensive (one-time expense of $170 to $250) tool to give you even more control over how, when and where you watch TV. For anyone who spends a few thousand dollars on a big-screen TV, why not spend a few more bucks on a nice-to-have feature.

All television channels in Canada must be approved by the government in order to protect Canadian culture, so there is no HBO for Canadians. They have their own MTV, and TV Land Canada plays shows that I can’t imagine Canadians ever watched. And Canadians are not allowed to see Super Bowl commercials – the event must be simulcast on a Canadian channel with the same old Canadian commercials.It is even illegal to subscribe to an American satellite network in Canada.

So I can see a huge market for Slingboxes located in other countries. I don’t have one yet, but if I did I would put it in Los Angeles or Boston, so that I could watch local television there. Which leads me to wonder if, when Slingbox starts to take off, will Canada make it illegal to protect their culture (or more likely to protect the Canadian cable and satellite companies).

In fact, I wonder if American cable companies would consider selling services to me over the internet. I could buy a cable package from them, delivered via Slingbox. Surely there’s no law against that… yet.


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Does “better” matter?

Zoli Erdos asked "Would You Rather Be First to Market or Better?". He doesn’t really answer the question though:

The list could go on, but I think the point is clear: there is no land-grab in software. "First mover advantage" is significant in some areas – like Kevin’s Digg, since it depends on a network effect – but in others the second or third player to the market may just execute better. (Btw, second to the market does not mean copycat, since anyone will likely recognize that developing these products takes some time, so parallel efforts are going on at different companies – but timing is beyond the point here anyway).

I understand the value of being first, but really, does "better" matter?Once you are "good enough", as long as you don’t fall behind, you should be fine.

Microsoft didn’t get as big as it did by building better products. There are plenty of products that work better. And they were never first.

Apple’s iPod isn’t better than any other MP3 player. And they weren’t first either.

"Better" is relative, and it certainly isn’t enough by itself to make people switch.


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Cut and paste.

To read Nick Carr you would think that the concept of plagiarism began with the internet. He sounds genuinely surprised that students would cut and paste from the internet, as if this had never happened before the internet existed. Yet I can clearly remember copying information from books and encyclopedias long before people had even heard of the web.

Back then we weren’t constantly threatened with legal action if we copied a page from a book. But we also know enough to add a footnote or a bibliography entry for proper attribution.

Nick points out that it isn’t about "cut and paste", but about "understanding". Though I would content that students understand no less now than they did then. They merely take the most expedient route to get their assignments completed. He quotes Mark Cuban:

"In the past, you had to memorize knowledge because there was a cost to finding it. Now, what can’t you find in 30 seconds or less? We live an open-book-test life that requires a completely different skill set."

We now have ready access to more information than we have ever had before. Yet we still feel it necessary for students to simply accumulate facts. The example he quotes of a paper on Jesse Owens for a 5th grade class is a typical assignment. Once kids would have gone to the library and read a couple of books, quoting relevant information; now they do the same thing via the internet. Do we really expect the student to come away with substantial knowledge and understanding of Jesse Owens? Do we expect that understanding to be greater possibly because the student copied the information by hand? And of what value is information about Jesse Owens 20 years later?

Isn’t it the goal of the educational system to teach students to be lifelong learners, rather than to be accumulators of information? When I need to know something today, it is the expediency of finding that information when I need it that is important. I may not remember it later, but I can get it again easily enough.

It isn’t even the understanding of a particular fact that is important, but the ability to aggregate information and make sense of it, when you need to. That’s the skill we need, and the skill we should be teaching.

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Double standards.

Though it isn’t the kind of thing you bring up in polite company, I’ve often though that if western nations were a little less moral about killing terrorists, let’s say willing to set off a few suicide bombers themselves, then terrorism itself wouldn’t be quite as effective as it is. Terrorists depend on our view of the sanctity of life, combined with our tolerance of others.

Many including the media seem to apologize on behalf of terrorists, suggesting that they are merely fighting with the only tools at their disposal. Yet their intend targets are frequently civilians rather than the military, but that doesn’t seem to change the opinions of the apologists. But let a Western nation accidentally kill one or two people, and the hue and cry goes on for days, surely boosting the morale and drive of the terrorists.

How can accidental death be the same as intentional killing? How can anyone justify such an irrational double standard?

Update: It seems that Andrew over at Bound By Gravity is thinking along the same lines:

Thus, from the perspective of the media, yet another atrocity by the Islamist terrorists in Iraq, while certainly revolting, is not surprising enough to justify wall-to-wall coverage for days. However, you can be sure that if an American soldier did something even a fraction as bad it would be in the limelight.

Upperdate: Mark Steyn (via smalldeadanimals) has some similarly interesting thoughts:

That, by the way, is the one point of similarity between the jihad and conventional terrorist movements like the IRA or ETA. Terror groups persist because of a lack of confidence on the part of their targets: The IRA, for example, calculated correctly that the British had the capability to smash them totally but not the will. So they knew that while they could never win militarily, they also could never be defeated. The Islamists have figured similarly. The only difference is that most terrorist wars are highly localized. We now have the first truly global terrorist insurgency because the Islamists view the whole world the way the IRA view the bogs of Fermanagh: They want it, and they’ve calculated that our entire civilization lacks the will to see them off.

Uppestdate: Captain’s Quarters has something to say about the Taliban using women and children as human shields:

This has two purposes for the Taliban. First, it keeps Western forces from firing on them, as they know that Coalition troops will try to protect civilians where possible. Secondly as just as importantly from a strategic point of view, any women and children killed in the battle will almost certainly be blamed on the Western forces by the Western media. It allows the Taliban to continue their propaganda blitz against the West, one in which the media has unwittingly (in most cases) found themselves a pawn to the Islamists.


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Quality Time.

Mike Urlocker was a bit skeptical of a survey David Pogue noted, where a majority of BlackBerry users indicated that the device either gave them more time with their family (40%) or at least didn’t take away from time spent with their family currently (48%). Only a small percentage (12%) suggested that their family time was decreased.

Mike undertook his own study, and found the act of responding more telling that the response:

Never mind for now what people said for now; Look at what they did:

  • 32% responded on the weekend;
  • More than 20% replied within two hours;
  • 6% replied while on a holiday or at vacation spots.
  • 14% replied Monday morning.

Users of devices such as the BlackBerry may be convinced that since it allows them to leave the office earlier, that they actually spend more time with the family, but it is false economy if that time spent at home is just used to check the BlackBerry. These folks have become slaves to technology, answering only to an electronic taskmaster, to which everything appears important and urgent.

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