The Air Traveller Tax.

Continental Airlines left forty-seven passengers of a regional jet stranded overnight in Rochester, Minn. The Transportation Department imposed its first penalties for runway delays Tuesday, collecting $175,000 in fines.

The agency said that Continental Airlines and its regional affiliate, ExpressJet Airlines, operating as Continental Express, had deceived passengers by promising, through a “Customer First” statement on Continental’s Web site, to let passengers off planes within three hours when faced with an extended delay on the runway.

[...]

The secretary of transportation, Ray LaHood, said in a statement, “I hope this sends a signal to the rest of the airline industry that we expect airlines to respect the rights of air travelers.

Ok, we’ve punished the airlines. The government raised some revenue. When do we actually do something to compensate those air travellers whose rights weren’t respected?

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You can’t always get what you want.

And sometimes you get exactly what you asked for.

I’ve often noted the lack of a cohesive calendar of what is happening locally; someplace that I could look to to see when the events that interest me are happening, and to keep abreast of what people are thinking and saying here. (Hmmm. Do people use the word "abreast" anymore?)

Apparently I complained to the right people. Or perhaps just complained long enough that people decided to shut me up. Jesse Rodgers and Joseph Fung have created exactly what I was looking for.

Techstartup.ca, which they officially announced yesterday, provides that calendar. It’s updateable; everyone can add events or even iCal feeds, which means that it can be used to track anything that’s happening in town.

But they went so much further. The site also tracks news and blogs locally, as well as Twitter feeds, and arranges them nicely for viewing. It provides links to resources. And it provides a list of people in the local technology scene. I’m there, and you can add yourself or people you think others should know about. For some reason my photo is not among the Prominent players on the first page, so maybe it’s time for a new photo.

These two self-described "dashing men" (I’ll withhold comment) have provided exactly what I wanted and even some stuff I didn’t know I wanted.The best thing is the fact that it’s a bit of a social community; if you don’t see what you need, or you have some other ideas, you can add them. You can help provide resources to the community so that everyone benefits.

This is a great too and I urge you to check it out, especially if you are local to Waterloo. And if you aren’t, I’ve got a fairly good idea that this could be used as a template for your own local community.

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Health ‘reform’ gets a failing grade.

The dean of Harvard Medical School has some thoughts on pending healthcare reform:

In discussions with dozens of health-care leaders and economists, I find near unanimity of opinion that, whatever its shape, the final legislation that will emerge from Congress will markedly accelerate national health-care spending rather than restrain it. Likewise, nearly all agree that the legislation would do little or nothing to improve quality or change health-care’s dysfunctional delivery system. The system we have now promotes fragmented care and makes it more difficult than it should be to assess outcomes and patient satisfaction. The true costs of health care are disguised, competition based on price and quality are almost impossible, and patients lose their ability to be the ultimate judges of value.

Originally the healthcare legislation had laudable goals: cover uninsured Americans, lower healthcare costs, ensure that insurance companies do not deny coverage to the insured, and generally ensure that healthcare does not cause bankruptcy.

With 1990 pages of legislation and 111 new agencies, why have those goals still not been attained? Why doesn’t the legislation just address those very specific goals?

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Human error?

What kind of human error leads to creating congressional districts that don’t exist?

Here’s a stimulus success story: In Arizona’s 15th congressional district, 30 jobs have been saved or created with just $761,420 in federal stimulus spending. At least that’s what the Web site set up by the Obama administration to track the $787 billion stimulus says.

Discrepancies on government web site call into question stimulus spending. There’s one problem, though: There is no 15th congressional district in Arizona; the state has only eight districts.

And ABC News has found many more entries for projects like this in places that are incorrectly identified.

And that was after the fact-checking.

Some jobs were certainly created by the recovery.gov site though:

The recovery.gov Web site was established as part of the stimulus bill "to foster greater accountability and transparency" in the use of the money spent through the stimulus program. The site is a well-funded enterprise; the General Services Administration updated it earlier this year with an $18 million grant.

$18 million for a website? Couldn’t they have just created a Facebook group? Perhaps President Obama could just have Twittered the results. Oops I forgot. He doesn’t Twitter.

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Pissed off people start great companies.

There are undoubtedly a number of reasons why people become entrepreneurs and create startups. But I am willing to bet that the number one reason is that they are pissed off about something.

In fact, being pissed off is, I believe, the prime and most powerful motivator behind the creation of a startup. Tom Peters, co-author of In Search of Excellence agrees:

“Nearly 100 percent of innovation . . . is inspired not by ‘market analysis’ but by people who are supremely pissed off at the way things are. I happen to believe that only pissed-off people change the world, either in small ways or large ways.”

It could be the place they work. Nortel spawned numerous startups, and from the short time I worked there I’m convinced that it was because people just got tired of trying to get something done in the confines of that lumbering behemoth and just decided it would be easier to do it themselves.

Or it could be that they just saw a better way of doing something that their current employer was doing it yet were unable to convince them of a better solution. Most of you will never have heard of Fairchild Semiconductor, but you have heard of Intel because Andy Grove wasn’t happy at Fairchild. Fairchild was actually the genesis of a number of semiconductor companies.

And these companies don’t even realize the hand they have taken in creating their own competitors.

Recent accounts of an ongoing merger of two storied technology companies led me to write this post. These companies are frustrating their employees. They are making it difficult for those employees to do their jobs. They are making it difficult for customers to be comfortable with the company going forward.

And those pissed off employees are going to leave and create startups that will compete with them.Because when you are pissed off you just know that you can do things better.

Frustrated with something? Don’t waste that frustration. Start something now.

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Getting to the point.

The House healthcare bill is 1990 pages long.

The United States Constitution – the document on which the operation of the entire country is based? About 15 pages.

If you can’t articulate what you want to accomplish in 15 pages, then you don’t really know what you want to accomplish.

Or you do know, but you want to make sure that nobody else does.

The Founding Fathers had the concerns of citizens in mind when they wrote the Constitution, and they were clear in what they wanted to accomplish. Why can’t the healthcare bill be that clear?

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His ego will need its own ZIP code.

The Boston Globe gets right to the point:

The first President Bush, taught from childhood to shun what his mother called “The Great I Am,’’ regularly instructed his speechwriters not to include too many “I’s’’ in his prepared remarks. Reagan maintained that there was no limit to what someone could achieve if he didn’t mind who got the credit. George Washington, one of the most accomplished men of his day, said with characteristic modesty on becoming president that he was “peculiarly conscious of his own deficiencies.’’

Obama, on the other hand, positively revels in The Great I Am.

“I think that I’m a better speechwriter than my speechwriters,’’ he told campaign aides when he was running for the White House. “I know more about policies on any particular issue than my policy directors. And I’ll tell you right now that . . . I’m a better political director than my political director.’’

[...]

At this rate, it won’t be long before the president’s ego is so inflated that it will require a ZIP code of its own.

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A political shell game.

The $787 billion stimulus bill was supposed to kickstart the economy and create jobs. The government needs people to believe that it actually did that, even if it didn’t. Yet it seems so easy to debunk their estimates of jobs created or saved. From the Boston Globe:

Some of the errors are striking: The community action agency based in Greenfield reported 90 full-time jobs associated with the $245,000 it got for its preschool Head Start program. That averages out to just $2,700 per full-time job. The agency said it used the money to give roughly 150 staffers cost-of-living raises. The figure reported on the federal report was a mistake, a result of a staffer’s misunderstanding of the filing instructions, said executive director Jane Sanders.

Several other Head Start agencies also reported using stimulus funds for pay raises and claimed jobs for it.

At Bridgewater State, Baldwin said the college mistakenly counted part-time student jobs as full time.

Pay raises probably shouldn’t count as jobs created or saved. And the numbers are obviously incorrect anyway.

But if this is a brand new stimulus package, then why were existing funds reclassified as "stimulus funds" only to have existing jobs now recounted as jobs created?

In other cases, federal money that recipients already receive annually – subsidies for affordable housing, for example – was reclassified this year as stimulus spending, and the existing jobs already supported by those programs were credited to stimulus spending. Some of these recipients said they did not even know the money they were getting was classified as stimulus funds until September, when federal officials told them they had to file reports.

“There were no jobs created. It was just shuffling around of the funds,’’ said Susan Kelly, director of property management for Boston Land Co., which reported retaining 26 jobs with $2.7 million in rental subsidies for its affordable housing developments in Waltham. “It’s hard to figure out if you did the paperwork right. We never asked for this.’’

It seems that the stimulus package that had to be passed immediately or the sky would fall doesn’t seem to be having the desired effect, and it looks like the administration is grasping at any straw to claim success. So out of curiosity, what exactly would have happened if there was no stimulus bill? 10% unemployment?

Oh wait, we’re already there.

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Anti Monkey Butt Powder

I never expected to write a headline like that, but everyone needs a little Anti Monkey Butt Powder now and then.

Tip of the hat to Smalltalk Tidbits, Industry Rants.

Update: As Chris points out in the comments, Canadians can get their Anti Monkey Butt Powder at well.ca, Canada’s online drugstore. And no, I was not compensated in any way for that shameless plug.

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What social media can and can’t do.

A couple of days ago, Adverstising Age publised an article by B.L.Ochman on Ten Things Social Media Can’t Do. The article is excellent and worth reading, but these are the things that social media can’t do:

  1. Substitute for marketing strategy.
  2. Succeed without top management buy-in.
  3. Be viewed as a short-term project.
  4. Produce meaningful, measurable results quickly.
  5. Be done in-house by the vast majority of companies.
  6. Provide a quick fix to the bottom line or a tarnished reputation.
  7. Be done without a realistic budget.
  8. Guarantee sales or influence.
  9. Be done by "kids" who "understand social innately"
  10. Replace PR.

Today Mark Evans countered with a list of nine things that social media can do:

  1. Improve customer service
  2. Build stronger relationships with existing customers
  3. Attract new customers
  4. Generate feedback/ideas on how to improve existing products and services, and inspire new products and services
  5. Build and enhance your brand
  6. Connect with industry peers
  7. Communicate with employees, suppliers and investors
  8. Do research
  9. Do good

Both articles are excellent; I’ve merely listed the lists but you should read the reasoning.

There is one item from B.L. Ochman’s list that I question, that of social media requiring a realistic budget. Not every social media strategy requires a website to be designed. The use of blogs, Facebook, or Twitter can be tested without investing in a new site design. However, a long term strategy may require changes.

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