iPayment withrawal of IPO

While many are making much of the withdrawal of iPayment’s IPO being withdrawn, I’m more skeptical. Yes, a Bear Stearns analyst did appear in a webcast touting the upcoming IPO, but so what? Was it supposed to be investment bankers touting the deal? My mind boggles.

Speaking of monkeys & typewriters

I’m busily sorting through the myriad RSS readers out there, convinced that despite the remarkable three-paned sameness of the things, that one of them will stand out as better than the rest. So far I’m wandered through Syndirella, RssBandit, NewsDesk, and at least one other whose name escapes me. So far they all have flaws and/or stability issues.

Any out there using anything they really like? Let me know.

The Jayson Blair epside: What took so long?

Fine, 27-year-old ex-New York Times reporter Jayson Blair has a very long history of fabrication and plagiarism. For example, 36 of the 73 articles he wrote since he arrived at the Times’s prestigious National Desk in late 2002 contain errors, many of which are brazen and outrageous. He made up quotes, pretended to be places he wasn’t, and generally wrote fiction.

So I have two questions:

1) Given his history — he had been warned in 2002 when he was still on the NY Times Metropolitan Desk for playing loose with the facts (one editor said in an email that Blair should be taken out of the paper entirely) — how did he end up as a national reporter mere months later?

My answer: Affirmative action almost certainly played a role. As Mickey Kaus points out, the Times’s Howell Raines was bragging to the National Association of Black Journalists about the Times’s affirmative action program, and specifically mentioning Blair, while Blair was already in hot water for making up stuff.

2) What took so long? I mean, the guy pretended to talk to people he hadn’t spoken with, said he was places that he wasn’t at, with people he wasn’t with, and so on. As any online journalist will tell you, you’ll be skinned very quickly for that sort of thing online. So why did no-one notice that Blair’s Times stories were so awry?

Some people did notice, but not enough apparently. You start to wonder if people read the paper critically. After all, Blair lied about being at the house of Michael and Martha Gardner as they listened to war missives while their son was fighting in Iraq — yet the parents clipped the article and thanked the Times for the piece.

Monkeys, a typewriter, infinite series, and the letter “S”

The entire research idea is irresistibly silly, so I’m not going to bother trying to resist it: Some U.K. students from the University of Plymouth set up an experiment to test the old saw that with enough monkeys and typewriters eventually we would see the works of Shakespeare.

But it didn’t work out that way. After a computer was left alone for a month with six Sulawi crested macaques, all the monkeys succeeded in was “partially destroying the machine, using it as a lavatory, and mostly typing the letter ‘s'”.

Pox on both your Poohs

This case is one of those examples of just how little childrens’ books have to do with the business world, despite the billions that said books make for major entertainment companies.

In an ongoing action between the owners of the Pooh (yes, the orange bear who loves honey) rights and Disney, the current users of the property, a judge today in Los Angeles came down largely in favor of the rights owners. While Disney says it will appeal, things are going very much against Disney so far. It is looking like a big-footed behemoth and is entirely unsympathetic.

Mind you, as this January, 2003, Fortune magazine article made clear, Shirley Slesinger Lasswell, a 79-year-old widow whose husband aquired the Pooh rights from A.A. Milne in 1930, is a shrewish nutbar.

Play economic deity, move markets, etc.

The surgically-enhanced version of my “Greenspan-in-a-box” is now up and running online here. While I may be the only one entertainined by it, it certainly pleases the heck out of me to click on Alan Greenspan’s head and generate such magnificently loopy economic dross as the following:

“The Committee is somewhat convinced that a restrictive stance of monetary policy, coupled with significant underlying growth in high-beta stocks, is providing worrisome support to economic activity.”

Reagan quote: “It was your flip turn that did it”

Second-from-bottom item in  this Lloyd Grove WashPost piece is a touching anecdote about former president Ronald Reagan and Alzheimer’s. Apparently the first time his son, Ron Jr., beat Ron Sr., swimming in the home pool was when the former was 12 and the latter was 59.

While the ex-president is now, apparently, bed-ridden, mute, and has forgotten most of the last few decades, in 1995 he still remembered the event that changed the balance in his relationship with his son: that swimming race. “It was your flip turn that did it,” Ronald Reagan told his son. “Till then, you know, we were even.”

Agenda-based business reporting

Can a disgruntled former 1990s entrepreneur report objectively on his former stomping ground, business conferences? Judging by this WSJ piece, the answer is “No”. The author tries for an irony-fuelled Michael Lewis observational approach, but it quickly becomes obvious that he has an axe to grind with pretty much everyone, from academics, to consultants, to entrepreneurs.

While that might be somewhat forgivable if his prose was strong, it’s not. For example, consider the folllowing snippet. It is about how wearying it has become to listen to entrepreneurs du jour babble about their success:

” … business celebrities looked amazingly alike — a young man, wearing an alternately smug and startled expression, tousled hair and Banana Republic clothes accompanied by a posse of equally young and self-important “handlers” masquerading as a management team. (I am afraid I played the latter role at least one too many times.)”

This wants to be good stuff, but instead it teeters and then falls into cliches, replete with “tousled hair” and “self-important” entrepreneurs. Of course they are that way — I have only read it two or three million times already though.

He has two choices: deliver fresher observations, or give more of himself, assuming he can control his obvious frustration at not being up on the stage.

Ambling innovation: the multi-blade razor

The latest developments in the razor market are interesting. We have gone from twin-blade razors, to triple-blade razors, and now we have the first examples of four-blade razors.

While consumer novelty and pointless innovations are important parts of a functioning economy, I’m worried we are rapidly approaching a dangerous cusp. What happens as we go beyond four blades? Assuming that the size of the blade reservoir –the face of the razor is clearly a function of n (f(n)), where is n the number of parallel blades — stays constant, and is also dual-sized asymptotically decline, then we are governed by the following relationship for the efficacy of the razor:


In short, after a certain point, assuming that the razor face doesn’t grow to the size of a volleyball net, an increasing number of blades will have a deleterious effect on the efficacy of the razor. In the limit, as any solution of the above limit shows, the razor will become all blade.

The implications are very serious, including, possibly, that razors will at some point become effectively single-blade again — albeit one very large blade. Why is no-one talking about this?

Instant Alan (Greenspan)

For “research reasons” I’ve been going over the last few years’ Greenspan-helmed Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) statements. Along the way I was reminded just how consistent the structure of FOMC statements are.

Matter of fact, they are so consistent that I was able to put together a grammar around FOMC statements. I then wrote a short script, sort of like “Greenspan in a box” in that it generates instant FOMC comments.

Here is a snippet from one statement that popped out a moment ago:

“The Committee continues to believe that an accomodative stance of monetary policy, coupled with baffling underlying growth in high-beta stocks, is providing career-boosting support to economic activity.”

No, I have no idea what it means either, but it tickled my fancy. If I get the time, I’ll put it on the website so others can play with it.