Thursday, March 26, 2009

Classic example of brand land grab with Sony, Google and Amazon

If you're a reader you have probably considered buying one of the new electronic book readers. There are two leading choices today: the Amazon Kindle and the Sony Reader and while good stats are hard to come by for Amazon sales, it appears that each have sold hundreds of thousands but more importantly that Amazon is leading in "cool factor".

But Sony is, like Apple, a master of the global brand and so their announcement with Google last week was a classic brand land grab. Sony and Google announced a partnership where Google's 500,000 free electronic books are now available on the Sony Reader. But unlike Apple which rigidly used iTunes to teach people to buy music for 99 cents , Google is known for free content so their role is very disturbing to publishers.

Books, like music, are critical to the rich, imaginative life we live in our heads. Authors, like singers and songwriters, need to get paid. Newspapers are in crisis because they did not work out a healthy online business model early enough. I hope the book business learns from the newspaper's mistakes so that it survives.

Disclosure: I have a Kindle 2 and love it. The cell network connection that allows me to buy a book anywhere and at any time feels like freedom to read whatever and whenever I want.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Celebrating Anita Borg on Ada Lovelace Day

I never met Anita Borg while she was alive - but I serve on the board of the non-profit that bears her name and so I am reminded of her legacy frequently.

The Anita Borg Institute for Women in Technology is about the impact of women on technology and the impact of technology on the world's women. It was originally set up by Anita to bring women together and advance them in technology and when she died it was renamed in her honor -- it's a testimony to Anita that the institute survived her. As happens with many non-profits, the future without the founder was unclear, and I was recruited right at that moment by two friends on the board. I watched as Anita's friends and admirers: professors, CTOs and VPs of engineering at the largest technology companies, came together to put a healthy funding model and growth strategy is place. ABI is now funded by world leaders like Google, IBM, HP, Intel, Microsoft and Cisco to name just a few.

Now, 5 years later, the institute serves thousands of women each year with conferences like the annual Grace Hopper Conference, the Systers online community and training programs like Tech Leaders.

Anita's direct impact is well documented - especially at the ABI site. I am celebrating her on Ada Lovelace day not only because of how she impacted women in technology during her life but also because she found a way to leave a long lasting impact on the world's technical women through her institute.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Signs the economy is turning

While our congress is distracted killing capitalism in our banking system (and driving out the talent at the same time), the economy is showing signs of turning. Not only do we have two more weeks of drop in the US layoffs news (you can read about the trend on my previous post and see the updated chart every week on FirstRain) -- but smaller, thoughtful publications are starting to write about the turn.

From "A senior economist for Wells Capital Management sees some positive signs the economy may be bottoming out and ready to take a turn for the better."

From Investor's Business Daily -- definitely worth a read for the litany of evidential points -- "Don't look now, but the economy is starting to turn. Recent data suggest it may start making up lost ground as early as the third quarter. A triumph of government policy? Hardly."

and including
• A surprising 22% surge in February housing starts to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 583,000 units.

• A back-to-back jump in retail sales ex autos, in both January and February.

• A return to profitability at several major banks, including Citigroup, Bank of America and JPMorgan.

• A doubling in the obscure but important Baltic Dry Index, a key indicator of global trade flows.

• An upwardly sloping yield curve, which Fed research suggests all but ensures a rebound by year-end.

From reporting on a University of North Carolina at Charlotte professor's analysis "A new forecast by a local economic expert predicts that recovery is just months away.University of North Carolina at Charlotte economist John Connaughton said Tuesday the recession is just one to three months from being over. He said recover in 2009 will be modest, but it will be strong in 2010."

It may take a while for our national papers to pick up on the trend since writing about disaster and the angry mob sells more papers/ads, but I think we are only a couple of months away.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

China's thriving cat meat industry

When I use FirstRain I often find articles and trends that are interesting to me and lead me off on a research path that is stimulating. Rarely is it upsetting. But today, while researching food and beverage pricing trends for this blog, I came across this Sky news article about the thriving cat meat trade in China. Not only is cat meat an inexpensive delicacy, but many of the cats are stolen domesticated cats. The video is worth watching too, but only if you have a thick skin, especially watching a waitress play with a cat before it's to be slaughtered.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Your diet has more climate change impact than your car

Since many of my friends are engineers my community's approach to the environmental crisis is usually technical. Friends who drive hybrids, have installed solar power on their roofs, several who are totally self sustaining by installing solar power panels that sell back to the utilities etc.

But my approach has been a little different. I stopped eating red meat 15 months ago now after reading a particularly disturbing book about the abattoir practises in the U.S. Not an unusual decision but one that I think will become more and more common although humans do like to eat meat (I fall off the wagon about 3 times a year). The reason this trend will grow isn't that Americans suddenly start caring about eating animals with the intelligence of their young children, but because of the carbon footprint of the meat industry. It'll be because the meat industry produces more carbon emissions than the auto industry (cows belching - amazing but true). For example, 4oz of steamed vegetables have a carbon footprint of 0.18lbs, 4 oz of pasta has 0.39 lbs and 4oz of steak has 10.5lbs. See the excellent Time article.

Hybridization of cars is still the easiest big impact change we can make, but it's a very expensive change. While we have a Prius for the family I still drive a gas guzzling 2002 Jaguar XKR convertible and I expect I'll drive it into the ground since it's a very high carbon footprint to replace it with any new car - and more cost effective to drive the car to the end of it's natural life (plus it's the most fun I've had behind the wheel of a car since I was dating).

If it's time for you to buy a car then buy a hybrid, but if you aren't in the market for a new car today the highest impact change you can make is to stop eating meat - and it's good for you too.


Thanks to Michelle Leder at for sending me more data on this. Did you know that we slaughter 564 pigs an hour - or over 44 million pigs a year in the U.S. And your average pig is smarter than your average dog, or your average 2 year old!

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