Sunday, October 23, 2005

The Ubiquitous Shelves of Robotic Retail

Have the retailer's obsession with technology and profit left some of the smaller treasures forgotten?

I was in my neighborhood Barnes and Noble book today and was surprised to see yet another aisle of "Christian Inspiration". Over the past six months, the selection of Christian literature has expanded from half an aisle on the side of the store to several aisles at the center of the store. Other religions and philosophy have been pushed to the sides. Current events is now sharing a reclusive space shared with gay and minority studies and anthropological material is now squeezed into the end of the history section which is gradually being squeezed to half an aisle by the expanding selection on military history.

This change of selection reflects the demographics of the area, which is predominately white, conservative and Christian. I recognize this being the result of something that we in my profession call business intelligence, which is a product of gathering information about your business such as sales and returns and processing that information so that sound decisions can be made from it. In the case of a bookstore, these decisions include what books to order and how to stock them. Increasing the selection and availability of the Christian inspirational material increases sales potential, while cutting down on anthropological studies decreases the cost of holding books that don't sell.

On one hand this can be seen as a good thing, where most of the people get what they want and retail operations perform better. This practice is popular across the entire retail industry and affects everything from grocery stores to clothing stores. In fact Wal-Mart, which features a massive information technology center, pioneered something called JIT, "Just-In-Time" inventory. Which allows the actual re-stock of any particular item to be delayed until the just before the moment where the system predicts that the shelf will actually be empty.

But on the other hand I find it rather sad that retail operations are so obsessed with this direction. It's not just the hard-to-sell items that are being cut out, but something else that goes along with it, the hard-to-find items. Taking a consumers perspective for a change, one will eventually realize that some people are looking for something different and this is something that doesn't compute in profit obsessed robotics. Some retailers used to be able to subsidize some hard to sell items with the profits from the hot-selling items and sometimes they would even take pride in being the only store in town that carries a specific item or selection.

This situation is in itself was a treasure, usually more common in small business operations, that rely more upon being unique to secure a footing in the market, but most of these small businesses are being destroyed by the sheer size of the conglomerates and sheer size itself becomes the big factor for gaining market share. So back at the bookstore, which happens to be a branch of a huge corporate chain, and the only book store left standing in my neighborhood, the consumer landscape is looking more generic and less interesting. Of course they can still order any book you are looking for but I can do that on the internet. For me, the point of walking into a bookstore is to appreciate the tangible aspects book browsing and to walk out with a book in my hands and for me, the browsing is much better in bookstore with a wide variety of best sellers and obscurities.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Take Control With Alert Services

One of the things I have noticed about the way people consume news is that brand names mean more than content. Even when admitting that content is of utmost importance, brands still float on top when such things as "I tune into CNN, because they are unbiased", or "I read the New York Times because they have great coverage" are said. Even though I feel these two statements in particular are true, this type of brand selection is nevertheless susceptible to media bias, because you wind up following specific journalists and editors and for many people, whether they want to admit it or not, this means that they are leaving the formation of their opinions to someone else.

Of course on the Internet you have the token redundancy, every news channel has a web site, but some web sites provide some alternatives in the form of customizable alerts. Yahoo for instance, provides a free service called Yahoo Alerts, where you can specify keywords, just as you do when running a search. Then you save the alert and from then on out, Yahoo will periodically scan the internet for news pertaining to the keywords you specified. Then all you have to do is go to your alert page on Yahoo and view a collection of headlines with links to news articles pertaining to the keywords you specified. You can also have Yahoo deliver your alerts to your e-mail.

Another approach that I like is to direct my alerts to an RSS feed. Unfortunately, Yahoo doesn't do this although I have suggested it to them via their "suggestion box". But there is another service called HighBeam Research (formerly Electric Library), that also provides an alerts service, but this one allows you to direct the results into your own RSS newsfeed, which you can pick up with any RSS compatible news aggregator.

Unlike Yahoo, Highbeam requires a monthly subscription which I think is too high for a what you get, especially now that they are starting to advertise. So I'm looking for a new alert service that can dump to RSS. If you happen to see any, let me know.

I'm currently using Newz Crawler 1.7 which works well for me, but there are many news aggregators to choose from, many of them free.

So take control of your news, be your own brand and track your own stories. Use alert services and you will find that as you track these stories, with minimal effort, you will get many perspectives and you will naturally develop a deeper insight. This is putting content before brand and this is especially important in today's world where we have become so saturated with information that we are loosing our ability to know anything. As Albert Einstein once said, "information is not knowledge."

Friday, October 07, 2005

Two Cents On Freedom

I think freedom is a simple concept that nevertheless has convoluted effects on human society. So when people refer to applied freedom as an absolute value, I tend to disagree. I believe the zero-sum theory applies where freedom is relative to those who are unbound and inverse to those who are restricted. In other words, one person's freedom is another person's slavery.

So, if you say you're fighting for freedom then you're not really saying much because you aren't specifying who the freedom is for. These half truths permeate society across the world and across history.

In 1835 the British began emancipating slaves in the West Indies and in the Cape Colony. The Dutch (Boers) in Cape Colony disliked it. Here we have a multi-level case where the freedom of black natives were being compromised by the Boers' freedom to enslave them. This freedom to enslave blacks was itself compromised by the British legislature. The Boers wound up leaving and establishing a new place a little further north were they could continue to enslave the blacks. They called this place the "Orange Free State" because they were free to own slaves.

Another example is the freedom of tyranny as opposed to the limits of democracy. Saddam Hussein had a greater measure of freedom than Bush ever had. The inverse of this freedom was the oppression of the Iraqi people. The U.S. forces in Iraq today can be called champions of freedom because they have destroyed Hussein's tyranny and unleashed the freedom bottled inside. But it's still unclear at this point where this loose freedom will actually settle. Will it settle in free-trade, where Western corporations will enjoy the benefits? Will it settle amongst the Shi'a Muslims in a new Iraqi Constitution, or will it settle amongst the insurgents who are still fighting to be free of Western influence?

In yet another example (added 06/09/09) of monochromatic thinking, I remember a discussion with a New Hampshire native about the states motto... "Live Free or Die" (which seems kind of aggressive for a state motto) but he explained that they should just drop the "Live Free" part because of all the Democrats moving in. To him Democrats and their "socialist" inclinations impede freedom. Yet, two minutes later a newsbreak come over the radio saying that the California supreme court overruled the appeal to reverse proposition 8 which says that gay people are not allowed to get married. The New Hampshire man cheered. "I thought you stood for freedom?" I asked. He said "Religious freedom is different." He didn't say much after that. I don't know if he suddenly realized how one-sided he was being or if he just wasn't interested in discussing it. In any case, it was clear that he supports the religious freedom to tell others what they can and can't do.

In general, I feel certain that for every person basking in the brilliance of freedom, there is a potential inverse effect for someone we aren't thinking about or simply don't care about and when cheering for freedom it would be nice if we had the intellect and consideration to ask who those other people are. As for me, whenever I am approached with a question about freedom, I will always ask... "freedom for who?"

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Bush Tells Congress to Shut Up About Detainees

It's one thing to say we need more money to continue operations in Iraq, quite another to insist that everyone just shut up about the detainees that have been held under the jurisdiction of the president himself.

How can the White House proclaim a mission for freedom and democracy while persisting a policy of human rights violations? Why even persist a policy of human rights violations anyway? Well, for whatever reason the administration seems intent on doing just that. Bush's chief counsel, Alberto Gonzales, issued a Justice Department memo arguing that  that laws prohibiting torture do "not apply to the President's detention and interrogation of enemy combatants  and that the pain caused by an interrogation must include "injury such as death, organ failure, or serious impairment of body functions—in order to constitute torture."  - as if it makes a difference, the administration has been shipping detainees off to outside countries to be tortured anyway. Probably using the same torture devices that were exported from the US under Bush's authority. And now we have Bush telling Congress to mind it's own business.

Bush threatens defense bill veto, warning on prisoners WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House on Friday threatened to veto a $440.2 billion defense spending bill in the Senate because it wasn't enough money for the Pentagon and also warned lawmakers not to add any amendments to regulate the treatment of detainees or set up a commission to probe abuse.

[via Reuters: Politics]





Sunday, October 02, 2005

Katrina Aid from Cuba

Well, one thing can be said for Cuba... They were also hit hard by Katrina, but they were prepared and had all the people evacuated. In fact they were so prepared that they came out of the storm with 83 tons of medical supplies and 1600 medics allocated to helping the victims in the much less prepared and apparently less capable US. Of course, Bush refuses to accept or reject the offer, because... Well, it's Cuba and we don't like them. (...not that it really matters how much people in N.O. could use the help).

story on MSNBC



* Current Post
* Inside the Patriot Act
* Luminosity of a Future City
* Arctic Drilling
* Human Decline
* Wealth Inequality
* Bush Sells Our Forests
* Healthcare and Terrorism
* Chemical Assault
* The Cuban Medical Industry
* The Endless War
* Do the Rich Need Tax Breaks?
* A Collapse of Some Kind
* Guantanimo Bay

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Books That I am Reading:

The World Is Flat
A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century

Thomas Friedman

In this book Thomas Friedman continues his exploration of globalization and how the playing feild is leveling out.

War on the Middle Class
How the Government, Big Business, and Special Interest Groups Are Waging War on the American Dream and How to Fight Back

Lou Dobbs

This book is pretty much a print version of his TV program. This is what I call good investigative journalism

Books That I've Read Lately:

Catcher in the Rye


My daughter is an avid J.D.Salinger fan and turned me on to this book. I'm glad she did. I read the first half on one airplane trip and finished the next half on the return flight. Salinger's naration is wonderful, his vivid style reminds me of Steinbeck.

Crash Proof
How to Profit From the Coming Economic Collapse

Peter D. Schiff

I've been reading the writing on the wall for some time now about the comming economic collapse and this book is one of those messages. I highly recomend this book for anyone interested in an easy to understand explanation of what is causing the crises and basic strategy for how to weather the storm.

A Peoples History of the United States: 1492 - Present

Howard Zinn

This book seems to draw a lot of criticism from people who point out that Zinn fails to present the complete picture, but I think that's the point. Zinn is simply filling in the gaps intentionally left by "politically correct" historians and in so doing, he sheds light on some of the real American heros who continue the "politically incorrect" American Revolution to this day. These heros are not the celebrated leaders and soldiers of the American Establishment who took the reins of exploitation from the British Establishment but the working class people who continued to stand up to exploitation regardless of what banner they wave. It's these working class people who continue to fight for liberty and justice and it's these unsung heros that we need to thank for our way of life and we can thank Howard Zinn for pointing them out, especially now that patriotism has somehow come to mean loyalty to a flag rather than to a principal.

Paradox Of Choice: Why More Is Less

Barry Schwartz

An interesting counter-view to the ever-so-popular notion that our vast array of options improves our culture.

Why I Am A Reagan Conservative

Edited By: Michael K. Deaver

I'm reading this book because I don't consider myself to be conservative. I suppose this is because I've been focused for so long on issues around which conservatives hold positions that I disagree with. But recently I've been looking beyond these issues in search of what I might agree are valid conservative positions and it seems the more I look the less I find, which is alarming to me considering the influence that conservatives have over the policies that effect our lives. Hopefully this book will provide me with some insight.

The Ayn Rand Reader

Ayn Rand: Edited by Gary Hull

I know, I know... what is Ayn Rand doing on this booklist? Answer: I read from as many perspectives as possible. Being a free thinker, I refuse to submit myself to a reading diet. Besides, I want to understand what it is that Ayn Rand fans are raving about and what institutes like ARI are pushing into our education systems.

A Thousand Barrels a Second
The Coming Oil Breakpoint and the Challenges Facing an Energy Dependant World

Peter Tertzakian

I've been trying to understand as much as I can about the coming oil crises. The author is Chief Energy Economist of ARC Financial, one of the world's leading private equity firms focused on energy. As far as I can tell so far, his book isn't a crack on politics or doom and gloom but a straightforward analysis of the realities of energy that so many people are ignoring.

Myth, Magic & Mysticism in the Age of Information

Erik Davis

I've actually been reading the hardback version of this book, on and off, for long time now. The problem I have with this book is it's depth. Davis presents so many interesting ideas and references that I wind up placing a book mark and taking excursions into related materials. It can take me days to digest what Davis is saying in one sentence. Eventually, I always come back to the book, drawn in my Davis' poetic language of intellect. This book represents a true frontier for my mind.

The Moon Is Down

John Steinbeck

Steinbeck is always an easy read for me. His characters and scenes are so vivid. But this book in particular has the added significance of having had an extraordinary impact as Allied propoganda in Nazi-occupied Europe. Despite Axis efforts to supress it (in Fascist Italy, mere possession of a copy of the book was punishable by death) hundreds of thousands of copies were secretly translated into numerous languages, printed on unnaccounted paper and smuggled across borders. This story, a triumph of ideas in the face of cold steel and brute force, offered hope for the "unconquered" people under foreign occupation and celebrated the unbreakable spirit of free people. I feel like I should be sending copies to Iraqis currently under US occupation, but that could easily be construed as an act of terrorism.

Confessions of an Economic Hitman

John Perkins

I've been able to put two and two together for some time, so nothing in this book astounds me but it does bring the workings of the international banks and corporations as well as the US government out of the speculations of so-called conspiracy theories and into the matter-of-fact narration of one man's career path as an economic hitman.

How Societies Choose To Fail Or Succeed
Jared Diamond

Facinating book. Jared Diamond's name is what caught my attention as I was killing time at the bookstore at the airport. I was very impressed with his documentary "Guns, Germs and Steel" and figured he would make this study of societal destinies equally interesting. I was 100% correct. I especially enjoyed the chapters on the collapse of the Polynesian societies, realizing the scale-relativity with the evolution of our global society.

Brave New World

Aldous Huxley

Of course... the third book in my dystopian trilogy.

The United States of Europe:
The New Superpower and the End of American Supremacy

An excellent perspective on the power that's rising in Europe as we Americans continue to sleep with visions of our own glory in our heads.

Imperial Ambitions:
Conversations with Noam Chomsky on the Post-9/11 World
Noam Chomsky, David Barsamian

As always, Professor Chomsky presents that calm and collected voice of logic that cuts through all the noisy rhetoric, half-truths, corporate funded media hype and emotionally driven spin sessions. Barsamian's interviews with Chomsky are clear, crisp and sober conversations.

Farenheit 451
Ray Bradbury

Figured I'd continue my journey through "negative-utopia" that I started with 1984. It does seem appropriate given the current state of America from which I found much more connection with Bradbury's vision than I did with Orwell's, especially the way in which the real source of oppression is not the government but the people themselves.

A New History

Richard Gott

Just a straight forward history book, but Cuba has a facinating history that reaches back to the days of Columbus and offers everything from pirates to revolutions.

George Orwell

It seemed like a good idea to refresh my memory of a mid-century perspective on where the world is headed. Although I found some relief in knowing that we have not followed the Stalinesque course to the letter, I nevertheless found much of Orwell's larger concepts ringing ever so true in 21st Century America, especially Orwell's concept of continuous war and Big Brother.

The Best Democracy Money Can Buy
Greg Palast

Easy read... Palast is a circus ring master showing us unbelievable things. Penetrating investigation with a sense of humor.

One Market Under God
Extreme Capitalism, Market Populism, and the End of Economic Democracy

Thomas Frank

After reading the Lexus and the Olive Tree, I felt I needed a counter-balance view of globalization and how the liberated capitalism that I see everywhere around me, breaking the chains of regulation, is riding the globalization wave.

20:21 Vision
Twentieth-Century Lessons for the Twenty-First Century

Bill Emmott

The author, Economist cheif editor, tends to present very objective and slightly outside views of American economics/politics. I think this renders a more accurate assesment of how we fit in with the rest of the world. The book is a tour of the major forces of the 20th century with emphasis on how they are currently shaping the 21st century.

The Lexus and the Olive Tree

Thomas Freidman

Damned good book! Really opened up my eyes to what globalization is all about. Freidman's style of writing is engaging and his explainations are straightforward. I can see why people regard this book as the essential primer on the subject. I can also see why people think he is "pro-globalization" but I tend to think he's not so much promoting it as just pointing out the inevitability of it. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in understanding globalization.

The Gnostic Gospels

Elain Pagles

I thought it was good. Explains a lot about the gnostic strain of Christain faith.


Edward O. Wilson

Facinating. From the moment he starts decribing the Ionian enchantment on the first pages. This book describes the interrelation of seperate bodies of knowledge and how it all comes together.

The History of Money

Jack Weatherford

Human culture is possessed and these are some involving stories about the demon we call money.

Other material of interest:

Origins of the Federal Reserve (PDF) - Murray N. Rothbard

Excellent account of the monetary imperialism that led to the creation of the Federal Reserve.

The Elkhorn Manifesto
R. William Davis

This is an open letter to Americans that provides a historical perspective on the U.S. government's prohibition of Marijuana. Without stating any position on that particular issue, I have nevertheless saved a copy of the letter here because of what I think are some valueable and verifiable references to to what I call the "corporate priority over the better interests of the nation".