Clouds In My Coffee

15 11 2011

Two years ago I was in LaLa land.

Of course, some of my students will wonder what took me so long to realize I was there. After all, we professors tend to live near the edge of mental ken, to the point of our heads being in clouds. But we’ll get to that in a sec.

No, I was all abuzz about LaLa.com, a free music service that allowed me to upload all of my iTunes library to the cloud (see, I told you). This allowed me to access my music library from any other web-enabled device no matter where I was. Unbeknown to my faculty peers at the College of Business holiday party that year, I did my job as DJ without so much as spinning one tune from my laptop. My Christmas playlist had ’em rockin’ around the Christmas tree.

Well, if you can imagine a bunch of Business profs getting excited about anything. But I digress.

Then I read the news: Apple had purchased LaLa. Rumors circulated about what in the world Apple was up to (dangling prepositions and all). Were they going to keep it going? Were they going to start charging? Were they going to roll it into iTunes?

And then came the day the music died. Apple simply pulled the plug on LaLa early in 2010, and that was it. Poof. Gone. No explanation.

Ah, such is the world of large corporations. Buy up your competitors. And then like Ted Nugent with a bow and a campfire, just kill ’em and grill ’em.

Until the launch this week of iTunes Match, a $25 a year service that syncs a person’s music library to the massive collection within iTunes, and then makes it available via the cloud. If that sounds like LaLa with a toll booth, you’re right. The coffee is getting clearer.

The best part of Match, though, is that songs do not need to be uploaded (which can take hours, even days). Apparently what Apple went after in LaLa was its ability to match songs, a magical black box process if there ever were one. The only problem is that LaLa never really fully exploited this powerful algorithm, because users still had to upload each and every song. But with Match, it simply finds it over at the iTunes vault and adds it to your cloud account.

Which means that Match is light years ahead of competing services at Google and Amazon.

Still confused by all this matching? It really is no different from the Shazam app most people have on the phone. And if you have never used Shazam, you really do need to crawl out of your analog cave and join our party. I use it all the time to find out song titles and artists. The app takes the digital fingerprint of a song snippet, and then matches it to its known collection. Simply amazing.

Better yet, Match does not choke if it cannot find a match (it merely uploads the song then), or, perish the thought, it determines you obtained that song through devious (read: illegal) means. It throws the whole lot onto the cloud.

Of course, Match still stands in strident opposition to music listening services like Spotify. With Match, you own (well, maybe) the songs in your library, either through iTunes purchases, ripping CDs, or “filesharing” among peers. In the listening service model, there is no ownership, just renting and accessing.

I am sure both approaches will survive, at least for the mean time. Those with massive audio collections will find Match to be a godsend, because it means not having to clutter up iPhone space with their music library. As long as there is a clear cell signal, everything can be accessed remotely. The only problem is that all of these CDs must be initially ripped to iTunes (in my case, with over 1500 CDs, this could be a major time suck).

Furthermore, having one’s own collection cloud-based ensures you will never go without a certain obscure artist or album, because while Spotify is pretty awesome, it does not contain everything. I have stumped the band on more than one occasion with it.

But what Apple needs to realize is that while Match is great for all of our existing content, it is marginal at best when it comes to new music. As long as Spotify, et al, can keep the new albums spinning, I will never buy those CDs or iTunes tracks. That alone has to make the Apple folks a little nervous, if they have bothered to think about it.

As for me, I’m going to pony up the $25 bucks (that’s a little over $2 a month, compared to $10 at Spotify). Why? Because I have a family of avid music listeners, and listening services tend to limit the number of mobile devices that can access an account at one time. Which is another way of saying we can all play DJ at the same time and keep those sleigh bells ringin’ for friends and colleagues this holiday season.

Dr “Later On We’ll Conspire” Gerlich





Doctor, Doctor

15 11 2011

Show me a person trying to be all things to all people, and I will show you a person who is nothing to everyone.

I’m sure the Apostle Paul would disagree with me. After all, he did say something quite to the contrary. But whenever someone does try to be the ultimate people pleaser, he or she usually winds up displeasing everyone nearby.

And the same often goes for companies, except, maybe, Walmart. Case in point: Walmart not only wants to sell you everything you need, they also want to be your doctor.

“Honey, while you’re getting the groceries, diapers and oil changed, why don’t you get a physical while you’re at it?”

It’s not that Walmart hasn’t already tried, for they currently have about 140 walk-in clinics in stores scattered across the country. But others are starting to make their presence known in this area, like drugstore chains CVS and Walgreens. Add in the plethora of other walk-in clinics around the country, and it’s easy to understand why Walmart is almost giddy at the prospect of being your doc.

All that traffic amounts to more time spent in the store, which, of course, means more selling opportunities. Cha-ching.

Before you think that Walmart is going to start hiring doctors, don’t worry. More than likely they will lease space to clinics, much like they already lease space to nail salons and optometrists.

Besides, I’m not so sure I would be excited to know my physician is employed by Walmart. “Bottom of the class” comes to mind.

Still, this reeks of golden opportunity. Walmart’s primary customer is likely to have little or no health insurance, and if the chain can orchestrate providing health care at reasonable prices, it will keep those people in the store to do other shopping. And if Walmart has learned anything in recent years, it is that they should do everything possible to cultivate the relationship it has with this core constituency.

But a more implicit strategy coursing through this latest move is that Walmart anticipates problems come 2014 when new federal health care law takes effect. At that point, rather than just being a low-cost provider for those without much coverage, it will become a streamlined option for those not wanting to be part of the federal system.

While I won’t be going to the doc at Walmart any time soon (I hope), I have to applaud Walmart’s effort here. While the thought of combining medical know-how with discounted mass merchandised wares kind of makes me uneasy, it is an idea that will no doubt resonate with many. It is convenient. It will likely be much faster than than trying to get in to see a traditional doctor. It won’t be restrictive like so many HMOs.

At which point people probably won’t even care they are spending more time in Walmart, or spending more money there. I’m certain that Sam Walton is smiling somewhere. Maybe he and the Apostle Paul have been talking anyway.

Dr “Say Ah” Gerlich





Ideological Circles

13 11 2011

I have a little dog who, for reasons unbeknown to me, runs in circles whenever I open the door for the dogs to go outside. Summit the Golden Retriever and Cupid the Lhasa-Jack waste no time in making a bee line for a tree. Lucy the Chihuahua, though, needs to do a few laps around herself before she can exit.

It’s a case of tail meets mouth. Mouth meets tail. The coming meets the going. She goes full circle. Several times.

Strangely, sometimes ideologies do the same thing. If a continuum of belief can be likened unto Lucy, then I’d like to introduce the Occupy Wall Street movement to the Amarillo Shop Smart, Shop Local campaign.

Because they speaka da same language.

How dat?

I know they say that what goes around, comes around (or is it the opposite?), but in this case, we have groups from completely opposite ends of the spectrum urging the same thing: Shop locally. One group promotes it as a form of local patriotism, the other as a way to stick it to the man. But the result is the same.

Funny how that happens.

Ever since the Shop Smart, Shop Local campaign was launched in 2010, I have been opposed to it. It’s not that I am against buying locally. What I am opposed to, though, is just blind flag-waving and guilt-inducing rhetoric about the evils of sending our money to far-flung companies.

My response is that, first and foremost, we must be stewards of our own money. And that means spending it in a way that provides the most efficient use of resources for our household. In other words, purchase from the vendor who provides you the most value.

And what is value? Not necessarily just a low price. Maybe it is after-sale service. Maybe it is return privileges. Maybe it is the ability to pick it up now instead of waiting a week.

In other words, value is in the pocketbook of the beholder.

Now if you want to purchase locally, that is your perfect business. You may choose to support a local business because you want to see the little guy or gal make it in the world of big competition. I suppose I just turn a cold shoulder: If you want to play in “The World Is Flat” arena, you had darn well better be prepared to play hard ball.

As for the Occupy Wall Street people, they urge us to buy locally if only to take sales away from corporate giants. The OWS folks are fuzzy in telling us exactly at which point a corporation ceases to be a home town hero, and instead an evil, greedy corporate capitalist machine. For example: Is it OK for us to buy from Amarillo-based Hastings because it is local? Or is Hastings “one of those guys” because it has over 140 stores all over the intermountain west and south-central states?

See, I told you they were fuzzy.

But before you all run to the local bakery to buy your Thanksgiving pies, or the mom-and-pop clothing store down the street (who, of course, carries clothes made all over the world), consider this: Maybe, just maybe, we should all be encouraging our local businesses to grow beyond our little self-imposed silo. And maybe (I’m talking to you, OWS campers) we should be busy starting new companies, creating new wealth.

When I look back over the last 15-20 years, I see an enormous amount of wealth that sprang from garage- and apartment-based start-ups. Google. Facebook. Groupon. Pinterest. Amazon. eBay. LinkedIn. MySpace (OK, never mind that last one). Add in Zappos and Diapers.com (both acquired by Amazon), and you have an enormous amount of evidence that the future is not in doing small business. No, the future is in doing big business. And, it is never too late to start a new company.

Instead of small, local businesses complaining about how we buy our books (and everything else) from Amazon, maybe they should take a page from Jeff Bezos’ play book and stage a full frontal response. Don’t just see Amarillo as your playing field. Think globally. Profit locally. We should be busying ourselves not so much worried about how we can keep local money in Amarillo, but rather how we can attract money from other towns. As in steal business.

Yeah, I said that.

And we should be busily developing new businesses that will create the next layer of wealth, content not with just the 240,000 who call the Amarillo metro area home. Instead of building our walls ever higher and our moats deeper, we should be building bridges to the world so they can send their money to us. It’s an idea that makes dollars and sense.

It’ll all work out in the end.

Dr “Tearing Down The Walls” Gerlich





Spanx For The Memories

12 11 2011

Aside from death and taxes, one thing is certain: Culture changes. It is fluid. Dynamic. A moving target. For those who can deal with change and ambiguity, this is not a bad thing. Societies create cultural ideal points that mold and shape gender roles and expectations, but even things we think are absolutes are in reality absolutely unfixed.

There have been many changes during my life with regard to the roles of men and women. I for one am very happy with the changes, because the old expectations were a little too nuanced with religion. Never mind that the vestiges of our agricultural and later industrial economy managed to linger on for many years.

But things are different now. Women are not tied to the house. And men are a lot less likely to be engaged in physical labor, be it on the farm and ranch, or in a factory. More than likely, 21C Man is likely to encounter 21C woman in the office. And with these changes we see that the cultural male is rapidly evolving in ways that few if any could have ever predicted.

Like the idea of men wearing body-shaping undergarments.

While many women consider Spanx to be their best friend, not many guys are familiar with the product line. In the last six months, though, I have encountered Spanx For Men in department stores like Dillard&3039;s selling Spanx For Men. Undershirts. Briefs. Basically, girdles for men.

But wait, there’s more. Now there are companies selling moisturizers and weight-loss products for men. Next thing you know it will be taking us longer to get ready. “Honey, do these jeans make me look fat? I’s been carefully allocating my Weight Watchers points for two months now.”

The problem for guys during this transition is that we’ve got two different voices in our heads. One says, “C’mon. Be a man. Beat your chest. Be a low self-monitor (read: don’t shave every day).” But then the other voice is saying, “Those jeans really do make you look fat. And your cheeks look a little gruffy. You could use a little foundation.”

Hold on a sec there.

Traditionalists will decry the incipient feminization of men. Why doesn’t Spanx just come out and package these briefs for what they are: Control Top Underwear?

Which raises the question: Who gets to determine what is right and wrong for men and women? Who says men can’t use moisturizer or wear body-shaping undergarments? Who says that vanity is reserved for the female of the species?

While I have no problem with any of this, I am not quite ready for Spanx. The old school guy in me wants to earn my fitness and physique the hard way. And I rather like being a low self-monitor, especially on the weekends and when out of town (rubs three-day growth on chin). But who am I to stand in the way of change? From what I hear, a lot of women would actually like their guy to pay a little more attention to appearance. Maybe not to the point of fighting over the mirror, but at least enough to look good and smell halfway decent.

On the flip side, I am all too happy to send the Marlboro Man packing, and everything he implicitly stood for. Riding a horse. Wearing a cowboy hat. Working hard in the outdoors. And those nasty cigarettes.

In the mean time, if any of you could refer an Avon Lady my way, it might be time to at least take a look at this change around us. It’s quite possible I may need to exfoliate something around here.

Dr “Bottom Line” Gerlich





Message In A Bottle

11 11 2011

Three months ago, I took a personal retreat to Flagstaff AZ for a few days. I needed a little R&R to get ready for the Fall semester, and the open-minded district surrounding the NAU campus was just what I needed to unwind (read: There were three microbreweries within walking distance of one another).

On Sunday morning, I left my hotel at 3am and drove to Grand Canyon National Park, some 85 miles away. I was on a mission. If anything, what I was about to do was the antithesis of retreat in the common understanding, because my goal was to hike down to the Colorado River and back up in one day. Never mind what the websites say. Fuhgeddabout the scary signs at the trailhead. No, I was bound and determined to hike down into what is for all intents and purposes the pits of Hell…and try to hike back out. In summer. Heat be damned.

It was a little before 6:00am when I stepped off the sidewalk and onto the trail, having waited for a pre-dawn thunderstorm to clear. Naturally, it was easy going down, and I did notice it was…um…getting toastier the farther I descended the 4400 feet to the river. But the purpose of this essay is not so much to relive my hike (I did the 16 miles in 8h59m, suffered an enormous blister on the ball of my right foot, and had to literally limp my way up and out–see my pics here). No, it is to address the fact that I saw litter on the Bright Angel Trail. Plastic bottles. Wrappers. Stuff that was clearly carried into the trail in a backpack, but was dispatched with careless abandon.

Thankfully, management at GCNP was considering a ban on plastic bottles, much like is already done at Zion NP and Hawaii Volcanoes NP. But in the last few days, GCNP has backed down from its quest, and controversy has arisen that suggests that Coca Cola may have influenced this decision.

GCNP management wanted to install watering stations, and encourage people to use aluminum water bottles. Coke, of course, sells a gazillion cases of its Dasani bottled water. In convenient plastic bottles, of course. Coke’s response: They sure as heck wouldn’t want to see consumer choice reduced. Perish the thought.

Now I am not one to point fingers of blame at people or companies without sufficient evidence, but the way I see it, this is an opportunity missed by Coca Cola. Instead of ruing the day in which consumers have a smaller choice set, they could have seized the moment and played the role of proactive green.

What a chance they missed to install branded watering stations. You know. Kind of like fountain drink dispensers, but for H2O. They could also sell branded aluminum BPA-free water bottles.In a place like Arizona, the humidity is so low (regardless of elevation) that dehydration is always a problem. Hikers are MediVac’d off trails almost every day, mostly because of poor planning. Coca Cola could have been a major player in helping people avoid such calamity.

Companies need to be a little more attuned to the possibilities of being green, rather than fearful of the change. In fact, it is an American trait that we see problems as opportunities. So why didn’t Coke see it through this lens?

Probably because it was thinking in the short-run. They feared a loss in sales. But this is a long-run problem. Think about corporate image. Think about the negative effects of merely being accused of complicity. Think about the positives of addressing a problem head-on.

Those bottles that I saw along the Bright Angel Trail, if not picked up by environmentally-conscious hikers or park staffers, will be there a long time. Long after my daughters go there to hike (I have challenged them to beat my time). Long after my great-great-grandchildren whittle it down to an easy 7-hour hike. Long after the Grand Canyon has eroded a few more hundred feet through the Precambrian layers of our earthly Mother. It’s a trail worth following.

And I thirst for such forward thinking.

Dr “One Foot After The Other” Gerlich





Table For One

10 11 2011

A decade ago, Robert Putnam wrote what has become one of the premier critiques of modern American culture. Bowling Alone examines what Putnam calls a crisis in American community. And while bowling solo is used more as metaphor, it does capture the ethos of the 21C. We may be connected (and Putnam had no way of predicting Facebook back then), but really we are just alone together.

As a result of my chosen occupational pursuits and lifestyle, I often find myself dining alone in restaurants. It’s not for lack of trying, of course, but my family and I just seem to pass each other going opposite directions on the highway. For years I would relish the quiet time alone, and take a good book or magazine with me to dinner. But now I find myself toting my iPad to the table. Or, in many cases, just dropping my iPhone on the table.

So how do you occupy your time when dining alone?

I have had some very interesting experiences while dining alone, mostly the result of posting reflective FB topics and inviting friends from the last 40 years of my life to join the conversation. It’s kind of like inviting the cast and characters from the play of my life to come together for tapas and drinks.

But I’ve been thinking. With so many of us finding ourselves dining solo (take a look around you next time…it’s more than you realize), why not turn this into a grassroots marketing opportunity?

Strangely, I am kind of already on that page. I am an incessant iPhone photographer. I often shoot pics of my food and post them to Foodspotting (check out Eatly.com for a similar site). I post restaurant reviews along with the pics. But I seldom if ever engage in such stuff if I am with others. Let’s face it. It’s a little weird to be dining with someone who wants to interrupt conversation so they can post their dinner.

Yet if you are alone, there’s nothing wrong with it. And that’s where I see opportunity. While it’s an opportunity everyone could do regardless of number in the party, it is perfectly suited for those flying solo.

So why not leverage the social and techno media aspects of the day by rewarding people for posting pics of their meal? A few weeks ago I was at Red Robin (dining and working alone, of course), and I checked in via FB (with a pics, of course). Upon posting it, I got a special coupon page announcing special happy hour prices. But this was just a generic screen that went to anyone who checked in.

Now what about taking it a step further by really incentivizing people…people who have nothing to do because they are alone…by rewarding them with dessert samplers or return visit coupons in return to really showcasing the restaurant’s products?

Basically, I am saying let’s combine the restaurant reviews of Yelp.com with Facebook (or Gowalla or FourSquare) check-ins, and the visuals of Foodspotting.

Now we’ve got something.

And, of course, once this stuff goes viral via our FBs and Twitters, it amounts to scads of free advertising for the restaurant.

You know, I could really go for this new gig as restaurant critic/photog. It would make dining alone a lot more fun. While I still enjoy my books and mags, as well as philosophical FB dialogues, I could be all of this new idea. Especially if the place serving me my fare were in on it.

Sure, we could argue that people will do this without the incentive. We already willingly provide so much free word-of-Facebook commentary as it is. But I bet could find it in me to post a lot more pics and raves if my hosts were in it with me.

After all, I have nothing else to do while dining alone. Anyone want to go bowl a few frames?

Dr “That’s How I Roll” Gerlich





Appy Holidays

9 11 2011

Everyone remembers their first time. Rock concerts. Beer. Airplane flight. Wild thing.

I also remember my first app. It was a mobile app for Twitter so that I could tweet on the run and keep up with my friends. It was an incredible novelty. But then again, all apps were novelties in 2007.

Today, though, apps are a nickel a dozen, unless you have to buy them. There are about a half-million iPhone apps alone, with Android programmers scurrying to catch up. My iPhone4 runneth over with apps that run the gamut from cycling mileage logs to bar code and QR readers, news, sports scores, and stock portfolios.

But now the app market has matured to the point of there being disposable apps. I saw this earlier in the year when I attended the NAB (National Association of Broadcasters) convention in Las Vegas. They had a specific app for the event, showcasing vendor booths, seminars, after-parties and the like. But once the event was over, the app was worthless. Screen clutter.

This Christmas we are going to see a flurry of disposable holiday apps, designed to help drive traffic and make shopping easier. Oh, and one more thing: Make the sale.

This may no longer be rocket science, but I still have to shout, “Bazinga!” Genius. Plug in the cash register.

These apps come at no small expense. With app development running from $10k to $50K (depending on features), this is no small investment. Still, if it sets your brand or store apart from the others, then it is money well spent. Imagine a Walmart app that had a built-in bar code scanner. Store-specific maps and product locations. Item features and pricing.

This is somewhat analogous to retailers publishing (and some still do, as evidenced by last Sunday’s paper) a holiday gift-giving catalog (like Target and Walmart do for toys). Except for one thing: It is infinitely better. For one, I don’t have to tote it with me. Second, it’s very green. And three, I can keep it out of the kids’ hands. “Here, I’ll just circle everything.”

But like this year’s poinsettia and wrapping paper, it will drop its red leaves and pretty bows, ready for the digital dumpster. Because apps, for all their initial wow factor, are now just another voice in the fray. Temporary foliage. Window dressing.

But don’t think for a minute this diminishes their worth. I have gone on record for two years as saying it is not a matter of if. It is a matter of when everyone will have an app. There really is no choice in the matter.

Wait. I said that about websites fifteen years ago.

So for the 50% of us who have smartphones, shopping this holiday season is likely to be easier. It’s also going to have a little harder sell, because no one is going to invest in apps like these without putting on a little pressure.

Which makes me wonder where this could all go. Why not develop apps that truly track our location within the store, as well as items we have viewed and/or selected. Suddenly the retail app begins to sound a little like Amazon.com’s suggestion engine. “Hey, we know you like this item, but we’ll bundle it with two others and give you a deal.” “People who bought this item also bought that item.” “Here’s a little coupon just for you…don’t tell anyone, OK?”

Yeah, I’m really starting to like this. It’s almost enough to make me appily want to go shopping. It wouldn’t be the first time.

Dr “Veni Vidi Visa” Gerlich





In And Out Of Focus

9 11 2011

For all the grumbling we consumers do about the price of gas, clothes, food and housing, there really are some things just keep getting cheaper. Like TVs. Just this last evening I was perusing the fine selection of LCDs, LEDs and plasmas at Target. It’s hard to believe that a 32″ LCD can be purchased for a mere $299. A decade ago, a 42″ plasma cost about $10,000. Now we can afford to have snazzy TVs in every room.

Of course, we all know the story of computers. Moore’s Law states that capacity (of integrated circuitry) will double every two years. A corollary to that law, though, is that the cost will halve. We thus have the equivalent of 1970s-era mainframes in our living rooms or backpacks, which we purchased for a few hundred bucks.

Ah yes…technology. The one category in which things truly get better and cheaper as time goes by.

Yesterday’s announcement by Microsoft of the $50 Samsung Focus Flash smartphone is no exception. Yes, for a mere half-Benjamin, folks who have not yet taken the plunge can join the rest of us OCD people who put our brain on the nightstand before retiring.

I’m sure that Chris Anderson, Editor of Wired Magazine and author of Free and The Long Tail, is feeling pretty good about things. After all, he seems to think that most prices are headed south anyway. It’s just that I have mixed ring tones about this cheap phone.

Never mind that the folks quoted in the article have their facts all wrong. Thanks to the iPhone 4s, the US now has a 50% penetration rate, not 30%, for smartphones (among the 90% of people with any cell phone at all). If Microsoft thinks that 70% of the market sits untapped, they may be in for a rude surprise. Furthermore, an analyst is quoted as saying that data plans cost $80 a month, which is simply not true. Maybe the entire cell phone plan and data, but not data alone. AT&T data plans run $15-25.

With people like these helping run the show, I can’t help but wonder if Microsoft’s latest foray into smartphones is also doomed.

And let us not forget that people have already become very brand- and operating-system loyal (the Cult of Apple vs. the Android OS). I have a hard time believing there is room for a third system. Just ask the nervous resume-updating people at Blackberry what they think about that.

Just thought I’d throw that out there.

In fact, Microsoft’s share of the smartphone market hit a new low in 2Q of 2011. In 2010, its Kin phone lasted a…wait for it…whopping six weeks. Yes. Six weeks. And then it was kindly taken off life support.

True, Microsoft is implicitly admitting it is going for the price-sensitive market, the late-majority and laggards who have not yet made the transition. But where is the profit in that model? It’s like an old episode of I Love Lucy. What Lucy and Ethel lose per bottle of salad dressing, they’re more than make up in volume.

Sure. Knock yourselves out.

Perhaps the irony of the largest software maker having to suck it up and be a bottom feeder is lost on the moment. I just can’t see this leading to any big sales spike for MSFT. Sure, they’ll no doubt grab a few folks who wouldn’t or couldn’t get on the Apple-Android train. But the money (unless you’re Apple) isn’t in the phone. It’s in the service plans. That’s where AT&T, et al, are poised to be awash in profits for many years to come. It would be different if Microsoft could sell the blades for this razor, but it has none to sell.

I really doubt that Apple and Android will respond in kind, especially Apple. The cachet of owning a supercharged smartphone would be lost. And Steve Jobs would turn in his freshly dug grave.

Which is another way of saying that I am yawning right about now. Were I a MSFT shareholder, I’d have even more reason to sell. You see, while dropping prices may be good for consumers, they are seldom good for manufacturers, unless there are parallel and even disproportionate cost drops. Let’s look at it in the opposite direction. If Exxon Mobil makes 20% profit on each gallon of gas (let’s assume $3.30 a gallon), that means they make about $0.66 each time we pump a gallon. But if gas were $5 a gallon, that same 20% would be $1.00 profit.

And now you know why Exxon Mobil shares are at about $80 these days. The more expensive the gas, the more dollars of profit, even though the profit margin remains the same.

So unless MSFT can not only reduce costs on these phones, but also increase profit share, this project won’ be able to get a dial tone.

Dr “Sorry…You’re Breaking Up” Gerlich





News To Me

9 11 2011

Back in the day when I was editor of my college newspaper, I never thought I would see the day in which newspaper readership had plunged to the depths it has today. While I had turned from the error of my ways (I majored in marketing and economics, and decided to just keep journalism as a hobby), I never thought my friends pursuing work in the field would one day find themselves wondering what happened. (NewspaperDeathWatch.com documents the slow but steadyd ecline.)

Like today, with today’s under-44 crowd increasingly less likely to read a printed newspaper.

It gets even worse the younger you drill down into the demographics. Many of today’s 18-24 year-olds have never experienced ink smudges on their fingers.

Of course, I, being in the above-44 crowd (a nice way of saying I am really much older than that) continue to start my day with a newspaper. Never mind the fact that the geek in me has already consumed much of it on my iPad from the warmth of my bed. There’s just something about sipping my coffee and thumbing through the pages.

Which is why I was instantly intrigued when I saw a full-page ad in today’s paper extolling the virtues of the paper. It was an ad from the newspaper, in the newspaper, urging people to read the newspaper.

Talk about a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.

The tagline was catchy: “Smart is the new Sexy.” This particular ad appealed to women, stating that the newspaper is where you could find out what’s happening in Washington, D.C., as well as find some really cool shoes in the ads. “Your newspaper has you covered,” they proudly proclaimed.

Never mind that the people they were trying to reach aren’t…um…reading papers these days.

As it turns out, about only one-third of people 18-24 read a newspaper with any regularity. This spells trouble for newspapers large and small, because you can’t stay in business if: (1) few are reading; and, (2) advertisers don’t want to buy ads if there aren’t eyeballs.

There is hope, however. It’s not that young people are completely out of touch with the world. It’s just that they get their news in other forms, whether it be news channels or the online version of the paper.

But this means that today’s newspapers need to repurpose and reinvent themselves, not as newspapers, but as news outlets. It means having websites that are far more current than the paper I get each morning with yesterday’s news. It means they should be looking into apps, with content that runs from print to photos and videos.

Which means that they need to take a long, hard look at The Daily, the new model of journalism. Launched in February of this year, The Daily combines multiple modes of communication for a visually and mentally stimulating interaction. It is the world’s first iPad-only “newspaper.” Owned by NewsCorp, it sells for a measly 99 cents a week…far cheaper than daily delivery of a hard copy.

While The Daily still has a way to go in terms of over content, it is light years ahead of the old printed word. It is, in my not-so-humble opinion, the future of newspapers. Although I still like to do my crosswords and Sudokus in ink, I am trying to learn to enjoy them in digital format (there’s something daring about doing a puzzle in ink, you know).

I am still glad I listened to Dad and went toward business, but the creative/geeky side of me is still just gaga at the prospects The Daily has brought us. Basically, it all boils down to this: The industry can either choose to cling to the old way, or it can embrace the new paradigm. Those journalists who live for the printed word will likely die by it. And those who figure out that the digital word (no matter how it is delivered) will likely prosper well into the future.

I just feel badly for all the young boys and girls who will never get to experience what it is like delivering a paper around the neighborhood on their bike. Somehow, a wireless delivery just doesn’s have a whole lot of charm.

Dr “Ink Spots” Gerlich





Can-Do Idea

6 11 2011

As a cyclist and walker, I am appalled at the amount of roadside refuse I see in the ditches and on the berms. Plastic. Glass. Aluminum. All tossed as an act of convenience. Or is it inconvenience?

In any regard, I see much more at speeds of 5-20mph than the average motorist sees at 70mph. And, unfortunately, I have been victimized by far too many morons who think it would be fun to try to hit me with a projectile while they pass by. Maybe in the sport of stupidity you score extra points for littering and taking out someone who dares use alternative transportation.

But when I read the editorial in today’s Amarillo paper supporting an Oklahoma bill that would introduce a container deposit law, I jumped from my seat. “Amen, brother! Preach it! And please, please, please, can we get one of these in Texas?”

If passed, Oklahomans would a nickel for each beverage container they purchased. They would be refunded their nickels when they bring their empties to the supermarket or other reclamation center. The editorial writer was not only enthusiastic about Oklahoma’s bill, but actively encouraging one here, too.

Although I grew up in Illinois and went to school in Indiana, my travels frequently took me to Michigan, where there is a 10 cent deposit on all beverage containers. You know what? Michigan is clean. C-L-E-A-N. People are not quick to to see dimes out of moving cars. It is so obvious when you cross from Indiana to Michigan, because the roadways instantly appear clean. Furthermore, people have shown themselves to be less likely to litter at all.

In other words, people not only bought into the beverage container part, but they started reducing their overall littering, and increasing all other forms of recycling.

Good for them. And good for the other US states with the guts to enact such legislation. Sure, the grocery industry is quick to complain, because they are forced to become participants in the process. They have to redeem all the cans and bottles, then figure out how and where to store them. But the social good far outweighs any expense they may incur.

Another common complain is that government is becoming too big, and forcing people to recycle is just too much of an intrusion into their daily lives. I file my rejoinder by saying that we already have environmental impact fees (call them deposits if you will) on several automotive parts, such as tires, batteries and alternator cores, as well as motor oil. I don’t hear anyone complaining about that.

I am also fully aware of the literature that says the whole “green” message is one that is best disseminated via peer pressure and guilting. Or via legislation. For all its goodness, recycling is an inconvenience for many people, and unless there is some monetary reward (or penalty avoidance), few are willing to participate. Sure, Walmarts and Uniteds in Amarillo all have green dumpsters for recycling, but they are little used compared to the volume of customers passing through the parking lot. And don’t get me started about our total and complete inabiulity to recycle glass in this fair village.

While I have never been a big fan of onerous big governments, I am in favor of this idea, and I applaud Editor John Kanelis for having the guts to take a stand in what has thus far been anti-recycling Amarillo. The online comments have all but told him to return to his native Oregon (where beverage containers also have deposits). Of course, this does not say much for the intellect of the forum responders, because they have dismissed the idea out of hand. You know. Anything that is different from what they knew as a child is simply too liberal for them.

But this is an idea that not only is a long time coming, it is much-needed. Have you seen the size of Canyon’s Mount Trashmore lately? Good grief, they could make snow in the winter and have plenty of awesome skiing and sledding. This is not about losing personal liberty and freedom; no, it is about leaving behind a better place for our kids and grandkids. I don’t think that bigger landfills are what they need.

Yes, I acknowledge the fact that recycling has been a hard sell thus far. And that is why I, too, am willing to stick my neck out and say, “Bring it on!” Volunteerism is simply not cutting it.

Perhaps the most damning indictment of the naysayers, though, is that they do not offer an alternative solution other than do nothing. If the idea of cleaning up our roadsides and keeping our landfills from growing is but another manifestation of that nasty word “progressive,” then go ahead and put a nice blue P on my forehead. I will wear it with pride. Yeah, blue. Because it would stand out in this red state.

Now who wants to talk about curbside recycling?

Dr “Nickel and Dimed” Gerlich