Ready, Fire, Aim! - Mihail's Public Blog

Saturday, September 7, 2002

elgooG? Yeah, Google

China is able to block a site like Google because the country's 45 million internet users can only access the web through government-run ISPs. However,

China's widely criticised blocking of the web's most popular search engine Google can be defeated by viewing a strange Google mirror site through a mirror, New Scientist has discovered.

The mirror site, called elgooG, is a parody of the English language version of Google in which all the text on the web pages has been reversed. The text terms used for searches are also entered in reverse. The site, which returns all the same hits as Google, can be accessed from behind China's "great firewall".

This site has been made possible because Google has recently release an API that allows remote access to its search capabilities. This means mirror sites can be created without having to duplicate Google's colossal database.

Filters, Schools Like Oil, Water

"To have students constantly thwarted and denied access to a legitimate link is extremely frustrating," said Elfrank-Dana, who teaches social studies.

It's situations like these that make filter critics cringe. They contend there are better ways to keep students safe without relying on an imperfect technology or inhibiting learning.

China's HIV time bomb

China's numbers are growing as Chinese officials acknowledge the magnitude of the problem. A year ago, the official estimate for the number of Chinese people infected with HIV was 600,000; a few months ago it was increased to 800,000. 

Now the head of the Chinese Ministry of Health's Disease Control Department says around a million people are HIV carriers.

International organisations like the United Nations believe that is still an underestimate, and that China has an enormous problem on its hands.

Reducing cost of HIV drugs in China

China took steps yesterday to finally face up to its rapidly growing H.I.V.-AIDS crisis, raising its estimate of the number infected to one million and saying it would manufacture a full complement of AIDS drugs if Western patent holders did not lower prices.

Earlier this year, the World Trade Organization basically granted countries the right to bypass drug patents if the medicines were declared essential to combating a national health emergency and were otherwise unaffordable.

To date, China's negotiations with drug companies have yielded only piecemeal results, bringing the price of the cocktail of expensive Western medicines used to treat AIDS from an exorbitant $8,000 a year in China to a merely unaffordable $3,000 to $4,000 — not including the testing that taking such drugs involves. The same medicines, in generic form, cost about $300 in Thailand.

As a result, Mr. Qi acknowledged, only about 100 patients in China are now on the AIDS cocktail, and most of those patients' drugs have been donated by foreign groups.

Thursday, September 5, 2002

The Chateau Lafitte of sports commentary

The BBC continues to innovate, first making all their news available as RSS feeds, and more recently putting its live cricket commentaries on the Internet at www.bbc.co.uk/tms.

There are few greater leisure institutions than "Test Match Special," the decades-old BBC program that is the Chateau Lafitte of sports commentary. In no other game, and on no other radio program, is the play called with such elegance. Listen to Henry Blofeld's fruity Etonian tones, or to Christopher Martin-Jenkins's schoolmasterly erudition, and you'll be transported back to a sepia age of good grammar, structured narrative and perfect manners. These men are household names in the cricket-playing world, as were their late colleagues, John Arlott and Brian Johnston. A pity we didn't have Internet radio when those old boys were around.

I'm told that baseball commentary can be attractive too, and I find that easy to believe, for that game's structure is loosely akin to cricket's. In cricket, the play is highly compartmentalized: A ball is bowled, and the batsman either hits it (in which case there are various narrative possibilities, based on where he hits it, and how hard, and to whom) or he misses it (with its own set of consequences). Between balls (the cricketing equivalent of the "pitch" in baseball), listeners learn about the adjustments to the fielders' positions made by the captain, all of which can be visualized thanks to a bizarre specialist vocabulary that covers every conceivable fielding position. (e.g. "Hussain rearranges the field, moving Caddick to deep fine-leg, and pushes Butcher back to widish extra-cover.")

Is it still Bill's Party?

The Wall Street Journal suggests that Bill Clinton is running the Democratic Party:

Carl McCall doth protest too much. "President Clinton didn't broker anything," declared the presumptive Democratic New York gubernatorial nominee on Tuesday, following the unusual concession of opponent Andrew Cuomo a week before primary day. But the circumstances of Mr. Cuomo's withdrawal show who's running today's Democratic Party..."I am the only person standing on this stage whose political career is over," a coy Mr. Clinton offered Mr. Cuomo on Tuesday. Everybody laughed.

CEOs "scared to death"

The overwhelming sentiment at the SG Cowen and Salomon Smith Barney technology conferences, held in Boston and New York respectively, was that there's no end in sight

The mantra from executives attending the conferences has been about how well companies are faring considering what has been characterized as the worst downturn ever and how much better they will be once business improves.

The problem is: Nobody knows when that improvement will hit.

While CEOs are doing a "good job" setting expectations low and at the same time articulating how they are managing through the downturn, they are "scared to death," said Mr. Gustin.

Interested in the shaving business? How about ceremonial swords?

Pfizer has put Schick on the auction block providing a rare opportunity for buyers to get into the shaving business. And the ceremonial swords business. A blade is a blade is a blade?

A feisty but distant No. 2 to Gillette, Shick makes razors under the Xtreme, Silk Effects and Protector brand names. The company has global market share of about 20% of the wet-shaving business to Gillette's 70%, although Schick has a stronger presence in the disposable-razor market, according to industry research. Schick, which reported 2001 sales of about $716 million, down 7% from 2000, also makes ceremonial swords.

Now his and her toothpaste

Is this marketing gone too far or just a new product meeting a need?

P&G thinks its new product will help trigger that urgent "rush to brush" feeling in women. In focus groups for P&G's Olay Total Effects antiwrinkle cream, some women remarked that they would like a toothpaste that brought similar benefits to their mouths. Teeth, of course, don't wrinkle or sag. But P&G nonetheless thought it could make women think about toothpaste in the same way they do about skin lotion and shampoo.

...Women responded most strongly to cinnamon and vanilla flavorings. They also liked a little sparkle in the paste. Some women complained that the tubes of Crest weren't attractive and clashed with their towels at home. The Crest team compiled all these findings and came up with Rejuvenating Effects.

P&G's push comes amid a fierce battle for market share between Crest and Colgate-Palmolive Co.'s Colgate, which together can claim two-thirds of the $1.2 billion in U.S. toothpaste sales. In 1998, Colgate passed Crest as the nation's best-selling brand -- "a sad, sad day around here," says Jennifer Dauer, general manager for Crest's North American business.

Consumer spending spree may have just spun itself out

U.S. retail sales grew 1.2% in July from June due to a 4.2% increase in auto sales (thanks to the availability of 0% financing). In contrast sales at electronics stores fell 1% and sales at building and gardening centers dropped 1.2%.

Electronics retailers acknowledge they had a good run, benefiting from tax rebates last summer and consumers' nesting instinct after Sept. 11. Some say the spending spree may have just spun itself out. "People bought what they wanted to buy," said David Goldstein, president of Channel Marketing Corp., a Dallas marketing consultant.

...That's true for James Peacock, who runs a media-research firm in Laurel, Md. He jumped on a five-year, 0% finance offer for a $22,000 Saturn wagon this month. He won't be buying electronics, though. "There's nothing terribly compelling out there," says Mr. Peacock, 51 years old. "I feel like I have what I need." [And] Car makers are "probably just buying business," says John Flanner, who runs Flanner's Audio & Video store in Milwaukee. "No interest is like a free loan."

Movies success brings in marketers

Record attendance at movies is fueling heavy interest from marketers. Last year, admissions at theaters in the U.S. rose almost 5% to 1.5 billion, according to the National Association of Theatre Owners. And this year attendance is up roughly 20% compared to this time last year.

Movie theaters are routinely used for advertising in Europe, where on-screen ads have been around for decades. In the U.S., however, on-screen commercials are relatively new. Last year, U.S. movie theaters brought in between $200 million and $300 million in on-screen ad revenue, according to industry estimates. By contrast, marketers spent about $19.4 billion on network TV.

Lobby-marketing tactics began several years ago, but in the beginning were mostly used by local businesses. Blue-chip marketers began to notice the medium in the late 1990's after Calvin Klein made headlines by placing ads on popcorn bags.

Thursday, retail powerhouse Target Corp. is supporting its new line of back-to-college supplies with branded popcorn bags at 104 theaters in 10 major cities, including Philadelphia and Dallas. The bags feature a woman snuggled under her colorful striped Target blanket. (Target's red bull's-eye logo sits in the middle of the bag.)

Popcorn-bags ads are bought for set time periods, and prices vary seasonally. A national buy for a medium bag for four weeks in June would have a cost-per-thousand of about $118. The price is steep, considering that advertisers typically pay about $20 to $30 per thousand viewers for ads on national TV shows aimed at 18-to-34-year-olds. Still, Steven Kalb, a media buyer for Interpublic Group's Mullen, says the cost may be worth it because the ads target a very specific audience.

Cable TV, broadband and local calls

Although cable's beachhead for providing phone service over cable wires is tiny when compared with the 102.2 million U.S. households with phone service and the $140 billion in revenues that comes in annually, it has the phone companies worred. And it should have consumers like myself worried too since cable service by itself is so damn pricey. Maybe the pain will be lessened if I can at least reduce my phone costs.

The two leaders in this business, AT&T Corp.'s AT&T Broadband unit and Cox Communications Inc., have signed up over 1.7 million local telephone customers and are adding new ones at a rate of more than 60,000 a month. Other industry leaders, including Comcast Corp. and AOL Time Warner Inc.'s Time Warner Cable, plan to launch cable phone service next year using a less expensive Internet-based technology that transmits sound digitally.

...As it turns out, subscribers who sign up for phone service along with cable TV and high-speed Internet are more likely to stay loyal to their cable company and not switch to, say, satellite TV. "As a stand-alone business, telephone is very strong," says David Pugliese, a Cox vice president in sales and new-product marketing. "It's even greater for us as a piece of a three-product bundle."

VCs asked to give more than just money

Wall Street Journal reports on an increasing trend (which I'd begun to see a couple of years back amongst banks such as Silicon Valley Bank in North Carolina):

"It used to be that customers would call a well-known venture capitalist and say, 'Are you behind this company?' And they'd say, 'Yeah, we're there.' And the customer wouldn't ask for anything more," says Michael Herling, a partner with Stamford, Connecticut, law firm Finn Dixon & Herling. "Now, more customers are asking venture capitalists to sign on the dotted line ... agreeing to continue to support the entity for some period of time. If there's a cash shortfall, customers want to make sure there's some support for that company ... to make sure it's a sustainable supplier."

Forbes.com: Significant increase or your money back

VentureReporter.net reports that Forbes.com has introduced a guarantee for its online advertisers, promising them ad effectiveness for larger campaigns:

The new service, dubbed the "Brand Increase Guarantee" promises advertisers that their brand metrics will increase, or they will get their money back.

The service includes a commitment by the advertiser to spend a minimum of $100,000 over 60 days on the site, after which Forbes.com will measure the impact of the campaign using online brand research firm Dynamic Logic.

In case the advertiser does not see a statistically significant increase in one of four Dynamic Logic-measured brand metrics--including attributes such as awareness of the brand, and purchase intent, among others--Forbes.com will return the money.

WorldCom to fired employees: we'd like to raise your severance pay

This must be a first. Never heard this in the dotcom days...

WorldCom Inc., eager to bolster morale after filing for bankruptcy-court protection, sought permission from a bankruptcy court to pay full severance to thousands of laid-off employees whose payments had been capped.

In a filing Tuesday with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York, WorldCom said shortchanging the severance packages could jeopardize the cooperation and goodwill of the existing employees. Some employees have complained that WorldCom, the nation's second-largest long-distance telephone company, intentionally maneuvered to avoid paying rank-and-file workers the severance it promised. Severance for laid-off workers was capped at a maximum $4,650 after the company sought bankruptcy protection in July.

Guilt Takes a Holiday

Rosewood Hotels & Resorts, which operates Little Dix, is not alone in having figured out that the indulgent holiday of yesteryear, or the "spring break" of today, is anathema for many American travelers now. We're a jittery and puritanical lot, with our one-week summer vacation to Europe's three or four. And we are forever assuaging our vacation guilt by striving to improve ourselves, the environment and even the members of the local work force who make the beds, tend the bougainvillea and service the computer lines. (Little Dix invites the citizens of Virgin Gorda to attend the "Paradise Chats" free of charge.)

While it is common for European vacationers to drink wine with lunch and take siestas, Americans bring the conscientiousness and pace of their workweek with them on their holidays. It's a feat well known in the Hamptons, where New York's competitiveness is now transported, wholesale, to the beaches of the East End. Battles over the real estate and parking spaces there, not to mention the day care and nightclubs, are a regular feature of each summer's supposedly lazy relaxation.

Entertainment retailing...brought to you by Crayola

From cerulean blue to magenta, a kaleidoscope of colors dazzles the eyes at Crayola's first-ever retail venture at Arundel Mills mall in Hanover, Md...But half of the 20,000-square-foot space is an art studio, where visitors can buy craft kits, sit at tables and color, paint and individualize them.

Crayola Works taps into the concept of entertainment retailing--one of the hottest trends in retail--where consumers are offered not only a product, but also a fun and engaging in-store experience that helps build brand loyalty for companies.

The hot seller so far? A soccer ball that people can color and customize.

Tuesday, September 3, 2002

Biz magazines' health reflects economy's

The state of business and finance magazines is as bad as the market and economy they cover:

"This year continues to be tough," said Geoff Dodge, U.S. sales director at Business Week. "The convergence of the dot-com bubble burst, corporate scandals and a depressed stock market makes it difficult for companies to stand up and spend a lot on advertising."

Indeed, some of the magazines are back to ad levels of the mid-'90s and earlier. From a peak of nearly 6,000 ad pages in 2000, Business Week plunged to 3,786 last year - about as many as in 1995 - and could finish 2002 with even fewer.

...Except for Fortune, which increased newsstand sales slightly in the first half from a year ago, the seven other business and finance mags posted falloffs in single-copy performance.

Of PowerPoint and Pointlessness

Wired News on the increasing use of PowerPoint in education:

"One of the criticisms that's been raised about PowerPoint is that it can give the illusion of coherence and content when there really isn't very much coherence or content," said Edward Miller, an education researcher and board member of the Alliance for Childhood, which advocates limited use of computer technology in early childhood education.

To critics, PowerPoint serves largely the same role in the classroom as pre-processed snack food does in the lunchroom: a conveniently packaged morsel that looks good but doesn't match the intellectual or corporeal nourishment of, say, a critical essay or a plate of steamed spinach.

Jamie McKenzie, a former school superintendent and editor of the education website From Now On, likes to use the term "PowerPointlessness" to illustrate the drawbacks of the program

Cost of fundraising

Pallotta Teamworks declared bankruptcy recently amidst growing criticism of its high cost of fundraising. There was no love lost between Pallotta and the charities it produced fundraisers for:

"We were frankly thrilled to see that Pallotta was closing its doors," said Barbara Brenner, executive director of the San Francisco group Breast Cancer Action and a frequent critic of Pallotta. "We're firmly convinced that people with breast cancer and those in danger of the disease will be far better off if Dan Pallotta stays away. He's exploited breast cancer in the same way that he has exploited AIDS issues."

Jim Key, former spokesman for the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Community Center, said officials there had grown concerned about Pallotta's frequent cost overruns and his attempts to promote himself.

"Dan's troubles began early on when he tried to make the ride more about Pallotta TeamWorks and less about the beneficiaries and our work fighting AIDS, " Key said. "We were constantly battling with him to minimize his time on stage and in front of the TV cameras."

 this story about the Fraternal Order of Police:
Records show that of $159,365 raised in the name of the Kansas Fraternal Order of Police from June 30, 1999, to June 30, 2000, about $31,873, or 20 cents of every dollar, reached the organization.
 
Most of the money, $127,492, went to Civic Development Group LLC of Edison, N.J., one of the largest professional fund-raising companies in the nation. The Federal Trade Commission and other regulators have scrutinized its work in at least seven states, including Kansas.

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